Re-posting for ease of access
Kendra M. Frost
I stacked the box of jewelry displays on top of the one with my bead cases, between the closet and the bedroom door. The craft fair setup started tomorrow night, so there was no use unpacking them. I stretched a stretch that made my muscles ache from arms to feet. Thank goodness there’s not much left. In my room, at least.
“Into boxes and out of boxes and into boxes again,” I murmured to the pile of stuffed animals on my bed. They knew my pain. They’d been through the moving shtick before. “My whole life is boxes, Biern.”
At least my room smelled better than Linda’s. She’d shoved all her clothes, clean and dirty, into the same trash bags. I’d at least washed mine before bagging them, even if I hadn’t bothered folding. She’d stopped cleaning when I started middle school, telling me “make yourself useful at least.” Ew, and I have to ride in her car in the morning.
“And there’s no time to unpack the rest of the apartment, Lock. You’ll help me decide which dishes deserve saving, right?” I’d eat a hat if Linda washed those before packing them up. I’d been busy with eighth grade exams. “And Stuffy, you’ll help me vacuum?”
I hadn’t set up my alarm clock yet, but it had to be past midnight. Linda was supposed to drop me off at Rowan’s house at nine so I could go with the Ridley’s. Our annual summer trip this year was a big cat sanctuary Rowan’s dad had read about. Not much time to sleep, since we’d have to do the trip before the craft fair set up. I turned to the closet to pick out some clothes; save some time from the morning routine. I’d just found a shirt with dragonflies on it when a voice came from somewhere near my bed.
“It could be worse.”
I froze. The voice was gentle, conversational. I draped the dragonfly shirt over my arm but kept flipping through the hangars, listening as it continued. Please be sleep deprivation. Please be sleep deprivation.
“You could have gotten an apartment close to the pool. The leeches are quiet, but there are always humans sneaking in with them. Or the night-Fae and elves in the courtyard. Back here all you need to worry about are those two-forms or the incubus next door. They’re quiet enough.”
It kept going, commenting on my stuffy collection while I carefully closed the closet door. Invading voices or not, Linda would freak if I woke her up after yesterday. The voice fussed over messy fur. Probably the snow leopard, Biern. The lack of stuffing in some middles. Stuffy and Raine; they were the two oldest. They were all cats except for Ricky, my raccoon hand puppet. That’s how I spotted it when I turned around.
It was easy to notice the second pointy nose nestled among my stuffies, even with just the light from my desk lamp. A ferret. Or is it a weasel? Those were the wild versions of ferrets, right? Do we even have weasels in Ohio?
It finished smoothing Biern’s fur, then adjusted Lock’s Lynx tufted ears with delicate finger-paws. The Clan had gotten pretty roughed up in the trash bag Linda had given me to put them all in. The ferret hopped over Biern, slipped around Stuffy, then paused to pick a piece of lint out of Leo’s mane.
The ferret looked oddly at home among Clan Stuffie. Its brown fur was almost the same color as Ricky’s, and it was smaller than Biern. Except for the fact that it was moving, and the odd brightness it had compared to the rest of the dim room, I could have believed Rowan bought it for me. Nah, she’d get me another cat.
“And it’s really quite likely you’ll find friends here,” the ferret continued. “That’s good. Half-children like you are such misery to be around when they’re lonely. There are several families with…” It looked up at me and I looked away. My pulse started jumping in my neck.
“Boxes and boxes, Biern.” I folded the shirt, trying to pass it off like I’d been staring at the stuffed snow leopard. My palms were sweaty. Was that new or had I just not noticed? I tried to breathe deeply while I crossed the room to put the folded shirt on my desk.
I’m seeing them again. Of course I’m seeing them again. As if eighth grade wasn’t bad enough after I’d wished them away. I cannot go through freshman year like this.
Humans weren’t supposed to have natural magic. That was what the humans said, anyway. The elves knew better. I knew better. So did my best friend Rowan Ridley.
Whatever powers humans could have, though, I still wasn’t supposed to talk to invisible animals hanging out with my stuffed ones. Or in trees, lakes, fountains, or berry bushes. I went over to my dresser and pulled out a pair of jeans.
The ferret was quiet, still sitting among my fuzzy friends. I put the jeans on top of my shirt and went back to the dresser to dig for socks. There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s not there. I ran out of energy. I’m tired and imagining things. Ignore it. It’ll get bored and go away.
Two-forms was what the smaller spirits called shapeshifters. I’d never heard that phrase anywhere else. It was better than leeches, at least. That was what they called vampires.
A soft thunk hit the carpet. I bent over the drawer and focused harder on finding the right pair of mismatched socks. I had one in my hand that was black with neon stripes. A little more digging got me a neon polka-dot from the same set.
“Is it the spots or the stripes you see?” I sang the song softly, closing the drawer. I straightened up and came face to ferret face with the intruding spirit. Goosebumps stabbed my skin. I froze again.
“You can see me.” Its little whiskers fanned out, tiny nose twitching.
Cute! I thought, looking at its tiny round ears and smart black eyes. Then I realized what I was thinking and swiped at it.
There was an actual, solid impact as my hand hit its side and sent it flying across the room to land back among the stuffies. I stared at my hand, then at the ferret. It shook itself and twisted upright.
“How rude!” it said.
I half hopped to the window above my desk and wrenched it sideways. It hit the opposite side with a loud crack. I winced. Then I scrambled back until I hit the crafting boxes. I pointed at the open window and spoke as loud as I dared. It came out as a hoarse whisper.
“Out! I am not supposed to see you. Or talk to you. Or think you’re cute. Out!”
The ferret stared at me for a moment, then hopped over to my desk and climbed up to the window. It sat in the sill and looked back at me. I kept my finger up, trying not to look at it. And definitely not thinking of hugging it. Finally, the ferret hopped out.
Of all the times to get an apartment on the ground floor. I rushed over and slid the window closed. It stuck a little before snapping shut all at once with another crack! Please let Linda not hear that. The rim bit into my palm and I shook my hand to take out the sting. I lowered the bar quietly into place on the other side of the window; an extra precaution. Only then did I notice the sky.
There wasn’t one.
Author of Renn and The Springfield Chronicles