Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and violence.
(This takes place eight years before the first chapter, as it alternates from Castle's past and present. Once again, I have edited this so decided to reupload it)
2. The First Day Of Year Seven
“Oh, Castle!” my mum exclaimed as I slunk into the kitchen on that September morning. “You look so grown up! John, look at Cas!”
I didn’t look grown up. I looked ridiculous. The uniform was a hand-me-down from my sister, Journey, who was starting year nine. The blue tartan skirt hung way below my knees, and the dark grey socks reached up past them. The blue shirt was faded, the navy blazer made my shoulders look so big that I was almost triangular. A tie hung limply down my flat chest. I was drowning in a sea of blue and supposed responsibility, of fabric and some kind of independence. I scowled as mum snapped a photo of me on her phone.
“Please don’t post that on Facebook,” I warned her, crossing my arms in a huff. “It looks like you ordered this from that fat-kid catalogue Auntie Rose gets Emma’s clothes from.”
Mum snorted, but immediately tried to cover it up with a cough. “You’ll grow into it, and besides, it’s not like I can afford to just go out and buy you two hundred quids worth of uniform. That bloody school will be the death of me.”
“What was that about fat Emma?” came a voice from upstairs. Heavy footsteps made their way down into the hallway. “Blimey, you do look grown up, don’t you?” my dad scratched his head and smiled at me as he made his way into the kitchen. He ruffled my hair, which didn’t make a difference to its appearance as it was an untamable mane of blonde locks. “You got your lunch money? Your phone on full charge? Have you got-”
“Oh stop fussing - and don’t say fat Emma.” Mum cut him off before taking a sip of the black coffee she’d just made herself. “She’s fine, aren’t you Cas?”
I began to answer her question. “I don’t know, I’m a little excited but also-”
“See? She’s excited for her first day. You’re gonna love being at secondary school, Cas. You get to be so much more independent, you get art and music and drama lessons every week - they’ll be your favourite lessons, I just know!”
Dad also poured himself a coffee, but added milk and three spoonfuls of sugar when mum wasn’t looking, winking at me as he rose it to his lips. “So you want to walk in by yourself? You sure about that? I can always drop you off on the way to work. Or I can force Dex and Journey to walk with you.”
“No, dad. I’m fine. I’ll walk on my own. I’m meant to be growing up, right?” Truth be told, I’d already spent a whole summer with my family, and I just wanted to walk the bridge from primary to secondary school by myself with my music on full volume. Dad put his coffee back down on the counter and added another heap of sugar. “If you keep putting that much sugar in your coffee, you’re going to become fat Emma.”
“Stop calling her fat Emma!” Mum interjected. “She hasn’t had a growth spurt yet, she’ll grow into it!”
Dad mimed having a large stomach, filling his cheeks with air and waddling around the kitchen until Mum whacked him with a tea towel.
“John, that’s horrible! She's thirteen years old!”
I sided with my dad. “Thirteen stone, you mean.”
Mum tried to swat me with the tea towel too, but I ducked out of the way, grinning. “I’m gonna leave now.”
Glancing at his watch, Dad frowned. “It’s eight twenty, it won’t take you forty minutes to get there.”
“I just want to be early. I don’t want them thinking I’m gonna be laid-back like Dexter or dumb like Journey. Like you said yesterday, dad, first impressions matter.”
“Yeah, but I was talking about jobs. Year seven is different.”
“Is it really though John?” Mum asked, her voice a little tired. “She needs to make a good impression or I’ll have Mr. bloody Casey phoning me every evening to tell me how she’s not trying hard enough. Oh, and don’t call Journey dumb. She’s just not academic like you!”
I rolled my eyes, and dad did too. “I’ll see you later.”
Dad hugged me again as I tried to open the front door. “Text me at lunch, I’m gonna be worried sick all day!”
“They’ll confiscate her phone if she does that, remember all that hassle we had to go through to get Dexter’s back last year? She’s gonna be fine, John. God, that bloody school.”
The school was only a twenty minute walk away, up past the town centre, next to the playing grounds. The route I took wove through the town and eventually crossed the graveyard, and a short burst of trees we called no-mans land because it was where we’d play war games. I guessed I wouldn’t be playing them anymore, all those kids would be starting secondary school today too, whether it was Bluevale Ridge like me or the religious school in the next town over. My mum hadn’t given me a chance to express how nervous I was, something that always happened. Maybe secondary school was the time to stop letting people talk for me.
Of course, I had a song blasting through my earphones as soon as I left the house. “The Sticks” by Mother Mother, turned up so loud that any passerby could hear it. But I didn’t care. I’d really never cared about being embarrassed - it seemed so pointless to let what other people thought dictate your life.
The graveyard came into sight and I started to run.
I was suddenly in a movie, being chased by enemy soldiers. Zombie enemy soldiers. Ducking behind the abandoned graves, I started pulling out the weeds that had sprouted through the cracks, gathering vital supplies of food. The graves acted as my cover, protecting me from enemy fire as I stuck my fingers out like guns and shot at the rising dead. They clawed their way up through the dirt, squirming worms hanging from empty eye sockets like accessories. Their soiled fingernails clawed at my ankles, tearing at my skin as I leapt over piles of decaying flowers left by their loved ones.
Gasping for air, I threw myself over a gaping hole in the ground where a hoard of zombies had been hiding. One grabbed onto my foot with a revolting, skinless hand, and I screamed, shaking it off. As I vaulted over a stone fence dividing the battleground into two, I felt their warm rotten stink on the back of my neck, the breath they’d lost in death. I tumbled over the mossy remains of a grave and threw myself down into the grass, my bag of weapons thumping against my back. A dying stone angel, hauntingly beautiful in the morning sun, shielded my head from the rubble that flew through the air after a bomb the enemies had thrown exploded close to me.
“INCOMING!” I screeched, leaping up and throwing a grenade as hard as I could across the trenches. It soared through the air, spinning fast, looking as though it was going to make it to the other side of the graveyard. If it landed in the zombie trenches, it could take out a whole hoard of the revolting creatures, shred them into pieces of putrid flesh in a blinding explosion. A boney finger scraped across the back of my exposed legs, causing me to shriek with terror. I jumped forward, praying that the grenade had detonated, but as I watched it fly, it was no longer an explosive. It was a pine cone. I was pulled back into reality just before the boney hand pulled me down into the earth. My stupid, childish imagination had just smacked a teenager square in the face.
He was walking with his friends, all big and tall and acne-ridden. At first, he was stunned, watching as the pine cone dropped back onto the concrete.
“What the fuck?” came a deep, growling voice. They’d begun to charge my way, with greasy hair and Lynx deodorant just as rancid as the zombies. Anger was dangerously apparent on their tomato red faces. I didn’t recognize them, but Dexter always said there were kids in Bluevale Ridge that you just didn’t mess with, if you valued your life. They looked like those kids, with their shirts unbuttoned and untucked, exposing a hairy chest that could have only belonged to a full-grown man, or an ape. Their chins sprouted mean looking stubble, surely sharp enough to puncture my skin if they got close enough.
I started to run again, darting in and out of the gravestones that no longer acted as adequate barriers between us. I prayed I didn’t become like one of the decomposing bodies beneath them, ready to awaken in some other child’s nightmarish game. The gate was in sight - if I could just make it across the road, I could hide down some alleyway, and I’d be close to school. They wouldn’t beat me up in front of other people. They couldn’t.
And then I had made it, to the gate, out of breath, panting hard. I didn’t stop; they were right behind me. I was within reach of their ape-like hands, their cigarette breath.
So I kept sprinting, legs moving faster than they’d ever moved before. The music was still blasting through my ears, deafening me from their shouts and curses. I was running, at a blistering speed, right out into the main road. The thrill of the chase was so overwhelming, I didn’t even stop to check for traffic. I had been focusing on the other side of the road, believing it would put a safe enough distance between us. So focused in fact, that I didn’t even notice the car speeding down the tarmac towards me.