The librarian hushed the girls, who just giggled again. The young man closed his eyes and tried to breathe. The bills stuck together from his sweat as he fingered the edges of it again. His breathing echoed and rebounded and filled his head and surely, surely . . .
Then more of the same as other books fell. A hulk of a man with a rose tattoo pulled another shelf down. He thrust his hands to the back of the wooden shelving, searching for the secret compartment.
“Sir!” The librarian steadied herself on her desk, edging around it till she was nearly behind it. “What are you doing?! This is a library! Quiet! Peace!”
The man turned to her. His face twisted into a sneer. “Shut up.” He grabbed the shelf clinging to the backboard and ripped it away. His eyes flicked across the empty slate. With another roar, he punched the wooden board, the door to the compartment bouncing open and shut. “Where is it!?” His fist clenched, blood dripping. He curled his lips, body shaking as he glared at the people in the room.
Another roar. Someone screamed. Bags, backpacks, books, all left behind, but the young man slung his bag over his shoulder as he ran with the rest of them. More thuds and screeches and roars sounded behind them, and the young man’s breathing accelerated. Surely, surely . . .
“This way,” the policeman on the street directed them. “Keep it moving. Anyone left inside? Do we have a visual?”
The young man paused, half-listening, leg shaking. No . . . no . . . he couldn’t stay on the scene.
“Are you hurt, sir? Are you hurt?” A smooth-faced policeman – a policewoman – asked him. He shook his head. She gave him a confident smile. “If you need help, just ask. There’s no shame in that.”
“Thank you, m’am,” he mumbled. She gave him one last look before joining the others, and bile rose in his throat. No. He’d just leave, and she wouldn’t remember. She wouldn’t. No, she had to remember. She’d remember because they had video tapes, so she had to remember him.
He walked away. Steady, steady. He had to be steady. He walked away and to the bus stop, and the pseudo-leather seat stuck to his palms and calves. The money sat heavy in his bag. He was smelling the results of a middle-school Ax competition and hearing two older women click and clack their knitting needles, and then the air was clear and the steady ground beneath him and his front door before him.
“Good evening, love,” his mother pecked him on the cheek, studying his face. “Are you all right? There was a commotion at the library earlier today.”
“Honey! It’s back on!”
His mother glanced towards the living room. Her eyes returned to his face, searching, searching . . .
“I’m fine.” He shrugged a little. “A little shook up, but fine.”
“They think it’s a Will. Did you hear?” He shook his head. She sighed, kissing him on the cheek again and hugging him close. “It’ll be all right, love.”
“I just want to go to bed.”
“Just a minute!” His mother ran her hand through his hair. “All right, dear. Get some rest. We’ll be going to a dream haven tomorrow, or do you not want to anymore?”
“I’ll be fine.” He mustered a smile. She returned it.
“I’m coming!” She squeezed his hand before slipping away and joining his father in the living room.
His hands clenched the bag strap. The bills grew heavier. The newscaster spoke, “. . . to be the work of an extremely strong but unpracticed Will. The authorities are asking anyone with information to come forward immediately. . . .”
He closed his eyes and willed himself not to be sick.
“You were at the library yesterday, right?”
The grimace came too quickly for him to hide.
“You were!” Kaitlyn gasped, her eyes widening. “You were working on your story, right? And then the guy came in!”
“Are you the Will?” Staci eyed him coolly. “You were writing about the library.”
“Of course not.” He unwrapped his peanut butter sandwich, fumbling. They laughed. He was clumsy. They knew.
“They think the Will is young, younger than us.” Staci turned back to opening her yogurt. “The situation was so cliché.”
“Yeah,” Kaitlyn lifted her chin. “Some poor kid didn’t get any help, and now all of society is paying the price. So cliché.”
Staci stopped, yogurt halfway open, and glared at her. “That poor kid made a man go insane, just by willing it.”
“Well maybe if someone could teach people how to use their wills, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“How do y’all know for sure that it was a Will? Maybe it was just the man’s choice,” Jonah offered, tinfoil-wrapped lasagna already out and tasted.
Staci snorted. “Have you listened to the news at all? The man was an accountant up till a few weeks ago when he got these ‘sudden, uncontrollable urges’ to steal from his company and hide it in a secret compartment that he knew of in a library he had never visited before.”
“And the tattoo,” Kaitlyn added. “A rose tattoo? Really?” She raised an eyebrow. “That’s a favourite in your stories, isn’t it?”
He forced a laugh. “Me and the rest of my cliché friends.”
“It’s almost too perfect,” Jonah argued. “You’d call it a textbook case of willing, yet if it is a textbook case, that means it’s easily replicated.”
Staci narrowed her eyes. “You’re playing the doubting game.”
Jonah raised his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender. “I’m just saying y’all shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Maybe it was a Will. Maybe it was the back-up plan if the man got caught.”
“You guys are so focused on the man, but what about the Will?” Kaitlyn jumped in, literally jumping in her seat. “None of this would’ve happened if the Will had been given the proper training.”
“There’s no such thing as proper training for a Will,” Staci dismissed, dipping her spoon into her yogurt.
“Only because no one’s willing to try.” Kaitlyn glared.
Jonah snorted. “That’s a good one.”
“So what? You want to put the rest of society at risk to help a few crazies that have the power to destroy everything?”
“You condemn victims of poorly structured society for fear of losing your elitist control.”
“Elitist?” Staci’s voice raised several notches. “Wills affect all people on every level. They’re a danger to everyone.”
“Only because you power-hungry tyrants don’t care about giving them an opportunity to live! You condemn them before they’ve done anything wrong! Guilty until drugged to innocence!”
“Like The Clockwork Orange,” Jonah said.
“The man on The Clockwork Orange was a murderer and rapist,” Staci hissed.
Jonah cocked his head. “I think he was only a rapist. Oh, wait, no, he was both?”
“He was a danger either way. Innocent people were being harmed. He had to be controlled. The extent that the scientists went to is not what we do. We control, but in environments that still allow the Wills to live peacefully.”
“Drugged!” Kaitlyn jabbed her finger. “Without opportunity! And the social stigma! You even called them crazies!”
“Because they are.” Staci’s voice was cold. “They live in the worlds they create in their minds, and if we wouldn’t drug them, those imaginary worlds would be ours, and we wouldn’t even realise it.”
“You don’t know that for sure. Only a small handful would be that powerful, though that is a valid concern,” Jonah interjected, offering his hands to both sides. He gave a smile, clearly meant to relax. “I’m so glad that we can have these discussions. We’re like a talk show or well-balanced debate.”
Staci gave Jonah a considering look, eyes drifting towards him. “True. Kaitlyn’s obviously the radical revolutionary who will either save the world or end up shot-“
“-I’m the conservative who knows that not everyone’s going to win, so you might as well deal with life as it comes. What’s Jonah? What are you?”
He swallowed the dry mouthful of sandwich. “Jonah’s the moderate.”
“Oh! The moderate!” Kaitlyn dramatically sighed. “The one who accomplishes nothing.”
“Only because all y’all are too busy arguing.” Jonah stabbed his lasagna. He stopped, looking up and glaring. “There’s nothing wrong with walking the middle of the road!”
“You skip it,” Kaitlyn said.
“You stir up trouble.” Staci pointed her spoon at him. “Less than Kaitlyn, naturally, but you still do.”
Bits of lasagna slapped against the table as Jonah gestured. “That’s only because neither of you can agree on anything. You disagree on principle.”
“Of course not.” Staci dismissed him. “Now, what are you?”
He released the tight hold on his sandwich, the finger imprints too deep in the bread to disappear. “I’m . . . the public.”
“You’re the straight man!” Kaitlyn gasped.
Staci rolled her eyes. “That’s only for comedy.”
“There’s a distinct irony in that.” Jonah twisted the lasagna around his fork. “He is the straight man, and we are the comedic players, though I’d say it’s a metaphor only, so we can’t take the comparison too far.”
Another snort from Staci. “Of course not.”
Kaitlyn grinned at him. “What an odd group we make! We’re like your own little sounding board!”
He stood. “Excuse me.” Bile burned his throat.
Staci’s eyes stayed on his back the entire time.
“I’ll take you to any galaxy. Anywhere!”
“Anywhere?” his mom asked with a smile. She laid down a ten of hearts. “Your turn, Mr. Jacobs.”
“Anywhere!” Mr. Jacobs repeated. He winked, tapping his head. “I need only will it, you know?”
His mom laughed lightly. “And where would you go? What would you see?”
“I’d see the sun and stars, circle so close to the moon, I’d breathe in the dust,” Mr. Jacobs gave a denture grin, his whiskered face looking a decade younger. “I’m going to be an astronaut. Soon as I get out. That’s what I told Mother.”
“Dinner!” The orderly went around the tables, lightly tapping her bell. “Everyone to the mess hall. Miss. Emily, what in the world did you do with the cards?”
“It’s my family!” Miss. Emily bounced in her seat a few times, long ponytail bouncing with her. “This is my mommy, and this is my daddy, and this is Baby. I don’t know the name yet cause Mommy hasn’t come back, but Daddy said it was going to be a girl like me-“
He had been here that day. The little girl’s mommy had snapped, ‘Don’t say that!’
“-and I’m so excited to see her!”
“That’s wonderful!” The orderly exclaimed, pushing the child out of the chair, glaring at the marked-up cards. “Let’s get some food in you, yeah?” The first orderly nodded towards another. The second one swept the cards away and into the trash.
“I want to show them to Mommy when she comes!” The little voice carried back to the rec room.
“Of course, dear.”
“Love?” His mother kept his bedroom door open just a crack. “Are you still awake?”
“A friend from school is here. Staci?
“. . . love?”
He willed them both to go away. He turned towards the door. Empty space. He willed her downstairs, safe, watching television with Dad. The sudden noise of a sports game floated up the stairs, as if it had always been there. Staci was at home, too, sleeping. She wouldn’t wake till late tomorrow morning.
He walked. The stars shined above him. It was a new moon.
He willed the doors open. He didn’t bother about the security cameras. No one would notice until tomorrow morning. Late tomorrow morning. He knew the room number by heart, too. That’s what they were referred to when in trouble. That way the family name wasn’t dragged through the mud.
“Emily of room 405!”
He knew the room number by heart.
“Emily?” He kept the dream haven door open just a crack. “Are you still awake?”
She sighed, turning over. Her wide, dazed eyes blinked slowly in the dim hallway lights. “Hello?”
He opened the door further, the light cascading into the room like revival. “Do you want to see the stars?”