Moments of Despair
Edward was lost.
Far off somewhere, too far to be of any help, he heard Callie call out his name. But he was lost. Lost in his own past, reliving his life; or rather, the worst parts of it.
He was back home, a toddler; watching the first time he ever saw his father beat up his mother. Then another time, then another; rolling down the years of his early life. Before too long, he was also on the receiving end of his father’s wrath.
Again and again, his life was fast-forwarded to moments of fear, pain, and despair; as if someone was skimming through his memories.
He and his mother’s escape into the cold city streets.
The horrible night his mother was murdered in front of him.
His cowardly escape into the night, leaving behind the body of his mother; the days and nights of deprivation and fear that followed.
He went through it all again, felt it all again; but as soon as they passed, the power of these memories was leached away, like old photographs losing the brightness of their colors.
Consumed by eyes that devoured.
The trip into his past ended at last, and Edward found himself back in the present. Zedda released him, and he fell back on his haunches; his face blank.
Zedda, on the other hand, had the satisfied look of a cat after a morsel of mouse. “Mmmmm…” she purred, “That well was deeper than I thought… And oh-so-sweet!”
She looked down at Edward and made a flicking motion with her finger. Edward was catapulted back to where he had been before she had summoned him. He landed on his back, but did not get up. He just looked up at the ceiling with glazed eyes.
“Are you okay, Ed?” Mike asked.
“yeah…” Edward replied half-heartedly.
“Release the girl,” Zedda said, “She’s next.”
Mr. Blessure did as commanded.
“We can do this easy, girl,” Zedda said, “Or we can do this rough. The choice is yours.”
Callie walked over to Zedda.
Mike struggled in vain against the hand at his neck. “DON’T DO IT, CAL!” he yelled, “She’ll do to you what she did to Edward!”
“There’s not much of a choice.” Callie said.
“Smart girl.” Zedda replied.
Callie stood before Zedda, and got down to her knees. Zedda put her hands on Callie’s shoulders, and her eyes became black holes into which Callie’s mind was pulled.
Mike saw Callie surrender to Zedda’s trancing eyes, and the black stain on Zedda’s forehead begin to ripple and darken again. He knew his turn would come soon enough.
Under Zedda’s control, Callie went through what Edward had just undergone; a reliving of all the worst moments of her life.
Even things too far back to remember consciously, she now relived.
The night her father took her and Mike from their mother; when they awoke from a deep sleep to find themselves in the station wagon, as it left the city of Cathim, the city of their birth, behind.
The first time her father slapped her in anger. As they were passing through, of all places, Murgent. Only then, Murgent was a thriving town.
Once that memory was played out, she was taken directly to her next moment of despair; no time to appreciate the bitter irony that she and Mike had been here before, if only for a few minutes, on their way to Noah’s Oak.
All those years with her father, the verbal and emotional abuse, she went through it all again. When she at last reached the moment last week, when her father had hit her and cut her cheek with his ring, something strange happened.
The gash on her actual cheek, long since healed, tore open anew.
Callie flinched, reliving her father’s fist hitting her face; as blood flowed from the new gash. The sudden pain of the new wound, playing over the remembered pain of the old, awoke Callie in the middle of the memory; as if in a lucid dream. She realized where she was and what was happening to her, and found she had a measure of control over it.
She wrenched herself free of the tidal pull of her memories, and Zedda’s presence in her mind was laid bare.
Zedda had never experienced such an occurrence before. She panicked, and withdrew from Callie’s mind.
As Zedda fled back into her own head, Callie discovered it was in her to follow close behind. She gave no thought as to how she was doing this; she merely did it intuitively.
There was a disorienting topsy-turvy feeling for a moment, then she was through; she was in Zedda’s mind.
She caught Zedda by surprise, and before she could fight back, Callie shoved her into the deep well of her own memories.
Callie watched as Zedda’s memories bubbled to the surface. The juiciest ones were the dark ones.
She watched as Zedda went through her early childhood being battered by her young, selfish mother, who resented the loss of independence Zedda represented.
She watched as Zedda suffered at the hands of her fellow schoolmates, who taunted her for her weight problem.
She watched as both Zedda and her schoolmates suffered under their teacher, Mr. Lhaisuber; a fanatical disciplinarian who was fond of punishing and humiliating his students in cruel ways.
(Lhaisuber saved especial, and unreasonable, antipathy toward young Zedda; and she bore the brunt of the worst he could muster. Every day she would come home crying…to a mother who couldn’t care less. Every weekday morning she faced the dread of another school day; another round of emotional torture.)
And every time Zedda relived a moment of pain, fear, despair, or hopelessness, Callie felt an intoxicating and overwhelming burst of euphoria surge through her; a feeling of increase. She was somehow drawing and absorbing something powerful out of Zedda’s remembered pain.
She watched as young Zedda’s torment outpaced her fear, leading her to run away from home, and Murgent itself.
She watched as Zedda swore to return one day, and wreak her vengeance upon the town and its people---
An enraged scream startled Callie. Zedda crawled out of the memory pit, and severed the link between them.
Callie felt the sudden snap of disconnection, the disorienting return to her own head, and the physical sensation of being hurled bodily upward and backward.
Callie landed just short of Edward’s position. Edward had since sat up, but the anesthetized look in his eyes was still there.
Zedda looked livid with anger.
“Little BITCH!” she shouted.
Mr. Blessure turned to look at Zedda, but did not let go of Mike’s neck. “What has happened?” he asked.
“Tevvis EnCha Razu Veddum Geffah KunChuura!” Zedda exclaimed.
Mr. Blessure glanced over at Callie with an intrigued expression on his face. “Um EnCha KunChuura, vud SaFa?” he asked.
Mike also looked at Callie, and mouthed the words “What happened?” to her. Now back on her feet, Callie saw him, but did not respond. She understood now the look of satisfaction on Zedda’s face when she had drunk from Edward’s pain. She wasn’t sure what it was that she had just done, or how; but she wanted more. More than anything, she wanted more. Right now, Mike and Edward were the two least important things on her mind. Right now she would do anything for another taste of sweet despair.
Zedda, meanwhile, had regained her self-control.
“Mr. Blessure, please take the boys downstairs, to Mr. Balooda,” she said with forced calmness, “I need some time alone with Callie here.”
Mr. Blessure bent down and grabbed Edward by his shirt’s collar with his free hand, and pulled him up to a standing position. Edward showed no resistance, but Mike started to struggle anew.
There was something different about Callie; something frighteningly wrong. He wasn’t sure what, but he had to find out.
Edward had returned from Zedda’s grasp with something missing; Callie had returned with something new; a disturbing look of hunger that distorted her otherwise kind face.
Mike’s renewed resistance was to no avail; Mr. Blessure dragged both he and Edward back to the door with minimal effort. The door on this side had no symbols drawn upon it, and opened on its own without prompting.
“CALLIE!” Mike yelled, “WHAT’S WRONG?! WHAT HAPPENED?! TALK TO ME!!”
Callie turned around.
On her heretofore unblemished forehead, Mike spotted a small dark spot; a miniature version of Zedda’s spider splotch.
Then, the door slammed shut between them.
The two were alone now.
“You reversed that link with uncanny ease,” Zedda said, “Who taught you that?”
“No one taught me,” Callie answered, “I’m not sure how I did that myself.”
“LIAR!” Zedda shouted, and a powerful force shoved Callie back and off of her feet.
Callie got to her feet again.
“I’m not---” she started to say, but was shoved back to the floor.
She tried to stand up again, but was knocked to the floor once more.
“STOP IT!” Callie shouted, and Zedda’s head whiplashed to one side; struck by an invisible hand. She rocked back a moment, then balanced herself out.
Callie blinked. She had done that.
How had she done that?
“I knew it,” Zedda said, “You’re a natural.”
“A natural what?”
“Conjuura, of course!” Zedda said.
“What the hell’s a Conjuura?” Callie asked. The feeling of euphoria she had been swimming in since drinking from Zedda’s memories had diminished some; as if used up in the expenditure of force. She realized then that Zedda had deliberately provoked her.
“A Conjuura is a type of sorceress; or witch, if you prefer.” Zedda said, “I am a Conjuura, and I believe you have the makings of one. Otherwise, you could not have done what you did, or use what you took from me in the manner you just did.” She rubbed the side of her face, which now looked raw and red.
“But you have to be born to it, don’t you?” Callie asked, “I’ve never been able to do anything like this.”
“You’re confusing Conjuuras with Ma’jai.” Zedda replied, “There are no born Conjuuras; it has to be taught. But there are those for whom it comes easier than the rest. Prodigies like you. Most of the time these are those born with a little extra: psychic powers, and the like. But the would-be Conjuura needs a teacher. I had the good fortune to apprentice under Uraja Jeuke, an ancient Conjuura of tremendous knowledge. It was she who taught me the power of the Malignium.”
Zedda pointed to her forehead.
“That yucky spot?” Callie asked.
“That’s just a side effect,” Zedda said, “The Malignium refers to the whole process of absorbing the power of despair, and projecting that power outward, to various ends. It took me weeks of step-by-step progression to learn it all; but you seem to have grasped it intuitively. With training, you could become quite…powerful.”
“Does that mean I can have more?!” Callie asked.
The unabashed greed with which she asked made Zedda smile.
The girl was hooked.
“Oh yes,” Zedda said, “Of despair, you’ll have your fill.”
Mr. Blessure took Mike and Edward down to the first floor. On their way, they passed children of varying ages, all engaged in some menial chore or another. Some swept, some mopped, some dusted, some cleaned windows; all worked like their lives depended on it.
Mr. Blessure dragged Mike and Edward into a hall located behind the front desk. The hall ended at a door marked OFFICE. Without bothering to knock, Mr. Blessure opened the door, and threw Mike and Edward in.
“Here are our new guests.” Mr. Blessure said.
Mike and Edward got to their feet. They looked around at what was a rather spacious office; with all the regular and everyday things one expected to find in an office such as this one: a desk, bookshelves, drab carpeting, even a door to what might be a broom closet.
The bizarre and disturbing figure of Mr. Balooda sat behind the desk like he belonged there; adding a surreal aspect to the surroundings.
There were other kids in there with them, too. One was shining Mr. Balooda’s boots (which were already a shiny and lacquered black); another was futilely attempting to remove an ugly yellow stain in the grey carpeting with a toothbrush and dishwashing liquid.
Neither seemed to want to be there.
“What about thee girl?” Mr. Balooda asked.
“She is still with the Mistress.” Mr. Blessure replied.
Mr. Blessure eyed Mike, Edward, and the two other kids in the room with suspicion; then said, in secretive tones, “FesKa Parra, Vass RaUmFa Shessa um KunChuura.”
Mr. Balooda’s freaky eyes widened.
“No sheet?!” he asked.
Mr. Blessure shook his head.
“What does shee want mee to do with theese two?”
“What you will.” Mr. Blessure replied. He then turned and departed.
Mr. Balooda smiled his ghastly smile at Mike and Edward.
“Well, well! What should wee do with you?” he said.
He stood up and kicked aside the boy shining his boots. He walked around the desk toward Mike and Edward, giving the girl on her knees, still working hard on the stain in the carpet, a cursory glance. He then spat a massive gob of obscene yellow phlegm close to her. The phlegm sizzled into the carpet, leaving behind another ugly yellow stain.
“Meessed a spot!” he told her, with undisguised jocularity.
The girl sighed a heavy, world-weary sigh, and continued her labors on the original stain she had yet to remove.
Mr. Balooda stopped in front of Mike and Edward, and bent over to face them.
“Now, what are your names, leetle boyees?” he asked.
Mike spat in Mr. Balooda’s face.
“Meesed a spot!” he said, in perfect imitation of Mr. Balooda.
‘Twas the girl’s weary sigh that did it.
Without Callie’s reasonable presence to hold it at bay, Mike’s rash and righteous anger had taken all that it could stand, and could stand no more. So he spat…and very quickly came to regret it.
Mr. Balooda’s face turned into a mask of rage that increased in size as it’s skin bubbled like the blood underneath was boiling.
A look of unadulterated horror came over the faces of the two kids in the office, as the violent transformations in Mr. Balooda’s physical state sped up, and he grew to twice his size, almost too big for the room.
“YOO LEETLE ROTTER!!!” Balooda bellowed, as his black vinyl raincoat became hard black scales, with the topography of tree bark; his large round eyes became yellow slits; and his rectangular teeth became fangs.
Where once had stood a man(-ish) thing, now stood a monster.
Edward scurried to a corner, and cowered. Mike made to back away, but was not quick enough; Mr. Balooda’s hands had become oversized talons, one of which grabbed Mike by the waist, and picked him up.
“YOO!! NEED!! LEARN!! MANNERS!!” Balooda growled, slamming Mike to the floor with great force after every word.
Mike was knocked unconscious with the first slam, but Balooda continued; slamming him against the walls and the desk as well.
But the worst was to come.
Balooda stopped slamming Mike and started squeezing him so hard, Edward (who had his eyes clamped shut, and his palms against his ears) could hear bones cracking.
Mike was a mess.
Blood poured from his mouth, nose, ears, and eyes, onto the grey carpet.
At last Balooda dropped him on the floor, his rage sated.
But he did one last thing.
He brought his foot down on Mike’s face, with great force.
And for Michael Longstreet, that was pretty much that.