About Henry

Submitted into Contest #87 in response to: Write about a mischievous pixie or trickster god.... view prompt

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American Urban Fantasy Contemporary

The new house was big and old, and right now it was full of packed boxes, disorganized furniture, and several unshaven moving men. Henry went off to find his bedroom.

“Follow the stairs to the top,” his mother told him, kissing him on the cheek, a practice he allowed only when they were alone. It was funny, the house didn’t look this tall from the outside.

Reaching the top and finding a tall set of windows, he looked out over an expanse of thickly wooded hills. “Wow,” Henry said softly.

When his dad was around, they sometimes took day-long hikes in the woods just east of Seattle. They would set out first thing, wandering the hills, cooking food over a campfire as the sun faded. Sometimes dad would stop at the Indian reservation.

His mom loved to collect authentic native crafts. Henry thought most of the junk mom bought was cheap and overpriced. On their last trip together, she bought an eight-foot tall totem pole, which dad relegated to the garage, but now occupied a prominent position in their front yard.

Of all mom’s trinkets and souvenirs, the totem was the most interesting. It was carved by the Chinook tribe she said, with human-like faces looking in all directions.  Detailed figures of several animals and birds were also featured.  Henry’s favorite was the carving of what looked like a blue jay, but something was different about the crest feathers and colors.  He liked it anyway. 

His mom playfully told him one day, “The animals on this totem are all protectors or guides, and if you listen carefully, they’ll help you through tough times.” Henry just rolled his eyes.

Whomever carved that bird had serious talent though. It looked like that thing could fly right off the pole.

“Heeennnrrryyy,” his mom called. “The movers are gone. You hungry?”

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While they were in the car, mom explained she would need help setting up her office, as her agent had moved up the deadline for her newest book. 

“This is important Henry. This is our only income now,” she told him. “Unless, of course, you’ve discovered a bag of money hidden in the walls of the house.”

“Sure mom, whatever,” Henry responded absently, barely paying attention as he stared out the window. 

Almost a year had passed since his father left, and Henry had not adjusted well. His moods swung wildly and unpredictably, and his mother was more involved in her work than ever. Henry began to feel alone, and he sunk even further into himself.

“Burgers or pizza?” Mom’s voice asked from far away. Her face swam into focus as he blinked away his self-pity. “Henry, you ok?” Looking into his eyes, she cradled his face in her hands.

He pulled away from her, more forcefully than he meant to. As he turned, he could see the hurt in his mother’s face. “Burgers I guess,” he answered, refusing to look at her.

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The totem leaned against the front porch steps, its carved faces staring up the driveway. A large, slate-blue bird perched on the handrail, cocking its head from side-to-side and flapping its wings in expansive, stretching flurries. It screeched and chittered and warbled stuttering calls, as if it was uncertain of its ability to speak. Another bird similar in color and form, but a bit smaller, flew down and landed on the handrail across the stairs. 

It perched perfectly still and stared. “Are you auditioning for something, or is this some bizarre exercise routine for the recently released?” asked the newly arrived avian.

The larger bird stopped suddenly. “Ioi,” it said, simply.

“Jay,” Ioi chirped and chattered loudly, “I’m glad that three years in the garage hasn’t addled your memory.”

“How could I forget…compassionate, charming, helpful, my beautiful sister.” Jay intoned, a little sarcastically. 

She was beautiful, and all the rest too, the perfect muse and guide, the gods’ little messenger. He couldn’t help being jealous and a bit resentful. She hadn’t been trapped inside a totem pole. “I see you found us,” he chirped petulantly.

“Oh, you’ve got quite the sharp beak,” she shot back. “I’ve been with them the entire time, and you could’ve too if you weren’t so stubborn. I got off that damn pole before it went into the garage!”

Jay knew it was true. He had missed his chance, but now that he was free, well, the boy was his responsibility…the mother was Ioi’s. “How’s she doing anyway,” he asked politely, already knowing the answer.

“She is doing wonderfully. The latest story is her best yet,” Ioi squawked proudly and strutted across the railing with her tail high and twitching. “And now dear brother, the boy needs you, so shake those tail feathers. You know what happens if you fail.”

“Yeah, that taste is stuck in my craw,” Jay responded bitterly. “Well, no time like the present, but first I have to go see a guy about a thing.” 

“Shikla seems to be fine with what I’m doing,” Ioi interjected quickly and coyly. “I’ve taken care of it. What are sisters for after all?” 

Shikla was their shapeshifter cousin, and Jay needed his permission and considerable powers. It seemed Ioi had already secured his support. Jay’s resentment deepened a bit. 

Ioi hopped over and perched next to Jay. “Stop sulking. It’s beneath you,” she said playfully. 

“No sister. It is me,” answered Jay and flew off without another word.

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The first two weeks of school weren’t what Henry hoped for. Coming in halfway through the year had him seriously out of sync. Some of the classes were the same as he was enrolled in back home, but others were teaching things Henry knew to be false. His history class specifically seemed to be travelling through some weird universe of alternate facts. 

In today’s class, Thomas Edison had been discussed, and the students reviewed the text on the man and his accomplishments. After enduring almost an hour of revisionist propaganda, his mood darkened. Henry went through the motions in his remaining classes and when the bell rang, he walked straight out the door without stopping at his locker.

Jay sat perched on the entry façade of the school directly above the mural of the Astoria mascot. GO FISHERMEN!  The bird cawed raucously, sounding exactly like a crow. He watched Henry as he left. “Let’s get this party started,” chattered Jay.

Henry had only a short walk home along the river, which passed through a small park. He noticed a large blue jay sitting quietly on the backrest of a bench just a few feet away. Henry sat down at the opposite end of the bench. The bird looked familiar but did not move, save to swivel its head back and forth, watching the boy intently. 

You, my friend, remind me of someone,” Henry said quietly. “You sit right there, and let me take your picture.” He rummaged through his backpack, looking for his phone. When he looked back, a man was now sitting where the bird had been.

“Name is AJ,” said the man without looking up. “Troubles at school?” he asked.

Incredulously, Henry asked, “Yeah, how did you know that?”

“You got that look, don’t you?” answered AJ, then asked, “What’s school done for you?”

AJ was dressed in a slate blue sweatshirt and jeans, dark sunglasses and a partial faux hawk haircut. The rest of AJ’s face, head, and arms seemed to be covered entirely of tattooed feathers. The overall look was a bit disturbing.

“Listen to me kid. I dropped out of school in the 10th grade and never looked back,” began AJ. “Went out on my own, made some money, got a place…rest is history,” he added. “Point is, school don’t do nothing for nobody. Just fills your head with a bunch of lies…and then you grow up.”

Watching the man as he spoke, Henry saw that the man’s clothes were threadbare, his sunglasses were cracked and scratched, his tuft of hair was dirty, and he had two different shoes on. He was making some sense though. It was odd how much insight the man seemed to have.

“Well…what are you looking at?” asked AJ, clearly irritated.

Henry quickly looked away and examined his shoes, embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right you know, but my mom’s got her new book, and we just moved here from Seattle, so she really depends on…” he stopped. From the corner of his eye, he saw that AJ was no longer present. Henry stood up and looked in both directions. There was no sign of the man.

Henry was a bit shaken by the encounter, and after today’s history class, who would blame him for wanting to quit? But…Quit school, cover his face in tattoos, and menace some poor kid? No. That was not the way to deal with things. Still…the meeting with AJ plagued Henry’s dreams that night.

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Henry also began to appear on the radar of a school bully. He experienced some minor bully troubles and always handled it himself, but this was uncharted territory. The bully was a girl, and she was relentless in her torment. She had gotten under his skin so completely, Henry was contemplating retaliation. 

After countless laps around the outdoor track during gym class, Henry’s calm began to fracture. PE was his last official class. Only a proctored study hall remained. He noticed that the bleachers along the track were a gathering spot and suspected he could hide out there, cutting his last class to clear his head a bit.

Jay had been observing closely, looking for another opportunity with the boy. “Time to keep the pressure on,” he thought smugly and angled down towards the track and bleachers.

He landed primly on a fence which separated the playing fields from the school grounds and did his best imitation of a crying child.

Henry heard the screechy whining and looked up at the bird. “You again!” the boy exclaimed as Jay flew off and out of sight.

“Hi,” said a voice from behind him. Henry spun around and would have been no less surprised if he had just birthed a kitten. He was certain he was alone just a moment ago.

A small, freckled girl with sharp, delicate features stood before him smiling shyly. Her hair was dyed greyish blue, and she was wearing what seemed to be a feathered hoodie. She looked to be about Henry’s age.

“Hello,” answered Henry. He didn’t recognize her from any of his classes.

“I used to go to school here,” she stated as if she could read his thoughts. “My name is Jade. I transferred away last year, but I come back once in a while to visit my friend Melissa.”

Henry winced as if struck. “Melissa?” he asked. “I know a Melissa, and this one seems to delight in making my life miserable.”

That would be her,” said the girl. “Melissa is…complicated,” Jade continued. “Her home life isn’t good. Her dad…he uumm…he does things to her.”

“I didn’t know,” said Henry.

“What’s to know Henry?” Jade asked sharply. “Melissa can’t handle her problems so she dumps on everybody around her.” Jade was angry now and continued, “You know who last years’ punching bag was?...ME!”

Henry wondered how the girl knew his name. He hadn’t told her.

Jade was nearly screaming now. “You know WHY I come back to visit? So I can get a little vengeance. THAT’S why!”

“I’m going to let you in on a little secret, so listen-up,” Jade leaned in and began whispering into Henry’s ear. Henry’s face blanched, and he suddenly felt a bit nauseous.

When Jade was done, she pulled away quietly and stared at Henry, cocking her head quickly from side to side as if sizing him up. Henry was agitated by what she had told him, and he sat heavily onto the bottom row of the bleachers, kneading his fists into his eyes. 

He had to say something to her and wondered who was more disturbed, Melissa or Jade. Henry looked up but Jade was gone. He looked out at the track, peered under the bleachers, and gazed over the grounds towards the school. The girl had simply vanished.

Henry had wanted nothing more than to get back at Melissa. Now he wasn’t so sure. Until now, vengeance was an abstract concept to the boy, vague and unsophisticated. The word came into sharp focus and he was filled with uncertainty. He looked at the school and the last stragglers were still going into class. If he hurried, he could still make his study hall.

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Henry was finally settling in and catching up a little. He was still plagued by a bully in the form of a troubled girl and he constantly struggled to reconcile his history class.  A big algebra exam was looming though, and it was all he could think about. This was the one subject that Henry really had difficulty with. The stress of it all had his last nerves frazzled trying to deal with it.

The day before the test, during the walk home, he was convinced he wasn’t ready. It was his midterm, counting for a large percentage of the grade, and though he’d been studying for over a week, his lack of confidence was causing doubt. Maybe he could stay home sick tomorrow, which was a Friday, so he’d have the whole weekend to study. He could make the test up next week. That was so simple it could work.

Overhead, the ever-present Jay was watching. “Now for the piece de resistance,” warbled the bird and dropped to the sidewalk directly in Henry’s path.

Henry almost tripped over Jay as the bird screeched and flapped, hopping up from the ground to beat his wings against Henry’s chest and taking off again in a noisome mixture of feathers and beak.

When the commotion cleared, there stood a boy about Henry’s age who looked familiar. “My name’s Jason. Jason Avienne,” said the boy, holding out his hand.

Henry shook his hand, which felt soft like feathers. “Avienne. Is that French or something?” asked Henry.

Cryptically, Jason answered, “Yeah or something.”

Now Henry recognized him. “You’re the new kid in my algebra class, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, and I’m a little bored to be honest. We covered all this material earlier in the year at my old school,” said Jason, pantomiming an exaggerated yawn.

“Good for you. I’m totally stressed out about the test tomorrow. I don’t think I know the material,” said Henry morosely.

“No sweat mon ami. I’ll sit right next to you, and you can crib off my paper. You’ll be guaranteed to ace the thing,” said Jason, smiling like Sylvester after he ate Tweety.

Cheating. The word seemed to hang in the air in front of him. Henry wasn’t at all sure getting the grade that way was worth it. This could get Henry expelled from school. And friends?! The basis for a new friendship surely wasn’t sharing something like this.

“Thanks Jason. I’ll think about it,” answered Henry reluctantly.

“You do that. Let me know before class tomorrow. If not, bonne chance!” replied Jason, as if he hadn’t a care. “My house is up that way, so this is where I leave you. Have a good one.” Jason turned quickly up a small, paved lane.

A few steps behind, Henry caught up to the intersection where Jason had turned. He was nowhere in sight. “Must’ve been in a hurry,” mumbled a troubled Henry.

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As if waiting, Jay and Ioi perched outside Henry’s window throughout the night, completely motionless save for an occasional twitch of their head, their eyes inscrutable black pools.

Henry slept fitfully and dreamed of Native American totems and talking birds, his mind in a dark tug of war between school issues and his inner conflicts. He awoke poorly rested but clear and resolved. He didn’t speak as he drank his second cup of coffee.

His mother noticed and warned sweetly, “Go easy on the java. It’ll keep you up all night.”

Henry turned, matching luggage under his eyes, and replied thickly, “Not enough coffee in Columbia today mom. It’ll be okay.” Without another word, he left for school.

Henry spent the day focused and determined. After history class, he stopped his teacher and asked if he could discuss the current curriculum with him sometime. The instructor seemed genuinely pleased and they made an appointment for early the following week.

He didn’t see his friend Jason in algebra class. He took the test and learned on Monday that he earned a B-, the best grade Henry had ever received in a math class.

After school, Henry could be seen talking animatedly with Melissa just outside the front doors, asking her if she wanted to join him for a hike in the woods behind his house sometime.

Henry walked home feeling pretty pleased with himself for the first time since they moved here. The last couple of weeks had been confusing and a little frightening, though he thought he noticed a strange, common thread. He turned into his driveway and walked right up to the totem pole, tilting it towards him and inspected it closely. The carving of the blue jay, once seen as vivid and almost lifelike, was now decidedly rough and rustic, in keeping with the rest of the carvings.

“Hmm,” grunted Henry. “Guess I must’ve imagined it,” he muttered as he continued scrutinizing at the pole.

“Heeennnrrryyy, you hungry?” his mother called. “Burgers or pizza?”

Henry ran to her and hugged her fiercely. “Whatever you want mom.”

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From the roof outside Henry’s window, Jay and Ioi watched Henry examining the totem.

Ioi looked at her brother with admiration. “My brother, I’m so proud,” she said.

“It was a good start, wasn’t it?” Jay replied.

After some time had passed, Ioi said, “Yes, and you look much better off that damn pole.”

April 03, 2021 01:07

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