Madeline Christensen – Positively Protean

Geez, how do I even attempt to explain my life right now?

I discovered that I’m a shapeshifter two days ago. I know it sounds crazy, but stay with me here, okay? I can change shape into a black Labrador, and, as I just found out, a donkey. I’m now sitting in the principal’s office of Mikkelson Middle School for stamping on the foot of the school bully, Veronica–as a donkey. 

Quite frankly, that’s positively mild compared to what Veronica did to me and my best friend Violet for two years. But here we are. 

Violet, sitting next to me in the barely decorated principal’s office, is almost in tears. She’s the definition of lawful good–her greatest fear is breaking the rules. Ms. Kavalan, the principal, a stern-looking woman with short brown hair and dark brown eyes, with tortoise-shell glasses, stares at both of us. 

“So. Veronica told me that Ms. Minnie Tompson stamped on her foot. What was the problem?”

Violet and I look at each other. We were so ecstatic about our first ever victory against the school bully that we forgot to plan out what we were going to tell Ms. Kavalan. 

“Well, Ms, Kavalan, we’ve been bullied by Veronica for two years, and…”

Violet trails off as she sees the disbelief in Ms. Kavalan’s eyes. Her eyebrows crawl further up on her face as she studies us. 

“Hm.” The worms she calls eyebrows creep further up her forehead as she turns to study me. “And why exactly did you break her foot to such a degree?”

Violet speaks for me, thank goodness. “Because she needs to learn personal space, to be kind to others, and to respect other’s financial situations.”

The worms creep even further up her face. “And it’s your place to teach that to her?”

Violet responds almost instantly, “No, but-”

For the first time in the history of our friendship, I cut Violet off to answer an adult. Or someone else in general. “I think you misunderstand us, Ms. Kavalan. Yesterday, she insulted my dad, Violet, and myself in front of the entire cafeteria, as well as forcing us out and not allowing us to sit and eat there. The day before-”

“Enough.” Ms. Kavalan looks more angry than I’ve ever seen her, including the time that the toilets were all clogged with the wriggling worms that the school calls spaghetti because the 6th grade boys thought it was funny. “I will not allow the star student of this school to be smeared because you were jealous—”

“Us, jealous of Veronica!?” I exclaim, surprising even myself.

“Are you absolutely insane!?” Violet adds at the exact same time. 

The principal looks at both of us with a degree of satisfaction. “No, Ms. Anderson,” staring at Violet like a scientist stares at an insect, “I am not insane. I happen to be rather smart. And, quite frankly, it makes sense that you would be jealous of her. She is moneyed, smart, beautiful, and she gets along with everyone. Whereas, you, Ms. Tompson, never talked to anyone before today, and you, Ms. Anderson, felt that it was crucial to show off to your class every five seconds. You both need to learn to tone down your personalities and mesh better with your classmates.”

There’s a pause. Violet looks like she’s about to cry. I’m speechless: the social anxiety has kicked back in. It takes me a minute to realize that Ms. Kalavan is talking again.

“…because stamping on another student’s foot is violence, and forbidden by the school code, Ms. Tompson, you are suspended from school for two days, and a third for unwillingness to cooperate. Ms. Anderson, for egging her on, you get one day, and a second day for unwillingness to cooperate. If either of you are unable to do your suspensions at home, you will do them at school. I will call your parents and let them know to pick you up. You will wait in the reception room until then. Now, get out of here.”

Violet silently grabs her backpack and walks outside, not making eye contact with Ms. Kalavan. I finally shake off my frozen stupor, and start to get up. 

“Ms. Tompson, resistance is futile. It would do you good to remember that.”

Quietly fuming, I turn and follow Violet, gently shut the office door behind me, and sit with Violet. 

We wait what feels like an eternity before the beautiful grey car that I recognize as Violet’s dad’s pulls up. Violet gives me a kiss on the forehead and heads outside. I watch her go, and then sit alone, waiting for Dad.

The suspension, believe it or not, was exactly what I needed. I needed a break, and a couple days to think. I only got two days to think, because Violet’s parents, once they got over the fact that we lied to them for two years, were so proud of us standing up to a bully that they took us to Disneyland.

It took me a while to fall asleep the night before I went back. I was overwhelmed with anxiety. What was I going to do if Veronica retaliated? I couldn’t possibly go after her again. What if Ms. Kalavan was resentful? What if the teachers decided to make our lives miserable?

Super powers can only do so much. And I can barely use mine. 

My fears, it turns out, were not unfounded once I got to school.

I was used to people mocking me behind my back or just flat out mocking me. I had never before experienced widespread, obvious fear. Students of all ages, from little fifth grade girls to massive eighth grade guys gave me and Violet a wide berth as we walked to each class. The teachers never called on Violet once, but called on Veronica at least twice per class, and never seemed too suprised at how stupid her answers were at times. Lunch was incredibly quiet and calm, unexplainably so, until I realized that Ms. Kalavan was carefully watching over lunch from an opposite corner to us. Teachers, as well as some brave students, glared at us from a distance, as if Violet and I somehow made their life harder. 

Okay, yes, I know, I shapeshifted in front of about half the school. I know. But that alone doesn’t seem to just create tension and hate out of thin air.

            “You know that this is because of Ms. Kalavan, right?” 

            My train of thought is broken by Violet’s sudden comment. “How do you figure?”

            “She seems like a control freak, and she must have taken the whole incident as a sign that she was losing control of her school. I heard other kids talking about a speech or something. Maybe she told them to do this.”

             “That’s possible. She seems mean enough to try to make our lives harder.”

              Violet looks at me.

              “Oh, absolutely not Violet! I know what you want. You want me to use my powers again!”

               “Why wouldn’t you!? You’ve been given a gift, Minnie! We have to use it!”

                I raise an eyebrow. “We?”

                “Okay, fine, you. You could turn into a donkey again and intimidate her!”

               “Seriously? Donkeys are just barely less intimidating than labradors. Barely!”

               “We could try something more intimidating—“

               “Not. Happening. What happened the last time we tried that?”

              “You meant to turn into a horse and turned into a donkey in front of half the school.”

              “I do have something to tell you, though.”

              “Oh?”

           “I had a crazy dream last night,” I say, trying to sound casual. “I was in a hallway, alone, and I got to the center where four different hallways converged, and the four exits were suddenly blocked off. I panicked for a bit, before I realized that the blockages were just museum cases.”

              “Okay?”

             “And then this disembodied voice spoke, and she told me that I’m destined to do great things, or some bull—“

             “Language!”

              I roll my eyes. “—B.S. like that, and told me to pick one of the cases.”

             “Okay, and what was in them?” Violet looks totally disinterested in this conversation.

             “In front of me, a red sword. To the left of me, a yellow shield. Behind me, a green bow. And to the right of me, a quarterstaff with blue ribbons. The disembodied voice told me that I had to choose, because ‘every great hero needs a weapon” or something, and—“

              “So, what’d you choose?”

             “The quarterstaff.” 

              “Makes sense. You’ve been training in martial arts since you were five.” She notices that I clearly have something else to say. “What?”

              “And I woke up after that.”

              “Yeah?”

              “And it was in my hand.”

              “What?! It was a real choice?!”

              “I guess. And, it gets better-“

               “Spill!”

               “It floats. And talks.”

               “YOU ARE KIDDING ME!! You have a magical staff!?”

             “Yep. The week keeps getting weirder and weirder.”

             “Or more awesome! Does the staff have a name?”

             “Yep. Her name is Karma.”

             “Holy cow!”

             “Yep.”

             “Minnie,-“

              “Absolutely not! I am not hitting our principal over the head with a glorified walking stick!”

             Violet looks utterly appalled. “No! I’m just saying we should intimidate the principal with the glorified walking stick. Look, can I at least meet Karma?”

              “That’s probably a bad idea. She seems a little bloodthirsty. If you get an idea in her head that there’s someone who needs whalloping, she might do it for you.” 

             “Alright, fair enough. I’ll see you tomorrow then?” 

             “Yeah, of course!”

             I give Violet a hug before she gets in her car and I start to walk home. 

             The minute I get inside the apartment door, Karma floats over to greet me. “So, how was the day?”

             “Really weird, thanks. How about you?”

             “Boring. I was stuck in here all day. So, what was weird?”

            After a bit of hesitation, I tell Karma everything. She’s just a staff, right? Telling her probably won’t hurt anything. 

             “The principal seems like a bit of a jerk, huh?”

             “A bit, yeah. She doesn’t seem to be facilitating ‘a healthy learning environment’.”

             Karma’s dark wood glimmers in the sunlight as she floats down slightly. “So, what are you going to do tomorrow?”

             “Probably nothing. Anything I do can just be used against me later.”

              “Oh, come on! Minerva, you have to stand up to her.”

              “That’s Minnie, but yeah, you might be right. Let me think about it, okay?”

              “Sure. Can I come to school tomorrow?!”

               “Karma!”

                “Fine. I’ll let you tell me what the plan is.”

                “Thanks, Karma. I’m gonna do homework.”

                I decide to take Karma with me to school. I could use the extra backup, and besides, she looks super cool as a walking stick. She grumbled a bit about how degrading it was to be a walking stick, but after I reminded her that she could just as easily stay in my room until I got home, she calmed down very quickly.

             To my surprise, the second the bell rings for the first class, Math, I hear over the loudspeaker, “Minerva Thompson to the office, please!”. I quickly grab my bag and Karma and fake-hobble over to the office.

              “This could be bad.”

              Karma seems to be unconcerned. “What do you mean?”

              “The office is where the principal is.” 

              “Oh, dear.”

              “Yep. And they didn’t call Violet into the office with me. This week keeps getting better and better. Now, let me do the talking, okay?”

               “No problem.”

               I push in the door to the office. The secretary nods to the door to Ms. Kalavan’s office. I take a deep breath and head inside. 

               “Ah, Ms. Thompson. Walking stick by the door, bag by your chair, and take a seat please.”

               I quickly fake-hobble to do what she says and sit down, wondering what this is all about. 

             “Now. The superintendent got an email this morning, telling him about the alleged state this school is in. It said that two students, yourself and Violet, had been bullied by another student for two years. In that time, you had reached out to teachers, administrators, and myself, but no one seemed to care. When you retaliated against the bully, you were disbelieved and punished. And, according to the email, I made things worse. I ratcheted up the tension publicaly between the two of you and the other students. I told the teachers to ignore both of you and prop up the bully. I hated you both so much that I decided to teach you a lesson.” She takes a breath. Her anger is palpable. “Now, the superintendent is concerned, and he is coming by later today to check on the state of the school. Before he does, Ms. Thompson, I have one question: did you send that email?”

             “Of course not, Ms. Kalavan.”

              “I think you did. I think you were so mad about your suspension, and about our conversation a couple of days ago that you decided to teach me a lesson, just like you thought you should to the alleged bully. But that is not your place. I am the principal. I dole out punishments, and you will respect that. If you can’t, you will be expelled, and I will ensure that you and Violet will not be welcome at the same school together.” She stands up, utterly furious. I find myself picturing the image of a tiger, ready to transform and show her exactly what I think about her. At the same time, I hear Karma asking for permission to whack the principal over the head, which for some reason Ms. Kalavan can’t hear. I ready myself to do both of those things, before realizing that is what she wants. Ms. Kalavan wants me to try to attack her, so that she can expel me and keep the bully on top. If I stay in school, and continue resisting her, I win, every time. 

          In the middle of another rant about how consequences should rain down upon those who deserve them, I stand up, abruptly. 

           “I would sit down, if I were you!”

           I look her dead in the eyes, and say, in the calmest, most cool voice I can manage, “Ms. Kalavan, cruelty is remembered. It would do you good to remember that.”

           As she stands, dumbfounded and absolutely speechless, I grab my bag, Karma, and the door, and slam it behind me as I fake-hobble back to class. 

           Karma’s ribbons flutter slightly as we walk. “Well done. Ever done that before?”

            “Verbally stand up to someone? No. But she got what’s coming to her. And what came to her.” I pause, and then realize the one question that hasn’t been answered. “Karma, did you write the email? Because it wasn’t me, and it definitely wasn’t Violet. She’s too much of a rule follower for that.”

             Karma pauses for a minute. “Yes, I did. I wanted to see what you were capable of, and what would lead you to a fight. We’re partners now, and partners need to know each other.”

              “Okay, fair enough. But never again, okay?”

              “Done.” She pauses. “How do you think Violet’s going to react to the news that you took her job of talking to adults on your behalf?”

              “Only one way to find out.” I push open the door to the classroom, excited to leave the battlefield that is the principal’s office behind, and to just be a normal kid, hanging out with my best friend.

               For now, at least. I have a feeling that Karma is going to want to do a little bit more than just that very soon.

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