“Get out! Get out of my house! How dare you break in like this!”
His mother’s cries woke him and Bardik opened his eyes and rolled onto his side. A few feet beyond the doorway, silhouettes moved in the darkness and Bardik heard the sounds of people fighting. Paralyzed from the waist down, unable to leave his bed, he slid back the shade of the oil lamp on the nightstand. The light revealed Ada, his mother, and two strange men struggling. One of them shoved and Ada tumbled from view. Glass shattered as she collided into what he knew would be the cabinet containing all her family treasures.
“Leave her alone,” he shouted.
When one of the men glanced his way, the second one snickered, “Don’t worry about the cripple. He’s not going anywhere.”
“But Zaron said… ”
“Don’t worry about what Zaron said. If you stay away from his room, you’ll be fine. Let’s get what we came for and leave.” The man pointed a knife toward Ada. “I wouldn’t move, if I were you. Stay right where you are.”
Bardik watched as they went to the main room’s far wall and knelt beside a chest. Although the first man’s back was turned, from the sound of metal on metal and the way his back and shoulders worked, Bardik could tell he was tampering with the lock. After almost a minute, the man laughed, then rocked onto his heels.
“That does it.”
The second man lifted the lid and the pair peered inside.
“I don’t see it,” the second man said, sounding alarmed.
“It has to be here,” the first one insisted. “It’s the only place we haven’t looked.”
Angered by his immobility, Bardik focused on the large ceramic jar standing next to the chest. Wrapping his mind around it, he tested the vessel’s mass. When the jar wobbled slightly then settled, failing to rise as he had intended, he worked harder to envelop its bulk with his mind.
As the two men muttered, their voices rising when they argued, then falling as they puzzled over the thing that was missing, they failed to notice the jar rise into the air and hover nearly three feet above them. Bardik eased the vessel sideways until he had positioned it above the second man’s head. He paused before exerting himself, to insure he had it under control. Then slammed the jar down hard, where it exploded, sending hundreds of ceramic shards everywhere. The man collapsed as his partner shielded himself with an arm and jerked away. Eyes wide, he glanced around frantically.
Searching for something else he could use, Bardik spied a sturdy wooden box on a shelf near his bed. Just as before, he encompassed its mass until he felt he comprehended it, then studied the trajectory required to send it through the door. Considering the path too complex, Bardik mentally lifted the box and shifted it away from the shelf until he had centered it in the doorway. The second man glanced toward the bedroom in time to see the container fly at him, his eyes widening the instant before it slammed between them.
As Bardik smiled at his accomplishment, he heard Ada calling to their neighbors. It wasn’t long before several arrived and trussed up the intruders, marveling as they did at what Ada had done, wondering aloud how she had managed to wield something so heavy as the ceramic piece.
It was almost the twenty-sixth hour when Bardik’s father returned, beaten down by another long day’s work. Times were hard and he often remained at the quarry hours after Bardik and Ada had retired for the night. By the time he arrived, Ada had swept up the mess and restored order to the house. She set out his dinner, then waited until after Hammat had eaten before recounting the incident.
“Is he alright?” Hammat asked, sounding alarmed.
“He’s fine,” Ada assured.
Hammat had seen enough of one previous break-in to be aware of his son’s uncanny skill. On that occasion, he had watched Bardik’s eyes sweep from a bowl near his bed toward an intruder the instant before the bowl flew through the air along the path his eyes had indicated. Hammat had glanced back and forth between the fallen man, the shattered bowl and his son, shaking his head as the connection between the three fell into place.
Bardik heard the chair slide from the table and his father walk to his room.
Pausing just inside the doorway, Hammat rested a hand on the frame. Leaning in, he asked, “How are you doing?”
“You didn’t strain yourself?” Hammat asked, furrowing his brow.
“Papa, I’m fine. For a change, it wasn’t that hard. If it will help you sleep any easier, my head and stomach feel fine.”
In fact, Bardik was feeling better than he had after any previous intrusion. Until tonight, each telekinetic effort had left him aching and faint. But now, he was only mildly fatigued and the realization made him smile. This was the fifth in a series of similar episodes that occurred over the previous four months, each separated from the next by progressively shorter intervals.
The first had occurred around midday when both of his parents were away. Bardik, whose legs had been paralyzed almost two decades earlier by a childhood fall, was working at the table by his bed, crafting what he hoped would become a ceramic pot. He was adding another clay coil when he heard men’s voices elsewhere inside the house.
“Uncle Kemel? Is that you?” he called, but was answered with silence. He waited a moment, then called again. “Mama? Papa?”
He could not imagine who else would be paying an unannounced visit. After a minute, he heard the sounds of drawers sliding and cupboards opening, then slamming shut.
“Who’s there?” he called, and the lack of response began to unnerve him.
He was turning from the table to look over his shoulder and out through the bedroom door, unsure what he should do if something happened, when someone dashed past the opening. Alone, with no one to assist or protect him, he gasped when one intruder told the other, “Look in there,” certain the man meant his room. A second later a turbaned and bearded stranger appeared in the doorway. The man studied Bardik with amusement, then smirked.
“Be a good lad and don’t give me any trouble,” he said.
Then he snorted and started rummaging through Bardik’s possessions. He had gone through two or three boxes and was starting to sort through Bardik’s clothes, when Bardik, who had been watching frozen and silent, mustered the nerve to challenge him.
“What are you doing? You have no business here.”
The man ignored him, seemingly aware of his inability. That he did not so much as glance in Bardik’s direction infuriated him. As the man continued to sort through his closet and drawers, Bardik grew angrier, maddened by the man’s brazen confidence and his own immobility.
The man had moved to a vertical shelf, when a large piece of quartz on top of it caught Bardik’s eye. I was something Hammat had brought from the quarry a few months before. While their family was not destitute—Ada having blessed them with a tiny inheritance—so little of Hammat’s wages remained after purchasing life’s necessities that gifts, while often thought of, were rarely afforded.
The quarry produced the marble for Homar Marow’s palace. Whatever quartz the mine yielded was of little to no interest, neither to the ones who labored within nor to their overseers. Consequently, when Hammat encountered this beautiful specimen, he set it aside, considering it something a son with artistic inclinations might appreciate. And though Bardik found the large crystalline chunk precious indeed, at this particular moment, all he could think of was how he would love to be able to use it to bludgeon the intruder and he began forming a thought as to how he might do so.
Shortly after passing into adolescence, Bardik found he could manipulate small, lightweight objects using only his mind. If he needed a piece of parchment or stick of charcoal with which he might draw, by employing a little concentration he could transport the desired object to his table. Many might have considered this talent a blessing, but to Bardik’s way of thinking, it did little to offset the lost use of his legs. Even so, he was grateful for those countless times he did not have to ask his parents for assistance. And while he had never had much luck moving anything large, the more the man rifled through his possessions, the more fixated on the quartz Bardik became and the angrier he grew until he became obsessed with the fantasy.
His eyes flitted between the intruder and the crystal, until, on one of these passes, Bardik thought he noticed the rock wobble. He would have dismissed it as something imagined, had he not heard the rumble of stone against shelf. He tried it again, but when nothing noticeable occurred, he examined the difference between his initial success and the failure that followed. The thing that stood out in his mind was he had been angry the first time, but on his second attempt his emotions had cooled.
The man was now tossing things everywhere, hurling Bardik’s possessions with no regard for the damage he caused. As Bardik watched, unable to rise and prevent him, he allowed his anger to build. This time when he tried, the rock moved two or three inches and his hope that he at last had a weapon blossomed into a reality.
When something in another room crashed, Bardik tried even harder. When the rock slid sideways, rather than forward as he had hoped, he knew he needed to find some way to control it, as he could with lighter objects. He studied the chunk, and as his mind began to encompass it, he found himself comprehending not only its mass, but also the points where its contact with the shelf increased its resistance and influenced how it would move.
The intruder was rising and Bardik worried the stranger might leave the room before he could comprehend all that he needed. If the man did, Bardik wondered, before could master the task’s elements, could he still strike him or would the man have moved out of range? That angered him more and Bardik roiled the anger into fury. When he felt he could no longer sustain the intensity, he attempted it again. To his amazement, the crystal shifted. Just as the man was climbing to his knees, it slid over the edge and struck him on the head. The stranger collapsed, then stumbled to his feet, rubbing the spot where he had been struck and stared up at Bardik.
Encouraged, Bardik spotted a small wooden box and this time he flung it effortlessly. It bounced off the stranger’s forehead and the man collapsed. He grabbed his head, keeping his hand on the spot and grimacing. A few more seconds passed before the man’s eyes refocused. Rising onto unsteady feet, staggering as he came upright, he backed warily before he turned and ran from the room.
Elsewhere in the house, a familiar voice called out and Bardik recognized it as belonging to a neighbor.
“Ada, are you home? The door was open, so I… ”
Bardik heard the sounds of a scuffle and the din of people running.
The second, third and fourth break-ins were similar, except that Bardik’s father had been at home when the second one occurred. With Bardik’s assistance, he drove off the intruders and afterwards was able to describe the pair to the magistrate. Thereafter, the intruders did their best to avoid encounters with the youth. But during each subsequent episode, there was always one point when Bardik was able to use his mind to hurl some object at each of them. All of these efforts had left him exhausted and in physical pain, so naturally his father was concerned.
Hammat shook his head.
“This is the second time this month,” he said as he glanced back at Ada.
She appeared in the doorway and asked him, “Do you think they’re connected?”
“How else would you explain them?”
“Kemel thinks the magistrate is trying to drive us out,” she lamented. “That’s why Jamal keeps releasing them without trial.”
Hammat struck the jamb with the side of his fist.
“Vashta’s blood!” he swore. “I’m beginning to think your brother is right. Whatever’s happening, we can’t go on like this. If this keeps up, one of us is bound to get hurt: you, me or Bardik.”
There was a knock on the front door and a man called to his mother.
“Kemel? Is that you?” Ada called back.
The door latch clicked and Bardik heard his uncle say, “I heard what happened. Did they get what they came for?”
Ada shook her head in response and Hammat asked, “How did you hear?”
“It’s all over town.”
“Already?” Hammat’s brows went up.
“It’s no longer a secret that Jamal wants father’s land.”
“Too bad for him,” said Ada. “I buried the deed. If that’s what those men have been looking for, they won’t find it.”
“Some good that will do you in prison,” replied Kemel.
“Prison?” exclaimed Hammat. “We’ve done nothing. We’re the victims. How are we going to prison?”
“For the taxes you owe,” Kemel said.
“We owe no taxes,” Hammat insisted. “We pay every year.”
“I have a neighbor who works in Jamal’s office. She says he’s altering the tallies. By the time he’s done, the record will show you’ve been in arrears for ten years. Once that appears on the ledger, the deed will no longer matter. He’ll seize the land in payment and you can spend the next twenty years in your cells feeling righteous.”
Hammat and Ada stood staring.
In almost a whisper, Ada asked, “He can’t do that, can he?”
“He’s the magistrate. He can do whatever he wishes.”
“Darmaht protect us!” gasped Hammat. “What can we do?”
“You can leave town,” said Kemel. “He’ll own the land by the end of the week, either with the deed or without it. My guess is, he’ll have you arrested in another day or two anyway. Maybe by morning, if he can decide on a plausible enough explanation.”
Ada glanced at Bardik, then back to Kemel and Hammat.
“How can we leave?” she asked. “This is our home.” She paused briefly to consider and said, “No! I won’t go,” and she folded her arms across her chest. “He’ll have to drag me away.”
Placing a hand on her arm, Hammat explained, “We don’t have a choice. If Kemel is right… ” He turned to his brother-in-law, then shook his head and declared, “We should start packing at once.”
“What about our son?” protested Ada.
“What about him?”
“How do you propose that we move him, not to mention everything else? How do you propose that we pack? How do you propose… ?”
“Jumah and I have already discussed it,” Kemel interrupted, referring to his wife. “Give me the word and I’ll bring all my neighbors. I can lay my hands on two wagons and horses to draw them. I believe I can also get an oxcart to transport Bardik and we can have you packed and on your way before Mahaz clears the horizon. Until this matter is settled, Jumah can hold the deed for safe-keeping.”
“Papa,” called Bardik.
Hammat raised a hand to silence him.
“But Papa… ” Something felt wrong and Bardik needed to express it.
“Whatever it is, it can keep until morning. Now hush. Your mother and I have a great deal to think about.”
“Please, Bardik. Not now.”