Mr. Kepler, the CPR instructor, offered Jana a laminated card and patted her on the shoulder. “Well done. And remember, recertification is every two years.”
“Thanks,” she said and slid the card into her cargo pocket.
Her stomach fluttered as her best friend, Harrison, met her at the door. “All set?”
The class bell rang.
Harrison opened the door. “Come on. I’ve got a surprise.”
Jana followed Harrison as they wedged through the crowd of students, filling a bottleneck at the door. She glanced to her right and spotted Sasha Whitman. Long black hair draped over her pale, downy face like a current of shadow. Girls dressed in mini-skirts, painted nails and shimmering earrings huddled around her. The people, the noise, the air thickened. Sasha looked up and waved. Jana glanced back at Harrison and then to Sasha as Harrison waved back.
Focused on Sasha, Jana crashed into the double doors at the front of the school. She looked up and held her nose as tears welled in her eyes. Students laughed and pointed.
Harrison turned and touched her arm. “Jeez, are you okay?”
Jana pushed by Harrison and ran out of the school.
Harrison watched as Jana dabbed a spot of blood from her lip. “You good?”
“I’ll be fine.” She stuffed the tissue into her pocket. “So, what’s going on?”
He grinned. “Close your eyes.”
Jana cocked her eyebrow from the passenger seat of Harrison’s 1990 Civic.
“Work with me.”
“Fine,” Jana said and closed her eyes.
Harrison pulled a Toys R Us bag from the back seat and set it in her lap. “Open.”
Jana did, one eyelid at a time, and looked down. Warmth swelled inside her chest. “Are you serious?”
Harrison smiled. “The CPR certification was your last test to become an initiate in the Order. Master Owen asked me to have you pick out a light saber for your ceremony tonight, but I went ahead and got it for you.”
“This thing’s like a hundred bucks,” Jana said as she unsheathed the box from the bag.
“Chrome handles. Shatter-proof glass tubes. Blue neon light blade. Realistic buzz and whoosh sounds with movement…” Harrison folded his arms and leaned back. “You like?”
“Yes!” She looked up at him. Her face turned hot as she resisted the urge to kiss him. “You didn’t have to do this.”
“Forget it.” Harrison cranked the Civic. “Now we just have to get you a robe.”
A candle flickered on the floor in front of Jana. Its golden light glanced off the 12 shrouded faces that circled her just within reach of the glow. Master Owen, cloaked in a hooded robe like the others, stepped up to her from the other side of the candle.
His voice was long and deep, like a rumble from the throat of a cave. “Jana. With your CPR certification, you affirmed that a Jedi is in the service of others. This selfless act, witnessed by Jedi knight Harrison, brings you among your peers to pass from that of Initiate, to Jedi Apprentice.” He looked down at her. “Are you ready to recite the creed and take your oath?”
Jana looked around. She stopped on Sasha. Sasha lowered her face into her own shadow. She faced Master Owen and nodded. “Yes.”
She lowered to both knees in front of the candle. The dancing flame caught her eyes. Heat washed over her face and soothed her nerves.
Master Owen surveyed the crowd. “The candle symbolizes hope, the last of our dependencies and emotions after we have embraced reason and patience.” He looked down at Jana. “Blow out the candle.”
Jana slowly inhaled and smothered the flame with her breath.
“Blowing out the candle symbolizes your willingness to face the dark side, even when all the light in your life has been extinguished. Do you wish to proceed?”
Jana felt her eyes stretch as her pupils gasped for light. “Yes.”
“Repeat after me: There is no emotion; there is peace.”
She closed her eyes, lowered her head and repeated until the last line. “A true Jedi never acts from hatred, anger, fear or aggression, but acts when calm and at peace with the Force.”
A whoosh and buzz erupted over her head from a bright green light. Jana opened her eyes and stared at Master Owen’s brown boots. He lowered the green light saber over Jana’s left shoulder.
“I now dub thee, Jana, Jedi Apprentice and member of the Madison County Jedi Temple. Rise and be recognized!”
Jana stood to cheers and applause. Twelve light sabers from the other members glowed in blurs of green, blue and purple around her. Harrison offered her the new blue light saber. “Go ahead.”
She searched the handle and flipped the switch. A beam of blue light encased in glass cut through the darkness. Pride bubbled inside her. She lifted the saber above her head and absorbed the welcome.
For weeks Jana practiced meditation, aikido and sword techniques under the tutelage of Master Owen at the Temple.
“A Jedi’s priority is the preservation of life and service to others,” Master Owen said one evening as he walked amongst his sparring students. “Remember that when you train, you are training to offer yourself to fellow man, not yourselves.”
Sasha flipped Jana onto her back. Jana slapped the floor and gritted her teeth. “Damn.”
“Patience, you’re doing well,” Sasha said and offered her hand.
Jana glanced over at Harrison. The sleeves of his robe slid down his arm as he slowly cut the space in front of him with a wooden katana and slowly exhaled.
Jana shook her head, refused Sasha’s hand and stood. “Again.”
“How about a break?”
“I’m fine,” she said and balled her fists.
“I said come on!”
All of the Jedi stopped and stared. Sweat dripped down Jana’s face. Her hands trembled with anger and embarrassment.
“Jana,” Master Owen said and walked by her. “Follow me.”
Master Owen stepped outside the Temple into the rush of humid night air. Insects orbited the door light above. He sat on the step and pated the space beside him. “Have a seat.”
Jana sat and lowered her head between her shoulders as she raked her fingers through her sweaty hair.
“Anger, aggression—these lead to the dark side.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I just want to get it right.”
Master Owen looked at Jana, said, “In time,” and then out at the dark road that lead to the Temple. “You have an interest in Harrison…”
Jana’s lips flapped as she sighed.
“Attraction is natural, but don’t let attachment blind you, Jana. Harrison is serious about our religion and would respect you more for training in the way he holds dear.”
Jana bit her lip and nodded. “Yes, Master Owen.”
“Are you meditating at home?”
“Yes—well, I trying.”
“Remember what Master Yoda said: ‘There is no try. There is do, or do not.’ Meditation is about connecting with the Force and learning to shape it. You’ll see more of the Force and less yourself. If you are the Force, and the Force permeates all things, then phenomena like telekinesis are possible.”
Jana slowly turned her head. “Have you ever moved things, you know, with your mind?”
Master Owen lowered his face and pushed himself up. “Come on. The bugs are horrible out here.”
Curtain’s swayed in the warm breeze that came through Jana’s window. She sat cross-legged in the gray twilight of morning on her bedroom floor and stared at a pencil she’d stood eraser-down on her nightstand. Thoughts clouded her mind. Master Owen’s words, Harrison’s skill… Her face twitched as she tried to move the pencil. After 10 minutes, she grunted and set her forehead against her hand. “This is crazy…”
She glanced at a pile of clothes beside her bed. She leaned over, took a black band t-shirt from the pile and read the white lettering. Mustard Seed, a local Christian rock band her brother played drums for. She silently read the Bible verse below. “If ye had faith as a grain of a mustard seed, ye might say to this tree, be thou plucked up and planted in the sea, and it should obey you.”
Jana looked up from the t-shirt to the pencil. She dropped the shirt, closed her eyes and refocused. She remembered Master Owen’s words, to become the Force, to allow thoughts and stimuli to pass over her like the wind. “I believe,” she whispered. Thoughts faded, faces paled into the background of clarity. A gentle breeze kissed her cheek. Clink. The pencil rolled off the nightstand. She grinned.
A text message buzzed Jana’s phone while in Algebra the next morning. She flipped it open and read Harrison’s message. “Mom said if I’m too sick for school, then too sick for Temple tonight. Sorry.”
Jana skipped school after Algebra and walked toward Harrison’s house, eager to report her experience with the pencil.
She kicked a pine cone down the sidewalk and rounded the corner of Harrison’s block. A girl’s laugh bothered the silence. She stopped and looked toward Harrison’s house. Harrison faced a girl on his front porch as she flicked black hair over her shoulder. The two then leaned in and kissed. Jana squinted as the girl left and entered a red Accord. She stepped to the other side of a pine tree and looked at the rear license plate as the car passed. JEDI GRL.
Blood drained from her face. “Sasha?” she said and leaned against the tree. Her knees buckled as she slid to the ground. She looked up as the Accord stopped a block away at a stop sign. Red break lights stared back at her. Jana stood, glanced at Harrison’s house and ran home.
Anger and the conversations of one hundred students in the cafeteria rumbled in Jana’s head. She sat alone and chewed a bite of pizza as she stared ahead at a white wall. Female laughter approached her from behind. The crew of girls, including Sasha, passed her table and sat two rows down. They swayed with red-faced cackling and whispers. Sweat moistened her forehead and slicked her palms as they turned to fists.
She watched Sasha bite into a fried chicken wing. Master Owen’s teachings, the pledge she took that night weeks ago bleed into the white space of her mind. She remembered the pencil. Anger—vengeance spilled over the former thoughts and washed her focus clean. She pictured Sasha’s throat, closed her eyes and steadied her breaths. She visualized the Force constricting Sasha’s neck. Jana’s breaths grew deeper…slower.
Jana opened her eyes. Students nearby stood and gasped as blood swelled into Sasha’s face. She grabbed her throat and punched her own gut. Jana’s mouth parted. A savage joy polluted her as Sasha fell to the floor, her face turning blue. Girls screamed and cried with their hands over their mouths. Jana herself choked on the threat of laughter. She narrowed his gaze on Sasha’s neck and imaged herself squeezing harder, harder.
She shuddered and looked back.
“Why aren’t you helping?” Mr. Kepler said as he ran toward Sasha.
Jana froze as Mr. Kepler rounded Sasha and performed the Heimlich maneuver.
Mr. Kepler took her CPR certification for failure to use her training to extract the chicken bone. She was banned from the Order the next week, pending a new certification.
“I’d like to exchange these please,” Jana said as she set her blue light saber box beside the unopened box of a red one.
The Toys R Us cashier, a short, skinny woman with acne scars looked up at him. She then proceeded to scan the boxes. “Ah, must be a Sith fan.”
Jana stared down at her beneath her new black hoodie.
The cashier cowered and scanned the barcode on the red saber box. The exchange finished, she handed Jana the red saber in a bag without looking up. “Have a good evening.”
Andrew Bowen’s fiction deals with the often dirty side of religion. His work has appeared in places like Prick of the Spindle, decomP, Metazen, elimae, and others. He is the founding editor of Divine Dirt Quarterly and blogs at The Dirty Prophet