[contains mild swearing]


2. Chapter 1

C H A P T E R   O N E


Ugly cracks obscure the mirror, cutting the once pristine glass and leaving it to bleed. I catch a slightly distorted reflection of myself as I pass. I lift my hand sub-consciously to my face, feeling the rough edges of the scar. My fingers trace over the broken skin- it no longer stings the way it used to. In the past, any sensation against the wound would be enough to reduce me to tears. I was young, but I knew that the pain hurt so much more than any of the cuts and bruises I had accquired from the playground. There was nothing that induced more pain than the sharp sting of that scar. 

The bell rings now. I pull open the door, only to hear the familiar clacking of heels. I shut the door immediately. My heart sinks.

I retreat to the far end of the bathroom, flinging my bag under a sink. I grab a tube of product from the side of the sink in haste. I glance up at the mirror, pretending to touch up my non-existent mascara. My heart pounds beneath my chest. I see my reflection clearly for the first time today. The foundation has covered the scar up to the point where it is hardly visible. It looks almost . . . normal. Almost. Regardless, relief seeps into my veins- it gives them one less thing to tease me about.

The sound of laughter draws nearer. I feel sick. Predictably, the door swings open seconds later. The overpowering scent of perfume -without a doubt the newest and most expensive - tickles my senses. I have no time to hide in a cubicle- so I stand and try to make myself as small as possible, in the futile hope that they'll ignore me or won't see me. No such luck. Of course.

"Hey, Indie," it's hard to miss the patronizing tone in their voices.

I try to compose myself, but my face flushes.

"Hi," I reply, my voice trembling involuntarily.

Isabelle laughs. "What are you doing in here? Shouldn't you be scuttling off to class?"

Amy joins in, "Yeah, you've got to keep your grades up, don't you? Be clever and all that. Unlike some of us, who can rely on our natural beauty to have a successful career. Not swotting nerdily over textbooks. Gross." They giggle.

I grab my bag from under the sink. The shade of red on face continues to deepen.

"Just leave me alone. Please." I say, trying to push past them.

Stella grabs the collar of my shirt. "Woah, not so fast, bitch. Where's that ugly scar on your face gone? Don't tell me it just 'vanished' overnight. Where is it?"

"It is g-gone," I stutter. Pathetic.

"I'm not that stupid." Stella retorts. She reaches into her handbag with her free hand and retrieves an expensive looking spray.

"What are you-" I begin, but before I can continue she attacks me with the substance. I try and shake her off, but she shoves me to the floor. The others laugh.

"Bye bye, bitch. Enjoy your new look!" says Amy. The door slams shut behind them.

The liquid stings my eyes. I wipe my sleeve across my face to remove the worst of it. I regain my balance after a minute or so,  and immediately stumble over to the nearest sink. I splash cold water onto my face to get rid of the burning sensation. All my foundation has washed off, including the scar coverage. Especially the scar coverage. Several fresh, angry spots are appearing too. Tears sting my eyes, but I repress them. I blink rapidly as I pick up my bag, and grab a tissue to dry my face. The bell signaling the end of the first period rings. Crap.

- - -

When I finally burst through the door of room seventeen, I am greeted with a unanimous hush. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting, but I quickly realise that a documentary is being shown. I slip to the back of the room, attempting to make as little noise as possible. At least in the dark no one can see the disaster that is my face. The teacher hands me two slips of paper. One is a warning slip for missing half of the class, the other is the objective of this lesson. I squint to read the small print-

'Lesson 3- Objective: to watch and fully understand the documentary on the dangers of poor electricity management. [Evaluation and discussion next week] No notes need to be taken today. Just watch. And focus!'

I stifle a sigh, turning my attention the screen. In the film, a teenager is flicking on his lamp and climbing into bed. This is met with several sniggers from the class.

"What a bloody wimp."

The teacher immediately shushes them. The film continues to show the boy placing a teddy on his table, so that it leans against the lamp. More laughter emerges from around me. The boy then falls asleep, and the film skips ahead to three in the morning. The boy is woken by the shrill wail of his smoke alarm, and he stumbles clumsily out of bed.

He needs a moment for his eyes to become familiar with the dark, but he rapidly realises what is happening. A bright flame flickers to his left- the place where he left the teddy by the lamp. His eyes widen in horror and he grabs a duvet to try and smother the flames, to no avail. The fire only grows. He grabs his phone and hurries out the room, making his way outside. He steps away from the house and dials 999 immediately. He is coughing a little as he speaks.

A sudden feeling of nausea overwhelms me. I feel faint. I close my eyes for a moment.

A thick, heavy smoke crept silently into the room. The fumes took advantage of her innocent vulnerability- young and asleep. It was not until the awful wail of the smoke alarm began that she woke. She shot up immediately, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. She could feel a strange sensation in her chest, explained seconds later by an uncontrollable coughing fit.

The darkness had concealed the flames, but she could feel the prickling heat against her skin. She cried out, her screams piercing through the night. Nobody came to her rescue. She yelled and yelled, unaware that she was offering a smoother passage for the smoke to fill her lungs. Tears streamed down her face. She didn't know what to do. It was only when she began to struggle for air that she realised she was unable to breathe. She could feel herself slipping out of consiousness, entangled in fear and panic. 

I realise that I am gasping for air, desperately waving my hands about to fend off the non-existent smoke. My heart races, pounding violently against my chest.

"Deep breaths." a boy from my class is standing beside me, looking concerned. I follow his instructions, and my heart-rate gradually slows. 

"Are you okay?"

I felt the smoke. I felt the flames licking my skin. I felt it.

"Yes," the lie slips from my tongue before I have time to process what I've said.

The boy is visibly relieved. "Okay, that's good. Class finished five minutes ago but I told sir I'd stay just to make sure you were okay."

"Thank you." I say gratefully.

The boy smiles, "take care." He grabs his bag and leaves.

I remain in the classroom for a little longer. My hands are still shaking, and my heart is threatening to speed up again. I just can't shake the feeling off. I don't know what happened. I don't know what I saw, or who the girl was, but  it felt so real.

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