Cheerful singing greeted Elizabeth each morning, a sound she never grew tired of. After months wasted in the adoption office, she began to fear a life without a child of her own. Then her old friend Nicholas intervened, and brought her the perfect child. While she felt nervous at first, she now cherished the bond with her beautiful daughter.
In the living room, the Mighty Mouse cartoon her daughter mimicked before blared. Her daughter, Alera, lay sprawled out in front of the television, focused on her favorite rodent’s adventures. She clutched an open box of cereal in her hands; she refused to grasp the concept of a bowl. She wore faded blue jeans and a black t-shirt featuring Slashman, her favorite character from the Mega Man cartoon. Alera treasured the shirt, having earned it after a marathon begging session. The deadly robot held his claws at the ready, his fierce expression a stark contrast with Alera’s ever-present smile.
The girl refused to turn away from the adventure on the television screen. “G’morning, mother!” Elizabeth barely managed to decipher the words through a mouthful of cereal.
“I’m off to work. Promise you’ll be good today!”
“I’m always good!” Alera’s long, bushy white tail swished as she spoke. The tail seemed to grow faster than the child herself, quite a statement given her six foot height.
“…no cartoons if you break the rules.”
Elizabeth waved and walked out the front door. On the street, the other children of the neighborhood took advantage of the clear summer day, playing in their front yards. She wished Alera could play outside, but it presented too much of a risk. Many people in San Diego, even her own neighbors, hated Alera’s kind, the Emejre. The hatred and fear of the half human, half animal creatures ran so strong they might attack an innocent child like her daughter. Only a few weeks earlier, police found a younger Emejre in an alleyway, hands and feet bolted to the wall in a hate crime some justified as part of an ongoing war.
Such hatred, after all, provided the reason Nicholas brought Alera to her, in the first place. Elizabeth was her only chance to have a family, and something resembling a normal childhood. The arrangement still posed a risk; if her neighbors learned of the Emejre child, both of them would be in great danger. Still, Alera made the risks worthwhile, and Elizabeth planned a long, happy life with her daughter.
Alera crammed another fistful of cereal into her mouth, as her attention remained focused on the television. The train barreled down the tracks, growing closer to Pearl Pureheart with each passing second. The young Emejre crossed her fingers as the train neared, seemingly about to hit the heroine. Then, at the last possible second, Mighty Mouse swooped down and grabbed Pearl, along with the rest of the track, and whisked her to safety. Alera threw her arms into the air in celebration, launching her cereal throughout the room.
She began to scoop up the tiny pieces, but stopped immediately as the commercials came on. Commercials, Alera reasoned, proved almost as entertaining as the show itself. The first commercial boasted the merits of “Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs,” and the girl immediately resolved to ask her mother about buying a box. The next commercial boasted a new line of stuffed animals. Alera giggled as a mink showed up on the screen.
“It’s me!” she said to no one in particular.
The next commercial, however, captured Alera’s attention immediately. She knew the product, the words, even the theme song by heart. The X-47 Rocket Plane remained at the top of her toy wish list, and with good reason. Not only did the plane’s sleek black and red body look cool, but the X-47 performed the most amazing stunts of any toy she’d ever seen. The commercial ended with her favorite moment, as a boy threw the plane with all his might, and it sailed the distance of an entire football field. It even flew right through the uprights, like a well kicked football! Yes, the X-47 Rocket Plane, with no batteries needed, stood head and shoulders above other toys. Alera wanted… no, Alera needed this Grail of the toy world.
“Mom’ll cave, eventually,” she reasoned, then picked up the remaining bits of breakfast and carried them to the kitchen for a proper burial.
As she dropped the wasted cereal into the trash can, she glanced outside to see the neighborhood children playing. She saw the group every day, and her sensitive ears caught almost every word they said. As a result, Alera knew them almost as well as if they were her own friends. Each day brought a new game, and Alera watched from the shadows of the kitchen, the cheerleader none of them knew they had. She longed to join them, as they often role played as heroic Emejre, but her mother forbade any contact.
Then, Alera stopped in her tracks. Derek threw something to Johnny, but not the usual football or baseball. She tracked it from Johnny’s hands to Suzie’s, and she knew.
They owned the X-47 Rocket Plane!
The plane failed to sail like it did in the commercial. In truth, it struggled to fly the twelve feet between the friends. None of that mattered to Alera, however. The toy she craved lay just outside her home. The thought of a cartoon-less afternoon passed through her mind briefly, but seemed a justifiable risk. She could venture outside, at least for a short while, and play. She might even make new friends.
She ran to the door and threw it open. The bright midday sun greeted her, and she took a moment to appreciate its warmth on her face. She sniffed the outside air, filled with many unfamiliar aromas. Most seemed appealing, and she resolved to learn about them each in time. She dashed to the street, where the children played. Derek threw the X-47 to Amy, but she missed… after all, she always missed… and the beloved plane landed at Alera’s feet. She kneeled to pick it up, and at last, felt the sought after plane in her hands.
A second later, Suzie screamed, “It’s a monster!”
Alera jerked up, and watched as the children ran away from her. She watched in confusion and fear as they looked at her and screamed. Wasn’t it cool to be an Emejre? Didn’t children always get along with her kind in the commercials? She looked towards them, trying to figure out a way to calm their fears.
Just as she started to speak, a small rock crashed into the back of her head. Alera noticed less the little damage the stone caused, and more the look of hatred on the face of her mother’s neighbor, Mr. Hankins. She liked Mr. Hankins, his kind face and his constant offers to help her mother with yardwork, but he no longer seemed to exist. The man in front of her instead held a handful of rocks, managing to throw them even as his hands shook.
“Leave our children alone, you filthy anthro!”
“I didn’t…” Another rock sliced her forehead, and Alera backed away. She longed for the safety of her house, but Mr. Hankins stood in the way. Another rock hit her shoulder, and she finally turned and ran. She ran down several streets and through numerous alleys, not sure of where she planned on going or how she might return home. Finally, her legs gave out and she collapsed in an empty lot overgrown with weeds.
She curled into a ball, still clutching the prized X-47, tears soaking her fur. Once again, she smelled the air around her. Many of the odors remained the same, but Alera could only think of them as potential dangers now. The world around her seemed large, unfamiliar and dangerous, and her heart pounded so fast she feared it might burst from her chest.
Through closed eyes, and thought of her home. She imagined her mother coming in the door, with a bag of baked potatoes and broccoli, tired from a long day at work but thrilled to see her daughter. The two ate dinner, watched their favorite television shows, and went over the day’s home schooling lessons. Alera even missed homework, compared to the alleyway. And, as her mother tucked her into bed, she would beg for the X-47 as a birthday present.
Instead, Alera fell into an uncomfortable sleep holding the X-47. Her home, her bed and even her mother became the dreams in her new world.