Prologue: Atop A Roof during a School Shooting
Elba Mullins sat at the edge of the roof of what appeared to be the music building of a small high school. Below her, a boy waved a gun around threatening to shoot everyone around him. Resting her chin in her hand, then her elbow on her knee, Elba watched the situation unfold. True, she could have stepped in, and stopped the boy. No doubt, it would have been easier for her than any other security officer (all of whom were currently investigating another claim somewhere else in the school). But Elba had been given very specific information, and so she waited and she watched.
“Is he really going to shoot all of those kids?” Without looking, Elba knocked Weisz in the knee. “Ow!” the younger magician cried. “Why on earth did you have to do that?”
“I am concentrating very hard to watch this scene, Weisz,” she replied. “You’re only making it more difficult. Sit down and be quiet.” The younger magician obeyed.
The scene below involved a mass of high school students paused in the school courtyard as the young man waved his gun around ranting about injustice and amoral society practice. He reminded Elba of the young men at the university from when she was younger, and he it appeared he chose much the same path. But she was not looking much at the young man with the gun. No, most of her attention was on the girl with the dark hair, who sat at the ground looking very much paralyzed but staring directly at the young man’s gun. She happened to be the reason why Elba was here to watch.
A few minutes earlier, before the boy had pulled his gun, the girl had been shoved by a brute of a young man, and she and her books were tossed all across the pavement of the courtyard. The girl had scowled at him, but had only gone to collect her things when the gun had been pulled. But Elba had felt it then as she felt it now. She felt the girl’s heart race, and she felt the gift rising out of her.
The boy finished ranting, aiming his gun at the very same brute as earlier, and fired. All that came out though was water. The entire population of the school yard unfroze from their terror, except the girl, and laughed
“Is this what you do in your spare time?” Weisz asked. “Go around and stop random high school students from taking their rage out on their fellow man?”
“I was not the one who did that,” Elba said. “She did.” Weisz squinted at the girl, who still sat on the pavement, her heart racing, her chest rising and falling in uneven rhythm, as all of the other students began to move around her.
“She…the girl…did that?” Weisz asked. “On pure instinct.”
“I don’t believe it’s the first time either,” Elba said.
“But a novice can only do so much,” Weisz reasoned. “That was quite serious magic!”
“The girl has a good harness of her emotions,” Elba explained, standing up, using her walking stick to assist her. “I want you to help her, show her some of the ways. I garner she will pick much of the rest up on her own.”
“Why can’t you teach her?” Weisz asked. “After all, I’m not even one-hundred yet, surely someone more experienced would be better for the task and after all you are…you. And a better teacher than I will ever be.”
“Weisz have you ever heard the story of a man who saw Death in his home town? He told his friend about it and decided to flee to Damascus or another city very far away. Later the same friend saw Death, and asked, ‘Have you come to take me?’ and Death replies, ‘No, I’m just passing through on the way to the Damascus.’”
“…I don’t think it was Damascus,” Weisz replied.
“I’m not arguing fact, I’m arguing sentiment. Have you heard it?”
“Well yes,” Weisz replied. “What about it?”
“I’ve decided not to run to Damascus,” Elba replied, leaning on her stick. Weisz blinked for a moment, taking the parallel in.
“You…you actually talked to Death?”
“She’s quite a pleasant person when you get to know her.”
“You’ve talked to Death more than once? And you didn’t think to haggle for more time?”
“Weisz, you don’t get more time. When she says you have to go, you have to go. She did me a solid, since I’ve brought people in for her in the past and told me I had a week, so I better find the one who was going to follow me.”
“And how long ago was this?” Weisz asked.
“Oh, I’ve decided not to tell you,” Elba retorted. “After all, I wouldn’t want you risking your immortal soul. Or mine for that matter. Especially not mine. And especially since you will be looking after that young woman right there, because she will have quite a few people coming after her very soon.”
“Why can’t…” The question died on Weisz tongue. Elba only smiled at him. “You knew you would get me to do something in the end, didn’t you?”
“I wouldn’t say I for saw it, but yes, I was quite certain.”
“Where will you go then?” Weisz asked.
“Where do you think, Weisz? I’m going home, and I’ll have one last cup of tea with Death, and then, I’ll be gone.”
“Now you just sound like a children’s movie. She couldn’t at least tell you how it would happen?”
“She’s an angel. They enjoy being mysterious.” Weisz grumbled.
“You’ve set everything up, I truth.”
“More than you could imagine. Just watch her Weisz, make sure they don’t hurt her or convince her to live forever. That’s all I can ask.” Weisz’ shoulder drooped.
“All right,” he agreed.
A bell rang in the courtyard bellow, and the students, who had only gone inside a moment ago, ran back out for their cars and buses. The only one who had not moved was the girl. She had stacked her books, but still remained seated on the pavement, just looking at her hands. “How long did you let that boy rant?”
But Elba did not answer. She was gone.
Chapter One: In a Library Stall
School had ended oddly enough the day before. But a lot of odd things happened to Tabitha Walls, so she left after a five minute period that her teacher did not object to and took the long way home to think about things. She knew that the gun Brian d’Ambrosio held in his hand had been a real gun. She knew because she watched him load it before he fired. Well, before he began his very long rant. If she had not been scared out of her minds, she might have thought to time it, because it did seem to go on for some time.
The odd thing was, aside from the gun turning into the water gun at the last second, Brian did seem to rant for a really long time. In fact, it seemed almost like time had stopped. Tabitha had even heard the bell for class to start, which everyone ignored. And none of the teachers seemed the least bit suspicious that half the school had not shown up for class. Neither the security guards, nor the on campus police offer showed up, for that matter. And Brian just went on, ranting about the popular kids. At one point Tabitha had stopped being afraid and started wonder where he got the lung capacity.
But then he cocked the gun and started to wrap up his speech and Tabitha thought, “Don’t let it kill anyone.” And like that, it was a water gun. Only Brian looked as shock as she was that it was a water gun, everyone else just laughed. Then she just kind of sat there as everyone when to class for five minutes and then went home for the day.
Tabitha reasoned with herself that the gun had been a water gun all along…but she had seen him load it.
“There’s only one possible explanation,” she told herself. “I’m crazy.”
“It’s not the first time this has happened, though,” said a small part of her.
“Yeah, and that makes me even crazier.”
She did not bring up the day to her father and step-mother, just did her homework and her online class that went toward her associates degree that the school was paying for. She wrote in her journal and then went to bed.
The next day, Tabitha felt completely on edge from the moment she woke up. It led to mistakes like including her journal in her back pack, instead of her history notebook. She did not notice until first period AP History, when she went to retrieve it for notes, but had only the notebook and a few other binders awaiting her. She had to take notes in her English binder, least her fine leather bound journal get stolen and passed around the class. Nothing shook the feeling though, and she kept spacing out during her classes.
She almost caught the brunt of her teacher’s wrath for such a thing in AP Calculus, when the loud speaker announced,
“Will Tabitha Walls please come to the office? Tabitha Walls to the office, please?”
“All right, Tabitha you’re free to go,” the calculus teacher told her. Tabitha packed her bag and made for the door. When she arrived in the office, she was met with the front desk lady’s glare.
“Young lady, the school is not a post office,” the front desk lady told her from behind her fifties, wing glasses.
“I know?” Tabitha inquired.
“The next time you have an urgent package, you can have it sent home, and wait the five hours you’ll take to get there,” said the front desk lady, jerking her head toward the large package resting on the front desk.
“Ma’am I didn’t have a package sent here,” Tabitha replied, furrowing her eyebrows, in hopes that it would make her look quizzical enough that the front desk lady would let her off the hook. The front desk lady matched her furrow with the raising of an eye brow.
“But you are Tabitha Walls?”
“You are a sophomore?”
“Yes ma’am.” The front desk lady frowned.
“Well, then, perhaps you should write back to whomever sent you that package and ask them to please not send you mail at school anymore.”
“I’ll do that,” Tabitha agreed. “May I take it?”
“It’s yours. If I opened it, it would be a federal crime. Mail tampering is a very serious thing, young lady.” Tabitha took the package. But she did not feel like going back to math class. In fact, she felt like getting out of school all together. Something in her gut, the thing that was putting her on edge was telling her to cut and run as fast as she could.
So for once in her life, Tabitha listened to her gut, and cut class.
She did not have a car—she was only fifteen, and for that matter did not have a license to drive—but the town was small enough and the walk to the library would not be so long.
The library sat a block away from the University and served as both the town and the University library. It was Tabitha’s favorite place in town. Next year, when she turned sixteen, the librarians had promised her a job for all her hard volunteer work that she did. Truth be told, one of the main reasons why Tabitha liked the library, and why she volunteered so much, was because everywhere else she went, someone always had something to say about her. The librarians said things to her,
“Tabitha, could you re-shelve that cart for us? Tab, could you man the front desk? Tab, would you mind cleaning up the kid’s section? Good work, Tabitha, you always do such a good job.”
Everyone else said things like,
“That Tabitha girl is a strange one. Tabitha is never going to get a boyfriend with the way she acts, and dresses, and looks. Who’s Tabitha Walls?”
Tabitha much preferred being spoken to, rather than about.
Nancy, the library’s own front desk lady, raised her eye when she saw Tabitha walk through the door.
“I didn’t think school got out until at least three-thirty.”
“Please don’t tell, Nancy?” Tabitha asked. “I just needed a mental health day.”
“All right, but only because you’ve never skipped in your life. Personally, I think you need to be a little more bad on occasion.” Nancy smiled brightly at her, and Tabitha returned the smile, only with less force. She moved toward the stair well and raced to the top level of the library. It always held the least amount of noise, and on this Tuesday afternoon it was particularly abandoned. Tabitha loved it, and went straight for her usual library stall.
She set the package down gently on the stall table, and closed the door behind her. Once seated, Tabitha ripped into the sides of the package covering, not wanting to rip the beautiful cursive on the front, which would allow her to write back to her mysterious benefactor. Beneath the brown paper wrapping, she found a polished wooden box that looked far too undamaged for suffering the postal services. Around the middle of the box though, Tabitha felt the slightest of crack. When she managed to get her fingers into it, she lifted up and found the most beautiful leather bound book she had ever seen.
Her fingers slid over the designs imprinted into the leather work, and it felt like they moved under her fingers. Tabitha lifted it out of the box, discovering a folded slip of parchment underneath.