Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
A loud scream roused me from my light sleep. The sound tore through the early morning silence, a shrill wail designed to wake even the deepest sleepers.
The glowing display on my cellular phone told me it was 05.00 am. I usually woke an hour later, but last night I’d changed my schedule after reading the first line of “The Rules” pamphlet handed to me with the keys to my room. The unknown and very real threat of “discipline” for failure to observe any of the ten dictates listed made me change my alarm.
Thank goodness for the siren, I thought. Feeling tired after my arrival I’d set my alarm thirty minutes later than I should have.
I got out of bed, placing my feet on the tiny bedside rug. I was reminded of Taffy and Kimble, my two dogs that had, until yesterday, slept with me every night. Their warm furry bodies made me feel safe and protected. I wondered where they’d slept last night, or how they felt now I was no longer with them.
A feeling of sadness engulfed me. I’d barely slept last night because my mind was racing with thoughts of loss and change. I missed my home and my animals. Until yesterday I’d longed for a room of my own. Now the silence emphasised the absence of my siblings. The thought of sitting in a dining room filled with strangers made me long for my family and my friends.
I’d never felt more alone in my life.
According to The Rules my day would commence at 05.30 am, by which time I should be outside my room awaiting inspection. Before inspection I had to wash, dress and tidy my room.
I switched on my bedside light. Immediately the laminated poster I’d fixed to the wall opposite my bed last night gave me another reminder that my life had changed forever.
“TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE” was printed in bold red writing underneath the picture of an atomic mushroom cloud - a classic, iconic image of the last days of the Great War. Two years ago I’d found the poster in the attic, carefully rolled up and placed inside a faded brown cloth drawstring bag. I’d heard many stories from my grandparents about life during the Second World War. I’d always been fascinated with that period in history, so I’d taken the poster to my mother.
“A relic from my hippy days at Varsity,” Mom announced, delightedly unrolling the poster on the kitchen countertop. “I was involved in the anti-war movement... this really does bring back a lot of memories!”
It was in remarkably good condition. Mom was pleased when I asked her if I could keep it. She had it laminated so I could stick it up in my room. I put it on the wall opposite my window, so at night the streetlight illuminated the grey image, turning it into a ghostly, haunting scene. When I couldn’t sleep I’d stare at that scene and imagine the people whose lives had ended in an instant. I’d make up their life stories – stories that ended before the bomb and its mushroom cloud, because by then I was usually fast asleep. Some people count sheep; I counted people’s lives.
My life has changed, but at least it hasn’t ended in a millisecond, I thought as I went to wash in what The Rules called “The Ablutions”. The tiny room contained a toilet, a tiled shower so small I could barely move, and the smallest washbasin I’d ever seen. The tiles were old and cracked, but scrubbed very clean. I hung my towel on the hook behind the door, brushed my teeth and dressed.
The uniform consisted of a pleated black skirt with white blouse, teamed with white ankle socks and black lace-up shoes. My hair was short, so I didn’t need to tie it back. I didn’t have pierced ears, so the “Studs Only” instruction in The Rules did not apply to me.
I made my bed and opened the curtains. My cell phone dial read 05:28 am. Remembering another one of The Rules I turned off the phone and put it inside my bedside drawer. I wasn’t sure how inspection would take place, so I cautiously opened the door to my room and peered into the passage.
“New girl!” a loud voice boomed down the corridor. “Close the door behind you and stand to attention in front of the door!”
I obeyed. A girl stood outside each door, staring straight ahead at the girl standing opposite. I looked straight into an unsmiling pale face, her blonde hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. Despite her sombre expression her pale eyes seemed to smile at me, and she gave me a quick wink. Overwhelmed by loneliness and nervousness I smiled back.
“Something amuses you, Jameson?” The booming voice was quiet and menacing.
“No,” I replied, and looked over at a tall, well built monitor.
“Don’t look at me, Jameson!” Monitor bellowed. I looked at Smiling Blue Eyes’ shoes.
“Get your door open!”
I fumbled with the handle, and she stalked into my room. The ten seconds she spent in there seemed like an hour.
“Lock the door and hand me the keys.”
Again I obeyed. She looked me over and nodded.
“Well done. Not bad for a new girl. Simons!”
Smiling Blue Eyes stepped forward: “Yes, Monitor?”
“Take Jameson to breakfast. You girls are in the same class, so you can show her the ropes. Girls... dismissed!”
We filed out of the passage and down the stairs in pairs.
“I’m Fiona Simons,” Smiling Blue Eyes said.
“Holly Jameson,” I answered.
“Hello, Holly. Last term I was the new girl, so I know just how you’re feeling. First day of boarding school is always tough. But don’t worry – we’ve all been there so we know what it’s like.”
I’d made my first friend. Perhaps boarding school wouldn’t be so tough after all.
I wrote this intending to enter the Writer's Cramp daily contest - April 14, 2013. Sadly I was 30 minutes late for the contest, but the prompt resulted in this little story!