The first thing I notice when I wake up is the unfamiliar ceiling. What… where am I? I blink slowly. I am sitting in a chair. I lean backwards slightly–
— and I tip too far; up becomes down, and my face meets the floor.I lie there for a while, trying to get my bearings. Ow, ow, ow. Okay what is the last thing I remember?
Greyscale. Beer. One beer. Two beers. Three beers. Four beers. Five beers. Six beers. Seven beers. Eight beers. Nine beers. Ten beers. After the tenth beer things get hazy… did I stand on the kitchen-table and did I do the Macarena?
I shake my head and groan. That man will be the death of me.
I survey my surroundings.Ah. Now I recognize the ceiling. I am in the lower plane of the villa, the second living room to be more precise. The dining-table in front of me is littered with junk. Someone has stacked several beer cans on top of each other, and then used tape to fortify the structure. Next to the beertower is a note. I grab it and read quickly.
Sorry about the hangeover you’re about to have. Really, kid, you should drink more responsibly. Remember what we talked about yesterday. And good luck with school!
P.S I fixed up your eye-patch. It is now Greyscale-approved.
Until next time, Nidar Greyscale, your bro.
P.S.S bro, you should really not do the Macarena. You can’t dance for shit.
I frown slightly. The words are written in a really flowery script, like some old-school… what did they call those people whose jobs consisted of writing really pretty before the printing press was invented….scriveners? Yeah, like an scrivener.
Drink more responsibly?! It’s all that man’s fault. Less than a week ago I had never touched alcohol, and now I have- agfhahhah!!!My eye-patch! My hand goes up to the empty orifice that used to be my left eye. My unprotected, unshielded eye. Naked, bare to the world. Nonononono where is iiiiiittttt!
I run around searching for it for over ten minutes before I sit down in the couch.I try to use some of the breathing techniques the therapist showed me- the ones meant to alleviate panic-attacks. I can’t walk around without an eye-patch! On a impulse I look down. Huh. In my panic I didn’t notice that he left something on the table, next to the note. I hold the item up.
It’s an eye-patch, but not like anyone I have ever seen. My original eye-patch was square, white and made from some kind of cloth that according to the doctors was supposed minimize itching. The patch that Greyscale has “fixed” is black, circular and… I put my finger on it and I trace some kind of pattern. It’s an interlinked pattern, kinda like the scale of a fish. I grab it and squeeze. It feels like leather though, dense leather.
I flip it around. And laugh. Written on it, in red sharpie, are the words, “fuck you”. I put it on. There is nothing odd about it, but I detect a faint smell of something… something that smells like a snake or a lizard- something reptilian.
Balance restored to my universe, I sit there, in blissful calm. There was something today. Something I was supposed to do… something important… I try to come up with ideas, but I get nothing. What was it….? Then it hits me, like a meteor from the sky.
I bolt inside my bedroom and look up. It’s 7:58. School starts in thirty minutes. In twenty-two minutes I should be at the Vermillion Plaza, where the principal will hold her welcome speech. Oh, crap, crap, crap, craaaaap. I immediately clamp down on my panic. Okay- analysis; what do I need to do before I can get to school?
I hold up a hand and a finger.One; shower. Two; eat something. Three; ensure that the items I need is on me or in my bag. I stop there and think about it for thirty seconds. Yeah, that sounds about right. I jump inside the shower quickly. I grab one of those two-in-one shower gels that Elena would rather die for than touch and I quickly lather myself up. An errant thought comes to me as I do so. Why the hell am I not hungover?
I finish showering and step out of the badroom. I quickly breathe on my hand and smell it. Agh, roadkill-breath. I run back to my bathroom and brush my teeth, trice. I look into the mirror; I look alright, if a bit pale. I won’t have time to wait for my hair to dry so I just grab some wax and drag it through my hair.
I enter my room and dress myself. I look at the clock; it’s 8:09. Okaaay. I grab a couple of pencils and some notebooks and throw them inside my satchel.My aim is a bit off and a couple of the pencils miss the satchel entirely. Hmm. I grab a second batch of pencils and throw them. They all miss. Crap- you’re not hungover because you’re still drunk! Agh I don’t have time to think. I run up the upper plane of the villa and I snatch three bananas from a bowl and devour them like a dragon devours virgins. Ugh, eating bananas after having brushed your teeth is the worst. I run out of the villa and jump on my bicycle. Just as I am about to start, I remember something. I jump off my bicycle and I lock the door.
I jump on my bicycle once more and I start to pedal down at a frantic pace.
Fallowfell is built on an incline, which means that there are three ways to move yourself in Fallowfell; up, down or laterally. Luckily I am going down so the strides I make on my bicycle eats up the three kilometers separating my villa and the school in no time at all.
And suddenly I am there.
I stop before the Crimson Bridge. I smile a bit ruefully. Alexandra, my sister, she used to say, “everybody says that the Crimson Bridge was made from the blood of the lost. Which is of course ridiculous. All know that the bridge is made from the blood of small childreeeeen”, and then she would tickle me. I banish the memory to the corridors of my mind and I start to walk over the bridge.
The truth of the building-material of the Crimson Bridge is much, much more mundane; its made from several tons of copper, an elaborate, expensive, arching horror, made at the fancy of a certain madman.
I stop midway on the bridge and look. Ochre, the local gymnasium of Fallowfell, is built on an small island, which sits in a equally small lake by the name of Hermannstadt, which in turn lies in the middle of Fallowfell. I once asked Hermann if he knew anything about the name of the lake, but I don’t think I ever got an satisfying answer. I look down at the Hermannstadt. The water is dark and blank, so dark that you can see your own reflection smile back at you. In the middle of winter, when the snow reaches your ankles, and the wind wails, people tell stories about Hermannstadt, and looking at the lake I can understand how some of them started out.
I cross the last section of the bridge and I park and lock my bicycle in a red shed-like structure next to the school.
I walk up to the adjacent building and I look up. Ochre is a fitting name; the school is built from red sandstone and and in the autumn sun it glows a burnished orange.
I try to remember the layout of Ochre, and more importantly the location of Vermilion Plaza… Ochre High is built like two capital ‘L:s’ which meets in the middle, like a bracket turned horizontal. Vermilion Plaza is in front of the gymnasium….. I look right and left. The building curves sharply to the left about fifty metres in front of me… so if I walk backwards, will I find the open space in front of the gymnasium? I look at the clock. 8:18.
Only one way to find out… I walk back. At first I think I have made a terribly mistake. I am lost. Partially drunk. I am going to be late, and miss my class. The entire school will see me come late and they will laugh at me.
My thought spin an ever-increasing negative spiral. Until I hear voices. Many voices. I hurry around the corner–
–and there she is, Vermillion Plaza. A hundred-twenty two square metres of red marmor, a large block of it really, encased in dirt and surrounded by its sides by Ochre High. According to the brocheur that was part of the welcoming package to Ochre, Vermilion Plaza was built in 1723 and it took two dozen full-grown men over a month of careful refitting before the owner was satisfied.
That’s what goes through my mind as I walk closer to the crowd. No, not crowd. When I look closer, I realize that there are five separate bodies of people, each group centered around a pole with a single digit and a letter.
I am in class 1A…. and of course, class 1A is at the other end of Vermilion Plaza. Ah well, time to buckle up. I plant my feet and I begin to push myself through the crowd.
“…. hey, asshole, watch where you’re going….”
“…. nice eye-patch there Captain Hook…..”
“… you do realize that you can just walk around the crowd….”
“…. somebody stepped on my toe..!”
I finally reach 1A. I can tell its my class because, 1; there only two guys in it, 2; those two guys are surrounded by a large group of girls, 11 I count. I blink. Hmm wasn’t there supposed to be twelve girls..? Ah. Yes. There was a question mark at the note Elena handed me- a question mark behind the name of one the girls.
“Hey Runey, here!” I turn at Elena’s call–
–and I wince mentally. She’s standing in the middle of 1A, with the girls of the class arrayed around her like planets around a sun. I walk slowly up to her, as slowly as I can. I have the IQ and the capacity to calculate advanced physics, I have the knowledge and the history of man- which goes all the way back to Ancient Sumer. But for all that I still don’t understand the minds of sixteen year old girls.
I sidle up next to her, carefully, intent on not stepping on anyone’s toes. Elena looks at me; my t-shirt with a picture of a bloody spade and the text; “House Fallowfell – We Do Not Dig”, my jeans that are cosmetically torn at strategical places. I return the favor; for today’s special occassion Elena is wearing a skirt, a blouse, a jacket and a couple of “fuck-me” pumps. Her hair falls around her face in ringlets and corkscrews. In other words, she’s on her A-Game.
“You’re late. ” She looks closer. ” And what’s with the new eye-patch?” She looks even closer and silently mouth the letters. “F-u-c-k y-o-u… Hahahahaha, that’s a good one, Runey.” “Ugh, don’t remind me. I got drunk last night together with Greyscale- hence me being late, and the patch was a present.” “Wait, you were drinking the night before school?” Her question irritate me. I glare at her. “What did I just tell you? Are you even listening?”
I frown. This is not like me. Why am I so easily irritated…? I close my eyes, and as I do, I feel an odd sensation slowly creeping over me. It’s like a combination of a fever and a headache, but somehow magnified. I know what this is.
“Runey…?” Elena snaps her fingers in front of me. “Ah. Sorry for yelling at you. I think… I think I am starting to become hungover.” “Wait you aren’t hungover? For how long did you guys stay up and drink? And how much did you drink?” “Late.” I think of the beertable.” And I stopped counting after beer numero diez.”
Elena whistles. “Drunk twice in a week and the day before school. This Greyscale is a terrible influence on you Runey. I must absolutely meet him.” “Yeah, yeah, now be quiet, would you? My head is killing me.” Elena snickers but remain silent.
I look at the clock. It’s 8:26, and the principal should have started her speech six minutes ago. I wonder what is keeping her. In the meantime I surreptitiously glance around, trying to see if a recognize anyone, which I do.
Next to me and Elena stands a short buxom girl with red hair, fair skin and Carribean-blue eyes. That’s Hannah Duchamps- and even though she looks like some old man’s wet dream she is an abject lesson in not judging a book by its cover- which her two Scandinavian championship trofés in chess will attest to. Girl Wonder also happens to be in my class.
I spot one of the two other guys in the class, Pontus Malmberg.
Pontus is the cousin of Ragnar the Asshole, but their only similarity is their looks; they both have that blond, blue-eyed, Viking-Barbarian-leader-of-men look that some people associate Sweden with. With four new province-wide records in various sports, looks that affect anything female over the age of three and a dazzling smile that burns fiercer than some stars it would be easy to hate Pontus. If he wasn’t so damn nice all the time. He was nice ten years ago- giving kids his spot in the sandlot, his toys, and he hasn’t lost that yet. Hell, a month ago I saw him helping an old lady across the street. Fallowfell doesn’t have a church, but if we had one, he’d be the kind to attend Sunday prayer.
My reverie is abruptly interupted when an middle-aged woman marches out of Ochre. She ascends the podium with swift steps. There is a sharp screeching sound as she checks the mick. I close my eyes in desperation. I can tell you two things; I am starting to get really hungover, and this is going to be one loooong day….