Note: Hello! It's my first time writing a fic for this fandom, but I'm not new to fan fiction itself. This is a self insert because I'm not going to pretend it isn't, and this semi-autobiographical story is about surviving bullying. The incidents I describe did actually happen to me(sans the Doctor, of course!). Names, occasional times of day and places are changed to preserve privacy, and for clarity's sake I gave made-up names to people whose names I forgot.
I've long since forgiven the people who did these things, but it took me almost two decades to reach that point.
This fic is dedicated to anyone who has been or is being bullied right now. I'm thirty three years old, and I almost committed suicide because of severe bullying back in the 1990's. "Bullycide" is not a new thing, but it is worse because of the internet. And if people are going to use the internet to hurt, then I'm going to use it to heal!
I hope this story reaches out to anyone thinking of suicide or self harm. I've been there, and I want you to realize you're not alone. It gets better, so hold on. You're going to make it through this. I care about you because YOU MATTER!
It Gets Better
I used to think I didn't matter. I believed I was worthless, useless and a waste of space. Then something incredible happened, and I realized the chain of experiences making up my teenage life had a purpose.
I became strong. I learned to forgive. I gained new compassion towards people going through the same misery I did.
My eyes traveled to my calendar. October seventeenth of the year twenty-twelve. A girl named Amanda Todd took her life one week ago. She was one of many teenagers torn apart inside by bullying both online and offline.
One child too many, in my mind. The saddest thing is, I knew exactly how she felt.
It was time to change that. Someone had to help soften the self-loathing caused by bullying and give those troubled kids a reason to keep living.
I'm that someone.
The memories flooded my mind when I began to type. I closed my eyes and let everything surface while I wrote.
Anxiety knotted my stomach as I passed the threshold of my fourth period science class. The long, black tables were covered in graffiti scratches. I gingerly climbed onto my stool in the front. It was the first stool on the left-hand edge of the classroom, and the closest to the teacher's desk.
I wiped ineffectively at the red stains on my pink sweatshirt sleeves. Someone in my first period choir class had squeezed ketchup into my jacket's sleeves without my knowledge, and I didn't know what happened until I found ketchup all over my sweatshirt later. The only way to hide the stains was to roll up my sleeves and deal with the cold air because I didn't have time to clean the ketchup out of my jacket.
I also still smelled vaguely like ranch dressing, courtesy of the girls who hurled a salad at me yesterday. I don't think I washed it all out of my hair. The worst part was nobody came forward, so the vice principal decided not to punish anyone "over a salad." She didn't seem to care that it happened in front of a quarter of the student body and they were all laughing at me. Nobody offered to help me clean up. Nothing.
That was when I knew no one gave a damn about me and reporting these incidents didn't end the bullying.
So I stopped reporting things. Why bother when nothing ever got done to make the bullies stop hounding me? Ignoring them didn't work, standing up didn't work. I guess I had to sit there and take it. Why? Because everybody hated me, and I deserved the hatred for existing.
People always said I shouldn't let it get to me. That I needed to hold my head up high. Ha! How could I feel good about myself when everyone only noticed what I did wrong?
"Look at the shrimp sitting by the teacher's desk again," said the tall, dark haired boy who walked in after I'd seated myself. He took the stool next to mine, much to my annoyance.
"Get a life, Sean," I said in disdain. Abrasive comebacks were the only defense I had anymore.
Sean grinned, revealing his braces. His friends, two intimidating boys named Keith and Richard, took the stools across from me.
People were allowed to sit wherever they wanted in class as long as they answered the roll call. I always hoped getting in first and taking the spot closest to the teacher's desk would minimize the crap I got from Sean and his annoying friends.
Nope. They did it anyway.
"Look at her stupid Tinkerbell lipstick," said the African American girl sitting next to Keith.
I glared. "Shut up, Wendy." I took out the tube of coral pink lipstick to show her the label. "It's Maybelline."
"'It's Maybelline.'" Wendy mocked my snotty tone of voice. "Do you wear lipstick because you don't know how to put on makeup?"
"Her mommy won't let her wear more than lipstick," Richard snickered. "Won't do shit for her anyway. Plastic surgery can't fix that kind of ugly."
My head sank into my shoulders at their jeering. Sometimes I hid an eyeliner pencil in my backpack and tried to put it on after getting to school, but it never looked right. It didn't silence the jerks who made fun of me anyway, so why bother?
Further conversation was cut off by the tardy bell ringing.
"Hello, hello, hello, sorry, excuse me, ah!"
The British accented voice making its way up the center of the room wasn't Mr. Maxwell. I rolled my eyes and sighed. Great, a sub.
The substitute looked hardly older than a senior. He was tall and thin with long brown bangs that fell to one side of his forehead. His purple attire looked like something out of a Charles Dickens story.
Wendy snorted, "Look at this retard and his bow tie."
The sub stopped, squinted at her and raised both eyebrows- what little of them he had.
"I like to wear bow ties. Bow ties are cool. Your nose is a bit big, but do you see me commenting? Oh, I just did."
Wendy's jaw dropped. I suppressed a snicker. Finally, someone who didn't take her crap!
"Moving on..." He clapped his hands together and held them clasped in front of himself, "Mr. Maxwell is ill, so I'm the boss in his absence. My name is Mr. Smith. John Smith if you want to know. So where are we- wait, hold on, he left his notes right here on the desk. Ahh!"
"Who the hell is this guy?" Sean muttered.
"He's gotta be high," Richard whispered back.
Keith laughed. "Betcha he's a fag."
"Oh, no, no, smoking is awful." Mr. Smith straightened. "Oh, wait, I'm in America." He grinned at Keith. "Did I hear you say you're interested? Sorry. I'm married."
That time, I couldn't stifle a giggle. "Mr. Smith? Aren't you going to call roll?"
"Why? It's boring." Mr. Smith looked at the roll sheet and, in three seconds, he'd marked it off without calling any names. "Now, Mr. Maxwell's notes say we need to cover chapter three. I find working out of books a bit tedious, so let's do something cool."
"Did this guy fall off the short bus?" asked Lisa, the blonde girl sitting next to Wendy.
Mr. Smith leaned over the overhead projector. He switched it on and almost blinded himself. Half the class laughed.
"Ah, it's been awhile since I've seen one of these babies." He acted completely unbothered by the laughter. "Here we go. Here's your chapter outline."
Someone in the back groaned. "I thought you were going to show us something cool!"
"So did I, but the peanut gallery spoiled that for you. I'm going to sit at my desk and read the newspaper. You all get to copy these notes and read chapter three until the bell rings."
"Nice going." I muttered at no one in particular.
"You're not serious!" Wendy balked.
"Watch me." Mr. Smith sat down in the rolling chair, put his feet up on Mr. Maxwell's desk and unfolded a newspaper I didn't recognize. I could have sworn it had tomorrow's date and a picture of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers on it, but I wasn't close enough to study it without being too obvious.
I got my science book out and opened it to chapter three. Then I spread out my pink binder to copy the contents of the overhead projector onto a piece of notebook paper.
"This sucks," Lisa whispered.
"No talking," said Mr. Smith.
Everyone worked in tense silence. I was halfway through taking my notes when a paperclip hit me in the cheek. Gasping, I grabbed it and hurled it back at its source before going back to work.
Moments later, I felt a spit wad lodge itself in my hair.
"Stop it, Sean!" I snarled.
Mr. Smith hardly crinkled his newspaper. "Silence, please."
I dug the spit wad out of my hair and resumed my note taking. Being a fast writer meant I was finished first and could focus on reading the chapter. Better to do now or over lunch than have science on top of math homework.
A person far across the room let out a loud belch. Mr. Smith offered no reaction to the noise or the giggles. Someone else croaked like a frog. I heard the faint crackle of a candy wrapper somewhere in the middle of the room.
Mr. Smith set his newspaper aside and wrote on something, but the pile of papers and books on the desk made it impossible to see what. He noticed me looking at him, winked and smiled. I shyly shifted my gaze to my science book. This chapter was about heavy metal elements.
The bell rang twenty minutes later. Books slammed shut and backpacks whispered onto shoulders as people prepared to join the lunchtime rush.
Mr. Smith stood up. "May I see Garrett Bernstein, Keith Ramirez, Sean Wick, Lisa DeSoto and Cynthia Hunt at the front?"
I flinched at hearing my name. Especially upon seeing the pink slips in Mr. Smith's hands. Each had the names he'd called were written on the line at the bottom.
"You all have detention this afternoon. I want you to spend twenty minutes in here copying something boring off the board. I'll see you after the last bell. Skip it, and you'll have seven."
"Seven?" Garrett, the kid who belched, opened his eyes wide. "Mr. Maxwell makes it two."
"He isn't here. Do it my way or I'll make it fourteen."
Garrett stuffed the pink slip into his backpack and stomped out the door. Nobody else contested Mr. Smith. I watched them skulk out.
I looked down at my slip. It was blank.
Part of me knew I might have gotten away with skipping, but the substitute teacher already knew my face. Being dishonest meant getting in more trouble than I'd already be in for having detention in the first place. This sucked, all I did was tell Sean to stop bothering me!
"Mr. Smith? Y-you forgot to write my name on this," I said.
"I didn't forget." Mr. Smith took the slip from me, crumpled it up and tossed it over his shoulder. "You didn't start anything, Cynthia."
That felt weird. I always got in trouble with everyone else...or I was the only one who got in trouble while everyone else got away free.
He sat down again and stuck his hand in his jacket pocket. "It's lunch time. Better run along."
"I go by Cyndi, and I usually eat in here."
"Oh? Why's that?" Mr. Smith pulled a banana out of his pocket. This was followed by some sort of granola bar, a grilled cheese sandwich and a juice box of something grape flavored. All that from a tiny coat pocket? It totally reminded me of Mary Poppins.
"Because," I took the cloth lunch bag out of my backpack and reached for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, "Those buttholes, sorry, those guys who were annoying me like to hassle me when I'm trying to eat. Mr. Maxwell lets me stay in here to avoid them. He knows I won't vandalize or break anything." I offered him my apple, "Want this?"
"Apples are rubbish." Mr. Smith peeled his banana by biting the bottom, spitting out the piece he bit and slowly pulling the skin off.
And he proceeded to eat it along the side like an ear of corn.
He was so weird!
I stopped staring when he raised an eyebrow at me.
"That's a first." I glanced at my apple. "I thought teachers liked apples."
"Apples make nice computers." Mr. Smith said off-handedly. "Terrible as food. Same as bullies. Terrible as people. They always compensate for their smallness by making others feel smaller than themselves. It doesn't make 'em any bigger. Hm," he shrugged and tore into his sandwich. Instantly, he spat out the bite he'd taken and stared at it on his hand. "Ugh! Who put bacon in this? Horrible stuff! Bacon is evil, like beans!"
Mr. Smith shook the bacon into the trash can. He was acting just like I sometimes did, and didn't seem to care how goofy he looked.
Instead of answering, I finished my food- even the apple- and drank half my orange Hi-C before I tossed it in the garbage bin.
"They were calling you a retard," I said. "How come it doesn't tick you off?"
Mr. Smith grinned. "Because I'm smarter than them, cooler than them and they're silly to judge what they don't know."
I arched an eyebrow. "Okay, how old are you?"
He gazed back at me. "How old do you think I am?"
I'm bad at guessing age. I looked him up and down. "I don't know. I look young for my age, so I'm going to guess you're older than you look. Thirty one?"
"Yeah, let's say I'm thirty one, but mix it up with a few zeros."
"Um...wow. You don't act your age."
"Age is just a number. There's no point in being a grown-up if you can't be childish." Mr. Smith grinned and went back to his newspaper. I realized he was reading the comics section.
Wait, didn't the front page have Power Rangers on it before? I squinted it, but the pictures and text appeared blurry. I rubbed my eyes. When I looked again, I only saw smudges and squiggles.
"Is something in your eye?"
"Don't think so, but that front page didn't print right. I think somebody smeared it."
Mr. Smith curled the front page around to study it. His eyes flicked back to me. "Huh...guess it did. Interesting."
I zipped my backpack shut and wandered around the classroom. I fed Oscar, the hand-sized oscar fish in the tank at the front of the room. I gave Yoshi, the iguana in the nearby aquarium, a little back scratch. Then I picked up the baby orange corn snake who lived in the tank next door to the iguana. I was the only girl in the class not afraid to hold him. Letting him coil around my hand felt nice.
"Hey, OJ." I rubbed his orange head. He flicked his tongue out at me once, no doubt smelling the peanut butter on my breath. I let him slither up to my elbow and put him back in his tank.
"Lunch is over in five minutes. I better go." I gathered my belongings. "See you later, Mr. Smith."
"Mmhmm." Mr. Smith seemed absorbed in his newspaper.
Only two more periods until the end of the day. I looked both ways before I exited my science classroom, shouldered my backpack and hurried towards the staircase for my fifth period history class.
The boy's restroom door opened and out stepped a chubby blond boy wearing a red jacket. Mick Tanner, the person who scared me more than anyone else in the school. I kept walking without looking at him.
"Cyndi!" Mick fell into step with me, "What's the rush?"
"Go away," I snapped. I didn't want Mick's crap, but I got it every day ever since my freshmen year. I hated him.
Mick cooed at me, "Not until I tell you a secret."
I stopped on the bottom step. Experience taught me that trying to bolt meant he grabbed my hair or my backpack and jerked me backwards.
"Get your bullshit over with." I growled, "I have class."
"That's better." He smiled and caressed my cheek in total mockery of a doting lover. "I'm going to slit your throat and watch you bleed to death." His fingertips touched my pulse, and it was all I could to do not shiver in disgust. "Right after school's over." He grabbed my throat and squeezed. "I'll be waiting for you."
Then he shoved me against the rail and hopped up the steps. People were walking right past us. None stopped to see if I was okay. Nobody even looked twice.
"Rot in hell!" I screamed at his back. "Rot in hell, Mick, right next to your fat bitch of a mom!"
Mick looked down at me and laughed, unfazed.
Some guy upstairs imitated me in a fake girly voice. "'Rot in hell, Mick, right next to your fat bitch of a mom!'"
Mick's cackling faded into the distance.
I waited until the bell rang before I climbed the stairs myself. Fifth period was spent with me hardly paying attention to the materials on the Aztec culture. I might have done better if I didn't fear Mick rushing in and stabbing me to death the whole time.
Sixth period became my study hall class. I slipped into Mrs. Jenson's classroom without a word and took out my math book to finish off the equations I didn't complete earlier. Math...I sucked at it. I could do it, but I was extremely slow without a calculator.
The final bell rang. I slammed my book shut and shoved my stuff into my backpack. School buses rumbled to a stop outside. Car tires crackled across the rough parking lot tar. Multitudes of voices suddenly filled the previously quiet outside air.
I walked to and from school every day. My mom had only one rule- I had to be home by four-thirty or she'd come searching for me. School ended at exactly two thirty-eight. I haggled for the four-thirty by saying I liked to practice in the choir room after school, but the real reason was I hid from my bullies until it was clear to walk home without them ganging up on me.
Mr. Smith happened to go right past me as I crossed the parking lot. He waved to me. I waited to see what car he got into, but he kept walking the same direction I usually went. I let him go ahead as far as I dared before I bolted across the street, climbed over a chain link fence next door to a supermarket and hopped down the hill leading into a ditch. It hadn't been in use for twenty or so years, evidenced by all the grass growing around the rocks. I heaved myself into the south end of a cold metal drainpipe that was just the right size for little five-foot-one-inch tall me to sit comfortably inside. Nobody could see me in there unless they watched me climb in.
So far, it proved to be my best hiding place yet. The freeway nearby masked any noises I made, so I didn't worry if I coughed or sneezed. Besides, I did practice my choir music in the pipe. The reverb let me hear myself and helped me correct the notes I missed in class.
I took out my blue music folder. I wasn't supposed to take it home, but I did anyway.
I pulled out my copy of O Magnum Mysterium by Tomas Luis de Victoria, laid down on my back and quietly sang the flowing soprano line on the first page.
"O magnum mysterium...et admirabile sacramentum..."
Footsteps on the north side of the pipe made me gasp and silence myself. They were moving away. Still, suspicious, I crawled forward until I could see outside.
I saw Mr. Smith step into a strange blue phone box. It made a weird noise and I swear to God I'm not lying when I say it literally faded into nothing! A second later, the same whirring noise happened with a definite thump. The blue box reappeared, blowing gravel in my face. I retreated back into the pipe. Mr. Smith walked out. His long legs passed my hiding place and I heard him hop the fence.
Maybe I was seeing things.
I scooted towards the middle of the pipe and resumed my singing until I corrected all my wrong notes. By then, my watch read three twenty-five. I put my belongings away, wiggled to the south end of the pipe and watched the ground for shadows that would indicate people standing nearby. People who might see me slip out and force me to find somewhere else to hide after school.
All clear. Lucky me!
My jacket sleeves were finally dry enough inside to not smear more ketchup on myself. I put it on, shouldered my backpack and made the climb back into proper civilization.
Halfway to my house, Keith, Richard and Sean pulled up to me in a silver Oldsmobile car. Dammit, I thought they were long gone!
Sean shouted at me, "Hey, ugly bitch!"
"Why do they let dogs out without a leash?" Keith joined in. "Are you gonna cry now? Boohoo! Cyndi's gonna cry!"
"Shut up!" I screamed at them. "I hope you assholes crash and die!"
"Whoa!" Richard laughed. "She wants us to crash and die."
"Let's run her over."
I bolted past the back of the car and dashed across the street. A dangerous move that risked me getting hit by traffic, but they had to drive all the way up to the light behind me and wait for the oncoming cars to pass before they could turn around.
So I thought.
The silver vehicle roared as it did an illegal U-turn across the central double yellow line and pulled up parallel to me once more. A white pickup truck honked its horn at them. Did they care? Not a bit!
Now picture this. Me, running on my two feet while weighed down by a thirty pound backpack. I was no match for something capable of accelerating to one hundred miles per hour.
I saw Richard roll his rear window down. I immediately stopped running. Just in time to hear something shatter in front of me. Glass and liquid splattered on my pant legs. I backed away from the puddle created by the projectile.
Sean's car kept going down the street. I stood there, quivering in horror. That glass bottle might have killed me if it hit me in the head!
I sighed, shaking the glass off my clothing. The smell hit then, and I bit my tongue to stop myself from dry heaving. Richard tried to peg me with a bottle full of piss. I'd been equated with a waste receptacle again.
Maybe my sole purpose in life was to be the world's most hated punching bag. I sure seemed to bring out the worst in people because I was short, flat chested and had behavior issues I didn't know how to control. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't act grown-up like my peers.
Like...I preferred to watch various incarnations of Star Trek, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Highlander, Babylon 5, Xena: Warrior Princess and Gargoyles instead of shows like Ally McBeal, Friends, Frasier, NYPD Blue and the news.
I still enjoyed playing make-believe when nobody caught me at it. Real-world stuff just...bored me! Why watch TV shows about slice of life stuff when I could imagine beaming aboard Deep Space Nine as one of Odo's security officers? How about being the Pink Ranger and fighting off a bad guy? A mysterious assassin who helped Duncan McCleod avoid having his head chopped off? What about serving as an assistant to Vorlon Ambassador Kosh Naranek? Fighting a big monster alongside Xena and Gabrielle? Or just a random person who got Goliath and Elisa to finally kiss?
That seemed more fun to me! Superhero adventure stuff with a dash of romance always captured my attention. I dreamed of doing those things and saving the day. I wanted to be the reason people cheered.
The problem? My imagination made me very immature compared to my peers. It made me stand out, and not in a good way. I did my best to keep the Power Rangers a secret, but I used to talk about my favorite shows a lot. Big mistake. I learned to keep my stupid imagination to myself.
Being so weird put a target on me that said hate me, I suck at living!
The way things looked, I didn't deserve to exist at all. I was sure even my parents secretly despised me for being such a disappointing failure at everything.
The tears threatening to fall were forced back by my self-loathing. No, stupid losers like me didn't deserve to release their pain by crying.
No further incidents occurred during my walk home. I only said a quick hello to my mom and rushed into my bedroom. My shoes went into a plastic Kmart bag, which I sprayed with Lysol to cover up the pee smell. The jeans and socks were placed right into the dirty clothes hamper. I changed into the pink sweat pants that went with the sweatshirt and stayed in my room to watch Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
Getting to school was almost worse than going home. I had to walk with the rest of the kids also going to school on foot. At first, I thought walking slow to let the others ahead of me keep going solved the problem. Then I noticed them walking slower and slower until I ended up being late to my first class. My new method was to power walk and try to pass everyone I hated before they had a chance to try anything on me. I've had my fair share of being forced into the street, pulled hair, being tripped and having gum stuck to me or my backpack.
I rushed past Lisa, who was strolling alongside her friend Becky.
"Hey flatty," Becky said as I passed.
Flatty was their favorite nickname because my body never developed right. I wore padded bras to give the impression of breasts, but they didn't fool anyone. I said nothing in response and kept walking.
"Look at those stupid little kid clothes. Nobody over nine wears Chic jeans." Lisa remarked. "Haha! Watch her feet! She walks like the crippled retards in Mrs. Olson's class."
I always walked on the balls of my feet instead of heel-toe. I had to, or else my backpack would make me fall backwards.
Lisa giggled. "She wears baby Velcro shoes, too. So stupid! Guess mommy got tired of tying her shoes for her!"
Grr, I had no problem tying my own damn shoes, but somebody kept stealing my shoelaces in gym. My mom got tired of replacing them, so Velcro tennis shoes were my mainstay. The sneakers I wore in P.E. class already lacked shoelaces. I unlaced them myself and turned them into slip-ons. Shoelace problem solved.
"Loser!" Wendy whizzed by on her bike.
Not even at school yet, and I felt like crap. This was the daily routine since my freshman year. Graduation seemed like an eternity away. All I wanted was to graduate and escape from these horrible people.
My eyes focused on the red jacket ahead of me. Great, it was Mick. I held onto my backpack straps and broke into a run.
"Hi, Cyndi! Missed ya yesterday." Mick called after me. I heard him running behind me. He caught my long ponytail and I had no choice but to slow down or risk whiplash. Mick let my hair go and draped his arm around me like we were old friends. I could hear him breathing, and it made me feel nauseated.
"I have a knife in my pocket." Mick said simply. His jacket rustled. He moved the pocket knife he was talking about into the hand draped on my shoulder. The tiny, gleaming silver blade was pointed ominously at my right eye. "I can jam this knife into your brain through your eyeball. It's going to hurt. I want to watch you squirm until you bleed to death."
"Please, don't," I whispered. "Just go away."
Mick moved that hand closer to my face. He'd let go of my shoulder. I ducked, elbowed him in the stomach and bolted forward in blind terror.
"You're gonna die! Watch your back, bitch! I'm going to kill you!" Mick shouted at my back.
I didn't realize he wasn't chasing me until I stumbled into the school parking lot alone.
Mr. Smith passed through the same breezeway I took on the way to choir class. He was wearing exactly the same outfit from yesterday.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine!" I said, choking on my breath. I glanced at my watch. "Bell's about to ring. See you fourth period."
Then I left him there.
Choir class was uneventful except for a girl behind me poking my back once or twice. P.E. class just plain sucked. Someone broke into my locker AGAIN, and I found my gym clothes in one of the toilets. I took them to my teacher to show her what happened.
"Mrs. Garrison, they did it again."
"I don't know what to do with you, Cyndi." The brunette teacher sighed at me like I'd done something wrong.
I guess it was all my fault for existing.
I rinsed my gym clothes in the restroom sink and wore them wet in the freezing cold gym. We played indoor volleyball. I was picked last, the eternal curse of being small, and I missed every serve when it became my turn. I could do it great if they let me serve underhand, but the teacher made everybody serve overhand. It was hard to serve or bump the ball when I shivered like Wile E. Coyote after taking earthquake pills. The team I was on lost because of me.
Becky snapped her gum at me when class ended. Wearing the wet gym clothes meant my bra and underwear were soaked through and cold. Black jeans were a lifesaver. A few girls laughed at my fake padded bra as I jerked my purple turtleneck over my head and traded the blue gym sneakers for my comfy white tennis shoes.
I longed for breast implants to look like the girls in magazines. They all had nice, noticeable boobs. My diminutive height wasn't a problem, but my being so unusually thin meant clothes made for kids my age never fit! I had to buy from the children's section of stores, or else the pants literally fell off my nonexistent hips. I always looked like a sixth grader because I had no boobs, no hips and stick-like limbs.
One of my teachers said I looked like Twiggy, a huge supermodel. Maybe I did...if she was born ugly and short like me. I hated my big, pointy chin. Scratch that, I despised everything about myself. I was the ugliest, stupidest, most worthless person in the world.
And everybody knew that. They reminded me daily.
Sometimes, I thought God hated me, too, and He gave me everything wrong for His own entertainment.
I bought myself a bag of potato chips to eat during the nutrition break. Two girls I didn't even know started laughing at me when I walked past them. I turned around and wiped the potato chip grease on one of their backpacks while they weren't looking.
Third period was my math class. Uneventful and almost not worth mention. The feelings I had since gym hung around me like a black cloud of self-loathing.
By fourth period, I was skulking across campus and didn't care where I sat in science class. I ended up in my usual seat anyway. I tried to look excited for Mr. Smith's demonstrating flame tests.
"Who's got a penny? A penny, anyone? Aha, thank you! Now watch this." Mr. Smith held the penny in the Bunsen burner flame with a pair of forceps. The flame flashed orange a few times. "Mm, not pure enough. Oh well, now we have a burnt penny."
"My God, this guy," Lisa whispered to Wendy. "He's crazy."
"Can anyone here tell me what color this flame should be? Cyndi?"
I flinched. "Copper burns...greenish?"
"Correct! Here you go," he held a small bag out to me, "have a Jammie Dodger."
Hm. This guy wasn't so bad. How many teachers gave out cookies for right answers? I took one of the jelly filled cookies and ate it, careful not to spill any crumbs. He gave one to everyone who answered right. He never seemed to run out.
Suddenly, class participation got a whole lot better.
Mr. Smith disappeared out the door at lunch time. He said to me, "Mind the room for a moment. I won't be long."
Literally five minutes later, he came back in. "Told you I wouldn't be long."
I wanted to ask him about the blue contraption I saw yesterday, but he seemed distracted by something on his desk and I didn't want to bother him. I waved when the bell rang and hurried to fifth period.
"I'm going to watch you bleed to death with my cock in your mouth. You're gonna die after school today." Mick hissed in my ear. I kept going, pretending I hadn't heard.
By the time my last class ended, I was desperate for the bathroom. I used the rush of people to hide from Mick and wove my way to the restroom. I'd just relieved myself and washed my hands when three large girls walked in. By large I mean one was overweight while the other two towered over me in height. They were horrible, nasty girls and I loathed them almost as much as Mick.
I rushed into the stall closest to the door and slammed the lock shut.
"Light me, Steff."
A lighter clicked. I tried not to cough on the cigarette smoke smell. I'm allergic to it and my eyes started to burn right away. I had no choice but to abandon my stall.
Unfortunately, the girls were hanging around the sink. They saw me.
"AIDS girl!" The one called Steff said.
They'd pulled the deadbolt on the bathroom door. I struggled until I got it unlatched. A few weeks ago, these same girls trapped me by the sinks and rubbed used tampons all over my skin and clothes. I was still afraid that I might have AIDS because of them. They also threw the salad on me. I wanted nothing to do with them. They almost scared me as much as Mick because they seemed completely heartless.
Now I was corned in a dimly lit restroom with no way to escape. I felt like the bait dog in a pit bull fighting ring.
"Leave me alone," I snapped. Better to show anger than fear. "Don't you know smoking is bad for you?"
Steff looked at the overweight girl. "Hey, Lupe, got any tampons?"
"Not today," Lupe said back, smiling. "Olivia?"
"Nah, not on mine."
"Look, I don't know what the hell your problem is, but you need to stop this." I tried to be civil while struggling with the heavy door. "I won't tell anybody you're smoking in here if you let me go."
"If?" Lupe pushed the door shut and rapped on it with her long red nails. She was not pretty. Her eyes looked too close together because of her heavy brown eyeshadow and black mascara, and she'd drawn her eyebrows on with a black pencil. Her brown lipstick made her lips look huge on her face. How come she never got crap for how stupid she looked, but I always did?
Steff took a drag off her cigarette, came closer and blew smoke in my face, making me cough.
"Hey!" I yelled. "I'm allergic to that!"
Steff slapped my face. Her teeth had red lipstick stains. "Did I say you can talk, freak?"
"You've got lipstick on your teeth."
Steff flicked her cigarette butt in my face. Luckily, only the side hit me, and it fell harmlessly onto the floor. I snuffed it with my foot.
And all civility went out the window. I got back in her face.
"Bitch, you can't control me!" I yelled.
"Really?" She shoved me against the door. "Olivia, get her other side."
Olivia's tan hands grabbed my arm. She sneered, her nearly black lipstick making her lips appear tiny on her oval face. If she let go of me for one second, I would have grabbed one of her huge hoop earrings and ripped them out of her head.
Instead, I struggled. "Hey! What the hell are you doing?"
"Putting shit like you where it belongs."
Steff and Olivia dragged me towards the stall I was hiding in earlier. I kicked my feet. My shoes found no purchase on the slippery tile floor.
"Stop it! Let go of me!"
Pressure on my shoulders forced me to fall on my knees in front of the toilet. Olivia grabbed my ponytail and stuck it in the water. She kicked the lever, flushing the toilet. I felt my hair being yanked towards the drain. Somehow, sheer will I guess, I resisted it pulling my head forward. I struggled harder against them, but their grip on my shoulders tightened until moving caused more pain than being still.
"Hold your breath!" jeered Steff.
They shoved my face into the water. I barely gasped enough air to last me thirty seconds. My hair was completely soaked in toilet water. They pulled me up just before my body forced me to suck in a breath. I was disgusted beyond measure. Toilets were germy things, and my mind raced through the diseases I could catch from it.
"I hate you," I spat at them.
"You're nothing. You're worthless. Don't you know everybody hates you? Wanna know why everybody hate you? You're a failed abortion. You're the school disease and nobody wants you around." Steff shoved my face into the bowl again. "Now drink it, you piece of shit!"
I didn't have time to shut my mouth. I got a mouthful of toilet water. It made me gag.
Lupe kicked my hip, making me collapse against the toilet. I grabbed the seat with my hands in a vain attempt to keep them from shoving my face in it again.
"Yeah! Put here where she belongs."
Oliva and Steff leaned on my backpack, submerging my head completely under the toilet water. Lupe burst out laughing and sat on the seat, preventing me from getting back up. Every cell in my body screamed for oxygen. Even if I wanted to breathe, my throat was smashed against the front of the cold porcelain bowl by Lupe's weight. I grabbed at her clothes and kicked my feet.
"I hope she drowns!" Steff cackled.
I started seeing stars and pink spots.
Olivia grabbed my feet. "Look at her! Haha, oh my God, look at her!"
I slapped the edges of the toilet bowl and the walls, hoping and praying the noise drew someone's attention outside. Blackness pricked at my vision. My chest burned with the desire to breathe. I didn't care what happened anymore. I wanted it to be over. What a way to die- drowning facedown in a toilet. I guess I deserved it for being a useless piece of crap to the world.
Someone flushed it. The swirling water went right up my nose. I didn't have time to breathe when it rushed away during the flush. I couldn't even cough.
Just when I was ready to be still and wait for death, the pressure on my head suddenly disappeared. I jerked into a sitting position, gasped and vomited violently into the toilet bowl.
"What's going on in here?" It was Ms. Roberto, one of the Spanish teachers.
"Nothing," Lupe said in her most innocent voice. "She got sick to her stomach. We wanted to make sure she's okay."
"Go on out of here. I'll handle this." Ms. Roberto ushered the girls out.
I heaved until I had nothing left, flushed and staggered to the sink to wash my face. My hair was dripping wet and my ponytail had come halfway undone.
"Are you okay, sweetie?"
Somehow, I didn't burst into tears. "I'm fine. I got sick on my hair and cleaned it, but started getting sick again."
"Let's go to the office and call your mom to pick you up."
"No, uh, she's not home right now. Dentist appointment." I lied. "I can walk. It's not far. I think I ate something bad last night."
"If you're sure."
I nodded again.
She left me there alone.
I put what little order I could into my ruined hair and went right across the street from my school to the supermarket. I bought myself a bottle of Pepsi and a box of Benadryl. The cashier didn't inquire about my wet hair. I had to look miserable and pathetic. I didn't care. I didn't care about anything anymore. The whole world wanted me to die and I planned to do just that.
I made my way to the pipe where I liked to hide. The tears I held back found freedom as I wrote my name, address and home phone number on a piece of notebook paper. I wrote that nobody cared about me, so I was taking myself out of the world because I was tired of everybody hating me. I signed my signature, crumpled up the note and tossed it to my left, not caring where it landed. Not like anybody would find it anyway.
With that settled, I unsealed the Pepsi bottle and began systemically freeing the Benadryl capsules from two of their blister packs. I figured a dose that big would kill someone small like me pretty fast. The pile of pink and white capsules on my palm were accusing eyes staring into my soul.
Even my own death jeered me.
Cold wind blew through the pipe. My wet head started to ache.
"God," I whispered, "If you don't want me up there, make me spit these pills out."
Taking a deep breath, I palmed the capsules and unscrewed the lid off the Pepsi bottle.
"Oy! Spit those out!"
I heard a high pitched buzzing noise. My nose itched. I sneezed, spitting pills and soda everywhere. Incensed, I wiped my face and glared at Mr. Smith. Shit, couldn't he let me die in peace? Or was it a cruel ploy of God because He didn't want me, either?
"Go away!" I croaked. "I'm doing the world a favor! Go away!"
"No," he put something back into his coat pocket and rested both hands on the edge of the pipe. "I just found your note and it gives me every reason to not leave you alone."
"Why not? I'm stupid, I'm ugly, I suck at everything and I don't do a damn thing for right for anyone. Why shouldn't I just get it over with?" I hid my face behind my hands. "I'm better off dead. Then it'll stop hurting. Who's going to miss me besides my parents? Screw everything, just screw it! I don't matter and I'm not important enough to cry about."
I tried to reopen the Benadryl box, but Mr. Smith had wormed into the pipe with me and he took it from my hands.
"Everybody says they do, but they roll their eyes as soon as I go away. I'm not good at anything. I suck! I suck at living! I probably suck at dying, too, but at least that's something I can do! I want to die. I deserve to die!"
Mr. Smith took me in his arms. I went from just crying to full on sobbing. I couldn't control or silence myself. How pathetic was I, weeping on a teacher like that?
"Ah," he spoke quietly, "I've never met anyone that wasn't important before."
"You have now," I sniffed.
"Hm. You said I'm weird. Do you hear anything weird, Cyndi?"
What the hell was he talking about?
I managed to stop crying and...there was something weird. My head rested on his chest. There were two heartbeats. Instead of a single thump in the middle, I heard one on each side.
"You've got two hearts." I said dully. "It's a trick, right? You're hiding something in your pocket."
"Nah, that's a cheap trick. I'm an alien. I don't belong here. That's why I don't fit in."
"Wish I was a damn alien. Then maybe I'd have a reason to not fit in either. I'm just human and suck at everything."
"You sing fine." Mr. Smith gestured at the pipe. "I heard you."
"I suck at singing. My voice is too weak. Nobody hears me unless they're right there."
The tears started again. I wiped them away with angry swipes of my palms.
"A voice is a voice. Big or small. I don't know anyone who sings exactly like you do. Actually, I don't know anyone who sings exactly like anyone else. They all sound like themselves."
"Yeah, because they have better voices than mine."
"Little things have mystery to them."
"Like your box?" I gasped when I realized I said it out loud. "I...saw you get in it and disappear."
"Would you like to see it?"
I sat up and looked at him. Years of being harassed, bullied and hated made trusting people difficult. If he wanted to fool with me, I figured I'd better start poking holes in his story right away.
"Your name isn't really John Smith is it?"
He curled half his mouth in a smile. "No. I'm the Doctor."
"That's a new one." Mr. Sm- I mean- the Doctor, blinked twice. His eyes were green, I realized. "Just the Doctor. Now come along. I don't know about you, but this pipe is giving me a crick in my neck. Great hiding place, by the way. Were you always this good at hide and seek?"
I was crazy to follow him out. Everything I'd been taught about following strange men to their vehicles went out the proverbial window. I stood up and took a good look at the blue contraption.
It resembled a police box from Britain. Strangely, the more I looked at it, the more my gaze wanted to just slide past it like it wasn't anything of interest to notice. I heard its door creak open on the other side.
"So if you're an alien, what planet are you from?"
The Doctor stuck his head out of the door as I came around. "Gallifrey. I'm on my way back to set it free from a frozen moment, but I still have time for you." He smiled like a little kid in a toy store. "Ready? This is my favorite part."
My insides still felt heavy with what I almost did. Maybe if I went on this adventure, he'd leave and I could still do the deed. I had enough money to buy more Benadryl later.
Yeah, go for a ride. You can kill yourself later. What a charming thought.
I stuck my head into the phone box. I saw a room that had to be as large as the school gymnasium.
"Oh, no way." I backed up to look at the blue box again from the outside.
"Go on and say it, 'it's bigger on the inside.'"
"Is the inside in another dimension?"
The Doctor laughed. "And you say you aren't good at anything! That was science, and yes. She's my TARDIS. Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. She can go anywhere in the universe...and any time."
I knocked on the side. It sounded and felt like wood. "It's like Star Trek."
Looking around once more, I took a breath and stepped all the way into the ship...this TARDIS, as he called it. The room's center was an ornate glass column with silver tiles near the ceiling and a whole bunch of weird gadgetry on a hexagonal panel near the bottom.
"I saw you check Cosmos out of the school library," said the Doctor. "You dream about the stars, don't you?"
"Carl Sagan's book. Yeah. I like astronomy." I grasped the railing behind me. "Does this thing come with seat belts?"
"You don't need them here." The Doctor huffed. "So, you're into astronomy? Name a place. Any place. We'll get there in no time."
"I have to be back before four o'clock."
"Time machine..." He said in a singsong voice.
"Right." I looked around again, dazzled by the fact that I was standing inside an alien spaceship. It was just exciting enough to reach through the emptiness I felt towards myself. My imagination came back to life! "Can we go to the Orion nebula?"
"Of course!" The Doctor typed on a keyboard, turned some dials and pointed to a lever, "Now pull that and we'll be on our way."
I grabbed the lever and heaved it towards myself. The column in the center moved up and down and the circular panels above it spun. I started to hear a strange wheezing noise and everything vibrated. "How long is the trip going to take?"
The Doctor took the lever and eased it back up. The TARDIS stopped vibrating. He grinned. "We're there. Have a look out the door. Don't worry, you won't decompress."
We weren't looking at the nebula. We were in it. I stared outside and fell to my knees, barely conscious of my still wet hair. Bright stars lit up the molecular cloud in colors no telescope can ever capture. The nebula surrounded everything like dense, warm fog.
I stuck my hand out and pulled my fingers through it. Somehow, the gas wasn't hot enough to melt my fingers off.
I touched stardust with my bare hands.
"We're made of this stuff." I said. "Everything we are came from stars that died as supernovae. All our atoms, like the iron in our blood and the calcium in our bones."
The Doctor chuckled softly. I hadn't heard him join me.
"That wasn't in class."
"I know. I read about it." I looked out again at the globules of gas that would someday be new stars. "Can we see Betelgeuse?"
"I love that movie! Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!"
"I meant the star, silly!"
"Oh! Right! Sorry. Sure, I can work that out." The Doctor snapped his fingers and his footsteps scrambled away. The doors closed, the TARDIS emitted its odd wheezing noise for only three seconds. When I opened the doors again, there it was.
"It's moving pretty fast," said the Doctor. He kept adjusting the controls to keep up with it.
Betelgeuse, the red supergiant star making up Orion's top left-hand corner. I stared at it. From that close, it became a huge, angry looking orange-red sphere surrounded by the gas it's been shedding for...probably thousands of years. Unlike the sun, it looked bright in the center and dimmer towards its edges. Here and there, it had bright spots similar to the white light showing through colored Christmas lightbulbs whenever the paint cracked off.
It was beautiful.
"That star is younger than the Earth. It's not even ten million years old." I whispered. "Huge stars squander the hydrogen in their cores. It'll be one hell of an explosion when it dies."
The Doctor crossed his arms and leaned on the control panel. "Do you want to watch it go supernova?"
"Is that safe?"
"It should be, if we're a safe distance away."
I grinned. Explosions were cool! "Let's go."
"It's been awhile since I watched a star go boom. Things that go boom are fun, sometimes. Hold on. I have to calculate for distance and other wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff."
The Doctor scampered around the hexagonal control mechanism, adjusting and readjusting. He tapped a glass dome. I heard something make popping noises before he pulled the lever that made the TARDIS go. We moved forward in time- like he said, time machine- and the stars looked vastly different when the doors opened.
He handed me a pair of silver sunglasses. Identical to the pair he'd just donned himself. "So you don't go blind."
"Right." I put them on and we sat in the TARDIS doorway together, letting our feet dangle. Betelgeuse was off in the distance. From my perspective, it looked no bigger than the holes punched in paper with a hole puncher.
The Doctor crackled something.
"Popcorn?" He held the bag out to me.
I stared. "The TARDIS makes popcorn?"
He grinned like a little kid. "Yeah! She's real good at that."
I took some. Better than anything they made in movie theaters. He passed me a handheld telescope that let me see the star so clearly it was like viewing it from a nearby asteroid.
The Doctor checked his watch. He ate some popcorn and held up his finger. "Ten, nine, eight..."
I hunkered down to wait.
"...three, two, one." He pointed at the star. "Geronimo!"
Betelgeuse shrank into a pinpoint. Seconds later, it blew itself apart. A cosmic white bubble expanding into the universe. I saw flashes of light as the shockwave vaporized everything in its path.
"That's what happens to people who let the hate they feel get to them." The Doctor crunched more popcorn. "They self destruct and everything around them goes to pieces. Quite sad, really. You should never let potential energy like that go to waste."
I smiled, sadly. I wanted to tell him I was too small and useless to do more than make two people cry about me.
Before the words came out, I heard a telephone ring. A telephone?
"Sorry, better get that." The Doctor rushed to grab the phone. He chattered in a language I couldn't understand. I scooted backwards to sit cross-legged on the warm, weirdly cushiony floor. Wasn't it hard like linoleum when I walked in? Weird!
The TARDIS doors suddenly closed as the Doctor concluded his call.
"What's going on?" I took off the sunglasses and moved away from the door.
"We're taking a little side trip." The Doctor stuffed his shades in his pocket. "You might like where we're going. Hold on!" He pulled a switch and the TARDIS jolted into action.
I held the railing and dragged myself towards the central column to better view the controls.
"What's this?" I pointed to a speaker.
"It goes ding when there's stuff."
"Right, but what does it do?"
"It goes ding when there's stuff."
"It goes ding when there's stuff?"
"Yeah, when there's stuff, it goes ding."
"Stuff." The Doctor held up one hand. Then he held up the other. "Ding." He brought his hands together. "See? Stuff makes it go ding. Try to keep up with me here."
"But what kind of stuff makes it go ding?"
"Oy! You ask a lot of questions! Are you trying to be an armchair physicist? Spacey wacey stuff makes it go ding!"
The Doctor looked so playfully insulted. I almost laughed. He reminded me of an overgrown six year old. Yet, as I watched him work, something about him seemed incredibly old, too.
"Uh, okay. Spacey wacey stuff." I held onto the railing while the TARDIS vibrated around me. This time it was more intense than the first trip. "Where exactly are we going?"
"Planet Harmonica. Tiny planet orbiting a red dwarf. It's in a galaxy fifteen billion light years from Earth."
"How is that possible? All the science stuff I've read says the universe is thirteen point two billion years old."
The Doctor slapped his forehead. "Oy! Details, details! The universe expands over time, remember? We're going forward. It's- please don't touch that. It dispenses ketchup. The yellow one is mustard."
Okay, a ship that made popcorn spat out ketchup and mustard. Did it come with a cosmic hot dog, too? Better not ask.
"So, planet Harmonica...what's going on there?"
The Doctor stopped twiddling dials to look at me. "They've got a pest problem and asked for my help. They're a species that lives under their planet's surface. Quite lovely people, if a bit short. Sometimes stuff gets in and can't get out. Ah, here we go!"
I felt the vibrations stop. A sense of dread knotted my stomach. Underground, where there were probably dinosaurs and Godzilla-like monsters waiting to eat me alive.
The Doctor opened the door and gestured for me to step out. "It's safe. Come along now."
Outside the TARDIS, the air felt cool and slightly humid. Very similar to a movie theater. My cold, damp hair made my scalp ache. I looked around at the world I very much didn't expect. My sense of adventure kicked in, suddenly, when I realized was living something I daydreamed about all the time. And I didn't have to pretend!
Holy crap! I'm standing on another planet in another galaxy!
Everything appeared crystalline. The lights, the structures...everything. I couldn't see the top of the cavern. The walls near me were smooth and reflected color like abalone shells. I glanced back at the alcove where the TARDIS had landed and quietly followed the Doctor. He plunged straight ahead as if he knew this place.
"Where are we? On the planet, I mean. Like...is this their version of Tokyo?"
"We're in the city of Fa-lalalala-lalalala. Just like Deck the Halls." The Doctor spun to face me and continued walking backwards. "It's about fifteen miles underground." He turned and...licked the wall! "Yup, fifteen miles." He spread his hands proudly. "Welcome to Harmonica!"
Something dark and smoky rose behind him. I heard it hiss like a passing freight train.
"Doctor..." I pointed.
"Yes, I know." He didn't notice my frightened stare. "It's a lovely little hideaway."
"No, I mean, look!"
"Huh?" He turned and the smoky thing loomed over us. "Hello!" He blinked at me. "Cyndi? Run!"
The Doctor grabbed my hand. We took off down a dimly lit green tunnel. He dragged me around a corner, shoved us both into another alcove and shushed me with one finger. The creature floated past the opening, leaving behind a strange smell. Seriously, I swore I smelled baking bread when it went by.
Minutes passed. The Doctor scooted from our hiding place. He took something out of his pocket that emitted green light and made a weird noise.
"It's a Devourer." The Doctor peered at his device. "Aaaand, according to the sonic screwdriver, it's been here for about a week."
Aliens are cool...on TV. This was downright scary. I could shut off my imagination if it got too scary. I couldn't shut off real life!
"So, uh," I gulped, "What is it and what does it eat?"
The Doctor put his sonic screwdriver away. "It's made of strange matter. Like dark matter, but stranger." He leaned on the wall and frowned. "Sometimes they get in when a new universe goes bang."
"But what does it eat?"
"It doesn't eat, it absorbs. It floats in space for billions of years, 'till it bumps into a nice planet like this one. It's attracted to war, chaos and- " his face dropped when he looked up, " -self loathing. But only when it's angry. Usually, they're pretty harmless. They feed off the interstellar medium like big fish eating little bits of plankton. So, like I said, pretty harmless."
I froze at the smell of bread. "It's behind me, isn't it?"
"Here we go again." The Doctor almost took my arm off, and we escaped through another tunnel.
"Think about- something- you- like about yourself!" He spoke in quick spurts, "Hurry!"
I gasped at him, "But I don't like anything!"
My legs burned. I still felt sick from earlier, and the popcorn I ate wasn't sitting well in my stomach.
"Okay...okay...I'm short! I like being short!"
The smell went away. We stopped running. I'm good at it in short bursts, not long sprints. I could hardly breathe. The Doctor didn't seem very winded at all. So not fair.
A triangular door split open on my left. The being who stepped out wasn't any taller than I. It wore white clothing, had white hair and shimmering silver-white skin. It wore a long veil, much like a bride's. The alien moved the veil to reveal large, faintly glowing blue eyes. Solid blue, no irises or pupils, and shaped perfectly like almonds.
"Hello, Companion of the Doctor, hello, Doctor." The alien spoke...English?...with a musical sounding voice. Almost as if it sang the words rather than speak them.
"Hi." I looked to the Doctor for an explanation, but he only winked at me.
He turned to the creature. "Hello, I got your call about the Devourer."
The alien beckoned us into the room it came from.
I nudged the Doctor. "Boy or girl? I don't want to look stupid."
"Girl," he said back. "The boy ones don't wear veils."
We passed through a foyer and entered a huge domed cathedral-like building full of Harmonicans. None were taller than me. The Doctor towered above everyone there!
"How are they speaking English here?"
"They're not. The TARDIS is translating everything for you. You hear your language when they talk, and they hear theirs when you talk." He gestured subtly towards the Harmonican sitting in the exact center of the elaborate dome. Her veil was so long it had been arranged to pile behind her. "That's Allellullilla, the Queen."
"Maybe she'll let me call her Lily for short," I tried to joke.
He made a face. "Tried that once. She doesn't like it."
"Doctor," the Queen's voice gently interrupted us. She had a quiet alto singsong voice.
"Ah, yes, your Majesty," the Doctor walked up to her and offered a sweeping bow. "Been awhile, eh? Glad to see you got the acoustics fixed in here. Sounds lovely now. So, about the Devourer..."
"Such a creature cannot be allowed to stay here," Allellullilla said simply.
"There's a reason it ended up here. The answer is finding it." The Doctor rocked back on his heels.
"I'm Yayeyiyo," said the man next to me. I didn't need to look, I just knew by the tenor tone of his voice.
I looked anyway. No veil. Definitely male.
"I'm Cyndi," I whispered back hastily. "You guys know the Doctor?"
"He helped us find this world after a war cost us our old planet."
"Ahh. I'm glad you have a home." I said back.
"...caught in a supernova shockwave and, ah! That might explain it!" The Doctor twirled on his heels, apparently proud of himself. "Your Majesty, you're lovely as always. We'll try the main vent and see if we can't show this thing the way out. Cyndi! I think we have the solution!"
Suddenly, all the Harmonicans were staring at me. I stood there, shivering, my hair still not quite dry from my toilet dunking. I had to look terrible. What a crappy first impression I was making.
I offered a small half-hearted wave and dropped my gaze to my feet.
"Come, you shouldn't suffer with the cold." Yayeyiyo beckoned me to follow him. "I will give you dry attire fit for the environment."
"Clothes are hard for me." I said dejectedly. At the Doctor's nod to go on, I followed the Harmonican man into a short hallway. "Nothing fits."
Yayeyiyo- his name was easier to remember if I sang it to myself the same way he said it- handed me a robe. He pulled a curtain shut between us. I shrugged, abandoned my smelly school clothes and put the robe on.
It fit perfectly. I wanted to cry with joy. I put my old tennis shoes back on. They looked almost ridiculous with the robe, yet I didn't care. I was wearing the same thing as everybody else. I almost fit in.
"I'm dressed," I said. "Thanks, uh..." I sang the name, "Yayeyiyo."
Yayeyiyo moved the curtain. He tilted his head at me. I couldn't quite read the squint of his eyes. He was smiling. I hoped that meant I did something right.
I tossed my old Earthly clothes down a chute- I never wanted to see them again. We were about to leave the hall when I smelled bread. Dread filled my stomach and I sucked in a breath.
"Oh no, it's back." I spun to face the Devourer.
It recoiled! Then it took off in the direction it came.
Yayeyiyo and I bolted back into the main dome. We almost tripped over each other when came we upon an older Harmonican standing guard.
All three of us burst into the main dome again, gasping.
"It's in there!" I ran straight towards the Doctor, not caring who saw me or how shrill my voice sounded. "I think I scared it away when I screamed, but it's in there!"
"Shh! Cyndi, mind your manners." The Doctor covered my mouth. "Don't shout in front of royalty."
I dipped my knees in a quick curtsey towards the Queen. "I'm sorry, Queen Allellullilla."
Queen Allellullilla blinked her huge blue eyes. Something in her face softened almost imperceptibly.
"She sings with a voice like ours," the Queen said.
Taken aback, I lowered my head. "Did I do it wrong, ma'am?"
"Nope." The Doctor gave my shoulders a squeeze. "There's a reason this planet is called Harmonica."
Allellullilla lifted her hand, beckoning me closer. "What songs does your world sing?"
"We, um..." I closed my eyes and sang the soprano line of O Magnum Mysterium. The dome above me gave the place amazing acoustics. My voice just...carried...without any effort at all!
More voices joined mine at varying intervals. They sang the soprano line at different harmonies. I heard thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, octaves. Even the dissonance was beautiful. The world ceased to exist around me and there was just the sound surrounding me.
I felt so peaceful. Like I truly belonged there. I fit in.
The Doctor patted my shoulder. "Keep singing. Don't open your eyes."
His sonic screwdriver whirred. Something above me clicked. The air started to smell like rotten eggs. No wonder they lived underground...the planet was a volcanic wasteland on the surface.
Against my better judgment, I looked up at the smell of baking bread. There was the Devourer, a huge angry cloud hanging near the ceiling.
When I stopped, the Harmonicans stopped, and the beautiful music we made dissolved into discord.
"It's supposed to go out!" The Doctor shouted in frustration. "Cyndi, I told you not to open your eyes! Now it sees you!"
Someone took Queen Allellullilla's hand and whisked her away to safety. Everywhere I looked, veils, robes and hair flapped as people raced through each of the fourteen doors in the round room.
The Devourer descended straight at me!
"Oh, shit." I cringed, "I, um, I- I-I like how I look in these clothes!"
The Doctor shoved me to the ground and came down on my back. I saw the Devourer detour past us and engulf a lone Harmonican man who didn't run fast enough. There was a gurgle seconds before the creature moved on, leaving a pile of dust on the ground. The Devourer poured itself through a doorway and was gone.
My heart kept pounding. I just saw someone die.
"Oh God, this is my fault. He's dead because I'm stupid!"
"No, Cyndi, he's dead because he didn't like himself enough to fend it off. Pity." The Doctor slowly climbed off me. He pulled me to my feet.
"It didn't take the vent. It was supposed to go out." I gasped for the breath I couldn't catch. "Why?"
"Don't know, but I'll find out. Come on. They're safe for now. They know where to go for shelter."
Good thing he told me; I'd lost track of the Harmonicans in the chaos.
The Doctor and I entered a different cave than where we landed. The walls were largely blue and rough. I didn't see anyone else anywhere, but I did spot a bowl of smooth black fruit on an abandoned cart. "Oh."
Despite my earlier nausea, I started to feel hungry. I picked up a piece of the fruit and it felt squishy in my hand. It had the same weight and texture as a plum.
"Doctor, can I eat this?"
"Yes you can- wait, no!" He slapped the fruit of my hand just before I bit down. "No, no! No, don't eat it. Very bad, very not good for you."
"Ack! What is it?"
"Acidonium. It'll burn your stomach up in a tick, and that's if you live long enough to swallow it. Very acidic. Harmonicans are built to live in acidic environments. You aren't."
The food didn't look too appetizing anymore. But it seems the Doctor is always prepared. He handed me a sandwich. Grilled cheese, still hot, with a bite taken out of it. The same sandwich he'd rejected before!
"Here, do you like bacon? I hate bacon. Eat up and follow me."
Best sandwich ever, but I didn't have time to savor it. I gulped it down, bacon, crust and all, while following the Doctor through the narrow passageway. I fit easily, he had to duck through every door. The only light came from long strings of white neon-looking lights lining the walls and floor. I made sure I kept the Doctor's long jacket within my sight.
"Where are we going?"
He kept scanning the walls with his sonic screwdriver. "Following some footprints. The Devourer leaves a chemical trail everywhere it goes. I'm trying to figure out why it keeps wandering about in here."
My stomach rumbled. The Doctor looked at me, wide-eyed.
"You're still hungry?"
I shot him a look. "I might be skinny, but I like to eat a lot. Forget about it, I'll eat when we find out why that cloud of yuck is harassing these people."
"Good plan." The Doctor squinted at his sonic screwdriver. He tapped it on his hand and looked again, but I couldn't see any screens or data. "Well that's a little weird. Yes..." He glanced at me. "There's more than one Devourer here."
"How many more?"
"Not quite sure yet."
"Great. It's going to eat me, isn't it?"
"It might if you keep acting like that."
We started through another long corridor. This time the lights had a red tinge.
The Doctor stopped and nudged me backwards. "Ooh, okay, okay. I found out where it went. Slowly. Back up, back up! Never mind, run!"
I didn't need to get told twice. I spun on my heels and took off like someone lit my butt on fire.
I like my singing, I like my singing, I like my singing! I chanted the happy thought as much as I could through my fear. The Doctor passed me. He glanced over his shoulder. Just in time to smash his head on a doorway and knock himself senseless.
"Doctor!" I shrieked.
The Devourer that was advancing on me shot back the way it came. I didn't care. I grabbed the Doctor's jacket lapels and shook him.
"Doctor, wake up!"
"Huh?" He sat bolt upright. Far faster than any human with a concussion. For a second I'd forgotten he wasn't human. He rubbed the side of his head. "Quite a lump from that. Word of advice- don't look backwards when running forwards at very high speeds. Where did the Devourer go?"
"Back where we found it, I guess. It left pretty fast when I screamed. The same thing happened in the hall where I got this robe."
He touched the bump on his head. "You say it went away?"
"Yeah, pretty fast, too."
"I see. Okay, okay. Think, thinking..." The Doctor tapped his sonic screwdriver against his forehead. "Cyndi, sing that song again. The one you did in the other room. That Latin thing."
He sighed. "Don't ask, just do!"
"Right. Okay. Um."
"Well? Aren't you going to stand up?"
"I can't. You're sitting on my hair."
"Oh. Sorry." He moved.
I felt very self conscious as I got to my feet and engaged all the abdominal muscles I used for breathing. The familiar notes of O Magnum Mysterium echoed down the corridor.
In about thirty seconds, I smelled that odd baking bread scent. The Devourer floated slowly towards me.
"Keep singing," the Doctor whispered in my ear. He stood up behind me, watching.
This Devourer didn't seem as large as the first one, and it wasn't rushing at us like a tsunami. I swear it just...hovered there, inches from me. It came closer to me as soon as I stopped singing. I blew on it the same way I sometimes blow on cigarette smoke to make it go away. The smoky creature rippled without moving. I think it liked me puffing air on it.
Maybe if I sang something else...
I took in a breath and let out the first line of Handel's Hallelujah chorus. The Devourer bolted away from me.
"What the? I sang!" I faced the Doctor, "I thought it liked that!"
"Actually," the Doctor studied his sonic screwdriver, "It was feeding off the carbon dioxide you breathe out. You produce more than the average Harmonican. As for not liking higher pitches...ah! Of course! Come on, this way! Back to the dome!"
The Doctor was already twenty feet away. I scrambled to catch up.
"Come on, short stuff, keep up!"
"Short stuff? Grrr! Just don't hit your head again before I slam it into a door!"
The Doctor laughed. "Catch me, first."
He stayed well ahead of me. I didn't catch up to him until we reached the same domed room from earlier. I smacked his arm in pretended annoyance and worked on catching my breath.
Whispers surrounded us. The Harmonicans were milling about, watching what we were doing.
"Now, are you going to tell me what's up?"
"Cyndi, did you ever get lost when you were little?"
I blinked. "A couple of times. Once, my dad took me to Las Vegas. We went to Circus-Circus and agreed to meet by an archway. Except there were two, and we didn't know it. I spent an hour waiting at one and he spent an hour waiting at the other. He was so mad when he found me. I told him about the other arch. He said to show it to him, but I couldn't find it again. It was awful. He thought I was lying to him."
I made a face and clenched my fists in frustration at the memory.
"And I got in so much trouble because he refused to believe there were two arches. He still holds that mistake over my head as an excuse to not trust me. It was hell getting permission to walk to and from school. Sheesh, I was twelve when that happened! I'm sixteen now, and he always treats me like I'm two!"
"Mm, dads worry. Mums, too. Little ones like to run off towards things that go ding and things that light up. Like the vents in the dome."
"Come on, into the dome. You! Your Majesty!" The Doctor bowed and beckoned to Queen Allellullilla. "Please, bring everyone to the dome. We need as much carbon dioxide as we can get."
The Doctor filed everyone into the huge, domed room. I found myself between Queen Allellullillia and Yayeyiyo. Once a large gathering had formed, he used his sonic screwdrivers to open all the doors.
"All right now. Everyone! I need you to sing!"
Everybody looked at me. I went with the familiar and sang the Latin song again. At the start of the school year, I couldn't make any sense of it. Now, it was part of me. It just came out, effortless, and I wasn't afraid to let it happen.
The Harmonicans joined me. Our music...the sound we created...it was peace.
From my left came the small Devourer I saw after I changed clothes. Another one, slightly bigger, emerged through a door ahead of me. A third one appeared from a vent set between two rows of tiered benches.
I heard the Doctor laugh. "And here comes mum!"
The largest gray cloud flowed into the domed room like, well, smoke!
"Frightening when the little ones get away, isn't it?" The Doctor said to the Devourer. "I'm sure they're in quite a bit of trouble, so I'll leave you to it. Off you go, mum!"
He aimed his sonic screwdriver upward, opening the vents in the ceiling. The Devourers- all of them- shot through it and disappeared.
The quiet singing erupted into cheering.
"She wasn't trying to hurt anyone here. She was cross with her kids for running off," said the Doctor. "Devourers are blind. They live on instinct, and she mistook the negative emotions of everyone's fear of her for the little ones trying to sneak away."
He closed the vents via his sonic screwdriver and put it back in his pocket.
"I thank you graciously." Queen Allellullilla lowered herself to sit on her gold throne. A child gently tucked her veil into neat folds behind her. Between earlier and now, her cold demeanor warmed up. She even smiled! "Allow us to thank you with a song, Doctor."
"I really- "
"Please?" I held onto his arm. "They sing so beautifully here. I'd like to listen one time without hearing myself, too."
"Uh..." The Doctor grinned. "Why not? It's all relative." He sat right down on the ground, making himself shorter than the other Harmonicans around him. I sat- and fit- on one of the small chairs next to him.
The Harmonicans began a glorious polyphonic song in a language I'll never understand, but I didn't need to. I know what their beautiful singing meant.
They were thanking us.
Yayeyoyi offered me something in a goblet. I glanced at the Doctor for the okay before I took a drink. Plain, purified water. I didn't realize I was thirsty until I drank it all down. The song ended moments after I handed the goblet back.
I jumped up and applauded. I thought I was alone until the Doctor joined me.
"May I sing one more?" I asked.
Queen Allellullilla dipped her head and gestured for me to stand in the middle. How weird, I felt perfectly comfortable there, encircled by people who wanted to hear what I had to offer.
I sang Clouds by Cynthia Gray.
"Gently falling rain, falling from the sky...streaming down like teardrops. Teardrops from on high.
"Clouds, oh won't you tell us what those tears are for? Do you weep for something...something we've ignored?
"Could it be that from your lofty post so high above, you have seen how little we have given of our love? Do you see the lonely, weary, troubled and the poor? Have you seen the fighting and the war?
"Clouds, there must be some way to make your crying cease. Share with us the secret of happiness and peace...
"Do you mean to say that each of us can play a part? With each spark of love we light, a flame of love may start? Reaching all around us, giving hope to those we know...this, you say, can help true peace to grow?
"Clouds, though you are parting...your point you've made quite clear. Peace will never happen...unless we start it here. Unless we start it here."
Nobody made a sound until I finished. Then I heard clapping- I guess they really do learn everything fast on Harmonica!
The Doctor and I left to the sound of them singing Clouds in their own magical way.
"You saved this planet, you know."
"Me?" I looked askance at him. "You figured out the problem."
"Not without your singing." He was grinning at me as he opened the TARDIS doors and ushered me in. "Now, you need to go back home. And don't buy any more of this rubbish..." he shook the Benadryl at me, "...unless you're itching, sneezing or turning funny colors."
He offered the medicine back. I held it in my hands and felt tears welling in my eyes. The TARDIS doors closed. Its engines wheezed.
The longer I looked at the Benadryl, the more my throat hurt. My vision blurred. A sob escaped before I stopped myself. Embarrassed, I covered my face at the same moment the TARDIS landed. I got up without a word and rushed outside. We'd arrived at exactly the same moment we left.
But the Doctor caught me. He pulled me into a tight hug, knelt to my level and cupped the back of my head in his palms. We were forehead to forehead. His green eyes stared deeply into mine, though I barely saw anything through my tears.
"Talk to me. Tell me what hurts."
"I have to go back to my life," I whimpered. "Nobody'll believe me if I tell them about today. I was a heroine up there, and I'm nothing here. I'm crap here."
"Oh, Cyndi..." The Doctor kissed my forehead. "The coming school years won't be easy. It's going to be very dark for you, but I promise you...it gets better. It gets better, love." He gave me a little squeeze. "You're going to grow up and do a thing. A small thing on the outside, but to other people it will be a really big and really, really good thing. You're going to touch people you might never meet face to face. You're going to save lives with this thing that you're going to do. You're going to cry happy tears when you grow up. I promise."
"What am I gonna do?"
His eyes glinted when he smiled. "Spoilers."
I sniffed and tried offer one back, but it didn't quite work.
"Only your voice could have saved Harmonica. They're going to sing songs about you for eons. Heh, none of those kids who hassle you can do what you did today." He wiped my tears away with his thumbs. "You mattered yesterday, you matter today and you're still going to matter tomorrow. And you're going to matter every day after that. Okay?"
Somehow, during his speech to me, my tears stopped. I gave him a strong, tight hug and closed my eyes.
"Where are you going after today?"
"Bah, just a place called Trenzalore. Don't worry yourself over it. I'll be fine."
"That sounds like a metal band."
He chuckled. "I know a planet made of metal. Nasty place. Too cold."
I glanced around. It felt so weird, returning to the same moment after being gone for- my watch said about five hours. Wow! I used the clock above the sign on the grocery store to correct my timepiece.
"Will I ever see you again, Doctor?"
A brief flicker of fear crossed his face when he stood up to his full height. "I don't know. If you do, you might not recognize me."
"It's complicated." He laughed, "Don't worry about it. I'll be okay, and so will you."
"Good luck," I said, "and thank you."
The Doctor's smile became that candy store grin. I found it kind of cute.
"Every life is worth saving. Even yours. Now run along- and remember! It gets better!"
He hopped back into the TARDIS. I shielded my eyes from the sun as it slowly faded away, still making that strangely soothing wheezing noise.
The Doctor was right. My adventure didn't stop the bullying. I went through things no teenager should. Through it all, I held tight to his words. I believed him when he said it gets better.
A little over a year later, at my high school graduation, I bumped into an elderly man. He didn't speak- he just winked one of his brilliant blue eyes and headed past the bleachers full of families. Moments later, I heard a familiar wheezing sound that left me smiling.
Everyone thought I was proud of myself. I told anyone who asked that yes, I was, but not because of my grades.
I made it to graduation alive.
Graduating granted me my freedom from the bullies, but I did not heal overnight. Working my way through the scars, self-esteem issues and self-loathing took a long time. There are still things I'm working on, but the point is- I'm still here.
My hands relaxed on the keyboard.
It was done. In a flurry of passion, memories and a desire to save the world, the thing was done.
I didn't want recognition for it. I didn't care who saw it. The only desire I had was my words stopping someone from taking their own life. Too many kids were dying because of bullying. It has to stop!
I opened my eyes to read what I'd written.
This is a message to anyone who is being bullied right now. It doesn't matter if it's online or IRL. This is for you.
Your opinions matter.
Your feelings matter.
Your thoughts matter.
Your dreams matter.
Your LIFE matters.
You are special.
You are beautiful.
You are talented.
You are valuable.
You are wonderful.
You are respected.
You are cared about.
You are STRONG.
You are a good person.
You are loved.
You can succeed.
You can reach out.
You can hold on.
You can overcome.
You mean something.
You have worth.
You deserve to LIVE.
I LOVE YOU.
I called it Affirmations for Bullying Victims. I shared those words everywhere I could possibly share them, hoping to poke a hole in the self-loathing surrounding bullied people everywhere.
Three days after posting my message on the internet, I got a response.
"Thank you. I was going to kill myself. Your words made me put down my razor."
Tears spilled down my cheeks, and I remembered the Doctor's words when I wiped them off. It made me laugh. I felt like the superhero I tried to be in my imagination.
After all the misery I endured, I knew helping others through the same pain was my key to happiness. I wasn't alone, and today's teenagers aren't alone either as long as my message stays out there in cyberspace.
I'm okay, and you're going to be okay, too.
Like the Doctor said, it gets better.