Further Down The Tracks

Submitted into Contest #198 in response to: Write a story about an unconventional teacher.... view prompt


Contemporary Horror High School

“And that is why rail tracks are four feet and eight and a half inches apart.”

Mr Burton bestowed his dazzling smile upon the class, but somehow managed to make it land on Darren. Darren blushed, but returned the smile all the same. Mr Burton was his hero, or something like that. Mr Burton was cool and he not only knew stuff, he knew how to tell it in a way that made it really interesting to a point that the pupils in the class were lapping it up.

“So you’re saying that train tracks are the width they are thanks to horse butts?” 

There was a half-arsed round of laughter from the speaker’s friends and a few more hangers on. Peter was the one who had spoken, and despite his lame quip, he was one of the brightest here. Darren resented Peter’s act. Peter was rebelling against his own intelligence and showing disdain towards his potential, but it was all an act and Peter would follow his parents into one of their professions or do something similarly drab and mundane. Perhaps this was his last hurrah before he got sucked into the corporate machine and the last of his humanity was cleansed from him.

Mr Burton smiled a different smile to his dazzling smile as he addressed Peter and his flippant comment, “Roman horse butts, Peter, as you well know.” Then the teacher returned his attention to his class, “now I want you all to write an essay entitled, ‘What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us.”

There was a collective groan. This was obligatory behaviour and it was wallpaper to Mr Burton. He casually looked at his watch, “you have fifteen minutes to work on your essay in class. The finished essay needs to be with me when we next we meet.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, but everyone knew what was coming next. They would be disappointed if it didn’t.

“You know what?” he rubbed his chin as he mulled matters further, “I think I will serenade you as you write.”

He walked over to a metal cabinet and flung the right door open, pausing in wonderment at his discovery, “oh look! There’s a guitar!”

Mr Burton could not hide his glee as he snatched up the guitar in question. He jumped backwards landing his rear on his desk and launched into one of his impromptu songs. His made up lyrics were always about the subject in hand and served as a prompt as the class went about their work.

What did the Romans ever do for us?

Well that’s for you lot to suss.

They may have been imperial toads,

But they built mighty fine roads.

No one ever said his lyrics were going to win a prize, but they were fun and there was something magically mad in Mr Burton’s delivery.


Darren hadn’t had the easiest ride of it as a kid, but he knew he didn’t have the worst of it either. He knew there was always someone worse off than him and there was plenty of evidence of that at school. At times, when he was in the thick of it, he couldn’t see beyond the struggle and pain of his plight, but as he moved on and grew out of that phase he got that it was just that. A phase. He sometimes thought that those uncomfortable, intermediate years were a form of grief. Change was hard, and one of the hardest times in a person’s life was when they lost their bubble of innocence and their childhood was coming to an end.

Not that it ended any time soon. Childhood extended well beyond the phase where children thought they had outgrown everything and knew it all. They were selfishly oblivious to the indulgence they were afforded as they kicked and railed and painted everything around them as bad. 

Two year olds might have had physical temper tantrums, but teens went the whole hog and waged angry, psychological warfare on the world. Those teenage years were a chrysalis of anger and the worst of it was that the butterfly that emerged from that was not a triumph. There was no beauty in it. That was still to come. A person had to work at beauty, do a bunch of living and earn their wings and strive for a beauty that belonged in the world.

However, good, bad or ugly Darren’s childhood had been, he knew he’d been brought up the right way. He had values. So he never got the subcultural tradition of that kid punching a teacher on the last day of school. 

The kid that did this wasn’t the one who’d had it worse than everyone else, far from it. The kid who thought it right to punch a teacher was differentiated from everyone else by the level of their entitlement. They felt they had more right to punch the teacher than anyone else.

Now, a kid with some sort of code, a person with something about them, they would punch the most deserving of the teachers. The recipient of the punch of defiance would be a man. That much was obvious. It was set in stone. No one was going to punch a female teacher. That just wasn’t done. Never had been. Never would be. Not even Mel had done that when she’d been that kid in Darren’s second year here. No, she’d slapped Mr Woolstencroft, the geography teacher.

Why Mr Woolstencroft?

Darren thought it was because he was average. He wasn’t the worst and he wasn’t the best and that made him symbolic of the establishment. Mr Woolstencroft was a representative of the system and that kid got the slap in before they were fed into the machine that awaited them and became something they despised. 

Mr Woolstencroft and teachers like him were everything in that moment, and yet they were nothing. Their lack of value made the slap so very easy, but it also rendered it a pathetic and worthless act. Better to go for the worst of the teachers. Better to make a stand against that person who took their place in the machine and not only let it define them, but went with it and used their position to be their version of that kid again and again and again.

Mr Jones the PE teacher was the one to target in that respect. The man was a brute and a bully. Darren would have liked to have seen him taken down a peg or two. A slap would not do. It would have to be done properly, or not at all. Humiliation was the only way. Showing Mr Jones up in public and making him do a walk of shame in front of the whole school. Darren had had day dreams of Mr Jones’ comeuppance. Often, these dreams were in the wake of a PE lesson where Darren’s lack of physical prowess had been mercilessly exploited and he had been mocked ceaselessly by the older man.

No one would ever stand up to Mr Jones though, in fact the bigger and stronger of the boys looked up to him. They aspired to that brutality. They valued it. There would be more Mr Jones in the world and few of them would ever be challenged. That was just the way it worked. A random Mr Average got a slap and the Joneses plied their bullying trade with impunity.

At least most years, the good guys were left out of the sad drama of the last day. 

Most years.

Darren didn’t see what happened, but the rumour of what had happened spread a little like the fire that consumed Mr Burton’s guitar. 

Someone had burned Mr Burton’s guitar.

It hurt Darren to hear this and he was probably one of the first to hear. How he discovered this sacrilegious act was something that he never attended to. He did not register who it was that told him, and those details were lost in the mists of time as almost immediately after this terrible atrocity, Darren had seen Mr Burton. He’d seen his favourite teacher. They had crossed paths and Darren had seen the hurt of betrayal in the man’s eyes. He’d seen the slumped posture and a face creased with hurt and his heart had gone out to a man who had made these past five years not only bearable, but special.

Darren had wanted to say something. He’d wanted to do something, but the moment had passed just as Mr Burton had passed by him, and then it was all over and there was no taking it back. School was over as was Darren’s time with someone who contained a spark that Darren had never encountered before.


They say you should never go back.

Darren had heard the words and he knew there was merit within them, but they did not hold any definition, just like those road signs that warn of a potential hazard. Deer never crossed Darren’s road, so the sign was a distraction and a hazard in itself. Something to be ignored in favour of the road ahead and the journey itself.

They say you should never go back, but there he was and Darren was back. His heart stopped momentarily and then it fluttered and his face flushed with that familiar blush that only Mr Burton could illicit. The blush was that thing that goes wrong when everything else was so right. 

Darren saw Mr Burton and time slowed almost to a stop. He was back in that corridor, seeing Mr Burton for the last time, only this Mr Burton was different, and he was different because Darren was now different. 

Darren had grown up. He was a man now. At least on paper he was. It would be a good few years before he would wake up to how far away from being a man he still was. There was still a fair way for Darren to go before he lost the last vestiges of his childhood and his innocence.

Mr Burton was the same, but he was also a million miles away from being the same. They were out of school now and they were both different animals away from that environment. They were also thirty miles away from the school where Mel slapped Mr Woolstencroft’s face and laughed at his injury and surprise before being escorted from the premises.

This was a chance encounter and the unexpected aspect of their meeting made it all the more exotic for Darren.

“Mr Burton!” his eager and childlike voice diminished Darren and for an agonising series of seconds it looked for all the world like Mr Burton would deny Darren. There was the hint of recognition in the older man’s demeanour, but nothing more. This was an act of ignorance that threatened to expunge the memories Darren had of this man as a hero and possibly more than a hero. 

Everything could so easily have been burned away had the world turned in another direction.

Darren did not register the reluctance that almost saw Mr Burton pass him by. There was the briefest conflict, then the battle was over and Mr Burton was smiling at his former star pupil as he came to a standstill and facilitated their encounter.

The decision was made.

It was done.


“Please. No more. This has to be the last time.”

Dan Burton is distraught. He is sitting on the very edge of the armchair with his head in his hands, barely recognisable as the happy-go-lucky teacher who inspires children with his boundless energy and his ability to relate to them on their level and yet impart the wisdom of the ages.

This here is not the history teacher who brings the past to life.

This is a broken man who has never learnt from a history that is so much closer to home.

His body shakes gently with the memory of tears and sobbing, but there are no more tears within him. He is beyond that now, and yet he wants it all to stop. He cannot go on like this. Not now. 

Not after Darren.

Dan cannot bear to look up and see the couple on the sofa across from him, but he hears the slurping and he knows full well what is occurring. His mind’s eye provides him with a tableau he has seen so many times before it lives with him always.

He waits it out. Not quite frozen in place. Not quite able to transport himself away from the room and the dark business that is taking place just a step away. So close, he could reach out and touch the still warm corpse of his former pupil.

Eventually, the slurping stops and Dan knows that his wife, Sophie, has finished her meal. He looks up. She is leaning back on the sofa, eyes closed. She’s not sleeping, just resting her eyes. Dormant and waiting.

Now it is for Dan to show their guest to his room for the night, only tonight will be the last night this room exists. Come the morning, this house will be ashes and the family who own it will return from their holiday to a major inconvenience.

Dan takes a hammer with him. 

Darren will never be identified. One of those troubled young men who go missing, never to be found again.

A boring statistic that should convey sadness, but never does.

As he carries Darren up the stairs to the bedroom he gazes down at the lifeless body and says a silent apology. The apology is pathetic. A futile slap in the face of life itself. A slap that will never bring Darren around.

He lays Darren on the bed and covers it with a duvet after he has made a few minor adjustments to ensure his body will never be identified. Then he sits for a while and tells Darren a little of it.

Dan needs these confessions. This is the only time he speaks of this aspect of his existence. He needs to tell someone, and who better to tell than his star pupils. They get it better than anyone else.

They always get it.

“I burnt my guitar,” he tells Darren’s corpse, “it was a sacrifice that tied you and several others to me.” Dan sighs and straightens the duvet cover absently, “our meeting was not by chance. I’ve known where you are ever since you left school. I knew. But I had to wait you see. Leave it long enough that you being connected to me was less and less likely…”

Dan trails off and looks up towards the window, but the curtains are drawn and he cannot see beyond. Dan has been unable to see beyond for a long while now.

“It’s Sophie you see,” Dan sighs, “she’s not well. She needs… Well, you know that bit. So every year, she makes me select the best of my students. Every year. Then, a few years later, I bring them to her and the rest, as they say, is history…”

Dan stares intently through the curtains to a place only he can see. Eventually, he stands up unsteadily on stiff legs. 

“It was your brain or mine,” he says into the room, “at least you had a few years after school. I gave you that didn’t I?”

Dan knows that he is a coward, and that he is putting off the certain eventuality of Sophie taking him one of these days. He thinks it will be a long way off from here. For now, he serves his purpose. He can identify the finest of minds and deliver them to the vibrant and beautiful woman he married. 

Each year, he makes a sacrifice in the vain hope that his beautiful Sophie will return to him. He understands that he is in denial, that that Sophie is long gone, and yet he cannot stop. He goes on and on making those sacrifices to the memory of his wife and to a history that he will never revisit or recapture.

As he makes his way down the stairs, he sings a song that comes from nowhere and that no one will ever hear. He sings a song that rides on the laughter of his madness and loops around and around until he is dizzied by it, so dizzied that he fancies he sees the old Sophie, napping on the sofa, her skin no longer a vile grey and her chin devoid of the macabre remnants of the meal she made of a young man’s brilliant brain.

He kisses her full on the mouth before bundling her into the car for a nice drive. 

As they drive away, the flames in the bedroom begin removing Darren from this world until history is all that is left of him.

As they drive away, Mr Burton sighs. This is the last of the Summer holidays and a new class awaits him. A new batch of fine young minds delighted by his unconventional ways. Beautiful minds, ripe for the taking.

May 13, 2023 11:49

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Simon Conner
09:36 May 25, 2023

Wow! I didn’t see that coming Jed. What a twist and a turn. I was very taken by the insights into young minds, how awful teenagers can be as they develop, very familiar and true. I was intrigued with Darren’s encounter with Mr Burton, wondering where this would go, then, bam! It made me reflect back on Mr Burton as an inspiring teacher but in a whole new context. Great stuff!


Jed Cope
13:17 May 25, 2023

Thanks Simon - I love twists and it's always good to know I landed one! I'm glad you enjoyed the story!


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Timothy Rennels
19:56 May 22, 2023

Jed, this was like wandering into an abandoned house. Each turn makes it scarier, until you are lost inside. GREAT job!


Jed Cope
20:00 May 22, 2023

Oh now that is top drawer feedback. Thank you so much, I'm so glad you enjoyed yourself in the house at the end of the street...!


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Helen A Smith
20:03 May 20, 2023

Hi Jed What a creepy tale. Certainly an unconventional teacher here. Did not expect this twist at all. Well told.


Jed Cope
22:14 May 20, 2023

Thank you. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed this story. I do love a twist, so I'm glad it crept up on you and caught you unawares!


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David Sweet
15:29 May 20, 2023

Definitely a unique way to get into thr minds of your students! Haha. Definitely, took a big twist. Thanks for sharing.


Jed Cope
15:33 May 20, 2023

You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it!


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Mary Bendickson
00:13 May 15, 2023

Seemed like you were on a nice track then 'Whoa!'...off the rails!


Jed Cope
09:31 May 15, 2023

Does that mean you enjoyed the ride though?


Mary Bendickson
14:13 May 15, 2023

Think I gave you a like. 👍Great for a horror story as it was labeled. Question? The wife's color and the fact she needed to be bundled for a ride suggested she may be of the undead variety. True? Thanks for following my stories.


Jed Cope
15:17 May 15, 2023

Good stuff - I just wanted to be certain of the quality of the like..! His wife wasn't in great shape and there was a strong suspicion that she may be undead, or something of that nature... ...or was she even there? Was she a fantasy that made it easier for the unconventional teacher to kill the best of his pupils?


Mary Bendickson
16:43 May 15, 2023

Eeww. Never thought of that.


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