Open Up the Storm by Elizabeth Rubio

Cate doodled leaves in her notebook as Mr. Bell paced at the front of the classroom, mumbling something about nonrenewable resources. She had heard it all before, but what control did she have over whether the town’s power came from coal or wind? The leaves she doodled, though, she controlled completely. They joined together in a vine that climbed up the page, twisting and branching and curling around the—admittedly, very few—notes she had taken.

A hand touched Cate’s back, tugging at fabric. Then with a sting, her bra strap snapped loudly back into place. Heads turned and laughter rippled through the classroom as Cate whirled in her seat to glare at Alex, who sat behind her. “Leave me alone,” she hissed.

“Cate, no talking,” Mr. Bell admonished. He pressed his lips together. “That’s the third time I’ve had to tell you this week.”

“But Alex—”

“Did I ask for your input?” Mr. Bell narrowed his eyes. “For talking out of turn twice now, I’m giving you detention. Understood?”

“But he—”

“Want to add tomorrow as well?”

“No, sir.” Cate crossed her arms and stared out the window, fuming while Alex huffed smugly behind her. She held back the hot feeling that prickled at her eyes, instead focusing on the trees in the woods beyond the school ground, bathed invitingly in golden sunlight.

A figure walked out of the trees, blurry and obscure through the glass. Cate squinted. It was a girl, perhaps a few years older than Cate herself. She looked filthy as if she’d been rolling in mud—her clothes indistinct, her feet bare. Her hair was lank and hung in long strands around her face, but her smile was visible even through the smudged glass. She raised a hand and crooked a finger in a beckoning gesture. Cate leaned toward the window, straining to see what the girl was doing.

Without warning, Cate found herself outside, warm sun on her shoulders. She gasped and stumbled slightly, trying to gain her bearings. The girl, now just in front of her, smiled even wider and jerked her chin toward the tree line, then turned and darted away into the woods.

“Wait!” Cate took a step, then turned back. Behind her, the school sat, uncaring that she had been whisked outside, not even noticing her absence. How had that even happened? She looked again at the woods. There was no sign now of the girl. But she couldn’t have gotten far, could she?

Cate tiptoed into the trees, sighing as the cool shadows slid over her skin. The trees gave her space, letting her pick her way toward a destination she felt certain about even if she had no idea where she was going.

Presently, she found herself in a clearing. In the middle of the clearing was a glittering pool, its waters burnished gold, sparkles of sunlight dancing off its surface. Next to the pool sat the girl, arms around her knees, ankles crossed. She looked up at Cate. “I’d hoped you would come.”

Cate hesitated at the edge of the clearing. Up close, the girl was even more startling. Her lank hair was a yellow so vibrant it was nearly green. Her clothes were vague and fuzzy, as though viewed through an out-of-focus lens. Her legs were smeared with grime, and where her toes ended, curved black talons sprouted. She smiled, revealing rows of pointed teeth. Cate shivered, but realized the sensation came from excitement rather than fear. She stepped into the clearing.

“Wha—” Cate stopped herself, realizing how rude it would be to ask the question that almost slipped from her tongue. “Who are you?”

“Who are you?” the girl replied, tilting her head.

“I’m Cate. With a C.”

The girl looked around. “We are nowhere near the sea.”

“No.” Cate shook her head. “Spelled with a C.”

The girl was on her feet in an instant. She crossed the clearing so fast, Cate didn’t see her move. “A spell, you say?” Her green eyes glinted. “With the sea?” She took Cate’s hand and snapped her fingers, lighting a spark between them. The woods melted, dripping away around them, and the coastline shifted into focus, complete with the cries of sea birds and the smell of brine. Cate whirled, but the girl’s grip was tight on her hand. She pulled Cate across the sand and into the shallow waves, letting them lap over her shoes. The chilly water seeped through her socks and between her toes.

“What is this?” Cate asked. “How did you do that?”

The girl’s pointed teeth glinted in her smile. “Ah, Cate of the Sea. There is so much power to be wielded, but only for those strong enough to hold it.”

Cate swallowed. The girl’s words hung in the air heavy with threat, hope, and promise. If Cate only reached out, could she touch them? Could she grasp the power herself? She found her hand had risen, unbidden, her fingers stretching out to touch something she could not name.

The girl lifted her hand and snapped her fingers again. The spark lit between them, jolting the woods back into place. “Are you strong enough to hold such power, Cate of the Sea?”

Cate cocked her head. “Why do you keep calling me that?”

The girl laughed out loud. “You called yourself that. Have you forgotten already?”

Cate sighed. “What I meant was—"

“You said what you meant.” The girl’s gaze had become dark and fierce. “Will your actions follow your words? Will you seize your power? Will you take control?”

Cate’s breath shortened, and her pulse sped. She was hardly certain this girl was real, or the woods, or any of it. But the word formed on her lips easily: “Yes.”

The girl nodded to the pool. “Walk into the pool. Walk until you’re all the way under. The power will come to you.”

Taking a deep breath, Cate stepped forward and into the pool. The water was surprisingly warm, not at all like the chill of the coastal waves. The sparkling golden surface dazzled Cate’s eyes, glowing ever brighter as she pushed forward through the water, becoming blinding as it reached her neck. She held her breath and took a final step, letting the water close over her head.

With a jolt, Cate sat up in her seat. Around her, other students turned to snicker at her as Mr. Bell crossed his arms over his chest.

“That’s it, Cate. Detention, all week. Report here after the final bell today.”

She knew she ought to be peeved about detention, but these at least felt duly earned. Cate shook her head, clearing the dream away.

Yet her feet squished wetly in their socks.

After classes ended for the day, Cate made her way back to Mr. Bell’s classroom for detention. He set her to writing an essay about respect for her teacher, but interrupted her not long after she had begun.

“Do you find my classes boring, Cate?”