He was so tired. Peter was surprised at how much he hated traveling. It always looked so glamorous and fun when his brothers took off on their quests. He had been forced to stay behind at the school. Mtho went to search for the children. Kwai went for supplies and shipments. Peter had no interest in teaching. The only time he cooked he seemed to excel at making people ill. Other than leading the other brothers in prayer, he had no function at the facility.
It had gotten more interesting since some of the children had joined them. The feats they accomplished without physical effort were thrilling to witness. Mere thought brought their tasks to fruition. Peter was still frustrated by his inability to help.
Help anyone. He felt like a fifth wheel.
This was his chance to change things. He did not want to mess up. The messenger from a small town outside of the city of Harar came at midnight. A center for the Muslim religion, it was a shock to receive a note for the Ethiopian Church. He was the only one up to receive the man, bedraggled from his travels. A terse note, written on crumpled and stained paper, had filled him with dread. The muezzin who wrote to them was sure that soon the child in question would be in danger.
Villagers do not like those that are different.
This poor and depressed hamlet was ready to cut out that difference. The depths of poverty shocked him when he entered its boundaries, considering that it was in walking distance from the gates of Harar.
Harar is a center of learning and prosperity. He found the escarpment overlooking the surrounding plains a romantic sight. The smell of eucalyptus scented the cool air from the higher climate. Peter had taken a break to visit some of the stained glass on display, which caught his breath. He had made good time since he had taken the railroad and then caught a ride with some tourists in their air-conditioned sedan.
It was drumming in his ears that time was wasting. The muezzin had been specific. Speed was of the essence.
His destination was a mirror image to the haven of Harar.
A small village, lost and forgotten by the mapmakers of the world. The place filled Brother Peter with dread. People he could see here were sullen, unclean, and starving; casting him looks of resentment.
He had been praying since he came to this place.
Whatever was at work here was not the same beautiful light he basked in at the school.
This was shadow. Darkness.
After dealing with Meggani for the brief time when they first met, Peter had not been sure of how to face this arrogant boy. He was eleven years old, filled with the swagger and bravado of a twenty year old. His long dark hair was oiled so heavily the monk could smell the odor of the liquid used from across the room. The child’s eyes glittered with rage and a constant fire. He had caught the boy striking out at others several times, uncaring at the impact that his violence and rage might cause.
That was not even what worried him.
Peter was aware of one thing: the boy was not like the other students he had met.
Something had broken in him.
There was no place he saw more evidence of this than the way the other villagers looked at the child. They were afraid.
It was contagious.
The stories of young Abdullah’s feats had curdled Peter’s blood. The boy’s parents had died under mysterious circumstances. Screaming. Others in the village had met similar strange ends, that were brutal and without mercy.
“If you have said your good-byes, we should go.”
Abdullah glowered at the monk who dared to question him. “I am eating.”
Peter looked around with concern. “If that is the last of the food, you should leave it for the others. I will get you more to eat on the road.”
The child proceeded to shove as much of the bread, cheese and fruit onto his plate, glaring at him. “If I wish to eat it they give it to me. I do not need to wait. I do not like to do so. You have no say over me.”
He recoiled from the boy’s belligerence.
Abdullah laughed with an evil slickness that churned the monk’s stomach. “You are weak. Sick.”
He released a deep sigh, striving to find some words that would break past the child’s protective barriers. “Abdullah, I know that you have been alone since your family died. I understand that these people have not given you any support or guidance. This is my vow, the place I am taking you to will be filled with other souls just as powerful as you. You will be able to learn and grow. You will increase your knowledge of the world.”
“There is no one as powerful as me.”
Peter shook his head, his eyes glued to Abdullah’s face. “There are children like you. My friend, Father Josephus, is bringing a girl that is more powerful than all the other kids you are about to meet, combined.”
Abdullah stood and threw his plate against the wall. It shattered into dust. The boy added his earthenware mug to the destruction. He smiled at the cries of distress his action caused. The water mingled with the plate’s remains to become a brown paste. It made Peter think of blood, for some reason. The woman who owned the house gave a choked cry as she fled in tears from the building.
“You must think of how others feel,” he reached out to the boy, who looked at his hand as if it were a snake ready to bite.
The child sneered, “Soon you shall know what my strength feels like, monk.”
Peter managed to get them on the road only with a constant application of prayer and patience. Abdullah continued to stew. The steam seemed to puff from his ears with each step they took. Peter was nervous at their timing. They were crossing an old riverbed. Once standing on this bank, he would have looked down into a deep blue relentless stream of water from the mountains. It had been so long since the waters fled these shores that Peter could see the fossils in the rocks.
“I do not wish to go to this school,” Abdullah tugged on his hand.
“You have no choice,” Peter snapped.
Abdullah folded his arms over his chest. “I have all the choices in the world,” he boasted. A crack of thunder split the air, lightning following, and the smell of electricity burned his nostrils. There was another series of strikes. Peter looked around with surprise as he realized that a cloud had formed around them.
They were standing in the middle of a storm cloud. He turned his head and was not surprised to see a smile splitting the boy’s face.
Abdullah had called this miracle.
Or was it a nightmare?
Peter’s sense of awe left on winged feet. The cloud grew larger. The water accumulation grew denser. The sound of the thunder and the smell of the electricity made it impossible to know which direction to turn. He could not see. He could not think.
“See,” Abdullah called, “there is no one stronger than me.”
The monk fell to his knees. “Abdullah, child, you must stop this insanity.”
“I am the most powerful force in the world.”
“No one is stronger than God,” Peter yelled to him.
“Worship me,” Abdullah called before throwing his hands up to the sky.
Peter began to pray and felt a large beam of sunlight embrace him. The warmth banished the chill of the storm cloud that surrounded him, and eased the ice of the rain that soaked him. The monk’s devotion was rewarded. He looked up into heaven and found a welcoming face. His smile was light as air; the cataclysm raging around him meant nothing any more. His prayers were heard. His prayers were answered.
He was finally able to go home.
Peter sobbed, as he realized he was welcome. He was loved.
The boy was still screaming about his power when the waters he had called down washed their bodies away.