Guin! Sarah’s voice was in my mind. Guin! I’m going. There was a hint of terror in her voice. I jolted awake.
What, now? I thought, sitting up in bed, resting my head on the wall that my bed was pressed up against. I bit my lip in concern.
Yes, now. For a moment I could see the school grounds from the front door. There was a car, some kind of black SUV, parked in the driveway and I, or Sarah, was surrounded by people I didn’t know. Then the image faded and my room came back into focus. I’ll lose contact in a moment, but I wanted you to know that I was going. There’s a box with a bunch of my journals under my bed; I want you to have them if I don’t come back.
Then I won’t touch them, I thought stubbornly.
Guin, we went through this earlier, her thought speak sounded exasperated. If I die, I want you to get my journals and keep them. I don’t want anyone else to get a hold of my secrets.
Alright, I agreed, a sick feeling in my stomach.
Good bye, Guin, she thought. A second later I could no longer feel her presence in my mind any longer. Carefully I eased myself off of my bed and over to the window, where I leaned on the sill, looking outside. I could see the car, a tiny black spot down the lane. As I watched a sick certainty that I had just said good-bye to my friend for the last time settled over me.
This feeling was coupled with loneliness, and I realized that I was the only one left awake on the school grounds. In fact, I was wide awake and I knew that it would take something near a miracle to get me back to sleep.
“Oh God,” I whispered desperately, almost as a prayer as I cradled my head in my hands. “She’s gone.” I didn’t add what I was thinking – forever, a horrible sense of dread enveloping me. I sighed and stood to make my way to the bookcase, thinking that maybe I would read for a while, until Sarah came back or until I could go to sleep. The na thought occured to me.
What happens to people when they die? I thought. Are they just gone? Or do they still exist, just not in their bodies? Do they move on? If so, where to? Is there really a heaven and a hell? Or does everyone go to the same place? My head was spinning and I was getting the beginnings of a headache. Who would know? Who could I even ask? Then it hit me. Dr. H is the only one around here that I have heard talk about religion and God and all that. I need to talk to him. Maybe he has the answers. I glanced at the clock. Three thirty. He wouldn’t be up for at least another two and a half hours, and that would only be the case if he was an early riser.
Settling in with my book, I tried to read. However, my attention kept slipping, and the light from my flashlight was starting to flicker as the battery began to die. I finally decided that I couldn’t take it anymore. I quickly and quietly pulled on enough clothing that I was decent and slipped through the halls of the building.
I had only been to the teacher’s wing once, when Principal Peters had needed someone to help her move a box of books from her room to her office, and even then I was not alone. Sarah and Principal Peters had both been with me then, and neither was with me now. Now I had to navigate my way through the halls and locate Dr. H’s room without getting caught.
I paused as I left the student’s wing, entering the main part of the building, the school part. I knew that there were some hallways that were monitored by camera 24/7, and I knew that I’d have a nearly impossible time getting through them without being seen. Pondering my dilemma, I decided to take the hall that the teachers offices were located on.
With the fear of being caught driving me I slipped down the passageway, hesitating in the shadows, willing them to cover me up. When I saw a light coming from Dr. H’s office I froze, wondering if he was still there or if he had had an extremely early morning that morning.
Hesitantly I knocked on the door of the office, and stepped back to wait. From inside the office I heard several muffled clatters and Dr. H’s voice as he grumbled quietly about his klutziness and crowded offices, telling me that several things had fallen as he made his way to the door. Finally he opened the door.
Whatever Dr. H had been expecting, it obviously wasn’t me. The look on his face went from one of irritation to shock before settling on one of concern.
“Guinavere, whatever is wrong?” he asked, stepping aside and letting me into his office. I quickly glanced around the room, taking in the hefty Bible on his desk that was sitting beside the leather journal that he kept his notes in.
“Nothing,” I lied, turning to face him. “I just had some questions about religion and death and all that.” I forced myself to stop talking, afraid to continue for fear of crying. His confusion cleared slightly and he sat down on his desk.
“Ah,” he said softly. “So you heard about Steppe’s plan.” I nodded, tears starting to form. A torn look appeared on his face as he watched me. “Sit down,” he said suddenly, motioning to the chair on the other side of his desk- the one he usually sat in. I did what he said, somewhat jumpy and anxiously.
“Doc, I want to know what happens when a person dies,” I said, deciding to get right to the point. “You’re the only person here who’s into God stuff…” I let my voice trail off, unsure of how to continue.
“I see,” he said, folding his hands and letting them rest on his leg. “Then what would you like me to start with? You have questions, correct?”
“Yeah,” I said. “And whatever you want.” I didn’t know anything, so I figured that he would be the best judge of what I needed to know.
“Alright,” he said. “As you know, I am a Christian. My beliefs are fairly simple. God created everything in seven days. The world was perfect until Satan tempted the first woman. She sinned, and mankind became a fallen race by default, eternally separated from the almighty and perfect God.” His words were carefully and decisively chosen, I knew.
“Doc, that’s not answering my question any,” I interrupted, a little confused and a lot impatient, and he smiled slightly.
“I know that it doesn’t seem like that, Guin,” he said. “But this is necessary to understanding why things are the way they are. May I continue?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Don’t let me stop you.”
“Because of his love for us, God sent his son, Jesus, to die to remove our sins from us, so that we could be close to Him again. It is if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead that we gain the right to be called children of God.”
“So what if you don’t?” I asked, getting slightly annoyed. “And I’m still not seeing what this has to do with what happens when people die.”
“Guinavere, patience is a virtue you would do well to learn,” he said, sounding slightly irritated and yet a little amused. “Now that I have explained the basics of Christianity, I can explain what I believe are the possibilities. I am sure you’ve heard of haven and hell.” I nodded and he leaned back. “I believe that they’re real. Heaven, which is where all perfection is and where God dwells, is where those children of God go. It’s being with God for all eternity, in His splendorous courts.”
“And hell?” I asked, feeling a pit of dread building in my stomach at the name. I couldn’t explain that horrible feeling, and even as I sat there I could feel my heart racing in fear.
“Hell is-” Dr. H hesitated. “Hell is where everyone who doesn’t believe in God, or doesn’t accept Him as their Lord and savior goes. It’s eternal separation from God, and eternal punishment.”
“That’s what Christians believe?” I said, still slightly unnerved. “What about the rest?”
“Well, Hinduism and Buddhism both believe that you will be reincarnated, if you can’t reach their form of perfection. What you are reborn as depends on what you did in your past life, both good and bad,” he said, standing up and walking over to the small and crowded bookcase along the one wall. “Judaism believes in the same God as Christianity, but they believe that their savior hasn’t come yet. They used to sacrifice animals to cover their sins temporarily, but they can no longer do that because their temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans. That temple was the only place they could sacrifice, and it was never rebuilt.”
“Christianity seems almost too easy, though,” I said, trying to work through this information overload.
“Yes, but that is part of what makes Christianity so unique,” he said quietly. “The good works come after the salvation, unlike most religions. It’s a relationship, a grand romance between God and mankind.”
“This is so weird,” I muttered, mostly to myself. “Me, trying to find out about these religions and spiritual things.”
“Maybe,” Dr. H said. “But that’s a common mistake among many people. They focus on the here and now- what they can see and touch and smell- and forget about the spiritual things that are going on around them.”
“Doc,” I began, grasping at the reason I had come. “Sarah- what’ll happen if she dies?”
“Sarah is Jewish by decent only,” Dr. H said. “For all that the Jewish nation will tell you that they are God’s chosen people, they are living by their old laws. Sarah was not a practicing Jew- her parents died when she was a toddler, and her aunt had nothing to do with Jewish ceremonies and the like. To my knowledge, Sarah did not acknowledge any religion or god as her own.”
“So, Sarah’s not-?” I asked, unable to continue. I felt a sudden sense of loss. Dr. H shook his head sadly, and I tried to change the subject and ignore the feelings that were threatening to choke me. “Doc, I’m not sure, but I think I’d like to hear a bit more about your God and all that. I feel like there’s something to it, whether I like it or not, but I want to find out. Can you explain it to me?”
“Absolutely,” he said with a slight smile.
The rest of the day passed in a slow, tired crawl, as that had been the second night in a row that my sleep had been interrupted. I found that concentration in class was beyond my grasp, along with most other thoughts, on my sleep deprived brain. Thankfully, though, I didn’t fall asleep during class. In fact, it wasn’t until I attempted to work on my research paper that I fell asleep.
I must have been really tired, because I fell asleep at the desk in the library, using my books as a pillow. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but the next thing I knew someone was tapping me and calling my name.
“Guin,” the voice was familiar, but in the in-between moments where you’re half awake and half asleep, I couldn’t place it. “Guinavere, wake up.” A moment later someone started to tickle me and I snapped awake.
Sitting bolt upright in my seat, I tried to fend off my attacked while laughing so hard I was struggling to breathe. When I had succeeded and was finally breathing again I realized who it was.
“Pat, what do you want?” I asked my little brother. What with him being two years younger than I, out class schedules kept us apart and we each had our own friends that we enjoyed spending time with, so we didn’t talk to each other a lot.
“Principal Peters sent me to get you,” he said, looking at me with worry. “Danae said that you might be in here.”
“Alright,” I said, standing up and closing my book. “In her office or where?” I asked as I shelved it.
“Yeah, her office,” he said, glancing around the library. “You’re to be there ASAP.” I nodded and headed to the door. As I approached the Principal’s office, my nervousness mounted, and my stomach felt like it was knotting itself into a solid lump.
This is about Sarah, I thought, biting my lip. That’s all it can be about. With that not so cheerful realization on my mind, I tapped on the door of the Principal’s office.
“Come in,” Principal Peters called. Opening the door, I stepped inside. The grim look on her face confirmed my fears. “Guinavere, I have some very sad and regrettable news for you.” Her voice sounded strained, and her eyes were slightly red.
“It’s about Sarah, isn’t it?” I asked, fighting a rush of tears. “She’s- she’s-” I couldn’t finish. Principal Peters nodded and stood up, walking around her desk to stand by me, and the flood gates broke. Tears were pouring down my face, and she offered me a tissue from the box on her desk. I took it, staring straight ahead of me through the tears.
“She told me as she left the premises that there were several items in her belongings that she wanted you to have,” Principal Peters said, watching me sympathetically. “Would you like to get them?” I nodded, and she continued. “If you don’t want to, I could have someone else get them for you.”
“I’ll get them,” I said quietly. “Thank you, though.” I turned and left the room, quite miserable.
Sarah’s dead, I thought. But it’s hard to think that she’s seriously gone. That she’s not going to come up and start teasing me. I dried my face and headed toward Sarah’s dorm room, fighting off still more tears. Opening the door, I was hit by that feeling all over again, and all of my self control went down the drain.
I tugged the box out from under Sarah’s bed, and took out the notebooks. There were six of them, and some looked extremely beat up and ratty. Carefully I put the box back, and sat down on Sarah’s bed, opening the first one.
Sarah had started it shortly before she had discovered that she was a mutant, and the first few entries weren’t very interesting. As I read, I found Sarah freaking out as she started to hear things, and then when she learned the reason there was a lot of confusion.
I had just finished reading the first journal when Sarah’s former roommates started to come in. One of them, a senior named Kat, came over to talk to me, a look of concern on her face.
“She’s gone, isn’t she?” she asked me in a whisper. I rested a hand on the cover of the journal I had just finished reading, trying to keep from bursting out into tears yet again.
“Yeah,” I responded, speaking in a whisper because I couldn’t talk without that precious hint of self-control snapping, and that was starting to drive me batty. Kat raised a hand to her mouth to stifle her slight moan of shock. Tears filled her eyes, and she began blinking rapidly to get rid of them.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. I nodded.
“Aren’t we all?” I muttered quietly. She reached out and gripped my shoulder for a couple of seconds, and then went back to her bed. I carefully picked up the notebooks and left Sarah’s dorm room.
By the time a week had passed my life had settled into a blur. I did everything without really thinking about it, and it’s a wonder that I managed to keep my grades at A’s and B’s. It was hard, going on with my normal, everyday life when Sarah was gone- dead, in a grave somewhere. No one knew where she had been buried, and when I first learned of that I was livid.
Dr. H continued to teach me about Christianity, and about his God. I didn’t make any commitment at first, though. I wanted to be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was the right choice.
“That’s very wise of you,” Dr. H said when I told him that. “There’s actually a verse to the effect that if you’re not sure it’s better to wait.” I was a little surprised to hear that, because I had always assumed that all religion was about getting the most people to subscribe to your god(s) as fast as possible.
The PSAT and SAT were approaching, and I had already taken the ACT on the first test date of the year. I took the tests, and Christmas came and went without anything of interest happening. And then my seventeenth birthday arrived in May before I knew it. In June, Kat and several other seniors graduated and left the school.
The summer crawled by, and by the end of the first week I was bored. Although I didn’t particularly like weapons practice, or any form of combat- for that matter- I welcomed Chuck’s offer to help myself and any of the other remaining students with it. By pushing myself to excel at that, I wore myself out and had no time to think about Sarah.
It seemed that my time of mourning was up by the time that school started again, and I was grateful to be just another student again. As a senior I was easily one of the oldest students, and that in itself drew attention to me. The school year crawled by, and I began to struggle with unwanted loneliness.
Never before had I noticed so many friends sharing their secrets. Never before had I minded not having a large circle of friends. My days dragged by, and although I rarely cried I constantly felt as though I was going to collapse from misery.
I began to look forward to college, to the idea of being able to escape from this place. At least I did, until Principal Peters approached me.
“Miss Evens, could you please step into my office? I need to have a word with you.” She had caught me as I left my math quest one afternoon. Completely confused about what it might be I did as she said. “Guinavere, please take a seat.”
“Guin’s fine,” I said, feeling slightly nervous.
“Alright, Guin, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, we always seem to be short on staff. I can only afford to hire so many teachers and various other staff, on the tight budget Steppe has given me for this school,” she paused to catch her breath, and I noticed how strained she looked, too. I knew that she was only in her mid twenties, but she looked much older. “This is why we offer assistant-ships and other staff positions to the graduating class.”
“You want me to be a teaching assistant?” I asked, catching on.
“Yes,” she stood and started pacing the perimeter of the room, looking like she wanted to escape, too. “Dr. Hamilton has specifically asked for me to offer this to you.” She paused near the window, and looked out. “It will be your choice, of course, and the only deadline I give you is that you tell me by the end of the school year.” I sat there in shock as her words seemed to float past me.
“Thank you,” I said, trying to regain my composure. “Is that all?”
“Yes,” she said, staring at me. “And Guin?”
“Yes?” I asked, pausing with my hand on the door knob.
“I know that you want to go to college. It would only be fair of me to warn you that if you take the assistant-ship you wouldn’t be able to be a full time student, but we could make arrangements for you to take classes at the community college.”
“Alright. Thanks.” I let myself out and made my way to the dining hall. I needed someone to talk to, and I knew that Deb would be sympathetic.
“Guin, honey!” she exclaimed as I stepped into the kitchen. “Talk about perfect timing. I had just finished getting supper into the roasters. What can I do for you?”
“I need someone to talk to,” I said, setting down my bag and pulling up one of the folding chairs that she kept on hand. “I was asked to be a teaching assistant, but I want to escape from this place. It’s a death trap. No one will admit it, but there’s only one way we can go, if we stay.”
“Guin, you were offered a staff position?” she asked, sitting down heavily on a chair, looking at me with concern.
“Yeah. Dr. H asked for me to be offered one. I’d just be a teacher’s assistant, but I don’t know if I should take it. I don’t want to take it, but I don’t know. And if I do take it, the next step will be joining the VI4C, and I will not join them! They’re the reason Sarah is dead!” I began to cry, feeling torn and miserable.
“Come here, dear,” she said, slipping off her chair so she could hug me, acting like my mother used to. “It’s alright. It will be alright, Guin.”
“No,” I said, feeling sick to my stomach. “It’s not, and it will never be. No one can bring Sarah back, and no one can stop that monster.”
“Monster?” Deb was confused. I sighed, realizing that although she was employed by the VI4C school, she knew nothing about the workings of the organization itself. Not that I knew much more.
“Steppe, the commander of the VI4C,” I answered, drying my face with the back of my hand. She looked around, like she was trying to find something. Finally she stood up and crossed the kitchen, picking up something from the other side of the room. I covered my face with my hands, and after a moment or two I felt her lifting my face. Gently she wiped away my tears with a tissue.
“Guin, you can’t give up here. Steppe is still a human, isn’t he? He’s mortal. That means that he won’t live forever, and maybe things will get better.”
“No, but Sarah was mortal, and I am too,” I took the tissue from her, feeling wiped out. I leaned back in the chair, feeling hopeless, while Deb returned to her seat. “What’ll I do?”
“That’s up to you, honey, but-”
“I thought I might find you here,” someone said from the doorway, cutting Deb off and causing me to jump. Dr. Hamilton stepped into the kitchen. “Guinavere, Angel told me that she had asked you-”
“Why did you ask for me?” I asked sharply, my temper rising. How dare he create this problem for me! He knows that I wanted to get away from this place, doesn’t he? He knows how much I hate this school… “You knew that I wanted to go to college! I can’t do that if I stay here!”
“Then say no,” he said simply. “Guinavere, you must understand, I only commented to Angel on how helpful you’ve been these last four years. She suggested that she’d propose a job to you, and that if you took it that you’d become my assistant. I didn’t see any harm in asking.”
“Oh, yes, of course you’ll lie to me,” I said, my tone acidic. I knew that I was being unfair and mean, but I didn’t care. I wanted him to be as miserable as I was. “I thought you were supposed to be a Christian, Doc.”
“Guin,” Deb whispered, staring at me reproachfully.
“No, Deb,” Dr. H said, flinching slightly at my words. He knelt in front of me and took both of my hands in his. “Guin, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that you’d react so strongly to the suggestion, but it is your choice. You don’t have to worry about what I think, or what I want. It is all your choice, Guin. No one will force you to stay, if you don’t want to.”
“Why is it that everyone who says that adds pressure to me?” I asked, considering his words. He chuckled and straightened, releasing my hands. I had calmed down, but in the place of my hysteria was a lead knot in my stomach.