1. My Name
In this world, two types of people are widely disliked.
The ones who are good-for-nothings.
And the ones who are too good for anything.
I always strove to be the latter. Not that I had to try.
I intently watched my target through the scope on my rifle. He staggered down the busy street. People avoided him like a virus, giving him a significant personal space bubble.
I pulled the trigger easily. The metal bullet darted through the afternoon sky, penetrating his skull. The best part was, I used a solid lead bullet. With all of its inertial energy used piercing the skull, there wasn’t any left to puncture the other side. I’d imagine it was pretty painful to have a bullet bouncing around in your head.
Pedestrians screamed and ran, as usual.
I didn’t give the man, now bleeding on the pavement, another glance before getting up to my feet. I’d been waiting in this same position for an hour. I pulled out a towel from my violin case and briskly wiped the ground I laid on, then, I flicked a red coin over my shoulder. It clinked as it hit the ground. I tucked away my rifle and strode across the rooftop while pulling my gloves off with my teeth.
I was bored. It was getting more difficult to find entertainment these days.
Hood up, I hid in a corner a little ways away from the body. In about a minute, sirens closed in. The very person I expected jogged this way: Jared Caldwell. He has been in charge of our case for a long time. I was confident that the police still had no clue who we were.
I blinked when an unfamiliar boy ran up behind him. He looked my age. The first thing I figured was that I could easily beat him in combat. He was healthily well-built but held no indications of previous martial arts experience.
In my eyes, he was nothing but a walking piece of meat. I considered nothing but whether or not I had the ability to kill him.
“What’s a kid doing here, Caldwell?”
“That’s my little brother. We were picking out a gift for our sister when you called me. I couldn’t shake him.”
Brother, huh? Perhaps I’ve found a new toy.
He grimaced as he got closer to the body. Jared stopped him from stepping over the line. He stated, “Get out of here. This isn’t something a normal person can stomach.”
“I’m fine,” he mumbled.
Jared shot him a hard glare. “Go home, Eden. Right now.”
“They do say having an older sibling is like having a third parent.” Eden eventually turned around. There was a lot of emotion on his face. Too bad I couldn’t identify them.
The surrounding officers were too focused on investigating the crime scene and finding the sniper’s position at the time of the shot to notice that I slipped into the alleys. I wove through the maze-like paths like the back of my hand. I arrived at the intersection just as Eden was getting closer.
I peeked out the corner and pretended to be startled by his presence. He took a step back, then saw me clutching my violin case. His features softened.
“You’re here for the music festival, right? I’m sorry you had to go through this. Erm, I can walk you out of the area if you’re afraid.”
Honestly, that fascinated me. He didn’t know me, much less that I was the murderer.
“What happened over there?” I asked quietly.
He shook his head. “A lunatic shot someone in the middle of the day. Don’t worry, though, the police will crack the case in no time. We’re safe.”
I stared at his beaming smile. He was an impressive specimen.
“I hope so. These things are happening so often lately.”
“Yeah, the world can be a mess sometimes.” An emotion I recognized as anger flashed across his eyes. If he found out that he was trying to comfort a serial killer, would he strangle me on the spot?
“What are you doing here?”
“Ah, I followed my brother here. He’s an officer on the case. I’m sorry that I startled you. Here, I’ll walk with you until we’re out of this area.” Eden paused, panicking. “Oh, wait. I sound super suspicious right now, didn’t I? Shoot. I mean, well, I’ll leave right away!”
“I’d like it if you could walk me out of here,” I said before he could bite his tongue rambling on so fast. I disguised my amused smirk with a friendly smile.
“Really?” He chuckled nervously. “Good. I’m glad I didn’t make you more scared.”
I pulled the strap on my violin case over my head and onto my shoulder. The instrument case ran diagonally down my back. Eden assumed that I was a musician. Even for a teenager, he was way too trusting.
For the first time since I met him, I thought of him as a human. My eyes concentrated on his face. He had a nice one. If he weren’t careful, Karson might go after him.
“Do you live near here?” he inquired after a few seconds of silence.
“Sort of. I moved here from another country a week ago. I’m still settling in.”
Eden’s lips pressed into a thin line. “It must be traumatizing to experience this when you just moved here. Are your parents at home right now?”
I gulped. Regular teens assumed that others of the same age had parents. No need to panic. No need to tell the truth.
“No, I moved here on my own.”
His eyes widened. He was amazingly easy to read. I could almost see his empathetic heart exploding on the inside.
I elaborated on the lie, “We had an enormous argument. I only want to pursue my own path, not the one they gave me.”
Eden nodded in understanding. “It’s good that you’re following your dreams.”
People always bought the whole “parents don’t support my dreams” cliché. At this point, it was my go-to excuse.
“I guess I’m pretty lucky.”
As we turned to another street, he shifted to the side closer to the road.
“Yup. My parents said they’d support me even if I chose to major in philosophy,” he joked, I think. I didn’t understand it. “But I think it’s because they gave me way too many options that I actually have no idea what to do with my life.”
“How could that be? You’re free to pursue whatever interest you want.”
He smiled bitterly. “How do I say this... I have a couple of hobbies, but none of them I want to do for a living, you know? I envy people who are driven by a goal. Judging by the case, is music yours?”
I learned the violin two days ago out of boredom, but sure, let’s go with that.
I couldn’t care less about Eden’s life story. I cared about this uncanny compassion of his. He should know that just because someone appeared small and harmless, didn’t mean they couldn’t shoot your brains out one day.
He probably thought I was still shaken. A reassuring smile never left his face.
“Where do you go to school?” I asked when the time was right.
He answered without a thought, “Redwood High.”
“Oh, I think I’m enrolling there, too.”
“Really? Our band sucks.”
I chuckled. “It’s fine. Proximity matters to me more.”
“Alright. I’ll see you there.”
I observed him as his eyebrows tugged a fraction upward. He probably realized that he never asked for my name. Judging by his darting eyes, he was thinking of how to ask without sounding awkward since we’d been conversing for a while.
Gosh, he was an open book.
Perhaps I had stayed on the dark side of humanity too long and forgot that people like him existed.
For him, I guess, I could go to school for the first time in my life.
“Here’s fine,” I said, coming to a halt at an intersection.
The thought briefly flashed through my mind. And for some reason, I gave him my real name, “I’m Celestia.”
A shy smile bloomed on his face. “Eden Caldwell. Nice to meet you, Celestia.”
Was it normal human interaction to give your last name, as well?
“Likewise. I’ll see you at school, Eden.”
“Yeah, see ya.”
Was I too formal? I attempted to mimic his casual tone, “Bye, man.”
Okay, no. That was 100% cringe.
After we parted ways, I strolled down the street. After I made sure I was out of his earshot, I slipped out my phone. I never saved any contact names. I memorized everybody’s numbers. I typed in one by muscle memory.
“Why’d you call me at work?”
That was his code question for asking if I wanted someone dead.
“Nothing in particular,” I replied, coding him that I wasn’t calling about murder. To ask for the profile of someone, I was supposed to ask if a friend of mine could become a client of his. To this logic, I asked, “I was wondering if I could book an appointment as soon as possible?”
I wasn’t sure if he could understand. He should be smart enough.
Silence rang through the phone for a few seconds.
“As soon as possible?”
“Yes, under Celestia Hayes.” Once I gave a fake last name, he’d get it for sure.
“I see. Any particular issue you want me to prepare for?”
“I constantly feel stressed since I specialize in violin music, and I need to maintain high grades. I’ve gone to school normally, but sometimes I can’t handle it, you know? Redwood High is a pretty competitive place.”
“I completely understand. Would tomorrow at 2 PM be alright for you?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Take care.”
I hung up. I just informed Lorcan to fabricate an identity and enroll me in that school, and he’d have it all ready by tomorrow afternoon. I’d be able to ask favors of him like this, and he’d never question me.
In Lorcan’s last sentence, he told me to take care, which was warning me to be careful. Of what? How bad could a bunch of high school kids be that’d urge me to kill them?
Of course, I wasn’t foolish enough to attempt to sneak a rifle into a high school. I replaced the weapon in my violin case with the legitimate instrument. By the coming Monday, Karson drove me to my new school.
He finally couldn’t help it and asked, “Why the heck are you doing this to yourself? School is a synonym for hell. That’s all I learned in that place.”
“You all say that. It’s time for me to experience it, too. I excel in academics. I’m pretty sure I’ll be alright.”
“A week later, Celestia, you’ll come to me crying.”
“Thanks, I appreciate the encouragement.”
“For real, though, don’t draw attention to yourself. Follow what the other kids do.”
“I know that much. Goodbye.” I got out of the car and flung my bag over my shoulder while my violin case rested on the other. Karson facepalmed as if already knowing that I’d cause a scene.
I didn’t mind the curious gazes as I strode to the office. I transferred in the middle of the semester. Guidance was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but after they saw my grades, which Lorcan forged, they thought I should get a chance.
I ignored the locker assignment and bulletin boards I was told to check out. I wasn’t interested in clubs or sports teams. I wanted to find Eden quickly.
“Are you Celestia?” I was interrupted by an inquiring voice. I was going to disregard the question until I recalled that I must act normal. Regular people considered it rude to ignore someone.
I reluctantly turned around. “Yes, you are?”
The petite girl beamed. “Guidance asked me to show you around! I’m Maddie. It’s so nice to meet you. We don’t often get transfer students here.”
Was this what Karson meant when he told me that school was hell?
For the rest of the morning, the cheerful girl dragged me around the whole building. I was naturally used to mapping places in my head. By the time I arrived at my homeroom, I had this place memorized like it was my house.
I found a random seat in the back row and sat down. So far so good. Nothing I couldn’t handle.
Two minutes later, a girl tapped me on the shoulder, saying, “Excuse me. You’re in my seat.”
I stared at her unblinkingly. Her seat? Did I make a mistake? I checked for name tags and didn’t find any. The desk was empty. What defining features made this seat hers? Oh, shoot. The placement, of course!
I shot up. “I apologize.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she murmured.
To this logic, it was possible that each seat in this room had a pre-assigned student. And, apparently, only that student could sit there. What an inconvenient system.
Students began to fill the classroom as I stood at the back, not knowing where to seat myself. I returned a blank glare at anyone who stared at me for longer than three seconds. I shifted the strap on my shoulder. A violin was much lighter than what I usually carried, so much so that it made me feel unsafe.
Eventually, the instructor came and assigned me a spot. I paid scant attention to my deskmate as the lesson began. Strangely, the instructor, Mr. Worthington, didn’t start talking about mathematics as I expected. He kicked off with the shooting incident that occurred a few days ago. The room became visibly distressed. Several people rose their hands to tell the class additional details they’d heard. None of which were true.
It was when the discussion continued halfway through the class that I had the sense to check my timetable. This class was called “The West and the World.” No wonder we’d been off-topic this entire time.
I raised my head when Mr. Worthington named me.
He smiled at me. “Our town is a safe place. Such an incident was unheard of. I hope it didn’t give you a sense of unease here.”
I shook my head a little and replied, “I’m fine.”
I gunned straight for my second period class after the bell rang. This place called school was strict enough to have assigned seatings and be punished for arriving late, yet an instructor could go on for an hour about nothing but the news?
I arrived at a computer lab. My eyes almost shone when I spot a familiar face in the third row. Without a word, I claimed the desktop to his right side.
“Celestia! You’re here. I didn’t know you were into comp sci?”
“Yes…” I trailed off. I should’ve paid more attention to the courses Lorcan chose.
After conversing for the period instead of doing assigned work, I memorized Eden’s schedule. He arrived at school an hour and a half early once a week for basketball morning practice and stayed after school for two hours two other days for the same reason. He worked part-time on Fridays and Saturdays at his dad’s restaurant. All in all, Tuesday and Sunday were his only free days. With a life like that, he still managed to maintain decent grades.
Eden spoke to me as if the shooting incident never happened. At the end of the period, we exchanged contacts. His number became the only one saved under a name on my phone.
He walked me downstairs to the cafeteria, then went up to the third floor to his next class. It was a shame that we had different lunch periods.
I watched his back as he skipped up two steps at a time up the stairs. He went out of his way again. I wondered if he treated everyone like this. The longer I interacted with him, the more I wanted to find out just how generous this boy was.
The cafeteria was a strange experience. The mixed smell of food from every culture possible suffused the air. It was difficult to breathe. I’d prefer the smell of gunpowder over this any day. I trained myself to skip meals for days on end for extended missions. I could do without lunch.
I found an empty music room down the hall. A lone grand piano stood in the corner beside rows of stacked chairs. Musical terms littered the walls. I didn’t know what any of them meant. When I learned the violin, I didn’t bother with the words.
I set up my violin and positioned the bow on the strings. I began to play one of the first pieces I learned. The melodious yet sorrowful timbre flowed so naturally. For someone who only picked up the violin a week ago, I was incredibly skillful at it.
There was something about the continuous sounds that struck me harder than last time. At the half-minute mark, my eyelids slid closed. This time, even I knew that I truly felt the music. It was so much more than merely getting the notes in tune.
My eyes snapped open when a single tear escaped from my left eye. For a second, a nauseating sense of fear flooded my entire being. I bit on the inside of my mouth until it bled to stop the quivering. Calm down. She’s not here anymore. She can’t hurt you.
“Why’d you stop? That was beautiful!”
I clutched on the bow, nearly snapping it in half. I briefly contemplated on stabbing the onlooker with the tip of this bow before thinking better of it. I glanced over to see a young woman with short blonde hair applauding. It was very unlike me not to notice a nearby presence.
It was beneficial for me to catch the attention of the head of the music department. After all, to keep my cover story, I needed to be super passionate about music.
“You must be the new transfer student. I heard you specialized in violin music, but that was amazing! I could feel the emotion behind your playing all the way from the office! I’m Mrs. Rizzo. I didn’t catch your name, sweetie?”
Emotion? Amazing? I hated everything about it.
“My name is Celestia. Celestia Hayes.”