Camile dreaded the prospect of attending classes on Monday. Not because of the tough lessons and endless note taking, but due to the constant ridicule and torment she knew she would endure from her classmates. After she showered and dressed, she stared at her reflection in the mirror. She almost seemed hypnotized by her own gloomy eyes. They possessed the ominous intensity of a storm cloud, threatening torrential precipitation at any moment. Camile rubbed her hands over her face, which was flawless—much to the vexation of her female peers who were often plagued with pimples. As usual, she wore her thick, but semi-tamed shoulder-length hair back in a ponytail.
"Camile! Come get your breakfast, you don't want to be late for school!" Kylie called from the kitchen.
"Yes I do. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have to go at all!" Camile glumly muttered to herself.
She grabbed her school books and stuffed them into her bag as she headed off to join her mother in the kitchen. As she ate her breakfast, Camile noticed that Kylie looked much better than she did over the weekend. Her silky hair flowed freely and caught the morning sunlight. The silver streak in the front gleamed.
"Mom, you make the best pancakes in the world!" Camile said between bites.
"I guess the old lady's still got it!" Kylie joked as she flipped her hair.
"Mom, you're not old! You'll never be old!"
"Well, I wouldn't go that far, Camile. Anyway, getting old sure beats the alternative." Kylie chuckled.
"Alright, enough stalling. Off you go! You're already running late."
"Do I really have to—?"
"Yes, you really have to go. Don't let a few bullies get in the way of your education. You're stronger than you give yourself credit for, so stop being your own worse enemy. You can handle anything that comes your way. You just have to believe it in here and here." Kylie said as she pointed to Camile's head and heart respectively.
"Alright, alright." Camile sighed. "Love you, Mom."
"Love you too, baby." Kylie kissed her on the cheek and saw her out the door.
When Camile arrived at school, she noticed something seemed different, but wasn't exactly sure what. Usually when she went to her homeroom class the other students would point, laugh and even throw paper at her. That day was the complete opposite of the norm. There wasn't a peep out of anyone in the room once she entered. Camile received terrified glances from some of her classmates as she walked to her seat. Others avoided eye contact altogether as they nervously gazed into their books, out the window or at the empty blackboard in front of the room.
Camile grew increasingly curious about the strange behavior they were exhibiting. After getting settled at her desk she noticed that her teacher, Ms. Hawkins, was not yet in class. It was very unusual since Ms. Hawkins always had perfect attendance. Even more unusual was the fact that Barry Collins—who also had perfect attendance—was also absent. Although it was highly unusual, Camile was not concerned. In fact, she looked forward to a day without having to deal with Barry's antics.
Ms. Hawkins suddenly entered the room. She was accompanied by the principal, a police chief and a police officer. The quartet looked comically mismatched. Ms. Hawkins was a short, dark-skinned, petite woman. Her looks were average, but she was often mistaken for a student. She appeared to be quite young and had a trendy sense of style. Many of the students would often tell her that she was much too cool to be a teacher. Some of the girls even tried to duplicate her layered, shoulder-length haircut—without much success—and in many cases, the results were downright dreadful.
Principal Turner—who stood next to Ms. Hawkins—was a well-dressed, short, stocky fellow with classic male pattern baldness. The students often joked that the only thing shinier than his shoes was the top of his head. His eyes and cheeks had a permanent droopy appearance, which caused him to bear an uncanny resemblance to a bulldog. He always wore a grim, serious expression which never seemed to change—not even when he laughed! It really freaked the students out since it was impossible to gauge his mood.
After Ms. Hawkins placed her bag on the desk, Principal Turner nodded, prompting her to begin. She adjusted her glasses and cleared her throat before she spoke.
"Good morning." She greeted in a harried voice. "As you may already know there's an urgent matter at hand. Therefore, your full cooperation will be appreciated. For those of you who are unaware of the situation, Barry Collins never made it home on Friday. He's been reported missing. Chief Roberts and Officer Harris are here to interview all of his classmates, friends…" Her glance shifted to Camile before saying the words: "…and acquaintances."
Something in the way Ms. Hawkins looked at Camile seemed to cast an air of suspicion. This made Camile extremely uncomfortable. The fleeting look was borderline accusatory, but no one else took notice. Instead, the entire class stared at the chief as he stepped forward. He was a burly man—apparently in his early-forties—who stood 6' 2". His weight was approximately two-hundred sixty pounds. He wore a crisp white shirt, which was a stark contrast to his deep pink complexion. His hair and thick mustache were red as flame which intensified his vibrant blue eyes. The color alone made it seem as if they were capable of burning a hole into one's thoughts. Chief Robert's overall appearance was very intimidating to say the least.
"I am confident that the participation of everyone in the school will help the investigators find Barry as soon as possible." Ms. Hawkins continued as she turned to the chief. "Mr. Roberts, how would you like to proceed?"
"Well, we can simply talk to the students in the same order as they're listed on your roster." His deep voice boomed. His voice startled some of the students and caused them to sit up at attention. Under alternative circumstances, Camile might have found it amusing.
As the names were announced in alphabetical order, the students were individually summoned for inquiry. Ms. Hawkins routed the students to the office to be interviewed. Camile's heart pounded, but she didn't understand why she felt so nervous. She knew she had nothing to do with Barry's disappearance. However, her awareness of that fact couldn't tame the uneasy feeling that gripped her. She felt the eyes of her fellow classmates burning into her back, which didn't help matters much. It wasn't long before over half the students were done with questioning. However, they didn't return to the classroom. In order to maintain the integrity of the investigation, they were separated until all students had been examined.
In the meantime, Officer Harris was left to supervise the students. He was a tall, handsome lean man with a chiseled jaw line, dazzling bright green eyes and strong features. His dark hair was smoothed back and his fair skin contrasted against his crisp blue-black uniform. The boys in the classroom were annoyed to see the girls all but swoon over the officer, who told funny stories in an attempt to lighten the serious mood.
"…so that's when I said 'I think you fellas need to pick a new spot to hang out.'" He joked.
The girls broke out in hysterical laughter. The boys groaned and sucked their teeth, clearly expressing their jealousy.
"Oh please! That's so corny!" One boy disgustedly muttered under his breath.
When Ms. Hawkins reentered the room, everything grew silent.
"Camile, you're up next." She announced.
Camile stood up and realized that her legs felt about as stable as rubber bands. She met Ms. Hawkins at the door and was escorted out of the classroom. As they stepped out into the hall, Camile heard voices coming from inside the classroom.
"She's a witch! She made him disappear!" Someone shouted.
"Shh!" Another voice hissed. "Do you want that freak to get you next?"
Other voices joined in and immediately built up to an unintelligible rumble.
"Alright, that's quite enough!" Officer Harris scolded.
The voices grew faint as Camile and Ms. Hawkins made their way down the hall. However, the painful words resonated in Camile's head as she sighed. The stinging sensation in her eyes felt all too familiar.
No! She thought angrily to herself. Stop it! Stop being so weak all the time!
Much to Camile's amazement, she successfully fought back the tears.
"Camile, I need to ask you something." Ms. Hawkins said as she suddenly came to a halt.
"Yeah?" Camile asked nervously as she stopped and turned to face her.
"I know that you and Barry weren't on the best of terms. In fact, I know that he was downright cruel to you—"
"That's putting it mildly!" Camile interrupted before she realized how rude it was. "Sorry."
"I just need to know, when you told him to disappear on Friday, what exactly did you—?"
"Camile you don't have to answer that!" A voice urgently called from the main staircase.
Camile and Ms. Hawkins turned around to see Kylie approaching them.
"Mom?!" Camile asked in horror. "What are you doing here?!"
Kylie walked over and put an arm around her shoulders.
"I found out about Barry. It was on the news. I just knew that you would be subject to questioning, which will be fine in the presence of our lawyer." Kylie said as she looked at Ms. Hawkins.
"Ms. Leon," Ms. Hawkins said quietly with an easy smile. "I think you're overreacting. No one in this school is being formally accused of anything at this point. This process is just to gather information that may lead to Barry's whereabouts. My duty is to—"
"Think what you must Ms. Hawkins." Kylie sternly interrupted. "With all due respect, I understand that your duty is to the school and I know you'll do what you must. But I'm sure you'll understand that my duty is to my daughter and I'll do everything in my power to protect her. I won't stand by while you prepare her to go before a lynch mob." She said as she stared Ms. Hawkins in the eye.
At that moment, Kylie was joined by a middle-aged man, carrying a small black briefcase. He wore a sharply pressed, navy blue pinstriped suit that flattered his medium-built frame. His hair was somewhat spiky and silver in color. It enhanced the intensity of his electric blue eyes, which sparkled like Topaz gems.
"This is my lawyer, Travis D'Arby." Kylie introduced. A note of defiance was present in her voice.
"Mom, you already have a lawyer?! Won't this make me look guilty?" Camile whispered in Kylie's ear, but the question went ignored.
Ms. Hawkins' face wore an odd expression that gave the impression that she already knew the lawyer. However, her words contradicted the possibility of that theory.
"Uh, pleased to meet you sir." Ms. Hawkins said as she nervously shook his hand. "Well, I guess we should get started. The chief is waiting in the principal's office."
Once the questioning was over, Camile and her mother were told to contact the chief's office if they heard, saw or remembered anything that might be helpful to the case. Kylie then offered to take Camile straight home but she declined.
"Mom, if I leave school early there'll just be rumors that I got arrested or that I felt guilty or something. It's tempting for me to go home right now, but if staying means I'll have a chance to get through this with at least a little dignity, I'm going to try." Camile said. Her mother regarded her with pride and amazement before tightly embracing her.
"I hope someday you'll see just how truly special and powerful you really are. Camile, I love you so much. No matter what happens, always remember that I love you." Kylie softly whispered.
"Mom, you're starting to scare me." Camile replied with concern. Ignoring the comment, Kylie continued hugging her.
During the entire week of school, the other students continued to ostracize Camile even more than usual. No one dared look in her direction much less speak to her. However, some were brazen enough to call her names like 'murderer' and 'witch' behind her back. Oddly enough, the thing that bothered Camile the most wasn't the behavior of her fellow students, but the behavior of her teachers, especially that of Ms. Hawkins. Ever since Barry's disappearance, Ms. Hawkins would stare at Camile in the most peculiar way. It was almost hauntingly disturbing.
The case of Barry's disappearance progressed with very few developments and several students—including Camile—were contacted for second and third rounds of questioning. By the end of the week, Camile was exhausted and sick of being called dastardly names by her peers. As much as she couldn't stand him, she wanted Barry to be found more than anything. She could cope with another two years of being bullied, but not a lifetime of being called a murderer when she knew she wasn't one.
Camile was in the middle of a boring chapter about the industrial revolution in her history book when she heard a series of gasps throughout the classroom. She raised her head to see none other than Barry standing in the doorway.
"Barry! Oh my God! Are you alright?" Ms. Hawkins asked as she ran over to him.
Looking dazed as he staggered into the room, Barry nodded in response to the question. He was wearing the same sweater and jeans he wore a week earlier. However, they were torn, tattered and scorched in some areas. His hair was disheveled and dirty. A crowd instantly gathered around him, erupting with jubilant cheers. Once they caught a whiff of the stench that wafted from his body, they immediately backed away.
"Phew! He smells like dog shit!" One girl exclaimed.
"Everyone, quiet!" Ms. Hawkins ordered. "Barry, where have you been? Were you kidnapped? What happened to you?"
As if on cue, everyone looked at Camile, who remained at her desk.
"It was… it was—" Barry said slowly, clearly disoriented.
"Rebecca, get the nurse! Tell her we need an ambulance!" Ms. Hawkins urgently instructed one of the girls.
"It was beautiful! That's all I can remember!" Barry said before he fainted. Everyone in the classroom looked at one another with puzzlement.
It was later discovered that Barry had apparently been struck by lightning during the rainstorm a week earlier. He recalled cutting across the school's football field on his way home. He also remembered playing with his ball, repeatedly tossing it in the air and catching it. According to Barry, he had nearly cleared the field when an intense flash of light streamed down upon him from the sky. The next thing he knew, he was back in class with no recollection of any events that had taken place after he'd been struck. After a thorough series of tests, he was granted a clean bill of health and released from the hospital within days. Although everyone was happy about his return, many questions remained. Where had he been for a whole week and how did he survive? Investigators desperately tried to find answers, but without Barry's memory or sufficient clues, the investigation reached an impasse.
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