Friday morning dawns with a sullen gray sky and a persistent drizzle. It seems as though the superstitions associated with Friday the thirteenth are being borne out.
In homerooms, some of the students seem tired, others eager for the day to be over so that they can enjoy the weekend.
The bell rings, and Dr. Summers' voice comes over the P.A. system:
"Good morning, teachers and students. Today, we will follow a regular ‘E' day schedule.
"There are only a few announcements for today – The Harvest Mixer will be held at 7 PM on Friday, September 27 in the school gym. Tickets are six dollars, and will be on sale in Room 110 before and after school, and in the cafeteria during lunch periods, until Monday, September 23.
"Congratulations to the new members of Larry K. Dixon's fencing team – Trevor Hamilton, Emmet McDonald, Lydia Mordrid, and Kate Richardson. Kelly Babcock and Lissa Marie Grim are alternates.
"A reminder to all students that there is to be no wearing of jewelry in Physical Education classes. Also, all students must wear only the regulation Larry K. Dixon gym uniform during P.E. classes.
"Thank you, and have a good day."
Before the girls' gym class, the students change up in the locker room as quickly as twenty-four fifteen and sixteen year-old girls can. Snatches of conversations float around the room:
"So we're going to the Mixer together--"
"Did you see what Maureen Drake was wearing?"
"Love your hair, Alyssa–"
Bela chooses a far corner of the locker room, and remains quiet while the other girls chatter. Bela pulls her gym shorts on under her sari then carefully removes and folds the yards of cotton. She removed her jewelry and placed it in the folds carefully. She takes off the tight blouse she wore to school and quickly pulls on her gym shirt.
Miss Kapatelis stands in the doorway and claps her hands together once, sharply. "Let's go, ladies!"
Once the girls are all in the gym, Miss Kapatelis has them line up. There are two large nets, like those used in hockey or soccer games, set up at each end of the gym. Miss K holds up a soccer ball.
"Okay, girls. I assume you're all familiar with the rules of soccer? I'm going to divide you up into two teams – the team with the most points at the end of the period wins."
Miss K quickly divides the girls into two teams. Bela, Layla and Valeria all end up on the same team.
As Miss K blows her whistle to signal the start of the game, a sudden gust of wind shakes the gym's windows, and the light coming through them dims, as if clouds had passed in front of the sun. The overhead lights dim as well. Miss K looks up at the windows, as do a number of the other girls.
At this point, it is obvious that the gym has changed, and the students along with it. Instead of the gym floor, under their feet is some sort of scrubby grass. The sky visible overhead is a pale blue, with wispy clouds scudding across it. Around them are a number of tall stalk-like plants, with oblong green things at the ends of some of the stalks. The other girls appear to be of varying ages, and their gym uniforms have been replaced with simple animal-skin tunics. In place of the soccer goals are a number of large woven baskets; some of the women are pulling the green things off the stalks, stripping off the outer leaves, and tossing the now-husked ears of corn into the baskets.
Bela, Layla, Valeria and Miss K have retained their faerie voile, though it seems to have gained a noticeable amount of dirt. Around them, the other women are still gathering corn; some of them are also using pointed sticks to dig for roots.
Valeria looks around. "What the hell--?"
Bela looks around and shakes her head. She goes over to Val before saying a word, she didn't know what to say anyway. "Your guess is as good as mine..." She looks at the girls that were farming, trying to memorize every detail.
"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore..." Val says in an undertone with a sharply indrawn breath.
When the noise starts and Layla sees what's going on she immediately does the same as Bela and starts looking around trying to memorize details. At the mention of Kansas the other girls hear her sing the words "We're off to see the wizard..." under her breath.
"Well when in Rome, do we want to blend in or stand out? Join those harvesting or what?" Bela closes her eyes for a minute, "Did you notice anything before this, back when the gym was just a gym?" Bela tries to replay those moments in her mind looking for any clue.
"I didn't see anything out of the ordinary," Val returns. She seems to be thinking for a minute. "Maybe we should join up with them before they notice we're just standing around -- what do you think?"
Bela looks at her dirty voile, then at the village women, then at the teacher to see what some older and perhaps wiser might be up to. But regardless of what anyone was doing she spoke her mind. "Opportunity and chance happen to the Elegbara because the Elegbara do not wait for things to happen, we get out on the road. I vote we go over to the farmers and see how they react to us. See if they see our fae nature or not, if they treat us as one of them or as strangers, then play it by ear. If they see us a strangers, I see no problem telling them I'm a wandering storyteller."
Miss K, who has been silent until now, speaks up. "Sorry, girls. This is sort of...unsettling." She moves over to stand beside Layla, Bela and Valeria. "I think the best course of action may be to join the gatherers, and then we'll see what happens."
Bela smiles with confidence and excitement and heads for the fields without any hesitation. She waves to the first woman to look at her.
Layla simply nods her head in agreement and follows the others' lead.
Miss K. follows close behind Bela, with Val bringing up the rear.
As the little group approaches, a woman in early middle age turns toward them. "Ah, more gatherers. You can start right away." She gestures to the corn stalks. "And be careful of the beasties."
Bela pauses before choosing a row to work in, "Beasties?" Her voice doesn't denote fear, but intrigue.
"Yes," the woman says. "Green, leathery-skinned...nasty things. They like to steal our food." She gestures to a small pile of stout staffs. "That's why we have those -- to beat them off."
Valeria picks up one of the cudgels, as does Miss K. "Don't worry," the satyr says to the other women nearby. "We'll help protect you."
Bela picks up one sticks, "How do the beasties feel about load noises, in some places people use noise to scare away dangerous animals... like beating sticks together, singing, animals don't usually like people..."
The woman looks thoughtful. "Well, sometimes the smaller ones run away if we make lots of noise, but there are some of them that only go away if you give 'em a good stiff hit."
Valeria turns to Miss K and says softly, "Do you think they could be talking about something like what showed up on the ceiling at the assembly?" Her voice is pitched so that only she and her friends can hear.
Miss K nods. "Could be. If it is, then we'll need to be careful -- that thing burned Sally."
Valeria and Miss K., along with a few others, make circles around the corn stalks, their staffs at the ready, as the other women resume tossing the ripe ears into the baskets.
Bela looked at the staffs, "I think I would be better of with the others picking corn..."
Layla looks at Bela and says, "can i help you, instead?" and proceeds to start picking corn, all the while watching her fellow students.
Bela picks corn, watches the 'students', "If I was well not what I am, I wouldn't believe that things could change like this. But since I believe, I wonder how it happened. This is more than everyday magic. I would think it would take well, considerable 'power'."
Bela continues to work and watch.
The women work for a time undisturbed. Suddenly, one of the women lets out a shriek. "A beastie! Stop it -- it's stealing the food!"
As a number of eyes turn toward the woman who is crying out, the group sees a strange figure leap in to snatch an armful of ears of corn from a basket. Its skin is gray-green and hairless, its limbs twisted and scarred by what appear to be burns. Its eyes are nothing but empty sockets, and its impossibly wide mouth is full of needle-sharp teeth.
The creature tucks the ears of corn against its chest with one arm and starts loping away on its three remaining limbs, moving with a speed surprising for its ungainly appearance.
"Stop!" the woman shrieks. "Stop it!"
Bela looks at the hungry creature, considering it might not have any choice but to steal its food. But perhaps it is just like a greedy and lion and would take all that it could get. Bela wondered if it could talk, and if anyone had tried to talk to the creature.
Hoping to slow the creature down she took an ear of corn and threw it not at the creature but hopefully were it could see it and change its path to stay nearby. "Are you hungry. Why do you take this food?"
Making growling, grunting noises, the creature heads toward the ear of corn Bela has thrown, but doesn't drop any of the others it is holding.
Some of the women shoot curious looks at Bela.
Bela grabs another stalk of corn and moves away from the others.
She holds it out as if to offer it to the creature, as she tries to set things up so that Val and the gym teacher could do something if the thing charges.
"Are you hungry. You shouldn't steal. Someone will hurt you if you steal." Bela waves the corn.
Slaver drips from the creature's jaws as it stuffs some of the ears it was carrying into its wide maw. Making grunting noises, it charges straight for the corn Bela is proffering.
Reaching out with a taloned hand, it tries to swipe the stalk from Bela's grasp.
Bela's heart pounds in her ears as she steps back. She doesn't run. "Be nice and ask." **I wish it were intelligent... ** Bela looks quickly around to see where fae and mundanes are.
Miss Kapatelis and Valeria move in with staffs at the ready, their gazes intent on the creature.
Slobbering and grunting, the thing looks at the stalk Bela is holding out, then at the satyr and the young sidhe.
Suddenly, the tense silence is split by a deep growl. Looking startled, the creature bounds away as fast as it can go, cutting sideways from Bela.
A heartbeat later, an animal that looks like a tabby cat -- but one grown to mountain lion size! -- springs from the underbrush to land about four feet from Bela, Miss K and Valeria.
Bela looks at the Tabby Lion. "Lions and Tigers and Bears..." She then waits to see what the cat would do. "I was told that you don't want to run from tigers, I guess you wouldn't want to run from this cat either..."
The large cat pads closer, then rubs its head against first Bela, then Miss Kapatelis and Valeria, making a rumbling noise in its throat.
Bela quickly looks at her mortal classmates (village women) and fae friends (and teacher). **have the villagers seen the cat before?** Bela wonders. To the fae, "What now?"
Layla hops over near Bela and shrugs her shoulders
Miss K. lowers her staff a little. "Um...nice kitty?" she says hesitantly.
The rumbling noise becoming increasingly louder, the large cat bumps its head against the gym teacher's shoulder.
Miss K tries not to stagger as the cat bumps its head against her. She reaches out a hand and hesitantly strokes the animal's flank; the cat seems almost to smile and it rumbles some more.
"It's okay," she calls to the others. "It's just a big pussycat." She strokes the cat's shoulder with more confidence. "Aren't you?" she asks affectionately.
The cat angles its body to give her stroking hand better access and purrs some more. It blinks at the girls, eyes half-lidded with pleasure.
Some of the other women lose their fear at this display. One of them says to the girls, "We've heard stories about some tribes making friends with the big cats -- are you from one of them?"
Bela joins Miss K. in petting the tabbylion. At the question raises an eyebrow and whispers, "Truth or fiction?" She makes up her mind without waiting for an answere. "No, but I would like to hear the stories. And stories about your own tribe as well. Perhaps we could trade tales."
"Perhaps," the woman returns. "But for now, we should be returning to the village with the harvest. Perhaps you'd like to come with us?"
The women start gathering up the baskets.
Valeria rubs under the chin of the tabby lion as the big cat rumbles happily. "I wish we could take you back home with us," she says longingly, with a faint sigh.
"Val..." Miss K. admonishes gently. She turns to look at the women gathering up the baskets, and suddenly everything seems to go blurry and wavering. When everyone can see clearly again, the gym is as it was, though some of the girls are looking curiously at Bela, Layla, Val and Miss K, who are standing close to one of the walls.
"Is something wrong, Miss K?" asks one of the girls, a slender young woman with shoulder-length brown hair.
The gym teacher motions the three girls near her to silence, then shakes her head. "It's okay, Susan...we just got distracted there for a little bit." She looks up at the clock and adds, "Class dismissed -- change up."
The mundane students obediently start filing out of the gym.
Bela waits for the other girls to file out then mutters, "Now that was different, too bad it ended before we could really learn anything. What now?"
Val frowns. "Well, right now, I guess we get changed and go to next period." She thinks for a moment. "Maybe we can get together with the guys later and compare notes."
Bela nods and heads for the locker room, "I'll write everything down that I can remember."
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