Thirteen

What happens when everything you love changes for the worst?

Danielle Miles wants to be normal. She wants to feel normal.
And yet she can never be normal because of her secret; the one thing she despises about herself most of all.
But what happens when she if forced to use her secret to help others who are just like her?
Who are... different.

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2. Thirteen: Chapter One

Stuffing spoonfuls of dry cornflakes into my mouth, I hopped about on one foot trying to slip the other foot into my trainer and failing horribly. The importance of the situation was clouding my thought's so I couldn't understand as to why I was having trouble getting my foot into my shoe one-handed and I was getting slightly irritated by it. I just didn't realize how stupid I was being at that moment.

      "Danielle Miles, sit down!" My mother exclaimed. "Try doing one thing at a time," I sighed, getting frustrated even more, and kicked the shoe off my toe. I slid across the tiles of the kitchen and placed my empty bowl in the sink and collapsed onto the floor. Then I snatched my trainer up, slipped it on and tied the laces as fast as I could. "What's with the rush?" Mum really didn't know why I was having a hard time thinking straight.

      "Mum, they're coming to pick me up any minute now. I have to be ready!" I jumped up and started towards the living room, only to fall flat on my face. I flipped over onto my back to see I'd somehow managed to tie the left laces with the right laces. Growling, I furiously started clawing at them, trying to free them from each other.

      "Hey, calm down" She swatted my hands away and carefully untied my laces. Swiftly, she tied them up again separately and, in double quick time, crossed over to the fridge, brought out a carton of orange juice and grabbed a glass from the cupboard.

      "Please don't do that, Mum. It freaks me out" I pushed myself onto my feet and sat in one of the chairs around the breakfast bar.

      "Do what?" She poured the juice into the glass and handed it to me. I looked down into the orange liquid and paused.

      I had to contemplate my answer before I actually said anything. Mum never liked me talking about our situation but I couldn't help it. She was always doing things that reminded me of it that I was always catching myself thinking about it. After a couple of minutes I glanced up at her waiting expression and brought the glass to my lips.

      "You know... what I can't do" I murmured and took a sip.

      "What?" She laughed, making me feel worse for bringing it up. "You're the one going off to a fancy posh school and me doing the basic's freaks you out? I should be jealous of you!"

      "Hardly. I'm only going to look around this school because you practically filled out the application for me," I fished out the files from my bag and waved the photo-copied papers at her. I couldn't let her know that I was actually excited about going to the school today otherwise I'd never hear the end of it. Mum was always like that. It was good that she was happy all the time but it did get a little tiring. "And besides, I don't even know if they'll let me in. Why would they want someone like me?"

      "Don't talk like that!" Mum snapped. I jerked my eyes up from the papers to see her glaring down at me as if she were scolding a toddler. "Of course they'll want you! You know more about anything than anyone!"

      "Only because I was the one person who listened... most of the time. It's kind of like cheating, only I have no choice in weather I want to cheat or not" I tried to continue but I was interrupted by three, sharp beeps from outside.

      "There's the coach. You'll be going then" Mum smiled weakly. Why was she worrying about me? I had gone to school like this before but I guess she was upset that she wasn't allowed to go. Still, I got up and wrapped my arms around her. She hugged back tightly and for a second I thought she wasn't going to let go but when she did I saw the tears forming in her eyes.

      "Don't worry Mum; I'll be fine," I grinned, grabbed my bag and walked into the hallway with Mum following me close behind. I opened the door and looked back at her drawn expression. She was seriously worried about me. No idea why; she knew I would be able to defend myself if needs be. I smiled reassuringly and told her not to do anything crazy. Jogging across the little gap between my house and the bus I was able to feel the new morning air against my skin as the gravel crunched under my shoes. The doors swung open and I looked back one more time at her.

      When she locked eyes with me she tried to smile and joke by saying, "I can't promise you anything" but I could still pick up the sadness in her voice. I waved and hesitantly stepped onto the bus, already regretting leaving her at home alone, and was instantly greeted by millions of curious eyes staring at me. I cautiously took the first seat at the front, luckily with no one else sat there, and the bus started rolling away.

      This is it, I thought. I'm finally doing what I want to do without it stopping me, I looked out of the window at the passing trees and smiled to myself. And it feels great.

      It took a while for us to get to the next person's house but I was content with staring out of the window at the foliage speeding by and dreaming about what the school would be like once we got there.

      "Is this seat taken?" An anxious girls voice brought me out of my thoughts and I stared at her smiling at me for a while as I tried to collect my bearings. Glancing back out the window, I was able to see a cute small cottage surrounded by a huge deep blue lake and then the pieces finally aligned and I figured that I must have fallen asleep or we'd somehow teleported to the next destination.

      I looked back up, still slightly fuzzy from my nap, and took in the appearance of the girl who's spoken.

      She looked short, with burning bright curious eyes the same colour as the lake and long brown hair that had obviously been fussed over only a short time ago. The way she stood, her weight on one foot, made me think that she was confident and yet the way her hands were clutching her bag strap for dear life made her look as if she were nervous about something and it instantly made me feel sorry for her. Maybe she was scared about today too.

      "Hello? Are you there?" She waved a hand in my line of sight and I snapped back to reality.

      "Oh no, go ahead" I indicated to the seat next to me and she flopped down onto it. Once she was seated, the bus driver pulled away from the little cottage and she seemed to relax a bit into the leather. She pulled her bag onto her lap and dug around in it until she found her files and scanned through them quickly.

      "Can I ask you a question?" She wondered, not looking up from her papers.

      "Um, sure" I only noticed then that I had been crushing my own application in my hand the whole time I'd been on the bus and tried to smooth the crumpled paper out on my lap.

      "Do you know who 'Danielle Miles' is? Apparently she's my buddy for all the open days"

      "That would be me," I grinned, feeling less embarrassed now that she had chosen to ignore my minor display back there. "But please call me Dani. Wait, does that mean you're..." I flipped through my papers and read, "'Naida New'?"

      "Yep," She smiled absentmindedly, as if something else were on her mind. She leaned closer to me and examined my features. "I've never seen one up close before..."

      "What?" My stomach flipped as she peered at every detail of my being. I was somewhat small for my age, although Naida appeared to be the same height sat down, with long straight blonde hair that I had to constantly hold together with a black bow and, the best feature I think, dark chocolate brown eyes. I didn't look particularly weird but I've never really liked the shape of my face and how my bottom lip was bigger than my upper one and Naida wasn't really helping my confidence levels by staring so intently.

      "Oh, I, uhh..." It was her turn to be embarrassed as she stuttered and a bright blush crept it's way onto her cheeks. "I-I meant I've never seen that... that one type of earring before, yeah!" She jumped to the first thing that popped into her head and her eyes slid down to her feet. "Where'd you get them from?"

      "I actually got them for my birthday. I can never really be bothered to wear any fancy jewelry but I thought I might as well" I twirled the small emerald gems in my ears as I felt more and more uncomfortable the further this conversation went on. Why had she been staring at me like I was, I don't know, a unicorn or something? A one of a kind thing you never see but still believe exists. Had she never seen my type of blonde before? Or was it the way I spoke?

      Whatever it was it seemed to bug her even though she tried to hide it.

      "They're nice" She smiled mildly and for a second I thought she might have been able to read my mind because of how awkward she seemed to become towards me.

      As I fiddled with a loose button on my jacket we drifted into a silence that gave me a weird discomfort in my stomach. Why had she been looking at me as if I were something different? Maybe I had something on my face and that was her way of telling me or maybe she just wasn't used to people looking like me? I really had no idea.

      The bus continued to fly along the road at a speed I wasn't sure was legal or not as I sat contemplating the wreckage of our odd conversation, picking apart the littlest things and probably, knowing me, making them bigger than they needed to be. Glancing out of the corner of my eye I was able to see Naida once again staring intently at me and I couldn't help but shuffle closer to the window.

      This was going to be a long drive.

 

 

It had felt like the journey had taken a million years to get to the school but when we finally arrived I was heaving a sigh of relief. Naida had stared at me the whole way there, not aware of how uncomfortable and slightly claustrophobic she'd made me, and my stomach had been twisting with anticipation and fright.

      Naida and me grabbed our bags and jumped off the coach, followed by the other people we'd be going round the school with. A tall, sharp woman was there waiting to greet us.

      She wore a dark grey suit and had even darker features. Her long angular face was made all the more severe by the tight auburn bun she wore, pulling back her scalp and emphasizing her large brown eyes.

      "Welcome to Academy Di Ta Lento," She announced in her Italian accent. "Your group of twenty one are making your first steps into an amazing world of knowledge. My name is Mrs Acri. I am the headmistress and I will be giving you a tour of the facilities we have here" She beamed enthusiastically at us and started leading us inside.

      No turning back now.

 

 

 Being down shown around the school was, how you say, a bloody nightmare. Mrs Acri was one of the fastest walker I had ever met. I don't even think you could class it as walking; it was more like she was trying to break the sound barrier with her body. She didn't even wait for us to catch up; she just sped down the school's zigzagging halls as fast as her high heels allowed her.

      "Come on, keep up!" She called as she rounded another corner. "We have much to get through, chop chop!" Our group had to practically run at full speed to keep up. Once we went round the corner and caught sight of her she was already halfway down the hallway and somehow managing to talk at the same time about something to do with science rooms.

      After a while Naida grabbed me and dragged me to the back of the group, pulling me to a halt.

      "What are you doing?!" I gasped, my lungs about to collapse on themselves from lack of air. "We're gonna be left behind!"

      "Don't worry, we'll catch up" She looked to her side and spotted the doors she wanted, pushing them open and stepping inside.

      "But we'll-"

      "Dani, come look at this," She interrupted my oncoming rant and I sighed with the remaining air in my system. I paused to collect the air I needed to calm my heart, which was beating like crazy, and allow my lungs to stop aching. "Come on. Hurry up!"

      Readjusting my bag strap, I pushed open the half-closed door and looked around the huge room. It was only a library. Nothing too special, it looked quite boring actually, with huge carved dust-covered bookshelves that just brushed the high wooden paneled ceiling and a deep red carpet that muffled our steps. The morning sunlight streamed in through an open window and a cool breeze blew past me, whipping my hair about and making me shiver despite my thick jacket.

      But it was as if there was something... weird about the library, I just couldn't put my finger on it.

      "It's huge" My heavy breathing echoed around the room. Somewhere in the back of my mind I really wasn't sure about this room for a strange but small feeling arose, telling me to run. I chose to ignore it and tried to occupy my mind by counting how many books there were in one bookshelf.

      "There are so many books here!" Naida whispered excitedly, but it sounded half hearted, like on the coach. Something else was bothering her and I hoped deep down that it wasn't the same thing that was bothering me.

      "How many do you think there are?" The feeling was stronger now, pulsing in the back of my head and traveling through my body, taking over every other sense as it was trying to figure out what was so weird and odd about the room. I shivered and tugged at my jacket.

      "How am I supposed to..." She drifted off as she turned around and stared at the shelf behind me. Then her eyes traveled down to me. "Don't move" She mouthed.

      I didn't question the look on her face; I just glued my feet to the spot, praying it wasn't something bad.

      "On my mark, run to the door behind me and keep running. Don't stop" She mouthed and held up two fingers. I gripped my bag strap and tried to control my breathing while my thoughts conflicted with themselves as to whether I should leave Naida or not.

      Naida slowly put down one finger and a low growl vacated someone's throat. My chest became unbearably tight and my lungs started compacting in on themselves as my mind started filling up with panicked and noisy thoughts so I was unable to think clearly.

      "Now!" Naida screamed and I lost my nerve, bolting towards the door as my feet took control of themselves. I looked back and was able to make out a black human-shaped thing fly at Naida and slam her against a bookshelf. I shuddered to a halt and stared as the... thing grabbed Naida as if she were nothing and flung her into the bookshelves, tipping the contents everywhere and almost knocking them over. I had to help; I couldn't just leave her. I can't just stay on the side lines forever.

      Fishing a vial out of my bag, I locked my eyes of the black object hurling itself at Naida and pulled in a sharp breath. Before I knew it, my feet were forcing me to run at them and I threw the vial at the person, causing it to shatter upon contact to their face and explode in a blur of pinks and blues. The smoke filled the room and gave me the chance to grab Naida and drag her out the nearest door, while the thing screeched a very inhuman noise as if they were being burned. I slammed the door shut and twirled the lock around, collapsing onto the floor as my shaking knees gave out.

      I looked up at Naida and saw the frightened expression painting her face as she tried to make sense of what just happened.

      "What... was... that?!" I gasped, flinching as the thing behind the door threw themselves at it. Naida opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the school bell shrilling loudly to mark lunch. I pulled myself onto my feet and forced air into my lungs as I rattled the door handle.

      "They're not going anywhere any time soon," Naida assured me, but she looked as if she didn't even believe her own words. "Come on. Let's go to lunch"

      "Wait," I looked at her seriously and she shrugged. "Are you okay?"

      "Yeah, I'm fine," She ginned but I knew she was just putting it on for my sake. "Let's go" She tugged on my sleeve and towed me away from the library. But I couldn't help but look back at the wooden door and hope that it was strong enough to hold whatever the hell that had been.

 

 

I sipped cool water from a bottle slowly, my mind somewhere else, as my heart was still trying to escape my chest.

      Who was that? Why had they attacked Naida and not me? I was the more vulnerable one; they could have gotten me easily yet they didn't even try. Why? And how did no one in the whole school hear all that noise?

      Naida placed a yellow plastic tray of food down on the table and dropped into the seat opposite me. Nibbling on her sandwich, she kept glancing up as if daring me to ask the questions I needed the answers to.

      "Did you know them?" I asked abruptly, discarding the now unwanted water bottle. Naida stopped chewing and stared at me. I looked her directly in the eye, showing her I wasn't going to drop it until she answered, and she swallowed her mouthful and put her sandwich down. She sat for a while, picking out the right words in the obvious mess of her mind.

      "I don't know" She finally sighed.

      "Well, why did they attack you?"

      "I don't know"

      "Okay, but how did you know they were going to attack?"

      "I don't know"

      "How did-"

      "I don't know, okay! I don't know who that was or what happened or what's going to happen! I'm in the dark as much as you are, alright?!" She threw her hands up dramatically and slumped in her chair, her appetite vanishing as she pushed her food away from her.

      I sat there and picked apart everything she'd said, being the only thing I could do to make sense of the situation. She'd admitted she didn't know what was going to happen but then did that mean she thought something might happen? Then again she'd also said that she had no idea what had happened so maybe... maybe I was getting in way over my head in trying to understand this. Maybe it was too big for both of us.

      I looked up and saw Naida absorbed in her own thoughts, trying to figure something that I couldn't read from her expression. But I knew it was something to do with the attacker and what they actually wanted with Naida.

      And if they would come back or not to try again.

 

 

After a long day of being dragged around by Mrs Acri for the second time and those thoughts constantly haunting me throughout the day I was pretty much dead as I sat with Naida on the bus. But then the silence on the bus didn't stop me from reflecting about what had happened that morning.

      First, I was stared at by the weirdest girl I had ever met.

      Second, we were attacked for no apparent reason by a... I don't know, a shadow, I think.

      And third, Naida hadn't even mentioned that weird vial I had used in the library, which just left even more questions buzzing around my brain like an angry swarm of bees. But it also left the biggest question of all mixing in like the queen bee of them all.

      What was Naida?

      "Dani! Are you even listening to me?" Naida elbowed me in the side and dragged me out of the middle of the mob of thoughts and back to reality.

      "Huh, what?" I shook my head and looked over at her.

      "Never mind" She sighed and went back to the tattered old book she was reading. When I was able to take sneaky glances at it I saw some words that looked like English but then the rest were in another language that was foreign to me. It didn't make any sense but I thought I saw the word 'supernatural'. Was Naida into that sort of stuff; beings from another world with magical powers that made them different? It was a bit odd for someone like her but then again I'd only just met Naida so I didn't have enough facts to judge.

      Suddenly the bus came screeching to a halt and we were all crushed against the seats by our seat belts. The bus driver walked down the bus, checking to see if we were alright, and told us that we all had to get off to make sure we were safe. Once we were off the driver proceeded to the back of the bus, where the problem was supposedly located, and we were left shivering alone.

      I sat on the ledge of the high hill we'd stopped on, watching the sun slowly falling over the horizon. Naida came to stand next to me but then after a second she was tugging on my sleeve anxiously.

      "I think we should get back on the bus" I glanced up at her and raised an eyebrow. Her eyes were darting all over the place, mostly at the dark forest behind the bus, and she had gone a sickly shade of white.

      "What? Why?"

      "I just don't think it's safe, that's all. Please" She pulled harder on my sleeve and dragged me onto my feet. The sun was falling faster now and shadows were emerging from the forest, looming closer to us on the dirt path and moving their sharp claws towards us. She yanked me faster in the direction of the bus as the others stared at us, looking bewildered and slightly concerned. I tried to pry her oddly cold and clammy fingers from my sleeve and looked back just in time to see the sun disappearing over the horizon.

      That's when they attacked.

      Black shadows jumped from the darkness. They tackled everyone and dragged them into the forest. Some fought back, some didn't have a chance. Naida was pulled from my arm and I was grabbed by a taller, lankier attacker. They forced my arms behind me and tried to push me to the ground. I slammed my foot down onto theirs and they cried out in pain. Shoving them off me, I ran towards Naida, who was being flung around by one figure, and did the first thing that came to mind. Run at them full force and try to floor them before they hurt Naida.

      But they were ready for it.

      They jumped back, threw something to the floor and green smoke mixed with the air around me. The smell of decay filled my nose and lungs and a throbbing pain exploded in my head. My vision blurred; shadows ran across my eyes and I couldn't make them apart from the ones that had attacked us to the ones that were lunging at me from the forest. My stomach twisted and I lurched forward, lost my balance and tumbled to the dirt-covered floor. I tried to stand up but my legs shook and buckled underneath me. Looking up at the two figures looming over me, the shadows took control of my head and my eyelids became heavy. The figures meshed together with the shadows and I lunged into the darkness.

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