The headmaster was a soft-spoken man, the type who always had to repeat himself when he started a conversation, and when left unchecked, would often become so quiet that people would squint and lean in to decipher his words.
His hand was wrapped around mine, and he was gently leading me through the hallways of the building. Every few moments he would look back at me to make sure I was following along with no issues – quite a lot more than Mrs. Shire had. His unending attentiveness was reassuring.
He had said we were going to the “bunker” -- a surprisingly fun name for where everyone slept, considering the animosity I had felt since had I walked in the door. At least he seemed nice, always with a thoughtful, concerned expression, especially when dealing with me, and pulling me along so gently I could have easily been tricked into leading him.
He was a human, like most around were, and he had blond hair, longer than most people, reaching down to the back of his neck. It was thick and heavy, visibly greasy, and while nauseating to think about in detail, it gave him a certain suaveness that commanded experience.
His eyes were large, globe-like and soft, yet probing in a powerful way, like they were always reading, and sometimes, when he would focus extra hard on me, I felt like a book, the type where every iota of information was succulent and satisfying, yet taboo in its own right. Whenever he looked at me, I had an inexplicable feeling of being his 'favorite,' and as plastic as the label felt, it consoled me.
The hallways became busy, kids older than myself walking by, each of them glaring at me, some with hardened curiosity, and others with what felt like the glare a fox would give a rabbit. The only thing that kept me trudging -- despite the flu-like ache in my bones -- was the promise of my own bed, though it was thoughts of what would be around that bed that made me feel so sick, because the more glares I found aimed in my direction, the more I doubted I would find anything nice in its vicinity.
Straight ahead, there was an opening in the wall; it contained a double door-frame, but was lacking a door. Before the opening, there were kids sitting against the walls of the hallway, and beyond the frame, I could see many more.
As I approached the room, many of the eyes shifted to me, with the quickness and consistency of dominoes tumbling in a chain. They stared at me, ruthlessly or obliviously, or some mixture of the two, and not a single one turned away after having made initial contact. I felt two compulsions at the same time, one to look at them, and the other to continue looking straight ahead. After a momentary glance to the side, meeting their powerful glances, as ruthless as they were merciless, the other compulsion won out and I fell in line.
My breathing was beginning to pick up and I was getting chilled. What terrified me even more than the eyes on me were the ones that would soon set on me, and they did as I was lead into the bunker, every one of the dominoes falling in a second. I filled my lungs with air and clenched my jaw, though I was too numb to say how hard. The level of abject horror I felt in that instant was enough to shock me into complete stillness, and I expertly maintained this stillness while being lead across the graveyard of dominoes. I was glad it had been so shocking, since had it been any less or any more, I'd have likely done something to embarrass myself.
Moments before we reached my bed, my foot caught on my over-sized robe and I lost my balance, stumbling forward, fortunately kept from falling on my face by the hand of the Headmaster. There was some stifled laughter, and there was some not-so stifled laughter, though I did not have the courage to look around and see who was or wasn't.
A whimper escaped from my throat as I stood, and I prayed it went unheard, but I again lacked the courage to look around and verify. The last few steps to the bed I stared at the ground, a few steps ahead, to prevent any other mishaps. My jaw was still clenched, and the intense anxiety of having so many people staring at me at once made me feel as if I were toting heavy, black bags beneath my eyes, the eyes themselves feeling strangely deep within my skull – and they felt dry, though that may have just been the deeply internalized desire to sob. I tried to remain nonchalant, but I had little faith in the merits of my attempts.
When we arrived at my bed, there was a small group of kids occupying it – all of them human, their hair cut short, all except for the one blond who had grown it down to his ears, much like Daughtry. The covers were ruffled and one laid completely stretched out on them, another sitting on the thin, metal headboard and resting his feet on said covers. The last was on the floor looking up at them, at least until I entered the room.
They sucked their teeth at the unspoken directions to move, and they eyed me with contempt. When they walked away, they did not stop staring at me, nor did anybody else in the room. I stood awkwardly next to the bed, unsure of what to do next.
“Okay, guys, as you can see,” Daughtry's tone suddenly became powerful, and I wondered what had happened to the once soft-spoken person who had lead me to my doom, “we have a new brother. His name is Leonidus,” – I regretted being called by my entire name – “and as you can see, he is like Joseph, and is quite young. I expect all of you to treat him with respect and act as any older brother would, as he will surely need the guidance. Though, I trust all of you and have faith you will act accordingly.”
Some of the other “brothers” exchanged glances, and some of them looked at the headmaster, but at this point, most of the eyes were Tupac's fourth studio album, if they had ever left me in the first place. As much as I wanted to dismiss the menace in their eyes as paranoia, I was capable of little rationalization in my frazzled state, and instead felt that if they were indeed foxes forced to cohabitate with rabbits, than surely I was a carrot.
I took a brief look around my new home, not at all concerned with the specifics, more interested in getting a general idea of what I had walked into. There was, however, one person who caught my eye, his tail – the only tail in the room other than my own – whipping about curiously by his head as he stared at me.. His expression was of energetic curiosity, yet carefree in a way that I did not yet understand, and would not understand for a long while.
“Okay, little guy,” Daughtry kneeled down in front of me, so close I could smell the coffee on his breath. “Don't be shy now, alright? I know they're a tough looking lot, but they're not so bad. Go out and make some friends.” He stood up. “Lunch is at two. Just follow everybody else to the cafeteria and hop in line.”
I nodded, afraid I would cry if I spoke.
“I'm gonna go fill out your paperwork... alright? You know where my office is if you need anything. Anything.”
He gave me a smile, one with a soft-expression, and I could almost hear the quietness of his voice in his look. It calmed me a bit, because for a moment, despite the turmoil around me, it felt as if someone cared, and they weren't going away like Mrs. Shire had.
Until, of course, he went away to do his paperwork...
I sat on the edge of my bed and picked my teeth with my tongue, even though they were as empty as my stomach, and I was staring down at the floor, because every time I looked up, there was a different collection of 'brothers' staring at me. The desire to lay down and close my eyes was overwhelming, yet the fear of inviting any criticism from those who glared at me was too strong a deterrent, and instead, I remained completely still, waiting for my exhaustion to out-weigh my irrationality.
My fur stood on end when I noticed I was being approached by the group of kids who had been lingering on my bed when I had arrived, the simultaneous inception of both horror and relief resulting in a strange, all-over body tingle. The few times I glanced around the room, this group had seemed particularly menacing, and I had looked over at them more often than any other group, as well as any individual – barring one exception – and each time, I had found at least one of them staring back.
“Hey, buddy.” The blond haired one approached me. White flesh, green eyes, and a soft, but a naturally inauthentic expression, as if he were always lying, and inherently self-centered.
“That's a nice tail you got there.” He sat down uncomfortably close to me, so much so I could nearly feel the side of this thigh against mine. “Real furry and stuff.”
“O-oh.” I interrupted myself by swallowing, and my tail involuntarily whipped from the compliment. “Thanks.” I didn't smile, and he could probably tell by the heaviness of my lips and the shyness of my eyes I was skeptical of him and his remark.
“Mmm, yeah, she's something else.” The largest one, the same who had been sitting on the floor looking up at me spoke up, and in that moment, the blond haired one reached out and grabbed the center of my tail.
I gasped and felt my entire face immediately grow warm. “P-please don't do that!”
“What? This?” He slid his hand down my tail, toward the tip, using enough pressure so that I knew he wanted it to hurt. My entire body stiffened and my tail writhed in his hands.
“S-stop!” As much as I fought them, tears formed at the corners of my eyes, and my voice cracked..
“... Jeez,” he violently tossed my tail aside, and I clutched it tight against my opposite side. “I guess if you're gonna be such a baby about it.”
I took a deep breath and stole a momentary glance around the room. There were a few watching, some who seemed to even be enjoying it, but most acted as if it wasn't happening at all, though surely their obliviousness was feigned. Regardless of whether or not they felt some need to look at me or away, and regardless of my being thankful I was not being made a show of, I was incredibly off-put by the sudden attack and how it was received by my peers, and it became apparent to me how things would be in this new place, and this did little to help me stifle the cries rising from my chest to my throat.
“'e's probably jus' nervous.” The taller, skinnier one spoke up, the one who had been lying down the first time I saw him. “Look't ta me like 'e enjoyed it.”
“Ya think he enjoyed it, Ant?”
“Oh, I buhlieve so.”
“How about it, little kitty? You like it when I touch your tail? You want me to do it again?”
I didn't respond. I just stared down at the floor and kept my tail clutched in my hands.
“What's wrong, buddy? Cat got your tongue?” He reached over me for my tail with a quick swipe, but I pulled away before sliding several inches away. “Oh, something wrong?”
“I think 'e's shy.” Ant spoke again.
“Looks pretty shy to me.” The larger one added.
“Just shy, huh?” The blond one continued to stare at me with the same, inauthentic look. “How 'bout it, huh?” He swiped at my tail again. “I said how 'bout it?” After a third swipe, I was pressed against the board of the bed, and he lifted his hand again, but after keeping it suspended for several moments, surely to taunt me, he let it fall to his lap.
“Yeah, you liked it, didn't you? Otherwise you wouldn't be so shy. You want me to touch it again, don't you? Huh? Huh?” He grew closer to me with each word, his hand lifting again. “Yeah, you want me to touch it, don't you? You like it, huh?” He slowly reached over me, getting closer and closer to my tail, as if inviting me to make the mistake of pushing his hand away, testing me.
He laughed, and lightly tapped me on the cheek a few times. “Don't worry, bud.” He got close to my face. “No need to be so shy, 'cause see, I'm not a faggot like you. I wouldn't touch your faggot tail even if you asked me too.”
“Ha ha, look, he's crying.” The large one chimed in again.
“Yeah, that's because we know his secret. Isn't that right, little kitty? ...Huh? No answer? Too busy crying like a big pussy, huh? I guess it's fitting. A pussy crying like a pussy.”
“Y'know, Blon', I think 'e might be gittin' off wih you sittin' so close...”
“Oh, ya think so, Ant? Ya hear that, faggot? How about cha' make some space, you fuckin' pervert. Trying to pull your gay bullshit on me.”
“-Ah-ah-ah-ah. What? I can't understand you, kitty. Yeah, it's probably my fault, though. Don't speak pussy. Don't speak faggot, either. Guess we got ourselves a real situation.”
“I-I'm not a faggot.” I had stopped crying, but tears were still streaming down my face.
“I don't know. You look like a faggot, act like a faggot, and I saw you gettin' off on having your tail touched. Sounds like you're a faggot'ta me. In fact, I'm tired of sittin' next to you. Who knows what you'll try and do next, disgusting fuck.” Blond stood.
They all stared down at me, at least presumably. I kept my gaze at the ground, too scared to look up at them, and I kept my tail close.
“Listen up, pussy, little bit uh'dvice. You'd best keep away from us and not do anything stupid. Nothin' to piss us off.”
“Nothin' gay neither.” Ant spoke up.
“Yeah, especially nothin' gay. Cause if we see any of your faggot bullshit we'll be right back over here and we'll make you pay.”
“Yeah, we'll be on you somethin' fierce: smack that fag expression of your ugly face.”
“Maybe take that precious little tail of yours, too. You want that?” Blond closed in on my face again, but I kept looking down. “I said, do you want that? -Hey, look at me.” He paused for several moments, but I kept looking down. “I said fucking look at me.” He grabbed my chin and forced my head up to face him. “Aww, look guys, the faggot's crying again, what a surprise.” He aggressively pushed my head away as he let me go.
The last thing I remember is the word 'pussy' before they walked away, though, thankfully at that point, it had long lost its impact. The only positive about them having come over was that they did an excellent job of breaking the ice, and I was no longer afraid to lay down in my bed. I laid on my side and buried my face in my hands and cried for a bit, stifling my sobs as to not further embarrass myself. I wondered if people were looking at me, though I hardly had the courage to check. There was a strange sensation of not caring about onlookers, as well simultaneously caring deeply, devastated by my poor introduction and by how poorly I was going to fit in.