Flash 11: Kirsten

Kirsten was almost three whole years old.

Fast cold people came to the village, and so Kirsten's mommy left her with her daddy and turned furry (Mommy was soft when she was furry, but she didn't stay to let Kirsten snuggle in her deep coat this time) and ran off.

Daddy told Kirsten that the fast cold people were bad, and that Mommy was going to chase them off with the other wolves. He held her tight and wouldn't let her down off his lap to play blocks and run around.

They waited a long time, and Kirsten fell asleep because she didn't have anything to do, and when she woke up a fast cold person was holding her with one arm and her daddy was also asleep and he had juice spilled on his neck even though he didn't spill stuff usually because he was grown up. Kirsten didn't think he was interesting anymore. And he didn't let her play blocks or run.

"Hello, puppy," said the pretty cold lady who was holding her. She had dark red eyes like the color of roses. "You're awake, good. Is it your mom who's a wolf?"

"Yeh," said Kirsten. "Blocks?"

The lady picked up the net bag that held Kirsten's blocks and carried the girl and the toys out of the house. "What's your mom's name?" the lady asked.

"Mommy is I-ris-Coo-per," recited Kirsten, and then she started on her address, because if she got lost she was supposed to tell a grownup her parents' names and where she lived but she skipped her daddy because he wasn't important any more.

"Just her name'll do," laughed the lady. "IRIS!" she yelled, still walking. They were out of the village. There were a lot of people lying around even though it was the middle of the day.

Kirsten's mommy came out of the woods. She had her fur on, black on top and white on her tummy and the front of her neck. "Your daughter?" the cold lady asked. Mommy nodded, and the lady said, "She's coming with us. Smells right."

"I taked a bath," said Kirsten. That meant she didn't smell at all. That was why people took baths, so they wouldn't smell.

The lady ignored her. She walked into the woods and Mommy went with them. They waited with a bunch of the other furry people and the cold people brought more kids from the village a few at a time. Kirsten curled up in her mommy's white tummy fur and went to sleep again and when she woke up, her mommy wasn't furry any more and was holding her in her lap on a plane. Kirsten knew it was a plane because she had a picture book about planes at home.

The bag of blocks was under the seat in front of them, but none of her books were. So Mommy had nothing to read to her. Kirsten looked out the window and watched clouds and towns and trees. They looked very small.

Kirsten was three, and she'd had her birthday in the middle of the air, which she thought was very funny. She lived in a new place. It was under the ground, and all the windows were in the ceiling. They were called "sky lights" and Kirsten liked that name for them. There were three kinds of people in the place: wolves, like her mommy, and puppies, like Kirsten, and "vampires", the cold people. The cold people were in charge of the wolves and the wolves were in charge of the puppies.

Mommy specially was in charge of Kirsten. Most puppies didn't have somebody specially in charge for them - just Kirsten who had Mommy, and Bar-tho-lo-mew who had Miz Vivian, and Lise and Sarah who had Mister Shawn, and Todd who had Miz Danielle and Mister Geoffrey. (Two parents seemed like an awful lot to have. Kirsten thought Todd must be very greedy.) Todd was almost Kirsten's age, but not quite, so he was a baby, and Lise and Bartholomew were even littler and Sarah was an itty-bitty baby. Kirsten mostly didn't play with them. She played with the girls who were her age but lived in the "North" section that meant they didn't have anyone specially in charge.

Sometimes Mommy had to go on work trips to punish bad vampires. (The vampires who were in charge of the wolves were good police vampires and the wolves were helping.) When she did, Kirsten lived in North with her friends. Grownup wolves like Miz Eve (who was nineteen whole years old, which was very impressive even if it wasn't as old as Mommy who was twenty-one and soooo old) read her and the other puppies story books and played with them. Miz Eve was very good at not just saying "because" when Kirsten wanted to know "why". She sometimes let the kids win when they played tag, too, even though she was really fast. And Kirsten could play blocks all she wanted.

She liked the new place with the sky lights.

Kirsten was four, and she was not happy.

Miz Eve could not read her story books or play with her or answer "why" anymore. This was because bad vampires hurt her so bad that she couldn't get better, even though wolves were really good at getting better.

Kirsten did not like bad vampires.

Once she asked her mommy if bad vampires might ever hurt her when she was trying to punish them, and Mommy took a long time to answer, but then she said, "Don't worry about that, Kirsey," and so Kirsten didn't, because Mommy was always right except about vegetables. Mommy was never right about vegetables. She thought they were for eating.

Mister Albert was Miz Eve's brother. He was very sad about her being gone and cried all the time. Kirsten got her mommy get permission to take her Outside (it had a Capital Letter because going Outside was Important and Exciting and Un-Common) and when she was there, she picked a flower. She held it very carefully and brought it back into the village, and then she gave it to Albert, and he said thank you, and Kirsten felt very important.

Kirsten was seven, and she no longer thought that Todd was just greedy. Something else had to be going on.

Trent and Miles and Ken and Shawn were all wolves and they had all "imprinted", which was what it was called when they each met a lady and then stared at her all the time with a dopey look on their faces. So Maria and Esta and Delanna and Camellia lived with them and there were new small puppies. (Camellia hadn't had hers yet but she was going to.)

All of those new puppies had a father and a mother (Lise and Sarah had a stepmother, which was also a kind of parent).

Kirsten asked her mother about this and Mom seemed to think it was a strange question. She said that most people had two parents.

"Did I have another one?" Kirsten asked.

"Yeah," said her mom. "He's gone. Don't worry about it."

Kirsten did worry about it anyway, a little, but then they had assembly (Alpha Rachel was talking about how good the wolves did against bad vampires in Mongolia) and then she stopped just like Mom told her to.

Kirsten turned eight, and there were a lot of new people at her party. Not just new puppies or new imprints - those were usual, they happened a lot - but new wolves who were already grown up. (With new puppies and new imprints, too, including a girl and a boy who were "half-vampires". Mom said that the two of them together did not make an entire vampire, even though Kirsten was sure the fractions were right.)

They were interesting, but Mom told Kirsten not to stare and not to pester, so she didn't and just watched. They seemed nice. Elspeth was the half-vampire girl, and she had pretty bright shiny hair, and she visited the puppies sometimes and could make movies appear in Kirsten's brain - not just regular movies with trailers at the beginning and credits at the end, but movies of anything at all. It was better than books. (Sometimes it was books, illustrated while Elspeth read them. Kirsten could read by herself, but it was more fun to let someone else do it.) Elspeth lived with Jacob who was an alpha like Becky and Rachel, even though he was a boy, because he was their brother.

The new imprints besides Elspeth weren't from Italy like most of the imprints that were already there, or even dark brown like Amanda, who was not Italian but from someplace called Canada. One of them was a blonde lady - Kirsten didn't remember seeing any of those before except on TV - and the others were Native American like her and Mom. Kirsten had only fuzzily remembered that there were such things as Native Americans who didn't turn into wolves when they grew up.

"Most Native Americans don't turn into wolves when they grow up," Mom said when Kirsten asked after an assembly. "We're special."

"I wanna activate," said Kirsten.

"Soon enough, Kirsey," said Mom, but she looked unhappy. "A few years."

"You don't want me to?" Kirsten asked. "I'm supposed to. Puppies grow up to be wolves."

"It just... happens so young," she said. "Twelve or thirteen. So young, and then you're grown overnight and out on missions all over the world..." Ashleigh had just barely activated and she'd shot up a foot and a half and gotten all muscley and mature looking. Ashleigh wasn't even five years older than Kirsten.

"I wanna be furry sometimes, and tall," Kirsten says stubbornly anyway, "and run fast," and Mom sighed and sent her to bed.

Kirsten was still eight, and she didn't want to move to Québec.

"I wanna stay, we can stay, we're allowed," she whined. "You said before we were gonna stay."

"That was before I knew there was a Québec option," Mom said. "I can do a desk job, and there will be other puppies there for you to play with so it's not like you're losing all your friends, and - well, the locals will probably speak some English and I can always run into the next province if they don't -" (Mom was not good at Italian. Kirsten could speak it but didn't usually.) "- and we're going, Kirsey, that's all."

"But I don't want to," howled Kirsten.

They went anyway. Québec looked a lot like Kirsten's home village from the inside, but it was emptier. Only Nina, Calvin, Laurel, Albert, Danielle, Geoffrey, and Vivian and their puppies (Nina and Calvin and Laurel had all picked puppies to be "theirs" even though they didn't have any before) came along with Kirsten and her mom.

Mom asked her if she wanted any of the North puppies to be her sister or brother, before they left, but Kirsten said no, because she didn't like any of them that much. Mom didn't decide to adopt one anyway. So that was something, even if Kirsten didn't get to decide where they lived.

Learning French was harder than learning Italian, but they were sort of similar, and by the end of the year Kirsten had mostly forgotten Italian and learned French instead. Mom brought her along to translate when she ran errands.

Kirsten decided that maybe Québec was okay.

Kirsten was thirteen. The Golden Coven came to Québec for a month, and she stole into their section of the offices, and shuffled awkwardly at the door leading to Benjamin's. She'd met him before when he built the capital five years before, but that wasn't why she picked his office - any vampire would do and he was just the first one she'd seen. He noticed her, blinked at her, and said, "I guess you're about that age. You can come in if you like."

Kirsten tiptoed in, stretched out her hand and touched Benjamin's, and then turned and ran away at top speed because she had just remembered that she really liked her shoes.

She got back to her room before anything happened, feeling peculiar all over like there was a surprise party waiting for her on the opposite side of a door and she had to figure out how to open it. She kicked off her shoes, then made sure the real door that led to her room was locked and peeled off everything else, and she sat in the middle of the floor. She closed her eyes, and imagined the surprise party, and mimed reaching out and pulling the stuck door out of its jambs.

Floof, went her new copper-brown fur, and everything in the room looked half its size and she could hear everything and smell more than everything, and her head was full of the phased pack's voices - Hi Kirsten! Good to have you aboard! mingling with tactical muttering between a group on the ground in Saskatchewan entangled with someone's idle thought about pancakes overlapped with groggy grumbling about how panting was not efficient at its job.

Mom came back to their quarters from her workday before Kirsten had figured out how to get herself defloofed, and Kirsten couldn't unlock her door without thumbs and didn't want to break it down (even if there was no room to really move in her room), so when Mom called her for dinner, Kirsten could only bark.

"Kirsey," said Mom, exasperated, and she managed to jimmy the lock open through some unclear process involving a library card. "Well," she said when the door finally stood open. "Look at - look at you."

Kirsten looked in the mirror, and her face was - well, it was a wolf face, obviously, long snout and whiskers and big black eyes and perky ears - but she thought she looked like herself. She certainly didn't look like anyone else. The fur was shaggy - she'd need a haircut - and unique in color. There weren't many exact duplicates, but it got more likely all the time, and she liked the old-penny warmth of her coat.

"Well," said Mom, because Kirsten couldn't really talk, "let's see if we can talk you down... it's easier after the first time..."

Mom eventually gave up on walking Kirsten through the process verbally, and the rest of the pack was too busy or distracted to do it, so Mom went in to her own room and padded out in the black-and-white shape that still towered over Kirsten's new form by several feet. Telepathy was strange, and Kirsten was a little weirded out by all the stray thoughts she kept catching that Mom or whoever else hadn't meant to share (and more than a little weirded out by the idea that they could hear all of hers too). But it was effective, and eventually Kirsten dropped back into her more familiar self.

Mom phased back too, and nodded. "There," she said, and went to get dressed again. "We'll get you fitted for a magnetic uniform while you work on control," she called. "I'll tell Calvin. Brown looks nice on you."

Brown. Jake's pack. Kirsten was in a pack. She grinned to herself and started to pull on her shirt, then thought better of it and wrapped an old blanket around herself instead.

"I'm going to have to get new clothes, aren't I," she said.

"Yeah," Mom said, poking her head into the room again; she was good at getting dressed fast, out of long practice. "You'll grow out of what you have. You could give the stuff in good condition to Winifred." Winifred was Laurel's adopted daughter, close to Kirsten's size and a year and a half younger.

"I'll do that," said Kirsten. She looked in the mirror again. She didn't look very different yet, but it was going to happen, fast. She wondered how tall she'd get.

Kirsten was fourteen, and a Québécois man was hitting on her.

He didn't know she was fourteen. And she was not allowed to tell him (and he wouldn't believe her anyway, she was six feet tall and stacked and she'd learned to sway when she walked and she looked like she belonged in a triathlon). So she told him he smelled bad (he did, a little, but only because she had a sensitive nose; someone within his own species wouldn't have noticed) and he left her alone.

She stayed in the capital more after that, until she got older.

Kirsten was seventeen, and she tripped and fell into a job.

Until she was eighteen, she was entitled to be part of the Empire pack on her mom's behalf, but if she wanted to stay after that instead of switching to a civilian pack and moving out, she had to be doing something useful. Still, that was eighteen, not seventeen, and she hadn't set out to have a job.

It was just filing work. When the Coven was out of town, Nina kept the PRPR office in Québec open anyway, and Danielle had been helping her, only Geoffrey had finally imprinted (on a sweet girl half his age, she was barely twenty) and so Danielle was leaving to make things less awkward. Todd, their son, had already signed on to the mobile branch of the Empire pack and didn't need to go anywhere, at least. Nina was overwhelmed with scanning and e-mailing and filing to do with Danielle gone, and the copier kept breaking and there was a difficult applicant in the lobby.

So Nina had gone into the back room of the PRPR office and phased and "yelled" Help! I'm drowning in work!, and Kirsten happened to be in wolf form at the time, and she said she'd do it.

Fifteen minutes later, she was sorting turning applications into alphabetical order by name and putting them in their correct folders while Nina dealt with the human and then fixed the copier. The next day, Kirsten showed up again.

Kirsten didn't have any strong feelings about filing. There wasn't anything else in particular she wanted to be doing for a career. Most days, she could get away with going to the office for an hour to give Nina a lunch break and another hour in the evening to help her catch up; she was only there from opening to close when there were a particular lot of things to do. She had no shortage of time to make her little matchstick models and watch every horrid thing on TV and play pickup soccer with the rest of the pack and go running.

Running on four legs was amazing. She was so fast, and never got tired of the feeling of earth kicked up under her claws and screaming air chafing her ears. She came home when she was done with a run windblown, simultaneously hyper and exhausted. She made time every night without fail. Winifred came with her sometimes. Sometimes Mom did. Very occasionally someone else would feel like it. Usually she went by herself, distant voices shouting about everything in a filtered-away back corner of her mind.

Kirsten was twenty-two, and she was standing at her father's grave.

The La Push wolves had made a vast memorial, rows upon rows of stones bearing the names of the dead. The graves weren't empty, but they did contain ashes mostly at random, as those didn't last in distinct heaps with the wind and rain over years. Kirsten could be standing over the buried cinders of a house or a curtain or a loaf of Wonder Bread. Most likely a house, some blackened plank of wood that had survived intact enough to be picked up and interred on his behalf.

But the name on the stone was her father's: "Jerry R. Cooper". The inscription was for him: "Lost life, lost love. Our honored fallen." That one was the same on all of those graves. Then it said "Survived by his wife Iris K. N. Cooper and his daughter Kirsten J. Cooper." The ones who'd died without near wolf relatives were blank on that line. The Volturi had only left the wolves and their children alive. The entire tribe of Quileutes were wolves and puppies now.

Lost love was the bit that held her eyes. Kirsten didn't know if it was meaningful to talk about two-year-olds loving people; she'd met two-year-olds and they mostly seemed messy and loud. She knew that anyone (well, anyone without a perfect memory) who lost a parent that young would forget them after a while. Adding Chelsea (well, Addy) on top of that was just overkill. But Kirsten couldn't help feeling injured anyway.

Her mom had made the trip a year ago, and didn't want to talk about it when she came back, which was understandable. Kirsten had gotten one very abrupt summary of the Coopers' marriage: "We were dating. I got pregnant. It was an accident, but I don't regret you, Kirsey. So, we got married. It was all right, I guess, but then he died. And... Chelsea. Any questions?" and Kirsten hadn't asked any; she didn't think her mom wanted her to.

Kirsten looked at the marker, and then sighed and turned to go back to the La Push guest house.

Kirsten was thirty-four, and she was legally disqualified from the Olympics (on the Coven side, anyway - who knew if the testers on the Olympic committee would find anything suspicious swimming around in shapeshifter blood) so this was the next best thing.

The Empress's brother (or something - Kirsten wasn't actually sure how that worked), Emmett, had organized it. Wolves and hybrids and vampires were all going to congregate in the Forks/La Push area and compete in miscellaneous contests from swimming to gymnastics. They had to have separate divisions for a lot of things - soccer had to be played with two feet, not four, because it was too easy for a claw to puncture a ball, and so the wolves couldn't play with the vampires but could play with some of the hybrids - but there were a few that were mixed. Wolves could race with vampires.

Kirsten won the marathon, beating even lightning-quick Leah from the La Push contingent and a blurrily swift vampire from some tropical island, and got second in one of the shorter races, and her team won the wolf soccer tournament: she got three little circle-stamped pins, in yellow gold and white gold and rose gold. (Solo win, solo second, team win.) Then she sat in the stands and watched floor routines and ice skating and a ridiculous thing with a set of a dozen uneven bars instead of the usual two that went so fast she could barely follow it when the vampires went up. Santiago performed a dance that Kirsten dearly hoped someone was recording. Gwyn - in Kirsten's pack, but the mobile branch - had one nearly as lovely, as a pair with a hybrid boy Kirsten didn't know.

Most of the attendees and participants hung around socializing after the events were over. Kirsten found Emmett and asked if there was going to be another one and he said he was thinking of making it a biannual event. She grinned and thanked him and he congratulated her on her pins.

Kirsten was forty-nine, and she was looking at her old room in Volterra. It still looked familiar, even though it was full of the possessions of five-year-old puppy twins who were pretending to be repulsed by the fact that a giiiiiiirl had once lived in their room.

She didn't impose on the Italian pack's hospitality long, but she'd wanted to look at the place one more time. She remembered not wanting to leave it, feeling desperate to stay.

Just a room. With a skylight.

Kirsten was sixty, and she finally joined the mobile branch of the Empire pack. Well, branches. There were enough wolves that there was rarely a reason to keep them together any more. She stuck it out for a year, spending her time half in transit (usually artificial, not her own legs churning under her) and half on the ground pinning fleeing vampires. She was fast, and good at catching them, and didn't feel guilty about helping the way she might have if the Volturi had never been overthrown (this time the targets were actually bad vampires, who'd done something more along the lines of "kill humans" than "tell secrets"), but she didn't like it.

She transferred back to the stationary branch again - well, one of them, as there were now permanent packs in half the capitals, but she'd always stuck with Québec - and filed things and ran.

She loved to run.