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June 17, 2012

I Hraet You (15)

Beat 15: Now You’re Just Trying Too Hard!

Lloyd spent the rest of anatomy class with Lien-Hua with his hands in his pockets; thanks to the first day of school being less than taxing, he and his classmates could just lean back and let her run through the typical “welcome back” procedures. 

Still, he kept a close eye on her the whole time.  If she was in any danger of a soul-based meltdown -- or even a victim of it -- she could sure hide it well.  Lien-Hua operated with the grace and composure he’d expected; at times she stumbled a bit and showed just how jittery she could get (like a pratfall worthy of the average rom-com); at other times, she seemed as at ease and acclimated as one of her students -- when she finished her rundown of the course, she sat down with a few of them and traded stories about their summers.  Lloyd could sooner worry about being struck by lightning than his teacher’s despair.  And yet…

She was only at a half-star, he thought, watching her giggle alongside some of the girls.  An ill omen, if there ever was one.  And yet she hardly seems fazed.  Why?  What could weigh down her heart so heavily?  Or…could it be that my understanding is faulty?

That same thought and more swirled around in his head all day.  He moved from class-to-class on auto-pilot, exchanging pleasantries and hamming it up as needed, but keeping a healthy distance between himself and his peers.  One class after another went the same way, without a single incident -- or rather, without another trip to the audition room.

Before he knew it, the bell ending fifth period rang through the halls.  Students scrambled out of the room to get to lunch, and would have trampled Lloyd if he’d tried to leave at his current pace.  Hmmm.  Now that I’m a senior, I’ve a few free periods to my name, he thought, strolling down the halls with his backpack slung over his shoulder.  This day’s been a bit of a wash; maybe I should head home and think carefully about what to do from here on.  Doubtless I’d gain some clues from Miss Walters on how to proceed -- and it would be a perfect opportunity to start looking into High Tide Park’s blight.  He lowered his head and covered his mouth.  But to leave the threads here unattended -- the end of the drama club, the information Miss May holds, and Miss Zhang’s condition -- seems like nothing short of a lethal folly.  Whatever the case…

He stared at his right hand.  Best to keep my hands to myself for the moment.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’m much too green to use this power.  Which puts me into a true catch twenty-two; if I try to improve with it, I run an unacceptable risk.  If I don’t, then the moment that I do is when I face that risk once more…to say nothing of my plans falling through and having to avoid physical contact with my peers.  Hardly an ideal situation, but I suppose I have no choice but to slow my advance.

He looked back ahead, with a smile starting to slide across his face.  Very well, then.  If I can’t allow myself to dabble in the mystic arts, I’ll satisfy myself with the mundane.  I’m off to see a man about a horse -- a horse by the name of “reinstating the drama club”!  Bit of an odd name for a horse, but I suppose it’s an acquired taste.  Like cantaloupe. 

As Lloyd licked his lips at the thought, he strolled past the open door of the science lab -- and spotted Lien-Hua within, tending to some paperwork.  “Ah!  Miss Zhang!” he called out with a wave.  “Good to see you again.”

Lien-Hua looked up, and nodded in agreement.  “Yes.  I suppose this is what they call fate, hmmm?  Come in, have a seat.”

“W-well, if you insist.”  As instructed, Lloyd walked inside and took a seat in a nearby chair. 

“You know, it’s funny.  There was a saying my mother always used to tell me.  ‘When fate throws a dagger at you, there are only two ways to catch it -- by the blade, or by the handle.’  I never really thought about what it meant until now.”

Lloyd reared back a bit.  “Your mother certainly knows some violent proverbs.”

“Violent imagery is potent imagery.”  She tucked away the sheet she’d scribbled on, and lifted up a folder full of paper.  “Oh my,” she moaned, rubbing her forehead.  “There’s a lot more here than I expected…Lloyd, I don’t suppose you could come back tomorrow, do you?  I’m going to be busy for quite some time, and I’d hate to bore you with my work.”

“It’s no bother.  We can just sit here and talk.  A bit of noise would do you some good.”

“You would stay here just to talk with me?”  Lien-Hua shook her head.  “It’s your lunch period.  You should go and get something to eat, so you can stay strong and healthy.”

“Bah!  I’ve no need for strength!”  Lloyd stamped his foot against the ground.  “My forte lies in my flawless technique!  So long as I have it, I’m in no danger of having some vagabond harass me!”

“That…wasn’t really what I was talking about, but…”  She turned her head toward the ceiling.  “Oh dear.  It sounds like that noise is back.”

“Noise?”  Lloyd followed her gaze.  Now that she mentioned it, he DID hear some weird grating noise coming from above.  “Could there be a ventilation problem?”

“That’s what I thought, too.  It’s the strangest thing, though.”  She pressed a finger to her chin.  “The only times it made that noise were during first period and now.  But when it does start up, it lasts for a long time; it was going off the whole time we were in class, and now…”

Lloyd tensed up.  Wait a minute…

“It would be a real problem if the AC went out of control; the students would get too cold, and have trouble taking notes!”  Lien-Hua stood up and headed toward the door.  “Sorry, Lloyd, but I have to go take care of this; can we talk tomorrow?”  Of course, she didn’t give him a chance to answer; she ducked out of the room before he’d even managed to speak a word.

Not that he would have.  He just kept staring at the ceiling, growing ever tenser.  The only times it made that noise were during first period and now, she had said.  Except that wasn’t quite true.  Now that she’d brought it up, Lloyd realized that that sound seemed way too familiar.  Maybe it was just because he’d spent the day zoned out, worrying about his powers.  Maybe because he tried to live out his day as normally as possible, and try to keep his head down.  But now, he couldn’t focus on anything else.

That sound hadn’t just affected the science lab.  It affected the whole school -- because no matter where he went, it had followed him.

Now that I’ve heard it, I can’t UN-hear it, Lloyd thought, gazing at the ceiling.  For a technical folly to plague the entire school seems impossible; if so, then there’s only one possible explanation.  He grabbed a nearby chair and slid it towards the nearest vent.  Someone seems rather adamant about tracking my movements.  For what purpose, I daresay I’ll soon find out.

He climbed atop the chair and stared into the vent.  It was dark, and dusty, and a bit of air blew into his eyes -- all things he’d expect from an air vent, and nothing worth noting.  “Whosoever has the gall to stalk me, I welcome you with open arms,” he called out, holding out his arms as promised.  “I mean you no harm, just as you -- hopefully -- feel in my regard.”  He tilted an ear toward the vent, hoping to hear some confirmation of trust; all he got was a slew of chilly gales slipping into his canal.

But then, for a split second, he heard it.  A rasping sound, like a wild beast ready to pounce.  And with it, the heavy breaths of a Spartan warrior prepping for war.  And with it, the heavy snorting of someone with a bad case of allergies. 

Lloyd tapped a knuckle against the vent.  “Can I offer you a tissue?”

No answer, of course.  Just the breathing and snorting picking up in speed.

“Very well.  If you refuse to show yourself, then I’ve but one option left.  You’d best steel your heart, you sniffling stalker you -- I’m coming up there!”  He placed a hand atop the vent, looking for a way to unscrew it and squirm his way inside.

But to his surprise, his stalker opened it for him.

A heavy slam echoed through the room -- and with that blow, the metal barrier fell and clanged against the floor.  Fortunately, Lloyd -- calling upon the spirit of the housecat -- managed to leap out of the way just before taking a hit.  “Aha!  So, you would extend a welcome for me?” he asked almost tauntingly (in spite of having tumbled onto his backside).  “Or will you reveal yourself to me?

The stalker gave a quick answer.  A bomb -- black body, hissing, sparking wick, and all -- dropped into the room.

Lloyd smiled.  Well, this looks pleasant.


An explosion rocked the room, throwing shrapnel and smoke in every direction.  As clouds of dust and debris leaked out the door, so too did a sullied form -- Lloyd, unclean but unscathed, coughed and gasped for air.  “Haaaaaa…that was more than a little unpleasant,” he said with a nervous laugh.  But he had to set the pleasantries aside; amidst the smoky veil, something darted past.  A dark yet humanoid form, rushing down the hall with ludicrous speed.

“Dastard!  You’ll not evade me!” Lloyd proclaimed.  He broke into a frenzied dash, his limbs flailing like wet noodles as he gave chase.  “If you earnestly think I’ll bow out, clearly you’ve yet to know the name of Lloyd B. Hoigleheimer!”  Of course, his boast would have been a bit more successful if he hadn’t pressed his foot into something round and tumbled onto his face.

“Okay, I deserved that,” he moaned after skidding to a halt.  He spared a look behind him to see why he’d fallen.  He didn’t like the answer.

Another bomb.


Lloyd flung himself through the air like an action movie star, and somehow managed to avoid the burst with little more than singed heels.  As faculty members filed into the hall to investigate, Lloyd picked himself up and managed a wild smirk.  “Yet again you’ve misjudged me,” he muttered, managing to keep a lock on the stalker’s form as it dashed through the smoke.  “A fatal mistake!  I’ll bring you to justice soon enough!”  With those bold words, he scrambled to his feet and moved in double-time after his quarry. 

Amidst the smoke, Lloyd saw another bomb heading his way -- yet he charged at it with a spike of gusto.  “Combat isn’t my forte, but…”  He leapt forward, and took hold of the sizzling bomb.  “With precision and technique, I’ll counter all my foes’ offenses!”

He tossed the bomb at the stalker…or at least, he tried to.  It barely traveled two feet before plopping onto the ground like overcooked cabbage.  Which, naturally, demanded another frantic leap.


Lloyd tumbled into a trio of somersaults before skidding on his face (again).  But as he came to a halt some fifteen feet later, he couldn’t restrain a smile.  “I have you now,” he declared, climbing to his feet and ignoring his tenderized face.  In spite of his impromptu flight, he saw the stalker trying to take refuge, and making a fatal mistake in the process.  “You’ve left yourself with nowhere to run!  Once I venture through this door, I’ll ensure that you feel the hammer of righteousness upon your crown!”

He didn’t even give it a second thought.  He stepped, with reckless bravado, into the girls’ restroom.  “Now then, show yourself!” he called out, surveying the room.  There was a vent on the ceiling, but even the average rodent would have problems squeezing through it.  And since his foe hadn’t leapt out at him the moment he’d entered, that left just one obvious hiding place.  The stalls.

Lloyd pressed a hand to his chin.  “I’m not sure who you are, but regardless, your haphazard destruction of the school is inexcusable.  Sincerely admit your folly, and perhaps you’ll be given a reprieve from severe punishment.”  He held out a hand.  “But first…show your face.  Reveal your true self to me, and you’ll come one step closer to being absolved!”

And to his surprise, the mad bomber did just that.  First, a couple of fingers poked over the stalls’ top edge.  Then the rest of the hand followed.  Then the same with the other hand.  As they gripped the partition, the head started sliding upward like the morning sun.  And then, finally, the villain’s face was revealed.

It was a girl.  And not a very menacing one, at that; for starters, she had glasses thicker than the average Bowie knife.  Lloyd could barely make out her brown eyes -- or even the outline of them -- from behind her foggy, taped-up, and just a little bit crooked frame.  A smorgasbord of freckles dotted everything from the bottom edge of her nose to her hidden eyes, and a slew of bandages (laden with no shortage of cartoonish ducks) framed her puffy, rounded face.  Lloyd wondered if she’d ever even heard of a comb before; she’d managed to corral her hair into a pair of thick braids that hung at the base of her neck, but the sheer frizziness of it astounded him.   A slew of strands, ranging from a reddish brown to an obnoxious orange, jutted out in every direction.  He couldn’t get the image of an angry Kraken out of his mind.

“Ah, so you’ve revealed yourself at last,” said Lloyd.  He pushed his glasses up his face.  “You’ll forgive me for my aggression, but I assure you that what I do, I do for your ultimate benefit, Miss…”

The girl’s -- curiously thick -- eyebrows began to tremble.  “I-I’m Sheila.  Sh-Shiela O’Leary,” she answered, her delicate voice losing some of its luster over the sound of her snorting nose.

“Miss O’Leary…I’ll be sure to remember it.”  In spite of his mission of justice, Lloyd nodded and offered a smile.  “You may have caused a bit of trouble, but for what it’s worth I’ll act as your advocate if it means giving you a chance at peaceful school days.  It would be a travesty if any harm came to yo-”

“I love you,” said Sheila.  “Please let me bear your children.  We can start tonight.”

And for the first time since he’d learned to talk, Lloyd was speechless. 

Sheila slid downward a bit, hiding her mouth.  “O-or…you know…right now’s fine, too.”


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