‘Who are you?’ Really? I’m not proud of it, but it’s what I said. Why would this be a bad thing? Well, girls, when you wake up in the middle of the night, and there is a naked stranger standing in the middle of your room, the appropriate response is to knock him out cold and ask questions later when you’ve established he isn’t a threat. “But isn’t that a little excessive?” someone is probably whinging. Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was preferable to risk being harmed by a criminally insane naked person. Now that I’m old and feeble, I shall make every attempt to change that behavior before I hop the train to Hell.
It didn’t really help that he arched an eyebrow in question of my stupidity. Honestly, I would have done the same thing, but mentally chastising yourself, and being chastised by a stranger are two different things.
“You aren’t much clever, are you?” he said after a moment. His voice was raspy and cracked, indicating raw vocal chords. His question, I thought, was offensive.
“I’ll have you know that if it weren’t for Orcus Locke, I would be the best in the school.” I hoped I sounded as indignant as I felt. In my defense, it’s difficult to argue intelligently when you’ve been awakened at three-thirty in the morning.
“How unfortunate,” he quipped. “Book-wise, and still a fool; how do you manage?”
I glared. “I have rules, you know, about who gets to come into our room naked, and who doesn’t. Who are you, and how did you get in here?”
He gave me an even, wary look, and then said, “Bartholomew.”
“Did I stutter?”
“What’s your surname?”
He watched me carefully again, and then folded his arms over his chest. “That is an onerous question for which no answer is prudent.” If you, dear hussy reader, haven’t noticed, something about this turd-muffin was a little off.
I snorted. “You’re standing naked in my dormitory, sir. You aren’t exactly in a position to keep secrets.”
His eyes narrowed. “My secrecy is my own affair.”
I decided not to press the point. After all, I had absolutely nothing in my arsenal that could terrify him. That would have to wait until I knew him a little bit better. Still. . . .
“You hesitated when I asked your name.”
He shrugged. “What of it?”
“It’s not your name, dog-dildo.”
He drew himself up, his skin stretching even tighter over his emaciated frame. “I resent that.”
I nodded in mock understanding. “You're not the first person to object.”
He cocked his head to the side. “Does everyone?”
“Always,” I said. “You’re no exception.” If you don’t secretly resent being called a dog-dildo, you should definitely reevaluate your life’s priorities.
He shook his head in the negative. “I resent that as well.”
I frowned; was it possible. . . . ? ‘Orcus Locke,’ I thought, ‘I am going to murder you.’ He’d put this idea in my head, I maintain, and even though it was a wild leap, like jumping out of a helicopter and landing on a water buffalo and riding the beast to a victorious conquest of the Seven Seas, there was also nothing to indicate that my hunch was wrong. No, that’s not a good reason to follow a hunch, but I did it anyway, for that very reason. And also, probably, because I am certifiably insane. Maybe.
“What year is it, do you know? I seem to have – er – experienced a sudden – memory loss…. It’s from my – mad…moose…disease….” A stupid move in immediate retrospect, but further reflection on the chain of events triggered proved to yield a different result.
He gave me a bewildered stare. “Indulge me and explain yourself.”
“I just need to know the year, bruh,” I said.
“The very same as it’s been the last three months,” he snapped. “Sixteen-hundred, thirty-nine.”
My mouth dropped open. “Okay, I thought I was being moronic, but I had no idea you actually were old.” And who’s to say that at some point in our future there won’t be an individual who rides to victorious conquest of the Seven Seas on the back of a water buffalo? Shit happens.
Fury and confusion clouded his face. “I’m not old, stupid girl! I am eighteen!”
“Well,” I sighed, “in all actuality, you’re well over four hundred years old, probably nearing five hundred, at least in this time. If you’re eighteen – ”
“Just turned,” he said. “And I’m not ‘well over four hundred’. My mother’s great-grandmother has not yet reached such an age in number herself, and she has been dead the last century!”
I rolled my eyes. “I’d hope not, if she’s only been dead a century. Let me think – 1639 to 2010 would be – no, no, it would be 1639 to” (I really hate numbers, I would like to reiterate) “…. 1621. You were born 1621.”
“Well done,” he sneered. “Have you accounted your error?”
I was still thinking, because numbers are stupid and complicated. “Three-hundred, ninety-one.”
“You are mad.”
“No, I’m not,” I replied. “It’s 2012, you were born 1621, which leaves you at age three-hundred, ninety-one.”
He stamped his foot on the (thank God) carpet floor just then, reminding me strongly of my brother; it, surprisingly, nearly woke the other girls.
“I am not!”
“Fine,” I shot back, “Do your own research. Get your own calendar. You’ll see I’m right.” I was grimly pleased when his eyebrows shot to the ceiling.
“How do you really know?” he asked haughtily.
“You don’t know me,” I said, “but I’m not a very nice person, especially to people who irritate me in the middle of the night.
If it was possible, his eyebrows rose even higher.
“Do tell, Lady Disdain, what methods you do execute in the name of impertinence towards your superior lords.” Jesus, he was annoying.
I’m going to skip the part where I was shocked that he could pick up on the threat. “Firstly,” I corrected, “I am only—as you so cleverly put it—‘impertinent’ in regards to my inferiors, a class of which you are one.” He glowered, and I happily continued. “Secondly, what I do to boys who irritate me is so unimaginably painful, it cannot be whispered into your innocent – or perhaps not-so-innocent, given the circumstances – ears.”
I didn’t expect him to react to it, and he met my prospects. “Are such words spoken in hope to sway me?”
I shrugged, surprisingly close to exasperated tears. “No, not really. I just want you to go away. Find Orcus.”
He didn’t care much for that idea, apparently. “You’re not making an empty threat, are you?”
I tried to grin, but couldn’t. “Oh, I would never.”
He graced me with a single nod. “I thought as much.” There was a moment of hesitation, and then ‘Bartholomew’ clapped his hands together, and said, “Shall we then, lady temptress, test how oft the sun has risen?”
I’m still not sure why he was keeping up the Shakespearean act. I’m not even a tiny bit sure. I mean, everyone knows Shakespeare used iambic pentameter to write his plays; so of course nobody actually spoke in real life the way he made them on stage. My friendly, annoying intruder had to know that I knew this. The most I can surmise, from this point in the future, and looking back with the knowledge that I have now…this kid was just in love with Shakespeare.
“Fine,” I shrugged. “Be my guest.” The sooner he went away, the better.
He looked at me quizzically, but asked, “Who is your matron?”
“Mrs. Ghost,” I replied. “But if you plan on talking to her, you should put on some clothes. She might die if she saw you –” I stopped, and changed course. “Never mind that last part; go ahead and find her in your stark, birthday suit. Just use protection, because God knows what diseases that woman has.”
‘Bartholomew’ cocked his head to the side. “You would countenance the death of she that cares for you?”
At the word “care,” I lost my control and let out a snort. “Mrs. Ghost is concerned, and only concerned, with how many young men over the age of eighteen she can dupe into her bed. She’d be more than happy to tell you the year, I’m sure. Of course, she wouldn’t like that you’re only eighteen, but you’re technically legal, and she’s made the exception before now….” He looked even more confused, so I just shrugged my shoulders. “She likes a little bit of breathing room, and if I were that desperate a cougar, I would too.” Pulling a blanket off the foot of my bed, I lugged it at him. “Take that with you. It wouldn’t be wise for someone to find you unclothed in this part of the world.”
He looked at me strangely. “What do you mean by this?”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “I mean, go away.”
“I have nowhere to go,” he said tetchily, “let alone the knowledge necessary to navigate my way out of your manor.”
I sighed again, sinking down onto my bed. “It’s a school, not a manor. And if you can’t leave, then go to sleep.”
“Sleep is an elusive mistress.”
I closed my eyes, counting ten, imagining all the ways I would kill Shakespeare if I ever met him in an afterlife, and then replied, “Read a book.”
My eyes flew open. “Nakedmansaywhat?”
He looked at me, somewhat befuddled. “I don’t understand….”
I groaned and slapped my head with a pillow. “I’m not going to kill you; I swear I’m not going to kill you.”
“Should that be a concern?” he asked.
I growled and threw a pillow—maybe it was a stuffed toy—in his direction. “Shut up!” I hissed. “God, first Orcus, now you. Just do us a favor and hang yourself. Barring suicide, wrap yourself in that blanket, and let me get back to sleep!”
He gave me another glare, and then proceeded to wrap himself up. I watched him settle close to my bed, which I ignored because I wasn’t going to kill him.
I rolled over to face my wall and shut my eyes, thinking.
His name wasn’t ‘Bartholomew’; a blind idiot could see that much. He was too aristocratic for that, if his tone of voice and elocution were anything to be trusted. He couldn’t read either, which meant that his parents placed no value on education, or he wasn’t expected to need it any time soon. He was malnourished and naked, which meant that wherever he had come from, he had been robbed and held hostage, or he was a poorly fed, proud pauper who couldn’t afford decent nightclothes. If the latter were the case, then his name might conceivably be ‘Bartholomew’. Since, however, I had no proof of that, I decided to call him ‘Stupid’ until I could sniff out his real name. It shouldn’t take too long, I thought. If he responded to bribes, it would all be newsworthy in no time.