When the chaos started it wasn’t really chaos. In my home town, Mediel, all I had noticed was that a few spells here and there wouldn’t work or that some kids got themselves hurt in an old, dilapidated, foreclosed building because the barrier magic protecting it was failing. But then again, I’ve never been what you’d call a “social butterfly”. I’m more like… a social mole. Sometimes I enjoy talking to my other equally odd little mole friends, but from the safety of my dark little hole. I know, God forbid I go out and contribute to society or meet new people.
The point is, I was never the person to come to for any type of news, so I’m not really sure how serious the situation was at first. But they let my class go on a field trip to the nearest city, so it couldn’t have been that bad. The only real problem at that point was finding a group to go with. See, in my school we have a sort of buddy system. We don’t need to be with a chaperone, but we do need to stay with a couple people in our class to make sure they don’t get kidnapped, or arrested, or caught blowing up children’s’ piñatas at birthday parties or something (though, come to think of it, that might get you arrested too). We had to be in groups of three, and my only friends in the class were already in their own group, meaning I was left socially impaired and alone. I know, how joyous.
The day of the trip I walked into class ready to be berated by my history teacher since, for what seemed like the millionth time, I wouldn’t have a partner or group. But as soon as I sat down it hit me: I wasn’t the only one who had trouble conforming to his constant “groups of three” rule. There was a set of twins in my class, Jackson and Roman, who looked nearly identical save for their eye color and the way they carried themselves. Jackson had made more than a few acquaintances in the class, but it was clear that he preferred the company of close friends and his brother. And Roman barely spoke to anybody at all. At this point, Mr. Summers had practically given up on them and simply allowed them to just function as a pair.
Now, if I was about to go bug some random person about needing a group, I wouldn’t have really cared very much. But I sort of knew these two. I’d had a couple run-ins with them in both the hallway and in class, and I rather liked them. Well, I suppose “liked” isn’t quite the right word. It’s just that there was a sort of comfort and strange familiarity that came with those two. For me, at least. The rest of my friends think I’m insane and that they’re cold, distant and closed off from the world. But as I said I’d kind of taken a liking to them, and the thought of messing it up scared me. But I needed a group and right now they were my best bet.
So, I looked sideways at the door to the left of the room and waited for them to come in. Finally, I saw a tuft of red hair come over the threshold, followed by one that was an equally vibrant, albeit a tad bit more disheveled. I collected myself and stood to meet them at their assigned seats, all the while convincing myself not to abort the mission so Mr. Summers wouldn’t have to yell at me again for not following instructions. Once I got there I stalled for a moment, my heart physically hurting from the panic. They were just putting down their bags when Jackson noticed me standing there and locked his blood red eyes with my teal ones. ‘No going back now,’ I thought, ‘I either get a group or a heart attack… fun.’ He cocked his right eyebrow before calmly dropping his bag and straightening up to address me properly.
There was nothing intimidating in the way he did this, but I was still scared shitless and clamoring for the right words, “Umm, excuse me,” at this point, Roman looked up from gazing aimlessly about the room, “sorry, but you guys are going together right?”
Roman pulled his palm away from his cheek as he looked at me with a tense and curious expression, while Jackson merely nodded. The feeling of familiarity that I couldn’t quite seem to put into more adequate words began to soothe my fear and temporarily cure my social idiocy, but not enough to keep me from gripping my chest in pain, “umm… is anyone else in your group? I mean… is it just you guys? I just…” the sense of panic began to consume my thought process as I stared at Jackson in dismay. It had been at least half a year since I’d had this much trouble talking to people and I had kind of wished my social anxiety had faded out a little more by now, “I don’t have a group and I wasn’t sure if you guys were willing to have another partner,” It all came out at once as what little composure I had managed to build up and maintain crashed into a tiny heap of rubble in the pit of my stomach.
I knew my face was giving away just how terrified I truly was, and I was thankful for it too. People are less likely to fault you for asking dumb questions when you look scared or unwilling to do so. But to my great surprise, a tiny smile flickered onto Jackson’s lips as his eyes softened slightly. He even looked kind of, dare I say, happy that I’d asked, “To answer all of those questions, yes, it’s just us going. Well, was just us.” At first I was bemused, being as horrible as I am with both stress and talking to people I’m not very close to, but when I saw his smile widen I realized that was his way of saying, “Yes. You can join us you socially inept little weirdo.”
I didn’t quite know what to say at the time, but it didn’t matter since Mr. Summers chose that very moment to burst into the room and speed walk to the front, “Everyone get to the buses and remember to bring your train passes and ID, if you have it. If not, bring your school ID card.” I looked at the clock. The bell hadn’t even rung yet…
Another student who was more observant than me realized this the moment he spoke and raised her hand, “Mr. Summers, the school day hasn’t even-”
“Do what I say or get left behind. Your choice,” and with that, Mr. Summers waltzed back to the classroom door and swung it open, beckoning for us all to follow. Realizing I’d left my backpack at my desk, I hurried back to get it and decided to go through the other exit that was closer to my seat along with several other grumbling students. Only after we’d made it to the lobby did I realize that I should have probably waited for the twins. But another part of me said that would have been creepy to do anyway, so I just shrugged it off and left it at that. “Now find your partners and sit with them. The buddy system is in effect as of this very moment. Do not lose sight of your group.”
‘Great,’ I thought, ‘now I have to find them. I knew I should have-’ “Hey, you don’t mind where we sit, do you?” I twisted my body and leaned my head back to see the twins standing behind me.
Jackson was probably the one who asked so I turned to him and just shrugged, “Not really. Do either of you have a preference?” Roman didn’t answer but something in his eyes (which, just like a sense of maturity along with the possibility of obtaining a decently functioning brain, were avoiding me completely) told me he did care what section of the bus we went to. Jackson glanced to his brother and began to tell me the back of the bus would be best, but before he even had the chance, I asked Roman directly, “do you care, Roman?” Jackson looked at me with slightly widened eyes and a dumb expression. I guess it wasn’t every day someone addressed his brother specifically, or even tried to talk to him at all. Just like every band has that person that acts as their “face” and is the one that is usually in the direct limelight, Jackson seemed to be the face of their pair. As for Roman himself, his equally as shocked gaze darted to me, but the sentiment lasted just a moment before his expression dropped back into its usual emotionless, if not somewhat gloomy, state, “No.”
Well, I knew he was lying so I just crossed my arms and cocked my head quizzically, “Oh reeaally? Not at all?”
Roman gave me an odd look that’s hard to explain. It’s not like he was saying, “what the hell, weirdo. I already gave you your damn answer.” And more like he was asking, “why are you being so persistent about this. Does it really matter so much?” “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Frowning slightly, I looked at his brother for what to do. Jackson smiled sheepishly and responded, undoubtedly, for his brother, “We usually sit in the back.”
I nodded, “The back it is then!”
The ride there was pretty uneventful and honestly kind of boring, but on the bright side I found myself becoming fonder and fonder of the twins. As it turns out, I was right about Jackson being the representative of their little group. On more than one occasion someone would ask something like, “Hey, guys, do you play any sports?” and the only answer they would get was from Jackson saying, “Not right now, but we do strength training at home and we dabble in things like fencing, judo and boxing.” He would never go too into detail though, only far enough to sufficiently answer their questions. After a while people just stopped asking about Roman as they futilely attempted to get Jackson to open up more. It was actually kind of amusing seeing them pepper him with questions like that. I would have liked it even more if they tried it on Roman. First of all I felt sorry for the guy, even though I knew he didn’t particularly care, but still, if he ever hit pockets of insecurity in his life, he might come to think his brother was better and more important which, in any case, is entirely untrue. Secondly, I was fairly certain that he would either deliver curt or salty responses, and salt goes pretty well with pepper (Heh. See what I did there? Pepper him with questions? He’d get really salty? …yeah, no, not funny).
So, in the end, I just spent the entire bus ride in silence; periodically eavesdropping on Jackson’s conversations. And all I really learned from those was that he and Roman were pretty decently physically active, since that’s what most of the questions revolved around. Like I said, it was uneventful and boring.
While the bus ride practically had the same effect as a bottle of Xanax mixed with vodka, the train ride was a lot more fun. I ended up spending the whole time reading those strange ads they had posted all over the train cars for beds and bookstores and home security systems and whatnot. This may or may not have led to some awkward eye contact with an almost senile looking old lady who stared me down the whole ride, but I didn’t really care much. It wasn’t like I was going to see her again anyway. She did look interesting though, with that curly grey mess of hair that looked like three tornadoes and a hurricane just blew through the area. Her eyes themselves were pretty intriguing too; deep set and surrounded by red, irritated skin. The irises were a haunting ashen brown and there were no eyebrows to be seen. But despite her sickly aesthetic, the most memorable and terrifying part of her was that wide eyed stare that hovered somewhere between disbelief and wary observation. Sometimes, though, it didn’t seem like she was staring at me, but rather at nothing, and that she was some soulless zombie cursed to walk the lands of Mediel forever. It was unnerving at first, but after a while I brushed it off and ceased to care. I even smiled and waved to her when it came time to leave the train.
By this time, we were already at our destination; best known as the City of Smoke. There may not have been very many machines or smokestacks by the time we got there, but there most certainly had been a period where the air of the city was heavy and thick with bursts of black smog that would arise from the countless skyscrapers packed into the landscape. Disgusting, really. Anyway, Mr. Summers didn’t really do an effective job leading us out of the station’s exit, and several – more distracted – students made a few wrong turns here and there. Thankfully, however, no one got shanked or mugged or shoved into the ratty old suitcase of a deranged homeless man whom would eventually sell their dismembered limbs and organs for meth money. Mr. Summers did yell at them though, so I suppose they weren’t so thankful for the homeless man’s absence at the time. Lord knows I would’ve rather taken the chance to be cannibal fodder over being berated by Mr. Summers any day.
But despite being severely behind schedule, we did get to the museum eventually: an incredible building that was as ancient as is was ridiculously colossal, the Gothic architecture complimenting its surroundings astoundingly well. We stood outside for a while as the tour guide spoke with our chaperones. I’d lost the twins at this point, but Mr. Summers was too busy dealing with another school’s coordinator who had apparently booked the same trip. So I did nothing to find them. They probably wanted some alone time anyway. I didn’t want to be a leech. So there I stood, perfectly at peace, minding my own god damn business like a good, normal human when SMACK, some other kid’s book hit me square in the side of my face, “Hey, queer! Don’t touch my shit, you she-male looking trashy ass faggot!” some idiot kids from the other school burst out into a horrible fit of laughter. At that moment, I couldn’t decide what stung more: the red section of my face that was sure to become a terrible bruise, or the excruciating embarrassment that came with it.