The mention of squirrels made me think of Thomas, a particularly nasty boy, who’s become the nemesis of all squirrels in ‘A Godling for Your Thoughts?’ He’s also become the nemesis of Danyell and Dayell, my two main characters in that story. However, Thomas is one of Seraphix’s chosen, so I needed to get into his head. Regardless of how ugly a place it might be. I found myself feeling a little bit sorry for him, as I wrote. Not terribly sorry, but a little.
The school was a graveyard. Every desk was a coffin, only the poor corpses weren’t allowed to rest. They sat up stiffly, hunched over their tombstone tablets, scratching at its surface with bits of lead.
The teacher was perched up on the biggest gravestone of them all. To normal eyes, he might look like a squirrel, but the corpse children weren’t fooled by his small, furry body, and his bouncy, fluffy tails. Their rotting eyes and empty eyesockets avoided his beady gaze. They scraped diligently at their tombstones, in spite of the rotting flesh falling from bony fingers. For there was no excuse for slacking off at school.
Even if you were dead.
“No rest for wicked children!” the teacher chittered. “Not after all the naughty things you did, when you were alive!”
How Thomas longed to pick up a rock and throw it at the teacher! He would have done it, if he’d still been alive. How many squirrels’ heads and bodies had he smashed in with a rock? His body was immobile, locked within this narrow, wooden coffin. Only his writing hand could move.
He sneaked a glance at Oleander. Once, the other boy had had smooth, blue black waves of hair, falling down over a clear brow. Long lashes fluttered over violet eyes, which were quick to narrow with scorn at the sight of Thomas.
“Don’t call me pretty,” Oleander had once said, glaring down at Thomas. “The last thing I want is a troll like you to find me pretty.”
No, of course he hadn’t been pretty. Boys weren’t pretty. Boys broke and smashed things that were pretty.
“What are you staring at?” Oleander demanded. Formerly full lips were rotting and hanging off his teeth. Empty eyesockets stared back at Thomas. Oleander was dead, like everyone else here. “Do you still think I’m pretty?”
“Of course not!” Thomas said, with a scowl. “You’re dead and rotting, like the rest of us!” How marvelous to realize that Oleander with all his beauty and his sneers was no better than Thomas, in the end. He, too, was trapped in his graveyard, forbidden rest. “Not that you ever were much.” He longed to lift his hand and point his finger, but it was immobile. “Not that it would matter if you were. Boys can’t be pretty.”
“Ah, but you like them pretty, don’t you?” Oleander said with a rictus of a leer. “Thomas like boys pretty!” he called out. It became a sing song chant, as each body paused in its scraping to join in the chorus. “Thomas likes boys pretty! Thomas likes boys pretty!”
“Bet you wish you were pretty yourself!” Oleander yelled, breaking the chant. Part of his lip fell off. “Thomas wishes he was pretty!”
The chant changed, as everyone in the graveyard joined Oleander in his accusation. Decaying heads with half revealed skulls raised, caught up in the momentary energy to taunting someone else. “Thomas wishes he was pretty! Thomas wishes he was pretty!”
“Enough! Silence in class!” The squirrel’s squeak pierced through the chant, breaking it. Everyone slumped and scraped at their tablets, once more.
“Thomas, you’re to do lines!” the teacher chittered. “Write ‘Boys can’t be pretty, especially me’. Do it a hundred times!”
*You don’t have to.* The whisper carressed what was left of his bat ears, seeping into what was left of him. The voice sounded like Oleander, only it was sweet and gentle. *You don’t have to do any of this.*
“I have to,” Thomas whispered. How he longed to move his hands, to get out of his coffin. “I’m being punished. For killing so many squirrels. For being an ugly monster with bat ears.”
*Do you always do what you have to?* Tempting, oh, the voice was so tempting. *Or do you do what you want to? Isn’t there something you’ve always thought of doing, but never dared to?*
Oh, yes, there was. He stared at the squirrel, lording it over all of them, so small and superior. Why, it was just a squirrel.
“Yes,” he growled. Something small and cool was forming in his hands. It was a coin. He lifted his arm, only to see that his arm wasn’t rotting. It was covered with flesh, part of a living body. “Why do I have to accept any of this? It’s only real, if I believe in it?”
“Oh, you think that coin in your hand is real?” the squirrel demanded, but its tail flicked anxiously. For Thomas was bigger than the teacher. He always had been. “You think the life it will bring you is any more real than this?”
“Maybe not, but it’s got to be better than this,” Thomas said. He tried to get to his feet. Just moving was an effort, but he willed himself to rise. “At least it’s a life. Not being trapped in a coffin.”
“At least it’s a life,” the squirrel mocked, but its small body trembled. “Wake up, Thomas!”
“Yes, wake up, Thomas!” the voice said, only it was no longer simply in Thomas’s mind. It came from Oleander’s mouth, which was no longer a rictus of a grin. Full lips were appearing over the skull’s grin, returning the boy’s arrogant beauty. Only he was no longer so arrogant. He was smiling sweetly at Thomas. As if he cared. As if Thomas mattered. “Or better yet, dream another dream.”
“How?” Thomas whispered. His legs wobbled, refusing to report him. His hands clung to the tombstone. His own grave marker, with the lines, “Boys can’t be pretty, especially me.”
Were those really going to be his last words?
“No!” The cry exploded out of his throat, as he forced his wobbling legs to bear his weight. No wonder he was so heavy. He was still carrying the gravestone.
“Change,” the voice which was so much like Oleander’s whispered through Oleander’s mouth. Only it wasn’t Oleander. Or rather it was the Oleander who should have been, an Oleander whom smiled at him, when Thomas stupidly told him he was pretty.
Or better yet, he himself could be Oleander. Thomas would be that pretty himself. Not that he’d admit he wanted that. Not yet.
He hurled his tombstone at the squirrel. The small beast squealed, as it knocked him off the tombstone, smashing into bits. Blood ran down the rubble.
“You deserved that,” Thomas whispered. “Trying to tell me what I couldn’t, or couldn’t be.”