“I’m sorry to call you in like this, I know you’re very busy but I’m afraid there’s been some trouble with your son.”
The Head looked across his desk at the boy’s father: the sharp suit, the perfectly groomed facial hair that tapered into a curly point at the chin, the positively red skin tone as if the man had been in a bath that was too hot, and the incongruous, shapeless woollen hat pulled low over the forehead and bulging at both temples. Not from around here, then.
The man returned the gaze with a penetrating stare; the Head had never seen eyes that colour before. The pupils were yellow – no, golden, and altogether unsettling.
“What has he done this time?” the man said without seeming to speak at all. The Head was glad to be released from the stare and consulted a file, his hands shaking, the papers rustling.
“He’s been – he’s been, well, extorting things from the other children.”
“The usual stuff, you know: sweets, crisps, MP3 players, iPads, all of that sort of thing.”
“Doesn’t sound like my Louis.”
“He tells them if they don’t give him what he wants, his father will catch them and steal their souls. I know this must be very difficult to hear – one tends to have a rosy view of one’s own children.”
“He’s no angel,” admitted Louis’s father. “I’ll use the poker.”
The Head gaped as the words sank in. “Excuse me; did you just say you were going to use a poker on your own son?”
“Who else’s would you like me to use it on? I’m serious. That’s what kids need these days. A bit of discipline. Red hot poker. Never did me any harm.”
“I – I – I’m afraid I can’t condone such a – a – medieval form of punishment. I suggest you confiscate his X-Box for a couple of nights.”
The man got to his feet and let out a snort of disgust. Was it the Head’s imagination or did two puffs of black smoke emerge from his nostrils?
“Too soft,” the man repeated.
“That’s not the view of this school or its governors. Although, frankly, and just between us, I can’t wait to retire. This whole country is going to Hell.”
Louis’s father grinned, showing a set of fangs like knives. He turned and stalked out of the office, his cloven hooves clicking on the laminated floor. Behind him, his red, arrow-headed tail snaked as if waving an inappropriate farewell.