I’m going to try to get The Wall finished – if I can stop editing myself long enough to get the last of it down on paper. Exoplanets. Aliens. Heroic kids. Telepathy. Resilience. Survival. The whole world is at stake.
And if I finish The Wall, I’ll revisit Chigger Hollow to see if Bigfoot has won the girl away from the dwarf with impulse-control issues.
The boy’s plea made Ciannait smile. Her great-grandchildren never seemed to tire of her stories, and at every meal they asked for a favorite. Sometimes she was able to remember a new tale for them, or even to create one out of fragmented memories of the tales told to her by her own grandmother.
“The Hruang? That beast that was captured and brought into the marketplace when I was younger than Foy?” Ciannait grinned at the children, then wet a corner of her apron and wiped Foy’s face. “I don’t think you washed up properly before breakfast, young man. Did you even bathe last night?”
The eight year old boy ducked his head. “I did, but the water wasn’t wet enough to get all of the dirt off,” the child explained.
Ciannait laughed. “Minna, the boy says water isn’t wet enough to clean him,” she said to her granddaughter, who set a bowl of warm cereal on the table.
“It may not be, Grandmama. I think he paints himself with grime every day.”
“He doesn’t paint himself with it, but he does roll around in it,” remarked Nagge, Foy’s ten year old sister. She reached for the ladle and filled both her bowl and her brother’s, then sat down at the table.
Foy grinned. He picked up his spoon and began eating with enthusiasm.
Ciannait filled her own bowl, and one for Minna. Minna came back to the table with a pot of tea, pouring for all four.
“I’m going to the orchard today to help Ben,” said Minna. “Children, you’re to help Grandmama here at home after your lessons.”
“How is Hanh?” Ciannait asked. “Is she getting any better?”
“No,” answered Minna. “And Zocha won’t say so to either Ben or Hanh, but she’s completely stymied. She thinks perhaps the illness is in Hanh’s mind more than in her body.”
“An illness of the spirit,” nodded Ciannait. “ It’s rare, but not unknown.”
“What happens when your spirit gets ill?” asked Nagge.
“You die!” yelled Foy.
Nagge rolled her eyes. “No, you don’t, silly. You only die when your body dies, not when you have a spirit sickness.”
“I thought you didn’t know what happened when a spirit got ill,” her mother teased. “Didn’t you just this instant ask what happens?”
“Well, I know enough to know your body doesn’t die. What does happen?”
“Spirit sickness is very serious,” answered Ciannait. “The person with spirit sickness wants to die, but cannot. It makes the people who love her very unhappy, too.”
“Can they catch the spirit sickness?” asked the girl.
“No, child. Spirit sickness is rare. It isn’t like a cold or the seasonal ills. It happens when the spirit and the body become separate,” her great-grandmother explained.
Nagge wrinkled her nose, thinking. How does a spirit separate from a body?”
“When you die!” Foy made a choking sound and pretended to fall off his stool.
His sister rolled her eyes. “Really, Grandmama, how does it happen?”
“No one is quite sure. There used to be healers who could call the spirits back to the living bodies they had left, but anyone with that knowledge is gone now.”
“When a spirit leaves a person’s body, what happens?”
“The person gets sick, and sometimes cannot even move or talk. It depends upon how close the spirit lingers.”
“Can you see a spirit when it leaves the body?”
“You have more questions than appetite this morning, Nagge! Eat your cereal. You have lessons today and you’ll be learning about the orchard plants.” Old Ciannait rose from the table. Over her shoulder, she admonished the children,”Eat well, because you’ll get hungry talking about the food plants of the farms.”
The children grinned at each other, knowing that their grandmother would make the lesson fun.
* * * * *
After their lessons, the children were released to play. Their great-grandmother’s only requirement was that they bring back one piece of fresh produce from the market for each of the four people in their home, and that each had to be different. They were told to talk to the market vendors about each fruit or vegetable, and to report to her what the vendor said about it.
The children raced each other to the open market near the great wall that surrounded the city. In the shade of the north wall farmers had stalls from which they distributed their produce. Crafters such as the potters, weavers, and basket makers also maintained stalls.
Their first stop was for a peach. Both children loved the sweet, juicy fruits and even when they had not been assigned the chore, in the warm months they might find their way to Momo’s stall where he sweetest, juiciest peaches sat waiting for people to claim them.
Momo’s stall was closed when they arrived, and the bent old woman was nowhere to be seen. The stalls on either side of hers were doing a brisk business, though. Neither vendor had seen Momo and both were too busy to talk to a pair of children. Nagge and Foy visited several other stalls. Knowing that Ciannait would expect them to bring home four completely different items, they visited the root seller, the bean vendor, and the squash seller. The children were determined not to go home without peaches, and asked after old Momo at every stall. No one had seen the old lady.
“I think we should go to her house and check on her,” Nagge said after they had exhausted their search of the market for knowledge of the peach vendor.
“She’s probably in the orchard with Ben,” Foy said. He was unconcerned about Momo herself, but his mouth watered for the sweet peaches. “Maybe Mama will bring home peaches today, since she’s helping Ben, too.”
“Maybe.” Nagge’s brow furrowed. “I don’t think Momo goes to the orchard much anymore.”
Foy shrugged. “Then let’s go check on her. You want to, and you’ll keep talking about it until we do.”
Nagge grinned. “Yes, I will,” she admitted.
Momo’s apartment was east of the marketplace, down a wide street that at night was lined with the barrows of the farmers. The walls of the homes were as white as the wall that surrounded the city itself, and the staggered rooftops of the buildings rose and fell with no perceivable rhythm. Each rooftop was planted with a garden, a place for the inhabitants within to grow herbs and a few vegetables for quick harvest for their dinner tables.
Interspersed among the buildings were slim towers, some narrower than a man’s shoulders, and some with more that one peak. The towers were made of the same mud-covered stone as the walls of the dwellings, but looked like the weathered remains of brittle, leafless trees, resting for the winter even against the blue skies.
The children made their way across the city’s north side, stopping to speak to the adults who greeted them. They raced each other the last few steps to the old peach seller’s door, but the old woman’s home was shuttered and the children’s calls went unanswered.
“She must have gone to the orchard,” Foy proclaimed.
“Momo hasn’t been to the orchard this year at all,” objected Nagge.
“Where else would she be?”
“How should I know? Maybe she’s gone to visit a friend. Maybe she’s just sleeping.”
“Sleeping? In the middle of the day?” The notion of a nap was completely alien to the boy. Even if Momo were sleeping, it seemed only logical to his eight year old brain that their calls would summon her since their cries always got the attention of Grandmama, who was older than Momo. The fact that old Momo might not have Ciannait’s health would never have occurred to him.
“I think perhaps we should check on her.” Nagge’s troubled expression arrested Foy’s attention.
“You think she might really be sick?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
The pair of them looked at Momo’s door, this time with a little trepidation.
“So, open it,” urged Foy.
“Let’s call her again.” They called. Still there was no answer.
Nagge reached out and touched the door. Just as she put her hand on the handle, Momo’s voice sounded from within.
“Here, now, what’s all the racket about?” The old woman sounded gruff and hoarse. She pulled open the door and blinked in the sunlight at the two children on her stoop.”Nagge? What are you and Foy doing here? Come in, come in.” Momo left the door open and without waiting for an answer turned and shuffled back into the dark interior of her home.
The children exchanged a look, then followed.
“We looked for you in the market. We wanted peaches.” Nagge told her. Foy looked around the apartment, obviously hoping to spot unclaimed peaches lying around loose, waiting to be given to him.
“You’ll not find me at the market today,” muttered Momo. “Nor are you going to find me there tomorrow. Or ever again.”
The children looked aghast at each other. “Never again? Why not? Aren’t there any more peaches?” Foy’s high voice wavered with momentary panic.
“Of course there are peaches, silly,” Nagge said quickly. “But, Momo, why aren’t you going to be in the market?”
The old lady snorted. “Ben says he wants Hanh to take over those duties. Not that she’s likely to get her lazy backside out of bed long enough to set the peaches out for anyone to see.”
“If Hanh’s going to be in the market, what will you do?” Nagge liked visiting with Momo, and was glad the old lady was there to give children extra fruit.
“I don’t yet know. I may help with tutoring or with the creche. I may just stay here in my apartment and enjoy my peaceful old age. Hanh won’t last long. She’ll sleep in the stall, if I’m any judge.” Momo sounded disgusted with her daughter in law.
“Mama went to the orchard to help Ben today,” Foy offered. “Do you have any extra peaches here?”
Momo raised an eyebrow, twisted her mouth into a grimace. “Ben better know what he friend he has in Minna,” she said. “Here, boy. There are always peaches in this house.” She handed both children a plump, firm fruit. “Now what are you doing here and not playing somewhere?”
“Grandmama told us to find four different foods from the market,” Nagge explained between bites of the juicy, sweet fruit. “We decided one of those ought to be a peach.”
“Oh? And how will she know you found a peach at all?”
“We’ll bring one back, of course,” said the little girl. Then Nagge’s eyes widened. “Only we’ve eaten our peaches!”
Momo laughed. “So you still need a peach for Ciannait, do you?” She grinned at the children’s solemn nods. “Fortunately for you I happen to have extras. Here.”
With grateful smiles the children accepted four more peaches and tucked them into the pack with the other food from the marketplace.
“Now get on with you,” scolded Momo, and watched the children cheerfully bounce out of the apartment and into the sunny street. “Mind you, don’t get caught by the Hruang on the way home!” she called after them with a smile.
Nagge and Foy had heard the stories of the Hruang. Their great-grandmother, who was one of the oldest people in the city behind the Wall, claimed she had seen one many years ago as a child herself. It was this story Foy had begged for at breakfast.
The beast had been captured by a band of hunters, and had died in the central marketplace from the stones thrown by angry old men and women who remembered the days of terror brought by the Hruang. When she told the story the old lady described the horrific claws and fangs of the beast, its bulging muscles and its naked flesh, but at the same time her tale evoked sympathy for the beast, captured and dying alone, injured, uncomforted, never itself having done wrong to its killers.
The frightening creatures had not come close to the walled city of Gaerwyn in generations. The wall was too intimidating to them, according to Ciannait. They would never bother, or dare, come close now. According to Minna, the children’s mother, such a beast was the stuff of legend, if it had ever roamed the world at all.
“Let’s go to the orchard,” Foy suggested, his mouth once again full of peach. No one was supposed to go outside Gaerwyn’s walls except on business, and children were never to go out without their parents. Since their mother was at the orchard, though, Foy and Nagge might be able talk the adults at the gate into allowing them to pass.
The rhythmic calls and movement of the people in the market provided the children with cover to slip out the city gate. The adults nearby were engaged with their bartering and bickering, their gossip and their industry. None paid attention to the two children. Nagge and Foy walked confidently near the opening in the great white wall.
They watched the dyemakers and the threadmakers, whose stalls were near the gate. Practiced in the art of sneaking out of the gate, the children asked questions and talked with the spinners who eventually told the children to move on and stop bothering them. The timing was perfect, as far as the children were concerned. They had seen the dyers toss their dyes into the boiling pot and knew that they would be shooed away from there, too, as they dyers were busy dipping the fabrics and threads into the steaming cauldrons.
As expected, the dyemakers shouted at the children to move back as they brought bolts of plain cloth over to the big pots for dipping in the hot dye. Nagge and Foy edged around the unguarded opening in the wall, sidestepped around its corner, and once out of sight of any adults ran to the great gray boulders that served as steps down to the valley where the orchards lay below the city.
The boulders had been left there by mysterious giants of the past, in a convenient formation that allowed relatively easy passage down the steep hillside to the fertile river valley below. Small, twisted trees grew amid the granite outcroppings. The stone was worn smooth by the passage of generations of feet. It was debated among the sagamen as to whether ancient chisels actually carved either the boulder steps or the base of the great wall that surrounded Gaerwyn.
“I am the leader of the Hruang, and I demand treasure!” cried Foy, making his child’s high voice deep to growl at his sister, standing on the boulder above his sister, glaring down at her with his small fists on his hips.
“The Hruang never demanded treasure,” objected Nagge, her status as the elder making her all-knowledgeable. “They just attacked and killed people.”
The boy stuck his chin out defiantly. “Well, this time I want treasure.”
Nagge grabbed a stick fallen from a nearby scrub tree and waved it at her brother. “Never! We will fight to the death!”
Foy saw a larger stick lying half on a granite step below in, to Nagge’s left and out of her sight. He made it to the weapon just as his older sister found her way to the side of the boulder where he had jumped.
They sparred with their weapons, shouting, growling, and happily banging their sticks. Foy had the better, stronger weapon. Nagge’s scrubby stick was older and drier, and a power thwack by Foy’s fresher weapon disarmed her. She shrieked.
“Admit defeat!” roared her little brother.
“You have defeated us, oh mighty Hruang!” cried the girl, crouching and covering her head with her arms.
“You must bring me treasure or I will take it myself from every home!”
“Will you attack our people if we give it to you?”
“No. I’ll take your things and go back to the other side of the mountains.”
“Sure,” said Nagge, standing slowly and assuming the persona of the Gaerwyn City Leader. “Drop your weapons and come close, and we will give you what you ask for. You have to promise to go away forever, though.”
“Give me good treasure and I won’t have to come back.” The small Hruang-boy’s avarice gleamed in his grin.
“Oh, we’ll give you the best. We promise. But you have to leave your weapons to come get it because we’re too afraid of you otherwise.”
The boy dropped the stick he brandished as a sword and took two steps closer to where his sister spread an imaginary pile of gifts. The girl bowed low to her brother, hiding her smile. “Please, honorable Hruang, take these gifts and leave us in peace!” she cried.
Foy swaggered closer, holding out the skirt of his tunic so it could be filled with riches. Nagge described each handful of leaves, each rock, each cluster of twigs as another impossibly desirable treasure. “A crown of silver, sparkling with precious gems. An ivory hunting horn, carved with scenes from legend. A bolt of the finest cloth, worked with threads of gold. An ancient scroll containing the secrets of the ages. Rare medicinal herbs. A vial of delicate perfume, guaranteed to make even Hruang smell pleasant.” Her litany of valuables brought a superior smile to her brother’s eyes as each item weighed more heavily in the stretching fabric of his outstretched pouch.
“Take more!” pleaded the eager treasure giver, piling the small boy’s Hruang arms full of leaves and twigs to represent the choicest of plunder.
When his skinny arms were full of the promised treasure, the Nagge leaped on Foy with a leafy branch, swatting at him with it. Howling, the boy dropped the leaves and twigs and leapt toward his own discarded branch.
“You cheated!” he yelled.
“I did not! I tricked you!” his older sister retorted gleefully, swatting him with a new branch she had surreptitiously retrieved during the treasure collection process and driving him backward along the rocky path.
The boy’s battle cry was another howl of indignation. Being older and stronger, his sister was able to drive him back further, laughing as she did so. The fierce duel of the branches brought them along the path to a flat place that overlooked the valley and led to another hill. Nagge stopped her attack long enough to catch her wind, and Foy ran up the path to the top of the crest beyond.
He stood upon it, throwing out his chest like the bravest hero of battles, bellowing his outraged superiority to the empty land beyond the whipping wind and throwing wide his skinny arms. His sister laughed and jumped to her place beside him.
She struck a mocking pose with one hand on her hip and a graceful arm outstretched to accept the adoring cheers of imaginary crowds. She bowed deeply. This time her brother laughed as well. The children jumped from the rocky crag to greet the throngs of their admirers.
Karyan was in a foul humor. He lagged behind the rest of the breck, muttering to himself. He knew they were going the wrong direction. Didn’t he have the best locus of them all? But no, Mauro was leader of the Keary Tynan, and if he said something was black then Mauro was determined to say it was white. If he said go east to get to the Gathering, Mauro would insist the way was southwest. Stupid Mauro.
Stupid Mauro and stupid Brenna. Had she not sided with Mauro the breck wouldn’t be wasting time. They had already traveled two hours under Mauro’s orders, and Karyan blamed Brenna as much as Mauro. Beautiful Brenna, with the laughing eyes and the perfect teeth, the raven hair that tended to slip and slide and shine in the sun…
Now he was going moony over her. She’s moony over Mauro and I’m moony over her, Karyan grumbled to himself. He was getting over his moony feelings, though, the more he saw her simper in Mauro’s shadow. Why was it that the women all thought Mauro was so great? Why did anyone think Mauro was so great, for that matter? He was muscular and handsome, sure, but he was as dumb as a rock. Mauro was only chosen Leader because he acts like he knows what he’s doing, Karyan realized. He doesn’t know any more that anyone else, and he knows less than I do about how to get to the Gathering.Stupid Mauro.
Malina and Tamal were beginning to fall behind the rest of the group, he saw. When they had slowed enough for him to meet them, he greeted them silently and waited for them to speak. The three of them kept walking, but allowed themselves to get slightly further behind.
“We should be there by now,” Tamal said at last.
“How far away do you think we are?” Tamal was attempting to get Karyan to speak against Mauro’s leadership decision, but after the argument the breck had over Karyan’s objection earlier in the day, Karyan was not feeling cooperative.
“Farther away than we were this morning,” Karyan replied.
“We think so, too,” Malina said.
“Then tell Mauro. Otherwise we’re going to be wandering in the wilderness for forty days and nights and we’ll just keep getting farther away.”
Malina twisted her mouth at his sharp tone. “We think Mauro will just change direction gradually and circle around to get to the Gathering. He won’t admit he made a mistake and turn around.”
“Maybe.” Karyan shrugged again. He hoped Mauro would be shown to be a complete fool in front of the entire breck. He hoped that by nightfall the breck was still wandering and would have to walk back an entire day to get to the Gathering. He hoped that they missed the Gathering altogether because of Mauro’s incompetence. Stupid Mauro.
“You should tell some of the others,” Malina said.
“Me? I tried to tell everyone this morning. No one listened then, including you. Why would they listen now?”
“Because my locus tells me that we’re farther away, too,” Tamal said.
“Right, well, maybe you should tell someone else, then.” Nothing would please Karyan more than to be proven right, but he wasn’t going to insist that the breck listen to him now. He was enjoying his sulk far too much for that.
“We should tell them together. Your locus is better than mine. I’m sure some of the others are also sensing the distance,” Tamal argued.
Karyan stopped. “Why should I tell anyone anything?” he demanded. “Mauro’s the leader. He knows all and sees all and hears all and locates all. I’m just a lowly Tynan, young and unproven, stumbling after my leader hoping someday to have his attention. Maybe he’ll let me repair his boots or something. They’ll need repairing after all this trekking we’re doing without reason.”
Tamal sighed and exchanged a look with Malina. “I know your feelings are hurt because of Mauro’s decision this morning, but…”
Karyan snorted in disgust.
“Really, Karyan!” Malina exclaimed. “You’re angry because of this and the fact is we need to get to the gathering. Mauro’s leading us the wrong way, and your locus is better than either mine or Tamal’s and we know it’s the wrong direction, too!”
Other members of the breck were stopping now, looking back at the discussion between the three of them.
Karyan crossed his arms. “I’ve already said what I think. Repeating it isn’t going to change the mind of the great and infallible Mauro.”
Malina put her hands on her hips. “You’re a mule!” she snapped. “You act like Mauro’s decision was a personal attack on you, and it wasn’t!”
“No, it wasn’t personal at all,” said Karyan agreeably. “When he said he wasn’t going to listen to one voice of dissent he wasn’t talking about me at all. When he said that my concerns were the ravings of a spoiled brat, he wasn’t personally attacking me at all.”
“Karyan, look, you’re acting like a child, just like this morning. You don’t want to do anything unless it’s done your way. We need to talk to Mauro and explain what we sense.” Tamal was trying to sound reasonable.
“I already did that, or did you forget? And besides, I am a child. You heard Mauro this morning.”
The rest of the breck was making its way back to where the three of them stood. Mauro was bring up the rear, the beautiful Brenna at his side.
Tamal and Malina opened the discussion to the rest of the group. A few had the grace to look uncomfortable.
“Actually, I was sort of thinking we were headed the wrong way, too,” offered Siyamak, his dark eyes looking toubled.
Karyan leaned against a boulder, his arms still crossed, still closed to the rest. He looked up, pretending to study the cloudless sky.
The other members of the breck came closer. Tamal and Malina led the discussion, and the Keary Tynan debated their location.
Abruptly, all discussion stopped. The Keary looked over Karyan’s head, their mouths collectively agape. Karyan, still closed to the breck’s discussion, noticed the shift in their attention nevertheless. He looked up, just as the two strangest Tynan he had ever seen jumped directly into the midst of the debating Keary.
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But his concubine became angry with him and she went away to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. – Judges 19:1-3
“It’s Bobby Wayne!”
The shock at hearing my husband’s name was only slightly less than the shock of hearing it spoken with such pleasure by my father. Exchanging a look with Mama, I moved to the kitchen window. The familiar F-150 was indeed in the driveway, and Daddy, who had been working on his old Camaro under the shade of the live oak, was stuffing a shop rag in his hip pocket and walking toward the truck with a grin on his face.
I couldn’t believe it. Daddy knew why I had left. The meth had led Bobby to more and more erratic behavior, and by the time I was able to get the money together to get back home I was practically unable to use my left arm any more. I think Bobby had broken it at least twice, and the second time he didn’t let me go to the hospital for two weeks. They said they’d have to break it again and do surgery, and he said he didn’t have the money to pay for it, so it never did heal right. Finally it seemed like the muscles just seemed to quit working in it.
But Daddy was greeting him like a long lost son, not the abuser of his only daughter.
Bobby stayed three days. By Monday morning, Daddy had loaded my things into the bed of the pickup and told me my place was with my husband. Mama didn’t argue about it any more after Daddy popped her in the mouth Saturday afternoon. I had no choice. Bobby had been making sweet promises about how good things were going to be. I thought that if things got bad I’d just walk out again.
We were on the outskirts of the city, about an hour and a half from home, when Bobby told me he had to go see a man there for business. Since the only business Bobby ever did involved things like guns and drugs, I knew we weren’t likely to go to a good neighborhood. I was right.
We were in an area that had clearly seen better days. “Urban blight” is the euphemism for it. Porches sagged without anyone standing on them. Graffiti covered everything from the walls of the homes to the fire hydrants to the sidewalks, and I could understand none of the writing. No one ever taught me this other language or the script in which it was written.
Bobby parked on the street in front of what looked like a store front that had been converted to living quarters. Before getting out of the truck he reached under his seat and removed his pistol. He checked it to be sure it was loaded, then stuck it into his pants at the waist, covering it with his t-shirt. “Stay in the truck,” he said.
As I waited, tough looking men drove by. I saw no women. No children played outside. Finally I lay down on the seat and slept.
Bobby had been inside almost three hours when a group of men approached the truck. When they tapped on the window I sat up, confused for a moment. An ugly scar bisected the cheek of the tall man who demanded Bobby’s whereabouts through the slightly lowered window. Wordlessly, I pointed at the building. The tall man stomped off, his followers behind them. There were about ten of them.
They pounded on the door, and although they apparently talked with whomever was on the other side, I could hear nothing. I saw the angry looks on the men’s faces, though. I saw two unsheath knives. Another’s gun was poorly concealed in the waistband of his jeans. A man on the edge of that crowd leaned down and picked up a piece of pipe.
While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have intercourse with him.” And the man, master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” – Judges 19:22-24
The door opened then, and I saw an older man holding a young girl by the arm. She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen years old and she looked terrified. He shoved the child toward the crowd of men, but the tall one with the scar pushed her back inside. There was more discussion. Gesturing, and then loud voices told me that they wanted my husband, they wanted him now, and they wanted him dead.
Bobby had taken the keys with him when he went inside. I locked the doors of the truck and sat in the middle of the seat. I was afraid, but I didn’t panic until I heard the thundering demand from the tall, scarred man: “If he won’t come out here and answer us like a man, he’s a pussy. We want the pussy. If you don’t give us that pussy, we’ll take his other pussy!” He was pointing at the truck. He was pointing at me.
The men surrounded the truck. Terrified, I refused to open the doors. The man with the pipe struck the window on the passenger side. It took him several tries, but finally it shattered and he reached inside and unlocked the door. They pulled me out of the truck. At first I screamed my husband’s name. Then I simply screamed.
They more than raped me.
Every man in that crowd had his turn, and several of them had more than one turn in more than one place on my horrified body. I lost track of the number of times each took me, and the way each took me. My abdomen felt near to exploding, then was numb. Two at once, three at once, there were more than I could count. I knew I was bleeding because they pulled away from me drenched in my blood.
Apparently their access was not easy enough, because they pulled my legs apart to more easily get at me from front and back at the same time. My hips and thighs cracked audibly, and I knew I would not be walking again any time soon.
When they forced my mouth open to defile me there, too, I bit down. Mercifully I felt only the first few of their blows to my head. After that, I lost consciousness.
As morning appeared the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. – Judges 19:26-27
“Get up. We are going.”
I lay on the pavement at the door to the house. I couldn’t answer. My jaw was probably broken, and the teeth on the left side of my mouth were gone. Painfully I lifted my head slightly and dropped it again. I could only see out of my right eye, and Bobby looked blurry even out of it.
He reached down and yanked on my arm. I screamed wordlessly. It was obviously broken and the shoulder was probably dislocated as well. My legs had no feeling in them. I couldn’t walk. Bobby dragged me whimpering to the truck and threw me in the passenger side, ignoring the fact that I was naked and the broken glass was ripping my skin to shreds.
I died on the way home.
When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. – Judges 19:29
What I found to be humorous about the whole affair was that he packaged up the parts of my body and mailed them to the men in that crowd. He also mailed a piece of me to the man in whose house he had hid. He sent my head to my parents. Daddy opened the package and vomited. I laughed.
I haunt them all. The pieces of my flesh that were sent to each man allow me to stay with him. The fact that their flesh is part of me because of that awful night allows me to stay as long as I wish. I have learned to give them boils, to call lice and fleas to their hairiest regions, to drench them in a stench so powerful none can stand near them, to afflict them with breath so fetid even their vicious dogs turn away from them. They don’t sleep at night, these twelve men who wronged me. The man whose seed created me, the man whose seed claimed me as his wife, and the ten men whose seed defiled me against my will do not sleep because of the wrongs done to me.
The thirteenth man, the one whose seed never became a part of me, is haunted by his own daughter, whose reproachful eyes remind him of the woman he sacrificed, and remind him that he nearly sacrificed her.
She prays to the bit of finger she saved from the rotting flesh that was delivered to their door by an unsuspecting postman. She prays to me to help her escape the madman she calls her father.
“My English Teacher is ruining Star Wars,” Jack moaned the other morning.
“What? How is that possible?” I was twirling my hair into Princess Leia rolls on either side of my head in the bathroom mirror.
“Archetypes. Only she says ‘arc-types.’ I think English class is nothing more than a conspiracy to ruin every good book ever written, and now it’s being extended to movies, too.” My 10th grade progeny was glum, very glum.
“Give me some examples of how Star Wars can be ruined just by talking about it,” I said reasonably. “I mean, we talk about Star Wars all the time and it’s never ruined it at all.”
“Yeah, but when we talk about it we don’t get the story wrong, and we don’t compare every character to Jesus.”
“Compare every character to Jesus!” I echoed. “I can see the similarity in Obi Wan…”
“No, Mom. According to a substitute teacher we had the other day, every character in Star Wars is like Jesus.”
“Oh, come on.”
“Really. She pointed out the ‘arc-type’ then she talked about it for awhile then she compared it to Jesus. I swear.”
“Fine. How is Han Solo like Jesus?” I demanded, imagining that roguish grin. I have always loved pirates. I have known pirates, and Jesus was no pirate.
“You know how when Luke is making the Death Star trench run? Han swoops in and saves him from evil, just like Jesus would do.”
“Darth Vader. Evil. The evil archetype. Han saves him, just like Jesus…”
“Oh. Ok. So, how is Darth Vader like Jesus?” I’m sending my kid to an Episcopal school so he can learn THIS? I thought. Mentally I shook myself.
“He dies to save Luke from the Emperor and from the Dark Side, just like Jesus died to save us from all of our sins.” Jack said the last part of that sentence in his best televangelist voice.
“Well, then, the Emperor. How is Palpatine like Jesus?”
“We’re just talking about Episode IV, A New Hope. Palpatine isn’t in that one. It’s Vader all the way.”
“He’s not?” I was surprised, and thought on it. “Who else is like Jesus?”
“Don’t even get me started on friggin’ Skywalker. Whiny bi…”
“Jack,” I cautioned him. “Don’t swear all the damn time.”
“Sorry.” Somehow he didn’t convince me.
“What archetype is Luke?” Aha, I thought to myself. Let’s see how much attention he’s paying in class.
“Luke is several archetypes. First, he’s the Hero. He’s The Young Man From the Provinces. The pupil in The Pupil-Mentor Relationship, the son in The Father-Son relationship”
“Wait a minute. Back up. The Young Man From the Provinces is an archetype?”
“I kid you not.”
“Why can’t you just say he’s the naive young person, or the initiate?”
“Oh, he’s also The Initiate.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The Young Man From the Provinces is the character who is taken away from home and raised by strangers, but returns triumphant to wrest the throne from the usurper. The Initiate is a young hero or heroine who has to go through training and ceremony, and usually wears white.”
“Hmmm. Both Luke and Leia wear white, although I think Leia is already initiated, seeing as how she’s already a Senator and all.”
“Yeah, but she’s also an Initiate, and she’s also in The Platonic Ideal, with, well, Guess Who.”
“Luke. Her brother.”
“But we don’t yet know they’re twins. It’s Mrs. Tyler jumping ahead again. We don’t know of any family relationship. And oddly enough, we’re reading Oedipus Rex in History.”
I laughed. “Jack, I am your mother.”
“Uh huh. And there’s an archetype relationship of Mentor and Pupil.”
“Luke and Obi Wan, as well as Vader and Obi Wan.”
“There’s The Devil Figure, or Jesus, if you will.”
“What? Jesus is the Devil? What is this?”
“Vader is the Devil figure, and as I explained earlier, Vader is also Jesus. Therefore, Jesus is the Devil.”
“I can see how Vader is maybe a Jesus figure once he appears after his death there at the end of Return of the Jedi, but how is he Jesus in A New Hope?”
“Oh, we’re talking at the end of Return of the Jedi. She totally ruined the movies for anyone who hasn’t seen it.”
“Someone hasn’t seen Star Wars? Inconceivable.”
“You’d be surprised. More than half my class has never seen the original trilogy.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. What other archetypes is Vader?”
“Well, in The Father-Son relationship archetype…”
“No! We had no idea about that relationship until the second movie! She really did ruin it.”
“She sure did. She said that Like Han, he’s The Apparently Evil Figure with an Ultimately Good Heart. Oh, and he’s also the wayward son in The Father-Son Relationship with Obi Wan Kenobi. And in a way, he’s The Scapegoat, because Emperor Palpatine is really the Evil One and Vader is just trying to please, or to save his love, or is hopeless until he finds hope in Luke, although Obi Wan is kind of a Scapegoat in that he lets Vader kill him so the others can get away.” Jack peered at me. “You do see the Jesus parallel there, don’t you?”
“Yes, I see.” I was taking it all in. My mind was racing.
“And Han is also the archetype of The Outcast, and he has the archetype of The Friendly Beast, Chewbacca, as his sidekick.”
“How is Chewie like Jesus?”
“He’s always willing to put himself in harm’s way for someone else he believes to be more important than he is.”
“That person being The Lovable Outcast.”
“Exactly. Which makes Han and Chewie the archetypal Hunting Group of Companions.”
“What, Like Beowulf and his men or something?”
“Yes. There are other Hunting Groups of Companions in Star Wars, too.”
“The Jawas. The Tusken Raiders.”
“Not the Tusken Raiders. They’re just the Evil Beasts. Grendels, if you want to use the Beowulf analogy. Luke, Leia, Han, the Droids, Chewie, and Obi Wan make a Hunting Group of Companions, too.”
“That makes sense. But how are they like Jesus?”
“Duh! The disciples!”
I grimaced. Dopey me.
“And then there are the Loyal Retainers.”
“Sort of. Really, though, R2-D2 and C3PO are the Loyal Retainers, especially R2. He’s the one who summons help, and who always comes to the rescue.”
“And he’s like Jesus because…?”
“He summons help and ultimately comes to the rescue. Like Jesus summoned help and ultimately came to the rescue in the sense that he provided a path to everlasting life. Do I have to spell this out for you, Mom?”
“No, no. Pray, continue.”
Then there is the Archetype of the Creatures of Nightmare. The Evil Beasts. Those are the patrons at the Mos Eisley Cantina, or the Tusken Raiders.”
“Creatures of Nightmare? At the cantina?”
“Yeah. Because they’re so bizarre, surreal. And then there is the archetype of The Star-Crossed Lovers. Han and Leia, obviously, Like Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And Greedo did too shoot first.”
“Not in the original movie, he didn’t. In the remake, sure, but not in the first version of the movie.”
“Whatever. Leia is the archetype of The Damsel in Distress. She even wears the flowing robes and has the long, virginal hair, like the Virgin Mary.”
“Not like Jesus?”
He rolled his eyes. “She’s a girl, Mom.”
I cleared my throat. “Right. How silly of me.”
“And there’s the archetype of the soft-spoken, sensible Earth Mother.”
“Princess Leia Organa is no Earth Mother! Well, maybe with the long flowing hair in the third movie, in the scene in the Ewok village.”
“Not Leia. Beru.”
“Yes. And no, she’s not like Jesus.” His eyes and his tone warned me not to go there, despite my temptation to do so.
“There are symbolic archetypes, too,” he informed me.
I waited. Jack was on a roll. I knew he’d go on without my prodding.
“Light versus Dark, Heaven versus Hell, Life Versus Death. You see these in the struggle between Jedi and Sith, the Empire and the Rebellion, the serene light blue of Obi Wan’s lightsaber against the angry dark red of Darth Vader’s lightsaber, the lush natural form of Yavin 4 against the mechanized construct of the Death Star.”
“Then there’s the symbolic archetype of Innate Wisdom that doesn’t speak much contrasted with the Educated Stupidity of constant chatter: again, in R2-D2 and C3PO.”
“I can see that one.”
“And there is Supernatural Intervention. That’s another archetype.”
“The Force, you mean?”
No, The Force is the archetype of The Magic Weapon. Supernatural Intervention is when Luke is in the channel on the Death Star and he hears Obi wan tell him to use The Force, and he hits the target using the Magic Weapon rather than more conventional means.”
“So how is Luke like Jesus?”
“He saves the galaxy. I really do have to spell it all out for you, don’t I?”
“I mean, Luke’s probably bigger than Jesus, who just saved one species on one planet.”
“Stop right there, kid. You have no idea of the flap John Lennon started with a similar statement.”
I saw the headline in the online edition of the New York Times yesterday, and a wave of nostalgia washed over me. Meg Murray, the protagonist in L’Engle’s classic, Newberry Award winning series, is one of my favorite literary characters from childhood. I wanted to be her. I probably was her: nerdy, intelligent, sarcastic, a diamond (or at least a white topaz) beneath the rough adolescent exterior of too-thick glasses and a mother who didn’t pay attention to children’s fashion.
When Jack was old enough to read A Wrinkle in Time, I handed him the tattered, oversized paperback I had read so many times myself. He looked at it with a sneer. I sighed. It really was falling apart. I had actually taped a few pages back into it as I reread it before deciding that, yes, it was time for him to learn about fewmets and tesseracts.
Barnes and Noble carried the entire series in hardcover. I bought them. Besides looking really swell on the shelf in their matching dust jackets, I knew that these books would never get outdated. Jack’s children will read them, and maybe his grandchildren. Their grandmother- and great-grandmother-to-be has read them again as an adult and finds no reason not to keep them on the shelf. These are not the kind of children’s books that are outgrown and packed away for a future generation. Like our hardcover Narnia books in their cardboard display box, Madeleine L’Engle’s books are meant to be seen and read regardless of my age or Jack’s.
There are a lot of children’s books that are really, really good even for adults. It seems that the “phenomenon” of Harry Potter surprised some of my adult friends, as well as adults all over the world. Books written for and about adolescents don’t have to be sophomoric. Those that aren’t, that are well written and tell a good story, have universal appeal even if they are sold from the children’s section of the bookstore.
There is a trend to make movies of such books these days. Holes, by Louis Sachar, had a great box office return. The classic story of a teenager punished excessively for something he didn’t do, evil jailers with evil agendas, bullies, friendship, loyalty, and karma had just the right amount of symbolism, philosophy and mysticism to appeal to adult book clubs.
Eragon did poorly at the box office, but that should be no reflection on the book. In the tradition of S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders), Eragon was written by 16 year old Christopher Paolini, who followed it with Eldest. The third book in the trilogy is due to be published within the next year. Paolini is an amazing writer, and I expect to see him producing prolific amounts of real literature as his writing becomes more seasoned. Yes, adults who like science fiction, especially those of us who like dragons, will love Paolini’s books.
In the world of Eragon and Eldest, there are no more dragonriders, because the evil king, who has the only dragon left in the world, declared war on them and killed them all. When a dragon’s egg appears mysteriously in the mountains where Eragon, a teenage boy, is hunting, he takes it home. He thinks it is nothing more than an interesting stone until it hatches. Suddenly Eragon is bound to Sapphira, the young dragon hatchling, and the two embark on adventures that are destined to change their world, and hopefully depose the wicked king and bring back dragons and dragonriders. Elves, dwarves, battles fought on the backs of fierce fire-breathing dragons: it’s all there. Personally, I can’t think of anything more I need in a dragon book!
Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, is being put on celluloid. The Golden Compass, based on the first book in the series, is due to be released in December. I hope it does justice to the book. As always, I fear for the bastardization of the story. Pullman is a British author. In the UK, the first book in the trilogy was released as Northern Lights. For whatever reason the title of the book was changed to The Golden Compass when it was published in the US.
His Dark Materials have been called the antithesis of Narnia. Parallel universes serve as the backdrop for this series, and demons replace the souls which exist outside the bodies of their humans. Children are being kidnapped and used in horrible experiments with the element “dust” which the religious authority believes to be proof of original sin. The themes in the book pull at religion, authority, and justice without insulting any true existing form of religion. The church in Pullman’s books is perverted from the Christianity in our universe. These books challenge the reader think about authority and faith in different ways. I doubt the movie will be able to convey these themes. I will wait to see.
The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud hasn’t yet been brought to the silver screen, and hopefully it won’t be. In case you couldn’t tell form my comments already, I just hate it when movies ruin the fantastic books they claim to based upon. (I know, I know- they’re making a movie, not making the book. Still, I think the movie makers ought to be true to the story, dammit.) In the first Bartimaeus book, The Amulet of Samarkand, a boy with innate magical ability is fostered to a magician who neglects him. The boy is determined to learn magic anyway, so he studies on his own. He calls up a demon just because he can, and naturally all hell breaks loose. Bartimaeus is a sarcastic, secretly good-hearted demon, though, and quite a character. Together the boy and the demon expose corruption among the magicians, managing to topple the government of England in the process. Magical duels, subterfuge, roving gangs, other demons with other agendas, exploding buildings, daring rescues from inaccessible towers… sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Cornelia Funke is to German speaking kids what J.K. Rowling is to their English speaking contemporaries. Her first book to be translated into English was The Thief Lord,and it was all the rage among Jack’s 4th grade peers. Since it was a thick book (like Harry Potter), I picked it up. What a story! Think of Oliver Twist and a teenage Fagan doing their work in the labyrinthine canals of Venice. It’s dark, the water is scary, and someone is chasing our orphaned heros… Funke’s next book to be translated into English was probably better than The Thief Lord, though. In Inkheart,a character from a book is called into real existence when Meggie’s father reads aloud. Unfortunately, Meggie’s dad dooms her mother to becoming a character in the book. Someone has to replace the one that was removed, after all! The challenge is to get Meggie’s mom back out of the book, and to put the characters who have escaped back intro the books. Two minor characters, Dustfinger and Basta, really stand out as examples of how a writer creates a fantastic, fully dimensional character.
When Jack reads something and then presses it one me to read, I do it. He reads what I tell him to, as well. This means I’ve introduced him to other books about kids his age that were written for adults, and he’s introduced me to children’s books that ought to be read by more adults.
Jack and I have always shared books. When he was in kindergarten, I’d climb into bed with him and we’d read a chapter or two from whatever book I had chosen. We read the entire Narnia series aloud that year. We also read the first three Harry Potter books that way. I think Jack became a stronger reader because he would follow along in the books as I read them aloud, giggling when he caught me skipping words or saying something that wasn’t actually written. By the third grade he was reading adult level books on his own.
I asked him about books to mention in this blog, and he told me, “Most children’s books are terrible. It’s the same stories over and over again. Kid finds something magic, kid goes on quest, kid meets girl, kid and girl become friends during the quest, kid and girl almost don’t complete the quest, but then find that the thing they need to complete the quest is inside them the whole time, like it’s ‘love’ or something.” Jack liked and likes the books that are original, that have more complexity.
Jim Butcher, the author of the wonderful Harry Dresden, Wizard mysteries, has started a series about people who can call up the elements to do their bidding. Air, water, earth, metal, wood, and fire are at the beck and call of talented individuals in this post-Roman Empire alternate world. The main characters start as teenagers in the first two books, and by the third they begin to come of age. They fight deadly giant insects who possess people making them zombies, go to war against a race of wolf-like creatures, and they get involved in diplomatic maneuvering among nobility with powerful magic. I’m really looking forward to the fourth book in the Codex Alera.
Ender’s Game is a fantastic book to give to any kid who likes video games. Orson Scott Card’s Ender series is probably his best known work, although he is a prolific writer of several genres. The Ender series is pure science fiction. A six year old boy, Ender Wiggin, is sent to battle school where he spends countless hours playing battle-type video games. Although he is initially segregated from the other students, Ender’s status as a strategic battle prodigy earns him the respect of the other students to whom he teaches tactics after regular school hours. Ender deals with bullies among his peers as well as an adult military command that puts him in charge of battle groups over his objection. Spoiler: When it is finally revealed to Ender that every battle he has fought on the video screen has been a real battle against real enemies, he falls into a catatonic state for several days. He has destroyed an entire race of aliens, including their home planet. The books that follow all address xenophobia and mental illness in creative ways. The series should be a classic for adults and kids alike.
Card also wrote an alternate history series with a teenage boy as his primary protagonist. In Seventh Son,the first book in the Tales of Alvin Maker, Alvin is known to be a man of incredible talent. He has a “knack” for making things – out of virtually nothing. His almost god-like powers change the world, and in later books characters from history interact with Alvin and have their own “knacks.” Tecumseh, William Henry Harrison, and the Indian Prophet Tenska-Tewa make their appearances, and Tippecanoe isn’t quite the same.
My philosophy has been to give Jack books that are about kids his own age, and a little older. When I read a story of a teenager who goes on the quest, or is thrust into a position of having to use his wits to survive, I give it to him. Frank Herbert’s Dune is a good one for teenagers because a teenager is suddenly thrust into a position of authority and responsibility, and must act creatively and desperately to save himself. Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shanarrais the classic quest book that Jack complained of, but its complexity is sufficient to keep not only Jack but plenty of others entertained through a long series of books. Likewise, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Timeseries is about adolescents who are prophesied to save the world and fight against the veritable gods of their reality.
I recently read The Time Traveler’s Wifeby Audrey Niffenegger. Maybe it is a bit of science fiction when a man is chronologically challenged, but when he materializes naked at the age of forty-three in front of his six year old future wife, things get interesting. The wife grows chronologically through the book, but never knows whether she will meet her husband in his future or his past.
A girl is identified by a homeless man to be the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary in The Annunciation of Francesca Dunnby Janis Hollowell. Although her mother tries to protect her from the headiness that comes with being suddenly invested with the power to heal and the power to bless, Francesca’s aunt is more avaricious and sees the potential for making a profit off the situation. As Francesca herself matures, so do her powers. Book clubs loved this selection, because of the possibility of a mass psychosis that either caused or resulted from Francesca’s powers.
I know my list is weighted heavily toward science fiction and fantasy because Jack and I both love the genre. There are other books out there about kids, though, that are great. I’d love to hear what others have read.
“Katie, you’re supposed to be drawing a picture of your friend!” Emily’s voice was a shrill, plaintive, tattle-tale whine that crawled under Miss Simpson’s skin and set up housekeeping.“Emily, let me handle any problems, please,” she said, moving quickly to Katie’s desk. Emily’s words had already cut poor Katie, though. The tiny redhead had quit drawing and her face was scrunched into a fierce scowl. Her thin arms crossed, then uncrossed stiffly, then crossed again tight against her little chest as she hunched protectively over her drawing. She didn’t look up when Miss Simpson reached for the paper.
“I told you!” Emily trumpeted as the teacher’s eyes fell on the drawing.
“This is a very good drawing, Katie,” said Miss Simpson. “Emily, keep your eyes on your own work, please.”
“Well, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to!” protested Emily.
“That’s really no concern of yours, now is it? And if you don’t mind your own business you’ll sit in the hallway for the rest of art period.”
Emily sniffed audibly and glared at Katie. What a perfect victim the brat makes, thought Miss Simpson.
At time for recess, Katie was slow to leave her desk and even slower to pull on her jacket. Miss Simpson bit her lip, then made a decision.“Katie, would you talk to me for a moment before you go outside?”
Katie turned slowly and walked woodenly over to Miss Simpson’s desk.
“That really was a good drawing,” Miss Simpson said with a smile. The child’s eyebrows knit together and her frown became, if anything, darker. She stood to the side of Miss Simpson’s desk glowering at a mote perhaps two feet off the ground and somewhere to the left.
“It really was okay for you to draw a picture of a friend other people can’t see.”
This time the little girl cut her eyes at Miss Simpson. “Other people see him,” she muttered.
Miss Simpson sighed.
“Katie, I’m going to ask Mr. Carson to spend some time with you, okay? And you can talk to him about problems you might be having with Emily or with the other students, or even at home. He’s a really nice man and he’s a good listener.”
Katie shrugged. The motion was exaggerated, defensive. The mote had moved another foot to the left, and the child took a half step toward it, still glowering.
“Go ahead to recess.” Miss Simpson watched the child slowly stomp out of the room.
“Miss Simpson showed me the picture you drew of your friend. Why don’t you tell me about him?”
Mr. Carson’s cajoling tone seemed not to penetrate Katie’s sullen mien. She sat tight-lipped in the molded plastic chair kicking her feet alternately toward the metal waste can. The school counselor’s cramped office could barely hold the two chairs, his desk, a file cabinet, and stacks of papers, files and books that littered every available surface. Mr. Carson allowed nearly two full minutes of silence before he spoke again.
“I’m going to talk to your parents,” he commented decisively. Katie shrugged her exaggerated shrug and swung her feet harder.
Mr. Carson rang the doorbell at the house on the edge of the small town. A baby cried somewhere behind the closed door. Footsteps pounded rapidly closer and a boy about ten years old and as red-haired and freckled as Katie threw open the door. “Mom!” he bawled over the staccato barks of a terrier when he saw who the visitor was. A man dressed in a sleeveless undershirt came from what appeared to be the kitchen.
“Mr. Holden? I’m Fred Carson.” The counselor held out his hand for a shake and Katie’s father led him to a sofa covered with unfolded laundry. Thrusting the clothes into a plastic basket sitting next to the sofa, Mr. Holden waved at the counselor to sit. A moment later they were joined by Mrs. Holden.
“It isn’t abnormal for a girl Katie’s age to have an imaginary friend,” began the counselor.
“Tishapus isn’t imaginary,” said Mrs. Holden.
Mr. Carson cleared his throat. “What I mean is that children often create playmates when they feel isolated among their peers.”
“He’s not her playmate,” said Mrs. Holden.
Mr. Carson shifted uncomfortably on the couch. “Perhaps you don’t understand. Katie insists that she has a friend who looks like a faun, or a satyr – like Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I assume that’s where she got the idea, anyway.”
The Holdens exchanged a look. Mrs. Holden nodded slightly to her husband, and Mr. Holden rose. “Please excuse me a moment,” he said. Mr. Carson gestured permissively.
As her husband left the room, Katie’s mother turned to face the school counselor directly. “Mr. Carson, we don’t expect you to believe Katie. We hope you will believe your own eyes, though.”
Before he could respond, Mr. Carson’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened. Accompanying Mr. Holden back into the living room was a creature about five feet tall which looked for all the world like it had the legs and haunches of a goat, the torso of a man, and wickedly curved horns on its head.
“Mr. Carson, meet Tishapus,” said Mr. Holden.
Detective Dennis P. O’Leary banged the empty coffee mug down so hard it should have broken. The sharp sound bounced off the bare walls of the interrogation room. The stranger on the other side of the table winced just slightly at the noise, then his expression smoothed out again.
“I told you, we don’t take to vagrants here in my town,” O’Leary barked. The stranger’s wide-eyed stare didn’t betray fear. Inexplicably, he only seemed curious, his head cocked slightly to one side.
“Why not?” asked the stranger in his odd, lilting accent.
“Why not? Why NOT?” blustered O’Leary. “Because we don’t!”
The stranger nodded thoughtfully. O’Leary had the notion the stranger was filing his response away to study later.
“What do you tolerate, then?” the stranger asked. His words were mild, not at all confrontational.
“What do you mean, ‘What do we tolerate’? We tolerate law-abiding citizens and visitors who know their place!”
“What place is that?”
O’Leary’s eyes narrowed as he leaned across the table, his out-thrust chin close to the stranger’s long goatee. “Are you getting smart with me, boy? Because if you’re getting smart with me you won’t be leaving my jail until a judge says you can.”
The stranger’s expression showed confusion for just a fleeting flash of a moment, then rearranged to display detached curiosity. “I am trying to become smarter, yes,” he answered. “Will you share your knowledge with me?” He held up his oddly deformed hand and reached toward O’Leary.
O’Leary slammed his big fist on the table so hard the empty ceramic mug jumped. The stranger jumped slightly, too.
“Boy, your mouth is getting you in deeper,” warned the burly policeman.
“Deeper?” This time the stranger’s confusion lingered in his expression for more than a split second. “I do not understand ‘deeper.’ Can you explain it to me in other words?”
O’Leary spun on his heel and banged on the locked door, which opened almost immediately to admit a smaller man who nodded to O’Leary as the policeman left the room. The new man took the seat O’Leary had vacated. He was silent for almost three full minutes, just studying the stranger through frankly appraising eyes. Then he cleared his throat.
“Do you remember me?” he asked.
“You are Doctor Will Handy. I remember you.”
“The police need your real name,” Handy said.
“I do not believe they will be able to pronounce my name. They may call me Tishapus, like the others do.”
“The police need your real name,” Handy repeated.
The stranger was quiet for a moment, then Handy’s head spun as a whisper of sound, emotion, and images assaulted his mind. Even seated solidly in his chair the psychologist nearly lost his balance.
“Tishapus is a good name,” the stranger explained.
“No, I need your name,” Handy objected. Again the feelings, images, and unrepeatable tones washed over him.
“Really, Tishapus will have to do, unless you prefer to use a different word for me.”
Handy’s head swam, but this time from understanding. “That’s your name?” he whispered. “How did you do that?”
The stranger peered intently into Will Handy’s eyes for several long moments. “My language works differently than yours,” he finally said. The statement was so obviously true, and so obviously impossible, that Dr. Handy’s mind reeled.
The psychologist rose shakily and paced the room. He returned to the chair, sat down, sat silently for a moment, then rose again and stood across the table from the stranger.
“Where are you from?” he asked Tishapus.
“The children call it Heaven, but it is not the heaven of your culture’s religious belief system.”
“The children are right,” Handy said it almost to himself, but the stranger heard and nodded.
“The young always accept notions foreign to them much easier than do fully grown creatures,” agreed the stranger. “In this case I believe they have imposed a familiar idea onto their new knowledge. It most likely makes the new knowledge easier for them to talk about among themselves and with others.”
Will Handy nodded thoughtfully.
“Where will you go if the police release you?” he asked after a few moments.
“Katie’s playhouse is comfortable for my present purposes,” the stranger said amiably.
“You understand that Mike and Beth Holden say you can stay in their home, don’t you?”
“Yes, but my studies will best be conducted if the local population has better access to me. Although it would probably be the best place for my research, Mike Holden said that I could probably not stay in the gazebo in the park.” The stranger hesitated. “Who could give me permission to station myself in the park gazebo?”
“You’re actually serious,” Handy said. It was a statement, not a question.
“Of course,” the stranger – Tishapus – said.
“And you have no money, so you can’t get a room at May’s boardinghouse.”
The stranger shrugged. “Money is a concept I had not planned upon when I came to study your species.”
“My species? Not my society or my culture, but my species?”
Tishapus nodded. “We must understand the basics of your species before we try to study your social structure in great detail.”
“You’re telling me there are more… people … like you?”
“You did not expect this to be true?” the stranger’s demeanor radiated cool amusement. “Interesting.”
Handy stepped back from the table. “Excuse me, please, Tishapus.”
In the hallway outside the interrogation room Handy conferred with Detective O’Leary and Captain Mitchell. “I’ve not encountered anyone like him, that’s for sure,” he began.
O’Leary snorted. “Fellow’s crazy, ain’t he? We need to call the State Hospital and have him committed.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Handy disagreed.
“You don’t really think it’s okay to let him go back to that little girl’s playhouse and camp out, receiving guests like he’s visiting royalty, do you?” the big detective sneered.
“Come on, Detective. This is something different than a regular stranger in town. You have to recognize that. You recognize it, don’t you, Tom?” Handy asked the captain.
“He’s not in a costume, that’s for sure,” Mitchell replied.
O’Leary rolled his eyes. “The hell he’s not!”
“Dennis, for Pete’s sake. His knees bend the wrong way. That’s no costume.”
“Prosthetic legs. And he’s deformed. He’s as human as you or me. His mama was on drugs or something when she was pregnant is all,” O’Leary stated flatly.
“Detective, did you ask his name?” Handy inquired.
“Yeah. He wouldn’t say. He just kind of whistled at me.”
“Whistled at you,” Will Handy echoed.
“I’m saying we should take him up to the State Hospital and have him worked over by the docs there. Not that you aren’t a doctor, Doc Handy, but you know what I mean.” O Leary’s communication skills were better suited to interrogation than to diplomacy.
“No, Dennis, he’s done nothing wrong and the parents of those kids aren’t worried about him being a danger. The Holdens have even invited him to stay in their home. No one will say he’s a danger to himself or to anyone else, other than Dave Hernandez, that is, and you know he’s never happy about anything. We can’t have him committed unless we think there’s some problem.”
“Being delusional isn’t a problem?” O’Leary demanded incredulously.
“If the delusion isn’t harming him or someone else, then no, it’s not a problem. And to be honest, I’m not so certain he’s delusional.”
Captain Mitchell nodded at Dr. Handy’s words. “I’m going to release him, then. The Holdens are waiting and want to take him home with them.”
“Wait a minute,” objected O’Leary. “What if he’s a child molester? We can’t just let him go.”
“Detective, I have interviewed the fellow, and so has Dr. Jenner. Aside from possible eccentricity, we find no delusions that we can verify as delusions. The guy isn’t human. If he is, then he’s the next step on the evolutionary ladder and we can’t verify that there are similar mutations anywhere in the world. In short, he’s not from around here. We have nothing to indicate he is a threat.”
“Not only that, but if we lock him up then we’re going to have some angry citizens to deal with,” added Captain Mitchell. “Bill Costello has drafted a habeas corpus petition that he’s going to file with Judge Miller if we hold this fellow much longer. And Judge Miller’s kid is one of Katie Holden’s friends. She’s been playing with this … Tishapus. With her daddy’s permission, I might add.”
Detective O’Leary threw up his hands in disgust. “Fine,” he snapped. “But this won’t be the end of it. I can promise this fellow’s going to be trouble sooner or later.”
“The Bradford County Cantaloupe Festival is apparently getting off to a good start. We’ll check back with our weather team shortly and get a live update on weather conditions for the weekend. In other news, an event of a different sort seems to be going on in the small community of Pleasant Ridge. Candy Olsen is on the scene and will tell us more.”
The red light on the camera let Candy Olsen know she was being beamed live into the living rooms of television viewers across the region. She smiled directly at the red glow and began speaking.
“Thank you, Frankie. I am waiting at the home of the Holden family of Pleasant Ridge for an event that may be monumental indeed. The being that calls itself “Tishapus” has agreed to give Channel 8 an interview, and in a few moments I hope to be sitting with him at the picnic table you see behind me. There is a festival atmosphere here. It seems the entire town has turned out to observe the interview. We’ll be broadcasting the interview on the late news tonight.”
The red light blinked out as the anchor on the set, an hour’s drive away, resumed reading from the teleprompter.
The petite blonde television news reporter settled herself uncomfortably at the child-size picnic table in the Holden’s front yard. Despite her cheerful assertion, the little house on the edge of the middle class neighborhood on the edge of the small town didn’t really seem festive. Sure, people milled around everywhere, but their faces were solemn, guarded. No festival ever seems to be protectively distrustful of television cameras. When the lens would swing in their direction more often than not the people of Pleasant Ridge frowned and looked away. Candy Olsen was certain that people attending the Bradley County Cantaloupe Festival were grinning as they ate their melons and danced in the street. She was fairly certain people there would pose for the cameras and act silly. There was no foolishness or gaiety at the Holdens’ home, though.
A commotion by the small frame house drew the attention of the people milling about the yard. Indistinct voices hummed in a higher pitch of excitement and a knot of movement crossed the 30 or so feet toward the picnic table.
The creature had been described to her, but the reporter was not quite prepared for actually seeing it in reality. In one corner of her mind she was aware that she was staring stupidly and that her gaping mouth was being caught on film. She couldn’t pull her wide eyes away from the creature, though.
Its face was vaguely human, but the planes and angles were wrong. The face looked like one of those Photoshop images of the sheep-child that periodically appear on the cover of the sillier supermarket tabloids. The face was too narrow, too long; the cheekbones too high; the beard – no, there was no beard, except for the white tuft the grew in an elegantly thick corkscrew curl from the creature’s chin. Sleek silver-gray fur covered the creature’s torso and face, then became curly ginger brown at the crown of the creature’s head. At waist level, the ginger fur reappeared, longer, curlier and denser. What was it called when dogs had that kind of coat? Wire-hair. The mouth, almost a snout or a muzzle but not quite, curved upward at the corners. She wanted to reach out and touch the horns. Were they densely matted hair, like the horn of a rhinoceros? Were they light and woody, like the antlers of a deer, or bony like those of a ram?
Candy Olsen rose from her perch on the bench of the picnic table. Tishapus walked gracefully toward her. His knees bend backwards, went through her mind. Those aren’t hooves. I thought he had deer hooves, but those are pads, or paws. No, they are hooves, they just don’t look like any hooves I’ve ever seen. Her observations of the creature’s physical characteristics fled as she felt a nudge against her mind and the sensation of amusement, not her own amusement but someone else’s tickled the edges of her consciousness.
Tishapus stopped nearly three feet away from her and bowed slightly. She saw what she thought was a stubby tail tipped with a copy of his goatee. She started to say something, then wasn’t sure what to say.
“Hello.” That was inane, she thought. What a great first impression I’m making. She mentally shook herself. She wasn’t there to make a good impression. She was there for an interview.
The reported indicated the picnic table. “Shall we sit? I’m Candy Olsen.”
The creature bowed again and moved to one end of the table. Rather than sitting on the bench he sat on his haunches. He leaned forward and crossed his arms on the table.
“Please you will excuse me,” he said softly, “But it is not comfortable for me to sit on a bench or chair the way your kind does.”
“N-no, I suppose it wouldn’t be comfortable,” she replied, unable to take her eyes off the creature.
“You have questions you would like me to answer?” She heard his voice in her ears and in her mind at the same time. She wasn’t altogether certain that his spoken words were what she really understood.
“Yes,” she said, and nervously consulted her notes. The interview began.
“Candy, we can’t use any of this for the playback on the late news. You’ll have to summarize what he said.” The frustration in the editor’s voice dismayed the reporter.
“None of it? But he was eloquent and answered the questions beautifully! What do you mean you can’t use it?”
“Have you listened to the tapes?”
“No, why would I? You are the editor. I just do the interview.”
“Candy, the creature didn’t speak. He sang. Or, it sort of sounds like singing. And he didn’t use words. I don’t know how you talked with him.”
“What do you mean, he didn’t use words? He spoke plainly and clearly. Everyone there heard him!”
“Watch the playback, Candy. Just watch it.”
Sighing with exasperation, the reporter nodded to the cameraman. He began the playback.
Moments later, Candy Olsen stalked away to create a summary of her interview with the creature. No one had taken notes. It was all being captured on camera, so there had been no need for notes.
“I’m going to miss you. I wish you wouldn’t go.”
“I will miss you, too, little one.”
“Why can’t you stay?”
“When I left my home no one believed I could come here. I have learned about your race and now I need to go back home and tell my people about you.”
“Who’s going to tell other people here about you, though?”
“The ones here who saw me and knew me will tell. They will tell the people they encounter, and those people will tell others.”
“No one believed you were real until they saw you. Once you’re gone no one will believe in you, either.”
The creature looked at the human child with sadness. “Whether or not the people who hear of me believe, those who saw me do. They know. You know.”
The little girl sighed. “What if your family and friends don’t believe you about us?” She felt Tishapus’s wry amusement.
“They probably won’t. Creatures with no tails? And intelligent creatures without horns? And the odd way your bodies are constructed? They will laugh at me and call me crazy.”
“Then why tell them?”
Tishapus thought for a moment.
“I will tell them because knowledge is good, and if our races ever meet for trade my people should understand you people’s customs.”
Katie was quiet. Then she asked, “Is that why so many of the grown-ups are going with you?”
“Yes. They want to know how to get to my people. And I think some of them still don’t believe that my people exist or that my home exists.”
“I want to come with you, too.”
“I would like that. When you are older, perhaps you can be the ambassador from your race to mine.”
Katie smiled. She hopped down from her perch on the swing and hugged Tishapus. He hugged her back.
The vehicles had been left behind when the road ended. A group of eight men and women hiked the mountainous trail with the creature called Tishapus. Mike and Beth Holden, who had hosted him, Bill Costello, who had defended him, Candy Olsen, who had interviewed him, Dr. Willard Handy, who had examined his mind, and Dr. Emma Jenner, who had examined his body were the friendly people along for the trip. Dennis O’Leary, who had never stopped doubting him and Freddy Carson, who had reported him as a suspicious vagrant to the authorities, were there to represent those who refused to believe what was plainly in front of them.
They were above the tree line and the terrain had become more difficult. As the group crested a ridge, there was an area that was fairly flat before a cliff face rose again. Tishapus headed for a cave opening in the cliff.
“I thought we might camp here for the night,” he explained.
Detective O’Leary snorted. “You’ve brought us all the way up here to camp out. How nice.” He had grumbled and complained the entire trek.
Bill Costello shook his head. “Give it a rest, O’Leary,” he said in disgust. “You’ll get your proof in the morning.”
Talking quietly among themselves the group began making camp.
After eating their dinner, the Holdens, Costello, and the two doctors sat near the cave entrance and played cards. O’Leary and Carson sat off by themselves talking quietly. Tishapus had wandered away from the campsite to the open terrain. Candy Olsen fidgeted with her camcorder, then walked the short distance to the creature.
“I hope I can film the city better than I could film you,” she said as she seated herself next to him.
Tishapus glanced at her and again she felt his amusement wash over her. His melancholy mood dampened it somewhat, though. “That will be a difficult experience to explain to my people,” he said.
Candy snorted. “It was difficult to explain to mine,” she agreed.
They sat quietly for a time, gazing at the flood of stars that just couldn’t be seen from populated places. “Do they look the same where you live?” The reporter asked.
“The stars are the same,” nodded Tishapus. “And they are just as difficult to see from my city as they are to see from yours.”
“I suppose that is a price civilization must pay.”
“One of many prices,” agreed the creature.
“What do you believe is the steepest price we pay to live in a society?”
“Is this another interview?”
The reporter laughed softly. “I seem to have a habit of asking questions.”
“Yes. But they are good questions.” Tishapus fell silent and Candy contented herself with soaking in the sounds and ambience of the night. An hour passed, then two. She was content to sit silently beside this strange creature.
“Acceptance,” said Tishapus.
“What are you talking about?”
“The steepest price we pay to live in a society. We give up acceptance.”
Candy thought for a moment. “Acceptance of what? Acceptance by whom?”
“Giving up the acceptance of what our senses tell us.”
Candy looked at Tishapus quizzically. “Who rejects what they see and hear?”
Waves of sadness washed over Candy, and she knew it was a projection from Tishapus.
“How many of your people who saw me accepted me immediately?”
Candy hesitated. There were so many who had claimed Tishapus was wearing a costume or that he was a trained animal performing for his handlers. Twice Tishapus had been asked to travel with a carnival because his “costuming” was so good. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not™ offered him a lifetime billeting as a permanent attraction at its main museum, with travel benefits and luxury accommodations when he would travel to its locations worldwide. Tishapus was a freak, a sideshow attraction. Very few people believed he was a member of a real species. At worst they referred to him as a mutant. At best, they called him deformed.
“It’s hard to accept what is strange to us, what we’ve never before seen,” she said aloud.
Tishapus nodded. “When we live in a group the group’s opinion matters. If the group thinks something is odd, wrong, or somehow unacceptable, then the individual will adopt the same opinion. It makes learning new things very difficult.”
“Do your people act this way, too?”
“My people will not believe me when I tell of my visit here. They believe that creatures such as yourself are the creatures of myth.”
“I wonder if it has always been this way.”
“I believe it has not. I believe when both of our species were younger, we accepted strange and unusual things with curiosity, not disbelief. I believe that we once accepted things more easily.”
“It’s a shame our civilizations have advanced so far, then,” Candy remarked. “One voice cannot change minds.”
“The individual’s opinion matters for nothing unless he can convince the group to agree. I cannot imagine that this is anything new. Even in a primitive society, the individual needs the cooperation of the group in order to survive.”
“‘No man is an island,’” quoted the reporter.
“An apt description. No, no individual can really survive alone. Our species are both very social species. So despite the evidence the individual sees, he must sometimes reject what he knows to be true in order to be accepted, or he risks being ostracized from his society, shunned or ridiculed for his nonsensical beliefs. He rejects the proof and reality of his senses for the acceptance of the group, because that is how individuals survive.”
Candy didn’t respond immediately.
“You’re talking about acceptance on many levels,” she finally said.
“Yes,” agreed Tishapus quietly.
When she sun’s first rays flooded the floor of the high ledge, Tishapus leaped up with a glad cry. Candy Olsen, who had fallen asleep sometime during her vigil with the creature, opened her eyes to a flash of brightness that was gone almost as soon as she sensed it, but which left behind an impression of golden minarets against a turquoise sky.
“Do you see? Do you see?” Bill Costello’s excitement was met by a gasp of “oh!” from Beth Holden, who walked dreamlike toward the rising sun, and by exclamations of “yes!” from Will Handy and Emma Jenner. Mike Holder said nothing, but in three strides had caught up with his wife, grasped her hand, and joined her eastward movement.
Then Tishapus was gone.
“I didn’t see anything,” announced Dennis O’Leary.
“Me, either,” groused Freddy Carson. “Let’s have breakfast and head back down the mountain. I guess Tishapus ran off in the night.”
Above Crystal City, in a hidden part of the Koneryl Mountains, a shadow shifted. The figure of a small man staggered out into the waning light of the afternoon sun. Weeks of searching and days of ritual without sleep and starvation had taken its toll but he had what he had come for. Dark eyes searched the mountainside for any sign of movement. Nothing. With slow, trembling hands, the figure took a small pouch from beneath his belt. He turned his back to the sun and, with another furtive glance about, emptied the contents into his palm. Five dark but rainbow-brilliant stones landed in his hand.
These small stones were the stuff of legends. Mother’s Eyes! The largest was smaller than a wren’s egg but that was no matter. A grin lit up his dirty face as he considered the possibilities. In his filthy, battered palm he held the wealth of cities. Each stone contained no less than the living spirit of the land itself. The stones emitted a warmth that sank into his very bones. Nothing was more rare; nothing was more valuable. In the right hands, one stone could bring forth water in the Sisseir. No, no, size didn’t matter at all.
A wave of dizziness struck him and he staggered slightly. Even his euphoria couldn’t push away his hunger or weariness. Carefully he slipped the precious stones back into his pouch, tucked it safely beneath his belt and tied it securely.
It wasn’t safe to stay here. Weeks playing the half-minded stable hand while sneaking his supplies piece by piece outside the city hidden in manure, of monitoring every word he said and every move he made, were no guarantee. Someone could have taken notice at how he lingered at dung heaps and decided to find out what he was taking such pains to conceal. Yes, someone could have taken notice.
He glanced around once again then went to the stream gushing madly from the mountainside near the mouth of the tunnel. The icy water stung his face but revived him somewhat. He drank deeply then filled his waterskin. He wasn’t far from the city but the climb down would be difficult. He wondered briefly if he should stay another night in the mine but decided against it. He had been too long without food and if he stayed he might not have the strength to get down the mountain. As it was, he wasn’t sure that he could make it at all. He had to go now and the quicker, the better.
The paltry weight of his nearly empty pack shifted and threw him off balance as he tried to put it on. A precarious moment passed before he regained his equilibrium. The tempting thought of just leaving it behind slipped briefly through his mind but was discarded immediately. No trace of his presence here must ever be found. Too much was at stake to risk it. It took several minutes for him to control his shaking hands long enough to strap the thing on securely. He cursed at his weakness and at the sun racing so quickly to end the day. Unable to do more for the moment, he sank down on an outcropping. He surveyed the mountain as he rested.
Nothing met his searching eyes but bare rock and a number of streams spewing heedlessly forth and down, down, down to more bare rock below. His path lay beneath more than one of these torrents. Tiny rainbows glimmered in the last of the day’s sun as mists settled onto the very rock he had to traverse if he were to leave this mountain today. He looked at his hands, felt their weakness and prayed to all the gods he had ever heard of to grant him safe passage down to Crystal City. Only the sound of the rushing water answered him. He sighed.
A brilliant flash of memory of the Mother’s Eyes spurred him forward. There were obligations to fulfill, reknown to be won and great riches to be had. Even so, it took tremendous effort to stand and even more to take his first step downward toward his future. As his foot touched the mountain again, a great weight settled onto him.
“No,” he groaned. The stones! The stones were fighting this leave-taking just as they had fought to remain hidden in the depths of the mountain. Oh gods! How could he make it down now with their resistance adding to his ever-increasing weakness? Tears of exhausted frustration threatened but he willed them away ruthlessly. Not now, not after he had come so far already. The stones were not going to defeat him nor was his exhaustion. He took a deep breath to steady himself and took his second step down.
A dozen painful, slow steps later he seemed to have worked himself into a kind of momentum. He told himself that so long as he could avoid climbing over the boulders strewn along the mountainside he could maintain his pace. He drew upon a mantra defining his task to refocus his mind away from his physical exhaustion.
Two hours later he was forced to a halt when the steep mountainside dropped suddenly as a sheer cliff face. The cliff was only about ten feet down, but he saw nothing on which he could gain purchase for his feet or hands. The light pack would make his descent over this precipice even more awkward.
He sat at the ledge, his legs crossed. He considered jumping, but fear of a broken leg stopped him. Slowly it occurred to him that if he lowered himself the drop would be equivalent to twice his height, and surely he could survive that intact. He inspected the ground below for rocks and decided on place to land.
He removed his pack. Holding it by a strap he lowered it as far as he could, then dropped it. It fell open when it hit the ground below and one of the bowls used in his recent rituals rolled out. He must remember to get the bowl to prevent it from betraying his presence on the mountain.
He maneuvered his tired body around to face the small cliff. He hung by his waist, his upper body lying on the ground and his arms resisting his brain’s insistence that he push himself further back, to allow himself to dangle over the edge. He wiggled backwards, less and less of his body keeping him safely at the top of the small cliff, until finally his elbows, upper chest and forearms were all that helped him cling to the top.
He heaved with all his might, both physical and mental, and fell.
It was dark when he regained consciousness. The ache in his head almost caused him to lose consciousness again as he struggled to get the spout of his water bag to his mouth. His swollen tongue barely felt the cool liquid running over it, and some of the water dribbled out of his mouth. And then he did lose consciousness again.
He awoke only moments later to the cold, wetness of his waterbag emptying its contents over his face and neck. Unthinking, he sputtered and struggled to get it off of him. Nausea struck him like a fist, hard and fast. He rolled over vomiting nothing but a little water and sputum then dry heaving endlessly it seemed. Each spasm sent waves of agony through his brain unmanning him utterly.
When at last the heaves left him, he collapsed in a heap, spent and in agony. His outstretched hand hit the bowl he had dropped earlier and sent it spinning into a nearby stream. He didn’t care. He no longer remembered where he was or why.
Disorientation consumed him. He wept like a child in pain and confusion. Soon, his weeping subsided into choked mewlings. He didn’t have the strength for anything else. As his own noises died within him, the sound of rushing water entered into his limited awareness.
An emptiness and thirst awoke in him howling and gnashing at his empty stomach with each passing second. Conscious thought beyond him now, instinct took over. He began to crawl.
It seemed hours before he even began to see the buildings in the city below clearly, but it had not even been one. The moon was beginning to grow bright overhead in the dark sky, but its light was lost at the edges of Crystal City where smoke and haze of the bustling occupants
blotted it out.
‘Home,’ the concept throbbed in his weary mind as he dragged his tired and broken body ever closer. Only one more bend of the river to cross and then he would be there. So close, but so tired, he dragged himself to the river’s edge and leant down to dip his hand in for a much needed drink. He never even felt as his legs began to slip from beneath him and the bankside crumble away. As the cold water began to engulf him as he slid as if in slow motion, all he could think of was the peace. He did not even care that the pouch carrying the stones- the valuable cargo that he had risked his life to bring back – had somehow fallen off his belt into the river as well… and that the Mother’s Eyes themselves had escaped and seemingly swam away to be lost, as was he, in oblivion.
“But why can’t we go look for her?” Irem’s face is pale, and her voice is twisted.
The headman’s look of irritated impatience quells her momentarily. “Irem…”
“She’s a baby, Keiji!” the young mother cries.
“And the last trace of her is two days away!” The annoyance Keiji feels is apparent in his tone.
Fia speaks now, her tone consoling. “Nagge says the little wild people are searching for Bian.”
“Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound?” demands Irem, turning furiously on the weaver. “Those wild creatures are here! They are not searching for my child, and they are not doing anything but making silly eyes at one another and grunting! How can you say they’ve sent out searchers when they’re nothing but animals?” She looks at Fia in disgust, and once again turns her demands on Keiji.
“Keiji, my little girl is out there, all alone, without even her doll to comfort her. And now you are telling me that you will not organize a search party even though Foy and Nagge can take us to where she was four days ago!” Irem would continue ranting, but her husband, a generally taciturn man, puts his hand on her arm.
“Fia, I want to hear what Foy and Nagge have to say about Bian,” Jarrah says, his gravelly voice steady, but taut.
His wife shakes his hand off and turns her attack on him. “You want to hear more ravings from children!” she shouts.
“The only one I hear raving is you,” he replies.
His wife gasps with the indignity of his accusation and tears begin falling from her wide eyes.
“Minna’s children can tell us more about this,” Jarrah says softly.
“The only child who matters is ours!”
“I agree, Irem.”
“Then go find her!” Irem turns away, sobbing.
Jarrah looks helplessly at his wife, then turns to Keiji. “I will hear what the children have to say,” he repeats.
* * *
They find the children still at Minna’s with their troupe of small brown companions. Keiji hails the door and Minna greets them.
“Where is Irem?” she asks.
“Hysterical,” the headman answers shortly.
“I wish to hear what your children have to say,” Jarrah tells her. His deep voice is soft but urgent. Minna beckons them inside.
The children are seated in a circle of small brown creatures unlike any Jarrah has ever seen. Each creature looks the same, a palette of sepia dressed in an odd cloth of the same hue. Almond eyes turn curiously toward him as he enters the gathering room.
“You remember Jarrah,” Minna says to her children, and they both nod to the man in greeting.
“Nagge, tell me how it is you know the creatures are looking for Bian,” says Jarrah simply.
The sister’s smile is serene. “They have called their kin to tell them where she was, and to look for signs. The Tynan look for her traces even now, and will learn what has happened to her and bring her home if they can.”
“Explain,” Jarrah growls in his gruff voice.
The girl does not answer immediately. She turns her attention instead to the sepia circle and one graceful arm dances to punctuate the unfamiliar words she speaks. The brown eyes are fixed on her, but none of the brown creatures with sound or gesture of their own. She turns back to Jarrah.
“The Tynan can communicate over long distances without speaking aloud,” she says simply. “They have communicated with their brothers and cousins. Many of their kin search for signs of your Bian right now.”
Jarrah looks at the girl’s younger brother. Foy’s expression is faintly smug, but appears to hide nothing. “How do you know this is true?” Jarrah asks, directing his question to the boy. The young man straightens his shoulders and looks to his sister, who nods.
“They speak with their minds, and distance does not matter. They taught us how, too.”
“Show me,” Jarrah says. His firm request does not challenge Foy’s words, but asks for verification.
Again the brother looks to his sister. “Do you want to see how Foy and I can do this, or how the Tynan can?” The girl’s placid look relays her confidence.
“The Tynan are those creatures,” Keiji interjects, waving his palm toward the creatures impatiently. Both Nagge and Foy glance at the headman, then their eyes meet each other’s.
“I want to see the Tynan communicate without speaking.” Jarrah’s answer is decisive, delivered without hesitation.
“Mam, will you take two of our companions to Grandmama’s room?” Two of the creatures rise, one from the girl’s left and one sitting directly across from her. They walk to Minna and look at her expectantly. Wordlessly, Minna turns and the creatures follow her into the back rooms of the home.
The sister turns back to Jarrah. “You will want the Tynan to come back and demonstrate that they can communicate telepathically.” Jarrah nods. “You must tell me something for them to do when they come back into the room. Something I can describe to them.”
Jarrah nods again. “I wish one to draw the sigil for the rain. The other – I would like Foy to step outside with me. I will tell him what the other should do.”
Foy rises and walks through the entry to the outside. He stops a little way from the door. Jarrah follows him out. A few moments later Jarrah returns alone. He nods to the girl.
“Mam!” At her daughter’s call, Minna appears in the doorway. “We need a slate and chalk for drawing, please,” Nagge asks.
Minna locates a gray tray and places it on the table. She finds a chunk of chalk and sets it on the tray. “Is anything else needed?”
“Thank you, no. Please have our friends return now.”
Minna retreats again to the rear of the home and the Tynan appear in her place.
One of the small creatures immediately walks to Jarrah, looks into his eyes, then circles him three times. Turning his back to the tall farmer, facing the circle of his people, the Tynan raises his left arm to shoulder height then crooks his elbow in a salute, which he holds. Jarrah nods and returns the salute and the small creature resumes its seat with the others. Jarrah looks expectantly at the other Tynan.
The Tynan is examining the chalk stick curiously. He lifts it with two fingers, scratches it gently, then tastes the powder that has crumbled on his fingertip. He makes an experimental mark on the slate, then wets his finger and erases it. Quickly the creature makes several marks. He sets down the chalk and resumes his seat in the circle. The headman walks across the gathering room and picks up the slate. He holds it up for Jarrah to see. The sigil for rain, the tiny slanted lines in their staggered rows, are there on the slate.
Foy appears at the door, steps softly inside. He approaches Jarrah and asks, “Do you need more proof?”
The big man shakes his head. “Do the creatures –”
“Tynan,” Foy reminds him.
“Tynan. Do they write?”
“No,” Foy shakes his head. They use paint for art or for ceremonies, but they do not write. They have no need.”
Jarrah looks at headman Keiji. “I am satisfied,” he says. “I will tell Irem that they can communicate. But I must know more.” He is looking speculatively at Foy again, and at Nagge.
Minna brings him a cushion, and he sits between the children. “Tell me about the Tynan,” he requests solemnly.
The small band of brown ones, led by the tall young man and woman, huddle close together for comfort. They have allowed the adopted strangers to lead them to this strange place, with its wall too high and its gate too narrow. They have allowed the adopted strangers to persuade them that life would be better here. All they sense now is hostility, barely disguised beneath the curiosity the strangers have for their adopted ones.
The adopted sister speaks next. She speaks in the strangers’ odd sibilant tongue. She directs her words to the older female stranger, the one in red. The woman in red takes a hesitant step toward the sister, then two. Then the sister steps forward, but not before taking a child from the arms of its brown mother. She meets the woman with the child in her arms.
“They are not so different,” the sister says to her old mother. “This child sucks its thumb, dreams of growing up, and plays just as I did.”
Before the mother has a chance to answer, the stranger man speaks again. “Where are the adults? Have you stolen their children to bring the wrath of the elders down on us and our city?”
The sister laughs. “The others are small people. The adults are here. When they captured us, we did not know that they meant us no harm. In fact, they did not intend to capture us at all.”
“Then why did you not return home?” blurts her mother.
“That is a story best told over a meal,” the brother chides gently. He directs his remark to his mother, not to the man whose out-thrust chin demands answers. He knows that his reminder that he and his sister have been denied their mother’s table for three years should prompt the woman in red to act. He is right.
“Yes, come. Have them all come.” His mother speaks quickly, as though she is afraid she may change her mind if she is given time to think about her decision.
Curious strangers wander hesitantly toward the small band of brown ones. They stare, but keep a wary distance even as they pace the mother, brother and sister. The hostile man, muttering to himself, keeps up a few paces to the right of the troupe. Apparently he has invited himself to share the bread and stew at the mother’s table, too. Clearly he wants to know the story the brother and sister have to tell.
* * *
The mother’s home has a large gathering room, which is fortunate. The brother and sister have directed the odd little brown creatures to sit in a semi-circle on the thickrug covering the floor. The mother calls to her neighbor to please bring more bowls. The neighbor, who has come to see if she can help, ducks out quickly to comply.
It is the first day of the week, the day the mother traditionally makes her hearty stew and bakes her bread. It will take a week’s worth of bread to feed all these creatures, but the mother does not think of that. She only hopes she has enough. If she does not she will call upon her neighbor again.
The silence that descends is awkward. This mother has imagined her children’s homecoming so many times, but never has she imagined that it would take place in an uncomfortable quiet, broken only by the shuffling of brown feet and the shifting of ragged garments.
The mother ladles the stew and her neighbor, who has returned with a stack of bowls, breaks off pieces of the dense bread. The sister delivers each bowl to one of the brown creatures, murmuring something to them as she hands them the stew and bread. Taking her own bowl, she drops to the floor, cross-legged, next to her brother. The neighbor gives the mother the last bowl and steps back. The mother sits on the cushion facing her lost children.
She soaks the bread in the stew, but does not take a bite. The brown creatures and her children all look at her, expectantly. She notices that none of them have begun eating. Hastily, she brings the wet bread to her lips. Her children mimic her, then the creatures begin eating. The mother is amazed. The creatures seem to have understood that it was polite to wait until the hostess took the first bite before eating. She glances back at her children. Her son is smiling as he chews a bit of stew-soaked bread. Her daughter daintily sips the warm broth and meets her mothers eyes over the rim of her bowl. Silent amusement sparkles in her expression, and the mother looks away, startled. She has no appetite. She has too many questions.
Adjusting the red fabric of her garment, the mother sets her bowl on the floor in front of her cushion. “Will you tell me….?” she begins to ask, hesitant, not sure what, exactly, she wants to know first.
The boy, the younger of her children, speaks first. “There was a misunderstanding,” he begins, but is cut off by his sister.
“We lost ourselves,” she says quickly. “And while we were lost, these friends,” she gestures toward the brown creatures, “took us in. They did not want to, but we really gave them no choice. We were afraid.”
Her brother starts to speak, then thinks the better of it. He takes another bite of stew-soaked bread and chews, looking at his sister thoughtfully.
The outspoken man from the gate speaks up. He is just inside the door, as if he believes the brown creatures and these wild children carry a foul odor with them. His sneer is evident in his tone. “Why did you bring our enemies here?” he demands. “Have you joined them? Need we destroy you with them?”
“Keiji!” a voice from deeper within the house is sharp with admonition.
The angry man’s head jerks toward the voice from within, and his arms cross one another over his chest. He sticks his jaw out defiantly as an ancient woman appears in the doorway to the common room. Her arms are crossed in an echo of his.
“My daughter offers peace and food to these people, yet you come into her home to threaten them?”
“They are enemies!”
“It does not matter if they are from the stars or from under a rotting log. Minna has opened her home to them.”
“These creatures are evil, Ciannait, and you know it! You, of all people, know it!”
“I know nothing of the sort,” the old woman snorts. As she walks further into the gathering room, her spine is straight and she holds herself tall. “I know that Minna has guests, and I know you are being extremely unpleasant.”
The man glares at the old woman. “A band of enemies has invaded our town and as headman here I am demanding answers!”
The brown creatures are wide-eyed at the heated exchange between the angry man and the old woman. Understanding none of it they are not alarmed, merely curious. They look to the brother and sister, who have stopped eating and have leaned their heads together to whisper.
The sister rises gracefully from her floor cushion. “We will give you answers, Keiji. But first, our friends are hungry. We have traveled a long way and we are tired. And Foy and I owe the first answers to our mother.” She speaks gently, respectfully, but her words fall like heavy weights in the room.
Her brother, acting unaffected by the strong words of the elders, takes another mouthful of stew-soaked bread and chews it slowly. He turns and smiles encouragingly at the brown creatures, who also resume eating.
Clearly Keiji is at a loss for words for a moment. Then he attacks the sister with his hard words. “You owe this entire city an explanation. You disappear for three years only to return in the company of those who have been our enemies for generations! As headman I believe those answers should come now!” His left hand is on his hip and he shakes an enraged finger at the sister, who smiles sweetly at him, then turns to the ancient woman.
“Grandmama, are there two more bowls? Perhaps you and the headman should join us.”
The old lady winks at the sister in approval. Yes, child, I believe there are two more bowls. Thank you, dear,” she nods to the neighbor, who has handed her a bowl and a hunk of the dense brown bread.
“I don’t need food,” growls the headman. “I need to know what is going on.”
“You will, Keiji. Did you not hear the child invite you to stay?” The old woman’s tone is sharp, exasperated. “Now, please, sit.”
Minna brings another cushion and places it near the brother and sister. Kieji takes his seat, but waves away the bowl he is offered. He scowls at the sister, waiting for her to begin.
The sister takes her time, soaking the bread, sipping from the rim of the bowl, and saying nothing. “Your stew is even better than I remembered, Mam,” she smiles sat her mother.
“Yes!” agrees her brother enthusiastically. “We have missed it! And we have missed you and Grandmamma, too.” His nod and smile is directed at both women.
“We want to hear about you,” says the grandmother. “We believe it is a miracle that you are home with us again.”
“No miracle,” says the brother, his mouth full. “A mistake, but no miracle.”
“You said that at the gate,” Minna says to her son. “How could it be a mistake? Why have you been gone so long, and why, now do you return with your … companions?”
The brother begins to answer, but the sister clears her throat. The sound hushes him, and he settles back, waiting for her.
“The mistake is that we thought we had been captured. In reality, we had startled them as much as they had startled us.”
“Captured!” exclaims the headman. “So you were kidnapped by these vile creatures?”
“She said nothing of the sort, Keiji, if you will clean out your ears and listen!” snapped the Grandmother.
“I heard what she said. She said they captured them.”
“No, Keiji. We were not captured. In truth, they had no idea why we followed them back to their camp. But we did not understand that at the time.” The sister speaks slowly, as if to a young child.
“Then what did happen?” the head man is impatient.
“Foy and I were playing just outside the gate that day, and we wandered farther into the valley than we should have. What we learned later was that the group of Tynan who found us were scouting for food and for caves for shelter. They were planning to move their camp and were looking for a likely place. They had wandered farther into the valley than they should have, too.”
“Scouting for ways to attack the city, most likely,” snorts the head man.
“Not true,” the brother speaks up again, sounding rather cheerful, even amused.
“They could not understand why we followed them,” agreed the sister.
“You weren’t forced to go with them?” Minna is not eating, but listening intently.
“Then why did you go?” This is the neighbor speaking. She covers her mouth quickly, embarrassed that she has spoken out when this is clearly a family and political matter.
The brother turns to his mother’s neighbor and smiles. “We went because we thought we had been captured.”
“Bah! This makes no sense!” declared the headman. “Either you were captured or you weren’t. Which was it?” He has jumped to his feet again in frustration.
“It makes perfect sense,” retorted the grandmother. “The children thought they had been captured, so they went along with these others. They were mistaken. Is that right?” she nods toward her grandchildren, who nod back in return.
“Yes,” says the brother. “They did not mean for us to follow them, and they led us on a very long, roundabout trip back to their camp because they kept hoping we would get tired of following them and go back where we came from.”
“What makes you think that?” the headman growls.
“They told us so,” shrugs the boy. His sister nods.
“Told you so! That’s ridiculous!” the head man stomps to and from in frustration.
“No,” offers the sister with a wry smile. “Once we learned their language they did not mind telling us how silly they thought we were.”
“Language!” scoffs Keiji.
“That’s true,” laughs the brother, ignoring the headman’s outburst. “We have been teased about it ever since.”
“You mean to say that you learned how to communicate with these beasts?” Keiji is incredulous.
The brother and sister exchange a look. The brother rolls his eyes.
“Yes, Keiji. We learned their language.” The sister again speaks slowly and gently, as if to a child.
“Once you learned of the mistake, why did you not come home?” asks Minna.
“It took us a long time to understand how they communicate, and then to learn how ourselves. By the time we had the communication skills to understand and ask about going home, the camp had moved too far away. A large enough group could not be spared to escort us back. There was too much work to be done,” explained the sister.
“And the camps moved with the seasons, farther and farther away, and it was not until this cycle of seasons that we began moving closer again.” adds her brother. “But we knew we were close enough to travel back when we found a doll with a dress made of Fia’s weaving. “ He nods to his mother’s neighbor and beckons her to him. From under his tunic he brings out a small figurine wrapped in a soft, woven blanket. The neighbor gasps.
“It is yours, isn’t it, Fia?” the sister asks, and wordlessly the neighbor nods.
“Do you recognize the doll?” asks the grandmother.
Fia nods again. She has an indescribable look on her face, part awe, part fear. “It belongs to Bian, the daughter of Jarrah and Irem.” The mother and grandmother sigh, almost as one.
The brother nods. “I remember little Bian. One of the dogs must have stolen the doll and dropped it. But it was found two days’ walk from here.”
“Two days!”Fia exclaims.
“When was it found?” Keiji demands.
“Four days ago,” answers the brother. I spotted it when I was out with a group…” he trails off after a warning look from his sister.
Minna catches her breath and doesn’t notice the signal between her children. “Bian disappeared six days ago!”
Keiji is agitated, but not hostile like before. “Can you find the place again where you found this doll?” he demands. “And is it possible these creatures have her?”
“Have Bian?” the sister shakes her head. “We would know if Bian or any other child were found by the Tynan.” She turns to face the brown creatures, makes gestures and odd noises which are answered by the strange little creatures, then turns back to Keiji. “No child has been found. But they will look. The camp is only a half day’s walk from that spot, and if she is there the Tynan will do their best to locate her.”
Fia speaks, now, “I will run to get Irem!” and she is gone.
The sister again turns to the brown creatures. Again she makes the gestures, the odd sounds. After a brief exchange with three of them, she turns back to Keiji. “They have sent their scouts to look for signs of Bian. They will let us know.”
“They have sent their scouts already?” asks the grandmother. “How?”
“Ah,” smiles the sister. That, too, is part of the story we have to tell.”