When September Ends

She was something beautiful, delicate and inhuman. She was her own hurricane, but all I ever was another stray piece of wreckage, a strip of scrap metal dragged alone in her wake. I met her six times during my life, and each time she tore my entire world apart.

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2. ONE | CURIOSITY |

~*~

Curiosity

Curiosity tastes of the bite of bitter apples on your tongue,

the sharp tang of the fruit you occasionally leave on your teacher's desk in the morning.

Curiosity smells like the new book eagerly dragged straight home from a bookshop,

the pages fresh and clean and inviting, ink-stained with the promise of knowledge and adventure. 

Curiosity feels like the discontented burn of hunger writhing deep in the pit of your stomach,

the hollow growl of a thirst for knowledge worming through your body with soft, pattering fingers. 

~*~

She was beautiful, in an absorbing, fascinating, inhuman kind of way. Her words were an ocean and I was nothing but a wooden rowing boat; she was unpredictable and utterly enthralling, her voice dragging me deeper, until I was surrounded by raven water, the swell lulling me into a belief that I was safe. She was a spider, ensnaring me in her voice and her promises- the subtle concoction of gravel and fine liquor and an after-taste of blood, and I allowed her to drag me deeper into the labyrinth of her web, the spider strands as smooth as silk and as deadly as a hangman's noose.  

I first met her when I was fourteen, one of the many teenagers thrown into a Year Ten classroom and forced to learn things that we had no interest in learning. All but strapped to our chairs from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon. Irrelevant words and numbers and equations drilled into our skulls with a dulled blade. I mean, really, who ever uses the quadratic equation in real life? I'm still pretty sure that First Aid lessons would have been far more useful. 

As far as I can remember, there hadn't been anything interesting about that morning. It was November, the clouds sickly beneath the crushing weight of rain and the vague promise of hail. I was sitting in the middle of the class, right where I always sat when I want to avoid attention, the teacher droning on about the importance of Pythagoras' Theorem and how we could apply it to day-to-day life. Useless facts that pummelled at my brain, pleading to be appraised and absorbed. I blocked them all out. 

It had only been five minutes into the first period, but I was already bored out of my skull, the bottom right-hand corner saturated with pencil marks and odd doodles. The teacher had just begun to hand out our lesson's work when the door opened at the back of the room, and stale, musty air swept in from the corridor and tumbled into the classroom. In the sharp, heavy light was a girl, and she made her way to the front of the classroom with the prestigious air of confidence that you'd usually expect from a headteacher or a MP. She had her school bag slung over one shoulder- a ratty black backpack, the material littered with badges and stickers from bands and television shows I'd never heard of.

Even our teacher looked slightly stunned as she stood at the front of the classroom, the marker pen pressed against the board, the ink running out of the end like blood from a wound. There's a muttered conversation between the girl and our teacher before she's pointed towards the seat next to mine with a curt nod. Even the teacher didn't know my name. That's the trick to blending in- letting the tide of people carry me along each and every day, sitting in the middle of the class, rarely answering questions, never attracting attention. It wasn't as much convenience so more that I was terrified of even being in any sort of social situations. There were too many people, too many voices. Too many eyes that could have been watching me, judging me, at any second of the day. Too many people who might have considered me an idiot, a freak or a loser. 

Better to be invisible, I figured, so that's what I was. 

I'm pretty sure half of the class didn't know my name, and the other half only knew it because they actually listened to the teacher when she read out the register. 

I rather surprised myself by not noticing her hair sooner, but it was only when she slid into the seat next to me that I saw the colours that had latched themselves into it. Her hair was waist-length, thick and wavy, tumbling over her shoulders and sweeping down over her school blazer. But the most distinguishable thing was the colour- or colours. Her hair was stained with all the colours of the rainbow- so bright and vivid that it was almost as if the dyes had been plucked straight from the sky and raked through her scalp. It was a smooth, gentle descent from cinnabar at the crown of her head to a soft apricot to a sunset gold and then to lovat. The ocean blue curled lazily around her shoulders, almost like a tame python, before trickling into a rough indigo and a girlish violet at the bottom. I wondered how she'd managed to get away with it- we weren't even allowed to wear hooped earrings, but this girl had managed to even transform her school uniform into something that I would've seen models wearing on the cat-walk. Her trousers were fitted and cropped around her ankles, and her blazer clung to her slim figure. 

Her name was September Blackwood and she didn't say a word to me throughout that lesson.

She didn't look at me either, but I wouldn't know that for sure, considering I didn't dare lift my eyes from the blank desert of my work book for the rest of the hour, absorbing the blend of noise that surrounded me; the latest gossip about the newest couple and the plans for the party on Friday and the photos that would no doubt be plastered over the internet like boyband posters over my little sister's bedroom wall. That's one of the few things I'm good at- listening. Listening and watching, observing, noticing the little things that most people wouldn't. Today, a lot of people were also talking about The New Girl, throwing furtive glances in her direction like spears, the edges poisoned with curiosity and confusion. During break, she'd be bombarded- questions and cautious smiles pummelling her from all sides like angry fists. 

September didn't pay any attention to any of them. I only saw her once during lunch- curling into the corner of the hall, almost folded double into the plastic chair, hunching over her salad as if she was a scientist rather than a schoolgirl and it was a particularly unique species of frog rather than a salad, and she had no other use in mind than to examine it before throwing it away. so it took me almost half of the break to drag up the courage to make my way over to her. I couldn't talk to her for half of lunch- maybe it was the fact that there was something about her that didn't seem normal, didn't seem human, or maybe it was because I was plagued by the sneaking suggestions that she might hate me for even looking at her. She'd been thrown away like a new toy at Christmas- by the end of break, her novelty had worn off, scrubbed from her skin with a bristled brush as if it'd coated her like dirt, and she'd ultimately been disposed of and abandoned, deemed useless and uninteresting.

I wasn't particularly surprised; high school was a brutal place after all, and the pecking order was maintained with razor-wire and bloodied shears- clipped and maintained to the highest standard. School was a zoo, and once in a while, people had to be reminded that the lion was always the king.

I seemed to surprise both myself by walking over and slipping into the seat opposite her, dumping my schoolbag onto the floor. She sat up, long hair dragging over the dirty table and peered at me curiously. I couldn't help but admit to myself that she was relatively attractive. Not alluring, like some of the girls in my year tried to be after trawling through hundreds of celebrity photos and plastering those thousand-pound looks onto their own hair and skin, or cute, like my sister could be when she wanted me to get her something. She was beautiful in the way that winter was- cool and flawless and natural, but something that you'd only want to witness from a distance. Even a snowstorm could be considered appealing, but only when you weren't imprisoned within a cage of tumultuous wind and a blinding white blur of movement and ice. 

Her smile was languid and unnatural, the kind of smile you'd expect from school photos- thin lips and the flash of teeth, balancing on the razor-sharp equilibrium of mocking and forced. "Hello," September said smoothly, the words slipping from her lips like water.

This had been another of those common instances when my mind went completely blank, any suggestion of conversation dragged into the deepest, darkest crevices of my mind, and so I didn't say anything as her smile widened, pale lips splitting like a slit throat to reveal porcelain teeth arranged meticulously into neat rows. "What?" She raised a sculpted eyebrow, her eyes never leaving mine. I would have expected them to be as bright as her hair, but they were pale, as faded as the books I used to leave out on my windowsill, the covers dulled, the images dissolving into the paper. They weren't grey or blue or green- they could have once been all of those colours or none of them. They were as clear as still water and just as calm.      

My tongue felt too large in my mouth, almost as if I was choking on it, but I couldn't help but consider the idea that her presence next to me was like sitting in the middle of a field during a summer storm. My arms were goose-bumped beneath my blazer, the hands tingling as if I'd been holding onto an electrical wire, my fingertips buzzing. "I'm Larkin," I said carefully. 

"Larkin Dalton, right? Like the bird?"

I frowned, running a hand through my hair. It'd grown- almost reaching my shoulders- and I'd need to cut it soon. "The what?"

September laughed, and even that sound was smooth and lazy as pond water. "You know? Like the lark?" She was smirking again as she reached into her blouse and pulled out a necklace- six long feathers, strung and knotted onto a thin cord. She selected one carefully and leaned over the table towards me. I could smell her perfume, soft and sweet, like forest flowers. "This one is a lark's tail feather. You can tell by the end- you see how it's dark but tipped with white?" 

I nodded. There was a crow feather next to it, and something that looked like a buzzard's, but I couldn't recognise any of the other ones. They were all tail feathers, I knew that much. She stroked the lark feather with the kind of prudent gentleness that you'd brush your favourite pet late of an evening, when the night was crowding around your home with hungry, clawing fingers, when the television was humming and your dog was nestled into your lap. 

September smiled. "Which one is your favourite?" she asked, just as the lesson bell rang, shattering the glass bubble we'd imprisoned ourselves in. She stood smoothly, unfolding her limbs and smiling down at me, and I realised that she was just as tall as I was. "I'll see you soon, Larkin," she said, before sliding into the mass of students, dissolving into the crowds. 

~*~

The remainder of my afternoon was uneventful, even monotonous. Sit in class. Write words. Leave class. Walk home. I spent my evening in my room with the curtains closed, drowning myself in my latest book- in words and adventures and worlds far more exciting than my own. I'd stolen it from my brother, just as I did with all of his books, and it was his music choice that was streaming through my earphones and washing through my body. I copied his clothing choices, his catchphrases and even his favourite television shows. I wasn't exactly my own person, if I was honest, but no one else seemed to have noticed. 

I could hear my little sister arrive home with my dad half an hour after I did, her squealing as she scuttled through the front door and his heavy, weary footsteps trailing behind hers doggedly. She dumped her bag in the hallway and curled up on the sofa to sleep, The Tweenies chanting ominously in the background. I staggered back downstairs for dinner, and it was only then that my brother, Aaron, clattered into the kitchen in a surge of cigarette smoke and and noise before throwing himself down onto the sofa, pushing Rosie to the side and changing the channel. 

I didn't bother to greet them when I stumbled downstairs at five o'clock for a drink, or ask how their days had been, and then I ignored dinner when my little sister called up for me. I changed early and clambered into bed. I wasn't tired, but I wasn't hungry either, and I had no interest in talking to anyone. It was curious- this empty feeling, as if my emotion had seeped out of my veins and onto the floor. I wasn't happy, I wasn't sad. I was just empty. It was a peculiar sensation.

My music playlist eventually ran dry and I unplugged my earphones and threw them to the side before closing my eyes and letting the silence wash over me like empty noise. I don't know how long I was there- the minutes exuded into hours until I was balancing on the brink of unconsciousness.

That was when I woke to a hammering at my door- it was eager and impatient, but I only bothered to drag myself out of bed when Rosie's shrill voice followed it: "Larkin! Larkin! Look what I found!" I groaned and pulled on the first shirt I could find before opening the door, dragging a calloused hand- so roughened through months spent scrubbing at dishes at the town's pub each and every weekend. Tedious work, but worth the money I earned for it. 

Rosie was dressed in her pyjamas, her thick dishwater-blonde hair still scraped meticulously up into her school bunches. We had the same hair colour inheriting it from our father, along with our dark eyes, but Aaron seemed to have stolen our mother's dark eyes and pale blue eyes before hers turned grey and she exchanged her children and careful husband with a young man with money and power rolling from his shoulders like rainwater during a thunderstorm. 

In Rosie's hands was a dead bird. 

"It hit the window!" she cried, with a shrill, naive sort of excitement that accompanies children before they're struck with the full weight of life and its shadows. I almost envied her, the way she could hold a dead bird in her hands and only marvel in the way its plumage caught the corridor light and illuminated the scintilla of dirt beneath its feathers. I could only look at it and see the broken neck, the trickle of blood that oozed from the corner of its beak. 

"I asked Dad what kind of bird it was," she continued eagerly. "Do you know what it is too?"

The dark eyes seemed to glare at me, almost as if the bird blamed me for its untimely demise. I tried not to shudder; the cold writhed into my bones like poison, squirming into my muscles like rats in a sewer, tightening my throat and making my entire body tremble, as if I'd been doused in ice. Rosie hadn't seemed to notice.

"Yeah," I said, as my voice cracked. "It's a lark, right?"                      

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