The silence of the classroom was interrupted when the speakers above the door let out a piercing noise, followed by the announcement, “Alicia Sanders, you’re needed in the principal’s office.”
Silence would’ve been better than the Ooooo’s that filled the classroom when the speaker quieted. I don’t think I did anything to get in trouble for. I quietly stood, grabbing my backpack and tossing the strap over my shoulder, before heading for the door. I heard quiet muffles of other students as I left, but I ignored it like I always do.
The walk to the principal’s office from this part of the campus was a lengthy one. I wish they waited until my next class, which is considerably closer to the office and the other students are way less immature than my English class I just left from. Once I leave this building, I will have to walk past the cafeteria building and down a long covered walkway before I reach the front office. I make this walk every day when I get to school, and I honestly don’t mind it. It’s peaceful, especially on days like today where the sky has some clouds and it’s not too sunny, and the sounds of birds, bees, and distant cars filled the silence.
As soon as I entered the principal’s office, I was greeted by Mrs. Gerill, “It’s lovely to see you, Alicia! Sorry for bringing you out of your science class. Don’t worry, you’re not in any trouble, dear.”
I guess my face was making my nervousness very clear. I still don’t understand why I’m here if I’m not in any trouble.
“Why was I called to the office if I’m not in trouble?” I asked Mrs. Geril.
“You have a special guest.” She replied, followed by a small squeak that came from her throat.
Mrs. Geril motioned for me to follow, so I did, assuming I was being taken to the principal’s office, which I was. She knocked twice on the door, and the door quickly swung open where I recognized Principal Cooley’s arms widening and a smile spreading across his face.
“Welcome, Alicia!” he announced enthusiastically.
“Hi!” I replied, returning the energy.
I stepped into his office, where I saw an unfamiliar woman sitting at the chair across from where the principal usually occupies.
“Oh! Hello, Alicia! I’ve heard so much about you! I know you’re probably wondering who I am, and we will get to that in just a moment.” The strange woman said to me, before giving the front office lady a glance that said she was dismissed.
I stood near the now closed door of the office while the Principal returned to his chair across from the woman. There was a bench I could sit at, but I’m still too confused to even contemplate moving from my current position. This is all so strange.
“Alicia,” the Principal spoke first, “I would like to introduce you to Helen Wollitz! She comes from a truly remarkable place and wanted to make a visit to you today. I know it’s very spur of the moment, but I recommend listening to what she has to offer. You may be tempted.”
Offer? What does that even mean? I am off to high school next school year, so maybe she’s some sort of scout from another school?
“Pleasure to meet you!” Wollitz announced, “I come from a place that you’re probably not familiar with. We call it Zurin Academy… a school for kids with unique abilities. I’d love to tell you more about it, if you are interested?”
“Unique abilities? Is this related to my grades?” I questioned her.
“Oh no, my dear. I’m not here so much because of your grades, but more because of your parents. You do know they went to Zurin, right? Surely they’ve spoken with you about it.”
I can’t remember them ever mentioning going to Zurin Academy. I guess I assumed they went to Mt. Edway, which is where most people here go after middle school. Although we never talked much about that sort of stuff before they died a few years ago, right before I went to middle school.
I’ll never forget that day when everything changed. I had my 5th grade graduation that day, but my parents had work obligations, so my grandma came with me instead. After the graduation, all the students got sent home early, but before we even made it to the car on our way out, Grandma got a call. I didn’t expect anything like what came after that phone call.
“I should talk to my grandma. She would probably know more about the school. Can I call her?” I looked toward the principal, waiting for a response.
Before he could respond, Wollitz interjected, “I don’t think your grandma will know about the school. Your parents were instructed to keep the school a secret for everyone's safety.” She reached for a small binder and flipped it open. After skimming through it for a moment, she stopped on what seemed to be a class picture. “Here!” she pointed her finger to where my parents stood, side by side, “Your mother and father were exceptional students. They were proud of their work, and they would want you to continue the legacy.”
“You have no clue what my parents would want. Why would they never tell me about this school if they were so proud of it?” I asked her, with my frustration becoming apparent.
“It wasn’t time yet. Traditionally, you learn of the school upon your first day of middle school, but given what happened… that was just not in the cards. I know we have never met and you have no reason to trust me, but I am incredibly sorry for the loss of your parents. What happened to them… it never should have happened.”
What did she mean by that? I was told they got into a car accident, but I guess I have no way to prove that. I never even saw them after. One minute they were both stuck at work and the next… they were just gone. Like they never even existed. Everyone moved on so quickly, besides Grandma. She never spoke about them after, but I know she misses them as much as I do. My father was her only child, so there’s no way she doesn’t think about him every day.
“They were in a car accident,” I stated.
Confusement radiated from her, her eyebrows slightly furrowing. She was silent for a long moment, before saying, “Yes, of course. I just mean that the car accident was a tragedy and I wish I could’ve stopped it.”
I knew she was hiding something. It was obvious. What would she have to hide after just telling me about some unheard-of school that my parents apparently went to?
“I’ll attend. Your school. Will I start after I finish middle school in a couple months?” I can’t believe I just agreed to this. But I have to find out what happened to my parents. There has always been so many things I never understood about their accident.
“I actually would like to bring you today. The sooner we get started, the better! We can stop by your house briefly, you can pack a few things and say your goodbyes to your grandmother. But you mustn't tell her where you’re really going. You will tell her you’re going to the boarding school your parents went to, and if there are any objections, I can… help.
I nodded. This may be a horrible idea, but I feel like I need to do this. I can’t fully explain why.
“Perfect!” Wollitz stood, brushing down her elegant but dated dress. “Let’s get going! No time to spare!”
Before I could even face the door of the office, we were already in front of Grandma’s house.
“How? What just happened?” I spun around, my eyes darting in every direction.
“You’ll be seeing a lot of this once we reach Zurin Academy. One day, hopefully soon, you will even learn how to harness the power yourself.” She replied, as enthusiastically as ever.
Before I could reply, my grandma burst out of the doors, tears filling in her eyes. “No. I made the mistake of letting your father go away. I won’t be doing that again. I must keep you safe. You deserve better than–” she stopped, mid sentence.
I turned to face Wollitz, who smiled as she blew a powdery, sparkly substance toward my grandma. She promptly brushed her hands together, the remaining substance falling to the ground. Wollitz must’ve seen the confusion and fear on my face, because she said, “Oh no worries, my dear. She is fine and she won’t have complaints regarding your departure. You must trust me. Your parents trusted me.”
I held in the questions I had just bubbling at the surface. Now isn’t the time. I walked into the house, quickly grabbing a few clothes. On my way out, I saw the ring my mother used to wear. Not her wedding ring. This ring is chunkier and emits a light purple glow. I don’t think I ever remember her not wearing this ring. I grabbed the ring, dropping it into a small pocket in my backpack, which is no longer filled with notebooks, but instead stuffed full of clothes.
Grandma now sat on the couch, as if she wasn’t crying, begging me to stay just 10 minutes ago.
“I’ll see you later, Grandma.” I told her, giving her a kiss on the forehead. She didn’t acknowledge.
I ignored the strangeness of her behavior as I left the house, closing the door behind me. My home. I couldn’t help but look back at the door and remember all the memories shared with my parents before they died, and a time when Grandma was more… herself.
“Are you ready?” Wollitz asked me as she clapped her hands.
“I think so. Are you sure my grandma is going to be okay? I am all she has and now I’m leaving her too.” I can’t help but feel bad that I’m choosing to get answers over being with my grandma like she was always there for me.
“She won’t remember this. She will just know that you are going to the school your parents went to and that she is happy for you.”
I’m not sure if I believe what she’s saying, but I still need to get the answers I’ve wanted for years. This is the closest I’ve come to understanding what really happened to my parents, and yet I’m still nowhere close to figuring it out. I just nodded, again, and within a second, I stood beside Wollitz, with a cobblestone building towering before us. A metal gate stood in front of the school, a sign attached that read, Zurin Academy.
I don’t know how I managed to fall asleep last night, but it was already nearly sundown by the time we made it here. Beams of sunlight illuminated the arching window across from my bed now. “Day one”, I told myself. After Wollitz acted so strange when the topic of my parents' accident was brought up yesterday, I got the feeling that the story I was always told isn’t the truth. I could just go ask her, but who’s to say she would be honest? She didn’t tell me when she had the chance.
I threw my covers off before walking to the window. I have no clue where we are, but this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Green hills blossomed with flowers as far as I could see, even past the fence surrounding the school. This place reminds me of something out of a fairytale. Why would my parents never talk about such a perfect place? None of this makes any sense, but I will find out one way or another. But where should I start?
A knock on the door had me look away from the window. “Yes?” I spoke to the door, or whoever stood on the other side of it.
“Hello dear! It’s Mrs. Wollitz, may I enter?” the person on the other side spoke.
Instead of responding, I pulled the door open. Mrs Wollitz, in a new elegant dress today, entered my bedroom.
“How did you sleep? Surely you have everything you need?” She questioned. I could tell she was genuine in her questions.
“I slept fine. Where are we?” I asked her as I walked back to the window.
“This school, and the land that surrounds it, is hidden away from the rest of the world. Nobody, besides those that attend or have attended, know how to get here. But we are on the same planet, just… hidden. Not too far from your home. But I must inform you, it’s not possible to simply walk back home from here. Just as we are hidden from the rest of the world, they are also hidden from us while we are here. But you will learn all about that soon enough!”
“I guess I just don’t understand why my parents never mentioned this place to me. They never once brought it up.” I couldn’t avert my gaze from the window.
“I know, dear. You were just too young, I’m sure. They would have told you when you were ready.” she now stood behind me, looking out of the same window. “It’s a spectacle, isn’t it?” she paused for a moment, “Anyway! Today is your first official day at Zurin Academy! You have Orientation first, then your first class right after that is History! I can imagine you are dying to learn about the history of this school. So get dressed, quickly. You don’t have much time!” Wollitz closed the door behind her on her way out before I even had the chance to say anything.
A wardrobe on the same wall as the window was full of new clothes, definitely not the clothes I brought with me. They were all… dresses. Different colors, but all the same style of dresses. I slipped one of the dresses on before heading to Orientation.
The class was nearly empty, besides a teacher with deep wrinkles and gray hair who sat in front of a large table. “You’re a little early, but that’s okay! A few other students will be here shortly. What’s your name?” the teacher asked me as she sifted through a stack of papers.
“Alicia… Sanders.” I replied.
The teacher stopped what she was doing and immediately met my eyes. “Sanders? Are you the daughter of Mallory and Lyle Sanders, by chance?”
“Yes. Did you know them?” I asked.
She jumped from her chair, nearly running to me, and wrapped her arms around me in an embrace. “It’s so lovely to meet you! They were students here. We grew very close during their time here. I wish they were here to see you right now. I’m Mrs. Foller!” She smiled at me, and I don’t know why, but I knew I could trust her.
“It’s nice to meet you.” I said to her, and I meant it. She was oddly comforting. Unlike Mrs. Wollitz, nothing about the interaction seemed forced or too friendly.
The other three students walked in, two boys and one girl that seemed about my age. Nobody said a word to each other for the entire class. Mrs. Foller just explained what our daily schedule will look like and what’s expected of us while in attendance at Zurin Academy, and that was it.
Everyone left the classroom, but before I followed behind them, I turned to where Mrs. Foller sat at her desk. “Do you know what happened to my parents? It wasn’t a car accident, was it?” I couldn’t help myself. I have to know. This may be the best chance I have of learning the truth, if she’s willing to give that to me.
Mrs. Foller stared for what felt like minutes before sighing, and walking to the door, closing it, “No…it wasn’t a car accident. But if I tell you what happened to them, you must not inform Mrs. Wollitz of what I say. She insisted that you aren’t ready for the truth just yet. I only agree to tell you because it’s what your parents would’ve wanted for you. They didn’t like keeping secrets.”
“She will never know that you told me anything, Mrs. Foller. I just need to know.” I replied.
We both sat back down, and she began to explain. “You will soon learn about the importance of this school, so I won’t go into too much detail just yet. There was an evil in this world that only those from Zurin Academy could fight against. Your mother and father were sent here at the same time many years ago, and sat where you are sitting right now on their first day. Eventually, they learned of the true evil that we united against, and they dedicated their lives to protecting innocent human lives in the world that you know. But the day of their death, there was an attack here at Zurin and they rushed here, opening a portal on their way. But it was a trap, and the evil slipped back through, nearly reaching your world. Those beasts were going to wreak havoc on your lands if they got through the portal. Your parents chased them, but they knew you would be in danger if the monsters got through, I assume, because they closed the portal, sealing themselves and those evil beasts in with them. We knew there was no chance of their survival at that point, and to ensure the portal remained closed and the evil had no chance of escaping, Mrs. Wollitz destroyed the portal, and everything inside ceased to exist.”
I had no words. Is that why Wollitz didn’t tell me? Because she was the reason I’ll never see my parents again.