"It was suddenly quiet."

She strode through the doors, a malicious smirk on her face as other children parted before her. She was ruler here. Each door she came to she smashed open with a well-placed kick; the doors still bore the imprints of previous encounters. She had no compassion for the living and inanimate alike: she was vicious.

Still, soon the scuffed floors in the labyrinth of hallways she knew so well came to an end: she'd arrived. She collected herself, breathing deeply, as if the air was of the purest of mountain breezes. She was ready.

Abruptly her face took on a flow of innocence, her manner more hesitant. She opened the door; it creaked. Nervous, she stepped through what looked to her as the gaping jaws of hungry predator. These people were bigger than her. Better.

She stepped forward, taking tiny shuffles into the gloomy room.

"H-hello?" she stuttered, her cavalier attitude truly gone and her voice giving out under the tension of silence.

The door she'd come through closed slowly. It creaked hauntingly until it rested in its frame. A man crept out from where he'd been hiding, behind the door, waiting. She was expected.

Like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, the man, with a fluid movement of his wrist, brought out an envelope from behind his back. It was sealed shut against curious eyes. Impenetrable.

"F-for me?" the girl was terrified, the whites of her eyes contrasting starkly with the darkness.

The man nodded, his face grim. The girl thought it a bad idea to speak again. Her voice echoed around the room, filling the suffocating silence, defiling it.

Smiling weakly, she waited, wondering what came next, what would happen. As if on command, the man pointed towards the door. His somehow imposing, threatening, finger signalled her to leave. She left.

Out the door and down the hallways she swept, hasty. Shiftily she looked either side of her as she sped along, suspicious. Spooked. Those who dared to linger their eyes on her shadowy form for more than the time a passing glance allowed were given the full force of her glare.

She didn't know what to do. She, the girl every person she knew…bar that man, quaked before, was clueless. Handling her burden carefully, gently, as if inside was a pressure sensitive bomb, she left the building and ventured out into the normally sunny green fields of her village. A reminder of her failings: too perfect for her.

As time went on, the birds chirping away happily amongst themselves, her mood slowly deteriorated. She didn't want to do this. She didn't want to deliver the envelope. It felt heavy now, as heavy as a bag of bricks, and the girl, Bethany, was filled with a sense of pure dread. That cold, dark feeling where your insides drop, dangling, exposed, over a vertical cliff. She wanted to turn back. She didn't want the burden of the envelope; the shame of what she was doing, what she'd done. Still, on she pressed.

Eventually, a small terraced cottage came into view, a pretty cherry blossom tree littering the front lawn with dirtied petals. Willing back tears, Bethany strode forward to the door, before she lost her nerve, and knocked.

The door opened. She was ushered inside and speedily the envelope was snatched from her outstretched hands. She was late; the woman who'd opened the door was anxious, expectant.

Gently, with a practiced hand, the woman slid her fingers under the seal, prying it open. It was hers to do with as she wished; the label identified her as its rightful owner.

Bethany's head was screaming to her to run, hide. Get out. She was terrified, shaking, and breaking out in a cold sweat.

The woman read the contents of the envelope, her frown deepening, harsh, as she read on. It was a school report. The birds stopped chirping. Children in the street stopped playing their games. It was suddenly quiet.

NEC Computers International / 518350.doc02/05/2007