(Short Story) James James James & the Ice-tree Charcoal

5,368 words


A Short Story by Zarin Ficklin

James James James’s parents figured their son would go by Jimmy J. James or, perhaps, Jim Jimmy James. It turned out, he just preferred ‘James’. He belonged to a long line of dark-haired James’s. A royal line, in fact. Thirty-seven generations ago lived a King: the James James James that changed everything. 
The contemporary James’s didn’t live royally. Names don’t count for much in Urzza anymore. They dwelt in a cozy shack on the top of a hill next to a magnificent, frozen tree. Within a barky, crystalline exterior stood charred remains, black as void.
James sat by the ice-tree, peering into his heirloom collapsible telescope. Three more adventurers. His eyes were accustomed to picking out human dots wading through the knee-deep sea surrounding their grove of icy trees. Only the trees were wintery—the rest of their small island was milder, as if kissed by perpetual spring. And only the James’s tree had an ashen core.
Waiting, James rehearsed the fairytale like a verse of scripture. It was the same story
his grandfather, James James James told every night. The very tale his grandfather had spread abroad in his youth (and caused, likely, the steady stream of adventurous relic-hunters showing up at their door). His elder’s gravelly voice replayed in his mind, word for word:

“ONCE (his grandfather always accentuated the first word) upon a time, a King as powerful as any stared into a magical pond. This was no ordinary pond. It was in the middle of his bedroom. It only appeared when he drew a rectangular outline on the floor with a piece of magic charcoal. He had expended hundreds of brave questing knights in order to find the wondrous writing device. It was almost used up.
The pond was clear as glass. 
“Show me Earth.”
A ripple formed in each corner of the pond and when the tiny waves met, an image of perfect clarity appeared in the water. The King saw a world much like his own, only where the future had happened a little quicker. 
Visions of flying contraptions and steam-powered metal machines danced in his eyes. People in the sky! Mechanisms that do your work for you! What wonders! The King never showed the portal to anyone else, but told his beautiful daughters bedtime stories of faraway lands. 
He decided to save the last smidgeon of charcoal. There was only enough to draw one last outline. 
On a particularly stormy night while sleeping, the King awoke. He heard a scratching noise above him and opened his eyes. A rectangular chalk line formed on the ceiling. A pond appeared, but no water dripped on the King’s laying body. A crowned head appeared from within the water.
It spoke. “Noble King, I have watched your world for many nights now. I am a Prince from Earth. Never in my life have I seen anything as stunning as your oldest daughter. Please tell me what I must do to have her!”
“Valiant Prince,” replied the King. “I have never seen such marvelous machines as those belonging to your world. I would give you my daughter to be your Queen in exchange for the secrets to such wonders.”
“Gladly, dear King. Just use your charcoal to draw an outline around the pond on your side. This will open a gateway.”
The King immediately sent for his oldest daughter and explained the situation to her. Naturally, she looked into the otherworldly prince’s eyes, fell in love, and happily agreed. The Prince summoned his sharpest engineers and for hours they dictated things like how to build a boiler, and how to create lift with wings. 
When the King was satisfied he traced the pond with the last of his charcoal. The Prince reached through the pond into the King’s room. The princess grabbed his hands and was pulled into the realm of Earth. Now from behind the watery surface, the princess blew a kiss to her father, and the pond disappeared.
Of course, the Prince got the better end of the deal, but nonetheless, both the King and the Prince lived happily ever after, their worlds forever CHANGED (he liked to drawl out the final word just as dramatically as the first).”

Finishing the rehearsed story in his mind, James watched a pair of adventurers trudge past brilliant white trees, their pants soaked from the knees down. Both were towering, lanky, and beady-eyed.
“Coggins and Lythgoe, pleased to meet you,” said the first, stretching out a hand.
James looked up at the man’s toothy grin. A familiar, toothy grin. “Pleasure.”
The thin man held James’s grip, as if waiting. His companion smiled even wider.
An explosion shook the air. James saw flames reflected in Coggins’s eyes. Yanking his hand away, James turned, horror coursing up his spine. Bits of wood flew through the sky, trailing tendrils of smoke. The black-hearted ice-tree was untouched; his house, however, was a smoldering ruin. His crippled parents had been inside.
James cried out in anguish. 
A tall silhouette stood beyond the wreckage. The third adventurer.
James faced the two smiling men, clenching his fists. “You’ve been here before.”
“And we could’ve been spared this messy return had you allowed us proper study of the tree,” said Coggins.
“Said so ourselves the first time around,” added Lythgoe in a sour voice.
“I remember your warning,” James said. “Do you remember mine?”
“Something about mystical forces you can’t stop?” sneered a third voice, stepping behind him. “No bodies in the house by the way, Coggy. Must have exploded with the rest of it.”
The protective floodgates within James snapped. “Only a James can use magic for violence. Part of the deal,” echoed his grandfather’s words in the brief calm before the storm. If the story’s true, so’s the promise. A magical tempest welled up, demanding to be unleashed. James couldn’t stop it.
A torrent of wind roared. An explosion three times the original erupted skyward. The atmosphere darkened as ash enveloped the island. Mana hummed through James’s veins like frozen adrenaline. He could only watch. From the compounded detonation was born a pyroclastic surge. The fluid mass of turbulent gas and rocketing stone shards was furious. The further it spread, the more prolific the static storm of lightning inside. 
The rush of crackling power was all-consuming.
  A moment later, all that remained were James and the frosty trees. A dull after-smoke hung in the air. It felt like night, dark and dreary. Through the mist James heard a scaly, slithering noise. Two green eyes glinted off the charred tree’s glassy encasing.  They blinked and all the mist vanished as if sucked into a vacuum. It was a bright spring day again. The eyes were gone.
Fury and pain clawed inside James like a pack of wolverines. He walked to the tree. The curse. The source of fresh death. The shackles that kept him living on this blasted island his whole life. Something was different. The nearest branch was exposed at the end, a black nub poking out of its icy shell. 
James broke off the bare piece of charcoal.
He turned to where the walls of his childhood had stood. The third man was right. No bodies. Nothing. He walked on the planks of wood where he had always slept. His soul burned fiercely. Kneeling, he etched a rectangular outline on the fire-blasted floorboards.
Nothing... Then something. A shimmering pool appeared, ripples meeting in the center. The familiar beat of magic resonated through his body like a bass note.
“Show me… healing,” James said. After years of daydreaming, that was never the word he expected his would say in this situation. But it was what he felt. A young woman appeared in the crystal water. James had only seen a few girls in his life. It was like seeing a tiger for the first time after being raised around housecats. She had sleek golden hair and dark eyes as intense as a jungle predator’s. She was humming on a bench, playing with a prickly flower. 
My true love?
The watery window disappeared and a voice like the wind spoke. “Find them in Southern Varona.”
“Yes, them,” it said, annoyed. The glowing green eyes were back. They blinked in a shady cluster of white trees. “Just take the vague, omniscient advice. Go.”
Obedience always came easy to James. So did the affinity for all things mechanical. Both ran in the family blood. Those traits pulled him to the beachside workshop. Inside were thousands of cogs, sprockets, and scribbled blueprints. It was his shelter of sanity on this lonely plot of land.  
From the ceiling hung his W.I.N.G.S. (weather-induced-navigational-guiding-supporters). Admittedly, the clockwork mechanism was a little dated for a personal flight enabler, but it would have to do. It sure beat wading through the knee-deep sea with a floating handcart on the semi-annual supply runs.
After adding some oil and fresh bottled thunder James was sputtering through the air. The leather bands dug into his skin but kept him secure to the droning, steam-aided propeller system. 
The shallow water formations beneath turned into brush land which turned into scattered farm grids. Minutes matured into full-grown hours as James mulled over the past events. A chill wind blasted against his bare skin. He looked up. Ahead was Southern Varona. The glowing city sat on an overgrown mesa, like a ruler overlooking his kingdom from a rocky throne. Its stubby spires and shadowing smokestacks poked through lingering clouds. His family had once ruled from the flat-topped hill. It remained a hub for technological advance.
Landing a distance from the city outskirts, James undid the straps and hid the W.I.N.G.S. under some bushes. 
“Time to find them,” he muttered. He dug the bit of charcoal from his pocket and drew a rectangle on the rocky mesa top.
“Show me them,” he told the pool of water.
Three forms wrapped head to toe in black bandages lay in a lavish room. They looked like sleeping assassins. The room was too nice to be anything other than royal chambers. The view zoomed out, revealing a tower. He looked up, eying the tallest building in Southern Varona. The same tower. The ancient palace. I guess the green eyes were right. It was housed the highest bidders, but had once been the James’s home.
He left to find some food and a bed, then returned to the shimmering pool, an idea prodding him.
“Show me healing,” he said.
He smiled, seeing the beautiful blonde girl once more. She was picking leaves from a colorful garden. Healing, huh? She would definitely make me feel better. He looked up into the twilight heavens. Standing hundreds of feet in the air at the edge of the mesa, made him feel a part of the sky. A part of something. Like each star was an ancestor. Remembering his dead family, he walked to the city gates.
The smell of grease and smoke mixed with steaming pastries from street vendors. Hulking mechano-suits lumbered through wide streets, carrying loads of pipes on their backs. The lanes were framed with three-story buildings. Bright blues and mellow golds graced the wooden store-fronts. Rather than walking, James caught a clicking rail-cart that led straight to the palace.
Wind rushed through his brown hair as the citadel grew larger. Compared to the squat city, the James palace was utterly towering. Its spires hid in the clouds. The cart clanked to stop, steam spitting out from below.
Passing through the front gates he noticed the unkempt gardens. Cut into the massive castle doors were smaller, more practical doors. James knocked loudly.
“Residency pass please,” said a voice through a sliding window.
“Uh, I’m just visiting. I don’t have a pass.”
“To which suite may I direct your visit?” the man said.
“I don’t know their names,” James answered. “They’re at the top of the tower.”
“That rickety things’s long abandoned,” the man scoffed, narrowing his eyes. “To be frank, we don’t tolerate mischief or trickery. If you’re interested in renting a suite here, and to be frank once more, have thousands of Combination gold slips, then you can speak with a Combination Housing representative. Now off with you.”
“Wait—my family lived here once. That should count for something. I just need to check the tower, then I’ll be gone. Please.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “You’re a James?”
“Yes sir.”
“Come in.”
Stepping inside, James said, “Thanks. I should only be a minute.”
“Much longer than that, I’m afraid,” said a man with a bony face and long eyebrows. “Take him.” Guards grabbed James’s arms, tying them behind his back.
“What is this?” James demanded. Furious magic welled up. James pushed it back.
“How incredibly foolish for a James to waltz into the Combination of Iron’s headquarters. Didn’t your parents tell you about us?” asked the man, brushing down his black button-up jacket with yellow shoulders.
“They’ve told me hardly anything about Southern Varona—just that we used to live here, but now it’s rented out.”
“Foolish. Very foolish. Where are Coggins and Lythgoe?”
A tempest of energy flared, but James withheld it once more. I don’t want to kill them. “Those two? They won’t be coming back to the headquarters, I’m sorry to say.”
“Neither will you,” he said, glaring. “Now, before I send you away, tell me, are you the James James James?”
“That’s my name.”
The uniformed man smiled. “I know just where you belong, then.”
“I’ve told you, now tell me who you are,” James said.
“Fair enough. Like I said, we’re members of the Combination of Iron. We run everything. We facilitate advancement. We keep order. Your ancestor thirty-seven generations back gave us the wondrous gift of knowledge. It’s a shame his family didn’t share his vision. The Combination is just continuing what the first James began.”
“And you do that how? By murdering?”
“The Combination does what is necessary. The first James was the same way. Where you’re going, maybe he can teach you a thing or two.” The Combination man waved to the two men holding James. “Take him to his family.”
“You killed my family…” Do I have more family?
One of the men, the thick one, smiled, the other, a wiry man, nodded. They led him to a lift. The uniformed man pulled a lever loosening the cable. The trio descended into darkness. James caged the power pulsing in his arms. Not yet... It would be so easy to break these bindings. But what then? If I let it out now, I don’t think it will stop at that. These men will die and I’ll be no better than them. If it comes down to it though, would I die before I defend myself?
More clanking. More pitch black.
“Does this lift ever stop?” James asked. The men chuckled.
“We’re going to the guts, kid. Don’t forget we started the drop on top of a mesa.”
Down. Down. Down. Into the belly of the mesa, and maybe further. The anxious forces seemed to give up, leaving. The lift jolted to a stop. James saw burning red beyond the metal cage. 
“Welcome to the slag pits, or as we like to call them, the clockwork guts. Your blood built this place. Something to be proud of,” said the wiry man.
“Yeah,” added the thick man, unlatching the cage. “Old man loved the place so much, decided to stay here forever.”
A wave of muggy heat washed over James. His eyes accustomed to the black shaft, the magma canals flared brilliantly. Thirty-foot gears pushed giant flywheels. Support beams held the cavern in place. At the end of the hall, behind a molten spring, green eyes blinked at him. 
“Get!” The guards pushed James forward.
What are those green eyes?  Or who? They seem friendly. And almost familiar.
James turned his head as the men prodded him. Something came out of the lava. A mechanical mess of metallic parts crawled onto the rock. The slug-like construct trailed gobs of oozy magma. Its motorized core glowed red and the seething ore on its back left straggling wisps of smoke. 
“First Slag Slider ya seen, huh?” said the thick man.
They led him past lumbering machines and networks of lava rivulets. The constructs churned as one. Surreal minutes passed. Bathed in lava light, a blocky entrance stared at James. It was square and important looking. The two men stopped, nodding at the dark entrance.
“In ya go. Have a lovely time.” They pushed him into the cave, sealing him in with a rolling slab of rock.
Alone, James sighed. I should’ve just blasted them away. Now I’m trapped who knows where. It wasn’t a natural cave—it was nicely cut stone, he noticed. Narrow streams of molten rock lent a faint glow.
Green eyes joined him in the shadows. “It’s time to find them,” said the windy voice.
“What are you? How are you following me?” James asked.
“I’m your guide to them. Who are they, you wonder?” asked the voice. “They are your family.”
James looked up. The Hall of Kings, read the etched stone. A tomb, he realized, frowning. Nobody meant to send me to my mom or dad or grandpa. They’re dead. Just like the rest of my family here. 
The catacombs were musty and expansive. Entering the outer chambers, James saw lines of grey coffins. One said: Jemron James—beloved cousin of James James James the 23rd ; another read: Allys James—favored daughter of the fifth King.  Looking around, James found other sisters, aunts, brothers, daughters, cousins, and uncles. Hundreds of caskets.
The hall led to double doors made of golden cogs. James didn’t see a handle. He ran his finger along an indented outline of a great serpent, half on each door.  Pushing, James found they wouldn’t budge. It’s like they’re designed to not open… 
He stared, loosing a blast of energy at the door. Nothing. Unless…
James took his charcoal and followed the dragon’s outline. White light flickered where he drew. When finished, the light flooded the door’s crevices. The cogs clicked, grinding against each other, until the door popped open.
In inner chambers, thirty-four golden caskets were propped upright, like statues, in a circle. Each casket had a depiction of the slumbering James James James inside.
My family belongs here too. Who brings them down here and makes the carvings? What about mom? Wait a second…
James left the inner room and searched the larger outer ring. There are no wives here. Where do their bodies go? I wish mom and dad had told me about this place, or about anywhere outside the island for that matter. I hope I get a chance to at least build a Memorial next to our tree. Mom would like that.
James frowned, looking around. I found my ‘family’, but nothing useful—not even a clue.  He passed through the golden doors again. It was strange seeing his direct genealogical line, all in one room. He stopped at the beginning. James James James the First: the King who changed Everything, read the plaque. He looks too much like me for being thirty-seven generations old.
In the room’s center was a rectangular outline in the ground. Why not?  James etched a rectangle within the lines. A pool appeared.
“Show me what I’m looking for,” James said.
For a moment, he saw them, the other them, or maybe the only them—the mysterious assassin-looking trio covered in black cloth from head to toe. They were still lying on an expensive bed, apparently unconscious, or maybe dead. Then he saw her. The beautiful girl in the garden. She walked through a hall of tall hedges. Behind a gate stood an enclosed something. A wall of green obscured whatever was inside. The girl unlatched the gate and the image disappeared.
James cursed. “A lot of help that was.”
Grandfather, or someone, led me down here. My parents are dead—that would make me King… not like that means anything in Urrza. I even may have found a Queen, James thought, imagining himself with the golden-haired girl. But those Combination of whatever goons are milking this place for profit. With no government, there’s no King… I could take it back though… with my magic, no one could stop me.
He heard a click, and the golden doors closed, trapping him with his ancestors. The magma canals seemed to smolder, light dampening. Then he saw the green eyes. The familial feeling returned. Grandpa?  They blinked, and a vacuum sucked the darkness out of the room.
The green eyes belonged to a long wingless creature, its scales like the sun. Its wound through the standing coffins. A flash of tingly shock surged through James’s spine. Warm power replaced cold fear. He gritted his teeth. I can slay a dragon, even.
“Ah-ah-ah, easy there James. You wouldn’t want to hurt me,” it said.
“You’re a—“ 
“Half-dragon,” the creature said. “No one ever seems to get that right. My mother was a White Dragon, but my father was a Frost Wyvern. Big difference between the two—wyverns use magic and have barbed tails, but dragons can fly and breath fire—it’s the mixing of the two that made this all possible. But, enough about me. You were really onto something just then, James James James.”
“You know my thoughts?”
The creature grinned.
“So you think I should be King, then?” James asked.
“You know,” said the half-Wyvern, intrigued, “I’ve been waiting a long time for a James that was bold enough—brave enough, even—to use my powers for something so ambitious. There hasn’t been such a James since the very first.”
“Your powers? Who are you?”
“I’m the one that started this all. They call me Poison,” it said. “Have you ever wondered why only a James can use magic for harm?”
“I was told it was the royal blood.”
“Which is true—partially. You see, Wyverns have mana running through their veins; a very potent magic. Thanks to my father, I can channel that magic through you. Laws place parameters on the power when I use it myself, just like how no one can use magic to harm—but for you, a James… let’s just say that your family name is trusted. When you draw upon my powers, you’re allowance is much more liberal.”
“So when people died, it was you?” James asked.
“Yes and no.”
James took a seat, chin under hand, thinking. “So you just follow me around, giving me vague hints and letting me kill and hurt with magic? I don’t get it.”
“You make it sound downright sinister,” Poison said. “Life is about connections. Your family and I are connected; just like this world and others are connected. My magic is only unleashed when harm threatens a James or the tree.”
“And how did your family and I get acquainted in the first place?”  
The half-dragon smiled. “A grand story, that. I was born the same day as James James James, the first. And your lovely tree? I created it. Thanks to my mother, I’m the only Wyvern that could breathe flames. The fire I scorched the tree with was laced with pure magic. The charcoal remains are still drenched in it.”
“Hmm...” James stood up. “So what do you want?”
“Don’t worry about me. I live by different laws. A different life entirely—you wouldn’t understand. I’m just here to guide, when called upon.”
“If you want to help, you could be a little less subtle, you know,” James said.
The creature chuckled. “Laws restrict my guidance just as they confine my powers. If I tell you too much you’ll miss out on the growth that comes with earning knowledge.”
“So should I take back the city and get rid of the corrupted government?”
Poison grinned wider, blinked his green eyes, then vanished.
James sighed. I’ll find my own answers then.
The room darkened but the rectangular indent in the room’s center was illuminated. James saw the palace tower shown in the liquid window. But something was different. The colors were more vibrant. Experimenting, James touched the image. His hand went right through and he sensed a different humidity. He shoved his face into the portal. Open air. A city road. He lifted his head back into the catacombs, then leapt feet-first through the portal like jumping into a lake. 
Looking up, he had just come through a store’s canopy. No trace of the gateway remained. The palace tower was in plain sight. He stormed to the front entrance like a conqueror. Slamming open the palace doors felt liberating. Combination members scurried towards him.
“Wha?” exclaimed a tall uniformed man. “Where are Skob and Russins?”
“Dead,” James lied. “Just like Coggins and Lythgoe. And I don’t want the same for you. You let me through and you’ll be fine.”
“You’re bluffing. You haven’t even got a sword!” the man sneered. He moved to grab James, his guards drawing weapons. Blue lines appeared on James’s bare arms like glowing tattoos. 
The man yelped, repelling his hand. “Your arm’s on fire!”
James felt the burning lines entwined on his arms intensify.
“Your parlor tricks won’t save you,” the man said, taking a sword from a guard. “Magic never was a good replacement for a blade.”
One of the blue lines lifted from his skin, transforming into a crackling rope of lightning. It snapped at the swinging sword like a whip. The man dropped his weapon, holding his burning hand. 
“You… hurt me. With magic. How’d you—“
“It doesn’t matter how,” James said, smiling at the confusion in the man’s eyes. “Tell your Combination friends there’s a mad killer on the loose and they’d better run for it before I throw the lot of you in prison.”
The uniformed man hesitated, then fled when other glowing designs detached from James’s skin, evolving into snapping lightning tendrils. James had to will the power into submission as it fought to destroy everything.
Pandemonium ensued as James calmly walked through the palace corridors. Combination members and rich tenants alike fled the palace. A contingent of guards pointed at James, unsure what to do. Blue tattoos inched around his facial features. He felt them tingle as he looked at a bolted iron door. Combination Records, read the sign. The tattoos burned, then escaped as he focused raw electric energy. The white-hot bolt left a smoldering man-sized whole. The guards retreated in a hurry.
Inside were lines of steel filing cabinets. Arcs of lightning danced from his arms, chaining from cabinet to cabinet. Each lightning jump left a fiery explosion of sparks, causing drawers to fly open, and paper to catch fire. 
James worked his way upwards, scaring guards with flickering lightning and blasting locked doors apart. The tower was accessible only through a boarded up entrance. The spiraling staircase had a thick powdering of dust. It hadn’t been used in years. The stairs led to a lone door. James took a deep breath. This is it. He let energy pulse inside him, ready to be unleashed.
He slowly opened the King’s bed chambers. The portal’s image was true: three black-clad figures lay on a massive four-post bed. He inched towards the bodies, smelling burnt flesh.
Looking around, James realized, this must be the very room where the first James James James traded his daughter for knowledge.
Leaning over, he examined the face of the closest body. Its eyes opened. James knew those hazel eyes. His were the same.
Her eyes smiled. She pulled away the cloth from her face. Her skin was a sickly red and orange mess.
“I knew you’d be okay,” she said.
“Is that you, James?” asked his father. He elbowed the third figure. “Wake up James, your grandson made it.” His grandfather groaned. They were all heavily burned.
“What happened?” James asked.
“When our house exploded we caught on fire. We used our charcoal,” his father said.
“You had charcoal?”
“We both did. We’d been saving it for a situation like that.”
“But how’d you get here?” James asked. “My charcoal only makes a window. Even in the story, the prince had to trace the pool from his end to make a portal.”
“That’s kind of how it works. You do have to have to trace the pool to make a portal. But you don’t have to be on the other side—you just have to use a different kind of charcoal.”
“You mean from the other world?”
His mother smiled. “James dear, I’ve never told you this; I’m not exactly from Urrza.”
“Sort of a family tradition,” his father said, winking. His grandfather chuckled.
“This was the safest place we could think of,” his mother said. “We knew you’d be protected. You’re the family Guardian.”
“But you… you’re all dying,” James said.
“If it’s our time, then so be it,” grandfather James said.
James looked out the window at Southern Varona, in all its industrial glory. “Then I know what to do.”
He stepped out of the tower-top room to the balcony. Long banners fluttered in the smoky wind. Raw power coursed through his body. He could feel it. Taking the city would be quick and easy. He surveyed the capital—the humming factories, the glistening forges, the ornate mansions. Further even still was the mesa’s edge, and another hundred yard drop. Beyond that, the rest of Urrza; the rest of the kingdom—his family’s kingdom. The magic inside him roared like a caged beast.
James shut the balcony doors. I don’t want them to see this. He withdrew his charcoal a final time. Before he could draw an outline himself, a shimmering portal appeared on the outside wall. As the ripples vanished, the golden-haired girl appeared.
Their eyes locked. The girl swayed and James’s eyes followed.
Her eyes widened. “You? You can see me?” 
James nodded. “I was about to draw a window. Find you.”
“You’re him. The Guardian…”
“You know me?” asked James.
“You’re just like she described. You have to be him.”
“If I’m him, then who are you, exactly?” 
“They call me the Healer, but my name is Viridia James. I’m the only one here that can heal wounds. It’s a part of me as much as seeing, feeling, and breathing. Always has been.”
“Viridia James?” he asked, frowning. Maybe it’s a common name from her world.
“Yeah. Viridia James was my mother’s name, and her mother’s, and her mother’s, and so on forever, as far as I know.”
“So how do you know me?” James asked.
“My friend. They call her the Guardian. She protects the charcoal tree here. She’s the most beautiful girl in thousands of miles. Every time she uses the charcoal, all she sees is you.”
“No matter what she asks to see, it’s always you.”
James stared at the watery portal, thinking. Is she from Earth? Or somewhere else? He didn’t ask. “We both have something important to do. You need to heal my parents. They’re crippled and covered in burns. The window showed me you.”
“I can do it,” Viridia said. “But will it work? I didn’t think talking through the portal was possible, but here we are. Healing, though… that’s different.”
James smiled and pulled his piece of charcoal from his pocket. He traced the pool’s edge causing white light to flicker where he drew. After outlining the door-shaped portal, he stuck his hand through the wet surface.
Viridia gasped and touched his fingers.
James withdrew. “Come on over.”
She paused, then stepped through the water. They stood face to face and Viridia laughed.
“It’s strange… but, I feel like I belong here,” she said.
“I think you might.” James looked from Viridia’s face to the portal. “My parents are in the next room. You have more charcoal, right?”
“Sure. Why? What about you?”
James didn’t change his gaze. “The power I have here is too great; the temptation’s too dangerous. Sometimes the bravest thing to do is run. Plus, I’d better meet your friend.”
 He walked through the liquid threshold. Wherever it was he was going, he would be known as the James James James that changed everything.