She ran for miles - ran until her heart felt as if it would burst. Stopping in the middle of a side street, she tried to catch her breath. It took a lot for her to shift, but life or death situations are … well … life or death situations.
She thought of the last time she’d shifted. She was ten and a man was trying to abduct her – to steal her away from her parents. If she knew at the time what really was going on, perhaps he would have survived and her life would be different. Alas, she didn’t, and the would-be-abductor laid in her little pink princess bedroom, bleeding out onto her stuffed animals, the same way the wolf was bleeding out onto the sidewalk.
With a sigh, she pulled a hair tie from her pants pocket and put her hair up into a loose bun, the stray locks falling around her face. She glanced around the neighborhood, focused on the long, one story building in front of her and remembered. This is where it all began - where she found out about The Conflict.
The elementary school, built in the 1950’s, was something reminiscent of a Rockwell painting. The large wooden desks that felt bigger than the kids were … though everything was huge when you were a child. The chalkboards were still green and the teacher’s favorite would get to bang erasers outside on the brick wall in the sunshine instead of doing busy work. She loved her teacher. A small, elderly woman named Miss Weathersby, who had to have been a hundred, but was still in love with her job. Miss Weathersby encouraged the girls to wear skirts or dresses and the boys to wear shorts and dress shirts. Miss Weathersby demanded manners. Miss Weathersby was the epitome of a perfect teacher wrapped in a grandmother’s body… a body found in the child sized bathroom a year ago, having been bludgeoned to death.
Taking a chance, she walked to the metal doors and peeked in the small window. It was empty. Everything was the same, as if time had skipped over the building. Crayon drawings and finger paintings lined the walls with masking tape, faded from the sun that shone through the blinds. She pulled on the door and heard the clank of the chain that wove between the curved handles. Grasping both hands around the cold metal, she jerked and the chain shattered into links, scattering all over the beige tile flooring of the main hall. She opened the door and stepped in, the stale-air breeze of glue sticks and construction paper permeating her nose. Tears welled in her eyes, as memories of this building flooded her senses. She treaded lightly down the hall, dragging her fingertips over the painted brick walls as she had as a child. She turned down another hallway, the light dim here without the aid of windows. She remembered this hall. The smell of industrial grade peanut butter was still strong as she slowly made her way to the cafeteria door. Before she reached it, something to her left caught her eye. A glitter-covered mural painted by thirty small handprints decorated the otherwise beige wall.
Unfamiliar tears sprung to her eyes again as she recalled being part of this mural. She remembered the excitement, the joy of being creative, and of being part of something to be remembered in the school for years to come. The permanence of it was so tangible when she was a child. She found her own handprint; blue and green paint swirled around silver glitter stars. Under it, the scrawl of her old handwriting, her name she’d tried to erase since she found out The Truth. The letters, complete with a backwards “s” written with a shaky paintbrush. Sage. Age 8.
Sage placed her palm to the print on the wall, so much older now it dwarfed the small one, and she yearned to hold that 8-year-old hand… to tell her not to worry. Things are going to get scary, but she will survive. She wished she could hug that child and tell her it would be okay. She backed away from the painting and looked at it in new, adult eyes. A tree trunk was painted growing up from a few sprays of green grass, with the children’s hands as the leaves; swirling with sparkly stick on rhinestones and glitter. It didn’t make sense then, as it was an innocent tree painting; but now it did. All the kids’ names that were on the tree, all but hers… belonged to children who shifted… children who were now dead.