Unearthly Page 2

“Because I wasn’t asleep.”

“So what does it mean?” he asks. All this angel-related information is new to him. He’s still in that time when the supernatural stuff can be exciting and cool. I envy him that.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “That’s what I’ve got to find out.”

I have the vision again two days later. I’m in the middle of jogging laps around the outside edge of the Mountain View High School gymnasium, and suddenly it hits me, just like that. The world as I know it—California, Mountain View, the gym—promptly vanishes. I’m in the forest. I can actually taste the fire. This time I see the flames cresting the ridge.

And then I almost crash into a cheerleader.

“Watch it, dorkina!” she says.

I stagger to one side to let her pass. Breathing hard, I lean against the folded-up bleachers and try to get the vision back. But it’s like trying to return to a dream after you’re fully awake. It’s gone.

Crap. No one’s ever called me a dorkina before. Derivative of dork. Not good.

“No stopping,” calls Mrs. Schwartz, the PE teacher. “We want to get an accurate record of how fast you can run a mile. That means you, Clara.”

She must have been a drill sergeant in another life.

“If you don’t make it in less than ten minutes you’ll have to run it again next week,” she hollers.

I start running. I try to focus on the task at hand as I swoop around the next corner, keeping my pace quick to make up some of the time I’ve lost. But my mind wanders back to the vision. The shapes of the trees. The forest floor under my feet strewn with rocks and pine needles. The boy standing there with his back to me as he watches the fire approach. My suddenly so-very-rapidly-beating heart.

“Last lap, Clara,” says Mrs. Schwartz.

I speed up.

Why is he there? I wonder, not closing my eyes but still seeing his image like it’s burned onto my retinas. Will he be surprised to see me? My mind races with questions, but underneath them all there is only one:

Who is he?

At that point I blow past Mrs. Schwartz, sprinting hard.

“Good, Clara!” she calls. And then, a minute later, “That can’t be right.”

Slowing to a walk, I circle back to find out my time.

“Did I get it under ten minutes?”

“I clocked you at five forty-eight.” She sounds truly shocked. She looks at me like she’s having visions too, of me on the track team.

Whoops. I wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t holding back. I’m going to catch some major flack if Mom finds out.

I shrug.

“The watch must have been messed up,” I explain, trying for laid-back, hoping she’ll buy it even though it means I’ll have to run the stupid thing again next week.

“Yes,” she says, nodding distractedly. “I must have started it wrong.”

That night when Mom gets home she finds me slouched on the couch watching reruns of I Love Lucy.

“That bad, huh?”

“It’s my fallback when I can’t find Touched by an Angel,” I reply sarcastically.

She pulls a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chubby Hubby out of a paper sack. Like she read my mind.

“You’re a goddess,” I say.

“Not quite.”

She holds up a book: Trees of North America, A Guide to Field Identification.

“Maybe my tree’s not in North America.”

“Let’s just start with this.”

We take the book to the kitchen table and bend over it together, searching for the exact type of pine tree from my vision. To someone on the outside we’d look like nothing more than a mother helping her daughter with her homework, not a pair of part-angels researching a mission from heaven.

“That’s it,” I say at last, pointing to a picture in the book and then rocking back in my chair, feeling pretty pleased with myself. “The lodgepole pine.”

“Twisted yellowish needles found in pairs,” Mom reads from the book. “Brown, egg-shaped cone?”

“I didn’t get a close look at the pinecones, Mom. It’s just the right shape, with the branches starting partway up the trunk like that, and it feels right,” I answer around a spoonful of ice cream.

“Okay.” She consults the book again. “It looks like the lodgepole pine is found exclusively in the Rocky Mountains and the northwestern coast of the U.S. and Canada. The Native Americans liked to use the trunks for the main supports in their wigwams. Hence the name lodgepole. And,” she continues, “it says here that the cones require extreme heat—like, say, from a forest fire—to open and release their seeds.”

“This is so educational,” I quip. Still, the idea of a tree that only grows in burned places sends a quiver of excitement through me. Even the tree has a kind of predestined meaning.

“Good. So we know roughly where this will happen,” says Mom. “Now all we have to do is narrow it down.”

“And then what?” I examine the picture of the pine tree, suddenly imagining the branches in flames.

“Then we’ll move.”

“Move? As in leave California?”

“Yes,” she says. Apparently she’s serious.

“But—” I sputter. “What about school? What about my friends? What about your job?”

“You’ll go to a new school, I imagine, and make new friends. I’ll get a new job, or find a way to do my job from home.”

“What about Jeffrey?”

She gives a little laugh and pats my hand like it’s a silly question. “Jeffrey will come, too.”

“Oh yeah, he’ll love that,” I say, thinking about Jeffrey with his army of friends and his never-ending parade of baseball games, wrestling matches, football practices, and everything else. We have lives, Jeffrey and I. For the first time it occurs to me that I’m in for so much more than I’ve anticipated. My purpose is going to change everything.

Mom closes the book about trees and meets my eyes solemnly across the kitchen table.

“This is the big stuff, Clara,” she says. “This vision, this purpose—it’s why you’re here.”

“I know. I just didn’t think we’d have to move.”

I look out the window into the yard I’ve grown up playing in, my old swing set that Mom has never gotten around to taking down, the row of rosebushes against the back fence that have been there for as long as I can remember. Behind the fence I can barely make out the hazy outline of the distant mountains that have always been the edges of my world. I can hear the Caltrain rumble as it crosses Shoreline Boulevard, and, if I concentrate hard enough, the faint music from Great America two miles away. It seems impossible that we would ever leave this place.

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