When one is born with the gift of storytelling, one’s purpose is to offer those stories as gifts to the world. I hope that you enjoy this gift.
It took exactly seven minutes for me to figure out that there was something seriously wrong with Lake Vista High School. It took me just two more to figure out that it had something to do with Zella Marks.
I don’t mean wrong like street gangs or drug problems (though I did wonder for a while there). I mean horror movie wrong. Buffy the Vampire Slayer hell-mouth wrong. It had all seemed normal for a moment. Familiar. The strips of lawn surrounding long, low stucco buildings. The clusters of students standing around, chatting in the corridors before school, dressed in the usual department store jeans and sweaters. The boring, cookie-cutter classroom that didn’t look any different from my math class back home.
Home. I had to stop thinking of Rocklin as home. Lake Vista was home now, thanks to my parents, who thought it would be better, healthier for my younger brother, Jack, and me to grow up in a small town.
“Smell that fresh air!” Dad had said when we arrived at or new house – a sprawling ranch-style with a sprawling yard that was big enough for horses, but would never have horses, thanks to Jack’s pet allergies. We all took a deep sniff of the clean, fresh air that smelled like the lilac bushes next to our new house, and vaguely of cows. Jack broke into a fit of sneezing. Dad cut down the lilac bushes the next day.
“Welcome to Lake Vista, Sadie,” said Mr. Gordon, my first period teacher. “You may take your seat right behind Cassidy Price.” He pointed to a girl in the second row, who grinned at me as I slid into my seat.
“You’ll like it here,” Cassidy said. “We all do. I can show you around at lunchtime, if you want, and introduce you to some – oh!” She had been grinning the whole time she was talking, but now, her face fell as her eyes flickered down to my clothes. I glanced down, too, certain that I must have a huge stain on my shirt or something. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “You’re not wearing any blue.”
“So?” I had picked out a pair of black jeans and a plain, olive green t-shirt. Clasped around my neck was a slender gold chain, from which dangled a tiny heart-shaped pendant. My dad had given me the necklace when I turned sixteen, and I’d worn it every day since.
“But we’re supposed to wear blue.” Her eyes were round. “Where’s your blue?”
I blinked. “What is this – Smurf Day?” I looked around the room. That’s when I noticed that everyone was wearing something blue. Blue jeans, blue baseball caps, blue flannel shirts. One girl even had blue streaks dyed in her hair. It would have made sense if Lake Vista’s school color was blue instead of green and gold.
The bell rang, and everyone fell silent, eyes facing the front of the room. Mr. Gordon made no move to start class. He stared back at the class, occasionally reaching up to tug on his blue necktie. I was tempted to raise my hand and ask what we were supposed to be waiting for, but just then classroom door swung open.
“Hell-o-o!” A girl sang out. She strode to the front of the classroom, her blue corduroy pants rubbing together with each step. “Ooh, I love all these blue clothes! It’s like swimming in the ocean.”
“I like your clothes, too, Zella.” A boy with blonde curls gazed up at the girl with a fawning expression.
“Aww, Prentice, you are so sweet.” Zella ruffled the boy’s hair like she was petting a loyal dog. “Mr. Gordon, I think we’re ready to begin,” she said. As she turned back toward the rest of us, I leaned forward, wondering just how math classes in Lake Vista began their day. I was expecting Zella to rattle off some dull announcements, or maybe to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.
What I did not expect was for the entire blue-clad sea of students to burst into song. Especially the chorus of an old Michael Jackson song, Heal the World. As they serenaded, Zella swayed from side to side, hands lifted high in the air. My mouth hung open as I watched the spectacle. Nope, I definitely wasn’t in Rocklin anymore.
As the song ended, Zella spotted me. “Hi there, new girl,” she said, bending over and totally invading my personal space. Her breath smelled like peppermint gum. “Where’s your blue?”
I shifted away. “Umm…guess I didn’t get the memo.”
“Oh, you’re funny!” She laughed – a way too loud, guffawing type of laugh. “Listen, here in my school, everyone wears blue.”
I snorted. Was she kidding? “Why, is it the law?”
Her eyes bore into mine. “It is because I will it so. Starting tomorrow, you will wear blue. Every. Day.”
I could feel a pool of anger ooze toward the surface, like lava. I didn’t care for people giving me orders. “Look,” I said, my voice like steel, “It’s obvious that you’ve got some kind of god complex. But I’m not one of your little worshippers.”
A slow smile spread across her face. “Not yet.”
The rest of the day was just as weird. It was like the entire school was a Zella Marks fangirl, decked out in blue clothing, following her around like the paparazzi. It would seem more normal if she fit the typical mold of cute popular girl. But cute was not the word to describe Zella. Her face was too horsey, her chin too sparse, her eyes too small and beady to resemble anyone’s standard of beauty. Her sense of fashion was Walmart chic, at best. So what was this bizarre hold she had over everyone?
The answer occurred to me in the middle of lunch. Cassidy had abandoned me as I was now on the Great Zella’s hate list, so I was sitting alone at one of the outdoor tables, watching a group of guys (and a couple of girls) flirting with Zella.
“Please go out with me this Friday night,” said one of the boys in a pleading voice. “I’ve got tickets to an Imagine Dragons concert.”
“Well, I will cook you a five course Italian dinner if you go out with me on Friday,” said another boy.
I was too shocked to eat my lunch. It was like they had all been brainwashed. Or hypnotized. Or…or…I grasped at ideas. Enchanted. That had to be it. Zella Marks was a bona fide witch. It was a crazy theory, but it was the only thing that could explain all of this. Every single person at Lake Vista High School was spellbound. Except for me, of course.
I’m not sure why Zella’s witchy ways didn’t work on me. But as the days ticked past, it became obvious that I was immune to whatever kept the others on her leash. I noticed with some satisfaction that my unwillingness to submit to her command caused her some frustration. Since she had no direct power over me, she used the rest of the student body to lash out toward me.
“Freak,” kids would mutter as I passed in the halls. “Go back to where you came from.” They left nasty messages scrawled on my locker, shoved books out of my hands. My teachers were in on it, too, granting me grades much lower than I deserved, closing their ears when I contested.
“Adjusting to a new school can be rough at first,” was all my parents would say. Just give it time.” It’s wasn’t like I could tell them my real theory about Zella Marks. They would have me in 72-hour psych evaluation faster than I could say the word witchcraft.
I would have to get proof.
That’s why, on a chilly Saturday night, I sneaked onto the Marks’ property. The moon shone full and round, lighting up the grassy field like a helicopter spotlight. I skirted through the shadows past the line of trees, around the edge of a pond, closer and closer to the small house. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to find – Zella dancing around in the night, throwing toads and newts into a bubbling cauldron?
A loud sound cut through the silence, and I jumped. But it was only a horse, nickering from a stable a few yards away. I let out my breath, weak with relief.
Then a voice spoke from behind me. “I knew you would come, Sadie.”
I whirled around, heart pounding in my throat. There stood Zella. She wasn’t wearing a peaked witch’s hat or carrying a broomstick or anything, but somehow she still looked scary in her too-tight jeans and shapeless t-shirt. Her expression was victorious, like she’d won a bet with someone that I would show up.
“Now what?” I glared at her, fists clenched. “You drag me off to some ritualistic sacrifice?”
She guffawed. “You have quite the imagination! I don’t need to sacrifice anybody. I just need you to fall in line.” She stepped closer as she spoke, until she was again invading my space bubble. The moon reflected off her eyes, until it was all I could see as I looked at her. “That’s a lovely necklace.” She reached out and fingered the tiny pendant. Stop! My mind was screaming. Don’t touch that!
“No,” I said. But my voice was weak. The moon in her eyes grew larger, a bright, mesmerizing light.
“You want to give me that necklace,” she said. Her voice had changed. The words rolled over me like cool waves of water on a warm day. Give her the necklace. It felt so easy, so right to unclasp the chain from my neck and place it in Zella’s outstretched hand. It looked much prettier on her, I realized, as she flashed me a smile and sauntered toward the pond. Tomorrow, I should cut some fresh flowers from my family’s garden to place on her desk. Bluebells. She would like those.
Zella undressed, then began to split open at the seams. Her real skin was smooth and gray, and slick, like a dolphin. As she dove into the pond, flippers splashing against the black surface, I dreamed of Monday morning, and her pleased smile when I wore blue, as she willed it.