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Tomas is not like the other captured boys—he’s surrounded by the supernatural but can’t find his own psychic power. When an evil monk high up on the mountaintop temple threatens Tomas, forcing him into a countdown to reveal his powers, will he find his gift or lose everything?
By Valerie Brook
Copyright © 2018 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.
First Published © 2017 in
Fiction River: Superpowers Volume 26
Published by Kickit Press/kickitpress.com
Cover and Layout Copyright © 2018 by Kickit Press
Cover Art Copyright: Vlue/Shutterstock.com
This is a work of fiction. Name, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form.
TOMAS STOOD UNDER THE capstone of an ornate stone archway painted with the mysterious language of the priests. He trudged out onto the cold stone slab of the mezzanine, the high mountain mists blue-gray and swirling as if stirred by a giant’s breath.
The breeze carried up the fragrance of the tamarind orchards in the summertime valley below, sun-sweetened and wild, but there was something else that Tomas noticed in the early dawn—his own fermented reek of fear.
It rose off the bruised rash on his neck, his sweaty armpits.
He adjusted his beloved zafu cushion tucked in his arm.
The mezzanine launched out into the high altitude mists like a suicide platform, a half-circle dangling in space. It was bordered only by a one-foot high stone wall that any fool could trip off and fall to his death.
Of course, the whole stone monastery had been carved out of the face of the mountain by long-ago ancestors that no one remembered anymore.
Maybe they had all fallen off?
In the early morning, the smooth stone floor of the mezzanine was cold and littered with crystalline dewdrops that glimmered like liquid stars, the sun just now rising over the highest peaks of the Senoche range to the east, a coppery hue burning through the clouds like a medallion in the sky.
Out here, Tomas’s balance betrayed him, he sometimes felt his body tilting down in a sickening slide toward the edge.
But he had never slid, not really. It was an illusion.
The monastery was full of little tricks and mind games, spirits flitting through the stone walls with devilish thoughts and projections.
But on this morning the structure in the sky echoed with its own stony silence.
The monks slept. The teenage boys slept.
Tomas did not sleep.
His bare toes wiped through the dewdrops and he left a trail of shy, flat footsteps leading to the meditation slab, a raised flat seat in the center of the mezzanine surrounded by a clay pot holding a clean cloth, an incense box and snuffer, and the honsha ball.
This stupid ball was a ten pound, circular weight made of antique apple-red and bronze ore.
Tomas swept the dew off the flat seat with the clean cloth and carefully lay his zafu cushion down. He sat in prayer position, legs folded, his brown linen pants and shirt comfortably folding around his too-thin frame.
A bead of sweat cut a slow line down his brow, then swooshed under the bridge of his nose into his left eye. It stung. He blinked and now it was a tear that escaped and fled down his cheek.
No one would know.
He wouldn’t let them know.
Tomas thought of his parents far below in the central village.
Would the morning sun warm the cooking hearth as Mother boiled quail eggs and mixed a paste of amaranth and water for the morning canche? Would his parents later walk the fields together, working shoulder to shoulder, brown hands glistening with the fertile heat of the afternoon sun? Talking little because they already knew everything that shouldn’t be said? Would the dark night come to find them huddled in their buckwheat bunk, arm in arm, still whispering goodnight to their son in their softest joined voice—the son missing for seven years but still everyday his safe return the first and last prayer on their lips?
In Tomas’s fantasies, these were the images of his parents he conjured.
But in truth, it was hard to remember them well anymore. It was hard to recall the exact rise of their cheekbones, or the slant of their eyes. The exact tone of their skin—cinnamon or clove? He didn’t want his memory to fade away. To leave him abandoned, a hollow product of the kidnapping, a seventeen-year-old who had lost his origins. Without a beginning to hold on to.
Just an end to fear.
Tomas inhaled and his ribs felt tight enough to splinter his lungs.
He closed his eyes, beginning the meditation, working through the breathing structures, dropping down into the mind state of bocane, and then sandhi. Softly, his worries faded, his muscles relaxed. The splintered feeling in his ribs released.
Meditation practice offered the only escape.
That was the lure. It was what the monks demanded of the boys, but it also afforded a refuge from reality. Tomas caught all his worries in a mental sieve and they busied themselves with draining away—far away.
Eyes still closed, quieter and quieter, he now rose into the universal stillness, beyond space and time, into the lightness of being.
His thoughts echoed somewhere in the vastness below as his consciousness floated in bliss. Unconditional love wrapped its arms around him and nurtured his soul.
Yet today, a single worry nudged him, shook him.
No more time. There is no more time.
That warning zinged with alarm up his spine. So Tomas left the place of healing love and consciously lifted his dirty hands to his slender face, fingers upright and clenched tight. His own fermented stink escaped his armpits, and yet the smell was distant, as if from another world.
He opened his eyes wide.
He saw nothing but the ordinary darkness of his palms covering his face.
Failure again, over and over and over.
He was supposed to be able to waken his spiritman, to see through his own hands and to vision. He was supposed to levitate the honsha ball like the other boys, and train and master the dark arts.
Of all the chosen boys, only Tomas had no gift. Only Tomas was a mistake.
He peeked through the cracks in his fingers.
The black monk sat on the edge of the mezzanine. His frightful eyes were tiny specks of light under the deep-set hood of his black cloak, framed only by the suggestion of human cheeks.
“This is the day of your final test.” The black monk spoke with his smoky, cavernous voice. “Are you a useless one, Tomas? Do you have no gift?”
Tomas’s ribs squished his breath out. Anxiety coiled around his neck, the rash flushing. He couldn’t be useless.
The mists had turned golden flanged, still swirling in the movement of a phantom giant, but now revealing sky and the white peaks of the mountain range to the east. To the south, the faint emerald hue of the tree line fell into the river-cut valley below and the central village where Tomas had once known laughter and love.
The boys did not laugh at the monastery.
“You will manifest, or I will send the order for your parents’ death tonight. Maybe your own.”
Tomas wasn’t sure if he heard the powerful monk’s voice from inside or outside his own mind.
“I know,” Tomas whispered.
“What is that?”
“I will do it,” Tomas repeated louder, but his voice cracked. He felt his spine fold, as if he were trying to curl his entire body under the cover of skin-and-bone hands.
A hideous sound, a soft clattering like leaves and rattlesnake tails, rose from the swish of the monk’s robes when he stood.
Tomas peered again through the cracks in his fingers over his face.
The black monk pointed at the honsha ball with a long index finger and the ore levitated off the rack, floating like a bobber on an invisible fishing line. Bang, the heavy ore slammed back into its holder.
The monk needed say no more. He left, a broken trail of dewdrops in his wake.
Tomas shook on his zafu, weeping the stinging tears, and no longer cared who knew.
* * *
The whole day passed, at once beautiful and terrible.
Tomas did not eat or drink. He obediently practiced meditation and tried to levitate the stupid ball, stretching his legs every hour.
Refusing to give up because all the other boys stolen from the village had levitated the honsha and saved their own parents.
He felt the boys’ eyes, at different times during the day—staring at his back and watching him from hidden places in the monastery.
Snickers echoed between walls.
When dusk arrived, a cut of magenta bled the sky all the way into the horizon, the distant haze of the fabled desert of the Nobu tribes out there somewhere.
He remembered it was where his mother’s people lived.
Rattlesnake rattles struck with each footfall as the black monk approached from behind, swept past Tomas, and stood in his customary place near the mezzanine edge, his back turned.
“You fail us,” the monk said. “You have not opened your third eye.”
The pressure clogged in Tomas’s throat. The fever-red, bruised handprint around his neck cinched his esophagus closed.
The monk whirled around, his shiny eyes sharp pinpoints of light inside his deep hood.
Tomas couldn’t draw a breath so he stumbled to his feet, his neck muscles beaded like thin ropes. The mezzanine started to slant, to pitch forward.
“Please don’t kill my parents,” Tomas begged. “My parents love me, I know they do.” He stumbled forward a few steps.
The monk’s eyes flashed with annoyance.
“I can lift the honsha,” Tomas shouted.
“No you can not,” the monk fired back. “You are useless!”
Tomas burned in shame, the rash spreading down into his chest, squeezing his heart with a fist. Tomas reached out and grabbed the stupid circular orb. For five years he had never imagined touching it physically because that was forbidden, never imagined doing anything but exactly what he was told. The black monk’s sorcery terrified him. Everyone.
Suddenly Tomas realized the heavy honsha was light as a feather. In fact, it was hollow inside.
Now the stupid ball seemed even more stupid than ever.
“Who cares about waking the spiritman and manifesting powers,” Tomas shouted. “You’re just a mean person who controls the village and kidnaps children.”
Tomas threw the ball, his arm unwound like a slingshot.
The sacred honsha was finally airborne under Tomas’s command, arching up toward the monk and his black hood, white pinprick eyes, and the deep-set suggestion of a human face.
The monk’s arm casually reached up to catch the ball. He stepped backward. His foot bumped the edge of the mezzanine wall. He lost his balance. In a sickening moment he pitched over the edge, robes billowing up then flapping down and all at once utterly gone.
Tomas couldn’t believe it. Did his torturer just—die? Tomas gulped the thin mountain air. The platform pitched hard on Tomas, he felt dizzy, stumbled forward. He crawled on his knees across the stone and looked over the edge.
The gathering mist in the air dropped away like a vacuum at the end of the world, swirling down in the twilight toward rocky spires and sheer descents.
See, it wasn’t totally unreasonable that the ancients had all fallen off the edges of the monastery long ago.
Tomas backed away on all fours, dragging the seat of his pants. He noticed his mouth hung open. He snapped it shut.
When the dizziness ended, he stood.
Someone shuffled behind him and Tomas turned to see all the subordinate monks in brown robes and all the teenage boys in brown linen staring speechless at him, gathered underneath the ornate stone archway.
No one moved. They all had feared the black monk. And now that fear was homeless, upset.
Tomas picked up his zafu and cradled it under his arm.
The monks and the teenage boys parted for Tomas to pass under the capstone. Tomas could feel the electricity of their eyes on his skin—and no one snickered now.
Tomas knew they all had super powers. He had witnessed all kinds of strange and frightening manipulations of objects and fire and illusion and time. They could have stopped his escape, but they didn’t. They could have even killed him, but they didn’t.
It was a culture of dueling to the death. In the eyes of the necromancers, Tomas had dueled the black monk and won.
“Come home with me?” Tomas suggested.
The other teenage boys and the subordinate monks didn’t move. Shock had rooted them to the stone floor.
He felt like he should say more to them, but he didn’t know what to say. When Tomas walked out of sight, no one followed.
Tomas hurried down the dangerous steps, the only path down from the mountaintop—cliffs dropping into a wide, toothless abyss right beside him, his one arm still cradling the zafu, the other clutching rocky holds and crevasses. His own stink soured his nose.
The magenta sky faded to blue-black.
His foot slipped with a sickening swoosh.
Tomas slammed onto his butt, one leg shooting off the path into space, his right hand clutching a jagged edge.
A cascade of baby rocks waterfalled into nothing and the zafu flew away.
A strange gurgle escaped his throat as he dangled. The black monk’s body lay crumpled on a ledge, the white skin of his half-smashed face illuminated by the prodding fingers of moonlight, bloated fisheyes crooked and helpless and blank staring. A pool of blood shined like black oil.
Tomas wiggled up and away, his weak arms fired with adrenaline.
He tucked into a hollow and sat with his spine against the mountain and his knees held tight to his chest. He shivered a little, tucking his filthy linen shirt into his pants for warmth. He studied the path leading back up to the towering monastery, already shrunken in size with distance.
Still no one followed.
The midnight view was extraordinary. The moon floated in the sea of sky. The cliff faces rose left and right around him, the rocky legs of the slumbering giants, the path he wanted to follow barely visible, a faint glow in the moonlight, a silver ribbon of steps leading down and down and down to the valley.
It would take most the night, but he would be in his parents’ arms come morning. They could escape to his mother’s homelands in the desert, too far for sorcery to find them.
But maybe Tomas didn’t want to return to his village only to lose it again. Maybe there was a way life could be like his beautiful meditations. Like the childhood he wanted to remember.
His old zafu was gone anyway. There had to be a new hope.
And then he knew.
Tomas, the weak boy who could not manifest a gift, had all along the greatest power of all—the place of unconditional love in his meditations. No one else at the monastery had found this source. That’s what they were missing. That’s why they couldn’t leave.
They knew only fear.
Tomas stood up slowly, his body stiff and joints swollen. There was something he had to do.
In the dark light of the moon, Tomas inched down to the ledge where the dead monk lay and took the robe from his body. The reign of sorcery had ended.
He began the climb back up the narrow mountain steps, the robe over his shoulder. It was just for effect. Tomas couldn’t leave until they all followed. Until they all left together. He knew he wasn’t useless.
He knew his gift was the greatest.
Copyright © 2018 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.