Stuart McCutcheon has announced the university will be cancelling this year’s Autumn Graduation Procession over security concerns. Craccum spoke with the Vice-Chancellor one-on-one to find out why.
Stuart McCutcheon welcomes me into his office with open arms. He’s sitting in a leather chair, surrounded by books. The room is cluttered – food wrappers are strewn haphazardly about the place, and a graduation cap lies forgotten on the corner of his desk – but there’s just enough space for a desk and two chairs. He beckons for me to take the unoccupied seat.
“Been busy?” I ask, sitting down.
“You could say that,” he says, taking a sip from a cup of black liquid. It looks suspiciously dark – like treacle, or… oil. He notices me looking and winks. “It’s strong stuff. Keeps my wits about. So, what do you want to know?”
His eyes make me uncomfortable. A piercing blue, they dart back and forth with manic energy.
“I had some questions about the cancellation of the graduation procession.”
“The procession!” he yells, startling me. “Well, boy, do you want the truth – or the truth?”
“I suppose I want whichever one you’ll give me.”
McCutcheon nods and leans forwards – then hesitates. A cloud of worry passes over him. His eyebrows narrow.
“Listen, son – you wouldn’t hurt me, would you?”
I shake my head, a little baffled.
The cloud alights as quickly as it landed. McCutcheon slumps back in his chair, relaxed.
“I thought not. You want to know the truth?”
I nod. McCutcheon exhales.
“Very well,” he says. “There’s a conspiracy. A conspiracy to take my life.”
“You heard me.”
“I’m a man of importance. People hate that,” he says. “People want me gone – want me removed from my position. They covet it. I’ve been fielding assassination attempts for years.”
McCutcheon smiles, his lips parting briefly. I catch a glimpse of his canines; stained black and slick with saliva, they glisten in the dim light of the room.
“Years. This procession – it was just the latest. Another way of getting to me. I could sense it … ”
McCutcheon tosses the graduation cap towards me. I catch it instinctively.
“But I outsmarted them again!”
“I’m not sure I follow, sorry…”
“My life has been threatened, boy. Multiple times now. They strike when they think I’m least prepared.”
“I don’t know!” McCutcheon snaps. “I thought it was those bloody librarians, but sacking the lot of them hasn’t done any good. It seems like I’m uncovering plots against my life every other day.”
“What plots?” I gasp, bewildered.
McCutcheon waves a dismissive hand.
“Plots. Big ones, little ones. They’re everywhere these days.”
He jabs a finger at a stapler in front of him.
“Take that for example. Look at it. Don’t tell me you can’t see what I see.”
I stare, but can only see an ordinary stapler.
“People think I can’t see their little traps. But I can. Oh, I can.”
“Looks harmless enough to me.”
I reach out to grab it, but he swats my hand away before I can touch it. There’s a wild look in his eye.
“Be careful, boy – one touch and you’ll be dead. These bastards can be tricky… Veeeery, tricky…”
I shuffle forwards in my seat.
“Do you have any proof of these… conspiracies?”
McCutcheon looks towards me, startled. He runs his tongue across his lips quickly, lizard-like.
“You doubt me?”
McCutcheon fixes me with an icy stare. His right hand balls into a fist.
“You young bastards. No respect. I fought a goddam war for you!”
McCutcheon slams the fist down onto the table, shattering the stapler. Splinters of metal and wood fly past my ears. When he lifts his hand again, its speckled with drops of blood – but McCutcheon doesn’t seem to notice. He shakes his head, eyes staring into the distance.
“I still have the dreams,” he whispers.
“I think I should go,” I say, rising to my feet.
I toss the graduation cap back towards McCutcheon, and he ducks, screeching. It flies harmlessly above his head and drops onto the carpet behind him with a dull thud.
“Jesus Christ!” he shouts, standing upright again, “Don’t startle me!”
“I’m sorry, but I need to lea-”
McCutcheon lurches forwards and grabs my arm with a clammy hand.
“Please. Don’t leave. Won’t you help me? Help me beat them?”
I shake my head.
“I’m not sure I can, sorry. I need more evidence.”
“Evidence? Of what?”
McCutcheon yanks open his top drawer again and pulls out a label maker.
“See this, huh?”
He waggles it beneath my nose. His breathing is ragged, irregular.
“Killing machine. And I should know. Hasn’t been easy keeping those TEU buggers in line.”
McCutcheon doesn’t hear me. He jabs a finger towards the wall.
“Last week I found asbestos behind that wallpaper. Who do you think put that there?”
“I’m not sure …”
McCutcheon scowls. “I suppose it was the fairies?”
McCutcheon thrusts a finger towards the floor.
“And what about this, eh? Black mould! You think Remu wood gets black mould? I use Ajax bleach on these floors boy! Of course not! Someone’s gone and bloody put it there!”
McCutcheon’s shirt is beginning to stick to him; thick beads of sweat run down his temples, collecting along the fatty rolls of his neck. He pulls his iPhone from his shirt pocket and waves it in the air above his head.
“And this is the bloody coup de gras! The MET service have been warning of mild to heavy winds next week!” he yells. “Mild to heavy! You ever seen a mild to heavy forecast in the middle of April? They’re cooking it up just for me! But I won’t have it! I’m too bloody savvy! I bolted down my trampoline last week!”
McCutcheon tosses his phone into the wall. It shatters with a sharp crack. Suddenly, he lunges across the desk and grabs my arm again, glasses askew. His eyes burn with a barely repressed madness.
“Don’t you see? It’s clear as day! They’re out for my job – they’re out for me!”
I try to pull away but his grip is tightening; McCutcheon’s knuckles turn purple, then white.
“Everybody here thinks I’m crazy. Me! Hah! But you have to trust me. My life is in dire danger – these bastards won’t stop until they’ve buried me six feet under. That’s why we can’t have this goddam procession. But guess what?”
McCutcheon spits a globule of pitch black phlegm onto his desk. It lands with a wet squelch. He pulls me closer until I can feel the heat of his breath against my face.
“I’m one step ahead of them.”
McCutcheon releases me and falls back into his seat, exhausted. His shirt is drenched in sweat. One trembling hand reaches across the table and grabs at his drink; he slurps it down in greedy, lustful gulps, until the cup is emptier than the university’s arts budget. I gather my things and move towards the door, shaking.
“I need to go,” I say.
McCutcheon stops drinking. His face hardens.
“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” he hisses.
Suddenly he leaps onto the desk, wielding a blue biro in one hand like a knife. He charges towards me, screaming, slashing haphazardly at the air before him.
“I’ll kill you all!” he screeches, as I scramble backwards over my chair. He pounces on top of me but I manage to kick him off. Crawling, I move towards the door. Three feet, then two feet, then – I grab the handle and pull myself out. The door slams behind me as I sprint down one corridor, then the next, then the next.
As I leave the building, I look up. In one of the windows, high above the east wing of the Clock Tower, I see a dim, pale figure. I can’t make it out exactly, but the eyes are piercing blue, and the teeth glisten black in the harsh noon sun. The figure smiles, then points. He’s coming for me.*
*Obviously, none of this actually happened. But it’s as good an explanation for the cancellation as we can think of.