Refusing, with some difficulty, Joey’s pressing offers of drinks, they made their way back to the school in a sad procession.
“I don’t see who it could possibly be,” said Nell. “I mean, it’s got to be someone near the school; that’s where all the attacks have taken place.”
“Or in the school,” said Hilda.
“Oh no,” said Nell.
“It almost begins to look as though it must be.”
“I don’t know,” said the Doctor as they entered through a side door and began to wend their way through the corridors. “Normally they’ll only imitate a person for the sake of getting close to their prey. Or if they’re breeding, of course.”
“Breeding?” Nell squeaked. “They can’t be! I mean, there aren’t going to be more?”
“No, we’d know if they were breeding.” The Doctor spoke absently, staring at a large box which was topped by a notice reading ‘Fines’. “They fertilise a surrogate mother, you see, and then they rip her apart when the offspring’s fully grown. What on earth do you fine people for in a school?”
“Slang,” said Hilda.
“Fertilise a surrogate mother?” said Nell, turning pale.
“Slang?” The Doctor stared at Hilda, his face a mask of bewilderment.
“We teach the girls to use pure English, unencumbered by ugly colloquialisms and vulgar language.”
“Is that out of the prospectus?” said Amy, and Hilda grinned.
“Hello?” said Nell loudly. “Fertilises a surrogate mother then rips her to shreds?”
“Wow, boarding schools are really weird.” The Doctor shook his head, then turned to the white-faced Nell. “Like I said, that’s how they breed. Don’t worry, we’d know if they were."
Nell gulped once or twice, then seemed to pull herself together.
“Well,” she said, with a good stab at her usual sarcasm. “I don’t see how you can call schools weird when there are things like that running about the universe.”
“Animals are normal,” said the Doctor. “Fining people for using slang is –”
He stopped and swung round on the spot as a piercing wail cut through his sentence. A small child shot past him and flung its arms round Hilda’s waist, sobbing loudly. They all stared, until another junior appeared at the end of the corridor.
“Oh, Miss Annersley,” she quavered. “We found an awful thing.”
Hilda felt her heart sink. She was only just recovering from the shock of finding that Joey wasn’t the Nostrovite, and she couldn’t help feeling that something else on top of that just wasn’t fair. Not only that, but the tears were beginning to soak through to her skin. So she gently held the child away from her, at the same time producing a clean white handkerchief from the pocket of her slacks, and made the discovery that it was Kristina, usually a lively ornament of the third form.
“What’s happened?” she said.
Kristina merely wept, but Rachel, her friend, seemed a little more coherent.
“It was a – a –” she paused and gulped.
“I can’t help if you don’t tell me,” said Hilda gently when no more words seemed to be forthcoming.
“It was a body!” blurted Rachel, her eyes so enormous that they looked as though they might fall out of her head at any moment.
“Are you sure?” said Nell, startled. Rachel nodded.
“I didn’t see it,” she added. “Kristina wouldn’t let me, but she said it was ghastly.” There was a moment of frozen silence.
“Well,” said the Doctor, rubbing his hands together and trying, without much success, not to look too excited at this news. “Who fancies taking a look?”
“Oh, love to,” said Amy with deep sarcasm.
“Specially if it looks anything like the others,” murmured Rory. Hilda looked at him in horror.
“Miss Wilson, perhaps you’d take the children up to the San and tell Matron they need treatment for shock. If that’s what they’ve seen –” she broke off with a shudder.
“Maybe you should take them,” suggested Nell. Then, on encountering Hilda’s best Headmistressly look, she added, “No, you’re right. Come with me, Kristina. And you, Rachel.”
She vanished with the two Juniors, leaving the other four to wend their way reluctantly to the spot Kristina had indicated as that where they had found the body.
“Kristina was right,” said Hilda, after a moment. “It is ghastly.”
“And you’re right, too,” said the Doctor.
“What?” she stared at him in bewilderment as he bent over the body, studying it closely.
Hilda approached cautiously and squatted down, trying not to inhale the body’s stench or to look at the worst parts.
“It’s small,” said the Doctor, apparently unaware of her rising nausea. “And the clothes look like –”
Hilda couldn’t control her stomach any longer. She managed to avoid being sick all over the body, but it was a near miss.
“It’s one of the girls,” she said, wiping her mouth with another clean handkerchief.
“I’m afraid so. Probably ten or eleven years old.”
“A junior,” said Hilda hoarsely. She tried to clear her mind, to think what she should do. “We need to find out who it is. I’ll call an assembly straight away, and we’ll see who’s missing.”
“Um, actually,” said the Doctor, trotting to catch her up as she started across the grounds, Amy and Rory close behind. “I don’t think that’ll do much good.”
“Why?” Hilda swung round to glare at him, but the Doctor didn’t seem to notice.
“Rory?” he said.
Rory, unexpectedly put on the spot, shifted awkwardly.
“He’s right,” he said, staring at the ground. “You’d already know if anyone was missing. I’d say that body’s been there – I dunno, a few days. Maybe a week.”
Hilda stared, not really seeing him. Her mouth was dry and spots danced in front of her eyes.
“You mean –” she swallowed and moistened her mouth. “You mean it must have been imitating one of the girls for – for days.”
The Doctor and Rory nodded, and Amy gazed at her, her face a mask of horror.