Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra
by Bertsz from Pixabay
and Lionel were walking hastily along the dark hallways in the
basement floor of a University building. The red lights of the exit
signs, and the green fluorescent faces of the wall clocks were the
only lights. The violent electric storm outside had shorted out the
rest of the power.
had been studying in the Jackman Centre of the University's Leddy
library, when an intercom announcement ordered everyone in the
Library to vacate the building because of approaching violent
few seconds all the lights in the corridors through which Rahjiz and
Lionel were hurrying, go out. The couple did not break step during
such spasms of total blackout. She was exasperated; he was unfazed.
bursts of thunder outside, although barely heard this deep down in
the building, could be timed by the flickering of the lights of the
clocks and the exit signs at every crash and rumble.
frustrating was the thunder causing the doors to jam closed a few
seconds. Why? The mechanical doors were not electrical.
felt especially mocked by the different and wrong times on the
clocks. It did not help that she recalled the first-time ever she
turned up late for classes because nobody had bothered to let the
students know that the University had never thought it important to
have the clocks checked for accuracy, nor to synchronize their times.
breaking stride, Rahjiz unbuttoned her heavy short coat because she
was beginning to feel a little too warm. Her reason changed as the
second button was undone. She found herself pulling her long, thick,
waist-length braid of hair over her shoulder and tucking it into her
coat in the front. She buttoned the coat.
is not comfortable with her hair tucked in like this, at the best of
times. Right now she feels more uncomfortable with it because it is
wet from the rain they were caught in as they left the library
building and ran for the doors of this building. And, too, the water
made the hair bulkier, and this made fastening the button of her coat
have you noticed there has never been anybody else in that Jackman
Centre Leddy Library when we've been there?" "All the
better for us to get up to mischief, huh?" "Oh, shut up."
They walked on in silence through the sounds of weather violence
said this would be an easier way, Lionel.” “It is
indoors, is it not?” “There are no lights, you idiot." “So, I forgot.
Abuse me.” They walk a few steps in
silence. “Hey, look at the bright side.” “Shut
time the lights go out, the University saves on its light bill, and
so tuition does not have to go up.” “Oh yeah? Like the
president of this outhouse needs a reason to raise tuition. But,
then, how would you know that, being a foreigner?”
we foreigners already pay twice as much as you guys.” He is
aware both of them are foreigners. She less than he by a few years. But
sensing her intolerant mood, and remembering how often she has
bristled at being reminded she is a foreigner, too, he senses it is
safer in this restricted space to pretend only he is the foreigner at
parents are going to kill me!” In her exasperation, she was
tempted to return the prize she had won from him in a card game when
they were on a study break in the Leddy Library Jackman Centre. Her
stake was the cheap ring she wore on a finger. His was a small flat
black stone, as worthless as her ring, he assured her, but a toy he
had carried with him from the time he had left his country to enroll
at this University. He said its only attraction to him was its
inexplicable natural property to cling to living flesh. "Like a
blood-sucking leech", she had joked. She had won the game, and
let him place the stone on her forehead. He had placed it, and
remarked that in some Religions such a stone between the eyes
identified her as a Royal bride.
pantingly in a weak attempt to mollify the best friend he had on campus
for the longest time, “Rahjiz, the national annual lottery is at
one-hundred million dollars. Tax free.”
she could answer, they collided into a door, jammed shut by thunder.
swear words, for the door to unjam. “Should we be near a corner
by now? How long is this stupid hallway?” “How would I
know? You will know before me.” She was taller than he, and
although he was walking as fast as he could, she was always a step or
two in front of him.
you trip in this dark, I am not stopping.” “And if you
trip?” “Just hope I do not. For your sake, just hope.” “Yish! I have never heard you this
hostile, Rahjiz.” “I have never let you talk me into
anything this stupid before, Lionel Milan!”
Milan? Now he knows she is angry at him. When she uses his surname,
she is really angry at him.
Okay! I will make it up to you.”
is the last time I rely on you to keep track of the time. If they
had not closed earlier than usual, we would still be in there.” “Come
on, Rahjiz, it is not my fault that clock stopped at
ten-fifteen.” “You idiot! That clock has been stuck at
ten-fifteen for months.” “Hah! So, you knew. How,
then, can it be only my fault?” “It was your assignment
we were working on. I was helping you. You should have kept track
of the time. You said you would, Lionel.”
the big deal? It is only twelve-thirty. You’re a big girl. You sound
even bigger in those clomping boots. We have worked later
than this before.” “In the company of others. And not
since all the rapes on this campus.” “Rumours of rapes. Just rumours.
Not one has been confirmed.”
can afford to wait for confirmation. You are a man, I think. All
they will do to you is beat you silly.” “So, I will put
up a terrific fight. Keep them busy. You will have plenty of time
to escape with your virginity intact, Rahjiz.” “Keep
that up! Just keep that up! You are getting damned close to being
stomped on!” “That is okay. Abuse me. I will still
fight them off for you.”
Right. Like you fought off those hookers?” “I knew it! The moment I
said that, I knew you were going to bring that up. They
were---.” “Women! Two women, Lionel Milan!”
Woman thugs!” “They ripped your coat right off you and
you did nothing.” “A smelly coat. I did not like that
coat. You did not like that coat, Rahjiz. The good gods sent those
she-devils to free me and you of that coat.”
shut up! That is beside the point. It was your coat. They grabbed
you. They tore it off. You ran. The other way! Lionel Milan!” “That is
it! I am taking your advice. I am shutting up. You
are just being impossible.”
came to a turn in the hallway. She slowed down. He bumped into her.
His spectacles fell from his face. “Do not move. My
spectacles.” He went down to his hands and knees and felt
about the floor.
ignored him, because she sensed something else. She knew it could
not be something she heard. The sounds of their footsteps and of the
distant storm made it unlikely. But she sensed something was wrong.
is coming.” She turned the
and pushed the crash bars of a glass double-door. She saw the beams
of a light moving toward them up ahead.
good! Someone with a flashlight! Two flashlights; even better.
“Hello!” There was no answer. Why
did they not answer? Rahjiz quickly
turned back through the doors, almost tripping over Lionel, still on
all-fours. “Lionel, let us
of here.” “My spectacles.”
She tripped over him.
the first time in her twenty years, all those classes in yoga, karate
and ballet, came to her aid.
turned the fall into a roll, and was up in a second. The flashlight
beams found Lionel and stayed on him only a fraction of a second
before one of the beams jerked up, looking for her.
were four of them. Two attacked Lionel. The other two went running
kick cracked into Lionel's ribs. His screams, already barely audible
above the distant weather and the deafening clash of noises generated
in this hallway itself, were aborted by more violent kicks at his
throat and head.
ran in the opposite direction.
flashlight beams stayed on her, but some of the refracted light
actually helped her find her way for a few seconds. Perhaps her
pursuer realized this, because the beam suddenly shut off.
the seconds it took her sight to adjust again, the wall of darkness
was in effect so palpable that she stumbled in her reflexive reaction
to protect herself from slamming into it. Her shoulder crashed
cruelly into the corridor’s stone wall. Because of her heavy
coat, only her speed suffered from the jolt. No damage to her body.
impact conspires with momentum and she is thrown into a curve that
drives her face towards brick. Instinct, some of it honed from years
of martial arts education and training, thrust her arms up in front
of her face. She was thrown off-balance. Exploding repeatedly in
her mind is the thought that she must not fall. She had insufficient
control to respond to the screams inside her to save her face. Instead,
she turned the movement of her arms into flat palms slapping
angrily into the wall to propel her into a spin that ended with her
back against the wall, immediately under one of the inaccurate,
mocking, spitefully- stupid clocks.
sensed, more than heard, the twill weave of her coat ripping against
the unfinished masonry as her momentum wildly tried to slide her
along the unyielding hardness. Thick tweed successfully fought on
her side against the slide.
it was just her imagination, but she did not care to question the
accuracy of the feint fluorescence that revealed a shape-shifting
mass of black malevolence bearing down on her with very malicious
could be that she was simply falling towards the opposite wall, but
long-schooled intuition shouts at her to take no chances.
was as if a sudden inner flash of lightning cleared the darkness away
from around her. She became so sharply aware of her immediate
movements, she feels she is moving in slow motion and in complete
rammed her boot brutally into the monstrous mass which was now almost
wall behind her clawing at her back provided her the fulcrum she
needed to turn, allowing her to gear her kick into the beginning of a
twist. Her boot ploughed into something. She faintly hears
was resigned that it was the bones of her foot. Indeed, had she not
been wearing high boots, the wrenching force of her kick would have
ripped her foot off at the ankle. Her hip was not as shielded. Her
groan of pain as hip sinews torque to the brink of shearing, caught
her by surprise.
kick was strong enough to stop the malignant thing coming at her. The
twisting boot making deep impact impelled the thing’s
momentum into a corkscrew pattern. A flashlight clattered to the
floor, and its beam died a sudden shutting off. She could not make
out any light coming from the other flashlight.
flickering from the wrong-time clocks were not enough to guide a
second monster through the suddenly erratic motions of its partner in
front, and they collided.
crashed to the floor in a flailing chaotic grunting, coughing mess.
the darkness made confusing by unstable reds and greens, Rahjiz was
unaware of the effect of her kick. She half-wished she had not hurt
the thing she had just booted so violently. She immediately slapped
herself mentally for such a dumb compassionate half-thought.
beginning inner conflict causes her to lose control of her drive. She
miscalculated and threw herself into a run before she came out of
her spin. She took lessons about why this is an unsafe maneuver to
attempt, even when on a gym mat!
realized her mistake too late to help herself. She stumbled and
banged hard up against the opposite wall. This saved her!
two savage things, completely out of control in their collision,
rolled on the floor passed her. They would have crashed into her had
she been running where she had intended. She began to panic.
were evil things on both sides of her. Her palms, knees, ankles and
hips were at war with her unbending will. They shrieked at her for
rest. What happened in the next few seconds would forever be a blur
the hysterical screams in her head about how hopeless the situation
was for her, she ripped herself off the wall and ran towards the
tumbling mass on the floor. Acting on only fitful impressions to
estimate her footing, she dodged, half tripped on and jumped over the
violently changing shape.
a moment she gained a little confidence on hearing what she thought
were muffled groans of pain from the ugly shape. She ran down the
exit lights? What happened to them? Another blasted power outage! Too
late! She senses the wall in front of her at the corridor’s
turn. She barely had enough presence of mind to turn her head before
the side of her face smashed into brick. It was the side over which
she had slung her hair to tuck it into her coat. Only the cushion of
hair, made thicker for being wet, saved her face and head from
crippling injury. She was determined the collision would not stop
her momentum and the wall into which she crashed, she twisted into a
run, down the other hallway. A sharp pain in her lower ribs on one
side of her chest slowed her down. She slapped a hand against the
pain, pressed hard, and kept running as fast as the pain allowed her.
did not remember how she exited the building. She was abruptly made
aware she was outside by the thunder trying to tear out her eardrums,
the lightning blinding her, and the hard rain stinging like gravel
against her face.
stumbled in the direction she thought would take her home, a few
was raining in unbroken columns that landed with crashing cacophony
wherever there were hard surfaces on the ground. So violent was the
thundering bursts of water on the ground where there was no grass,
that bits of stone and other debris bounced up to form a bruising
churn that reached knee high at times.
stumbled on down a commercial street. She recognized it. Led to
her front door. She felt a little safer, and slowed down. She was
wet down to her skin. She guessed that a lot of it was perspiration.
The coldness eased the pains in her foot, hips, chest,
face and palms.
lower areas of most of the windows of the businesses she passed were
cracked by the upward exploding gravel. The wind was slashing
vigorously in all directions. The thunder had died down, but sheet
lightning flashes were still occurring at rapid intervals, providing
the only street lighting. This part of the city was in complete
darkness except for the lightning.
feared she had gone deaf because she could not hear the thunder that
was supposed to follow lightning. Here and there the lightning was
reflected in the windows.
with the few other unfortunate pedestrians fighting their way through
the gale and rain, she did not pause even when the moments of sudden
light from the black skies blinded and disorientated her for a few
seconds at a time.
found herself at the front street door of the apartment building. She
turned around to push open the unlocked outer door with her back. When
inside, she reached into a pocket for her keys. Her palm stung
as it touched metal. She dropped the keys back, and looked at her
were covered in bruises that were slowly oozing blood. As if
signaled by the palms, the side of her face tingled sharply. She
felt faint, but the awareness of her parents seeing her in this
condition frightened enough strength into her. She suffered the pain
and took her keys out. She opened the inner door.
took her painfully forever, but eventually she climbed the
twenty-nine steps to the third floor.
fumbling in trying to insert the key into the lock of her apartment
door took another excruciating forever for her to unlock the door.
she was eventually inside, and had locked the front door, she had to
pause against the wall for some time to give herself time to
convince herself she was safely inside her home.
hurried straight into the bathroom.
what seemed hours, she was standing naked in front of the bathroom
mirror. Amazingly, Lionel's flat black stone was still between her
eyes. She removed it, and placed it on the counter. She dried
herself in a bathsheet. She unceremoniously threw all her clothes
and her boots into a heap into the bathtub. She knew she could not
leave them there. Her Mom would throw a fit.
Mom? They have not heard her yet? She has had the taps running for
minutes. She closed off the water and listened. Nothing. Her knees
weakened with apprehension. She quickly fastened the bathsheet
around her, and slowly opened the door. No lights anywhere else in
the apartment. This did not feel right.
of her parents, most likely her Mom, would have been up and at her by
now. She moved slowly to the kitchen, and felt along the wall for
the light switch. With the light on, she looked around. Her
parents’ bedroom door was wide open. They never slept with
that door open.
did not want to go and look. She needed all her strength to control
herself from breaking down into the sobs fighting to sabotage her
clear thinking. She stood motionless, leaning against the wall,
trying mightily to get some order into her jumbled thoughts, and
emotions. She had to sit.
reached a chair at the kitchen table, and slowly let herself into it.
She was facing the fridge. She saw the note written in bold black
magic marker, and held in place by a fridge magnet.
in the oven. Do not wait up. Mom.”
remembered. They had told her they would not be home when she
returned from her classes. That was why she had dared to stay out so
late to help Lionel in the library.
surrendered completely to an explosion of sobs and tears.
took three days of staying at home for all her injuries to heal
enough for her to feel confident enough to want to go to classes and
to the Leddy library. While her injuries were healing, her mind was
in restless. The news on television and radio constantly reported
violence and deaths during campus riots. There had been no news about
fifth day was cloudy and wind, but the City had been without rain for
two days. Most of the City was back to normal. University classes had
reluctantly decided to return to the Leddy Library Jackman Centre, if
only to return his stone. Lionel would go to the Jackman Centre to
meet with her. She had to take the opportunity to speak to him. His
remark of her appearing to be a Royal bride had unnerved her a
little. She had to let him know she had no feelings of romance for
him. She loved him to no end; as a friend, only.
the earl afternoon on the fifth day, she was in the Jackman Centre,
sitting at the corner of a table where she and Lionel usually sat.
The chair he sat in was empty. She had his stone in her coat pocket.
She was trying to concentrate on writing an overdue class assignment.
She noticed there were, unusually, a few other persons about in the
Centre. All female, as far as her cursory glances discovered; and all
were wearing colourful high boots.
young woman came up to her. "May I?" Rahjiz was taken
aback, but did not look up as she continued writing, and said "Of
course." The woman sat in Lionel's chair.
sorry to disturb you, but, please, may I ask a question?" Rahjiz
stopped writing and look at the woman.
saw a small flat stone on the forehead between the eyes of the woman.
A cold shiver raced in all directions away from her heart. Her brain
seemed on the brink of disaster. Inexplicably, her whole being went
woman showed no sign she noticed the shock that was nearly paralyzing
Rahjiz. Almightily successful, Rahjiz calmy answered, "Yes. Of
course." "I have asked many people, and none of them could
help me. A few suggested I come here. I am looking for Lionel Milan."
would forever be amazed at how completely and spontaneously and
smoothly she was dishonest in her reply.
too. Five days ago before the storm, a group of us were here
studying. We had to leave suddenly when it was announced over the
library intercom that the library would be closing immediately
because a storm was about to explode on the City. We grabbed our
stuff and took off. I have not seen any of them, including Lionel,
since then. In the days that followed, I found this among my books."
She took the stone out of her pocket and placed it on the table in
from of the woman. "I see now it must belong to Lionel."
woman looked at the stone, steadily. She spoke softly. "He spoke
about the stone?" "Not to me. When I found it in my papers
at home, it was the first time I had seen it." The woman picked
up the stone, and lifted it between her thumb and index finger. She
positioned it next to the stone between her eyes on her forehead for
Rahjiz to see. Rahjiz spoke in sincere amazement, "A perfect
Lionel and I are Royalty in a kingdom in the Urals. In our kingdom,
stones like these are rare. At present, only three in existence. In
Ancient tradition, Royal couples exchange these stones in promise of
betrothal. We wear them until the wedding. The man leaves for five
years to travel the world to learn about other Nations. At the end of
five years, he returns to be married."
paused for long seconds. Rahjiz, in deep concern and fear, kept
silent. The woman, continued, slowly and introspectively. Some of
the booted women stepped closer, to listen.
Milan is not his name. He is a Royal prince. Lionel and Milan are
names of violent criminals in our kingdom who were executed over a
hundred years ago. When I heard he had adopted that name in this
country, I was troubled and angry."
of the booted women held out her palm; the princess handed her
Lionel's stone. The woman stepped away from the table and bent down
to place the stone on the floor. The princess got out of the chair.
She walked to the stone on the floor and stamped on it, and ground it
to dust. Not looking at Rahjiz, she spoke to her, "Run far from
this building. It is about to sink forever, out of sight." She
strode out of that doomed Jackman Centre Leddy Library.
the booted young woman, each in turn, stamped on the remains of the
stone before they followed their Royal princess out.
a long time, Rahjiz sat alone. She was so fearful of moving, she was
in danger of going down with the building in the lightning and
thunder and rain she heard approaching.
she mustered enough presence of mind to look down where the stone had
been, she would not have been able to discern it from nondescript
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Story list and biography
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