Emily

Tithi Luadthong/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on September 12, 2017.

Emily gazed down from the balcony of her studio apartment, the evening shadows lengthening as the sun dipped below the horizon. She watched people pass along the sidewalk, watched cars pass along the street. A rhythm, she thought, an elaborate choreography that dazzled her every bit as much as it had when she was a little girl.

There were those who hated the city—those who thought it too congested, polluted, or confining. But not Emily. The city had a life of its own, a vibrant soul born of the intersection between its many citizens. She and the city enjoyed a symbiotic relationship; it nurtured and sustained her, while she defended it from harm. Like a superhero, she would sometimes think after coming home from the cinema, and then she would giggle like a little girl, delighted by the fanciful notion.

She was standing over the railing, just as she was every night, when she heard the cry. Loud and shrill, it shattered her concentration. The sound was tragically common in the city, and it broke her heart each time to hear it. Somewhere, in Emily’s beloved city, someone was in danger.

So she closed her eyes, and she shifted her focus from that which could only be sensed with eyes and ears to that which could only be perceived through the heart: a vast shimmering network of interconnected threads, joining every soul in the city to every other. She reached out to the closest thread, and she felt for the vibrations that traveled along its length like a phone line.

Another cry.

The thread quivered, and Emily traced it back, flying through the space between space. The souls around her blurred, streaking past her like a stained glass mosaic.

There. A young woman—perhaps nineteen or twenty—and a man barging through her door. His face was covered, and a drunken lust and violence swirled through his head like a snowstorm.

Someone must have heard her call, but as was so often the case in the city, help was in short supply. So Emily did the only thing she could. She tugged on neighboring threads, sending out vibrations of her own.

HELP THE GIRL.

She tugged and tugged without success—there were so many hearts calloused by the daily horrors of modern life—but at last, just as she thought her resources exhausted, she felt a reply. A retired cop, gray haired and out of shape as well as out of practice. Bitter and alone, he was the sort who would have preferred to be left alone. But Emily kept tugging on his heart, and he found himself unable to turn away.

Deep inside, beyond the jaded, street-wise exterior, he remained just and duty-bound, like the day so many years ago when he was first sworn in. Emily felt his unconscious reply, a resonant hum feeding back along that intricate network of souls. It was his own soul’s way of letting her know he was on his way.

That was when Emily disengaged and reconnected with her body.

Once more, lights and colors filled her vision. She gazed down at the city again, its silent lover as well as its protector, and she prayed as she so often did that the little she was able to do would be enough.

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Water Charmer

Tithi Luadthong/Shutterstock.com

A sparkle, followed by a twining liquid shimmer. Tara flexed her fingers, and the suspended ribbon of water before her wormed through the air like a snake.

She cycled through a series of basic patterns, all geometric constructions her parents had taught her to form when she was young. But she had no real investment in what she was doing, nor any desire to venture beyond mindless repetition.

There’d been a time, long ago, when her talent had been revered. Water charming, it was called, and it ran in Tara’s family. But the world had moved on, and now, it was good for little more than idle amusement.

“It’s your birthright,” Mom had said when Tara was nine after she’d complained about water charming the way some of her friends complained about piano lessons. “It’s part of our identity.”

But Tara never felt a deep connection to her ancestry, only a desperate longing to be like everyone else. She wanted to come home after a difficult day at school and veg in front of the TV like her peers.

Instead, her parents made her study how water resonates with the energy in the soul, and how intent, amplified by physical gestures, not only contains, but shapes and molds the water as if an extension of the physical self.

Now, Tara wondered how those lessons had helped her through life. Had it gotten her through college? Secured for her a decent job? Saved her parents the day they died in a high speed collision on the freeway?

No, no, and no.

Tara sighed, then let the water go. It lost cohesion immediately and splattered on the kitchen floor.

“Useless,” she muttered.

Tara stalked into the living room, seized her sweatshirt and keys, and stormed through the front door. The frosty November air prickled against her skin as she pressed into the deepening darkness, and she welcomed the sensation.

This was how she connected with the mysteries of her secret power and the many questions they inspired: not by performing parlor tricks in the privacy of her apartment, but by wandering the neighborhood at night, surrounded by the dark and the shadows, free to speculate on matters she preferred not to think about during the day.

The question that was always first and foremost in her mind was “why.” Why the power to manipulate water? Why her family? And, coming in at a close second, was the question of “how.” How could such a talent be useful? How was such a talent even possible?

Tara had studied chemistry in high school. She’d even taken physics in college, though it had nothing to do with her major. She was aware that polar covalent bonds held water’s hydrogen and oxygen atoms together; that water possessed the remarkable ability to shift from solid to liquid to gas within a remarkably narrow band of temperatures and pressures; that water, contrary to many other substances, was denser as a liquid than as a solid.

But none of what she’d learned in school explained the mystical influence she exerted over water, nor the almost tangible connection she felt whenever she moved it around by willpower alone. There was so little that humans understood about the world in which they lived, and Tara had always found this fact to be unsettling.

A smell pulled her from her thoughts and made her look up, a scent like burning charcoal, or wood from a meat smoker. Her first thought was that it was a barbecue, and that she had a hankering for a juicy rack of ribs. Then she spotted the smoke—thin, ghost-like tendrils that glowed in the moonlight—and panicked.

The house beside her was on fire.

I should call someone, she thought. Then she reached into her pocket and realized she’d left her cell phone at home. Her next idea was to knock on the door and see if whoever lived there was okay. Only the house was dark, and it looked like no one was home.

Tara became acutely aware of the water beneath the street: a hidden, surging reservoir that, if channeled, could be diverted. She reached out with her mind and was instantly overwhelmed by it’s immense weight—not at all like the tiny droplets she played with when she was bored. Nevertheless, she wrapped her will around it, and without thinking, she began to pull.

She routed the water through various patterns, all of them shapes her parents had taught her to make when she was young. The drainage slits in the gutter were what she was aiming for, and she pulled the water toward them in a rush, first dividing the flows, then pulling each segment out like thread through the eye of a needle.

Once the water reached the open air, she recombined the streams, braiding each channel around the others like a rope. The result was a massive column that seemed to shake the very foundation of the world. She strengthened her hold of it, and then, with a fierce tug of the will, she pulled it back and slammed it into the house.

Windows shattered in the onslaught. The sound was so loud, so deafening, that Tara instantly lost focus. The raging airborne rapids collapsed, and the water, once more under gravity’s influence, cascaded from every open surface, carrying glass and debris as it journeyed back into the sewer.

Had Tara just done that?

Dazed, all she could do was stare, until people started to shout, and sirens started to wail. Then Tara grew short of breath and the world contracted. Someone must have seen her.

She had to get away.

It wasn’t until she sprinted home that she considered the magnitude of what had happened.

Who knew how long it would have taken the fire department to arrive. She might have destroyed the house in her attempt to save it, but how many others would have caught fire and burned alongside it if she hadn’t intervened?

Her entire worldview shifted. She was no longer the practitioner of an arcane and esoteric talent. She was a superhero.

Alone in the lengthening shadows of her apartment, she gazed up at the ceiling and whispered, “Thank you, Mom and Dad.”

Then she let her face fall into her hands and cried.

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