Part 2

Halloween this year is on a Thursday. Who makes Halloween on a Thursday? Dominic quickly brushed his teeth, making sure no water got on his black costume.

The high school didn’t allow hats or masks, but Dominic put his king piece hat on anyway. He had spent enough time making it, for God’s sake; he should be allowed to wear it.

He made his way carefully downstairs, making sure not to trip over his billowing cloak. His black backpack—look at that, it matches!—sat by the front door waiting for him. He slung it over one shoulder and went out the door. He didn’t want to be late for school on Halloween, not when there were so many costumes to observe.

There were probably half a dozen batmans—batmen?—just in the first ten minutes passing through the front doors of the high school. Meredith’s eyes flicked past the zombies, devils, and fairies in search of two all-black figures. She felt out of place with her white costume, leaning against the track showcase, but she knew she would feel much better once Anthea and Dominic showed up.

Finally, she spotted them strolling through the doors together. Both of them were wearing their paper mâché hats. Technically against the rules…

Meredith sighed and took hers out of her backpack. She was just putting it on her head as her friends walked up.

“What’s up, gloomy gums?” Anthea had one hand in the pocket of her black dress pants and the other on Dominic’s elbow. Not for the first time, Meredith wondered if Ani and Dom ever realized how much of a couple they looked like. All the time.

“Who says I’m gloomy?” Meredith pushed her queen’s hat back a bit and stuck her tongue out.

“You were slouching. And your cape is crooked and you didn’t even fix it.” Anthea tugged on the edge of the shimmering fabric to straighten it out.

Meredith smiled. “All right, Sherlock. I’m gloomy because you’re going to get in trouble again.”

“For what?” Anthea stroked the side of her mask. It was a full horse’s face down to the nose. “Wearing a mask in school? It’s a stupid rule. Plus, it’s Halloween.” She and Dom started heading off to their first hour. Meredith rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, silently praying the hallway monitors would be lenient today, and walked in the other direction to her own first hour.

Anthea broke another rule in her English class. She had her mask off because the teacher had yelled at her twice for it, and it was sitting on her lap with her phone inside of it. Scrolling through Wikipedia pages seemed a lot more fun than discussing the meter and rhyme scheme of the Shakespeare sonnet they had just read in class.

Neither Meredith nor Dominic was in this class, so Anthea had to keep all the information she was learning to herself. In the hour of the class, she had migrated from the quantum mechanics page to the Higgs Boson –why do they call it the “God particle,” anyway?—to the quarks. She was in the midst of reading about anti colors when the bell rang. She quickly shut her phone off and flipped the mask back onto her head. She was extra careful putting the strap of her side bag across her shoulder, because the movement rubbed against her shoulder growths and threatened to send spasms through her body again.

Art class. Surprisingly stressful, yet fun. Anthea slunk into the room and shuffled to her table. She suddenly wished Dominic and Meredith were there so they could show Ms. Whitney their matching costumes. Both of them took choir as their fine arts class, however. Anthea was one of the only seniors in her introductory art class, but she didn’t care because it was fun anyway.

She reached under her part of the table and pulled out a large drawer that held her works in progress. Her pieces of construction paper lay scattered like lost sheep. She pulled them out and spread them over her desk. The class was learning about motifs in art, or repeated elements that supported a theme in the work. They were trying to base their work off of some blind artist named Matisse. Matisse’s motifs. Motifs by Matisse. Well, this motif is by Anthea, she thought, and it stinks.

She was using apples as her motif. Lots and lots of apples. She needed to cut more out. Anthea grabbed a pair of scissors that were waiting for her under the table and took one of her red pieces of construction paper. The apple had to be incredibly small, so she held the paper close and took little snips to try to make the pinched circle shape.

“Are you a werewolf?” a voice said an inch away from Anthea’s ear. She yelped and turned to smack the rude voice in the face.

“Benny!” Anthea growled, holding her hand up and trying not to punch him. “You made me cut my apple in half!”

“And your hand…” Benny grabbed Anthea’s fist and uncurled it. Blood was pooling in her palm, warm and sticky.

“Oh, thanks.” Anthea yanked her hand back. “And I’m not a werewolf. It’s obviously a horse’s face. I’m a knight. You know, from chess?” She was nearly screaming by the end of her rant. Her hand was throbbing way more than it should have been, and way more than she would like to admit. She stalked off to the classroom sink, ignoring the looks a few of the kids were giving her. Let them believe I’m crazy. I don’t care.

Anthea set her left hand under the faucet and let the cool water run over it. She rubbed it with her other hand to get the blood off and to try to find the cut. After a few seconds, she turned the water off and held her dripping hand up. She stared at it in disbelief.

“Do you need a Band Aid?”  Ms. Whitney asked, walking behind her.

“Look at her hand!” Benny said. He peeked over her shoulder. “There isn’t a cut there. What was that red stuff, then? Paint?”

Anthea forced herself to take a deep breath and let her hand drop. “It was a little cut,” she lied. “It’s fine now.” She didn’t even let her mind try to wrap itself around what just happened.

Meredith tapped her pencil on her desk. Math was boring today. It was a work day, and some of the junior boys in her class were waging an eraser war. Off each eraser went from their fingertips, landing on desks and heads. They let off a cheer whenever someone beat the record for longest fling.

Head on her desk and arm wrapped around her neck, Meredith gave a sideways grimace at the boys before turning her eyes down to the blank paper on her desk. They were learning about implicit differentiation, and Meredith really wasn’t comprehending it. She would probably just ask Anthea for help, even though that lazy bum was in regular calculus instead of advanced.

Well, the regular class is probably getting more accomplished, anyway. Meredith clicked her tongue and looked around the room again.

Boring. Everything is boring. She stretched her legs under her desk. The one kid in the classroom who actually likes school, and I’m bored. Even Anthea hates school. The crown on Meredith’s head was getting itchy, so she took it off and placed it on her desk.

When the bell rang, Meredith threw her notebooks in her backpack and rushed out of the classroom in relief. She had History next, with Anthea.

Anthea was slouching in her seat when Meredith walked into the classroom. She had her black knight out on her desk and was twiddling it between her fingers. Meredith noticed that her mask was on the floor between her legs.

“Did a hall monitor yell at you for wearing your mask?” Meredith teased as she sat down.

“No. I just don’t feel like wearing it,” she answered without looking up, a bit forcefully. Meredith blinked in surprise.

“What? Why not?”

Anthea set the knight piece down and turned over her left hand, palm up. She traced the lines with her finger, but didn’t answer Meredith.

“Anthea? Anthea Elisabeth Hayes, if you don’t tell me what’s wrong I may just have to force it out of you.”

Finally, a smile! The corners of Anthea’s lips turned up and she glanced up at Meredith, her eyes twinkling a little.

Mr. Brechen started scribbling things on the board, a sure sign he was about to start a lecture. “Tell you later,” Anthea whispered, then opened up her history notebook.

So close.

After school, Meredith didn’t even bother going home. She called her mom and told her she was going over to Anthea’s to do some homework.

She ran after Anthea onto her school bus. “Hey, Ani,” she said, swinging herself up the stairs. Her friend turned around and smiled when she saw Meredith.

“Need help with math again?” she asked.

“Yeah. I was thinking I could just hang out at your place until trick or treating starts anyway.”

“Perfect.” Anthea sat down and scooted to the window. Meredith plopped herself down next to her. “There’s something I wanted to show you anyway.”

“Does it have anything to do with how down you seemed today? You’re always so perky on Halloween!”

“Yeah, it does.”

Ani was silent the rest of the bus ride home.

“Wait here.”

“What for?” Meredith twitched on Ani’s couch as her friend disappeared into the kitchen.

“I just have to test it out first, to see if it happens again. So I don’t make myself look like an idiot.”

Meredith waited for a minute or so, listening to Ani’s footsteps in the next room. At one point she heard the faucet turn on. When Ani came back, she was holding a kitchen knife in her right hand and was holding her left hand up like it was delicate.

“Look! Look at this!” Ani thrust her left hand in Meredith’s face.

“What?” Meredith pushed the hand away. “It’s your hand…”

“Without any marks, right?” Or cuts? Here,” Ani grabbed Meredith’s hand and pulled her off the couch.

“What? What are we doing?” Meredith confusedly followed Ani to the kitchen. Ani thumped to the kitchen sink.

“Okay. Just…promise you won’t freak out, all right?” Ani looked at Meredith expectantly.

“Yeah, okay…” Meredith was already starting to freak out. What was she up to?

Ani took a deep breath and placed the knife across her left palm. Meredith widened her eyes and jerked her head up to Ani’s face. “What in God’s name—”

“I’ll be fine. Watch.” Ani slowly drew the knife across her skin. Meredith winced at the large gash it left on her palm.

“Ani, what the hell are you doing?” She wasn’t sure whether she should grab the knife from Ani’s hand or not, but thankfully Ani set the knife down on the counter.

“Okay, you need to do something about that,” Meredith said, pointing to Ani’s bloodstained hand. Ani, apparently oblivious to her friend, stuck her hand in the sink and turned it on. Meredith screamed in exasperation and went to the medicine cabinet, grabbing all the ace bandages she could get her hands on. When she set them back down, she was greeted by another hand in her face.

“What the…” Meredith grabbed onto Ani’s hand and pulled it back so she could see it better. It looked like…a normal hand. “What is this for?”

“This is the one I cut.”

“What?” Meredith looked at it again. It was definitely the left hand, the one she had seen the gash on. Then, she smiled. “Ohhh…is this some magic trick?”

“What?” Ani drew her hand back. “No, it’s not. Look at the knife!”

Meredith looked at the knife sitting on the counter. It was still covered in blood. “That’s not fake blood?” Meredith asked dubiously.

“No, it’s not! This is real, all real!” Meredith looked at Ani’s face. She definitely doesn’t look like she’s lying.

“Okay…so if this is real…and you really did just cut yourself and scare the bejesus out of me…how is your hand completely fine?”

Ani shrugged. “I’m not sure. But I think it’s because of this.” She pointed to her shoulder.

“Your shoulder?” Meredith queried. “What does that have to do with your hand?”

Ani glanced suspiciously at the window, then grabbed Meredith’s hands and dragged her to the hallway leading to her downstairs bathroom and computer room. She paused in the middle where there were no windows.

“What now?” Meredith huffed. Ani wriggled in her shirt and worked it over her head. She chucked it at the floor and smoothed down her white undershirt.

“This.” Ani turned around so that her back faced Meredith.

Meredith gaped at her. Near the base of Ani’s neck, just above each shoulder blade, sprouted twin twitching antenna-like limbs. They were each about a foot long and came to a point. They rested down Ani’s back and swayed back and forth as she brushed her curly hair out of the way. “So?” she tentatively asked, turning her head so she could see Meredith out of the corner of her eye. “What do you think?”

“I think…uh…I’m…I still don’t see what this has to do with your hand,” Meredith stammered. Ani turned back around.

“So you’re not freaked out I have extra limbs growing out of my shoulders?”

“No, I’m very freaked out about your antenna things. And I’m more freaked out about your magic healing powers. But I still don’t see the correlation.”

“Hyper cell division.” Ani brushed her hair over her back, glancing at the light streaming through the window into the kitchen and tiptoeing back into that room. “I don’t want the neighbors to see my freakiness,” she explained, “but it feels good to let them breathe. Plus I want an apple.”

“Hypo…what?” Meredith followed her back into the kitchen.

“Hyper cell division. I have no idea if it’s a real thing or not, but it sounds about right.” Anthea grabbed three apples from a basket on the counter and took a gigantic bite out of one of them. “I think my cells are in hyper drive and are multiplying like crazy. Kind of like cancer. Hopefully it’s not harmful…something seems to be hard wired into my cells to fix my cuts at a much faster rate. Oh, and to make the weird growths on my back.” Anthea took another bite from the apple. “It hurts like heck, and it gives me one heck of an appetite.”

“Do your parents know?” Meredith took Anthea’s other two apples and washed them in the sink.

“Heck no.” Ani widened her eyes. “Just you. And you better not tell anyone. Not my parents. Not Dominic. Promise?”

“Cross my heart.” Meredith handed the apples back to Ani, and she grabbed them ravenously. Meredith watched as she tried to take a bite out of both apples at once. “I’m not sure if that’s funny or disturbing.”

Ani shrugged. “Both, I suppose.”

Both of their heads snapped around as the sound of tires on concrete came through the walls. “Crap!” Ani dropped the apples and bolted towards the hallway, picking up her shirt as she went. Meredith watched her run with amusement, but turned around again at the sound of the front door opening.

“Meredith!” Mrs. Hayes set a plastic bag of groceries down on a counter.

“Hey, Mrs. Hayes. Need any help?”

“Yes, please.” She beckoned outside. “I’ve got more groceries in my car.”

Meredith hurried out the door, glancing back at the hallway. Ani had probably disappeared into a bathroom.

There were bags and bags of groceries in Mrs. Hayes’s trunk. Meredith spotted a couple of bags full of Halloween candy. She looked at the Reese’s cups with longing, then took the bags inside.

Later.

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Pros and Cons

In about an hour, I am going to call some friends to go out to dinner at Cottage Inn. In my hand is a messily scrawled chart: names of friends down the side, two columns across the top listed “pros” and “cons.” I don’t want to look at the darn list any more lest I get a headache, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who can objectively figure out who I should invite. I’m obviously not perfect (if I was, I would have this figured out by now), but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who didn’t go completely haywire last week.

I’ve got the names down in the order in which we were sitting: Devon, Angela, Katherine, Eric, and Sally, though Angela and Katherine might have been switched. Everything I can remember about the last time we hung out is written out with circles or arrows in my attempt to make chronological sense of it all.

Devon has the least notes, pros or cons, of anyone on the list. He ordered a Caesar salad and didn’t say much the whole night. He was wearing a faded jean jacket, which Eric made fun of, and an Atlanta Braves baseball cap, which I made fun of. I think he took it off when the real fighting started, but when Sally chucked a breadstick at Katherine’s head, he said he wanted nothing to do with any of us ever again. I’ll probably end up calling him just in case.

It was hard to keep track of all the things Angela said and did, so I have a lot of abbreviated sentences and question marks by her name. She shared a large cheese and artichoke pizza with Eric, Katherine and me. She wanted pepperoni but we outvoted her, which put her in a glum mood right away, no doubt. After Sally hit Katherine with the breadstick and Devon left, Angela took her diet sprite and splashed it all over Sally’s new outfit. Katherine is Angela’s sister and they’re really close, super close, like those identical twins you hear about on TV except that they’re a year apart. Anyway, there I was, soaking wet because I had the misfortune of sitting next to Sally, when Sally leapt to her feet and screamed at Angela and Angela screamed back at her to screw herself. We were in a booth and I had the aisle seat, so Sally pushed past me and stormed off to the restroom to get paper towels.

I’ve got “short fuse” listed under “cons” for Angela because she was technically the person who started the entire fiasco. Like I said, she was already upset about the pizza, and when Eric made fun of the way she was eating it (“like a mouse,” I think he said), she decided it was a fantastic idea to say “well maybe if you ate the way I do, you wouldn’t be so fat, huh?” Now it just so happens that Sally is Eric’s girlfriend, so as you can imagine she was furious.

Katherine’s got about the same pros and cons as Angela. When Sally and Angela started arguing, Katherine tried to change the subject to the breadsticks on the table and who wanted the last one. I said I’d take it, but Sally drowned me out. She told Katherine to stay out of it because “Eric is my boyfriend, and boyfriend trumps sister any day, honey.” I could see that Sally’s sharp tongue had accidentally ignited a spark in Katherine, and I glanced over the pizza at Devon to make sure I wasn’t the only one who knew things were about to get a whole lot hotter. We both winced as Katherine started a “how dare you say that anything trumps my sister” rampage, one that we’d heard time and time again, but never in a public place like Cottage Inn and never with friends. I felt the eyes of basically everyone in the restaurant on us as their voices climbed, so frantically I grabbed the breadbasket and quavered, “Someone needs to take the breadstick before I eat it, I’ve had too many.” Sally grabbed the bread and obviously felt it belonged on Katherine’s head.

If I call Angela, I have to call Katherine, but if I invite the two of them I doubt Sally will want to come, and she’s the one who got me to go out to these dinners in the first place. I’m still on the fence about them.

I’ve been friends with Sally for a couple of years, but Katherine’s gotten to know her well because they’re roommates. I found out a lot about their sleeping habits, courtesy of their Cottage Inn rant. Evidently Katherine has a habit of saying gibberish in her sleep, while Sally stays out until “freaking three in the morning” hanging out at Eric’s dorm, going to parties, and “probably getting completely wasted, and don’t expect me to be able to come to your rescue when you pass out in some frat boy’s yard in sub-zero temperature”.

I’m don’t remember what Sally ordered for dinner.

Eric has a bunch of notes in the “con” column, simply because of the whole “boyfriend trumps sister” thing. I’m not a fan of Sally-and-Eric, though I enjoy their company when they’re not together. No, that’s a lie. I don’t even like Eric by himself. I guess there’s just nothing we have in common. Plus, anyone who makes fun of my friends needs to reevaluate their life choices. My friends are fantastic human beings. When they’re not fighting with breadsticks and diet sprite, that is.

If I don’t invite Eric, Sally will probably spend the evening with him instead, so it would be better for me to invite Katherine and Angela. Then again, I’m really not in the mood to listen to them venting about Sally, which they’re sure to do.

We all left Cottage Inn with ruined appetites, so I’ve got a bunch of leftover pizza in my refrigerator. If worse comes to worst, I can always heat up a slice and eat by myself.

Actually, that’s probably the best idea I’ve had in weeks.

Habits

Basically everyone I know has little quirks that seem silly to everyone but him or herself. My math professor nearly has a stroke if we leave the little frilly bits on the ends of our papers when we turn in our homework. Occasionally I’ll catch my younger brother, Kyle, carefully stepping only on the white tiles in the hallway between the stairs and the kitchen. My friend Nick never answers to his first name, Joey. I only know the reasoning behind this last one: Nick’s stepdad shares his name, and that ticks him off to no end.

Sometimes I wonder what story hides behind the other habits. I tried asking Kyle about his “don’t step on a crack” mentality, but he denied having one. In regards to my math professor, a few kids in my class and I have made up little backstories that usually involve a secret affair between the professor and a student that consisted solely of romantic notes written on the frills of paper from spiral notebooks. It makes math more entertaining to picture that instead of simply imagining he’s crazy.

That’s probably the reason I never explain my own strange habits. I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I act the way I do when I leave someone’s house. I didn’t really think about my “excessive farewells”—a term I have courtesy of my parents—as an explanation-necessary habit, but it’s actually quite amusing when most people ask if I have attachment issues, and if roaming through someone’s house until I’ve double-checked that I’ve said goodbye to everyone is simply a way of delaying my exit. I always get a kick out of Nick explaining to strangers that I make my rounds twice because of my short term memory loss. The strangest and yet closest to the truth explanation I’ve gotten was at a fraternity party my freshman year of college. As I went around saying goodbye to my friends and a few friendly-looking strangers, a graduate girl who had obviously had a bit too much to drink reached out and grabbed my arm before I could leave. “So, tell me. Who died?” she asked. At first I thought she was just babbling, but after failing to pull away from her I looked into her eyes and saw she was legitimately asking me this question.

“Uh, no one?” I responded, glancing at the door. “Why do you ask?”

She released my arm and shrugged. “I just figured…I do that too, you know.” She gestured towards the people around her. “Make sure you say goodbye to everybody? My whole family’s been doing that ever since my brother died.”

I mumbled some kind of a lame apology and stumbled out of the house. I realized I was a bit weak on my feet. I hadn’t had the heart to tell that girl that I couldn’t relate to her situation, not really. None of my family members were dead, it was just a dumb dog. Besides, it had been almost a decade and my family has had a couple of pets since.

Wendy’d been with us since I was a toddler, so I didn’t really know how living without a dog felt. I do remember when she grew bigger than me. I’d seen a few movies where people rode horses, so 3-year-old me would run around the house chasing after Wendy and grasping at her tail so I could ride her. She snapped at me a couple of times, but I wouldn’t let a couple of scratches slow me down.

The dog my parents bought a year after Wendy died was a golden retriever like her and similar in everything but the snapping habit and the eyes. I’m not sure why they decided to stick with the same breed, considering a neighbor had warned us not to. I didn’t understand why until after we got her. My older brother Christopher named her Cookie, and it took us half as long to train her than Wendy, probably because my family knew how to do it the second time around. I tried to love her the same as Wendy; I’d stare deep into her eyes, probably to try to make a connection with her like I always read about in books. They always say the eyes are the gateway to a person’s soul, or something like that. But all I’d get from staring at Cookie was confirmation that she wasn’t my Wendy. She’d trot into a room and my heart would skip a beat because it was like the ghost of Wendy come to play with me one last time, but then a second would go past and my heart would start beating again and I’d look into her eyes and see only Cookie.

Wendy was a runner. We never let her out of the house without a leash, but sometimes on those magically perfect summer days that happen only a few times a year Wendy would bolt out of the door before any of us could stop her. She’d run laps around the yard, tongue lolling to the side, tail streaming behind her. It’d take us at least twenty minutes to get her back inside, and that’d only happen because Wendy grew tired.

The winter of my third grade year, my parents decided the five of us would vacation in Florida for Christmas. I’d never spent Christmas away from home, but I’d also never been to Florida, so I was willing to give it a try. We asked our neighbor Adam to take care of Wendy for us while we were gone, and we packed up the car and drove to the airport while visions of palm trees danced in our heads. We spent the night of Christmas Eve in our hotel room playing Uno in front of the television, which was playing The Santa Clause on repeat.

Bedtime was at 10:00, so I was already in my pajamas and about to crash on the bed when my mom got the call. When I heard her say, “Adam? It’s late at night, is everything all right?” I didn’t even think about Wendy. I just wished the call would end soon so I could sleep. In the ensuing silence, though, I suddenly felt empty, like I was hungry. I sat up and looked at my mom, and when I saw the look on her face the edges of my vision turned gray. Everything was moving and swaying and shrinking except for my mother. Eventually she said something I didn’t catch into the phone, hung up, and glanced up at all of us. When she looked into my eyes, it was as if I was no longer sitting on the bed but floating feet off the ground, seconds from crashing back down to reality.

I think there was some hugging after that, and some crying and talking, but all I could think about was how hungry I was. I remember pushing away from my parents and going to the table where we had snacks and grabbing an entire bag of Cheetos. My mom tried to coax me back to bed, but I said I was hungry and couldn’t I just finish my Cheetos?

By the time my parents and brothers were snug in bed, I had finished half of the bag. I was warm and surprisingly comfortable in the wooden chair I was lounging on, so I set the bag on the table and sat in the dark for a few seconds. It only took that long for my hunger to come back, worse than ever. When I finally burst into tears, I realized that it wasn’t really food I wanted.

I’m not sure when my habit of making sure I said goodbye to everyone started, but I’ve no doubt it’s because of Wendy. I don’t even remember if I saw her at all the day we left for Florida. My last distinct memory of her is refilling her water bowl and giving her a quick pat. That’s it.

Margaret Stories

Last semester I took a narration class (I’m planning on majoring in creative writing). We wrote a small collection of short stories, and as I wrote I tended toward writing from the first person POV of the same girl. She seemed to have similar characteristics as Margaret, one of the characters from my fantasy series, so I’ve dubbed them (quite uncreatively) the Margaret Stories. I have a creative writing class this semester as well, where about half of my stories are/will be Margaret Stories, so as I write/edit those I’ll post them here, all with the tag “Margaret Stories”. I’ll post the others too, one at a time, with the tag “short stories”.

Novel ~ In Its Place

As you can see, I’ve uploaded the first part of a novel I’m writing. I haven’t written any more of it in a couple of years, and with NaNoWriMo coming up I won’t be able to write more this or next month, but sometime next year I’ll get back into it. I have a couple more parts that I will upload here in the next few days (and I’ll tag them “In Its Place” for easy finding). It’s in parts, not chapters, because I have yet to separate it into chapters, or if I like it the way it is when I’m done I might just leave it as is. Enjoy!

Part 1

Fatigue.

Nausea.

Splitting headaches.

These all came weeks before Anthea’s night in her upstairs bathroom, staring at the mirror and wondering what the heck she was going to tell her parents.

Clutching the edges of the stark white sink, Anthea begged the lump in her stomach to dissolve, like the pill she had taken three hours earlier. Unfortunately, the lump only grew heavier, and with it the weight of the past few weeks.

Headaches.

“Ani, how much sleep did you get last night?” Meredith asked worriedly after the first headache rose up behind Anthea’s eyes during European History. Anthea shrugged, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger.

“Maybe six hours? Not bad, considering I had a crapload of physics homework last night.” Anthea squeezed her eyes shut, forcing the pain back.

“Did you eat any chocolate before you went to sleep? I heard that chocolate can give you headaches.” Meredith glanced over at Mr. Brechen, who was currently scribbling unintelligible names on the whiteboard.

Anthea sighed. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine. Plus, one of us needs to get these notes on the first world war or we’re screwed for the test on Friday.”

Meredith smirked. “Well, all right.” She gave Anthea one more sympathetic look and turned back to the board.

Fatigue.

The second hand on Anthea’s watch seemed to be malfunctioning. Anthea held it up to her ear. Its tiny beat seemed stronger, slower, like the heartbeat of a giant cat preparing to pounce.

“Anthea!” She blinked up at the unexpected sound. The noise of her watch disappeared as she lowered it to see coach J walking up to her. “Come on, move it!” It took her a couple of slow seconds to notice the absence of the other cross country members. They must already be on the track outside, warming up. Anthea muttered an apology to her coach and grabbed her sling bag, heading out the gym doors to the track. She nearly stumbled as the heavy bag swung across her back. She took a deep breath and followed the coach around the track to where the team was already running their second lap around. Watching them jog around the corner, their shoes thudding on the ground like heavy rain, Anthea wanted nothing more than to sink into the warm rubber and sleep for the rest of the season.

Nausea.

“Honey, are you all right up there?” Mrs. Hayes’s tinkling voice was barely audible through the bathroom door. Anthea leaned over her toilet, monitoring her breaths. Any sudden movement or change in breathing pattern would tip her over the edge like a cup filled to the brim, she was sure. Even her heart rate seemed to threaten her equilibrium. Thinking was hard, as each thought that poured into her head added to the cup. No, better not think at all. Better stay right here, just like this, for however long it takes.

Anthea ignored the soft knocking on the door.

The mirror glared back at Anthea in the dark. She had a candle burning next to the sink, but the lights were off and only the stars shone through the window. Her mint green shirt and camisole lay crumpled on the floor by her feet. The flickering candlelight made strange shadows on her pale skin, turning her reflection into a ghastly apparition. Anthea brushed a dark brown curl away from her left shoulder, and stared once more at the source of her newest pain. She forgot about the rock in her stomach as she stared at the small nub appearing just behind her shoulder. She had to turn a little and strain her neck to the side to see it properly, but it was there. A one inch ball of bone protruding from her shoulder blade like a large knuckle.

There was an identical one on her right shoulder, but Anthea let her hair drop back down over her back, covering the nubs. How long had she been in the bathroom? Anthea glanced down at her watch. It was hard to read in the dark, but she thought it said 12:18. Happy Friday morning to me, she thought. My senior year of high school barely one month in, and I’m already confused, positively crazy, and turning into some kind of six limbed freak. Great.

Anthea grabbed her shirt from the floor and shrugged it back on. She reached her arm back to feel where the bump was and relaxed a little when she realized it was small enough to not be very visible. Unless you were looking for it, that is.

I’ll just wear my coat over it, just in case, Anthea told herself. Good thing the weather’s getting colder.

Despite her temporary relief, Anthea’s reflection stared sullenly back out at her.

“Stop pouting,” Anthea whispered at it. “At least the headaches are gone for now.” Anthea took one last look at the sad image in the mirror and walked out of the bathroom, determined to get some much needed sleep.

October 26th was a crazy day in the Hayes household. Anthea had Meredith and Dominic over to make Halloween costumes, a tradition they had upheld since elementary school.

“How about two witches and a warlock?” Anthea suggested.

“What the hell does a warlock wear?” Dominic asked. “Do I need a pointy hat too? And a broomstick?”

“We could be the three blind mice,” Meredith cut in. Dominic and Anthea let that sink in, then burst out into raucous laughter. “What? What’s so funny about being mice?”

“We are NOT being the three blind mice.” Dominic chortled. He grabbed a pair of scissors from the coffee table and playfully snipped them in Meredith’s direction.

Mrs. Hayes stepped into the family room just as a two on one war was about to start. “Careful with those,” she warned, eyeing the open scissors still in Dominic’s hand. The mother dumped white, black, green, and gold clothes and costumes on the table, knocking over a glue bottle in the process. “These are the only fabrics I could find. There may be more, but if you want to look yourselves, be my guest. I need to go make dinner.”

“Thanks mom!” Anthea called at her as she hustled out of the family room to the kitchen. Dominic put the scissors back on the table and grabbed a long thin piece of gold cloth.

“Look, I’m an angel!” he said in falsetto, twirling the cloth into a halo and placing it on his head.

Anthea giggled and snatched it off. “We are NOT being angels either.”

“Then what are we going to do?” Meredith grabbed a white shirt with one hand and a black felt fabric with the other. “Make chess pieces out of this stuff?”

Anthea dropped the gold strip. “YES! Why didn’t I think of that?” She grabbed a black pair of pants. “I get to be the black knight!”

“How did I know you were going to say that?” Dominic grinned and put a black bowler hat on her head.

“Umm…maybe because you’ve seen the black knight piece in her purse?” Meredith put a white feather mask up to her face. “Should I be the white queen?”

“It’s a side bag, not a purse,” corrected Anthea, “and yes, you should be. Dominic here is going to be my king, right?” She nudged the teen in question in the ribs.

“Huh? Wha’? Sure.” Dominic rubbed his side gingerly and feigned a hurt face at Meredith. Ow, he mouthed.

Meredith smirked. “Since when have you had this mask, anyway, Ani?” She had tried on the white feather mask to find that it fit nearly perfectly.

“On, I don’t know. It probably was used for some fairy costume at some point in time.”

“Whoa, check it out!” Dominic pulled something large and white out of the pile. He pulled it up and held it over his chest, and Anthea saw that it was a pair of fluffy white wings. Dominic was grinning. “Eh? Eh? You like?”

Anthea smacked him on the shoulder with the stack of black clothes she was accumulating. “Black chess piece, not white angel, you idiot. CHESS PIECE!”

“Ow ow ow ow !” Dominic threw up his arms against the assault of soft fabrics. “My queen is abusing me! Help!”

“Your KNIGHT is abusing you, oh king!” Anthea corrected.

“Oh, yes. My brave knight of solitude. Oh brave, brave, wondrous night, vanquished by day…”

Anthea gave him one more smack for good measure.

Mrs. Hayes had barely set the macaroni and cheese on the table when the three famished teenagers barged into the kitchen.

“Aww man, the famous Hayes Mac and Cheese!” Dominic pulled out a chair and plunked himself down, leaning forward to let the awesome cheesiness fill his nostrils.

Mrs. Hayes plucked a piece of tape out of his unruly blond hair and put a stack of yellow dinner plates next to him. “You know the rules. Help us before you help yourself.”

Dominic dutifully got up and distributed the six plates around the table. Anthea and Meredith grabbed forks and napkins and followed Dominic around.

“So our costumes are almost done, mom,” Anthea said. “Guess what we are?”

“Chess pieces.” Mrs. Hayes put steamed broccoli next to the macaroni dish. “I heard you three talking about it.”

“Aw, mom! That ruins the surprise!” Anthea put down the last fork and pretended to pout. Her over exaggerated look slowly turned into one of confusion and discomfort. She rubbed her shoulder slowly.

“Hon? What’s wrong?” Mrs. Hayes started walking around the table. Anthea, hand still on her shoulder, shook her head frantically at her mom.

“No, I’m fine. I’ll be right back.” Anthea rushed out of the kitchen, bumping into Meredith on the way out.

“What’s come over her?” Dominic queried after her pattering footsteps had disappeared down the hallway.

“Another headache?” Meredith shrugged. “She’s been getting a lot of those lately.”

“She was holding her shoulder,” Dominic countered.

Meredith opened her mouth, perhaps to offer a retort, when the front door of the Hayes’s house opened.

“I’m home! What’s for dinner?” a cheery voice called down the corridor. Mrs. Hayes quickly left the kitchen to greet her husband, leaving Meredith and Dominic to stare after Anthea in confusion.

By the time Anthea returned from wherever she had disappeared to, her father and her little sister Kim were already seated around the dinner table. Meredith was munching on a roll, and Dominic was showing Kim how to fold a napkin into a frog. Mrs. Hayes was the first to notice the large, ill-fitting gray sweater Anthea had thrown on over her other clothes.

“Are you cold, dear?” she asked. She got up and placed her hand on Anthea’s forehead, much to her daughter’s obvious discomfort. “You don’t have a fever, do you?”

Anthea ducked and lowered her eyes. “I’m fine, mom. Really.”

Meredith cleared her throat. “These rolls are great, Mrs. Hayes. Where did you get them?”

Anthea glanced thankfully in Meredith’s direction as her mom turned and started talking about how she had found them for such a cheap price that it really would have been a sin not to buy them. Anthea slipped next to her sister and grabbed a roll to put on her plate.

“Why were you gone so long?” Kim whispered to her, her eyes sparkling with curiosity.

Anthea shook her head. “Not now, pumpkin nose.”

Kim grumbled and folded her arms. “You’re a pumpkin nose.”

Anthea laughed and scooped a large helping of macaroni and cheese onto her plate. “It’s just…growing pains.”

“Growing pains?” Dominic raised one eyebrow. “You stopped growing in seventh grade.”

“Hey, don’t make fun of my shortness.” Anthea sat up a little taller in her chair.

Mrs. Hayes pushed the bowl of broccoli a little closer to her daughter. “Do you need any medicine, hon?”

“No thanks, mom.” Anthea eyed the broccoli like it was a large mold growing out of the table. Meredith plucked a piece of broccoli from the bowl and popped it in her mouth.

“So. All we have to do to our costumes is make the headpieces.”

“The hardest part,” added Dominic. He was scooping macaroni into his mouth like it might run away from him at any moment.

“What are we going to make them out of?” Meredith grabbed another piece of broccoli and chewed thoughtfully. “We could use helmets, I suppose.”

“What about paper mâché?” Anthea nudged the broccoli towards Meredith gingerly. “I’ve made a ton of stuff out of paper mâché.”

“That might work.” Meredith grabbed the bowl of broccoli and dumped the rest of the vegetables onto her plate.

“You need water and flour to make paper mâché, right?” Dominic asked.

Anthea took one bite of her macaroni, grabbed the plate, and got up out of her chair. “Yeah, I think so. I’ve got a whole bag of flour in the kitchen.”

The three kids got up with a clatter. They paused when Mrs. Hayes cleared her throat. “What do you say?” she said, raising her eyebrows.

“May we be excused?” they mumbled at different speeds. Mrs. Hayes nodded, and the teens resumed their rush to the kitchen.

Mrs. Hayes shook her head and smiled. “Remember when we had that much energy?” she said to her husband.

“Nope.” Mr. Hayes scooped a large portion of macaroni into his mouth. “Delicious, as always.”

“Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Hayes glanced at the kitchen doorway. “Growing pains…”

Anthea was trying not to walk funny. Strange how pain in your shoulders can affect the way you walk…

“Hey, you guys get the flour, I’ll be right back.” Anthea opened a cabinet that held the flour and stiffly started limping out of the room.

“Wait, where are you disappearing to this time?” Meredith asked.

“I’ll be right back,” Anthea repeated. She went out the opposite door so she wouldn’t have to go past her parents and sister.

By the time she reached the bathroom, the pain had wrapped itself around her body. After she closed and locked the door, she shed her shirt quickly. The little nubs on her shoulders had grown. Anthea gingerly touched one of them. It was tender to the touch, like a newly healed patch of skin, or a bruise.

She took a shaky breath. It’s getting worse. If it got any worse, she decided, she would have to tell her mom and dad, Meredith, Dominic, somebody. She had heard about people who had supposedly been born with extra limbs. What about people who grew extra limbs? All Anthea could think of as she stared at the two extra knobs was Stitch from Lilo and Stitch growing his third pair of arms. That almost made her smile, but then another spasm racked her whole upper body. She squeezed her eyes shut and bit her top lip to keep from screaming. The pain radiated from her shoulder down her back and around her sides. She was nearly on the floor when the pain suddenly subsided. She straightened back up, breathing heavily. Was it her imagination, or did they grow another half inch?

Knocking at the door.

“Ani? You all right?”

“Do you need any assistance?”

“Shut up, Dom!”

A smack, probably Meredith hitting Dominic. I can’t believe he takes our abuse, Anthea thought, smiling. She threw her shirt and sweater over her head. She straightened them out and called, “Be right out.”