- VI -

As it turned out, the resourceful conspirator living in Room 245 did not require the use of words to carry out her conniving objectives. In compliance to her roommate's demand that she refrain from uttering one word to him again, she took great pains to avoid speaking to him… at a price.

As if Pandora's Box had been wedged open during their last quarrel, Shana's devilish side emerged with the vicious force of a woman scorned. Within the span of a week, she transformed into a silent, scheming hellion whose sole purpose revolved around tormenting Callum Aldridge.

She became his permanent desk mate in Biology and sweet-talked their teacher into consenting after Callum had voiced a complaint. Claiming that she was willing to take responsibility for the frog incident, she had persuaded Mr. Banner that she and Callum would benefit from sitting together since they were model students. However, she soon revealed her true aim to humiliate him, for she took every open opportunity to point out any mistakes or wrong answers he wrote on the board and tattled on him whenever he began to doze off behind his textbook. And Callum, who placed prime importance on his public image, could not risk exposing his real personality by calling her out in front of the class, especially when she was right in all these occurrences.

After school hours, she always managed to find him wherever he tried to hide, be it in the library, gymnasium, cafeteria, or men's restroom. During these times she would press her cell phone to her ear, speed dialing Mason and initiating a very loud one-way conversation on how arrogant, lazy, and rude her roommate was. She did this whilst pretending to not notice his presence and made certain that everyone within a twenty-meter radius could hear her.

Alternately, one day while he had taken a call from his mother, a knock sounded on their door. Shana opened it and found Ryan standing there. He greeted her with an enthusiastic, "Hey," to which she replied, "OH, YOU MUST BE THE MALE ESCORT SERVICE MY ROOMMATE, CALLUM ALDRIDGE, ORDERED. THAT'S HIM ON THE PHONE WITH HIS MOMMY."

In addition to her indirect attacks on him, she ceased all efforts to clean their room, and in fact aided the accumulating mess by taking up the ghastly habit of becoming an indolent slob. This resulted in their area of residency turning into somewhat of a toxic site and a major candidate for EPA intervention. Not only did dirty clothes litter the floor, they were accompanied by wadded up paper, used tissues, half-eaten pizza, empty soda cans, several candy wrappers, and the carcass of a dead mouse. Furthermore, she had slammed the door in the face of Callum's cleaning service, much to his annoyance.

She accomplished all this without verbally communicating with him a single time. As she was obeying his order to refrain from directly addressing him, he could say nothing to her without having to sacrifice his pride. She thought herself a worthy adversary to his enmity, having concocted several different ways of delivering blows to him without compromising her position. This went on for quite some time with Callum failing to strike back. She figured, without any explicit plan for vengeance, he had to resort to ignoring her for the time being.

At the start of the third week of school, a school-wide announcement detailed plans for establishing the first ever Piano Ensemble of East Clallam Academy. Shana, who had been arranging to criticize the oral report Callum had just given in front of the class, nearly fell out of her seat as soon as the school secretary finished relaying the message on the intercom. Students interested in auditioning were instructed to sign up in the lobby of the music wing.

Her heart flipped in her chest as her classmates murmured amongst themselves of the news. A Piano Ensemble? Fate surely played a part in this phenomenon, for she never would have thought that she'd consider going out for any extracurricular activities at East Clallam. And now there was a new club—one related to piano—forming as soon as she arrived there? Surely, this was some sort of heaven-sent compensation for her roommate gripes.

She reveled silently in her happiness until Callum took his seat beside her and dropped his report on top of his binder. Her exhilaration took a dramatic plunge as she snuck a glance at him, her eyes narrowing. Then again… he may have been the reason for the sudden proposal of the Piano Ensemble. Although he hadn't made an open statement about it, people were beginning to learn of his disappearance from the music industry. This was a likely attempt on East Clallam's part to coax him back.

In any case, regardless of the basis for the new group, she planned on signing up.

Mr. Banner drew the class lesson to a close and dismissed them early. If Shana hurried, she would likely be the first at the music wing. Momentarily forgetting about her grudge against Callum, she slung her backpack over her shoulder and hurried to the door. But just as she crossed the threshold into the hallway, an obstacle in the form of Ryan blocked her progress to her destination.

"Hey, where are you off to in a hurry?" he asked as she glanced past him in impatience.

She considered them friends, but he had been sticking rather incessantly to her side as of late, so much that she could no longer remember an hour when she didn't see his face. She didn't particularly mind it, but she was currently too preoccupied with another matter to stand around conversing with him.

"I want to be the first to get to that sign-up sheet," she answered, deciding to step around him to continue down the hall.

He turned and followed her, keeping up with her quick strides. "You mean for that Piano Ensemble thing they announced? Oh, that's right… you play the piano."


"Are you thinking Callum is going to go for it, too?"

Shana's lip curled in a disgusted sneer at the preposterous inquiry. "I think the Apocalypse would destroy the planet before that narcissistic ice cube ever goes near a piano of his own free will, much less one in a room with a dozen other people."

Ryan chuckled. "Still not getting along, I see. What's going on, anyway? You two aren't even talking and your room looks like the dorm's communal dumpster. Oh, and I didn't really appreciate being identified as your roommate's 'male escort service' the other day, just so you know."

She grinned at him as the bell rang for the other classes to end. "Sorry about that. I was just messing with him while he was on the phone with his mom. But," she went on heatedly, "it's gonna be this way until he surrenders first and faces me like a man. Until then, this Piano Ensemble could be a way for me to de-stress." Acting the obnoxious imp certainly did take its toll.

Ryan passed by Paul across the corridor and waved to him before hurrying to catch up to Shana, who was already turning the corner. "Changing the subject from your roommate to the Ensemble, the way they went about broadcasting that thing made it seem like it was pretty important, as if whoever thought of the idea wanted everyone to know about it pronto."

"You don't say," Shana commented absently as she slowed her pace and started to look around.

"Yeah. To me, it sounds like the Prefects are behind this." His brow furrowed as he contemplated the notion. "It has to be. We're already three weeks into the school year, and they just now decide to start a new club?"

"Uh, Ryan?"

He blinked at the baffled note in Shana's voice and snapped his gaze to her. "Huh?"

"Could you show me the way to the music wing?" she asked sheepishly.

He paused and stared back at the confounded look on her face before bursting out laughing. "Sorry, I hadn't been paying enough attention to realize that we were going the wrong way. But yeah, it's this way. Here, we have to go back down this hall…"

They had to backtrack a considerable distance to take the correct route. As they walked together past several students cluttering the hallway, Shana mulled over Ryan's musings on the motives for the Piano Ensemble's formation.

"What are the Prefects?" she questioned.

Ryan's face took on a hesitant look as he spoke. "Student leaders of the school. They're the ones who organize school events, finance school facilities and projects, and pretty much run the entire campus. The only ones they answer to are the headmaster and the chairman. Other than that, no one goes against them."

She raised an eyebrow at the description, surprised to learn that such a student group existed. "Are you serious? Who are they?"

"That's the thing," he replied, shaking his head in puzzlement. "No one's ever seen them or anything. No one knows who they are, where they meet, or why they're keeping their identities a secret. And it's a mystery how they choose their new members. It's just been this way ever since the academy opened. Some people question whether they're even real or not, like they're some kind of image the school is putting forward or something. But again, no one really knows."

"So what would they have to do with the Piano Ensemble?" she asked as they neared the doors to the music wing.

He waved a hand for emphasis as he said, "They're the ones who start and cut school activities and programs all the time. It's just like them to suddenly decide that they want a piano club set up. The question is why would they want to start one now? I really don't get the way they do things…"

Shana pondered his statement. What would be the reason for casting such a high degree of secrecy around a student organization? The concept cooled her passion considerably and slowed her steps once they entered the main lobby. Ryan detected the change in her demeanor and turned to study her unhappy expression.

"What's wrong?" he asked in concern.

She stared at the sign-up sheet lying on the table several feet away. "I'm wondering if this is actually a good idea."

The idea of the Prefects, whatever they were, brought on her doubts about the program. She grew cautious, unwilling to sign herself to something shrouded in mystery. However, Ryan's next words made the decision for her.

"If you're worried about the Prefects having anything to do with this program once it debuts, don't be. As long as all of you who make it in do your best to make this thing successful, they can't touch you. Student talent, especially in music, is one of the most important things in this academy. Just give it a try, do what you love, and don't let anyone stop you. That's what East Clallam is all about."


Shana's spirits were noticeably higher by the time she returned to her dorm room. Even the sight of the polluted interior failed to hinder her good mood as she shoved the door open over a pile of molding socks. She appreciated Ryan's statements of motivation, especially after she had taken him as a simple guy—perhaps even somewhat one-dimensional—but he had proven her wrong.

Thanks, Ryan. I'll be sure to make it up to you.

Shutting the door behind her, she kicked several empty chip bags and water bottles out of her way as she trudged a path to the other side of the room and flung her backpack onto her bunk. The unmistakable feeling of her roommate's fuming stare burned into her back and reminded her of the resentment still blazing between them. Glancing behind her, she spotted Callum sitting stiffly at his desk, which was half buried in numerous articles of clothing.

She almost found the scene humorous, had his angry glare of eternal hatred not been directed straight at her. Clearly, he was even less fond of their current quality of living than she was. Both of them were quickly running out of clean (and even partially clean) clothing to wear for class, and their room had gained popularity as the most revolting area in the entire dorm hall. A rather unappealing odor had situated itself in their spaces and tended to leak out into the hallway, knocking out passing residents on a regular basis.

Really… you brought this on yourself, Aldridge, she snickered in silence as she broke their eye contact and climbed into her bed, fishing a rubber band out of her pocket. Lying down on her back, she weaved it around two of her fingers and used it as a slingshot to fire the wad of gum she'd been chewing onto the ceiling.

The sound of a pencil snapping in half caught her attention. As she looked over the side of her bed, she saw Callum with his back to her, one fist clenched around the fractured pencil and the nails of his other hand digging into the notes in front of him. He was livid.

A cynical expression crossed her face as she aimed the rubber band at the stack of paperclips sitting next to his papers and let it fly. It was a clean shot, scattering the paperclips in different directions and sending some to add to the mess on the floor. One even embedded itself in the eraser he'd been using for his homework. In response to the attack, three of his fingers twitched as his shoulders literally shook in rising fury.

The intensity of his rage prodded her to reexamine the boundaries of how far she was willing to go. She had been playing at this for a lengthy period and had been pitiless and cunning toward her chosen nemesis. He had held up valiantly against her ruthless efforts to deflate his image, but it seemed that he was reaching his limit. The pressure weighed in the room, conveying the sense of his frustration and murderous intent in the air.

Maybe she was finally breaking through his resolute pride? It seemed like a gamble for the tipping of the scale, but the thought provided her with the encouragement she needed to at last bring an end to this game.

She decided to go in for the killing blow.

Producing her cell phone from her other pocket, she faced the ceiling again and dialed a particular number while sliding her free arm behind her head on the pillow. As she became the spitting icon of relaxation and languor, the person on the other end picked up.

"Hello?" came Mason's voice.

"Hey, dude! So get this, today there was an announcement during class saying that they're going to start a Piano Ensemble here. I ran straight over to the sign ups once our teacher let us go. So I have an audition in two weeks, and I'm thinking I'm going to have my dad send over my keyboard so I can practice in my room every single day until the audition," she prattled on, fighting back a malevolent grin.

"…He's there listening, isn't he?" Mason asked dully, quite used to Shana's random phone calls at different times of the day, each one aimed at purposely spiting her roommate.

"Yeah, that's right," she chirped. "But you know, what's-his-face doesn't really like the piano anymore so I thought I'd be considerate and play at night while he's sleeping so he doesn't have to hear it." Knowing full well that Callum was a light sleeper, she smirked at the image of him shooting up in bed, eyes bloodshot, while she pounded out Handel's "Messiah" at full volume in the middle of the night.

Mason sighed in exasperation and said, "Shana, I think you're pushing your luck a little too much. This baiting scheme you've thought up is obviously doing the opposite of your original goal when you decided to run off to that academy. And you don't even really know the guy, right? Are you sure you want to piss him off like this? If he gets mad enough, how do you know that he won't… oh, I don't know… kill you?"

Shana snorted at that, completely impervious to the prospect. While Callum was indeed emitting waves of homicidal aspiration toward her, there was far too much at risk for him to actually carry out any criminal acts. Besides bearing the fame as a former musical prodigy, he was a member of the esteemed Aldridge family, positioned as one of the heirs expected to succeed it. He couldn't afford even the slightest charge of misdemeanor without tarnishing the Aldridge name and forfeiting his claim on his inheritance. Shana had already taken this into consideration before delving into her unyielding (and absurd) pursuit of Callum's friendship, as unorthodox as her methods were.

"I don't think I have to worry about that. Besides, if the guy can't even bring himself to wash his own underwear, what makes you think he'll put in the effort to accomplish that?" she twittered scornfully into the phone.

The other side of the room had become eerily silent. So engaged was she in her disdainful diatribe, however, that she failed to notice the uncanny stillness surrounding the vicinity of the desks below.

"Did I tell you how gross our room has become? We're literally living in our own filth," she declared, successfully steering the discussion from news of the Piano Ensemble to disparagement of Callum once again. "Our floor is covered in trash and there's even a small rodent cemetery developing near our window. It's all because my roommate is too lazy to do something about it."

"Shana…" Mason began in a warning tone.

"Seriously, you'd think I was living with a sloth judging by the amount of productivity that goes on in this room," she continued with derision. "He lounges in here all day and doesn't do anything but homework. I mean, yeah, that's a good thing to work on, but he could at least contribute to the maintenance of the spaces, you know?"

Mason let out a noise of impatience and attempted to get a sentence in. "You really should cool it—"

"He's also really selfish and looks down on people who don't have as much money as he does," she went on, relentless in her determination to drive her point home. "But the thing is, he always runs away from confrontations. He ran out on me twice while we were in the middle of arguing, and now he's forbidden me from even talking to him. What the hell?"

As she poured forth all her grievances concerning the young man she'd once idolized, her coinciding emotions flooded into her voice and resulted in an overall acidic tinge to her words.

"With an attitude like that, I'm shocked at how successful he was in the music business." And thus, with that statement… commenced the process of hitting below the belt.

Mason immediately sensed the route she was heading and tried to intervene. "Hold it, Shana. I don't think this is something you should be talking about in front of him. You said yourself that this subject was off limits, right?"

The springs of her bed creaked beneath her shifting weight as she slowly sat up. Several seconds of silence passed as her mouth formed into a hard line. Then, filling her diaphragm with a large intake of air, she launched into the most explosive of tirades. "Forget what I said and listen! That so-called musical prodigy is nothing more than a spoiled, self-centered hasbeen with a shitty temper and the personality of a hacksaw! The 'eloquent speech' and 'advanced vocabulary' he uses in his daily life are just sarcasm that has been filtered through one too many dictionaries, and every damn sentence he directs toward other people is an insult in disguise!"

The tension in the room thickened.

"He obviously hates the human race, as can be seen in how he treats his own father, who loves him even though he's such a rude and callous person," she seethed, sounding absolutely like a teenage girl instead of the boy she pretended to be. "I don't see how his managers could stand him before he developed a phobia for the piano. Also, I should mention that no one other than his family and paid employees have ever actually seen him write his compositions. You know, since he feared the light of day and shut himself in his room whenever possible."

She was now frolicking merrily into the threshold known as bullshit, and it was welcoming her with open arms as she continued to spout off an unremitting stream of unsupported inferences and plain untruths about her roommate's past.

As far as Mason was concerned, it made little difference whether Callum Aldridge was an antisocial prodigy or the reincarnation of Mozart. "Shana, what are you getting at—?"

She tilted her chin upwards, her very air degrading the existence of the second Aldridge heir. "I'm questioning whether he really is the musical phenomenon we all thought he was."

To say that she had crossed the line by this point would be an understatement. She had taken a bloody chainsaw and carved out her initials in it before obliterating it completely. There was no longer any line to serve as the barrier against the unforgiving demons of Pandora's Box. And the worst part was that she was far from finished.

"Think about it. Those songs appeal to the human emotions of compassion and empathy. That guy is nowhere near compassionate and is barely even human, and he comes from a very wealthy family that could have paid his way to his 'prodigy' image," she insisted with absolute confidence. "Which leads me to the issue of his sudden withdrawal from the music industry. He seriously just tapped out. Just like that. You'd think with all his success he'd be more grateful to his fans and their support, but no. He doesn't care about other people enough to consider those things, so he took the cowardly way out and ducked down without having the decency to give anyone an explanation."

Mason's voice sounded desperate for her to shut up. "Okay, okay… I believe you. Now would you please, please… shut your goddamn mouth… and go take a walk to chill out," he ordered calmly, slowly. "Did you hear me, Shana? Get. Your ass. Out of. That room."

Unfortunately, she was now scowling at the phone, mistaking his caution for her wellbeing as a defense for Callum. "Don't bother trying to speak up on his behalf, okay? Whichever way you look at it, he's nothing but a pretentious failure."

Something in the air snapped.

In the blink of an eye, the phone flew out of her hand, having been swatted away by some mysterious force. Before she could even react, her body left contact with her mattress as two hands seized her forearms in vicelike grips and sent her flipping off the bed in a variant suplex. Her engagement in the air appeared in slow motion. A flash of dark hair caught her sight as her back made impact on the solid floor below. The breath was promptly knocked out of her upon her landing, and she struggled to refill her depleted lungs by gasping and choking in much needed oxygen. Her vision blacked out for a moment and then returned with an array of dancing stars. Sharp pain shot through her entire body.

A heavy weight descended upon her abdomen, partly obstructing her breathing. The same merciless hands that had thrown her down came up to pin her wrists over her head. Through her hazy gaze, a pair of hazel eyes burned into her with a ferocity she'd never seen before. There was nothing icy, cold, or frigid in that blazing glare. Coupled with the hate was a raw passion that had sprung free from its dormancy after so long, and it assaulted her senses in every way possible as it grew to unattainable heights.

The source of those six compositions.

As her attacker leaned over her, his lips hovered a mere centimeter from her neck, and she shuddered in a mixture of fear and exhilaration as he whispered soft words of malice into her ear. "There is such a thing as saying too much. If you had wanted to die so badly, you needed but ask. Your ambiguous games and incessant terrorization have earned you my regard as a formidable opponent. However, you have also provoked a desire to break your spirit. For your sinful words, I will inflict a fitting punishment. Do not speak, and succumb to me."


A/N: If you're confused about where the plot and characterizations are going… that makes two of us. This is the last written chapter since I never had the time to continue the story (last worked on it in 2008). I'm leaving this posted, but don't know if I'll pick it up again. Thanks for weathering through this entire… thing. Here's some complimentary brain bleach!