Girl finds herself sitting alone in her classroom, with no memory of how she got there.
|Eyes shut and shuddering, as she pictured the silent halls in her head. At the very back of the classroom she sat, head down and shoulders relaxed. Drool dribbled all over her desk as if she were at peace. She was locked in, unassuming and content.
His eyes though, were wide and bloodshot. The sound of his footsteps echoed through once devoid space. Pretentiously present but never looming, he casually walked by the rows of desks, caressing his fingers on each one. Eyes would finally fall on the final seat to which he smarmily makes an inviting gesture. He waits for hours, standing there and looking on.
She wakes. No one is there.
No answer, save for the wind's unnaturally calm hush. Turning her head, she realized the window had been forced open and the sun was clearly shining a bright cone of warmth in her direction. A chill down her spine definitively woke her upon realizing the natural spotlight was bearing down on her and her alone, as if it were deliberate.
The classroom was deserted, just like in her dream. Causality seemed non-existent. Chairs and tables were firmly fixed in proper order. Dust bunnies floated and settled around them, clearly marking their territory of human abandonment. The blackboard was wiped clean, free of dust of any sort. Unused. They had all been unused.
Her senses heightened, attuning themselves with the serene silence. Certain things began becoming familliar. There was that tacky wall clock who's hour hand remained paralyzed at noon. There was a dark orange patch on the corner of one ceiling, a victim of the previous night's sudden rainstorm. There was an outdated varsity school poster hanging haphazardly by the side of the door, the cork board almost screaming to release it from its tired grip with nothing but one thumbtack holding it in place. She smiled to no one. It had reminded her of a joke.
She told it to a seatmate who sat perpendicular to her in the room. It wasn't even that funny. She was trying to go for an obscure icebreaker, as she did not like waiting in earnest. The professor was late, and the air-condition continued to spew eternal frost. She just wanted to doze off at that point but seeing herself getting chastised as with all inappropriate moments in the past dissuaded her from doing so.
Though the cold brought a particular sensation that eased her from Summer's hellish breeze, Summer Classes in general were disliked and looked down upon. She was to be here, delayed and segregated from the overachievers. Loneliness would become her folie a deux.
Reality would soon snap her back when her hand brushed by a piece of paper on her desk. It was a neatly placed three by five index card with nothing but eleven pretty letters staring her in the face.
She flipped the card. Twice. She whirled around, expecting a presence borne from shadow. She paced towards the middle of the room, distraught and despairing. Her eyes scanned and searched in a three-sixty progression, losing her once sleep-induced calm. She looked around again and hunched a bit, expecting someone to jump out and tell her the punchline to this cosmic joke. She began to think but not remember, the burned memory escaping her. It didn't help that that blasted clock kept ticking incessantly, still broken and busy having lunch. She instinctively pulled out her celphone from her left pocket only to feel empty air.
Her eyes widened. She rushed back to her seat and scavenged her desk. Books, papers, and bags---all gone. The only thing that remained out of place was that card, which she soon pocketed out of instinct.
Rushing out into the hall, she started chanting a mantra of memory. Her words would comfort her as they echoed back and forth. She needed to hear something other than the subconscious ring in her ears. While her rather silly words filled the air her mind took care of the rest, painting a picture of her predicament's past.
"I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy."
As the classroom walls passed, she found herself at the very edge of the top floor. The right side was filled with boring old notices and admission sheets. The left side was an grand view of a vast open field surrounded by clusters of flora. Immediately the location dawns her: Ballad Hall.
"I'm a college student,"
This she couldn't forget even if she tried. After all, it was the school's very own signature perrywinkle-shaded insignia that outlined her jacket. She quietly admits to herself how much she had envied this jacket from the moment she came here. Despite the fact that the jacket clashed with practically everything she wore, she didn't care and hoped no one would notice her eagerness to fit-in. The eagle on the logo had proved to be quite the popular mascot, representing the school's pride and glory. Of course, none of that mattered to her. Saying the name of the college was enough to get some heads to turn. Of course, that part didn't matter to her as well.
"It's summer. I just failed calculus,"
It's been at least a year since she was enrolled here. It was a five year course under the guise of four. Summer classes took that fifth wheel, that of which would soon become the bane of her academic life. There were hardly any people in the summer time, so it was the perfect period to goof off. Unfortunately, the classes were a little bit harder. And with fewer students than a regular class for a regular schedule lessons were more intensified, if not downright unfair.
A sheepish frown confirmed her worst fears, and yet a satisfied smirk complimented it. Familiarity as they say breeds contempt and while there was comfort in her own words setting right what once went wrong in her mind, there was a hint of disappointment upon the realization that she was still in fact stuck here. In this place.
All sense of feeling returned as she took in a whiff of morning air. For awhile the weird circumstances would melt away, twirling and swirling down the drain of her soul. For awhile she felt cleansed with control and cadence.
Then she tried remembering her name.
"I'm...," She stopped cold, grabbing her head as thoughts began to betray. Her lips puckered and her toungue danced on the edge of epiphany. "My name...is...," Her mind wracked itself for the final answer, trailing off in indecision.
She looked up, shuddering as a gasp escaped her throat. Opposite her stood a young man, not unlike her. Appropriately about her age with a stringy build and ruddy complexion, he looked clean-shaven despite the unkempt appearance. Cuffs and collar in disarray, and a stylishly brown strap bag with a white emblem was slung over one shoulder. His transparent smile glazed over her, remaining to be the only thing that reassured, as the rest of his face was vaguely obscured by a worn-out Gatsby cap.
"So, who are ya?" he said in a cautious tone.
"The Marksman," she blurted, covering her mouth in surprise. Her mind raced, scrambled to look for a name that eluded her. The more she attempted to deduce, the shoddy identifier merely bounced back like a peerless logical mirror. She was The Marksman. Nothing more, nothing less.
"Marksman, eh?" the man remarked, reaching calmly into his bag. His transparent smile glazed over for a second, alleviating an air of deceit. She would merely stare while taking little steps towards him, unsure of how to react.
She stopped. The young man was being a little too polite.
"That's close enough, Marksman," he said enthusiastically as his smile widened, pulling out a thick roll of newspapers from his satchel bag. The girl squinted, noticing a portion of his arm buried in the mysterious bundle. "I don't usually make my rounds here. I almost forgot this building was part of the original campus area. It's valid grounds, after all."
"Grounds...?" she stuttered. Her voice trailed off when a faint clicking sound emanated from within the rolls.
"For the Game,"
Her palms started sweating, nonplussed at a statement so simple and direct. The remark came out a bit off, but she suddenly started to melt inside. There was a feeling of dismay and something telling her to back away and run. To look back once only to trip over and skid, injuring her knee as his presence reverberated with every footstep. To bend down, touching the cold marble flooring with her forehead and beg dearly for her life.
"Looks like you missed the memo, little Ginger."
"Wh-what did you call me?"
He scoffed, lowering the bundle a bit off eye level.
"Ginger. That is your name, isn't it? Nell Ginger. Tell me I'm wrong."
"How do you know my name?"
"Huh," the young man scoffed, as he began waving around the obscure-looking roll of papers with his own free hand. "Are you kidding me? You're the Marksman and you don't even know who you are? Interesting."
As Nell heard her own name permeate through mental blocks, it became plain as day. She was Nell. Who'd have thought?
"I don't understand. How did you---"
She froze, as the two words sunk in. Nell Ginger. She felt nauseous inside, the phrase rhythmically sloshing around brain soup. An influx of memories came flying all at once. Moreso, she had recognized the voice of her mysteriouly reluctant attacker.
There was no doubt about it. It was hard not to forget David Squallo's lackadaisical stare and that laid-back attitude. That's what she thought anyway, then his image would settle and dissolve into something more obscure. Attempts at friendly gestures would get nothing short of a subtle nod from him, saying as much as whatever's on his mind. Of course, that was the feeling Nell was getting when she told her that joke about the thumbtack poster.
"You have the card, I presume," he asked nonchalantly.
"This card?" she suddenly beamed, showing him the neat piece of cardboard. His reaction was exactly the same as hers.
"You have no Rules...or did someone steal them?" he mused out loud.
"So naive, are we? Really? Is that how you want to play?" David exasperatingly said, his eyes shifted and his head turned to more important things. He starts to walk the opposite direction, tossing the newspaper roll behind his back. "In any case, you're not worth my time. I suggest catching up on your readings. You've got a long way to go,"
Nell stood still as the roll landed squarely at her feet with a suspicious thud. She looked on as David began heading down stairs.
David flashed a paralyzing stare.
"A word to the wise, Marksman. Names around here are a very dangerous thing. People around here would kill to be known, notably."
"I just don't understand. Help me understand, Davi---"
"Enough," he silenced. David looked pressed for time, but struggled for something else to say. "You're a joke, is what you are. The Marksman is a joke! You better stop pretending, for your sake. I don't want to have to...," He trailed off, saying something under his breath.
"Have to what?" Nell demanded, straining herself.
David turned for the stairs, missing the chance to reply. He jumped down and ran out before Nell could even initiate a chase. He was gone.
Nell's hands trembled as she reached for the newspaper roll. She started to sweat profusely by the palms. As she lifted one side up, a surprising clunk hit the floor. Her eyes slowly rolled downwards, afraid of what she might see. As she did this, the Front Page came unexpectedly into view.
DEATH OF A MARKSMAN
Seven Ranks Remain
Not far from the newspaper was a knife. The sharp edge gleamed ominously.