Sorrow’s Child, chapter 2

Sorrow’s Child

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: Game events from Clara’s point-of-view, probably. I actually have no idea where I’m going with this.

Chapter 2

Mr Hoffman bids us good morning. His voice crackles and breaks over the speakers.

I’m the last one awake; the others are already crowded around one of the long tables that crouch in the center of the dormitory, grinding crayons down to misshapen stubs as they hiss and giggle at each other.

The table is festooned with paper and colored sticks of wax. Scraps of paper lay scattered about, bearing the words “Boarding Pass” above a large fish. A scrawny mermaid lingers on a black slash of rock; an enormous pink pig idles in a sea of grass; a red bird strains for the empty sky, tethered to the wrist of a scraggly child, the words “Forever Land” carefully etched across the top of the page. Forever unreachable.

They go silent as I approach. Diana puts her crayon down and crosses her arms across her chest, and smiles at me with enough hostility to make me flinch and look away.

“We thought you were dead,” she says, sounding disappointed. Margaret presses her knuckles to her mouth and snickers, ever faithful to our tormentor.

They look at me across the table and wait for me to respond, but what can I can possibly say to diffuse their rage?

The door opens, and Jennifer slips in, her short, boyish hair still mussed with sleep as she tugs at the sleeves of her rumpled dress.

The door slams shut behind her. Diana and Margaret jump in their seats, startled by the noise. Their attention shifts, and takes their animosity with it.

Diana smiles again and unfolds her arms.

“Well, Jennifer,” she says, “you’re as late as ever. Won’t Mr Hoffman be impressed.”

With their focus on fresher prey, I sneak out of the dormitory, my relief a dull ache beneath the throbbing shame of my cowardice.

But she would have done the same, I think.

Only Margaret willingly submits herself to Diana’s cruelty. The rest of us scatter like mice and pray that we’re quick enough to avoid the claws at our backs.

* * *

Wendy is sitting up in bed by the time I bring her breakfast in. She offers me a tiny smile before erupting into a coughing fit that rattles her fragile body.

“Good morning, Clara,” she says when it subsides. She sets aside a stuffed bunny to make room on her lap for the food tray. She frowns slightly at the sight of her morning meal, but doesn’t waste energy complaining; Jennifer would sneak her sweets throughout the day, supplementing her diet with candy and chocolate and biscuits. Oatmeal was merely a formality as this point.

I poke my fingers through the wire bars of Peter’s cage while she fiddles with her utensils and lets the food grow cold. The rabbit huddles against the back of the cage, wide-eyed and shivering. He watches me with cold distrust.

The rejection embarrasses me. I pull my hand away from the cage, a tiny spark of anger flickering to life in the middle of my chest.

Stupid rabbit. It shouldn’t even be allowed inside, its hutch is out in the yard. Animals belong outside. Wendy’s frailty affords her special treatment, though.

Wendy smiles at me across her untouched oatmeal. “Thank you,” she says, gently pushing the tray away. “It was very good.”

Peter’s face twitches. Red eyes stare dumbly ahead at nothing.

Stupid, wretched thing.

* * *

The kids are playing Airship in the hallway.

I suppose that’s what the boarding passes were for.

They abandon their game and go still and quiet whenever I approach.

I make up reasons to excuse my presence – Mr Hoffman needs something from some room, Miss Martha needs something else from another.

They just look up at me impatiently, eager for my departure.

I go back to the sick room.

The sheets are rumpled. There’s a small wet patch near the middle. I rip them back from the mattress, my fingers curled as I claw at them.

The stains are waiting.

* * *

Wendy is lying down when I bring her her dinner.

Peter watches from the back of his cage, eyes wild with helpless stupidity.

I shove the cage roughly with my foot as I approach the bed, softly calling Wendy’s name in an attempt to rouse her.

Her eyelids slit open; her blue eyes are pale seas of pity. “I’m not hungry,” she moans.

Another coughing fit.

I gather up a small mountain of candy wrappers and stuff them into my pockets; Mr Hoffman will scold the both of us if he finds out she’s been gorging herself on sweets instead of “proper” food.

“You should eat something,” I try, knowing already that it’s useless. She moans again and presses her face into her pillow. “For me?”

Nothing.

I dump the mealy vegetables into Peter’s cage before leaving.

He’ll eat them, or he won’t. Either way, his cage is so filthy they’ll hardly be a noticeable problem, even if they’re left to rot. Most importantly, Mr Hoffman will be pleased to hear that “Wendy” ate something healthy for once.

* * *

It’s still dark out when something spoils my sleep. A door opening and closing. My stomach curdles as I draw my knees up, curling into a tight ball of clammy skin and pulsing blood. Lying beneath the thin, scratchy blanket, I wait for the hand on my shoulder, the silent, undeniable command to follow.

Seconds tick by, birthing minutes.

I can’t help but look.

Despite the late hour, the dormitory is empty.

There’s a boarding pass at the foot of my bed.

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