“Give it back!” Cassie yelled as Paula taunted her with the little horse trinket dangling above her head.
They caught Cassie by the girl’s bathroom, and pushed her into the corner behind the gym where the recess lady, old and frail, never looked.
Becky and Kendra held Cassie’s arms as Paula glanced at her chest and noticed the dangling bauble on its silver chain. The tiny obsidian figurine glimmered with its Fool’s Gold sheen in the sunlight, and Cassie, helpless, wriggled as Paula removed the chain from her neck.
“You want it?” Paula said, “Come and get it!”
Paula was tall and built like a tank and Cassie knew she stood no chance against her. Cassie’s heart raced as Paula swung the necklace above her head like a throwing hammer and flung it into the bog behind the school grounds.
“No!” Cassie screamed as the necklace flew over the fence and thudded on the marshland.
Cassie’s eyes filled with tears of rage; her hand balled into a fist and, uncontrolled, it crashed into Paula’s face. Electricity coursed through her arm and guided it, as if all the bullying and rage coiled inside her exploded.
Movement behind her, and Cassie knew Becky would attack. Cassie’s eyes blurred as if someone had taken over her body. She blocked Becky’s punch and kicked Kendra with the strength and speed of a martial artist, even though Cassie had never set foot in a karate class in her life. Dad had no money for extracurricular activities.
Paula recovered and Cassie turned to see a fist driving towards her face. She flinched; Paula screamed in pain and held her bleeding knuckles against her chest.
Everyone stood silent. Paula hadn’t touched her, so what had happened? Kendra moved to tackle Cassie and instead rammed shoulder first into an invisible barrier. She swayed and fell to the ground.
“Witch!” Becky screeched.
The girls ran off, yelling “witch!”
Cassie stood by the fence scanning the bog for Ethur, her guardian, her familiar. Tears welled up in her eyes; he’d been with her ancestors for centuries and, in one instant, she had lost him.
“Ethur!” Cassie yelled, “Ethur!”
She rattled the chain-link.
“Ether?” A husky voice whispered from behind the cedar tree by the school’s rusty fence.
Cassie froze. A young man appeared dressed in a three-piece, pin-striped suit and fedora cocked to one side. Old-fashioned and out of place, Cassie thought he might take out his Tommy-gun like Al Capone’s gang on TV.
Cassie trembled at the man’s face; he was ugly, with a wide mouth, crooked nose and beady eyes that twinkled with malice.
“Who are you?” Cassie bleated.
“Who are you?” The man replied with a reptilian smirk, “Who is Ether?”
Cassie backed away as the man stepped forward, “Come on child, if you tell me your name, I’ll tell you mine.”
Cassie shook her head. Alert, her head buzzed as if a thousand fire alarms had gone off in her brain. She gasped for air and felt faint. Silence surrounded her; recess had gone quiet.
“Ethur…” she whispered.
“Who is Ether?” The man cooed.
He was at the fence now, and Cassie stepped back on quivering knees as bony fingers reached for her through the chain-link. Cassie’s back bumped against the brick wall, yet the long pale fingers kept coming. Frozen with fear, Cassie tried to scream, but no sound emerged from her parched lips.
He caressed the soft tendril of curly hair that fell on Cassie’s shoulder; she squirmed.
A bobcat jumped down from the tree and, in mid-air, swiped at the stranger’s arm. The arm recoiled and Cassie noticed pinpricks of blood staining the cuffs of his pristine shirt. The bobcat stood between the humans and glared at the man. It hissed and snarled.
The man glanced at Cassie and licked his lips. He vanished into the mist that Cassie only just noticed had descended on the school.
The bobcat gazed at Cassie with impassive eyes. Its reddish coat glistened with mist dew and Cassie thought she saw its black spots gleaming with a golden luster, like Ethur’s obsidian glimmer. It climbed over the fence, landed on the ground and ran off into the bog, flinging dirt into the school grounds with its hind legs.
The mist dissipated and the merry cries of playing children intensified. Something twinkled in the dirt the bobcat had stirred. Tears sprung to Cassie’s eyes and her heart soared with joy when she beheld Ethur shining on the muddy ground.
Cassie picked up the necklace and draped it around her neck, cradling the tiny stone horse in her hands. It kicked and moved in her palms and Cassie felt tiny pinpricks, like teeny claws on her skin. For a fleeting instant, she glimpsed a little obsidian bobcat between her fingers, but when she opened her hands, Ethur, the horse, flicked his mane.
The recess bell rang; Ethur froze and dangled from her neck as Cassie, rattled yet relieved, returned to class.
Unseen in a tree, the bobcat kept a protective eye on Cassie as she entered the building.