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The Gift

‘It wasn’t really a question, replied Catherine, a sharp edge in her voice as she pulled out a knife.
‘But, mom I..’ Kyle began but was cut short by a gleam in his mother’s eyes that unduly spoke of finality. He sighed. There was no use in arguing when it was clear that he was losing. 
‘Besides, you have to be there for your sister.,’ She said, proceeding to chop up apple slices into neat little cubes. ‘It’s a pretty big day for Sarah.’
Pale morning light streamed in through the kitchen window, illuminating her dark hair into a blazing silver.

Kyle blinked his eyes and reached for the quiet percolator on the counter. Warm coffee always made him feel better on days when sadness reigned, which he guessed was most days. He frowned darkly. At least most days didn’t include him being forced to attend his little sister’s ballet recital when he had much more pragmatic things to do. ‘Ughh, be nicer Kyle!’, he chided himself. But still…

He poured his steaming coffee into one of his favorite mugs, a mug that sported the words, ‘Rot in hell!’ in bright neon green clouds. The one with the corny joke was his close second. For reasons still undisclosed, his parents wouldn’t let him buy the one with the swear word. It was sad considering the fact that he’d thought it to be the sickest mug in history. That is if mugs had a history.

His mother’s raised voice hauled Kyle from his intense mug reverie. ‘You know, you’re going to be interested in this recital,’ she was saying as she reached to butcher an orange next. ‘A Halloween special, her teacher says.’

‘Yeah, right. As if a bunch of nine-year-olds can scare the hell out ‘ He stopped, having been shot a gleam from her eyes again. Kyle couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t been amazed that a pair of eyes as dark as his mothers could gleam with such sudden white light. The light, however, vanished now and a smile quirked up at the corners of her mouth. ‘Remember the time when you were scared of the mailman? You were so convinced that he delivered letters from some sort of an evil demonic dimension.’ She shook her head and laughed.

Kyle frowned his habitual frown. Oh, gods, she’s going to act all cheerful now, isn’t she, he thought sickly.

‘And then you would say that we had to be saved from him. From his deathly letters. You even had a plastic shovel as a sword. And you would go like this-‘ She spun comically and aimed her knife at Kyle, her dark eyes laughing.

But Kyle went rigid all over like a block of frozen ice. His coffee tipped over and his pulse quickened precisely the moment the blade had faced him. Her gesture was short, obviously meant as a joke. She edged away laughing, apparently not seeming to notice his expression, oblivious to what her son had felt. And Kyle… as his tension melted away was surprised that he’d been fearful of his harmless mother. Fearful? There had been something else too. Some powerful emotion… no, what he needed was therapy. For god’s sake, he had actually been afraid of his mother’s lame impression. What chance did he have against a bunch of nine-year-olds, huh? He shook his head and smiled ruefully at his mother. He was such a wimp.

She was still rambling about the mailman and Kyle was hastily trying to catch up with her when a stab of pain seared through him like fireworks inside his body. He didn’t scream, he didn’t even flinch, his face was a mask of normalcy. He felt strangely subdued as if the pain was natural, something inevitable. His right palm then burned and trembled like a raging fire and he set his mug on the counter carefully as to not interrupt his mother. Calmness washed over him but sweat plastered his shirt to his back. His hand twitched and when he glanced at his palm, he saw that a well-shaped scar had formed- thin black lines enclosing something that looked like a bird in flight.

The October wind gusted outside while the expectant mothers, fathers, siblings, and whatnot gathered inside the dingy theatre. The seats were filling in rapidly but Kyle and his parents had already possessed some right at the very front. Now all they could do was wait. Kyle slumped and sulked in his chair when his mother shot him an incomprehensible look and ordered him to go with his father for refreshments. He scowled and shuffled behind his father to the double doors set in the far corner of the theatre. It had a frayed lopsided board that read- ‘Hay hallon!’ Which Kyle guessed had once been- ‘happy Halloween!’ 

They stepped out into the dull yellow light of the lobby and were greeted by a vending machine with stained glass that looked as if someone had retched on. Kyle’s father, Tom wrinkled his nose in disgust, creepily resembling his son as he did so. In fact, almost everyone Kyle came across pointed out that he looked like his father. A fact heard enough times. They had the same almond eyes, cleft chin, and tousled golden hair even though Kyle’s face now bore some telltale traces of sleepless nights. Nightmares, fatigue, and spasms of pain gripped his life now, ever since that wretched morning…

‘I wonder how people could drink that toxic sludge,’ wondered Tom out aloud to his son. Kyle grinned as his father gestured to a group of people sipping bad coffee in yellowed styrofoam cups. Everything about the place was crappy, he noted. The air reeked of cheap chocolates, sweat, and old coffee. A combination that was none too pleasant. 

Soft gothic music emanated from the theatre and the father and son eyed each other, horrified. The recital had begun. They rushed back to the doors and made a beeline towards Catherine whose eyes were shooting daggers at them.

 ‘Where have you two been?’, She hissed. ‘Sarah is already on stage.’ Kyle glanced up and saw that she was right. Sarah, her dark hair swept into a bun was already performing pirouettes and plies. The theatre had become completely dark now and he leaned his aching body back. His palm was hurting and his scar shined in the darkness like a star.

It came right on time like a bad penny. The sweats, the trembling, the fire, and oh the pain, the gut-wrenching pain. All at once like a whirlwind of disasters. He gasped for air and took off out of the theatre, into the lobby, without a single glance back at his parents. Music turned to quiet, the lobby is strangely deserted. He stumbled towards a bin and retched, although nothing came up. His chest burned and his stomach was flip-flopping inside him. ‘Oh crap. It’s getting quite ugly this time’, he muttered weakly and propped himself sideward up a wall to steady his twitching body. He breathed heavily until his lungs went numb like sacks of rubber and began continuing the exertion when he felt a soft touch, as light as a feather on his shoulder. He spun on his heels hazily to face a man peering down at him. He was small and wiry and was clad in a vintage suit and wore rimless glasses. His eyes were huge and dark as they raked Kyle up and down.

‘Well, you’re in a worse state than I imagined’, said the man in a cultured voice.

Kyle stared up at him in puzzlement. Something about his man was vaguely familiar though he couldn’t quite put a finger on it. ‘Who are you?’ he croaked weakly.

The man smiled. Not a warm one but not exactly cold either. ‘You can address me as Mark, dear boy, and nothing else until we finish our training.’
Fatigue and confusion fogged Kyle’s head. ‘Training? Do I know you? I don’t understand’- he broke off as another spasm of pain hit him. The man, Mark rushed and peeled him off the wall to steady him and Kyle found himself leaning limply against the circle of his arms. Mark gazed down at him like a child who was about to break his favorite toy. ‘Listen, boy. I know what’s happening to you.’ he said urgently and when Kyle said nothing, he shook him so hard that he yelped. ‘And I can help you control it, the pain. I can make you do wonders with that scar of yours.’ Light glared in his glasses as Mark looked keenly at Kyle’s pale face. ‘Wonders, I tell you,’ He whispered softly before releasing him.

Kyle went stumbling and held on to the wall again, his mind buzzing with questions. But he was too scared, too frightened to shape one. Instead, he eyed Mark with awe as he fished out a piece of paper from his suit pocket. 

‘I’ll be seeing you soon, boy’, He declared and thrust the paper into the boy’s trembling hand, the one adorned with the scar. And with that, he turned and stalked out of the lobby leaving Kyle gaping after him. As soon as Mark was out of his sight, he unfurled the paper nervously. It was ruled and something was typed on it in monospaced letters, something that read as:

Come to the warehouse on Bent Street, tonight at 9. I will be waiting.

Five years later

The expanse, lit up with a glow of brilliant blue, vanished as Kyle waved his hand over it. He was back in the dark storeroom again with noises emanating from the party outside. Kyle grinned and looked down at his gleaming bird-like scar with something like pride surging over him. He could work his gift exceptionally well now with no pain at all.

The door creaked open, letting in a momentary stream of sound and hue with the arrival of Mark. He shut the door hastily and they were two shadowy figures in the dark.

‘Well, you’ve stopped conjuring up the expanse have you, boy? Begun playing with your gift already, I see.’

Kyle sighed. ‘Jeez, I was just testing it out, dad. So how was the revealing?’

‘Later, boy. Now, get the expanse on. She’s waiting.’

Kyle straightened and raised his hand and trailed it along the air, a halo of blue arising around the room as he did so. The blue shimmered in the air before it flowered into a metal enclosure and lingered inside to illuminate it. The father and son were in the expanse, the headquarters of the gifted. The room was exactly a square with metal walls and a roof, bisected by the line of blue light like a crack. A raised platform with painted Rocco motifs was at a corner and on it stood a woman with blazing silver eyes and white wavy hair.

‘Catherine,’ said Mark, his dark eyes behind his glasses were shining with love. 

So many years together and yet their marriage had withstood the time, thought Kyle. He too hoped to find someone in his life, someone he could stay in love with forever, just like his parents.

But there was a lot that Kyle still hadn’t learned. One of them being the simple fact that love didn’t work that way. The love in Mark’s eyes was meaningless, something customary rather than heartfelt. It’s like when you say some words over and over again and they suddenly stop making any sense. Their love had indeed been washed away by time just like Mark washed away and Tom emerged.

Kyle smiled. His blond handsome father was back again. Catherine stepped down from her platform and came up to them. ‘I suppose she took it well, the revealing?’ she asked, her delicate silver eyebrows cocked up.

Tom grinned and leaned back against a metal wall. ‘Hmm well can never be a word to describe it. But she did better than our scar boy here.’

Catherine laughed as Kyle scowled. It was his sister’s 15th birthday party, chosen by his parents as her revealing day too. He had been so sure that she’d do as bad as him if not worse. Indeed, his revealing day had not gone all too well, with him being terrified of Mark in that theatre. But their days in the warehouse, training together had made him grasp the truth and understand it. But it was after his training that he’d realized the whole truth about who his parents were, about who Mark really was.

‘You can address me as Mark, dear boy, and nothing else until we finish our training.’

‘Dad, are you sure she’ll be coming to the warehouse? I mean you didn’t majorly freak her out or anything right?’

Tom shook his head. ‘She’ll come just like you did, Kyle. And you’ll be setting up the expanse there before she comes. Training the children in the headquarters is a better choice.’ 

‘And I’m the one who made it possible to bring the expanse anywhere, anytime with a flick of my wrist. So you guys can show some gratitude instead of ordering me about.’

Catherine patted her son’s arm. The blue light cast shadows playing across her pale face. ‘We are, Kyle. And now you have to help your sister to train.’

‘Of course, I will.’ Kyle had been oddly excited for her to realize her gift. In fact, he had been the one to trigger it. But now he felt slightly sorry too. The memories of his own pains were still etched in his head.

‘Let’s go back to the party now. Sarah would be looking for us.’, declared Tom and glanced at Catherine. ‘You better change.’

Kyle watched in awe as his mother changed from light to dark as fast, as effortlessly as she could change the sun into the moon. He had still not gotten used to her mystic gift.

His parents then turned to him expectantly, waiting for him to vaporize the expanse. ‘So you guys are still going on with the dual roles?’ He asked instead, a question bugging him for a while now. ‘No offense but it was a huge shocker for me. You could at least tell her tonight.’

But Catherine had already started shaking her head. And Tom replied, with his chin set, ‘Some customs are never changed, boy. She should know only after her training. Till then, it will be just Mark.’

Kyle sighed though he’d anticipated the response in foresight. He raised his scarred hand and set in the air, the metals and light disappearing with it, slowly disclosing the murky and the mundane storeroom underneath. 

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