The car wove through the green countryside until it came to a large mansion nestled between two tumuli. The mansion almost sparkled in its whiteness, a spot of brightness against the dreary autumn sky.
The door to the car opened before it came to a complete stop and a short girl with flowing red hair stumbled out. She hurried forward until she came upon a batch of wilting shamrock, in which she promptly vomited.
“Girl!” barked a voice from the mansion’s doorway.
The girl straightened, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, and wobbled toward the doors. There stood a thin, older woman with red hair that matched hers, though streaked with silver.
“Ma’am,” the girl whispered, nodding her head.
The woman tutted. “Not a fan of the winding roads?”
“Figures.” She produced a clipboard and stared severely at the girl. “Name?”
“Walsh. Nessa Walsh.”
The woman looked over the clipboard and pursed her lips. “Ah, yes. Nessa Walsh. I trust your...background won't be an issue?”
Nessa hesitated before nodding. She couldn't seem to meet the woman's narrowed eyes.
“Hmph.” The woman straightened. “You’re to go to your dormitory. Year Ones are on the first floor, to the right. And you will call me Headmistress Byrne.”
“Yes, ma--er, Headmistress Byrne.” Nessa walked quickly into the mansion, keeping her head down. She didn’t notice the whispering girls in the entry hall, all sporting red hair of various lengths. She didn’t notice the black walls adorned with framed pictures, or the flickering candles hanging from the ceiling.
She hurried to the right, stumbled through a set of tall doors, and collapsed onto the dusty bed farthest from the door. She closed her eyes and cried.
They’d find out tomorrow. They’d find out she was a joke.
The next morning, Nessa munched on a piece of buttered toast at one of the circular tables in the Meal Hall.
Maroon tablecloths covered the tables and more candles hung from the ceiling. Six or seven girls sat at each table, chattering, occasionally throwing Nessa a glance. Her table was the only one that was empty.
She shivered, staring down at her plate and ignoring the girls. She missed the white and green from outside and she was angry at herself for making such a scene yesterday. When the girls entered the dormitory later that night, she had remained curled in a ball, refusing to utter a sound.
“You,” said a voice to her right. Nessa jumped. She looked up to find that a girl with a long nose and high cheekbones had taken the seat to her right. Another girl stood behind her, sniffing.
“Er--I’m Nessa,” she said in a small voice. She set her half-eaten toast on the plate and gave the girls a weak smile.
“You took my bed,” snapped the girl in the seat. “I get the one by the window.”
“Oh.” Nessa blinked. “I’m sorry, I didn’t--”
“Don’t let it happen again, Messy,” hissed the long-nosed girl. The standing girl smirked.
“It’s Nessa,” she whispered, but the girls were already walking away, their red hair bouncing as they marched.
Nessa looked miserably at her toast before pushing it away.
More black walls and more hanging candles surrounded Nessa, except this room held lined desks and a chalkboard at the front. Ms. O'Connell, Nessa's first teacher, stood in the middle of the room. She had red hair so dark it was almost black.
“Let’s see what we’ve got here, shall we?” Ms. O’Connell looked around the room and Nessa held her breath, but Mrs. O’Connell called on someone else.
The girl from breakfast, sitting a few seats over, smiled and shot Nessa a wicked glance before opening her mouth and screaming.
The hair on Nessa’s neck stood up as the candles flickered with Erin’s wail. Nessa felt her hands shake as she suddenly thought of her mother. Something was wrong; her mother was shrouded in darkness, and a cloaked figure wrapped its claws around her--
“Excellent work, Erin!”
Nessa jumped at Ms. O’Connell’s praise, snapping out of her reverie. She looked around to find that all the students' faces had paled. Some wiped away tears.
“Now, how many of you saw a family member about to die?” asked Ms. O’Connell briskly.
Nessa shakily raised her hand with about half the class.
“Incredible work, Erin!” said Mrs. O’Connell, smiling. “A very strong number for your first Scream!”
Erin smiled smugly and Nessa fought the urge to gag. She shook her head, packaging away her mother until she could have another good cry, and focused on her teacher.
“Who’s next?” Mrs. O’Connell looked around the room and Nessa was too late to avert her eyes. “Nessa! Up next!”
Nessa gulped. “I-I don’t want to.”
Mrs. O’Connell raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And why not?”
“I can’t Scream.”
The rest of the girls in the class snickered. Nessa felt warmth rise to her cheeks and she looked down to her desk.
“Nonsense, child,” said Mrs. O’Connell. “Even humans can scream. Come on; don’t be shy, we’re all beginners here. It’s all right if it’s not a true Scream.”
Nessa stared around the class, panicked. Erin smirked. Mrs. O’Connell’s eyebrows were in danger of disappearing into her hair.
“Don’t make me ask again, Nessa,” Mrs. O’Connell warned, putting a hand on her hip.
Nessa closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She opened her mouth and tried to Scream.
But what came out was a flowing melody with notes that hung in the air and sunk into the very skin of the students in the class. The most beautiful song floated throughout the mansion and into the ears of all the girls at the boarding school, who started drifting toward the Year One classroom, faint smiles on their faces as their eyes glazed over--
“Enough!” shouted Mrs. O’Connell, slamming her hands over her ears.
Nessa snapped her mouth shut, blinking. Most of her fellow students were on their feet, walking toward her. They stared around in surprise before throwing Nessa glances of disgust and returning to their seats.
“What--what was that?” shrieked Erin. She gave Nessa a look of such hate that Nessa flinched.
“That...well, that was a surprise, Miss Walsh,” said Mrs. O’Connell, her nose flaring and her chest rising quickly. “Singing. No, not singing. Calling. Where did you learn to do that, Nessa?”
“It’s not my fault,” whispered Nessa, shuffling her feet. “I’m part siren. My father’s mother.”
No one could mistake the pity in Mrs. O’Connell’s eyes. Nessa sniffed.
“I-I’m banshee on my mother’s side,” she tried to say, but Erin spoke over her.
“Stupid siren, stupid siren,” she chanted until the entire class shouted the words. Mrs. O’Connell waved her arms to quiet the students, but they wailed over her.
Nessa burst into tears and sprinted to the Year One dormitory, where she curled up on the bed by the door and let her tears stain the pillow.
A half-siren at a school for banshees. She was a joke.