The Moment Before the Flight

DSC 4810 1 72 - Sparrow Bird Commencing Flight

37, day 10.

This is a sequel to The Girl in the Spiders, although you could read this first, if you wanted.

 It is surprising how difficult it is for a spider to cling to the back of a bird in flight. I really didn’t think it would be that hard. I mean, bird feathers are covered in barbules. Spider feet are covered in setulae. It makes sense that they would stick to each other. Hell, as a salcidae, I’ve hung from the ceiling by one foot a few times. But I guess feather barbules are really only any good at sticking to each other, not errant arthropod passengers.

 Plus, have you ever tried to ride on the back of a flying bird? No, you probably haven’t. It’s hard. They don’t really have backs, exactly, not the way spiders do. Stupid vertebrate musculature. It’s annoyingly interconnected. As near as I can tell, every part of a bird except its face is involved in flapping its wings. It might be better for larger birds like eagles that don’t have to flap so much. I remember the first time I read the Harry Potter book where he flies on the hippogriff. He found all the movement under him enormously uncomfortable. I could relate. The first time I tried it was with a sparrow. Sparrows flap their wings many times per minute. It’s like all they do is flap. It sounds exhausting for the sparrow. Jason says it isn’t, really. I don’t buy it.

Lest you think I blame it all on the bird, I will say this. Spiders are not built to ride on the backs of anything, let alone flapping birds. Our setuale are great at clinging to surfaces as long as we are in complete control. Surfaces that shift under our feet are not our friends. Neither is wind that rushes over our backs and tries to tear up our feet.

 Even with all of that, I think I could have gotten it. I can do things with spider legs that regular spiders don’t think of, and Jason can do things with bird wings god didn’t think of. After a few tries, we had the relative physiology and the physics of the operation pretty well worked out. I was inside an araneus diadematus, a little orb spider, and they are skilled and intricate webbers. I built a set of little web shoes that hooked quite nicely into the barbules of the sparrow’s feathers. I crawled up around the bird’s neck. Jason worked out a way to flap his wings that didn’t disturb the region where I rested. We accounted for everything.

 Except the transnumina. We did not see that coming.

 How could we? None of us had ever experienced it before. I had no idea what I was feeling, other than that it was strange and intense and overwhelming. One moment I was in the air, exhilarated to be, for the first time, flying through the air. The next moment a thousand images crashed into my mind and bore into me like splinters of glass. No, they were more than just images. It was fully sensory, bright colored lights, layers of interwoven sound, spiky and complex mixtures of scent. Some of the sense data was twisted in some way. How could I understand, amidst the intensity, that it was fourth dimensional?  A fraction of a moment later, I was ripped apart, then shoved together in the wrong order, with some new pieces that weren’t me. Then I was ripped apart again. And reformed again. And again. I make it sound like the whole thing was sudden. It was, but it was also timeless. In the middle of the transnumina it felt like it had been happening to me forever, and would continue on long past the heat death of the universe.

 It ended with a crash of reality. My senses exploded back into normalcy. There was a a sense of severe panic that I could not get back to my human body. When I die as a spider, I am pulled back into my normal self. It feels kind of like taking a gasping breath after being underwater for too long. This was the opposite. I felt stuffed into the spider. I could still see and hear and taste with my human body, but I couldn’t move it. There was something else in there and I was trapped in this spider and I could almost feel whatever it was laughing at me, whispering at me. It only lasted a second. That second was terrible.

 Once it was over, neither Jason nor I could describe it. It was so instantaneous and so unlike any other experience that I could barely even remember it or think about it. We just knew that something had gone wrong. It took us weeks before we could even identify the phenomenon as existing at all, let alone relate it to others.

 It took us longer to figure out just what it meant, and just what it was we were tapping into.

 I’m getting ahead of myself. I know I’m not telling this stuff in order, exactly. But there should be some kind of order.

 Whatever Anton might have said, it took almost three months before I met another body-switcher. It frustrated the hell out of me, but it was probably a good thing. At least, for Anton. Whether it was a good thing for me or not I can only speculate. If I didn’t know how spectacularly non-manipulative Anton was, I would have suspected him of doing it on purpose. At the time, I did think that. I didn’t tell him that, though. That would have been mean. Well, maybe I did tell him. Once or twice.

 “You are doing this on purpose!” I accused him one day while we were waiting for the bus home from school. I leaned my chin on his shoulder as I said this. At the accusation, he pulled away and looked at me with exasperation. He wasn’t very good at being leaned on. Not yet.

 “Again with that!” he said. “That’s all you ever say. Day after day after day.”

 “I’ve only know you for a three weeks,” I said.

 “Is that all? It feels way longer.”

 I hit him on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t keep saying it if it wasn’t true.”

 “It’s not true!”

 “You said I could meet Jason the first day we met, when we were alone in the music room together.”

 A guy standing next to us looked at us. In our school, “alone in the music room” had a very specific meaning. Anton cringed. I giggled at him. He was so easy.

 “Well?” I said.

 “What do you want me to do? Jason is a hard guy to meet up with. He’s always busy, or something.”

 “Tell him it’s important.”

 “Important to you, maybe.”

 I glared at him. “It’s not important to you? You said it was. You told me.”

 Anton’s expression softened. “No, I mean, I didn’t mean…” he sighed. “Of course it is. But Jason does a lot of stuff. I mean, he works, and everything. I’m not, like, his boss. I can’t just snap my fingers and make him come hang out with us. Does that make sense?”

 “I guess so.”

 “I’m working on it. I really am. It’s just…”

 “You don’t want to bug him,” I conceded.

 “Yes. Thank you. Can we talk about something else?”

 “Fine,” I said. Under my breath I muttered, “usted está haciendo esto a propósito.”

 Anton furrowed his eyebrows. “Is that Spanish?” I rolled my eyes. “Wait, is that Spanish for ‘you are doing this on purpose?’”

 “It might be.”

 “Jesus Christ!” he threw his arms up in the air. “Seriously? Are you seriously not letting this go.”

 I laughed, probably a little harder than I should have. I grabbed his arms and pulled them down. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” I said, still laughing. “Put your arms down. You look ridiculous.” He did so. “We can talk about whatever you want.”

 He took a breath. “What about Friday?”

 I shifted on my feet. “I’m still thinking about it.”

 “I wouldn’t ask,” he scratched the back of his head, “except I have an extra ticket, and…”

 “I said I’m still thinking about it.”

 It was kind of cute, watching Anton struggling to try to ask me out. If that was, in fact, what he was doing. I couldn’t be sure. It’s not like it had ever happened to me before. But I didn’t really want a boyfriend. At least, that’s what I told myself. There was plenty of time for that later. I had more interesting things to do. It made a lot of sense when I thought about it while hanging from walls. Humans have no clarity of thought. We’re just too complicated. In fact, I had no idea what I wanted. But…Anton? He just wasn’t…I didn’t know what he wasn’t. I didn’t know what he didn’t have. Whatever it was, he definitely didn’t have it.

 Before I knew it, I was spending an awful lot of time with Anton. At lunch, I sat with him and his friends. That annoyed Matty, but she followed me anyway. Her friends practically ruled the school. Her social standing wasn’t really at much risk, even if she ate lunch with a bunch of geeks. Mostly she worried about my social standing. She thought I could be one of the cool kids if I would just put in the effort. That was pretty funny. I kept telling her it was a lost cause. A few months before I wouldn’t have felt secure enough to say that.

 It turned out that Anton and I rode the same bus home, so we started sitting together. Sometimes he came over to my house and we did homework together even though he was a grade older than me and we didn’t have any of the same classes. I helped him with his math, which he was hilariously bad at for someone in mostly honors classes. He helped me with history, which I found dreadfully dull. It was more interesting to hear him talk about it than to read the textbook. He seemed to have the whole thing memorized. My mom was surprisingly cool with the whole “having a boy over” thing, although she definitely kept the situation monitored. My sister Jan – who at eleven years old already had a “wife” in the form of her best friend Tula – thought it was awesome. At one point, she cornered Anton and told him that he had better start kissing me or else there would be “consequences.” Anton was so embarrassed and weirded out by it that it was years before he told me. All I knew was that he came back from a particularly extended bathroom break with his eyes glued open, muttering “your sister is crazy.” That was such an obvious statement it required absolutely no explanation.

We hung out in body-switched form as often as we could, me as a spider and him as a lizard. It was weird to me that he could not switch to a lizard and operate his human body at the same time. He went sort of comatose. It freaked me out the first time I saw it, because his eyes stayed open. It made him look like a zombie. One that just sat there, and showed very little interest in brains. His friends and family, none of whom knew about his power, thought that he sometimes slept with his eyes open. Apparently people do that. I wonder how many of them are secretly body-switchers.

“My eyes are open because I can see out of them,” Anton explained to me after I saw it the first time.

“You can?” I asked.

He nodded. “I can’t really pay attention to anything I see with my human eyes while I’m a lizard, though. It’s like I see it but I don’t really see it.”

“So you didn’t notice when I took my shirt off earlier?” Anton goggled at me, and I burst out laughing. Having a boy for a friend was awesome. “What’s the point of seeing out of them if you can’t pay attention?”

He shrugged. “I can if it’s important. Like, if something bad happens.”

“Something bad?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Like if a baseball flies at your head or something?”

“Yeah,” he repeated. “And other stuff.” His voice tensed up. I wanted to ask “what other stuff,” but I didn’t. I dropped it.

It was years before I learned about the fire, and just exactly where his mother was.

I tried to make fun of Anton for his inability to operated his human and lizard bodies at the same time. I really did. It was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t long before I learned my switching ability had a limitation, too. One I didn’t even know about. We were sitting in his room. I was helping him review for his chemistry test, and I asked him a question.

“A few miles,” Anton answered.

“A few miles?” I sputtered. “How many is a few?”

He shrugged. “Fifteen, maybe? I don’t know, exactly. Why, how far away can you switch?”

“Not that far,” I said.

“Yeah, but how far?”

“I don’t know precisely,” I said.

“I’m not surprised if it’s less far than me. Jason said my range was pretty long,” said Anton.

“Oh, right,” I said. “The mysterious ‘Jason.’ You know, I’m beginning to think he doesn’t really exist.”

“He does exist!” Anton protested.

 “Prove it,” I said. “Let me meet him.”

“I told you, I’m working on it! Jason has a lot of…” he narrowed his eyes and stared at me. “Wait a minute. You’re trying to change the subject, aren’t you.” Damn. Caught me.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Why don’t you want to tell me how far you can switch?” Because you’ll make fun of me, I thought.

“I think you’re doing this on purpose,” I said. “Trying to make me feel bad about it.”

“What? I don’t…I wouldn’t…why would I…?” I laughed.

“467 feet,” I said softly.

“Huh?”

“467 feet,” I repeated. “That’s the furthest away from my human body I’ve ever projected. I think it’s related to the carrying distance of my voice.”

“467 feet?” Anton said, biting off a laugh.

“What’s it to you, Mr. One-at-a-time? You probably can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, either.”

“Yes I can! I do it all the time!” said Anton. “Wait, exactly 467 feet? I thought you said you didn’t know precisely.”

“Of course I know precisely,” I snapped. “I’m smart, unlike some people.”

He shut up for a minute. “I wasn’t trying to make fun of you,” he said after a while.

“Yes you were. You are a jerk.”

“You make fun of me all of the time!”

I shrugged. “You do a lot of stupid things.”

“So I’m an idiot,” said Anton. “Fine, whatever. But I’m not a jerk.”

“No,” I said after a minute of silence. “I’m more of a jerk than you are.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. I punched him on the arm.

“I’m a jerk and you’re an idiot,” I said.

He shrugged. “I guess we’re good at different things.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

We went back to chemistry.

It turned out to be really convenient that he could project so far away. Once we realized we could hang out in animal form while he was home in his house and I was wherever I wanted to be, we did it a lot more often. I had no idea how much more satisfying it would be to be a spider when someone else was along for the ride. I had talked about it with Matty, and with Jan. They let me talk, and they listened. They didn’t understand. How could that? They didn’t know what it was like to look at the same object with two different optical systems. They had never walked through a crowd of people in mortal terror of being stepped on. Neither had ever bitten down on an insect with a satisfaction far deeper than any meal any human has ever eaten can provide.

Anton and I hung out in body-switched form around my house most of the time, but also at the train station again, in the forest near his house, and a bunch of other places. One time I rode my bike up to the police station, and we snuck, as animals of course, into the holding cells where they kept the criminals. While we planned it, we traded stories about the kind of horrors we expected to see inside. We didn’t see anything interesting inside – mostly I crawled around a cell while some guy polished his shoes – but just doing it was exhilarating. Anton never wanted to do anything scary or dangerous when he was a human, just like my other friends. As a lizard he was up for anything.

The only problem was he kept eating me. He claimed it wasn’t on purpose; he couldn’t help himself. If the lizard he was in was hungry, and a spider came up to him, he had to eat it. I didn’t believe him. He never ate me when something interesting was going on. Only when he was bored. Granted, it was hard to tell if he was bored as a lizard. But after a while, you start to learn someone’s…meta-body language. I could always tell which lizard was Anton even if I didn’t know in advance. I think he thought eating me was funny. He swore up and down that he didn’t. I think some things were funny to him while inside a lizard that he would not have found funny with just his boy-brain. I guess lizards have a sense of humor.

I spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Anton’s friends, too. Marcus, Quan, and Dave were pretty cool guys, even if they were ginormous geeks. Well, Marcus and Quan were cool guys. Dave was kind of a tool. They spent most of their time talking about science fiction and comics books and playing beat em up video games. I practiced until I could kick all of their asses. The only one I never surpassed was Dave. I beat him most of the time anyway. It was kind of weird. Just as he was about to beat me, he often found things crawling on him. Was it cheating? Sure, but he was a jerk who never stopped saying I sucked at games because I was a girl. Anton chided me for it on principle, but mostly he thought it was funny. Seriously, I don’t know why Anton hung out with that guy.

At school, Anton and I didn’t have any classes together, but we met in the halls between classes and during free periods whenever we could. He was a slow walker, and he tended to stop to talk to people or read posters. So I had to drag him around a lot. Everything thought it meant we were holding hands, but we totally…were. There’s no reason to deny it now. Back then I denied it with all of my being.

One day Laura Hemstock cornered me after math class. Laura Hemstock was a huge gossip and I had never liked her.

“Are you and Anton Volovich boyfriend and girlfriend?” she asked with a smirk.

“Anton is my best friend,” I said. “Anything more than that is none of your damn business.” I shoved my way past her.

That day at lunch Anton was very quiet. It wasn’t that unusual, but I didn’t care for it. The boys and I spent the whole time bashing the Star Wars prequels, which usually got Anton going. I kept trying to engage him, but he barely said anything. I even went so far as to say, “If you look at it the right way, Jar Jar Binks is actually kind of a deep character.” Anton didn’t respond, except to give me a look that said “have you gone completely insane?” It was all in the eyebrows. Anton had great eyebrows.

As lunch wound down, Anton’s friends got up to go to class.

“Ant,” said Dave, “you coming?”

“Go on ahead,” said Anton. “I’ll be there in a minute. I want to finish up.”

“Chicken nugget day,” said Dave with a knowing look. “Gotcha.”

I stayed behind with Anton. We always left together. It meant I would be late to class. But it was English class, so I didn’t care. We sat there for a few minutes. He wasn’t talking, so I took out my biology textbook and started studying cell division. When there was almost no one in the cafeteria, he turned to me.

“Am I really your best friend?” he said.

“Huh?” I blinked at him.

“It’s just, I heard from someone, that…”

“Laura Hemstock,” I said, pounding my fist into my hand.

“No, yes, maybe,” Anton stammered. He shook his head. “But, I mean, did you say that?”

“Did I say that you are my best friend?”

He nodded.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “Of course I did. You are.”

Anton looked into my eyes. I wanted to shake him. He looked so serious. “You’re mine, too. Best friend, I mean.”

“Oh,” I said.

“The best friend I ever had, probably. Maybe that sounds stupid.”

I smiled. “It does.”

“Hey!”

“I like when you sound stupid,” I said. “It makes me feel smart.” My hand gripped his, now. I didn’t know how it got there.

He grinned. “I’ll sounds stupid for you as much as you want. I’m really good at it.”

“Yeah you are,” I said softly. I leaned in closer to him.

“You’re smart enough for the both of us,” he said.

“Yeah I am.” My face was just inches from his, now. I wanted to kiss him. In that moment, I had never wanted anything more.

“Miss Moralis,” said a voice from behind us, “Mr. Volovich.”

I whipped around fast enough that I probably got whiplash. I have a neck crick that comes and goes to this day. This is probably the moment that caused it.

“Miss Johnson!” I said a little bit too loud when I saw the teacher. Stupid high school.

“Shouldn’t the two of you be in class?”

“I dunno. Should we?” I said. I shouldn’t have said it, but I was pretty pissed at her.

“What did you say?” Ms. Johnson snapped.

“She said we were just going,” said Anton, shooting me an exasperated look.

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“Get going, then,” said Ms. Johnson. So we did.

We didn’t talk about what had happened, or almost happened, for the rest of the day. On the bus ride home we mostly talked about who would win in a fight, Wolverine or Batman. We both agreed it would be Wolverine. What do you want? We were kids. That evening, he called me. I froze up when I saw who was calling. I let the phone ring a few times, and then realized how stupid that was. I was not going to be one of those girls. I picked it up.

“Hola?”

“Guess who I just got off the phone with?” Anton asked. I could hear his grin.

“What?” I said. That was not what I had been expecting.

“Can you not hear me?” he asked. “This is a bad phone. Let me switch to another one.”

“No, no, I heard you just…” but he was already gone. I groaned. I heard a few muffled noises, then a series of clicks.

“There,” he said finally, “that’s better.”

“I heard you just fine, Anton,” I said. “Now who did you just get off the phone with?”

“Jason,” he said. He paused. I took a breath. “He’s ready.”

I shrieked with excitement. Anton told me the next day that I was so loud that he dropped the phone.

“Awesome,” I said. “When?”

“Saturday,” said Anton. “He’ll come and pick us up.”

“Pick us up? He drives?”

“Yeah.”

“How old is he?”

“Nineteen.”

“Oh,” I said. For some reason, I assumed Anton’s cousin was the same age as Anton. I mentally kicked myself for being stupid.

“Make sure you get permission from your mom,” said Anton.

“To get picked up in a car by a nineteen year old boy?” I asked. “I’ll tell her I’m going to the library.”

“Oh,” said Anton. “Yeah, I guess that’s just as good. Um…where should I tell him to pick you up?”

“The library?” I said with a hint of condescension.

“Haha,” said Anton. “Duh.” He went silent. So did I. The silence grew. It started to get awkward. Suddenly I was gripped with panic at the thought that if we didn’t start talking about something, we would have to talk about the almost-kiss. I was not ready for that.

Just as I was about to speak up, Anton beat me to it. “Um, Angel? About earlier, when we…”

“What about Wolverine vs. Wonder Woman?”

“Wolverine vs. Wonder Woman?” said Anton. “What kind of fight is that? Wonder Woman would mop the floor with Wolverine. No contest.”

“Hello?” I said. “Did anyone say ‘can cut through anything?’ Logan could slice miss amazon up, and anything she dished out he would just heal.”

“Oh come on,” said Anton. “She can fly. She’s ten times as strong as him, maybe more, and she can…”

That conversation continued for two hours. I don’t remember how it ended, except I’m sure I totally won. The cafeteria incident wasn’t mentioned again.

That was a close one.

Approximately nine years and seven months later, Saturday arrived. Finally, I was going to meet the elusive Jason, another body switcher who knew more about body switching than Anton and I combined times ten. Was my whole life leading up to this moment? I thought so. It didn’t matter that a few years earlier I had thought that about the Pokemon movie.

At five minutes to eleven AM I sat on curb in front of the library, pulling the crusts of bread off of the sandwich I made for lunch and feeding them to the pigeons. I think there is a rule that says there have to be pigeons in front of libraries. The only things I had with me where the blue and green dress I was wearing and a backpack full of my favorite reference books on spiders. I don’t know why I brought the spider books. I couldn’t think of a realistic scenario in which I’d need them. I spent the whole of Friday night removing them from my backpack and then putting them back in. I hated the idea of needing them and not having them, even if I couldn’t quite think of what I might need them for. I think my logic went like this: From what little droplets of information Anton had given me about Jason, he sounded like he was super smart. I wanted to make sure he knew I was smart, too. Smart people have books. So I brought books.

At exactly eleven o’clock a junky looking blue sedan turned around the corner. By this point there was a large flock of pigeons gathered all round me. The car pulled up to the curb, and the pigeons erupted into a flurry of flapping feathers and quickly bobbing heads. I leapt abruptly to my feet and dropped my backpack. One of the smaller of my spider books flew out and slid a few feet along the curb. A nearby pigeon abruptly stopped scurrying away, turned, and grasped the book in its beak. It stumbled towards me, dragging the book along with it. I stared.

The passenger front and rear doors opened, and two people stepped out. One of them was Anton, and one of them was a tall man I had never seen before. He walked straight up to me, and extended his hand. Before I could reach out to grasp it, he spoke.

“Jason Maynard, nice to meet you. You of course are Angelia Morales. Anton has told me quite a lot about you, in fact he won’t stop talking about you, but I don’t mind. I’m just as intrigued as he is, well almost as intrigued. Sorry it took so long for us to meet, but I’ve had a lot of projects on the go I couldn’t step away from. Now that you are here there are so many things for us to try, I can’t wait to get started. I brought you a little present, it’s in the back seat. It seemed appropriate based on what Anton told me, and I know you like comic books. Not really my style, although that isn’t to say I don’t respect the medium. Anyway, we should get going. Lots to do, not so much time.” He said all of this very quickly. I grabbed his hand, and shook it. He turned away from me, sprinted towards the car, and got in.

Anton smiled weakly at me as he approached. “Now you’ve met Jason,” he said.

“That’s your cousin?” I asked. I was still a little staggered from his introdcution. “He’s not what I expected. He’s…”

“Black?” asked Anton. “Yeah, I guess my great-aunt married a black guy, and her kids mostly married black people. That whole side of the family is black. I grew up with it. It’s just normal.”

Gorgeous,” I finished. Anton eyes bulged at me.

“You think so?” Anton scratched the back of his head and shifted weight on his feet. “Jason? I mean, I don’t know, I guess…”

I bit my lower lip and nodded. “Definitely.” Something bumped into the back of my leg, and I started. I looked down. It was the pigeon. I took the book out of its mouth, and put it back into my pack. The pigeon leaped into the air and flew to land on the car. It squawked at us, and beckoned with its head. There was no mistaking what it was saying. It was something like, “get in the damn car.”

“Right,” I said, “let’s go.” We got into the car.

“You didn’t tell her I was black?” Jason leaned back from the front seat and looked at Anton when we got in. She turned to me. “Sheesh. I think he told me your shoe size. He told you I was a hermaphrodite, right?”

My jaw dropped open, and Anton said softly, “what’s a hermaphrodite?” I rolled my eyes at him.

“Wait,” I sad as something occurred to me. “You heard that conversation?” I asked. From the rooftop above us, the pigeon squawked again. Of course he had heard us. His mind was inside that pigeon. That also meant he heard me when I said he was…I blushed with embarrassment. I made a mental note not to say anything private around birds, ever again for the rest of my life.

The car’s engine sputtered to life, and for the first time I noticed there was someone else other than the three of us. Of course there was. There had to be someone driving, didn’t there? I was really not thinking today. I told myself I had to do better. I was distracted.

“Nice to meet you,” I said to the Asian woman sitting in the driver’s seat. “I’m Angel.”

“Very nice to meet you as well, Angel,” said the woman. Her voice was very gentle. She could have made one of those relaxation tapes. “I am Kim.”

“She’s been Jason’s girlfriend for years,” said Anton. I scoffed inwardly. This girl wasn’t nearly pretty enough for Jason.

Jason shook his head. “I apologize,” said Kim, “But I am not Jason’s girlfriend.”

“She never has been, big guy,” said Jason. “She helps me out with my projects. Honestly I don’t know what I would do without her. Actually I do know what I would do without her, and I don’t really like it. That’s even better. Besides, Kimi has a girlfriend of her very own. What’s her name, Marie? Maria?”

Anton’s mouth dropped open. I didn’t notice right away, because so did mine.

“Mara,” said Kim. “We are no longer together.” She did not sound sad or bothered by it. She just sounded matter of fact. But what did I know?

“I’m sorry,” I said as quickly as I could. It felt like the right thing to say. I hoped it didn’t sound forced.

“That is much appreciated,” she caught my eye in the rearview mirror, and smiled. It was warm and rich, like morning sunshine. I wondered why I had thought she wasn’t pretty.

“What time is it?” said Jason, looking at the clock. He turned to Kim. “11:04. The trip should take, what, seventy one minutes? It was eighty two minutes minutes to get from your apartment to the Seahold building, which is the same number of miles, but this trip should have fewer traffic lights. I’m going to hedge and say seventy one minutes. Anyone else have a guess? Kimi? Anton? I’ll put five dollars on it. Any takers? Anyone?”

“No thank you, dear,” said Kim. Neither I nor Anton said anything. Jason let it drop.

“Take a look at that comic book,” said Jason. “Like I said, it seemed appropriate.”

I realized I was sitting on it. I moved and pulled it out from under me. I figured it would be a copy of Spider-man, or maybe Spider-woman, or something related. To my surprise, it wasn’t. It was some kind of indie book from a publisher I had never heard of. It was called Bodicea, Queen of Knives, by someone named Juanita X. On the cover was a dark-skinned woman who looked like she could be latina. She was wearing an outfit that looked like a combination of sort of Roman or Medieval armor and biker-chick wear.

“Thanks, Jason!” I said enthusiastically. “It looks neat.”

“It was written by a friend of mine,” said Jason. “I thought a badass Mexican woman sharing bodies with the spirit of an ancient Celtic warrior queen would be right up your alley.”

“Definitely,” I said. “Thanks. You’re awesome.”

“Plus he’s gorgeous,” moped Anton under his breath. He leaned on his hand and looked out the window. “Jason,” he said after a minute, “where exactly are we going?”

Jason pointed out the front window with two fingers. “That way,” he said.

“And what is that way?” I leaned forward to look.

“Answers, Angelia, answers,” said Jason. “And, I hope, questions. Questions we haven’t even thought of yet. Is anyone else excited? I can’t speak for you guys, but I’m excited.”

That is how I met Jason and Kim. I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the years, and its relationships to the moments before and after it. I might be crazy, but I believe that even though I can move my mind into the body of a spider, I could have had a pretty normal life. I think once I got into that car, in front of that library, on that day, the normal life option was closed off forever. There was no way I could have known that then. If I had known? If current Angel could go back in time and tell my 13-year-old self all about it, would I have done anything differently?

That, sir, is a really good question.

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