Meet Alem Reed.
Black Hair. Black eyes. Black temper.
After being kicked out of his fifth high school for fighting, Alem’s dream of getting his high school diploma was destroyed – until he is invited to attend an exclusive but secretive new school.
However, when it’s a school filled with nightmarish creatures who hate humans (or view you as the next delicious snack), tough boy Alem is going to need every fighting skill, witty comment, and gut instinct he’s got if he is going to survive his senior year of high school.
Chapter Seven: Of Knocks and Tattoos
There was a gentle tapping at my door. The sound was choppy and I couldn’t be sure of what I had heard. I slowly peeled opened my eyes and felt the room whirl around me.
“Knock. Knock.” That time I heard it clearly. Grunting, I picked myself up from what turned out to be a rather small bed and I rubbed my throbbing forehead. The spinning headache I had before I slept was now howling with a vengeance. Cursing under my breath, I wobbled to the door.
“Knock. Knock.” Whoever it was had little patience and the sound was starting to get annoying. “Knock. Knock.” There it was again. I grabbed the doorknob and swung open the door. I intended to tell whoever it was that they could shove their knocking right where the sun never shined, but instead, when I opened the door, my world flipped upside down. I was shocked. I stared at the knocker and could not believe what I was seeing. Speechless, I pinched myself. The sharp sting did absolutely nothing to dispel the bizarre image in front of me.
“Are you the human, Alem Reed?” He politely asked.
I continued to stare.
“Alem Reed?” He questioned.
I snapped to attention. “Man, what’s with your face?”
“Excuse me?” He actually had the gall to look confused.
Now, I know I was being a jerk but this was something you don’t see every day. This dude was a good two heads taller than I was and on the entire right side of his face was a strange, fire-like black tattoo. It made his overall facial expression very hostile despite the fact that he was completely expressionless. His was completely bald with stoic brown eyes. His clothing faintly mimicked something Middle Eastern, and his almond skin blended together with the lifeless colors of his outfit. To be blunt, if I had met this guy in a dark alley, I would have kicked him hard where it hurt and then run headlong in the opposite direction. You do not mess with people who are obviously three fries short of a happy meal.
“Um,” I scratched my head. My hair's wooly fangs bit into my finger. Wincing in pain, I stopped staring at him.
The guy sighed. “Alem Reed, are you not?”
“Yeah, that’s me.” I said.
“I am Tarascus, a Fifth-Level Oragian. May Fate bless our meeting.”
I resumed my stare. Okay. How exactly do you respond to a greeting like that? What’s a fifth-level Oragian anyway? I rubbed my temple. Perhaps I should stop being so rude. “Thanks, and the same to you.” I mumbled.
As we measured each other up, an uncomfortable moment of silence descended between us. I don’t know what he thought about me but I knew exactly what I thought about him, and it wasn’t very good either. I’m all for creatively expressing oneself, but this dude was way out there. How could you put a tattoo over the entire right side of your face? How can someone actually plan a future looking like that? Who would hire someone that looked like that?
“I have come to escort you to the dining hall but you are not dressed in uniform.” Tarascus said.
“Oh.” I scratched my head. Turning to look inside my room, I said. “I don’t really know where my uniforms are. Mr. Ibunku dumped me here before I could ask him anything.” That wasn’t exactly true , but what did this guy know?
“Did you check the wardrobe?” he asked me.
“Uh, no,” I anxious rubbed my head again. “Um, let me get changed. It will only take a minute.” I stepped back and slammed the door shut. I winced. That wasn’t going to help his impression of me at all.
Rubbing my face, I leaded against the door. Between my fingers, I scanned my room to find the wardrobe. I found it. It was tucked away near the corner, by another door which I guessed led to the bathroom. It was a good size, about my height and two arms’ length wide. Slowly, I took a good look around my room and saw that it was surprisingly small. The bed was a twin and had a small table beside it. A small wooden desk with a twin chair set sat before a small glass window. That window was the only one in the room. The walls were a plain white. Everything about the room screamed stark isolation. Memories of a similar place threatened to fill my head.
I needed a smoke.
I walked to the wardrobe and opened it up. Inside, I found five sets of clothing. I pulled out one of them and stared at it in disbelief. It looked similar to what Tattoo-Head had on and it was completely confusing. One piece looked like an oversized black jacket gone wrong. The main shirt looked like something from the Middle Ages. Another item looked like a vest. The cloth pants were plain but there was some sort of scarf thing. I had no clue what I was supposed to do with the scarf thing.
The most pressing question for me at that moment was: Who in their right mind would assign this as a school uniform? This had to be some kind of a joke. I threw the clothes on the ground and turned back to the wardrobe to find my actual uniform but all of the clothes looked just like those that I had just tossed on the floor. I couldn’t believe it. This had to be some sort of prank.
“Knock. Knock.” There it was again. I had nearly forgotten about Tattoo-Head waiting to take me to the dining hall.
“Wait a second!” I called out. Okay, I guess I was going to have to play my part of this game, but if it turned out to be a prank, someone was going to die.
Ten minutes later, I was dressed, kind of. I used all of the pieces except one. I had no idea where that scarf thing went. I left it on the ground, went to my bed, and grabbed my room key.
“Knock. Knock.” That sound was most annoying.
“Hold it.” I rushed to the door and slid out. Tattoo-Head was expressionless but I had the feeling that it was his turn to be extremely annoyed with me. “Man, what a great first impression you’ve made, Alem.” I thought to myself as I turned to lock my door.
Tattoo-Face nodded his head and said, “Follow me.” Without another word, he turned around and marched away. I went to put the key into my pocket, but suddenly realized that I didn’t have any pockets. Once again, I was grinding my teeth out of frustration. Pants without pockets are useless; where was I supposed to put my room key? Where would I carry my lighter and cigarettes? Was I going to have to carry everything by hand for now on? Clenching my fist around the key, I hurried after him.
“Human Reed?” A bored voice echoed down the hall.
I rubbed my head. This was a bad way to start my new school life. “Yeah, I’m coming.” I said.
The hallway was enormous but disappointingly plain. For some reason it gave me the creeps. The walls were a bland white color and the floors were concrete-like. There were small landscape paintings here and there, mostly of sand deserts. The overall impression was simple. Looking around my area was quickly becoming boring but it kept me from focusing on the guy that towered next to me, the giant Tattoo-Face, Tarascus. Just walking beside him was disconcerting.
The guy moved like a tank. There was no swing to his arms and his head didn’t turn. He just looked straight in one direction. It was like a bad case of tunnel vision. It didn’t help that he towered over me. And I am not, by the way, a short guy, by any definition. I am not sure how tall I am exactly, but I know I’m closer to six feet than most people are.
The most unsettling thing about Tarascus was how he moved his eyes. He didn’t move his head at all, so his eyes darted from left to right in sharp sweeping glances. They were dark brown and his gaze was uncanny. This was all made even more disturbing by that large tattoo on his face.
Instinctively, I knew this guy was a fighter of sorts. But I wasn’t sure what type of fighter he was. I dislike dirty fighters. They usually don’t have any nerve; they talk big, and can’t back it up. One even caused my second expulsion. I think his name was Rob or Bob, or something close to that.
Tarascus didn’t seem like that kind of guy, even in spite of his looks. He seemed like a Kung Fu type, maybe. He was a little too stocky but he had that type of vibe. The ‘Steal-The-Cricket-From-My-Hand’ kind of vibe.
I was confused. In my experience, people generally match the image that they convey with their appearance, despite those who say contrary. This guy looked like he could slit my throat at any minute, but he acted like a Jedi. I was beginning to think that maybe I should just trust him, but my usual stance is that it never hurts to be suspicious.
“Human Alem Reed?” His voice cut threw my thoughts.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“I want to ask you a question.” He said.
I blinked. He caught me off guard, but he hadn’t moved his head at all. My fingers twitched. Man, I wanted a cig. “Sure. What’s the question?”
“Why exactly have you chosen to attend this school?”
I blinked again. Okay. I wasn’t sure what to make of that question. I decided to be honest. It couldn’t hurt, right? “I want to graduate from high school.”
It was now his turn to blink. “Is that all? But couldn’t you have done so at one of your kind’s school?”
There it was again, he referred to my kind as something different from his own. I was starting to get a bit irritated. What did they mean by ‘my kind’, anyway? Who exactly is ‘my kind’? This ‘my kind’ thing was getting to be a bit too much, almost to the point of really pissing me off. I swallowed my pride when it came to Mr. Ibunku, because he seemed relatively clueless, and regardless of his history with my mother, he seemed to be decent man. However, I needed to let Tarascus know that I wasn’t going to take that crap from someone my own age.
“My kind? You act as if we aren’t equals.” I snapped back.
He blinked again. He had the nerve to look utterly surprised. “You believe that we are equals?”
“Yeah, I do believe that we’re equals, as in the same, similar: walking, talking human being. Yeah, we are equals.” I acidly shot back.
His heavy eyebrows crawled up his non-existed hairline. “I am not human.”
My thoughts stopped even though we continued to keep walking. “Excuse me?” I asked incredulously.
“I am not human.” Tarascus repeated slowly like I was some type of idiot. “I am an Oragi.”
“Oh,” I said, like I was supposed to know what the hell that was. I was trying to refrain from kicking this guy‘s ass for treating me like an idiot, as I suspended my sheer disbelief. Out of the corner of my eye, I looked at him more closely. He didn’t have horns, wings, a tail, fangs or claws. In fact he didn’t have any other unusual physical characteristics that I could tell, except for the tattoo on his face, but that didn’t exclude him from being human. He was strange looking but he looked human otherwise. I looked back over at Tarascus and he seemed vaguely amused. Considering what he just said, I just gritted my teeth.
This guy was jerking me around, and he probably was doing it to mock me. If this weren’t my last chance at a high school diploma, I would probably be beating the crap out of him right now.
“We are equals.” I growled at him. “Everyone is equal.”
Tarascus didn’t reply.
We continued to walk in silence, each of us with our thoughts. I was boiling, so I used this time to calm down. This was turning into a horrible day. First, I had to leave home; that was followed by Mr. Ibunku’s insane jog to my room, and the headache. There was also the fact that I haven’t eaten anything the entire day, I was suffering from lack of sleep, and now I had to deal with this idiot.
After a couple more seconds, we came to a large closed door. My eyes widen a bit upon seeing it. It was about twice my height and seemed extremely thick. I don’t think the average person could open it, without some help. I took a slight step back, but Tarascus continued to walk forward. I narrowed my eyes and looked around for the button to open this thing. Surely, it had to be an automatic door?
Tarascus looked over his shoulder. His eyes sparkled with amusement. They were faintly similar to Mr. Ibunku’s eye-blinding smiles. “Human Reed, while we may consider ourselves equal, the rest of this establishment's inhabitants may not.”
Before I could question him, he grabbed the handle and opened the door. My brain froze. That had to be impossible. What kind of muscles did this guy have? I did not want to get into a fight with this guy. I cautiously stepped forward, but the light from inside the dining room blinded me. Blinking, I suddenly realized four things. Firstly, the cafeteria looked like a magazine inspired five-star restaurant. Secondly, it was full. There were hardly any empty seats available. Thirdly, it was dangerously silent for so many people. Fourthly, it was probably because everyone was staring at me.
Someone started to laugh. The laughter grew louder until that was the only thing that I heard in the entire massive room. “I can’t believe it!” The voice belonged to someone standing closest to me, about sixty feet away from my current position. I could feel hundreds of sets of eyes bouncing between him and myself. My gut went uneasy; and my body tensed. I was on guard for a fight.
The laughing guy stood straight up and turned around to face me. His long black hair was shaggy like a dog’s fur. He was extremely muscular, though not as tall as Tarascus or me. He was dressed in the same strange uniform as us but it looked extremely haggard and torn. He also had the longest fingernails I have ever seen.
“The Jailor was serious when he said he would bring one of them here?” He smacked his lips. His teeth were far too pointy “I have never had human flesh before.”