Monday, 27 October 2014

OHMCS: The Scourge of St Searle’s

In this short story, I introduce the former pupils of St Searle's school for young ladies, thinly veiled St Trinian's, hence the name's homage to Trinian's creator Ronald Searle.

The girls here started life in the brief for the game of On Her Majesty's Crooked Service as 'Winter Olympians', which I built on to give them a shared history and a reason for being Diana Dare's go-to chums when it comes to high-flying heroics.

The style is intended to evoke classic girls' boarding school stories like Enid Blyton's Malory Towers and St Clare's, and even more so Elinor Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series. When I wrote this I had just attended a talk on girl's comics and Misty in particular, and was channelling a lot of Girl's Own Story zeal. I always thought it might be fun to speculate what lives those exceptional young ladies might lead after they left school, and what adventures they might continue to have. I also had a lot of fun inventing past capers that the girls got up during their time at school.

As with the OHMCS short story Ladies' Night, we also meet another of the Dare sisters from our 7TV series The Daredevils. This time it's eldest sister Diana, dead shot with a bow and leader of the heroic family of Thunderbirds meets Charlie's Angels.

St Searle's would go onto to feature prominently in 7TV's sister game 7ombieTV, when I introduced the Girls of St Searle's to the world of zombie apocalypse survival horror. The devastating effect of a hockey stick on the undead cranium cannot be understated.

Points will be awarded for spotting references to Sherlock Holmes, the Frog Chorus, Nigel Molesworth and author Angela Brazil.

* * *

The Scourge of St Searle’s

“What a rotten swiz. The Alps in midwinter and not a speck of snow in sight. Some skiing trip this has turned out to be. We’ll never be ready for the Winter Olympics at this rate!” Angelique sulked.
She pressed her snub nose against the chalet window and stared glumly out at the green valley below. Melting icicles along the edge of the steep wooden roof dripped steadily in the unseasonably warm weather.
“Cheer up Jelly, there’s still plenty of fun the five of us could have up here, even without the snow!” The irrepressible Geraldine, former house captain and demon of the hockey field, gave Angelique a playful nudge in the back as she trotted past with a fresh pile of logs for the fire.
“A fat lot of good that firewood’ll do,” pouted dark-haired Angelique, now in a dreadful funk. “It’s well above freezing outside. We might as well be sunbathing in the Bahamas!”
At that, Antigone Devere-Price looked up from her magazine.
“Did somebody say sunbathing? Count me in! It’s been simply ages since I’ve been able to top up my tan! I was rather counting on the snow to make me look less deathly pale by comparison.” She rose gracefully from the sofa and gave herself an appraising look in the mirror over the fireplace.
“Admiring your prison pallor, Tiggy darlin’?” mocked Clare as she came downstairs, wrapped in a large, fluffy dressing gown. “Or would that be your father I’m thinking of?”
Antigone hissed like a scalded cat and whirled on the freckly young Irishwoman, her hand instinctively reaching out for a projectile and settling on a formidable candlestick from the mantelpiece.
As ever, it fell to Geraldine to act as peace-maker. Reverting back to her days as a prefect at St Searle’s, she moved to interpose herself between Antigone and Clare, fixing one and then the other with a calm but forceful stare.
“Honestly, you two, it’s like being back in the Fourth Form during wet break all over again! Do try to act like grown-ups and get along while we’re all stuck here.”
“That’s right,” said Angelique, turning from the French windows to play idly with the cushions of an old leather armchair, “In times of hardship, remember the school motto.”
It wasn’t me, miss!” piped up the tall Lenny from the dining table, where she had looked up from a battered old book titled ‘Heavy Game of the Western Himalayas’.
Angelique sniggered, her mood lifting at her best friend’s wicked sense of humour.
“It’s omnes stare simul...” began Geraldine, adopting the matronly tones of Miss Ringworm, their old headmistress.
“… as any fool knows!” chimed in Tiggy and Clare simultaneously, then looked at each other and broke into peals of laughter, the hot tempers of moments before already fading.
“But still,” mused Lenny, closing the old book with a thud, “Here we all are, halfway up a mountain with all of our skiing kit in the depths of winter and it’s like summer out there. As much as I’ve been looking forward to our old girls’ reunion, I was rather hoping to get in a little time on the slopes before the biathlon qualifying rounds.”
“Perhaps you could try rigging up an artificial snow machine, like that time in the chem lab?” wondered Clare, helpfully.
“Didn’t you end up freezing the entire east wing solid?” said Angelique, remembering the sight of Miss Brazzle the science teacher skidding the length of the first floor corridor on her bottom.
“I simply failed to take into account the precise ratio of liquid hydrogen per square inch in the thermal exchange pump,” countered Lenny, somewhat wounded that her scientific aptitude was being slandered so. “And at least I didn’t leave my horse in the Sixth Form common room overnight to do something beastly in Annabel Canterford’s locker!”
The memory of that particular incident reduced them all to fits of giggles once more, reminding each why they had been collectively known as the Scourge of St Searle’s.
“I think I was almost expelled for that one,” admitted Angelique, “Good job I saved that exchange girl from drowning the next day.”
“And good job I caught those robbers looking for Miss Ringwood’s family treasure!” added Lenny.
 “Not forgetting the scandal of the history exam cheat.” said Tiggy.
“And the mystery of the refectory fire!” Clare added.
It was true. With the exception of Geraldine, ever the model of the honest, good-natured schoolgirl, the others had all come perilously close to expulsion at one time or another.
“Jolly good job we all stuck together then.” concluded the former house captain, proud of her loyal, if high-spirited, friends. Then a slightly rueful expression came over her face. “It’s just a shame none of the others could make it this year though.
“Well, some of them are busy with jobs, or fiancés.” ventured Tiggy. At this, Angelique and Lenny both blew raspberries. “And some are otherwise indisposed…”
“At Her Majesty’s pleasure!” finished Clare with a knowing grin.
“But I’d have thought at least Diana would have made the effort and torn herself away from the family pile.” said Geraldine, the disappointment evident at the absence of her old dormitory chum.
“Too busy gallivanting around the world in some beaten up old biplane, I heard.” mused Angelique, taking a cushion and tossing it across the room to Lenny.
“With those potty sisters of hers.” Lenny caught the cushion deftly and swivelled as if she was back on the netball court, passing it neatly to Geraldine.
“Have you heard any of the rumours about what they’ve all been up to?” Clare stage-whispered conspiratorially. “They’re as wild as those old stories about their daddy.”
“Don’t be such a sneak, Clare. Diana’s family business is her own affair.” declared Geraldine, her sense of fair play leaping to Diana’s defence, and flung the cushion at the Irish girl with perhaps a little too much force.
Clare had no time to duck out of the way, and was resigned to the impact, when the cushion changed course in mid-flight and veered off at ninety degrees to thud into the pine wall of the chalet, a feathered shaft stapling it firmly in place.
As one, the St Searle’s old girls turned to the now open French windows, where a striking figure clad in a daring uniform stood holding, of all things, a bow. Without consciously thinking, they had all moved to find cover, or else had reached for what improvised weapons they could find. Old habits borne of bloody wars with the wildcats of the Fifth Form never quite faded.
Silhouetted by the bright sunlight streaming over the alpine peaks, the figure was at first unidentifiable. But she quickly lowered the bow and stepped inside where her familiar, and friendly, face was instantly recognised.
“Diana Dare, as I live and breathe!” exclaimed Clare, clapping her hands with excitement.
“The one and only. Sorry I’m a bit late for the reunion, ladies. I had a bit of a hold-up, what with the business with the funny weather and all.”
The girls exchanged somewhat puzzled expressions. What did Diana have to do with the strange weather?
“Well, if there’s anything we can do to help..?” offered Geraldine, not knowing what else to say.
“Funny you should mention that,” began Diana, eying the stacked skis, piles of cold weather clothing and decidedly non-regulation submachine guns lying to one side. “I was rather wondering if you could help me out of a jam. And I can definitely promise you plenty of snow.”

As Diana explained, the St Searle’s old girls gave a resounding hurrah.

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