Xavier had raced across the city in an old car not designed for speed: its gears grinding, brake pads squealing. The car’s suspension was so shot that when he took a corner the undercarriage scraped the road. The car was not to be his only hitch. At the intersection leading down into the Square, a police cordon barred his way. Abandoning the car, Xavier took to the road on foot, pushing through all the protestors, until he found Malka in the middle of the crowd.
‘He rose,’ Malka said, grabbing Xavier’s arm. ‘The Master, he rose…’
He rose. Of that the crowd all spoke as one, although when Xavier took out his notebook and began to ask for details, accounts differed by how high the Master had risen from the ground, and nobody could agree on the precise duration he’d sat suspended in the air. (Some said they thought they thought it less than half a minute. Some said it was more)
An older man, a friend of Malka’s father, stepped forward to try to settle the disputes. By how much, for how long: all questions of measurement were irrelevant, he told them. That the Master had conquered gravity to achieve levitation meant, by extension, that he had also succeeded in transcending the constraints of time.
Xavier had pressed the man for answers—facts that he could use as evidence in a news report. Facts he could take to his editor as proof.
‘A photograph,’ said Xavier. ‘Did anyone bring a camera?’
Lots of people had, but not one had thought to use it at the moment that it mattered, or else assumed that somebody else would do the job instead.
Klaus the school teacher had come the closest, raising his camera as far as his face, but when the Master rose the crowd had surged and knocked it clean out of his hands, he said, pointing to the ground where it lay in several pieces.
Someone said they thought the ones who pushed Klaus may have been the secret police. Certainly, there were those who stood in the shadows, talking into their coat sleeves with their eyes trained, not on the Master, but on the protestors instead.
Xavier watched as two men in trench coats gathered up the leaflets that the Master’s acolytes were handing to the crowd.
‘You are not your body,’ read one.
‘Fly and be free,’ read another in the same italic script.
On a third was written, ‘Inhale to rise.’
From beyond the Square, a siren wailed and a dark van ploughed into view. When it came to a stop, its rear door opened and a group of men spilled out, all heavy boots and batons.
‘Clear the area. Stand back,’ they shouted.
In the centre of the melee, a high-pitched whistle blew, then the General stepped forward: a heavy man, his eyes the colour of meatballs and his top lip sporting a neatly trimmed moustache. He raised his arm, pointing to the Master’s acolytes, the protesters, the man who ran the printing press, his wife, their rowdy daughters.
‘Round them up,’ he ordered.
From beside his feet, the General kicked away a shard of glass, a remnant of what had been the lens of Klaus’s camera. He unhooked a pair of handcuffs from his leather belt and walked over to the Master.
The crowd gasped. Xavier stepped forward, but a baton in the crook of his arm stopped him in mid-stride.
‘You’re going to arrest him? Tell us first what crime he has committed?’ Xavier shouted to the soldiers.
‘This is a travesty,’ cried Klaus, appearing at his side.
The friend of Malka’s father tried to reason with the ones in charge.
‘The Master has not broken any laws, at least none outside the laws of physics, which I think we can agree, it’s not your duty to enforce,’ he said.
‘Quiet,’ said the General, snapping handcuffs on the Master’s wrists. ‘This man is being arrested for creating a disturbance of the peace. For causing mass hysteria and hallucinations too, I shouldn’t wonder—my men are taking samples now. He’s a public nuisance, a fraud, amassing a large, illegal gathering without the requisite permissions. He has no protest permit, no licence for assembly. He presents a danger to himself, not to mention many others, yet you stand there and tell me this man has not broken any laws?’
The Master, cross-legged, in his saffron robes, sat smiling at the crowd. The handcuffs on his wrists were glinting in the sun.
Xavier raised his voice, ‘Well, aren’t you going to read him his rights at least?’
The General turned back towards the Master. ‘You have the right to remain silent,’ he said. ‘You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in a court of law.’
‘This is an outrage!’ shouted Klaus.
The General’s men started rounding up the protestors, herding them in the direction of the van, when those in the crowd nearest to where the Master sat noticed that his mouth began to move. It was the smallest gesture; a slight compression of the lips.
The General looked at him. ‘You said something?’
He turned to his men, ‘What did he say?’
‘He said Om,’ said a soldier.
‘Om?’ The General took out his notepad from his pocket. ‘Your statement, sir, is Om?’
‘Not Om,’ said Malka, walking over to where the Master sat.
The General paused. His men stood with their batons poised.
Malka drew a breath, her shoulders lifting. She closed her eyes.
‘A-U-M,’ she sang, pulling the sound up from her navel, its notes merging and ascending along the ivories of her spine.
There was another noise too: the Master’s handcuffs were rattling in accompaniment. When the crowed looked from one to the other, they saw that both their bodies were vibrating to the tune.
Victoria Briggs is an award-winning and Pushcart-nominated writer of short fiction, with work published in Structo, Unthology 8, The Honest Ulsterman, The Stockholm Review, Prole, Litro, The Nottingham Review, and others. She lives in London, where she works as a freelance journalist, and tweets @vicbriggs.