Serving table in heels was a pain but it always brought an increase in tips. But that night, it wasn’t the heels that irritated Natasha but the lack of nicotine in her system, she’d used her last patch and couldn’t afford more until her next paycheck. At least her daughter was spared her foul mood, having gone on some community center trip for the weekend.
She was in the middle of lunch service when her phone rang.
“Natasha, close your phone, you know the rules.” Her manager said.
“Sorry, I forgot to.” She took it out to close it when she saw the caller ID “It’s from the anchorage regional hospital.”
“Take it quickly.”
She went into the office room for some quiet and answered it. On the other side of the line, the receptionist of the hospital told her the news and she ran out of the room and found her boss.
“It’s my daughter, she’s in the hospital.”
“Alright, go see her. Genevieve can do your section.”
She thanked him many times before she ran to the taxi stand nearby and went to the hospital, getting her daughter’s room number at the reception. When she arrived, her husband was already there, waiting outside in a chair rather than in the room with their child.
“Good, you’re here.”
“I arrived a few minutes ago.” He said, seeing her. “I tried to call you.”
“My phone might be dead. What’s going on? Is there something wrong with her?”
“Physically, nothing. Emotionally, everything. She had a trigger event during the night.”
“She’s divergent now.”
The words was like a punch to the guts. It couldn’t be… Not her daughter, anyone but her...
“I need some air.”
Her husband called her but didn’t follow. She went down and passed through the lobby into the cold november air. She walked across town, going home to her father’s house.
She weakly knocked on the door, shaking lightly from the emotion as she waited for her father to answer.
“Dad, I need your help…”
Her dad pulled her into a hug before letting her in, sitting the two of them in front of the fireplace and serving warm tea.
“What’s on your mind Nat?”
“It’s Paige…” The next few words were strangled in her mouth, it took her a moment to be able to say them. “She’s a neph.”
Her father’s expression tightened.
“Are you sure about this?”
“She’s at the hospital.”
“It is at the hospital.” Her father corrected her. “The daughter you knew is gone, Natasha. She’s been replaced by this creature of evil.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
He took her hand.
“Do not despair, you will see your daughter again when the kingdom of god is upon us. But for now, let us pray for her soul’s salvation.”
Together they prayed, begging the lord to safeguard her daughter’s soul now that demonic forces had taken hold of her body.
“I have to go back.” She eventually said.
“Remember what I’ve told you; It will have changed, It won’t be the same girl you knew. It will try to fool you into accepting it as your flesh and blood. And it will be hard, the devil knows how to tempt us, but do not give in to it’s treacherous words; if you remain faithful, you will be reunited with your daughter.”
“What about the Neph?”
“Let it go, give it up to the authorities; the world idolize these creatures and they will take care of it. It isn’t our duty to overthrow them, only to resist and remain faithful until the messiah’s second coming.”
Knowing what she was meant to do, she walked back to the hospital.
“You’re back!” Her husband said, hugging her as she came into the hallway. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t know. It’s a lot to take in. How is...” She didn’t find the strength to say the name of her daughter.
“She’s traumatized, scared and freaking out. But above all, she wants her mom, Natasha, she needs you.”
“Me?” Paige never wanted her, only her father.
“She won’t let me approach her.”
The words of her father came back to her mind. Paige would be different, she wouldn’t be the little girl she’d raised.
“When I try, she makes this white protective armor around herself and yells at me to get away. Please, go talk to her.”
“I don’t know what to do…”
“Nat, she loves you and you know that, even if she pretends otherwise sometimes.”
Her husband guided her to the door and she opened it and entered the hospital room, her daughter was curled up on the bed single bed, covered in damp sheets and looking away.
“Hey kitten.” Natasha’s voice was weak and shaky.
Paige slowly stirred up on her bed. She didn’t look like a devilspawn, she was just like the little girl she’d raised. Despite being in a hospital, she was still wearing her soaked winter clothing.
It took all of her mom’s courage to come closer and sit down on the bed next to her. She knew that Nephilims could hurt humans without effort. Next to her, the little girl moved and Natasha tensed. Rather than hurt her, Paige jumped in her mother’s arms, clinging tightly to her and she began sobbing and crying heavily.
She tensed and stayed like that for a moment, the tween crying with her face nested on her mother’s sweater. Despite all of her father’s words, Natasha’s motherly instinct took over and she gently caressed her daughter’s hair.
She wasn’t scary, she was scared. Her little girl was hurting, she wasn’t the tween who wanted independence anymore, she was a kid who needed the protection of her mom.
“It’s alright, Kitten. Everything’s going to be alright. Do you want daddy to come in?”
“No!” She screamed. “I don’t want daddy to see me... I’m a monster.”
Paige’s words were like a knife to the heart, her daughter was just as terrified at what she’d become than Natasha had been a minute ago.
“You’re not a monster Paige, you’re my beautiful daughter and I know your dad feels the same way. Why don’t we go see him? But first, we have to dry those tears.” She wiped the tears off her daughter’s puffy eyes using her sleeve.
“Okay…” She remained clinging to her mom.
“Paige, you’ll have to walk. You’re too heavy for me to carry anymore.”
She got on her feet reluctantly, clinging to her mom’s legs, who shielded her with her arm. They walked out the hospital room and into the corridor where Paige’s father was waiting on a chair.
“Hey pumpkin.” Her dad said, lowering himself to his daughter’s height. She ran into his arms and he hugged her.
“Can we go home?”
“Almost, we just need to let the doctors give you a little checkup.” Her dad said.
“What kind of checkup?”
“They’ll put your head in a machine and take some pictures.”
After a short wait, Paige was brought into the MRI room where she refused to undress, her father having to talk to her for several minutes before she accepted to remove the offending metal containing clothes.
“Mr and Ms Flores.” The doctor said as he approached left the MRI room, holding a tablet. He flipped it around and showed them the result of the scans, indicating an almond sized bit hiding between the frontal and parietal lobe. “We’ve confirmed the presence of a stemma. Which if you don’t know, is the organ responsible for controlling divergent abilities. It formed during the short duration comma divergents enter once the stimuli that caused them to trigger is resolved.”
“What would happen if it was removed, would she be… Normal?” Her heart sank as she asked the question. She knew it was wrong to amputate her daughter to avoid the ire of others, but she had to save her little girl by any means.
“No, there is no known process or ability to reverse the process of triggering, removal of the stemma only removes the ability to consciously control abilities. Your daughter’s ability would simply work entirely on reflex.” The doctor gave them a pamphlet and Natasha put it in her purse.
“Thank you doctor.” Gabriel answered.
He gave his wife a look, her shoulder dropped and she looked away in shame. He didn’t say anything however and they picked up their daughter who was already dressing up. They left the hospital after picking the paperwork to fill at home, with Paige still wearing her soiled clothing into the late afternoon cold.
“Baby, aren’t you cold?” Gabriel asked.
“But it’s freezing.”
“I don’t feel it.”
They took a taxi and went home,
It didn’t take long for them to see that Paige didn’t act as she normally did; she didn’t want to eat lunch or dinner, despite her clothes being dirty and damp she wouldn’t accept to change them and before bedtime, she’d thrown a fit about not wanting to bathe. When Natasha or her husband had tried to get her to do something, she’d clam up, summoning her armor and pouting in the corner. Her speech had also regressed, going to simple sentences where before her speech had been bolstered by her love to read.
So they let her be, sending her to bed when it was time.
Despite the long day she’d had, Natasha couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t help but think about what had happened to her daughter. She quietly left her bed and opened the little box full of important memento of her deceased mother she kept, taking out the chaplet from it. She left the bedroom and kneeled before the couch.
Like she had been taught, she prayed for answers, for guidance, for the right solution. She needed a sign of the right path.
“Mom?” Paige walked into the room from her bedroom as if to answer her prayer.
“Can I sleep with you? I’m scared.”
“Of course my dear. But, you’ll have to wear a clean pajama.”
She went back to her room and came back wearing a clean set of pajamas. Natasha took her daughter and let her crawl into the middle of the bed between her husband and her. The two of them snuggled together and she fell asleep quickly, her mind lighter.
When she woke up after a short night’s sleep, Natasha found that Paige had already left. She put on her bathrobe and walked into the common room. Her daughter was sitting in front of the television, shoving dry cereals into her mouth, watching cartoons at a low volume.”
“Hi mom. I got hungry and I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Did you sleep?”
“Only a little, but I feel okay.”
She went to the entrance and opened her bag, taking out the pamphlet the hospital had given her.
“Mom. I’m still hungry, can you make me breakfast?”
“Of course.” She ran her hand through her daughter's tangled hair and kissed her forehead before making a cheese omelet for the both of them as she read the pamphlet, learning about her daughter’s new sleep and eating requirement as well as the inevitable sterility that accompanied trigger events.
Once it was cooked, she went into the living room and put the large omelette plate on the ground and sat with her daughter, splitting the food with her. When Paige tried to pick the first bit of hot egg with her bare hand, a thin sheet of ice formed on it, protecting her from the heat.
“Do you know how it works? Can you control it?”
Paige shook her head.
“It comes out when I’m scared or things try to hurt me.”
“Paige, what happened at the cabin?”
“Nothing.” Her daughter clammed up, wrapping her arms around herself and bringing her knees to her chest.
“They said you got lost, is that true?”
Her daughter didn’t answer for a second before nodding slightly. Although Natasha would try to get an answer for a time, her daughter would always deny anything else had happened.
Natasha’s father came a few days later, only to see Paige and scream at his daughter sermoning her about the devil’s work but she threw him outside and the last words he said after rejecting her were engraved his her memory forever;