A Whateley Academy Tale

Lightning Crashes

( Heyoka 1 )

By Motley
“I can feel it coming back again,
like a roll of thunder chasing the wind.
Forces pulling from the center of the earth again.
I can feel it.”—Lightning Crashes, Throwing Copper

SW Wyoming, Thursday, Sept. 28th

I'd been uneasy all day, touchy, really. Mom mentioned something about the time of the month. I just went with it, though I knew that had nothing to do with it. My periods stopped coming about as quickly as they arrived. Just as well, I had no use for the danged things. I didn't tell Mom. I figured she had enough to worry about. I seemed healthy enough, and without health insurance I knew we couldn't afford to get me checked out, let alone have anything done about it.

I growled softly to myself as she drove to Denny's. She thought that taking me out for dinner would improve my mood. I knew it was a lost cause.

I watched as miles of grass passed outside the window. Pink clouds drifted around the mountaintops. A sign whized past the window, Battle Creek seven miles. Yes, that's right, we had to drive to the next town to have a 'nice dinner.'

I twirled a strand of hair around my finger as I stared outside. My hair was black, almost back to shoulder length, not quite long enough to braid properly. I shaved my head awhile back when Dad died. He got hit by lightning. Died instantly. They say that lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place. Not true. It wasn't the first time he'd been struck. I didn't have to shave my hair. Tradition only recommended that I cut it. Tradition also didn't demand that I go to Johnny's garage and let him use his homemade machine to tattoo an image of the offending bolt on my shaved scalp. Mom freaked. She said I was inviting trouble. Well, maybe I was. The hair grew back, and Mom calmed down. Nothing strange happened to me, or at least nothing she knew about.

A wave of energy rolled over me. My lip curled as I growled. Mom turned to look at me just as a truck pulled out in front of us, trying to pass the on coming semi without looking.

"Mom! Watch it!" I screamed.

I saw her eyes go wide as she jerked on the wheel. Our car angled towards the ditch. The pickup crashed solidly into her side. I remember the glass shattering.


I found myself flying high over the ground. Movement caught my eye. A small creature, monkeylike with scales, ran away from the road. A sickly greenish fog surrounded it like a visible stench. I chased after it. Whatever it was, it did not belong here, or anywhere. I screamed at it. A bolt of lightning shot from my mouth. The scaled monkey disappeared in a smoking pile of ash, which promptly blew away. Satisfied, I flew back to the road. A deer was lying next to a mangled car. I landed next to it. Blood flowed from its mouth and nose. It turned one eye towards me. Its mouth moved as though it wanted to speak. It faded away as I watched. ‘No!’ I screamed, but it was gone.

A whimpering sound drew my attention several feet away. There was a dog there. Its fur was matted and stained with blood.

‘Help me!’ It seemed to say as it watched me approach. The same greenish fog I saw before covered it. It made my feathers ruffle. I saw more of the monkeys crawling through the dog’s hair, tiny ones, like ticks. The dog whined again. It shifted like it wanted to scratch the things off, but didn’t have the strength.

I lifted my wings, feeling electricity crackle between my feathers. I started to sing a song I had learned from my grandmother. Carefully, I drug my feathers across the dog’s skin. The smell of scorched fur filled my nose, but even better were the little popping noises as the electricity hit the tiny creatures. The poor dog had almost no fur left by the time I was done, but the monkey creatures and the green stinking fog were gone.

The dog closed its eyes and went to sleep. Suddenly, I felt drowsy too. I found a quiet spot and tucked my head under one wing.

Saturday, Sept. 30th

I woke up in a hospital bed. My mouth felt like cotton. The rest of me felt worse, or would have if it weren’t for the fuzzy, drug induced blanket that tried to cover my agony. I tried taking inventory. My head consisted of a large dull ache punctuated by a sharp itchy feeling approximately where my tattoo was supposed to be. I tried to touch it, but my right hand didn't move. I noticed the cast. I tried my left hand and found the bandages over my scalp. My hair stuck out underneath, along with a few feathers. Feathers?! I squawked. I tugged at one of them. It was definitely attached to my scalp. I scratched at it, finding the place where it grew from my head. I tried to worry, really I did, but the pain killers had other ideas. I ended up falling asleep instead. 

Sunday, Oct. 1st

I woke up some time later. It was dark outside the window. A giant bouquet sat on my nightstand. Flowers? Who would send me flowers? I thought of my Mom. A hollowness suddenly filled my chest. She didn't make it. I didn't know how I knew, but I was certain of it. An image of a doe popped into my mind, a doe lying next to a mangled car, our car. She was dead, not coming back. I tried to think of something else.

The image of the expensive bouquet blurred in front of me as tears filled my eyes. Expensive. Who the hell sent it? I didn't know anyone who could afford to spend that much money on something that would be dead in a few days. Maybe someone else had extra and sent it over to my empty room, my empty, private room with tasteful décor. This was not the same room I was in before. I remembered something else from before too.

Slowly, I reached up with my unbound left hand and touched my hair. At first I couldn’t find any feathers, thank Grandfather! But then I felt a small one hidden under the bandage! It came loose in my hand. I pulled it out to look at it. It was small and pointed, reddish brown, like you would find on a hawk’s head, only I found it on my own head!

My panic increased when a nurse stuck her head in the door. I felt like I'd been caught doing something bad, irrational, but true.

"Oh, relax Dear. We know how to take care of mutants here. It’s good to see that you're awake. I've got a letter around here somewhere that you need to read. It should help," she said with a smile.

Mutant? My eyes grew wide. She’d said I was a mutant, like those people on the news! My heart thudded in my chest. 

"Ah, here it is," she said, pulling several pieces of paper out of the drawer underneath the huge bouquet.

"Who sent the flowers?" I asked, trying to ignore a greater mystery by focusing on a smaller one.

"It's all in the letter. Don't worry. I'll bring you some dinner in a bit. Do you feel like eating?" she asked.

I blinked at her. How could I think about eating at a time like this? Just then, my stomach growled. Apparently it had its own ideas.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Would you like chicken or lasagna?”

I thought for a minute about how badly the hospital kitchen could screw up my options. "Chicken," I decided.

The nurse handed me the letter and walked out, humming a little tune under her breath. I started to read.

Dear Jamie,

I wish to offer my deepest condolences for your loss. I’ve visited you several times since the accident, though I’m sure you don’t remember me. The man who hit your car was an employee of mine. For that, I am truly sorry. He is in custody at another facility where he will be treated for his medical and mental infirmities. He won’t bother you again. I regret to say that I was aware of his problems, but I did not see the extent of them until the accident.

I feel partly responsible for what has happened to you. That is why I felt compelled to place you under the care of my personal medical staff. The loss of your mother must come as a terrible shock. Perhaps even more shocking to you will be the discoveries my doctors have made about you since your arrival.

The pages that follow are a copy of your current medical records. I have asked that the pictures be removed for the time being. You can ask to see them in a few days when you have recovered a bit more, though I don’t recommend it.

The basic summary is, you’re a mutant. Don’t worry; you’re not the only one to hold that distinction. I’m a mutant myself. It’s not a bad thing to be once you get used to it. Firstly, it appears that you have some minor shape shifting abilities. When you first arrived at the hospital you appeared to be a badly injured, but fairly normal young lady. You made odd sounds in your sleep, little chirps, like a like a baby bird. Oh, I felt so badly for you then. Then the doctors started to notice subtle changes that progressed over the next few hours. I realized then that you were something special and had you transferred at my own expense.

Your eyes changed color and what appeared to be feathers started to grow out of your hair. At the same time your healing accelerated. Bones are still broken, but at the rate you’re going, the casts should come off in a couple of days. The bruising is completely gone. The doctors say that the tissue damage could take another week to sort itself out. They tell me that you are starting to return to normal. Your eyes, on the other hand, are likely to remain golden no matter what other changes occur.

But perhaps more shocking than your new eye color, which is common in mutants, are other changes to your anatomy. To put it gently, let me remind you that Jamie can be either a girl’s name, or a boy’s. You can choose to be either one, though the doctors tell me that neither set of equipment is currently functional. Yes, my dear, you have something extra between your legs now.

You may have other changes and abilities, but the doctors could not run complete tests until you woke up. I hope that you choose to stay until we learn exactly what kind of changes you are going through. It can be dangerous to leave a young mutant alone without that all-important knowledge. You could end up hurting yourself, or others. 

I regret that I could not be there to tell you these things in person, but business has called me out of the country. I feel that I still owe you so much, and as a sister mutant (I’ll call you ‘sister’ for now.) I want to look out for you. I hope you will accept my help.

Sincerely,

Gabriella Guzman

 

I reread the letter. My hand rose up to my ear again, confirming what I’d read. I didn’t have the courage to look under the sheet just yet. Looking at the other papers in the stack seemed almost as bad as looking under the sheet so I reached over and set them all down on the edge of the bed. I didn’t want to think about any of it. I didn’t want to admit it might be true. So instead I sat back and closed my eyes.

I had to admit that I felt better than the last time I woke. Most of the pain was gone, unless I happened to move. I almost never prayed, and wasn’t sure who I would pray to if I did, but as I reached out, looking for any kind of response, I felt something, no several somethings. I felt eyes upon me, quiet comforting eyes, eyes that were concerned. They didn’t speak, yet I knew what they would say if they did. ‘Rest easy, we are with you.’

Just then, the nurse walked in carrying my dinner. I didn’t think I could eat, but the smell was just too good. Not just chicken, chicken cordon bleu, the real stuff, not a TV dinner. Gabriella must have had more than doctors on her payroll. I finished it in record time.

“I guess you liked it.” The nurse said smiling.

“Yeah,” I grinned, “makes me wonder what the lasagna is like.”

“I was hoping you’d say that. I’ll order some up for you.”

I blushed, not wanting to seem like a pig, but completely unable to refuse. Somewhere in the back of my head I thought I heard a purr of contentment. The purr droned on, somehow helping me to forget my troubles.

With some of the edge off, I was able to take the time to enjoy the lasagna when it came. Once again, it tasted more like something that came from the private home of a world-renowned chef rather than from a hospital cafeteria. I’d never had anything like it before in my somewhat short and very boring life. Surely I’d died and gone to heaven, except I didn’t think that heaven would be this strange.

In my head I had the impression of several of my unseen visitors washing their fur or preening their feathers. Several others had already fallen asleep. I didn’t worry much about my internal zoo. So, I had an active imagination. There were worse things that could happen. Worse things had already happened. I decided to keep it to myself.

The purring drone lulled me into a half-sleep. I allowed the nurse to guide me into the bathroom where I used my ‘new equipment’ for the first time. I sat down. No need to aim. Wow, I thought, I can write my name in the snow! ‘Berdache,’ the word jumped into my head, then the softer and more appropriate ‘two-spirit.’ Those thoughts wandered around my head, met with peals of insane laughter. The nurse led me back to my bed and gently tucked me in.

“Good morning. I think I’ll stay awake all day,” I said as my eyes closed. The nurse shook her head and let me sleep.

Monday, Oct. 2nd

The next morning I took inventory again. I reached up and took the bandage off my head. It didn’t hurt anymore so I decided that it must be healed. Parts of my head had been shaved. I felt the stubble growing back in. I reached around and found a line of stitches. Those would have to come out, unless they were the absorbing kind. Must have had a bad hit to the head, but as the letter said, I was healing fast.

I flexed the fingers inside the cast on my right arm. A dull ache told me that some of my fingers might have been broken, but were also healing. I felt the tendons pull as I moved them around. That was part of the tissue damage.

I noticed the tight wrap around my rib cage. I took in a few deep breaths. No sign of injury there but the ribs were probably broken. The bandages pressed my chest flat, not that I’d ever had much to show there.

I steeled my courage and lifted the sheet a little more. There ‘it’ was, standing at half-mast and reminding me that I hadn’t been to the bathroom yet this morning. I’d never seen one before. I didn’t have any brothers. So I had no idea how mine compared. Probably not well, I thought, remembering that this one was not fully functional. That was just as well. I wouldn’t know what to do with it if it was, but enough small talk, nature was calling.

I eased myself out of bed. Various parts of my body protested the movement, but I made it to the bathroom anyway.

I sat down on the seat. ‘It’ did not. A wave of embarrassed misery washed over me, much like the first time I noticed blood and realized I’d have to wear diapers inside my underwear for a week. Feeling sorry for myself must have helped because it finally relaxed enough for me to stuff it under the rim and take care of my business. I sat there for a long time, tears running down my cheeks. It just wasn’t fair! Mom was dead, and I was stuck with a ding dong! I laughed once or twice and then went right back to crying.

The nurse found me in there some time later. She said a few words meant to make me feel better. I don’t remember exactly what she said. She ran some water into a small plastic tub and started to sponge the tears off my face. She cleaned me up as well as she could and promised me a real shower once the cast came off.

Then she coaxed me in front of the mirror. I wasn’t sure if the face in there belonged to me or not. It seemed familiar, definitely a mixed breed Indian, but the nose was straighter, the lips a little fuller, the cheeks thinner, eyelashes longer. My cheeks didn’t seem round enough for a girl, but not quite angular enough for a guy. Basically attractive but nothing that directly advertised me as boy or girl. The eyes really got my attention though. They were golden, just as in the letter, but the letter didn’t mention anything about slit pupils. 

“Cat’s eyes?” I asked, starting to feel freaked again.

“Those are new,” the nurse replied as if her patients changed their eyes on a regular basis. Maybe they did. “What were you doing since last night?”

I thought about the purring noise that lulled me to sleep. I’d already decided not to talk about it, so I just shrugged.

“I hope you figure out how you’re doing this. Uncontrolled shape shifting can become a real problem.”

I thought about laughing again. I must be going mad, I thought. I examined the shaved spot on my head. A pink scar zigged its way across my head, and seemed to compliment my tattoo. The hair that grew along it shone white, not black like the rest of my hair. I sighed and chalked it up to another bit of weirdness. There were only so many things I could worry about at one time.

“What about the stitches?” I asked.

“We’re taking them out this afternoon,” she said.

I swore.

She just patted my shoulder as if she heard words like that every day. She probably did.

“Are you ready for some breakfast?” she asked, changing the subject. My stomach growled affirmative.

After breakfast the nurse introduced me to a short balding man who wore glasses. He wore a lab coat that looked a bit wrinkled and a little too big over his pin striped dress shirt, brown Tigger necktie, and brown pants. He gave me a smile that instantly made me feel like I could trust him.

“This is Dr. Ryan Jacobs. He’d like to talk to you for a while if that’s OK?” she said.

“Sure,” I said. Oh, great, a shrink. I should have expected this. The nurse smiled at me and left, closing the door behind her.

“Hi Jamie. As Ms. North said, my name is Dr. Jacobs, but you can call me Ryan if you like.”

“Hello,” I said. Ms. North must have been the nurse’s name. She wasn’t the same one I saw yesterday so I didn’t worry about it.

“As you may have guessed, I am a psychiatrist. Ms. Guzman hired me because she thought you might need some help adjusting after the accident and after the changes you’re going through. I also specialize in working with mutants. So believe me when I tell you that while your circumstances are rather special, you are not alone,” he explained. It sounded like the same tone of voice you’d use when trying to make friends with a strange dog, but even knowing this, I once again got the impression that I could trust him.

“So, I’m not only a mutant, I’m a crazy mutant?”

“Crazy is not an official diagnosis, but I’d bet that you’re in shock about what has happened to you. Any normal person would be, so, that means you need me here because you’re normal. How’s that sound?”

I grinned. Obviously he’d had a lot of practice dealing with skeptics like me. “Ok, I’ll play,” I said. It wasn’t as if I had anything better to do, and Ryan seemed like a nice enough guy. Someone needed to teach him how to dress, but nice all the same.

He smiled. “Since this is our first session, I think we should just spend some time getting to know each other.”

“O.K.” I said. I wondered if this was all part of the script.

“So, tell me a little bit about yourself.”

Script. I felt my rebellious streak kick in. “You first,” I said.

“O.K. I was born in Missouri where I lived with my parents and two sisters, until I turned thirteen. Then I moved to New Hampshire to attend boarding school. After I graduated there I went to Boston University and got my degree in psychiatry.” Despite this sketchy overview I was satisfied that he was willing to play my game. I decided to talk to him. After all, he was supposed to be there for me, right? Not the other way around.

“I was born near Rock Springs Wyoming. My Dad worked in the trona mine there. I don’t remember seeing him much except on the weekends. Then about six months ago he was struck by lightning. My grandmother said he was being punished for leaving the rez. She never did like my mother. She always blamed her for Dad leaving, never mind that the mine paid him well and he always sent Grandmother part of his check. I remember seeing her house. Without that check she could have frozen during the winter. Dad’s the one who put the insulation in her roof and her walls.” I stopped. I was not going to cry.

“After that, Mom and I moved out of our rental house and bought a mobile home outside Battle Creek with the insurance money. Mom worked at the ski lodge there, a maid in the morning, a waitress at night. I took over the cooking and cleaning at home, even made sure the bills got paid on time. Then there was the accident, and here I am,” I finished.

Dr. Jacobs smiled. “I think that’s good for today. Tomorrow we’ll talk about your new body and probably run a few tests if you’re feeling up to it.”

I smiled back. That didn’t seem so hard.

Once he left, that was the nurses’ cue to descend upon me again. One stuck a probe in my ear as another one put the blood pressure cuff over my arm. Once that was done they drew blood. Gotta love hospitals. I smiled politely at them and let them do their jobs. Then they asked me if I needed more pain medication. Yes! Ok, so maybe the nurses weren’t all that bad. I asked about lunch. Healing is hungry work.

After a generous helping of fettuccini alfredo, the nurses informed me it was time to take the stitches out. The doctor applied a topical anesthetic that didn’t seem to do much. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry as he plucked the stitches out of my scalp.

When that was over I got some good news. The cast could come off too. Apparently my rate of healing jumped again over night. They took X-rays to be sure. The doc looked them over, scratching his head and smiling. He gave me a flexible brace to take the place of the cast. He said that the brace was more of a reminder to me not to do anything stupid with that arm.

He also showed me the x-rays from four days ago. The crack in my skull came from slamming sideways into the passenger window. The break in my arm came from the armrest. In another shot, my wrist was shattered and bones in my hand were broken where my right hand swung forward and hit the dash. Collarbone, sternum, and lower left ribs took a heavy hit from the seat belt. He told me I got off easy. Without that seat belt I wouldn’t have made it at all. He said there was tissue damage in my neck, right shoulder and right hand that didn’t show up in the x-ray, but I didn’t want to see those pictures. After looking at the x-rays I agreed with him.

He said that normally they would send someone home once they showed this level of healing, but they weren’t done with me yet. For one, they wanted me around for observation. Also there were my mutant issues. He said they needed to run more tests, but I could expect to be turned loose in 48 hours.

“Turned loose?” I asked, “Where will I go?”

“Don’t worry. Your guardian, Ms. Guzman, has made arrangements for you,” he explained. 

I pondered that one as the nurses led me back to my room. No one even asked me if I wanted some lady I never met to take care of me, but I figured that a state sponsored foster home wouldn’t be any better, and would probably be worse. Heck, that’s even if I got into a foster home. Who would want a boy/girl mutant living in their home? I imagined some dreary institutional orphanage that bore a striking resemblance to a minimum-security prison. I decided to wait and see what would happen. I didn’t see much choice. Still, I wasn’t in much of a hurry to leave the hospital anymore. How much was Ms. Guzman’s sense of responsibility, or of mutant sisterhood worth? Was there a catch? And was it something I could deal with?

Tuesday, Oct. 3rd

The next day I felt much better, almost good enough to face whatever it was they had planned for me. I went to the bathroom with only a few minor aches and pains. Yep, still almost a boy. I ran a hot shower and cleaned off every bit of my anatomy, both new and old. It was odd washing off the boy parts. No, let me rephrase that, it felt good, but nothing much came of it. Pardon the pun. The girl parts were still accounted for, but didn’t seem as sensitive as they used to be. The doctors seemed to be correct; I wasn’t going to be doing much with either set of equipment. I noticed that I was flat chested too. I didn’t really mind that. Breasts were so overrated. I stood there for a long time, just soaking in the steam. I finally started to feel human again. Well, you know what I mean. It’s amazing what a hot shower can do for your outlook on life.

I toweled off and got out. I made an attempt at combing my hair with the hospital’s tiny excuse for a comb until I noticed the gift basket sitting on the shelf. Inside was everything I could want to stock a bathroom. Including the expensive salon shampoo. Oh well, I can use that one tomorrow before they kick me out. I found razors, make up, perfume, cologne, ah, three different combs and two styles of brushes. I chose one of the combs to detangle my wet hair. There seemed to be more of it this morning. The hair on the right side was still a lot shorter than the left, but yesterday’s stubble was gone. I toweled the steam off the mirror. I found a pair of barber scissors and carefully evened things out until I was left with a short bob. It was time to cut it again anyway. The mirror rippled in my vision for a moment. Mom was really gone, not coming back. I took a few deep breaths and tried to pull it together. There would be time for crying later, when I wasn’t surrounded by doctors and nurses. After a minute I turned back to the mirror.

Of course, cutting my hair removed all traces of my former girlhood. Or did it? I looked at the face in the mirror and couldn’t decide. I looked again and discovered that I was pretty, long hair or not. I realized that I was now one of those annoyingly beautiful people. Annoying because no one could quite decide if they wanted to date me or be me. Unless they were bi, then it wouldn’t matter. Either way, I’m sure they wouldn’t forget me with those full lips, tanned skin, strange golden eyes, and that silvery white skunk streak in my glossy black hair. Face it, I’d never looked this good as a plain old girl.

I found a small bottle of mousse and worked it through my wet hair. Then I pulled a compact blow dryer out of the basket and got to work drying my hair while leaning forward. When it was mostly dry I flipped my head back upright and used the brush to shape my new style until it dried completely. I looked in the mirror again, pleased with the result. I looked through the gift basket again. Make up? Forget it, I don’t really need it anyway. For fun I sniffed at the different bottles of perfume, and marveled at how much the whole basket must have cost. I silently thanked Ms. Guzman, whoever she was. I finally found a cologne that I liked, kind of soft and musky. I spritzed a little of it on with a grin.

I found more surprises in my closet. Men’s cotton briefs, black Levis, a green silk button down shirt, socks, and a pair of moccasins. I smiled and got dressed. Putting on real clothes was almost as much of a luxury as the hot shower. No more paper nightie for me! I was admiring myself in the mirror again as the nurse walked in. The look she gave me made me think she wanted me back in the paper nightie, and back in the bed, and not in a good way.

“Good to see that you’re feeling better,” she said without much enthusiasm. She set my breakfast down on the bedside tray. She pointed to the chair next to the bathroom. “Your arm brace?”

“Yes ma’am,” I said. I picked up the brace and put it back on. I took off the moccasins and got back in bed.

After breakfast Dr. Jacobs came in and handed me a stack of papers.

“These are the tests I was telling you about yesterday. I’m afraid you’re going to be pretty busy all day today, but if all goes well, you get to go home tomorrow. Well, to your new home anyway. Don’t worry, I’ve seen it. I think you’ll like it.”

I wasn’t sure if that announcement made me feel better or worse.

“I’d like you to do the IQ test first, while you’re still fresh. The other tests include a personality profile and a body image test. Please don’t be embarrassed about that last one. I just need to find out how you’re dealing with your changes, so please answer honestly. There are no wrong answers for those second two tests, just whatever feels right to you at the moment.

“Then you get a break for lunch before the other doctors get their chance at you. They will try to get some more information about your mutations. Please give them your full cooperation. Occasionally the effects of a mutation are unstable and can actually be dangerous if they aren’t diagnosed properly. Once we figure out what’s actually happening to you we can start teaching you how to cope with your new changes.”

I nodded. It made sense, and hadn’t the nurse seemed concerned about my shape shifting? I admit I was also curious.

“So, do you have any questions?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said. I felt like I didn’t really know enough about the whole mutant thing to ask.

“Ok, let’s get started then. You will have one hour to complete the IQ test. There is no time limit for the other two, other than making sure that you’re on time for your other appointments.” He explained.

Three hours later I put the stack aside with a sigh of relief. My brain hurt. Dr. Jacobs collected his tests and told me that we’d talk about the results at our first appointment on Thursday.

When he left, the nurses came back with their torture cuff, thermometer, and yes, they wanted more blood. At least I got lunch when they were through. They brought me two servings, though this time I only ate one of them. I just wasn’t as hungry anymore. I did save room for the ice cream though. I decided I needed a treat after everything they did, and were about to, put me through. I should have been suspicious about the extra large coke they brought me, but I wasn’t. I drank the whole thing.

After lunch they insisted that I put the paper gown back on. I gave them plenty of dirty looks, but I knew I wasn’t going to win. I mentioned that I needed to go to the bathroom again, but they said I couldn’t go just yet. What? Instead they shuffled me to the fourth floor for more tests.

First came the weights. They wanted to know how much I could lift. I just followed along with the machines and barbells. I thought I was doing pretty well, but they determined that my strength was about right for someone of my size and fitness level. So, no super strength.

Next came the treadmill. Dr. Jacobs had said that the hospital was not equipped for a full Xavier test, whatever that was, so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I ran at a good pace for about five miles. I was impressed, but apparently the doctor was not. He said I was athletic, but not exceptional. I was happy with athletic. I don’t remember being able to run for five miles at a time before. The most exercise I got previously came from walking to and from the bus stop.

They wanted to test my hand eye coordination next, but I insisted that I had to stop for a bathroom break. That large coke was really getting to me. The doctor sighed and made a phone call. He said something about the problems with scheduling too many tests in one afternoon and about conflicting interests. He had the nurse take me down the hall, but not to the restroom.

They brought me in and had me sit on the table. They gave me a paper sheet and lifted up my gown. From there the assistant put gel all over my stomach and brought out a machine. The doctor came in and moved a wand all over my stomach, squishing it through the cold gel, and of course poking at my full bladder. I whimpered. He was watching something on a grainy black and white screen. He used the computer to draw lines on the image and took pictures. Whatever it was seemed interesting to him, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it. Finally, they let me go to the restroom, but I had to take a cup with me. Nurses! I had about had enough of it. I was very thankful that I would be leaving in the morning.

When I got back I found out that they were not done with me yet. The doctor had me sit up on the table and put my feet in the stirrups. I tried my best to ignore him as he poked around down there, and wished that he understood the idea that anything coming in contact with my private anatomy really should be warmed up first. I was glad when he decided he was done and let me get out of there.

From there the nurse took me back to the physical testing room where we got back to the hand-eye coordination tests. I discovered that I could juggle. I’d never been able to do that before, but three balls was my limit. Once again the doctor marked me down as only slightly above average. That man seemed impossible to please. He made a note in my chart. Exemplar 1. He seemed disappointed.

Then the nurse hurried me off to my next appointment, which I was now late for. They tested my vision and my hearing. Both of these were above average, but once again, nothing to get excited about. They put a check mark next to the Exemplar 1 rating that the other doctor had given me.

The next test was a bit stranger. This time the doctor, a woman this time, pulled flash cards out of a deck and had me guess which symbol she was looking at. She called them Zener cards. At first I had a hard time with these, but after awhile I started to recognize a pattern that corresponded to some of the cards. The star, the river, the square, and the circle seemed to evoke different emotional responses in her. The differences were very subtle, but I went from only matching at chance levels to being right about a third of the time. She asked me what the difference was and I told her. She seemed to think this was important and wrote it down in my file. She put those cards away and picked up a different set. These cards had colored backgrounds and showed simple faces as they expressed different emotions. This time the doctor sat behind a screen and did her best to match the emotion shown on the card. I got almost all of these right.

Then she had us switch places. I was supposed to shuffle the cards and then go through them one by one, concentrating on each one. It was exhausting shifting from one emotion to the next like that, especially when I didn’t have any cause for these feelings. In the end, she guessed half of them, which was way above what chance would predict. She considered it to be a success. She wrote Empath(rec)3, Empath(pro)2(3?). She said she wasn’t sure if I qualified as a two or a three on the projective scale, and that I would need more testing to make sure. I had no idea what that meant.

After that she put a glass bulb on the table. Inside the bulb was something that looked kind of like a four-sided weather vane. The squares on one side of the vane were white, the others were black. She told me to try to get it to spin around. She explained that normally this device was used in science class to demonstrate solar energy at work, but since the vane inside the glass was so easy to spin she used it to test telekinetic ability.

I spent at least ten minutes staring at the thing and trying to make it spin. No luck. She even offered several bits of advice on how to do it. First I was supposed to imagine pushing on one side of it. Nothing. Then I was supposed to imagine being the vane and turning myself around. Nope. Finally she told me to try it the way it was originally intended and try to heat up the black square. No change. My brain started to hurt. Finally she gave up on it. She put X’s next to the places marked TK and PK.

My next trick was to hold on to a metal probe that was hooked up to a monitor. She explained that this was used for biofeedback to teach people how to stimulate and relax various muscles. The probe read my electrical impulses which were then displayed on the screen. I was to try and move the sensor line on the screen. After about five minutes of trying the line finally did move, but she said that normal humans could learn to do that much. It wasn’t enough. Another X went next to EK. Gee, I hated to disappoint everyone.

The last test of the day was the strangest one yet. A woman met me in a private room, one that looked more like a boardroom than a lab. I noticed that she had a copy of the body image test I took earlier that morning. We sat at the long table as she talked to me. She didn’t look like a doctor at all; in fact, she told me she wasn’t one. She wanted to know about my shapeshifting. I didn’t have much to tell her because I didn’t know how I was doing it. She told me to think about a hawk, since that was apparently the first thing I had shifted towards when I came to the hospital. I did. Nothing happened.

She told me to close my eyes and visualize flying through the air. She told me to feel the wind under my wings, to watch the ground move far below me, and to listen to the calls of other birds around me. I did all that. It was kind of fun. I opened my eyes and almost screamed when I saw a huge eagle sitting in the chair in front of me. The eagle was looking right at me. I felt that it was the same woman. Somebody should have warned me! The eagle seemed to blur in my vision, and soon the woman was sitting there just like she was before. I used my empathic sense to feel what she was doing, and while it was interesting, I didn’t think I could copy her. In fact, the idea terrified me. I hadn’t changed at all during the exercise.

She asked me if I felt comfortable with the shape I currently held. It seemed like an odd way to phrase it, but I thought about it awhile. Frankly, I did like my body’s current shape. It felt much more comfortable than the shape I was in before. She asked me about the cat’s eyes. I fudged a little and told her that I dreamed about a cat that sat in my lap and made me feel better. I wasn’t about to tell anyone that I’d been seeing or hearing things that weren’t there. She wanted to know if I felt comfortable with having my eyes change like that. I thought about that one too. I thought the cat’s eyes were kind of fun and interesting to look through, but in the end, they weren’t really me. She nodded at that and added a few more notes to my file. She said that while I didn’t appear to have any control over my shape changes, it was clear that I would always revert back to my dominant form. That was a relief.

She placed another label in my file, Shifter 1. She looked at the Exemplar 1 mark and frowned. It seemed that she disagreed with their assessment. She told me that it was rare for someone to be both a Shifter and an Exemplar at the same time. She thought I was a Shifter whose dominant form made me look like an Exemplar. Obviously, she was biased towards the Shifter side of things, but I didn’t mention it to her. I didn’t feel like a Shifter, but then, what was a Shifter supposed to feel like?

After that, they finally let me go back to my room. The first thing I did was put my real clothes back on. I think my arm brace got left behind in the physical therapy lab, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. Obviously I didn’t need it anymore.

I insisted on ordering a real pizza. After a bit of discussion with the nurse I got my wish. I turned on the TV with the remote gizmo attached to my bed. At last, I managed to sit back and relax for the first time since the accident, despite the nurse’s constant efforts to find out if my blood pressure had changed since the last twenty times she checked it. I was more than ready to get out of this place.

Wednesday, Oct. 4th

The next day the nurses informed me that I was finally getting out of there. Dr. Jacobs came up to my room and introduced me to Edward Haskins, my chauffeur. Edward came over and shook the hand I held out to him.

“Pleased to be working with you,” he said with a smile that showed he meant it.

He swiftly got to work packing up my clothes and the supplies from the bathroom. I felt a little sad to realize that these things were all that I owned, and none of it was familiar.

Edward drove me to my new home, an apartment in a fancy gated community. There was even a lake with a jogging path, tennis courts, and a small gym. He brought me to one of the first floor apartments and unlocked the door before handing me the key and escorting me inside. He took a cell phone and a wallet out of his jacket and gave me those too. The wallet held ten twenties, an assortment of change, a new picture ID, a student ID that proved that I was home schooling, and a debit card. Ed told me that I had two thousand in my account to start me off. He told me not to spend it all at once because it was all I was going to get for the next two weeks. My jaw dropped. He said that my PIN number was simply the last four digits in my ID number backwards, until I changed it, which he recommended. I also found Ed’s business card and one for Dr. Jacobs too. He explained that rent and utilities were paid and I was to use my own allowance to buy groceries, clothing, school supplies, and entertainment.

He pointed to the laptop already sitting on the coffee table and told me that I was enrolled in an online school. He explained that my aptitude tests would begin on Monday and I would be assigned classes based on those results. He also told me that if I needed help with my homework to give him a call. If he couldn’t help me, they would hire a tutor.

It seemed like a lot for a thirteen year old to handle, but truthfully I’d been doing just that when Mom was working two jobs. Most days she came home to the dinner I cooked before dragging herself to bed. I used to get myself ready for school in time to catch the bus. I did my homework as well as I could without help. I did laundry and dishes. I changed the light bulbs and did minor repairs. I even wrote the checks to pay the bills. I used to set them out on the dinner table for her to sign. I was both husband and wife back home. She worked, and worked, and worked, but besides that, I knew that she missed Dad. I was not your average thirteen year old. I think these people were counting on that.

Ed followed me around as I looked the place over. He checked a few things that I wouldn’t have thought of. The refrigerator, my closet and the bathroom were stocked well enough to get me through the first few days. I was satisfied, but he seemed to go through every inch of the place. I wondered why my chauffeur was taking such an interest in my apartment. Finally, he seemed satisfied and stopped by the front door.

“Will there be anything else?” he asked.

“Um, no, I guess I just want to get settled. You know I have that appointment tomorrow?” I asked uncomfortably. I was a bit nervous about telling a grown man what to do. 

“Perhaps you would like to go shopping after your appointment?” he suggested.

“Um, sure, if you want.” I really didn’t have the hang of this hired help concept.

“You have my number should you wish to go out,” he said. He leaned in and added with a smile, “Really, that’s what I’m here for. If you want to get out and see the mall, go to a movie, out to eat, or just a walk in the park, call me.” He saw the hesitant look on my face and frowned.

He opened his jacket and revealed his gun and holster. “You should know that I was hired for more than one reason. Not everyone gets along with mutants. So, the deal is simple. I’ll take you anywhere you want, any time you want, within reason, and you won’t leave the apartment grounds without me. Got it?”

My eyes grew wide at the sight of the gun. I nodded.

“Ms. Guzman will kill me if anything happens to you, professionally at least. The Security inside the complex has been instructed to keep an eye on you too. Don’t hesitate to call them if anything seems suspicious. They’re on your phone, speed dial one. I’m number two, and Dr. Jacobs is number three. I’d advise you to use the regular numbers when it’s not an emergency. I know that Dr. Jacobs will be giving you homework, and so will I. Your first assignment is simply to memorize those three numbers just in case you get caught outside your apartment and away from your phone. I will quiz you tomorrow.”

With that, he let himself out. I felt more secure now knowing that someone was looking out for me. Sure, he was getting paid, but he seemed nice enough. I locked the door behind him. Once I did that, I heard him walk away. He was waiting for me to do that. He wanted to know if I would without being told. He waved as he passed my window. I passed his first test.

I went back in the kitchen and made lunch. It was simple comfort food, a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup. After all the fancy dishes at the hospital I was craving the kind of stuff I used to make. I sighed. That life seemed like it was a very long time ago. I rinsed off my dishes and loaded them in the washer. I didn’t used to have a dishwasher.

I sat down on the couch and turned on the laptop. I never had a computer before either, though I got to see them once a week in the computer lab at school. I looked over all the shortcuts on the screen, not sure which one to push. Then I found one that said Professor Comp v3.2, prominently displayed in the center of the screen. It had a picture of an owl dressed up in a cap and gown. Ms. Guzman thought of everything didn’t she?

I clicked on the owl and started learning my way around. I learned how to save files, rename files, copy, move, and create folders. I got through this part rather quickly because I’d done those things in class. The next lesson walked me through getting on the net and setting up an email account. I never had an email address before. The next was a lesson in internet security. It told me about how to choose a password, oops, better go back and change it, how to set my firewall, how to run the virus and ad ware scanner, and what kinds of things to watch out for while on the net. By this time my brain was getting full. I turned off the computer and lounged in front of the TV.

Thursday, Oct 5th

The next day Ed showed up at my door at one twenty to take me to my two o’clock appointment with Dr. Jacobs. He asked me about the phone numbers and I recited all three to him. I’d only reviewed them a little bit that morning which was enough to implant all three into my memory. Maybe there was something to this thing about getting smarter. My memory wasn’t exactly photographic, but I found that I had no trouble remembering what I studied.

When I got to the office, the secretary waved me in.

“Go on in Sweetie. He’s expecting you,” she said with a smile. I must remind her of her kid sister or something.

Dr. Jacobs’s office didn’t look like a normal office. The desk was pushed up against the back wall. Obviously he didn’t believe in hiding behind his desk the way most professionals do. His comfortable looking chair was turned away from the desk and towards me. He wasn’t even holding a clipboard. That was good. The idea of having some shrink scribble notes all through the session made me rather uncomfortable. You never know what they’re writing in those things. He waved me over to a mismatched set of furniture. I could have the couch, or a chair, or the pillows on the floor. I took the couch, but I didn’t lie down.

I noticed that there were a lot of plants in the room, and a fish tank. I examined the art on the walls, a bunch of trees and flowers done in blurry pastel shades. The entire scene was carefully designed to put me at ease, and somehow, even knowing this, it helped. I picked up the squishy ball that was lying on the couch and starting playing with it.

“The last time we met I said that we’d use today to talk about your test results. I’m sure you’re curious about how they came out,” he began.

I let out the breath I’d been holding and nodded.

“As you may or may not know, mutants are classified according to their abilities and their level of control of these abilities. A level 1 has limitations to their powers either in degree or in their ability to control what they are doing.” He paused for a moment to make sure I was following him.

“Ok,” I said.

“Let’s start with Empathy. That’s the one you seem to have the best control over, so it’s probably the one you’re most familiar with. Dr. Rice scored you as a level 3 receptive and level 2 or possibly 3 projective. As a receptive empath you are able to sense the emotions of the people around you. She said that you have excellent control over this even to the point of nearly fooling her on the telepath test. By the way, you are not a telepath, which means that while you can sense emotions, you can’t read minds.”

I nodded again. It sounded about right so far.

“There are a few things you should know about empathy. This gift is not without its downside. Most empaths have difficulty dealing with crowds because they pick up on a wide array of emotional interference. When you sense these emotions, they feel like your own, am I right?”

I nodded again.

“So you will need to learn how to tell the difference between your own feelings and those of the people around you. As a level three, I believe that your control is good enough for you to learn not only how to distinguish where the feeling originates, but also how to block it out.”

I sat up straighter. This was starting to sound important.

“I have counseled a number of empaths over the years. It’s fairly common for them to have issues about their sense of identity. They have a tendency to mimic the people they spend time with, whether they mean to do this or not. So listen carefully when I tell you to choose your friends wisely.”

I squished the ball in my hands and stared at my shoes. I didn’t have any friends. Dr. Jacobs seemed to snap me out of it with his next comment.

“But, that is something you will have to deal with later. Once you’ve learned more about how to deal with your changes you will start to lead a more normal life.” He said that with such certainty that I felt relieved. I started to lean back on the couch.

“Now, as a projective empath. You are able to influence the feelings of others. This will also require training, both in how to do it, and when not to do it. We’ll go into that later.” He stopped and asked me if I wanted something to drink.

“Sure,” I said.

“I’ve got Lemonade, Coke, Diet Coke, Root Beer and Sprite.”

“Root beer sounds good.”

He got up and found a can of root beer in the minifridge next to his desk. I hadn’t noticed it there before. He handed me the root beer and got a diet coke for himself. Somehow he didn’t seem as threatening with that can in his hand.

He took a sip of his coke and continued telling me about the tests.

“Next we come to the Exemplar/Shifter debate. You see, that combination of powers is pretty rare, and the exceptions to that rule are very good at both. So the experts couldn’t agree on exactly what was going on with this one.

“An Exemplar is someone who is super human. They’re stronger, faster, smarter, and heal very fast if they get hurt at all. The tests put you as a level one Exemplar. You heal quickly. You’re good looking. You have a reasonably high IQ, and you’re athletic without having to join a gym. You’re a level one because you may be above the norm, but except for the healing, not above what a normal human can obtain through training and luck of the draw. The dead giveaway here is that the body you have now is not the same one you started with. Otherwise we might have missed it completely.

“Exemplars have what is called a Body Image Template, or BIT for short. The BIT is the blueprint that your body now follows. It does its best to conform to this blueprint to the point of accelerating your healing. In higher-level exemplars, that means that they don’t get hurt at all. They become ‘bullet proof.’”

“Too bad I didn’t get that,” I said.

He rubbed his balding head and said, “I know what you mean.”

“But then there’s the Shifter side of things. Carla wrote in her report that she disputes the Exemplar rating and places you squarely into the Shifter camp. A Shifter is someone who is able to consciously or subconsciously change his or her physical form. She says that the body you’re in now is your dominant shape, but that you are able to change. She says it’s just a matter of time until you discover the triggers for your changes. She mentioned something about a dream. This looks as though your changes are purely subconscious.” He paused for a while. He seemed to be looking through me rather than at me. It was a strange feeling. He shook his head.

“You don’t seem like a Shifter to me,” he said as if he was thinking out loud, “more like an Exemplar whose template changes from time to time. That would explain the slow rate of change. I wonder what could be causing it?”

I squirmed under his gaze and he seemed to snap out of it.

“I think there’s more to you than meets the eye, which is why the first thing I’m going to have you do is keep a journal that tracks your new changes. This one will help us figure out exactly what your abilities and limitations are, as well as keep an eye on your health. Don’t write anything personal in this one. This will be used for research purposes. I want you to record your diet, what you eat and when, your sleeping patterns, any new shape changes and what effect they have on you, and anything else that may be tied to your mutations.”

I made a face, more homework. Dr. Jacobs just ignored it. I took a swig of my root beer and put my feet up on the couch.

“Now, let’s talk about your physical changes. You are now what is called a bilateral hermaphrodite. You have both male and female reproductive organs, but neither one of these sets are functional. According to the sonogram and other examinations it appears that the only thing keeping you from developing fully is the right hormonal mix. Your organs are complete and despite a few small differences, they resemble those of a boy or girl younger than you are right now, one that has not undergone puberty. That means that you can try to become fully male or fully female. If that is what you want to do we can start you on hormone therapy to see if it will work on you. If it does work, you can have surgery to fix any cosmetic differences.” He explained.

“Would I have to choose one or the other?” I asked.

“Yes, you would. The hormones required to bring out the traits in one sex tend to suppress the other.”

“Let’s wait on that.” I said. You’d think I’d jump at the chance of being a normal girl again, or a normal anything, but part of me hated the idea of permanently giving up either side. Surgery sounded very permanent.

“No problem. It’s not something that anyone should rush into. I was just giving you your options. I also want you to realize that staying as you are also has its complications. For one, you’ll never have children. For another, people are used to classifying living creatures as male or female. In fact, in other languages this holds for inanimate objects as well.”

“Yes, I know that.” I said. “In Lakota the women speak differently than the men as if it were a separate language. There are the wikte, but they are men who take on women’s roles and talk like women too. So even though two-spirits, people who have both male and female qualities, are not unheard of, I still don’t think they’d know what to do with me if I went back. I can just see my Grandmother insisting that I wear a skirt.”

“This is also one of the reasons we set you up on the home schooling sessions.” He explained, “For regular trips around town it doesn’t matter if you dress like a boy or a girl. People will take you at face value either way, but when you get into a situation where people recognize you and get used to seeing you in a certain way, it will disturb them if you switch sides. I’m sure you already know that high school is not the friendliest place in the world. At best you’d be an outcast, with maybe a few friends who like you the way you are. At worst you’ll be facing constant harassment and abuse.”

I bit my lip. It didn’t seem fair for people to place so much value on the label of “boy” or “girl.” Why did it have to make so much of a difference? Ninety-five percent of our lives, more or less, depending on who you are, are spent doing things that don’t really involve sex. Why was it that important? Women work outside the home. Men take care of children. The barriers that once seemed solid get crossed everyday. It made no sense to me, but there was nothing I could do to change it. Even the English language was against me. There were no pronouns that fit me.

“According to your body image test you seem to be quite comfortable as you are. I just wanted to make sure you understood what some of the effects of your change might be. If you decide to remain as you are, we will have to work out a way for you to get along with as few problems as we can. So one of the goals for our time together will be to find out exactly what being a hermaphrodite means to you. We will have to discover how much social acceptance is worth, what aspects are worth compromising and what aspects are not. People will expect you to be either a boy or a girl, not both. You can put off the question for a while by dressing in a way that is common to both. Most people will assume one side or the other and will treat you as such. Few will come right out and ask. The question here is, do you tell them the truth and risk losing their friendship? Do you try to follow their expectations and run the risk of losing your own identity?

“We don’t have to answer these questions today, but I’d like you to start thinking about them. You should know that it’s rare for someone to feel truly comfortable with his or her body. Sometimes it’s the wrong size, or the wrong color, or the wrong shape, the wrong sex, or sometimes it has some kind of deformity, scarring or weakness. You’re lucky that you like your body the way it is. I don’t want you to lose that when other people start pressuring you to conform to their ideas.”

I could see his point. I also decided that we had a lot of work to do together before I could try to be normal again. The idea of basically becoming a hermit in my own apartment seemed strange at first, but now I realized that it was my chance to get myself figured out before other people tried to do the figuring for me.

“Well, that’s about it for today. Remember to keep up with your mutant journal. I think you may have more Esper abilities than your test results indicate, so I also want you to try a remote viewing exercise sometime before your next appointment.” He turned around and grabbed part of a map off of his desk. Part of the map had a red rectangle drawn around it. I saw a few numbered roads, but nothing that really gave me an idea of where it was. I saw longitude and latitude numbers written in the margin.

“I know you could use those coordinates to find this spot if you looked on the internet, but try to do this without cheating,” he said. He then gave me instructions for entering a light trance state and told me that from there I should try to see this place in my mind. I should write down anything I see and tell him about it at the next session. It sounded pretty crazy to me, but it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. By then our hour was up. He promised to let me do more of the talking next time. Frankly I didn’t mind letting him talk this first time, and everything he said was stuff I needed to know about.

Edward was waiting for me when I was finished with Dr. Jacobs. He opened the back door for me. I slid in to the back of the limo. It wasn’t a stretched limo, more like a luxury Caddie with everything they could fit into a regular sized vehicle. There was a DvD player with stereo sound, a cooler that slid out from under the seat, and places for me to plug in my laptop. Edward said that he didn’t want to be too conspicuous. I was very thankful for that.

“Where would you like to go shopping?” He asked. I forgot that he talked me into a shopping trip yesterday.

I shrugged. “I don’t really know anything about Denver.”

“The mall is usually popular with young ladies…and young men.” He added, slightly embarrassed about the slip. Apparently he thought of me as a girl. I sighed. I wasn’t sure what I was anymore.

“That sounds fine,” I told him. I could tell that this would be an interesting trip.

I huddled inside my leather jacket as we walked briskly into the mall. On the other side of the glass doors the warm air greeted us. There was a lot of orange in the display windows, reminding us cheerfully that Halloween was on its way. A few places still hadn’t gotten rid of their Back to School decorations. I wandered aimlessly for a while. I’d never been to a mall this size before. I couldn’t believe how many stores there were. After passing my twelfth clothing shop I noticed Edward stop in the middle of the walkway.

“You do realize that you have to go inside the stores in order to buy things?” He commented.

My jaw dropped. That was almost rude, but perceptive. I walked over to the bench and sat down. He sat next to me.

“I don’t really know which store to go to,” I said quietly. Ed didn’t say anything. He seemed to be having an awkward man moment.

“I mean, I’m not entirely a girl any more, but I’m not really a guy either.”

“Doesn’t that mean that you can shop anywhere?” He asked.

“Well, yes, but, it feels like I need to make some kind of choice, now, about what I want to look like,” I tried to explain.

He shrugged. He might as well have said straight out that clothes were just clothes. I could tell that I wasn’t going to get any help from his end. I sat there for a while, watching how other people were dressed. I started to see a few kids my age wandering past. School must have let out.

He started to get a little antsy. He didn’t show it on the outside, but I could feel it.

“Why do you have to choose today? Just look around,” he suggested, “If something catches your eye then get it. If you change your mind later, that’s O.K.”

I realized that he was right. I was making too much out of this. I should be having fun. After all, I’d never been shopping with this much of an allowance before. 

I bought several pairs of jeans from the men’s department after discovering the joys of finding clothes that actually matched the size listed on the tag. I remembered the headaches involved in shopping for jeans as a girl. I remembered taking five different pairs that were supposed to be my size back to the dressing room and finding only one pair that actually fit. I bought some simple cotton briefs that had a handy opening in the front and put learning to pee standing up on my to do list. I also found a few button down shirts that I liked. I also picked up a couple pair of sweatpants in case I decided to use the gym.

In the ladies department I found some fuzzy sweaters that were too soft to pass up. Ed reminded me that I should buy some things to cover myself in case I shifted again. So I picked up some sunglasses, hats, scarves, gloves, and anything else Ed thought I should have.

I was about ready to leave when I saw a guy walk past wearing a skirt! No, not a skirt, a kilt made from black denim. He caught me staring at him. So instead of running away, which believe me, I thought of, I asked him where he got it. He directed me to one of those specialty shops that had a wide selection of things in black with flaming skulls on them. Ok, so I’m not into the flaming skull bit, but I admit that I found a few things in there that I liked. Ed waited outside while I looked around in there.

That evening I decided to take a look at my new “school.” I clicked on the shortcut and was directed to enter my name and password, which I had found in another file on the desktop. As instructed, I changed my password immediately. It wasn’t Monday yet, but I decided that it couldn’t hurt to get started on those aptitude tests. I saw that there was a time limit on these and checked the clock. In two hours it would be ten thirty. Not a problem. I could get the first one done tonight.

It said I could use a sheet of scratch paper and a calculator, so I looked around. The drawer inside the coffee table held an assortment of school supplies, including a calculator. This was the kind of preparation I was beginning to expect from my benefactor. She seemed to plan for everything, which was probably why she was so rich. I sat on the floor in front of the table and set up my work area. I could have moved everything into the kitchen, but I liked the floor better.

So began, or rather, re-began, my first year of high school. I hadn’t really gotten used to my new school before the accident, so I didn’t think it really counted. I saw only enough of the place to be unimpressed by it.

At nine-fifty I got to the end of the seemingly endless stream of questions. Forty minutes to spare. At that point I decided that either I knew it or I didn’t. Since it was an aptitude test, and not meant as a grade of any sort, the instructions encouraged me not to guess. I was able to work out some of the algebra myself, but at a certain point the various symbols had no meaning to me whatsoever. I’d never been taught how to use them.

My score popped up at the end, 91% of attempted problems, and 68% of total correct. Looking at how the results were broken down, I was pretty impressed. Little bar graphs showed me how I did in each subject. The program decided to place me into Freshman Accelerated Mathematics, and informed me that my placement might change depending on my progress in the course. Accelerated math? Who would have thought?

I went to the kitchen and got a coke and some munchies. I wasn’t tired yet, so I thought I’d take a crack at the English test next. No one ever told me I was smart before now, no one other than my parents that is. I wanted to know what else this computer had to say about me. By eleven I was on my way to Freshman Analytical English, whatever that was. I guessed it meant that I could not only read about Dick and Jane, I could also give my own opinion of the author’s reasons behind naming a prominent character after another prominent body part. Maybe that was why Spot always felt the need to run. I grinned at myself. It was definitely time to pack it up and go to bed. I could tackle history and science tomorrow.

The rest of the weekend was pretty ordinary. It was nice. I finished my placement tests on Friday and had Edward take me to dinner and a movie to celebrate. He seemed genuinely happy for me when I told him how well I did on the tests. However, he did not forget about adding his own homework to the mix. He gave me a pepper spray key chain and made a point of quizzing me about the building exits and possible places for me to hide if it came to that. He treated it like a game, so it never got too creepy. On Saturday I decided to play it lazy and didn’t even bother to get dressed.

Sunday, Oct. 8th

When the day was half gone I remembered that Dr. Jacobs had given me his own set of homework. I spent Sunday afternoon filling in everything I could remember about the last couple of days in my mutant notebook. That evening I was ready to give his other assignment a try.

I went into the bedroom and dimmed the lights. While lying on the bed and started singing one of the songs my Dad taught me when I was little. I repeated the song until I could feel my focus shift.

I found myself standing on top of a grassy hill. A woman started walking up towards me. The first thing I noticed was her long green hair. As she came closer I admired her smooth coffee skin and deep dark eyes. She stood in front of me, completely nude, yet completely self-assured. She reached forward and held my head in her hands as she gave me a light kiss. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again the woman was gone, but now my hair flowed to my knees, the color of new grass.

I thought about the place Dr. Jacobs wanted me to find. I sank down into the ground. It welcomed me as a part of itself. I traveled for a while like this, simply moving within the earth until I got to a place that seemed right. I rose from the ground. This time both my skin and my hair were lighter, to match the new terrain.

I found a place with sandy soil and sparse straw like grass. A few scraggly bushes stood out over the flat land. This was it? There had to be something else here. Why else would they send me to someplace that was nearly a desert? I opened my senses and felt something drawing me down. So down I went, through the sand and the rocks, and into something wet and sticky. Mud? No, not here. Water? No, too thick. I paid attention to this stuff. I felt the essence of living things inside of it, but it was life that left long ago.

Oil! Yes! That’s what it was. I felt around to see how much there was. Here it was shallow, but if I went a little deeper, it stretched all around me. Deeper than that I discovered water trapped underneath, pushing the oil towards the surface. This was it!

Satisfied, I traveled underground until I got back to my apartment. I rose up in my own courtyard. I took a moment to admire my black skin and pine green hair. I also noticed a figure that I never thought I’d have with large rounded breasts and generously curved hips. Not bad, I thought to myself before shifting my awareness back to my real body.

Monday, Oct. 9th

I woke up starving, but I didn’t want to get up. Right then I wished that Ms. Guzman’s generosity included a personal chef so that I could order my breakfast in bed. My work the night before left me worn out. I thought I could sleep all day, if it weren’t for my empty stomach. Groaning, I threw the covers back and swung my feet to the floor. A couple of new things swung along with me.

Breasts? Wow, even as a girl I didn’t have them that big! I lifted up my nightshirt to take a peek. I guessed I was looking at a pair of C’s. I checked the inside my underwear. My boy parts looked like they were trying to disappear altogether underneath my fluffy dark greenish hair. Oh dear. I checked the hair on my head. It was dark green too, at least when the light hit it just right. It looked like I got a tint job over my natural color, but obviously it was my natural color, now. The white streak appeared to be unchanged. Once the initial shock wore off, I realized that my skin had turned a couple shades darker as well.

I remembered what the shape shifter lady said about returning to my dominant form and vowed not to panic. After all, I’d been a girl before right? Yes, a girl, I thought, not a fully developed woman! I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this would wear off just like the feathers and cat’s eyes. In the mean time, I might as well enjoy it. But first, I had needs.

I went to the bathroom, and then went to the kitchen to build myself a monster omelet. I chopped onions, peppers, mushrooms, ham, and garlic. I whisked five eggs together with milk. I decided I was hungry, so instead of trying to do a real omelet I just threw everything together in the skillet and scrambled. While that was cooking I downed a big glass of orange juice. When it was done I loaded it onto a plate and finished it off right there at the counter.

I was still hungry. I thought about making another one, but it sounded like too much trouble. Instead I poured another glass of orange juice and took the ham out of the refrigerator and ate it cold. Apparently my appetite was back with a vengeance. I looked down at the two large changes my body had made overnight and figured that had something to do with it. I would have to record this in my mutant journal. But first, I had to really find out what I looked like.

Now that I wasn’t in a hurry I took the time to examine myself in the mirror. My face was a bit rounder, definitely making me look female. My hair had grown out some. Instead of the short bob I had yesterday, it was down past my shoulders. I ran my fingers through it. It looked good. Next, the breasts. I felt a little odd wanting to look at them, but they were mine, right?

I took off the shirt. Wow. I hoped up and down a few times and watched them bounce. My old ones weren’t big enough to bounce. They hadn’t been big enough to do anything other than make my mother insist that I get a few training bras. I had wondered what I was supposed to be training them for? I lifted them up in my hands. Yep, those were boobs all right. No mistaking them for anything else. I remembered my Mom’s reaction when I first started growing my original ones. She tried to teach me how to be proud of them and show them off.

I looked in the mirror with a smirk on my face.

“Shoulders front!” I said in my best imitation of a drill instructor. I snapped my shoulders back.

“Present butt!” I stuck my chest out and saluted. The right one jiggled as I did that. I busted out laughing and almost fell into the wall.

“Wouldn’t Dad have hated these,” I said out loud when I had gotten control of myself again. Thinking about Mom brought back that hollow feeling inside. I shoved it aside and went back to the mirror. There was just one more thing I had to try.

I dropped my toothbrush on the floor.

“There!” I said, bringing my hand up to my mouth in fake dismay.

“Stand up and...” I bent down and grabbed the toothbrush.

“slow!” I snapped up into position with my hands daintily poised next to each breast, which took a second or two to stop moving. This brought another chuckle. I never thought I would use that maneuver from Legally Blonde. I tried it a couple more times. Bend, and snap! Bend, and snap! This time I laughed until tears ran down my face, but the tears didn’t stop when I quit laughing. I slid down to the tile floor and cried for about an hour.

After awhile I realized I wasn’t alone. I felt many eyes upon me, just like in the hospital. I looked around and saw a number of indistinct shapes sitting around me. A few of them seemed more solid than the rest. I recognized the shape of a cat and a woman among the smoky shadows. Also sitting in the back, but appearing brighter and more solid than the rest was an enormous bird. I think I saw it wink at me. As I studied these figures sitting in my bathroom I noticed some of them sitting part way inside the cabinets and walls. The bird seemed to sit on the other side of the bathroom mirror. Suddenly I realized that they were not in my bathroom at all, but that I was partially sitting in their world.

I discovered that I could shift my focus back and forth. If I concentrated on the bathroom, the shapes grew dim. If I looked at the shapes, the bathroom didn’t exactly disappear but it did seem less important. Whatever my eyes saw, the tile floor still felt solidly hard beneath me. I closed my eyes. I could feel their love and concern all around me, though none of them came close enough to touch me. I didn’t invite them either. I’d had enough shapeshifting for one day. They seemed to understand this. Still, I didn’t feel quite so alone anymore.

Eventually hunger drove me back to the kitchen. It was just as well. I was getting stiff from sitting on the floor like that. When I opened my eyes this time, everything appeared normal. I thought that was ok. I knew that my friends would be there whenever I needed them. I threw together a stir-fry for lunch, and ate it almost as fast as my breakfast. Then I realized I would have to hurry if I was going to get a shower in before my appointment. Won’t Dr. Jacobs be surprised to see me like this!

I showered quickly. The new body was interesting, but I’d been a girl before. I’d already got most of the weirdness out of my system earlier. I dried off and blow-dried my hair. I liked the way the green highlights shone in the light. When I got to my closet though, I realized I had a problem. I had no bras. I hadn’t needed them before, but I definitely needed one now. It was one thing to jiggle around my own apartment, but I didn’t want other people to watch me do it.

I thought for a bit, trying to think of a way to keep them still. I went back into the bathroom and found the first aid kit. Inside I found an ace bandage. I was in luck. After a few tries, I managed to get it wrapped around my chest well enough that it mimicked a kind of sports bra. It would have to do.

Feeling all proud of myself I put on one of my shirts. Luckily this one had been loose on me before, because it wasn’t now! I then attempted to put on a pair of my jeans. I swore. They were not going to fit over my hips. I traded those in for a pair of sweat pants. Well, I wasn’t going to win any awards for fashion, but I had clothes on. Just then I heard a knock at the door. Ed was waiting.

I opened the door and motioned him inside while I got my shoes and my jacket. I had to give him credit. He was trying very hard not to stare. He’d been warned that I sometimes changed form, and I guess the streak in my hair helped him to recognize me. And because he was trying to act like a gentleman, I decided to politely ignore the vibes he was sending in my direction. I must have looked good even in my sweat pants. I grinned to myself while my back was towards him. I doubted that he’d ever think of me in quite the same way again.

Dr. Jacobs’s eyebrows tried to float right off the top of his head when he saw me. He blinked and quickly regained his composure, a true professional.

“Looks like you’ve been busy,” he said, once the door closed.

“Yeah, I did that homework assignment you gave me,” I said smiling.

“Good, so you have this all written down?” He said, indicating my new body.

Oops. “Um, no I was kind of too distracted to write about it this morning,” I told him sheepishly. “I was talking about that remote viewing thing.”

“Ah,” he said, motioning me over to the couch. He walked over to the mini fridge and offered me a root beer. I nodded. I got settled on the couch and flipped the top of the root beer when he handed it to me. He sat down in his own chair with his diet soda.

“So, tell me about it.”

I told him about doing the relaxation techniques he’d given me before. I told him about turning into the woman with brown skin and green hair. I failed to mention the part about meeting her as a spirit. I described the desert land and then told him about the oil. He smiled.

“Gabriella’s going to love this,” he said out loud. “That was a piece of land down in Texas that she just bought. She wasn’t sure if she should drill on it or sell it again for a profit, and from what you told me, she’ll probably want to buy up the surrounding properties as well. I think you’ve just earned your keep.” He explained.

Now it was my turn to smile, first at my success, and second because I didn’t have to feel guilty for taking Ms. Guzman’s money anymore. I had gone from charity case to wise investment overnight.

He asked what I’d been thinking and I told him.

“I can see how that would be a load off of your shoulders, but let me warn you not to let her get her hooks in too deeply. Let me arrange for you to open your own bank account. I know she gives you a generous allowance. You do realize that you don’t have to spend all of it, don’t you?”

“I’m not sure I could if I tried,” I said.

He laughed. “I’m sure you’d think of a way, given enough time, but my point is, that if you think of this money as hers, you won’t learn how to become responsible for yourself. If that happens, you’ll live your entire life sitting in her back pocket.”

I hadn’t thought of that.

“With your own bank account, look at it this way, any part of your allowance you don’t spend becomes yours. A penny saved is a penny earned, and what if the day comes when she wants you to do something and you have to tell her no? You’ll need that savings to back you up,” he explained.

“But won’t she get mad?” I asked.

He laughed again. “No, in fact I think she’ll appreciate your initiative. If you really want to get on her good side, ask her advice on how to manage it, but don’t do that unless you’re seriously interested. She’ll give you an advanced course in finance all by herself. Wait until you save around twenty thousand, then her advice will do you some good.”

“Twenty thousand?” That number seemed completely unreal to me.

“She gives you two thousand dollars every couple weeks, right?”

“I guess so.”

“You shouldn’t guess. You should know. Since I had a part in making your arrangements I know that’s how much you’re getting. If you save half of your allowance each month you’ll have that twenty thousand within a year. By that time you’ll probably be ready to let Gabriella fill your head with all kinds of investment strategies.”

“Wow,” I said. Me? Rich? It was a lot to think about.

“Just so you know, the allowance she’s giving you is small change to her, but she knows where you come from. She knows it seems like a lot from where you’re sitting. This is her way of testing you. She wants to see what you will do with it. She does this from time to time. Those who pass her tests not only get rich on their own, she also offers them prominent positions in her companies. Those who don’t pass spend their entire lives frittering away the same amount every month while never advancing in their careers. She doesn’t abandon them, but she doesn’t help them either. This is your chance to do it right.”

I took another sip of my root beer. I wasn’t sure what to say to that.

“So, what’s it like being a full grown woman?” Dr. Jacobs asked, changing the subject. I blushed.

“It’s different.” I said. “I suppose this will wear off like the other stuff?”

“Do you want it to?” he asked.

“It’s kind of fun looking like this, but it isn’t really me.”

“So you don’t mind being a woman for a few days?”

“Not really. I’ve got nothing against it, as long as I don’t have to wear heels.” I said with a smile. I remembered the kind of attention I was getting from Ed.

After my session I had Ed take me back to the mall so I could get something that looked a little nicer on this body. I also didn’t want to be caught braless if I met up with the earth spirit again. Since I’d seen her, the cat and the Thunderbird sitting in my bathroom that morning, I thought it was a definite possibility. Well, there were certainly worse things to turn into. At the mall I noticed that Ed wasn’t the only one paying attention. I smiled. I wasn’t used to getting that kind of attention, and was it just my imagination or was Ed feeling overly protective today? I caught him glaring at one of the boys we passed.

I bought my bra from a department store. No nosey sales ladies to deal with. Though the one at the checkout counter looked at me strangely when I handed her the tags and told her I was wearing it. I paid for it, highly unusual, but not stealing. I didn’t want anyone to know about the Ace bandage, and I was not going without.

Once that was taken care of I went shopping for real. My hips required me to shop for jeans in the women’s section. I could have just gotten a larger size in men’s but it wouldn’t have looked very good. For some reason I wanted to spoil this body. So I suffered through trying on a stack of jeans before I found a pair I liked, but once I found that one pair, hip huggers, with little heart patches on one side, I was thrilled. Next came the great shirt hunt.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find one of those cute girly shirts that actually fit someone with real breasts? Oh sure, the tag says large, but then the shirt still fits tightly enough to show everyone your bra lines. Phooey! Finally I went with a low cut purple sweater with long sleeves. Ed seemed relieved that I’d ditched the tiny shirt idea. Well, I had to admit it was too cold outside for those anyway. I also picked up a few broomstick skirts on the way out. It seemed like a good idea to have something on hand that would fit almost anyone, or more precisely, would fit me whatever I turned into.

The discussion about money earlier reminded me that I had other responsibilities as well. That evening I sat down and wrote a five hundred dollar check for my grandmother. I felt guilty about not going to see her, but I really wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t know if I would ever be ready. True, I’d been chosen by the spirits and probably needed to find a shaman to sponsor me, but I just wasn’t ready to live on the rez. It was ok to visit, but I’d never really wanted to live there.

I wrote a letter telling her that I was fine. I told her that I was being cared for by a Mexican-Indian lady who was also very rich. I didn’t mention that I had yet to meet Gabriella in person. I wasn’t sure what to tell her about my mutations, so I didn’t say anything. If she knew about the spirits she would demand that I go back and be taught how to do things the right way. I opened my mind a bit and asked them tentatively if I had to go back. Thunderbird seemed to shrug. They were going to leave that up to me. So I mailed off the check and felt guilty doing so. I wondered if this was how Dad used to feel about it?

A few days later I got my envelope back in the mail. It had been opened and taped back shut. The check was inside. I got another envelope. I wrote another check. I addressed this one to the tribal council asking them to use it to make sure that Grandmother had what she needed. My hand shook as I wrote that note. I was careful not to get tear stains on it.

Monday, Oct. 16

I was very subdued at my next session. After a bit of coaxing Ryan managed to get the story out of me. Grandmother hadn’t wanted my money. She wanted me. It had been the same way with Dad, but how could I go back there and see how she lived while doing nothing about it? There was no way I could win.

This time Ryan wanted me to start keeping a personal journal. This one would remain private and would just be a place where I could work out my feelings on paper. He said that there was something about writing things down that helped. He suggested that I include my dreams in this one too, and then if anything interesting came up we could discuss it in our sessions. I wasn’t sure how it was going to help, but I told him that I would give it a try.

After that, life went back to normal for a few days. I stayed at home mostly and worked on my schoolwork. I actually got ahead of schedule while I was at it. That was a good thing because I had slacked off when I was in woman shape, and when I was thinking about Grandmother. Since I had no idea what was coming next, I thought it was a good idea to get as much of a lead on it as I could.

Thursday, Oct. 19

I realized that my time was starting to be marked by my sessions with Dr. Jacobs. Every Monday and Thursday, there I was, trying to make sense of my life, which had ceased to make any. We talked about my parents this time, not one of my favorite subjects because it was guaranteed to depress me. I told him about how I would go places and see people who reminded me of them. I would sometimes see a car go past that looked like our old one. I also told him about how I refused to look out the windows when Ed drove. I nearly had a heart attack one day when we got cut off in traffic, so decided that it was simply better if I didn’t look.

This time he asked me if I was ready to try using my mutant abilities again. I said I could try. He wondered if I could shift towards reptiles or if I was confined to warm blooded animals. I agreed to try it.

That night in bed, I listened to the drum music. I felt the rhythm inside as if it were my own heartbeat. My breathing became slow and regular. I felt the energy gathering inside and made the shift when I felt that it was strong enough.

I wasn’t sure what to make of things this time. I sat on a rock on the side of a mountain. The sun was shining. I needed to find some kind of reptile spirit. I’d never been really into reptiles, lizards and snakes. I usually just tried to avoid them when possible. I sat there for what seemed like a long time.

Maybe I could ask for something pretty, like a dragon. I wasn’t sure if I could call a dragon spirit. All the spirits I’d met so far were North American. Sure, there were dragons in Europe and Asia, even Quetzalcoatl in Central and South America. Ok, technically Mexico was part of North America, but I didn’t think my range extended that far.

I heard a noise behind me. I turned around and found myself looking inside the gaping maw of a pit viper! It struck at me. I felt its fangs sink into me as it drew me into its mouth. I tried to scream, but there was no air.

I felt the poison work its way through my body as I lay there, cocooned in darkness. It felt like liquid fire as it flowed through my veins, yet I couldn’t move. I panicked. I punched and kicked trying to break free. I tried to scream but there was no sound. My heart beat like a rabbit’s as I struggled. Tears ran down my cheeks. I couldn’t escape the way the poison ate at me. It was no use. My breathing came heavily as I tried to endure it. My fear slowly evaporated. I knew I was going to die, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It was so unfair!

With that thought, anger took the place of fear. I remembered that I wasn’t completely powerless. If I was going to die anyway, the least I could do was take the snake out with me! I was going to burn my way out. As I thought these things I felt myself grow hotter. I held on to my rage. I fed it as much as I could. I remembered all the kids in school who thought I wasn’t white enough, and all the kids on the rez who thought I wasn’t red enough. I thought of my Grandmother and how she never appreciated the things my father did for her. I thought of the Thunderbird who now seemed to think that he owned me. I remembered that he was the one who killed my Dad. I grew so hot I could almost smell the smoke. I knew that I would burn myself alive, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. I tried to scream out my rage, but just like before, there was no sound. I fed the fire for as long as I could, but after awhile even that started to wane. The flames died out. It was dark again.

I had failed once again. I couldn’t even stay mad anymore. I wallowed in my hopeless misery. I cried for all the things I had lost. I cried for the family I once had. I cried for my own stupidity of getting stuck here. How could I think about calling a dragon if I couldn’t even handle a simple snake spirit? Stupid! I cried because I knew I’d never see daylight again. I cried because there wasn’t anyone out there who even cared. After a very long time the tears ended too. I didn’t feel the poison anymore, but that didn’t matter. The snake still had me and wouldn’t let me go. I sat there in the dark, stripped of everything I thought I knew. All that was left, was just me. I listened to the sound of my own breathing. It was all I had. Strange that I could breathe inside the snake. I didn’t think about it much. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Finally, I gave up.

“You might as well kill me now,” I told it. “I’m ready.” I meant it. Death didn’t seem like such a bad thing any more. I wondered if this was how my parents felt before the end.

My perspective shifted slightly. I was lying with my chin against the ground. I felt completely washed out, yet lighter somehow. I opened my eyes and saw the night through the rattler’s vision. I was low to the ground. Every rock and blade of grass stood out right in front of my nose, but I could see more than that. I saw heat, life, somewhere to the West. I stuck out my tongue and tasted a human scent. Something about it drew me closer.

I weaved in and out of the rocks and the plants, closer to the heat source that now towered above me. It turned and saw me.

“Devil! Get thee behind me!” he shouted. It was a man, middle aged and a little round in the midsection. I knew that Rattle Snake didn’t see color, but I did. I took note the man’s dark hair and ice blue eyes. He was genuinely afraid of me.

He tried to fend me off with a piece of wood, no, a cross. Then he started throwing water at me from a small vial that he fumbled out of his coat pocket. The water made me more exposed to the cold night air. I didn’t like being cold. I curled up and rattled my tail to try to warn him off. Instead of taking the hint, he started stomping the ground with his huge, boot covered feet. Terrified, I did the first thing that came to mind. I bit his leg.

He screamed. I raced back to the cover of the bushes nearby and watched. Sweat broke out over his skin. He sunk to his knees and then hit the ground.

“Dear Lord!” I heard him say before he started to fade. In seconds he was gone without a trace.

What had I done? Did I kill him? I felt the presence of Rattle Snake in my mind. She assured me that the man wasn’t dead. But he disappeared like the deer did! No, he just left us, that is all. The snake reminded me of the trial I had just endured and let me know that this is what the other man suffered now. I just stared at the place where he had been lying. I wouldn’t have wished that on anyone. I shoved the Rattler out of my head. 

I woke up from that episode shaken. I’d known from my childhood that the spirits were not always gentle, but I was completely unprepared for what had happened. In the dark I noticed a bright glow coming from my skin. That was part of what the poison had done to me. I wasn’t sure if it was real or part of my other vision.

I saw the giant Thunderbird sitting on the edge of my bed. It chirped once. I remembered that there was some unfinished business between us, but I didn’t have the strength to pursue it right then. I waved it off. I wanted to be alone. It disappeared with a muted growl of thunder. With that I felt the other spirits who had snuck in to check on me turn around and leave as well. If the Thunderbird had to leave, they all had to go. I realized then that he was the one who called the shots. So, why did he let Snake do what she did? I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep, so I got out of bed. I found my bathrobe and put it on.

I went into the kitchen and made chicken soup. I knew I had to eat, but that was the only thing I could stomach at the time. I laid my head down on the kitchen table as I waited for the soup to heat up, but every time I closed my eyes, I could see that man’s face when he hit the ground. I hated that snake, or I would have if it hadn’t already burned all of the hatred out of me. It occurred to me that it had a good reason for what it did. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to forgive it yet.

I looked back over at the stove. The pot of soup glowed brightly in the dark. It couldn’t be hot enough to glow, could it? No, the soup would have evaporated and I could hear it boiling. Then I remembered the rattler’s heat vision. After effects. Scales. I almost laughed. That was what this whole thing had been about, hadn’t it? To see if I could grow scales? I shook my head. Obviously there was a lot more to this business than any of us had realized. Careful what you wish for, I thought.

I turned on the kitchen light. I filled a bowl with the soup. Then I went into the living room and brought my mutant journal back to the table. I spooned the soup into my mouth with one hand while flipping through the pages with the other. I didn’t want to tell anyone what had happened tonight, but I had to write down something.

I wrote about sitting on the mountainside. Then I wrote about what it felt like to look through the eyes of the snake and to slither through the grass on my belly. I mentioned something about feeling sick when I woke up and making chicken soup. There, heavily edited, but more or less true. I made another note about seeing with heat vision. I figured that if I was going to be awake I should track my changes as they happened. I wrote down the time when I started my meditation, two hours ago, and the current time. I figured the scientist types would be happy to know how long it took me to go from semi-normal mutant kid to scaly freak. My skin had already begun to itch.

The chicken soup must have made a good appetizer, because my next trick was to thaw out a steak in the microwave and then cook it in the broiler. I wrote this down too. Dr. Jacobs seemed to think it was normal for shapeshifters to eat a lot when they changed. I tried not to think about what I was going to look like by morning. I scratched at my head. My skin was starting to feel rough. A handful of hair fell out. I decided that shapeshifting was a lot easier when I slept through it. That poor T-bone didn’t have a chance. I had to remind myself to chew it and not try to swallow large sections of it whole.

I spent the rest of the night watching bad late night TV and noting any new changes I found in the mirror at each hour. I finally passed out shortly after dawn.

I woke up later to the sound of someone pounding on the door. I got up and looked through the hole. It was Ed. I’d forgotten about grocery shopping today.

“Hang on Ed,” I said while undoing the locks.

I opened the door. His eyes grew wide when he looked at me. His shock and fear made me step back a pace or two.

“Don’t worry. It’s just me,” I told him.

He got himself under control and came in. I glanced over at the clock. Three in the afternoon. I yawned. Something about that made Ed almost reach for his gun. He caught himself quickly. I looked over at him. If I hadn’t felt his embarrassment I would have thought that I’d imagined it.

“I think I need to take you to the Doc,” he said finally. “Do you have a list? I can pick up the groceries while you see him.”

I sighed. I must have looked really bad. I went into the bedroom to find a change of clothes and noticed something I missed in the dark last night. There were scorch marks on my bed, like someone had left an iron on the sheets too long. Spontaneous human combustion, the phrase wandered through my mind. I wondered how close I had come to torching myself. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to crispy critter. Good to know that my walk on the dark side was relatively short. I wouldn’t still be here otherwise.

So I guess they could add pyrokinetic to the list, not that I planned on doing that again, ever. On second thought, no one needed to know about this either. I stripped the sheets off of my bed. They smelled. A quick check let me know that I smelled too. I ducked back into the living room.

“I don’t suppose you could wait until I get a shower?” I asked.

“Um, sure, go ahead. Take all the time you need,” Ed stammered. Poor guy was really shaken, but trying to be professional all the same.

I did look worse than I thought. Scales ran down the right side of my face and continued in patches under my hair. Naturally the scales that sat over my scar shone pearly white. The rest were a shiny dark grey, like those of a snake fresh from a molt. The pupils in my golden eyes had thinned to narrow slits, slimmer than a cat’s. I noticed what appeared to be small holes on either side of my nose. I waved my hand in front of these and noticed a glowing haze cross my vision. I’d read that rattlers had heat-sensing organs like these. I’d already seen all this last night, but somehow it seemed worse in daylight. I was not dreaming. I opened my mouth and found what made Ed try to reach for his gun. A pair of fangs dropped down from the roof of my fleshy mouth. I closed my mouth carefully. I didn’t want to pierce my own tongue.

I let the shower run hot. Something about the heat helped me to clear the cobwebs out of my head. It was just as good as coffee to get me going. In the shower I noticed that other parts of my body had changed. Snake was definitely a female, but not as obvious about it as the earth spirit had been. I had breasts again, but these were only A’s, hardly worth getting excited over. There appeared to be no fat on my body anywhere, only tight muscle. The scales ran in patches here and there. There was no extra hair on my privates as there had been last time. My legs and armpits were also smooth.

I dried off quickly. My boy jeans fit me just fine, since Snake hadn’t given me any extra curves. I put on a plain red t-shirt and covered that with a hooded sweatshirt that was a couple sizes too large on purpose. I put on my over sized sunglasses. That covered most, but not all of the scales. I didn’t plan on going out in any real public places today. Once again, I wouldn’t be setting any fashion trends.

I saw Ed watching the news as I came out to the living room. He was watching a segment about some guy who got admitted to the hospital for an unknown illness.

“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” he said out loud with a bit of sarcasm.

“Who’s this?” I asked.

“Richard Klein, leader of the Colorado chapter of Humans First. You need to stay as far from those people as you can. They’d only be too happy to arrange for someone like you to have an accident. You know, the kind of thing where you accidentally fall off a cliff while being chased by a pack of wild dogs.”

I shivered. Then I saw the picture. Suddenly I felt like rattling a tail I didn’t have. It was the same guy. Now I knew I that I couldn’t tell anybody what really happened last night. Ed must have picked up on my emotions. 

“Yeah, scary stuff, but that’s why you have me.” He said. I thanked the spirits that Ed couldn’t read minds. Still, I needed to be more careful about projecting.

Dr. Jacobs took me back to the testing wing of the hospital. The doctors there were only too happy to drop their other appointments to see me. Dr. Jacobs said it had something to do with publishing papers. I got poked, prodded, x-rayed and scanned. My normal vision wasn’t as good, but my heat vision got everyone excited. My mutant journal also got scanned, copied, and passed around. Luckily they were all too busy to ask too many questions about what happened.

In the end, Dr. Jacobs came back with a worried expression on his face. He told me that the scan revealed some small organs in the roof of my mouth, poison glands. He also said that their tests indicated that my blood had no natural resistance to the poison. Once again I was lucky. The glands hadn’t finished forming. He made me promise to stay away from using poisonous animals from then on. I had no trouble agreeing to that, but I wondered how much of a choice I had in the matter.


Things calmed down quite a bit after that. For the next two weeks we decided to leave the mutant abilities alone and concentrate more on my mental well being, what there was of it. Actually I wasn’t doing that badly. The Snake must have done something there. While I still missed my parents, I no longer had the feeling that I couldn’t get by on my own.

We talked a lot about gender roles and tried to identify those that seemed to fit me and those that didn’t. I ended up walking firmly down the middle of that one. Every time Ryan thought he had me pegged I went and reversed everything on him. Poor guy. So instead of trying to change my gender we started working on dealing with the one I had.

I told him about the guy I saw in the mall, the one with the kilt. It seems that there was a certain, rare class of individuals who could get away with anything. If I was going to survive, I had to learn how to become part of that class. So I started to experiment with the concept of becoming butch and flame, all in one package. If everyone thought I was joking, they couldn’t take me seriously now could they? Dr. Jacobs told me about a guy named Klinger on an old show called MASH. I rented a few episodes just to watch him. He got along fine because no one took him seriously. I knew that serious people could be dangerous. The idea had an odd sort of appeal, and there seemed to be something oddly familiar about it too.

A few more trips to the mall and my experiment was well under way. I still had some spirit contact, but nothing major. Nothing I couldn’t hide from the public. I mixed preppie with grunge. I wore flaming skulls with pink hearts. I experimented with plaid, stripes, and paisley. If I found a fashion rule I tried to break it, at least once.

The mall became my laboratory. Plenty of people looked, a few laughed, and to my surprise, a few smiled at me. I found plenty of bargains at the thrift shops. Experimentation was getting more expensive than I had intended since I still tried to save half my allowance after sending a five hundred dollar check for my Grandmother each month. The whole thing had one unintended side effect; I was having fun for the first time in over a year. Then I started to notice something even more surprising. The number of people I saw wearing my anti-fashions at the mall seemed to grow. I was a trend setter! Scary.

At home I kept up with my online classes fairly well. I found that I worked best in the evenings. Occasionally I checked on the recommended schedule and found that I was about a month ahead of where I was expected to be. Maybe there was something to this Exemplar business, or maybe I just didn’t have anything better to do.

Thursday, Nov. 2

I got a package in the mail. It was from Gabriella. It had a lot of paperwork in it, most of it written in legalese. Luckily she had included her own translations of what everything meant. My old mobile home and the land it sat on was in my name but was being held in trust until I turned eighteen. Everything in it had been put in storage. Funny that I wasn’t disturbed by that. I didn’t really feel a need to look at my old stuff, and I somehow wasn’t worried that a bunch of strangers had packed it up and put it somewhere. It was as if it was all part of someone else’s life, not mine. It was as if I had died.

That thought seemed strange to me. Yes, a lot had changed. Ok, everything had changed, but to think of myself as dead? I realized that it wasn’t the accident that changed my perspective. It was Snake. I hadn’t thought about it in a few days, but when I sat still and closed my eyes, I still felt new and raw. My old skin was gone. Everything that had touched that skin was history.

I looked through the stack of papers, confirming what Gabriella had written from what I could make out from the lawyer speak. Everything seemed to match up. Then I saw the letter. She seemed very happy about my oil find and was going to give me partial ownership of one of the wells once they got everything set up. The profits made on that would go to go straight into my trust fund. She seemed extremely confident in my abilities despite the fact that the drilling hadn’t even begun yet. She said that she also sent a ten thousand dollar bonus to my personal account. My jaw dropped. I guess I deserved a consulting fee, but I still wasn’t used to having all this money thrown at me. My timetable for reaching twenty grand just got cut in half.

Down at the bottom I noticed the postscript. ‘By the way dear,’ it said, ‘if you happen to have any influence over the weather, you might try sending a little snow out to Alpine Bend. The drought has been terrible there this year.’

I thought about it. It would mean talking to Him. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that or not, but after everything Gabby had done for me I felt the need to try it once I got back from my appointment.

That night, I turned on some soft music, turned off the lights in my room and set to work. I found myself standing next to a campfire in the dark. My zoo ringed around me, just out of sight. Their eyes reflected the flickering light. They would remain just out of sight until I called to one, or until one chose to talk to me. This time a man stepped into the circle. He had long black braids and wore a skirt, but no shirt. He wore a cape covered in hawk feathers. I saw more feathers in his hair, and I had the distinct impression that they grew there. He smirked at me and winked like he’d known me his whole life.

“You wanted me to leave?” he asked. I just stared. He laughed, a loud thundering sound that seemed to ring across the hills.

I thought about asking about my Dad, and then put it off. I wasn’t ready to hear about it yet. So instead we talked about the weather.

“Can we make it snow?” I asked.

Of course not!” he said. He came forward and gave me a hug, wrapping me in his feathered cloak. I felt his power surge through me. In a moment I opened my eyes. He was part of me now!

I flew over Alpine Bend. This was the place. Could I do it? I felt a thrill of anticipation. I opened my beak to scream. The sound nearly deafened me as lightning shot out of my mouth. The mountains lit up. Clouds began to churn. I laughed as lightning flashed all around me. Rain fell from the clouds, and froze before hitting the ground. I circled quietly among the clouds, observing my work. In this form I could see the energy pulsing within them. The pattern held. Snow would fall now that I started the process. I withdrew from the site. I felt the Thunderbird’s influence recede. I thanked him as he withdrew.

Slowly I found myself back in my room. I gave myself time to reorient myself. I listened to the music for a bit, took a few deep breaths and started to wiggle my fingers and toes. I stood up carefully, feeling like I was on a really good caffeine buzz. I wandered into the kitchen and put a pizza in the oven. Dreaming was hungry work. I noticed the subtle green glow around my houseplants. Oops, the ficus needed water. I watered it and watched it slowly brighten up. I smelled something, something good. The pizza! I ran over to the oven, grabbed a mitt and pulled it out just in time. The cheese was getting a little too brown. How did it cook so fast?

I brought the whole thing over to the coffee table along with a 2-liter of Coke. I slumped back and picked up the remote. I found an old comedy and somehow managed to misplace an entire pizza and the whole bottle of coke before it was through. I passed out halfway through the alien movie that came next.

Saturday, Nov. 4th

The phone rang. I opened my eyes to find daylight streaming through the drapes. The phone rang again. I stumbled over to the kitchen counter and answered it.

“Goodbye?” I said.

“Jamie? Oh, I’m sorry if I woke you. It is Saturday, how rude of me for calling this early. I just wanted to congratulate you! You did a wonderful job at Alpine Bend!”

“Guzman Gabriella,” I said, identifying the voice.

“No dear, call me Gabby. I’m just so glad that you’re learning to use your abilities for a good cause. I have to go now. I just wanted to say, Good work!” the line clicked dead.

“Whatever. Hello.” I said, even though I knew she couldn’t hear me anymore. I was feeling a bit slow. Saturday. What happened to Friday?

I wandered into the bathroom and sat down. ‘It’ was definitely bigger. “Bless it! I’m turning into a real girl!” I said out loud. My voice cracked. I coughed, trying to clear my throat.

I shook it off, zipped myself back in and wandered over to the bathroom mirror. Feathers. I expected feathers. I just didn’t expect to see so many of them. My head was nearly covered. Tufts of my black hair stuck out between the reddish brown feathers. The ones that grew over my lightning scar were white. My eyes were different too. The whites were almost gone. Leaving me with a piercing stare that would make a cat blink. I lifted my shirt. There were feathers on my chest, about where a man’s hair would be.

This was too much. At least Snake had been female. I seemed to remember that Thunderbird wasn’t entirely male either. This must have been its idea of a joke.

“Rosebuds! Profane rosebuds! Profane celibate rosebuds! Devil celibate bless it!” I swore. How could it do this to me?

I went into the living room and looked out the window to test my new eyes. A dull green haze surrounded the sleeping tree outside. Another haze, barely noticeable covered the dry grass. The landscape looked surreal, as if someone was shining a bright pinkish purple theatre light over everything outside. Parts of the grass and a splotch at the base of the tree refused to accept this new color. I puzzled over that for a second, then it occurred to me, dog pee. I was seeing in ultraviolet!

The mailman walked past. I could see this same new color painted over his face, and a little bit on his hands. Paint? No, sunscreen! Besides the paint he was also enveloped in his own colorful cocoon. He’d gotten laid the night before and was mostly in a good mood, except that traffic had him running behind schedule. Lines of reddish irritation threaded through his cheerful gold and threatened to take it over. He stuck a catalogue and an envelope into the box on the other side of the courtyard, Victoria’s Secret along with the power bill. I spent a moment in envy of the cover girl’s figure, then remembered that I was male, for today anyway.

I laughed. It seemed easier than crying. Real men didn’t cry anyway, did they? I turned off the TV that had been entertaining itself for more than a day and picked up the phone. I had Dr. Jacob’s number on speed dial.

“Dr. Jacobs’s office, how may I help you?” the secretary answered.

“I really don’t need to see Ryan today,” I explained.

“I see, you want to cancel your appointment?”

“Yes!” I said, “I don’t need an appointment! It’s not an emergency!” Wow, was this lady dense, or what?

“Ok, what’s your name?”

“You don’t know me! Carson Jamie! You don’t see me twice a week!” My voice cracked again.

“Jamie? You don’t sound like Jamie, and please calm down, sir.”

“Just keep Ryan off the phone. I don’t need to speak to him.”

“Who’s that?” I heard a welcome voice say in the background.

“I’m not sure,” the secretary answered, “he says his name is Jamie, but it doesn’t sound like her. Who ever it is they’re very upset about something.”

“Let me handle it,” he said. I let out a sigh of relief. There was a click as the secretary transferred me.

“Hello?” Ryan said.

“Ryan Doctor, blame the devil you didn’t talk to me! It’s not Jamie! I really don’t need to see you today.” I explained again.

The line was quiet for a moment or two. “Who is this?” he asked.

“Carson Jamie,” I said a clearly as I could.

“If you don’t want to see me, then why did you call?”

“Aargh!” I screamed in frustration. “Why do you understand me? I’m not speaking English! I-don’t-need-to-see-you! Nothing strange has happened!” I shouted into the phone, my voice cracking again.

Silence again.

“Ok, let me try something here. Repeat after me, ‘No,’” Ryan said in his lets-be-calm voice.

“Yes. Please Ryan Doctor, I have plenty of time for games.”

“Now, say ‘Yes.’” He said, completely unphased.

I sighed. “No,” I said, my tone of voice made it plain that I wasn’t interested in whatever psychobabble game he was playing.

“Up.”

“Down.”

“Left?”

“Right. Have we started playing yet?” I asked.

“Jamie, it is you! I’ll send Edward out to get you right away.”

“That’s not what I said! Blame the devil! I won’t wait here.” I said, relieved.

“Um, maybe I’d better go out there myself,” he said.

“No thanks, Ryan Doctor. I won’t be here. I’ve got other places to go. Hello,” I said.

“Uh, Goodbye Jamie. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

On the ride back to the clinic Dr. Jacobs explained that I somehow got my language circuits crossed and was now saying the exact opposite of what I meant. After a bit of confusion I told him about seeing auras, becoming obviously male and that my ordinary eyesight had improved several times over. I also dropped a really big hint about missing breakfast.

I munched my way through my fourth breakfast sandwich as I worked on the written test Dr. Jacobs handed me. It was all very simple, straightforward stuff, simple arithmetic, the date, my favorite color, and the current president. Then there were a few essay questions where he wanted me to tell him exactly what I thought was going on. I decided I might as well go ahead and mention the spirits. After all, I was already crazy.

“Interesting,” he said, while looking over my answers. “What is the opposite of white?” he asked.

“White,” I said.

“So, you’re still talking backwards, but you write normally.”

“That’s a headache,” I said.

“You didn’t mention these spirits before,” he said, peering at me over the top of his glasses.

“I didn’t want you to think I was sane,” I explained with a shrug.

“No, you’re not crazy. You’re an Avatar. So, now I know where these physical changes are coming from.”

I shrugged again.

“Have you ever heard the word ‘heyoka?’”

“No, my mother was something like that, but I know a lot about it. My father wanted me to learn about that stuff. She said it was safe.”

Dr. Jacobs blinked a bit. It took him a few second to sort through what I’d said.

“Your father was heyoka?”

“No.” I nodded.

“But your mother didn’t want you to learn about it?”

“No.” I nodded again. “My mother was born by lightning. My father wanted the same thing to happen to me.”

“Well, I don’t know how much of this you know, but a heyoka is someone who is chosen by the Thunderbird. They are said to be very powerful, but are also known to do things in an unconventional way, even, backwards, and it’s not unusual for the heyoka to also be a two-spirit.”

I blinked. It made sense. “So I guess I have to leave the rez and ignore all that tradition stuff now?”

“Only if you want to. Like I said, heyokas don’t do things by the book, so to speak.”

“That’s a headache,” I said, relieved. I scratched at my feathers. One fell out. I blew at it and let it float to the floor. “Now that I forget, He talked forwards too.”

Dr. Jacobs excused himself and closed the door to his office, supposedly so that I wouldn’t hear what he had to say, and yet, he didn’t bother to lower his voice at all. I couldn’t help but notice the lines of red that started creeping over his normally quiet blue. I listened.

“Nesecito hablar con Senora Guzman, por favor. Senor Ryan Jacobs, es de Jamie Carson. Gracias.” There was a moment of silence.

“Ms. Guzman, yes, it’s Ryan. Yes, I heard about Alpine Bend. Jamie is here with me now. That’s one of your resort towns isn’t it? Swamped with ski tourists? Yes, I’m sure it is, now. No, he’s not fine. This latest stunt pushed his changes farther than I’ve ever seen them. No, the poor kid can’t even talk straight. Maybe, we’ll see in a few days, but we don’t know what other neurological side effects this may have! No ma’am. You have to send him some place where they can watch him properly. Yes, I mean Whatley! Well, that will be up to him now won’t it? Why do I call her ‘him?’ Well, because today that’s what he is! Apparently that weather spirit of his is male. No, I can’t let you do that. If you ignore this long enough it could lead to burn out, or some kind of psychotic episode, do you really want that to happen to your newest star? I didn’t think so. Ok, I’ll give them a call. Promise me you won’t pressure him into anything. Ms. Guzman, I can get other jobs, and I happen to know that you hired me because I’m good at what I do, so listen to me on this one! Yes, I’ll fax you my report. O.K. Goodbye.”

I blinked. I’d been had, yet it felt good to have Ryan sticking up for me. I knew that if Ms.Guzman had simply asked me to bring a little snow to her resort to boost profits I might have done it anyway, after all, a drought is a drought. I didn’t know it would mess me up this badly, and maybe it really wasn’t as bad as it looked. Still, nobody knew what was going to happen. It was a dangerous thing to do. I realized that now. Ryan wanted to send me away somewhere, somewhere I could be watched. I imagined some kind of sanitarium. That was where they sent people like me, wasn’t it? I felt like crying again, but I held it in. I tried to take it like a man. Maybe the loony bin wasn’t such a bad idea.

Dr. Ryan laughed when I mentioned my suspicions. He explained that while some people might think of Whatley as a loony bin, it was actually a school for mutants. He brought me over to his desk and entered the address in his computer. The home page showed the front gate of what looked like a prestigious Ivy League school, complete with ivy. A pair of faceless gargoyles guarded either side. Bright college font letters spread across the top. Welcome to Whatley! Pictures around the gate showed the inside of a class room complete with uniformed students, a crystal domed building, a smiling picture of what appeared to be someone’s grandmother with a mouse-over labeled Faculty & Staff, and a rather depressing dormitory building. It all looked like the typical front page of a private school that was entirely too full of itself. I didn’t see any sign of these so-called mutants. Everyone in the pictures looked perfectly normal to me. Ryan clicked on a rather inconspicuous Login button.

He looked slightly embarrassed as he entered his user name, Spotter. I didn’t catch the password.

“You’re not a mutant either?” I blurted out.

“No, um, I mean, yes. Ever wonder how I chose your homework assignments? Let’s just say I had a pretty good guess of what you could and could not do. That’s why Ms. Guzman thought you’d be O.K. with me coaching you, but I’m not perfect. I actually do have a doctorate in psychiatry, so all your sessions with me were legitimate.”

The password opened a chat window where Ryan typed a message.

-Hey guys, it’s Ryan. Let me in.-

-Ryan? Good to hear from you. Come on in. :)-

Apparently this part of the website had to be unlocked manually from the inside. I had no idea how the person on the other end knew from that one sentence that Ryan was who his user name said he was. I chalked it up as more mutant weirdness. The front gate appeared once again with the pictures around it. Except these pictures had a few subtle differences. There was the classroom full of uniformed students, but a few of them had hair colors not found in nature, and-did that one have scales? Was that one sitting in midair? I leaned closer. Yep, these were the mutants Ryan told me about. I smiled. Maybe I wasn’t such a freak after all. Ryan clicked on a button that had been conspicuously absent from the front page, Admissions.

-You found another one? -the chat window asked. Obviously our movements on the site were being monitored.

-Yeah, Gabby wanted to keep this one for herself, but I convinced her otherwise. -

-Heh, score one for the team! –

-This one is a little unstable. I’d like to get him there ASAP.-

-I’ll see what I can do.-

Ryan made sure he had plenty of paper in his printer and started the marathon process of printing out the application forms. I watched apprehensively as page after page of questions stacked on top of each other. I had a sudden sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if I wasn’t accepted? I’d never been that great in school. Not bad, but not great either.

Then I thought about the uniforms on the front page. Which one was I supposed to wear? Boy’s or girl’s? I realized that I had a much bigger problem than just the shape shifting and backwards talk. When I was living alone my sex, or lack of it, didn’t really concern anyone. My feeling of dread grew. I decided then that if I got in, I should wear the boy’s uniform. People generally took less offense at a girl wearing a boy’s uniform than the other way around. Did that make me a boy then? Would I have to use the men’s restroom? What if I grew breasts? I knew that girls were more tolerant of things like that than boys, especially homophobic boys. So maybe I should claim to be a girl instead. The more I thought about it the more nervous I got. No wonder Ryan had been trying to get me to pick a side. Socially, it would be a whole lot easier on me if I did. Either way I looked at it I knew there would be problems. Suddenly, I didn’t think I wanted to go anymore.

Ryan turned around and looked at me. “You’re projecting,” he said, “What’s wrong?”

Instead of speaking I just tugged at my shirt.

“Your clothes?” he asked.

I pointed at the screen.

“Ah, the uniforms. Frankly, I don’t know what to tell you. They’re not required for everyday use, but special occasions are a different story. You’ll have to choose one or the other.”

I looked at him like a puppy caught sitting next to a puddle. A mournful chirp escaped my throat.

“Look, you heard what I told Gabby. I know you were listening. This is really the best place for you until you learn how to control your powers. I won’t pretend that everyone there will be nice to you, but it might not be as bad as you think.”

He handed me the stack and told me to get busy. He faxed each page as I finished it. He told his secretary to make airline reservations. Then he called Edward and told him to pack for me. Obviously he meant business. He said he wanted to get me safely to Whateley before Gabby could change her mind, and before I did anything else that might be dangerous. I couldn’t argue with that logic, though the whole thing seemed rather sudden.

Sunday, Nov. 5th

“…evil serpent sent by the devil himself! I cried out, Oh Lord what have I done! How could you abandon me at this time?…”

I glanced up at the TV. Was that who I thought it was? And was he talking about me? I shrunk down into my jacket. Ryan gave me a suspicious look. Dammit, I was projecting again. I really needed to learn about shielding my emotions before they gave me away. He turned towards the television and watched with me.

“He was a mutant! A troublemaker! A criminal who encouraged others to break the law! The Son of God Himself was like the very people I had come to hate…” Richard Klein spouted from the TV.

“Did you do that?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. I think I had help,” I told him. There was no sense in lying now.

“My son, judge not my children by how they look! Judge them not by their differences! No my son, judge them not! It is not your place!…”

“I don’t know if I should congratulate you or report you,” Dr. Jacobs said, entranced by the change in the former leader of the Colorado Chapter of Humans First.

“I didn’t exactly plan this. I think it was Snake Woman’s idea,” I tried to explain.

“Oh Lord! I knelt down and as a grown man I cried before Him…”

I could see real tears roll down his face. Maybe it was all part of his evangelical performance, but part of me didn’t think so. I couldn’t help but sympathize.

“Right now I would like to begin preboarding for flight 327 bound for Boston. Those who need extra time getting settled and unaccompanied minors may begin boarding at this time.” The PA system announced.

“That’s my ride,” I said. I stood up and grabbed my carry on.

Ryan stood up with me and gave me a hug. “Call me if you need anything, and don’t be surprised if I drop in for a visit,” he said.

I smiled. “Thanks Ryan, for everything.”

Despite being my first time in the air, I managed to fall asleep on the plane. I’d been stuck in an aisle seat so I couldn’t see anything anyway. Funny how I felt safer at thirty thousand feet than I did in the car on the way to the airport.

I dreamed about the land before Columbus ruined everything. The spirits were stronger back then. They followed the bloodlines of those who could speak to them. The light of these holy men and women spread from coast to coast like stars. Then the sickness came. Entire villages fell to illnesses that came from people that they never met. The spirits did what they could to help, but their holy people fell along with the rest. I looked across the water and the bright sparks of the spirit people were failing there too. I saw them tortured, burned and hung as witches. I saw the two people merge was they came in boats across the water. More sparks went out as the Europeans tried to bend the People to their will. Killing the holy ones made the rest easier to control.

I saw the spirits begin to drift aimlessly across the continent. They huddled around the few sparks that remained. I saw them walk within the darkness before settling themselves around my fire. Thunderbird greeted them as they sat down. He understood their need and allowed them to stay. It was rare for one person to be able to talk with so many spirits. Now I understood.