What follows is the first chapter of my novel, The Golden Boy, which is set in an alternate universe in which magic is real as are fairies, witches, centaurs, and other mythical creatures and beings. As this is an alternate universe, the history is different as is the culture. There is, for example, no United States. Instead there is the Columbian Empire. Please see History, Culture, and People, Places, and Things, and Map.

The Golden Boy

  I

               Early Friday morning, 20 October 2000

 

Gavin Paul Reed did not want to go to the Northern Carolina Provincial Zoo with Cooper Road Elementary’s entire third grade class and especially not as the second required-by-law adult. Just the thought of the field trip made him pull the covers back over his head after the alarm went off. The morning news that followed the alarm on his clock radio didn’t help. Nor did it help that it was still dark outside. Light from the street lamp below the window was still visible on his bedroom ceiling: splintered white-yellow lines, filtered through the blinds. The government attempt to stopper the Buncombe County volcano had proven disastrous, the morning news anchor said in an incongruous and annoyingly perky voice. The resulting explosion had not only forced the city of Asheville’s evacuation but the entire eastern half of the county as well. Thousands had already fled the area; there had been no relief from grey skies for weeks, a greyness that had spread from the mountains as far east as Raleigh. Plane troubles, from the ash, up and down both the East and West Coast, had made a huge mess of national air service—delays, cancellations, stalled planes, and some crashes, as yet unconfirmed. A tornado had closed I-40 West near Greensboro, snarling traffic for miles. Another earthquake last night, its epicenter only a few miles from Raleigh, in southern Wake County—just before the Provincial Fair had closed, hundreds dead when Dorton Arena had collapsed. The Art Museum was a total loss. 7.5 on the Richter Scale; the one last week in Upper California had been worse. Government scientists still had no explanation as to why the quakes were so intensely localized and limited in range. Nor did government scientists have any rational answer to explain the earthquakes, localized or not—or the volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and killer thunderstorms that had also been slamming the country. The chairman of the Executive Board of the Church of the Rational Christ, Scientist, had called for a National Day of Prayer.

On a somewhat more positive note, prevailing winds the last few days had cleared the air in central North Carolina just enough for a carry-your-gas-and-ash mask day. The required-by-law field trip was still on.

Paranormals were suspected.

Gavin sat up at the next news story, and got out of bed to do his stretches and sit-ups. Had there really been a pro-magic protest in Upper California? If that were true—and sometimes he thought reporters were just fiction writers thinly disguised—then the stories that hadn’t gotten past the government censors must have been horrendous. The government suspected paranormals—another purification? He shuddered, remembering all too well the last time. The morning traffic report and the list of closed roads and detours followed Gavin into the bathroom. Good, he thought, as he stepped in the shower, I can still use the Beltline to get to Cooper Road. He turned on the shower just as the weather report began: Jolene, the tenth named hurricane of the season was bearing down on Galveston . . .

Shower, breakfast, suppression meds and exercises, and a particular herbal tea to reinforce the binding spells, were followed by one last walk around the apartment to check the ash-and-gas seals on all the windows and doors, and to collect the toys Grey had scattered hither and yon. Grey’s visit had been last weekend, but it usually took Gavin four or five days after his son went back to his mother to get around to picking up all the boy’s toys. He put them all back in the big toy chest in Grey’s bedroom and then just stood there for a long moment. Loft bed, making a cave beneath it for the menagerie of stuffed animals, lamp, the toy chest with the Sesame Street characters it had taken forever to stencil on—everything, Grey, Grey, Grey. The room smelled like Grey.

Gavin went back into the bathroom for one last check in the mirror, the last thing he did every morning before leaving the apartment. Dark brown hair, blue eyes, glasses, decent looking, 41 next month—completely normal. Not even the hint of any interior light behind the blue. Then, he opened the medicine cabinet and picked up the safety razor he always kept there. Still clean, not used, no bloodstains. He looked down, as he did every morning, at the scars barely visible on his wrists. After a long moment, he put the razor back on its shelf beside the Vaseline and the eye drops and closed the door.

In the hall he grabbed his gas mask from the coat rack and went out the door and down the steps into the pre-dawn dark. Just as cloudy as ever, thanks to the volcanoes, even if the winds were giving them some respite. Standing by his car, Gavin took his habitual quick look around. No black buses, no midnight blue Ford Stallion sedans. Not that he expected to see any; people had to be at least known province-wide for the IBI to come and haul them off publicly. The black buses were reserved for random disappearances. Gavin hadn’t seen a black bus for at least five years, but the whispers of the disappearances hadn’t gone away.

There was just the suggestion of sunlight behind the clouds as Gavin pulled out onto Glenwood Avenue. I do not want to go on this trip. I do not want to go on this trip. Driving 70-some miles, following two cars of volunteer parents and rowdy kids and a bus with 82 even rowdier kids was not how he wanted to start, let alone spend, his day. At least he had gotten permission to drive his own car. After all, Gavin had more than plenty to do in the library: finish the Fall book order, write his lesson plans for next week, purge the vertical files, go through the boxes of donated books a very friendly mother had given him (too damn friendly in his opinion, and besides, most of her books would probably wind up on the Spring used book sale anyway, and she had practically bathed in perfume—did she really think that was attractive?). That was just for starters. The expected order of his day, the methodical completion of his week, its regularity and normalcy had been shattered.

Nothing on his “to-do” list for today had a hope of getting checked off. Except go to zoo.

Carrie Dunn, the principal, had waved all Gavin’s objections aside. She had come into the library two mornings before, her dark blue Duke mug in hand, right after he had started his coffeepot and found him scooping up yet another kamikaze gold fish from the green carpet behind the circulation desk. They were both early risers and liked to get to work before any of the other teachers or even morning care showed up. Carrie came in to visit at least once or twice a week, usually right after she had made sure the red, white, and blue eagle-and-shield-and-star flag had been raised. The janitor sometimes needed reminding. The flag had been flying when Gavin had pulled into the school lot and parked his car alongside Carrie’s.

Gavin glanced at Carrie as he dropped a limp dead goldfish into a plastic bag for the trashcan. He knew that shiteating grin: Carrie was up to something.

“I thought you were going to put a glass cover over the tank, so no more fish would die,” she said. “How many does that make?”

“Four. And I did, see? But the kid from Christopher’s class forgot to put it back on yesterday afternoon and I forgot to check. I think the filter needed some cleaning, too—might not have been enough oxygen in the water. That mug looks like it could use some more hot coffee—I just got my pot going. Want some? It’s hazelnut. How you drink that cold brown swill I will never know.”

Gavin turned to go back to his office, a glass box directly in the center of the long room that made up Cooper Road’s media center. The traditional book library was on the end facing the main office through a two-way glass display case. Beyond Gavin’s office was the AV collection, which needed more integration with the books to meet the new Columbian Library Association guidelines (he had started on that), the school’s stable of VCRs and portable TVs, film projectors, overhead projectors, an opaque projector, and two cantankerous laminators, the favorite machine—or so it seemed—of every teacher in the school. They loved to laminate: book covers, sets of alphabet letters, posters, student thank you notes and cards, and just about anything else flat.

The Chapter I reading teacher had her desk in the back corner, which was neat and tidy and ever so tasteful. She had put brightly colored pots of purple, blue, pink, and white African violets in all the windows in that half of the room. Each orange or yellow or purple pot sat on a handmade white lace doily. Gavin thought the woman was insane and had way too much time on her hands.

“Christopher’s room—well, maybe you should get another fish-feeder. Especially for this Friday. Yeah, a fresh cup would be great. Heard any new Mr. Reed-the-Librarian jokes lately?” Carrie said, as she followed him into his office, which had something of the appearance of a drunken bird’s nest. Catalogs—books and AV, equipment—littered his desk and the floor. Drawings kindergarteners and first graders had done during Imperial Library Week last year hung on the closet behind the desk. Stacked trays with paper spilling out, sat on one corner of the desk and a stapler, tape dispenser, and a cup of pencils and pens held down the opposite corner. Shelves lined the bottom of the glass box. An electric coffeepot, mugs, sweeteners and creamers claimed the top shelf nearest the office door.

Beside the coffeepot was a small blue glass vase with a little bouquet of dried flowers and greenery. For a bit of color, Gavin told anyone who asked. He knew he was breaking the law, but he had just not felt safe in his office without a few protective herbs and flowers. They had to be visible, or the magic wouldn’t work. Besides, practically everybody broke this particular anti-magic law. Well, more than would ever admit it. He knew he could walk into half the classrooms in the school and find a small vase or pot of herbs—who could prove this was a proscribed use? — or a garlic bulb hanging in a discreet place or a small plain wooden box on the desk, with proscribed gems inside. Gavin would have bet that the half of the teachers who had an herb pot also had a pocket stone or charm or talisman, too. He knew Carrie carried a small leather bag with an assortment of stones—an amethyst, different colored topazes and quartzes, citrines, a moonstone—which she changed from time to time. Carrie’s herbs were tucked away in a back corner of her office, right next to the official birthday portrait of the Emperor and his mother. But neither mentioned it, nor did any other teacher at Cooper Road Elementary. The half that kept the pots and the little boxes and bags could not quite trust the half that didn’t.

“This Friday? Here, give me that ugly Duke mug of yours. One Equal, one creamer, right? And no, no new Mr. Reed jokes. Only a parent last week who asked me if my last name really was Reed. I didn’t tell her I’ve been asked that since I was in high school.”

He recognized the tone in Carrie’s voice. The last time he had heard that tone she had wanted him to chaperone the all-fifth grade Emperor’s Birthday party, last March. Ten of the kids had overdosed on cookies and punch and barfed on the gym floor. That had been loads of fun.

Gavin eyed her warily; Autumn Harvest was 11 days away. She didn’t want him to chaperone that party, did she? Gavin had told Carrie more than once how much he hated Autumn Harvest parties: the ridiculous costumes and masks, the silly games. Did the world really need 27 kinds of pumpkin pie? Besides, these parties lasted all night. Okay, he did like the jack’o’lanterns because they reminded him of the happy childhood days before his father and older brothers had left, but since the last round of purifications, nobody much carved pumpkins anymore.

“Okay, Carrie, out with it. I know you’re up to something. What do you want?”

“One Equal, one creamer, you got it. Okay, one of Christopher’s room mothers can’t go with him to the zoo on Friday. That leaves us short the number of adults legally required for school field trips to any place where children will be exposed to defined evil. There is a magical beast exhibit there, which is mostly why they are going. Required in the third grade, in the fall semester, the course in the spring. All of which you know. He called five other parents, no go, and the rest of his parents work. So, I was thinking you could go. We have to go this week—the winds are in our favor, and I, for one, do not want the Provincial Department of Education on my back about letting this slip. They are determined, no matter what else is going on, for schools to satisfy the law.”

“Carrie. You know I hate field trips.”

“C’mon, Gav. We’re short one adult. You know school law as well as I do. It’ll be fun, Gav; I promise. And you are off the hook for chaperoning the all-night Autumn Harvest party. It’s worth a beer at Bennigan’s.”

Gavin sighed. He knew he should have brought more agrimony to school. The few sprigs he had in the dried herb vase were not warding off this evil. Maybe hanging a few garlic bulbs in discreet places outside his office would not have been too risky.

***

Carrie owes me a pitcher, not just one beer, Gavin thought, as he, 21 third graders, the class’s teaching assistant, and their teacher, Christopher Phillips, waited in line at the RJR Nabisco Rocky Coast habitat to see the polar bears, sea lions, and sea birds. His leg still smarted from where the damn swan had bitten him. Letting water birds wander around loose in a marsh at the zoo entrance was carrying the natural habitat idea a bit too far. Especially if the birds bit. The zoo staffer who had shooed the bird away had blamed it on last night’s earthquake that had left cracks in the sidewalks and upset all the animals. Polar bears all looked the same: big white dirty rugs flopping in and out of ice water. The early morning sky was grey and cloudy—when was the last time he had seen a blue sky?

The kids had a ton of annoying questions. What would have happened if that 7.5 quake had been here? Would all the animals and birds be free? And if he had to explain one more time why there were no elephants in the zoo, that they were all in bigger and older zoos, or in Africa, on the other side of 30 West, he would explode. Nowhere on the zoo’s 550 acres—the largest natural habitat zoo in the country—were there any animals from Africa. Polar bears, sea lions, river otters, bison, elk, alligators, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, Southern Columbian monkeys, jaguars, panthers, parrots, imperial eagles—but no elephants. Five miles of trails, in and out of the Prairie, the Rainforest, the Tundra, the Sonora Desert, and all the rest, but no Africa—or Asia or Australia.

Gavin took some comfort in that he didn’t feel quite as uneasy about the field trip as he had when Carrie initially talked him into going. Maybe the uneasiness and dread and stomach knots and intestinal cramping were just a hangover from the rest of his life and the disruptions to its order and regularity: three phone messages in one week from his mother after five years’ silence (except for the postcard she had sent when Grey was born): call me, it’s urgent. Or the other messages with the angry voice of his ex, Sophia: We need to talk as soon as possible. Call me. The dreams had come back: about Raoul, about Jason, about him. Maybe he should up the dosage of his suppression medicine or ask Dr. Deerman for a stronger spell. Maybe that was it—his mother was afraid Grey’s feyness might show. She should know Gavin was making sure the boy got the suppression drugs.

Gavin shook his head. It had taken him a good long while to put things back together, as much as he possibly could, after Sophia had divorced him two years ago, a return to the placid life he had built after slamming the door to his mother’s house behind him and not looking back. Finish graduate school, get a job, get married, start a family, jog every other day—just live like any normal. Not like paras, who got married in fours, with all combinations of gender configurations. Men lying with men, women with women, are an abomination, paranormals are an abomination had been the theme of more than one church service when Gavin was growing up. Never mind all the other so-called paranormals, witches and the rest of the First Folk.

It helped somewhat to realize that divorce was normal (one in three Columbian marriages ended in divorce).Marriage counseling hadn’t worked and had only made Gavin furious. You aren’t emotionally engaged with your marriage, Gavin, not with Sophia. You seem to be performing, as opposed to being—does that make sense?

No.

If he could just extract that tape loop out of his head. Gavin sighed—that, and the rest that kept replaying in his head and, in his dreams. At least he had Grey. Having his three-year-old son every other weekend had become part of the rhythm of a life. His normal life.

Okay, okay, so the polar bears hadn’t been so bad, although he did want to strangle the next person who used “cute” and “bear cubs” in the same sentence. Gavin loved the otters in the Streamside habitat—if he could choose to be any animal, he’d be an otter. Sleek, dark, free, and at play forever. Were there any wereotters? If there ever had been on either continent of the New World, Northern or Southern Columbia, they had probably been hunted to extinction years ago.

“OK, wave good-bye to the otters, and then up this path. Let’s go.”

The next exhibit was the Bestiary of Evil. And it wasn’t uneasiness or intestinal cramping Gavin now felt—it was a solid dark fear. Maybe he could wait outside. Hearing Christopher read the required history signs about the government campaigns after the Second Great Crusade didn’t help—the vampire extinctions, the bounty paid per fang, the capture of all the evil magical beasts. Gavin knew his fellow teacher had faun-skins and vampire heads on the walls in his living room and a faun horn backscratcher on the mantel in the same room. Christopher had hosted the faculty Christmas party last year and he had proudly pointed them out to everybody on his house tour, and reminded everyone just how evil and nasty vampires had been.

“I’ll wait out here,” Gavin said to him softly, so the children wouldn’t hear. “I feel a bit—queasy.”

“Gav, you know we both have to go inside. The children can’t go in without the required number of adults,” Christopher said, giving him an odd look. “It’s school law; you know that. Every Columbian child by the age of eight shall be made aware of the physicality of evil. No child shall be made aware without the protection of an adult. This is the main reason we do this field trip every year.

“Hey, Peter! Where are you going—stay with the class.” Christopher called out, turning away from Gavin. “Back in line and stop playing with your gas mask. Just carry it. Now. Oh, I meant to tell you, Gav, I liked your gas mask—where’d you get it?” he added.

“A Sears Gash—gas-and-ash, get it?” Why oh why did I let Carrie talk me into this? “I know it’s the law; I just feel funny, that’s all. Maybe it’s something I ate; I’ve felt kind of nauseated all morning.” And I’ve had weird dreams all night long, but Mr. Faun Hunter doesn’t need to know that.

“Come on—we won’t stay long. Peter, stay with the group. Okay, everybody, hold hands with your buddy. Peter, are you paying attention? Janey, eyes forward, look at me. Peter, if I have to call your name one more time, you know what will happen. Now, don’t touch the glass—this is the Bestiary of Evil I told you about, remember? Bestiary comes from an old word for beast…” Christopher went on, giving the required speech and making sure every kid was accounted for, that each name was checked off the official roster he had to send in to the Northern Carolina Provincial Department of Education. Thus, the imperial decree of “no child unexposed” would be met. Last in line, Gavin took the hand of Latisha, a waiflike towheaded little girl who never had much to say. She clutched his hand as tightly as she could.

The bestiary was not inviting, even though it drew almost as many people as the other areas of the zoo put together. Entering it was like stepping into a cave, the entrance a black mouth of rock, and then the hallway of dark, tumbled rocks that led to the cages. They must do something to make it so quiet, a silencer or something, Gavin thought, as he and Latisha slowly walked through the darkness. The kids whispered even without Christopher’s urging. By the time they got to the other side of the cave and stepped into the muted light of the cage room, the rest of the class had pulled ahead of Gavin and the little girl.

Two dispirited pegasi, wings clipped, stood in the first cage, munching from the clover, fresh grass, and alfalfa that spilled out of a trough onto the earthen floor. Neither looked up as the children passed, despite their waving. A lone unicorn stood in the next cage, eating the same food. The gargoyles’ cage looked like a pile of rocks. Two gargoyles sat motionless on one boulder, side by side, almost if they were rocks themselves. The Cheshire cats’ cage enclosed a thicket of trees, the animals’ natural habitat. Gavin had to show Latisha where the two cats were, on low branches, toward the back.

“See that ripple of—sort of an orange—back there? That’s what they do sometimes when they are sleeping—flicker back and forth being visible and invisible,” Gavin told her, remembering one of the daily enemy awareness broadcasts he had heard every morning in high school and college. Know the enemy. Always be on guard. Today: Cheshire cats . . .

“I have a cat that color at home. Pumpkin. Pumpkin doesn’t disappear.”

“Pumpkin isn’t a Cheshire cat; he’s a normal cat. He’s a good cat.”

The centaurs’ cage was empty. Gavin was disappointed, but not surprised. The last wave of induced hoof, hand, and mouth disease had decimated the few herds remaining in the Columbian Empire. The grocery store tabloids reported rumors of wild herds in the Far Northern Territories or Alaska, and across the border in Quebec, or way south, in the Yucatan jungles of the Mexican Empire, or even farther south, in the Brazilian jungles. But who believed the tabloids?

Gavin remembered meeting a centaur once, years ago, when he was in high school. He and his mother were spending a week in the western Northern Carolina mountains, in Sylva, near the Cherokee Reservation. One morning they had gotten up early, before dawn, and drove even further west, to Robbins to see the Big Trees in the Joyce Kilmer Imperial Forest. There had been others who had the same idea, but even so, when Gavin and his mother were on the path, they felt alone and safe in a world of green quiet. If anyone spoke, it was in a whisper. The brush of the early morning light painted the Big Trees with gold, and they rose, shining spears, their top branches far away.

They saw the centaur when they were just past the halfway path marker. A male, a stallion, with the body of a roan Clydesdale. Deep and full red beard, thick, curly hair, the points of his ears barely showing, a silky-looking mane growing down his back. A quiver of arrows and a bow were strapped across his broad chest. Gavin’s mother held up her hand: be quiet. She and the centaur stared at each other, as if they had once known each other and had forgotten and were staring to see if they could remember. Finally the centaur nodded his head in recognition and Gavin saw his mother do the same. The centaur trotted away, his hooves crunching the leaves, and disappeared into the green and yellow shadows.

“Don’t tell anyone,” his mother whispered, her voice barely audible. “The rangers would hunt him down and kill or cage him. Don’t mention him at all until we are in the car.”

Gavin nodded. Another secret. Right then he could not speak, and only after the centaur had left, did he realize he had been holding his breath. He had never seen someone so beautiful. He waited until they were back in the car and on the road to start asking his mother how the centaur had known her, but gave up in the face of her unyielding stubborn silence.

He didn’t even bother asking her again why she left little bowls of milk and plates of oat cakes outside the back door of their rented cottage all week. It wasn’t for cats was all she had told him.

That centaur was magnificent. Homo sapiens equus.

The name on the sign by the empty cage read Sagittarius centaurus. No government-authorized sign would ever have any reference to human for a centaur. His mother had taught him the other name that morning beneath the Big Trees.

A pair of golden gryphons, also with clipped wings and as unhappy looking as the pegasi, was in the next cage.

“There are supposed to be two silver gryphons, too,”Gavin said, after he read the sign. “I guess they are hiding in that cave in the back. Maybe the female is sitting on her eggs, or nursing her cubs.”

Latisha just nodded and tightened her grip on his hand. God only knows what her parents told her before this field trip.

The werewolf was next, sitting hunched over a rock in its forest habitat. It was an eastern red werewolf, with intensely blue eyes. Listed on the sign in front of the cage were instructions for identifying werewolves in human form, and ways to protect oneself from such monsters. Canis lupus mutandis.

The werewolf seemed even sadder than the rest of the Bestiary’s denizens. It hadn’t looked up, no matter how loud the kids ahead of Gavin and Latisha had been, or how many faces they had made. But it did look up just as Gavin got to the cage and stared at him with those very bright blue eyes. Not wolf eyes or dog eyes—human eyes. Homo sapiens lupus. Gavin froze.

“Mr. Reed?”

He didn’t hear Latisha at first. Instead, Gavin watched as the werewolf, shaking its big shaggy head, came slowly over to the corner of the cage where they stood. Its eyes were focused intently on Gavin. It jumped on its hind legs, its big paws only separated from Gavin’s face by the glass.

“Help me, please, fairy, help me. They won’t me let change—they make me take drugs,” it said in a rough voice. “I need to change. Get me out of here.”

“I’m not a fairy—shut up,” Gavin snapped back.

“Mr. Reed? Mr. Reed? What did it say?” Latisha asked, tugging at Gavin’s arm with her free hand.

“Not a fairy? Look at your hands, fairy,” the werewolf hissed.

Gavin dropped Latisha’s hand and looked at his own. The tips of all his fingers glowed, a faint, faint yellow glow, as if he had dipped them in fluorescent paint.

I took the pills this morning. This shouldn’t be happening. Suppress, suppress, suppress.

“I’m not a fucking fairy,” he yelled at the werewolf who only growled and snarled in return. He looked quickly around the Bestiary. Was there anybody who’d hear him yelling? What was he thinking? Thank God nobody but Latisha was anywhere near Gavin and the werewolf.

Latisha whined at him. “You aren’t supposed to say that word; it’s not nice. Mama told me so. What’s wrong with your hands? What’s it saying?”

“Nothing is wrong with my hands, see?” Gavin yelled again and then, seeing the shock and fear in the little girl’s face, the involuntary steps she took away from him, spoke slowly, in as even and as calm a tone as he could muster. “Nothing’s the matter with my hands. See? I don’t know what it’s saying. It’s a werewolf—they’re crazy—they say crazy things.” God, please let her believe me. Please.

Latisha stared at him and took another step back. He could guess what she was thinking. Latisha was remembering what she had been taught in school, the same things he had been taught in kindergarten and first grade, in Sunday school, in elementary school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school. The government made sure the lesson got through, that it was repeated over and over so no one could ever miss it. Even the youngest knew what the warning signs were, what to look out for. And what to do if they saw glowing people.

For your country and your Emperor, for God, for your family and friends, and because Jesus loves you: call the police. Just hit the big blue star on the nearest Automatic Reporting Machine and start talking. If you don’t know how to use the phone or the ARM, or neither is nearby, find the nearest normal adult and tell them. Normal people, good people, do not glow.

“Nothing is wrong with my hands,” he repeated again, even more slowly.

“Fairy, please—help me.”

“Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up.” Oh, God. “It’s not supposed to talk to us. My hands—but—I feel—sick. Go find Mr. Phillips and tell him I got sick and I had to go. You understand?”

Latisha nodded and took another step backwards, unable to move past Gavin. “Tell Mr. Phillips I’m sick; I had to go. You understand?” Gavin repeated and took a step back himself. The little girl nodded and took off down the hallway.

“Fairy, help me—”

Gavin ran, the werewolf howling behind him.

One of his old dreams caught him just as he got to his car.

Long Beach, the family beach trip, and I am up before anybody else and I run and run in an early morning rain. There is no one on the beach but me. Finally, I stop, panting, and lean over, shaking the water out of my hair. I lie down on the sand, close my eyes, and stretch. Then I make sand angels.

I open my eyes. From somewhere, there is another boy, sitting beside me on the sand.

Curly dark hair as wet as mine. Eyes greener than mine are blue, and mine are a bright electric blue. He looks like he is my age—eleven, maybe twelve. I ask him who he is, and where he’s from, how he got here without me seeing or hearing him.

The boy says nothing. He only touches me with the palm of his hand on my chest, on my heart. I feel sudden warmth, and a pull, as if my chest is pressing into the boy’s hand. My body and the boy’s body suddenly fill with a glowing rosy-golden light—

“No, no, no—no more. I’m free of that. I haven’t dreamed of him in a long time. It’s because she called—because Mama called that I am remembering this old dream. That’s all,” Gavin whispered into the steering wheel of his car.

His hands glowed.