Maps in a mirror, p.83
Maps in a Mirror, page 83
There was a clump of them in the next house. It was hard to sort them out, cause three of them was a lot brighter, so I thought they was closer, and it took a while to realize that it was probably Mama and Daddy and Papa Lem along with some others. Anyway it was a meeting, and it broke up after a while, and all except Papa Lem came over. I didn’t know what the meeting was about, but I knew they was scared and mad. Mostly scared. Well, so was I. But I calmed myself down, the way I’d been practicing, so I didn’t accidently kill nobody. That kind of practice made it so I could keep myself from getting too lively and sparky, so they’d think I was asleep. They didn’t see as clear as I did, too, so that’d help. I thought maybe they’d all come up and get me, but no, they just all waited downstairs while one of them came up, and he didn’t come in and get me, neither. All he did was go to the other rooms and wake up whoever was sleeping there and get them downstairs and out of the house.
Well, that scared me worse than ever. That made it plain what they had in mind, all right. Didn’t want me giving off sparks and killing somebody close by when they attacked me. Still, when I thought about it, I realized that it was also a good sign. They was scared of me, and rightly so. I could reach farther and strike harder than any of them. And they saw I could throw off what got tossed at me, when I flung back what Papa Lem’s daughter tried to do to me. They didn’t know how much I could do.
Neither did I.
Finally all the people was out of the house except the ones downstairs. There was others outside the house, maybe watching, maybe not, but I figured I better not try to climb out the window.
Then somebody started walking up the stairs again, alone. There wasn’t nobody else to fetch down, so they could only be coming after me. It was just one person, but that didn’t do me no good—even one grown man who knows how to use a knife is better off than me. I still don’t have my full growth on me, or at least I sure hope I don’t, and the only fights I ever got in were slugging matches in the yard. For a minute I wished I’d took kung fu lessons instead of sitting around reading math and science books to make up for dropping out of school so young. A lot of good math and science was going to do me if I was dead.
The worst thing was I couldn’t see him. Maybe they just moved all the children out of the house so they wouldn’t make noise in the morning and wake me. Maybe they was just being nice. And this guy coming up the stairs might just be checking on me or bringing me clean clothes or something—I couldn’t tell. So how could I twist him up, when I didn’t know if they was trying to kill me or what? But if he was trying to kill me, I’d wish I’d twisted him before he ever came into the room with me.
Well, that was one decision that got made for me. I laid there wondering what to do for so long that he got to the top of the stairs and came to my room and turned the knob and came in.
I tried to breathe slow and regular, like somebody asleep. Tried to keep from getting too sparky. If it was somebody checking on me, they’d go away.
He didn’t go away. And he walked soft, too, so as not to wake me up. He was real scared. So scared that I finally knew there was no way he was there to tuck me in and kiss me good night.
So I tried to twist him, to send sparks at him. But I didn’t have any sparks to send! I mean I wasn’t mad or anything. I’d never tried to kill somebody on purpose before, it was always because I was already mad and I just lost control and it happened. Now I’d been calming myself down so much that I couldn’t lose control. I had no sparks at all to send, just my normal shining shadow, and he was right there and I didn’t have a second to lose so I rolled over. Toward him, which was maybe dumb, cause I might have run into his knife, but I didn’t know yet for sure that he had a knife. All I was thinking was that I had to knock him down or push him or something.
The only person I knocked down was me. I bumped him and hit the floor. He also cut my back with the knife. Not much of a cut, he mostly just snagged my shirt, but if I was scared before, I was terrified now cause I knew he had a knife and I knew even more that I didn’t. I scrambled back away from him. There was almost no light from the window, it was like being in a big closet, I couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see me. Except of course that I could see him, or at least sense where he was, and now I was giving off sparks like crazy so unless he was weaker than I thought, he could see me too.
Well, he was weaker than I thought. He just kind of drifted, and I could hear him swishing the knife through the air in front of him. He had no idea where I was.
And all the time I was trying to get madder and madder, and it wasn’t working. You can’t get mad by trying. Maybe an actor can, but I’m no actor. So I was scared and sparking but I couldn’t get that pulse to mess him up. The more I thought about it, the calmer I got.
It’s like you’ve been carrying around a machine gun all your life, accidently blasting people you didn’t really want to hurt and then the first time you really want to lay into somebody, it jams.
So I stopped trying to get mad. I just sat there realizing I was going to die, that after I finally got myself under control so I didn’t kill people all the time anymore, now that I didn’t really want to commit suicide, now I was going to get wasted. And they didn’t even have the guts to come at me openly. Sneaking in the dark to cut my throat while I was asleep. And in the meeting where they decided to do it, my long lost but loving mama and daddy were right there. Heck, my dear sweet daddy was downstairs right now, waiting for this assassin to come down and tell him that I was dead. Would he cry for me then? Boo hoo my sweet little boy’s all gone? Mick is in the cold cold ground?
I was mad. As simple as that. Stop thinking about being mad, and start thinking about the things that if you think about them, they’ll make you mad. I was so sparky with fear that when I got mad, too, it was worse than it ever was before, built up worse, you know. Only when I let it fly, it didn’t go for the guy up there swishing his knife back and forth in the dark. That pulse of fire in me went right down through the floor and straight to dear old Dad. I could hear him scream. He felt it, just like that. He felt it. And so did I. Because that wasn’t what I meant to do. I only met him that day, but he was my father, and I did him worse than I ever did anybody before in my life. I didn’t plan to do it. You don’t plan to kill your father.
All of a sudden I was blinded by light. For a second I thought it was the other kind of light, sparks, them retaliating, twisting me. Then I realized it was my eyes being blinded, and it was the overhead light in the room that was on. The guy with the knife had finally realized that the only reason not to have the light on was so I wouldn’t wake up, but now that I was awake he might as well see what he’s doing. Lucky for me the light blinded him just as much as it blinded me, or I’d have been poked before I saw what hit me. Instead I had time to scramble on back to the far corner of the room.
I wasn’t no hero. But I was seriously thinking about running at him, attacking a guy with a knife. I would have been killed, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Then I thought of something else to do. I got the idea from the way I could feel the electric current in the wires running from the lightswitch through the wall. That was electricity, and the lady in Roanoke called my sparkiness bio-electricity. I ought to be able to do something with it, shouldn’t I?
I thought first that maybe I could short-circuit something, but I didn’t think I had that much electricity in me. I thought of maybe tapping into the house current to add to my own juice, but then I remembered that connecting up your body to house current is the same thing other folks call electrocution. I mean, maybe I can tap into house wiring, but if I was wrong, I’d be real dead.
But I could still do something. There was a table lamp right next to me. I pulled off the shade and threw it at the guy, who was still standing by the door, thinking about what the scream downstairs meant. Then I grabbed the lamp and turned it on, and then smashed the lightbulb on the nightstand. Sparks. Then it was out.
I held the la
So I let my sparkiness build up and flow out along my arm, out along the lamp, like I was making my shadow grow. And it worked. The sparks just went right on down the lamp to the tip, and built up and built up, and all the time I was thinking about how Papa Lem was trying to kill me cause I thought his daughter was ugly and how he made me kill my daddy before I even knew him half a day and that charge built up.
It built up enough. Sparks started jumping across inside the broken light bulb, right there against the bedspread. Real sparks, the kind I could see, not just feel. And in two seconds that bedspread was on fire. Then I yanked the lamp so the cord shot right out of the wall, and I threw it at the guy, and while he was dodging I scooped up the bedspread and ran at him. I wasn’t sure whether I’d catch on fire or he would, but I figured he’d be too panicked and surprised to think of stabbing me through the bedspread, and sure enough he didn’t, he dropped the knife and tried to beat off the bedspread. Which he didn’t do too good, because I was still pushing it at him. Then he tried to get through the door, but I kicked his ankle with my shoe, and he fell down, still fighting off the blanket.
I got the knife and sliced right across the back of his thigh with it. Geez it was sharp. Or maybe I was so mad and scared that I cut him stronger than I ever thought I could, but it went clear to the bone. He was screaming from the fire and his leg was gushing blood and the fire was catching on the wallpaper and it occurred to me that they couldn’t chase me too good if they was trying to put out a real dandy house fire.
It also occurred to me that I couldn’t run away too good if I was dead inside that house fire. And thinking of maybe dying in the fire made me realize that the guy was burning to death and I did it to him, something every bit as terrible as cancer, and I didn’t care, because I’d killed so many people that it was nothing to me now, when a guy like that was trying to kill me, I wasn’t even sorry for his pain, cause he wasn’t feeling nothing worse than Old Peleg felt, and in fact that even made me feel pretty good; because it was like getting even for Old Peleg’s death, even though it was me killed them both. I mean how could I get even for Peleg dying by killing somebody else? Okay, maybe it makes sense in a way, cause it was their fault I was in the orphanage instead of growing up here. Or maybe it made sense because this guy deserved to die, and Peleg didn’t, so maybe somebody who deserved it had to die a death as bad as Peleg’s, or something. I don’t know. I sure as hell wasn’t thinking about that then. I just knew that I was hearing a guy scream himself to death and I didn’t even want to help him or even try to help him or nothing. I wasn’t enjoying it, either, I wasn’t thinking, Burn you sucker! Or anything like that, but I knew right then that I wasn’t even human, I was just a monster, like I always thought, like in the slasher movies. This was straight from the slasher movies, somebody burning up and screaming, and there’s the monster just standing there in the flames and he isn’t burning.
And that’s the truth. I wasn’t burning. There was flames all around me, but it kind of shied back from me, because I was so full of sparks from hating myself so bad that it was like the flames couldn’t get through to me. I’ve thought about that a lot since then. I mean, even that Swedish scientist doesn’t know all about this bio-electrical stuff. Maybe when I get real sparky it makes it so other stuff can’t hit me. Maybe that’s how some generals in the Civil War used to ride around in the open—or maybe that was that general in World War II, I can’t remember—and bullets didn’t hit them or anything. Maybe if you’re charged up enough, things just can’t get to you. I don’t know. I just know that by the time I finally decided to open the door and actually opened it, the whole room was burning and the door was burning and I just opened it and walked through. Course now I got a bandage on my hand to prove that I couldn’t grab a hot doorknob without hurting myself a little, but I shouldn’t’ve been able to stay alive in that room and I came out without even my hair singed.
I started down the hall, not knowing who was still in the house. I wasn’t used to being able to see people by their sparkiness yet, so I didn’t even think of checking, I just ran down the stairs carrying that bloody knife. But it didn’t matter. They all ran away before I got there, all except Daddy. He was lying in the middle of the floor in the living room, doubled up, lying with his head in a pool of vomit and his butt in a pool of blood, shaking like he was dying of cold. I really done him. I really tore him up inside. I don’t think he even saw me. But he was my daddy, and even a monster don’t leave his daddy for the fire to get him. So I grabbed his arms to try to pull him out.
I forgot how sparky I was, worse than ever. The second I touched him the sparkiness just rushed out of me and all over him. It never went that way before, just completely surrounded him like he was a part of me, like he was completely drowning in my light. It wasn’t what I meant to do at all. I just forgot. I was trying to save him and instead I gave him a hit like I never gave nobody before, and I couldn’t stand it, I just screamed.
Then I dragged him out. He was all limp, but even if I killed him, even if I turned him to jelly inside, he wasn’t going to burn, that’s all I could think of, that and how I ought to walk back into that house myself and up the stairs and catch myself on fire and die.
But I didn’t do it, as you might guess. There was people yelling Fire! and shouting Stay back! and I knew that I better get out of there. Daddy’s body was lying on the grass in front of the house, and I took off around the back. I thought maybe I heard some gunshots, but it could’ve been popping and cracking of timbers in the fire, I don’t know. I just ran around the house and along toward the road, and if there was people in my way they just got out of my way, because even the most dimwitted inbred pukebrained kid in that whole village would’ve seen my sparks, I was so hot.
I ran till the asphalt ended and I was running on the dirt road. There was clouds so the moon was hardly any light at all, and I kept stumbling off the road into the weeds. I fell once and when I was getting up I could see the fire behind me. The whole house was burning, and there was flames above it in the trees. Come to think of it there hadn’t been all that much rain, and those trees were dry. A lot more than one house was going to burn tonight, I figured, and for a second I even thought maybe nobody’d chase me.
But that was about as stupid an idea as I ever had. I mean, if they wanted to kill me before because I said Papa Lem’s girl was ugly, how do you think they felt about me now that I burned down their little hidden town? Once they realized I was gone, they’d be after me and I’d be lucky if they shot me quick.
I even thought about cutting off the road, dangerous or not, and hiding in the woods. But I decided to get as much distance as I could along the road till I saw headlights.
Just when I decided that, the road ended. Just bushes and trees. I went back, tried to find the road. It must have turned but I didn’t know which way. I was tripping along like a blind man in the grass, trying to feel my way to the ruts of the dirt road, and of course that’s when I saw headlights away off toward the burning houses—there was at least three houses burning now. They knew the town was a total loss by now, they was probably just leaving enough folks to get all the children out and away to a safe place, while the men came after me. It’s what I would’ve done, and to hell with cancer, they knew I couldn’t stop them all before they did what they wanted to me. And here I couldn’t even find the road to get away from them. By the time their headlights got close enough to sh
I was about to run back into the woods when all of a sudden a pair of headlights went on not twenty feet away, and pointed right at me. I damn near wet my pants. I thought, Mick Winger, you are a dead little boy right this second.
And then I heard her calling to me. “Get on over here, Mick, you idiot, don’t stand there in the light, get on over here.” It was the lady from Roanoke. I still couldn’t see her cause of the lights, but I knew her voice, and I took off. The road didn’t end, it just turned a little and she was parked right where the dirt road met up sideways with a gravel road. I got around to the door of the car she was driving, or truck or whatever it was—a four-wheel-drive Blazer maybe, I know it had a four-wheel-drive shift lever in it—anyway the door was locked and she was yelling at me to get in and I was yelling back that it was locked until finally she unlocked it and I climbed in. She backed up so fast and swung around onto the gravel in a spin that near threw me right out the door, since I hadn’t closed it yet. Then she took off so fast going forward, spitting gravel behind her, that the door closed itself.
“Fasten your seat belt,” she says to me.
“Did you follow me here?” I says.
“No, I just happened to be here picnicking,” she says. “Fasten your damn seat belt.”
I did, but then I turned around in my seat and looked out the back. There was five or six sets of headlights, making the job to get from the dirt road onto the gravel road. We didn’t have more than a mile on them.
“We’ve been looking for this place for years,” she says. “We thought it was in Rockingham County, that’s how far off we were.”
“Where is it, then?” I says.
“Alamance County,” she says.
And then I says, “I don’t give a damn what county it is! I killed my own daddy back there!”
by Orson Scott Card / Science Fiction & Fantasy / Poetry / Nonfiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes