My fingers tingled. They often did while I ran. This time the sensation felt more like lightening running up the length of my arms. My head buzzed. The sky, the grass, everything around me, the colors became distorted, like a prism. I couldn’t focus. My legs begged for movement. They would go whether I let them or not. I focused on Heidi, my best friend, who lay on the ground, writhing in pain. Then I saw the girl who had taken the ball away from her, and followed her path toward our goal. I changed directions, away from Heidi and toward the ball. A gust of wind passed through me, around me. The scent I picked up of sweat, anger and fear all bundled into one, enticed me. I sensed the blood racing through the girl’s body as her heart drummed against her chest. She ran fast, dribbling the ball down the court toward our goal. I caught her and manipulated the ball from the girl’s deft footwork. Someone screamed behind me as I kicked it into their goal. The world slanted in slow motion. I turned, trying to make sense of the sounds. People stood paralyzed, their eyes on me, their mouths hanging open.
Feeling lightheaded, I spun around, hoping to see Heidi up and cheering me on. I didn’t see her so I searched the bleachers hoping to find Samuel, my boyfriend. When I finally located him, Samuel’s eyes were closed, his arms flattened to his sides, his fingers twitching. I watched him, not comprehending. His lips moved like a marionette. I didn’t understand what he was doing. I’d never seen him behave like that before.
A familiar voice called my name. It startled me, yet I couldn’t place it. As I studied the bleachers, I saw James, Heidi’s boyfriend, standing next to Samuel. Instead of staring at me like everyone else, his head was turned. I followed his gaze to the other end of the field and noticed that the girl who had knocked Heidi down lay in a heap, her coach crouched next to her. My legs seemed to have a mind of their own. They carried me to her. Her coach saw me coming, stood, and walked toward me.
“Is she hurt?” I barely whispered the words.
The coach put her hands on my arms and held me to the spot. “No, you just knocked her off of her feet. I think it scared her a little.” She tried to smile, but she only managed a grimace. “I’m actually not sure what happened.” The coach titled her head as she spoke and turned back toward the girl on the ground. “You should go back to your own team,” she nodded toward the other end of the field. As I turned to leave, I felt the coach watch me. She was weary of me, I could smell it.
I raised my head to find Heidi and caught her scent. An ambulance pulled up to area in the field where she had been knocked down. Two men ran around and opened the back of the vehicle. They pulled out a stretcher so I started to run, ignoring the person calling my name.
“Rae, don’t go over there. Hold on. Stop.” The voice pulled at me and wouldn’t let me think. It was coach’s voice. Why would she try to stop me? She knew how close Heidi and I were.
“Heidi!” I called, desperate to get to her. The fog in my head seemed to be clearing.
Heidi reached for me from the stretcher as the two men carried her toward the ambulance. Her gaze could have burned a hole through me, as I ran up to her. “You need to come with me, Rae.” She grabbed my hand. “Don’t stay here without me.”
I climbed into the back of the ambulance after telling the driver that I was her sister and her only relative up here. Heidi had a firm grip on my hand and wasn’t about to go anywhere without me. Her agony was written all over her face. I wondered what her father would do when he found out what happened. He never approved of her playing soccer.
Even though my mother hated soccer, she made most of my games when she didn’t have to work. The only reason she wasn’t here today was because she had to meet a deadline for her job. I understood. She wanted to keep the house. I wished for the hundredth time that she had come.
When we arrived at the hospital, my stomach rolled as I waited for Heidi’s parents to finally give the okay for her surgery. The air in the building smelled of blood and rotting meat. It seemed like hours after we filled out all of the paperwork, before she was prepped for the operating room. After I watched the gurney finally take Heidi away, I walked to the cafeteria and bought some french fries. I’d always heard hospital food was bad, but how could they ruin french fries? I dumped the tray into the trash and headed up the elevator to find Heidi’s room.
As I sat alone in her room waiting for her to get out of surgery, I tried to replay the events of the game. I still couldn’t make sense of it all. Why had the people stood and stared afterwards as if they were in some kind of trance? Samuel looked like he may have had a seizure. I needed to talk to him to find out what happened. He hadn’t come to the hospital and I didn’t have a cell phone.
I don’t know how long I sat in Heidi’s room before I heard the rhythmic squeak of a gurney as it rolled down the hallway, intruding into my subconscious. A chill ran through me as I felt change in the air. I looked up as a silhouette of my body flashed on the hospital wall. For a second, the darkened shadow looked like it stood on four feet with a tail. I closed my eyes and tried to erase the vision.
Two orderlies transported Heidi onto her hospital bed. I smiled at them as they prepared to leave. One of them nodded back to me, the other rolled his eyes and looked away. What was it about me that turned off guys? After watching Heidi’s still form for a few minutes, I decided to stretch out in one of the two hard vinyl chairs provided for the family’s comfort. It looked like it had a stain from some dark murky substance that could have been blood or urine, but it had a fresh coat of polish and smelled like Lysol. I sat and stared at the IV bags that dripped from Heidi’s arm as I visualized the game.
The last thing I remember clearly was watching the score board as it changed to 2-0, our favor. During the final half, things had gotten more physical. We weren’t surprised. The pushing and shoving had intensified after our last goal, as did the occasional trip here and there. This was the third year our team had played in the Nationals. We had a great team, even better than last year.
As the other team became increasingly agitated, Heidi and I decided to put on the pressure. Coach Johns warned us about antagonizing the players on the opposing team. Her warning didn’t faze us. We smiled and reassured her that things were under control. Weren’t we winning? I smiled, remembering how great everything felt at that moment.
We continued to push the other team, provoking them, until one of their forwards couldn’t contain herself any longer. She ran up behind Heidi, who had just managed to steal the ball from their center forward. The girl pulled on Heidi’s jersey as she brought her leg around in a wide arc and kicked Heidi’s foot out from under her. A loud crack resonated from her falling form. Heidi’s face contorted as she screamed in agony. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. The girl who kicked Heidi took the ball, seemingly unaware of what she had done, and ran with it. Everything in the periphery of my vision started to blur after that.
I watched Heidi sleep. Hopefully she could tell me what happened if she ever woke up. I sniffed and smelled the sweat and dirt that covered my body. There wasn’t a shower in the bathroom, but I managed to clean up some before curling up into a ball to watch Planet Earth. It was the only channel that didn’t have fuzzy lines all through it. They showed some of the remote islands off the coast of Ireland. The narrator described the country and its beauty as he drove through pastures, green and overgrown, to the wild cliffs that bordered the ocean.
A feeling of freedom and happiness overwhelmed me as I ran through the lush green fields, faster, then faster. Someone ran behind me but I didn’t want to look back. I climbed a rocky outcrop that hung over the ocean and pushed back against the force of the wind as I looked over the water. The clouds in the distance moved in and out as they curled around and through one another. They traveled quickly and ominously toward the spot that I had claimed. I turned studying the figure next to me, a Wolf. I thought I caught a glimpse of a smile just before he raised his head to howl.
I heard myself yell ‘Nate’ as I awoke, sucking in the odor of the vinyl seat. I shook my head, hoping it had only been a dream. Heidi lay in front of me, her eyes open and glassy. “Hey girl,” I said as I grabbed the hand that didn’t have a hundred tubes hanging out of it. I loved Heidi. She was my best friend. I could hardly bare to watch her in pain.
Her voice sounded hoarse. “What happened to you yesterday?” Her words slurred together. Her eyes were puffy, her lids heavy.
“That big center we kept doubling up on crushed you and you fell the wrong way on your ankle,” I said. “Don’t you remember?”
She waved her other hand at me. “I know that.” She shook her head. “She was gunning for me the entire game.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “I feel a little dizzy. Give me a minute.”
“You don’t have to talk,” I said. “They’ve given you a bunch of pain medicine.” I stood to get closer to her. “Didn’t you feel her pull on you and knock you off your feet?”
Her head rolled back and forth on the pillow. “No, dummy, I mean after all that. What happened to you?”
“I stole the ball back from her,” I said as I squeezed her hand. “She didn’t have…”
“You’re so dense.” Her eyes closed.
“I made a goal.” I hesitated. “Did you see how far I kicked the ball?”
“I’m not talking about that, Rae.” She tried to laugh, but coughed instead.
“What else is there?” I asked, frustrated. “I wanted to show that girl she couldn’t push us around.” I shrugged embarrassed that I didn’t get what she was talking about.
“Don’t you remember what actually happened?” She seemed to be coming out of her fog.
“You mean before I made the goal? I don’t think I hurt her,” I said. “At least not as bad as you were hurt.” My hand started to sweat from the heat of her palm on mine. I pulled it away slowly.
“Oh my God, Rae, you transformed. It was so wild.” She tried to roll her body toward me. “You growled.”
Now I knew she was high. “No, I didn’t.”
Heidi shook her head. “No, your body started to,” she swallowed as she struggled to find the words, “fade in and out, first there was you.” She closed her eyes as if visualizing the event. “Then there was, like, a ghost of you.” She turned her head toward me as she searched for the right words. “It could have been an animal with four legs. I don’t know. I couldn’t see much. Too many people were in my way.” She put her hand out to me. “But what I did see was outrageous.”
Heidi always told me that I looked different when I ran, like a wild animal. She said my face would sharpen, look almost feral, and my eyes would change in intensity. I just laughed at her when she told me these things. I knew I was different from other kids. I just never wanted to know how different.
I sat back down in my chair and held my head. If what she said was true, it would explain why everyone looked at me so weird. Then I remembered James and Samuel. Samuel must think I’m a freak. I turned back to Heidi. “Are you sure?”
Heidi stared at me, her eyes bleary. “Listen, Rae. Don’t worry. It all happened so fast. People will think they imagined it. It already seems like some kind of dream to me.”
“That’s because you’re on drugs.” I just wanted to jump out the window. I would have considered it if we weren’t on the first floor.
“Did James come by at all?” Heidi’s eyes closed again.
“No,” I said. “And now I understand why.” I walked to the window. “The coach talked to your parents last night.” Leaning into the coolness of the glass, I studied the reflection of my face. Drawn and sad, the glare in the window produced shadows that surrounded me, making me look translucent. I could have been a ghost.
I turned to see if Heidi was still with me. “Coach Johns said she’d talk to me on Monday. She acted so strange when she came by here. She kept saying that there was something she needed to tell me, but she couldn’t remember what it was.”
The coach said that they called the game on account of the injuries. She couldn’t explain what happened after Heidi fell. I asked her if my goal counted. Coach Johns acted like she didn’t even know that I made a goal. She seemed to be avoiding my questions. After she checked on Heidi, she couldn’t get away from me fast enough. Maybe I was just being paranoid. I shook my head. “I guess the team headed back to North Carolina after that.”
“It’s funny, Rae. You remind me of a cat when you run. I guess I always knew the sum total of you equaled more than just you.” She chuckled quietly and groaned. “I think the pain killers are wearing off.”
I wanted to ask her what she meant, but I couldn’t let her suffer. “I’ll get a nurse,” I said as I headed out of the room.
After the nurse left the room, Heidi grabbed my hand. She slurred her words slightly. “Listen. You and I are a team, right?” Her eyes closed for a moment. I could tell she could hardly think straight. “We’ll get through this together. The first thing we’ll do when we get home is talk to your Mom. Maybe she knows what’s going on with you.”
“Okay, Heidi, whatever you say.” I still didn’t know if I believed her. Maybe she dreamed all of this.
“Someone has to know. If not her, then maybe your Dad.”
“Well, that’ll be impossible.” I rolled my eyes. “Don’t you remember, Heidi? He’s gone. He left two years ago.”
Heidi yawned. I could barely hear her speak. “Samuel really likes you, Rae. I know he does. He likes you because you’re different. We’ll deal with the boys when we get back.” She drifted off. I thought she was asleep. She startled me when she opened her eyes and said, “So, did we win?”