My manuscript is now tighter and punchier and that's made it funnier. At least that's what my readers are telling me. My editor also gave me some valuable advice about my main characters. I'm inspired to publish a bit more of it, so here it is. This bit is very close to the start, when the new intake are welcomed in the traditional Blaggard's manner - with an ambush robbery.
The Years 7s rounded a corner. Milly stopped, scanning the long white wall in front of them. It was dotted with five identical doors. Each one was arched, with pitted iron hinges and massive doorknobs that would have made effective weapons. For a second she calculated. Then she set off again. She reached the door on the far left and shoved it, hard. It gave a stubborn creak and refused to budge.
“Charlie. Here, now. I need you,” Milly threw the words behind her. He was there in a second, adding his shoulders to the force pitted against the stubborn door. It gave way with a long g-r-o-a-n. They dashed inside and then stopped, temporarily blinded by the sudden darkness. The other Year 7s followed.
They were in a dark corridor that ended in a dappled glass door. Through it, distorted by the glass, you could make out long tables and shelf-lined walls. An unmistakable chemical aroma seeped from it. “Great! Come on,” Milly yelled. She flung open the door and bundled the Year 7s inside. Down the corridor, the outside door crashed open again. Year 8s streamed through. They too stopped for a second while their eyes adjusted.
Milly scanned the room. Lined up along one wall was a row of skeletons in order of size, ranging from a delicate bat to the sturdy skeleton of a rhino. Along the back wall were carefully aligned jars of chemicals, many with grinning skulls pressed onto them. Milly’s eyes passed over them, then swept over a large poster. They returned to it briefly to reread the title - Fed Up With Early Bedtimes? Here’s How to Drug Your Parents Safely. She raised one eyebrow and continued scanning. Tucked away in one corner was a row of metal canisters on a high shelf. She sprinted over to them and craned on tiptoe to read their labels. “Charlie, come here! I’m too short. Read these to me,” she instructed.
For a moment Charlie hesitated. The sound of their pursuers hurtling through the laboratory door made up his mind. He skidded over to Milly and reached up for the canisters. “’Instant spray ice. For outdoor use only,’” he read out. “Could we run off and make a skid patch behind us?”
Milly shook her head. “Too risky. Could backfire.”
Charlie reached for the next one. “’Fake blood. Spray onto injury-free areas and groan loudly’ -Useless!” He tossed it to one side and grabbed another one. “’Temporary paralysis gas. For use on Dependables in criminal schemes only. Hold your breath for 30 seconds after spraying.’”
“YES! Charlie, pass that to me. Hellfire – it’s half empty. Is there any more?”
“There’s one more and it looks the same but the label’s gone.”
“Cross your fingers that it is the same. There’s no more time. Everyone, hold your breath. Keep together. Don’t breathe till we’re outside.”
Milly aimed the unlabeled canister at the Year 8s, who were now only feet away. She took a step back and punched down on the nozzle. A hissing purple cloud descended on the ambushers. For a second there was silence. And then the gang of muggers began to laugh. They guffawed and hooted. They clutched at tables or each other to prevent themselves from collapsing.
“Laughing gas! That won’t stop them for long.” Milly tossed the canister to one side. She grabbed the half-empty one, gave it a quick shake and squirted the chortling Year 8s with luminous yellow gas. Instantly they froze, caught in mid-hoot. It was a disturbing sight – as if the lava-cased corpses of the victims of the Pompeii volcano were delighted at their fate. “Wish there was time to take a few photos to post on Crimbook, but we need air,’ Milly gasped as she hustled the bulgy-eyed Year 7s back outside, into the clean sunshine.
“That was great, Milly. You’re new too, aren’t you - how’d you know where to find that science lab?” Charlie was clutching his knees, gulping down air.
“I had a good look at the map of the school this morning – the one in the prospectus. This is Blaggard’s. Weird stuff happens. You need to be ready for it.”