“SERENA! You get down here this second!”
“Good morning to you too, Miss Avalon.” I grumbled into my pillow. She was my 13th tutor, and the absolute most annoying. I flipped over, groaned some more, and curled up into a comfier position. Miss Avalon always woke me up wayyyyyy too early for lesso…oh. No lessons today. Actually, no lessons ever. I slowly remembered that it was my first day to go to a school, an actual school, not be tutored at home. And no lessons means no Miss Avalon. Yay!!!!! I jumped out of the bed, grabbed my bathrobe, and slid down the banister for breakfast. I waved to Herman, the butler, and stuck my tongue out at my live-in tutor. I came to a stop at the dining room, where my mom and dad were already seated at the 15-foot-long dining table. I know, it’s ridiculous for a family of 4. But I guess when you’re rich like we are, you can do whatever you want. My dad put down the Times.
“Good mornin’. First day of school, Serene’s. You ready?”
“Yep.” My mother interjected. “She’s had her bags packed for weeks now. Right Serena?” She raised her eyebrow at me.
“Ummmm…yeah.” I twisted my plaid flannel bathrobe sleeve around my finger. Actually, I had just finished packing 6 hours ago. I stayed up late to finish. “Anyway, I’m going to grab some grub.” I ran to the kitchen before they could ask me any more questions, like where’s my wallet (I don’t know), and do I have my subway card (It’s somewhere, subway cards don’t disappear off the face of the earth), and did you make your bed (Uhhh…no. Duh.)
After a quick breakfast of bacon from the chef (imported directly from Belgium, home of the waffles), and pulling on some high tops, jeggings, and a Zumiez sweatshirt, I wandered back into the dining room, where my mom and dad still sat, my mom now reading the Times and Dad staring out the floor to ceiling windows at the skyline.
“Well. I think it’s time to go now.” It was kinda like they both snapped out of a coma. All of a sudden, Dad was lifting me off the ground in a hug, telling me to write, and Mom rushed me out the door muttering about how she shouldn’t have eaten that slice of cake yesterday because her cholesterol was up to 180 or something like that. We rolled my stuff down the street a block to the nearest subway station and loaded onto the train.
I think a homeless guy tried to grab one of my bright pink plasticy bags, but I screamed and kicked him in the shin, so it was ok. Then the automated lady on the speaker said “Welcome to the Broadway station. Please watch your step as you exit the train.” And so after walking up the street a little, we ended up in front of a huge shiny black skyscraper. There was a doorman in the front, with a black uniform on that had no visible wrinkles or stains. The people here sure must be strict. I really wasn’t looking forward to this.
We dragged my stuff into the huge lobby. It was decorated with black leather furniture and dotted with new students and their bags. There were a few bookcases around the room, and small tables were scattered about. A couple of doorways lead to hallways and what looked to be offices. We wandered over to a desk with parents crowding a ruffled looking lady behind a large oak desk. A girl with orange striped dark blonde hair wearing brightly colored clothes smiled and pushed her way over to me.
“Hi! You look like you’re my age, so we’ll probably be in some classes together. You’re 13?”she asked in a loud voice.
“Great,” she replied. “Now we can help each other around. I’m Freya. What’s your name?”
“I’m Serena. Nice to meet you.” I reached out my arm for her to shake, and she grabbed it with a strong grip.
“Let’s so meet some people,” I said.
“Ok,” Freya replied. She eagerly started running around the crowed lobby with a huge smile on her face, shaking everyone’s hands. When she started to chase after a tall Asian man who was nervously looking over his shoulder and yelling wildly in Chinese, I stopped her and said “I think you’ve met enough people now,”
“I sure have,” she said with a grin. “I’ve met Jane an’ Herbert an’ Harry, and Hector, Nora, Daisy, Max, Angie an’ Leo, Andrew, Tom, Mary, Emma, Sam, Eric, Claire, Jayson, Olivia, Trevor, Elizabeth, Dylan, Jasmin-“ I cut her off by yelling;
“You met all those people? Jeez, you’ll know the whole school before we even start!” Almost everyone turned and gaped at me. Quickly, I darted behind an arm chair and chatter resumed in the room.
“Well, I wanted to make friends. Don’t sue me because of kindness.” She sighed and looked at her feet. But then she smiled at me and said “Let’s go see if we can start the tour yet.” We ran over to the desk and asked the woman behind it where we should go. She gave us directions to where the introductory video was being shown. First I ran over to my mom and said bye. She patted my arm absently and continued chatting with some socialite’s daughter. Then Freya and I walked down a long hallway, and then turned right at the 12th door. Then we walked through another hall and entered the 3rd door, then went up a flight of stairs. Gosh, this place was big. We entered a small room with lots of benches filled with kids our age, and a large screen in the front. After finding a seat, the lights dimmed and the silhouette of a woman walked across the screen. She paused in the middle, taking a phone out of her pocket, and seemed to be checking her messages or something when two men jumped onto her from high in the air, like they jumped from helicopters, and forced her down to the ground. Ropes then lifted the woman and the men that jumped on her up into the air. As she was lifted up, a light was shined on one of the men. There was a badge on his chest that read: CIA. Another beam of light was shined on the other man and the badge that he had on. It said FBI. Then the screen turned black and words started to roll onto the screen, Star Wars style. They read:
“The woman is Dora Dias. She is the accountant for Stan Rockford.”
A gasp went though the audience. Stan Rockford was arrested 2 weeks earlier because he was found embezzling money from US companies.
“Unlike what the media says, Stan Rockford was not arrested by a policeman in Miami. The real story is that he was found by 2 CIA and FBI agents that graduated from this school. You see, this is a school for training CIA and FBI agents.”
Another gasp went through the room.
“Agents? REALLY?! OMG!!!!!” Freya squealed.
Other people weren’t as excited. A chubby boy next to me said “No candy for agents?” I think he was about 5. I have no idea how the heck he got in there.
Across the aisle and a few benches back, a small mousy girl fainted. Right in front of me, someone said “Really? A school for spies. Huh. That’s a real shocker.”
After we all got over the general shock of it, the video continued. I think they must have paused it; it took so long for people to stop gasping. It was a shock for me too. I was starting to kinda like the idea of going to a posh boarding school. All I knew about spies flooded into my mind. Secret missions, hacking, beating up bad guys-woah. This would be cool. Like, really cool.
The video started showing pictures of laughing students and kids watching a teacher intently. Then there were pictures of the same students, all in a dark hall together, one beckoning for them to go through a door, another pointing at a security camera. It actually looked really fun.
When the video ended, room numbers were passed out. I would stay in room 1225. Freya was across the hall in 1224. Both of us were a bit disappointed, we had become friends, in a way. I headed over to the shining stainless steel elevator. I walked in and pressed level 12. The button was painted pink, along with a few others. Some buttons were blue. I guess blue was boy levels and pink girl levels. The elevator music was “Secret Agent Man”. Next to me stood a woman wearing stilettos so high that I had to look up to see her face. Her hair was in a bun, she carried a leather binder, and her dress was short and black. She seemed to be about 55, but she had so much makeup on you really couldn’t tell. She didn’t say a word or look at me the whole time. Then the elevator dinged and I got out. The hall was lined with doors sporting a gold plate tell witch room it was. The carpet and the walls were an inviting light brown. At the end of the hall was a floor-to-ceiling window facing out into New York City. I wandered over. There was a great view of people playing Kinect in the Hilton game room. Right now, I could see a boy waving his arms around, trying to hit flying balls.
“Sometimes, in the evening, the employees break dance there. That a really funny thing to see.” a voice said into my ear. I must have jumped about 2 feet into the air. Behind me, a skinny girl with really long blonde hair stood. She wore a fitted black jumpsuit and black lace up Converse shoes that reached her knees. She was really quiet, I hadn’t heard anything until she creeped up and scared the brains out of me.
“Sorry I surprised you. My name is Lilly. You must be new. What room are you going to stay in?”
“I’m Serena. I’m staying in room…”I glanced at the paper with my room number on it. “…1225.”
“Me too!” she squealed. “Yay! Roommates!” She held hands and jumped with me. “Our room is over here.” Lilly lead me to a room about 3 doors from the window. She raised the bottom of her foot to the door. There was a faint beep, and the door opened. I was looking strangely at her. I mean, is that how everyone opens their door? By karate-kicking it?
“There are chips in our shoes. So no one but us can get in.” she explained.
I walked into our room, and then dropped my bag on my toe and opened my mouth so wide you could have stuck a slice of cake in it. Our room was huge, with long walls, really high ceilings and walls were the same warm brown color as the walls in the hallway. Six bunk beds were on the two walls on either side of me. On the back wall, there was a huge floor to ceiling window spanning the whole room. There were some arm chairs by the window. All the bed spreads on the beds were different. The walls were painted the same warm brown as the hall.
“Choose a bed,” said Lilly. “Mine’s this one.” She climbed a ladder to a bed in the corner with white and black flowers on the bedspread. I looked around the room and finally choose a bed on the top bunk with a light blue denim bedspread. As I piled my stuff into a drawer at the bottom of the bunk bed, the door was flung open by a tall girl with short brown hair.
“I ‘tis here!” she nearly shouted happily. Behind her ambled a large girl with freckles and light hair. The first girl ran over to me.
“Hi! I’m Dakota! I don’t know you yet. You are…?”she exclaimed, trailing off at the end.
“Uhh…I’m Serena. It’s good to meet you.” I replied.Gosh, Dakota talked so fast she made my cousin and a Mountain Dew seem turtle-slow. And believe me, when Lillian gets a hold of a can of soda, there’s no stopping her.
“Awesome! This is Henrietta. She’s new too.”
I waved at Henrietta. She waved back and smiled, then made her hand look like a mouth and made it talk. “Hi.” She said simply, trying to stifle a giggle.
Dakota wore a red jumpsuit and red knee-high Converse shoes.
“So, you guys, what do the different uniform colors mean?” I inquired.
“Well,” Lilly answered,”The different colors mean different sections of the school. Black is Under Cover Operations, like me, brown is Detectives, blue is Technology, red is Conversational, like Dakota here, and white is All. Wait, there’s one more. I always forget it. Dakota?”
“Green for science!” Dakota replied perkily.
“Yeah, science.” said Lilly. “Science…no wonder I forget about them, the Science kids are always in the lab, researching. Anyway, you’ll have your determination test later.”
Then a redheaded girl who was chewing gum wandered into the room. Her jumpsuit and shoes were blue. She settled herself down onto a bed with a bedspread with strawberries on it. She looked up and glared, and her eyes seemed to just dare us to keep on talking.
Dakota frowned and put her hands on her hips. “Chrissa, don’t be rude. Everyone, this is Christina, or Chrissa.” she explained.
Then, the TV on the wall flickered to life. A message flashed across the screen.
All New Students: Please report to the 44th floor for testing. Repeat: New students report to the 44th floor for testing. Thank You.
I scrambled to my feet. “Bye, you guys!” I called as I ran out the door into the hall. I thought I heard Lilly say something like “Beware the fatal hex!” and I started to think about it but then I glimpsed Freya in the crowd of girls with her recognizable multi-colored hair.
“Serena!” she cried, a smile spreading on her face. Freya pushed through the crowd of girls in street clothes and jumpsuits to get to me.
“Hiiiii!” I said. We walked together to the elevator and got in. On the way up, I told her about my roommates, and she told me about hers. Turns out, all them are ok. Mostly. There’s a sweet girly-girl, a tough Southern gal, the Webkinz-obsessed best friend of the girly-girl, and a sleek, tall black-clad girl. According to Freya, her room was just like ours, just with different bed covers. She pointed out the Black-Lover. She looked nice, but a bit uncomfortable. But then the elevator dinged, and we walked out into a long hall with black floors, walls, and ceilings. There were no windows, and the only source of light were commercial lights along the top of the walls. Red X’s were spaced on the floor near the walls, made with red tape. The woman I met (well, saw) in the elevator stood in the center of the hall next to a young woman with coffee-colored skin, dark brown eyes, silky hair in a ponytail, and a huge smile on her face. She looked about 25, and really bright and enthusiastic.
“Stand on an X. It doesn’t matter where, just stay quiet, and do it quickly.” announced the prim lady her prim voice. Freya and I, along with the other students, scurried to an X. I leaned back and grinned at Freya, who was across from me, looking like a very nervous punk rocker. Prim Lady began walking down the hall, clutching her binder. “Now, prepare yourselves, for-“ And then the lights went out.
I heard someone scream, but it was soon replaced with a giant woosh, and I fell backward. I thought I heard Prim Lady say to The Young One “It’s always a shock when it first happ-“
But then the floor under my feet fell away and I slid forward, spiraling down a smooth chute in total darkness. I feltmy stomach had been left on the thin carpet of the floor above me, and my head started to ache. Darkness and dizziness are not my kinda thing. I landed on a soft pile of fluffiness. Everything was pitch-black.
“Rrrr. Meh-rrrr.” Something grumbled, off to my right. I completely freaked out. Scary noises are usually not fun. I curled up in a ball in the fluffiness. It smelled like pet food. Whatever. Better to smell pet food than be pet food. “Mrooo. Rrrr.” It sounded closer. Then something cold and wet poked me in the back. My eyes widened and I schooched away. Now, I was terrified. I telegraphed my brother to tell him that if I die, yes, he could have my epic collection of Pokemon cards. The thing poked me again. Fearfully, I peered over my shoulder and then the cold wet thing poked me in the nose.
“Ouch.” I muttered.
“Mreeee. Rooo.” The thing replied. I carefully reached out and felt for the thing. I grabbed a clump of short and fuzzy fur. The thing padded closer to me. At least, I think so. The lights hadn’t come on yet. It seemed small and cute. So much for giant furry monster. “Rrroooo. Rrrrrrrr.” It nuzzled me.
Then I noticed something near the corner of the room. I could actually see it because it was a bit of light. I stood up, careful not to step on the little fuzzy thing, and walked toward the light, straining to see it. It was at the end of a hall, shining down from a high ceiling. I looked down beside me to see the thing following me. It had stripes, and a little head, and a cute button nose…it was a kitten! I’d been scared for my life because of a kitten! It was like the time one of my mom’s clients had came over for dinner. He was the king of some foreign country, and he needed help with an American lawsuit. My mom said that his daughter was coming with him, and for a solid 3 days, I was terrified that she would be a total snob, because I was supposed to ‘play’ with her for the five hours that my mom talked to the foreign king. I don’t know why I thought she would be a snob, but I read lots of books, so you never know. My dad told me not to sweat it, but I’m a huge oppose of snobs after one named Minnie spilled punch all over the front of my dress at this socialite party my mom made me go to in 5th grade. Then Minnie fake helped me and rubbed off all the punch on the dress except for the…uh…you know…..area. Then she paired me up with this poor guy who I had to do the salsa with. It was mortifying. So if this girl was a snob, I’d be the one curled up in a ball in the corner trying to be invisible. So then came the day the king and his daughter visited. And the princess was…
A five year old.
She was sweet and cute, and we had fun together. It was a total opposite of what I thought she was going to be.
I scooped down to pick the kitty up. It meowed and licked my arm. Tags tinkled on its collar. “Julie…” I read from the heart shaped tag. Julie meowed again in recognition of her name. “Well Julie, let’s go try to get out of this.” I walked down the hall with her in my arms. There were some paintings on the walls. One showed a pear, while another showed a plum. It was like the hall of the farms. I came into a kinda small circular room, with a super-super-super high ceiling. I could see commercial lighting on the ceiling, maybe 100, 200 feet away? The walls were made out of rough bumpy stone, and little ledges jutted out of the walls. Carved into the wall were the words:
FIGURE IT OUT.
A heard a clank behind me and the door at the end of the hall clamped shut. I gulped. I guess it was clear that there was only one way out: up. Well. The lowest ledge was about 3 feet above my head. On it I could just barely see a rope, grapple, and basket.
So I naturally tried to get to it. I jumped, rock-climbed, scraped a certain someone’s nose (it’s still sore), and basically did everything I could to try to get to the ledge. I even tried throwing Juile (she forgave me) onto the ledge in hopes that she could push the rope over the edge. It didn’t work. She just mrooo-ed and leaped gracefully down from the ledge into my arms. I had almost given up when I thought of an idea. Slowly, I put Julie down and got to work.
I never knew pictures could be so helpful. Turns out all the frames in the hall stacked on top of each other are the perfect height for me to jump and just grasp the edge of the ledge. I braced my feet against the ledge and pushed myself up. Juile was still on the ground. She looked up at me. I guess this is where the basket comes in. I tied the rope to it, and lowered it to the ground. Julie knew just what to do and hopped in. When we were both safely on the ledge, I tied the basket to my pants. Julie hopped in and I fastened my scarf over the top of the basket. Then I tied the rope to my belt loop, and thanked my father for insisting that I get climbing lessons. The next ledge was across the room and maybe 10 feet higher than my head. I threw the grapple in the general direction of the ledge and it caught, just above the ledge. Then I jumped.
And I swung.
And I smacked the wall.
And Julie mrooed.
Painfully, I pushed myself onto the ledge. My head was spinning and my knees hurt REALLY bad. I grabbed a water bottle and chugged the water down. Wait- water bottle? Where did that come from? My vision was clearing, so I looked around and saw that there was a water bottle with the school logo and a sleek black carabiner sitting there. I hooked the carabiner on and put the water bottle in the basket with Julie. She seemed to be doing fine. On the next ledge was a harness. Climbing was sure becoming a lot easier now. When I got to the seventh ledge, I’d also collected a backpack, lunch (consisting of a very fine lettuce and cheese sandwich, an asian pear, and three Samoas), a small pet carrier, a helmet, leather climbing gloves, and a first aid kit. But on the eighth ledge there was nothing. Same with every one after that, too. By the eleventh ledge, I was exhausted. My arms felt like Jello. There were only about four ledges left, and they were close together.
I collapsed onto the last ledge. Juile licked my face and nudged me. I groaned. Two feet above me was a hall with one door at the very end. The walls looked the same. The lights above me sputtered and buzzed. I pulled out the water bottle and poured the last drops into my mouth.
Then something yanked me up from behind.
I shrieked, and Chrissa covered her ears.
“Look,” she said. “I’m only allowed to help you once. I might as well go away if you’re going to scream like that.” She grabbed me under the armpits and pulled me up to a standing position. “Watch out for the tuba man. Use the computer. Look for the rainbow door, and please think before you act.” Chrissa let go of my shoulders. She ran to the pit I’d spent an hour and a half scaling and jumped off the edge. She pulled something on her uniform and a black parachute opened above her.
I was still kinda in shock, but I hobbled over to the door. It opened easily, and I walked into a small room. In the middle of the wall in front of me was a pretty standard looking airport computer station. Instead of a mouse, there was that little ball mounted in a socket, and two little buttons for right click and left click. I tapped a few keys on the slide-out keyboard, and the screen blinked from black to a blue desktop background. I squinted a little at the formatting. Looked like Windows ’98, but something about the blocky pixels was off. I leaned in further, so my nose was almost touching the screen. Then I got it.
“It’s not a real screen!”
That’s what looked so odd. There was no actual computer. I figured there was probably a thin piece of paper with the desktop on it behind the screen. When something on the keyboard was hit, the light would come on, and boom, instant computer. I danced around a little, in celebration of actually figuring something out. But then I stopped and realized the truth. So I know it’s not a computer. Now what? I inspected the “computer”. There were no hinges on the sides, or useful “Get out of here” buttons. I walked out of the room. There were no other doors in the hall, and somehow, a metal grate had closed over the top of the cliff. Yay. No way out. Soooooo excited.
I slumped onto the computer and absently started doing something my brother taught me. I tapped the computer screen three times fast, and then three times slow, then three times fast again. It probably wouldn’t help, but what the heck. Apparently, it meant SOS, or Save Our Souls, in Morse code, but I don’t really trust my brother very much. Julie meowed from the pet carrier clipped to my belt. She seemed to be really living it up in there, with the 100% Egyptian cotton blanket and bronze carrier reinforcements.
And then my tapping and Julie’s meowing wasn’t the only sound in the room. There was some kind of a muffled thump coming from the wall behind the computer. It sounded like someone was screaming “MELP! MELP!” and then there was this huge screeching sound. I dumped Julie out of her carrier and smashed it (the carrier, not Julie) against the wall. Cracks spread over the wall, and then it all just crumbled. Suddenly, that screeching was a whole lot louder.
I walked through the wall (or where it used to be) into a room that was pretty much the twin of the room I just stepped out of. The room was the same size, with the same color walls and floors. The only difference was that instead of a computer, there was the short and plump guy with a beard and brightly colored clothes on blowing into a tuba taller than he was. When he saw me, he got so excited that he dropped his tuba and hugged me. Looking up at me while still clutching my legs, he cried “I’ve been here for months! It’s horrible! There’s no room service!”
“Umm, ok.” I guess this the tuba man Chrissa was talking about. He actually seemed kinda helpless, feeble, and incapable to do anything bad. He’s just a sweet little 1.5 foot tall man who had nothing to do with his weird height or the fact that someone had trapped him in this doorless, windowless, exitless room. I patted him on the back a couple times and he calmed down a bit.“Now, what again happened?” I asked.
“I was living in a brownstone down in Brookyln when I met Matilda. Oh Matilda, such a sweet soul, so pretty, so kind…” I poked him and he went on. “We would eat dinner together every night at my apartment. But she never let me see her house. She always got very nervous when I mentioned it. So one evening I followed her home. She would dart through alleys, hide under things, and climb up statues. And here I am, huffing and puffing to keep up. She finally got to this here skyscraper we are in and went inside. The whole building was dark and quiet. I followed her up to the 14th level by hiding in the elevator. At this point in time, my height was quite an advantage. We got out of the elevator and I followed Matilda as she darted across the room. She seemed to be at home, but also uptight. And even though city and moon light was streaming through the wall to ceiling windows, it was dark and I tripped on what seemed like a handle in the floor. The moment I hit the floor, red lights started to go off, and Matilda whipped around, saw me, and ran toward me. She duct taped my mouth and dragged me into the elevator. We arrived at the 44th floor, and she hurried me down stairs and into this room.