The walk to school from home seemed to stretch on forever, despite it being a rather short journey. It was a slightly chilly day, and she was dressed in her school uniform, with her black cloak on over that. It wasn’t much, but she hadn't even the slightest feeling of being cold, especially in the dead of winter. Since it was quite a short walk, there was no need to take the car. But even so, it seemed endless.
Across the street, a woman was walking, pushing a baby in a stroller. She was dressed in a fancy raspberry-colored coat and black winter boots, the kind of things she'd imagine her mother to wear. From where she was standing, Chris could hear the giggling of the baby, and the jingle, jingle, jingle of the Jingle Bells rattle it was shaking. The woman glanced over at her, and a look of horror and revulsion crossed her face when she saw the rose that peeked out from behind a lock of Chris’ hair, then quickly faced forward again. Chris sighed a sad and silent little sigh, then faced forward and continued on her walk to school.
The sound of her tiny alarm on the watch gave the indication that it was fifteen minutes to eight, and that class would start in five minutes, but made no move to rush. It was always the same at school: teasing, name-calling, pointing and laughing as well as an occasional beating (not the severe kind she'd read in her favorite books or hear on the television downstairs). Everyone turned away from her like she was a freak. I’m not a freak. I’m not, she thought. She hardly believed herself, but knew on a deeper level that it was true. She wasn’t a freak. Nobody was. Everyone was special in their own way, but there were people who were too blind by their own inflated vanity and self-worth to see how special they really were.
Every so often, she could feel a dark presence, a malicious aura, looming over her, but resisted the urge to look. She knew what would happen: she'd turn and see some evil creature looming over her, then scream and run. No one else would see these creatures, but she knew they were there. And when she did react to these monsters, she'd receive disapproving glares and amused sniggers from the people who didn't see them. She could feel its hot breath on her neck, and had never felt more truly terrified. It was at the point where she felt a boney hand on her shoulder that she finally took off running down the street without ever looking back, and without ever screaming.
She stopped running at the end of the block, where her school was in view. It was a large and rather beautiful building, made entirely out of bricks that were starting to crumble with age, columns in the front that were riddled with cracks, and a large spiked fence around the entire perimeter. In front of the building was a black sign with bronze lettering that read Madame Adelaide’s School for Girls. She didn’t want to go, but knew she couldn’t just bail (which would lead to another detention; she'd had plenty of those because of those creatures that no one saw), and pushed herself to go up to the open gate. She looked down at her watch to check the time, stealing a glance at the tiger rose, with it’s beautifully patterned petals; the time was thirteen minutes to eight, and she only had two minutes to get her books and head to class. She stared up at the school as she passed through the open gate door and walked up the steps that led into the school.
She took a deep breath as she placed a hand on the doorknob, ready to step inside and face the people that would torment her so severely, and opened the door. All eyes landed on her, and a few people turned away with a look of disgust crossing their faces, and others sniggering. A few people pointed and laughed.
“Hey, it’s Rosy Rascal,” someone called out. Chris couldn’t be sure who, but chose not to question it. She made her way down the halls of the school, passing people who turned and sniggered as she passed, while others pointed and laughed. Many of them simply ignored her and hurried off to their classes. Chris got to her locker, and twisted the combination into the lock to unlock it. Her textbooks sat plainly inside. She removed her cloak, neatly folded it, and placed it in the locker, then grabbed the textbooks for her first four classes before lunch. She stared at the design on her Algebra book; a large bridge with the lights that could’ve been cars passing streaming across it, and the large words ALGEBRA II printed over that.
As she studied the design, the books were slapped out of her hands, and an amused giggle came from beside her. Chris swallowed the lump in her throat, and turned to face this Woman in Black, as she called her. She had never learned this girl’s name; she had never bothered to ask, and the girl never bothered to tell her, and so Chris nicknamed her “The Woman in Black,” after a novella she had read, since this girl had long black hair, and, outside of school, always dressed in dark or black clothing. Chris stared up into the evil eyes of The Woman in Black, her eyes piercing straight into her soul, and an evil smile plastered to her face.
“What’s the matter, Rosy? Too much of a mouse to fight back?” she asked. Chris simply stared at The Woman, not daring to speak a word. She wanted to say something like My name is Chris, or Please leave me alone, but she was too afraid to speak a word to this girl who reminded her of the ghostly apparition in the novella. She could hardly speak a word to anyone; everyone frightened her.
The Woman tugged at the short stem of the rose, and Chris gritted her teeth to keep in a pained yelp, and smacked The Woman’s hand away. The Woman rubbed the part of her hand that had been smacked, and glared down at her.
“How are you not dead with that thing growing out of you? I can imagine the roots have grown around your heart and dug their ways into your veins. Eventually, you’ll end up dead,” she said in a deep, threatening voice with an evil grin on her face. Chris touched the petals of the rose, and knelt down to pick up her books, placing them one-by-one into her book bag, and stood back up, avoiding eye-contact with The Woman, and facing her open locker. Without warning, she felt her head get pushed forward, her forehead hitting the edge of the locker door. She put a hand to the bruised part of her forehead and started rubbing it, hearing The Woman’s spiteful laughing, and her fast footsteps as she hurried away. Once her footsteps faded, Chris closed her locker, and allowed a single tear to trickle down her cheek.
The bell rang not long after that, and she walked to her first class, letting out a silent exhale as she got to the door, and opened it. The teacher was already taking role, and gave Chris a stern stare when she entered.
“Cutting it close, aren’t we, Chrysanthemum,” she said, checking Chris’ name off the tablet. “Well, would you like to explain what made you late?” Chris paused, and looked down at the white linoleum floor. She glanced up at the class, and spied The Woman, who glared at her, and made a slitting motion at her throat, then quickly looked down at the floor again.
“I…I…um…I was returning an overdue book at the library,” she said. This was a lie, as she didn’t want to risk another scary meeting with The Woman in Black. The teacher looked her up and down for a moment, then nodded.
“All right. Go ahead and take your seat,” she said. Chris’ seat was in the front row, right next to a set of windows. Some days, she would see creatures fighting outside, or epic battles between knights, or evil figures staring in at her. But no one else saw them, and no one else believed her when she said they were there. As she took a step toward the desk, she saw it: a black, horrible creature. It looked somewhat like a revnant, with two decaded eyes in its sockets and lips that had rotted away so that its crooked yellow teeth were revealed. It grinned an evil grin at her, and she stood frozen in that spot, not daring to get any closer to this hideous creature that stared and grinned at her.
“Chrysanthemum? Are you listening?” she could hear the teacher say. But she sounded so far away as she focused completely on the creature.
As suddenly as it appeared, the creature broke the glass, and made a leaping lunge toward her. Fear completely took over her mind, and she shrieked and fell backward to avoid the creature’s bony claws that swiped at her. She backed up into a corner as the creature cackled and croaked at her, taking limping steps toward her, swinging its claws at her. She shrieked again, and crossed her arms in front of her to shield herself from the creature’s attack. She could feel tears flowing down her cheeks in fear, and heard people laughing at her. She could feel the creature grabbing her shoulders and shaking her. But, upon opening her eyes, she saw that it was only the teacher.
“Chrysanthemum, I don’t know what is causing you to behave like this, but there is nothing here. It’s all in your head. There’s nothing,” she said in a stern voice. Chris looked around at the classroom. She was right; whatever this creature was, it was gone. The shattered glass of the window had somehow mended, and was now completely intact, like nothing had ever happened. However, there were plenty of people laughing and pointing at her. She wiped the tears from her eyes, and stood up, then headed over and sat down at her desk. The teacher watched her for a moment, a small glimmer of concern in her eyes, then turned her back and started writing on the whiteboard. She wrote RATIONAL EXPRESSIONS on the board, and went on, explaining what the lesson would include, then ordered everyone to open their books to the required page, so they could continue on with the lesson. Chris opened her book to the page, but could hardly focus on the lesson. Outside, she could see a knight in shiny armor, with a large shield that showcased the crest of the school. He had a long sword and was fighting an enourmous red dragon. The dragon roared, and breathed fire at the knight, to which the knight shielded it with the shield. She looked back at everyone, but no one else seemed to hear the commotion, much less notice it.
"Chrysanthemum," the teacher said, and she looked up at the teacher in a rush. "What on earth could be outside that's so interesting?" Chris pointed toward the knight and dragon.
"There's a knight, and he's fighting a dragon," she said. "Don't you see it?" The teacher looked outside for a moment, then back down at Chris.
"Remind me to call your parents to set up a parent-teacher conference," she said, then turned back to the board. A few people giggled at her, but she continued to watch this glorious fight, until the knight ended it, with a quick swipe of the sword that sent the dragon’s head several feet away from the rest of its body. After that, Chris turned back to the teacher, and listened to the lesson.