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The Murder of Mr Ackroyd

by  sredni

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010
Word Count: 833
Summary: These are the opening chapters of a book that I'm working on. I'm very inexperienced at this. Please let me know what you think.

The body was lying half on the grass and half on the concrete path. Even though it was face down Archie could tell immediately that it was Mr Ackroyd from his messy mop of grey hair and his green tweed suit. And although he could not see them, he knew that underneath he would be wearing a yellow waistcoat and a brightly coloured bow-tie, because that was what he always wore.
He also knew that he was dead.
The body was unnaturally still, and twisted uncomfortably, as if it had been reaching out for something. Archie stood transfixed, not knowing what to do. Part of him wanted to rush forward to help, even though he knew that there was nothing he could do; and part of him was so repulsed and sick that he wanted to turn away, to run away even. In the end he just stood there, open-mouthed and stupid.
The rest of the school were still in chapel. Normally Archie would have been with them, but this morning he was on his way to an exam, an important exam, so he had been excused. As he stood there, staring dumbly at Ackroyd’s body, he heard the sound of footsteps coming round the corner. Then he heard the footsteps stop suddenly, and then after a pause, they hurried to where he was.
“What the¬¬-”. It was Mr Underwood. “What…” he spluttered, not knowing what to say and seeming to be gripped by panic and indecision. Then something seemed to click into place in his brain. “Stay here Hodgson,” he barked, and then he ran off towards the chapel to get help and to stop the rest of the school coming out.
And then it was just Archie and Mr Ackroyd again.
A gentle breeze wafted through the quad, giving this horrific scene a strange sense of calm for a moment. Weirdly, Archie’s thoughts turned to his exam. He had thought of little else for the last month. But if Ackers was dead, he thought, it would probably be cancelled. For a brief moment, there was the slightest flicker of a smile on his face.

Mr Underwood reached the chapel on the far side of the quad in a matter of seconds. Whilst the Headmaster would be sitting right at the front, in full view and therefore inaccessible, he knew that he would be able to speak to Mr Goode, the Deputy Head, without causing a scene. The short morning service had started, and the Head had just announced the first hymn. Underwood was acutely aware of the need to remain calm for the time being, but was also desperate to get to the Mr Goode as soon as possible. He’d just left a dead body lying in the quad outside, and it would be quite an understatement to say that this was preying on his mind.
As he pushed open the heavy wooden door of the chapel, Underwood was met by an overwhelming wall of noise: the organ was blaring out the opening bars of the hymn. The chapel was full, with the school in the main pews and the choir boys in their stalls at the front. The staff were sitting right at the back, by the door that Underwood had used. Underwood stood just inside the door for a moment, not sure how to break up this holy occasion.
As soon as he had seen Underwood come in, Mr Goode had started moving towards him, sensing that something might be wrong, but with no idea of just how wrong. Underwood leaned right up to Mr Goode’s ear to pass on what he had to say. He enunciated every syllable as clearly as he could, desperate not to be misunderstood and to have to repeat himself, and also anxious in case the organ paused for a moment between verses and exposed his news to a wider audience.
“You need to come out. Mr Ackroyd is lying in the quad. I think he’s…” The word stuck in his throat. A look of concerned confusion came over Mr Goode’s face, and Underwood realised that he would have to say it. But now the congregation had started to sing, and the noise had grown so loud that he had to speak uncomfortably loudly. He looked right at Goode and spoke as clearly he could: “He’s dead.”
He knew from the look on the Deputy’s face that he’d been understood and the normally unflappable man went pale for a moment. His mouth closed tightly as he resisted the temptation to blurt out what he wanted to say. This was St William’s School for Boys. They didn’t make a scene. Not even for this. He closed his eyes for the briefest moment, and then it was as if he had regained his composure in an instant.
“Show me,” he said, heading for the door, and Underwood hurried to keep step as the two men left behind the oppressive noise of the morning service.