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’s eyes flashed as she saw what the eighth-graders were doing on the other side of the playground. The last bell had rung 15 minutes earlier, and most of the kids had scattered, leaving Morgan and the boys alone outside the building. Without a second thought, she charged toward them, shaking with rage.
“LEAVE IT ALONE!” she roared, shoving one of the boys out of her way and elbowing a second. “Leave it alone, you cowards! What is wrong with you?”
The tallest of the three let go of the bird, which fluttered weakly to the ground and half-hopped, half-limped a few feet away from the humans, holding one wing out at an awkward angle. He turned and took a menacing step toward Morgan.
“What’s it to you, freak? Aren’t you that little freak that cries all the time?”
“Just stop it!”
“What are you gonna do if I don’t? Cry?” The boy laughed.
Morgan had always thought the phrase “blinded by rage” was just a figure of speech, but as she took in the scene before her, darkness began to creep across her peripheral vision, a sort of black fog so dense that it obscured everything except the face of the bully she’d caught tormenting the raven. A steely calm descended over her consciousness as she stared him down.
“No,” she said, her voice dangerously quiet. “I’m not going to cry. But your mom might after she sees what I’ve done to you.”
The boy’s eyes, narrowed with derision, suddenly widened, and behind her, Morgan heard his friends’ footsteps against the pavement as they ran away.
“What the hell?” The boy looked around wildly. “What did you do? Stop that! Stop it! STOP!” The pitch of his voice rose as he shouted at her.
Morgan was confused. What did he mean, what did she just do? She hadn’t done anything except knock his friends out of the way and yell at him. She watched, curious, as his head whipped from side to side, his eyes frantic.
“Make it stop!” He was whining now, rubbing at his eyes and squinting as if — Oh. Morgan stifled the urge to laugh as she realized the black fog wasn’t in her mind. It was coming from her mind. “I can’t see! What are you doing to me? I CAN’T SEE! HELP! SOMEBODY HELP ME! THIS LITTLE FREAK IS ATTACKING ME, AND I CAN’T SEE!”
Morgan couldn’t see the boy’s arms, but every now and then, the tips of his fingers would flash into her line of vision, as if he were trying to find them. Oh, now this was interesting.
I wonder … Morgan concentrated on the blackness, ignoring the boy, who was clearly preoccupied with swatting at the strange fog, as if it were a cloud of insects. Insects. Morgan thought of her bees, and a memory popped into her head. It was her seventh birthday. She’d been pestering Daddy for months to let her help him with the bees, but he’d kept putting her off, saying she didn’t have the proper protective gear.
That morning, she’d awakened to the smell of chocolate-chip pancakes and wandered into the kitchen to find a pile of presents on her chair. The first one she opened was a bee suit just her size, and as soon as she finished her breakfast, she’d proudly pulled it on and let Daddy zip her into it so she could help him tend the hives. Out to Sangre Mesa they’d gone, looking a little like astronauts in their hooded white suits with black mesh across their faces. When they’d arrived at their little apiary near the base of the mesa, it had become obvious that something was very, very wrong. Instead of their usual purposeful flight into and out of the hive, bees were pouring out of it, flying around and around each other and around and around Morgan and Daddy. She’d been scared, but Daddy had explained that the bees couldn’t sting her through her suit, and even if they could, they wouldn’t want to right then, because they were too busy trying to find a new place to live. There had been a conflict between two queens inside the hive, and one had left, taking her loyal protectors and workers with her.
Morgan narrowed her eyes at the fog, thinking about those bees’ movements. The fog began to swirl in that same frenetic pattern as the bees.
The boy was crying. Morgan resisted the temptation to pull a face and ask him who the crybaby was now. All in a flash, she thought of something worse. She wouldn’t ridicule him. She would confuse him.
“I’m not doing anything,” she said in that same soft, controlled tone. “You’re just scared of me. I called you out for hurting an innocent creature, and you don’t have the nerve to do anything about it at all.” She thought about the way the bees’ movements had changed, and they had begun flying toward one of the creosote bushes near the spring. The sight had intimidated her at the time, but she couldn’t help being fascinated as the entire swarm settled in a big, buzzing, pulsating ball on one branch. Daddy had told her to stay put while he ran to the truck to get the super he’d been planning to put on top of the hive, and in her brand-new suit, she’d knelt on the ground next to the super while Daddy shook them into it. Speaking in soothing tones, father and daughter had used a brush and smoker to coax the tiny creatures into their new home.
Morgan held up her left arm and pictured a swarm of bees collecting on her hand. The bully was whimpering as the black fog responded to Morgan’s thoughts, swirling around, collecting itself, and finally gathering obediently into a tight ball on her palm.
“You see what a coward you are, little boy?” Her voice was barely above a whisper now, her tone menacing. “You’re a big man when you’re tormenting a helpless little bird, but when somebody actually has the nerve to stand up to you, even if it’s a little bitty girl half your size, you wet your pants and cry for your mommy.”
Right on cue, a dark stain spread across the front of the boy’s jeans and ran down his legs as he began to howl in terror and humiliation, his face covered in snot and tears and dirt.
Morgan moved suddenly, drawing her arm back and hurling the insubstantial black ball at the bully. It hit him and dissipated into nothingness.
“Go,” she said at last. “Go tell Dr. Kavanaugh what happened. Go tattle on me and see who gets sent home first — the nice little fifth-grader who’s trying to help a bird with a broken wing, or the pissy-pants eighth-grader babbling some wild story about a monster blotting out the sun when it’s obvious the sun is still shining.”
The boy stared at her for a second, rooted to the ground. Morgan glared at him. “I said go.”
He took off running as fast as his feet would carry him. Morgan smiled. He wouldn’t snitch, and if he did, it wouldn’t matter. No one would believe him. She wasn’t sure how much his friends had seen before they took off, but any story they told would sound too preposterous for the wrong sort of people to take seriously. Dr. Kavanaugh was the only adult on campus who would believe a story like that, and she wasn’t likely to punish Morgan for using a hitherto unknown power to stop a bully from killing an animal.
Morgan turned her attention to more pressing matters.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” she cooed, dropping to her knees and extending her hand to the raven. The bird eyed her suspiciously. “It’s OK, baby. I won’t hurt you. Will you let me pick you up? I know a man who can help your wing.” She crawled slowly toward the injured animal. It ducked, sliding one foot backward and lowering its head and then the rest of its body toward the ground as if it were bowing. Morgan hesitated. What was it doing? She’d never seen a bird move like that before. Was this the same raven she’d seen out the window while she was researching shapeshifters?
The bird looked up at her. She moved forward a little more and offered the bird her arm as a perch. “Can you balance? You poor sweet thing. What have those idiots done to you?”
The raven hopped forward, cautious, and gave her one last look before stepping up and grabbing her wrist with its talons. It scratched a little, and she bit her lip, trying not to react and startle the bird. It had been through enough today.
Very slowly, she brought her other hand forward and stroked the raven’s feathers. “OK, beautiful. I’m going to pick you up now.” She stood, holding her arm as steady as she could to keep from dislodging her new friend, and began walking toward Swinney’s Feed and Hardware. If anybody in Coldwater would know how to patch up a broken wing, it was Bill Swinney.