Practice

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.

Practice
Coldwater High School ~ Coldwater, N.M.

Perched on the rafter next to Lenore, Morgan felt like laughing. Imagine Mrs. Henley thinking she could scare me away, she thought, fluffing her feathers. God, the pranks I could pull in this form. I ought to fly into her office and crap all over her desk just for the fun of it.

She looked over at Lenore. “You’ve got a mite on the back of your neck,” she said. “Let me get that for you.”

Without thinking, she reached over and grabbed the mite in her beak — and immediately regretted it. 

“Ew! Ewewewewewwwwww! Bug in my mouth!” she shifted back into human form, spluttering, and nearly lost her balance as she tried to wipe the tiny arachnid off her tongue. 

Looking down was her second mistake. Vertigo overtook her as she took in the distance from the gym ceiling to the hardwood basketball court 20 feet below. She lost her balance and pitched forward. 

“The fog!” Dr. Kavanaugh screamed. “Use the fog!”

The ground spun toward Morgan. At the last possible second, she managed to wrench her mind away from her impending death long enough to picture the fog gathering under her in the shape of an enormous trampoline. The springy surface broke her fall, but hitting it from that height knocked the wind out of her, and for the second time in as many seconds, she felt panic taking over. She bounced once, twice, three times before coming to rest on top of the fog. 

No longer needed, the fog began to dissipate, lowering Morgan the remaining three feet to the gym floor. She lay there for what seemed like hours but was probably only a minute, groaning helplessly, until her breath returned.

“Clever solution,” Dr. Kavanaugh observed. “I was expecting a rope, or maybe a parachute.”

“I wish I’d thought of those,” Morgan said, wincing. “That was … not as fun as it probably looked.”

Dr. Kavanaugh held out her hand. “Here. Let me help you up.”

Morgan stood. “I think I’ve had enough training for today.”

“What threw you off? You were doing well — until you weren’t.”

Morgan blushed. “Don’t laugh,” she said.

“With a lead-in like that, I make no such promises,” Dr. Kavanaugh retorted. 

Morgan grinned. “Well, as it turns out, Lenore has mites,” she said. “I saw one on her, forgot I wasn’t really a raven, and tried to groom her.” She made a face. “The mite wiggled on my tongue, and I kind of freaked out and turned back into a human while I was trying to spit it out.”

“Ah. So an unexpected experience distracted you enough to startle you back into your comfort zone.”

“Right. But then I remembered I was sitting 20 feet up in the rafters.”

“And you looked down.”

Morgan nodded. “I looked down.” She looked at Dr. Kavanaugh out of the corner of her eye. “You think I’m stupid. But in my defense, that mite felt seriously gross, wiggling around on my tongue.”

“I can imagine. And I don’t think you’re stupid. But I think we’ve found a weak spot you’re going to have to shore up if you don’t want the shapeshifter to exploit it.”

“Yeah.” Morgan looked around. “You think it’s in here?”

Dr. Kavanaugh shrugged. “Could be. You said it’s half-puca and half each-uisge. With that pedigree, it could be anywhere, in any form.”

“Ick.” Morgan frowned. “What’s our next move, then?”

Dr. Kavanaugh folded her arms and looked at Morgan for a long moment. “You won’t like it.”

Morgan sighed. “I don’t have to like it. I just have to do it.”

“You need to spend as much time in your animal forms as you can, learning as much as you can about those bodies. You need to get used to doing all the things those animals do instinctively — and the more uncomfortable a behavior makes you, the more you need to practice it, so it doesn’t startle you out of your form when you’re not expecting it.”

“So I have to eat bugs?”

Dr. Kavanaugh nodded. “Mm-hm. And mice, and rats, and whatever else cats and ravens eat.”

“Nasty.”

“Not to them.”

“True.” Morgan wrinkled her nose. “Guess that’ll save Mom some money on groceries for a little while, anyway.” She closed her eyes and shrank, taking the form of a long-haired calico cat. She didn’t relish the thought of eating rodents, but as a dark-haired infant’s face flashed across her memory, she decided it wouldn’t kill her to expand her culinary horizons. 

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