Screams from the classroom cupboard

Four-minute story

Screams from the classroom cupboard

The teacher tried the handle but the door was locked.

The screams had started gradually, little more than a feeble cry for help to start with. Then, as the teacher gave up trying to teach them any more French he had put down the book from which he had been reading.

At Barking Abbey there were cupboards that had been built into the classrooms, spacious walk-in cupboards where a number of you could hide at break-time. Just a moment’s delay while the teacher finished clearing up papers and books, and wiped the blackboard and then you could hear his footsteps scrape outside on the stone floor of the corridor.

The screams were getting louder and the teacher was searching frantically for a key in the drawer of the desk. Some of the kids were out of their seats now, some of them trying the door handle, some of them calling out to the girl in the cupboard, telling her that someone was going for help. A group of them surrounded the teacher, pleading to be sent off to the school office. For a moment he listened to their anxious cries then there were two of them, despatched to find the caretaker and tell the office.

At the back of the classroom a small group of boys had withdrawn themselves, hidden themselves almost, unnoticed, away from the noise and excitement. They watched their classmates with a sort of detachment, neutral observers of some sort of test or demonstration. What, they seemed to be asking themselves, what was going to happen next?

And then the screaming stopped, not gradually, with longer spaces of disturbing silence between the terrified calls for help, but abruptly. For a moment the students at the front of the class, and the group around the teacher by the cupboard door remained still. Nothing was said. Anxiously they listened for some clue about what was happening now beyond the locked door. Over at the back of the class the three boys exchanged glances but said nothing.

The caretaker arrived and the class gathered around him as he unlocked the cupboard door. From the back of the room the three boys moved themselves to the classroom door, stepped into the corridor then turned to watch.

There was no one there. Then, up on the top shelf, among the books and cardboard boxes, there it was, a loudspeaker, and from it two wires leading through a ventilation brick to the outside wall. From there it was easy for the caretaker to trace the wires back to the adjoining classroom. There they found the ends of the two wires and nothing else.

One of the three boys who had stepped out into the corridor went on to become a maths teacher and returned to work at Barking Abbey School. There he was able to continue this story.

It was in the days of reel-to-reel tape recorders, clumsy pieces of equipment with two flat spools that turned slowly as you made a recording. They had persuaded one of the girls to scream for the tape-recorder, had smuggled the tape-recorder into the cupboard of the adjoining classroom and run wires to a loudspeaker in the cupboard next door. A friend set the tape-recorder in motion just before the lesson started and at the back of their French lesson they had waited to see what would happen.

I never asked how the teacher reacted to all this, but I got a definite impression that there were times in this school when ingenuity and mischievousness were welcomed, even at the cost of a little teaching time.

Explain the steps taken to play this trick.

Why do you think the students carried out this trick?

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