Errands

After my long chemistry lecture and lab, I decided to make my Tuesday even longer by going grocery shopping. I think I figured I would just get the bulk of my work done in one day so I could stay in my dorm room and watch Netflix the rest of the week.

I stepped onto the bus bound for Meijer, quickly swiped my card and rushed to grab a seat in an empty row. I dropped my backpack in the seat by the window and sat in the other one. After only a few seconds, the bus doors wheezed shut and we were off. I dug through the front pocket of my backpack and pulled out a few extraneous mechanical pencils before finding my iPod, then stuck the earbuds into my ears and put the songs on shuffle. The opening riff from “Thunderstruck” began, and I leaned back and closed my eyes.

Even with the lyrics blasting into my ears, I still saw equations for chemical reactions scroll on the back of my eyelids. The worst part is that they weren’t even in my handwriting; they were notes that my chem buddy wrote in my notebook. He kept getting frustrated that I was taking too long to write something down and stopping mid-equation to stare out the window. I’d been out late Monday night getting my Halloween costume, so I had a great excuse to be a bit spacey.

The eradication of chemistry from my brain was almost complete by the middle of “Immortals”. I tapped my knee on every other beat and let my head roll back and forth. I swayed forward as the bus came to a stop, but kept my eyes closed and pressed the earbuds further in. When I felt a tap on my shoulder I first pretended like I hadn’t noticed, but after the second one I stuck a smile on my face and looked up. “Uh huh?”

“Would you mind if I sat next to you?” is what I’m pretty sure she said. Fall Out Boy made her words kind of garbled, but the woman had her hand on the back of my seat in an obvious gesture. I leaned back and stared at the three empty seats just across the aisle, then narrowed my eyes at her.

“Sure…” I scooched over and rolled my fat backpack onto my lap. Resting my head on top of it, I watched the lady sit down and place her leather purse on the seat. I’m guessing she was either my age or a couple of years older. She was dressed like she was going to an upscale party, or maybe she just enjoys wearing fancy dresses. I watched her pale beige high heels tapping on the floor of the bus as she crossed her legs. The maroon fabric of her dress shifted across her knees, catching flashes of daylight in its folds.

After a few seconds it became painfully apparent that she was looking at me. I lifted my head up and looked at her nose for a heartbeat before taking one earbud out. “Yeah?”

“U of M student?” she asked, smiling at my Go Blue! shirt. Her long black hair swooped down her face as she tilted her head.

I nodded. “Yup.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Cool.”

I put my chin back onto my backpack. The bus took a right turn. The song ended and there were a few seconds of only the rumbling of the vehicle.

“So where are you headed?”

I groaned. “Meijer.”

“I’m going to Joann Fabrics, so that’s the stop I’ll be taking!” The lady squinted at me and smirked. “Do you want me to stop talking?”

I’d planned on listening to my iPod for the full forty minutes, but after only one more song I found myself skipping all the rest because none of them felt right at the moment. Finally, I turned the iPod off and stuffed it back into my backpack. I turned to stare at the lady. She was fiddling with her phone.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

She smiled and put the phone down. “Elaine. You?”

“Margaret.” I studied her more closely. “You’re not in one of my chem classes, are you?”

“Chemistry? No.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a small notebook. She held it up in front of her face, the cover of the notebook displaying the words “Diff EQ” in curly purple writing. “I’m an engineering major, so if you’re in any of those classes I might be there.”

“I haven’t taken differential equations yet,” I admitted.

Elaine set the notebook down on top of her purse and nodded at the bus driver. “What do you think he’s been talking about?” she asked. After I adjusted myself to the random change in subject, I glanced up at the driver. He was having a conversation using his radio, but from the seat in the back all I could here was a garbled mess of static.

“Sometimes they get calls about some person who doesn’t know what bus they need to take,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s one of those.”

After about ten minutes, we discovered the actual topic of conversation. My stomach lurched as the bus suddenly took a turn it wasn’t supposed to take. The road we were on now was unfamiliar to me, and as I stared out the window I suddenly got the feeling that the bus had shrunk to half its normal size. A loud buzzing started in my ears, so I couldn’t hear what the bus driver had started saying to the passengers. It felt like my chest was too thin and my heart would just pop right out of my body so I pressed the backpack closer to me, but the feeling persisted. To my horror a stream of tears decided to pour out from my eyes, so I stayed facing the window without actually registering what was going on outside.

“Are you okay, Margaret?” Elaine put a hand on my knee and I flinched.

“Yeah yeah, I’m good,” I gasped, the words coming out more strained than I’d hoped. “Just…just casually having a panic attack, no big deal.”

“Panic attack?” Out of the corner of my eye I saw her fishing for something in her purse. “Here, want some water?”

The part of me that was freaking out told me that I should just sit there and suffer, but my rational part won after a few seconds and grabbed the water bottle that Elaine was holding. I took two sips and sank low into my backpack.

A minute later and I was completely fine. “Well that was embarrassing,” I mumbled, handing back the water. “That hasn’t happened in a while.”

“No, it’s all right,” Elaine consoled me. “I know a couple of people who get panic attacks about things. Oh, I think this is our stop.”

“What? It is? I didn’t hear anything the bus driver said.”

“Oh. The section of the road that Meijer is on is blocked off because of some kind of accident. We have to get off on this road and walk. I wonder if the road’s blocked off for pedestrians as well.”

“Guess we’ll find out when we get there.” I shifted my backpack around and put the straps on as the bus came to a halt. Elaine and I thanked the bus driver and stepped out onto the sidewalk, looking around to take stock of our current location. We were on the same north-south road as Meijer, and my always reliable inner compass located the direction in which we needed to walk.

We started off in silence, which I broke after a minute by blurting out “See this is why I don’t take the buses.”

“You mean, the panic attack?” Elaine shifted her purse strap on her shoulder.

“Yeah.” I grimaced. “I hate buses and I hate unexpected changes. You combine the two and yippee, you get the exact right condition for a Margaret-style claustrophobic spectacle!”

“Are you okay now? Do you want me to carry your backpack for you?”

I laughed. “You can carry my backpack if you want, but besides the feeling like there’s a weight sitting on top of my chest I’m fine.” I stretched my shoulders and pointed to the spot right in the middle under my clavicle. “This right here. But that’ll be better in a little while anyway so it’s all cool.”

Elaine nodded. “If you don’t want to take the bus back, I’ll walk with you to campus.”

“I said it’ll be better,” I protested. “And you’re wearing high heels!”

She grinned and shook her head. “I’ve got friends who get panic attacks, remember? I’d be fine with walking. Besides, I wouldn’t mind spending a bit more time with you.”

I stuck my hands in my pockets and blushed. “Yeah, alright. You seem okay. Like, not the murderous type or anything.”

She chuckled, and I looked into her cool green eyes. I could feel the pressure lifting off of my chest already.

“Oh, one condition though,” I added.

Her eyes sparkled as she raised her eyebrows. “And what would that be?”

“You get to carry my backpack on the way back.”

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Part 3

Every day. Every freaking day. Dominic ran out of his house and down the street. He didn’t stop running until he reached Anthea’s road, a couple of streets down. He stopped himself at the intersection and held his knees, struggling for breath. He felt a bit better, but his step father’s words were still ringing in his ear. “Damn kid can’t do anything right” “Where the hell did you get such clumsy fingers?” “If you drop another can I might just drop one on your head, you hear me?”

“Yes, dad.” Dominic stood up and ran his fingers through his hair. “Sure, dad.”

He looked down the street. He could see Anthea’s little blue house. Sure, it was only five o’ clock, and trick or treating didn’t start until six. She wouldn’t mind if he came over a bit early. Thank goodness he still had his costume on. His house was toxic. He wasn’t about to go back in there.

He trudged to her house and knocked on the door a couple of times. Mrs. Hayes answered the door. “Dominic?” She smiled. “Just can’t stay away, can you?”

Dominic feigned a smile. “Yeah, guess not.”

“Well, come in.”

Dominic gratefully came into the house. He was a little surprised to find Meredith already sitting at the kitchen table, in the middle of a chess game with Anthea. Only Meredith looked up as Dominic came into the room.

“Hey, Dom.” Meredith gave him a quick wave, then went back to concentrating on the board. She only had her king, knight, rook, and two pawns left scattered on the board. Dominic smirked. One of these times Anthea was going to lose. It was unnatural for someone to win that much.

“Hey, Anthea,” Dominic said loudly, tapping her on her back to get her attention. She jerked, and one of her pawns collapsed on the board. She whipped her head around.

“Don’t…don’t do that,” she snapped, putting one hand to her back and staring at Dominic. Dominic took a step back.

“Whoa, sorry. What’s wrong?”

Anthea relaxed and sighed. “Nothing, just a bit jumpy today. Probably since it’s Halloween.”

“Oh…Okay…” Dominic didn’t think that made much sense, but he didn’t question it.

Anthea took Meredith’s rook with one of her knights. “Check. Help yourself to some of the candy on the counter, Dominic. My mom bought way too much.”

“Thanks!” Dominic made his way over to the counter where a large bowl was sitting. He looked for anything chocolate and chose one at random.

“So what route are we taking?” he asked, popping the candy into his mouth.

“Same as last year, probably,” Meredith said. “We got a decent amount of candy.”

“Yeah, I remember that.”

“Okay I give up.” Meredith tipped her own king over. “Hey Dom, let’s go make sure our costumes are good.” Dominic followed her into the downstairs bathroom. They used the mirror in there to make minor adjustments to their capes and hats.

 

Anthea played with her black knight, staring after Dominic. She had never held a secret from him, should she…

She set the knight down. No. No one finds out. One person is enough.

 

Jason wandered through the streets of Toronto, searching for something to steal. His eyes rested on a family sitting by the fountain. He smiled and walked around the other side, passing by them. As he passed, he twiddled his fingers behind his back. He imagined his fingers were grabbing the wallet in the back pocket of the man…

The wallet twitched. Just as Jason walked by the family on the other side, the wallet flew out of the man’s pocket and landed in his hand. Jason quickly placed the wallet in his own pocket and walked on.

He smirked.

 

Meredith was helping her mom with Thanksgiving pies when her cell phone rang. After wiping flour off of her hands and excusing herself, she swiped her phone’s screen to answer it and went into the next room. “Anthea?”

“I have fuzz,” she said. Meredith’s phone reception was a bit spotty, so she wasn’t sure she heard that right.

“Sorry, you have…what?” Meredith plugged her left ear with her finger and brought the phone closer to her other ear.

“I…have…FUZZ.” Anthea’s voice sounded breathy, like she had just been running.

“I still don’t…fuzz?”

“Fuzz, Meredith. On my antennas.” It had been a few weeks since Anthea had shown Meredith her extra limbs, but Meredith immediately knew that’s what she was referring to.

“Okay, so you have fuzzy things growing out of your back. Seriously, Ani, you should get those things looked at. Maybe amputated or something.”

“But I think I know what they are now!”

Meredith huffed. “Antennas?”

“I just called them that because I knew you would know what I was talking about. But from now on I’ll be referring to them as wings.”

Meredith laughed. “Seriously? What, do you think you’re some kind of angel or something?”

“I’m dead serious!” Ani’s voice sounded even more forced now. “You haven’t seen them lately. They’re wings, I tell you!”

“All right, all right.” Meredith lowered her voice. “Do you want me to come over to your house or something?”

“At some point.”

“Well, thanks for being specific. I don’t know what you called me for then.”

“I couldn’t keep this to myself,” Ani whined.

“Yeah, well. Next time you have to tell me about your ‘wings,’ just fly on over here, won’t ya?” Meredith chuckled to herself.

“Fine.” Ani’s voice sounded hurt, and Meredith felt a pang of guilt. “But don’t complain when I wake you up in the middle of the night with a thump on your roof.”

 

When Meredith jerked awake in the middle of the night two weeks later, she thought Christmas had come early. She could have sworn she’d heard Santa’s reindeer on her roof in her dreamy haze. Fully awake now, she realized that was nonsense and that she should go back to sleep. But something had woken her up.

 

Anthea lay dazed on top of Meredith’s roof. She still felt like she was dreaming even though she felt sharp pain shooting up through her right foot. She must have sprained it when she landed.

She noticed that Meredith’s window was open, despite the cold. Crazy girl was probably going to get sick. But then she was always cold-blooded, preferred the cold anyway.

Anthea slid down the roof, careful not to put too much weight on her ankle, and slipped through the window.

 

Meredith glanced around her room, trying to spot anything that might have made a sound in the draft while she was sleeping. She nearly choked as something fell into her room from outside. The dark shape made a large thump onto her floor beneath her window and began to grow.

Meredith tried to yell to the shape to go away, but her scream felt like a knife slicing her throat. Her fingers fumbled for her lamp shade pull string next to her bed, and when they finally found it she yanked on it like it was her only source of tangible comfort. The light flooded the room, and Meredith was blinded for a second. When her eyes had adjusted, she stared in shock at her best friend standing in the corner of her room with only her pajamas on.

“Ani?” Meredith held her hand over her fluttering heart and blinked spots out of her eyes. “What the hell are you doing in my bedroom in the middle of the night?”

“To show you these.” Anthea limped towards Meredith’s bed, and something behind her rustled. Meredith stared in awe as bright blue feathered wings unfolded behind her. They filled up most of that side of the room, and they twitched and swayed like they wanted to be flying.

“What the…” Meredith sat up in her bed. “Can…can I touch it?”

Ani walked closer, and one of her wings stretched out to Meredith’s bed. “Sure, but be careful. They’re still fairly new.”

Meredith reached out her hand and tapped a feather with her finger. It felt smooth and strong. And very very real.

“Okay…” Meredith took a deep breath and looked at her friend. Her friend with wings. Ani has wings. She actually…has…wings.

“Meredith?” Ani tilted her head. “You’re not freaking out on me, are you?” Ani took Meredith’s stunned face in her hands. “I can’t afford to have you freak out on me. Not now.”

“No, no.” Meredith cleared her throat and swung her legs around her bed to rest on the floor. “I’m still here. I’m still sane. For now.”

“Thank goodness.” Ani folded her wings back up and sat down on the end of Meredith’s bed. “Because I’m not completely sure I’m sane.”

Meredith took her blanket and put it over her friend’s shoulders. “Yeah. Going out in the middle of the night, in December, with only your pajamas, and crashing into people’s houses unannounced. Yeah, you’re pretty cracked up.”

Anthea laughed. “You’re the one who left your window open.” Meredith realized that Anthea had red streaks down her face. Despite her joking and supposed calmness, she must have been crying.

“Hey,” Meredith said soothingly, wrapping her arm around Anthea’s shoulder. “We’ll figure this out.”

“Yeah, I know.” Anthea rested her head on Meredith’s shoulder and broke her strong facade. “I know.”

 

Sitting on an overturned dumpster and leaning against a brick wall, Jason thumbed through the day’s earnings. One hundred twenty one dollars and twenty six cents. Not bad.

He shifted position to flex his cramped wings. The puny things looked more like a plucked chicken than anything else, but he was hopeful they would become something more impressive soon. These chicken wings aren’t giving me any luck with the ladies, Jason thought with a chuckle. He thought he saw the edge of a blood red feather peeking out from among the gray fluff covering his wings, but maybe that was wishful thinking.

 

When Anthea woke up on stacks of pillows on the floor, it took her a few frightening seconds to realize she has spent the night in Meredith’s room.

She jerked up. “Meredith? What time is it?” Anthea heard a grumble from the bed next to her, then saw Meredith’s hand grab for her clock.

“Five in the morning. Why are you up so early?” Meredith set the clock back down and pulled the covers closer to her. Anthea wanted to go back to sleep too, but she had to get home before her mom noticed she was gone.

Anthea got up and stretched her aching back. “Remind me again why I’m sleeping on the floor?”

Meredith groaned and threw her covers back off, giving Anthea a dirty look. “Because your freaking wings would take up the whole bed. There was no way we could share. Now please let me go back to sleep.” Meredith covered her face with her covers and sighed.

Anthea grinned. “Fine, grumpy guts. You never were a morning person.” She set the pillows next to Meredith’s bed in a neat pile and went over to the still open window. Cold air blasted in and made her shiver, but it also filled her lungs and made her feel more awake, alert, energized.

“See you later,” Anthea said to the bed. An exaggerated snore answered her. She laughed and stepped out onto Meredith’s roof.

The wind buffeted Anthea, making a whistling noise through her feathers. She crouched and turned her head towards her house. Though it was still dark, she could still see the outline of her house because of the porch lights they left on every night. Anthea got up, took a deep breath, and let the tilt of the roof pull her down towards the edge of the house. Just as her right foot kicked off from the edge, she unfurled her wings and held her breath. She felt gravity pull her towards the bushed in Meredith’s yard, and her whole body jerked as the air caught her wings and slowed her descent. She glided for a second or two before beating the air with her wings to gain height. Only then did Anthea let herself breath. That part will take a lot of getting used to. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights.

Her landing was a lot smoother than her first one. She shimmied down to her own open window and popped into her room.

She quickly jumped into bed, tucked her wings underneath her, and pulled her covers up over her. Despite her quickly beating heart, it only took her a few minutes to drift into sleep.

 

Midnight, or some time around there. Perfect time to practice.

Jason sat cross legged on one side of the dark alley. There were a dozen empty Vernors cans lined up in a row about four meters away from him. Jason took a deep breath and flicked his finger upward towards the can farthest to the left. It jumped off the ground and floated up for a meter before pausing in midair. Jason kept that one there as he lifted the other cans in the same way. When they were all stationary in a neat line, Jason twisted both hands and envisioned them stacking on top of each other. The light-weight cans easily shifted position with his movement and made a vertical line.

Jason relaxed his hand, and the cans dropped back to the ground with a clatter. He turned his attention to the unopened paint cans lying behind the now unorganized pile of soda cans. Each weighed at least four kilograms. Raising both hands in front of him, one palm up to lift them and one palm out to steady them, Jason slowly lifted the cans, higher than he had lifted the soda cans. Despite the brisk wind whipping through his tank top, a warmth spread through his body, radiating from the base of his neck and creating a solitary bead of sweat on his forehead. Once he was satisfied with the height the paint cans had gained, he lowered his steadying hand and jerked his other to the left. The cans smashed against the brick wall, breaking open and splattering dark paint over the bricks.

Finally, Jason leapt to his feet and walked down the alleyway until he was standing next to a broken down Mini Cooper. In an effort to not completely melt his brain, Jason placed his hands on the rusting metal. He found out early on that direct contact made telekinesis a lot easier.

Jason put his right foot slightly back and closed his eyes. Three breaths should do it. One…two…three…

As he exhaled his third breath, Jason lifted his hands. The car creaked after him and reluctantly let go of the cold ground. He slid one hand off of the car and held it there for a few seconds before dropping his other hand. The car quivered in the air, then dropped with a crash to the ground. Jason leapt back as a hubcap clattered next to his feet.

Well. Not bad.

Jason left the dripping walls and wrecked car behind him as he walked out of the alley.

The police are going to have one hell of a time trying to figure out what happened here.

Run Home Children: Updates

After five years of participating in NaNoWriMo, I finally “won” this year with my novel Run Home Children. I celebrated on December 1st with a bag of chocolate donuts and a night of binge-watching Jessica Jones.

Now comes the fun part. Typing up my story and making massive edits.

Luckily, I have the entire thing written out. Most, if not all, of the scenes of the book are written. There is a beginning, middle, and an end. At this point, I have a complete first draft. As this is the second time I have succeeded in such a feat, and the first where the book I completed is the first book in the series, I am ecstatic to be one step closer to having a novel published.

Look for more updates, and more chapters, for Run Home Children in the coming months!

Drained

The kid had a nightlight on top of his cabinet, so the first room tonight wasn’t as dark as I’d hoped it would be. I think it was supposed to be Noah’s Ark. It glowed with a sickening orange light, and there was a ceramic giraffe on it that had one big glowing eye that shined right on the boy’s throat.

I slithered under the bed, curled my fingers around the electrical cord and tried to force it out of the socket. I figured that since I’d been able to do that easily when I was alive, I’d be able to figure it out. Guess my reasoning skills leave something to be desired.

With the light still shining, I crawled up the side of the bed and across the pillow in the half that was still in shadow. Thankfully, the kid’s head was untouched by the luminous giraffe, and I was able to press my fingers on his temple. I lowered my head and inhaled.

The smell of chocolate cake and burnt candles filled my mind. The boy was dreaming about a birthday. I sighed and sunk deeper. Wisps of his dream drifted across my vision. As they brushed against me, I drank in their warmth and brightness. When I’d had enough of the little bursts of happiness, I let myself drop fully into the dream.

For a moment I ignored the boy and stretched my limbs, relishing the feeling of depth in my fingers and toes. Eyes closed, head raised, I breathed in the bubbly emotions. I slid my eyelids open and smirked.

The birthday boy stiffened at the sudden appearance of a ghastly shadow figure in his dream. Before he could taint it with too much fear, I leapt forward and ripped the fresh dream from his body. Within seconds I’d consumed it and fled the boy’s mind.

I receded into the shadows, and he sat up in bed and screamed.

The remnants of his dream within me trickled out to my stretching fingers, but I still felt empty. This house was spent, so I drifted through the wall and out into the moonless night. I passed the next few houses, shying away from the light pouring out of their bedroom windows. Finally I reached one that was completely dark.

In the first bedroom on the second floor lay a little girl, no more than five years old. The covers bunched around her body appeared simply as splotches of navy blue and gray under the pale starlight peeking in through the window, but as I slid down the window ledge it I saw it was covered in superheroes, leaping and crouching in every available space on the fabric. Just below the girl’s chin, spider-man was slinging his web in my direction, clinging to a cartoon wall in a ridiculous and humanly-impossible position. I chuckled, then perched on top of the girl and considered the superhero for a moment longer before resting my palms against the child’s forehead.

As soon as I entered her mind I knew I’d be getting nothing good from her. The fragments of a nightmare hissed around me. I brushed the nightmare aside with one hand and prepared to slide away, out of the house, in search of better dreams.

In an instant, the girl’s eyes flew open and her hand snatched my outstretched arm.

We were too shocked to do anything but stare at each other for a silent second. I suppose I’d forgotten how much there is to see inside a person’s eyes, especially when they’re wide with terror. When I regained control of my thoughts, I decided to simply fly up through the ceiling as fast as I could; the girl’s grasp was making me lightheaded, which is a crazy sensation for someone without a physical head. I bunched up my energy and pushed myself off the child, but intense pain, the first pain I’d felt since my death, burst in my chest and sent me tumbling back.

I reluctantly looked back down at the child. Somehow she had a tight grip on a spot where I was pretty sure my heart would be if I were alive. If I weren’t so rattled I’d have appreciated the role reversal. I sighed as the warm, happy dreams inside me dripped down the girl’s arm; an entire week’s work was bleeding out of my body. When I felt I couldn’t give any more, I collapsed into a quivering shadow on her sheets.

The girl’s shadow passed through me as she sat up. I jerked my head up and saw her face peering down at me, and the bright twinkle in her eyes made me cringe. I frantically tried to figure out what that look meant. Was she relieved? Or maybe upset, enough to hurt me more? Was she some kind of angel, living on earth to protect children from lost souls like me?

Slowly, she reached out to place her hands on me, and I shut my eyes.

Guilt trickled into my body. I flinched as it spread to my head and made way for the fear and wariness that quickly followed. Faster and faster, melancholy mingled with glee and confusion with curiosity. With a screech, I pushed free of the girl and dove off the bed. I fell to the floor with a thud and rushed to the open window. Instead of taking off into the air, I crashed to the ground and lay in the bushes, hugging myself against the chaos that was swirling inside me.

I could feel dozens of emotions. They competed for my attention, pushing their way to my mind. I trembled as each new emotion surfaced. I felt anguish, pleasure, longing. I felt terrified. I felt a thousand points inside of me tugging and tearing me in a thousand directions.

But I didn’t feel empty.