A Whateley Academy Story
Heyoka 2 - Eating Dog
by Motley with Renae and Dr. Bender. Portions Adapted from 'Panty Raid' by Heather O'Malley
Dunwich Train Station, Monday, Nov. 6
No shit, there I was. I stood at the train station next to my bags, wondering what would happen next. The whole thing reminded me of a movie I'd seen once. I half expected to be met by a hairy giant with a friendly attitude, but instead noticed a man of the People heading in my direction. He appeared to be middle aged, short hair, and of the southwest variety complete with turquoise and boots. Seeing him there eased my fears, just a little.
Short hair, I wondered if he was trying to fit in or was there a reason behind it? The look behind his weathered eyes told me he had a reason.
"Jamie?" He asked when he got close.
"I'm Charlie Lodgeman. I'm here to take you to Whateley," he said with a smile. He held out his hand. I shook it. He had a strong grip, but not too tight. I had a sudden vision of an elder looking me over with dark squinty eyes and nodding his head once. I pulled my hand back. Where had that come from?
"Relax," Mr. Lodgeman told me with a smile. He bent closer and in a low voice said, "He seems to like you." Then in a normal tone, "Let me help you with those bags." He slung my carry-on over his shoulder and picked up one of the suitcases. I grabbed the handles of the other two, pulling them on their wheels, and followed him.
Mr. Lodgeman slung my bags into the bed of the pickup truck. I lifted the last one over the side, but suddenly I was faced with getting into the cab. I hadn't ridden in the front passenger seat of a car since the accident.
"Coming?" he asked.
I nodded and forced my body to move. I strapped myself in and made any excuse not to look out the front window. My heart pounded in my throat, though I'm sure that Mr. Lodgeman wasn't going over 35mph. Finally I shut my eyes. Whatever might happen, I wasn't going to watch.
"I hear that you're a spirit talker?" Mr. Lodgeman said, ignoring my obvious fear.
"You could call it that," I said shakily.
"We've had a few problems with avatars lately. This is something you should keep to yourself for now, just until we get things straightened out. I know you don't operate the same way the others do, but we don't want to take any chances for now. You can talk to me or to the doctors, but I don't think you should tell any of the students."
"What kind of problems?" I asked the news surprised me into opening my eyes, just as another car passed us, too close for my comfort. I winced and close my eyes again.
He hesitated. "Sometimes spirits can get caught outside of their homes. If they join with an avatar, they find shelter and energy to keep going. The avatar is then able to use the spirit's power. The more powerful the spirit, the more powers the avatar gains. Unfortunately, this is not lost on certain unethical people. They're buying and selling spirits."
I felt like I'd been slapped in the face. Treating spirits like slaves? It was unthinkable.
"In order to do this, they need access to these spirits, and they need avatars who can hold them until they have a buyer. These people are extremely dangerous. I don't want you getting mixed up with them. They may not realize that you're not like the others, or they may think that they can use that difference to their advantage."
"I see." I wondered if there was anything I could do to help, but Mr. Lodgeman was already making it clear that he wanted to keep me out of it. I decided to take his advice and lay low for awhile. Maybe I could find some way to help without getting myself, or anyone else, killed.
"If anyone asks, tell them you're a level one Shifter, level one Exemplar and a level three empathic Esper. I wouldn't even mention the astral projection. Going off and leaving your body unattended can leave you open for other problems. You will learn ways to protect yourself there, but it will take some time."
"You can open your eyes now," Mr. Lodgeman told me after the truck came to a stop. I opened my eyes and found myself in a tree-covered parking lot. I gratefully unlatched my fingers from the arm rest and flexed them a few times. I reached over and released the seat belt before opening the door and sliding out. I resisted the urge to kiss the pavement.
I walked around the back where Mr. Lodgeman had already unloaded my bags. He had the carry on slung over his shoulder again and the other one in his hand, so I dragged the remaining two along as he led me down the sidewalk.
"I think you'll like it here. I talked with Hank, your roommate, yesterday, and he seemed excited about introducing you to Whateley." Mr. Lodgeman told me as we walked.
"Hank? I'm rooming with a guy?" I asked nervously.
"Hank is a special case. He wasn't always a guy, and right now, physically, you could say that he's a little bit of both. Don't worry, he's very friendly. We would have put you in a room to yourself, but there wasn't enough space left. We've had an unusual number of freshmen this year with 'special circumstances' almost like yours."
"I'm not the only one who changes back and forth?" I asked, with a little ray of hope shining through.
"I said 'almost' like yours. You are the only transgender shifter here. What I'm saying is that some of the others are not what they used to be, so I think they will be more sympathetic than most."
"Oh," I said, disappointed.
"Still, it's not something you should talk about outside of Poe. The others want to keep their secrets to themselves...and, here we are."
We stopped in front of one of the brick buildings. Mr. Lodgeman directed me inside. I tried to damp down my nervousness as I noticed a few students watching me. One boy, a blond, smiled at me as I followed Mr. Lodgeman into the housemother's office.
"Who's this?" the lady asked. She seemed puzzled by the suitcases.
"This is Jamie Carson, the new freshman."
"This is the first I've heard of it. Let me check the list. Maybe I just missed it," she said, clicking the keys on her keyboard and scanning the monitor. "I'm sorry Charlie. I don't have any new students listed. Are you sure this one is supposed to be in Poe?"
"Very sure. Jamie is going to room with Hank. I talked to him about it yesterday."
"That is strange, if Hank already agreed. So, Jamie is one of the Kimba crew?" She asked.
"Well, that's up to them, but let's say that Jamie would fit with that group."
"Well then, he definitely should be on this list, but he's not. It sounds like Harda-, Ms. Hartford is up to her old tricks again. You'd better go and straighten this out. Just leave the bags here for now, and welcome to Poe young man." She smiled at me. I smiled back. I wasn't sure about the 'young man' part, but I wasn't going to quibble.
"I think it's best if I go in with you," Mr. Lodgeman said as we entered the administration building, "and whatever happens, remember, you want to live in Poe."
I sat down in front of the desk. I knew instantly that this lady didn't like me.
"So, this is the new Hawthorne student," she said without looking at me. She must have been expecting me.
"No, Jamie belongs in Poe," Mr. Lodgeman argued.
"It says here that Jamie has come to us on urgent status because of the unstable and dangerous nature of...her...mutations. She's an unstable shape shifter, with obvious neurological problems. They will know how to care for her best over in Hawthorne. There's a Registered Nurse over there who can see that she gets her medications in a timely fashion..."
"I'm not on any medications ma'am." I stated.
"Um, yes," she said as if she was certain that would change, "Besides, there simply isn't any room left for a first year in Poe."
"I've already talked to Hank Declan," Mr. Lodgeman explained, "he's willing to accept Jamie as his roommate."
"That is totally unacceptable. Hank, in case you haven't noticed, is a boy, and this...this...person, can't possibly room with him."
"They share a similar history. I think Hank will adapt."
"Ma'am, I was told that Poe was the best place for someone with my, um, difficulties. I was told that the students there would be more understanding of my condition. I would really like to stay there." I reasoned.
"I don't see how this question is up to you. You couldn't possibly know what is best for you. Let the adults do their jobs."
"I don't suppose you've looked to see who Jamie's sponsor is, have you?" Mr. Lodgeman asked.
"What difference could that possibly..." she said, scanning the registration form. "Guzman?" she said incredulously, "Gabriella Guzman? What interest could she possibly have..." Ms. Hartford bit her tongue and suddenly plastered an extremely fake smile across her lips. It must have hurt.
"Well, if Lancer doesn't have a problem with this, I suppose arrangements can be made...You're sure you wouldn't rather live in Hawthorne? You'd be much safer there."
"No ma'am, Dr. Jacobs assured me that I should live at Poe. Mr. Lodgeman agrees. I trust their judgment." I explained.
"Oh, all right. Let me straighten this out for you. I have no idea why you people always want to live in Poe," she said while changing my assignment. Her fingers seemed to fly over the keyboard. She barely looked at the computer at all while she worked, as if she didn't need to. "There's nothing wrong with Hawthorne. You don't even have to walk out in the weather if you don't want to, and the nurses there are very nice, I hear. Just stay clear of that Kimba group. They're likely to get expelled if they don't clean up their act. I mean Hank is nice enough, but he really shouldn't let those girls get him into trouble all the time."
Mr. Lodgeman and I just ignored her. I wasn't about to change my mind, and all the talk of nurses made me more than a little nervous about that Hawthorne place. I also stored away the fact that the name Guzman held some weight around here.
Hank met me in Mrs. Horton's office. Mrs. Horton asked if I brought my own sheets, blankets and pillow. I hadn't thought of that.
"Don't worry, I think I have some spares in the basement until you can get your own. Hank, will you wait here?"
I followed her out through the front room, passing an oriental girl as we went. We passed through a weight room and by a closed door that claimed to be the 'Lovecraft Room.' Mrs. Horton opened a closet at the end of the hall and piled the linens up in my arms. I heard a noise and turned to see the door to the Lovecraft Room swing partly open. I nearly jumped out of my skin when a pair of glowing red eyes peered out at me. Instead of a frothing demon, the face appeared to belong to a thin, pale, young woman. She smiled at me.
"New student?" she asked.
"Yes Sara, this is Jamie. He's moving in with Hank."
"With Hank? Really? Hmmm....nice to meet you Jamie," she purred.
I grinned, not sure why I felt a blush rising up to meet my ears. "N-nice to meet you too, Sara," I stammered.
"Come on Jamie, I'm sure you're anxious to get settled in," Mrs. Horton prompted. I followed her back up to where Hank waited for us.
"So, you started out as a girl too?" Hank asked as he helped me with my suitcases and the pillows as if they weighed nothing.
"Yep, now I'm kind of both," I answered.
"But you shift into being a guy?"
"Sometimes," I said, "sometimes it goes the other way."
That made him pause. "You mean you could turn back into a girl at any time?" Suddenly he seemed nervous.
"Is that a problem?"
"Um...no, I mean..." Hank started to blush.
Uh, oh. Hank might have started out like me. He might even be a hermaphrodite like me, but inside he was all male, or desperately wanted to be. This could be trickier than I thought. I hoped that Mr. Lodgeman was right. I hoped that Hank would adapt. Well, I could forget the idea of walking around with my shirt off on certain days.
Hank stopped in front of one of the doors. "Here we are." I reached out and opened the door since Hank's hands were full. He walked in and carefully put my bags on the bed. I noticed that half of the room had been cleared. I smiled. Hank knew I was coming and made room for my things. I already knew he was a nice guy, but this proved it. He glanced at a certain bikini poster and nervously stood in front of it, probably hoping I hadn't noticed. Oh, dear.
"Is that Bianca Papillion? I always thought she had a nice rack." I said, grinning. The model in question was obviously a mutant, with green eyes of a shade that didn't normally appear in nature, and long hair that started pink at the roots then faded into yellow, light green and finally blue at the ends. Many hairdressers had made a fortune off of clients trying to replicate that look. Her skin held a natural metallic gold cast. Of course she was well-endowed, but the shape of her breasts left me feeling suspicious, a little too perky for their size. I bit my tongue on any speculation as to whether or not they were real. I thought it would be safer to edit my 'girl' comments for now.
Hank seemed to let go of the breath he was holding. The poster could stay. "Yeah," he agreed sheepishly. "So, you like girls?" he asked nervously.
I shrugged. "I hadn't really thought about it. I mean, I know when a girl, or a guy, looks good, but I don't really get excited about it. It's just luck of the draw, genetics, right?" I said, waving one hand in the direction of the poster.
Hank gaped at me like a fish out of water. I sighed. I guessed that only a freak like me could fail to be turned on by a two dimensional picture of someone I would probably never meet, and probably not even like if I did. I started unpacking.
After I got everything put away, Hank gave me the grand tour.
"Bathrooms are over there. The study is in here, all those ropes and things belong to Team Kimba."
I peeked into the common room. Sure enough, part of it looked like it belonged in a chimpanzee's cage. Ropes and hammocks dominated one corner of the room.
"What's Team Kimba?" I asked.
"That's the name the girls and I decided to call ourselves," he dropped his voice, "We're all changelings. Like you, we all started off one way, and turned into something else."
"So, these girls you're talking about used to be guys?" I asked, keeping my voice low too.
"Everyone in Poe has a secret, though most are not that big. Most of the guys are gay, and most of the girls are lesbians. The admins thought it would be safer to put all the 'sexual deviants' in one place. Whether that's to protect us, or the rest of the campus, is open for debate. Right now the other cottages think that we're in Poe because we're crazy. It's best if we let them think that way."
"So, I'm supposed to let people think I'm crazy? That'll be easy." I grinned.
Hank told me about the kitchen, the laundry room and the workout room. He then warned me to watch out for someone named Hippolyta with gold hair and a short temper who could probably break me like a toothpick. Hank said that she was a 'brick' like himself. Which meant that they were both super strong and not easily hurt. I quickly decided that I didn't have much need to lift weights. She was welcome to them. Apparently Hippolyta didn't like boys, REALLY didn't like boys. I wasn't sure what she thought about half-boys, and I didn't think I wanted to find out.
From there he took me around the campus. He pointed at the different cottages and rattled off the names of each one. I didn't pay much attention to which one was which. From there, he took me into Schuster Hall. He went and talked to Mrs. Linford who let us in to a secret room.
The inside looked like some kind of museum. There were plaques next to each display. Hank seemed to gloss over this part. He stood in the middle of the room and pointed at various things.
"Prince of Wallachia, big bad guy who sends money to the school. All new students have to look at the portrait or he gets upset and stops funding the school or something like that. And there's Champion's suit, one of them anyway. The guy was some kind of avatar, and Whateley is supposed to always keep an avatar in training to take his place just in case the current Champion bites it."
My ears perked up at the word 'avatar' but Hank went on with his rambling description of the items in the room.
"That pile of gold is from some lady named Guzman. Said it's some kind of statement. I guess if you're that rich you can make as many 'statements' as you want, as long as you keep Whateley in the green."
"Guzman?" I interrupted.
"Yeah, you know her?"
"She's the one who sent me here." I looked at the gold and the plaque next to it more closely. I suddenly fought the urge to hop up on the gold bricks and take my place behind the velvet rope. There had to be an alarm of some kind that I didn't want to set off. I read the short biography. She was born a poor Mexican Indian and used her mutant powers to climb her way to the top, joined the Alphas during her senior year. I guess it was some kind of sorority. Started off as a poor Indian like me? So, was she buying me off for my talents? Or was it some kind of wish to give another poor Indian kid a chance? I'd never actually met my benefactor in person, so my empathic skills were completely useless in this matter.
"Oh, so you're some kind of rich kid?"
"My parents never had much money. Ms. Guzman just started taking care of me after the accident. I get a nice allowance, but that's about it."
I looked down at the floor. "Car crash. My mom, didn't make it. That's when they found out I was a mutant."
Hank looked uncomfortable. He put one arm out like he wanted to give me a hug, but the arm hung there for a second. He settled for a light pat on the back.
"What about your Dad?"
"Dead too. Lightning strike."
"Oh." Hank replied glumly, "Sorry to hear that."
We left the museum then. Hank went on to show me where the classrooms were. After that it was time for dinner.
Hank took me to the Crystal Hall, a very modern looking glass dome where the dining hall was housed. I was amazed at the inside of the place. Lush plants flowed from baskets around the edge. I could see clouds right through the glass. The whole thing gave the impression of being outside, but without the chill. I followed Hank through the line and filled my tray. I was impressed by the selection here. I got a fresh salad with real greens, none of that fake iceberg stuff, and a couple slices of pizza. For desert I found a slice of chocolate cheesecake. I finished it off with an herbal iced tea. Hank looked like he was just going to try a little bit of everything they had. Well, who could blame him? It wasn't like we needed to worry about our figures.
I followed him out through the tables until he stopped at one near the edge of the dome. This must have been Team Kimba. I have to say that if these girls all started out as guys, I was really impressed with the way they turned out. An elfish redhead immediately caught my eye. I found myself staring and lost track of what Hank was saying.
He nudged me and whispered in my ear, "Faerie glamour, try not to stare."
I blushed and looked away, trying not to center all my attention on the gorgeous redhead, but once that spell was broken I discovered that I wasn't much better off with the other beauties sitting around the table.
"Everyone, meet Jamie. Jamie this is Fey, Jade, Jinn, Tennyo, Chou, Chaka, Erin and Sara."
"We've met," Sara said, smiling.
Fey was the redhead. Jade looked like a cute Japanese girl, a little on the nerdy side, but definitely cute. Jinn was dressed in some kind of black costume. Tennyo was quickly eating through what looked like her fourth tray. She looked familiar in some way I couldn't quite put my finger on. Chou nodded at me with quiet reserve. Chaka smiled and waved. Erin and Sara both looked at me like I was on the menu. I felt a small thrill of excitement as I watched Sara, the goth girl. Hank put his tray down next to Jinn, and directed me to squeeze me in next to Sara. Neither girl had a tray so they made room for us at the crowded table.
I wasn't sure I wanted to sit next to Sara. I was almost used to getting appreciative looks from strangers, but not like this. My empathic sense was confused by her. On the surface, she was very interesting, exotic, sexual. I tried my best to ignore these feelings as I dug into my cheesecake. I felt energy start to rise in my own body, the spirits were taking an interest. I struggled with them for a moment, trying to remind them that I needed to keep a low profile here. They settled down, and so did the energy coming off of Sara, but for some reason they offered me a vision. Rocks. Lots and lots of tiny little rocks. I had no idea what it meant.
"So, Jamie, what is it that you do?" Fey, that drop dead gorgeous elf asked me.
"They tell me I'm a Shifter 1, Esper Empath 3, and Exemplar 1. I don't have any control over the shifts. They just happen sometimes." I explained the shortened version of my powers that Mr. Lodgeman suggested. Fey gave me an odd look, like she didn't quite believe that was all, but she wasn't going to challenge me on it.
"Empath 3, not bad. Fey and I are empaths, and Erin is a shifter, though she can do it at will," Sara purred.
"Jamie is one of us," Hank said cryptically.
"Really! Another one? So, are you a 'he' or a 'she?" Chaka asked.
I shrugged. "I started off as a girl. Right now I'm neither, or both. This is my dominant form, but I have shifted into full female and male forms. You can call me 'he' or 'she' I won't take offense either way. My, um, counselor, wanted me to choose one or the other, but I couldn't do it." I explained this while examining my salad with my fork. It had to be said, but I didn't feel comfortable going into it with strangers. I felt Sara take a personal interest in that bit of information. I gave her a small mental shove. There it was again, teeny, tiny rocks. Sara pouted. I wondered what game the spirits were playing this time.
"Why are hermaphrodites always so cute?" Sara asked quietly.
Jade nudged Sara, "You planning on taking a bite out of Hank next?"
"I wish." Sara grinned, but I got the impression that Hank wasn't who she meant earlier. I wondered if there was another hermaphrodite somewhere I didn't know about.
"So, Jamie, have you got a code name yet?" Tennyo asked.
I nodded. "Heyoka."
"Hey-wha?" Chaka wondered aloud.
"Heyoka, in Lakota it's a kind of sacred clown."
"Sacred clown? You mean like 'What do you get when you cross Constantine with the Joker?'" Erin asked with a smirk.
"God, I hope not," I said, feeling an odd shiver down my spine at the image that brought up.
The girls spent the rest of dinner trying to pry as much information out of me as they could. I found out that I wasn't the only one who'd lost parents. The subject seemed to upset Chou. She left the hall early. Before dinner was over I got caught up on everyone else's powers and their own stories of how they ended up at Whateley.
Tuesday, Nov. 7
The next morning I grabbed my stuff and headed down to the bathroom. Without thinking twice about it I walked into the girl's restroom. I'd never used a communal restroom before. I was surprised at the easy way that the girls walked around naked. I found a shower stall and closed the curtain. After the shower I toweled off and put on my underwear, simple light blue cotton bikini briefs without the extra opening in the front. It wasn't quite girl's underwear, but it wasn't all that different either. I wrapped the towel around my flat chest, tucking it in place, and went to find a free mirror.
I saw Jade and Tennyo talking and doing their hair, so I wandered over in their direction.
"Hi Jamie," Tennyo greeted me.
"Good morning Tennyo." I smiled at her.
"Good morning Jamie," Jade greeted.
"Hello Jade." It was good to have friends. I brushed my teeth carefully, trying to keep the towel in place, but the towel gave up when I reached up to comb out my hair. I felt slightly embarrassed, but told myself that there were plenty of naked girls around, and I wasn't exactly showing them anything new. I picked up the towel and draped it over the corner of the sink while I finished combing my hair.
"Don't tell me, it's another one of those boys," a rude voice said from behind me. I instantly picked up on Jade's nervousness and Tennyo's growing anger. I turned to see a pudgy black girl trying to stare me down. "Aren't you in the wrong room, boy?"
Something about her really bothered Jade, though she appeared unconcerned on the outside. I tried to keep cool and answered her. "I was born a girl, and half of me still is a girl, and until they start building hermaph bathrooms, you're just going to have to deal with it." Not liking the effect she was having on my friends, and remembering the nature of the cottage I added, "I'm sorry my body isn't attractive enough for you. Maybe you should go back to checking out the other girls."
"Good one Jamie," Ayla said.
"She's attractive enough for me all right. Too bad she's only a freshman..." I overheard someone else say off to one side. I tried to ignore the comment, but appreciated it all the same.
"We don't need no more girly boys in here with the rest of us," the girl muttered. I heard a few sounds of agreement. Tennyo growled.
"Everyone in this room is a MUTANT! Did any of you have a choice about it? Did you?" I asked. The girl turned away, but I knew the fight wasn't over. I didn't think it would ever be over. I hastily put on a t-shirt and jeans, grabbed my things, and walked out.
I managed to keep my composure until I got back to my room. I threw myself on the bed and let the tears fall. Even in a school of mutants I was still a freak. I began to think that coming here was a bad idea.
Someone knocked on my door. I tried to wipe off my face with the blanket.
"What?" I called.
"Can we come in Jamie-san?" Jade's voice called through the door. I wanted to say no, but Jade was just trying to be nice. It was hard to say no to a sweet little girl like that.
The door opened and Jade came in followed by Tennyo and Ayla. I sat up, hugging my pillow. Tennyo sat next to me. Jade perched on the edge of my bed, while Ayla sprawled out over Hank's bed.
"Don't let Sharissa bother you Jamie. She's just some stupid fat chick who's jealous of us," Ayla said.
Tennyo laughed, "Yeah, what she said. Come on Jamie you can't let people like that get you down."
I gripped my pillow tighter. "I thought it would be different here."
"It is different here. You have us," Jade said with a smile.
I couldn't help but to smile back.
"Anybody hungry? Let's go get some breakfast!" Tennyo said cheerfully.
I met Mr. Lodgeman in his office. The place was small and looked more like a closet than an office. I guessed that he didn't spend much time in here. I saw boxes on the floor and stacked in the corner. Some were open but most were still taped shut. Papers cluttered his desk, along with an assortment of other items. I saw a small bowl of corn meal, a fan, a coke can, a leaf, and a large rock sitting among the chaos. Up on one of the shelves, the only clean spot in the room, I saw a carefully wrapped cloth bundle that looked like it was the right size for a pipe, a painted hand drum, and a picture frame that was turned away from me. I would have thought that he'd just moved in if it weren't for the layer of dust covering the sealed boxes. Something had happened here. I wondered if he'd ever tell me what it was.
He flipped through my file and referenced that with the class schedule in his computer.
"One of the things we have to think about here is that you're coming to Whateley late in the semester. There's only five weeks left before Winter Break. I see that you've already started classes in English, Algebra, U.S. History, Earth Sciences, Basic Computing, and Accounting.
"I'm going to try to keep you as close to your original coursework as possible. That way each instructor can review your previous work and apply it to giving you credit for this semester. Hopefully, that won't put you too far behind.
"We can go ahead and place you in some of these classes. Let's see, English and Algebra are easy enough. Your mutant journal shows some talent with geology and meteorology, so Natural Sciences is a good fit with your mutant abilities. There's a class in fourth period I can fit you in. That's the best I can do for you there. You really need some 'mutant' classes to round out your schedule. You need that Esper 1, class badly so you can learn to control those abilities. I think Costuming will definitely be in order because of your shifting, and you need a defense class. Have you had any type of martial arts training?"
"No." I answered.
"Hmmm...you're physically fit, being an Exemplar, and as a hermaphrodite shifter you'll have a hard time fitting in to normal society without causing the occasional problem. So, I'm going to have to put you in Survival 1 class, pending approval from Ms. Guzman. It's a tough class, but I think it will do you the most good in the long run."
"What about computing, accounting, and history?"
"If you want to finish those out with your online classes you can. I'll see if I can get credit for those to transfer. You probably won't be able to pass Survival this semester, but don't worry about that. Most students don't pass that class the first time around. Some don't even pass the second time. For costuming, you can either ask about doing a special project to get caught up, or you can take the semester again during summer school. I don't think you can pass the Esper class either in so short a time."
"If I'm not going to pass these classes, then why am I taking them?"
"Each of these classes are worth more than just the credits. Costuming will teach you how to disguise your shape changes enough for you to go out in public without attracting too much attention. Survival is meant to teach you how to avoid trouble, or to get yourself out of it when you can't avoid it. The Esper class will teach you how to use your new abilities without causing harm to yourself or others. Computing, accounting and history are all important, but not as important a learning how to live as a mutant."
"That survival class sounds like what Edward was trying to do."
"My old chauffer and body guard. He was always trying to get me to think about what to do if things got rough."
"Good, then you get the idea. The next thing we need to discuss is work study. All freshmen are encouraged to get a job on campus whether they need the money or not. It's good experience. I think I know the perfect job for you, but this isn't something I can just sign you up for. If I'm right about you, I think you will find it without my help. If not, we'll discuss your options again in two weeks. That should give you time to get settled into your new schedule."
"What kind of job is it?" I asked.
"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," he said with a wink, "Either you'll find it yourself, or you won't."
He printed out my new schedule and handed me the paper.
"Now, take this over to the bookstore. They'll get you set up with your books and supplies."
The bookstore looked a lot bigger on the inside than the outside. Hank showed me where it was yesterday, but instead of a tiny store mostly for school supplies, this bookstore seemed to have a little bit of everything. That was a good thing; since I had no idea how long it would be until I could go shopping in the outside world, and Dunwich seemed to be a little short in the mall department.
I walked up to a lady who was sporting a name tag. Bonnie, it read. She was probably in her forties, a little plump, with strawberry blonde curls and a smile that showed that she liked her job in the store.
"Excuse me," I said, "I'm new here. Mr. Lodgeman said I should bring my schedule here to get my books?"
"Oh! Welcome to Whateley! Let me take a look," she said, reaching one hand out to take the schedule. She looked it over while walking back to the front to grab one of the small shopping carts. She deftly spun the cart around with one hand and pushed it in front of me. "You'll be needing that, dear."
I took the cart and followed her down the aisles. She rattled off the names of various books as she dropped them in the cart. Then, to my surprise, we left the bookshelves and entered a more unusual part of the store.
"Let's see here, Jr. lock pick set, pepper spray key chain with refills, taser key chain, Fold-away silver-coat brass knuckles..."
"Aren't those illegal?" I asked when she dropped the brass knuckles into the cart.
"Those are strictly for educational purposes only, and it's not like I'm going to sell you the spikes. You can only get those online," she said, winking at me before continuing on her quest. She rifled through some heavy-looking clothes on a rack and frowned. "I'm sorry dear, but we don't have a bullet-proof vest in your size right now."
"Don't worry, I can get one in here by next Tuesday at the latest, and since I have to order it anyway, you get to pick the style. If you can afford it, I'd go for the new Featherweight, in tan, it works so much better under clothing. In my opinion, the kine-reactive gel inserts are a huge improvement over plain Kevlar. They do a much better job of reducing injury from blunt impacts." She explained cheerfully. Stunned, I just nodded.
We continued our school supply quest in the metaphysical section where she added a couple self-hypnosis CD's, and a Jr. Deluxe Psychic Kit which included a selection of colorful crystals, a tarot deck, a Zener deck, an emotive deck, a blind fold, a four inch crystal ball, and a black scrying mirror. I tried not to laugh at the picture on the front of the box. It was of some guy wearing a jeweled purple turban who had a constipated expression on his face. Were they actually serious about this? Finally, Bonnie tossed in a few brown bottles that contained things I'd never heard of before, supposedly meant to 'clear the psychic pathways.'
As I followed her around, she also tossed in a sewing kit, a drawing tablet, colored pencils, a cardboard color wheel, and a ruler. "That should get you started with Costumes. We have a good selection of cloth swatches in the back so I can order whatever you want if Ms. Ryan doesn't have what you need." Then she led me around to the more mundane school supplies. "You'll need at least one folder and notebook for each class, in addition to paper, pens and pencils."
I picked out six folders with different pictures of wild animals on them with matching notebooks, and tossed the remaining supplies in the cart.
She nodded. "That should take care of your classes. Now, what about your room?"
"You just moved in, didn't you? Surely there's something you need, a poster at the very least."
I thought about my new room. It seemed very small, and I had to share it with Hank. Hank, who would probably not want me to undress in front of him on one of my 'girl' days. "Um, I do have a slight problem that you might help me with. I'm a shifter and well, there are some days when I might need some privacy."
"Oh! I have just the thing!" She said while hurrying over to one corner of the store. "We don't sell many of these. Most students think they take up too much room. This one was a special order but the girl didn't want it. Apparently she ordered 'emerald' and when it showed up she thought it looked more like 'sea green' so she returned it. I've been trying to get rid of it ever since. Ah, here we are!"
In one corner was a whole assortment of home décor items, including a Chinese dressing screen. The carved wood frame was painted black, and the panels looked like green silk painted with dragons, tigers, flowers and cranes. I loved it, and it would be the perfect thing to preserve Hank's sense of propriety. I smiled. "I'll take it." I told Bonnie.
That night I went to bed exhausted, not because I'd done much but just from the idea of getting used to my new surroundings. My head swirled with thoughts of my first day of classes. Would they be hard? Would the teachers like me? Would the students like me? So far, Team Kimba seemed friendly enough. Hank was more than happy to help me out, and it never hurt to have a nearly indestructible friend close by. I just hoped I never ended up on his bad side.
For a moment, my senses tingled. Something was sneaking around close by. It paused by my room. I allowed my focus to shift just a little so I could sense it more clearly. It felt almost like a spirit, but of a kind I'd never felt before. It seemed to be considering something in my room, then it noticed my attention and moved on. I got the impression that it decided that there wasn't anything in here that was worth the trouble. I sat up in bed wondering what was going on.
A few minutes passed and I lay back down again. My eyes started to drift closed when I heard a scream from down the hall. I jumped out of bed, wearing my boxers and a t-shirt. Hank woke up as I opened the door to the hallway.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"I don't know, but I thought I heard someone scream."
With that, Hank jumped out of bed, but instead of landing on the floor he pushed past me, through the door and over my head. I ducked, amazed. Hank did mention something about flying, but this was the first time I'd seen anyone actually do it. I ran down the hall after him.
There were several loud crashes up ahead. Then we heard someone yell, "Panty thief!"
"Oh, shit! They're gonna kill him," Hank muttered as he sped ahead of me.
I caught up just in time to see Toni get knocked down. She was not wearing underwear under her t-shirt. I blushed and turned away momentarily, but the fight didn't slow down for Toni's butt. Fey seemed to be concentrating on something. Just then, the thief, a large monkey-like man, threw something that stuck to her forehead. A glowing light exploded around her, and Fey fell to the floor.
"Fey!" I yelled, trying to fight through the crowd to get to her. All at once, the crowd started to thin as the girls started fighting off what appeared to be crabs with paisley markings on their shells, wearing top hats.
I froze, staring at these strange beings that weren't there a second ago. All at once, they seemed to notice me, their little eyestalks pointing in my direction. I felt a strange tugging sensation that got stronger as they scuttled closer.
"What the-" I exclaimed as the first one touched my foot. The world shifted suddenly, and I found myself standing over my unconscious body. The crabs continued to swarm around me. Suddenly the thief leaped in my direction and started kicking the crabs aside.
"I'm sorry, I'll try to avoid that next time," he told me with an impish smile.
To my right I felt a sudden swelling of rage. I turned to see Hank's aura turn red, at least I thought it was Hank, everything looked different now. I looked down at my limp body and assumed that Hank blamed the thief for that. I jumped as a large fist swung right through my ethereal chest and ended up in the spot where the monkey-thing's head used to be. Hank was defending me!
Hank swung a few more times but always managed to get there too late. Whatever this monkey-spirit-demon-thing was, it was fast. Tennyo used Hank's distraction to grab the thief from behind and launch him into the girl's bathroom.
The crabs returned and looked to me again, as if waiting for instructions. I told them the first thing that came to mind. "Stop them!!" I yelled, pointing towards the noise coming from the girl's restroom. To my surprise, the crabs, which looked just as real on this side of reality as the other, tipped their hats at me and scuttled off in the direction I pointed.
Just then I saw Ayla stamp her foot down on one of the crabs. I felt a small jolt, like someone had severed a line between me and the creature. Jade and Toni ran around plucking the crabs up off the floor and tossing them to Ayla who squashed them one by one. Hank pulled my body out of the way, then went back for Fey. I leaned against the wall, unsure what to make of the odd snapping sensation.
Finally, there was only one crab left. I didn't really want to see this one get squashed. I felt a drain on my energy as the crab grew to the size of a dog. Jade yelped as it pinched her arm. Toni leaped after it and did a spin kick that launched it at Ayla. Ayla jumped into the air, and came down on the thing like a boulder. Snap! The last crab disappeared into nothingness. I slid to the floor feeling a little woozy.
"Underdid it, didn't I?" a familiar voice said next to me. I looked over to see Thunderbird's smiling face.
"I didn't know I could do that," I told him.
"Be worried. I'll have you wrecked in a year." He touched my shoulder. Tiny sparks danced along my skin as he charged me up again.
"That's what I'm afraid of." I stood up and ran into the bathroom.
I found a clear space to watch the fight, just as Jinn punched at the thief. I flinched as he twisted her up in a way that would have been bad news if she was an ordinary girl. Tennyo's sword flashed out, but was deflected by the thief's staff. The thief flicked the staff up and sent Tennyo's sword flying. I watched in slow motion as the glowing rod spun towards me. Thunderbird reacted faster than lightning, pushing me out of the way. I felt a searing pain slash across my arm as the rod glanced against it. He then opened a portal and let the rod sail into it. The portal closed, causing the rod to fade and disappear.
"Stay close to the sword! Forget, he can see you!" Thunderbird advised.
"Shit, that stings!" I yelled. Jinn was watching me. I looked back, surprised that she could see me. I got up and started walking back out the door to my body. I'd had enough of this.
Thunderbird stood in front of me, blocking my path. "You must go back now," he said, pointing at my burned arm.
I sighed. "If I go back now, this will be real?"
I swore again. "So, what do I have to do to fix it?"
Thunderbird waved his hand in a beckoning motion.
I had to think about it for a minute, but my arm ached with a horrible feeling of 'not right.' I knew it would be worse if it showed up as a real burn mark on my skin. "All right, but go easy on the feathers. I've got class tomorrow." The fight had moved outside by the sound of it.
Just then, an otherworldly voice rang out over the chaos. "You tick infested, mange encrusted, brutish, insolent...MALE! Erin, bite his orcheis off!"
Thunderbird flinched. "Too bad she isn't mad at me!"
A feral, catlike yowl ripped through the hallway, only slightly muted by the door.
"Was that Erin?" Tennyo wondered aloud, getting to her feet. She hastily pulled her disarrayed shirt back into shape before blasting the door into splinters.
The thief shouted something I didn't understand. Tennyo flew after him. "Get back here you bastard!" she yelled.
Alone in the bathroom now, I looked back to Thunderbird. "Ok, let's get this over with."
With that he stepped into me. I felt the familiar buzz of energy. The ache in my arm receded and was gone. I took a moment to enjoy the feeling of power and freedom I felt whenever I joined with Thunderbird. It seemed to heal more than just my arm, but worried about too much shape shifting, I nudged him out again.
I walked outside then to see how things were going. I stood next to the noncombatants this time. Chou attacked with her sword. She was disarmed about as quickly as Tennyo had been. The sword flew wide and lodged itself in the ground. From this view I saw a definite glow around it. "I guess I need to stay away from that one too?" I asked Thunderbird. He nodded. I sighed and kept to the sidelines.
The air around me began to glow and crackle as the magic users prepared a spell. Someone called up a nest of living vines that tried to entangle the thief. He broke through the vines and sped over on his cloud, picking up one of the girls and giving her a kiss before dropping her on top of Chou, Tennyo, and another girl I didn't know.
Just then, the magic users cast out the energy they had gathered. A cage suddenly appeared around the monkey-thing. The girls kept chanting, trying to keep him contained. Unfortunately for them, he was not merely part of the physical plane, but overlapped into the astral as well. I saw him reach into the fabric of the cage and tear it loose from the inside. I ducked as the backlash from the spell hit the girls, knocking some of them to the ground. I began to wonder if there was any such thing as a safe place to watch.
The monkey-thing winced and called out an apology. He sped over and picked up Fey. This was the second time he'd knocked her down. "Oh, my most beloved Queen, I am ever so sorry." He then reached down and gave her a full French kiss, ducking away just in time to avoid getting slapped. He put her down gently and rejoined the battle. Fey was practically glowing red with rage.
I crossed my arms and glared at him. Somebody had to stop this insanity! I looked around and saw someone else watching from the sidelines. Unlike the other students, I could see her clearly, yet no one else seemed to. Her long black hair flowed in a breeze that I couldn't feel. Her white wispy dress seemed to be made of cobwebs, a thought further enforced by the small army of spiders that huddled around her feet, some as large as a cat. She met my eyes, watching me curiously. Somehow I knew she was human, despite her strange appearance. I realized that I had feathers in my hair, stray sparks dancing along my skin, and I was still wearing my t-shirt and boxers. I guess I couldn't talk about looking strange. She smiled at me and waved. I waved back to her shyly.
I looked back in time to see three upperclassmen, er, women, attack in unison, flowing easily with the battle, anticipating each other's moves. I wished I could fight like that. Just then the thief ducked under one girl's attack and pulled down her sweats.
I growled. This thing had gone far enough. Sparks rose around me as I called on Thunderbird. I tried to grab him so he'd merge with me but he refused.
"But we have to stop him!" I insisted.
"She's hurting everyone."
"He hurt me!" I said, rubbing the place on my arm that was injured only a minute ago.
"That was on purpose. Besides, she makes me forget my daughter," Thunderbird said with a small grin.
"Reminds you of your son? You mean the one that chopped the heads off of babies and burned their mothers alive?" I countered, remembering a story my grandmother told me once. Thunderbird frowned.
My glowing skin must have gotten the thief's attention. He sped over and ruffed up my hair and feathers. I was then shocked to see that big monkey muzzle coming straight for my mouth! He gave me a big, wet, slobbery kiss! I pushed the energy out through my mouth and zapped him. His hair stood on edge for a second...at least I thought so....who could tell with hair like that? Then he smiled. I wiped my mouth off with one arm and glared at him.
"Nice try kid. I think you'll be good at this," he teased, before being distracted by that girl I met in the bathroom. Fine, she could have him!
I started walking back to the building. I paused when I noticed Thunderbird looking over at an athletically built, dark-haired woman who stood next to Erin. He waved at her. She just snorted.
"A lot of help you are," she said. I thought it was strange that I could hear her so clearly from that distance. My eyes widened when I realized she wasn't human. She winked at me. I rolled my eyes in Thunder's direction, letting her know that I fully agreed with her. I stalked off the field and went back inside, frustrated that I couldn't do more. I was certain I heard her laughing behind my back.
My body was lying on the couch in the study room. Jinn saw me walk in and smiled at me. I let my attention shift and opened my eyes. I sat up carefully, feeling my body try to adjust to the residual energy.
"Thank you, tell me they do this every night," I said.
She laughed. "You're welcome. No, not every night, closer to once a week."
Wednesday, Nov. 8
Wakan is a very interesting word in the Lakota language. Loosely translated it means 'sacred.' Certain places in nature are wakan. The spirits are Wakan. Certain objects, medicines, and animals are wakan. Holy people are Wakan. But this is not the whole definition of the word. Sometimes when one of the People say the word 'wakan,' what they're really saying is, 'hell if I know.' Given that definition, people who do strange things are wakan. Getting drunk is wakan. Some might even say that technology is wakan. My life has been very wakan lately. In the immortal words of George Carlin, "Well, it's a mystery."
In the old days most people were hunters and warriors, or the wives of hunters and warriors. Life was pretty simple. Just leave all that wakan stuff to the shamans. Let them sort it all out. If they say that we should dance, we dance. If they say 'do it this way,' that's how it's done. Nobody asked 'why' because there was no 'why.' The spirits are wakan, and so are crazy people. It's best not to upset either one.
I pondered this while staring into my closet. I idly scratched at the stray feathers that poked through my hair. They always itched when the grew in. At least there weren't very many. As I though about what I was going to wear I noticed that the fuzzy pink sweater with the kittens really wanted to be worn. It nearly spoke to me as it hung there, looking very proud of itself. I hadn't planned on wearing it. I wanted to be a little more conservative on my first day of class, but the very foundation of my rediscovered religion demanded that I pay attention to everything the spirit world had to tell me. Today, it was telling me to wear the fuzzy pink sweater with the kittens on it. I knew that if I refused I wouldn't feel right about it, as if I had put my shoes on the wrong feet. Ooops, better keep that thought to myself. It could happen. It probably would happen if I didn't wear that sweater.
Reluctantly, I put it on. I tried to mellow out the pinkness of it with some black pants. Then I put a jacket on over the top, hoping to hide the sweater. In moments, I felt unbearably hot. The jacket had to go. I cursed the Thunderbird for making me a heyoka. The thought of trying my hair up in pigtails suddenly popped into my head.
"Don't push your luck," I growled at Thunderbird.
"What was that?" Hank asked.
"Um, are you really going to wear that to class?"
I sighed. "Yes, I'm really going to wear it."
I looked at the status light over the door. Amber today. Might go red, might go green. I didn't feel like plucking myself. Well, if I was going to do it, might as well do it up right. I found a pink scarf and tied it up over my hair to hide the feathers. I almost heard a chuckle as I did this. I took several cleansing breaths and firmly booted Him out of my head.
I hurried along the path to the Schuster building. I didn't want to be late to my first day of class. An overconfident pack of upperclassmen came up from the opposite direction. I didn't need to see their auras to know there could be trouble. I saw them staring in my direction and laughing. They quieted down as they got closer, pretending not to notice me. I edged over to the side of the path, hoping to get by, but their leader continued to joke with the others, seeming to accidentally wander into my path. Naturally the guy bumped into me while giving absolutely no outward sign that he meant to do it.
I felt like I'd been hit by a dump truck. My books went flying. I landed solidly on the ground as my left arm went numb. My vision began to blur as I rubbed the arm.
"Oops! I'm sooo sorry. Let me help you up," he said, extending his hand. His friends laughed.
"I'm not sorry. It's all your fault. I'll just stay here now," I said. My vision cleared enough that I could see the red rage creep across his aura. Aura? Oh, shit, what had I just said? I could feel the spirits pressing at me like a bubble about to burst. I held them back. The last thing I needed was to look even more like a freak.
"What did you just say to me, fag?"
I kept my mouth shut. Anything I said now could only make things worse. I kept rubbing my arm and trying not to meet his eyes.
"I'm talking to you bitch!"
"It said that it isn't sorry, and it's all your fault Jeff," one of the girls chimed in, so helpfully.
"That's what I thought."
He gave me a kick before walking away. I felt something snap. I felt stunned for a moment then gasped for air. Something rattled as I took a breath. I coughed blood onto the sidewalk.
The girl looked at me with wide eyes, fear tinged with guilt. "Jeff, I think you really hurt him," she said.
"He's a mutant. He'll get over it," he said without looking back.
The girl hurried after him. I closed my eyes and curled into a ball. I spent all my energy trying to remember how to breathe. The spirits tugged at me, but I shoved them away. They'd already caused enough trouble.
I didn't hear any footsteps, but suddenly became aware of someone standing over me. I looked up. It was Jinn. She seemed like an angel colored all over with rage and concern. I just sat there gasping like a fish out of water. Very romantic, I'm sure.
"Wait right there. I'm going to get Jade. She's closer to the infirmary," she told me.
"Be worried. I'm going everywhere," I gasped, trying to sound humorous. I don't think I succeeded. Another bout of coughing let me know that I shouldn't have tried.
The girl vanished right in front of me. The girl did, not the costume. It just fell in a heap. Help was on the way. That was all I needed to know as I spent an eternity lying there trying to breathe in between bouts of coughing. I noticed a crowd starting to form. Someone had gathered my books and put them in a stack. Great, I thought, I get the crap beat out of me on my first day of class, and now the whole school knows about it. Added to my 'fainting' spell from last night, I was off to a great start at hero school.
"Is he going to be all right?" I heard someone ask.
"I think it's a girl," someone else said more quietly. If I'd had the ability to will myself into a hole, I would have used it.
I dropped my gaze back to the sidewalk, and there it was, a tiny pebble that seemed to glow in the sunlight. I had to have it. But that was silly; it was on the other side of the walkway. I would have to crawl for it. It was just a rock. I could leave it there. I leaned over as another coughing fit shook me. I looked for the pebble again. It wasn't there! Where had it gone? I needed that rock! I scanned the ground. Just then, one of the students took a step. There it was! I crawled forward, supporting myself with my good right arm. I laid down again, stretched forward, and got my prize. It felt warm to my touch. I could see rainbows shining between the cracks in its structure. I smiled and slipped it into my pants pocket.
Just then, the crowd parted and the medics arrived. They lifted me as if I weighed nothing and strapped me to a board. I noticed a familiar looking Japanese kid, Jade, I think, touch the costume that Jinn left behind. Suddenly, she was back, filling out the costume from the ground up. I closed my eyes. It was just too much weirdness to take in the state I was in. I let them carry me away.
Whatley's infirmary was actually better equipped than most hospitals in the area. The doctor flipped grimly through my file. They refused to give me pain medication until he gave his assessment. I wished he'd hurry it up.
"Broken ribs, punctured lung. Normally this would call for some surgery, but luckily you're a Shifter. So, why haven't you shifted?" Dr. Tenant looked at me critically.
"I want to be a freak," I whispered, it was the best I could do.
"You mean you don't want to be a freak? Backwards talk, right here in the file. Interesting. Well youngster, you're a little bit late for that. I suggest you do whatever it is you do and do it as quickly as you can before your condition deteriorates. We could do the surgery, but frankly there are fewer risks if you just took care of it yourself."
I don't know if it was his logic that did it, or that I was simply tired of fighting. I let the spirits pull me under.
I stood in the middle of a volcanic plain. Lava flowed around me in various channels. I stood on rock that must have been liquid only moments before. The bear met me there. It lumbered forward on its massive paws. Its lip twitched as it growled. I thought that it might finish the job that Jeff character had started. I think I wanted it to. Dying didn't sound like a bad idea. Instead it kept walking forward. It walked right into me, merging its body with mine. Suddenly I found myself looking through its eyes.
I stood on my hind legs and roared as loudly as I could. Something snapped in my chest. Pain, as bad or worse than I'd felt earlier ripped through me. I screamed and tried to collapse back into the real world, but Bear held me still. I felt his strength flooding into my soul until the difference between us seemed to vanish. The pain was quickly forgotten, replaced by something else.
I stood on hind legs again to get a better view of my surroundings. I caught the scent of something I didn't like, something I had to see. I dropped down and ran on all fours until I found it.
The stallion pranced in front of his friends on a green field. That's the one who hurt me, I thought. I lumbered up to him. He didn't see me until it was too late. He rose up on his hind legs and tried to kick, but all he managed to do was give me a clear shot at his chest. The image of the stallion suddenly resolved into the guy who kicked me earlier. I swung one massive paw, delighting in the sight of the four large gashes that appeared. His eyes went white with fear. I grunted in satisfaction and walked away as he ran in circles, confused and bleeding as if he couldn't see where I went.
Jeff sat in Melville's common room still gloating over his easy victory. He was sure that girly-boy, or whatever it was, would think twice before he opened his mouth next time. Unfortunately Amber didn't seem as impressed as she should have been. Surely she didn't like that freak? Jeff made up his mind to pay the fag another visit just to make sure he would never so much as look at his girl.
Suddenly he had the feeling that something was watching him. A wave of fear washed over him. He stood up, raising his fists to pound whatever it was into dust. He got a glimpse of something large and covered in dense fur, with angry golden eyes. All at once he felt a slashing pain across his chest. He staggered back, seeing blood soak through his unharmed shirt. He screamed, whirling around in panic, trying to find out what attacked him. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared.
"Jeff! What happened?" Amber yelled at him, trying to get his attention. He stopped and looked at her in shock.
"Come here and let me take a look," she said. She unbuttoned his shirt and took it off him. She took one look at the gashes across his chest and gasped. Without thinking, she wadded up his shirt and pressed it against the wound.
"I've been cut!" he said, unbelieving. Despite being in a number of fights, Jeff hadn't seen his own blood since he was twelve. He pulled back the shirt to look again. The skin around the gashes looked red and swollen. The bleeding had slowed, only to be replaced with a foul smelling pus.
"Eewwww! Go to the infirmary!" Amber said, practically shoving him out the door.
Jeff Carter sat miserably on the examining table. He hadn't seen the inside of the infirmary since his freshman tour. The doctor strolled into his room, leafing through Jeff's skimpy medical records.
"Level four Exemplar, huh? So, how'd this happen?" the doctor asked.
Jeff told his story, leaving out the screaming parts, though he still broke out in a light sweat as he told it.
"Why aren't I healing?" Jeff asked miserably.
"So, some kind of spirit? I still don't see how this could have happened, unless...Maybe it didn't attack you directly. Yes, I think this spirit somehow damaged your BIT."
"Body Image Template, don't you remember your freshman powers class? I should hope so since this concerns you."
"Uh, yeah, that thing," Jeff said, "So, how come I'm not healing?"
"Well, you'd probably have to track down the one who did it. Fortunately I think I have a good idea who that might be."
Jeff followed the Doc down the hall to another room. Dr. Tenant waved him in. Jeff walked in, ready to pound whoever it was. Then he saw the little fag he'd beat up that morning, unconscious, left arm in a sling, ribcage bandaged, and breathing through an oxygen mask. Jeesh, he didn't think he'd hit him that hard. He looked more closely and saw that the kid's fingernails had grown three inches and his formerly smooth skin was looking a bit furry.
Dr. Tenant walked over to the bed and shook him gently. "Jamie, can you wake up for me please?"
Jamie's golden eyes slowly opened. Jeff felt a spike of fear when he recognized that those eyes belonged to the spirit that attacked him. He took a step back without thinking, then tried to cover his discomfort.
I felt someone shaking my shoulder.
"Jamie, can you wake up for me please?" I heard the doctor say. I opened my eyes. Standing at the end of my bed was the last person I wanted to see, sporting four large, festering, gashes across his chest.
"Profane rosebuds!" I said quietly, but with heart. I would have shouted if I could.
"Jamie, we'll have none of that."
I tore off the oxygen mask. "Why is she gone?" I growled.
"I think you can see the answer to that yourself," he said, nodding at the festering wounds. "If these were natural I could heal them. Actually if they were natural they wouldn't even be there. I understand you were provoked, but I have an obligation to see to the health of all of Whatley's students. So, now you have to heal him. You're the only one who knows how."
"I heal people all the time," I said. Healing that bastard was the last thing on my mind right then.
"Well, you're going to have to try."
"Why is he talking like that?" Jeff asked.
"It's a result of his mutation. His neural pathways get crossed sometimes and he starts saying the opposite of what he means."
Jeff stopped for a moment. "Was he doing that this morning?"
"No," I said.
Jeff's aura started to bleed red again.
"That means 'Yes'," the doctor explained, holding out a hand to restrain Jeff, as if the doctor had any hope of doing that.
Jeff calmed down. He got a strange expression on his face, as if he was thinking thoughts that didn't come naturally to him. Maybe a little pain was good for him.
I thought about it for a bit. I really didn't know anything about healing people. Then I remembered something in one of the books that Ryan insisted that I read on the way to Whateley. Somehow, it just seemed to fit. I noticed the Thunderbird nodding his head in the background. I stifled a wicked grin. Jeff wasn't going to like this.
"Take away a pen and some paper," I said. I wanted to make sure that I would not be misunderstood.
The doctor handed me a clipboard. I wrote carefully with my right hand. The left wasn't broken, but the shoulder had been dislocated and badly bruised. Writing wasn't easy. I was usually left-handed, but my writing was legible enough, probably more so than the doctor's. I handed back the clipboard. When Jeff saw the note he started turning red again.
"Eat boiled dog? What the hell is that?" He was sure that I meant it as some kind of strange insult. Maybe it was.
"I think that's your cure," the doctor explained. I nodded, trying not to laugh and ruin myself even more. I was sure this guy could kill me without even trying. Hell, he almost did.
"It's a little unorthodox, but I'll write you a prescription. You know where the special services table is in the cafeteria?"
The color drained out of Jeff's aura. "That's where the freaks go for lunch," he said, not believing that the doctor was taking me seriously.
"Then consider yourself an honorary freak for a day," Dr. Tenant said, patting Jeff on the shoulder. He scribbled a note on official paper and handed it over.
Jeff still looked like he wanted to kill me.
"Look, if he can scratch you, he can kill you. I'd say you got off light. He could have put you in a bed just like this, but he didn't," Dr. Tenant explained.
Jeff paled. My opinion of the good doctor went up by several notches.
"How much do I have to eat?" he asked, looking at me now as if I were some kind of small but deadly snake.
I shrugged, mostly with my right shoulder. I really didn't know. Probably just enough to make it really embarrassing, I thought to myself. Whether that amounted to a bite or a whole dog, I didn't know.
After Jeff left, the doctor turned to me with a stern look on his face. "I'll let it go this time. Your records gave no indication that you were capable of something like this. After all, you're not a telekinetic. So I will assume that you also surprised yourself. But don't let it happen again! I'd say that both of you misjudged your powers today."
I nodded, mostly glad that I was going to get away with it. Part of me was thinking that I should have killed the guy. What kind of asshole goes around beating up freshmen? I might have misjudged my powers, but surely he'd been here long enough to know better. I really wished I could be there to see Jeff eat dog. Dr. Tenant seemed satisfied and left.
I heard a purring noise and looked down. An invisible cat jumped up on my bed. Well, invisible except for its aura which glowed black, highlighted with colors I couldn't describe if I wanted to. It pawed at my blankets for awhile before curling up into a ball and closing its eyes. The purring continued. I still hurt, but some how the pain didn't seem to be important anymore. Good kitty.
"I forgot you," I said out loud, "Go away." I reached down to scratch its ears. My anger slowly faded as the cat spirit soothed my nerves.
I was almost asleep again when the purring stopped. The cat stood up and stared at the corner. I looked to see what the problem was. Standing in the corner was another invisible figure. This time the colors more closely matched those of a human aura. It appeared to be an athletic looking woman holding on to a glowing spear. She didn't look very happy. If I wasn't already in a hospital bed, she looked like she would put me in one. The cat glared at her and swished its tail. She looked at the cat and back at me. Then she vanished through the wall. The cat laid down again and went back to purring.
Thursday, Nov. 9
The next day I felt a bit better. I was shedding again. That was a good sign. I could breathe normally too. That was even better. The bear spirit must have done a rush job on the lungs. It was nice that it prioritized my healing like that, or maybe it was all the roaring. My voice did sound a lot deeper.
I looked over to the nightstand. Another huge bouquet did its best to brighten my room. I knew who it was from this time. I thought it was nice of her to show so much concern for a potential employee. Then I noticed a small fuzzy teddy bear holding a red heart. The card next to it was a simple Get Well Soon card decorated with red and pink hearts. No signature. I wondered who sent it. I thought about my perfect, disappearing, costumed angel. Was it from her? The heart monitor attached to the wall beat faster.
"Hush!" I told it. I giggled. The noisy machine sped up again. I wondered which direction I was speaking in today. I looked over at the bouquet. All the colors seemed to properly belong to the flowers. I sighed with relief. No auras. I could safely talk to people again.
I lifted my hand to survey the damage. Yesterday my fingernails were long. Today I couldn't call them fingernails any longer. I had claws, thick, curved, pointed claws. The back of my hand was covered in dense cinnamon colored fur. My arm was thicker, more muscular than before. I checked my ear. It was covered in fur also. My nose seemed to be the wrong shape, and also covered in short fur except at the tip. My canine teeth, both top and bottom had grown longer and sharper. Bear. Were bear? There bear. Shit. I growled. The sound came out far more menacing than it should have. I cursed that idiot who'd done this to me during my first week at my new school. I didn't look under the sheet. I knew what I'd find this time. I was feeling male, very male.
Just then, the doctor walked in. "Good morning Jamie. How are you feeling today?"
"Let's see, I got the crap beaten out of me yesterday, and today I'm covered in fur. What do you think?" I asked, flashing my new teeth.
He seemed to ignore my attitude, which was probably a good idea. "How are your lungs? Any tightness in your chest when you breathe? Any pain?"
"No, they seem fine."
"Good, good." He pulled out a stethoscope and held the end to my chest. "Take a deep breath for me, please."
I did as I was told as he examined me. He also pressed against my ribs looking for sore spots, but there weren't any.
"Excellent. You appear to be completely healed."
"If you call this healed."
He ignored that too. "Hold out you arm. I need to take some blood."
I held my arm out, huffing in annoyance when the needle went in.
"Very good. Now, what would you like for breakfast?"
"Everything," I said, flashing the teeth again. I think I meant it too. I was starving.
They continued their examinations after I ate four helpings of omelets with everything, and toast with honey. The honey was really good. I made them leave the jar.
"So, if I'm healed, can I go now?" I asked. I sniffed at the honey jar, thoroughly enjoying the scent before sticking my tongue inside. It seemed to reach better than my old tongue...all the better to eat you with, my dear. I smiled at the decadent treat.
"If it's OK with you, we'd like to run some more tests while you're in this form."
I grunted, a gruff sigh. "Get it over with. I don't want to be stuck here all day."
They took me out for more x-rays, had me lift some weights, asked the same questions that other doctors had already asked me over and over. My patience was wearing thin. Someone had brought me a pair of sweat pants and an XX-large lab coat from the bookstore. The coat barely went past my knees. I began to have the odd feeling that my fur should have been blue instead of brown. After I finished polishing off a giant plate of fish sticks, the lab tech took me to the doctor's personal office and had me sit down. He sat halfway on the edge of the desk and peeked through my file.
"Whoa! Astral Avatar level three, and he seems stable!" the lab assistant exclaimed, looking at me like some kind of rare butterfly.
"Stable? You call this stable?" I asked. Just then the doctor walked in and took my file away from the tech. He shooed him out the door.
"You have to excuse him. He's working on his master's thesis and tends to stick his nose into any mutant-related info he can find. Don't worry he's been cleared by our telepaths."
"What was he talking about? Stable astral avatars? What's that supposed to mean?" I asked. Trying not to think about following the tech out the door and taking a swipe at him for pawing at my records.
"Put it this way, in the last ten years, nine other documented cases Astral Avatars have been discovered. That makes it relatively rare, but not unheard of. Out of those nine, three died under mysterious circumstances, two at exactly the same moment in different parts of the world. Two more were verified suicides. One is in a coma and not expected to wake up. Another one checked himself into Arkham. He drinks coffee all day and insists on being restrained at night. One is some kind of holy man in India, and the other one managed to hide herself well enough that no one knows what happened to her. Of course there may be others that we don't know about."
"So, he called me 'stable' because I haven't checked myself into the loony bin or tried to kill myself yet? How'd I get so lucky?" I asked with more than a hint of sarcasm. Once again, the doc completely ignored it. I wondered if he was really that oblivious, or simply knew better than to try to provoke a confrontation.
"My best guess it that someone is looking out for you on the other side, this Thunderbird as you call it. The stable AA's all seem to have one spirit that is dominant. We think it's some kind of a protector. Those who don't have one are open to all kinds of influences, like that poor guy at Arkham. Still, it's no guarantee. The ones who died but didn't suicide also had protectors."
"So, you're telling me that I'll be lucky if I live to see graduation. Thanks Doc."
This wasn't the kind of thing he was supposed to tell the students, but he couldn't deny what I'd said. "Well, there's no reason to think..."
"Save it. None of my people have ever said that being a holy man, or woman, was easy." I digested this piece of information and felt my world shift slightly because of it. I could die. In fact I probably would. It wasn't too hard to believe considering how close I'd already come.
"Just out of curiosity, what exactly is an astral avatar?" I asked. My head subconsciously cocked to one side as I watched the doc.
He seemed to relax now that I put him back on a topic he felt comfortable with. "Functionally speaking, you are an astral projecting esper who has avatar-like abilities when in contact with the astral plane. Unlike normal avatars you cannot capture or utilize a spirit's powers when you are fully awake. According to your records you often merge with various spirits in order to use their powers, but sometimes you are able to use their energies without merging, in the case of the cat spirit who visited you in the hospital." He said while tapping a certain page in my file. I peeked over the edge. It was a copy of my mutant journal. "This could indicate channeling or mimicking abilities as well. These abilities are more common among empaths, which you are. Channeling is not yet confirmed, but I think there is a strong possibility of it.
"As for how you are doing it, your condition bears some resemblance to those with certain sleeping disorders such as narcolepsy and somnambulism, but instead of entering a sleep state, you enter an altered state of consciousness that usually requires the use of drugs, deep sleep, physical distress, or prolonged meditation to achieve. In short, you can drop wholly or partially into the spirit world at any time. It appears that you have good control over the astral projection, but some aspects of the experience remain after you have returned to your body. In time you may learn how to better control these partial states."
"Better control? Does that mean I will learn how to control the shape shifts?" I asked while scratching at my arm. The fur itched. I resisted the urge to try and scratch the spot with my teeth.
"Honestly I don't know. None of the other AA's were Exemplars. The shape shifting is between you and your BIT."
"Great. Can I go now?"
The doctor looked like he wanted to say something else, but at the look in my eyes he changed his mind. "Yes, you can go."
"Finally!" I got up and left the office, and the infirmary without looking back. I'd had enough of that place.
The ground outside was still cold, but my thick padded feet didn't mind too much. I hadn't even thought about shoes, not that they would have fit over the claws anyway. I didn't pay much attention to where I was going. I just walked, outside, into the trees, away from people. I didn't want anyone to see me looking like this, though some small rational part of my mind told me that I couldn't hide out here forever.
I found a likely-looking tree and took an experimental slash at it. My claws bit into the wood leaving a satisfying gouge in the bark. My fur still itched. I shed the lab coat and leaned my back against another tree scraping my back against the rough bark. Aaaaahhh....that was more like it. I smiled a toothy grin.
Suddenly I had the feeling that I was being watched. I looked around, but didn't see anyone. I reached out empathically, but didn't find anyone that way either. That just left one explanation. I went into the woods a little further and found a dead, fire scarred tree. There in a pattern in the bark, I saw it. Jagged wings spread across the stump. The bird seemed to watch me through one eye. I growled.
The figure seemed to blur, then it moved. Wings flapped as the Thunderbird flew out of the wood and circled my head. It flew up around the tree, the tree that had once been whole before a jolt of lightning struck it, sizzling through the sap, leaving a dead scar all along one side. Fire brought down the crown, which had been cut up and removed years ago. Saplings, no thicker than my wrist now fought for the sunlight that shone after the giant's demise. I blinked and tried to clear the vision. Thunderbird sat on the stump, watching me.
I'd had more than enough of his meddling. I jumped up and struck at the stump with my claws, roaring as I did so. "Come up here you pretty legitimate daughter! Genius daughter of a stud! Rosebuds! Were you succeeding in making me live?..." I attacked the tree as the tirade went on and on.
"You better not do that to my tree!" I heard a feminine voice yell at me.
I looked down and saw a small, perfectly formed, and perfectly naked woman looking up at me, tiny hands on her hips. I noticed the pointed ears. I'd read stories where creatures like this should have been clothed in leaves. This one was not. My blood started to rush somewhere other than my head. I smiled and bent down on all fours to give her a sniff. She reached out and clawed my nose with her fingernails. A single red drop fell from my nose.
I roared. I tried taking a swipe at her, but it was too late. She'd disappeared. I turned around to take out my frustration on the tall stump again.
For Sara, getting adjusted to her new schedule was taking some doing. Once again her life had been thrown to the winds of fate and fate was cheating. Not to mention the fate of someone she was getting very attached to, one whose own situation was a merry puzzle. She stopped in her idle wandering to smile at the pun. From the link the two shared via the Mark, she could tell that Merry was awake and true to form of late, slightly irritated and in some pain.
Sara could relate to the irritation, from the events preceding the Halloween fiasco and attack on her life, to Merry's surprise package, not to mention the general mayhem of the Monkey King and the panty raids. Life had been far from calm and orderly. Admittedly, her prior life tended to orbit a typewriter and just existing from day to day.
She shook her head and smiled slightly, taking the emotion and letting it go, the old adage of 'Shit in one hand and Wish in the other' seemed to be more than a bit of rue. Rosemary and thyme, basic elements of kitchen magick. She smirked and reflected on the prior efforts of some of the lower powered magi to be and the noxious surprises that boiled forth.
In some ways winter was a pleasant change, she was so tired of leaving a trail of dead plants whenever she needed 'out'. She opened her senses to see if Erin was out among the forest, but it seemed that the girl was grinding her way though some homework, from the tone of it, it was history.
A faint wisp of an odd emotion seemed to draw at her senses, her curiosity getting the better of her she walked deeper into the forest. It had the odd flavor of frustration and something else. For a moment she froze in indecision wondering if she was letting her unwhetted curiosity draw her into a trap.
She took the few moments needed to gather up her own powers and started to take a more cautious path towards the odd emotional mix. As she drew closer to the emotion she could hear someone growling out a string of compliments. Half a dozen paces deeper into the forest she saw a half-dressed young man viciously attacking a dead tree.
Occasionally the young man would literally growl and jump several feet upwards and slash at the tree with what seemed to be claws. Silently, she watched the boy, noting the odd tufts of brownish dark fur and his naked feet that were distinctly bear-like. On the third repetition of his odd behavior she decided that he evidently was not having a good day, not to mention the odd mental flavor he was emitting seemed to tease her slightly.
Staying out of reach she coughed loudly hoping to gain his attention without provoking him.
I was about ready to take another swipe at the tree trunk when I heard someone cough nearby. I did NOT want to be disturbed! I spun around to see who it was. Sara, seductively wearing as little as the school allowed. My breath came out in a fog as I recovered from my assault on the tree. I cocked my head to one side and admired the way her auburn hair spread out over the top of her leather coat, and the cute little way her pointed ears peeked through. My gaze drifted lower to the pale skin that the coat did not entirely cover. My claws flexed as I thought of a way to get rid of the coat. I saw her respond to my empathic projections and take a step forward. I shook my head. The bear was making me think that way. "Stay close!" I warned her. I took a swipe at the air, hoping she got the message.
"Uh, ok." Sara said, confused by the mixed signals.
I made that odd huffing sound again, and turned to attack the tree some more. It just felt really good to destroy something. I tore at the bark with my teeth.
"Why are you doing that?"
I stopped. She hadn't left yet, and now she was asking me questions? I roared once and let fly at the tree with one hand. Woodchips flew, burying themselves in the dead leaves. "They will leave me alone! I asked to be this way!" I growled in a voice that wasn't my own. Sara gave me a strange look, like she was having trouble understanding me. She walked around the tree to get a better look.
"Come closer," I said and swiped at her with one hand. She easily evaded the attack. I didn't know what I would do to her if she actually got within reach. I didn't want to find out. Part of me wanted to rip her apart, another part of me wanted to do...other things. I snapped my teeth at her, wishing she'd get the hint.
"Make up your mind, should I stay or go?" she asked.
"Stay!" I grunted and scarred the tree a few more times.
Still confused, she settled for sitting on a fallen log. "I take it you are not having a good day?"
"A bad night? A bad night? Of course I'm not having a bad night!" I laughed miserably.
I saw her lips twitch in bemusement as she tried to process the very mixed signals. Was that my imagination, or was she looking at my butt? "Is there something I can do to help?" She asked.
"Just come closer and keep me company!" I thumped my head against the stump a few times, radiating my frustration. "Goddess bless! Can't you give me a puzzle?"
She shook her head, muttering ,"Your body says no no no, but your words say yes yes yes..."
I turned and glowered at her while baring my teeth. "I want your help, I want you... argh!" I clenched my hand and glanced about the ground. After a little searching I found a stick and started writing in a melting patch of snow with it.
"GO AWAY!" I etched out.
Sara seemed fascinated by something on my forehead. I rubbed it with one hand and noticed a trace of blood. I sniffed at it. Sara was watching, so I resisted the urge to lick it off. Strange, it didn't hurt as much as I would have expected.
"Thick skull" Sara muttered quietly. "I don't think that would be a good idea. You don't exactly seem stable at the moment."
Stable! I though about 'stable' astral avatars and had to laugh. It came out as more of those strange huffing sounds. I felt Sara's attention shift. Was she checking me out again? I wished she'd quit doing that. I wasn't sure I could trust myself.
"So what brings you to this?" she asked.
I leaned one arm against the tree and let my head slump forward. I growled with every foggy exhaled breath. After a few second I grabbed the stick again. "U DON'T UNDERSTAND," I wrote.
She shook her head and smiled showing her own set of fangs, "Care to try that again?"
I laughed helplessly, "Oh you do get it, don't you?" With that, I walked back to the tree and slammed my head into it again.
"If you're not careful you'll knock yourself silly," she warned.
"Yes I won't. I'm already normal."
"Yeah, right," she scoffed.
That was enough! I roared at her as loud as I could. My rage, held in check before now, exploded. I did the only safe thing I could think of. I slammed my head into the tree trunk one last time. I clawed at the bark, this time scrabbling to keep my balance as the world spun around me.
"Are you ok?"
"Yes," I whimpered. I tried taking a step. I still don't remember hitting the ground.
"Ah, well I should have expected this." Sara turned to see Mr. Lodgeman leaning against a tree with a pained expression on his face. "I suppose we'll have to take him back to the infirmary." He motioned to the boy, "Care to take his feet?
"Sure if I can get a few answers in return."
"Sure, though I may not be able to give complete ones. Jamie here's problem is fairly complex." He knelt down and reached felt at Jamie's throat, "A strong pulse." He moved his hand to move an eyelid back to glance into his eyes. "Well he succeeded." The man chuckled slightly.
"I can carry him," she offered.
"Well if you want. These old bones of mine do feel the weather on occasion."
Sara gave him the once over, he wasn't old, yet his emotional tenor felt heavier and spoke of old emotional wounds that were not quite asleep. His face and attire spoke of Native American ancestry, "You don't look –that- old."
"It's not the age. It's the miles," he said with a smile as she effortlessly picked up the unconscious boy, then moved him into a Fireman's carry. He started walking in the direction of the infirmary once she was balanced.
"So Jamie is a what, shape shifter and an empath?"
"Of a sort." The other man shifted his cowboy hat and looked around the woods, "Jamie lives in two extremes," he paused, "well maybe three."
Sara rolled her eyes, "Sounds like a friend of mine."
He chuckled, "Yes perhaps. Jamie tends to favor the physical side rather than the mental side though."
Sara stopped briefly and tried to read the emotions to the other man a bit clearer. It felt like there was a distinct air of humor to his aura and concern. "I don't know about that, he was talking fairly crazy back there." She shifted her grip slightly, "Saying one thing yet feeling another."
"Ah, well, that's part of the problem with his um, mutation. Sometimes things get a bit cross-ways in his speech center, think of it as form of verbal mental dyslexia. Though that isn't exactly precise either." He shrugged and motioned to a path that was clearer of brush.
"I was starting to think men with nets were in order."
He laughed fairly deeply at that, "Oh it's not that bad, yet. He is just having a time coping with the changes he endures." He pointed to the claws on one hand, "They are not voluntary you see."
As they approached the campus he paused, "No more questions for a bit, Jamie here's got a few problems that not everyone should know about."
She nodded "I can relate."
"Yes. I think you can." He smiled and they walked the last hundred yards in relative peace, well as much peace as one can get while carrying someone who was unconscious though an active campus.
The intern on duty shook his head slightly as he examined the unconscious boy, "Why is it some kids just seem to have a knack for doing something stupid?"
Lodgeman chuckled, "It's called growing up." He pointed to the boy, "He was acting like a bear in full rut. You may want to run a few tests."
"No doubt he was. I just got a look at his blood test from this morning. His testosterone level is through the roof." He shook his head, "But I will call up another x-ray or two."
Lodgeman nodded as if he was expecting that kind of result and motioned far Sara to follow, "Come, let the doc do his job."
They walked back to a break room where he unzipped his jacket and indicated a pair of chairs, "Sit a moment?"
"Sure," she took a seat in a tired looking chair, "You were saying about Jamie?"
"Jamie is special, if you have noticed."
"Well the teeth and claws not the mention the muscles, sort of scream that."
"Normally, and I use the word loosely, Jamie is a hermaphrodite, like your friend."
"Oh?" she asked wondering if he meant Merry or Hank.
"While your friend leans mostly female, and could sing songs in four-part-harmony in her head. Jamie is of one mind, yet his body flip flops at times from one polar norm to the other."
"How do you know about...?"
"Doctor Tanaka and I go way back." He made a dismissing motion, "We'll wander back to your friend in a moment. Ok?"
"Sure, but I will say I am disturbed by his lack of patient doctor confidentiality."
"Well in that you might blame me, or circumstances." He paused to let that sink in for a moment, "Jamie 'normally' is hormonally so balanced that his emotional state is about as sturdy as a rock." He chuckled, "Ever hear of the term 'Roid Rage'?"
"Yes, though usually in conjunction with weight lifters."
"And I expect you know of PMS or at least have observed the results in others?"
She nodded, "I'll say."
"Well Jamie after a change is about drowned in a hormonal cocktail. That leads to shall we say, excessive behavior?"
"Ut oh." She watched him smile.
"Yes, and when you add in the fact that he or she at those time throws off –strong- mental and physical cues as to what gender he is. It's a recipe for a disaster or a fight."
"I see, I think."
"He's in Poe because the folks there are more um, 'tolerant' of his predicament. Unfortunately, the entire campus is not like that."
"Much as I may be sticking my nose into you life, and um social activities. Jamie needs real friends more than he needs lovers."
"Hey!" she exclaimed. "I..."
He held up a hand, "Hold your horses a moment and hear me out?"
"Ok fine," she crossed her arms and felt suddenly wary.
"Jamie at the moment is sort of bouncing around in the breeze like a ping pong ball, not really thinking, but reacting. Eventually he's going to start thinking too much and either snap and try to kill someone or himself. Possibly not, but it largely depends on how his um, cycle of events is leading him. Not to mention he's not exactly subtle in he mode of dress or manner at times."
She nodded recalling him in fuzzy pink sweater at one time.
"So in some ways he's gonna make a target of himself, until folks realize he's not what he seems." He rolled his eyes at her, "Like someone else I could mention," and he winked at her.
"So you are saying he needs some one he can really trust?" She laughed, "And you want me to be that person?"
"Well I had hoped you at least might consider it."
"What's in it for me, aside from inheriting a problem child to watch over?"
"Well I can offer some advice from time to time." He smiled, "I only look young child," with a slight overcastting of his mood he continued. "Ever hear of the Mystic Six?"
"Well anyone with a sense of history might, and I am not exactly young either."
He motioned to himself, "Well my friends and I sort of started in the same boat your friend did. We were the victims of illegal drug testing. Ones that killed a lot of kids, not to mention altered us. Though it wasn't as –explosive- as your young friends problem."
"Your talking about..."
"Yes, while Otto's hands are tied, and we can't exactly act openly, we can suggest things."
"Waiting until your friend is of one mind rather than four before doing something rash."
She snorted, "I had figured that out."
"No doubt," he replied dryly. "Though I might have an insight on how to accomplish that."
"Well sometimes I get advice, sometimes I share it." He chuckled at her apparent consternation. "Sometimes love is the strongest tool in medicine. Or factor in life itself."
She felt herself nod, "Ok."
There is an expression about love you might be familiar with, though it is couched in terms of sex." He paused to make sure he had her attention, "Sex is more than an act of pleasure, its the ability to be able to feel so close to a person."
"So connected, so comfortable that its almost breathtaking to the point you feel you can't take it. And its at this moment your a part of them." She finished for him. "Yes I know that one."
"From personal experience," He tapped a wedding band on his left hand, "Some times when you are both coming at it from, from where you both are strongest, 'Much is possible' and wonderful things occur."
He shook himself slightly from a wave of emotion that passed though him and she felt it rise up within herself, "But?"
He chuckled, "Yes there is a but. It was once thought that having a child meant that both parents gave a bit of their own soul in the planting of that seed. In your friends case, it may be a way of keeping a promise."
"Not losing part of someone?"
"How did you?" she felt both confused and angry.
He laughed slightly, "God moves in mysterious ways, though 'god' may be a loose term in this case."
She sighed wondering just what was going on much less how, "And once she is whole?"
He stood up and zipped up his coat, "There is an old song that is a part of Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band. I don't quite remember the name of the song, but one of the verses does ring true. 'I get by with a little help from my friends.'" He looked at her expectantly.
"Oh I'll try, I can't promise anything more than that."
"It's as much as any one can do, even an old fart like me sometimes gets that fact rubbed in my face."
With a heavy dose of aspirin for my headache, and some advice about not attacking any more innocent trees, the doc released me again under Sara's supervision. It was dinner time. So she led me over to the Crystal Hall.
"Feeling better?" she asked.
I nodded, not trusting my voice at all. I wasn't seeing any auras so I could probably say what I meant, but the deep voice that came from my redesigned throat was not comforting. The doc had said something about too much testosterone. Whatever it was, I could feel it boiling just under the surface of my emotions, though not quite as strongly as it had earlier in the day. I tried not to think any thoughts that might turn it loose again. With Sara close by, that took some effort. I had to give her credit though, she was behaving herself and made a point of keeping some distance between us. Between her demonic glamour and my empathic senses, it was a very good idea. A step or two closer and I would feel myself falling under her spell, wanting to trip her up on the sidewalk then pin her to the....I cut that line of thinking short. I made a huffing sound, like I was trying to expel that scent out of my bearish nose.
It was noisy inside the hall. The combined sound of a couple hundred students relaxing after the school day will do that, not to mention the undercurrent of emotions they were sending out. I tried to ignore the racket and made my way towards the line with Sara trailing after me from a safe distance. I thought my appearance would cause some kind of disturbance, but most of the students took it in stride. They'd seen furry half-human monsters before. Closer to the front though, I caught a thread of anger mixed with fear. Jeff. In my changed state, that emotional mix grabbed my attention. I walked towards his table.
"Jamie, that's not a good idea," Sara warned.
I ignored her. A smile turned my lip, exposing my long canine teeth. The scent of fear grew stronger, urging me on. I stopped in front of him, directly across the table. I leaned over the table, reaching between a couple of girls and placing my clawed and furred hands down on the flat surface.
"What are you looking at?" I sneered.
He leaned back, his eyes widening. She smell of fear brought a satisfied growl to my throat.
"Eww, you smell!" one of the girls next to me exclaimed. I recognized her from the sidewalk yesterday.
I turned and gave her a sniff, enjoying her cloyingly feminine perfume. "So do you, princess."
She scooted away from me as far as she could.
Jeff, regaining a small measure of his manhood muttered, "I should have killed you yesterday."
I smiled, baring my teeth again. I stared him down, using my empathic abilities to make him realize that I was the one in control here. "No, I should have killed you. The last thing this world needs is another dumb brick. You thought you would pick on the new guy didn't you? Well, you had no idea what I could do. Stupid, very, very stupid."
The empathic pressure was working. I felt his reserve melt under my gaze. The scent of his fear was intoxicating. This rival had to be taught a lesson, or he would return as an even greater threat later. I had to prove my dominance right there, for everyone to see, even if it meant bending him over the table...no,no,no. I shook my head, trying to dislodge that thought. Instead I flipped over his hamburger bun with one claw, and stole his meat. I ate it in one bite.
I felt Sara's familiar presence behind me, using her own skills to distract me. I backed away from the table and let her stroke my hair. "Come on Jamie, aren't you hungry?" she asked.
"Yesss," I breathed, leaning into her hand.
"For food," she clarified.
I blinked. "Food, yes, good idea. I am hungry."
"I'll meet you at the table. Think you can behave yourself until then?" she asked sweetly, looking me in the eye.
I grinned. "I think so."
"Good." She gave me a light shove in the direction of the line.
Off to one side I heard someone say, "I have to admit, the kid's got style. Cav, go get another burger for the poor sod at the next table."
"Yes, sir," Cav, or whoever the hell he was, answered. He ducked in front of me in his effort to do his master's bidding. I let him go. Sara told me to behave, and I was doing my best. Besides, one confrontation before dinner was enough. I didn't want to get involved with Cav's master just then.
I made my way through the line, loading up my tray with meats and sweets. Somehow I knew I'd feel better with a full tummy.
I sat down at the end of TK's table. The girls were full of questions. I asked Sara to fill them in. I wasn't in the mood for talking. I didn't even want to sit with other people right then, but Sara and the girls insisted. I could tell Hank was worried about me, in fact he seemed a little guilty. I looked up at him, wondering about that.
"I should have been there," he said.
Part of me wanted to growl and insist that I could take care of myself. Instead I said, "It wasn't your fault. Besides, I don't think anyone else will try that again after the way I took care of that bastard."
Hank smiled, but I wasn't fooled. He still thought he needed to protect me. Not certain what to do about it, I let it go. Instead I concentrated on emptying my tray. With that accomplished, the day's trials seem to haze a bit in my memory. A pleasant sleepy feeling radiated out from my tummy. I got up to get seconds. If that much was good, more would be even better.
After dinner I followed TK back to Poe. After a little shuffling around and looking for books, they assembled in their study corner. I didn't have any homework yet, but now the idea of hanging around the team didn't sound like such a bad thing. I carefully climbed into one of the hammocks, and once assured that it would take my extra bulk, I relaxed. I must have fallen asleep, because Jinn woke me up amid a few lighthearted teases about my snoring, and told me to go to bed.
I rolled out of the hammock and landed lightly on my clawed feet. I started thinking back over the day as I walked down the hall to my room. I winced inwardly at how much of a...dick...I'd been. I remembered how that girl accused me of stinking. One whiff under my armpit and I had to agree. Instead of going to bed, I grabbed a towel, my shower kit, and my pajamas. Hank was already asleep. The alarm clock told me it was after eleven. I made my way to the men's room. After today there was no doubt which bathroom I should go to. I just hoped it would be empty at this time of night.
The face in the mirror looked worse than I remembered. My fur was coming loose in clumps. I picked at it. "Jeesh, you could knit a sweater with this stuff," I marveled out loud, pulling out a good sized cinnamon colored puff. I spent a long time trying to pry loose as much of it as I could with my brush. I didn't want to choke the shower drain. I managed to get most of it off of my face and noticed that I was almost looking human again. My nose still wasn't exactly the right shape and my teeth were still too long, but I had some hope of looking more like myself by morning. While walking to the shower I managed to stub my toe against the tiled wall. A couple claws broke off. It didn't hurt. My nerves and blood vessels no longer supported them. I sat down and clipped off the rest and made an effort to file them back into the shape of normal nails.
Feeling much better after that, I finally had my shower.
It was well after midnight by the time I got back to bed, but I wasn't ready to sleep yet. Maybe it had something to do with the nap I had earlier. Hank was still sound asleep, so I thought it couldn't hurt to have a look around campus, my way.
I stood up in my own room first. Outside of my skin, I was able to let go of the last vestiges of bear-thought that seemed to control me through most of the day. It was very refreshing to be myself again. My body, lying on the bed, looked like it was asleep. Looking at it from the outside should have felt strange, but I felt little connection to it. I opened my senses to get an idea of my surroundings. There was something hard and unyielding below me, something in the basement.
I let myself drift out the window to have a look outside. The colors looked different, shapes were vague. I let myself drift higher. The whole campus was covered with some kind of dome. I examined it for awhile and decided that I could go through it. It wasn't designed to restrict my movements, but I chose to stay inside. I wondered how many other students there were wandering around like this. Suddenly, I thought of the girl who visited me in the infirmary. With that thought, I saw her, walking around the inside of the dome. I dropped to the ground and stood in front of her, curious.
"You're that bear kid." She said. She had blond hair and a muscular build. She wore armor, though it was more like the kind you'd see in a movie than something to protect her bare skin. She held a glowing spear that seemed to bring out the ice in her gaze.
I checked myself, but I didn't look like a bear anymore. I found myself wearing my pajamas again. With a thought I changed them into a simple pair of jeans, moccasins, a silk shirt, and for some unknown reason the lab coat from earlier in the day showed up too. I began to realize that if I was going to meet people over here, I needed to start thinking about what I was wearing.
"You gonna talk or what?" She asked.
"Uh, I'm Jamie," I said.
She shook her head. "Not a good idea to share real names over here. Have you got a code name yet? I'm Valkyrie."
"Oh, right, it's Heyoka."
"I know what you did to that Melville guy. We don't tolerate that kind of thing around here." She gripped her spear harder, driving the butt into the ground.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I didn't know that would happen. I was just..."
"Angry? Looking for revenge? Who the hell do you think you are? You can't just go around attacking students! Not on my watch!"
"Your watch? What are you, some kind of security guard?"
"Something like that."
"There are guards over here?"
"You better believe it. Maybe you'll think twice next time."
"I said I was sorry."
"You're lucky Weaver hasn't bound you. The council decided to let it go because you didn't cause any lasting damage and because you're just a stupid freshman who doesn't know any better."
She sighed. "The Council makes the rules for this place. We can't just have mutants running around stirring up who knows what. They decided that your little incident was an isolated event, but what do you think would happen if someone like you ran loose, attacking whoever the hell he pleased?"
She had a point. Jeff had no chance of defending himself. He couldn't even see me until it was too late.
"And, there are Things out there." She nodded towards the dome. "Sometimes they don't stay out there."
Something about the way she said that made me shiver.
"I've already told you enough. Just stay out of our way, and don't hurt anyone else, got it?"
"I've got a patrol to do." She said, turning away from me. I noticed the runes running along the inside of the dome for the first time. I wondered what Things she was talking about.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Alright, if you're really serious about this, talk to Ms. Montaigne and tell her that Valk sent you. If you can still remember all that when you're awake, you might be useful to us." She turned her back to me and kept walking.
I shrugged and continued exploring the campus. I noticed an obelisk tower in the center of campus where the flag pole should have been. Thinking that was strange, I walked over to investigate, but before I could reach it, the landscape blurred. I felt a moment of panic as the scenery changed around me. As far as I knew, I hadn't done anything to cause it.
I found myself on a dark gray path of ash and bone. To either side of the path, great trees whispered and writhed together, rubbing and playing in the fields. A low moaning sound seemed to come from somewhere, but defied my attempts to pin down its source.
In the distance was a dark tower of basalt, pointing straight up at the dark red sun. "Well, hello there," Sara greeted me as she stepped out from the tangled undergrowth as if it wasn't there. "I don't get many visitors here. Care to come inside for a spot of tea?"
"Where am I?" I asked, still confused by the change in venue.
"Oh, one of my little astral pockets. I like to come here to think and get away from it all... it's safe here." Sara explained, waving her arm around as if to say 'what, this old thing?'
"Sara? Is that you?" I asked. She did look a little different, but her empathic 'signature' felt the same. Still, the idea of meeting real people over here seemed strange to me.
"Yes, it's me Heyoka, I'm here. I know, I know... I look a bit older."
"Um...older..yeah." I stammered, appreciating the curves she didn't have during the day. I blamed the attraction on a remnant of my bear-self, but I couldn't guarantee that that was all it was.
"Come on inside... if you don't like tea, I can get you anything..."
"Tea is fine." I hastily replied, still gawking.
Sara took me by the hand and led me inside the tower, up some stairs, to an airy chamber at the top. Two lush leather chairs looked out over the view. A tray of tea and biscuits sat on a table in between. Sara slid into one of the chairs motioning for me to take the other, "Milk and sugar?"
"Sure," I replied as I sat down. "Did you bring me here?"
"Nope," Sara shrugged as she poured, "but I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth either. It can get lonely here at times."
"That's strange. I was just looking around campus, and then suddenly I'm here." I picked up the cup and took a sip. "This is good. I didn't know I could really drink over here."
Sara tapped her head, "It's all in the mind, you know. Pleasure is my forte after all."
I blushed a little. "So I've heard."
"Whatever you've heard, it's all true," Sara sighed, "between horny adolescents and getting dragged into wet dreams, it's a wonder I get any study done at all."
I blinked. "Wet dr....I just heard you were related to some kind of lust demon."
"Yes, dear old Dad."
"That's why, uh, you kind of make everyone...um..."
"Horny is the word you're looking for, dear."
I stared into my tea cup. I hoped the blush wasn't too obvious this time.
Sara smiled, "Ah, I'm sorry, dear. I keep forgetting that you all aren't as worldly as I am. I'm a lust demon, Heyoka, being what I am and doing what I do is who I am. I have to say that I do enjoy it, and I make no bones about it."
"I see...so, you can go astral like me?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"Hmmm... good question. I think I do, at least since then... mostly dream walking, involuntarily."
"I don't mean to, I just end up there."
"Dream walking, so you do this in your sleep?"
"Well, no, I don't sleep. I'm meditating at the moment."
"Oh, you're not asleep, but you mentioned dreams..." I said, confused.
"I'm not asleep, but I can still enter other people's dreams. I just can't pick and choose when, where and how."
"Oh, other people's dreams..." suddenly I remembered something Sara mentioned a little while ago and blushed again.
"It's not so bad," Sara curled up in her chair sensuously, "they get a hot date for the night, I get a little of the runoff sexual energy. What about you? You seem to know what you're doing most of the time."
"I don't really know how I'm doing this, but I can decide when, and usually where to go. Like I said earlier, I was looking around Whateley before I ended up here. I guess I can go pretty much anywhere, except for that place in the basement."
"Well it seems that you've just transcended that limitation."
"I'm in the basement? It's kind of big isn't it?" I asked, looking around.
"Well, the astral representation of my basement. I subverted the wards some time ago, now this place is my own little bit of Hell on Earth, I suppose you could say."
"It's very...nice. Are you sure you didn't bring me here? I thought about coming down here before, but couldn't get in, I mean, I didn't know it was yours...I just wondered what it was..." I tried to explain, suddenly embarrassed by the implications of trying to sneak into Sara's room.
"Nope, not me. I can't even get myself out of here of my own accord, I've got no idea how to bring someone in."
"I wonder...what do you mean you can't get out? Am I stuck here too?" I started to refocus my attention to test the idea.
"Doesn't look like it, that path's still there, remember?" I heard her say, though the voice sounded a little muffled.
I stood up and looked around. Now I could see the Whateley campus superimposed over the tower room. The obelisk tower was right where it had been before I was brought here. I thought I should have been looking at the inside of the basement, not the outdoors where I first disappeared. Apparently I really could be in two places at once! I wasn't trapped at all. I focused on the tower room again and let the image of the Whateley campus fade from my vision. "Guess you're right." I said before slumping back into the chair.
"Well, that's a new trick."
"Fading in and out like that, how do you do that?"
"I don't know, I just wanted to look around. Whateley is still where I left it." I grinned sheepishly.
"Sheesh, I wish I could do stuff like that."
"I don't see why you couldn't. Maybe I can show you, once I figure out how I'm doing it."
"That'd be cool," Sara grinned, "though, I'm not sure how I could repay you..."
I had one thought of how Sara might repay me, but I quickly shoved that idea out of my head. I wondered if the lingering effect of the bear-spirit was still corrupting my thoughts. "Don't worry about it. We're friends, right?" I told her.
"I'd like to be. What about your other... friends, are you sure they won't mind?"
"Other friends? I haven't had time to meet many people here."
"I sort of meant..." Sara tapped her head.
I looked at her blankly. I hadn't told anyone about the spirits yet. Was that what Sara meant?
"Oh, come on, I've seen you being part bear before, it doesn't take a genius to figure out the source of your powers."
I sighed. "You do know about the spirits then. Mr. Lodgeman warned me not to tell other students about them. He said that there were problems."
"Well, yes, there could be. He's right too, only I'm pretty much a spirit myself, see? Or partly at least..."
"I guess that makes sense, with the demon thing." I thought about her question, opening the lines of communication with Thunderbird, but he didn't seem to have anything to say one way or the other. "They haven't told me to stay away from you, so I guess it's ok."
"Could they have brought you here?"
"It's possible. You think they wanted me to talk to you?" I asked, wondering at the lack of response from that side. "They don't explain themselves very often."
"I think that it's very unlikely that you wound up on my doorstep for no reason... when neither of us were trying."
"They probably did it then," I said with an exasperated sigh. Of course Thunderbird wouldn't admit to meddling with things again, not after the way I complained at him earlier.
"Oh, come on," Sara reached over and brushed a lock of hair out of my face, "it's not that bad is it?"
"It's my first week of school, what should have been my first day of class and He makes me wear that stupid sweater. I might as well have had a sign on my forehead that said 'beat me up, please' and then that jerk takes me up on the offer...and then there was the bear, which I just got chewed out for by the way...let's just say that this has not been a very good week."
Sara sighed and stroked my hair, "Shhh... it's ok. Safe here, remember? Would you like to talk about it? I promise I won't tell anyone."
"It's just...I know they think they're doing the right thing. Maybe it was my job to stop that bully, but I never know what they're going to do next. Will I end up dead next time?"
"Do you think they'd put you in mortal jeopardy?"
"They might, if they thought there was a good enough reason to do it. They tend to look at the big picture, not at individuals...and then there was what the doc told me."
"What was that?"
"People like me, astral avatars, have a habit of ending up crazy, or dead."
Sara smiles, "They tell me the same thing about psychics."
I smiled back, feeling a sudden dose of fatalism. "Good, then I have a double risk."
"I have to admit, death isn't something I usually have to worry about. Unless it's the people around me."
"Your parents," Sara nodded, looking distracted, "I woke up in a morgue, exhaling my internal organs. I topped off that act by eating a security guard after he put two in my chest."
She didn't mention that part earlier in the week. I carefully put one arm around Sara. "I guess I'm not the only one with troubles. Sorry."
Sara took my hand in hers, "I didn't lose my parents one at a time."
"I've never killed anyone."
The table between us shifted, sliding out from between us while widening into a coffee table. The chairs themselves merged together into a sofa as Sara stretched out, putting her head in my lap and closing her eyes, "I don't feel it like I used to. Being what I am... changes your perspective on things."
I stroked Sara's hair without thinking. "Yes, things have changed. I don't always like it, but maybe it will work out."
Sara grinned, purring absently, "We're not dead yet. That's a start."
I looked down into Sara's eyes and found myself leaning forward, about to kiss those beautiful black lips. Suddenly, I realized what I was doing. I leaned back and yawned, trying to cover up my mistake. "Yeah, not dead yet."
"Um... Jamie. Do you have a dagger or something?"
"Um...no." I said, squirming to one side to get Sara's head out of my lap.
"Funny, 'cause something's digging into the back of my..." Sara sat up abruptly and looked back down at my lap, "Oh... er, sorry."
I blushed yet again. "Um, I think I need to go now..see you tomorrow?"
"Yeah. Yeah, ok, Jamie. Come back any time, Ok? Door's always open."
"Ok, Sara...and thanks." I grinned at her before refocusing my attention back outside.
Sara stretched back out on the sofa as the girl, if that was the proper term, faded from view. When she finally disappeared for good, she slid one hand down the front of her skirt, aching for relief, "Another hermaphrodite. How do I attract these people?"
Outside, under the stars and the faint glow of the dome, I lay on the dead winter grass. "It's ok," I told myself, "She's a lust demon. She has that effect on everybody." I thought back over the day's events and cringed. "So much for blending in. So much for self control." Though truthfully I showed a lot of control. It could have been worse. I could have given the demon girl exactly what she wanted, and lived to regret it once Bear's influence wore off. I could have really picked a fight with Jeff, and really gotten myself killed. Bear or not, he could have flattened me. It was all one big empathic bluff. At least I had chosen a dead tree to rip apart instead of anything living, and the only person I ended up hurting was myself.
I shook my head. I had to be more careful next time. At this rate I would end up living in the infirmary. I knew I should go back to bed and get some sleep, but it was so peaceful out here. I thought about Valkyrie again, walking her patrol. The idea of doing something like that sounded very right. I imagined myself walking around in this quiet world, away from curious eyes, away from the needs and the expectations of everyone around me, and if something did happen, I could do something about it. I might have been little more than a funny-looking weak freshman out there, but in here...in here, I could do things that could make a demon princess jealous.
I had to smile at that thought. She wanted me to teach her! I wasn't at all sure how I was going to do that, but it was worth a try.
Sara, she was a puzzle. A friend? Yes. I thought it was strange to have a demon princess of lust as a friend, especially when, well...one didn't go around having those thoughts about friends, did they? Especially not at my age.
Suddenly, the doctor's pronouncement of 'sterile hermaphrodite' bothered me much more than it used to. Maybe it wasn't entirely accurate. I doubted that I was sterile while in bear form earlier. But in female form? No. I wouldn't stay female long enough to be pregnant. I might be a father someday, but never a mother. That realization gave me hope and depressed me all at once. I never really thought about being a mother before, but growing up as a girl, it was always assumed. It just sat in the back of my mind, waiting for some far off future when I'd be ready to think about it. Now, that future would never appear. Did that mean I would have to marry a girl if I wanted to have children?
That was something else that hadn't occurred to me. Once again I had those assumptions growing up. Someday I'd meet my handsome prince and we'd live happily ever after. I never even thought about girls that way...until Sara, until Jinn... Actually, I hadn't thought much about boys either. The image of that blonde boy smiling at me in the entry way poped into my head. Was I a lesbian? Gay? Neither? Both? Did those words even apply to someone like me? To be homosexual wouldn't I have to be attracted to hermaphrodites? What would they even call that? That line of questioning could easily tie a teenager's brain in knots.
I watched the stars for awhile, trying not to think about it. Heyoka. The word floated gently in my head, almost as if someone had whispered it in my ear. Someone who lives beyond the rules. It would have to do. Like it or not, I couldn't live any other way.
I saw wispy clouds overhead arrange themselves into a familiar shape. Thunderbird. It was watching me, but careful not to get too close. It knew I was angry earlier, and it didn't understand why. I needed to be healed, and it sent Bear, because Bear is good at healing. I needed a friend, and it sent me to talk to Sara.
But what about Jeff? What about that stupid sweater? I wondered.
I saw a spark pass within the clouds, as if to say, 'We got him good, didn't we?'
I shook my head. Spirits! Can't live with them. Can't shoot them.