Friday, February 11, 2011

Episode Nineteen: Concepts

Episode Nineteen 
Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

   Aulder turned to find her entire class gathered around the windows, gawking at the child below; sketches and artifacts abandoned. "Goodness! This does not concern all of you. Sit! Take your seats." She shooed them back with an agitated hand.

   "I could get her ma'am!" Meagan volunteered, hand in the air.

   Aulder raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Do you know her?"

   " I'm good with kids."

   Aulder thoughtfully pursed her lips. The class paused in their retreat. "No. Someone she knows or a teacher  should get her. Miss St. Claire."

   Esther glanced up guiltily from the window, her hand still on the glass. "Yes'am?"

   "You know her don't you?"

   "No ma'am! Just...just her brother."

   Audler sighed theatrically. "Oh, fine. All of you stay in your seats. I will deduct 5 points from your assignment if I see anyone pressing their nosy little noses against these windows." She headed to the door, grabbing a large knit shawl from her desk. "I'll be right--"

   "Mrs. Aulder!" Meagan shot up from her chair.

   "Sit down, Miss Elione."

   "But someone's already down there."

   Students rushed back to the windows, ignoring Audler's exasperated threats. Pushed aside, Esther caught a glimpse of blond hair and hint of silhouette. She backed away from the windows, hand pressed against her chest.

   Tobie waited beside Jacob near the front office desk as the secretary searched for the medicine cabinet key. His gaze darted to the door, leg bouncing as he leaned against the wall.

   "You alright?"

   Tobie grinned down at him, sitting on the bench along the wall. "You asking me that?"

   "You seem kinda distracted. Vanessa get to you?"

   Tobie shook his head, eyes back on the door. "Nah. I just thought I saw..."

   "Jacob Linbert?"

   Jacob rose with a wince. "Right back man," he mumbled and followed the secretary to a far office.

   "Yeah...Ok..." Tobie ran a hand through his hair, fingers pausing to squeeze his ear-cuff. Staring down at his feet, his brow wrinkled. He lifted his head, staring blankly into the office a moment. Turning on his heel he slipped out the door. As he reached the front entrance to the English Building, a door opened.
Holon glanced up at him and nodded without breaking stride. Tobie hopped down the steps and was over the railing before the door closed.

   Following the wisps of quickly evaporating mist, Tobie rounded the English Building. Tall interpretive sculptures sat along the manicured lawn, shaded by a large oak. Below it a small girl poked a pile of mud reverentially with a stick, speaking quietly as if to herself.

   Sighing, Tobie shook his head. "What're you doing here, Layah?"

   "I'm building a castle," Layah answered, not looking up. She patted the mud pile's sides until it was smooth under her small fingers.

   Tobie stared at the dirt down the front of her pinafore and coating her hands. He rolled his eyes. "This is no place to play in the mud, kid."

   "I am not playing," Layah insisted with as much oulter as a six year old could muster. "I am the royal castle builder and I have to finish the princess' castle before the dragon comes to eat her up." She scooped more cold mud with her stick and deposited it on the side of the pile; splat.

   Tobie closed his eyes a moment and took a breath. "Layah, ," he said, impatience rising into his voice. "You need to come with me now." He reached down for her, but she yanked the stick up, slinging mud across his slacks.


   Tobie’s mouth rounded for a yell, but a shimmer behind the girl shut it. A blob of air glistened, shifted and grew along the tree trunk; bits of it reaching up into the branches. "Layah," he said cautiously, not bending down to her this time. "Leave the mud and come on, will ya?"

   "I said it’s a castle. It's a castle!"

   Tobie winced at her shrill pitch, but beneath the girl the mud shifted. A tiny bit of the side reached up towards the sky, rounded, grew little lumps of mud at the top. Arches carved themselves in the sides. A wider arch, drawn slowly and meticulously, curved across the front as the other side, eliciting a heady scent of wet earth as it shuddered and stretched into a battlement.

   Tobie glared at the evolving mud, then up at the shimmer that wafted gently to and fro above the child, edges glistening as if catching the light. "Come on kid. We need to get you back to the Conservatory before you get into trouble."

   Layah ignored him, talking quietly to the mud, drawing squiggly lines around the castle.

   Tobie's jaw set. "I don't have time for this." He leaned down for her arm. The stick shot up and rapt him hard across his knuckles. He jerked back in surprise, a thin line of mud speckling his hand. Vacillating colors, iridescent and light, curled over the girl's wrist.

   Layah leaned back, her little face scrunched up, and glared at Tobie. "You stay away."

   "Layah, its me. Tobie. You know me."

   Layah jammed the stick beside the castle with satisfaction. "We know what you are."

   "What I..." Tobie glanced at the haze. It rippled. Subtle colors rose up around its middle and played as reflections along its sides, refracting prism-like behind the girl. "It's ok, Layah." He knelt, watching the colors carefully. His hand stretched out again; slowly, as if to a skiddish animal. The haze shuddered, the colors multiplied. A soft hum caught the air as a thin bit of crystallized pastel, long and thin as a whipped fishing line, flicked forward and slashed at Tobie's face. Layah screamed, her hands covering her ears.

   "Stop it! Get away! She's mine!"


   Her head shot up. The anger and fear drained as her hands lowered.

   Jacob rounded the sculptures and dashed towards them. "What the he--" He swallowed. "What are you doing here? Dad's gonna kill me!" He marched past Tobie, kneeling motionless in the yard, and grabbed his sister's arm. The haze shrunk back, settling into a muted glisten.

   "I just wanted to play..." Layah whimpered as Jacob hosted her to her feet.

   "You can't 'play' here, Layah! Oh, man look at your uniform!" Jacob grimaced, dropping her arm to run a a hand over his forehead. "Geez, we've been over this."

   "Brother...?" Her hand touched the top of his.

   Jacob sighed and knelt in front of her. The haze rippled, its form pulling in, seeping clear, shrinking down. " Let's get you back, alright?" He took her hand and stood, turning to go, but paused when she didn't budge.

   "Will...will you tell Daddy?" Layah asked, fidgeting with the edge of her soiled skirt.

   Jacob pressed a knuckle between his brows. "No. Not if you go right now. And we'll tell Susan you...fell at recess."

   "Ok." Layah nodded and stepped over her castle, which shivered as if doused with water and collapsed back into a pile of mud.

   "So this is what distracted you," Jacob said as they turned to Tobie.

   "Uh...yeah." Tobie stood quickly. "Tried to get her for you..."

   "Thanks man. Come on, kid."

   Glaring at the quickly vanishing haze, Tobie lifted his hand to his cheek; sliding over his face to the place the ungula had lashed him. His fingers came away sticky.

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