The human understanding is like a false mirror, which, receiving rays, irregularly distorts and discolors the nature of things by mingling its own nature with it.
12B, on the sixth floor of the Albert Mayan’s sophomore building; second classroom from the end, held a beautiful view of the Founder’s Garden, with its massive cherub lined ornamental fountain and reflecting pond.
Esther stared listlessly out the window, watching the sunlight glint off the fountain’s spray. The reflection of clouds drifted over the smooth surface of the water below.
A wet flick against her cheek jolted her upright. Something bounced off her sweater and rolled onto her desk. Esther stared down at a small, oozing ball. Soft laughter eased her gaze right. Tobie, a row over and two seats up, twirled a straw between his fingers, one hand ripping up a corner of his history book. Jacob Lenburt, one more row and desk over, shook with barely contained laughter.
With a smirk Tobie popped another balled up bit of history in his mouth and lifted the straw. Esther cringed and held up her notebook.
The classroom door slid open with a snap. Tobie fumbled to hide the straw.
Esther shuddered, rubbing her cheek with her sleeve, and forced herself to stare straight ahead. Ms. Harbrooks, the sophomore Vice Principal, stepped inside with a smile and a student trailing after her.
“Sorry for the disruption Dr. Lampman.” She motioned to the boy. “But I have your transfer.”
The swing of a military coat. Esther’s breath caught in her chest.
“Oh, yes.” Lampman set his lecture notes on his desk. “Class we have a new student.”
Harbrooks gestured towards the boy. “This is Holon Huges. He is from the Ector Prefecture and transferring from their Elite Martial Academy.”
“Holon.” Lampman nodded to him then searched over the heads of his students. “Umm, take Row Three seat six; just behind Tobie Sinclair. Tobie raise your, ah—There you go.”
Esther gripped the sides of her seat. Holon moved down the row, working sideways to get in between Sadie Cockrell and Rebecca Johansen, their backpacks always in the center of the row to slip notes into the pockets during class. The girls gawked, seemingly unsure if the pools of dull sunshine filtering through the windows pulled out a deep blue tint in his dark hair.
At a desk away, Esther’s heart leapt into her ears; the sound drowning out Lampman’s voice. Patches of darkness pulsed against the sides of her vision. She thought fleetingly of the pills tucked away in her satchel.
“No…no…” She grabbed her pen. With shaky strokes she wrote: I am fine. It’s okay. I am fine... in tiny, cramped letters below a section of Winstin Churchill’s famous World War Two speech.
“I know we are going through some changes here at Westin,” Ms. Harbrooks continued as Sadie strategically replaced her backpack and Rebecca scribbled furiously while practically backwards in her seat to watch Holon move down the row. “And I hope we all will welcome each new student with open arms.” She cleared her throat purposely as Tobie greeted Holon with a high five. “In a manner befitting students of a prestigious school. Dr. Lampman, if I may have a word with you and your class representative.”
“Of course. Eddie?” A boy at the head of Row One stood, a large gold watch jingling against his wrist. “Take a ten minute break guys.” Lampman waved to the class. “Back in a sec.”
A squeal of chair legs against linoleum jerked Esther’s pen up from the slick page. Her arm skidded over the book. Wet ink seeped into her white sleeve. Forcing down a lump in her throat Esther chanced a surreptitious look.
Holon’s coat was over the back of his chair. His face was forward, hands clasped over his notebook.
Two books slammed onto her notes, sending a few pages flying. Gus bent over them, inches from her nose. She gasped, rocking back in her chair. Tobie swiveled in his desk with a nasty grin.
“So you still seeing things, huh?”
Esther slid down in her chair, a protective knee coming up between her, the desk and Gus. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Jacob, the lanky golfer that rounded out Tobie’s little gang, heading towards them.
“Lezbo ain’t here to save you,” he bleated, leaning against the shelves below the windows. “Class rep left, too. You’re all alone.”
“Just go away,” Esther whispered, trying to shrink from Gus’s breath and Jacob’s leer.
The boys whooped.
“Kitty grew a pair over the semester, did she? Or is pissyness just a side effect of all the anti-psychotics?” Gus put one hand on her chair and yanked it forward.
Esther’s knee slammed into her desk, sending up a wave of pain. She clenched her jaw. Hands around her knee she turned as far as she could from him, pinned between her chair and desk.
“I don’t take pills.”
“I told Holon, here,” Tobie waved his arm at the new boy over the back of his chair. “I told him you were famous. You are, you know.”
“For being the local crazy!” Gus barked.
Esther stared at her notebook, head lowered, hair blocking out Holon’s face. She wanted him to look up. She wanted him to stop this. Somehow she knew, she knew he could. But even as she thought it she knew he wouldn’t. Why would he? Her breathing sped. A rushing filled her ears, muffling the taunts of the boys.
“...told him you’re a regular at the asylum. Isn’t that where you were last semester?”
“I hear she thinks she can stop time or some crazy crap like that.”
The boys laughed. A chill went through her. She wanted to close her eyes. She needed to close her eyes, to get away. But she didn’t dare.
“Did you spin around real fast? Go back in time?”
“Naw, she has a special device. I bet she has a special device!”
“It’s a spinning object.”
Esther’s head shot up at Holon’s voice, colliding with Gus’ nose. He reared back, crashing into Jacob and both boys toppled against the shelves. Esther stared at Holon as Jacob tried to push Gus off of him.
Holon calmly opened his notebook. “A rounded object spinning in a deep void.”
The rushing in her ears stopped. Her heart slowed. Everything went eerily quiet. She couldn’t even hear Gus screaming insults or Jacob backing up his threats as she tried to find her voice.
“I read your file.” Holon turned to a fresh page.
The boys’ intimidation tactics stopped dead.
“Dude,” Jacob lowered his voice. “The student records? Those are classified!”
Holon uncapped his pen.
“You broke into the headmaster’s office?” Gus said thickly through his hand.
Holon glanced at Tobie, then to Gus. “Yes.”
“Dude!” Both boys said in unison, scrambling over the empty desk behind Esther to crowd around Holon. “That is so kickass!”
“Did you steal the key?”
“Oh man, can you hack the system and change my Biology grade?”
Esther stared at Holon. His gaze shifted from his notebook; spearing her dead center.
Esther’s stomach lurched.
Holon’s eyes lowered to his book.
Esther couldn’t pull hers away. Horrible familiar feelings crept back into her mind, gnawing relentlessly, desperately trying to find something to sink their teeth into. The train, the card, his hand against hers—
“What’re you staring at, spaz?”
Esther jerked out of her daydream.
“I said, what’re you starting at?” Tobie slapped her pencil box to the floor and leaned in, both hands on the edges of her desk.
“Nothing! I wasn’t...I—” She caught a glimpse of Holon; chin resting on folded hands, pen laced between his fingers; ignoring her to gaze at the front of the room.
Tobie glanced over his shoulder at his row mate. He dipped, grabbed the leg of Esther’s desk, in accompaniment with the edge of the table, and yanked straight up.
Holon’s profile fell away. Esther toppled to the floor, desk crashing around her, books and papers flying. She couldn’t take her eyes off Holon, sitting calmly, not even flinching at the noise. Tobie yelled. Gus and Jacob laughed. Paper floated down. A sharp metal screech snapped her back.
She craned her neck toward the sound, towards the windows. Tobie dangled her satchel between the sill and the glass.
“Wh—wait!” Esther scrabbled to her feet, the desk bucking above her tangled legs.
Gus rolled his eyes. “Now she pays attention.”
Tobie shrugged. His arm stretched back and flung the bag out the sixth story window.
“No!” Esther dove for the strap, her stomach hitting the sill, forehead nearly smacking the pane. The leather strap slipped silkily through her fingers and a flash of brown plummeted to the bricks and fountain below.
Esther pushed off the sill and, ignoring her toppled desk, ran for the door.
“Better hurry,” Jacob called after her.
“Only five minutes till next period!” Tobie laughed.
Esther paused, hand on the door frame. Tears stinging her eyes she threw the door back and ran out into the hall.
Taking the stairs three at a time, Esther hit the outside door of Albert Mayan’s at full speed. It spit her out into the Founder’s Garden. Panting, she scanned the flowers. Then the pathway. Not seeing any papers littering the bushes or trees she approached the reflection pool with icy dread. But the water was still.
“Maybe it’s in the center…”
Esther leaned over the lip of the pool. More motionless water; no satchel. She sighed, kicked off her shoes and vaulted the retention wall. Shivering as the water soaked her socks, she wadded out toward the center cherub. Her feet slipped against a few coins and she teetered. Something jerked her sweater, pulling her up right. Esther yelped. She looked over her shoulder and across the fountain’s reflection pool, and was immediately blinded by the mid morning light refracting off the water. She squinted. A blur of silhouette at the edge of the pool. Dark hair with a glint of deep blue and a flash of crimson tie.
“Get out of there, Esther.”
The chill of the water paled in the frosty familiarity trickling down her spine. “Holon?”
He bent and set something at the fountain’s edge.
Wind caught the cherub’s spray. She winced, brushing away the drops from her cheek, and looked up. The garden was empty. She waded to the side of the pool. Her hand ran over the dry Westin Academy insignia of her satchel. She flipped open the top. All her books, notes and papers were safely inside. Including her pencil case.
Esther lifted her head to the Albert Mayan’s Sophomore Hall. For an instant she thought a shape darkened the slatted windows of classroom 12B then slowly dissolve into the building’s shadows.