VOX School Showcase
The Crooked Wonders
By: Tad Stonebraker
Short stories set in a world where people are granted superpowers through terrible suffering, and the Saturday Foundation works to help them learn to lead normal lives.
The old man stood in front of the grave dressed in a black suit leaning on black wooden cane. The Japanese summer sun beat down, but he hardly felt it. All he felt was snow.
The line of people dropping roses onto the coffin was extensive. People were brought in on wheelchairs, limped along on crutches, people of every size, shape and color gathered before the grave in the white sandy beach. Some of them looked angry. Some of them were crying. Some of them were stone-faced and vacant. One woman was even smiling, her lips pulled into a rictus grin as tears trickled down her face. All of them were there for the same reason he was- grief that their friend was gone.
His children were all near. His eldest daughter stood with her husband and son, accepting handclasps and condolences, quieter than usual but still as calm as ever. His son hugged his wife, who wept quietly, while his twin sister closed her eyes, stunned by her sadness. They were strong, and would endure. This was certain.
The old man turned his head up towards the sky and closed his eyes, feeling the light of the sun on his closed eyelids but not the heat. He was always cold, which didn’t bother him, it was familiar, but it bothered him sometimes that he had lost the sensation.
He looked down.
“Parvati, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir. I- I wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss. Your wife was a wonderful woman.”
He smiled. The girl had progressed so quickly- when they first found her in Nepal she couldn’t speak.
“That’s very kind of you, child. How are you feeling?”
She shrugged, attempting a smile.
“I suppose I’m surprised. She was always so busy helping us, I never thought anything could happen to her.”
“Time happens to everyone.”
“Sometimes I just wish time would stop. That things would stay the same forever.”
He suddenly felt very tired. He smelled smoke.
“Then nothing would ever heal, Parvati. Nothing would ever change. I don’t think that’s a good dream.”
He forced himself to smile again, despite hearing gunfire on the wind.
“We are all better for how she changed our lives. You’ll be alright.”
“I- I know, sir. I will be alright, in the end.”
“Of course you will, and you don’t have to call me sir. How is your garden?”
She blinked, surprised that he had remembered. He was eighty years old, after all.
“It’s good, sir- Mr. Saturday. It’s growing.”
“Of course it is. And your gardening club?”
Parvati smiled sadly.
“It’s growing too.”
“A blessing and a curse,” came Mary’s voice as she walked over to them.
“Just a blessing, I think.”
Mary nodded once, smiling pleasantly. I know I’m always right, but I won’t say anything because I love you. He grinned despite himself.
“How are you holding up, Dad?” she asked as Parvati left to rejoin her friends.
“How are Ed and Richard holding up?”
“How are you holding up, Dad?” she asked again as if he hadn’t said anything. He sighed.
“We all knew this day would come. I made my peace with death a long time ago.”
“But how are you holding up?” said Mary softly, touching his hand.
“I’m alright, Mary. Truly.”
She nodded, and rested her head on his shoulder for a moment. She stiffened when Lupe approached. Jack looked over at them from across the grave, and the old man gave the slightest shake of his head. He then turned to the tall, thin woman in the long coat.
“Is there trouble?” he asked in Portuguese.
“He has asked to see you. And the others are beginning to catch on.”
Mary frowned as her father turned to her.
“I’m afraid I must now go, my dear.”
She shook her head.
“You shouldn’t be in that awful place at a time like this.”
“We certainly shouldn’t be having this discussion at a time like this. Do you need anything before I go?”
“Of course not!” gasped Mary, scandalized. “I have everyone organized.”
“You’re all getting buses back to the airport?”
Leo Saturday smiled.
“Of course, my dear. So sorry, I grow anxious sometimes.”
The rest of his family embraced him, then he took Lupe’s hand and they were gone.
There was a sound like rushing smoke and a thick darkness, and they were back in the remote Alaskan wilderness, on the balcony of the Last Resort. The mountains and woods stretched out in all directions. He smiled. It was like home. Lupe stood nearby, always watching, always ministering, as if he would shatter like glass at any moment.
“It’s all right, Ms. Silva.” he said.
She didn’t move or speak. He sighed. He walked through the doors, past the barred windows, nodding to the armed orderlies as he passed, to greet Dr. Peng walking up to him.
“Is everything alright, Doctor?”
“Everything’s fine, Mr. Saturday, except that Patient Zero called, and the others were getting a little restless.”
“Nothing, ah, unmanageable, except that Ian has turned into some sort of huge bear and Dakota apparently left her room and was trying to phase through the walls carrying a dead mouse. We’ve just calmed her down and brought her back, though, so there’s no need to- “
Leo closed his eyes, reached out, and shut down everyone’s powers. There was a moment of quiet. Then shouts, moans, and wails began to ring out. He could hear Ian on the third floor screaming in fury.
“Doctor Peng, could you and the staff remind everyone that they are to remain calm if they discover I am not present, and that they are not to leave their rooms during rest hour?”
“Of course, we’ll do that at therapy tonight. We really had it under control.”
“I buried my wife today, Doctor. I left my children at her funeral to come here.”
Dr. Peng nodded faster.
“Of course, sir. I’m so sorry for your loss, by the way.”
“That’s very kind of you. And you don’t have to call me sir.”
Peng sighed, smiling.
“Thanks for reminding me, Mr. Saturday. Are you going to see Patient Zero?”
“I am. If you wouldn’t mind, I would prefer not be disturbed.”
“Has he been causing any trouble?”
“He never does. He hardly ever speaks. Only when he wants to see you.”
“That’s good. I trust you have been keeping everything secure?”
“We have eyes on him day and night.”
“Good. Thank you for all your hard work, Dr. Peng.”
“I thrive on it, Mr. Saturday.”
“Peng is such a funny little man,” said Lupe as they took the elevator down to the center of the mountain.
“We are all funny.”
“We are not all five feet tall, though.”
The elevator stopped. Leo walked out, turning to stop Lupe before she could do the same.
“I would like to alone now, please.”
She didn’t move or speak.
“Why don’t you go home? We all need a rest sometimes.”
Lupe clenched her fists and set her teeth. Finally she nodded and vanished. He turned around, and walked down the brightly lit hallway towards the soft sound of singing. He stopped in front of a large panel of bulletproof glass and its layer of electrified wiring, behind which was a large, well-lit room lined with bookshelves, a writing desk, a small bed, sink, and toilet, and a floor covered in scattered books. In the center of all this sat a pale young man dressed in a white hospital gown. His grey hair hung lank and uncut over his lowered face as he crooned Edelweiss in German, but he lifted his head when Leo approached and pushed it out of his eyes. The face was that of a teenager. The expression was that of an ancient philosopher. The corner of his mouth twisted into a sardonic grin.
“Hello, little brother,” he said.
“Hello, Ascher. If you don’t mind, I would like to speak in English today.”
“I find English dull, Lemuel, though if you’re not in the mood for German... How about Hebrew?”
“No thank you, Ascher.”
“Picky, picky. Japanese perhaps?”
Leo shook his head disappointedly. Ascher sighed and stretched out on the floor like a cat.
“Alright, low blow. I am sorry, you know.”
“That’s very kind of you, brother. She was always good to you.”
“Yes… I’m surprised your puppy dog isn’t with you.”
“Lupe is working on her abandonment issues. She has made tremendous progress.”
“We all have. And how are the kinder?”
“The children are grieving. But they will be alright.”
“Of course they will! The Saturday family is strong, Leo.”
He giggled, a high, cold, inhuman sound.
“So pretentious! Lion indeed. You may as well have called yourself desperate-to-be-an-affluent-American, or perhaps simply desperate-not-to-be-Jewish.”
“You’re in a fine mood today. I didn’t know you would be so upset by her passing. I’m honestly quite touched.”
He was quiet for a moment, unhappy his jibes had failed.
“Come now, brother, what is it you wanted to talk about?”
He lay still for another moment. Then he slid slowly to his feet.
“Time comes for all of us, Lemuel Sanz. All of us. But not for me.”
“I know that, Ascher.”
“You’re eighty years old. You will go the same way as all the rest of them, sooner rather than later. The kinder will be left alone to deal with us.”
“You will not be there to contain me,” whispered the ageless creature behind the glass.
“Will you try to leave and hurt people again?”
“People are toys. I’m God, remember.”
“I remember, Ascher.”
“Without you to keep my power from me, I will be God again. You do realize this, don’t you? Time will be mine again. You’ve failed.”
Leo reached out his withered hand and rested it on the glass.
“I’m so sorry, brother. I don’t want to die and leave you alone in this world. But your family will be here for you and keep you company. You will be able to live in safety and comfort until you decide you no longer want to torture yourself. I promise.”
Ascher giggled again, then threw himself against the glass, screaming curses in German. Leo stood quietly, mentally focusing to stop him from manipulating time. Eventually, his brother wore himself out and collapsed onto the bed, panting.
“I’m sorry, Ascher.”
He lay in silence. Then he looked up, and for a moment his concentration faltered, and lines and wrinkles appeared on his face. Then they vanished again, and he started muttering poetry to himself.
“Behold, I shall be a blight upon the land, and all that I touch shall wither and die…”
Leo Saturday walked back to the elevator, the numbers on his arm prickling as they did after all of these visits. It was the memory, seeing time so frozen, that brought it on. It him feel cold like the mountains of his childhood. I live in winter, the old man mused, as he walked to his room. I live in a winter that will never end until I join my wife, and my children and their children and all my crooked wonders live in summer, moving and changing and trying desperately to change things.
As he traveled through the building, the doctors and orderlies passed by him, nodding deferentially and murmuring their condolences. He looked for Lupe’s signature but couldn’t find it, and he smiled that she had let go. You had to change to get better, every once in a while. He hoped he still had time for that, before his time came. But sometimes, he thought, as he entered his room, sat down in his armchair and closed his eyes, sometimes scars never fade. Sometimes you can’t ever let them heal.
Far below, the man with all the time in the world danced a waltz from another world only he could see, his movements slow and graceful, singing a song his niece had once taught him.
“Standing, Frozen, in the life I’ve chosen, you won’t find me, the past is long behind me, buried in the snow…”
Let It Go.