This is the first six of a 16-part series, at least based on the fact my last part was chaptered “P”, that I wrote for my previous workplace’s
#creative-jams channel. I originally wanted to only share B because I felt that was my best part out of everything, but I thought it wouldn’t capture (a) the meaning of the title and (b) my thought process on writing this.
Apologies if some of it’s kinda mediocre. Although I was friends (technically, classmate) with a bully in primary school, it’s not like I knew what shenanigans they were up to during lunch time.
The sound of light droplets hitting what was presumably a pool of water gently brought her back to her senses. Except, it was louder than she expected. This peculiar phenomenon was made stranger by the fact that the sound was only heard on one ear.
The other was assaulted with a muffled gush of flowing liquid.
Like a computer starting its systems one by one, the next thing to function was her sense of touch: she was half submerged in a shallow river, the water only reaching up to her mouth.
But as her eyes open, she retracts her assumption:
It was not a shallow river within the beauties of nature’s landscapes.
Carrying out my daily routine, I approach the table in my classroom and carefully angle the drop of my bag over the side hook, the handle catching on perfectly with a swing, yet not have the whole thing dramatically flip.
I promptly sit at the plastic chair in reverse – my legs spread awkwardly around the seat as I hang my chin over the backrest. It was a “posture”, if you could call it that, cringeworthy to ergonomists.
I face the table of Kathleen, a girl with straight, just-past shoulder length hair. Other than maybe having adorable face for my standards, appearance wise, nothing really stood out about her. Or rather, it was more like she was trying to avoid standing out, considering she was incredibly quiet.
Engrossed with the chemistry textbook that was out on her desk for a solid ten seconds, she notices something in her peripherals: someone was watching her. Without moving her head, or any other part of her body, her eyes shift upwards to face me. “Umm, what’s up?”
“Err… how are things? You seem a bit out of it today.”
She puckers her lips, assertively shaking her head side to side. “Nope... what specifically makes you say that?”
“I dunno. You look pretty tired. Oh, and pale, at that.”
“Mmm...” She tilts her head, extending her hum generously for a few seconds – “well,” – before she dismisses it with an effortless shrug. “There’s just a few things I had to sort out at home.”
“I... see. Well, hope it wasn’t – or isn’t, too stressful on you.”
The girl smiles. “No, no. I should... have it all figured out, thanks for your concern. A greater worry right now, is finishing this.” She points at a section of the textbook with a bunch of numerically listed questions.
“Haha, well, I’ll leave you to it, then. Let me know if you need some help.” I could’ve given her the answers to my homework, but that’d be irresponsible of me.
“Cheers. Will let you know.”
There actually was a reason why she couldn’t start yesterday’s equation balancing homework.
But saying it was “a few things to sort out at home”... was a total lie.
Underneath a three metre long, dark green banner labelled Kalgia High School’s 21st Anniversary!, a boy and three girls sat near the entrance of the school hall. Inside the strong timber polish scented arena the size of two basketball courts and a bit larger were stationery and equipment of various kinds, ranging from black cloths and paint buckets, to gas stoves and bamboo steamers.
The boy finished tying up a balloon with a red textured ribbon attached, releasing it as it floated upwards until it was stopped by a beer keg, just like the rest of the hundred or so balloons that they were tethered to.
“Alright, we should probably go on a lunch break.” He looked to the rest of the three girls. “I think it’s a good idea that we have someone stay here to supervise the equipment. Uh, Lissa, you wanna hold the fort?”
A tall girl with a ponytail wearing low-profile glasses puckered her lips. “Hmm, I need to stop by B block ‘cos The Ella wants to talk to me about stall prep. Katie, wanna come with?”
Kathleen looked up briefly. “No, it’s okay. I’ll volunteer to stay back.”
The remaining girl, small in stature unlike Lissa, stood up. “You sure, Katie? Any orders for lunch?”
“Probably just a ham and cheese open grill for me, thanks.”
“Alrighty, coming right up!”
As the group of three promptly turned the corner of the entrance out of her sights, Kathleen resumed inflating the remaining balloons with the helium dispenser. She wrapped the neck of the balloon with a long length of ribbon, stretching both her arms as wide as she could to measure a fathom’s length, before cutting with scissors.
Kathleen repeated the process another six times. Halfway through inflating her seventh, a loud bang resounded close to her ear, echoing across the wide open space. Her release of the balloon caused it to circle the hall in unpredictable curves with a high screech.
She turned her head to find the perpetrator of this unpleasant surprise – a boy with bleached, short-cut hair, complete with a studded earring. Of course, his clothes were in shambles, shirt untucked and slightly stained with something like charcoal, near the bottom end on the right side.
“Asking to be left alone? Huh. You looking for trouble or what?”
Here we go again. Kathleen knew better to stay quiet when people like him were around.
It was out of experience.
The boy looked behind his shoulder and waved his arm in a circular motion, beckoning his other friends to come over. “Hey, check it out! Free shots at laughing gas here. Take a whiff – she won’t do anything to us.”
One of the other boys who had walked in through a side entrance (to which Kathleen, and the rest of the prep crew, thought should’ve been locked), mocked him, laughing. “Pff, wow, d’you hear that? What a dumb shit. Bro, that thing’s helium. The one that makes you sound like a chipmunk.” He was holding a phone in one hand, angled perfectly perpendicular to the ground, his full attention on it as he made his appearance.
Kathleen internally agreed at his stupidity, but it didn’t stop them from making a mess of the scene. The studded earring kid was fast to hold her down on her seat, to stop her from standing up to prevent his friends from playing around with the equipment.
“Hey, don’t touch me... stop!” She crawled out underneath his hold, but he quickly locks her shoulders onto the floor, pinning her down in position. He took the liberty to also straddle on top of her to prevent her from kicking. She shook her arms to fend off his grip – but even for this boy with a thin build, she was no match for his strength.
One of the boys in the group obtained a pair of scissors from a nearby table to take some of the balloons from the keg, passing them around to the rest. Another held a box cutter, slicing the end of the balloon to let the air out, as he inhaled.
“Hey, pass one over here!” The boy pinning Kathleen down asked. “Anyways, someone help me out and keep her down.”
The other two, who had by now had their voices affected by the helium, replied in a high-timbred tone. “Roger that, coming right away, sir! Hehehe!”
Kathleen had her mouth blocked by one of the boy’s hands, the other hand pinching her nose, blocking off all paths of her airway.
“Give you some of this!”
Kathleen’s body started to scream as her lungs lacked much needed oxygen. One of the boys released his hand from her mouth, whilst another stuffed the opening of a sliced balloon in her face, giving her no choice but to breathe in the gas. The three boys pinning her down ensured there was to be no opportunity for her to move her head around.
“Any words you want to say?” The two boys got off her and scurried over to the beer keg to move it out of the hall. The one with scissors taunted Katie by opening and closing the blades with both his hands.
Studded earring kid, who was still on Katie, leaned in. “Tsk, tsk. Katie, you’re gonna have to communicate to tell us what to do. It’s an important skill, y’know. Sure would be a shame to have all of your efforts go to waste now because you’re too scared to speak up, huh? Khhh... heh!”
Kathleen was not going to give in. She knew it was going to be alright; she didn’t have to respond now...
At that moment, she heard the shouting of a female from outside. “Hey, what the fuck do you think you’re doing with those balloons?”
Hearing that voice was the panic signal to cause him to get up off Katie, abort all operations. “Oh shit, back up, back up! Let’s go.”
“Yeah, shoo, ya cockroaches! Also, seriously? Did you guys really just mistake helium for nangs?” The high register voice unmistakably belonged to Lissa.
“That’s what I tried to tell him!”
Silence ensued for a few seconds, before Lissa bellowed into a laugh, which was quite unladylike for her. “Haha, really? Try explaining that to the principal once I turn your to-be sorry asses in.” She whisked her hand to tell them to leave. “Fuck off.”
As the boys scattered away from the scene, Lissa approached Kathleen, who was still lying supine on the floor. “Geez, are you okay? Did they do anyth–?”
Her gaze focused towards the balloon left on the floor beside her. Looking at the situation, it was enough information to put together an explanation.
“Haah, what the hell, those people. Hey, take a rest. I’ll figure something out.”
...She would respond later.
“Wh, what do you want from me?”
“I’m not asking for anything from you. I’m just here out of obligation.”
A man with stubble, possibly in his early to mid 40s, stumbled past the woman who was clad in a dress, likely black, considering it gave off no colour despite being illuminated by the dim yellow street lights that made it through the windows. What he saw – or rather, heard, before him was unbelievable.
The woman continues. “You don’t have to do anything. I don’t either. It does make it harder if you do, though. For you, that is.”
She was in no rush to follow after the man. Even in the dark, she could discern him through noise. His silhouettes would move against light; he wouldn’t get far anyway.
The woman found herself walking through a hallway, turning left into a spacious room just as soon as she heard something close shut, in tandem with brief rattling. A table with chairs tucked in was set up on right. He was on the other corner of the room, as he turned around.
There were many questions to be asked, with unexplainable answers.
How did this freak manage to get inside a locked house?
It was hard to see, but it was clear he was holding something in one hand.
How did she know how to end up here?
The woman continued to approach the man, as he breathed harder, like suffocating.
“Hah... is there something f-fundamental that’s missing from what I’m understanding, HUH? Heh, hehe... a, a-am I insane?”
“No, there's no missing piece of this puzzle; the reason I'm here is dead simple. You, insane? Well...”
He pulled out a long, serrated knife, its blade briefly visible as a reflection, demonstrating its length. “Do NOT come any closer, you hear me?”
The woman halted briefly at his demand. “Oh, then how am I supposed to explain to you why I –”
“I don’t, need, a fucking explanation from someone –”
Mid-sentence, he lunged forward, the woman oblivious to the fact that she had ended up in the perfect position for him to carry out his attack.
“– that I've already killed yesterday”
15 minutes into history class, the phone in his pocket vibrated. He looked up at the teacher who was engrossed in reading from the textbook in his left hand, and writing notes on the smartboard with his right.
“It was a contraption so common that these ideas are the kinds of things kids would think of first to use as pranks. But, alas, at the end of the day, pressure sensitive traps were cost effective and simple enough to get –”
The boy leaned back in his seat, and brought a hand into his pocket, reading the notification on the lock screen of the phone he pulled out.
Yo dude, wanna jig class for a game sesh? I’m all set up at the sports hall. Meet ya there?
Perfect. Exactly what I need right about now.... He couldn’t have really cared less about tactical war techniques in today’s modern world where there had been no conflict for a solid century. Okay, actually... maybe it might prove useful in Liquid Bullet IV: Online.
The boy had already started to sweep the stationery off his desk, if one could say he had any. Besides, it would be wise to carry little, if one intended to skip class.
He took a deep breath, and “chhh” – sneezed, loud enough to cause the heads of most classmates to turn in his direction. He covered his face with a hand. “Ooh, err...” Snorting with vibration using the back of his throat, “Can I, uh, go to the bathroom for a sec?”
The teacher tilted his head forward through his glasses to look at the boy, simply uttering a few words – “hah, just go” – before going back to the board. The boy promptly took all of his belongings and left the classroom, the teacher and other students unaware that his bumbag was the only thing he had on him coming into class.
She brought herself up from the floor, supporting the weight of her body with one hand, then two, with pain, then her knees.
Where she was in... was instead an alleyway in an avenue off a common road, where no street lights managed to light the path well: only the dim, yellow-lit rectangles of the buildings’ windows scattered here and there. Past the multiple large bins lined up along the kerb, her gaze stopped at a gutter pipe that was the source of all the water that indiscriminately passed by her.
She briefly looked down at herself. Drenched completely with not a spot left dry from the puddle of drain water she got up from, she gathered the mess of her hair and swung it behind her back. Then, with both hands, she reached into her skirt pockets to search for... nope. No hair tie.
The action brought attention to her right arm, which, even in the dim light, was visible a deep tinge of purple – yet her left wasn’t – confirming the soreness that came from the former.
She was still in her school uniform. Her white button-up shirt, which clung to her skin, was stained with washed, but still visible, deep red patches originating from the right side of her body.
Something felt off near there. She twisted her waist the opposite way from what felt like a dislocation, as some of the bones lodged back into its position. It was a short lived pain, quickly replaced with a sensation – or rather the absence of it – that she knew felt more ‘right’ than before.
Her memory a few hours prior to being here was hazy at best; though, some of the pieces were falling together. She at least knew she suffered some kind of lethal trauma to the side of her body. If she didn’t, then there was no reason why she’d end up here.
A gust of wind blew into the alleyway... but there was no need to shiver.
As she stood up on both feet, the numbing sensation in her head was promptly replaced with foreign anger. She herself wasn’t particularly in a mad mood, but she could observe – and sense indirectly – a painful urge to settle matters.
Namely, the individual or group of people who was responsible for getting her here in this state.
She didn’t know who, or even what the face of this person looked like. But it was like instinct. A strange, ethereal navigator that led the way to the target.
She knew where to go next.