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She laid restlessly in the darkness. Her coarse fingers pushed away brown hair, tousled from periodic turning. Removing the covers, she was no longer shielded from the daylight that shone through the glass. She rubbed the few hours of sleep from her eyes and waited to regain strength in her legs.
The morning was silent. July had long ago ended. As she dangled her feet at the side of her bed, she scanned her surroundings for a last time. A rusty armoire, broken chairs, imported water glasses, a mannequin that wore all scarves that she owned, and countless photographs like shadows on dull, orange walls. Her eyes locked on a single picture. Attached to the wall by a thin strand of tape, it danced alone amongst idle ones. The moment of the particular picture was vivid in her memory; while others were store bought, it was her own creation. She removed it from the clutter of expensive works and placed it in her suitcase.
On the floor, she found a box. It was wrapped in navy paper and tied with a white bow. Carefully, she pulled the threaded string and the bow collapsed. The paper seemed to fall just as easily. Inside the box was a pile of her mother’s designs. She unfolded a pair of jeans and heaved them over her thighs. After she fitted them around her waist, she forced her head through the opening of a small white shirt, covered in purple beading. A silver bracelet buckled around her
wrist, a plain band pushed onto her finger, and two stones clipped to her ears. She gathered the rest of her belongings then touched the metal of the door. After a deep breath, she twisted the knob and threw it open.
It was still early, six o’clock at the latest. She rubbed her hands on her new jeans. Stepping forward, she could see herself in the mirror. Tangled hair fell below masculine shoulders, her lips stained red as strawberries, and vibrant green eyes that screamed for attention. She stared for a long while, then allowed the hallway to guide her to the living room.
Her parents waited to greet her. Choking in their arms, she was suffocated with kisses. Her brother entered the room, enabling her to escape. She stumbled to the front door. Leaning on its thick, foggy glass, she was able to make out figures in the yard. A rake with a broken spike, an empty pot, a lonely bird feeder, a scarecrow perched at the edge of the terrace. On either side of a narrow passage, gardens were drowned in blossoming roses. She was mesmerized by a single petal that floated downward until it hit the surface. Minutes later, the wind had buried it with soil.
She was again cornered by her parents. As liquid spilled off their cheeks, they guarded her in their arms. Eventually, they were forced to release her from their shelter. They opened the door for their children to walk out into the courtyard. The girl felt the heat of the pavement decrease with each step. As she walked, the smallest of pebbles weakened her delicate feet. These rocks had been cemented to the Earth, and only a couple had detached from its surface. But these few outcasts would soon be kicked to the fringes of the pathway where they too would be embedded in the soil.
With the sun hidden behind dark clouds, the sky appeared to be a mirage. A painting perhaps, that had been completed by showering an incessant canvas with numerous shades of gray, in order to hide a single drop of orange. As she observed the marvelous design, she approached a small vehicle. It was rounded at both ends, and the body of it seemed to rest upon its black foundation like a dome. She grasped the handle of the car door, then allowed it to slip from her fingers. Her brother opened it.
The girl fell into the automobile. To make room for her brother, she skidded across the seat. Her eyes focused on a device lounged in the corner of the car. It was a small figure that lurked around the darkness like an animal hunting prey. Scanning its surroundings through a minute cavity, it managed all that occurred within its circumference. The girl sat frozen; she was fearful of what might happen if she did not abide by its unspoken decorum.
The conveyance crept along the road. It passed every vehicle, as if superior to all other creations. Hours had passed before it reached an occupied region and halted. Without acknowledging the driver, the girl scurried away. Following a dirt road, she dragged her luggage closely behind. At the sight of a large building, she ceased. Its body stood high with hundreds of acres at its feet. Red brick was plastered to its frame, and windows appeared as small holes equidistant from one another. A sign was positioned outside the edifice; it read “Darlington Boarding School. Rome, Georgia”.
A bell chimed in the distance, and the echo nested in her memory. As silhouettes approached the wooden barrier, she shook with apprehension. Like soldiers, they marched through the doorway. Hourglass sculptured bodies emerged from the structure, their blonde hair fluttered in the wind. Blue eyes distinguished themselves upon golden skin. Girls wore plaid skirts and stockings, cotton tops with gray bows, coats that shimmered in the light, and stiletto
heels. Their faces were masked in blankets of foundation and blush. The boys’ apparel consisted of black slacks, leather shoes, heavy jackets, and navy blue shirts that buttoned around their necks.
The recruits proceeded on a dirt path without addressing their newest additions. They paraded on the clay walkway until they were some distance from the girl. When they were no longer in view, she skipped across the road to make her own route through the grass. With her brother following, she nudged the door open and stepped into the hall.
The sound of their footsteps rang throughout the corridors. The aisles were lined with locked, metal boxes. They were painted blue, yet there were numerous areas where the paint had begun to peel off. Under this dark blue paint, a lighter aqua color remained. After curling over the sides, the blue paint appeared to dissolve into the air. Although the spots were noticeable, it was obvious that they would always be ignored. She placed a finger upon the metal and ran it along the row. Dirt from the lockers had engraved into the creases of her finger. She observed the dark blotch that remained, then strolled to the end of the chamber.
It split into separate hallways. To her left, students were engaged in conversation. They were huddled closely and spoke in hushed tones. They bowed their heads in amusement. Corrupt, heinous laughter polluted the air. From the center of their assembly, a child appeared. She wore dark attire with black mascara smeared across her face. Crying, she pushed through the crowd and disappeared into the murk. After witnessing the incident, the girl and her brother began down the divergence on their right.
They focused on a wooden door in the distance. The white barrier was dismal against the blue walls. As they proceeded, details became clearer. Marionettes were carved into a plank that leaned upon the door, a gray lock that hung from the knob had been hinged open, and through a slight crack in the lumber, they could see a line of children wrapped around the outside
of the building. They struggled to push past the sturdy door then listened as it slammed behind them.
The girl followed the snake of students that coiled around the school. When she reached the end of the line, she stopped. As she waited, she observed her peers. Every one of them towered over her. When they passed, she feared that their fangs would inject her with venom that would circulate within her blood and leave her body numb. This poison that had smothered innocents in the past could readily capture her soul. Shaken by this idea, she avoided having any company.
The line inched forward. She was swallowed by the crowd. Gasping for air, she escaped from the stomach of the faction to its mouth. Watching from the outside, the girl discovered that the beings formed a larger body. It was a body that churned in irritation each time that an individual was liberated. Before given the chance to reposition herself, a key was placed into her palm. She was again sucked into the abdomen.
Her neck bent forward. As she stared at the ground, she became intrigued by her surroundings. Meekly, her eyes began to wander. They fell upon the footwear of those around her. Her own shoes were flat and colorless. Her mother had designed them to fit comfortably around her ankle. But, there were brightly decorated feet around her. Although they remained turgid and bruised, each girl had thrusted their feet into expensive heels that had caused boundless misery. Masks, glossed with immense smiles and pleasant eyes, were hardly able to conceal their pain.
She found a path that enabled her to avoid the bulk of children. Through corridors she journeyed. The hallways were fenced with doors. They were propped open with stacks of
books and boxes of school attire. Next to them, numbers were chiseled into metal plates that had long ago rusted.
At the end of an aisle, she attempted to read a neglected sign. As the metal was dirty and the door shut, she assumed that it was vacant. Luckily, her key slid into the lock and the door glided open. Stepping inside, she studied her new environment.
Dark walls condensed the size of the room, blinds had been destroyed by insects, and beds were mattresses that appeared to be packed with rocks. She lifted her luggage onto the counter then approached the window. With the afternoon sun settled, the light in the atmosphere would soon begin to dim. A field of tree-spotted grass and a small body of water were visible through the glass.
Leaving her belongings, she exited the dormitory. Aimlessly, she wandered throughout the halls. Tired and alone, she seated herself in the corner of a cafeteria. Because meals would not be served for at least one hour, the room was empty. The lamps were extinguished; therefore the only light was that which shone through small cracks in the window panes. All was silent. For a while, she felt tranquil and content.
The doors sprung open, and three girls strutted through them. Due to their arrival, the girl rose. Settling in front of them, she intended to introduce herself. They shoved her to the side then settled themselves in chairs. The girl sat quietly on the floor where they had left her. She watched as the girls arranged themselves in their seats. Their legs were crossed at their ankles, hands folded neatly in their laps, and they sat upright as if in conference. Their lips were glossed pink and their cheeks powdered a similar color.
They sat whispering for several minutes then stood up. Snickering, they turned on the
lights. Students piled into the cafeteria. They kicked past the girl that struggled on the floor. She attempted to stand but was immediately pushed back to the floor. Carelessly, they herded over her. A girl’s stiletto heel pierced her back. Bleeding, she scrambled to her feet.
She pushed through a crowd that she held no place in. Striding towards the door, she was trampled once more. This time, however, she remained on the cold tile.
To others, her pain was insignificant. Crying, she dragged herself to an opening. After drawing herself to her feet once more, she stumbled through the grass. She tripped in small patches of dead flowers and scraped her knees upon sharp rubble. Her wounds were expanding, and she cringed as debris began to reside in them. These cuts and bruises presented no obstacle for her escape, for her body was numb.
As she cantered through a thicket, she slipped into the underbrush. Trees were apparent in the distance. Stabilizing herself, she trotted toward the forest. She climbed over intertwined branches and winded about the numerous trees.
Ahead of her lay a dirt path that was masked by a canopy of leaves. They had become buried in the soil after crashing to the Earth.
The end of this route was imperceptible. It was eleven o’clock, and all light had vanished. As the darkness began to strangle her, she continued to scamper through the trees.
She fell to her knees at the side of a brook. Attempting to cleanse herself of all infamy, she began to drench herself in water. Frigid, it pierced her skin. She refrained from bathing in agony.
Staring into the water, she examined the reflection. It was something she did not
recognize. Water dripped from the skin of a pale child. Its eyes were somber, lips ashen, and cheeks charred from excessive humiliation. In disapproval, a ripple engulfed the image.
The abasement that had brought it to the river’s end was soon forgotten, for it leaned into the rush and pressed its lips upon the water’s surface. It kissed the current, but next to the stream it was but another broken branch.