by Melissa Chen
Art by Cynthia Chang
Issue: Paracosm (Winter 2017)
Like the rich, resonating twangs of a banjo. Over and over again, the echoes blending so that it became one perpetual note, rising and falling. Delicate as an angel’s voice and strong as an arrow ready to fly. It would be a lie to say it was consistent; it was not even steady. But the direction was clear: always forward, be it rushed or inching.
Once again, she marveled at this. For two days the music had hummed in her blood, pulsed through her veins, yet she still had no clue what it was exactly. What she did know was that there was not a single fate she could not reverse, with a cost. It was both a curse and a blessing, her mother had said, as they walked here. They all were. Anna had arrived early, and the austere room was empty except for a ring of chairs in the middle. Her mother, capable of running at incredible speeds, was always unsurprisingly punctual and encouraged Anna to be the same.
A greasy skylight overhead projected murky gray light on the circle.
The girl on the therapist’s right introduced herself first. Her dark hair was pulled back in stiff cornrows, and she wore a heavy old fashioned party dress. She was the youngest by far in the circle, only about eight, with large, steady eyes and a thoughtful tilt to her mouth.
“I am Aaliyah Peters. I blow out candles on one’s birthday and their wishes come true.” Her eyes swept around the circle, now darkened. “However, only my willing breath can perform this feat, and I grant no unreasonable wishes, including my own.”
“Aaliyah has a very powerful talent,” Mrs.Hall, the therapist, said. “She possesses incredible volition as well. This is why we are congregated here, and what the clinic and myself seek to instill in all of you. A control over the various talents you all possess, and yourself.”
Anna found herself nodding. Everyday there was news about people abusing their talents. Anna’s own father, Colin, was one of the greatest criminals of the century, and Anna and her mother had yet to live down the shame.
The next boy down the line was speaking when crystals split the air as if a thousand wind chimes had been struck simultaneously. The twinkling shards suspended in midair for a split second—and descended like glittering hail, winking and dancing rainbows over the room in the clear light pouring in. In the midst of the shimmering sleet was a flickering shadow. A falling star, Anna thought suddenly. The room was dissolving in chaos, but she sat still, her eyes fixed curiously on the dark figure emerging from the broken glass like an orca breaking through a sheet of ice.
Anna had never liked arrogance, but this boy was not superior. Scornful, but not haughty. Under his black clothing, his lanky frame was tense as a wire pulled tight, vibrating with coiled energy. A thin cut was bleeding on his pale forehead, and there were rips in his clothing, but he was unfazed. Below knitted brows, his dark eyes were bright with defiance as they glared at Mrs.Hall.
“He’s dying,” Jasper spat between clenched teeth.
“I know that!” Mrs.Hall snapped. “He’s been dying this entire week. That doesn’t mean you can fly here and crash through the skylight! The glass is dangerous and—”
“This is what you’re concerned about?” Jasper shouted. “Don’t you have a heart? Fido’s afraid. He keeps trying to fly—to fly with me but—”
Mrs.Hall grimaced. “It’s about time you learned there is little room for heart here,” she said. “You know I took him to the hospital. So many talented people there, but none of them could help him. It’s his time, son.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Jasper scowled. “Aren’t there people in the clinic who can help him?”
“You know that’s not possible, Jasper,” said Mrs.Hall. “None of them are registered.”
“But Fido’s a hawk. He can be classified as my possession,” Jasper said urgently.
“Even then, there are regulations,” Mrs.Hall said, shaking her head. “Very strictly enforced.”
“Mother,” Jasper pleaded.
Mrs.Hall worried her lower lip. “It’s too risky. There are serious consequences for your father and I. And if we’re gone, you’ll surely be sent to—”
“I don’t want to put you two at risk,” said Jasper. “You won’t have to be involved with this. Just let me handle it.”
“Jasper, grow up,” Mrs.Hall said. There was no bluntness in her voice, only exhaustion and even plea.
Jasper’s shoulders slumped. Standing in the middle of sparkling rubble, he looked like a defeated king, the lord of a shattered glass kingdom. So brilliant and fragile while it stood, and when fractured: still dazzling but dangerous. It was chilling. Anna had to force herself to believe that this was not the rise of another great felon. That this was not how her father broke.
She turned away. In the end, there were greater, worthier sacrifices to be made, and she would have to learn when to make them. She was certain that she—all of them—were mortal. They bore the marks of time and pain better, earlier, and easier than the ordinary. What she was slowly becoming aware of was that they were less human, but not just in their abilities.
How little she had known of the land she lived in. This fantasy of a world where power was talent and the light-footed ran with the fleetness of wind. Where the breath of little girls gave life to dreams and stormy boys rained down like winged messengers borne on clouds woven in light. Where giving life was listening to hidden music and playing it on another. When giving life was also taking a piece of your own.