I talked my way past the officer at the front desk, got bounced back and forth a few times before I made it to somebody who didn’t send me to talk to somebody else. I told my story for the third or fourth time. They told me that they’d be right back.
They left me standing in a hallway, standing by a bench. The bench was occupied.
I examined its occupant. A woman, staring at the ground. She was built like a concrete linebacker, her shoulders broad enough to prevent anyone else from sitting on the bench with her. Her arms were the size of my legs. Her powerful hands were very obviously, deliberately not curled into fists. There was blood on her knuckles.
“Hey.” I said, getting her attention. She looked up at me. There was blood on her face too. Judging by the state of her nose, it was her blood. “What are you in for?”
Her face cracked, giving way to a jagged smile. She began to laugh. It was a full body kind of laugh, like I’d just told the funniest joke in the world.
“You… you’re funny.” She said, waggling her finger at me. “But troubled.”
“I – ”
“Uh-uh. Do not try to argue with me about this. I am a witch. We know about such things.”
“You’re a witch?”
“That I am. And you are a lightning rod.”
“A lightning rod?”
“You attract things to you. But that is not all. When things happen near you, you protect those around you – by throwing yourself in between them and what is happening. It is an admirable trait, albeit one that does not facilitate your own survival.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
“You are welcome.” She nodded, looking thoughtful. “I would like to give you a gift.”
“What kind of gift?”
“The only gift that can be given to a lightning rod.” She lunged forward, grabbing me by the arm. “Lightning.”
The world disappeared around me. I was the only thing that existed.
Strange energy coursed through my body.
My heart skipped a beat. Then another. Then another.
“Ma’am?” Came a voice from the distance. Then, again, louder. “Ma’am?”
My heart started beating again. I became aware of a police officer standing in front of me. They asked me if I was okay. I lied and told them that I was. This scenario was beginning to feel familiar. I didn’t like that.
They handed me my knife. I thanked them.
Looking around, I could see no trace of the witch. She had disappeared, leaving behind nothing except her gift. The witch’s lightning roiled inside me, licking at the edges of my existence. Words can’t do the sensation justice.
It was like… erosion, except without the destruction. Creation, except nothing new was being formed. It felt like I was dying, like I was unstoppable.
I realized that I was outside, moving at a speed closer to a run than a walk. I stopped abruptly. I was breathing heavily.
Looking around, I saw that I was only a block or two away from the apartment building. After I caught my breath, I started walking again.
I could still feel the witch’s lightning inside me, but it was a more manageable feeling. My instinct told me that the more I thought about it, the less manageable it would be, so I tried to think about something else.
I focused on my feet, on my legs. On the way I was walking. I made sure that I raised my knees to the same height every time, that each footstep landed exactly where I wanted it to.
I made it to the lobby, headed for the stairs. I took the stairs carefully, one at a time. I even counted them. Thirteen stairs a floor – except for the flight in between the second and third floor, which had twenty-seven.
I arrived at the door to the musician’s apartment, ready to think about things besides my feet. I knocked on the door. “It’s me.” I called out. I grabbed the doorknob and twisted. The door was unlocked.
I went inside – and for the second time that day, I felt my heart stop.
The musician was lying in the center of the room, completely motionless.
She turned her head to look at me. I let out something that was half-sigh and half-gasp, with just a little bit of a gulp at the end.
“You scared me.” I said. I had a feeling that all the blood had drained from my face. She processed that for a moment, then made an expression that told me she had realized what I must have thought, seeing her like that. The way she was looking at me changed, from mild interest to apologetic. “It’s okay. It’s okay. You just… startled me, that’s all.”
I got down on the floor next to her, laying my head next to hers. She tilted her head so that it was sort of resting against mine.
“You find anything else out?” I asked her. She shook her head no. I didn’t see it, but I felt it. “Oh, well. I got my knife back.” I pulled it out to show her, holding it in the air above us. After a moment, I brought it back down. I didn’t really want to get up, so I just stretched out my arm and put it on the ground, as close to her kitchen as I could manage. “Don’t let me forget to pick that up.”