Alan Charterhouse

By James Churchill

Professor Alan Charterhouse, of the school of biological sciences, sat alone in his armchair amongst the high piled books and the scattered papers of his office. For twenty years he had been researching and refining his theories and now, finally, he was ready to perform the first experiments. The lab next door was all set up and awaiting the three students who had volunteered to take part and Charterhouse was confident of success. He checked his watch and then looked up at the clock on the wall. It was half past eleven and his volunteers should have arrived fifteen minutes ago. He snorted, shivered and hobbled to the window to see if anybody was waiting down in the street below. Security may have locked the front doors and his volunteers, who were all first years, might not have the code to get in. But they weren’t waiting. The steps of Adeiliad Coffa were devoid of life, as was the whole of Deiniol road. It was clear of cars; a sharp contrast to the daytime when they crawled along and glared with anger at the slow procession of people holding them up at the crossing further down by the union. The Deiniol library opposite was also dead and silent, its books resting before another day of frantic essay writing unsettled them from their shelves.

Opening the window, Charterhouse could hear the sound of tub thumping rhythm and base from one of the union nightclubs. He wasn’t sure which one and he didn’t much care. They were both the same in his eyes. Both were probably jam packed that night too, full of students dosing themselves up on cocktails of binge and alcopops. ‘What was wrong with the good old fashioned pub?’ he thought to himself before coming to the conclusion that there were a lot of things wrong with the ’good old fashioned pubs’ of Bangor. They weren’t good and they weren‘t at all like the proper pubs of old. They were always full of loud music or ridiculous quiz nights or performances designed to entertain the multitude of students and they never had anything for the professors or the locals. There was even one place in upper Bangor that had no tables or chairs. You just had to stand and hold your drink. It was simply unthinkable to Charterhouse not to have a seat or a table or somewhere quiet to debate the latest scientific breakthrough with colleagues. The only place he knew to have all of the things he wanted from a pub in the modern age was The Three Crowns off Dean Street. But even then it was always full of people; odd people who liked to get a little bit too close for his comfort and people who offered him unseemly nights of intimacy. He didn’t want strangers approaching him in that way, not at his age anyhow. He just wanted a quiet place to sit and drink and talk with his colleagues. Was that too much to ask?

He closed the window and shuffled back to his armchair nestled amongst the books and papers, keeping one beady eye on the clock. It was now twenty five to twelve and his three students were now intolerably late. When they arrived, if they arrived, he would be having strong words with them about punctuality. He again looked at the clock. Another ten minutes and he would call it a night. If his volunteers weren’t going to turn up within half an hour of when they were supposed to then they probably weren’t going to turn up at all. One of them not turning up he could forgive. There could be any number for one person not turning up. But all three? That was remarkably suspect and he fumed at their absence.

Calming himself, he reached out a bony hand for the nearest pile of paper and pulled away the top sheet. Adjusting his thick, round spectacles he leered at it before figuring it as an exam paper. The name at the top was folded over and sealed by two very neat strips of white tape but he could see by the fact that the course details were filled out on the Welsh side of the page that it could only belong to one of a select group of students. There had only been about six people who had taken that particular exam in Welsh as he recalled. Turning the page Charterhouse noted that the handwriting was quite unique; fluid with long curves and tall stems, impeccably neat and old fashioned. He didn’t recognize it in particular but Charterhouse saw immediately that the person had answered the question on symbiosis. There was one particular student of his that had shown a keen interest in symbiosis both in the lab and in his practice papers and his coursework. He was one of the Welsh speaking six and Charterhouse suspected that this was his work. He could see him now in his mind’s eye, tall with reddish hair and a well fitting beard and he quite liked the fellow. He had conducted his application interview and even then there had been something about him. He had a spark and a fierce intelligence about him. It had been an odd application as well now that Charterhouse had thought about it; long after the regular applications process had ceased but also about a week before the A-Level results came out and clearing had begun. He had apparently, out of the blue, booked an appointment with the student registrar and had turned up the next day with all the relevant forms and paper work filled in. When Charterhouse had returned from his summer holiday in the west of Ireland the relevant papers had been waiting on his desk, ready for him to review in preparation for an interview the next afternoon. He had been unsure at the time, mostly because it was such an unusual application, but upon meeting him the professor had been very impressed. He was charming, erudite and had all the qualities of a good student. Charterhouse didn’t want to miss the opportunity to claim such a prize for the benefit of the university and he had been right to take him on. The man had continued to impress even right up to the exam paper which Charterhouse now began to read through.

And it was a good essay, not quite worthy of full marks or a first but still a darn good essay. It was a little erratic in certain places and his arguments weren’t always followed through but it was of an acceptable and commendable quality.  By the time he was half way through Charterhouse was satisfied with the mark he would give the piece but still saw it through to the end. It was as he suspected; good but not worthy of full marks. A high 2:1, he thought. He laid the paper to one side and pulled another from the first pile, which was also an exam paper. This time it was not nearly so well written. It was by a girl; Charterhouse could tell that by the way she put little hearts over her Is, a facet which made him spit with righteous indignation. Hearts over Is might have been acceptable in a primary school but not at a world class, first rate university such as Bangor. The question she had answered was the one about parasitology and just by glancing over the first paragraph Chaterhouse knew that this was one essay which was destined for a low mark. Judging by the second paragraph it seemed the girl was more than likely to fail the year entirely. ‘And so much the better,’ Charterhouse thought to himself. He didn’t want her sort hovering around his laboratories, not if she was going to dot her Is with hearts. Such a thing was unthinkable.

He yawned and put the essay back on the pile without reading the remainder. Time was passing by and the previously allotted ten minutes waiting for the volunteers had expired. Charterhouse thought about standing in order to take another look out of the window but decided he would rather remain where he was for the moment. He was far too comfortable and warm and settled. To get to his feet would mean having to heave himself from that comfort. It would mean a painful creak of his bones and it would mean exposing his muscles to the horrors of movement. Not that he had to move anyway. There would be no one waiting at the door to be let in, he was certain. And they were late anyway so they had missed their chance. If they weren’t going to turn up on time they didn’t deserve to be a part of his experiment.

Charterhouse sunk lower in his chair and for a brief second the faces of all the students he had known passed into his mind. He thought of the clean cut but slightly rebellious boys of the sixties, the long haired hippy girls of the seventies and everyone through to the keen eyed, sharp witted students of today. Some had been inspired, others had fallen asleep. Some had gone on to achieve great things and now worked as his friends and colleagues. A few had fallen by the wayside but many more had, thanks to him, left Bangor with an honourable degree and move on to far away pastures, never to be heard from again. Charterhouse saw them all and he felt proud to have been even just a small part of their lives.

He closed his eyes and a slight tingling sensation began in his toes. He quite liked it. Then the sensation spread up his legs and to the rest of his body and buzzed right through him. It lasted for only a second and then stopped. Everything stopped. His body became cold and stiff and his last breath caught in the air and lingered for a second before fading into the ether, never to be replaced by another. Charterhouse remained motionless in his seat, eyes open but unseeing, no thought passing through his mind. All was still, calm and quiet.

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