Immediately, Emma began to feel the same sensation she had felt in Doctor Richards’ office. She was numb, aching and stinging all at the same time and a little gasp escaped her mouth as the pain overwhelmed her. Luckily, it didn’t seem as intense as it had been when she’d looked into Doctor Richards’ eyes.
Emma waited a few seconds after Carmen had gone and then emerged from the staircase.
“What was all that yelling about?” Emma asked, her curiosity piqued.
“None of your business,” Josh snapped.
“Dear Carmen just has a little bit of a temper problem,” Rein remarked, chuckling.
“Oh,” Emma mumbled, once again falling into silence. James was the one who broke it.
“Are you Emma?”
“Yes,” Emma replied.
“I’m James,” he introduced himself.
Emma pegged him for the quiet type, despite his devil-may-care appearance.
“So what should we do?” Lester asked, once again styling his hair. “I didn’t come here just to watch Slime and you guys meet.”
“Don’t call me that name,” Emma snapped.
“And why not?” Lester taunted.
“Because it’s overused by unimaginative brats who can’t think of any other insult to shoot at me and, because of the overuse, I find it not emotionally hurtful but just incredibly annoying,” Emma spat.
“Whatever, Slime.” Lester seemed quite taken aback. “If it annoys you, it still does its job.”
“And if I were to call you Lisa for the rest of your life? If you call me a non-hurtful but irritating name, I can call you a non-hurtful but irritating name too. Do we have a deal, Lisa?” Emma demanded fiercely. She was quite touchy when it came to the word “Slime”.
“We sure do, Slime,” Lester accepted, with a face as superior as he could muster.
“Lisa. Lisa. Lisa. Lisa. Lisa. Lisa. Lisa. Lisa. Lisa. Lisa. Lisa,” Emma taunted.
“Slime. Slime. Slime. Slime. Slime. Slime. Slime. Slime. Slime. Slime. Slime,” Lester retorted, raising his voice to be louder than Emma.
“SHUT UP!” Josh yelled over the both of them.
“Stop acting like children,” Callum scolded.
“I applaud both of your efforts in this little argument, though I don’t applaud the way it ended,” Rein expressed.
James was silent, observing the exchange between Lester and Emma.
“If I had a dollar each time anyone called me Slime, I would change it into five-cent coins, put it in a sock and beat everyone with it,” Emma huffed.
“Charming,” Callum commented.
There was a silence in which Lester and Emma had a stare-down, until Rein coughed.
“Um, could we do something fun?” Rein asked.
“The Final Destination marathon is on tonight! They’re playing all the Final Destinations on TV!” Josh exclaimed suddenly.
“Sick!” Lester said excitedly and reached for the TV remote. He flicked through the channels and found the channel where the horror movies were playing.
Still irked by Lester, Emma sat in the leather armchair while the guys sat down on the two cream couches.
Emma was only half-interested in the movie, mainly because of the fact that horror movies freaked her out big-time. Instead, she was thinking about how her encounter with Josh’s gang was going so far.
Yeah, they probably hated her.
Why did she have to be so defiant and sensitive about her last name? It sucked. Because of her defensive nature, she had started a juvenile argument with Lester, meaning that Lester obviously couldn’t like her at all. Josh, too, thought she was annoying (the feeling was mutual). James was too quiet for Emma to know how he felt and Rein’s true feelings seemed to be hidden under a facade of charm and calmness. Callum was the only one whom Emma knew was all right with her. Well, she hoped so.
Her progress with the group was going downhill.
But she how did she even hope to join their group? They probably wouldn’t accept a female into the group, let alone an unpopular, uncoordinated, slightly clumsy one like Emma “Slime” Slim.
Emma only vaguely registered the screams coming from the TV. Her eyes sagged like the skin of an old woman.
She fell asleep.
Emma rolled over in her sleep, tangling the sheets until they were messier than her own hair. She was not a morning person. Despite her usual eagerness to get downstairs so that she could eat breakfast, she absolutely detested getting up. The effort, and oh, the fatigue! How she hated it!
Mondays were always the worst. Her sheets would be trapping her own body heat perfectly and her goose-feather pillow would be snugly embracing her head… The cold, hardwood floor of her room was never inviting. Then there was always the matter of taming her hair (at least as much as she could), brushing her teeth, dressing in her uniform and descending the seemingly endless staircase just in order to reach her breakfast!
If morning were a living being, Emma Slim would be the one to murder it.
Something was tickling her nose. It was an unpleasant feeling and the hidden monster of a personality that came out during some mornings was beginning to rouse at the feeling of the annoying tickle thing.
“Stop,” Emma mumbled, though nothing but a whisper came out, as she hadn’t done her morning vocal exercises, which consisted of yelling at Josh.
“Emma…” the deep voice sang and Emma gave up her futile attempts to return to the wonderful world of sleep and dreams. She cautiously wiped the crust from her eyes, making sure to not hurt her eyes, and then she opened them.
A scream escaped her mouth as Rein’s face took up her entire range of view. She jerked herself backwards, hitting her head on the wooden arm of the couch. She gasped in pain and rolled over. She didn’t realise how narrow the couch really was and fell off her bed with a dull thump. The shock of her tailbone hitting the floor travelled up her body.
“Ooh, ouch. Sorry, I didn’t know that your reaction would be so… energetic,” Rein apologised, throwing away the feather he had used on Emma’s nose to help her stand up.
“It’s alright. I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget,” Emma said melodramatically. Rein put one hand to his heart and another to his forehead, pretending to faint in sadness – if that was even possible.
“How did I end up on the couch?” Emma queried curiously, observing the bed and its messy sheets.
“You fell asleep on the armchair but Callum found some blankets for you and then Josh probably moved you after we left. He told me his favourite chair is the armchair, so he probably didn’t want you to drool on it,” Rein hypothesised, shrugging.
“How touching,” Emma commented sarcastically. “How come you’re still here?”
“Because your parents only came back to get some clothes; they were going to a hotel to stay in overnight. Everyone but me left right before your parents came in the house, but I didn’t have time to move so I just hid in one of those gigantic cupboards of yours,” Rein explained, pointing to the oak cupboard to Emma’s right.
“And to think that Dad said they would never come in handy,” Emma reminisced, chuckling.
“Well, I did find a dead rat in the cupboard. But, even though its conditions weren’t that luxurious, it did save me from the wrath of your parents.”
“Don’t worry, my parents don’t have ‘wrath’,” Emma began, but stopped talking once she remembered the reactions her parents had given when she had smashed the glass of milk on the wall. “Anyway, why didn’t you leave after Mum and Dad left?” Emma interrogated suspiciously.
“Callum took the car,” Rein huffed. Emma laughed.
Josh waltzed down the stairs as he usually did and muttered a single word.
Horrified, Emma and Rein started rushing to get ready. Josh came with them, as he hadn’t readied himself much. The three bounded up the staircase and snatched whatever uniform was closest to them. They turned their backs to each other, as there was no time to find a more private spot to change.
“Oh, I’m wearing your uniform, Emma,” Rein sighed.
“Don’t you dare turn around. Don’t you dare–” Emma warned but it was too late. She could hear the sound of Rein spinning around on the spot. He was laughing, which angered Emma.
“Don’t worry, I’m blocking my view of you with my hand,” he reassured her as he ran to grab some spare shorts and a shirt of Josh’s.
When Emma had smoothed out her skirt to hide the creases as much as she could, she grabbed a hairbrush and stuck it in her hair so that she could run downstairs without having to carry anything. Her speed made her need to get to school on time very evident.
She skipped eating breakfast and making lunch completely. Instead, she scooped up her school shoes and prayed to the heavens that her day – which consisted of Music, Drama, P.E. and Art – wouldn’t require any books. The brush still stuck in her hair, she burst out the door and waited patiently for the boys for five seconds, before deciding to leave them.
She searched the driveway for her bike but it had disappeared!
Emma nervously checked her watch. There were two minutes until the bell would ring, but even though Emma knew she wouldn’t travel two kilometres in two minutes, it would be better than not coming at all. Neither absence nor coming late to school was punished lightly at Pineville Views High.
The boys ran out the door a minute later and Emma joined them as they sprinted down the road, each of them carrying a pair of school shoes in their hands.
At the end of the road, Emma grew tired from their sprint and slowed to something in between a slow jog and a fast run.
A dog barked. A cat meowed. Emma’s eyes widened in disbelief.
She looked behind her. Sure enough, it was the same dog and cat that had been chasing when she had ridden down the street before.
The storm had passed and was replaced by the sizzling sun. Dark crescent shapes formed in the armpit area of Rein, Emma and Josh. Their bare feet pounded the asphalt as they bounded along the road, making no noise except for their panting. Wait, that wasn’t their panting; it was the panting of the bloody dog chasing Emma.
She looked back again. Like last time, the group of animals had grown to include a donkey, a horse, a dog, a cat, some rats and several other animals. Luckily, there was no elephant, but Emma was sure that even the little monarch butterfly behind her was following her.
“What do you keep looking at?” Josh gasped. Without waiting for an answer, he turned his head. “There’s nothing of interest.”
Emma shook her head, focussing on keeping her breathing regular so that she could run the other two kilometres easier. Evidently, the animals disappeared whenever someone else tried to look at them.
They dashed past the streets of the rich kids, no doubt where Rein must have lived. None of the houses had just a single storey and they all seemed to be in a street-wide show-off-your-lawn competition, with perfectly trimmed green lawns and several decorations like pinwheels and gnomes. Many of the houses had fountains and birdbaths with intricate carvings of ivy and such upon their lawns. One house they passed even had a human-sized statue of the Greek god, Aphrodite.
After passing the rich kids’ streets, they bolted into the shopping district, where they had to weave around men, women and children with shopping bags gathered on their arms. “Sorry,” and, “Excuse me,” were the only words Emma, Rein and Josh said in the district.
Vendors showing off their wares tried to call on the three teenagers but received only a blank, apologetic or annoyed look.
Their school was in view!
They stopped outside the doors to take a breather. Then, they careered inside.
“I still haven’t memorised the way to Care Class!” Josh said frantically.
“Idiot, you’re in mine! Just follow me,” Emma ordered.
They said goodbye to Rein and zoomed down the hallways. Pausing at the door of their Care Class, they aired their armpits in a futile attempt to get rid of the sweat and again tried to calm their breathing. When they were as composed as they could get, Josh opened the door casually and entered the room.
“Sorry we’re late, we had a bit of a late ni–” Josh began but cut himself off, for there were no students or teachers inside the room to talk to.
“Where is everyone?” Emma asked worriedly, peeking her head inside the room.
“I really don’t know,” Josh admitted. “Let’s check other rooms.”
They opened the doors close to them and found the same result; everyone had gone. Disappeared. It was then that Emma realised how empty and quiet the hallways were. Josh, Rein and her were probably the only ones present at school.
“Maybe it’s a Pupil Free Day?” Emma suggested.
“Couldn’t be. There’s never one in this term,” Josh sighed.
“Guys!” came Rein’s voice, echoing down the hallways. “Where are you?”
“Over here!” Emma called out. Rein turned a corner and walked down the hallway to join them. His white-blonde hair had been messed up from the run and his white cheeks had a healthy colour added to them.
“Everyone’s gone,” Rein declared.
“We know. Do you have an idea where they might be?” Josh asked.
As Josh and Rein exchanged ideas, Emma’s eyes travelled down the hallway, whose lights were flickering ominously. The creepiness of a place as large as this being empty got to her, and chills ran down her spine. She gasped slightly and goosebumps pricked up when she saw two men standing at the end of the corridor, just staring at Emma.
They were the same men Emma had seen after her first animal chase. Just like that time, she couldn’t see their faces but she could tell that they had large muscles, barely contained by completely black clothing.
“What?” Josh asked curiously, looking where Emma had been looking. Emma also looked again and saw that the men had disappeared into thin air.
“Nothing,” Emma replied, slightly ashamed of the fact that she was always staring at things that disappeared whenever someone else looked at them.
Someone shuffled around the corner. It was the janitor.
“Excuse me!” Emma called out. “Where is everybody?”
“Some bloody Drama excursion,” Mike the janitor replied gruffly, crouching down to pick up a piece of rubbish.
“That’s right!” Emma said suddenly. “The excursion’s today.”
“What excursion?” Josh and Rein said together.
“You know, the one with the macabre kind of play?” Emma supplied, trying to get them to remember.
“Oh, I remember,” Rein said. “But they can’t fit a whole high school in one theatre, can they?”
“Maybe they take each grade to a different play or something,” Emma guessed, shrugging. “Should we go there or should we just stay home?”
“We took all that effort to run here,” Josh sighed, “so it would be a waste if we didn’t go. Besides, Cameron Alaceleste is playing and I want her number.”
Alaceleste… Alaceleste… Where had Emma heard that name before? Of course! Carmen!
“Is she related to Carmen?”
“Yeah, they’re sisters,” Rein answered.
“So, are we going or not?” Josh said.
“I’ll go wherever you guys go,” Rein announced, holding up his hands in surrender.
“Then let’s go,” Emma concluded.
They thanked Mike the janitor and marched out of the school, back into the heat of the morning. They caught a bus to the theatre that their grade was going to and sighed with relief once they saw that their grade was standing outside, chattering happily.
“Mills, Slim, Syrani,” one of the teachers called out. “You’re late! Where are your permission slips?”
“Uh-oh,” Emma whispered to the boys beside her.
The teacher’s yelling caused the students to look at the curious group of students standing together, with dark shapes under their arms and hair like a hedge. Emma remembered with a start that the hairbrush was still in her hair and she hastened to take it out.
“We, er, forgot them,” Josh put it to the teacher bluntly.
The teacher whispered for a moment with another teacher. Eventually, they reached a conclusion.
“Alright, well, you’re already here, so you can stay,” the teacher announced. Emma smiled happily and they joined the crowd of students.
Emma left Josh and Rein to search for Opal. She found her talking a girl with a collection of vibrant flowers stuck in her auburn hair. Her smile was joyous and free; it was the prettiest smile Emma had ever seen. As Emma approached the pair, she noticed a smattering of freckles over the bridge of the girl’s nose.
“Hello,” Emma said.
“Emma! Hi!” Opal exclaimed merrily. “I thought you weren’t coming. Emma, meet Julia. Julia, meet Emma.”
Emma exchanged a smile with Julia.
“We were just talking about… Actually, what were we talking about?” Opal asked apologetically.
“The play,” Julia laughed.
“Oh, right. Apparently, Cameron Alaceleste had one of the main parts,” Opal revealed excitedly.
“So I’ve heard,” Emma said.
“How come you got here so late?” Julia queried interestedly.
“Ugh, you will not believe the day I’ve had.” Emma recounted everything from Josh’s friends coming over to arriving at the theatre that they were currently standing outside of, though she left out the parts containing the mysterious men and the vanishing animal pack.
Julia and Opal were opened-jawed.
The lead teacher of the expedition said that it was time for them to enter. Everyone pushed and shoved to get through the revolving doors of the theatre, so much so that two arguing students caused a blockage. The teacher reopened the pathway and everyone else rushed in the lobby-type room. The group was lead into the dark amphitheatre, containing enough seats to host double the amount of students inside the room.
Everyone took their seats without speaking; the darkness seemed to render them silent. It was cold in the room, and everyone was too quiet for Emma’s liking.
Emma sat between Opal and Julia. She shivered from the chilliness and looked down at the stage. The curtains were drawn but several class clowns were attempting to hoist themselves up onto the elevated stage. The teacher caught them, though, and they laughed before moving to their seats right at the front.
Emma was sitting closer to the back than to the front. Three people moving in front of her blocked her view temporarily.
Once everyone was settled down, the lights flicked on and the stage was illuminated. Smoke machines poured out fog onto the stages and the curtains drew back, revealing a realistic set of a graveyard.
“What is this play even called?” Emma whispered to Opal as quietly as she could.
“A Dozen Red Wilting Roses,” Opal whispered back. “Sounds like the title of some sappy romance novel.”
Emma giggled but shut up when the people in front of her turned to face her with aggravated looks on their faces.
The main male character came out, his legs wading through the smoke, causing strange ripples of sorts to appear. A melancholy violin piece reverberated throughout the amphitheatre. The dim lighting combined with the smoke and the music created the perfect mood.
“My dearest Melody,” the actor whispered, but the sound reached all the way to the back of the amphitheatre. He was speaking to one of the graves, putting down a bouquet of roses.
“Each day without your presence, my heart shatters just that little bit more. Now, the pieces are smaller than the legs of the smallest ant, and I fear that the need to put my heart back together has become too strong. The urge to heal my broken heart tempts me, seduces me, like the most sinful vixen of Hell. This vixen has succeeded in her mission to tempt me, and it is now that I say my final farewells.
“No longer will I visit your final resting place. The time has come for me to break the bonds that attach my heart to yours. I wish to find another lady who will love me and make the effort of putting the jigsaw puzzle of my shattered heart back together.
The man turned away from the grave, but in a flash of light that blinded the audience, a woman appeared by his side. Many girls shrieked, including Emma, Julia and Opal, for the woman was wearing incredibly creepy makeup and her long, black nails were trailing unnervingly down the neck of the man.
“Oh, but don’t you see, Pierre?” purred Melody. “I don’t want you to go. I wouldn’t… like it… if you abandoned me. I want you to join me in the land of the dead.”
Emma’s attention doubled.
“My love… my love… is it truly you?” Pierre breathed, still not facing Melody. “I fear I am becoming delusional.”
“Not at all, darling,” Melody reassured intimately, still trailing the freaky nails down Pierre’s body. She looked evil, to sum it up.
Emma realised that Melody’s actor had to be Cameron Alaceleste. Apart from the eerie tone her voice had taken on, she sounded exactly like Carmen.
For a moment, there was nothing but Pierre’s heavy breathing. Then, he shook his head, still refusing to look at his love, who had newly risen from the grave.
“No, I must move on,” Pierre declared resolutely. “I can’t go back to the days of our late nights and sneaky meetings. If we are to be together once again, we must reveal our love to the public. We will have to the face the anger and disappointment of our families.”
“Not if you join me. Join me… and everything will be perfect…” Melody tempted.
“I can’t. I can’t.”
Melody clasped Pierre’s hand and they looked at each other for the first time in the play. Melody raised her hands above her head. Reluctantly, Pierre did the same. Everyone could see that the bouquet of roses had wilted.
White bands of light shot up from their hands and curved to join and form an arch. Pain shot through Emma’s body. She fidgeted in her seat, her nails digging into her thighs. She was sure that she would draw blood soon. There was no dullness or aching. There was just the horrible pricking, burning sensation that also gave Emma nice and pleasant tingles through her arms at the exact same time.
It was bittersweet.
Emma gasped from the pain and scratched her skin hard, so that she would have a different pain to distract herself.
“I know, right? Cool effects,” Julia commented, obviously taking Emma’s gasp for one of admiration or surprise.
Cool effects? Not quite. Emma knew better. It was magic. Pure, white magic that had Emma’s body drowning in pain. Emma now knew the cause of the strange feelings she’d had when looking in the eyes of Doctor Richards and Carmen. The eyes must have been some sort of key to seeing the magic in a person, but it provided a nice numb sensation to balance the pain. With magic out in the open, awfully close to Emma, no numb sensation would help the pain.
Emma tried to stifle the moan of pain that begged to be released from her throat. Luckily, the actors stopped their magic show and the curtain fell. Emma was overcome with relief.
Sounds could be heard from behind the curtain of people creating a new set as fast as they could. Literally a few seconds later, the curtain rose once again to reveal a plain white set with bright lighting. Death – a character in a black hooded cloak – was present before the couple.
Emma was interested in their depiction of Death. She knew that, really, he was a formless spirit, but in this play he was portrayed as a Grim Reaper type, minus the axe.
The play continued, thankfully without any more shows of magic. Each scene earned a shriek or a loud gasp from the audience, thanks to good acting and setting.
At the end, everyone whistled and clapped loudly. There had been plenty of romance for the girls and a lot of gore and evil stuff for the boys. The audience stood up from their seats, but Emma wanted to stay behind.
“You go ahead. I’ll catch up,” Emma lied to Opal and Julia.
“If you’re sure…” Opal said.
“Yeah, I’m sure. I think I just dropped something.”
Opal and Julia left along with the mass of other teens heading out of the amphitheatre. Emma crouched down, pretending to search for something on the ground. When everyone had left and the amphitheatre was empty, Emma walked out of her row of seats sideways and bounded down the stairs to the high stage. The curtains were closed, but there were sounds on the other side, indicating that other people were present.
Emma, for once, was glad that she was taller than most people. She managed to get up onto the stage using her arms. She then crawled on the stage to rise properly and tiptoed towards the thick, red curtains, trying to be as silent as possible.
She stuck her head through the other side of the curtain and saw that the lights were on properly. Unluckily for Emma, the crew moving props and parts of the set were wearing clothes completely different to Emma’s uniform, so she couldn’t try to pretend to be a crewmember.
Loud voices could be heard. Carmen, wearing the school uniform, and a woman who looked slightly harassed were walking together through the middle of the stage. Carmen was making all sorts of demands to the woman.
“I want a new assistant. I told my current one to go get me a latte. She hurried out the door and never came back. Oh, and I want to see my sister, Cameron…” Carmen droned on.
“Your ‘assistant’ didn’t give you a latte because you don’t even have an assistant! The poor girl you tried to order around was Marcus’ assistant. And you can’t see your sister; she wants some space,” the woman sighed wearily.
They exited from one black door and entered another.
Emma had an idea.
When no one was paying attention to the curtains, Emma slid in the room and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” a crewmember carrying a fake streetlamp called out.
“I’m a friend of Cameron’s. She told me to come see her after the show,” Emma lied as seamlessly as possible.
The crewmember gave a little grunt of approval, telling Emma that he bought it. The rest of the crew continued on clearing the stage without paying the slightest bit of attention to Emma, who went through the same door that Carmen and the woman had gone through.