Chapter 1 - Discovery
Having just graduated from high school, Nyah Benjamin was never happier and she was celebrating her big day with her friends and family. She would not say she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but with a father fortunate enough to be a cardiac surgeon and a lawyer for a mother, they were very well off. And since her parents had bought her a new car as her going away (and coming home) present, she wouldn’t have to worry about getting to and from New York University, now.
It was a great day until she started to feel a little weird. Her head felt uncomfortably hot, her palms were wet but she knew it wasn’t sweat because it was a bit chilly out from a brewing thunderstorm. Her legs felt weighed down with bricks and despite her hot head, she was way too cold, feeling almost like ice was forming in the pit of her stomach. She expelled a breath and saw a puff of condensation come from between her lips. She put a wet hand to her mouth and, when she breathed out, watched in horror as the water on her hand turned to ice. Her younger sister, Dana, looked at her curiously when she saw the expression on her face.
“You okay there, Nyah?” she asked.
“Yeah. Excuse me.” Nyah ran to the bathroom and locked the door behind her. The heat and cold got more intense and there was a sudden unbelieveable amount of pain in her back, on either side of her spine. The bones called scapulae. Her head felt too hot, almost as though it was on fire. She needed to get it out and even with all the heat ravaging her head, she was still very cold. There was too much pain, too much heat, too much cold and even more pain. She pressed her hands to the sides of her head and tried desperately to control the scream trying to escape from her throat. “Oh my God!” she screeched. It didn’t even ease up. Staring at her reflection, it didn’t look as though anything was wrong with her. The image staring back at her didn’t have a flaming head nor a block of ice for a body nor the expression of unparalleled agony on its face. Realizing there was nothing she could do but sleep off whatever it was that was plaguing her, she went back to the party and told her parents she wasn’t feeling well.
“What’s wrong?” her father asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you have a temperature?” her mother wondered, touching her hand to Nyah’s forehead and immediately withdrawing it. “You’re burning up! We need to get you to a hospital now!”
“No! I’ll just sleep it off. I’m sure I’ll be fine in the morning.” I hope.
“Alright. If you’re still not feeling well in the morning, let us know, honey.” her mother urged, hesitant to let her daughter go to bed with a fever that severe. Her parents hugged her close, shivering at how cold her body was.
“I will. Good night.” When she got to the foot of the stairs, Dana stopped her.
“Are you okay, sis?” Nyah gave her a weak smile.
“Not really. I feel like crap.”
“You look like you can barely even walk. Come on.” Dana touched her back and Nyah gasped at the excruciating pain shooting through her at the light gesture.
“Maybe it’s the flu.” Nyah mumbled, not believing a word of her own statement.
“I don’t think the flu ever did this to you, Nyah. Maybe it’s something you did or ate.”
“I doubt it, but whatever it is, I want it to be over.”
It was a few minutes after 1 o’clock in the morning when she opened her eyes. At first the pain was dull and tolerable but it became unbearable in just two seconds. A high piercing scream ripped its way up her throat. Suddenly it felt as though something was moving, trying to get out of her back and she jumped out of bed to turn on the bedroom light. She stumbled to the full-length mirror in her walk-in closet. She turned her back to it and craned her neck to watch, horrified, as two white bones forced their way out of her coffee-and-cream coloured skin. As they grew, they curved upwards and after what seemed like an eternity but was only 5 seconds, it was over and the pain was gone. She knew she should be freaking out, but this was very cool. She had just sprouted a pair of flawless white angel wings. Unable to help herself, she faced the mirror and the wings disrupted the clothes on the racks as she turned around. Her right hand came up and she squeezed her left wing bone. It was an unconscious action and she got a reaction she did not expect. She felt that pinch. These wings were part of her so the idea she had to cut them off was just going to have to stay a thought.
“How the hell am I going to get any sleep now? How am I even supposed to hide these?” she wondered to herself. Just then, there was a knock on her bedroom door followed by the sound of someone entering her room.
“Nyah? Nyah, sweetie, are you alright?” It was her mother.
“I - I don’t know.” she stammered. Go away, you stupid things! she thought, begging furiously. They didn’t even so much as twitch.
“Honey, get out here. What are you doing in the closet?” She couldn’t hide inside a closet forever, as tempting as it was, and the wings wouldn’t go away, so she had no choice but to do as her mother asked. Taking a deep breath, Nyah had to sidestep through the small doorway to get out without hurting her wings. Her mother watched her advance with curiosity in her blue-green eyes. “Nyah, Halloween isn’t for another three months.” her mother commented. Even though she was a lawyer, Caitlynn Benjamin was the best mother any girl could ask for because she was never too busy to spend time with her daughters. As it was, Nyah could tell her mom anything but this was not a typical situation and she did not know how to tell her about this. She couldn’t lie to her either. She hadn’t said anything to her mother yet and was given a rude awakening when her mother grasped her wings and pulled them up. Hard. It hurt like the devil and she took a step back, crying out.
“This isn’t a costume, Mom!” she exclaimed, hot tears streaming down her face, a flood of the emotions she tried to stem. Her mother was pale but she got much paler. “They’re mine.” And just because they clearly had a mind of their own, her wings flapped and spread out. Sixteen feet wide tip to tip and twenty-six inches tall. Wonderful.
“Nyah, what is going on here?”
“I don’t know.” Her mother inched closer to her, fear in her eyes. She touched Nyah’s wing and it was obvious that they were real.
“Oh my God. My baby.” Caitlynn whispered brokenly.
“Mom, promise you won’t tell -”
“Nyah? What is the meaning of this?” Dad! “Is your fever gone?” She just remembered about the burning and it raged hotter than ever. Now it was in her eyes.
“Hmm. What’s with the costume?” Nyah looked nervously at her mother, a question in her hazel eyes she didn’t want to ask out loud.
“Maybe he can help you, baby.” her mother said softly.
“But -” she started to protest.
“Go on.” The wings folded in of their own accord, causing Marques Benjamin to do a double-take. Unwillingly, Nyah went to her father and turned her back to him.
“It’s not a costume.” Marques looked to his wife and she nodded. Hesitantly, he raised his hands and tugged lightly, then a lot harder. “Daddy, that hurts!” she cried, pulling away from him.
“Those are real? How did this happen? When did this happen?” She faced him, her eyes were burning like crazy and she rubbed at them.
“I don’t know! It just happened like two minutes ago. Oh gosh, my eyes are burning!” she complained, still rubbing them, trying to press away the intense heat.
“Move your hands, Nyah! Let me take a look.” She did as she was told and her father gasped, withdrawing from her in horror. “Your eyes.” he shrieked. Nyah frowned and turned to her mother, who shrank into her husband’s arms, fearful.
“They’re glowing.” she breathed.
“What?!” She quickly went to her dressing table and stood before the ornately framed mirror. Her hand flew to her mouth as it sank in what she was seeing, what her parents saw. Her eyes were glowing a bright orange like embers from a flame. She understood what was going on and she was tempted to test her theory. She picked up the envelope that once held her acceptance letter to NYU and stared at it for a few seconds until it burst into flames. It burned quickly and then there was nothing but ashes and a tiny piece of scorched paper. She put the remains into her waste basket, noticing the burning was gone, and looked at her parents. They flinched, grabbing each other’s hands. They were afraid of her now.
“It was you.” her father whispered.
“You burned down Simone’s lemonade stand. You were just six years old.” Nyah sank to her knees, sitting on her heels, horrified.
“I’m a freak. A monster.” she mumbled.
“Honey, you’re not a monster.” her mother said softly.
“I am! I burned paper by just looking at it. I completely gutted Sissy’s lemonade stand. You guys might as well commit me now. There’s no way I can go to college like this!” she ranted, refusing to look at her parents.
“You can control it, Nyah, I know you can.” Caitlynn said.
“If I can burn down a lemonade stand at six, who knows what I’m capable of now? And what about these wings? They won’t go away!”
“Maybe you could force them back in?” Marques suggested. Nyah ignored him as the wings wrapped around her.
“Would you please go back in? I need to sleep and you’re not making it easy for me.” she muttered to her wings. It seemed like a longshot at best but when they spread out and up then sank beneath her skin, she sighed with relief.
“Wow.” Marques breathed.
“I don’t know what to do. I have to get away from here. I have to find whoever made me like this but I don’t know where to start or who to look for.” She had watched enough movies and read enough books on science fiction to know there was some kind of maniac out there who did this to her.
“What will you do when you find him?” Caitlynn wondered.
“I haven’t figured that out yet.” she whispered honestly. "Do you have any idea who might have done this to me?" Her parents looked skeptical. The fear in their eyes had returned but it was directed at her this time.
"Nyah, maybe this isn't such a good idea. I mean, you're looking to chase a ghost." her father said.
"Yeah. Plus, you want to do this blind. Honey, you can control it. You did it just now.
“Hmm. Well, I suggest you start with Dr. Arthur Keegan. He was my OB/GYN when I was pregnant with you.” Nyah was confused and her head snapped up, her long curly hair falling away from her face.
“How can you guys be so calm about this?” Her father was quick to answer.
“Oh, we're freaking out beneath the surface but no matter what, you are first and foremost our daughter, Nyah, and we love you so much. Whatever it is that’s happening to you, it doesn’t make us love you any less.” She just stared at them.
“So, when will you be leaving? You’ve only got two and a half months to find the person responsible for this.”
“Day after tomorrow, I guess.”
“Alright. Tomorrow night, we’ll give you $30,000 to take with you. You’ll need food and gas for your car and a place to sleep.”
“And I’ll make you some sandwiches. I’m going to have to cut some holes into your shirts to accommodate your...wings.” Their minds were made up, so there would be no point to her protesting. She got to her feet and went to them.
“I guess I have to talk to Sissy and Dana later. You won’t tell anyone else about this, will you? I don’t want to be anybody’s weapon. Nor do I want to end up under a microscope.”
“Absolutely not. It won’t leave this house, baby.” They hugged her and she smiled. Her secret was safe with them.
Later that morning when Nyah woke up, she noticed that her hands were wet and her vest was damp.
“What the hell?” She got up and went to the bathroom, brushed her teeth, washed her face and took off her vest and shorts. She stepped into the shower and went to turn on the faucet but finding that it was locked way too tightly. Frustrated, she used both hands to unlock it and the entire fixture came off in her hands, sending a powerful jet of water her way. She dropped the faucet and threw her hands up to block the water but it didn’t happen the way she thought it would. The water was floating in mid-air and as she moved her hands forward, the water was pushed back into the hole in the tiled wall. When she put her hands down, the water didn’t jet out like she expected it to, so she bent to pick up the faucet. She unlocked it easily this time, fitting it over where it broke and then an idea popped into her head. Maybe she could fix this without her father’s help. She focused on the crack and watched as the metal melted and fused with the wall. There was a grin on her face the entire time she showered.
She got dressed in a vest and jeans and scurried downstairs to the kitchen, a beaming smile on her pretty face. Her parents watched curiously as their daughter approached them and they were honestly confused when she got between them and kissed their cheeks.
“Good morning!” she greeted cheerfully, skipping to the refrigerator to get her favourite Eggo blueberry waffles.
“Good morning.” they replied, unsure about her drastic change in behaviour.
“You’re rather perky this morning, love. What’s going on?” her father asked.
“Well, if I start a fire at least I’ll be able put it out.”
“How?” her mother wondered. Nyah’s smile became a grin.
“Check this out.” She turned the sink faucet on under a plastic cup and filled it up, then put the cup on the counter. Using her right hand, she rose her hand, causing the water to rise with it. Once all the water was out, the cup tipped over and with a swift move, she sent the water across the island to stop in front of her parents. Now, with her left hand, Nyah shaped the water to look like a cobra head, breathed and froze it, releasing the shape when her father poked at it. Pulling back, she dropped the suddenly great amount of water into the sink.
“She made a snake with water, Caitie.”
“I saw that. That was very interesting, Nyah. When did you start doing that? Bending and freezing water?”
“Approximately 27 minutes ago. The pipe in my bathroom broke off but I just melted it back together.”
“I see. So, where are you going to meet Simone?”
“At the playground. I know that I won’t do anything crazy in a public place.”
However, because clearly something had already decided to psych her out, both the park and the surrounding area were mostly unoccupied save for Simone. She was on the swing set, her head down.
“Hey, Sissy. How long have you been here?”
“About five minutes. You okay now?”
“Yeah. It’s over now.” Nyah replied, sitting on the swing beside her sister. Her heart was beating as fast as helicopter blades and there were butterflies and moths taking flight in her not-so cold stomach.
“What’s going on, Trixy?” Simone asked, using the nickname the family had given to Nyah as a little girl.
“Do you remember when we were kids and your lemonade stand went up in flames?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“It was my fault.” she blurted out as she started to swing back and forth, faster and higher.
“No, it wasn’t. You weren’t anywhere near it when the fire broke out.” Simone reminded her, not convinced of her sister’s confession.
“I’m serious, Simone. I started that fire the same way Charlie did in Firestarter. Only I have a lot more control over myself now.” Simone laughed.
“Sure. What else can you do? Can you fly?” she asked, still giggling.
“Most likely, but I haven’t tested out my wings yet. I can command water, too. You know, like bend it.” Her big sister was laughing hysterically now. She didn’t believe anything Nyah was saying even though in all fairness, had the situation been switched, Nyah wouldn’t have believed it either. Nyah had not wanted to show her sister anything in such a public place so she tried to sway her again. “If this wasn’t true why would I have two holes in my vest?”
“Moths?” Nyah grunted, angered by her sister’s teasing and launched herself off of the swings while Simone watched in horror. When she landed though, the earth beneath her split an inch and the crack travelled a good two feet. They were both stunned. “Nyah, did you see that? This park floor isn’t stable.” Nyah stomped over to her big sister and grabbed her hand, pulling her along as she walked over to a tree.
“Apparently I can do something with earth, too. And I turned water to ice with just one breath, but I know you’re going to want proof of everything I’ve told you. Mom and Dad believe me. So this is that fire power I told you about.” Nyah picked up a stick and it almost instantly burst into flames. So it happens faster when I’m upset. Very cool. She felt Simone cowering away from her and she turned at her. “I’m not done yet. Come on.” Together, they ran across the street to a convenience store. “Hey there, Mr. Luciano. Is anyone in the washroom?”
“No. Go on in.”
“Thanks.” Mr. Luciano eyed Simone curiously, noticing her pallor.
“What’s wrong, Simone? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I saw something.” she mumbled.
“Now or never, big sis.” Simone jerked back to awareness and they went to the bathroom at the back of the store. Nyah turned on the pipe full blast and sent the water jet her sister’s way. She repeated what she had done for her parents, she shaped the water to look like a cobra then, taking a huge breath, Nyah blew it out on a huff and a thin case of ice creeped up to the head of the snake. Simone poked at it, like their father had that morning. With a small shake of her hand, the ice was shed and she pulled the water into the sink, turning off the faucet. She could feel the wings moving impatiently under her skin.
“How did you do that?”
“I don’t know that yet. Go stand in a stall and please don’t freak out when you see this, okay?”
“Okay.” Simone did as she was bid and Nyah turned her back on her.
“You can come out.” she whispered, and her wings grew out and up. They flapped hard twice before spreading out all sixteen feet, their white colour looking almost fluorescent in the lighting. After a very awkward silence, Nyah couldn’t take it anymore and said, “Relax.” And they folded in so she could face her sister who seemed to have been stunned silent. “Please say something, Sissy.”
“How did you get all those things done? When did you get those wings?”
“I’m going to find that out, but my best guess is this happened while mom was pregnant with me. I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“To go where?”
“Wherever it takes me to find the disgusting bastard who made me like this.” she said simply.
“Wow. Okay. Do Mom and Daddy know you’re doing this?”
“Yeah. They’re giving me money to survive until I find this guy. I’m just a little scared to tell Dana. I mean, she looks up to me now that you’re gone and this could destroy her.”
“Keeping it from her will destroy any chance of her trusting you again, Nyah. You know Dana. She hates secrets and this is a big one.” Simone countered.
“I know. Simone, please don’t tell anyone about what you just saw. Especially not Michael." Michael was Simone's boyfriend. "Promise!"
“I promise. I don’t want my kid sister on a microscope slide.” She hesitated. “Can I touch them?” Nyah nodded. Simone stepped out of the cubicle and touched Nyah’s right wing, running her hand along the feathers. “They’re so beautiful. And soft. Does it hurt when they’re coming out?”
“No. It’s just a little uncomfortable. If you pull on them, it hurts like hell because they are part of me. And it’s almost like they don’t even exist when I’m sleeping.” Simone grinned.
“Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“Sure. Inside now.” she said. The wings spread out but did nothing else. “Now.” They just flapped. “Oh my goodness. Look, you can have all the free time you want when I leave home, but if you don’t want to be cut off and deep fried, you better start listening to me. Now please get in.” After an intense second, they shot straight up and buried themselves beneath her skin.
“You just reasoned with your wings? Well, now I’ve seen it all.” Simone quipped, slowly shaking her head in awe.
“Yeah, they seem to have a mind of their own.” All of a sudden, Simone giggled. “What is it?”
“Spider-man has nothing on you. Superman has a slight edge because he can’t really get hurt without kryptonite. But you beat them all out because you’re real.” Nyah shook her head and smiled affectionately at the woman before her. Simone was a diehard comic book geek.
“You could become a superhero. No vigilante work though. That stuff lands people in prison.” Nyah guffawed, throwing her head back.
“As if there’s a prison that could keep me at bay. I’d melt those bars easy or kick my way to freedom. Better yet, I would just wait until I’m in the yard and fly out of there like nobody’s business!” Simone laughed as they exited the bathroom.
“Bye, Mr. Luciano!” they called on their way out.
“Bye, girls. Have a great day.” the old man replied, waving goodbye.
Simone got into her silver SUV after giving Nyah her goodbye hug, on her way back to work. Nyah quickly crossed the street, got into her own car and drove back home. The ride gave her time to think about what to say to Dana.
When she got home, Dana had some of her friends over for their weekly movie marathon. Nyah was not keen on having this conversation with Dana while her friends were there but it had to be done.
“Hey girls. Dee, can I talk to you upstairs?”
“Sure. I’ll be back in a bit. Alex, don’t start the movie without me.” Dana warned.
“I won’t.” her friend Alexia promised. Together they went up to Dana’s room.
Dana had several questions about the things Nyah showed her; mostly about her wings and the fire power. When Nyah told her she would be leaving the next day to pursue the man responsible, Dana began to cry and worry and wondered if leaving was a good idea.
“Dee, I have no choice. I’m going to college in September and I can’t have things like this flaring up during a lecture or something. If I can’t get rid of these powers, I want to at least control them.” she had explained.
“Okay, fine. Your secret’s safe with me. Your wings are really pretty, by the way.” Dana commented before she left to go back to her friends.
Nyah got out an orange and cyan-blue suitcase and its matching duffel bag and started rolling up all of her modified vests and shirts, folding her jeans, emptied her drawer of delicates and chose her nightgowns. She packed three towels, a washcloth, three Dove soap bars, a brand new toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. Then, she put in her shampoo/conditioner, a bottle of moisturizer and treatment. No reason for her to stop caring about her appearance and hygiene. Crap! She forgot to pack her ‘girl things’. Now, though, she got out the small backpack that contained the $30,000 her parents managed to get so quickly for her survival. She doubted she would need it all but she would take it just in case she did. She stood there, suddenly very nervous to leave the next day and wondering about the obstacles she had yet to face on her own. This man remained a ghost for 18 years and she was not sure he was even still alive. She went into her mother’s home office and grabbed the telephone directory, almost immediately finding the ‘K’ surnames. She just as quickly spotted the name she was hoping to find. Arthur D. Keegan, M.D. Gotcha.
It was the big day. The day she started on the road to the answers that could make or break her future. Her mom gave her a picnic basket of tuna and cheese sandwiches, fruits and juice. Her father took her luggage to her car while she said goodbye to her mother and sisters. Simone had come over from her penthouse because she had taken the day off from work.
“Just be careful and come back to us, sweetheart. And keep your father and I posted and we’ll pass it on to your sisters.” her mother demanded while hot tears streamed down her cheeks.
“I will, I promise.” And after hugging them, she turned to go down the steps, walking across the cobblestone to her father.
“Be safe, baby girl. I love you.” he mumbled, holding in his tears as he held her close in his embrace.
“Love you too, Daddy.” she choked out. She got into the car, started the engine and waved to her family, blowing kisses. She hadn’t imagined leaving home would be this hard and she guessed it would be this or even harder when she left to go to college.
As she turned right onto 4th & Main, she noticed a tall guy, who looked to be about her age, walking and looking around as though he were on high alert. His hands were buried in the pockets of a huge, shapeless, brown trench coat which obviously didn’t belong to him. Curious, Nyah stopped the car, got out and tapped the young man on his shoulder. Her eyes widened when he stared down at her with light brown eyes that were so cold she shivered. Words. Use your words.
“Are you lost? Do you need any help?” she asked.
“No, I’m not lost and I don’t want your help.” he replied sharply. His voice was even but it cut deeply. As he turned to walk away, Nyah felt something on her left foot, so she peered down. Her heart skipped many essential beats as she stooped to get it. When she looked up, the mysterious guy was nowhere to be seen. Maybe she wasn’t so different after all. She glanced at the object in her hand. It was a big, glossy black feather.