Saturday, April 6, 2013
A Smackerel of FIRETHORN
I was the new girl at Edgemont high and I was going to die. Of embarrassment; I was timing it. Any second, now, someone was going to stop gaping and start with the names. I'd heard them all: Twiggy, Woody, The Tree, Plywood Face, Pinocchio. There were boat-loads more, but I couldn't bring myself to dredge them up out of the basement of my soul.
I tried to keep my shoes from squeaking as I followed my dad, Lysander, into the office and sat down to wait while they decided my fate. I didn't need the extra attention. I generated that all by myself. The frozen glances of the other students hanging around waiting for hall passes were why I'd always been home-schooled. I checked them out as they stared at me, unblinking, insatiably curious.
I wanted to tell the blond cheerleader she'd better shut her mouth or she'd drop her gum. Still, it would be so entertaining watching her try to get bubblegum off her skimpy uniform skirt. I saw her confusion as she tried to catalog me. If I'd had hair instead of twigs, and skin as soft and pink as hers was, she might have decided I could breathe her oxygen. I saw the exact moment when she dumped me into the “freak” box. She took out her phone and began to text. She was still texting when the receptionist handed her a hall pass. Cheerleader girl texted clear out the door and was probably still at it when she got to class.
The receptionist was greenish as she smiled at me, pretending she was a better woman than she is. Her type was everywhere I looked. I was sure she'd splash me all over her social media sites. She was probably trying to figure out a way to sneak a picture with her phone.
Then I saw the Imagine Dragons CD on her desk and I couldn't keep her in my Superfluous Adults drawer anymore. She was an ally. I smiled at her, feeling just a bit sad that she was stuck in a job like this, ferrying disgruntled young people across the River Styx and into the Underworld of Edgemont High. Maybe someday she'd earn a reprieve. Until then, I would save a smile for her every day—one bright spot in the flood of grumbling lost souls.
The other students woke up from their staring stupor and trickled away in ones and twos, like missionaries off to spread the word. “There's a whole new kind of freak at Edgemont School for the Terminally Dorky,” They'd say. And they were right. I couldn't get freakier if you painted me pink and tied toy poodles in my twigs.
I could hear Lysander arguing through the closed door, which read, “Principal Capoletti”. No clue why my dad didn't just take me in there with him. It's not like he was sparing my feelings, what with all the shouting. I knew he'd win the debate. My dad's in a whole other world of brilliant. He'd have been cool chilling with Einstein. He'd had to take precious research time off to battle for me against unfeeling, narrow-minded creeps, people who would have stuck me in a lab, and paparazzi who were in it for the big bucks. It was completely amazing to me that they'd never managed to get my picture into the tabloids.
Now with mom gone, Lysander Mason, the famous bioengineer, had even less time to be my knight-in-shining-armor. I could hear the impatience in his voice as he tore Mr. Capoletti into tiny shreds. I sunk down in my seat, annoyed that I was again the the cause for Dad's unwanted break from the research, which was his oxygen and his cake. At least he only needed to come down once to admit me to school.
I snickered to myself, remembering mom's insistence that I stay home, where I could grow into a nice tall tree in peace. The joke might have been on her, but I was going to reap the rewards. I felt like a baby eagle being shoved out of the nest and forced to fly. A wooden eagle. That would be something to watch. Step right up. Get your geek tickets here.
I debated whether to just wander in or hunker down and take a nap. Sleep would have been nice, since I knew today was going to take everything I had to survive sane. But somehow I knew that if I let myself actually lose my iron grip on the situation, I'd wake up with my twigs on fire or some loser would carve his name in my leg.
I turned around and watched the blurry image of the principal gesturing wildly through the window. It sounded like he thought I was some kind of wooden android. Like Lysander would ever make something he'd endowed with AI, out of something so perishable as wood. My snort brought the receptionist's equally wooden face up from her texting.
“Can I help you?” she asked. I was amazed she thought I was human enough to ask. Maybe it was a test.
“Not likely,” I mumbled, hoping she wouldn't press me to speak up.
I bent over and rubbed at my forehead. I tend to get rugged bark there. It's always a struggle keeping it polished smooth. One good thing about having a wooden face was the lack of expression when I wanted to lie. Otherwise it rotted. I could barely smile or move my eyebrows. I was constantly having to massage the cellulose on my face to get it to be more supple.
I lied now. “I was saying I sure hope my dad can get me into this school.”
She gave me that green smile that said she hoped something totally different. “I'm sure we can work it out. What grade are you in?”
“I've been home-schooled, so I don't know. I'm almost sixteen. I'm actually at college junior level, but Dad won't let me up there until I can handle being in high school.”
I could see the cogs cranking creakily in her head. She was thinking “Android.”
I debated whether to set her straight. It gets tiring always having to explain myself. Maybe I could sneak over to the P.A. System and just toss all the beans on the table at once.
Just as I'd decided to do it, Dad won his debate and the two men came out into the office. Lysander went straight to the counter to deal with paperwork, brandishing my birth certificate like a baseball bat. The principal disappeared back into his cave with a nod to the receptionist.
Dad glanced back at me and there was a triumphant light in his eyes—something he always got when he prevailed against lesser mortals. “I am going to watch you copy that. I need it back for every time I have to prove my daughter is human.”
I silently begged my dad to let her live. He could flay an unsuspecting person's skin off with just a couple of words. Since Mom died, he did it all the time, and we were losing colleagues. Friends had gone the way of the dodo long before.
The secretary copied the necessary papers, frowning at the immunization report. I could see Dad gearing up, like we were coming to the edge of the eye of the hurricane. The secretary looked up and was going to say something but decided, it seems, she liked life too much. She handed everything back and gave me a packet. “Take that down to Mrs. Mendoza's office two doors on your right. She'll help you get started. And here's a hall pass for you. Welcome to our school, Karyatis....”
“That's Karry. I won't answer if you call me Karyatis,” I said before she could label me forever with the name I detested. What had they been thinking, those brilliant two who had spawned me? You'd think that being wooden would be enough of a pain-in-the-rear. Why had they thought it would be so funny to name me after a column at the Greek Acropolis?
“Well then, Karry. Would you like me to make a note of this for your teachers?”
“Please.” I hoped she'd play nice. Otherwise it would be open season on her car. Except that she liked Imagine Dragons. I think I'd always think of her as Charon in my mind. Charon, the ferry-woman.
“I must go.” Lysander said stiffly. He gave me a pat on my arm, and left. He'd never been one for displays of affection, even with mom, who wasn't a tree. I stood for a second, bracing myself for the gauntlet of stunned faces. Too bad my wooden skin wasn't strong enough to keep out the verbal barbs. Those would sink deep inside and fester.