I woke myself with screaming.
I concentrated harder than was perhaps necessary as I attempted to slow my erratic gasping. In. Out. In. Out. When I was calm enough that I didn't think I'd be collapsing from a heart attack in the near future I collapsed back onto my bed with a heavy sigh. I squirmed uncomfortably, somewhat regretting my decision when I felt the wet of my sweat and drool trying to soak into my hair. I hadn't had a dream that bad in a while.
These night-terrors seemed to be more than dreams, though—almost like memories, impossible as the idea may be. Because the world I sometimes saw when I slept had little in common with my boring reality. Smoke, gunshots, and screams filled my dreams, and I often woke still gasping for breath as I fled to preserve my life. I could remember with startling clarity the texture of the smoke in my lungs as I coughed and choked on the frozen air; my pounding heart and aching limbs, adrenaline the only thing pushing me forward; the cold steel of the rifle in my hands; the deep dread that I'd killed, and would have to kill again.
Yes, that one had certainly felt real.
Mentally shaking off the crippling fear of my imminent death that I was already forgetting the cause of (as always seemed to be the way of these things), I glanced over at the clock: seven o'clock. The numbers glowed a demanding red, urging me to get off my arse and prepare for school. I resisted the sudden desire to growl at the thing, proving my maturity—outwardly, at least. The fact that I still wanted to smash the damn thing against the wall was, I think, a testament to the contrary. I'd have to work on that.
I let my eyes wander back to the nighttable where the Evil Thing now read seven-fifteen. School started in thirty minutes. Wonderful. Heaving another heavy sigh at the prospect of having to leave my—admittedly wet, yet still alarmingly comfortable—bed, I rose and performed all the requisite morning ablutions: shower, dress, comb my short hair, brush my crooked teeth, and—ah, yes: consume some sort of semi-nutritional substance in preparation of the long gruelling hours of rubbish classes, and rubbish teachers.
In as much of a rush as I was, I tripped neatly down the stairs. More 'crashed', really. I'm not naturally clumsy, but I've taken enough spills that one might think so. I began my morning ritual of gorging myself on cold cereal and milk when I noticed something sitting on the table. It was a surprisingly unobtrusive parcel. I wondered where it had come from, as the post was not due for another two hours. Chugging my milk and finishing off my breakfast quickly as I could so I didn't pay for my curiosity by starving later, I looked over and inspected the small box.
It was cream-coloured, wrapped securely with a light green ribbon (though no bow), but otherwise plain. It felt odd, though, somehow. Important and...familiar. Like it belonged to me—as if it was meant for me. There was no written name I could see. I reached for my penknife that had replaced the scissors in my bag out of necessity (the damn pointy things had torn right through), just as my wristwatch began its incessant beeping indicating that some stupid sod was about to get a detention for tardiness.
Brilliant, Ames. I shoved the parcel into my bag and bolted, not even locking the door behind me—I'd be reprimanded for that later, after I survived History. Mr Barton was not kind on the best of days. And those were few and far between.
The school came into view just as the one-minute warning bell sounded. Damnit. My class was on the other side of the school. I'd be lucky to make it inside two minutes with the rate I was moving. I sped up, not wanting to give the sarcastic git another excuse to slap me with a detention—he had plenty already. I made it to the classroom door as the last few notes of the 'class will now begin' chime echoed through the empty hallways. But I still had to make it to my seat before it was ended. Barton, the prick, was overly strict about that.
Panting, I wrenched open the door and sprinted to my chair, landing heavily and somewhat sideways. Almost as though it were some karmic response to my hasty rashness, the world tilted, and I suddenly realised I was on the floor. The concrete floor. And it hurt rather a lot. The class, predictably, laughed as I struggled to pick myself up, my backpack proving a difficult ten pounds to balance with, and bringing me crashing back down. Landing on my hands and knees hurt less, but I was really beginning to despise my backpack, its heaviness, and the ruddy teacher who assigned so many books and who was standing at the head of the class, glaring at me as though I'd done injury to myself on purpose.
'Points to you, Miss Everett, for that most amusing display.' I managed to get myself properly seated just in time to meet his eyes as he finished his scathing comments. 'If you are quite finished making a mockery of yourself, let me assure you that you will be able to re-establish your, no doubt, normally-impeccable balancing skills this afternoon in detention.' I glared back silently. My words never reached him, anyway, and on the rare occasion they did, my belligerence only ever worsened my punishments.
'Now, you lot have a test today—' We groaned in unison, and passed the papers around resignedly. '—that you should be well-prepared for, given that I mentioned it was coming last Friday.' No one could ever be prepared for your tests, you tosser; you make certain of that. 'I expect silence but for the cranking gears in your mind, which you all will certainly realise you should have oiled better before arriving this morning, half-asleep. That noise will be annoying enough. Do try not to court a failing grade by chatting, and worsening my impending headache.' He sat back down at his desk. 'Begin.'
I stared down at the paper before me. The American Revolutionary War. Bugger. I sighed (seemed to be doing that a lot lately). Why did we have to learn this, again? Just because the colonies didn't want to pay their taxes or remain Catholic, they start a war. Right stupid of them if you ask me. They were British subjects, they should pay British taxes. Though, America was on an entirely different continent, and they seemed to be doing all right for themselves, so perhaps it wasn't as stupid a move as I thought. It was 'our' land, but we stole it from the natives first, so...
Having fully annoyed myself with my wandering mind, I actually looked down at the first test question, hoping I might know the answer. 'Why did Parliament refuse to give the colonists the representation they demanded?' I've no idea. Because they hated those stupid Protestant bastards who went against the Church of England? Religious prejudice? Greed? I had half a mind to write that down, to prove that I'd thought the question through, even if I didn't know the answer, but this wasn't Maths, and Barton would still probably fail me for this whole module. I left the answer blank.
'How did we lose the battle at Trenton?' I could remember a bit more about that one. Our soldiers had been completely pissed on Christmas, and the colonists made sure to take advantage of that. I wrote down all I could remember. Next question.
I sat back, bit back my fourth sigh of the day, and stared at my watch. Remembering suddenly why I had been annoyed with it this morning, I considered exploring the box I'd yet to open. I was seated at the back, and I reckoned I could finish—though not 'complete'—my test in about fifteen minutes. My mind wasn't focussing properly right now, anyway. And I was really far too curious to let the idea go once I'd remembered the parcel. I slowly opened the zip on my bag, taking care to watch Mr Barton for a reaction. When he made no move at the slight noise, I pulled out the box.
It was still kept shut by the green ribbon, but I was too afraid to open my knife in class. I'd get sent to the headmaster for delinquent behaviour in a matter of seconds. It was loose enough, though, that I thought I might be able to wriggle it off. I pried at it for a bit and it gave way fairly easily. Still taken by the feeling of rightness when holding the box, as thought I were meant to have it, I removed the lid to reveal what appeared to be an antique pocketwatch. The raised image was that of a snake wrapped loosely around an hourglass at the centre. I toughed it lightly in wonder. Was this really meant for me? I impressed the small button at the top, and the lid sprung down toward me, revealing a folded piece of parchment inside. Hoping that it would hold some form of instructions, I unfolded the aged paper and read the perfect calligraphy inside:
Start my hands a-ticking, for a lesson in time.
And you'll see exactly what you are meant to find.
It sounded a bit like something Jo Rowling would dream up, and I wondered whose joke I was the victim of. The watch was lovely, but magical in any way? Highly unlikely, if not completely impossible. Start the clock, and you will find something. Was there a hidden treasure? Hmph. I did not bite back my next sigh. I was bored out of my mind, and the idea of a magical watch was tempting. So very tempting. Huffing at my own idiocy, and boredom, and naiveté, I set the time to reflect that of the wall clock, and twisted the key at the back. At the first tick, I felt a tightness in my stomach that clenched painfully. The world around me twisted and swirled in a dizzying fashion. Up was down, down was up, and there was a shrill screeching in my ears. I slapped my hands over my ears and shut my eyes against the audio-visual torment, but the sound and feeling of dizzying movement persisted. I fought to stay conscious during the assault on my senses, and failed.
I woke to screaming.
TBC In Part II
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