My heart plummets into my stomach like a bomb going off, exploding everything in its path. A-a coffin, too? What the hell is this? Who? And why? My fingers tremble as I stare at the phone number. The extremely weird phone number. I need to trace this ASAP, but I have class. This all sounds too familiar to me. Like an eerie echo beaming back, you don't want to hear in a dark cavern. Magnolia. Shit. Fuck. Magnolia's emails.
Sitting on the edge of my couch, I can't take my eyes away from the text message. Reading and rereading, memorizing it. I need to approach this as thoroughly as I can. Try to take the smartest route. It could be a threat or, like with Magnolia, this could be the beginning of the end for me. But maybe, for research, this is for the best. I can see who does what and to what extreme. What other options do I have?
That's it. That's the last nail in my coffin. That's what determines my new path. My mind tries to convince me that nothing will happen. It's all a fluke. So, I put my brave face on, ready to face whatever the hell I'm going to face. Grabbing my backpack with slight hesitation, I make my way out of my apartment. The tension in the air reveals that this is not a fluke. Girls cover their mouths, whispering my name, pointing at me when I step out the door. Their eyes widen, phones out, capturing my steps. The loud clicks of their camera's echo in the hall, accompanied by the bright flashes. Swallowing hard, I turn myself around, facing the door.
I wish I hadn't.
My heart sputters inside my chest, nearly stopping altogether. Like an engine running on the bits and pieces of gasoline, finally sputtering to its death. Grey dripping paint runs down my door like blood pouring from its latest victim. A blood-red slash paints across the door over the grey, marking me. My soul. A mark for my blood, for my life, for everything.
"What is this?" I demand in a stronger voice than I expected. Peering around at the other girls who are crowding around me, boxing me in. Pale faces with grief springing in their eyes, greet my question. One girl I barely recognize shakes her head, backing up, putting space between me and her. The rest follow suit, taking a step back from me. But they never put their phones away. They never stop broadcasting my newest fate to the world.
I look to the paint falling onto the carpet, staining the fibers. The tiny grey droplets form into tiny mismatched puddles, mixing with the red, looking more like blood pooling beneath it. What a mess this will be for the maintenance crew later. How do you get paint out of carpet, anyhow? Seems impossible to me. They must cut it out and replace it with new, much like my destroyed door.
"Anyone?" I ask again, licking my lips. I turn my back towards the ruined door and open myself up to the shark-like crowd.
"It means they have marked you, you boyfriend stealing bitch." Harlow seethes with a triumphant smile beaming across her lips. She shoves her way through the crowd of gawking girls, coming front and center, staring me down with pure hate in her eyes.
"Marked?" Crap. Crap. That's the same words Mags' spewed in an email. Marked, but she didn't sound scared. But maybe she should have been, because look where it got her. Dead and gone. And now me?
"Do you know what happened to the last girl they marked?" Harlow asked through a grin, staring at her nails like this was nothing but child's play to her. I licked my lips, because yeah, I knew.
"No," I say, through a firm voice, lifting my chin higher.
"Good," She says, patting me on the head. She moves in, getting in my face. "Really fucking good. My advice? Run. Run as far and as fast as you can, because this? This is only the beginning."
"Never touch me," I snarl, getting into her face as much as she got in mine. My fists ball at my sides and I'm two seconds away from clocking her in her smug little face, even though I wouldn't.
"Or what?" She asks, lifting her brows. "What are you going to do about it?" She snarks like I won't do anything. But what she expects is exactly what I won't do. If she wants a fist in her face, I'd love to do it. But my fist won't dole out the vengeance I want. I tilt my head to the side and softly hit her shoulder. I lean in, just for her to hear in the room full of bloodthirsty witnesses.
"I have my ways. You touch me again, you'll regret ever putting a finger on me, Harlow Lacey." I try to sound as menacing as my small voice will let me, but by the smile on her face, I did nothing to incite fear. Her mistake, not mine.
She simply snorts, shoves me in the shoulder, and saunters off. The rest of the pale-faced girls in the hallway follow suit, trailing after their apparent leader. My eyes follow their movements, invisible ants mounting my skin. Preparing their ascent up my legs and spreading out on the tingling flesh of my arms. My fingernails dig into my skin, breaking through the layers, frantically scratching.
"Oh and, New girl? Enjoy breakfast!" Harlow shouts with glee from the elevators, the doors closing around her voice. My throat constricts at her warning words. Something. Something has changed. Something has happened. But what?
My eyes linger on the damage on my door. I make a call to the maintenance crew, letting them know someone has damaged my door, and head to breakfast. I make my way across the courtyard, toward the dining hall. Eyes burn deep into my soul, weakening my knees. I stumble just a little at the eyes on me. Whatever happened to my door has made its way to every curious ear on campus. Everyone who sees me, watches me with sharp eyes, evaluating me. And then? Then they avoid me like I carry the fucking plague in my purse.
What. The. Fuck.
I take a deep breath before walking up to the dining hall. Seger and Zepp stand shoulder to shoulder with scowls etched onto their perfect faces. The last time I saw the two of them, we'd had fun together in the maze. Laughing and joking like we were old friends, but today? Oh, today, I am the scum on their shoes. The inconvenience standing right before them.
"Go away," Seger grunts, folding his arms across his chest. I tilt my head, my eyes sliding towards Zepp. Their faces give off nothing but anger.
"But I'm hungry," I state, trying to push past them, but they move the way I do, blocking my path again.
"Then starve," Zepp says, looking away from me towards Harlow and her gaggle of followers.
"That's it? Starve?" I ask again, trying to push past whatever this is. My eyes float to Chase sitting at our normal table. His grey eyes give nothing away, but the sadness storming across his face says plenty. He looks away as quickly as he can, avoiding me too. Well great, there goes my sanity in this place.
"Fucking starve, New Girl. You can't come in here anymore. So fucking starve. Choke on a dick or whatever it is you do." Seger's face turns bright red, nostrils flaring wildly. As he stares me down with narrowed slits. Hate and anger spark in his eyes at the sight of me. I'm perplexed. Where on earth did all this hate come from? What changed over the course of the weekend?
I purse my lips, "I'd rather not choke on it, but maybe I'll bite it off, make a meal of it." Seger swallows hard and shakes his head. His eyes track Harlow's movement and then connect his pleading gaze with mine.
"No one around here wants your STD infested lips anywhere around them." He raises his brows, eyes conveying his message loud and clear. Sorry. So sorry. Worry. Hate. Lust. Mixed emotions swirl like an open book over his scowling face.
"Dancing donuts, what's going on here?" I close my eyes, biting my lip until it probably bleeds.
"For the sake of the moon, what on earth are you boys doing?" Piper asks, standing close to me, but not too close.
"Our duty," Zepp says through gritted teeth.
"Well, your duty is right poo-poo!" Piper says waving a finger in front of their faces. "Come on, Kaycee lets get you some food." She makes a grab for my arm, but I pull back, staring at the boys who I thought were my somewhat friends. I was finally getting somewhere with them, gaining their trust. And then this?
"She can't come in," Zepp grits out, pointing back towards the dining hall. By now every student in the vicinity is staring at our showdown, waiting to see what will happen. My guess is some want to see me cry or react unfavorably. But-I won't. Does it hurt my heart they can go from friends to this? Yes. It does. I can't deny that. But will I let them make me cry right now? No. I am a queen. A fucking queen, damn it. I came to this school with fire in my belly and a bomb in my hand ready to come out swinging. So-that's what I'll do. Pick my battles and fire when necessary.
"That's unnecessary, Piper. I don't need this." I wave a hand at them, sadness growing in their eyes. Piper grabs my arm cautiously and pulls me aside. Seger and Zepp let the other students pass by and head in to eat, but keep a watchful eye on me.
"I can grab you some food," Piper says in a small voice, pulling my attention to her bright blue eyes. Concern flashes through them at the sight of me, and damn it, I want pancakes. I lick my lips, scratching a non-existent itch on my neck. The thought of someone else handling my food and bringing it to me flares the ants on my skin to life.
"It's really no problem," She says again, grabbing my shoulder. My entire body stiffens at the contact, but I just nod. My stomach grumbles at the thought of the pancakes I'll miss out on if this is how it's going to go from now on.
"That would be really nice of you," I say nodding. She nods, giving me a warm smile. "Pancakes, please?" I add with hope.
"Oh smothered pancakes, of course! Sprinkles and syrup and lots of whipped cream for you!" There's a skip in her step as she steps into the dining hall. Momentarily stopping to send an evil glare in the twin's direction.
Harlow slips in front of the twins with a smile on her face. She eyes me and then runs a finger down Zepp's chest. He inhales sharply, eyes sinking to mine, and then back to her. His rigid body never reacts to her advancing hands running up and down his chest. She brushes the back of her body against Seger, who is seething in anger by now. But they take it. They take her touches and whispers like they didn't tell her to fuck off a few days ago.
Piper scowls at Harlow who purposefully rams into her, nearly knocking our food trays over. She holds the two trays firmly in her grasp, saving them, making her way towards me. As soon as she sees me, she smiles brightly.
"Your pancakes!" She says through a glee no one should possess. She sits beside me, handing me my food. I stare down at the pancakes, my heart thudding in my chest. They're exactly how I eat them. Smothered in syrup, whipped cream dripping over the edges, and rainbow sprinkles finishing the top.
"They painted my door this morning," I say in a small voice, picking up my fork. Since Piper is the only one who has elected to talk to me and sit beside me, I have to get something out of her. She's as involved with the school as she could be. So she has to know something, anything to clue me on why the sudden change.
Her fork drops onto her tray. Her gaze snapping towards mine, panic brewing behind her blue eyes. "Oh great Gatsby, painted? How?" Her voice raises an octave.
I stare forward, not bothering to look at her. "Grey with a red slash." Every muscle jumps as Piper's food ends up on the ground with a loud crash. She curses, the only way she knows how. Muttering incoherent, weird, mixed-up words, while running her fingers through her long curled strands of hair. Her eyes lock with mine and she shakes her head.
"Not again," She whispers, looking toward Zepp and Seger. "Oh, Kaycee, I'm so sorry. I don't know what you did to them. But they've.... they've marked you for brutality." She whispers the last part like the boys will hear her.
I chew on her words, eating my pancakes while she panics. "So this whole marked thing.... it's real?" I ask, setting my tray beside me.
"Real?" She whisper-shrieks. "Oh, sherbert covered strawberries, of course, it's real, Kaycee!" She grips the roots of hair, pulling. "And-And you have to watch your back! They'll end you," A tear slips down her cheeks, moisture pooling in her eyes. Her eyebrows drip and her shoulders shake with an emotion I've rarely seen on her. "Just like her.... just like...." She shoves her face into her hands, muffling her screams of pure agony.
"I'm sorry, this happened before... like...?" I'm not sure my heart can take the stab of pain slicing through it. I know exactly who Piper is referring to. Magnolia. The reason I'm here. But I am here to seek answers, not relive the terror she endured.
I had already done that through her emails and I still kept an eye out for her missing journal in my apartment. But with no such luck.
Piper freezes, staring at me. Batting her eyelashes rapidly. "Last year....... but it hadn't happened for many years. Jesus on a cracker!" She paces again, muttering words only she understands.
"How long ago, Piper?" I ask, reaching out a comforting hand, sliding it across her petite shoulders.
"Last year they marked a girl for brutality, and then..... not since the 90s." Her head shook back and forth.
"And the other kids? Did they die too?" My breaths catch in my chest, threatening to never exist again. God could pull me from this earth right this instance.
"No," She breathed. "No, never any deaths, but last year..... she.... she..." Piper straightens her back, shaking whatever thoughts she was about to spout away. "It's water under the bridge, Kaycee. You shouldn't worry about her.... you should worry about yourself." She takes a step forward, offering me a tight smile."Because you're going to need it for the rest of the school year... Unless-unless you leave." She whispers the last part with more sadness.
"What's the worst that could happen?" I ask, tilting my head, knowing the instant I said it, it was the stupidest thing possible.
The worst that could happen? Death. They could stab me, shoot me, drown me, or throw me away like I'm nothing. My only problem is I have no idea who I'm up against. She blames Seger and Zepp. She said it was at their insistence. But who on this campus can I really trust? Myself. That's it. I can get answers out of who I need to, but other than that, I'm on my own.
Piper frowns at my words, picks up our trays, and disposes of them. "For Pete's sake, Kaycee, don't ask stupid questions." She grabs my arm, dragging me toward the classroom building. Our lockers line the walls, which confuse me. We each have our own rooms, with desks, and the like. So why do we have lockers? Maybe they're from the old school?
"Hey, Piper, who built this school?" I ask softly, still trying to avoid the hate-filled stares from the other students. Their glares barrel into me like a bullet penetrating into my soul. Like I personally had wronged every one of them.
Her hand tenses around my forearm, still dragging me through the hallway. She shoos a few people with hate in their eyes, eager to dole out their own brand of brutality.
"Dante Van Buren built that god-forsaken house and then the surrounding maze. He was paranoid, a freak of nature. After he died, his kids built this school, just a school for the elite.. then his daughter donated the land......" Her eyes glaze over, flying her brain to a whole new place.
"Awesome," I say, but a name is all I need. I can look him up, look up his kids, and figure out this whole marked issue. Where it started from and who they really are.
"Oh salty sausages, Kaycee, I know..... just survive," Piper says getting in my face. Her eyes pleading with me. "You can do this, they're brutal here. But your strength...." She whispers, tears stinging to her eyes once again.
"Then let them bring it." I let a smile fall on my lips, her eyes widening.
"Good," A grin spreads across her face, and something foreign sparks in her eyes, something I've never seen in her perfect persona. Piper walks away with a small wave, disappearing into the sea of people.
Some people avoid my eyes like shame is filling their beings, but some? Some stare at me with unwarranted rage behind their eyes. They can't wait to sink their fangs into the side of my neck and watch every drop of blood fall from my veins. I've officially stepped into a massive pit of venomous vipers eager to kill. It's like they live for this, wanting any excuse to come after some innocent person someone declared their enemy. Sure-I came in as their enemy from the moment I walked onto this campus. But having them know it? To have them know that I'm their enemy---will be my ultimate downfall.
Prevail and prosper. Use this to your advantage. Do anything to find answers, even if it means I'm their punching bag for another 9 months.
With those words of encouragement from my own mind, I open my locker. If I thought the breakfast debacle was bad, this is worse. I'd expect some juvenile name etched into the metal of my locker or some sort of stupid nickname. Or maybe I held onto that small hope Chase had left something sweet again. But this? Wow. I tilt my head, examining the very large, very pink, and very veiny dildo stuck to the back of my locker. The metal clinks as vibration pulses to life from the dildo. How on earth could anyone stick that inside themselves? Does it all actually fit? It has to be at least 14 inches long, meaning it's..... just way too big. In my own moments of self intimacy, my fingers do the job. But this? This vibrating donkey dick-how on earth---
"Holy shit, Kaycee Cole. You know you're not supposed to bring your kinky sex toys to school!" My face heats with redness I'm sure is visible from space. I'm like a beacon for the astronauts walking on Mars. That blinking red dot guiding them home from their missions. I'm not sure who says those words, some random girl I've probably never met, but the voice does its job. By now there's a crowd around my locker, snickering at my apparent kinky sex toy displayed for the world to see.
My eyes continue to stare at the impossibly large, molded dick, unable to tear them away. Almost like a shitty cliche. I'm staring at a train wreck and I can't peel my eyes away from the wreckage. Wreckage. That's what this dildo signifies. It's a bomb sitting in my locker, ready to detonate at any second. So-me, being me, I reach around it and collect my books. Holy smokes, I have to watch how far I lean in, it'd take an eye out. I grab my books for the day and shut my locker with a thud. There's an entire group of kids whispering still, laughing at my expense, but I do my best to tune them out. These bullies who've marked me want me to cry and cower. But I've got real work to do here.
"We saw you had in your locker, cocksucker!" A girl shouts from the crowd in an angry rant. Cocksucker? Oh boy, soon my name will get replaced by cocksucker. Everyone in this school will join in, chanting that name, and it'll stick forever. Just what I need. Not.
"Sometimes a girl has needs," I say as sarcastically as I can, over my shoulder. Directing my voice to the annoying humans surrounding my back. I try to push through the people in front of me, keeping my head low. Hands reach out and knock my books out of my hand, tossing them beneath the feet of several of the students. I sigh, staring at my discarded books on the floor. Kids stomp their shoes on then covers, even ripping pages from them.
"I told you to watch your back, boyfriend stealer." Harlow. Oh, fucking Harlow Lacey. The first person in this miserable school I am going to set my claws in and never let go.
"You touched me again," I say, bringing my eyes to the mean and twisted scowl present on her pug face. A laugh pours from her miserable throat.
"Jesus, you're a freak, aren't you!" Cheers erupt from behind me, chanting I'm a freak. I'm a freak. I bite my tongue, my mind desperate to ask the stupidest questions on the planet. For once, though, I fight my shitty 'speak before you think' impulse. My mind ticks with anger, surging through my veins at high velocity. I can't sit here and let this girl think I'm a weak freak. Never show your weaknesses, I always say.
I head back to my locker; the crowd shifting to fit my movements. With a hard pull, I yank open my broken into locker and peel the disgustingly enormous dildo out. I stare at it with a snarl, more whispers, and photo snaps coming from behind me. I have confidence in my skills to remove anything that appears on the internet, I've done it for over 5 years for my idiot siblings, so this should be cake.
"Ew, what the hell, boyfriend stealer?" Harlow asks, disgust seeping into her low voice. Her eyes spew venom as I make my way back to her. Not even bothering to shut my locker. If they can break into it like this, then they can just have at it.
I launch the heavy, fake, donkey dick right at her head. A banshee screech echos through the now silent halls. Kids watch in horror as their fearless bitch leader gets assaulted by a dildo in the middle of the school. It bounces off her disgusting face, her eyes widening in realization.
"I'm not a boyfriend stealer, but you obviously need this. So go fuck yourself, Harlow, stick alllllll 14 inches of that fake donkey dick up yourself, and leave me alone. Maybe after you get off a few times, you'll feel a little calmer." My chest heaves, red splattering my face. Anger hums through my vein, like a slow-release drug. Vengeance and retribution emitting into my mind at the sight of this bitch hassling me over a dildo she obviously put into my locker. This shit... this anger... this is all for Mags'.
"I-I--wh---whhhatttttt?" A smirk pulls at my lips. She sputters like a fish out of water. Her lips opening and closing, eyes trained on the pink dildo in her hands. A red mark blushes to life on her cheek. A perfect mushroom stamp, where the tip of the fake dick hit her right on. Hopefully, it'll stay all day. Mess with me, bitch.
A bell rings overhead signaling our two minutes to get to our first class. The other kids slowly walk away, not getting the boohoo show they were expecting. They eye Harlow who still hasn't moved an inch. Her eyes are hollow holes staring into the abyss of a dildo.
Carter kicks off a locker, the last student besides the two of us to leave. He smirks in my direction, almost a smile of respect, and tilts his head. His actions scream, "there's still more to come, maybe worse". But that's ok. I survived the name-calling and the dildo in my locker. What more could they throw at me now? My shoe-imprinted books still lay on the ground. Half squished-half ok. If worse came to worse, I'd buy new ones with my emergency credit card my mother left me. Ah-the perks of being a spoiled rich girl, I guess.
My stomach gurgles as I walk into my first class of the day. Calculus. My feet stop at the sight of Chase. There's no smile reserved for me today. There's no "hey new girl!" Which I've oddly become fond of. There's nothing. Not even a look in my direction. I guess I truly am a weird pariah roaming the halls of East Point now. I'm not allowed into the dining hall, which whatever. I'll still try to make my way in every mealtime. They can't seriously keep me out, can they?
Everyone needs a little vengeance via a dildo, right? 🤣🤣🤣.....
A man...what a ride...Poor Kaycee...I really put her through the ringer. 😕.