Fifth installment of the short story Purge
Anita released Brian. “Electricity”, she rolled the word around and against her tongue. Frightening, but powerful. It was more raw than magic, far more chaotic as well. But Brian had managed to capture it and then control it with a simple dial.
The boy was in his closet shuffling around. He pulled out a heavy wooden chest and flipped it open. Inside, nestled between goose down were several dozen glass bulbs identical to the first. He dug around his pillow somewhere and came up with a hair-thin strand of copper. As Anita watched, he began to roll the wire and attach it to little contraptions within the bulb itself.
Anita sat down in front of him as he worked. Without any warning, she held out her hand and brought forth a ball of flame. Brian looked up from his work, surprised at first, then in awe. It wasn’t often witches allowed others to see their work in plain. Usually, people just see a bright light and then they’re dead.
“Wow,” Brian breathed. His hands stopped fiddling with his work.
Anita ignored him, she concentrated hard on the palm of her hand, gathering the heat that pooled in the blood underneath the skin. She closed her eyes and allowed the blood to bubble then boil out of her capillaries. She allowed it to burst through the skin. Chaos. She thought. She imagined the flame and urged them to take a mind of their own. Bottled lightning.
Power without limits, she chanted as she tried to replicate how the lightning moved under the glass. Her skin crackled as the flame heated itself into a bright blue light. Anita tilted her head downwards, then breathed. Control. The fire branched out into the shapes she had in mind, but to her disappointment it obeyed her commands precisely. There was no unpredictability. No flicker of disobedience. Her magic was tame, and because of that it paled in comparison to the raw force that was “Electricity”.
She whipped her hand closed, and the flame extinguished immediately.
“How?” She asked. No further clarification needed.
Brian rustled his hair. It was singed on the edges where he had taken most of the blast. He shifted in his seat, seeming to wrestle with something in his mind. Finally, he laid down the bulb and began his story.
“A few months back, Dad and I went up to Bei Long city. There was a Smith of a sort there. But to be honest, he was more of a madman. He had a little lab that he hid from the public, and it was filled with thousands of these light contraptions. He had crazier things too, things you wouldn’t believe.
We were selling our items in the market and he came around. He wasn’t interested in weapons or tools, so Dad showed him an interlocking box I had made. It was a puzzle, you see, no matter how you pull at it, there will always be activated locks. The key to solving it is to spin the whole cube so that all the locks will open at the same time. Somehow he recognized right away that it was mine. He offered to take me on as an apprentice right then and there. At first Dad refused. He thought that it was just another Bei Long scam. But the man was relentless. He came by every day buying little things, things he didn’t need. Then he started to bring his own creations. They were incredible, Anita. Light using no oil or fire controlled with a flick of a button. Little animals made completely out of metal and wood that moved with no magic or any complicated gears. None at all. Believe me, I checked. “
Brian looked at Anita, knowing that his story was ridiculous, but imploring her to believe. This was more important than an entertaining discovery Anita realized. She stared back pretending to be less than completely absorbed. Brian continued on.
“I had to know how he did it. I kept on trying to figure it out using what we had. But it wasn’t the same.
Finally, I convinced Dad to let me go, and so the madman, he calls himself Hao Peng, had me be his apprentice for the rest of our time there. Anita you wouldn’t believe what he had invented. I’ve been there for three months working on abstract theories twenty hours a day every day, and I still don’t even understand what is going on. It should be impossible, his work. He called it electricity. In the end Dad and I had to return to make the May 15th rush.
It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. But there were too many weapons in line to make, and I couldn’t have Dad do it alone.”
Anita was silent. Brian shifted to face her.
He said in his most serious tone, “That is why you have to keep us alive. Dad and I. After this festival, I’m going to go back. Electricity, once properly tamed, will certainly change the world. There are only five people who knows how to use it. By some stroke of luck, I’m one of them. I must go back.”
He puffed himself up, daring Anita to attack him.
“And I refuse to die anytime before that.”
Anita was still. When she spoke, Brian could not read her expression at all.
“You’re one stupid boy. You just showed a witch a power that promises to surpass even her magic. How do you suppose said witch will feel about said power?”
Too late, Brian realized his mistake far too late. He had just cut the guillotine over his neck. He’s going to be fried and passed onto the birds. Lord, and not just him either. His father, Hao Peng, and his apprentices will all become bird food. The witches were smart. The workshop and all of their inventions will all be destroyed. They would do it quietly. No living being will be left alive to transfer the knowledge not even the basement mice. It was known far and wide that witches weren’t known for their mercy.
Anita stood up slowly from the ground and flexed her wrists. Brian closed his eyes and waited to be fried.
Instead she patted down her skirt.
“But you’re smart enough to confide in the right witch,” she said.
Brian opened his eyes.
“I give you my word to protect you, but on one condition. I want in. The electricity, the workshop, Hao Peng’s lessons, everything. “
Brian nearly fainted with relief.
“Deal,” he said.
They shook hands. When they did so, Brian felt the blistered skin of Anita’s palm still searing hot from her previous experiment. He swallowed hard, and his hands started to shake once more. Out of the frying pan and into the fire was how the saying goes. He may be alive, but he had just made a deal with the devil.