4 - Arrival of Royalty
Feeling a little bold after my promise, I confidently took hold of Juhi's hand and strode down the hallway toward the door I suspected would lead to the staff room and kitchen. I wasn't sure why I wanted to go there. Maybe it was the thought that there may be more food there? Not sure. I didn't even want food at the moment… if only there was something to get that nasty taste out of my mouth.
A few moments later, we reached the door, which was open. I peeked inside to see if there was maybe someone inside. Did I want someone to be there? I wasn't sure… but it might be nice to get some sort of info from someone.
The door opened into a narrow hallway that had one door right across from me and a door on either side. "Hm," I thought aloud, "the one to the left probably goes to the reception and principal's office. The one in from of us is the staff room and the one to the right probably leads to the kitchen…"
"Wow, how do you know all that?" asked Juhi, amazed.
I had the decency to feel a little sheepish. "Er, I don't actually. I'm just guessing it's like my old school."
However, after a quick inspection of the door to the left and the door in front, it seemed I was right. So, I opened the right and stepped inside. There was definitely a fridge in here, along with a stove, oven, sink and cupboards. Tentatively I walked over to the sink and turned the tap. Once again there was no water… only red, red blood.
I cursed out loud, which was followed by a shocked noise from Juhi, obviously not approving of my language. I wasn't much of a curser, to be honest, and I didn't really like cursing anyway… but in some situations certain words just popped up before you could shut your mouth.
I shut the tap immediately and heaved a cold sigh. I was really thirsty, but no way I was about to become a pseudo vampire. I moved away from the sink and made my way to the fridge. Tentatively, I pulled it open; I was half scared that I'd find something creepy within. I heaved another sigh, this one of relief, when I saw that there was nothing close to a head on a platter inside. There was however some apples and bananas, a carton of milk and a few cans of cola. I picked up a can and pushed the tab up.
Wait. I returned to the sink with the can and tilted it, letting some of the cola spill into the sink. Yep… there it was again. Smooth red liquid that was definitely not carbonated water. Not wanting to make Juhi even more worried, I gently placed the can in the sink and returned to the fridge. Juhi was standing there, head practically inside as she reached all the way in the back and pulled out the apples.
"I love apple!" she exclaimed. She had two apples, one of which was being forced into my hands. "What about you?"
"I love apples too," I replied, looking warily at the yellow green fruit in my hand. It seemed normal enough… but I had to make sure. I put out my other hand before Juhi. "Give me yours as well."
"Why?" she asked. She seemed a little confused and perhaps indignant.
"I just want to make sure they are fine," I told her with a smile. "You know, no razors inside, that kind of thing. With all the craziness going on, it's best to be on the safe side, right?"
"Oh," was her reply. "Yes, I reckon you're right."
I took both apples and set them on one of the counters. With that down, I looked around at the cupboards until I found one with drawers. Pulling the top one open, I found a few spoons and a butter knife. The rest were filled with useless items like cookie cutter and a rolling pin. Hm… well a rolling pin maybe wasn't that useless... but no way in hell was I about to wield the housewife's weapon of choice!
With no other choice, I grabbed the butter knife and rubbed it on my hoodie. It wasn't sharp at all, but I guessed it was better to have a messily cut apple than bite into something that would cut my tongue off. Poking at the apple with the tip, I tried my best to carefully cut both apples into eight pieces. There was, thankfully, nothing inside. I was also a little surprised that they seemed rather fresh, unlike the moldy sandwich and stale chips we had encountered earlier.
"Are they alright?" asked Juhi eagerly.
"They seem okay," I replied. "Wait till I taste one first."
This was the part I was dreading. What if they suddenly started spurting blood as well? What if they were Snow White apples? It was possible right? But… my stomach was growling and I was hungry and thirsty, damn it.
I picked up one of the roughly cut pieces and took a tentative bite. I chewed thoughtfully at first and then with enjoyment when I realized this was a real, bonafide apple. It was just the type I liked as well, the sweet kind with a hint our sourness.
"Well?" demanded Juhi, her eyes wide as she stared at my face, waiting for a sign to proceed.
"Go on," I grinned.
It was funny how an apple could make me feel so gleeful. I hadn't felt this happy in days, what with impending exams and my sucky marks. And yet, here I was in a situation reminiscent of quite a few horror flicks I had watched… and I was grinning like an idiot, eating an apple with an equally happy little girl. Huh. Amazing what hunger does to a person.
Although my glee was a delightful as kittens, the fact was that it had a downside. I was so immersed in the apple eating that I only realized someone else had entered the room when I heard an exclamation.
"Who are you?"
My last piece of apple fell to the floor as I instantly grabbed Juhi by the wrist and pulled her close to me, away from the person who had entered. Only once I knew she was safe I carefully looked the intruder.
The person was a woman, probably in her twenties. She seemed rather thin and pale with dark marks beneath her eyes. Her brown hair was tied in a bun and she was wearing a pair of no-nonsense glasses. She had on a grey dress that reached her calves. She reminded me of my grade one teacher.
"Who're you?" I demanded, repeating her question. She looked at me sternly, a look that had probably silenced many children throughout her teaching years. Hah. It wasn't going to work on me, lady.
"Well?" I insisted.
"I am Ms. Finch, a teacher in this school. You on the other hand are an intruder. Who are you and how did you come here?" She still had her stern look set on her face, ordering me to answer her.
"I am who I am," I grunted. "I don't know how the hell I got here and to be honest, I don't want to stay. If you point me to the exit, I'll leave right away."
"Hmph," was the reply I was given. Meanwhile, I could feel Juhi huddle closer to me, trembling once more. Gone was the happiness she was feeling. I was pissed off.
"I am serious," I spat out, clenching my fists. "This place is the frikkin creepiest I've been in and I've no clue how the hell I got here! What kind of school is this anyways, huh? Huh? There's no kids in this bloody place. Hah! Bloody place! So true, what I said! Ha, ha!"
Jeez, I was losing it.
I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as I waited for the teacher to give me a reply. She looked me over once again, her beady eyes moving between me and Juhi.
"There is no exit to this school," she replied coldly. "Once you enter, you cannot leave."
"Don't lie," I snarled. "If there's a way in then there has to be a way out!"
"You may think as you wish," she replied, tone still cold, "You are not, however, the only one trapped in this school. I as well as others am trapped here."
"And," I continued for her, "all you educated grownups can't find a way out?" I could feel a smile pulling at my lips even though I was not in a happy mood.
"We may not," she replied. She seemed a little annoyed now. "We were told to wait for the Prince. Once he rescued the Princess, he would come and save us."
My smile left rather quickly as I stared at the beady eyed woman. "Wait a min! You're telling me you guys simply decided to wait for some other dude to do something you could have done on your own?"
"There is a difference between 'may' and 'can'," replied Ms. Finch testily. "We can search for a way out, but we may not. If we do…" She stopped speaking and her eyes looked away.
"Oi," I growled, "continue what you were saying."
The teacher looked up again and I was shocked to see her eyes were glassy with tears. "If we try to find a way out on our own, he takes one of us in the mirror… and then… no… I cannot say. Not in front of the girl."
I looked down at Juhi and she looked back at me, eyes wide with unease. I wanted to know what exactly the teacher meant when she said 'he takes one of us in the mirror'. Just hearing it made me feel cold; I could feel goosebumps on my exposed skin. However, I didn't want Juhi to something that would frighten her any more than she already was.
"Where are the rest of you?" I asked. "I haven't seen or heard anything since I came here."
"We have been gathered in the gymnasium," replied Ms. Finch. "We are allowed to roam the school but we cannot go near the exits. He knows when we do."
"Who is he?"
"The man in the mirror," replied the teacher, a tremble in her voice.
I heard a whimper and realized it was from Juhi. I quickly knelt before her and looked her in the eyes, which were now filled with fear. "Don't worry," I murmured, laying a hand on her hair. "Didn't I promise I will keep you safe? I don't plan on breaking that promise."
"Don't make promises you can't keep!"
I looked up and saw Ms. Finch glaring at me, index finger pointed at me. "Do you not understand what is going on? You cannot keep anyone safe here, not even yourself! Stop being a fool and face reality! The man in the mirror-"
"Shut up." Brr. My voice was as cold as ice. I stood up and faced the teacher. "The man in the mirror… what sort of reality is that? If there can be a man in the mirror, then there definitely can be a me who keeps this girl safe."
"You are a fool!" she snapped. "Not only yourself, you will get us all killed!"
"Hey, hey," I intoned with false patience, "didn't you say that you were waiting for the Prince? Hm? Well here I am, along with the Princess. Seems like the only one missing is the knight, innit?" The innit was used for Juhi's sake.
Ms. Finch looked comical as her eyes widened behind her glasses and her lips made a round 'o'. I raised an eyebrow and she quickly recomposed herself, returning to the 'stern teacher' persona of hers. "Well, I suppose it is viable."
"Even if I wasn't the prince, I'd still look for an exit," I informed her. Her eyes were shooting daggers at me and mine replied with an equally cold look. "I'm not planning on staying patient in a place like this."
"You will get killed," she muttered as she turned her back to me. "Be that as it may, follow me. I will lead you to the gymnasium and inform the rest of your arrival. We will then decide if you really are the Prince or not."
She turned back and her eyes shifted to Juhi. "What?" I demanded.
"Is she really the Princess?" she asked with a snort. "She does not really seem like one."
"What?" I sputtered. "She looks more a Princess than I look and Prince! Jeez. I don't even know why the hell the voice gave us those idiotic titles, but it had nothing to do with our looking like royalty."
"Hmph," she let out, turning once more and leading the way out of the kitchen.
"Let's go." I took hold of Juhi's hand and we followed behind Ms. Finch.
"Is it safe?" asked Juhi.
Hm, was it? I had no clue, to be honest. Ms. Finch could really be a harpy in disguise for all I knew, and she could be leading us to a horde of zombies. But wouldn't she be eaten then already? No wait… harpies could fly so she'd be able to get out of the zombies reach…
Oh right. "I don't know," I replied truthfully, "but there's nowhere else to go. Don't worry though, if they end up being a bunch of zombie, we go for their brains. As for harpies, I am not sure… but we can try to get rid of their wings."
"Alright," said Juhi, nodding her head.
"What on earth are you teaching that child?" demanded the harpy.
I smirked. "If buildings can shape shift and people can be pulled into mirrors, I am willing to bet that zombies and harpies do exist, at least wherever we are. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you ended up sprouting tentacles."
"You are insufferable!" exclaimed Ms. Finch, turning around. Her glare would probably melt ice. "Do you have any idea how much we have suffered these past days waiting for the Prince and Princess?"
"No clue," I replied. I was probably sounding like a douche-bag, but I didn't really care. There were only two people I was worried about at this moment. Myself and the girl who's hand I was holding.
And to be honest… I didn't know why I care about Juhi. Sure, she reminded me of my little sister… but it was something beyond that. From the moment I saw her, I felt as if she had to be protected, like it was ingrained in me somehow… an instinct. Still, it seemed I had no qualms leading her to a place we had no knowledge of.
"Just lead on," I ordered Ms. Finch.
"Frankly," she ranted as she stomped forward, "you seem like a bad influence to me. The sooner that girl reaches the gymnasium, the better. There are those who are much better guardians there if she needs protections."
"Yeah, thanks but no thanks," I replied. "Princesses stay with Princes. She'll be along with me wherever we go, so you can stop acting the teacher and deal with it."
Although I was used to people wrongly judging me on my messy hair and laidback style, I guess I deserved it this time around. Zombies and harpies weren't exactly what a kid had to learn about… unless they were playing a certain children's card game, which we were not, of course.
Still, even an eight year old kid deserved to know what may or may not attack her. Right?
We followed after the harp- er Ms. Finch for a few more minutes, in complete silence. I guess she finally realized not to waste her breath on me since I wasn't about to trust what she would say. This again had me thinking… why did I automatically trust an eight year old girl not to do me any harm? True I was paranoid when I first saw her, but those feeling changed in just a few moments. It was totally out of character for me.
"Hey," I called, breaking the silence. Ms. Finch stiffened, so I guess she heard me. "What about the knight? Have you heard of him? Seen him maybe?"
"We have met someone who says claims he is the knight," she replied after a moment. "However he is as knightly as you and the girl are royalty!"
"I guess he doesn't have shining armour then," I told Juhi with a smirk.
Juhi seemed to have pondered over this. "Well, most of the fairy tales I read didn't really have a prince in shining armour. A few had capes though, and swords."
"Well there you have it, Ms. Teacher" I said matter-of-factly. "Knights need not wear armour."
Ms. Finch ignored us two naughty children, and a few moment later we at last reached two doors which belonged to the gymnasium. She pushed them open; without further ado I nudged the door stoppers down with my foot. Only once I was sure they would not budge did I look into the room.
It was a normal sized gymnasium. The floors were polished wood and the walls were made of cement, two of which had benches stacked before them. The wall at the far end was two third covered with the obligatory gymnasium ladders that I loved as a kid. Before them were around six dangling ropes. There were also six basketball hoops, three on either side of the gym. On the right side was a stage, it's curtains drawn back. Atop the stage were three men; two more women and four men were standing on the floor. All of them were gaping at us.
"Laura, who the hell are they?" demanded a thin man on the stage as I stepped in the gym.
"He says he is the Prince," she replied with a scowl. "I found him in the kitchen, eating apples with the girl."
"What?" shouted one of the women. "We're on rations here! We won't get food or water for another day!"
"Er," I started as I stepped into the gym, "sorry 'bout that." So they got normal food on schedule? Very good.
"We still have bananas," grunted a burly old fellow who was standing on the floor. "You, are you really the Prince?"
I wondered if it made a difference whether I convinced them if I was or not. They seemed normal enough… that would mean more security for Juhi and me. Would they allow us to stay if they thought we weren't the royalty they wanted?
"Look," I began, "if you mean whether Creepy McCreepervoice says I am the Prince, then yeah, I am, and this girl here's the Princess." Jeez, it sounded so idiotic calling myself a Prince in front of so many people. "Whether you wanna believe it or not, I don't give a crap. All I want is to find a way out of this place, same as the rest of you."
Not a moment after I finished my declaration when someone stepped into the room.
"Oh, you are back," said Ms. Finch.
I looked at the newcomer and couldn't help but let out a laugh. The newcomer was a man, a few inches taller than me. From his features he seemed to be an Arab; he had deep black eyes and a strong hawk like nose. He had a full beard yet no moustache. He was wearing a normal shirt and pants but the cap on his head was not normal; it was a skullcap I had only seen Muslims wear.
"So," I smirked, "you must be the knight."
Back with a new chapter! Hey, the wait wasn't too bad this time ;) Please read and review, and thanks to all who have and are following.