“You read ahead before you read aloud, that is my understanding, yes?” the main judge asked. I gulped. How is one supposed to concentrate on a conversation with a sword trained on their heart?
“You might want to answer the question,” the man named Simil smiled down at me, all the while pressing the tip of the sword ever deeper into my clothes.
“Y-yes, yes sir,” I responded timidly.
“Very good, very good.” I could see the judge scribbling away at the bench.
“Simil, you’re opinion,” the judge didn’t even look up at the cotton-candy clown of death. The pink and blue horror twisted his head this way and that way, like a chicken eyeing a lizard. “She doesn’t have training yet. It seems that the observatory triggered her Scholarship to Phase. She can’t unRead. Oh, and she likes blueberries. I think we’ll be great friends. Anyone who likes blueberries can be my friend,” he smiled. His teeth were magnificently strait and white. I realized that he was wearing a wig of copper hair over platinum blonde hair that he had pulled up and hidden underneath it. His pink and black eye were real, though I wish they were contacts. The star birthmark was makeup, same with the heavy eyeliner he had on. I thought my brain was going to implode. They were letting a crazy man handle a lethal weapon and asking him his opinion. Blueberries? To hell with blueberries.
I could have been brave, or stupid. I could have pushed away the blade and tried to make one of those heroic fight scenes like in my favorite anime, but I had only gotten to my high yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do before college, marriage, kid, sedentary life had taken over. I wasn’t even going to attempt it. My best luck was to quietly try to live out these proceedings and figure out what they were doing.
“You are married, here it says, 9 years?” the judge asked.
“Yes,” I found myself in a stairing contest with the pink and black eyed man. It seemed to amuse him to no end.
“A Carl Eugene Oppenheimer?”
“Yes,” I noticed Simil’s eyes dart away from the contest to the judge, and the clown’s smile slipped for a second.
“And you have an only child, Dante Vash Oppenheimer?” the judge continued with his meaningless questions.
“Only child,” I agreed emphatically.
“Simil?” The judge asked again.
“Only child, married, Carl, yes,” he muttered back.
“Something wrong, Simil?” the judge questioned.
“Nope, nope, nope,” he cheaped back. Something was wrong though. I had felt the tip of the sword come away from me. I guess it wasn’t wrong, but I got a feeling that for this oddball it was.
“You’ve never had this happen to you before?” the judge continued with his questions, scribbling away at his sheets of paper.
“Auromatherapy paralytic-neurotoxin, crazy death clown, masked judges evaluating my death, and random things happening when I read. Can’t say that I have,” I snapped back. I guess I shouldn’t have done that. Simil pressed the tip of the blade back down, but never hard enough to draw blood.
“No need for sarcasm Mrs. Oppenheimer. We’re just making sure the facts are clear for the court,” the judge grumbled, not even looking up. The smile on Simil’s face had been replaced with a melancholy frown. Apparently he actually had some kind of feeling, he at least didn’t like being called a crazy death clown. He looked familiar. Very familiar, but with the make-up it was hard to place. “Do you know what has happened to Amelia Englewood?”
I was becoming impatient. Finally I tested sitting up. Simil tried to hold the sword steady, making an effort at keeping me down. This was probably a dumb move, but I grasped the flat of the blade between thumb and forefinger and carefully eased it aside. It was a game of wills between Simil and myself. He did not have the desire to see me cut, and I was going to use that to my advantage.
“Suggestion, stay still,” he whispered to me.
I spoke loudly enough for the entire court to hear me, “At least allow me the dignity to sit up and quit flashing the bench.” Simil gulped and stepped back a step. He glanced over at the bench where the main judge had face palmed and at least two others were trying hard to hide their laughter. The female judge waved him off.
“Chair?” he asked, slightly confused.
“She’s alright. I don’t think we have to worry about her too much. To be safe though, keep her seated,” the main judge told him. Finally, sitting, I was able to gain a better appreciation for the judges’ attire. They all wore robes in various jewel tones, but all of the masks matched, with bulbous foreheads, noses and cheeks. The center most, the main judge wore a deep midnight blue, the female was in green. The other five were in red, orange, purple, black and rose. The room was filled with people in formal attire. The men wore three piece suits and hats. The women to my utter surprise were bound up in corsetted, bustled dresses like that of the late victorian period with varying styles of hats and parasole canes. I knew I was gaping, but what was I supposed to make of the crazy clothes.
“I’ll repeat the question, Mrs. Oppenheimer. Do you know of Amelia Englewood?” I focused back on the judge.
I shook my head. “I was supposed to meet her today at the public library, but Ms. Krimshaw was there instead. She said Ms. Englewood was out on an errand till the end of the month,” I responded.
“Huh. Well, I believe that is the end of the proceedings. Chair, does anyone else have anything to contribute?” He asked the rest of the masked people.
“I do,” the woman spoke up.
“Proceed,” the judge didn’t seem surprised.
The woman stood up and moved out of the bench. She walked down to the square and walked around me once before standing in front of me. “Do you see that up there?” she asked. I looked at what she was pointing at. It was a large banner hung up in a rafter of the ceiling that I hadn’t noticed before. It had some kind of romantic language on it, I suspected Latin. I nodded my head. I got the feeling she was watching me. “You apparently can’t bring forth something you can’t understand, if you’re a silent reader. Can you read it out loud?” she asked. I think she was crazier than cotton-candy clown next to me. I looked at the banner once again. I had tried to say the words in my head granted, but now she wanted me to read them out loud? Oh this was going to be painful. “Mors ultima linea rerum est,” I spluttered out. She nodded her head and walked back to the bench. “What was that?” I asked scrambling to stand up. I felt a blade at my throat. Simil held me in check from getting up.
“Death is everything’s final limit,” Dr. Hamilton said as he walked forward.
“Boris?” the main judge asked.
“I have dealt with the woman for the last fifteen weeks. I believe she is a good fit for the guild. I would only ask one last question,” he bowed to the panel.
“Well, if you’re here,” the judge motioned.
“Does your son or husband show these talents?” he asked.
“No. Not that I’ve ever noticed,” I said. The judge perked up, like a train of thought just reattached itself to its rails.
“What does your husband do for a living?” he asked.
“He’s an international linguist, but I don’t know what that has to do with anything,” I responded.
“He is home frequently that you would know if he could Read out?” one of the other judges asked. I glared at Dr. Hamilton. I had hoped these proceedings had been coming to an end. It looked like now that the cat was out of the bag they would be chasing it around the courtroom for a while. “No. He travels often. I see him for about three nights a month. He’s usually in Seol, or Osaka, or Napal, or Mumbai at any given time. He works in auctions and sales. When he gets home he doesn’t want to read anything. We usually watch anime or play video games with Dante,” I told them.
“You are sure?” the woman asked.
“Chair, I don’t see what the point of this is, if he doesn’t have the talent, then you don’t need to worry,” Simil grumbled.
“Simil,” the judge said sternly. Apparently they didn’t like being talked back to.
“We just had to know,” the woman tried to sooth.
“Well, that’s brilliant for all of you, but I really must be getting home. My husband is supposed to be home for once tonight, and Dante doesn’t have a ride home other than me,” I snapped bitterly. It wasn’t their business that Carl and I had been going through a rough patch. It was beginning to wear on me, being pretty much the only caregiver for Dante. I knew I shouldn’t complain. I had a nice house, and Carl made plenty for all of us to live comfortably. I knew his job stressed him, and though I wanted to help him, I knew that I didn’t have the background to take his yoke. Carl had been gone for three months straight. He had missed winter break and Christmas. He had sent Dante a lucky cat and little Shinto shrine from Japan for his present. I received a Mikimoto pearl necklace. Lavish gifts, but I just wanted to have him home.
“We have seen that Dante made it home safe. Your husband left a message on the machine saying that he was going to be in Kyoto for another month. We need to test the depth and breadth of you Scholarship. We will see to Dante until then,” the main judge informed me. I felt my heart sink. They weren’t going to let me out of here. The judge snapped and a pair of guards picked me up by the arms and led me out of the courtroom. Simil stood in the center of the concrete square, sheathing his sword.
I found myself in a medium sized classroom. There were about 30 desks, a blackboard and an instructor’s desk. An alphabet and number poster were tacked to the walls and a short line of bookshelves circled the room. They were filled with thin hardbacks – young children’s books. The guards left the room to stand outside of the door.
Well now, what am I supposed to do in here? I asked myself. I started browsing the books. The room was full of them. They all looked fairly new too, almost never used. I picked up one of my favorite from when I used to read to Dante when he was really little. It was a vibrant green cover with a python – Virdi. I flipped to a random page, and my eyes glanced to a line. From the book poured a pile of snakes. I shrieked, throwing the book as far from myself as possible and, against all good grace, clambered up on top of the instructor’s desk away from the slithering mass. I could feel tears burning behind my eyes. I wasn’t terrified of snakes. I rather found them to be somewhat cute. If you looked at their face the right way they looked like hound dogs without the ears. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Holes, chains, snakes…that was too much for one day though.
I watched the clock slowly tick away the hour. Finally a light voice conversed with the guards posted at the doors. In popped a young woman, maybe a tad younger than me. “Hello!” the woman beamed as she pranced into the room, completely ignoring the mass of snakes. She basically danced her way to the desk I was cowering on. I stared at her, my head ache growing. She had a brown pixie bob with yellow and green stripes through her hair. A cosplay school uniform clung to her tiny frame, and a pair of gogo boots didn’t hide how short she was.
“My name is Mindy, nice to meet you,” she chimed brightly.
“Um, yeah, hi. Alice. Nice to meet you,” I tried to answer back. I didn’t have it in me to fight my will anymore. I let my ingrained etiquette take over for me and left my answers on autopilot. At least, that was what I really wanted to do. It seemed though that these people just wanted to completely break me today.
“Well, sweetie, let’s have you come down from there,” Mindy offered me her hand.
“What about the snakes?” I asked her, pointing out the slithering, hissing turmoil of reptilian scales worming their way around the room.
“Oh, silly, that’s easy. Here, what did you read?” She asked, looking at my hands for the book. I pointed to the corner of the room where the pythons had set up camp. The largest one had decided to make the book it’s rock, or den, or whatever a snake deems a new perch to be. “Well now, that puts a damper on things,” Mindy mumbled, sticking her thumb to her lip. She nibbled on the pad of it for a second. She was cute. Snap out of it, I told myself.
“Ok, this is actually a good place to start, Alice,” Mindy told me as she came up and sat on the desk next to me. I could feel the heat in my cheeks rise. She was cute, and she was being nice to me…let alone sitting next to me. She could be the devil incarnate under direct rule of the Guild and I really didn’t care at that moment. Fine, so I swung both ways, not like she did. And this was seriously not the time for that train of thought to come through the station. We were dealing with a metric ton of snakes here.
“What do snakes not like?” Mindy asked me. I snapped out of my moment and tried to force my brain to the question she posed.
“Um…I know they like warm things, and some don’t mind water. A few types will burrow in dirt. Fire might be interpretted as warm. Caustic chemicals would affect us too. Cold. It’s not like they don’t like cold, but it slows them down,” I stuttered, embarrassed. Mindy glanced at me, seeming to take my theory into account.
I had lucked out finding my husband. He had given me the time of day, the first boy to honestly approach me, not the other way around. It had taken me by surprise. I had been lucky after that, having a kid, and being a stay at home for so long. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I didn’t try to get out much. I had a hard time with it. Many guys have a hard time having female friends because deep down they want to be with them. Many women have the same problem with having guy friends because deep down they just wanted to do them too. Deny it as much as you and I want, but it’s an honest unwritten truth that everyone knows. It was selfish and painful usually for both parties, but it was generally assumed that you could remain civil friends that could enjoy a simple party and keep from doing anything devistatingly stupid. Swinging both ways sucked. It was worse knowing that I was an average looking geek with a bit of a complex. It made it impossibly difficult to talk to cute, handsome, or beautiful people on either side of the fence. When they deemed it seemly to talk to me and actually listen to my suggestions…the world could implode and I wouldn’t notice. I hated it. I could feel the tips of my ears burning.
“We’ve got a copy of Call of the Wild in here,” Mindy perked up, pointing to one of the shelves. There was also Jean M. Auel’s books Children of the Earth Series and Mother Earth Father Sky all on that same shelf. Someone liked to organize by climate like I did on random occassions. Mindy scrambled down and grabbed The Mammoth Hunters from the shelf and handed it to me. I read out a freezing blizzard that immobilized the snakes. Mindy sent me in to get Virdi. She wasn’t going anywhere near the big mother snake. I didn’t blaim her, I didn’t want to either. Thankfully with the freeze the thing was asleep, but it was still slimey and too big for comfort. Cute, snakes look cute. Maybe when it’s just one, but this many, no.
“It looks like you’re Scholarship for Reading aloud is just fine. Thankfully you don’t seem to read silently all the time, though with work, you’ll probably adapt to it in no time. Those guys you just find almost impossible to do combat with. That and with an untrained, we’d probably have a snarling rabid wolf in with us at this moment too,” Mindy beemed.
“Alright, come back here and show me what you read to make the snakes appear,” she patted the instructor’s table. I had gotten ahold of my emotions and sat down next to her like all was fine. I flipped open the book and pointed to the line on the page. “Ok, now then to unRead, concentrate on the emotions you were feeling when you read the lines. Not the words on the page, but the feeling you put into the words. What were you thinking about?” she asked.
“Um, well. I was thinking about Dante, my son, and how he always asked how many snakes a python could have. I miss my son,” I could feel my eyes begin to burn with tears. I missed my son, and I really didn’t know if I was ever going to see him or my husband again. I blinked back the tears. It came to me, “Begone oh vile creature that spreads upon the burning earth, for I am neither giver, nor taker, but watcher who deems necessary a leveling of this blight.” The blizzard, the snow, the snakes, the chaotic mess was wiped clean from the room.
Mindy’s eyes were wide and round, astonished. “Well, you’ve got a pretty deep one liner. Where’d you find that one?” she asked.
I looked at her, confused. “It kind of just fell out,” I answered. Honestly, I wasn’t sure where that came from. “What was that?” I asked.
“That’s your unReading line, at least one of them. Usually a first line that most Readers have is something along the line of Disappear, Undue, or Get Rid of It. You’ve got quite the Silver line there. Um, there’s different levels of lines. Usually you begin with a blue or yellow line, those low level. Those can undo children’s books. That thing you just spewed. That could undo existential texts – parables of the Bible, the Koran, the Lotus scripts. You’re fun,” she smiled.
These people were just random. Flat out random. Simil and his blueberries. Mindy and her random liking of me. “What do I do with this?” I asked her.
“Well, if the Chair has anything to say about it, we’ll start you in on quizzes, pronto, probably. It’s probably the best way to ingrain unReading lines into you early on,” Mindy jumped up and let herself out of the room, whispering something to the guards before her shadow against the hazy glass dashed off down the hall.
The guards let themselves in and motioned for me to follow them. I figured it was easier and would end less painfully if I just walked with them. Quizzes couldn’t be that bad, could they?