The following week, Alice asked hundreds of questions and tested out her claws and strong legs. Her eyes did not change to gold like her aunt’s but her night vision was clearer than a humans. She did not have super strength like her uncle although she could snap thick branches like twigs. After ten days, she began to wonder if she had a power.
“Don’t fret, Alice, your power will reveal itself soon enough. Get used to your new form and learn to control the transition back and forth.”
“I am Uncle, it is becoming easier each time but a power would be so exciting.”
Alice did not mention the temptation she felt when she was at school to change and scare the bullying boys that stood at the gates every morning. Their taunting of the younger children made her angry. She knew her family would be in jeopardy if she did change form; nevertheless, she wanted to scare the cruel boys and plotted to find a way.
Nearly fifteen days after her first transition, Alice found her power. She was helping her Uncle, haul tree trunks to the cottage for firewood. Super strength made the chore easy. As her Uncle cut through another tree, the thick trunk fell onto the pile of logs. Alice was sitting on one end flexing her claws and pulling the bark off. The log was pivoted in such a way that it catapulted Alice up into the air. She screamed in shock and heard her Uncle shout out. As she flailed her arms and legs twisting this way and that, she felt her skin extending. An instinct took over and Alice extended her arms outward. A thick membrane linked her arms and legs along the sides of her body. Alice looked down to see her Uncle far below waving at her. She was flying!
Alice soared into the clouds laughing delightedly at the one power she had thought she did not want. Her guardian’s advice of all the possible powers she might develop in the early days of her transition included flight. Alice thought back to her Ferris wheel ride and how terrified she was until high on the top of the wheel, viewing the mountains and forest, her amazement and wonder took over. She flapped her bat-like wings to gain more height and rose above the clouds. The air was crystal clear and fresher than she had ever breathed. It felt right to be high and free. A voice startled her. She turned quickly, instinctively drawing her arms inward. Her body plunged downward at an alarming rate. Alice screamed as she frantically tried to stretch out her wings again. Something gripped her arm and pulled her upward. She came face to face with a young mauve being with smiling eyes and impossibly larger shoulders.
“I have you. Calm down and breathe.”
“What…who are you?”
“All in good time, for now you need to spread those perfect wings and soar again.”
Alice opened her arms and the membrane caught the wind beneath them elevating her to the clouds again. She could not see the other Graffian through the cloud cover. She called out but there was no answer. Alice headed downward to find she did not recognize any landmarks below. How far have I come? Can I find my way back? Before panic took control of her, his voice sounded beside her.
“I will guide you back home. First time flying is it?”
“Well, yes it is. And thank you, I have no idea where I am.”
The Graffian soared in a perfect curve to the left and Alice turned to follow him although her flight was not as graceful. A million questions popped into her head but the Graffian was too far ahead for casual conversation. Ten minutes later, she spied the Ferris wheel and the colorful stalls of the fair. Feeling safer, Alice called to her rescuer.
“Thank you; I know how to get home now. Will you be coming back there too?”
“Alas no, I have somewhere else I need to be, but we will see each other again. My name is Totoran.”
“I’m Alice. Thank you again, Totoran.”
She watched him rise vertically with effortless ease and disappear into the clouds. Alice turned toward home wondering who this new Graffian was. She landed with a good thump on the graveled lane. I need to practice landing, that’s for sure! Alice transitioned into human form and walked back to her Aunt and Uncle’s cottage. They were both sitting by the fire drinking a dark liquid that smelt of herbs.
“You’ll never guess what happened, Auntie, Uncle?”
“Well there you are we were wondering why you were so long. What happened dear?”
“I met another one, like us. He was flying and caught me when I fell.”
“You fell? From where? Who was this being you met?”
“I was flying really high and then heard a voice. It startled me and I began to fall but he grabbed me and helped guide me home.”
“So who was this Graffian?”
“His name is Totoran. Do you know him?”
Alice was surprised at her guardian’s reaction at the name. They both bowed their heads and whispered words under their breath.
“What is it? What are you doing?”
“Come and sit here, Alice. We must tell you about the one you met.”
Alice sat between her Aunt and Uncle and listened fascinated at the story they relayed. That night in bed with sleep eluding her she thought of the Graffian named Totoran. He was the prince of the Graffian’s and special among them for having more than one power. Many believed he possessed all the powers making him a formidable Graffian and a future ruler of them all.
Four weeks later, Alice was an adept flier and the transition from human to Graffian as easy as getting dressed. She kept her promise to her guardians and did not reveal their secret to anyone but she still planned to scare the bullies. She began standing in front of them as the younger children walked through the school gates. The three bullies taunted her and tried to push her but she stood her ground. Knowing her power and other form made her braver and more confident. Although she knew it was forbidden, one dark rainy night her opportunity presented itself.
The rain constantly poured all day and as the last bell sounded a rush of children shoved through the school doors in an effort to get to their parents vehicles before getting too wet. Alice did not mind the rain; after all, she could fly above it anytime she wanted. As she walked along the corridor and past the lockers, she heard voices shout out. She changed direction and peered through the gymnasium door to see the three bully’s pitching basketball loops. The coach was nowhere in sight. Biding her time, Alice sat quietly waiting for them to leave. Thirty minutes later the boys began walking toward the changing rooms and Alice ran to the rear door of the gymnasium. As she hoped, the boys exited through this door once they had dressed. The door led to a short cut used by many students during lunch breaks when they wanted to sneak out. The path went through a graveyard; it was perfect for her plan. With all three boys walking with their heads down under their hoodies, Alice transitioned and jumped out in front of them. They stopped at the sight of her larger clawed feet and gradually looked up together. They all let out a shrill scream and darted in all directions. Alice muffled her laughter. With a shake of her body and several shrugs of her shoulders, she reformed into her human form and ran home.
At supper, her aunt and uncle asked about her day and she answered with the usual mundane happenings of school life. She would have to keep her graveyard appearance a secret but it was only part of her plan. The next day the three boys were subdued and kept to themselves. Whispers began to circulate through the school canteen at lunch. Students were relaying a story of a monster in the graveyard that had attacked the three boys. They told their friends they had been lucky to escape. Alice smirked at the story and began her own story of the event. By late afternoon, the three boys were viewed as scary cats and afraid of their own shadows. From that day on the bullying stopped. Alice felt satisfied with herself and promised never to show herself again. But… never is a long time.
Alice thought about Totoran from time to time over the following years but did not see him again. Her Uncle told her stories of the Graffian ruler and his son, who lived far away in the mountains. The legend grew with the telling.
With the passing years, Alice enhanced her flying, and became fully competent in diving, soaring and gliding. She made new friends in the town but her best friend was Bernadette. They shared their secret crushes, comforted each when a boy dumped them and to the outside world, Alice was normal. In the glen, she became her Griffian form, hunting on the wing, caring for the penned inhabitants and leaning her aunt’s secret recipes for the meat.
Her first encounter with the pens came one night when her uncle asked her to help him. It was the first time he allowed her to venture into the forest with him. Although Alice had tried to spy on the pens to see what they corralled a cloak of mist made it impossible. Her uncle instructed her to stay behind him and stay silent. As they walked, Alice could hear low grunting. Her uncle stopped and crouched down, putting his hand out and motioning her to stay low too. As Gregor changed form, Alice changed too. The grunting ceased and soft blowing sounds replaced them. Alice watched as her uncle crawled forward on all fours and blew through his nostrils. Sweeping a bush aside, Uncle Gregor revealed wooden pens in three rows. Alice shook her heads trying to make sense of the creatures inside the structures. They looked like a combination of pigs and ducks. Alice whispered to her uncle.
“Uncle Gregor, what are they?”
“These are called quiplets. Their meat is extraordinarily high in protein. For Griffians that is essential for transitioning.”
“Where do they come from? I’ve never seen anything like them before.”
“It is thought when Griffians came to earth…”
Alice grabbed her uncle’s arm and looked into his glinting eyes.
“We are aliens?”
“Well I suppose you could say we are but as we populated earth long before humans arrived I think we can lay claim to be being first. After all humans were dumped here thousands of years after we called it home.”
Alice shook her head trying to make sense of the words her uncle was saying. Humans were dumped here…by what? Griffians were here first and came from another planet?
“Uncle Gregor can you please explain, I’m confused. We are taught humans are descended from apes not aliens.”
“Well that’s where the lines are blurred, Alice. Humans were left here, as an experiment but unfortunately, the race that brought them became extinct leaving the poor humans to fend for themselves. We tried to interact with them but because of our changing forms, they hunted and killed many of us. Legends of monsters were passed by word of mouth and the few Griffians left went into hiding. We have hidden ourselves ever since.”
“Uncle, that’s horrid. Griffians could have helped them.”
“Yes I suppose but that is not what happened. Now can you pick up those two buckets and bring them to the first pen?”
Alice carried the buckets following behind her uncle who carried two buckets in each paw. The quiplets began snorting and pushing each other in an effort to reach the bucket’s contents. It was a white granular mush with bright red globular balls within it. Gregor showed Alice how to tip the contents into rectangular trays set into the wooden fencing. The quiplets snorted, gobbled and shoved as they ate. As Alice watched, they grew quarter of a size.
“Uncle, are they suppose to grow like that?” It’s amazing.”
“Every time they eat they grow so once they have increased twelve times they are ready for processing.”
Alice looked from her uncle to the quiplets realizing she had eaten their meat for years. She admonished herself for being sentimental, after all, she hadn’t given beef or chicken a second thought when she ate at her friends houses. With the creatures fed Alice helped refresh their water and pitch new dried grass into the pens. With a healthy mauve glow to her leathery skin, she walked back to the cottage ready for supper. Before leaving the cover of the forest, uncle and niece transformed back into human form.
Her aunt was brushing butter over thick meaty slabs as they entered the kitchen.
“Supper will be in twenty minutes, time enough to wash up.”
Alice wanted to discuss the quiplets but her aunt’s headshake told her to wash up first. With clean pajamas on, Alice joined her aunt and uncle. After her first bite, she could not hold her excitement.
“Auntie, quiplets are amazing creatures. Why didn’t you let me see them sooner?”
“Well we thought it best to let you learn about your own transformed body first before adding others to the mix.”
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when they grew like that.”
Alice looked at her plate. Her aunt nodded at her silent question.
“All meat you eat in this house is quiplet meat, Alice. The protein is important for your body, to keep it strong and healthy.”
With supper eaten, the dishes washed and full stomachs, the three of them sat in the living room playing cards until eyes began to close. Biding each other good night sleep was quick to envelope the cottage inhabitants. Loud screaming and heavy crashes woke Alice in the middle of the night. She heard her aunt yell her name screaming for her to flee. Afraid and uncertain, Alice transitioned before leaping from her bedroom window and ascending as fast as she could. When she glanced down black shapes were swarming around the cottage and flashlight beams shone in all directions among the tree line. I should go back and help them. Alice hovered watching and hoping her uncle and aunt would manage to escape. She looked at the shapes hurrying about beneath her and realized they were police. When she looked at the road, she saw multiple vehicles with blue and red flashing lights blocking the lane’s entrance. As long as Aunt Cattrine and Uncle Gregor do not transition, they will be fine. Why would the police raid the cottage though? Alice flew in circles above the frantic scene below her. After a while, the police personnel walked back to their vehicles and drove away. She hadn’t seen any sign of her guardians and she feared they had been taken. Alice flew in ever decreasing circles making sure there were no police personnel near the cottage then landed lightly on her bedroom windowsill. Once transitioned, Alice tiptoed to the door and listened. The cottage was quiet. When she opened the bedroom door, her hand instinctively covered her mouth to stop her scream of horror. Mauve slime and red blood splattered the stairway. There were indentations in the walls where bodies must have slammed into them and the banister railings hung in mid air. Cautious to keep as quiet as possible, Alice crept down the stairs, willing her guardians to be secreted somewhere in the building.
The living room and kitchen were in disarray, furniture tossed in every direction and more slime evident. Tremors began to shake Alice’s body. Where are they? Are they okay? What do I do now? Alice’s heart, beat rapidly as she peered into likely hiding places to find them all empty. She whispered her guardian’s names but received no answer. She was alone. Sinking to her knees she cried until her throat was sore and her sleeves damp. Eventually, Alice stood up, locked the doors and closed the windows then retreated to her bedroom and hid under the bedclothes.
Daylight dancing on her eyelids woke her the next morning. She listened hoping for noises from the kitchen but the cottage was silent. After dressing, she went down to the kitchen and began tidying up. By noon, she had returned all the furniture to its rightful place, washed the walls and floors. Hunger made her stop. She made a meat sandwich and sat drinking a herbal tea wondering what to do. A crunching of the gravel outside halted her final bite of her snack. Alice rushed into the pantry and closed the door. Through a gap in the wooden door, she watched to see who the visitor might be. A young man entered the back door. He was vaguely familiar but Alice knew he was not someone she knew from school. Alice saw the visitor walk across the kitchen directly toward her. She crept backwards admonishing herself for hiding in the enclosed place. There was no way out.
“Alice are you in there? I will not hurt you, I promise.”
Before she realized she had confirmed her hiding place, Alice spoke.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“You probably don’t remember me, I’m Totoran. We met several years ago – in flight if you remember.”
“Totoran! Why are you here? The police took my Aunt and Uncle. I don’t know what to do.”
“We received word they were taken but you escaped. I’ve come to collect you and take you somewhere safe. There is no guarantee they will not be back to find you. It is best we leave quickly.”
Alice opened the pantry door. Totoran smiled as she appeared.
“Do you need to collect anything from your room before we go? You may not be able to return for a long time.”
With a few belongings in a backpack, Alice returned to the kitchen where Totoran sat flicking his fingers and generating small flames.
“That’s a cool trick. My Uncle can do that when he’s transitioned but not as a human. How do you do it?”
“I just do…never thought about it until now. Are you ready, we should go before it gets too dark we have quite a trip ahead of us. We need to change form first.”