NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.
Coldwater Elementary School, Coldwater, N.M.
Morgan sat in the office, trying not to fall asleep again. Falling asleep in class was what had landed her there in the first place. She sighed, waiting for Mrs. Henley to call her in and give her hell.
It’s not my fault, she thought darkly. Let them spend all day looking over their shoulders for an attack from a creature that could look like anything and all night dreaming they’re in the middle of a war and see how well they stay awake in class. She kicked at the rung of the uncomfortable chair on which she was sitting, one of three wooden seats lined up across from the secretary’s desk.
“Don’t kick,” the secretary snapped. “You’re in enough trouble as it is.”
Morgan rolled her eyes and sat up. I miss Daddy, she thought. If Daddy were here, they’d have just called him, and he’d have known why I was tired and sent me home to take a nap. She pouted quietly. If Daddy were here, she wouldn’t have needed a nap in the first place, because that would mean the shapeshifter hadn’t killed him and nothing was stalking his daughter. Tears welled up in her eyes. She blinked them back fiercely. I will not let this bitch think she made me cry.
Morgan was rarely disrespectful to an adult, but Mrs. Henley had hated her for years, and the feeling was more or less mutual. Morgan couldn’t help the way she was. Mrs. Henley seemed to think her tears were just a ploy to disrupt class. Daddy had gone round and round with her over that. Once, a few weeks after he’d died, the old bat had tried giving her detention for crying too much. Mom had come to school that time and made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she was to be called immediately if her daughter broke into tears in the middle of class, and until she arrived, Morgan was to be given a quiet place to cry by herself.
Deprived of her usual excuse for hassling Morgan, Mrs. Henley had put all the teachers on notice that they were to send Morgan to the office if she did anything to break the rules. No infraction was too insignificant: falling asleep, looking distracted, forgetting an assignment, or speaking too sharply.
“Get in here,” Mrs. Henley ordered, opening her door and calling Morgan in.
Morgan glowered. “Yes, ma’am.” She rose and had just started toward the elementary principal’s office when the main office door opened and Dr. Kavanaugh breezed in.
“Oh, hello, Mrs. Henley. May I borrow Morgan?”
Mrs. Henley glared. “Miss Loucks is in trouble,” she said.
“I see. Morgan, look at me.”
Morgan looked up at her mentor. She didn’t have to fake the exhaustion in her eyes.
“What did you do?” Her expression was stern, but Morgan knew it was just for show. Dr. Kavanaugh understood. She’d been up, too. Morgan had heard her.
“I fell asleep in class.”
“That’s unfortunate. I think we’d better have a talk about your sleeping habits.” Dr. Kavanaugh looked at the elementary principal. “Mrs. Henley, I have to pick something up from Morgan’s mother after school anyway, so why don’t I handle this for you and save you the hassle of calling her? I know you’re busy with that directive Dr. Scherer sent this morning after his meeting with PED.”
Mrs. Henley hesitated, frowning. Dr. Kavanaugh met her gaze and stared at her, unblinking, for several seconds. Morgan watched a single muscle near the corner of Dr. Kavanaugh’s mouth clench and unclench; otherwise, her face remained neutral.
Mrs. Henley held her ground for a few seconds before her shoulders relaxed and she nodded. “That would be very helpful, Dr. Kavanaugh. Thank you.” She shot Morgan a dirty look. “Good luck getting her mother to do anything but spoil her and tell you why it’s your fault she lets her stay up all night at that motel.” She mouthed the word “helicopter.” Morgan’s back stiffened, and she bit her tongue to keep from saying something she would regret.
“I dealt with plenty of indulgent parents in Oklahoma,” Dr. Kavanaugh assured Mrs. Henley. “I’m sure we’ll get it sorted out.” She beckoned to Morgan. “Come along, then, young lady. My office. Now.”
Morgan followed Dr. Kavanaugh down the hall, keeping her eyes downcast and trying to look intimidated. As soon as Dr. Kavanaugh closed her office door behind them, Morgan let out a breath.
“What. A. Bitch.”
“Shhhh … you know I can’t let you disparage other administrators in front of me,” Dr. Kavanaugh admonished Morgan, pouring water into a mug and setting it in the small microwave behind her desk as she spoke. “Shame about Lupita.”
Morgan nodded. “Yeah. I only met her a couple of times, but she seemed like a nice lady. I didn’t realize she’d been sick until Mom told me.”
“That’s not the only reason you couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t that late, and I know you didn’t escort her, because I did.”
Morgan nibbled at the end of her tongue. One of those annoying little bumps — Grandma Sandy called them lie bumps — had popped up on it this morning, because obviously Morgan didn’t have enough unpleasant things to deal with today. Forcing her attention back to the conversation at hand, she said, “I feel sorry for Jesus.”
“I do, too,” Dr. Kavanaugh said. “But right now, I don’t want to talk about Jesus. Right now, I want to talk about what kept you up so late that you couldn’t stay awake through class.” She rummaged through a desk drawer and pulled out two jars of tea. “Sore throat blend or English breakfast?”
“English breakfast. I need the caffeine,” Morgan replied. “Nightmares again. Nothing new.”
“And yet, somehow, you usually manage to stay awake in class and out of trouble when you have nightmares.” Dr. Kavanaugh raised an eyebrow as she opened one of the jars and filled an infuser.
Morgan paused. “These were … different,” she acknowledged. She worried the bump on her tongue against her braces and watched as Dr. Kavanaugh opened a door on her battered credenza and pulled out a ceramic mug. This would be a long meeting, then. Short meetings came with Styrofoam cups.
“Different like I was having a flashback to something that’s never happened.”
Dr. Kavanaugh set the mug on her desk and turned her full attention to Morgan. “What did you see?”
Morgan picked at a thread that was unraveling from the tail of her shirt. “War.”
“I don’t know. I was on a battlefield. There were big men with bushy beards all around me, dressed like something out of a movie. They were speaking Old Irish, but I could understand them. It was like my journal, but in reverse. Blood. So much blood. Men with spears and swords, shouting and killing each other. And I was in the middle of all of it, but it was like — like I was seeing it from above.”
Dr. Kavanaugh stared at her for a long moment. The microwave beeped. Both of them jumped.
“From above.” Dr. Kavanaugh took the mug out of the microwave, submerged the infuser in it, and slid it across the desk to Morgan, who picked it up with a grateful smile. Little bubbles floated out of the holes in the infuser and clustered around the metal.
“Yes. Like I was flying, if that makes any sense.”
“But more like a flashback than a dream?” Dr. Kavanaugh’s eyes were distant.
“I have flashbacks to the night Daddy died,” Morgan said. “They feel different from regular nightmares. There’s a reality to them that I don’t feel with plain old dreams. This felt like that. But how could I have a flashback to something that’s never happened? And how could it be a flashback if I was flying?”
Dr. Kavanaugh closed her eyes. “Is that the only strange thing you’ve experienced lately?”
Morgan hesitated. “It — mostly. There was that weird dream I had about the cave last week. And then there was something the other day, but it wasn’t that strange. It was just a little thing. I wouldn’t have even thought about it if I hadn’t been researching shapeshifters and thinking about what that thing on the mesa could be.”
“I’m not sure anything is little anymore,” Dr. Kavanaugh said. “What happened?”
Morgan told her about the raven. As she spoke, something clicked in her mind. “I was seeing the battlefield from that raven’s point of view,” she said. “That’s what it was telling me to remember.”
Dr. Kavanaugh’s eyes widened. “Of course. I should have put it together sooner.”
Morgan furrowed her brow. “I don’t follow.”
“The dark hair, the name, the premonitions, the cave, the connections — no wonder that thing wants to pick a fight with you. It’s the ultimate challenge.” She bowed her head. “Welcome back, Queen. I have no idea why you’ve chosen me to jog your memory, but I’m honored.” She looked back up at Morgan, and tears glinted in her bright blue eyes. “You, my dear, are the Morrígan.”