“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die”
The voice is like a snake hiss in my ear, “You scream and I’ll break your neck.” It’s a mellow, deep voice that might be pleasant is if wasn’t threatening to kill me. I know it’s a man from the deep richness of it. I can still feel his lips pressed against my ear.
My eyes are clenched together tightly and I don’t dare cry. I will seem like such a weakling if I cry. Instead I tremble. Every part of my body is like jelly, wobbling and shaking from head to toe. The smell of coffee is thick in the air, becoming pungent as it mixes in with the antiseptic.
I gag on the reek, because it reminds me of the day when I first came here. My nose felt like it was being cremated to ash. My eyes couldn’t stop watering and I wanted to sneeze all the time.
The gruff hands are still on my mouth and stay there, unmoving. What does he want? He must be the boy that they carried in today and I don’t know what he is doing. Honestly, if he is trying to escape, then fat chance. The school grounds are huge and stretch out too far, being surrounded by tall brick walls that no one would be able to climb up fast enough.
Everyone knows what they do to those who try to run. It’s either your tongue cut off and you are a slave for the aristocracy, you are brought to the Consilium and experimented on or you are executed immediately and left to hang from a rope by the school.
I can feel his hot breath on the nape of my neck and a whimper rises up my throat. I don’t know what to do. He is stronger than I am, that’s for sure and I won’t be able to stop him from snapping me into two.
Without hesitation, I sink my teeth into his hand deeply. He lets out a yelp and his hands release me. I stumble forwards, falling onto the floor, my hand twisting. The pain is so sharp that I bite my lip to stop me from screaming.
The boy is cursing under his breath and all I can do is stare at him. He is so beautiful, not like the boys here. I have seen boys that are handsome, but he is nothing like them.
His skin is tanned slightly and I notice a few scars and bruises over his bare arms. He too wears the thin sheet, which covers most of his body. My cheeks instantly flame coral red and I feel a lump in my throat.
His face is as smooth as alabaster, with messy curls of hair falling in between his eyes. The projection lights are shining behind him, making a halo appear on his head.
His azure, almond - shaped eyes stare at me, as if expecting me to lunge and bite him again like a cannibal. I can still feel the taste of antiseptic and blood in my mouth. It’s disgusting.
His angular cheekbones are clenched together from the pain, as well as anger and suspicion. His eyebrows crease together, making a scowl appear on his smooth face.
His full lips part and turn into a smirk, “Tell anyone about this and I will kill you. Clear?” his voice echoes off the fluorescent walls. I gulp and nod, because I am afraid to speak, afraid that my voice will be shaky and unsure.
“Good,” he smiles crookedly and strides over to one of the metal beds, lying down with his hands by the sides. He winks at me and presses his index finger to his lips, as a sign of a secret.
I am too stunned to get up. What is going on? Why was he up and what is he doing pretending to be unconscious again? Why is he so calm?
My suspicion grows and I have a very rotten feeling that he might want to be here. I almost spit at the floor in disgust. How could anyone possibly want to be here? He looks so lax about this all and doesn’t even try to resist like me.
When I woke up, they told me about the school and my family. Obviously, I began to thrash and scream at them, everyone does, so they had to sedate me. I would do anything to just inhale the opiate fumes for a single fraction of a minute and to feel the numbness and forget the pain and everything about the whole world.
I am snapped out of my reverie by the sound of the door sliding open. Fear erodes a hole inside my stomach, making my entire insides wrench apart and squeeze into it. I feel so sick that I might throw up.
Rita walks in and sees me sprawled across the floor. It’s like the whole world has just stopped. Every cell inside my body is frozen. The blood from my face is drained and I can feel it. My face turns ashen, as if being turned to stone. My breathing quickens and I feel cold sweat trickle down my palms.
Rita is a lean woman with a skeletal body. Her blazing crimson hair is like wildfire, standing out against the glistening white walls and it looks like her head is floating in mid-air. I think I must be hallucinating. Everything seems like a shimmering mirage, my vision too blurry to make sense of what is reality and what is nonsense.
Her green eyes squint at me suspiciously with animosity. She looks like she wants to annihilate me on the spot and to make me dissolve into the floor. I am stuck with paralysis. And for a second, I feel like my heart has stopped. My mouth is bone-dry, although I am dripping wet with sweat.
Her narrow face contorts into an expression of asperity, as if she has seen something filthy. Filth. That’s what I have been told my whole life. I am filth, scum, trash, everything but a kind word.
Her gaze is baleful and when she finally decides to break the silence, thinking that I might be mute or something, her voice is like a knife piercing my body, “Well, you brat? What on earth are you doing?!”
I notice that her freckles are like little light bulbs, flickering and making her face shimmer in clear carmine. Her eyes are hollow and unfeeling, except for their roughness and ferocity.
I hoist myself up gingerly, brushing down my skirt and some of my wind is regained, “Sorry, Madame. I was told to leave you breakfast and I got a fright from that boy over there and stumbled,” I mutter, my voice hoarse. Her high-arching brows rise upwards and she clenches her jaw.
For a fleeting second, I feel as if she will punish me. I feel like she knows that I am lying to her. I struggle to keep my lip from trembling.
“Did he wake up? Did you speak to him?” her voice is lethal. It’s like pandemonium inside my head. Should I tell her? Will I risk it and say that he tried to choke me? What would happen to him then? Will they cut off his tongue and make him a slave for experiments? Will I see his body swishing by the oak tree? What would happen to me for seeing him awake?
No. That would mean that I am a traitor. This boy doesn’t deserve the fate he will have if I say something. If he wants to perish in this hell hole, so be it.
“No, Madame,” I say simply, my shoulders relaxing. How easy it is to lie when you do it more often, “He was sleeping when I came in. I didn’t see him, so I just left the tray over there,” I point to the table, “And when I did see him-“ I babble on and she seems to have gotten tired, because she lifts up her hand, a sign to show me to shut up.
“Enough,” she snaps, “Leave. Now!” and I scramble out of the room.
The corridors loom ahead of me, dimply lit and odious. I try to calm myself down, thinking that nothing bad has happened. It would have been worse if I had broken the tray. Thankfully, life decided to have mercy on me, for the first time in my existence.
I half stagger, half run through the corridors. I must have missed assembly and I won’t risk going inside, which would be disrupting and everyone will see me. They won’t notice that I am gone, unless someone points it out and there is a high chance that Willow does. I have an excuse anyway and a few slaps is nothing, compared to what could have happened.
What if the boy will haunt me and bully me like Willow, if he is to go to Dalewood? I haven’t thought of that before. I almost fall off the staircase, because I haven’t been looking where I was going. I push those thoughts away, deciding that I wouldn’t see him for most of the day anyway.
I get my books quickly from the dormitories and put away my apron neatly. Poppy’s bed is badly made, so I fix it up for her. All she needs now is another excuse for the teachers to hit her. She usually does it nicely, even better than me, but since her hands are practically numb from the pain, hardly anyone could blame her, except the staff that blames you no matter what.
The first three classes go by quickly, partly due to the fact that I have been focusing on what happened and worrying about what could happen. I was so distraught that I missed the teacher asking me a question and when she saw that I wasn’t paying attention in Biology, I got a few whacks with the rod on my palms. My hands still feel like I have just grazed them across the pavement purposely.
During the last class, History, Willow kept on eyeing me and giving me dirty looks. She thinks that she is somehow superior to me, but I don’t think that being a snob and bullying helpless girls makes you a better.
When the bell goes for lunch, I immediately change my books for my next three classes; Geography, French and English, then I rush to the kitchens and serve lunch to the students.
Today for lunch we have vegetable soup with brown bread. I hate soup or stew. It’s so disgusting, but I don’t have much choice since it’s the only food we will get until dinner time and because I didn’t have any breakfast today. I have a feeling that my stomach is eating me from the inside.
I agree with Poppy to meet her outside at the huge oak tree, which everyone calls ‘Ogden’. Its branches are a canopy of green swirling leaves that are so big and wide, they create a huge shadow under which everyone shelters when it’s the hottest time of summer.
I finish slurping my soup and thank Breeda for it, because if you don’t, she’ll scowl at you and glare at your face until you figure out what is wrong.
I walk out of the Foyer and the warm summer air seeps through my hair. The smell of honeysuckle from nearby flowers makes me smile. I would go into the Glasshouse, but you’re only allowed in during the weekends.
The grass licks at my ankles, as I trod through it, tickling me. I see a lot of students out in the football pitch, roaring and cheering on their teams. Others are lying sprawled across the grass, soaking in the sun. A few girls and boys are talking to each other and I see Willow and Andrew kissing by the wall, hidden by the shadows. I wonder what will happen if they get caught.
Andrew is tall and handsome, but in an eerie way. He expels a chilling feeling and he seldom speaks when I see him. He has golden eyes and thick blonde hair that sways in the breeze. His body seems to be crushing Willow, but I doubt that she notices. I look away awkwardly, trying to look like I don’t see them.
I wonder what it feels like to kiss someone. I have never kissed a boy in my life and maybe that’s due to the fact that I am not pretty or because I live in fear for most of my life. It’s true and I am not being like the rest pretending to hate myself so someone could contradict it. I am not ugly, but I am not beautiful either. I am plain, simple and plain.
When I find Poppy under the shelter of the tree, she is sitting alone, reading a book. When she reads, her brows crease together in concentration and her nose crinkles up in surprise or awe, it’s quite amusing, really.
She looks up and her face brightens, the dimples showing clearly. I smile at the sight of her eyes lighting up. She pats the ground beside her, telling me to sit down. I plop myself next to her and neatly place my books near me.
The branches sway, permitting a soft breeze to stroke my face. I close my eyes and inhale the fresh wind fully. It feels good, like I am free and careless. Sometimes, if you watch things and just let the world continue its usual bustle, the time seems to freeze, but only for a moment and if you can find a way to live in that moment, then you will be infinite.
“Show me you hands,” I jerk up, remembering what Poppy has been through. She turns them over reluctantly and I am pleased to see that the burns weren’t that bad. The skin is clotting up and becoming smooth again. I sigh in relief and smile at her.
“Well, look at this,” I hear a loud sneer and turn around, seeing Willow leaning against the tree trunk, along with her three friends; Cara, Victoria and Loraine. Their faces are all up in a malicious grin and I know this can’t be good.
Willow is her usual self; long and dark hair, misty grey eyes, snub-nosed and full lips that are up in a snarl. Her hands are on her hips and she is so tall that I feel like I am cowering.
The rest of the girls are behind her, ready to shield her if a teacher comes. Cara is short, but has a vicious glare. Her blonde hair is swaying in the breeze and her blue eyes squinting in disgust. She has a very upturned nose, which makes her look like a piglet.
Loraine is taller than Willow, but slightly lax and more pleasant. She seems so dreamy all the time, as if lost in a daze. Her eyes are even focusing on what is happening. They are staring distantly into the grass. She has medium-length brown hair that is up in a ponytail. I can still see the flecks of paint in one of the strands.
I think Victoria is her favorite, seeing as she likes to do unpleasant things to others just as much as Willow. Her face is oval and dim. Her light hair falls sleekly, sharply cutting off her face. Her golden eyes are still and I don’t see them blink not once. Her mouth is set in a snarl, ready to say something foul.
I sometimes wonder what is in this for them. They probably don’t want to be bullied themselves. It’s always like that. There are two types people in life; those who laugh at others and those are being laughed at. Currently, I am on the being laughed at side.
“What do you need,” I say coolly and she laughs at me. I feel Poppy stiffen up beside me and curl up against my back.
“I wonder, Baywell,” she hisses my name, “Did you have a good sleep?” she sneers. I keep my face cold and unmoving. I will not subject to her taunts. I am higher than that.
“Did you hear her scream yesterday? It was like music to my ears, like a bed-time lullaby!” she licks her lips.
“Oh, it was, wasn’t it?” my voice is hard, “Just like yours, when you were being beaten. I recall that and I fell asleep so happy to it,” my teeth clench together. Her face hardens and she comes so close to mine that I can see the flecks of gold in her grey eyes.
“I wonder if she goes mute, will she scream or will nothing come out of her little mouth. I’d like to see that,” her whisper acts like a catalyst, “Her mother must have been some retarded animal, grunting and muttering all the time. I wonder who was thick enough to have a child with her?! Maybe they didn’t ask for her permission, that is,”
I don’t care about anything, anymore. I will kill her, here and now. Screw being higher than her. Screw everything. I lunge at her face, raking it with my nails. She lets out a shriek and I can see the blood rising up the scratch mark. I am pleased with my accomplishment.
She runs at me, knocking me into the tree. I feel like my lungs have shattered. I can’t see, because my eyes are watering and before I get a chance to breathe, Willow’s foot collides with my ribcage.
I gasp and choke on my breath, desperately trying to protect my face. I am now on the ground completely, with Willow mercilessly attacking me. I feel like my ear drums have burst and only a high pitched sound is audible. I can hear her hiss some random words like ‘slut’ and ‘rat’, but nothing of full sentences.
Poppy’s voice resonates, screaming for help, her voice is quivering.
“Well, would you look at that,” Willow booms, laughing hollowly, “The Glitch can speak? Maybe the key to get her to talk is beating you up, Baywell,” she hisses and kicks me again. I cough and clutch to my stomach. The pain is too much. I feel like my body is being pushed through a compressing machine for cans.
My head throbs painfully and I stagger to get up. Willow’s leg jerks up again and I brace myself, but she gets yanked back suddenly.
“Cut it out!” Andrew snaps at her, holding a squirming Willow in his hands. Andrew may not be the most pleasant person, nor he likes to speak to people, but he has his wits about him. I am thankful to him silently, “She’s coming this way and if you two don’t scatter, you’ll both get you asses burnt off!” and he gives me a glare.
I suppose I began the fight, but she was the one who came over and began to make fun of Poppy, she was the provoker.
I wipe the blood of my nose, realizing that it’s falling down like a waterfall. Great, now my face will look like hell for the next class. I was bound to get into trouble this week. I’m just asking for it.
“I will get you, sooner or later,” Willow hisses at me in an acidic tone. I stare at her coolly. It seems like ages before someone breaks the silence and it’s not who I want it to be.
Madame Newman is marching up to us and her face is too still, too quiet. Quiet is dangerous with teachers. I would rather they beat me and roared into my ear like bulls, but never quiet, because it means something very dangerous and serious.
“Everyone clear the grounds,” her voice is thin, barely a whisper, “Both of you, stay behind,” she points to me and Willow. Andrew gives a look to Willow as if to say ‘I told you so’ and reluctantly recedes back to the main doors.
Everyone begins to shuffle, groaning and cursing under their breaths. This just gets better and better. Now the whole school hates me for ruining their lunch time outdoors. Poppy looks at me sorrowfully and slowly joins the crowd.
“Miss Grimson, explain yourself,” her eyes narrow down and she places her hands behind her back.
Madame Newman isn’t too bad. She at least lets you explain what happened, rather than just lashing out at you with a stick. She is our English teacher and she is quite nice sometimes, so I am hoping to get off easier with her than with most teachers.
She is a petite and short woman. She isn’t too thin, but she is not fat either. Her hair is in a short bob, with the brown strands swishing in the wind. Her eyes are full of melancholy feeling – her favorite word, she once told me – and they look tired, but full of alertness at the same time.
She is in her usual dress of khaki green that is fastened with a belt at her waist. She has a knitted shawl over her shoulders, even though it is warm outside.
“It was she who began it,” Willow begins, her false voice turning on. She slightly quivers, on purpose I bet you, “I came up to just see if Poppy was okay after…yesterday and she-“
“Oh, you liar!”I cut in and her eyes water up, “She’s so pathetic! Can’t you understand?”
“You see, Madame Newman!” she shrieks, “She just attacked me! I say, you must get her checked for her brain. She seems to misinterpret events and I heard her talk to herself once!”
“I am not mental!” I say, horrified, “Madame Newman, if you’ll allow me-“I begin, but I am cut off quickly by the teacher.
“Enough!” she raises her voice, “I will not be able to see the truth with you two bickering together, nor shall I care what exactly happened. You both continued to fight and no one stopped and walked away, being the smarter person,” she says quickly and my jaw drops. She can’t be serious!
“Madame Newman, she was insulting Poppy!” I protest and Willow smirks. I want to slap it off her face the moment I eye her.
“Miss Baywell, are you telling me that you began the fight?” her voice is full of disbelief and I slap my mouth. Stupid!
If I just left it, then we probably would have gotten extra chores or something. I hate myself so much right now. Me and my mouth!
“Miss Baywell?!” she demands.
“She did, Madame! See the mark!?” Willow points to her left cheek, which is now blossoming in blood. I press my lips together to keep myself from smirking. Well, at least one positive thing today.
“Oh, my!” Madame Newman gaps and looks at me viciously, “Well?”
“I did begin it, but she was so wicked! She said that-“
“Silence!” her voice resonates across the field, “I cannot believe that you out of all people Miss Baywell! You will be punished as the rules state. I am sorry to do this, but the rules are the rules,” she brings out a beating stick from behind her back and I cannot believe what I am seeing.
I have never seen Madame Newman strike a student. She gives punishments that are light, like no food or water, but to beat them? This is alien to me, because I have known her for three years and she has not laid a finger on me. I guess there’s a first for everything.
My jaw drops, as I see what she is doing. I was right, she won’t hit me. Instead, she does something worse. She hands the beating stick over to a wide eyed Willow, who is grinning malevolently.
“Since you attacked Miss Grimson, it is only fair to let her hit you back,” she steps aside and Willow’s face is so gleeful that it’s like her most desirable wish has just come true.
I harden my face and dig my nails into my palms, to stop myself form screaming or crying. I would rather die than succumb to pain, especially if it’s Willow who is beating me.
I turn around, so she won’t hit my face and brace myself, clenching my jaw. Then comes the pain.