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A group of students was already gathering near the back of the classroom. Finding a gap between the throng, Sora felt the unnatural ease within her fade. Her vision shifted between the mangled visage of a desk, damaged tile floor, and a small section of the brick wall that had been ripped away. More desks were thrown across the classroom and pushed over, leaving an open space near the distorted desk. Chunks of brick were strewn across the ground, wood splintered across the room, and segments of the wax covered tile was shaved away by what seemed claws. Small speckles of blood were visible along the floor and what remained of the desk.
The students around her were white-faced. A few students hurriedly left the classroom the moment they came in and saw the devastation. No one wanted to be the one to talk, so the eerie silence continued, only broken by the soft sounds coming from the hall when the door was opened.
Sora’s legs wouldn’t permit her to leave, her mind ablaze. Kari definitely isn’t human, but what is she then? I didn’t see how she did it, but she had an oddly deeper voice and that strange sound I heard before she did it … I have no clue. The scratches along the floor look like an animal’s claws. A cat, dog, bird? There’s no way for me to tell. How are any of us going to explain this when Mr. Quest gets here? What, Kari took a chunk out of the wall and pulverized a desk because she was angry … we’d be tested for drugs.
Her unease didn’t last long before five seniors came running into the room with cleaning equipment. Sora smelled a similar scent to Lori on them. They scattered the onlookers and started cleaning the rubble, blood, wax shavings, and wood. Two of the girls took the desk out of the room, while the remaining three finished washing the evidence away. After five minutes there were only the scratches on the floor and broken section in the wall. Taking down one of the pictures with putty on the back, they covered up the hole in the wall but were a bit lost in how to cover up the claw marks along the floor. After some muttering between them, they rearranged the desks to cover it up.
One of the seniors went to the front of the room and made sure the door was closed before turning back to the class. “Not a word … that wall could be your face if you don’t keep your mouths shut.” With that, the seniors left.
Sora moved to her seat and leaned back, several of the students apprehensively following her example, a few whispered amongst themselves about Lori’s condition. Everyone will probably say it was like this when they got here; they’re already terrified of Kari and this tips the scale. No doubt a few students will try to transfer after this. This has never happened before, Kari really snapped this time.
She leaned to the side to examine the scratches across the floor. I’m not afraid? Why? Her self-reflection faded as the markings took her interest. Five-fingered or toed, whatever Kari is. Sharp enough to cut through the wax floor and damage the tiles underneath. Mind working back to Kari and Lori’s conversation, she shifted a little in her chair. Her pack, she said, and it isn’t the first time she’s called her group that. Could she be some kind of lion or wolf girl? Like a werelion or werewolf? I guess it would give her an advantage with sports … no wonder she’s so athletic.
She straightened as her ears picked up a student’s question posed to his friend. He’s right … where is Mr. Quest? Looking at the clock by the door, she nibbled at her lower lip. The bell’s just about to ring. He’s usually five minutes early.
A few more students filtered in before the bell rang, but the class was looking pretty bare. At least twelve students were absent. The nervous chatter around the classroom increased as ten minutes passed without a teacher. Muttered conversations ranged from Kari, Lori, Mr. Quest, and the damage to the classroom.
The gossip died as the door opened to reveal an adult Sora had never seen before, carrying a briefcase in one hand and a sealed coffee cup in the other. He looked a little disheveled; like he’d just woke up thirty minutes ago, threw on the first set of clothes he could get his hands on, ran his hands through his hair, and booked it to school. Sora’s stomach shifted uneasily at his appearance. A substitute?
The man scratched his head as he glanced around the class. “A lot of empty seats, I see.” His chuckle died with a sigh. He clicked his tongue before breathing through his teeth. “Right, I’m Mr. Handburg, and I’ll be subbing for Mr. Quest.” Sora raised her hand as he was speaking. “Ahh,” Mr. Handburg looked at her for a moment before saying, “Your name is…”
“Right, Sora. What do you need?”
“What happened to Mr. Quest? Why isn’t he here?”
Mr. Handburg bunched his lips to the side as his eyes shifted to the back wall. He put down his briefcase and began tapping the teacher’s desk. He paused for a few moments before responding, eyes surveying the class as he raised his arms. “There’s no need to worry, Mr. Quest is in a stable condition. He was involved in an accident on his way to school. He was transported to Mt. Sinai Medical Center. The office will be notified when he can receive visitors, so check with them after school if you are concerned.”
The class was deathly silent at his response, which made Mr. Handburg’s right eyebrow raise. Unsealing and taking a drink from his cup, he breathed a deep sigh, before scratching just above his eye. “Any other questions?”
Sora spoke up. “When did it happen?”
Mr. Handburg shook his head. “I—don’t know. I just got the call forty minutes ago that I needed to get here as soon as possible.”
Sora went silent as Mr. Handburg looked around for any more questions. “Okay, well, we can start attendance I guess.” He looked down at a piece of paper that he pulled out of his briefcase and began naming off students.
Sora’s eyes defocused, as she stared at her desk. It can’t be a coincidence, right? Mr. Quest has an accident the day Kari loses it and tears apart the classroom? Yet, he said he got the call forty minutes ago … then his accident would have happened before Kari’s violent spurt. She was running laps with the track team too, so I doubt it was her. Could her brother’s group be involved? Maybe.
Mr. Handburg cleared his throat, jogging Sora out of her thoughts. “Sora, I presume you’re with us?”
She looked up, face flushing before she nodded. “Yeah, Sorry Mr. Handburg.”
He nodded, before taking another sip of his coffee then cleared his throat. “Hmm, let’s see—I wasn’t aware that I’d be teaching today—so I’m not prepared. What was Mr. Quest starting with? I assume you were all getting accustomed to each other—being the second day of school.”
Several of the students nodded, and Sora lost interest as she stared out of the window. What is happening today? Maybe this is a dream. She stared back at the picture covering the hole. I’ve never had dreams this real before. Stress?
Her attention was diverted as two strange scents wafted into the room. She couldn’t explain the smell; she’d never experienced the sensation. Wait … when have I ever smelled something in a dream? Two girls walked into the room. They locked eyes with Sora, and her brow creased. Jin and Eyia?
The two girls walked to the front of the class and stared around. Jin had an unimpressed expression but soon perked up as she saw Sora. Waving, she said, “Sora, I told you we’d see each other again!”
Sora grinned weakly and waved back. “Yeah—nice to see you again, Jin, Eyia.”
Eyia now wore a baggy blue T-shirt, blue jeans, and white sneakers; it looked like she’d raided a homeless shelter. She brought up her hand and waved at Sora for only a moment before concentrating on speaking. “Salutations, Sora, my—those, drinks—fantastic—were yesterday.”
Mr. Handburg frowned as he stared at the two girls and then the roster. “Are you two a part of this class?”
Jin bowing slightly. “Yes teacher, I come from Tibet. I thought I’d try America, so I came,” she said brightly.
“Ahh.” Mr. Handburg looked fascinated. “Tibet! Which part?” He pushed his glasses up a little.
“The Tibetan Plateau.”
Mr. Handburg’s eyes popped, and he whistled. “One of the most remote places on the planet and you can speak English like a native. Very impressive. Any place specific within the Tibetan Plateau?”
“I don’t think you’d understand the language of the village I come from, but we pronounce it like this…”
Jin’s voice and tone shifted in a way that Sora couldn’t even begin to describe. It made her hair stand on end and sent a shiver up her spine. Every student’s face went white as they heard Jin speak. The way she said it tightened Sora’s tongue.
Mr. Handburg’s mouth silently moved as if trying to puzzle out what she had said, after several seconds his eyebrows rose in surprise. “Is—that right. Well, you’re correct. I don’t understand it at all.” He laughed.
Turning to Eyia, he looked up into her eyes with raised eyebrows. “What about you—Eyia?” He tested it on his tongue for a moment. “Eyia … sounds Nordic and you have a remarkable resemblance in characteristics to the people?”
Eyia nodded, she licked her lips and put on a focused determination. “From Norway—Island off coast—far.”
Seems she still has a lot to learn. Sora mused. What’s up with Jin though? What was that noise?
Smiling widely, Mr. Handburg said, “I see, and you seem to be making great strides at speaking English! Fantastic, I love the great melting pot.” Looking over at Sora he said, “You two have already met that girl in the back, Sora Moore?” He questioned while looking at the attendance sheet.
Jin nodded. “Yes, she bought our groceries yesterday, and we had a small chat.”
“Wonderful.” Mr. Handburg said with a beaming grin in Sora’s direction. “The two seats next to her are empty. You can take those.”
The two girls walked back to sit next to Sora, while everyone around the room shifted with unease. Are they nervous about them associating with me and thereby entering Kari’s crossfire or the strange way they introduced themselves?
As they sat down, Mr. Handburg pulled out their assigned history book. “Now, shall we begin?” He looked back down at the attendance sheet. “Richard, can you pass out the history books? We’ll just cover something interesting today since I wasn’t given any reference material.”
Sora’s head drooped to the cold desktop. How can I think about anything, but what Kari did this morning and what happened to Mr. Quest? Sora pulled her hair out of the way, shifting to stare at Jin. She was humming in an interested manner as she grinned down at her. “What’s up?” Sora whispered.
Jin leaned back with a small chuckle, she studied the scratch marks across the floor and the picture hiding the broken brickwork. Head rising, Sora turned to Eyia; she wasn’t smiling as she considered the damaged areas. The way Jin acts … she’s got to know something. How do they even know about the damage behind the picture? Who knows, maybe they just like the picture.
Jin’s unusual eyes centered on Sora. “So—this is what school is like in America? I saw unruly children in the halls. Is that tolerated?”
“Hmm. I don’t know what you mean by unruly?” Sora questioned.
Shrugging, Jin turned to listen to Mr. Handburg with apparent enthrallment. Eyia also seemed fairly interested. He was talking about the American Civil War.
Sora wanted to ask them what they knew and why they’d followed her to school. She wasn’t buying the whole transfer student guise; she knew they were up to something. I met them randomly in a store yesterday. They talk in an extremely odd language, Jin calls Asgardian like it explains everything, and then expects me to know something about them. I guess I do recognize some unique scents on them today … what am I even thinking now.
She sat back and glanced over at Eyia’s sparkling eyes as Mr. Handburg explained the First Battle of Bull Run. This has to be a dream. I can hear and smell things like a bloodhound. Kari punches through brick and twists desks around like paper. I met random people that came looking for me, and it seems like they want to be friends. Said new acquaintances smell odd and act weird. Right, what did I think Kari was, a werewolf or werelion…
Sora breathed out a depressed sigh as she let her head sink to the desk again, hair tickling her nose. I have snapped, it’s official … I even stood up to Lori … Kari attacked her. Is this a nightmare or fantasy?
“Sora—something boring you?”
Sora sat up, pulling her hair back. Mr. Handburg and the entire class had their eyes locked on her. Rubbing her temples, she shook her head. “No, sorry Mr. Handburg. I just have some things on my mind.”
He nodded. “Ahh. I understand you’re worried about Mr. Quest. Try to make it through the day though. I was told he’s in a stable condition, so don’t worry too much.”
Sora returned the nod, and he began his talk again. Jin and Eyia eyed her for a moment before their attention shifted back to the discourse. Sitting back, Sora puffed out a soft breath, and then all her angst washed away; her worries about everything being a dream turned into smoke in her mind. She began fantasizing about lunch and shifted between scents until she found the delicious smells again, feeling her saliva build. Lunch can’t come sooner!
* * *
Once class ended Eyia and Jin lifted from their seats. Jin pursed her lips as she stared outside. “Sora, what time do we exit study?”
“Do you have first or second lunch?” Sora asked as she stretched.
Jin’s features pacified for a moment. “The one you have.”
Confused, Sora asked, “Second lunch?”
“Then I must have second lunch,” Jin said with a smile. “What time is it?”
Sora laughed silently. These two are so weird, but they’re the only people besides Kari’s group that will talk to me, so I don’t have many choices in conversation. “Twelve-o-five.”
“Where do you meet for lunch?”
A wry smile spread across her lips. “Wait, do you two still not have any money for food?”
Composure faltering, Jin cleared her throat. “Um, yes well—we may need a little more assistance.”
A warm smile replaced Sora’s grin. “Sure. I was thinking about going down to a restaurant for lunch. Do you want to meet somewhere at twelve-o-five?”
Jin’s composure returned. “That sounds fine. Where would you like to meet?”
“How about the south parking lot sidewalk, whoever gets there first will wait at the end.”
Nodding, Jin gestured for Eyia to follow. Eyia looked down at Sora. “You smell nice today.”
They both left through the door, leaving Sora taken aback. I smell nice today? Okay. She shook her head. I need to get some more info on them. Wait, she said that pretty clearly … did she practice that phrase? Maybe Jin taught it to her … too odd.
Getting up, she made her way through the halls to her next class. She paused as a conversation caught her ears.
“Did you hear?”
“About Lori? Yeah, I heard she went to the Brazilian Steakhouse.”
Leaning against some lockers, Sora listened to a few of Kari’s gang members whisper among themselves. She could smell the same odd scent from them as the seniors.
“Makes sense … I mean what did she think would happen? Gathering us and not even telling Kari … I’m glad she didn’t blame us!”
“Yeah, but what Kari said … do you really think Lori was talking to Devin?”
“Who knows, she’s stupid if she did. I mean, you know who Devin is, right?”
“Like, a leader in Kari’s brother’s pack or something?”
The girl seemed to hesitate. “We shouldn’t be talking about this. You know how Kari is if you mention Devin, much less her brother … you don’t want to end up like Lori.”
“Yeah,” another girl interjected, “but what about Jenny? We haven’t seen her … could her brother be involved?”
“Let’s drop it. Okay, Kari will tell us if we need to know.” Another girl said and ushered them to disperse.
Sora frowned while staring at the ground. Kari’s brother does have a gang. Are they in some kind of war? I can’t imagine high school girls fighting an adult gang. No, judging by the conversation I doubt they are in an actual fight since Kari’s own members don’t know much. It’s probably some family political drama, and her brother is in charge of a real gang or a part of some mob group.
Her thoughts were broken as someone called her name. Looking up, she saw two of Kari’s gang members approaching her; Sarah, a Hispanic sophomore with bleached hair and Brianna, an African American freshman that desperately wanted to be with the popular crowd.
“Sora, you missed a bullet today,” Sarah said with a smirk, while Brianna crossed her arms next to her.
Sora couldn’t smell anything special about them other than strong perfume. She sighed, feeling slightly irritated. “Sarah, still shaking down middle schoolers for pocket change?” Wait, why did I start with that?
Brianna scoffed, moving in closer. “Humph, why would she need to do that when we have a rich girl like you?”
Crap, they’ll push for lunch money now. Sora’s gut tightened as they closed in. Concern constricting her chest; both girls looked at each other with raised eyebrows. Sarah smiled, placing a hand against the lockers by Sora’s head. “When did you get this bold?”
Sora’s hesitation evaporated as a heavy cloud of annoyance filled her mind, all fear and doubt vanishing. She turned to Brianna. “Hah, know what’s funny? Maybe if you saved your money instead of buying Cartier perfume, you could afford lunch.” What? No.
“Excuse me!” Sarah demanded. “Does the little rich girl have something to say to us?”
Sora’s demeanor didn’t waver as her thoughts cleared. “You’re excused since I realized you’re all tramps. Look at it this way, without me, you’re nothing, you have nothing, because your daddy,” she said to Sarah, “and your mommy,” she said to Brianna, “decided they didn’t want you. So, now your poor parent must work extra hard to provide for your harrier tails … oh, I’m sorry, you probably don’t know what that means.” Okay, stop now!
“What?” Brianna took up position to block an escape.
Sora pushed forward, thoughts shifting, to stand an inch from Sarah’s face, making her back up in surprise. “You heard me, tramps. Now,” turning to Brianna, Sora asked, “do you want to start something or are you heading to class?” Bringing up her watch as they stepped back, she continued, “Because, second block is going to start soon … oh, that’s right—you failed Math last year. So, maybe you don’t know how to decipher a watch. What would you two do without me?” Snickering, Sora walked past them, leaving both to gape after her.
Reaching the next hallway, she felt her legs almost give out. She leaned against some lockers, everything she’d said gripping her psyche. What am I turning into? I’m a monster! It was like I could feel the venom leaving my lips…
The remorse and fright were instantly quelled as pride filled her chest. It was perfect! A smile lit her cheeks. No, yes, why am I so conflicted? I need to talk to Mary! What’s she going to say though … I should talk it out and sip tea? No, I don’t need Mary. I need my bullies to leave me alone and if I can give them a little taste of hell while I’m at it, all the better.
Confidence brimming, Sora strolled toward her second block class.
Synopsis: The online game <