86: Recognition

on October 23, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which Mackenzie Makes A Name For Herself

Steff and I parted ways when we got back to the field. The class was just wrapping up the initial lesson and was now dividing into two groups, one working under Professor Callahan and the other under her TA, a grad student named Dobbs.

As a rank beginner, I was with Dobbs. He started by dividing us up into five groups, and then began to work setting each group to exercises. I was a five, which meant I had a little time to mill around with my fellow fives before he would get to us.

So, on top of humiliation and combat, I also got to socialize. The class was just getting better and better.

Oh, but maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. Maybe I would meet interesting new people and make some new life-long friends.

Yeah, right.

“Hey, you’re the demon, aren’t you?” a guy asked me, almost as soon as Dobbs finished counting us off and went to get the ones started.

“I’m not a demon,” I said. My stomach wanted to tie itself in knots, but I hadn’t lied, right? I mean, he hadn’t asked if I was part demon or if I had any demon blood.

“Yeah, you are,” he said. “I’ve seen you in the lunchroom, at that back table.” He grabbed another boy’s sleeve. “Hey, Barry, isn’t this the girl that’s always at the back table? Making out with everybody?”

“I do not ‘make out with everybody’ in the lunchroom,” I said.

“Yeah,” the one called Barry said. “Yeah, yeah… and you walk around holding hands with that ditzy nymph and the feeb. You’re the demon girl. You’re Puddy’s girlfriend.”

Feeb?” I repeated. The dim awareness that I’d been mistaken for Puddy’s girlfriend again, that Amaranth had been called “ditzy”, paled before the enormity of the insult he’d just paid to Two.

“Yeah, you know,” the first one said, putting on a dumb, blank expression and pointing at his forehead.

“Don’t you dare call my Two a feeb!” I said.

The two guys both rocked back, an expression of such genuine fear on their faces that I suddenly felt deeply and terribly ashamed of myself. A second later, the one called Barry laughed it off.

“Careful, James,” he said. “If you insult her friends, she might eat you all up.”

They both shared a shaky chuckle at this, and then Barry drifted away.

“Hey… don’t, you know, eat me for asking,” James said, sounding every bit like he was forcing it to be a joke because he was scared it wasn’t, “but, why don’t you ever let anybody else have that back table?”

“What?” I asked.

“You and your friends always take it,” he said. “Why not let somebody else have it every once in a while?”

“Nobody else is ever in it when we get there,” I said.

“Well, yeah, everybody knows it’s your table,” he said. “Who’s going to mess with that?”

“If somebody else wants to sit there, they should sit there,” I said. “Honestly, I’d get over it. I mean, it’s not like there aren’t other tables, right?”

“So why don’t you ever sit at any of them?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “We’ve just always sat at that table.”

“So you admit you always sit there,” he said. He was growing bolder as he evidently perceived himself to be scoring some very trenchant points, somehow. “You know, I think it’s pretty shitty the way you guys have been pushing us out of our own lunchroom.”

“Wait, what do you mean ‘pushing you out’?” I asked. “Or ‘your own lunchroom’? It’s there for everybody.”

“Then why are there always a bunch of monsters taking up all the tables?” he demanded.

“Ugh, tell me about it,” a girl who’d just drifted over said. “Me and my friends can never find a seat any more. It wasn’t like that last year… does anybody know if they let a bunch more of those people in, or what? I’d always heard this was a quality school.”

It was hard to know what to take more offense to: “monsters”, “those people”, or “let in.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t spell ‘equality’ without ‘quality’,” I said, impressed with myself… yeah, it was an incredibly trite thing to say, but I’d kept my composure in saying it.

“But you can spell ‘quality’ just fine without ‘equality’,” the girl said. “Anyway, who asked you?”

That seemed pretty rude, considering she’d butted in a conversation I was already in… but I couldn’t come up with an answer, not beneath her withering stare. Apparently, getting a boy who was also my friend hadn’t made it any easier for me to talk to girls.

“She’s the one who started it all, Tracy,” the boy said. “She’s that girl… you know, that demon.”

Her eyes went wide… and then very, very narrow.

“I think that’s horrible,” she said. I would have tended to agree, but the way she said it made it sound like it was a career choice or something. “My baby cousin was taken by a demon, you know. They found most of him, eventually… the rest had been eaten.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Yeah, I just bet you are,” she said.

“It wasn’t me!” I said, responding to the accusation in her voice.

“How do you know?” she said. “I haven’t told you where I’m from or what he looked like or anything about him, so how do you know you didn’t kill him? Unless you want me to believe you’ve got some kind of moral compunction against eating babies?”

“I never killed anybody,” I said. “And I would never hurt a baby!”

She gave a short, embittered laugh.

“Right, right,” she said. “You’re a good little demon. You just want to be our friend, I’m sure.”

I don’t really want to be your friend, I thought, but I kept it to myself. Call it fifty percent prudence, fifty percent being crushed under the weight of disapproval I wasn’t entirely sure I didn’t deserve.

Well, maybe forty percent and sixty percent.

Or thirty/seventy.

“Alright, fives!” Dobbs said. “Today you’re going to work on anticipating and defending against attacks, so I want you to pair off and take turns being…”

“I don’t want to be in this group,” Tracy said.

Dobbs visibly faltered, took a moment to regain his composure, and then put on bluster like a wig.

“I counted you off a five, so you’re a five,” he said. “And if you don’t like it, you can… you can hike it!”

He smiled, as though pleased with this turn of phrase.

“I don’t think it’s fair that I have to fight with a demon,” Tracy said.

“Who’s a demon?” Dobbs asked.

“She is,” James said, pointing at me.

“No, she isn’t,” Dobbs said, snorting derisively.

“Yes, she is,” Tracy and James said at the same time.

“Look, nobody here is a demon,” Dobbs said, in a voice of authority, command, power, and presence while his face pleaded for everybody to quit arguing with him. His slightly raised voice got the attention not only of all the fives, but many of the nearby fours as well, and I could hear the buzz building and spreading around us.

“She is,” Barry said. “The half-demon girl from Harlowe. Everybody knows it.”

“They wouldn’t let a half-demon in here,” Dobbs said, with frightful conviction… or conviction born out of fright.

“Um… they kind of did,” I said, mumbling. I raised my voice. “And I’m it… I mean, that’s me. I’m… half-demon.”

“You’re kidding,” Dobbs said. I shook my head. “But… Coach Callahan hit you. In the face. You went down.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Um… but… I didn’t bleed or break anything.”

“You’re kidding,” Dobbs repeated. I didn’t really respond in any way, but he abruptly said. “You’re not kidding. Go… wait here. Wait right here.”

I watched him stomp across the field towards the other group, towards Callahan… keeping my back to the rest of the students in my group. I didn’t want to see their faces. I didn’t want them to see mine.

I knew the law. I knew it. I knew that legally, at least, I had every right to be there… both in that class, and at MU… but I’d always taken it on faith that it wouldn’t take much in the way of protest to get me kicked out of anywhere in life that I might find myself.

It seemed pretty clear to me that I was about to be kicked out of the class, at the very least, and possibly out of school entirely.

If that happened, I’d have nowhere else to go… I would have to go back home to my grandmother, and hope that she’d take me back.

I watched Dobbs approach Callahan, and Callahan whirl around to face him so quickly that he stumbled back a pace. I watched him forcibly regain his composure… he seemed to do that a lot… square off his shoulders, and tell her something. I’d say he declaimed something, from the way he looked. Yes, there was something very declaimy about it… he was definitely declaiming. I really wished I could hear what he was saying, but it was a large field. Steff evidently could hear, because all of a sudden she was right beside them, gesturing angrily. Callahan sent her away, though it took a couple tries. She and Dobbs both turned towards me.

I wondered if it was too late to pretend I hadn’t been watching, but then Callahan started waving me towards them, shouting something… it took me a moment to realize it was “Hey, Emo Kid!”

I headed over at what ended up being my normal pace. I started out wanting to walk really, really slowly, but then the thought of the dozens of eyes that must have been upon me wanted to make me walk really, really fast.

When I reached her, Callahan shoved her clipboard in my face and released it to once again hang in midair. Under other circumstances, I might have wondered where she’d got it from… it was pretty neat.

“Is that your name there, Emo Kid?” she asked, pointing to the line that said “Blaise, Mackenzie*” on the roster. She’d written “(crybaby)” next to it.

“I am not a crybaby!” I protested.

“Fine, but the question is, is this person here the crybaby that you are not?” Callahan asked, jabbing her fingernail at my name again.

“What?” I asked, confused.

“Are you or are you not Blaise comma Mackenzie asterisk open parenthesis crybaby exclamation point close parenthesis?” Callahan asked me.

“There’s no exclamation point!” I said.

“There is now,” she said, grabbing the clipboard and adding one. “Sweet Khersis, you’re a whiny one… and you haven’t answered my question.”

“Yes,” I said, confused, angry, and near tears. But not crying. “Yes, I am… that person. But I’m not a crybaby!”

“See, Dobbs?” Callahan said, speaking with a slow, exaggerated patience. “If her name’s on the roster, she’s in the class. If she’s in the class, then you must teach her, and if you must teach her, then she must learn. If she can find it in herself to learn anything from you, then you can find it in your heart to teach her.”

“But, I’m a Khersian,” Dobbs said.

“So am I,” Callahan said. “This ain’t a doctrinal school. Praise the Holy Avenger on your own time.”

“But… I trained to fight things like her!” Dobbs protested.

Very good, Dobbs,” Callahan said scathingly. She pointed back to the beginner group. “So why don’t you get back over there and share some of that knowledge?”

He opened his mouth, then thought better of it and visibly deflated, then visibly re-inflated himself and began trudging back towards his students.

“Wait, so, you knew what I was?” I asked Callahan, unable to believe that she could have been so blasé about punching me if she’d known about my heritage.

“No, I didn’t give a shit what you were,” she said. “I still don’t. You watch your mouth, or next time I’ll sock you five times as hard, now that I know I don’t need to worry about shoving your nose into your brain. Is there a reason you’re still standing here, Emo Kid?”

“I… I thought you were going to call me by my last name,” I said.

“You didn’t like being called Blaise. If you don’t wanna be Emo Kid, then your new name’s Crybaby,” she said. “Now get going, Crybaby, because I guarantee you don’t want to find out what the next name on the list is.”

“I… yes, ma’am,” I said. My face superheated in the instant I realized what I’d said, but of course, it meant nothing special to her.

The looks I got from the other students… and the TA… as I arrived back at the other end of the field did nothing to alter my reddish complexion. I didn’t know if having my classmates and potential combatants afraid of me would make the class easier or harder, but it certainly wouldn’t make it any more fun.

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2 Responses to “86: Recognition”

  1. pedestrian says:

    No, no Mack, having them terrified of you, enough to go all apeshit on your ass will be excellent survival training for you.

    If you survive the superstitious hysteria and every enchanted weapon they haul out to whomp on your boyish butt. Those holy symbols are magically delicious after all.

    Current score: 0
  2. Sher says:

    Is the whole story going to be about one person after another walking all over Mack!!!?

    Please, god, let her grow some balls.

    Current score: 6