CHAPTER ONE: A SILVER KEY
She would keep her secrets lodged in her throat, tucked away behind a silver lock that was one and whole with the fair skin on her smooth neck. The silver keyhole had always been there, resting in the shade of her rounded chin, ever since she was born. Also part of her was a silver key hanging upon the delicate chain that emerged from a minute bit of puckered flesh upon the nape of her neck. When she looked at herself standing before a mirror, she looked as though she merely wore a necklace.
Satu's entire family was just like her. Her mother, her father, her younger brother, and her infant sister all had a silver lock securely molded upon their necks, right above their collarbones. They also each possessed a silver key strung upon a silver chain that protruded from the back of their necks, just as they all had fair skin and dark hair. They belonged to the people known as the Key-Keepers.
In the quiet town of Vanhemmat, in the country of Haafiz, where auburn maple trees and luxurious rose bushes guarded homes, where gilded carriages were steered through the streets by mechanical clockwork stallions, Satu's family and fellow Key-Keepers did not dare to bare their necks. Satu's mother, Dariya, wore dresses with high buttoned collars that embraced her slender neck with a hem of white lace, while Satu's father, Rustam, donned cravats whenever he headed to the university to give lectures. They both held the same sartorial expectations for their children.
Or, perhaps, only in terms modesty.
"Satu, your scarf is lovely," stated Dariya when she served her two elder children fried eggs, toast, and raspberry jam for breakfast. "But I was under the impression that the principal enforced the rule that your clothes must be grey, brown, black, or white."
Satu sighed as she sipped her mug of morning milk. Then, she began to shovel steaming eggs into her mouth, oblivious to the savory taste, as she had lost count of the number of times she had eaten her mother's fried eggs over the years. Rather than looking like the demure ten-year-old school girl she was supposed to be, she donned a violet-and-crimson-striped buttoned dress, with puffed sleeves and a tiered skirt that ended right above her knobby knees. Fingerless gloves reached up to her elbows, looking as if untamed green foliage with pastel-hued wildflowers were twisting their way over her arms. Her blue tights had a pattern of white stars, and her scuffed laced boots looked more fitting for a soldier marching into a battlefield than a girl skipping off to class. Her scarf was black, with a pattern of vermilion hearts. A large red bow that tilted upon Satu's head topped off her entire ensemble.
"Oh, Mother," Satu replied with exasperation as she began to spread jam onto a slice of wheat toast with a knife, "everyone at school is so boring. Boring to the point that even what they wear and how they talk and play makes me sleep. At least dressing up will keep me awake in class!"
Before Dariya could respond, her seven-year-old son, Draven, bounced in his seat, shouting, "Mother! Mother! I've got a secret I need to tell you!"
For a boy who was obediently dressed in his pressed black trousers, vest, white buttoned shirt, and crimson necktie, Draven was boisterously playful, tugging on his mother's shoulder until she let out a laugh and bent to let Draven whisper in her ear. A light smile fluttered on her lips, and she loosened the first two buttons of her dress so as to expose the silver lock upon her neck and brought out her necklace to insert the key into the lock. With a flick of the wrist, Draven's secret was safe with the click of the key.
Draven is becoming such a smitten pet to Mother, Satu thought, privately mocking her brother's neat appearance.
"Time to walk to school," announced Dariya after she rebuttoned her collar and glanced at the brass clock hanging upon the kitchen wall. The clock looked as if he had been stripped of its face, exposing the intricate machinery normally hidden from the world, the way animals are skinned to reveal muscles and bones.
As Draven picked up his small, square black bookbag by the main door of the house, Satu stuffed one of her favorite books from her room upstairs into an owl-shaped schoolbag, sewn from patches of fiery and russet-colored fabrics. Once they both stepped out of the house, Draven waved to three schoolboys his own age waiting by the gate, running towards them as they all simultaneously fell into chatters and jokes in a language only seven-year-old boys could grasp. Satu watched them walk to school ahead of her, becoming smaller and smaller as they scurried down the smooth streets past mechanical horses, brass trolleys, and sharply-dressed adults off to work, until the boys made a sharp left and disappeared behind a corner.
Once they disappeared from view, Satu yanked her scarf free from her neck. She bared the lock upon her skin, letting her key fall to her chest as if it were a real necklace, and stuffed her scarf into her schoolbag, feeling as if she had shaken a burden of secrecy off her back. But when she arrived through the tall gates of Stearne Elementary School, holding her head high with a smile as her silver key bounced against her chest, she was oblivious to the stares. The girls in their pressed white dresses and polished patent shoes whispered among themselves. The boys in their ironed charcoal shirts and neatly combed hair pointed and snickered. Yet, Satu kept a smile on her face, delighted to feel bold enough to come to school in such a sartorial state.
In her classroom, with its tall glass windows that peered out at the green field and the playground behind the school, Satu seated herself in the front row. She always did so, reveling over the feeling of polished wood beneath her fingers, the spiraling black iron that connected the chair to the desk and formed the legs of the chair, looking like lace. After setting down her notebook and laying out her freshly sharpened pencils, Satu looked up and turned to the girl next to her.
"Good morning, Frida!"
Frida, a small, slight girl with toffee-colored skin and golden-toasted hair, glanced at Satu with wide eyes before turning her back on Satu to speak to the girl who sat on her right. Satu merely turned back to the front of the classroom, perching her chin upon her hands and shrugging to herself.
Two girls stopped in front of Satu's desk. Lilja and Nora also had dark hair and fair skin like hers, though Lilja was skinnier than Satu, while Nora had a face that was a tad rounder than Satu's. They also wore scarves around their necks.
"Satu," said Nora in a low whisper, "why are you dressed like that? Your lock is showing."
Satu shrugged. "I don't like having to wear boring clothes."
"They're laughing at you, Satu," whispered Lilja, glancing at the clusters of girls in the back of the room who were suppressing giggles while pointing at Satu.
Lilja tugged Nora's sleeve. "Let's just go. Ms. Juttite is about to start class." When the two girls scurried to their seats a few rows behind Satu, Satu merely shook her head to herself and turned her attention to the front of the classroom.
Ms. Juttite, the instructor, swept before the pupils in her long, high-necked brown dress as she scratched out the day's lesson on the blackboard with white chalk. Her handwriting was straight and orderly, like soldiers marching through a street. When she announced that the first lesson of the day was to read a story, Satu sat straighter, and her hand immediately dived into her desk when Ms. Juttite instructed them to take out their reading and comprehension textbooks and to turn to page 364.
Once upon a time, a young widow watched a pair of mated robins feed and tend to their nest of chicks. The sight was so touching, she mused to herself, "If only I could have a beautiful pair of children, a boy and a girl. Then I shall die happy."
Within a year, her wish was granted. On a winter night, she had given birth to a healthy boy and girl. But the pain of childbirth was so agonizing, and her euphoria was so great, she simply died as her newborns cried their first breaths. Without neither mother nor father to watch over them, the brother and sister became separated. The boy had been left alone in the forest, at the mercy of the ravenous creatures and the moonless evenings. A mother wolf, touched by the infant's misfortune, raised him alongside her pups, who licked and played with the boy as if he was one of their kind. So, the boy grew up as part of the pack of wolves, learning to hunt and care for his four-legged siblings and parents.
One day, as he chased a hare for his dinner, the hare suddenly stopped and turned to stare at the boy. Before the boy could pounce on him, the hare pointed at the boy and fell back with roars of laughter.
"What's so funny?" demanded the infuriated boy.
"You're not a wolf!" chortled the hare. "You're a human! In fact, you're only a boy!"
"What are you talking about? I don't know what a human is! I'm a wolf!"
The boy was so confused with anger, he had forgotten to kill the hare. The hare bounced away in a fit of giggles. So, the boy was forced to return home with an empty stomach.
Within days, the boy forgot about the hare's words. As he walked through the forest one evening, a great horned owl landed upon a branch above him.
"Good evening, Master Owl," greeted the boy.
The owl shook its head.
"My boy, I am afraid the hare's words were true. You are not a wolf, but a human."
Before the boy could respond, the owl said, "You have a sister. Not your wolf sisters, but a human sister who shares your blood and walks on two legs, like you. Would you like to know who she is?"
The boy thought for a moment. He looked as his two bare feet, knowing that he had never witnessed another being with feet like his. He gazed back at the owl and nodded. The owl then led the boy to a glistening lake. After he instructed the boy to stir the water's surface clockwise with a stick, the waters glowed and showed a girl reading upon a marble balcony overlooking a rose garden. She was the most enchanting creature the boy had ever seen, with her fair sunlight-morning tresses, rosy cheeks, and a flowing dress the hue of lilacs.
"After your human mother died," the owl explained, "you and your sister were separated."
"Could I meet her?" asked the boy.
"I'm afraid not. Look at you!" The owl pointed at the water's surface, where the image of the boy's sister was gone. Instead, a scraggly, dirt-smeared boy with long, thick, mud-congealed hair gawked back at him.
"You have been living among wolves for so long, you would not be welcomed among humans."
"But what about my sister? Does she remember me? Miss me?"
"She has no memories of you, any more than you have of her. Both of you were only infants when you separated. She was taken in by nobility, while you were left in the woods. If you seek her, you would only be jeered at, trampled upon, and perhaps even hunted by humans."
When the boy returned to his pack that evening and huddled with his wolf siblings for slumber, all he could think of was his human sister. For several months, thoughts of her did not leave him alone. One day, he ventured to the city. He walked out in broad daylight into the streets to see his sister, in a peony silk gown, climb into a gilded carriage. She did not notice a dirt-smeared, wild-haired skinny boy staring at her from afar. The boy could only stand there, frozen with awe and longing. When the red-caped local hunter raised an arrow at the boy, only then did the girl turn her head to glance over at what was happening.
Satu flipped the page over to see if the story continued. Another story, one with a vulgar illustration of yellow flowers, faced her instead. She looked up from her book to see that her classmates were still reading, or at least finishing up the final paragraph.
That's it? she thought. What kind of ending was that?
"Class, I know that several of you may be puzzled by that ending," remarked Ms. Juttite when more students began to look up at her and create a low din. "However, it was intentionally written so as to facilitate a discussion based upon this story.
"The question that I am supposed to ask you is this: did the boy make the right choice? Should he have forgotten all about his sister, or was he right to go to the city to see her?"
Satu's hand shot up.
"I think the boy made the wrong choice. He should have stayed with his wolf pack."
Although they were not particularly loud, the boys and girls sitting behind Satu did not bother to suppress their snickers.
"You're wrong!" Jann, a golden-haired boy sitting two desks away from Satu, frowned at her. "He had a dream to pursue, and he was determined to go after it!"
Ms. Juttite placidly nodded. She glanced at Emina, a girl with chestnut ringlets, who shyly gazed down at the top her desk. When called on, she squeaked, "I agree with Jann. The boy made the right choice."
"After all, what's wrong with wanting to see a long-lost sister?" drawled Mariel, who sat in the center of the room, exactly four desks behind Satu. Her posture was as straight as a rod, her periwinkle eyes flashing as she fluidly swept her gleaming cornsilk hair over her shoulders. All of her classmates turned to look at her, for she was the daughter of the wealthiest man in town.
"He wondered why he had only two feet, and why the hare was laughing at him." continued Mariel. "When the owl told him about his sister, how could the boy deny an opportunity to go see her?"
Several children murmured in approving tones. Satu spotted a few girls named Olga, Roisin, and Helen, clustered together as they smiled and nodded. Simultaneously, they each glanced at Satu, giggling as they all snatched away their condescending eyes. Satu's cheeks burned.
After Ms. Juttite acknowledged her raised arm again, Satu retorted, "But if he had chosen to forget his desire to see his sister, he would be much happier. He should be content to remain with his wolf pack, who have raised him, rather than going after his human sister, who didn't even know who he was, and getting killed by the hunter."
"Satu, if you had a long-lost sister, would you go see her?" Helen's eyes were gleaming, daring Satu to hesitate.
"Of course I would want to see her," answered Satu. "But I wouldn't give up my life to do so."
"You're so stupid!" Helen laughed along with Olga and Roisin. "The story didn't state that the boy was killed. The hunter raised his arrow at the boy, but then, the girl noticed the boy. I think it means that the girl stopped the hunter just before he shot the boy, and then ran over to meet him."
"Well, I think it was wrong for the owl to tell the boy about his long-lost sister in the first place," retorted Satu. "It only gave the boy unrealistic desires."
"The question we're not being asked is if the owl is right or wrong, Satu," snapped Jann. "The question is if the boy is right or wrong."
The rest of the class burst into mirth.
"That's enough!" With the barking clap of her large hands, Ms. Juttite silenced the room. When the laughs fell to a subdued hush, Ms. Juttite's eyes flashed from the faces of girls and boys who were still sneering at Satu, and then turned to glance at Satu's clenched jaw, her defiant back facing the rest of the class while her eyes were angrily riveted to a blank space on the blackboard.
"Now, class, take out your arithmetic books. We'll work on the problems we did not finish last week until it's time for physical education."
Satu slapped the thin math book with its glossy green paper-bond cover on her desk. Her frown faded as she let her classmate's moans and groans wash over her, all while she pricked the white pages with messy numbers. She was so immersed with scratching out sevens and fives and threes and tens that she had barely realized, later, it was time to line up in front of the classroom door to go outside. She was the last one to scuttle her way to the end of the line, blinking down at her boots as she barely heard the droned-out tones of Ms. Juttite's scolding her for dawdling while her classmates laughed.
The sky was a pure blue, the air warm with buttery sunshine. While her classmates chattered amicably amongst themselves with a spring in their feet, Satu fidgeted beneath the sun, irritated by how the rays felt as though it was pricking her arms and face.
Ms. Demiale, the physical education instructor, was a tall, lean woman. Her brown, high-necked dress seemed too feminine for her broad shoulders and muscled arms. Even her face lacked delicacy, rendered even more severe by the tight bun atop her head, her mousy hair slicked smooth against the sides.
"Well, class, today, we shall continue playing bat-and-ball. I must say, I am pleased with the performances you all have been--yes, Satu?"
Satu lowered her raised hand. "What if we don't want to play bat-and-ball?"
All her classmates looked at her. Ms. Demiale was frowning. She crossed her arms.
"Satu, do you ever tell Ms. Juttite, 'I don't want to read'?"
"Correct. As your physical education instructor, you have to participate in whatever activity I tell you to partake in. Understand?"
Satu hung her head as she glared up at Ms. Demiale. "Yes."
"Good." Ms. Demiale puffed into her whistle, emitting a shrieky squeal from the small metal organ between her lips.
"Get into your teams!" she ordered. "Team A, you're up! Team B, in the field. Get your gloves, Team B!"
As Team A scurried to line up by the iron gate to wait for their turn to bat, Satu trailed behind her teammates on the second team. When she picked up one of the moldy brown gloves from the bottom of the crate, a boy named Grigory, who had just shoved on his glove, told Satu, "Just be in the outfield. Far outfield."
Satu nodded. She didn't mind being where the grass in the field was taller, enabling her to huddle out of sight if she wanted to, curled up with the glove as a pillow. Through the stalks of grass, her classmates were nothing more than colored blurs in the distance. When she laid down, she heard the smack of the ball with the wooden bat, followed by the cries and cheers as her classmates dashed to obtain victory for their own team. Satu turned on her side, shielding her face from the sun with one outstretched arm, which weighed down on her cheek. But as she tried to let the quiet rustlings of the grass lull her into a dream, there was a sudden, momentary high-pitched whizz in the air.
The hard ball had inadvertently bludgeoned Satu in the arm, prompting her to yelp.
"Satu!" Ms. Demiale's voice was cracking with censure, accompanied by the laughs of her students. "What are you doing there? Sleeping? Stand up!"
With a frown writhing on her face, Satu pushed herself up, feeling as lethargic as a rag doll. As she stood there, her back hunched and her head hanging, everyone else's backs were turned to her once again. She stepped backwards, retreating into the taller stalks of grass that stood up to her waist. She watched her classmates switch positions, with Team B moving to line up by the gate, while Team A hustled to get gloves for the field. She sank into the grass, stretching her legs when she sat down. As she inhaled the sweetness of the plants, she traced one of the white stars on her blue tights with a fingertip. Perhaps her classmates were right about the boy wanting to see his long-lost sister. But he had been warned by the owl that he could be killed if he went to see her. He could have stayed with his wolf pack, who had raised him when he was left to die in the woods as a baby. He did not have to chase something out of reach. His sister was an unattainable being, surrounded by the comforts of nobility and human civilization. How could a girl like that, with no knowledge of a long-lost brother, ever acknowledge a feral boy who just so happened to appear on the streets?
There was a howl that pricked Satu's ears. The ball flew towards her once again. She crossed her arms over her crouched head, fearful of being hit by the ball again. Suddenly, she felt the ball pound into her palm. Thankfully, she was wearing her glove.
When she heard a few of her classmates question the ball's whereabouts, Satu shot up to her feet. "I caught it!"
"He's out!" yelled Ms. Demiale.
Instead of letting out a cheer, as they usually would for other classmates, Satu's classmates merely glared at her. The most venomous glares were from the classmates lined up along the gate, which she had to approach now that she could no longer hide out in the grass. She was not the only who walked to the end of line. Grigory, the boy who Satu had sent out, was glaring at her as he was marching to the end of line, his fists clenched as tightly as steel springs by his sides.
"What were you doing out there, you stupid girl? You're on our team!"
"You nasty traitor!" Roisin seemed upset, but was also smirking. "You though you could avoid playing by hiding out there in the grass, did you?"
Jann was crimson with anger. Even his white-gold hair now seemed to have a slight pink tinge to it. "You're so stupid! Stupid enough to go out that far!"
Satu slammed the ball to the ground. It half-bounced, half-skittered away from her, fearful of any more potential blows from her hands.
"It's just a game!" Satu cried. "Why do you all have to be upset? Games are supposed to be fun!"
"Games are only fun if you win them," snapped Grigory, who stood a full head taller than Satu. "But you're so stupid, I don't think you know what 'fun' means."
Satu's face was boiling. Her lips contorted with comical-looking fury, causing Grigory and the other boys to laugh until she ripped her glove off and slapped Grigory's face with it.
Now Grigory was twisting with anger. Unlike Satu, who appeared comical when she was angry, Grigory looked like a vicious bulldog.
"You brat!" He lunged for Satu's neck, gripping it as if Satu was a squealing baby bird, fragile enough to have her bones crushed by a boy's hands. There was about five seconds of him crushing her throat, stealing the breath out of her, before she saw Ms. Demiale's large calloused hands yank Grigory away from her. As she reprimanded Grigory, who had stumbled onto the ground, Satu was crouched over, holding her throat and sobbing for breath. She realized that her face was damp with tears.
"And you, Satu!" Ms. Demiale now turned on Satu, while Grigory was slouching on the ground, his arms crossed over his chest, glaring down at the grass. "You're not without your faults for what just happened. You slapped Grigory."
"He was yelling at me!" protested Satu, a sobbing gasp ripping her voice. "Didn't you hear him? He kept calling me stupid!"
"That's no reason for you to hit him. You should learn to control your temper."
"But I wasn't being bad! Really, I wasn't!"
"You were just an idiot!" shouted Grigory.
"Enough!" Ms. Demiale crossed her arms over her chest, the brown lace along the buttons of her dress bristling with her frown. "Both of your parents will be sent letters of what has happened today. Ms. Juttite and I will see to that. You both ought to be ashamed of yourselves, behaving like savages. Now get up and go back and join your team."
Grigory nimbly leapt to his feet, running back to join his brood of friends, who were hooting and amiably slapping him on the back. Satu felt as though her joints were creaking as she gingerly rose to her feet, like a marionette slowly lifted by a puppeteer's strings. She trudged her way to the end of the line as her teammates were unsuccessfully attempting to be covert with their smirks and whispers. Satu could only stare at the toes of her boots as she felt other eyes pricking at her skin through her clothes.
After Ms. Demiale blew her whistle to signal the end of class, and school children from other classes in Stearne Elementary School came bursting out through the school doors for recess, Satu, her head hanging towards the ground, her crimson bow wilting upon her black hair, made her way to the shade of her favorite tree, which stood a considerable distance away from the metal playground and the area of the field where other children played several variations of ballgames. She pulled out a small book from her dress pocket, its creamy white pages bound in faux black leather. When she sank against the warm, familiar trunk of the tree, she started to read. It was a book of poems she loved, written by a writer named Tuomas der Traumer, who had died about two-hundred years ago, and was never quite appreciated for his writings when he was alive. Her father had given it to her on her tenth birthday back in October, almost a year ago. While other children wanted to run about like wolves and rabbits, Satu wished she could immerse herself in Tuomas's lyrical compositions, his words as delicate as lace veils, as warm as fresh-baked bread, as sweet as a bird singing among apple blossoms in a tree.
Dear child, the winter magic in your care
Dances where moonlight paints in hues so bright
Creating an evening garden full of light, full of stars
Full of the blushes from a maiden's heart
The only wish I have
Is for the snowflakes in your tresses
To take you like flight upon a pheonix wing
Like roses who are the last to bloom
I forsee a storybook, a tale where whispering ink
Satu abruptly felt her bow ripped off of her head, along with several strands of her black hair. She looked up to see Mariel, her honey-gold hair falling behind her shoulders in a silky sheet, her pink lips stretched into a sneer. She stood right in front of Satu, shooting her blue eyes down upon her, with Dara, Lea, Frida, Olga, Roison, and Helen forming a ring around Satu. The only thing behind Satu was the tree. She looked up at her red bow, which was dangling between Mariel's forefinger and thumb.
"Give that back!" Satu shot out a hand, trying to reclaim her bow, only to solidly fall back onto her bottom as Mariel fluidly lifted her arm higher. She and the other girls were laughing, their voices shrill and burning with delight at Satu's vulnerability.
"Why should I?" trilled Mariel, her voice as airy as a wisp of cloud. "You look silly with it."
Satu stood up, but this only caused Mariel to scamper off. As Satu tried to chase her, the other girls closed off the circle they had been forming, closing in on Satu. She felt like a mouse giving a futile stare up at a merciless mob of cats, for she was considerably smaller than they were.
"Oooh, what is this book?" Helen snatched up the book of poetry by Tuonas der Traumer, rifling through the pages. Satu felt a rush of anger as Helen's skinny fingers molested the white pages.
"That's mine!" Satu tried to lunge at Helen, but Dara, Lea, and Frida were gripping her arms and the back of her dress. Olga and Roison joined in restraining Satu, both of them yanking back Satu's long black hair.
"Why do you always read at recess, Satu?" asked Helen. She was inspecting one of the pages in Satu's book, as if she was scrutinizing something distasteful.
"Because she's a freak with no friends!" laughed Lea.
"Your clothes are always weird," shouted Frida into Satu's ear, making Satu wince. "You act weird, and you're ugly."
"Poetry is for old people." Helen yanked out a page from the book.
It sounded as if she had crushed someone's bones.
"Stop that, Helen!" Satu started to cry as Helen threw the ragged page over her shoulder.
"Why should I?" Helen was eyeing Satu with bright interest, daring her to spit out a convincing plea.
"It's my favorite author's book! And...and..." Olga and Roisin's grip on her hair felt like needles in her scalp. "My father gave me that book for my tenth birthday last year!"
"Aw, isn't that sweet?" Helen grinned as she tore out another two pages, letting the straggly paper fall to her feet. She now walked toward Satu, the book's pages flapping her in hands like a wounded bird thrashing in vain to fly away from a predator's claws.
"I guess he'll have to buy you another copy now, will he?" Helen held the book open in front of Satu's face. Through her tears, Satu saw that it was turned to page seventy-six, to a poem titled "The Illusionist's Carnival." All she could do was stare at the page, try to snatch bits of jeweled words as Helen's hand reached over the top of the book, starting to tear the page downwards.
Realizing that Helen was actually standing in front of her, Satu kicked Helen's twig-slender legs. As Helen screamed and dropped the book, Dara and Lea twisted her arms, and Olga and Roisin yanked harder on her hair. She thought her scalp would bleed, and she heard the word "Brat" beaten into her ears.
Frida was fingering the chain that protruded from the back of Satu's neck, and poked at the key that hung on it.
"You Key-Keepers shouldn't let your keys hang out," she drawled. "Otherwise, this..." She was pulling on the chain, pulling it hard. "This can happen."
The pain was as excrutiating as if Satu was having an arm wrenched off her shoulder, as if ten needles were pushed into the nape of her neck. The pain was so great, she couldn't scream. She writhed there, upon her feet, surrounded by girls, her mouth hanging open as if trying to emit a scream. Helen was rolling on the ground, among the scattered pages and abused book, clutching her stomach as she burst into howling laughters at the sight of Satu's face.
Satu felt something hot and fluidly smooth stream down her back. The girls holding on to her now squealed and stepped away, leaving Satu to collapse onto her knees and hands.
One end of the chain had torn off of Satu's neck. Satu felt for the other end. Though her skin was wet with blood and stung horribly, the other end of the chain was still firmly in place.
The ripped end of the chain had slipped down her front. She noticed her key was missing and frantically felt the grass for it before noticing that it lay a foot away from her. As she crawled towards it, she saw Helen bending down, a hand outstretched like a claw after its prey.
No, it was Satu's. It was Satu's key and no one else's. Satu snatched the key just as Helen's fingers brushed against the back of her hand. When she shot up to her feet, she punched Helen's cheek, with the key safely hidden in her fist.
Helen ran off, bawling, but Satu crumpled onto her side, sobbing and hiding her face in her dirty fists as she lay amongst the torn pages of her favorite poems. She was so absorbed in her tears and the frightful sting on the back of her neck that she did not notice the school nurse running towards her.
When Satu stumbled her way across the playfield, escorted to the nurse's office, with the loose chain dangling from one side of her neck and down her front, she caught a glimpse of her crimson hairbow drowning in the thick muck of a mud puddle.