A Very Great Shock and Still No Answers

It is late, or rather very early, but I must put this all down before I forget it, before I think it was all a dream. Perhaps in writing it, I shall convince myself that it was real.

Professor Eberhart was delayed from returning last night as we had been told he would, though the housekeeper did not tell us why. But he returned shortly before supper today (and what a long and boring day it was), as we were told by the housekeeper at our meal. We were also told that he would not be receiving guests until tomorrow morning. At this point, Captain Winters leaned in close to her and said something which I could not hear, but she nodded and left the room. (We have been dining alone in the little parlour in which we were first installed upon our arrival, as no other guests are currently staying at the school. Meals are mostly silent affairs, but not a comfortable silence like it was with Mr. Miller.) When she returned some fifteen minutes later, she said, "The professor will see you, sir," and we both rose to our feet, but Captain Winters gave me a stern look and told me to stay there for the time being. Frowning, I returned to my seat, and pushed the remainder of my meal around my plate in order to look like I was not yet finished, and thus be allowed to remain in the parlour.

After half an hour, the captain returned and said I was to come with him. I jumped up eagerly and followed him down a corridor, up a couple of flights of stairs, and down another few corridors, where at last we stopped in front of a door identical to the dozens of others we had passed but for the small engraved plaque on the wall next to it reading "Professor Josef H. Eberhart, Botany and Biology."

"After you," said the captain, and I entered after rapping briefly on the door and being told by a voice from inside to enter.

Behind the door was a very fine office, displaying the esteem in which the school held Professor Eberhart. The walls were paneled with dark wood polished to a gleam, and a thick carpet lay upon the floor. The desk was massive, as were the chairs in front of it and the throne (for that is how it seemed) behind it. In it sat a rather stout man of about five and sixty with a fringe of white hair above his ears, and a white beard and mustache. He wore a suit of dark green with a crisp white shirt under an emerald waistcoat. There were rings on many of his fingers, and a fine watch chain looped from one pocket, through a buttonhole, and into the other pocket. All of this I noticed later, however, because the truly remarkable thing about this very well-off professor was his right eye.

It was mechanical. I do not mean that it was a normal eye moved by mechanics, but that it was made of brass, with tiny working parts inside it. I cannot fathom how it worked, but there was an iris of what looked like real emeralds set in gold, and within that a pupil made up of many tiny pieces of metal which moved in accord to dilate larger and smaller. When all was quiet, it could be heard making very faint whirring sounds when he moved it or focused on something nearer or further away.

"Miss... Greenwater," he said in a deep, gruff voice. "Come in." Trying my best not to look terribly intimidated by the splendour around me as well as the man before me, I took one careful step after another until I was just behind one of the two chairs facing his desk. I gave a curtsey to the best of my ability (and I think Miss P___ would've been proud, had she seen me), then stood with my hands clasped in front of myself.

"Well, sit, sit," he urged rather impatiently, and I hurried around to the front of the chair and practically dropped into it. Captain Winters took the other chair a moment later. "Captain Jack Winters has told me your story," said the professor, and I noted his Germanian accent. I did not know what to say to that, so I remained silent until Professor Eberhart spoke again. "You have had quite an adventure."

I could not see his lips move beneath his mustache; it seemed almost as though words were coming straight out of the middle of a bush of white, bristly hair. The thought was ludicrously funny, and I bit my tongue hard to keep from laughing, which would be most inappropriate. "Yes, sir," I managed to say, and finally sobered myself by thinking Jack Winters had surely brought me here because Professor Eberhart could tell me something about my family. It was enough to calm me down.

"I was wondering if you might tell me your tale in your own words," said the professor.

"If it pleases you, sir," I said, but then I was not sure where to start.

"You boarded the train the Arabella Genevieve..." Winters prompted, and that got me going.

I told the professor everything. Much of the wording of my story was fresh in my mind, having just told Captain Winters the entirety of my tale a few days before, but I added on at times, recalling details I had forgotten and including things I had read in my diary when I was looking through it this morning, having nothing else to do. I told him all about the Kyntons, and noticed when he sat up a little straighter at the mention of Mr. and Mrs. Kynton, especially when I told him of their comparison of me to someone named Alice. I described my kidnapping and my time on the Royal Erebos, including Captain Belleclaire's taunts and Zebediah Miller's kindness. Then of my rescue by Captain Winters and his crew, and my brief stay on the Grand Tourbilion. I finished by describing our terrifying "glide" to the outskirts of town, and how we made our way to the school the day before yesterday, though I left out Captain Winters' outburst. At the end of the telling, I was quite exhausted, but I felt strangely better than I had felt for days. It is such a relief to write in this diary, Dear Reader, but telling my joys and woes to this stern, grandfatherly-looking professor unburdened my heart wonderfully!

When I was through at last, Professor Eberhart had one arm crossed over his stomach with his elbow propped on it, leaning his chin on his fist and staring intently at me. "Might I see your locket, young lady?" he asked. I began to stand up and open my locket, but he said, "No no, I would like to see it up close. If you would not mind removing it all together...?"

I did as he asked, unclasping it from around my neck, then leaning across the desk to place the necklace in his soft hand. The locket was already open, and he brought his hand up to his face to see it close. I heard the quiet whir of his mechanical eye focusing, and watched it with fascination as he studied the images within my locket.

"These are your parents?" he asked, looking up at me, and I nodded. "And you have always had this locket?" I told him the story I told Captain Winters not long ago, how I was brought to Saint Anne's with the singed locket tucked amongst the blankets I was wrapped in, how either the man who rescued me took it from around my mother's throat, or my mother pulled it from her neck and put it in my cradle as her dying act.

Professor Eberhart asked Captain Winters if he would please leave us for a while, which the captain did without a word. I watched him go, a puzzled expression on my face, but turned back to the professor silently, waiting for him to speak.

He first returned my locket to me, and after I closed it and put it back on, he said in slow, measured words. "I knew your parents, Miss... Greenwater."

"You did?" I gasped. "Oh, that is wonderful news! What were they like? How did you know them? Why didn't you say so before?" I was ecstatic, my heart was soaring! At long last, the thing I had yearned for all my life was just within my reach!

"I shall tell you everything very soon," he said in that same slow, careful way, as if he were afraid I would shatter if he spoke too loudly or too harshly. "But first, I want you to do something for me."

This was very unexpected, but I nodded.

He took a black stone paperweight from the edge of his desk and placed it in the center, right between us. "I want you to move this without touching it," he said, and gave me the same intense stare as before.

I did not respond for several seconds, but at last asked, "Move it... without touching it?" He nodded. Wondering if old age had dulled his mind, I scooted to the edge of my seat, then leaned forward and blew on the paperweight, very hard. Of course nothing happened, but I could think of no other way to move the thing without touching it..

Professor Eberhart chuckled and waved me back into my seat. "Very good, Miss, but that will not work. Nor may you touch the desk, nor may you move from your chair, understand? I only want you to concentrate, and will the object to move."

I blinked at him. "What, you mean like... Illumination?" He nodded again, and I laughed. "But I'm not Illuminated! Haven't you been listening? My parents were normal people. My father was on his way to a job as a manager in a textile mill, before the dirigible crash. My parents had one trunk between them that was burnt to ash, nothing more."

He said nothing in reply, just kept watching me.

"You do not understand!" I insisted. "I cannot move that paperweight with my thoughts alone! I am just like you, I have no special gifts! It is impossible!"

"You are just like me, Miss," he said quietly. "Only you do not know it yet. Now, try."

I clenched my teeth in frustration, but to appease him, I stared long and hard at the black stone cube. It had letters carved into it, but I was too far away to read them. Nothing happened. And then, more nothing happened.

"I cannot!" I cried, raising my hands. "I cannot move it with my mind!"

"You can!" the professor shouted, punctuating his words by banging a fist on the desk. The sound startled me and I jumped, my heart pounding. "You must! Now do it!" He pounded the desk again and once again, it startled me.

"I can't!"

"Do it!"

He was making me angry, and scared, and all together very upset. He was asking me to do the impossible! Only a very few people in the entire nation are Illuminated enough to do such things, those of good old blood. Their half-breed children and children's children (shunned by the family for their ill-advised marriages and pairings) have odd little gifts, enough to earn coins on a street corner by turning handkerchiefs into doves and the like, or to amuse their friends at dinner parties, but that is all. "I can't!" I cried once more.

He was on his feet quicker than I would have thought possible for a man his age, leaning over the desk at me. "Why do you say you can't if you have not even tried?" he demanded.

"I have tried!" I shouted back, too angry to realize I was yelling at my elder and better. "I cannot do it!"

"You will do it!" He picked up the stone cube and pulled his arm back as if to throw it, and I flinched, throwing my arms up in front of my face, but he kept his grip on it.

"Look at me!" he cried, and I lowered my arms. And then he did throw it, straight at me!

And, Dear Reader, I know not how, but the heavy stone cube veered off as it flew toward my face, curved sharply just inches from my nose, and tumbled harmlessly onto the carpet.

I was on my feet an instant later, scrambling backwards to put the chair between the professor and I. "What did you do?" I demanded, my voice and hands shaking.

"I did nothing," he smiled rather smugly, clasping his hands behind his back. "It was you who did it."

"I did not!" I cried. "Tell me what you did!"

"Look, let us see if you can do it again," he said, and walked around to retrieve the cube. He placed it in the center of his desk again, and stepped back to stand at the side of the desk. "Go ahead," he urged. "Move it again."

"I didn't move it before!" I insisted. I must have thrown up my arms at the last instant, and was not yet feeling the pain because of nerves. Or perhaps there was a mechanical contraption hidden inside the paperweight and it had flown off to the side after the professor had secretly wound it up.

"Bernice," he said sharply, and the sound of my given name shocked me so much that I looked at him. "You are Illuminated," he said slowly. "You have the gift. You have power most can only dream of. And if you will only believe that you have it, I can show you how to use it."

"No," I whispered, shaking my head. Everyone, I think, at some point or another, dreams that they are special, that they can do something no one else can, that they have something unique about them that makes them unlike any other person on the planet. But when I was faced with that truth, I did not want it anymore! I wanted to be comfortable and normal, I wanted to run from the room, run all the way back to Saint Anne's, and pretend none of this had ever happened!

"Yes, Bernice. You hold something extraordinary inside you," he whispered. "Let it out. See what it can do." He leaned forward and nudged the black cube so it slid an inch across the desk. "Move this with your thoughts." Then he stepped back, and I couldn't see him anymore. All I saw was the cube, and its blurred reflection in the highly-polished red-brown shine of the wood it sat upon.

I could move it with my thoughts. I had power inside me, I was among the ranks of the Illuminated. Could it be true? And what about my parents? Did they have the gift too? Professor Eberhart said he would tell me all, if only I did as he asked. All I had to do was move the cube of stone on his desk without touching it.

I stared at it so long I thought I would burn a hole in its side with my gaze. But I concentrated, I willed myself to believe that I had the power to move objects as I wished. I remembered the thrill of terror I felt when I saw the paperweight hurling through the air straight at my face, how I wanted to protect myself but could not move my arms fast enough.

And then it happened. As I watched, the object slid across the surface of the desk, as I had seen a magnet do with another magnet underneath the table. But surely there were no magnets. To prove that theory wrong, I willed the paperweight to move the other way... and it did. I glanced up at the professor, and he nodded and gave that same smug smile.

"How did I do that?" I asked faintly. Then the room tipped sideways, and went black.

And here I am, with a note from Professor Eberhart that I am to visit him after breakfast tomorrow morning, which will be in just a few hours, by the look of the grey sky out my window. Then, he wrote, he will explain everything.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. Goodness!

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