15 February 2014

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9

"Where is Clare? What happened to her?" Martin is asking David in the hallway. After he'd removed the tack from his suit, he went back into the gym only to discover Clare's disappearance.

"They took her away," David goes. "I don't know where. And they also took Lucho away too, he tried to fight them off."

"Who? Who took her away?"

"I don't know.. two burly girls. I saw Gina announce about it on the stage – the Student Response Team!"

The fury spills out of Martin as he slams his fist onto a nearby locker. "God Damn It!" he goes. "I should never have left her alone out there! David, where'd they take her? Did you see!?"

David can only give a shrug.

The music continues to blare on from the gym, indifferent to Martin's growing despair. He paces around a few steps, trying to think of something, then the notion of calling Lucho comes to mind, and he pulls out his phone-

There's already a message from Lucho: Marty, they got Clare in trouble, and I have to wait by the mall until its over for you guys. I tried rescuing her, but they banned me from the rest of the dance.

So..

I think they took her to the council room (rm 414). You better do something Marty, because I don't think what they have in store for her is anything nice. Give me a call if you can.

It's been sent five minutes ago, with a missed call before that.

"Room 414! David!" Martin goes. "Clare might be there!" They make a jog down the vacant corridors while Martin dials up Lucho. "Pickup-pickup-pickup-"

"Marty-!" Lucho says. "You got my message?"

"I did; tell me what went on. Why'd Clare get in trouble?"

"Because they said she slipped a tack in your suit, and they responded for safety's sake. Ain't that something?"

"What the hell? Clare- someone did it, but it sure isn't Clare."

"It must have been one of those bruiser girls.." Lucho goes. "They framed her."

Martin and David round a corner of the hallway, approaching the foyer where a lone clown is sitting on one of the benches, watching a movie on his phone, balloon animals by his side as companions.

"Those bastardos.. got rid of me so they can get to Clare.." Martin deduces. "Madafackars!" He doesn't want to imagine all the possible torments they could unleash upon her. Or the terrible result – the angel of glass ripped apart into irreparable

shards.

That is why he has to run, the blood pumping inside him, desperation overwhelming. It's so different from when he's about to be late to movie showings, events. If he didn't make it then, he'd only feel frustration at most. It's okay, there'll be another time.

If he doesn't make it now, she'll be lost – forever.

"CLARE!" Her name escapes his lungs. "Where ARE YOU?"

The resting clown perks his head up, noticing the commotion. "Hey, slow down buddies! You don't want to trip on the floor, do ya?"

Martin halts. "But I have to find someone! Where is the student council room? Do you know where it is?"

"I'm just the visiting clown," the clown goes. "I don't know left from right at this school, besides the bathroom."

"They took Clare!" Martin screams. "She's going to die, and all because I left her- MALDITO HIJO DE LAS MIL PUTAS MUY GRANDES-" The burst of madness stabs him through, and he is sobbing already, collapsed onto his knees. He is vividly reliving that moment after they've beaten her over her lunch, except she is lying very still, like a doll, not even able to cry.

The clown gazes at the utterly defeated boy. "I- I remember now. Clare? I think I saw a bunch of people, and it looked like they were carrying someone. I thought- maybe they were celebrating something, I didn't really look. But I know for sure- they went thataway-"

The clown points down the west corridor. "I'm sure you'll find her." He gives a consoling smile.

"Let's go Martin." David pats him by the shoulder.

It's as though Hope herself has sent a renewed light to blow away that impending darkness. "Si, let's go!" With a grin coming over his face, he rises up, and drags David down along the hallways.

It feels like he is actually flying to her, his legs being carried by a supernatural force, and all the lockers go past him as he beats his own sprinting record.

Room 404.. 405..

Ahead, he spots two girls, running his way.

"Hey—" Martin skids to a halt. "Where's the student council room? Up ahead?"

But they just glance at him warily (for some reason), and they continue on running.

"Martin.." David says, "those are the girls who've taken Clare."

They watch the girls disappear along the corridor.

"They put that tack in me..!" Martin recalls in the gym when he'd asked, and he remembers their faces gazing back at him, never answering. Where are they running off to.. or what are they running from? He should've grabbed one of them while he had the chance.

His train of thought gets interrupted when he sees Clare stumble out of a room. She seems in a daze, her steps aimlessly staggering, her eyes looking very damned.

"Clare!" Martin starts to run towards her – yet something isn't right.

Were they running from her?

"Clare..!" He's just a few steps away when he realises she is scowling at him. "What's—"

"You betrayed my feelings!" she goes. "You say you're wanting to protect me, be my puppy guard, but in reality you just pity me! Like everyone else!"

"What did they do to you?" It's as though her core memories with him have been changed. "Did they brainwash you?"

"Non. I realised you are an absolute liar.. you don't like me, you pity me. You just feel sorry for me, and that's why you hung out with me. Am I one of those sorry people you see lying on the street? And you put your spare change by my lap? I.. I hate you! I don't need your fucking pity."

He feels like being stabbed in the chest. "No.. no! I care about you Clare – I don't want to see you suffer-"

"Suffer? To me, what's worse than suffering is that the only love I'm going to get is just to assuage your own guilt. Nothing real."

He is desperately searching for words, looking through his memories for anything that would show he is real. He knows he pitied her from the start – but wouldn't anyone? Is it so bad to feel pity, especially when.. he grew closer to her, he grew to know how she is really like? That someone he would want to hold by his chest, and never want to let go, and heal all her wounds with his whole heart. That pity which lead to love.

"Casse-toi, Martin."

Martin tries reaching for her – she reacts by pulling his wrist in and shoving him against the lockers.

"CASSE-TOI! I never want to see your goddamn face ever again!" She slams him hard in the nose, and as the pain jolts through him, the tears spill out his eyes as he hears her say, "Putain de merde!"

It is too much for him to take; he faints.

Clare glances at his sidekick. David.

"He really loves you Clare," he goes, like a weak, desperate pleading. "That is no lie."

She wonders what to say to him, then decides to brush David out of her way – running after the girls from the room so they can be just like that other Martin, dead on the floor, without any future. It is the least she can do, to take them with her into Hell.

Now where did they go..?

She rounds a corner where she sees a flicker of movement at the end of the hall – someone's head poking out, seeing her, and disappearing.

She lunges at the visage, a bull on a crash course towards the colour red.

The school hallways feel different somehow. Even though it's the same lockers, the same floor, lighting and promotional posters on the walls, it feels like she's running in a foreign country, whose indigenous population is hostile to her being.

She comes to a T-section, where she has to decipher whether to head left or right. That head was peeking out from the left corner, so left.

Left.

Back into the main foyer.

Along the way, she notices her reflection on a mirror hung beside the Fashion Studies room. A mirror that distorts herself to look so bloated. It's supposed to beg a message regarding anorexics and those who think they are too overweight to be beautiful.

Here, she sees her face as if for a first time – the face of an utter and absolute nothing. Not because of weight, but because she is herself.

The one person I hate the most.. is MYSELF!

She rams her fist into the mirror, shattering it into a spider's fracture, and the mirror frame clatters onto the floor, leaving her knuckles and fingers bleeding with petite shards.

It stings, but not so much compared with the hurting of her heart.

In the foyer, she notices a clown sitting on the benches, busy talking a friend over the phone.

"Yeah, yeah- wait, hold on a minute," the clown goes, glancing at her. "Something's up." He stands up, striding towards her. "You.. you're Clare, aren't you?"

"What?"

"Whoa.. your dress.. your hand's bleedin'.. um, I saw those girls running down that way-" He points down the direction to the cafeteria. "Did they do this to you? You'd better get-"

Before he could finish, Clare runs off where he's pointed.

"Hey, kick their asses hard for me!" she hears him say.

At the cafeteria, the nerds seem to have been drawn in a very heated debate about an unfair character mechanic in their card game. Seeing past them, Clare finds Gina and her gathered goonies by the brownie stand. They've been waiting for her to come – each of them take a posed stance.

"So.. Clare!" Gina goes, grinning confidently. "Nice of you to join us, eh?"

The nerds start to give attention to the unfolding scene, pausing their discussion.

"You talking to me, Gina..?" Clare says with gritted teeth. "You talkin' to me? I'm the only one standing here.." This is what Travis Bickle must have envisioned when he was talking to himself in the mirror, preparing for the ultimate confrontation.

"This is where you'll end, Clare," Gina goes. "It is about time that we remove the stain that is your presence. Any last words, Clare?"

Clare evaluates the contained faces before her – always, they have always taken delight whenever she suffers under their hands. Whether it is for mocking her bad grades, doing terrible in group assignments (that one time when she had to work with them), or whether it is for being ignoble in the classroom frivolities, saying things out of line from everyone else, missing the standard beats everyone is drumming to.

".. those long.." she mutters, the words choking up in her throat, maybe they won't even listen.

"I'm sorry?"

".. these long years, I've had to endure assault after assault over my dignity. But no longer. If this were a faery tale, I'd be the witch, scorned and condemned by all until kingdom come. But you.. and you.. and you, each and every one of you is a MONSTER! AND I'LL FUCK YOU ALL TO DEATH!"

And Clare throws herself upon Gina – they collide hard upon the brownie table, the brownies flying into the air, the table tumbling over onto its side.

When they land, Clare attempts to decimate Gina's face (because she has her body pinned down) – landing her knuckles just by her nose, and some of the embedded mirror shards get stuck on Gina's cheeks.

Gina is screeching, and tries pawing Clare away. She pokes at Clare's eyeballs.

"Agghh-!"

Clare winces. This gives Gina's goons enough of an opening to take Clare off of her – they haul her down on a nearby table, where they hold her down, landing blows on Clare's abdomen, one after another, each punch pushing her to the verge of vomiting.

Gina is cradling her cheeks while she observes the beatdown, a little hurt yet satisfied.

After fruitlessly wiggling her legs around in the air, Clare finally connects a kick that sends one of them crashing away, and with her left arm free, she bonks the other guy on the chin.

She rolls off the tabletop, away from them; quickly gets back onto her feet – poising to strike.

The nerds are avidly watching the battle, most of them paralysed and sweating on their seats, as if it were Ginga IV again in a seemingly hopeless siege from the Titans, now playing in a theatre near you. One of them doesn't even bat an eye as he reaches for the nearby bag of chips.

Clare scans the cafeteria, looking for anything that could resemble a weapon in her grasp. She'd managed to take down Gina only out of surprise – they weren't expecting that sudden leap – but now that they are very ready for anything she could do, fighting them head-on would actually be suicide.

Her heart is trembling, her skin shimmers heat. It is the first time she's ever actually fought those bums, and the only experience she has is just from watching movies and games.

At the far end, there are stacks of folded metal chairs.

She sprints towards the chairs, clambering over the tables, narrowly avoiding being tripped by a goon.

"That's right, run you pussy-cat!" the goon shouts.

Once Clare reaches the chairs, she grabs one off a stack, and the goonsters start to act more warily.

"Oo-kay, calm down Clare," they say. "Go easy.."

She lunges at one of them closeby, Janice – an overhead swing that bashes the chair against her head, and the result is like a puppet whose strings are abruptly severed. Good.

The other goons are visibly unnerved by the sight. Of Clare learning to smile upon crippling another. Janice's eyes are still half-open, you could see her green irises that are unfocused.

Clare raises the chair above her, very willing to take another swing. They flinch away. Now they're beginning to feel afraid.

Before civilised law was invented, life ran under the dictum of strength and cunning. The ones who couldn't forage it out for themselves were eliminated. And because humanity has learned to wield weapons against their enemies, humanity has thus florished and spread across the Earth. The beast who wields intelligence to its aggression.

And what is morality? That silly conscience which acts like a straitjacket, so that one human being does not come to harm another. To ensure the survival of the species, with all the contradictions of their imperfect mixture of intellect and instinct.

But what if it conflicts with the survival of the individual? All those things like love and nourishment and connection – the things you'd take for granted when you see your friends, your family, your love.. if you are outside of society, then it does not matter. It is as irrelevant as garnering Facebook likes or rising to Challenger league when you are starving out of hunger.

Thus, it is her absolute natural right to terminate their lives, those people who would threaten her and mock her to a state of meaninglessness.

Who knows, maybe she is like a mutated cell in a living body. Oui.

"I will kill you," she says. Put out all notions of ever getting genuine love – they are outdated! As outdated as kid's toys!

(why does it hurt so badly inside?)

One of the goons attempts to grab a chair too, so to fight with Clare on equal footing. She quickly lowers her own chair to chest level, and side-swipes the goon, cracking his ribs. He feebly writhes on the floor, coughing, moaning.

A funny note: it's so easy to destroy, compared with creating. It takes months to write a novel, words into sentences into paragraphs, or many years to nurture and help a person grow. It can take just mere seconds to wipe both away.

Another goon leaps onto Clare, sending her crashing against the chair stacks. While Clare is down, the goon stomps down on her elbow, almost dislocating the joint-

it hurts

"Give it up Clare," the goon goes, rubbing her foot in on her elbow. "You couldn't see yourself clearly to begin with, but now you're just being arrogant. You say you want to 'kill us to death,' but you've neither the strength nor competency enough to accomplish that." She kneels down and pins Clare's head against the floor.

"Give her hell, Pam!" the other downed goon says.

"Look at you.. Clare." The goon is whispering into her ear. "You sad, sad freak, trying to outst the good people of this school."

Clare struggles against the goon's pressure, her one working arm scrambling around like a desperate snake. The goon just kneels down harder on her back. It's getting hard to breathe.

"You think you can spit on us all and not expect any consequences? You know Clare, I personally think you're really deluded, quite messed up in the head. I'll eagerly await when the orderlies come and they take you away for good, and then you'll never be able to escape that padded cell. Never. You weak little sister."

Clare is trembling at what she is hearing. A million colliding thoughts are igniting behind her eyes, all wanting that goon to shut up for good.

The way her head is held down, she isn't able to see what her arm is reaching for. Her fingers touch something though – it's a mechanical pencil.

Clare reaches back, jams the pencil's lead into the goon (somewhere) – she hears a pained scream, and there's relief from the goon's knee.

Have to get back up..

She pulls herself up on her good arm, and sees that the goon has just managed to pull out the pencil from her neck. It's not a major wound. Clare punches her in the mouth, and kicks her body back so that she topples over onto the lying goon ("Oof!").

And then Clare turns towards Gina, with just two goons left beside her. They look at each other, the same idea popping into their heads.She's unstoppable!

They bolt away, down to the other hallway connected to the cafeteria.

Clare runs after them.

~

Awareness. The feeling of having blacked out, and gradually, the state of awareness returns to you until you realise you haven't been awake.

Gee, this bed is really hard..

Martin opens his eyes and sees once more the school hallways, with David leaning beside him. He wonders for a brief second what has happened. The sudden impact on his nose. "Casse-toi!" Those words from a vengeful Clare.

He feels a band-aid that's been put on his nose.

"Martin!" David helps him back up. "Are you feeling alright?"

"Yea.. yeah.. I just need a moment to think.. is there water around?"

David hands Martin a fresh bottle of Pepsi, which he avidly opens and gulps down a third of its sizzling contents. Pepsi and Coke – the kinds of drinks you'd want to consume for drowsiness or a hangover.

"Clare hates me," Martin goes, ruminating to himself. "Damnit, she really hates me.."

"Things aren't always as they seem.." David goes. "She does not hate you Martin. When you are under a sufficient degree of stress, it can turn even the best memories against you. Those people have really hurt her in that room, and you know, she's been bullied for a long time. She never had anyone to trust, to connect with, before meeting you."

"Things are exactly as they seem," Martin says, his eyes tearing, drained. "There's no way.. no way that they could ever make her hate me like that. If she actually loved me.. she thought I pitied her, and I did David. I did pity her – even though I wanted to make her life better. Look what I've done."

"You've given her hope; she never ever had that before. That's why she is hurting.. and she pushed you away, because she did love you. Deep down inside, she still does." David lays a hand on Martin's shoulder. "I may not know much about anything, but she loves you. I know it. I know she loves you."

For some reason, this tears at Martin especially, striking a raw nerve inside him. There just seems no reason to even try anymore, and it seems better to just forget about it. Forget about her, everything about her, the good moments. Just let everything go.

But some part of him still vividly remembers the tenderness, the experience of love, the angel he's seen, and that part is screaming at the top of its lungs, wrenching him into stirring.

He can't..

It is a very faint yet tangible hope. A dim candle in the distance. The light of which will burn out for good.

"CLAARRE!"

And then his eyes widen, and he sees the hallways as if for a first time, like a clear path towards the edges of Eternity.t

June 2017

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