Authors Note: You guys might find this chapter a little weird but just remember that Mariah is twelve years old and unused to all the stuff that most of us might find normal, like swearing. Otherwise, feel free to comment!
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Mariah gulped fearfully as the creaky door of the old shed swung closed and gazed around at the white faces leering at her. Ciggarette smoke crowded the air and beer cans and flicked ash stained the floor. Gina was leaning casually near a window when Mariah entered, but now, she advanced slowly. Eyeing her suspiciously, her mouth pinched and she said disapprovingly,
The whole room became silent as Mariah answered.
"I-I had to go to the toilets." She stammered in reply, avoiding her eyes.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep." She nodded vigorously.
"Next time, make sure you get here on time. I can't go chasing you around. You're smaller than us, therefore you're meant to listen to us, got it?"
Relaxing, Gina smiled and led her to one of the upturned buckets.
"Here, sit down and we'll start lesson number two." Folding her sleeves up, she cracked open a window and got herself a bucket too to sit on. Rubbing her hands, she said,
"The smoking lesson's been cancelled. I can't be bothered to teach you that right now, especially if you haven't got the right manners. Instead, we'll talk about respect." Pausing, she took a piece of folded paper from her jeans pocket and passed it to Mariah, who took it curiously. Opening it with trembling hands, she saw a list of swear words. Blushing as she skimmed over them, she felt the heat rise in her cheeks as each word invaded her brain. Unused as she was to the harsh words, she dared not utter a word as she looked back at Gina enquiringly.
Gina had meanwhile acquired a ciggarette and was taking long drags as she observed Mariah. She despised the childlike innocence of Mariah and the naive way the smaller girl acted. She felt like she was doing her a favour, teaching her the rules of survival. After all, Gina had been taught in a similiar way when she was ten. Although she had despised her "teachers" at the time, she felt sure that without them she couldn't have made it so far. Coughing, she rasped,
"Look, ya' know how the teachers tell you to learn some vocab and then test you on it next lesson?...well, this is your homework. I want you to learn each word for next Friday and at least five definitions. But there's something you can't do...and if you disobey then you'll be punished...severely. You listening?" She eyed the pale girl before continuing, "I don't want you to ask your parents or any other person. Come to think of it, don't tell a soul. Got it?" Mariah nodded. "You tell anyone, then you won't know what'll happen and just to make sure you don't go spilling the beans, you'll go through the blood ritual."
The silence in the shed was absolute as Gina took out a small blade from her pocket, and grabbing Mariah's thin wrist in her hand, she explained,
"All of us did this. It's what you do to be part of us along with some other little tests, but you can worry about them later. All I'm gonna do is just swipe your wrist so blood comes, and I'll do the same with mine, then we just shake and you're part of us. Won't hurt a bit. All you'll feel is a little prick like when the Nurse puts an injection in your arm. You can close your eyes if you want to." She added while a few patronising chuckles went around.
Quickly, before Mariah could wrench her arm free in protest, Gina swiftly sliced across her wrist and little gobs of blood peeked out. Mariah gasped. It was just like a prick but after a while, the area around the cut began to get numb. Gina sliced her own wrist too and Mariah noticed scars from before etched deeply into her skin. They looked grotesque. She felt like being sick but terrified and intimidated as she was, she just recoiled as they shook hands and Gina said happily,
"And now, you're one of us."
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"Okay, you're bound by blood to us all now so that means you don't go telling tales and you keep everything we do a secret.On a lighter note, tell us about yourself. You got any friends?" She asked kindly.
Mariah relaxed slightly and forgot about her cut for a while as she replied.
"Yeah, I got a friend-" she paused and bit her lip as she wondered if Emily was still her friend.
"What'sa matter?" asked a girl with orange coloured hair.
"I-I'm not sure if she's my friend anymore." She said tearfully.
A smile tugged at Gina's lips while the others roared with laughter. Blushing, Mariah ducked her head and looked out the window. Someone shouted "Boohoo!" and the chuckles started again. Trying to appear like her saviour, Gina straightened her face and shouted,
"Shut up guys! Can't you see the poor girl's upset?" Everyone quietened though no effort was made to hide the smiles. Mariah gazed at Gina gratefully and encouraged went on in a brighter tone,
"Well, I do have another friend. His name's Dave."
"Ooo...is he your boyfriend?" asked a girl called Terry eagerly.
"Boyfriend?" Mariah repeated dubiously, not because she didn't know the meaning but because she wasn't sure she heard right.
"Yeah...you know, the guy you love and screw, and the one always there for you." She said in a sing-songy voice. Mariah looked horrified. Shaking her head, she protested,
"God! No way! He's my friend."
"Uh-huh...so tell us more about him. What colour eyes...hair...face?"
Before Mariah could reply however, Gina's mobile rang and taking it out she rolled her eyes when she saw the number. Loudly she said,
"Okay, you guys, don't make a sound. It's my mum. You better not say a word 'cuz I'm meant to be in a library studying. Okay?" Pressing the button, she held the phone to her ear and said in a voice devoid of her natural drawl,
"Hi mom...yeah, I'm at the library, got tons to get through...what?...No way!...But I only just got started!...Oh flip, why the hell do they have to come?...'Flip' isn't a swear!...okay, okay...I'll be home in ten minutes...yeah, ok...fine, see ya." Flipping the lid closed she said sulkily,
"Gotta go home...we got some bastards from god-knows-where coming to visit and I have to be home to help play happy family. You guys better head home too, unless you wanna go for coffee at 'All Night.'"
"Yeah...let's go. It sucks that you can't come with us, but we'll meet up with ya tomorrow." The others began to pick up their belongings and slouch out the shed murmering their sympathies and encouragement for Gina to 'face the music'. Mariah stood in one corner, unnoticed, and feeling relieved that everyone was leaving. The shed had grown quite cold and she shivered in her thin jacket and clutched her wrist tenderly, waiting for everyone to leave.
Gina said goodbye then turned around to pick up her belongings before remembering Mariah was there. Looking at her she said,
"Well kiddo, you best go home before you mommy starts a-worryin'. This place reeks," she pinched her nose, "we'll find another place soon. Keep a lookout for a hidey hole and you'll be given credit. Just remember that you'll have to go through some little tests to be truly trusted but if you do little things, like finding us a better hidey hole for example, then we won't really have to choose that many." Stepping forward, she pinched Mariah's cheek slightly and said softly in her smokey breath, "I know you're frightened, but we ain't gonna do anything to ya...just teach you a coupla things that every kid should know...and before you know it, you'll truly be one of us. Just remember that you're part of our gang now and that as long as you don't go snitching and spilling the beans, you're safe."
Nodding, she led the way out and they walked stealthily across the darkened playground towards the gates, but when they got there, Mariah felt her stomach clench noticing that it was locked. She turned to Gina, wondering if they'd be stuck there until next morning, but Gina didn't blink an eye as she climbed it and jumped over. Although she didn't like her much, Mariah had to admire the slender and graceful way she moved. Following her lead, she scrambled over and they parted at the main road.
Turning around, Mariah put up her hood and walked home, staying in the light as much as she could. She dreaded to think what her mother would say when she got home. After all, arriving late in the evening, shivering and soaked was not going to make her happy.