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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

The Chosen One

Huston Lowell lives in Eastern Missouri with a wife and a house full of kids. He has written screenplays for three award-winning indie films and has had his work showcased under various pseudonyms in venues across the webverse, including Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k), the front page of WeirdYear, and Vis a Tergo. His favorite author is Rodney Whitaker, and his favorite color is red.

Singh watched with a skeptical eye as the little boy came woohooing down the cyclone slide. Could this be the snotty nose of the Chosen One?
"We've definitely found him." Jhadav took a step forward. This was his first run, and it was no secret that he wanted to prove himself. "Let's go."
"No." Singh grabbed Jhadav by the arm and gently pulled him back. "There is something to be said for the energy you bring to your work, Jhadav. But a mistake would have unforgivable consequences. We must be certain."
The little boy pushed his way past a group of children and climbed easily to the top of the jungle gym.
"I am certain, Singh."
"I used the word 'we.'" Singh's tone was even and philosophical. "One of us is still not certain."
"How could you not be certain?" Jhadav turned away from the playground to face Singh, his face bent into a frustrated plea. "He was born within five minutes of noon on the winter solstice under a total solar eclipse with Vashistha's Comet in the northern sky."
Singh slowly shook his gray head. "Seven hundred and forty-seven surviving boys meet that description."
"What about the baby video his father posted on YouTube?" Jhadav said, watching the boy run fearlessly across the top of the monkey bars, "How many prelingual babies can say, 'Father, I have arrived' in flawless Ardha Magadhi?"
"Those could have been chance utterances," the older man said, lowering himself onto a bench, "or the video could have been faked to misdirect us. Then, there is the matter of the prophecy's final requirement."
"You mean that he will be pure of blood?" Jhadav grimaced. "Yes, but what does that really mean?"
"That," Singh said with a dry grin, "is precisely why we can't be sure, yet. His mother is of Icelandic ancestry. If 'blood' is a metaphor for ethnicity, this is certainly the wrong boy. Best to be patient. Observe a little longer."
A crow landed beneath the monkey bars and began pecking at a clear plastic bag stuffed with the crusts from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The little boy stopped dancing on top of the rungs and dangled himself upside-down to watch.
"How long do we wait?" Jhadav settled himself onto the other half of the bench with a sigh.
"Until we are certain." Singh put an age-withered hand on Jhadav's shoulder. "There will be a sign."
"And if there isn't?"
"There are only nine hundred and thirty-eight years before conditions become right again for the birth of the Chosen One."
A larger boy picked up a rock and winged it at the crow.
"Hey!" The little upside-down boy twisted out of the rock's path by scant centimeters, setting him to swinging like a pendulum.
The rock struck the crow squarely in the eye. The bird fell over sideways like a black bowling pin, instantly becoming an undignified mass of black feathers and cold stillness.
The little boy's legs slipped through the bars, dropping him onto his face next to the motionless crow. He let out a little whine that became an awful sustained wail as he began to crawl back to his feet.
Jhadav tried to spring to his own feet, but Singh gently pulled him back down.
"But Singh! He's--"
Singh just silently shook his head and watched.
"Raju!" The pale blonde woman swooped on the little boy and scooped him up into her arms. "Are you all right?"
The boy blubbered incoherently. Dark blood from his nostrils mingled with tears and dripped from his chin.
"Go ahead." Singh took his hand off of Jhadav's shoulder.
"You'll want to pinch it," Jhadav said, approaching the frazzled woman.
"I'm sorry," Jhadav said with an embarrassed grin, "I'm a doctor. You'll want to pinch his nose to stop the bleeding. May I take a look for you?"
"Thanks," the woman said with a not-quite-certain tone, peeling the sobbing boy's face away from her chest. Her eyes widened at the sight of the boy's face covered in a smear of blood and the matching deep red stain in the middle of her white blouse.
She pinched the boy's nose and tilted his head back. Jhadav reached out and gently tilted the boy's head forward.
"Like this," he said, "We don't want him to feel like he's drowning."
The boy coughed once sharply and spat a gob of bloody mucus that landed on the still crow. The bird twitched. Singh's eyes snapped from the distressed boy to the bird.
A convulsion rippled through the crow's body, starting with a violent side-to-side motion of its head, then a spastic flapping of its wings and an anti-rhythmic kicking of its legs. Singh sprung to his feet, mouth agape.
"He'll be just fine," Jhadav said, handing the woman his card, "If you'd like to get hold of me, just call my office."
"Thank you, Doctor."
The crow flutter-flapped itself back to a standing position and looked around with uneven, jerking motions of its head, scanning the playground with its one good eye.
"Dr. Jhadav," Singh said, pointing at his wrist watch, "We need to be getting back to hospital."
As the woman began a slow walk toward her car with the little boy clinging fast to her hip, Jhadav stood marveling at the crow.
"Jhadav?" The older man put his hand on Jhadav's shoulder. "Is something wrong?"
"That crow," Jhadav said, watching the bird make a series of short flutters into the air.
"It's a shame," Singh said, "It probably won't live long."
"No," Jhadav said, reaching for his phone, "It was dead. That was our sign. I'm going to call for the extraction team."
"Let's not be hasty," the old man said, taking a step toward the parking lot. "That bird could just have been stunned. The Chosen One would not arbitrarily raise an animal from the dead, without any higher purpose than to suffer for a few more hours and die again."
"I disagree," Jhadav said, fiddling with his phone's touch screen, "The crow's purpose is to be our sign. We have to schedule the pickup and begin his training to fulfill his destiny."
"No, Jhadav. This is not the time. There has not been a reliable sign." Singh stretched a wrinkled palm out toward Jhadav. "Give me your phone."
"But, Singh." Jhadav reluctantly handed the phone to the old man. "The prophecy says--"
"Says nothing about our organization. And it says nothing about kidnapping and brainwashing little boys." Singh scrolled through the phone's recent call log. Three missed calls from headquarters in the last half hour. One two-word text to another organization phone, "definitely him."
Jhadav's phone began to vibrate.
"You've been busy, Jhadav," Singh said, looking over his glasses at the younger man, "They're calling back."
"I-I had to, Singh," Jhadav stammered, "It's just too important."
"Jhadav?" Singh asked.
The phone vibrated again.
"Yes, Singh."
"Are you the Chosen One?"
"Of course not. That's absurd. Why would you--?"
A beige minivan prowled into the parking lot.
"If I had taken you from your mother at the age of seven and given you the training, could you have become the Chosen One?"
The van slid behind the blonde woman's car and waited, blocking her car from backing out, while she finished strapping the little boy into his child seat.
"You're not making any sense."
"If this boy is the Chosen One," Singh said, watching the beige van hover, "he will be the Chosen One his whole life. But how long will he be a child? And if he is the wrong boy, from the moment the extraction team takes him, he can never be either."
Singh handed the vibrating phone back to Jhadav.
"Jhadav." Jhadav held the phone to his face. "Yes, I see them in place right now. Stand by for instructions."
The fluttering crow leapt into the driver's window of the beige van and began a mad flapping and clawing at the driver and passenger. The windscreen became smeared with blood. The two men threw open the doors and fell out of the van, cupping their hands over their bloody faces.
The crow calmed and perched itself on the driver's headrest, jerking its head from side to side, from ejected driver to passenger and back.
The car in front of the blonde woman's backed out, and she pulled through the space to leave the playground.
"I can't ignore that," Singh said in an awed whisper, "It was a sign."
"Pull back," Jhadav said into the phone. "We'll watch a little longer."
Jhadav tapped the red phone-shaped icon to end the conversation and sunk inside himself.
"Why did you do that?"
"What does it all mean, Singh?" Jhadav grabbed the bridge of his nose. "Did the Chosen One just reject our help? Or was it an improbable coincidence?"
"Good. You've passed the test, Jhadav." Singh put a hand on Jhadav's shoulder. "Let's get back to hospital."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Author Comments

This story was an exploration into the application of scientific critical reasoning within the context of pure religious devotion. I used Singh and Jhadav to illustrate that most delicate balance between blind faith and analysis paralysis--and the ease with which basic human drives interjected in lieu of either one can disrupt that balance. Of course, the "One" must never truly be "Chosen," lest the vitally important balance imposed by the quest itself be destroyed.

- Huston Lowell
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