It was late fall, and the air was turning cold. Strong winds sent red oak leaves skittering across frost-slicked sidewalks. Overhead, the sky was a sheet of gray steel. The last remnants of a broken and beaten humanity huddled together in their one surviving city as a chill north wind threatened the onset of winter. Slavering monsters full of malice brooded just outside their borders, and only the vigilant magical girls, man’s last hope, could keep the forces of evil at bay. But hope was waning, for the monsters were innumerable, the girls were few, and winter would be cold.
Meanwhile, Jake was in fifth grade. He didn’t belong there, not exactly: his fifteenth birthday was coming soon, and he was supposed to be in his first year of high school, but a computer glitch had erased part of his elementary transcript, and the school system had a rather inflexible way of dealing with such unexpected contingencies.
If there was one thing his return to fifth grade had taught him, it was to hate holidays. Jake had already suffered through a childish Halloween party full of junk food and screaming kids, and now he had to suffer through Thanksgiving. He tried to remember the first time he went through elementary: had he really spent so little time spelling and doing sums, and so much time tracing his hand on construction paper and decorating it to look like a turkey? It was a wonder he was literate.
While Jake and the other students traced their hands, their pretty, bespectacled teacher, Miss Percy, smiled benevolently from the front of the classroom. “Now, children,” she said warmly, “while you’re all working on your craft projects, let me tell you the story of the very first Thanksgiving.”
Jake rolled his eyes and fumbled around in his desk for his safety scissors.
Miss Percy set up a flannelgraph on an easel and placed on it the image of a long, wooden picnic table. As she talked, she placed around the table images of cartoon people wearing black hats or feathered headdresses.
“As you probably know, students, even though our beloved Moon Princess is Japanese, the Americans were instrumental in establishing the City of Urbanopolis, where we all live. We owe the Americans for so many things: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, an alarming rate of obesity, and many of our holidays. One of the American holidays that many Urbanopolitans still celebrate is Thanksgiving. Who in the class celebrates Thanksgiving?”
Most of the children raised their hands.
“That’s just wonderful,” Miss Percy cooed. “It’s a great time to get together with family for a big meal, right between the candy of Halloween and the sugar cookies of Christmas. And that’s why Americans are so fat. But does anyone know what Thanksgiving is really about?”
No one spoke up. Jake found his scissors and started cutting out his paper hand. Then, when he thought Miss Percy wasn’t looking, he leaned over and tapped on the desk of Dana Volt, the surly classmate who had been his constant companion since she’d picked on him mercilessly his first day. He hoped that by getting her attention, he could prompt her to work: she was staring out the window and hadn’t even traced her hand yet.
Having completed the panorama on her flannelgraph, Miss Percy fold her hands and said, “Many, many years ago, long before the First Invasion, a group of travelers, whom John Wayne called pilgrims, arrived in Old America. They were very silly people, so silly that they wore their belts on their hats.”
She pointed to one of the tall black hats on her flannelgraph for emphasis.
“And because they were silly, they didn’t bring enough food to get them through the harsh winter. Fortunately, they met another group of travelers who had come all the way from India. And these Indians knew how to plant corn. Of course, they were also kind of silly, because they tried to plant fish with the corn. The fish didn’t grow, but the corn did, so they all had enough to eat. They got together and threw a big feast to give thanks to the Moon Princess. They ate corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, pitted olives you can stick on your fingers, and wet, squishy little cubes of bread. And then the pilgrims pointed their guns at the Indians and said, ‘You better get across the Mississippi if you know what’s good for you.’ And that’s why we continue celebrating Thanksgiving even to this day.”
Huh, Jake thought as he stroked his chin, Miss Percy seems like an airhead sometimes, but she really knows her American history.
“The Indians really saved the pilgrims’ bacon,” Miss Percy added, “and that’s how we know that they actually ate ham, not turkey, at the first Thanksgiving. All those who eat turkey are blasphemers and unbelievers.”
She beamed at the students. “So how do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Reginald, in the back? How does your family celebrate?”
Jake glanced over his shoulder at a rotund kid with dark circles under his eyes, who squirmed in his seat. “Um, we don’t really,” Reginald mumbled. “We’re atheists.”
“Oh,” said Miss Percy, “well, then, let’s hear from a little boy who isn’t going to burn in eternal hellfire. Jake? What about your family?”
Jake cleared his throat and tugged on his collar. “Well … um … we usually have turkey.” He cleared his throat again and shrugged. “We’re Jewish.”
Miss Percy released a long, deep sigh.
The kids taped their hand-shaped paper turkeys to the classroom’s windows, and then the day mercifully ended. It was already twilight when Jake and Dana walked home. They were both in their winter uniforms, with long-sleeved jackets and matching pea coats. Jake lifted his chin out of his wool scarf for a moment and exhaled. He could see his breath.
Beside him, Dana groused and mumbled to herself.
“You’re from Little America, right?” Jake asked. “Does your family celebrate Thanksgiving?”
Dana merely shrugged. That didn’t mean anything: Dana was moody by nature, and it was often difficult to get her to talk.
“Since it’s just the three of us, we usually have Thanksgiving with the Willikers. You remember Ralph, right? He’s got seven sisters. It’s a big get-together, lots of fun.”
He waited half a minute, but when Dana didn’t respond, he said, “You and your mom are invited, you know.”
Dana shrugged again.
Jake chuckled. “C’mon, Dana. This is a holiday that’s all about food. Surely that gets you a little excited. This is your opportunity to polish off several plates, and nobody will—”
“Shut up,” she mumbled.
“I said, shut up.”
Jake almost replied with a sarcastic retort, but he stopped himself.
Her dad died, and she blames herself for it. Maybe holidays like this, holidays all about getting together as a family, are hard for her. I have to be understanding. I have to be compassionate. I have to—
“I can’t eat all I want!” Dana growled. “I can only eat so much, or people will start to think I’m weird! There’s all that food, but all I can do is look at most of it!”
Ah. So that’s it.
Unbeknownst to everyone but Jake, Dana was actually the alter ego of Magical Girl Pretty Dynamo, one of Urbanopolis’s most powerful protectresses. However, Pretty Dynamo’s incredible powers came at a cost, and one of those costs was a superhuman metabolism that left Dana perpetually hungry.
“Okay,” said Jake, “but that’s the beauty of Thanksgiving with a large family, like Ralph has. Everyone’s gobbling up food, so you can grab as much as you want, slurp it down, and the table will be too busy and noisy for anyone to notice.”
She glared sidelong at him. “They’ll notice.”
“Not if I sit next to you and slip you portions under the table.”
Immediately, she stopped walking. She stood in the middle of the sidewalk, staring at nothing while the wind whipped her red hair and blew rustling leaves around her. Jake walked on a few paces, but then turned and looked at her. Her hair was the same color as the leaves. He smiled.
“Really?” she said.
Her left cheek twitched. “You think that would work?”
“I think so.”
“And you’d really do that?”
She blinked her green eyes, and she almost—but not quite—cracked a smile.
“Maybe Thanksgiving won’t suck this year,” she whispered.
They started walking again. Dana even skipped a couple of times before she caught herself.
Jake grinned at her. “So, Dana, what are you thankful for?”
“I’m thankful for beautiful fall weather. What about you?”
She shrugged again.
“And I’m thankful for the friends and family we’ll have dinner with. Now, your turn.”
“I’m thankful when people shut up,” she mumbled.
He tipped his head back and laughed.
Meanwhile, deep in a castle of black basalt that perched on a lonely crag where no snow fell and no flowers grew, the Dark Queen, mistress of all that is base and wicked, languished on her high throne of black obsidian.
With displeasure obvious on her pale, regal face, she tapped long, blood-red nails on the armrest of her throne.
“Family, friends, food,” she sneered as she gazed into her crystal ball. “Ugh, it makes me sick! It disgusts me to see these vile, wretched humans enjoying such simple pleasures! Chirops! Chirops, where are you?”
A bat the size of a large dog quickly waddled to her throne. “Oh, I am here, Your Darkness,” he simpered. “I’m right here! What is thy bidding, my mistress?”
She curled her talons around her crystal ball, lifted it up, and bonked him on the head with it.
He whimpered and rubbed the top of his skull.
“My enemy, the one I must destroy,” The Dark Queen muttered.
“You mean the Moon Princess?” Chirops whispered.
She bonked him on the head again. He cowered and yelped.
“I mean Magical Girl Pretty Dynamo, you fool! She mocks me, laughs at me! Whenever I send a monster to wreak havoc on mankind’s final city, Pretty Dynamo always destroys it! Every single time! Before I at last kill her, I must see her shamed, humiliated! And to do that, I must steal her boyfriend!”
Chirops swallowed audibly.
“Have you made any progress in tracking him down?” the Queen asked icily as she slumped back in her throne.
Chirops trembled. “Well … I’ve been discussing the matter with Matilda the witch-seer, and we might have a possible lead.”
The Queen raised an arched eyebrow. “Oh?”
Chirops nodded eagerly and rubbed his claws together. “Amidst your minions, oh Great Lady of Darkness,” is one who possesses the mysterious power known as Talking Turkey!”
The Queen knit her arched eyebrows together. “Go on …”
“He is able to channel the spirits of slain turkeys, Your Darkness! And thus, he can ask the dead turkeys which humans have eaten them! Since Pretty Dynamo’s boyfriend is almost certain to eat turkey this Thursday, one of those ghost turkeys will be able to tell us where he is, and then we can send a monster to capture him!”
The Queen intertwined her long, bony fingers before her face and brooded for a moment in silence. “That power,” she at last said, “is oddly specific. Still, I like this plan. Do it, Chirops! Find the turkey the boy has eaten, and then find the boy! And when you do, bring him to me!”
At this last phrase, her voice thundered, and she followed up the thunder with a long, high, cackling laugh.
It sounded almost like the gobbling of a turkey.
To be continued …