Chapter 4:

Seat of Seclusion

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

He sounded like a prick.Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

"I thought kids are less responsible?" Kara said.Bookmark here

"Maybe," Ivan said, considering her words. "Adults aren't much better, though."Bookmark here

"Is that so?"Bookmark here

"Definitely."Bookmark here

"That's funny. So you and mother are-"Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

"Don't put words in my mouth, Kara," Ivan said with a whiny voice.Bookmark here

Kara began to laugh, and Ivan soon joined her.Bookmark here

He was a tall man.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

She had to make do with these kinds of thought experiments.Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"Yeah... haha."Bookmark here

His laugh sounded forced.Bookmark here

They spent the rest of the commute in silence.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Her lips protested as a thousand tiny needles pierced the delicate skin. It felt like she just decided to kiss a hedgehog.Bookmark here

Kara watched her father join back into the slow-moving traffic, then took in the sight she had waited to see for weeks.Bookmark here

Her school.Bookmark here

Hazel High School.Bookmark here

The place she should know, but didn't.Bookmark here

It was a strange feeling.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Here and there, groups of kids were already there, talking with each other or throwing stuff around the grass.Bookmark here

It was a peaceful setting, just as Nia's Manga suggested a school to be like.Bookmark here

Kara picked a nut from the ground and put it in her mouth.Bookmark here

She decided that she loved hazelnuts at that moment.Bookmark here

Kara picked up a few more before looking around the school. She had no idea where to go.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Kara had no idea how to deal with such a situation.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

The teachers' lounge, the principal's office, the secretariat, a few spare rooms that probably served as some sort of safe-haven for them...Bookmark here

Kara decided on the teachers' lounge.Bookmark here

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...Bookmark here

Her hand hurt, and she had half a mind to retreat at that point.Bookmark here

She just grabbed the door and yanked it open, poking her head inside.Bookmark here

"Uhm... hello?"Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

This made Kara a bit mad.Bookmark here

Her father's words came back at her.Bookmark here

Adults aren't much better, though.Bookmark here

How right he was.Bookmark here

She continued to scowl at the mass of people until one stood up with a sigh, shrugging to his colleagues.Bookmark here

He didn't look happy about having to stand up.Bookmark here

"What do you want?" he asked.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"I can't find my classroom," Kara blurted out.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"That's a new excuse this late in the year," he said without amusement. "What's your name and class?"Bookmark here

"I'm Kara... I don't know my-"Bookmark here

"Last name?"Bookmark here

"Kara... Jakobson."Bookmark here

She mumbled her last name with downcast eyes.Bookmark here

"Come again?"Bookmark here

"Kara Jakobson."Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

They clearly had time for her antics, as they called it, but that was beside the point. Kara was fuming.Bookmark here

This wasn't how a teacher should behave!Bookmark here

"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!"Bookmark here

Her scream finally got a reaction out of the man.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

She quickly avoided her eyes.Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

There was a Westside?Bookmark here

Corridor B?Bookmark here

The only thing that made sense to her was the second floor. She was currently on the fourth one, by the way.Bookmark here

"... can't someone show me?"Bookmark here

The man sighed again.Bookmark here

He looked for someone in the ranks of the teachers to step up, but nobody did. He shook his head with a neutral expression.Bookmark here

That man didn't seem to care.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

He was about to shut the door, but Kara stuck a foot inside at the last moment.Bookmark here

She winced as the pain overwhelmed her.Bookmark here

How heavy was this door?Bookmark here

"You said she was printing, right? Won't she come back before going to class?"Bookmark here

Did the man just click his tongue?Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

Knowing that she would have to give up, Kara took out her foot and allowed the man to close the door.Bookmark here

Her first encounter at school had been an unpleasant experience.Bookmark here

How could they treat her like that?Bookmark here

It was unfair.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

How would that look, anyway?Bookmark here

15 minutes back in school and already she felt like giving up.Bookmark here

She had to try harder.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Did she turn invisible?Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Westside, Corridor B, Classroom 4.Bookmark here

Among many others, Kara Jakobson.Bookmark here

Ludwig was among them, too.Bookmark here

"Kara?"Bookmark here

She whirled around.Bookmark here

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!Bookmark here

"Bonnie? Good morning," she managed to bring out.Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

"I won't tell you if you don't want to," Kara said darkly.Bookmark here

Bonnie's mouth fell open.Bookmark here

"No way..."Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

"I'm more amazed that you even found their corridor when you didn't know your way around here."Bookmark here

"Dunno... I just ended up there. That being said, are you late? You don't look in a hurry."Bookmark here

"Mr. Harald is ill," she said with a smug grin. "My history teacher. Yours, too, by the way. Enjoy your free period tomorrow."Bookmark here

"Oh..."Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"That teacher said I should tell her that he excuses me... what was his name? Some natural phenomenon in the desert?"Bookmark here

"Mr. Fata... you sure you don't remember anything?" Bonnie asked with a chuckle. "We all tell that joke behind his back."Bookmark here

"You do?"Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"7? There is no seven, here..."Bookmark 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."Bookmark here

"Hah..."Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

"..." Kara didn't know. "Uhm-"Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"Yeah. Thanks, Bonnie."Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

"D-don't joke around, Bonnie..."Bookmark here

"Haha..."Bookmark here

Haha? Why does your laugh sound so evasive?Bookmark here

Before Kara could make any more complaints, though, Bonnie was gone. She swallowed hard and slowly approached her classroom.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Wondering if her classroom encounter would go just like her visit of the teachers' lounge, Kara knocked.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"Come in," a high-pitched voice said, and she opened the door.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Kara spotted Ludwig before the hair on her neck rose.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Mrs. Hammock didn't even look human to her eyes.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.