“Class, I’d like to introduce our new student.” The teacher glanced down at the paper in front of her. “Dam…Damni…?”
“It’s pronounced Dav-net.” Damhnait grinned at the older woman, “But everyone calls me Davey.” The head that popped up at the back of the room did not escape her attention. The girl was thin, scarily thin, her cheekbones straining against her skin. The sweater, too heavy for the weather, hung from the girl’s shoulders, sticking out in a classroom full of people in gothic style clothing similar to Davey’s. The brunette was the only girl in the class with something covering the ruffles of her dress.
“Welcome to Faulery Valley. You’ll fit right in.” The teacher took in Davey’s outfit before gesturing to the rows of desks. “There are some empty seats near the back.”
Davey casually scanned the room before sauntering to the desk beside the thin girl with the stringy hair. She slid into the seat and glanced at the other girl. Up close, she appeared even thinner and unhealthier than she had from the front of the room. But even without the extra weight and nervous determination Davey had known her. It was obvious that this was Carly.
“Hey, Carly.” She whispered.
“Davey? Is that really you?” Carly’s voice had deepened to a soft, buttery sound. From another body, it would have been seductive, but out of this sad excuse for a person, it was unsettling.
“Sure is.” Davey smiled at her old friend and reached over to squeeze her hand. The fingers were bony and sharp in her grip. Carly pulled her hand away and clutched her fingers together in her lap.
“What are you doing here?” Carly kept her voice low as the teacher began the lesson.
“Long story. Come over tonight and I’ll tell you all about it?” Davey pulled a notebook out of the bag, pretending to be paying attention.
“I have a thing right after school.” Carly muttered, still facing the front of the room. “Write down your address and I’ll come over around 6:30. Will your parents be okay with that?”
“Charlotte. Davey. Would you like to share with the rest of the class?” Their teacher asked without turning from the chalkboard where she was scrawling equations Davey didn’t recognize.
“No, ma’am.” Davey replied with resignation.
“You seem to be having quite the conversation back there, and it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with vortex theorem.”
“Sorry, Mrs. Falcone. Davey lived here a long time ago. We’re just excited to see each other again.” Carly’s voice was quiet, barely loud enough to carry past the end of the desk, but the teacher heard every word.
“You got excited about something?” Mrs. Falcone glanced over her shoulder at Carly before scanning the rest of the students. “I find that hard to believe.”
Carly’s face turned red as many of the students snickered. She stared into her lap. Her fingers picked at her cuticles. A crust of blood had formed on the rim of her third nail. The class chuckled along with the teacher, ignoring the pain clearly written across Carly’s face. Davey felt a rush of rage, but she pushed it down. She’d been here for less than an hour. It wasn’t time to rock the boat yet. Not until she knew what was going on.
Carly’s pen swirled across a piece of paper that she slid across the desk to Davey. ‘address?’. Davey scrawled her hotel and room number below the question. ‘What the hell is going on, Carly?’. She slid the paper back to the other desk. Carly folded the paper and slipped it into her pocket. She shrugged, keeping her gaze locked on the front of the room. They were silent for the rest of class. When the chimes rang, Carly disappeared from the classroom before Davey had even put her book away.
Carly did not appear in any of Davey’s other morning classes. She made a mental note to talk to the engagement coordinator to get her classes swapped. What was the purpose of being placed somewhere if she wasn’t able to interact with her charge? She found her way to the cafeteria and looked for her friend.
“Where the hell are you, Carly?” Davey mumbled to herself as she looked around the room. Filled with long, grey stone tables, the room was teeming with voices. The school was small enough that everyone had the same lunch period. “You have to be in here somewhere.”
Davey made her way through the line up, filling her tray with food. They never ate in The Commune. Their bodies didn’t need it. When she was on assignment, her hunger raged. All the time. Davey made her way to a half empty table where she could keep an eye on the door, planning to wave Carly down when she got here. She picked up the cornmeal muffin, a staple on this planet, and bit through the soft bread. Each chew released a new wave of flavour sensation in her mouth. She closed her eyes, savouring the taste. Good food was just something could not be simulated. And it was definitely not guaranteed on every assignment.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself staring at a teenage boy sitting across the table from her. Startling, she choked on the muffin. She had excellent senses; the idea that he could sneak up on her was unthinkable.
“Hello?” She tilted her head to the side, pushing the long, red hair behind her before it landed on her food tray.
“Hello to you.” His smile was wide and thick and slightly offputting.
“Can I help you?”
“You’re observant.” Davey glanced around his head at the entrance.
“It’s wrong for a girl as pretty as you to be all alone.” He reached a hand across the table, “I’m Jett.”
“I’m waiting for someone.”
“Is that someone me?” He leered.
“It’s Carly Perkins.”
Jett’s laugh was so immediate and raucous that it actually forced Davey to pay attention to him.
“Is that funny?”
“Carly? Like Charlotte? You’re waiting for her? Here?”
“Again, is that funny?”
“Carly doesn’t lunch. Everyone know that. She hasn’t set foot in the cafeteria in like two years.” He was now laughing hard enough for tears to seep from the corner of his eye.
“Where does she eat?” Davey moved to pick up her tray and leave.
“Dear, dear Davey, let me fill you in on a little secret. You might as well put that tray down and eat with me and mine. Your little friend Charlotte doesn’t eat anywhere. The girl doesn’t eat. It’s a side effect.” Jett pushed himself away from the table, and stood looking down at her, “And it’s a good thing. She was a real tubbo before. Your friend’s a failure.”
Davey simply stared up at him, unsure how to respond. She didn’t understand how anyone could go without eating. These human forms required so much energy. It was no wonder that Carly had looked like a walking skeleton. Davey continued to stare at Jett, lost in her own thoughts, unaware that her behaviour was creepy and weird. She failed to notice that people were starting to stare at her.
“I thought you’d be cool because you’re gorgeous, but you’re just a weird as your little friend. There are rules here, and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up just like that pathetic excuse.” Jett pushed away from the table and walked back to a table full of staring students.
“Hey, you,” Davey called towards his retreating back, “Where can I find her?”
“How the hell would I know? She’s a loser. I’m not.” Jett called back without turning around,
Davey grabbed two of the muffins from her tray and hurried out of the cafeteria. A quick search of the school, didn’t locate Carly before she had to head back to class. This was not going the way she expected. Normally, she would have been well into her interference a half day in. This engagement was becoming very frustrating.
A full afternoon without another sighting of Carly made Davey think that the other girl was avoiding her. When the last class of the day started and Carly still hadn’t appeared, Davey had had enough. She hiked her bag over her shoulder and headed to the exit. She wasn’t worried about getting in trouble. She was going to be here long.
“Ms. Nesbitt, where exactly are you going?” A voice sound as her fingers touched the cool metal of the exit door. Davey glanced around but saw no one.
“What the hell?” She reached forward to push open the door again. The lever slid in, but the door itself refused to budge.
“Please report to the office on the lower level.” The voice sounded again. This time Davey saw the small speaker mounted beside a camera above the door. “Immediately.”
“Drat.” Davey mumbled, spinning on her heal. The stairs leading to the lower level of the school were located at the end of the hallway. She took them quickly, her thick-soled boots clomping against the painted cement. “Carly, where the heck are you?”
The light in the basement level was dim. The floors and walls a beaten, flat grey. There were no classrooms down here. No people. The atmosphere had none of the charm or airiness of the above ground levels. Davey felt a wave of sadness wash over her. Getting worse the further she moved down the hall. Closed doors peppered the walls sporadically, but no sounds came from any of the hidden rooms.
“You wanted me down here. Where the hell am I supposed to go?” She muttered, reaching into her bag for the map of the school. There was no basement shown on the paper, let alone a breakdown of the rooms.
“This way, Ms. Nesbitt.” A voice sounded from further down the hall. A door swung open about twenty feet in front of her. Davey shivered as a cool breeze drifted down the hall. When she reached the threshold, she peaked around the corner nervously. This unsettled feeling was so unfamiliar.
A large industrial desk stood centered in the room with a robust, elderly woman seated behind it. Her eyes the same colour as the hard grey walls. Her skin seemed to bleed into the depressing surroundings. She looked like she’d been born from the room. A natural extension of its depression. The cold draft from the hallway was stronger here. Davey’s body felt tired in a way she’d never experienced before. When it was this difficult to adapt to a new body, it didn’t seem worth the effort. Could her assignment really be that important? If it wasn’t for Carly, she would have asked to be switched out.
“Hello?” Davey looked at the woman behind the desk, who still hadn’t spoken a word. “Why am I here?”
“You broke the rules.” The voice that left her frog-like lips was as one-note as the colour scheme in the room.
“It was just one class.”
“The rules are to be obeyed at all times. Do as you are told and the societal order is maintained.” Her tone never changed, not a hint of inflection on any word. She simply stared at Davey and spewed her mantra, not even blinking.
“Okay…” Davey replied, her brow wrinkling in confusion.
“You will report to the detention room at once.”
“Detention? I don’t deserve a detention. What happened to a warning?” Davey spat. The cool breeze from somewhere behind the desk rushed through the room again. Her skin prickled with goosebumps and her anger began to wane.
“Morrison will escort you to the detention room.” The woman continued to stare forward. Davey heard a sound behind her and turned to see a boy her age, skin pale and ashy, almost as thin as Carly, standing in the entrance. “You will remain there until 5:00. You will be released when your sentence is complete.” The woman and her chair turned, drifted away from the desk and through a door in the back of the room. The entire action was self propelled. Davey glanced at the floor to see if there was some kind of track.
“Follow me.” The boy’s voice interrupted her investigation.
Davey followed Morrison further down the hallway. The air seemed to get thicker the further they walked, becoming almost heavy on her lungs.
“How did you get roped into this?” She asked Morrison, hoping to strike up some kind of conversation. Anything to lift the depression that seemed to be settling over her body. The feeling was similar to her transport cocoon, only painful and sad rather than light and powerful. The boy said nothing; he simply walked, leading her to her punishment. “Come on, guy. This is my first day here. Can’t you cut a girl a little slack.”
“The rules are to be obeyed at all times. Do as you are told and the societal order is maintained. Disobey and disorder rules. We must all obey the rules.” He replied, shooting her a quick look. A look that wasn’t blank and vacant, but closer to a warning. It lasted just seconds, but long enough for Davey to be certain she’d seen it.
“What happens if you don’t? How bad can it be?” Davey didn’t believe that she’d been sent here to waste her time sitting in detention. She had to figure out a way to get out and find Carly. But she couldn’t seem to make herself fight. The drive that made her such an excellent Veil felt stifled and lazy.
“This is the detention room. You will be released when you have served your sentence.” Morrison pushed the door open and let her in to the room. In a swift movement, he pulled the bag from her shoulder and swung the door shut behind her.
“Double drat.” Davey muttered to herself as she heard the sound of metal locks sliding into place.