The halls were quiet. He cringed, but then entered the busy cafeteria with long, graceful strides. He could be graceful when he thought no one was watching. "Juice and hot cereal," he ordered at the counter, spilling the coins onto the floor. Chuckling began around him; they were all watching, waiting. He hated them, but he dared not look at them. He feared them.
"Here we go again," someone said loudly. More laughter followed as it always did. Their constant ridicule made him wish he was dead: everyone was always rude and the woman at the register had all but thrown the change into his hands.
"Damn them!" he whispered to himself.
He sat on a wooden bench at the back of the cafeteria and brooded. At length, he pushed away his half-eaten breakfast. Something extraordinary was bothering him. His DreamWorld was so close to the waking world today, and he felt both tired and agitated. He rubbed his eyes absently, only to find that he was crying. Startled by the tears, he jerked upright. The bench fell over with a crash. "What's happening?" he asked himself with a whisper.
More laughter followed; they were gathering around him – at least in his mind. Some were pointing. They seemed to expect some unusual trick from him. He heard – was quite certain he heard – "What a clod!" Did they mutter, "Freak," or "Fool"? He wasn't certain, but others joined in now, and more still from the other side. Where were his brothers and sisters? They'd snuck out of the cafeteria in shame. He knew that every second, more students materialized as though from the walls to stare at him. He flushed dark red, an unnatural magenta that transformed him into an alien. He knew that his eyes were swollen and crimson now. He gasped, disoriented here among them, then he looked at them in anger, but they continued to watch him transfixed, growing, crowding.
He sensed they detested him as much as he hated them. Standing alone in the center, he looked childish, inferior. Was he red? His skin took on a blue cast, the light glowing out from him in an unnatural manner. He stumbled forward and tottered. He heard their collective gasp, then passed out and fell to the floor.
"Why do they let him out?" someone asked above the laughter. "He makes a bloody fool of himself every day. Somebody should do something."
One of the students shouted in agreement and walked back to his seat. Then they all stopped laughing. They suddenly seemed sorry, and expressions of pity replaced their scorn. Words emblazoned on a red pendant on the wall, as if silently waiting before, now cried out, 'There is also love within these halls.' And, abruptly, there was.
But Arck Bolkant, the supposed magnificent and beautiful Proudhon, was not to see the storm lull. He remained on the floor like a half-extinguished ember. He was a slight glow of energy without motion. As he lay there unconscious, his mind withdrew into his flowered DreamWorld, a wondrous garden of incredible floral abundance. The color of his skin was white now, and it gave his face the soft, sculptured aspect of a religious statue.
The others looked on, glued there by curiosity, but they kept back as if he were contagious. Only one dared approach.
"Stand back, will you," she urged impatiently.
It was as though she were being directed by a force beyond her control–as though another power was impressing its will upon her. She had watched this strange boy many times, drawn perhaps by morbid fascination, and many times she had been overcome by pity. "Arck," she whispered, wanting to be away from him, but still fascinated. Crouching down, she called him again, gently: "Arck."
In his DreamWorld, the fields of flowers were faultless in every infinitesimal botanical detail. Every flower was an affirmation of the power of the Greywheter Druid — Grey — an alien female Ariste leader who had woven potent and secret knowledge into his subconscious mind from the time of his birth. Each flower was delicately raveled, only half unreal. The garden had been constructed by her within his dreams over the past sixteen years; it now encompassed thousands of vivid flowers blooming in utopian fields and forests. It was his dream, his haven, and safe in the DreamWorld — where he could always retreat — he walked through his vibrant flowers, Bleeding Heart, Thorned Crowns, Hazel Lilly, Solo's Seal were surrounded by countless others. A handful of bright purple blooms caught his eye. He descended to the black earth and knelt, then he saw the one–it sang with the voices of birds, and shone with the beauty of a lavender flame–the radiant, poisonous larkspur. Abruptly he plucked it from the ground, knowing as he did that it was forever gone from the DreamGarden. What have I done? He was aghast and an intense feeling of guilt flooded through him, as though he'd committed some unforgivable act. He had never picked a flower before. Why now?