Half awake, 16-year-old Gizela fought against the entanglement of her sweat-drenched bedsheets. Exhaustion straddled her chest. She stretched her mouth in a forced yawn and reached for a snatch of oxygen, forcing it down her throat into her chest. On the third try, she managed. She untangled her legs and slumped on the edge. Sightless, she stared at her dream catcher hanging against the wall.
‘You are going to be late. Your breakfast has gone cold already.’
‘Dad. Why did you not call me earlier?’
‘I knocked on your door on my way to the shower. When I went back to the kitchen, I saw your breakfast was still on the table. Why are you so tetchy?’
Gizela refused to look at him and shook her head.
‘Don’t forget the meeting in the town hall tonight. I will see you there.’
‘Do you think maybe the evil spirits are already here?’
‘The Oracle’s prediction says next week. Look, I have to help the other folk with the final preparations. You better get going too.’
Gizela got up and stumble-walked to her dad. She encircled his waist. ‘I am scared,’ she mumbled into his chest. He patted her on her back.
‘Take care. Trust your spirit animal’s guidance. Appearances are not always what they seem to be.’
Great, a hummingbird against an evil weasel spirit. She turned, went to her bathroom, and had a quick shower. She studied her face in the misted mirror. A hollow-eyed stranger stared back at her. A premonitory angst gnawed at her gut. Gizela turned away from her image and got dressed. She snatched her hummingbird necklace off her dresser and fastened it around her neck on her way to the kitchen. She scraped her breakfast into the rubbish bin and set off for school. A stubborn morning mist had fastened their skirts to the tree trunks. Quicksand sucked at her feet, every step of the way. After an eternity, she reached the school gates. She clung to the gatepost and eyed the empty playground. Maybe she should have stayed home. Gizela turned and bumped into Ms Finn.
‘Sorry Ma’am. I…’
‘Are you not supposed to be in Professor Mohrdac’s class?’
‘Well, his class is not this way. Get yourself to his class immediately.’
Gizela scrambled through the school gate, up the two steps leading to the front door, and opened it.
The woman’s breath raised the hairs on the back of her neck. Gizela’s head involuntarily twisted around. A vapour of rot stole up her nostrils. She backed away from Ms Finn’s red finger-nailed hand and hesitated in the doorway.
‘Make sure you are not late for our Oracle class. I suppose you have done your dream work?’
Dry mouthed, Gizela stared into the bottomless glitter-black eyes of Ms Finn. Acid crawled from her empty stomach and constricted her throat. She tried and failed to draw a protection bubble of light around herself. Ms Finn’s thin, blood-red lips split into a hungry grin. Goosebumps raised and tightened the skin on Gizela’s forearms. A brood of cicadas set up host in her ears and broke into a full-swung chorus. She turned and fled down the passage to Professor Mohrdac’s lecture room.
Gizela stopped at the door to lecture room 13. She glanced over her shoulder and scanned the dull grey passage that stretched out behind her. She eased open the lecture room door, snuck inside, and clicked the door shut. Her back against the door, she cast about. Her usual place in the front row was occupied. Professor Mohrdac stood on his podium, his back to the class, his hands clasped behind him. In front of him, row after row of colourful, antiquated symbols appeared on the blackboard.
Gizela slipped into an empty aisle seat in the back row. She fingered the hummingbird charm around her neck. Every student at St Kathryn’s School of Magick and Talent wore their spirit animal charm. She wished her spirit animal was something stronger, like Pedriac’s Jaguar. The object of her thoughts turned around in his seat and smirked at her. For a moment, she thought his eye teeth had grown longer. Unease ignited in her tailbone and piano-fingered up her spine. She threw up her telepathy blocker and glared at Pedriac until he turned back to the front. She may have a hummingbird spirit, but they were also known for their aggression. She had long ago learnt how to use that aggression as a protection against bullies.
A folded piece of paper fluttered into Gizela’s lap. She unfolded it. ‘Did you dream last night?’ Time warped backwards. She had struggled since she woke up to recall her dream. It was the first time she could remember that she could not have a total recall. The words on the note blurred. Gizela concentrated. Veiled wispy-smoke images slid over the edges of her sub-conscious. Anguish flared and throbbed behind her naval. Her telepathy blocker dropped. She wished she stayed home. She would just have to come up with something plausible during Ms Finn’s class. For once, she was glad it was the last class of the day.
She felt a mental nudge, turned and looked at Lorien. Lorien’s dark eyebrows were hooked halfway up her forehead. Heat suffused Gizela’s cheeks. She squirmed in her chair. She lowered her eyes and willed her energy vibration to a lower hum. She blew out a breath, looked up, and bounced a telepathic message at Lorien. ‘Chat at break’. Lorien gave her a tiny thumbs up and turned, facing the symbols on the board.
Gizela looked at the blackboard. She knew the symbols by heart. She shut out Professor Mohrdac’s tedious repetition. She freed her hummingbird spirit, instructing it to search for her dream. Stubborn, it hovered and stayed with her. She would just have to do it herself then. She put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her folded hands. Her thoughts ran a gambit from everything to nothing. She grimaced. The wheels are spinning, but the hamster is not home, she thought. She sat back in her chair and stretched out her legs. Her thoughts circled to Ms Finn. She was also the one who delivered the Oracle’s predictions. For a moment, Gizela wondered whether Ms Finn communicated the predictions correctly. She could feel the change in Ms Finn before, but when she discussed it with Lorien, Lorien just laughed at her. After this morning’s confrontation, she was not so sure that it was a matter to be laughed at.
Maybe Lorien was also changing. The changes in her friend were very subtle, but it was there. Surer than ever that something was afoot, Gizela decided to leave school during break and go find her father. He would know what to do. If the Magicks were turning to the dark side of their spirit animals, they would sync with the evil forces and the city stood no chance.
She scrambled up and looked at Professor Mohrdac. Startled, she watched him morph into a giant lizard-like creature. Evil permeated the air. She glanced about. Everyone had disappeared. She was alone. Her eyes on the creature, she side-stepped into the aisle and backed to the exit. She fumbled for the door handle and turned it.
The creature opened its mouth and propelled its elongated yellow tongue towards her. Gizela ducked through the door. A humongous thump reverberated against the door as she pulled it shut. Icy-ice cold fear spiked the skin on her face. Around her, the walls started pulsating. It closed off the passage to the front door. She turned the opposite way and ran for the door that led to the staff room. She knew there was another door leading to the outside from there. She wrought open the staffroom door. A push from behind catapulted her forward. She roll-bumped down a set of stairs that was never there before. Above her, the door thundered shut. Oil torches set against the walls burnt low. Dazed, she curled into a bundle, and her hand closed around her hummingbird charm.
Silent, the eyes in the walls watched. A purple-veined red tentacle snaked along the roof above Gizela’s head. It stopped above her exposed neck. The end thinned into a finger and stretched down. Gizela’s hummingbird charm gave her palm a vicious peck. Stunned, she let it go. It let out an ear piercing war-scream, followed by louder and louder vocalizations. Her ears ringing, Gizela ripped the chain off her neck. The freed hummingbird slammed itself against the tentacle finger, fastened its claws in its skin and furiously pecked it. The tentacle finger wriggled and curled back. The hummingbird let go and, with lightning-fast speed, attacked from another angle. The skirmish was over in a matter of seconds. The tentacle a bloodied, lifeless mass on the floor.
The shrill of Gizela’s alarm clock ripped her out of her dream state. She jumped up, ran to the window, and opened the curtains. The bright morning sun hung above the horizon. The cloudless sky promised a glorious day. Gizela shook her head. There was a dull ache in her left palm. She opened her hand, turned it to the light, and inspected her palm. A tiny pinprick of blood welled in its centre. Her hand went to her throat. It was bare. She raced back to her bed and checked every linen crevice. Nothing. Her alarm clock started up its slow-chirp, winding up for its second ring. She turned to the dressing table and reached for the off button. Lying next to the alarm clock was her hummingbird charm necklace. Of course, how could she forget. She always took it off at night and put it on the dressing.
She picked it up the necklace and rubbed the hummingbird.
‘I will always be grateful to have you as my charm.’
‘You better be. Appearances are not always what it seems. Let us go see the other Magicks at school. That Jaguar better not park his arse in your chair again…..’
Her father’s familiar rat-a-tat-tat knock sounded against her door.