(A/N: I'm pretty sure I started writing this fic before September '01. That makes the date on Crono's journal entry just a creepy coincidence... I think. Besides, the calendar system on Crono's world isn't like ours, so it really doesn't make a difference.)
I had a funi drem las nite and I want to rite it down befor I furgit. I dremd thir waz this lady. Shi waz pridi wif purpl hiar and red wengs lik thos ainjuls my mom talks ubut but I dont fink shi waz an ainjul. I uzali dont remimbir ceing colir in my drems but this tim I did remimbir and I remimbir shi saiz funi wurds to me that I dont no. "Wach fir the my si ki" iz wat shi said. I dont fink I haf a si ki and I dont no wat that iz and I dont no if I evin spel it rit. It sond lik thoz funi forin wurds but I dont no ani forin wurds I jus no gar-de-an and thats hard enuf.
Got to go to skul now mabi I wil rite latr and wen I git thir I can ask a techur wat a si ki iz becus mom dont no iter and techurz ar smart pepul so I herd so they shuld no.
Last-minute thoughts were being forcefully handled by the middle-aged woman towing her stubborn son to school by the wrists. The seven-year-old's plowing heels drew long furrows across the front yard of Truce Omega Primary School, thereby stunting their trek to the front door to an inchworm's pace.
The institution bore no resemblance to the young boy's imaginative speculations. It was actually a small, dusty shamble of neglected paint on aged wooden walls. Its rotting shell was punctured by sliding windows framed into a washy bleach and propped ajar with some decidedly vestigial hardback volumes. A tin overhang sheltered the homely front step, which was furnished with a cheesy welcome mat embroidered with, "Welcome to Class," as well as a small army's load of grimy footprints. The humble establishment dwelled on a parched street corner whose arid landscaping was dotted with sparse and far-flung oases of patch grass. Excluded from the wasteland were colonies of uncurbed weeds spawning around the premises, their hardy roots methodically toiling to undermine the concrete foundation. To complete the scene, a rust-clad swing set grew out of the salty earth, serenading the breeze with its grating voice and clanging chains.
The youth wasn't about to go near it.
"No!!" he strained against his parent's will, clenching his teeth and grinding whatever leverage he could into the weak dirt. "I wanna go back!"
The mother, however, was drained of her patience to stall. She froze dead in her plodding and whirled to sting him with her rebuff.
"Crono Wayne," she pulled out the ever-lethal middle name, "That's enough!! You're going to get your act together and go to school, whether you like it or not!! You're going to get an education, young man, if I have to tie a rope around you like a mule and drag your sorry behind to class every single day!"
The boy pressed his luck by seizing the opportunity to sit on the ground and protest any further progress. He stuck up his lip and pouted.
"Arg...!!" his mother growled like a roused bear, and before Crono was delivered a second chance to defy her he was taken off his guard and hoisted over the woman's shoulder like a sack of potatoes, thrashing and squealing complaint.
"Ahh! Lemme go!"
"Fat chance, mister! You're going to school!" was the motherly verdict.
Resistance from that point was a meager few kicks and the drumming of balled fists on his mother's back, neither of which had any ability to forestall the inevitable. The entire charade had, however, expended enough time to make the young lad considerably late. While from his parent's viewpoint it was "better late than never," undoubtedly Crono would have preferred the latter.
As things were he was toted into the building's threshold, and Crono's first day of school in Truce began.
Joseph was just sketching in the finishing touches on his latest work, "Shark Monster Eats Miss Holt," as the subject of his portrait paced across the front of the room, striking rhythmic cracks onto the blackboard with her chalk holder. His one attentive ear monitored the going-ons and cued him when to start chanting.
"Okay class, once more."
"One times one is one... Two times one is two..." a dreary chorus was raised from the twelve captive students, all confined to the four rows of desks spaced down the length of the room.
Of this evenly-divided group of boys and girls, five utilized the handicap of the answers etched out in plain chalk straight ahead, a few more labored to babble the lines off by memory, and those such as Joseph, who could recite the multiplication tables backwards, forwards, and while comatose, off-handedly murmured what was necessary to crawl the procession forward and let his mind idly venture into space.
He detailed some extraneous drops of blood around his instructor's corpse, set his pencil aside, and briefly admired his artwork. Meanwhile, the next leg of drills had initiated at Miss Holt's steady command.
"Okay, now for the 'two's'..."
Joseph was almost shaken from his seat by the eruption of groans and the domino-rally of thuds from foreheads striking hardwood. The teacher was untouched by this display and continued as she would, clearing the dark green board with her eraser and swiftly adapting the provided numerals for the next lesson.
Fortunately, a ray of hope mediated for the hapless students in the form of a timid rapping on the obscured side of the door. From the far left end of the room a pig-tailed little girl's head popped up and perkily announced, "Someone's here, Miss Holt!"
"All right," several low echoes revered the break in class.
"Come in," Miss Holt bid the stranger inside, not deterred from her writing.
Classes anticipated moments like these. Usually messages throughout the facility were exchanged through a relay of willing helpers--often kids who volunteered to abandon their assignments and run the halls for a whole day. Of course, a duty like that was reserved only for the obedient and trustworthy, so that excluded a giant percentage of those who would have leapt at the ticket to ditch school.
The arrival of a message most often signified one of two things: the teacher was about to be summoned away to leave her students unattended (the cause was irrelevant to the children, for they relished the diversion all the same), or grade slips were to be distributed, as they were every six or seven weeks, in order to inform the children of their... academic progress. The latter was given less than comical regard, and most loaned their prayers to the former, although both guaranteed that the lesson would be interrupted, which was always welcome.
The door crept open and a boy uneasily snuck his way in, as if he were trespassing on a neighbor's lawn and keeping peeled eyes for the watchdog. He brandished a pencil box in his hands and a yellow paper slip, which he delivered to Miss Holt after feebly wandering to the front of the room. His wide gaze inhaled the foreign environment.
The alert students fixed their eyes on the newcomer. Instead of passing the message off and darting away, as was customary, the boy dumbly stood by, crippled by the mannerisms of one who is lost, as the teacher skimmed over the note's scratchy handwriting.
He was strange. Joseph peered at him quizzically, vexed by an inability to recognize him. He was within Joseph's age group, judging by appearances (by the same method he could easily cite some in the same room that tragically weren't). He was short and well fed, not pudgy or scrawny, but actually quite fit and able. His healthy boyish complexion was marred by a strip of light freckles crossing the bridge of his nose. Eyes sharp with the hue of blue ice suited his sea-colored tunic, one arguably a size too large. Under similar questioning were the pale canvas shorts hanging below his knees.
Detracting from all the aforementioned was his hair--unruly spikes of bright crimson arrayed in such a reckless fashion upon him that he could be mistaken for a medieval court-jester. The white headband reeling a few tufts away from his eyes did little good.
"Hel-lo, circus is in town," murmured an older kid near the tail of the rows, and ripples of snickers grew from him.
Miss Holt's brows wrinkled into perplexity and her gaze bounced from the patiently waiting boy to the note slip and back. Her countenance soon melted into a pleasant smile.
"Well young man, I suppose you're in the right place then." Padding her fingertips on her chest, she introduced, "I'm Miss Holt. Welcome to my class." She spun and started to speak to the whole group. "Everyone! I'd like your attention, please. We have a new student here today."
Before too many surprised exclamations could ring up the instructor projected her announcement over them. "I'd like you to meet Cruno. He'll be joining us from now on."
A somewhat indignant shadow cast over the boy who was lured into the spotlight. "That's Crono," he corrected the absurd pronunciation.
"Oh." Miss Holt readjusted her composure and checked the yellow slip again. "Sorry. Well Crono, take a seat. There's room in the back behind Joseph." She indicated a vague area somewhere near the rear shelves and returned to the blackboard.
Crono gathered his cardboard box close to him and blindly meandered down the nearest aisle, hoping to hone in on a vacant desk and duck out of view before the incessant staring from his new classmates began to unnerve him. An inconsiderate leg stretched across the narrow void, hooked its heel on the chair directly across, and barred his path. Crono scuffed to a halt at the obstacle and lifted his face to the one hindering his way.
He was an elder boy. Long, slender bones comprised the awkward form that reclined into his spacious dark shirt and denim pants thick with large folds. Dull blonde hair capped his head and furred his forearms, which were lazily draped over the back of his chair. His misty gray eyes coldly burned Crono--a contradictory characteristic that was furthered by the lad's sardonic grin.
"Um, excuse me," the redhead politely attempted to bypass him.
Not even the intimidating smile shifted.
A peek around her shoulder enabled Miss Holt to throw a curved warning. "Darren."
At the sound of his name, the rebellious character removed his blockade and allowed Crono to finally pass, but not without a contemptuous snort and a handful of low chuckles.
Crono maneuvered to the furthermost desk and slid into it with a sigh of relief, glad that minor ordeal had receded. He started at the pointed jump of Miss Holt's speech.
"Now tell me the answers on the board down the row in order. Start with you, Liquel."
Far across the assembly of desks Crono heard a boy pipe up from the seat nearest the exit. He called out some number--probably what Miss Holt wanted to hear, just as likely something off the top of his head, for all Crono understood. Whatever it was, the teacher seemed to consent to it, for she allowed the student placed just behind him to give yet another number, and then the next in line did just the same.
Crono quickly figured that from where he was located there would be quite some time before he had to answer, himself. This was perfectly fine in his books, because he felt he needed at least a minute or two to get comfortable in what was sure to be a place he'd be spending a great deal of his life in from now on.
The walls were coated in faded blue pastel. A series of cabinets numbered with iron digits lined the room's left side, shelves stuffed with classroom miscellaneous cluttered the back, the teacher's desk was posted at the left corner near a hinged window, and beyond that a front-facing chalkboard dominated the scene's focal-point. Another, less conspicuous one clung to the right wall, and to the front-right corner the door was found, which Crono was already acquainted with.
Miss Holt herself wasn't a terribly striking character. A flowery blue dress outlined her slim figure and an ornate pin bound her dark hair into a shiny bun. It wasn't one of those "grouchy old lady" hair buns, which for ages Crono had associated with Casy's screeching Aunt Rani back in Marriville, but rather a "plain, orderly lady" type bun that fit onto Miss Holt a whole different stereotype. Her eyes were narrow and her face and nose pointed, but disregarding this she radiated a youthful, warm air that had yet to be stained by age and bitterness. She must not have been teaching very long.
The room didn't have an extremely complicated layout, and when Crono encountered a fluffy kitty poster underscoring the wall clock in all its cute glory, he decided he had explored enough. Turning to something more immediate, he inspected the battered pencil container that the school secretary had leased out to him moments before shipping him off to this cell. It was of tough cardboard, worn at the corners and riddled with crude color doodles. Peeling back the top lid, he spied his own name in permanent marker on the underside, such label indefinitely personalizing the abused box... Or rather he would have believed, had Crono not uncovered the names of other, forgotten ones, scrubbed into oblivion to yield for the most recent owner. From what letters he could still make out, Crono learned that the last owner of his box was someone named "Justin."
Inside were, debatably, the bare essentials for a primary schoolchild: two pencils, one stick of glue, and four crayons. One of the pencils appeared no better than if it had been fed to a wild wolf, the adhesive stick had been embalmed in its own glue, and technically, there were only three and a half crayons. The red one was missing its bottom half, and if Crono wasn't mistaken... were those teeth marks? Picking it up to scrutinize, he realized that it wasn't even a real red crayon. It was one of those half-baked "red-violet" ones.
A spit, "Psst," forced Crono to divert his attention from his high-quality supplies and seek the boy swinging about in the desk ahead.
"Hey," he whispered below the scope of an eavesdropper. A stuck thumb pinpointed the guy who had obstructed Crono's route to his desk. "Don't mind Darren; he's a jerk."
The boy opened his palm beneath the rim of his desk, offering a secluded handshake. "I'm Joseph. You can just call me Joey, though. Come talk to me at lunch; I'll show ya around."
Unsure how else to respond, Crono accepted Joseph's friendly hand and returned a lopsided smile. "I'm Crono."
"Yeah, I know," he shot back simply, and swiveled to face forward again.
In the meantime, the tide of questions had rolled onto a child who was, for all Crono had deciphered until this point, completely mute. For a disconcerting pause after being prompted, no answer came, and when jeering snickers began to spring up Crono at once started to pay notice to class events, for he detected that something was amiss.
Miss Holt gestured to the problem under consideration at the board and clarified it for the benefit of that person whose turn had not yet been fulfilled. "Are you listening? Two plus three. What is it?"
Still, nothing. Crono was baffled. What was going on?
In all directions his peers were expressing varied reactions. Some were chuckling or snickering behind clamped mouths, but at the same time there were those who didn't find anything funny, and instead visibly and audibly conveyed frustration.
"Just say it, Booger!" the kid three seats down burst out, his arms punctuating the exclamation by flailing outward. This was rewarded with laughter.
Crono was instantly flushed with relief. It didn't appear to be him that they were egging on, which was good, because he didn't want to cast a first impression of being too stupid to acknowledge his turn.
He fished around to find just who was stirring up the commotion, anyway, and by following the eyes of others he ran onto a little girl floundering in a deep corner of the room. Her head was hung low and her shoulders hunched over her neck, as if she were trying to shrink into her body like a turtle, but one arm was calmly held raised, as if she were pressing some nonverbal response.
Miss Holt impatiently folded her arms. "I can't hear you. Do you know the answer? Two plus three. Go ahead and try to say it, this time."
The girl smirked and waved her hand around, trying to signal something while at the same time sparing herself the trouble of speech. And, as if by reading her, the meaning behind it all hit Crono. All her fingers were exposed. She was trying to show that the answer was five.
The boy's expression contorted with bemusement. Why doesn't she just say so, if she knows the answer?
Whether or not anyone else was clued in to this quirk of hers, Crono wasn't sure. Just as the teacher was set to move on regardless, Darren lifted his voice and informed, "She says four, Miss Holt."
The girl blinked, certainly startled, and her hand fell slack at her side. Appalled, she gaped at Darren, who cracked up in snickers. Crono was near objection. She didn't mean to say four! The answer was five, and Crono knew she knew it.
As muffled giggles started to permeate the warm autumn air already choking the room, Crono learned something else. Darren knew it, too. The whole class knew what the answer was, and what she meant to say, and what Darren put in her mouth despite the correct number. This quiet girl was the butt of a joke.
But would Miss Holt buy it?
Unfortunately, yes, as she was more geared towards accomplishing the lesson in general than towards trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip and forcing a single word from that little girl. The woman's backside graced the students as her chalk-wielding arm methodically plotted the next set of questions.
A long sigh. "Four isn't right. Lizzy, do you know the answer?"
The head of the next row smugly arrogated the glory of declaring, "It's five, ma'm." More chuckles and mocking comments were dispensed at the silent child's expense, and the lesson moved on as it had before.
Crono slouched into his chair, dumbfounded. Joseph--er, Joey was right--Darren was a real jerk. How could Miss Holt allow that? How come nobody else spoke up to defend that girl? Surely everyone understood precisely what had come to pass. Even Crono grasped the concept, and he knew he wasn't exactly the brightest apple on the tree.
A long glance beheld the one who had endured that humiliating feat without so much as a peep passing her lips. Even to her looks, she was odd. Her tiny frame hid inside an oversized yellow shirt, its long sleeves defying common sense and the blazing heat outdoors. Her cream-colored shorts matched Crono's in style and material, and perhaps even in size, as they, too, didn't appear to be a very snug fit. Limp purple hair was sliced short at her shoulders, and fighting for balance on her small nose was what Crono heartily believed to be the biggest pair of glasses he had ever seen anybody so little wear. Perhaps even anybody at all, at that rate. Those, like everything else she wore, obviously didn't fit.
Melancholy blue eyes turned to him, and when the fact that she was being stared at sank in, her cheeks reddened furiously and she retreated further into her heavy garments, trying in much vain to be invisible to the world around her.
Crono winced away from her, a blush threatening to overshadow his freckles as well. He didn't mean to stare so long. He needed to concentrate on the lesson, or he might miss his turn. Try as he might, however, all that he had just observed didn't escape his mind so easily, and his wheel of thought persistently turned back to that strange kid.
What a sad little girl...