Tuesday, February 12, 2013
I read Greta’s words as I rested on the hotel bed. They were written in a firm, definite hand:
February 1978 (second entry) - we were not sure what country the child originated from. When Mr Spencer brought him back from his trip, I thought he’d finally gone mad, like his ancestors. I said, ‘You were searching for fossils, not people!’ But he just shrugged and said, ‘Well, I saw him on the street and no one claimed him so I filled in the paperwork, paid a requisite sum and now here he is. All this had happened many months before the actual collection. Perhaps the child was originally from Europe or maybe as close as Liverpool? The foundling had papers to say he was ours, signed by a solicitor, no less. He didn’t speak a word that first night. His bell bottom jeans and shoes were filthy and caked with mud from the walk along the driveway. Dirt splattered on my kitchen floor. I thought it was very inconsiderate of Mr Spencer not to have put clean clothes on him but grown men rarely think of small comforts. The dark haired, six-year-old person stared at me blankly and flinched when I tried to go anywhere near him. He kicked and scratched me so hard when I went to take his jacket (where I read the “instructions”) that I honestly wondered how I’d cope looking after a child in such a…state. Harrison, almost eight years the child’s senior, shoved the boy when he thought no one was looking and whispered to him before leaving the house, ‘Who do you think you are? Invading my home like this… I’ll make you pay, charity case!’
Kate, who had always been naughty (a fact belied by her pretty and innocent face), and never close to her much older brother or absent socialite mother, became attached to the new boy who we named Heath and resolved to raise as part of our family…
It was all rather formal yet strangely personal.
I’d learnt, as a child, Heath Spencer had no language and apparently very little memory of his origins. He’d certainly made up for it judging by the detailed and sophisticated legal correspondence he’d addressed to me personally and which I had spread out on the desk in my room. Heath’s letters addressed the various ownership and personal scandals involving both himself and his adopted relatives in almost forensic detail. Events happened a long time ago, but the origins and complex story of the properties in question, both Hareton Hall and The Grange, involved both the Spencer and Hunt families whose paperwork I now studied. Their generational feuds had been the talk of the firm, behind closed doors, of course.
According to family tradition, the Spencer children were sent away to school the year they turned twelve. However, the friendship between the two youngest children began much earlier, with a whisper. It was as if Kate was the first to know, although his adopted father must have suspected. There was something different about Heath.
The first night the child arrived, Kate wandered up to him when he was left alone in the kitchen and the little boy hissed at her, baring his tiny, white incisor fangs. Kate scowled then smiled and moved towards the small boy, rather than rejecting him. As if he were some exotic pet, she tried to pat his head. The boy, suddenly ashamed of his behaviour, covered his mouth. Heath had only recently learned how to recede his little fangs but sometimes they came out when he was frightened or stressed. Kate took his hand and led him upstairs.
When they were in the play room, she asked him to explain more. It was their secret, she told him. Kate loved to have secrets. The little boy didn’t know what to tell her.
‘I was born this way,’ he whispered.
His biological father had kept notes but Mr Spencer wanted proof. After many secretive tests with a Vampire specialist on Harley Street it was explained to Mr Spencer that the child had a rare condition. There was a line of Spanish vampires from thousands of years ago that he possibly descended from through his mother. His blood type was unknown. What they did ascertain was that the child might grow out of his ways and never fully mature into a “blood sucker” as the specialist called his “breed”. He also warned Mr Spencer, “Tell no one.” Fearing society would reject his new son, Mr Spencer agreed.
Heath was told his cravings for blood would not reach full maturity until he did (at around eighteen) and in the meantime, he could be easily sustained with a diet high in protein and iron. He would keep ageing until then. As the venom in his blood was diluted, he would be given protection from sun. His image would appear in photographs and mirrors until it began to fade in adulthood. Kate’s father had been assured by the vampire specialist it was completely safe for Heath to go to church and be around other children.
Mr Spencer was given a list of instructions similar to the ones the boy arrived with; that he had to be careful of the child’s fair skin in the sun, (although a small amount wouldn’t hurt as long as he took his daily supplements and wore a pendant protecting him from daylight). According to the notes, the child’s mother was horrified the baby had crackled and almost burnt in the light. Heath had also tried to bite her when nursing. Finally, unable to cope, his mother had left him with Spanish nuns when he was just three months old. She had placed the protective amulet around the baby’s neck along with a kiss as she broke down and put him in a basket outside the gates of the orphanage. As he grew, incorrigible, the child daily escaped and ran himself ragged along the Spanish streets. That was how Mr Spencer found him, pale and hungry for protein, like a wild kitten.
After the child arrived at Hareton Hall his incisors were painlessly filed down during regular check-ups at the family dentist and life resumed as normal. Life for Heath was a regular routine of vitamin taking, avoiding the sun, wearing his amulet (even in the bath) and craving roast dinners (his favourite). The child was deemed eccentric and wild but no one except Mr Spencer, Kate and Heath knew he was actually different. He had cravings for cooked, red meat, a desire to sleep half the day and stay up all night, but those were habits and slowly, Heath conformed to the ways of the household.
On one occasion, he had been caught off-guard when Kate’s mother had walked in on the child playing with his train set and Heath, suddenly frightened, sensed an intruder. He turned round and hissed, before realizing the full impact of what he had done. His new mother fled from the room screaming, “He’s not normal! He’s just not normal!” Heath tried to apologize. The woman wouldn’t listen. She packed her bags and wanted to take Kate with her; the little girl refused to go.
After Kate’s mother left Hareton Hall, her father withdrew from the world. Mr Spencer retired from normal life and began to live in relative seclusion. He went for long walks during the day and took trips abroad, collecting plants to study and write about in his home office.
Growing up, Kate and Heath ran wild. As the years wore on, Mr Spencer became a hermit and slept often, worked in the garden and read the Bible fireside in the afternoons. One by one, the staff began to give notice, except the housekeeper Greta, who’d been with the family since she was sixteen. Greta had more to do than keep track of the wayward children who were soon expelled from the local primary school for “non-attendance, unruly behaviour” and (worst), “attempted biting,” something Kate hotly denied as Heath looked on sheepishly.
Although Greta knew Heath was unusual, he’d managed not to reveal his secret to her. There had to be something wrong with him, Greta thought, but nothing that boarding school wouldn’t fix. Besides, no one was perfect.
Although Mr Spencer felt especially partial to his youngest children, he began counting the days until they were old enough to be sent to Yardley Mansion School in Scotland, a Spencer family tradition. Perhaps they would learn something useful about discipline in such a prestigious establishment. After all, it would be nearly impossible to escape lessons there and Heath’s condition seemed almost entirely under control, his penchant for roast dinners aside. But after all, who except vegetarians did not like a good roast?
When Heath grew stronger (useful against Harrison) and his inclinations grew rougher, he hid them and learned to control his desire to sometimes nip Kate on her leg or arm. In fact, he’d be horrified if she knew he once imagined tasting the pretty little vein in her wrist.
He’d educated himself and knew biting was wrong and never in a billion years would he wish to hurt the person he loved most in the world. Heath religiously took his supplements, wore his amulet and kept himself sustained with his favourite juice and meat. As he grew older, his cravings were not subsiding quite as easily.
Heath was closer to Kate than anyone. Apart from Kate’s father, whom Heath regarded warmly, she was the only friend he’d ever had. Well, except for Greta, who, after a faltering start, grew to look upon Heath with great fondness. At first Heath didn’t like Greta. She was always huffing and puffing in the kitchen about the extra work and ignored him when he asked lots of questions until he stopped talking altogether and then she said things like, “Has the cat got your tongue, young man?”
Harrison was at home for half-term holidays when the children started playing a particularly savage game of sardines. Heath had been caught running through the attic by Harrison and was beaten with a stick. Heath then (unsuccessfully) tried to drive his homemade stake into the older boy’s leg. After witnessing Harrison’s cruelty, Greta had become Heath’s ally. She told Mr Spencer who reprimanded Harrison for picking on the smaller child and withdrew the older boy’s financial privileges for a month. Harrison was angry; the boy was half his height but twice as strong.
‘I’ll get you back for this, charity case,’ the older boy said as he again hit Heath when nobody else was about. There was enough force in that clip to make Heath’s ear bleed. Heath bared his teeth, as he waited for the strength in his venom to take over. Kate swiped her elder brother and before long the three of them were wrestling, pushing, kicking and shoving each other until the little girl was almost squashed in the pile beneath. This just led the two boys to start fighting all over again. Heath bit Harrison on the wrist and spat out the taste just as quickly. Harrison called him a “little animal”. Kate screamed so hard Greta had to race up the stairs to break them up.
Harrison would have been sent back to school to suffer the long weekend alone before term started but Greta noticed spots on all three children as she was sending them out of the room separately. They had developed chicken pox, which Harrison blamed on the local “state school scum” - Heath and his bratty little sister’s school friends.
‘Oh be quiet, Harrison!’ Greta warned. ‘I think it is far more likely that you carried the chicken pox back with you from that posh boys’ school your father pays the earth for…’
Chastened, Harrison went back to bed moaning and demanding more sympathy. Both Harrison and Kate, spoiled before their mother left, demanded to be waited on hand and foot but not Heath. He had lain there, expecting very little sympathy (eyeing the specially delivered basket of blood oranges), sleeping most of the day and happy to gnaw on a chicken leg when it was given. Because he was a stoic little boy, Heath had won Greta over. She kept the best treats for him - fruit and sandwiches for his lunch (the boy always left the bread and ate the meat) - fussing over him like a young mother. This too, bred Harrison’s resentment. Heath, for the first time in his young life, basked in the adoration the females of Hareton Hall gave him, and he grew into a tall, robust child whom Greta predicted would be, “a real lady killer one day”.
At eight years old, that day hadn’t quite arrived.
Monday, February 11, 2013
From the notes of Mr Tom Bennett (lawyer) and visitor to Hampstead Heath, London, Present Day
When I saw the house in the fragile light, I could barely make out the lines of gothic architecture in the morning mist. I’d heard whispers about the strangeness of the place. I was told that I risked my life going there; that the owner brandished a gun and roamed the heath looking for his lost love. Music and chatter, laughter and screams could be heard miles away in the night. Neighbours said the lovers who’d inhabited Hareton Hall lived there still, as young and beautiful as they ever were; haunted.
The family, the Spencers, originated in Yorkshire and could trace their lineage back a thousand years. Their secrets wove through history and time and family portraits. I held in my hand a photograph of Mr Spencer, an aristocrat with an interest in archaeology, returning from a trip to Spain with a small child. Among other documents, there was a photograph of the entire family, arriving to greet Mr Spencer and his newly adopted son at the airport. The family were generationally wealthy. Mr Spencer had an interest in Botany. According to my documents, he kept to himself and his study. Within the file, I also retained the marriage notice of the daughter, Kate. This was long before the family feud that had ignited decades of dispute.
In the picture was a beautiful mother with ink black curls. The older teenage boy, Harrison, had a scowl on his face and headphones on his ears. He appeared tuned out from the proceedings. The girl, her dark curls tied with an unruly red ribbon, revealed an adorable cherub face. Aged six, she peeked out from behind her mother and stole the picture. It was this child’s face I remembered long after I’d set the image aside.
As I walked along the winding road that led from Hampstead Heath towards Hareton Hall, I passed another magnificent home, The Grange. This was a Georgian mansion hidden behind a maze of orange trees as opposed to The Hall where photographs showed gargoyles at its entrance. The signatures I was required to collect involved the ownership of both properties.
I’d been advised not to try to park along the icy road that connected the houses on opposite sides of the heath. Instead, I’d driven to a spot along the frosty lane which meant I had to walk the rest of the way in the rain. Late afternoon seemed to be losing light but then all the days were dark now as London turned rapidly into winter. It was not a good time to walk about the borough. A man had recently gone missing and was yet to be found. As I was surrounded by street crime in my first position as junior solicitor at a criminal law firm, I was not perturbed.
I pushed the family photograph, covered in plastic, deep inside my briefcase along with some handwritten journals kept by Kate Spencer, the only daughter of the house, and one by the housekeeper, Greta Gardner. Greta’s journal contained a collection of various yearly expenses with some alarming family details written in the margins. Both contained valuable information entrusted to me. I noticed The Grange to my right, a well-kept home, built not far from a local landmark, Kenwood House. The Grange held some of the allure, yet I suspected hosted none of the secrets, of Hareton Hall.
The history of the Spencer family haunted me as I walked. I remembered words and snippets from the bizarre journals. For example, Heath was described as, “a pale little boy with sharp milk teeth!” This journal scribble was mixed with the photographs I resolved to return to their rightful owner. As I rounded the corner, I was almost as keen to talk to Greta Gardner, the housekeeper and keeper of secrets, as I was to speak with the owner of The Hall.
The heath was silent and stark in bare winter.
I’d visited during summer as a child but never with such purpose in my step. To my right and to my great relief, I saw the entrance to a pub. I’d been there with my family once, just after I’d graduated from university. I decided to warm myself and ask for directions.
The Horse and Ale used to serve delicious roast dinners and hot toddies. I hoped it hadn’t changed too much in the intervening years.
I settled in front of the fire, grateful for the familiarity as I drank my hot, strong mulled wine. When the waiter asked me if I needed anything extra, I asked him for directions to Hareton Hall.
‘Who wants to know?’ The low, gruff voice of a man, perhaps in his thirties, spoke to me from behind one of the many sofas. He had a plate of what appeared to be lamb, dipped in gravy and a large pint of dark ale in his hand. His dog lay lovingly, sleeping at his feet, apparently unbothered by the smell of roasted meat.
‘Ah, I do.’
‘Really? And who might you be?’
To say he was unfriendly would be an understatement.
‘I’m…well, who are you?’
He almost laughed.
‘I asked you first.’
‘I’m Tom Bennett, the junior partner from Bennett & Sons. I have an appointment at Hareton Hall.’
‘To see the owner?’
‘Yes, and…who might you be?’
‘I am the owner.’
He didn’t smile. He rose slowly. For a youngish man, he seemed to carry the weight of the world on his broad shoulders. He looked like a hard partying insomniac. I offered him my hand and he took it obligingly. If I was trained to comment on such things, which I suppose I am, I’d say he was tall and fairly handsome. The air of sleeplessness hung over him like a cloud. He was polite yet unfriendly; he did not smile. He was unshaven; his dark shirt was unironed but expensive. He stared at me coldly.
The publican scurried off to some far flung corner of the establishment. One of the lights overhead flickered as the man moved closer to me. He picked up an implement from the fireside and stoked the flame.
I took another sip of my drink and waited for him to speak.
‘Well then, it’s me you’ve come to see. Place is empty, except for my housekeeper Greta, a few horses in the stables and the dogs.
‘Perhaps I could come to Hareton Hall?’
‘It would help if I sighted the property and it may be easier to talk there.’
‘I am busy this evening. If you had come earlier as arranged…
‘I was detained. It was further away from Hampstead than I expected.’
‘Even so…I don’t have visitors at night. I shall arrange for you to come tomorrow morning. Twenty minutes.’
‘It may take more than twenty minutes…’
The rain poured down overhead and with it the darkness of early winter. For once, I was glad as a young man, not to have to hurry back to a wife and family.
The man shrugged.
‘Well, it’s getting late. You can stay here tonight - for free; I own the pub. I’ll send my driver to get you at nine in the morning. We can finalize the matter then.’
He smiled for the first time at the blonde, middle-aged woman who entered the room and moved softly behind the bar.
‘This is Greta; she used to be the housekeeper at Hareton Hall; raised me as a child; she’ll fill you in on the story. Look after him Greta and see he gets a comfortable bed.’
Greta looked at me warily.
He whistled to his dog, a large amiable Labrador who obviously worshipped his master.
The dog sat up and barked. I think his owner was used to people behaving in a similar manner.
It turned out Greta had quite a tale to tell as she chatted to me by the fireside that evening. I asked her to identify her household journal and she was pleased to do so. I marked it as “Exhibit A” in my head; it was to be a wealth of information. I had the journal open on my knee as we talked. The Spencer crest hovered above us as Greta spoke in detail about the family she’d once served. Before I retired to bed, I could not resist writing down what she said as I did not want to forget what she told me. As I offered to pay for my drinks, I was more intrigued than ever about the legends of Hareton Hall and the fate of the Spencer children who lived there, more than thirty years ago…
Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0087EUMD6
Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0087EUMD6
*Please note UK spelling and punctuation is used throughout Wuthering Nights!
Sunday, February 10, 2013
From the journal of Greta Gardner, February 1978
The boy arrived at night, wrapped in a blanket. He was carried by his adopted father who placed him on the kitchen floor next to me. His big blue eyes stared out from under his wild black hair. He shrank from the fire, he shrank from my touch, yet his skin was cold as ice…
He arrived with a list of instructions tucked into the pocket of his jacket.
Eats - mostly chicken and oranges (likes: roast chicken, blood oranges and plums).
Drinks - mostly water and citrus juice.
First warning - do not let him go in the sun often as he burns easily.
Second warning - make sure he wears his necklace amulet (a parting gift from his biological mother). He screams if you take it.
Final Warning - do not let him go out at night alone.
As a small boy (just walking) he had a tendency to wander off, and many times staff at the orphanage were unable to find the little fellow for hours. Once, he was found hanging upside down from the roof of the school gymnasium, like a bat. The only giveaway was the drip drip drip of juice as he stuffed his baby face with blood oranges.
His file was then stamped: Special Needs.
I shook my head as I read this. I was sure Mr Spencer had finally lost his mind dragging the mite all the way back from Spain. It was many years before I learnt the full extent of his malady.
WUTHERING NIGHTS: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0087EUMD6
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
The Magic Mermaid by Summer Day
As Storm Sunshine opened her locker, hair dripping wet, she noticed Jack Hunter from the corner of her eye. He’d arrived early and was going to the gym to practice shooting hoops. He was talking to his girlfriend Sara Bright. They were hunched in a corner discussing whatever. Everyone talked about them. Not only was Sara good looking and brilliant, but, in a school of unusually mismatched couples, Jack was too. Plus, he was the star of the basketball team and an awesome swimmer.
Storm was the new girl. She always seemed to be the new girl. Storm wished she’d made more of an effort to make friends but she was always the last person to class, hair soaking, a pool of water staining the small of her back from her shoulder length hair. The tiny gills at the base of her neck were only on display underwater. They left a mark during the day but this was always covered with a thin but fashionable scarf, just in case anyone noticed.
Queen Bee, Lavinia Snow, once taunted Storm. Lavinia asked her underlings, “Don’t you just love the smell of chlorine?” as if she didn’t.
Storm could have played her bluff and agreed with her, since she didn’t find the smell of chlorine offensive; but Storm had been swimming in salt water so she knew Lavinia was lying. The school pool, the one she’d soon be forced to submerge herself in, was too heavily chlorinated, it was true. If she wanted to fit in and be ready for class, she’d have to go swimming there instead of the ocean pool nearer home. It was the only time she really became herself - in water. Storm lived for those moments; and to see Jack Hunter’s face again.
Storm checked her schedule. Her foster mom had been pretty nice about making sure she had all the right things, even packed her lunch with those tuna sushi rolls Storm craved; but Storm missed her real family more every day. She missed their beautiful home made out of forgotten treasure; its winding mote and secret tunnels, the natural wave pool with its lace like fence, decorated with shells and illuminated at night in fluorescence. The view of the ocean was as incomparable as her true family’s laughter. The night stars and the sound of her sister’s conversation warmed her on chilly evenings.
It was true, the world she came from had only one season – wet – but still, they felt the changes from above. Storm ached from being kept apart from her siblings, but she’d made her choice and she was determined to stand by it. The great change had all happened only days ago...
The Magic Mermaid is the third novella in my Teenage Fairy Tales Collection. You may like to read Bella Cinderella and Snow Bright first as the stories inter-connect!
Here is the link to The Magic Mermaid: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B7S5EMI
Saturday, December 22, 2012
When teenager Julissa (Jewel) Bella goes to stay with her wicked, vampirical step family she meets an Italian aristocrat named Marco and a shy guy named Riff, but which one is the Prince? In this non-traditional fairy tale novella (inspired by - you guessed it - Cinderella) Jewel gets to prepare for the birthday ball where not everything goes according to plan...
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
BELLA CINDERELLA by Summer Day
The nicest girl in school
Julissa Bella, or Jewel for short, was one of the most beautiful girls in Venice Beach, Los Angeles; she just didn’t know it. Her days were spent being bossed around by her wicked new stepmother, Miranda Minchin. Miranda had pale skin and long black hair and teeth that were fluorescent from spending too long with her dentist. Jewel’s stepmother also spent hours at the most expensive stylist in town to make sure her glossy locks were just right. The truth was, Miranda was a vampire. In a moment of madness, Jewel’s father had married her. So far, Jewel and her dad had remained human. They were O generic and Miranda and her girls only drank the rarest blood types.
When Jewel arrived to stay, Miranda was busy organising a sweet sixteenth for her vampire triplets: Vanity, Charity and Patience. They were closer to two hundred years old but had been turned at sixteen, so they never aged.
Jewel’s stepsisters were the worst ‘teenage girls’ imaginable and constantly taunted Jewel often trying to scratch and ‘pretend bite’ her, just to scare her a little bit more. Because of this, Jewel had tried to contact her mom who had originally agreed to let her stay with the Minchin sisters (before Jewel knew the truth). Jewel’s mom was on a study trip off shore (she was a marine biologist) so Jewel just had to wait it out. Of course, her dad had also left to ‘go to a conference’ in New York a few days ago, which is why Jewel was stuck with her wicked step-family, alone, for the weekend.
“Guess what little sister?” Charity said when Jewel arrived. “Your blood is so deeply unappealing we’ve decided not to make you one of us.”
“Why aren’t you smiling? We’ve decided not to bite,” Patience said, “even though I’d like nothing more than to rip out your wrist vein right now, your dad pays the bills and he might not like it.”
“Yes,” Vanity said as she checked her red gloss in the mirror, “mommy has asked us to show some restraint.”
Jewel’s eyes widened as they grabbed her suitcase and threw it into the spare room at the top of the stairs.
“Now, get in there and when we decide you’ve learnt how to behave, we might let you out.”
That was when Miranda returned from her stylist. She opened the door to Jewel’s room (it wasn’t so bad – there was an ensuite and a flat screen), and pretended to be all politeness. Miranda had other ideas besides locking Jewel up. She was throwing yet another sweet sixteenth for her girls and wanted to turn Jewel into the maid, since the previous one quit after Max bit her. Max was Miranda’s chubby toddler son. He liked to sleep a lot and run amok when he woke.
With Jewel’s unofficial help, Miranda intended to throw the party to end all parties on Saturday night. That only gave them the week to prepare. Builders had arrived and made the necessary renovations to the patio. They were also extending the ball room out to the pool area.
Miranda had warned her girls before the carpenters arrived, “not one of them is to disappear. You know how the neighbors talk.” The last time Miranda had required renovations (back in 1969 when she was married to her sixth ‘husbee’ - that was Miranda’s word for all her husbands) the girls had drained a plasterer. It took Miranda six hours to clean up the mess! Miranda liked to keep up appearances at any cost.
Jewel was terrified of her new stepfamily and sat on her bed, unable to decide what to do next. She had no friends in the neighborhood and she couldn’t drive, yet. She was stuck here until her mom returned from her working vacation.
The only thing she was allowed to do was go to school and babysit her little half-brother, Max. Max was a toddler, but Jewel, who was almost sixteen, loved to take care of him even though he was extremely naughty.
Max was half vamp, half bro and still had his ‘puppy fat’ as Miranda called it. He had blonde sticky up hair and often threw tantrums in the middle of shopping malls. He sucked on a bottle of plasma and threw shoes out of car windows. If strangers got too close, he tried to bite them.
In the mornings, before daycare, he threw tantrums. He hid toys in his pockets to throw at unsuspecting people, leaving Jewel red with embarrassment.
Jewel’s stepsisters attended a select local school that had recently become like a freak show since vamps took over. Venice Beach Hall was practically off the map and the outside of the building didn’t look sunny or welcoming. It looked grey and creepy, more like a reform school or a haunted house. Jewel only had to endure it for eight weeks and it had to be better than home. At Miranda’s place, Jewel washed the dishes just like her stepmother asked her to and dried them as well. If she was reading, Miranda literally placed a duster in her hand while her stepsisters sat on the table, floor and window sill barking instructions. Jewel wanted to run away but there was nowhere to go and she had no money until her dad returned. Besides, school started tomorrow.
That night, as Jewel cried herself to sleep, the housekeeper Jacinta, brought her in milk and cookies.
“Don’t worry dear,” she said. “I’m like a fairy godmother and your life is about to change for the better, forever.” When she woke up, Jewel wondered if it had all been a dream.
She dragged on some vintage jeans and a red sweater only to be confronted by her stepsisters slurping blood smoothies.
“Want one?” Charity asked.
Jewel was silent.
“Never mind,” Patience replied, “we have to motor.”
Vanity checked her gloss in her gold and diamante compact. Their little brother Max slurped on a bottle full of thick, red, liquid.
“Oh, not exactly.” Patience said, (she could be quite nice when she wanted to be). “He’s just a half – so he eats real food as well.”
“He loves sweets,” Patience added. The sisters walked in front of Jewel.
“You have to walk behind us,” Vanity informed Jewel, “because we are more important and prettier.”
It wasn’t true. Jewel was a very pretty girl, like I said; she just didn’t know it yet...
SNOW BRIGHT by Summer Day
The queen bee
Once upon a school, Sloane Select High, a sophomore named Lavinia Price wielded her considerable power. Sloane High was so ritzy there was a large crystal chandelier hanging in the entrance hallway. During the holiday season a grand piano played carols all by itself and a huge Christmas tree decorated in magical lights generated real snow. The brilliantly colored lights rearranged themselves without need of human touch.
This didn’t impress Lavinia Price who was the richest, most fashionable cheerleader in school.
The basketball team, The Sloan Shifters, were the best in the district and the school plays Sloan High put on always had a large audience. As you may have gathered, Sloan Select was very special. So special, in fact, students had to be gifted in an unusual way to gain entry. There were rumors some of them were actually characters from fairy tales, they just didn’t know it yet.
Some were gliders (they could move back or forward in time). Others could play piano or sing like a dream. Some were shifters (they could change their form) and some were weather changers (they could manipulate the weather). Object movers (they could move objects with their minds) were very sought after. Sara Bright was a combination of all of the above – the most powerful.
Lavinia Price, newly recruited cheerleader, weather changer and object mover, could answer just about any question – with the help of her cell phone. She wasn’t impressed by the other students or the entrance hall at Sloane. Her own home was far more glamorous. Rightly or wrongly, she thought study was boring, socializing was everything and her mad skills (more on those later) reigned supreme. She had her eye on Jack Hunter, though. He’d been newly recruited to the school basketball team from some forgettable corner of LA and Lavinia had liked him since she first clapped eyes on him. Jack was tall with blonde hair and a cute smile.
Every morning, Lavinia would text her smart phone the same question (it had voice recognition amongst other things and Lavinia could see her face on the screen), “mirror mirror on my phone who is the hottest girl at Sloane?” Every afternoon her cell texted the same response: You are Lavinia.
That was until Sara Bright arrived.
Sara was the smartest girl who had ever attended Sloane Select; and the most gifted. She was already taking senior Chemistry and there was talk she could mix potions, any kind of potion, especially love potions.
Sara was also destined to become quite popular. She was talented, genuinely nice – and pretty, with her dark curls and naturally red lipped smile. Sara kept her distance from Lavinia Price though; it was as if she knew that Lavinia was jealous of her.
Perhaps that was one of Sara’s gifts, Lavinia thought, the gift of second sight. Sara could answer every question in Math and was particularly good at Physics and chemical equation class. The sophomores nicknamed chemical equation class, chemical romance, because some peeps were working on love potions. Lavinia realised Sara wouldn’t be the first girl at Sloane who came prepared with visions of the future and love potions but it didn’t seem fair that she also had Jack Hunter’s undivided attention.
Lavinia decided to do some research. She headed to the girl’s locker room immediately and attempted to rifle through Sara’s open locker. Her street clothes were dark and shabby – apart from that, nothing. Still, Lavinia sensed her power was being usurped and texted:
Ring ring on my phone, who is the prettiest girl at Sloane?
Why, the new girl, Sara Bright is.
There was only one word for Lavinia’s feelings: outrage. She’d already done at least six mean things to various girls who thought they were prettier or more popular than her. Lavinia couldn’t believe they hadn’t worked it out yet. She only knew how to rule with fear. It was just who she was.
Lavinia’s home life hadn’t been that great, her mom was exactly like an older version of her, but that was no excuse. She knew right from wrong. Being born with (quite) exceptional powers, gave her the ability to gain attention in all the wrong ways. Now, at a school where everyone was exceptional, she’d had to use some old-fashioned nastiness. So far, it was working. Peeps in groups divided in two when they saw her coming.
Not Jack Hunter and Sara Bright, though. They just stayed talking when they saw her appear, trailed by her mean girl pom poms. She flicked the hem of her cheerleading outfit as she walked by and Jack and Sara laughed. The whole school stopped and stared. Lavinia collected her homework and her lunch from one of the students too afraid to say no to her.
Once, Lavinia had put a poisonous lizard in someone’s locker. No one knew how she got it, because there was talk that she was neither a glider nor a shifter. Lavinia wasn’t just a weather changer or an object mover. She was the most feared of all… a wicked, little conjurer. Unlike the other students she refused to use her gifts for good.
Lavinia could imagine things and make them happen, manifest an object with her mind; it meant her world could appear, like magic, but only briefly. Lavinia’s magic was hollow and brittle, like her personality. People said that’s how the poisonous lizard arrived. Lavinia manifested it, out of thin air. The reptile disappeared as quickly as it appeared so no teacher was the wiser; but everyone was scared of Lavinia.
The students were open mouthed when a pathway Lavinia created behind her made a space not just between the gossiping students but merged into a small ocean flowing with waves in the middle of the hallway. The ocean closed up and became a sheet of fire until the smoke alarm sounded and Lavinia shut the whole mirage down. The vice-principal, Mrs Myers, came out screaming but the students just stood open mouthed. They knew it was only Lavinia manifesting visions that weren’t even real.
Lavinia shook her head. “Why are you all staring at me?” Total Rudeness, Lavinia thought. As she pulled her purse from her locker, she changed the color of her nail polish from pale blue to pink with just the click of her fingers. She was so over people staring at her. They should mind their own business and work on their own dubious talents, Lavinia thought. Sometimes she wondered if her only friend was her smart phone; and the only way she could control that was by turning the annoying thing off, which she did, right away.
Lavinia had plans and she didn’t need any more lame advice.
Besides, in chemical romance class she’d been working on a formula for invisibility that she’d decided to try as soon as possible. Looking at Sara and Jack huddled together made her think trying it sooner rather than later might be the ticket. She guzzled a small amount of fizzy orange liquid from the tiny ceramic vial she kept on a chain around her wrist. In the minutes it took her to walk from class to the bus stop, it hadn’t worked. Lavinia was wondering what to do in the unlikely event she’d developed the potion with a flaw. Distracted, she didn’t realize Sara was looking at her from the back seat of the bus.
“What do you want?” Sara asked as Lavinia conjured her ticket then moved to take a seat.
Sara turned around and challenged Lavinia. She was the first girl to ever do this.
“Mmm… not so friendly outside school hours, are we?” Lavinia said.
“… and you’re not so friendly in. Why are you on my bus?”
“It’s a free country. I’m going shopping.”
“Where? In East L.A.?”
Sara ignored Lavinia and started reading on her tablet.
Lavinia began to feel her skin tighten and hoped the secret formula would work – just not too soon.
She looked down at her finger and the polish had disappeared. She felt her lips and there was no gloss. Externals were the first to go. Thankfully, the bus screeched to a halt and Sara moved to get off.
Lavinia moved also, just as her socks disappeared. It was becoming more and more obvious that Sara was walking towards the opposite side of town.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m just going in the same direction as you.”
“I doubt that...”
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Best Friends and Sisters
When we arrived at school the next morning, Mark and Jet were nowhere to be seen. The boys were hanging out in packs. The girls had already formed their own little cliques: the usual stuff - sporty, indie, nerdy, skeezie, emo-wearing black. Study an ancient DVD of an eighties teen film and you’ll get the idea. The Sunrise High general studies stream was a fusion of select public school purgatory. Only the fittest would survive.
Mouche and I had first walked the halls of Sunrise in sophomore year. We were transfer students and dance majors from the academy we attended in Bel Air: The Los Angeles High School for Young Ladies. Back then, we wore uniforms that made us look like little nuns. Public school was a big contrast. Huge. We barely had a dress code but were well acquainted with the Princesses when they appeared in the hall: a mirage, as if like magic.
‘Magic? They are clearly bad girls in disguise,’ Mouche stated.
‘Just bad, bad, bad,’ I reiterated. ‘I think boys like bad girls though, don’t you?’
‘Probably,’ Mouche conceded. ‘But who knows what the boys in this place are looking for?’ Mouche said as we observed a Harry Potter obsessive adjusting his fake glasses and etching a lightning scar on his forehead with charcoal in preparation for an acting class. Mouche and I had lain low as transfer students and couldn’t believe how unlucky we were when Teegan, Tory, Brooke and Freya were expelled soon after we were politely shown the door at the Los Angeles High School for Young Ladies. Oh, did I say ladies? It’s not the most appropriate word. The Princesses were fairly considered to be the most evil teenage girls Sunrise had ever produced; two sets of non-identical twins with plans to take over their new school, safe in the belief that since their fathers owned half of Sunrise, the school was theirs for the taking.
‘This place is wild,’ Mouche said as we rounded the corner that led to a row of lockers.
‘At least it’s cheap,’ Brooke chimed in with mock consolation.
‘I can’t believe the Princesses have ended up at the same school as us....I heard they were expelled from HSYL....big surprise...’
Then Teegan morphed into our world, like dry ice, her red hair as shiny as her lip gloss.
‘It’s less shameful than not being able to afford the fees,’ Teegan sniggered.
‘Oops,’ Mouche said, placing her newly painted fingernails across her mouth as if she wasn’t sorry she’d been overheard. ‘I’d forgotten her extreme sensitivity during lunar eclipses.’
Peter Williamson, meandering behind us, laughed out loud. He considered Teegan a hormonal witch on a good day.
I ignored the Princesses and began searching my locker for the greatest scene study text ever written, An Actors Guide to Method Acting.
Then, out of the dank and dull drudgery of morning classes, the boys from the airport appeared.
They looked stunning.
Mark had his sunglasses in hand, his dark hair freshly washed and he smelled like Boycandy aftershave. Endearingly, he also looked lost as he tried to establish class locations. When he paused near my locker, looked up flustered, then looked back down again, I was totally lost for words. Mark managed to find six.
‘Hello,’ he said hesitantly, looking at Mouche. ‘I’m looking for room...three...’
He was at least a foot taller than me (so was Jet) and I thought I had more right to be shy since they were total man models in disguise. I thought Mark was hotter, though, simply because I had been reading Austen and decided I liked dark haired men. But really, both of the boys were super hot.
Also, Mark was smart. Perhaps I was already a little intimidated by his grey matter. He was carrying a physics text after all. Mouche and I were clearly missing out on something (‘some higher level of boredom,’ Mouche observed), because we did not understand physics, nor did we wish to.
Jet was quite garrulous for a boy and politely interrupted Mark. ‘I’m sorry, we’re new, obviously, and we’d like to know where room 308 is located...’
I looked down at my folder then inched another glance beyond the paper towards a confused Mark Knightly. He looked so adorable in his black jacket and retro jeans. He definitely resembled a young James Franco. (Thereafter, pre-men like Mark will be known through the famed halls of Sunrise High, as ‘Francos’.)
But it was Mouche who led the way, ‘You can follow us if you like,’ she said.
‘Most men would never admit they couldn’t follow directions,’ Mouche whispered later.
‘Oh...thanks,’ Jet said, giving Mouche a genuine smile, which she returned in full, ‘We might even have some subjects together, if you’re lucky,’ Mouche said mischievously.
‘Mmm...doubt it,’ Jet replied, ‘I don’t take...acting.’
Mouche was slightly put out by Jet’s comment and Mark was silent on the subject.
‘Actually,’ Mouche added, ‘the mainstream academic students are combining with the performing arts majors this year for English class.’
‘Well good,’ Jet said, ‘then we’re sure to see each other again...’
They talked on. It was obvious Jet liked Mouche and he was trying to make up for putting his foot in his mouth.
‘I just realized,’ I told Mouche as we walked to class, ‘I forgot my schedule.’
‘Okay, see you in ten...’ The small group walked on. I ran back to the hall and sorted through my locker, disappointed that neither of the boys took any of my subjects but hopeful Mark would be in my English class.
Peter Williamson, my sometime dance partner, was searching through his locker.
‘Hey, Pheebs,’ he said.
‘Who are the newbies?’
‘Two words,’ Teegan interjected, ‘no chance. They’re straight.’
‘Mmm...’ Peter said, probably just to annoy the Princesses, ‘I believe that was more than two words. A boy can dream...’
I looked at Peter and smiled. He raised his eyebrow and gave me a knowing glance. On cue Teegan snapped at us.
‘As if,’ Teegan said trying to retrieve a twisted ballet ribbon that was stuck in the fold of her civilian shoes, ‘real men don’t dance.’
Peter Williamson looked at Teegan with distain and curled his lip and flicked through his iPOD playlist.
‘Do you like my skinny jeans, Teegan? I got them from the girl’s section...’ Peter said, just to freak the Princesses out.
Teegan looked a bit scared.
‘Easily shocked,’ Peter mouthed. Peter’s been into Glam Rock forever. I smiled then turned my back on the lead Princess.
I finally found my schedule. Peter made a victory sign and stuck his tongue through his fingers, muttered, ‘later,’ to me and made a cat’s claw gesture behind Teegan’s back as he sauntered off to class.
‘Well, look at you Phoebe. Haven’t you smartened up your image,’ Tory, (the second in line to Teegan’s throne), noted as she shut her locker door. The hinge metal was lined with faux pink fur and pictures of all the narcissistic celebrities Tory idolizes. At the moment her hair is bleached blonde in homage to her favourite celeb from some random teen TV show.
‘Our dream, people, is to be famous for being famous,’ Tory announced to her girl posse that morning. It was hardly news to those of us who knew her well.
The Princesses were usually too self-focused to pay any attention to me although they were more wary when Mouche was around. Alone, I was fair game.
‘Wonder where the sister is?’ Teegan mused aloud, her thoughts still trailing the newbies.
‘Petra is nowhere in sight. She hasn’t been seen for days. Rumor has it she’s being home-schooled.’ Brooke (the third Princess) shuddered in a hushed tone.
‘Why? Tory asked.
‘Because she’s a freak,’ Teegan whispered, already jealous of Petra’s close proximity to Mark.
‘Ew, she’s his sister,’ Freya remarked during assembly, a little late to catch the crux of the conversation.
The girls all looked up and rolled their eyes. I wondered who the real freaks were and it seemed like Teegan and Tory were sure to fit the bill. What a surprise.
I hurried to class thinking about what Mouche told me over the summer.
Being practically psychic, Mouche predicted a month ago that some ‘nasty girls that we already knew were going to cause trouble’ and ‘two hot boys’ would arrive for junior year.
I prayed the second part of her prediction would come true and now it had. The strange thing was, after almost a whole school year as ‘creative transfer students’, Mouche and I had managed to fly under the radar, but everyone knew the names of Teegan, Tory, Brooke and Freya from the minute their well-manicured feet stepped through the polished halls of Sunrise Performing Arts High School. They actually wore colour co-ordinated sweaters that fell below their crotches and were belted tightly above their waists that first day they arrived - just to get noticed. It worked.
‘Those girls are fashion criminals,’ Mouche stated when they sauntered down the hall like a posse of Bratz Dolls. The Princesses had been expelled from HSYL for ‘undisclosed reasons’ but were passably talented so they ended up here. Their primary focus in life seemed to be driving a wedge between other females and boasting about their popularity with the male species. I could’ve told them jealousy and bitterness were wasted emotions but they’d never have listened.
Instead, I did my best to ignore them.
At lunch, Mouche and I sat apart from the Princesses, trying to work out some on-paper choreography for dance class. We overheard them speaking about Mark and Jet in the lunch queue, though.
‘Three words...Mark. Knightly. Franco.’ Teegan over-enunciated loudly, stealing my pet term. ‘I actually witnessed Mark Knightly’s arrival at LAX when I touched down from Eye-bee-tha.’
‘She knows how to pronounce Ibiza,’ Mouche whispered. ‘We can all sleep well tonight because Teegan has learnt how to pronounce the name of an island off the coast of Spain,’ Mouche said. Mouche was way smart.
‘Mark Knightly totally wanted me when he arrived in Bel Air,’ Teegan continued, adding, ‘we locked eyes in The Reader’s Nook. Oh well, girls, you can’t rape the willing,’
The Princesses laughed.
‘I didn’t know she read,’ I whispered to Mouche.
‘Teegan’s love of literature is well-known,’ Mouche stated loudly as she gestured towards Teegan’s copy of Teen Vogue.
Admittedly, we both loved Teen Vogue but Mouche was out to prove a point.
‘Teegan just loves an audience,’ Mouche said, as Tory continued.
‘...And Jet was undressing me with his eyes this morning, in the hallway before homeroom.’
Brooke rolled her eyes, ‘Everyone wants the pretty,’ she said smugly, ‘I bet I could even turn Peter straight.’
Freya looked doubtful. I turned my head to glance over at the new boys, hopefully without them realizing it. To my dismay, they were looking at the Princesses who smiled gleefully right back at them.
‘Wishful thinking,’ Mouche mused as she ate her sandwich.
‘Oh please, those girls are disgusting,’ I said, wondering if what they said was true about how much all the boys wanted them.
‘How they are so secure about their popularity with guys, I don’t know, since there were no males at all to practise on in our previous school,’ Mouche added.
‘Maybe they did a summer internship,’ I added.
‘C’mon,’ Mouche said and we wandered off to the gym to prepare our shoes for the prospective year. We pulled our pink ballet slippers, newer than they would ever look again, out of our individual tote bags.
At the gym, we began rolling the moistened, darned tips of pink satin shoe in chalk in preparation for class. We smacked the ends on the gym floor to soften the toes. It was quite a long process and one we started at the beginning of the school year and repeated many times. We had to soften the soles, but not too much. There were a few other dance majors in a huddle with us. They all had good posture and acted friendlier than they really were.
Although Mouche and I want to go to New York one day, I’m very focused on high school life and training to become a triple threat, whilst Mouche concentrates on dance, acting and her academic majors.
Our day goes something like this:
As you can see, my schedule beats the usual academia from nine to three plus I managed to drop math and science, which is a good thing because I am totally driven. Even though I might seem shy, I’m never shy onstage, when I’m pretending to be someone else – living in the moment, so to speak.
By the time the Princesses - Teegan, Tory, Brooke and Freya - arrived in the gym, it was pretty obvious they thought they were slumming it at Sunrise High. The girls had an air of superiority which clung to them like cheap cologne. Their dance ensembles were still colour co-ordinated, but mercifully their matching black leggings were covered by mini-skirts in various styles (bubble, pleated, ruched and vintage A-line). They were so psyched about not having to wear the HSYL uniforms, they kind of went overboard in the fashion department. The Princesses thought dance class was a beauty pageant.
They thought they were totally it.
‘We’re going to get with so many guys this year,’ Teegan snarled as she whipped off her skirt and re-tied the satin ribbons on her ballet shoes. She stuck her foot close to the bar next to my hand.
‘I was warming up,’ I said.
‘Excuse me!’ Teegan snarled haughtily.
I inched my fingers out of the way as Tory walked over, claimed her spot on the bar and began to flex her ankles.
It wasn’t that Tory was a bad dancer, but she was certainly uninspiring. Although the Princesses never planned on careers in the entertainment business, it didn’t make them any less snarky about women who did.
Tory found her spot on the wall and began her mechanical pliĕs. Brooke fumbled around in her tote bag searching for her hair clip. Teegan abandoned the bar and applied extra gloss to her ample mouth and Freya pulled her hair into a tight bun, keen to look the part even if she couldn’t dance it. Wow, now I’m starting to sound like a Princess.
Besides, I’m giving you the wrong impression.
The Princesses aren’t the main characters in this story. They are just the featured extras, the minor players. They may highlight our plot from time to time but I can’t say for sure how big a part they’ll play as the story progresses.
For now, this tale is really just about me and Mouche and Mark Knightly and his best friend Jet and all the teenage boys we determined to transform from geeks to our personal princes in the course of a year.
This story is also about the plan of action that became a guide we intended to modify as the year progressed. The plan that became the Boy-Rating Diary.
‘I’d give them a 9.9,’ Teegan said as she performed a reasonable arabesque.
‘I’d give them a 9.8’ Mouche replied after she did a perfect pirouette. ‘There’s always room for improvement.’
‘I think you’re talking about the same men,’ I said under my breath as I pointed my toes and leant over the bar.
‘Game on,’ Mouche replied with a smile.
‘But we haven’t even worked out the rules,’ I whispered under my breath.
‘A minor detail,’ Mouche replied.
‘Not necessarily,’ I said.
Everyone stopped talking when Mrs Stefanovich, the dance teacher, arrived.
Mrs Stefanovich was Russian and very strict and even the Princesses were careful to tow the line with her.
‘Okay girls, ve are ready now...begin...’
But the whole class, I was thinking about how we’d devise the plan. And as I looked across at Mouche’s furrowed brow, I could tell, so was she.