Leo the Mer-Guy! Chapter Eleven: Initiation


Leo stood in front of the crackling flames all by himself.


Ruby shuffled forward, tossing a log that was as big as her onto the flames with a furious vigor. She looked up at Leo with a small smile. “Good luck,” she whispered, before slinking back into the shadows.


The rest of the witches were all behind Leo, watching him like an audience watching a stage performer.


“Think about yourself as you are now, what you look like and how you feel,” Ash called out, adopting their Gandalf voice.


Leo closed his eyes. He pictured his cobbled-together costume, his lanky shoulders and androgynously moppy hair. He felt the stress of the last day–the last month, the last year–and the increasing expectations being placed on him by his parents. He felt his exhaustion.


“Now think about where you want to be in the future. What you look like and how you feel.”


Leo stood up straighter. He saw himself as he saw himself. A brighter smile, broader shoulders. For some reason he was fixated with his arm hair. He’d always wanted to have hairy arms like his dad. He also wanted better glasses, glasses like Daniel Radcliffe wears. He saw himself as a well-meaning theater boy, someone sensitive and serious. Someone who felt confident, secure in their skin. Someone who was happy with where they were and had hope for where they’d be next. Not all of this confusion and uncertainty he felt now.


Ji-fu appeared by his side. He felt her presence more than saw it, blinking his eyes open and startling at her presence. “Jesus, you scared me!” Leo exclaimed.


She handed him a smooth, flat stone and walked away.


“Make a wish, and breathe that wish into the stone,” Ash said. “Then throw your wish into the flames.”


The little hairs on the back of Leo’s neck stood up, making him shiver. Okay, maybe he could get into the whole witch thing. The vibes here tonight were off the charts.


Leo cupped the cool stone in his hands, holding it up to his lips. He closed his eyes and whispered, “I want to be myself. I want to be accepted. I want to be happy. I want to be strong.”


He opened his eyes. He gripped the stone tightly in his sweaty palms and launched it into the flames.


He let out a breath. That felt good, really good. There was a kind of therapy to it. He felt more centered, more present in his body.


A loud pop emanated from the flames. A beat later, the stone launched itself out of the flames, arching across the sky, hot and molten orange. It fell into the pond with a steamy hiss and a muted splash.


Theo Poling is a Creative Writing and Arts double major at the University of Michigan. In their free time, Theo enjoys fostering cats, baking, and going on hikes. Theo is transgender, nonbinary, and bisexual, and is passionate about representing LGBTQ people in positive ways in genre fiction. Theo's series, We Exist! is a weekly serial that publishes short story chapters about empowered queer protagonists in science fiction and fantasy settings, where queer people have previously been excluded. Check out the newest installment of We Exist! every Thursday.

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