Author : Martin Sumner

We used to joke that they put something in the water.

Cully was the first to go mad, when he was still only sixteen. They don’t approve of that kind of language, of course; he had a ‘nervous breakdown’. Started sending cigars in the post to his friends with cryptic notes. Back then we were all beginning to fall quietly into the margins, but Cully was exploding, his personality ripping apart very publicly. Last time I saw him, he was a couple of days away from being sectioned. I heard he still has to walk fifteen miles a day to keep on top of the visions. Thirty years, thats a lot of miles.

We were the brightest boys and girls from the rural communities, rounded up, tested, sent to the Academy in town. For most of us, that was a five-hour round trip: I never saw my village in daylight until the summer holiday. Our parents thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime – something they were never afforded. A higher education, exacting standards, movement into and within a social strata to which we could not otherwise pretend. A closed door opened.

No-one asked why.

Skinner was the oldest of us all, he was like a father-figure on the daily bus-grind, looked out for us. A gentle giant. One day I heard he put some kid through a plate-glass shop-window in self-defence. Out of the Academy, into Borstal. (They don’t call it that anymore). I never saw him again.

In my village school, I was a brilliant young prodigy. I enjoyed it: being cleverest. Best at everything. When they told us we were being tested for the Academy, I knew I was in. No-one else from my village made it, except one. Funny thing was, she was my sweetheart. Her name was Helen. We lost touch.

Everyone on the bus was the brilliant young prodigy in their own community. Things were about to change, though. In the Academy, it seemed quite suddenly, we were less than average. Simple problems became insurmountable. Rapidly developing academic skills of our childhood decayed into bland incompetencies. We became a group shunned by the rest of the Academy as dull and peculiar. Became shunned? No, we were that from the start.

Nowadays Jeffers lives back in his old village, a mute crank, target of malicious gossip and harangued by gangs of small children. Rande drank himself into oblivion. I heard he died recently, found dead on his mother’s lawn. Morton is probably dead too, opium-related. Moxy, those curls, those teeth, that sharp wit (I loved her, secretly): disappeared by the Special Patrol. Griffen I heard was relatively prosperous, an antique dealer. And a sexual monster, so the rumour goes. Bad things happen around him.

Funny thing, I don’t remember what actually happened to us at the Academy. Five years we were bussed in and out, bright young things who became marginal, mundane, lost. What did we gain? What did we learn? Why did we go, daily, like lambs?

Me? I managed, as best I could, for thirty years. I’ve not been good at much. Failed relationships, money problems, depression. Irregular employment. Reclusive periods. Just last year, I split in two. Half the time, an angry, mute little boy runs riot in my head. A silenced prodigy slipping his harness. I’ll be in the mad house soon enough.

Speaking of which, I got a note from Cully today. It said, They Won’t Ever Make You Better. It said, You Are Lost. It said, Don’t Drink The Water.

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