Chapter 2: Welcome To Menthol City

A few steps into the city, just passing the broken “Welcome” sign. The nasty industrial fumes fill her lungs once again making them feel heavy and leaving a metallic bitterness on the back of her tongue. Coughing just makes it worse. She looks at the little watch on her right wrist, “Ten minutes?” she gasped, “I’m not going to make it!” Fast, faster and faster she ran, her pink scaled tail whipping left and right behind her, hearing the rush of the wind blast past her large round ears. She dashes nimbly, cutting it close leaping between the traffic and dodging the oil spills on the road.

Eventually, she comes to a tall grey concrete building, spanning wide, surrounded by small brown fields of prickly grass and the occasional lifeless tree. Entering in through the heavy double doors, she skips swiftly through the corridors to her classroom. A plain box with a concrete floor, the white plaster walls covered sparingly with “motivational” (more like threatening) posters and a large revolving blackboard.

“TEAGAN! You’re late again. Just because you’re one of those circus folk doesn’t mean you’re exempt from being disciplined for your behaviour within the city.” barked the old dog that was Ms Nora Hayflower, Teagan’s form room teacher. A tall black, lanky mutt of unknown breed, with a white mane like fuzz around her shoulders, and a foul temperament. Clean and smartly dressed, but by no means approachable.

“I’m sorry, Miss,” Teagan mumbles nervously lowering her head, eyes glancing up at the other classmates.

“Hey RAT! Come sit with me.” invited Urso, a young bear, turning to snigger with his pals.

“Not if you’re going to start plucking my scales agai-”

“JUST SIT DOWN TEAGAN!” shouts Ms Hayflower.

Almost in a panic, Teagan takes the seat and mentally prepares herself for the torment of her classmates.

“Right… May we begin now, Miss McCarthy?” Ms Hayflower growls.

“Y… Yes… Miss,” said Teagan.

“Thank you…” she snaps before turning away and sitting at her desk, “Our headmaster has requested that all teachers assist in clearing up a little rumour that’s been making its way around Menthol, for the safety of the students. The rumour in question is that there are other colonies… Civilisations out there other than our own city, what I’m trying to say is… They don’t exist.”

A hum of many whispers fills the classroom, emanating from disconcerted and dissatisfied faces. Students leaning in close, heads together, murmuring confused sentences that together formed unintelligible noise.

“QUIET!” she bellows, abruptly silencing the buzzing voices, students launch themselves back into their seats. “This is for your safety, do not go out there, every person that has ever left has never come back, there’s nothing to be found out there.”

“It may be treacherous, but it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing out there!” Teagan replies, before suddenly holding her breath and covering her lips with her little pink hands.

Subtle gasps can be heard across the classroom.

“Excuse me? Do you want to come up here and teach? You obviously know so much more about everything than I do…” Hayflower scornfully responds.

Teagan lowers her head, clasping her hands tight together, breathing heavily, “But we can’t be alone in the world… If we can survive, others can too!”

“Enough!” said Ms Hayflower as she slams a detention slip down on the desk in front of her, “You will give up your lunch today, and I expect you to write down ‘We are alone’ until you get it into your thick rat skull, have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, Miss…” Teagan mumbles.

As soon as Ms Hayflower looks away, a ball of paper is thrown at Teagan’s head, she looks back.

“Well done, Freak Show! She’ll be unbearable for the whole day.” jabs Urso, before kicking the back of her chair.

Three hours later and it’s time for break, the students stand up and leave the classroom in their usual noisy fashion, Teagan follows. Ms Hayflower stands in front of her as she heads for the door, passes her a piece of chalk and points at the blackboard.

“Fill it, and write small,” she demands before turning, leaving and closing the door.

Teagan clears the board, puts the white chalk to the black… and begins.

We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am al-

She drops to her knees, and quietly… she weeps…