Botolf-almost-Oxford college stood in the English countryside like a brown stone blister on the skin of the landscape (if the skin were green and seeking immediate medical attention). Inside its ancient and hallowed halls students were packing up their belongings for the summer break. Some would find solace in the fact they were to return to their homes and palaces as Botolf didn’t always provide the services it advertised in its prospectus. Too late, the young Arabian Princes and Indian Princesses’ would discover that studying medieval torture often involved actually having to be stretched on the rack, their cheques having already been cashed, spent, lost on a horse at Royal Ascot or stuffed under the Bursar’s mattress for a rainy day (the Bursar needed a step ladder to get into bed).
The staff of Botolf were packing too, not to move out of the college; for a Botolf Don that would be unthinkable; but to move from one room to another due to the death of a beloved colleague.
Professor Hancock had died, eventually, after several aborted attempts, and was now currently living as a supernatural entity on an old VCR tape, which up until recently had contained footage of the real moon landing in 1878. Hancock was supervising the removal of his possessions into Botolf’s attic storage space, while Professor Cecil, the Head of Megalithic Scrutiny, moved his possessions into Hancock’s old room. Young James Philips, Botolf’s newest Don and rightful heir to Hancock’s rooms, had wanted more modest and modern accommodation and was currently lodged in the student’s wing of the house. This had left Cecil’s rooms free, which the Professor of Military Failures happily occupied, whose rooms in turn, were now being occupied, with much swearing, by the Procurer of Ancient Technologies. And so down the academic line it went, every member of Botolf’s staff moving into slightly larger and higher up accommodation.
The Botolf staff had done this almost ceremonial shifting every time one of their numbers passed away since time immemorial.
Hancock was being transported by a 3rd Year student (if a student reached 3rd Year it was clear to the staff he was trustworthy and to the student that Botolf was not an ordinary institution) on a small portable television attached to a long series of wires, themselves attached to Botolf’s incomprehensible electrical system built by Nikola Tesla in his gap year. Hancock barked orders and tutted as students dropped unique and priceless books, the contents of which would turn a theologian into a Nihilist and a Nihilist into a Unitarian.
“Any word from the Dean?” came the voice of the Bursar as he rumbled in through the doorway of Hancock’s old rooms.
“Turn me around boy,” grumbled Hancock, who was grumpy when he was alive and didn’t like being in a moving TV. He was much happier in a stationary one contemplating the universe as was his hobby in life, and death.
“Now, Bursar, what did you say?” asked Hancock.
“Any word from the Dean?” stressed the Bursar. He was still annoyed he hadn’t gotten Hancock’s old rooms, as they were right at the top of the building, the higher up a Don was the further from his students (this was considered a good thing).
“Yes, I believe they have done it,” said Hancock, “the usual conspiracies will apply.”
“No doubt,” continued Hancock, “half of our staff are busy penning books to fuel these conspiracy theories?”
Botolf staff made a healthy living from penning such books. They were of course looked down upon by the established academic community, but Botolf had always pursued the policy of hiding the truth out in the open.
“You know they are. I believe the Master of Invisible Geographies has a book deal already with some American publisher.”
“Where is young James?”
“Ah, young Master Philips,” answered Hancock, “He needed distraction from all his troubles while we search for his brother and missing wife, so I sent him on a little mission.”
“Nothing too dangerous I hope!”
“Nothing that would kill him …at least not fully.”