Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 6


 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?) 
(Part 4!)
(Ooo, Part 5...)

I mooched into the room five minutes late with my school blazer itching unbearably at my neck. I ran a finger around my collar, feeling like I was going to choke at any second, and scanned the room for Megan. She was the only thing that would make this stupid day bearable. She was nearly the only thing that made joining the League of Extraordinary Losers worthwhile, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fracking cool to be able to walk through a door without opening it or, you know, rummage in someone’s schoolbag without unzipping it.

Not that, you know, I could do that around anyone but the Losers, because if anyone else saw me do it I’d a) land a detention (big woop) and b) probably be examined to within an inch of my life. Such was the joy of being a teenager with superpowers, even if they were ‘absolutely ordinary’ ones. I sniffed. Ordinary my arse. The other misfits could try to pretend they were ordinary if they liked, but I for one wasn’t the least bit afraid of being an individual.

A group of kids sans uniforms and ergo from one of the public schools crowded past me, sniggering as they went. I shrugged self-consciously inside my blazer. Stupid uniform. Stupid public school kids. Stupid Maths competition.

There you are.” Megan grabbed me by the elbow before I even realised she’d appeared and dragged me forward through the crowd. “Greg thought you’d chickened out.”

“Of the E. James Downward Mathematics competition? Now why would I do a thing like that,” I said, grinding my teeth as Megan towed me past the public school contingent who’d sniggered at me before.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Megan said with the air of explaining something simple to a very stupid person. “Maybe because you’ve missed every practice we’ve had this week?”

I pulled my arm away and shook my sleeve back in place. “Yeah? And?” It was Maths, for crying out loud. I could do this crap with my arms tied behind my back, and wasting every lunchtime with the Dorkazoids in some musty classroom had lost its gloss once they became more concerned with practice Maths questions than the freaky cool things you could do with some basic scientific knowledge. Create wind currents, for example. School uniform skirts looked heavy, sure, but a well-placed draft could lift them like a tissue.

Not that I would do that. And definitely not to Megan. That one time, it was the draft from the window, I swear it. Because, like, I’d tell her if I discovered something else awesome that we could do. Truly.

But anyway, she dragged me over and plonked me down at our table up the front right as the presiding teacher tapped his microphone and launched into a long-winded and unnecessary explanation of what today was about, why we were competing, and who gave a fig in the first place. Which clearly wasn’t me. Greg muttered something under his breath at me, no doubt his usual charming hello, and I settled down to the serious business of ignoring him.

After far too long, just as I was about to die of boredom, Head Teacher who fancied himself Great Orator finally shut up, and the first round of questions was handed out. I let the League of Losers stress over it for a while – though Matt wasn’t doing a half bad job – before I snatched the question sheet out from under Greg’s elbow and began dictating.

Greg tried to protest, Megan launched into a tirade against both of us, Pip put her head down on the desk, and Matt, the only sensible person at the table other than myself, wrote down what I was saying.

“…and then it all equals seven,” I finished, putting the page back down on the table and nodding at Matt. “Right?”

He nodded back, capped his pen, and placed it on the finished answer sheet. “Right.”

“See?” I said, leaning back in my chair and folding my arms. “You lot just need to learn to chill.”

Megan angled her chair away from me and pointedly struck up a conversation with Pip. What was that all about? I’d done what she wanted, hadn’t I? Here I was, stuck at this stupid Maths day when I’d rather be doing just about anything else, and I’d given them all the right answers and everything, and now she was mad at me?

I shook my head. “Women,” I muttered under my breath.

Greg, sadly, heard me. “You’re a moron, Chris,” he said as he shoved his chair back. He grabbed the answer sheet and stalked to the judges’ table.

I rolled my eyes.

Three rounds later and I was just about comatose from the sheer excitement of it all. Problem after problem after problem, and they weren’t even that challenging. I mean, sure, a couple of times one or two of the others got the answer before I did, but I was distracted. It’s not like I was trying.

At long last we broke for lunch, and I hurried out of the room as fast as I could. Megan had barely looked at me all morning, and there was no way I was going to sit around with the Losers for forty-five minutes while everyone looked on and sniggered.

I was nearly to the exit when someone grabbed my arm, spinning me around.

“Where are you going?” Megan demanded.

“Out,” I said.

“You know we’re not supposed to leave the premises.” She put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. Good thing she wasn’t a real superhero; a laser stare on her would be dangerous.

“I’m not,” I said, smoothing down my blazer and heading back towards the exit. “I’m getting lunch.”

“There’s lunch at the canteen,” Megan said, not following.

“I want real food.” I reached the door. Stupid Megan and her stupid morals. Stupid Maths day. Stupid lunch. If I wanted to go eat some real food, why should anyone care? It’s not like I was nipping out for a spot of vandalism before returning to win the Maths trophy, was it now? I set my jaw and phased through the door, knowing it would make Megan furious – maybe furious enough to come after me.

But I strode away from the building, shrugging out of my blazer and stuffing my tie into my pocket, and no one followed.

[Continued next month!]

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Aish of a Grey Lion: A Storm-Dance Short Story (part 2 of 2)


Read part one here.

Aish of a grey lion,” he said. “Where are your claws?”

They stared at each other, Niobe sick to her stomach. He had done it. He had gone out into the eseteij and cried out for change. Why now?

No, she knew why. Either the Teeshlawat Fyareng had survived or one of his followers continued in his name. Which didn’t matter. They were recruiting again, both children and from the old ranks of child-soldiers. Even if she rescued the child, she couldn’t let this soticheij live or else he would tell the others about her. It didn’t matter how they would use that information; they would destroy everything she cared about, everything she’d built since her escape.

Except, without the other knights, her and her sword would not be enough to fell the beast. Wound it, yes. Scare it off, yes. But, to kill it…

“A samyot for the child,” she said. In a secret pocket, she still carried the one possession that remained from that part of her life.

He sneered. “We’re not children anymore.”

“A samyot.”

The soticheij sighed, but nodded assent and stepped back. Niobe sheathed her sword and retreated behind the dogwood. Off came her coat. Then the leather armour. Inside the coat was her identification as a knight of the Royal Militia, at the back of which was a pocket. With a nudge at the pocket’s spell, an oval of red jasper wrapped in a criss-cross of pale leather emerged. Her talisman. This Niobe held in one hand as she removed and put all her clothes but the coat into the pocket, the enchantment shrinking each to fit.

Beneath the surface of the talisman was the silken feel of common magic, of an incomplete spell. Niobe returned her identification to her coat and clutched the leather-crossed stone tight. She manoeuvered a key of magic into the spell’s lock and turned.

The talisman’s intricate power flowed over and through her body in waves. Fur sprouted, her back lengthened. Claws extended from hands and feet that morphed into paws. Her mouth filled with the teeth of a predator, her pupils became black slits in a field of yellow. The magic contorted her limbs, reshaped her muscles until, only heartbeats after the spell had begun its work, she stood on all fours. With her nose, Niobe nudged the talisman under her coat.

From behind the dogwood, a grey lion leapt at the soticheij.

He lowered his antlers.

When Niobe landed on them, he brought his head up to throw her to the side. She twisted to land on her feet and swiped at his forelegs. They weren’t her target – her aim was to get at his neck – but he didn’t move them. Instead, he brought his antlers down.

So, he still over-relied on his headgear.

Niobe leapt into the cedar behind the soticheij. As he turned to face her, she dropped and slammed into his side, enough to make him stagger. His antlers swung to the side and, while moose are agile, he wasn’t a moose. Not in the way she was a grey lion. She could see his very human Adam’s apple under that thick neck.

Darting under his belly, Niobe escaped the antlers to his other side. With a snarl, she clamped her jaws on the underside of his neck.

Now he remembered his limbs. As she tried to crush his windpipe, he grabbed her with thick fingers to wrench her off. This only served to cause her teeth to tear his skin. He squeezed her ribcage – that was how he’d broken bones and almost killed that knight before she and the others had intervened.

When she felt the crunch of his larynx, Niobe let go. She twisted in his grasp, clawing at his face. The soticheij threw her. From the wounds on his cheeks, she could tell she had almost gouged his eyes.

He put a hand to his throat and tried to speak, but his voice was so hoarse as to be nearly unintelligible. With each laboured breath came the harsh vibration of broken cartilage.

“Take-” he said. “Take the child.”

Left in this condition, he would seek out another eseteij and let the icewater hold of storm magic return to him his strength. The samyot may be over, but Niobe’s work was not. She sprang at him, the top of his neck now between her teeth. Using her claws to keep hold of him as he struggled, she repositioned her grip to just under the base of his skull and bit into his spine.

The soticheij screamed; the sound was stomach-churning with his maimed throat. As it faded, a chipmunk chattered. No, not a chipmunk.

Niobe let go and retreated from the soticheij. Though she hadn’t managed to break his spine completely, his movements had become clumsy.

With a dash behind the dogwood, Niobe signalled the knights with the jays again. Come, be ready to fight. She fitted key to lock and the talisman returned her body to its natural form. Hands shaking, she dressed herself and hid the talisman in its pocket.

The other knights arrived as she stood over the soticheij, sword drawn. He had fallen, succumbing to the injuries of his spine and larynx. Niobe directed two of them to attend to the child, who still lay huddled in the cedar.

“She was in – the cult!” said the soticheij to the knights. “She fought for – for…” he coughed blood. “The Teeshlawat Fyareng.”

But the knights didn’t speak his language. Niobe, Champion of the Royal Militia that had defeated the cult of the Teeshlawat Fyareng eleven years ago with ease, didn’t translate.

She decapitated him instead.

The Storm-Dance is a planned four-book series in which the people of the country Asebei uncover, over the course of their history, the secrets of the eseteijo, the magic storms that plague their continent. The first book will be about Niobe. The second will be about Vjaited.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 5


 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?) 
(Part 4!)

The next day we met in the same classroom to plan our ‘attack’ for the stupid maths trophy. The room was empty when I arrived, so I grabbed a chair by the window and closed my eyes.

Footsteps made me open them again, and Megan entered the room, tanned legs flexing under her school skirt as she walked. Very deliberately, I turned away.

“So,” she said, dropping into a chair and leaning forward over the desk. “Belief that things are possible – that’s one major element of what we’re trying to achieve here.”

I nodded. I’d spent most of last night holed up in my bedroom, practising phasing my hand through various objects; sinking it into the mirror was the coolest.

“But I have another theory, as well.” She stared at her hands. “See, it has to be more than just belief, otherwise why couldn’t anyone do it? Why haven’t people done it before now?”

I stared out the window at the basketball court where Nate and Horse were tossing a ball around – not playing, you understand, because cool people don’t actually commit to anything, including learning the skills it takes to actually play anything. Cool people just learn the most impressive-looking moves and string those together with a bunch of nonchalant poses designed to say, ‘Look at the awesome stuff I can do without trying.’ Which is the perfect excuse for not trying, right? Because if you’re that good without trying, clearly you’re so good that being good isn’t a challenge, so you’re not not-trying because you’re scared to fail, but because the whole idea bores you, because, like, whatever, man, I mastered that years ago.

Just sayin’.

Anyway, needless to say, I wasn’t exactly paying attention to Megan, so when she jabbed me in the arm I first of all winced – “Ow! Hey, what was that for?”

“For not paying attention, numbskull.”

And then I wondered what it would be like to phase through something alive. I shuddered. Ew.
“You’re still not listening!” Megan reached over and smacked me on the arm.

It hurt. “Ow!” I glared at her, rubbing my stinging bicep. “I’m listening!”

She rolled her eyes. “I said, what do we have that they” – she waved at the playground generally – “don’t?”

“You mean other than being ridiculously intelligent?” I said, still glaring.

“Well obviously that.” Megan squeezed her temples in one hand. “But that’s not enough, either. There have been other smart people in the world before us, you know.” She shot me a look that would have melted icicles.

I stared at her. “You’re really worked up about this, aren’t you?”

Megan shrugged. “I hate not understanding how people work.” She glanced at me and a faint blush coloured her cheeks. “I’m usually pretty good at it.”

I didn’t realise it then, but man, is that the understatement of the year.

“Yeah, but seriously, does it really matter? We can do it, yay, awesome, moving on. Why waste brain power stressing over why? Isn’t the whole point of this little group to figure out how? Saving the world and all that?” I laced my fingers behind my head and leaned back in my chair, sneaking glances at the guys not-playing basketball.

“You sound so convinced.”

I dragged my eyes away from the court. “So sue me,” I muttered. “I having friends, you know.”

I was saved from Megan’s response by the arrival of the rest of the little crew, and they quickly set about the business of boring me to death. Oh, sorry, I mean planning for the Maths event. Thrilling business.

After five minutes I’d had enough. I snatched the study sheet away from Greg and scanned down it. “Seriously, remind me why we are wasting time preparing for this?” I said as I calculated the answers to all but the fifth question.

Greg smacked me over the head and stole the sheet back. “Moron.”

“Because we want to win, Chris.” Megan sighed. “I know actually caring about things is a foreign concept for you, but—“

“But some of us actually give a fig about the world,” said Greg, interrupting loudly.

“I care about things!” I shot back.

“Oh yeah? What?” Greg folded his arms over his chest.

“Guys, can we just concentrate, please?” Pip waved the scribble paper in the air. “Please? We’ve only done three questions and the halfway bell--” The bell rang, and Pip sighed. “Is about to go.”

“Just a second,” Greg said, guiding Megan back into the chair she was standing up from. “I want to hear what Loserboy here has to say. So, tell me.” He stood with arms refolded. “What do you care about?”

I shoved myself out of my chair and stood, fists clenched by my sides. “I care about plenty of things, thanks.”

Greg snorted. “Yeah, like whether your tie is just loose enough to broadcast ‘rebel’ without being so loose you’ll get detention. Or, you know, whether or not your hair is perfectly ruffled. Here, let me help you with that.” He reached towards my head and I ducked.

“Boys,” Megan said warningly.

I shoved Greg aside and straightened out my shirt, self-consciously ignoring my tie. “Look, just because I don’t happen to be as passionate as you about some stupid Maths day doesn’t mean I don’t care about stuff. I care about stuff!”

“I’m still waiting on examples, numbskull.”

“Oh, come off it Greg. Just leave him alone and let us get back to studying, will you?” Megan pulled out the chair beside her and patted it. “I need your help with this one.”

Greg’s jaw twitched and I knew Megan had gone straight for the soft spot.

Excellent. Thank you, Megan, for showing me his weakness. “Aww, did you hear that Greg? Megan needs your help. You like to help, don’t you, tough guy? Like to feel all manly and protective and needed?”

His jaw worked furiously.

“Let it go, Greg,” Megan said softly, eyes sharp. “It’s not worth it.”

I tensed, expecting Greg to lunge at me again and calculating which way I could throw myself if he did.

Instead, he exhaled forcefully and relaxed his arms to his sides. “You’re wrong,” he said, turning to Megan. “It is worth it. Because if he can’t care about anything, he can’t be part of a team. If he doesn’t care about what we’re doing, why risk his neck? And if he doesn’t care about us, how can we trust him?” He shot me a sidelong glance before plonking down into the chair and grabbing the paper Matt had been writing on. “Here, where are you up to?”

Megan gave me a look as though wondering if Greg was right.

I do care, I wanted to say to her. I care about everything, more than anyone. But it’s too much and I can’t do anything about it anyway, so I have to lock it all away or I’ll drown. I care. I just don’t want to.

Instead, I shrugged, and walked away.

[Continued next month...]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Aish of a Grey Lion: A Storm-Dance Short Story (part 1 of 2)

The sharp scent of pine a stab through her nostrils, Niobe kept her eyes on her target as she wound her way through the trees. Uneven ground lent itself poor to graceful movement, but Niobe had the uncanny knack of keeping her shoulders level even as her feet crept across the fallen logs and moss-covered rocks beneath the underbrush.

There, only twenty paces ahead and to the right was the soticheij, the monster that once was a man. Back to her, his antlers outlined an undulation as his head swayed. With a deep breath, almost a sigh, he pawed the ground with his forelimbs, thickened and lengthened to support his weight in quadrupedal movement. He could no longer stand upright, his back having hunched at the centre, his legs having contorted to a shape like that of a dog’s. Everything about his massive body suggested strength, a ponderous strength Niobe had already seen fell trees and break a knight’s ribs.

The aish of a moose, judging by the antlers. That’s what she would have called it, back when… but no one talked about that anymore. Or, at least, no one acted on it. This man had been merely unlucky and gotten trapped in an eseteij long enough for the storm’s magic to twist both bone and humanity. Still, the bodies of usual soticheij were more chaotic. His had a focus to it, enough that it rested on the line between what it should be and what it must never be. It gave rise to old memories Niobe would rather not think of.

She raised her pistol.

Where were the other knights? They had separated to surround the brute, but none had given the signal that they had arrived at their position. She sent the magic upwards and it caught in a tree, releasing the back and forth of jays before dissipating. No response yet.

No matter how many times she went on hunts like this, Niobe wondered what kind of people soticheijo had been before they’d changed. Common knowledge held that nothing remained of their former selves. If only. Niobe had known people who sought this change, and it had only amplified everything they already were and wanted to be.

Its antlers finished their undulation, the soticheij drew back from the tree it had pawed at. A large cedar, almost dead, and no wonder with the hollow in its trunk the soticheij had just uncovered. There was something inside. Niobe couldn’t make out what it was.

A chickadee’s call rang out, one dee, with an odd lift of pitch at the end. One of the other knights had called an alert. She responded with a chipmunk’s chatter from about five paces behind. The chickadee came again, five dees this time, accompanied by the squawk of jays. Immediate danger, come to aid.

Niobe shifted her weight to help, but she caught sight of what was in the tree. A child. As the other knights signalled that they would go to the one in distress, Niobe drew her sword and approached her quarry.

With its thick hands, the soticheij picked up the child, who hung limp in the monster’s grip. Not dead, Niobe didn’t think, but unconscious. She crouched behind a stunted dogwood. Only eight paces away now.

The child opened its eyes. It cringed, but didn’t struggle. In a low, distorted voice, the soticheij spoke to the child. Though unintelligible, the cadence and sound of its words suggested to Niobe that she should understand it. She almost understood it. But it eluded her and she couldn’t see why. The child didn’t listen to its captor. Its eyes stared off at nothing, an expression Niobe recognized with a thud of her heart. This angered the soticheij, who yelled and slapped the child, drawing blood with jagged fingernails. Two of its words came into deadly focus:

Teeshlawat Fyareng.

All at once, the rest of what the soticheij said cleared like ripples giving way to still water. The language she had not heard since childhood…

“He chose you, as he chose me, and I will take you to him when it is safe. His call is an honour, an honour-”

Niobe shot him.

His roar filled the air as he dropped the child and turned to face the threat. The child only retreated into the hollow of the tree and curled up.

No one had said anything about a kidnapping. The soticheij had been spotted, too close and too wild to be ignored, and so the Royal Militia had come to dispatch it. But no one had been hurt yet. Or missing. Which meant the child must have been taken from another village, taken here as the soticheij took it with him. Took it to the Teeshlawat Fyareng.

She had shot him in the shoulder, which bled, but his hide was too tough for much more. More shots rang out too far away, the other knights in their battle. Niobe returned the pistol to its holster. Bullets wouldn’t help here.

The soticheij scanned the forest, nostrils flared and breath heavy. Stepping out from behind the dogwood, Niobe brandished her sword and made as if to approach. She would have, too, if not for the moment his eyes met hers and she knew him. It had been years, but she knew him. And, as those eyes of gold-scratched grey widened, she knew he saw past all that time, too.

Aish of a grey lion,” he said. “Where are your claws?”

Read part two here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 4

 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?) 
(How's about Part 3?)

I did it. Holy crap, I did it. My hand is part of the desk. My hand is part of the desk. Sudden and irrational panic gripped my chest and I tried to jerk my hand away – and the desk jolted.

Megan cried out, closed her eyes briefly and extracted her own hand – but mine wouldn’t budge. I pulled again, breaths coming shallow and fast, but the desk moved too, wouldn’t separate. I was trapped, I couldn’t get away, and it was like primary school when they caught me in the finger trap that first time and wouldn’t let me out and they all crowded around and shoved, and it was gentle at first until they realised I couldn’t get away, and then it turned mean, and they sang ‘Chris-fit, Chris-fit, Chris-fit is a misfit!’ and I had to hide the bruises from my mother and I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think…

“Chris!”

Megan’s voice cut through the panic and I realised she’d called my name a couple of times, and that the hands on my shoulders weren’t hurting me, but were trying to catch me, trying to prevent me from thrashing. “Steady on, man.”

Greg. I stiffened, gulping in air.

“Chris, you have to calm down!” Megan’s voice was high-pitched, distressed, and she looked close to tears.

I closed my eyes, trying to ignore my hand, and drew in a deep, shaky breath. “I’m calm,” I said, forcing my shoulders to relax. “I’m calm.” I’m not Chris-fit anymore, I reminded myself.

Greg held me for another second, fingers digging into the soft skin between collar bone and shoulder, until I shrugged him away. “I’m calm.” I opened my eyes and sought out Megan’s. “Get me out of this?”

“I can’t,” she said, shaking her head.

Panic rose up again. Hell of a finger-trap. “What do you mean?”

“You have to do it yourself. It’s just the same as getting it in there. But you have to relax.”

I nodded, exhaling. I could do this. I got myself into it, I could get out again. It wasn’t a finger-trap. The shock of seeing my hand in the desk had set off the panic, nothing else. Anyone would freak out at the sight of half their hand missing. Anyone.

I took another deep breath to steady myself and closed my eyes. Once again, I imagined the miniscule structure of my hand, the electron links between atoms and the way the connections danced around the connections in the table. I could do this. And then, suddenly, I could; I was no longer just imagining the atomic structure of my hand, I could see it. And the table, too.

Slowly, slowly, I forced the table away from my hand, and my hand moved fractionally upwards. I resisted the temptation to jerk away all at once and moved steadily, atom by atom by atom. I opened my eyes and stole a glance, and relief flooded over me as I saw that my hand was almost free. I couldn’t help myself; I tore it away the last little bit, wincing as I broke some of the atomic bonds and left skin behind.

I sat still, nursing my hand, too stunned to process what had happened.

“You okay, man?” Greg said quietly, hand hovering like he wanted to put it on my shoulder again.

“Yeah,” I said, shrugging away. “I’m cool.”

Greg shrugged too and sat back on his desk.

I stared at mine, at the place where my hand had sunk.

“So you see it is possible,” Megan said quietly.

My gaze flicked to her for a second, then back to my hand. “Yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”

“Are you in?” she said, voice still soft.

My brows twitched as I questioned her with my eyes. “I have a choice?”

“Of course you do.”

“You said I couldn’t walk away.” I searched her face.

“I lied.”

I clenched and unclenched my jaw, rubbing the spot where my fingertips lacked some of their skin. “Yeah,” I said at last. “Yeah, I’m in.”

The bubble of tension that had been building unnoticed in the room burst, and everyone leaned back in their chairs, breathing deeply. I felt like I’d passed some sort of critical test or something. I guess I had.

Megan smiled. “Welcome to the L.A.O.S.”

I wrinkled my brow. “L.A.O.S.?”

Her smile broke into a grin, but it was Pip that answered my question. “League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheros,” she said.

I got it. Grinning back, I repeated back the words she’d said earlier. “Saving the world through science.”

Pip nodded. “Saving the world through science.”

Feeling like my cheeks might crack from sudden elation, I leaned back and surveyed the group. “So. We’re superheros. We don’t wear spandex, do we?” I added, frowning. “’Cause spandex is just wrong on so many levels.”

Matt frowned. “Spandex is aerodynamic, flexible, flame resistant and helps maintain body temperature. In many ways, it’s the perfect hero fabric.”

 Megan sniggered, probably at the horror on my face.

“However,” Matt continued, “for aesthetic reasons, no. We do not wear spandex.”

“Though for you, Chris, we’re always willing to make an exception,” Greg threw in. “Unless, you know, you have image issues.”

“Shut up,” I said. “So. Non-spandex-wearing superheros. Do we have, like, missions? Who are we rescuing next?”

The group exchanged glances and I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “We do actually do stuff, right?”

“Well,” said Megan, with the air of someone carefully considering their words. “We do have something that needs rescuing.”

“Yes?” I said, still suspicious.

“You know the E. James Downward Maths trophy?”

Dread bubbled up inside. “Yeah…”

“We have to rescue it from St. Joseph’s.”

I groaned, and the bubble burst. “You’re kidding, right?”

But of course, she wasn’t. In less than one hour, I’d blown my cover as a normal human being, discovered I had what basically equated to superpowers, and joined a superhero club – and my first mission was to win the fracking inter-school Maths competition.

Damn it all. Didn’t I say they’d be planning extra credit work before three?

[Continued next month!]

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Eseteij (A Storm-Dance poem)

Chorus
It comes, the wild storm.
It comes, it comes,
The wild storm, it comes.

Man
What, ho, is this
That churns the trees
And chills the air?

Chorus
The wild storm
It comes, it comes.
The wild storm, it comes.

Man
And what wonder is this,
The soft edging of the breeze?

Chorus
It comes, it comes.
The wild storm,
It comes.

Man
I must go to it, awe-of-all.
One foot I step
Forwards
Into what I have heard but not seen.

Chorus
Don’t go, don’t go;
The wild storm, it comes.
It reaches forth it find you.
Hide, and you will be saved,
Or else it will hold you
Until you are no longer man,
But beast
And the ocean and hills
Will mean no more to you
Than earth’s song
And earth’s pant,
For the wild storm, it comes.

Man
The winds have embraced me
Soft through with magic
No longer threads
Tiny arms, hands, fingers,
But a woven fabric
And the sinuous limbs
Of the liquid spell-stuff
That caress my skin.

Chorus
It comes, the wild storm.
The wild storm, it comes.
It comes with teeth and claws and sword:
Not a caress, but the whispered edge of a blade
Drawn from its sheath.

Man
But, O, how the wisdom of my forefathers
Has turned to ash.
There is nothing to fear
But the snapping and fall of branches in the gale.
Gladly, I go forward.
I find no danger here.

Chorus
Don’t go, don’t go,
The wild storm is here.
It rasps your skin and grows your claws
Sprouts fur and feather, twists your limbs
From square to round to inverse*
To a knot.
Can’t you see?

Man
Oh, God, I see!

Both
Eseteij!


About this poem

Why would the foremost expert on the most dangerous natural phenomenon in the world walk right onto the path of that phenomenon?

Magic storms with the ability to change humans into monsters plague the continent containing the country of Asebei. In the country's language, Abei, they're called eseteij in the singular, eseteijo in the plural. Defending settlements from these storms used to be little more than a hit-and-miss, with no one knowing why what they did work, or why it failed (as it invariably did, sometimes more than others).

Vjaited Roz changed all that when he invented a reliable defense against these storms that could keep entire cities safe. For this he is praised. Of course, he's also considered a madman, because the last thing he ever did was walk straight into a magical storm.

This Asebei poem, meant to be performed aloud, is about him.


*This line refers to the cursive form of the Abei writing system. Some characters have an overall round shape, others have an overall rectangular shape, while others cross themselves and are referred to as inverse. The line is saying that the man's form will be changed and, eventually, twisted beyond recognition

(This poem is in the same world as Aish of a Grey Lion.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 3

 Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?)

“Right,” she said. “So it’s like this. Hand.” She held her hand up between us. I’d never noticed how long and slender her fingers were before – not that I’d had the excuse or opportunity. “Desk.” She laid her hand on the smooth surface of the desk. “Both made of atoms packed together in a dense but regular structure, right?”

I shrugged. “Yeah. And?”

“In theory,” she said, stressing the word far more than normal, “if you aligned the atoms perfectly and were able to make sure that you didn’t lose electrons in the process, and could account for the electro-magnetics going on, you could pass one through the other. Right?”

“Yeah,” I said warily. “I suppose. In theory.”

“So do it,” she said, leaning back.

My eyebrows knitted together. “But I can’t. It’s impossible.”

“No. you just said yourself, it’s theoretically possible.”

“Yeah, but—“

“So do it.”

I stared at her for a long moment. “You’re crazy, right? That’s what this is actually all about. Either this is the Insanity Club, or you’re all having a big joke at my expense.” I glanced around the room. Matt and Pip seemed pretty incapable of having a joke full stop, so they were obviously the insanity contingent. Greg and Megan, though? They were capable of anything, and the way Greg was peering intently at me, arms folded over his chest and lips pressed so tight you could barely see them, did nothing to allay my suspicions.

Megan gave an explosive sigh. “Look, I really want you to figure this out on your own. Heaven knows, you’re smart enough. But being smart isn’t enough; you have to believe things are possible, too.” She caught my eye and held it. “You saw me walk through the door.”

Her face gave nothing away, but my stomach flip-flopped. “What do you mean?” I said, unwilling to admit to anything.

“You know what I mean.” Face impassive, gaze unwavering.

I held my own for a second longer, then screwed up my nose. “Oh, all right. I give in. You win. Yes, it’s theoretically possible. No, I seriously doubt anyone can do it. Yes, I’ll try anyway, and if I find out any of you have a video camera hidden somewhere in the room, I swear, I will make your life a misery.” I pressed my hand against the surface of the desk. “Here goes nothing.” I pressed against the shiny melamine-coated wood, heart racing nine to the dozen.

Nothing. I exhaled the breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. “There. See? Nothing. It’s just not possible.”

Megan huffed. “Idiot. You’re not really trying.”

“I am!” I protested. “See?” I pressed my hand against the very solid desk until the tips of my fingers went white.

“I don’t mean physically,” she said. “I mean mentally. Up here.” She tapped her temple.

Behind me, Greg snorted. “Oh, just give up, Meegs. He’s not going to get it. He’s been hanging out with the cool kids for five years; he might have some intelligence left in there somewhere, if you say so, but there’s too much attitude in the way.”

Says he, king of arrogance. “Look, shut up, all right? I’ll get it. Just tell me what I’m supposed to be getting.”

Megan studied me, eyes wide. “Are you really sure about this?” she asked eventually. “Because once you’re committed, there’s no going back. This isn’t the kind of thing you can un-do, or un-see.”

Nerves and frustration and anger and impatience warred for control. “Look, I can handle it, okay? I’m not stupid, and my attitude” – I glanced at Greg – “is fine. Just tell me what I’m trying to do, or how it is I’m supposed to do the impossible, or whatever.”

Megan placed her hand on the table next to mine and contemplated it. “It’s about belief, you see,” she said slowly. “Knowing something in your head and knowing it are different.” Her eyes flicked up and found mine. “Sometimes it helps to see it first.”

I was too busy staring into her ocean-blue eyes to notice at first that her hand was disappearing into the desk – and then I noticed, and flinched away.

“Anything’s possible, if you can just figure out how,” she said, still staring wide-eyed at me, almost like she was begging me to believe her.

Slowly, I moved my hand back onto the table next to hers. I swallowed. “I… I believe,” I whispered. I closed my eyes and imagined the atoms in my hand aligning perfectly with the atoms of the desk, imagined the dense structures relaxing and expanding, sinking and meshing into one another until the two were interlocked, meshed – but still separate, still different structures.

My eyes fluttered open and my gaze rested on my hand, only half visible, fingertips fully integrated with the desk. A smile softened the tension in my jaw. I did it.

[Continued next month]

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Evergreen


In any daily weather
without design
or desultory portent
they let fall
leaves of fire and gold.

Naked they stand
illuminated
by sun
showers
age

In time
new buds will come
but for now the
ravages of winter they face
naked
stripped bare.

To let leaves fall
requires courage
more than I have.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Virtual Girl (excerpt)

(Note: This is all I have so far of an experimental sci-fi story code named Virtual Girl. Expect it to be confusing.)

Faded chalk art makes me think of the things
that could have been
and might be again.
Does that make sense?
I don’t know what does
it should have been so simple
But here I am again
thrown back
Blackness
Immobile
The beeping of machines that can never
Never
Wake me up again
When will I see again?

Must be programming
Must be the code
I hide out on the waves again
A digital ocean
‘Tell me, tell me’
I say
‘Why didn’t it work?’
But they don’t know
they never know
But they have the luxury
of being able to feel their fingers
Stop.
Stop
Not knowing
Not seeing
There was rain yesterday
And the dragon on the concrete
Has turned to shadow
And all I want
are my legs back.

‘We’ve never done anything like this,’
he says in Korean.
I translate for my brother and add
‘I hate this’
‘I know Korean,’
my brother says
‘Oh
Sorry’
Who thought astral projection
through the internet
would be so hard?
Easier than owning my body again
it seems
but both are supposed to be impossible
and here I am
why can’t I have this, too?
‘You’re thinking out loud again’
my brother says
The Korean scientist is confused
‘Tell him it was a mistake’
I say to my brother.
It seems I can only use the translator
when I’m emotional.

‘I think I found something’
my brother’s excitement does nothing
How many times have I heard it?
Each time, I settle
I move
I see
I say
‘Now’
He pulls the plug
and I come crashing down again
until the beep resumes
and machines fill my lungs again
tell my heart to beat again
Either way, it’s life by machine
Either way I die
But better my body than me
Right?

Humanoid, humanoid
it had to be humanoid
fully functioning
They were all big dogs here
and arguments about alien refugees
(granted, there had the aliens, too
but they also had better robots)
‘No, no, I’ve really found it’
‘So tell the scientist,’ I say
‘I can’t, that’s the problem
They know I know’

‘I swear, if you put this—’

‘They sent someone to the house’

‘Who?’

‘Them’

‘Why the hell are you researching them?
They can’t even remember’

‘Ever wondered why?’

‘What do you mean?’
I swim through the file
‘It’s got to be a conspiracy theory
How did you get this?’

‘You did’

Seems I use more than translators
when emotional

‘They want to know more about you’

A freak of technology

‘You’re a vegetable
They know
They know it’s impossible’

‘Do they know I want to live?’

‘They can’t wake you up’

‘So what good are they?’





‘What happened?’

‘Don’t yell,’ I tell my brother.

‘But what happened?’

‘Someone turned me off.
Wait
What the hell
What the hell’

‘What?’

‘Look’

‘I’

‘He’s them, isn’t he?’

‘They sent him to me’

‘I need to talk to him’

‘What—’

‘Get him back. I’m moving my body
before they mess with life support
again’

How do you find the right scientist?
Search engine?
Stalk universities?
No
You know someone
who knows someone
who knows someone
who knows a guy in Korea
“who’s working on something like that”
How does that even happen?
How am I even here?
But they don’t know
They can’t know
They want something
Here I am, run from
concerns of the day
only to be thrown
Right back into them.
How convenient, though
that he would know
who knows
who knows
How convenient

He’s at the apartment
My brother isn’t sure
He didn’t like last time
But how else to scare them?
(And he did like it last time
liar
I could hear him composing papers
in his mind
papers he could never write
but he would, anyway)
‘Wait’
My brother texts him to wait
I see through the webcam
I anticipate this “friend”
his shock
as I speak to him
I relish this
I just want to live
with privacy
with absolute privacy
‘Okay’—my brother’s voice betrays
his nerves
he hesitates
but puts it on
connects his brain to my reality
funny how the thing
that stuck me in the hospital
now gives me so much power
Here goes
Here
goes
I
in
in
in

The first thing to do when I’ve settled in my brother’s body is to take off the virtual reality interface and orient myself again. He mutters under the surface of me—it’s so weird having someone else’s self-talk in your head. But each movement of his body reminds me how different it is. Shorter, thicker. Male. I tell myself what I’m doing as I do it to get used to speaking with his voice. My own body, miles away, want to do the same. I can feel it moving to obey, but powerless to rise and communicate.

Ready, I text my brother’s friend. Acquaintance? What do you call someone who’s likely been using their relationship with you to exploit you? I think his name is Jason. I check the phone. Yes. Jason.

The chair beneath me squeaks as I stand, a little wobbly, but more steady as I walk across the apartment to the door. Moving through cyberspace is never so grounded as this. I have physical space around me, light through the windows, footsteps and the shift of clothing on my body with each movement.

I open the door.

“Hey!” says Jason.

“Hey yourself,” I say in poor imitation of my brother—I can hear his scornful undertones. Jason’s eyebrows draw together, but he comes in and takes off his shoes. I close the door.

“What did you want me over for?” he plops on the couch, limbs outstretched in comfort. I consider playing the charade a little longer, but this is better.

“I’d like to tell you…” No. That thought dies before my brother’s vocal cords can shape it. “I’m not particularly fond of people who cut my life support.”

Jason’s eyes bulge. He reminds me of a fish. “Your sister’s life support, you mean.”
I sit down exactly like myself and smile. “No, I meant my life support.”

“Do you have multiple personalities or something?”

“Look, Jason, or whoever you really are, I’m going to make this really simple: You’re looking at my brother’s body, but you’re talking to me. And, last night, you snuck into the hospital, shut off my life support, and turned it back on. Moreover, my brother informs me you came by the other day about some files I dug up that it seems you and quite a few other people have an interest in keeping hidden. What would people think if they knew these refugees came to Earth not because they were fleeing anything but because they were very, very interested in… what was it? ‘Harvesting latent potentials in the human populace for the improvement of our own abilities’?”

The following bout of stuttering is most gratifying. Jason peers at me.

“Why did you shut off my life support?” I ask.

“I didn’t—”

“Do you want stills from the security cameras, or should I stream the whole feed?”

“Is there some medication you should be taking?”

“Jason. Think. You interrupted my life support. No one at the hospital noticed. No one said anything about it. I’d love to know how you managed that, but that’s not really what’s on your mind right now because you know the only way I could be telling you this is if I wasn’t the vegetable you thought I was and, at the very least, I could tell my brother what you did. After all, outside of whoever else you’re working with, only I would know what you did. That’s how you set it up.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The L.A.O.S. Part 2

 Catch up on Part 1!

Rolling her eyes, Megan pushed the door open and walked into the room. I hung back, not quite sure what I was expecting. A fanfare, maybe. Rabid applause. Maybe rotten fruit. But when nothing especially unusual was forthcoming, I stuck my head warily around the corner and peered into the room.

Four kids, two pretty normal looking and two looking like the King and Queen of the Geeks – glasses, ties, the pale, washed-out, pasty skin of people who spent too much time indoors, you know, the works – perched variously on chairs and desks, deep in conversation.

I stepped into the doorway, and they all completely ignored me. I forced my fists to unclench, shoving aside memories of my Chris-fit days, and cleared my throat. Nada. I cleared it again, louder this time.

The normal-looking guy lounging on one of the desks turned and nearly lost his eyebrows as they shot upwards. “What the hell?” he said, turning to Megan. (The other normal-looking kid. Not that anything about Megan is normal. It’s not normal to be super smart and wicked hot, is it? I mean, it’s just not fair on the rest of the gene pool. Never tell Megan I said that. Ever.)

“Easy there, mate,” I said, grinning my trademark bad-boy grin and raising my hands. “We’ll find your eyebrows again, don’t stress.”

“Greg.” Megan shot him a warning glare, which he kindly returned. She turned to me. “Guys, this is Chris. I told you he was one of us. Chris, this is Matt, Pip and Greg.”

The geeky guy and girl, who now I looked past the apparel were clearly related, nodded in a nonchalant sort of way. Greg, on the other hand, looked like he might fall off the desk. “What the hell, Megan?” he said. “You invited Chris? Are you insane? The guy’s fifty kinds of dick just on Mondays!”

“Thanks,” I said, shoving my hands into my pockets. “Nice to know my reputation precedes me.”

Megan rolled her eyes. “Seriously, can we put the testosterone away for like five second please? Greg, you should have heard the circles he ran Mr Hang-me in just now in maths. It was awesome.”

I totally didn’t glow at that. Totally.

Greg eyed me suspiciously. “He could’ve memorised it, or something.”

I raised an eyebrow, but Megan came gallantly to my rescue, shaking her head. “Nuh uh, he knew what he was talking about. He’s the real deal, Greg.”

Okay, I confess: I grinned. “Real deal, huh, Greg. She ever called you that?” I bounced on my toes.

Greg made to scramble off the desk, settling for killing me with his scary, scary eyes when Megan laid a restraining hand on his arm. I snickered.

“Oh, go wank yourself,” Greg muttered, and turned away.

I figured that was as good an invitation as I was going to get, so I strode into the room and pulled up a chair, flipping it around so I could lean on the back. “So,” I said. “What’s the deal?”

“Nothing,” Greg muttered again, but this time I had the distinct impression the angst wasn’t directed at me.

Sure enough, Megan shot him a filthy look before turning to me. “Officially or unofficially?”

I shrugged. “Whatever. Both.” I wouldn’t have admitted it for fifty bucks, but my heart began to pound. I was about to learn their big secret, and despite the fact that they were geeks to the max and the secret was probably about how they planned to finish extra credit homework before three pm, I was curious. And I hadn’t been curious about anything in a long time.

Megan’s lips twitched. “Officially,” she said carefully, “Greg is right. Nothing. Yet,” she stressed, shooting Greg another Look.

“And unofficially?” My palms itched and I rubbed them against my thighs.

Matt shifted in his chair. “Unofficially, we’re investigating the real-world effects of extreme scientific theory with the aim of utilising these theories to create an environment more conducive to justice, equity, and compassion.”

“We’re saving the world through science,” Pip added, smiling. She actually managed to be kind of pretty when she smiled – it was the contagious kind of smile that had me smiling back before I even realised what she’d said.

I shook my head. “Hang on, wait. What?” Again with the Confused Brethren act. Would I ever feel in control of a situation again?

“Justice, equity and compassion, dimwit,” Greg said helpfully. “Surely even your old band of miscreant friends have heard of the concepts?”

“Piss off, numbskull,” I countered, drawing on my superior wit and intelligence. Greg’s like that; he brings out the best in everyone.

Megan made a grumbling, growling sort of noise and tossed her hair. “This is going to be impossible if you two can’t get over yourselves.”

“Hey, you invited him,” Greg said, holding his hands up in defence.

“And it’s not my fault Greg’s insecure about having another male around,” I added, lifting an eyebrow. “Um, no offence,” I said quickly, nodding at Matt, who just shrugged.

“Oh, would you shut up,” Megan said, voice full of exasperation. “Do you want an explanation or not?”

I hesitated for just a second, then swallowed the bickering and nodded. “Yes.”

[To be continued next month!]

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Kitten Psychologist Tries to be Patient Through Email



(Just jumping in now? Read the previous installment, The Kitten Psychologist vs the Kitten's Owners, or start at the beginning with The Kitten Psychologist.)

Dear kitten,

I would absolutely love to speak with you, but your humans, as you say, have decided I can’t ever see you. You’ll have to deal with the tumblr thing on your own.
 

Sincerely,
Your psychologist



Dear psychologist human,
 

There is no reason to be rude with me. As you see perfectly well, we can talk through email. Your payment will be minimal to none as a result, but I still need your help, so you are still my psychologist.
 

My current dilemma has less to do with tumblr and more to do with the conversation you had with my humans. I overheard you, you know. What is this nonsense about cats not being moral? We are most certainly moral. Explain this to me.
 

I also seem to be having difficulties accessing my humans’ bank account. Do you have any solutions to that?
 

Sincerely,
You know who



Dear kitten,

That’s… not really how being a psychologist works. It’s a job. I need to get paid.


And, while I disagree with your owners on principle, your last paragraph sort of proves their point.


Sincerely,
Your psychologist



Dear psychologist human,

Thank you for Skyping with me. Finally. I hope you now understand the unfeasibility of my obtaining employment (not to mention a bank account of my own) in order to pay you. This really isn’t a moral matter so much as a pragmatic one.
 

I am a kitten. And I live in a world where kittens cannot get jobs. I, therefore, cannot get paid. You will have to help me, regardless.
 

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed my humans are more attentive to me of late. Not in the way I like. They have been keeping me from doing as I please in regards to electronics and leaving the house. 

Speaking to them about the matter has changed nothing.
 

How do I convince them that I am perfectly capable and trustworthy enough to be left on my own?
 

Sincerely,
You know who



Dear kitten,

If you’re actually going to take any advice I give, you’re going to pay me. Or work something else out. Otherwise, you’re telling me that you’re not trustworthy and that working for you isn’t working for you. It’s you using me.


Which, while I’m being perfectly honest with you, is what you’ve been doing with your owners.


Sincerely,
Your psychologist


Dammit. Maybe I shouldn’t have worded that so strongly, but I’d sent it before I could stop myself. I’d been emailing my friends, too. They wanted to know how to deal with their kitten, and I’d agreed to give them free sessions in exchange for keeping the money the kitten had paid me from their bank account.

It was one of those things you know is a bad idea, but you’re too worried about what might happen if you don’t that you say yes to it anyways.

Those sessions were… hard. They’re my friends, but I had to be their psychologist instead and, let me tell you, telling your friends to solve their own problems doesn’t ever go over very well. Especially when they’re dead set against it. All they wanted to do was figure out what to do to get the kitten to do what they wanted. All I wanted was to get them out of my office before I yelled at them.
I freak out over my finances too much. If I hadn’t, I never would have been in this situation. Now, if I could just get a time machine and go tell my past self that, that would be great.

Oh. A new email. Great.

Dear psychologist human,
 

And how, exactly, do you propose I “work something else out”?
 

Sincerely,
You know who


I could always turn off my computer and pretend I hadn’t read that. Or that my email had glitched and I’d never received the message.

Except that I’m doing that thing where I’m trying to get out of this darn mess.

Dear kitten,
 

Talk to your owners about it. And don’t let them tell you you’re not able to do anything. The moment you’re feeling helpless or powerless or incapable is the moment you’ve started going in the wrong direction.

Sincerely,
Your psychologist



Dear psychologist human,

I am never helpless, powerless, or incapable. I am a feline. But I will speak to them, since you obviously didn’t know what you meant in the first place.
 

Sincerely,
You know who


I’m never going to get over getting emails from a kitten that’s basically telling me it’s Voldemort. It’s certainly mean enough to be him. I wrote an angry reply which I deleted right afterwards as I sat back in my chair and sighed.

Seven or so more deleted angry replies later, another email arrived in my inbox. Two emails, actually.

Dear psychologist human,
 

You have a devious mind. I like you.
 

Sincerely,
You know who


And then, from my friends:

You’re not going to believe what our kitten just did. Can we have our next session earlier in the week?

I’m not sure what to feel about this.



I’m really not sure what to feel about this.

To my friends:

I’m open on Wednesday between 3pm and 5pm. Does that work for you?

It’s amazing what you can do on autopilot.

From my friends:

Yes, 3pm. This can’t wait.

Uh oh. What did the kitten go and do now?

And how am I going to get out of this with my skin intact?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The League of Absolutely Ordinary Superheroes Part 1


When your IQ is so far off the scale that scientists are lining up to create new tests to measure it and Mensa is knocking on your door, there are only two ways to go in life. You can embrace your nerdly glory and live a life condemned to exist on the fringes, without any real human contact, or you can pretend. Or you can be an arrogant jerk like Greg, but he’s practically an entire category to himself no matter which way you slice it.

Like any other normal teenager, I just wanted to belong. Okay, at first it was frustrating that the rest of the class would take hours to understand what I’d figured out in three seconds, but that was easily dealt with: I just ignored school altogether. My real education happened in my spare time anyway; school was just somewhere I had to be, with people who I desperately wanted to like me.

They didn’t, of course. I mean, to begin with they accepted me and all, but there was always this vague sense of unease, like they knew I was hiding something, but couldn’t figure out what. And then bloody Mr Hangley had to perform what was tantamount to abuse on that poor, unsuspecting tangent secant theorem, and I couldn’t help myself: before I knew what I was doing, I’d opened my big gob and corrected him, and once the words started they just kept pouring out, a torrent I’d been hiding inside for so many years that when they finally spilled over, they flooded everyone within a five mile radius.

Actually, I can only vouch for the fact that they drowned my classmates, and very nearly Mr Hangley, who stood staring at me like I’d grown horns and started tap-dancing naked on the desk. Which, thinking back, may have been the smarter thing to do.

After that, there was no going back.

Megan cornered me right after class, fists on hips and eyes flashing. “What was that, then?” she demanded.

I did my best to shrink, to blend back into the crowd – but the crowd was no longer there. Instead, guys I’d just half an hour ago called mates were edging away from me, pointing and whispering, and I stood out like I’d always known I’d eventually have to, raw and naked and alone. So, eloquently, I shrugged and tried to pretend like I had no idea what she was talking about. Like lecturing your maths teacher on the subtleties of advanced trig was normal.

“I’m serious,” she said, tossing her hair. Man, you do not want to get Megan riled up. I swear, she’s part terrier or something, because once she’s latched onto something she does not let go, and she is scary. “What was up with that?”

“With what?” I snapped, shoving midgety year sevens aside so I could stomp away. Sure, that’s right, I thought. It’s not enough that my cover’s blown and I’m back to being Chris-fit again, bloody brunette Barbie has to come and rub it in, just to make sure I got the point.

“Your dazzling display of brilliance,” Megan said archly, tagging along at my shoulder.

I ground my teeth, staring fixedly at the far corner of the building, around which ladies never durst trod.

“Come off it, Chris,” she said, doing that hair-toss thing again. How do girls do that while they’re walking? How do they not lose their balance? I’ve seen even the most uncoordinated of girls manage the hair-toss feat without a problem. It must be another one of those mysterious things they get taught at Girl School.

“That was no act,” Megan continued. “You can’t possibly have made that up on the spot. I mean, anyone who knows anything at all about geometry could see Mr Hang-me was wrong from a mile away, but the cross products? Even I hadn’t thought about how that connected.”

Somewhere in all of that, I’d trailed to a halt, eyes wide and mouth gaping, frozen halfway through a step. Quickly, I wiped my mouth on the back of my sleeve and quit the zombie impersonation. “What the hell?” I said. “You understood that?”

Megan shot me a scathing look that left me cowering. “Just because you’ve been too busy trying to be a dick to notice the rest of us.” She did that ‘tsh’ thing that girls do when they’re exasperated and stalked away, leaving me once again doing my zombie act at her back.

“Wait, what?” I said, hurrying to catch up. “The rest of us? The rest of us what?”

Megan pressed her lips together and glanced sideways at me. “You’re not the only smart kid in the school, you know.”

“I…” I trailed off. I’d been going to say that I knew that, of course – only clearly I didn’t. All this time I’d thought I was the only freakazoid hiding out in this teenage shark pit, alone and misunderstood, when really… I shook my head like a dog twitching away a fly. “How many?” I asked as I tagged along at Megan’s shoulder. I had no idea where she was going, but she hadn’t told me to get lost yet, and that was something.

Megan murmured something too soft to catch, then stopped, hands fisted at her sides, staring at me.

I caught myself shrinking away from her again and forced myself to straighten. Geez, I was twice her height, and even if she was smart enough to understand what I’d said back in maths, I was still arrogant enough to know I was smarter than her. I didn’t need to shrink from her.

“Four,” she said, laser-sights blazing. “Five, if we’ll have you.”

“If you’ll… have me?” Once more, I found myself wrong-footed and gaping. I should have realised then what that meant, but no guy jumps to the conclusion that a tidgey girl half his size could whip him arse over nostrils with his own intelligence and then run three times around the metaphorical block before he’d even got his feet under him again. I’m not saying it can’t happen – bloody hell, Megan is a monster – I’m just saying it’s not expected, all right? I’m not sexist. Megan’d eat me alive if I was.

“Yes, if we’ll have you. And just because you’re smart, don’t think we will. You’ve been enough of a dickhead the last three years that Greg’ll blow his nut when he sees you tagging along.” She spun around and marched off again.

“Wait, what?” I said, beginning to feel that that might be a fairly standard comeback to any conversation Megan was in charge of. “Tagging along to what?

“You’ll see,” she said primly, turning a corner and shouldering her way through a glass door.

For a millisecond, I froze, mouth open like some gobbing goldfish, staring at the door. She had not just gone through that door without opening it. No way. I blinked. No, of course she hadn’t; there she was, holding the door open for me, impatience clearer than daylight. Of course she hadn’t gone through the door. Dimwit.

“Come on,” she said, continuing her march down the corridor. Before I could open my mouth and make an idiot of myself yet again – which would be what, like ten times in as many minutes? Dude, seriously: what was going on with the world? – she stopped outside a classroom door and took a deep breath. Her commando-queen façade slipped for a moment and she shot me a nervous glance. “Ready?”

I shrugged. “As I’ll ever be.”

[To be continued next month...]

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Glass

Isabelle took off her glasses, squinting in an attempt to see the hand she held outstretched in front of her face. All that her eyes showed was a great blur. Frustrated, she returned the glasses to their accustomed place and stared at her fingers thoughtfully.

‘How could you think they are artist’s hands?’ her mother’s voice echoed through her mind. ‘It is quite obvious that they are a pianist’s hands. Anyone could see that.’

‘It’s true,’ Isabelle’s father had agreed, adjusting his glasses. ‘No-one could mistake it.’

“Well, I obviously could.” Isabelle grumbled to herself. “Why can’t they see what I see?” Sighing, she picked up her pencil, began to draw.

In the town of Un Vue, named so because the view from the nearby hill, while not as great as the town of La Vue, was still somewhat spectacular, each and every person wore glasses. Upon the week of their first spoken sentence, every child would receive brand-new glasses and, upon the day of their death, those glasses would be buried with them. As if to mediocritize everything more, all of the glasses were the same, from colour to shape, not a single thing differed among them. Because of this universal similarity, not a single person noticed the presence of their glasses in any particular way, just as no-one would really notice that another person had two eyes. It was the way everyone was, from generation to generation.

Now, Isabelle was slightly unique among the rest of the town. She did not begin to speak at all for the longest time and so, unlike anyone else, could remember slightly what it was like not to wear glasses. Therefore, this particular instance of her taking them off in order to see differently could occur within the realm of possibility. She never did so in public, however, where the absence of glasses would be noticed like the loss of a limb. No-one would understand because no-one could remember that there had been another way of seeing things. But Isabelle could no longer see in that way. The blur in front of her face was evidence of that.

Then why? She thought. Why do my parents and I see so differently? All I want to be is an artist, but no matter how well I can draw, no matter what kind of art I create, Mama always frowns upon it. She thinks it’s stupid, and she doesn’t care if I know. The only thing she has wanted from me is that I become a pianist, just like her. Never mind the fact that I can barely tell one note from another, or the concept that black dots on a page somehow mean music is completely beyond my understanding. Isabelle drew angrily, having to stop and erase each time she accidentally made a line that was too dark or too thick. The slowly developing image on her page was that of a girl sitting in a dark room, her head flowering, glowing with ideas and impressions.

You can’t make me, Mama, she told herself fiercely. You can’t make me.
   
They are pianist’s hands,’ repeated her mother, followed again by her father’s affirmation.

No! Isabelle threw her pencil onto her desk with such vigour that it nearly broke. Unable to focus, she stood, running her fingers through her hair, repositioning her glasses. Why can’t they see what I see?
Outside Isabelle’s window, a gentle sunset delicately painted the sky a pink that was slowly deepening to purple, then to black. It mocked her with its very tranquility. She made a face at it and turned away. Everyone else in her family had gone to sleep earlier, and Isabelle wondered if she should do the same. Staying awake was accomplishing nothing here, only frustration.

Why can’t they see what I see? For some irrational reason, Isabelle felt she would be unable to go to sleep unless she was able to answer that question. “Go away,” she told it, hoping that, by doing so, she could ignore the problem. She tried to turn her mind to sleep, to her drawing, to something that would not take a hold of her mind in the way this question was. Instead, Isabelle found those seven small words growing in her mind, disturbing her attempted self-distraction. It seemed incomprehensible that her she and her mother could look at the very same thing, yet see it in two completely different ways. They both had eyes that worked, they both wore the same kind of glasses, the world should look no different to them. Even if they switched glasses –

A sudden wild thought entered Isabelle’s mind. Without a word, without even another thought, she left her room, stepping quickly and quietly down the hall to her parent’s bedroom. Easing the door open, she slipped in, her eyes scanning the room for her mother’s glasses. She spotted them quickly and nimbly picked them up, lifting them in such a careful manner as to not make the slightest sound.

This is preposterous! Her mind cried indignantly. Looking through her glasses won’t change things in the least! You idiot, they’re exactly the same!

Nevertheless, Isabelle returned to her room with the glasses, almost proud at they way she had been able to move so silently.

“Okay,” she breathed, “Now.” With a swift motion, Isabelle removed her glasses and put her mother’s on. Immediately, she noticed a change in the room. All the things her mother had scorned now seemed scornful. Isabelle’s most cherished drawings were now colourless, insipid, worthless. She looked down at her hands, now hanging nearly lifelessly at the shock of what her eyes were showing her. Pianist’s hands, to be sure. Her very fingers seemed able to conjure beauty out of even the most out of tune upright.

Slowly, Isabelle replaced her mother’s glasses with her own and sat down at her desk. Picking up her pencil, she continued to draw until the picture was completed, returned her mother’s glasses, changed, and went to bed. The drawing still showed the girl sitting, the same thoughts growing out of her mind.

But she wore no glasses.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fool Me Once


Larelle sank into her armchair by the fire, cosy and pleasantly drowsy. The kids had been a riot today, and she was smashed. Thank heavens it was Friday.
A knock sounded at her apartment door and, staring into the flickering blue-orange flames and glowing embers, Larelle called out, Come in!
The door creaked open. Larelle waited for Jasons footsteps, but they didnt come.
Youre early, she said, pivoting around to the door, thoughts full of languid disappointment that she hadnt had time to change.
Her heart skipped then double-pounded. The figure smiling toothily on the near side of the threshold was not Jason. Partially because Jason wasnt six foot three with long, dark hair and muscles like something out of a firemens calendar—but mainly because Jason couldnt leer at her with jet black eyes and pointed, gleaming fangs.
Actually, the vampire-apparent said, I believe Im exactly on time. I do like to eat dessert before my mains. Bad habit, I know.
Better for the digestive system, Larelle said reflexively; her Year 3 students had been studying the digestive system recently. Not that shed told them the bit about dessert first, of course. She wanted permanency, not a civil lawsuit from parents. And cant you only enter houses when invited?
True, said the vampire, and he licked his fangs. And it was so sweet of you to invite me in. He rubbed his hands gleefully. Shall we begin?
Larelles chest constricted as the fatal words played through her mind: Come in.
Idiot. Shed even had a peephole installed in the door right after that werewolf had attacked old Mrs Franklin, but did she ever bother to use it? No. Too much effort.
Well, you know what else is a lot of effort? she asked herself scathingly as she stood and paced towards the vampire. Stalking predators. Next time, just use the bloody peephole. She grinned toothily, revealing the flecks of iron in her teeth—fillings shed had done specially.
The vamps cocksure smile slipped a little before he covered it with a grin even wider than hers—too wide, she thought. Hes covering.
Oh yes, Larelle said, raising the iron-and-hardwood-and-silver poker from the fireplace—the ultimate multipurpose weapon against the supernatural. Do lets begin.
The vampire lunged, but Larelle had done more than the basic training required by the government. She went down on one knee. He grabbed over her head. She stabbed upwards with the poker. He died a fast, gurgling death.
She hoped it was painful.
Someone knocked at the door. Probably this was now Jason, but Larelle pulled the poker from the vampires chest with a wet schlurp, wiped it off on his shirt, and headed to the peephole. She wasnt making that mistake again.