April 8th, 2016 | Published in Dragon Wars
They weren’t surprised to learn that there was an emergency assembly before afternoon classes. What they didn’t expect was for the headmaster, who looked grey and whose left cheek and eye had developed a visible tic, to launch into a nearly incoherent diatribe about the evils of drugs.
“Drugs?” Sera growled. “Mike doesn’t do drugs.” From the cries of protest from the friends of the other sick boys they felt equally offended by the insinuation that the illness was self-inflicted.
“W-well something made them collapse…” The headmaster seemed taken aback by their anger.
“So when faced with a mystery you blame the victims?” A girl yelled from the other side of the hall. “Well maybe we should blame your wife for The Pulse then!”
“Ow! Low blow!” Ophelia winced. She saw Kira frown and whispered. “He lives outside town. Too far outside town, I guess. His wife was one of the people who died.”
Kira said nothing but the way she cringed spoke whole volumes.
The headmaster had gone white and his eye was twitching even more as he took a step back from the podium. “I-it’s the most obvious logical explanation.”
“Sir.” Sera rose to her feet. “It can’t be drugs. I spoke to mum at lunchtime and they’ve done a blood test on Mike. No drugs. Shouldn’t you check before making accusations?”
“Er…” His eyes bulged and his mouth opened and closed though no sound came out. He looked around wildly. “Drugs!”
“He’s gone nuts,” Sera said quietly as she sat back down. “I suppose the last few weeks have been stressful for us all.”
“I think it’s grief, Sera,” Ophelia whispered. “He’s probably been on the brink since the Pulse.â€ Mr Dooley must have come to the same conclusion because he dragged the Headmaster off the stage with the help of a couple of other teachers. Once he’d been escorted from the hall Mr Dooley came back and took over the assembly.
“Okay, settle down, kids,” he said. “The truth is, we don’t know–” He broke off as a boy seated a couple of rows in front of them rose to his feet and headed for the aisle. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead and he was clawing at his chest. Then he fainted – Ophelia tried not to gawk, but it was hard when she could see a strange, quasi-humanoid figure which seemed to made of semi-transparent shadow and which made her skin feel cold wrapped around and through the unconscious boy’s torso. Ophelia took a quick glance around but no one else seemed to be able to see it.
“Sera!” she whispered. “Do you see that thing?”
“What thing?” Sera said without taking her eyes off the scene.
“There’s a weird creature wrapped around him. Don’t you see it?”
Sera didn’t reply but her expression as she glanced over at Ophelia answered the question. Ophelia looked over at Kira and found the girl frowning at her – probably questioning her sanity. A strange echoing scream made her look back at the boy in time to see the shadow creature rise up to hover over the assembly, a thin tendril of shadow still connecting it to its victim. Five similar threads seemed to vanish into the distance. What the hell?
As she watched the creature turned sinuously in the air and dived down towards another boy. The kid caught his breath but was otherwise unaffected as it entwined itself around him.
Ophelia shook her head as the teachers cleared the hall again. Was she going mad or had she really seen a monster feeding on one boy before seeking new prey? And what did it mean if it was real?
It’s real, Ophelia. The strange yet somehow familiar voice echoed in her head. But it’s not exactly feeding; it’s trying to find a suitable host and using the failures as anchors until it does.
“Okay,” Ophelia whispered to herself. “Hearing voices is most definitely not a good sign.”
“Neither is talking to yourself, or so I hear,” Kira said. “But let’s worry about more important things. They haven’t closed the school, so we have maths, and I’m really glad you two are both in the same class as me because I don’t know where it is.” She pulled Ophelia and Sera into linking arms with her. “So you’ll have to show me.”
“Mum’s still at the hospital.” Sera was checking her texts as they walked to the gates after. “I’m staying at yours.”
“Hold on, I’ll call mum.” Ophelia pulled out her phone and after a brief conversation nodded. “She says that Aunt Sophie dropped a bag off for you earlier. Hey, Kira, do you want to come to mi…” But Kira was nowhere in sight. “Where did she go?”
“Home, I expect,” Sera said. “We must have missed her saying goodbye while we were sorting out my sleeping arrangements. Anyway come on! We mustn’t miss the bus. Aunt Cass will go spare if you’re late.”