I was twelve years old when everything that I had ever known crumbled around me in one moment of senseless tragedy.
I knew about Adaptadyne, popularly known as ‘Stay’, of course. Stay, the wonder drug. The thing that arrived from the Were administration like clockwork every month, one prescription per Turn for three pills, no refills, expiring at the re-Turning of the named prescription holder to his or her human form. I knew about it in broad terms only, of course – I was just a kid – but I knew that one pill could delay a Turn for up to six hours, and could be used as an emergency measure to do this if necessary, a last-ditch thing to be used only when no other alternatives were possible and Turning would be catastrophic – or at the very least vastly inconvenient. Sometimes the Were worked for employers whose needs might not match their employee’s biological imperative, and if a deadline needed to be met… there was the drug, to do it with. If you filled a prescription and had any pills left over by the end of the Turn you were supposed to get rid of them – but people hoarded them, everyone knew that, people like my father for example who worked for a bank which may have had Corvid Weres involved in the whole enterprise but which nonetheless sometimes required him to delay a Turn because of urgent business at the office. So there was an emergency stash at the house. I knew there was. I knew where it was kept. For someone with the amount of street smarts that I had already acquired it would not be difficult to find the stash and raid it.
Celia knew that it existed, too.
She did not have her own supply – not yet – you were technically permitted to take Adaptadyne to delay a Turn but although Turning age was on average fifteen, and that was a benchmark for a coming of age as an adult Were, the legal majority in the society we lived in was not reached until the age of eighteen (for mundanes, that is – but it was up to local laws as to what it was for those of us born Were-kind, and it could be as high as twenty one in some parts of the country). If you needed access to Stay in between those age brackets you were supposed to get it only through your parents – with every scrip having to have signed off parental consent, and a damned good reason.
But you could get it if you wanted it, on the black market.
Everyone at school knew about Adaptadyne – the mundanes knew it as Stay, and for them it had value other than the practical applications the drug had for its Were recipients. For us it worked on a physiological level – for those non-were, it was hallucinogenic. I heard it called the Seeing God pill by one or two users who had experimented with it and ended up seriously craving its visions. You could sell Stay in the school bathrooms, to not-out-kind, for whatever you cared to ask for it – and the Were kids in our classes routinely used pilfered pills to delay their own Turns so that they could take some essential test – there were teachers who deliberately scheduled tests so that Were kids would be unable to sit them, being some other creature at the time of the exam, just because they could – just because they wanted to make their lives harder.
One of those teachers, whose name I was to learn to remember, was my sister Celia’s malicious bane, a Mr. Barbican Bain.
I was a fascinated witness to the confrontation that followed the first time our parents found out she had taken a handful of Stay she had obtained from a friend at school. Celia had taken five pills, at carefully measured intervals, so that she could keep pushing her Turn back six hours at a stretch. By the end of that particular course of tablets – in order to take a test which had been coldly and deliberately scheduled by Mr. Bain for a time at which the Were kids in his class could not possibly take it, something he did on a regular basis just to have a hoop that he could make those particular students jump through at his command, and which she did really badly on anyway – she was a wreck, pallid, her skin the colour and consistency of wax, her breath coming in gasps and her heart apparently beating almost fast enough to punch right through her ribcage.
“What were you thinking!” Mom yelled at her, afterwards, when everyone had safely Turned back into their human forms and she learned of Celia’s transgression. “There’s a reason those pills aren’t given to children! How many of them did you take?”
“Only five, Mama, don’t fuss. But I got the exam done, and it was an important…”
“Only five?” Mom spluttered, all but incoherent with rage and fear. “I’m taking you to the doctor, right now, to have you checked out! Heaven alone knows what damage you might have caused – five pills – you’re fifteen… Where did you get hold of Stay, anyway?”
“You can buy them at school,” I volunteered helpfully.
Celia shot me a reproachful look, but it was too late. The consequences were already set. One was that Celia was made to promise – to swear! – that she would not touch Stay again. Another was that I had made the final connection – seriously, until I said what I said I had not quite made the mental bridge between those things – that there was an actual market for these things in the schools and that kids who had whatever access they could manage were potentially able to make themselves valuable to other kids who did not, and wanted it. I had no doubt that Chalky would know how to find a market for Stay – and I knew for a fact that I could get a few pills here and there without anybody being the wiser, really.
So Celia soldiered on with Mr. Bain and his dirty tricks, and I managed to earn a few bob here and there by grabbing a handful of pills here and there from the household stash.
But then Bain pulled the dirtiest trick of all. Celia’s favorite writer was scheduled to come to the school for a visit.
During a Turn.
When Celia would not be able to be there.
Not without Stay.
But in order to be there… she would not need to just postpone the Turn. She would need to skip it entirely. And that would take twelve pills.
Her friends at school might have been able to slip her a few now and then, without her having to buy them on the black market – but not that many. She couldn’t even be sure that could buy that many, at once, without raising red flags.
And being Celia, it did not even occur to her to wonder about Mom’s secret stash. She probably didn’t even know where it was kept. Celia was a straight arrow, and she did things by the book, and she would never have even considered it – and particularly not after she had given her word that she would not use the drug again.
But there was the Emily Winterthorn visit. And the fact that she would be kept from it, by virtue of the fact that she was Were … even though Emily Winterthorn’s appeal was to just such readers as Celia was, because she wrote about Were in ways that spoke to those of us who identified as such.
And I could see the injustice of it burn her. In some ways Emily Winterthorne was who Celia wanted to be when she grew up… and now she would not even have a chance to have a glimpse of her, of the real writer behind the words that meant so much to her – no chance to perhaps speak to her, to ask all the questions that she wanted to ask, to tell her thank you for everything that those stories had given her.
And I loved my sister. More than anyone will ever know.
I knew that her friend Karen had given her a couple of pills. I had overheard the transaction in the school corridors. I knew that it was not nearly enough for what she needed, for what she wanted.
Well, Mom had neglected to make me swear in blood.
Two days before the fateful Turn, seeing Celia backed up against a wall, I spoke up.
“You could get it from Mama’s stash,” I said.
“Mama is watching me,” Celia said. And I read between the lines, there – she was not saying that it was wrong, that she would never do it – she was well past that – but that she could not possibly hope to get away with it.
“I can get it for you,” I said. “How many do you need?”
She stared at me, obviously at war with her own conscience, but I saw her lose that battle, allow defiance and raw courage to beat down her misgivings, and said just two words.
The morning after that conversation I went into her room and pulled out a double handful of pills out of my grubby pocket – I had never taken so many at once, this would probably be missed, but it could not possibly be put at Celia’s door. Like she had said herself, she was too carefully watched. I had not been. The ones that I gave her were not all the same – some round, some lozenge-shaped – but I had thought nothing of that, and neither did she.
“You probably shouldn’t have done that,” she said, staring at the little pile of pills on her bed.
Well, that was obvious.
I asked the practical question.
“How are you going to get past Vivian?” I said.
Vivian, the New-Moon Were (they Turned at the New Moon, not the Full Moon, like the rest of us) acted as our babysitter and supervisor while our parents were in their Turn. Vivian had already got into trouble with Mom, the last time Celia tried the Stay and gave her the slip, and she was even more tightly focused on not letting Celia out of her sight. She’d simply lock Celia up in her Turning Room in our cellar, and once that was done it didn’t matter if she took the Stay or not, she wouldn’t be let out until the Turn was over. If she were to do this… Celia would have to have a plan.
She told me she did.
I didn’t know that it involved taking all the pills I had got for her, all of them, at once, just before her Turn began. Just to make absolutely certain that she would not Turn during that particular Full Moon.
We didn’t know, either of us – perhaps we should have done, but we didn’t – that the differently shaped pills had been different doses. That some of them had been a single-dose 50mg pill, and others an extended-release 200mg tab.
Perhaps it is guilt that wipes my memory of specific events after this, because all I remember is a series of images that are burned into my brain.
My sister, laid out on a gurney.
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