Learning to lie and not to cry.
A gangly girl with matted, curly, brown hair led Davina to a vast dormitory. Davina side-glanced her as they walked, she had a hooked nose and burn scar on her right cheek. Her posture was closed, her spine arched and she kept her arms folded. When they reached the door she pointed. ‘That will be yours,’ she said. A bed ten beds away in a vast room with more than two hundred beds in lines. Each metal frame carried a thin mattress and was dressed in a grey blanket. Beside each bed was small, grey set of drawers.
‘There’s a fresh school uniform on the bed and a second in the side cabinet. You have to wear uniform at all times. Ms Kirk says that your own clothes can only be worn once you leave.’
‘Thanks,’ said Davina, studying the brown and yellow uniform. It was horrendous! The shape was sack-like and the yellow would make anyone look ill.
‘Look I’m Rose. I have been in care for three years. I was sent ‘ere when it opened. Now I’m in charge of bed allocation.’
Davina nodded, ‘I’m Davina. Erm, can I ask you a question?’
‘If you must.’
‘Why are you here?’
‘I burnt me parent’s ‘ouse down,’ she replied matter of factly.
Davina unconsciously shook her head and shuffled backwards. ‘What made you do that?’
‘S’pose it seemed sensible at the time.’
Davina sighed. ‘Then what happened?’
‘Well they kicked me out and ‘ere I am.’
‘Don’t you miss them?’
‘Kind of… Davina innit? Let me give ya a tip ‘bout being ‘ere. Don’t get all emotional like ‘cause the other kids‘ll pick on ya. You’re going to ‘ave to learn to survive quick like. You make up a story far more awful than any kid can fink of and then they’ll leave ya alone. ’
Davina sucked her bottom lip under her teeth, she didn’t like lying.
‘Erm Rose what is this place?’
‘Some of us reckon it’s some kind of experiment. I reckon they fink kids ‘ave all got out of hand and want to discipline ‘em before they let ‘em back on the streets or into normal ‘omes.
‘Discipline?’ asked Davina anxiously.
Rose rolled her eyes. ‘They can whack you if they want. They ain’t told you about the Head of Corporal Punishment then.’
Davina shook her head; a flush of red climbed her throat.
‘Mr Whacker, we call him. You’ll get to meet him soon enough.’
‘What? They actually hit you?’
‘Yes Davina they hit ya,’ Rose replied by whacking her hand.
‘But that’s barbaric!’
‘Mate just don’t get in trouble… otherwise ya won’t be able to sit down for days… so Davina why are you even ‘ere?’ asked Rose.
‘I got picked up by the police because I was eating out of a bin and sleeping in some public toilets.’
‘That ain’t even in the remotest bit scary,’ said Rose barely stifling a yawn.
‘It’s the truth.’
‘Truth ain’t welcome. You need to make up somef’ing real bad. Somef’ing sick like. You know, so I don’t want to go near ya. So why are ya ‘ere?’
‘I ate my parents.’
‘Ha! That’s more like it… ’ said Rose with a smile. She re-folded her arms, the girl had potential!
Davina rolled her eyes.
‘What did they taste like?’
‘Wicked! You’re good at this. So why’d ya really eat them?’
‘Because they ran my hamster over.’
‘What?’ laughed Rose. ‘So what’s the real reason?’
‘I didn’t eat my parents. I don’t even remember if I have parents or anything at all. I don’t even know how old I am, or which country I am in.’
Rose sighed and sat on the bed beside Davina. ‘I don’t know wev’er you’re good liar or wev’er you’re a bit screwed up like.’
Davina studied her nails sadly, ‘Imagine not remembering anything and not knowing where you are. All you know is that you have something to finish, but you don’t know what it is.’
‘Okay, that’s pretty ‘arsh. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes,’ Rose replied.
Davina shrugged, ‘Look I have a cut by my ear. I think I must have fallen or something.’
Rose studied the cut; the blood wasn’t the usual colour – it was a dark blue.
Davina sensed something was wrong by the confused expression on Rose’s face.
‘Let me give ya some advice. When the potential parents come – suck your thumb and do ya best ta look sweet. You don’t belong ‘ere – that’s somef’ing obvious. Hang out wiv me, and when the new parents come we’ll watch ‘em to decide who suits ya.’
‘Do the others pretend to be good too?’
‘Don’t think so! You don’t get it do ya? The others ‘ere don’t want nice homes to learn to be nice little darlings. They’re just not like that. You’re a cosy kid, I can tell… and ya won’t survive a month ‘ere.’
Davina fidgeted, was she right? ‘Is there anything else I should know?’asked Davina.
Rose nodded, ‘How are ya at animal noises?’
Davina frowned. ‘I don’t get it?’
Rose sighed, ‘Look there are some real nasty pieces of work ‘ere. When you’re in trouble make an animal noise at them. Snarl or something.’
Was Rose winding her up? Davina searched her mind for animal sounds… nothing came to mind – so she guessed. A low rumbling gurgled from her throat. She paused and coughed. With a frown, she focused on that tone, closed her eyes and felt it. From a snarl came a growl – that growl rolled into a roar. ‘Like that?’
Rose sat back and stared at her incredulously. ‘What on earth?’
Rose crossed her arms, shifted away and appeared to be studying Davina’s clothes intently. Davina followed her gaze and looked down. Although mucky, they didn’t look as though they were ‘normal.’
‘There’s somef’ing real strange about you Davina and I don’t know what it is. I think ya need to get that memory of yours working so we can find out why you’re ‘ere.’
There was a moments silence while Rose thought.
Davina glanced about the room; she liked the large glass windows facing out onto the grounds. The arcs at the top of the windows, and the fact it reached from the floor to the ceiling, made it kind of cool. Was the building once a manor house?
‘Oh one more thing, some of the boys here are real nasty. Be careful… come and look,’ said Rose, signalling for Davina to follow her to the window.
Outside a group of boys were fighting on the lawn.
‘Watch them. Watch what they do,’ said Rose with a cruel glint in her eye.
The boys tussled, kicked each other and wrestled. It wasn’t that interesting so Davina scanned the grounds instead. The school was set amongst a vast forest. It worked perfectly as a deterrent against escape. What child would risk making their way through a massive forest to freedom? Davina sighed; she had to work on an escape plan but that would take time. She needed supplies and a way to work out where she had to get to.
An elbow to the ribs jolted Davina from her thoughts.
‘See that one over there… the one standing on the far side, not moving?’ said Rose tapping the window and pointing at a lone boy. ‘Keep an eye on him ‘cause there’s somef’ing real weird about him too. He doesn’t talk, he doesn’t fight and no one knows ‘is story. All we know about him is he’s dangerous.’
Rose grinned, ‘Look they‘re going to ‘ave a go at him.’ ‘Davina come closer and watch what ‘appens,’ said Rose excitedly.
One of the boys crept towards the silent boy and went to slap him. Before impact, the silent boy twisted and moved in such a way that was so graceful and fast that the attacker had no chance to react. Davina watched the silent boy manoeuvre the other boy to the ground, strip him of his jacket and tie him up. The would be victim returned to where he was sitting cross-legged and continued staring at the building.
With a clap of excitement, Rose glanced at Davina. ‘We ain’t got no idea what’s going on with him nei’ver. He keeps to himself and no one has ‘eard him talk. You wait ‘til you see his eyes, they’re different colours and one is almost white. You keep an eye on him. Some of the boys call him Ghost ‘cause he keeps appearing from nowhere and when he sleeps he sleeps with his eyes open and hums.’
‘What did he do to get here?’ asked Davina inquisitively.
‘Nobody knows. One day he was just dumped on the steps. In his hand he held a note saying ‘DANGEROUS!’’
Davina shook her head and retreated from the window. It was all too much! The home was weird, the people were weird and she wanted out!