After the unexplainable death of her mother on the eve of Natalie’s fourteenth birthday, she is suddenly forced to grow up. Compelled to leave her dismal and deceptive life behind by a mysterious woman who claims to be an old relative, Natalie carries with her the highly coveted, scarlet stoned ring she reluctantly retrieved from her mother upon her death.
Following Natalie’s irreversible decision, she unexpectedly finds herself alone and thrust into a peculiar all female orphanage where her arrival was strangely anticipated by the inhabitants, and greeted by some with ire. Ultimately, young Natalie must quickly learn to fend for herself against bullies, unexplained forces, a male suitor, and something lurking for revenge. Does she have both the strength and resolve, and can she set the past aside, to uncover the secrets necessary in order to fulfill her destiny?
Natalie swung, but it fell way short. She reached closer to Melissa and jabbed, but still fell short of posing any real threat—physically and psychologically. After a few more swings, she gained confidence and drew even closer. She swung again, then repeated, but reached a little closer, almost close enough to land a punch. Then, she drew even closer, and in a blink, it was all over.
Natalie tried to push herself up to stand, but stumbled back into the girls, who held her up. “It’s okay, I can walk,” she claimed as they let her go, and she began to fall again.
“Girls, help her to the mat and give her a few minutes,” directed Zadie. “Melissa, you may be excused. In fact, the class is dismissed early.”
Natalie gazed around. “Did I win?” she asked.
Emma said out loud to the other girls, “I think she’s still dreaming.”
Susan helped Natalie sit up. “Dude, she totally jumped up in the air, wrapped her legs around your neck, and pulled you down to the ground. We told you to tap out once she had you in the choke hold, but I don’t think you heard us at all.”
“Are you sure I didn’t land a punch? I thought I hit something.”
“Just the ground,” replied Susan. “Come on, there’s no shame. It’s time for some fun.”
Zadie checked to ensure Natalie was unharmed; then, she dismissed the remaining girls to enjoy the night.
Back in the dorms, surprisingly, Natalie had a few girls congratulate her. She found, barring a few girls, most were impressed with her courage to challenge Melissa rather than making jokes about her.
A number of girls surrounded Natalie, more interested in her than in the night’s adventures.
“Natalie, do you want to explore the lower levels of the arena with us?” asked one girl.
“No,” said another. “We’re going to Mitzi Forest, aren’t we, Natalie?”
“Calm down,” said Susan. “She’ll decide in a minute. Give her some time, alright?”
“Yeah, she’s going to need some time… after that beating,” added Melissa. “Tell me, Natalie, what were you thinking before the fight? Oh, that’s right, you don’t remember. You looked good though… until I decided to fight.”
Melissa, Rebecca, and Isabella all had a good laugh at Natalie’s expense, but the other girls just mirthlessly stared at them.
“Leave her alone, Melissa. You’re an anomaly. It took courage for her to face you.”
Melissa’s capacity to elicit fear with nothing more than a stare was enough to make even Ms. Haggle proud. “If she is indeed courageous, then she’ll have no trouble at the cemetery tonight.”
The girls gasped collectively, and one asked, “You… you wouldn’t expect her to go to the cemetery on a full moon night?”
“Why not?” replied Melissa. “I’m an anomaly, and she stood up to me. Isn’t she courageous enough to visit a little cemetery?” Changing her tone from facetious to hostile, Melissa told Natalie, “You’re going to the cemetery, Natalie. To the big stone entrance, and you’re going to tell me what it says above the keystone.”
“Reads,” corrected Toddi.
“Shut up,” snapped Melissa as she backhanded Toddi. “Or perhaps there’ll be another fight tonight.”
“But everyone knows what it says… uh, reads,” said Susan. “Here lie the dead, for all to revere. They are resting now, in peace and still.”
“Not on a full moon night. Tell me what it reads.”
“I’ll go,” said Natalie.
“No you won’t!” exclaimed Susan. “There are things up there. Things you don’t understand. You can’t go!”
“She’s going,” insisted Melissa. “And you’re going with her.”