Timora had two little brothers and an older stepbrother. The moment the hand covered her mouth, she did what had worked so many times before – she licked it.
“Ew!” The hand pulled away, giving her a chance to turn around and see her would-be assailant. The boy held up both hands defensively, then quickly dropped one to wipe it on his pants. “Just… be quiet for a minute, okay, and come here in the shadows. I swear I mean you no harm today.”
Today. She nodded uncertainly, and let him tug her deeper into the shadowed hallway, trying not to stare. It was hard; even in the dim light, his eyes gleamed green – and slit-pupiled, like a cat, which, given the tiger-like ears sticking out of his hair, made sense. She reached out to touch one, wondering if they were on some sort of headband. She’d seen some of the upperclassmen with – Calvin said it was a Mask, like a glamour out of a fairy tale – with their glamour down, but she hadn’t been brave enough to touch. Now – well, he didn’t look scary at all. He looked, if anything, like he was afraid of her.
His ear twitched, and he chuckled nervously. “They’re real,” he assured her. “Now… please don’t scream, okay? I can’t protect you if you make me run away.” He gestured dismissively to a complaint she hadn’t voiced. “Okay, okay, you can do pretty well making everyone else run away too. But… you’ve noticed some weirdness?”
Timora pinched his ear pointedly. Weirdness, said the boy with cat ears. Siberian tiger ears, she was pretty sure. And oddly familiar, although the stripes were throwing her off.
“Ow! Yeah, okay. And some of the strangeness is… inhuman…?”
She didn’t pinch his ear again, much as she wanted to, instead wiggling all her fingers at him: oooh, scary woogy stuff.
“Yes, that, exactly. All right. So, did you wander the through the Hallway of no Sound?”
Hallway of no… She shook her head, then nodded it, hoping he got the point – she understood. Would her voice really scare people away? Or was this another stupid prank? “Calvin…” she began, and stopped when the boy’s ears went flat.
“Calvin ran away when you screamed. Ass that he is, he was probably waiting to trap you.” He shook his head – more and more, she thought she ought to know him, if only he weren’t so catty – and kept talking before she could try voicing another objection, or the oh, god, I made him run away, now he’ll never go to a dance with me. “I know he seemed nice, Timora, but a lot of people are really nice around here until Hell Night.”
“How…” Was she going to have to go through life mute? She pressed her lips together unhappily.
“Oh… sorry.” He made a complex hand gesture, and then, from behind him somewhere, produced a fedora. The hat went on his head – and the stripes and slitted eyes vanished, revealing a boy she’d sat behind in Lit and next to in History for two weeks. “I’m Porter.”
She mimed “Oh,” figuring that was safe enough, and gestured out into the hall and back to their hidey hole: What are you doing hiding here?
He was really quite good at charades. “The same thing as every other upperclassman on Hell Night,” he told her sadly.
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