Monica put down her suitcase, glanced around her, and looked scared. That was a pretty good effort, really, because she felt bloody terrified. She shrank back against the door, hoping that no-one would notice her.
According to the rules of childhood, this caused a big, red-haired, rather chubby girl to notice her. Her eyes widened and she grinned happily.
“Hey bitches!” she yelled, and several almost-as-large girls looked up and around. “Fresh meat!” In a wave of perfume and paintstripper smells they descended on Monica and surrounded her.
“Name?” one demanded.
“Monica,” answered Monica meekly.
Monica shrugged, confused. The girls around her muttered and rolled their eyes.
“Oh great, a scholarship baby!” one said dismissively.
“Hush, Kylie, don’t be rude!” said the red-haired chubby girl, looking kindly at Monica. “Where you from?”
“Sydney,” Monica squeaked.
“Sydney!” they chorused, smirking at each other.
“Oh God, said a thin, blonde girl with expensive streaks, “they’ve sent us a little convict! What are they thinking? Letting this sort of thing into Kingsley’s!”
The girls tsked.
Monica frowned. She was used to being teased – not enough to put up with it, but she understood it, at least. This sneering talking was beyond her. All she knew was that these girls didn’t want her here. She stayed quiet.
The redhead sniffed.
“Come on, bitches,” she said imperiously, “we’ve got better things to do!” She swept away, followed docilely by her flock. A few stragglers turned back to Monica and smirked, or raised a finger at her. Monica sighed, and stayed where she was, hoping that she’d be left alone now. And she was,until the headmistress came to collect her.
“Right!” said Mrs Knightley cheerfully, “What have we here? An Australian princess with wings, hex power and a temper, eh? Goodness, you’ve been getting in quite a bit of trouble for such a little girl! What’s your name again? Ahhh, Monica! Well, Monica, you’ll need to learn to behave here, won’t you, dear? Kingsley’s won’t put up with any of that nonsense from its students! And we have ways of keeping control in which your old school was woefully lacking, of course… but you won’t need to worry about that, because you’re going to behave just beautifully, aren’t you? Well now, just keep your head down and do your lessons, and you’ll be just fine! Now, I’m sure you’re eager to meet everyone,” – ignoring the fact that Monica, who’d opened her mouth a few times to answer what she thought was a question, only to find her input not required, looked anything but eager – “so I’ll just call Elizabeth to show you around!”
She smiled, seeming not at all out of breath from her long, speedily-delivered monologue, and pressed a button on her desk. A woman – tall, with short grey hair and severe skirt and jacket – opened the door and stepped in.
“Oh – Mrs Rutke!” said Mrs Knightley, “Where’s Elizabeth? Is she at dinner?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the tall, rather scary woman said, nodding.
“Oh!” said Mrs Knightley, looking put out. “Well.. this is Monica, a new student. Would you take her up to the first years’ dorm and settle her in, please?”
Mrs Rutke nodded shortly and motioned Monica to follow her out of the office.
Minutes later, Monica followed Mrs Rutke up the wide, timber staircase leading from the school’s main hallway. Her suitcase was fairly light – the rest of her luggage was due to arrive the next day – but still she struggled to lift it up the high, wide steps, as Mrs Rutke heedlessly walked before her.
Eventually they reached level floor again.
“This is your dorm,” said Mrs Rutke shortly.
The long, high-ceilinged room was lined with small cubicle-style rooms. The walls didn’t come close to reaching to the ceiling, and Monica envisioned high-beam style gymnastics competitions at midnight. Mrs Rutke either didn’t notice or ignored the sudden gleam in the small girl’s eyes. “Your room!” she announced, pushing open a plain, undecorated door.
Monica entered hesitantly. It was more pleasant than she’d expected – light pink walls, a timber bed, a small desk and student chair, and a window. She craned her neck to see the view, but could see only darkness. She put down her suitcase and turned to thank the brusque teacher, but she’d already vanished with a gruff “Goodnight!” Monica sighed. This was a weird place. She didn’t like it in the slightest – it wasn’t anything like the books she’d read. She had a horrible suspicion that the school felt much the same way about her, too. She crept into bed, forgetting her toothbrushing and pyjamas, and fell asleep.
Monica was woken by someone shaking her shoulder.
“Goodness gracious, girl, is this where you’ve been?” demanded a someone.
Monica opened her eyes. A blonde, round-faced woman looked down at her with kind exasperation.
“We’ve been looking all over for you!” the woman told her severely, somehow managing to avoid sounding at all severe, “I wasn’t looking forward to telling your parents we’d lost you, that’s for sure!”
Monica frowned, confused. Obviously she should have gone somewhere or done something after she’d been shown to her room… but what? Where? The confusion and the strange surroundings got the best of her – a couple of tears escaped her eyes.
“There there love, it’s not so bad!” clucked the blonde stranger. “You’re found, and after all, you’re nowhere you shouldn’t be! Now” she said, turning businesslike, “who showed you up here? One of the girls, was it?”
“Mrs Rutke,” Monica said, and sniffed.
“I see!” she said firmly. “Well, dear, I’m your dorm-mistress – I sleep in the big cubicle near the door. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you – I had a late class to teach! But no harm done, eh? Just dry your eyes, pet, and we’ll get you some dinner!”
Monica woke the next morning in her new bed, staring at the pale pink walls and thinking. Did she really want to stay in this place? So far everyone was downright mean, and she wasn’t sure she trusted Mrs Deiry’s claim that the girls were actually quite friendly. She sighed, jumped out of bed, and decided to have a go. Mummy had told her she was tough, and that it’d get better. And she had more faith in Mummy than Mrs Deiry.
Mrs Deiry bustled in when she was almost finished dressing.
“OH! Don’t you look adorable!” she beamed. But darling, you don’t have to crumple your wings like that – just undo this bit at the back… see!” She placed Monica in front of the mirror. “There, that’s gorgeous!” she said reassuringly. “I can’t believe that barbaric old school of yours – making you hide your beautiful wings, darling! That’s just awful!” She shook her head, and left Monica’s room, calling for everyone to meet her at the door.
Monica squared her shoulders and looked at herself in the mirror. “Oh well!” she told herself, trying to look brave, “Off I go!”
She bit her lip and walked out to line up with the other girls. A murmur raced up and down the lines when the girls saw her – and her wings.
“Quiet please!” called Mrs Deiry, and led them down to breakfast.
“Oh. My. God!” said the older girl sitting next to Monica at the table. “No one told us you’re a royal! Grace is going to crap herself!” she looked at Monica’s confused face and explained, “Grace is the redhead who was giving you crap yesterday – calling you a convict and stuff? She’s a total snob… she was hassling you because she thought you were a commoner. When she finds out you’re royalty she’s going to come crawling back and try to be friends… and only bitch about you behind your back!”
Monica frowned. “I’m a.. royal?”
The girl whistled. “Hooo boy – your mum’s one of those ‘we’re just like normal folk’ royals, eh? It’s obvious from the wings… you don’t see those on anyone without a huge dollop of royal blood. Anyway, my name’s Gladys -” she wrinkled her nose, “my parents thought it was a ‘sweet’ name, I keep bugging them to let me change it, I sound like a grandma! Lemme know if you need a hand with anything, OK? I remember being new, it was scary – and I wasn’t as little as you!” With this, Gladys turned away to help herself to more toast.
The girl on Monica’s other side poked her gingerly. Monica turned, to see a tiny girl staring at her, awestruck.
“Are you really a princess?” she asked timidly, “I mean, a real live princess? Or a fairy? Where’s your tiara?”
Monica shrugged, confused.
“I don’t have a tiara, “ she said, “I guess we don’t have them in Australia.”
“WOW!” breathed the little girl, her eyes widening further, “Do you have a pet kangaroo? Do you eat damper and go to barbeques all the time?”
“Ummm…” Monica said, and was saved from having to answer by a bell ringing loudly overhead. All the girls stood up, tidied their plates, and walked out.
Class was a welcome relief from the weirdness of conversations. Her classmates stared curiously at her wings, but quickly concentrated on the games and exercises they were given. Happily, Monica could keep up easily – Kingsley’s wasn’t too different from her old school in that regard.
“FREAK!” spat the big red-haired girl into Monica’s face. She’d come out into the playground feeling relaxed and fairly confident about life – only to be waylaid by Grace. Obviously the girl wasn’t going to be super-nice after all.
“Stupid little FAIRY!” she yelled. “You’re a freak, with your wings and your accent and your dumb attitude! Talk about ugly! I wouldn’t be stuck with your face if you paid me!”
Monica bit her lip and tried not to cry. Crying never helped, with bullies.
“Come on, girls,” Grace said, “Let’s take the freak somewhere private and fix her up!”
A fat blonde girl grabbed Monica from behind and put a hand over her mouth. Another two grabbed an arm and leg each and they carried her away behind a classroom.
“RIGHT!” Grace snarled, “Let’s get rid of these wings, for a start…”
She took a handful of wing, and started to pull.
“GIRLS!” screamed an adult voice from the other side of the playground, “WHAT are you doing over there!??”
“Just playing, Ma-urp!” replied Grace sweetly. The ‘urp’ was due to her finding herself far closer to the ground, and on all fours. She and her friends screamed.
As Monica headed to her next class, almost every girl she saw gave her a quick grin or a thumbs-up. Word spread fast, apparently. And since almost everyone at Kingsley’s had suffered at the hands of Grace and her gang, they were overjoyed to hear of their brief stint as skunks. Although the girls sharing a class with them weren’t quite as happy – apparently the stink was still hanging around.
Mrs Knightley smirked as she asked Elizabeth to send for Monica.
“She’s going to have to be punished,” she said regretfully, “there’ll be a huge stink from the parents if we don’t. But oh – I could kiss the dear thing, turning them into skunks! Absolutely appropriate. I love it. She’s going far, this one. Skunks!” she chuckled.
“Oh, and Elizabeth?” she called, “We’d better get that dampener spell put on her now. What a pity we forgot to do it when she arrived!”