He kept his eyes away from the moronic documentary on the screen. The sight of the fish with their mouths opening and closing, opening and closing, with no chance for breath… He didn’t wait for his teacher’s permission. He shot out the door, lungs burning for air. His mind kept fighting to shut down the images assaulting his brain.
“Lucas!” Mrs. Roberts stopped when she saw him crouched beside her door, head between his knees.
He dared to look up, afraid tears were coming.
She winced and knelt beside him. “Look, Lucas. I know you don’t know me that well yet, but I’ve got two willing ears.”
He felt his lips go thin. His mom must have warned the administrators about what happened.
“Bathroom by Bio Lab’s usually a safe bet.” Her hall pass slipped into his left, gloved hand. “I expect to see you before the dismissal bell.”
Then she disappeared behind the classroom door.
Lucas felt his phone vibrate in his pocket, so he heeded her advice and headed for the bathrooms. His memory assailed him as he ran into his hope of refuge. Even now, he still could hear his own weeping as he clutched them both to his chest. With shaking hands, he turned on the water and tore off his gloves. He glared at his crimson left hand. It looked like he tattooed his hand red from the wrist down to his fingertips. Ever since he could remember, he had a diamond, scarlet birthmark on the back of his hand. His dad told him that it was a good sign, that Itzamna was a great Mayan hero with a red hand. Then one morning he woke up to his hand like this.
That was the day his brother and father died.
He splashed water on his face. His phone vibrated again to remind him of his unchecked message.
Don’t leave school I’m picking you up
A snicker escaped him despite his mood. His grammar nazi mother must be using speech-to-text which meant she was driving. He decided against arguing for once and fought to compose himself, fought down the gasping memories of their deaths. Then he tugged his gloves back on over his hands and headed to class.
When he got back, Mrs. Roberts simply took the hall pass with a gentle smile, not stopping her lecture on the difference between venomous and poisonous creatures. He almost wished she would’ve sent him to the principal’s office. She droned on and on about how to treat snakebites in the field.
Within minutes of his mom’s last text, the bell rang and he rushed out of the room. When he stepped outside, the skies were winter blue, defying the 80-degree temps. Kentucky had some messed up weather. All the adults were hurrying the kids along, and the pick-up line was going at a record pace. As the last car pulled away, he was still sitting there like an idiot. Even the faculty parking lot was practically empty. Mrs. Roberts waved at him before driving away.
“Your mama picking you up, sug?”
He nodded, eyes on his phone and not the lunch lady who moonlighted as the nutrition teacher. In small private schools, all the teachers pulled double-duty. “Yes, ma’am. She’s almost here.” He showed her his mom’s GPS location on his phone, trying to ignore the reason for the constant invasion on his privacy, on all their privacy.
“Well, come on inside just the same, sweetheart. There’s a nasty storm a’coming.”
He closed his eyes and did what he was supposed to. Just as he rose from the bench, wind came up from the ground and pushed at him. He took a step, and that’s when he heard the sirens.
“Hurry up, son!” she ordered, holding open the door. “Those are the tornado sirens.”
He looked back down at the phone. His mom was just around the corner. He jogged into the building just so the woman wouldn’t have a heart attack. With a screech of tires, his mom stopped in front of the doors and jumped out. Wind jerked and pulled on her hair, but she didn’t pay it any mind. Her eyes were on her son. Naturally, she had to crush him to her.
“You alright?” she whispered.
Lucas stared at her. She was shaking. Her pupils were dilated. Even her palms were sweaty. She was scared, and his mom was never scared. “Fine, Ma.”
She nodded. Her pat to his arm made him wince, knowing she wanted to squeeze him tight like she used to as a little boy. The instinct to cuddle him had been stronger since Elias died. “We’ll have to stay here. But I’m sure the tornado’ll just go right by us.”
He let her lead him to the back of the building where the stairs to the dungeons were. Both paused at the security glass. The tornado was huge, several hundred yards wide and less than a mile away. Trees were whipping around its base like a conductor directing the orchestra to a deafening roar. It was heading straight for them. What was even more terrifying was that two more tornadoes spun down to flank the main one along the horizon.
“Let’s go.” She took his arm and pulled him down.
That's when they heard screaming just over the storm’s jet engine. Lucas bounded back up the few stairs and looked out. The tornado loomed at the back of Belleview Private Academy’s property.
“Stars above,” Diantha swore.
Flying fifty feet in the air was a person.
“Ma! You can't do anything.”
“Stay inside.” She kissed him and then shouldered out the door.
Lucas watched his mom stand before the tornado with her hand held out at the now unconscious person held aloft by the winds. Diantha planted her feet against the wind and made a pulling motion. The tornado victim fell in her direction. The cyclone fought to reclaim its possession. Diantha heaved her arms downward again, letting out a battle cry that made even the tornadoes stand still.
Lucas’s mouth dropped open. “Mom?”
The person slammed into her arms, but she barely staggered under the weight. Then she and her burden were running for the door. She raised her hand and the door flew open just as Lucas leapt away. She rushed in: the door slammed shut. They looked back, and the tornado was nearly to the soccer fields.
“Downstairs.” She pushed him ahead of her and followed after him.
Below in the far classroom, the lunch lady, principal, and secretary were huddled. Diantha grimaced when she set down the storm victim and wouldn't meet her son’s gaze. She was looking up at the trembling building above them.
Lucas looked to the man at his feet. His black hair slid away from his face. “Tío Javi?”
Diantha dropped to her knees. “Javier?”
Javi was coughing blood and holding his left side. Lucas felt a rock form in his throat. With a look to his mom, he took off his gloves for the first time in months. She gasped and nearly grabbed his crimson hand. Her lips went thin as the building vibrated from the tornado slamming into it.
“We will discuss this later. Heal him!”
Lucas’s eyes went wide at her statement and at the roof peeling away like eggshell from a hardboiled egg. Diantha rose to her feet and held her arms above her head, palms out. Debris bubbled around them, and the wind died to a manageable rage.
“Now, Lucas Ramon!”
He looked to the three huddled in the corner. They were too busy cowering to bother with him. With a growl, Lucas pressed his left hand to his uncle’s side. Warmth spread beneath his palm. His eyes closed as his mind flooded with his uncle’s pain, his waning breath, the blood flooding his body. Lucas and Javi screamed in unison when the ribs cracked back into place. He could feel Javi’s breathing ease as his lungs knit back together and the disorientation leave as the internal bleeding dissipated.
“Luc?” Javi gripped his healing hand and shook him.
Lucas coughed and wiped his mouth, no blood. He looked his uncle over and let out a breath at finding him as whole as usual.
Javi managed to sit up with the grace of a feline. “Thanks, man.”
He couldn’t look at his uncle. He had never healed anyone who was aware of it. With a shake of his healing hand, he simply drew his uncle into a hug. Since his dad and Elias died within minutes of one another, Javi was his and his mother’s constant. Unbidden tears welled in his eyes. He shoved them back down with a clench of his teeth.
His mom exhaled, and Lucas realized the tornado was gone. As was the entire school building. He and his mom stared at one another as the teachers cried and clung to each other. She had tears on her cheeks as she knelt between her son and brother-in-law.
“You alright, Luc?” She caressed his cheek with a dirt-soaked hand.
He didn’t know what to say. She knew about him. How did… and she could do magic?
“Everyone ok?” someone asked in the background.
“Lucas.” She took his crimson hand in her lap. He jerked it away. Two quick tears escaped her gray eyes. He felt his own fall onto his cheeks. “I’m sorry.”
He looked into her empty hands, remembering, as he always did, the sight of his dad’s hand in hers. His ribs ached from his uncle’s phantom pain. With a swallow, he put his normal hand into hers. She met his gaze with her own.
“Are y’all ok?” It was the lunch lady again.
“Yes, miss,” Javi answered with his easy smile that was a constant before his brother died. Now, it came whenever Javi was putting on a show. “Thank you.”
The lunch lady pished away his calling her a ‘miss’ and went to the others who were trying to find a way up to ground level.
Diantha waited for the others to head toward an outdoor stairwell. She turned those piercing eyes on Lucas. “When’d it happen?”
He glared at her. “Why didn’t you tell me you were a wizard?”
She and Javi shared a smirk. “I’m not a wizard. We didn’t mention it in case you didn’t show any gifts.”
It took him a long second to catch that emphasized pronoun. “You knew?”
“Por supuesto.” Javi shook himself like an animal shakes off water. He did that a lot, but Lucas never wondered why until that moment.
Lucas now glared that them both. “Dad? Elias?”
“Ixtaro was like me.” He shrugged. “And you’ll find out about that soon enough. Not here.”
Diantha shook her head at him and rolled her eyes. “It comes from your grandmothers.”
His eyebrows met. “What? Chiich and Yaya?”
She nodded, cutting her eyes at the ascending survivors. “Yeah, see, Yaya and Chiich are…immortals. Yaya is Athena to be more specific.”
Lucas barked out a laugh. “You’re shitting me.”
“Watch your language, young man,” she snapped. “And no. I’m not. It’s where you get your love of chess. And I get my mental prowess.” She smirked at her own joke. “Among a few things, I’m telekinetic.”
“And this?” He held up his hand, realizing why Yaya always loved to play chess and petteia with him, not to mention how she beat him.
“From tu Chiich,” Javi said. “She’s Ixchel.”
Lucas felt his legs give out. Ixchel was the Mayan goddess of healing and a bunch of other things, stories Javi and his dad told him and Elias. “You’re crazy.”
“Says the dude with the red hand of healing.” Javi punched his arm.
Screams drew their eyes to the stairs. Javi’s nose went into the air. Diantha and Javi exchanged looks.
“Just smells like rain.”
She took hold of both. They winked into a void and then back into reality. Lucas dropped to all fours and expectorated his lunch onto the ground.
“Sorry, Luc. Teleporting’s a bit jarring at first.”
A growl reverberated from Javi’s chest. Lucas managed to look up and saw the teachers twitching on the ground. It made his stomach sour and his mind flood with memories of his father and brother doing the same thing. He had found them in the backyard of their home in Florida. They twitched and gasped for air like fish just pulled from the water.
He got to his feet and saw a man with cyan scales tattooed all over, except his face. The weirdo was shirtless and wore brown pants just a few shades lighter than his underlying skin tone. He spun a blowgun along his talon-like fingers as he strutted around the dying.
Lucas took a step toward the teachers. Diantha snapped her hand around her son’s arm. “It's too late, honey.”
“Who is this guy?” But Lucas already knew. The skin and the storms. If Ixchel and Athena were real, then this was Chaac.
“This is why we don't mate with humans. You don't know your own history.” The murderer stopped and caressed the dart feathers around his belt. “I’m glad to finally finish what I started. You've been a good hunt. But you half-breeds need to be put down.”
His mom stepped in front of Lucas, pulling a pen out of her pocket and tapping the owl pendant on her chest. Chaac laughed even as her pen grew into a sword and her clothes morphed into Grecian armor, complete with winged helmet.
“He killed Dad and Elias.” Lucas felt like bands were constricting his lungs.
Javi roared and his body and clothes exploded into a jaguar.
He watched his protectors fan out in front of him, his blood pulsating a rage that had been building since his family was ripped in half.
Then he caught sight of the bodies stilling into death. Chaac raised his blowgun and sent one in Diantha’s direction. She batted it away with a spin of her sword. The dart fell at Lucas’s feet.
Lucas heard their taunting of each other as if they were in another room. He knew what was on the end of that dart. Golden dart frog poison. His dad told him of ancient hunts where they employed the lethal toxin. He realized why he couldn't save his family. There was no cure. Nothing to stop the poison from shutting down the lungs’ ability to bring in oxygen. As a hospital volunteer, once he'd tried to heal snakebites without success.
His fingers curled around the tiny dart.
But what if that's because his body had no idea how to heal from it.
He chanced a glance at his mom and uncle fighting Chaac with blade, mind, and claws. They fought Chaac like ancient warriors who trained every day. In fact, they did. There wasn’t a day that went by without his mom and Javi and his dad training him and Elias. But if they got hit with one of those darts, all that training wouldn’t matter. And he wouldn’t be able to save them. Again. With a wince and a steadying breath, he stabbed the dart into his jugular.
There wasn’t pain exactly. He felt tingling numb, like when his foot fell asleep, except it was everywhere. The only reason he knew he hit the ground was the thump sound his body made. He heard his mom scream or maybe it was the echo of the one from when she found him hugging his dad and brother. His lungs burned without oxygen, and his eyesight darkened around the edges. But then his blood sang with fire, from his healing hand up his arm and then throughout his body. Agony twisted his body as his cells attacked the invading poison. His vision cleared, and his head lolled toward the sound of metal beating against metal.
Jaguar-Javi was down but trying to rise. Diantha was battling Chaac in the midst of a lightning storm. He never knew that his mother was…anything like the vengeful creature before him. Though his body still felt like needles poked out from his bones into every nerve, Lucas managed his feet. One foot and then the other pounded toward Chaac until Lucas was running.
“Lucas?” Javi staggered after him. “No, run! Get out of here.”
Diantha was so focused on her family’s murderer that she didn’t hear Lucas coming. Chaac jumped back from the slice to his throat, missing by an inch. The path of her sword nearly dug into Lucas, but he slid underneath, kicking out Chaac’s legs. As Chaac went down, his ax blade clipped the back of Diantha’s calf. She screamed and collapsed to the ground, unmoving. Lucas scrambled from Chaac’s ax swipe.
He grinned at Lucas. “All alone now, boy.”
Lucas felt for his mom’s sword, keeping his eyes on Chaac as lightning cracked around them. Chaac was bleeding from several places. Lucas then felt for her hand. He gripped it and waited for the healing to start. No warmth spread from his hand, only the feeling of suffocation like he felt with his dad and brother. Why couldn’t he heal her? It was a horrible thing to feel everything his family felt in death. His teeth ground together as tears burned his eyes. Chaac stood before him and gripped his hair back to force him to look up. Lucas’s hand wrapped around Chaac’s wrist.
Chaac showed his pointed teeth in a victorious grin. Lucas felt a little poke at his calf. A dart was hung up in the pants leg. Out of the
corner of his eye, he could see Man-Javi stalking behind Chaac.
“Are you ready?” Chaac asked magnanimously and readied a dagger at Lucas’s throat.
Then all the darts around Chaac’s belt flew into the air. Chaac hissed at Diantha whose droopy eyes were fix in his direction. The
darts sank into Chaac’s skin, and Dianth’s lips twitched into a blissful smile. Chaac nicked Lucas’s shoulder and then crumbled. Javi
loomed over Chaac with an ax.
Lucas swallowed hard. “Is he dead?”
He nodded at Diantha. “Tend your mother,” he growled.
Lucas didn’t need a second reminder. He spun on his knees and pressed her small hand between his normal and his crimson hands.
She was barely hanging on. He could feel the limited supply of air in her chest and the faintness of her heart. Lucas’s blood was tattooing his heartbeat into his eardrums, which drowned out the sickening pounding of Javi’s ax against Chaac’s corpse.
Tears rained in torrents down his cheeks and onto his mom’s face. Not his mom too! His arms wrapped around her, pulling her onto his lap. Not his mom too! He tossed away her helmet and kissed her forehead and eyebrows over those half-closed gray eyes. Not his mom too! He screamed against the agony of grief as his body shuttered from weeping.
Then he felt her swallow.
His eyes went wide as he looked down at her. She winced and struggled to open her unwilling eyes. Her finger traced his cheek, bringing a single healing tear to her lips. She sucked in a deep, gut-filling breath and exhaled relief.
Her eyes opened fully. She took in another deep breath and exhaled, “You are grounded.” She sounded like she was in a dream still.
“Excuse me?” he laughed and helped her sit up.
She wagged her finger at him. “Next time we fight some maniac and I tell you to run, you do what I say. I don’t care what your body can do.”
He smirked at the tears that filled her eyes when she pressed her forehead to his. Her lips pressed to his hair as she clutched him to her.
“Shut it. I just need some love.”
He let her hold him as long as she liked. Javi’s footsteps crunched to a halt beside them. “The humans’re all gone. And we—"
“I know,” Diantha told him. She took Javi’s hand while still holding fast to Lucas.
“What are you doing?”
She smirked at Lucas. “Just don’t throw up all over Yaya’s rug.”