Farewell to Lynwood
From the moment Suhel Caradoc laid eyes on the Lynwood School for Girls, she knew she did not belong there.
The little Christmas-coloured Lupe poked out her snout from the window of her carriage, eyeing the grounds with distaste. The lawns were immaculate, the stately trees devoid of low-hanging branches for climbing, and the school building itself was the most boring grey monolith Suhel had ever seen. Even her parents’ house was more interesting because they liked to buy expensive things to show off, but Lynwood seemed to scream dullness—or rather, to whisper it politely.
Suhel’s dark green ears drooped. Barring holidays, this was to be her home for the next seven years of her education, and she felt a pit of dread well up in her stomach.
“You’re slouching,” her governess said.
Suhel stiffened and clenched her paws in her lap, shooting an exasperated glare at the aging, thin-lipped red Blumaroo who sat across from her. She and Miss Matilla had never gotten along, but Father paid Miss Matilla too much for the governess to quit.
“I can’t help it,” the Lupe muttered. “These boots pinch my toes and make my paws hurt. And you’ve braided my hair much too tightly.” Sitting up straight was just too much to ask on top of all of the other discomfort Suhel was experiencing. Her long, curly black hair hung in two glossy plaits over her shoulders, although a few bits of frizz had managed to defiantly sneak their way free.
“You,” Miss Matilla sniffed, making her dangling nose wobble, “are going to enter Lynwood looking like a respectable little girl, and not a Gremble.”
“I like Grembles,” Suhel said under her breath. “There’s a family of them that lives in the old oak tree in the park, and sometimes I share my sandwiches with them—“
Miss Matilla groaned. “Oh, is that why you’re always running away to the park? To waste food on Petpets?”
Suhel scowled and said nothing, ducking her head. Of course that wasn’t why she ran away. She ran away because she liked to climb trees and dig holes and build fortresses out of branches and stone and pretend she was a mighty queen of a forest realm. She could not do any of those things in her own house—of course she tried, but the maids made such a fuss that it just wasn’t worth it.
So it was either sneak out to the park, or laze around the nursery, not feeling particularly useful or wanted. Her parents never spoke to her except at supper, and it was just a token “how was your day” before they moved on to discussing, with the other adults, parties and business and news around the Haunted Woods.
Suhel thought this was fine, as none of that interested her anyway. She wanted to be outside, among growing things, where she could breathe in life and have it acknowledge her in return. And she wanted to be with Neopets who she could actually help, not Neopets who treated her like a talking accessory.
It seemed there would be none of that at Lynwood, though. The only activity going on outside was other girls being dropped off by their governesses. Some of their farewells were quite teary as Uni carriages pulled away. Suhel doubted Miss Matilla could ever evoke that level of emotion.
Their own carriage stopped and Miss Matilla opened the door. “Out you go,” she said, shooing her charge. “Thank the driver,” she added, as if Suhel needed to be reminded to do everything.
The Lupe’s fur bristled, but she managed a thank-you to the purple Uni who pulled their carriage. He nodded in reply, and Suhel fetched her trunk from the luggage compartment.
For a moment she and Miss Matilla stared at each other, and Suhel wondered if the governess felt as awkward as Suhel did. Clearly something was supposed to happen here, but they lacked the connection to properly go through with it. This was not really a farewell as much as it was merely a Neopet escorting a child to boarding school.
Finally Suhel decided to take the initiative. “Good-bye,” she said, in a sort of tone that insinuated the carriage had better get a move on.
Miss Matilla had an odd expression on her face as she seemed to struggle to figure out what to say. Finally, as the carriage began to move, she said, “Don’t embarrass your parents.”
And then she was gone.
Suhel heaved a sigh of relief. She felt more her own Neopet than she had ever been. But she was not really on her own—now she belonged to Lynwood.
The thought made her snout wrinkle as she regarded the featureless grey building once again, and began to pull her trunk up to the doors.
A grating giggling made her glance over her shoulder to see a red Kougra looking her way. The other girl flounced down the walk like she owned Neopia, tail held high and long brown hair cascading behind her. “You must be a first-year,” the Kougra said. “I’ve not seen you before.”
“Aye,” Suhel said, trying to size up this other student. The Kougra did not really look any older than her.
“I’m Lexora Fitchet,” the Kougra said, looking down her broad nose at the Lupe. “I’m a second-year.”
Suhel decided she did not like the way Lexora looked at her. “I’m Suhel Caradoc,” she said, moving for the doors.
Lexora stepped in front of her. “Caradoc? What sort of a name is that? You’re not from Bogshot, are you? Because you speak funny—sort of the way I’ve always imagined Bogshot folk to speak.”
Suhel noticed that Lexora did, indeed, have a different accent than she was used to. “I’m from Kincaird,” she said. “It’s in the western Haunted Woods.”
“Kincaird? Up in the highlands?” Lexora pulled a disgusted face. “No wonder your accent is so… rustic.”
“Move,” Suhel grunted, nudging her aside. The more she was around Lexora the less she liked it. The Lupe’s bright green eyes flicked up to her surroundings. Far away, past the lawn and the manicured trees, lay the Haunted Woods, wild and beckoning. The very thought of exploring such a place made Suhel’s heart leap.
And then of course reality pulled it back down again. “What does your daddy do?” Lexora asked, her paws on her hips and her striped tail lashing.
“He’s in business,” Suhel said, not bothering to stop this time. “I think.” At least, that was what she had gleaned from supper conversations that she was left out of.
“So’s my daddy,” Lexora said from behind her. “He’s one of the wealthiest businesspets in Neovia, you know!” Her voice rose as Suhel retreated. “His company imports from Shenkuu! This dress cost him two hundred thousand Neopoints!”
“What a waste,” Suhel grumbled to herself as she pulled her trunk up the steps and barged through the door into the entry hall. They could make her go to Lynwood, she thought, but they couldn’t make her like it.
As it turned out, she would have no problem disliking it, because there was plenty to dislike about Lynwood. For starters, all of the staff seemed to have taken notes from Miss Matilla, as none of them seemed to actually like children very much, but did enjoy ordering them around. As Suhel learned from orientation, every hour of the students’ school day would be scheduled, filled to the brim with activities supposedly designed to cultivate the minds of young Neopets. Suhel thought it would only succeed in turning them into drones.
The girls weren’t much better. They were all like Lexora, hopeless snobs who spent their time gossiping and comparing their wealth. Their idea of fun was pulling pranks on each other, and the older girls especially liked terrorizing the first-years. Suhel could only conclude that they were all mad, and stayed out of their way as much as possible.
And to make matters even worse, no one went outside. Suhel caught tidbits of information that suggested physical education was to be part of the curriculum, but it sounded like the focus would be on team sports. The thought of having to accomplish anything with these schoolmates made Suhel despair. They were as utterly unreliable as girls could be, and would take any excuse to stir up drama.
So for the next few days, before the term started, Suhel paced the long halls of Lynwood like a caged beast – which she very much felt like – and stared longingly out windows at the Haunted Woods. She belonged there more than anywhere else, she was sure of it. But she also felt she had to resign herself to what her parents expected of her and what polite society expected of her. As Miss Matilla said, she could not disappoint them.
Those thoughts fled her mind after the first day of school.
It happened in her first class: grammar. Not Suhel’s best subject, but not her worst. She could read and write well enough, but the endless technicalities of language bored her. She would much rather be learning about living things, or more practical subjects.
But she had to give Lynwood a try, if only because she saw no other alternative. So she sat at her desk and pulled out her grammar text, a pawful of paper, and a pen and ink.
“For your first assignment,” the Jetsam teacher said, “you will write a five-page composition on the conjugation of verbs, as discussed in the text.”
“Oh, wake me when it’s over,” Lexora whispered, rolling her eyes. The school was small enough that there was only one grammar class for both first- and second-years, and Lexora sat, unfortunately, next to Suhel.
The Kougra glanced over at the Lupe and lowered her eyelids. “Caradoc, your ink’s on the wrong side. You’ll spill it that way. Heavens, they don’t teach you anything right in Kincaird, do they?”
Suhel had made it a point by now to ignore her. She always placed her inkwell to her left, or else she would have to reach across her paper to recharge her pen. She was not about to sacrifice efficiency because a second-year told her she was doing something wrong. Snout bent toward her desk, she began to write with all of the enthusiasm one can possibly muster when writing about the conjugation of verbs.
Something moved in front of her and a sharp crack split the air—followed by a stinging pain in Suhel’s knuckles. She yelped, dropping the pen which splattered ink all over her first paragraph, and shook out her paw. “What—“
“Miss Caradoc,” the teacher said, standing above her and wielding a yardstick menacingly. “Proper young ladies write with their right paws.”
Suhel narrowed her eyes and rubbed her paw, which still smarted. “I’ve always written with my left paw,” she said. “I don’t see the harm in it.”
The Jetsam blinked, as if surprised she was actually being spoken back to. “It’s aberrant,” she insisted. “We shall have none of that here, do you understand me? Lynwood is a school where girls are trained to integrate into society.”
Something in Suhel broke. She stood up and growled, her ears pitched forward. “I think that’s stupid,” she said. The other girls had all stopped writing to watch, but Suhel didn’t care. If she was going to make a scene, it was going to be about something that mattered. Maybe that would show them all. “There’s nothing wrong with writing left-pawed—it’s just another one of your stupid rules that exist for no reason.”
“Rules,” the teacher snapped, “are the building blocks of civilisation! They’re what separate us from the Petpets! Now, be a proper young lady and mind your manners!”
“Maybe I’m not a proper young lady!” Suhel snarled, her eyes wide. All of the frustration and hurt and repression she had been feeling all her life suddenly came bubbling to the surface, and oh, it felt good. “I hate your stupid rules, and I don’t want to integrate into society! I want to be myself!”
The Jetsam gasped. “I beg your pardon! Miss Caradoc, if the headmistress hears of your defiance—“
Suhel grinned, showing her fangs. “I won’t be around by then.” Splashing her inkwell at the teacher’s face, she turned and ran.
Ignoring the cries of alarm from the other girls, Suhel tore out of the classroom and down the hall. She would have jumped out a window, but she was on the third floor and didn’t trust her climbing skills that much, so she made for the stairs.
“Miss Caradoc!” The teacher’s harsh tones echoed down the hall. “Get back here this instant!”
They couldn’t make her, Suhel realised as she bounded down the steps, her claws ripping into the banister as she swerved on the landing. They couldn’t make her go to Lynwood, after all. She laughed, a throaty and gleeful laugh, making a pair of sixth-years on the second floor stare.
Let them stare, Suhel thought. Perhaps they would actually learn something useful for once.
The teacher never caught up. Suhel was much younger and much faster, and had the advantage of actually regularly romping around outside. She burst out the doors of Lynwood, leaped down the steps, and took off across the lawn.
She had hoped to sprint all the way to the Haunted Woods, but her paws were practically screaming in her boots, and Suhel finally stopped near an elm to pull them off. Her stockings followed shortly after.
“Why do I need these, anyway,” she grumbled, staring at the shiny leather nuisances. Her paw pads were more than enough protection, and it just felt good to feel the grass and dirt. With a frown, she tossed the boots into the grass—perhaps they would make good homes for Slorgs.
Sighing, she leaned against the trunk of the tree, rubbing at her face and waiting for her paws to stop aching. The Woods still called to her. But it was not too late to return to Lynwood. There was a knot in Suhel’s stomach as she felt torn between two worlds.
“Caradoc!” Suhel looked up to see Lexora jogging toward her. The Kougra’s ears were low and there was a spark of genuine fright in her golden eyes. “You must come back, right now!”
The Lupe’s ears perked. “Fitchet, what—why do you care?” For a moment there was a spark of hope, the faintest longing to actually have a friend.
Lexora dashed that with the next thing out of her mouth. “The teacher sent me after you—she’s in a terrible rage and she threatened me with suspension if I didn’t apprehend you! And I simply can’t get suspended, they’ll tell Daddy and then he won’t buy me that coat from Prigpants and Swolthy!”
Suhel frowned. Pushing away from the tree, she drew herself up tall, although Lexora was still taller. “I’m not going back,” she growled. “Lynwood doesn’t want me, and I don’t want Lynwood.”
“You—you’re not going to go into the Woods, are you?” Lexora asked. Her tail was bushed.
“Aye,” Suhel said, turning to regard the ancient forest that surrounded the school. The more she stared at it, the stronger her conviction became. She was doing the right thing for her.
Lexora swallowed hard. “Neopets who go in there don’t come out.”
“Maybe they don’t want to,” Suhel said, with all the calmness of someone perfectly confident in their choices.
The Kougra grabbed the younger girl’s arm to pull her back. “You’re already in enough trouble as it is—we’ll never hear the end of it from the staff if you go missing! Oh, please don’t go—you’ll make me a rule-breaker, too!”
Suhel used her other paw to pry herself out of Lexora’s grip. “You need to learn to break rules more often,” the Lupe said. “Or at least the stupid ones. Lynwood has got you hypnotised into thinking you’ve got to fit yourself into a tidy little box made of rules. Well, I see right through that.”
“I don’t want to get punished,” Lexora admitted, cringing.
Suhel felt a pang of sympathy for this girl, who had probably known nothing but rules all her life, and had nothing to show for it but a father who used expensive gifts as a substitute for love. Her tail lowered. “Fight it,” she said. “Tell your daddy that the Lynwood teachers are monsters. They’re the ones who ought to be punished, not you.”
The older girl looked up from her boots. “You—you think so?” she asked, her voice cracking.
Suhel nodded. “Aye. Don’t let Lynwood take you, Fitchet. Just like I won’t let it take me.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Lexora said.
“You won’t know until you try,” Suhel said.
Lexora bit her lip. “I… I want to be brave like you.”
Suhel grinned. “You will be. Now, I’ve got my own adventures in store. Good-bye, and good luck!” Turning tail, she broke away and ran for the Woods.
She thought she heard Lexora shout something, but Suhel didn’t care to know what it was. Instead she bounded across the forest floor, leaping over logs, splashing through streams, and getting her brand new dress snagged on branches. Life surrounded her, enveloped her in its glory.
Once she had run all of the frustration out of herself, she collapsed on a pile of dead leaves, exhausted but thoroughly happy. Her tongue lolled from her jaw as she undid her braids, and then she gave herself a good, thorough shake. It started from her head and worked its way through her whole body to the tip of her tail, and then she really felt better. Her hair, finally free from its confinement, fell in a frizzy mane around her face, and Suhel thought she certainly must look as wild as a Gremble.
Overcome with emotion, she tilted back her snout and howled. It was a long and joyous howl, a song for the Woods themselves. Suhel belonged here, she was sure of it.
The Lupe girl was not unaware of the dangers that lurked in the Woods. Everyone who grew up in this region heard the stories. But Suhel was also confident that she could prevail. After all, everyone in the stories seemed like cowards who only knew how to scream and run. Suhel was sure she could do more than that.
She reached for a nearby stick on the ground and took a few test swings—with her left paw, of course. It made a passable sword and she grinned. Lynwood and its terrifying, apathetic sameness could go rot. Suhel belonged to the Haunted Woods now.
As the little Lupe set out to explore her new home, she could not predict everything about her future. She did not know how living in the Woods would change her—she would grow to monstrous size and strength, and her forest green fur would shift colour into an earthy brown. It would take a few times hearing the cry of “Werelupe!” before she would fully realise what she had become.
And she relished it.
Lynwood had tried to smother her—but Suhel Caradoc was stronger than that.