Allie awoke with a start, and sat up in the wooden chair. Her back was aching and the desk lamp was still on.
What time is it?
Her head foggy, she turned the alarm clock to face her. Two o’clock in the morning.
Must have fallen asleep at my desk.
She was sitting in front of the open window, a stack of papers spread out in front of her. After her meltdown she hadn’t been hungry, so she’d skipped dinner and stayed in her room to catch up on her reading.
The last thing she could remember was reading The Rules.
After finishing her homework, it had occurred to her that she’d never really read them, and she’d pulled them out of the desk drawer. They were so strange and prescriptive that at first she couldn’t believe what she was reading.
Cimmeria Academy is a unique place in which to learn, and we are very glad to have you here among us. The school has, for many years, operated according to rules set out long ago by its founders.
All new students are given a handbook when they first arrive to teach them the rules that must now guide them. This is your personal handbook. Please keep it safe, and use wisely the information it contains.There is much to learn, but perhaps it’s best to start with the most important rules first.
1. The day begins at 7am and ends no later than 11pm. Outside of those hours you must be in your dormitory. If you are outside of your dormitory wing during those hours without permission you will be punished.
2. Nobody may ever leave the school grounds without permission from staff and parents. Anybody who does so will be punished severely and could be expelled.
3. The woods around the school are home to wildlife, and so they can be dangerous; please do not enter them after dark or alone. This is for your own safety.
4. You may write to your parents and friends as often as you like, but phone calls are for emergencies only. The definition of “emergency” is to be determined by the headmistress.
5. Students in certain advanced areas of study take part in Night School to prepare them for life after Cimmeria, so you will sometimes hear them working late in the evening. Only very few select students are offered this opportunity; if you are not among them, you must not attempt to interfere with or observe Night School.
6. The identities of those involved in Night School are secret. Anyone who attempts to find out their identities will be punished.
7. ALL Night School activities are secret. Any member of Night School who tells anybody outside of Night School about those activities will be punished severely.
Suddenly she heard again the noise that must have awakened her. It was a kind of scrabbling on the roof. She switched off the lamp and moved the papers aside so that she could climb up on the desk and look out.
At first she heard nothing, and then in the distance a shout. Then a few seconds later, a faint scream. Allie leaned forward to peer into the darkness. There was no moon tonight, and clouds obscured the stars. She could see only darkness. Then, very nearby, a noise – a creaking sound. Like footsteps on old wood.
What the hell was that? Whatever it was, it was on the roof.
Down below she thought saw something dart across the grass into the woods. She held her breath to listen. Was that…laughter?
After a few minutes she heard a voice whisper so faintly she wasn’t sure she hadn’t imagined it: “It’s Ok, Allie. Go to sleep.”
She looked around the room. She was alone. Shaking her head fiercely, she tried to determine if she was awake or asleep.
‘I’m going insane,’ she muttered.
Closing the window she locked it firmly before climbing into bed.
As she fell back asleep, she could have sworn she heard the same voice chuckle very faintly.