A lone figure trapped in a kneeling position is situated on a raised platform. She is the only living form in the room. Her arms are clamped together behind her back. Hydraulic machines pin her down, as a precaution. A light in the ceiling gives just enough light to spotlight her broken form. Smaller lights blip and blink on computers and other machinery lining the sides of the room. A collar of tubes surround her neck. She feels her energy steadily being pulled out of her. Shreds of black material cling to her slender frame. Hair the same shade as her rags falls into her face, hiding the mauled face from the world. She looks asleep, if something could sleep in this torture chamber. She knows all the manners of inducing pain are hiding in the room. They've all been used on her: whips, knives, chemicals, and who knows what else. She suffered through everything, but they did not break her. Cannot break her. If they did, all would be lost. She enjoys the peace before they come back.
The doors open with a sickening thud as the lights brighten to show every detail of the room. She opens her eyes as two figures enter. A pale-face, balding man in a lab coat walks over to a data readout station while the second figure glides up to the captive. She's seen this figure before. A female form dressed in a black suit and red tie. Looks human enough. Except the suited one has no face. A white head-like shape sits atop the body. An Egyptian styled eye centered in the things forehead is what gives this unit its name: Uni. One of the Slenders. Slenders were all like that. No faces. All in suits. Only the Seeker class had the eyes in the forehead. Just for decoration. The captive's platform rises higher till her face is at the same level as Uni's. The prisoner keeps her steady glare. Uni doesn't move. The captive notices the lab coat man waddle up to the Seeker, data pad in hand. She knows what is on it. That's why she keeps her gaze. Letting the Seeker know she's not giving in to them.
"Identify yourself," a digitized female voice orders. The Seeker's voice. Seekers also got voices. Just for show.
The lab coat man moved out of the restrained one's line of sight. She knew what was coming.
"Identify yourself," the voice orders again. Time to go through the motions.
"Warrior Ivy," she gurgles. A trail of blood slips past her lips.
"Repeat," the voice instructs.
"Warrior Ivy!" the captive grunts. "Leaves of three, don't mess with me."
The head turns to one side. The signal. A switch is flicked.
The collar around Ivy's neck glows red as chemicals are pumped into her body. Pain courses through her.
"Warrior Ivy!" she screams as she strains against her bonds. "I am an Eternal Warrior! I am warrior 3 of 4! I am to protect the 4th warrior until her time of summoning! I am to fight the Slenders. I will protect the identity stones of the humans of this world. I will not give into the Seekers. I will not give up who I am!"
She repeats this speech as the Seeker leaves the room. Two more wait outside. Both are male forms in black suits and red tie. One has two human eyes engraved in his forehead while the other has three Oriental eyes in his. Uni makes her way to these two.
"Report," the two-eyed one's voice garbles.
"No change. She still resists our methods," Uni reports.
"She will submit," Dos, the two-eyed one, replies. "Others stronger than her have seen the errors of resistance."
"Resistance is futile," the final member of the trio, Trois, pipes up. "Her stone shall become ours. We need it to see out the other three warriors."
"Agreed," Uni garbles, "our master will not be pleased if the other three warriors are not found. They must be located before they are called to service."
Ivy's scream bounce around the corridor as the three figures disappear to carry out their master's orders.
“Susan,” Her mother calls up the stairs, “breakfast is ready!”
“I’ll be down momentarily, Mother!” Susan’s voice floats down the stairs. In her room, she works on brushing the last of the tangles from her honey blond hair. She looks at her reflecting staring back at her in the vanity’s square mirror as she works to pull her shoulder length hair into a high pony tail. Time for another day at school. She stood up and smoothed out the black skirt of her school uniform: black skirt, black sweater over a midnight blue shirt. She ran her fingers over the raven embroidered on her sweater, the mascot for Darkwing Academy. She pulled on her black leggings before lacing up her black and white sneakers. She checked her reflection on more time. She smiled at her reflection, causing sparkles to break free in her blue eyes. She was ready.
She hopped down the stair two at a time. She skidded across the kitchen floor to her place at the breakfast table. Her smiled grew wider when she saw the waffles covered in strawberries and cream waiting for her. Her favorite breakfast.
After a quick grace, Susan dug into her breakfast with gusto. Her mother took a place opposite her child. She took up the paper as she savored her cup of coffee. After a reading of the daily news, she glanced at her daughter. She couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride swell within her. A single mother raising a beautiful creature in such a world. Susan was top in her studies. A track star. A model student. Everything a parent wishes her child to be.
Dr. Moore looked up at clock on the far wall of the kitchen.
“Time to go, dear,” Mother alerts her daughter .
Susan dashes over to the sink to rinse off her dishes before running to the front door to strap on her backpack. She waits for her mother to come to the door before jogging out to the car. As with the stairs, she takes the stoop steps two at a time before taking rest in the back seat of her mother’s car. The best part of having your mother being a teacher at the academy was being able to get a ride to school. Sure, you had to get up a little earlier, but it was worth it to Susan Moore. 14-years-old as a busy age to be alive. These early rising and going to school days were what gave her an edge in school. As the Moores headed to school, mother listened to the morning news on the radio while daughter watched the city passing by her window. Fall was already making itself apparent. The highest branches sported that year’s selection of autumn colors. A few stray leaves of bright hues spun in the window as the car sped along. Susan loved this time of year. It was just starting to be cool outdoors, and the greens of summer were transforming into reds, golds, and ambers. She thought of it as spring in reverse. Instead of new life, this was life transformed, preparing for the next generation.
They pulled up to Darkwing Academy. The stone and concrete buildings each sported a flag with the school’s crest embroidered on a dark blue background. Susan thought the ravens appeared ready to join their brothers and sisters in the great migration south. Mother and daughter strode quickly to the building housing mother’s classroom. Susan looked around the school grounds. There were a few students here early for tutoring or just to hang out with fellow students. A professor here and there was in route to somewhere. Perhaps to visit a colleague or nab some breakfast from the cafeteria. Susan and her mother entered the Language Arts and History building. This dome topped building housed all teachers related to these two subjects as well as students from grades 6 through 12. Middle grades had the ground floor for their classrooms while the high school students had the top two floors. Susan took a moment as they crossed the open space in the middle of the building to look up at the glass dome above. The morning sun glinted off the edges. She could see clear blue skies up above. She and mother took the stairs to the next floor where mother’s classroom was located. Susan knew the drill from here. Mother would begin working on setting out the day’s materials while Susan would start work on any homework left over from last night or any projects that required her attention. Dr. Moore’s classroom sported 24 desks in 4 rows of 6. Posters of Poe, Shakespeare, Dickinson, and other famous poets decorated the walls. A SmartBoard stood watch from its place in front of the desks, waiting for students to be seated so it could begin sharing its vast store of knowledge. Susan opened the blinds of the large window tangent to the SmartBoard. Life-giving sunshine poured into the room. Susan decided to be seated at a desk closest to the window. As she read over her History notes, she heard her mother mumble about how such a poet was related in style to this one, and how students should be able to recognize the theme of this piece by Walt Whitman if they would only think for a change.
Susan smiled to herself. She loved how passionate her mother was about what she taught. Susan had first-hand experience with teachers that just taught what they were told to teach without a second thought. Such teachers reminded her of zombies or robots. They just spouted off word for word out of a textbook or threw a massive compilation of materials for students to go through without a single clue as to how to understand the chicken scratch they were forced to read. They acted like they weren’t thinking for themselves when it came to the content. They just recited and performed as they were programmed to do. Some even made Susan wonder if they were truly human at all.
The bells chimed the hour. Susan collected her materials before bidding her mother farewell till the end of the day. It was time for school.
Susan watched the other 8th graders trickle into the building as she marched down the stairs. She didn’t mind 8th grade. She wasn’t bored by her classes. She got along well with the other students. There was just one little matter that irked her.
“Susan!” A bubbly voice rang above the din as Susan’s feet reached ground floor. Chelsea’s round rosy face appeared at Susan’s side almost at the same time the voice reached Susan’s ears. Susan braced herself for the daily bear hug from her best friend. Chelsea’s red hair and hazel eyes appeared to shimmer from the sheer joy oozing out of her. Chelsea held on to her friend as they walked along to homeroom.
“Did you study for today’s test?” Chelsea inquired as they flowed with the rest of the students.
“Which one?” Susan asked back. To be honest, they had only one test today, but the other classes were scheduled to be filled with reviewing for upcoming testing.
Chelsea rolled her eyes. “Our homeroom test on The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Susan chuckled slightly. “Yes. Please tell me you looked over the notes I helped you write.”
Chelsea waved her fingers in mysterious gestures before revealing a keyring with color-coded notecards attached to the thick ring twirling around her pointer finger: Chelsea’s attempt at magic.
“Had them up my sleeve when I wasn’t hard at work,” Chelsea replied.
“Meaning you spent most of your time working on that trick.” Susan knew how much Chelsea loved magic tricks. Chelsea’s grandfather had been a famous circus magician back in his younger days and had passed his love of the trade to his granddaughter. Susan knew that if Chelsea was as studious with academic studies as this magician’s apprentice was with her magic that the red-headed wonder would be at the top of the class instead of floating amongst a sea of C’s.
“This trick? C’mon! It’s baby stuff. I mean it. I really studied this time! I have to! Grandster said that if I didn’t bring up all my grades to at least a B, he would postpone my apprenticeship with him until further notice!” Susan couldn’t help feeling sorry for her friend. Chelsea lived for her magic lessons. She adored her grandfather and would do anything to have his approval. The retired magician wasn’t very hard to please; however, Susan was glad that he was stern enough to know that his granddaughter needed to improve her grades. Most grandparents Susan knew were either too lenient on their children’s children or didn’t care for children at all.
The girls quickly entered their homeroom and took their seats in the back corner of the classroom by the windows. Their homeroom teacher Mr. Colliette had already posted on the board at the front of the room that the class had the first 5 minutes of class to do any last minute studying. Susan took the cards from her deskmate. Flipping through the collection, she chose a few to with which to grill her friend.
“Who was Anne Frank?”
Chelsea’s eye’s glistened. She knew this one. “She was a young Jewish girl who lived back during the Holocaust.”
Susan nodded, flipping to the next card. “Where did her family hide to escape from being deported?”
“The attic of the building that housed her father’s business.”
Susan chose another card. And another. And another. Chelsea appeared to have studied rather well. Time was drawing to a close however. Susan asked one more question. “Would you call the book a biography or an autobiography?”
Chelsea chewed her lower lip, thinking. The different genres of literature were a weak point for her.
“Alright, class, time to put your study materials away,” the teacher’s voice boomed as he directed his class. The students slowly put away their materials. Susan slipped the cards into her bookbag. She breathed a sigh of relief. Chelsea appeared to have improved. Now, it was time to see how she would do on her test.
Everyone tried their best on the assignment they were given. At least, that’s what Susan thought. Susan knew she was doing her best. She had studied, reading the book and other study materials over several times. To be honest, Anne’s story captivated Susan. Susan was interested in how this young girl changed over the course of the tale. It was almost as if Anne changed into a whole other person. Susan wondered what exactly caused Anne to change. Was it just a part of growing up? Did having to stay in that cramped space with the same people day after day contribute anything to it? Susan wasn’t sure.
This made her wonder about herself. Would she change as she got older? How would she change? She had seen how some very bright students in her past classes had evolved into almost a lower form of themselves as they let their grades drop as they pursued “more important things”.
Susan understood that she was different. She preferred to get good grades over being popular or having lots of friends. She’d rather read a book instead of watching a movie. She used her computer more for writing and school assignments over playing games and visiting social media. Susan shook her head, clearing these thoughts as she answered the last question on her test.
After turning in her test, Susan let her eyes wander. She usually finished a little early. As she eyes wandered about the room, her mind wandered back to the earlier topic. She began thinking about the changes she had seen in the students over the past couple of months. Near the beginning of the schoolyear, a new musical trio had broken into the mainstream. At first, a person here and there became a fan. Nowadays though, almost everyone thought that the band Slender Lights was all there was to life. Now the hype seemed normal enough. Posters appeared in lockers. The band’s songs blared from devices. Students talked about who they liked best. The boys drooled over the leader singer and only female in the trio Artemis while the girls declared whether they would marry either Gemini, the male guitarist and keyboardist, or Orion, the other guy of many musical talents. Lately, students began to emulate the star trio by copying fashion. Boys spiked their hair a certain way or shaved parts off. Girls colored streaks of their tresses white while darkening their make-up. A few even attempted to come to school out of uniform only to be reprimanded and even punished when a couple still tried to pull of the little stunt.
All this seemed normal, but the latest craze seemed way out of left field. Students had begun to draw one, two, or three eyes on their hands, claiming it was how they showed their support for Slender Lights. No one knew how it began. The band had said or did nothing to acknowledge the phenomena. People just did it because they thought it was cool. Even now, Susan could see several students in her class that had eyes drawn on their hands. Wait, why were they all drawn on the left hand? Only the left hand? Susan shook her head again.
She had never been a big fan of the band. Sure a few of the songs were okay, but she wasn’t a big music fan, she guessed. The group dabbled in all genres so they had at least one song that appealed to each person. However, nothing really appealed to Susan. At least not in the same way it appealed to the other kids, causing her to buy their stuff, change her looks, or practice drawing on her hands. She also wasn’t impressed with how the fans acted, especially the eye thing. It was all unsettling.
Susan turned her attention to the window. The amazing colors swirling from tree branches to the ground were more interesting than eye tattoos any day. Golden maple leaves waved good-bye to the mother tree as they danced to the ground, mingling with those who had fallen before and with them. Susan watched a particular leaf in flight, trying to predict where it would fall. However, she prediction would never be proven right or wrong because a sudden creature caught the leaf in mid air. Susan was amazed as she watched the puppy land on all four paws, shaking the leaf in his mouth about. His fur was as golden as the leaf. He looked something like a yellow lab. Susan couldn’t help but smile as she watched the little one dash about in the leaves. She almost forgot that dogs weren’t allowed on the school grounds.