She looked at herself in the mirror, stretching her mouth and lips to better show her teeth. The gleam of wires and metal was far from visually pleasing. Aesthetically, she hated them. One day she might say differently of the whole thing– one day when her teeth were pearly white and perfectly straight. For now, she curled her lips closed and frowned.
Danielle had never been one to speak out of turn, or fuss over things. Mostly, she sat in her room, or in one of her various classes, and let life swirl by in silence. She didn’t have friends to speak of, or to. It kept her quiet most of the time. Maybe, she thought, she could hide her mouthful of metal until graduation. It was a couple years away, sure, but she’d managed the preceding ten without much peer-interaction. Then again, she wasn’t about to add a blotchy, red face to the mix by holding her breath.
She brushed out her long, bushy hair. Yet another of Genetics’ slights was to give her the thickest, curliest hair a girl could have without being of some exotic origin. Each day, she’d stand in front of her bathroom mirror, vainly fighting it. Whether morning, afternoon, or night, they battle raged until Dani gave up and wrestled it into a bushy ponytail.
“More like squirrel-tail,” she always muttered. As always, thinking of how akin her hair was to having a long-haired cat rooted into her scalp– but less cute and twice as angry.
And now, there was the metal. A literal ton of it. Okay, maybe not literal, literal, but there was a lot. She might have cried, had she built any type of social standing that was to take a hit. Otherwise, it was just par for the course of a life as dishwater-dull as stagnant. She did her best to settle into her nightly homework, added to by the missed assignments from the day’s be-metaling. The only time she rose was to answer her mother’s call for dinner. It was only afterward that she realized just how bad it felt to have someone drill, glue, and wire her mouth together. To say nothing of having to pick, brush, and clean them for the first time.
By the end of it, she was haggard, emotionally and physically. With the last finishing touches on her homework, she collapsed into bed. The night passed in a patchwork of introspective bad dreams until she found herself lucid and aware she was dreaming, and completely helpless to stop them.
In the same, befuddled manner of all dreams, enough reality melded with hallucinatory strangeness to form a believable dream-world. Dani found herself at a school not quite the same as usual. Never-ending hallways took eternities to cross, super-imposing vast barren dunes atop them. Peers with transmogrifying faces drifted here and there or accompanied her for unknown reasons, refusing to listen to her cries of help. Others wandered about without faces. More still kept up an unending chorus of “brace-face, brace-face” that followed her as if ethereal whispers on an ever-blowing wind.
The dream-school was the very definition of eerie strangeness. After a while, even dream Dani found the chanting more tacky than hurtful. For hours and hours, the hallways carried her across their deserts, her would-be friends came and went, strangers stared from black-holes in their heads, and the wind chanted incessantly.
When the sun decided to grace her window and rip her from sleep, she returned from dreamland with gratitude. She praised the sun, albeit silently. Dreamland had become more twisted and sordid over time, in ways she couldn’t describe nor recall, but that left her feeling uneasy. The monotony of her years-old morning routine was just what she needed. It remained largely unchanged, though slightly more dismal now from aching teeth and a metal-bruised ego. Fighting her hair into its hairy-cat state helped her feel a little more normal. Her best “don’t look at me” clothes formed a hopeful shroud that allowed her to make for school without collapsing in embarassment.
Bacatta High-School was a place filled with paradoxes at every turn. Certain class rooms were dark, dank dungeons, windowless and cold. Beside them were warm meadows, windowed along one side with vibrant warmth. A time-vortex or dimensional rift would be perfectly at home there, and admittedly, not surprising. In her words, “You know, a regular high-school.”
She entered school to the drone-procession of students too-asleep for the morning hour. At least there she was invisible. Good. No one would notice her new metal-mouth. Not even if they tried to. She kept her head bowed, flowed with the rivers of students toward class. There, she floated in place like them, but half-submerged to remain invisible. It seemed to be going well until midway through Algebra, when she was forced to speak aloud.
Mrs. Harmon eyed the room, “Who can tell me the value of x, if x equals seven, plus two, divided by three. Hmm, let’s see… Danielle?”
Danielle was a deer in the headlights, hit by the car before realizing it. She was expected to answer. Her brain had already worked out the problem, but the few eyes that turned her way froze her in place. Mrs. Harmon leered with expectancy. Never in a million years could it help. It made things much worse than she ever expected.
She grimaced, did her best to hide her teeth, and saw herself flipping up and over the car, headlights already long gone. As she end-over-ended through the air, she revealed her unintentional lisp.
“Exsss equalsss three?”
“Correct. Excellent,” Mrs. Harmon said, moving on, completely unaware of the slaughter she’d caused.
Dani shrank in her seat. It was even worse than she’d expected. She’d probably sprayed the girl in front of her with a fountain of saliva. She didn’t seem to notice, but Dani did. A hand suddenly tapped Dani’s shoulder. She nearly fainted. Her eyes met another girl holding a folded scrap of paper. She gestured for Dani to take it.
Me? She mouthed. The girl nodded. Dani opened the note.
Girly scrawl formed the words “New braces?”
Danielle’s face almost fell off. She’d known. Things must be even more terrible than she realized. She glanced at the girl, whom nonchalantly divided her attention between Mrs. Harmon and Danielle, then scribbled a reply:
The note changed hands, was read, scribbled on, then returned.
It helps to have water. Or get some wax to put on the back.
Danielle’s eyes were a portrait of confusion. She scribbled back; Thanx. Is it really that bad?
The girl took the note, read it, then shook her head at Danielle.
I know the feeling. Mine was sooo bad at first. BTW, I’m Sara.
The bell for class-end rang. Dani read the note, then stood next to Sara. “Danielle. Mosst people call me Dani.”
Sara flashed a metal smile. “Cool. I’ve gotta’ head ‘cross the building, but you wanna’ sit together at lunch?”
Dani followed her from the room, carefully evading any esses. “Okay.”
“I’ll meet you in the commons later,” Sara said with another metal smile.
She turned for the long passage across the school and waved good-bye. Dani waved back, managing a smile of her own; maybe being a brace-face wouldn’t be as bad as she’d thought.