To Grandfather’s House We Go
Author’s Note: All In My Blood is a novel I’ve been working on about a young boy who stumbles upon a family secret, and it forces him to confront the people he’s been told are the enemy his whole life.
I tugged on my red hoodie, unable to stop myself from sticking my tongue out at Phoenix when she gave me a look. She might think it was cliché that a Flannery wore red, but I just liked spiting her. Besides I wasn’t the one that had put red in her hair — and my choice had nothing to do with spilled blood, like she claimed. I doubted her hair was red because it was drenched in blood from battle. It would totally have been in a splatter pattern if that was the case and not happen in one night to just her.
Bastien, forever perched in his armchair with our little Bel playing beside him, peeked up from his book in time to catch me in the act of taunting our temperamental sister. “You’re so childish. If you had wanted to goof off, then you shouldn’t have volunteered to make the run to Grandfather’s. And Phoenix, stop encouraging him.”
Phoenix looked rightly scolded. I smirked at her, waving my own scolding finger at her. I could almost hear Bastien’s teeth clench from here, our little behavioral check marker while Mom was busy in the kitchen.
“Get the basket and get a move on it, Red, or I’m accompanying you and making you keep pace with me!” The horror! He would dare do that to me.
The look he gave me as he slammed his book shut dared to say differently. The fleeting thought of running across the room to try peering into his book to see if he was maybe writing about had anything to do with the nightmare he’d been crying about last night, but that just seemed too Grown. And then he’d know I knew, and that was just bad all around.
Phoenix laughed, putting her arms around my shoulder. She stared directly at Bastien as she mock whispered to me, “In other words, you should at least have the decency of moving quickly if you refuse to take an accompanying guard. You know Bastien has an overprotective streak a mile long. And he might’ve forgotten that I’m not accompanying you, either.”
I knew they were having one of their silent conversations or maybe it was a flashback conversation — it was hard to tell. Bel was silently laughing as he peered out from behind Bastien’s chair with his one and only superhero doll, Captain A, waving about. He always did that when I got scolded especially if it was by Bastien. I made a face. Bel gestured to our older siblings, and I glanced back at them to see Bastien getting up and leaving the main room for ours with his book tucked under his arm. Phoenix looked half-pleased and half like she was going to pull her frostbitten blade and decapitate something. She did it to the couch once.
I did my little prancing dance just to further spite them, sticking my tongue out for optimal effect though Bastien was already out of range. Bel’s little face bunched up, knowing I was insulting him. He always seemed more linked to my odd ways than either of our older siblings, though they did give it their best shot (it worked more than they tried to claim it did). They both claimed our psychic link was due to our shared mannerism. What was their excuse? They were night and day to each other.
Behind me, Phoenix’s hold changed, arms wrapping around my waist pinning my arms down. Her voice whispered wickedly in my ear, “You do know what happens to little reindeers, don’t you?”
I flashed her my specially charmed smile crafted just to flatter her. “They have their older sister rush to their defense, their much tougher, older sister.”
“You little charmer,” she grumbled ruffling up my hair further. “You get all the girls with those pretty little words, don’t ya? While we keep this world all nice and safe, you run off and flirt with all the girls. Sly little brat. Go on. Make yourself useful. Be the errand boy.”
I stuck my tongue out at Phoenix one last time, before dashing off out of reach from her wrath, grabbing the basket that sat on the table by the door as I passed. Behind me, Bel giggled again, whispering some part of his superhero tale that I couldn’t hear as I eased the door shut behind me. I didn’t take to the path right away; instead I slipped over to the window that peered into our room where Bastien had slipped off to. He could probably see me. My heart pounded as I slowly peeked through the window.
Bastien was sitting at his desk staring at his open book, not sleeping. Just staring at the pages like it held the answer to a puzzle he needed solve. I should’ve just run. I wasn’t the oldest. I wasn’t a Grown, and I never wanted to be, never wanted to lose that ability to smile with the carefree feel of the wind as if you knew how to fly. I was a Never. For as long as that could last.
He looked up as if sensing my presence and frowned, before opening the window. “I thought you were heading out to see Grandfather.”
“You need sleep,” I reminded him as I leaned in the window.
Something like a smile flickered across his too Grown face. “Will it make you feel better if I take a nap while you go visit Grandfather?”
I nodded, doing my best to look serious to appeal to his Grown nature. He closed his book, stalling for a moment. I knew how this was going to go; it’d happened before. He sighed after a moment and looked up. “It’s hard for me to sleep, but I’ll try. For you. Now, go run to Grandfather’s before Dad catches you lingering. I’ll be fine.” He closed the window, efficiently ending my pestering. He was good at that. A lot more put together.
I hurried off toward the path like I’d always been there, and tilted my head up to the misting sky or maybe it was just the leftover droplets from yesterday’s rain falling from the trees. The leaves shone a brilliant green above me, just like Peta Marie the first real Never’s favorite color. I could hear Bastien whispering her tales of standing up against pirates and being entranced with the creatures under the sea and how she swore she would never be a Grown when he’d been my age. She garnered others under her, taught the never to lose the ability to laugh or smile like the Grown did. And maybe there was some foreign place where Growns were like that, some Bastien would’ve heard of, but it seemed an impossibility. If I lost the ability to laugh or smile like that . . . I’d lose myself. I’d tried to spread the legends to Bel, make him a Never like me, but he always tried to improvise, and legends like that just aren’t meant to be improvised.
“Admon!” I turned with a quick flash of a grin as Dad yelled for me from behind our cabin just as Bastien had predicted. When was he ever wrong? He scowled, firmly believing I was yet again not really taking this seriously. It was like he believed that smiles had no place in our world, though I’d seen him give Mom one often enough. Or maybe it was the type of smile, and he just had something against Nevers. I almost stuck my tongue out at him at that thought but managed to hold it back. It would only affirm his opinion that I couldn’t take anything seriously and demand I take someone more mature with me.
After a moment, he continued on tightly. “Take care. The skin changers are acting up. There are rumors of more people going missing along the paths, and I don’t want anything to happen to you. Especially after . . .” Dad closed his eyes briefly, pulling himself back from that train of thought, and I tried to keep from running off before he finished with even that edge toward dangerous territory. I was a Never. I would learn how to fly above the water, how to dive beneath them and hold my breath until face to face with the people beneath.
His eyes opened again, hard and firm. “Dad says you’ll be fine, but I don’t want you taking any unnecessary risks. Understand?”
I nodded without my trademark grin. Maybe he’d be more inclined to think me serious. Doubtful. “Forever and always. Besides if Grandpa Genkei says I’ll be okay, then there is no need to worry, right? He’s got wicked cool spirit power like that.” Dad growled and stormed off. He didn’t know how to deal with me, and I knew Bastien thought I continued acting in my odd ways just to further get on his nerves. Truth was I just couldn’t help it. In some ways, it was just me. I wasn’t starry-eyed, or the rebel child, or the strong, dutiful child; I was the odd wild child born of the wind and rain.
I ran ahead, leaping over fallen logs like I was running for my life. It gave me something to do. Hunting skin changers like my father and sister didn’t appeal to me at the same level; neither did being a priest of the Spirits like Bastien. I wanted an adventure, one of those trek across-the-country, save-the-world kind of adventures. I wanted an adventure that would change me, but I wanted to stay a Never forever. Grandpa Genkei would have the answers — I was sure of it. It’s why I so quickly volunteered to run the basket to him; it had absolutely nothing to do with the idea of being able to run as fast as I wanted. Even if Dad would’ve preferred my more capable and serious siblings. I wanted my fortune read.
Something moved in the lingering shadows of the trees. I paused, heaving for breath as I scanned around me. It wasn’t so much that I was really out of breath than it was good cover, and kinda fun. I could have a career in story acting. Bastien was the only one who knew I was the fastest, and he’d never even seen me at top speed; I hadn’t seen me at top speed. I made him swear to keep the secret to his death.
The dark shape flashed behind me, a little toward the right, and I knew what it was in that instance; a skin changer like Dad had warned me about. I tore off forgetting all pretense as the world blurred exhilaratingly around me. Soft padding paws raced right behind me, forcing me to run faster until I was for real, gasping, lungs burning. Still he was gaining on me. I'd never been pushed so hard before, and if I hadn't, in part, feared for my life, I would've been grinning like a maniac at the thrill it produced — I wasn't sure I wasn't already. Dad would've thought me insane. Of course, Grandpa Genkei also said I’d be fine on the way to his house. Some things were just up in the air.
In front of me a tree rose up, massive and ancient and definitely spirit blessed; somehow I'd strayed off the path without realizing it. As I neared it, I rolled away moments before crashing into it, hoping the wolf wouldn't be able to move out of the way so quickly. He nimbly bounced off the tree as if he'd been expecting it, leaving me on the ground with a blood thirsty wolf approaching me. I'm so not Phoenix.
Still I scrambled back up, feeling for something to strike with. For once, running wasn't going to work. I never thought I’d see the day. The skin changer was a young wolf as Dad had said with a rustic red fur. He slowly crept toward me, sizing me up. There were tons of trees around me, slim baby trees raised in the shadow of an ancient mother tree. I was small for my age and light; they’d be able to hold me. Probably.
The wolf charged moments before I'd come up with a sloppy idea that would’ve had Bastien panicking. I grabbed two branches above me, hauling myself up just as the wolf’s fangs scraped against my ankle unable to fully grab a hold. I swung my body up around the branch, inverting the world. Bastien would choke if he saw me doing this, or knew I practiced on a daily basis. He was more overprotective than Mom.
The wolf fell back to the earth, pacing around the tree as he eyed me. I swallowed, nervously, losing my cheerful composure for a moment. My arms couldn’t hold this for very long; I was already starting to swing back around, back into the red wolf’s range.
Even though I fully expected at any moment for the wolf to jump up and pull me from the branches as I swung back around, he paused when I came into range, cocking his head as if listening. I cocked my own head, straining to hear what he heard. A nutmeg brown wolf rushed down the path, and I heard her padding steps. The red wolf below me bristled and growled at the new comer. She growled back standing her ground. The red wolf glanced up at me, ears lying flat against his head before taking off.
I stayed in the tree, half-wondering if this wolf would be any better. She was certainly bigger, but she barely looked at me before trotting off after my high-speed chaser. I waited a few moments before hopping down. Who said playing in the trees wasn’t productive?
Spinning once, twice, I came to the sad conclusion that I didn't know where I was. How far did I even run? In theory, I should be able to just run in the opposite direction of the big tree. It'd work well enough. I must’ve run in a straight line, right?