For this month, I am feeling in a very back-to-school mood (even though I am so grateful I’m not in school anymore). Let’s visit a pair of twins who also didn’t have a great time in school…
Zara kicked a rock in the road and watched it as it rolled off into the weeds, rather unsatisfyingly. She hated school.
You know, it wasn’t even school that she hated, really. It was the people there. If her teacher had left her alone to read a book, it would have been fine. But no. There had to be—
“Look, it’s the demon!”
The girl who had called out was down the road quite a ways. Zara opted to ignore her for now. “Demon” wasn’t even close to the worst thing she’d been called, and it was frightfully unoriginal.
Now that was something to pay attention to—Larkin’s voice, behind her on the road. He’d forgotten his lunch pail.
“Zara, wait up!”
She slowed her pace imperceptibly, but did not stop. He’d catch up soon enough.
And catch up he did, his pail banging against his knees. “Hey.”
“Hi,” Zara said flatly.
“What did Coreen say?” Larkin asked.
“Called me a demon.”
“Called us demons,” Larkin hummed. “I thought she might want to know about the arithmetic. She asked me about it yesterday.”
“Why do you help her?” Zara asked scornfully. “She hates us.”
Larkin shrugged. “It’s the right thing to do.”
“Goody two-shoes,” Zara scoffed. “You just want her to like you.”
“Uh, yeah?” Larkin shot her a look that suggested she might be an alien. “Why don’t you?”
“Because she called me a demon, dummy,” Zara said, throwing an elbow into his side, hoping the pain would drive home the point.
Larkin wheeled out of the way neatly. “Us. I’m same as you.”
He was so frustratingly dense sometimes. It wasn’t worth seething over, but the seething bubbled up all the same.
“Coreen isn’t so bad,” Larkin said. “She’s not the worst, anyway.”
“Hm, good point,” Zara grumbled. “It’s great that she only calls us names instead of beating us up.”
“Exactly,” Larkin said with a sincerity that made her furious.
“You’re such a suck-up,” she said. “Why do you let people treat you like that?”
“What am I supposed to do? Just be angry all the time?”
“At least once in a while!” She threw up her hands. “You’re so pathetic.”
“You’re right!” called a voice from a tree beside the road.
Gavin fell from the tree with a heavy thud. Coreen was annoying; Gavin was the size of both of them and was proud of the tooth he’d lost in a fist-fight. He sidled up in front of the twins with a nasty gap-toothed grin.
“He’s pathetic,” Gavin said casually, “and you’re evil. And that’s why you should both give me your lunches.”
“Because somehow you’re neither pathetic nor evil?” Zara spat.
Larkin grabbed her arm, his little claws pricking at her skin like fear. “Don’t do that, don’t make him mad!”
“Yeah, don’t make me mad,” Gavin said, mocking Larkin’s tone, and then dropping it to say, “you disgusting little demons. Hand ‘em over.”
Larkin’s arm started to raise his lunch pail to the bigger boy, but Zara interrupted him. “No!”
“No?” Gavin demanded.
“Zara,” Larkin hissed.
“I said, no. Leave us alone.” Demons were supposed to be scary, right? She snarled, showing off the sharp teeth that the other kids made fun of, flexing her unburdened hand so her claws stood out.
“Give them to me now, twerps.” Gavin extended his meaty hands to Zara, to grab her and throw her around or worse—
And she raised a hand right back, and for a moment, all her rage was gone, exiting through her hand in a brilliant flash of fire.
And Gavin was thrown to his back, leaving nothing but the smell of smoke as evidence of how he got there.
For a moment, everything was a quiet tableau. Larkin finally whispered, “Did you kill him?”
Gavin coughed a little and then groaned.
“Oh my gods!” Larkin said, fully aloud now. “Oh my gods, what did you do?”
She wasn’t sure. It had felt…right, though. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does too matter!” Larkin said, whacking her shoulder. “You can’t do stuff like that!”
Zara ignored the whack and stepped forward to look down at Gavin’s face. For the first time in all the time she’d known him, he looked back at her in fear. She sniffed. “You won’t bother us again.”
“Freak,” Gavin said hoarsely. “I think you broke my ribs.”
“I thought you liked fighting,” Zara said acidically, and kept walking. “C’mon Larkin.”
Larkin trotted to keep up with her. “This is crazy. We can’t do magic.”
“I can, I guess.” Which was a fascinating new development.
“But it’s not like you studied for it or a god gave it to you,” Larkin said, getting all worked up about it. “That’s…that’s sorcery, Zara! That’s dangerous!”
“Maybe I don’t mind being dangerous for once,” Zara muttered, examining her palm.
“I do!” Larkin yelled. “And I’m the same as you!”
Zara stopped walking to look at her twin. He was really upset about this.
“I don’t even know how I did it,” Zara explained, trying to placate him. “It’s not like I’m trying to be dangerous. It just happened.”
“That’s worse,” Larkin pointed out. “Cuz that means it could happen again.”
“I want to keep us safe, that’s all.” Zara kicked at his foot. “You’re not mad at me for that, are you?”
Larkin sighed. “No. I just don’t want us to get in trouble.”
“We won’t! I don’t even know if I can do it again.”
“Just don’t get so mad again.” Larkin started walking again. “Keep it under control.”
That was a stupid thing to ask. Surely he knew that?
Then again, he was frustratingly dense.
Zara skipped a few steps to walk beside him again. “I’ll try.” For him, she would try.