2. Scarenville Highschool
Loud knocks echo through the furnished apartment, waking me up from a deep slumber.
Sitting up groggily, I rub my eyes and disentangle myself from the thin blue sheets to stand. A misty light pours through the windows, and I notice it's morning.
So much for a quick power nap.
Shaking my head in dismay, I shuffle towards the wooden door.
Opening the door, I find Amora standing there, her thin fist raised to knock again. After quickly scanning her figure, I notice she's dressed in an old tattered nightgown that trails far past her feet.
I let my eyes wander over her face and am immediately astonished by what I find. She looks younger. In astonishment, I place my hands over my eyes and rub them.
Could this really be the same lady I met yesterday? Surely not. That old crone was at least in her seventies with shockingly white hair and a very frail frame.
The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed woman standing before me now is anything but that. Rich, luminous blonde hair is styled in a sophisticated bob, cascading just above her shoulders in loose waves. What really astonishes me are the fine lines highlighting her face. It's as though years of stress and troubles melted off overnight, ironing out the deep wrinkles which once scarred her face.
"Hurry, kiddo! School starts in 15 minutes," she announces airily.
Even her voice sounds more youthful, I note with disbelief. The shaky, crackling voice that chastised me the day before now sounds like an animated chime.
She must have gone to a beauty parlor or something.
It's the only explanation for such a sudden transformation.
Focusing on her statement, my eyebrows furrow in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
She points to her watch and replies, "It's 7:45, and first impressions are important. Trust me; the faculty don't exactly appreciate late students."
"B-but, I haven't even told them I arrived yet!" I stammer and continue, "I planned to start school next week so that I could explore the town a bit more. This has to be a mistake!"
Before I could say anything else, Amora interrupts with a smile, "There's nothing to worry about, dear. You can tour the town later. I told them about your arrival, and they're expecting you today."
"But I didn't even get the chance to buy books or supplies. What if—"
"Oh, no! All you need is a bag. The school will provide all your textbooks. You don't have to worry about lunch, either! Everything is all taken care of." She interrupts me.
My mouth juts wide open, jaw nearly hitting the ground in amazement.
How can you make decisions for me without acknowledging me first?
"Now hurry and get ready! In the meantime, I'll make you some sandwiches for breakfast," she says.
Nodding in agreement, I move to close the door. Before the door can shut completely, I watch as she swiftly navigates the hallway.
Strange. I'm sure I saw Amora walking with a cane yesterday.
I saunter to the bathroom to prepare for the day that awaits me. Hot water scalds my skin as I step into the shower, and I stop to consider all the odd things that have happened since blowing into town.
I still can't believe Amora would overstep boundaries like that. Maintaining composure is one of the hardest things I've had to do. Below the surface, I'm still blistering with anger and shock.
Wrapping my hair into a turban with a towel, I scour through my suitcase to grab an oversized blouse and high-waist denim jeans. After dressing, I comb fingers through my tangled locks and pull it into a messy low bun.
As I exit the elevator, I peak past Amora's apartment door to find her winding paper towels around a sandwich.
"Thanks, Amora. You really didn't need to do all of this." I sighed in exasperation.
Handing me the meal, she smiles wickedly at me, choosing to ignore my obvious displeasure at her interference. "It's straight-ahead honey, have a nice day."
It's chilly outside. Every breath that billows past my lips condenses into a misty cloud of vapor. I inspect the empty roads around me. There's not a single person in sight.
Lost in thought, I walk forward and watch as the faint silhouette of a massive building becomes abundantly clearer with every step. I stop after after a moment, mouth and eyes opening in surprise.
The school is massive and-despite the historical architecture- well kept. It's gothic in nature, with looming arches and intricately stained windows depicting what I can only assume is the town's ancient past.
Moving closer towards the main building, I catch sight of a few students lounging around campus grounds, chattering amongst themselves. Excitement bubbles in my stomach and I run past the massive iron gates into a room with vaulted ceilings.
Conversations come to a complete stop the moment I enter.
The quiet interval encourages whispers to flare up, and my anxiety builds. Every eye in the room is trained on me, dissecting my choice in clothing, my personality, my very being-deciding if I'm worthy of another glance.
I hate it these moments.
I awkwardly check out my surroundings, scanning the other students as I do. Most of them are freakishly pale. The pigment in their skin is muted to an ashen color that I immediately associate with the cold weather.
The few students who don't share this unfortunate cast refuse to meet my eyes, their faces devoid of all expressions altogether.
Deciding to break away from the unpleasant, one-sided staring contest, I walk deeper into the corridor. A door with the words 'Principal’s Room' printed above the threshold comes into view.
I descend towards the door, knocking on it several times until an audibly tired voice yells, "Come in!"
A large oak desk sits in the middle of the room. Perching behind it is a pale, bearded gentleman with more salt than pepper speckling his trim hair. Behind him stands an enormous shelf brimming with trophies and awards of every caliber. I stare at them in awe before focusing back on him.
Something about him makes me feel at odds with myself, but I shrug it off as nothing more than first day jitters and hold out a hand to introduce myself, "Hello, Sir. I'm Rose, Rose Gracia." He raises his eyebrows when I mention my last name, but quickly changes his expression and answers with a firm shake and a smile that shows off every wrinkle.
"Nice to meet you, Rose, and welcome to Scarenville highschool."
I nod my head.
"Textbooks and the student handbook are in your locker. I would read over the general school rules as soon as you get the chance; we take them very seriously. We wouldn't want you to be late to class, so go ahead and ask one of the students in the hall to guide you to your locker. It's locker number 226."
"Thank you, Sir," I mutter and get up from the chair to leave the room to search for students. Walking back towards the main pavilion, I run into a group of students and watch as they stare off into the distance, profiles devoid of all emotions.
My heart beats quickly in nervousness, and some intuitive part of me knows they can probably hear it.
It's like I jumped from a vat of boiling water straight into a crocodile-infested swamp. What's worse? I still can't tell which poses the greatest risk to my future; the boiling water or the swamp. I have a sneaking suspicion I'll find out soon enough.
Steeling myself, I catch the eye of a particular red-haired girl and hesitantly walk over to ask, "Hey, I'm Rose. I'm a new student here and was just wondering if you could show me to my locker? It's number 226."
She nods slowly, but stays silent as she leads me through winding passageways.
Following behind her, something startling captures my interest.
Wanting to avoid the unwanted attention that comes from snooping, I watch out of the corner of my eye as one of the students grapples with his arm, twisting it to ungodly proportions.
I can physically hear the muscles and tendons snapping in his arms and violently recoil at the sound of bones popping in the distance.
How did he just do that?
Catching a glimpse of the other students' reflection off the highly polished tile floor, I notice that no one seems bothered by what he's doing. Astonished by the twisted display and seriously questioning my mental courage to survive this bizarre town, I cringe away from the scene.
"It's this one." The girl points, referring to a large, red, well-maintained locker.
just as I leaned forward to ask her if body mutilation is a common occurrence in this school, she slips past me, out of my reach.
Frowning at my inability to get answers, I occupy my mind by opening the locker and examining its contents instead.
As promised, books and school supplies fill every inch of the locker. Breathing out slowly, I briefly look over the timetable and find it stuck to a mini pamphlet. Flipping through it, my eyes land on a section written in bold letters. Labeled 'RULES,' the passage states the following:
•Talking is strictly forbidden. Speak only when permitted.
•Adhere to town hierarchy. Living students will follow directions appointed by the dead in a timely manner.
•Be courteous and respectful at all times.
•Curfew is 7pm: Students are not allowed to wander town after this time.
•Students will not contact anyone outside of Scarenville.
•Students will not interact with Damien.
Note: Disciplinary action will be taken against any student who breaches the code of conduct. Attempts to leave Scarenville will result in harsh punishment.
Shocked, my eyes flicker over the words 'living students' and 'the dead' over and over again.
The more I read the guidelines, the more I realize this can't be further from the truth.
Maybe it's just a sick joke?
What type of school warns students that they can't contact people outside of town? And for that matter, what kind of school stops its students from interacting with certain people? Also, who is this 'Damien' person, and why is he so important?
No one paid me much attention as I read through the rest of the pamphlet, hands shaking vigorously.
For a split second, the cabbie driver's warning runs through my mind, making my palms sweat with dread. My whole body hollows out, and I wonder if I've somehow managed to tangle myself in an inescapable trap.
First, it was the cabbie driver. Now, even the students are involved in the elaborate lie to intimidate me-going so far as to twist their arms painfully in front of me, hoping to inspire some sick reaction.
Before delving further down that line of thinking, the bell rings, indicating that the first period is about to begin.
I need to figure out why they would go to such lengths to freak me out, but I know that my priority must be to attend class.
Looking at the timetable, I check to see that the first class of the day is Chemistry. Running down the halls, I yell triumphantly in my head when I manage to find the red door with the words 'Chem' written on top of it.
Hoping the students don't stare as intensely at me as they had in the great hall, I slowly enter the classroom and sigh with relief when I observe that they are busy peering at their textbooks instead, in some weird trance.
All but one table is full, and I start walking towards it. Hoping to keep the table all to myself, I cross my fingers discreetly.
I freeze and feel an unmistakable presence by my back and turn to acknowledge it only to find the most beautiful person ever towering over me.
Nearly six-foot-one, a broad-shouldered student stands before me. He stands out from the others. Even the pallor beneath his skin does not lessen his looks; in fact, it heightens his gorgeous shining gold eyes and dark black hair.
Checking him out in a daze, a blush takes over my cheeks when I finally notice that he is also inspecting me.
Our eyes interlock in an intense dance. For a split second, everything seems to vanish around us, leaving the two of us to stare intimately at each other. The moment is ruined when he speaks in an enchanting voice, harshly bringing me back to reality.
Embarrassed, I scurry over to the empty table and plop down, silently praying he does not sit next to me. I'm equally happy and disappointed when he moves to sit behind me instead.
Breath hitching, I cautiously peek over my shoulder to glance at him again. He's different from the others, I realize. There's something almost ethereal about him—some animal magnetism that makes him feel so...alive.
He starts talking to the partner beside him in another language, which feels ancient and unrecognizable. I take this as the cue to mind my business and turn my attention to the middle-aged teacher that storms through the door.
"Good morning, class!" He chirps, not addressing me as a new student, which I'm incredibly thankful for.
He starts teaching immediately, rapidly going over the syllabus and launching straight into a lecture on acid-base reactions with buffers and dissociation constants. I'm not entirely surprised by the fast-paced introduction. This school is considered the best in the world for a reason.
Unable to focus on his words, I absentmindedly jot down notes while thinking about why everyone at the school behaved in such an odd manner.
The notetaking turns into doodling. Before long, a shrill ring echoes through the room, indicating that the class is finally over. We all move to pack our belongings, trampling over each other as we rush to leave the room.
I didn't run into the boy again until the 5th period, right before lunch.
My heart climbs into my throat when I see him sitting on the bench in front of the chalkboard.
He looks at me again, and our eyes lock in a silent battle, but I quickly concede and avert my eyes this time. Sitting as far away from him as possible, I check out my surroundings and wait for the peculiarly dressed instructor to speak.
"Listen up, everyone!" He proclaims. "Today, we'll be going over a new song. Some of you may know it as the hit R&B and contemporary song named "Untold."
Really? Enthusiasm ripples through me, and I eagerly lean forward, the passion inside of me steadily growing. For better or worse, this place is full of surprises.
Mr. Kaleb's gaze falls on me as he moves to play the karaoke version of the song on his laptop. "Ok, let the new kid sing it first."
Wait, is he calling for me?
I bite my fingers nervously but still rise from the chair with a confident look, strolling towards the center of the room. I feel everyone's eyes on me. Taking a deep breath, I wait for the track to start. The track slowly starts and I suck in a breath.
I know the song better than myself because I'd spent months belting it out loud. Recalling how the artist tackles this song, I match her note-for-note, hitting every pitch perfectly.
As the song comes to an end, my eyes trail over to Mr. Kaleb and smile.
"Good!" He exclaims and claps. "I haven't seen anyone like you in years!"
Filled with pride over the praise, I saunter over to my chair, readily listening to him explain the vocals.
This is probably the only class I've given my full attention to since arriving here. My mind is preoccupied with all the oddities I keep seeing-a vain attempt to make sense of it all.
Turning to look around the room, I realize that my performance has stunned all the students. Now bashful, I smile internally, marveling over my ability to produce a reaction from even the most deadpan students.
Thirty minutes later, the bells chime, interrupting my self-reflection. Excited for lunch, I get up from my seat as usual and walk towards the cafeteria, hoping to get a bite to eat.
In the distance, I overhear one of the students call out, "Damien! Let's go, dude!"
Whipping my head around, I catch sight of this mysterious 'Damien' person and startle in realization.
In some twisted turn of events, the very student I'm expressly forbidden to interact with is the same gorgeous man I pissed off earlier when trying to find a seat.
Oh, great—just my luck!