Monday, January 15, 2007
Winter in the northwestern Montana mountains is a time of deep cold and snow. It’s also a good place to hide from the world. Unless of course you have relatives like mine. Hiding from them is nigh impossible. Even in the Spirit World where many wouldn’t or couldn’t follow. The Northern Lights were putting on a spectacular display. It was one of the excuses I’d used to come here. That and to be as alone as possible for a while.
But at least Uncle Coyote had backed me up and was willing to hang back a bit and give me the illusion of actually being alone and not closely watched by at least one of the adults all the time. You’d think they were sure I was going to run off and maybe kill myself at any moment. I hadn’t had a moment completely to myself ever since I’d climbed out of the Cessna at Babb Airport. Of course the screaming nightmare I’d had that evening hadn’t helped any either. Between the nightmares and flashbacks I had just about everyone, including the kids, worried about me.
Most of my experiences at Whateley could only be described as great and wonderful. I’d spent most of my life away from ‘civilization’ in the northwest. Montana, Idaho, and a bit of Alberta and British Columbia. In many ways going off to school had been a real adventure. Around Halloween it got a little too adventurous.
Just thinking about that got me sweating and another flashback came from where I’d pushed it away in my mind.
Halloween. At Whateley. Most of the kids were off having a good time at the main party. But a lot of the kids in Hawthorne couldn’t go. So me and some of the other less challenged kids from Twain and Whitman had gotten together to see if we couldn’t at least have a little fun where we were. It meant missing the big party but ever since I’d been tapped to be a Lieutenant in the Hawthorne Irregulars I’d felt it was my duty to look after these guys. Besides. I really wasn’t into big uncomfortable crowds anyway.
Everything was going okay until the lights flashed off and on. In moments the auxiliary generators had kicked in so there wasn’t any interruption in the necessary life support systems and the like but at the same time Foob, who was entertaining us all with a scary story, let out a pained yell and disappeared. I also became aware of a sound that was uncomfortable to my enhanced hearing and I knew would have been much worse if I’d been in my other forms. Something was terribly wrong and I had a very bad feeling about it.
Just then Mrs. Cantrel flew into the main entry lounge. “Is everyone okay? Where’s Louis? The power went out and all my accesses to the rest of the campus and outside are not working. I need Louis to check this out.”
No one else said anything for a moment so I did. “He was here right up until the lights went out. Then he yelled like he was in pain and disappeared. I think someone needs to check on him. I can go do that now.”
“You do that Miss Woolfe. Mr. Pearce. Would you please run over to Administration and see if they have any information?”
Jim Pearce, or Sectipede as everybody called him, was a GSD case in Twain with six odd legs and then a fairly normal torso. He didn’t have much in the way of powers except he could run fast and climb good. He’d make an excellent courier and should get an answer fast.
Jim got up and scuttled for the front door while I headed for the basement. He’d already reached the door before I was halfway to the stairs. Something in the way he was acting after he opened the door drew my attention back to him. He was just standing in the doorway looking out with it half open. He glanced back into the room.
“Hey! There’s guys out here and they have gu... Ahhh!”
It took a moment to process what was happening. I saw Jim jerk back and saw and heard the bullet as it hit him on his left upper torso. At the same time as he spun back and into the room I heard two thwacks that sounded like something hitting the door. There were several more sounds of something hitting it as it snapped closed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that Mrs. Cantrel had hit a button on her chair which probably explained the door snapping shut so fast without anyone’s help.
Suddenly I was back in the Spirit World equivalent of the mountains of northern Montana. My heart was racing and I was sweating even in the subzero temperatures. The Northern Lights had just outdone themselves, producing a near fireworks level of brightness. Just without the booming noise. Instead there was the quiet comforting sounds of a light wind moving over the snow and through the trees. It calmed my heart down. I was vaguely aware of Uncle Coyote a short ways away from me and that was a little comforting in itself. My mind wandered back to what was bothering me.
That had been the first big shock. I’d grown up in a military family. Stories of fighting and the results of such activities were hardly rare. But those obviously edited stories and war movies I’d seen hadn’t done such things, or the shock of seeing them, justice. Sitting there on my skies, knees pulled tight to my chest I tried to let the Northern Lights cleanse the memories from my head but all they did was bring more memories to the surface.
At the same time Jim went down an alarm went off. It was the one that told everyone to look out for trouble and hunker down where they were if they could. We had regular drills on the various alarms. We’d even had a few real alerts in the time I’d been here. I had to assume that Mrs. Cantrel had hit the lock-down button and hopefully sealed whoever was shooting out of the building.
Jim was curled up moaning in front of the door and I could smell the fear, pain, and blood. I was frozen there watching until Mrs. Cantrel shouted at me.
“Stella! Get Louis!”
“Y... Yes Ma’am!”
With a start I jumped towards the basement and headed down as Mrs. Cantrel sent someone for the first aid kit and got some of the others either looking for ways to further block the doors or help poor Jim. In moments I’d reached Foob’s room. But it was pretty obvious that he wasn’t going to be much help for now. He lay in the bottom of his tank twitching but not doing anything else. I did check his monitors to make sure he was okay but nothing I tried seemed to be able to wake him out of whatever kind of twitching seizure he was in. Realizing that I couldn’t help here I headed back upstairs to report.
As soon as I came up I could see that Mrs. Cantrel was organizing things well. When she saw me she motioned me over to where she was busy directing the girl we called Big Mary - who was currently going by the name Titania - in the proper way to bind up Jim’s wound. Big Mary was over ten feet tall and very shy at most times but she seemed to be handling the pressure well right now. She’d been a total recluse when she first came in. Some problems with her family if the rumors were true. She’d been stuck with the name Titania because she wouldn’t talk to anyone when she first got here, but had since been trying to get it her code name changed to Fire Forge. It fit her better. But you usually had a hard time changing your code name so it was taking time to make it official. The fact that many of the elf types were protesting about a giant named Titania also was helping the process along though. I looked at what they were doing for Jim and a shudder went down my spine.
I’d seen enough killing and wounding before. I’d been a hunter and fisher for as long as I could remember. But aside from the time one of my cousins broke his arm in one of our games I’d never seen someone badly hurt before and it made me a bit queasy. Before I could think too much about what I was seeing, Mrs. Cantrel got my attention.
I shook my head. “I.. I think he’s okay but whatever it was that hit him he’s not coming out of it any time soon I think.”
“Damn! I was hoping we’d be able to use him. It would be nice to have Slab or Jimmy T here too but with them at the party I might as well wish for the moon. Dammit! Oh well. Alright everyone! Listen up!”
Even though I was shocked to hear Mrs. Cantrel swear like that I still listened to what she was saying.
“We’re under attack. Now don’t panic. This building’s built specially, and can hold up to a lot. Still, we need to prepare for the worst. Anyone who can, needs to arm or prepare for a fight. We’ll need to cover all the doors and possibly the windows. Anyone who can, needs to get back to here. Those that can’t need to seal themselves into their rooms. Don’t come out till it’s clear. Got that? Good! Now go!”
I knew I had weapons in my room, including a Marlin lever action .30-.30 my family had given to me as a gift when I left home. I’d even had a chance to fire it a few times at the ranges. I rushed to my room, which was on the first floor. I was the only occupant so a lot of my stuff was stored on the other bed. Including my rifle and some extra stuff I didn’t normally need.
I didn’t think I had time to get into my fighting suit but I grabbed the bag anyway because my knives were in it. I also grabbed my medicine bag and spear along with the rifle and bag.
I took the time to load the rifle with its maximum five rounds plus one in the chamber, and looked around quickly to see if I’d need anything else. I also glanced out the window and saw what looked like three men in some kind of body armor setting up what looked like a machine gun. From that position they could cover the front and my side of the building.
The shutters hadn’t closed down over my window yet so either they were blocked or Mrs. Cantrel hadn’t activated them. I realized I was in a pretty good position to take a shot at them so I dropped the other stuff near the door and went to the window. It was easy enough to open and then I aimed at the three men.
But I couldn’t bring myself to just shoot them without warning. When I realized that, I chose to fire a warning shot instead. Choosing a tree next to them I put a round into its trunk. All three dove to the ground and I quickly put two rounds into the bi-podded machine gun. Then the lever on the rifle jammed.
I stepped back and to the side by reflex as I tried to clear the jammed lever. The moment I did that the side of the window sill exploded at head level, spraying me with painful chips and slivers. Lucky for me I had my head down looking at the lever or I’d have caught some in my eyes. Two more bullets quickly followed, smashing through the panes and thudding into the door across the room.
I stood there, my back to the wall, staring at the bullet holes in the door. Several thoughts were rushing back and forth through my head.
I’d nearly died. Whoever was shooting had barely missed me. If my lever hadn’t jammed and I hadn’t stepped back I’d have been hit. Not only the window but the door was covered. I didn’t think I could open it fast enough to duck out into the hall.
These thoughts kept chasing themselves through my head. Over, and over, and over. I don’t know how long I stood there. But it must have been several minutes where I couldn’t move.
Another brilliant flash of colorful lights brought me back to the mountains. For a few moments I was lost in the celestial wonder in front of me as I desperately tried to not remember what had happened. But the harder I tried the more the memories forced their way back. Jamming my head between my knees only cut out some of the celestial display in front of me. That didn’t help keep the memories at bay.
There was some kind of explosion above me outside Hawthorne. Otherwise my paralysis would probably have gone on indefinitely. Whatever it was it shook up whatever had kept my shutter from closing and it slammed into place. The sudden sound shocked me from my stupor and in the next moments I finally jacked the lever on the rifle closed. Picking up my other equipment I headed for the lobby.
When I got there I found everyone else had already been organized into defensive positions. We could hear shots and explosions coming from outside but couldn’t see out at what was going on. Jim was bandaged up and Big Mary was watching over him and it didn’t look like anyone else was hurt. I moved towards Mrs. Cantrel who was talking with some of the others.
She looked up at me and then did a double take. “Stella! What happened to your face?”
Putting my hand to the side of my face I felt pain and when I pulled my hand back I realized there was blood on it. I hadn’t even realized in my shock that the right side of my face was bleeding. Before I could register more than that Mrs. Cantrel had pulled everything but my rifle from my hands and pushed me into a chair. I couldn’t make my hand release the rifle though. It took several more moments and the concerted effort of two of the students to get my hand to open. While they were doing that Mrs. Cantrel had been examining my head and right shoulder.
“Hmmm. It looks nastier than it is. But scalp wounds are like that. You have a good healing factor and if we get these slivers out now I expect you’ll be fine very soon. Mary? Be a dear and hand me some tweezers please.”
Mary handed over a small roll of cloth which had several small metal instruments in it. One of these was a large set of tweezers which Mrs. Cantrel began to use quickly and efficiently.
“Now I don’t have time to use pain killers so you’ll just have to grin and bear it. It will be over soon so don’t flinch so much. Good! Good. Now let me clean these out a bit and then I can bandage them. It doesn’t look like you’ll need stitches at least but if your tetanus isn’t up to date I suspect you’ll need a booster. Tell me. How did this happen?”
I gave a hurried explanation as she bandaged me. It hurt, but I had other thoughts on my mind. But I wasn’t about to tell anyone about them. Not the fact that I’d frozen.
Soon enough I was as bandaged as I could be. Mrs. Cantrel had me go and get dressed in my battle clothing before assigning me to help cover the rear entrance. Nothing else happened for a while. I was really worried about Jim. Mrs. Cantrel assured me he would be okay when I asked her but I could tell she was worried. I offered to try some healing spells but she was pretty sure we needed to be prepared for an attack so I went back to watching the back entrance.
After what seemed like forever the fighting outside seemed to quiet out a bit. Eventually Mrs. Cantrel’s radio started to work again and we learned that between the efforts of some of the students, staff, and an ARC Fast Response Team the bad guys had been driven off. We were instructed to stay in Hawthorne until all the cleanup was finished.
Mrs. Cantrel told them about Jim and whoever she was talking to told her a medical team would be sent over as quickly as possible but it still might be a while because of the situation.
The Lights drew my attention back to the present. Waiting like that, not knowing exactly what was going on had seemed to take forever. That was what I remembered most about the aftermath. Watching the Northern Lights I was able to ignore the rising memories for a time. But I’m the kind who worries at stuff until it’s done and eventually the memories worked their way back. They just refused to be ignored.
When Mrs. Cantrel finally gave us the okay to go out, she had the emergency team rush me and Jim over to the medical building. I was fine but Jim was in bad shape. And he wasn’t the only one. One in particular caught my attention. Caitlyn McMasters. I’d known her from the times I’d gone to the ranges to practice with my ranged weapons. By listening in to the people talking around her body I learned she’d been killed by a sniper while trying to take out something on top of Hawthorne. I’d learn later that it was the thing that took down Foob. It was probably the attempts to take that out which ended up dropping the shutter on my window and bringing me out of my paralysis. I don’t think anyone noticed how I froze up for a little longer as I realized how close I’d come to sharing her fate. From that moment on I’d been aware of a part of me that couldn’t let it go. And the flash backs and nightmares began.
Eventually the doctors and healers were able to help Jim and he recovered. But not everyone involved made it. I saw several bodies come through while they treated me. Some of the others I’d known as well as Miss McMasters. That cold part of me just got colder.
After they were sure I’d be okay they asked me to help where I could. I had a good background in emergency medicine. At least for minor things, and I was even able to put together a few minor healing spells to help out. Some of that Shaman training was actually coming in handy and it distracted me from my own feelings. At least for a while.
Over time the feeling of depression grew in me and even now the cheerful lights couldn’t seem to light up the shadows in my soul. I’d survived. Barely in my opinion. It had been a close thing. Even if my healing factor would make sure there wasn’t any physical evidence of it I realized I still had scars that couldn’t be seen.
The rest of the semester passed normally, or at least what passed for normal at Whateley. But I couldn’t shake a cloud that seemed to haunt me constantly. We received some counseling but I was sure others needed it more than I did and I couldn’t bring myself to really talk about what had happened to me. I think they knew something was up but couldn’t figure out what it was.
In time it seemed to fade a bit but when I got home on Christmas Break it suddenly came back worse than before. I couldn’t sleep well and had some nasty nightmares. The flashbacks got worse and harder to ignore. Those in the know sagely talked of post traumatic stress disorder. But I knew what the real problem was. I just couldn’t bring myself to admit it to anyone.
Break passed too quickly but I couldn’t bring myself to make up my mind and do anything. Everyone was getting more and more worried and all I wanted to do was hide. But time wasn’t on my side.
I had to make a decision and it had to be soon. I’d already missed a week of school and if I didn’t get back soon there wouldn’t be any reason to try. But every time I thought about what happened last Halloween I just froze up inside.
Sure, I’d gotten a lot of sympathy and everyone was very understanding. Post traumatic stress syndrome and all that. My parents told me the school was willing to make allowances for all that and if I got back soon I’d be given a chance to make up what I’d missed and all would be well. But they didn’t understand.
I was so upset and drawn into myself I didn’t notice Uncle approaching. I didn’t even realize he was there until he touched me on the shoulder with one of his ski poles.
My loud scream and flash of blade made his caution apparently very necessary. For the next few moments I had to struggle with exploding emotions that were nearly uncontrollable in their power and fierceness. He carefully stood back while my growls subsided and I got my emotions under control. He didn’t move until I’d sheepishly put my knife away.
The tears streaming down my face were quickly freezing but I didn’t care about them any more. My emotions were too spent for me to even bother to try and wipe them off.
Uncle Coyote’s clear deep voice brought my attention back to him before my mind had a chance to wander far though. For a person who could be totally inconspicuous or invisible when he wanted to be, he could also be one of the most powerful and forceful presences when he wanted. He was doing that now and I wasn’t in any shape to resist his towering and forceful personality.
“Okay niece. You’ve given us all the old cock and bull stories about what happened to you. Now I want to hear the truth.”
“I... I did tell you the truth.”
“Yeah. I’m sure you did. But not all the truth. What you’ve told us so far covers what happened around you. But it doesn’t cover what happened to you.”
“I told everyone. The guys attacked. I got off a few shots and then got pinned down in my room by a sniper. That’s all.”
Uncle’s eyes bored into me. Of all my relatives I think I’m most afraid of Uncle Coyote. You can’t hide the truth from him. Somehow he can tell things about you you’d never guess he could find out. People remember him for all the tricks and the like he plays on everyone but they don’t really give him a lot of credit for just how good at reading people he is. It’s one of the reasons he’s so good at tricking people. He knows them better than they know themselves. And there was something about myself I really didn’t want him to know. Unfortunately, trying to hide something from him is like raising a red flag and yelling at him to come and get it. It didn’t take long before I dropped my eyes in defeat.
“C’mon Stella. Let it out. I know it’s in there and I’d rather not force it out. Just get it off that pretty little chest of yours.”
The glare I threw him was laced with mortification, anger, and not a little pride. Though I’d never admit it openly I was starting to fill out a bit. I wasn’t just a stick of a girl anymore and while I wasn’t quite up in the ranks of a lot of the exemplar girls I had to admit to myself privately that I wasn’t going to be a complete dog either. At least not all the time.
Calming myself and getting the fur to fade away took a few more minutes. Minutes I put to use trying to find a way to avoid what I knew was coming. I had to admit to myself now I’d made a mistake coming out here to be alone. Uncle had probably been waiting for the chance and I’d just given it to him. There was always the possibility he’d somehow arranged it too. It was a bit strange that none of the rest of the family was around right now to provide a distraction or reason not to talk. Sighing and giving in to the inevitable I finally faced what was bothering me. And nearly burst out into tears again.
By this time he’d moved close and put an arm around my shoulders. We squatted there on our skis and through the sobs I finally let out the pain I’d been carrying since that day. I tried to turn my face away so he couldn’t see it but he gently and firmly turned my chin up so he could look into my eyes as I spoke.
For a moment I was sure I wouldn’t be able to speak what I was feeling. I couldn’t force the words out of my painfully constricted throat. But looking into his eyes I finally saw the very real concern he had and it somehow released the guard I’d kept on my thoughts for those many months.
“I... I froze up! I was scared! I… I… couldn’t do anything! All I could think about was that if I stuck my head up he’d shoot it off! I didn’t do anything but cower there! My friends got hurt, people got killed, and I didn’t do a thing! I’m a coward!”
As I finally got those words out, the many tears I’d been holding back couldn’t be restrained any more and with a howl that echoed through the mountains I collapsed into Uncle’s arms and sobbed.
How long he held me there and let me cry my soul out I didn’t know but when it was finally over I somehow felt as if a great pressure had been released from me. The part that had been frozen seemed to have thawed. I still hurt a lot but at least it didn’t feel like it was filling me to a point the pain would never end and I’d die from it.
Then Uncle chuckled and anger came flooding back to fill the empty space. I tried to shove him away but it was useless. He was exerting a lot more power than I could right now and the best I could manage was to get an arms length away where I could see his face. What I saw there was enough to make my anger fade and stop my attempts to pull away.
Uncle was known for being a very practical and controlled person. But now, even though he was chuckling his eyes were filled with sadness. Sadness for me.
He shook his head and pulled me back into a hug.
“No buts my young one. I understand. You’re growing up now and it hurts. You’re beginning to realize that you have limits and you’re not sure how or if you can handle it. It’s really not fair of us to expect you to simply know how to handle this. After all, you’ve never been in a situation where you weren’t in control or at least someone you trusted was.”
The anger was creeping back. And the fear.
“You... You mean it’s okay to be a coward?”
I could feel him shaking his head.
“Not at all. Cowards are the most miserable of people. But then you aren’t a coward.”
“How can you say that? I froze up. I didn’t do anything! All I was thinking about was myself! My friends were getting hurt and I didn’t do a thing to help them. I was useless!”
“If you keep thinking of it like that you certainly will be. Either you’ll never figure out what went wrong and stay frozen or you’ll lose all common sense and do an even stupider thing and get yourself and others killed trying to compensate in some foolish heroic gesture. And it’s not like you did nothing. Maybe you didn’t shoot any of the bad-guys but if I remember right you did make that machine gun useless before you got pinned down. You’ll probably never know how important that might have been.”
He was right. After the fight someone had found the machine gun. One of my bullets had jammed the action so it couldn’t operate. So some good might have come from that.
“I should’ve shot the bad-guys instead.”
He nodded a little. Then cleared his throat.
“Maybe. Don’t be so gung-ho about killing. It’s not something to be proud of. I’m happier that you took out the gun. Remember that in the future before you shoot at someone. If it’s necessary, you have to make it count. But don’t think it’s necessary to kill to get the job done. There will probably come a time when you can’t avoid it but don’t feel obligated to do so. Explore your other options if you possibly can.”
He was right about that. I knew it. My two follow-on shots had damaged the machine-gun so it couldn’t fire. But that had been luck as much as anything else. I hardly counted it in the bigger scheme of what went on that night.
“You don’t understand.”
“I don’t? Really? Do you think you’re the only one who’s ever frozen up when threatened. Crapped and peed themselves? Run screaming in panic? Don’t kid yourself kid. You’re part of a long history of people including myself, your parents, and many other of the Kin and soldiers who’ve had as bad or worse reactions to danger like that.”
I stiffened up in protest.
“That can’t be right! You, the others, are Warriors! You’ve proven yourselves in battle. You haven’t cowered while others you cared for got hurt while you did nothing.”
“So sure are you little one. What do you really know about the rest of us? Sure, you’ve heard the stories about our great accomplishments and heroic feats but do you think that’s all that has happened to us? We might not like airing our dirty laundry so I don’t think we can be held at fault for that, but it doesn’t mean we haven’t got tons of the stuff hanging around waiting to be aired. I don’t want to revisit it either or tell the others’ stories for them so I’ll just let you know I’ve had my less than sterling moments and leave it at that. But I do know what you mean. I’ve been there. And with that in mind I’m going to tell you a few things about yourself. Then you can decide what you’re going to do about it.”
“Shush! I need to get this out fast so listen closely.”
There was a feeling of dread in my heart but I nodded anyway.
“Good! Now, you seem to have a pretty good grasp of how to shoot rifles, pistols, bows and other stuff like that. We’ve seen to your training there. You also seem pretty good with knife and spear. All these things can be improved with more practice. But where we’ve failed you is in training you how to USE your weapons.”
“Don’t interrupt! You need to hear this. Why do you think you froze up when that sniper pinned you down?”
I looked in his eyes and realized he was deadly serious. A shiver ran down my spine but I had to answer so I said the first thing that came to mind.
“I was scared. So scared I couldn’t move. Or think.”
He shook his head sadly. “No.”
“No. You froze because you had no training in how to handle such situations. Without training your instincts took over and the instinctive reaction was to stay still and not draw fire to yourself. It takes training to be able to act outside of instinct when you and others are threatened. I’d hoped they would’ve given you such training at the school we sent you to but it seems you spent your time reading books, doing sums, and learning useless languages.”
Okay. That was upsetting. I’d been allowed to choose my own schedule last semester. Could I help it I needed to work on my basic learning skills? Sure I could read well, write some, and do basic arithmetic but I’d been totally behind on higher math, world history, writing, and other such skills. I’d been playing catch-up to everyone else. I had a real knack for biology but chemistry was a total mystery where the math was concerned. And Latin...
I sounded like I was whining even to myself but I couldn’t stop either.
“Latin is not a useless language! It’s the base for most modern languages used in the world today. Besides, Mrs. Grant says I have a real talent for languages and she wants me to study some more while I’m there. She says Shoshone, Cree, and Crow don’t get college or academic credit either. Though I’m not sure why that is.”
Uncle Coyote’s face lightened a bit and he laughed. “Okay! Okay! Don’t bite my head off! I’m not saying you can’t study some of the things you seem to want to but I am putting my paw down and you are going to take some classes that I’ve worked out with Lodgeman that you need to take. And no arguments!”
The last cut off the reply I was preparing to make and I waited for his next words. He sighed after he was sure he’d made his point.
“Look. I’ve had some friends of mine look into it and it’s pretty certain this last event at Halloween is probably not the only event you will face in your life. With that in mind you WILL take at least two classes each semester designed to see to it you won’t be caught in a tight situation again without a clue as to what to do. This semester you will be taking a class on combat pistol and rifle handling and I’m recommending you to the higher martial arts level training also.”
“But! I already KNOW how to shoot pistols and rifles good! Why should I waste time on those?”
I could see my lit classes going right out the window. They obviously wouldn’t meet Uncle’s approval and I only had so many hours in a day to use and as poor as I was in math I needed all the study time I could get for that.
“Kid. Like I said. You know how to shoot. But you don’t know how to USE your weapons. If you did we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. These classes will show you how to use your weapons effectively in real life situations. Situations where a sniper is planning on blowing your head off. Not just pin you down. If you’d tried to shoot back I’m pretty sure we’d have attended your funeral last Halloween. Now listen to me. You don’t have a choice in this. I’ve already made arrangements for you and I’ll be monitoring you carefully. So don’t try any funny business.”
I have a bit of a stubborn streak so I wasn’t giving up without at least a little fight.
“You’re assuming I go back at all. What if I don’t want to?”
He smiled. “Cause I know you. For all the problems with getting shot at I still remember some very animated stories about some of your friends there and some of the shenanigans you all got into. Somehow I don’t see you missing out on that. At least as soon as you realize you’ve been beating up on yourself too much and get your head back on straight. Like I said before. You’re no coward to run away from the challenge. But you do need some direction and that’s what I’m here to give you. Now, what do you say? Shall we have a grand party to celebrate your heading off to school or shall we just sit here howling until time takes all choice away from us?”
Crud! Crud! Crud! He knew me too well. I had to admit when I thought of it that I really did want to get back and compare stories with the Lit Chicks. And we’d left off in the middle of a huge D&D campaign. I was kind of the odd one out seeing I was in Hawthorne and the others were off in Whitman but it hadn’t stopped them from helping me with my writing. And they seemed to like my stories too. Of course their stories were great also so it wasn’t a big sacrifice to get to hear and read those before anyone else. For one moment Stella seriously considered not going back just to be stubborn, but it didn’t take long to realize she actually wanted to get back to school. Even if it did remind her of her cowardice. Maybe Uncle was right. Maybe with the proper training she’d have been able to DO something back then.
She almost jumped again. She’d been so deep in thought she was surprised when he touched her shoulder. One look in his eyes and she knew he knew what her answer was going to be. She sighed. “Okay Uncle. You win. I’ll go back. But I AM going to continue with my Latin and other studies. I’ll just have to work out a way to get them in around the other stuff you’ve planned.”
He chuckled and stood up.
“That’s my pup! Don’t let them get you down! Get back there and learn what you need to learn. Then get back here pronto. I hate to say it but I’m getting older and I could always use some young blood to help keep my ideas original.”
“You just need someone else who can move between the worlds like you around so they can’t blame you because they’re keeping their eyes on you and not watching for anyone else.”
He smiled and nodded. “There is that. Have I mentioned how much harder it is to pull off a good joke around here if I’m the only one around doing it? They’re all alert to my tricks. Having someone else to divert their attention would be a great help!”
Then he gave me a hard stare that made me flinch a bit. “You are keeping it a secret between us aren’t you?”
“And you’re keeping up on the studies and exercises I taught you?”
“Yes Uncle. I even got to use some of the healing you taught me. Miss Chulkriss mentioned she might be willing to teach me more if I wanted to.”
He thought deeply for a moment and then nodded. “Good idea. You never know when having skills like that will come in handy. Just don’t let them know about your spiritual traveling skills. That’s a very important secret. Got me?”
I sighed, but then grinned. “Okay Uncle. Nice thing about Whateley is that with Silly Blue Bird around and Greasy and Peeper almost no one even thinks about me when tricks are going down.”
“Silly Blue Bird? Do I want to know?”
“Oh. Yeah. He’s a kid who’s got Bluejay riding him. Jay gets a bit upset when I call him that in front of the others. Especially around Big Bear Thing.”
“Big Bear Thing? Something else I should know?”
“Cody Wyatt. He’s stuck with Big Kodiak Muck-a-Muck.”
“Avatars huh? Well, be careful around them. With all that’s going on right now we really don’t need any political complications.”
“You don’t want me to trick them?”
“Oh! I didn’t say that! Go right ahead. It’ll be good practice even if they’re fairly easy. Just don’t go overboard and do anything it’ll take Council action to clear up.”
It seemed like it had been ages but I suddenly felt like smiling. Even the thought of going back to the scene of my cowardice didn’t faze me. If Uncle was right, and he was one of the few I trusted in such things, I might be able to overcome my problem and no one but us would ever need to be the wiser.
Then I noticed that Uncle was waiting and realized he was going to have me bring us back. He probably wanted to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. I was sworn to secrecy by my Uncle about my ability to move between the Spirit World and the Human World at will. Having someone as an ally around that no one else knew about who could travel like that to pull off some of his tricks was an ace up his sleeve he wasn’t willing to part with just yet.
Concentrating, visualizing in my mind the chant and motions Uncle had taught me, I opened the way between and skied with him back to Montana where my family would be waiting for me to return from the mountains with my decision about school.
Look out world! Stella Woolfe was back! And looking for fun and adventure!