• 1) I’ve never been one of the ‘popular’ kids. I don’t participate in sports, I’m not in the band, and I don’t do school plays. I’m the one who sits by herself at lunch and eats her peanut-butter and honey sandwich while everyone else whispers and makes fun of her for not having friends. To the others, I’m a nobody. I’m the resident freak, so low that even the nerds make fun of me. A walking target.
    Truth be told, they aren’t that far off. I am a freak. Here, anyway. I’m an accident, an anomaly, a mistake, however you want to look at it. I’m antisocial, I cringe at the thought of crowds, and the last time I went to a school dance, the campus went up in flames. I am, in a nutshell, a monster. It’s not my fault, I assure you. Blame it on Fate and her sick sense of humor, ‘cause if it wasn’t for her, I’d be back home with my own people instead of screwing up this place…
    Yeah, you’re probably confused now. I don’t blame you. I was pretty confused, too. I’m still confused, so if this doesn’t come out clear, I apologize. I’m new at this whole thing… So here goes.
    My name is Chay. That’s as much as I can tell you, for my own safety. I’m not human; not by a long shot. I look human, but that’s just a racial fluke. I am, to put this in easier terms, an ‘alien’. Not necessarily from space, but definitely not from Earth. Where I lived, people have animal affinities, which differ among the separate races. We can communicate with all animals, but are close with only certain types. For example, if one race lived in a desert, they’d have a close connection with sand-dwelling creatures. Desert toads, sidewinders, lizards, things like that. In my case, it’s birds. My race has a contiguous relationship with those of avian descent. We communicate with them, live with them, and can turn into them.
    Neat, you think. I can talk with the animals, transform into the animals. Very neat, right?
    When I was thrown into your world, I was discovered by the wrong people: Your government. They captured me and ran an entirely unnecessary range of tests on me. According to them I’m some sort of foreign biological weapon or something and I must be destroyed before I get the chance to harm your people.
    Gee, your world is nice.
    Unfortunately for them, they had no idea what I could really do, so escaping from their ‘high-security’ compound was as easy as breathing. Unfortunately for me, they haven’t quit looking for me yet, so I’ve had to go incognito for the past three months in order to survive long enough for me to find a way back home.
    How did I get here in the first place, you ask? No idea. I couldn’t tell you. If I do find out, you’ll be the first to know. Maybe.
    Anyway, that’s all I’ve got to say for now. If anything interesting happens in the next few days, I’ll tell you.

    “Chandra Adams.”
    “Here.” Chay raised her hand, letting the substitute register her name in the attendance book.
    “Matthew Connor.”
    Chay rested her chin in her hands, staring blankly at the whiteboard. Her clear green eyes were unfocused, giving her a look of moderate stupidity. But she had a way of analyzing information, learning from what she saw. Anyone who truly knew this tall, spunky, blonde-headed girl would know that there wasn’t a smidgen of anything remotely stupid in her.
    Too bad no one truly knew her.
    “Staci Jameson.”
    She’d enrolled herself in this school nine weeks ago, hacking into the school’s database and entering a false name and birth certificate. She now masqueraded as a student at Villa Grange High School, the little, lack-luster academy in the little, lack-luster town of Villa Grange, Iowa. She didn’t involve herself in anything, nor did she care to.
    “Jason Malone.”
    She pivoted her gaze, trying to look at the indicated boy without catching his eye. She blinked at him once, then looked away, hiding her blush. She hated to admit it, but she liked him. He was involved in nearly every sport offered in school, he was in the running for valedictorian, and on top of all that, he was drop-dead gorgeous. Maroon eyes, short brown hair that flicked golden-bronze in the right light, and that smile… A smile to die for. Well, maybe not to die for, she thought. Nobody here is that important to me.
    “Brian vonStevens.”
    It was fourth period, one class before lunch. Biology. Chay sat by herself near a window in the rear corner of the classroom, away from everyone else. She had her backpack, her books, her pens and pencils…but nothing mattered. She still was alone, still outcast.
    And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
    “Today, class, we’re studying the anatomy of Class Aves.” The majority of the class groaned. “Yes, well,” the teacher went on, “until Mr. Hamilton gets back from his conference, we will study out of our textbooks.” She pulled the massive teacher’s edition from under her desk. “So, then. If you’d take out your books and turn to page eight-seventeen, read and take notes, and complete the questions at the end of the section, we’ll have a quiz at the ends of the period.”
    Chay unzipped her pack, taking out the heavy green biology book and setting it on her desk. “Eight-seventeen…eight-seventeen...” She flipped to the desired page and began to read through, taking notes at regular intervals. After ten or so minutes, she had read and took notes on the entire chapter and was flipping through the book, skimming over the information. It wasn’t anything new. Class Aves, more commonly known as birds, were her specialty, her life. It would be an insult to her race if she didn’t do well on this subject.
    The class period passed slowly, and Chay found herself staring at the back of Jason Malone’s head, watching the light change the color of his hair ever so subtly. She had once seen a bird with feathers like that, changing tones as the light reflected off of them. She wondered what Jason would be like if he were of her race…
    “Quiz time!”
    The class groaned again, but Chay put away her book and took out a pen and a sheet of paper without arguing.
    “This quiz is a bit more difficult than your previous ones, but Mr. Hamilton left me a notice saying that you’d be able to do it. Now, I’m going to give you the scientific name of a bird, and I want you to write the bird’s common name. Easy enough, yes?”
    Too easy, thought Chay. Give me your best shot.
    “First: ‘Laurus ridibundus’.”
    Chay wrote down her answer rapidly, looking at the teacher for the next question.
    ’Menura novahollandiae.’”
    Again, she was one of the first finished.
    ’Alca torda’.”
    Her pen fairly flew across the paper.
    ’Phalocrocorax carbo’.”
    Six questions and a bonus later, Chay was headed to lunch with a smug grin on her face. She had aced that quiz, and was positive that no one had even come close to beating her score. She made her way downstairs, through the other students milling through the halls, past dark looks and jeers to her locker. She dropped off her books and slung her lunchbox strap over her shoulder. It was a quick walk through the hall to the lunch room, but after buying a bottle of apple juice from the snack bar, she decided that she’s be better off eating outside today. She got her juice, waited until most of everyone had sat at their respective tables, and made a beeline towards the school’s double-doors.
    She was headed out the front when someone grabbed her shoulder. “Hey, freak. We need to talk.”
    Chay turned, blinking at the girl who held her arm. “Can I help you?” She recognized Savannah Montevallo, one of the most popular girls in Villa Grange. And one of the most snotty.
    “No, but you can help yourself,” Savannah sneered, letting go of Chay’s sleeve.
    “Beg pardon?”
    The girl wrinkled her nose, cutting her eyes at her. “Are you really that stupid? I said you can help yourself. By not looking at Jason ever again. Yeah, I saw how you were drooling over him last hour, freak, and let me tell you this: Save yourself the heartache and just leave him alone. He’d never be interested in someone like you.” With that, she turned and paraded her way back to her lunch table.
    Chay watched her flounce away, shooting mental daggers into the girl’s back. “How dare she,” she muttered, spinning around and shoving the door open. “Only she would have the unmitigated gall to shut someone down like that…” She plopped roughly down at a circular metal table and opened her lunchbox, fuming. “I don’t know how someone like that could live with themselves…” Taking out her traditional peanut-butter and honey sandwich, blueberry muffin, and apple, she relaxed slightly and began to eat. “Then again,” she said thickly through a mouthful of sandwich, “she has a point. Someone like me would never have a chance with someone like him…” She chewed, mulling over her problem.
    A little bird, a swallow, flitted down from the school’s awning and blinked up at Chay and her sandwich. “Cheep?”
    Snapping out of her reverie, she looked down at the bird. “Hello, there,” she whispered, speaking away from the door so no one could see her lips move.
    “Cheep?” It flicked its tail, flittering onto the table’s edge. “Che-eep?”
    Chay smiled, peeling the crust off her sandwich. “Hungry? Here you go…” She pushed the bread towards the little bird. “Enjoy.”
    It hopped to the bread, blinking at it, then blinked at Chay.
    “Go ahead, it’s not poisoned or anything like that. It’s okay, take it!”
    Putting one tiny foot on the piece of crust, it pecked a bit off and swallowed. “Cheep.”
    “You’re quite welcome.”
    The swallow stared at her, unblinking, then hopped back to the table’s edge where it watched her warily, as if afraid of her.
    “It’s okay, little guy. I’m not one of them…” She sneaked a look at the doors, making sure that no one was watching her. Turning her head back, she lapsed into her native language. “My name’s Chay. What’s yours?”
    The bird nearly had a heart-attack. It was so startled that it fell off the table but landed in the grass underneath. After it regained most of its composure, it ruffled its feathers and spoke. “Ya can talk?”
    Chay grinned. “Better than most in this place.”
    “I’m not from here,” she said, taking another bite of sandwich. “I’ve been dropped here by a force unknown to me, and until I find a way home, I’m stuck here.”
    The bird’s headfeathers rose. “Ah…poor thing.” It flew back onto the table and pecked at the bread crust. “Must be hard, livin’ in a place where ya don’t understand…”
    “You have no idea.”
    Swallowing its beakful of bread, the bird flicked its tail. “Where exactly are ya from, again?”
    Chay finished the sandwich and unwrapped her muffin, flicking her eyes around, checking for anyone who might be listening. “Kadalus.”
    “Hm…Is it nice there?”
    She shrugged. “It’s alright…I like it better there than I do here, that’s for sure. I’m seemingly disliked here.”
    “Yeh, I can guess how that might be like…”
    “Are you from around here? I haven’t seen you before.”
    The bird shook its little dark head. “Nah, ’m from the next spot over; just migratin’ through. M’name’s Kittle, by the way. Nice t’meet ya.”
    She nodded. “Likewise, Kittle.” She began to ask if he had ever met someone like her before, but the school doors opened and spooked the little swallow away.
    “Nice meeting ya!” it chirped, flitting away with the crust in its claw.
    Chay acted as if she had been studying facts in her head, moving her lips as if reciting. The person who had opened the door let it slide shut, remaining inside. When she looked, she saw no one in the window looking out. “Strange…”
    The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch and the passing to the next class. She packed the rest of her muffin and apple into her lunchbox, stowed her juice bottle in the side pocket and tossed her wrappers in the trashcan. “Oh, well…back to the warfront…”