mmm. i touched up the first chap a bit. it's still terrible, but not as terrible as it used to be. eep. it's weird to think that this whole fic stemmed from a ficathon challenge...


Challenge #16:
Genre: Romance/angst.
Rating: T.
Likes: Complicated characters - their past is what makes them be the person they are in the present.
Dislikes: Amazing, beautiful girls, or perfection, coffee addicts and sex.
Words/phrases to use: "You discount all I loved so easily."; "Where is the button that leads to happiness?"; "Stability is overrated."





Lightning Tree


Trees shot past me. Their leaves ––scarlet and deep, rich reds scattered, danced, beneath the light breeze.

I hated it.

"They're so pretty," cooed Lauren.

I shuffled in my seat.

My mother continued to drive. "What is?"

"The leaves ––so colourful."

I pressed my fingers against the glass and gazed out once again. Before my eyes they fell, crumbled, tinged black. Darkness crept over the trunk, gliding over bark and painting it a stark ebony. A bolt of lightning ripped through the sky and cut a jagged line through the centre; blood pooled out, trickling down the bark and sank into its roots and then, when the ground had drank to its fill, it congealed and set over the bottom of the trunk in a pool of red.


"It would look prettier dead," I remarked. My fingers itched for some charcoal.

I didn't see my mother's expression. She laughed. "That's the first time I've heard that one."

It was her way of turning what she didn't like into a joke.

I leaned back and tugged at my seatbelt. If I looked out the window, the picture would probably fade from mind, and then I'd be unable to draw it when I finally gained the chance. I hated it when I did that.

Lauren's voice rang through the silence. "Si, we're there!" How she could be so chipper, I couldn't understand. Wasn't it meant to be the other way round? But nervousness swelled in my gut and I felt queasy; I didn't want to leave the car, so I shrank back into my seat.

Lauren pushed open her door and stepped out; a rush of cold, icy air swept in. She was sat in the passenger seat. My mother followed and shut her door. I was the only one left and they were watching me expectantly.

"Siobhan, hurry up." Mum's voice sounded annoyed. I hated her mood swings.

"I'm undoing the seatbelt."

I forced my legs to move and stepped out of the car, slamming the door shut behind me. I scuffed my feet over tarmac, then let my gaze rest on the building before me. A grey path led to the entrance, its sides lined with rows of plush, red roses. The doorway was high, arched. I let my gaze rise. I had seen the building before when we had come to have a look around, so its grandeur served as no surprise to me; tall, elegant and coveted in a thick layer of brown with hundreds of arched windows supported by carved frames. The architecture was old, gothic. The building had once been the home of a rich family but now it was merely a school. A boarding school.

I cocked my head to the side and stepped back, peering at one of the windows and trying to see through the heavy glass. It was far too thick. I frowned.

We made our way to the front door and Lauren rang the bell. We waited. It was slid open after a few moments, gently. A lady stood in the doorway. I recognised her as the one who had conducted our tour earlier on in the year.

"You're here!" she exclaimed.

She shook hands with mum and Lauren, then cast her gaze nearer to the back where I stood.

"Come on, Siobhan. We've got a lot to get through on your first day," she piped.

I glanced back at the car. "My stuff ––"

"I'll send someone down straight away."

I nodded and hugged Lauren.

"Good luck," she whispered.

I smiled. "Thanks." I cast my gaze towards my mum.

She smiled lightly, then cocked her head to the side. Our eyes met; there was a brief moment of understanding. Or something else? I wasn't quite sure. When it came to my mother, I was never quite sure.

"You'll be fine," was all she said. There wasn't any room to say anything else. She didn't have the position for that.

I bit my lip and nodded, then followed the teacher, Mrs. Davies, into the building. Behind me, the door closed with a clang. The sound echoed for a moment, almost haunting in its audibility. I followed her across the hallway and down a corridor. The direction was that of the Headmaster's office; I recognised the way.

Rows of paintings screamed out at me. They lined the walls; reds and blacks, blues and purples, pastels and paints ––my hands itched to draw, the picture from earlier on still visible in my mind. I couldn't wait to go up to my room and be given all of my stuff.

Upon reaching the Headmaster's office, Mrs Davies opened the door. Slightly nervous, apprehensive even, I entered.


The first thing I noticed was red ––a red carpet, a few red sofas in the corner and pale, crimson walls. They reminded me of blood and I quickly pushed the thought to the back of mind. Though lights hung from the ceiling, they were turned off and the room was bathed in firelight. A fireplace lay in the corner, flames flickering over a pile of coal, tearing at its flesh and stretching out towards the white marble above. A few ornaments lay upon the chimney piece, which was formed from layers of pristine, white marble.

I cast my gaze towards the end of the room where a table sat, neatly; a tall, thin, dark haired man was seated upon a chair behind it. His smile was genial, welcoming, yet not overly so. He looked a bit worn, tired, but in such a way that it was only noticeable if you looked up close. There was an authority to him that instantly set me on edge.

"Siobhan Winters?" He didn't wait for an answer but turned to Mrs. Davies. "And her timetable is sorted?"

An abrupt nod. "Yes."

"You may leave. I'll handle it from here." He stood up and pushed his seat behind him. Mrs Davies left. His gaze fell to me. "I shall find your timetable, then send someone down to escort you to your lessons and act as a guide."

Without waiting for a reply, he immediately left. Once again I was washed with that feeling of unease ––nervousness. Was I meant to take a seat on one of the sofas, or just stand there and wait? Would he think it impolite if I sat down, or was that what I was meant to do? At the back of my mind, it irritated me that he hadn't said anything.

My legs felt wobbly.

Deciding to distract myself, because that was the only way to get your mind off of something that directly bothered you; or, at least, that's what I thought; I surveyed the room more thoroughly. My gaze instantly fell to something that I hadn't noticed before ––a painting in the corner, obscured by shadows. Instantly curious, I made my way towards it and looked closer. It was colourful, yet in a soft chalky sort of way unlike that of which Lauren preferred. Lauren liked it when they were bright, colourful, and beaming with life. Personally, I wasn't all too fond of pale pictures but this one was pretty.

A woman was sat in a field, perched on an outcrop of rock. Her legs were folded, shrouded in a pale, yellow dress. Dark chestnut curls tumbled down to her shoulders and her lithe, gloved hands rested in her lap, amidst the layers of yellow. She was pretty but not overly so; her eyes were green, the colour barely visible beneath the shadows.

I tugged at my hair, tracing every pencil line with my eyes and ripping it apart beneath my gaze. There was chalk, as I had discerned earlier, yet at the same time the artist had used some sort of pastel and a faint tinge of water colour for the backdrop ––a faded sunset. It was a strange choice of media.

I heard the door open and I quickly turned around, backing away from the painting. The Headmaster re-entered, accompanied by a girl who looked to be about my age.

"Alice will escort you to your lessons and show you your room as well as acting as your guide until you get settled in," he supplied. Did he breathe at all when he said that sentence?

I nodded, not wanting to stay in there any longer; the room just felt so awkward. Alice led me down the corridor. The first thing I noticed was her hair, a rich, chocolate brown. I loved dark hair. She smiled at me and her rosy cheeks lit up. I noticed she was slightly chubby, though not what I'd class as fat.

"Your name's Siobhan, right?"

It was a conversation starter. I hated conversation starters. "Yeah. Alice, right?"

Alice nodded. We began to make our way up a flight of steps. "You'll probably like it here. It's a pretty cool school. I mean, like, at the start it can be scary but you get used to it."

I didn't like letting conversations die. "What lesson are we going to?"

She sighed. "Maths."

I groaned.


"And what are you guys doing?"

Alice grimaced. "Surds."

"In my old school," I piped. "We called them turds."

She laughed. "I think it's a universal thing. We do, too."

I smiled at that, wanting to seem as genial as possible ––the best way to make friends was to appear as nice as possible.

We reached the classroom and she knocked on the door, then pushed it open warily. All gazes fell on me. I shuffled my feet, and began to tug on my hair. Alice made her way to the teacher and whispered something to him. Everyone watched me and heat crept up the back of my neck.

The teacher cast his gaze towards me and offered a smile, then stood up. "We'll have to find you a seat, Siobhan."

A few people broke out in whispers, then they died down. I caught some of the words. "She has such pretty hair," someone cooed. I was sure it was a girl.

I continued tugging.

"Can't she sit by me?" asked Alice. I hoped he'd say yes.

He shook his head. The unease returned. "She can sit by Jason because the seat's empty." He turned to me. "You don't mind, do you, Siobhan? School policy says boy-girl seating."

It was one of those questions which you weren't allowed to say no to. "I'm okay."

He pointed out the seat and I made my way towards it, my bag swinging in my hands. I slumped down in the seat and pulled my hair over the back of it, so I wasn't leaning on it. My gaze fell over Jason. His hair was dark, though it was lighter than mine, and he was bent over his work.

Once the lesson was back in order, the teacher made his way towards me and handed me two books, then explained all of the basics to me and what I had to do.

"Jason can explain it all to you properly," he stated.

"Okay." He left. I pulled out my pen and turned my attention to Jason, then smiled. "Hi," I supplied.

He looked up and I had to remind myself to breathe. His eyes were green, a stark, clear green which seemed slightly faded beneath the onslaught of light. They were almost feral. Never before had I seem such pretty eyes…

"Hey." He leaned back in his seat and regarded me critically, tapping his pen against the edge of the seat.

I creased my brows, unnerved by his gaze. "What?"

"Why is your hair so long?" He stopped tapping and put the pen down.

I blinked. "Because I grew it."

Jason raised an eyebrow. "You don't have to be so bitchy about it."

Did I come off as bitchy? "I'm not ––"

"Do you need any help?" He peered at the text book, then back at me.

I shrugged. "I've done surds ––"


I let off a grin. "We called them that in my old school."

He picked up his pen again and began to twirl it around on the desk. "Yeah."

The awkwardness returned. He broke the silence. "So, do you ––"

"I'll get through fine," I replied.

He nodded mildly. "Okay." Though the cutting off of his words seemed to have irritated him. Or maybe I was just reading into it too much?


Jason creased his forehead. "For what?"

"For offering to help," I replied, watching him, slightly amused.

Confusion touched his features. "Why are you smiling?"

"Is it a crime to smile?"

He shrugged, obviously bored. "I'll do my work now."

Silence descended. I let my gaze fall onto the clock.

"What time does this lesson end?"

He followed my gaze, then grinned. "In ––" He began to count down on his fingers "–– three, two, one." A bell rang, chiming through the room. "Now." He cocked his head to the side.

"You're so accurate…"

Jason raised an eyebrow, then replied, "I know, yeah."

Everyone began shuffling out of their seats and throwing their books into their bags. I followed suit and zipped up my bag. Alice came to meet me and I turned to say goodbye, but he had gone. I shrugged, my attention refocusing on her.

"It's dinner time. We can eat before curfew," she stated. It was the last lesson of the day. "I'll show you the canteen."

I wanted to go to my room and draw; the picture was fading from my mind and for some reason I felt unbearably tired.

"I'm not hungry," I easily replied. "Can you show me my room?"

"You don't have to eat or anything. You can just meet ––"

I cut her off. "If you're hungry, you can just show me the way and go ahead."

She blinked. "It's not that." She looked hurt.

She had misunderstood me. Now I felt dumb. "I didn't mean ––"

Alice let off a light smile. The hurt was only there for a moment, then it seemed to pass. "I'll show you to your room, and I'll meet you afterwards."

I wanted to apologise, but she seemed to have buried it. If she had buried it, it was best if I followed suit.


We made our way down the corridor and she led me through a number of places. I took care to note everywhere we went. The school was big and it would be easy for me to get lost. We reached my room; my things had been brought up.

It was a pretty room, not too big and not too small. Exactly how I liked it. A large window stood at the far end, draped in thick, red velvet curtains, just as I had requested.

I went in and she lingered in the doorway, obviously considering what she should say. "My room's next door and we'll be in the canteen till the bell rings."

I nodded. "Okay."

She left and I closed the door, then unpacked my cases. After unpacking I lay down and the bed creaked under my weight. My eyes fell to the ceiling, that queasy feeling still pitted at the bottom of my stomach.

Something grumbled and I sat up to check the clock. There was still some time left for dinner and I was a bit hungry ––the last time I had eaten had been lunch time. A pang of guilt reverberated through my chest; I should have taken Alice up on her offer? I had a feeling I'd come off as dismissive; not a wise thing to do when I was so new.

The picture would have to wait. Right now I was too tired and too hungry to draw. Upon stepping into the corridor, I heard voices arguing. Instinct kept me pinned to the wall. Snippets of their conversation reached my ears.

"Not enough girls ––"

"––but the Headmaster said ––"

"He says but he doesn't do." It was the Maths teacher. His voice rang clear. They obviously thought that no-one was about. "What are we supposed to say to the parents?"

They were turning the corner. I couldn't go back into my room, seeing as they would hear my door close. I looked about for escape.

The other voice cut in. "Surely we can ––"

She cut herself off, abruptly, upon spotting me. This teacher was young, young and pretty. Her hair was blonde, her face heart shaped and lightly tanned.

She was looking at me sourly, as if she were sucking on a lemon. "Why aren't you in the canteen or outside?"

"I was in my room."

The Maths teacher interrupted. "She's new, so she probably doesn't understand the rules yet."

She didn't look satisfied but let it pass. "Get down to the canteen now, then."

I creased my forehead. "I'm new," I reiterated. "I don't know the way."

She didn't catch the cheekiness.

"Where's Alice?" asked the Maths teacher.

"The canteen."

"She shouldn't have left you alone."

I didn't want to give Alice a reason not to like me. "I told her to," I said quickly. It was the truth.

He peered at his watch. The other teacher kept her arms folded, watching me through wisps of blonde hair. "There's not much time now, anyway. Everyone'll be coming back to their rooms in a few minutes."

I backed away. Was that a hint? "I'll go back to my room, then."

The blonde teacher looked put off. "What's your name?" she asked. There was nothing friendly about her inquiry.

"Siobhan Winters."

It was as if she mentally embedded the name in her mind. A nod, and then she continued down the corridor, Maths teacher in tow. For a few moments, I remained beside the door. My eyes then cut across the corridor. I wasn't sure when Alice would come back and it would probably be curfew by the time she did.

Deciding to take the initiative, I made down the corridor in the way that Alice and I had first arrived. Maybe if I found someone, they'd show me the way. Suddenly, I heard heavy panting. A boy was walking down the opposite direction to me. The first thing that I noticed was his size. He was fat, about three times my width and twice my height.

I suddenly felt nervous. How was I meant to stop him and ask? I shuffled my feet, my stomach clenching. I couldn't let my voice fail me. "Excuse me…"

My voice was feeble but he caught it. He turned. "What?" There was no malice in his tone. I felt calmer.

"I'm new," I began. "Could you show me the way to the canteen?"

He peered over his shoulder. "It's down this corridor. You just have to go straight. Then you reach some stairs and you go down them. The rest is pretty self explanatory." His voice was heavy and came out in a slight drawl but he seemed nice overall.

"Thanks." I walked on and followed his directions, a warm fuzzy feeling residing in my chest. It felt good when people helped me. It renewed my dwindling faith in the human race.

Finally, I reached the canteen.

I entered and felt hundreds of eyes bore into my flesh, assess me, then resume with their eating. I ignored them, though my legs felt slightly shaky. My eyes ran over the crowds of people, then fell to Alice. I reached her table and she looked up as I joined them.

A cheerful grin. "Decided you're hungry?"

I pulled out a seat and sat down, crossing my legs. "Yeah."

"It's good you came," she carried on. She indicated the other occupants of the table. "I can introduce you to everyone."

Three girls sat at the table, one eying me critically, one with placidity and the other smiling. The first was slim and rather tall with shoulder length white-blonde hair and big, green eyes; the second was shorter and slightly chubby with curly mousey hair and the third ––the one who was smiling –– was skinny with long dark brown hair which fell to the middle of her back.

Alice indicated the blonde. "This is Lani." She offered me a light smile, nothing too welcoming but not shunning either. She was intensely pretty and I immediately felt a bit nervous around her.

The second girl intervened. "I'm Jenny." She resumed eating, her expression still placid.

Alice continued. "And this is Rachel." I liked Rachel. She smiled prettily.

"Hi," she chirped.

"I'm Siobhan," I supplied, smiling back.

They all nodded. An awkward silence ensued.

Alice stood up. "I'll go get you something to eat. You can get introduced to everyone meanwhile."

She left. I shifted in my seat and both Rachel and Lani watched me, waiting for someone to speak. Jenny carried on eating, oblivious. An awkward silence reigned. Though I hated silences, I knew that they always came before starting a new relationship. And that's what this school was for, to make a fresh start and leave the past behind me. I had to make friends, good friends.

"Um, hi," I repeated, hoping it would trigger off something.

Rachel laughed and saluted. "Aloha."

Lani and Jenny smiled.

"Haven't we already been past this point?" asked Lani. Her tone was sarcastic, but not in a condescending way ––it was as if it were her normal way of talking.

I swung my legs beneath the table. "You have to start the conversation somewhere."

"You do," answered Rachel. "But 'hi' is way too common. And we're posh people."

"And do you have any suggestions on how I may rectify my error in speech, Miss Rachel?" I piped.

Rachel seemed to feign concentration. "Well…"

"We could always punish you," Lani joked. "Commoners should not be dealt with lightly."

The conversation was still awkward, gritty, and half of what we said sounded like ill attempts at humour. But I had to keep it going. It was always gritty at the start and slowly, if I tried hard enough, it would become more natural.

"And how do you propose to do that?" I asked.

"We could slap you," replied Rachel. "With a wet salmon."

I gasped and held my hand to my heart. "Not the salmon. Anything but the salmon."

We laughed.

Lani prodded her mashed potato. "O-kay," she said, her voice dry. She pretended to back away.

We both grinned.

"Don't worry, dear. The salmon loves you," I supplied.

Rachel shook her head. "You don't understand. Lani loves the tuna."

I raised my eyebrows. "So she's cheating on the salmon with the tuna? That's…devilish."

Lani opened her mouth to reply. Rachel cut her off. "She eats him every-single-day."

I gasped. "And the truth is out."

Lani furrowed her brows, then sighed. "As if one Rachel wasn't enough."

I laughed. Alice returned and gave me some food.


She nodded in reply.

The rest of our time in the canteen was taken up with me eating and partly listening to their conversation. Alice was the more normal one; Rachel was bouncy; Lani was sarcastic and Jenny was more reserved. They made an interesting combination.

After eating we went to our rooms. They were all planning to hang out in Jenny's room until the teachers came and they invited me but I declined. I didn't know Jenny well enough yet and I felt as if it were too early for me to be crossing the boundaries ––it would be as if I were throwing myself at them and I might have appeared too clingy.

Upon entering my room, I summoned the picture back into my mind: the black tree, the lightning bolt and the blood. I rummaged through my stuff for my charcoals and oil pastels, then I set everything up before the window.

I drew the curtains. The sun was setting, a pale red disk surrounded by a faint tinge of orange. I could see hundreds of trees for miles and miles ahead and at the end a large mountain, silhouetted in the distance. It looked red and shadowed beneath the wavering light. The view was beautiful.

First I undid the latch, opened the window, and chill, autumn air wafted in, coating the room in ice. A slight shiver caught my form and I looked to the paper, then lifted my pencil.

A harsh scream echoed across the landscape.