5. Premonition

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The gate was just like Ash said, just like Ash herself, hard to spot. In my search for the elusive F's on the first day of school, I had come within ten feet of it without catching a whiff of its existence. Ivy snaked through the chain link and encircled the steel poles. A bright blue flower with a dark purple heart lay draped over the latch. Ten minutes had passed since the final bell rang, and the school was quiet-at least out here in the fringes. I glanced around one last time, waiting for a tall murderous figure to lean out from behind one of the buildings and expose itself. When no such thing happened, I lifted the flower gently by its stem and wiggled the latch open.

The path led down between the trees into deep green shade. Safe to say, it was not quite up to handicap code. Rocks and roots contended for space in the dirt; I never would have looked at it like that before, in those terms, but the concept of space hung over everything now, from the desks I squeezed under to the doors I pinched through. I clasped the wheels loosely as I roll-bounced down, letting the rubber skim my palms. When I wanted to nudge myself to the left, I gave a squeeze with that hand, and same with the right. The path flattened out after a dozen yards, and from that point on my arms did all the work. Quills of sunlight poked through the trees' canopy. The piney air tickled my lungs. I felt a buzz in my pocket and paused to check my phone.

Below my message to Aunt Sandy (getting a ride home from some kids don't come), I read her response: Great!

She was holding back for my sake, I knew. Playing it cool. You could always tell the big things from the small things with her. She'd treat the small things like they were big and the big things like they were small, no sweat off her shoulder. A sparrow kills itself flying against the window and she cries all afternoon; her sister and brother-in-law and nephew get chopped up in a blender and leave her me, this half person, this burden, and she drinks it all down with a smile on her face.

My mind was wandering as I came out of the woods, and for a while I couldn't figure out what was wrong. Something about the day had changed, had tipped off balance. I could feel it on my skin. An oily residue. A wrongness.

The wheels of my chair, brown from the path, wiped themselves clean in the weeds surrounding the old football field. Nature was reclaiming it. Brush littered the sidelines, and the grass reached up higher than my footrests. That grass. It looked still to me, not in the way a rock or a stick lying on the ground looks still but in the way a crouching lion does, right before it lunges. None of the field was moving, not one green blade, not even a twitch. No breeze disturbed the air. No light warmed the bleachers behind the goalposts.

That was it.

The wrongness.

I had emerged from the woods, but not the shade. Above the tree line, smoke curtained the sun.

With a shove, I pushed up over a lip of cement onto the field. Straight across was the quickest way, and across was where I wanted to be. The grass whispered against the spokes of my wheels, a thick, sandpapery shhhhhh. Goosebumps stood out on my arms. Claws dug into my stomach. They say animals can feel a quake before it happens, that there's a certain frequency their ears pick up on, a whining sound from deep below the ground. It makes them anxious, even crazy. Dogs have been known to bark for no apparent reason. To bite. It's like the earth is alive and having a bad dream, a nightmare that leaks up to infect those living on the surface.

Halfway across the field, I let go of the wheels and rubbed my hands on my thighs. My palms were itching, buzzing, like they had been resting on the hood of a revved up car. All around my chair the grass began to quiver, a strange thing, a very strange thing, considering the air was still so . . .

Still.

Suddenly my arms could not work fast enough. I could not get off the field, away from the school, fast enough. As I pumped across that trembling sea of green, underneath that smoke-swallowed sun, my eyes lifted to the mountain overlooking over the horizon and a voice chanted from somewhere deep in my skull.

Askuwheteau. Askuwheteau. Askuwheteau.

He watches.


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Author's Note:

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