Fable Page 13

“Neither did I.” She beamed, feeling glorious.

There were others who took notice of Mina’s newfound confidence. The coach even tried to convince her to go out for track. Boys started to pay attention to her, not for her looks, but for her tomboyishness—which made her one of them. Brody didn’t like the attention she was getting, and it was obvious. He kept moving her closer to him until she was playing running back.

It felt great the one time that Savannah had the football, and Mina got to rip both of the flags from her belt in rapid retaliation. Mina was so fast that she was snagging flags left and right. It was a close game. They were tied, and her team had the ball.

Brody counted down, and she ran. She heard Steve yell, “Mina’s open—toss it to Mina!”

Wait? What? OH NO! Not quite prepared, she looked up and freaked as the spiraling pigskin was coming straight toward her head. Without thinking, she reached up and confidently caught the football. Now what? Oh, yeah, run. She took off toward the end zone, both of her yellow flags still attached to her band. Frank was running toward her arm, outstretched to end her run, but no, she wasn’t going to let that happen. She pumped her legs harder and bore down the field, dodging right, then left, staying out of the reach of the other team’s defenders.

She could see it! The goal, and nothing was going to stop her. She didn’t know what was happening, but whatever it was, she liked it. Especially when she carried the football into the end zone and still had all of her flags. Mina did a little victory dance and tried to toss the ball on the ground in celebration, only for it to bounce up and hit her in the face. Yes, she was faster and stronger, but still as uncoordinated ever.

Her hands flew to her face and her swelling nose. She pulled her hand away and saw blood.

Brody was the closest to her. “Ouch! Are you okay? Do you need to go to the nurse?”

Mina rolled her eyes. Of course, he would see her act of stupidity.

Coach Beeber had caught up to them and echoed Brody’s previous statement.

“No, I don’t need the nurse, just a towel and some ice,” Mina mumbled through her bloody hand.

“I’ll escort her,” Brody announced.

“To the girls’ locker room?” Coach Beeber scoffed. “She’s a big girl, Carmichael. If she can’t find the ice pack and sit in the girls’ locker room for a spell, then I feel bad for her. Besides, there’s still ten minutes of class left.”

Brody turned scarlet. Coach Beeber turned to her. “Now, if you think you need to go to the school nurse, don’t hesitate for a moment.

Mina nodded her head in understanding and slowly jogged across the field to the gym’s blue double doors. She slipped into Coach Beeber’s office and headed to the small mini fridge. She was quite familiar with the location of the ice packs. In fact, she probably had one with her name on it. Sure enough, there was the cute bear-shaped ice pack. She grabbed it out of habit and retreated to the girls’ locker room. She sat on the bench, applying pressure, and replayed the last half hour over and over in her head. When her nose finally stopped bleeding, she decided to take advantage of the empty locker room and take a shower.

She went to the last stall, turned the hot water on, and went to her locker to pull out her regular clothes, knowing the pipes needed time to heat up. With an unnatural speed, the locker roomed filled with steam, turning the ugly fluorescent white light into beautiful halos. There was something strange about the haze. The steam sparkled and glittered like gold. It was getting hard to breathe, but never before had she seen something so beautiful and unnerving at the same time.

Mina looked at the condensation building on the mirrors and carefully ran her finger across it, leaving a clean streak of her own reflection. Her finger came away covered in gold.

“What the…?”

Her hands trembled slightly as she turned on the faucet to confirm her suspicion. At first the water sputtered out clear, but then transformed before her eyes into liquid gold. Frightened, she hastily turned the faucet off. A noise clanged over in the corner of the locker room and Mina spun around, her heart pounding so unnaturally loud even to her own ears. Something by the ceiling darted out and flew to another iron beam. It was a bird.

Her hand flew to her heart in relief. This wasn’t the first time a bird had found its way into the girls’ locker room and scared quite a few girls. They’d had the oddest animals, birds and snakes, creep in through open locker room windows. This bird was large like an eagle, but its wings glistened, reflected as if it was made of an unnatural material, and the tips were glowing like flames.

The sound of the metal shower knob cranking, followed by the silence of the previously running shower, alerted Mina to the presence of another person in the locker room, which drew her attention from the bird. The tingling building within her warned her it was Fae.

“Hello,” Mina called. “Is someone there?” No answer came forth, but she could hear the echo of boots on the cement floor. She couldn’t tell from what direction it came, though. The steam had become unnaturally thick, and the gilded haze was starting to leave trails of golden dew on her skin. She looked down, and goosebumps rose up on her arms. Mina flung open the nearest locker and reached in to grab the first object she could find to defend herself. It was a baseball bat. She’d take it.

There! She saw it. A slight movement to her left. She shifted her feet and kept the locker at her back, and tested her grip on the metal bat. Something was moving toward her out of the haze. Mina had just taken aim at the shadowy figure walking toward her when something flew from above and attacked her. Pain laced through Mina’s hand as the bat fell from her grip. She looked down and saw three bright red slashes along the top of her hand. The maniacal bird turned in the rafters and came back for another attack. Out of self-preservation and instinct, she dived and rolled out of the way.

She jumped to her feet without her weapon.

“Why, hello, dear, looking for this?” The haze had parted to reveal a man, smiling profusely while holding her baseball bat. He was good-looking, in his mid-thirties; his copper-colored hair was pulled into a ponytail. His pale skin did nothing but accentuate his haunting hazel eyes. Even in the heat of the sauna-like locker room, he wore a three-piece suit embellished with a cornucopia of golden trinkets, leather, and pockets that completed his odd ensemble, making him look a mixture of dashing and hodgepodge. But it was his hat that told her he was her midnight stalker. With the top hat and its gold feather, the silhouettes were identical.

“Who are you? And why are you following me?”

“Temple. My name is Temple, and I have a proposition for you.” He held up his gloved hand and tipped his top hat toward her. “Hear what I have to say first, and then I promise you, if you want to scream, then do so. But I think you will be extremely interested in what I have to offer.”

Mina hesitated when she saw that he held the bat and slowly took off a gloved hand and touched it, turning the aluminum bat into gold. She swallowed and then faced the stranger. So far he hadn’t made an attempt to harm her, and it wouldn’t hurt her to at least listen.

“Okay, what is it that you want?” she asked hesitantly.

“I want you to procure an item for me. That is all. Say you will get this item for me, and I will give you all of this,” he motioned to the golden bat, “and more.” He reached toward her shoulder; even his fingernails were long and golden.

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