Kali shot up in bed and nearly tumbled right onto the floor. Her head was spinning, and she was gasping as though she had run a marathon. The dregs of her dream were already ebbing away, but the terror wasn’t so willing to let her go. She buried her face in her hands and found that her cheeks were wet. Tears? She groaned and wiped them away.
Checking her phone with bleary eyes, Kali moaned when she saw the time. She had overslept again. Struggling out of bed, she tallied up all her usual symptoms. She felt like she was hung over, but without the fun the night before. Her head was pounding and when she opened her curtains she winced as the light sent sharp pains through her. The position of the sun only reminded her that she needed to hurry up.
Grumbling under her breath, Kali grabbed the nearest black trousers she could find and rushed to get dressed. She steadied herself against the wall as she tried to find a safe path across her cluttered bedroom floor. She knew she should do something about it, and her mum wouldn’t stop whining at her to clear it up, but it was too much hassle. She’d get around to it eventually.
Kali grabbed her bag off the back of the door, and thumped on her mother’s bedroom door on her way past. The curses she heard from the room made her laugh; her mum was always late for work and today would be no different. Kali brushed her teeth in a hurry to get out of Lynette’s way and then took her time walking down the stairs. Her head was swimming, and she had a strange but familiar ache in her chest.
Before she left, Kali filled the kettle for her mum to make her usual coffee. With a quick glance around to try to remember what she was forgetting, Kali swept out of the house with a grimace. No doubt, she would notice as soon as she needed it and not a moment sooner. While she walked, she twisted her hair up into a messy bun and winced at the extra pressure on her scalp. It was already promising to be a long day.
She just caught the bus, though she had to jog over when she saw it pulling in. She scowled to herself and avoided eye contact with the driver and her classmates. Instead, Kali pulled out her phone and used the camera to check her hair. It wasn’t that bad, but she grimaced at herself anyway; she looked ill. Her skin was practically grey against the white blouse she had to wear, and her brown eyes looked lifeless. How Kali wished she could have inherited her mother’s blue eyes. Her father’s had been gold, she could remember that much about him, so she didn’t know how she got stuck with such a boring brown.
The route the coach took went past an old park. Seeing it every day, Kali didn’t need to look closely to see that the once-red paint was gone from the adventure playground. The wooden seats of the swings were splintered and were almost split completely in half, and the carousel was rusted beyond recognition. Kali couldn’t bear to stop in the park because she hated to see what had happened to it. She remembered when she was a little girl, not even three, when she used to go to that park with her father. It was one of the only memories she still had.
The journey passed in a blur, as it usually did. Dazed as she was, she nearly missed the stop for the school. It was only when one of her classmates nudged her on their way past that she sprung to her feet. Flashing him a grateful smile, though she couldn’t remember his name, she followed the group off the coach. She let the distance between them grow as she walked and focused on the music blaring in her ears.
Kali couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched as she walked through the school gates, but she shook herself. She was just being paranoid. As usual. She hadn’t been able to shake the feeling of danger since Jade…
She rubbed her temples gently and headed straight to the bathrooms on the ground floor of the main building to sort out her hair. She couldn’t have it up when her head was hurting this much so she put it in a loose plait over her left shoulder to keep it out of the way. She softly touched the long scar on her left cheek and clenched her jaw before lifting her chin to look at the similar cuts on her neck. They should have healed by now. Kali had never scarred before so why were these so stubborn?
Frowning at her reflection, she turned away with a sigh and went to the main hall, relieved that there was no one around. Playing piano, or any musical instrument, was one of the few things that could calm Kali down in almost any circumstance. It was like the songs got inside her blood, her soul, like the music was a part of her. That was one of the reasons that she was so happy when she could spend time on the grand piano in the mornings. Today, unfortunately, was not one of those days. Instead of stopping to lose herself in the music, she trudged towards her form room.
Most of the students inside were clumped together in their own little groups. Kali sat in the front row, in the seat nearest the door, and busied herself doodling in a notebook. Her mind drifted back to her most recent dream and she frowned. Her hand shook slightly on the symbol she was drawing, and she closed the book. Even though she couldn’t remember much more than grey water, she couldn’t get it out of her head. It felt familiar, and the lingering feelings were unsettling.
The first class of the day was Psychology. Kali sighed; she was already bored with Psychology. Her first year had been fun and interesting, and she had surprised herself when she had gotten a B. But this year she had a different group, and most of the other students used it as a social club. Kali found it difficult enough to concentrate without their inane chatter distracting her.
Kali had never been very good at making friends, so she mostly sat on her own in classes. That might have been part of the reason the others annoyed her so much. She knew that she was jealous of the easy friendships they had made. Her other schools had been the same. But Kali hadn’t stayed anywhere more than three years before coming to this school. She had been there since starting her GCSE’s, but she hadn’t wanted to be there. And no one wanted a friend who was always miserable. Besides, she had managed to upset the popular girls in her first week. That had more or less cemented her social status.
Sophie, the queen bee, always went out of her way to make Kali’s life miserable, like she didn’t have reasons enough for that anyway. Sophie’s snide remarks and occasional attacks used to really bother Kali but now she just ignored them. Perspective was a gift and a curse in that. For the most part, Kali just kept her head down and stayed quiet. She couldn’t afford to rise to all the challenges Sophie threw her way. Things tended to happen when Kali got angry or let her frustrations get the better of her and she only had one year left to get through her A Level’s and get the hell away from that place. She wasn’t going to mess things up now, not if she could help it.
As miserable as Kali was, even though she knew she didn’t really belong anywhere, she knew that somehow everything would work out. It had to. As she tried to convince herself over and over again: everything happened for a reason. No raindrop lands in the wrong place. There is a purpose and a meaning to be found in life…
She had to believe that was the truth because if there was no point to life then all the suffering people went through was meaningless. And she couldn’t handle that.
The day was as uneventful as it usually was. She had an interesting chat with her Physics teacher – a rather eccentric but highly intelligent man – at break-time after the lesson and then she went to the library until her next class. Kali got on far better with the staff at the school than she did with the students. At first, most of the teachers had assumed she was a trouble maker because of how many schools she had bounced through. After her first quiet, polite months they reassessed their opinions. While they had initially avoided being near her, now they even sought her out just to chat.
The music room was Kali’s favourite haunt, mostly because everyone left her alone if she was in there. And she just felt at home surrounded by so many different instruments. The soundproof rooms meant that she could sing or play as long as she liked, and no one would hear her. It was her escape whenever she was having a hard day and she would go there during lunch, and after school.
When the end of the day finally came around, Kali sat at the lonely piano and closed her eyes. She sat there for a long time, letting her fingers pick out a tune of their choosing. The song lingered in the air long after she stopped. Kali rubbed her aching head, wishing that the painkillers she had taken would just go ahead and work already.
Playing with the loose strands of her hair that fell around her face, Kali sat on the floor with her back against the wall and stared blankly into space. Her mind was busy, but her thoughts were so jumbled and frantic that she couldn’t focus on any one thought, so she just let them flow freely. It was strangely calming, like staring at a rough sea in a storm, and Kali stayed where she was until her skin prickled uncomfortably. She glanced around her but, as always, she was alone.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Kali stood up and stretched her aching muscles with a groan. Her shoulders clicked, and she moved to pick up the only acoustic guitar that was in the music cupboard. She managed to get halfway through a song before moving to another instrument. She stopped again after only a few bars and moved through almost every one of the instruments in the music room. She just couldn’t settle on any of them.
Kali was restless; something was wrong, and she didn’t know what, but she knew that she should be doing something. Anything. She checked her phone and saw that it was almost four o’clock. She had planned to meet her mother at half past six, when she would be done at the Safari Park they both worked at, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to just sit still for much longer. Kali decided to just head out and take her time getting there, so she slung her bag over her shoulder and started walking.
It took thirty-eight minutes for Kali to get to the outskirts of the park, and another nineteen to fight her way through the crowds. That meant that the last dolphin show of the day had just started when she got there. A grin found its way onto Kali’s lips; she had never actually been able to watch the shows.
Kali hadn’t been swimming since she had encountered a shark. She had been five, maybe, and her mother had taken her to the beach. They had been messing around, splashing and playing, when it had appeared. Kali hadn’t been afraid; her childish mind had even been certain the creature had come to play with her. She couldn’t remember much but her mum had never let her near the sea again. She guessed that was a reasonable reaction, though she desperately wanted to go back there. Surely, she was old enough now to know not to try to swim with a goddamn shark.
She shook herself as she listened to the introductions. Lynette was described as a mermaid, capable of taming any beast of the sea. Kali rolled her eyes; her mother was no mermaid. She was, however, very talented among the trainers at the park. The dolphins all loved her and Kali never tired of hearing the stories about them.
Kali was amazed by the tricks the dolphins were doing but it made her uncomfortable nonetheless. She shifted where she stood and folded her arms around herself. These majestic creatures weren’t here to entertain people. Getting them to literally jump through hoops…was that maybe just a bit demeaning? More than that, it seemed…cruel.
That thought changed the whole tone of the show to her, and Kali wanted to leave. She didn’t want to watch this. But her feet were rooted in place. They seemed happy, right? Grimacing, she shrank back against the wall and waited for the show to finish. Eventually, the dolphins were done and it was time for the killer whales. Kali watched with awe as she saw the newest arrival swim powerfully into the pool. He was a lethal slab of deadly instincts, and he was magnificent.
Kali’s eyes were drawn to the crowd, pressing against the barriers. One little girl who couldn’t be older than eight was leaning into it with a look of pure adoration on her face. As Kali watched, she felt herself moving though she hadn’t made any conscious decision to do so. As she sprinted down the stairs, the barrier in front of the girl rippled. For a fraction of a second, Kali was sure that she saw it disappear.
The girl was standing at the edge of the pool one moment. And the next she was in the water.
Kali was already only a few feet away when it happened. She had lost her bag and her coat on the way down, and she jumped up at the barrier. Kali heard the girl’s mother scream, but she didn’t slow. Scrambling up the screen and onto the top, she dove into the pool without hesitation. As she hit the water, she could hear her mother screaming something from the other end of the pool. Too far to get to the girl. At least, too far to reach her before the whales did.
Most of the killer whales were vicious and the only person they would let in their pool without getting territorial or violent was Kali’s mother. They could be so obedient and playful with Lynette, but you could never afford to forget that they were predators first and foremost. That was why Kali had never been allowed to help in the pool. And now, the deadliest creature in the water was hurtling towards her.
The water was clear enough and Kali swam hard after the golden streak she knew was the girl’s hair. She was still thrashing uselessly but she couldn’t have much time left, terrified as she was. A terrible shadow loomed ever closer and the male, Ramu, was closing in on the girl. Kali screamed at it, the words something she could not recognise, and it turned its attention to her.
Instinct took over and she froze. She didn’t even realise that she had lost all her air when she called out to him. The girl continued to sink, but Kali didn’t dare move. Everything inside of her screamed, but it wasn’t until the whale nodded that she rushed to catch her. Nodded?
Kali was terrified. Terrified that she wouldn’t be able to get the girl out of the pool. Terrified that it was already too late. Terrified that Ramu would change his mind and rip them both apart. But he swam alongside her and nudged her when her she had wrapped her arm around the girl’s waist. Without thinking, she put her arm over his back and tightened her grip on the child.
Ramu rose slowly to the surface of the pool and Kali realised just before they broke through into the air that her lungs weren’t aching. She wasn’t screaming for oxygen. How long had she been in the water? Pushing everything else aside, she dragged the girl over the edge of the pool and scrambled up beside her.
The rise and fall of the girl’s chest had long since stopped. They hadn’t been under that long; they couldn’t have been, but fear had driven the air from her lungs as soon as she had gone into the water. Kali knelt beside her, ignoring the way her clothes stuck to her, and touched the child’s pale face.
CPR. How do you do CPR? Kali had only ever seen it on TV, but something must be better than nothing until the paramedics came. She pinched the girl’s nose and blew air into her mouth, before pressing her hands to her chest in imitation.
Her hands were hot, burning, and Kali heard herself whispering words she didn’t recognise. She closed her eyes and focused on the warmth that was building up inside of her. She forced the energy to her hands without a second thought and opened her eyes to see that colour was returning to the girl’s face. Just as the medics finally fought their way through the crowds, the child coughed and spluttered, trembling violently on the floor.
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