Deviant (YA Urban Fantasy) Chapter I
Another damn night on the god-forsaken Sacred Arrow Cherokee reservation bleeds into day as the scent of dew-soaked plants wafts inside from the cracked window. My eyelids are heavy as I peer through the window in disbelief as I see the sun beginning to rise. It only takes a second to glimpse my reflection in the glass, and I’m instantly hit with yet another wave of torment when a visage of his face flashes through my mind like the light of a camera. I’m a remnant of him, or so Mom says, with my steel gray eyes — the man who died when I was just four, too young to remember anything but the flames.
And for the past three days, he’s been the reason I can’t sleep.
His absence is a deep hole in my heart that refuses to fill. Lately, he’s all I can think of — what he was like, who he was, what made him tick. By age six it became as natural as breathing to constantly wonder about the man. By age nine, his face was just a blur. Now I only see him in my dreams, in a baptism of fire.
The door creaks open and the view of my dark bedroom ceiling turns into the back of my eyelids. Steps tap gently against the tile as I release my breaths in controlled rhythms. A soft hand falls gingerly onto my forehead followed by a kiss before the door creaks again and it’s all gone.
I don’t know when to stop pretending to be asleep — I know she’s coming back. But minutes upon minutes fly by. I hear the weak putter of her car engine and feel my brow furrow when the car drives away.
She’s coming back, I promise myself. She’s coming back.
She’s coming back. My muscles are aching to move, but it has to be creeping on nearly an hour since she left now, so I open my eyes to find a small card resting at the foot of my bed.
“Happy 17th birthday, Cal,” it reads in a delicate script. I let out a laugh of sheer exasperation. For all the times my mom bails on every damn date we set to actually spend time with each other, this is what I get. Not even a hearty “Good morning!” and a plate of chicken and grits. This.
I know it’s because Mom is condemned to a job as one of Sacred Arrow’s didanawisgi — medicine people, or “doctor”. She practiced all her life, but the craft of Cherokee Medicine, nvwoti, is strenuous, and takes dedication and time — time she has to siphon from me just to please her selfish father who, to this day, looks down on her for deserting to be with a man who wasn’t of the tribe. The tribe doesn’t care. The fucking neighbors don’t care. Oh, but my dear old enisi, oh he cares. To him, my father’s death was a “punishment for her disobedience,” and her rebellious son is her “just reward.”
Now she works day in and day out. Luckily I have her, the mocha-skinned girl in the picture on the dresser near my bed, a clear mix of her father’s smooth brown and her Mother’s rosy white complexion, but she has her mom’s round face and almond-shaped brown eyes. Her mom and mine were next-door neighbors back before we moved back to the reservation. Then I was born, and her two days after, and our parents became good friends. Nia Haynes is like a sister to me, and I love her like she’s my own flesh and blood.
By the time my alarm rings, I’m already fully geared for school. When a boy turns seventeen, he’s usually given some life advice for the journey to adulthood up ahead along with a pat on the back, a car, and hell, maybe even a box of condoms. “You might as well be wearing mud on your feet,” Grandpa says instead, catching me as I bolt out of my bedroom and reach for the front door.
I close my eyes and grit my teeth. “Sir?”
He takes the few steps needed to cross the space of the small living room and tower over me. I open my eyes the moment I feel his presence. Nia calls me tall standing at just 5’9, but I’m an ant to Grandpa. He’s built wide and large, about 6’5, with a permanently furrowed brow and a scowl that could make a war veteran cower.
“You’re already making a mockery of me by leaving the reservation every single day for school and who knows what else. The least you could do is not follow that with more embarrassment,” his eyes fly to the shaved side of my bushel of black locks. “Change your shoes.”
It takes everything in me not to roll my eyes. “I don’t have any other shoes.” His forehead creases before I remember. “…Sir.”
“You have a job, no?”
God, how I just wish he’d let me go. “I’ve been saving for something important, Sir.”
He grunts. “Tell me again why you insist on going to school outside the reservation.”
Because life in this reservation is dull, I think. “A change of scenery, Sir.”
He purses his lips, and walks away with a grunt. I blow out a breath, bolt out the door and jump into my old junk-heap of a car. It’s tan — or white tarnished with age and dirt — and just a few hundred miles short of breaking down, but to me it’s a golden chariot. That is, until I twist the key in the ignition and it putters like the piece of trash it really is.
“Come on, it’s my birthday!” I beg. I twist and twist and try every trick I know to get it running, but it’s all for nothing. This is just one of those days my sweet lady turns into a bitter bitch and I hate her for it.
Looks like I’m long-hauling it.
Zealot High School sits on the edge of Mobile, Alabama city lines, just a couple miles off the outskirts of the reservation. It’s usually an easy trek, but in the howling February winds in a pair of Converse with more holes in them than an Alabamian politician’s campaign, it isn’t ideal. But with my iPod blasting a blend of Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, and Radiohead into my ears, I’m stumbling into the ruins of the half-torn-down elementary school just a fifteen minute walk from ZHS in no time.
But I swear I hear something over my music. “Hello?” I call, tip-toeing over downed bricks as I snatch out my earphones.
The response is a hiss that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
Run, my head probes me, but I’m already inching my way towards the sound. A tenseness in the air pokes at my anxiety. The closer I get, the more the hiss sounds strained, like a person struggling to breathe. Then comes a scuffing noise like boots against concrete.
My heart pounds in my chest as I inch closer, wanting to believe it’s all just the wind. My throat tightens when I peek behind a brick wall and see a red-haired man gasping for air as the man behind him bars his windpipe with his forearm. The victim looks at me with bloodshot eyes before the man behind him jerks, the snap of his neck causing a gasp to stick in my throat.
The murderer looks up at me, alarm in his blue-green eyes, and the sight of his face sends me bolting across the field. Lester Peace, the most popular guy at ZHS, has just committed murder.
The police, the thought stabs through my anxiety for the millionth time.
No, I fight as I turn the rusted knob, allowing water to fall with a pathetic drizzle into my cupped hands. It never happened. I’m safe as long as I keep my mouth shut and stay away from Lester Peace. I’m used to students looking right through me. I’ve attended this school since freshmen year and still no one but the teachers even know my name. I’m good, I’m safe.
Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself to keep from shitting my pants. My face is glistening like it’s trying to avoid breaking into a waterfall of anxiety sweat. Five hours, five classes later and I still look like I just witnessed a murder.
I wet my face and center myself before I turn and step through the bathroom door, instantly greeted with an arm across my shoulders by a guy with a curly mess of brown hair and a shirt with a middle finger on fire printed on it.
“Cal Espers, you are an over-achieving smartass, a social retard, and you kinda walk like a drunk bird. Of all the people here you seemed to choose my life to ruin.”
A smile tugs at my lips as I shrug away his arm. “As if I’m drowning in options. Matthew Dixon, your grades suck and you are just plain crude.”
“You win,” he laughs. “Here.”
He hands me a card with HAPPY BIRTHDAY scribbled in big bold letters hovering over a buff, shirtless doodle with a bubble coming from his mouth that says, “U R MIGHTY GREAT!”
“Get it?” he asks, waggling his eyebrows.
I can’t help but laugh. “Matt, you obviously just made this card last period.”
“Actually,” he starts. “I made it in second period since that cliché of an English teacher insists on speaking primarily in fucking Shakespeare quotes.”
I blink at him.
“I needed a distraction to keep me from screaming. Plus, I figured, hey, I should bestow a piece of my art upon Cal for his birthday. S’gonna be worth something someday. My gift and my apology to you for stealing your land.”
“Probably the whitest thing you’ve ever said,” I say, my eyes occasionally darting up from the card as we slice through the hectic hallway crowd.
“Diced apples in guacamole and the show Friends.”
“I stand corrected.”
I stare at the card. It’s laughably bad even for Matt who failed Music Appreciation class because he couldn’t stay awake. Says Mozart is more potent than Tylenol pm. “You know, you’d be much more creative if you chose to open a book for once in your life.”
He rolls his eyes. “Books are for prisoners.”
“I really hope, for your own sake, this isn’t what you’re getting Nia,” I tell him. She will assault him if he gives her another half-assed card. She still never lets me forget the time I gave her a used stuffed animal for her birthday. And we were five then. And the stuffed animal was mine.
“I’d give her what I’ve wanted to give her for years, but a man can only take so much rejection before his small soldier waves the white flag,” his expression is joking, but I’ve known Matt for too long to not wrinkle my nose. “So are you gonna go fight the cafeteria food to the death, or are you gonna try eating off-campus?”
“My car’s the rag again,” I say as we weave our way through the cluttered hallway. “And I think I’d rather fight the cafeteria food than the prison wardens here. You know there’s that retarded rule about students not leaving campus during school hours.”
Matt sighs. “We live in Alabama, Cal. We have to be retarded to promote the stereotype. It’s either that or be pig fuckers.”
I begin to laugh, but as I look up from the handmade card, I meet eyes with Cory Blackwell, infamous asshole and notorious womanizer. He’s brown-skinned, athletic and tall, with little black orbs for eyes hooded by such low-hanging eyelids I always think he’s either sleepy or high. A mysterious scar runs across his right cheek. Girls love it. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why.
Cory’s best friend, his partner-in-crime, is Lester Peace, and just the thought of that is enough to make my heart jump. As he makes his way down the hall, his beady gaze moves from his phone to me, and I feel the muscles in my stomach tighten.
But then it moves to Matt. “Say a big word, geek,” he teases as he passes by.
“Primate should be big enough for you,” Matt shoots back. Cory glares over his shoulder and throws back his middle finger as he continues down the hall and out of the door that leads into the school parking lot. I watch him get into his terribly beaten up white van and take off, chips of white paint trailing behind like snowflakes. I guess there are still some of us not terrified to leave campus.
Matt glares at me. “How the hell am I the geek? I’m getting lower grades than he is in Calculus and he barely even shows up!”
I shrug, feigning nonchalance as my heart pounds in my chest.
Matt rolls his eyes. “Whatever. I gotta stop by my locker. Meet you in the caf!”
I stalk to my own locker, the tips of my Pidgeon-toed feet curving inward and my body teetering with the weight of my backpack. My hands are trembling as the look on Lester’s face registers in my mind again and refuses to leave me alone. My heart shoots into my throat when I reach for my locker and my books slip from my trembling hands. Before I could bend to pick them up, I see that someone is already handing them to me. I look up, and there stands Lester Peace, king of Zealot High, his blue-green eyes emotionless and his lips pulled into a straight line.
Lester’s eyes narrow and his face strains almost as if he’s focusing on something, but there’s a look in his eye that’s so convicting it makes my stomach churn. But then he blinks one hard time, and it’s gone.
He shoves my books into my hands and leans in so close I can feel his breath in my ear. His grip is so tight on the books I know he can feel my hands trembling.
“You better be careful,” he says. “Protect Nia.”
Then he’s gone.