On a quiet, cool January day in 1983, a hurricane roared suddenly to life off the extreme southern coast of California, slamming into the tiny seaside community of Imperial Beach less than an hour later. Weather forecasters never saw the freak storm coming: within mere minutes it had simply materialized over calm Pacific seas, as if by magic. There was no warning: by the time they realized what was happening, it was too late. The swirling tempest had blown ashore. Hundreds of people would lose their lives.
In its relentless fury, the hurricane completely destroyed the Imperial Beach Pier. Forty-foot-tall waves rushed in, pounding the mighty structure mercilessly until it shuddered and collapsed into the boiling, triumphant sea. Two men died on the doomed Pier; one yelled into his walkie-talkie in his final moments that a terrible shadow was moving toward him over the long walkway, a shadow that had materialized abruptly through the heavy veil of driving rain; a shadow like Death itself. Then he screamed: a high-pitched, spine-tingling shriek—and then … only the eerie crackling of radio static. His body, and the body of his coworker, was never found.
And then, as suddenly as it had formed, the hurricane dissipated, spinning apart into airy nothingness.
One night not long after the storm had passed, a small boat materialized as though from nowhere a mile out in the calm open water. The boat carried a man. He was large, with short black hair just starting to gray, intense green eyes, devilish eyebrows, and a strong chin covered in a neatly trimmed beard. He wore the garb of a different place and a separate time: the regal clothing of a ruler. He made his way confidently toward shore, rowing strongly, the ghostly silver orb of the moon lighting his way, the water beneath him black and insubstantial, as if he were rowing through timeless space. Pieces of the shattered Pier still floated way out here; he watched them ruefully as they drifted by. Some time later he caught the incoming surf, riding it expertly, the roaring foam under his hull pale and translucent, like liquid diamonds. Once he had pulled the skiff securely upon the soft wide band of beach sand, he gazed about himself; at the muted yellow lights from the homes lining the beach; up at the silver circle of the rising moon; and then back out over the water, where once stood a great Pier. At this last, he stared for a long time, his countenance drawn and severe.
When morning came, there was no sign of him or the boat.
Eight years passed.
It was now 1991. San Diego’s Port Authority had rebuilt the Imperial Beach Pier; and it was on this day, the fourteenth of March, that they had chosen to christen it. And as the champagne flowed and the dignitaries shook hands and the cameras flashed along its fifteen hundred foot length, just a few blocks away, within the darkened bedroom of a small pink home nestled peacefully under the sleepy shade of ocean pine and sycamore, a couple lay in bed. They had just made love. They were lying close together, holding each other, trying to catch their breath. Their eyes, unfocused and soft, were not upon each other, but upturned toward the ceiling. They were listening intently; listening to the most beautiful music they had ever heard. Music without sound or source, but played within the being of each, having come to them at the same surprising moment, at the same time: as though the impassioned act that for a brief moment had merged their souls had been the catalyst by which the melody could come to life and realize itself.
And so, when a small, pink bundle of joy arrived nine months later, the happy couple had already decided what they were going to name her: Melody.
Melody was a quiet girl from the start, with large, dark eyes like the shade under that ocean pine and sycamore; pretty eyes that belied a piercing yet humble intelligence; eyes that reflected the flaming western skies perfectly as her mother held her while sitting on the beach near the newly rebuilt Pier, watching the brilliant, squashed orange orb of the sun set over the blue Pacific Ocean.
When Melody was two she began humming a song. They were just fragments, pieces really, but enough to leave her mother in stunned silence; for put together they became the very song “heard” that quiet March day nearly three years ago. Melody’s mom would often ask her: What song are you humming, Bug? But her little girl would only smile and reply: I don’t know, Momma. Her mother would ask: Did you hear it on the radio? The television? But Melody was sure she hadn’t heard it any of those places. And despite several lengthy and exhaustive searches, Melody’s mother could never identify the song or its composer. She eventually gave up her search, content to feel the sense of the miraculous every time she heard her daughter humming it.
When Melody was five she began taking a strong interest in her mother’s college Algebra textbook, staring at the cryptic symbols for hours at a time, asking her mom what they meant and how could they be one thing and yet reveal another? To stoke her curiosity, Melody’s mother bought her books as soon as she could read: books on simple mathematics that Melody would devour in mere days. Melody’s mom loved to watch her daughter as she struggled over this math problem or that: not so much because Melody was learning mathematics, but because she’d absentmindedly hum that very precious song while doing so.
Melody’s quiet demeanor and keen intelligence, as well as her fierce stubborn streak, left her very lonely as she grew up. She was often teased cruelly at school, where her classmates called her “nerd” and laughed derisively at her behind her back as she passed by. She was always alone on the playground during recess, always found to be walking quietly around, her hands in her pockets, simply observing the other kids as they played.
One sleepy late afternoon Melody, aged twelve, took a lonesome walk to the end of the Pier, which she did often. She was even unhappier on this particular trek, however, because she had just had an argument with her mother—the one person she felt who even bothered to acknowledge her existence. But as Melody stood there, leaning against the wooden guardrail at Pier’s end, watching the sun set, she found herself unable to stew over her troubles, because at that very moment she could hear a violin playing: a violin that seemed to call to her very soul, as if it knew everything about her and shared in her unending private anguish—and yet one that challenged her to lift her chin and face her days with joy and strength. It was music that brought ready tears to her eyes, eyes that Melody closed tightly to the monotonous reality around her, wishing upon wish that the violin could take the place of her five senses, for its hopeful reality was far and away more pleasant than hers. But then the music stopped, and after holding her eyes shut for a few more cherished moments, Melody sighed heavily and reluctantly blinked them open, her cheeks streaked and red.
To her right, just feet away, a pretty Japanese girl sat in a wheelchair, a violin case in the chair’s back pouch. She was gazing rapturously about herself, as if seeing the world for the first time.
And that is how Melody Singleton met Yaeko Mitsaki, her best friend; and how Melody’s—and Yaeko’s—loneliness thus ended once and for all. It would prove a powerful friendship, so much so that it would eventually inspire a dispossessed kingdom to go to war against a fearsome and evil oppressor, a dark sorcerer of untold power who twenty years earlier had conjured a hurricane out of thin air to destroy that kingdom—and its king.
In the meantime, Melody hasn’t noticed that a new mathematics teacher is working at her middle school: a large man, with graying hair, intense green eyes, devilish eyebrows, and a close-cropped beard over a strong chin.
A man who has been searching for Melody for over twenty years.
And now, a new, devastating hurricane is brewing, one far more powerful than the wicked tempest that destroyed the Imperial Beach Pier and took hundreds of lives so long ago. This storm, however, is not gathering over the waves of a vast blue ocean, but behind the inquisitive brown eyes of Melody Singleton herself. For a strange, magical new symbol keeps appearing when Melody opens her Algebra textbook, one beautifully compelling and entrancing; a mysterious symbol that wields enormous power to she who can see and understand it; a symbol with equal abilities to mend and heal—or divide and destroy.
Melody is staring at that very symbol right now, unaware of its latent potential or its lurking dangers; she’s staring and humming softly to herself, endeavoring to make it do her bidding….