Chapter 2 : It's the End of the World (As She Knows It)
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1993: Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
She didn’t like the alleyway.
Granted, it was the shortest (and therefore fastest) way home from school, but it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention whenever she used it. Like she was a character in a horror film about to be viciously murdered by the mental-patient-turned-mass-murderer sneaking up behind. The feeling was especially strong when she was about halfway down the alley, after she’d climbed over the first fence and was making her way to the next, when there were walls on either side and no easy way out. It might have been a ridiculous feeling (after all, the chances of her being offed by a mental patient were slim to none), but knowing she was being ridiculous didn’t stop her from freaking out just a bit.
Her cure for the feeling was to half-walk, half-jog from one fence to the other, keeping a firm hold on her schoolbag, not stopping for anything or anyone, and repeating, It’s all in your head, Rory, it’s all in your head.
For the most part, her strategy worked. Her walk home was considerably shortened, she wasn’t hacked to pieces by a crazed axe murderer, and no one else knew how spooky she, Rory Grayson, who wasn’t afraid of anything, not even that bully Quinn Johnson who had an entire foot and maybe 20 pounds on her, found the alleyway.
Right now, though? The little hairs on the back of her neck were going absolutely mental. She tightened her grip on her schoolbag but stopped herself before she broke into a run. It’s all in your head, Rory, all in your head…
“Oooh,” a woman’s voice cooed behind her. “Look what I found. A little Mudblood.”
Rory froze. The voice didn’t sound quite right. In fact, it sounded a rather lot like what she imagined escaped mental patients with a knack for cutting people into small, unrecognizable bits sounded. Continuing to tell herself it was all in her head, she turned around slowly.
A woman stood just in front of a skip to the left, and Rory had to admit that things weren’t looking good, as far as not being hacked to death in an alley went. The woman had long, matted black hair, a little smile on her face, what might have been a maniacal glint in her eye, and was wearing a dirty, ragged smock that might have once been striped.
“Hello, Mudblood,” the woman said, tilting her head to one side and taking a few steps forward. Now she was right in front of Rory, literally looking down at the schoolgirl. Rory’s grip tightened on the strap of her schoolbag.
“H-hullo,” she replied, tripping over the world slightly. The woman’s grin widened, and she brought her right hand up to tap a long, knobby twig against Rory’s face. Rory stumbled back, eyes wide. The woman laughed.
“Are you scared, Mudblood?” she asked. She held the twig so it pointed right between Rory’s eyes. Rory took another shaky step backwards, and the woman continued. “I think she’s scared,” she called behind her, back to the skip and the shadows of the building. “I think the Mudblood’s scared out of her little mind.”
“A-amn’t,” Rory protested shakily, falling back on the type of grammar her ma always scolded her for using. “Just—just leave me be.”
The woman smiled again. Behind her, five more ragged, half-mad-looking people emerged from the shadow of the building, each raising their own twig to point at her, and Rory paid attention to the part of her brain that was demanding a quick escape. She stumbled back a few steps still clutching her bag, turned and began to run madly for the opposite end of the alley.
Because she was turning and running away, she didn’t see the black-haired woman smile malevolently.
She didn’t recognize the words, didn’t know what was happening, but there was a flash of light and Rory collapsed, writhing and screaming and howling in pain, on the dirty pavement of her shortcut home.
Her back hurt.
That was the first thought that passed through her mind—her back hurt, along with most of the rest of her body, and she didn’t know why.
She also didn’t know where she was. She hadn’t opened her eyes yet, but wherever she was, it smelt differently than she was used to. Mrs Mason ran a bit of a bakery service out of her flat, and every room, including the one Rory shared with her foster sister, smelt of flour and bread and pastries. This place smelt like antiseptic and herbs—the kind the lady the floor below grew in her window pot. Rory didn’t know what to make of it, and she was wary of opening her eyes.
But then she heard movement—someone walking closer, glass clinking together quietly—and her eyes shot open as her body stiffened.
A young blonde man dressed in some odd sort of lime green uniform approached from the opposite end of a long room of beds. He saw she was awake, and looked mildly surprised. Rory couldn’t tell if that was good or bad, but when he reached her bed, smiling, she was willing to give him a chance—until he put down the tray, and she could see what he’d been carrying.
Glass phials, some empty, some partially full, a glass of what might have been water, and a long, thin twig.
“Are you scared, Mudblood?”
The twig bumped against her nose.
Dirty, mad-looking people in the alley, and her with no way out.
Turning to run, stumbling over her own feet, and… and…
Hurt. Pain. Horrible pain, and the closest she could see to a weapon were twigs held in mad-people’s hands.
Before she realized what she was doing, the phials were crashing to the floor and the tray was in her hands and her back hurt but she was swinging her arms wildly anyway, slamming the tray against the man’s head. His head swung to the side and he wobbled on his feet, but managed to stay upright, if a little shocked. Rory took advantage of that shock to scramble off the far side of the bed.
“Stay ‘way,” she warned, backing against a wall. The man held his hands out and took a step forward. “Stay ‘way!” She was breathing hard, her eyes wide and she was scared half out of her mind. Stay away from me, stay ‘way, stay ‘way…
“What’s going on here?” a deeper, older voice asked. A portly middle-aged man hurried up, pulling a twig of his own from his pocket. “Roberts? What’s the problem?”
The younger man glanced at his superior helplessly. “I’m not sure, sir. I was doing my rounds and saw she was awake, but when I set my tray down, she grabbed it and did her best to knock me out. She’s told me to stay away a couple of times,” he added helpfully.
The older man nodded. “Well, it’s obvious she’s delirious—we’ll have to restrain her. Wand, Roberts? I’ll need your help with this.”
Roberts bent down and came up with the twig from the tray, and then he and the older man were closing in, and they had twigs, and her back hurt, and so she screamed.
A/N: Wow. So it's been, what? Almost a year since I've updated or posted anything? More than a year?
Whatever it is, it's been a long time. I wish I could give some brilliant excuse, like living abroad for a year with no internet access... But I can't. Best I can do is say that between school, life, and moving across an ocean (very long story), I haven't had much time to devote to writing.
It also doesn't help that for the longest time I was at a complete loss as to where this story was going. I mean, I knew where I wanted the story to go, but not how to get it there. I think I've figured it out (hence the update), but... maybe don't get too disappointed if my updates are only sporadic. Like I mentioned, my life's kind of crazy right now.
But anyway... what do you think of this chapter? Any interest out there, still? Or did disappearing for a year kill any readership this fic might have had? :P
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