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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.
Copyright © 2018 by Valerie Brook. All rights reserved.