Saturday, December 5, 2009

Episode Seven: Realities


It's a very rare person who is taken for what he truly is.

~Peter S. Beagle


A fire truck blared up the south entrance, an extra ambulance and police car in tow. Esther watched from the third story window as a medic escorted Dr. Lampman to the open back of the parked ambulance.


"Hey Es!"


Esther's gaze remained on two officers heading Lampman's way. Ro's reflection swam murkily in the window.


"Interesting first day," Ro continued, leaning against the sill. "Man...That spaz Delia had pics up on her blog in five seconds, ya know it? Looked insane." She flipped her cell phone's screen sideways and up, revealing the key board.


"I was there, Ro."


"There's a few good shots of you attacking Lampman with your bag. Though it had all these swirly black smudges on it."


Esther snatched Ro's phone. Delia's blog, in pinks and golds, filled the screen.


"Go to 'Pics'."


Esther scrolled down and clicked.


"Try PC Xplode," Ro said, chewed finger nail tapping the newest folder.


Esther clicked. Four photos, small and pixilated, blinked onto the screen. "Which one is it?"


Ro took the phone. "There's Tobie on a chair—like he's leading a rebellion. There's the desks, smoke...The stampede...Back of the classroom for some reason. Um...What the..." Ro pushed the arrow key and scrolled down to blank screen. "Huh...that's it. Could've sworn..."


"Where are they?"


"Maybe the site's under maintenance. I know like 12 guys in my class alone have a Ublog. Could be overloaded. We can check at home." She pocketed the cell. "That's get lunch. I'm starved."


Esther glanced over her shoulder at the window and flashing emergency lights as Ro lead the way down stairs.

¤

The lunchroom buzz surged. Ro and Esther pushed through the door and searched the lines.

"Man...you get here five minutes late and everything is ridiculous." Ro stood on her tip toes."Oh! There's Karu! Let’s see if she'll let us cut."

Ro dragged Esther towards the pizza line and Karu and, Esther's heart flipped painfully, Tobie standing just behind her.

"Ro...I don't want pizza."
"Every other line is stupid long, come on."

"We shouldn't cut. Don't ask Karu to...Ro—"

"Hey Karu!"
The small girl with glossy black hair turned. She grinned. "Sup Sophomore?"

"Can we join?" Karu took a step back, jostling Tobie.

"What the—"

"Come on in guys."

Ro gave a mock bow and scooted ahead, dragging Esther with her. "Thanks Dive Queen."

"No prob."

"Karu, what the hell? They can't just—"
"Chill Sinclaire. It's two people."


"A cow and a freak..." Tobie muttered something caustic, running an irritated hand through his hair.


Esther tried to keep her eyes glued on her shoes, but heard Karu say, in an easy voice, "Well that's pretty."


She glanced around Ro's arm. Karu gazed up at Tobie, their height difference nearly making her bend backwards in the cramped line. The sandy strands near his temple, caught and pulled up by his fingers, revealed a silvery cuff attached to the curve of his ear. His eyes darted to Esther and the hair dropped.


"They let you have that?" Karu continued, unaware of Tobie glaring at Esther. "Thought guys weren't suppose to heave earrings."


"It's not an earring." Tobie crossed his arms.


"Well it’s cool." Karu smiled and Esther could have sworn a faint pink stain Tobie's cheek before Ro tapped her on the shoulder.


"Ignore him, Esther. Want cheese?"


¤


Esther picked at her pizza, her eyes straying to the third table from the front of the cafeteria. Half the length of the building, but still a world away. She watched Tobie, feet up on the table, plate in his lap. She watched the swing of his hair as he ate, hoping to catch a glint of silver and wondering why she felt so compelled to at the same time.


"Es."


It’s just a stupid earring. A cuff. That's it. Wasn't even that cool. Just a plain cuff...


"Es."


A plain silver cuff. So why does it make me feel...


Holon sat next to him, chin resting in his hand, listening quietly while Gus, elbows over the back of his chair and Jacob talked animatedly across the table.


"He is cute."


"Yeah..." Esther heard a giggle and looked up. Ro grinned at her. Realizing what she'd just agreed to, Esther started, her hand knocking the plate and nearly flipping the pizza into her lap.

"I...I mean..."


"Complete wanker, hangn' with Sinclaire already." She took a vicious bite of her pepperoni. "But cute in that tall dark and preppy kinda way."


Esther picked at her crust.


Ro leaned forward, conspiratorially nudging Esther’s shoulder. "Want me to play wing man so you can cull him from the heard? Get a date?"


"Tobie'll start yelling the second you get within 10 feet."


"Pfft. I can handle Sinclaire." Ro let a calculating silence stretch a moment. "What time does Monica get home?"


"I dunno, like 8am."


"Wanna go to the mall after last period?"


"I have to pick up my uniform from the locker room."


Ro straightened and bit into her pizza. "I'll wait by the bike rack in North Quad," she said through a mouthful.


Esther nodded vaguely as Jacob punched Gus on the arm, nearly toppling him from his chair and Tobie laughed.

¤


Late afternoon sun shone through muddy clouds. Holon rested his arms over the top of Mayan’s Hall ledge, watching a girl below. She hopped up on the bike rack and pulled up a section of brown hair. With a bobbi-pin in her mouth and hair ties littering her skirt, she twisted the strands up and away from her heart shaped face; revealing two hot pink stripes. She fastened the brown pieces back, pinned them, and started on the other side.


The door inside the small shed leading down to the Hall creaked. Holon’s eyes remained on the girl. "Don't you have clean up today?"


Tobie hopped up on the ledge. "The girls can handle it." He glanced over the side and down into the north quad. "Ugh...Really?" He took a pack of cigarettes and small yellow lighter from his blazer's inside pocket and packed them into the side of his thumb. "Don’t waste your time on that cow, man."


"You don't smoke."


"I didn't. Lots change in a year." Tobie tipped his head back, blowing smoke out in a stream towards the sky.


"It will impede your training."


Tobie laughed and the smoke singed his throat. Turning, he coughed into the back of his hand, cigarette bouncing.


"You sound like Lucus." Tobie wiped his eyes and flicked the ash into the wind.


"He knows?"


Tobie shrugged.


"Don’t take your training so lightly."


Tobie glared at the glowing end of his cigarette. It slid out from between his fingers and rested on his thumb. Tobie flicked the cigarette and lunged. Holon ducked, caught Tobie's punch at the wrist, and spun; shoving Tobie sideways. Tobie caught his footing and kicked. Holon blocked, and Tobie twisted out of the kick, hands out. He cupped Holon's neck, grabbing his shirt. Holon spun, ducking under Tobie's arm, dropped to a knee and his leg swept the ground, cutting Tobie's feet out from under him. Tobie lost his grip, rolled backwards and sprang to his feet; keeping Holon at bay with a barrage of roundhouse kicks. Holon calmly deflected each one with a forearm. Eyes on the movement in Tobie's shoulders, Holon stepped into a kick and locked Tobie's calf in the crook of his arm. Holon grabbed Tobie between the shoulder and collar bone and circled, right foot behind Tobie's left, pulling his stance in. Tobie's knee bent. His body folded. Holon caught the momentum, yanking the boy up as if he weighed less than a child.


The cigarette hit the ground, embers scattering over the loose pebbles.


Tobie skidded over the roof, rolled and slid to a stop in the corner by the air conditioner.

Holon chambered his hands, palms forward; right at his hip, left up to the shoulder. He watched Tobie, slumped and motionless, the path of the throw carved out in the roof’s gravel. Tobie raised his head. His wrist rested on his knee. He ran a hand over his cheek. Gravel and dirt fell away, raining down on his shoes. He smiled coldly and stood.


"I'm done." He racked a hand through his hair. The hand moved to his blazer’s inside pocket. He paused. He glanced up at Holon. A crumpled pack of Marbolo Lights were crushed between two of Holon's fingers. "Son-of-a..!"

Holon calmly moved his arm back and let the pack drop over the side of Mayan's Hall.

Tobie’s stomach hit the side of the wall, the pack out of reach. He hung over the side. The pack spun and floated. The edges blurred, streaming out. The pack vanished. Tobie gritted his teeth. "I hope you burn yourself, you little thief! And you.” He whirled around. “Are you punishing me?" Holon paused, half way to the stairwell. "Are you? For that cowardly little nothing?" Tobie's fists clenched. His gaze fell to his scuffed shoes. "You leave for a year...a whole damn year and come back like…like…" His fists fell open. His body slid backwards, leaning casually on the ledge with a scoff of laughter. “You working tonight?"

Holon stood silently a moment, smoke seasoned wind tugging at his blazer. "Yes."

"Go on then. And take her with you."

The door swung out with a moan then creaked shut.





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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November Ep. Seven Postponed

Because of health issues Episode 7 will be posted in December, along with any missing illus.

Thanks for your understanding.

~e.






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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Episode Six


The cinders, they splinter
And light the path
Of these strange steps
Trace us back, Trace us back
-Karen O


Bag over her shoulder, Esther watched watery shadows dart back and forth like fish in a pond. Her fingers tightened, slowly winding the satchel’s strap around her knuckles. She took a step towards Dr. Lampman.

The darkness rattled and hissed. The weight of the satchel slid as she raised it over her head, gauging the movements. She swung. The bag collided with something inches above Dr. Lampman's wrist. The dry erase markers exploded off the white board’s edge. Esther swung again. Wet splats of shadow hit the windows. The chattering increased and balls of churning darkness bounded off the professor; pouring over the desk, pushing off books and scattering papers in the echo of clawed feet.

Lampman tried to push himself up and failed, slumping to a knee. The front of his polo was ripped, blood flowing below tiny scratches dying the white.

"Get up!" Esther grabbed his arm. The shadows seethed, gathering on the sill. The sound of claws scratching against the desk plunged a spike of fear into Esther's stomach. "Go!"

Lampman staggered, snatching up his glasses from the tiles, and rushed towards the door. The shadows rattled and lounged. Esther launched off the front table, slamming into the door frame just as Lampman ran through. She rammed the door closed behind him, ignoring the frantic beat of her heart at being trapped inside the lab with—whatever it was—and ducked, covering her head with her satchel. The rattling stopped. Esther peeked around her bag. A wall of black hovered inches above her head; bent over her like a frozen wave. It swayed gently, as a long steam of seaweed in the sea current; bits of smoky shadow dissipating in the air.

The lights flickered. The darkness rippled, curving forward, reminding Esther of an animal in pain. The wave shuttered, bits of it draining backwards. Esther reached up. Curls of black twisted over her fingers, her arm, clinging to her wrist. As she stared into the dark movements became clear for a moment, but then sunk back into nothingness. A sharp pain dug into her skin. Her fingers grasped something more substantial than shadow. A tug. The darkness seethed, pulling her forward. Pain pulled at her wrist; bring up the small tracks of blood of a cat scratch. The darkness spiraled out, spinning away towards the back of the lab.

Esther stretched forward, one hand bracing against the tiles. The other reached, fingers aching after the failing dark. There had been a sadness, a fear, a longing within the twisting bits of shadow. Darkness whipped around the computer table. Esther stood, clutching her shredded cuff.

The shadows spun over the tiles and passed the monitors; where it clung in bits and curls before jerking away. Esther followed, stumbling forward, grabbing the table edges to keep up right. A patch of dark hair glistened to blue at the back of the room. Half hidden by the back of a monitor, Esther stared.

Holon stood very still, fists out at his sides. The mass of shadows thinned to a wobbling line and swirled up towards his back. It broke in two and pooled at each fist. Holon lowered his head. The churning mass of shadows filtered into each side, warping heavily around his wrists; distorting the air around his body like a heat wave. He slowly lifted his hands. The darkness in between his fingers hovered, undulated. Bits spun very slowly, bumping into other bits. It had a frozen, cold look, moving with dissipating inertia. The darkness drained, vanishing from behind him; captured in his hands. He moved them together. The dark melded into one. His left arm dropped to his side. The movement in the dark increased.

"Locate the rift."

"On it." Tobie pulled his hands in, thumbs and ring fingers forming a triangle. His eyes closed. A soft amber glow shimmered; elongating, churning the air around him with a hazy miasma.

Holon's free hand gripped the arm extended towards the undulating shadows. Esther couldn't read any emotion on his pale face, but somehow the thought that he was in pain wouldn't leave her mind. She slid down the wall, bracing herself against the sudden ache of yearning.

Holon's eyes narrowed on the creatures. "Tobie."

"Just...a...second...Got it!" Tobie’s eyes flashed open. He pushed the triangle out from his chest. The miasma twisted over his arms in thick caramel lines. It gathered at his fingers, an illuminated whirlpool, then shot between his fingers. A pin point of light hit and stayed where there should only have been empty air. Ripples spread along the light’s edges, eating away the air; trying to erode the world.

Holon swung around, the mass of deep shadow, teeth and claws, following. The creatures converged with the growing amber glow. Wind broke over the classroom. Esther's loafers slid beneath her. She pushed her hands against the table, trying to stop herself from being pulled towards the back of the lab.

A panicked chatter dampened the air. The creatures surged and swirled in their net as the light attenuated the darkness.

The shadows vanished. The light glistened and disintegrated, the pressure and wind gave and the room normalized with a speed that snapped Tobie back in a violent jerk. Both he and Holon fell to their knees.

Arms shaking as he held himself up, Tobie laughed hoarsely down at the tiles. "What a rush..." He took a deep breath, sitting back on his ankles. "Ah, man." He rolled his head back on his shoulders. "Good to know there’s a lay line in here, eh Holon?" His head tilted towards the windows. "Hol?"

A hand over his eyes, Holon slid a foot under himself, tried to rise, slipped, and caught himself on an elbow, forehead centimeters from the tiles.

Tobie took his arm. "Stop messing around." He hauled Holon up, jerking him to his feet. Holon swayed, then leaned against a lab row. Tobie stiffened, as if hit by a jolt of electricity. He glanced over his shoulder.

"Looks like we had ourselves an audience. Enjoy the show?"

Esther stared past him towards the empty space at the back of the computer lab. The rift, the gate—whatever it had been—was gone. The pressure and odd sense of familiarity had dissipated; but she could almost feel the cling of tiny claws and…

Her hand reached forward into the air, fingers spreading. She closed her eyes. A tiny throb in the air. A disembodied heartbeat; slowing from the frantic humming bird pace. A soft warmth that had to be…

No…She jerked back, clutching her fingers to her chest. “No…” She shook her head, her own heart wild beneath her fingers. She bent into the intense pull of terror. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real…Torn cuff slid under her fingers. The classroom focused sharply with a barbed voice.

“I said, how—”

Esther bolted. Her hand looped over her satchel’s strap, snatching the bag from the floor. She skidded up to the door, ripped it open and leapt into the hall. Her hand dove into the large pocket of the satchel and closed around cylindrical sanity. Esther stopped in front of the water fountain, squeezing the childproof top of the medicine bottle. She dumped two blue pills into her palm, popped them in her mouth and gulped at the water. Eyes closed she straightened.

A crackle of static; reminiscent of a radio trying to find its station. She turned to the hall.

Doors were open, teachers and students hanging out. The hall was crowded, anxious faces turned towards the computer lab. And each motion was still. Each person frozen as if wax or caught in the amber of reality to be persevered. Eyes, expressions and breath was silent, still and stationary. The bottle hit the titles of the hall, spilling blue pills over the tiles. With a snap and scattering static, movement and life spread over the hall. Deafened, Esther fell back against the water fountain.

“Esther.”

Esther’s head jerked up. Holon stood over her. His hand reached out. His fingers opened. Blue pills sat in his hand. Shaking, Esther cupped her hand under his and let the tiny pills fill her palm, dumping them back into the bottle as teachers ran for the computer lab and someone shouted that they’d call the fire department over the hiss of the lab’s sprinkler system finally kicking on. A whir from Esther’s satchel sent her scrambling for her phone. She flipped it open, cat and bell tinkling, and scanned the text.

PC Lab xplode? U ok? Meet 4 lunch? ::Ro::

Glancing up, Esther saw Holon walking against the flow of rushing people. Watching him trailing a hand over the lockers down the hall, Esther’s fingers snaked over her keys.

Y ::Es::

Monday, September 7, 2009

Episode Five


I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
~ Frank Herbert, Dune.

“Eddie! The fire extinguisher! Tobie, get away from your computer!”

White foam poured over the computer. Lampman knelt, fingers creeping towards the power switch under the table. A mass of shadows flickered and popped above the table. Tobie lurched forward.

“Don’t.” Holon looked up from his monitor, pinning Tobie with an expressionless stare.

Tobie jerked to a halt. “He’s going to upset—”

“And you didn’t?”

Tobie’s jaw set. “Just let it happen.”

“Let…what happen?” Esther turned to Holon. “Holon?” A screech jerked her head up towards the end of Tobie’s row. Rebecca, hands over her mouth, stared in terror at Dr. Lampman. A few other students backed away from him.

Lampman clawed at his arms, his hair. His legs kicked, losing his balance.

“There’s something on me! Something’s on me!” He yanked his arm out from between tower and table. Eddie dropped the fire extinguisher, the hollow clang of it echoing in the row. Daniel’s chair fell back into the aisle as he followed. Eddie tried to take Lampman’s wrist, but his fingers leapt back. Daniel skidded to a halt behind him, eyes wide.

Eddie lifted his hand, staring down at his wrist. Two small puncture wounds in his palm dripped blood down his wrist. “Something bit me!”

Daniel stared over Eddie’s shoulder. “What the…”

Lampman spun, as if shoved, and fell to his back in the aisle. The boys leapt away. The class was on their feet, staring wide eyed as Lampman writhing on the floor. Sadie grabbed Rebecca’s arm, pulling her close, Delia bolted to the door. Daniel took Eddie’s shoulder, mumbling something about the nurse.

“Cattle.” Tobie stood, dusting glass off his blazer and straightening his hair. He glanced over his shoulder at Holon. “How long are you going to let this go…Oh. Man, don’t hold your breath.”

Esther glanced up at him, then, shyly, turned to Holon. A flutter of ice ignited in her chest. Holon was ignoring the students and Lampman and staring right at her. With a jolt of panic she realized he had been staring at her the whole time. She dropped her eyes, the icy rush replaced with a sudden stab of guilt. But…I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t. Did...I? Her fists clenched over her skirt and she shook her head.

"Try to get everyone out."

Esther started. She looked up, uncertain if Holon was talking to her, but his eyes were closed. She glanced at Tobie, who rolled incredulous eyes.

“Useless.” He grabbed his chair and hopped onto the seat. “Everyone. Leave your things and file into the hall. Now!”

A few students looked up at him and more ran for the door. They passed Dr. Lampman, arms out straight as if pinned to the ground. His legs scrambled to find traction against the slick tiles. Esther squinted at the floor just below professor's shirt. Oily shadows ran up and down his arms and chest. More pooled around his ankles and darted over the computer row. Another monitor on Tobie’s row exploded, sending glass and fire over the workstation. Esther leapt back, accidentally stepping out of her row, and was knocked over by a girl running for the door. She scooted to the wall, and clung to it on her knees, trying to make herself as small as possible to avoid the stampeding students.

Tobie hopped down from the chair. “Hurry up, Holon.”

Esther stared between running students back to Holon, still calmly in his seat. He reached out his hand, fingers spread, resting his knuckles on either side of his keyboard. Absolutely still, eyes closed, he bowed his head towards his workstation; looking as if he were fighting a headache.

His right hand snapped shut. His fingers stopped inches from each other, as if holding something small and jerked to the right, then left. His left hand snapped shut. Holon slowly opened his eyes. He stood, elbows at his sides, hands twitching at the wrist.

Esther watched him round the workstation, avoid a frantic student and vanish into the back of the computer lab.

A yelp spun her around. Lampman had freed himself, flopped over on his stomach and was army crawling towards his desk. A strange puff of smoke, deep and shapeless, blackened the air to the right of Esther’s eye. It swirled like ink in a glass of water. Pressure filled her head. The edges of her vision pulsed black. A dark curtain dropped over her eyes. A sparkle of gold…She felt a sudden wash of anger, a rattle of gnashing teeth. The sound and feeling crescendo-ed. The spark died. The classroom rushed back. With a wet slapping sound a black mist appeared curled around the professor’s ankle. Lampman jerked, fingers nearly loosing their grip on the leg of his desk. With a cry, he tore his right arm free from the tiles and reached for the desk’s top. More of the emerging darkness echoed behind her and with a chill Esther felt something dark gathering. She looked up. A huge smoky shadow undulated up from the titles, curving up over her head, tendrils of darkness curling towards the ceiling. With a crash of wind, the shadows cascaded. Her hair shot forward, covering her shoulders, her skirt twisted. She lifted her hand; shadowy vapor trails streamed off her fingers. The black mass crashed upon Lampman, a tidal wave of black; and broke into shuttering balls of darkness. Five leapt up to his arm, bouncing on top of it until the grip on the desk broke. He was dragged backwards, loosing a shoe, his shirt ripping, glasses flying off his face as if flung into the lab.

Staring down at her fingers Esther stood unsteadily, one hand pressed against the wall. Two students rushed passed her. Her eyes followed them to the door, then slowly back to Dr. Lampman, writhing on the computer lab tiles. She pushed off the wall and stumbled forward. Her hand reached across the aisle and tightened on her book bag.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Episode Four: Fear


Fear is only as deep as the mind

~Japanese Proverb



Esther rubbed her wet feet into the warm carpet of Assistant Principal Mathew's office. He gazed at her over hands folded on his desk. “You need a pass because a student threw you bag out of 12B's window, but you won't tell me who did it.” Esther avoided the Vice Principal's gaze, staring at her shoes dangling from her fingers. He sighed. “Miss St. Clare, I can give you a pass but, just like last year, I can't help if you won't tell me who is bullying you.”


Fidgeting in her chair, Esther stared at her knees. “I just need a late pass, sir.”


“Because some...boys,” the vice principal paused. Esther’s fingers tightened on her shoes, her face growing warm under his intense gaze. “...tossed your bag out a window into the Founder's Garden.”


A half formed word turned into a mousy squeak. Esther cleared her throat. “Yes, sir.” There was a longer pause, then the sound of scribbling. She looked up.


“Put your wet things in the girl's locker dryer and borrow a skirt and socks from a coach.” The vice principal tore a pass from a stack of yellow slips. “Go on then. Your class should be in the computer lab by now.”


“Thank you, sir.”

¤


Coach Shanders flipped on the first row of lights to the varsity locker-room. She stretched out a line from her belt with metallic zip, selected a key and unlocked a metal cage beside the energy drink machine. “Throw those wet things in the laundry basket. Joanne Harden is on today. See her after school to get them back.” The door swung wide, nearly colliding with Esther as she came around the hideaway corner. “Wake up, sophomore.”


“Sorry...” Esther gazed at the volleyball lockers, tall and new with changing benches creating a hexagon in the center.


“What're you? An extra-extra-small?” Half the coach’s arm vanished into a pile of uniforms stacked haphazardly inside the cage.


“Small is fine.”


“Take a shower before you change.” The coach held out a skirt and sweater tied together with what looked like netting. “No telln’ what’s in that fountain.”


“I'm okay.” Esther took the packet.


The coach shrugged. “Suit yourself. I'll be in my office.” She shut the cage and locked it; the key zipping back to her hip. “Hit the lights on the way out.”


Esther backed towards the benches, packet clutched to her chest. When she heard the door click shut she untied the netting and held up the skirt. The lights flickered. She squinted at the label.


Medium.


Sighing, she set her satchel on the bench.


¤

In dry socks and trying to corral a skirt two sizes too big, Esther took a deep breath and pressed her fingers into the door's niche.


The movement behind 26 computers was faint, but she felt watched as she crossed the room to Dr. Lampman’s desk. She heard mouths snicker and whisper as she handed over the pass.

Lampman flipped up the microphone connected to his earphones and gave the paper a cursory glance.


“Bring up your term paper and get to work, Miss St. Clare.” He replaced the microphone.


Esther made her way to the aisle and the long computer table of row four. A thrill, sharp and insistent, dove down her back, brining up a chill. Holon sat next to the work station that corresponded to her class seat assignment. Esther clamped her eyes on the computer lab’s red and black titles. She hooked her satchel on her chair, pushed the power button and quickly sat, hands in her lap. Without moving she let her eyes slid carefully over to Holon.


“Have a nice swim?”


A shove from behind. Esther’s chair rocked forward, arm smacking against her keyboard. She caught herself and jerked back.


Tobie smirked, twirling a newly sharpened pencil, as he walked off towards the front workstations.

Esther righted her keyboard and stared down at the slightly grubby keys.


“Ignore him.”


Her breathing stopped in a quiet gasp. She glanced sideways. Holon gazed dutifully at his screen. Esther swallowed. “Did—Did you—”


“Don’t show him he's getting to you...” For a moment Holon’s dark eyes met hers. “Esther.”


Esther’s PC dinged softly and the screen loaded. She tried to focus on 17th century art interpretation.

¤

The room filled with gentle clicking. Esther read through her thesis one last time. She should be on the second section; religious influence on artists in the 17th century. Only a few weeks left before she had to present her rough draft for informal review. Then exit and entry exams. She had to focus. But every time she went to type the next section the screen flickered. It made her eyes water.


She tilted her head back, head phones creaking in her ears, to glance at the station next door. Holon’s screen wasn’t flickering. She cupped her chin in her hand and let her eyes un-focus. The thesis blurred as if being sucked into the program, streaming out into a white blob.


The screen blinked.


Sighing, Esther saved then closed the program. The bright gold wallpaper with the red and black Westin Crest reflected parts of the front of the lab. Dr. Lampman sat at his desk, arms crossed and head lowered to his chest. Esther glanced at the windows. A dark burst darted across the window and bounced off the monitors. Losing momentum it fell, rolling to the floor. Esther whirled around, knees striking the back edge of her seat. She searched the tops of the PCs, the row behind her, the ceiling. Biting her lip, she glanced up her row, but the other students were gazing at their screens. Her fingers drummed against her keyboard, eyes returning to her monitor.

A stream of black swirled in her screen. Her hand found the mouse. She moved it towards the shadow. She clicked. Nothing happened. Esther twisted in her chair. Nothing swam in the air behind her. Half turned; she glanced back at the screen. A shadow, misty with a strange oily shine, hovered just above the empty computer table. The track of lights above the row flickered, gently swinging. She stared into the empty air above the metal suspending the lights from the ceiling, then glanced back at her monitor. The shadow was there, pulsing slightly. Esther leaned forward very slowly, not daring to blink. A strange puff of smoke, deep and shapeless, blackened the edge of her screen. It swirled like ink injected into a glass of water. Her nose nearly touched the LCD. The shadow crackled and popped, vanishing like a bubble. Esther reared back, the wheels on her chair lifting from the tiles; her over compensation nearly spilling her over her keyboard.


“Don’t look at it Esther.” Holon’s typing didn’t break rhythm.


“You can see…” She gasped. A shadow surfaced by her ear, weaving away peripheral light. A small pressure clasped then sprung off her shoulder. Esther peeked past her monitor to the row ahead, letting the darkness play just out of her line of sight. It skipped along the top of the monitors, then dove. Esther ducked her head below her station. Rebecca Johansen’s two inch Ed Hardy heels twitched under her chair. Rebecca’s voice echoed in her ear phones.


“Sir? Sir! My monitor just went off! Sir! My--”


“I heard you Miss Johansen. Just a moment.” Lampman’s microphone clicked as he set it on the desk.


Esther leaned further under her table, watching a pair of beat up Adidas turned down Rebecca’s row.


“I was just typing and everythingshut off! It just shutoff!”


“Slow down. It’s okay.” Lampman knelt beside the tower. “Maybe the monitor...hmmm.” He glanced up at Rebecca. “Did you save?”


“Like five paragraphs before...”


“And you weren't online?” Dr. Lampman pushed the power ring on the tower. Nothing happened.

“No, sir! I swear! Oh God, am I going to have to do it all over? Am I?”


Lampman squeezed his arm in between the tower and the table leg. His fingers cupped the edge of the tower, moving it out of the way. He stared down at the switch connected to the outlet in the floor. It glowed in the semi-darkness of the tables.


“Huh...It’s on. Thought it might be a surge but…Ouch!” Lampman fell backwards, holding his hand. “What in the world...”


“Sir! Are you okay?”


“Something...electrical...need to shut the row down.” Lampman clamored to his feet.


Daniel’s chair rocked backwards. “Hey! My screen!”


Delia Ng jerked her fingers back from a blue spark jumping off her keyboard. “Dr. Lampman!”

Chairs screeched.


“Now hold on guys. Hold on! We seem to be having some sort of electrical problem. Everyone, up from your computers. Stand up. You too, Sinclare. Up.”


Esther glanced down the row towards Tobie's station. Her throat dried. Everyone else was focused on Lampman and Rebecca, but Tobie’s eyes were trailing something swinging back and forth just above his monitor. Esther stared at his tense shoulders as shadows twisted and settled on the top of his monitor in the edges of her vision. A deep chattering wove through the air. Tobie slowly reached out. His fingers snapped closed, inches from his palms, as if something were caught in his hands. Esther forced her gaze to the side of his wrist. Shadows twisted, curled and pulled inside Tobie’s grip. They surged, split, and drained between his fingers; coating the keyboard, then vanishing. The screen sparked. A sapphire current flew down the monitor's cord to the tower. Tobie pushed off the table, rolled backwards, and slammed into the row behind him as his monitor exploded.

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