Subtle, Flowing Changes

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1: The Move

Chapter 1: The Move

The towering brick building attacked me with its imposing presence. Once inside the halls, I was immediately congested and claustrophobic. The air was thin as though the hundreds of living souls squirming about gulped up all the air and left none for me. The atmosphere was thick with the presence of so much body heat that I began to sweat profusely. I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t breathe. All I could do was just stand there, stymied, like a corpse. It reminded me of that weird movie where a frozen corpse stood before a collection of scientists only for the main man of the conference to state bluntly the dead body’s sole purpose—it has none. And for a moment, there I remained, ingrained in my fantasy, becoming the very cryogenic void myself.

But miraculously, I was revived by a tap on the shoulder. Surprised, I gasped a full breath of fresh air. I was alive! It didn’t take me long to identify the genteel woman to be the principal. She must had been drawn to me because of my completely floored expression.

With a pleasant smile, she asked, “Is everything all right?”

“Just… lost, I guess.” I couldn’t find the right words. I locked them within myself.

“You must be the new student, then.”

“That’s me.”

Her gilded name tag announced herself before she could. “Lucky I found you, then! I am the principal. Follow me!”

Undoubtedly a compassionate individual.

We followed the winding halls to her ironclad office to discuss our action plans concerning the battlefield that is the first day of school. She sat me down and relayed all the intel, including the things I needed to know and the things I didn’t really want to know. She then offered me a stack of books along with a locker number and combination. I was equipped for battle.

“Good luck, soldier,” she stated breathlessly as I faded into the light of the hallway.

Marching along, I stopped at my “new” locker, which looked as though a bully had previously taken residence of it and had used the poor thing for anger management. It even squeaked feebly when I forced it open. Gracefully, I tossed my books into the locker one-by-one, each landing to their devices in the ditch, and flicked the door closed. Done. And done. Now what?

Oh, right. I have to actually go to school.

Rolling my eyes and heaving a sigh that resounded through the entire vapid hallway, I recited the locker combination and retrieved the color-coded schedule glued to my red folder announcing “Cheetah pride.” Shouldn’t it have been cheetah print, then? My heavy sigh returned with a vengeance when I connected the course with the present time: math. Naturally. What a great way to start an already horrible day.

Lugging the tome at my side, I let it drag across the floor like an old stuffed animal. Complaining under my breath, I cursed the commander for keeping me though the entirety of Classical Literature, which is the official first class of the day and would have definitely made my day just a tiny bit brighter. But instead we had to talk about codes of conduct—as though all the youth of this school had ceased maturity in kindergarten. What does she think I am?

Once the featureless door lay before me, my math book slammed to the floor, throwing a tantrum out of abandonment and regret. Then the reality dawned on me: why do I even care? But swiftly another reality deftly stabbed me in the back: I’m in public school, this is my first day, there’s going to be a bunch of stupid kids behind this door, and I’m already fifteen minutes late into a class I hate in a school where I’m already far behind. My hand visibly quivered as I contemplated whether or not I should knock first or redirect the fist to my face. Slinking to the ground, I joined the math book mumbling self-depreciating comments to itself, and I huddled up with it, losing myself in the silence of the halls and the muffled muttering of the classroom behind me.

The endless screaming of a prisoner of war dragged me from my dreamless sleep and tossed my stymied body smack on the linoleum floor. “Stupid school bell,” I muttered to myself. But at the same time, I sent it an ounce of sympathy, for its sole purpose in life is to scream at regular intervals and to be both the bane and purpose of students’ existences.

Just as I dragged myself out of harm’s way, an influx of pedestrians trampled through the exiguous corridor like elephants. Desperately, I sucked in my breath and plastered myself against the wall, shuffling my feet along. Weaving in and out of the students, I clutched my locker just in time to exhaust the compressed air; replacing it, however, was a rush of toxic gas expelled by the hygiene-ignorant adolescents. Right there and then, I almost died.

But somehow, I stayed alive to sneak into history class. My first class, of course, as I had sighed away my stubborn desire to write the entire day off as coincidentally missing. I had a plan, though. Checking the gnawed schedule, I located my target and waited patiently beside the door for a group of unsuspecting suckers. Once three normal-looking folks converged, I joined their bundle until they broke off across scattered seats. Tiptoeing surreptitiously to the window seat, I nestled myself in the back row.

Safe, I breathed. By not drawing attention to myself or differentiating myself, I had become one of them. I was there all along, essentially; I had written myself into their collective story and had become as invisible and accepted as history itself. Still, just to be careful, I kept my breathing soft and covered my entire perimeter with the gigantic textbook. School is school, right? They’re all just the same. With this erudite connection, I satisfied myself and calmed my nerves for at least a good, stable hour. Until I had to do my spy routine all over again for every other class.

I already identified the majority of the school body to be absolute ignoramuses, and lunchtime barely gleamed the horizon. The day dragged on mercilessly, tearing me along its route like an anchor dragging along the sea bottom. Pestilent rocks even dug into my feet; OK, maybe those were just pebbles that got caught in my shoes when I ran outside during gym. Oh, let’s not talk about gym class. But as they say, c’est la guerre. Life must go on, despite my negligence to fight.

Once lunch arrived, I planted myself before my locker, staring dumbfounded into the abyss above my books. My mom had forgotten (conveniently or not) to pack me a lunch. Typical scatterbrain. What did she expect me to do—engorge myself with cafeteria food? They douse that stuff with brainwashing chemicals. Once again, I poured my lugubrious soul into the air and slammed my locker door, deciding it would be better for me to petrificate outside in the city fumes and join the pigeons in picking at crumbs. Luckily, the afternoon arrived to liberate me from the trenches.

Math passed, history passed, P.E. (“lovely” as usual) passed, lunch passed, science passed, cours de Français est passé, art passed (sadly), and grammar (Finally; where have you been?) passed. Until, at last, I was relieved of the day’s duties. It was time to conquer the mountain of textbooks and homework, which burdened my knapsack like lead. But an even heavier sentiment grounded me.

“It’s time to go home,” I instinctually muttered. The phrase was so quotidian that it could mean anything, but the verity of the sentence snapped me from my dissociative trance. Because I wasn’t really going “home” in the sense I wished; I was being dragged back to the Enchanted Forest. To our new home—our new life. Our new everything.

It’s time for change.

My mother’s words shivered up my back. Oh, how I’ve always loathed change. It snaps you up from your daily life like a prankster, ruining the portrait of your life that you had meticulously formed from the whole of your existence by altering it ever so slightly. All that hard work goes to waste. I slammed my locker door shut, heaving a mortally-wounded sigh.

“I’m really going to hate this year,” I growled though my thick breath. “I wish everything would just go back to normal.” It didn’t help that my back snapped from the stress of makeup work that sadistically waited to steal all my time.

As my footsteps shuffled along the voided hall, kicking up remaining debris, a luminous silhouette haunted my peripheral vision, and I spun around deftly to try to catch it—but to no avail. Strange. I continued walking, but the floating blonde kept coming back—again and again—until finally, I was fed up. I just planted myself on the linoleum, crossed my arms, and diligently surveyed the area like a security officer.

“I know you’re there,” I wanted to call with a pout and a defiant huff. But I didn’t; I was content to let the yell echo in my thoughts.

A minute or so transpired, and nothing of substance announced itself in the blank halls. My mom’s car honked like a wounded goose outside, so I dissolved my rigid posture and retrieved my knapsack off the dusty floor. As I leisurely strode to the light, the anguish revisited me, though I was comfortable to be leaving scot free. Except I wasn’t.

“Out of the waaayy!” came a girly screech.

Before my instincts could rescue me, an angular blonde dove head-first down the hall and headbutted me lethally, the impact crushing my tailbone upon my landing. Papers flew everywhere! It was a veritable blizzard or a bomb. My thoughts hazy, I had been knocked out of my right mind, and I was immediately comparing this ridiculously-improbable situation to a hack anime.

Before I could analyze the situation, another squeal stabbed my ears. “Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry! Are you OK? I thought for sure you had gotten out of the way!”

Yep, I pondered sarcastically, pacifying my throbbing brain, she’s stealing the cheap scripts.

Before I could numb her actions with a sarcastic remark, she flipped to her knees and speedily swept the papers and books off the linoleum, replicating a neat pile beside her. Her magenta talons intimidated me as she snatched the papers deftly like an eagle stealing fish from the stream. So I was content to just sit with a pout and recondition myself to a more comfortable seat on the floor.

“There! All better!” The unidentified blonde cradled the leaden stack and shoved it into my torso, knocking the wind out of me. “Do you need help getting up?”

“Nah. I’m good,” I breathed in my best teenage impression.

She apparated to a standing position, her rosy, innocently-demanding face looming over me. “Are you sure?”

It was like arguing with an infant. I succeeded, and she pulled me and the stack of tomes up with one arm.

“All better!” she repeated, as if to assure only herself.

“Can I go now?” I queried uncertainly.

“Sorry! Of course! See you tomorrow at school!” With a coy wave, she sped off through the double doors like a flighty fairy with jet wings.

Left dumbfounded to my own devices, what else was there I could do but let the silence wash over me while I contemplated the veracity of my life before the car’s wounded squeaking got the better of me.

I flopped into the back seat of the car over my rejected backpack, sighing as loudly as possible to make my depressing teenage life seem almost convincing to my 40-year-old parents. I didn’t care about the discomfort of my ride because it reflected how I felt about my life.

My backpack dropped dead on the floor as soon as I returned to that bare, unfurnished house which held no warmth of a home. Yes, the scenery outside the walls was beautiful, but the inside was a barren refuge of darkness, clutching onto a pungent melancholy. From a distance, the forest feels like a beacon of something, but its protected isolation could easily be interpreted as a subjected ostracization.

I moped all the way up the sturdy, pine staircase of that relentlessly morbid cabin, ignoring the cries of my mother about my presence at dinner that night. My room remained metaphorically empty, and I could do nothing to fill it. So I collapsed onto my bed and slept, wishing to wake from this living nightmare. I did not wake. A dreadful hour passed, and I knocked myself out of my woe (consisting of rolling in bed, staring at the ceiling attentively, and creating structures with my books) with a swift but invisible punch.

I supposed I should be a good girl and dredge up my famed role as a model student, just as I had played all those years before my memories were murdered. Waiting upon the structure of textbooks was a tiny piece of literature biding its time and savoring the view. I purposefully didn’t want it to get lost in the weight lest it be crushed to pieces only to be later excavated as a barely-construed collection of loose-leaf. It is a memoir of an old friend, one who understands me intrinsically. A beacon of more intellectual times not entropied by brainwashing television or teen magazines. Dear, dear F. Scott. Yours was a sad life but a fulfilled one.

With a sigh, I took the button-sized book into my feeble hands. Professors always flaunted the classics and their quintessential “great literary contributions,” but why did I feel so distant from those ringing words now? The first thought poked fun at possible depression. The second elucidated that maybe I had matured my sense of thinking; all books can be literature, right? One’s tomfoolery can be another’s treasure. I gritted my teeth, denying my sleep-deprived musings. No, idiot, it’s just that those dumb kids didn’t understand.

Of course it’s the unfinished book, the aptly named Last Tycoon, which contains snippets of manuscripts and the literal penmanship of a ghost. It just stands to remind us that everything we live off of is attributed to the wisdom of the dead. We communicate more with the dead than we do with the living in most cases. Such is the nature of school.

Flipping the pages, a thin ghost flied out at me, and I screamed an embarrassingly girly shriek as the phantom glided to the floor like a feather. It’s just a white envelope. How did that get in there? I perused the book during math class after the English teacher generously bequeathed it to me. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t one of those banal censored versions, and I didn’t see anything like an envelope lodged in its pages.

Curious, I picked it off the floor and studied its colorful contents. In bubbly, gel-flooded letters, it screamed: “Friendship Club. Join Now!!” Under the banner of puffy words were various stick-people linked by their badly-drawn arms. The drawn rendition was so bad that it almost looked like crude pixel art.

“What the heck is this? What kind of a prank is this ‘Friendship Club’? Do they really take me as being so daft?”

With the shades drawn and all light at bay, this polychromatic postcard illuminated the drab room with its childish promise. I couldn’t let it go. The invisible superglue disgusted me, but I quickly sighed it away as though it were the spiderweb effect on the skin. Folded from sight, the paper rested on the nightstand, bequeathing its secret light to the fixture-less lamp. Once again recumbent, I spent the rest of the night daydreaming into literature until my consciousness drifted away from me entirely.

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