Who am I?
Nia could worry all she wanted, Kara wouldn't be deterred today! Her body was back to an acceptable level of healthiness, and a night spent thrashing around in her bed wasn't enough of a reason to fall ill, again. Luckily.
Since she didn't even remember the name of her school (which was Hazel High School, by the way), Ivan would drive her today, alternating with Nia, who would walk her to school. The word 'alternating' is used rather loosely, here, meaning that Nia would take over most of the days since Ivan had a lot of work to do, and only a small tolerance for family matters was allowed from his boss.
He sounded like a prick.
"Do you really have to work so much, or is your boss squeezing out every last drop of your energy until you can't even walk anymore?" she asked him during the drive.
Ivan's car was a slick sports car that looked expensive, though Kara had no expertise on the subject. Every car that looked shiny could be an expensive lump of moving metal in her mind. Or it was just new or well-kept.
"He works more than we do, my dear," Ivan explained, slowly advancing through the morning's commute. They had over an hour until school started, but Ivan said they would take this long, so here they were. It wouldn't take them more than half an hour on foot, though, and less than 10 minutes with a bike. Nia wouldn't allow the latter option, yet. She was a bit protective. "There's a lot of responsibility to having command over a few dozen people. Maybe you'll know, too... one day."
"What's so difficult about that? Why do you need someone to tell you what to do when you learned how to do your jobs, anyway?"
"Why do you need a teacher if you could just study by yourself, anyway?" Ivan retorted, chuckling while he tapped a melody on the wheel.
"I thought kids are less responsible?" Kara said.
"Maybe," Ivan said, considering her words. "Adults aren't much better, though."
"Is that so?"
"That's funny. So you and mother are-"
"I never said we were irresponsible," he hurriedly corrected. "That wasn't my intention, so forget it... yeah, just forget it. Please, I'd appreciate it."
"I can't promise anything," Kara lied, knowing that she'd never forget a conversation such as this... then again, she did forget almost everything about herself, so... "You don't want me to have another accident, do you?"
"Don't put words in my mouth, Kara," Ivan said with a whiny voice.
Kara began to laugh, and Ivan soon joined her.
He was a tall man.
The family seemed to take after Helga exclusively, as his tall genes hadn't made their way into either of his daughters. He kept his beard very short, as he shaved it once every two to three days. Kara could hear his electric razor humming from below on those mornings. He seemed to have an endless amount of the same light-blue shirt and black tie combination in his cupboard, one of which he wore today. Where Helga was small and fat, Ivan was big and thin. The only thing he lacked for looking like the typical handsome man in Nia's magazines she thought were well-hidden from Kara's prying eyes and nosy hands were muscles. He had an office job in some big company or another, and he didn't even drive to work on a bike. Sometimes, Kara worried about his health. He had spent so much time typing on a keyboard that all ten of his fingers had a thick layer of hardened skin on the tip, hard as little steel cups. Kara often wondered how durable they were. If Ivan would react fast enough, could he stop a bullet with his bare fingers? Was he to poke a stone, would he leave a hole where he touched? Was he the reason the cheese in their house always had holes in it? Ok, she knew that last one wasn't his fault, but it was fun to think about. Remember, Kara's room was baring and empty, and the only thing to keep her company was her own fantasy.
She had to make do with these kinds of thought experiments.
"For real, though, how are you feeling about today?" he asked, slow and overly matter-of-factly, almost as if he didn't want to get an answer.
"Excited... there's not much else," she admitted. Kara had no connection to her class, room, or school anymore, after all. "It's like I've changed schools, or more like I was homeschooled before. That's the only place I know, haha."
His laugh sounded forced.
They spent the rest of the commute in silence.
When they finally arrived, Kara still had twenty minutes left. She took her bag, rummaged through it to look if everything was there (though she wouldn't speak up now if she forgot anything), and planted a kiss on her father's cheek.
Her lips protested as a thousand tiny needles pierced the delicate skin. It felt like she just decided to kiss a hedgehog.
Kara watched her father join back into the slow-moving traffic, then took in the sight she had waited to see for weeks.
Hazel High School.
The place she should know, but didn't.
It was a strange feeling.
The building was asymmetrical, one side towered over the other by two floors, and the entrance wasn't even in the middle of the ground floor. It was closer to the smaller side.
As the name suggested, the alley was surrounded with hazel trees, and many more stood further to the side, in the middle of the grassy fields.
Here and there, groups of kids were already there, talking with each other or throwing stuff around the grass.
It was a peaceful setting, just as Nia's Manga suggested a school to be like.
Kara picked a nut from the ground and put it in her mouth.
She decided that she loved hazelnuts at that moment.
Kara picked up a few more before looking around the school. She had no idea where to go.
Arriving early came in handy as she didn't dare to ask for directions. What if she talked with someone she knew but didn't know? It was all so complicated.
Kara had no idea how to deal with such a situation.
Eventually, she found a deserted corridor with signs signaling that this was the teachers' domain, an area where students didn't even want to cross.
The teachers' lounge, the principal's office, the secretariat, a few spare rooms that probably served as some sort of safe-haven for them...
Kara decided on the teachers' lounge.
If she was lucky, she'd even meet her teacher who could help her find her way. With a trembling hand, she knocked once... twice... then really loud... then even louder...
Her hand hurt, and she had half a mind to retreat at that point.
She just grabbed the door and yanked it open, poking her head inside.
There were many teachers there, even some very close. They weren't like the young people who drowned out the sounds of their surroundings with earphones or music or talking on the phone. They were casually chatting in silent whispers as if to hide the fact that they were here.
This made Kara a bit mad.
Her father's words came back at her.
Adults aren't much better, though.
How right he was.
She continued to scowl at the mass of people until one stood up with a sigh, shrugging to his colleagues.
He didn't look happy about having to stand up.
"What do you want?" he asked.
He was big, as wide as the door, and scary. That summed him up really well. His lips were thin and his eyes dark. There was no kindness in them.
"I can't find my classroom," Kara blurted out.
She bit her lip as this was close to the truth, but not all the way there, and glanced up with fright as the man's glare grew more intense.
"That's a new excuse this late in the year," he said without amusement. "What's your name and class?"
"I'm Kara... I don't know my-"
She mumbled her last name with downcast eyes.
"Kara, who?" ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? As she was desperate to find a way out of having to say her last name again, the man slammed his palm against the door. "If you got nothing else to say, please go. We don't have time for your antics."
They clearly had time for her antics, as they called it, but that was beside the point. Kara was fuming.
This wasn't how a teacher should behave!
"I spent three months in a coma and I don't remember anything, so please help me find my classroom cause I have no idea where I should go!"
Her scream finally got a reaction out of the man.
He looked her up and down, almost as if he was nodding, then turned to look at his colleagues who had heard her shriek, too.
She quickly avoided her eyes.
"One of Mrs. Hammock's kids, huh? Interesting," the man mumbled, scratching his chin. "Sadly, she's not here. Copying or something. Would it help you if I said that you're in the wrong side of the building? You need to go to corridor B on the second floor on the Westside. You think you can find it?"
There was a Westside?
The only thing that made sense to her was the second floor. She was currently on the fourth one, by the way.
"... can't someone show me?"
The man sighed again.
He looked for someone in the ranks of the teachers to step up, but nobody did. He shook his head with a neutral expression.
That man didn't seem to care.
"As you can see, we are all too busy for that. If you don't find it, ask one of the kids, they all know where it is," he said, sounding a bit accusatory, even. "If you still arrive late, tell Mrs. Hammock that Mr. Fata told you that it was fine. She can check in with me, later."
He was about to shut the door, but Kara stuck a foot inside at the last moment.
She winced as the pain overwhelmed her.
How heavy was this door?
"You said she was printing, right? Won't she come back before going to class?"
Did the man just click his tongue?
"There aren't even five minutes left till classes start, so you might want to hurry. Mrs. Hammock tends to start her classes a bit early, and no, she won't come back here. Goodbye."
Knowing that she would have to give up, Kara took out her foot and allowed the man to close the door.
Her first encounter at school had been an unpleasant experience.
How could they treat her like that?
It was unfair.
The day hadn't even begun and Kara felt like crying for Nia's protection. Not that she could actually call her. Kara had no smartphone. If the secretariat was anything like the teachers' lounge, they wouldn't even let her borrow the phone.
How would that look, anyway?
15 minutes back in school and already she felt like giving up.
She had to try harder.
Repeatedly closing her fist in front of her torso to keep motivation high, she went to the second floor and listened with dread as the school bells rang. Nobody in here felt like helping her at all, or maybe they didn't even see her.
Did she turn invisible?
After a while of searching, she found herself back where she started. There was a huge notice board next to the school entrance. Kara actually found a clue among all the canceled classes whose teachers were ill and the clubs the teachers had no time for. The class lists confirmed the information the male teacher had given her.
Westside, Corridor B, Classroom 4.
Among many others, Kara Jakobson.
Ludwig was among them, too.
She whirled around.
Her head tilted to the side, hairs swirling in a messy display of wild spirit, Bonnie approached. She looked conflicted as if Kara being here was entirely wrong in the face of the universe. Well, it was, but nobody would help her!
"Bonnie? Good morning," she managed to bring out.
"Morning," Bonnie said, coming to a stop beside her. She briefly scanned the class lists, her eyes widening slightly. "Don't tell me you don't even remember where your classroom is?"
"I won't tell you if you don't want to," Kara said darkly.
Bonnie's mouth fell open.
"I told you, didn't I? No memories. How should I know? I'd like to know myself." Kara crossed her arms in what she hoped was rebellious defiance, though her acting skills were the least of her problems, now. "The teachers wouldn't even think about helping me. Do you believe it?"
"I'm more amazed that you even found their corridor when you didn't know your way around here."
"Dunno... I just ended up there. That being said, are you late? You don't look in a hurry."
"Mr. Harald is ill," she said with a smug grin. "My history teacher. Yours, too, by the way. Enjoy your free period tomorrow."
"Should I show you to your classroom? Oh, but you might want to wait until Mrs. Hammock is finished. She doesn't like being interrupted."
"That teacher said I should tell her that he excuses me... what was his name? Some natural phenomenon in the desert?"
"Mr. Fata... you sure you don't remember anything?" Bonnie asked with a chuckle. "We all tell that joke behind his back."
Bonnie led her through a labyrinth of educational architecture that elicited the impression of unneeded complexity. What was the plan, make their students brighter simply by being able to know their way around this place?
Even when they had arrived in front of a closed glass door with the sign 'Corridor B' hanging from the ceiling, Kara wondered if she'd even be able to find this place, again.
"Classroom 4 is at the very end," Bonnie explained, pointing down the corridor, "though you can see it at the signs. Mine's classroom 7, if you want to visit me."
"7? There is no seven, here..."
"Of course not, idiot," Bonnie said, smacking Kara on the head. It was only a light tap, so she forgave the mafia girl. "Classroom 7 is in Corridor A. Don't ask me why they did it like that."
"Don't look at me like that. We might see each other in PE, though... can you participate? I mean, are you allowed and stuff?"
"..." Kara didn't know. "Uhm-"
"No worries. Your face told me the answer. I don't want to hold you up any longer, though. If you really want to go in there, you'd better do it soon."
"Yeah. Thanks, Bonnie."
"Don't thank me, now. You will curse me for allowing you to walk into the tiger's cove like that, Kara," she said seriously.
"D-don't joke around, Bonnie..."
Haha? Why does your laugh sound so evasive?
Before Kara could make any more complaints, though, Bonnie was gone. She swallowed hard and slowly approached her classroom.
Every step of hers echoed through the corridor, and now that she concentrated on it, a dark aura seeped out of the tiny crevices between the classroom door and the wall.
Wondering if her classroom encounter would go just like her visit of the teachers' lounge, Kara knocked.
She didn't even notice any sounds before, but now that she heard the silence that followed her knock, she knew that some audible stimulants must've been in the air.
"Come in," a high-pitched voice said, and she opened the door.
Classroom 4 in Corridor B on the Westside was in a corner of the building, meaning it had two sides with windows. It was very bright because of that.
The students sat in pairs of two on tables arranged, in turn, in pairs of two and four rows. There was some space between them and the wall, and a middle corridor separated the class into two halves.
Kara spotted Ludwig before the hair on her neck rose.
She couldn't even see the figure under the thick cloud of darkness, holding a stick in one hand and nothing in the other. If darkness could scowl, glare, frown, and glower at once, this was what it would look and feel like.
Mrs. Hammock didn't even look human to her eyes.