The tip of the sliver jutted from a patch of reddened flesh. Olivia winced at the lightest scrape against it. The pain sank deep, into the hollow of her bones where it pulsed up her arm. If she didn’t pull the sliver out soon, infection would spread. Her father was a surgeon, would know exactly what to do, but how would she explain what she wasn’t supposed to be doing? She had been told numerous times not to climb the oak. If her mother were home, and didn’t always work the night shift, she would help her. Her mother understood her. Her father never tried.
Olivia went into her father’s den, another forbidden place, in search of his surgical tools. She sifted through his medical desk and kept a close watch on the door. In the bottom left drawer, light glinted off a long pair of chrome surgical tweezers. At a glance, they looked more than sufficient for the job, but the handhold at the top suggested gentle precision.
Olivia tiptoed into the bathroom, shut, and locked the door. After a few self-help chants and a deep breath, she pushed the teeth of the tweezers into the flesh of her palm. A bullet of pain shot up her spine when the tweezers grazed the tip of the sliver’s tail. Her breath heaved out with a groan. The sliver proved difficult to grasp. She gritted her teeth and prodded further.
To widen the gash, she had to pluck the skin back and tear through the layers. A burning ache spread over her palm. She jabbed deeper and pretended the sharpness pushing through the tiny bones of her toes wasn’t real. But a strange abnormality appeared in both feet. Her toes bent into bony tips. They curled under, as if grasping something.
The hurt in Olivia’s palm reached an unbearable peak. Now, a red line streaked up her arm. With renewed intensity, she dug for the sliver again. The tweezers bit down on the tip. She squeezed the handhold and pulled. The sliver wouldn’t budge. She tugged harder. Another shot of pain raced up her back and rooted into her shoulder blades. The sliver dislodged, but not entirely.
The red track up her arm stung like honey bees. Olivia kept pulling at the sliver. It grew longer and thicker and began to arc … like a talon. Her fingers stretched out, reminiscent of teeth on a rake. But this is absurd, she said to herself. Then, a second sliver surfaced at her elbow. Bewildered and frightened, Olivia dropped the tweezers. They clanged to the jingle of her father’s keys. …
Footsteps approached the bathroom door. Before Olivia had time to act on a thought, it opened up to her father’s face, stretched long with surprise. His eyes widened on the talon protruding from her palm.
“Olivia,” he whispered. “Do not move.”
It wasn’t something she could have done anyway, frozen still by the oddity of her condition. “What’s wrong with me, father?”
“I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner. Your mother wanted me to.”
“Told me what?” Though Olivia had asked the question, she wasn’t sure if she wanted the answer—she was a spectacle, at the least.
The explanation that left her father’s mouth might as well have been blood-starved bats, for when they reached Olivia’s thoughts, it was the image her mind had conjured. Images of the bizarre and horrifying.
In a panic, Olivia gripped what she once thought was just a sliver and worked feverishly to jam it back into her palm. It was much too late. A sheath of dark brown skin unfolded between her elongated fingers and under her arms, becoming wing-like.
“Father? What is happening?”
“It will all be all right, Olivia.” But his expression wasn’t one of reassurance. He opened the window. “Your mother is waiting for you.”
Olivia reached for the bathroom doorknob, seeking to hide under her bed, but the October breeze pulled her into a moonlit sky.
© Erin Cole
Erin Cole’s stories have appeared in over 30 print and electronic publications. She is the author of two books, “Grave Echoes,” and “Of the Night,” a proud owner of a fist-sized meteorite, lover of spicy food, and is attracted to chaos—not by choice. See more of her work at http://www.erincolewrites.com