The Brightness, Part 4

Parts 1, 2, and 3.

No report went home about Paul and Drew. Who would believe, after all, Jerry’s story—a weak boy somehow conjuring something as bright as sunlight out of thin air? No doubt, Paul reasoned, an explanation about a rare disease would be concocted and the matter quietly shelved. In either case, it was the last he saw of Jerry at the school. Evan and Tom were too afraid to go near him.

So was Drew. They tried for a few days after the incident to meet on the playground with their balls, but for some reason, they had much less to talk about anymore. Paul noticed Drew winced every time he said hello. The meager small talk dwindled to silence. Then, a week after the fight, they stopped playing together. Paul would bounce the basketball alone from that point forward, while brushing aside the occasional tears. It was sad, but he understood why.

For a week, Paul swore that he would never again summon what he began to call The Brightness. But the isolation had begun to make him more sullen, more lethargic, which meant that after he had come home from school there would be more snappy exchanges between him and his mother when he didn’t like the dinner she microwaved, and if she asked how school was his only reply was “Why do you care?” Which meant more time in the dark closet, where only his fear, the coats, and, eventually, the brightness were his companions. He curled and wove the strings around his fingers into nets, and they would stretch as he pulled them apart like pasta. He would toss the nets into the air and they would hover in the air, glowing and brightening the closet. His eyes would follow the energy pulsing and racing through the threads. Watching the traffic of light calmed him, as if it were like a kind of meditation. It dried his tears and soon, he began to no longer mind so much if he was sent to the closet.

One day, a month after the fight with Jerry, Paul found himself in the closet again. Having thoroughly explored The Brightness as much as he could, he decided to take a look at the boxes that were stacked in the corners of the closet. He chose the bottommost box in the leftmost stack and, after some effort in pulling off the top boxes, he opened it. It was full of old, dusty books, mostly reference books like dictionaries from the 1950s and other uninteresting volumes—until he got to the last book. It seemed even older than the others, and had a gilded leather cover with no title. The gilt depicted a woven pattern that looked almost exactly like the net he had just woven a few moments before.

He opened the book. Its title page read:

The Booke of Lyghte

Being a Record of the Marvellous Discoveries and Patternes of Lyghte Threads of Pow’r, and the Historie and Arte of Summoning Them Thereof, as Told to

Theodore Aldus Weaver
AD 1678.

The Brightness, Part 3

Part 1, 2.

With a silent nod, Paul and Drew began to run headlong into the pack of bullies. This surprised the bullies for a second—they were used to seeing them running away at first sight—which gave the two of them enough time to rush forward and, just as they were about to enter attack range, split off and veer around the pack. The bullies were too slow to snatch them by the arm. Paul and Drew met together swiftly as soon they were behind Jerry and Evan, and together, they shoved their adversaries behind their backs and kicked them in the rear end.

Paul and Drew began to laugh triumphantly. Their laughter only lasted a second, however, because they noticed that the bullies had not, as they expected, fallen down. The plan was to run away after Jerry and Evan were sprawled face down in the mud, but no—they still stood. And before they could run, Paul felt a cold grip on his arm, one he could not pull himself out of, one that was accompanied by the hard, glaring face of Jerry’s scowl. He turned around and saw Evan and captured Drew in a similar way, but with his other harm hooked around Drew’s neck in a vise.

“Payback.” Jerry was breathing heavily and his nostrils flared.

The next few moments were a blur for Paul. Something hard hit the back of his head, and before he knew what was happening, he saw the clouds in the sky and Jerry’s face, his eyes glinting with resolve. There were blows landing on his jaw, painful explosions at point-blank range, which stung at first—he could feel himself curling in agony—but soon they began to get number. He heard Drew screaming and crying for help, but he could see nothing but that face, that smirking face, which too began to blur and swim back and forth in his vision. The light dimmed. He tasted and smelled his own blood filling his nostrils, his mouth.

Run—but he couldn’t. His legs and arms refused to provide enough lift to stand up. The darkness began to flash before his eyes.

And then—

–the bar of light flashed before him. It hung in the air, defiant and glowing white like a hot fluorescent light bulb, hovering in the space between him and Jerry’s face. Jerry did not seem to be able to see it.

There was only one thing to do. With his one free hand—how foolish of Jerry to leave a free hand—he grabbed the bar of white light as if it were a knife, and with a yell, slashed it across Jeremy’s face. He had no idea if it would do anything—how could light do anything to anyone? The impulse was as natural as it was desperate, the last remnant of his fight/flight instinct that told him, at this moment, he could not back down. No. Not after all they had tried. Not when—

The light burst in a blinding flash in front of Jerry’s face. It exploded like a supernova, a bloom of brightness that, for a moment, left Paul staring in awe. I did this. Then the shrieking began. It had an unfamiliar ring, a high-pitched pig-like squeal, and a few seconds later Paul saw that came from Jerry’s mouth. Jerry, who was clutching his fingers over his eyes. I did this. Blood seeped between his fingers, trickling down his knuckles, thickening until it painted all his fingers red.

Paul found the strength to stand, but began to feel sick in the stomach. He saw Mark standing there, agape, with Drew still lying on the ground.

“My eyes!” Jerry’s words were barely intelligible between his screams. With his hands over his bleeding eyes, he began to run blindly around the field. Evan ran to Jerry’s side and, with an arm around his shoulder, calmed him down enough to lead him away to the nurse’s office.

Paul stood in silence. He looked down at his clean hands. I did this. Pain began to pound on his head; he was still dizzy, and the pain in his belly persisted. I did this. He thought the light only came in the dark. He did not know it could be a weapon. I did this. How horrible a weapon, too. How effective.

Finally, Drew stood up. He looked at Paul from a distance. “What happened?”

Paul could only gaze at his friend in silence.

“What did you do to him? Paul!”

Paul saw Drew’s eyes—those soft, vulnerable, eyes—wide with terror. Another sharp pang stabbed his stomach. I did—he had blinded, maybe even killed someone. It made him feel sick. But he had won. Knowing that made him feel a bit better. Stronger. No longer so helpless.

Paul turned his face away from Drew. “I don’t know,” Paul said, slowly, flatly.

The bell rang. Recess was over, and without a word, Paul and Drew left the playground, separately.

The Brightness is finished. (By hand)

Hi, it’s been a long time, I know. Just wanted everyone to know (all 3 of you) that “The Brightness” is actually finished now, with a handwritten draft. I’ll be putting up installments over the next few days as I type it in.

This story contains some violence, I should warn.

That’s all. Glad to be back!

The Brightness, Part 2

See part 1 here.

And as he began to play with the thread, to spin it around his fingers, a feeling arose inside him–a feeling that just stopped short of words but whose meaning was clear to Paul. It was a swelling in the chest that felt like pride and relief and satisfaction all at once, a sense that what was happening before him was something unique, belonging to no one else, that he held greatness in his hand, and it felt awful and wonderful at the same time.

It’s…mine. The light is mine.

Because he was so engrossed in the light, he did not hear his mother’s footsteps approaching the closet door, and he cried out in shock when she opened the door and the light from outside flooded in. It stung his eyes and it took a moment for them to readjust, and when his vision cleared, his hands were empty and his mother was bending down, tears running down her cheeks and her eyes red and her arms outstretched. She hugged Paul–though it felt more like she was clinging to him. 
I’m sorry, mommy’s sorry, she had a bad day at work, do you know how hard it is?, please, please, I’m so sorry, I love you so much. I’ll never do it again, I promise. I love you, she said. It was not the first time that Paul had heard this, and he had no idea whether ten minutes had really passed or she had decided to let him go early, and he knew before long she would in fact do it again. But as he rested in his mother’s embrace, the thought of the light in that darkness began to feel less real than this warmth, this heat which reminded him that even though she was mean and unfair and kept locking him in that rotten closet, she was still mommy, and that somehow, the darkness she exiled him to had given him a gift. A gift that he longed to have and hold for the next time.

It’s ok, he told her, not for the first time. But he always meant it. It’s ok, cause I love you too.

***

Paul discovered that the thread of light only came in the darkness. He had tried the moment he found time alone to summon it again: by squeezing his eyes shut and thinking very, very hard, by snapping his fingers, even by blowing air into his cupped hands. Nothing would work, until he entered the closet again and shut the door. There, he discovered, he could summon more than one thread of light; he could summon two or three, and while they were as loose as yarn in his fingers, he found that they would snap themselves into a grid if he arranged them perpendicular to one another, like a tic-tac-toe board floating in the air. Near-blinding pulses of light flowed through them. When he gained the ability to summon four threads, the light was as bright as that of the bulb overhead; no corner of the closet remained unlit. He would then wind the threads around his fingers like a loom, making crisscrossed shapes between them.

And the feeling grew: This is what I can do. I’m special. The next time the teachers called him dull and the gym coach called him slow, he would just think–but I can do this.

One day, during recess, he and his friend Drew were playing with a basketball. Paul would roll it around on the ground and sometimes try his best to sit on it, holding steady for only ten seconds before slipping off its round surface. He would then roll it to Drew, who, being taller and a little stronger, dribbled it clumsily on the concrete court outside.

“My sister,” Drew said as they played, “is such a brat. She threw applesauce in my face at dinner last night! And I was yelling and she started crying and now my dad grounded me for being mean…it’s not fair!”

Paul, an only child and fatherless since the age of 2, nodded. “That sucks,” he said. Drew’s sister was only 2 years old; he had seen her at Drew’s house.

“I mean, he took away my DS too so I couldn’t even do anything in my room! Man, when I grow up…” Drew took the basketball into his hands and started looking up, as if he were staring at a much taller person standing over him–or maybe it was at the sky. “I’ll make all of them pay. Really. They can’t get away with this. I swear….”

“So whattya gonna do?”

“I’ll…” Drew paused. He dribbled the ball for a moment. His shoulders grew slack and then slumped. “I–I dunno,” he said.

“You hate them, don’t you?”

Drew shook his head. “No, I don’t. Not really.” He sat on the ball. “But she’s still a brat.”

Paul tried his best to smile. “Yeah.” He held out his hands. “Can I have the ball now?”

They chatted and tossed the ball around, when Jerome, a blond and curly-haired boy with a perpetual smirk on his face, spotted them. Paul’s heart sank. He was bringing two others with him, Evan and Tom, and both he and Drew stood up. They were fifth graders, not measly third graders like themselves, and no matter how hard Paul tried to swing at them Jerome would always grab his arm and twist it behind his back, and while he was pinned Evan and Tom would take turns pummelling his exposed body. Drew usually fared no better.

Paul and Drew stood closer together. They had talked about what they would do the next time Jerome and his posse came. As the taunting began, they nodded at each other and smiled. This time, they would win. This time, they wouldn’t have to go home with black eyes.

The Brightness, Part 1

A New Short Story

Installments to come every other day until completion.

The closet that Paul’s mother locked him in smelled like dust and rotten mint. He smelled it after he was done screaming, crying, begging his mother to open the door; after that, his nose sharpened in the way the non-visual senses did for a blind man. It took about two minutes for his eyes to become accustomed to the dark, and when they did, he figured the odor probably came from old mothballs that had long lost their potency. Sometimes when he was inside, he imagined that the tingling he felt on his fingertips, on his arms, were the feathery wings of moths brushing against his skin.

But Paul couldn’t tell, because it was too dark. All that was left for him to do was to heave some sobs–his throat had long given way to hoarseness–and wait for the door, the light, to open his eyes again. He swore from early on that he would NOT think about whatever Bad Thing it was that supposedly landed him there–coming home late from school, a bad report card on penmanship, the teaching calling again to say that he wasn’t doing the exercises in PE but playing with a ball by himself. It was the last one again this time. She had told him to think about what he had done. And again, he would refuse.

The dark still scared him, but he was used to it. He waited for a while.

Paul stood up. He felt the sleeves of shirts and coats stroke his arms. He could tell by the touch of the fabric that on his left were his mother’s old, probably moth-eaten silk blouses, and on his right were the fake fur coats that she wore during the winter, made of a harsh, spindly synthetic fur that stung his skin. One day he had wandered into the closet, when his mother hadn’t come home yet from work and he was by himself, and looked at his constant companions in the light. Now, he tried to imagine seeing them in the dark. There were the two buttons on the shirt–right, there, he had them between his fingers. There was the pocket of the fake fur coat–he dug his right hand into it, finding nothing. He knew most of the other clothes beside them too, even though none of them belonged to him.

He squeezed his eyes shut, and then opened them. It made no difference. He reached impulsively for the knob of the closet door. He missed and banged his fingers on the door, sending a loud knock in the closet.

“Ten more minutes!” his mother shouted. She sounded like she was in the next room. Somewhere far away.

Paul felt the tears welling up in his eyes again. The air felt oppressive and suffocating in this darkness. He tried to reach for a light cord hanging down from the ceiling, even though he knew he couldn’t reach it with his 8-year-old height, yearning to be able to somehow find one box that he could stand on even though he knew there wasn’t one, longing for somehow, magically, a light–

A faint flicker danced in front of his eyes for less than a second. It looked like an elongated white spark, a tiny white thread that flashed just above his outstretched fingers. He knew it was light and not his eyes, because in that dazzling moment, he saw the buttons on the blouse he had touched a moment ago. He stretched out his fingers again. This time, a longer strand of white light appeared, hovering in the cup of his hand. It stayed there for about two seconds before it flickered out, enough time for him to turn around and see the fake fur coat.

He knew instinctively that something was happening–I can make light!–and he dropped his right arm to his side and then, with a spasm of his elbow, jerked his outstretched hand upward. A thread as bright as a halogen bulb materialized into view. It burned steadily and hovered in the air, even after he dropped his arm. The light’s bloom illuminated the entire closet. He saw the rows of clothes on their racks and the ceiling and the dirty brown carpet under his feet.

Gingerly, Paul reached out his hand and touched the thread. It gave way to his poke and bent its contour around his finger, like rubber. It was not hot, like he had feared. Breathing heavily, Paul pinched the thread between his thumb and his forefinger. It felt solid, but nearly weightless, like the touch of the silk of his mother’s blouse and as thin as a guitar string.

He tugged at it. It moved in the direction he commanded. He grabbed the whole thread and brought it forward to examine it. Now his chest, his hands, were plainly visible. His skin seemed to glow in the thread’s brightness.

To be continued…

The Bells Were Ringing Out

national_cathedral_washington

I was looking at my watch
while you were facing the altar,
craning your neck to catch
a glimpse past the bobbing heads
of the crowd, this one-day crowd
vying for a view,
while beside me a baby gurgled
and pointed as he bounced
on his mother’s shoulder.
I looked up and for a moment
through a gap between the bodies,
everything cleared,
and we were looking at the same thing,
you and I,
at the gifts carefully laid at the foot
of the marble manger
on which his body lay.

–December 25, 2008
Festival Eucharist, Washington National Cathedral

My AX Video Diary (Complete)

I’ve relented: rather than the near-complete separation of this blog from anime-related subjects that I had originally planned, I’ve given in to my past tradition and am going to post the complete results of my con experience this year on my main blog after all.

This is something brand new: a multipart video diary of my experiences! It also has lots of interviews with fans and some candid footage of a con in disarray and disorganization. Things were not so well-run this year and the complaints are surfacing all over the Net right now. This is a small addition to that cloud of witnesses. :)

I will be writing a written account of my thoughts and feelings within the week as well. Stay tuned.

FYI: Anime Expo ’07 Reports at Anime Diet

Longtime readers may recall that I have a tradition of reporting on the anime conventions I attend every year. (Examples from 2004, 2005, and 2006.) This year is no different–except, this time, I happen to have an entire anime blog and podcast all geared up for Anime Expo 2007, which starts tomorrow! This year, there will not just be written reports and pictures, but also live video and audio reporting if I have time to splice everything together.

The action is happening on my anime blog, Anime Diet. So come check it out!

Main Site (Imagria.com) migrated to WordPress!

Notice something a little different at Imagria.com? Yup, I have finally gotten rid of that albatross of blogging software known as Movable Type (which I’ve been using since 2003) for the faster, far more flexible, and spam-freer WordPress! The theme is not perfectly laid out yet, but that will be fixed in the coming week. (It’s based on an existing theme but with my own graphics.)

WordPress is so full of awesome that there’s even a plugin available to let me crosspost to Xanga automatically, without manual cutting and pasting. I’ve been doing that for so many years now, and it’s always been a hassle…and now those days are over. So the Xanga site is, from now on, a true mirror.

Hooray for WordPress! Hooray for open source!

Swinging Through the Web

Thoughts on Spider-Man

For longtime readers: did you know this is, in fact, a promised but long-delayed followup to a post I wrote five years ago, around the time I saw the first Spidey movie?

I am one of those nerds that, for some reason, never took to the traditional American superhero comic book. (It took anime and manga for me to get into anything similar.) Even today there is still an instinctive part of me that wants to sneer at the superhero genre. Isn’t it supposed to be simplistic, full of black-and-white characters and dumb plots? Childish art for childish brains?

But dang it, I love–I mean love–the Spider Man movies. Ever since I saw the first one in the theater, I’ve always made sure to go to them on opening weekend. (I’ll be going to the third one tomorrow.) The only other movies that I’ve ever shown that kind of loyalty to are the Lord of the Rings movies. Why? What’s so great about Spider-Man?
(more…)