Falling - Part I
The fluorescent lights flicker in the half-underground hallway, the gray concrete complimenting the pristine white-washed walls. Jayme stands at a set of double doors several stairs above the hallway, enjoying the silence, knowing it will soon end. Her footsteps echo on the stairs as she descends from the main hallways of the castle-turned school. A faint smile graces her slender olive face, enjoying the temporary stillness. The silence is broken by a door being pushed open, the chatter of high school students in its wake. They thunder down the stairs, volunteers for overseeing Red Fern's peculiar detention lining up next to Jayme. Those who will be subjected to it line up along the stairs, the teachers soon following.
The administrators at Red Fern think that sitting in a classroom after school is much too easy for students, so instead those who earn detention have to walk. Most minor infractions receive only a mile, sometimes less, but the punishment drastically decreased the number of misdemeanors, so it has stayed. Oliver Wyatt is one of the teenagers who is unaffected by the discipline, so he has continued to do as he pleases. Of the many groups who start at the different sections of this sub-level moat converted to a hallway, the milers are always the cheeriest, not discouraged, and still proud of their clever pranks.
One of the most strict teachers, Miss Peters, begins calling out names of partners, each rebel to their very own volunteer. They group off, beginning their trek around the school, some conversations picking up. Over the growing din, Miss Peters exclaims the last two names, "Wood, Wyatt! You two, check in at the mile mark like the rest!"
Oliver plods over to the last volunteer against the wall, "You're Jayme Wood, right?" He tilts his head to the side, green eyes glowing brightly in the light.
"I am. You are Oliver..?" Jayme wastes little time, already beginning her way down the hallway, glancing over her shoulder to confirm his first name.
"Sure am! It's nice to meet the prodigal English student Mr. N won't shut up about! I heard you actually got him to give a 100 percent on a written piece. Impressive. Is that really true?" Oliver chats animatedly, attempting to make a connection that could potentially boost his grades.
"It is." Jayme's lackluster response shuts him down quickly enough, and they fall into an awkward hush. A few groups do speak to each other, enjoying the company during their walk, while others stalk by the other, glaring and giving stink eye.
Several minutes later, Jayme shrugs away any pretenses and speaks, "Any reason you're here?"
Oliver glances to his right, "Oh no," his voice drips sarcasm, "No reason in particular, not at all." She rolls her eyes but smiles all the same.
"I'm serious...what did you do to earn a mile?"
"What makes you think I'll tell you?" If it were not for his playful smirk, Jayme would think him confrontational.
"If you had anymore distance I wouldn't be asking, but seeing as you are here and not walking any farther, whatever it was cannot have been that bad." As they pass another set of double doors, everyone's favourite teacher, Miss Sarah, waves at them, ignoring the looks of distaste and disdain from the other teachers. Both wave back before they resume their conversation in a matter-of-fact manner. "So spill."
"Fine, fine." In a conspiratorial tone he continues, "You know how Miss Peters has her ever important meeting with the parents every few months?"
"Well I put a foghorn on her chair right before the last one, assuming the pretext of turning in work after school, so every time she sat down it went off! Sadly, she figured it out before the meetings, so I didn't get to watch that fiasco, but she gave me this once she connected the dots."
"That's evil! Geez, you sure are lucky you didn't get more distance," Jayme comments, remembering an acquaintance of hers who had gotten three miles for doing something similar.
"My grammy knows the headmaster though, I haven't a clue how, but Miss Peters wants to keep her job so she didn't want to give me something that could be construed as 'too harsh', y'know?" Oliver grins like a feral cat, knowing full well he has some power over the teachers.
"Mm." Jayme humms, trying to remember if the headmaster had ever spoken about knowing a student's grandmother.
"So, what about you?" Oliver does his best to keep the conversation going, not realizing his blunder.
"I'm a volunteer!" His ears heat up and he glances away.
"Right." He pauses briefly, trying to make up for his mistake with fast thinking, "Well, I mean, why do you volunteer?"
"I have to. It's...one of my father's rules."
"Oh." There is little else Oliver can say, but his thoughts wander to what it must be like to have such a strict father, or to even have a father at all. Another group's loud exclamation brings him back to the present, and he realizes the awkward air that surround him and Jayme, causing an unwanted tension.
After some time, Oliver can't take the silence and speaks up, "Do you, uh, want to hear a story?"
Jayme raises her eyebrows in surprise, turning to him, "I guess so. What's it about?"
"You'll have to listen and find out." Jayme rolls her eyes at his mock suspense but listens in anyways.
"As you know, this school once taught magic, and was more of a castle than school. Evil magisters-" Oliver hears a snort- "What!? My grammy never says who, just that they were evil. Something about not corrupting my opinion."
"As I was saying," He continues, "Evil magisters attacked this place in hopes of taking over a magical powerhouse, and they won, sealing off everyone's souls...in the dungeons."
As he is hoping, Jayme interrupts again, "But we haven't got any dungeons!" Her eyes are alight with adventure, eating up a new story.
"They sealed the headmistress's soul at the very bottom, where information not even the elites have access to!"
"Impossible!" Jayme whispers, wondering at the repercussions of such a story being true.
"As legend has it, two travelers at heart will accidently find this wealth of knowledge, and gain powers unknown to anyone of today!" Oliver finishes with a flourish, his pace quickening in excitement.
Regaining her composure, Jayme queries, "Your grandmother told you that?" At Oliver's affirmative nod, she continues. "I've never heard that one, but I would be surprised if an elite even considered stepping into a commoner school just to 'accidentally' find this knowledge to gain more magical power. It seems highly unlikely."
"Weeeell, I have this theory- a commoner might learn magic, and that's why it's a power unknown to anyone." He shrugs, not all that sure himself. A few heads turn, hearing him say the forbidden; 'commoner' and 'magic' in the same sentence.
"I guess that's possible, but for them to even perform a spell they'd have to be breaking the law. So it's rather out of the question."
"Only for the stingy," Oliver comments, smirking at her.
"Really?" She shakes her head at him as they reach a room full of students logging in their miles at tables with volunteers, "Anyone in Iremia would have to be an idiot to knowingly break the law. That's a major infraction, and one of those hasn't been committed in years. You know why? Cause the last time a commoner even withheld a magic book from the Mage Force they were flogged." Her face has tinges of red, her words sending tendrils of fear through Oliver, making him shiver subconsciously.
The air is heavy now with the reality of where they live, but he tries to lighten the mood, "It's only illegal if you get caught." Bad choice of words. Very bad choice of words.
"I can't believe you! You can't just- ugh!" Jayme spins around angrily, trying to get rid of the repressed memories forcing their way to the forefront of her mind. Very bad choice of words indeed. Oliver sighs, turning to a line so he can log his mile and get out of here. It was unlikely he would ever have to speak with her again anyways, even if talking to her had been fun until the very end.
He is brought back to the real world by the voice of a senior volunteer, "Where's your partner?"
"Huh?" He responds as intelligently as possible.
The girl scowls, "I said- where's your partner?" At his blank look, she frowns more noticeably, "Y'know, the volunteer who accompanied you? You can't log your mileage unless they confirm it."
"Oh." Understanding dawns on Oliver fully, reminding him that she had been less than happy when she turned away. "Oh! Oh shit!" He turns, scanning the crowd for her blue-black curls. A glimpse of her still tense shoulders leads him to the middle of the crowd. In his approach, he has to navigate through the large gathering of students, dodging, weaving, and even ducking a few times to avoid waving arms.
"Hey!" Oliver calls out, unsuccessful over the chatter surrounding him, "Hey Jayme! Jayme!" He jumps a few times, but she remains unaware of his presence, her back stubbornly unmoving. In a last ditch effort, Oliver charges through the last of the crowd, barely making it through before another person goes whizzing across his previous path.
Tentatively, Oliver pokes Jayme's shoulder.
The effect is like he has an electric touch; Jayme jolts suddenly, and whirls around to see him standing there. "Irem! Just leave me alone, I already told you, you can't just say that stuff! People have- people have… have been hurt!" She dashes off, darting through the people much like a salmon with rocks. Oliver chases after her, shoving past people as to not lose her once more.
Jayme knows that Oliver is following her and hoping against hope for there to be a way out other than sneaking past the tables. Teachers guard the exits, and if you do not have a confirmation of your distance, they will not let you through, even if you're a volunteer. There is no way she is willing to face him still thinking of her mother, taken away for them to do Irem-knows-what to her.
At first, there seems to be just a wavering mirage, but as she nears it, the worn down edges, rusted supports, nails, and crooked door handle become even more apparent. A quick glance back proves that Oliver is almost lost on her trail, so she yanks open the door and slams it shut behind her, hoping he won't look too extensively, losing him for good. Instead of some side janitor's closet like she was expecting, she is met with open darkness, flickering dots of light far away below her.
The screeching sound of old metal grinding on rust from the door handle turning catches Oliver's ears, and he just catches the sight of a door slamming through the rest of the crowd. Without hesitation, he pursues his lead, ignoring that no one else seems to have heard any door.
Jayme swears as she hears the door open behind her, but does not let the light from the hallway ruin the night vision she is acquiring by squinting into the darkness.
"Look, I'm sorry-" Oliver begins, his voice regretful.
"No, no. Enough of that." Her response is elusive and uncaring. She faces him once more, looking him dead in the eye. "Where the f-fudge are we?" Jayme quavers over 'fudge' keeping herself in check in front of a near stranger.
"I have no idea, you are the one who ran in here…."
"Well if you don't know either, let's get out of here before those creepy old people notice us, I don't think they're trustworthy."
"What-" Oliver stops as he sees the homeless people sitting around fires below, "Yeah let's get out of here." As he turns towards the bright lights and noise of the hallway, the door slowly creaks closed, metal clicking. "Um, what."
On this side, there is no doorknob.
On this side, the door is locked.
On this side, there is no other way out.