There are certain points in your life where the thought ’Oh, this is bad, shit, why is this happening to me?’ settles into your head and stays there a while. Not frequently but generally more than anyone would like.
To say this was one of those days would be a significant understatement.
The school day had started the same as always. The first group of students to appear through the classroom door walked briskly. Their conversations echoed at a volume that meant one could hear every word they said. They were the perky kids who didn’t mind waking at the crack of dawn. Not that it was a bad thing. It was good for the social ecosystem. Their chipper voices spread joy through the populous like a gentle aroma. The following mob was less energetic, nothing more than living molds of fatigue and irritation. They didn’t welcome the rising sun but had long ago accepted they had no choice but to rise with it. As they listened to tales from their more energetic peers, they would slowly feel their exhaustion recede. Lumbering at the back as always, were the zombies. These were the students who could barely hold up their eyelids, their footsteps slow and heavy as they maundered for the better part of the day. Their time had been spent watching movies long after the clock struck twelve. No amount of excited storytelling would enliven their minds.
Noah found himself falling into the zombie category of recent.
Or perhaps he was worse than those plodding laggards. As the day trudged past the halfway point, most would have perked up as the energy from the school slop coarsed through their veins. But the mystery meat offered on a daily basis would never find its way into his system. That was a secret promise Noah had made with himself. However, it meant he remained a zombie. So here he was, with the day coming to an end. The last zombie. It had its perks. Nobody bothered him lest they become infected. Even the teachers. It was a bit strange how they all stopped at once though. Like it had been discussed at the ’lets not talk to Noah fanclub’. Which in retrospect doesn’t sound like a fanclub. Or at least not a good one. They would be better off choosing one of his more loud and lively classmates to fawn over.
Classmates who seemed to be oddly quiet.
Noah’s attention returned to the classroom. His eyes darted from side to side. The entire room had come to a standstill; every student frozen mid action, an eerie quiet like that of a graveyard. The monotonous sounds of pens on paper, the small whispers between students--gone. They sat with their expressions unchanged, painted smiles paired with unblinking eyes... more like dolls than anything human.
Standing calmly near the front of the classroom, an unnerving stranger.
He had just appeared, poof;one of those ’blink and you’ll miss it’ moments... well, not that anyone could at the moment. The stranger was dressed in a large black cloak that draped down his sides; his face was barely visible beneath a dark hood. In his hand an envelope. If he had a scythe instead, he could have been mistaken for Death himself. He stood at the front of the class as if ready to begin a lecture.
“You have been invited.”
The words caused Noah to shift in his seat. His first attempt to speak was crushed under the weight of a firm lump clogging up his throat. Wide-eyed and as stiff as a board, he sat patiently, staring at the uncanny visitor.
Nathan Caldere was sitting calmly beside this ominous man. He was a familiar face; they had shared classes together for a few years. He more of an acquaintance than a friend. Nathan was smart, popular and considered good looking by some and yet he always looked so bored of it all. Never a smile or frown. Always wearing the same uninterested gaze. Most knew him because he was a Caldere, and that meant richer than God. The wealthy boy rose to his feet, fingers running through his short brown hair.“You sure know how to put on a show.”
Noah could feel a tinge of guilt at witnessing something clearly not meant for his eyes. Still, he could not stop staring at the bizarre scene.
“I’ve been waiting a while for this,” Nathan said as he took a step towards the stranger. He lowered his head slightly to avoid a pen frozen mid-air, no longer speeding across the room to an expectant looking girl.
Nathan quickly snatched the envelope from the stranger’s hands. His normally bored expression melted away, showing a hint of amusement. Noah felt the urge to let his presence be known. To call out to the people before him. That urge didn’t last. His mind refused. A flood of questions rising up within him.
How had this even started?
It was a Monday afternoon, he knew that for sure; the turned back of Mr. Robinson at the front of the class confirmed that. Monday afternoons with Mr. Robinson signalled the last lesson of the day. The monotonous voice of his teacher wouldn’t have provided any favours. Fatigue would’ve been at its peak. No chance for him to focus on what was being taught. Noah cast a quick glance at the hooded stranger. Maybe all of it was a dream; maybe he was really drooling all over his desk, and any moment he would be getting an earful from a disapproving teacher and laughing classmates.
It was unlikely he’d dreamt up someone dressed like that. It was too simplistic. He could spruce up that outfit in countless ways. Noah’s eyes shifted across the classroom until they finally focused on Mr. Robinson, as if it would somehow will him into movement. It didn’t. Inevitably, he found his gaze return to the Stranger.
“There are things you must know before you are to accept, or ref--”
“I know what I’m getting myself into,” Nathan asserted, cutting in before the stranger could finish his sentence.
He paused, a flash of annoyance almost visible past the hood but disappearing as quickly as it had come. “Do you accept?”
A small smirk to appeared on Nathan’s face as he opened the envelope and peered inside . He reached into it, pulling out a small ring covered in odd markings. “Of course I accept.”
“You have been assigned to the Hoden Region.”
A slight nod came from Nathan, his eyes gazing intensely at the ring.
“Achoo!” Noah slammed his hands into his face in a feeble attempt to hold back his sneeze.
Maybe they didn’t notice?
Slowly his eyes rose from the floor. Nathan was staring wide-eyed, confusion written clearly on his face. The stranger’s gaze was firmly fixated on Noah. What little of his face that could be seen was a blank slate, not giving the slightest clue as to what he was thinking. Noah felt a wave of fear wash over him.
The door. If he was fast enough, maybe he could make a break for it.
In a depressing attempt to rise, Noah collapsed against his desk. His knees shakily banged against each other. Even if his legs cooperated, he would have to run toward the inexplicable visitor. If by some miracle he made it to the door, would the stranger just appear in front of him in the same way he had appeared in the room? He had no idea what this stranger was capable of, but from what he had already seen, there probably wasn’t a chance of escape. The realisation came with a new wave of hopelessness as he slumped back in his chair, shaking and waiting.
Maybe they stayed like that for a second, or a minute; maybe more, maybe less; the three of them were frozen, mirroring everyone else in the room, waiting for what this man would do.
Finally, the hooded man spoke.
“It seems there is a complication.”