Bernadette dragged Alice towards the Ferris wheel. Alice looked up and worried at being so high. She stopped and jarred her friends arm.
“Oh, come on Alice its fun. You can see the whole valley from up there.”
Reluctantly Alice began walking again and gripped Bernadette’s hand tightly.
“If I want to get off will they let me?”
“Once we are on it’s not easy to get off but I’m with you. It will be fine, honestly.”
The friends sat in the swing seat and let the operator clamp a metal bar into place. Alice looked up at him. He realized the fear in her eyes and patted her arm gently.
“There’s no need to worry, it’s perfectly safe. Just enjoy the view.”
Alice thanked the man but gripped Bernadette’s hand just in case. The large wheel moved forward then stopped making the seat swing slightly.
“Ouch, Alice steady. You’ll break my hand gripping it like that. Each time someone gets on, the wheel turns a little then stops. When all the seats are full the operator will set it on its turn. Loosen up.”
Alice breathed in sharply and made a conscious effort not to squeeze Bernadette’s hand so hard. Her other hand gripped the bar tightly.
“Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to Frank’s Ferris wheel. Enjoy your ride.”
At the operators announcement, Alice turned backwards to see him several feet below her. He gave her a wink and nodded. She returned with a watery smile then looked forward at the tops of the stalls and other rides. The wheel began ascending and Alice could see the tops of the trees and the mountains in the distance. She began to relax as the view amazed her. By the time they reached the highest point Alice was relaxed enough to let go of Bernadette’s hand but not the metal bar.
Alice was full of her experiences and her lips sticky with cotton candy by the time she returned to her aunt and uncle’s home. As she talked about the rides, they sat watching her smiling. She relayed her fear of the Ferris wheel to start with but how being up so high made her feel like a bird and she enjoyed it so much she persuaded Bernadette to go back on three more times.
“You obviously had a super time, my dear. Maybe you should run a bath and get unstuck before supper. But by the looks of your lips, you could be too full of cotton candy to need supper!”
“Oh, I am hungry, Auntie. I only ate one candy I promise.”
“Off you go then. I will make a light supper then we can go for a walk in the dell.”
Alice lay in the hot water playing with the scented bubbles reliving her fun day at the fair. Her eyes began to close with tiredness and the soothing water. Click, click, clickety, click. Alice sprung up so fast water sloshed over the bath’s rim onto the floor. She spun around and looked around the bathroom fearing the monster was behind her. She was alone but certainly didn’t feel alone. Her fear made her step out of the bath quickly. She grabbed a towel and rushed from the room, her wet footprints marking the wooden floor. As her head turned toward the bathroom, sure the monster would race after her, she bumped straight into Uncle Gregor. They both let out a cry in shock.
“Whatever…Alice what is going on?”
“I heard it again, Uncle that sound.”
“Sound what sound, where? What are you talking about?”
“That clicking sound, I heard it in my nightmare last night.”
“I don’t hear a clicking noise, Alice. Where is it?”
“It’s in the bathroom. Uncle, please can you go and look?”
Alice stood on the landing afraid to move while her Uncle entered the bathroom. She imagined a furious beast attacking him, her poor Uncle fighting it off but failing. His smiling face and gently shaking head did not match her imagined scenario.
“All I saw were lots of bubbles and water all over the floor but no monster, Alice. Come now get dried and come down for your supper.”
Not wanting to enter the bathroom again, Alice turned to her bedroom where she dried herself and dressed in her pajamas and gown before joining her uncle and aunt in the kitchen. The smell of steaks and baked potatoes filled the room, her stomach rumbled. The meat was thickly cut and tangy with an unfamiliar spice.
“This tastes great, Auntie, what kind of spice did you use?”
“It’s my own blend, my dear. It’s taken me years of experimenting to get it just right. I’m glad you like it, I thought it might be too spicy for you.”
Alice saw her uncle’s grin grow wider as a dribble of steak juice ran down his chin. She passed him a napkin but he inhaled deeply and the stream of juice returned to his mouth.
“Wow, that’s clever, Uncle Gregor, how do you do that?”
“Ummm…I’m not sure, I’ve always been able to do it.”
Alice noticed her aunt frown at him but assumed she was unhappy with his table manners. To confirm this auntie admonished him when he belched loudly.
“In some countries belching after a meal is seen as a compliment to the chef, Auntie.”
“Well it isn’t here, my dear. I find it so rude and disgusting. Your uncle should be a good role model to you not a bad one.”
Uncle Gregor placed a napkin over his mouth and burped into it glancing at his wife as he did so with raised bushy eyebrows.
“Well that is better, Gregor. Now if you have both finished I have an errand to run. Can you clean up please?”
Alice and Gregor nodded their agreement as Cattrine left the kitchen. They soon heard her boots on the tiled hallway floor and she called out a farewell before leaving and closing the front door behind her.
“Where is Auntie going at this time of night, Uncle?”
“She’s…ummm…visiting a friend. She won’t be long. Let’s get these plates washed then we can sit by the fire.”
With the chores complete and the kitchen clean and tidy, Alice followed her uncle into the living room. She watched him build up the fire, placing tinder among the ashes first then gradually laying larger logs on top.
“Why don’t you find that book we were reading the other night, Alice?”
She turned to the bookcase behind her to scan the shelves. Gregor’s fingers flexed, a flame sparked from their tips. With the fire lit, he stood and turned to find Alice wide eyed and motionless staring at him.
“How did you do that? There were flames on your fingers.”
He shuffled his feet and looked down. After coughing, he spoke.
“Flames on my fingers, whatever are you talking about I used a couple of matches, my girl. Come and sit down.”
“I couldn’t see any matches, Uncle. Is it a magic trick?”
“Really, Alice, it’s not a trick and I did use matches. Now stop this nonsense and sit down.”
Alice frowned and shrugged her shoulders. Maybe I was wrong but I don’t think so. By the time Cattrine arrived home, Alice was in bed and Gregor was pacing the kitchen floor admonishing himself. As soon as Cattrine entered the kitchen, he took her hand and dragged her to the pantry.
“Whatever…Gregor, stop tugging me. What’s happened?”
“She saw…me with the fire. What do we do? I told her she was mistaken but I don’t know if she believed me.”
“I leave you for a couple of hours and you’re in trouble. Oh, Gregor really what should I do with you? Tell me everything.”
Gregor relayed the evening’s event then stood shamefaced in front of his wife, clicking his claws.
“You have to be careful, Gregor, I told you that. If she suspects or sees too much before its time, it could have drastic consequences. Leave it to me; I will put her mind at ease that she was imagining things. Now come outside and help me carry all the supplies in from the cart.”
They trod quietly as they carried in several loads from the cart into the pantry and stacked everything in the large fridge before sliding the false wall into place.
“Do you think its time we told her, Cattrine?”
“No, Gregor it’s too early, besides she is eating the meat happily so the change is imminent. Best we wait for her to notice instead of forcing it on her.”
“Maybe you are right, my dear.”
Gregor’s next sentence was cut short as Alice’s scream echoed through the house. Cattrine and Gregor raced up the stairs and pushed open Alice’s bedroom door. She sat on the edge of her bed staring at her hands as they contorted grotesquely. Her eyes full of fear and incomprehension looked up pleading with her guardians to help.
“Its time, Cattrine, I’ll get the potions. Stay with Alice.”
“Alice, dear, don’t fight it, it will be easier that way. I’m sure you have a thousand questions but for now we can help make the transition easier.”
“What are you saying, Auntie, transition?”
Alice watched her skin bubble and long spikes protrude from her fingertips, as her knuckles grew knobbly.
“We are different from other people, my dear. We have two forms, one human and one…”
“One what, Auntie, what is happening to me?”
“When you come of age the hidden form shows itself. That’s why we took you in. Your parents left instructions you were to be under our care if something happened to them.”
“My parents were the same? This other thing, this other form?”
“Yes, exactly, Alice they were. You need not be frightened Uncle Gregor and I will help you and show you how to reform. For now, you should relax and let it happen. The first time is always difficult.”
Her aunt sat beside her soothing her head even as it changed shape. Elongating at the back and widening at the jaw. Alice moaned, screamed and pleaded for her aunt to stop it happening as the form grew within her forcing itself outward. Uncle Gregor gave her sips of an amber liquid as her aunt mopped her sweating brow ridge, as it grew outward. The pain began to subside and Alice kept her eyes tightly shut, afraid to see what she looked like.
“You need to see, Alice. Open your eyes.”
“I can’t Uncle Gregor, I’m too afraid.”
“Once you get used to it you will find your new form has its benefits. Do you want Auntie and me to change? Would that help you feel better?”
“Oh, Uncle I don’t know. Are you both as scary as that monster in my dream?”
“Oh yes, we should have told you…that was you in the dream. It is a precursor to the change. It gave us time to prepare for your form shift, like making the potion and other things to help.”
“That’s what I look like now? Oh, Auntie, I can’t look, it was so scary.”
“My dear, you are not scary to us and you will soon find out what fun you can have with your new form and its powers.”
“I have powers, what kind of powers?”
“Well until you accept yourself we have no idea. Each of us is different.”
“What powers do you have, Auntie?”
“It is easier to show you, Alice. Why not open your eyes and then we can show you bit by bit.”
Alice felt her aunt’s hands gently wrap hers and she cautiously opened her eyes. She was relieved to see they were still in human form.
Let’s just sit for a while, Alice and you can look at your new form slowly. Maybe you should look at your hands first? Alice slowly lowered her head to look at the new-clawed paws lying in her lap. Her skin was a soft mauve color and glistened. She raised one paw and turned it this way and that. The paw was leathery in texture with bulging knuckles and elongated spikes at the tip. Her pajamas were ripped open revealing large and muscular legs and clawed paws instead of feet.
“How do you feel, Alice? Are you up to seeing the rest of you in the mirror?”
“I’m wary of seeing my face, Uncle. Am I atrocious?”
Her Uncle and Aunt looked at each other and Alice realized how rude she had been.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it like that…this is new to me and difficult to understand. Can you hold my hand…ummm…paw, Auntie?”
“Of course I can, Alice. I only hope you can accept what you see. The new you and the forms your Uncle and I become. Shall we wait for you to say the word on our revealing ourselves?”
“Yes, maybe that’s best. I need to get used to the new me, first.”
Aunt Cattrine stood up with Alice and walked her towards the full-length mirror. Alice stumbled on her new paws. They felt different to normal feet but stronger more powerful. Keeping her head lowered until they stood in front of the mirror, Alice took a deep breath and raised her head. The image reflected was of a mauve beast with purple eyes, a long jaw and wide shoulders. There was no sign of the usual Alice.
“Catch her, Cattrine, she’s going to faint.”
Alice opened her eyes feeling her Uncle large hand holding hers. He was sitting on the edge of her bed with concern on his face. He called out when he saw her open her eyes.
“She’s awake, Cattrine.”
Alice heard her Aunt’s footfalls on the stairs. She was carrying a tray with a bowl on it and a small dark brown bottle.
“Thank goodness. You gave us quite a shock, Alice. How do you feel?”
“Dizzy but okay, I suppose. What happened?”
“You fainted, that’s what happened. Let me help you sit up but come up slowly.”
Her uncle’s strong arm raised her from the pillow then he fluffed up a couple more pillows before guiding Alice downward again. Her aunt spooned a warm broth into Alice’s mouth and as the liquid slid down her throat, Alice felt a cooling sensation.
“I’ve never eaten anything like this before, Auntie. What is it?”
“A herbed soup to help settle your muscles, the first change makes them ache. Now I want you to stick out your tongue, I am putting a couple of drops of potion on it. This will ease your bones.”
“Are you up to seeing yourself now, Alice? We don’t have a lot of time before you will change back. If you would rather not that’s perfectly fine too.”
“I think I should look, Uncle. Both of you know what this change is all about and the sooner I look the sooner I can begin to accept it.”
“That’s my girl. I’ll help you to the mirror.”
Alice’s uncle supported her arm as she hobbled over to see her reflection. Alice viewed her new form initially with shock but gradually became inquisitive, turning her body side to side to view the many new projections and forms her body had produced. Her aunt and uncle stood behind her waiting for the questions they knew would flood from Alice’s enquiring mind.
An hour later, Alice stood in front of her guardians in amazement. Their forms were similar to hers but different. Her uncle was even larger and had multiple ridges on top of his elongated head. His jaw was immense with long fangs and a forked tongue. His claws curved with razor sharp edges and his legs bent backwards enabling him to spring upward twenty or thirty feet in a single bound. Her aunt was smaller and had softer ridges on her head but her eyes were the focus of Alice’s interest. They were bright gold and three times as large as normal human eyes. Catterine explained that she could see in the dark as if it was daylight. Alice was curious to know what her power was and inspected her reflection hoping to see a clue to it.
“There will be time to explore your power, Alice but we should reform and go to bed now, it is late.”
“I suppose so, Auntie but how do I reform?”
“Just do as we do, Alice. Ready?”
Alice mimicked her uncle and aunt as they shrugged their shoulders, stretched their limbs and breathed deeply. She could feel her body change and soften, the mauve tinge to her skin diminished and the ridges on her forehead disappeared. Her pointed claws shrunk back into fingers and feet.
“How do you feel, Alice? Do you need more healing potion?”
Alice moved her arms and legs and moved her head side to side. Her whole body had a dull ache but not the pain she expected.
“I do ache a bit, Auntie but not as much as I thought I would. Is that good or bad?”
“Oh, that is good, Alice. Some Graffians experience a lot of pain the first few times they reform. Maybe take a few drops to settle you for the night?”
“What was that name, Uncle?”
“How silly of us we never mentioned it. We are called Graffians, a unique and magical being.”
“You certainly are, Alice. Each of us develops a power and it is our quest to use it wisely.”
Uncle Gregor held up his hand as Alice opened her mouth to ask another question.
“You have enough to take in for tonight, Alice. Let’s wait until tomorrow for more answers. I for one am tired and would like to sleep.”
Alice nodded although her mind was bursting with questions. She couldn’t wait to tell Bernadette that she was magical. As she snuggled into bed her Aunt and Uncle smiled and turned to leave. Her Uncle turned suddenly.
“Alice, the one rule you must never break is, you can never tell anyone, and I mean anyone, what you are. Not even Bernadette, or your school friends or strangers. It may be difficult to keep this secret but to let humans know would mean certain death to us all. Do I have your solemn promise?”
Alice saw the concern and worry in her Uncle’s eyes as he spoke. She was in no doubt it was important to keep this promise above all others.
“I promise, Uncle Gregor. Would they really hurt us?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. There have been events in our time, I’m sad to say. Now please sleep well and we will answer all your questions tomorrow.”
Just as her bedroom door was closing, Alice called out.
“Will I dream of the monster…ummm form…well me tonight as well?”
“No as you have changed the dream will not return, my dear.”
Her aunt’s sweet smile reassured Alice and she closed her eyes.