“Tawny, you say the weirdest things.”
That confused me. It also hurt a little, and I tried to show it.
Sam just laughed and shook her head.
“Forget the sad puppy look. It doesn’t work for you,” she advised me with a smirk.
It was another late spring day after school. In my home town of Berenice that means either it’s raining or it’s hot and muggy. That’s coastal Texas for you. It felt like I couldn’t breathe, but I was glad it wasn’t raining. We were walking to Sam’s house, which is in an older part of town close to the marina where the shrimp boats dock. We were on the road that passes the marina, so the smell of the sea was really heavy.
“Okay, fine,” I answered, still sulking some. “All I said was, Melody looks spiritual to me. What’s so weird about that?”
Sam’s eyes widened as if she couldn’t believe what I was asking. “What’s weird? What does it even mean? How does somebody look spiritual?“
Well, I didn’t know how, and I couldn’t explain myself. Once again, my best friend and I were completely failing to communicate. I fiddled with my scrying glass, the little pendant I always wear, and didn’t say anything. Sometimes my safest tactic with Sam is silence.
We walked along in silence for a little bit, until I saw her wrinkle her nose at something on the other side of me. I glanced over and saw Daddy’s friend Rufus sitting with his back against the side of a waterfront building. But Sam saw something disgusting. I decided I wouldn’t tell her that my father knew him.
Then he waved at me. I couldn’t be rude, so I waved back. Sam made an exasperated noise. “What are you doing, Tawny?”
“Just being polite.” I tried to sound matter-of-fact, but it came out defensive.
“You don’t have to be polite to some drunk homeless,” she lectured.
I didn’t reply. Sometimes, I don’t understand Sam either. She’s so nice to me and to every other kid in school, but then she can be so mean to a complete stranger.
Sam shook her head. Then her voice hovered as she suggested, “So, I suppose you think Melody isn’t just putting on a show?”
I can’t skip around between subjects like Sam. I had to think for a moment to figure out she had switched back to our old conversation. Then I had to review, to make sure I understood the question.
“I guess so,” I answered, a little wary. I sometimes feel like I’m walking through a mine field around Sam. I never know when I’m going to step on one. “She does believe in that stuff, you know.”
“So what do you think?” she pressed. “Should she make such a stink about a stupid textbook?”
Apparently, it wasn’t good enough to Melody that her religion’s ideas were shown in the book, she was mad that there were things in it that contradicted her religion. But I don’t really understand what was upsetting her, so I really couldn’t comment.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know how to think like her.”
Sam started looking at me funny again.
I sighed and asked in my ‘impending doom’ voice, “What did I say, now?”
“You ‘don’t know how to think like her’?” She repeated, and then rolled her eyes. “I swear, I give up!”
I get frustrated with her sometimes too, but I stay patient, because I hope to understand her a little better someday. “What do you mean?”
“Well, besides the fact I don’t understand how it answers my question, who do you know how to think like? Other than yourself?”
“Well, you… most of the time, I can think like you, anyway. Sometimes, like right now, you confuse me, and I can’t do it. The teachers, most of the time…”
Sam interrupted me to declare, “It’s at times like these I am forced to say I do not have any idea what you’re talking about, Tawny!”
We walked along in silence for a while, which happens a lot. Sam is always saying she gives up on me, but we’ve been friends since the first grade. Now, about to graduate from middle school, we were still best friends but we seemed to argue even more. I think she was beginning to enjoy getting frustrated with me, at least sometimes, and she failed to understand me on purpose, for fun. This time, though, she didn’t feel like she was enjoying herself.
I decided not to mention it. She usually gets confused when I start talking about what people feel like or look like. I always end up saying something which sounds strange to her.
I know my mind doesn’t work the same as the other kids. I don’t react the same way to some situations, either. But I often wish that Sam and the other kids understood that they often don’t make sense to me either. This time was a good example.
Sam once told me she understands somebody by listening to them, but that doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, listening to someone just gives you the words they’re using, right? How could that be enough to understand them?
So we always ended up in these stupid arguments. It was okay, because we would just change the subject and laugh about something else, so it never hurt our friendship. Is that weird, or normal? I don’t know.
This day, though, we didn’t get a chance to change the subject. Something else got in the way.
I felt it behind me before we heard anything and I knew immediately what it was. My mother taught me how to watch for the specters when I was little and she has been training me in how to fight them ever since. Lately, she’s been letting me use my glass on them instead of taking care of it herself.
So I knew what I was feeling the instant it appeared, and I knew what I had to do. The problem was, this one had appeared right on top of us. That’s the only reason it got near us, or Rufus would have taken it out from his position, before I ever did anything. It was already diving on Sam when I felt it.
I’m ashamed to admit my first reaction was to shriek like a little kid, but I also managed to shove Sam aside and grab my pendant.
Fumbling for my glass while trying to sing the thought-mantra in my head was hard enough. Doing it while a specter was swooping down on Sam like an owl on a mouse was impossible. I didn’t make it in time. I’d shoved her far enough that it hit her shoulder instead of directly where it had been aiming, but it got her anyway.
I don’t know if it was fear, or anger, or love for my friend, but I had tons of extra energy just then. My mind song struck the specter while Sam was still dropping to the pavement. My attack changed it instantly from an almost-invisible almost-shadow to an ugly, dead bird-bat-thing.
As I struggled to catch my breath and make my own adrenaline go away, Sam was sobbing and shaking where she lay on the pavement, with blood pooling under her shoulder, staring in terror at the dead monster that had dropped to the ground in front of her face. All she could say was, “What… what… “
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.