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::

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