Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 2 FLYING BACK

Chapter 2 – FLYING BACK

I hate heights.

I abhor flying.

I can feel it start. The dizziness. The nausea. A healthy concoction of sleeping pills and airsickness medication was traveling through my system. I toss in my seat. The plane is taking its time taxiing through Hilo International Airport. I don’t feel remotely tired. Not that I’d ever fall asleep on a plane. It is too dangerous. My system usually rejects the meds but that was okay. I just need them to make me drowsy enough during the whole trip so that I’d be in a constant state of nothingness. That’s not happening. I need to be in my nothing state and I need it to happen right now. If this plane took off with me still conscious, I would throw up. My silver bracelets dig into my wrists as I grip the handles of my overpriced and under-cushioned seat.

“Honey… Are you okay?” The elderly woman’s voice next to me sounds slurred and distant. She sort of reminds me of my Tūtū. Tūtū said nothing as she trimmed my hair this morning. She talked about random things and pointedly said nothing more about her argument with my Aunt Mel or anything about Stellar Academy. When I made a move to mention it, Papa shook his head. I touch the necklace and pendant they gave to me before I entered the airport. “This will keep you safe.” Tūtū smiled a somber smile and they both kissed my cheeks and sent me off.

The plane lurches and I grip the seat handles harder.

I know my neighbor is trying to be helpful but she is drawing more attention my way and that is not helping. A couple across the way looks at me with sympathy. They look away. I may have just snarled at them. I don’t even know at this point.

The plane begins to really move. A small whimper cracks through my tight lips. I will think about my pendant. Made by my Tūtū, it is a tooth and a feather hung on a bit of leather cording. My Papa made me a koa box to keep it safe in. The plane seems to spin a little. Maybe I could close my eyes for a bit.

I jolt awake. The woman next to me says something and pats my hand. I didn’t hear what she said. I try to look at her mouth to focus on the words but it is muffled. Her face seems blurry too.

The nothingness takes me.

I open my eyes. My head turns to the side. The green canopy below is lush and full of life. I want to stop for a quick snack but I had to push forward. A warm current propels me toward the horizon. The canopy turns to rock and rock becomes sand and the sand becomes ocean. I soar over the brilliant crystal blue waves that call out to me. I dive lower, flying directly above the cold water. My talons skim the surface. I flex lethal claws. I’m hungry. I have to hunt soon but I’m having too much fun. I keep flying. Then, I smell it. The blood. The rapids become a river of blood. The river of blood becomes a snake. The snake laughs and opens its jaws wide. I am engulfed in the bloody red snake. Coppery blood fills my throat. Someone is screaming.

Now I am in an alley. I can still hear the screaming. A torrential river of blood runs under my feet. The rapids should pull me under but I walk calmly on the surface to the back of the alley. Someone grabs my hand.

The world drops out from under me.

A plastic voice cracks over the load speaker, “Welcome to JFK… Thank you for flying with us…” Groaning, I put my hands over my ears and I try to get comfortable again. I was having such a happy dream. At least I thought it was happy. The more I reached for it the less I could remember.

I try again. I’d been flying. Please, no. I’d been standing in a river. Blood? Ewww. Maybe not so happy.

The lights of the cabin filter through my arms. I look up and laugh. For the first time in my life I had fallen asleep on a plane and I am alive to tell about it. My grin dissolves as flashes of the back of an alley haunt me.

***

The air is nasty as I step off the plane and onto the bridge. I take a deep breath in as it gushes through the cracks. I love New York. A man pushes past me in a rush to get off the plane. Normally I’d be racing along with him but right now I just want to take in the pleasure of being back home. I stop in the doorway.

Bad move. “Keep walking!” Someone curses at me from the bridge. I want to fling back a retort but I swallow it and find my way to the baggage claim. I collect my bags and go outside. The murky air still has some of that summer humidity to it. Home.

In the hustle of NYC airport traffic, I search for my aunt’s old BMW.

My phone buzzes in my pocket. Aunty Mel. A picture of what looks like a shiny, new, souped-up golf cart and a text, “I’m behind you! Hi KITTEN!!!”

I turn around just in time to see Melanie Lyons’ beautiful porcelain face poke out of the driver’s side window of a new Mini Cooper. “Julia!!” she hollers. I swear the entire airport stops to look at us. I put my head down as I rush over to the car. I don’t look up again until I fling my bags into the car. Wow, these cars were tiny. I look at my Aunt and smile. She smooths down her cap of golden blond hair. She’s a crazy cat who loves attention. I am the exact opposite. So was my mom. Mel gives me a huge hug and I hug her back equally as tight.

“I missed you Aunty!”

“Hey… hey! I said no more with the ʻAuntyʻ stuff. This isn’t Hawaiʻi! I missed you too, Julia, my little Kitten.” She swipes a long curly brown lock out of my face as her eyes water with the reference. “Kitten” was my mom’s name for me. Only my Aunty Mel called me that now.

“Tūtū and Papa say hi!” Aunty Mel’s face clouds over. “Aw, come on! They are amazing! You really shouldn’t give them such a hard time.”

She scoffs as she pulls into the bustling airport traffic.

“I know, I know!” It really wasn’t Aunty Mel’s fault. My grandparents didn’t have anything nice to say either. I let the subject drop.

“So… Stellar Academy…”

That was all my Aunt needed… “You are going to love it! Both your mom and I graduated from there when it was just a few brick buildings. Since the war ended… they’ve taken all of Central Park North… it’s stunning…” I half paid attention to what she was saying. I was just so happy that I wasn’t going back to my old school and what was more important, Nicky was coming with me.

***

The lush green canopy stretches out in all directions. I wait patiently for the right current. I feel it coming closer. I let my wings expand and I soar. I dive a few feet lower, the warm wind caresses my light body. My eyes scan the ground below. Floating on a drift, I feel free here. I am free here. I spot a slight movement in the brush below, something gold glimmers there. I need to feed. I fly closer. It is too big to eat. I gain a bit of height as the slight drift I’d been floating turns into a gust. I adjust. Not quick enough. The winds become stormy. How hadn’t I realized this? I fly into the nearest tree. I grip the branches. This will not be enough. I land roughly and hop over to a small cave. That is when I smell him. My head turns. There is something staring at me from the nearby brush. Hunting me.

The ground rumbles under me and I jump, startled. I look back to the brush but the eyes are gone. My body rocks up and down in the tremulous earthshaking wave. The earthquake sucks me into the dirt. The ground is laughing, calling my name. The dirt turns into quicksand under my feet. I kick against it. I’m hyperventilating. I am going to die.

The earth laughs again and shakes harder.

“Rainbow… Jules… Jules!” The earth sounds strangely like Nicky. The soft fabric of the Nicky-sounding-earth tangles around my feet. The quicksand begins to feel a lot softer.

“Don’t call me that.” I still hated that name. Removing the quilt that smothers my face, I squint in the bright light of my lamp.

Groaning, I bring the quilt back over my head. My world is still undulating. There was only one person in the world that was allowed to call me Jules: Nicky. I’m crazy happy to see him but the surging and heaving of my bed was going to make me seasick. I peek out from under my purple quilt, my eyes adjusting to the light. Nicky is jumping on my bed, his head threatening to punch a hole in the ceiling of my bedroom.

He has a huge grin plastered on his dumb cute face. His blue-eyes dance with light. I can’t help but smile back. His early morning antics, though irritating, are infectious.

“Hey sleepyhead!” Nicky sings, jumping higher. The cute butt-head is trying to touch my ceiling.

I sink my head back into the lunging pillow beside me. “Cornflake? What time is it?” My voice was a cracked muffled squeak. I can’t see any light filtering through my curtains.

“Jules,” He bounces, reaching for the ceiling, “I hate that name.” Bounce again, “The sun hasn’t even come up yet. So I’d say around five um…” Again with the bouncing, “maybe five-thirty. I was going to wait until seven to come get you for school but I couldn’t wait to see you and I just…” Bounce.

I’m going to kill him. I didn’t wait for him to finish. In one fast move I pop up and grab his legs out from under him. His head comes crashing onto the bed. Nicky is such a punk! I climb on top of him and start poking at him and tickling his sides. Nicky hates to be tickled.

He squirms and laughs uncontrollably under me. “You. Woke. Me. Up. At. FIVE!” I try to make my voice harsh but my scolding sounds are muted behind my laughter.

“Five-thirty!!!” He yells-laughs. He grabs my arms and holds them firmly at my sides. He’d gotten stronger. I can’t get out of his grasp.

“Stop it!” He laughs shoving me roughly off of him.

I didn’t mind so much though. I gave him a small punch on his shoulder. The corners of his eyes crinkled just a little as his dumb smile took over his face again. This was how it was like between us, ever since we were nine, ever since the incident. The pale scar above his right eye was a punch in the gut reminder of how our friendship had begun. Because of the accident, I was kept for observation in the New York State Hospital until my Aunty Mel officially adopted me. Going back to school after everything was difficult. But Nicky saved me. He stayed by my side. He kept the bullies at bay. He said that even though he couldn’t remember what happened… He knew I had saved him somehow. He would always be by my side. His dad was even my psychologist. When my Grandparents appeared they met Dr. Hart, Nicky’s Dad, and convinced him to help take care of my crazy brain.

Everyday, before school, Nicky walks across the street to my building and sneaks into my bedroom through the fire escape. When we were kids, he’d bring me toads and other scientifically interesting creatures to peruse and poke before my Aunt, disgusted, would release the creatures into the back yard and take us to school. Growing up I remember having a symphony of toads in my garden. As we grew older, Nicky decided to bring breakfast instead. Ralph’s Deli at the corner has a great selection of glazed jelly donuts and bagel sandwiches that any scraggly teenager could live off of.

I give him a shove in his middle.

“Ouch.” He let out a low laugh.

I could challenge him to a sparring match right now. No … better not. I was still a little groggy and I probably had morning breath. I could at least knock him out with that. It might give me the upper hand.

Instead I kick the covers to the side and rolled onto my stomach next to him. “You owe me donuts!”

“There’s a bag on your desk.” His words came out a little muffled. “Ralphʻs old-fashioned donuts right outta the fryer!” I saw that he already ate one and was picking out the remains from his teeth.

“Nick-y! Gross!” I wrinkle my nose. Old-fashioned donuts were our favorite. Climbing out of bed, the room swims a little as I stand too fast. I grab onto the wall. My image in the mirror blurs a bit. I shake my head. Ouch. I could feel another bad migraine coming on.

“Hey, earth to Jules! Hey, I just asked you if you got me anything?” Nicky whines.

A pillow smacks me in my face. “Bah! … NO!” Of course I did. “Not if you’re going to throw things at me and wake me up at five frickin’ thirty in the morning.”

“Aw come ON! Jules! You always get me something from Hawai’i! Did you get me a surfboard this time? I still have the surf shorts from last year.”

“Yeah, and they have a huge hole in the butt.” But Nicky still wore them. He was going to have to wait. “Meet me in the garden. I have to get ready.”

“Can I watch?” He grins mischievously.

“You wish!” Heat rises to my cheeks as I saunter into my bathroom.

“I was just joking … geez … like I’d actually want to watch you brush your teeth. Ewww. You gotta do something about that breath of yours. Jules, I could smell it from the deli … ouch!” He stops abruptly because I launched magazine at him. I didn’t watch where it hit him, but it must have been a direct shot.

Music blasts as I turn on the shower. An album from what was probably Nicky’s new favorite band. I don’t recognize the band. He has a new favorite band every week. I smile. Another thing we had in common, our uncommon taste in music. We listen to everything.

I pull at my silver bracelets. They were bothering me and getting little tight on my wrist. I hadn’t taken them off except to get them resized. Maybe I needed to again. Ever since that day in the alley… I keep them on as a reminder. My Tūtū and Aunt said they would protect me.

Geez. I wouldn’t go there. Not today. There was enough to worry about. I step out and cringe. There, hanging on the back of my bathroom door, is my new uniform. Another new school. At any other time in my fourteen years the thought of going to another new school would have scared me.

“I have Nicky,” I whisper.

The door open a crack. A black and white mitten paws through. Then a little pink nose followed by a masked face pokes through and meows loudly. I giggle. Mochi, my little tuxedo-cat, inches open the door just wide enough for her large black and white body to slink through. She’s my therapy cat. The doctors said she would help me with my “difficulties”. She was an oversized, polka dotted, weirdo … and she was all mine. Besides Nicky, she was the only one I could talk with. I tell her my problems and she meows back at me in cat-speak.

Mochi hops onto the sink. It was bath-time. I stroke my wet fingers over her face and down her back. She nips my fingers in appreciation and pushes her black-masked face under my hand. I scratch her furry neck. “Okay … I have you too.” Satisfied she fluffs up in the sink and closes her little yellow eyes.

“Kooky little Mochi. You’re a strange cat. Sleeping in the sink. Getting baths.” I laugh and give her a little scratch under her chin. “And they say I need a therapist.”

I throw on the stiff white blouse and green skirt and scan myself in the mirror. The image blurs again. I shake my head. The blurriness goes away and I look up. My eyes immediately change. My sky-blue eyes turn to a leafy green color. No one could tell me why my eyes were so different. Sometimes they changed with my environment, sometimes my mood.

I let my hair fall out of its bun and I run my fingers through it a few times before throwing it into a messy braid. I could fix it later in the car. The beat outside was becoming infectious. I open the door. Nicky was thrashing around in front of my sound system. He’d definitely gotten bigger. He lost all the baby fat that had lingered around his face and middle before I had left at the beginning of summer. He looked good in his new khaki’s and green sweater. The edges of his button down were poking messily through every available hole. His hair was long enough to touch his shoulders. It had darkened a bit, but the golden streaks still dominated.

I throw a roll of toilet paper at him. “I thought I told you to meet me in the garden.” I laugh as he drops his phone in surprise.

Something flickers across his face, his blue eyes widen and he charges me. I grip the edge of the doorway as his body collides with mine, holding me close. I bury my face in his neck. I can’t breathe.

“Hey there, Jules.” He hugs me tighter. “Missed you.”

But, hey, who needs to breathe. I could live off of hugs like these.

I smile into his rough green sweater. He smells good. Like lavender and pine and Nicky. “Missed you too.” I whisper. I look over his shoulder at the full length mirror there. A gift from Nicky and his parents a few summers ago while I was going through pimples and braces. He’d been digging something out of his nose when he told me that the girl in this mirror would always be pretty. I’d punched him. I smile not only at the memory, but also at the image of our bodies in the mirror. I like the picture we made.

I felt his nose and his lips on top of my head. The heat rises in my face but I do not want to let go. He takes a long lingering breath in. “You smell much better.” Laughing into my hair, he pulls back abruptly looking into my eyes. “Cool! Your eyes are all leafy green now. Like spinach!” He bounces back a foot, still laughing. Good. That was getting a bit too close.

“You’re so sweet! I bet you say that to all the girls. ʻYou’re eyes look like spinach!ʻ” I push him. “Punk.” I walk over to my dresser to grab the green and white socks that would complete my transition into conformity. I wiggle my feet into them.

I sigh at my image in the mirror and pull at the skirt. I hate skirts. Nicky is looking over my shoulder at me. That weird hungry look crosses his face. It make me feel like throwing something else at him. Instead I concentrate on my socks and ask, “Who’s the band? They’re amazing!”

That snaps him out of his reverie. He bounces again, smiling hugely, hair flopping around. “You like it!?! GOOD! ‘Cause this is your copy! I found the album at a small music store in Berlin. They’re unknown but I think this band is going to blow up next year. I also downloaded a bunch of that oldie rock and pop stuff you like.” During their vacation, his foster father took them on a road trip through Germany and into Russia. I was sure Nicky would fill me in. He learned Russian and German in middle school to prepare for this trip. He’d been so excited.

I bounce with him, “I love it!” Nicky knows how much I love the classics. My walls bookcases were filled with my Moms old cd collection and I had a whole shelf of vinyl records that had belonged to my biological father. But I did have a soft spot for unknown musical genius and this band was slowly nearing the top of my eclectic treasure trove of music.

The song ended, and I noticed an iPhone connected to Nicky’s slim new laptop. He disconnects the cords and throws his computer into the padded compartment of his backpack. He tosses the phone to me. “All the music is from me, and I programmed all important numbers and addresses into it. The phone is a ‘Welcome to Stellar Academy’ present from my Mom and Dad.” He shrugged and his eyes flickered my way, slyly, “I don’t know why they like you so much, you’re kind of stinky.” He grabs his bag and launches down the stairs before I can fling a retort.

I shrug on the forest green cardigan that completes the uniform. Grabbing my backpack and donuts, I bound down the stairs into the kitchen after Nicky.

“Hi Melanie!” Nicky has my aunt in a bear hug. On the counter there are two steaming cups of… “COFFEE!!! I love you Mel!” I grab the beautiful dark liquid and spoon just a little bit of brown sugar in. I take a tentative sip. Perfection. “Oh, Coffee, how I did miss you.”

“My dear, you got big!” Nicky pretty much towered over my aunt’s slight frame. “You’re taller, Nicolas.” She backs up, “Let me get a good look at you. That German food must have helped! How tall are you now? Six-one? Two?”

“Six-three!”

I almost snort coffee. He’d grown four inches since the beginning of summer. Snickering, “Wow Mel, I think all your fawning is making him taller or is that just his head?”

I grab some orange juice from the fridge as a dish rag flies over my head. “HA! Missed!” I launch out the back door and into my garden, careful not spill my coffee, though. We have a small grassy garden area behind our brownstone. I breathe in as I set breakfast down on the grass. I could always breathe easier out here.

“NICKY!…” I furiously yell. My coffee mug goes flying into the air as Nicky tackles me to the ground. “MY TURN!” He laughs.

I scream, twisting under him. If anyone hated to be tickled more than Nicky, it was me. I kick under him. He laughs merrily in my face. He was tickling me so much that I couldn’t take in a decent breath. I was going to kill him! But then everything blurs and I get a little woozy.

He stops abruptly. “Woah!” He crawls backwards, away from me and looking a little scared. “Um… COOL! I’ve never seen you do that before. How’d you do that?”

Confused, I catch my breath. “What?”

“Your eyes. Wow. They went all black for a second.”

I crawl over to him, like a cat stalking its prey. “Maybe it’s because I’m going to kill you now. I barely got any coffee!” I poke him. My finger hits something hard in his breast pocket.

“Ouch! What’s that?” We ask at the same time.

I shake out my bruised finger as he takes the package out. Mel pokes her head through the kitchen window. She’s smiling. “My aunt’s sneaky.” Then I sulk a little, “If she had told me I would have programmed some songs in there for you too.”

“Niiicce! Thank you Mel!!!” he yells over his shoulder. My aunt yells something incoherent from inside the kitchen. “I was kind of jealous that my parents had gotten you one and not me.” He tinkers around with it for a minute and tosses it back into his pocket.

I drink some orange juice. It’s not coffee but I guess it’ll do. “Pass me a donut.” I pass Nicky the juice as he hands me a crumbly delicious donut. Old-fashioned donuts from Ralphie’s Deli were the best. He chugs the orange juice looking at me expectantly from over the bottle. A little juice drizzles down the sides of his mouth, just missing his sweater.

“What?” I hand him a napkin, pretending to be oblivious. He obviously wants to know what gift I’d gotten him this year. I fiddle with the front pocket of my backpack. I’d gotten him another pair of surf shorts but I thought this might be better. I hope he likes it. I wasn’t supposed to give it to him but my grandparents had said to keep it safe and I couldn’t think of a safer place than with Nicky.

“So…” He runs his fingers through his unruly hair, the rising sun and the warm light that pokes through the trees turns it to liquid gold. Patience has never been Nicky’s strong suit. I take my time. I love to watch him squirm.

“COME ooonnnn! Juu-ules! I’m gonna tickle you again if you don’t hurry up!”

“Okay, okay!” I take the small box out. The swirling lines of the beautiful koa wood shine like honey in the sunlight.

“COOL!”

I laughed, “Sorry, you can’t have the box, my Papa would kill me.” My Tūtū wouldn’t be so thrilled either, but I would deal with that later. Nicky’s face drops. “You can have what’s inside the box.”

I climb around so that I am across from him, my knees touching his and pass him the box. His blue eyes glow with excitement. He opens it. There was a silence that seemed to extend all around my little garden. He breathes, “Wow.”

I smile. He likes it.

I look over the cover and into the box. The rough cord was nestled in the tapa cloth my grandfather told me to put it in when I wasn’t wearing it. A tigers tooth rests on a soft brown feather. Both were tied expertly to the center of the necklace between two worn white beads. I reach in and take the piece out. A bird sings in the distance.

“My Tūtū and Papa made it.” I shuffle around to place the necklace around his neck. He pulls his hair to the side. I tie the cord and let my fingers rest on the back of his neck for a second. I could feel the warmth there, flowing through into me and back out into Nicky. I knew my grandfather would approve.

I shake my head and laugh. My grandparents superstitions were getting to me.

I shuffle back to sit in front of Nicky, knees touching. His eyes were closed, face lifted to the sun.

“My grandfather said it has the power to keep me from harm. He also said to keep it safe… I figured you could help me do that.”

He opens his ocean blue eyes. The weird look was back. “Then what about you?” He puts hand on my face.

I lean into it. “I have you.”

“Thank you. I’ll never take it off.” He whispers. Then he shakes his head, laughing. “Now you’re going to expect me to get you jewelry too! Grrreat.”

I sock him in the shoulder as he stuffs the feather and tooth pendant unceremoniously into his sweater and pressed white shirt.

“Ow! Owowowo…. OUCH!” He scrambles up yanking his sweater off and practically ripping the buttons off his new uniform. I see a small spot of blood seep into the white starched shirt at the front of his chest.

I fly up and help him with the buttons. The cut is shallow but bleeding badly. The tooth had scratched him when he stuffed it into his sweater and against his skin. I grab napkins out of the donut bag and hold it against his chest. “Don’t be such a wimp, Nicky.”

He laughs. Thinks about something and laughs again. “It bit me! I got bit by a tiger!!!” Under my hands his chest heaves with glee.

I giggle along with him. “Stop moving so much. Let me check the bleeding. Stop moving!” I command. He stops moving and smiles broadly.

I shake my head as I remove the napkins. I take my glasses off and look closely. There is an angry red line about an inch long right under the sharpest end of the tooth. At least the bleeding has stopped.

He snickers, “So, Doctor Lyons, you gonna kiss it and make it all better.”

To spite him, I do. I tip forward slightly and give his chest a playful little peck. At least that’s what I’d meant to do. As my lips reach to touch his skin, the feather and tooth brush against my cheek. There is a jolt somewhere in the universe between my lips and his skin. My lips never make it. I jump back, holding my mouth.

I look into Nicky’s face. His features were drawn into that weird hungry look again.

We stare at each other for a second. I blush. He giggles.

“That was weird!”

“You felt that too?”

“What was that?”

We ask at the same time, look at each other in surprise and fall to the ground laughing.

“I think the tooth might have bit us both!”

“It was probably static electricity.”

“I think it scratched my face.”

He rolls onto his belly and catches my chin with his hand. Looking up into his cloudless sky-blue eyes my heart does a weird flippity-flop. “Nope, no scratch.” His hand traces up my left cheek and into my hair. He strokes my hair.

I don’t move. My scalp tingles as I am flooded with warmth. I close my eyes and let him run his fingers though my hair and through the loose strands that fell out of my braid. He stops. I looked up as he bends a little and his face is nose to nose with mine.

Blushing, I ask, “Want a donut?”

He shakes his head, giving me an eskimo kiss. I grin at him as he backs away, reaching for the discarded orange juice.


Thank you again for reading! YOU ARE AWESOME! What did you think? Please leave a comment below!

Much Aloha,

Pili

 

Shift by Pili Yarusi: Chapter 1 MOVING ON

Note before you begin: If you haven’t already, please read the prologue. It is the post directly before this one. Thank you again for reading. Please leave a comment below on your experience.

Chapter 1

I am flying.

Screaming, a searing silver-white pain lances through my head. My eyes are open but all I see is grey. I kick out, thrashing at the sheets as I tumble onto the floor. Grabbing a fistful of sheet, I stuff it into my mouth in a conscious effort to calm myself down.

I hate flying. I hate snakes.

Wait.

What?

As the pain of my latest headache eases away, I open my eyes and the world still has a grey tinge to it. There are flutterings of a nightmare. The harder I try to grasp it the further it flies out of my reach until here I lie, a panting confused mess on the cold wooden floor.

Not what I needed. Not another dream about that day. Another headache. I haven’t had either of those in a while. Dream flying? Nausea threatens. I need to calm down.

Looking out the window, the early morning breeze makes my pretty blue and yellow curtains dance. Breathe, Julia. The skies are clear, the sun is warm and inviting. The world shifts to a light greenish yellow. Better now. “The eyes are windows into your soul.” For me, my eyes were like the mood ring to my soul. I try my best to hide them these days.

The silver bracelets on both my wrists clank against the old wood floor as I push myself up. Ugh, I stumble back under the covers. Still dizzy. I wish the nightmares would stop. I reach for my glasses and squint at the old clock on the wall. My hands shake as I slide my familiar silver rimmed glasses on to my foggy eyes. The clock comes into sharp focus. 5:15 am. I sit up a little too quickly and the room spins. I’m going home today. I gaze at my bags neatly stacked in the corner of the room.

I don’t want to go back home to NYC and I don’t want to stay here in Hawai’i. I love the City even with all the bad memories. An event never forgotten, just pushed to the edge of my mind. The doctors, shrinks and authorities said that I imagined the Snake Man that attacked my Mom.

Of course I imagined him. Right? I mean, there is no such thing as snake-men with eyes that look like fish. Of course not. What about the talking, rabid baby bear? Nope! Figment of my imagination.

The doctors said that I must have blacked out due to my medical conditions. When the police got on to the scene, I was unconscious. The police said that we’d been attacked by an unknown assailant and my mom was bitten by a snake. I could have fallen and hit my head really hard, they said. They couldn’t really get a handle on what actually happened. They never have.

The specialists and therapists were very sure about me, though. They said I suffered from “Acute stress reaction, Anemia, Post-concussive syndrome, and Bi-polar disorder.” They threw everything at me. They said I was delusional. Delusional? I was nine. I remember looking up that word, along with all the other things they called me. I was told to stop making things up. There was no such thing as talking bears and fisheyed-man-snakes. So after an entire year of trying to make them believe, I stopped. I stopped telling them what happened. I made myself believe in their stories. No more shrinks. No thank you. Just a dead mom and a new cat from a shelter as therapy for my loss. People have accidents all the time. It’s time you moved on Julia. No more stories of people who turn into animals. At least that’s what the therapist said.

The cat? Yeah… don’t know why or where it came from but my therapist said it was supposed to help. She comes and goes as she pleases. I call her Mochi… because I love mochi.

As she is my Mom’s sister and closest living relative, Aunty Mel became my legal guardian. After Mom’s funeral, Aunty Mel gave me a silver bracelet she said belonged to my Mom. “You can never take it off. Please. It’ll help you to remember her. Never forget your mom. Never forget what she gave up.” The bracelet has my name on it. Julia Lyons.

My Mom. I miss her smile. I remember that she used to be really strict. Because we needed to be careful. I never knew why. She was always worrying. So anytime I could get her to smile, it was special. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering what she looked like…

“Lani-Girl, you up?” My Tūtū calls in her strong singsong voice.

“Aloha Kakahiaka!” I yell out, “I’ll be down in a bit!”

“Good Morning to you too, Lani-Girl!” My Papa bellows.

Then, Tūtū Kiha and Papa ʻIolani stepped into my life. I’ve never met my biological father but his parents are amazing. They’re from Hawai’i. Tūtū means Grandma and Papa is short for Grandpa. My Tūtū and Papa gave me another silver bracelet that has my Hawaiian name on it, ‘Iolani. I’m named after my Papa. But my grandparents call me Lani-Girl for short. So now I have one on each wrist. I am a half Hawaiian and half Caucasian jumble and I was a one hundred percent confused and miserable little girl. So, My grandparents said, “bullshit,” to all the medical conditions and got me a real doctor who simply told me I have bad eyesight and migraines. I take a pill once a day for the migraines and I have glasses. My grandparents also got my Aunty Mel to agree to let me fly out to Hawai’i every summer to visit them. Every July since the accident, my Aunty Melanie is forced to put me on a plane to fly here. I don’t know why, but she doesn’t like that very much. My grandparents live on Hawai‘i Island, the Big Island, at the southern most part of the Hawaiian chain. Tūtū and Papa own and live at the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo on the outskirts of Hilo. It is part of my rehabilitation, the doctors said. I always looked forward to my two months with my grandparents. Hawaii is beautiful.

A beautiful rock in the middle of the ocean.

Looking out of the picture window in my room the Zoo property stretches out into the forest. You can almost see the ocean shimmering in the distance; it’s hard to think of this place as a prison. By the fourth week of each of my trips to Hawaii I would get antsy, trapped. I would tell myself to relax. But the feeling of enclosure would never quite escape me. Like one of the many zoo animals I attend to, I feel like I’m in jail. This trip was no exception. I look around the room that had belonged to me ever since I was a kid. In the fourth grade, I cried myself to sleep in the car ride from the airport and awoke in this room.

Love the view… as long as it’s from a secure balcony or window. I had picked up this fear somewhere in all my delusions because I was fine before the whole “incident”. My doctor said it was vertigo and that it would pass but I wasn’t too sure. I am deathly afraid of heights and flying. I don’t even want to think about it right now. I must have passed out on that first flight to Hawaiʻi.

The room itself was like the whole house, simple. It had a squeaky, but comfy twin bed made up with an old set of faded quilts that my great-grandmother made decades ago. There was a very old chest of drawers shoved in the corner near the doorway and I had my own bathroom. The walls were a faded light blue and yellow curtains that did nothing to keep the sun out when I wanted to sleep in. Not that I ever got to sleep in.

“Lani-Girl?” My Papa bellows, “The Animals are calling! It’s your last day here. I want to make it count!” My grandparents worked me like a horse every summer at the Zoo. Again, part of my rehabilitation. It was hard work and it kept the headaches away.

“Yes, Papa.” I yell, stretching, “I’ll be down in a sec.” Even though my head was touching the topmost part of the bed, my feet dangled off the end. I’d grown about two inches while I’d been here. I smiled smugly. Cornflake was going to hate that.

Cornflake… ah… Nicky. He can’t remember anything from that day except that he was exploring in the alleyway with me and the hand-changing booger boy. Booger totally vanished. Apparently no one of that boys’ description went to my school and I’d never gotten his actual name. I tried years to jog Nic’s memory. Nothing. We held on to each other after that day though. Cornflake is my best friend.

Nicolas Hart. My Nicky. I was the only one allowed to call him that. Everyone else knew my best friend as Nicolas or sometimes Nic. I really missed him. It was the only other downer about coming to Hawaii every summer … I didn’t get to see him. Of course, our friendship had been just that, a friendship. I didn’t mind and neither did he. If anyone asked we’d say, usually in unison, “We’re just friends.” We’d laugh. I grinned up at the peeling paint on the ceiling and grabbed my phone. He was five hours ahead, but knowing him, he’d sleep in. I text him, “Wake up sleepy head!”

Nicky went to Europe with his foster parents for the most of the summer. As for me, my Papa and I worked on the Zoo grounds every day and my Tūtū taught me how to speak Hawaiian or ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i. I’m a fast learner, especially with languages. I’m fluent in ʻŌlelo Hawai’i, but considering I only speak it during the summer, my vocabulary is not as extensive as my Tūtū would have it. Every day during lunch, she sits with me under my favorite plumeria tree and we talk. The pronunciation of the vowels is very much like Spanish, which I could easily converse in and it wasn’t nearly as hard as the little Russian that Nicky had taught me.

This trip was a little different then the others though. My Grandparents asked me a few weeks back if I wanted to stay with them for the rest of school. Except for the fact that I’d have to leave Nicky, it would have been awesome. I told my Aunty Mel that they asked and she flipped. I’d heard her yell at my Grandparents before but this time she and my Tūtū had it out. I couldn’t hear what was coming at Tūtū from my Aunt’s end of what was being said but obviously my Tūtū had reservations about PS 33.

PS 33, or Public School 33, wasn’t bad. Throughout my life I’ve always had problems fitting in. I found that people are generally mean, especially when they find out things about you. Rumors were spread. If it hadn’t been for Nicky I’d have spent all my time at the library. Also, Nicky and I were bored all the time. So we’d cut a few classes and maybe we liked to play tricks on our teachers but that didn’t make us bad kids. We did the homework and aced all the tests. We were just bored.

I roll out of bed and take care of the essentials in the bathroom, including taking my daily pill. My eyes go from sky blue to silver as the gray pill slides down my throat. Funny how certain things make my eyes change color immediately. I put on some clean coveralls over a tattered pair of shorts and a tank and creep down the stairs. I could hear my Grandparents having a hushed conversation. I try to catch what they’re saying. I strain and go down another step and am greeted by the first floor ceiling slamming into my forehead. I’d forgotten to bend down to avoid hitting it. Ouch… one of the set backs of getting taller.

“Good morning sunshine!” My Papa pats the growing lump on my head as I kiss his cheek. I blush. He knows I tried to sneak up on them. “You’re up late!” He takes a healthy swig of coffee. I eye it longingly. Back home in NYC I wake up every morning to coffee and old-fashion donuts. In Hawaii though…

I kiss my Tūtūʻs cheek as she hands me a bottle of OJ. “I see the way you stare at that coffee, Lani-girl. Coffee stunts your growth and…”

“…Gives me headaches,” I finish. My migraines would come anyway but Tūtū refused to let me have coffee. I still tried every morning to get just a little.

My Tūtū shakes her head as I kiss her cheek and pick up a piece of Portuguese sausage straight out of the pan. “Ouch!” I play hot potato with the sausage before taking a bite.

“I already made you a sandwich to take.” Tūtū hands me a brown paper bag which I promptly take after slipping my mismatched socked feet into my rubber boots. I kiss Tūtū once more and I follow Papa out into the bright Hawaiian morning.

***

The sounds and smells of the forest assail me. The sweet smell of maile hangs in the air. The Zoo is in the middle of a protected forest in Pana’ewa. Secluded. So unlike NYC the smell of the forest invites me to breathe deep and relax into its gentle breezes. So like the streets of the City, a canopy of voices, animals all, takes flight. I let myself be carried away by songs of the manu, the birds. I laugh at the hoots of the monkey cage. I wonder where the old lioness in the back is until I hear her roar… she’s being fed. The Animals greet me as if one of their own…

“Eh Lani-Girl…” My Papas voice sounds like an old Hawaiian slack-key guitar song, melodic and soothing. Except when he wants something done. “ʻIOLANI!!! Get your head out of the clouds, girl! This is your last day and if you finish up everything we can go surf after, but right now you got some work to do. So finish your breakfast…”

“Papa… It’s my last day.” I fake-whine, my mouth half full of Tūtūʻs Portuguese sausage and egg sandwiched between freshly made sweet bread. “Can’t we just go surf?” So much better than the list of chores I know he has for me.

“Oh, you love it!”

“Yeah… I’m going to miss it here, Papa.” It was true. I love NYC but there was just something about Hawaiʻi that always made me FEEL loved. I could feel the aloha.

“You can still stay, Lani-Girl. You know your Tūtū and I want you to go to school here.” Papa and I stroll towards the reptile cages.

“You know Aunty Mel would never let me.” My aunt was not a fan of my grandparents and my grandparents couldn’t care less about her. They fought constantly.

And… as much as I love Hawaiʻi, I craved the crazy vibrant energy of the City.

Papa ruffles my already crazy curls. “Well, at least tell your Tūtū I asked again. She really isn’t happy. Here’s your list.” Papa hands me a torn piece of paper bag with a long list of scribbles on it. “Go check on the Moʻo first. The lizards and snakes are getting restless.”

“Papa!” I shiver. “I hate the Moʻo!” Moʻo is Hawaiian for lizard. He knew I couldn’t stand going in there.

“You need to get over your fear. They don’t hate YOU!” Papa giggles.

“Very funny. How is it that even though snakes and most reptiles are banned from Hawai’i, you get to keep them?” I stop near the caged doorway.

“I don’t keep them. They need to stay here so they don’t get into anymore trouble. Why do you think they came here from the mainland in the first place?” My Papa laughs at his own joke before the punch line. “Vacation?” Papa trudges off toward the manu area, the bird cages. He turns back just before disappearing inside, “Eh, no forget to say goodbye, yeah?” His face is serious and he goes in without waiting for an answer.

“You’re crazy Papa!” I laugh and huddle under my poncho as rain clouds move in. Hilo rain is nothing to laugh at and I do not want to get wet. I make it to the Moʻo Pit untouched. The smell of dead mice permeates the air. I hate snakes. I hate lizards. I hate creepy crawly slimy things. But my Papa won’t hear it and my Doctor says this is good for me. So I start talking to the snakes. It’s this thing I do whenever Papa makes me go in. It’s therapy.

“I hate you.”

The moʻo I was least afraid of was an oversized Emoia Impar or a copper striped blue tailed skink. This particular species went extinct a few years back during the war. I guess no one had time to look out for these little things. Skinks are usually a few inches long at best. But my Papa found two, and they are still labeled as extinct because the two he found, they’re both at least three feet long. The female is old and doesn’t come out of her hole. Ever. Papa says she’s there but I’ve never seen her. The male was colorful, strange and had a bad attitude. We have an understanding. Papa has an assortment of crazy reptiles here. There was also a lizard that looks like a cross between a Kimono Dragon and a Yellow bellied snake. It is hiding somewhere in his cage. That one scares me.

What am I even saying? They all scared me.

“I hate you all.” I shouted. It didn’t make me feel any better. It never did. But it made the headache subside just a little. I wonder what it would be like to go back to a time without headaches or bad dreams. I wonder how life would have been if my Mom…

Whatever. I can’t go there.

I look at the check list at the door. The stupid lizards have been fed. Thank God for that. Feeding Moʻo? Worst job ever. I grab the hose at the back of the cave like room and begin shooting down the flooring. Slime and who knows what make it’s way into the drain. “You know,” I look at another terrarium filled with Jackson Chameleon of all sizes, “Besides Nicky, you are all the closest things I have to friends.” Wow. I suck.

I tap on the glass of the yellow bellied snakes cage. It doesn’t surface. I keep talking anyway, “Because of you… well not you, but whatever… I don’t know what it’s like to have a group of friends.” Before she was killed, my mom was my only friend. We took care of each other. I didn’t have any experience keeping friends, so why bother. We moved seven times since I was two.

I turn back towards the skinks cage. It’s the only moʻo who seems to be listening. “Right before she was killed, Mom moved me and my special eyes to New York City to live with Aunty Melanie. Mom was running away from something. Always running…” The skink is playing with something. Oh gross. It was the tail end of his breakfast. The skink seemed to study me as it swallowed the bottom half of the dead mouse. Challenging me. I would not show weakness. Who was I kidding? I wanted to barf. Instead I kept on talking, “The City is a big, dark and stinky place for a kid. I didn’t cry in front of Mom. I was used to it. I had trained my kaleidoscope eyes to keep it all in until I was alone. Then, I would cry in my bed. I didn’t want Mom to hear or see me. She had enough going on already and shouldn’t have to worry about me.” I rambled on, “I didn’t say goodbye to any friends at my last school in San Antonio because we didn’t stay long enough for me to make any. Before that we had lived in Saint Cloud, Portland, Albuquerque, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Hawai’i. I was born here in Hawai’i.” As if bored, the skink turns its head away.

“Lizards suck!” I spray water at the skink cage. It eyes me. “My mom was trying to save me and you killed her!”

“Excuse me?” a male voice echoes through the room. Startled, I eye the skink.

“Did you say something?” I ask the skink.

“Ah, most of these moʻo can’t talk anymore…”

I jump forward, almost smashing into the skink terrarium as something touches my shoulder. I flip around, losing my grip on the water hose. It barely misses spraying a boy in a blue school uniform. I, of course, get drenched.

“Hey, whoa there! You okay?”

“Shit, shit, shit…” I turn off the hose. My coveralls are soaked. “Don’t sneak up on people like that!” I yell at the stupid boy as I unzip the top and tie the sleeves around my waist. His eyes sort of bug out. “What?”

“You… you’re…” The boy stutters and even through his tanned skin I can see him blushing.

Geez. Are all boys this dumb? “What do you need?”

The boy shakes his head and smiles. “Wow. They said you might be a bitch, but I didn’t think they were right…”

“What? Who are you to come in here and scare me, then call me a bitch?” Wow. Who was this guy?

His smile falters, “Sorry… that was mean. I don’t care what they say… you seem okay.” He reaches in to his back pack. “I have a letter for you.” He hands me a heavy envelope and turns on his heels and walks towards the entrance.

“Wait.” The boy stops at the sound of my voice. “What’s this?”

“You’ve been accepted into the Schools. Congrats.” He tilts his head a bit and I swear his eyes flash gold for a second. It must be a play of the light. He smiles. His green eyes search mine. His gaze reminds me of one of the many moʻo in the room. “Your eyes are cool. I hope you choose to come to my School instead.” And he walks out.

It takes me a moment before I run out after him. I look down the only way he could have gone but he’s just disappeared.

The envelope is thick and weighted in my grasp. No return address anywhere. Just my full name and address in big bold green letters.

“Julia ‘Iolani Lyons. Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo”

Who beside Aunty Mel and Nicky would send me anything here? No one knew I was here. I rip the envelope open. I manage to keep all the papers from flying out but a pamphlet escapes.

A strong tanned hand grabs it before it lands in a puddle of water below. My Grandfathers. His eyes look like they’ve seen a ghost. The pamphlet is a simple shiny green with no embellishments. What’s got Papa so worried?

“Where did you get this?”

“A boy dropped it off.”

“Did you see him leave?”

“No. He sort of just disappeared. It was weird. Why?” Nothing phased Papa’s happy-go-lucky attitude. I’d never seen him look so concerned about anything. “What’s this about Papa?”

“Did you say goodbye?”

“To the boy?” I ask. Papa looks at the cages around me. “Oh yeah… are we done?” I hardly finished any of my chores but leaving the moʻo cages early brightens my day a little.

Papa looks at the pamphlet again and reaches out to take the envelope carrying the rest of the papers. I hand it to him without question. “Papa, you’re starting to scare me. Why the serious face all of a sudden?”

“What serious face?” The look has been replaced by my Papa’s signature smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. He is definitely hiding something. “We have to go talk to your Tūtū. Just go say goodbye to your moʻo friends. I’ll have one of the guys take care of the rest.” He walks out of the room without another word. No matter what was going on, Papa was serious when it came to his animals. He’d know if I didn’t say goodbye. I turn to look at all the reptiles. A wave of nausea wants to take me down but I swallow it. I will not show weakness. The skink is the only one that notices me so, waggling my tongue, I blurt, “Goodbye moʻo! See you next year.” And I blow a loud raspberry at it for good measure.

The skink nods and sticks his long blue tongue out in reply.

***

A whopper of a headache is thumping behind my eyes as I read the pamphlet. “Stellar Academy welcomes you, Julia ‘Iolani Lyons. You have been accepted to attend one of our schools of your choice.” Stellar Academy? That was the new, really ginormous school on the northern end of Central Park. The one they built right after the war. What the…? I hadn’t applied to go there. My sophomore year at PS 33 starts in three days. My freshman year there had been a horrible experience and the change might be welcome but why was I transferred?

As I try to get my dizzying thoughts in order I hear yelling filter into the kitchen from the living room. My Tūtū is arguing with someone on the phone. There was only one person she lost her temper with. Aunty Mel.

“How could you not know that she had been accepted,” Tūtū’s voice was a fuming whisper. “Don’t give me that bullshit. Who else would have submitted her?” Tūtū was getting angry, “I don’t care what her mother would have wanted! … You don’t know that! She can still stay here, in Hawaii, where we can watch her. Where she can be safe! The school here is a much better fit for girls like her! She doesn’t need that Stellar School, she is an ‘Iolani not like you… Don’t you tell me to watch what I say Lyons…”

Girls like me. It was an age old argument that hardly stung any more. It was still a slap in the face to be reminded what trouble I’d been. I tried everyday to be better… but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough.

I look at Papa who gives me a sideways smile. “I don’t like it when she yells either…” He grins, “But at least she’s not yelling at me.”

“Papa… what is this all about? The boy who dropped it off said that he hoped I went to his school…”

“That boy goes to the school here… the one your Tūtū and I asked you if you wanted to go to, remember?” I remembered. It was at the start of the summer and I’d stupidly told Aunty Mel about it. It was the last time she and Tūtū had argued. I’d thought that one was bad. This argument was flying far beyond that one. “But now that you have been accepted at Stellar…” Papa continued, “well… It’s really your decision, Lani-girl. We will support and love you no matter what.” Papa envelopes me into his arms and my headache subsides a little. He nudges me toward the living room. “Go make this right.”

I stumble into the beautiful room filled with koa furniture and intricately woven lauhala leaf mats. “Fine! She can go but if anything happens to her… it’s your tail, Lyons.” Tūtū sees me approaching. “Lani-girl. Come here. Your Aunty Melanie would like to speak with you.”

“Yes, Tūtū.” I scurry over and take the phone.

“Oh Julia!” Ouch… my eardrums. Yep. It was my Aunty Melanie. “I’ve missed you so much! Your Grandmother just told me you got accepted to Stellar Academy! I’m so proud…”

“Aunty Mel,” Usually, I could hardly get a word in, but I had to interrupt. “Why am I going to Stellar? I thought you had to be smart or rich or special or something…”

“Kitten…You make me feel so old! How many times do I have to tell you to just call me Mel! Your grandparents told you to call me Aunty…”

“Mel!” I yell into the phone.

“Julia Kitten, you are special and smart! Do you remember the series of exams you took last year?” Yeah. I did. The school psychologist that Nicky and I went to gave us both a series of weird tests, essays, and a physical exam that made me feel like I was a lab rat. It was the worst.

Wait… crap. What about Nicky?

“Well, Stellar looked at your results and decided that you would be a great candidate for their high school program. I received notice a few months back that you might get in but I didn’t want to get my hopes up and I didn’t want you to be disappointed if you didn’t…”

“You knew and you didn’t tell me.” It wasn’t a question.

“Kitten, of course I knew. Like I said I didn’t want you to get your hopes up… I know that your current school hasn’t been the greatest and with your grandparents wanting you to stay in Hawaii…” she trailed off.

“So you made the decision for me? Mel… that is not fair.”

“Julia, please do not start with me too. Your Grandmother has already had her say. You already told me you didn’t want to stay in Hawaiʻi and you don’t like your current school. I know you’re just bored and Stellar is perfect for someone special like you.”

Yeah. “Special”… riiiight. And the less she mentioned my current stint at PS 33 the better. There was no way Aunty Melanie would have let me stay in Hawai’i, even if I wanted to. I just felt like the decision had been made for me. I hated that. But what could I do. And… What about Nicky? It was just another school. Nicky and I could still hang out before school and after school. Deep down I knew it wouldn’t ever be the same. I needed Nicky.

“Mel, I gotta go.”

“Okay?” Mel takes my silence for acquiescence. I’m so proud of you, Kitten.” My moms pet name for me. “Which reminds me… Mochi! Your cat is a rotten punk! She bit me the other day…”

“That’s because you always forget to feed her! Aunty… I gotta go!”

“Okay, okay! Love you, Julia.”

What could I say? “I love you too, Mel.” I hang up the house phone. I hear my grandparents arguing about the whole school situation in the kitchen. I can’t deal. I basically sealed my fate. There was no way I could stay in Hawaiʻi with those moʻo terrorizing me everyday and Mel would not have taken no for an answer. I rub the silver cuffs at my wrists. They itch and burn. Walking out the front door I step into the covered lanai. My beautiful Hawaiian morning has turned grey. Large drops start cascading onto the tin roof of my grandparents plantation home. The forest stretches out in front of me, gloomy and strange. Everything gets a little blurry as I fish around my coveralls for my phone to call Nicky. I gotta tell him the news.

Finding it in my back pocket, I sit down on the old sky blue rattan rocking chair. It protests under my weight. I feel another massive headache coming on. I go to my favorites list when my phone starts buzzing of its own accord signaling an incoming text. It’s from Nicky:

“Good Morning. Bad news.”

Tears threaten and my head pounds as my fingers find the right buttons. “Not worse than mine.” I text back. I could not go to a different school. I could not leave Nicky. Nicky was my rock.

Text back from Nicky, “Wanna bet?”

I laugh but it comes out as a sob. “Extra-large coffee and a bag of old-fashions from Ralph’s.” I type back.

“Donuts? Already feeling better. You’re on.”

Nicky’s corn flake colored hair and goofy smile pops up on my phone. I answer angrily with, “I got transferred to another school,” and it sounds like a garbled mess because Nicky shouts at the same time. I barely catch the words “moving” and “stupid school.”

“What?” we both bleat at the same time.

I begin to laugh. This was crazy-talk! I could not lose my best friend. I would not lose Nicky for some stupid school.

“Hey, Jules … please stop laughing. I’m super serious. I just got some weird notice from the state that I’m being transferred to Stellar Academy.”

I stop breathing.

“No way…” laughing hysterically. “Me too!”


Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment below! This experience is making my heart so happy!

Next Chapter to be published on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.

Hugs,

Pili

Shift by Pili Yarusi: The Prologue

PROLOGUE

“You want to see something that I can do?”

I stare. He looks like a completely normal fourth grade boy: brown hair, brown eyes and boogers. He seriously has one hanging from his left nose hole.

“Look, Rainbow… I don’t have all day. If you’re going to come we got to go before the office lady gets back.”

“Rainbow?” I give my best eyebrow arch. My mom does that.

“Your eyes have rainbows in them. So, you are Rainbow.” And just then a boy with cornflake colored hair shoots out of the Office.

“Dude… come on.” Cornflake hair zips by and out the front doors of the school.

“Coming?” The booger boy holds his hand out impatiently. I grab his hand and we fly though the front doors.

So, now I’m in the side alley of my new school. With Boogers and Cornflake.

I look at my reflection in the mud puddle below. My hair is poofing out in all directions framing my weird eyes. Instead of hiding my face it just makes me look crazy. I probably should have kept my long, curly brown hair in those pigtails that Mom braided for me this morning. I probably shouldn’t be cutting class on my first day at my new school. Mom is going to be so mad at me… As the excitement of our flight from school dwindles, my eyes change from violet to green to grey. Every time my my eyes change there is a second where the world becomes that color.

“RAINBOW!” Booger interrupts my thoughts. You’re not even paying attention! Look what I can do!”

“This is my first day of school and I don’t really want to look at boogers.” Eww. Just the thought of boogers make my eyes change to a yellowish-green. Ha! Now the world is booger-colored.

“Like you were doing anything better in the library.” Booger sneezes.

“Bless you. At least I wasn’t cutting.” My eyes switch back to gray.

“You were, though.” Cornflake said.

“I was not!” Flaring back to a brilliant violet, I turn my eyes, giving them my best mean stare. They’re not paying attention to me and… Whoa. I’m used to strange things but this was super unreal. As I watch, Boogers hands blur… like it’s out of focus and covered by mist at the same time. He stretches his fingers out. Except now they’re not fingers. His hands have changed into dark brown paws with sharp gray claws. His hand blurs again, Booger slumps and his hands are back to normal. I move forward to catch him but Cornflake gets there first.

“Dude, you okay?”

“Yeah… It just makes me tired to do that…” He shakes it off.

“Can you do it again?” I’m still staring at his hands.

“Nah… I’m tired now. Nic made me do it a couple of times already.” He wipes his nose with the back of his sleeve. At least the boogers are not on his face now. “I want to see you change your eyes!”

“You can do that?” Cornflake asks.

“Yeah. My eyes usually just change on their own but sometimes if I concentrate on something I can do it.” I look into Cornflakes clear blue eyes. He stares back, unflinching. The world blurs a little, kind of like Booger’s hands. Never noticed that before.

“Woooaaah!! Wow!” Cornflake and Booger jump up and down like crazy monkeys.

“Stop! Someone will hear you!” I look back towards the entrance of the alley. Was there someone there?

“Your eyes did this crazy rainbow kaleidoscope thing then changed to blue, just like Nic’s eyes!” Booger whispers excitingly.

“It’s not as cool as your hand though. I wish I had claws.” Cornflake whimpers. “I can’t do anything cool. I’ve tried. See!” He screws his face up like he’s on the toilet. “Nothing!”

“Try again!” Booger laughs with me and Cornflake gives him a small shove. His face is just too much.

Booger suddenly stops laughing. Cornflake looks as if he’s going to shove him again but is frozen in mid-action. I poke him. Nothing. I look at Booger. “Come on guys this isn’t funny.” I poke Booger. They’re both frozen. “What’s going on?” Boogers eyes move side to side, looking frightened. They look beyond me towards the light at the front of the alley. This feels like one of those scary movie moments where you hope the girl doesn’t turn around.

I turn around.

The sun is blinding. The tall man is just a dark shadow in the middle of it. Maybe a teacher? “Hello? I’m sorry. I know were not supposed to be down here but could you help me? My friends… Something’s wrong with them. Could you help me, please.” I hear a barking noise and some laughter. The guy has something furry with him. A dog, maybe? Teachers don’t have dogs. The dog growls. That is my only warning as it barrels down the alley towards me. I barely have time to lift my arms to protect myself when creature hits me. I fly backwards into my friends.

A sharp pain blooms as my head slams against the hard ground. Cornflake and Booger groan, unfrozen. The dog that hit us isn’t a dog at all. It’s a bear. With a roar, it charges after us again, kicking both boys.

“Stop!” I scream. The bear doesn’t stop. It steps towards me and smiles, it’s sharp teeth just inches from my face.

The bear growls, “You said if we scared them enough they would Change.”

“I didn’t say for you to hurt them.” The man replies.

“Why not? You said they were freaks. Shouldn’t be allowed to live. I was just playing with our food before we…” The bear snaps his teeth.

“Just stop.”

“Why are you doing this?” I ask though my tears. He called us freaks. I don’t even know this guy. The man and bear look at me. The man was much older than I thought. He looks like one of those movie star guys in the films my Mom and I like to watch. The bear looks exactly like the pictures of the bear cubs that play in the wild. Except this bear is foaming at the mouth, looking really scary. Big bad baby bear. It is so much taller than me. Baby bears are not supposed to be this tall. Now that I think about it, bears are not supposed to talk, either.

I hear a small whimper. Booger is groaning and Cornflake blinks up at me. There is a line of blood dripping into his pain-filled blue eyes. “Why are you doing this to us.” I whisper.

“You want more?” The bear steps forward and leers at me.

“No,” I try not to clam up. If I run now, I’m pretty sure the bear will catch me. My head hurts but I push myself up.

“Hey,” the bear turns his black snout to look back at the man. “She has weird eyes like this little blond rat on the ground … except hers change. She has rainbow eyes.”

“My eyes are… not… rainbows!” This stupid bear didn’t know anything about me! “My eyes don’t turn red or orange!” I get up.

“Hey, stay back, you … you … you freak,” The bear shies away from my approach. “You might be one of them!”

“What are you talking about?” I barely get the sentence out as the man grabs me, and before I can breathe out a scream, he throws me back down. I fall into Cornflake. We both roll into a puddle of mud. He must really be hurt. I sit him up out of the mud and hold him as well as I can. Blood is flowing from the cut on his head. I press my hand to it. Booger rolls to the side. He looks at me briefly then back down. I follow his gaze. He changes his hands into paws again. His claws look extra sharp this time.

The man gets into my face, he was definitely older, my Mom’s age. His bloodshot brown eyes are filled with hate. He might look like a movie star but his eyes reminded me of the dead fish in the grocery store. The ones wrapped in plastic. I like to poke at those plastic-wrapped fisheyes.

My vision goes blurry for a moment. I blink. Maybe I need glasses. Good idea. I could hide my eyes in glasses. My eyes were getting me into trouble. I close my eyes tight. Maybe if I wish hard enough he would go away.

“You’re her daughter, aren’t you?” he spits into my face.

The baby bear yells, “Weirdo! You’re a freak!” The rabid talking baby bear was calling me a “weirdo”? I opened my eyes and saw two blue ones staring right back into mine. I smile. Cornflake smiles back tightly. I feel the fish-eyed man’s boot dig into my ribs. I wince but I won’t move.

“Bring me the girl.” The fish-eyed man licks his dry, cracked lips with a lizard-like tongue.

“No… please!” Cornflake holds onto me as the baby bear tries to pry me away. I didn’t know what this had to do with my Mom but she always told me to keep my eyes to myself. She said not to look too long at anyone if I was angry. She said I could only do it if they were hurting me. So I looked up at my attackers and I did what I always did when I got angry. I let my weirdo eyes go into little slits and I stare at the baby bear. It can’t look away. It screams. They always scream. The baby bear wasn’t so big and bad after all.

Just then, Booger pounces and slashes at the rabid screaming baby bear with his claws. Booger leaps to the side, evading the grasp of the man and runs out of the alley. I push at Cornflake, “RUN!” I scream at him. But it’s too late. The baby bear barrels into Cornflake and slams him against the ground. I hear a sickening thud as Cornflake slams into a nearby wall and crumbles to the ground. He doesn’t move.

“Go after the other one!” The man yells. At least one of us got away.

I am about to turn my gaze onto fish-eyed man when I feel his clammy hands go around my neck.

“What the hell did you do? You’re HER, aren’t you?” The fish-eyed man’s hands were cutting off my air. I couldn’t breathe. It hurt. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”

The funny thing was, he sounded like he really wanted to make me feel better. He sounded like he wanted to take my pain away. I can’t breathe. I feel the world slipping away and I see Cornflake lying there on the ground. Not moving. I see my mom’s smile as she holds me, warm in her arms. It is the best place to be. I look up at my mom. She looks terrified. “FIGHT!” she screams! “Julia, FIGHT!” Anger floods me as the image of my mom is replaced by the fish-eyed man. The world blurs. My hands burn and I screech as I reach up. Yellow talons tear at Fish-eyes eyes. He drops me, screaming.

“Julia!” A familiar voice roars. She’s really here!

“Mom!!!” I yell with what little breath I had. She sounds so far away.

“You Animal!” Fish-eyes screams over me. There were three deep scratches blooming red, running down his forehead to chin. His body began to blur as he hisses. “I’ll take care of you then your mother!”

He disappears.

“Julia!” My mom sounds closer.

“Mom! Mommy!” I feel a tightening around my body as I am lifted into the air. A coil wraps around my chest, my neck. I am being crushed. A face appears in front of mine. He still has Fisheyes but now those eyes were attached to a very large snake.

Everything happens slowly after that. I see Mom running towards me in the distance. Fisheyes the Snake shakes me. Everything blurs again and I am suddenly released. I blink. I fly to the side grabbing Cornflake with me. I feel strangely light. My talons reach out toward my Mom but Fisheyes the Snake gets in my way. Everything really hurts. I hold onto Cornflake. The air ripples and goes black.

***

Red blood runs in ribbons from my talons. The gray sky blurs out of focus as my world shifts. My hands are in my face. I have blood on them. There are bits of flesh in my fingernails. I feel the gooey warmth travel down my forearms. Flesh is gooey. Blood is red. Dripping, I feel the warmth dripping from my elbows onto my bare feet.

I feel the throbbing pain come back. Searing pain. Everything hurts. I hear sobbing. Is that me?

Rivers run from my eyes. Is it blood too?

I look away from my blood-red, gooey hands. I am standing in a pool of blood. Mine? The world swims in a blur of red. I hear screaming. People are gathering.

“Oh my god. Is she dead?”

She? Me?

Where is my Mom?

I am pushed to the side and Cornflake is taken from me. I hold onto myself. Everything hurts. Someone is shouting. I hold my hands to my ears. I don’t hear. I don’t understand. I turn my head and my vision clears.

Mom is lying in a pool of blood.

Mom’s eyes look like deadfisheyes.

“Mom?”

I feel hands carry me away. I need to escape.

I need to fly away.

 

Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment below! Let me know your thoughts. Thank you to Siya Oum for the beautiful cover art. Thank you to my valentine and husband, Jason Yarusi, for your tireless support.

Next Chapter to be published on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.