A Whateley Academy Adventure
With Pokes and Prods by
E. E. Nalley
So I had done wrong but you put me right
My judgment burned in the black of night
When I give less than I take
It is my fault, my own mistake
Birdy, Learn Me Right
Friday, September 14, Afternoon
The Quad, Whateley Academy
"Ah really don't like it when Mrs. Carson's office says something is urgent," Lanie grumbled, walking beside the buckskin-clad girl toward Schuster Hall.
Kayda nodded, her smile grim, because she had the exact same feeling. "I know what you mean. But ... I haven't been able to think of anything that might get me in trouble!" The two walked a few steps further, both trying to think of what the meeting could mean. "You don't suppose," the shorter, dark-haired girl speculated, "that this is another one of those meetings, do you?"
"Ah don't think so. Tansy would have been invited, too, and she's still in mah lab." The tall redhead scratched her chin for a moment. "Maybe this is about your uniform waiver?" Unlike the other girls, including Lanie, who wore the Whateley school uniform, Kayda wore distinctly Native American clothes. She'd petitioned for, and gotten, a religious waiver to the dress code.
"Then why would you be involved? Unless ... since you're my RA, you're expected to be my personal fashion cop?" The two girls arrived at Schuster Hall, the hub of campus activity. "We'll know soon enough, I guess," Kayda said about half-fatalistically. Surmounting the steps, they walked a very familiar path to the administrative wing of the building, and without pausing, pushed open the frosted glass door which gave the administrative staff a modicum of privacy from the noise of students coming and going.
Lanie walked boldly to the administrative aide's desk, noting from the corner of her eye that Ms. Hartford, the Assistant Headmistress, was not at her desk. That didn't bode well. "Good mornin'," she said politely. "Office or conference room?"
Elaine Claire, the aide, smiled. "You two have this down pat! I see that practice does make perfect! Mrs. Carson's office today."
The door to the Headmistress' office was ajar, but Lanie still knocked before poking her head inside. For a brief moment, she was startled, because not only was Mrs. Carson in her office, but Ms. Hartford, the assistant, and Louis Geintz, or at least his psychic projection, were there as well.
"Come in, Miss Nalley," Mrs. Carson invited her in without sounding harsh or unhappy. "Is Miss Franks ...." She halted when Lanie pushed the door open and she could see that Kayda was behind her. "Come in, both of you, and close the door behind you, please. Then have a seat."
Dutifully, and curious, the two girls sat down in two wing chairs which were part of the 'informal' conversation area of the Headmistress' office, unlike the more formal seats around her massive and imposing mahogany desk, which she used for more serious meetings. That alone gave Kayda a small sense of relief.
"Do you know why you're here?" Mrs. Carson began.
Lanie shook her head, but Kayda gulped nervously. "We didn't do anything beyond a little kissing!" she blurted out defensively. "And we were trying to work on the transmission. It just .... We just ended up kind of close, and I guess ... we just kind of ... kissed!"
"Kayda!" Lanie hissed at her companion, urging her to be quiet.
"And we were under Lanie's car, so it wasn't like we were putting on a public show!" the Lakota girl continued hastily.
Mrs. Carson stared at her a second, and then a sly smile crept across the Headmistress' features, while Ms. Hartford just smirked at the two girls. "That's very interesting, and I'm sure you're going to have a nice long discussion with Mrs. Horton about appropriate and inappropriate public displays of affection. But that's not the topic for today's meeting." Kayda blushed beet red when she realized she'd disclosed something that she hadn't needed to.
"Have either of you noticed anything unusual about Miss Walcutt?" Ms. Hartford asked in a guarded tone.
"Yeah," Lanie said with a nod. "She's changed ... a lot."
"She's not a bitch like everyone says she used to be," Kayda agreed, "and she's got more self-confidence."
"I think we've all noticed that," Ms. Hartford said, "and we all agree it's for the better. But I was thinking more about some specific recent behaviors."
A dawn of recognition broke across the redhead's features. "She has been getting in trouble quite a bit lately, if that's what you mean."
"Bingo," Mr. Geintz said with a nod. "She's exhibiting some self-destructive patterns of behavior."
"She helped me, and she's helped Danny," Kayda protested, not quite sure what Mr. Geintz and the administrators were suggesting.
"But ... she's changed!" Lanie protested weekly. She had been paying attention to her friend's actions, and she was concerned, but to call it self-destructive didn't make sense to her.
"Some parts, yes," Mrs. Carson agreed. "But in other ways, she's still angry and vengeful. Now, though, she's directing all that negativity inwards, at herself."
Kayda wrinkled her nose. "That's ... that's a job for Dr. Bellows and the psychiatric staff."
"Normally, I would agree," Professor Geintz said. "And she does talk to me, but for some reason, she doesn't trust the counselors, and she doesn't talk to me as frequently or as in-depth as she needs. There are some complexities and hidden emotions and scars that I've seen, but I can't discuss without her permission, not even with the psychiatric staff." He winced. "Psychic Code of Ethics."
"If she won't talk to counselors," Kayda asked, curious why the topic was being broached with them, "then what are we supposed to do? We're not trained in psychology!"
Mrs. Carson sighed. "As her only friends," she said heavily, "you need to find a way to help her, either directly or by persuading her to trust a counselor. Before she steps over the line. And she's come too close to that line once too often." Her expression was grave, as were those of Ms. Hartford and Mr. Geintz.
"What can we do?" Lanie protested. "We're not the pros!"
"You can help your friend," Wakan Tanka said to Kayda, having yanked the girl into her dream-space. "You are a shaman."
"I'm just learning to be a shaman!" Kayda protested sharply. "What if I mess up? I ... I can't do something that would hurt her more!"
"How does a warrior or woman deal with problems?" the spirit Kayda channeled asked simply.
"They ... go on a vision quest," the girl replied slowly. "Hembleciya."
"You must help your friend have a vision quest. You must help her find her dream. In that way, she can be guided to ask the right questions of herself, and to find the answers within herself."
Kayda blinked as her spirit released her conscious mind back into the real world, and she noticed the others were staring at her. "My spirit ... told me I have to help her. She told me what I need to do to help Tansy." She glanced at her red-headed friend, then back at the administrators. "I need a pass from classes this afternoon so I can find a suitable site ... for a vision quest."
"Okay," Ms. Hartford said warily, not questioning what the shaman-girl was saying.
"Then the three of us will need to be excused from classes Monday. All day," the shaman-in-training continued. "And you'll need to let our houseparents know that we'll be gone all weekend, until ... probably sometime Monday morning."
"Can we help with anything?" Mrs. Carson inquired. "Food, supplies, tents?"
Kayda shook her head with a knowing smile. "It is Hembleciya," she replied, "Crying for a Dream. It's not a camping trip. Fasting and physical discomfort are part of the ritual to prepare one's mind for the vision."
"Tell us what you need, and we'll make the arrangements," Mrs. Carson directed the girls.
Friday, September 14, Evening
Dickinson Cottage, Whateley Academy
At the base of the stairs, Tansy stopped, her mouth slightly agape in surprise. Mrs. Selkirk and Mrs. Nelson were standing on either side of Lanie and Kayda, with somewhat serious expressions on their faces. Kayda wore her 'working' shaman outfit, a buckskin dress with minimal ornamentation, and a bison-skull-themed headdress that obscured her upper face and eyes, which few had seen her wear. Lanie wore her Pict outfit, with the woad mask on her face. Both looked very somber, and were looking directly at her.
"What's ... going on?" Tansy asked, baffled, as the two housemothers approached her. On the first floor, several girls were sitting in the sofa and chairs, ostensibly studying but all eyes were glued on the developing spectacle at the foot of the stairs.
"Tansy," Mrs. Nelson said simply, "you're going to go with Elaine and Kayda for ... a while.
"I think I'm underdressed," Tansy chuckled uneasily, but she got no response.
Mrs. Nelson nodded toward the blonde's ever-present equipment belt. "You won't need your holdouts."
"You'll be fine, dear," Mrs. Selkirk added, trying to sound reassuring to the blonde. "Your equipment?" she, too, held her hand toward Tansy's belt. "We'll keep this safe for you until you get back.
Puzzled, she handed her holdouts to her housemother. "Now I know what Batman feels like without his bat-belt." There was, again, no response. Sighing, the girl resigned herself to whatever awaited her, and she didn't protest when Lanie took her hands and crossed them, nor when Kayda bound them with a simple leather thong. "Ooohhh," Tansy purred, "kinky!" If she expected a response from her friends, she was disappointed. Mrs. Selkirk, though, didn't quite stifle a chuckle of amusement, and several of the girls who were watching guffawed audibly.
Kayda took a simple black cloth from a pouch at her belt and unfolded it. Tansy looked questioningly at Kayda. "Come on," she practically pleaded. "This is cute, but enough is enough!" Nobody answered her protest while the shorter Lakota girl tied the blindfold on Tansy, masking her vision completely.
Mustang! the blonde called in her head, a little unsettled by the occurrences. Only her trust of the two girls had kept her from fighting back, but her patience for the unknown was wearing thin. What's going on? What are they doing?
It is Hembleciya, the spirit responded. The vision quest.
Vision quest? What for? The girl was as baffled as ever, and starting to get a little concerned. Myths and stories she'd heard of vision quests weren't exactly comforting.
Because your friends and the school leaders think you must do this, the horse-spirit answered as if the comment was only-too obvious.
They ... they talked to you? Tansy was baffled. In the real world, seeing her hesitance, Lanie began tying on the blindfold, startling the blonde again because she'd been focused on her spirit's surprising news.
No. The Ptesanwi talked to me and communicated the wishes of her host, the redhead, and the adult leaders. Now go, do your hembleciya. Find your answers. Because it is a sacred thing for the People, I am not allowed talk to you until your vision quest is concluded. The horse-spirit sounded like Tansy wasn't going to change his mind. I will be here, as I always am, but I will not communicate with you.
But ... you're supposed to be on my side! she protested.
I am on your side. Like them, I think that you need hembleciya. And I cannot help you; you must find your own answers, free from any interference I might cause.
You're supposed to protect me ... she started to object. By that point, the blindfold had been tied on, and she felt even more helpless now that she couldn't see, she had no holdouts, and her spirit had told her that she was basically on her own for a while.
You must trust the Ptesanwi and the Pict Daughter. Dream well, Tansy. I shall observe, but I may not interfere. The voice of the spirit went silent.
"Lanie? Kayda?" Tansy's voice trembled slightly.
"They aren't going to speak," Mrs. Selkirk answered for them. "I was told that it's part of the ritual." She stepped to Tansy's side and gently took her elbow, guiding the blonde exemplar to her two oddly-attired, silent friends.
"But ... what's going on?" Tansy asked, even more confused.
"Tansy," Mrs. Nelson was at her other side, "the administration says you need to do this ritual, whatever it is. They told me it's a himble-chiyo, or something like that, and that it's very important for you. Now you girls get going."
Her two friends stepped to her sides, lightly touching her elbows, and guided her out the front door of the cottage. Tansy was more unnerved by their stony silence than anything, so after a couple dozen yards away from Schuster toward Whitman Cottage, she forced a light chuckle. "Okay, the joke's on me. Now what's this all about?" The comment was met with no response at all.
For nearly twenty minutes, the girls led Tansy away from the campus core in a winding path, up and down hills, pausing every so often to turn her a full turn or two or three, all to help confuse her as to her location and her possible surroundings. Though she was an exemplar with superior memory and reflexes, the steps taken by Kayda and Lanie had totally confused her sense of direction. In short, she had absolutely no idea where she was, which was by design.
The trio stopped in a small clearing, and the two friends guided Tansy to sitting on a tree stump. "What's going on?" she asked. There was, of course, no reply, and she didn't even hear the girls' breathing, nor footsteps that would have marked their departure. In short, the girl was totally blinded to her situation, sitting on a stump, surrounded by who-knew-what, and worse, when she tried to focus on sensing her friends' emotions, she found nothing but a sort-of psychic white-noise. Damn, but Kayda learned quickly!
Every creak of a tree branch in the breeze, every hoot of an owl, even the soft rustle of leaves as small animals browsed in the night-time woods, sounded amplified to Tansy. Inwardly, her mind raced, fighting panic. She'd never been afraid of closed-in spaces, but now she had to confront a darkness that she'd never experienced, a situation where she had no idea what was around her, and a sense of total abandonment.
Lanie stepped back from the blonde, beside Kayda. Touching her, she cocked her head toward Tansy. "Now what?" she asked softly.
"You don't need to whisper now," Kayda replied. "The silence spell will keep her from hearing us, and the shield will keep her from sensing our thoughts."
"A cone of silence spell?" Lanie chuckled. "Cute. How long ...?"
"We will wait with her until morning, or until she becomes too distressed. It is our job to protect her from danger from without while she confronts the danger from within."
"Then what? Why did you say two or three days?"
Kayda smiled as she took off the oppressively-hot headdress. "Tonight's ordeal is just the beginning. Tomorrow, we start in the sweat lodge ...."
"Oooh, kinky!" Lanie chortled.
Kayda rolled her eyes at her soul-sister. "Not like that! After some tea for Tansy. It's a ... special herbal blend. It will make her ...," she winced, "well, it's mildly hallucinogenic. So our job is to continue to protect her, to make sure she has water between dreams, and to make sure she doesn't panic."
"It looks like she's starting to do just that," Lanie said, her eyes focused in concern on the blonde.
"I noticed. Give her a very light touch on her arm, enough that she knows she's safe. It usually only take once or twice to calm a person so that they can make it through the night. I'm going into dream space to protect her from ... bad things there."
Saturday, September 15, 2007 - Between Midnight and Dawn
Woods near the Nations Clubhouse
Tansy sat, fighting the sense of panic at being alone. Thrice already she'd been nearly overcome by her fear of isolation, and three times, one of her friends had lightly touched her on her arm to let her know she wasn't alone. The blonde exemplar felt profound shame at being so weak; she knew she should be strong enough to complete the ordeal by herself, and she hated herself for her unknown fears, those bogey-men who made her practically gasp for breath as she trembled. How long had it been since she'd felt a touch? A half hour? An hour? Two? Time was a meaningless quantity, as she had no references. She'd tried using her own heartbeat as a clock, but as the panic had set in, she'd lost count in the jumbled thoughts churning in her mind, and her heart had begun to race wildly, making any reckoning of time that way meaningless.
And so she sat, trying to turn her fear into determination. She knew her best friends were doing this out of concern, whatever this was. She was not going to let her fears get the better of her. She was going to master those doubts and her inner terror at feeling so alone. At the altitude of the school, fall evenings were cool; she shivered involuntarily as the chilled air sapped at her strength. If she'd have known the purpose, she might have felt different, but without that knowledge, she was starting to subconsciously harbor uncertainty, which as time continued its inexorable march through the night, was starting to change into mild distrust, of the Lakota girl and her ritual that was making Tansy so damned uncomfortable.
"Her dream-space is a total jumble of disorganized thoughts and memories," Kayda said, having come out of her trance-like state to talk with Lanie. "She's obviously fighting her doubts and fears."
"Ah'm worried that she's goin' to start having negative feelings toward you, since this is a Native American ritual you're puttin' her through."
Kayda smiled nervously. "That's what has to happen, actually." Seeing the surprise on her best friend's face, she continued. "When we get into her visions, she has to have that set of feelings fresh in her mind."
"Why? That sounds ... like you're takin' a big chance."
"Tansy has to understand how her feelings change. She can use tonight's ordeal as a reference to show how her fears turned into other, stronger, more negative feelings. Then she can begin to unravel her current negative, subconscious behaviors." Kayda didn't sound totally certain of what she was doing, even though her spirit had assured her several times that she was doing things properly. There was a risk that Tansy might have lingering resentment toward Kayda. But the girl knew that Tansy had to have a successful vision quest, or her behavior would eventually cross a line that even the patient Mrs. Carson couldn't ignore.
Saturday, September 15 - Morning
Woods Near the Nations' Clubhouse, Whateley Academy
The rays of light warmed Tansy's skin, giving her the only sensory input that the long night was over. Knowing that it was daylight, that she'd made it through one of the longest nights of her life, was comforting, even though the blindfold was so total that she still could see no light.
And then she felt hands at the back of her head, and the vision-restricting band was loosened. Tansy gave a large, involuntary shudder of relief, and for a few seconds, her eyes adjusted to the sudden bright morning. She looked with grateful eyes at Lanie, but her gaze toward Kayda was a trifle more guarded.
The Lakota girl unfastened Tansy's hands, and the girl stretched to loosen her stiff muscles. "Now what?" Tansy asked curiously, although she was convinced she was going to get no response.
"Now," Kayda replied, surprising the blonde, "bathroom and something to drink so you don't dehydrate, and then we cleanse for the next bit."
"That's not all?" Tansy asked, surprised and her voice conveying a little bit of concern.
The Lakota girl shook her head. "Come on." She offered her hand to Tansy and helped her stand. After all three of them stretched out their stiff muscles, Kayda led them - her first, Tansy second, and Lanie following in the rear - over a small hillock and into The Nations little camp and clubhouse.
Outside the sweat lodge, Tansy hesitated. "Why are you doing this?" she asked softly.
"Because we're worried about you," Kayda replied. "You helped both of us. Now it's our turn to help you."
"But ... I don't need ...."
"Yes, you do," Lanie retorted. "You're always pushing the line, seeing how far you can bend the rules."
"I'm not ...."
"Yes, you are!" Kayda cut off her protest. "It's almost like some part of you is trying to prove that you're still a monster, that you're not worthy of praise and positive attention and friendship!"
"You lied to protect Danny," Lanie started to recount those things she knew about, counting them off on her fingers.
"You violated the psychic code of ethics," Kayda added, to which the redhead held up another finger.
"But that was to help you!" Tansy argued. "Are you trying to play amateur psychologists on me?"
At that moment, Fubar appeared near the girls, clad in simple buckskin so that he fit in with the setting. "You don't trust the staff," he said solemnly, "so you need to trust your friends to help you."
"I talk to you!" Tansy replied.
"But you're not completely open even with me," the psychic projection shot right back. "It's hard to know how to trust me with your thoughts and feelings," he continued to the startled girl, "when you don't recognize your own deepest thoughts and feelings and fears."
"I've changed," Tansy said defensively. "I've ...."
"Have you?" Fubar asked pointedly. "Outwardly, in your conscious thoughts, I agree, but deep down, in your subconscious, have you really changed?" He smiled sadly and continued before the blonde could reply. "And of course, the answer is no, you haven't. You, like most people, don't even know your subconscious thoughts, the things that, unseen, hidden, motivate your actions."
Kayda laid her hand on Tansy's arm. "It's like me. I ... subconsciously, I knew I'd been gang-raped," she winced at her own words, but took a breath and calmed herself, "but I blocked that from my conscious thoughts. I didn't know why I was doing some things, why I was reacting the way I was. I had to confront that ugly truth before I could change how I reacted to others." She smiled reassuringly. "We're your friends. We're here to help you."
"Tansy," Fubar said evenly, "Kayda, Mrs. Carson, Dr. Bellows, and I consulted, and we agreed that this is worth trying. Before your hidden feelings drive you across a line you don't want to cross." He smiled at the exemplar. "Your friends are trying to help you, because they honestly care about you."
Tansy looked at the two girls, scrutinizing their faces for any sign of subterfuge or malicious intent, but there was none. All she saw were expressions of sincere concern. "Okay," she finally said, nodding. "I'll try." With that, Fubar smiled and vanished. "Now what?"
"Purification in the sweat lodge," Kayda replied, stepping to the dome-shaped Native American sauna and holding open the entrance flap.
As the girls stripped off their clothes in the sweat lodge after their morning ablutions, Kayda couldn't help but gawk at Tansy. Unlike Lanie, she'd never seen the blonde in the nude, and the near-perfection of the girl's skin and curves made her feel a little inadequate in comparison.
"You like what you see?" Lanie asked with a smirk. She had seen Kayda staring a bit.
Kayda's dusky cheeks flushed darker as she hastily looked away. "I wasn't ... I mean, it wasn't ... I wasn't staring or anything!" she said very defensively.
"Didn't you learn at the hot tub party that it's okay to look?" Lanie asked, waggling her eyebrows. Then she struck an exaggerated pose, showing off her curvy nude body. Tansy gawked a moment, and then she, too, thrust her chest out and posed in a blatantly sexual advertisement of her body.
The Lakota girl was surprised by the flagrantly sexy display of feminine curves before her. "We've got to get to this part," she said, subconsciously thrusting out her own chest as she turned away from the two toward the heated rocks that would make the steam for the sauna-like ritual. "There's still a lot to do."
Tansy slipped up on one side of the Lakota girl, and Lanie on the other, sandwiching her into a three-way naked hug. "Flaunting your body like that," Lanie snickered at her friend, "we might be a little delayed!"
"Back, foul temptresses!" Kayda laughed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "We aren't supposed to be interrupting the ritual with that kind of playing around," she said, turning to speak to Tansy, right into a big kiss from the blonde. Eyes goggling, she brushed away Tansy's hand which was moving toward her breast. "That's not on the agenda," she reminded the other two, breaking away from the kiss.
"Aw!" Lanie pouted. "Ah was looking forward to a steamy three-way."
Kayda spanked the back of Lanie's hand, which was trying to slip around her waist. "You two can fool around later!"
"Spoil sport!" Tansy feigned a grumbling complaint.
Under Kayda's stern direction, the two sat down by the center circle of the sweat lodge, a circle filled with artificial rocks that had built-in heaters. She began to chant a Lakota song of blessing, pausing occasionally to pour water to sizzle on the rocks or put on some herbs which added a pungent fragrance to the vapor filling the room. After two more songs, punctuated with more fragrant herbs, Kayda looked at the two girls, both of whom were very, very relaxed, bordering on dazed. She smiled to herself as she splashed more water on the rocks and then let the heat and steam soak into her, washing away the stiffness and chill from the previous night.
"Comfy?" Lanie asked with a giggle as the three girls settled into the Nations' tipi. She glanced at the furry buffalo blankets on one side of the dwelling. "That looks warm and cozy." She sounded almost like she was tipsy.
"And you're not going to sleep," Kayda warned her friend. "Tansy?"
"Yeah?" the blonde replied hesitantly, her gaze was a little dulled by the herbs that had been in the steam in the sweat lodge. Kayda, of course, had used a spell so she wouldn't be affected.
Kayda handed the girl a cup of herbal brew. "Drink this." She saw the questioning look dawn on the blonde's face. "It's a ... special brew to help you relax and enter a dream state. And yes, it's mildly hallucinogenic." When Lanie's eyebrows shot up, glancing at her own cup of drink, and then at Kayda, she smiled. "Ours is just my regular blend."
"Is it safe?" Tansy asked cautiously.
"Yes, I've had it before," Kayda replied easily. "It's the traditional brew for hembleciya. It's perfectly safe. But you'll be in a dream-like trance off and on for the next while, which is why we're we'll be here to ensure your safety."
"What ... what do I do?" the blonde exemplar asked hesitantly.
"Nothing. Just make yourself comfortable on a buffalo robe, then drink the tea. You'll be sleepy in minutes, so you want to be lying down." The shaman-in-training smirked, "When I did mine, I was sitting, leaning against a tree. I was so sore when I finished my hembleciya!"
Tansy sat as directed, marveling a moment at how surprisingly soft and lush the furry buffalo hide was, and then she lifted the cup. "Cheers," she said nervously. As Kayda had predicted, with fatigue from the previous night and being hungry, the girl was very quickly lying down, nearly dead to the world, her eyes still open but glassy from the tea.
"So now we have a little fun while she's dreaming?" Lanie said suggestively, waggling her eyebrows.
Kayda rolled her eyes at Lanie's antics. "Is that all you think about, cuwe ki?"
"Whenever possible, yes! Ah can't think of a better way to spend time together!"
"Well, you're going to have to guard her, and I've got to go to dream space to make sure she's safe." She pointed at a water bottle. "She might wake now and again, and if she does, make sure she drinks some water." She saw the redhead open her mouth with an obvious question. "No, she shouldn't need to use the bathroom while she's out," Kayda answered pre-emptively. "The tea and the nature of the vision quest see to that."
Dreamspace of Tansy Penelope Walcutt
The vast nothingness of the dream world, a grayish-white world without boundaries or features of any kind, somewhat frightened Tansy, as if she were standing in an infinite fog bank. Wearing only designer jeans and boots and a very dressy top that were ill-suited to an environment which might be dangerous, she walked on something, but she couldn't see the ground. There were noises around her, but she couldn't discern the sources of them. She trudged this way and that for several minutes, but there was no clarity, nothing of note.
"Hello?" she called out, trying to sound calm, but her voice wavered a little at being so alone in such a place. Her nerves weren't helped by the fact that she had no weapons or holdouts or even her combat suit.
Above her head, the gray mist parted, revealing a blue sky, through which circled a magnificent bird. From a mental library of useless trivia and facts, and the keen recollection of an exemplar, she quickly identified it as a golden eagle, which was circling lower and lower, with her at the epicenter of the descending spiral.
"What is it you seek," the bird called out from a less than ten feet above the girl's head, low enough that Tansy felt the rush of air when it beat its massive wings, "Tansy Penelope Walcutt?"
"You ... know me?" Tansy stammered, astonished. "And you speak?"
"This is your hembleciya," the eagle said, and if eagles could grin, it was grinning at what it considered a silly question. "Of course I know you. The question is, do you know yourself? Or is that why you're here?"
"I don't understand," Tansy wrinkled her brow in confusion. "I ... I know who I am."
"You know that you're Tansy Walcutt," the eagle shot back. "But do you know who Tansy Walcutt is inside? Your dreams, your fears, your hopes? What you love, and what you hate?" Tansy gawked at the eagle as he circled close overhead, turning in place to keep watching him. "Do you know why you act the way you do, what hidden things shape your emotions and actions?"
"Of course I do," Tansy was even more uncertain in her answer.
"If you did know," the eagle replied enigmatically, "then why are you here?" Before Tansy could answer, the eagle answered for her. "You are here because your actions show that you don't know who you are."
The eagle swooped down, and his wing brushed against Tansy's arm before she could dodge, and instantly, she found herself in the air beside the bird, turning where he turned, flying where he flew. With mighty flaps of the eagle's wings, they gained altitude, flying over a layer of the gray fog, until they began to circle over an opening. Tansy gasped at the scene in the mist, recognizing it instantly.
The four-year-old girl sat all by herself in the child's playroom, part of a wing of the vast mansion for her and her nanny, and it would have been the place for other siblings if she had them. Alas, there were no more, so she remained alone for the most part. Who knew where her mother was? Possibly in her bed half-sauced already, or out on one of her 'society' events. The butler never came into the nursery wing, and for some reason, her father had called her nanny some time ago, leaving the girl all alone - again.
As usual, the first few minutes seemed relatively normal, but as time dragged on, fears of abandonment began to prick at young Tansy's mind, just like they always did. Was she alone now? Had the adults all left? Wandering around the thoroughly child-proofed play room, bedroom, and bathroom and testing the doors was no longer a game; the secured doors mocked her, punctuating her solitude. As the clock ticked on, hunger started to make itself felt; it was already late for the girl's mid-morning fruit and yogurt snack. And still nobody came.
Every time she was left alone like this, her fears continued their slow metamorphosis into resentment - of her father for calling away her nanny, of her nanny for leaving her. The only one she wasn't starting to turn her feelings against was her mother; after all, her mother was the only one who hugged her, even if only occasionally.
Nearly forty-five minutes later, as the young nanny with disheveled hair straightened up her blouse and skirt, she smiled at the girl as if everything was normal, but there was something wrong with the smile - it seemed more like a smile of smug satisfaction than being happy for the girls' sake. In any case, it was certainly not comforting to the girl.
Soaring from the one opening, the eagle led Tansy onward, until she saw a scene that looked like a large prairie or grassland. On it, a dog-like animal was creeping slowly toward a large pig. As they got closer, Tansy could see that between them, a small piglet was scrambling toward the large sow, who was lying on her side. The little piglet tried to get to the sow to suckle, but the mother pig turned away, taking away the baby pig's food supply. Again, the piglet tried to get to the mother's nourishing teat, but the mother squirmed, and her leg kicked the piglet away.
Once more, the helpless little pig tried to get to its mama, but the jackal charged in, frightening the pig and chasing it away, leaving the piglet helpless before the jackal, who was circling it, tormenting the little animal with the certainty that it could kill the piglet any time it wanted.
In horror, Tansy turned away; she did not want to see the predatory animal kill the helpless piglet that had been abandoned by its mama. Taking a cue from her, the eagle clawed its way skyward once more.
"What ... what does that mean?" Tansy stammered nervously. She knew that such behavior - survival and brutal death - were part of the animal world, but she didn't have to like watching it.
"It's not important what I think it means. What's important is what it means to you," the eagle said cryptically as he flew the pair toward another opening that was appearing in the distance.
"Are you going to explain anything?" the girl asked sarcastically.
"I think you will find," the eagle mused, "that as you see other visions, the meaning will become clear to you. Think of it as a puzzle. You see one piece now, and so you have more questions than answers. Once you see more pieces, you will begin to see the bigger picture."
"Great," Tansy snorted unhappily. "My vision quest is a jigsaw puzzle."
"Ugly little piggy!" Connie Goodkind hissed at the smaller girl as she lay on the mat, having been tripped and shoved brutally by the older bully. "You can't be a natural child! You have to be adopted, or your mama slept with the mailman!"
"Is everything okay?" a teacher called out, coming over to where the girl was down and sobbing.
"She must have tripped on something," Connie replied sweetly, wearing an angelic expression. "I was helping her up. Isn't that right, Tansy?" The way the Goodkind girl said her name, it sounded like a derogatory insult.
The girl looked up into the hateful eyes of the Goodkind girl, and saw an implied threat. "Yes, Mrs. Foster. I tripped and fell, and Connie was helping me," she stammered nervously.
"Thank Connie for being so helpful," Mrs. Foster, the teacher, said, gently chiding the pudgy little girl.
Eyes wide with fear and confusion, the girl stammered, "Thank you, Connie." Satisfied, the teacher turned and walked away.
Connie Goodkind grinned wickedly, holding out her hand for Tansy to take it. She reached up, her fearful gaze alternating between the teacher and Connie. As soon as she had Tansy's hand, the Goodkind bully pulled, causing Tansy to sprawl forward. She tried to catch herself on her one free hand, but Connie had anticipated that, and just 'accidentally' stepped right on Tansy's hand. Tansy yelped in surprise and pain, and the teacher turned, but she saw Connie apologizing. "Oops! I'm so sorry, Tansy!" the bully said loudly enough for the teacher to hear, sounding contrite despite her evil eyes. "You're just so clumsy ...," she added in a very low, malicious hiss that only Tansy could hear.
"Is that what the pig and the jackal were about?" Tansy inquired of the eagle, "a metaphor for how Connie and Heather bullied me?" She was rattled by the memory of the brutal treatment the two Goodkind girls had dished out on her, and it sounded in her voice.
"That might be one meaning," the eagle admitted. "Remember, your mind is creating these visions. It is your psyche that you are examining." He wheeled gracefully in the sky, turning away from the pre-school scene that had distressed the girl. "If necessary, the Ptesanwi will help you sort out all your visions and memories, so you can understand what they are trying to tell you." Tansy felt a bit of relief at that statement by the eagle.
The eagle settled onto a thick branch of a mighty tree, with Tansy sitting beside him, balancing precariously eight or nine meters above the ground. "What ...?" she started to ask.
"Hush," the eagle snapped at her, not moving his gaze from where he was focused.
Startled, Tansy followed his gaze, and frowned in puzzlement. She didn't see anything but a cluster of bushes with very bright reddish trumpet-shaped flowers. "What?"
"See it?" the eagle asked in a soft but insistent voice.
Tansy looked again, and this time she saw the small bird flitting among the flowers, a tiny, bird displaying a seemingly-impossible feat of flight as it hovered and darted effortlessly, inserting its beak repeatedly into the flowers. With slightly greenish tint to its head and body, an occasional burst of reddish-orange iridescent plumage on its throat flashed as the bird maneuvered skillfully around the flowers. It almost seemed to be making a game of feeding, darting to and fro before settling to feed from a flower, then repeating the process, even engaging in what looked like aerobatic displays of its flying prowess.
The girl perched on the branch found herself involuntarily smiling at the playful little bird that seemed so carefree and happy. For some time, she watched, not quite sure what she was feeling from observing the bird. As they watched, a peacock strutted in front of the playful little bird, spreading its bright plumage in a colorful, arrogant display that had the effect of hiding the little hummingbird from view. When the hummingbird moved, the peacock moved as well, clearly trying to ensure it was the focus of attention and denying Tansy and the eagle a view of the colorful little aerial acrobat.
The tiny bird flitted toward a flower that was near the top of the bush, coming back into view above the gaudy peacock, and seemed to be minding its own business, but then a small group of bees appeared, moving diligently toward the flowers. As the hummingbird tried to flit about, the bees diligently, almost robotically, moved through the flowers, trying to get at the nectar and harassing the playful, colorful avian. Eventually, the hummingbird gave up on that particular plant and flew off.
"Why?" Tansy asked, speaking up again now that the colorful, playful little bird was gone.
"Why, what?" the eagle asked wryly. "Why did the peacock block your view of the hummingbird? Why did it insist on being the center of attention? Or are you asking why the bees chased away the hummingbird?"
"Yeah," the girl replied a little uncertainly. "I ... I guess both."
"What do you think?" the eagle asked, smiling knowingly at the girl.
"You're not being very helpful, you know!" Tansy snapped in disgust as the eagle took once more to the skies, dragging her along on her involuntary journey.
The Nations' Tipi, Whateley Academy
Lanie shook Kayda's shoulder, to no avail. Tansy seemed to be coming out of her trance, at least a little bit, and it was now on Lanie to take care of her. Hearing Tansy mumbling, Lanie lifted her from lying on her side, sitting the blonde upright. "Here you go," she said, lifting a water container to her friend's lips, trying to be comforting and not knowing how much Tansy was really aware of.
Tansy groggily sipped some water, then a little more.
"Are you okay?" Lanie asked, a little concerned because Tansy and Kayda had been in their trance-like state for several hours already.
Tansy slowly focused her eyes on Lanie, struggling to sit up straight and hold her head still. She was visibly struggling to cope with the words of her friend. "Pee," she finally stammered.
"And Kayda said you wouldn't have to go," Lanie grumbled. She helped Tansy to her feet and guided the stumbling girl into the longhouse, and into the girls' bathroom. "She owes me for this." As they walked, Lanie got a reflective, thoughtful expression. "I suppose this is what it'll be like someday when I have kids."
Dreamspace of Tansy Penelope Walcutt
Take chances, the Commodore had told her. That's how you push the edge of your envelope.
Tansy sat at the starting line, bobbing up and down in the calm lagoon waters of the Kahului Yacht Club protected racing area. It was a half mile oval, making an exact handicap mile while still allowing the spectators an excellent view of the race from the reviewing stands. Not that the handicap rules would matter in this race; every boat was the same, a three meter laser one design sailing dingy. All that mattered in this race was completing the course first. Tansy adjusted her gas inflating life vest and wished she could take it off; she was a strong swimmer and could easily swim from any part of the course to the dock, but the rules demanded it.
For the fifth time she made sure of her grip on the halyards of her main and jib sails and resisted the urge to look over her shoulder to try and find her parents in the stands. Surely mommy would be here this time! It was for the Admiral's Cup! She had to be there, she had to... Her head almost moved, but she forced herself to keep her eyes on the officials boat. The white triangle flag with a red dot signifying the number 1 and a blue square with a white square in it, the 'P' flag was flying. As she watched the 'P' flag was being lowered. The race would start in less than a minute.
"Piggy, piggy, piggy," chanted Connie Goodkind from behind Tansy, on the boat next to hers on the port side, just loud enough for her to hear. At least she was spared the attentions of her sister Heather who hated the water. "Piggy is going for a swim!"
Tansy ignored her tormentor, kept her focus on the ropes in her hands and the officials' boat well out of the way of the race course. She tucked the rudder extension handle under her leg to free both hands for her plan. It was a dangerous gamble, if the rudder handle slipped out from under her leg the boat could veer off course and be disqualified; despite the risk Tansy was ready to push the envelope.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the one flag began to lower. Tansy tensed, waiting, watching the flag flap in the breeze, taunting both her and the official that was reaching for it, but the second his hand closed on it, Tansy yanked on the lines in her hands, pulling as hard and as fast as she could. The mainsail ascended her mast while at the same time her jib unrolled from the furler on the forestay. The wind filled the sails and the little dinghy shot forward. The others were raising one sail at the time, most of them the main, but some creative types choosing the jib.
Only Tansy had gambled on pulling both sails out at the same time.
The little dinghy opened up a four boat-lengths lead before any of her competitors were able to get both their sails set. Tansy let her boom out at an aggressive angle and got the trapeze comfortable across her shoulders. As the sail filled and caused a little dinghy to heel, she braced her feet and leaned back hard against the trapeze. This offset the heel with her own weight and the little boat picked up even more speed.
She risked a glance over her shoulder and exalted; she was winning! For the first time in her life she was going to win! And her parents were going to be so proud of her! As her dad had said so repeatedly, it was all about winning.
First around the buoy, she snatched the boom in hard with one hand and tightened the jib so they were almost touching as she tacked upwind close-hauled. She was concentrating so hard on tacking as close as she could to the no-go zone that she didn't see Connie cut the corner ahead of the buoy while pretending to give way to avoid a collision with another boat. As she passed Tansy with Tansy's sails obscuring the grandstand and her own obscuring the officials' boat, the vicious Goodkind reached out with her boat hook and snagged Tansy's trapeze line. She had enough momentum that the young blonde was pulled out of the cockpit and her weight and the tug of the hook caused her boat to be knocked down, and Tansy was dumped into the water. The life vest instantly sensed the immersion and deployed, popping her back to the surface and hindering her movements enough that she couldn't right the dingy with any chance of salvaging her win.
"Sooee!" giggled Connie as she came about and began to leisurely sail back to the dock. It was obvious she hadn't even wanted to win, just make sure that Tansy lost.
Through her tears of rage and frustration Tansy looked at the stands in the distance just in time to see her father standing to leave, and she didn't recognize the woman he was with. Her mother was nowhere in sight.
"Why?" the girl demanded of the Eagle as they soared once more over the mists. "Why did you make me watch that?" She frowned deeply. "That was ... one of the most humiliating days of my life!"
"Why?" Eagle asked, sounding a bit amused.
"Connie ... got away with bullying!" Tansy spat angrily.
"What did that teach you?"
"I ... don't know," the girl replied after a long hesitation. She frowned at the eagle. "I suppose I need to see more to understand." The eagle simply smiled knowingly.
"But ... daddy!" the younger version of Tansy protested weakly, practically cowering before her father in the luxurious study of their summer home. "She cheated!' She wasn't even trying ...."
"Enough!" Theodore Walcutt cut off her meek protest. "Sara is right - if you're not going to be serious about winning, I don't see any reason to keep paying for your lessons."
The girl's jaw dropped. "But ... it's fun! I enjoy sailing!" She realized that her father and his third wife Sara were frowning at her, and her eyes lowered. "Most of the time!"
"But you're not winning!" Mr. Walcutt shot right back. "And if Connie Goodkind cheated, you're not going to do anything about it, are you?" He glared at the girl. "No, you're just going to take it, like you always do!"
"Ted, maybe she'd be better off if she spent the rest of the summer at home," Sara Walcutt, a young, very curvaceous and attractive brunette, pleaded with her new husband. "This is our honeymoon, you know!"
"Please, daddy!" the girl begged, "I'll do better! There are five more races this summer, and besides, they're counting on me on the junior-league polo team!"
Mr. Walcutt studied his little girl with an almost withering stare. "You can stay - for now. But if you're not going to win, you might as well go home. Otherwise, there's no point of you being here." In the corner of her eye, Tansy saw her father's newest trophy wife glaring at her with disgust.
Wiping the moisture from her eyes, the girl soared unwillingly on her journey. This time, instead of merely circling, Eagle landed on a river-bank.
"What's this?" Tansy asked warily. When the mighty bird didn't answer, she looked at him, and seeing that he was staring at something, she turned her head to follow his gaze. Her mouth dropped open as she spotted the little creature in the river, its dark fur wet and sleek. "What's this one about?" she asked the bird, enraptured by the otter as it swam, seemingly carefree.
"Watch," Eagle commanded simply.
Without warning, another otter surfaced by the first, swimming toward the first otter, which noticed the newcomer and arched itself gracefully and dove under water. The second animal dove also, and when the first animal popped to the surface a dozen yards away, the second likewise appeared. Then the second one dove, and the first one chased it.
"They're ... playing tag?" Tansy asked, dumbfounded.
The two river otters continued their play; occasionally, one would scramble up the bank, and when the second followed, the first slipped down a muddy track into the water like it was a water-slide.
"I don't get it," Tansy muttered softly to the eagle. "Why are they playing? Shouldn't they be looking for food or something?"
"Why must they be doing that?"
Tansy started, goggling at the mighty bird. "Isn't that what an animal is supposed to do - mate and eat?"
"Is that what you think life is about?" Eagle asked with a wry smile.
The blonde gawked at him for several seconds, while he stared at the two animals. Eventually, she looked back at the playful animals.
Without warning, the two animals suddenly swam quickly, darting away and barely escaping the jaws of an alligator which had thrust its snout up where, a split second earlier, an otter had been. It splashed back into the water, and its mighty tail thrashed and turned as it changed direction to continue its hunt. The animals scrambled deftly up out of the water, the second just ahead of the gator, which lunged up partially on shore chasing it.
"Come, girl," the eagle said, touching Tansy's arm with a wingtip and with a mighty rush of air from its downbeat wings, it leaped into the air, dragging the girl along with it.
"That's what life is, isn 't it?" Tansy finally commented as they went back above the foggy layer. "Survival of the fittest? Kill or be killed?" The bird, however, didn't even deign to look at her, let alone answer. He just smiled enigmatically.
The Nations' Tipi, Whateley Academy
Arms twitching from their position on Kayda's cross-legged lap, the girl took a deep breath and her eyes opened.
"Well?" Lanie asked simply, looking up from her tablet computer which she'd brought because Kayda told her the vision quest could be very long.
The Lakota girl stretched. "In her dream space, she's resting in some kind of European castle," she reported. The redhead arched her eyebrows in curiosity. "Evidently, like you have your Pict ancestors and I have Lakota ancestors, she comes from the Normans."
"Anythin' interesting?" the redhead asked.
Kayda shrugged. "I think the comparison is how fathers acted. From what I've seen so far, her own father was a real piece of work."
Lanie snorted in agreement. "From what Tansy's said, he was a first-rate son-of-a-bitch!"
"That would explain some of the visions," Kayda sighed. "Anyway, I've gotta run to the bathroom, then get back in dream-space."
"Are you going to grab a bite?" Lanie asked, offering a nutrition bar, the recipe of which some gadgeteer had come up with to help devisors and gadgeteers avoid malnutrition or starvation when they got a 'big idea' and lost track of simpler things like eating.
Kayda shook her head. "Nope. Tradition. The shaman goes through the same ordeal as whoever he or she is helping." She rolled her eyes. "It's supposed to help the shaman be more sympathetic, and the dreamer to feel less ... alone."
"How's she doing?" Lanie asked as the Lakota girl stood and stretched her stiff legs.
"I really don't know," the dark-haired girl replied. "This is the first one I've done, but if I had to guess, it's going to take a while. She's got a lot of issues to work through ...."
There was suddenly in the tipi a miniature white buffalo, about the size of a St. Bernard dog. "Glass houses," he said simply in his deep, gruff voice.
Kayda and Lanie both nodded. "Anyway," the Lakota girl continued, "Eagle has to show her lots of memories and animal spirits. More than me. She's having a rough time of it."
Dreamspace of Tansy Penelope Walcutt
The mist parted to reveal a building, but Eagle kept flying lower, showing no sign at all of slowing for the brick edifice. Tansy winced as the familiar building drew closer - as an exemplar, she knew she'd survive, but pain was still pain. Her eyes snapped shut involuntarily inches from the bricks, but there was no crash. By the time she opened her eyes, the giant bird had flared his wings and settled down atop a table in the rear of a large gathering area, filled with tables and children eating meals.
"This ... this is Westchester Montessori!" Tansy gasped softly. "I remember it like it was yesterday!" So far, it seemed that no-one had noticed them, but she couldn't help her caution. Across the room, she saw a pudgy, unattractive girl with blonde hair that was styled as if she was a movie star, but that was clearly a vain attempt to improve her looks. "That's ... that's me!" she said, her own hand clenching over her mouth in total shock, and more than a slight bit of revulsion at the memory of just how ungainly and unattractive she had been.
The girl appeared to be in about fourth grade, and though she wore the same uniform as the other children, her size alone - probably about fifty to sixty pounds overweight - kept her from blending in among the crowd. There was another girl with her, much thinner, but rather plain in her looks - taller, thinner, sort-of-horse faced, with remarkably light hair.
The fat girl, though, wasn't focused on her compatriot; instead, her eyes shot daggers at a young, very small boy who seemed too small to be in second grade. There was something different about him - he looked almost business-like, and though he wore the same uniform, on him it looked professional. All that was missing was a briefcase, and he'd have looked more suited for Wall Street than a private school.
"Excuse me," the pudgy girl said through clenched teeth. "I'm going to say 'hi' to Trevor."
"Goodkind?" the taller girl said in surprise.
The fat girl nodded. "He's Connie and Heather's little brother," she hissed, unable to disguise the hatred in her voice for the two older Goodkind girls.
"But, I thought ...," the taller girl started to say, but young Tansy was already making a beeline toward the younger Goodkind boy.
His back was toward her, which suited her plans perfectly. Noting the positions of all the adults, she changed course very slightly, and it looked like she'd walk past young Trevor, but at the last moment, she dodged to the side, letting a small cry of surprise escape her lips. By dodging, she crashed into the Goodkind boy, and the way her arm was positioned, her elbow smashed into his arm with brutal force, hard enough to leave a bruise on him, and then her entire body smacked him, sending him flying off his feet.
Instantly, she turned, a feigned expression of horror on her face. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" she cried out in an act that would have been passable in Hollywood. "I didn't mean to bump into you!" In fact, she'd studied the tactics of Connie and Heather for the years they'd tormented her, and she'd learned how they made things look accidental. Tansy was nothing if not a quick study, and the first day of the new school year, safe from Trevor's bigger, bullying sisters, gave her a chance to test her own skills.
The girl quick-stepped to Trevor's side, extending her hand to help him up as if she was genuinely contrite. "I had to dodge so I didn't trip over Samantha," she apologized loudly enough for the adults, rushing to the commotion, could hear, "so I wasn't looking. Are you okay?"
Trevor's eyebrow arched in surprise, and then his eyes narrowed when he read the absolutely hateful expression on the girl's face. Nevertheless, she had reached out to help him, and the adults were watching them. He took her hand, giving her the benefit of the doubt, in case it really had been an accident. The extreme pressure she applied when she clenched his hand belied her apologetic words, accentuating the hatred in her eyes.
"Connie and Heather aren't here to protect you this year," young Tansy hissed angrily at the boy. "You better watch yourself!"
In the back of the room, atop a far table, Tansy watched in disgust and horror as her younger self so brutally knocked Trevor to the ground. She could have closed her eyes, and the scene would have been as vivid, one of those memories that was indelibly seared into her brain. "We didn't need to see this," she pleaded with the Eagle, her eyes misting at the total cruelty her fourth-grade self so remorselessly displayed.
"You can't really be a boy," young Tansy laughed at the diminutive Goodkind boy. "You're smaller than some of the Kindergarten girls!" She and three of her friends - possibly friends in name only, since they didn't do anything together outside of school - had surrounded the young Trevor.
"Maybe he's not really a boy!" one of the other girls, a slightly taller third-grade girl named Leah, commented acerbically. "Boys are supposed to be bigger!"
"And not so sissy!" another of the girls snarked. "Maybe Trevor isn't a boy!" She pressed in close to the boy. "Maybe we should find out, huh?"
"So which is it? Are you a sissy boy, or are you really a girl pretending to be a boy?" Tansy chortled at the boy. "Go put on a skirt, girly-boy! Before you get in trouble!"
The other girls laughed aloud, glancing around to make sure the adults weren't paying attention. It was before school, and with the chaos of all the students being dropped off and scrambling into the building, it was relatively easy for Tansy and her 'gang' to torment the young future tycoon.
"I bet your real name isn't even Trevor!' Tansy laughed, trying to get some kind of reaction from the unusually-stoic boy. She looked at her friend Leah. "I'm not going to call this little sissy Trevor! It doesn't fit!"
"She looks more like a Trixie or a Traci to me!" one of the other girls laughed.
"Is that true, Trixie?" Tansy leered down at the boy, inches from his face.
A few yards away, Eagle and the older Tansy looked down on the memory from atop the flagpole. "Why are you making me watch this?" Tansy complained. "I ... I don't ...."
"It's your vision quest," Eagle reminded her yet again. "These memories are important to you for some reason. You must understand why."
Glancing around furtively, young Tansy slipped into the second-grade classroom. She looked around carefully; fortunately Trevor's backpack was very distinctive and professional, unlike the book-bags of so many of the other students, so Tansy identified it with ease. With one more glance, she opened the backpack and rummaged through it, extracting a folder.
With a look of pure hatred and glee, the young girl looked around, and then went to an area where the kids' coats were hung. With one more glance around herself, she slipped the folder behind a little bench where the children could sit to remove overboots in inclement weather.
Since it was rainy outside, Trevor had, like always, worn stylish but functional waterproof boots, and as usual, he slipped on a pair of Doc Martens once inside. That made the bench a perfect location. If he was anything like a normal kid, he would set his backpack down on the bench beside him as he changed, then he would take his backpack to its proper location.
As Eagle and Tansy watched, after her younger self had left, the kids filed back into the second-grade classroom, sitting at their group tables dutifully. Eventually, the teacher asked about homework, and as expected, several of the kids went to their backpacks to retrieve their work. Tansy felt nauseated as Trevor searched through his backpack twice, a tiny frown of consternation spreading on his features when he couldn't find it.
Eventually, Trevor got a stern scolding for not doing his homework, while above them, unseen, Tansy cringed at how vicious she'd been. With the rest of the classes passing as if in fast-forward, it was soon the end of the day, and all the kids left, with Trevor getting yet another scolding by the teacher about making sure his work was done. Eventually, the janitorial staff came in to clean, and when the cleaning-woman moved the bench to sweep, she found the folder. With a shrug, she put it on the teacher's desk.
"Awww!" Tansy cooed as she and Eagle watched a deer walking carefully and attentively out of a woods into a small meadow. Behind it was a fawn that was old enough to have lost its spots, but not large enough to have left its mama's side. "They're so cute!"
As the fawn began to graze on the meadow grass, the doe stood alertly, her head snapping around as she listened, smelled, and looked for any possible danger. Then she bent down to take a bite of grass, returning to her heads-up scanning position as she chewed, ever alert to threats
"Why do I have the feeling that something bad is going to happen?" Tansy asked cautiously of the great bird.
"Nature is full of unexpected events," the bird replied, his eyes still on the pair of deer. Just like life.
"My father always said that if we're smart, we shape the events around us," Tansy replied to the bird. "He always said that luck is for the stupid."
"That would explain why the doe is so alert, don't you think?" Eagle asked wryly. As they watched, the doe's head spun, and with some type of signal, the fawn leaped and bounded across the meadow into the woods, followed very closely by its mother. Dashing into the clearing behind them was a large, grayish wolf, its fangs bared. The suddenness of the attack caused Tansy to flinch.
"It's ... it's life, isn't it?" There was a tiny tremble in Tansy's voice.
"True," Eagle replied. "But it makes you sad, doesn't it? I would have thought that with all you'd been through, your cynical nature would shrug at that."
"Just because it's normal doesn't mean I have to like it," the girl shot back angrily. "I mean ...."
Eagle chuckled. "You feel strangely pulled toward the deer, toward those qualities it represents - femininity and grace. The qualities you try to use as weapons, but the deer just is those things, and you ..."
"Bullshit!" Tansy snapped at him. "I know about feminine wiles and grace and ... and I'm a model! At Whateley!"
The mighty bird chuckled. "Do you? You know what the Lakota believe about dreams of the deer?" He didn't wait for the girl to reply. "When someone dreams of a deer, it means they are having difficulty accepting their female side."
"I'm ... I accept those qualities in myself!" Tansy protested, but her objection was weak.
"The deer says otherwise."
The blonde exemplar grimaced and tried to turn away from the spectacle unfolding in the classroom of Franklin Academy, the school to which she and many of her classmates had transferred after the debacle with the Diabliku kids. Eagle noticed her reaction. "You remember?"
Tansy winced visibly. "I remember the day only too well - there was an all-school assembly at the end of the day. On days like that, we were dismissed directly from the auditorium, went to get our books, and went straight outside."
Young Tansy, standing in the doorway to the empty classroom, took one more glance down the halls, then she closed the door and dashed to the row of backpacks. In that row was one briefcase, which she went to. Taking a bundle out from inside her shirt, keeping an eye on the door, she opened the briefcase, slipped the bundle inside, and closed the lid. A little fiddling with the latch, and she straightened and walked back to the door. Another peek into the hall showed that no-one else was present, so she slipped out into the hall, easing the door shut behind herself, wearing a wicked grin, and then going into the girls' bathroom.
Mere moments later, the hallway echoed with the sound of a herd of grade-school kids; even though they were the uppercrust of New York's society, kids were kids, and most of them chatted noisily. The stream of school children separated, filing into their classrooms, and Tansy was able to slip out and join the chaos. She ran into her own classroom to quickly retrieve her own books and get outside so she could see the fun.
As usual, the kids went to the drive where parents and chauffeurs were present. Some, like Trevor and Tansy, waited a bit to avoid subjecting their drivers to the chaos, so they hung back near the school entrance.
The young, chubby, blonde girl walked up behind Trevor, and just at the point of passing him, she reached out her hand, jostling the briefcase the young Goodkind boy was carrying and springing open the latch. To his surprise, the case dropped open, and the contents spilled out.
"What? Trev ...?" one of the boys gasped, staring at the uniform skirt which had fallen from Trevor's briefcase.
One of the girls picked up. "Why do you have that in your briefcase?"
Tansy was waiting, and she stepped in front of the red-faced boy who, unlike his usual stoic being, was openly gawking at the plaid uniform skirt. "Trevor?" she questioned. "I knew you were really a girl!" She looked around proudly. "I told you he couldn't be a real boy! He's too small, too girly!" She spun the boy around so she was glaring down at the short, slight boy. "And now we see, don't we? You really are a girl! Or a sissy! You want to wear a skirt, sissy boy?"
Trevor bent over and gathered up his books, noticeably not touching the skirt. "Someone put that in my briefcase!" he said sternly. "It's not mine!"
"Since you like skirts," Tansy chortled, reveling in the boy's humiliation, "maybe we should call you ... um ... Trixie instead of Trevor!"
The limousine pulled effortlessly up the long drive to the polo field on the grounds of the Liliuokalani Academy for Girls. Behind them, Mr. Gartner, the Stable Master for the Walcutt Hawaiian estate, was in the big truck that was pulling the horse box Tango was riding in. Tansy was excited; this was the debutante match, played on the opening day of the school and considered the most difficult as none of the girls had had a chance to practice or even see each other yet. Tansy's new body was getting more beautiful with each passing day. Since she had gotten home from Benjamin Franklin Academy till the flight out to Hawaii she had grown nearly a foot and lost fifty pounds. In two weeks she'd gone from a short, tubby lonely girl to a tall, nearly graceful young maiden, svelt and with the promise of devastating beauty in her future. "Tansy," her father called, bringing her from the window she was gazing out.
Walcutt frowned. "You're not a little girl any more, Tansy," he told her sternly. "I am your father, and you will address me in an adult manner."
"Certainly, Mr. Walcutt," she sneered. At last she was coming into her own. She saw the fear in the back of her father's mind, fear of them being outed as having a mutant daughter. She saw the anger flare in his mind, but he bit down on it.
"I...I suppose I can indulge your infantile predilection if you wish, but listen to me! You must not..."
Tansy rolled her eyes, "Reveal what I can do," she finished for him. "Don't worry, daddy, and feel free to bet heavily on my team." She turned back to the window and imagining what she was going to do to Heather and Connie on the field. "I'm here to win."
The car came to a stop and Tansy didn't wait for Harold the chauffeur to open the door. She had never been more ready to be somewhere in her entire life. Relishing the feel of the new uniform in the school's colors, six full sizes smaller than her previous one, Tansy over looked the pitch and grinned. This was going to be epic! She went at once to the horse box to help Mr. Gartner unload her secret weapon. Tango was two years old now, ready to strut her stuff on the field and humiliate opposition and teammates alike, for the young mare was every bit as fast as her sire had been and had the endurance of her quarter horse dame.
"Tansy?" The blond turned and took in her father's latest toy. This one was a redhead, and like the others, very beautiful, but Tansy only regarded her with cool aloofness. "I know your father can be difficult to get along with, but I want you to know he means well and we both love you..."
"You're not my mother, Brenda," she told the woman coldly. "You won't ever be my mother. You're just the whore my daddy is currently fucking, and when he gets tired of you he'll replace you just like all the other tramps he's married." Stung, the woman raised her hand to slap her impertinent step-daughter but Tansy focused a wave of fear at her and stepped forward menacingly. "Hit me," she taunted. "I dare you!"
Brenda slowly lowered her hand and quickly went to find her husband. Tansy watched her go before she took Tango by the bridle and hugged her, sending out waves of love and affection the young mare eagerly returned. Rubbing her nose, Tansy told the mare, "We'll show them! We'll show them all!"
As she led her horse to the pitch, she saw that insufferable little know-it-all Trevor Goodkind and changed course to intercept him. "Hey, pimple!" she greeted, though as he turned it was obvious he didn't recognize Tansy beyond being a young woman in his sisters social circles. "Where are Heather and Connie?"
The little milquetoast straightened his tie exactly as his father would have. "My sister Heather is in New York," he said in that coached manner of speaking he affected. "She has signed with Elite Model Management and is on her way to being the next great supermodel. If you are referring to Connie, she twisted her ankle getting off our jet and is in the reviewing box...."
Tansy saw red at being denied her revenge, and with a gentle pull of the reigns and a mental suggestion, Tango skirted sideways, her flank colliding with the departing Goodkind and sending him sprawling. "Be more careful around horses, you idiot!" Tansy told him with great delight. If she couldn't have her revenge against Heather and Connie, bullying their little pimple of a brother and humiliating their team would do for a start.
And humiliate was the right word.
For the first time in the history of the matches, Liliuokalani Academy for Girls beat their arch-rival Maui Young Ladies Preparatory School by scoring in all ten chukkers and shutting out their rival twenty eight to nothing. As Tansy led her team in a victory lap around the field on a sweating but elated Tango, for the first time in her life she saw her father beaming with pride as he held out his hand to collect a check from Bruce Goodkind.
And this cemented in Tansy's mind that her father was right; winning was everything.
The girl and the eagle watched from a stout tree branch as a little brown rabbit hopped about its business, pausing frequently to look around, its ears twitching as it strained to hear any noise that might be from a predator, while the head frequently rose from eating to look around.
"Why a rabbit?" Tansy whispered to the eagle.
"Do you see a monster? A predator? Something to fear?" Eagle asked, not bothering to whisper because quite obviously the rabbit couldn't see or hear them, like in every other vision or memory Tansy had experienced.
"No," Tansy replied haltingly. "It's just ... a harmless little bunny."
"It's not bold, or colorful, or noisy?" the mighty bird continued the questioning.
"No. It's ... it's just a bunny."
The large raptor nodded. "The rabbit is humble. It preys on nothing, but everything preys on it. For that reason, it has to be humble - of color, of noise, of movement." As he spoke, the rabbit suddenly lifted its head again, ears and nose twitching. Without warning, it darted away. The cause of its alarm became apparent a second later when a fox appeared and chased after the fleeing rabbit.
"I guess ... Daddy was right," Tansy commented sourly as the rabbit scampered in a wild, zig-zag course through the undergrowth, pursued by the fox. "The meek don't inherit anything!"
"Wendy," the blonde said icily to her dad's current wife - was she the fourth or the fifth? Tansy couldn't remember, not that it mattered. Based on what she'd seen, hot young wives were toys for him, accessories to bolster his image like the Rolex, the Armani suits, the Ferrari, the Rolls, and the three estates around the country.
"Good morning, Tansy." Any feelings that Wendy had toward Tansy were no warmer than the blonde had for her, and though her words sounded almost sickenly-sweet, the underlying sentiment rivaled that of the blonde for frost potential.
Theodore Walcutt, seated at the breakfast table, had just received a serving of eggs Benedict from the chef, and the way he rolled his eyes gave vent to his feelings about how the two women in his life felt about each other. "Sit down, Tansy. There's something we need to talk about."
The blonde eyed her father warily; there was an underlying sensation of apprehension that she somehow sensed, just as she'd begun to sense emotions of those around her. From Wendy, there was a general sense of envy of the girl whenever Ted payed attention to his daughter, hostility toward her, and smug satisfaction whenever the two adults went to or returned from some society event.
"Is something wrong, Daddy?" she asked warily as she eased herself into a chair.
"We'd like some privacy, Wendy," Mr. Walcutt said curtly to his wife.
"Of course," the woman said, sounding understanding, but Tansy easily sensed a powerful stab of anger and envy as she graciously removed herself from the table.
"I got the doctor's report," Mr. Walcutt got right to what was on his mind.
"And?" The feeling he was radiating turned to significant worry, and the girl picked it up.
"You know I'm pleased with how you're getting yourself in shape ...."
"But?" The trickle of emotions she felt from her dad turned into a torrent when he put his hand atop hers, enough that she flinched from the magnitude of worry that she was somehow picking up.
"But the specialist you went to is convinced that ... that you've mutated."
"What?!?" Tansy fairly screamed in horror at the thought, a feeling that was amplified by her father's shame at her 'condition'. "I don't want to turn into a freak!"
"Doctor Martin thinks, from his exam and his research on the subject, that you aren't turning into some kind of freak, but that, well," he flinched and Tansy sensed another wave of guilt and embarrassment, "it's called a Body Image Template, and it's some ... strange ... thing that determines what you'll be."
"So the fact that I'm a ... a mutant ... is why I'm getting prettier and thinner? Is that what you're saying? It's not my exercise and diet?" The girl's distress rose significantly, her own sense of self-worth being battered by her father's shame and the evidence that it wasn't her efforts that was making her more attractive.
"Doctor Martin isn't sure." New feelings from her father - thoughts - crept into Tansy's consciousness - her father's anger at Marissa, his first wife and Tansy's real mother, for Tansy's 'defective' genes, anger at his wife for getting sick, which resulted in Tansy suddenly ballooning into a little chubster, fear of social ostracism if his associates found out that his daughter was a mutant, and fear of what her mutation would mean to one important business relationship, that with the fiercely anti-mutant Goodkind International. If the Goodkinds decided to attack Walcutt for being 'pro-mutant', they had the resources to crush him.
"I've done some research into schools for next year, after summer in Hawaii, of course," he continued.
"You mean I'm not going back to Franklin?" Tansy asked in shock.
"No, it's probably best if we find you a different school," the man said, trying to sound reassuring, but his thoughts were jumbled about guarding against disclosure of Tansy's condition. As rapidly as the changes were occurring to his daughter, Ted worried that someone at Franklin Academy would notice. "In fact, it's probably best if we have you stay out the rest of the year - on doctor's orders, of course - and your nanny ...."
"Daddy," Tansy replied in a huff, "I'm not a little kid anymore! I'm thirteen! I'm too old for a nanny!"
"Then ... think of her as an au pair personal assistant," Ted replied quickly, trying to address the girl's concerns.
"I see," Tansy replied, her voice turning to ice as she read her father's thoughts and emotions - his lust for the twenty-one-year-old Swedish beauty, feelings of elation at his naughty little encounters with her while Wendy was away at some social function, his eagerness to have the Swede continue in her role as a plaything. As she turned his emotions over in her mind, analyzing them carefully, Tansy came to realize that her father had nothing but contempt for Wendy, his current wife. She'd outlived her usefulness to him, and she knew that he'd replace her soon enough.
Ted Walcutt's lesson - that people were merely tools, only as useful as someone could take advantage of them - hardened Tansy's heart a little bit more. She'd been useful - when she was young and cute. Then she got fat, and she wasn't useful, so her dad ignored her. Now that she was a mutant, she was, she realized, a mixed bag to him - back in the pretty daughter category that would help in social affairs, but now also a mutant, who could hurt more than they could help. And so Ted Walcutt was going to put Tansy in another school, probably a boarding school, where she would not be an impediment to his own ambition.
She vowed to herself that she was going to be useful to her father, no matter what. But that was the only person she'd ever allow to use her as a tool - she would make use of others' talents and abilities to further her ends, not vice-versa.
"Why," Tansy asked, a little rattled by what she'd seen and felt in the vision, "are these so random? Isn't your life supposed to flash before your eyes in chronological order?"
"They're your memories and visions," Eagle reminded her. "Any order is a matter of your mind - which ones you remember best, which ones are most painful, which ones you try to hide out of fear of facing them."
Tansy gasped. "You mean ... you're going to guide me through all of my memories, no matter how insignificant or painful or happy?"
"No," Eagle answered. "Not all of your memories are important to your hembleciya."
"Here I was hoping for a guided tour, like on the old show 'This is Your Life."
The giant bird ignored the girl's comment. "What do you see below us?" he asked as he circled through a hole in the clouds toward a lake.
"I see - ducks, and a couple of geese." Tansy's eyes widened. "And ...are those swans?"
"Yes, they are," Eagle replied.
"I suppose they're the next lesson?" the girl asked sarcastically.
"What do you know about swans?"
"Just the fairy tale about the ugly duckling," Tansy replied. "Like the baby swans down below - they're so ... ungainly compared to their parents."
"Ugly, you mean," Eagle chuckled. "And yet they turn into very beautiful birds."
As they circled, a young girl approached the edge of the lake, looking out excitedly at the waterfowl, and pointing at the swans. A few paces behind her was an older girl, probably early twenties, obviously a caretaker for the girl.
"That's me ... and ...," the girl had to think a moment to figure out which of her many nannies was with her, "Isabella," she recollected. "We ... were on a picnic, and I saw the swans and wanted to look, because I'd heard the story."
As the two watched, the girl reached the shore, and was looking down at the baby swans, when one of the swans reared, and with a serious hissing and flapping of its wings, charged at the girl, who screamed and ran to her nanny, who collected the girl into her arms and turned and fled the angry swan.
"That's a perfect metaphor for my life, isn't it," the blonde exemplar snorted disgustedly. "An ugly duckling, turning into a swan, and turning vicious toward others."
"That's not what the swan represents, though," Eagle countered. "The swan represents the power and understanding of self, including developing spiritual and intuitive abilities. And the swan is graceful in dealing with others."
"Not that swan!" Tansy spat angrily, and from the slight tremble in her voice, she was still rattled by the memories of how viciously the swan had come at her.
"A swan is no different than any other in protecting its young, is it?" With that, the Eagle beat his wings mightily, and with a rush of wind beneath them, Tansy and the bird soared back to the clouds away from the scene.
Tansy sat down by the flag pole as the children rushed out to recess. She laid her head down in her hands and tried desperately not to cry . "I don't want to see this anymore," she wailed into her hands. "I understand what a bitch I was and am! Why are you doing this? Is it to make me suffer more? God!" She sobbed, looking up at the spirit with tears running down her face. "Haven't I suffered enough?" She shouted at the huge eagle who regarded her coolly. "What are you? Some metaphorical 'ghost of Tansy’s past" come to torment me?"
"I am a guide," the eagle replied. "My place is to help you understand who you were, who you are and who you wish to be. It is not I that shows you these things of your past. It is you that shows me. And speaking of literature, I see that not all of your time here was taken up in cruelty and spite. See?"
Tansy followed the point of the eagle's wing to a little clutch of girls over by the swing set. None of them were pretty children, they were overweight or scrawny, scruffy or fussily clean, horse-faced or pudgy, which made it obvious why the girls were clustered. When one of the pretty, in-crowd girls came over to pick on the white haired, horse-faced girl, like a Greek phalanx the others rounded to her defense, cat-calling the pretty girl and running her off. That accomplished, young Tansy turned to the horse-faced girl and said, "Walt Whitman wasn't just a pervert, he was a bad poet too, Jadis!"
Jadis Daibliku, for that was who the horse-faced girl was, dried her eyes with a handkerchief and sniffed mightily to clear her sinuses. "Leaves of Grass is the seminal work of American Poetry, Tansy Walcutt!" she fired back.
"Poems have rhyme and meter, line lengths, and forms - none of which applies to anything between the covers of Leaves of Grass!" the young girl fired back, opening what was obviously an old bone of contention between the two.
"It is in the breaking of rules and conventions that artistic genius occurs," Jadis replied aloofly, but her eyes declared her thanks to her friend both for standing by her and for taking her mind off the abuse of her tormenter. "And whoever he chose to sleep with has nothing to do with his art!" But she gave Tansy back the handkerchief that no one had seen her give Jadis in the first place.
"The warmth of friends, forged in adversity," Eagle observed. "Surely a bright, happy place for you to remember if you wish to." In rapid succession, there was a series of images, scenes flowing from one to the other as if Tansy couldn't make up her mind what to remember. She saw herself and Jadis debating the merits of the Shakespeare author theories, jumping up and down on her bed during a sleepover that devolved into a massive pillow war that even Mrs. Pierson took part in, scarfing up pecan cinnamon rings fresh baked by the house keeper for breakfast.
The Eagle and Tansy looked down on the Walcutt summer estate in Maui, where over Spring Break, Tansy tried and basically failed to teach Jadis to ride.
"This is hopeless!" snarled Jadis from the sand on the beach she had fallen off from the gelding for the third time. "There's nothing to hold onto! We invented cars for a reason!"
"You don't have to hold on," Tansy told her with a laugh. "Watch!" She turned Tango and with both hands in the air the mare took off like a shot to effortlessly run down the gelding and once Tansy had his reigns, lead him back over to where Jadis was brushing herself off.
"You make such a fuss over what a bad person you are and look at this," Eagle remarked from the beach next to Tansy. The blonde sank into the sand and watched her younger self coaxing Jadis back into the saddle, and when she would have none of it, dismounted herself and the two girls walked back towards the stables, leading the horses. "I see the beginning of a good friendship, proof you were not so self-centered..."
"Make it easy for me why don't you?" Tansy grumbled to Eagle as they looked in on the ballroom of Mellville cottage. It wasn't that long ago, she realized; she saw herself as a beautiful young lady, elegant in a flowing party dress and exalting in her newfound beauty.
"Jadis?" the younger Tansy cried in a combination of surprise and delight as she walked over as the other girl, who looked at her guardedly.
"Have we met?" Jadis asked.
"We've spent enough time arguing about Walt Whitman," Tansy replied with a grin. "Who is still a pervert abusing little boys."
Jadis' eyes threatened to leap out of her sockets. "Tansy?" she exclaimed in surprise. "Look at you...!" Her voice quavered ever-so-slightly as she tried to keep jealousy from sounding in her voice. She went to hug the girl, but Tansy flinched and pulled back.
"What?" Tansy cried in surprise and alarm. "What is that...that thing inside you?"
Jadis winced visibly. "My father bound a devil to me..."
Her face frozen in shock and horror, young Tansy backed away from her friend before she turned and fled to the far side of the room, leaving Jadis with a dejected and hurt look on her face. She walked over to the punchbowl where a skinny redhead was having an animated discussion with a brown-haired boy about the merits of carbureted versus fuel-injected engines.
The Eagle clicked his tongue against his beak making for a unique sound. "Anyone would be afraid of something so dangerous..." he started.
"Wait for it," Tansy replied morosely. They watched a new, magnificent blonde with a dusky-skinned Hispanic queen of a wingman walk over to the younger Tansy.
Party Tansy looked up, still obviously frightened. "Oh, hello Freya, Maria."
The Nordic blonde smiled a smile that was totally devoid of mirth. "Who is your friend?"
Party Tansy looked over at Jadis and back at the Queen of the Alphas. "Oh...she...she's not my friend. I mean, we went to the same grade school for a while until my daddy pulled me out to get me away from her, that..." Party Tansy felt her conscience prick her, but swallowed and forced herself to continue. "That's Jadis Daibliku. She's the daughter of Dr. Diabolik!"
Freya turned to gaze at Jadis, like a shark sensing blood in the water. "Really?"
"You see?" Tansy told the Eagle as they watched Freya gather a crowd in preparation for an upcoming humiliation of the young Jadis. "I finally get to be pretty and popular, and what do I do with it? I turn into the same kind of bitch that tormented me. Jadis introduced me to the Westchester Literary Society! She tried to save and protect me from Connie and Heather, and in payback, I just turn into them and throw her to the wolves!"
The Eagle looked at her side long with one eye. "If you are so irredeemable and beyond help, why do you take this vision quest? Why try to better yourself? Why try to understand that you are sabotaging your own efforts because you think you are unworthy! Who in moments of weakness give in to your frail, human nature because no one in your life showed you how to be a decent person! And even without that guidance, here you are trying to teach yourself! Why don't you give yourself the credit you deserve for recognizing your mistakes and seeking to make restitution for them?"
"Because I'm just a monster!" Tansy screamed at the spirit. "Don't you see? Can't you see I'm just the monster my dad and Heather and Connie and Freya made me to be!"
If you're so hopelessly gone to the dark side, why do your friends believe in you? Why do the administrators believe in you?
"I don't know," Tansy wept. "I can't save myself! I didn't even try to save my mother! How can I...?"
"Ah hah!" screamed the Eagle as he launched himself into the sky. He and Tansy flew through the glass of Melville and streaked away to the west. "Now I see where the monster comes from!" Eagle cried as he beat his wings faster than any bird could fly. "How old were you when your father had your mother committed? Six? Seven? What could you have done that your mother, a grown woman could not?"
"I didn't try!" bawled Tansy. "She's sick because of me! I did it!"
"That's not true!" The eagle replied, shouting over the wind to be heard.
The spires of New York grew up on the horizon and the Eagle threaded between them. A skyscraper rose up in the heart of mid-town and Tansy flinched as without slowing the Eagle flew through the wall. "See!" The spirit challenged her. "See what is not your fault!" The spirit faded away, leaving Tansy alone in the hallway just as a door labeled 'Marissa Walcutt, Assistant District Attorney' opened and caused her to turn in surprise.
Coming out of an office was a lovely woman just at the end of her youth. Her naturally-blonde hair was about her shoulders in a professional style that Tansy knew to be nearly a decade out of fashion. She was dressed in a stylish, smartly-tailored skirt suit, likewise a decade out-of-date, and her endless blue eyes looked right at Tansy. "Mommy?" the girl whispered, taking a half step forward. "Mommy can you see me?"
"Amy," Marissa scolded as she walked past Tansy without stopping. "What are you doing?"
She stopped at the open door of an office occupied by a woman about her age, brunette and a bit haggard looking about her eyes. She was overweight but hadn't quite crossed into obesity. Mrs. Walcutt leaned on the door, briefcase in hand as she looked at the other woman. "You're going to work yourself to death! Come on, we'll share a cab and I'll buy you a healthy dinner at my place."
"Don't tempt me, Sissy!" the other replied. "I'm behind on six different cases and I have depositions on two more the Judge is threatening to dismiss if I don't have them on his desk by Monday. I'm living here this weekend. I'll order take out or something..."
"The hell you will," Marissa shot back. "You're coming with me right now. I'm not going to leave my sorority sister and my best friend in here all weekend. Now come along. High time Tansy got to spend some time with her godmother! She barely remembers you!"
"Don't make me get the bailiff involved," Walcutt threatened as she got her friend's coat off the rack. "Come quietly now."
Amy rolled her eyes as she struggled to stand and put a hand to her chest. "Damned pizza never sits right, I've got to quit ordering from..."
"Forget the pizza, you're having vegetables!" Marissa told her as she helped her into her coat. The brunette picked up her briefcase and turned out the lights.
"We don't need a cab, I drove..." Amy explained as the two waited for the elevator.
Tansy found herself following the women into a silver Mercedes Amy drove. As late as it was, even in New York there was almost no traffic. Tansy smiled watching her mother with her best friend, who she had met in college and had gone to law school together. Then something tickled the back of Tansy's mind. She suddenly realized that she had stopped seeing Miss Holster right about the time Mommy had gotten sick.
Tansy could feel the pain in Miss Holster's mind and her mother's growing concern. "Amy? Amy are you alright?" Amy turned to answer but no words came out. Her face bunched up into a grimace of pain and the color drained from her face. "Ma...Marissa..."she gasped, grabbing at her left arm.
"No," whispered Tansy. "No. NO!"
Amy fell over towards her friend and the car began to weave. Marissa grabbed at the steering wheel, but her friend's leg was pinned against the accelerator and the car began to pick up speed. Marissa yanked at the hand break but they were going too fast. "Amy!" she shouted as the car went into a skid.
Tansy pried her eyes open after flinching from the crash that didn't come. Instead, the silence was a drone of a cardiac monitor. She was in a hospital room. Her mother was on the bed, her head wrapped in a bandage that had a bloody spot above her right temple. The door opened, and with a squeal of worry Tansy saw her five-year-old self come running into the room. Tansy started in surprise because the little girl that climbed up into the bed was thin and obviously a precocious, active child. "Mommy! Mommy!" she cried and Marissa stirred and hugged her daughter.
"Thank God you're all right," Theodore said in greeting as he rushed to his wife's side."
Marissa grimaced and then forced a smile. "Let Mommy have a moment with Daddy, my little flower," she managed.
Theodore picked up Tansy and gave her to the nanny, who was a few steps behind him. "Here," he commanded thrusting his wallet into her hand. "Get her a candy bar or something."
"Yes, sir," the nanny replied as she withdrew with the young girl.
Once the door was closed, Marissa managed, "How is Amy?"
Mr. Walcutt took his wife's hand. "She .... I'm so sorry 'Rissa," he managed. Mrs. Walcutt's face drew out in grief. "You...you'll be fine," he went on. "You have a concussion, but the MRI is clear and ..."
"Amy!" protested Marissa. "What...?"
Mr. Walcutt couldn't meet his wife's gaze. "It ... it wasn't the crash. She had a massive coronary. I overheard the surgeon tell her father that Amy's artery was 85% blocked and by the time they realized she'd had a heart attack, it was too late..."
Marissa wailed in grief at the death of her friend as her husband tried his best to console her. "It wasn't your fault, 'Rissa! You know she didn't take care of herself! She wasn't healthy like you ..."
Marissa buried her ear into her husband's neck and seemed to look straight at Tansy as she cried. "I won't leave you and Tansy! I'll stay healthy, Teddy! I swear it ...!"
Tansy sank to her ass and gathered her legs in her arms and cried out to the heavens, "I don't understand! Kayda! Lanie! Somebody help me understand!"
The girl looked helplessly at the eagle. "I don't understand," she complained. "What does this all mean?" She turned and looked skyward, into a clearing blue sky across a sea of golden-brown autumn grass covering seemingly endless rolling hills. "Kayda! What does this all mean?" she demanded angrily. "Mustang? I don't understand!" For several moments, she glared skyward, challenging spirits and her friends to help her, but when no help came, she slowly sank to her knees and put her face in her hands as tears of frustration seeped from her eyes. "Help me, please!"
Slowly, like an angel descending from the heavens, a buckskin-clad woman, with a golden glow radiating from her, alit on the earth in front of Tansy. From nowhere, four large buffalo appeared, one white, one red, one yellow, and the final one black, and they lay down on the grass around the blonde exemplar and the newcomer, as if penning the two in so they couldn't escape talking about Tansy's visions.
Tansy looked up, her eyes reddened from tears at her failure to understand the dreams. "Please, Kayda, help me understand!"
The glowing woman looked like Kayda, and yet she didn't. She seemed taller, more confident, and her eyes were the most sympathetic pools of green that Tansy had ever seen in a person. "We are here to help," the girl said, her voice echoing strangely. "We know your visions, and we will help you understand them." She sat down on the grass beside Tansy. "There is a common theme, but like most city-dwellers, you do not understand nature, and so you can't understand what it teaches. For many of your memories, there was an animal spirit trying to show you a lesson."
"The jackal - who does that represent?" The blonde looked up apprehensively. "It's not ... me, is it?" she asked fearfully.
"No, it's not. You are not a jackal - yet. You may become one, but that path would be of your choosing." The Ptesanwi smiled at her. "It is someone who should have been very close to you, but whose lessons have been damaging to you."
"My ... my ... father?"
The spirit nodded. "Your father is a jackal. He separated you from your mother, did he not? He treated your mother with scorn and contempt, did he not? He left you alone while he attended to his pleasure, did he not? Like the jackal keeping the piglet from suckling? Keeping the growing pig away from what it needed to develop properly? You knew what he truly was, and you feared him, did you not?"
"But ... why a piglet?" Tansy asked.
"The runt of the litter, the one ostracized and made to do without, like you were - without love and affection from a father, or from an absent mother. You were treated as a little piglet was, even called that by your tormenters, were you not?"
Tansy nodded, wiping another tear. "Connie and Heather Goodkind - they called me piggy to insult me! I was ... fat and ugly! I didn't know, but ... I wasn't wanted! My father - he didn't love me at all, did he?" She started crying aloud, so the Ptesanwi reached out and embraced the older girl, letting Tansy cry on her shoulder. "Until I mutated, I was ... daddy was ashamed of me! He hated me! And then once I became beautiful, he wasn't proud of me, was he? I was just another tool to use. That's why he whored me out - because it was useful to him. He didn't want me! He wanted my telepathy, the secrets I could get for him! He never cared for me! He never treated me with love or affection! I was just another tool for him to use!"
After the girl had cried for a long time, the Ptesanwi continued softly. "What do the hummingbird and the otter represent?" Seeing Tansy's confusion, the Lakota spirit smiled. "They are playful, yes?"
"But ... other animals ... didn't let them play! They were bullied, chased, attacked!"
"Upstaged the little hummingbird!" Tansy made the connection. "Like ... like Connie and Heather always upstaged me! And the bees - they represent work? Like dad's work, never letting me play? And the alligator - attacking to interrupt the otter's play? Like ... like my father ... always interrupted things when I was trying to have fun? To make me ... work? Or ... to win, at all costs?"
"Do you even know what fun is?"
Tansy was taken aback at the question. "Of ... of course ...." she started to say, but she paused. Perhaps, she realized, she didn't know what fun was.
"Like part of us, you must learn how to have fun. How to play." She smiled sadly at the irony of now teaching what she'd had to learn. "The deer represents femininity," the Ptesanwi said.
"Which was chased away by the coyote - like a jackal stealing ... my innocence!" Tansy spat. "Like my father whoring me out to advance his business!"
"The rabbit represents humility and calmness."
"And the fox attacked it, like ... like my father encouraged me to be brazen and bold."
"The prairie dog represents community."
"But I ... never had any community!" the blonde exclaimed. "When I had a hard time fitting in, my ...," her eyes widened in recognition of what had happened in her life, "that bastard ... taught me to use people, not to try harder to belong! To prey on people!"
"It ... started ugly, and then became beautiful - like me!" Tansy declared. "Just like the fairy tale about the ugly duckling!"
"And then it ... it got vicious, attacking the other animals, defending its territory ruthlessly!"
The girl's face dropped into her hands again, and she began to weep bitterly. "Yes," she sniffled between sobs, "just ... just like me! Like what I became. Like what I am!"
The Ptesanwi pulled the upset girl onto her shoulder, hugging her. "Like you became? Or like you could become?" She stroked the blonde's hair comfortingly. "You have a long life ahead of you. You are still learning. You don't have to be like the vicious swan, like the jackal or the coyote, or like the bees." Startled by the words, the girl looked up into the eyes of the White Buffalo Calf Woman. "You can choose what you want to be. That is part of the vision quest - not to tell you a pre-ordained path, but to help you find a path of your own choosing."
She stood, and helped Tansy to her feet. "Come. I have others to show you, spirits which can help you with some of the many positive choices still before you."
The two stood in a clearing in some woods, looking at a mighty bull elk standing at the edge of the trees, staring at them. "He's ... he's so majestic!" Tansy said.
"The elk is majestic. And though he seems alone, he is not a solitary creature. He understands the need to be alone, but he also needs the herd, and he seeks it when he is lonely. Just as you could stand alone if you wish, but still have the herd for when you are lonely."
"Behold Hoka, the badger," the Ptesanwi declared as they gazed on the stout little animal with the distinctive white stripe on his forehead.
The sudden change of scenery had left Tansy momentarily dazed and bewildered. Once she got her bearings, Tansy suppressed a shudder. "They're vicious! Why would I want ...?"
The other smiled at her. "Is he? Or is he merely aggressive in defense? Does he recklessly attack, or does he just defend himself? He is centered, grounded in his very being. He does not provoke, but responds when provoked."
"I wondered when you'd bring me to a buffalo," the blonde said with a smile to her guide. The two were atop a small hill, gazing down on a massive herd of buffalo.
"Behold Tatanka, the spirit of sacrifice and of giving and of charity. Through his strength, he gives freely of himself to the People to strengthen and nurture them."
"That is so totally unlike my father," Tansy spat the word distastefully. "I couldn't count how many times he said that charity is for losers."
"Tatanka gives of his surplus, not of his necessity. He must live to be strong enough to help the People live," the Ptesanwi added. "Giving is not a sign of his weakness. No-one would call a buffalo weak! Instead, it's a sign of his acceptance of his place in the natural order of things." She smiled sadly at the blonde. "That is one thing that your way of life has brought - you do not understand the natural order, and so you cannot learn from what nature has to teach. You have been so busy conquering nature that you forgot how to learn from it."
"Can we," Tansy asked hesitantly, "can we ... go see the hummingbird again? Please?"
Tansy stood once more beside the flowered bush she'd seen in an earlier vision, with the Ptesanwi a step behind her. Mere inches from her face, a hummingbird flew, seemingly oblivious to the girl watching the bird with a rapt expression of wonder on her face as it playfully darted in and out of the flowers, making a game of obtaining the life-sustaining nectar it needed.
"It's ... so beautiful!" Tansy declared softly, afraid she was going to frighten away the aerial acrobat. She turned and looked hopefully at the other. "Can it ... can it really teach me ... how to play?" she beseeched.
The Ptesanwi smiled at the girl. "Anytime you wish, speak to us, and we will help you find Thanagila in the realm of dreams so you can watch and learn. One of us will help you learn from any of the animal spirits you wish to observe."
"Any one of them?" She grimaced. "But ... there's so much to learn, from so many of them!" she wailed, afraid of having to choose.
The Ptesanwi replied with a warm, friendly smile, "It is heartening that you wish to learn from more than one. It speaks well of you that you recognize how many things you do not understand, and how many teachers that will take. We will help."
Tansy looked a little puzzled. "But ... Kayda ... doesn't manifest you all the time! How will I speak to you to ask?"
"We are in our host always," the dusky-skinned girl replied. "If you speak to Kayda, you speak to both of us. She will help you, as it is part of her role as a shaman. She will be glad to help you, as that is part of friendship."
It took a few moments for the words to sink into Tansy's brain, but when they did, she turned and wrapped her arms around the other, her eyes moist with gratitude as she embraced the Ptesanwi, and indirectly, Kayda, her friend.
Monday, September 17 - Morning
The Nations Tipi, Whateley Academy
Kayda's eyes snapped open, and she stretched her overly-tired and stiff muscles. "She should be waking up in a moment or two," she told Lanie.
"Is she okay?" Lanie asked, her voice tinged with concern for her blonde friend.
"It was rough," Kayda admitted. "In some ways, worse than mine."
The Lakota shaman shook her head. "I can't talk about it," she cut off her friend's question. "Kind of doctor-patient confidentiality."
Tansy started to stir, so Kayda scooted over to her side. "Get some water; she's going to be thirsty." She helped the blonde sit up. "Tansy?" she asked softly. "Are you okay?"
The blonde was groggy, not responsive, so Lanie squatted down beside her with a water bottle. "Here." She raised the open bottle to her lips, helping her hold it while she eagerly drank.
"Are you okay?" Kayda asked again when Tansy finished drinking.
Tansy looked a little unsteadily at Kayda. "Um, I think so," she responded. "I ..." She took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. "That was ... intense."
"Are you alright?" Lanie repeated.
Tansy closed her eyes and took a few breaths. "I ... I don't know," she answered, looking at Kayda and then at Lanie. "I ... I'm not sure I understand everything." She forced a thin smile. "It was a lot of memories and visions about what I learned ... and did ... growing up," she said, "and visions about what I could be." She looked at Kayda, gratitude in her eyes, and she reached out and pulled the Lakota girl into a very heartfelt and warm embrace. "Thank you," Tansy said earnestly. "I ... I didn't know how to interpret all of that."
Kayda smiled, hugging the blonde back. "I was hoping it would be helpful."
"Um," Tansy said nervously, "you're not .... I mean, the visions and stuff ... are you ...?"
Kayda understood immediately and shook her head. "No. I'm not allowed to talk to anyone but the dreamer about the dreams and visions. If you want to share with others, you have to." She eased back from the embrace. "Now, let's get over to the longhouse. You can shower and clean up, and while you're doing that, I'll call to get some food delivered from the kitchens. Kind of a ceremonial thing."
"How long?" Tansy asked simply.
"It's Monday morning," Lanie replied. "Just after sunrise." She stood and helped Tansy up, knowing the girl was going to be stiff. "Now what?" she asked simply.
"Now? Now I'm going to do something that I deserve but never did. I'm going to have fun!" Tansy told her friends with a tired smile, then became serious. "But first, I know now what I have to do. And I'll need Ms. Hartford's help to do it," she said grimly.
Tuesday, September 18, Morning
The Ash Grove Assisted Living and Psychiatric Care Facility, Woodbury New York
Paul Roan, LPN, waved tiredly to the outgoing night shift as he settled at the head desk for the wing. He took another sip of coffee to try and clear the Monday morning cobwebs from his mind as he logged on to the computer and prayed for an easy week. His wing handled the hard cases, the demanding, but formerly well-heeled types who could and usually did take delight in being difficult to work with. As the coffee finally seemed to start working he went through his emails and decided there was a God who loved him.
"Hey Jim!" he called with a huge grin. "Great news, buddy! Prep 27 for transport."
The bulky nurse's-aid looked up from his own coffee with a confused expression on his face. "Walcutt? Where is she getting moved to?"
Paul's grin got wider as he sent the order to the printer to start on the required paperwork. "Not moved, buddy, transferred." Jim's expression immediately lightened. "I'll go pack Mrs. Congeniality's things right now! Who gets the bad news?"
Paul stood to walk to the printer and collected a clip board on his way. "Some place in New Hampshire I've never heard of." He picked up the order and scanned it. "Here it is. Arkham Research Consortium."
* * *