“Your horns are too big. They’re ugly. Hideous. They make us look bad, here. They make us look sick.” I glanced around but didn’t lift my head. So it really just turned into a survey of my thighs, getting to know the one long rip belonging to my best friend, Lewish, and her killer horns. I put my finger inside the gap of my jeans and felt the small cut, the scrape, stifled a laugh. Lewish’s horns would kill either her or someone around her eventually.
“Ms. Gorton. You are sick.”
“Yeah, I heard you. Sir. I’m sick, it’s gross, I get it.” I kept playing with the cut on my leg. Maybe my brother would come this time. I hoped it was him – Old Bro would gore this man to death, right here in front of me, rip out his intestines and decorate the cheap, shitty office. They’d let him off with a warning, again, and we’d go home and ignore the phone when Mr. Anderton’s tearful family started calling. My mother was more about goring people with words and that was much less satisfying. I know we’re all about protecting reputations but what’s the point of expressing anger if you don’t leave at least one person cut in half?
So, what’s worse – a mother who wouldn’t kill people for you and left them angry enough to bother you again, or a brother who would kill people for you but left their families angry enough to bother you again? I never really got much choice in it. Someone was always angry and someone was always telling me why my horns were the reason.
“You’d think your mother would understand, Junnie, what with Reintroduction being such a problem. We don’t want this type of trouble right now. There are plenty of resources for Horn Rot survivors. You shouldn’t be in the general populace.”
“Yeah. I get it. I cause all this trouble. My horns get me into all this trouble, it’s really fun. I didn’t do anything.”
“You ripped a hole in the ceiling. Again. You could’ve gored someone. Again. You could have spread Horn Rot. Again. Just because it’s dormant in you doesn’t mean it won’t infect others.” He was speaking so violently that spit speckled my horns. I felt it landing on my neck and arms. Still, I didn’t look up. How ironic that he was yelling at me about possibly being contagious and spewing the inside of his mouth everywhere.
All you get with our people is anger, honestly. I could never match it. I am like my mother and not my brother and it bothers me all the time.
The empty seat next to me suddenly had a person in it. Long, sharp horns poked harshly in the air, one coming dangerously close to Mr. Anderton’s desk. Her back was straight, almost in fear, holding everything in a less dangerous position. Lewish took a small breath, as small as she could, and poked my leg. Still looking down, I tapped a horn and pointed at the hole in my pants.
“Lewish, go back…”
“No, no, Mr. Anderton. She’s a guest of mine. She’ll stay.” My mother’s cold, slow voice poured into the room and I really looked down. Here we go. Words, words, words. Again, I wished Old Bro would just come and headbutt the guy until his face cracked in two.
“Lyria…it’s so lovely to see you! I’m so glad you could make it. I’m terribly sorry to interrupt your research, you know how this is, we would really rather…”
“You’d rather my little freak stay at home. And be homeschooled with the other little freaks. Right?” My horns tingled. They always tingled when my mom referenced them. Like they know she’s the reason they’re still there. Like they know she’s the reason they’re so big. Lewish poked the hole in my jeans and gave an ugly snort.
“You’re familiar for a man who spends much of his time spitting all over my daughter. You called me in here. Yes, you interrupted my research. Research that could save your wife and daughter, if they ever happen to catch Horn Rot. Research, I’ll remind you, that could save your parents. Aren’t they in Reintroduction?”
I felt him nod. Lewish snorted a loud, ugly laugh and tried to get me to look up.
Our people love laughing at each other’s pain. I could never match it.
“Yes, Lyria. They are in Reintroduction. All the more reason to be more realistic, and more careful, about your daughter’s attendance at this school. We are top in the country. We can’t afford to have our brightest minds…infected. I’m glad Lewish is here. Ms. Kendal also represents a problem. I don’t want to…I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but the school board has decided we must put an end to this.”
My mother stiffened and I finally looked up. They were doing it. They were shunning us. Again. I felt an old panic build up but didn’t move. Lewish and my mom, they were always so good in situations like this. When we were expelled. When we were quarantined. I gulped a little to keep my panic hidden. Our people love mocking panic.
I could never match it.
“Fine. I guess we’ll have to figure something else out, won’t we girls? The brightest minds in our country, literally expelled from the best school.” My mother seemed hurt, for once, and that made the panic worse. Lewish just scoffed and grabbed my hand. We got up and walked out, me having to bend in odd ways just to get through the tiny door. My mother stopped us before we could turn to walk down the hall.
Old Bro, picking his teeth and eating something that was still moving, walked his jolly, stocky walk toward us. He saw our faces, mine trembling, and joined Lewish in another ugly laugh. I gripped Lewish’s hand harder and ignored my mother’s scrutiny.
“Oh, this didn’t go well, hun? Good, good. Let me see if I can talk him out of it.” My mother grabbed Old Bro’s shoulder before he could head in. I saw Mr. Anderton look up in shock, dropping his paperwork, stunned. My mother, Lyria, the most loved person in our entire country, she smiled effortlessly at my brother.
“Massacre him. I don’t want to see the floor when you’re done.”