On the sixth week, they went as far as doing a raindance.
Maggie stopped them, of course, and stood on the parched lawn, hands on her hips as she dressed them down for being thoughtless and uncaring of the consequences of weather working. The neighbours came out to look, standing at their white picket fences and looking over at the five of them gathered there: four teenagers and an enraged middle-aged woman with her hair still in plastic rollers.
Edwin was aware of the exact moment they saw the chicken, because Mr Taylor said, "Oh my god-" and Mrs Taylor gasped, "Did they kill-" before Mr Taylor hushed her. He could hear the couple retreat into their house, their front door closing with a tin-like jangle. (The Taylors hung a Christmas wreath on their door all year round)
Maggie acted as she had not noticed the disturbance, and continued to lecture, but Edwin knew that if asked later, she would disclaim all knowledge of what had happened and even swear that she had been in her room watching her soaps all morning.
The Taylors would know better than to call the police, but things like these always made for awkward neighbourly relations for weeks after.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Maggie had a sharp, penetrating voice, and she was particularly talented at asking the things that they could not answer.
"We..." Kay started.
Maggie's gaze focused on her, and out of the corner of his eye Edwin saw the other two wince.
"Yes?" Maggie asked, almost sweetly.
"I'm sorry," Kay said, looking down. She was almost always the first one to capitulate: she was a lot more timid, and was still easily intimidated by Maggie. "We didn't-"
"Exactly! You didn't think!" Maggie's roar made all of them jump, Kay most of all. She gave a hiccup.
Edwin grabbed her hand, "Don't cry," he whispered.
"We have talked about this before," Maggie said, now sounding resigned. "About the importance of knowing why you shouldn't do certain things, even when you can. I don't suppose it sank in at all?"
They shuffled uneasily, resentment and embarrassment mixed with chagrin, and studied the dusty ground. Yes, they had been told, over and over again, why they should do nothing. Callista was drawing little circles in the sand with the toe of her sneakers.
Maggie stared at them for a moment longer. "If you can't understand, you can at least obey an order, can't you?"
"We don't take orders from you."
Edwin resisted the urge to slap his hand against his forehead. It was Yolan, or course. The youngest among them, and the most aggravating of all. Edwin longed to punch Yolan at times, when he didn't long to kneel down and worship at his feet.
"What did you say?" Maggie asked. Her hands were no longer on her hips: they were straight, elbows locked and hands clenched by her sides.
Yolan narrowed his eyes, looking up for the first time since Maggie had started to dress them down. "We don't take orders from you," he said again.
This time, Edwin didn't resist. He buried his face in his hands. That had been a royal 'we'. He squeezed his eyes shut, until he heard Kay swallow, followed by a hitch in her breath. Alarmed, he looked up.
Maggie and Yolan were still locked in a staring match, a boy of fifteen trying to stare down a woman of sixty.
Edwin held his breath. He could feel the stirrings in the air, as though stares could be incendiary. He could feel his skin redden. It was like standing too near to a fire; his exposed skin felt as though it was melting. "Yolan," he muttered.
Yolan looked away first, and the heat dissipated with a 'whoosh', like air rushing into an enclosed room.
Maggie looked as though she was a step away from epilepsy. "If you won't take orders," she said finally, "then think for yourself." Her eyes flickered to the mess on the lawn, now drying fast under the sun. "And clean that up." She frowned at each othem in turn, before turning her back on them and walking back to her house.
As soon as she left, Yolan went over to the remains of the chicken in the middle of the lawn, looking down at the bloody body. Edwin joined him, as did Callista and Kay.
"It's dead," Callista pronounced.
"Thank you," Yolan said, annoyance colouring his voice. "I knew that. Damn it,what a waste of a perfectly good chicken."
"We could eat it, at least," Kay offered, and Yolan turned such a look of frustration on her that she squeaked, and backstepped right into Edwin, her heel coming down flat on his unprotected toes.
"Ow," Edwin said, holding her by the shoulders to stop her from doing anymore damage. "Kay's right. Why waste a perfectly good chicken?" he said. It was not an accident that he used the same words as Yolan.
All three of them looked at Yolan.
Making a growling sound deep in his throat, Yolan glared at them, before leaning down to grab the dead chicken with his bare hands, and stalked back into the house. They could hear him slam the door to the kitchen.
"Our tribe's one great hope," Kay said. "Unrecognized in exile."
Callista said, without a trace of mockery: "The last of the weather makers."
"Chef wannabe," Edwin said.
Yolan had been forbidden to do the raindance ever since the time he was six and had caused hail the size of golf balls to fall over half the country. His mother was in charge of enforcing the edict, and she and Yolan started to come to blows over the matter as he grew older. Yolan insisted he could control his abilities. She did not agree.
Edwin was in the unhappy position of having to placate his friend.
"Maggie is afraid that something disastrous will happen," he said in response to Yolan's grumblings.
"Are you on my side or hers?" Yolan asked. With obvious annoyance, he pushed the plate of fried chicken towards them. The smell made Edwin's mouth water. Yolan was the only fourteen-year-old he knew who could not only duplicate KFC's chicken, but improve on it.
"Yours," Callista said, grabbing a drumstick. "But until you reach eighteen, Maggie has the final say, and you can't do anything about it."
Yolan scowled. "You're disloyal and uncooperative."
"On the contrary, O great weather king," Callista said. "Who obtained the chicken for you, may I ask? This chicken?" she took a large bite out of the drumstick, chewing with a great deal of concentration
"All I need is to show her that I can do it," Yolan said. "Just once," he thumped a fist on the table, narrowly missing the dish of ketchup.
"We know," Kay said, smiling sympathetically. "Summer is the best time for a raindance, after all."
"Good chicken," Edwin said.
Theirs had been a great tribe once, Maggie had said. After all, the ability to manipulate the weather was invaluable: neither drought nor floods, nor hurricanes nor ice storms would come near their territory--only gentle rains and soft winds. There were stories of a king who had held back the tides. But gradually the ability had weakened though the generations, until the time when it disappeared altogether, and the tribe was broken up into smaller factions, some swallowed up by another newer, bigger group, disappearing forever.
Besides, the world was different now. They lived in houses, not out in the open as before, and all that was left of the mighty council of tribe elders was a bridge party. Their territory was gone, replaced by the modern apparatus of a democratic government, which did not have the power to control the weather.
"I'm so hot," said Yolan, fanning himself with an old magazine. "This heat is unbearable."
Edwin had to admit the truth of that. Each summer grew warmer than before, it seemed--or perhaps, the more years that intervened between the golf ball-sized hailstorm, the harder it became to remember the perfect iciness that had appeared everywhere that afternoon so long ago. One of the hailstones had actually hit him, forming a bruise on the side of his head, but it was a mark he wore proudly for days after.
"I'm starting to hate summer," Kay declared. "Who needs fourteen hours of scorching sun?"
"I'm melting, I'm melting," Callista said, sinking down onto the floor next to her. The front porch was the coolest part of the house, and they spent their time there most afternoons. "I'm this close to asking... no, begging Maggie to install air-conditioners."
Callista scowled at Yolan, who had spoken. "I know the idea of indoor climate control is against your personal philosophy," she said, "but I'm dying here, you know. Edwin, you agree with me?"
Irritated with the heat that stuck to his skin, Edwin hesitated for a second too long. Cooled air sounded like heaven, even if it was artificially created.
Yolan's eyes narrowed at him. "Oh," he said, and sat up, his back very straight.
"Yolan," Edwin said, starting to realize what just happened. "I didn't mean-"
"That's why you told me not to raindance, isn't it?"
Edwin's mouth felt dry, but his skin was chilled--panic made an excellent coolant--as he began to shake his head. "Yolan, it's not like that-" he stopped, and scrambled to his feet, but it was too late.
Yolan had stood up and ran off.
A boy two years his junior was his saviour. An eight-year-old Edwin had fought a fever for days, his body stretched to its limits as he fought to live, saved by a six-year-old who could control the weather. Later, as boys did, they swore allegiance to each other, but not as brothers. No, they were liege and servant, and Edwin had never regretted it, despite the very strange looks he had got from his mother and Maggie.
It was his personal rule never to let Yolan down.
Edwin found him by the river--a mere stream, really--watching the water make its silvery way down towards the lake that stood about fifty miles away. He sat down, picking a spot only a short distance away so that Yolan would know he was there, but not so near that Yolan would be tempted to go away.
Yolan said nothing.
"I'm sorry," Edwin said.
After a while Yolan sighed, and rested his chin on his knees. "I've been ignoring you too much," he said.
"What? No!" Edwin said, all thoughts of elaborating on his apology disappearing. This was a different topic from what he was expecting.
"I've been thinking about what I should do, what to do with this... power inside me." He flexed his fingers to illustrate, and Edwin thought he could see that power, always hidden inside him, coil and uncoil in frustration. "I've been testing myself since summer started."
Edwin nodded. They had been helping him, after all. Creating a watersprout by the river. Freezing water in a glass. Forming six-inch snowflakes. He thought of the truncated raindance.
Yolan went on, "I call myself the weather king of the tribe but in reality, there's not much to be king over. There's not more than one hundred of us. It's like a small gang, and half of it is over fifty years old. We're dying off."
"Mum thinks it's for the best," Yolan said.
Edwin felt as though he'd been slapped. "What?" he whispered. "Maggie didn't say that." Daughter of the previous chief, and now son of the next, thinking that it would best if the tribe died off?
Yolan nodded, and tension seemed to pool inside him. His back became stiff, and he stared fixedly at the silvery water. "I can control the weather, Edwin," he said. "It's a dangerous ability, and one that the world doesn't really need these days."
Edwin was reminded of the way he had been tempted, by such apparatus as an air-conditioning unit, and looked down. "Is that why she won't let you do the raindance?" he asked after a while.
Yolan nodded. "That's part of it."
Edwin frowned. "I thought it was only because she was afraid you couldn't control it."
"This heatwave has been going on for six weeks. Anything I do can only be an improvement," Yolan said.
His wry tone countered Edwin's frustration. "Then do it," he said. "Don't worry about what Maggie says. You have this ability inside you, and whatever's inside you is something that you have to deal with, not Maggie."
"Even though I could fuck things up even more?"
Yolan sighed. "You're terribly strange, do you know that?"
Yolan fell silent. "All right then. Get me another chicken."
They were standing in the middle of the lawn again: Callista, Kay, Edwin, Yolan, and even Maggie, who had crossed her arms and was looking down at them coldly.
"No chickens?" Yolan said. He was frowning more and more heavily.
"No." Maggie crossed her arms even more tightly, watching her son. Let's see how you're going to do it without a sacrifice, her eyes seemed to say.
One of those silences descended, the ones where Yolan and Maggie seemed to be pushing their will physically against each other, willing the other to back down.
"Use me," Edwin said.
"What?" Callista exclaimed. "That's-"
"-the stupidest thing I've ever heard," Maggie said.
Edwin focused his attention on Yolan. "You just need a bit of blood, right? Human blood's more potent, anyway. I'm not afraid that you're going to kill me."
Edwin still had his knife, which he withdrew from its sheath, and gave it to Yolan hilt first. Yolan took it, his grip gentle at first but his fingers soon tightened over the hilt.
Edwin stretched out his hand as though to offer a handshake this time. Yolan caught his hand by the wrist, roughly, as though he didn't know what to do, and turned it palm up. The lines on Edwin's hand looked like tiny rows of writing, like instructions to the un-initiated. Edwin grinned, all easy confidence now, and thrust his hand more firmly into Yolan's grasp. "I offer it willingly."
Yolan was expressionless now. His grip on the knife tightened to the point where it looked painful.
Maggie shouted, "No, it's too danger-"
Yolan slashed the knife across his palm.
Even as blood began to drip onto the floor, Edwin could sense the air crackling. It began to grow dark almost immediately. Looking up, Edwin could see that rainclouds weren't just gathering; they were racing from every direction.
The pain in his palm was nearly unbearable now. Edwin told himself it had to do with the way electricity cackled in the air, and the way Yolan was still clenching it between his hands.
Maggie was pale, and she had an arm around Kay, holding her close. Callista huddled beside her. Their hair--Maggie's, freed from its plastic hair rollers; Kay's pageboy bob and Callista's, waist-long and thick--whipped about in the wind. Together, it was like a beacon.
Edwin watched the way Yolan raised his head to the sky, his mind's eye filling in the details he knew he would see even as visibility decreased due to the blackened sky. Yolan's eyes would be narrowed, and his lips slightly parted as he spoke the words of the summoning. His hair was standing on end, not from the wind but from sheer power. No raindance, this. Not a supplicant's plea for the right clouds to gather.
This was weather being commanded. Edwin suddenly saw for himself the sheer scale of the power being unleashed, and wondered that a boy of fourteen could hold that much ability. The sudden crash of lightning, not twenty feet from where they stood, highlighted Yolan's uplifted face for a split second. One hand still on Edwin's bleeding one, the other outstretched in front of him, fingers oustretched. He raised it upwards and must have shouted something, judging by his open mouth, except that the wind had begun howling so loudly that it drowned out all other noises.
There was no mistaking the glint of triumph in Yolan's eyes as he lowered his hand.
"What?" Edwin asked, even as Maggie and the others turned to look at them.
Yolan's answer was a bright, shiny grin.
Notes: Sequel to Unseen