My name is Julianne. I wish I could tell you my last name. I wish I could remember my last name. The truth is I can't remember anything. Because of this creature, this Ellimist, I know what happened. I know what I thought and said and did. I guess that's pretty close to remembering. I guess he thinks its close enough.
Everything started in the public library. The Ellimist was good enough, or felt guilty enough, to show me the rest of my life, but this story really begins in the library. I was doing a research paper for school. Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to have picked the same topic; the book I wanted was gone.
"God damnit," I muttered, kicking the bookshelf lightly and scowling at the remaining books.
"Temperamental, aren't we?"
I jumped slightly at the sound of Tom's voice and blushed at the sound of his laugh. He had such a nice laugh. I had to take a few deep breaths before I could get up the nerve to turn and face him.
"What do you want, Tom?" I asked, hoping my blush wasn't showing. After four years of living next to the Berensons, I still hadn't admitted to my crush on Tom. Though, I was sure he knew about it. How could he not after the time he caught me watching him undress through his open bedroom window? And was it really my fault our windows faced each other?
"What book are you looking for? Something for that history paper they always make you guys do?"
I checked the slip of paper in my hand. "Um... The Reluctant Crusade by James Matray."
Tom grinned and shrugged. "Never heard of it. You're doing the Korean War, right?"
"Everyone's doing the Korean War. It's a history paper about the Korean War, so all the books about the Korean War are gone now."
He laughed again. "Well come over tonight. Jake's doing the same paper and he brought home a bunch of history books. You two could share."
"Sure. I'll do that."
Tom gave me one last grin before he turned and left.
I wish I knew what I was feeling at that time. I wish I could remember all the things going on inside me when I agreed to go to Tom's house. The Ellimist showed me my memories. I could hear the words we spoke and the thoughts I thought, but that's not enough to know everything. After all, my mind was telling me not to go, that I'd only obsess over Tom and never get any work done and probably make a fool out of myself. My mind was saying 'no' and my mouth said 'yes' and I simply can't remember why.
I went over after dinner. Mom, a local RN, had to work extra, so we ate late and it was dark by the time I crossed the lawn to Tom's house. Mr. Berenson answered the door and invited me in.
"Hey, Julie. What can we do for you tonight?"
"I came to see Jake. Is he here?"
"No, he went to go visit Marco. He should be back soon, though."
"Okay, I'll just wait for him."
I headed for the stairs to go wait in Jake's room. Jake may not have been as close to me as he was to Marco, but we were friends and neighbors. We'd been in and out of each other's rooms since I moved in four years ago. It was a perfectly normal thing to do and no one commented on it.
Even Tom thought it was normal. He simply grinned at me as I passed him on the stairs, struggling to smile without looking like a dork.
Jake's room was a mess, but he had a stack of books on his desk. I wandered over and started flipping through them, deciding on what I would ask to borrow once he showed up. While looking through Avoiding the Apocalypse a breeze blew through the open window, making me shiver. Why did he have an open window anyway? I leaned over the desk to close the window when it happened.
A bird-of-prey landed in the grass of the backyard. Birds like that were rare in residential neighborhoods, and they almost never landed on the ground. So I stopped to watch it. And as I watched it, it started to grow. It grew and grew until it was about the size of a small child.
I leaned over the desk to get a better look, nearly crawling on top of it. The backyard was dark and the bird had landed in shadows. I must have been frightened. My breath came in short gasps. Little beads of sweat formed on a brow knitted with confusion. My eyes strained to see what was going on.
Then, suddenly, the feathers disappeared. Just vanished, leaving pink skin covering a disgustingly contorted body that continued to grow and grow. I bit my tongue to keep from screaming and continued to watch with a kind of horrified fascination. The kind that makes people slow down on a highway to look at a wreck. It was disgusting, nightmarish, but I kept watching. Until the head turned and looked straight at me. A head that was suddenly more human than bird.
I pushed away from the desk so violently that I fell over backward. Lying on the floor, I squeezed my eyes shut, still biting my tongue. I tried not to acknowledge what I'd seen, tried not to think about, but the images were burned into my mind. Inescapable. A hawk, turning into a human. But that was impossible. Wasn't it?
A few moments later I heard sounds downstairs. Jake, coming in the back door and talking to his brother. Tom, telling him that I was waiting upstairs.
Was Jake the bird? Did he know what I'd seen? What would he do to me if he knew?
Quickly I picked myself up off the ground and nervously straitened my clothes and hair. I looked about the room, trying to figure out what to do, how to look normal, but I couldn't really think about anything but the sounds of Jake's footsteps coming up the stairs.
When he walked in, I was still standing the middle of the room, looking around nervously.
"Hey," he said casually, leaning against the door. "Did you want something?"
"Um...no, not really. Um...it's just...Tom said you had a bunch of books for the history thingy in school, and...well...I couldn't find any at the library, so..."
I bit my bottom lip to keep from rambling anymore and clasped my hands behind my back, hoping he hadn't seen them shaking. He just looked at me like I was crazy. At the time, I couldn't help but agree.
"Uh...I guess I just wanted know if I could borrow some from you," I finished lamely.
"Sure." He pushed away from the doorframe and walked over the desk, pulling a few books out of the pile and setting them in a different stack. "I checked all these out, but I'm only using these ones, so you can have any of the rest. Just don't forget to return them on time."
He was acting perfectly natural, like there hadn't been a mutant raptor in his back yard just a few moments before.
So maybe...maybe I'd just imagined it. I must have imagined it. Birds don't turn into next-door-neighbors.
My hands were still shaking as I gathered up the books on the desk, not really looking to see if they were the ones I needed.
"Hey, thanks. I'll, um, I'll be sure to take these back on time."
"You want to stay? Mom made a pie last night and we've still got some left."
"No thanks. I've got to go get started on this." I clutched the books close to my chest and avoided looking at his face. Normally I would have accepted, no matter how late. But I couldn't stay in that house.
I risked a glance at his face. His expression was oddly serious and sad, but he covered up quickly and shrugged.
"Well, suit yourself. I'll see you in school tomorrow."
"Yeah. See you."
It took every bit of self-control I had not to run from the room. Once I reached the stairs, I fled as fast as my feet could carry me, hardly even stopping to open the front door.