Updated: Dec 27, 2022
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The place he took her too looked like any other place in the world. She guessed, from her house, they were maybe in Vermont, or maybe Pennsylvania, but probably more North. It was chilly, but she didn't want to ask Tommie to wait so she could find a jacket because he was in such a rush.
Finally, as the sun was setting, they stopped under a huge tree. "Tommie, I'm so tired." She said, collapsing to the ground.
"Good, you'll sleep easy and you won't ask me any questions," he cracked, flopping against the tree.
"Can I ask you a question? Just one?"
"Not if it's about where we're going."
She took a breath. "Or why," he added.
"No, it's not about that." She mustered up her courage. "I want to know how...why you do what you do."
He didn't say anything.
"Is it magic? How does it work?" Still, he didn't say anything. She turned to look at him, but he didn't respond.
Not for a long time, anyway. "It is like magic, I suppose," he finally said. "I don't know how it works, except for how to use it. When I was a kid, it just kind of happened."
Another long pause. Vyra didn't want to move, in case the noise or the motion would set him off.
"If I was angry, really angry, I shifted into something vicious. I didn't know it, of course, I thought I was just being...me."
"It didn't happen for a long time. I was a mellow kid, I went to preschool. I was just like one of you guys." He frowned. "One day, I was playing outside and I hurt myself. I stubbed my toe, or I fell, something like that. You know how clumsy kids can be."
"Yeah, I know," Vyra added softly.
His lips twitched up into a smile, a small one. "I wailed and wailed, it hurt so bad. My parents came running, but they kept yelling, 'Tom, Tom, where are you?'
"You see, they didn't recognize me. I'd shifted into a dog, and I was howling. I bet my parents thought the dog had attacked me, right up until I changed back. At that point, I was done crying. When it happened, my parents looked at me real funny. I didn't know it then, but I'm sure that's what happened.
"It was a few years before my parents took me out of school. They were afraid of bullies egging me on too far, or teachers yelling at me and causing it to happen. They never doubted me, not really, they just wanted to protect me from exposing myself."
"Then one day we got in a fight and--" He swallowed hard. "Well, since then, I've learned a lot about how to control it, use it to my advantage. That's enough for now."
"Tommie..." Vyra whispered, reaching out to pat his shoulder.
"Please, I don't need your sympathy." He huffed, shrugging away and rummaging in one of the backpacks. "It's time for dinner and a rest, don't you say?"
"Did they throw you out?" When he didn't respond, she continued, "It's alright, you can tell--"
"I said, that's enough!" he cried, whirling around at her. All she could do was freeze and stare at him, wide eyed, heart racing. For a moment, she thought he was going to shift into something horrible and eat her. That's it, she thought. I ran away with a crazy person. "I'm sorry, it's just... It's a sensitive topic and I'd rather not discuss it. For now."
"Can I ask...how you control it? How do you pick a form?" she breathed, too afraid to keep talking but also too curious to keep quiet.
"It's easier to shift between forms that are similar, like from insect to arachnid or goose to swan," he answered, pulling out a blanket and some water bottles. "It's a lot more difficult to go from mammal to insect to reptile to bird, quickly. Not too bad if you space it out."
"Can I ask another question?" she said, softly.
"I can't stop you."
"Where did you go, all those years? Where have you been? And why?"
Tommie turned and the look on his face froze in her memory, though she couldn't explain what it was. Fear, sorrow, despair, it was a mask of emotions that she was baffled by--except none of those words fit--it would haunt her nightmares for years to come. "Vy, I had something to do. I was here, and there, and sometimes I was with you. But don't ever forget that everything I did, it was for you and your safety." He frowned. "All I've wanted was to let you get well and maybe everything would stop." He looked away.
Vyra didn't ask him any more questions.
Originally published on medium.com/@gillianannie