Dense mist licked at Chance Morgan’s exposed skin and at the tall evergreens that surrounded him. The moisture in the air condensed in his lungs, making it hard to breath. As he stared into the twilight, a dark shape lunged at him through the fog.
A fierce black bear pulled its lips back and displayed ivory teeth that held the promise of pain. Deep growls poured from its chest as its arm lashed out to claw him. Chance scrambled back against the rough bark of a pine, its abrasive coat biting at his bare skin. With nowhere to go, he held his arms up to protect his face from the oncoming attack. Chance closed his eyes and prepared for the end.
The black bear slowed and began to shiver and quake. It grew and shifted into a huge feathered raptor. Cinnamon feathers tumbled in layers down its body. The majestic bird extended its wings to their full breadth. Its yellow eyes flashed, focusing on Chance huddled in the dirt, and waited until he met its gaze.
Chance, you are not done with your education. There is more for you to learn if you are to be saved from your innocence. Remember, I will always be with you.
The thunderbird disappeared into the rolling mist and resonant chanting filled the air. The fog dispersed and revealed Chance’s grandfather kneeling before a man’s lifeless body. Niyol’s hands hovered over the man’s chest.
Chance stood helplessly by as a sapphire glow radiated from his grandfather’s palms. Light entered the still body beneath and following a burst of air, Niyol fell silent before collapsing.
Darkness consumed them.
Chance bolted upright in bed, the gray sheets tangled around his muscular body. The numbers on the clock glowed red. Morning already. He groaned and dropped his head into his hands. Grandfather, why are you doing this to me? Or am I just going crazy?
He wasn’t sure how much more he could take. He’d had the same recurring dream for so many nights and it was beginning to wear him down. In each one, different animals attacked him, but it always ended the same way, with the creature shapeshifting into the thunderbird, his ancestor’s form of power. The dream always involved a message from his grandfather. At least it sounded like him. Chance knew it had to be his subconscious trying to tell him something. What, he didn’t know.
The worst part of the dream was revisiting his grandfather’s death. Maybe Chance deserved it. It was his penance for killing him. If Chance hadn’t died saving Ana he would still have his mentor and teacher here to guide him. Instead, Niyol used all his power to return Chance back to life. Besides Ana, he was alone in his struggles. She was the only one he could talk to about what had happened. Because his grandfather insisted his powers remain a secret from everyone, including his parents, Chance was forced to lie and say Niyol had a heart attack while they were on a hike. The lies and secrets were exhausting. He wanted a break from it all.
Chance pushed his legs off the bed and freed himself from the sheets. Standing tall, he stretched his arms above his head, and his spine arched like a feline’s. He thumped down to the floor and began his pushups.
A soft knock came from his door. With a pang of sadness, he remembered how often he had answered his grandfather’s morning greeting.
He did another five reps and said breathlessly, “Yes?”
“You slept in. Dad’s already at the shop and I’m heading in to work. Can I come in real quick?” Aiyana asked.
He rolled to his side and looked up when the door opened. His mother’s long dark hair was pulled into a braid. A pair of yellow scrubs hung from her thin frame. She stepped cautiously into the room and her dark eyes swept the shadowy space as though she was searching for something.
Aiyana’s eyes met his and she smiled. “I was wondering what you had planned today. Were you going to look at any of those college brochures downstairs?”
“C’mon, Mom. I’m eighteen. I just graduated high school, I want a break. I’m not ready to hit the books, I’m gonna travel. You know I’m heading to Mexico to look for relatives. Don’t you want to learn more about Grandma’s side of the family? Once I save enough money, I’m leaving.”
Aiyana frowned, walked over to the windows and opened the shades. Light flooded the messy room, and exposed piles of dirty clothes on the floor.
“Okay, last time I ask. You’re really planning on being gone for a few months?”
“Sure, why not? I promise I’ll come home if I don’t find anyone. But if I do, I want to hang out and learn more about where Grandma came from. Hopefully, she left some stuff around that’ll lead me in the right direction. That’s why I’m stopping by Grandfather’s ranch. You still can’t remember anything new? Where Grandma grew up?” Chance jumped to his feet and folded his arms across his chest.
His mother shook her head. “No. I don’t really recall her ever saying much about her childhood. I know she helped raise her sister after her mother died and she never really talked about her dad but you already know that.”
Aiyana took another lingering look at the whirlwind of clothing strewn across the room, and added, “You know, before you see Ana today you could take care of your laundry.”
Chance grimaced. “Not a bad idea. But it’s just—not fun.”
“Well, I won’t be with you when you’re on the road. You need to know how to wash your own clothes, unless you’re planning on looking like a bum.”
“I won’t get mugged that way.”
Chance kissed his mother’s cheek. “Don’t worry about me, Mom. I can take care of myself.”
“I know. It doesn’t mean I won’t miss you or worry.” Aiyana started for the door and glanced over her shoulder. “Love you.”
“Love you too, Mom. See you later.”
In a minute, the sound of the front door closing echoed through the house. Alone in his disorganized room, he took his mother’s advice and gathered a large pile of clothes, trudging into the hallway. His eyes paused on the door across from him and he thought of his grandfather’s tidy room. Everything left in its place as though some day he might return, as if he was just on vacation.
Chance still couldn’t understand why his grandfather had kept so much from him. Why hadn’t he told him he was a shapeshifter, too? Since Niyol gave his power to save Chance from death, he’d been reliving his grandfather’s memories. Those memories had filled in some information but left Chance feeling lost and confused.
That stormy day on the mountaintop he had learned with certainty that there were other shapeshifters in the world. His cousin, Markus had shown up to kill him and absorb Chance’s power. But in the end, Chance and Ana were the only ones left standing. At least before his grandfather died, he had ended Markus’s life. It was Chance’s only consolation as he stared at his grandfather’s door. He swallowed the lump in his throat and forced his gaze away.
With his parents gone, Chance used the opportunity to speed downstairs. His feet barely touched the steps as he swung over the banister. Inhuman speed was one of the unique talents inherited from his ancestors, specifically, his grandfather. Chance combed his fingers through his hair, satisfied he hadn’t dropped a single piece of clothing. Being alone in the house had its advantages.
After he dumped the armload of dirty jeans and t-shirts into the wash, he ran back to his room and got dressed. All the unanswered questions were pushed aside as he grabbed his keys and walked out the door.
A cool breeze cut through his thin cotton shirt, a sure sign Fall was gaining a finger hold. Chance jumped into his classic truck and with a turn of the wrist, brought it thundering to life. His heart squeezed in his chest as he thought of Ana’s green eyes. She was only minutes away now, and he couldn’t wait to return to her. Like the tide, he always found his way back. He resolved there would be a day he wouldn’t have to leave her side.