I didn't mean to kill everyone in my family. It was an accident, I swear. I thought about the incident as I sat, staring out the window as empty countryside whipped past the bus heading towards an unknown future. They told me I was going to be attending a delinquent school instead of prison. The men in the suits with briefcases told me to be grateful. It was hard to be grateful, especially when the only relative that took care of me after the incident was my mother's sister, who locked me up in the guest bedroom, only allowing me to come out when I needed to use the restroom or take a shower and go to school. If I needed food I would pull a string which would ring a bell, and someone would bring me something to eat, whether I liked the food or not. School was torturous. Since everyone knew I had supposedly killed off my entire family, teachers were wary of me and I could go no where alone or participate in extra curricular events. It was hard to make friends, especially as I got older. But when I finally turned fourteen my aunt couldn't stand it anymore and demanded I go to prison for the murder of my parents, two brothers and sister. But before that, the day that my entire world came tumbling down, was seven years ago.
I stood by the bus stop with my two brothers and sister. I was the youngest out of the bunch. It was cold that morning, I could see my breath and the cold's icy fingers slipped through my woolen mittens and hugged my hands, making them turn pale. My cheeks were a rosy pink and my hat was tucked over my forehead. My sister braided my dark brown waves until we heard the bus rumbling in the distance. It seemed like a big yellow dragon, the exhaust coming from the back of it it's fiery breath. I sat next to my sister, even though she protested against it at first. But I was scared. This was my first time on a bus. I was seven years old and my mother had driven me to school and walked me inside to my class before this. I had turned seven five months ago, and my father finally said, "McKenna, you are old enough now to start riding the bus with your siblings. It's time you start becoming independent from your mother and I." This scared me, since I had never ridden the bus.
After I came home from school, I couldn't wait to tell my mother all of the exciting new adventures I had gone through that day. I was so hyper that my sister almost disowned me to her friends. We got off the bus and while my siblings dragged through the snow on the ground, I skipped through it and burst into the door. "Mommy! Daddy! You wouldn't believe what I've gone through today!" I hollered as I threw my backpack onto the ground in the hallway and ran into the kitchen, grabbing two cookies on my way to the kitchen table. My mother was on the couch in yoga pants and a t-shirt when I came in. She smiled and got up.
"It makes me sad that you are riding the bus now, because I was right about to come and get you after I made these cookies, but then I remembered you were on the bus," she said as she came and sat down with me at the kitchen table.
"Mom! You would not believe what McKenna did to me. She acted so strangely on the bus, it weirded all my friends out! She should go back to kindergarten, or you should pick her up again. She is the biggest baby I've ever seen," my sister Emilie yelled from the hallway without realizing I was sitting right there. She stopped the second she saw me and a wave of guilt washed over her face. Tears were running down my face as I dropped my half eaten cookie on the floor and ran upstairs before she could grab me to apologize. I went into my room and locked the door and began to cry into my pillow until the tears nearly soaked it. I finally calmed down after awhile. I didn't realize it had been a couple hours until I glanced at the clock, it was 6:00. I quickly opened the door and my mouth dropped open. The entire house except my room was blackened. I heard sirens in the distance. Where is my family? I thought to myself and began to panic. I rushed across the upstairs, searching each room as I went. Each room the door was burned down and there were no remains of anything being there. I ran downstairs as fast as my short, chubby legs could carry me. My frizzy brown hair clung to the fresh, hot tears streaming down my face. My entire house was in ruins.
I pulled my hands up to my mouth when I saw my mother, burned with a look of frantic fear wrinkling her forehead. Her hair was singed and I looked over to see my father and three siblings all on the couch, worry free. They must've not seen the fire. An explosion maybe? But, that would be impossible. I would've heard it. I should be dead too. I thought to myself as I dropped down to my knees and began to sob.
Minutes felt like years as the firefighters, police and ambulance arrived. They seemed just as perplexed on the situation as I was. A very kind man who helped me into the ambulance told me, "I'm sorry to tell you, but your family is dead. There was no saving any of them. I'm very sorry for your losses."
I gave out a bitter laugh, but wasn't able to say anything back to him, the visions of my mother, father, brothers and sister replaying over and over in my head.
After they checked me over and confirmed that I was okay, but may have to attend a therapist weekly, I went to the police station to be interrogated. I sat in a completely concrete room in a plastic foldable chair. A dark haired man sat across from me. "I know you claim to be innocent, and I can't see a small seven year old girl killing her entire family, but the facts just aren't adding up right. There was no source for the fire, the only place it didn't burn was your room and you were found crying between your mother and other family," the man said as he stroked his chin as if a beard grew there.
"I'm just as confused as you are. When I came out of my room the entire house was burned down," I protested, a little shocked they were making such serious accusations against me.
His eyebrows furrowed and he slapped his hand down on the table. "I need to know everything," he stressed as he glared at me, "Why were you in your bedroom" he inquired as he leaned back in his chair.
I didn't respond as a fresh wave of hot tears began streaming down my face. I looked at the floor, studying at it as if it was the most interesting thing I'd ever seen. I would give anything to be someplace else at that moment.
He sighed and said, "Fine. That's enough for now. You've had a long day. You need to rest. He motioned over to a bed hanging on the wall with his head. He got out of the chair and exited a very thick door and closed it. I heard several locks click shut. I looked over to the bed and sighed. It wasn't for another hour or so before I actually laid down on the wooden platform they called a bed. I don't think I got more than five minutes of sleep that night.
I was pulled out of my reverie by a girl peering at me strangely over her seat. She was eerily young. What could she have done to be here? I thought as I smiled at her.
"Hi. My name's Tess!" she said in a cheerful voice. Her eyes shone and her teeth sparkled.
"Hi. I don't mean to be rude but…what did you do to get on here?" I inquired.
"Well, me and my brother Blake were circus performers and we stole some stuff. The men in suits with the briefcases told my brother and I that instead of going to prison we could go here. They told us that we were special kids and that we couldn't go to regular school," she said in a bitter-sweet voice, her magnificent blue eyes sparkling.
"What do you mean by…special?" I asked.
Her face got serious, "Well, you see-"
She was cut off by a boy with dark brown hair and earthy brown eyes who was sitting next to her, previously engaged with some blonde girl sitting in the seat across the aisle from them. "Who are you?" He snapped, looking me up and down, "Tess, don't talk to her any more. She's too…inquisitive…I don't like it."
"I can hear you, I hope you know that," I said boredly at him.
He narrowed his eyes at me and demanded, "What's your name?"
"My name is McKenna Clark; and yours?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.
"My name is Blake, this is my little sister Tess. We don't know our last name. All that I know is that I'm lucky to be on this bus instead of in a jail cell," he said, staring hard at me, "I would like to know what your history is."
I gulped. This was what I feared most. I could either make an enemy here, or make a great friend. "Well, there was a mysterious fire in my home, and I was the only one out of my family of six who survived the fire, so everyone blamed it on me. For the past seven years I've been living in my aunt's guest room," I said nervously.
"Well, it's a good thing that the school found you, McKenna. Wait, what did you say that your last name was?" He asked, his eyes widening.
"Clark," I said as I looked up at him. A few other kids looked my way.
"Wait, like, do you know a John Clark? I know that he had like four kids or something. Were you related to him? I know that Clark isn't that common of a name," a kid with light blonde hair shouted from somewhere towards the back of the bus.
"John Clark was my father. I had three siblings, I'm the youngest, but my entire family died seven years ago in a fire. Why? What's so important about my father?" I asked. I thought of my father as being a strict man. He worked at a car dealership and he loved my mother and us kids a whole lot. He stuck to his rules but he wasn't too overpowering.
The kids looked at each other, eyes wide. "You know who John Clark is?" one of the kids exclaimed from in front of me.
"…my father?" I shrugged. The kids mouth gaped open.
"John Clark was one of the men who found kids and took them to the delinquent school. He's nothing special," said one of the men in suits at the front of the bus. I hadn't realized we'd arrived. We were parked outside a long, low grey building. A sign hung above twin doors that said DELINQUENT SCHOOL in a dark maroon color that was chipping off. The driveway was a pale rock road and the school was surrounded by tall grasses and yellow flowers and mountains rose in the distance. There was a tall chain link fence around the whole facility. The men who once seemed like our friends seemed terrifying now.
We all got into a single file line and filed off the bus, one-by-one. We marched to a man holding his hand up. Once everyone was off the bus, it puttered back to life, turned around and hurried away, as if it was afraid of the building too. We followed one of the men inside one of the buildings. There were two separate rooms divided by a cream colored curtain. One room for the boys, one room for the girls. We were distributed a grey collared shirt and a white and grey plaid skirt that went down to our knees and black loafers. Each one of us was measured, distributed clothes and got dressed. Tess clung to my side the whole time. I could tell she was afraid and I wanted to comfort her.
After everyone was changed, we lined up again. The boys were wearing similar outfits to the girls, except they wore grey pants instead of skirts, and they also wore a white collared undershirt. We were given two outfits to wear. One was the one that we had on, and the other was a long grey and white plaid dress that we could wear with our black loafers. The boys were given long grey pants and were told they could either wear the white polo that was underneath their grey shirt or they could wear the grey shirt with it. All of our clothes that we took with us were confiscated and we were told that they were to be donated to children that weren't as lucky as us to be in the delinquent school.
"All of the girls will wear their hair in a braid, all of the boys will have their hair gelled every single day. If you disobey any of these rules or violate the dress code, you will be subject to extreme consequences. We also have the standard rules that any other school has, but we aren't as forgiving as regular schools. Every day you will be able to go out into the fields after you eat your lunch in the Mess Hall. If you go past the fence or go someplace else, that privilege is gone for the rest of the year, no exceptions. For the dorms, you may choose two people that you may dorm with. Go ahead and choose a partner from this group, and you will also choose either one or two others from another group of boys or girls that have already spent at least one term here, does everyone understand these rules?" the man asked as he pulled his glasses down so he could look everyone in the eye with his dark brown eyes. All of us nodded mechanically.
I looked over at Tess and asked, "Do you want to room with me?" My answer was her enthusiastic nod.
I turned back around to face the front, but was startled by the man telling us all the rules being two centimeters from my face. I could feel his hot breath as he growled at me, "If I hear another peep from you, you are going to room with the hounds!" His voice boomed all around the room, making every single one of us cringe in fear. He suddenly pulled away from my face and went to the first person standing in line. I recognized him as being the light haired boy who seemed to know who my father was. "Now, I'm going to brush off that little incident, graciously, because you have spent only five minutes at this place. So, I'm going to give you all another chance. We are going to the Mess Hall now for dinner. I hope your hungry. It's sloppy whatever-Hilda-the-cook-found-in-her-left-sock day!" he said with a toothy grin as he whipped around and led us out of the dressing rooms.
The hot sun beat down on our necks as we walked behind the facility. It was still probably in the upper nineties even though it was around six-o-clock. Finally we reached a building on the far side of the facility and all filed inside. The air was instantly cooled down to about sixty degrees. Inside it was packed with kids ranging in age from about 5-18. I was stuck somewhere in between their ages.
Tess grabbed my hand and led me over to a table not far from where the line exited from. There were a few other kids sitting there talking and laughing, not at all as menacing as some of the other kids were. She grabbed Blake's hand too, as he spun around trying to find Tess. The blonde girl that Blake had been talking to and the light haired boy that I kept seeing went over with us too. "Hi," I said nervously. There were three kids sitting there. One girl had straight light brown hair and bright green eyes, then there were two boys. One boy was African American with black hair but had stunning bright blue eyes. The other had long black hair, dark green eyes, freckles and wire framed glasses. They all stopped their conversation and looked up at us.
"Can we sit with you?" asked Tess' cheerful voice as she peered around me. She looked up at me and smiled. I couldn't help it, this little girl was like a sister to me now. I felt responsible for her. My life had changed so much in just the course of an hour. I thought it couldn't change more. But boy, I was wrong.