Beneath the Surface
By J. J. Fryer
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BOOK ONE: INNER REFLECTION
1: A HORRIFYING WORLD
Today was the day that I entered a new, horrifying world: high school. Not just any high school but my new school. I never imagined a horrifying world with a rainbow coloured Australia as its logo. According to the sign at the front of the school, the name of my new world was Opal Creek High School.
As far as I could see, it didn’t seem that large at first. I could see a waist high wire gate in front of me, another building that looked like the administration building to my left, the school oval, that I immediately decided I was going to try to avoid, and a building that was surrounded by kids that I didn’t think were within my age group.
I could feel the chilling wind wrapping my body in goose bumps. The typically blue sky was blanketed in clouds; the gloominess of it was almost suffocating as I walked towards the front gate of my new prison. But was I going to let that stop me? Probably, I don’t know, there were so many thoughts swimming through my head. What will the other kids think of me? Am I Opal Creek material? How do I find new friends when I had to leave my other friends in Perth? Actually, I rarely made friends, not just in Perth but everywhere I went because I wasn’t good at figuring people out. I knew I wasn’t like other people because I have Asperger’s Syndrome.
I saw that every one of the students was wearing their school uniforms except me. The trees lurched ferociously in the wind and so did my short, hazelnut coloured hair. I tied my hair away from my face and decided that maybe reading might help settle my first day nerves. I slipped my beige backpack off my aching back, scoping around for a seat and there was one inside the school grounds nearby. Before I did something that I would later regret, I slowly pulled my backpack on again. I cupped my hands and allowed my face to fall into them. I started repeating the same thing over and over in my head, why do I have to be so awkward and out of place? I kept doing this for a few minutes, occasionally peeking through my fingers to see if anyone was observing my childish behaviour. I felt a shred of relief that even though some people were, more people were not.
I stared down at my purple t-shirt that had the symbols of the Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Greece in a circle. ‘Give me strength,’ I whispered to myself. I turned the opposite direction to the front gate and began to walk from it. Then I heard a high-pitched sound that I knew I recognised but could not place. I turned around to see if I could identify it.
As I turned back to the gate, I noticed that the front gate was ajar. I was beginning to question the logic of how the gate had opened within a few seconds; someone must have either entered or exited the school. Just as I thought my morning could not get any more peculiar, a gust of wind somehow took control of my body, pushing me back towards the gate. The wind decided to force me through like a charging bull. I saw some students in my way, so I warned them to move, which luckily, they did.
The wind finally released me and I collided with a red-haired boy a little bit taller than I was but before I could apologise, or say anything for that matter, the bell rang for class. The boy was a few paces away from me now.
‘Come on slow poke, class is about to start,’ he called.
2: MY FIRST FRIEND
His rough arm grabbled around my fragile body. I was feeling extremely uncomfortable. I twisted my neck around and for a second the trees were standing still but then the roots jumped from the ground and cracked the footpath as they stalked toward me. My brow creased at the concept of trees freely walking around being an impossible occurrence. I closed my eyes and shook my head. The trees were no longer walking and were back in the same place as before.
After I realised that, the red-haired boy dragged me across the snaking footpath. I gazed into the classrooms that we were passing by. A crowd of white shirts that were splattered with colour like fireworks exploding across a blank canvas, the sounds of screaming teenagers, and markers squeaking across the whiteboards were overwhelming me.
I paused at a pond that was shielded by lilies; adjacent to it was a metal, green-painted table and chairs. I tore my backpack from my back and placed it down. Swiping the zipper across the bag, I burrowed through my belongings.
‘By the way, I’m Fletcher and you are?’ I plucked my timetable out of my bag as Fletcher craned his neck around my arm and saw my name printed on my timetable. ‘You must be Anastasia, right?’
‘You must be psychic,’ I said sarcastically. I looked at my timetable and it stated my maths class started two minutes ago. I tensed up and my facial expression showed that when I looked at Fletcher. He responded by shrugging his shoulders and pressing his pale lips together. I stuffed my timetable in my bag, zipped it up and it wasn’t until I had run a few steps that I realised I had no idea where I was going. I lined up my rage fuelled eyes to Fletcher’s and he raised his hands in surrender and mumbled. ‘Okay, Okay.’
We were powerwalking past what appeared to be the chemistry classroom and the library. ‘Can we stop for a minute please?’ Fletcher panted, as he fell to his knees.
‘Urgh, no,’ I snapped. I twisted around on the balls of my feet. Fletcher was heaving like bellows blowing into a fireplace. ‘You have been acting like a child and distracting me from getting to class so no I am not going to stop for you.’
I turned sharply on the spot and kept walking, leaving Fletcher behind. I heard his footsteps clomping alongside me. ‘So, you must be a brainiac with all the subjects you’re taking on, right?’
I sighed. ‘Not really. Do you always ask this many questions?’
‘Hey, I’m just trying to be friendly.’
Finally, we reached the maths classroom. I gazed inside to see what was scribbled on the whiteboard; it looked the Pythagoras theorem. The back row of students were trying to text without being caught. But lucky for them they weren’t the focus of the teacher’s gaze. I opened the door nervously and Fletcher followed.
‘Can you give a valid reason for your unpunctuality Mr. McGregor?’ the teacher asked sternly, the whiteboard marker scratching at the whiteboard.
‘I… I am responsible, Miss,’ I answered hesitantly. The teacher looked into my eyes with her prison guard stare. The classroom fell into an anticipated silence. All eyes were on me and the teacher.
‘Are you going to just stand there or are you going to take your seats?’ I was a little baffled by her response. I mean for someone who was dressed in a very sophisticated, grey, pin-striped suit and had her fading brown hair in a tight bun I’d expected her to go all angry drill Sergeant on me but no, she was as cool as a cucumber. We tip toed around the teacher like she was a mine about to explode, sitting in the only unoccupied seats in the classroom.
The teacher carried on with the lesson and as I was jotting down notes, I felt like everyone was burning judgemental stares into me. Was I even going to survive the rest of the day?
3: THE BREWING STORM
As my first day at Opal Creek High progressed, things were looking up. Fletcher escorted me to every one of my classes; I learned about ancient civilizations, Victorian England and so much more. Fletcher even invited me to have lunch with him. For the first time, in a long time, I felt happy; happy that I was not being forced to do something that I never wanted to do. As the high-pitched ringing of the bell rang to start my final class of the day, Fletcher walked me inside to the lockers. I didn’t feel as nervous as I had this morning. Maybe that gush of wind pushing me through the front gate helped me after all.
I walked into my final class with a spring in my step. I was not going to let anyone bring me down. I walked to the back of the classroom with Fletcher trailing behind me. We took our seats but while I was feeling on top of the world, I could sense something was bothering Fletcher. I directed my attention away from his troubled face and to the mysterious weather which now was no longer overcast. The sun was breaking through the grey and white cloud barrier. I took a moment to soak in the sun’s warm and gentle rays.
When the sun disappeared behind the clouds, I snapped my eyes open and I saw a handful of perfectly manicured, fake fingernails rising and falling onto my desk. I guessed the irritating noise that they made wouldn’t stop until I looked up at the person attached to the nails.
My eyes slowly ascended up the figure, and soon I saw the face of person that was making the irritating noise. The most obvious thing about the figure was that it was a female that clearly thought she owned the school. Which would be impossible, I think. Her less irritating arm was perched on her left hip. Dark red curls were sitting on her shoulders and her eyes were so dark that she could see into your soul.
Another noticeable thing about her was that she made everyone around her, especially Fletcher, cower in fear. All she needed was snakes for hair and she would basically be Medusa.
‘Hey, newbie, out of my seat,’ she demanded. Gesturing to make us go elsewhere. Fletcher was about move to another seat, but I raised my hand and he stood dead in his tracks.
‘Didn’t you hear me? I said MOVE!’ she demanded again.
‘No, I’m fine just where I am,’ I replied.
‘Why you little…’
The teacher walked in just in time. He saw the girl looming over me as he placed his briefcase on the wide, rectangular desk. He was a very young man about twenty to thirty years old, his hair and scruff golden as the sun and he was tall and lanky. I saw him start walking towards me, and at that moment I knew that I was in trouble. However, he was actually staring at the girl who was harassing me.
‘I suggest you take a seat, Margaret,’ insisted the teacher.
‘It is Maggie, Sir,’ she said irately.
‘I do not care what your name is,’ he explained. ‘You are still one of my students in my classroom, so I strongly suggest you take a seat.’
‘But she’s in–’ Maggie began.
‘Not buts,’ the teacher interrupted.
Maggie growled and stormed to the front of the classroom and collapsed into an empty chair. Finally, the teacher could commence the lesson. Fletcher gave me a nudge, and I observed him laughing quietly to himself. I also saw Maggie’s eyes boiling over with rage. It wasn’t until this exact moment that I started to regret what I’d just done.
The bell rang indicating the end of my first day at Opal Creek High. Fletcher and I were about to go to his place to study. As we were halfway across the road someone pushed Fletcher and me onto the bitumen. We scraped ourselves up off the road and to our feet brushing off the morsels of tar. I turned to see Maggie and a couple of her friends looming over us like shadows.
We were surrounded. They began to slowly close in on us. Maggie was furious and apparently her friends were as well. Fletcher and I gazed deep into each other’s eyes and exchanged the same looks of sheer terror.
Maggie started accusing me of not being obedient to her. Which was true but accusing me was putting it strongly if you ask me. It wasn’t until the next statement that I felt rage coursing through my body. She started calling me names like retard and a joke. Fletcher then started poking me on the shoulder. At first I ignored him, but I finally glanced at him now shaking his hand as if something had either burned or electrocuted him, which both seemed impossible. The clouds above me were rolling in and deepening in colour like food colouring pouring into water. I felt my body levitate itself a few inches off the ground. Fletcher’s mouth dropped with a shocked expression scribbled across his face.
Maggie folded her perfect, pale arms across her thin chest and she just stood there acting as if she owned the road we were standing on. Her friends on the other hand were shaking all over and their teeth were chattering from the rope of wind that was tearing through the dramatic tension.
I could feel static electricity making my hair stand up. ‘I have known you for an hour and already, I’m over you.’
Maggie’s friends were shuffling away. I pushed my hands aside in opposite directions like I was opening a pair of curtains. Huge gusts of wind swept down, and Maggie’s friends flew to opposite sides of the road. They collapsed to the ground like rag dolls. The expression on Maggie’s face when she turned to see her friends lying helplessly on the ground was priceless. For the first time today I saw a whole new side of Maggie. She fell too, scuttling away from me. She ran her hands over the asphalt surface, until she could feel the rubbery texture of a tyre, she then pushed her back into the front of a ‘70s Mustang, trying to get to her feet.
Lightning cracked across the sky. My burning eyes were still filled with rage. A bolt of lightning smashed in front of Maggie. Her body was shaking as she fell to the bitumen again like a domino. I walked back to Fletcher, who was lost for words. The storm clouds were beginning to separate just when I was beginning to calm down. Almost immediately, a silver Pajero screeched only inches from hitting Fletcher and me. A man and woman emerged from the car, shock smudged across their faces. The man ran to Maggie to try and settle her nerves as the woman looked curiously at me and called for an ambulance.