Gift of the Master

By Robert Fluegel All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Breaking and Entering

Life at home continued to deteriorate over the next few days. When we had dinner it was in silence other than the T.V. Reed watched almost exclusively now. My mother stayed true to her word, no cooking, no cleaning and no conversation. She did eat with us but she sat in silence, occasionally muttering to herself every so often. Reed and I scrounged from the kitchen for food or ordered delivery when Reed could sneak cash from Mom’s purse.

Not really a fan of T.V., I mostly just stared at my food until I could escape to my room or the trees out back. Not that I had anyone to talk to. My strategy of taking no sides had backfired; now I was everyone’s enemy.

The nightly news ran full time now with one special report after another. New crimes were being reported seemingly every few minutes. Rod Hillman seemed to be everywhere, on every show and with every panel of guests which they didn’t need because he wouldn’t let them get a word in anyway. My mother mumbled every so often about what the world was coming to and what had gotten into everyone. I knew the real cause and knew I’d have to do something about it, if only I could figure out what.

The latest special report started with news typical of the last few days: nine stores robbed, gas stations all over the city reporting drive-offs. Cameras showed people in luxury vehicles driving off without paying even though they could clearly afford to. Several stores closed, due to large numbers of shoplifters.

Another shooting of an officer had occurred. The police were already stretched thin due to a large number of officers taking their vacations at once. They were down another three policemen due to shootings in the last two days. The city council asked the mayor to call the governor for help but the mayor wouldn’t admit there was a crisis. Everyone knew he hated the governor and didn’t want to ask him for anything.

The growing unease began to turn to panic. I didn’t know that things had gotten so bad. The scary part was, I knew it would probably get worse. The guide in the golden cave said it would affect everyone in the land. Eventually the curse would spread from Covington until the whole state was infected, maybe even the country or the world. It had to be stopped before it could go any further. The problem was how. Every person in that warehouse would sense me coming from a mile away.

Rod Hillman repeated the warning that ran continually on the bottom of the screen. Stay indoors, especially at night. My best chance to get the gauntlet back was to wait until everyone in the warehouse fell asleep and try my luck then, but could I even get there alive? The way things were going, I couldn’t wait another night.

While I finished the last of my kung pao chicken from the Wok Hut, a special report interrupted the current special report. “This is channel three reporter Greg Frandini at City Hall covering a hastily called news conference by the Mayor and Chief of Police. We have been given no indication as to what this is about so we will go directly to Mayor Newton and Chief Drayton now.”

The police chief took the podium with a grave look on his face holding a small paper in front of him. “The Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement to me at roughly six p.m. this evening that they were going on strike as of that time. In their statement they cited the inability of the city to keep enough officers on duty in sufficient numbers to keep them safe. They stated that it is unreasonable to expect them to continue putting their lives at risk with the city unwilling to pay overtime to keep more officers on the streets during this recent crime spree.”

From somewhere in the crowd came a question, “Isn’t that illegal?”

“Technically yes, but who do I have to round them up and put them in jail? The cities of Dovenhill and Treeport are dealing with crime sprees of their own. The county sheriffs are stretched so thin they are considering a strike of their own.”

“There is one more thing,” the chief hesitated. The crowd of reporters pushed each other to get closer. A fight broke out and the camera was pushed, throwing the picture sideways for a few seconds. When the fight was broken up the chief continued. “We have an issue with the circus. The workers seemed to have disappeared and someone opened the cages.”

The room erupted in a chorus of shouting. Reporters trying to get their question answered, the chief trying to finish. I left the room in disgust. I couldn’t watch any more.

I escaped to my room and threw myself on my bed. If I could recover the gauntlet, I figured my best solution would be to put it inside some book. But how could I get back out again? What if it didn’t work and my mother never checked in on me? She hadn’t left her room for anything but dinner for days. Kaleb said it was possible to get out on my own but didn’t give me any idea of how to do that. The thought occurred to me that worrying about what to do with the gauntlet before I had it back wasn’t really going to help much anyway. First things first.

My clock read eight-thirty. It would be a long night so I set my alarm for one o’clock and lay back trying to catch a few zz’s. After some time, I drifted into a deep sleep. In my dreams I saw three men fighting in the dark, one of them in chains. Then the scene shifted and there was Amelia being attacked by a group of thugs. This time she pleaded, “Come!”

These brief scenes shifted and I found myself standing by a campfire. A man approached out of the dark. He wore old shabby pants and a white shirt with a worn vest over the top. He reached out to me and said, “I am trapped.”

The man vanished and I was laying in the bed at the Crossroads Inn with Mardel sitting next to me.

“Mardel!” I sat up and threw my arms around him. “I thought you were dead.”

“In a way I was, in a way I can’t really be killed. I am, after all not real except up there.” he said pointing to my head.

“How is this possible? Is this real?” I asked.

“This is real in a way. You have a gift, Tommy. It will assist you in ways you have yet to imagine. Now I am with you for a short time, so why did you summon me?”

The thought that I had called Mardel to my dreams nearly caused me to forget my current plight. “What should I do?” I said, recovering.

“That is the wrong question. Ask me about what you are planning to do.” His flowing white hair seemed to glow. His stark green eyes bored into mine.

“Okay,” I stammered, “I think Amelia stole the gauntlet while she waited in my room and I’m going tonight to get it back. The problem is, she and all of the people around her can sense me so I thought I’d try while they’re asleep.”

Mardel listened for a moment, considering. “So far I think your plan sounds good. I would point out a few deficiencies: first, they could have people awake no matter the hour. Second, your city is without police to deter those who were teetering. I would imagine this night will be more dangerous than any your city has seen before. Third, the curse will be affecting those inside the warehouse as well. You must be prepared for whatever you might find once you get there.”

“It is a pity Aoki and Unbar and I could not join you this night. I think you will need us. That leads me to my last point which is that it is possible that some in the city are not affected by the gauntlet. If you could find a few of those people and get their help it would greatly improve your chances.”

“How could anyone not be affected by the curse? I asked, the doubt clear in my tone.

“Remember, the gauntlet feeds on the selfish desires and passions of the individuals in your world. If you could find people, or at least someone, whose life is dedicated truly to others, they would be unaffected or at least not as affected. I am sure there are many who proclaim it but they will be exposed by the curse. You would have to find people who truly live it, not just speak it. I would imagine there are a few out there but I wouldn’t waste much time searching for them. I just want you to be aware of the possibility.” Mardel rose to his feet.

“Our time has come to an end. Your alarm is about to ring and your adventure is about to begin. I will be here for you again if you need me, friend. Good-bye and good luck.” Mardel vanished, leaving me alone.

My eyes opened, the clock read 12:58. I reached over and turned off my alarm and sat up. The conversation with Mardel ran fresh in my mind. It seemed like ages since my life had been normal. Only a few days had passed since my fifteenth birthday but everything had changed in that short span of time. It was time to fix that.

Putting on my darkest clothes, I slipped through my window and made my way to the garage. With my enhanced vision I didn’t need a light to make my way through the dark garage to the spot in the corner where I found my dad’s old walking stick leaning against the wall.

I gripped the handle, thinking of the last time I had seen my dad. He was reading in his small office across from my parent’s bedroom and invited me to come read with him. I turned him down—all those years later I didn’t even remember why. My dad just smiled and told me we would do it later. I never saw him again.

With the walking stick in hand I made my way out of the garage and into the night. My path to the warehouse would have to be much different than the one I took following Amelia a few days before. Staying off the streets I would keep to the shadows as much as possible, avoiding the street lights.

From one backyard to the next I made my way in silence to the first street I would have to cross. Looking up and down for any sign of movement, I quickly crossed. When I reached the other side, I stopped behind some bushes to let my nerves calm. Being exposed for just the few seconds it took to cross the street brought a level of fear I had never experienced before. Not even in the world of books. I finally got myself moving again and crept through a yard of a large two-story home with trees in the back. My new vision helped like never before. I could see every bush, every tree; what would have been pockets of dangerous darkness were instead as bright as the light of the evening sunset. I kept my stick always at the ready as I had learned from Unbar.

From one yard to the next I moved with no living thing in sight until a large shadow growled at me and leaped. I got the staff up but knew it wouldn’t be much protection against such a large animal. Suddenly the creature jerked in midair, hitting the end of the slack in its chain and crashed to the ground just out of reach. The large dog barked and growled, pulling at its chain, trying to get at me. Giving the beast a large berth, I made my way out of its sight, hoping the animal would quiet down. It kept barking which caused me to have to rush faster than I wanted.

I was closer to the city and started hearing cars driving by at top speeds. They honked their horns. Laughter came through their open windows, bottles were thrown onto the street. Every so often I heard a loud crash as they hit a parked car and continued on their way to terrorize another street.

Crossing those streets became more and more difficult. Many times the street appeared to be clear but then I would find a car driving at high speeds with no lights on bearing down on me, even swerving in my direction. One car stopped and several young men got out and gave chase but I flew through the backyards of two houses and crossed a street right under the street light to another block. In their drunken condition they couldn’t keep up. Despite the close proximity of the warehouse it took me more than an hour to reach the empty lot across the street from the large structure.

Looking out from the same tree where Amelia had scolded me, I watched the building for any signs of a guard or any activity inside. From the outside the building looked completely dark. There were no lights around the structure for some distance, giving me cover for what I was about to attempt.

I started out from behind the tree when I heard a voice behind me. “Hey! What you lookin’ at over there?” a drunk and bandaged Jon Franks babbled from behind me. Next to Jon stood Red and three other boys I didn’t know. They carried books, which struck me as odd. I didn’t have long to think about it though because when Jon recognized me he pointed and yelled, “Get him!”

I held on to my stick and ran toward the warehouse, not sure what I was going to do when I got there. When I crossed the street I leaped the steps in two strides. Twisting the handle of the large oak door, I hurled myself inside.

Looking at the inside door handle for a lock and finding none I looked for a place to hide. Just inside the entrance I saw a large fountain with a rearing horse and an umbrella of water flowing out of the top of its head. It was like no fountain I had ever seen before. Each stream of water coming out of the head of the statue was a different color and each dropped into the water over a different spot. Looking past the fountain there was a door to what I hoped would be a closet. Quickly I hid myself inside, hoping the chase behind me had slowed enough to give me time to settle before they burst in.

Red couldn’t believe his luck. That bookworm from school who had sucker-punched him a few days ago had appeared all alone and there he was with four buddies who could help give the kid a lesson. When he took off running with his stick Red knew it would only be a matter of time until they caught him, especially when he ran towards the empty lot across the street.

The boys in front were gaining already. Then the kid crossed the street and disappeared. He just disappeared. Red’s group spent the next twenty minutes looking everywhere for the boy but with no luck. Finally the boys wanted to give up and get back to scavenging for books. The man downtown was paying everyone a ridiculous amount of money for a certain book no matter how you got it. It was like the guy was made of gold or something.

In the dark of the closet I spent the next several moments just trying to breathe. I couldn’t believe that the boys chasing me would be stopped by an unlocked door, especially with the curse running rampant. My worst fears were realized when the door opened and light poured in. I expected to see five angry faces ready to beat me to a bloody pulp but instead found an old man with white hair staring at me like he expected me to be there.

“Tommy Travers, I presume. Come out of there, I need to speak with you.”

His head disappeared from the doorway and with no more reason to hide I joined him in the hall.

“Follow me.” He didn’t introduce himself or mention the fact he had caught me breaking in. It suddenly hit me that I had seen him before. He was the old man in the forest who had been arguing with Amelia. I remembered too what the man had told her to do to me.

He led me to an office which looked more like a small library. Shelves lined each of the walls filled to overflowing with books, most of which were very old. Some looked like they hadn’t been touched in a hundred years. His small desk was cluttered with papers and more books piled in stacks. It also contained a few objects I didn’t recognize.

“I know who you are and why you have come here,” the man said, seating himself at his desk. “You’ve come to take over the Gifted and set me out to retire. You want to cast me aside as an old piece of furniture that has lost its usefulness. You think me old and broken. I tell you now, I will not step aside!” he pounded his fists on the table.

I stood holding my walking staff in a state of confusion. I had expected to be threatened with the police or going to jail for breaking in. If there were police to call, that is, not expecting incoherent rambling. Remembering the curse, I realized the man had to be affected. He rocked back and forth. Curse or not, I knew I had to get out of his office. The only question was how.

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