Welcome to Winterbury
What she’d seen remained on a sickening repeat cycle until she spotted the bank of buildings to the left illuminated by the eerie glow of floodlights. There was nothing else around, not a house, a shop, nothing. A large sign at the roadside indicated they had arrived at Winterbury College.
The college was set smack dab on remote moorlands. The car swung up to a set of back iron gates, easily the width of six buses. The gates were held up by weathered grey stones, and guarded by creepy looking gargoyles. The dumb ass henchman inspected the stone from the open car window, presumably looking for some sort of intercom. Zephira’s jaw felt as though it was about to snap because her teeth were clenched so tightly together. Bile rose to her throat as the gates slowly creaked open.
Her breathing quickened when she spotted frown lines worrying the henchman’s forehead in the rear view mirror as he peered out of either side vehicle before driving through the opened gates. The tyres crunched across the gravel toward the school entrance where a tall slender figure loomed at the top of the front steps. Her face was illuminated in the burnt orange glow of the floodlights.
Zephira inspected the building surrounding the lone figure, but her eyes constantly drew back to the women. The woman’s face appeared to be etched with lines that matched the gargoyles that were carved into the stone around the twelve foot wooden doors, with cliché black metal studs lining the joins.
Zephira’s stomach lurched repeatedly, her hand flying to sooth it with a rub as the henchman grunted toward the backseat after bringing a car to a halt. She glared at the woman she guessed was waiting for her, but the woman stared straight ahead, unflinching and seemingly unaware of the car stopped at the bottom of the stone steps below.
“Go on then, love. I ain’t got all day.” The driver grumbled, making her tense, aching shoulders shoot up. She was like a great big ball of nervous energy, and no matter how many times she willed herself to relax, it just wasn’t going to happen. He growled and her fists balled in response, her shaky fingers searched for the door handle in the fear that she really would give the driver something to grumble about, like a smack in the back of the head.
The figure at the top of the stairs still didn’t move at the sound of the car door opening. She became disinterested in the building and focussed on the woman, unsure if she was actually a statue and a part of the weird décor.
The rush of the icy September air flooded Zephira’s nostrils and her shoes hit the gravel, still the woman remained as still as stone. She headed for the trunk to collect her belongings seen as the driver didn’t seem as accommodating as he’d been in front of her mother by shifting her bag to the car. With her single piece of luggage slung over her shoulder, she headed up the twenty or so steps that the figure stood at the top of.
“Ahh, good evening. You must be Miss. Laceby?” The woman’s voice was a nasal whine. The formidable female statue seemed to have been motion activated as she’d become closer, her head dipped along with the greeting. Zephira peeked behind her at the car that was moving away from the building, the bottom of the steps weren’t that far away. It wasn’t as if the woman wouldn’t have seen or even heard her arriving. Zephira shifted from one foot to the other, uncertain if the chilly weather was giving her the heeby jeebies, or whether it was the woman.
“Well young lady?”
Zephira flinched, not expecting of her voice that was pitched higher than her initial question.
Zephira cleared her throat and attempted to maintain eye contact with the woman’s avid stare. Her eyes were a weird grey colour and her clothes were willowy and black with a collar that came up to her throat before it curled out a little. Zephira glanced behind herself again checking that she hadn’t stepped through some sort of time warp.
Zephira’s breath caught in her throat, scratching at it and rendering her speechless. She quickly nodded as the woman’s mouth opened to speak again, and judging by the disapproving look on her face her words weren’t going to be of the welcoming variety.
The woman raised a brow and clasped her hands together in front of her. “Very good. Follow me.” The woman spun and took large steps toward the gigantic arched oak doors.
Zephira struggled to keep up with the woman. Her mind reeling that she hadn’t even bothered to introduce herself. Her confusion morphed to anger. “Where the hell are you taking me?” It was only a second later that she realised she’d spoken, she thought that it had stayed inside her mind which is fully where she had intended it to remain. The woman stopped dead and spun back to face Zephira’s reddened cheeks.
“I beg your pardon, young lady.” She flashed a sickening smile as though she’d fully expected Zephira’s minor outburst.
Zephira balled her fists, her cheeks burning fiercely. “You heard me,” Zephira muttered through gritted teeth figuring that it had escaped her mouth so she may as well stand by her question.
“You’re going to be processed into the school the same way as everyone else is.” The woman spoke calmly but firmly.
“And what the hell does that involve?” She raised her voice a little trying to tone down the anger that she could feel bubbling ferociously.
“You ought to watch your language, young lady.”
Zephira huffed and squeezed her eyes closed, if there was anything she hated it was being referred to as a young lady. She knew she was anything but that.
“I don’t even know why I’m here,” she whined, again a comment she’d meant to internalise but failed. Zephira shook her head trying to fathom what on earth was it with this woman that forced her to voice her thoughts?
“I’m scared.” There she went again saying the precise thought that popped into her head as soon as she’d thought it.
“I know, dear.” The woman’s entire face softened as she unclasped her hands to place one on her shoulder. “First you’ll meet the headmistress.” Her face rearranged back to stony in a nano second as though she’d suddenly remembered her persona should be stern. “Come along, it’s getting late and there’s much to do before bed.”
Zephira didn’t even get chance to ask what it was that they’d be doing because the woman strode through the doorway into a cavernous stone entrance lined with polished dark wooden doors on either side of an enormous sweeping staircase. The place was eerily silent as though her and the weird woman were the only ones there. Zephira struggled to keep up, her bag feeling heavier and heavier as she ventured up the staircase. The tapping of the woman’s heeled shoes banged through her brain until she stopped abruptly outside of a large door.
“Wait there.” The woman pointed at a dark wood bench cushioned with red velvet upholstery.
Zephira’s bag slammed on the floor beside the bench at the same time as the office door closed behind the woman. She slouched down on the bench and glared between the balcony spindles at the wooden chandelier hanging above the great entrance hall below. She sighed heavily in an attempt to break the deafening silence of the place. The bare walls freaked her out, she wondered how the hell people didn’t get lost because everything looked the same. The bare stone walls and dark wooden doors were uniformly spaced out along the wall about four metres apart. Where was everyone? This was meant to be a school. You could have heard a mouse fart in there because it was so silent. She almost suffered whiplash when the door reopened and she saw a short dumpy lady with thick grey hair bundled glamorously on top of her head.
“Good evening Miss. Laceby. Please join me in my office.”
Zephira had already jumped to her feet as soon as the door had opened. Everything so far had been weird, her stomach churned and her mouth was so dry. She suddenly wished she’d eaten something in the last few days instead of throwing a tantrum and going on a hunger strike, well, that’s what she’d called it, but really she just didn’t think she could stomach anything. Zephira stepped slowly toward the lady but her eyes darted toward her luggage and she held up a palm to stop her entrance. “Bring the bag, too.”
Zephira looked up and down the empty corridors, it was hardly as though anyone was going to steal it, the place was deserted. She shrugged, rolled her eyes and snatched it up charging through the now empty doorway.
“Are you at least going to tell me why I’m here?” Gees, why the hell do I keep coming out with this stuff? She asked herself, glaring at the woman who’d she’d met on the front step as though she was suspicious that she had something to do with speaking her thoughts out loud. The grey haired lady positioned herself behind a desk on the far side of the room, her back was to a window lined with lead crisscross shapes and a plush red captains chair awaited her bottom behind her.
The grey haired lady pushed her fists onto the desk and leaned on them, peering at Zephira with pursed lips. “I see you’ve met Miss. Williamson, she will be your main tutor here. If you should have any issues then it’s her you’ll need to make an appointment to see. I do hasten to add that you may speak with any tutor if you feel the need to. I am the head mistress, Miss Crowther. We want to help you to get better here.
“Why are you saying that? Better? There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“We are quite aware of what’s been happening at home. We believe you coming to the United Kingdom, no matter the perceived main reason, was so you could attend this school and we could help you achieve your potential.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me.” She insisted, slamming her bag to the highly polished floor. She stood straight, fighting the urge in fan her burning cheeks.
“Quite.” The grey haired lady spoke in a whisper. “Lift up your cuffs, Zephira, show us how well you’ve been.”
Suddenly she was staring at the bag before her feet, her mothers face looking all serious, the strip lights of the hospital corridor whizzing by above her head as the trolley from the emergency room rushed to the cubicle, the doctors and nurses calling out requests as the pressure on her wrists became too much to bear and she struggled against them wishing for a different kind of light. “Daddy,” she whispered, not just then but there in the school office right in front of Miss. Williamson and Miss. Crowther.
“We know, Zephira, we know, and we’re going to help you see exactly what you can be so you never have to consider doing anything like that again. I’m sorry but we need to move on to the formalities now. Please bring your bag to my desk.”
Zephira’s head snapped back and her eyes narrowed. “What the hell do you want with my bag?”
“We need to check for yours and everyone else’s safety that you’re not bringing anything here that could harm you or anyone else.”
“Well, there’s nothing in there.” She huffed and folded her arms across her chest in a stance of defiance.
“Then there shouldn’t be an issue with allowing us to take a look then should there? Besides we also need to produce an inventory of your belongings.”
“Shit,” she hissed. “This really is the nut house isn’t it?”
Both teachers glared at her stony faced, not a flicker of shock marred their features. Seeing that she had no choice, she lifted up her bag, took three steps forward and flung it on the desk.
“Thank you.” The grey haired lady turned to Miss. Williamson and said, “Shall we?”
Miss. Williamson rose with the grace of a peacock in full bloom and proceeded to unzip the bag. Soon the contents were laid out. The bottle of vodka she’d wrapped up neatly within a bundle of clothing mocked her from the center of the desk, Miss. Williamson lifted it and strode to the other side of the room without comment.
“Now that little issue is ironed out Miss. Williamson will take you to your dorm room. Please repack your belongings and follow her. Quick as you can.” She flapped her hand as though Zephira wouldn’t understand the concept of speed without a hand gesture. “It’s getting late.
Zephira’s cheeks still burned from the discovery of her little problem, downing whatever alcohol she could get her hands on seemed less far fetched than taking a blade to herself, so she’d used it to fight the desire. Now, so it seemed, that particular crutch wouldn’t be available to her. She shuffled up to the desk and shoved the remainder of her belongings back into the bag.
“What about my cell?” She asked in a small voice.
“We will call your mother to let her know you arrived safely.” The headmistress mimicked her low voice.
“That’s not what I mean. I mean, I want it back, it’s mine.”
“Winterbury College isn’t like other places, Miss Laceby, if you want things you have to earn them. It really is as simple as behaving and applying yourself to the work you’re given.”
With that said the headmistress left, her exit clearly marked with the click of the door leaving an air of stony silence behind her. Zephira glanced up to find Miss. Williamson beside her.
“Come along now, Miss. Laceby.”
Miss. Williamson charged along the corridor and down the stairs she’d earlier ascended and headed towards a large dark wood door that appeared to match the one at the front. The chilly Northern English night air bit at her cheeks as Miss. Williamson pulled the door ajar. It certainly explained why the building was so quiet if the pupils resided elsewhere. The orange floodlights bounced off the old stonework of the buildings either side of the gravel courtyard set fifty or so metres back from the school. Miss. Williamson charged on, calling back to Zephira as she stood stock still with the wind blowing around her ears as she gaped at the large buildings. It didn’t look anything like the prison she’d been envisioning in her mind for the past few days, far from it, it even looked palatial to some degree. She took a few strides, becoming irritated by the nasal whine coming from the Miss. Williamson. She followed her through a small door that could have been a servant’s entrance from back in the day it was built. The corridor swept around the corner and away from the door the parquet floors glistened with polish in the dim light and was only marginally warmer than the courtyard they’d just passed through. Her eyes darted, following the sounds of laughter intermingled with a few harrowing screams. No, she’d been wrong, just because it looked like a stately home spa it was anything but, the sounds alone told her that.
Half way down what appeared to be a mile long corridor Miss. Williamson wordlessly turned sharply and started up a set of narrow stairs. Whilst it looked like no expense had been spared on the decoration of the main school this place was quite the opposite. With the exception of a bit of polish on the floor and dimly lit plastic globed light fittings it was bare and uninviting. She questioned whether it was actually cold in there or if the place simply brought about an eerie chill that travelled to the core of her body. Tiredness overwhelmed her as Miss. Williamson turned toward the next set of stairs. “Stop,” Zephira said breathlessly, throwing her bag two steps ahead of her as though it was a disgusting beastie that was about to attack her.
“Whatever is the matter?” Miss. Williamson shook her head with wide eyes as she spoke, when Zephira failed to respond she huffed and glared at her. “It’s not much further so you must continue.”
“Haven’t you guys heard of elevators?” Zephira wheezed, clinging to the banister.
Miss. Williamson rolled her eyes and continued ahead of her albeit seemingly slower than she had previously.
Zephira willed herself to continue as Miss. Williamson disappeared from sight. Breaching the top of the stairs, her breath burned her throat and an icy chill made her aware of the sticky perspiration covering her skin. A hollow pain shot through her stomach and seemed to go through to her back like a spear doused with pain in liquid form as Miss. Williamson pushed the door in front of her ajar and announced Zephira’s arrival with a statement. “Miss. Laceby, please meet your fellow students and room mates.
© L.T. Kelly 2017
Phew, it was a close call this week, but I finally got it out on time! Thanks so much to Victoria Skye...Marianne was the name I had in my head for Zephira's mother, but Mary-Anne it is!
What weird and whacky suggestions can you come up with for a particular item in the dorm room? That's this weeks challenge and I'm looking forward to reading your comments and suggestions.
Have a great week! Thanks for reading :)