September 12, 2012 by Lyn
Sunday, September 7, 2003
“Timmy! Timmy, wait up, hey.”
Timora really didn’t like the nickname. It made her sound like a kid, and a boy at that. It was, however, better than any number of others she’d been given over the years and didn’t, at least, involve the word tit. Besides, when it was coming from someone as cute and clearly-popular as Calvin, she couldn’t help but be flattered he’d bothered to come up with anything at all to call her.
Not just to call her, but to call out to her, in the halls, no less. She slowed down and turned around, wondering what he wanted. The dance last night had been nice, for a change. She and a few other girls from her Cohort and the Eighth Cohort had gone stag and boys had actually asked her to dance (and not just when everyone else was gone, either) and bought her drinks. Not just Calvin, but he’d been there, and he’d bought her drinks, and danced with her more than once. Had she offended him, before she stumbled home tipsy?
“Calvin, hi. I had a lot of fun last night.” Maybe he was just being friendly? Maybe?
He wasn’t quite jogging to catch up with her, just ambling quickly, but he could clearly hear her despite the long curve of hall between them. He smiled brightly back at her. “I did, too. You and Pania vanished early on, though. I didn’t get a chance to walk you home.”
“Oh!” She looked down at the tips of her sandals. “You didn’t say…”
He laughed abruptly. “I didn’t think I had to. We were having fun, weren’t we?”
“Yeah? I mean, yeah, I enjoyed the dancing and everything. But I was going to get all silly pretty soon. I don’t usually drink that much.”
“Hey, it’s fine. I mean, I could tell. That’s why I wanted to walk you home.” Having finally closed the distance between them, he threw his arm around her shoulders. “No harm, no foul, right? Promise you’ll go to the next dance with me?”
“With you? Oh, um… sure. You want to go with me?”
“Of course I do.” His smile broadened, and Timora’s stomach did flip-flops. He really liked her. Well, he was really willing to go to dances with her, at least. That was something, right? That was more than she usually got from guys, back home, by a lot. “Why would I want to go with anyone else?”
“Um. They’re prettier, and smarter, and… more fashionable than me?”
“Bah. They’re not prettier, they’re probably not smarter, and fashionable doesn’t matter down here anyway.” He patted her shoulder. “I like your dresses. Very… floral.”
She was pretty sure he was lying on the last one — nobody liked her dresses, but she did, so she kept buying them — but she really didn’t know why. “They are very floral.” She giggled instead of trying to call him on it. “I like flowers.”
“Maybe you’ll end up cy’Valerian.” He’d spent a lot of time last night, too, trying to guess her Mentor. She figured it was just the sort of thing people did around here. Although why he thought she’d end up with Professor Fridmar, she didn’t know. The burly languages teacher terrified her.
“I like History,” she agreed. Professor Valerian hadn’t done that showing-off-her-true-face thing on Friday. Come to think about it, neither had Calvin. He still looked like a normal handsome poster boy for Come to Addergoole, It’s Where the Cool Lives. “I noticed that not everybody looks… fey? Like Professor Valerian,” she added hurriedly, before the threat of a frown could turn into him leaving. “Or Professor Pelletier. It’s not a teacher thing, I mean, Abaddon still looks like himself…”
“You should probably stay away from him. You wouldn’t like him when he’s showing his true face.” His frown changed back to a smile as quickly as it had come. “I’d been planning on offering to buy you breakfast the traditional way, but since you bailed out early, well… can I buy you breakfast?”
The traditional way…? Oh! Timora found herself heating up. She smoothed down her skirt, stealing glances at his face through her bangs. “You were…” He was smiling. He was probably joking. He wouldn’t have meant that. “If you want to go to the Dining Hall with me, sure. I was just heading that way.”
“Forget the Dining Hall. I’m going to show you where the real food is.” He grabbed her hand and tugged her down the hall. “Come on, I laid in supplies special.”
“Real food? Supplies?” For a moment, she thought he was going to take her out to town, wherever town was. That would be nice. She was beginning to feel a little cooped up, stuck here in the building with no windows, like they were in some sort of prison. “Oh…” She ran her sandaled toes over one of the silly footprints, smack in the middle of the hallway. “I thought those would stop, after the big reveal thing.” It was a really big footprint, smushed into the carpet like a crop circle. And it didn’t have enough toes, either.
“Just some silly prank.” He scuffed at the foot-mark, blurring its edges. “People are being pretty ridiculous this year.”
“I thought the thing in Lit was kind of funny,” she offered. All the seats had been somehow attached to the ceiling. Professor VanderLinden had brought in cushions and taught sprawled out on the ground.
“That’s VanderLinden, though. I mean, people expect a certain style where he’s involved. But really, this is juvenile stuff.” He gestured at some arcane symbols painted on the wall in disgust. “All it does is freak out the new blood and irritate the teachers.”
“I’m not freaked out,” she offered. “I think this is all really neat. I mean… my Literature teacher is a faun! How neat is that?”
She wanted to take it back the moment he turned to look at her, frowning, like she was some sort of bug he hadn’t quite figured out yet. Then his frown turned into a slow smile, and she released her breath. She’d gotten a lot of guff for her flakiness, back home. But she’d figured, in a school where one of the teachers was a faun and another one was a gargoyle, she was probably safe from mocking about that.
“Read a lot of Narnia, growing up?” The question was so casual, she didn’t see the trap until she was already in it.
“Oh, I have all the books! They’re on my bookshelf back in my room, next to the Tolkien and the Lloyd Alexander and the Oz books… oh.” She felt her face dropping as he laughed.
“Look, I get it, we all read some funny stuff when we were kids. But don’t try to apply Narnia or Tolkien to this place, okay? They were both Christians and pretty nice guys. This place… this is high school.”
She couldn’t help but smile at that. “If Tolkien had gone to my high school, the monsters would have been a lot worse and a lot prettier.”
“I thought you might have had trouble, back home. You have that look. Don’t worry about it, okay? I mean, not that there’s not cliques here, but it’s… different.”
“Nobody in any of the cliques back home actually had horns.” Although there had been Marilyn and Tasha, who she’d been pretty sure were from the ninth circle of hell. “Or, for that matter, wings.”
He seemed disappointed that she’d picked out the obvious differences. “Okay, so yeah, there’s some really blatant things. But there’s more than that, too, Timmy. You’re going to need someone to show you around and help you figure it all out.”
They were at his door, but she hesitated, not sure this was a good idea. “You want to… what? Show me the ropes?” She winced. That was a snigger-worthy line. For once, though, he didn’t bite.
“Yes.” He looked deadly serious. “I want to show you how to get along, here. What to say, what not to say. Who to talk to, who isn’t safe, even if they look it. Like Abaddon,” he added, his serious look turning into a glower. “I want to help you stay out of trouble.”
“You want to be my protector.” She found herself smiling a little bit. “Like in those old books.”
“I do.” He was smiling back at her broadly now. “Come in and let me seal the deal by making breakfast?”
“I would love breakfast, I really would.”
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
“Come on, Timmy, sit here next to me.” Calvin patted the chair to the left of his before Timora had even gotten into the classroom. There weren’t that many people in the class, so there was no need to clump all up in the middle, but that seemed to be what everyone wanted to do. She wasn’t going to argue, though, if he wanted to sit next to her.
She sat down where he indicated and pulled out her homework from the day before. She was wondering, while trying not to be unkind about the wondering, how he’d ended up in the same History class as she had. It didn’t seem like a senior-level class, and he was the only Sixth Cohort in there.
“Did you actually do all that reading?” He stared at her pages of scribbles and diagrams. “And took notes. Wow. On the second week of school. I need to get you out more.”
“I was having fun with it,” she demurred. “I really was.” She felt horribly snide about it, but she couldn’t help thinking Well. That’s how he’s in a class with freshman and sophomores. I wonder how he plans on graduating? Still, he was being awfully nice to her. “Now that she’s pulled out the real textbooks, everything is so much more exciting.”
“Sort of like one of your books, isn’t it? When she’s going on, I half expect orcs to jump out of the woodwork.”
“Well, that would explain the giant footprints.” She smiled brightly at him, hoping he’d understand she was joking. “And maybe whoever mysteriously knocked me into the pool the other day.”
His hands tightened around his book. Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to joke about that. “Timmy, I told you I wanted to protect you.”
“This was before that. Things have let up in the last couple days,” she assured him. It was almost true. There hadn’t been any more dunkings, at least. “It’s a lot less bad than it was at my old school.”
“I thought you said you didn’t have any monsters at your old school.” He still sounded sullen, but she was beginning to learn he was like that, hot and cold in moods that had little to do with her and changed suddenly, without warning.
“I said nobody had horns or wings. We had plenty of monsters.” She dared a smile. “Like you said, it was high school and I wasn’t one of the popular girls.”
Her hands flew over her mouth as he raised his eyebrows and smirked. She hadn’t meant to say that, why had she said that? She’d been trying not to be the nerd in this new place, to have a chance to reinvent herself. And here she kept blowing it every time she tried.
But he didn’t look horrified. He patted her knee
affectionately, leaving a warm spot when his hand moved. “It’s all right, Timora. Neither was I.”
“Well, you’re a boy.”
“I wasn’t one of the popular guys, either. Not until my last year, and then I came here.”
“But you’re…” She flailed with both hands. “Everyone likes you, everyone knows you.”
“It’s a small school, and I’m in my fourth year. Stick with me, and everyone will know you, too.” His smirk got bigger, and, under Professor Valerian’s flurry of an entrance, he whispered, “It’s true what they say, you know. The way to be popular is to hang out with popular people.”
Saturday, September 13, 2003
When Timora stuck her head out her dorm-room door Saturday morning, the halls were dark, and the noises echoing through them sounded like a horror movie set in the Jungle branch of a zoo. Timora had told Calvin she’d meet him for breakfast, though, and he fussed and frowned when she didn’t show up on time. She knew better than to disappoint the first guy to show a real interest in her, so, scary or not, she headed out into the halls.
Things in her pod were relatively quiet still. The emergency light was glowing a dim, creepy red, and she could still hear the noises – hoots, and growls, and what sounded like screams – but nobody else was in the lounge. Thinking of Calvin’s smile, she ventured forwards.
Things got worse the moment she stepped out into the main hall, and even worse the further she got from her room. The floor seemed sticky, muddy, sucking her feet in and grabbing at her ankles, unbalancing her. She was wearing her pretty shoes, the ones that really weren’t practical for this sort of thing. She’d noticed Calvin noticing when she wore them Thursday, so she’d worn them and the shorter kind of skirt he seemed to like. She wanted him to feel like she was worth his time. Besides, the halls weren’t supposed to muddy. It should have been safe to wear heels.
Was this one of those pranks everyone had been talking about? She lifted her feet carefully as she walked, trying to pick out the shallowest route. Maybe a water pipe had broken? An emergency could explain the sirens she heard in the distance, and the darkness, but maybe not that scream echoing off the rounded halls? Or the hooting. The hooting was beginning to bother her. The hooting, and the way that everything echoed more than it ought to.
The halls seemed to close in on her, and walls weren’t where they were supposed to be. She bounced off of a wall where she remembered there being an intersection, and when she turned, the nearest wall was closer than it had been pressing her in. If this was a prank, it was a phenomenal one. But what if the building had started to collapse? That could explain the mud, and the shifting walls. And the screaming.
She slunk out from the narrow passageway. She had to find the exit. If the building was collapsing, she had to find Calvin and get out of here. Calvin and Pania, and maybe Kay, and get out of here. Calvin and Pania, Kay and Miryam and Belfreja, and get out of here.
She made it to an intersection, where the light was stronger and she had some hope of getting her bearings. The floor here was dry, too, but there was something squirting at her from around three of the corners, some green and blue goo, staining her pretty white shirt and the skirt that she’d bought at the Store especially for this not-really-a-date. She stepped against the wall. How was she going to get through here without getting soaked?
An invisible hand grabbed at her, holding her arm. Something that felt too creepy to be a hand wrapped around her ankle, and something else starting tugging at her clothes. She liked that skirt! She had, at least. She’d been hoping Calvin would, too.
She struggled on through, hoping Calvin would show up and make things better, hoping that everything would be okay, until she found a quiet, better-lit hallway, a stairway in just down the hall. There. The goo on her shirt was drying clear. Her skirt was fine, if a little wrinkled. She’d be fine. She’d be…
Hands from nowhere wrapped her around the neck, while other hands grabbed both her wrists fingernails digging in deeply as she was stretched in three directions, tugged nearly off her feet. Startled as much as frightened, Timora let loose a yelp that turned quickly into a scream.
The scream seemed to rip through her, coming out her toes and her spine as much as it did out of her mouth, ripping the hallway, shaking the foundations of the underground school. The hands around her let go, and she went tumbling to the floor to the very faint sound of feet running away.
Behind her, she heard a quiet, strangled sound of anguish. She turned around slowly, to see a tall boy staring in horror at her. At her, when his hair looked like a hedgehog was sitting on his head and he had more buckles on his clothes than a gathering of Pilgrims.
“What?” she asked, her voice hoarse from screaming and, somehow, still making the walls quake. The boy, wide-eyed, made another strangled sound and fled.
“I don’t…” Timora began, just as a hand clamped over her mouth and jerked her back against the wall.
She had two little stepbrothers and an older brother. The moment the hand covered her mouth, she did what had worked so many times before – she licked it.
“Ew!” The hand pulled away, giving her a chance to turn around and see her would-be assailant. The boy held up both hands defensively, then quickly dropped one to wipe it on his pants. “Just… be quiet for a minute, okay, and come here in the shadows. I swear I mean you no harm today.”
Today. She nodded uncertainly, and let him tug her deeper into the shadowed hallway, trying not to stare. It was hard; even in the dim light, his eyes gleamed green – and with slit pupils, like a cat, which, given the tiger-like ears sticking out of his hair, made some sort of sense. She reached out to touch one. They had to be real, not some sort of headband, but she still wanted to try.
Calvin had said that everyone looked inhuman, that they were just covering it with a Mask, like a glamour out of a fairy tale. She’d studied the other upperclassmen, when nobody was looking, but she hadn’t been brave enough to touch, and Calvin neither dropped his glamour nor talked about it. Now – well, this guy didn’t look scary at all. He looked, if anything, like he was afraid of her.
His ear twitched, and he chuckled nervously. “They’re real,” he assured her. “Now… please don’t scream, okay? And if you can avoid it, don’t talk for a few minutes? I can’t protect you if you make me run away.” He gestured dismissively to a complaint she hadn’t voiced. “Okay, okay, you can do pretty well making everyone else run away too. But… you’ve noticed some weirdness?”
Timora pinched his ear pointedly. Weirdness, said the boy with cat ears. Siberian tiger ears, she was pretty sure, even with the slit eyes. And he looked naggingly almost-familiar, although the stripes were throwing her off.
“Ow! Yeah, okay. And some of the strangeness is… inhuman…?”
She didn’t pinch his ear again, much as she wanted to, instead wiggling all her fingers at him: oooh, scary woogy stuff.
“Yes, that, exactly. All right. Hunh… There’s still things I can’t say. There’s a hallway around here today we call the Fun House Mirror, did you find that one?”
Funhouse… Oh. Something else weird and inexplicable. She shook her head, then nodded slowly, hoping that would indicate clearly enough that she understood, as much as she did. Would her voice really scare people away? Or was this another stupid prank? “Calvin…” she began, and stopped when the boy’s ears went flat. Calvin hadn’t shown up for their breakfast date.
“Calvin was stalking you. He ran away when you screamed. Ass that he is, he was probably waiting to trap you.” He shook his head – more and more, she thought she ought to know him, if only he weren’t so catty – and kept talking before she could try voicing another objection, or the oh, god, I made him run away, now he’ll never go to the next dance with me. “I know he seemed nice, Timora, but a lot of people seem really nice around here until Hell Night.”
“How…” Was she going to have to go through life mute? She pressed her lips together unhappily as he ducked. When she put both hands over her mouth, he tentatively peeked back up at her.
“Oh… sorry.” He made a complex hand gesture, and then, from somewhere behind him, produced a fedora. The hat went on his head – and the stripes and slit eyes vanished, revealing a boy she’d sat behind in Lit and next to in History for two weeks. “I’m Porter.”
She mouthed “Oh,” figuring that was safe enough, and gestured out into the hall and back to their hidey hole: What are you doing hiding here?
He was really quite good at charades. “The same thing as every other upperclassman on Hell Night,” he told her sadly.
The same thing… Timora frowned at the upperclassman. What was everyone else doing? Grabbing her? Making quicksand? Wait, Hell Night? “Hell Night?” She glared at him, not caring if her voice sounded like knives ripping through tin cans. “This is a stupid hazing?“ Popular kids did hazing. Fraternities and sororities and sports teams. Not everyone. Not the quiet nerds in the back of the class. Was that what Calvin had meant, when he’d said she could be popular, too? What else had he been fudging the truth about?
Porter scrabbled to the back of the niche, hands to the sides of his head. “It worked, didn’t it? I mean, look at yourself – I’m surprised it doesn’t hurt yet, but I guess that’s either part of the Change or the adrenaline of being grabbed like that. It was pretty awesome, the way you made everyone run away, you know, but I’d really rather you didn’t do the same to me.”
She glared at him, but kept her lips pressed together while she processed what he’d said. It worked. Change. Doesn’t hurt yet… She condensed her question down to the shortest she could manage. “Change?”
His nose twitched, but he didn’t run (where could he go, anyway? He’d backed them into a corner). Her voice had sounded slightly less horrible to her own ears. Maybe she wouldn’t have to be mute forever. “Change. Like my…” He took the hat off, and the tiger-stripes and ears were back. “This. Or Tigg’s quills-or-spikes-or-whatever-they-are.”
She’d Changed? She looked down at herself, at her hands, her skirt, her…. hooves? Feeling light-headed, she leaned against the wall. Hooves? This had to be the craziest prank ever. Or the hands-down weirdest school ever. Even without hooves, it was in the running for that, and she’d spent three months in a Connecticut boarding school.
“Woah, woah, here.” Before she could complain, Porter was standing next to her, one arm around her waist, the other reaching up over his head. He was fumbling with some sort of catch, she thought, opening some sort of trap door. “Don’t they hurt?”
There was that word again. She looked down at where her feet ought to be and shook her head no. No, she couldn’t feel them at all. Everything below her knees was numb.
“Well, that’s something to be thankful for, then. When I Changed, everything hurt for days. I swear, even my teeth hurt. Arundel, here.”
Arundel? The handsome boy in her Trig and PE classes? What about him? Timora looked up, just in time for Porter to grab her around the waist and lift her into the air. She stifled everything but a squeak, not wanting him to get scared and drop her.
“Got her.” Stronger arms wrapped around her and picked her up, lifting her out of the hole. In a moment, she found herself cradled against a nice, firm chest. I have hooves. She glanced up, nervously. She’d never been manhandled like this, not ever really handled at all, except bullying and Calvin’s few light touches. She found that she liked it a little, and could probably grow to like it a lot, but at the same time, it was uncomfortably like being grabbed from behind. “Hey.” That was Arundel, all right; she recognized the smile. He was aiming it down at her, his sandy blond hair in disarray, some sort of feathered cloak over his… no. She twisted in his grip to look over his shoulder. No, those were wings.
“You…” She clamped her mouth shut, realizing that he was holding her over the trap door, through which Porter was scrambling. She didn’t want him to drop her, either.. She still didn’t quite understand what was going on with her voice, but she didn’t want it to bother her probably-rescuers. Whatever they were rescuing her from.
He seemed unfazed, however. “I have wings,” he agreed. He spread them for her – they were beautiful, wide, eagle-like wings, gold and brown and tan like his hair. He looked like a sand-drenched angel.
“Gorgeous,” she murmured, and then, mortified, she hid her face against his chest. What was he going to think? When had she lost her ability to control her mouth? What was Calvin going to think?
“Thanks.” He shifted her in his arms a bit, trying to balance her, she thought. She must weigh a ton; why wouldn’t he just put her down? “Let’s get you to the doctor’s, okay?”
She nodded, afraid if she opened her mouth she’d say something else stupid, and held on. Riding in someone else’s arms while they carried you was weird, out of control. Doing it while hiding her face made it seem like being on roller-coaster after dark. But she didn’t want to see people looking at her. She’d made such a mess of things. Calvin was going to…
“Timora?” She thought it had been just a few steps, but she wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure about the voice, either, and she didn’t want to look, but she thought it might be Calvin. “Put her down, bird-boy, she’s mine.”
His? He wanted her? She twisted to look, now. He wanted her, even after the hooves, and the screaming, and the goo?
He was standing there, at least, looking entirely un-ruffled and un-fazed by the wildness around them. “Isn’t that right, Timora?” He smiled encouragingly at her, but she wasn’t seeing him. She was seeing the boy with the hedgehog hair and the Pilgrim-buckles standing right next to Calvin. Tigg, from French, now that she was looking. Tigg, who’d grabbed her. Calvin had been stalking her, Porter had said. What was she supposed to say to that?
“I’m afraid you’re too late,” Arundel answered for her. She was getting tired of people answering for her, but in this case…
Calvin had seemed like such a nice guy.
Looking at him now, from the safety of Arundel’s arms, Timora wasn’t certain anymore. Sure, he’d taken an interest in her, when no-one else had, but here he was standing there next to Tigg, staring at her, and claiming she was his. Arundel had said he was too late. Too late? That seemed like a strange thing to say.
“Is that right?” Calvin seemed to agree with her on that, at least. “Is the wittle bird-boy right about that one, Timmy? Am I too late?”
He was probably waiting to trap you. Looking at him standing next to Tigg, it seemed more than a bit likely. Tigg had grabbed her, Tigg had been trying to hurt her. Trap her into what, though? And why?
“I really liked you,” she told him, wincing as her voice came out like a slow-speed car crash, then wincing again as he – and Tigg, and Porter – took an involuntary step backwards.
“I like you, Timmy, that’s why you’re going to be mine. Quietly. Right?”
“I told you, Calvin, you’re too late. Leave her alone.” Arundel’s voice was louder and more high-pitched, and his wings were spreading to fill the hall. He wasn’t dropping her, though. That was nice.
“You couldn’t keep her if you tried, junior. Hand her over now and no-one gets hurt.”
Keep. Mine. Timora shook her head. “I’m not yours, Calvin.” Her voice was getting more level, but it still sounded like tortured metal. “Stop it.”
Calvin was losing his cool. “Well, this little shit can’t keep you. How’s he going to protect you?”
That was the second time in less than an hour someone had mentioned protecting her. That was supposed to be nice. It was supposed to feel good. “Porter, Arundel,” she whispered.
Porter was quick on the uptake and covered his ears. Arundel’s hands were busy holding her, but, on the other hand, he didn’t seem nearly as bothered by her voice as everyone else did. She hoped he didn’t drop her. She really, really didn’t want him to drop her.
“You’re being silly, Timmy.” Timmy, again. She screamed.
This time, she was paying attention. Even with his ears covered, Porter was wincing, walking slowly backwards away from her. Calvin and Tigg, who were either slow, brave, or stupid, didn’t even try to cover their ears.
“Tim-” Calvin began, over the start of her scream, which only sounded like a three-car pileup running into a flock of eagles. She pushed a little more air into it, adding a semi truck full of upset canaries to the sound crash, and Calvin and Tigg started running. She made it louder, as loud as she could go, and Porter tripped over his feet backing up, falling on his tail.
Arundel stood there, holding her, seeming hardly fazed at all.
She caught her breath and stopped, smiling at him, then a little more apologetically at Porter. “It really does work.”
“It does,” Porter agreed shakily. “Your speaking voice is still pretty…”
“Oh, yeah.” She clapped her hands over her mouth, abashed.
“It’s okay,” the tiger-man assured her. “Come on, buddy, let’s get her into the doctor’s. Do you think it’s your power, that’s why she doesn’t make you run?”
“I guess?” Having the person carrying you shrug was, Timora discovered, a rather strange sensation. Sort of like much more mellow roller-coaster than the walking. He looked down at her thoughtfully. “Everyone has a power,” he informed her. “Porter can make doors. Anywhere. It’s pretty awesome. Me? I’m fearless.”
She made a noise that she hoped was encouraging, and he grinned at her even more widely. “And you’re really pretty. Here, Doctor’s office. I think you’re fine, though. It’s not a bad Change.”
The nurse shooed them into an exam room, all three of them, although Porter stayed near the door, as if guarding their escape. Once in there, Arundel picked up as if he hadn’t stopped, not seeming to mind the one-sided conversation. “So yours seems to be… sort of…”
“Kelpie?” Porter offered. “Kelpie meets a banshee.”
Dr. Caitrin walked in, stopping all speculation. “The tapes are very interesting. It’s going to take a while to get control of that, I think, Timora, so I’d ask you to be careful with your voice until then, all right? In the meantime…” She laid her hands on Timora’s ankles and began muttering under her breath. “Interesting.”
“Interesting?” Arundel asked. “I see hooves. And a tail, right?”
“Unsurprising, considering her ancestry. Yes. Yes. This is going to be an interesting Change, and I don’t believe it’s over yet. Are you Keeping her?”
“Ah. We need to talk about that.”
“Keeping?” Timora whispered. “Calvin…”
“Yeah,” Arundel muttered. “I’m not him.”
“Hrmph. Well, Timora, take these two pills. If you are in pain in the morning, come see me. In the meantime…” the doctor looked thoughtful. “I don’t normally suggest Keepings, but, if he thinks he can hack it, and you’re willing, Timora, considering your peculiar power, I’d consider Arundel.” She pressed the small blue pills into Timora’s hand and, on that very odd note, left, Porter following discretely behind her.
“Well.” The eagle-boy flared his wings uncomfortably. “I don’t want to pressure you into anything, I really don’t. But I was gonna offer…”
She looked up at him uncertainly. “If you’re the only person I can talk to without them running away…” she whispered.
“There is that, but that seems like a lousy reason to Keep someone. ‘Here, be Mine so you have someone to talk to.’” He shrugged again. “I’ve been watching you, and I like you.”
“You make it sound like stalking.” It was nice to be able to speak again without someone flinching. Then again, he’d started looking nervous. Maybe he wasn’t really fearless?
“Well,” he squirmed, “kind of? I mean, everyone kind of stalks the new students around here. I guess I got stalked last year?”
Oh, he looked nervous because he was nervous, not because of her voice. Nervous of her? “Why are you all squirmy?” Lovely, she winced; that was exactly the way to get a guy to like her. A guy that already knew she was a mess.
“Well, I don’t want you to think I’m a creep like Calvin. I mean, I guess I deserve it if you do.”
“Did you set me up to get terrified and dragged around and what-have-you, Kepted?” she countered. Calvin had done that. Calvin who had seemed so nice. Arundel seemed nice, too. Was everyone in this place a trap and a lie?
“No? I mean, I just kind of tried to be where I thought he’d set you up, so I could rescue you. Well, Porter got there first…”
He folded his wings up uncertainly, hiding his head. “Because I like you.”
She stared at him. What did you say to that? What could you say to a guy rescuing you from a funhouse nightmare?
“Thank you.” It was a start, at least.
Saturday, September 13, 2003
The dance the first Saturday had been cool: pounding beats, flashing lights, heavy music, and illusions crawling up the walls and over the ceiling. The demons and fairies everywhere had made it like something out of a comic book, one of the good ones. The costumes, too, ball gowns and leather side-by-side. Speed had never felt as at home as he had on that dance floor.
Until he opened his bedroom door the next Saturday morning.
The lounge of his pod had turned into a cavern. The ceiling dripped with stalactites, and the couch had been replaced by a rock formation. The only light was a creepy glow from the rocks.
Across the pod, a door swung open. Eluned stuck her head out of her room, and then, with a noise more like a mouse than a person, popped back in her room and slammed the door shut. Speed didn’t care. Let her hide; he was going to explore.
The halls were even more done-up than the pod lounge, the floors sticky, the walls crowding in on them. Speed wondered, as he ran his hand over the rocky walls, if this had been hiding behind a Mask the whole time. It would make sense; why bother with wood paneling and carpets when you were in a hole in the ground? Why not just enjoy the cave?
Somewhere around a corner, someone screamed. The sound seemed to twist in the hallway, the way tight spaces bounced echoes. A giant fun-house. He found himself smiling. Why bother hiding it at all? School was just a giant horror show anyway.
Like this. He turned the corner to find himself face-to-face with… something that wasn’t quite a face. More a nest of shadowy tentacles, writhing like snakes in a pit. “What have we here?”
He recognized the voice, at least. Gregori, with the stunning blue eyes. He’d been flirting with Speed since the first day of school. “What do you think you have?” He smiled at those eyes. He wouldn’t mind being had by those eyes. By those tentacles, for that matter. That would be new.
One of them wrapped around his waist, pulling him close. “I think I have you.” The shadows cleared from Gregori’s face, showing Speed a smile that mirrored his own. Yes. Perfect. He didn’t struggle as two more of the things wrapped around his wrists.
“Then have me.”
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
Want more, sooner?