My Pen-Pal Voldemort
Blood and entrails trickled down my face. Fat droplets fell from my chin, staining my hoodie with gory splatter patterns. Messy streaks had marred the lenses of my glasses, obscuring my vision. There was nothing wrong with my hearing, though, more's the pity - this meant I could still hear the mocking jeers and laughter of the other students.
"What is going on, over here?" Our biology teacher, Mrs. Weston, had finally noticed the disturbance.
"It was Taylor!" Emma said, eagerly throwing me under the proverbial bus. "We were just doing the assignment, dissecting that frog like we were supposed to... But then Taylor tried to mess with us! She wanted to ruin our work!"
"Kinda fitting, that she ended up making a mess of herself," Sophia sniggered.
Mrs. Weston turned to me with a disgruntled expression. "Well, Taylor? What do you have to say for yourself?"
I wiped at my face with the back of my hand. This did not do much to make me any cleaner - mostly, I just managed to smear the frog guts out into a more evenly distributed layer of goop. "Would it do me any good to point out that Sophia's hand is still resting on her ruler, from when she slammed her fist down on it?"
By the time the teacher had followed my pointing finger to see what I was talking about, Sophia had already put both her hands behind her back. She'd also schooled her features into a politely bland mask, instead of the triumphant sneer that she'd been leveling at me behind Mrs. Weston's back.
The teacher inspected the smoking gun - or, in this case, the viscera-stained ruler. "So? If Sophia had her hand on it, she might have been trying to clean it."
"She was using it as a catapult! That's why it's covered in bits of disemboweled frog!" I ground out through gritted teeth. "Emma cut open their specimen and put it on one end of the ruler, and Sophia slammed her fist down on the other end!"
Mrs. Weston looked dubious. Emma giggled. "That's ridiculous! Why would we do something gross like that?"
"You aimed it at me!" I cried out, turning from Emma's innocent face to stare at the teacher. "Look! There's the eraser they used as a, a whatchamacallit, a fulcrum!"
"That's a lie," Sophia growled. "That's Hebert's ruler. She used it to poke at our frog, trying to sabotage us. She's just so fu- ... So darn clumsy, she ended up plastering frog crap all over herself."
She picked up the ruler by the cleanest corner, and flicked it at me. I flinched, fumbling the ruler as I tried to catch it. The blood-smeared length of neon purple plastic struck me on the chest and then landed on my desk with a clatter, adding a few more stains to my hoodie in the process.
I tore open the zipper on my pencil case with an angry tug, and dug out one of my few surviving pieces of school supplies, that Emma and her cronies hadn't ruined - yet.
"This is my ruler!" I waved the green plastic rectangle in front of Mrs. Weston. I held up Sophia's bloody ruler in my other hand for comparison. "I've never, in my life, owned a ruler with the words 'BAD BITCH' carved into the plastic!"
"Yeah, no shit," Sophia muttered, while Mrs. Weston was momentarily distracted, as she questioned the other students about what they'd seen. "Your junk all ought to be marked 'WORST C-'"
When the teacher returned her attention to our blood-soaked standoff, Sophia quickly quieted, feigning innocence again. Behind Mrs. Weston's back, Sophia mouthed a word at me - something that might be charitably assumed to be: "Runt".
"You should know better than to lie about this, especially with so many witnesses in the room," said Mrs. Weston, glaring sternly at me with folded arms. "All the other students told me that Emma and Sophia's explanation is correct."
I glared back, fists clenched at my sides, as I struggled to breathe past the indignant bile quickly rising in the back of my throat.
"Now, since your prank ended up backfiring on yourself, I'm not inclined to punish you any further," Mrs. Weston droned on. "But consider yourself put on notice. One more disruption of class out of you, or another attack at your fellow classmates, and you won't like the consequences. Now, go to the bathroom and get cleaned up."
I crammed my pencil case and biology notes into my backpack, discovering in the process that my bag was coated with a sad little pile of gory amphibian remains. At least that answered the question of where my own partially-dissected frog had ended up. Sophia, or whoever was responsible for this last little twist, had even made the extra effort of unzipping the backpack, so the eviscerated frog carcass could get a proper chance to seep into all my textbooks and other supplies.
It was the little touches like this that showed how much they really cared.
I shouldered my backpack, long past worrying about whether I made the mess any worse, and stormed for the exit. The door almost whacked me in the face, when Sparky - the boy I was supposed to have been doing the biology assignment with - shoved it open, wandering into the classroom after finally finishing his alleged "bathroom break".
Sparky's confused look turned to shock, when I rushed past him out the door, shoulder-checking him slightly on my way out.
The disgusted noise he made, when he noticed the frog guts that had rubbed off on his t-shirt as I brushed past him, was almost drowned out by the renewed sound of braying hyenas.
No, wait... Those were just cackling teenagers, taking great pleasure in the school pariah being put in her place, and probably some relief that they weren't the one on the lowermost rung of the social ladder. Easy mistake to make, confusing one type of savage animal for another.
My visit to the school toilet was a brief affair. It only took a few minutes before I gave up on getting the stains out of my hoodie - or my backpack, for that matter. Instead, I scrubbed the worst of the frog innards off my face and my hair, and went home. Mrs. Weston couldn't seriously have expected me to have brought a change of clothes in case of a sudden rain of frogs - disemboweled ones, at that. Besides, I was going to the bathroom to clean up, like she'd told me to... At my house, admittedly, but if she expected me to stay at school, she should have been more specific.
The bus driver and other passengers gave me a few odd looks, but not many. We lived in Brockton Bay - this was almost certainly not the first time they'd witnessed someone walking around with blood stains on their clothes.
Then again, I'd seen my current expression in the mirror, during my brief pit stop in the school toilet. If my face still looked like that, even with less entrails on it, the other people might have decided not to say anything to me for fear of what reaction they might provoke - the crazy girl might punch them in the nose, or worse: Start weeping on their shoulder.
After a hot shower and putting on a fresh set of clothes, finally able to relax in the private sanctuary of my own home - still blissfully free from reverse burglars or other weird night-time visitors, since that fateful Friday night - I felt marginally better about myself. In fact, if it weren't for the pile of discarded clothes lying on the bathroom's tiled floor, smelling faintly of dead frog, I'd be very nearly peachy, or even spiffin'.
(As it turned out, my Mom had owned some dictionaries that covered slang words, as well - including some flowery phrases from the British vernacular. Dad probably hadn't noticed I'd borrowed the books from the boxes in the basement; or if he had, he certainly hadn't said anything about it... Gotten narky? Run his gob about it? Something like that, anyway.)
I prodded my ruined hoodie with my toe. Sadly, it failed to spontaneously turn clean and un-froggy on its own, as if by magic.
Huh... Magic. Now, there's a thought.
Scrubbing at my face and sniffling a little - for some reason, my cheeks were wet again, how did that happen - I flounced off to my room.
Tom was lying where I'd left him, hidden under a pile of school textbooks. The scraps of paper stuck between his pages were exactly where I'd left them, the loose strand of hair I'd wedged underneath the notebook was still in place, as were the other ones that I'd planted between the thicker books on top of him - even the pattern of eraser crumbs I'd scattered around Tom's pile was undisturbed.
Theoretically, it wasn't impossible that Tom had been able to dismantle my arrangement, gone exploring, and then returned everything the way it was before I came home - or that someone else had broken in, and done something. Not impossible, just not very probable.
It was both reassuring to see that Tom hadn't gone walk-about in my absence, and vaguely disappointing that he hadn't. Maybe if I found a hiding place for him that wasn't quite so heavy, I'd be able to catch him shuffling around?
Still, I was pleased to note that the Mumble-Chorus hadn't returned to dump more of their weird garbage on my bedroom floor. Today had been rough enough, as it was - I really hadn't been looking forward to tripping over a twenty-four karat royal sceptre, or finding the Mona Lisa crammed in my waste paper basket, or whatever.
That reminded me... I really needed to do something about the three pieces of loot I'd hidden in the basement. The whole weekend had gone by without a visit from the local law enforcement, which either meant that this hadn't been one of Sophia and Emma's schemes... Or their plan was more convoluted than I'd thought.
That was a problem for later, though. Right now, I had laundry to do, and scientific experiments to cackle over.
Excavating Tom from the pile of books, I grabbed a pen and started scribbling.
Hey, Tom? Quick question: You wouldn't happen to know any good methods for getting rid of blood stains, would you?
You wouldn't happen to know any good methods for getting rid of blood stains, would you?
Tom seemed to mull this over, for a while - or perhaps he'd been asleep, and he had to go through the notebook-y equivalent of a yawn and some stretches, before he felt sufficiently awake to answer. As I waited for him to reply, I realized that, if I hadn't poured a whole bottle of bleach on Tom, along with various other cleaning agents, I might have been able to clean my clothes the old-fashioned way.
Hah. Totally worth it.
At last, new words oozed their way into existence on Tom's pages.
Sounds like an eminently nail-shaped problem. Why not use your favorite new hammer?
Why not use your favorite new hammer?
I grinned, hope and anticipation and excitement bubbling up in my chest. Still, I had to make sure that he meant what I thought he did, before I got started on the victory dance.
Not really in the mood for riddles, Tom... Elaborate, please?
An odd squiggle blossomed on the page. Squinting at it, I thought I recognized the general shape of it from earlier conversations I'd had with Tom - it probably meant laughter, or a snort of sarcastic amusement, or something along those lines.
Not sure what he was giggling about, though... Did the word "elaborate" mean something rude, in Britain? Or maybe it was a wizard joke?
I'm not too fond of riddles, myself. Rest assured, it couldn't be simpler. If you place my book on top of these blood stains that seem to be troubling you, I'll take care of the rest.
If you place my book on top of these blood stains that seem to be troubling you, I'll take care of the rest.
"Yes!" I leapt to my feet and ran back to the bathroom. On the way, I picked up the gore-stricken backpack I'd tossed aside by the foot of the stairs when I got home, earlier.
My hands trembled a little, as I put Tom down on top of my hoodie, with the notebook's back cover touching one of the largest stains in the fabric.
I'd halfway expected to hear a gross slurping noise, or maybe nothing at all - previously, whenever I'd tried dousing Tom with every halfway-dangerous liquid I could get hold of, he'd absorbed them in silence.
Instead, I ended up jumping a little when a dry rasping sound rang out, echoing eerily within the tiled bathroom walls.
It reminded me of childhood trips to the beach, when I'd played around in the sand and filled my palms with the coarse granules; then, I'd let the sand trickle back out between my fingers, cascading down to rejoin the vast, seemingly-endless mass of tiny silica particles.
Or maybe I was just being fanciful, thinking of beaches because I was sitting on my bathroom floor. Maybe if my parents had taken me on more trips to the Zoo when I was younger, Tom's weird new noise would have made me think of snake enclosures, with wicked huge Boa Constrictors slithering around. Did the extra noise mean that Tom had to exert more effort to absorb liquid that had dried into fabric, as opposed to having fresh fluids poured directly onto his pages?
The rasping noise stopped.
Slowly, I picked up the notebook. My mouth curved up in a smile, and I released a breath I hadn't even realized I'd been holding, when I saw my hoodie.
My nice, big hoodie, which still had plenty of stains left... But which also had a perfectly rectangular patch of gloriously clean fabric, roughly the same size as the notebook in my hands. Within that rectangle, there wasn't a single speck or smear of frog's blood left to be seen.
There may have been giggling. There may, possibly, have been loud whooping, and pumping of fists, and wiggling of butts (well, butt, singular) in a highly undignified celebratory dance.
However, regardless of what Tom might claim to have witnessed, there most certainly were no incidents of anyone throwing any sentient notebooks in the air. Furthermore, if there had been any such occurrences - which there wasn't - said notebook was definitely not inches away from a particularly unlucky fall, tumbling past fingers that may have failed to catch him, which would have resulted in said notebook discovering whether his one and only mortal weakness was, in fact, blue toilet water.
After jotting down a quick "thank you" note on Tom's pages, I set about rinsing the rest of the frog splatters out of my clothes, and my backpack. Even the blood-stained books I'd carried in my bag today were given the same treatment, with similarly satisfactory results.
After a little while, Tom's rasping noises grew less unsettling. Halfway through the clean-up process, I'd begun to find it oddly comforting.
I still didn't trust him, of course. Even though I was grateful for his help - and even more grateful that he never asked why I was covered in frog blood, in the first place - that appreciation didn't completely quell my unease.
For example, I might have been imagining things, but... After we'd finished cleaning up all the blood stains, the notebook did seem rather more... Full. As if there'd always been an subliminal air of hunger about it, which had now been sated... A little, at least.
Oh, Tom... If you turn out to be some sort of undead vampiric paperback monster-wizard, and you've got the ability to transform into a giant bat, and you've been knowingly withholding that information from me, all along... You and I are gonna be having words, buster. Flight power testing means flight power testing!
Taylor's biology teacher is only mentioned once in canon, AFAIK, and then not even by name. "Weston" seemed like as good a moniker for a biology teacher as any, since it can give associations to western blots - or to Herbert West, Re-Animator.
Alehhandro: Thank you! The Diary probably uses a bit of column A, a bit of column B... Although, Tom never seemed the sort to pay much attention to woolly flimflam like 'trust' and 'affection', so the physical act of writing is likely more significant.
Skyfish: Doesn't Chevalier's power only apply to objects that are reasonably similar? So, he could fuse the Diary with other books, but not with (for example) a shield, or a truck, or a refrigerator.
Mind you, if Chevalier was able to fuse the Diary with, say, a tablet computer (similar in size, shape and function), that might give Tom a chance to go online... Oh, hello, Ms. Dragon! My, what a lovely server farm you have...
Astrobot: Fair point. There's a small time skip between chapters 3 and 4, but I can add a paragraph explaining how Taylor went from "Oh no, mysterious regenerating notebooks are invading!" to "Drink your poison, Tom", if people think the change seems too jarring.
TacitSoliloquy: You might enjoy chapter 7, then. (SPOILERS: There's probably going to be a guest appearance by VoldeDrunk.)
Misplacer: If and when Tom gets a body, he'll just have to fortify it magically against deadly poisons.
LEET: Hey, dude! I heard you like Bleach, but what's your opinion on DBZ?
TOM: (drinks a swig of drain cleaner, sprinkles white powder from a box labeled with a skull-and-crossbones on a slice of toast)
TOM: Is that the same as DDT? If so, I'm in favour of it.