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Old 03-28-2014, 12:31 AM   #1
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ZODIAC: The Mirrored Astrolabe

I'm working on some original fiction (YA genre) at the moment. It's a first draft, so please be nice. Honestly, I'm looking for some light encouragement that help me through the slog that is writing. I was too mortified to show my writing to anybody else and finally worked up the courage to post. Fingers crossed that it's not god-awful.

Cheers, and I hope you enjoy.

Plot Pitch: Three kids, in their pre-teens, are gifted with supernatural powers derived from the Zodiac Star Signs. Although they are each different in their own ways, they are united in their common struggles with 'growing up'. These special kids must discover how to use their gifts, as they unravel the mysteries that plague a sleepy, old town - a town which may not be as sleepy as its first impression suggests...


Chapter one

Jake Hilden was a strange boy.

At the first glance, there was nothing about Jake that spelled “weirdness”. He was neither short nor tall for his twelve years. Dull, auburn hair hung over his pale face, which bore a pair of big, blue eyes and a smile that was missing two baby-teeth. A bandage was also taped across his nose, presumably to cover a minor wound from tag or some other schoolyard game. While those skinny legs supported Jake’s skinny body, the slightest hint of a tan crawled up his scratched arms, which had been injured from the one time he had to deal with his grandma’s annoying cat.

All in all, Jake projected a non-threatening image. Nothing out of the ordinary.

A simple, twelve year-old boy.

However, first appearances were deceptive. For Jake Hilden wasn’t an ordinary boy. Indeed, unusual things had happened to Jake, for as long as he could remember. For example, when he was six, his Aunt Mara had squeezed him into an ugly, red sweater, which made him look like an overgrown tomato. A snotty girl from school – Linda Pope – had noticed and mocked him until her jaw started hurting. Jake had wanted to crawl into a hole and wish the sky to fall down, or the ground to swallow him. Anything to shut her up.

Ten seconds later, the nearby pond of water had suddenly frozen over, with the twinned carps still inside. The girl understandably screamed and ran away. It wasn’t even winter, but one of those melting days in the dead heat of summer.

Nobody believed Linda when she screeched what had happened. Who could? By the time she reached a teacher, the ice strangely had already melted, and the carps remained unharmed. There was no proof. Jake himself couldn’t believe what he had seen. It was far easier to pretend that nothing happened.

More strange events followed as Jake’s life went on. Aunt Mara had gotten a job in another country, forcing her and Jake to move once again. While they were waiting at the airport, for the next flight to London, Jake had grown thirsty. Like many other nine year-old boys, he was impatient and thus pleaded Aunt Mara for spare change to buy a soda. After she finally gave in, Jake gleefully raced to the airport’s 8-Twelve Convenience Store and grabbed a Cherry Soda. He was disappointed, though. All the available drinks were warm; perhaps the cooling system was down.

Jake bought the Cherry Soda anyway, although he sincerely wished that the drink wasn’t this tepid or lukewarm. Sighing, he opened the can and bought it to his lips. Immediately, his eyes widened. The soda was cold. But didn’t he swear that it was warm a few seconds ago? How? What on earth?

Eventually, the strange incidents stopped, retreating into the blurs of his childhood memories. In fact, Jake could almost dismiss them as figments of his wondering imagination. Almost.

Currently, Jake and his Aunt Mara were in a car, driving dozens of miles into the countryside. Nothing strange was going to break out today. The last time Jake had seen freakish things was two months ago, and he was hoping to keep it that way.

“Jake?” a voice called out, breaking the twelve year-old boy from his thoughts. “Are you okay? You look a little dazed.”

Jake glanced up. Aunt Mara was peering at him from the driver’s seat. She was certainly not an unattractive woman, although the striding touch of fatigue had gotten to her: auburn hair that matched Jake’s own drooped from a tight bun, and faint wrinkles traced her forehead like lines in the sand. Despite her relative age at thirty, her thin limbs and quiet demeanour gave a wispy impression not unfamiliar with older women. Jake knew that she had an understated strength to her that was hidden, though. Steel under silk, indeed. Long fingers were clenched around the steering wheel, while Aunt Mara shuffled in her narrow, pencil skirt. Her cat-like eyes had softened at the edges, as though she were worried.

“I’m fine, Aunt Mara. Just tired,” said Jake.

“Are you sure? I have some aspirin in the glove pocket, if you feel dizzy,” said Aunt Mara firmly. “We still have a few more kilometres to go, and I don’t want you to sick up in the car.”

Jake smiled. “I’ll be fine. Your car’s safe.”

Aunt Mara’s expression didn’t waver, when their car hit another speed bump.

“Are you absolutely sure? Because we have at least another thirty minutes until we reach Clearview, and that’s further away than you actually think. You don’t reconsider taking my aspirin?”

This time, Jake rolled his eyes. “I’m sure.”

“Boys,” Aunt Mara muttered to herself. “They think they know everything.”

Ignoring the comment, Jake stared out the car window. The surrounding landscape wasn’t enticing. There was dirt everywhere, and he couldn’t spot a single tree in sight. All he could see was a vast expanse of reddish earth, which rolled out like a moth-ridden carpet into the cloudless horizon. Everything seemed empty. It was certainly a contrast to Jake’s previous home in the city, back in the suburb of Mosman.

“Aunt Mara,” said Jake carefully. “Why are we moving again?”

“I already told you. I got a better job at Clearview’s Whitson High School. It pays much better than that old position in Mosman, and you know how little I get paid for teaching to begin with. Every cent counts.”

“But I liked Mosman! The kids there were cool, and I got good grades. Plus the Principal, Mrs Copeland, wasn’t a pain in the –”

“Language!” she snapped.

“You know what I mean,” amended Jake. “We always move. I never get to stay long enough to make friends. Last time, we moved before I could even finish the Fourth Grade. And now, we’re moving again before I can finish Sixth Grade. Can’t we just stick to one school for once?”

“You didn’t complain this much when we moved last time,” said Aunt Mara.

“That’s because we moved from Stanton to Mosman. It wasn’t a huge move; the two suburbs are only a stone throw away from each other,” said Jake keenly. “This is completely different. You’re taking us to the country.”

Jake didn’t mention that another reason why he didn’t mind leaving Stanton was that he had frequently bumped into Linda Pope there. Unlike others, the girl seemed to remember the “freakishness”. She was quite insistent on her version of events too, even though the adults laughed it off as daydreams and childish silliness. It didn’t hurt to travel away from that unpleasantness.

Keeping one hand on the wheel, Aunt Mara massaged her temple.

“Clearview is a good town. It’s quiet, and I’ve heard only good things about the townspeople,” she said.

“It’s too far away, a two hour drive from the city,” rebutted Jake.

“Things are cleaner in Clearview, much cleaner than our old neighbourhood in the city.” Aunt Mara put on what Jake secretly called her ‘responsible adult’ face. “You might enjoy the change of scenery. I know I do.”

Of course she would. Aunt Mara thrived on change. Indeed, she swapped jobs quicker than some women would change shoes. She and Jake wouldn’t stay in any place longer than a year, because some position at some other high school had opened up. Her official title said “High School Teacher”, but Jake speculated if her unofficial title was “Wandering Salesperson”.

Jake sometimes wondered if his aunt knew about his… weirdness, despite the fact he never spoke of it. Although the bizarre events only occurred when basically nobody was around, Aunt Mara had a certain glint in her eye whenever Jake saw her afterwards. Like she knew something. Her awareness of the “freak episodes” would definitely explain why they travelled around so much. Maybe she was trying to get away before anybody could clue in to what was happening.

“Give Clearview a chance,” said Aunt Mara, grabbing Jake’s attention again. “You’ll make friends, I promise you.”

Jake looked at her. She was fingering her silver pendant, something he knew that Aunt Mara only did when she felt nervous. Her expression had a varnish of sincerity. The defiance in Jake’s stance slipped away; he couldn’t stay angry at Aunt Mara, not for long.

She was the only one out of his relatives who was willing to take him in. Not Uncle Victor, not Aunt Rosemary. Only Aunt Mara. That had to count for something in Jake’s book, because to a twelve year-old, acceptance and affection meant the whole world. He had to trust his aunt.

“How long until we arrive?” piped Jake, putting as much enthusiasm as he could into his voice.

Aunt Mara looked relieved.

“Twenty minutes, tops,” she replied.

“Oh, okay.” Jake felt mischievous. “Are we there yet?”

He ducked to dodge Aunt Mara’s smack on his head.

True to his aunt’s words, Clearview emerged over the road after another twenty minutes or so. The first thing to appear was a dusty, metal sign upon which unfurled fancy, slanted writing: Welcome to CLEARVIEW – A Town of Happy Faces. Painted over the sign’s right corner was a coy white rabbit, which was presumably meant to be an upbeat choice for the town’s mascot.

However, the artist hadn’t succeeded. The rabbit’s eyes were too large, almost the size of dinner plates; the creature’s smile was also exceedingly wide, giving Jake the impression of a rabid rabbit hopped up on drugs or cotton candy. Jake felt unsettled instead of welcomed.

As Aunt Mara continued further into the town, Jake’s initial impression of Clearview wasn’t improved. Mean streets zigzagged outwards, as capillaries of cobblestones and low-browed houses. While grey shrubs grew around neat corners, red dust crept across the brick walls, which were otherwise clean and whitewashed. Most of the buildings didn’t reach three storeys. Two old men were reading a newspaper on a park bench, but there were no children in sight. In contrast to the jovial bustle of Mosman, Clearview appeared sleepy.

Aunt Mara turned right at a traffic light that wouldn’t stop blinking ‘red’. It had probably been broken for a while, considering that the other cars seemed to disregard the ‘red’ signal.

Strange. Jake also noticed that there weren’t many cars in Clearview, to begin with. In fact, there was nobody else on the road, except Aunt Mara’s beat-down Toyota and a police cruiser. The emergency lightbars on the cruiser were on, spraying orange and blue on the pavement. Maybe there was a crisis somewhere in town. But then why wasn’t the police siren on as well?

And why did the officer inside look bored?

Aunt Mara parked the car in front of a grey building. Nondescript windows arrayed the building’s sides, while a tall, iron fence enclosed the boundaries. There was no roof, just a flat, square finish. A plaque at the gates indicated that the building was ‘Stonewall Primary School’.

“I thought we were going to the house and unpack our stuff,” said Jake, feeling confused.

“We need to first register you at school. I want you to start attending tomorrow,” said Aunt Mara. She unbuckled her seatbelt. “The quicker you settle in, the easier our lives will be. Now, let’s get this done and over with.”

When Jake opened the car door, he winced. A foul stench slammed into him; it seemed suffocating and sooty, like smoke and charcoal. He stumbled into his aunt’s arms.

Worried, Aunt Mara supported him.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

Jake coughed, trying to dismiss the awful reek. “You don’t smell it?”

“Smell what?”

“That smell.” Jake made a wild gesture. “It’s like something is burning.”

Aunt Mara squeezed Jake’s shoulder. Concern mingled with a tinge of fright on her face. As Jake coughed again, Aunt Mara pushed back her brown bangs.

“Jake,” she said tightly. “I don’t smell anything. Maybe you’re not feeling well… Would you like that aspirin I was talking about earlier? It’ll clear your mind.”

Jake looked around. Two mothers had stopped their strollers beside a washed out tree. A boy in polyester jumper was staring from the school gate. All of them were staring at Jake, through piercing and bloodshot eyes. Great. Attention already.

Taking a deep breath, Jake tried to clear his throat. The smell wasn’t that bad. The less he thought about it, the more bearable it became. Already, the stench seemed to be dissipating. It was just a minor niggle, that’s all.


Aunt Mara was still grasping his shoulder. Putting on a smile, Jake pushed away his aunt’s hand and started walking towards the school. Be mature about it, you’re not a cry-baby anymore, he thought determinedly. Rule Number One on freakish activities: don’t attract attention.

“Aunt Mara, I’m fine. I’m just pulling your leg,” said Jake cheerfully. “Geez, stop worrying so much.”

He grinned. “Worrywart.”

“I wouldn’t have to worry if you didn’t make me,” said Aunt Mara wearily, as she followed Jake into the school building. “You are one strange boy. I swear, Jake, you’ll be the death of me.”

They climbed the stairs, passing by the school’s blank notice-board and an outdated poster for a Primary School Writing Competition. The hallways were clean and freshly swept, and green doors formed a tidy array along the dull, grey walls. Since it was Monday afternoon, most kids were still inside the classrooms, with their teachers. However, one or two students prowled outside and around corners, as if they were protecting something.

Jake crossed his arms. Even from the first look, Stonewall Primary didn’t seem as exciting as his old schools.

Aunt Mara approached one of girls who were prowling the hallways.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for Charles Norton?” asked Aunt Mara. “The Principal for Stonewall?”

The girl on the right glanced up. She looked neat, with long sleeves and a laundered skirt. A red hair-band pinned back curly, blond hair. Jake was reminded of Linda Pope, the snotty girl who tattled on his “weirdness”.

“Principal Norton’s office is on the second floor,” said the girl, pointing at a flight of stairs. “Third door from the right. You can’t miss it.”

“Ah, thank you,” said Aunt Mara.

The blond girl leaned towards Jake. Up closer, Jake noticed that the girl had hazel eyes which would have been pretty, had they not been bloodshot and ringed with dark circles. It was as though she had been in a fight, or hadn’t slept in a long time.

“I haven’t seen you before,” she said to Jake. “And I remember the faces I see. Who are you?”

“Uh, I’m new. Just moved here.”

“Thought so. Clearview’s a small town, and things don’t change that much around here,” said the girl in a bossy voice. She extended her hand. “I’m Eloise Applelard, by the way. How old are you?”

Jake was hesitant. Only when Aunt Mara nudged him encouragingly, did he shake Eloise’s hand. “Jake Hilden. And er, I’m twelve?”

“Good. You’re my age, so you’ll be in Year Six,” said Eloise. “Word of advice: ask Principal Norton to keep you away from Class 6B. The homeroom teacher is horrible, and some of the kids in that class are rule-breakers.”

Eloise emphasised the last word, as if it was poisonous or forbidden. Jake shuffled his feet. This girl, with her brisk voice and red hair-band, seemed overbearing. She made him feel rather uncomfortable, to be honest.

Thankfully, Aunt Mara interrupted the conversation, before it could go any further.

“We’ll try and mention it to the Principal. And thank you for your advice,” said Aunt Mara.

“No problem. It’s my job to help people. See?” Eloise pointed at the golden badge pinned to her chest; it read ‘The Community – Scouts’. “I’m part of Clearview’s Scouts, which gives an extra hand to Stonewall and other important organisations in town. Right now, I’m working as a Hall Monitor. Keep up the order of school, you know?”

“The order of the school?” repeated Aunt Mara.

“Yes, it’s important,” said Eloise. “Anyway, I have a few more corridors to patrol. Remember, the second floor. Third door from the right. That’s the Principal’s office.”

The girl walked away without another word, leaving Jake and Aunt Mara alone again.

“What a nice girl. She was so thoughtful in giving us directions,” said Aunt Mara, as they walked up the stairs to the second floor. “Such discipline – I’ve never seen such a well-behaved child. Clearview must be much stricter than Mosman.”

“I dunno. Eloise seemed a little, er – forward.”

“Nonsense. Frankly, her attitude was refreshing,” asserted Aunt Mara, looking satisfied. “Not many kids are willing to listen to adults and act as responsibly as that girl. I was surprised.”

Jake said nothing, although an uneasy feeling persisted in his stomach.

The Principal’s office was exactly like Eloise Applelard had said: third door from the right. The insides weren’t spectacular. Two seats were side-by-side, next to a threadbare coffee table and a skeletal-looking lamp. The grey windows were oddly reflective, glimmering like hazy mirages. Overall, the office gave the impression of a psychiatrist’s room, or one of those consultation rooms at a hospice.

After talking to the wan secretary, Jake trailed behind Aunt Mara into another room.

Principal Norton was sitting behind his desk. He wasn’t an intimidating man. At least in appearance. Gifted with a rather forgettable face, he had thatched hair, a small mouth, and a strong jaw. In fact, the only thing that was reasonably remarkable about the man’s looks was his eyes. They were watery and black, like a pot of ink.

Those eyes flashed when Jake entered the room.

“Good afternoon,” said the man; his voice was a wispy but controlled. “Please, take a seat. Now, what brings you to Stonewall?”

Aunt Mara sat down in one of the room’s armchairs. Jake copied his aunt and lowered himself into a red armchair. The chair itself, with its black trimmings and lumpy cushions, reminded him of an open jaw. Jake felt a little nauseated. It didn’t help that the burning smell seemed to be the strongest here. Not that anybody else appeared to notice.

Why didn’t anybody else notice? Jake sincerely doubted that he was going crazy. Well, not too crazy.

Aunt Mara extended her hand to Principal Norton; the man shook it.

“Mara Pryce, we spoke over the phone,” she said.

“Ah, the woman planning to move to Clearview. I remember: you wish to enrol your nephew, yes?” Principal Norton sounded thrilled, as though he were a toad that had caught a particularly juicy fly. “I’m sure Stonewall has a place for him. Let me check the relevant paperwork. Procedures, procedures…”

Principal Norton’s black eyes flicked towards Jake.

“You must be Jake Hilden,” said Principal Norton. “Twelve years old?”


The Principal raised an eyebrow; Jake flushed.

“I mean, ‘yes’,” said Jake hastily.

“You better be careful with that tongue, Jake. You never know how you might offend the next person,” said Principal Norton, uncurling a strange smile. He turned to Aunt Mara. “Did you fill in the forms I faxed you?”

“Yes, I have them here right now. Although I would have preferred if you had emailed them – ”

Principal Norton interrupted: “We don’t use computers that much in Clearview, Miss Pryce. We’re rather old-fashioned sometimes.”

Aunt Mara opened her handbag and passed a bundle of papers to Principal Norton, who began to peruse through them. Jake squirmed in his seat when Principal Norton lifted his gaze from the sheets and stared at him. He felt examined, like an insect at the end of a pin.

“Your record is quite coloured, isn’t it?” said the Principal. “Four schools in five years. Decent grades, and what an interesting disciplinary record. A propensity for getting into strife, perhaps?” He turned the page. “We can’t have trouble at Stonewall, Jake. You will have to sort out your tendency for causing problems.”

“Jake’s a good kid,” said Aunt Mara.

Principal Norton read aloud: “Three probations and two suspensions.”

Jake flinched. Each of those events had involved a “freakish” incident, like the frozen pond and Linda Pope. There were inexplicable, and nobody knew the truth. Of course, that didn’t mean that Jake wasn’t punished under labels such as “causing distress to a peer” or “vandalising school property”. His school record was far from spotless.

“Those were mistakes, unfortunate happenstances,” insisted Aunt Mara, in an oddly pitchy voice. “Jake has learnt his lesson, and there won’t be any further trouble. Isn’t that right?”

Aunt Mara shot Jake a meaningful look.

“Um, yes. No trouble,” said Jake, sheepishly.

Principal Norton set down the papers, reached into his desk drawer, and pulled something out. It was a yellow pamphlet, gilded with the logo of a Four-leaf Clover. Jake glimpsed at the title: ‘The Community – Four Hands Acting as One’. It was the same organisation that ran the Scouts, or whatever Eloise Applelard was a part of.

With the slickness of a greased realtor, Principal Norton slid the pamphlet across the desk.

“The Community is Clearview’s central volunteer group. I’m one of the district coordinators,” said Principal Norton brightly. “We do some great things, like host a neighbourhood barbeque or fundraise for the local church. Our children’s division, the Scouts, is also very popular amongst the local kids. In fact, their annual camping trip to Lake Burragorang sells out every time.”

He pressed the brochure into Jake’s hands. “The Community could help you make friends, and even sort out your… problems. It would help you to understand how things roll in Clearview.”

“Jake, it does sound like a good idea,” conceded Aunt Mara. “Weren’t you worried that you didn’t know anyone else here?”

Jake pocketed the pamphlet in his jeans. While the local club sounded like a good idea, he didn’t like the glint in Principal Norton’s eyes. The man’s expression was impassive, but those black pupils were almost predatory. And Jake’s instincts told him to be wary.

“I’ll think about it,” said Jake cautiously.

“Sleep over it. I’m sure you will make the right decision,” said Principal Norton, as he filed away the rest of the Community brochures. “Back to our original topic, I do think that Jake will fit-in at Stonewall, Miss Pryce, despite his patchwork record.”

Aunt Mara was visibly relieved.

“We need his guardian’s signature on one more form, and his enrolment will be finalised. Am I to assume that you are his primary caretaker?”

“Yes, I am,” answered Aunt Mara.

Principal Norton tapped his chin with a finger. “What about his parents?”

“My sister has been dead for twelve years,” said Aunt Mara brusquely, “and my brother-in-law had renounced his custodial rights when Jake was six.”

While Jake stared blankly at the carpet, Principal Norton harrumphed.

“Ah, I’m sorry for your loss,” said the principal, not sounding sorry at all.

“It’s alright,” mumbled Jake.

Principal Norton whipped out a pink slip from under what appeared to be a great, purple tome. He signed at the bottom of the slip, before giving the pen and paper to Aunt Mara. After she had added her own signature, Principal Norton handed the form to Jake.

“Sign on the dotted line, Jake,” said Principal Norton, as Jake grabbed the ballpoint pen.

Flicking his gaze down, Jake scanned the paper. The writing was awfully dense and spidery, like the text in Aunt Mara’s thick books on British Imperial history. For a wild moment, Jake doubted that he even had to sign the form. He was taught to listen to adults, but for some reason, his gut feeling said otherwise.

Why did he feel uncomfortable around Principal Norton? Was it the smell of burnt wood? Or the strange shadows under the man’s eyes, as if they had endured sleepless nights?

“Jake?” asked Aunt Mara.

“Okay, okay,” said Jake, giving up.

Pressing the pen against the paper, Jake scribbled his initials in one, fluid motion. His intestines twisted. It felt as though he was signing away his soul, tethering himself to a school and community in which something was very wrong.

Principal Norton snatched the paper with blinding speed and locked it away in his drawer.

“There’s only one more thing left,” he told Jake. “Welcome to Stonewall Primary – and to Clearview.”

A few more minutes passed, during which Aunt Mara and Principal Norton exchanged some general pleasantries and a few words regarding the textbooks Jake would need to buy. However, the wan secretary finally interceded.

“Principal Norton, Mrs Kane has sent Douglas Draper to your office,” said the secretary, from the doorway. “Apparently, Draper had fallen asleep in class again.”

A smidgeon of irritation flickered across Principal Norton’s face.

“Douglas Draper? Send him in.” Principal Norton gave Aunt Mara a sickly smile. “I’m afraid we’re out of time. I will show your way out.”

As Principal Norton steered his guests towards the door, Jake remembered something and glanced at the black-eyed man. The boy took a deep breath.

“Principal Norton,” said Jake. “Can I ask you, er, a favour?”

When Principal Norton turned around, Jake felt his face burn red. He was embarrassed that he was even making this weird request to start with. Aunt Mara was frowning.

“Can you put me in a class other than 6B?” asked Jake uneasily. “This girl – Elena, Elisa, something – said that I should avoid it, and ask you.”

“Class 6B? Interesting, that was my original pick for you,” said Principal Norton softly. “I imagined you would fit in perfectly with the other children there. You see, many of them are also…troubled. Unusual kids we need to keep an extra pair of eyes on.”

Jake resisted the urge to retort that he didn’t need extra supervision. This was the fourth time that the principal had alluded to his disciplinary record, and Jake was getting a little fed up.

“Regardless, I don’t think we should make any hasty changes for now,” concluded Principal Norton. “Let’s see how you behave in Class 6B and take it from there, okay?”


Principal Norton tightened his lips.

“I mean, ‘Yes, sir’,” corrected Jake.

“Good. We’re learning already.” Principal Norton opened the door and gestured to Jake and Aunt Mara. They walked out of the office in silence.

Outside, the sallow secretary was flicking through an old Better Houses magazine. She wasn’t paying any attention to Douglas Draper, the boy who had been sent to the principal, to be punished. Perhaps this wasn’t Draper’s first time at the office. The boredom in the secretary’s face and the apathy in the delinquent boy’s stance suggested as much.

The mere presence of Douglas Draper was bizarre. Draper had big ears, an intelligent face, and bright-green eyes that blinked behind a sleek pair of glasses. Brown hair – combed and tidy – fell over his forehead. Even his clothes were tidy, a clean jumper and pants without creases. Jake thought that all Douglas was needed was a heavy book and a set of 2B pencils, and he’d be the image of the ideal Teacher’s Pet.

Douglas Draper looked like the type of boy you’d copy off in a test, not the type of boy who would be sent to the principal’s office. In fact, he reminded Jake of Eloise Applelard, the bossy Hall Monitor.

However, Eloise had a Scouts badge, while Douglas didn’t. Jake wondered if that had to do with anything.

“Douglas, sleeping in class again?” said Principal Norton pleasantly.

Douglas glared at the man, those green eyes blazing. Jake sensed Aunt Mara tense next to him.

“Well?” Principal Norton waved towards the door to his office. “Surely you’ve been to enough detentions to know how this works. Go in and make yourself comfortable.”

Douglas wrinkled his nose, as though he had smelled something disgusting. After throwing the principal another glare, he walked into the office and slammed the door behind. Principal Norton’s smile faltered ever-so slightly. Jake couldn’t help but grin.

“Excuse me, I have some work to do,” said Principal Norton in a tight voice.

Before turning the doorknob to his office, he patted Jake on the shoulder. A cold feeling spread through Jake’s body, like cold wind at night. Jake shivered.

“Follow the rules, and act like everyone else,” said Principal Norton. “Then, you will have no problems at Stonewall.” He smiled at Aunt Mara. “I’m sure your stay in Clearview will be pleasant. Please, have a nice day. And Jake, I’ll see you tomorrow for your first day at school.”

After nodding at them, Principal Norton turned the door and strode back into his office.

As they returned to the school’s carpark, Aunt Mara turned to Jake and mentioned the Community pamphlet.

“I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to join the group. You liked camping and volunteering in those school functions back in Mosman,” said Aunt Mara.

Jake hopped into Aunt Mara’s Toyota and buckled his seatbelt; Aunt Mara got into the driver’s seat.

“The principal was too pushy,” replied Jake.

And creepy, he added silently.

“In the end, it is your choice,” said Aunt Mara quietly. She sighed, as she turned the car’s ignition. “I just think it’s a shame, really. The lost opportunity…”

Jake rolled his eyes.

The Toyota backed out of the parking space and rolled back onto the road. While Aunt Mara concentrated on driving, Jake stared out of his window. The dreary landscape of Clearview drifted by, like an insubstantial cloud. A postman hurried to his van, and a police officer reprimanded a frightened, old lady. She held the leash to her bloodhound, which was squatting next to a small pile of faeces. Perhaps the dog had relieved itself on the walkway, an act which was apparently illegal.

One thing that Jake had noticed about Clearview: it was drowsy, but everybody seemed nervous. For some reason, the townspeople were fearful. With a few peculiar exceptions: Principal Norton, Eloise Applelard, Douglas Draper from the office…

Aunt Mara called out to Jake; she turned into a quiet lane and slowed down the car in front of a neat, little house.

“We’re here,” said Aunt Mara, smiling. “Welcome to our new home.”

Stepping out onto the lawn, Jake stared at the house. It was quaint, with pink shutters and trussed rafters. There were three upstairs windows, signalling that this was a three bedroom house. A series of flagstones formed a footpath to the front door, on which was embossed a bright brass plate with the words ‘No. 6, Carroll Street’.

“It’s smaller than our old house in the city,” noted Jake.

Aunt Mara opened the trunk of the car and took out some boxes. They had the familiar labels: MARA’S CLOTHES, JAKE’S CLOTHES, BOOKS – FICTION, KITCHEN UTENSILS, etc. When she beckoned to him, Jake walked over and took the parcels from her hand. He staggered a little; they were heavy.

“Take these to the front door, while I get the key to the house,” instructed Aunt Mara, as she reached into the trunk again. “Be careful with the smaller boxes; those are our only clothes, and if they get ruined, we’ll have nothing to wear.”

Jake obeyed, although not without grumbling about aunts and the weighty tasks they set.

When Aunt Mara found her keys and opened the door, Jake carried their belongings into the living room. The insides of the house were nothing exceptional: pastel walls, wooden floors, and flowery drapes. A carpeted staircase led to the second floor, while a glass table leaned against the window. Most of the rooms were empty.

There was very little furniture, but Jake expected that. Despite what the name suggested, pre-furnished houses tended to contain only the essentials: beds, chairs, a dining table, and maybe a sofa. Jake and Aunt Mara didn’t need much, though. They had survived with far less.

“I guess the previous tenant wasn’t kidding when he said the house was barely furnished,” said Aunt Mara, as she wiped her hand across the tattering sofa.

“It’s not that bad,” said Jake.

“Really?” Aunt Mara started opening some of the boxes. “You were complaining buckets in the car, about Clearview and moving. Be honest with me.”

Reaching into the box labelled ‘TRINKETS’, she took out a deck of decorative Tarot cards. Aunt Mara placed the deck next to the pile of history books.

“You can tell me what you really think about the house,” she said.

“I actually like it, no kidding,” admitted Jake.

He was telling the truth. No. 6, Carroll Street managed to feel cosy without being boring or bland, like many of the other homes in Clearview. The house’s unusual “pink” colour scheme helped fight the dreariness.

Aunt Mara hoisted the ‘KITCHEN UTENSILS’ box. “Really? You like this old bag of dust?”

“A ‘Yay’ from ‘Yay or Nay’ for me,” said Jake. He added, cheekily. “And you aren’t that old, Aunt Mara.”

“Haha. I’m dying with laughter.”

Aunt Mara placed the box on a bench-top. Whipping out a dishtowel, she began wiping down the nooks and crannies in the kitchen. Dirt and grime emerged from the cracks in the tiles. After a moment of furious scrubbing, Aunt Mara paused and looked up at Jake.

“I’ll fix you some lunch in thirty minutes,” she told Jake. “In the mean time, why don’t you head to your room and start unpacking? You can have the east bedroom, the one facing the front yard.”

Jake raised an eyebrow. “Lunch?”

“Honey Chicken with rice.”

A bubble of glee floated in Jake’s chest. Like many other twelve year-old boys, Jake often allowed his stomach to do his thinking. He adored food, especially sweet dishes which tingled on his tongue. And his aunt’s Honey Chicken, with its crisp batter and drizzle of syrupy sauce. A little garnish of toasted sesame seeds on the top…

Jake jumped towards Aunt Mara.

“Is there anything else you need me to do?” he asked her. “Arrange the books? Put the clothes into a dresser? How about I take that dishtowel, and –”

“Doing extra chores isn’t going to make me start cooking any sooner,” intoned Aunt Mara.

Deflated, Jake blew a raspberry.

“Just start unpacking your things,” said Aunt Mara,” and I’ll call you down when I’m finished, okay?”

Jake picked up the box containing his belongings. Before he climbed the stairs, he rolled his eyes.

“Pfft, you’re no fun,” he commented.

The room that Aunt Mara had selected for him was comfortable. The ceiling was peaked, allowing for a surprising amount of room, while a small bed crouched next to a simple dresser. Over the window hung periwinkle curtains which were decorated with a curious pattern of lizards holding gloves and fans.

Jake set down the box on the bed. As he took out his clothes and put them in the dresser, Jake pondered how his stay in Clearview would pan out. Aunt Mara had promised that they only needed to stay a year, perhaps even less. Jake sighed. Even though he didn’t want to whine, Clearview perturbed him. It was so different to Mosman or the rest of the city. The dead middle of nowhere.

However, it wouldn’t be that bad, if it weren’t for Principal Norton. The man wasn’t good news, and that burnt smell originating from his office made Jake frown.

Reaching into his pockets, Jake pulled out the pamphlet. The logo of four-leaf clover stretched across the front cover.

“Act like everyone else,” he muttered. “What am I supposed to do? Join the Scouts?”

The Community and its junior division, the Scouts. The group seemed innocent enough. Would it hurt to give the club a try?

Jake was folding the Community’s pamphlet, when he heard a shuffling sound outside. Curious, Jake strolled to the window and pulled it up. The source of the noise wasn’t hard to find; a young boy stood on the front yard, crushing some of the gardenias with his scrappy sneakers. A baseball cap was shoved low over the boy’s head, as if he wanted to protect his identity.

However, bits of hair popped out from under the hem. Jake noted that the hair colour was blond, but different from the pale blond of Eloise Applelard’s curls. It was a more triumphant blond, brighter. More yellow, like afternoon sunshine.

Jake shouted. “Oi! What are you doing?”

Startled, the boy in the baseball cap jumped back. Then, he spun around and ran away. Jake wrinkled his brow, more than a little puzzled.

“What was that about?” he said to himself. “Can this town get any weirder?”

After closing the window, Jake started to return to the box on his bed. Something grabbed his attention, though. The glass in the window had tinted slightly, with a tiny cluster of white on the bottom right corner. Entranced, Jake pressed a finger into the pane.

A cold snap crept up the window, making it opaque and freezing to touch. Frost trailed over what was warm glass, a minute ago. Ice crystals formed over the edges, like spider webs.

No,” breathed Jake.

He withdrew his hand. Almost immediately, the ice started to disappear. But the damage was already done. Jake felt his heart race at a million miles per second; his finger was numb with cold.

“Not again,” he mumbled.

The freakishness… Was it real? Jake swore that he saw the last of it in Mosman, two months ago. That was meant to be the end of the weird business, finally. But why was it happening again in Clearview, out of all places?

Why to him?

Last edited by Schadenfreude; 03-28-2014 at 12:36 AM.
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