A short story for children I wrote for my Writing for Young People class
I woke in a cold sweat, stuck to the bed sheets and my heart thumping so fast and my throat closed so tightly I thought I might be having a heart attack. I took long, slow breaths in a desperate attempt to calm my racing pulse. I squeezed my eyes shut to stop the colours swirling around my vision. It took nearly five minutes for my heart to settle down. Tears prickled by eyes and I swallowed hard. It was over. I’d be okay.
I caught a bus to school. I wouldn’t normally, but my parents were both too busy to drive me. Mum had an early morning meeting and dad was nearly ready to leave by the time I was down for breakfast. At the bus stop I considered turning around and getting back into bed, missing school and pretending to be ill, but the bus arrived before I could build up the courage. I hid myself at the back and gazed out, fiddling with my bag straps. Something between the seats stank of mould.
I spent most of the school day with my head down, sitting at the back of class and staying quiet around my friends at lunch. Rain began to spit down, then got heavier until it slammed against the windows like it was slamming against my own head. I dropped by the nurse’s office for a quick check up, but was met with a brief explanation of new regulations that meant that nurses couldn’t actually do anything besides offer an ice pack. I spent the rest of the day with a sour taste in my mouth.
It was still raining at the end of the day, the dirty rain soaking through my clothes and mud splattering my shoes. I had my bus ticket out when one of the other kids shoved into me with a forced “sorry dude”. I fell to the ground and my ticket landed in a muddy puddle. I didn’t even care that my palms were shredded up from the gravelly pavement, just that my ride home was gone. Totally soggy and mud-stained like the thin papery bus pass. I could hear them laughing as I pulled myself up.
I rang my mother, holding the phone against my ear and trying not to think about how much my hands stung.
“Can you pick me up? I lost my bus ticket,” I lied, it wasn’t worth telling her what happened.
“You know I can’t. Take some responsibility for your actions and walk home. It’s hardly that far and it’ll do you some good.”
She hung up on me with a muffled click. I stood silently in the rain for a few minutes, my hair hanging in wavy locks over my face and clinging to my neck. I pocketed my phone and started to walk. In my head I could hear my doctor’s stern, disapproving voice, “Your muscles are too weak,” “Don’t strain yourself,” “Remember to care for yourself”. I wiped the rain from my eyes. Some of it was hot.
I had to pause after a few minutes of walking, my calves burning like I’d been marching up hill. I leaned down slowly, careful not to strain anything, and rubbed the back of my leg in the hopes of easing off the pain. Beneath my fingers I could feel the malformed muscle, twisted and small under my palm. I grit my teeth and took a slow breath, before starting to move again.
It took me over an hour to get home, reaching nearly two hours with the amount of times I had to stop and rest my legs. My chest felt like someone had squeezed me into a massive rubber tube, my lungs struggling to get air in. I sat outside my front door for a few moments, wheezing. The rain was harder now, the weather colder. I cursed myself for not bringing a coat.
That night something woke me from my sleep. The room was silent, even the weather outside had fallen to a still. I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. I opened my eyes and nearly jumped out of my skin in shock. The silhouette of a woman was standing at the end of my bed, a shadow against the open window. The only thing I could make out were her eyes, huge and glowing like candles that flickered every time she blinked.
I sat up as she approached me, and when her arms reached out I found myself falling into her embrace. I was weightless as she lifted me, my limbs loose and my torso curled against her shoulder. Her arms were thicker than two of mine put together.
I became aware as she carried me that the metal chest plate she was wearing was cold beneath my skin, sending shivers through me. It only got worse when she carried me out of the window and into the garden, landing safely on the grass. The breeze was low, but there was still a chill in the air. All the hairs on my skin stood on end.
The experience was short lived, however, when I saw what was in the garden. A gargantuan horse, nearly the size of a tank, was standing there. Its hooves were about the size of my head and its head the size of a badger. It began to approach, huge hooves hitting the ground with a dull stamp. I tried to curl away from it, but the woman moved me so it could breathe a huff of warm air onto my face.
It lowered its great head and pressed its forehead to my own. I felt a wave of calm flow through me, and my eyes closed despite myself. Somewhere a gentle voice spoke.
“You will be safe with us, child,” it said.
“Who are you?” I asked with what little strength I have left.
“Valkyrie,” answered the woman from somewhere far far away from where I was.
It was the last thing I heard before I blacked out.