by Michael Bloor

(first published in Free Flash Fiction, February 22nd 2023)

Did every 1960s British secondary school have a murderous gym teacher? Was there a special hush-hush government establishment for turning trained, wartime, SAS killers into post-war cricket umpires? I only ask because, over and again, in occasional conversations with strangers in bars and on trains, I’ve heard stories of young lives blighted by sadists with whistles dangling round their necks. My own tormentor was a laconic, vindictive Yorkshireman, called Dogsbreath Donovan. But I was blessed, because Fate eventually delivered him into my hands.

One example of Dogsbreath’s inhumanity must suffice: clearing the vaulting box. You needed a strong leap to get over those wooden vaulting boxes. The lift used to be supplied by a springboard – a flexible wooden board that you sprinted toward and jumped on with all your weight. But springboards were obsolete and ours was eventually replaced by a mini-trampoline. Had Dogsbreath been interested in children’s health and safety, he would have warned us that mini-trampolines required a rather different technique from springboards. But Dogsbreath evidently felt it would be more entertaining for the class to learn by trial and error…

As always, we lined up in alphabetical order: me first, Tank Yeomans last. The concussion I suffered meant that I have no memory of the event, but apparently, after thumping that trampoline at speed with all my might, I cleared the vaulting box by a good four feet, uttered an unmanly shriek, and clattered into the climbing bars at the back of the gym. Dogsbreath smiled as he ambled over to take me to the secretary’s office and the first-aid box.

My chance came in the last week of the summer term and of my school career. There was an equipment store beside the gym. It was a muddle of sagging shelves, mouldering ropes, rusting metal and broken bits of wood. As I left the gym changing room, I could see Dogsbreath, with his back to me, rummaging about in the store. I noticed that he had left the key in the lock of the half-open door.

I never hesitated: I moved quietly up to the door, grabbed the doorknob, and pulled it closed. But before I could turn the key, the doorknob was grabbed from the inside. Dogsbreath was bigger and heavier than me, but I had adrenaline as well as justice on my side. I jammed my foot against the doorpost and heaved for my life. A near-silent tussle ensued for several seconds. I could hear Dogsbreath’s heavy breathing on the other side of the door. I made one final huge effort and abruptly let go…

The door flew open and I sped away. As I sprinted down the corridor and round the corner, I heard a succession of dull thumps, grunts, metallic clangs and wooden clatters. I had a gratifying mental picture of Dogsbreath ricocheting off various pieces of sharp and heavy equipment.

I felt that, on the whole, it would be wiser to skip school for the rest of that last week.

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