Sunday, November 20, 2011

3. School

The sun was rising. A whistle blew. People crowded outside into the busy streets, the world back in motion. Spirit and Dream, black and white against the brown and dusty red of the world, climbed down the stairs of an abandoned building after having spent the night at the very top floor on the cold ground and desolated room.

Eyes, too many, staring at them again. Children pulled away from the duo, huddled and protected from the strange girls. "Witches..." someone mumbled to their friend before glancing nervously to the passing girls. Dream did not respond, and all Spirit returned was a blank stare. It being so early in the morning, most people appeared to be near dead, simply heading to their destination with their minds half-shut down. Nevertheless it still felt like hundreds of eyes were piercing onto Dream and Spirit. Every now and then, the brunette tugged at the end of one of the chains but said nothing. There was no lock to hold them in place, and they didn't tighten against her skin, just hung loosely around, but it was a web, wrapped around her. Sure, there was one slightly loose strand, but it fit around her arm and clung onto her like a snake. It didn't need any support. It was just there
.

There was no plan to follow through. Right now, the strange man who taught at the town's main school was all they had. As they marched onward, Dream slipped her hands onto a pocket of her dress, having forgotten about it the day before, and ran her fingertips over the surface of the watch he had given her. She didn't need to check it yet, it's not as if she was going to forget that this was the dawn of the third day. Nevertheless, she didn't want to lose it, knowing time would begin slipping far too quickly for her too count as the end came closer.

The friends only found the school the day before and distinguished it from the other buildings due to the children that ran inside. Without that, nothing from the dirty and weary exterior could have set the building apart from another factory or store. Dream and Spirit hurried inside, but were unsure of where to go at the moment. It didn't seem like that big of a school, just two stories high, with what they guessed couldn't have held more than eight classrooms or so. Without speaking one word, Dream and Spirit checked inside rooms quickly, moving, searching. Finally, through the crack of a door that stood on the first floor, in the early empty building, they saw the man from the day before, sitting
at his desk and checking over some papers. It was Dream who had been leaning against the wall and peeking through the rather small opening. She barely felt Spirit's light touch on her shoulder that caused her to step back and out of the way automatically as a young girl with orange red hair bounced into the room and shut the door behind her.

More are coming,” Spirit warned her as they saw more children running in. Dream took a step back and glanced around. For some reason, it felt important that the two caught him by surprise. Alone. Maybe he would answer questions that he couldn't have given anywhere else.

The building was old and there seemed to be cracks on the walls. Wide and open. Light shinning through them. When she glanced over the door frame of the professor's classroom, she pointed up to it. “Think we'll fit?” she asked Spirit, who glanced up and raised an eyebrow.

“If it doesn't cave in, maybe,” she said and smiled slightly at Dream before stepping closer. She looked around the hallway, waiting for the last of the early children to disappear behind a classroom door before speaking. “Let's try to see.”

Dream knelled on the ground, clasping her hand together and then putting them forward, palm up, so to boost up Spirit. As she peeked through the wide hole and the cracks, she found it was simply a space left in there, dusty and empty. Carefully but quickly, Spirit dragged herself into the whole, finding she couldn't even crawl in the closed space. She could only drag herself forward, the chains around her body making slight noises against the wooden planks. Dream eventually jumped up and was pulled inside by Spirit. They moved carefully, peeking through the planks' holes at the classroom bellow. The professor continued on with his work without interruption. They could at least assume they had been discreet.

The two remained frozen in place for a while, merely watching the professor, waiting for a chance where he would be once again alone in the room. Class went on for him. He reviewed with the children the first five multiplication tables. Some vocabulary. Group lesson. Coloring break. Spirit sighed heavily, watching without much interest while Dream's parted lips and wide eyes, almost as if she found the whole thing fascinating, almost made her chuckle. In an attempt to remain wide awake, Spirit observed her surroundings, her hand stretched out at times to search for something or other. At one point, her fingers curled inside the corner of a loose wooden plank. She frowned and pulled back, finding it could easily snap or slide off. She nudged Dream and showed it to her, who in response nodded her head slowly and slid closer to the plank. Spirit slid it back, shutting the opening, but leaned down her head again to peek through the wholes and watch.

Few more minutes passed with nothing in particular happened, Dream and Spirit remaining quite and attentive the whole time, making as little noise as possible. Then something started echoing. Past the sound of heavy machinery, of footsteps outside, of the voice of the children around, a wailing sound began. Automatically, all the children got up from their desks and began moving them away from the center, towards the walls. The professor knelled down on the ground and pulled aside the large carpet on the floor to reveal a hidden door. “In a line,” he told the children, “Come on, as practiced.”

They followed suit, standing in front of the compartment door in order as he pulled it opened completely. The children climbed inside, never looking back. As one young boy with freckles and bright blue eyes stepped into the compartment, the last of the children, he looked back at his professor. “Is it a drill, Mr.?” he asked, although it was difficult to even hear him correctly with the bellowing signal.

The professor did not respond, however, and if he did, Spirit and Dream could not hear. He simply nudged the child gently into the compartment and closed it after him.

Dream and Spirit slid the tablet to the side completely now. As they exchanged glances at one another, Dream placed both hands at the corners. She peeked down and saw that the professor was now standing by the window, watching attentively. She retreated and twisted her body, sliding her legs into the open hole. She began lowering herself, her whole body down slipping into the classroom. Soon enough, the tip of her toes brushed over the surface of a desk. She lowered herself enough not to make any noise, sitting down on the desk as she descended and then leaping off to give room to Spirit. The professor, who had never taken his intense gaze away from the window, did not notice a thing. It was probably the alarm that, though distant, masked away the sound of stepping and breathing. For a moment, all the two girls did was observe him, Dream watching carefully the words scrawled on his face. No noise was made again until Dream spoke,
"Is it a drill, then?"

The professor whirled around, his hands in fists, his eyes narrowed. Then he stopped, abruptly, once he laid eyes on the strangers. Both Dream and Spirit were standing perfectly still, right next to one another. “How did you-?”

Dream tilted her head, "You don't know."

“What the hell—how did you even get in here?” he questioned as Spirit took a few steps forward, peeking out the window and not giving the professor a second glance.

“Is it relevant?” Dream asked. “I want to know if this is a drill or not.”

"Nothing's happening," Spirit said, in a tone that felt more like she was carelessly flicking through television channels, "People are hiding, but...nothing in sight."
"What are you doing here?" the professor growled, now no longer sounding surprised, but angry.

Dream's lips pursed as she tried to answer, a lie creeping up to her lips and yet held back by the possibility that this strange man could be of aid to them.

"We've just been lost for a while," Spirit chimed in when Dream said nothing, "You were the only one that showed us a bit of kindness."

"You expect me to believe that?" he growled, glancing around until he nervously caught sight of the chains, his Adam's apple beginning to quiver.

Dream did not let this fact go unnoticed. "They are just chains, professor."

"I know that."

"No..." she whispered, "You don't. You hope, but you don't know."

Spirit stepped closer, her cold gaze never flinching away or changing. “You recognize them, professor. You know what these chains are?”

He looked back and forth between them, “Who are you?”

“Wanderers,” Dream answered, blinking blankly, “You know what the chains are. You know why we're here.”

“What—no, I don't-”

“Don't lie,” she interrupted, “Please. We won't lie and you won't have to either. Let's not waste any time.”

“I don't-”

“There's something stalking these lands,” Dream continued, “Something's haunting the people. You defended us yesterday, professor. You glanced at the chains, at the strangeness of it all, and you did not step down. You helped us. But you were wondering. Speculating. Cautious. Confused even.”

He glared at her as she spoke, “And how would you know all that, little girl?”

“I saw you. You said so much without a word, professor. You're still saying so much now, even if your mouth rolls out deceits.”

There was a brief silence. Dream glanced at the clock that stood at the wall. She didn't know how long drills were supposed to be, but she was sure it was to come to an end soon.

“Did he sent you here?”

Despite the suspicion, the fact that they were winging it, and the unsureness of the situation, Dream and Spirit had not truly considered how much the professor would know about their situation. They were both slightly surprised at his question. The blonde observed him, his struggle, his tone, like that of a defeated soldier. He spoke again, “If that's the truth, say it now. Did he send you to find me?”

Spirit shifted over her feet, “We'll be truthful, professor. Just as you're being truthful with us. He dropped us on the forest not far from here about two days ago. We have a mission right now, and this is our starting point. We begin in this town.”

“With what purpose?”

They exchanged glances, then Dream said, “The answer for the riddles are not to be revealed before the game has even begun. There's something happening in this place. What are the little creatures underneath our feet hiding from? Why have you loomed into this world?”

He blinked. “What?”

The alarmed faded then, nothing but the shifting underneath the boards was heard in the room. Dream flickered her eyes at him, “Stairways. Next to the main exit,” she said before both her and Spirit floated out of the room.

They hurried to the staircase they had seen not long ago. Spirit reached for the doorknob first, pulling it open and glancing behind her shoulder as Dream made it inside. She climbed a few steps and suddenly stopped, staring at nothing in particular while Spirit stood by the closed door. “What's on your mind, Dream?”

She id not answer at first, merely chuckled underneath her breath and then half-twirled around on her feet, sinking down on the steps. “Of a memory. Think he'll show up after he releases the tiny persons?”

“The look on his face should say it all,” she answered and then stepped closer to Dream, climbing a few steps and leaning against the wall.

“How many of Them are here, Spirit?”

“In the school? I...not that many. Not as many as other places. The forest had so much. It's like they drifted to that world.”

“Were they afraid?”

Spirit frowned. “Afraid?”

“To be taken again, by whatever monster caused their end to arrive so early?”

Spirit thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I wouldn't know,” she said, “Do you think this is what he wanted us to do? To start here?”

“I don't know,” Dream glanced up, “I can't imagine what was running through his mind when we spoke. When we made that deal. When he dropped us out the tower. I really don't know, Spirit.”

“It might have something to do with whatever thing is in the town.”

“We can start there. With the professor. The way he was glancing out the window...”

“Was he afraid?”

“More than that,” Dream breathed in a gulp of air, “More like...interested.”

Spirit raised both her eyebrows at that, “Well, he's a strange fellow isn't he. Maybe the Watchmaker really did send us after him.”

“Did he make you do something like this?” Dream asked suddenly. “Anything like this at all?”

Spirit stiffened. She gulped. Turned away. No answer.

The door flung open, the professor marching inside and then closing it securely behind him. “Alright, why are you here? I want answers. Right now. Or you're leaving the town before sundown.”

Dream raised an eyebrow at this, “Are you threatening us, professor?”

“You're not here to play games or lie, are you?” the professor said. His body language was cautions and near threatening—chest up, hands to his sides, legs slightly parted. Dream expected him to cross his arms and glare down at them, especially now that she had to look up at him, but he didn't. “You have to tell me why you're here.”

Dream and Spirit did not even need to exchange glances to know what the other was thinking—they would not tell him the Watchmaker had given them no clue or goal. He'd merely pushed them out his home and thrown them in a brown desert, filled with so many that would never rise again. Spirit answered almost automatically after he had spoken, “Why are there so many whispers of an archdemon? What's haunting the town?”

The professor frowned, “There's no way he sent you for that,” he said, whispered it almost, as if he was speaking to himself. “Whatever's out there is none of your business. You need to leave if you want to stay out of its way. Strangers aren't welcomed in this town either way. If that thing comes around the news that two strange little girls-”

“It's a sentient being,” Dream said, “With claws that scratch and teeth that bite?”

“Yes it's a fucking sentient being. Didn't you listen to me? You need to leave. It won't let slide the fact that you've come to this town with no other objective than to poke around for information about it.”

Spirit crossed her arms now, standing up straight and away from the wall, “It sounds like this thing is your buddy, professor.”

“I know enough about it.”

“Did you follow it here?”

He blinked, staring at Dream now. “What the hell makes you say-”

“Lucky guess,” she answered, leaning her elbows on her thighs and resting her chin in between her palms, “It's been attacking people. Someone thought it'd sent us. What is it really, this strange creature?”

He shifted uncomfortably where he stood, “We don't know. I haven't been here for long, but I've seen it. Once. It's dangerous. That's why you need to leave—soon.”

“Why are you so anxious to get us out of the town?” Spirit questioned.

“Is it such a surprise?” he asked, “You have chains wrapped around your body. You looklike someone was swinging around a blade too close to your face for the hell of it. And you both know him . He has no reason to send yo after the demon-”

“What makes you think he doesn't?” Spirit interrupted.

He stopped talking then, finally closing his mouth and starting to wonder. Doubting. Dream saw her chance and she took it, “Professor, if we told you the Watchmaker”—he winced at the words—“sent us after it, what will you say then? Will you continue to try to shield us from whatever truth you have hidden inside your sleeves.”

She tilted her head forward, watching him carefully as he closed his eyes for a moment, sighing. “So he did send you here...”

“Was there ever a doubt?” Spirit asked.

He turned his full attention towards her, “I knew someone who had the same chains you have now. They wouldn't release him, no matter what. He pissed of that maker, that's all I know, and I might not know what you did to deserve that-”

“It's irrelevant.”

“-and don't worry, I'm not going to ask. But whatever it was, know that if he sent you after this thing, then he's more than likely assuming you're not going to go back to tell him the good news.”

“Assumption again,” Dream interjected, “You speak as if he controlled everything.”

“Be thankful that was never his department,” he responded, and left it as that, turning away from her.

“You never did answer her question,” Spirit said.

“The question? What would I tell you if I believed you? If I believed you completely.”

“We seek advice, professor,” Dream said.

“It's a school,” Spirit continued, “Institution designed for teaching. So teach.”

His eyes had drifted to the ground. At the very least, he seemed to be considering his answer, “I will never be able to tell the story half as well as these people can. Those that witness it, who still feel the horror everyday, will tell it better. Ask the town's people. That's my advice.”

“No one with half a brain will speak to us,” Spirit argued.

“Then find those with a quarter of a brain and talk to them. You'll get someone that will be willing to sit you down for storytelling.”

Then what do we do?”
He shrugged, “Maybe once you know its brief history with this town you will figure out what to do. I'll...I might help you. If I can.”

Spirit opened her mouth to say something, but her blonde friend rose up to stand on her feet and nodded at him. “We will scavenger through the streets for the knowledge we seek,” she said, “Thank you.”

His gaze flickered back to the ground as he speculated upon something. Finally, he sighed and headed out the door. “Find some shoes too.”

Dream and Spirit blinked simultaneously and glanced down at their feet. They were barefoot; dirt, grime, a bit of bruises maybe from all of yesterday's kicking, yet neither of them had noticed.

“Huh.”

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