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“C’mon honey, you need to get out,” my mom urged, standing outside the open car door.
I just stared up at the building. Big and red, made of stacked brick, the two story building looked so much more menacing than I had expected. Children streamed into the Wooden double doors of the main exit, but all my eyes saw was a smiling mouth devouring everyone.
“Its not so bad Rachel.” She picked me up, easily carrying my six and a half year old body through the doors. Behind me, dad was carrying my tiny backpack. A short walk and several turns later, we stopped outside my new classroom. Mom set me down, and I hid behind the door frame, peeking my head around the wooden panel nervously in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the interior. It was mostly empty, as only a few of the children had arrived so early. At my mother's urging, I entered the room, taking a seat while my parents went to talk to the only adult in the room, a blonde woman wearing an apron and writing on a weird black slab on the wall.
While they talked,I reluctantly examined my surroundings. The room was colorful, and the walls were covered in meaningless posters and other things to draw my eyes. The floor however, was crowded with tables, each surrounded by several chairs. One corner of the classroom had a small bookshelf, another had a box filled with toys. The front of the classroom had a large desk and that weird board the lady had been scribbling on before.
I didn't notice my parents had finished their talk until Dad tapped on the back of my head.I whirled, then relaxed when I saw who it was.
Dad kneeled down, hugged me, and said, “Time for us to go honey, We’ll pick you up when school is over.”
My eyes widened. They were LEAVING? They hadn't mentioned this part when they told me about school.
“Why?” I asked them, my right hand rapidly switching between the two movements that formed the word in ASL. My eyes were tearing up and my bottom lip trembled.
“Don’t cry Rachel.” Mom leaned down for a hug too. “We aren’t allowed to stay. But I promise it won’t be so bad.” She hung my bag on the back of my chair, pausing as she fell into a fit of coughing. It sounded bad, she must have caught a cold. She recovered, and they said their goodbyes, leaving me to the mercy of the school.
Around me, the classroom slowly filled as other new students arrived. My table near the back of the classroom was one of the last to fill up, but finally, with the clang of a bell that rang out throughout the school, it was time for school to start.
School. WAS. AWESOME. A few hours had passed since my parents had left, but it felt like only a few minutes. I had already learned a lot of cool things.
“And thats what an Aardvark is children.” My teacher, Miss Rinna told us. With an annoying clanging, the schools bell rang once more. “Okay everyone, It's time for lunch, line up and follow me!”
We did as she asked, following her through the cheerily decorated halls. Other kids we passed were obviously older than our group, all heading in the opposite direction. Eventually we reached a set of double doors leading into a large room filled with rectangular tables. Other kindergarten classes were already seated and eating, and a line of kids waiting for food stretched along one wall. Miss Rinna led us to a table, directing us to sit.
I looked at the other students, suddenly anxious again without the work of the classroom to distract me. I was seated on the very end of the table bench, and the person seated next to me seemed to notice my nervousness.
“Hi! I’m Katy Accardo,” she told me, holding her hand out for me to shake. She was shorter than me, with light blonde hair.
Taking her hand with my left, I signed with my right, my fingers deftly forming the shapes. “I'm Rachel. Nice to meet you.”
“What's your hand doing?” she asked, eyeing my appendage like it was a snake about to bite her on the nose. My stomach fell.
“Can you understand me?”I asked. But I already knew the answer.
She didn't reply to my question, instead asking a few of her own. “Why don't you say nothing? Are ya stupid?
I shook my head in dismay. Oh how I wanted to be anywhere but there. This was the first time in my life that being mute had been a problem. Honestly,I wasn't sure how to react.
Jessica didn't like being ignored. When it became apparent that I wasn't going to say anything she turned her nose up with a ‘Hmph’ and did her best to forget my existence, as she thought I was doing to her. Maybe school was a little bit less awesome than I thought. That was ok though,I was sure it would get better...
Two years later
The library was my favorite place in the whole school. It was always quiet, doubly so it seemed from my favorite corner, seated in a comfy chair, nose deep in the latest book to catch my interest. I always spent as much time there as I could, and today was no exception.
It was also, almost always empty; Very few eight year olds had a big interest in reading, preferring to spend their free time outside.
As the pages turned, I couldn't help but wish I could be out there with them. My last attempt at making some friends had...not gone well, and I was not looking forward to trying again. I was afraid really. Surrounded by books, I felt safe. I refocused my attention towards the paperback on my lap, tossing those thoughts from my mind. I read~
“Don’t pinch!” said his eagle. “You need not be frightened like a rabbit, even if you look rather like one. It is a fair morning with little wind. What is finer than flying?”
Bilbo would have liked to say: “A warm bath and late breakfast on the lawn afterwards;” but he thought it better to say nothing at all, and to let go his clutch just a tiny bit.~
“Rachel?” I reluctantly looked up, thoroughly annoyed to be distracted once again. The rather dower looking librarian stared down at me. “Why aren’t you in class?”
I smiled, not fooled by her disapproving look. This was one of the few people that I could never be afraid of. Setting the book down, I pulled a mini-notebook from my pocket, jotting down a quick note, which I handed to her.
Recess, it said.
“Oh...Of course.” she replied turning to leave, then paused before turning around and addressing me again. “Um, How is your mother doing?” She immediately regretted it, seeing the look on my face, downcast as it was.
I wrote another note, longer this time.
Still in the hospital. Dad says the doctor doesn't know when she can come home.
“Well. thats too bad.” she said uncomfortably. She glanced about, eyes finally landing on the book I had been reading. A prime subject changer apparently. “The Hobbit?” she asked. “Isn't that a bit advanced for a second grader?”
It was a gift from my mother.
“Oh. How nice.” She seemed a bit put off by her inability to move our ‘conversation’ from my sick parent.I think at that point she gave up, because she said “Alright dear, enjoy your book, and don't be late for class,” then walked off to reorder the shelves, leaving me alone in my corner.
I tried to start reading again, but my mind had once again drawn its attention to unhappier thoughts, and it proved impossible to distract a second time. Just as well, the bell rang soon after anyway. I set off for class.
The rest of the school day passed quickly without incident. I hurried to the parking lot, my face lowered to avoid catching the eye of any of the other students. I jumped in the back seat, my face lighting up with a smile as I saw a cake box next to me. I couldn't help but wonder what the occasion was. Dad was driving so i couldn't ask him. He stayed quiet as we drove home and walked into the house, despite my signed questions. He sat me down at our kitchen table, cutting a large slice of cake and setting it down in front me.
He sat across from me, and for the first time since I left the school,I got a good look at his face. It was a strange combination of anger and despair, literally making me pause mid bite. My mind immediately examined the events of the last few days. Had I done something wrong? Why was he mad at me? It was much worse than I thought though.
“I, uh, I got some news today. About your mom.”
I relaxed with a sigh, dropping my fork and signing quickly. “Is she coming home?”
Dad’s expression got worse, which I hadn't thought was possible. “No Rachel...Shes not coming home.”
His eyes were shining and wet. “Honey, I don't think you understand. She isn't coming home. Ever.”
And thats when i woke up.
Beep Beep Beep
I cracked my eyelids open, glaring at the alarm clock with contempt. Untangling one arm from my nest of blankets, I slapped the off button. The bed was so warm and comfortable, I nearly fell back asleep, but the thought of starting that dream(the same dream I had been having at least twice a week for years) where I left off gave me more than enough motivation to drag myself out from under the covers. On the list of nightmares I had been subjected to ever since mom died(from lung cancer) 4 years ago, that was one of the more mild ones. But I still had to swipe an arm across my face to dry the tears.
My closet was nearly empty, but I managed to find a pair of black jeans, white t-shirt and a purple sweater, changing quickly to preserve body heat in my chilly room. I made a mental note to do laundry after school.
The sun shone brightly from a crack in the curtains, reflecting blindingly off the six inches of snow that had descended last night. I retrieved my coat and a wool hat, laying them by the front door, and set off to the kitchen for a quick meal before I left for school, idly wishing that I lived somewhere other than there. Six inches was not nearly enough to cancel a day of school in michigan.
The kitchen was empty of both food and people. Dad had either forgotten to do the shopping or more likely, been too busy with work to do it. A note on the refrigerator door suggested the latter. It seemed he had picked up an extra shift at the sports bar he worked nights at. I sighed, resigned to a hungry morning and attempting to quell the wave of disappointment that would inevitably come over me.
Dad worked two jobs, and I rarely ever saw him these days. Logically, i knew he worked so much so we could keep our house, but sometimes I couldn't help but feel he might not like spending time with me. I pushed the thought from my head, never one to dwell on things for long. Instead, I jotted down a quick list of groceries, and grabbed a wad of cash from the jar we kept emergency money in. I would have to do some shopping if I wanted to eat tonight.
It was starting to get late, so I donned the coat and hat, along with an over the shoulder bag I carried my school books in, and set off down the street towards my bus stop.
The alleyway leading to my bus-stop was dim, shadowed as it was by the branches of the trees extending over fences twice my height. Several other kids walked ahead and behind me, but, thankfully, they left me alone today, either too entranced by the year's first snow, or the more likely option, simply not even noticing my existence.
I counted my lucky stars, kept my head down, and ten minutes later arrived at a waiting bus, stepping lightly onto the sputtering yellow deathtrap. As always, I took a seat at the very front, setting my bag on the seat next to me to act as a barrier between me and the other tweens. I pulled the now worn copy of the hobbit from the bag, and hunkered down, determined to ignore everyone and everything until I arrived at school. It worked, I was able to stay sufficiently focused, despite the incessant chattering that only grew louder as the bus filled up behind me.
When the bus pulled to a stop in my middle school parking lot, I was the first off. walking as quickly I could without transitioning to running, I made my way to my locker, depositing the books I wouldn’t need till after lunch. My first class, Math, was just down the hall from my locker.
I almost, ALMOST, made it there without any trouble. I was three feet from the door when she stepped in front of me. Katherine Accardo had grown taller than me in recent years, and even though she had realized her mistake a long time ago, she still held something against me.
“Hey Mutie!” she said, smiling at the her oh so clever nickname. Everytime Katherine saw me she made it her mission to get some sort of rise from me. Instead, I just smiled right back at her, which, I find, is the easiest way to throw people like her off. She looked confused, but didn’t let it stop her for long. “Speechless?”. Well, she certainly wasn't a clever specimen, but she sure was determined. It was time for more advanced tactics. I forced myself to smile even wider, and then just walked past her, into the classroom to sit down. “Hey! I’m talking to you, You can’t just ignore me!” she said, indignified. Ha, I got ignored almost twenty-four seven. I took my seat and waited for class to start.
She stalked past, whispering “This isn’t over,” before sitting down behind me. Thats certainly menacing, I thought to myself, before once again turning my thoughts to more important things.
School was a boring affair, but throughout the day I caught Katherine giving me looks. I began to think maybe I had made a mistake. I didn’t usually get this anxious over stuff like this, but something about it was rattling me. As the minutes of my last class wore down, I stared at the clock, counting down the seconds. Finally, the bell rang(2 minutes after it should have, according to Mrs. Dothams’ classroom clock) and I more or less exploded into action. I swiftly made my way to my locker, crammed my books into my bag, and ran off down the hall, ignoring the protests of a 7th grade teacher, and flew down the three steps outside the main entrance. The school bus called to me, whispering safety and anonymity. Katherine didn't ride the bus either, so there was that.
When I set my foot on the first step, something that happened this morning slammed itself to the forefront of my mind. Frack! I needed to do the shopping. The money in my pocket weighed me down. I seriously considered not eating that night, but skipping the shopping would mean at least another two meals I didn't get to eat if i counted tomorrow's non-existent breakfast. There was nothing to it, I was just going to have to hope I could still leave from the front gates without running into her.
As you can probably guess by now, my luck was not that good. I basically sprinted down the main walkway, and i was but five feet from the gates when she stepped out from behind a bush. In hindsight, I should have just barreled through her and kept going. What I actually did was try and stop to avoid a collision, catch my foot on a crack on the sidewalk, and fall flat on my face. And to make things worse, my bag opened with a KRAACK of abused velcro, spilling my books all over the pavement.
I shoved the books into my bag, not wanting to give her any ammunition. As my hand reached out for the last book, Katherines, landed on it first. My eyes bulged as I saw which one she had grabbed.
“What's this? The hobbit? This can’t possibly be yours.” her eyes shone dangerously. “I’ll just get rid of it for you” she reared back, drawing her arm in for a throw. Realizing what she wanted to do, I lunged at the book. If there was one thing she couldn't take it was that book. She grunted with the impact, but kept aiming, finally letting go with a giggle. I saw it arc as if in slow motion, the book flying, pages flapping in the wind, right over the fence at the schools boundary, landing with a plop in the as of yet unfrozen river that ran outside the grounds.
Had that really just happened? Had one of the worst people I’d ever known just taken away the last thing I had that connected me to my mother? My vision clouded, and I realized i was starting to cry. I turned to look at Katherine, and she was cackling like the wicked witch. The sight of tears in my eyes just seemed to amuse her even more. I’m not good with conflict, never have been, probably never will be. Everything about this situation just screamed WRONG.
My mind couldn’t handle it properly, and I think I blacked out for a few seconds. When I came to, Katherine was holding a hand to her face, and my hand was shaking and stung a little bit. It was immediately obvious what I had done. Katherine was stunned. I could only think of one way out, so I took off across the street, narrowly dodging a honking car as I escaped. I ran and ran, eventually stopping for a break in the nearest place I could find.
It just so happened to be a restaurant, Big Jim’s Fish and chips. It smelled like grease, salt, and ketchup, and the tables were pockmarked and scarred from years of service. I seated myself in a booth, head draped on my arms, slowly crying as the droplets formed a tiny puddle on the table. Dangit, I thought, Should have just gone hungry. I wanted to leave. Dad wouldn't notice me even if I left. On top of that I had no friends. Every day was the same thing, a never ending cycle of lonely silence. Maybe I didn't deser-
“Honey? Are you ok?”
I pulled my head off my arms, catching sight of the women speaking to me. Her hair is crazy, was my first thought, and it was. Three stripes, Dark purple, hot pink, and creamy yellow were dyed into her hair. It was the most natural looking dye job I had ever seen. My mind phased back to her question. I shook my head, the answer was most certainly no.
“Aww, I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about it?
Again, i shook my head no. Couldn't do that even if i wanted to.
“You’ll feel better if you talk to someone.” she wasn't taking the hint. I retrieved a notebook from my bag, jotting down the words, “I can't speak” and handing it to her.
“Oh...OH...I’m so sorry!” she glanced at the notepad, “I'm not in a hurry, why not write it down?”
Her smile was infectious, and I found myself explaining through several pages of lined paper, all the problems I had to deal with. As she read, she asked several questions, each answer she got seemed to depress her. As I finished telling the day’s events with katherine, she clapped loudly and stood up.
“I have just the thing. Wait here for a minute.”
She ran into the back of the diner, and then back out dragging a man with blue striped hair out by the arm.
“Cadance, What's going on?” she pulled him to my table, forcing him into the bench opposite me. When he saw me, a strange look came over his face.
“Oh no, is this like that time with the rabbit you wanted to adopt.”
“Hey, Fluttershy said she would be fine in a few weeks!” Cadance exclaimed a bit too loudly. drawing the attention of several of the other diner-goers for the first time. Cadance shuddered, like the diners vision had an actual physical effect on her. Closing her eyes with a swift clap, there was a minor flash and then everyone stopped looking our way. I even had a hard time trying to keep cadance in my sight. What on earth had she just done?
“Alright, Honey, This is my husband, Shining Armor.” she told me. What a weird name! “We aren't from here, as in this planet, or even this universe! And if you want, we can take you home with us when we go back.”
“Cadance....” Shining trailed off.
“She makes the choice, Shiney, not us.”
“It doesn’t seem right”
“She’s not happy here.”
He took a good look at me, then finally, he mumbled “Fine...”
“What do you think Rachel?”
I just stared. and stared. Slowly my eyes narrowed into a glare. How DARE they? Taunting me with fake alternate universes? I had been upset before, but now i was just mad. I shouldered my bad, preparing to walk off in a huff.
“Wait!” cadance said. “I can prove it.” I stopped. I couldn't tell myself to ignore this chance, however slim it might be. I turned around slowly, coming face to face with Cadance. Smiling, she moved her hands again, and they flash, much brighter this time, and suddenly, she was holding my water weighted copy of the Hobbit. My notebook slammed down on the table.
“What did you just do?” it said.
“Magic” they said in unison. Magic. They had done magic. That was impossible though, magic wasnt real right? But if they were actually from another universe, whose to say people there couldn't use magic? Unbidden images of me standing on a clifftop holding a staff and wearing white robes ran through my head. There was really no option at that point. I grabbed cadances and her husbands hands, shaking both for good measure. They look confused, but i explained the ritual on paper.
“Shiney, can you cast a Notice-It-Not barrier around the table?” Shinings hands glowed too, and a transparent barrier popped into existence around our seats. “Alright, I’m going to open the portal now, when I give the signal, jump through, OK?” I nodded, and she closed her eyes. Her hands began glowing brighter and brighter with a beautiful pink light, and a small right began opening in the table top. I stared down into it, seeing a beautiful landscape covered in multicolored dots. “Now, Go!” I didn't even think about it, I just jumped. As I was falling though, I caught sight of Cadance again, and for a split second, she look like a tiny. pink. Horse. And then I passed out.
Cadance and Shining armor followed me through the rift, but no one noticed the second person sit down at the same table and then dive through the still closing portal.