“Mr. Pendergast, are you not paying attention to your teacher?” asked a voice up at the front of the classroom, and I whirled around in surprise to see the new teacher who just came in a week after I transferred here eyeing me suspiciously. “You were daydreaming, weren’t you? If you weren’t, you would have heard that I was talking about how it’s rude to ignore your teacher while he’s giving you a lecture about classroom manners.”
There were snickers behind my back from a few students.
Brats, know that I can hear you. Oh, those normal kids, they have no manners. Nothing much has changed between the last few centuries; humans will always mock another one who is lower than they are.
“Sorry, sir,” I said awkwardly.
Bad enough that I’m a target, not because I look like I’m of a lower class than they all are (this school is actually one for upper-class people, like rich brats and those of the middle-class), but because of the fact that my hair is strikingly white. I heard that there were rumors of me being a ghost or the sender of Rachel, the name given to the curse of the school. No one wanted to be close to me because of that.
Mr. Allen Hilbert the teacher nodded. “Please take care that it won’t happen again, or I’ll send you to stand outside the classroom.”
Perhaps not, because the school bell suddenly went off, and I was able to miss the promise to make sure I don’t start daydreaming again in the middle of class.
The weather was dull when I came out onto the front of the school steps: raining. It would be fair to call it a tempest; the massive oak tree sitting outside the school in the front yard was being swayed slightly by the wind of the storm, and the students clung to their umbrellas so they don’t lose it on their way home.
I sat down on the steps, feeling a bit dejected. Why, of all times, must it rain now? It’s also getting a bit cold, too. With a sigh, I leaned back against the steps and pulled out a paperback novel; maybe I’ll wait a bit till the rain lightened up some before leaving school, even though the urge to get to my part-time job feels really urgent.
“Pendergast, you haven’t gone home?” called a voice, and I turned to see Vest Watson walking over to me from behind. “Vest” isn’t his real name, though. I don’t know what his real name was, but everyone, including the teachers, had, by now, gotten used to his nickname. “You don’t have an umbrella?”
“N-no, I don’t,” I said, taken aback. Although I didn’t expect anyone to ask and also secretly delighted about that, I’m cautious; this is the first time I’ve actually spoken to anyone in the school besides the teachers in the week since I transferred here. The other students of the school were outright rude the moment they see me, thanks to my white hair. Of course, I’d be suspicious of anyone who comes out of nowhere to talk to me when everyone preferred to whisper behind my back.
Vest is a tall guy with blond hair and blue eyes, and his toned arms sort of suggest that he’s actually athletic, even though he doesn’t take part in any of the school’s sports clubs, like the soccer club. He was probably athletic through another sport he picked up outside of the school. But because of the way he looked, Vest looked like a delinquent. I’m thinking he’s just another guy in the same position as me: misunderstood because of the way we look.
As far as I’ve seen, there was always an aura of energy going around him, the way he runs through the school or tags around his friends like an excited dog.
He seemed like he was about to ask something, but then saw the novel I held and immediately lunged forward to the book eagerly. “Whoa, is that a novel by Eris Shiraserg? Awesome, you like novels by him?”
“Uh – yeah,” I said hesitantly. “The Madness series, especially . . .”
"My brother loves these series and the other stand-alone novels that he wrote,” laughed Vest. “I didn’t expect you to like horror stories by that person, because you definitely don’t look like the kind to read. You know, the first time I saw you, I thought you were a gangster who dyed his hair white!”
His overzealousness changed the strange atmosphere I had been feeling around him.
“You had a brother?” I asked.
“His name’s Julian, and he’s always hoping that Eris Shiraserg would make a stop here the next time he goes on a book tour so he could catch that person and get him to sign at least one of his books!” said Vest. “It’s like he’s a true-blue follower of Shiraserg’s books. What about you?”
Damn, he talks too much, too, though.
Slowly, I grinned, eager to find someone who was interested in knowing about the books. “Yeah, I like them, too! I’ve always wanted to meet Eris Shiraserg, I even follow his works and hunt for interviews of him whenever he has one, if I can.”
“No kidding, Julian does that, too!” said Vest eagerly. Then he paused and sighed, slightly dejected. “Well, if only that writer really came, because Julian would really get out of bed if he heard of something like that.”
I blinked at him, taken aback by his sudden thoughtfulness.
Vest chuckled. “Well, I’ll bet you and my brother will get along just fine when it comes to books-”
“Vest!” called a voice, and we turned to see Oliver Day approaching us. Oliver is Vest’s best friend, both always hanging out with each other so closely. Oliver has dark hair and eyes, and, unlike Vest, always seems serious and distant, and in school, he has a pretty important position, as the school treasurer, unlike the irresponsible-looking Vest. Polar opposites, yet best friends. How interesting. It’s rare to see friends like that.
“Oh, right,” said Vest, laughing sheepishly. “Wanna come with us? We were going to walk to the nearest bus stop, then get on a bus to go home. We got a couple of umbrellas here. How far do you live?”
“I don’t know, or care how far I live from the school, to be honest,” I said, and flipped my novel open. “I’ll wait a bit till the rain lightens some, then I’ll run all the way home. There’s a chance I might catch a cold tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if I don’t show up at school. You guys don’t need to help me go home.”
“You’re always acting tough, Pendergast,” Oliver snorted, and I could pick up a hint of scorn. “Remember the rules of this school: to stay silent, to do what the majority tells you to do, and to leave school before the last bell. Dire consequences will happen to you if you don’t.”
“Got it, I’m not the kind of person who breaks the rules,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“I doubt that, because you’ve only been here for three weeks, and the first rule you broke was disappear from the cafeteria when the principal called everyone to be present,” said Oliver sarcastically. “No, rather, you've never been to the cafeteria since you enrolled here. Vest, let’s go.”
“One more thing, Pendergast,” said Vest. “Your first name is Ellis, right?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“It sounds like the name ‘Eris’, like that author – and that demon, too,” said Vest.
I raised my eyebrows and made my voice harsh. “There are hundreds of people with names called ‘Ellis’ all over the world. Apologize to them all now.”
“Eh? Don’t take it too seriously! I didn’t say that I was associating you with demons-” Vest yelped, but then Oliver snapped, “Vest, we’re leaving!”
“I’m coming!” he yelled. “Sorry, Ellis, I’ve gotta go!” He ran after Oliver out into the rain, and the two began to run straight and through the gate.
Dire consequences. These are the two words of danger that’s announced through the school before something bad happens to the students to whom the words are directed to. You know, the Rachel curse.
I scoffed. Like hell I’d believe something bad is going to happen to me. Though that was the first time I heard of those words straight from someone.
There were the sounds of voices talking not far from me, and I turned to see the teachers walking out of the school. The three rules that applied to this school for the students also applied to the teachers, so of course, they’d all have to leave before the final bell. I could see Mr. Hilbert, having gotten used to the rumors since he came, chatting with a few other teachers.
Then he saw me. “Ah, Mr. Pendergast, I’d like to talk to you about your behavior in class earlier and what you were doing-”
I crammed the novel into my pack and flipped the cover flap over before dashing off into the rain.
“Wait! Ellis Pendergast! You’re going to catch a cold!” Mr. Hilbert yelled.