Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Julieta V. has won first place in the 9-12 age group for the Summer 2021 Youth Writing Contest with her piece "Alicorn"
Julieta Vera has unruly hair and is well known for her phrase, “We’re alive and good! We’re FINE!” Her favorite book series is ‘Keeper of the Lost Cities,’ which she highly recommends!
While a book lover, she climbs trees uses nothing on her feet, and tends to nag everyone (especially her little sister) into doing fun and adventurous stuff on a daily basis—which lead to multiple injuries. Ever since she heard the words, “laughter is the best medicine,” her subconscious brain took it a little too literally—and so now, every time she gets hurt on a small scale, she laughs an unsettling laugh (approved by her Mom). She mows the grass and takes care of dogs as summer jobs.
She is working towards becoming an author, with a billion buzzing ideas on what to write next.
Some people have naturally sharp eyes. Like your Social Studies teacher that catches you slipping notes to your friends every time. Others need help. Like that kid in the back that reads ninety percent of the time and wears glasses. Then there are others that can’t distinguish red from green. Like your math teacher‒who, thankfully, never got into a car crash. But no one sees what I see.
“Tara,” Mrs. Fredds, my math teacher, says. I try to avoid the misty poodle next to her, but my eyes don’t listen. The poodle, the misty, half-there poodle that nobody sees but me, stares at me. Real life poodles don’t usually show complicated emotions, like the ones humans feel. But that rule never applied to this dog, or any misty animal I see. Right now, the poodle showed annoyance. “We still have two minutes left of class. Unpack and do your homework.”
“Yes, Mrs. Fredds,” I say, but I only take out my notebook and pencil. Until I unpack and get working on the first problem, the bell will ring and I’ll be the last to get out. I can’t have that.
You’d think that magic is a gift. That my eyes, or what they see, is a gift. But have you ever seen those movies in which the more magical you are the more trouble that seems to come your way? Especially when you live in a world that isn’t very magical at all?
I only see the animals. I don’t hear, smell‒thankfully‒, feel, or taste them‒not that I’ve ever tried to see if Mrs. Fredd’s poodle tasted like ice-cream. But I still feel crowded in a room filled with twenty-five students, one teacher, twenty-six misty animals, and all their belongings, plus the furniture.
And that’s not even the worst part.
Robin, the misty-fox-accompanied boy, isn’t mean. Not usually. He moved to my elementary school in third grade. He has an average life. His parents divorced, though. He was nice and cheerful, despite the recent changes to his life at the moment. But then I had to step in and mess it up.
“I know you’re going through hard times,” I said, like a teacher did once in a book I read. “But you have to behave. You can’t talk to everybody whenever you want.” Especially when I have a headache and everyone is really loud and the assignment is making me frustrated, I thought.
His fox narrowed his eyes, baring its fangs at me. Yet, his tail went noticeably between his legs. “What do you know about hard times?” he said, going back to talking with the kid next to him. This time, though, he talked louder.
He spilled water on me at lunch, pushed my pencil case off my table three times, and tripped me on the way to the bus.
He ignored me most of the time after that, but he occasionally tripped me when no one was looking.
I tried apologizing in fourth grade. Didn’t go well. I went home with a scraped knee and a wet shirt in my backpack.
By fifth grade, he became one of those popular kids. Ignoring him was kind of hard. He mostly took out his anger on me, made me his punching bag. Sometimes he attacked with his popular friends. Some other times alone. That was usually every other day.
I’ll admit, I once tried paying him back. As it turned out, pranking is not my speciality. The teacher called my parents. Their misty animals were such a mix of emotions, I was afraid they’d explode.
I don’t usually pay much attention to my own misty animal, even though she is an alicorn, the only not real animal I’ve ever seen. At that moment, my alicorn proudly hid behind me. That’s how I felt. Even though I was caught, I managed to pull off the prank. I never thought I could. If it were something good, like getting an A+ at school, I’d brag about it any chance I got. Then, in front of my parents, facing disaster, I wanted to hide under a rock and not come out. Robin would haunt me forever and my parents looked ready to lock me in my room till I went to college.
I hid at recess and avoided him as much as possible from there after.
I stuff my notebook and pencil inside my backpack, papers crunching and ripping in the process.
I bolt out the door, speed walking to Band, which is very not conveniently at the other side of the school.
I walk like I’m invisible. I will myself to be invisible. That, for ones, I think, would be a power I’d want to have.
My magic may not seem like that big a burden. What happened between me and Robin may have been me and just me alone. I could be normal. I could have friends. I could get teachers to like me. But I’ve seen Robin get mad at others. He never stayed mad at them for three years and a half. Not even when they teased him about his personal life.
As for why I’m alone, and try to get one day at a time done instead of hanging out with friends . . .
Think of it this way.
You have this huge secret‒this huge burden‒and you don’t want anyone coming close to it because you know it’ll ruin your already hard enough life. There are many paths you can take. I chose to push everyone away in case I’m tempted to share.
And everyone chose to ignore me in return. Well, almost everyone, if you count Robin.
The band test!
I slam my body’s breaks.
I left my sheet of music at my locker, which I’d need if I didn’t want to fail, but I’ve already crossed most of the distance.
Tara, I scold myself as I rush back to my locker. I don’t know what’s worse; that you have more chances of bumping into Robin or that you’ll be late for your favorite class, which will make for this huge spectacle when you actually get there.
I’m usually careful not to run through any animals, even though we both don’t feel a thing. It just feels wrong to walk through such beautiful creatures. But today I’m in too big a hurry to care.
I’m almost to my locker when I see Robin.
His back is facing me, and he is cornering a boy. The boy looks more like a stick than anything else, with messy brown hair, and is a few inches shorter than me.
Robin’s fox is baring its fangs at a stick figure that could barely be described as a baby horse. No, not a horse. A pegasus.
My every instinct tells me to run, or hide, or both, but I’m too curious about the misty mythological creature. Plus, Robin never cornered anyone but me. Or at least that I’m aware of.
So basically I stand there, my mouth open. Somehow, I manage to stay unseen.
“I didn’t mean to offend,” says the boy. I’m sure he doesn’t want to show his fear, but his pegasus’s legs tremble harder than during an earthquake‒not that I’ve ever been in one.
Robin snorts. “Too late.”
“But it’s true. You are creepy. I see why Tara fears you so much.” Robin’s fox rolls it’s eyes, but it seems pleased.
“Anyway,” the boy says, trying to move away. “I just thought you’d know where she is, since you . . . well, you’re you.” He forces a smile like it will save him.
“Why would you need to see that meanie?” Robin asks, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Hey, I’m not mean!” Blood drains from my face as I realize what I’ve just said.
I’ve seen Robin at a loss for words, but never quite like this. His mouth opens and closes, not sure which sentence he should snap at me first. The boy doesn’t seem to notice.
“I’m not sure if I should say ‘run’ or ‘stay,’ cause I really need to talk to you, but if we stay, he’ll pulverize us, won’t he?”
“You talk a lot when you’re nervous, don’t you?” I ask him, sarcasm drooling from each word that leaves my mouth. The ‘run or stay’ comment sounded too much like telling a scared dog what to do. Not a go-to when trying to make friends with me.
“What’s going on?” Mrs. Fallony, my Social Studies teacher, calls from down the hall, far away enough not to see us. The name suits her, considering she’s always accompanied by a falcon, and has eyes as sharp as one.
“See ya in science, meanie,” Robin whispers before narrowing his eyes at the boy and giving him the universal sign of, ‘I’m watching you.’ He then whisks away.
“Come on,” I whisper. “The courtyard’s not that far. We can get there before Mrs. Fallony sees us.” I start walking, but he stays put. “I don’t know who you are, Mystery Boy, but if you want to talk to me so badly, we gotta get moving. We can’t talk in the principal's—”
“An alicorn?” He stares in the direction of the misty alicorn next to me. I suck in a breath, suddenly more intrigued by this stick figure. But I know better than to linger and discuss.
I grab him by the arm, and pull him up the corridor. He stares and stares at my animal, like if he stops, it’ll disappear. He keeps his dopey look until we are out in the open, and then the spell breaks.
“You see everything, don’t you?” he asks.
“Everything but your name,” I say, because this guy is starting to annoy me.
“Oh, right. Tara, I’m Herman.” He stretches his arm to shake. His hand feels more bone than flesh.
“Like Herman Melville?”
“The Moby Dick author?”
He shakes his head. “Who?”
My cheeks burn, and I hope he isn’t peering over my shoulder at my alicorn. “Nevermind.
This girl in my class reads too much Moby Dick and old fashioned books like those.” “I should put that in my to-read list. I like old fashioned books.”
“Yeah, you should.”
“You’re purposely trying to side track me.”
“Guilty and charged.” I shrug. “So, Mystery Boy—”
“I like Mystery Boy better. How do you know my name?” I cross my arms. He hesitates. “Heard about you in the halls—”
“We both know that’s not true.” I tap my foot. Herman sighs. “It’s complicated.”
“We have all day.”
“With your attitude, I wonder how you fear Robin so much.” He tilts his head.
“That’s different.” I turn away from him, biting my lip. “You saw how tall he was. But you seem to know so much about me that I’m surprised I have to explain.”
“I will explain my part,” Herman says. I look over my shoulder, an eyebrow raised. To his amazement, I don’t raise it in a mean way. I’m curious. He continues when I don’t interrupt. “But,” he says, and I turn back away from him. “You have to answer one question.”
I laugh darkly. “What’s that?” I ask, even though I know what he’ll say. “What do you truly see?”
I knew it. And I don’t like it. It’s been my secret for too long and this guy comes out of nowhere thinking he will get me to admit my one secret. The one no one can know. I consider lying, or running, but the words escape my mouth. “I see your pegasus.” I turn to my alicorn, who looks . . . exposed. And annoyed. Very annoyed. “I see my alicorn. I see everyone’s animals.” I turn to Herman with my evilest glare. His jaw hangs open. “What? Isn’t that what you wanted to hear?”
“You see your—anim—how?”He starts pacing. I plop on a chair. “I expected you to see my pegasus. Faintly. I mean, you have no training! I can barely see my pegasus when I feel strong emotions. And animals? Only when I concentrate, but if not I only see blobs. Creatures that don’t exist, sure, those are easy to see. Those have the word magic written all over them. Those—”
“Stop!” I say, holding out my hands like stop signs. “Stop right there. You mean I see more than I should? And how does this have anything to do with you knowing my name?”
“I mean,” he rumbles on, “the moment I saw your alicorn, I knew you’d be more powerful than me‒though I thought that I’d out-power you with all the training I have. The fact that I heard only myths and legends about people bearing the soul form of an alicorn could have contributed to my underestimating you, but you are more powerful than the legends.” He stops for a breath, and I take advantage.
“Wait. I thought animals never repeated. Like, they are unique to the person.” At least I’ve never seen misty animals repeat. Then another thought crosses my mind. “And now we're calling them ‘soul forms?’ Is that what they tell you to say at your ‘training?’”
Herman grabs an acorn to fidget with, then plops on a chair next to me. “You ask a handful of questions, don’t you?” he says. I frown. I never had to talk as much as I did today, and it’s been so confusing that he should get it. “There are 8.7 million different species in the world. Some gotta repeat. I guess you never saw any repeat because you either didn’t have to travel a lot, or because you tried to ignore seeing them. Most animals repeat three or four times in each state. Though they are quite unique, a mirror of your personality and emotion.” He
cracks the acorn in half. “The magical animals, on the other hand, tell you your power. They are affected by personality and looks, and they show emotion.” He pauses, throws half an acorn as far as he can‒which is surprisingly far‒then looks me in the eye. “You’re the only one left with an alicorn.”
I take off my backpack, which has been weighing me down since I left for band. Herman throws the other half of the acorn. “What about the ‘soul form’ question?” I ask. “Aren’t you going to answer?”
He grabs another acorn. “You seem suspiciously not interested in my ‘training,’ as you called it.” He makes air quotes as he says ‘training.’
“You seem suspiciously not interested in answering my ‘soul form’ question,” I say. Herman rolls his eyes. “Nothing escapes you, huh?”
I nod, a triumphant smirk on my face. “Now get crackin’”
He doesn't talk for a minute or two. By the third, I start to reach for my notebook and
“No,” he says simply. I jump a couple centimeters from the shock. I tilt my head at him,
telling him to expand on that answer while I put my utensils away. “No, that’s not what they teach us. I made it up in the moment.” I look from the corner of my eye at his pegasus. It seems nervous, like he made a mistake and is watching to see if anybody will notice. Hoping they don’t.
And I know. It’s the one good thing that came from this power. “That’s not true.”
He sighs. “It’s going to be a problem, the way you’re so good.” I’m tempted to ask him why, but I know he’ll never answer the important question if I do. I’m sure Herman notices. “Fair enough. It’s a theory. My theory. ‘The soul’s true form, seen only by the best.’” He points at the air and stands as he’s saying it, like people do when they imagine a great company’s name on a posterboard. “But they don’t teach us that at our training. Training makes it feel like a boot camp. It’s not. It’s a school, a school only magical kids—or magical adults, if they aren’t found in their youth—go to in order to train their magic. There they don’t teach you what it is that we see, but rather what it does. But I know that understanding what it is can help improve our understanding of what it does.”
He plops back down. “But I have no way of proving my theory. That’s why I speed- walked through my lessons and took a job as a Finder.”
“You find things?” I ask.
He scowls. “No. We find people. Magicals.” He points at both of us. “Our magic is the best for the job. That’s how I found you. I was assigned to find you. I thought that, maybe, just maybe, I’d bump into the right person.” He looks at me in the eye in that dramatic-scene-in-a- movie way, and says, “I think I found that person.”
My eyes widen. I shake my head. “Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no.”
“Think of it, Tara!” Herman says. “With your power and my . . .” He scratches his head. “and my job, maybe we can find the right group of people to prove me right!”
“I just want to point out the huge ‘maybe’ you just used,” I say. I jump to my feet and pace, pulling at my hair. “And you’re not asking me to help prove you right. You’re asking me to drop everything I’m doing, forget the life I have here, and go with you to who-knows-where for who-knows-how-long. I might not see my parents again. And they’d worry!”
“Hold on. You like your parents?” He says ‘like’ as if the word tasted bad.
“I love them!” I say. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Sorry, most magicals have issues with living among non-magical people. Especially their parents.”
“Yeah, I’ve read books.” I shake my head. “Wait, that’s not helping. Why would I go with you? I’m sure your precious academy or your employer can go without one Finder just fine.”
“No, we can’t!” Hermand jumps to his feet, running a hand through his hair. “There’s only five trainees. In our only class. In the entire country! And three Finders counting me. We can make you feel at home. We need you, Tara. I need you.” His shoulders drop at my silence. I’ve heard that speech in movies a hundred times; I wasn’t going to fall for it. Even if it did feel nice, having someone need me. “Think of your life. Think of how hard it was having no one like you. Do you want that to be some other kid’s life?”
“Of course not!” I yell. I stomp my way over to him, push him back on his chair, and tower over him. I consider telling him how scared I am of running away to some fancy school to be trained to go running around the entire U.S. How scared I’d be of trying to talk a kid into doing what scares me now. How scared I am of not having a stable home and of being in America’s Most Wanted as a missing child. Of not seeing my family or any recognizable place ever again. But instead I twist the words into a monster, letting my doubt and swallowed-down emotions from the past 12 years guide me. “I know better than anyone what kind of a life they’d lead! But you’re a fake, Herman. An actor. You don’t care about me or those other kids. You just care about finding enough proof to be famous among your people. You just care about yourself!” I’m tempted to keep yelling at him, but I check my watch and realize I can still make it to my next class. So I swallow the part where I ask him how long he’s been with those magicals to come up with his own theory. I also swallow the part where I ask him how old he really is.
I fix my best scowl, and glare at him, for the first time taking into account his feelings. I’m stabbed with a blade of guilt as I see a boy that’s been repeatedly hurt with similar words. Both him and his baby pegasus have trails of tears on their cheeks. As I focus on his misty creature, the blade cuts deeper. The shock and hurt are more prominent on his winged horse. My words opened old scars of pain, so real and raw I have to look away.
I take a deep breath, forcing the blade out of my heart. I grab my backpack and head for one of the courtyard’s many doors.
“Where are you going?” he calls, his voice surprisingly steady.
I don’t stop moving. “Back to class. I’m not going with you. You are nothing to me, Herman. You’re just another stranger.”
“If it makes you feel any better,” he says, and this time he sounds slightly more desperate. “My bus’s number is 63. I’m staying another day in town in case you change your mind!” The door shuts behind me.
I don’t look back.
The next couple of hours are a blur.
After science I walk to the bus. Robin stops me. He pushes me around. I let him. It goes faster that way. When I don’t whimper or beg him to stop, he gives up and says goodbye in that cozy way of his. “Farewell, meanie. Next time you won’t be so lucky.” Then he heads for the bus.
A thought crosses my mind. Herman takes the bus, so he’ll be there too. I don’t have the energy to cross paths with him again, so I head to the library, log into one of the school’s desktops, and email my parents that I'll be walking home. Even though I’ve never done that before. I don’t mention it’s an hour-long walk, according to Google Maps. Nor do I wait for their answer.
I wasn’t trying to sneak in when I walked through the back door. I wasn’t thinking much. I didn’t think much when I walked home. My brain switched to a function I never knew existed; Foggy and short sentences being processed only. So I started singing my favorite songs as a distraction, imagining my trumpet playing in the background. My fingers moved as if I were playing the trumpet. My world was music for a second.
And then it shattered.
“I can’t believe this is happening.” My mom’s voice. She’s talking to my dad. She isn’t being optimistic. She isn’t being herself. Her words cut through my music shield.
“Me neither,” my dad says. He sounds worried. Something he wouldn’t let me hear if he knew I was listening. They’re in the living room. I’m in the kitchen, listening to something I’m not supposed to hear. I sit on the floor, my legs too shaky. I take off my school bag. My dad takes a deep breath. “But it is happening.”
I hear the couch creek. The old thing, I can’t help thinking. My mom must have scootched closer to my dad. “How are we going to tell her?”
Me. How are they going to tell me what?
“She already has the band trouble to worry about.” She lets out a sob. A sob. “Oh, Luke, she probably thinks we’ll lash out at her. That’s why. That’s probably why she walked home.”
My heart races. No, that’s not it, I want to tell her. You’re too good. “How are we going to tell her, Luke? How are we going to tell her we lost our jobs?”
There it is. The answer to my question. I wish I hadn’t asked. “We’ll get a new job,” my dad says.
“Yes, but what if it’s not enough?” I can’t believe I’m hearing this. My mom, the pessimist, my dad, the one trying to keep both of them together, their roles switched. “What if we can’t buy food or clothes? What if—”
“We won’t fall that far,” my dad interrupts. I’m grateful for it. It’s scary, hearing my mom worry so much. “I promise.”
I hear my mom take a deep breath as if to argue, but she thinks better of it. There’s silence.
I take a shaky breath, get myself together, and exit as quietly as possible. I reenter, humming and singing, making as much noise as possible so my parents won’t think I heard.
It’s hard for the three of us to act cheery. I don’t ask for them to explain why as I normally would. Their animals are exhausted, angry, and worried among so many other emotions. They don’t say a word about me skipping band. I’m grateful for it.
I announce I’ll be going to bed early. My parents don’t stop me. They probably think I'm punishing myself. I don’t correct them.
I close my curtains, lock the door, and turn off the light.
The first thing I do is drag the old toys out of my closet, then out of their boxes, and neatly arrange them on my desk. I work by my flashlight’s beam. By the time I’m done, half the surface is covered.
The second thing I do is stuff the toy’s boxes with my old notebooks, drawings, homework, and any paper or cardboard that might remind my parents of me. Any paper that isn’t needed goes there too. I push them into the closet and leave them to wait for morning, when I'll put them in the recycling bin.
The third thing I do is stuff my backpack with clothes, my tooth fairy money, a couple of photos, a blank notebook, a pencil case, and my one and only stuffed reindeer. The rest of my clothes end up next to my old toys. So do the few books I own.
The fourth thing I do is write a sloppy note and leave it on the pile of clothes.
The fifth thing I do is stare at my trumpet, which I brought with me for emotional support after Herman.
The sixth thing I do is put it next to my backpack. Not for show. I’ll really need it. I stuff the flashlight into my backpack too.
The seventh thing I do is climb into bed and wait for sunrise. The last thing is hope.
P.S. I'm sorry you lost your job. I know you'll get a new one soon. Until then's here's a little gift from me. Hope it helps you hold up.
Thanks for everything you've done.
My bus is the first to arrive. I wait and hope.
Bus 63 is the last to arrive. Herman is the last to get off.
“Herman!” I wave for him to get closer. He hesitates. “Mystery Boy, come here!”
He rolls his eyes at the name, but he’s got a small smile. His baby pegasus is relieved to see me in a good mood. “What’s up?”
I take a deep breath, and blurt out the speech I came up with on the way to school. “It was wrong of me to lash out at you yesterday. I was scared. I am scared. Of a lot of things. I wasn’t thinking much. I guess I didn’t want you to think I’m weak. My life is a mess, but it was a good one. I didn’t want to leave it behind, but if I said that, it would sound selfish. I swallowed down so many emotions my entire life that I let them explode as anger in those words. I was mean, meaner than Robin. He was right. I am a meanie.” My head and shoulders drop at that. I take another breath. “But I want to make things right. I want to make everything right.” A lump forms in my throat. I swallow to clear it. I didn’t mean to just make things right with him. I meant my parents too. “So I want to say two things. First, I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. I was wrong. And I’m sorry for that. Second, I’m ready. I want to train at your fancy, only-magicals school. I want to help prove your theory.” I clear my throat and look at my trumpet case next to my feet. “That is, if you still want me.”
Herman absorbs my speech like a sponge, taking his time to process. “What about your parents?”
I look up. “What?”
“You said you loved your parents. Why would you leave them then?” His face shows no emotion, but his pegasus narrows his eyes in suspicion. That’s when it hits me.
He thinks I lied about loving my parents to look stronger.
“They work at an office,” I start. I don’t feel like sharing this private bit of information, but telling the truth and earning his trust back seems more important. “Worked, I mean. My dad complained at times that his coworkers were being replaced by machines. My mom, being the optimist she is, assured us their employer would never fire his most committed workers. She was wrong. I overheard them last night.” I shrug. “I thought it would be better if they didn’t have me as a third mouth to feed.” The stubborn lump in my throat thickens. “I packed up last night, and told them to sell the rest.” My eyes fill up. I look away as I rub them dry.
“Told them?” Herman asks, his voice soft.
“Wrote them a note.” I refuse to tell him anything else. I take a deep breath. “But this isn’t about me,” I say. “It’s about how I finally have the excuse I wanted to help those other children.” I look him in the eye dramatically like he did with me. “And you.”
His pegasus fills up with guilt. Herman takes a step back, putting both hands out like stop signs. “Wow, there. I didn’t mean to ruin your life. If it’s this painful, you don’t have to do it.”
I shake my head, clicking my tongue. “Herman, Herman, Herman. Didn’t you hear? ‘The excuse I wanted.’” I wrap an arm around his shoulder, pointing at the air like he did yesterday. “‘The soul’s true form, seen only by the best.’ I want to help you. You’re my best friend.” I hold my breath. I’m not sure he forgave me yet, but I want the situation to be as light as possible.
He wraps an arm around my shoulders. “Tara, I’m your only friend.”
I step away, blinking. “Really?” My lips twitch with a smile, but I don’t let it spread. I was too awful for him to say that so easily.
“Really,” he says. “And I forgive you.”
“What did you do last night,” I ask after letting my brain wrap around the words ‘forgive you’ coming from his mouth. “I mean, after . . .”
He shrugs. “Reported. Get yelled at for losing a potential Finder. After you yelled at me. Cried. Maybe. I’m not admitting to anything I said in the last fifteen seconds.” He shrugs again, but his pegasus shudders as he replays the memories. “Didn’t do much, actually.”
“That’s awful,” I say. He shrugs it off again. Still, his pegasus squirms. I take that as a ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ I want to tell him that he shouldn’t just shrug it off. That it is really awful hearing him say that, but I don’t want to mess the paper-thin patch I put on the whole I dug. “Anyway,” I try. “You thought that I was going to come back?”
“Oh, no.” He shakes his head. “I thought you were gone for good. I thought it was going to be the most awkward day of my life, having to see you in the halls, at lunch. Originally, I had every class with you. I begged my boss to change the schedule because that would have been,” He puts a finger on his chin, thinking. “The end of the world for me.” He chuckles a bit. “When you called me to get closer, I thought I was done for. That you were going to scream at me some more. So thank you for not doing that.”
I smile. “So what now, Mystery Boy?”
“You gotta stop calling me that,” he says, rolling his eyes teasingly. “But now we have two options. Well, more like one.” He scratches the back of his head and looks at his feet. “The risky one is wait here and go through school. Then we get on my bus, and we ride to my ‘house’” He makes air quotes. “Your parents would definitely catch us. The other option is walk, like, right now, to my ‘house.’ The rest is all downhill from there. It’s a program that we use to find magicals. You go to school, train, then you’re free to pick a job like mine, or . . .” he kicks the ground. His pegasus whines, but Herman barely acknowledges the pain. “You can go back to your normal life.” He sounds small as he says it.
“No one’s ever done that, right?” I ask, even though I know the answer.
He shakes his head. “But my school is all about making us feel like we have a choice.” “Do we?” I’m the one feeling small now. “Have a choice, I mean.”
He bits his lip. I check with his pegasus. They both have blank stares. I don’t know if it’s a ‘no’ or an ‘I don’t know.’ I’m not sure I want to know.
He looks in the direction of my alicorn. I look too. It shows panic, like I wish he couldn’t just see through me any time he wants.
“Sorry,” Herman says, looking at me. “You’re not used to that, huh?” “Are you?” I try to make my tone curious, even though I’m irritated. “Yeah. Although there are rules.”
“Oh yeah?” I sound daring, competitive.
“Yeah,” he says in the same tone as me. “But I’ll teach you on the way to the secret base. We’ll see how long you can go without breaking them.” He snorts. “I mean, without breaking them anymore. You broke, like, ten of them a billion times by now.”
I lightly punch in on the shoulder. It’s amazing what this new-found confidence makes me do. “No way there are more than three!” I punch him a second time. “But it’s so on, Mystery Boy.”
We start walking.
“By the way, how old are you?” I ask.
He bumps into me, but he’s smiling. “Like I’m ever gonna tell you.” He walks on his tippy toes for a while, making himself as tall as me. When his pegasus starts complaining about how his hooves hurt, he gives up. “Come on,” Herman says, turning around. “You’re going the wrong way, Alicorn Master.”