"Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal, it knows not what it is.
And gather me into the artifice of eternity"
In the morning, I wake up to find Poppy back in her own bed. Her soft hair is spread across the white pillow. Her eyes are clenched tightly, dreaming of a Utopia that would never exist.
I find myself wondering at what she said. She told me she will protect me. That can't be possible. Little Poppy protecting me? It's the other way around. Have shown myself so weak that she decided that I was the one who was in need of protection? She must have meant that she would keep me safe in my dreams.
I do the usual; put on my grey clothes, comb out my hair, wash myself and wait for the others to wake up. I don't know why but I tend to wake up earlier than the rest all the time. I guess I just can't take darkness for too long.
Meg's dress is a bit small, but it will do. I owe her so much after she helped me and I don't like this. It means that I have two people I need to trust and care about and I don't like being obliged to do that. On the other hand, there is someone else who can look after Poppy when I can't and that somehow makes me feel glad that I helped Meg back in the laundry room.
I can feel myself resurging. My mind starts to think properly again and I can sense how my adrenaline makes me want to march over to the boys dormitory and smash Marcus' nose in. The old me is back.
I tremble slightly from the fear of closing in like that again. That's why I need to be brave and strong; so fear can't feed on me ever again.
I walk to the Dining Hall with Meg and Poppy alongside. They are keen on keeping me close to them, after what happened. The halls are buzzing with an air of excitement. The girls talk about their day yesterday and other make plans for the free day today. Boys laugh and joke about as usual, their husky voices booming at every corner.
The sun shines beautifully through the arching windows and I can even see the flecks of dust floating in the air. Breeda's cooking smells so mouth-watering and I realise how hungry I am when my stomach growls wildly. Poppy giggles childishly and I ruffle her hair.
We sit at our usual spot near the window and eat the fried eggs that Breeda has made. Today is special, because it's Inspection Day. We have to get checked by doctors from the city for any diseases, sicknesses, illegal substances and so on. They do this mostly to see who is fitter and to match up the 'master' races together. If you ask me, it's all stupid.
I can vaguely see James' raven black hair in the crowd of grey. He seems to be observing everything around him intently, those blue eyes full of mischief. He is on his own and I have a sudden urge to ask him if he wants to sit with us, but I think better of it. He is not my priority now and I need to be careful with him. He has too many secrets. It's what attracts me and warns me at the same time.
"Good morning, Kit-Kat," I hear a low hiss in my ear and my blood freezes over. I sit still and my breathing quickens.
"Marcus, get away form her," Meg says forcefully and he chuckles, "You've done enough,"
"Enough?" he says in surprise, "Oh no, I didn't even do anything, yet," he blows a kiss to me and winks. I shudder, but look back up at him to show him that I am unafraid. I stare him in the eye and set my jaw. The arm that I stabbed is bandaged up and he cradles it like it is traumatic.
After a few moments, he moves back and leaves us. I feel myself dizzy and I realise that I was holding my breath. I place my head on the table and quickly take a few moments to calm down. I look up and hide the fear in my face.
Meg and Poppy stay silent, but I stand up abruptly and hand in my plate. I don't want to see their pitiful faces. I don't need that right now. Breeda glares at my unfinished salad, but I move back to the table without a word. She can scold me later. I am in no mood to make up excuses today, even if it means stink-eyes for the rest of the week.
I nearly trip on my own feet when I make my way back to our table, because I'm not paying attention. A few boys and girls near me giggle, but I roll my eyes and keep going. I can see from the corner of my eye the teachers from the Dais watching every move I make. It must be my mind playing tricks on me. I am getting too paranoid.
I have noticed before that they get far better food than us. The smell of freshly baked buns and butter invades my nose and curls around it seductively. The coffee fumes are hypnotizing. I have never tried it, but I already like the smell.
The bell rings abruptly and everyone gets up to leave for assembly. I sigh and reunite with Poppy and Meg. Feet shuffle all around us and shoulders push me to every side roughly. I growl a bit too loudly, but no one cares. That's they way it has always been and will be.
We line up in our year groups; Poppy is with the younger children and Meg is with me. I stand shoulder to shoulder with her, having no choice, because we are squeezed together. The boys are on the left and the girls are on the right.
"So what exactly happens?" Meg pipes up. I turn to look at her. Her eyes stare at me widely and you can see the effects of yesterday's work under her eyes. I feel sorry for her so much. I was just like her when I came here, but I think I was lucky, because I was older.
"Nothing much," I reply, my voice dry, "Just announcements and punishments. The usual,"
"I meant the Inspection Day," she smiles slightly.
"Oh, it's your first. Well...just do everything they tell you and try to be as likeable as possible. They examine you and your health and you get the weekly medicine," I explain. Her eyebrows knit together in concentration and she bites her nail, "Don't worry. It's not painful or anything,"
She looks up at me and then stays silent for the next five minutes. I don't know what I did wrong. Maybe she had a bad memory resurging or something. I respect her privacy in any case and stay quiet myself.
"Good morning," Madame Rees strides elegantly across the top of the hall. Her lanky figure moves slowly and her heels make a clanking sound across the linoleum floor.
"Good morning, Madame Rees," we say all together. She smiles crookedly and her eyes narrow. She places her hands behind her straight back and exhales. She must enjoy having the power she has. I think she feels so superior, because she is able to control us. Power corrupts people, but absolute power destroys them.
"Today, as you all are aware, we have doctors coming in from the city. I hope you all brushed your teeth and have a shower each before the Inspection, which will take place before lunch. Also, don't forget your manners and set a good example of our school," she says. It's like a ritual now. She says the same thing every single week and everyone knows it off by heart now.
"Now, children. We also have some bad news today," my breath catches, "Katherine Baywell, please step forward,"
My blood freezes over and my heart stops for a moment. Everyone's head turns to look at me and the silence that follows is deadly. Each pair of eyes gaze at me in expectation and Meg slightly nudges me. I swallow hard and take a deep breath. Whatever she has to do, it's better she does it to me rather than Poppy.
"Keep her away," I stammer quietly to Meg. She nods apprehensively and her eyes speak of pity. I give her a weak smile and walk down the centre of the Hall. The gazes follow me and I feel my palms drip with cold sweat.
"Young lady, hurry up!" Madame Rees snaps impatiently, "We do not have all day,"
I speed walk up to her and she turns me around with her bony hands. I shiver at her touch. It's so forceful that I feel like her fingers can break my bones.
I blink and a sea of eyes look up at me in hunger for news and also in fear of what would happen. I try to keep my gaze away from James' blue eyes and look everywhere but where he is.
"Miss Baywell has been misbehaving," Madame Rees continues, "She has been seen on various occasions starting fights and her aggressive behaviour has not gone unnoticed. Yesterday, she attacked a boy while on chores and injured his arm with a letter opener,"
Without thinking I snort. Everyone gasps and Madame Rees turns her head in my direction, ever so slowly she asks, "Yes, Miss Baywell?"
I don't know what comes over me, "You don't know what happened. I attacked him to protect myself. He tried to take advantage of me. He attacked me," I say quickly.
Suddenly, her hand collides with my cheek and a fierce stinging pain crawls around the skin. I blink from my eyes tearing up, "Don't lie!" she says in a low voice.
I feel anger boiling up in me. What is wrong with me? I urge myself to calm down, but I have had too much. The demons inside me are getting impatient, longing to be let loose, "How do you know that I'm lying? I don't remember you listening to my side of the story! What has Marcus told you? I tried to sleep with him?" I yell and throw my arms up in the air.
Everyone holds their breath from shock. No one has ever talked back to the teachers, let alone the principal. Her eyes squint and glare at me with such hatred, as if trying to kill me on the spot. I breathe heavily and to my surprise, I don't even feel scared anymore. I smile internally. I feel strong and brave, finally.
"Miss Baywell, I have heard enough from various students about your behaviour. Therefore, I do not require your pathetic little alibis. I don't need you to choke on your excuses. You will be punished for your actions and that ought to teach you how to be obedient," she hisses.
"Is that all? Go ahead," I spit and she pushes me to my knees, grabbing me by the hair. I remain undaunted. My face is straight and I show no emotion of pain or fear. Suddenly, I am shoved to the floor and my face collides with the linoleum, leaving a sting.
"Stay there," she sneers, "It's where you belong. Take off your cardigan,"
I do as she asks without hesitation and fling the clothing to her feet. I know what will happen. A public beating. It's not as bad as I had hoped. It could have been worse. I could have been taken to the Crypts.
"The blouse too," she says monotonously and I gingerly unbutton my white blouse, to reveal my bare back with only a vest on me. I blush slightly at the fact that the whole school is looking at me half-naked, but I shut them out. I can feel all of their eyes baring into the back of my head and somewhere in the distance I can hear Meg hushing Poppy. A feeling of relief surges into me.
"Mister Anders, if you please," Madame Rees steps to the side and Mister Anders comes forth with a long, leather whip. It is old and has dried blood on its length. What catches my attention is that the whip has tiny spikes protruding all around it. I flinch slightly, only slightly.
"You will obey," Madame Rees growls and flicks her hand, "Twenty should do it,"
Everything is in slow motion, as if to add to the pain. Mister Anders raises his arm high up and the whip flies in my direction like a snake. It collides with my bare back and the pain in indescribable. I clamp my eyes shut tightly, but I never scream.
My eyes blur and I feel like my body is being submerged into boiling hot water a thousand times over and over. My back oozes with blood and the skin stings with pain. I scrape the linoleum with my fingernails and stumble across it.
The next lash comes and I gasp. The pain seems to double every time the whip kisses my bare flesh, "Stop playing with her! Put more force into it!" Madame Rees shouts and the next lash makes the first few look like a piece of cake.
When the whip collides with my back, it seems to coil itself around me and drags off slowly adding to the pain and drawing more blood out. The razor sharp notches drag across the skin, peeling it off. I feel dizzy and sway on my knees. My ears ring and I can hear Poppy's supressed sobs in the corner of my mind.
Another lash and I fall flat on my face. I don't bother getting up again. My breathing is heavy and I feel like I am going to pass out. Then the lashes speed up and hit me faster and faster, every time digging into me and making me want to cry and yell, but that is not possible. I will not crumble like the last time.
"Is that all you've got?" I say with a ragged voice, making me sound drunk and I spit blood at the floor. I laugh like a madman and wipe away the sweat from my forehead, smearing it with blood. When I blink, I feel my left cheek puffy. The blow came so fast, I didn't realise it until the pain came. My cheek swells and it blinds my eye.
"Jeremy!" Madame Rees shrieks, "Not the face!"
"Sorry, Ma'am," he grunts and turns back to me. I am lying in the floor, in my own pool of blood and I can feel the hum of the lashes across my back. Each one wants to etch itself into my skin to kill me, but I won't let it. I swallow and blink to try and clear my vision.
Another lash comes and close my eyes, stiffing at the jabbing in my body. I want to die right this moment. I want to just disintegrate into nothing, a shallow and empty space that will have no pain, just me drifting soundlessly along...
I can see Mister Anders raise his whip again and it coils around my neck, burning and singing with poison. This time I yell and it comes out like a tortured cry of a dying animal. I grunt and clench my teeth to the point of breaking.
His hand moves back again to deliver yet another lash and the sound echoes off the walls.
But it doesn't hit me.
I turn my head to see the whip wrapped around James' arm. He flings it behind him and glares at Mister Anders, challenging him.
"Stop it," he says ascetically, "Can't you see she's going to die if you keep on hitting her?" his voice rises and everyone murmurs with excitement. This is a first.
"Silence!" Madame Rees roars, "My dear Mister Redwood. That is the objective," she smiles wickedly and I swallow uneasily again. My white vest is drenched in red and my drool gathers at the floor.
"She's had enough. Leave her," he demands. I stare at him. What does he think he's doing?
"James, shut up!" I manage a croak, but Madame Rees shoots Mister Anders a look. He walks over to me briskly and pulls me up by the hair. I groan, as he drags me to her.
She thrusts me to the floor yet again and her foot crushes my fingers. I let out stifled gasps of pain and then she drags her nail down my back. I screech from the searing pain and let out a few tears.
"Stop it!" James yells and she looks up, her expression hungry. Her hand roughly moves back and I am left half-awake. I have lost all of my senses. My body feel disconnected from my brain and it's as if I will never be able to move again. All of my energy is drained away by pain and all I can do is stare emptily at the scene before me.
"I believe you need some discipline as well, Mister Redwood. You ought to learn how to keep that beautiful mouth shut,"
"And you ought to learn how to stop being an egoistic bitch!" everyone gasps loudly and her smile fades.
"Belt," she looks at Mister Anders and he takes off his belt, handing it to her. I have never seen her so livid. He must be stupider than I thought. That, or maybe he really wants to die.
"Oh, go ahead! That will make you feel better, right? Or is this all a show to let everyone know that you can and will beat helpless students? I am far beyond honoured to be the example!" James shouts, but the belt collides with his smooth face without hesitation.
Again and again she hits him with such force from each side, that blood and bruises appear all over his beautiful face. James' expression remains cold and his jaw tightly clenches.
"I think that's enough for one day," Madame Rees inhales sharply, "Take this filth and help her get cleaned. You have an hour," she says lowly and turns to the rest of the school.
"Anyone who speaks to them or helps them, will be put into the Crypts. From now on, they are excommunicated for two weeks," her nostrils flare, "Dismissed!" she roars and everyone takes a minute to realise that they are free to go.
The Hall empties out and Madame Rees waits until everyone is gone. She strides towards James and looks into his eyes. They are so close that their noses might touch. I flinch. If it were me, I would faint on the spot from being so close to the devil.
"And Mister Redwood," she says, "Remember that whatever rights you had before you came here, you can forget about them. Here we have our own rules," and she clanks away on her heels, leaving an echo.
I am left on the floor, half-dead and unfeeling. My vest is shredded to bits at the back. The blood around me is cold and my whole skirt is also red now too. The cuts seem to get deeper and deeper, as if digging their way into me like in a coal mine.
I close my eyes and feel James haul my body over his shoulders so that I am slumped across him and my back is left exposed.
He carries me up the stairs and through the halls, "You're safe now," he whispers.
I let him lie.
I let him.