This is not your average story.


2. Chapter One

C h a p t e r   O n e 


Writing. A pen in her hand, and a bracelet of faded red scars encircling her wrist. Writing, writing, nothing else, nothing but. No time to think of anything but the robotic scratch scratch scratching of blue ink pen on crumpled yellow paper. Words jumbling in her head, then tumbling frantically onto her sheet in her clumped up, spiky handwriting. She never looks up - her eyes creasing into concentrated slits, her brain twisting itself into messy contortionist positions and trying desperately to keep up with a pen that can’t stop scribbling.
A hand slams down upon her desk, its fingers strong, tanned, smoothly muscular. “Francesca?” She pauses writing, barely for a second, to study her own hand - clutching at her biro with knuckles bleaching white from the strain. Pale skin to match pale hair, and a pale, pale personality. She doesn’t raise her head. Scratch scratch scratch. She doesn't stop scrawling: a rushing, gushing river of words pouring from her pen nib. It's addictive, writing. She couldn't stop if she wanted to. 
“Francesca?” the owner of the hand says again, his voice grating against her skull with a fist of icy hellfire, mashing her thoughts into an incoherent jelly. She’s powerless to do anything but write, her words looping into flower stalks, and cities, and trees that climb high, high, high out of this classroom, this country, this life.
“Francesca!” barks the man, once more. This time it’s not a question but an order. Like a schooled soldier, her head snaps backwards, her face painted with a paste of shock and confusion, like she doesn’t understand. Her pen falls to the table with a hollow clattering. She smiles at it, and at her teacher, the printed contours of her cheeks cracking and crumbling down her face in a flaking, aching rainfall.
“Sir?” she replies dutifully in her clear voice, void of emotion. He glares back at her, his full lips distorted into a mandatory scowl. Scathing. Hating.
She’s used to being hated, but she hates him more.
“Stand up,” he snarls, and she stands abruptly, silently, listening to the baited breath and giggled whispers of her classmates, the mechanical whirring of the fan on the wall lashing against her head with tendrils that cut into her skin, forming rugged, blazing race tracks across her arms, and her eyes, and her face. She and he are the only ones on their feet – him slouching languidly, an acrid smile easing its way onto his lips – her rigid, a straight-backed board of abhorrence and apprehension. The man – her school master – gestures to her page, stained with the residue of her writing. In her hand, her pen itches, twitches, longing to resume its plodding, stomping trek across her paper. It wants adventure - it wants a change from the monotonous ease of the placid serenity of everyday life. 

The girl sticks out her chin defiantly: it's a challenge, a goading insult thrown into his smugly smirking face. "Sir?" she prompts him again, dressed in an outfit of scholarly innocence. "Did you want something?" 

A vein in his forehead pops - a sudden, pulsing stab of molten crimson. With one swift, fluid motion he yanks the page from beneath the girl's idle hands, the cold gaze of his eyes boring into her own, stopping her from yanking it back, squealing a protest. Holding it aloft like a commandment from Hell, he proceeds to read the contents in a screeching, raking voice, not seeing and not caring for the girl's dull eyes dying slowly. He feeds like a parasite on the laughter of her class mates, playing up to their amusement with a vicious glee. The girl named Francesca sags forlornly, standing alone at her desk with bleeding eyes and a weeping heart. Alone, entirely alone, as the contents of her soul are split open, passed around her hungry peers with malicious intent - sung loudly, bravely, with a metallic ringing that might be laughter or her pounding, throbbing head - she can't tell, and can't find the energy to mind either way. 

At last it is over - she's liberated all at once, in a tremendous rush of shuddering realisation that her teacher's stopped reading, stopped mocking - and she's no longer a slave to the pain her classmates thrive on watching - and she sinks to her seat as an empty, unthinking shell, an overwhelming feeling of blinding relief washing over her with all the force of the unmovable mountains she reads about in books. Stories. She wishes that her own life - what little, pathetic life it is - was a story. In fairytales, the demons are defeated, and the good prevail, and the life they are subject to is entirely a figment of the imagination. Fantasy, make believe, a thousand and one separate names describing the same simple thing. 

Her demons - the writhing, twisted creatures that hide within the depths of her soul - will never be conquered. She is not the demon conquering sort, no matter how hard she tries. 

This does not bother her, not like it once did. She is finally, finally, ready to give in and she just. can't. wait.

Soon she'll be flying high, flying free. Flying away from this place, this hell hole she's ended up rotting in. 

She smiles to herself, and the bell for the end of period trills. As it always does. A class of children get to their feet in a chorus of scraping chairs, feet stomping towards the exit in an orderly melody, the same as it always is. They don't stop to think of the sameness, or the tranquility, or the eerie precision with which they rise, together as one, a united student body of dazed, unfocused eyes, and lifeless faces. As they always do, day in, day out. They focus only on their next lesson - just the next flight of stairs to climb in their infinite, ongoing journey - pushing and jostling each other in a friendly good humour. Francesca joins the crush, tagging along at the back of the rippling, surging snake of hairy adolescents, her head downcast to stare at her feet. A hand reaches out behind her, grasping at the top of her thigh. Her eyes widen, startled, and she turns around to find the face of her teacher leering down on her, his hand still on her leg. She shoves it away with shaky fingers, shuddering in silent disbelief as she stares at him, his features unabashed and unashamed. Wordlessly, she turns away, her vision a haze of blurry colour, dancing too quick for her to make out. 

She takes a breath, reminding herself that she won't have to cope much longer. 

Without thought, her feet whirr into action beneath her, propelling her forwards till she's once more part of the infinite surge, and she sighs, and she tries not to think, because when she thinks - when she lets herself feel, truly feel - that's the moment when her monsters emerge. 

She craves to let them loose, set them like dogs upon her consciousness, but she knows she can't. Not yet. This is not the time. When her monsters emerge, there's no stopping them. There's no turning back, or chance to pause the game, change her mind. When her monsters come out to play with her feelings her brakes break, and her heart stops, and she can't do anything but submit to the roaring in her ears, and the pain that stabs her in the back, and cripples her, distorts and changes her till she's no more than a wreck, lying helpless on the floor. 



Dead, dead, dead. 



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