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Sonny Preyer - A Fairy Tale of a Different Kind

©2002 Bridgette Hayden, Graphic Art © 2007 Party_Advisor

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Chapters 1-3 (of 30)

1
An Issue of Blood,
and the Flow of Memory...

~~~~~~~~~



Astounding.

They stared at him. His appearance affected each of the visitors differently, unsettled their subconscious sense of order. They had been warned that he was different.

Eight pairs of eyes watched the young man taking his place at the podium. Stage lights lit up equations on the board behind him, lifting heat and dispersing the dry smell of dust and chalk throughout the room. By the time he finished his speech, put down his crisp notes, and began to sing, no one cared that the room was stuffy and their throats dry. All that mattered was his astonishing voice. When they heard him sing, they forgave his appearance.

Sonny Preyer, slight and compact, looked younger than his eighteen years. But in his face, and in a town where it mattered, no specific race could be isolated in his features. His body chemistry, volatile, left him oddly pale, as if cast in a permanent state of shock. But the darkness of an Eastern ancestry marked him, at times providing an undertone of color that had nothing to do with the sun. This ancestry shaped his brow, adding heavy definition to the dark lashes of his eyes and to hair that wafted around his face. The shape of his mouth was set to firm decision, and tinted by a perpetual infusion of disturbed blood. This, against a texture of skin that had never known the intrusion of a blemish or facial hair. Only the recess above his mouth to suggested where a shadow might grow, but never really would.

There was a reason for his stark ambiguity, not only imprinted in his face but affecting the limbs of his body as well. That reason was never discussed.

The greatest harm that any of the eight seated could do to him - and he looked for harm around every corner - would've been to think of his strange features as beautiful. For Sonny, that accusation held all the danger of a curse. He believed in curses. His strongest instinct told him that those, above all else, were real.

On the stage, he met his audience through a guarded stare, though he didn't mean to offend them. Even as he sang, he reflected their disquiet back at them. His irises flashed against his will, like cut obsidian, though they were chasms of pristine blue. This was one reason he often avoided lifting his head to look at people directly. He felt betrayed by his eyes, having been informed of their uncommon quality often enough. He felt betrayed by everything about his body, which he carried with assumed indifference, his demeanor resolute.

But this gathering was not about his appearance. It was merely inevitable that that would become an issue the minute he held their attention. He could get past that. He had to. This gathering was a private demonstration, a testing of theory and practice, for Sonny was a student of Physics. He was there to demonstrate Focussed Sound. His peculiar talent in the area of Quantum Mechanics had earned him this audience, filled with individuals who were key to his admittance into the program at Vander University.

A year-long series of correspondence between those visiting university representatives, and those teachers who had watched Sonny develop his understanding of postulates before their eyes, now culminated into the moment of proving himself. It involved more than the blackboard behind him, more than mustering the courage to argue his theories in a clear and comprehensive manner. It involved singing.

When he opened his mouth, what came out was a single, piercing tone. It struck their eardrums, as tactile as any startling touch. A shift in vocal control, and the sound assumed a form which all could feel. It waved, like a silvery slip of ribbon, against a backdrop of serene black space. A thread of tinsel, the note shimmered between sight and sound. It pulsed in isolation, quickening the hearts of those hearing it, and took them with it.

Flashes of silver ripples touched the listeners, inciting a playfulness that had no right to appear at such an inappropriate time. Still, those who heard, smiled as the ribboned music of his voice lifted them into flight. As it took each individual closer to the luxury of their private worlds, memories came to them. Forgotten joy, or the sorrow of things they were suddenly ready to accept. These wafted up, released and ready to be viewed by some delighted witness within each of them.

Mrs. Theresa Ozure, Silver Springs Glee Club instructor, sat front and center, her pride undaunted by the polite, but cool distance of those visiting guests. Sonny was her discovery. She felt that his interest in Physics would never have been unearthed were it not for her doggedly urging him to take his voice seriously. In her twenty years of study and teaching vocal performance, she had never heard the like, nor realized how specifically the human voice could be tuned, for what Sonny did in his manipulation of matter, he did with his voice.

Now the demonstration took another turn. Sonny had begun with a simple scale, giving them a taste of Focussed Mechanical Waves. But his song became earnest as he turned his attention to the tank of water waiting upstage, close enough for everyone to see. Already, the water was affected by the frequency of tone, just as those listening were.

Two of the figures seated were professors of Applied Physics, accompanied by Vander's Dean of Arts and Sciences. These took up the seats to Mrs. Ozure's right. On the other side of her was Jeremy Spencer, Silver Spring's High School principal, a bemused expression crinkling his ruddy complexion. Air, bursting through the wall vent, rifled his brown toupée, but he didn't seem to mind. The unfolding event before him had an air of mystery. True, he'd known about the Preyer kid's quirky talent, but was a little aloof at all the fuss it was making along secondary academic circuits. The Beauford Excelsior Scholarship, apparently, was only ever awarded to one student annually, and carried some prestige. Enough anyway to warrant this demonstration for the Dean and his friends.

Behind Principal Spencer straggled two of Silver Spring's own teachers, of Biology and Chemistry. The demonstration had nothing to do with them, but they were curious all the same.

Over the tank of water, Sonny gripped his concentration. It would all be shattered if he allowed any minute thing to derail his confidence. He was already getting that familiar, static feeling in his head, the one that came right before everything goes dark. But he wouldn't worry about that now. He had to get into his song, that was the key.

The water in the tank was now moving. A vortex formed at its center, too small for the audience to see. But they could all make out the plastic red balls floating on top of the water, and now circling the tiny vortex. A bend in the note, and the direction of the water skewered up alongside the glass walls of the tank. The liquid had taken on a white, misty quality. That was the hydrogen threatening to detach from its oxygen bonds, so charged was the water. But that was only a precursor to what would happen next. In the privacy of his room, Sonny had gotten at least this far many times.

Like a scientist bent over his task, he tried not to think of the people watching him, but he felt them all the same. He discerned the ones who tried to fight what his voice made them feel, and the ones who reclined in their seats, allowing themselves to be taken.

It didn't matter whether or not they recognized the Spanish aria, Combre Amberes. It mattered only that he felt what he sang. A favorite, it was a song about reaching beyond the known world, surviving fear, and discovering what cannot be spoken. The song inspired his vocal reach to go within the notes, to open them, releasing a deeper potential; a more commanding alignment of tone. His feelings became a dial for his voice, tuning it to precision he could focus, as if it were thought itself. He couldn't direct the energy if he didn't feel the power of the music. That's where it all came from. He was certain.

He told himself that he was not a charlatan. His ability was real, but he didn't know how to explain it. His grasp of Physics did not go far beyond a college freshman level, he knew. But it wasn't his wisdom that made his scholarship possible. It was the application of his theory. And for the chance to leave the fugue of his life in Silver Springs, to get to go to college, he was willing to bare a part of himself he had always kept secret.

So he sang. Layer by layer, he slipped free of self-consciousness, and poured his awareness into the harmony created, burgeoning in his mind. And indeed, though his was a single voice, he knew the others could hear a blend of consonant tones, drenching the atmosphere around them in sensual reverberation. The water itself appeared to hear, now swelling and rising in time to the lilting rhythm. It danced for him, moving the balls in a graceful gyro-formation. The tempo of the song lifted, as did the charge in the air around Sonny. The song reached its climax.

Sonny, flushed with excitement, had to obey the heated stirring in his body, or fail. But instead of letting the energy disperse as he originally intended, he did something he'd never done before. He held onto it, and pushed it outward.

Spouts of water lifted into the air like diamonds. Knowing he had gone too far, shown them too much, but helpless to deny himself the pleasure, he sustained the jettison of droplets by projecting out the highest frequency his vocal chords could manage. His song soared. Feeling poured from him. Spiraling in suspension, water droplets glowed with charged energy until they burst, turning the air above his head into a colorful vapor.

When it was over, he had no time to wait out the applause. A wave of nausea blurred his vision, and he ran in search of a bathroom. Locked in a stall with his eyes shut and his head down, he fought to hold onto consciousness.

"Not now. Please." He prayed, gulping air and hoping no one would come running after him. So what if he'd taken things too far. The silver flow of energy coursing through his body had felt so good. He never felt that good, of course he had to go with it. But it had a price. While his nerve endings still hummed with pleasure, something not so pleasant throbbed in his temples and strained under great pressure. Sweat dampened his palms and he rubbed them on his dress pants. That's when he opened his eyes and saw the spot of blood on the floor. Nose bleed.

"It'll pass," he told himself, grabbing a wad of toilet paper.

It did pass. There were no seizures, no black-outs this time. He left the bathroom ten minutes later, suspicious of paying such a small price for something so exciting and powerful.

His session with the Vander guests ended in an interview and refreshments, just in time for his fifth period gym class. Not lucky enough to have missed it, he headed for the gymnasium. Making certain the locker room was empty, he took his time dressing out into shorts and a T-shirt. Self-satisfaction induced a hum and a silly grin as he tied his shoes.

What had he just gotten away with? All his life he'd been afraid of being locked up, of being thought crazy, if he showed them what he could do. But they weren't going to lock him up, instead they were giving him a scholarship. But there had been a scary moment. Seated before the panel of guests, after coming back from the bathroom, he'd been reamed with questions. Just when he hoped they were over, one of the visitors, who had not spoken until then, took issue with Sonny.

"You claim to demonstrate a scientific theory, but how do we know that what you've done isn't unique to your voice alone? How does your theory of Focussed Sound allow for the experiment to be replicated? Until someone else can replicate what you've done, your demonstration is little more than a magic act, and holds no sway in the scientific community, impressive as it is."

Hiding his shaking hands, Sonny shot back, "It's true that I can demonstrate my theory, but not yet prove it using scientific method. I never said that I knew how another person could replicate the experiment, only that it worked!"

A brusque look from Mrs. Ozure, and he calmed, pressing on. "Vocal sound can manipulate the sub-particles of Matter. Sound waves can be harnessed to constructive purpose. I plan to use my independent studies at Vander devising such methods," he finished.

The professor did not appear satisfied with this answer, but before he could speak, another gentleman rose behind him, portly and sporting a wide grin beneath his walrus mustache.

"Young man, don't let this old stooge rattle you. TSU may not be your first choice, but if Vander doesn't want you, we do. I'm also an affiliate with the Chicago Institute of Psychical Research, and would be most interested in discussing your independent investigations much further."

Psychical research. Sonny blanched. That was exactly the kind of attention that could destroy his future in respectable Physics. He managed a noncommittal response and escaped that topic altogether.

The minute he set foot on the gym floor, his instincts issued an alarm. No longer the prodigy of ten minutes ago, he now looked every bit of the slight, undersized teenager that he was. At least, this was how he saw himself. His peers, when he caught them staring, seemed to see something different.

"The pale princess arrives!"

The shout startled him, but it wasn't a complete surprise.

He turned in reflex to the one who shouted, and felt his blood catch momentarily, his circulation pinched by the sight of the other boy.

Their eyes crashed against shared hatred. Perhaps this was what the alarm signaled, a warning of threat in the other boy's unfriendly glare. One he knew well. Tyler Croner, a much larger student, who dressed in fatigues and wore his sandy hair hacked close to his scalp. Currently, he reclined on the bleachers, gnawing a wad of gum. He paused from watching Sonny, spit to the right of himself, and resumed his lazy chewing.

A year older than Sonny, Tyler was repeating his senior year, a fact that did not escape attention whenever he and Sonny met face to face. Tyler lounged there, flanked by his cousin, Bret, and several of the more disgruntled slackers in the school. They were a group of boys who did not feel compelled to exert themselves academically, but instead put great effort into intimidating weaker students. Sonny was at the top of Tyler's list, but not for the usual reasons.

Theirs was not a classic case of jock and nerd, no stereotypical charades. Instead, something far more insidious lay between them, and at that moment when their eyes met, Sonny knew he would have to face it. Perhaps that was the alarm sounding in his chest.

He tore his eyes away, dismissing the warning signal as revulsion to the class itself. In his most private thoughts, physical education was beneath him. It forced him to think about his body's limitations, the last thing he wanted. He did not have to give a damn about Tyler Croner as well.

Today, the smell of veneer and sweat seemed particularly nauseating in the gym. Sounds of shouting and rubber soles whistling in friction against the floor pumped into his head to a dizzying degree. He ran anyway. His goal was to run ten laps, the equivalent of two miles, around the court. But even from the start, something wasn't right. The signal persisted.

Always sensitive to colors and sounds, the stained wooden planks in the old floor screamed a hideous yellow at him, the sight of them so acrid to his overlapping senses, that it soured his stomach. He heard them and tasted them. Hearing and tasting colors only came when the seizures came. He fought to ignore the alarm, and the protests of his body, maintaining a measured pace as he ran.

No, he wasn't going to let it happen. He had to fight it.

By the second lap, the shimmering surface of the floor wobbled and his side threatened to rupture, but he was going to finish. Two more months till graduation, he reminded himself, and he'd never have to see another gym in his life if he didn't want to. Freedom from this place, from this town where every stare seemed to know things he didn't want them to know.

Pushing his muscles, he ignored their cry for mercy, telling himself that the stitch in his abdomen, the buzz in his head, would all go away. He wasn't going to let anyone call him weak.

Work through it, he chanted in his mind. Push past the pain.

The class, ran by a buxom female ex-marine, whom everyone called Mrs. Bay, was never too structured. Her class allowed everyone to do whatever activity gave them the most enjoyment. Any athletic effort was good for the cardiovascular, she often preached. Presently, she stood surveying her brood of teenagers, her eyes keen on the anemic-looking young man at the far end of the court. A half-court basket-ball game was taking place at the other end, impromptu dodge-ball and cheerleading off to the side. She noted the exchange between Sonny and Tyler, not liking it.

Sonny ran as if outrunning the pain. He did his best not to look at the bleachers where Tyler sat, but he didn't have to. He could feel the other's eyes cutting into him, his mind bent on a revenge that Sonny knew had to come one day.

He had always been careful to steer clear of the boy. Tyler's battering assaults never dried up, and they always aimed where Sonny hated it the most. 'Ladies present in the locker room! Whatcha waitin' on, Sonny? Afraid we're gonna see something?'

That was Tyler. As long as Sonny could remember, the boy seemed to zero in on him, unrelenting. Sonny could handle that much, it was nothing.

But last year, something happened that he couldn't handle. Something between himself and Tyler, which no one was there to witness in the stale emptiness of the locker room. And for that, Sonny was grateful. Tyler seemed to know things about him, and he proved what he knew that day.

He remembered the incident all too clearly. He had understood the danger, the minute he saw Tyler come back into the locker room, after everyone else had gone. He remembered the attack, and his own disbelief. Fight had risen within him, turning his blood to rising mercury. But it met with a paralysis that he could not understand. He froze then, like a child who knows what it's like to be beaten until there is nothing of its own mind left.

"So what does it look like down there? I mean, is it fuckable, or what?" Tearing open Sonny's shorts, Tyler's brutal curiosity satisfied itself quickly. It was over, the damage done, before Sonny could assimilate what had just happened. Tyler ran from the room; his laughter echoed in triumph off of the metal lockers. Sonny remained doubled over, between wall and sink, the heat behind his eyes turning to water. He didn't know who he hated more in that desolate moment, Tyler or himself.

He had forced himself to stand, to pull himself together, and walk out onto the open court. He pretended to feel no humiliation, nor the bruising from Tyler's fingers. But he knew with all his heart that no one must ever find out what had just taken place. Quietly, he joined in the warm-ups that day, keeping his eyes averted from the sly animal grinning at him on the bleachers, as if nothing had happened. Tyler sat high up, near the open, hinged windows. And even though the sun cast him in silhouette, Sonny felt his snide grin broaden.

The rest was an accident. Fuzzy in his memory. He hadn't put any thought into punishing Tyler. It just seemed to happen. Sonny had stopped near the bleachers' control box mounted on the wall. But witnesses next to him attested that he was at least six yards away from the buttons, and never touched them, when the electronic bleachers malfunctioned.

He only remembered glancing at the box, sick with anger. There were lots of witnesses then, because everyone on the bleachers was suddenly jumping from them to save their lives. The automatic steps began, at one end, to fold in on themselves in a mechanical fashion. But they closed with a speed they were not designed for. Each section slammed with splintering force into its frame against the wall, until the row was finished.

Most of the students scrambled off of them without a scratch. No one was seriously hurt by the freak malfunction. No one except Tyler Croner. Sonny supposed he'd been too far up to climb his way down once he saw what was coming. Racing to get down, Tyler's left leg had slipped between the folding panels of oak, and was crushed. His right ankle broken. As were his plans for a football scholarship awaiting him after graduation. He spent the remaining year recovering from three surgeries and intense physical therapy. He would never play football again, let alone get out of Silver Springs on any kind of a scholarship.

That stare, which Tyler held reserved for Sonny alone, was a reminder that he had not forgotten the incident, or what caused it. Sonny had already demonstrated his ability to influence objects without touching them, but no one accused him outright. After all, his voice had not been involved. But Tyler's eyes reflected a need for revenge.

Sonny vowed to put last summer's incident out of his mind. He was on the last leg of the lap when his body turned against him. He'd just made it past the scoreboard and turned the corner when the lights went out. Not the gym light, his lights.

When he opened his eyes, he was laying flat on the floor amid shocked faces of the class.

No, not now. Not again.

He wanted to disappear. Two more months till graduation, and he blacked out again. He wasn't going to be able to hide this from his parents.

His skull felt stuffed with cotton and rocks.

Something weird was going on in his chest, like heat burning along a coiled wire. This had happened last week too, not painful, but very uncomfortable.

Great, something else was wrong with him, just in time for graduation.

Looking up from the floor, he saw faces huddled around him, blurry, but gawking to be sure. Like they were so concerned. Yeah, right. He could almost sense the delight this bit of drama was causing.

Mrs. Bay blew her whistle. Sonny winced, closing his eyes again.

"Okay people, give us some room. He's gonna be okay."

He wasn't so sure. Even with his eyes closed, he felt as though he were spinning.

"Talk to me, Son. Can you sit up?"

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes. A dozen pair of crew socks and sneakers came into focus. Sitting up, his neck grew hot under their scrutiny. "I'm fine," he lied.

Someone behind Mrs. Bay gasped. "Oh my god!"

"No, you're not. Okay everybody, clear out. Sonny's gonna be fine. Angela honey, go get Nurse Keller - I said everybody out!"

He watched his classmates back slowly down the court, dragging their feet, staring after him.

"Maybe you should lie back down, Son. Keep still."

He tried to discern the meaning of the look on Mrs. Bay's plump, frowning face.

"Are you hurting anywhere?"

"No. I just blacked out I guess. It's not that bad, really."

"This happened last week, didn't it? In Mr. Terry's Chemistry class."

She knew about that? Of course she knew. Everybody knew by now. He didn't bother to deny it.

"Tell me, Sonny. And this is strictly confidential. Did you bleed the last time this happened?"

"What?" He reached for his nose, pulling back a clean hand.

"It's okay. I'm required to know the medical history of certain students. Students with special needs."

He felt as if she'd just kicked him. He looked away from her.

"You don't have to be embarrassed, Sonny. Tell me, did you bleed last week?"

"Why are you asking me this?"

Why are you doing this to me?

Mrs. Bay put her hand on his arm. "Because you're bleeding now." Her eyes lowered, indicating.

He'd been sitting with his knees drawn up, perched on his arms for support. Now he leaned forward, to see whatever she was staring at. There between his legs, where the seams of his tan shorts intersected, was a quarter-sized spot of blood.

All thought processes stopped for Sonny, suspending him between self-loathing and horror. When they returned, Bay was talking to him, but he didn't hear her. He was on his feet and headed for the gymnasium exit, as fast as he could run. Never mind the dizziness that threw him off balance. Bay's shout for him went unheard. There was nothing she could've done to stop him.

He ran down the hall, down the steps, passing the principal's office in a blur. Students hanging out in the corridors were caught off guard, to see him racing in an obvious panic. They were used to seeing him making his way quietly to class, almost nervously, keeping close to the walls as if avoiding being sucked into the normal banter between periods. Now they saw someone pale and manic tearing past them with an unexpected force of energy.

Collision was inevitable. All thought of flight and escape was knocked out of Sonny, along with his breath, when he hit a large, immovable object blocking his way. He had no where to go but backwards, sprawling several feet from the impact. He landed on his back.

The immovable object, it turned out, was a member of faculty. A towering man, Ronald Shore was the school counselor. He stood over Sonny, the look on his face not as unfriendly as it might have appeared. The man had certainly survived the impact without harm. Sonny wasn't so sure about himself. But rather, Shore looked down at him as if having encountered a difficult problem. Sonny did not leap to his feet right away, in part because he was dizzy, and also because something in the man's attention stayed him. Shore's eyes were hard, and his grimace even harder. Was that unspoken anger, or the threat of suspension in the way he watched Sonny?

"Sorry, Mr. Shore." He'd heard other kid's omitting the 'Dr.' title. So he did too.

The counselor maintained his mysterious silence, but startled Sonny by kneeling down from his great height and placing a strong hand in protest against the boy's chest. "Lie still. Are you hurt?"

"No," was the automatic response. Shore's heavy brow knitted with a suspicion he did not voice. His hand remained on Sonny's chest, its pressure restraining as much as it cautioned. He glanced down.

"You are injured."

This was enough to make Sonny forsake all knowledge of who the man was. He knocked Shore's thick wrist away, and forced his body into motion once more, up and running. Shore did not call after him, but merely watched Sonny's flight down the hall, a dark knowledge burning in his eyes.


2
Facing Secrets

~~~~~~~~~

Sonny ran until he hit the exit doors. Bursting into sunlight, he propelled himself down concrete steps, onto the lawn. Passing the flagpole, he ran to escape from shame. But he couldn't outrun it, and couldn't outrun reason. Not entirely. His escape found its end behind the Silver Springs Community Center. There, a new layer of painted asphalt glistened in the near empty parking lot. It gave way to a grassy retreat, where benches circled an artificial pond. He sat, catching his breath. The disaster of a few moments ago caught up with him.

I don't want this. I hate this!

How could he ever go back there? They all saw it. They all knew, didn't they? He folded his arms and rocked himself hard, ignoring the woman who turned to stare on her way to her car. Now the kids had another reason to talk about him, an even worse one. Seemed like not one term went by, without leaving them scandalized in one way or another. He recalled a string of disasters, his own historical mosaic, branding his reputation for as long as he could remember. The incident last fall with Tyler was only a small part of it. The pattern had been established long ago, he knew.

It was more than the way others perceived him at school, as the odd kid, the strange boy. It was more than the collection of events that had earned him their distance over the years. Only he could sense what lay behind it all, as if, at the core of his daily survival, something lay ticking that only he could hear, behind every person's stare. A reminder, coloring all of his actions and reactions until he was forced to admit that something was working against him in this world. His body wasn't the only evidence of that.

Although he had been in and out of hospitals since infancy, no doctor had ever found an explanation for the convulsions that began shortly after his birth; they tried to tie it to his other medical peculiarities, without success. The episodes were thought benign, until bilateral spikes on his EEG revealed permanent damage to his nervous system. This explained to them his loss of consciousness, his seizures changing from convulsions to blackouts as he grew older.

It also helped the Pediatric Neurologist and Child Psychologist assigned to him, to pinpoint his hypersensitivity to the world around him. When he was five, his parents were told, 'Sonny's brain is not dealing with stressful stimuli in a normal way. He will be slow to develop socially, though his I.Q. is above average. Still, emotionally, your child is not ready for public schooling at this time.'

So his mother quit her job and kept him at home. But Sonny often insisted on getting up early, to watch for the school bus that drove past his house, picking up the normal kids. His seizures stopped, and that following year his parents enrolled him in school again, hopeful.

Toting his yellow lunch box in one hand that day, he clutched his father's thick fingers with the other, determined not to let go. Introduced to a room full of strangers, he had burrowed into his father's legs, peeking out at a few smiles greeting him. He wanted to like the other children, wanted to make friends even. But the way they all stared back at him was like the shock of cold water sprayed against his back. It caused alarm and took his breath from him, so that no sound could come out of his mouth. By noon that day, he was hyperventilating, and had to go home. The same thing happened the next day.

On the third, he had been moved away from the other children, to a corner table and encouraged to paint. Bright colors were all laid out in old coffee cans with their labels peeled away, revealing shiny tin. He found some peace there, working to draw a picture of his house, while the other kids were a blur of noise and motion around him. He reached for the orange paint, needing it to finish the sun in his picture, but his fingers never grasped it. Instead, he fell forward into the array of colors. Tins clattered to the floor, ringing and splattering on the tiles. Sonny, unconscious, never heard them. This ended his brief attendance at Silver Springs Elementary. His parents did not force him to try school again until two years later. The results were the same.

So he was home-schooled until the age of twelve. But by then, the die was cast. He could not forget the distance that separated him from his would-be friends, and they could not forget him. The other kids watched him, it seemed to him, as if they could sense an aberration in their midst. In his neighborhood he became known as 'the boy who didn't go to school', 'the boy who never talked to anyone', or played stickball or ran in the streets with the other kids. 'The sick kid', became a handy reference, when Sonny was spotted out in the company of his parents. That name evolved into the crueler, 'Ghost Boy'.

In seventh grade, he managed to survive his first year of public school without any seizures. It just so happened that his music teacher, Mrs. Ozure, couldn't wait to get her hands on him.

She'd spent the last two years listening for his impromptu performances over her garden wall. From his basement, on an aging piano that his parents had bought at a yard sale, he didn't think anyone outside could hear him sing. There, he'd taught himself to play, and allowed his voice to lead wherever it might. There were no friends to come calling for him, to make him long to be outside with them. That was the year he made his debut in Ozure's Children's Ensemble, seizure-free, and became known as 'the boy who sings.'

Now, shaking the memory off, he gave a dejected laugh. His driver's license was certainly going to be taken away once his father found out what was happening. Seizure-free for almost nine years, why were they starting to happen again?

He roused himself from the past, coming to grips with what he had to do. He had to get home. Sixth period was the last class of the day, and school would be letting out soon. The streets would be crawling with kids.

He stood. Wiping his face and looking around him, he remembered he'd left his books and things in his locker. Like it matters, he thought. It was time to go.

He didn't let his eyes linger on anything or anyone as he walked home.

One hour and a shower later, he had dinner for his parents ready and waiting on the table. Amber and Dom stopped in the doorway, hit by the sweet aroma of beef and stew spices. They would've known something was wrong, the minute they walked into the dinning room, even if they hadn't been contacted by the school nurse. When Sonny cooked, it was usually an attempt to stay busy, as if purposeful movement could solve whatever was troubling him.

Setting her satchel down, and pulling off her jacket, Amber marveled, as Sonny had never met his grandmother, yet acted out this trait of her mother's as if he'd been around the woman all his life. She counted Dom and herself lucky, to have a kid who was a better cook than either of them. It helped, she supposed, that she had carried him along to the small cooking classes she'd taken to fill her time when she couldn't work, when Sonny was much younger. Those classes had consisted of only four other ladies and a bachelor, and Sonny had seemed to do well in the quiet environment. He must've been listening and learning, Amber concluded, when she thought he was only watching over the tops of his books.

It paid off. She couldn't always make it home to cook. As the assistant curator of Silver Springs' Art Museum, her hours were sometimes long. Dom, a manager at a pump factory, practically lived there during the week. If he came home before eight, that was an unexpected treat for them both. That left Sonny alone, who didn't always cook, but they were sure glad when he did.

Ignoring their hunger, the Preyers gauged Sonny's feelings by how elaborately the table had been set. Their usual plastic, beige table cloth was replaced by red linen, and matching napkins. Sparkling water goblets stood where ordinary glasses would normally have been used, and their full set of monogrammed dinnerware lay arranged around a three-tiered centerpiece of votive candles. Their son was obviously in great distress.

Amber turned to her husband. "Do you want to handle this?"

"No, you go first. He went to all this trouble, after all." Dom was already rolling up his sleeves and pulling out a chair.

Uh, huh. She expected as much. "You're coming." She grabbed his arm and pulled him behind her.

Sonny was just drifting over the edge of awareness when he heard his mother's knock at the door. Cooking hadn't made him feel any better, it hadn't prevented the total loss of control from coming. In the privacy of his dark room, he'd given in to it. He was too old for tears, he knew, but that didn't stop them from coming. He ignored the knock, and Amber's voice.

"Son, are you okay? Can we talk to you?"

"You alright in there, Son?" His father's deep bass echoed.

He didn't want to answer them. He wanted them to leave him alone.

"We know what happened today. It's all right. Can I come in?" Amber persisted.

Why did she always want to talk? Talking didn't solve everything. It wouldn't erase what happened.

He heard the click. He cringed, hating himself for not locking the door. His mother entered the room alone. "Son?" In the dim, she made out the lump on the bed. Walking over, she sat down. "I know you're awake. When you're really sleeping, you snore."

"I do not," he defended himself.

"Gotcha."

He bit his lip. Why didn't she understand, some things had to be dealt with alone.

Amber put her hand on the lump she thought was his shoulder. "It's just not as bad as it seems. Nothing ever is, Sonny."

"It doesn't matter. I'm never going back there. Now they have a reason to call me strange."

"No, they don't. Mrs. Bay said they have no idea. They think it's an injury. They think that's why you passed out."

"You didn't see their faces. They know there's something wrong with me."

"A, No they don't. And B, what have we always told you? Just because you're different doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. Doctor. Sanders says that in many ways, you're more perfect than the rest of us."

That's crap, Mom.

"I don't care, I'm not going back."

She squeezed the comforter. "I know this is hard, but you've made it this far. In two more months you'll be off to Vander, and you'll never have to look at all those people again if you don't want to. We're so proud of you. Not just anybody can get a full scholarship the way you have. Not one of those so-called normal kids did that. You're gonna leave them behind, Sonny. Don't quit now."

Leaving his peers behind wasn't real now. Right now, all that was real was that bright red spot. He'd thrown his shorts into the garbage.

"We didn't raise you to be ashamed," Amber pressed on. "We never made excuses, never lied to you. I told you many versions of the same thing. When you were four, I told you that God made you special because you are special. When you were eight, I told you that only certain people with a great purpose are ever born different from the others. It'll be important for you to accept your body, I said. Then you were twelve, we had to face the possibility that raising you to appear as a boy might've been a mistake. We only did it because the doctors told us it would be easier for you to interact with the world that way, since your body appears obviously male."

He didn't want to hear anymore, but there was no stopping her. Of all her lectures, she was most proud of this one. "You were terrified of what could happen, of developing like a girl, when everyone thought you were a boy. I said, 'Accept and love what you are, no matter what. No one has any right to pretend to be better than you. That's where all of a person's happiness comes from.' Well, I stand by all of those variations."

Sonny remembered being twelve and afraid. Afraid of people staring at his chest. Thank God it never happened.

His mother's sigh ghosted over her memories. "We knew we had to be careful when we brought you home from the hospital. We found out as much as we could about babies like you. Well, we didn't find any babies like you, not really. We found unfortunate children of parents who thought it best to choose their gender, since God hadn't made it quite clear. We didn't find a lot, but we met with some of those people. Some came forward, thanks to Doctor Sanders. And all of them said, unanimously, that they would put up with the ignorance of the world, if they could just have back the bodies they were born with, rather than the corrective surgeries that appease everyone else, but had left them with a very hollow place in their lives.

"We made a decision. Not necessarily to raise you as a boy, but to let others think that you were, since that was the more obvious detail at the time, until you were ready to tell them, not us. That was our strategy to protect you, to keep you whole, and hopefully not to be ashamed. Your father and I confided in our parents, God rest their souls. I told my best friend. We went from there."

He had heard it all before. He knew she was just trying to comfort him. He wished that he could tell her how he was glad they spared him the surgery, glad they allowed him to be what he was. That must've taken a lot of courage. He wanted to say these things, but it would've been a lie. She didn't know what it was like to be the freak in the glass jar. He'd learned to survive well enough, but disasters like today were emotionally catastrophic. And last year, because of one jerk, the world almost ended. But he survived it. Still, as long as there was a secret, there was always the chance that someone could find out.

"It's not just that..." He mumbled in the darkness of the covers.

"Hmm? What did you say?"

He threw back the sheet. "It's not just that, that problem. Everyone at school can look at me and tell. That's why they hate me. They say I look odd. Why do you think they call me alien, ghost, freak?"

"Because you're beautiful, and they don't understand it."

"Wrong! Because I'm weird to them. I'm creepy. They just can't put their finger on it. Well, they can now."

"Sonny you're stronger than this. You're better than this. This is a small, insignificant incident compared to the rest of your life. You don't have to fall apart."

Her words compounded the shame he already felt. That she should have to tell him this, when he was just months away from legal adulthood, was bad in itself.

"By the way, I'm mad at you."

There was a slight snap in her voice. "Why didn't you tell us that you passed out last week?"

" 'Cause I didn't want you to worry. I felt fine."

"I've made an appointment to see Doctor Sanders tomorrow."

"What? God, no."

"People don't just pass out the way they sneeze, Sonny. I'm being patient with you because of what happened today, but I'm really ticked off. And the bleeding. If Doctor Sanders hadn't warned us that this could happen, I'd have you in the emergency room right now. Are you still bleeding?"

He wanted to scream. He hated talking about this. He was a guy, he'd decided that years ago. "I'm fine."

"Okay then. You have to face it, Sonny." She rose from the bed. "Will I see you at dinner?"

"Maybe."

He didn't come down for dinner, and he didn't answer when his father knocked at his door later that night.

"Son? You 'sleep, buddy?" Dom, a stocky man whose six-three frame had been imposing in his younger days, was now at peace with his extra weight and graying hair. Fatherhood, to his surprise, was as comfortable to him as a favorite pair of old pajamas, and suited his lack-luster attitude towards life's challenges. Straightforward, functional, and cozy, he was content in the pump business. He didn't ask for much in life, but he did have a soft spot for his son. Sonny was one of two of his weaknesses. The other was banana splits.

He cracked the door and stuck his head inside. Unable to see much, he listened for Sonny's breathing. He didn't like the way his wife babied the boy so. Still, he agreed that Sonny was special, and he'd had his own way of indulging him all his life. Secretly, Dom's hopes for a daughter went undisclosed when Sonny was born. It was always important for him, a big man with a big heart, to be someone's hero, even if all he did at the end of the day was scratch his ass and raid the refrigerator. Sonny's arrival only made his mission that much more certain to him.

No sound stirred inside the room. Good, Dom thought, he's gonna make it through this one.

"Night, son." Satisfied with their talk, he closed the door and padded off to bed.

The next morning found Sonny waiting in Sanders' home office. No secretary, no sign of any other patients; the room where Sonny waited always smelled of cleaning solution. It was cast in various shades of anti-septic green. From its two-toned walls and even the pale trim around the door frames, the muted colors helped to numb Sonny's mind. Even the room's spars furnishings, something resembling a church pew against the wall and a plain coffee table, dampened the dilemma of his anxiety, and staunched the anger that followed him to this place.

Sanders had always attended Sonny privately in his downstairs office. This was meant to spare Sonny a certain amount of anxiety, incited by the fact that not even hospital staff, not even the RN's at the city hospital, were used to seeing someone like him.

When he was finally seated before Sanders, the doctor wanted to know, "What's going on? You can talk to me, you know."

He was a tall, poised man. With dark hair, graying along the temples in that distinctive way. Slender, with square, straight shoulders, his stiff manner would've seemed menacing, but for the warmth in his eyes which gave him away. One had to look closely, past his erudite composure.

Sonny didn't answer, something in him was unwilling. This was exactly what he didn't want.

"Are you being threatened again?"

He knew where Sanders was going, and he wasn't ready.

The doctor smiled, tapping his pen against his desk. "Let's try school. How's that going for you, been under a lot of stress?"

Still nothing. Sonny continued to stare at the papers on the desk. He didn't want Sanders to think he was being deliberately rude, but he couldn't say anything.

"I know you don't like being here. Next to a hospital, this is the worst place in the world for you. And you would never come here voluntarily unless it was something serious. Now Son, we haven't talked in a while, but I'm still dedicated to you. If I can help you in any way, I will. You know that."

Sonny finally erupted. "I don't like what's happening to me!"

"Yes," Sanders said thoughtfully, "I'm sure yesterday was quite a shock."

"Why is it happening now?"

"I wish I could tell you. Your particular situation is unpredictable. As you know, you are a true medical anomaly, and your case lies outside of all documentation of known Hermaphroditism. Or Intersexuality. Medical science has no precedents to help me reference your situation. Therefore, you and I must work together so that I can help you."

Sonny knew the story. When people were born with mixed up genders, their chromosomes still held the truth. And even when chromosomes couldn't be relied upon, as anomalies existed there too, the organs themselves usually functioned as either male or female, but not both. To the eye, Sonny was born with the appearance of a perfectly formed male. But careful examination revealed more.

Sanders had always made it a point to have him face the details, even once producing medical drawings that he had done himself, repeating, "It's all perfectly clever, really. Your body is a very intelligent design, impressive from a medical standpoint. The exploratory surgery performed when you were three revealed that you have meticulously arranged testes, ovaries, and a uterus, the works. All functional, as far as we can tell. There is no documented case like this in the world."

Even the task of expounding on sex had been left up to Sanders when Sonny was fourteen. "I know this is difficult for you," he began, launching into an anatomy lesson long ago. That lesson was still all too clear in Sonny's memory.

"You would be happier if you never had to deal with sex. However, you must come to terms with it, for it is a biological force of nature. And one, I must add, that is not safe for you to avoid."

Sonny had been only a few seconds from walking out, but Sanders got up, walked over to the door and locked it.

Disgruntled, he stopped twirling the pencil he'd been using to deflect his attention away from Sanders, and snapped it in half. Still convinced of his own obedience at that age, he wasn't ready to challenge authority. The doctor returned to his desk.

"In maintaining balance between male and female, your body works harder than anyone else's to keep hormonal equilibrium. In short, you are twice as sexed as your peers. You will struggle with twice the urges, though I'm impressed with how well you've managed to suppress them so far. Still, it's not good for you. Therefore, I must ask, do you masturbate? No, I don't expect you to answer, simply know that you should do so. The sexual impetus is a practical reality, especially for you, and one that must be faced. It will help your body's balance."

One half of the pencil had fallen to the floor. The other, Sonny pressed into the palm of his hand. He did his best to hold Sanders' stare while driving the jagged wood through his skin. The pencil hurt, but not nearly as much as what Sanders was telling him.

"Look at what nature has done." Sanders indicated the graphic drawings. "Frontal nudity reveals nothing, only that you are quite male. One would have to gain your consent to learn otherwise. This allows you the choice to live your life as a fully functional male, as you know. But here, where the skin is smooth behind the scrotum, vaginal counterparts lay beneath, hidden."

He tapped the drawing for emphasis. "The smooth, unbroken quality of the skin in this area is only an illusion. A bit of prying, and the flesh separates, revealing that it is in fact the two lips of the labia majora, concealing all the rest of your female parts. Very clever. Certainly, one could not tell it was there unless one looked for it."

Nauseous, Sonny focussed on working the pencil through the meat of his hand, ignoring the mess it made on his jeans. Afterwards, Sanders had treated and cleaned the wound in silence, as if he accepted that it was the only outburst available to an obedient child.

Today there were no signs of the scar, and no sharp instruments to help dull what he was hearing.

"What's happening now may not be that unusual if your estrogen levels have progressed the way they would in a female. Menstruation would be considered late, which is not unheard of. If that is what's taking place. You know I'm going to have to examine you, run some tests. I'll be taking some blood."

Sonny stiffened even more. "What else could it be?"

"Many things. Stress and anxiety. The fainting spells, along with the blood, point towards the likelihood of a chemical influx, but there's no way to tell based on that."

"So I'm not having seizures? I can keep my license?"

"Not necessarily. I'll have to schedule some tests at the hospital to be sure. How do you feel physically? Any tiredness, headaches?"

He shook his head. Should he tell Sanders about the sudden wave of heat that overtook him in the middle of the night? It only happened once, a month ago. But it was memorable. He had awakened in the darkness, realizing that his shirt was soaking with his own sweat. In his sleep he'd already thrown off his covers. When he sat up, such a tingling ran up his spine, bursting in his head. It wasn't painful, but it wasn't comfortable. After lying there a few minutes, his body recovered, and carefully, he made his way to a cold shower.

He decided not to mention it. It hadn't happened again, and he wasn't looking forward to a battery of medical tests. This was bad enough.

"What about the bleeding? Is it light, moderate?"

"It stopped."

Sanders had been slowly, soundlessly tapping his pen on his paperwork. He stopped. "Hmm. Are you sure?"

Sonny closed his eyes as if it physically hurt to answer. "Yes. I'm sure." And he was. After he had cleaned up yesterday, there had been no more blood.

"Well, that is unusual."

The inevitable could no longer be delayed. "Okay, Son. We can't put it off any longer."

With a massive effort, he pushed himself from the chair. Now he remembered why he hated coming here, and why that hatred spilled over towards Sanders himself. The doctor was the one person who seemed to have every right to take his security away from him, to expose what hurt the most. Sanders stood in front of the examining room door, holding it open for him. Past him, Sonny saw a paper gown waiting for him on the bed. Stirrups gleaned at the foot, the humiliation from them forthcoming.

"After you," Sanders smiled.


3

Uncontainable Truth

~~~~~~~~~

He left Sanders' office feeling the way he always did when he visited, humiliated and sore. But the upside was that he'd also gotten a doctor's excuse to take three days off from school, due to 'acute excessive anxiety'. He didn't like missing classes, but he wasn't ready to go back.

When he got home, there was a message for him on the machine. A familiar voice: "Hello, I'm calling to speak with Sonny. My name is Ronald Shore. I'm the counselor at Silver Springs High, and I simply want to encourage Sonny to stop by my office if he ever feels the need to talk. He is an exceptional student and has my full support. I'd be happy to speak with Mr. and Mrs. Preyer as well. Please give me a call." Shore left his number.

Standing in the den, Sonny braced himself and pretended he had never heard the message. Dread told him it had something to do with yesterday's episode.

He spent his three days off cleaning out the garage for his father, and adding a new coat of paint to it. Outdoor work calmed his spirits. His parents noticed. Amber gave herself a couple of vacation days to spend with him. She talked him into helping her place new stepping stones in the flowerbed. Weeding around her gladiolas, she asked Sonny, "Have you put any thought into seeing Mr. Shore?"

Caught measuring, trying to gauge a comfortable distance between the stones. He stopped.

"I spoke to him myself yesterday". She raised up from the ground, brushing the weeds from her hands. "He seems like a nice man."

Sonny kept his eyes on the tricolored stones, the imprint of leaves etched into their grainy surface.

"I want you to see him. Try to talk to him. He's more understanding, more knowing, than I thought he would be."

Amber recognized her son's locked stance. "You don't have to go into detail about things, just vent. Get the frustration out. He has some very encouraging things to say. I think you'll find him helpful."

He did not relent. He went back to measuring the stepping span. Amber went back to the weeds.

He returned to school on Monday, dropped off with Dom's encouragement. "Don't let 'em get to you, Son. You're better than the whole lot of 'em."

Not exactly sound advice, but Sonny knew he meant well. Not even out of the car yet, and it seemed to him that he was getting stares. He couldn't be sure. Even before the incident, people looked at him sideways.

First and second period passed uneventfully. As he'd always done, he made his way from class to class, carefully avoiding eye contact and trying to stay out of everybody's way. The onrush of the student body swept past him in its various fashion dramas, foul banter, and survival of the fittest display. Everything seemed to be normal.

But that tentative conclusion was put to rest when he opened his locker before third period. There, eye-level on the shelf built into the locker, sat a small blue box, the kind everyone was familiar with. In bold, white letters across the front, it read, 'Tampons'.

Sonny stopped breathing.

Paralyzed, he didn't have to turn around. He knew he had an audience behind him. Sure enough, stifled giggles became roaring laughter.

He slammed his locker and turned to go, but someone grabbed his shirt.

"Hey man, lighten up! It was just a joke."

It was Jason Cole, his lab partner, and behind him, Erik Hall was grinning from ear to ear. Sonny flinched. These were the only two guys who gave him the time of day. Not his closest companions, he had none. But they were willing to talk to him occasionally.

He'd done homework for both, in exchange for the bribe of free movie passes from Silverscreens Theater, where both Jason and Erik worked over the summer. Since then, they were willing to acknowledge Sonny in public, but didn't get carried away in front of other kids, unless they were playing their practical jokes, and giving him a hard time. There was protocol to keep.

Sonny kept walking, followed by both boys.

"What the hell happened last week?" Jason coaxed. "Donna Smith said you like, had a hemorrhage or something."

Erik backed him up. "Yeah, some other kids said there was blood all over the place. You don't look like nothin' happened, just weird as usual."

Sonny indulged them. "Rumors, guys. It was a busted blood vessel, no big deal." He had thought long and hard about what he would tell people. The lie wasn't plausible, but he figured the average jerk wouldn't know that.

"Shit! Did it hurt?" Jason sounded somewhat concerned.

"Not much." He wasn't fooled, he knew that by lunch the hemorrhage rumor would turn into some kind of penile aneurysm, gory and worthy of even more stares. But at least, no one suspected the truth. Anything but that.

"What'd you run out like that for?" Erik came up from behind, keeping pace with him. "That freaked everybody out."

Sonny slowed. "Guys, I should remind you that you still don't like me, remember?"

"You still mad about that water balloon thing? Jesus Son, that was supposed to be fun. We included you."

"Six guys with an arsenal of water balloons, against one who has none, isn't exactly inclusive."

"We warned you what would happen if you took Edgewood home."

"I live on Edgewood."

"Oh yeah. I can see where you ran into a problem."

It happened three weeks ago. His father was having new rotors and brakes put on the car, so he'd been forced to ride the bus. Dropped off a block away from his house, he was ambushed by Jason, Erik, and four other guys. They chased him, cornering him on Old Man Keller's property, between the storage shelter and the brick foundation of the man's house. There, they let loose. One or two balloons wouldn't have been so bad, even harmless. But they had a rusty wagon with a box full of ammunition. They had no intentions of playing like children. In a testosterone frenzy, they wanted a war. They had just been waiting on easy prey to come along.

Sonny always thought that water balloons were harmless, laughable child's play. He didn't know that there was more than one way to play with them.

Multiple hits in a steady succession pinned him against the bricks. Even when he was drenched, the boys continued to fire away. They cursed and shouted at him, trying to outdo one another. He turned his body as several balloons to his stomach knocked the breath out of him. They stung through his shirt when they burst against him. The stretched rubber sacks popped against his skin like snapping rubber bands.

He shouted at them to stop, his cries muffled by the wet impact of a succession of six-manned balloons, all thrown with the determination to break them upon impact. If a balloon didn't break, the pitcher delivered the next one that much harder. Sonny's only recourse was to slide down the bricks, in hopes that they would see they were hurting him. For some reason, this incensed them all, and they took hold of him, dragging him away from the wall and onto the ground. There, they pummeled him with the last of their supply, firing in a final frenzy, their voices lifting in celebrated triumph. Sonny had held his breath the whole time, clinching his abdomen against their assault.

The balloons stopped, but not because they had ran out. When he looked up, four ashen boys were watching two of their team try to pick themselves up from the ground. He almost didn't recognize the man shoving Dock and Eric like they were rag dolls. Then it dawned on him what Doctor Shore looked like in his street clothes. The school counselor looked dramatically different without his dress jacket and khakis. The plaid shirt he wore hung off of him like a lumberjack's, it's sleeves rolled to reveal muscular forearms covered in fine black hair.

"What do you boys think you are doing?" Sonny would never forget the counselor's proper pronouncement, in contrast to his wayward appearance and obvious anger. "Do you think yourselves brave to pit yourselves against this defenseless one?"

None of the boys answered. Eric made as if to stand, but the threat in Shore's eyes stopped him. He stayed on the ground. "We were just playing, weren't we Sonny?"

Shore didn't wait for Sonny's reply. He took Sonny by the arm and gently pulled him to his feet. "Are you all right?"

Stunned, Sonny nodded. What was Shore doing there?

The counselor raised his voice, his jaw tight as he spoke to them. "If I ever see anyone of you mistreating this student again, you will have to test your bravery against me. I promise you, none of you will be laughing then."

He turned back to Sonny. "Go home. Rest." It sounded like an order. Too disgruntled to question the man, Sonny resumed his walk home, his clothes wet and dirty. Looking back, he had no idea what Shore was saying to the guilty looking guys standing there. But whatever it was, it made a difference. Before he reached his house, all six of the boys caught up with him. "You okay, little man? We didn't hurtcha, did we?" Dock Martin, a Point Guard for Silver Springs, tried to dust off the grass that still clung to him.

"He's okay. He can take it. Right, Sonny?" Jason's voice quivered a little, as if he might've been uncertain.

"That still rocked!" Erick held up his hand for a high-five. Two of the guys complied. "Hardass Shore is looking for a goddamn lawsuit, putting his hands on me like that. You know we were kidding, right Son?"

Sonny was still trying to catch his breath. He couldn't believe they didn't have a clue that they had just tried to kill him. It wasn't a game or a joke, and they knew it. He wasn't about to laugh it off.

Jerking away from Dock's touch, he held his bruised stomach. Bruised all over, it was this vulnerable area that demanded the most attention.

"It's just water balloons, for crying out loud." Dock appealed. "How harmless is that?"

Harmless. Balloons delivered with all the deft and force of a Fastball. He backed away from them, not trusting himself to speak. At home, he took off his shirt and looked at the half-mooned shaped bruises and raised welts all over his skin, which continued to sting.

Just balloons.

Now two of the perpetrators were walking on either side of him, wanting to know how he was doing. For all Sonny knew, those balloons could've played a role in the bloody nightmare that took place last week.

Erik put his hand on Sonny's shoulder. "You know, Sonny, think of it as a test, an initiation, which you totally failed. If you weren't such a wimp, you'd be alright."

"I guess that's my fatal flaw. Excuse me." He made a forty-five degree turn and left the two of them staring after him.

Before his fourth period class, he stood outside the counselor's office, at a crossroads. He'd been given specific instructions to meet with Ronald Shore at eleven thirty, ditching English Literature. But he didn't want to go into that office. The gold plate on the door, etched with Shore's title and name, gave him an uncomfortable feeling. What was he supposed to talk to the guy about anyway?

He turned and headed for the Lit. class, the lesser of the two evils. He wasn't looking forward to being gawked at in there either. Ignoring the stares, the whispers, he took his seat by the window overlooking the parking lot. Ten minutes into Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and the school secretary's voice cut through the P.A. system.

"Would Sonny Preyer please report to the Guidance Office; Sonny Preyer."

Three shades of red later, Sonny slid out of his desk. The teacher, Mr. Wright, nodded his excuse, and all eyes watched him gather his things.

Now it was Shore's turn to stare at him. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, who wore tailored jackets. Black hairs flecked his unshaven jaw. His hair, longish, lay against his shoulders. This was unusual for a member of faculty, but tolerated.

The look on his weathered face did not strike Sonny as friendly. Yet he couldn't tell if that was the case, or if the man was simply in need of a vacation. There were deep lines around his eyes and mouth, and Sonny guessed him to be closer to forty than thirty. It was hard to tell. But his features, dark brown eyes, and a wide, firm mouth, were not unpleasant to look at. With a shave, he might've been handsome.

He quickly chased this thought away as soon as it had occurred.

Seated across from him, Shore had greeted him civilly enough, but now he didn't seem to be too bothered by the ensuing silence that stood between them. He allowed it, to Sonny's great discomfort.

They were mostly strangers, barring the balloon incident. He still thought of Shore as a new addition to the school, having arrived only a year ago, replacing the previous counselor who retired. Shore bothered him from the start, seeming misplaced, an imposter. His reverent way of carrying himself did not mesh with the rest of the disarrayed faculty. He didn't talk like them, and he didn't seem to take the student body for granted the way they did. Instead, he kept some distance, watching the kids as if he expected to learn something from them.

They had never spoken before the balloon fiasco, but it seemed to him that Shore had a propensity for catching his eye and holding his stare, even outside of school. More than once, in public places, he'd turned to find the man at a casual distance, watching. Always watching. And now, they were face to face.

"Thank you for coming, Sonny." Shore cupped one hand over a fist, unsmiling. "I regret that it has taken this long to meet you formally. I'm here to assist the students at Silver Springs, but I try to do so as unobtrusively as possible."

He gave this time to sink in. He spoke in a calm, low tone. His words poured forth at a deliberate pace as he looked through Sonny, as if he were using them to skillfully pry open a lock. There was no force, just patient intent.

"Unless the problem is serious, I wait for some measure of welcome in their manner before I approach. You, however, have remained closed to me, though you are in need of my help. I can no longer wait for your consent."

He looked evenly at Sonny. "It is you who I am really here for. Your body is changing. Your inheritance is manifesting. There is an acceleration taking place in your DNA as we speak."

Talk about breaking the ice. It lay in pieces all around a stunned Sonny.

"You have been very stubborn. That is not surprising, but you are causing yourself harm. You stare at me innocently, yet the greater part of your mind knows of what I speak. It is time that the rest of you knew. It is time that you acted as a whole, and not as a fragment."

Sonny blinked. His mom had actually spoken to this guy? "Uh... What are you talking about?"

Shore brought his cupped hands up as he delivered his words. "I'm preparing you. This is what's going to happen to you, and you must allow it. Very soon, a series of fevers will come upon you. It will appear that you are ill, and no cause will be found. It has started already. But it will get worse. You will issue no more blood, for your cycle requires that the Anora stay within your body, to be synthesized. What normal females lose every month, you will keep."

Sonny's mouth dropped.

"Tissues will break down, and proteins will become reabsorbed into your bloodstream. This will result in high concentrations of toxins, which glandular activity will try to cleanse and purify. There will be a modification of certain glandular functions. You will notice a change in your saliva. You will feel great physical discomfort where you have not felt it before. At times, you will be overcome with exhaustion for no apparent reason."

"Wait a minute-"

"Your outward appearance will change, your hair and skin. Your voice will open. And when it does, you must be careful of what you say. The timbre in your vocal chords reaches this plane from another, and the inhabitants of this dimension are not used to hearing that sound. You will attract unwanted attention."

Sonny raised his hand to stop Shore. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"All the more reason why you should listen closely. In the last stages of your transformation, your grasp upon this plane will be loosened altogether. It is my duty to see to that. You have been here long enough. Though your sleep began with a curse meant to kill you, you continue to slumber willfully, in spite of all the love that surrounds you, calling to you. You also have a duty, a promise to keep. And you cannot use death to escape it. I can't let you."

He was frozen to his chair.

Shore reached under his desk and brought out a long blue cloth. Laying it down, he made sure Sonny was watching him. He pulled the folds back, revealing something that looked to Sonny like a miniature sword.

It was no more than a foot long, and very thin. Strange markings decorated the handle, and the white-silver blade looked to have the precision of a surgical instrument no wider than an ink pen, but very flat like a blade.

"This is the Dagger of Latha. Take a good look. I do not want to use it, but I will if it comes to that. I have been given charge to do so. All that I ask, is that you accept what is happening to you, and that you take what is offered to you when the time comes. You will know of what I speak."

Sonny felt suspended over a precipice.

"Go now. And think on what I've said, for these things are upon you."

He left Shore's office, trembling. It was lunchtime, and the corridor filled with students. Getting his lunch from his locker, he found a table by himself near the window. He had no real appetite. It was simply a bid for normalcy, a plea for the last fifteen minutes not to have happened, not to have meant anything at all. Did Shore just threaten to kill him?

His hands shook. Carefully, he lifted his turkey and swiss sandwich to his mouth, taking a bite. Halfway into it, his table lifted up off the ground, nearly tipping his food into his lap. Sonny choked, looking up to see a grinning mass of acne-scarred, gum-chewing, crew-cut Tyler Croner.

"Did you get your period in gym class last week? Are you on the rag now?"

Sonny felt sure that it was Tyler's plan to attract the attention of the whole school. It worked. The lunchroom got quiet.

"On your planet, do all the aliens blow sludge out their holes, then run out the door crying like little girls?"

Sonny said nothing, feeling his cheeks flush. No. He didn't want this.

He knew it was hopeless. Let Tyler have his little show.

"What's the matter? Forget your Kotex? Oh, excuse me, it's the dry weave for you."

This got a laugh, from those in the know.

"Hey, Preyer, I don't have a problem with it. It proves my point. I been tellin' people since sixth grade you're a damn girl."

"That's enough, Tyler. Grow up and leave him alone." This unexpected resistance came from a female voice behind Sonny. He didn't turn around to look. He couldn't take his eyes off of the other boy.

"Feeling sorry for him, Brecca? I wouldn't. He cost me a whole season, pushing that damn button on purpose! Accident my ass. That was my scholarship, you asshole."

Absently, Sonny rubbed his temple. He was so tired of this. Tired of being singled out, tired of the jokes. And now the worst thing in the world was starting to happen. That familiar burning in his eyes told him it was already too late.

Everyone in the cafeteria saw a slight, underdeveloped boy, sitting motionless as tears spilled down his face.

No. Stop it! Don't you dare cry.

Disgust appeared on Tyler's face. "Be a man, you little pussy. Jesus. Don't you have any fucking pride?"

Sonny dared to stare deep into Tyler's eyes. Not because he wanted to. Something in him needed to, needed to make contact with whatever shred of humanity was left in the boy.

"That's my whole point. You should be in one of them schools for special kids. You sure as hell don't belong here, freakin' alien."

Just when Sonny thought he would explode from feeling angry and helpless, white lightning flashed in his brain. He saw only white, heard only silence. For a timeless span, he was weightless, without mass, lost and caught in the white nothingness that filled his awareness. How long it lasted, he wasn't sure. Be he knew when it ended.

When he opened his eyes, he was lying on the cafeteria floor. Someone was shouting. Student body and faculty alike appeared to be hysterical. He saw Helen Carter, the Geology teacher, sitting in one of the folding chairs directly across from him. Head in her hands, she sobbed openly.

Mr. Gross, football coach and math teacher was waving his arms over his head, shouting at everyone to be calm and to go on to their next classes immediately. Several people appeared to be huddled on the floor, on the other side of the table where Sonny had been sitting.

"What have you done, Sonny?" The question came above his head. Raising his eyes from the scene before him, he strained to roll them up as far as they would go, to see who was talking to him.

"Do not worry. Accept. Accept, and all of this will pass quickly. Do not be afraid."

A face appeared. Brown eyes beneath a heavy, dark brow, stared down at him. He recognized the upside down face as Shore's. The counselor's fingers touched the top of his head, stroking.

Don't touch me. You're crazy. I don't want this, I don't.

These were his last thoughts before everything disappeared into darkness.

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