"Have you ever wondered what it'd be like in a world without school?" asked Marcy in a drowsy voice as she and Sylvia walked slowly together down the halls on their way to British Literature class.
"No," replied Sylvia absentmindedly.
"Easy for you to say. You had the whole of last week off, Sylvie."
Sylvie. That's what Marcy always called her since the day they had met.
"It wasn't exactly worth it, Marcy," Sylvia replied dully. She had been ill all last week; She had woken up one morning to find her voice gone, and her skin as white as paper. Sophie's mother simply refused to let her go to school, as she was very health-concious when it came to Sylvia
"Yeah, but still...." muttered Marcy, yawning widely. Marcy had been Sylvia's friend ever since she first moved to the small town of Emerton a year ago. Marcy was very fashion conscious, and had a bubbly personality that often cheered Sylvia up no matter how stressful the situation
Sylvia was sixteen, but she wasn't at all like the other girls at her school; she didn't gush over boys, or gossip in small groups whenever she got the chance. She had lank black hair that flowed down her back to her elbows, dark green eyes, slanted eyebrows, and pale skin. Marcy often joked that she looked like an elf. Sylvia knew she probably did look a bit odd next to Marcy with her light brown curly hair, freckled face, and amber eyes
The two rounded the corner, and took their usual seats in British Literature. It was Sylvia's favourite class, but Marcy often took the time to wink and giggle at the boys across the room; another reason why the two were so unalike.</br>
Marcy, of course, assumed her usual expression of boredom and began chewing on her pencil eraser. Sylvia stiffled a giggle.
It wasn't the usual situation when something would so suddenly change your life forever when the teacher with a grave expression asked you to follow him into his office.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Sylvia." Mr. Olry said quietly.
"It's okay." Sylvia said, for lack of a better thing to say. Her voice was barely more than a hoarse whisper and she choked back tears that made her eyes sting.
"The police are doing everything they can to catch the culprit,but it doesn't look very promising," Mr. Olry continued as though he thought it would cheer Sylvia up, "Whoever started the fire must have done so out of pure insanity. Your mother was truly a kind woman, I don't understand why anyone would want to do that."
Sylvia nodded, staring out of the window as she sat opposite of Mr. Olry at his desk. Rain streamed down the glass of the window, giving the impression that even the clouds were crying. A sudden thought struck Sylvia. "But where will I live now? Can I live in the house alone?" She had lived with her mother for as long as she could remember. Her father had committed suicide two days after Sophie had been born, but no one knew why. The rest of Sophie's relatives were either dead or lived in another country.
Mr. Olry shook his head. "No. You'll have to go live with your grandmother, as she's lives closest and has accepted to take you."
Sylvia looked at him in disbelief. "Evelyn? But she lives clear across the world!" Panic was starting to settle in Sophie's mind. Not only did she lose her mother, but she'd have to leave Marcy behind. Sylvia felt tears well in her eyes. She knew the only reason she wasn't sobbing into her arms was that it all was so hard to believe that it seemed like a dream. She wished with all her heart is was.
"She's your only family member that we could find. And she's willing to take you in." Mr. Olry said firmly. Sylvia gave a shaky sigh. Tears slid down her face as she bowed her head and took in all that happened in a mere ten minutes of what seemed like a fine day.
Sylvia opened her eyes and unstuck her face from the window of the airplane. She guessed the aircraft would land soon, because the earth below was no longer hidden by clouds. It looked so unfamiliar to the clear plains she was used to in Emerton; there was a forest that covered the ground like a thick blanket.
Sylvia had learned from Mr. Olry that her grandmother lived in a town by the name of Faywood, which was located in the middle of absolutely nowhere somewhere in England. Sylvia thought the name of the town sounded oddly eerie like that which one would read in a fictional novel. Most of Sylvia's family, as she had been told, had lived in Britain. Grandmother Evelyn was the only one left.
"We will be landing in approximately fifteen minutes." came the voice that snapped Sylvia back to the present. Looking out the window, she noticed that the little dots that were trees were now much larger than they had been before.
Sylvia shifted her feet nervously. She didn't admit it, but she was torn between regretful and anxious to meet her aunt who, according to Mr. Olry, would be waiting for her at the small airport in Faywood.
The plan shook a bit alarmingly at it inched it's way closer to the ground, finally landing. Sylvia pulled her bag from under her seat and clutched the handle, waiting for the plane to come to a halt.
"You are now allowed to remove you seatbelts and gather your belongings and exit the plane." called the less-than-happy-looking flight attendant from the from of the airplane. As Sylvia stepped uncertainly into the unfamiliar airport, she gazed around nervously for her aunt. She hadn't met her Grandmother Evelyn before. Sylvia was beginning to be unsure if she would ever find her when her cell phone rang from her jeans pocket.
"Sylvia?" came a female's voice from the other end.
"Sylvia, dear! This is Evelyn. I'm afraid I'll be unable to pick you up, I'm still stuck at work. I've called a friend, Bethann, and she should be there any minute to pick you up." said Evelyn.
"O-okay.…" Sylvia stammered. Her aunt hung up before she could say much else.
Sylvia, feeling rather stupid, sat down in one of the seats near the boarding entrance. "Hey! Are you Sylvia Blackstone? Helena's daughter?"
The speaker, Sylvia saw, was a tall, thin woman. Her brown hair was tied up into a ponytail, and Sylvia could see small stands of gray among the brown. She guessed the woman must be in her fifties.
"Yes…." Sylvia responded uncertainly.
"I'm Bethann Cambell, a friend of your grandmother's," said Bethann, smiling warmly. "You look just like you mother." she murmured, gazing fondly at Sylvia as though she was a much-loved puppy.
Sylvia admitted Bethann a small smile.
"Evelyn said to come pick you up….I'm a bit behind schedule, sorry," continued Bethann, checking her watch. "We'd best get going then. C'mon, dear!" she said, beckoning Sylvia with a bony hand.
Sylvia gave her another small smile and followed Bethann out of the crowded, noisy airport. Heeled boots clicking on the concrete, Bethann led Sophie to a small, silver car bearing many scratches.
"In you go, dear." Bethann chirped cheerfully. "No, no, you sit in the front!" she added as Sylvia reached for the back seat's door. "No one ever rides with me anymore, I could use company."
Sylvia decided she liked Bethann.
The car pulled to a stop in front of a white, two-story house. It looked very comforting, despite what Sylvia felt. There was a wrought black iron gate in the front, and orange autumn leaves blanketed the browning grass in the yard.
"Here we are, Sylvia dear." said Bethann. "Off you go. I hope I see you soon!" Bethann leaned over and gave Sylvia a hug. Sylvia, slightly alarmed and ruffled, opened the door. "I hope so too…it was really nice meeting you, Ms. Cam-"
"Call me Bethann." Bethann interrupted with a smile.
Sylvia nodded. "Thanks for the ride, Bethann."
Bethann grinned. "Anytime, dear. Now you'd best go, your aunt will be excited to see you." Sylvia waved, and got out of the car, staring up at the house. As she opened the black iron gate, it admitted a quiet, eerie ring. Sylvia climbed up the two stairs to the front door, and knocked three times. The door opened, and standing behind it was the most peculiar woman Sylvia had ever seen: the woman had kind brown eyes, hair that was the same color as the autumn leaves outside, but the oddest part of her was her clothing. She wore countless numbers of ring, necklaces, and bangles glittered on her wrists. She wore a floral-patterned shirt, and worn-out jeans.
"Sylvia!" she exclaimed, pulling Sylvia into a tight hug. Sylvia noted that she smelled slightly of nutmeg. Evelyn help Sylvia out at an arm's length and looked her up and down. "You remind me so much of your mother."
Sylvia smiled politely. "I get that a lot."
"Well come in, come in! Stand out there too long and people will start to think you're homeless." said Evelyn, standing back to let Sylvia in.
The inside of the house smelled like stew and bread. There were autumn decorations about such as fake leaves, and there were candles on almost every surface.
"Home sweet home, dear." said Evelyn behind her. "Follow me, I'll show you to your bedroom." Sylvia nodded, taking in the sights and smells as she climbed the stars up to the second floor.
Evelyn stopped at a red door with a orange-leafed wreath on it. She opened the door and led Sylvia inside.
"Here it is! This was your Mother's room."
Sylvia raised her eyebrows. "M-mom lived here?"
Evelyn nodded. "Oh, yes!"
Sylvia looked around the room. A patchwork quilt was draped over the end of the four-poster bed along with numerous pillows at the top. And…
"Earl!" squawked Evelyn. Sylvia jumped, had begun to thing her grandmother had finally gone loony when she realized that she was addressing a black cat that was peeking out from under the patchwork quilt.
Earl blinked, and pulled himself out from under the heavy quilt. He sat there and examined Sylvia, as thought deciding if she was worthy enough to be in the room. He must have decided well, because he jumped down from his perch on the bed and begun pawing at the hem of Sylvia's jeans.
Sylvia laughed for what seemed like this first time in her life.
"Breakfast's ready!" Evelyn's voice rang up the stairs as Sylvia finished combing her hair. Earl watched her unblinkingly from the bed. The black cat hadn't left her side ever since Sylvia had arrived, which, according to Evelyn, was a rare thing as Earl usually tried to tackle guests in their sleep.
"Don't take too long, dear, you still have school today!" called Evelyn again.
"I'm coming…." muttered Sylvia as she picked up Earl in her arms and went downstairs.
"Pancakes!" announced Evelyn happily, clumsily flipping one over in the skillet. Earl's tail twitched as he eyed the skillet with a mischievous glint in his orange eyes.
"Grab a plate, dear," Evelyn instructed, waving a hand at two plates stacked on the counter. "No, stay there." she added as Sylvia made to approach the skillet with a plate. Without warning, Evelyn flung a pancake at Sylvia with the spatula. It hit Sylvia squarely in the chest before flopping onto the plate in front of her.
"Ah, well, I was close." Evelyn shrugged. Sylvia began to think that he grandmother really was crazy after all.
"I used to get it on the plate every time when you mother was at home. Then again, she was taller than you so the plate was higher." Though Evelyn smiled, Sylvia could see pain behind the kind brown eyes that reminded her of her mother's so much. Evelyn turned away and flipped a pancake onto the second plate, then sat with Sylvia at the table.
"I've got something for you." Evelyn said, reaching for her purse on the counter behind them. From one of its many pockets she withdrew a small necklace. Hanging from the delicate silver chain was a small, beautiful, silver key. It had a diamond (either fake or real, Sylvia couldn't tell) embedded on the key's elegant handle. "I'd like you to have it," said Evelyn, smiling her warm, welcoming smile.
"Thank you…it's beautiful, Grandma," Sylvia gave Evelyn a hug and fasted the key necklace around her neck. She was very confused by why Evelyn wanted her to have it, but equally joyful.
Evelyn leaned close to Sylvia. "I hope you find use of it," she whispered. "Now eat up, you'll be late for your first day at school."
The Faywood high school was a large brick building with spacious halls, a large lawn, and so many unfamiliar faces that Sylvia wanted nothing more than to take refuge in a corner until school was over as soon as she entered through the front doors.
The first class of the day was History, which Sylvia always disliked most of the time since she could never remember half of it anyway. Though Sylvia was grateful to see that she was one of the first to enter the classroom; she didn't like all of the heads turning to stare unwelcoming at the new girl.
The teacher of this class, Mrs. Almeyer, was a very tall woman with very short, dark red hair and small blue eyes. As Mrs. Almeyer entered the class room, the sudden hush and her slightly bossy expression was enough to inform Sylvia that Mrs. Almeyer was either very feared or much respected.
"Good morning, class…we'll be learning about architecture in the 1500s today," she said, rummaging through a stack of papers that sat on her desk. "And I'd also like to welcome to the school miss Sylvia Blackstone," she added with a very small and very brief small at Sylvia, who felt her face blush slightly as she sunk a bit lower in her chair. A rustle of quiet whispers came from around her as her classmates seemed to just notice she was there. "Now, who can tell me one of the distinctive architectures that were popular in that time period?" Mrs. Almeyer asked, looking expectantly at them all.
And, to Sylvia's utter surprise, she felt her hand raise into the air. "Gothic."
"Correct. Very good, Miss Blackstone."
Sylvia grinned to herself behind her textbook.
The whole class went well, and Sylvia found it fascinating. Though she couldn't help feel gloomy every time she looked around at the students and didn't see Marcy among them. She missed her fashionable friend's quirky humor and reassuring company.
The other classes hadn't gone as well as the first, but Sylvia still received the same embarrassing introduction from each of the teachers. Sylvia couldn't help feeling extremely grateful when she stacked her textbooks on a shelf in her locker after the last class of the day. Luckily, she had received very little homework.
"Hi there." The quiet voice made Sylvia jerk suddenly from her thoughts. After a couple of seconds of gazing around in the wrong direction, she spotted the speaker standing behind her. He was rather short, with dark brown hair and eyes that were so dark that they almost looked black. "I'm Alden."
Sylvia took a couple second to recover from the shock. "Hello…er, I'm Sylvia."
"I'm glad someone finally moved into the locker next to mine," Alden continued in a relieved fashion. "I was beginning to believe people thought I was rabid or something."
Sylvia laughed. Alden reminded her slightly of Marcy, thought she still found him a bit creepy.
"Anyway, it's nice to meet you, Sylvia. I thought I had better say 'hi'."
Sylvia smiled. "Nice to meet you too. It's nice knowing someone here, finally. I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then."
Alden nodded. "Great! See you later, Sylvia." He slung his backpack over his shoulder and strode away.
Sylvia smiled to herself. Maybe she would have a friend here sooner than she thought.
Her grandmother had called Sylvia to notify her that she would be picking her up from school, and Sylvia found her waiting outside for her when she exited the school.
"So? How did your first day of school go?" she inquired when Sylvia climbed in the automobile and shut the door behind her.
"Fairly well, actually." Sylvia replied with a grin.
"Fairly well?" repeated Evelyn with a smile. Sylvia grinned. "Do you want an after-school-snack or something, dear?" Evelyn inquired, one ring-adorned hand resting on the handle to the refrigerator.
"No, I'm okay, thanks." Sylvia smiled. "I actually think I'll go outside for a bit." "If you're sure. Be careful." Evelyn sounded a bit grave to Sylvia, but it must have been her imagination.
"I will." Sylvia waved and pulled open the back door to find herself in the backyard, which was quite smaller that the front, but still was covered in autumn leaves. The first thing that caught Sylvia's eye was that there were trees at the end of the yard. Lots of them. The closer Sylvia looked, she realized that behind the house and beyond the yard was a forest. Sylvia smiled; what a perfect place to get away from worrying thoughts.
The leaves crunched loudly beneath Sylvia's shoes as she made her way across the small lawn and into the leafless, dead-looking trees on the other side. There seemed to be even more leaves covering the ground here, and patches of snow around the roots of the trees.
The forest was as quiet as you could imagine one could be without someone stomping loudly through the leaves. Sylvia came to a stop and leaned against a tree to catch her breath. The cold, winter air made it hard to breathe. But Sylvia's breath caught in her chest as an eerie, blood-curdling howl echoed through the trees, and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. It wouldn't have frightened Sylvia so much if the howl hadn't sounded so close. Too close.
"Hello?" Sylvia whispered in a croaky voice, for lack of knowing a better thing to do. She didn't know if she should run, stay put, or locate the source of the sound. Suddenly, the forest didn't look remotely normal anymore. Everything about it seemed to send chills through Sylvia. But she wasn't frightened anymore, either. This was by far the most interesting thing that has happened ever since she arrived at Faywood, and she couldn't let the moment slip away just like that.
Be careful. Evelyn's words echoed for a moment in Sylvia's ears before she slowly stumbled forward towards the direction of the sound. Sylvia's breath clouded the cold air in front of her as she looked behind every tree, every bush, and even checked the patches of snow for tracks of some sort.
And then she saw it. It was lying there, behind the trees. It was a wolf. Either that or a very large dog, but Sylvia felt certain. It was very still, as though asleep. But Sylvia could not see it's flanks rise or fall.
It must have been old age, though Sylvia sadly. She almost wished she could say she was scared, but she wasn't. She wished she felt the urge to run away, but she felt the opposite. She knew is was reckless, and she knew is was stupid, but she reached out a long-fingered hand and slowly inched towards the lifeless wolf.
As her fingers touched it's gray and brown fur, it felt colder than the snow. But something caught her eye: there was something glittering at the wolf's neck. Reaching out touching it with her fingers, Sylvia realized it was a chain. She followed the chain around the wolf's neck until her fingers found something attached to it. It was a lock, and a very old-fashioned one at that. The lock was worn like a necklace around the wolf's neck, and Sylvia saw something, as clear as day, in her mind. It was unnatural. She saw a key, and then she remembered. Rummaging around underneath the collar of her jacket, Sylvia withdrew the necklace Evelyn had given her earlier that same day. It can't be. This is crazy, Sylvia's thoughts echoed in her head, but she pulled the chain over her head and inserted the key into the lock, and turned it. The lock admitted a click, but nothing happened. Sylvia didn't know what she expected, but she definitely hoped at least something would happen.
Sylvia rested her hand on the wolf's flank. Why was is wearing a lock necklace? Maybe it just got hooked around it's neck somehow. But, still, it was strange. Sylvia's hand grew warm, even though the wolf's fur was cold. Before she even had time to think about why it was happening, her necklace in her other hand grew unbearably cold. Sylvia jumped up and let out a yelp and dropped the key. Before it hit the ground, it looked like it was glowing blue. Her hand stung where she was holding the key. Sylvia lifted her palm to her eyes and gasped; there was a white shape of a key on her palm where the key had been. It looked almost like a terrible scar, but it had a blue tinge that made it look frozen. Sylvia rubbed it again and again, but the mark was still there.
Why did this happen?, the thought burned in her mind. This felt so much like a dream, and Sylvia even gave herself a sharp pinch on her arm. What about the wolf? Sylvia whirled around, but the wolf was gone. All that was left there was the single, rusty, blackened lock. Sylvia hesitated before picking it up and looking around. This was just too strange. Maybe she was going crazy. Yes, that had to be it. Sylvia looked at her palm again. The mark was still there. Maybe it's frostbite! Sylvia nodded. That had to be the reason. She should go back to the house and see if Evelyn still had the offer up for a snack.
Sylvia cautiously snatched up her key necklace that she has dropped and put it in her coat pocket. Maybe it was a good idea not to touch it again, since the metal was cold enough to freeze like that. With a last look around, Sylvia trudged back towards the house, weaving through the trees and stopped every now and then to untangle her black hair when it snagged on the branches that stuck out like skeletal hands.
The sun was almost touching the horizon, and Sylvia wondered if Evelyn was making dinner. The trees began thinning out, and, finally, Sylvia felt something like relief wash over her as she re-entered the familiar surroundings of the yard.
"There you are! I was beginning to wonder if you got lost in the woods!" Evelyn exclaimed when Sylvia came through the door.
"Oh…no, I just got sort of distracted." Sylvia didn't know why, but felt it wouldn't be a good idea to tell Evelyn about the wolf. Or anything else.
"Ah…Well, go hang up your coat. I've nearly got dinner ready." Evelyn waved a hand at the stove, and Sylvia was delighted to see what looked like lasagna inside. Sylvia nodded to her grandmother and started up the stairs to her room. Taking her coat off, she looked once more at the palm of her left hand. The key's mark was still there, just as it was. Sylvia withdrew her key necklace from her coat pocket and fastened it slowly around her neck. Evelyn may see she wasn't wearing at might be suspicious. That wasn't likely to happen, but what happened in the woods wasn't either.