“Who are you?” I gasp, the animal staring me down. “What did you do to Tamir?”
Don’t worry about that, Cressa-la, the dolphin says in my head, circling the dome around me.Just know that the moon is about to reach its highest position in the sky and that you’re about to feel its gravity. It’ll be a pull you won’t be able to resist—and a pull I can get rid of. All you have to do is touch the water.
It drifts forward as I look around me. I don’t want to listen to it, I just want to go home and act as if nothing had happened. I shake my head, backing up. The dome follows me as I slowly pedal backwards. What is happening to me?
I turn and run, the laughter of the dolphin trailing behind me, taunting me.
You can run, Cressa-la, the voice calls in my head, getting softer the farther I get. But we are everywhere. We will find you. And he will finally share his crown with me.
I break the surface of the water, my breath heavy and my head light. I catch a glimpse of the moon, forcing myself to look away. When I do, my eyes fall onto the rock that had hidden Tamir that first night. And there he lies, struggling to pull his tail onto the rock and out of the water. He eyes lock onto mine, his skin glowing dimly as blood runs down his back from his right shoulder. For a moment, his face relaxes, as if he’s glad to see I’m still alive and dry.
“Go, Cressa-la. Get as far away as you can from here. Hide from the moon—from me. It’s about to get really dangerous for you, especially with both of us here. You haven’t seen what the full moon can do.”
“I’m not going to leave you,” I shout over the growing waves as they crash onto the shore violently. Not a drop touches me, the dome still seeming to be around my body, protecting me from the liquid beyond the sand.
“Trust me,” Tamir breathes, his chest heaving with what looks like pain. “You’ll want to.”
He looks at me as he nods, his body glowing again as a wave sprays water onto his tail. His brightness increases with each passing second, mesmerizing me. I don’t want to leave him. It’s as if I have this urge to protect him, to hold him until the moon passes…
“You’ve got to trust me on this!” He cries out, his voice struggling to stay indifferent. “Cress—go!”
Trust… I’m not good with trust.
I turn and run into the trees, my heart telling me to stay still. Why do I have this strange call to protect him, as if he means something to me? Could it be that strange, pleasant feeling I get when I’m around him? If so, then what is it that made me flee? Fear?
The light shining from his skin illuminates the paths winding through the trees as I run. It creates obscure and misplaced shadows, and the creatures of the forest become restless. I climb upwards towards my home, the pull of the moon inside of me increasing more and more as the seconds tick away. Shoving my body over the ledge, I realize nothing is amiss but my house, crumbled on the rock.
My bones seem to vibrate inside of my body, making it hard to walk as the moon makes its call known. I stumble and fall to the ground, the skin on my knee ripping open as it meets the rough surface of the rock. There’s only one house that’s vacant, one house I could go into for safety.
But it’s on the other side of the village.
I push myself up and attempt to walk. I fall to the ground again, every inch of my body begging to turn around. I grit my teeth and push through the gravity of the moon. I can fight it. I know I can.
I hope I can.
There’s a scream in the distance.
I spin around, my body agreeing with me as I take a step back towards the water. I can see his light illuminating the water down below, but I can’t see him. His glowing is too bright to make out what exactly is going on down there.
And then my eyes drift up towards the moon, and it seems as if everything in my body freezes or slows down. Blue glowing touches the corners of my vision. Could I be glowing? No water has touched me. The light from the moon seems to take over the brightness coming from Tamir down below the trees. It consumes my every thought, my every fiber.
My feet move unwillingly. I don’t fight it—I can’t fight it. It moves me, the moon. I’m inching towards the water, towards the rock I had already fallen down once tonight. Slowly but surely, my eyes are locked on the whiteness of the ball in the sky. And somewhere inside me, I realize it’s reached its highest point in the sky.
My ears pick up shouting from somewhere outside of me. I see a flash of light coming from where the water is. But I don’t dare tear my eyes from the moon. I can’t. The possibility is nonexistent.
And then something crashes into me.
The next thing I see is the ground, and I throw my hands out to break the fall. I twist around, scared of what I’ll find that knocked me down. I get ready to defend myself.
But the thing that pushed me down, I realize, isn’t threatening.
In the moonlight, bright blue markings on a familiar face glow. The boy.
“Come on,” he says, picking me up and dragging me along behind him as he runs.
He pulls the door to the house I had originally been headed for open and throws me then himself inside, away from the moon. Its pull vanishes almost immediately. I sit up, feeling nauseous and lightheaded, my body aching from tonight’s events. It calls out for sleep and for rest. But I can’t do either of those things yet, not while this boy is here.
“Are you okay?” He asks, the blue paint on his face seeming far too bright in the darkness. How is their tribe still alive?
“Yeah,” I grunt as I sit up. There’s a pang in my stomach as I remember whose house this is. Nan-ah’s…
“Stay in here,” he says as he helps me up off the ground. “You’ll be safe away from the moon.”
“Because I’m gifted?” I ask, rubbing my arm where it had skid on the rough ground. “Someone told me I wasn’t justaone-hundred, whatever that means, but part oftheOne-Hundred. Saved and gifted. Do you know what it is?”
The boy pauses for a moment, staring off into space.
“I think you’ve had enough excitement for one night. Just… from now on, stay away from the water. Take my word, don’t go near that water ever again.”
“Why?” I ask. “What if—”
“Just—don’t. If you value your life and the lives around you, you’ll stay away and you won’t ever go near it again, no matter how much it pulls you.”
“And what if I do? What if the—the moon comes back out and starts to pull me again and it makes me go in the water? What if it’s not my fault?”
“I’ll be there. I’ll be watching and I won’t let you go into the water,” he turns towards me finally, his eyes almost seeming to flash green. The strange sensation is back, my stomach feeling weird. “Just promise me you won’t, under any circumstance.”
“Why should I promise you?” I ask, my heart picking up speed from his sudden closeness. “I barely even know you.”
“Because I’m your friend,” he says. “Whether you believe it or not, I’m your friend and you can trust me with anything, with everything. Just promise me, Cressa-la.”
I switch my attention to the ground, swallowing the spit that has collected in my mouth. He did just save me from the moon, no matter how stupid that sounds, and he has saved me once before. Something about him doesn’t seem right though, as if there’s something he’s not telling me. I have to remind myself that we’ve only seen each other a few times, that we’re still acquaintances, if not friends. But the real question is: can I trust him? He seems to show up only when I need him. Could he be stalking me like a beast to its prey? Cannibalism isn’t anything new on this island, and even having animal-like behavior isn’t something just blossoming.
I nod and look up at him, thoughts shifting through my mind.
“What’s your name?” I ask him.
“Why?” He asks, the question taking me off guard.
“Why?” I repeat. “Because you haven’t told me yet.”
He sighs, his jaw tensing, and he looks away from me for a moment. “My name is Damian. I have to go now.”
“I have to go, Cressa-la.”
“But the moon—” I start, fear bubbling up inside me. The strange thing is that I’m reaching out to him. Maybe it’s because he knows more and he understands what’s going on, somehow, some way. That’s probably it. He’s just different than what I grew up with. That’s got to be it. “What if I… what if it takes me over again?”
Damian shakes his head once, shoving a hand in the right pocket of his animal skin shorts. He pulls out a necklace with something dangling at the end. It is speckled with dark spots from its thick horned top to its thin pointed bottom. The object seems to wrap around itself and create a hole on one side resembling an ear.
“This is a conch shell,” he says, locking his eyes on mine. “It’s smaller than normal, making it easier to hide. Wear it around your neck. If the water or the moon is pulling you, blow into the smaller end and I’ll come help you.”
“How will you hear it?” I ask as he walks forward and ties it around my neck. “What if you’re all the way across the island? Or if I’m all the way down at the shore and you’re up here?”
“It’s magic,” he says.
“There’s no such thing as magic,” I snort, almost immediately regretting it. My brain reminds me Tamir and even Nan-ah had said the word once.
“Magic is the reason why I’m here and the reason you’re still alive. But this magic… this magic needs to remain a secret from everyone else, even the little girl you protect.”
My brow furrows. “What? How do you…?”
Silence answers me as he steps away.
“I’m more than you think I am, Cressa-la. Magic and I are one. Maybe one day I’ll teach you too, but you have to trust me. Magic is the reason for everything that has ever, will ever, and does exist. Remember that and keep an eye out for it.”
“But—I don’t understand. So many things are happening and I can’t keep up—”
He places a hand on my shoulder and looks deep into my eyes, a sense of protection flowing from him. His eyes look as if they flash again, I could swear he’s glowing. The color isn’t there, and it’s almost like it’s invisible, as if he has imaginary waves rolling off of his skin.
“You’ll understand one day, Cressa-la. Give it time to sink in. You’ll understand one day, I promise, whether it’s my doing or your doing, you’ll understand. For now, lay low. Stay away from the water and stay out of the moons’ light. Promise me you will.”
I take a deep breath, my chest tighter than I’d like and my brain pulsing to the point to where my head hurts. Confusion still sprints through my brain as if a bear is chasing it, but I close my eyes and nod my head.
“Okay,” I say quietly, and as I open my eyes, Damian pulls me into an embrace.
“Blow the conch if you ever need me. Until then,” he says, pulling away. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” I say, my breath shaky. My heart is pounding in my chest as he nods and backs up. Damian pulls the door open and steps into the world that becomes more and more dangerous each day.
I touch the shell around my neck. Thoughts of today make me uneasy and nauseous, and I sit on the floor of the house.
“Oh, Nan-ah,” I sigh to no one. My head falls into my hands and a lump forms in my throat, making it hard to breathe. “What would you do?”
The sudden urge to run to the Wall of the Dead weighs on me, to see her name, to have that closure, but another part of me doesn’t want to admit that she’s gone, although I sit in her empty house. I never gave her the time, the credit she deserved, and I rarely thought of her, although I should have.
I wipe a tear away from my face as my body starts to glow. It disappears as I lean my head against the wall and sniffle, holding back the water that would give away this gift, this so-calledmagicDamian had talked about, that Tamir had brushed over, and that Nan-ah had mentioned. Perhaps it is real.
“TheOne-Hundred,” I say. A disbelieving laugh escapes from my mouth as another tear threatens to fall. “What does that even mean?”
I remove the snot from my nose and wipe it on a disposed of cloth nearby. Everything seems to be crashing down, crushing my heart and I, and I can’t help but cave beneath its weight.
“I wish everything made sense,” I whisper to myself as I close my eyes, my body aching as it grows heavy. “I wish everything was normal again…”
Taking a deep breath, I roll over onto my side. The rock bites into my arms and legs and ribs, but I don’t care. In this moment, I only want to be numb. I don’t want to feel the loss of the woman I never thought about or would mention to anyone for nine years. I don’t want the pain of fear crushing my lungs. I want to be detached from the aches in my muscles from falling off the ledge of my village. I never asked to be different, to be “the One-Hundred,”whatever that is. Why me?
I stare at the door of the house until it becomes a dark blur and until I close my eyes and begin to dream.
Images whirr in my mind like leaves in a strong wind. I see Tamir, Damian, Lily-flor, Nan-ah, Rai-si, Tani-mah, and many, many faces I know and knew.
And then my dream rests on a memory and warps it.
I stand before a wall of water, running from the ground up to the sky in a straight line. None of the droplets are out of line, and there is no spray of water from it. It’s as if it is restrained.
“You see the water?”
I turn to my left where the voice had come from. Nan-ah is walking up to me, her long black hair moving slowly in the wind. Her face is different from mine; she has tan skin and small, brown eyes with full, red lips. Her body was always built for hunting, although she enjoyed cooking more times over than hunting. I see myself nod. “Never touch it. Not even once. Because if you do, trouble will find you wherever you go.”
“Why, Nan-ah?” I ask, my voice small and high-pitched. “What’s wrong with it?”
She looks at the wall of water, watching it as it widens and flattens out until it’s transparent. A figure starts to appear.
“Magic, Cressa-la. Magic is what’s wrong with it… It’s a dark place for people like us.”
I turn to her. She disappears.
And this is where the dream warps into, not a memory, but a dream—possibly a warning, a vision. Is this what Rai-si sees when he has his visions?
I can make out a face through the running water. Tamir. He’s smiling softly—glowing bright blue. His eyes have a twinge of sadness glimmering in them “You’re part of the One-Hundred, Cress. Saved and gifted.”
There’s a voice behind me.
I spin around and see Damian, his face hard and his eyes dark with danger. “You call what is happening to hergifted?”
He walks in front of me and the two boys stand face to face, should you call what Tamir is doing “standing”, what with his tail and all. They both begin to glow bright blue and speak in tongues I do not recognize. Damian’s hand thrusts forward and breaks past the wall of water, closing around Tamir’s throat. He gasps and claws at Damian’s hand as the wall of water explodes, the droplets suspended in the air, as if they are frozen.
“Stop!” I cry, the sense of protection washing over me for Tamir. The water droplets fall, the liquid surrounding me and making everything go dark, as if the sun has burned out.
Welcome back, Cressa-la, I hear through the water.
My eyes open and I sit up straight, the rock beneath me slightly warmer from where my body had been laying. I catch my breath. Had the voice followed me into my dreams?
The door across from me opens and bright sunlight blinds me as a figure stands in the doorway. Immediately my hand goes to the conch around my neck as the voice registers in my brain.
“What happened last night, Cressa-la?” The tiny voice asks as my eyes adjust. I let out a sigh of relief as Lily-flor comes to sit down next to me, my hands tucking the shell away in my shirt. “Your house is on the ground.”
I nod and try to smile as she wraps her arms my neck, obviously worried about me. “Let’s go hunting, okay?”
I stand up and hold out a hand. Her eyebrows furrow as she takes it.
“I’m almost five years. I can keep secrets.”
“I know you can, Lily-flor. My house just fell, is all.”
“I don’t believe you, but okay,” she shrugs, leading me out of the house filled to the brim with memories.
I look down at her blonde head and shake my own.You’re not ready for a secret like this, Lily-flor. Not yet.
Rai-si walks out of his house and looks around, his hands on his hips. I try to duck away in the people of my village, praying he won’t notice I hadn’t left to hunt. Or that my house had fallen mysteriously during the night. And then he spots me.
His eyes are filled with some emotion I can’t quite place. It’s not quite anger, not quite hatred, but somewhere in between mixed with something else.
I tear my eyes away a moment later, hoping I can escape into the woods and hunt something, shoot something, get everything off my mind.
“Cressa-la,” I hear, and I know I can’t get away.
I cringe at the sound of my name as it slips off of Rai-si’s tongue. Lily-flor gives me a worried glance, and I let go of her hand to walk up to Rai-si. He glares down at me with those emotions of his and his jaw is set. I look at the ground and try to make myself small. I am not a threat to him. Or the tribe.
Or maybe I’ve recently become one…
“Come,” he says as he turns to walk into the forest behind our village.
I follow behind him, scared of what is to come of my life, of the villages’ life, of everything. This could be the moment of truth, where I’m banished forever or they keep me through everything.