“She’s just weird,” I was saying to Aaliyah. We five rejects were sitting at a picnic table outside, sharing our lunches. Which meant that I was contributing snacks and everyone else was feeding me. Especially Aaliyah. Her mother ran a little corner store and whenever something was no longer ‘best before’ Aaliyah got it for lunch.
“I mean,” I straightened and mimicked her haphazard stare and violin playing. Straightening, I realized that no one was really paying attention. “Who does that?”
“You, apparently,” sniggered Gertrude nervously in guise of a joke.
“Not nice,” scolded Aaliyah with a frown. Then she returned to chewing on her beef jerky. She was already in a bad mood. Principal Mackiney’s passing was hard for all of us, but she didn’t quite seem sad. She was more- angry?
I kicked her gently under the table – and got a vicious glare for it. “What?” she asked through her mouthful. I tried not to startle or shrink. I didn’t like it when she was angry.
“So uhm, there was something else that happened,” I said, ducking my gaze. I wanted to cheer Aaliyah up. Change her mind? Or maybe just get her attention back on me. I wasn’t sure. But either way, I wanted to tell her. And besides, now that it was explained, it couldn’t be that big of a thing, right? “I saw something yesterday. I had a, déjà vu?”
Aaliyah chewed loudly and nodded at me. Gertrude began to hum and twirl her hair. Lucas began to groan and rock himself.
“So yesterday I flew up to the tower, when I bloomed, and in there I saw this new principal being hired. I saw what happened this morning – but yesterday.”
Aaliyah scowled, telling me clearly that I wasn’t cheering her up. “That’s not déjà vu,” she said flatly.
I cringed. “That’s what the new principal called it.”
“Well she’s wrong,” grumbled Aaliyah, picking up her last bit of beef jerky and popping it into her mouth. She began snapping her lunch containers shut.
Lucas sniggered, awkwardly fiddling with his hair and ceasing his rocking. “She’s stupid,” he said gleefully.
Aaliyah scowled. I cringed and drummed my fingers on the table, eyeing the leftover sandwich half from Lucas’ lunch. “Is anyone eating that?” I asked sheepishly.
“It’s mine!” Lucas wailed, half laughing.
“He’s not going to eat it,” Aaliyah said, unusually harshly. She shoved it at me. “Eat it.”
Lucas whined. I pushed it back towards him. He smiled gratefully at me and hoarded it towards himself with a cupped hand. Aaliyah was right. He wasn’t going to eat it but I didn’t want him to have a tantrum. Besides, look at how happy he was.
“Let’s go.” Aaliyah stood up, lunchbox already packed and in her hands. We all looked up at her.
“Where? It’s only,” I checked my watch. We still had half an hour for lunch. But I didn’t have time to tell her that.
“To the tower! There must be something up there if that’s where you got your vision!”
“But I,” I protested, then fell silent. I’d thought it was me the magical source of the vision. Not that it was the tower. But – Aaliyah’s theory made more sense.
“Come on!” she roused Lucas and Gertrude. Sammy was already on his feet, grinning toothily. I slowly climbed to my feet, scooping up my empty lunchbox. “Let’s just go,” Aaliyah said, for once not giving Lucas quite enough time to get himself untangled from his chair before turning away. Lucas whined, afraid we were leaving him behind. I pointedly waited for him.
The moment we were all on our feet, Aaliyah began leading the way. We followed, used to her knowing the way and what she was doing. We fell into our usual formation – Aaliyah in front and me picking up the rear so that Lucas didn’t lag away or get distracted by anyone.
But it obviously wasn’t our usual time for walking in the corridors. Most of the students were outside enjoying the sunshine, but a few clusters were still indoors, walking the halls. They sniggered at our little squad and shook their heads.
It was when we turned into a little used corridor and headed for a rusty old door that I never really noticed that I realized Aaliyah knew exactly where we were going – and it wasn’t just to our lockers.
“Hey,” I said as she pushed on the door – and it was locked. “That’s off limits you know.”
Aaliyah gave me a nasty look. “Magical stuff is always off limits.” And she drew a tiny pocketknife out of her sweatshirt’s pocket. As she jimmied the lock I jumped to her side to hide what she was doing from any passerbys. Luckily we were alone- for now.
“You’ve got a knife?” I hissed. “That’s not allowed!” I glanced over my shoulder, terrified someone would arrive.
“Shut up,” she hissed. I startled. She ducked her head. “Sorry.” And she shoved the knife again at the lock.
I sighed. “Knives don’t open locks. Credit cards do. It doesn’t-“
She wrenched the door. It opened. I gaped. “How did you?” Her knife didn’t even fit into the key hole!
“Magic,” she muttered so only me could hear. As my mouth flapped open and shut, she nodded over her shoulder. “Get the others.”
I darted out. She held the door open and I ushered Lucas, Gertrude, and Sammy into the stairwell. The instant we were all in she let the door swing quietly shut – and we were engulfed in complete darkness.
“Uh,” I said, “We didn’t think this through.”
Aaliyah cursed. Lucas whimpered. “I want out,” he cried.
I hushed everyone. “Let’s just,” I groped forward, trying to remember where I’d seen the stairs. “Climb. Let’s go.” Then, trying to encourage everyone I added. “This is fun. We’re on an adventure.”
It absolutely was not fun. We climbed three flights of stairs hand in hand like a bunch of idiots, grappling through dusty stairs. I led, patting the way with my hand – which was absolutely gross. There was such thick dust and ick on the floor I was sure I’d catch a finger fungus or something. We bumped into the turning stair wells and I found the railing only by chance on the last floor. Cursing at myself (I could have used the railing to guide myself, not the floor!) I found myself patting a door.
“We’re there!” I said excitedly as I shoved and it mercifully gave way, unlocked. Light flooded us, and I stumbled forward into the towers’ room.
The room was pretty much as I’d seen of it, but worse. Footprints of all sort messed up the thick dust that overlay everything. Ugly stuffed chairs lined the room, interspattered with little hand tables and a lamp that looked ready to fall apart.
“Whoa,” said Aaliyah, stepping forward with her knife in hand. To me, she said “Do you feel that?”
I nodded, lips pressed together.
“What?” Lucas giggled, pushing his way forward between us. I stepped aside, but wasn’t exactly sure I should have. The three of them burst forward, darting out into the room to explore.
My eyes connected with Aaliyah. I could probably sense it more because I was bloomed, but Aaliyah was always sensitive to magic – and this room was pulsing full of it. The floor was fairly vibrating with it, the walls pulsed, and even the ceiling seemed ready to sparkle and burst into visible patterns.
Of course, me being me, I thought “Think there’s a magical item here? One we can carry? Fit in our pockets?” I wasn’t… I was jealous she had a magical knife. I was the thief! I should have the cool gizmos!
Just as I stepped forward into the room Aaliyah darted forward to grab my arm. “We should leave,” she said.
I shook her off. “It was your idea to come here! Besides, we have time,” and I really wanted something magical of my own.
“But!” she protested. I turned to her, ready to argue when – Crash!
“Lucas!” Aaliyah whimpered. I spun – just in time to see the lamp, shattered across the floor. The ether in it sparked once, twice, and caught fire. Flames licked the floor. Flames next to a now petrified Lucas. And when I mean petrified, I mean he won’t move any more.
“Lucas! Are you hurt?” I darted forward, avoiding the magical flames with a hop. Around him, Gertrude was shrinking back and Sammy was gawking.
Faintly, an alarm began to wail. “Fire alarms!” Aaliyah hissed.
I whined, doing my own ‘oh shit’ Lucas-inspired sound. “Come on Lucas,” I begged, taking him by the arms. “Let’s go. We’ve got to go.”
But there was no moving him. He began to scream, clawing at his hair. In a snap, Aaliyah was by my side and so was Gertrude. Between the three of us we hoisted the screaming and thrashing Lucas across the room, treading fire and stumbling over each other.
We made it to the doorway. Shoving it open we shoved our way through, tripping over each other like a bunch of idiots. Scrambling, rushing, we at least had the light from the open door to guide us on our way down.
And we got down. We slammed out through the bottom door, stumbling out into the school. Lucas had stopped thrashing and now was just a sobbing mess. Drawing to a stop, we looked around. There was no one. Because obviously, the school was evacuating. This being an end farthest from an exit, it was already deserted.
“Quick! Let’s go out!” Aaliyah said. “Before anyone notices we’re missing!”
We ran. Even Lucas ran in that half-shamble of his. Sammy darted ahead. Gertrude cursed, punctuated short words that were nasty and unhappy. She hated running.
Then, we rounded a corner and everything was okay. There were students milling before the doorway, slowly making their way out. I wanted to laugh in relief. We made it!
Turning, I exchanged a relieved look with Aaliyah. We both sniggered, trying not to draw attention. We did anyways, Lucas’ crying and whining making heads turn. But no one commented for once. Everyone was busy whispering about “Fire!” and “Did you hear? There’s a fire!”.
“On the principal’s first day!” someone laughed loudly.
I sheepishly laughed at that. Haha, how ironic. And I started it… sort of.
We made it out the doors, teachers ushering the students here and there. That’s when I realized something was wrong. They were staring at us quizzically. Even other students who until then had largely ignored us were beginning to stare.
“You’ve got cobwebs in your hair,” Aaliyah whimpered.
“You too,” I hissed.
Then I looked again at Lucas. And really looked. Because until then I hadn’t noticed, but my very dirty hands had left very dirty hand prints all over his gray sweatshirt, marking him with dust. Worse, I sensed something from Lucas. Something from his clutched hands.
My eyes met with Aaliyah’s. Forget me, Lucas was the primo thief. “Shit,” I muttered. “Uhm,” Looking around I steered our little group towards a shadowy corner of the building.
And yeah, I wasn’t really observative. I’d figured people were just staring at us. Because, cobwebs and dirty hand prints. But it was when we turned the corner and our shadows were now before us that I saw one stretching over mine.
I stopped, but Aaliyah hadn’t noticed. “Come on!” she hissed, grabbing at my shoulder and shaking me. “Let’s hurry up! Before,” then she stopped herself, seeing my expression. “What?”
A hand landed on her and my shoulders. It was manicured with clear varnish, and the cuffs had sparkling sequins on them. The principal smiled wickedly down at us.
I gulped. “You’re not supposed to touch us.” It was the smartest thing I could think of saying.
“Guess we’re all breaking rules today then,” the principal cooed nastily.
“N-no!” I fibbed. Then, I remembered to feign innocence. “We uh-” my voice came out louder than it should have. “Have just-“
“Lucas fell,” Aaliyah butted in. “We had trouble getting him out.”
“Yeah!” I said, wiping my hands on my jeans. Then, on second thought, I held them up. “On the floor.” I announced as if this was actually proof of our innocence.
“Hmm,” the principal hummed, obviously still not convinced and not releasing her grip on either of us. Gertrude squirmed, uttering a loud curse. Lucas began to whimper and tap himself on the forehead with his knuckles.
Aaliyah and I took Lucas by the arms. “You’re frightening him!” Aaliyah said loudly, trying to draw attention. “And you shouldn’t be touching us!”
There was a murmur from the students. The principal’s gleaming orange eyes narrowed. Her smile shrunk down, down, to a horrifying small smirk. Her eyes slid sideways to eye Lucas. “Poor Lucas,” she murmured. “He must be so frightened by all of this.” Then, with a pluck, she lifted her hands off me and Aaliyah and set them just an inch around Lucas’s. “He should come with me,” she cooed. “We’ll take him to the nurse to calm down. We’ll talk with him.”
“Leave him alone!” I snapped, my voice rising. Lucas cried out, wrenching his hands from me and Aaliyah. He clutched his hands to his forehead and whimpered. Then, on cue, the tower exploded.
It shook the grounds. It was a giant orange ball bursting out atop the school, flaming outwards then collapsing in. The roof was now burst open like a badly opened can.
Students shrieked. Teachers cursed. The principal straightened. “Language, everyone,” she said coolly as she looked around. “We do not swear here.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I shrieked as debris sailed through the sky and began to spatter down. Mercifully it was small, and most of it landed on the roof. But from where we stood there was now little white ash flakes fluttering down.
The principal rounded on me. Her eyes twinkled. “Maybe I am,” she whispered snarkily.