Chapter OneI missed the dawn alarm again.
It goes off around six A.M., and then doors and blinds open. Most people from the Day society are awake by then - and some are even waiting at the front door, ready to burst out into the streets of Arkala as soon as it opens. I've never understood their eagerness, it's nothing unique. We own the city from six A.M. to six P.M., and the Night society inhabits it overnight. We don't know anything about them, because we're sent into our homes and locked inside right before they are let out, and vice versa.
Whoever built Arkala was concerned with keeping it that way, because our walls are soundproof. But when I was six, sleeping no better than I do now, I found out that even closed, the windows aren't entirely soundproof. If you press your head against them, you can sometimes hear the loudest members of the Night society laughing, screaming or shouting.
When you're little, you wonder about stuff like that. You wonder if they're the same as you, or if they're totally different. If they're kind, or if they're total monsters. But in the end, it doesn't affect your life at all. And humans are pretty selfish, so if it doesn't affect you, you stop worrying. You assume that there's nothing you need to know, other than "the Day society members are allowed outside during daylight hours" and "you have to go back home when the Wardens tell you."
And while it's never exactly said (except by my mother, over and over), members of the Day society are meant to sleep during sunset and sunrise, not stay up until two in the morning like me. On weekends, I sleep until nine and stay in bed even longer. On weekdays, I force myself out of bed and to school, taking naps during class.
Phoebe Ayers shakes me awake during Maths, the last lesson of the day. 'What question are you on?'
I felt dizzy, but not tired - I must have slept for a while. 'Chapter 11, section D, question 6, part B. I completed some extra homework so I'd be ahead and get to take a break.'
'...I'm on question 14.'
'Crap. Okay, I'll do some more now.' I flip open my textbook, and Phoebe glances at the boy in front of us. 'You're still ahead of Uriah.'
I sigh, and glance at the clock. The lesson is almost over.
Phoebe elbows me. 'Do you want to sleep over tonight?'
'I'll have to take my stuff home first, but sure. Can I come around four?'
'Four-thirty would be better. Um, Hemera and Ellen are coming over too, but if that's okay with you...'
I force a smile. I find Ellen to be kind of bossy, and I don't know who Hemera is, but I did want to go to Phoebe's house. Her little sister's adorable, her older brother is rarely annoying, her parents are laidback about pretty much everything... and I think I'm getting used to the idea of us as friends.
Truth be told, I had a crush on her for one year. One year, and that was enough to make me ruin our chances of friendship for THREE years. I’d hardly even talk to her, and when I did I’d ramble like an idiot. Even after the crush went away, I’d convinced myself that she knew about it, that every time she seemingly avoided me or looked unhappy around me was because she’d figured everything out.
Now, I’m much less of an idiot. I’ve worked out that people act awkward around me because I act awkward around them. And I’ve learned not to fall in love with anyone with a pretty smile who compliments my photography.
Because now, that's half the school. Last year, Phoebe convinced me to submit some of my photos to the arts magazine Aesthetic, and they published two of them. Now Laura Wickham is "the artsy blonde girl whose flower photos are famous." - a significant improvement on before, when I was no one at all.
Three girls immediately run towards me to check on me, which is nice of them, but I don't want them to make a big deal of it. Between several "Are you okay?"s, I stumble to my feet, grin at them to prove I'm fine and walk out the room. My chin hurts, but I ignore it. I've reached that point of every day when I just want to get home, away from... everything. Because even though I must've napped for around half an hour, sleep and rest aren't the same thing. And to rest, I like to be alone.
'I thought I was free of your prison, but I'm just falling, falling…
I’m empty, I’m hollow, I’m broken, but I’m still calling, calling your name…’
I let the song wash over me, let the beat guide my footsteps and nod along with each guitar chord. I can’t sing, so I just mime and gesture dramatically. Our whole street is empty except for me, so there’s no one to see me make a fool of myself.
‘It’s like a waking nightmare, trying to find my way alone…
You’re my eyes and my ears, without you, I’m never going to get back home…’
The song, “Waking Nightmare,” ends, and I press pause on my phone before another overly angsty song can come on, because I’d probably get lost in that one too.
I look up. The final line of Waking Nightmare is kind of ironic, because the song ended when I was right in front of my house. Pulling my earbuds out, I unlock the door and walk inside, and even though I can only see the hallway and loungeroom, it’s not hard to tell that the house is empty. It always feels strange without anyone in it.
I walk up to my room, put away my schoolbag and gather everything I'll take to Phoebe's - pyjamas, toothbrush, phone. I call my mum to let her know where I'm going, then sit on the floor. I don't have a clock in my room, but since school ends at three, it takes me nearly half an hour to get home and it will probably take another half hour to get to Phoebe's, I can only stay at home for half an hour in order to arrive at her house at four thirty.
Why can I only do maths outside of school?
Unable to think of anything to do, I end up putting my music back on and browsing old photos on my camera. I consider giving Phoebe one of her, but the only one I can find was taken at her thirteenth birthday party, and it's terrible.
Admittedly, I am very fussy with photos, and end up screeching like a maniac if I take one and it's not quite right. But in this photo, Phoebe was a lot smaller than me, so I had to hunch over in order to fit in the picture. My grin is kind of creepy, someone in the background has their hands in the air - they're coming out from behind Phoebe's head like antennae - and both of us have weirdly shiny skin thanks to sunblock.
I feel embarrassed looking at it, which is stupid, since I'm the only one who has this photo. Maybe I shouldn't give Phoebe one anyway, since I'd prefer someone to know me beyond The Girl Who Takes Pictures Of Stuff. I press DELETE and turn the camera off, then open my wardrobe so I can change out of school uniform and into something else. Hopefully something normal, so that I can pretend to be normal myself.
Not as easy as it sounds.