I was all alone. The sunlight that filled the empty bus with strays of brightness, sometimes shadowed by the leaves of the trees surrounding the mountainous road, did not make me feel any better about the situation. Letting out a long sigh, I picked up the card that was lying on top of my bag, which had been written by my mother beforehand. She had been reminding me continuously that if I were feeling homesick I could read it and miraculously receive a sense of mental comfort. Sure, I wasn't feeling homesick now, but hey, I was sitting in a bus with no one and no sound a part from the roaring engine of the vehicle that drove slowly up a steep hill to my new school. It was a good enough excuse for me to defy my mother's words I'd say.
Pulling out a plain card with hearts that decorated the cover, my index finger pushed the folded half back as my eyes hovered over a familiar handwriting that read:
'Honey! Janet my baby, how are you feeling? You must be missing me terribly right now! How's the new school? I saw images of it when I searched it up the other night, and just wow! It's amazing! I just know you are going to have so much more fun at this school and you're going to have an amazing teenage hood. Trust me on that. Mothers are always right.
I'm going to miss you so much, but which mom in their right mind wouldn't accept a scholarship from a prestigious school for their daughter? I still can't believe you applied without telling! But I forgive you, I am very very proud of you honey!
Even though your school has no Internet nor are mobile phones permitted, you could always write letters home or give me a call through your school's phone! I'm sure they'll have phones on campus for students!
Jan, I just know everything will turn out alright. I love you baby~
See the problem lied there. I couldn't even smile at the buoyant tone of the message.
It wasn't possible. Everything was just wrong! I never applied to any school. I meanmy grades weren't bad but they weren't exceptional in the first place, how could Ihave possibly gotten a scholarship? But no matter how hard I tried explaining to my mother, she just wouldn't listen. The moment she saw the words 'scholarship'she was one hundred percent convinced that I was attending this boarding school.
"Will be there in five minutes!" The driver shouted at the front since I was sitting on the last row.
"Thanks!" My head jerked up as I replied the man.Quickly, I put the card back into the slightly creased envelope. I unzipped my bag and put it in before looking out of the window to spectate the green scenery. Although the bus was still steering up a hill, the road was less bumpy and it was moving faster.
I had never once visited nor heard much about a boarding school, but I never expected mine to be hidden in the mountains. Not to mention the fact that I had been sitting here for almost an hour now! It was built so far away from the city, as if it were built in isolation on purpose. Whatever the reason might be, I wasn't feeling very good the more I thought about it. Something just wasn't right.
The platform of the bus that was slanted a second ago was now brought to level as it drove on a smooth flat road. My head turned the other way to look out of the other side of the bus as I wondered whether I would be able to see something apart from trees. My eyes widened in surprise as I realised I was looking at a concrete wall that was perfectly coated with the colour light beige, as if it had just been painted. The walls were tall, but not tall enough to hide the rooftops of, what I guessed, the school buildings and trees again. Though, the buildings seemed to be quite far into the distant.
"We've arrived young lady!" The driver brought the bus to a halt as he pulled the lever. He climbed out of his seat before rushing down the bus steps to stretch his stiffened back.
I did not move for a while. My body was reluctant to move. I didn't want to come here in the first place, I didn't want to leave mom home alone! A pang of sadness developed as I imagined my mother sitting by the table eating dinner alone.
But my mind was telling me otherwise. What was I supposed to do now? Get off the bus and run a marathon back down the hill? Or ask the bus driver to take me away, go home and disappoint my mother? I certainly wasn't ready to let that happen.
I sighed as I accepted reality. Swinging my bag onto my back, I reached for my suitcase that was lying on the seat next to me. I consoled myself by repeating what my mother had written in the card:everything will turn out alright.
"I'll be taking my leave now, take care young lady. Stay here and wait for a man called Mr. Steele to come by. He'll let you know where to go next from here." Giving me a reassuring smile, the driver wished me luck.
"Thanks! Have a safe drive back!" I flashed him a cheerful smile. I've learnt from a lesson in life that it was always good to have good manners. And smiling would be one practise.
Putting my suitcase down my by side, I waved goodbye at the bus as it drove further and further away, until it disappeared back down the hill. Great, so I was supposed to just wait for this Mr. Steele person who was nowhere to be seen.
With nothing to do in mind, I sat on my suitcase and stared at the front gate of my new school. Which soon turned into gaping as I noticed how sturdy the bars were! They were thick, black and long with a humongous golden lock hung tightly at the centre. Observing more, I realised barbed wires were sitting on top of the high walls! What the heck? Did I get sent to a juvenile detention centre instead of a school? Because in all honesty, I had never seen, or read about any school having to need barbed wires. Not to mention the ridiculous gates.
I stood up and stretched as I took in some fresh air. Wow, I guess I wouldn't have to ever worry about not having enough fresh air anymore with so much green around this area! Looking around, I still saw no one. I decided to walk towards the gates and looked through the gaps in between the bars to catch a glimpse of the campus. Suddenly, I felt like I was analysing my school as if it had layers to hide away a secret.
But it didn't help me much. I found myself staring at a broad pathway that seemed to have separated a forest into two. A very wide and lengthy one that stretched at least a few hundred meters long. I spotted a building that seemed like a mansion to me, sitting at the end of this road. At this moment, I couldn't help but roll my eyes and groan a little. Where in the world am I? I questioned.
"Are you the new student?" A deep and indifferent voice pierced through the rustling sounds of the leaves.
Startled, I sprung around fast. A buff man walked towards me as one of his hands gripped onto a stick. Worrisome wore itself on my face as the urge to run away grew stronger. He didn't look like he was a pleasant man with that frown.
"Are you deaf? Are you the new student?" He asked again with a tint of anger in his voice.
"Y-yes sir, I suppose I am." I answered abruptly as I figured he might hit me with that stick if I didn't say anything.
Nevertheless, I tried to keep my cool by smiling, when in fact I just wanted to fall to my knees and beg for mercy. But this man just ignored me completely. He made his way towards the gates and I realised he was probably going to open it for me. So I ran back to pick up my suitcase.
"Are you Mr. Steele by any chance?" I quickly caught up with him.
"Yes, got a problem?" I really disliked the restlessness in his voice. But I brushed it away since I probably wouldn't see him again afterwards.
"No, I was simply verifying whether you were the one Mr. Driver told me about."
Stopping suddenly, he turned around. For a second, he scrutinized me from head to toe suspiciously. Okay, that is just plain rude, I thought.
"So you're special as well? What can you do young lady?" He folded his arms as he asked me a question.
"Excuse me?" It wasn't like I didn't understand his question, it was more like I didn't understand why he asked whether I was 'special'. Well I mean, no one in the world, including myself, would consider me as special... a part from my mother perhaps.
"Whatever. I'm not really that interested". With that, he turned his back against me again.
As he arrived at the front of the gate, he picked up the golden lock with a hand and stood still. Standing beside him by then, I wondered what he was trying to do. I took a quick glimpse of him from the corner of my eyes and immediately returned back to staring at the lock in his hand. It was a long enough glimpse to let me see how serious he looked. As his rough-looking fingers unwrapped the lock, the chain that was binding the gates together began to slide off the bars until it fell to the ground.
What just happened? I stood in astonishment as I kept repeating that question to myself. How did that happen? How did that lock unlock in his hands? As if it was some kind of magic trick... it just unlocked?
"Go in and walk down this road. Don't take any turns, just walk straight ahead and you should find someone waiting for you."
Mr. Steele's new instructions snapped me out of my thoughts. I wondered whether I should ask him how that happened, but then I thought maybe I shouldn't. I didn't want him to think I was some kind of idiot.
Still finding the whole situation weird, I walked through the gap of the gates.
"Thank you Mr. Steele!"
I thanked the man who was picking up the golden solid off the ground. Again, he wrapped the chains around the bars then held the lock in his hand. When he let go to walk away, it was fixed in position once again. That is somewhat freaky and he is definitely a con artist, I thought.
I turned around and got ready to disembark on a journey down this place, but a wooden plate caught my eyes. I walked up to it to catch a better look at the words scratched on it. It read:
'Welcome to T.S.A.
The fact that the schools' roads were named only increased the bizarreness of everything. But I brushed these uneasy feelings away and continued walking, I believed any more thinking about this whole situation would only cause mental distress for myself.
The trees that lined the road were extremely tall and had thick trunks. It would be damn scary to walk in this area in the evening alone... not that I would ever try that. But in this hot afternoon, the trees' shadows provided quite a lot of shade, which cooled my heating body alongside the gentle wind. I relished this relaxing sensation. This place might seem freaky, but I certainly had never breathed in such clean air that energised my body almost instantly! It was the first thing to make me feel slightly better about my situation.
When I looked into the campus from behind the gate before, I had failed to notice other roads branching off. I now reached a point where another shorter path branched off. Although, the only difference was this time I could actually see a small hut sitting at the end of it.
Looking straight ahead, I saw yet another road splitting off to the right. Hurrying over I hoped to see what lied ahead. Awe overtook me as I found myself goggling at a large dry fountain. The shape of the fountain resembled that of a dying tree, but here and there were branches and leaves sprouting out, all made of stone. Any more detail than that I couldn't tell as I was standing relatively far away. But this fountain, standing in the middle of a spacious area, decorated by unoccupied benches, made me smile. It was beautiful. I had always fantasized myself, sharing a romantic kiss with my lover as water sprouted in a constant motion behind us. But what a funny joke, I hadn't liked anyone ever.
"Hi! Is that Janet?"
A cry in the distance snapped me out of my daydream. I looked ahead and saw a woman waving at me.
"Yes I am!"
I began making my way towards her as I replied her. The woman also hurried towards me, closing the gap between us faster.
"Janet?" Her voice sounded gentle and welcoming.
"Yes, that's me. And you are?"
I tried hard not to stare at her too much, but it was hard. This woman was beautiful. Her facial features had grown strong over the years, with her oval faced shape only pronouncing them more. Her long wavy hair was being carried in the direction of the wind as she reached out to take my suitcase from me. I tried rejecting her help, but she insisted.
"I'm Bianca Betty. I'm a teacher here, but for today I'll be your guide." She held out her free hand for a handshake. Clumsily, I grabbed on to her hand.
"Hi Ms. Betty, it's nice to meet you." I smiled at the woman who returned me a more confident and attractive one.
"Please, call me Bianca. Everyone calls me by my first name." I nodded at her, though I was rather shocked. This response certainly wasn't an expected one! Back in my old school, we would be put in detention for not referring to our teachers by either Mister or Misses, and yet now I was allowed to call a teacher by her first name!
Having walked most of the 'Bello-way' myself, the end of it was near. We approached the tall building that sat at the end. It was a three-storey high mansion! I decided now would be a good time to ask questions that had been boiling in me for the whole day.
"Say, what is that building?" I asked Bianca who was holding my suitcase. I felt slightly embarrassed to have a teacher hold my luggage, but she was pretty persistent about helping me earlier.
"Well, ground floor is the main office. Whilst the first floor is the dining hall for the staff here, who sleep on the second floor except for our principal, who sleeps on the third floor! We often refer to it as the Main Building." She explained. Somehow hearing that teachers were living in the same place as me felt weird.
"How do you feel about your new school by the way?" She asked me another question whilst looking at me with amiable eyes. I sighed at her question.
"I don't know. This place amazes me, yet it seems... weird. I mean, I love the fresh air here, but something doesn't feel right." I shrugged, hoping I didn't offend her.
"That's only normal, you don't know anything yet. Well at least you've found something you like about this place already!" Whilst replying me, we had reached the entrance to the Main Building.
"Don't know anything?" I repeated the words that confused me. "Am I supposed to know something?"
We entered the building. Immediately, I verified with my own eyes that it was just like a mansion. A big spiral staircase stood at the centre as it linked the different floors together. Behind it was a room with doors opened. There were people working diligently in there. So that's the office, I thought.
"Yes you are. Come on, let's get a room before I start explaining." She led me past the staircase and through the office. As I followed behind Bianca's footsteps, my cheeks began to heat up as I noticed the people stop doing their work to look at me. If only one person looked at me, I wouldn't be feeling this awkward, but I was talking about the whole office. But thank goodness the room wasn't too far away and we arrived pretty fast.
Opening the door, Bianca let me in. She signaled for me to make myself comfortable. It was a small room, with only a circular table and two chairs, so I simply sat on one that was by the glass window.
"Right, so Janet, why are you here?" Bianca asked as she settled down on the seat opposite me. My eyebrows furrowed.
"Why am I here? Because this school suddenly sent me a letter saying I had passed the entry exam with perfect grades and so would like to offer me a scholarship. But in fact I didn't! I would love to know why this all happened please."
I tried hard to control myself incase I burst over my anger. I didn't know why I was so angry, but I figured it was most probably because it stripped me away from my normal life, from my mom, from my friends. On top of that, this school was seriously strange. I couldn't feel at ease at all whilst walking down 'Bello-way'.
"No, of course you didn't. It was a made-up story!" Speechless, I could only stare at Bianca as her words repeated in my head.
"I'll tell you everything now. This school is called The Special Academy." As she said that, something ticked instantly in my mind. The wooden plate had 'TSA'carved on it, so this was what it stood for!
"The Special Academy, as in TSA right?"
"Yes, that would be the acronym. The name pretty much describes our school. It's a special one for special students like yourself." Offended, I made a face at her reply.
"What? Are you saying I have psychological problems?" Back at my old school, only students who had problems were called 'special'. How in the world was I 'special' when I was perfectly normal! No screw that, I am more than normal, I thought.
"Huh? No! Janet you've mistaken my words! By special I mean you are different to the other people living out there! You have something that normal people don't have. A supernatural power." She quickly explained before I exploded over my assumption.
My eyebrows furrowed even more. If only people outside the room could hear us, they would probably report Bianca to the principal for being mental. I couldn't believe myself for hearing her say that. A supernatural power. Really.
"You don't believe me, do you?" As if she had unsolved the mystery of my eyebrows, she questioned me with a small grin calmly.
"Yeah, I don't." I could reply without hesitating.
"Well what I am saying is true Janet. There are only five types of supernatural powers that are most common. Ones who can use fire, water, soil, wood and metal. We call a fire user a 'Red', a water user a 'Blue', a soil user a 'P', a wood user a 'D' and a metal user a 'M'."
She continued explaining. I must say, it really was a waste that Bianca was a teacher and not an actress. She really knew how to make herself sound convincing. Perhaps, this was some kind of entrance exam, to see how gullible and stupid I was! Well I wasn't going to fall for that.
"Bianca, thanks for telling me all that. But you don't seriously think I can believe that right?"
I tried to sound nice as I disrupted her. After all, I wouldn't want to come across as a rude person on my first day! But then again, I was with a madwoman, so why would that matter!
Yet her eyes widened in surprise as she answered me "Yes, of course!"
"Well, what are you then?"
"I'm a Red. I'm a fire-user." Now Bianca looked serious.
I couldn't resist a small giggle as she said that. I couldn't understand why a grown- up woman would allow herself to say something as such!
"You think this is a joke." Her statement received a nod from me.
"Watch me." She let out a big sigh as she got up from her seat.
Her hand reached into her bag. Moments later, it emerged with a piece of paper. She turned her body swiftly as her eyes locked onto mine. Holding out her pinkie, she placed the corner of the piece of paper on the surface of it.
"Don't look anywhere else, you don't want to miss this."
Suddenly, a coat of smoke curled out from the point of contact of Bianca's skin and the paper. Before I could blink again, fire had been caught as it slowly ate the paper, burning it to ashes.
The buzzing noise of the computers, the hubbub of fingers banging on the keyboard, the frequent murmurs amongst the staffs... all these sounds faded away as I sat speechless. My eyes felt paralysed as they continued to stare until the piece of paper had turned into dark powdery residues, bit by bit flowing down to the floor in a random twirling motion.
It was true. All that Bianca had said earlier was true. She wasn't mental... she was far from that. I felt a lump in my throat, a throb in my head and limbs that felt weaker by the second.
"But I... I don't have any special ability..." Stuttering, I finally managed to force words out.
"Of course you do honey." She sat back down as she looked at me with convinced eyes.
"But I don't!" I protested. I had never in my life thought that I could in any way use special powers... no screw that. I didn't even think they existed outside of books and films.
"Janet, trust me, you do."
I looked at the woman in confusion as I heard her confident words. We literally just met, and yet she was speaking as if she knew me better than myself!
"No seriously, I'm normal."
As if she were talking to an ignorant child, Bianca's chest lifted up heavily and relaxed as she sighed at my retort.
"Ms. Rain, our principal, has a special power. She can sense whether a person has an ability or not. And she sensed something in you. You're a part of us, there's no mistake in that!"
Interrupting our conversation, the door flung open as yet another charming woman stood in the doorway. Her face stood out as her hair was pulled back into a bun.
"Bianchy!" The grown-up woman skipped towards Bianca, resembling a young girl capering in a meadow towards her Prince Charming. Her arms wrapped around Bianca's neck, forcing her head into her stomach.
"Voney stop it! The new transfer student is sitting right here!" Cheeks flushing, Bianca tried to push the woman away gently. "This is the school's principal, Ms. Rain".
The woman suddenly dragged herself out of her blissfulness and turned to look at me instead. She stood tall next to Bianca who was sitting down with her arms crossed. Her eyes stared right into mine and I suddenly felt naked. She had a penetrating stare that frightened me. I sat in amazement. I could sense her authority through her gaze, how bizarre!
"I believe your name is Janet?" I coughed to clear my throat incase no voice came out.
"Yes Ms. Rain." "I believe Bianca has told you where you are already?"
I nodded. That question just proved to me that everything Bianca had told me seriously was the truth. Ms. Rain's arm reached over towards me as she planted a pat on my head.
"Well show me what you've got."
Although not entirely my intention, I pushed her hand off my head rather too aggressively. But I was mad. I didn't understand why they were so convinced I had a special power! Just because 'sensing' was Ms. Rain's power didn't mean she had to be right! People make mistakes and that's a fact, I thought.
"Look Bianca and Ms. Rain. I thank you both for telling me all this, and enrolling me into this extremely... 'special' school. But I honestly, and I meanhonestlydon't have an ability. I haven't done anything extra-ordinary in my life before, and I know I won't in the future. Please I don't want to stay here, I just want to go back to my normal life! Expel me or whatever, just send me home please?"
I looked at the women earnestly as I waited for a satisfactory response. I really couldn't care less about disappointing my mother now. I'd rather get a scolding and spend days cheering her up, than stay with a bunch of freaks for the rest of my teenage hood. No, nothing was turning out just fine.
But their reaction dismayed me. Bianca looked at Ms. Rain as the principal shook her head at me.
"It's too late to be saying that young lady. I know you don't know what your ability is. And that is exactly why I am going to give you seven days to find out the answer."
"And what if I still don't know by then?" My stomach started to churn. I didn't have a good feeling about what I was going to hear next. And I trusted my gut feeling, a woman's instinct is somehow right for most of the time.
"Then I'm sorry, but we will have to kill you."
At Ms. Rain's response, silence filled the room as no one talked for a while. I diverted my eyes away from the standing woman to Bianca, somehow hoping for a kind of verification from her. It couldn't be true... killing me for not knowing my ability? That's... that's too extreme! I thought.
"Janet, about this whole thing, we keep it a secret from the society. No one knows about us, and no one should." Bianca said apologetically.
That puzzled me. I would imagine people like them, the 'special' people, would be honoured and revered by ordinary people out there! Why were they hiding themselves? It didn't make sense... But that wasn't important, getting myself out of here was first priority.
"I won't tell anyone about this. I swear I won't! Just let me go please!" I started to beg pathetically.
But Ms. Rain just shook her head and sighed heavily.
"It's not about how trustworthy you are, we don't care about that. What we care about is protecting the students here. For many years, the mafias around the world have tried to control people like us to do bad things, such as killing. We may have
powers and be different, but we are still humans nonetheless. We can't just stand by and let others treat us like tools for fighting."
The hurt in Ms. Rain's voice took me by surprise. This was completely different to what I thought.
"I'm sorry, I know this is a lot to take in all of a sudden. But please understand, we will protect you once you have found out about your ability. And I know you can, because you are a part of us." The principal flashed me a smile that was neither reassuring nor useful.
I couldn't rebut her. Whatever I said now wouldn't make a difference. Mom was convinced that I was definitely attending this school. These two women were convinced that I had a special power, and I was convinced that I was totally helpless.
Great. One week. In one week's time, I would be dead.