Sitting atop of the drystone wall, one that followed the rise of the uplands, gave the Dominie a perfect view. The morning air had been clear but crisp, making the Mackintosh a necessity. The land beyond was wild and open, the sparseness of humanity and its dwellings is what drew him in, accepting the job without a second’s thought.
Until he had been dismissed.
Unfairly, in his mind. The village was small, unto itself, but the one-room schoolhouse was full of children. All the neighboring small villages and farms, nestled in their own little valleys, didn’t have enough to justify separate schools with a separate teacher, each demanding their own pay. They pulled their resources and congregated their children in the small building. It had lasted many generations.
After he signed the contract and arrived, he placed his one bag in the back of the building that would serve as his bedroom. Meals would be provided on a rotating basis, provided by parents of the children who would be attending. He never got a satisfactory answer why the old schoolmaster left and the position opened up. They were, one and all, a closed mouth bunch, and only at the monthly council meetings was there any real discussion about the state of things.
He had some issues and resolved to bring them up at the next meeting. Walking the land near the school, one of the things that bothered him was the rushing stream that wended very close to the building itself. Clumps of trees created, as he saw it, hiding places; he knew children well enough.
So, on the second month of his stay, he brought up the problems with the stream. During their lunch breaks, the children scurried off to home for meals. Upon returning, though, many came back with their trousers or hems of their skirts, and shoes, sodden through and through. The whispers and laughter of the students spoke of how this one or that “slipped” into the stream. Some few returned with their entirety drenched.
He was afraid that, with the speed of the water, the slippery rocks, the tomfoolery of some of the students, that it was only a matter of time until someone got seriously hurt. He suggested fencing in the school, high enough so the students couldn’t climb over. This was outright laughed at and dismissed; the opinion being it would mar the landscape. He then added: “Well, what about fencing around the perimeter of the stream? It could be made to blend in with the flora of the land.”
Explaining what flora was did nothing to dissuade the council. The most galling comment made sent his temper ablaze: “We’ve always had it this way, without any incident. There’s no reason to change what has always been and worked.” He held his tongue to this, but the fire that bloomed on his cheeks told them all what he thought.
Weeks passed, and word had gotten to the children what their headmaster had asked for. Things escalated from there, more and more students came in sopping wet. On top of that, clothing was starting to get damaged, torn and ragged. The parents were starting to complain, and, of course, the blame was being placed on their Dominie.
The gossiping got brutal. Meals were becoming hard to come by, if at all. He had stored away some food, but nothing that would keep him fully fed and healthy. The looks he got when he walked the village or entered the pub, got to be too much for him. He spent more and more time in his room at the schoolhouse.
This would have gone on for a long time if the death had not happened.
One of the students, William, did not return from lunch. All the others were very quiet when they returned, heads down, no joking around, no whispers. Many were wet, as usual by this point, but there was so much more mud spread around.
Worried, he started asking them about William. No answers were forthcoming. His anger built from their silence, he verbally lashed out at them, causing many of the girls to start crying, and a few of the boys as well. Ordering them to wait in the schoolhouse, he dashed off to the stream.
It didn’t take long to find William’s body. He was face down in the stream, the water rushing past him. His pants were caught on a tree root that had broken through the soil; otherwise, his body would have been washed away. Wading in, he picked up William and brought past the copse by the stream. He placed him on the ground, surrounded by the many fallen branches that the students obviously broke off and played with. Looking up, he saw that he children had disobeyed him again and were standing outside, watching.
Turning the body over, he let out a gasp that was loud enough to frighten many of the children. William’s head was bloodied. He assumed his head fell on one of the rocks, but any evidence of that was washed away.
He sent one of the older boys to fetch William’s parents, and another to the pub to find members of the village council. Time seemed to stand still while they waited, but once the villages-all of them- showed up, everything was chaos.
The children finally started to talk. They blamed their headmaster that he had ranted about the stream, their coming in wet all the time, on and on. One boy said the headmaster pulled William out for giving him lip and brought him to the stream. Almost all the children began to agree with this story.
No matter what he said, the villagers turn on him. Rocks and fists were thrown, people screamed and, wailing, began to beat him bloody. They finally let him be. The head of the council stopped them before they killed him. He bent down, looked into the headmasters swollen eyes, and spat in them. He was told he was dismissed, to leave the village immediately, otherwise…
Once he was able to stand, partially, he went and gathered up the few belongings he had. He left, not looking behind, but…
Not going all that far.
A few weeks passed as he nursed himself, deep in the woods, where it was unlikely anyone would venture. He ate what he could capture, drank from an offshoot of the stream, and got stronger. During this time, his body was healing, but his mind…not so much. His anger grew to a bonfire blaze.
When he was able to, he began damming up the stream. He moved medium sized rocks into position until he was strong enough to roll larger ones in place. The water stopped rushing down its run, pooling over onto the sides.
Creeping back, he made sure he wasn’t seen. He watched the children all march into the schoolhouse. Behind them: the head of the council. They had not had time to find another to take his place, and that made him smile.
In his pack, he had his kit. In that, were the tools he needed. He had been gathering thistle when he wasn’t building the dam. Once the schoolhouse doors were closed, he made his way, making sure he stayed out of view of the windows.
Placing the thistle in bunches around the perimeter of the building came first. He went back to drag over a thick branch near where he had laid William’s body. This, he shoved through the door handles.
With that done, he scurried around, lighting the thistle as fast as he could. Once all were ablaze, he ran out of the area, up the rise, and settled down a top of the drystone wall. It gave him a perfect view. He watched the building burn, heard the screams, saw villagers swarm the area, heading to the stream for water that was not there, and watched many collapse on the ground, crying, wailing, beating their chests, suffering.
He spat on the ground before him, got up, and walked away.
No one dismisses a Dominie.
Debs Carey was one of the people I interacted a lot with during this past AtoZ Blog Challenge in April. She and her writing partner, David, have been inspirational and friendly above and beyond the norm. They asked me to be on the lookout for the Sunday prompt on Fiction Can Be Fun, which is where their story of espionage and magic intertwined and I got captured in reading. Check it out.
The prompt was: pick a new release of an old (out of copyright) book at Project Gutenberg. Then head over to the Recent Books section. Pick one that you like the look of. The title of your chosen book forms the title and prompt for your story.
If you click on the link about at Fiction Can Be Fun, you’ll find others who have joined in on this prompt fest. Give them a try. I know I will.
Oh, and the other thing was, we were supposed to keep it at around 500 words(ish). Um…my ish is pretty big. Sorry Debs, but…no one dismisses a Dominie.