August 14, 2015 by Lyn
They ran wild through the halls, whooping and laughing, spraying errant students with their water guns, sometimes lassoing them with Phelen’s long strings of light. Most people ran, shrieking in that carnival-haunted-house half-terror that’s as much glee as fear; those that didn’t, they sprayed harder, or pulled out the blue water pistols, and drenched them with thick purple Kool-Aid.
The mood was contagious. Tya and Shiva started the noises, long, spooky-sounding catcalls, cut frequently by giggles, as if they couldn’t bear to take themselves seriously for more than a couple seconds. The more they giggled, though, the more Phelen joined in, making his noises spookier and spookier, making Tya and Shiva chuckle more and more.
Not to outdone, Nikita joined in, proving to have a talent for animal imitations that made even Jamian snicker. Before long, their little strip of hallway sounded like a zoo at Hallowe’en, and all four of them were laughing uproariously between passers-by.
Jamian found himself getting carried away. His new horns seemed to lend themselves to making demon faces, so he did, mugging crazier and crazier faces at his classmates – and even at the older students – as they hurried through, dodging the water guns and the little fireworks-like snappers and stingers that Phelen and Nikita were tossing out, flicking off their fingers like spitballs.
His tail, he discovered, had an amazing amount of flexibility and, what was even more fun, a great deal of heft. While he couldn’t manage the prehensile monkey-like acrobatics with it that he’d seem some of the older students showing off in Sport, it made a very good tripwire, and, in one case, when Wyatt from his Geometry class decided to respond violently to being spritzed, a decent third arm for blocking. Feeling reckless, he tested the flexibility of the thing by edging the tip down the back of Wyatt’s pants. Wyatt jumped, forcing Jamian’s tail to spring up his back under his shirt, which made him jump even more. With an undignified high-pitched yelp of “freak,” he ran off.
Jamian didn’t mind. He waved his tail around cheerfully and got ready for the next target. If he was going to be called a freak, well, there was no hiding it anymore, and no need to try. After all, didn’t everyone think he was sleeping with a known hermaphrodite? And only Nikita seemed to care.
And that’s ‘cause he’s jealous. This place is Fucked Up. He grinned, glancing over at the cat girl stalking along next to him. The Fucked Up was beginning to grow on him.
He squirted the next girl to pass – a snotty little girl he recognized from Sport as one of the ooh-I-broke-a-nail types – with both barrels, laughing with honest glee as the purple juice spattered into her face. Phelen caught her with his light-whip, spun her to face him, then spun her back around, slapping her on the ass lightly with the handle of the whip-thing. She sputtered, backing up quickly while wiping her face.
“Not fast enough,” Jamian told her, and squirted her again with the blue gun as she stumbled away. She’d called him “runt” the first day of Sport, and giggled at him with her friends. He squirted her again, straight on the ass, and laughed as she ran away.
The next girl around the corner was dressed up for a dance he didn’t think she was going to get to, her make-up so cool and pristine that he paused, water gun half-aimed, not wanting to ruin her work. Her shoulders were held regally, her expression serene, seemingly undisturbed by the noises around her or the boy in front of her. She looked as if she should be walking in the park under a lace parasol, not navigating an obstacle course on the way to dining-hall breakfast.
Under the eyeliner and dark lipstick and the complicated-looking dress, somewhere past the cool, inhuman expression, he recognized a kind smile he had seen his first day of Sport, a thousand years ago, and the hand that wrote in spidery script he sometimes cribbed notes off of in Biology. His hand faltered, and he turned to her friends just rounding the corner, blonde bookends so perfectly pressed and preppy and shining that the old habit of hiding and pretending reared up. His tail was halfway between his legs before he realized what he was doing and straightened up, glaring angrily at these two interlopers.
“Don’t.” It was the guy, so calm and absolutely sure of himself that Jamian dropped the gun. He continued, his voice smooth and a little hypnotizing. “We’re just passing through. And we are going toJust. Pass. Through, and you’re going to let us.” They kept walking as he talked, the dark-haired tsarina leading the way like the figurehead at the bow of a boat, flanked by the regal one, still talking, and a silent blonde girl, absolutely perfect in her Prom Queen posture. Jamian wanted to fall in behind them, to be part of their strange parade.
They were already being followed, though, by a punk in black leather, smirking at the world, shaking his head a little in amusement. From his glowing red eyes, Jamian assumed he was an upperclassman – yeah, he was in one of his classes, Russian, and, though he said little and did less, Professor Fridmar obviously already knew him. He wondered what he was doing following around the Fifth Cohorts. Waiting for them to fall? He did look sort of like a hyena, wandering through laughing at the world.
And then they were gone, having passed through their crew as if they weren’t even there. Jamian looked after them, feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Tya was watching them leave with pursed lips and an expression to match Jamian’s mood; Shiva’s tail was lashing violently. “That,” Shiva muttered softly, “is a crew to watch. They’re gonna be trouble.”
It seemed like an odd thing to say, but Phelen was nodding his agreement, and Tya, slowly, nodded as well. “Interesting, at least,” she said. Something about the way she said it filled Jamian with jealousy. Why was she looking at other people when she had him right here?
He leaned up against her, reminding her of his presence, and she ran her fingers through his hair idly and kissed his neck. “Don’t worry about them, Shiva,” she said, her lips still against his skin. “There’s lot of fish in our little pond. Here come a couple more guppies, if I’m not mistaken.”
Fish in the pond was more the sort of metaphor used for dating than pranking, but Jamian didn’t want to argue with her right now. Besides, she was right; two more of his classmates were coming around the corner, a pretty green-eyed brunette who was also in his Russian class, Marjolaine, and her friend Kendra, who shared Russian with them, too, and sat behind him in Biology. He was still distracted by the interchange between Tya and Shiva, and by Tya pressed against his side, and his squirt-gun attack was halfhearted at best. Nikita made up for it, though, hitting Marjolaine with handful of the weird little stingers that flew like bees and dissipated when they struck, leaving bright little welts when they met skin. She screamed, brushing herself off, and ran away as he readied another attack.
Phelen, meanwhile, had wrapped Kendra up in a couple of his light-ropes, spinning her around before pulling her towards him. She looked back at him, her wide sky-blue eyes terrified, and Phelen just grinned.
Around his feet, the shadows began writhing and crawling, wrapping around Kendra’s bare ankles. He grabbed both ends of his ropes and tugged her in closer to him, so close that the tight waves of her thirties-style amber hair brushed against his chin, and the thick, molasses-like shadows continued to envelop her, brushing against the bottom hem of her flame-like red-and-yellow skirt and turning it dark and bloody-looking.
“Scrumptious,” Phelen leered, licking his lips, seeming oblivious to the pooling and crawling mess at his feet. The girl squeaked softly, struggling against his hold.
“Hey, man,” Jamian said uncomfortably, but he was ignored. A girl screamed off in the distance, the direction Marjolaine had run, and Jamian froze. He liked Marjolaine. She was nice to him; she and Kendra would often talk with him between Russian and Biology. If he hadn’t been so chickenshit about the mess between his legs, he might have asked her to that first dance.
It was suddenly too much to deal with, Marje screaming off in the distance, Shiva’s comments about Shahin and her so-poised crew, Phelen looking at Kendra like a perfect piece of chocolate. “Kennie,” he said, but she ignored him. “Kendra!” Nothing.
He squirted her with the water gun, aiming for the back of her neck. “Kendra, your feet.”
She jumped, turning to glare at him, and screamed as she – finally! – noticed the shadow-gunk wrapping around her legs. She yelped, and kicked her feet in the silliest little rabbit-kick he’d ever seen. “Letgo of me!”
She was scared now – of course, so was Jamian, but scaring him wasn’t the point. Scaring them was, right? They should let her run away, scared, and get a good laugh out of it. But Phelen wasn’t letting her go. Instead, he pulled her even closer to him, wrapping both arms around her even as the flowing darkness wrapped tighter around her kicking feet. He sniffed along the side of her neck, and, his lips right up against her ear, murmured, just loud enough that Jamian could hear him, “No.”
With that word, she went from scared to terrified, struggling against Phelen’s arms, which seemed longer now, seemed as if they were wrapped around her twice. He, in turn, just grinned wider and held her tighter.
“Hey, let her go,” Jamian said, “she’s scared enough.”
“It’s cool, Jamian,” Shiva said smoothly, as she stepped back into position, hidden in a nook in the wall. He glared at her, or at least at the reflection of her eyes, which was all he could see now.
“‘It’s cool?’” he repeated. “What are you people, crazy? He’s hurting her!” He turned back to Phelen and Kendra; she had stopped struggling again, and was staring at Phelen, her expression slack. He, in turn, just smiled more widely.
“She seems fine now,” he leered.
She seemed calm, all right, in a zombie-calm sort of way, but her shoulders were quivering, the perfect bob of her hair telegraphing the tiny movements.
“She’s not fine,” Jamian retorted angrily. Why wasn’t Ty doing anything? “She’s scared stiff, you moron! Let her go!”
“But I just caught her,” he mock-pouted. “And she’s all warm and fresh right now.”
He still thought this was some sort of stupid game, Jamian realized, like tag, but with weirder rules. But it wasn’t a game to Kendra, and he couldn’t seem to get that through his head, like some cat confused why the mouse wasn’t having fun.
“Let her go, Phelen,” he snarled, truly angry now. “Kendra? Kennie?” As he said her name, she twitched, and then began shuddering more intently. “Kennie, it’s going to be okay.” Somehow. But talking to her seemed to break her out of her funk, so he kept talking. “Look, remember that jerk yesterday in Biology? The one sitting in the back of the room cracking stupid jokes?”
“Yeah…” She shook harder, looking almost as if she were having seizures. “Bernard or something?”
“Bernhald, I think. You should have seen his stupid face when I caught him with the Kool-Aid earlier. I thought he was going to blow a gasket.”
“Kool-Aid?” Her tremors turned to shaking, forcing Phelen to warp his creepy double-jointed stretchy arms around her tighter. “Let me go!”
“Kool-Aid,” Jamian agreed, letting Phelen have it full in the face with both pistols.
It worked beautifully. With a roar of anger, he let go of Kendra, his light-ropes vanishing, his arms springing back to normal size, and batted at his face with both hands. “You miserable little fucker,” he snarled, but Jamian didn’t mind; Kendra was running wildly away, her feet eerily quiet on the thick carpet. There should have been pounding footsteps. He was just achingly glad there was no screaming.
And then he had himself to worry about, as Phelen cleared his eyes and dove at him. “You stupid little shit,” he yelled, as he tried to throw a punch at Jamian.
Tried, because Jamian had had plenty of practice at dodging. But the attack just fueled his anger. “I’m stupid? I’m stupid?” He swung wildly at the bastard and was unsurprised and uncaring when he missed. “You fucker! What were you doing to do with her? You can’t just grab girls and drag them away like some sort of caveman!”
This time, Phelen’s elbow-jab landed square in Jamian’s ribs, knocking him backwards. He followed, moving forward, the whole area getting darker and colder. “I can’t? You useless moronic piece of shit, I can do whatever I want to…” he actually glanced up at Shiva and smirked, “within the Law.”
“That’s not how the world works,” Jamian told him, as he closed in again, holding his squirt guns ready and not thinking about how silly that looked. “I don’t care what stupid games you guys are playing, but you can’t just grab people like that!”
“I can if no-one stops me,” Phelen answered, straightening up and wiping his face with the back of his trenchcoat sleeve.
“Actually, he’s right,” Ty said, stepping up from somewhere behind Jamian. He turned to look at him, relived and gratified to finally have someone backing him up, and TY continued. “Jame’, Phel might be a little heavy-handed, but not everyone can use my methods – or Shiva’s,” he added, with a wry glance at Nick and Shiva, “to get a… date.”
“Wait, what?” He could feel the smile sliding back off of his face. “That’s… That’s getting a date?” And what, then, were Ty’s methods? Or Shiva’s? “That’s not how that works!”
“In the world ‘up there,’ maybe,” Ty said, still maddeningly calm, “the world where you and I are both freaks and they play by their normal human rules. But in the world ‘down here,’ the rules are different.”
“I think I’d rather be a freak!” And single? a treacherous little voice whispered, and he realized he was shouting at the one person he’d ever been remotely close to. But how could Ty… “How can you think this is okay?” And how fucked up was this world he’d been dumped into? He’d thought at first it was just a zoo for freaks, a place where all the monsters could be kept away from the rest of the world, but this seemed somehow even more sinister. “This is insane!”
“Jamian,” Ty said, his voice still so very quiet, “calm down.”
“I don’t want to calm down! I’m disgusted!” But he was calming down, his breathing leveling out. He looked at Ty, hoping he could see how upset this made him, even as he dissected it calmly. “Kidnapping… ‘dates.’” Which could mean anything. “And Shiva?” he glanced over at Shiva again, at her eyes reflecting the glow of the emergency lights.
“Not now, Jamian. We’ll talk about it later.” There was a warning note in Ty’s voice he wasn’t used to, and a sort of parental firmness that grated on him.
“So, what? We go back to business as usual and caveman here grabs the next pretty face that comes along and you all pretend he’s not doing it?” His voice was far steadier, far more level, than he expected it to be; he was less agitated than he felt like he ought to be, but he couldn’t let it go.
“We go back to playing the game,” Ty said firmly. Jamian opened his mouth to protest, and Ty placed a finger on his lips. “Drop it.”
“Ah…” He frowned, wanting some sort of reassurance, something, “But…”
He opened his mouth to tell Ty he wasn’t a child, or a pet, to be shushed and bossed around, but there was nothing. He fell back into position against the wall, working his mouth, trying to figure out why he’d suddenly been struck mute, and why this wasn’t upsetting him (although it was confusing him greatly). He tried again… no. He was well and truly hushed.
Nikita flopped against the wall next to him. He wanted to tell the boy to go away, he wasn’t in the mood – or capable, apparently – to trade insults, but the look on Niki’s face was strangely sympathetic.
“It hits you hard, the first couple times she pulls the leash,” he said, whispered, really, “but after a while, you stop noticing.” There was something strange, wistful and a little lost, about his expression. “Or stop minding, at least. You just know which way you’re going, then.”