The Heart On The Sleeve
It’s promising to be a lovely Friday morning when Greyscale destroys it by bringing in a message from the barrowman. “I told you to go and pick up the mail, seeing as you always seem to be eating my breakfasts”, Hermann says when Greyscale enters.
Right off the bat I can tell there is something wrong. If his surprise-style attacks have taught me anything, that is, besides a fear of tall men, then that is that Greyscale has grace. I am not talking about the ballerina-type grace. Greyscale has the grace of a battleship- of something that plows through water, ignores the elements and is confident in itself. A grace he only displays when he wants to fight something.
He takes up a large black trashbag and puts it on the table. And even before he removes it, I smell it. That familiar mildew-scent. There is a ripping sound, revealing a stone tablet, made from granite. The tablet is roughly the size of a A4 paper, with worn edges.
Hermann massages his temples. “Is this from who I think it is?” Greyscale shrugs. “It smells like the barrowman. Occhams Razor says he sent it.” Me and Hermann stare at him. “What? Ah can read them big words and letters.”
I look at the tablet. At first I think I am looking at cunei or something. Small glyphs, carved into the stone, shallow in depth. /Runes, Rune./ I blink. Of course. “These are runes?” Greyscale gives me a gauging look. “Did Verde tell you that?” “Yeah.” “He’s right– these are runes.”
“Do we know anyone who can read runes?” Verde and Greyscale speaks simultaneously: “I can.” I clutch my head. Don’t do that. Greyscale snickers. “Verde has my memories, so of course he would know what I know.” /Although, I’d like to think that our personalities are different./ Damn right you are.
“What does it say?” Greyscale appraises it. “Barring some modern change in grammar, and some sounds, it reads:
To The Young Berserker
The Mistress, she who makes me walk once more, and compells me to kill, have forbidden me from contacting you. She knows the strength of her magic, but not the limitations. Not as I do. I have killed twice, and she will certainly make me kill more. Know that every murder is involuntary. She has taken my blood for foul purposes, arcane matters which only the valas would know. Young Berserker, the Mistress is connected to you. I do not know how, but you two share a bond of some kind. I write this, hoping that you can stop her, and set me free.”
“This is a confirmation of sorts”, Hermann says slowly, working his way through the implications. “We know now that the barrowman is not acting of his own free will.” “Even more important, we know the gender of the person who reanimated him”, I say. “A girl, a woman. And she apparently shares some bond with me? I am going to sniff every girl in school.” “I think those aformentioned girls would take a serious exception to that”, Hermann adds with a faint smile.
“What worries me is the mention of the blood- the valas of old could do some pretty freaky things with the blacken blood of a barrowman”, Greyscale muses. He continues. “And I have not seen a barrowman walk free, ever. Although…. magic has come pretty far in the last millenia.”
I am about to ask what exactly he means when he says ‘freaky things’, but Verde points something crucial out. /The barrowman knows where you live./ I freeze. He’s right. “Is there something wrong, Runey?”, Hermann asks. “You do look kinda pale”, Greyscale contributes.
“I just realized that the barrowman knows where I live. Where we live….!” Hermann nods. “Do you remember the discussion we had about the forcefield surrounding the Orchard?” “Yea, you said that there are protections built into this house too.” ” One set of which are meant to deal specifically with undeads.”
I look at Hermann, feeling that juvenile need for reassurance, for safety. “The barrowman can literally, figuratively, not enter this house. We’re safe here.” I feel a bit relieved, then my thoughts spin in the other direction. “But he could smoke us out. He might not be able to enter the house, but he could make us exit the house. He could start a fire, throw a bomb or just wait for us to leave.”
“Do you hear yourself?”, Greyscale asks. ” Yes, he could do all these things. But a meteor might come crashing down from heaven. Russia might invade Stockholm. Nevena might dump you one day. Lots of these things are ‘maybes’.”
I look at Greyscale with realization. “You’re right. I shouldn’t worry.” “Damn right you shouldn’t. Not especially when I am nearby.” /And I am always nearby./
Hermann clears his throat with a meaningful noise and taps his wrist, where a watch should be. I look at the clock. “Aaaah, I–my Drama-lesson starts any minute now.” “Relax, I’ll drive you”, Greyscale tells me in a soothing voice. “Pack your things, and be ready.”
“Ehrm.” We’re parked right outside of Ochre. “Yes?”, Greyscale asks. “I have a favor to ask. Something you can’t tell Hermann.” He turns around in his seat. “Color me intrigued.” “I need alcohol. For a party tonight.” Greyscale rolls his eyes. “That all? And here I thought we’d be doing something illegal.” “Buying alcohol for minors is illegal.” “So is downloading and rape. But– sure, I’ll buy some beers for you.”
“Thanks a bunch.” I get out of Greyscale’s old pick-up and enter Ochre, but not before he honks three embarassing times for all to hear.
You see in Sweden, the State has a monopoly on alcoholic beverages over a certain percent, and they can only be purchased at one particular type of store, spread over virtually every city, a type of store often refered to as the Company. This stops alcoholics from getting their fix, it is said, but it sure doesn’t help all those minors,me included. But anyhow, yay socialism.
As I walk to the creepy entrance to the Athaenum, I spot a familiar face. “Shirin!” I run up to her. “Wait for me.” She looks away. “Hey Fallowfell.” I think of what Elena said. That Shirin likes me. All those times that she looked at me. Shirin is cute as a button, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t feel an attraction towards her. Now how to convey that without crushing her heart.
“Rune, you can call me Rune.” She blushes and I start walking the long way down. Eventually she catches up with me. “You-“”BOO!”
Both me and Shirin start. Eiddwen Mordecai removes a dark cloth that she has had fixed against the wall with some kind of glue. Goddamn albino. “I am sorry about that. It’s just so fun to scare people.” No, you’re not. She follows us as we walk up the podium where Isocrates has put the chairs. “You know that you’re going to give someone a heart-attack, right?” “Their fault. They shouldn’t be so easily terrified. Life is filled with monsters.”
I take a chair and sit down. Shirin sits next to me. And I bet that Mordecai is one of those monsters. Verde named Mordecai a ‘mallt-y-nos’, which several wiki’s have called a nighthag, or nightcrone. Which doesn’t really say much, although I can definitely envision her stalk someone in the night.
The rest of the class stumble in, and Isocrates starts his lesson. “For today’s lesson we’re going to talk about infliction. Consider the word ‘fuck’, and they way I pronounce it.”
“Fuck”, he says in lazy voice and with a slooped body. Some in the class start to snicker.
“Fuck?” he asks, with a querying expression, and an inviting body-language. Now some in the class blush.
“Fuck!”, he screams and stamps his foot against the floor. He says it with such force that several people shy away.
“Infliction is key. Without it, words are just utterances, strings of syllables without meaning and intent. So today we’re going experiment with infliction. Rune, please stand up.” It takes me a second to realize that he’s talking to me.
I slowly stand. “Come here.” I follow his motion, and place myself in the center of the stage. “Alright, I want you to say something five times, with five different inflictions.” “Alright?”
I think fast. “Alright.” Isocrates sits in my old chair. No sweat. Y ou can do this. You can do this…!
I channel my inner Aspergers. I stand straight, arms next to my body, feet planted square. I wipe away the expression on my face and stare at the people in front of me. “Yes”, I say, as robotic as possible.
I hold my straight posture, but extend my left arm, hand shaped in a spear-like salutation. I take a breath and scream. “Yes sir!” I absently note that my ‘yes sir’ echoes in the Athaenum.
I crouch on the floor and hold up a hand, as if cupped around something. “Yes my precious….” Some laugh now, which is my intent, kinda.
“Yes.” I simply say the word, but my tone expresses the the complete opposite meaning.
“Yes?” I say, and tilt my head, expecting clarification.
“Yes, wonderful!”, Isocrates says. “Good, good.” “Mordecai, your turn.” I sit down in my seat, while Isocrates takes Eiddwen’s seat. On one level, I am aware of Eiddwen saying the word ‘no’ with different inflictions, but on another level, cold sweat pours down my back, I can feel my heart in my throat and this buzz in my head. And the worst part?
I could grow to love this feeling. I could become addicted to it.
The lesson ends, and me and Shirin starts to walk up a plane, for our history lesson. “Are you coming to Nevena’s party later?” “Y-yes.” I wait for her to say something more. Eventually I realize that she isn’t going to say anything else.
But by that time we’re already at the classroom, where the rest of 1A have gathered. Chiyo asks Shirin something, and Pontus want me inspect his new shoes, and I don’t simply have time to continue the conversation.
Pontus puts one arm around my shoulder. I remove the arm with the least offensive shrug I know. “She said yes.” Indra opens the door and I pause before resuming my usual seat: the third one next to the window. “Who said yes? And to what?” “Hannah did. We’re going out on a date on Sunday.” I give Pontus two thumbs up and sit down in my seat.
I immediately notice something that has changed. The seat to the left of me, which is usually vacant, is occupied. Nevena sits next to me. In fact, her desk is slightly closer than it should be. With my long legs our knees almost meet.
Indra starts to talk about history. About the beginning of socialism,marxism, liberalism. But as mine and Nevena’s hands meets under the tables, I think this is the beginning of something else.
In my next lesson, French, I learn how to say “Je voudrais un cheval, sil vous plait” which in English would be something along the lines ‘Could I have a horse, pretty please?’
I consider it to be a great intellectual feat. Verde thinks I am being ridiculous. But he doesn’t have a little horse, so what does he really know.
Lunch is American pancakes (yes, I know, not very nutritional, but the time some parents tried to have the dish banned, the Student Council resurrected it). Me, Pontus and Kai make a competition in which we create art out of said pancakes, and then eat said artwork.
Kai wins with a splendid syrup-drenched rendition of the Tower of Babel.
“It appears that some of my students have better uses for their time than spending it in school”, Gomagog opens his English lesson with.
Every single person in the class makes a show of not looking at me or Nevena.
“These students think they’re above the system, that the rules do not apply to them.” Hmm, I feel like I have heard that line before somewhere. “But indeed, is this important? That someone is skipping a class or two?” He asks the question out loud, but it feels vaguely rhetorical.
“There is a mandatory law that states that children must complete schooling through year one to nine, from the age of seven, to the age of fifteen or sixteen, depending on the date of your birth. This law doesn’t cover the gymnasium. You are all here voluntarily.”
Gomagog walks around the classroom. “And so I ask again, why is it important that someone is skipping a class?” “Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe it isn’t important that two people skipped a single day and three lessons”, Elena asks.
“What if something really useful had been covered during those three lessons?” “You tell me”, she counters. “Was something important covered?” And now Gomagog smiles. “I could tell you. But I won’t. If those people had been present, they would have known. They will simply have to spend eternity wondering what they could have known.”
“But what if a person is sick. Or on a funeral. Or misses part of a lesson because they’re late?”, Kai asks. “They should never, ever be late. Be late to a meeting, and your boss might fire you. If a person is sick, then they should grab some pills and hope for the best. And funerals? Scatter the ashes and weep. The dead don’t care about the living.”
“You don’t think that’s a fairly unfair opinion?”, Amanda asks, from behind me. “Life is unfair. If you have reached the age of sixteen and don’t know that,then I pity you.”
“Enough banter”, he continues. “Take up your books and start to read page one-hundred and sixty-six….” I start to read about the different uses of the letter ‘u’ in American versus British english, but I wonder about what Gomagog said.
“Psst.” It’s the last lesson for the day, a double-hour in Natural Science (really, is there any other science except the natural one?) and we’re exploding soap-bubbles. One of my bubbles reach the right altitude. I take match, light and touch the bubble. There is a boom, and something hits the safety goggles and the white coat I am currently wearing.
/What is that insufferable noise?!/ Nothing, ‘cept exploding soap-bubbles, and don’t moan. I am wearing mufflers.
“PSST!”I turn around, and Nevena is standing next to me. I remove the mufflers. “Sup?” “You’re beating yourself up over what Gomagog said, aren’t you?” A nearby boom makes me wince.
“No.” She stares at me. “Maybe a little.” She continues to stare at me. “Okay. You’re right. It bothers me.” A second boom echoes through the classroom, and Ingvar Halmarson, our science-teacher laughs. “It shouldn’t. He’s trying to guilt you into feeling bad. Yes, we shouldn’t have skipped class. But we did. And unless someone has a time-machine, we can’t take it back. We have to live the consequences, good or bad. You lost three lessons, and you gained a date. Take some, lose some.”
Now I stare at her. I feel better… “How did you know?” She laughs, not unkindly. “Because you’re not exactly a cipher, Rune. You wear your heart on your sleeve. A habit you should fix.”
“And why is that?”
“‘Cause’ people who carry their hearts on their sleeves tend to get hurt.