First, came the stomachaches; a dull, vacant pain in the pit of one’s gut, followed by the ever-consistent threat of exertion even when simply moving an inch to the side. Then came the vomiting, the kind that forced you to sleep beside the toilet for at least two hours every night, mouth sore with forced exhalation, and nose cringing from the horrid scent of sick, no matter how many times you flush the soulless porcelain bowl. The final stage was a constant banging to the side of your head, a migraine so fierce you can’t help but scream, and shriek, and cry in exhaustion. I was especially loud, according to my mother – or at least that’s what I took from her simple statement of, “I thought you were dying.”
The entire ordeal is a painful, excruciating process and when it finishes, it leaves you breathless and perplexed. A week goes by, and then, far more agonizing, you shift for the first time.
I was just unlucky.
I was in math class. The headaches had returned, and as soon as I worked up the guts to ask for a pass to the clinic, it happened. My mind imploded, my stomach exploded, and I fell to the floor, struggling to stay stable, knocking over desks and pushing my fellow classmates to the side. The transformation was far worse than the sickness that had come previous. Everything hit my body at once. The need to vomit returned, the stomach clenches pursued my gut, and the killer migraines were more harrowing than ever before. And, in addition to that, my entire figure was straining to form the physique of whatever creature I was steadily turning into.
My math teacher had reached for the phone on his desk, dialed several numbers, and lifted it to his ear, panting and frantic over the scene before him, though it surely wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. With a few passing words, he hung up and called out for everyone to stand away. I had a hand on one desk, the opposite on another, and my head was hung low, eyes twisting and churning in their sockets. Growls and snarls and whimpers were falling from my lips, cutting the air with animalistic nature. My skin was burning, as though it desired to burst, each and every cell attempting to press against my outer layer, attempting to use overwhelming force, eager to break me. It was brutal.
I looked down, the rattle of train wheels against train tracks serving as background music, and tenderly ran a finger along a small, needle-sized hole at the crook of my elbow. Of course.
Three security guards had sprung through the doors of my math class, hands grasping onto small, intricate weapons, clad in hard gear, thick boots and unbreakable vests. They had glanced at one another upon seeing my nimble frame near the end of its shift, and in one smooth movement, they had swarmed me, snatching hold of my weak arms, gripping harshly to my shoulders and torso. I struggled to push them off, shove them away, but they were quicker, one in particular leaning forward with his mini-gun and slamming it down into the bend of my arm. It pierced my skin with bruising force and within a moment I was shrieking, roaring at my attackers as though their intent was wrong, uncivilized, when I was the only real monster in the room. They pushed me down, attempting to control the beast inside straining to break free, but were unsuccessful. Though I was falling weary, I threw them off, my hands flying, slamming down onto several desks once more only to set the hard wood aflame, red and yellow and orange flashing up before me, cackling with mute mockery. The shock of my ability came too soon and hands were gripping onto my arms, wrists, and torso again. I was dragged down, my head banging against the floor as the overall force from the tranquilizer took my every movement, my every shift in weight, by surprise.
I stared at the window of the train cart, my eyes straining to keep up with the speedily passing Alaskan landscape. It was bewildering though, no matter how fast the trees went by, or the mountains, or the consistent countryside. I’d never been to Alaska; even the sky seemed different here, though I knew that wasn’t probable. The clouds were fluffier, the upper atmosphere was bluer than I’d ever seen it, and everything was so green. Green leaves on green trees, in green fields of green shrubs.
The beauty of my view was a breath of fresh air, seeing as how I had spent what felt like half of my entire life on several planes. Two layovers, one in Charlotte and the other in Seattle, and three different flights, landing me in Fairbanks, Alaska after roughly eighteen hours.
I scoffed at myself, shaking my head in reprimand, as I turned away from the flashing scenery. Besides the intricate, natural element of entertainment, I was still stuck with the same atmosphere, and setting, for at least another five hours on this horrendous twelve hour train ride to Anchorage. I groaned inaudibly to myself and stared down at my wrist, still swollen from the fresh, permanent marking I had only just received earlier this week.
It was required, of course, otherwise I would never dream of getting a tattoo so plain, so boring, and so geometric. It was merely a black triangle, nothing more. The lines forming each corner and side were a sharp, thick black, straight and narrow, not a single inch out of place or wobbly in artistry.
My mother had taken me by the hand, the day after my first shift, and pushed me out the door, directing me toward the car. Her long blonde hair was messy but went untouched by her own hands; wiry strands were flying this way and that in the harsh, humid Florida breeze. Her pale, pink lips were drawn into a straight line, narrow and pursed, brows pulled into a frown, blank, distant, emotionless.
I presumed she was remembering – the only other time she had gone through this process was with Jacob. And that was a long time ago now. But she was, yet again, living through another terrifyingly vivid experience; both her kids, tinged by the burden of mutation.
Desperately trying not to feel guilty for my mother’s solemnity, I slipped into the car, watching as she locked up the house before turning to me, the lines across her face appearing bolder, weary with exhaustion.
We headed into downtown Fort Myers, an area located a rough twenty or so minutes from our modest home in the outskirts of the city, of which really shouldn’t even be referred to as a city – perhaps municipality was a better word.
The district, however, was a wealthy one. Its expanse provided designer shops, and quality antiques, little markets where you could find whatever your heart desired, as long as you had the money to spend away on it. Most of the civilians that lined the streets wore business uniforms and formal, classy clothing, like black slacks or elegant skirts, and walked confidently, briefcases in hand and cell phones in the other, thumbs tapping away to coworkers or family members. To be honest, I envied them a bit. Not their fancy outfits or the amount of cash they probably had stored away in a monstrous safe or the pockets of their briefcases or handbags. No, I envied their independence. They were all walking alone, so very focused on their career, uncaring as to who they passed by or what others were up to. They were all a little selfish in that manner, yes, but still – they weren’t fazed by anything, they weren’t being dragged down because they were different. They were stable, successful, and that was something I found suitable to be jealous of.
Or, maybe, I was just jealous because they were human.
We pulled up to a small, tattered tattoo parlor, the doors a thick black, the windows dim and uninviting. Cheap, cliché lights were drawn up across the ridge of the small edifice, blinking and sparking before my mother and I as we fled the car, and hiked up the grimy steps to the door of the feeble structure. With a glance my mother’s way, taking in the dreary nature of her expression, I dragged it open with one effortless lunge of the handle. A bell chimed above us, and cigarette smoke hit our noses like a wave, thick and bitter, utterly revolting.
I let out a cough and strode forwards, the weary frame of my mother following dimly behind as I headed for the front desk, “Hello?”
As though she had been magically summoned, a woman’s head popped up from beneath the black surface, startlingly blue and black-outlined eyes wide and wild, hair a mess of dark curls, lips painted red, cigarette hanging from her mouth with ease.
Arching a brow, she stood up straight, frowning at the two of us, dressed in our small, sun-dresses, my mom in pink and I in a light shade of blue – both of us with long blonde hair, elegant and sophisticated – before questioning, politely, “Yes?”
I peered over at my mom, her features blank and motionless, and then stepped forward, clearing my throat, “I need a tattoo.”
The woman before me began to giggle, of which morphed into cackling, and soon I was red from head to toe, embarrassed by my unfamiliarity. With a sigh, she stepped around the desk, eyes bright and friendly, arms littered with tattoos, bold and colorful, birds of paradise and sugar skulls, clad in skinny black jeans, and a mesh top, wrists covered in flimsy bracelets, bulky rings, shoes thick-healed and dangerously sharp. She was a picture of contrast, her expression so very reverent and compelling, her clothing dark, and wicked, frightening. I remembering wishing I could be more like that.
“This is a parlor for Anivin’s,” The woman smirked, head tilted to the side, “Are you an Anivin?”
I swallowed, and merely nodded my head, the blonde strands of my thin hair sprawling out before me, falling against the front of my shoulders, down to my torso. The woman’s expression fell flat, all her features still and vacant, apart from the one raised brow, curious and skeptical.
Before she could say another word, however, my mother was stepping forward, eyes burning, glazed over with a glistening wetness, the corners of her lips downturned and upset. “Here,” She snapped, reaching into her purse, and yanking out a wad of twenty dollar bills, “How much for Fire?”
The tattoo lady grinned and shrugged, thin, slender fingers reaching forward to plant themselves delicately on my shoulder, her skin cold to the touch. “Fortunately for you,” She winked at my mother, “that’s the cheapest one.”
I don’t know why the words bothered me, but they did, perhaps because they sounded like an insult to what I was, and now I merely wished to get the entire process over with, to end the reign of this wickedly appealing tattoo lady, to get my tattoo and go.
My mother followed the woman to the front desk, seemingly just as eager as I to flee, and a man appeared at my side, smiling kindly my way, and gesturing towards the back of the small store. I followed him obediently, took a seat in the lounging black chair, allowed the upper half of my arm to be covered by a thin white sheet, and extended my wrist, waiting and watching as he gripped the needle that would soon surge through the cells of my bare skin.
Gazing at the lowering object made the moment pass in slow motion, my mind whirling with intricate thoughts of who I was and who I was now going to become. Because I was terrified – the tattoo made this whole ordeal official, and I still couldn’t believe it was real.
With a sharp, stinging sensation, the black ink swarmed the whole of my body almost surreally, and then I continued to wait, agonizingly, for the artist to paint the small black triangle with the deadly end of a desperate needle.
I sighed, instantly grasping the sleeve of my sweater, a baggy beige thing baring the Union Jack in bold red and black, and yanking it up over my tattoo, hiding the geometric lines, the dark triangle.
With a screeching squeal, the train came to a stop, halting at another town or city or something; I wasn’t sure – I was far too exhausted to keep up with it. Swallowing thickly, I watched the number of faces climbing the steps at the platform, lugging suitcases behind them, wrapped up warm due to what was most likely a frigid breeze, expressions slack and serious, features furrowed or frowning or creased.
I adjusted my position on the booth; currently, my feet were resting on the two seats across from me, my luggage lying just beneath the stretch of my legs, my body language hopefully portraying the fact that I didn’t long for any company on my trip.
I continued to watch the newcomers, my eyes narrowing on a group of three young boys, most likely my age, maybe a bit older, laughing and cackling as they hiked their way onto the train, backpacks in hand, hair gelled back pristinely. Private school kids? Perhaps. Or maybe they were like me. One couldn’t be sure these days, and their wrists were covered by the lengthy sleeves of their coats.
I sighed, leaned back in my cushioned seat, and shut my eyes, listening to the shuffling of feet, the banging of boarding people lifting their luggage and dropping it onto the overhang, the hushed tone of conversing voices, before the train shook heavily and the clacking of wheels against tracks began to fill the atmosphere once more.
I was just beginning to doze off when a loud, boyish snort filled the depths of the train car, springing me to life, my eyes flying open, and my head spinning discretely toward the noise.
The boys were sat huddled, side-by-side, occasionally glancing over their shoulders, meeting my line of sight and grinning widely, smugly. I swallowed, nervously looking away as one of the teenagers stood, high-fiving a few of his friends as he got to his feet, turning my way and striding confidently towards me. I bit my lip, adjusted the placement of my long, flowing, blonde hair, cleared my throat and looked out the window, nonchalantly, gracefully, effortlessly.
With a grunt, he sat in the seat across from me, plummeting down right next to my feet, bare and pale, my brown boots long discarded on the floor beneath me. My toes folded over self-consciously, alerting me of their horrid state, black nail polish slowly diminishing scruffily, toenails filed but uncut.
The boy, however, unlike my toes, was rather endearing; his expression was open, inviting, his eyes a bewildering blue, his hair a dark, hazel brown, his posture straight, lean and athletic, built and slender.
He leaned forward, grinning up at me from his position on the cushioned train booth, his teeth white and pristine, perfect really, “Hi.”
I arched my back to the side, shifting in my seat, lifting my shoulders a tad higher, eager to display an air of confidence. My mother always said, when I was young and inexperienced, while brushing my hair or applying my makeup, that boys like confident girls. Smiling hesitantly, I merely bobbed my head in acknowledgement to the male being before me.
To hell with confidence – I had none.
“So, my friends told me to come over here,” He chuckled, blushing noticeably, eyes dropping down to the floor of the train car, hand reaching up to rub the back of his neck.
I scoffed, and shook my head, “Why’s that?”
“Because I wouldn’t stop talking about you.”
I reddened – I know I did – from head to toe, my entire face burning in pure nervous, blissful embarrassment.
The boy in front of me snickered softly to himself, leaning forwards, compelling smirk in place across the whole of his features, “Where you headed?”
I swallowed, “Anchorage.”
He arched a brow, curious and skeptical, though still seemingly admiring my appearance, eyes dropping down over my figure, from the bare placement of my feet, toes wiggling, to the top of my blonde head, “Visiting family?”
I let out a single, sharp laugh, shrugging fearfully, my mind whirling back to the day I transformed, the agonizing pull of swelling muscles, the clench and twinge of breaking bone.
With a shiver, I sighed, “Something like that.”
The boy before me grinned, and extended his hand, palm pale and fingers slender, “Victor.”
I cleared my throat and rattled my head, up and down, grasping the source of his gesture firmly, small, shy smile gracing the plush of my lips, “Joni.”
He beamed, bright and wide, eye sliding over the blush lacing my features before dropping down to our joined hands, to which his brows furrowed, and his entire expression drew downward into a frown. “You’re a fucking feral?”
I flinched at the harsh title, my entire body went cold, and I instantly released my fingers from his grip, reaching down to tug the end of my sweater’s sleeve back over my revealed tattoo, covering the dreadful, black triangle once more.
The boy, Victor, laughed, getting to his feet, and grinning down at me, so very devilishly I was reminded of one of my old storybooks, something my mom read to me as a child: Little Red Riding Hood, the cover always portraying a visually terrifying doodle of a wolf, standing on its hind legs, teeth bared in a snarl, corners of its mouth drawn up into a curvy smile, devastatingly frightening.
Victor’s head whirled toward the location of his friends, his expression drowning in determined spite, “Hey, boys! It’s a Crooked!”
The other teens began to cackle, voices loud and deafening as they lifted themselves from their seats on the booth, and joined Victor in front of me, smirking smugly, and, might I say, demonically.
Another boy sneered, one hand jutting out to grasp my wrist, yanking it towards him, his eyes flaring aggressively as they marveled over my tattooed symbol, “What ya turn into, huh? Some sort of hippo? Pig? What about a cow?”
The rest of the boys sniggered, each of them amused by his petty insults, whilst I struggled to save my forearm from the revolting sweaty palm of his hand.
“Hey!” A shout sounded from just behind the huddled group of tormentors, and an older woman, her hair graying just atop the dark black shade of its strands, face merely graced with wrinkles, was revealed, sitting comfortably to my right, a rather distracting polka dotted purse resting beside her as she glared at the boys, “Why don’t you three shut your nasty traps and move along?”
The teens scoffed and glanced at one another, before dropping my wrist, nudging each of their friends with their shoulders and whispering soft, ‘let’s go’s’ as they strode away, fancy, expensive coats sprawling out behind them, their entire manner drowning in an air of arrogance.
I sighed, shook my head, pulled my sore wrist into my lap, and turned toward the kind woman, of whom was still sitting in her booth beside another window, just across the aisle from me.
“Thank you,” I smiled, clearing my throat, and attempting to swallow, my body shivering, and my fingers trembling just slightly.
The woman turned to me, beamed faintly, and nodded her head, “Of course, sweetheart.”
Silence passed then, and all that could be heard was the soft rattling of the train’s wheels on the tracks below and the dim murmur of voices off in the depths of the other cars. In the corner of my eye, I watched as the woman debated between moving and staying. Her eyes darted from her booth to mine, green jumping back and forth, biting her lip in thought. And then, after merely a moment had passed, the older woman got up from her seat, grabbed her purse, and planted herself before me, expression solemn yet comforting.
“I can relate you know,” The woman smiled politely my way, her expression open and endearing, every line on her face softening with contentment as she sat across from me, clad in the colorful drape of her polka dotted dress, of which matched her purse sublimely. When I lacked to answer her, the frail woman merely beamed brighter and nodded, “My son is like you.”
I lifted my head, my hazel eyes widening as I turned to glance at the woman, my features open and inviting, gesturing for her to continue without saying a word.
With a small, comforting grin, the woman slowly raised a finger, pointing reverently to the sleeve of my jumper, indicating towards my right wrist with mild intrigue, “May I have a look?”
Bobbing my head just faintly, I extended my arm, placing it in the smooth, cold form of her cupped hands, observing curiously as she tucked the fringe of my sweatshirt out of the way, her eyes moving erratically over the geometric shape grazing my forearm in harsh, black lines of ink.
“A fire Anivin. How interesting,” She sighed skeptically, smirking as she dropped my palm.
“Why?” I breathed, glancing down at my motionless hand, forgotten in my lap.
“Well, anything Anivin is interesting. I’ve just always found Fire Elementals a touch more fascinating,” She winked at me, chuckling softly as she adjusted herself on the seat of the train car, brushing two hands over her dress elegantly.
With a small, polite smile, I dropped my head, blushing faintly, gratefully.
“My son is Water Born,” The woman informed me, gazing up at the ceiling of the carriage thoughtfully as though concentrating on something, or, in this case, someone. “He goes to the Anchorage Anivin Academy.”
I leaned forward, anxious to know more, wondering if maybe, just maybe, I would make at least one friend at my new school, a place I would spend the rest of my high school year attending, and, most likely, my college years as well, “Your son goes to Aster?”
The woman smiled, nodding her head in confirmation, “I assume that’s where you’re headed?”
I grinned at her, “Yes.”
She sighed, her eyes dropping down for a quick once over of my entire figure, as though observing, or imagining, what I possibly turned into, who I was hiding darkly on the inside, “I thought so.”
More silence passed and I swallowed, glancing down at my bare feet, toes wiggling above my shoes, thinking of something to say, something to break the still atmosphere, my head blank and utterly thoughtless; part of me simply hoping the woman would tell me more, comfort me, or ask me a question I could provide an answer to.
“You know,” The older woman broke the uncomfortably calm aura, much to my own inner gratitude, “before my son left for Anchorage, he went out into the busy part of our town one day, and didn’t return for several hours.” She looked at me curiously, eyes bright and stunningly observant, as I paid close attention to her story, “When he came home, his hair was no longer its brown shine, but a ridiculously bright array of orange and red. Like fire atop his head.”
I frowned, crossing one leg over the opposite, my hair sprawling out beside me as I hunched over closer towards her, “He dyed his hair? How come?”
She chuckled, and shrugged, “I asked him the same question. He just told me, ’Mom,’” She began, imitating a deeper voice and smiling softly to herself, “’I wanted to appear the opposite of what I felt. I wanted to know that I could look different, feel different; I wanted to know that I was the one in control. Not the beast inside.’”
I nodded distantly, thinking over her explanation, her son’s reiterated words. They made sense; in fact, they made so much sense they were inspiring, daunting but invigorating at the same time. A spark of excitement and pride bloomed inside of me, and suddenly I was craving change, change to myself, change to who I was, change that gave me power over the Anivin tucked inside.
“Did it help?” I asked, both brows arched hopefully.
The woman beamed wearily, eyes sad, expression thoughtful, “I think so, dear. I honestly think so.”
The rest of the trip was spent in silence. At one point, the woman before me fell deep into a motionless sleep, frozen still, barely even snoring, simply breathing faintly, soft puffs of breath squirming from her lips. I merely laid my head back against the cushion of the train’s booth, my eyes fluttering closed every so often, only to spring open directly after, determined to keep me awake, fearful of my oversleeping and missing my one stop I had come all this way for.
I sighed impatiently, exasperatedly, thinking over what the woman had told me, her son’s words – thinking over just where I was going, what I was traveling for, what I was going to become. I wanted to know that I was the one in control. Not the beast inside
I told myself, in that moment, that I wouldn’t let the beast win. I wouldn’t succumb to its persuasive, monstrous will to overcome my very being. I couldn’t.
When I arrived at the train station the robotic voice informed me was Anchorage, I was unbelievably relieved. The trip had me absolutely knackered, and I was thankful my travels were nearly over. Smiling softly to myself as the train reached a complete stop, I dropped my feet from the cushion opposite me, yanked on my shoes, lunged forward to grab my small suitcase, and then turned to the woman of whom had made my ride to Anchorage just a little bit easier.
With sleepy eyes, she gazed up at me, a soft, comforting smile gracing her elegant features. She reached up, her frail fingers grasping tightly, but not painfully, to my wrist, and turning it over in her palm, lifting her opposite hand to point at the geometric shape permanently engraved into my skin.
“Never forget what this makes you, sweetheart,” She beamed at me, dropping her arms and leaving me gawking curiously at the little triangle etched into my limb. “It is who you are, and who you are is not a curse. It is never a curse.”
I swallowed, and nodded, though I disagreed with her words, disagreed with the fact that this made me special, that this made me beautiful or gifted. It just made me different – the kind of different everyone frowns upon in this morally horrid world. With a small smile, I thanked her and slowly made my way to train’s exit, leaving the booth behind and the simple elderly lady alone and silent. I pressed my thumb against the button near the door and sighed in relief as they slid open, a gust of cold wind slapping me across the face, frigid and shocking, startling my very core. The warmth of the train hadn’t prepared me for the cool, near winter, weather of one of Alaska’s beautiful cities, and yet, I welcomed it, rejoiced at the feeling of fresh air, so rejuvenating and uplifting, like a reminder that I was almost there. Almost to the place I would spend so much of my life – with others like me – away from the onlookers who glared in spite, who despised my kind: the mutated and the complex.
I stared out at the crowds of people lugging their luggage to and fro around the station, gazing down at their phones or watching for train times, or purchasing their lunch from surrounding markets and booths. With a sigh, my fingers tightened around the width of my own case’s handle, dragging it behind me as I finally strode forwards, fleeing the confines of the carriage, and walking out into Anchorage’s train station. Yanking out the small, cheap cell phone from the depths of my jeans’ pocket, I did a quick search for Aster Academy’s location online, glowering down at the map revealing its location.
I’d have to get a taxi of course. Which meant more traveling, more enclosed windows and doors, more swaying back and forth, more moving vehicles.
With a roll of my eyes, I headed off in search of the station’s exit, passing far more interesting sights as I pressed on, my eyes wide and open, curious and observant. I spotted people arguing in small cafés, kids running ahead of their exhausted mothers, babies squealing annoyingly in strollers, elderly folk feeding small, grey pigeons their leftover bread crumbs from a sandwich or newly purchased baguette. And then I saw others, hunched over in rags, all tattered clothing and empty cups, signs besides them pleading for money, their postures asking for help but their voices remaining utterly silent. I held my breath as I walked by them, convinced even a mere intake of oxygen would be selfish of me, would leave me feeling guilty of how much I had, and how little they had.
As I passed one of the poor souls in particular, a little farther from the others, off in their own section of the stations, I felt my heart drop in recognition, the entirety of my being freezing in place as I looked down at the young man, a hooded sweatshirt wrapped around him, clad in scruffy cargo shorts and old, dirtied sneakers. His right wrist, revealed and open as his jumper’s sleeves were scuffed, their hems ripped and torn, bore the image of a triangle, just like mine, other than the line drawn halfway between the bottom and the top. An Anivin.
Swallowing thickly, I shut my eyes for a mere moment, shook my head, and then quickly dropped to my feet, reaching into one of the smaller pockets alongside my small suitcase, and pulling out a small cookie one of the airlines had given me, the plastic bag around it crinkling erratically as I removed it from within my luggage. Inhaling deeply, I stepped forward and placed it in front of the young figure. He lifted his head in response and glanced up at me, eyes wide and curious as they dropped over the entirety of my being. With a small, and what I hope came across as comforting, smile, I slowly lifted the end of my sleeve, and flashed him my own tattoo, reveling in the look of relief that washed over his face, the look of utter gratitude.
“Thank you,” He mumbled genuinely, as he grasped hold of the modest cookie and beamed upwards and in my direction.
With a discrete nod, I cleared my throat and smiled again, “We look out for our own, right?”
To that, he grinned back and began to open the small package bearing the chocolate chip cookie I hadn’t planned on eating anyway.
Closing up the pocket of my case, I carried on, leaving the now at least partly satisfied man behind, my chest swelling with the fact that I had just done good, fulfilled a helpful deed. I had been generous to another like me – and that felt amazing. It felt better than helping another person when I had thought I was human, when I had thought I was normal. This was different. This was more important, for some odd reason. With the ghost of a smile still present on my face, I headed towards two large glass doors, the word ‘exit’ printed in bold letters, and quickly hurried out and passed them, absolutely glowing with the effect of more fresh air, the sounds of the outside world, and the sight of the sun.
Anchorage was busy, congested with traffic and loud cars, meandering civilians, bicycles whizzing past each of them without hesitation. I hadn’t expected it to remind me of New York City, somewhere my parents had taken Jacob and I a long time ago. It was one of the most vivid memories my family and I had shared – it had been before Jacob’s first shift, his first transformation, and it was a time when my parents thought both of their children were normal, human, ordinary. Not mutant shape-shifters. Not Anivins.
I longed for those days – immensely.
Jacob had been his normal, jolly self on that trip, cracking jokes here and there, snapping photographs of the great city with his gigantic camera, a hobby he took pleasure in pursuing. There had been such admiration in his eyes – such attraction to the large, overwhelmingly wide skyscrapers and packed sidewalks.
I scoffed. I bet he loved Anchorage.
Pushing away the feeling of rising tears, my nostrils tingling and my eyes burning, I took a deep breath and glanced around, admiring my surroundings, gazing at the small shops and stores located arbitrarily within the depths of the tall buildings. My eyes landed on a small, dainty hair salon just across from the exit of the train station, a grungy looking foundation, without much finesse, other than the scribbled store name, “Goldi-locks.” With a weary smile, I observed the place further, admiring the low prices and fancy hairstyles displayed in the outdoor window.
Gulping nervously, I thought back to what the old woman had told me on the train; the story about her son, how he had conquered himself, how he had shown his very inner being that he was in control. I wanted that – the desire burned within me as much as my mutated form did.
I strode forwards, my pace quickening as I crossed the busy street, and found myself in front of the small salon, my fingers trembling and my body quivering in anticipation.
I could do it. I wanted to do it. I would do it.
With as much self-courage as I could conger, I pushed the door open, a bell dinging as I entered, and approached a small wooden desk where a woman sat, filing her nails, her hair a mess of red, wiry curls, all crinkled and swirling restlessly around the base of her head. The salon was only half-busy, a few elderly ladies sitting beneath hair dryers, their hair in rollers, and their eyes fixed on the newspaper or a magazine.
I approached the woman at the desk, smiling in an attempt to appear at least slightly normal, when I was undoubtedly following through with a spur of the moment decision.
“Hello, sweetheart,” The woman beamed, putting down her nail-filer, and glancing over at me, “What can I do for you then?” Her voice was thick with an accent I couldn’t thoroughly identify, but it was strong and reminiscent of Boston.
“Do you serve everyone?” I asked shyly, my shoulders slumped as I awaited her response.
As an Anivin, one had to be sure the establishment they were frequenting was Anivin-friendly. If not, said Anivin would have to leave. It was law – and if you were caught having received service from providers against Anivin kind, it was you who were threatened with jail time. I didn’t want to risk getting myself thrown into a juvenile detention center just because I wanted my hair done.
The woman before me grinned, a grin so very comforting, so very sweet and graceful I couldn’t help but return the gesture. “Of course we do, love,” She assured me, and with a small jerk of her head, she led me to one of the black chairs. I was suddenly reminded of my daunting trip to the tattoo salon, the geometric shape I’d had engraved on my wrist so far away in a little Florida town, only a mere week ago.
“What were you looking to have done?” The hairdresser smiled, strutting over towards the mirror to pick up a hairbrush, her floral skirt whirling out behind her in flashes of pink and white and green.
With a grunt and a not-so-subtle huff, I collapsed into the chair, part of me regretting having to sit down again, my legs growling at me, eager to walk to move, to – of course – transform. Clearing my throat and turning towards my reflection, I stared genuinely at my locks of dirty blonde hair, a trait I received clearly from my mother, golden and long, sprawling down to the bottom of my spine. I inhaled deeply, desperate to find my drive, my courage, my willpower to do this. Swallowing, I turned up to the woman that currently gazed my way curiously, her expression open and friendly and patient.
“Blue,” I grinned, “Dye it all blue.”
When the woman beamed at me, went off to the back of the room, grabbed all she needed to begin, and started to comb back my hair, it was, for once in my dull life, the first time I truly felt an inch of confidence.