Garrett waited at the school gate for Gray. He and Jack had been taking it in turns to pick him up after school since the winter cold bit down hard making cycling to and from school less palatable for the boy. There were other parents there with the same idea. He passed friendly comments about the weather with them. He remembered doing the same thing for his own girls and felt lucky to have a second shot at these ordinary aspects of parenthood. He, Jack and Gray were an odd family by some measurements, but they very definitely were a family.
A bell rang inside the school building and presently it was like the floodgates opening as boys and girls emerged from several different doors. Gray came out with two other boys of his own age and was talking to them as he crossed the playground. He smiled as he spotted Garrett and left his friends to walk with his adopted father to the open topped Jaguar which held the attention of his classmates.
“They like this car,” Gray said as he fastened the seatbelt in the passenger side. “They asked me what you do to afford such a cool car. I told them you were a spy, but they laughed.”
“That figures,” Garrett replied. “People never believe the truth if you tell it to them. All the same, if they ask again, say I’m a stockbroker. It’s boring, but believable.”
“I will,” Gray promised. “They don’t know about... that I don’t have... that you and Jack... I haven’t told them about that, yet. But I will. I’m not ashamed. I love you both. You’re the best parents I could have except... except for my real mom and dad.”
“We love you, too, Gray,” Garrett replied. “Are you settling in ok in the school? It’s been a whole term since you started in September. You haven’t talked about it very much. We were wondering... I know it’s a bit daunting, being among so many other kids. Jack said that in Boeshane there were only about two hundred children in the whole settlement. A school with a thousand on the role... it’s a lot to get used to.”
“The school is ok,” Gray assured him. “The kids... there’s some older ones I don’t like. I try to keep away from them. But...”
Gray paused. Garrett looked around as he halted the car at a red light and noticed him bite his lip nervously. The transition to high school was hard for any child. One with two men for parents had an added hurdle to cross, but he seemed to be coping with that. The potential school bullies weren’t worrying him.
So what else was there?
“Dad...” Gray said. “I... I see dead people.”
The lights turned green. The driver behind him signalled his impatience with a blast on his horn. Garrett had to move on, but as soon as it was safe to do so, he pulled the car into a parking space.
“Gray... are you... is that a joke? I mean... I didn’t think you’d seen that film... It’s hardly suitable for your age... but I suppose other kids might....”
“I don’t know anything about a film,” Gray answered. “Dad, there are dead people in the school. Lots of them. I’ve seen them. Some of the other kids have, too. It’s creepy. I’m not scared, because I know that you and Jack can make them go away. But....”
He tried not to, but tears pricked his eyes. Garrett unfastened his seatbelt and reached out to hold him tightly until he could compose himself better.
“Iced coffee at Coffee Mania,” he said at last. He sent a text message to Jack before buckling up again and restarting the car.
Jack was waiting inside their favourite café near Mermaid Quay. So was Gwen. As his regular ‘baby-sitter’ despite his objection to that term, she was the closest thing Gray had to a mother figure in his life. Her calm presence in the strange situation was good for all of them.
Over iced coffee for Gray and lattes for everyone else, the boy told them his story.
“It’s not exactly what we do at Torchwood,” Gwen pointed out when he was done. “We deal with aliens and alien technology. This is paranormal. It sounds more like the school needs an exorcist.”
“I decide what we do at Torchwood,” Jack said. "I’ll pull some strings with the education department. We’ll go in tomorrow. Me and you, Gwen. That sweet, reassuring, PC Cooper smile of yours will help smooth the way with the kids. Meanwhile, Alun and Ianto have the late shift at the Hub tonight. They can while away the hours researching the school building and its surrounding area for us.”
“What do you think they’ll find?” Gwen asked. “An ancient burial site under the school gym?”
“Maybe,” Jack answered. “Weirder things have happened in Cardiff. Ok, you go on home to Rhys and get ready to play substitute teacher tomorrow. Gray, I think you need a couple of games of ten pin bowling down the Red Dragon Centre and pizza and coke before we go home.”
Gray smiled widely at the unscheduled mid-week treat. He was still in the middle of something disturbing, but he had told the people he trusted most about it, and they had fully believed him. That was the biggest hurdle safely crossed. He could put his worries aside for a few hours, knowing that it was all going to be sorted out tomorrow.
In the morning, Garrett drove Gray to school in the Jaguar again, impressing a whole lot more of his peers who hadn’t seen him arrive in such style before. The Torchwood SUV was already sitting in the staff car park, surprisingly inconspicuous considering it had the word ‘Torchwood’ etched across the side. Gray glanced at it once then carried on into the school with his friends.
Inside the SUV, Jack and Gwen watched the students carefully. Gray had said that nearly all his friends had seen the ghosts. It was a regular occurrence.
“If I’d seen ghosts in my school,” Jack said. “If I was seeing them every day, and they were as gruesome as the things Gray told us about last night, I’d be a lot less enthusiastic about going to school. These kids look like the only thing they have to worry about is their homework.”
“From what Gray said, it started as one or two ghosts, maybe once a week. They accepted it as a bit of a distraction from their lessons. Some of the kids gave the ghosts daft names, like in Harry Potter. But since the new term started, there have been more of them.”
“If Gray hadn’t told me, I would have put it down to some kind of mass hysteria thing,” Jack admitted. “But he’s not a kid who makes things up. He has enough crazy stuff in his real life. Something definitely is wrong in this building.”
“There are no unusual energy readings,” Gwen added. She was looking at the data on the pull down computer screen in front of her. “Just the usual Rift Energy trace left by the sort of temporal overlays people think of as ghosts.”
Jack smiled grimly at the way Gwen talked so casually about Rift Energy traces left by temporal overlays. She really talked like a Torchwood operative. The days when he had to remind her that it was ‘we’ not ‘you’ were long gone, along with her naïveté about Human nature and a lot of the emotional baggage she brought with her when she joined them.
Jack wondered if he should change his name to Frankenstein.
He had created a monster.
“Ianto told me to remind you that the school lies on a direct north-north-east axis from the Hub according to his Rift Line Theory.”
Jack made a noise in his throat that expressed all of his feelings about Ianto’s Rift Line Theory. He loved Ianto dearly. He still occasionally felt pangs of jealousy that he was with Alun and not him. But he was extremely sceptical about the huge interactive map of Cardiff and South Wales where he plotted every report of anything strange and unusual that came into the Hub. Ianto had even started going back over cold cases and adding them onto the increasingly busy map. And all that it seemed to prove was that Cardiff had a lot of weird shit going on in it.
The playground was quieter now. Only a few stragglers were heading in through the main door. Jack got out of the SUV and buttoned his coat around him. Gwen walked beside him into the school. As they waited in the foyer, the smell of gym bags and damp duffel coats drifting from the cloakroom and the sound of the school secretary’s hands flying over her word processor keyboard were a dose of normality.
A headless figure in a grey robe passing along the corridor reminded them that they were here because something abnormal was going on. They watched it walk straight through the wall into the staff toilets.
Then the headmistress came from her office. She shook hands with them both politely and with just a little sense of awe.
“I was surprised to hear that Torchwood were interested in our... problem,” Mrs Enid Roberts said to them. “I hope... well... I am sure... that you will be discreet. So far, none of the parents have made official complaints, and there has only been one student withdrawn from the school... But this cannot go on...”
“The welfare of the children is our first priority, Mrs Roberts,” Gwen assured her in her best PC Cooper style. “You don’t need to worry about that. But we will have to talk to as many of them as possible.”
“That will be arranged,” the headmistress assured them. “I...” She sighed as the headless robed figure emerged from the wall again. At the same time a young woman in the sort of neat skirt suit a junior English mistress might wear emerged from the staff toilet. She glanced at the headmistress and her two visitors and then hurried off to the assembly hall.
“I really wish that one would stay out of the ladies lavatories,” Mrs Roberts said. “It’s... hardly appropriate.”
“He doesn’t have a head,” Gwen pointed out. “I suppose... he can’t really be accused of peeping.” But that really didn’t help matters. Mrs Roberts escorted them to the assembly where, after the usual hymn singing and prayers, and notes about swimming, Miss Cooper and Mr Harkness were introduced. They would be going around the classrooms during the day with some special safety advice for students, who were urged to listen carefully.
The first three classes Gwen went to were expecting a lecture about safe sex and were a little surprised when she began to ask them about ghosts in the school.
There was a mid-morning break before she stepped into Gray’s first year English Literature class. By that time those who had been visited by the Torchwood ghost-busting team had shared their experience with their friends and everyone knew what she was going to say.
The English literature teacher was less than enthusiastic.
“It’s a load of nonsense,” he told Gwen. “A silly rumour went around the playground, and now they all ‘see’ ghosts’. It’s an excuse for sloppy work and inattention. Pandering to them is a huge mistake.”
“You might be right, Mr Bevis,” Gwen answered him politely. “That is what we are here to ascertain. I will try to be as quick as possible and minimise the disruption to your lesson plan.”
Mr Bevis scowled at her but sat at his desk and didn’t interfere further. Gwen stood in front of the class and scanned the young faces. The tables were arranged informally, with four students at each one. Those who would be facing away turned their chairs to look at her.
“I want to know if any of you have seen anything unusual in the school,” she said to them. At once, every hand raised eagerly and twenty-nine faces looked disappointed as Gwen pointed to one boy and asked him what he had seen.
“A man in Roman gear with a spear through his stomach,” the boy replied. Gwen nodded. The speared Roman had come up quite often in the three classrooms she had already visited. It proved only one thing - Mr Bevis’s theory about the power of playground rumour.
At least half the classroom confirmed that the Roman had been restless this morning.
Gwen glanced at the built in stationery cupboard beside the whiteboard. Then she turned back to the class.
“Without talking about it to anyone, will you all please write down in your homework books what you saw coming out of the cupboard just now. No talking. No looking at each other’s pages.”
There was a silence broken only by the scratching of pens on paper for several minutes. Then Gwen quietly walked around the tables looking at what they had written. She told eight of the students to go and stand by the whiteboard. Gray was one of them. She looked at the homework book of a ninth boy and then at the book belonging to the student sitting next to him.
“What was the woman with her neck slashed wearing on her head?” she asked the boy quietly.
“A headscarf,” he answered after a moment’s hesitation. Gwen nodded and addressed the girl whose book he had copied from. “Gwyn Harris. You missed a detail. What was the woman with her neck slashed wearing on her head?”
“She... wasn’t wearing anything on her head,” Gwyn Harris replied nervously. “She... just had a sort of nightie on. It was white.”
“That’s all right,” Gwen assured her. “Paul Walsh, if you’re going to copy from somebody else in future, try not to copy their spelling mistakes. It’s a bit of a give away.”
Paul Walsh gave Gwen a startled look then blushed red as Mr Bevis glared at him coldly. Gwen turned to the children she had sent to the front of the class.
“All of you go along to the assembly hall. My colleague, Mr Harkness, wants to talk to you about the things you’ve seen. Don’t worry. He’s a really nice man. There’s no need to be frightened.”
Mr Bevis looked as if he might protest at losing nearly a third of his students but Gwen turned a disarming smile on him before having a last word with the rest of the class.
“I know it looks as if some of you are getting special treatment, but really, that’s no reason to jump on a bandwagon. Do you actually WANT to see headless monks and Roman soldiers with spears through them, men with their necks broken by nooses and women with their throats cut? You should count yourself lucky not to have seen anything. It’s horrible. So get on with your lessons now, and don’t let me hear of anyone bullying the kids who’ve gone to the hall or there will be big trouble.”
She left the classroom and made her way to the hall. She had identified more than forty children now who had genuinely seen the ghosts and weren’t playing along for attention or so that they wouldn’t feel left out, or because it all seemed like a lot of fun.
At break Jack had said he knew another way to identify the affected students. He didn’t say anything else, but when she went into the school hall there were close to sixty youngsters of all ages from eleven to sixteen, girls and boys alike, sitting on chairs around tables arranged informally as they were in the classrooms.
Jack was talking quietly to individual students. Gwyn Harris, who had come from the literature class, was crying. Jack was doing his best to console her, but he didn’t quite have the PC Cooper touch.
“What did you do to her?” Gwen asked as she comforted the girl.
“Nothing,” he answered. “I just needed to double check my theory.”
“You made a girl cry for a theory?”
“She’s crying because my theory is correct,” he said. “Gwen, all the kids who’ve seen ghosts... they’ve all witnessed a sudden or violent death. That’s how I identified most of them. From the classified notes on their school records.”
“What?” Her eyes turned automatically to Gray. Jack had not gone into much detail, but she knew something terrible had happened to the community the two brothers came from in the far future. Gray had seen people die.
She turned to Gwyn. Inbetween sobs she told of the dreadful day, two years ago, when she and her mother had been walking home from her old primary school. A car driven by a drunk driver mounted the pavement and her mother was dragged several yards before the car came to a stop against a lamppost. Gwyn wasn’t hurt, but she had seen her mother bleed to death before the ambulance arrived.
Gwen looked around at the other children. Sixty out of a total school roll of a thousand had seen somebody die. Most of them had been involved in car accidents of some description and the death they witnessed was of a close relative. One sixteen year old had seen his older brother knifed in a gang fight. Another boy had seen his uncle battered to death by house burglars.
The children looked at each other and realised they all shared a common grief. One boy reached out his hand to Gwyn. Others clutched hands in a quiet moment of understanding, and when the Roman casualty of war wandered through the hall he didn’t get as much of a reaction as he might have had before.
Sixty children in the same school, in a small city like Cardiff, had known the sort of trauma that destroyed childhood and left them marked out from the rest. Who needed ghosts walking through the school hall or weevils in the sewers, aliens in the bus station, or any other weird shit that Torchwood usually dealt with when there were statistics like that in the ordinary world?
“So....” Gwen looked at Jack. “You’re saying that, because they’ve seen somebody die, it makes them able to see the ghosts.”
“You’ve seen people die, Gwen. You can see them. So can I. Mrs Roberts... I looked her up, too. She’s actually a widow. She was with her husband when he died of a sudden heart attack. That’s why she can see them where most of the faculty can’t. I don’t know what it is, exactly. Some kind of chemical thing in the brain, or a psychological change brought about by trauma. But that’s why its only these kids, not all of them. That’s half the problem solved. The rest... is WHY the ghosts are here.” He turned to the children again. “Gray... Have you ever seen ghosts anywhere other than the school?”
“No,” he answered. Jack asked some others to be sure. None of them had seen anything in any other place than the main school. Even the playground and the gym and refectory which were both modern additions detached from the original late Victorian building were safe.
“Then does that make Ianto’s Rift Line Theory more or less likely?” Gwen asked.
“Nuts to the Rift Line,” Jack replied just as a school bell drowned his words. “Ok, kids, you’ve got out of a whole lesson because of this ghost thing. That’s got to be a silver lining. Go on and get your lunch and try not to worry any more. Torchwood is on the case. We’re going to sort it out.”
Jack and Gwen followed the students to the refectory. They still had work to do but they’d been invited to eat with the staff. Gray hung back and came to his brother’s side.
“That was the magic word,” he said. “Torchwood. Now they know that’s what you are, everyone knows it’ll be all right.”
“Our reputation is that good among school kids?” Gwen asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Gray answered her. “Torchwood is cool. Anyone who gets a picture of the SUV on their mobile is king of the playground.” Gray laughed softly. “I think it’s just possible I might beat that, now. By the end of lunch everyone in the school will know that Jack Harkness of Torchwood is my big brother.”
Gray ran to catch up with some of his friends. Gwen watched him as centre of attention among them and shook her head.
“When I joined Torchwood, I am sure there was some mention of it being a SECRET organisation. I mean, I thought the SUV was a bit of a giveaway. But even so....”
“We’re the worst kept secret in South Wales,” Jack admitted. “It’s not so bad. We’re not running school visits to the Hub, yet.” He paused in his step and looked at Gwen intently. “There is something else. Gwen... is it OUR fault that you’ve witnessed sudden death? I was thinking of that porter in the hospital the first day we met... or even that poor sod we were resurrecting with the glove...”
“That seems so long ago now,” Gwen said. “But, no, Jack. He wasn’t the first. I WAS a police officer, remember. I mean, Cardiff isn’t the Bronx or East LA. People aren’t gunned down all over the place. But I’ve been at the scene of road accidents. I’ve had to hold people’s hands while they were dying. The world can be a shitty place even without Torchwood weirdness.”
“That’s true,” Jack admitted.
“What about you?” Gwen asked. “I know it was a long time back, but....”
“It was the same day Gray remembers,” Jack replied. “When our community was attacked. But I don’t really remember details. I was twelve – the same age Gray is now. My mind couldn’t contain it all. It blanked it out. I only ever remember it in fragments, stray memories that I can’t connect together properly.”
Gwen wondered if it had been wrong to ask, but he grasped her hand in his momentarily and smiled at her.
“I’ve come to terms with it long ago, don’t you go feeling guilty about the ghosts of my past, Gwen Cooper. I can deal with them. It’s the ghosts hanging about this place that we’ve got to sort out.”
Before they could start to do that, they had to face a barrage of questions from the faculty table. The sceptics were led by Mr Bevis, the literature teacher, who still didn’t believe there were ghosts in the school.
“There are no such thing as ghosts,” he insisted. “And you people are just pandering to the nonsense the kids have hyped up, disrupting lessons....”
“There ARE ghosts,” said a slim young female teacher with a pale, nervous face. “There’s one that turns up in my class. A man with his body half burnt. It’s absolutely horrendous. Try teaching geography with that wandering around the place. If you can do anything about it, I’d be grateful.”
“What CAUSES it?” asked another teacher. The non-sceptics all wanted to know that. Even the doubters were interested in hearing a theory of some sort.
Only one teacher stayed out of the conversation, concentrating on his lunch. Mr Bryant, who taught physics was the opposite of the slim-built geography teacher. To say he was a large man stretched the definition of ‘large’ much as he stretched the waistband of his trousers. He was the only staff member who ate two portions of the jam-sponge pudding and custard for desert.
“A temporal anomaly,” Jack replied to the central question. “A weak point in time where echoes of the past slip through. They happen all over the world. The Tower of London is the centre of one, has been for a long time. The fact that it has a history of executions and imprisonments colours the imagination. But the ghosts are real.”
“This isn’t the Tower of London,” Mrs Roberts pointed out. “This is a school. It has been a school since 1853. Before that, there was nothing here. It was an orchard. Apples grew here. There was no monastery for the headless monk, no Roman fort, no gallows to explain the hanged man, and I don’t understand why a woman with her throat cut should be hanging around in the English department.”
“I’m afraid you don’t know as much about your school as you think,” Gwen told her. “Our research showed that the orchard belonged to a Franciscan Order before the Dissolution. The monk may have fought against the closure of his monastery and lost his head for it. As for the Romans, they were all over this part of Wales in their time. Goodness knows what happened to him. But that’s all immaterial. They don’t have to have died here. Something is attracting them to the school. Something that has only recently become a problem since last summer.”
“So what happened last summer that made this start?” Jack Harkness asked. He did so casually, rhetorically. He didn’t expect anyone to answer him, but he and Gwen both carefully scanned the faces around them as the faculty members considered the question.
Both noted the face that wasn’t puzzled by the question, but rather worried by it.
Jack went on to explain to anyone who was interested that Rift anomalies could occur naturally, again citing the example of the haunted Tower of London, or artificially. The technology to create a Rift manipulator, though, was beyond the average school science facility.
The staff laughed at that idea, Mr Bryant, whose science room was being maligned, laughed the loudest. When the laughter died down, Jack went on to talk about natural Rift anomalies, suggesting that shifts in the Earth’s magnetic poles could possibly cause new anomalies to open along weak points in the fabric of space-time. One such new anomaly may have opened up within the school six months ago and become gradually stronger – hence the increase in the ghost sightings.
Jack sounded good. He sounded as if he knew what he was talking about. Even Gwen would have believed it if she didn’t know that, Ianto’s Rift Line Theory aside, they had ruled out a spontaneous anomaly already. Most of it was babble. But it was really convincing babble intended to keep somebody thinking about the question through the lunch period.
That was why, when Mr Bryant was the first to leave the table, Gwen quietly slipped away after him. Jack waited a few minutes before following from the modern refectory back across the playground to the main school building. They were trying to keep this as low key as possible. Torchwood had something of a hero following in the school, but if things went bad now that could change.
Torchwood’s reputation in Gray’s school was important.
He was halfway across the playground when his wristlet beeped loudly. He looked at the LCD readout and noted that the Rift Energy levels were rising in the building he was heading towards. That was unexpected. He was pretty sure he was looking for some kind of device that had been leaking energy at a steadily increasing rate for about six months, but this was a massive spike in the level. What was going on, now?
“Gwen?” He made contact with her through his in-ear communicator. “Where are you?”
“Physics room,” she replied. “The teacher, Mr Bryant, is acting very oddly.”
“Define oddly,” Jack challenged her.
“He’s gone inside a cupboard that shouldn’t be big enough for him to fit into,” she said. “I’m not sure if there’s a cupboard in the school that would be. But he went into this one and closed the door and he hasn’t come out again, yet.”
“The kids aren’t allowed in the classrooms during lunch break,” Jack noted. “He might just have an urge he likes to satisfy.”
“You have a filthy mind,” Gwen told him.
“Don’t I just,” he replied. “I also know Human nature, the darker side of it. So don’t you go near that cupboard on your own. I’ll be with you in two seconds.”
He was more like half a minute behind her. He reached the door of the science room just as Gwen approached the cupboard door on the other side of the room. She was right. It shouldn’t have been big enough to fit Mr Bryant in. It was built into an outside wall. It should have been deep enough to fit a stack of A4 writing blocks and no more.
“Gwen, I said don’t...” he called out to her. She pulled her hand back from the door, but it was already opening. Gwen half turned to look back at Jack. He was reaching for his gun, secured inside his coat in a shoulder holster instead of on his hip for this school visit. He adopted his most aggressive stance and a hard expression that made it clear he was fully prepared to shoot with very little provocation.
Gwen turned and looked at the cupboard. It was MUCH deeper than it should have been. Mr Bryant fitted into it easily. The whole of Cardiff could easily be sucked through the door into the eerie other dimension inside. Blood red mist split by black lightning that forked and arced, spitting electricity, framed the bulk of Mr Bryant. He looked past Gwen to Jack with eyes that glowed with the same blood red hue. He opened his mouth and snarled and when he reached out and grabbed Gwen by the shoulder his hands were talons that dug into her flesh, drawing blood. She stood stock still, aware that the inhuman hand could snap her neck in an instant.
Jack held his fire and sized up his options. He didn’t take more than twenty seconds to do so, but it was long enough for the huge Human to turn into an equally big alien. Jack had almost expected a green-skinned Raxacoricofalipatorian who had gorged on Mr Bryant and taken his skin for a disguise. But this wasn’t an alien in a skin. The Human flesh morphed into leathery grey-brown hide before his eyes. He recognised the species when the transformation was complete. It was a lot nastier than a Raxacoricofalipatorian, and that was saying something. The real Mr Bryant would have died screaming as his life force and identity was stolen by this creature.
Identifying the species he was up against took twenty seconds more. Time enough for the creature to drag Gwen closer to the cupboard.
“Let her go,” Jack demanded. “I won’t kill you if you let her go. I’ll even let you go back into your dungeon dimension. But you let her go.”
“Why should I?” The creature replied in a voice that no longer sounded like a Welsh physics teacher. “She’s my travel snack. It’s a long trip back to my world.”
“We already had lunch,” Jack replied, firing twice at the creature’s head. “You shouldn’t snack between meals. That’s why you’re an ugly fat bastard as a Human and an alien.”
His bullets hit their target, but they only lodged in the leathery skin over the skull. They didn’t penetrate it. He tried again. Gwen yelped as the rounds whistled past her head. This time one of his bullets went right into the creature’s eye. It screamed in pain. Gwen took her chance and pulled herself free of the claws. Jack yelled at her to ‘drop’. She did so as he fired the last two bullets left in his six shooter into the rippling alien chest. It fell back into the cupboard, its scream dying away with a Doppler effect as if it was falling a long, long way.
“Get up now, and get out of this room,” Jack said as he reloaded the gun. Gwen started to do so, but she ran into Gray coming into the room.
“Jack!” he cried, apparently oblivious to the portal into another dimension in the physics master’s stationery cupboard. “Jack... the ghosts. There are loads of them. Not just the usual ones. They’re everywhere. I think....”
Jack fired six bullets into the strange cupboard, then he turned and grabbed Gwen and Gray, propelling them both out of the room in front of him. He pushed them both down on the ground and covered them with his own body just in time. There was a compression wave that reduced desks to matchwood and science equipment to glass splinters before a reverse wave that sucked everything back towards the cupboard. When the air pressure equalised again Jack stood and looked into the room. It was strewn with debris. The ground zero of the explosion and the implosion was a cupboard with the door blown clean off and the inside scorched as if a very intense heat source had burnt for a very short time.
“Mrs Roberts is going to need a new physics teacher and a new physics room,” Jack observed.
“I don’t take that subject till my options year, anyway,” Gray commented. “What was that all about? Mr Bryant was an alien? I thought you came to look for ghosts, not aliens.”
“Two for the price of one,” Jack explained. He looked at his wristlet. “The Rift Energy levels are still high. Residuals from the build up earlier. But it should diminish rapidly. I think the ghosts will have gone in a few days. Everything will be just fine.”
“They’ll still be around?” Gray looked disappointed. “I told everyone you’d get rid of the ghosts today.”
“Tell your friends....” Jack began, but he wondered if there was anything he could tell them that would regain their trust if he had let them down.
“Talk to the ghosts,” Gwen said. “That’s what they did in that film. Get your friends to do it, too. Find out who they were and why they died. Might be tricky with the headless monk, and the Roman might need a Latin translator. But find out their stories and maybe they won’t be so terrible. And when they do fade away, you’ll have learnt something to remember them by.”
The idea satisfied Gray.
“It sounds like our explosion set off the fire alarms,” Jack said. “You’d best go and join your class in the yard for the roll call. I’ll square it with the fire department and tell Mrs Roberts how to explain the damage on the insurance claim form.”
Gray ran off to do as he was told. Jack walked a little slower, checking those Rift Energy readings on his wristlet and noting that they were spiralling down. The ghosts that the energy dragged from the peace of oblivion would be gone in a very few days.
“So how did a ghost hunt turn into an alien hunt?” Gwen asked.
“Mr Bryant was a Yaruruan, and please don’t make me have to say that word again after jam sponge pudding and custard for lunch. Just take it from me that they’re a nasty lot of identity stealing carnivores. I don’t think he was here by accident. His species like to feast on flesh. He probably slipped through the Rift accidentally and used the persona of his first victim to establish a base of operations to build a stable portal to his world. He was building up the Rift energy for months, trying not to draw attention to himself. But the energy had a secondary effect of drawing the ghosts to the building.”
“If it hadn’t been for that, he might have got away with it. He might have let dozens more of his sort into our world to eat their way through the population... starting with the kids in the school.” Gwen shuddered. The world had been that close to invasion by flesh eating aliens, and it was only because Gray had told Garrett about the school ghosts that Torchwood knew anything about it. That was too close a call for her.
“Yeah, me too,” Jack agreed. “We’re not as ready as we thought we were. Lesson to be learnt there.”
When Garrett waited to pick Gray up at the end of that rather unusual school day, he had a much larger group of friends around him than usual. They came with him as far as the car. Garrett greeted them casually and was surprised when one of them asked if he worked for Torchwood, too.
“No, I’m a spy,” he answered.
“Oh,” the boy responded. “That’s boring. Torchwood is cool.”
“I agree, absolutely,” Garrett replied before Gray buckled his seatbelt ready to go. “But I drive a nicer car.”