By: Rachel Karyo
In my dream I witness a birth. The mother is naked, face red, hair damp. Something glows between her thighs. She grunts. The glowing intensifies.
The mother screams and from her emerges a column of pure, bright light. I wake and recognize my dream as a vision, feel grateful to have been given this opportunity, and vow to do my best to guide this child.
Blessed is he who lights the way for the radiant!
It’s 0400 hours, but I’m too exhilarated to go back to sleep. Instead, I prepare my morning pot of tea, then sit at the kitchen table and compose a letter.
“Dear Professor Stern, I believe a radiant was born last night, and I am destined to be her guide.”
Professor Stern was my senior advisor at the academy. She used to complain about my “incessant” questions in class, and she would feign irritation at my frequent visits to her office, but after I graduated, she wrote a glowing recommendation on my behalf.
I try to describe in writing exactly what I saw in my dream.
“Who knows, the birth of this child may mark the turning point in the war of darkness against light. The column in my vision was so bright!”
As I finish writing, the sun starts to rise. Soon determined orange light fills the kitchen window. I assiduously wash and dry my cup then perform my morning ablutions even more carefully than usual. At 0009 hours, I contact the council to report my nocturnal prognostication.
The smell of burnt flesh. According to the dispatch from Intelligence, a potential radiant should be here now, celebrating her birthday. I try not to judge her parents for choosing such a vile location in which to host a feast. The stale light, plastic air, and constant electromagnetic assault hurts my head.
The man in front of me is complaining that he ordered “extra cheese, no onions” but received “extra onions, no cheese.” There is an angry boil on the back of his neck. It looks infected. He is served a new burger, blanketed with artificial, yellow, cultured-milk product, but he continues to complain until he secures a full monetary refund. Finally, he grabs a handful of tomato concentrate packets and lumbers out the door.
“Can I help you, sir?” asks the adolescent standing behind the counter. Beneath glitter-encrusted lids and blackened lashes, her eyes look exhausted.
I order a carton of fried potatoes and a drink of frozen processed dairy then allow intuition to guide me to the shining one. There she is, a cardboard crown on her head. I sit down at a nearby table, sweating through my suit. They’re singing happy birthday to another child towards the back. Somewhere an infant is screaming. I study the radiant’s respiratory pattern, the way she absorbs and directs energy, but then her father notices me so I look out the window.
There are no trees or flowers to admire, only a dozen parked cars and an overflowing dumpster. The beverage I purchased tastes like chemically-treated ashes. I put down the poison and return my attention to the radiant, to her river smile and golden laugh. She is attacking her paper napkin, ripping it into tiny, useless pieces, as she will someday tear through squadrons of hostile enemy soldiers!
I wish there was a way to anoint her without attracting attention. Instead, I listen to the celebrants sing. I learn that the radiant’s name is Jessica. She is four years old. Finally, the radiant rips open her presents, and the party comes to an end. I follow her home, secure her address, and return to my quarters.
The radiant, now nine years old, plays in her front yard most Saturdays after lunch. I disguise myself as a postal worker. Her older brother is home, shooting hoops with friends across the street. We will not have much time. No matter, I feel confident we’ll understand each other, as we do when she comes to me in my dreams. She’s chalking a hopscotch board on the driveway. Her short brown hair shines in the sunlight. How many times have I rehearsed this speech before the spirit mirror?
“Greetings, radiant one, agent of light. I am your guide. I dreamt of your coming and have been watching you for years.” I tell her I’m sorry about the recent loss of her father, but he would have been proud of her — one of the legendary radiants, who will someday play a crucial role in the epic war of darkness against light!
“Of course,” I say, “You could never have told him, must never tell anyone—”
“I’m sorry,” she says, “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers.”
“I’m not a stranger. My name is Carl. I witnessed the birth of your earth-body and attended your fourth birthday feast. Someday, I shall watch as you shower luminescence upon our enemies and fill the heavens with a new brilliance!”
I explain more about her psychic potential and promise that in a few years, after menarche, we’ll begin training.
Across the street, one of the basketball players shouts, “I got hit!”
I thrust the stone into the radiant’s hand.
Her mother might appear at any moment.
I stuff a handful of junk mail into the iron box on their door and whisper, “Until your first menses,” then, halfway down the driveway, I turn and say, “Honor the light.”
I hurry back to my quarters to prepare a pot of celebratory tea and update the council.
A sunny afternoon in early September. We’ve been working for less than an hour when she begs me for a break. “Five minutes,” I say, putting her stone on the window sill. She uncrosses her legs, rises from the seat of concentration (a round, blue, floor cushion), and stretches her arms over her head. “Can we practice outside today,” she asks. I open the window to let in some air.
I established operations here at the Birchwood apartment complex about three and a half years ago, shortly before Jessica turned twelve and began training. My one-bedroom unit is small and crumbling, the carpet is stained, and the walls are thin, but it’s walking distance to the radiant’s house, the rent is low, and the landlord leaves me be.
Blessed is he who finds shelter in the light.
I tell my radiant we have much to accomplish in our limited time together. “I know,” she says and retrieves from her school bag a chocolate and peanut butter granola bar, even though I’ve told her countless times that fruit is a healthier choice.
While she eats, I light more candles and clean the spirit mirror, a full-length, rectangular looking glass fastened to the wall. The spirit mirror is a gateway. A radiant may use it to travel lightyears across time and space, or inwards, down the steep, slippery slope of consciousness.
I throw away the granola bar wrapper and tell Jessica there’s chocolate on her cheek. She gazes into the spirit mirror, licks a finger, rubs her face. I remind her that in June she will turn sixteen and must demonstrate before the council competency in the skills we have been practicing.
“I know,” Jessica says, rolling her eyes.
Lately, she has been wasting time as a chorus member in a high school musical. I begged her not to audition, but she said being in Thespians contributes to her radiance, and why shouldn’t she do things that make her happy, especially since her life will likely be a short one that ends in a paroxysm of psychic warfare?
“I have dress rehearsal tomorrow…”
“You are strong and powerful.”
“…until, like, five, but it might run late.”
“You are right now shining with a luminous light.”
Is she blushing, or have the chemicals in the bar inflamed her skin? She wipes her finger on her ripped black tights and gathers her hair on top of her head. I see the shaved part underneath and think of Sumo wrestlers, of the noble discipline of the martial arts. She retrieves her stone and sits back down on the seat of concentration. Her cheek is smudged, but she appears determined. I tell her to direct her energy.
“Are you breathing?”
She’s breathing. A minute passes. Nothing happens. Another minute. I don’t understand. What are we doing wrong?
Sixth months later. Now the first week of February. Jessica arrives at my quarters upset. I ask her to take out her stone. She unlaces her combat boots in slow motion. I remind her that soldiers of darkness will not wait patiently while she prepares for battle. She rummages through her school bag. She’s wearing her t-shirt inside out, but that may be intentional. She sticks safety pins through her ears, scribbles song lyrics across her arms, paints her nails unnatural colors. She boasts that her mother hates the way she dresses. Sometimes I think Jessica is trying (unsuccessfully) to camouflage her radiance.
“I can’t find it,” she says, “My stone is gone.”
I ask where she saw it last.
She flings herself face down on the carpet. Buries her head in her arms. I say we’ll get another.
“But I want mine,” she says, “The one you gave me on my driveway when you told me I was a radiant and my dad would have been proud.”
I search her school bag myself, taking each item out and placing it on the floor: a beaten-up textbook, crumpled balls of paper, a banana peel, a flyer for a school dance… I find her stone in an interior pocket, wrapped in some tissues, and hand it to her.
She sits up and says, “I forgot I put it there to keep it safe.”
Then she blows her nose and apologizes.
“Today was the worst,” she says.
She forgot she had a math test, and during assembly Michael said he thinks he likes Samantha, that he finds her interesting.
I remind the radiant that she needs to remain focused on her crucial role.
“What does your mother think you’re doing this afternoon?”
Despite my objections, Jessica auditioned for the spring musical. She insists that West Side Story, with its choreographed fight scenes, is relevant to our training. She says her older brother has a commitment the weekend of the show and will have to miss it. She begs me to come and watch her perform, but I must remain invisible, and avoid both her home and school. Her mother, teachers, and friends do not know about the epic war. They would not understand Jessica’s training regimen. Therefore, we must keep our strenuous curriculum secret.
I direct the radiant to sit cross-legged on the seat of concentration. I tell her we will again attempt a level one energy transfer. She presses her stone against her forehead, lips, and chest. “Concentrate on the bright sphere of light in the center of your being,” I say. “You control your light. You can stretch or fold it. You can make it brighter, wider, thicker, or sharper. Change its color and aroma. Try turning your light red. Now silver. Notice the scent of your light at this moment. Does it smell like cinnamon, smoke, strawberries, or freshly cut grass? Roll a small bead of light across the eastern quadrant of your chest, down your right arm, through your warm palm, and into your stone.” The radiant squeezes her eyes shut, her face is flushed, and I can tell she is really trying, but perhaps she is not fully present, or she’s tired, or frightened, or something else is wrong. I don’t know, but we’re running out of time.
Just when it appears that we might finally start to make some progress, something always comes up: a stomach bug, a research paper, her brother’s championship game, a mother/daughter shopping trip.
How anyone ever accomplishes anything.
I position the seat of concentration directly in front of the window and then sit down on the futon, which is the only piece of furniture in the studio. I scan the room. I have cleaned the spirit mirror and vacuumed the carpet. A half dozen candles burn. I do everything in my power to create a space that is conducive to psychic and spiritual development, but there goes the old woman who lives next door, yelling at her television again. I will have to find a way to drown out her noise.
My radiant was supposed to arrive five minutes ago. It’s disrespectful to show up late for practice. Forces of light, give me strength.
Should I contact the council and confess my radiant is not progressing? The members of the council might offer valuable suggestions. They might also question my competence as a guide. But haven’t my teachers always expressed the utmost confidence in my ability? Dedicated, knowledgeable, driven, stubborn, obsessive – the words my advisor used to describe me in her recommendation.
Jessica is now ten minutes late. Professor Stern always insisted that the most effective guides are strict disciplinarians. I could yell at my radiant, administer some sort of punishment, but she cries so easily, and aren’t the most celebrated teachers usually soft spoken, gentle? Jesus, Buddha, Anne Sullivan, Werner Erhard – all good listeners.
Perhaps I should put Jessica on a sugar-free diet to improve her concentration. She bristles when I ask about her cycle. Some guides examine their radiant’s ear wax, their waste products, I think that goes too far, but I strongly suspect Jessica’s earth-body requires more sleep and water.
I’ll give her until 16:15, and then I’m cancelling our session. If I don’t hold her accountable — sweet illumination, here she is!
Each night before lights-out, I’ve been reading the personal diary of the legendary radiant Emily Price. She wrote her first entry on the day her guide informed her she was an agent of light with a crucial role to play in the war, and she kept writing regularly until she was ambushed and beheaded during an eclipse. I was hoping her training records might help me improve as a guide, yet… An example, she writes:
3 September 1865
Early this morning, before milking, I hurried to the abandoned barn. Margaret had already prepared the plank. She looked melancholy, and I wondered if she had received more bad news from the front. These days, we lose so many radiant sisters, while the soldiers of darkness proliferate like mushrooms after rain. I picked up my skirts, sat on the plank with my stone in my lap, and began to direct energy. At first the mosquitoes were a distraction, but soon my stone started to shimmer, and then Margaret whispered, “Steady, bright one,” and my stone began to glow, until finally it released a column of pure light!
I appreciate Emily’s use of detail regarding where she positions the stone, and what her guide says, but exactly how does the radiant one direct her energy? I’m starting to believe no one can teach anyone how to do anything, for there’s a gap one must cross when learning something new, and one may only cross it alone.
Unless, of course, I’m just a lousy guide.
Nonsense. With celestial courage and heroic light, anything is possible! We must simply work harder.
“If I didn’t have a crucial role to play in the war of darkness against light, I would just go ahead and kill myself,” she says, and then she picks up my car keys and asks, “Can I practice my driving?”
“When you obtain your learner’s permit.”
“But I’m clairvoyant.”
Ha ha ha ha ha!
My neighbor is watching television at full volume again. It is time to try out my new music player. I have carefully researched what albums to play during our sessions, but Jessica complains about my musical selection. I explain that, according to scientific experimentation, acoustic, harmonic melodies encourage healthy growth in plants, while loud, discordant noise (like the percussive-heavy punk rock music the radiant prefers) kills them. The radiant reminds me that she is not a plant. I say dark agents despise vegetation, and that we lovers of light have much in common with our photosensitive friends. She says she has nothing against plants, but the plucking of that harp is making her skin crawl.
I turn off the music and ask her to stand before the spirit mirror. Jessica says the spirit mirror is boring. She asks if she can paint the frame and decorate it with feathers and beads. I explain that the spirit mirror is supposed to be nondescript, so she may focus entirely on her image in the glass, but Jessica says she hates staring at her face. I tell her she has the features of a fierce and glorious angel, but she says she wishes she had model cheekbones like Samantha.
“Look into your eyes,” I say and light a stick of incense.
“You must think I’m shallow,” she says.
I tell her to relax her gaze.
“At school, all anyone cares about is how you look, what you wear.”
“On which side of the spirit mirror is our world located,” I ask.
“Michael’s seeing Samantha. They deserve each other.”
“Try to cross over to the other side.”
“I put my head down on my desk and pretended to be asleep in math and then spent the rest of the day in the nurse’s office.”
“You might be fighting something. Now, try to—”
“I am trying!”
“Is the reflection in the spirit mirror a reflection of you, or could it be a dark agent masquerading as you?”
“It must be so boring watching me do the same drills over and over, never improving…”
Jessica interrupts me to say that she will stop talking, but could I please lower the blinds? She can’t see anything with the sunlight in her eyes.
The Tuesday after Memorial Day Weekend, Jessica arrives late to practice. She has dyed her hair electric blue and is wearing a short black leather skirt, even though I told her that radiants should never wear animal skins, for they emit a sad energy.
She asks if there is a drug she could try, perhaps a fermented beverage, to improve her psychic performance.
“We could share a cocktail. Maybe smoke a tiny joint,” she says, “I think it might help. I really do. Everyone at school gets drunk and high all the time, but I’ve never tried anything because of training. Wouldn’t you rather I experiment in a safe, controlled environment? I’ll be going to college in a few years, if I’m still alive, sleeping in a dormitory, maybe pledging a sorority, but here you can guide me.”
I offer her a cup of tea.
“Could you put a splash of vodka in it?”
“I’ll add a little honey – good for the immune system. We must keep your strength up. Council evaluation is only four weeks away.”
“I don’t care. I’m soooo bored.”
She’s right. We need to try something new. After Jessica goes home, I drive to the hardware store and buy an eight-foot long board of raw knotty pine.
“It’s called a plank,” I tell Jessica, the next day at practice. I explain that the magnificent Emily Price achieved great success training on similar equipment. Like Emily, Jessica sits on the plank with her stone in her lap and starts to direct energy. Unlike Emily, she soon falls asleep. I wake her and tell her to get a glass of water, but when she returns from the kitchen, she refuses to get back on the plank. She complains about splinters. She says she is exhausted, and all of her teachers, even her gym teacher, assigned homework. She says she needs to call Samantha to explain what happened during the fire drill, and she has to clean her room, or her mother will kill her. I remind her that radiants must set aside personal concerns for the sake of the universe. “Besides, your earth-body knows how to reject splinters. Now please resume your position on the plank.” She flings herself face down on the carpet, buries her head in her arms, and cries. I fix her a cup of calming tea and let her go home early. I reason that it would not have been a productive session anyway, but I am worried that my concern for Jessica’s feelings may be interfering with her training.
Help me, forces of light, hear my call!
That night, I put aside Emily’s diary and review the syllabus from Professor Stern’s seminar, The Effective Guide. Then I re-read, with great interest, several underlined passages in June West’s highly acclaimed Letters to My Sister:
15 May 1923
I’ve bobbed my hair! Mother says I look like a boy. Father says I look older. Did you hear Joe and Missy finally got engaged? Dark forces demolished the radiant stronghold in Spain, or at least I think that’s what happened – S. doesn’t tell me anything. He treats me like a child, even though I’m almost sixteen. When I arrived at the beach this morning, he said I was late, even though I wasn’t, or at least not very. I apologized and sat down and tried to concentrate, but he kept shouting at me.
“Stop slouching. Sit up, you sluggard.”
My hands were cold. My stomach rumbled. My stone refused to glow.
“Need I remind you we’re at war? I said sit up.”
My stone flickered, ever so faintly.
S. looked at it with disgust then started reminiscing (for the one hundredth time) about his last radiant, Edwina. How she was so responsible. So gracious and industrious. “Did I ever tell you Edwina was also an accomplished pianist?” The more he talked, the more annoyed I felt, and I forgot about being cold and hungry and directed my energy. Soon, my stone began to glow, and then it released (could Edwina do this?) a column of…
There is much to learn from these windswept, prickly letters. I admire June’s rigorous training and no-nonsense guide. I now see that I have been too lenient with my radiant. Jessica may be the only one of us with psychic powers, but I am the adult. She needs to know that I am in charge, that my word is law, and that I will hold her to the highest of standards. Help me, forces of light, to set clear boundaries, to execute my authority, and to stop coddling my radiant. Starting tomorrow, I must grasp the reins. Crack the whip. Dum vivunt in lucem!
Against my better judgment, I buy a ticket for the Saturday night performance of West Side Story. I bring along the scientific article I’ve been reading on solar flares but find myself captivated by the theatrical entertainment, a poignant, cautionary tale about the futility of violence, the sadness of young lives cut short. And Jessica – Jessica is brilliant. She plays one of the Jets in the male ensemble. She does not have any lines to speak, but she outshines everyone else on stage. She snaps her fingers, jabs her fists, and kicks her legs with the dignity of a goddess. Even when she isn’t dancing, when she sits on a tire waiting for the war council to begin, or throws dice with a fellow delinquent, I still can’t take my eyes off her, for she radiates a crushing, diamond light. I’m so proud of her, so honored to be her guide.
When it is over, I try to slip out unnoticed, but Jessica stops me.
“Mom, I want you to meet someone. This is Mr. C. He’s in guidance.”
We shake hands. Jessica’s mother says I look familiar, that she’s certain we’ve met before.
“You have a very special daughter,” I say.
“Did you like the show,” asks Jessica.
Her aura is so bright I can’t look at her directly.
“The kids did a nice job,” says her mother, “but I worry about Jess spending all those hours rehearsing. She gets home from school so late. Has very little time for homework.”
“Mom, I’ve told you, what I do after school is really important.”
“Algebra is really important.”
She says Jessica got a D in math last quarter and will have to enroll in summer school if she doesn’t pass her final exam.
“You’re a counselor, Mr. C. What do you think,” asks Jessica’s mother.
I glance at my radiant. She’s no longer beaming. I’m still trying to devise an appropriate response when the young woman who played Anita runs over and shouts, “We’re all going into town for ice cream!”
Jessica’s mother invites me along. She says she has been meaning to schedule a guidance appointment and would love to pick my brain. Jessica’s mother looks a little like Jessica. I do not believe Jessica’s mother possesses psychic abilities, but she is staring at me so intensely, I fear she might be able to read my mind. “The hour grows late,” I say, and excuse myself, and hurry back to my quarters, where I enjoy a relaxing cup of tea and read more about coronal mass ejection.
The day before the council examination, we train at Short Beach. I bring a blanket and drinking water. Jessica carries her stone. It’s late afternoon. Dark clouds are headed this way.
“Is it like the road test – do most radiants fail the first time?”
Council evaluation is supposed to be a ceremonial affair followed by refreshments and the presentation of gifts. I’ve never heard of a radiant failing, but I don’t tell her that. Instead, I remind Jessica that today we’re going to try a new motivational strategy.
“The objective is to bypass your rational brain and instigate an adrenal response.”
“I still think vodka would work better,” she says.
I ask Jessica to kneel on the blanket with her stone in her lap; I stand directly in front of her and scowl.
“Wake up,” I yell, “Why are you slouching?”
“Am I supposed to answer,” she whispers.
“Quiet,” I shout, “You sluggard!”
A woman walking a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel shoots me a dirty look.
“You don’t work hard enough, Jessica. That’s why you’re failing math.”
She looks down at her stone. Her long sapphire hair shines in the sunlight.
“Need I remind you we’re at war?”
She turned sixteen yesterday. I baked her a devil’s food cake, but to make it healthier, I used unbleached flour, and replaced half of the sugar with honey. Jessica said the cake was delicious, and she seemed to like the gift I gave her, a handmade notebook decorated with feathers and beads. “I thought you might enjoy keeping a diary,” I said, “Someday, guides may read what you write in order to better train their radiants.”
Now, a battalion of dark clouds speeds towards the sun. The wind blows a paper bag across the beach.
“Jessica, you don’t drink enough water. You’re supposed to drink at least six glasses a day to keep your psychic channels clear.”
I glance at the radiant’s stone. It does not look any lighter. If anything, her stone looks darker than it did when I gave it to her seven years ago.
Lightning flashes over the dunes. I call her lazy again. I should probably keep going, but here comes the thunder and – forces of light forgive me – I do not want to hurt her feelings.
“Good job,” I say, in my usual tone of voice, “You can get up now.”
She stands, and I pass her the water bottle.
“You know I didn’t mean all those things I said. I was just trying to make you angry.”
“I think maybe it worked. I think my stone vibrated a little.”
She swats a horsefly off the back of her thigh and asks what she should wear tomorrow. I tell her to dress comfortably.
“Ugh, I’m so nervous, but my drama teacher says that’s how you should feel before a performance.”
It starts to rain. I pick up the blanket, and we hurry back to the parking lot. She does not yet have a learner’s permit, but I let her drive my car anyway.
I’m boiling water for tea when the phone rings.
“I’ll give you three guesses why your girl royally fucked up her examination.”
I recognize the voice: Richard Gross, council chair. I open the kitchen window to let in some air.
“Your radiant is not a radiant. Exhibits zero psychic potential. The council doesn’t know how this egregious mistake was made. An inquiry will be launched. But what we really can’t understand is how a highly-recommended, certified guide spent four years training a non-radiant and failed to fucking notice.”
The kettle whistles, startling me. I extinguish the flame.
“At any rate,” he says, “we’re trying to locate the lost child of light to train her to play her crucial role. Who knows how long it will take, but at least we’ve started the search.”
I hear crashing and banging in the Birchwood parking lot.
“Eliminate the non-radiant human. Choose whichever method of execution you think best.”
Suddenly I feel very cold. There’s a sea urchin stuck in my throat. Outside, men shout and glass shatters. I realize that darkness has finally prevailed, and this is the beginning of the end, the final destruction…
“You still there? I’m just kidding. She’s not a threat. Anyone she blabs to will assume she’s batshit.”
I hear the hiss and rumble of a large truck and understand it is not the apocalypse, only garbage collection day.
“Report to Personnel first thing Monday morning for reassignment. You’ll never guide again, obviously, but we’ll find something menial you can do. How many hours did you waste ‘training’ the non-radiant? At least fifteen a week? That times fifty-two makes seven hundred and eighty, times four… more than three thousand hours. You must be one stubborn asshole, I’ll give you that!”
He’s still laughing about how you can’t get blood from a stone when I hang up.
Late afternoon sunlight spills through the living room window, illuminating the carpet’s numerous stains. They seem to discharge a sour, resentful energy, like forensic evidence, or the ciphers of a dark art. I tell Jessica about my conversation with the council chair. Then I notice her left earlobe.
“Does your earlobe hurt, Jessica? It looks red and swollen.”
“You lied to me. You made me think I was special.”
“I’m afraid your new piercing may be infected.”
“Do you realize how much of my life I’ve wasted on your stupid, boring drills?”
“I can mix unrefined sea salt in distilled water and—”
“You’re not even listening to me,” she yells, and takes out her stone, and throws it at the spirit mirror.
The glass cracks.
The woman who lives next door shouts, “What’s going on in there?”
My apartment is no longer an underground training facility for covert metaphysical combat, but I hope my neighbor does not call the landlord or, worse, law enforcement.
“I do not know the exact number,” I say softly, “but based on recent calculations, we have probably spent more than three thousand hours training together.”
Jessica stomps off, slamming the door on her way out.
She returns later, shortly after midnight. She says she was at a party but wasn’t having a good time. She smells like beer and is unsteady on her feet.
“You should call home. Your mother will worry.”
“She thinks I’m sleeping over at Samantha’s.”
I tell Jessica that she must drink at least eight ounces of water, or her head will hurt in the morning. She apologizes for breaking the spirit mirror. She says she has to take Algebra 2 again, in summer school, and asks if I would be willing to tutor her in math. I accept her proposition.
“It will be fun,” I say, “We’ll solve problems. Analyze errors. With my help, you’ll master the material in no time.”
I was never much good at math, but that doesn’t matter. I can get a book.
“I think I might throw up,” says Jessica.
I help her to the bathroom and hold her hair while she bends over the toilet.
Afterwards, she rests on the futon. I bring her a glass of drinking water and tend to her inflamed ear.
“Do you still have my stone?”
I retrieve it from the window sill. She falls asleep holding her stone in her hand.
Eventually I decide to turn in, but then I notice something odd. A small circle of light flickers against the living room ceiling. I look out the window, thinking it might be a kid goofing around with a flashlight, but I don’t see or hear anyone in the Birchwood parking lot. It is dark tonight, the sky is blanketed with clouds, not even the moon is out. I close the blinds. The circle of light has grown larger. Steadier. I look around the apartment and realize the light is emanating from the futon. I walk over.
“Jessica,” I say, “Wake up!”
She does not stir.
“Look at your stone…”
Her stone is radiating light. The flickering has strengthened into a hearty glow. Should I shake her? Her stone glows brighter and brighter, and then it releases a great sphere of silver light. Jessica levitates above the futon and sleeps suspended inside the shining orb.
I always knew she was a radiant.
I will petition the council for a re-evaluation. They will reinstate me as her guide. Should I buy some beer? The last thing I want is for my radiant to develop a dependency. Besides, that big, bright globe may have nothing to do with alcoholic intoxication. Maybe Jessica’s stone began to glow because she fell asleep and entered a state of deep relaxation. A correlation between the production of theta or delta waves and increased psychic activity.
An ambulance speeds through the night, siren wailing. Jessica floats back down onto the futon. The otherworldly light radiating from her stone slowly fades away.
She looks so peaceful asleep. Younger than when she is awake.
Jessica thinks fighting in the war would make her father proud, but she is so likely to get hurt, or worse. As a civilian, she could focus on algebra and acting. Perhaps she’d get a speaking part in the next thespian production. She has such a beautiful voice.
Without waking her, I remove the stone from her hand. Then I go to bed, but I can’t stop worrying about her. Finally, shortly before dawn, I fall into a deep sleep.
In my dream, Jessica is nine years old. She kneels on her driveway, chalking mysterious hieroglyphs. I’m supposed to put a red envelope in the iron mail box on her front door, but I don’t. I’m afraid it would harm Jessica. Across the street, her brother and his friends are playing basketball. I rip the envelope into tiny, useless pieces. The basketball players draw switchblades and stab each other. A river of blood flows into the gutter. Ashes rain over the neighborhood. A voice intones, “Blessed is he who lights the way for the radiant.”
I wake and recognize my dream as a message. It is dark in my bedroom. I have never felt so cold. I imagine Jessica alone and afraid on a remote battlefield on the astral plane. If a dark agent harmed her, it would destroy me.
Let some other prodigy dazzle the heavens. Grant the radiant’s sisters celestial courage. Bless them, forces of light, with enlightened guides. And may they teach their bright ones how to end the terrible war of darkness, now and forever.
Forces of light forgive me.
Rachel Karyo’s short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Deep Cuts, Noctua Review, Liars’ League (NYC and London), RipRap Literary Journal, Cease, Cows, and Belletrist Magazine. Her short story “The Well” will be published next year in Grit City Comic’s Monster Mashup anthology. Rachel lives in Seattle, Washington.