The Adventures of Trina: The Glass Key: Part Four
Over coughing up sobs, I heard the metal door squeak, and something slipped behind me. I could see it from a shadow on the wall, standing there like stone, its shape overlapping with my quivering silhouette. Even covered in darkness I dared to not let it find my face, soaked and shaken, pressed against the cold surface of the table.
“How far are you willing to go?” The shadow whispered, devoid of emotion. * * * * *
Cassie was flipping through pages of a math textbook when the floor screeched beside her.
A red Gelert was dragging an empty desk to the other side of the room, where many desks were gathered in a square, no doubt to do group work.
“I thought a girl sits there?” Cassie intervened, looking at a blue backpack where the desk once was.
“Pfft, she’s too busy right now,” he grinned. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”
Cassie tried to spot the green Wocky among the crowd, but was unsuccessful. “Um, where is she?”
“Climbing that tree again, where else?”
Cassie shot him a bewildered look, and the Gelert’s eyes widened.
“You mean you don’t know?” he said after a pause. “Everyone use to talk about it! Now it’s so last month. She’s been trying to climb that tree for ages now. She stopped for a while because the teachers got on her case but now she’s at it again. And every day she falls off. And if you ask her why she keeps doing it she’ll tell you it’s because she wants to be an archeologist. A weirdo, am I right?”
“Who knows,” he laughed, shaking his head. “She’s even broken her arm once! She usually comes to school looking like she got into a fight. Must’ve fallen on her head one time, I’ll bet!”
“That’s not very nice…” Cassie said in a low voice.
“Well it’s true. And ‘cuz of her, recess is no fun anymore. Don’t believe me? See for yourself and have a good laugh! The teacher isn’t looking right now…” With that, he took off.
Sure enough, the teacher was busy helping a Buzz with a math problem, and these were tough math problems. Making no sounds, she slipped from her desk and made for to the playground.
At recess, the tallest tree was always the center of attention. Students would come to class taking about what had happened at the tree. Its trunk marked the finish line for races, was a pillar for playing limbo, and was a place to play cards in the rain. On lonely days, some would sway causally on the tire swing, taking a break from the chaotic excitement on the playground.
Now, a single Wocky clung to a branch halfway up the tree.
“Hey, what’re you doing up there?” Cassie called with her hands cupped around her mouth.
The small Wocky ignored her, occupied with trying to pull herself up to the next sturdy branch. It was lengths away from her arm’s length, but she reached for it regardless.
Each day she arrived at school, she remembered she could see the top of the tree poking out from behind the schoolhouse. It was the tallest tree in the schoolyard. Even at halfway, falling would be terrifying.
“Get down!” she cried. “You’ll never make it!”
“I will make it!” she barked back. ”Just you watch!”
“You can’t!” Cassie gasped.
“Wait and see…you non-believer!” she said between sharp breaths. Her arms twisted and contorted between each word, yet she still managed to flash a smile. “The great Trina W. will be the first to reach the top! You…ain’t…seen…nothing…yet!”
Cassie tried to be polite by granting her another minute of silence, but it had made no difference. She still struggled to keep control of her body. To stay up, she had to grab the nearest branch, which was now bending from the Wocky’s weight.
“Don’t tell me what to do! I WILL make it!”
The tears were coming. “But why? Why do you keep hurting yourself like this?”
“This doesn’t hurt—come up here and see that this ain’t so hard! I must prove myself! They told me…I won’t make it, ‘cuz I’m a girl, ‘cuz I’m not strong enough…they’re wrong about me!” She said, her body convulsing from the pain as she spoke.
“But this isn’t the way to do it. Stop!”
“I gotta…keep going…” she cringed.
With a snap, the branch gave way, and the Wocky tumbled through the air. Cassie was right under her, and instinctively she tried to catch the screaming Wocky. Instead, the Wocky knocked her over, but fortunately, that cushioned her fall.
Cassie got to her feet and clutched her sore arm. Before she could speak, the Wocky had begun crawling toward the tree trunk.
“Stop this, please!” Cassie said and pulled her from the soil. “I can’t watch you do this anymore!”
The Wocky shook her head and shoved the Usul aside. “Then don’t watch,” she said in a stubborn tone. The pale sunlight revealed tears running along the cuts and bruises on her cheeks.
“Then no one else will be around to see it! Why keep going? Why not just say you reached the top?”
“I have to do this,” she repeated. She could barely stand, yet her resolve was unwavering. “Liars are scum!”
“C’mon, I think you’ve had enough for today…” Cassie grabbed the Wocky by the arm and dragged her away. “Tomorrow’s a new day. You can prove yourself then. Let’s go back to class.”
Tomorrow would be a new day. She would make sure of it.* * * * *
In rhythm, her classmates stomped across the cobblestones with the chimes of the clock. The Wocky named Trina was left in the dust against the initial recess rush, but she still pounded forward, as fast as her tiny feet would allow. Right before her eyes the Wocky toppled over, and Cassie helped her up, never removing her eyes from her old shoes.
“Thanks for that!” the Wocky spoke so fast, it was almost incoherent. One vigorous handshake later, she was off.
Her insides were screaming, her stomach wanting out, but it was for the best—she had to repeat those words in her head as she headed for the playground. They were soothing, but they could not drown out the firestorm that awaited her. Worse, it was like marching to detention. Would she ever talk to her again?
At the edge of the playground, the Wocky was curled up into a ball, fighting to hold back tears.
“What…WHAT DID YOU DO?” she sobbed, her voice mixed with rage and sadness. She shuffled over to a clean-cut tree trunk and hugged it. Her arms did not meet on the other side.
“I…I asked the principal to take it down. I’m so—“
“You WHAT?! Why’d you do that to me?”
“You’re safe now! Now they can’t make fun of you anymore!”
“I NEVER CLIMED IT! NOW I CAN NEVER WIN! And they’re gonna hate me for taking down the tree! They’ll blame me for what you did!”
“NO YOU’RE NOT! HOW COULD YOU BE SO MEAN?! LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE DONE!” she wiped her nose. “Poor tree!”
The Usul placed a hand on her shoulder. “We could plant another one. Then no one can get mad.”
“That’s stupid. Trees are slow. It’ll be too easy to climb. I’ll squish it, and everyone will get mad!” She beat her fists against the trunk.
“No, not for climbing! Trees live for a long time, right?”
“So what?” she spat.
“Well…I…” she started. Quick, think of something, think of something, she panicked.
“Well…one day kids will get to play with a big tree in this playground just like we did. It’ll be huge and amazing! It may be even better than that old piece of wood. And the best part is everyone will remember it’s your tree—our tree!”
“Our tree? Pfft! Get your own! I’d NEVER share a tree with…with a meanie like you!”
“Then that’s too bad, because my tree’s gonna be the tallest!” Cassie outstretched her arms above her head.
“Oh yeah? How do you know? I’ve got lots of books in my house! I could find one that’ll make my tree taller than yours! I won’t lose! “
“See?” Trina waved her thumb in Cassie’s face. “I’ve got a green thumb!”
Cassie laughed. Trina’s ears twitched. Finally, her chapped lips formed a slight smile.
“Fine, you win, you win! Let’s go ask the principal if you could plant a tree here. “
“But what if he says no? He’ll probably hate me, too!”
“’Course he won’t! You’ve got a green thumb and a meanie gardener on your side! I’ll care for that tree ‘til it grows strong—or ‘til we graduate! No one here can beat that!”* * * * *
“I need to ask you something Mr.,” I said with seriousness. “A favor.”
“I need you to escort me back to Neopia Central. Just for a minute, there’s something I need to see first. I won’t run, I promise. Then I can give you the answer. Please…it means the world to me…”
The domineering shadow disappeared for several minutes, leaving her shivering shape alone against the stone. When it returned again, the shivers had left her. She turned to face the figure in the doorway.
“Let’s go,” a brown Wocky said urgently.
A moment before the door closed behind me, he mumbled softly.
“Mine too.” * * * * *
The stars dotted the moonless sky. They peeked out from the holes in the swirls of clouds, almost blue and grey in appearance. Absent of wind, empty of sound, the dry grasses crunched beneath me as I searched. Searching for the one shadow among a world shrouded in such, pleading for the one reminder that could vanquish this nightmare.
And then there it was, twice my height, a thin shadow reaching for the sky. The tree that Trina and I planted in our early friendship still stood in the corner of the schoolyard. Had a fence not separated me from the playground, I would feel mine and Trina’s name etched in the bark. Autumn had long carried its beauty away, but two leaves still clung to a network of broken twigs.
Taking in a deep breath, I faced the stranger.
“As far as it takes,” I finally answered. “I will go as far as it takes.”
The Wocky nodded and removed a glove from his hands, revealing scars across his fingers. I took his hand immediately.
“Welcome to the Glass Key.”
To be continued…