The Conrad Calling
STORIES that stretch your mind
The Best Metaphysical Fiction of the year from Thresholds Quarterly
The Conrad Calling
by Heather Hobson
The air crackled with electrified ions. A coral lightning bolt shot like an arrow across the field. Raleigh watched the light sail toward him. His thoughts flickered to his parents and what he must tell them. The distracting thought prevented him from forming a translucent brown shield as quickly as he should. The lightning bolt smacked into Raleigh, knocking him flat on his back. A hot burning pain spread from his chest, engulfing his entire body. Darkness came.
Before opening his eyes, Raleigh discerned he still lay upon his back. The scraping of a chair leg against stone told him he was no longer outside.
Detecting a change in Raleighs breathing and energy, Bliss chided, Why didnt you call up a shield?
Raleigh opened his eyes. He slid up and leaned against the headboard. He half-grinned, realizing they were inside Blisss chamber at the Conrad Community of Leyburn. The room was filled with a small bed, table, four chairs, a window seat, several book shelves, and a wardrobe.
Bliss scrutinized Raleigh. Are you okay?
Yes, Raleigh answered. He glanced toward the window. The day was quickly fading.
Why didnt you shield yourself? You scared me. I thought I had killed you, Bliss blurted out.
Raleigh snatched up her hand. Im all right. Which is a testament to your healing skills. He smiled, catching her green eyes with his gold-speckled, brown ones.
Bliss blushed. She pulled her hand away. Then she placed it against Raleighs forehead. She shut her eyes. Raleigh sighed, allowing her to scan for further injuries. Bliss jumped a little when she opened her eyes and saw how broadly Raleigh grinned. Quickly, she moved from the bed.
Still smirking, Raleigh rose. He walked toward Bliss, who stood by the window, enjoying the setting sun of Karna. Raleigh placed a hand on her shoulder.
Without looking at him, Bliss said, You still havent told me why you didnt create a shield.
Raleighs smile faded. His eyes narrowed, focusing on the deep red in the sky. My parents.
Bliss pivoted and looked up at him, but Raleigh didnt move. She gently ran her fingers over his wavy chestnut hair. Noticing his curled down lips, she frowned. You have to tell them.
The longer you wait, the worse it will be, she added. She stroked his clean shaven cheek with two fingers.
I know. I just dont know how to tell them. Ive tried, Raleigh confessed, shifting to look at her. By the Universe, Ive tried. But I dont think theyll understand.
You have to try. You cant keep it a secret. What are you going to say when youre ordered to a community? Youll be assigned soon.
Raleigh nodded. He glanced out the window again. The sun had vanished for the day.
Bliss stepped away. Expertly she called the energies to her. In her hand she formed a glowing ball, which she sent hovering in the center of the ceiling. The light illuminated the room with a soft, natural glow like dawn.
Ill tell them tonight, Raleigh stated.
Good. Realizing Raleigh still donned the white tunic and trousers of a Conrad, she said, Ill let you change.
Raleigh watched Bliss glide from the room. She closed the door without a sound. He sighed, two thoughts on his mind: telling his parents he was a Conrad and hoping Master Tyrone would assign him to Leyburn so he could be with Bliss.
The cold buttons numbed Raleighs finger as he punched in the code, unlocking the front door. As soon as it opened, the entryway light zapped on. He glanced up at the half-sphere spanning the ceiling and shuddered. He preferred the warming energy of fire or the softness of a Glowing Ball.
As Raleigh walked down the hall he could hear the commentators voice mixed with the hum of the image screen. Raleigh entered the entertainment room. His parents sat on a couch patterned with red, blue, and green streaks. It looked like a paint brush had been randomly run across the fabric.
Raleighs mother, Brunetta, leaned against his father. Her eyes fixed unblinkingly on the image screen. Her braided dark hair was wrapped on the top of her head in the latest Karna fashion.
Fitz sat with outstretched legs, one arm wrapped around Brunetta. His other hand rested on the couch arm where the image screen control panel was implanted.
Father? Raleigh probed.
Raleigh continued to stand in the doorway, not allowing the door to shut. Mother, I need to talk with you.
Cant it wait? Brunetta stated.
Raleigh looked at the screen. Karnas most popular newscaster sputtered out only words approved by the High King and his counsel. Raleigh frowned as he listened. It is the most amazing achievement of our High King. In this reporters opinion, it will be a greater achievement than the construction of Tearle Towers.
Disgusted, Raleigh tuned out the propaganda. He thought of using his abilities to manipulate his fathers thumb into hitting the off button, but restrained himself. The thought of the deaths which had occurred during the building of the Tearle Towers, sickened Raleigh. Even more appalling was the knowledge that the Great Road had led to the destruction of the last of Karnas ancient forests and had created tracks of soil so tainted with toxins none could live near them.
Dad, Mom, we have to talk now, Raleigh stated. He didnt want to hear another word the newscaster would speak.
But we want to hear about the advances in space travel, Brunetta mumbled. Her eyes never blinked.
Raleigh inhaled. His heart pounded. He was about to shout out he was a Conrad, but instead found the words, Im moving out, fly past his lips.
What? Brunetta gasped.
Fitz punched off the image screen. He leapt to his feet. His brown eyes met Raleighs.
Im moving out, Raleigh repeated.
Why? his mother cried, coming across the room. Tenderly she took his hand. She rubbed it as if he was a small child.
Im ... Raleigh started. His throat constricted, choking off his words. He swallowed hard. Im joining a group.
What group? his father half-growled at his twenty-two-cycle-old son.
Mom, Dad, Raleigh whispered. Unable to meet his dads gaze anymore, he turned to his mother. Her green eyes were on the verge of tears. Raleighs heart tightened. Im a Conrad, he said at last.
Dropping his hand, his mother whimpered, No.
The first words issued from his fathers mouth were, I forbid it.
Raleigh stepped forward. His mother retreated to his fathers side. Nothing can change that fact. Ive been Called.
Fitzs face reddened. His neck veins bulged.
Ill be assigned to a community soon. Im not sure which one. Raleigh shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back again.
I forbid it, his father growled through clenched teeth.
I cant change what I am. Im a Conrad.
But...you cant be, his mother wailed. Her hand gripped Fitzs tense arm tightly. Theyre...theyre... she stammered unable to get the word out.
Evil? Raleigh finished for her. Her eyes darted away from him. You know those are the lies of the High King.
For a long time no one spoke. They all stood still. Raleighs mother nervously gazed anywhere, but at him. Fitz stood, shaking on the brink of rage. Raleigh could feel his own anger rising. He was angry at his parents ignorant view of Conrads; the High Kings lies; the fact he couldnt not be a Conrad; and at how he really wanted to be a Conrad.
At last Raleigh spoke. He met Fitzs hard gaze. I wont plague you with my evil any longer. Raleigh turned and left the house.
Raleighs breathing felt as laborious as if he inhaled water. He opened his eyes and sighed. For three sun-shifts he had attempted to meditate, to call on the Universe for guidance, but nothing he tried allowed the connection to open.
He rose. Raleigh headed for the chapel door. Disgusted with his lack of focus, Raleigh exited the building. A garden of hai trees and scarlet dapple flowers lay before him. Yellow and blue thistles rose above the dapples and wavered in the breeze. The thistles were Raleighs favorite.
Sighing, Raleigh entered the garden. The sun warmed his skin. Finding his favorite hai, Raleigh tossed his cape down. He then laid down upon it. He stared at patches of blue showing through thin gray branches covered with green leaves and purple blossoms. Soon the blossoms would turn into egal fruit. Raleigh licked his lips, thinking of the oval-shaped fruits sweet juice.
I need your guidance, Raleigh whispered. He regretted the words he had spoken to his parents. The thought of not seeing either of them again created a great ache from his stomach to his Adams apple. His heart felt as if it had been dragged through a bush of stinging nettles. Should I call? Or is it best to just leave their lives forever? Raleigh hoped the Divine Beings would answer him, but the connection was still cold.
Raleigh detected Blisss coral energy before he could hear her treading across the grass. He stayed mute as she dropped onto his cape. She propped herself up on an elbow and studied his face. Raleigh didnt shift his vision.
When he failed to look at her, Bliss leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. Warm shivers filled Raleigh. Bliss pulled away. He looked at her.
Guess what? she teased, hoping to lighten his mood.
What? he replied. His hand rose and played with a strand of her golden hair.
Ive something for you.
You do? Raleigh smiled. He wondered if Bliss was his soulmate. He had been pondering the idea for nearly a cycle. It was a question the Divine Beings never answered, no matter how long he meditated on it.
Yes. She beamed. Its a letter from Master Tyrone.
Raleigh bolted up. His eyes widened. Is it my assignment?
I think so, she answered, slipping up. Bliss pulled the letter from her pocket. Handing it to him, she leaned against his shoulder.
Raleighs hands trembled. He could feel Master Tyrones energy trace. He had only met the man once, but that was all a Conrad needed to remember anothers energies.
Open it, Bliss pleaded.
Raleigh tore the side off the envelope. He shook it until the letter slipped out and fell into his lap. Picking it up, he snapped it hard. The paper unfolded at the command of his action.
His heart sank. The letter dropped. Bliss grabbed it, rereading the words.
Rochester, he moaned.
Bliss could think of no comforting words. Her heart ached as painfully as his.
For a long time they sat, holding each other. Raleigh at last said, Maybe it will only be temporary.
Bliss nodded, tears starting to trickle down her face. Her green eyes turned to emerald as the flow increased.
Raleigh held her tighter. He brushed his chin across the top of her head. His eyes shut. He inhaled deeply of the rose scent issuing from the silky strands. When her sobs became audible, Raleigh summoned a brown shield around them. The shimmering bubble trapped in all sound.
I dont want to be parted, she cried.
I know, Raleigh whispered, his own tears flowing. But you know, he offered, if we are mates, the Universe wont keep us apart long. And neither would Master Tyrone. Raleigh hoped his words would comfort her, because they didnt ease his own pain.
The floating carriage stopped. Raleigh opened the door. He wanted to get out, walk up to the door, and ring, but he found his body as unmovable as a brick factory.
Are you in or out? the driver called. Raleigh glanced through the plastic barrier at the driver. The middle-aged man tapped a finger above the ignite button.
Raleigh didnt answer. Instead, he pushed himself up. His feet smacked against the magnet filled cement. He began to walk. Biting his lower lip, Raleigh raised his hand to press the button. Shivers shot up his arm as his index finger applied minimal pressure to the glowing circle. He held his breath.
The swish of the sliding door caused Raleigh to step back. He bit his lip harder. Fitzs eyes bored into him. Raleighs throat tightened. No words came. He forgot his name.
Are you still a Conrad? his father asked as if it was a mere profession.
Tears filled Raleighs eyes. He nodded.
His father raised a hand to shut the door, but paused, arm in mid air. Where are you staying?
Raleigh could taste his salty blood. He licked his lower lip. Rochester, he whispered.
Fitz nodded, his face as stiff as if it was coated with dry mud. Is that where I should send your things?
I wont need them, Raleigh choked out. He wanted to drop to his knees and beg his father to forgive him, but his legs were locked, and the words wouldnt come.
Ill tell your mother, Fitz stated, his teeth clenched so tight they hurt.
Father, Raleigh breathed as his fathers hand moved toward the door panel. I cant change being a Conrad. Raleigh watched the hand move again. I love you, he cried as the last bit of the door sealed.
For a moment he waited, thinking his father would open the door. Fitz didnt. Raleigh thought of entering the code, but didnt try for fear it had been changed. He didnt want to know.
And this will be your chamber, the young woman informed Raleigh.
Raleigh half smiled as she swung the door open. Inside he noticed unpainted clay brick walls. Two windows overlooked one of the compounds gardens. A table, made from enakwood, was in the rooms center. Against one wall was nestled a bed.
If there is anything you need, dont hesitate to ask anyone.
Thanks, Raleigh replied. She started to leave. Raleigh caught her arm. Forgive me, but I forgot your name.
Alexandra, she smiled, her round face framed with the most delightful honey-gold curls Raleigh had ever seen. Once youre settled, youre welcome to join me and a couple of friends. Well be studying under the hai tree by the flower fountain.
Thanks, Raleigh stated, releasing her arm.
Less than a sun-shift later Raleigh found himself wandering around Rochester. Everything in the gardens grew freely at Rochester. The trees were thick in some areas and sparse in others. Untamed animals roamed about, undisturbed. The grasses grew wild.
When Raleigh found himself standing at the edge of a meadow filled with yellow centered flowers with lavender petals spreading for near an ayan, he realized he must be near the flower fountain. Wading his way across the heavily scented floral sea, he headed toward a cluster of hai trees. His eyes trailed from the sky down the length of the trees. It was then he noticed the gray marbled fountain, camouflaged against the gray bark of the hais.
Laughter sprinkled the air. Raleighs eyes shifted from the fountain to the people gathered. At once he recognized Alexandra. She rested under a hai. Her head laid against the chest of a man. Sitting on the fountain edge was a second woman. The ends of her long, fawn colored hair brushed the water.
All three stopped laughing. Alexandra hopped to her feet. She ran across the flowers and grabbed Raleighs arm. She gently dragged him forward. This is Bruner, she stated.
Bruner rose and shook Raleighs hand. Raleigh suppressed a tremble. His eyes widened, amazed at how powerful Bruners energy radiated. Raleigh was certain Bruner must be one of the most powerful Conrads he had ever encountered.
Then Alexandra presented Raleigh to Razeria. His breath caught as her eyes met his. He was so taken, he couldnt even say what color her eyes were. As her hand clasped his, a burning tingle shot up his arm and through his body. His head swam with dizziness.
Are you all right? she asked. Her hand grasped his arm just above the elbow.
Raleighs breath came quick. Her words sounded like a birds song and were uncomprehensible to his mind. Before he knew it, Raleigh sat on the ground, Razeria holding his hands.
Razeria looked at Bruner, who knelt beside her. I cant find anything wrong.
Bruner frowned. He reached out to do an Energy Scan.
Ill go find a master, Alexandra said.
Im okay, Raleigh spoke at last. His eyes never left Razeria. It was so clear, he couldnt believe it. He wondered if Razeria felt it.
Disappointment overtook Raleigh as Razeria let go of him so Bruner could Energy Scan him. Raleigh allowed Bruner to entry, despite the fact the incantation was considered only acceptable among intimates.
Im okay, Raleigh repeated.
Hes fine, Bruner confirmed.
Sighing, Alexandra sat down. What happened? she asked.
Raleigh studied Razeria. He searched her face for a sign she had felt what he had. He wanted to Scan her, but restrained himself. When she revealed no clue to her inner musings, Raleigh said, Nothings wrong. I guess Razeria is too beautiful for my senses.
Razerias cheeks reddened.
Well, youll do well here, Bruner teased. He winked at Alexandra.
Raleigh didnt notice. He still stared at Razeria.
Ill read next, Bruner declared, picking up the manuscript. Were reading about the first Conrad Calling.
Raleigh finally turned away. Bruners deep voice filled the air. Raleigh closed his eyes. Instantly Bliss entered his thoughts. A sadness spread over him. For so long Raleigh had prayed she was the one, but now he knew she wasnt. He wondered if Master Tyrone had known, and if that was why he had been sent to Rochester.
When he opened his eyes, Raleigh caught Razeria looking at him. She turned away, but within a split moment, she glanced back.
©1999 Vol. 17 No. 5
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