“The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues.”
– Renée Descartes
Chapter # 1 – Home Coming
Three impossible weeks had passed since that unspeakable day, the day that had left an irreversible scar on my once outwardly perfect life. Closing my eyes, I leaned my head against the cool glass of the bus window, forcing the thoughts away. Relief trickled through my pounding head where the icy glass made contact with my burning skin. The bumpy meandering ride mingled with countless sleepless nights - was enough to make anyone’s head ache.
The sound of rain gently splattering against the pane was somehow comforting, like a familiar lullaby. I let out a sigh. My eyes drifted over the passing emerald colored countryside and up to rumbling grey sky above, the same grey sky that seemed to endlessly cover the Scottish Highlands.
I frowned to myself. Welcome to my own personal purgatory…
The bus was headed for Foyers, a nothingness of a town on the eastern shore of Loch Ness, the very same body of water that is home to the mythical Loch Ness Monster. Not that I believed in all that mumbo-jumbo. It just happened to be the final destination on my cross Atlantic relocation from Portland Oregon to the middle of nowhere.
Rolling hills and fields spotted with little white sheep continued to drift past the window. As I watched I felt the bus slowing. The water colored landscape seemed to steady. Immediately, the nervous feeling I had been trying to snuff out with a gallon of Irn-Bru Soda came back in full force. The bus rounded a final bend and the first few scattered cottages of Upper Foyers appeared. I swallowed.
The bus didn’t bother to signal as it forked off onto a side road leading into the heart of the tiny town. We rolled down a paved main road and came to a lumbering halt just outside a whitewashed building. My stare lingered on the tiny front door. It looked as though it has been built for dwarfs.
Where was the yellow brick road? I wondered gloomily as I gathered my knapsack from the empty seat beside me. Probably next to Snow White’s castle and down the street from Humpty’s wall. I took a deep breath, stepping out from my seat. I figured that an eternity stuck on a bus wasn’t any better than one stuck in Foyers…but that was yet to be proven.
As I stepped off the bus I closed my eyes, inhaling the crisp, clean, air, mingled with the dust the bus had stirred up. It smelled like the most potent of rainstorms back home. It conjured up a memory I didn’t want to remember. Thankfully - my brief moment of tranquility was interrupted by the realization I was being drenched.
Instantly, I regretted not bringing my umbrella – out of pure denial, or just plain stubbornness, I had purposely left it behind. I concluded that the universe had a funny way of kicking you when you’re down just to prove a point. Cursing, I pulled up my collar and looked around.
Only two of us had got off the bus, the other was a younger man with slicked back hair and a dirty oversized knapsack. I guessed he was backpacker looking to travel the unbeaten path, but I couldn’t figure out why he thought an interesting place to do it would be Foyers. From what I could tell it looked like the black hole of Scotland - sucking the life out of everything around it - or maybe just me.
“Lake, over here,” An excited man with graying white hair was walking my way and waving up and down to get my attention.
I consciously made the effort not to roll my eyes. Not a single other soul was in sight… did he actually think I would miss him? I gave a small wave in recognition and slowly walked through the rain toward him.
“Uncle Hughes,” I said as he pulled me in for a bear hug, soaked rain jacket and all.
“I can’t believe how much you’ve grown,” he said looking me over.
I dropped my arms. “The last time I saw you I was seven…”
“Time sure does fly, doesn’t it?” His smile faded and his face went solemn. “How are you holding up dear? I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there for the funeral...”
I shrugged, trying to let his words wash over me as if they had never been said. “I’m fine,” I lied.
He looked unconvinced.
“Honestly, I’ll be ok,” I promised, trying to keep my voice steady.
He nodded. “Ok dear. Well if it’s any consequence, I am so happy to have you here. I know you’re going to love it.”
Somehow I didn’t think so. I faked a smile.
The driver got off the bus behind us and started unlocking the storage compartments.
I looked back over my shoulder. “I just have to get my stuff,” I said nodding toward the bus.
He gave my arm a tap and stepped away. “I’ll go pull up the car.”
I nodded and walked back to the bus.
The driver opened the last hatch and stood back. I didn’t move, presuming he would be the person to dig out my bags. Instead, he lit a cigarette and turned the other way. I shot him a dirty look, that he failed to notice, and took it upon myself to find my luggage.
I crawled into the compartment and started rifling around. After a few minutes I gave up, failing to locate the elusive bags. As I crawled out I let out an exaggerated sigh. “Do you mind?” I asked the bus driver, annoyed.
The bus driver looked me over as if I were the gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe. “Name?” he asked indifferently.
He stuck the cigarette in the side of his mouth like a lollipop and rummaged around in the under compartments. A few seconds later he yanked out my luggage in two swift movements and turned to look at me. “Here ya go missy.”
“Thanks…” I said, feeling abnormally small under his looming presence.
He continued to stare at me while he puffed out a perfect ring of white smoke.
Creep. I thought to myself and looked away.
The unhealthy sound of an engine struggling filled the air as a bright orange rusty Ford Pinto appeared from around the corner. I cringed when I saw Hughes get out of the driver seat beaming.
Trying to hide my mortification, I yanked up the retractable handles and pulled my suitcases across the gravel lot. I struggled as the wheels wobbled and caught on bits of stone, nearly twisting my writs when the larger of the two bags flipped.
Hughes hurried to my aid and helped load my luggage into the trunk of the Pinto. After a little grunting and groaning we managed to do it. I stood back and examined our work. The hatch was still wide open and my two suitcases were hanging precariously over the back seat.
“I don’t think they fit…” I pointed out, despite the obvious.
“Nonsense, campus is just up the street. It will be fine.”
I closed my eyes praying for patience and walked around to the car door.
“Wrong side, love…”
“What?” I looked down. “Oh…right,” I said noticing the steering wheel improperly assembled on what was supposed to be the passenger side. “I forgot about that.”
Hughes chuckle and got into the car.
I walked around to the other side and yanked open the rusty door. It groaned in frustration as I plopped down into the seat and forced it shut.
“Off we go,” Hughes announced starting up the car and driving off.
As I buckled my seatbelt I watched out the window as the bus depot, also known as the general store went past – the bus driver was still standing in the same spot, puffing rings of smoke. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry. In fact the pressing feeling I got from Foyers, was one of ease. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad.
The car rumbled down the main road of Foyers. After a few feet I rescinded my statement. The road couldn’t be classified as the main anything - since there wasn’t a single other building in sight. It was just a plain old road.
After a short distance Hughes turned left onto a narrow gravel drive and the Pinto began to vibrate violently. I held onto the roof and avoided eye contact with my uncle. I didn’t want him to see how utterly unhappy I was. I pretended to be memorized by the passing trees that were turning an assortment of oranges as the last fleeting days of summer gave way to fall.
Hughes stopped the car in front of an iron gate, blocking access to his home – or to be more precise - the school where he taught and lived. I leaned forward in my seat to get a better look.
Above the entryway, spelled out in twisted iron, were the words, Cogito, ergo sum. I knew it was Latin, but I had no idea what it meant. Latin, after all, is a dead language.
Past the entryway and through the iron bars I could see an expansive cobblestone courtyard with a large bubbling fountain spurting water into a marble basin. Huge stone buildings encircled the space. It was a castle with towering turrets, peaks and high arched windows –an eerie sight. It could have passed for Dracula’s castle or Frankenstein’s lab, unfortunately, it wasn’t either of those things…it was my new high school.
“Welcome to Descartes,” Hughes said from the driver’s seat.
I gave a lopsided smile. No comment.
Hughes rolled down his window and pushed the buzzer on the intercom erected outside the gate.
A crackly voice broke out through the tiny speaker. “Descartes Academy, can I help you?”
“Good afternoon Rose. It’s Gregory,” said Hughes in a cheerful tune.
“Oh hello Professor, back already?”
“Just returned from town with my niece.” He smiled over at me.
“Oh how wonderful,” Rose said sweetly.
“Do you mind letting us in?”
“Of course not, have a good day and welcome your niece for me.”
“I will, I will,” he said rolling his window back up.
Hearing the sound of something unlocking I watched as the gate began to swing inwards on mechanical hinges. My new school seemed to present itself before me. I started to panic, feeling as if it were the last moment of my old life.
Once we left the safety of the gravel path and crossed over to the neatly polished stones, I would be a different person. I would no longer Lake Charles from Portland. I would become Professor Hughes’ niece - the unwanted bottom dweller who ended up with a, debatably, fortunate break into an elite private school. I took a deep breath as the Pinto lurched forward over the threshold.
Hughes drove the car slowly through the school grounds and I was drawn to how immaculate it was. Dozens of flowerbeds were adorned with exotic looking plants and flowers that seemed to defy the miserable weather. They brightened the gloom and added life to the somewhat dreary surroundings.
As we past by a potted fichus my eyes caught on a pair of men huddled near the fountain. They were talking closely with bowed heads. I could tell they were arguing.
“Who are they?” I asked noticing that the older of the two was dressed in a long dark robe while the younger looked agitated.
Hughes glanced in the review mirror and spotted the two figures. His voice fell a little dark. “Don’t worry about them…” He realized his tone and perked up. “This way, through here, leads to the Faculty Gardens.”
I didn’t miss his avoidance of the question, but wasn’t about to press him. I looked back over my shoulder and momentarily caught the eye of the younger man. I panicked and quickly turned back in my seat, as if I had been caught doing something wrong.
Hughes passed under an enclosed alleyway and entered into another open courtyard. It was crowded with rows upon rows of narrow townhouses. My uncle pulled his little car up into the drive of one of the indistinguishable buildings. It looked squished, stuffed between the neighbor on the left and right.
“We’re home,” Hughes smiled and shut off the engine.
I gave him my best attempt at an encouraging smile, but it came off more like a pout.
Hughes ignored it and got out of the car whistling. He was already yanking my bags from the trunk by the time I slammed the door shut and made my way through the torrential rain to help. I grabbed the larger of the two and waited until he had the hatch back in place before following him to the front door.
Hughes reached into the pocket of his raincoat and fumbled a set of keys.
“Why’s the door locked?” I asked. “I thought the campus was secure?” I thought back to the heavy looking iron gates and the towering cliffs that encircled the school on three sides. If Descartes Academy – stuck in the middle of nowhere - wasn’t safe, then I didn’t know what was.
Hughes forced the key into the lock and pushed the door inward. “Of course its secure dear, just extra precaution, one can never be too careful.”
His response was tinted with something I couldn’t put my finger on, uncertainty maybe? Either way it left me feeling a bit cold.
As Hughes struggled to get the suitcase in behind him I started to shiver, bouncing up and down for warmth, I looked around. Something was unsettling about the place. Something in my gut was taunting me…it was the same sort of feeling I got when walking home alone at night. Uneasy.
“Coming?” Hughes asked from inside the doorway, interrupting my thoughts.
“Yeah,” I said and hurried in after him, dragging my heavy suitcase up over the small step.
He flicked on the hallway lights and my eyes adjusted to the dimly lit house. It was messy, no messy wasn’t the right word… just cluttered, incredibly, incredibly cluttered. Books, papers, furniture, figurines, trinkets, you name it filled every last spare inch of the place.
“Sorry about the mess – I just returned from a business trip…and well, my research can sometimes bog me down a bit.”
All I could manage was a slight twitch at the corner of my mouth, “It’s, ah – nice.”
Hughes opened the closet and shook out his wet jacket, the little beads of water sprinkling across the worn wooden floor. He took his time hanging it up and then looked over at me, “Coat?”
“What? Oh, right – sure,” I said unbuttoning it. As I handed it over I took a deep breath and tried to take in my new surroundings.
I instantly noticed an odd smell. It wasn’t bad exactly, more like old library books and musty basements. The carpet creeping up the stairs was pea green and worn while the wallpaper was faded, peeling and dirty yellow.
“Kitchen is this way,” Hughes said moving the suitcase against wall and motioning down the narrow hall towards the back of the house. “We can have some tea to warm up. After you can head upstairs to your room and get settled.”
Nodding I followed him down the hall toward the kitchen. As I passed by I glanced into the chaotic study on the left and a sitting room on the right, both strewn with an obscene amount of old newspapers.
“What’s with all the newspaper?” I asked as we walked into the dated kitchen.
“Huh? What’s that,” Hughes asked as he started digging around in the cupboards.
“The newspapers,” I said picking up one of the abandoned copies on the cluttered table.
“Oh – that, it’s nothing dear, just research, that’s all.”
I glanced down at the title, Buenos Aries Herald. “Why would you need a paper from Buenos Aries?” I asked noticing that the front page hacked to bits.
Hughes filled a teapot up with water and lit the ancient gas stove. “Aside from being a Geography Professor I am also the school’s recruiter. I go from country to country looking for rare talent.”
“What do you mean by rare talent?” I asked, confused.
“Well umm – it’s a little hard to explain,” he said shuffling around the kitchen and avoiding eye contact. “The students who attend Descartes Academy are very- ah -special.”
“Like, smart, you mean?”
Hughes paused to think then nodded. “I suppose, yes.”
“Great,” I mumbled to myself and tossed the newspaper back on the table. Not only was I expected to attend the obnoxious stuck up boarding school for the extravagantly wealthy, now I was suppose to try and compete with teenage geniuses too? I doubted I would get very far with my C plus average.
Hughes poured me a cup of tea and set it down on the corner of the table.
“Thanks,” I said taking the warm china between my hands. The rain had left my bones chilled and the heat felt wonderful against my skin. I sniffled and looked out the back window. The Foyer’s Falls were crashing down from the sky in the distance, free falling from the cliff side and disappearing above the ancient treetops.
Sighing, I closed my eyes and tried not to think about… anything.
After finishing a quiet tea with my uncle, my fingers felt defrosted enough to attempt the task of unpacking. I pulled my two suitcases up the slender staircase one by one as the wheels thunked loudly against the carpet. Cursing, I managed to get them both into the hall where I stopped to decide which door to try first.
Two bedrooms faced each other on both end of the hall and scary looking bathroom sat in the middle. From what I could see of the disaster to the bedroom on the right I assumed it was Hughes’, so I headed in the opposite direction.
Nervous, I entered my new room unsure of what I would find. I was expecting a cot in the midst of boxes and stacks of paper but upon opening the door I pleasantly discovered a little sanctuary. Hughes had painted the whole room purple, not that I particularly enjoyed purple, but it was a thoughtful gesture. A queen size bed was off centered towards the back, a matching wardrobe was against the far wall, and big oak desk was beside the door.
I shrugged at the space. Not too bad. Not as bad as I had thought anyway.
Noticing a neatly folded piece of paper on the desk I wandered over to investigate. Unfolding it, I discovered it was a class list with the names of my professors and a map of the school. I quickly looked it over. I had four classes and a spare. History, physics, biology, and art, none of which I was particularly looking forward to – academics in general were not my forte. I folded the note back up and set it beside the stack of textbooks.
I eyed the physics book on top of the pile. “Nice to meet you,” I said to the book. “I’m Lake – you shall be my nemesis.”
It didn’t respond. It just continued to sit there, taunting me.
Looking away from the textbook I realized something… I had yet to see a TV. My stomach dropped. I left the room in a panic and headed downstairs. I popped my head into the living room -still no TV.
“Uncle Hughes?” I called out.
“Yes?” he answered from his study across the hall.
“Where’s the TV?” My voice was slightly more strained than I had meant it to sound.
“Sorry dear – no TV. I don’t believe in senseless distractions.”
Taking a deep breath I tried to calm myself down. “What about a computer?” I asked, closing my eyes - praying.
“There’s a whole lab full of them in the school…”
I held my breath. How was I going to survive in this place without senseless distractions? I wanted to throw a tantrum. I wanted to scream. But I bit my lip and headed back upstairs.
Technically I was a guest in his home, a permanent guest, but a guest nonetheless. Loosing my temper over the lack of technology wasn’t a very gracious thing to do, but it was about, more, than a TV. It was about the connection to the outside world…the world I had lost. I could feel the old me slipping away…
Forcing my quickening breath to slow, I collected my suitcases from the hall and dragged them into my new room. I unzipped them cautiously knowing full well that they were about to explode. Clothes, pictures and hair products spewed across the floor. I started sorting through the small bits of my life I had left behind, the unintentional little remainders of where I had come from and where I was now.
My hand stopped over a picture of my parents, my little brother, and me. It had been taken a little over a year ago at Disney World. My breath caught in my throat. I tried to tear my eyes away but I couldn’t do it…their faces just kept holding mine.
I wasn’t sad anymore…I was past sad, I was forgotten and left behind. I was dead inside, I had cried my allotted tears of a lifetime, and I had whispered more profanities to God than I would ever admit. I was just angry now.
I picked up the picture, stared at it for a moment, and hurled it against the wall. The glass frame shattered and splintered into a million tiny pieces. It sounded like rain as the shards fell to the ground.
I froze, waiting for the moment of sheer frustration to pass. Tears filled my eyes, but I refused to let them fall. I gritted my teeth and powered through the emotion until I collected myself enough to get up and clean the mess I had just created. I headed back downstairs.
“Broom?” I asked Hughes as I poked my head into his study.
He was sitting at his desk elbow deep in newspapers. “In the kitchen closet,” he said, not bothering to look up.
I found the broom and retreated back upstairs.
After sweeping the light reflecting fragments into the dustpan I dumped the contents into the garbage and picked up the photo. Without looking at it I set it face down on the desk, then walked cross the room and slumped down onto the bed.
The mattress was too firm but I lowered myself across the freshly washed comforter anyway. Inhaling the scent of lilacs I listened as the wind and rain continued to batter against the window. Motionless, I stared out over my new room. I closed my eyes and cried myself to sleep. I guess there was no such thing as an allotted amount of tears.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, C.J. InksonWrite a Review