As Julie laid on her bed at night, she looked at the sky through the window next to her bed.
When she had applied to this reputed university, she hadn’t expected to be noticed by people. After all, she was not wealthy, nor did she have family influence like many students. But for some reason, it felt like she had stepped on some weird luck, not good luck, but weird because ever since she arrived here, she had ended up in odd situations.
Maybe it was the average life for a person who was often bullied, thought Julie to herself.
Neither had she expected to see what she saw today in the library. She could still see the annoyance his eyes held as he questioned her. With the way he looked, the boy reeked of trouble. Getting into a fight. Skipping classes. Making out in the back of the library, not to forget he had tried to intimidate her.
Julie prayed, hoping not to cross paths with him again, at least until he forgot about her. But her prayers didn’t go through as her letter had ended up in the very same boy’s hand, which she was unaware of.
The following day after having lunch, when Julie returned to her dorm, she saw a letter waiting for her near the window. Gingerly, she made her way towards the window and picked it up.
Opening the letter, she read it out,
“I have some work for you. Go to the backside of the white block and find me there.” She noticed there was something scribbled at the bottom, “Time is ticking.”
The letter was obviously from the same person who had her letter. She wondered what this ‘work’ was. Knowing there was no point in avoiding it and she decided to talk to this person directly. But by the time Julie reached the backside of the white block, she found no one there.
She looked back and forth, noticing there was an envelope on the ground waiting for her. Walking towards it, she picked it up and read the note,
“Go to the play field near the goal.”
And that wasn’t the last one, she was sent to three more locations, and Julie pursed her lips, wondering if they were playing treasure hunt. The next place she was supposed to go was the Blue Block. She entered the gates, walking towards the grassy land at the side of the building and like before, there was no one there. Instead, she found another note that said,
‘Good work at looking at the campus. You can go back to your dorm now.’
This person had made her walk from one place to another for no reason!
When she started to head towards the gate to go back to her dorm, someone shouted from outside,
“She’s there! The girl with four eyes!”
Four eyes? Julie’s eyes moved and found the porcupine and his two minions. Her eyes went wide, and she clutched the papers in her hand. She ran inside the building while the three boys started to move towards her.
“Get her quickly!” ordered the porcupine, and Julie ran as if an angry bull was chasing her. “You are going to die today!”
“I didn’t do anything! Just let it go!” Julie shouted back at him. “You fell down by yourself!”
“I will fucking kill you!” the porcupine snapped as if Julie’s words had added more fuel into the fire. “Stop right there!”
All these days, she had done well in staying away from the porcupine, but he seemed angry and intent on wanting to turn her into pulp.
Julie ran and climbed up the stairs, hoping she could find a way to get out of the building without meeting the three boys who were eager to catch her and probably drag her into a corner to commit a murder. All the classes had been dismissed, and there was no student or teacher in the building. While hunting the treasure, she had become the one to be hunted.
“She disappeared to the right!” She heard one of the boy’s yell.
Julie could put up a fight, but she was no superman to tackle three grown boys.
It wasn’t just their footsteps but also hers that echoed in the corridors, making it easier for them to track her down. She would have hidden somewhere, but they were chasing her so close that it made it impossible for her to find a hiding spot. Running around for the next minute, she finally got into a classroom and hid under the desk.
She could still hear the commotion that the porcupine and his minions were making outside.
“Where did she go?! She was right here a moment ago,” said one of them.
“She must be hiding somewhere here. Come out from wherever you are! You cannot keep hiding from a lion,” Julie heard the threat, who was probably not too far away from the rest. Lion? It seemed like someone thought too highly of themselves, thought Julie. “You think I don’t know which dorm you are in or which is your class? Come out instead of dragging the inevitable time of your suffering. Check all the restrooms and lock it!”
“I hope you enjoy your night here. Rumour has it that there’s a ghost that haunts these corridors and classrooms,” Julie heard the porcupine’s words.
And she heard the door of the classroom click. The footsteps from the front of the door left.
“You must be joking with me,” whispered Julie.
She bit the inside of her cheek. If it wasn’t the door, then it would be the window! She leaned from where she was, making sure the boys had left and made a dash towards the other side of the room. She pushed the window upwards and looked down at the height she would need to jump.
Nope! That was too much height, and if she jumped, she would break her legs or hands.
She waited for at least an hour before she repeatedly tried to pull and push the door in the hope that it would unlatch itself, but she was still stuck in the room.
“See now this is where phones come to use,” said Julie in a matter-of-fact tone.
The sun had slowly started to set.
With no other option, Julie decided it was time to jump from the window. She could feel her heart beating rapidly against her chest as she sat at the edge of the window before flying down and falling on the grassy ground.
“AH!” she grimaced in pain, and for two minutes, she stayed there.
The sky looked as if a drop of hue ink had been dropped into it, and the dark blue had started to spread out. Standing up while feeling her arm hurt, Julie began to walk back to her dorm. As exhilarating as it was to jump from a window, she was no cat, and she didn’t want to do it again.
She hoped after this, the porcupine would feel satisfied and would drop her from his list. But like many bullies, once a person’s name went into the list of targets, it forever stayed there.
On her way, Julie couldn’t help but notice some people stop whatever they were doing to look in her way. It made her feel more clumsy, and her feet tried to move as quickly as they could. She saw some of them whispering, and it made her wonder if her hair looked like a mess. She tried to smoothen her hair with her hand.
Reaching near the dormitory building, she saw Olivia outside the next dormitory, sitting and speaking to another girl. But their heads were quick to turn in her direction, and Julie waved her hand.
Olivia got up from her place, walking to where Julie was, while subtly inspecting her, “It looks like there’s a tear in one of your sleeves. Are you alright?” her blue eyes looked at Julie.
Julie had been feeling the burn on her arm, and she noticed a patch of blood.
“I guess. I had a fall,” Julie smiled while brushing away on what happened earlier.
Olivia offered her a small smile, “You should get it treated so that it doesn’t catch any infection. Do you need help with it? I have a first-aid box in my dorm.”
Though Julie wanted to refuse, she could use some help as she had only small bandages. “Yes. That would be very kind of you,” replied Julie.
“Come with me,” Olivia invited her to her dorm. Getting inside Oliva’s room, Julie sat on the chair and the senior dabbed antiseptic on her skin. Her eyes took in the space of the room and the things that were in there. The room was spacious, just like hers.
“You know as per the rules you are supposed to go to the infirmary,” said Olivia, which Julie had forgotten. “But you don’t have to worry about it as I work as a part time assistant in the infirmary.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” murmured Julie and said, “It looks like the administration takes good care of its students,” commented Julie.
“The students’ health comes first and then the rest,” replied Olivia in agreement.
Julie then asked, “You have been studying here for a long time. You don’t miss your family?”
“You get used to it. It turns out to be a norm and I am used to it here,” responded Olivia, who had finished dabbing the cotton on Julie’s skin. “You must be startled with the number of rules implemented in this place.”
“I was surprised,” which was an understatement, thought Julie.
“The university was built nearly a century ago. The family or the administrators have continued to stick to traditional methods of teaching which is why the new joiners find some rules to be bizarre,” Olivia explained to her, “This place was started by an old family. They started an education system in one of these buildings, housing twenty students in the beginning. Over the years, it expanded to have more students. Mrs. Eloise Dante, wife of Walter Veteris was the first headmistress, which was later passed on to the next person in line of the family.”
“I see,” murmured Julie.
That meant their current headmistress was from a family of old lineage, thought Julie to herself. How fascinating to think that she was living in a mansion that had been turned into a dorm.
“This should be good,” said Olivia, putting a bandage over the wound.
“Thank you for helping me,” Julie thanked.
“You don’t have to thank me. It is what I usually do,” replied Olivia and stood up with Julie. “We have a bonfire this Saturday. Are you coming?”
“Yes,” Julie nodded her head, “Melanie mentioned it yesterday. My next door dorm mate.”
“I know her. I will see you there,” replied Olivia, and Julie stepped out of the room and saw some of the girls in there quietly staring at her. She knew she was the girl who had ended up in the middle of the fight but wasn’t the stare lasting a little too long?
When Saturday evening arrived, Julie could sense the students’ enthusiasm in the atmosphere because of the bonfire.
Julie stood in front of the mirror, combing her brown hair before tying it in a ponytail. Applying colour to her lips, she looked at her reflection. She wore a peach coloured top that came up to her neck and paired it up with a floral skirt that reached her knees. And along with it, she wore her comfortable sneakers.
The temperature felt like it had dropped compared to the last few days, and it wasn’t even Winter.
Before she had moved to Woodward, Julie had spent most of her time in her house and inside her room. She was that wallflower that had grown in a dark and sheltered place, and now that she was in the light, she couldn’t help but want to spread her curious wings.
“This should be alright, right,” she asked herself, staring at her reflection for far too long and the red lipstick on her lips. Pulling out a tissue, she pressed it on her lips to reduce the intensity of the lipstick to the point where her lips almost came back to normal.
Hearing a knock on the door, Julie opened the door and saw Melanie, who wore a loose blouse and jeans with her hair let down.
“You ready?” chirped Melanie while eager to attend the bonfire.
“Mm,” responded Julie, a faint smile on her lips, and she stepped out of the room. She took a look at her bed and the window before locking the door.
Julie walked with Melanie and Conner towards the bonfire that everyone looked excited to be part of. As it was her first time spending time like this, she couldn’t help but look forward to it while not knowing what awaited her. She smelt the scented perfumes and colognes worn by the students that wafted in the air, who had walked ahead of them.
While Conner and Melanie were discussing the football match in their university, Julie’s eyes wandered around the forest where they were walking in. The trees here were denser compared to the trees near the dormitories and the other buildings. Some of the tree’s roots had surfaced up the ground as if the ground couldn’t contain it.
“Did you have any bonfires back at your place before you moved to Woodward, Julie?” asked Melanie and Julie, who had been listening to their conversation while looking at the forest, shook her head.
“I don’t think we had anything like that. Not that I know of,” replied Julie, her hands moved around her arms to hug herself. She was enjoying the little thrill of the cold weather that touched her skin. “Most of us did nothing but study, play handball while some liked to bully others,” pursing her lips in thought.
“It looks like every place has some of them,” responded Conner. He walked on the right while Julie was walking on the left with Melanie in the middle.
At that thought, Julie asked, “Does everyone attend this bonfire?”
“Are you worried that Mateo Jackson will show up?” asked Melanie.
“After being chased around and locked in the room, I am hoping not to run into him again,” confessed Julie. Her eyes fell on the two girls who walked past them while talking and giggling with each other.
It wasn’t just Mat whom she was worried about. Somewhere she knew that the person who had her letter would be here and she didn’t know who it was! She had decided to keep her eyes wide and open.
Conner assured her, “You shouldn’t worry about that. Most bullies don’t have time for small fry like us during the bonfires. Especially, when many others of the same kind come to attend it, they have eyes on each other unless you are their favourite person.”
“I hope not,” murmured Julie under her breath.
When they got closer to where most people had spread around, Julie and her two friends were greeted by four girls. They were the same girls whom she had met in the restroom during her first week here.
“Julianne! What a lovely surprise to see you here,” said the tall girl with long black hair. “I wanted to invite you to the bonfire, but then I realized you must have already been invited by the popular group of our university. Isn’t that right?”
Julie stared at the girl because she had forgotten her name and now she was trying to recollect it.
“Eleanor,” the girl reminded her with a pretentious smile and Julie smiled.
“I was actually invited by my friend Melanie here,” said Julie with a bright smile.
“I didn’t know you were friends with the ones who belong to the lower class,” commented another girl from the group of four.
“I didn’t know we were living in the Victorian era where people have been divided based on their status,” Julie replied with the same tone, and Eleanor smiled.
“Oh it is. We try not to associate ourselves with the unworthy one’s. You should be wise to know whom to be around, Jules,” said Eleanor while staring at Melanie and Conner up and down.
“Hasn’t anyone told you before that it is okay if you shut up?” asked Conner.
“Oh, look who has got a backbone. But I guess with all that bones of not eating enough, you do,” Eleanor said to Conner with an air of attitude. Julie had been thinking about the possibility of meeting other people while forgetting these ghosts existed. Ghosts because they wore too much concealer around her eyes as if they would roam in the forest and haunt people later. “Jules-”
“It is Julie,” corrected Julie, not liking how the girl spoke to her friends. “You don’t have to worry with whom I associate myself. Thank you for your concern,” she continued to hold the smile on her face.
Eleanor stared at Julie for three long seconds and showed her perfect teeth when she smiled, “Of course, Julie. Why don’t you come and sit with us? We made sure to get one log just for us to sit near the centre place. It will be more fun and we can speak.”
“I am fine. Thank you,” answered Julie, staring back at the girl.
“We can be the next famous five if you join us,” said another girl, who stood next to Eleanor while sizing Julie’s clothes.
“Looks like you cannot come up with an original name,” Melanie didn’t hold back, and Eleanor raised her hand. With the way she was dressed in her high heels, Julie could tell Eleanor came from a wealthy family, and she was someone who liked to get her way around people. How did she even walk here with those shoes?
Eleanor said, “There’s no need for bad blood tonight. After all, it is bonfire night and I was hoping to get along with you. But it seems like you chose to stay on the other side of the river. Come on girls.”