Natalie traipsed home through the network of town streets and thoroughfares, her head throbbing like all of the blood had swelled up into her brain. She could barely hear, except for the thum-thum of an awful headache, and she did as she had done months before when last this feeling had come over her. She breathed deeply, imagining that she was pressing all of her weight down into a ball in her stomach, concentrating on shaping it, eyes closed a little as she still tried to meander through the evening crowd. To her joy, the pain began to subside so that she could find her home amongst the identical suburbs.
She closed the door forcefully, and then heard a gasp of surprise coming from the kitchen. Her mother was home, and as she kicked off her shoes and threw her bag onto the coat rack alongside seven other of the family coats, she could hear scraping and muffled voices above her head. The whole family was here. Natalie sighed, it would be another of those weekends.
"Natalie, you're just in time," said her mother, who was peeling carrots in the sink. "I was just about to start making dinner -,"
"I've eaten," she said quickly, walking straight past her parent and unlatching the back door.
Her mother looked up at her, surprised, and a little hurt. "Oh, that's the third time you've eaten out this week. I was hoping we'd have a chance to talk,"
"We're talking," Natalie quipped, "what's up?" She pushed open the door and stood out in the garden, still in earshot of her mother. The pain in her body lessened immediately once her bare feet pressed onto the grass. She could feel the dirt clods hard under her feet, the blades tickling the most sensitive parts of her toes. She turned and glanced through the back window at her mother, the sunlight catching the near-blue tones in her dark hair, something only her second daughter had inherited. Unlike her mother though, Natalie always left her hair down, whilst her mother's was always in the same way, a no-care ponytail with strands sticking up all over the place like a matted cat. Her clothes were always the same too, the old tea dresses and comfortable shoes that her conservative idiot of a father liked, as if he was under the delusion the world was frozen in the mid-twentieth century. Her mother was the same, her life was the same, everything but Natalie was the same.
And she still hadn't decided whether she liked that or not.
"Well, I wanted to talk about school, and then maybe a little more about this trip you were planning. Your father and I feel -,"
Natalie groaned. "I'll be at the back," she said dismissively, heading towards the end of the garden where everything was hidden from the windows of the house, obscured by the dipping branches of an oak tree which could be swept aside like a curtain into a grove-like space. She had to leave the conversation or be trapped in its look forever. Anything which began with "your father and I feel" was undoubtedly the incipit of another lecture/dictation of what her life needed to be, because whatever way Natalie was living it now, it was cataclysmically wrong. It always was.
The grove had been a perfect size for ten year old Natalie, and even though she hadn't shot up a lot since then, it was still a difficult space to fit into. She had to bend her back over at an odd angle, and even then her spine scraped against the lowest, thickest branch, sliding against the notches like somebody playing an instrument. Crouching down, there were leftovers from her den from a few years ago, and some new items. Faded, rain-sodden pillows, towels hung like privacy drapes dangling from just one of several pegs, and now a small collection of cider cans and, hidden in the rotted hollow of a tree beneath the leaves, a lighter. She was always glad to check on it and find that her parents hadn't uncovered it yet. She held the fluorescent green lighter in her hand and wondered if she should try. She'd planned on dulling this pain either way, cigarettes had just been the quick fix. If she reached into a hole in the opposite garden's wall, she'd find the cigarettes, but she didn't try. She had to do it the old fashioned way, the way that made her way to drink and smoke her self-loathing away even more, but it was the way that worked best.
She would try summoning.
She fixated her eye on a nettle plant to her side, one she'd been careful to avoid, her denim shorts revealing too much skin. As she'd done before, she imagined shaping the ball of energy, and then, in a new motion, thought about that energy flowing out from her abdomen towards the nettle, the light gaseous and white. Her eyes closed, she knew the strange twitch of the air around her that something was reacting, but she dared not look, continuing to visualise all of the energy wisping away out of her and into something else.
Suddenly, something prickled her leg, sending waves of pain across her leg. Her eyes shot open and she looked around, first at her stung knee, red and beginning to blotch, and then at the nettle which had grown at least fourfold outwards in poisonous tendrils, snaking around her. It had worked, the pain was gone, and for a moment, she swore that the nettle plant was glowing, the light ebbing like a fading candle.
"I really am a freak," she mumbled to herself, glad that she felt herself once more, but close to tears in knowing that "herself" was somebody far away from normal.