Ashley looked down at herself in disgust. The dress her mother had insisted on was entirely far too frilly for her own liking – not to mention ridiculously pink. She had suffered her mother's polishing attention in fuming silence, letting her smooth her unruly hair into shining braids, fixing the ends with matching pink bows. She had endured weeks of smiling lectures – hearing all about the wonders school would bring.
And now here she was, standing outside the building that promised to teach her everything she needed to know. Her mother had already dropped her off, pointing out her classroom and smothering her with hugs, before rushing off to solve the sanctuary's latest disaster. The other children swam around her, nervously chatting to parents who looked down on the tiny blonde girl in the pink dress with hearty approval.
This was stupid, Ashley thought. She already knew a lot of things, and the things she still had to learn would never be taught here. Not with children in dresses and classrooms with pictures of apples on the wall. No way. Turning, she darted between the flow of new kindergarteners and slipped back through the green gates. There would be no school for her today.
There were, Ashley had decided, definite perks to having a brother. For starters, Henry was taller than she was, and so able to reach the good cookies that were stored up high out of her reach. It meant she had someone to share the blame with when she 'accidently' let the Venezuelan pixies out of their enclosure, and someone to blackmail into covering the messier share of chores.
Most of all, however, she liked having someone to walk to school with. She had managed to convince her mother (though Biggie had taken far more work) that she was old enough to get herself to school last year, and now savoured the short walk to the primary school two blocks away. But having Henry to walk with (to tease, she thought with a grin) certainly made the morning more enjoyable.
Henry hadn't been attending her school very long, her mother having decided to home school him for the first year he had been with them – after all, most ten year old school-goers already know the basics of tying shoes and using the bathroom. But Henry had caught up fast and was ready to join his peers... it was unfortunate that his peers did not particularly enjoy having him.
They were halfway to school when the first boy made his presence known, stepping up behind Henry and tearing his backpack off his arms. The bag went flying, notebooks and pens spewing from the open zipper, dumping his slaved over homework into the muddy gutter. The boys were taller, stronger, and decidedly meaner. And they did not like the strange quiet boy who didn't talk to anyone except the even smaller, stranger blonde girl two grades below them.
Neither child made it to school that day - both sneaking home and into Helen's makeup to cover their bruises. But it was the last day Henry was ever ambushed on the way to school... and the last time anyone ever underestimated Ashley Magnus.
Ashley knew the sanctuary inside and out. She could tell you how many steps between any two locations, identify the many paintings lining its walls, and give you the life history of each and every one of its hundreds inhabitants. She was a child of its history and she had learnt her lessons well.
But there was one person who knew the building even better than she... and Ashley, holding all the arrogance of youth, frequently forgot this tiny fact. Which was why, as she leapt (surefooted as an alley cat) from the tree branch into the open window of the garden shed, and snuck quietly back through the kitchen doors, she was not expecting to run headfirst into her mother.
Helen, perched lightly on the edge of the kitchen table, tea cooling by her hand, merely looked at her daughter. She watched as the guilty flush crept up from her collar to settle on her cheeks. Cocking an eyebrow she picked up the fighting rods at her side and held them out to her daughter.
"Raymond waited for an hour, Ashley," she said smoothly. "You wasted his time and yours."
Ashley took the rods silently and nodded at her mother as she left the room, heading directly for the training room. She knew what this meant. Her mother would look at her disapprovingly for a day or two for having shirked her responsibilities, and she would now have to spar with Henry (who while nowhere near as technically proficient as her trainer, received far more glee from seeing her fall directly on her butt). She sighed.
Still, she thought with a smug thought, the date had been worth it.
On the first week she had stayed home, waiting anxiously at her mother's bedside.
On the second, Biggie had driven her to school each morning, instructing Henry to escort her directly to class.
On the third she ran home, curling up on the hospital cot next to her mother's broken body, waiting, begging silently for her to open her eyes.
On the fourth, she spoke to her mother, listening to her rasping voice.
...on the fifth she handed a truancy letter to Biggie, creased from her clenched hand. She had not gone to school. She had not attended classes. No one knew where had gone, but no one really wanted to ask, either. The dead look in her eyes and the blood lining the cuffs of her crisp white school shirt warding them off.
They never found the abnormal who had landed Helen Magnus in the hospital, who had crushed her bones under his heavy fists.
"...as you can see, the genetic evidence is certainly abnormal, however this form of genetic abnormality is highly unusual and should definitely not be taken as a sign of continued existence of a valid life form."
Ashley closed the door behind her with an audible click. She would be getting a bad grade on this class, she knew, so she may as well stick it to her professor whenever she could. She should never have taken this class, she knew, but her mother had been pressuring her to include more of the sciences in her degree and BIO145 Abnormal Genetics had been so hard to pass up.
Shame the professor had it so very, very wrong.