Welcome once again, folks, to I Was Born for the Stage. This is the final “episode”, and I’m happy to have gotten the opportunity to share this one with you. I hope you enjoyed it and, if not…well, there are always other tales to tell. Other worlds. This one, however, is a fun world, and I definitely expect to write a sequel or prequel somewhere down the line. Who knows, this could even be the same world as the one in the Kayson Cycle. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Anyway, next week we start the tale of Abby the Hero. Abby is an urban explorer who seeks out the abandoned places of the world, using her trusty camera Trudy to capture the hidden history of the world, compiling her photographs into albums documenting this secret history. When she stumbles across a coastal homestead in the forest she gets a lot more than she bargained for – including information on her own hidden history.
Click on the titles to read Parts One, Two, Three, and Four if you haven’t already. Once you’re done, come on back and enjoy the conclusion. Apologies if this one is a little longer than the others…there’s just no natural break here like the others.
Elsbeth turned around, holding the sapphire before her face. “Oh, you wouldn’t, would you?” She affected her mother’s Eastern accent now, hoping it might confuse the older man.
She thought it might have worked, too; Cantu narrowed his eyes. “Where do you come from, and why are you here?”
“Why do you want to know?” She said, and tossed the jewel into the air, catching it with one hand. She didn’t do it for any particular reason. It just seemed fun.
She hadn’t expected his reaction: he gasped and took a step forward, reaching out toward her before he hesitated. He clenched his jaw and waited for him to try assuming control of her body.
Nothing came, and she figured it out: he didn’t dare try to take her over. He didn’t have very good control when he did use her. She might end up dropping the jewel.
Excellent, she thought, and wondered whether she should lie to the old man. She could tell him that someone from the East had sent her as a spy and he’d probably believe it. Probably go a little crazy, too.
Her father’s voice spoke up in her head. Now, don’t you go telling lies, young woman.
She supposed she’d have to be a good girl, even if Cantu didn’t deserve it. Well, mostly good. She could still stir him up a bit. She tossed the sapphire again. “Does it matter?”
“It certainly does matter, do not bounce that thing.”
She stuck her tongue out. “What are you gonna do if I don’t stop?”
“I will…I will…” he took a deep breath and removed his top hat, smoothing his long dark hair (did she see some streaks of gray? She thought so) before he replaced it on his head. “I will give you back your puppy if you give me the gem.”
She had been right. Eustice had lived through the teleportation spell, but she didn’t know if she could trade the sapphire for him. Her father always talked about conscience (con-science, what a silly word), but she thought she got it now. Her conscience wouldn’t let her trade the trapped kids for Eustice. But it might let her tell a little white lie if it meant saving the kids and Eustice. “Bring him here and I’ll think about it.”
The magician tightened his lips. He didn’t like this, no sir, but he couldn’t do much about it. She decided to remind him of just what he had to lose; she threw the jewel up and faked a miss as it came back down, only scooping it up moments before it hit the ground.
He cried out and ran for her, but she took a step backward, raising the sapphire over her head. It felt a little too good to be able to tell him what to do, after what he’d done to her. “Now,” she said.
“Very well.” He snapped his fingers and an unseen lever somewhere in the wall behind him turned with a very loud bump. The top half of the wall dropped to the floor, creating a natural slide from a hidden alcove somewhere in the back of the theater. After a moment Eustice appeared from the darkness back there, bounding with enthusiasm, barking all the way. He hesitated when he hit the slide, but it was too late: gravity took over and he slid all the way to the bottom, landing on his fat puppy bottom with a plop.
He shook it off and spotted Elsbeth. He sprang to his feet and gave two happy barks, running for her. Before he could reach her, however, Cantu snatched him up.
“Uh-uh. None of that,” he said, and turned toward her, extending his left hand. “The gem. Then the puppy.”
The idea made her angry, and when she got angry, she fell back into her father’s rough Western accent. “Are you crazy? I know I just give you this and you keep both. Then you do…what? Put me in here so you can use me up? It ain’t right what you’ve done.”
Her ever-changing accent seemed to confuse Cantu, for he cocked his head. “Not right? You’re a child. What do you know of right? You expect dignity in the face of the end of the world?” He laughed. “I couldn’t let that stop me. I was born for the stage. What do you know of that?”
She had to fight back part of her that would agree. She didn’t like to backtalk strange adults, but… “I know that no show is that important.”
He sighed. “You’re such an odd child.”
“Takes one to know one. Now give me my puppy.”
He stomped a foot. “I told you, you will receive the canine when you give me the sapphire.” He sounded just like a schoolteacher and if there was one thing in this world that Elsbeth despised, it was teachers.
“You’ll get this when you give me Eustice. See? We could do this all day.” Except they really couldn’t. Her father would be getting very worried, and she didn’t want him wandering into this place. Not with this loon.
“Very well,” he said. “I propose that we trade at the same time. That way, neither of us gets a hand up on the other.”
Well, here goes, she thought. She had to lie. No way around it. “All right. I’ll do that.”
He stepped forward, but paused, raising one finger. “Any tricks and I kill the puppy.”
Of course. He’d do anything to keep those children under his control. Anything to keep putting on that lame show.
Well, she had to stop it.
She stepped forward, extending the sapphire toward the magician. He held back, and she felt something squirming in the back of her mind. Cantu. Had to be. He probably suspected she was up to something, but couldn’t be sure without peeking into her thoughts.
Think girl, her father said inside her head. The old family trick.
Of course! Why hadn’t she done it before?
Row, row, row your boat… she thought, and by the third time through the song she began to speed it up, casting a net over her intentions.
At least, she prayed that it covered her intentions. Either way, she would have to be very careful. If she misplayed this one bit, he could end up with the puppy and the gem. And possibly her soul to boot.
“What are you waiting for?” she said.
He narrowed his eyes. “Nothing,” he said, and extended the puppy toward her. At the exact moment that his fingers touched the sapphire, igniting the inside with a purple light, she touched Eustice’s side.
The only problem? Cantu had the same idea. As she muttered an incantation that tugged on the puppy while pushing the sapphire, he cited an incantation that did the opposite. The result? The gem flew off of over his left shoulder while Eustice got pushed over her left shoulder.
She moved as quickly as she could, twisting and diving just in time to catch the puppy in her arms. She had the advantage of youth, though; Cantu had not been so lucky. As she lay there, clutching Eustice to her chest, she heard the sapphire hit the hard wooden floor, shattering with a great noise that made both her and the puppy jump.
Cantu gave an agonized wail and twisted toward her.
She rose, meeting his fiery eyes.
“I will end you,” he said, and she felt the beginning of something painful building at the back of her head, fingers of agony caressing her mind from the neck upwards.
In the next moment those fingers began to recede as a combination of wonderful things happened. First Cantu lowered his hand and croaked, his eyes going wide as lines appeared in his skin. His mouth shriveled into a harsh line, and his eyes receded into dark pits on his face. Soon his clothes began to bag over wasting frame.
Then the children emerged from the sapphire’s wreckage in the forms of glowing white lights. These lights left trails behind them as they danced around the room, sketching joyous images in the air. Cantu now bent over, his mouth hanging open, hands clutched to his chest as something went wrong inside his body. The lights circled him, forming a ring around his deteriorating body. As one they rushed toward him, lifting him off the ground for a few feet before slamming him hard into the theater’s back wall.
That done, the lights then began their work on the building itself, splintering wood and scraping at plaster.
All but one light. That light circled Elsbeth and Eustice, at last disappearing behind her back. “Thank you,” a voice whispered in her ears. “Now hold on tight.”
A warmth spread around Elsbeth’s waist as the building began to shake. She might have freaked out at this assault, but instead she felt peace like she had never known, spreading from the warm spot at her midsection. The warmth intensified and she began to rise into the air, spinning to avoid a piece of timber that fell from the ceiling. She looked up as a spirit above them punched a hole through the stage and rocketed toward the domed ceiling, opening a hole there as well.
Elsbeth’s head spun as the spirit lifted her and Eustice through the hole in the stage and up into the theater. Elsbeth’s mouth dropped as she saw the audience now, a mass of dark shadows that ran here and there in a great panic. Some split off from the main group and made for the lobby. They didn’t make it far before the balcony above them split off from the wall, collapsing with a great crash.
“What’s going to happen to them?” Elsbeth said.
“They will go where they belong.” The spirit of the little girl didn’t hesitate; they continued to ascend, approaching the hole in the fast-collapsing roof.
At last they passed through the hole and into the twilight sky. Elsbeth gazed down at the theater and marveled, as it took only moments for the children to finish the theater off, driving the roof – and what remained of the building – into the ground.
The three of them now hung in the air above the great cloud of dust that had been the theater. Elsbeth craned her neck and realized that she could just see two figures down on the street: her father and, just behind him, the man from the general store.
“That’s him,” she said. She didn’t mean her father. Oh, no. She meant the old man behind him.
The little girl began to lower them to the street. “He’ll get what’s coming, as well.”
She saw that the spirit told the truth. The general store owner cried out, and her father turned just in time to see the spirits lifting the man into the air. They lifted him past Elsbeth and Eustice, carrying him toward some point in the distance that she couldn’t see.
Her feet finally touched the ground and the spirit released them. “Will they kill him?” she said.
“No,” the voice whispered, and hesitated for a moment before it veered off, headed for the air above the theater.
Elsbeth turned, watching the spirits congregate at a single point high in the sky, transforming into a single shining white mass. The mass twisted and turned, becoming a funnel that ascended toward the heavens, letting off a joyous roar as it did so. Elsbeth and her father backed away, watching the funnel as it first began to thin, and then rose higher, stretching out and eventually vanishing in a single point of light that shone over the town for a moment before it winked out.
When it had gone, her father put a steady hand on her shoulder. “What have you gotten involved in, child?”
She looked at him over her shoulder. She’d tell him about it, but not now. She wasn’t ready. “Did you get the supplies?”
He nodded, his mouth hanging open.
She studied the street. “Maybe we need to clear out, daddy.”
“I reckon so. You going to tell me what happened here?”
She shrugged and held the puppy up. “I saved Eustice. Did you get me candy?”
He put his hands on his hips. “Did you earn it?”
She nodded toward the cloud of dust, and then looked at him. “What do you think?”
“I think you’re trouble, girl,” he said, but a sly smile broke his face. “And I think you need to stop chasing danger.”
“But that wouldn’t be any fun.”
He sighed and shook his head. “You’re more like your mother every day.”
Her heart leapt at those words. To be compared to her mother? “Is that a good thing?”
“Yeah. It’s a good thing. I think.” He studied the dust cloud for a moment and then shook his head again. “Come on. Let’s get going. Lots of miles to cover.” He turned and walked for the wagon without another word.
Elsbeth clutched Eustice to her chest and trailed behind. She still dreaded the trip ahead, but maybe just a little less than before. She might have more to hold on to than she had thought. She had Eustice and her father, yes, but she had something else: the knowledge that she could make a difference.
That’s good enough, she thought, and climbed onto the wagon.