He gripped the sword in both hands as he crept up the stairs, wishing for the thousandth time that the prophecy would let him use a gun. The council had been firm on this point, offended he would even ask, but swords didn’t go with windbreakers and jeans. Mentally he reviewed the speech again: I am Robert son of Robert, son of Michael, son of Ned, son of . . . well, maybe he could leave some of those out. I am here to fulfill the prophecy just as my ancestors did. Or didn’t. They’d all failed, and he was the last of his line.
This was the right place, definitely, because his sword glittered. With one sweaty hand he pushed the door open, already beginning his speech as he burst into the room: “I am Robert son of—”
Harsh guttural words spat past him, slamming the door. He flew across the room, crashing into the wall of brightly colored cubbies in the back.
Groggily he raised his head. Yes, a classroom. The Destroyer stood in front of him, impossibly tall and thin, spiky gray hair haloing her pointed face. She held his sword to his throat. Her dark eyes were edged in red. “Cripes,” she said. “Not another one.”
“I,” he began, gulped, tried again. “Am here to fulfill the prophecy.”
“What you are doing is wrecking my classroom,” she hissed. “You fix this now or I’ll carve out your larynx and—” The door opened again. “Well hello, is it that time?” she chirped, shrinking into person-size as she swung around to greet the crowd of children. Just a smiling old woman in sensible black pants and sneakers. She clapped her hands. “Let’s get to it! My friend Mr. Robert was just cleaning up for us.” Robert looked down. He was holding his sword, except now it was a broom. It still glittered faintly.
He couldn’t give his speech in front of the children, or stab their teacher with a broom. Mind reeling, he restacked the cubbies and swept the blue tiled floor.
Mr. Robert helped Miss Lilith with circle time, craft (the children made paper boats that reminded him, uncomfortably, of his journey to this little island), and snack. One brown-braided girl, seeing Mr. Robert had no snack, solemnly offered a cheese stick. Just as solemnly, he accepted it.
At recess, as the class whooped across the playground, Lilith said, “You should be a teacher. You’re a natural.”
“I don’t understand,” Robert said, clutching his broom, except now it was a sun hat. Sheepishly he put it on. “You’re the personification of ultimate evil. My family spent generations hunting you down so you wouldn’t destroy the world. You killed my ancestors.”
“And yet the world remains undestroyed. Sure that was a good use of your time?” Lilith waved to the children on the swings. “I only killed the first couple. Really didn’t enjoy it. Terrible cleanup, and I always needed to leave town. When I finally got to this island, I decided you all weren’t making me leave again. So I started talking your ancestors out of the whole prophecy thing. Got them thinking differently.”
“But,” Robert said, “they never came home.” Including his grandfather and his father.
Lilith snorted. “No, your council would’ve run them through for failing. That’s some death wish they’ve got for your family, kid.”
Some of the children came skidding up to them, chanting, “Par-a-chute! Par-a-chute!” Lilith laughed, nodding, and told them to get the others. As they did, she plucked Robert’s hat off his head and shook it out into an acre of rainbow fabric.
“You’re younger than the others,” she added. “You really devoted your whole life to this prophecy?”
He nodded, watching the children run to grab the edges all the way around the parachute. He’d never run like that. Or smiled like that.
Lilith sighed. “Cripes, kid. You should be in college. Going on dates.” She looked around at the class. “Ready?’
Robert didn’t know what to do, so he mimicked the children. Up, down, up, out, higher, higher. The parachute billowed above them as they shrieked and cheered. The sun made the rainbow fabric glow. Robert smiled so wide his face hurt.
As the children stamped the parachute flat for folding, Robert whispered, “Why didn’t you destroy the world?”
Lilith patted his shoulder. “You’re the first one to ask.” She flung a hand wide, taking in the children, the parachute, the bright sun and the cool breeze rustling the trees around them. “Because this is better. That’s why.”
As the class lined up to go back inside—“No running, stay in line,” she called out—she picked up the parachute and twisted it back into his sword. She held it out to him. “So? What now?”
He stared at the sword. He’d liked it better as a parachute. “What else can you change it into?”
Lilith smiled. “Anything you want.”