Home > Unnatural (Archangel Academy #1)

Unnatural (Archangel Academy #1)
Michael Griffo


Outside, the earth was wet.

The rain had finally stopped, but it had poured hard and long during the night, the sudden storm catching the land unprepared for such a prolonged onslaught. From Michael’s bedroom window he could see the dirt road that led up to his house had flooded and the passageway that could lead him to another place, any place away from here, was broken, unusable. Today would not be the day he would be set free.

Ever since Michael was old enough to understand there was a world outside of his home, his school, his entire town, he had fantasized about leaving it all behind. Setting foot on the dirt path that began a few inches below his front steps and walking, walking, walking until the dirt road brought him somewhere else, somewhere that for him was better. He didn’t know where that place was, he didn’t know what it looked like; he only knew, he felt, that it existed.

Or was it all just foolish hope? Peering down from his second-floor window at the rain-drenched earth below, at the muddy river separating his home from everything else, he wondered if he was wrong. Was his dream of escape just that, a dream and nothing more? Would this be his view for all time? A harsh, unaccepting land that, despite living here for thirteen of his sixteen years, made him feel like an intruder. Leave! He could hear the wind command, This place is not for you. But go where?

On the front lawn he saw a meadowlark, smaller than typical but still robust-looking, drink from the weather-beaten birdbath that overflowed with fresh rainwater. Drinking, drinking, drinking as if its thirst could not be quenched. It stopped and surveyed the area, singing its familiar melodious tune, da-da-DAH-da, da-da-da, and pausing only when it caught Michael’s stare. Switch places with me, Michael thought. Let me rest on the brink of another flight, and you sit here and wait.

And where would you go? the meadowlark asked. You know nothing of the world beyond this dirt.

Nothing now, but I’m willing to learn. The lark blinked, its yellow feathers bristling slightly, but I’m not willing to forget everything that I know. Da-da-DAH-da, da-da-da.

How wonderful would it be to forget everything? Forget that the mornings did not bring with them the promise of excitement, but just another day. Forget that the evenings did not bring with them the anticipation of adventure, but just darkness. Forget it all and start fresh, start over.

The meadowlark was walking along the ledge of the birdbath, interrupting the stagnant water this time with its feet instead of its beak, looking just as impatient as it did wise. You can never start over. The new life you may create is filled with memories of the old one. The new person you may become retains the essence of who you were.

No, Michael thought, I want to escape all this. I want to escape who I am!

Humans, such a foolish species, the lark thought. Da-da-DAH-da da-da-da. You can never escape your true self and you’ll never be able to escape this world until you accept that.

Michael watched the meadowlark fly away, perhaps with a destination in mind, perhaps just willing to follow the current—regardless, out of view, gone. And Michael remained. The water in the birdbath still rippled with the lark’s memory, retaining what was once there, proof that there had been a visitor. Michael wondered if he would leave behind any proof that he was here when he left, if he ever left. Not that he cared if anyone remembered his presence, but simply to leave behind proof that he had existed before he began to live.

He turned his back to the window, the meadowlark’s memory and song, the flooded earth—none of that truly belonged to him anyway—and he gazed upon his room. For now, this sanctuary was all he had. He was grateful for it, grateful to have some place to wait until the waters receded and his path could lead him away from here.

But that would not happen today. Today his world, as wrong as it was, would have to do.

Chapter 1

Before the Beginning

Like a snake slithering out of the brush, a bead of sweat emerged from his wavy, unkempt brown hair. Alone, but determined, it slowly slid down the right side of his forehead, less than an inch from his hazel-colored eye, then gaining momentum, it glided over his sharp, tanned cheekbone. Now the bead grew into a streak, a line of perspiration, half the length of his face. He turned his head faintly to the left and the streak picked up more speed and raced toward his mouth, zigzagging slightly but effortlessly as it traveled over the stubble on his cheek and stopping only when it landed at the corner of his mouth. He didn’t move. The streak grew into a bubble, a mixture of water and salt, and hung there nestled between his lips until his tongue, in one quick, fluid movement, flicked it away. Then it was gone. All that remained as proof that it had once existed was the wet stain of perspiration that ran from his forehead to his mouth. That and Michael’s memory.

Sitting next to his grandpa in the front seat of his beat-up ’98 Ford Ranger, Michael had been watching R.J. in the rearview mirror as he pumped gas. He was still watching him, actually; he couldn’t help it. His viewing choices were his grandpa’s unwelcoming face, the flat dirt road, the dilapidated Highway 50 gas station, the cloudless blue sky, or R.J. Without hesitation, his eyes had found the gas station attendant, as they always did when he accompanied his grandpa on Saturday mornings to fill up the tank on their way to the recycling center. Today, the last Saturday morning in August and a particularly hot one, found R.J. more languid than usual.

He pressed his lean body against the Ranger, his left arm raised overhead and resting on the side of the truck so that if Michael inched forward a bit in his seat, he could see the hairs of R.J.’s armpits jutting out from underneath his loose, well-worn T-shirt. Michael inhaled deeply, the smell of gasoline filling him, and his eyes followed that smell to the pump that R.J. held in his right hand. Michael’s eyes moved from the pump to R.J.’s long index finger wrapped around the pump’s trigger and then traveled along the vein that lay just underneath R.J.’s skin. The vein, large and pronounced, started at his knuckle, spread to his wrist, and then moved along the length of his arm until it ended at the crease of his elbow. His arm, flexed as he pumped the gas, looked strong, and Michael wondered what it would feel like. Would it feel like his own arm or like something completely different? Something much better.

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