From time to time I’ve posted excerpts from my works-in-progress. I did several for Parallax, now called The Unintentional Time Traveler. Here’s one from my very latest project, about a world in which teenagers reach adulthood via a fantastic metamorphosis. Don’t look for perfect writing, as I’m still in first draft mode. But to see where I’m going with this project, here is a brief scene from early on:
Hold on, hold on, I told myself. I had a searing need to flap my arms, or wings, or whatever protruded out from my shoulders. Me, I was me, I needed to remember. Hannah Pace, that’s me. I live at 31927 Carousel Boulevard. My cat is Mr. Stinkers, named when I was little. I’m smart and not very pretty, and not sure I want to be, anyway.
Forget pretty, I’m some kind of small dragon now.
I gave in to the urge to shake myself out, and amniotic fluid exploded off of me, landing on the ceiling, desk, and my True Blood poster. Dad would not like this, me having my meta without anyone around, but I didn’t feel particularly eggish the night before, so I gave myself a pass.
Broad wings, from the look of them. I turned to look at myself in the full-length mirror, but either my eyes were still adjusting or I’d gotten fluid on the glass, because all I could discern was a long streak of red. Maybe a big spike at the end of my tail. Seeing that, I remembered Dr. Hendrix’s class. Only practice moving in a safe environment. Ask for help. Stay grounded. Grounded.
With wings, could I fly? This was way better than a silly star phoenix, with all that burning that just made a mess.
I opened my mouth and roared, fighting a deep need to blow fire across the room.
I couldn’t wait to show Gabby and Jeff.
I wouldn’t get the chance. In an instant my movements were difficult to sustain, as if I were attempting to move through thick, clear liquid. It dawned on me that time had slowed down, a lot actually. It wasn’t possible, was it? I must have been hallucinating. Maybe first metas did that to people, but I couldn’t remember Dr. Hendrix ever saying such a thing to us.
More than the sluggishness around me, though, was the glimmer around my bedroom window. The sill, frame, and glass began to melt away, becoming transparent, leaving a rectangular hole in the wall and letting all of the cool night air to waft over to me. I’d have expected to get goose bumps, but my dragon skin seemed to need no defense against the shift in temperature.
I felt a sudden urge to leap through the opening, and as I was coiling my leg muscles to spring me off of the bed, I heard a voice, only in my head: You know where to go. Fly, little dragon.
This should have concerned me, as I’d never been one for imaginary voices. And still I crouched, then jumped, then flew, the air becoming cooler as I beat the last of the goo off my wings and bobbed away. We weren’t taught to leap off into the sky, so what was I doing? I wanted to worry about where I was going, why the window disappeared, and who was inside my head, but the process of feeling concern seemed as stuck as time had just a moment ago. Fifty beats of my wings into the flight I started to get the hang of defying gravity. I’d leveled off, and with only a vague sense of where I should head, decided it was time to take in the view.
I’d heard about airplanes, of course, but I’d never been inside one because my parents liked to keep their feet on the ground. The world looked so small to me, as if I’d left it behind and wasn’t zooming above it, just out of reach. With the slightest change in how I held my tail, I could dip and roll side over side. I cut through the wind like a bullet. A dragon bullet, that was me now.
From inside my chest, I felt two hearts thumping away. I must be dreaming, I thought. I couldn’t have anything this incredible happen in my actual life. Any minute now I would wake up…
Then I saw it and knew at once that this was my destination. On the rear side of the mountain that stood over our village, the part our town elders told us was impassible and tormented by constant blizzards, a small house with a thatched roof and a thin stream of firewood smoke drifting from the chimney. I circled, wondering how it was that I landed, and without a second guess, I leaned back and beat my wings behind me, setting my feet gingerly on the lawn in the front yard. My hind claws sank into the grass, and I stood there, seized to the earth. I was still rocking one leg free when a small man came out from the house.
He was bundled head to toe in small swatches of fur, as if a hundred squirrels had died for the cause of this one slipshod winter coat. Either my sense of smell had improved in dragon state or he was particularly smelly, but I covered my snout with one wing, and he was still 50 feet away from me. At my attempt to shield myself from his stink, he frowned.
“Over here,” he said in a deep voice. I figured he was talking to me, but before I could see where he meant, three more people came outside to the lawn. One of them was Dr. Hendrix. I would have smiled to see her, except I couldn’t summon my cheeks to rise.
“Hannah,” she said, still walking toward me. Assessing me, maybe. I supposed I was small for a dragon because I’d fit inside my bedroom earlier, but now it looked like I’d grown during my flight over here. In art class we’d learned about forced perspective, where the sizes of things are really optical illusions. Gabby and I had spent an hour trying to line ourselves up so it could look like she was a ballerina twirling on my hand, but we never got the angles precisely right. So I imagined that this house just seemed too small to me. As Dr. Hendrix walked up to me, however, I realized I had multiplied in volume.
“Drink this,” she said, setting down a large pail of blue liquid that looked like window cleaner. I cocked my head to one side hoping it was the international sign for double checking.
Dr. Hendrix nodded. She had wrinkles on the sides of her face that had come early to her life. I couldn’t remember a time when I’d seen her smile, but I’d also never known her to lie to anyone. I plunged into the metal bucket and inhaled the drink. And coughed because drinking wasn’t coming naturally to me, and now my lungs were unhappy with me. Fire billowed up my throat and streaked across the snow-covered field, igniting a small, dry bush. Oops.
Fortunate for the thatched roof house, which would probably ignite like a book of matches, Dr. Hendrix’s drink knocked me out cold. The last thing I remember is the smell of burning shrubbery.