Charlotte was a resolute silhouette on the grey path. Her black coat flared sharply from her small waist, short cut raven hair raised in small tufts in the prevailing wind. She had dropped her battered leather case beside her. The pair of them frozen indefinitely before the bleak fortress before them. Linton’s School for Wayward Girls.
For Nelly, It was the best she could now do for her daughter. Including withholding parts of her own history, her own blood. She turned her battered Volkswagon down the ill-used road back to civilisation and did not look back.
That day you left me there on the path, I had never felt so at home. The windswept heath and grey rock I found a vast improvement on the cultured mutations people force on their homescapes. The cold stone and grey sky are perfect reflections of my soul. Thankyou.
Ms Heath asked me directly why I was there. Shouldn’t she had known? I was sure I arrived with a documented history of my failure to socialise; my tendency to cruelty, my disconnection from those around me. These I did not see myself as problems, I still do not. I am not fond of others so why should I pretend?
“I killed the cat.” I said.
“How did you kill the cat?”
“I squeezed it around its neck until it stopped fighting.”
“Why did you do this?”
“I was fascinated. I would like to do this to Toby, so I experimented.” Blunt honesty is something I have never had an issue with.
“Who is Toby?”
“Toby sat next to me in class. He called me Witch. He drew on my work. He was very annoying.”
“How did you feel about your experiment?”
“I was disappointed I killed the cat. It was a good cat, Mother was fond of it. But; it made me realise that doing this to Toby would be very satisfying.”
After our chat she led me upstairs to a dismal passage that ran the length of the mansion. Was it grand once? The chandeliers and worn remains of a richly patterned runner suggested it may have been. More concerning to me now was who cleaned this place. Cobwebs hung in dust laden drifts; mould spores assailed my nostrils.
I felt she wished to lead me further; but one door asked me to stop. That one called for me. Ms Heath shrugged her shoulders.
“They are all the same and only seven of you here.” She rattled through her fat key chain citing of some sort of identifier until she found the right one.
It is a room refreshingly devoid of frills. A simple bed lay beneath a small window. Against the wall a plain oak table laden with age served as the key feature. I laid my hand upon it, and felt a thrill of time and history resonate from its depths. It was this, not the room that called me. Ms Heath recoiled. I think it was because I smiled. So I smiled wider. How interesting a smile feels. Was it my first? I am not sure.
“Dinner is at 6pm sharp; down stairs to your left.” A barked imperative. And she was gone.
I arrived at dinner at 6.05. There sat six girls two teachers, and a pale man whom I was to learn would be my ‘counsellor’. Lilly Linton, they call him. We are meant to sit at a new place each evening, however he only barks at us to move if we raise a voice. Or try and stab each other.
Yes, Linton is also the name of the manor. It seems he is of the blood of its original occupants. Suitable blood to soak the mahogany floors.
I ignored Linton’s reprove at my lateness; it was my peers I wished to assess. In Tess I immediately saw my like. This did not mean we would get on. Martha is quite mad; her eyes looked as to other worlds. I soon learned that she rarely spoke, but it was good to keep all sharp items clear of her reach. Clara and Betsy were rosy cheeked and chatty. They offered instant welcome and a seat beside them. I ignored them, registering their flash of eye contact and its intended threat to myself. Harriet stared at me until hunger overcame her. She does not belong here. She has anger issues. These can be solved. Bella was like Martha on one day, quite feral. But the next would chat and giggle with Clara and Betsy. Then there was Kat.
Kat sits at the same spot each day. In the middle of our table. She may have been a chunk of stone of the mansion itself, topped by black hair that sat in thick clumps. Hacked at but never brushed. She had a face that on looking at you instantly recognise ‘bully’; and eyes that determine that this girl is deranged and there is no changing this state. She would have a lot of blood.
We have lessons for the large part of each day. Few of us, with the exception of Kat, struggle with the lessons. We attend counselling. Bar the odd incident, we are dutiful.
We are good, most of us, at doing what we need to do. Kat likes to snatch food. Shout low grade abuse. Answer back when there is nothing to answer back to. Occasionally a girl will respond in similar crudity, or try to stab her with the nearest vaguely pointy object. She is an ox. A waste of time, but, in a way, she is a break in monotony that even for me can become an irritation. I never answer back, and have no urge to strangle her. I have new visions.
Linton is happy with me. He thinks I have a friend. To have a friend is apparently a ‘cure’.Tess and I sit together consistently. He does not notice that we do not engage with each other, and that this is the one reason we stay close. We are the same. Linton likes her. She has hair of pale urine and skin like snow before that urine hits it. I imagine what how his pale eyes would bulge if a sharp object were to pierce his heart. I cannot decide if I feel protection for her; or a sense of pleasure in justification at Linton’s looming ill fate. Feelings are too odd, better put aside.
What is important is that I am not alone in my room. My bed sits undisturbed; I sleep each night with my head on my desk. On the ancient oak. It teaches me. The desk gifts a clarity of dreams I have never known. Woman in a forest of oak around a fire. Women drenched in blood, so much blood. I reached for it but it eluded me. The oak showed me faces; it showed me witches. It showed me Grandmama. It showed me you. I know now. Toby was right.
It showed me all its secrets.
Why this school Mother?
Tess was not my fault. I would have spared Tess. Tess made her own decision. Kat thought it was amusing; a side show. The girls clapped in delight at Kat’s rendition of the event. We were sent to our rooms early.
I felt something mother. A coldness. I know I have always been cold, but this was different. I also felt purpose. I gave my purpose to the oak and the oak gave me a splinter of itself. Not just a splinter of oak; a splinter of ages, a splinter of a tree that had been present in ancient rituals. A splinter of my own blood heritage.
I shall see you very soon, Mother.
The Volkswagon backfired to a halt sending resting birds into a flurry of panic. Totally unflurried, Charlotte stood waiting on the grey path. Her leather bag on one hand, a blood stained shaft of oak in her other. It would be a week hence that Nelly would read her letter. An ancient ill was resolved. Her daughter had found herself.