Do not speak unless spoken to. 

Do not show weakness.

Be the best in every aspect.

These are just a few amongst the multitude of rules drilled into Maxine and Derek Robillard from a young age. Moulded by their parents’ obsessive expectations, the twins had mastered the piano, cello, and guitar by the precocious age of 8. By 12, they were fluent in a host of languages, that is, English, Chinese, Spanish, French, and Russian. Now, at 14, both played competitive sports, with Maxine participating in volleyball and Derek basketball. 

Each and every step of their lives had been arranged and executed to the utmost perfection by their parents. The children had had no say in what they chose to learn or how they spent their time. Even down to their wardrobe, each and every piece had been carefully selected by their parents in order to give off the image they wished their children to project. They were taught not to question what they were commanded to do, and to do so was to disgrace their parents, who raised them and sacrificed resources to ensure their children would do well in the future. 

A few days ago, the family received a letter announcing that the twins had been accepted into Hawthorne Academy, a prestigious boarding school which promised to “groom their students into perfect pupils who will be the pioneers of the future,” and also a key piece in the life plan that the Robillards had for their children. Hawthorne’s alumni boasted politicians, top government officials, and leading businesspeople in their respective industries and nothing short of the twins achieving equal positions would be sufficient for their parents. 

Without further ado, Maxine and Derek were immediately told to pack their bags and were left standing before the wide steps that led up to the imposing fortress that would shape their future irrevocably.


Fausto Greco:

If there was one word I had to pick to describe Hawthorne, it’d be ‘merciless’. Not only are we put under a rigorous regimen of endless classes and extracurricular activities, but there is no room for mistakes. Severe teachers scrutinise our every move, waiting for the opportunity to descend upon us and slap out the dreaded demerit card for any action that is deemed unfit to Hawthorne’s reputation. At the end of every week, the student with the most demerits would be sent to the headmaster to be reprimanded. That’s what they call it anyway; I call it reconditioning. It’s as if the students who go into his office lose a piece of their soul, swapped with a piece of Hawthorne’s uniformity. They live a little less brightly, take orders a little too readily. They jumped from the worst students to be amongst the top students. Everyone lived in fear of being reprimanded, the top students because they were horrified over the public humiliation of being seen coming out of the office while others, like me, were terrified of what they did to us there.

I never wanted to come to Hawthorne, but as my parents were one of Hawthorne’s most brilliant alumni, Hawthorne wanted me. And at a loss as to how to raise their “troubled” kid, my parents agreed to send me to the place they called their fondest memory in the hopes that I would be a changed person when I came out. 

I wasn’t a troubled child, not really. I simply only did things my gut told me to. As a child, before Hawthorne, I used to wonder why my parents did some of the things they did, like why my name was changed every time we moved and why a masked lady who smelled overpoweringly of lemon would come to our house every few months to give orders that my otherwise assertive parents would accept completely. Orders like “Obtain the document located in the general’s house” and “Take the boy, we need him as leverage” weren’t uncommon phrases that came out of her mouth. Before, I used to think it was all a game. As I grew up, I realised that wasn’t the case. 

We always had a duffel bag of essentials, ready for us to leave at a moment’s notice. The fireplace I thought was lit up to roast marshmallows was actually used to burn clothing that was sometimes stained with splatters of red. And sometimes, if you were to switch off the speaker that blasted music all day and strain your ears, maybe, possibly, you could hear the soft, muffled thuds coming from the cellar. That’s when I realised that every action held a consequence, and I wasn’t sure if I was willing to take responsibility for partaking in. That’s when I refused to obey my parents’ instructions if the reasons didn’t make sense. I kept silent, unwilling to betray my parents, but equally resistant to the idea of going along with their activities. This is how I earned the label of the out-of-control child. 

To Hawthorne’s disappointment, I didn’t follow in my parents’ footsteps to become their top student nor did I show any improvement. On the contrary, I was always just one student away from being ‘reprimanded’. It wasn’t due to subpar academics but rather “behavioural issues”. Now trained to think twice before following, I simply refused to accept the blind faith that the school demanded of us all. 

My closest friends in this school, Maxine and Derek, were the top students, and the antithesis of our ranking never failed to amuse me. However it was exactly their position that scared me. All three of us shared the same burdensome family expectations, but while I rebelled against mindless obedience, I suspect their training to follow every rule without question made them extremely susceptible to Hawthorne’s brainwashing.



Maxine, Derek and Fausto paused their conversation about the merits of captain ball to look towards the source of the shout. Racing across the grassy field as if he were trying to outrun a volcanic eruption was Jeremius, a waifish classmate of theirs. The three of them looked on as he bent over once he reached them, heaving for breath. 

“Claudia… just transferred… schools… It’s… Saturday today… Headmaster… Cessair… is waiting,” the frantic teen stared at him. 

Realisation and dread dawned upon Maxine and Derek’s faces as they turned to their friend, only to see that his face was already devoid of blood, clutching to a nearby tree to steady himself, his breathing rapid and shallow. Headmaster Cessair hated waiting, and Claudia, the student who was to be reprimanded today, had left. If she is not going to be reprimanded, then the next person in line… The twins took off towards the school building, with Fausto dashing behind. Above them, the sky rumbled in displeasure, the dark clouds cutting off the sun.

When they reached the doorstep of Headmaster Cessair’s office, the twins stood sentry in front of the solid oaken door. 

“Go in and quickly be done with it, we’ll make sure no one walks through the halls and sees you,” whispered Maxine as Derek nodded in determined affirmation. 

While he appreciated the twins’ effort to spare him shame, Fausto feared what lay behind the door far more than any person that could walk past him. He stood there, shivering, his hand hovering over the knocker. If he ran, where would he go? Yet if he went in, what would he lose? 

Finally, he took a deep breath and knocked. 


With one last look at his friends, he walked into the office. 



Fausto had been in the room for a long time. Although we waited patiently, I could tell that my sister and I were anxious to know what was happening. We didn’t always agree with his beliefs, but he was still our friend, and we were worried for him. His continued rebellious attitude against the school’s system might mean that he faced even more severe reprimands.

“Do you think Fausto’s okay?” whispered Maxine, her brow furrowing with concern.

“I don’t know. I don’t think they’d do anything to him, right?” I whispered back.

“Should we… open the door to check on him?” she breathed. 

What she was asking was ridiculous. She knew that it was against the rules to enter the headmaster’s room if not summoned. The punishment we would face-

Just as I was about to open my mouth to chastise her, we heard a cry of pain. Forgetting what I wanted to say, we slipped the door open ever so slightly and were rewarded with a view of a sliver of the office. There, Fausto crumpled to the ground, the headmaster holding an empty syringe above him. Shocked, I barely managed to slap a hand over Maxine’s mouth to silence her gasp. 

I eased the door silently shut, and with wide eyes we stared at each other. What was going on?



I woke up feeling groggy. My head spun, the motto “Hawthorne Above All” plastered on the ceiling above where I lay. What happened?

As I slowly recall my conversation with Headmaster Cessair, the dots slowly connected. My parents’ behaviour had been the product of their time here, their training preparing them for what was to come. Archery trained our aim. Drama class taught us to abandon ourselves at the drop of a hat and assume another completely different identity for our safety. Our studies into politics and economics prepared us to influence the decisions of global leaders. So… why had I resisted in the first place? Why had I been so stubborn? Why…

“Good evening Mr Greco, how are you feeling?” came a voice from within the shadows of the room. There, in an armchair with a pipe upon his lips sending out small rings of smoke, sat Headmaster Cessair. 

“Ready to serve Hawthorne where needed in any capacity, sir.”

Written by: Marinella Lotte

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