The Visionary's Apprentice

Harriet ripped open the dresser drawer with a huff and rifled through her sister's clothes.

"If mom and dad won't let me have one because of stupid Lana and her stupid school then I'll just get one myself."

She shoved the clothes from one end of the drawer to the next. Her fingers scurried around until finally pausing on a book. She grabbed it, slammed the drawer, and flopped onto the bed.

"She thinks she's so special. It can't be that hard to be a visionary, you know."

Harriet's hand brushed the dust from the book, sending a wave of particles into the air. *Achew!* Light inched through the doorway, illuminating the specks of floating dust.  Her index finger traced the front cover in the dim light, "The Principles of Quintessence: Volume 1 - Shaping Reality" A half grin filled her face. This was it. The green leather book spine let out a slow crackle as Harriet opened to the first page and began reading with squinted eyes. 'Welcome to the world of quintessence. You may have, from time to time, felt that you were different than those around you. Many early experiences--'

"Yeah, yeah. Let's get to the good stuff." Her eyes impatiently skimmed back and forth, searching. She wet the tips of her fingers and began flipping pages.

'One must take caution when assuming--' Nope. 'Don't be surprised if you encounter difficulties with--' No. Wait.

"Here it is." Her eyes widened.

'Although a visionary can manipulate quintessence with no more than her mind, she will find great comfort and assistance in the use of Kinetic Glass.'

Harriet surveyed her older sister's bedroom. Why did Lana have to be such a neat freak? Live a little. The books don't need to be alphabetized. And why in the world does anyone need a spot light for a shelf of family pictures? They're not that important anyway. The good news was that everything was easy to find. Harriet reached out to the bedside dresser and unlatched the hook on a small glass case. Glancing at the light from the hallway, she listened. Still no one. She slowly reached into the case and took hold of a tiny black swan. A low, blue glow began emanating from the cracks between her fingers. Her heart began to quicken, but her eyes returned to the book.

'Using Kinetic Glass to manipulate essence is fundamentally the same process as unassisted manipulation. Hold the desired image in your mind. Breathe in. Let the warmth of your thoughts fill your chest, arms, and head. Imagine the surrounding quintessence taking shape and hold this concentration. Fill it with emotion.'

Harriet closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I'll show them. I can be just as good as Lana."

The black swan began to rhythmically vibrate. The blue light emanating from her tightened hand was now strong enough to light up the corners of the room. She felt a warmth fill her head, accompanied by a fleeting moment of euphoria. A tingle radiated out through her chest and into her extremities. The blue glow of the black swan began pulsating. Shimmering. Shivering. This was it! The book slid from her lap, hitting the ground with a thud. The light stopped.

"Hey, what gives? Did it work?"

Black Swan Totem

She looked left then right, searching all sides of the room. She methodically scoured the dresser drawers and checked under the bed covers. Nothing. Harriet held up the black swan for examination. She gave it a shake. There was no blue glow; just a wooden black swan with a small piece of glass in its chest. She let herself fall back onto the bed with a sigh. The room was near dark again, lit only by the cracked door.

"Must be broken. I bet Lana's been faking it, anyway."

From the bedroom window came a light tip tap. Then a faint peep, squeak, and scratch. Harriet sat up. Her eyes widened. She slowly turned to the window. Another peep. She lunged up and raced toward the windowpane. This couldn't be real.

"No. Way! Did I actually do it?"

Harriet gave out a half squeal of delight as she opened the window. There it was. A cute, tiny, fluffy gerbil! He was just like she imagined. Better even. Her very own pet. She smiled.

"Well hello there, Mr. Gerbil! What shall I call you?"

He looked up at her. "Alfred. And I take offense to the condescension," he replied.

Harriet staggered back, eyes wide. "Uh… Gerbils… Gerbils can't talk."

"That's really rather rude. You don't see me questioning your intelligence."

She shook her head and did a double take. He was still there. She fumbled for the light beside the black swan's case. Finally the room was lit. Still there.

"Well are you going to invite me in? Where's your hospitality? We're part of the family! Suits me right for expecting a cordial welcome."

"I… I…"

"You're so special, aren't you? It's not that hard to treat me with the respect I deserve. I'm always expected to prove myself to you humans," said the gerbil.

Harriet stood wide eyed, mouth agape.

Alfred the gerbil continued, "I'm parched. Fetch me a glass of water, hmm? And I'm sure the others will want some as well."

"Others?" What was going on? Harriet again looked at the black swan figurine in her hand. No blue glow. No vibrations. She touched the side of her head and looked around. Had she fallen? And what did he mean "others"?

Peep. Tip tap.

"I, uh.. I… I'm going to walk away now. Good… Goodbye, Mr. Gerbil."

"Well if you won't fetch me have a cup, I'll just get one myself."

Squeak. Alfred skittered past the window sill, through Harriet's legs and into the hallway.

Ignoring the surely imaginary talking gerbil that just ran between her legs, Harriet stuck her head out the window and looked toward the street lamps. Two small, fluffy figures scurried across the sidewalk.

Harriet blinked, rubbed her eyes, then shut the window. Her heart began beating more heavily as she put the black swan figure in her pocket. Was that a talking gerbil? She picked up the Quintessence book from the floor and placed it safely back in the dresser drawer, beneath a pile of her sister's now disheveled clothes.

Looking out the closed window once more, she now saw 5 balls of fur scurrying under the street lamp, all heading her way. What had she done? There was a crash from the hallway. Just before Harriet could run to investigate the crash, she heard a thump on the window pane. And then tiny paws clawing on glass. Up from the bushes swelled a monolithic wave of fur balls. Her palms began to sweat. She had to do something about this.

From the hallway Harriet heard a spurt followed by a steady flow of water and what sounded like falling pots and pans.

She began to make a move for the other room but before she could, a concussive crash of glass splintered into the room. The wave of rodents had shattered her sister's window.

"Alfred!" Harriet cried out, over the sound of a battalion of squeaks.

This was far past out of control! She took a deep breath in an effort to calm herself. No, this was not good. Mom and dad were going to kill her. The bed was now piled high with cheeping puffballs and her sister's once pristine carpet seemed to ripple and flow with fur.

A small gerbil head appeared from around the corner. "Yes, Harriet? I found that water cup, by the way."

Harriet watched helplessly as the swarm of gerbils began scampering up the dresser and onto the bedside table, haphazardly knocking over a blue lamp, a ticking clock, and a manicured vase of daisies. Dirty vase water trickled down the legs of the bedside table and a few gerbils took the opportunity for a cool, albeit smelly, bath. With satisfied squeaks, the bathing gerbils shook their coats like accomplished golden retrievers after having run through the sprinklers. The bedsheets would never be the same.

"Hey, you! Stop it!" cried out Harriet as she unsuccessfully tried to catch the bathing gerbils. Harriet's face became violently scarlet. "Alfred, why are you all here? What do you want?"

Harriet saw a storm of pillow feathers begin to brew beside the headboard of the bed. She tried to shoo away the scampering tricksters from the shredded pillows but to no avail. She gnashed her teeth.

"Come, come now Harriet. It's not what we want. It's what you want."

"I don't want any of this! You're ruining all of Lana's things! You're ruining our house!"

The mob had mounted the shelves and were now smashing each and every one of Lana's beloved family pictures. Harriet grimaced with each successive crunch.

"You're quite mistaken. We're just helping," said Alfred.

The bedside curtains began swinging and shaking as an enterprising group of gerbils began their ascent. The dresser drawers had now been pried open and a trio of rodents were systematically ripping, tearing, and dismantling every piece of Lana's clothes. There were just too many of them.

"You wanted to be a better visionary than your sister. And what an imagination you have! We're just here to prove it. We're here to be your trophy. Won't they all be so proud of you?"

Harriet stumbled back. Proud? How could anyone be proud of this? The gerbils began clawing, biting, and shredding the book of Quintessence. A flurry of paper leaves started raining from the dresser. A platoon of rodents scurried toward the hallway.

With a slight moan and a defeated sigh, Harriet collapsed onto the floor, parting the sea of gerbils. She never wanted to ruin her sister's memories. She just wanted her parents to be proud of her like they were of Lana. Harriet put her head in her hand and rubbed her temples. All she wanted to do was prove herself. She just wanted a single little gerbil. She couldn't even do that right.

Overcome with disappointment, she let her hands fall into her lap. And that's when her pocket began to glow blue. At first it was a subtle glimmer, but it grew into a sapphire sparkle. The black swan! Harriet excitedly reached into her pocket and pulled out the black swan figurine. Clasping it tightly in her hand, she took a deep breath and focused her desire. She let a feeling of calm and joy spread through her chest and into her fingertips. The black swan begin to gently vibrate. She envisioned building crayon-covered cardboard forts with Lana and laughing whenever dad pretended he couldn't find them in hide 'n' go seek. She imagined all the nights of the two of them staying up playing board games in Lana's bedroom. And she remembered how proud she was on Lana's first day at the visionary academy. She could feel the blue light shaping and crystallizing around her. The black swan stopped. But so had the book biting, the clothes ripping, and the pillow shredding.

As Harriet opened her eyes, she saw the flock of gerbils all scurrying out the window. They scampered and scuttled and skittered through Lana's window and down the street until not a squeak could be heard.

Harriet picked up a picture frame from the floor and leaned it upright on the dresser. It was her and Lana skipping rope. With a smile, Harriet went to fetch the dust pan.