Every night for the past two weeks, the girl had crept out into the sable night to survey the street she'd seen in her dreams.
Tonight felt different. There was, indisputably, an energy in the otherwise calm night air that hinted at a possible success.
She slinked down the sidewalk, settled in the middle of her preferred cluster of bushes on the corner, and leaned against the semi-wall of the ramshackle manor behind her whose hedges in which she now cowered.
Just as the unspeakable cold's edge was wearing off, fading into numbness, a slight movement in her peripheral vision caught her full attention. And suddenly, then, all the weariness was gone from her, and the hours of missed sleep, the paranoia that accompanied sneaking out was worthwhile; they'd finally come. The procession was even more fantastic than she'd imagined.
It was too dark to see the details; she'd catch them in the daylight. She'd just wanted to be present for the grandiose arrival. Despite the darkness, the silhouetted figures were magnificent. The huddled mass crept slowly down the road.
The girl didn't notice time passing until the parade was directly in front of her. Upon snapping back to reality, she decided to go back home and rest. Heaving herself off of the ground, she walked alongside the group, on the sidewalk; the shiest of all, in plain sight.
Once home and in bed-teeth brushed, window screen replaced-she dreamt of the majestic creatures she'd seen marching so purposefully down the avenue. If she could have such a sense of purpose! This called to mind the question of why exactly they'd come. All good things to those who wait, she assured herself. So, she rested.
In my dreams, a dark, massive figure loomed over me. A mortifying sound, so loud that I willed myself to disappear as it overwhelmed my cowering soul thundered out, It was only when I began to shrink back from the shape that I noticed the solid hand gripping my own; I squeezed my eyes shut to try to amplify its calming effect; but soon I felt my reassurance slipping, subtly sliding away into the blackness to my side. My eyelids crept up in unison with it, until they were completely
What day was it? Grandpa had left last night, so it must have been Thursday. The weekend would come around soon enough. The procession would conceal themselves for a few days, at least, recovering from their long journey that they insisted on making on foot.
This meant that for the moment, I'd simply have to do my best to focus on business as usual.
Bracing myself for the first energy expenditure of the day, I heaved myself off of my mattress. So much for the idea that four hours of sleep would cut it. In order to preserve the little attentiveness I had, I began to prepare for school methodically, sticking to a routine.
I'd always been intelligent-I'd considered it my only "gift," from which all talents sprouted. But intelligence is nothing without hard work, and unfortunately, I never had a particularly long span of attentiveness to dull work. I was always particularly introverted, as well. So, my morning routine is an excellent opportunity for "alone time," quite possible my favorite part of the day.
Except that it occurs in the morning. The word "morning," the concept of "morning" is all well and good and yet…I find the actually thing to be perfectly horrible. Hence, a precarious balance between peacefulness and what can only be described as unrelenting grouchiness.
On my way to the front door, I grabbed a handful of granola for breakfast, missing my parents by an unfortunately narrow margin, and stepped over the threshold to begin my walk.
Everyday, I paid as little attention to my walk as was possible so that I could become absorbed in deep thought. Today, I was mulling over whether, if such a widely accepted "axiom" is disproved, such as in the case of Marylin vos Savant, what, then, should it be called?
As I bickered back and forth with myself, I noted the absence of the neighborhood denizens that generally spent their mornings outside, sitting on their porches, gardening. Either way, they were mostly elderly people and by nature, superstitious. However, I knew that they couldn't have heard about the city's "visitors."
Huh. I hadn't heard about any free blood glucose meter giveaways or diner breakfast specials.
Wishing to investigate but unwilling to be late, I pushed forward.
Upon arrival at school, it was easier to see things in a more routine perspective. The halls bustled, the jeers were obnoxious, and the books were heavy-it was a bit of a buzzkill after the previous night. Most unfortunately, though, my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Zimmerman, liked to turn the news on, against the wishes of the administration.
As the topic on the prompter shifted from global economic fluctuations to the prior night's parade, the gazes of my classmates also shifted-to me. I became a bit uncomfortable. I allowed my focus to creep to the various faces around the room, until one caught my attention, and not just because it failed to front a glare. He was, instead, smirking. I'd been at the school for a couple of weeks, and knew only the names of the kids I had classes with-I hadn't really talked to anyone.
Though I was new to this school (one of two in the town-the public school and the small private school), I had lived in this place for years, and, well, most people on earth knew about this boy.
So it surprised me a bit that he would be the one not to get edgy towards me.
While I was attending the school on a scholarship, which was nearing expiration after only a couple of weeks (it was a flat grant) most of the students came from frivolous, materialistic, unjustly affluent families with bloated opinions of their own self-worth. Jetthro's family was probably the most powerful and well-known in the greater are (as in, the continent). His parents owned much of the free world-his father specializing in business, contacting stock trades, utilitites-while his mother majored in technological achievements.
Yes, the Fulminis duo had many things, but children were not among them. Jetthro was their only child, adopted even before birth.
Breaking free from my intrusive train of thought, I put my head down, pretending that I'd pay no mind to the unrelenting stares. Just in time, the bell rang. I quickly scooped up my belongings and swiftly (as swiftly as possible with the whole room watching) left the classroom without bothering to look back at the boy who was "full of lightning."
Unfortunately, my classes were even plainer than usual (somehow). When the end of the day finally came, I headed absentmindedly for my locker, preparing for a dull half hour in the school library. Upon opening said locker, however, a remarkably uncreased envelope fell into my lap.
Finding it unmarked, I slipped the letter into my backpack and set off, dismissing it as an accident, a stupidity, and ran home.
Four months later, I was spending lunch, as usual, in the school's "library."
The school's paltry collection of media materials was housed in a wing that was nearly empty of students at all times. It had a clean but unfrequented smell, and was always slightly cooler than any other building. The temperature seemed to complement the immense volumes of paper, but antagonize the dark, crisp forms of the ink used to inscribe the grainy pages. Finding a clear table with ease, I settled with a book and sandwich to pass the boring break, which was just long enough to eat and not quite long enough to be considered enjoyable.
Becoming engrossed rather quickly, I failed to notice a small cluster headed toward me-until my head snapped back, away from the novel.
"I promised I'd be back for you."
Last week, I'd stepped on the toes of some of the wealthier students. While I still can't be sure exactly what I did, what I knew was that I was going to pay for it. I wondered how bad it would be, allowing scarier images to materialize in my brain…
"Please let go of me," I responded reasonably. There was no help in saying something that would anger the girls further.
The "its" chortled wildly.
"What do you think? Let her go?" the queen asked, daring the other girls to defy her. None spoke. "Yeah, I think you're right," she snapped, yanking my head back further and further by my hair. My neck was bent over the back of the chair. I slid forward to alleviate the pressure.
"I don't think so." The monstrosity stomped on my leg, wedging me into an upright position. A tight, sharp hand materialized at the base of my throat. At first, the pressure tickled a bit-in a sick, unnatural way-but as it wound up my neck and contracted further still, I was captured by the horror of the situation. Tears of vain frustration began to well, against my will. Would they make it worse?
As the pressure continued to intensify, specks of red and black began to tear across my vision. Confused, I thought of my family, crushed by my disappearance. Did these girls aim to kill me, for nothing? It seemed unlikely, ridiculous-teenage girls, killing? However, these girls knew that they could get away with absolutely anything. Was I to put it above them to not get what they wanted, when it would cost them nothing? The grief was more devastating than the pain-it took me to a different place. Perhaps this was just a natural part of death.
"What do you believe in now, pig? Squeal. Squeal like the pig you know you are."
The word rang profoundly-only partially due to my delirium. It took me a moment to realize-the world was becoming sluggish-that the pressure had let up significantly in that very instant.
And, slipping ever further into my grave, I saw a graceful, jagged figure. Though upside-down and oxygen deprived, I recognized it as Nadi'tra, one of my most treasured heroines, a member of the "procession;" a descendent of a long tradition. Her peers honored the archaic traditions of their ancestors. It was ironic, this situation.
Before I could really react, the girls had fled upon sight of this fantastic creature. I felt disoriented, limp, exhausted. The beautiful Nadi'tra approached me; I let her situate me into a sitting position. I was flattered; my mind was becoming less clunky with every slight movement of my head.
"Are you alright?" she asked. The tone of her voice was contradictory; it showed concern, in a dignified, detached manner.
"Of course," I said. Alertness was returning to me, little by little.
"As you have probably discerned, I was sent for you. I came for you."
I blinked a few times, unsure of the context of the words. "What do you mean…how did you know I'd need you?"
Nadi'tra flashed a look of frustration and replied, "I came. For you. I chose you."
"I don't understand. Chose me for acts of charity? Because, at least today, that seems the only thing someone would chose me for. I don't really have any-"
I immediately snapped my mouth shut.
"I chose Syntyche Melpomene. To be ours. To join us."
I remember that day like it was yesterday, and believe me, to say as much would be far from true. The draft, the subsequent hyperventilation-it still feels so real. Don't misunderstand-I love our alliance (I did then, too) but joining it was different. Joining meant understanding that you must leave all you have ever had behind-and that you may never see any of it again. Without any choice on your own part, you have run away.
I recalled my tragic thought of my family in shambles over my death, which had come to me during the near-strangulation incident. Now that would become reality-but it wouldn't be quick, and there could be no closure. My parents would have to live everyday knowing that their child was out there, fighting for her life. Wondering if she was still alive, if they would see her again. Knowing what little they could hope for.
Despite having longed for such an occurrence for years, this was never truly what a wanted. It was a dream of getting out, of getting away, far away from the stillness, the perceived nothingness of the town that I was convinced was dead, that was dead to me. The long hours I spent, gazing mournfully out the window, staring at the sky and feeling as if it could, did look back upon my face, drowned in the monotony to which I attributed everything that was wrong with my life. In those tense, intolerable moments, I felt the sky crash on me with overwhelming heft, and I accepted that it hated me, hated me with its entire begotten existence for allowing myself to be confined in the bleak, dilapidated remains of a township where the gap between the wealthy and working-class was disgustingly vast.
On the day that I learned my "true" name (Syntyche Melpomene-attractive, huh? You know you're between a rock and a hard place when you can't remember your birth name or pronounce your current one), I realized why this yearning was considered strange. This life is a hardship; this life is a sacrifice, and a heavy one. Of course, as with most sacrifices, I am rewarded with a fulfilling life.
The thing that I remember most about that day-that I will always remember about it-is the look of confusion, anger, and horror, horror to the point of nausea on his face when he walked in upon the motley scene. Allow me to explain…