Examples of work from Fifth and Sixth Year pupils including Intermediate and Higher critical essays and Personal Study essays.
by Gavin Murchie
Ah, walking. It is dull and tedious. In fact, one may consider the concept of walking as being tedious, repetitive even. You know, putting one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again, at a sickeningly uniform speed, in order to gradually get from one miserable, grey place to another equally miserable and equally grey place. If this is still the main method for humans to move independently, we’ve got a hell of a long way to go, and hopefully we won’t be walking it.
Ironically, however, I do find myself walking quite often; four or five times a week sometimes. This is because; as much as I dislike the monotonous and tiresome act, it allows one time to think. Ponder. Consider and eliminate possibilities. Think of the things that are necessary for me to do.
I don’t care where my strolls take me particularly: perhaps I may walk to my old home at the bottom of town, where the most deprived houses are found, and I stop and admire the rustic and desolate beauty of the knarled tops of households shining crimson and pale gold as the sun rests its weary legs on their roof as it begins its descent into the ground. I may wander through the high street, briefly glancing at last-minute shoppers, darting from well-lit and colourful shops (as bees might dart from flower to flower), scooping up bargains and groceries before the angry church clock chimes five o’clock and a hundred tired old men pull the shutters down on their windows and doors and close up for another cool and mysterious autumn night, apprehensive of graffiti or vandalism from the approaching youths, who only make their appearance in the high street when the sun is hidden in its underground lair. I might even walk to the new construction site where some vast and completely unnecessary supermarket is being erected. In the haze of streetlamps and the last paintbrush-strokes of sunlight, the massive slumbering creature known only as ‘BuySafe’ looks tired and pale, hungering for human flesh. I may sit on a stack of electrical conduit and admire the sleeping beast until a portly security guard walks purposefully towards me, and I know that it is time to leave.
Where is irrelevant; it is what I think about that is relevant.
So what kind of things does a seventeen-year-old think about? I suppose you’re wondering.
Girls? No. I have never desired a relationship with anyone. I consider myself to be quite a loner; the typical kid who, in the past, paced the perimeter of the school playing field at break-time alone with his head down, not even attempting to join in the hordes of shouting kids chasing after balls or looking for tiny, defenceless things to fry with magnifying glasses. I’ve never really had anyone I could consider a friend. I don’t care. I don’t think about meeting up with friends or meeting up with some attractive girl with a great smile at the cinema. I’m not that kind of person.
What else? Alcohol? Drugs? Cigarettes? Sex? The typical vices of youth? Absolutely no inclination to get involved with any of them. Never have. Never will.
I’m going to put it bluntly: I think about death. In particular, purposeful death. Death caused by my doing. Murder.
I am a murderer. A paid assassin, employed by some shady but high-paying institute. I have killed seventeen people to date. What they had done to become unpopular enough for people to desire their untimely death… I have no idea. But the fact of the matter is, it is my job. And the job satisfaction is pretty damn good. I like killing people. The thrill of silencing someone, to put a lid on their short and almost certainly humdrum walk of life is one of the few passions, the few desires in my life. You could say that killing people that are better off than me in this unequal and polluted world is my only, and rather bloodthirsty, vice.
Tonight’s walk has brought me to some street in the centre of town, the name of which is unknown to me. The street sign that once cheerfully welcomed people to its long, sleek road with neatly trimmed hedges and gingerbread-coloured houses, that once smiled at the once happy residents, has been spray-painted to death and now lies bleeding on its back, staring lifelessly at the darkening sky. The houses are in an equal state of disrepair: crumbled walls, boarded windows, missing roof tiles… One would half expect large tumbleweed to roll past.
But there are people living here. I can make out the muffled sounds of televisions, shouting about the appalling state of the country and softly muttering as though full flow into some Hollywood film. There is a chinking of china as someone does the washing up and the unmistakable sounds of a couple shrieking at each other about alcohol and where-are-the-kids and probably adultery of some description…
We call the people we kill our ‘clients’ for obvious reasons. Names are for friends; people who are socially at terms with each other. Personalising someone you are about to send to hell is, as I’ve learned from my past experience, incredibly reckless as you may start to question why you are killing someone and can, in turn, lead to abandoning your assignment. Nine out of ten times, people who do so are killed by their employers. In this business, failure is not accepted.
I have already forgotten what my most recent ‘client’ was called, what he did for a living and what he had done to anger the people who had given me the assignment. I had even forgotten what he looked like before I put a silenced bullet into his temple. All I know about him for certain, quite simply, is that he is now dead and that I, although it does not affect me in the slightest, am responsible…
I am cold. The only light and heat comes from the hopelessly inefficient bulbs of the long-necked streetlamps that guard their deserted streets. Judging by the aforementioned quality of the households I have seen on tonight’s walk, they are doing a rather poor job.
I have really bad blood circulation in my hands. They’ve turned blue and purple. I imagine my heart, weakened by the – I smile – unspeakable crimes that I have committed in my seventeen years of age is also blue and purple with cold; the coldest thing in my skinny and unobtrusive frame. When I reach my tiny but well-cleaned flat in about – oh – an hour’s time, I’ll make myself a cup of coffee to warm my hands and heart. Or perhaps several…
…Ok, I tell a lie. Coffee and Killing. I have two vices.
by Connor Burgess
Having set off at the unreasonable hour of six a.m., John was determined to catch any animal he could. It was a crisp day. A little frost lay glistening on the ground outside; a few clouds hung in the watery blue sky highlighted by the weak sunrise peaking from behind the treetops.
John arrived in high spirits at a lay-by that led up an overgrown path to the estate of a local laird. Breath misting in the air before him, he unpacked his gear, double checking he had not forgotten anything before his day in the wilderness.
White mist formed, steaming his glasses. He paused for what felt like the seventh time to relieve his aching shoulders of the weight of his possibly over-packed bag and gun case. Glancing around, he stood still, startled breath forming a white cloud in front of him. A red deer stag was but a couple of hundred yards away. It was just grazing, completely unperturbed by the man so close to it. John crouched to unzip the case that lay in the dirt an arm’s reach away. Inch by inch, trying to make as little noise as possible, he lifted the lid and reached in blindly to keep his attention focused on the stag then froze as, from the case, came the unmistakeable clatter of the soft tip .22 calibre rifle shots he had put next to the rifle. Startled, the stag raised his head and roared before turning and galloping off amongst the coarse gorse that lined the track.
John cursed softly under his breath at his misfortune then straightened slowly and stared at the spot where the stag had been. Bending again, he collected the shots and placed them in the box after removing five shots to keep in his pocket for easy access. Repacking the case, he hoisted his pack and set off in pursuit of the stag.
His breath was laboured after pushing through the coarse scratchy gorse bushes, thorns cutting at his legs and scratching at his gloved hands as he forced his way through. Then the heavens opened. Cursing the Scottish weather’s unpredictability, he battled against the howling wind and sheets of rain.
As he paused at the edge of the gorse thicket he wiped his glasses. Then, during a lessening in the rain, he spotted his quarry, making its way up the next gorse-lined slope. John checked the wind, then set off circling downwind spurred onwards through the heavy rainfall and blustering winds that buffeted and drenched him with their payload of rain by the realisation of how close he was to his prey.
When he reached the top of the hill what little cover the slope had provided him against the Scottish elements was lost instantly. As he stood there, his brown hair formed a halo against the weak November sun and a sudden gust of wind billowed his cloak out behind him. John clutched at the wet material and pulled it tighter around him then, shading his face from the worst of the rain with a cupped hand, he tracked his mighty deer’s progress.
Ahead, the deer paused to graze; unaware that its life was balanced on a knife-edge of emotions and those few munches of grass might be its last. John put his pack down and glanced around looking for a spot from which he could take his shot. There, just the place, a small tumble of rocks, perfect for his needs. John slipped the strap of his gun case over his shoulder and reached the rocks without incident.
Carefully he removed his prized rifle from his gun bag, slowly screwed on a silencer to muffle that vital shot and took out the five rifle shots from his pocket. John paused in the action of loading his magazine and stared at the last shot, knowing it would most probably be the one to end the stag’s life. Coming out of his reverie, he slid the magazine home and deftly pulled the bolt back. Click, the shot was pulled into the chamber. The buck’s head snapped up instantly alert to the sudden noise.
John lowered his eye to the sight, pulled off his glasses and lined up his sight with the buck. To his surprise it looked as if the buck was staring back at him, knowing what was coming.
In through the nose, out through the mouth, be calm, John, he urged himself. Tracking the beast with his sight, he lowered the crosshair to the joint between neck and shoulders. The sweat beading his brow trickled down into his eyes, blurring his vision. He pulled the trigger. His padded shooting jacket cushioned the hard recoil from the rifle. He lowered the sight and wiped his sweating brow as the rain started to drizzle down again. The deer ran off with a tremendous bellow. Zigging and zagging as it ran it barely made it 200 yards before it collapsed with a grunt. The shot had hit its mark and was buried in the proud beast’s heart.
His gun cradled in the crook of his elbow, John approached the unmoving body of the beast. The stag lay there uncaring of the drizzle soaking its fur and running into its unblinking, sightless eye. Kneeling, John placed a hand on its hind leg and made a silent promise to the animal whose life he had taken to use all of its body and not waste any. He drew his gutting knife, sliced into the stomach and watched as the once tightly coiled guts spilled onto the grass. He carried the steaming pile of entrails and piled them against a tree for the foxes to eat before returning to the carcass. There he stood reflecting on what would have happened if he had not shot this great and magnificent beast.
by Andrew Pearson
It was half past seven. Sunlight was starting to creep around the edges of the closed curtains. At the door of the living room, in her pyjamas, stood Janice, stroking her heavily bruised face, bin bags at her feet, wondering what destruction it had caused this time. Innumerable empty beer cans, smashed photo frames and the odd lamp lay across the floor. If Janice wasn’t expecting to see this sight she might have cried but she was, just like she expected the sun to rise and set every day.
She started her cleaning routine with the beer cans, working her way from the door over to the coffee table, making sure she didn’t wake the snoring beast, then over to the fireplace where his mother’s ashes were in an urn on the mantelpiece. It always amazed Janice how, even after all the times he had caused this destruction, that urn hadn’t been moved once. She had always hated that he kept that urn there and she hated even more that they lived in his mother’s house and that it was his inheritance that paid the bills, fuelled his drink and repaired the aftermath. But three weeks ago Janice had come up with a plan – she was going to stay with her sister and get a job at the local hotel – to get out of this house.
Janice often wondered what she had done to deserve this. At first she made excuses for him, thinking that she was to blame for all of this mess but as the years passed by she became bitter and realised it was not her fault that his mother had died nor was it her fault he had lost his job nor was it her fault he couldn’t get another one. It was his fault. If, instead of becoming this monster, he had tried to get a job, got up and done something about it maybe she wouldn’t have gone to her lawyer and got divorce papers. Maybe she wouldn’t be leaving him this morning. Maybe they would have happily grown old together. But that wasn’t the way it was going to turn out. After ten years with him she was going to happily grow old without him.
Janice picked up the bin bag again and – knowing this was the last time she would ever have to do this – put the remaining beer cans in it. She came to one of the many photo frames lying smashed on the floor. It was of their honeymoon in Greece. They were having the time of their life on top of a cliff looking out onto the vast, magical, blue Mediterranean Sea as the sun was setting creating a fusion of reds, oranges and yellows in the sky. She’d always wanted to go back to Greece. Maybe in a few years time when she had sorted her life out, she would go back there.
Janice quickly snapped out of her daydream. She didn’t have time to wonder about the future; if he awoke and saw her packed suitcases she wouldn’t have a chance to go. She began to hurry around picking up the beer cans, taking the photographs out of their broken frames and returning everything back to normal.
Janice walked over to the last ruined photo frame. It was their wedding photo, the glass cracked straight across his face. She just stared at the picture for a minute. She remembered that day so well. It had taken her a year to plan and make her dream wedding come true, and it did. She also remembered all the false promises that were made to her. Tears began to trickle down her face.
Taking a deep breath, she wiped her tears away before marching upstairs, phoning a taxi and getting dressed.
She took one last look at the monster that was still snoring, ignorant to all that was going on around him, took the now full bin bags to the back door, laid the divorce papers on the coffee table and flung open the curtains, flooding the room with light.
Then, seeing the taxi sitting outside, Janice ran to her suitcases and opened the front door, bathing her face in glorious sunlight.
What a beautiful day, she thought.