It Gets Worse
Part One: Introduction
January 3, 2011
Taylor huddled, shivering, holding the blanket around her shoulders. Nearby, the janitor was talking animatedly to a pair of police officers, but she wasn't really listening.
"- dunno how long she was in there. She was just lucky that I was going that way and heard her calling out -"
"Miss, can you hear me?" It was the same paramedic who had given her the blanket. "Miss?"
"Uh?" She jerked her head up. "Yeah? W-what?"
"Miss, can you tell me your name?"
Taylor twitched, pulling the blanket more tightly around herself. "T-taylor. Taylor He-hebert."
"Taylor Hebert. Is that correct?"
"Y-yeah. Why am I sh-shivering? Not cold."
The paramedic's voice was warm, soothing. "You've just been through a very traumatic experience, Taylor. You're in shock right now. This is perfectly natural. You'll get through it. Now, can you look into this light for me?"
She didn't protest as the woman shone the tiny flashlight first into one eye and then the other; it seemed easier just to let her do it.
"Okay then, that's excellent. Pupil response is normal. Taylor, can you tell me today's date?"
Taylor blinked. "Uh, January. January third. Two thousand eleven. First day of school."
"Good, good. And where are you?"
"Sitting in the back of an ambulance." The response came out without her even thinking about it. "Outside Winslow High School."
"Well, you're tracking just fine, Taylor." The paramedic nodded to herself in satisfaction. "Do you feel up to talking to the police?"
Taylor twitched again. "Uh, can I have my Dad with me?" She looked down at the horrible stains on her jeans and sneakers – the things that had been sharing the locker with her had been scrubbed away, but the marks remained – and added, "And can I have a shower too?"
The paramedic smiled, looking rather motherly. "I think that can be arranged, yes."
Showered, dried and dressed, head to toe in fresh clothing, Taylor felt much more human. More able to face the world. She guessed that she was still in shock; occasionally she shivered and her hands twitched once in a while. There were clean white dressings on them, where she had beaten them bloody on the interior of the locker. A kindly policewoman had replaced the dressings after the shower.
Now she sat beside her father, facing another police officer. The man's uniform was neat, tidy, almost painfully so. He had a notebook, in which he wrote down what Taylor was telling him. It was no great hardship for him to keep up with her; she kept stumbling, losing track, going back over what had already been said, but he showed no impatience, no irritation. She got the impression that his entire life's purpose was to sit in this room and listen to what she had to say.
"Well then," he stated, after she had mumbled herself to a halt. "We will be investigating matters. The fact that you can't state with certainty who shoved you into the locker is unfortunate, but the fact remains that a crime has been committed and we will be looking into it."
He stood; Taylor's father took the hint and followed suit. Taylor realised what was going on a few seconds later and stood up as well. "So what happens now?" she asked, surprising herself with her boldness.
"Well, if I were you," suggested the officer, "I'd take a week off school. Rest, relax, recuperate. You've had a huge shock to the system. You don't need to be going back into that environment for a little while yet."
Danny nodded. "I think that's a damn good idea. I'll let the school know, just after I give them a piece of my mind for letting this happen to Taylor in the first place."
"That's your business, sir," the police officer told him. "If we have any more questions to ask your daughter, we'll be in touch."
"Sure," Danny agreed. "I'm just surprised that there's going to be an investigation at all. I mean, I know how overworked you guys are and this sort of thing has to be small potatoes compared to your normal run of things."
"Normally we wouldn't," agreed the officer, opening the office door. "But as luck would have it, one of our major cases fell through this morning and your case popped at just the right time. Besides, I've got a girl about your daughter's age and I'd hate to have something like that happen to her."
"Well, however it works, I hope you catch those little shits." Danny held out his hand.
"That's what we're here for." The officer shook it. "You go get better, miss."
"Thank you." Taylor turned and walked from the police station with her father beside her.
"Well, that went better than I expected," he commented as he led the way to the car. "What do you want to do now?"
"I want to go home," she told him firmly. "And have about three more showers. I can still feel those bugs on my skin."
"Home it is," he agreed.
January 10, 2011
"Holy shit. I don't believe it."
"What?" Madison looked around at Emma's startled exclamation. Her eyes widened. "Crap, I don't either. She's back."
"Who's back?" Sophia looked up from the drinking fountain. Taller than most, she scanned the crowd in the direction that the other two were looking. It only took a few seconds. "Well, shit. She obviously didn't get the message the first time."
"What do we do about it?" Madison looked at the two of them.
Emma frowned. "You gotta admit, that's pretty ballsy of her, coming back so soon after, uh, after what happened."
"Yeah," chimed in Madison. "It was terrible, wasn't it?"
Puzzled for just a moment, Sophia looked around to see one of the new substitute teachers loitering nearby. Mr Grant wasn't a bad teacher, but he seemed unusually interested in what the students had to say. Sophia had pegged him as an undercover cop on about the second day, so the three girls had become a little more discreet about what they discussed and where they discussed it.
Turning, she looked pointedly at him; after a few seconds, he moved off, apparently finding business elsewhere. Smiling slightly, Sophia turned back to Emma. "So, shall we organise a welcome back party for her?"
"Nothing too blatant," Emma cautioned her. "Might be more of them around."
"Oh, please," Sophia retorted. "Like they could catch me on their best day."
"So what do we do?" asked Madison again.
Sophia smiled slowly, her teeth very white. "We let everyone know that it's business as usual, of course."
Taylor ducked; the dodge-ball went flying over her head as she moved on. Behind her, she heard a muffled cry of pain and looked around; Julia, a friend of Madison's, was on the ground, blood flowing freely from her nose. I didn't even know she was there.
Turning away, she saw the ball coming straight at her once more and recognised the thrower as one of Emma's friends. She moved aside just in time for it to whistle past her shoulder. That would've left a bruise.
A grunt of pain and a solid thud made her look over her shoulder. Two girls had collided and fallen together. One of them was Sophia Hess; from the way she was holding her ribs, she must have taken a hit there.
Shit, they've really got it in for me. She saw the ball bounce into the hands of Emma's friend again and moved behind someone else. Sure enough, the girl held the throw, looking for a clear shot. Taylor kept moving, stepping behind people and the girl kept waiting, until Mr Sorensen yelled at her to just throw the damn ball, already! So then she threw it, without nearly as much force as before, at someone else.
Taylor ducked her head under the shower stream and ran water through her hair. They're not going to let up. It was a dismal certainty. Although it had been a good gym class; she had no bruises from the dodge-ball this time around. That was a rare enough event that she considered it reason for minor celebration. They'll get me some other way.
A thud and a grunt of pain made her turn around. She couldn't see that well without her glasses, but it looked like someone was lying on the floor just outside the shower. Turning off the water, she grabbed her towel and wrapped it around herself. Stepping into the outer part of the cubicle, she looked down at the supine girl. Upon closer investigation, she realised that it was Sophia, holding a bunch of familiar-looking clothing. Above her, where Taylor's clothes should have been hanging on a hook, there was nothing. A piece of soap, lying nearby, appeared to be the architect of Sophia's downfall. I wondered where that got to.
"Hey, that's my stuff!" Taylor reached down and grabbed her clothes from Sophia; the other girl tried half-heartedly to hang on to them, but seemed to be in some amount of pain from her ribs. Hanging the clothes back on the hook, Taylor dried herself hurriedly – her hair would be damp, but that was no big deal – and got dressed before Sophia could do more than sit up. Under her were Taylor's sneakers; Sophia seemed to have landed on them, which couldn't have done her bruised ribs – or ego – any good.
Hurrying away, she worried over the incident as she went to hang her towel up. It was just a lucky break that she stepped on the soap. She'll be after me now ... and today was going so well, too.
"So, can anyone tell me what precipitated the downfall of the Namibian government? Anyone?"
Taylor raised her hand to answer Mr Gladly's question, while glancing around to keep an eye on Madison. The petite brunette was glaring daggers at her, thanks to the empty desk next to Madison, which was usually occupied by her friend Julia. Taylor had a good idea why – the dodge-ball must have hit her pretty hard. She's probably still in the infirmary – but she wasn't sure why Madison seemed to be blaming her for it. She probably thinks I shouldn't have ducked.
She turned back to the front; Mr Gladly was looking directly at her. "Uh, yes. That was due mainly to Moord Nag, wasn't it? The government was corrupt and wasn't protecting the people, so she came in and killed the militias that were oppressing them. After that, the people decided to support her instead of the government."
"Very good, Taylor. I see that you weren't idle while you were away." He beamed at her; she wanted to scowl back at him. He has to know why I've been 'away'; I still can't sleep with the light off and Dad's got to spray the bedroom for bugs on a daily basis. But at least I'm not waking up screaming any more.
And then Madison put her hand up; he turned to her. "Yes, Madison?"
"Uh, Mr G, can I go sharpen my pencil at the trash can? It broke."
Taylor was immediately suspicious – Madison always took the opportunity to pass by her desk and cause problems when she went to the trash can – but there wasn't much she could do about it.
She was right, of course; when Madison came past, she went to grab Taylor's books and pull them to the floor, but Taylor locked her arms down on them and glared at her. Undaunted, Madison smiled angelically and continued on to the trash can in the corner of the room.
Mr Gladly, as always, totally missed the byplay. "Okay, class, turn to page one hundred and five. I want you to read through the examples given of regime changes due to parahuman interference over the last ten years. Pay particular attention to those in Africa and see if you can't spot any common factors."
As Taylor complied, she saw Madison making her way back down the row of desks. There was a secret smile on her face that boded no good for Taylor. What's she going to do?
And then, at the desk ahead of Taylor's, the boy sitting there moved his elbow and his pencil fell on the floor. He didn't seem to notice and nor did Madison; her heel came down on it, it rolled and her foot flew out from underneath her. With a startled shriek, she landed on her butt, with what looked like brown snow drifting down around and on top of her.
Shavings, Taylor realised. She saved all the shavings and she was going to dump them on me.
"Madison, are you all right?" Mr Gladly came down the row of desks, but she was already getting to her feet.
"Mr G, Taylor tripped me!" Madison's finger was out straight, accusing.
"What? No!" Taylor pointed at the pencil, still on the floor. "John's pencil fell off his desk. Madison stepped on it."
Bending down, Mr Gladly picked up the pencil and examined it. "John, is this yours?"
Turning, the boy looked at it. "Uh, yeah, Mr G. Sorry about that. Sorry, Mads."
"Be more careful next time." Mr Gladly handed the pencil back to him. "Madison, I don't think Taylor tripped you. Just go back to your desk, all right? And clean yourself off."
Visibly fuming, Madison stomped past Taylor, brushing pencil shavings off of herself. Not even she would do something obvious while Mr Gladly was standing right there, but in no way did Taylor think she was going to give up.
I am so dead.
"Got the water balloons?" Madison's smile was more than a little anticipatory.
"Right here." Emma carefully lifted the cardboard box from her backpack; she'd padded it with wadded-up plastic bags for this purpose. From within, she handed out the gurgling rubber sacs of watery doom. There were two for each of them; even assuming each of them missed with one, the other three balloons would be sufficient to soak Taylor to the skin.
"Excellent." Sophia weighed hers in her hand. She'd been waiting all day to repay Hebert for the humiliation in gym class. This would do perfectly.
"So where is she?" asked Emma.
"Went upstairs a little while ago," Madison reported. "Maybe to the bathrooms?"
"Good." Sophia started up the stairs. "Maybe we can catch her in one of the stalls."
"No, wait, here she comes now. Quick, get out of sight!"
Emma's mistake was tugging on Sophia's sleeve. In doing so, she lost her grip on one of the water balloons; it slipped from her hand and splattered on the steps, spraying water far and wide. Sophia, in the process of turning, stepped into the puddle. Losing all grip on the step, her foot shot out to the side and she fell. As it happened, this was on top of Emma and Madison.
They went down in a tangle of flailing limbs. Flailing limbs which released water balloons upward, to fly in short arcs and then come down again. Five soggy splats sounded, one after the other.
Taylor came trotting down the steps; as she reached the landing above, she peered curiously at the scene below. Sophia was lying atop Emma, with Madison squashed beneath the two of them. All three were soaked from head to toe and brightly coloured rags of rubber were lying around them.
Edging around them, she spared them one last look, then headed off down the corridor.
Clambering out from under Sophia, Emma sat up, a distinctly disgruntled look on her face. "We have got to do better than this."
"Well, don't look at me," snapped Sophia. "You're the one who dropped your water balloon."
As the other two argued, all Madison could do was try to remember how to breathe.
End of Part One