The Black Book

The elevator doors opened. Amber sighed, shifting her feet. After tugging at her white t-shirt and smoothing sweaty palms on her navy blue shorts, she looked at the floor. “Stop that!” her mother whispered, poking her. “Don’t give me any more trouble.”

The Psychiatric Clinic on the fourth floor at the Eighth Street Campus was the last place she wanted to be. Both her school psychologist and her mother insisted she talk to someone about what happened at school last week and what she had written in her notebook. Bile at the back of her throat sent her running to the bathroom, right next to the office she and her mother were headed. It was hard enough to make friends at school. Once everyone knew she came here, the stigma of going to “the nut house” would be a lot worse. She wished she were on that other planet she wrote and dreamed of. It was a lot better than this place. Amber shivered and got goose bumps thinking about the white padded cell and straightjacket. Would they lock her up if they read what was in that black book? Rinsing out her mouth and wiping her damp forehead, Amber tried not to cry. She couldn’t help that she saw things other people didn’t and could tell if they were lying when they spoke. It was one thing to catch her family lying, but when she accused her teacher of not caring about her, that is what started the whole thing. She tried not to remember the events leading up to the fiasco last week.

****

“Amber. Amber Franklin, are you daydreaming again?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Grant, what was the question?” Amber asked, trying to sound interested.

Mrs. Grant sighed, glancing at the open black book on her desk. “That isn’t the history notebook you bought to class. I wonder where your head is sometimes, young lady.”

Amber gasped when the teacher took the notebook and replied, “I wish you paid as much attention to your school work as you do to the details in this book.”

“My test scores are fine. I’ve never gotten anything lower than a B. I wonder if you really care what happens to any of us at all. For the past five years, you’ve only done just enough to keep from getting fired.”

No one spoke a word. Mrs. Grant, usually calm and reserved for her 50 years, turned three shades of red, then white. Sitting down at her oak desk, she stammered as she spoke, “C-Continue r-r-reading the rest of C-C-Chapter f-f-five on the Civil W-W-War. A-A-Answer the q-q-questions tonight.”

When the bell rang, Amber picked up her books and jacket. She dreaded the walk

home. “The truth shall set me free,” she said to herself out loud. “No one can punish me for that.”

***

“Do you want to tell me why the school called requesting a meeting with the school psychologist next week?

“Mrs. Grant caught me daydreaming in history class today and got angry over my black book. She made a sniping remark as to where my head was. She made the comment that she wished I paid more attention to the class lesson then I did to the details in the black book I had. I said my grades were fine. I made nothing lower than A B. I also said I wondered if she cared about the class at all. She only did just enough to keep from getting fired for the last few years.”

“I can’t argue with you there. Mrs. Grant is strange. I just hope I can take off work. Knowing the school, they will request a follow up visit. That’s more time off and a smaller paycheck, which means the bills don’t get paid. Where is that book, anyway?”

“Mrs. Grant has it, Mom. Mr. Harris will probably have it on his desk next week during the visit.”

“Do you realize the trouble you started by being so blunt? It could get you suspended, young lady.”

Amber pulled an apple from the fridge, closing the bin, then the door saying,. “True. If I do get suspended, it will only be for show. The only reason why Mrs. Grant has a bug in her shorts is because I spoke the truth. The school knows what I know and they still keep her. Why is that?”

“Go do your homework,” her mother said sighing as she took the big frying pan out of the cupboard and a Green Giant Meal Kit from the freezer.

****

“Why were these things happening to me?” she asked herself, as the door to the clinic bathroom squeaked.

Her mother poked her head in. “Are you coming? We don’t have all day.”

It was useless to answer back. When Mom got impatient, it was best to keep silent. She already spent yesterday afternoon complaining about the money she’d loose taking off work for this appointment.

“It sure is tough being ten years old,” she mumbled. At least Dr. Harris returned the black book to her. She carried it in her backpack

Mother spoke to the receptionist, handing her the appointment card. “My daughter has a 3:30 appointment with Dr. Harris.”

“Yes, Mrs. Franklin, sign in please. Take a seat over there,” she said handing her a clipboard and pointing to a row of black leather and chrome seats. “A doctor will see you shortly.”

Amber’s mouth felt like cotton. “May I get a drink of water?” Amber asked, before she sat down.

Her mother sighed, “Hurry up.”

“Thanks.” Amber sprinted to the water fountain outside the door.

“I wouldn’t go back in there if I were you.” The male voice startled Amber. She turned to see a tall curly, black-haired boy dressed in faded blue jeans, a red polo shirt, with olive skin, and copper eyes that looked right through her, leaning against the office doorway.

“Were you–speaking to me?”

“Yes, I was. I wouldn’t go back in there if I were you,” he repeated, reaching for her hand.

She stepped out of reach, pulling her hand back. “Who are you?”

“Name’s Philip. Dr. Harris isn’t in the office this afternoon. The man filling in for him has placed some of his charges on powerful medication. Five of them have been locked up.”

“How do you know this? They won’t do that to me.”

“You are right about your teacher not caring. But the bad press from this might get you suspended. The information from that black book could get you locked away for life.” He nodded at a few people who waked by.

Amber felt goose bumps again. “How do I stop this? When I see things, it’s like watching television. How do I know I can trust you?”

“Dr. Harris sent me with this,” he smiled, showing her silver ring with a dark blue stone in the center. “He’s waiting on Eros.”

Amber immediately recognized that ring. He wore it on his right index finger when he visited the elementary school she attended. “My appointment. Mother is angry enough having to miss work for this.”

He held out his hand, smiling. “We’ll be back in plenty of time. I promise.”

She wanted an adventure. Maybe he had answers to some of the questions she had about those visions. She took his hand; stepping with him into the alcove that veiled the gateway, she saw fading into mist.

****

“I see you made it, Amber.” Dr. Harris smiled, with outstretched arms, hugging her. “You didn’t have any trouble, did you, Philip?”

“No, I didn’t. Getting her to trust me was another matter.”

“Why am I getting these visions, sir? Mother and my teacher are angry with me. Can you make them go away? I don’t want to be drugged or locked up. I don’t—.”

Dr. Harris placed his right hand on her forehead. Squatting at eye level, he passed his left over her eyes. “Sleep.”

Her eyelids got heavy. Her knees buckled. The last thing she remembered was a strong pair of arms lifting her.

****

“Where am I?” wailed Amber, trying to sit up. Her head throbbed, her stomach growled, and her mouth had that cotton taste again. She felt lost in the big brass bed she laid on. It hurt to turn her head. What she could see was an efficiency with two windows that had the shades drawn.

Dr. Harris sat on the bed, placing both hands on either side of her head, pressing gently. For a tall man in his early fifties, he moved quicker than most, carrying all that weight around his middle. “That should ease the pain. I brought you some tea and a sandwich. Eat. Then we’ll talk,” he said, fluffing her pillows and placing a silver tea tray in front of her.

Amber hesitated. Her hand shook as she raised the porcelain teacup to her mouth. Looking at Dr. Harris, she hesitated again.

“I don’t blame you for being suspicious, Amber. There’s only food on that tray. I don’t believe in using herbs on children. Too much is dangerous.”

“You made me go to sleep. You never told me you had powers like that.”

“Only to calm you. You were scared enough to faint.”

Now pain free, Amber considered what he said with her head cocked to the left. She smiled as she unwrapped the sandwich and found her favorite–roast beef, cheese, and lettuce on whole wheat with mayonnaise. It had a freshness to it that she hadn’t tasted before. She made every effort not to swallow it whole. Looking at her watch, it was six o’clock, dinnertime back on Earth. As she finished the rest of her meal, she wiped her mouth, lying back against the pillows happy to be full.

“I’m glad you liked that sandwich. I made it myself,” Philip said, smiling, as he took the tray. Amber smiled back. Pulling up a chair, Dr. Harris sat down next to the bed buttoning his burgundy blazer and pulling at his navy blue slacks.

“Do you what the word puberty means?”

Yes, between the ages of 9 and 18, the bodies of girls and boys change chemically and physically.”

“Very good. I bet your mother told you that.”

“Not really. I heard that word in gym class and looked it up on the Internet.”

“Somewhere in your family tree, one of your ancestors from Eros had the gift of second sight. The ability to read others thoughts may be in your history as well. I wasn’t sure until I heard your teacher, Ms Grant, complaining.”

“I don’t want to go to school. That woman hates me.”

“It’s the law. You have to go to school, Amber.”

“What side of the tree do my gifts come from?”

“Your father’s. I had to turn off your ability to read thoughts. It’s developing too fast. Being so young, you’re not able to handle it yet. Left unchecked, the drugs that psychiatrist prescribed would’ve severely damaged your brain.”

“Enough to have me locked up for life?”

“Possibly.”

“I won’t get to see Eros. Will I?”

“No, child. I placed the lives of Philip, you, and myself in danger by bringing you here.”

“But I–I wanna stay,” sobbed Amber.

Dr. Harris lifted her to his lap. “I can’t guarantee your safety,” he whispered, holding her firmly. Eros is in a Civil War. If the people we’re fighting found out about your powers, they’d kill you, me, and Philip.”

“But I’m having a hard time where I am,” she wailed.

“I can’t solve the trouble between you and your mother. I can have you transferred to one of the schools on my route. Would you like that?”

Amber nodded, and then asked, “Will the power to read thoughts return?”

“When you’re old enough to handle it.”

“You ready, Dr. Harris? They’re coming!” Philip shouted, running from the kitchenette.

“Bring me the kaleidoscope.” Philip pulled the toy from an oak desk drawer in the far corner, handing it to Dr. Harris. He placed the cardboard toy with the bright lights in front of her left eye, turning it three times to the right. He repeated the same thing with the right eye.

“What did you just do? Will I go to sleep again?”

“No. Hold her Philip,” he said, transferring her to his lap. “I have to run interference to get us out safely.” Reaching into the top drawer of the oak desk, Dr. Harris pulled out a Colt .45. He loaded the pistol, putting it in his belt.

Amber gasped, burying her head in Philip’s shoulder. “I hate guns.” She didn’t want anyone getting hurt over her. Philip slid his arms around her, humming softly, and rubbing her back. When she searched his face for reassurance, she felt lost in those copper penny eyes that glowed in the dim light. Dr. Harris spoke louder than usual, breaking Philip’s concentration.

“I do too. We have to protect ourselves. Help me move the bed, Philip. We can escape without being captured.”

“Will I remember my visit here? It’s one for the black book,” Amber stumbled, as she scooted off Philip’s lap.

“I don’t know. The memories you have will fade in time,” Dr. Harris grunted. Even in the dim light of the efficiency, Amber could see the paneling behind the bed looked unnatural, the center square looked lighter then the ones that surrounded them. He placed his right hand over the center square, which caused his hand to fade. “I’ll go first. When you hear my gun go off, that means it’s safe.” He stepped through the mist.

Amber’s voice quivered when she said, “What if we don’t hear the gun? Will we be discovered? I don’t want to die.”

Philip took Amber’s hand and said, “We will go together no matter our fate. We will see each other again.”

She sighed, feeling foolish for thinking such thoughts. She heard Dr. Harris fire the gun. It sounded like a firecracker.

“That’s our cue, ” Philip said, lightly pulling at Amber’s hand. They went through the mist.

****

“Amber! Amber, wake up!” She slowly opened her eyes.

“Mom.”

“You must have fainted,” she said; helping her daughter to sit up, then stand.

“You gave us quite a scare, young lady,” Dr. Harris said.

“Sorry to cause everyone so much trouble. Guess we missed the appointment, huh?” Dr. Harris winked.

“Not really. I suggested that we have you transferred to Bright Ideas Charter School after we have you tested for sixth grade work. I think you’re wasting your time in a regular public school fourth grade class.”

Amber smiled, she never imagined being able to jump. Two of her friends were already there. She hoped to be in their class.

“We’d better get going if I’m to meet your father. He’s a bear if dinner isn’t on the table, ” her mother said, glancing at her watch, holding her backpack.

“I’ll see you after school tomorrow,” Dr. Harris said, winking again, heading for his office. Amber grabbed her backpack. She smiled when she discovered the black book still hidden in between her math and social studies books.

Amber took a drink from the fountain, and then asked, “Can we get pizza? Dad passes Pizza Hut on the way home.”

“Good idea,” her mother smiled, dialing her cell phone. “Got any homework?”

“Math and Social Studies. I only have three problems left. The chapter we were assigned is short.”

Her mother held the door open for her, then said, I am sorry that I put so much pressure on you lately. I guess I forgot how hard it was to be ten.”

“We don’t come with instructions. It’s learn as you go.”

She smiled, dialing her cell phone. “Hey, sweetheart. Would you pick up a Meat Lover’s with sausage, pepperoni, and extra cheese from Pizza Hut on the way home? I’ve got to run by the bank and the grocery store. Great! Tell them you want hand tossed. See you in thirty minutes.”

****

Sitting in the back seat of the green SUV, Amber wrote the details of her visit to Eros. In the time it took her mother to deposit her check at the Union Square Federal Credit Union Drive Thru on 1401 Holliday and pick up juice, milk, and bread at Albertson’s she had finished her math and social studies homework.

“Maybe Dr. Harris was wrong about my memories fading. He wasn’t sure it would happen anyway,” she said, giggling as she placed the black book in her backpack

between the others there. Her thoughts drifted to Philip. Would she see him again? Amber sighed softly. What she felt she couldn’t describe. She hoped never to forget those copper penny eyes. More importantly, she wanted to pass that test tomorrow. Bright Ideas Charter School students went to college. Some had credits before graduating high school.

Ms Grant would be happy not to have her in class at Milam Elementary School. She looked forward to the twenty-minute ride to Central Freeway every morning, if she passed that test.