I stared with ennui at my new professor, Mr. Sutherland, teacher of the Human Life course as he checked off names from the list. “Talutah," he began slowly. I assumed he was trying to figure out ahead of time how to pronounce my last name. I sighed and folded my arms across my chest. “The name’s Talutah Kagi O Iyokpaza. But I’m pretty sure on that attendance list you have there, my name’s Talutah Fitzgerald,” I said disconsolately, my eyebrows furrowing in utter distaste of my English surname. I was fifty percent Native American—Sioux, to be precise, my mother was a proud member of the Oglala clan. We hadn’t planned on moving way out here in no-man’s-land where your only company was deciduous trees and scruffy forest-dwellers. We enjoyed living on the reservation—life there was simple. It wasn’t easy, but it was simple.
Until that one fateful trip. My brothers and I—it hurts me too much to think of their names—went on a small camping trip, not far from the reservation. It was their gift to me in celebration of my fourteenth birthday, and it began as just that—a celebration. Like true natives, we created our fire and built ourselves a small lean-to against the beautiful trees. We hunted for our food and cooked it over the blaze. For the first day, it was a pleasant thought to have a party.
But on our second day in the forest, something had come for us. No one saw it move—it was too quick for our human eyes to capture. All I could see were its eyes—ethereally glowing under the light of the moon, a sick hunger shining in its irises. Only when my brothers, may their souls be blessed, began to scream in pain did I understand that I might not have ever seen another dawn.
The pain…I could not describe the pain I felt. There simply were no words to elucidate its intensity. I tended to my brothers’ wounds, feeling guilty for bringing the two of them into the forest. I had not known at the time that the forest would be the place of their deaths.
And I returned to the reservation as a creature of the night.
My mother was understanding about what had happened, much to my surprise. After my brothers had been laid to rest, she and I moved here, to Nightshade, a town with only fifty residents or so and a school dedicated to people like me—werewolves.
Nightshade Academy taught me not to be afraid of my power, but to embrace it. Their main rule was to refrain from abusing that power in any circumstance unless innocent lives were threatened. It was something I did well to remember. I learned how to control myself—my rage, my fear, if one had the focus, and the support of friends, those emotions could be channeled and tamed. Nightshade taught me to accept myself for who I was, a feat that when I first arrived at the school, I believed to be impossible.
I was in my fifth year, and I could not be more ready to graduate into society.
Right alongside Kellan Donahue, my first and only true friend outside of the reservation. It’d been five years since I’d met him, and we quickly learned to be friends. It was as natural as breathing for us. Later, in my first year here, he’d confessed that he had been the one to bring me to the school. I don’t remember that, though, but I believed him.
Kellan sat beside me in class, in the back-right hand corner of the classroom, his black crew cut faintly glimmering under the harsh fluorescents. He raised his hand for a high-five and I laughed, genuinely amused on my first day back to school, and met his hand with a thunderous clap. All eyes turned toward us, and I smiled.
It was good to be back at Nightshade Academy.