Lulu gritted her teeth. This next bit would be the hardest part of all. Slowly, she pulled herself up, and -oomph!- landed on the ground, ankle-first. She didn't feel the pain until she pushed off the ground, but she had no idea how she couldn't. It sprouted up, like a new-formed bud, with its roots planted firmly in her heel and stem reaching up, up, toward her knee. She winced and gauged how far she could walk before she'd collapse. Lulu was pretty sure she couldn't make it to the house, but there was the gardening shed, full of rakes, shovels, and other possible crutches. Lulu's mom wouldn't be happy, either. She had a volleyball tournament on Saturday.
Like a crippled snail, she hobbled her way toward the shed, cursing at her ankle and the tree she'd tried to climb. When she got to the door, she stumbled through it blindly, not noticing what was on the other side. That was a mistake, and not a small one, for that matter.
She started paying attention when her foot stopped hurting. More than the pain, it shocked her, and she stumbled and fell. Another mistake.
Suddenly, they were there, surrounding her. They had no weapons, but they needed none. They had only five or six in number, but they needed no more. One spoke with a grating, ancient voice, pointing at Lulu with her disfigured, crooked finger: "What are you?" The speaker glared at her with one eye as the other stared at a point behind Lulu's back.
She could barely choke the word out, but it finally made its way past her lips, in a thin whisper. "What?"
The finger-pointer snarled back at her. "You know what I mean. Or do I have to spell it out for you?" She tilted her head disdainfully with a sneer that ran across its face like a grin. "Angel or demon?"
Horror spread across Lulu's face like a spilled bucket of water. She was in such a state of shock that she could do nothing but repeat her last word. "What?"
A horrible, jarring laugh bounced out of the pointer's mouth. "We've got a slow one here, girls. Did you hear her? She must really be a dolt, if she doesn't even know what she is. What are you, girl?" they leered, yanking Lulu to her feet with a strength that made their murky clothing ripple like smoke. Their hands were cold and warm at the same time, a sensation that made her skin tingle uncontrollably. She only shook her head, squeezed her eyelids, and listened. "Come on, girl! We all know you can speak. And we also have different ways of finding out what you are, but we thought we'd give you a chance, just this once. But if you're not going to comply-" Lulu could almost see the pointer's ghastly face as the voice dropped to a whisper "-then we're going to have to take those steps anyway. You don't want that, do you?"
As the first molecules of sweat appeared on her face, Lulu blurted out, to the surprise of everyone, including her, "Neither! I'm neither. I'm not anybody, just neither," and, with that, she started to cry. Sank down on her knees and covered her face with her hands, as if she were ashamed.
The pointer's voice had an element of bewilderment as it spoke again. "Neither? 'You can't be neither. Just one or the other.' That's what I was taught. Not one or the other, you say, girl? Well, we can't have a 'neither'. You've got to be one or the other." With that, Lulu was pulled gently to her feet. "Come with us, girl. And we'll see about your 'neither.'"