by Janel Brubaker
Pain ripped through her body, fire searing all beneath her skin. Tears ran down her cheeks as she stumbled through the forest, each breath a puff of steam amidst winter cold. She tried to regulate her breathing to embrace the pain, but it proved difficult, just as her mother said it would. Heat wracked her like a rushing, violent fever crawling over muscle, splintering her bones. It was the payment the transformation required.
Finally, she came to a clearing and collapsed, too consumed by agony to push herself farther. She tried to recall what her mother said to do when the metamorphosis struck, but all she heard and knew was pain. But it only lasted a moment longer. All at once she burst into enormous flames. Her clothing was immediately devoured, though her skin remained untouched. She looked from the smoldering ashes of what had been her high school uniform to her pale arms where brilliant feathers of gold, crimson, white, and burnt orange sprouted from beneath her skin.
The pain disappeared, though the flames lingered, dancing on the ends of her feathers. She was a bird now, born of ash and fire, forever a child of two worlds. As she took to the sky, a small flame against a sea of winter blue, she couldn’t help but let out a cry of pure joy.