Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Layla – me – whose mother took sick right after she hit puberty. Her mama was a good woman, warm and strong, with an incredible right hook. She could bake pies and cakes from scratch then turn around and K.O. her kickboxing instructor. Mama was a bad girl!
Anyway, Layla woke up one morning, just days past her twelfth birthday, cramping and bleeding, with razor sharp teeth and nails and a head full of rope-like dread locks. She rolled from the bed and crawled to her mama’s room, wincing at every jagged scratch she left in the hardwood floor.
“Mama,” she rasped in an unfamiliar voice. “MAMA!”
“Have you lost your mind, yelling in my house like that?” Gazelle Slaughter snapped at her child. “And stop digging your nails into my floor!”
Understandably, Layla was confused. She’d shown up in front of her mother in some twilight zone body and Gazelle was worried about the floor? The girl blinked, and attempted to speak, but her mother shushed her.
“We don’t have time. I don’t have time. So you need to listen very carefully to what I am about to tell you.”
Layla gasped and moaned and groaned in varying degrees of pain, pleasure and discombobulation. When Gazelle finally stopped speaking and fell back onto her bed, breathless and shaking, Layla tiptoed to the mirror to gaze upon her new form.
Her teeth were sharp and pointed. Very sharp, Layla learned; she sliced open her finger trying to feel the changed in her mouth. Her nails were long and slightly curved, bringing to mind the talons of a large bird. Her newly formed dreadlocks were ankle length. Her senses were heightened as well. She could hear the hippie couple downstairs discussing seeds or no seeds (whatever that meant), and could smell the miso soup that was probably part of the breakfast of old Mrs. Yashimoto next door. She could see the outlines of everything as if through a haze. Reaching up to rub her eyes (very carefully, thanks to those claws she was sporting), she was shocked at the thick wetness she found there. Drawing closer to the mirror, she squinted at her face.
She was crying tears of blood!
“And now that you’ve finished narrating your life story, chile, can you get whatever this slimy thing is off my leg? Please.” Jackie says impatiently.
I hold up my hand to signal for her to wait a moment while I adjust to this form. Instead of only being a signal to pause, my raised finger apparently also shoots fire. A thin stream of blazing white lands dangerously close to Jackie. She shrieks and turns her cat golem on me. I blink as it roars in my face.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jackie demands.
“Saving your leg. What does it look like?”
“Turning to burn me! You know my hair is flammable!”
“Tis prob’ly not the best time to fight,” Sinan’s voice slices through the gloom.
“You be quiet, old man. I know this is all your fault. Somehow.” I walked to the center of the room and flex my left hand. If I remember correctly, my left hand brings –
Light washes over the room.
Huh. I was right.
“Let there be light!” I declare. Jackie gives me a dirty look, and Sinan shakes his head from his spot on the floor. “What?”
“So you ARE the certified one,” the supposed-to-be-a-god chuckles. “I am pleased. Sinan, you have have done well.”
I watch my father bow lower and feel my anger rise. “I knew it!” I shout. “This IS all your fault!” I raise my right hand, ready to blast that blasted tricky old dude into who-knows-where. Rather than more fire, though, what comes out is a wooden staff. I look at it blankly. I don’t remember this being a part of anything I can do.
Sinan trembles. “Layla girl!” he hisses. “Where did you get that?”
“Um.. Thin air?”
The house – god – whatever roars. “That’s impossible! Why do you have my token of office?”
Jackie and I exchange glances, then smile. “Your token of office?” I chuckle. “Looks like things have changed, dear house ghost. Whatever office you used to hold seems to now be mine.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying!” Sinan hisses. He tries to scoot closer to me without rising from his bow. The house-thing notices, and sends a blue flare spinning toward him. My dad falls over and covers his face.
“You are my spider, my spy, and she should be caught in your web,” the – oh, hell, let’s call it Bob – says to my dad. “Why does she roam free, carrying my staff, refusing to bear an heir to protect me?”
“I told you that Layla girl was special,” Sinan offers weakly.
“And I told you I want some answers!” I snap.
“And I,” says Jackie, gathering her power around her, “want out of this house. Slash, Setu!” Jackie commands her golem to attack. It rears up on its hind legs, roars, and springs.. at my dad.