The day Scarlet Lyall’s life changed forever started the same as any other day. She had breakfast with her parents, the usual chaos with spilt cereal and having to talk over the radio.
‘And now for the news,’ said the voice on the radio. ‘Local shopkeeper George Johnson still has not been found. He disappeared last week and has not been seen or heard from since…’
‘That’s that curio shop owner isn’t it?’ asked Scarlet’s Dad, Steve. ‘I’ve seen him in the library.’
‘Dad, I’m going to be late for school, can I have some bus fare.’
‘Scarlet, don’t interrupt your Dad. Here,’ said Beth, Scarlet’s Mum as she handed her some change. ‘Better get going you don’t want to be late again.’ She carried on talking to Scarlet’s Dad, ‘He went to that special school didn’t he? The one out in the country, where they send the unusual kids.’
Scarlet looked at her parents, no wonder she was always late, they were usually late themselves, too busy talking. Scarlet said a quick goodbye to her parents then raced out the door, and made it to the bus stop before the bus pulled off.
She got to school just in time and made it before she was marked as late on the register. It was Wednesday, she liked Wednesdays, double Art first thing with her friends Lucy and Daniel. Art was one of the few things Scarlet enjoyed about school. She took her seat next to her friends.
About half way into the lesson Scarlet thought she felt something hit the back of her chair. She looked round to see Kelly Parker and her brain dead minions sat at the back smirking. Great, thought Scarlet, I spend so much time trying to avoid the bullies that pick on me for no other reason other than I wore different clothes to them, my hair was different to theirs, I was breathing the same air as them!
For the rest of the class Scarlet tried to ignore the almost constant stream of balls of paper bouncing off her back and head.
At lunchtime Scarlet, Daniel and Lucy ate their sandwiches in an empty classroom. Scarlet never fitted in well at school, she was happier buried in a book where she could escape anywhere she wanted. Lucy and Daniel were much the same and they got on well because of it. They’d had another good friend, Chris, but he’d been pulled out of school suddenly a year before. He’d been one of the kids to go through the change and taken off to the special school. Scarlet was so lonely at school, with Daniel and Lucy in a lot of different classes this year, and Chris gone, she hated the place and how empty she felt there.
Scarlet managed to get through lunchtime without getting any unwanted attention. That was until after Maths when she walked out into the crowded corridor and bumped straight into Kelly Parker.
‘Scarlet Lyall,’ sneered Kelly.
Scarlet tried to walk on and pretend she hadn’t heard her, but Kelly grabbed her arm and squeezed hard. She’d done this before; she was a lot bigger than Scarlet and usually backed her into a corner ready to spit her venomous words at her. This time Scarlet felt different, she felt something, like static electricity crackling all over her.
Kelly must have felt this too as she took her hand off Scarlet’s arm, while her expression turned to one of puzzlement. ‘What the hell?’
Scarlet tried to push her out of the way, and said ‘just shut up and leave me alone.’ As she pushed against Kelly to move past she heard Kelly gasp. Kelly tried to reach out at Scarlet again but couldn’t seem to reach her even though she was close enough. Kelly’s mouth moved but no sound came out.
By now there was a crowd of kids starting to gather nearby to get a good look at what was going on and had been chanting ‘fight, fight, fight!’ But now they were staring at Scarlet then Kelly and muttering while backing slowly away. Scarlet could hear words like freak, or one of those kids. It was when one kid pointed and said ‘look at her hands’ that the panic set in.
Sure enough, as Scarlet looked down at her own hands she found the tell-tale sign on her finger nail. They sparkled like glitter in sunlight, and her hands had a faint glow. She remembered how Chris had looked last year, how scared people had been of him as he changed.
This couldn’t be happening, she thought, not to me, why me?
For Scarlet the rest of the day went in a blur. She sat in the head teacher’s office, while he gave her an apologetic look as he phoned her parents. Then to Scarlet’s horror he also phoned Dunstan Academy for the Gifted and Endowed. He explained what had happened, then thanked someone on the other end before hanging up. ‘Someone is coming straight over to help Kelly, someone who will understand what you did. No one blames you Scarlet, this could happen to anyone…’ he was cut off by his secretary tapping at the door to announce the arrival of my parents.
Scarlet’s parents looked worried as they walked into the office. Dad immediately flung his arms around Scarlet and started getting all tearful. ‘It’s my fault of course. Your Great Grandmother...’ his tearfulness breaking into sobs now. ‘It must have skipped a generation, or two. I’m so sorry.’
The head looked apologetic and said ‘you appreciate she can’t stay on here now? It’s policy that all children starting the change must move on to the nearest school of magic.’
‘We understand,’ said Beth as she stroked Scarlet’s hair. ‘Come on let’s get you home.’
The head handed the address for Dunstan to Scarlet’s Mum, ‘I’m sure everything will work out for the best.’
Scarlet felt as though she was being marched to her execution as she walked with her parents through the corridors and kids stopped to stare and whisper. She kept her hands buried deep in her pockets, and tried hard to hold back the tears.
Just as they left the school a tall woman with raven black hair strode towards them. ‘You must be Scarlet. My name is Jade Hollis; I’m a teacher at Dunstan.’ She shook hands with Scarlet’s parents, they looked a little wary.
‘I know this is a lot for you all to take in at the moment. It will get easier and it really isn’t that bad, Scarlet will be able to come home at the weekends and holidays.
‘Thank you,’ said Beth. ‘I’m not bothered by what people will say and their prejudice; I just want my daughter safe at home with us.’
‘Dunstan is probably the safest place to be in the whole country, she will be fine.’ Jade turned to Scarlet, ‘Haven’t you ever felt out of place here, or uncomfortable around other teenagers? Maybe even lonely?’
‘Yes, how did you know?’
‘Because so was I before I made the change and went to Dunstan. So was pretty much every sorcerer and sorceress before they made the change. We’re square pegs trying to fit in a round hole. That’s not to say you can’t fit in, it’s just easier to be around others experiencing the same thing, or that know what you’re going through.’
Steve hadn’t said a lot until now. ‘She’s right Scarlet. I don’t want you to go but it’s for the best. We can’t help you with this; we don’t know what to do. You’ll need to learn how to use your powers, how to use them properly so you don’t get hurt, or so you don’t hurt those around you.’
Scarlet felt bad at her Dad’s last comment, as much as she hated Kelly she wouldn’t want to actually hurt her. She especially didn’t want to accidently hurt her family. ‘I know. I’ll just miss you.’
As Scarlet hugged her parents, Jade said ‘You’ll see you parents again before long, and don’t worry about your class mate; I will have her back to her usual self in no time.’
If only she could do the same for me, thought Scarlet, nothing’s ever going to be the same again.
After a painfully quiet drive home, Scarlet’s parents told her to go and pack some clothes and things she’d need for a long stay away from home. Her stomach lurched at the words.
For the first time since the change had begun Scarlet was alone. She could no longer feel the crackling electric surge that had been there earlier. Before whatever it was she’d done to Kelly. Scarlet raised her hands for inspection, the glow had also gone but her finger nails now had a silver sheen to them, and sparkled slightly as she moved them about in the light. Scarlet felt an odd sense of calm come over her as she gazed at the shimmer from her nails. She thought that maybe things would be alright, just maybe.
‘Everyone buckled up?’ asked Steve as Scarlet and her Mum got into the car.
‘All set,’ said Beth and turned to smile at Scarlet.
As they drove away from the house they’d lived in the past 15 years Scarlet felt strange. It was a mixture of sadness but also hope and happiness, with a little bit of excitement at the possibilities that lay ahead.
‘You’ll be able to come home during the weekends,’ said Scarlet’s Mum.
‘We’re already halfway through the week so you’ll only have a couple of nights before you’ll be home again.’
The journey took them out away from the city and shops, away from familiar streets. Off down country lanes, until they became more and more winding until one opened out a little as it passed huge wrought iron gates. The words Dunstan Academy in twisty black iron lettering adorned the gates. The gates opened slowly and they began to drive down a road lined with Rowan trees, bright red berries stood out in stark contrast to the deep, green leaves. As the trees thinned out Dunstan Academy loomed up between grassy hills. It looked like a fortress with its imposing greyish brown stone walls, and small windows looking down like dark, unblinking eyes.
Huge wooden doors opened as they approached and a woman with fiery red hair stepped out. ‘Welcome to Dunstan Academy, Scarlet Lyall. We’ve been waiting a long time for you to arrive.’