I am running, running, running… through darkened streets, buildings of improbable proportions looming above me, their windows looking as if they might lean down to devour me at any minute. My chest is heavy with exertion and… body armour. There is a hat upon my head but it certainly isn’t an elegant Porter’s bowler. I cannot tell if I am chasing or being chased, all I know is that if I don’t run faster something terrible will happen. Up ahead I see a familiar figure; even in the anonymous uniform I can see it is Harper. I try to call out to him but no words come… my mouth is open, a silent chasm through which air and sound refuse to pass…
And then I am approaching the car, if the mass of twisted metal can still be called such a thing. The road beneath it is scorched black and the air is thick with the greasy stench of burned rubber and melted steel. There is another smell… one that has remained forever within my nostrils, always just beside the very edge of consciousness. Vicky is with me. I reach out and take her hand as we proceed, shaking, to the driver’s side…
Something heavy and hairy arrives urgently on my chest. My eyes open to the delicate scratch of whiskers on my cheek.
That is Terry’s hungry voice. My hands find his furry belly and I am indulged the privilege of a brief snuggle, before the increasingly noisy requests for food resume. I wriggle into an upright position, shoving pillows behind my back to support my drowsy and confused self. The clock is telling me it is almost noon. I would call that clock a liar but my churning guts know that it is telling the truth.
Why didn’t my alarm go off?
That’s right. It did go off – at precisely three minutes before I got into bed. I only intended to snatch a couple of hours but my unconscious self clearly had other ideas.
The Choir Competition! I have just an hour to get myself to The Great Chapel in the very heart of The City if I want to witness our triumph over Hawkins College first hand. This, of course, is of no interest whatsoever to Terry, whose only real concern is his empty food bowl. First things first.
I am slightly dishevelled and completely out of breath but I make it to The Great Chapel with seconds to spare. Professor Duke and Head Porter are waiting for me by the huge, ornate doors. They look a little cross.
“Late as usual!” says the Professor, tapping his watch. “If you were earlier, you wouldn’t be late, you know. It’s that simple. Our little escapades last night made us infamous. Yo.”
“Oh no, that doesn’t sound very good,” I reply. The Professor laughs.
“Well, they haven’t discovered I was the warrior nun yet. Well, that we were. Well, just well. But anyways, everyone’s talking about ‘the warrior nuns’. We’ve got quite a reputation. It’ll be a legend on par with the headless horse thingy in no time, I say. University legends we shall be!”
There might have been a time when I would have been very keen to become a University legend but time and experience has taught me that it is very much wiser to maintain a low profile about such things.
“Bloody ridiculous behaviour,” mutters Head Porter, shaking his head. But I suspect he is simply jealous that his own performance as a debt collecting milkman did not get more recognition. “Come on, we’re going to be late. Let’s get inside.”
The Great Chapel is certainly aptly named. Once through the entrance, a glorious marble aisle sweeps grandly towards the magnificent alter, flanked on either side by row upon row of carved wooden pews, resplendent with elderly stoicism. The place is packed to the very rafters with the great and good of the Collegiate; Fellows and students rub shoulders with the musical elite and I even spot some notable members of the Church amongst the throng. This is quite the illustrious occasion and hardly the place for a College Porter.
The Professor, Head Porter and I slip ourselves into an innocuous pew towards the rear of The Great Chapel. We shall not be afforded the best view in the house but at least we will be nicely out of the way. Besides, it’s a Choir Competition. It’s all about the listening, surely. Professor Duke nudges me awkwardly and nods towards the chancel.
“Now, here cometh the show. Can’t wait.”
From the nave comes an orderly line of noble-looking youths, wearing the regal crimson robes of Wastell College. They quietly take their places as the conductor readies his baton.
“They certainly look like they mean business,” whispers Head Porter.
“They should’ve been visited by the itching powder,” the Professor mutters ruefully.
“Never mind about about Wastell. As long as we beat Hawkins, honour will be satisfied,” I assure them. “Now hush, they’re about to begin.”