“David A. Rojas has written a uniquely inventive tale that surprises and delights just as surely as it horrifies—with an ending that left my forearms covered in goosebumps (not easy to do!) Any parent will relate to the feelings of desperation experienced by Amy as she struggles against all odds to protect a gifted child from those who condemn those gifts as a threat—or simply too peculiar to exist within the brutal confines of society’s unwritten laws of acceptability. The humor here is sharp, the prose engaging, and the terrors conveyed in this tale of unreality resonate forcefully with the reader’s heart in a profoundly real way. A wondrous feat of fiction from a powerful new literary voice.”

–Louis Maistros, Author of The Sound of Building Coffins

 

Amy had one eye searching the house for a missing photo of her mother, that days earlier, had simply vanished from its frame on the mantel in the living room; and with the other eye she was conscious that Maci was outside playing with their dog, Pirate, but when she heard both of them go silent she stopped looking for the picture, went out to the backyard, and saw their German Shepherd playfully chasing a rabbit.

“A rabbit, Maci? Really? Get in here, it’s time for dinner, get ready.” Amy said. Both the rabbit and Pirate stopped playing and starred at Amy.

“You heard me, come on.” She said, both the rabbit and Pirate continuing to stare before she lost her patience.

“I’m not asking again, Maci.”

The rabbit hopped over to Amy. She picked it up and looked at its fluffy tale, sweet face, beautiful inquisitive eyes and snuggled it close to her chest.

“Christ, you’re a cute dirty fuzz ball. But you will shower before dinner, now come on, come on back to me, little girl.” She told the rabbit as she was cradling it affectionately.

See the Pen Scene 1 by plantmonsterstudios.com (@Plantmonster) on CodePen.

When Amy placed the rabbit on the floor of the living room she moved back to give the transformation space, the rabbit didn’t move and kept looking at Pirate, who was now right outside the sliding glass door missing his playmate but also intrigued about what was to happen next. The rabbit then convulsed before growing into a large mass that took the shape of a small girl with wild eyes, and even wilder hair– Maci.

“A rabbit, again? What did I tell you about predators? Coyotes? Eagles?”  Amy said as her daughter crouched in a fetal position trying to get her bearings.

“Nooooo, Pirate protects me.” Maci said, catching her breathe. Every time she transformed back to her human form it took a physical toll on her. Her lungs were learning how to breathe like a human again and it took a few minutes for them to catch up with the rest of her body.

“Pirate won’t always be able to protect you.”

“I know, mommy.” Maci said, panting.

“Now come on, let’s get you showered.”

Maci would experience delirium after the transformation, she always did, it would last about an hour, and during this time Maci’s mind was in a bridge between thinking like whatever she transformed into and her human self. The emotions of whatever animal she was lingered well after her transformation back into human form and during that time Amy would bathe her and make attempts to comb her frizzy hair. Maci’s hair made its own decisions, it was an entity with its own conscience; Maci would speak to her hair, ask it how its day was, what it wanted to eat, and since it sat on top of her head, asked if it knew her sadness and joy; or if can read her wild thoughts. No matter what Maci transformed into, one thing was certain, nothing was quite as home as her own hair, and she always missed it.

“But before we go shower, I’m going to ask you one last time, do you know what happened to grandma’s photo? It couldn’t have just disappeared.” Amy asked.

“Noooo, mommy, quit asking me questions, I don’t know, I promise.”

Amy’s jaw dropped then she smiled.

“Excuse me, princess, I can ask whatever I want, like what’s that on your arm right there?” She said as she pinched Maci. Maci laughed and started running towards the bathroom.”

“Get back here, you little bunny rabbit” Amy said as she chased her daughter playfully.

When she caught Maci she lifted her up and smiled.

“I love you to the moon and back, little girl” Amy said.

“I love you to the moon and forever, mommy” Maci would always reply. It was their own code, their own way of expressing love to just each other. Maci heard her mother say ‘I love you’ to boyfriends, family, and friends but ‘to the moon and back’ was just for Maci, always just for Maci. When Maci was a baby she was restless and had a difficult time sleeping. Amy tried everything, but one night she took her baby out to the backyard and cradled her to sleep and Maci would be at peace gracefully falling asleep in her mother’s arms under the bright moon and stars. “I love you to the moon and back” is what she would say and it never left.

See the Pen Scene 2 by plantmonsterstudios.com (@Plantmonster) on CodePen.

After dinner that night, Maci awoke from bed, as she had done for the past few weeks, and tip-toed to her mother’s door and sat listening to her cry, as she had done every night since her Grandmother passed away only weeks earlier. All Maci could ever make out was a one-sided conversation Amy was having with her dead mom, she would cry and say: “mom I really need you, please I really need you” for what? Maci never knew. Maci also didn’t understand why Amy kept saying ‘I’m sorry’ over and over again. What had her mother done? She wondered as she pranced back to bed. She would fall asleep saddened by hearing her mother cry every night.

Amy was late for her appointment at the government office but she was late everywhere she went and people expected this of her. When she walked into the conference room, Byers and Rogets were already there, Byers playing a game on his cell phone and Rogets looking at the door for it to finally open and reveal a late Amy.

“Hey boys.” Amy said shamelessly jovial.

Rogets looked at Byers who had just put his phone away.

“There she is. Traffic?” Byers asked knowing it was futile.

“Sure” Amy replied as she sat down.

“No coffee this morning, boys?”

Rogets looked at Byers as if he alone forgot to grab her one.

“Darn” Byers said. “Sorry, Mrs. Harolds. Next time, I promise.”

Amy sat down at the conference table ignoring Byers’ excuse and promise. Rogets wasted no time and spread open a couple file folders then took a mini recording device out of his coat pocket and placed it on the table flipping the switch to ‘Record’.

“Mrs. Harolds, we are ready to begin, and as always, it just has to be said, that lying during this proceeding would be a bad idea.”

Amy had been through many of these before and wasn’t afraid or nervous because she knew as long as Maci didn’t do anything illegal, they couldn’t take her away.

“You know me better than that, I only lie to get out of dates and you don’t stand a chance, Mr. Rogets.”

“Ha ha, very funny.”

Byers chuckled “That was her best one, though” he said but Rogets wasn’t amused.

“Seriously though, when have I not understood this, Mr. Rogets?” she replied with a gentle smile that held no hints of sarcasm.

“Just formalities, you know how it goes.” Rogets replied sipping his coffee.

Mr. Byers and Mr. Rogets were government operatives of some sort, but they weren’t intimidating or off—putting, they didn’t wear suits but dressed in casual sport coats without ties. Usually, before they hit the record button, they would converse with Amy about their days, movie recommendations, music, what the kids did, etc. But Amy did know that Byers and Rogets weren’t their real names, a simple google search would reveal that.

“Now, Mrs. Harolds” Rogets started “we need to begin with the incident at The La Brea Tar Pits.”

Amy knew this was coming, it made international news, and people were clamoring for more information about Maci.

“She loves T-Rexs. She wanted to be a T-rex” Amy said as if the case was easy, simple, and now closed.

“That’s all well, but when a T-rex starts trotting down Wilshire boulevard you understand that is cause for concern, do you not?”

Amy couldn’t contain her laughter and let out a chuckle.

“ ‘Trotting’ . T-rex ‘trotting’, that’s funny” Amy said before looking at both men’s faces and realizing the gravity of the situation. She knew her daughter’s capabilities would be cause for concern but had always managed to suppress or ignore thoughts about it because it was inconvenient for her to entertain them. To her, Maci was just her daughter. They had talked about the T-Rex incident and Maci promised to never be a dinosaur again, and that was enough for Amy.

“Oh come on, boys, with the grim faces. She was a nice T-rex, a cute T-rex that didn’t harm anybody. Amy had no desire, never has any desire, to cause harm.”

“Yet, no desire YET “ Byers entered the conversation, which he seldom does and this made Amy more nervous but she was also becoming angry at the insinuation and gone were her playful musings and laid back demeanor. Her gentle smile turned into an obvious top-class ‘bring it on’ grin directed at Byers. The message was received and Byers looked down.

“Mam if I may“ Rogets interjected “she turned into a T-rex. A T-rex. They are extinct. You understand they are predators? Probably the fiercest we have ever had. And this raised lots of questions. Can your daughter turn into extinct animals if she has photos of them, if she has the desire to BE them?”

Amy didn’t want to go there because she wasn’t sure herself. Before Maci turned into a T-rex she had always chosen animals that were alive, modern, and common—Rabbits, Cats, Pigs, Owls, and occasionally Insects but Amy threatened punishment should she ever turn into an insect again after she almost stepped on her.

“Maci isn’t a predator, and I don’t appreciate your implication either. She’s just a curious child. She didn’t cause any harm. I know where you’re going with this. Testing? Military weapon? Well, forget it. You aren’t going near my daughter.”

Byers had already checked out, he was intimidated by Amy because she was smart, beautiful, and had a quick wit.

“Mrs. Harolds, now you wait. None of that is going to happen, we don’t want that to happen. That is not why we are asking. Our job has always been protecting you and your daughter. But we need to ask these questions because others will. Now, you say she doesn’t want to harm people now, Mrs. Harolds, but this must be asked— what IF or WHEN she does? Then what? What do you think will happen to her then?”

“She’s six, guys. six years old! There hasn’t been a problem and I don’t see one happening. She is a sweet girl–she doesn’t want to hurt anybody, she wants to be animals…. other things–because she’s compassionate and curious, and has a sense of empathy. She wants to know how other living beings feel, how they think.”

This last statement perked up Byers.

“So, when she is one of these other beings, her mind is also transformed? She knows and feels these others? Not just wearing them like some mask? Is she cognizant she is human or does she fully think like an animal when transformed? Does she remember she is human while animal? Or both for that matter?

“I don’t know! We don’t talk about that, Byers! ”

“Ok, enough!” Rogets interrupted. “Listen, if you don’t know these questions, for your safety and Maci’s—“

“Take her name out of your mouth and don’t ever put it back there again.” Amy cut him off and stood up, all 5 foot 2 inches of her, but she was taller than redwood when upset.

“Ok Mrs. Harolds.” Rogets submitted, trying to bring the tension down. “For the safety and you and your daughter, you will have to know the answers to these questions. I suggest you try to talk to her and find out. We won’t persist with this matter anymore today and we’ll leave it as is.”

“Good, fine then. I guess we are done here.” Amy grabbed her purse.

Rogets immediately looked at Byers who had lifted his head up to meet his eyes, Rogets spoke. “Mrs Harolds, wait, Mrs. Harolds, has she ever turned into another apex predator?”

“I don’t feel comfortable answering these questions any more. You guys have an agenda here and its making me upset. I liked you two, you’ve kept your promises and kept both me and my daughter safe but now I feel interrogated.”

“We have to ask them; you must understand, and I know you do, that the Tar Pit incident was cause for some concern. And there was property damage, that we have waived you from paying. Now please, we have been honest with you and we want to protect you but just understand, we do need to ask these questions. Now, has she ever turned into another apex predator?”

If Amy walked out of the room now she could potentially create a storm of surveillance around her house and plant even more seeds of mistrust and speculation in Rogets and Byers, so she submitted to their question.

“A lion. And a bear. That’s about it.” She said

Byers and Rogets looked at each other dissatisfied with the answer. They knew what they really wanted to ask but were trying to be as subtle as possible though it didn’t yield their desired result. Byers put his head back down and this gave Rogets the hint that he was going to be the one to ask.

“Mrs. Harolds” Rogets started carefully. “Has Maci………has Maci……ever transformed into other humans?”

Maci hadn’t and Amy never thought of the idea much, it hadn’t occurred to her that Maci would want to do so because she never brought it up.

“No” Amy said “She thinks humans are boring, and I agree with her.”

Rogets and Byers would have to be satisfied with that answer because Amy displayed a desire to leave with an intolerance for any further questions, she was still standing and her purse was hung on her shoulder.

Rogets knowing he had minimal time to keep pressing had to ask one more question.

“That is fine. But if you can explain how she chooses which animals to be, that would be a big help for us.”

Amy sat back down without removing her purse, Byers and Rogets followed and took a seat.

“Pictures” Amy said. “TV, Internet. It really starts with pictures. She sees something beautiful and says ‘I want to be this or that’ you know? But it takes her time, sometimes months. She can’t just transform on a dime, it’s like she is deciding whether or not she is committed to ‘being’ something. She infatuates, obsesses about an animal and it takes over. Everything she does, every conversation she has, is about whatever animal she wants to be at that time and she loves them. She can only be something that she loves, that she feels for. An animal she wants to understand. I can’t express it any other way. It’s like watching a little kid fall madly in love with something that she becomes it, and falling in love takes time. I mean, that’s all I have, boys.”

Amy stood back up but not as temperamental as she was just moments ago.

“I really have to go.” She said

Rogets extended a hand

“Of course, we’ll see you next month” Rogets motioned for Byers to say something.

“Mrs Harolds, again, thank you and we will be chatting soon.”

“See ya boys.”

“Oh and Mrs Harolds.” Rogets said.

“What? What now?”

“We are sorry to hear about your mother, our condolences to you and your daughter.”

Amy nodded to accept the comment but didn’t say anything and left

Amy and Maci had spent hours at the library early on a Saturday morning. When they arrived home, she told Maci to wash her hands. Maci went into the bathroom while Amy opened her backpack and pulled out four library books on sharks: picture books on sharks, children storybooks on sharks, and random picture clippings on sharks.

‘Oh Please No’ was all Amy couldn’t say. She took out her cell phone and checked her browser history and sure enough, over the last couple weeks she saw YouTube videos with ‘shark’ as the keyword for all of them.

‘No no no!’ Amy said, knowing she had no power to prevent what was coming.

Maci hearing her mother, came out of her bedroom, and noticed her shark books on the table and her mom standing next to them with arms folded and eyes expecting an explanation.

“Sharks?….sharks, Maci? Really. No. No sharks!”

“Whyyyyyy? That’s not fair, they are beautiful” Maci began to cry and fumbled out “they are misunderstood mommy.”

Her daughter trying to say a four-syllable word and butchering it through quivering crying lips was too precious for Amy to ignore so she smiled and knelt down to stroke her daughter’s cheek.

“Yes, yes, they are misunderstood but do you remember the last time you wanted to be a sea animal, a Sea-horse? What happened?

Maci looked down and hooked her knees together.

“You couldn’t find me.”

“Yes, I couldn’t find you, it took me hours, I had to dive in the water with scuba gear so no sharks. I can’t see you in the ocean, and what’s scarier is that I can’t see anything else in the ocean that might be dangerous. It’s too dangerous and I’m not driving an hour to the beach to make that happen.”

Maci wasn’t going to let up but crying wasn’t the tactic that would work on her mother. Amy was desensitized to crying at an early age from seeing her own mother cry on a weekly basis over her dead-beat husband, unemployment, broken dreams, you name it.

“I want to be a shark, mommy, I want to know why they feel mean.” She said with her hands folded across her chest standing with a stern professorial demeanor.

“They just are, MEAN, baby.”

“No, mommy they are just misunderstood.”

“Who taught you that word—‘misunderstood’? I’ve never heard you say it.”

Maci paused for a few seconds and looked down.

“Well, baby-girl. Tell me.”

“You, mommy, I hear you say it to grandma at night.”

Amy forgot about the sharks momentarily and zeroed in on Maci’s last comment. Amy had indeed used that word at night when she lay restless and sleepless thinking about her own mother, thinking about her regrets and the tattered relationship they couldn’t repair before her mother died.

“What do you mean you hear me say it to Grandma?”

Maci was a precocious girl, smart as a whip, and knew the tenor in her mom’s voice meant she couldn’t back out of her comment, or lie, and the best thing for her to do was push forward.

“I hear you cry at night, mommy, talking to grandma.”

It never occurred to Amy that Maci could hear her, and it never occurred to her how loud she cried yearning to speak with her mother just one last time; being able to say “I love you” and “I’m sorry” and “I miss you” and “I wish we spoke more”. The death of her mother came as shock, nobody saw it coming because her mother never told anybody.

Amy paused for a few moments determining how she was going to present this to Maci without revealing too much that a six-year old wouldn’t be able to understand.

“I do cry, and I’m sorry you have to hear that, baby, I just miss your grandmother. You know how you love your momma bear? Amy kneeled down to be at eye level with her daughter.

Maci nodded with a tempered smile.

“Well I loved my momma bear too and I wish I could tell her that, I wish she was hear so I can hug her and tell her she was my hero, she was my everything before you came along.”

Amy’s mother, Laura, had raised her on her own. She became a mother young, as did Amy, and she learned parenting by being thrown into it. But the two had different personalities that made them clash throughout their lives. Since Laura’s life was restricted at a young age with the responsibilities of raising a child, she wanted Amy to have a fuller life, a more complete one with the ability to live vicariously through her daughter’s triumphs and adventures but Amy fell in love in high school, as her mom did, and became pregnant. As her mom did.

When Amy had Maci, Laura was thrilled and quickly fell in love with the child but her relationship with her own daughter strained over different parenting styles and more for the fact that Laura was middle aged and seemed bereft of any identity after her daughter grew up. She had raised Amy to be exactly like her though she did everything in her power to prevent this and now that her daughter was a mother and both Amy and Maci had moved out of the house, Laura’s days were no longer calculated,  they were without rhythm, her identity as a mother seemed lost and when she was diagnosed with breast cancer it gave her something to pencil in a calendar: chemo treatments, radiation treatments, dietary restrictions, doctors appointment, all substituted what came before: Amy’s recital, Amy’s doctor’s appointments, Amy’s dentist appointments, Amy’s parent-teacher conference.

Laura kept her diagnosis from Amy and Maci, not that it was a difficult secret to maintain as they hadn’t spoken in over a year. The previous Thanksgiving they had a blowout over the boy Amy was seeing that ended with both mother’s calling each other names and with both being as stubborn as they were– each awaited the other to call first to apologize and that day never came. The last time Amy saw her mother was when she was heavily medicated and asleep. Her aunt had called her to tell her that her mother was dying and hours after Amy held her mother’s hand in hospice care, she was gone.

“Then sharks are misunderstood like Grandma, I really want to be a shark mommy.” Maci said.

“No baby, no! It’s not happening”. Amy was upset, but not at her daughter, she was upset at her own incapability of dealing with the special gift her daughter had and how she felt useless at times protecting her. Moments like this she yearned for her own mother’s advice. If Maci was older she would be able to reason with her, but how can you tell a six-year-old that has the ability to take on the form of what they love that they can’t do it anymore? The interrogation with Rogets and Byers didn’t help matters either, it made her paranoid and she knew they were right, some day she would have to have a long talk with Maci about how the world reacts to someone like her. But she was frustrated because she couldn’t make her daughter understand simple and real concepts. Her only other recourse was to get upset, as humans do when they can’t reason with themselves or others.

“What other pictures are you hiding from me? What other books?”

Amy stormed into Maci’s room to investigate. She looked under Maci’s bed and found stacks of library books and picture print outs. She found more stacks of magazine clip outs and pictures in Maci’s dresser and laid them out on her bed.

“Momma, why are you doing this? I didn’t do anything wrong!” Maci yelled as she began to cry at her mother’s invasion of her privacy.

Amy found pictures of deer, whales, giraffes, cockroaches (cockroaches?) bees, tigers, unicorns, rabbits, wolves, dinosaurs, but most of her pictures were of skylines– pictures of lit up buildings in the night sky, pictures of the desert with bright stars, pictures of the ocean on a cool windy night, but Amy didn’t see animals in any of those pictures and paid no attention to them.

“Maci, no tigers, no sea animals, why do you persist in not listening to me?” Amy turned around to see her daughter in the doorway, her eyes were flickering and she couldn’t see the whites of them. Maci fell to the floor.

“Maci!” Amy screamed as she ran to her daughter and lifted her from the ground. “Baby, what’s wrong?” Amy patted her daughter’s cheeks to get a reaction and when she did she felt her daughter’s skin had a strange texture, it was rough like sand-paper. “Maci, please, say something!” Amy moved her hands across Maci’s body and noticed her skin was damp and secreting a waxy liquid. When she moved her hands across her back she noticed a small hard bump rising between her shoulder blades.

“No, Maci, no, not now, please not now!”

Amy was quick enough to know that filling the bath tub with water wouldn’t work as sharks are salt water creatures and Maci had no idea what type of shark Maci had in mind. Please don’t be a whale shark. Please.

“Ok. baby, we are going, ok? We are going. Just hold on. Just hold on, baby. Please Maci, just hold on.”

Still cradling her daughter, Amy ran out of her room and grabbed her car keys. She placed Maci in the back seat of her car and noticed she was breathing heavily. It would take an hour to get to the beach and Maci’s lungs were already turning, she needed to get to the water quickly.

Amy gunned it through red lights to get to the freeway and she kept looking in her rear-view to see if Maci was still breathing and to make sure cops weren’t behind her. She made ten traffic violations by the time she reached the freeway on-ramp and she would make more. She hit ninety miles an hour then a hundred. She would talk to Maci to make sure she was still cognizant as a human.

“Maci, talk to me, please, say something!”

Maci looked at her mother in the rearview, her eyes black as coals, like a shark. “I want to be a shark, mommy.”

“Yes baby, yes, if you want to be a shark, be a shark. But just wait another thirty minutes please till I get you to the water.”

See the Pen Scene 6 by plantmonsterstudios.com (@Plantmonster) on CodePen.

Amy exited fourth street and again jetted through red lights till she drove onto the beach parking lot. It was a cool day so the only people at the beach were loyal surfers. Amy lifted Maci out the car and noticed she was wetter and heavier, the bump on her back was bigger. She looked down at Maci’s legs and noticed they were fused together.

“Hold on, baby, we’re almost there!” Amy ran through the soft sand holding Maci who was struggling for breathe and gagging.

“No, no, baby, we are almost there. Please, please God. Hold on!”

When Amy hit the hard wet sand her speed picked up and she ran into the surf until she was knee deep and placed Maci under the water. She stayed there cradling her until Maci’s body grew to fifteen feet, and took the shape of a Great White Shark and swam away towards the crust of the waves. Amy walked back to the shore and collapsed on the wet sand and caught her breathe.

“Not just any shark, right? A great white? Of course she did. Of course she did!” she said to herself. And then she waited.

After an hour she noticed the surfers frantically swimming to shore and one of them yell “Shark!”

Amy stood up. “Maci, little girl, what did you do?!” she said to herself.

Amy ran towards the surfers that had already reached the shore and approached one of them who was trying to catch his breathe.

“Hey, hey. What happened? What’s happening? One of you said shark.”

The surfer looked at Amy. “We were crusting, and this great white started shifting between me and my bro as we caught white top and we were like ‘bro, that’s a shark’ and I was like ‘bro, we better twist it back’, you know? Bro, that’s a big fish you know?”

Amy instantly regretted asking him anything.

“Did it bite anyone?”

“Nah, but you know what, when I fell off my board I saw it coming towards me, I was like ‘no, bro, I ain’t getting eaten’, but it swam by me, looked into my eyes and smiled at me with like a big grin, I ain’t even lying, bro, the shark didn’t even hurt me it just smiled like it was saying ‘sup, bro’” The surfer was smiling at the absurdity of what just happened to him, not able to believe it, he was also starring at Amy.

See the Pen Scene 7 by plantmonsterstudios.com (@Plantmonster) on CodePen.

Amy’s head hurt from the conversation and she was looking for Maci, by now all the surfers had come on shore and were trying to look for the shark. One of them spotted her dorsal fin and pointed. Amy noticed he was pointing in the direction where she had originally placed Maci and she began running towards her. The surfer she was talking to yelled for her: “Hey, can I get your number?!” and Amy, without stopping or looking behind her said: “Nope”

When Amy approached the surf she saw Maci swimming towards her. But she also saw a fleet of Coast Guards Boats quickly approaching. When she looked down, she saw Maci had surfaced in her human form, she picked her up with eyes on the coast guard and said: “ok, time to go, come on.”

She ran back with Maci in her arms till they reached the car, she put Maci in the backseat and buckled her seat belt then drove home, this time stopping at every red light and keeping seventy-five miles on the freeway.

That night Amy knew she had to discuss with Maci what Rogets and Byers had implored her to talk about. She had to be stern with Maci about what she could and could not do.

“Momma. I can’t love anymore if I can’t be animals.” Maci said.

This broke Amy’s heart but she told Maci certain animals will get her in trouble and that some people will try to take her away from her.

“Bad People, Mommy?”

“Yes, baby, bad people.”

“Mommy, but why? I’m a nice person.”

Amy just couldn’t bring herself to tell her daughter that the world is a mean place, that people do things that aren’t nice and that Maci was so special that people would try and take that away from her. She couldn’t articulate that when people get older they lose themselves in regret, bitterness, fear, and anger. But she was able to tell her that she was her beautiful and special child. And that she was a gift to the world.

“Baby-girl, never lose your sweetness, never lose your love of life. Never become mean and angry, because it only gives power for others to take away your light. I love you so much.” Amy said as she embraced her daughter. Maci smiled as Amy held her hand and led her to bed.

Amy tucked Maci in and read her a story about a boy named Caetano who dreamed of being able to fly, and one day he climbed the highest mountain and caught the wind in a glass jar. He spoke to the wind every night asking it for help so he could fly, and the wind said that it must be released from the jar, it must be able to be free in order to help the boy. So Caetano climbed the highest mountain and released the wind from the jar. But the wind left without helping the boy fly. Caetano sat on that mountain and cried feeling betrayed but the wind came back and said to the boy. ‘Little boy, you cry because you can’t fly but smile that you can touch the ground. One day, I promise, many years from now, I will come back for you and we will fly forever. I promise. And that day came, many years later, many years after the boy cried on that mountain top, he lay and told the wind he was ready and fly they did. They flew forever.

See the Pen Scene 9 by plantmonsterstudios.com (@Plantmonster) on CodePen.

After she finished reading the story, and kissed her sleeping daughter good night, Amy went to the living room and looked at the empty frame that once held her mother’s picture. Her mom looked radiant in that photo, it was taken during happier times in her early twenties and she remembered her mom being a knock-out beauty. She missed her on nights like this, when she was clueless about what to say to Maci, clueless about certain parenting decisions, when she was lonely, confused, needed someone to talk to. She wanted her mom to be there, to support her. But she was gone. She knelt down on the carpet and sobbed.

“Mom, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry. I miss you so much. So much. Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?! Why? I was your daughter, I had a right to know! I need your help, I don’t know how to do this without you, you could’ve been there for me, I could’ve been there for you! I needed your help and your advice. I needed your damn help!”

“you’re doing just fine” Amy heard in a soft whisper that came from behind her. She stood up and was about ready to give Maci and ear-full but when she turned around, there in the living room, with her long black hair, blouse, and summer skirt, was her mother, and in her right hand she held the missing photo from the frame. Laura smiled at her daughter.

“Mom?” Amy quivered still trying to process what she was seeing. When Maci was born and she learned of her gift, nothing was surprising anymore: the world was magical, whimsical, and enchanting. But she couldn’t conceive of reason why her dead mother was appearing before her.

“Mom?” Amy said again, tears streaming down her face.

“Yes child, it’s me. Well, some of me” Laura lifted the picture in her hand to show Amy.

“Maci? Maci are you in there? You, you…took the photo?”

“She did and yes she is me, she took the photo after I died, she was hurt, as are you and she wanted me to see you one last time.”

Amy ran to her mother, embraced her tightly, and sobbed in her chest.

“ Now, now, child.” Laura said as she lifted Amy’s face.

“Mom, I’m so sorry I said what I said, I’m so sorry I was difficult, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you ‘I loved you’ enough. I needed you but didn’t know how to ask, I always wanted you to be proud of me.” Amy was desperately trying to finish her sentences but couldn’t because her mouth was full of her own tears.

Laura kept smiling at her daughter, she brushed away her tears with her hand and then brushed back strands of hair behind her ears.

“Amy, my sweet sweet girl. You are the best thing that ever happened to me and I’m sorry I never told you. I never told you that you were perfect and you are. I never told you that you were a prize and you are. I never told you just how proud of you I was. I never told you that my only reason for living was hearing you laugh. Seeing those cosmic eyes of yours looking at me was enough to make me want to live forever. The face you made when you pouted or cried. The face you made when you were proud. The face you made when you were dancing and happy. The face you made when Maci was first put into your arms. The face you made when she first called you mom and me grandma. I never told you enough just how much I love you and that you are the best mom I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. You live your life for your daughter, everything you do is to make sure her days have more smiles than tears. You are the mom I wish I was for you. And I love you so so much.”

Both mothers embraced and cried. Amy could smell the lavender mist spray from Bath and Body Works her mother always wore. She could feel her warmth and the rise of her chest when she breathed. She was real to her now. Amy looked up at her mother and said: “Mom, I love you and I was lucky to be your daughter, I don’t want you to go, please don’t go.”

Laura kissed her daughter’s forehead and lifted her chin.

“Sweety, I have to go. But listen to me.” Laura’s face became stoic and her voice held a tremor of concern. “They are coming for Maci. Those men. They are coming for her. You must leave.”

Amy’s motherly instincts took hold and she wiped the tears from her face, just then she saw flashing lights through the living room window. She went in for a closer look and saw three government issued SUVS with flashing red and blue lights, and then she saw Rogets and Byers exit the first one.

She turned back around to address her mom but she only saw Maci, laying on the ground with the photo of Laura clutched tightly in her hand.

Amy went to Maci and kissed her forehead. “Baby-girl, you did that for me? You gave me my mom?” Maci, was having a hard time breathing and it dawned on Amy that Maci had never had two transformations in one day or was able to do it so quickly. Maci’s body was having a harder time recovering.

“Ok, baby-girl, we have to go. Remember those bad men I told you about? They are here” She lifted Maci up but froze there in the living room acknowledging that she had no place to take her. They couldn’t go out the front door because Rogets and Byers were there, and there were men out  back because she heard Pirate barking. She immediately took Maci to her room and sat her on the bed. She shook her to try and get her attention but Maci was weak and couldn’t focus.

“Baby, baby, please listen. Those men are coming and they are going to take you away. You need to change into something small, like a flea, or a fly or an ant. Anything baby. Please baby, you must.” Maci saw the pictures scattered across the room and grabbed them and held some in front of Maci’s face.

“Here, baby, here. A bee. You need to be a bee. Please baby, please! We have no time!”

Amy heard a knock on the front door and then a voice.

“Mrs. Harolds, open the door. We are sorry it must be this way, but a shark? We warned you. Now, don’t make this difficult.” Rogets said

Amy was still trying to convince Maci to do something.

“Maci. Listen, we have no time, please baby-girl I can’t lose you too. Please! You can be anything, be a worm, be a bird and fly out the window. Please, BE anything!”

Maci turned to her mother, her eyes piercing and beautiful.

“I don’t want to be anything anymore, mommy. I just want to be your daughter. Forever.”

Amy stared at her daughter and put her head against hers.  Amy wanted to be good at life, she wanted to be proud, she wanted to live a full life of accomplishments but at that moment she realized she succeeded in doing what she wanted to do most of all– raise a daughter that was full of love.

“You were always, and will always be my daughter, my life. “

Amy heard the door crash open, she hid Maci under the covers and went out to confront Rogets and Byers. When she walked out of Maci’s room, they were in the living room. Rogets looked at her.

“Mrs Harolds, please don’t make this difficult. We warned you. We won’t harm her, but we need to take her, we promise she will be returned to you.”

“You won’t touch her. I swear if you try, I’ll kill you” Amy said standing guard in front of Maci’s room.

Byers put his hand on his hip under his jacket which revealed a holster, when Amy looked back at Rogets, he had done the same thing, and they were both walking slowly towards her. Maci’s room was directly across the kitchen and Amy was standing between the cabinets and the doorway to her room. She reached over, opened a drawer, and took out a steak knife and held it up.

“Not my daughter. I won’t let you take my daughter!” Amy yelled.

Rogets and Byers kept slowly walking towards Amy.

“Put the knife down. Now where is she?” Rogets said.

“She’s not here” Amy said frantically.

“I don’t believe you, now put the knife down.” Rogets said still approaching.

“Stay back!” Amy yelled.

“Mommy, are those the bad men?” Maci yelled from her room. Amy rolled her eyes not believing her daughter was so innocent as to not understand the danger of her situation. Rogets and Byers saw Amy was distracted and rushed her, Byers disarmed her of her knife, Rogets held Amy’s arms behind her back but not before she kicked Byers in the groin. He immediately fell down in pain. Other agents came into the house restraining Amy leaving Rogets free to go into the room and find Maci, but when he did, she wasn’t there. He looked under the bed, in the closet, and saw nothing but the pictures Amy had spread across the bed earlier in the morning when she was lecturing Maci. He came out of the room, and by now, agents had sat Amy on the sofa with her hands cuffed.

Rogets appeared frustrated.

“Mrs. Harolds, where is your daughter?”

Amy was relieved that Maci had transformed into something and couldn’t be found.

“We will find her. Tonight. We have forensics here with blacklight and ultra sensors that will pick up on the smallest movements. Your daughter can be a tick, or a flea, and we will find her.”

Amy wasn’t impressed with his threats, she knew somehow, that Maci finally understood the danger and was gone.

“Do what you want, you won’t find her, because I don’t know where she is.”

The forensics team tried all night to uncover Maci’s whereabouts as Amy looked on nervously but they came up with nothing. The team left leaving only Rogets with his hands folded across his chest and Byers with an icepack on his balls.

“She will come back. And we will be here. We aren’t going anywhere. We will be patrolling your house twenty-four hours a day until she shows up.” Rogets said sternly.

Amy smiled at him and said “Do what you must.”

It had been two weeks since Maci disappeared and sure enough the SUVs were still parked outside her house. Amy had tried desperately to find Maci in her house and around their neighborhood. She searched trees for birds and the parks for gophers. She searched her garden for bees and grasshoppers but Maci was nowhere to be found.

One night Amy lay in Maci’s bed missing her daughter and feeling hopeless. She looked at the pictures that lay around her. She cried for her daughter, she wanted to protect her and even though she wasn’t in the clutches of Rogets and Byers, she couldn’t be certain she was ok. She noticed one of many skyline photos that Maci had lying around, then she looked at some of the others. She sat up, wiped her tears and her eyes opened wide as if she just discovered a deeply hidden secret. She began scrambling for all the skyline pictures of buildings, the desert skies, the pictures of starry nights over the ocean and when she assembled at least twenty of them she put them on Maci’s bed spread out and looked at them.

Every single picture had one common. A bright full lit moon. Amy put her hand over her mouth in disbelief. “I love you to the moon and back.” she whispered to herself.

She ran over to the window and there she saw, in the beautiful dark night sky, a beautifully charming full moon. The moon looked exceptionally stunning that night as she looked at it. Amy’s eyes were welling up with tears and she smiled hoping Maci was smiling back.

“I love you to the moon and back, little girl.  Come back to me soon.” Amy said.

And in a soft whisper, like a gentle hum, she heard the moon say back: “I love you to the moon and forever, mommy.”

See the Pen Scene 12 by plantmonsterstudios.com (@Plantmonster) on CodePen.

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