I hate this place. Everyone is staring at me. Everyone was already staring at me, but now this fool has dragged me up in front of them, made me the center of attention, and thereby legitimized their staring. The imbecile.
"Class, I'd like you all to welcome our new foreign exchange student. This is...Quezzo'che? Am I pronouncing that correctly?"
No, you are butchering my name in front of these children, but I just want this moment to be over, so I am nodding and I am trying to smile. Everyone is still staring at me. At my eyes. At my clothes. At my scars. Where I am from, everyone knows what these scars mean. Where I am from, it would be shameful to stare at them.
"Quezzo'che is visiting us from...Canada?" I can tell as he says it that he does not believe it, but it is a lie so brazen that he is too embarrassed to challenge it. No, of course I am not from Canada, you simpleton.
"Yes," I say, "I am from Canada."
"I'm not sure that your...costume is really appropriate clothing to wear to school," he says.
This is not a costume. This is armor. It is made from the hide and scales of a chimera that I killed with my own hands. It is a badge of honor. It is also the only suit of clothing that I own. As my home burned around me I gave no thought to saving trifles.
"I will try to find something else to wear," I say.
"Alright," he says. "Why don't you tell us a bit about where you come from?"
What do you think the children would find most interesting? The towers carved from frozen blood? The second moon, whose light can kill when it is full? The storms of flaming hail? Or shall I skip over such mundane details and tell them about the parts that they would find terrifying?
"It is very cold," I say.
"Right," he says when he realizes that I am not going to elaborate further. "Then why don't you tell us about your family?"
"My parents are dead. My uncle sent me here." This is a half-truth. Technically I am here in hiding from my uncle, since he tried to kill me along with my parents. But I am certain that the details will only upset him further. The blood has already drained from his face after my original answer.
"Why don't you take your seat?" he manages.
I sit at a desk. I listen to the lessons of the day. Well, I listen for a while, then I dismiss them as meaningless, and I let my mind wander. I think of home. I did not really lie - it actually is quite cold.
Eventually we are dismissed, and we depart for the next class. As I walk through the crowded hallways I can hear whispers and see children pointing at me. Much of the whispering consists of a heated debate over whether I am a boy or a girl. It is the only part of my day that I find genuinely amusing. Apparently many of the children are waiting for some definitive sign that they feel will prove them right. I disappoint all of them. Eventually, one of them flat out asks me "so are you a boy or a girl?" I can tell from her tone that she means for the question to embarrass me. It clearly discomforts her when I smile and simply answer "no."
As we pass each other in the hall, one of the larger children pretends to cough as he says "freak," and then he tries to shove me. It is like trying to shove a pillar of granite, and the boy stumbles and falls. I plan to simply walk on, but he accuses me of having pushed him. I wish to avoid making more of a scene, so I apologize, and hold out a hand to help him back to his feet. He slaps my hand away.
This is an insult too great, and my temper runs away with me. I look deep into his eyes.
I can see that he lost his mother when he was twelve years old. She had the most wonderful laugh. He will never again hear that laugh, but he remembers it so clearly.
I burn those memories.
He does not yet know what he has lost, but he feels that he has lost something. He starts to cry, and some of the other children start to laugh at him. This spectacle is apparently more entertaining than the bizarre new stranger in their midst. They all disgust me.
As the day wears on a few brave souls attempt to speak to me courteously. I, in return, am polite to them. This is no special honor, as I am equally civil to the children for whom I feel nothing but contempt. But perhaps they can sense that with them I am being sincere. I confess that I am not greatly concerned either way.
Eventually we reach the end of our lessons for the day, and all make our way outside. Some begin to board noisy vehicles, while others walk, or pilot smaller vehicles. I plan to find a place to hide until they all leave, but my ride shows up early.
The children scream and scatter. The adults too. I think I would be more upset, but compared to the rest of my day this barely registers as an annoyance at all. None of my attempts to fit in have met with any real success. As I climb into the saddle, my mount shrieks like a dying horse, and the leftmost head drools molten lead onto the grass.
"I missed you too," I say. It is nice that I was able to bring at least one friend with me when I fled my homeland. It paws at the air until in finds purchase on some particular kind of nothingness, and then we sprint into the sky, born aloft by nothing so crass as mere wings. I try to decide if I will ride back to school tomorrow, or walk like I did this morning. Pretending to be one of them does feel pointless.
I choose to ride.
Amanda Johnson stands atop a glittering tower of ruby red ice. Two different colors of moonlight paint the nightmare landscape that stretches out around her as far as the eye can see. The howling wind is bitterly cold.
"Wait a second," she says, "this isn't Canada!"