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Blend real life situations and a fantasy world, and get the best of both worlds. First, take some typical high school teenagers with their usual drama. Then they stumble upon a magical beast. By helping the beast survive, they are awarded with gifts, which they master to help it return home. But not without adventure on the way.

Chapter Chapter 7

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The harsh light of the morning sun burst into his bedroom window. An unwelcome visitor to any teenager on a Saturday morning before 10am, the rays brightened the room ever so slowly and just enough that he opened his eyes, saw the clock blinking 9am and couldn’t fall asleep again. He rolled out of bed and went to his dresser. He pulled out a clean pair of jeans and tugged them up on his hips. He walked towards the kitchen and a voice popped into his head.

‘Where am I? What happened? Am I safe? I am hungry. Can someone feed me? Who’s there? Who’s there? WHO’S THERE?!’

Tom ran back to his room, grabbed a t-shirt and ran out to the back porch.

“Hey little guy, I’m here now. Sorry about that. I had to sleep too you know.”

‘You, you are the person from the night before,’ the creature said in Tom’s mind. ‘You saved me. You are my hero. Thank you!’

“I had some help too though. My neighbor Elisa came and helped me bandage you up,” Tom said.

‘Someone else knows I am here?’ the creature seemed worried by the realization that someone other than Tom knew about it.

“She’s my best friend,” Tom said defensively. “I’ve known her since I was a kid. You can trust her.”

‘You trust her, but I am not certain. Bring her to me,’ the creature demanded.

“She’s coming over soon. Don’t worry. Let me check your bandage. I think I can take it off without hurting you,” Tom carefully pulled the bandage off the creature’s side. He jumped back from the animal. “What are you?”

‘I do not understand. I told you last night that I am not of your world,’ the creature said in Tom’s mind.

“Yeah, I caught that when you started talking to me in my head and not through barking or making some noise, or talking even,” Tom said. He inspected the creature again. Where the wound had been the night before, fresh, pink skin now took its place as if nothing had happened. Thin fur was already growing very close to where the creature had been hurt. “Your wound-it’s healed. Overnight, on its own pretty much and that gash should have left at least a large scar.”

‘I can heal faster than many other animals. I was too unstable when you found me to help myself,’ the creature said in Tom’s head. ‘I shall give you a gift for helping me.’

“Wait, a gift? I think I’m ok without one. I’m more than happy to help you on your way, and I don’t need any gift,” Tom said uncertainly.

‘No. You deserve a gift for keeping me alive. What could I give you? What could I give you?’ the creature’s words exploded in his mind. Tom rubbed his temples to relieve the weird sensation welling up under his forehead. The creature’s eyes brightened. ‘I know! I will give you the gift of telepathy! Come here!’

Tom leaned closer to the creature. It put its paws on his temples and began to squeak and chatter. He tried not to flinch as the sharp claws began to dig into his skin. Moments later, the creature slowly pulled its paws away from his face. Tom blinked.

‘Now to see if it worked,’ the creature thought in his head. This time the voice seemed much clearer. He suddenly realized all the previous communications from the creature had been muddy, full of static, and boggled with poor reception quality. ‘Think something back to me. Anything at all will work.’

Tom thought about what to tell the creature. “I think this is the weirdest thing ever,” he began to say. As he spoke, he realized he was also thinking the words in his mind. ‘Is this how you talk all the time?’

The last sentence went to the creature without Tom opening his mouth. The creature nodded.

‘When you have a form such as mine, your mouth is not a reliable mode of communication,’ the creature thought at him.

Tom pressed his lips tightly together to ensure he didn’t speak. He pressed the words from his mind I think that makes sense.

At the corner of the yard, the hinge on the gate squeaked. Elisa swung the gate wide open and ran up the porch stairs.

“Hey, how is your new pet?” Elisa asked. Her thought-‘And have you figured out what it is yet?’- popped into Tom’s mind. He realized that the creature was silent. He was picking up Elisa’s thoughts. ‘Wonder what’s taking him so long to say something’- came into his mind from Elisa’s thoughts.

“It’s not my pet,” Tom said. He moved off the love seat to show the creature to Elisa. “Look, it’s made an excellent recovery.”

Elisa looked at the creature’s sides and gasped. ‘That’s not normal,’ she thought.

“I know,” Tom said. “This creature defies normality.”

“What?” Elisa said, surprised.

‘Oh crap, I read her mind!’ Tom thought, pressing his thoughts to the creature. ‘How does this thing work? Can I speak to her with my mind?’

‘Not easily,’ the creature said in his mind. ‘She is not very receptive to telepathic communication. Her control over her own thoughts is disturbingly loose.’

“But I don’t want to know what Elisa is thinking all the time!” Tom said to the creature. He clapped his hands over his mouth. He didn’t mean to say that aloud! Elisa stared at him, her bright brown eyes piercing through to his soul. He didn’t have to read her mind to know that she was very angry and mad.

“What’s going on Tom?” she demanded. She put her hands on her hips and took a step back from him and the creature on the love seat. “How do you know what I’m thinking about?” ‘Oh, please don’t know that I like you as more than a friend-Tallulah would kill me!’- the thought escaped from her mind as involuntarily as the air she breathed out. He felt himself blush and he turned away from her, unable to look her in the eye. “Dammit Tom!”

“Look, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to do that! Really it just happened,” Tom scrambled to explain. “My new friend here was eager to thank me for helping it. It’s been talking to me telepathically since last night. That’s how it communicates. So it decided to make it easier to keep talking to me. It just gave me this ability right before you came over. I’m so sorry I read your thoughts. You believe me that I didn’t do it on purpose, right?”

‘I trust you Tom, you know that already,’ the thought left her head before she opened her mouth. She didn’t say a word though. She stared into his green eyes. Tom nodded. ‘That’s just weird. I’m not sure how to get used to this.’ she thought. ‘I wonder if it only goes the one way, you hearing my thoughts…there’s no way I can hear yours.’

“Not that I know of yet,” Tom said. He turned to the creature. “Is it possible at all for Elisa to hear my thoughts? Or something like that?”

‘If I give her the same gift as you, she will have the same problem you are having right now,’ the creature said in his mind.

‘Is that a risk she can decide on for herself?’ Tom asked again mentally. ‘Can I explain the little I know about this to her?’

‘I can do it one more time. It’s a big power to accept though. I chose you because you had the courage to come to the graveyard and the opportunity to find me. I am grateful to your friend for making sure I was well cared for, but I think you did most of the work before you summoned her,’ the creature said in his mind.

“Let me talk to her. I upset her by reading her thoughts, even accidentally, so I’d like to reverse it if possible,” Tom said to the creature. He spoke so that both of them could hear him.

“Look, Tom, I’ll be ok. It’s just a bit invasive to suddenly have no private thoughts from a friend,” Elisa began. Tom couldn’t read any other thoughts from her mind as they were jumbled up upon each other as she tried to organize what she wanted to say. ‘Just not sure what to say to someone who’s been such a close friend for so long though,’-the thought slipped from her mind to his.

“If there’s anything I can do to make you feel better about this, about what just happened, I will try my best to fix it,” Tom said. He took her hands and clasped them in his lap. “You know that I will.”

‘He didn’t mean it’-the thought fell. ‘He will try and improve this ability, you know that Elisa’-another thought. ‘What can he do about it now that he has it? Won’t it be worse at school?’-and another thought. The last one hung in Tom’s mind. It terrified him. Elisa nodded. ‘I can trust him.’-her last thought brought him a world of comfort.

“You should tell Jude and Key and Frank about this,” she blurted out. “If anything because they might be able to help you focus this gift. Then it won’t overwhelm you at school.”

“Crap, I didn’t even think about school. The party. I’m going to be like Jean Grey or Professor X from the X-men won’t I? Going crazy from all the mental thoughts pounding in my mind,” Tom sighed.

‘With practice your skill will improve, the creature said in his mind. Do you still want your friend to have the gift?’

“Elisa,” Tom began. Her mind was blank as he addressed her. “Do you want to have this gift too? You’d be able to talk to the creature. More directly anyway and not through me.”

“I don’t know. I’m really not sure what to think of this, to think of you anymore, or even if it’s safe to think at all!” Elisa said, frustrated.

“I didn’t ask for it, you know that, right?” Tom said firmly. He focused his mind and tried to block Elisa’s thoughts. Her forehead wrinkled up, and Tom knew she was thinking of something. He tried his best not to find out what her thoughts were. It was hard, the mental wall to block her out of his head wasn’t easy to build, brick by brick. crazy, thoughts, reading minds, poor Tom, you still like him, Tallulah, the guys, think, handle. He wasn’t receiving full threads of thought anymore. That was a minor achievement compared to the big mess of their friendship and his friendship with the guys when they arrived. Why did he have telepathy? Of all the gifts to give, why was reading the minds of others one of them?

“I know,” she said. She looked deep into his eyes and a thought came clear as day. ‘I know you wouldn’t have chosen this on purpose.’ “You read that last thought, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, but I think you made that easy for me,” Tom guessed. She nodded.

“I guess it is sort of neat,” she began. “That I don’t have to actually say things to you.”

“Don’t get too used to it though. I really don’t want to know all of your thoughts, all of the time,” Tom said. He raised an eyebrow. “Do you want to say anything about the part where you might like me or should we just keep pretending that didn’t happen?”

“How about until you and Tallulah call it quits, we just pretend that there’s nothing but friendship between us.” she said. -‘Because you breaking up with my friend just because of me would be the worst thing in the world.’ “Crap.”

“Look, I had no idea you liked me. I’m going to give Tallulah a good, fair chance. I think we’ll have a good time together, and I think you’d like to see that too,” Tom said. “Since your mom wants to treat me like the brother you never had, we know that we’ll both be thrown in together and paired up by our parents, or at least your mom, for a long time.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. We’ll have a lot of other chances down the road,” Elisa smiled. Tom wrapped his arms around her and gave her a tight bear hug. -‘Though we can always do this right?’ Tom nodded in her shoulder. She looked up at him. “Ok, I see why you don’t want to hear all my thoughts.”

“Hey, is your mom up yet?” Tom asked, pulling away from her grasp. The lazy creature had rolled over on the love seat, facing the house, and dozed off to sleep, snoring softly into the cushions. Elisa shook her head.

“She stayed up late last night waiting for me to come home from the game. She went to bed, but I guess she didn’t sleep well,” Elisa said. “Why?”

“I got a message from my dad,” Tom began. Elisa’s face fell into a frown.

“Why can’t he make it this year?” she asked without waiting for him to finish his sentence.

“Some hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas. They pulled him out there for a last minute meeting, and while he could have turned around and come home in time for today, they’re worried that the planes won’t make it back for a return trip and he’d miss a meeting they’re going to have, come hell or high water on Monday,” Tom explained.

“What jerks. Don’t they know it’s your birthday?” she asked.

“If they did, do you really think they’d care?” he asked. “Anyway, Dad wanted to know if your mom could help out and keep things rolling for me. I guess all that cake making, party planning stuff he knows she does so well.”

“Ugh, I’m sure she can help. How about I help you out too. I mean, we can go see if she’s up, or we can just try doing it ourselves,” Elisa suggested.

“What do you mean?” Tom asked.

“I mean, you have a car. If you have some cash, we can go to the grocery store and pick up things to make a cake. Frosting and everything. It’ll be fun,” she said. -‘And I can spend lots of time with you…’ “Dammit, I did it again.”

“Look, it’ll be fun,” Tom laughed. “My dad probably left some cash for me in the travel box. Are you ready to go?”

“Yup,” she smiled. Tom quickly blocked out her thoughts and quickly put up his wall in case she had any traitorous thoughts.

He ran into the kitchen and rummaged through the freezer. In the very back of the freezer, behind several bags of frozen peas and corn, there was a small gray, metal box. He pulled it out and twisted the combination lock. It clicked as the tumblers fell into place and the hinge popped open. Inside the box, Mr Stokes had left $200 for his son. What Tom was supposed to do with that much cash, he had no idea. Maybe he was supposed to pick up a present for himself too? That would be another typical dad thing. “Go find your own gift, whatever you’d like as long as it’s under $200.” He sighed and shoved three twenty dollar bills into his wallet. He closed the box, spun the dial of the combination and shoved it back behind the frozen vegetable bags.

Elisa wandered in through the back door and waited for him near the breakfast bar that divided the kitchen. She leaned on the counter, resting her elbows on the smooth surface and framing her chin with her small hands. Tom caught himself as he jerked his staring eyes away from her.

Now he was thinking of dating Elisa. That was a danger of reading thoughts. You would know all the gossip in the school, in the world. There was no hiding how someone really felt about you. Blessing and a curse. He was sure that Professor X had said that about is powers somewhere in the Marvel storyline. If he was wrong, he thought that Mr. Stan Lee should re-evaluate his characters and think of what Xavier must have gone through as teenager.

He locked up the house and just for fun, because the were alone and he knew Tallulah was far away, he looped his arm in Elisa’s arm and pulled her against him. She pulled away from him a little before giving up any resistance to his grasp. They went down the side walk to the car. He opened the door for her and she slid into her seat and buckled up. He started up the car and pulled it down to the grocery store. They wandered into the Daily Groceries store on Prince Avenue. He tried to take her hand again at the door to the store, but she slipped her hand away from his.

“Not here,” she said. -‘What if Tallulah has a friend here to catch you?’ “Let’s see if we can find what we need.”

They wandered up and down the narrow aisles. Rows and rows of neatly lined boxes stood at attention on the shelves. Elisa darted down the next aisle and Tom stopped when she hit the bulk foods bins.

“What all do we need from here?” Tom asked.

Elisa was mesmerized by the big plastic bins filled with flour, rice, oats, bran and grains that Tom couldn’t identify. -‘Hmm we need flour, sugar, milk, eggs, baking soda, salt and maybe some vanilla. I wonder what type of cake he’d like best.’

“I’d be happy with something from a box,” Tom said bluntly. Elisa looked up at him with a hurt face. He might as well have suggested they go and kick a puppy. “But whatever you can make will be great. As long as we don’t burn it, it should taste great, right?”

“Moi, burn a cake? As if!” she said with a haughty laugh. She pulled a box of cake flour off the shelf and shoved it into Tom’s arms. “Do you know if you have any baking supplies in your house?”

“Oh geeze, if we do they’re really old. I’m sure the salt doesn’t go bad, but dad never bakes anything. Nothing fresh anyway-he’s the king of canned cinnamon rolls,” Tom said.

“Fine, then we need some baking soda and maybe baking soda too. Here, we’ll get a bottle of vanilla, not too large because we don’t want it to go bad,” she handed him small items from the shelf. “Do either of you use sugar for coffee or tea?”

“Dad drinks his coffee black. I think I have some brown sugar for my oatmeal though,” Tom offered.

“That’s great,” Elisa said. “We can use that instead of plain white sugar. One less thing to buy.”

“I think we do have some milk though. How much of that do you need?” Tom asked.

“Probably about two cups. Let’s get a whole dozen eggs though. Even if we don’t use them all for the cake, we can have an awesome breakfast today,” Elisa said. -‘I wonder if he wants quiche, scrambled eggs, fried eggs or hard boiled.’

“Hey, do you think you could help me make a quiche?” Tom asked with a grin. Her eyes widened as she realized he read her mind again. “What would we need for that?”

“Eggs, milk, maybe cheese and a veggie for it- do you like spinach? Or onions, or both?” Elisa said.

“I like spinach and onions. Can we add sausage too?” Tom asked.

“Going all fancy, eh?” Elisa said. They walked to the refrigerated section. She opened a carton of eggs and picked up each egg, inspecting them for cracks, before replacing them in their slots. Satisfied, she handed it to Tom’s already overburdened arms. They picked up a tube of breakfast sausage. Tom took advantage of them passing by the front of the store again and grabbed a small shopping basket. He arranged their current items in the basket and hung it on his arm. They went to the fresh produce where Elisa picked out an excellent bunch of spinach and a very large Vidalia onion.

“Why does it have to be a Vidalia onion?” Tom asked. He looked at the price difference between regular white onions, red onions and the Vidalia onions.

“Vidalia onions are superior in every way. First, they have to be grown within the city limits of Vidalia Georgia. The soil is very alkaline and that’s what gives it the really sweet flavor that you simply can’t get from any other onion out there. I also think they make your eyes tear up a lot less than the regular white onions. I’d only get the white onions for making French onion soup. Maybe,” she said. She peered into the basket. “I think that’s all we need.”

The cheerful cashier rung up their order and Tom paid for the food. Elisa helped to pack everything into a large paper bag. Tom carried the bag to the car and they set it in the back seat on the floorboard. Elisa still had Tom on her mind, but he kept his mouth shut. How someone could think so much about him was still beyond his understanding. He watched her more closely though. The way her brown hair fell over her shoulders, wavy locks tumbling. She was always smiling. Always so happy, no matter what he said or did. He wondered if Jude would really keep her so happy. Did she think anything about Jude when she was around him? The last mention of the guys had been when they considered telling them about Tom’s new gift. He still wasn’t sure if he should fill them in. They would be a mix of excitement and concern.

“Hey, are you still going to take Jude to the homecoming dance?” Tom asked as they went by the Athens Regional Medical Center.

“Yeah, and you’d better take Tallulah,” she said quickly. “Really, don’t let my feelings change anything you’ve already planned to do. I’ll be fine. I promise.” -‘not really, but that’s how things have to be.’

“Look, why can’t we change things up?” Tom said. “Why don’t we swap dates? Jude can take Tallulah and you and I can go together.”

“Because I think Jude actually likes me. The way I like you,” she said.

“Why can’t we just like the same person who likes us?” Tom complained.

“Because we’re teenagers. Teenagers in love,” Elisa said, singing the last few words. “Besides, we can date someone else in a few months and no one will think twice about it. This isn’t the best time to form long term relationships that will last us into adulthood.”

“I guess,” Tom said. “I still feel bad about it though. I thought you wanted to be with Jude, which is why I never asked you out. I mean, I knew things hadn’t worked out well with Key, so I figured I didn’t have anything better to offer you.”

“It’s fine. Really. I don’t want to have to explain any of my feelings and I don’t want to talk about it anymore. The more we keep talking about it, the more I’ll keep thinking about it, and eventually more of my thoughts will slip to you and I’ll lose even more of my privacy,” she said softly.

Tom shut his mouth and drove down the last few streets in silence, taking in the excellent colors of the trees that they passed, yellow ginkos, orange and red maples and the reddish brown oaks that were ubiquitous to Athens.

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Jennifer Fishburn

Athens, Georgia, United States of America

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