“I know that the daemons ever seek to invade and influence our world,” said Claudia.

“Yes, but do you know that all too often that influence takes the form of, shall we say, tainted children?” Miss Tiberia said. “I presume that I need not go into further sordid detail.”

Claudia nodded. “No, Miss Tiberia,” she said.

“Good. Tainted girls are brought to us from all over the countryside, just as tainted boys are sent to our sister school at Illumoor. Our job is to see that the taint is extinguished.”

“You’ll pardon me for saying so,” said Claudia, with a nervous glance upward as her words echoed into the Gothic rafters of the ex-cathedral, “but how do we do that, and how do we know it’s done?”

Miss Tiberia harrumphed a bit. “It is intuitively obvious, is it not, that the daemons are reliant on lies and illusions in their dealings with mortals?”

“Yes, Miss Tiber.”

“Then it ought to be equally obvious that the girls in questions will be protected by the very same.” Miss Tiber reached into a pouch on her chatelaine belt and produced what appeared to be a set of reading spectacles. “But with the diopters, all becomes clear.”

She unclipped them and handed them to Claudia, who donned them. Suddenly, the scene before her was awash in a yellow glow; it took a moment’s adjustment to see that the glow was coming from the girls in their dormitories, perfect silhouettes visible even through walls and fading only with considerable distance.

“They…they are aglow!” Claudia whispered.

“Indeed so,” said Miss Tiberia. “They are aglow, each of them, with a daemonic taint from their ancestors’…intimate…dealings with the unholy. It is our charge, Miss Withers, to diminish this glow through discipline, rigorous virtue, and moral certitude.”

Claudia was still agog from the view before her. “So when a girl is no longer glowing, she will be released from St. Gaius’s?”

Miss Tiberia nodded. “Naturally. But if the glow remains, or strengthens, it is our duty to see that the taint is contained.”

“So the girls remain here?”

“That they do,” said Miss Tiberia. “Forever.”

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Even in grade school I was an overachiever, and often looked ahead in the book or had an idea of how to write letters and numbers before our official instruction came along.

But in first grade, in the middle of our intense instruction in the D’Nealian style of block printing, I was told that a number of my characters were formed wrong and needed to be relearned. In particular, I drew the number “5” like an “S” with a kink in it, starting at the top right and drawing it all in one stroke.

My first grade teacher insisted that I needed to write the “5” character the proper D’Nealian way, which starts in the upper left and requires you to draw a hook straight out of Peter Pan before capping it at the top in a separate stroke. It was pounded into me over the course of a year, and I wrote it that way for decades.

Then, as a college student, I came to realize that no one way of forming the character was better than any other. In particular, I recalled the case of the uppercase cursive “I” and uppercase cursive “Q.”

In second grade, I got bored with a lesson and read ahead in the book along with my friend Jen. We knew that we’d have to do a worksheet on the capital cursive “I” because it had already been handed out, so we worked on it while everyone else was occupied. With no directions, we wrote the cursive “I” beginning with the crooked arm that differentiates it from the lowercase “L.” When the lesson started, however, Jen and I were shocked to see that the other kids were taught to do the crossbar of the crooked arm as a separate step. Since the worksheet was already done, we were never caught–and I continue to write my cursive “I” the “incorrect” way to this day.

I was sick on the day, later that year, when the uppercase cursive letter “Q” was taught. So I never did that worksheet and never learned it, with only the rarity of uppercase “Q” in scholastic writing saving me (we’d done lowercase “q” separately). When I finally saw the D’Nealian uppercase cursive “Q,” I was appalled: it was a sickly creature that looked like an emaciated “2.” So starting in third grade, I simply wrote a normal print “Q” in place of that abomination. Nobody noticed.

Fast forward 15 years. In college, my handwriting was often praised for its legibility, having never quite lost the childish look that in most people gives way to cramped scribbles, and I decided that it was time to reclaim my number “5.” Like the “I” and the “Q,” I started writing it my own way, the way I had before first grade. It was as easy as riding a bike after a long absence.

Of course, now my “5” is easy to mistake for an “S” especially when I’m in a hurry. But it was worth it to reclaim that bit of my childhood and thumb my nose at Mr. D’Nealian.

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