I get asked a lot about how I approached the question of religion when my son was young. Did I insist that he follow my lack of belief?
No, I did not. That he has a vivid imagination but a rational and humanistic lifestance is attributable, I think, to making sure he knew how to think for himself.
One of the things we most urgently need to instill in our children is the to think critically about the world around us. Not just when it comes to religion, but when politics, ethics, and personal conflicts are in issue, having the skill to think rationally about things is crucial to a better life.
I taught my child to question everything. Lots of times, I taught him to do it by asking him questions. Yes, my son was raised by Socratic Method. We had rules, but we felt it was important for him to understand the reasoning behind the rules.
I never said no to him without giving him a reason. “Because I said so” is not a reason. “Because I don’t feel like it” is.
If he calmly and rationally rebutted me, I listened. If his argument was better than mine, I changed my position. That being said, if he was argumentative or rude, he automatically lost the argument and often got sent to his room to calm down. If only this process were observed in the political arena, we’d be in great shape!
We explored his questions and his interests together. We did science experiments in the kitchen and back yard. And because Dinosaurs Are Awesome, we kept a notebook full of dinosaur information, and added newspaper and magazine clippings to it regularly. I still have that notebook.
Bedtime stories were just as likely to be stories from history and science as they were from Narnia or Hogwarts. We told each other stories we made up, and we made up stories together.
When he was preschool and elementary school age, we bought age-appropriate books of Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Native American, and other mythology, which we read right along with the children’s Bible our son’s grandmother gave him.
He played the video game “Age of Mythology,” which taught him about the capriciousness of deities. Later he graduated to “Age of Empires,” and when he told me William Wallace was his hero, I knew for sure that these games were okay.
We played the “what if” game, to imagine how things might be different if one thing about the world was different, and we explored the best possible uses of a time machine.
We watched science, nature and history shows together. Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was at his pinnacle when Jack was growing up, and there was a lot of really good stuff on that show. We grieved his death. The Walking with Dinosaurs documentary series (not the new movie) was on the Discovery Channel – back when the Discovery Channel still was about science. Connections – that James Burke documentary series that combined science, history and technology in wonderful ways – was a favorite, too.
I spent time in his elementary school classrooms, and talked not just to him but to his classmates about how to tell stories, all about fossils, dinosaurs, how the legal system works, how amber is formed, and more. I even organized a field trip to the local juvenile court where his classmates and my lawyer friends put some naughty dinosaurs on trial. After the trial, we visited a real juvenile detention facility.
I took him to Sunday school. I felt like I needed to, because I wanted him to understand where his religious friends were coming from. He went to Bible School one summer, too. He was in about second grade. We only did this for about a year, because I’m atheist and it was on Sunday mornings, when civilized people lounge around the house in pajamas reading the New York Times and doing crossword puzzles. I wanted him to learn, but not be indoctrinated.
This is when I knew I had succeeded:
When he was about 11, I asked him whether I had to do the Easter Bunny schtick again that year. “What do you mean, ‘schtick’?” he asked.
“Your father never helps me and I have to stay up late and I really don’t want to,” I told him. (Yeah, I was kind of whiny about it, I admit.)
“You! What about the Easter Bunny?”
“Son, do you really think a bunny hops around the house after we go to bed hiding eggs and pooping jellybeans?”
“Well, no … but can I still have the basket? And all the candy?”
Fast forward to summer. He had lost a tooth and I forgot to put money under his pillow.
“Mom, the tooth fairy forgot last night.”
“I’m sure she was just busy and lagged behind. She’ll get to you tonight if you put it under there again.”
The next morning he reported that the tooth fairy had once again forgotten. “Just go get my purse. Get a dollar out of my wallet.”
“What? You’re the tooth fairy, too? First the Easter Bunny, now the tooth fairy – what’s next? Santa Claus?” I could tell he was annoyed, but I needed to get to work.
“Yes, son. And right after that comes God,” I said.
He looked at me in pure shock and horror for about three solid seconds, and I wondered what I would say next. Then he burst out laughing.
“I knew all along, Mom.”
Eventually, I sent my son to an Episcopal school. I did this because, after working in the juvenile justice system for a decade, I was terrified of gangs in our local public middle schools. There weren’t a lot of private school options, so I chose the least religious of the bunch, where I thought he would get a good education (that included evolution as real science, not as part of some non-existent controversy). He was inoculated against religion before he went, because critical thinking was automatic and habitual with him by the time he was enrolled there in 5th grade.
He had to take religion classes for one semester both in middle school and in high school. That was fine with me, because I doubted he’d read the Bible otherwise. Let’s face it: it’s a lousy, poorly-written book with plot holes big enough to fly 747s through, but knowing enough to be able to talk intelligently about it is pretty important in our culture.
In middle school, he pretty much kept his head down and just did his work. In high school, though, Father John wanted more out of him. The very first day of class, the priest threw out a question:
“Jack, What do you think prayer does?”
There were pockets of laughter around the classroom as Jack hesitated.
“Yeah, Jack! What do you think?” asked one of the students.
“What’s so funny?” asked Father John.
“You asked an atheist what he believes prayer does!” one of Jack’s classmates blurted. Jack was probably grinning, too. I hope he was.
He said, “I don’t think prayer does anything, but I can understand how it might be helpful for some people.”
I’m happy with his response. My son the critical thinker is also much more diplomatic than I am when it comes to this subject.
We need to give kids credit for being able to think for themselves – but we need to teach them to do it, too. It’s part of our jobs as parents, to give them the tools to understand and deal with the world, and to be able to determine for themselves what is credible.
Dear Leaders of all community-minded organizations:
A study released in September by the Center for American Progress determined that as many as half of all homeless people under the age of 25 are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning their sexuality (LGBTQ), and that those numbers probably under-represent the scope of the problem – obtaining accurate demographics on the homeless is quite a challenge.
These numbers are not surprising. Other studies have shown essentially the same thing, and that while LGBTQ adults may focus on issues like marriage equality, their younger counterparts are struggling to find the resources that will let them stay alive. We already know that school-age people perceived by their peers as homosexual are disproportionately targeted for bullying. The suicide rates among LGBTQ teenagers and young adults far outpaces the suicide rate among straight people of the same age.
Little Rock is no different. Currently, the only local shelter that will accept openly homosexual people is Our House, and beds there fill very quickly. Homeless young LGBT people desperately need resources that are less available to them than to any other segment of the Central Arkansas homeless population.
Lucie’s Place exists specifically to meet these needs in Central Arkansas. The mission of Lucie’s Place is to establish a shelter for homeless LGBTQ young adults, ages eighteen to twenty-five. The envisioned shelter will provide a safe home in which these young adults can get their basic needs met while developing skills necessary for independent living. We are a relatively new nonprofit organization, though, and not yet fully operational. We need your help.
We are currently raising funds with the hope of purchasing and maintaining a building that will house several clients as they get stable enough to go out on their own. In addition to the homeless shelter, these young people need meaningful assistance to ensure that they do not remain homeless, and do not become homeless again. This means counseling, employment services, educational and job training opportunities, and other services in addition to basic food, shelter and clothing.
Most of the funding we’ve received so far has come from grants awarded to Lucie’s Place, but fund raising efforts cannot be limited to grants. This is a community problem, and Lucie’s Place needs help from the community.
Lucie’s Place wants to reach out to churches, civic groups, clubs, and any other organization that may have members willing to help. A board member can present an overall vision of Lucie’s Place and explain the organization’s needs. We need assistance in the form of donations, service providers, and volunteers who can contribute their expertise and resources to serve our mission.
When can Lucie’s Place schedule a presentation to the leaders and interested members of your organization?
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.
“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.”
The story you are about to read is the second in a series I’ve written and told to children all over the Little Rock area. Jack and I started creating this series more than ten years ago – when he was in preschool. When he was little I would bring his dinosaur figures to the schools and teach the children a little about dinosaurs, fossils, paleontology, and (dare I say it?) evolution. I have about 30 of these stories.
Read Tony the Good T. Rex first if you missed when I posted it. You will then understand who Tony is and why he lives with plant eaters.
Tony the Good T. Rex settled comfortably into his life in the plant-eater part of the dinosaur jungle. He spent his days playing with his new best friend, Pete the Iguanodon. Pete introduced Tony to other dinosaurs who lived in the peaceful jungle.
The other dinosaurs soon learned that Tony was a helpful dinosaur to have in the peaceful jungle. Whenever a meat-eating dinosaur stumbled into the plant-eaters’ part of the jungle, Tony would politely tell it to go away. If the meat-eater didn’t leave, then Tony would tell it to go away in a way that was not so polite. Tony was very popular among the dinosaurs of the jungle.
But the plant eaters always hid when they saw Tony. Unless Pete or one of Tony’s other friends was with him, the plant eaters couldn’t tell if the T. Rex walking down the path was their friend or an enemy. Tony was sad that his new friends would hide from him, but he understood. He didn’t want one of them to greet a T. Rex and get eaten accidentally.
One day when Tony and Pete were lying in a field watching the clouds, a huge dragonfly flew overhead. The dragonfly flew back and forth looking for a place to land. Like the animals of the days of dinosaurs, the bugs back then were really big, too. This dragonfly was huge.
Tony sat up to get a better look at the colorful creature.
The dragonfly landed on Tony’s big head. Tony shook his head to make the dragonfly fly away, but the huge bug wouldn’t leave.
“Hey!” complained Tony. “Don’t block my eyes! I can’t see!”
“Oops. Sorry about that,” said the dragonfly. She crawled a step or two higher on Tony’s forehead. “Is that better?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Tony. He stopped shaking his head so hard.
“You look like you are wearing a dragonfly hat,” Pete told Tony, laughing.
Tony just grinned his big T. Rex grin.
“Why are you sitting on Tony’s head?” asked Pete. He was a curious little Iguanodon.
“I’m tired,” the dragonfly explained. “I have been flying all day and I need to rest.” She settled himself more comfortably on Tony’s head.
“My name is Pete, and the dinosaur who head you’re sitting on is Tony the Good T. Rex,” said Pete. “What’s your name?”
“Meg, will you do me a favor?” Tony asked the big dragonfly.
“If I can, I will,” said the giant bug.
“Can you scratch right above my left eye? I’ve had a terrible itch there for quite some time but I can’t reach it with these short little arms of mine.”
“Sure!” said Meg, and scratched Tony’s eyebrow.
“Ahhh, that’s feels great!” Tony sighed. “You are very helpful.”
Just then a group of Hypsilophodons wandered into the field of flowers looking for good things to eat. They say the big T. Rex across the field and waved at him cheerfully. “Hello, Tony!” they called, and came toward him.
Pete was surprised and sat up quickly.
“How did you know he was Tony and not a meat-eater?” he asked the little Hypsilophodons when they came closer.
One of the little dinosaurs laughed. “A meat-eating T. Rex would never allow a giant dragonfly to sit on his head like that!”
Pete looked thoughtfully at Tony and the dragonfly hat. “If you could wear a dragonfly hat all the time, no one would ever think you were a bad T. Rex,” he said.
“You’re right!” Tony exclaimed.
“I could use a place to rest,” said Meg.
“Would you like to always be able to rest on my head?” asked Tony.
“Sure!” Meg exclaimed. “Your head is a nice resting place.”
From that day forward, there was never any question that Tony was the T. Rex walking through the peaceful jungle. No meat-eating T. Rex would wear a dragonfly for a hat.
The Little Cheetah lived in Africa with his family. He had a Mommy Cheetah, a Daddy Cheetah, a Brother Cheetah, and a Sister Cheetah.
Little Cheetah loved his home in the wild flat Serengeti Plain. He loved the tall, tall grass, the giant baobab and thorny acacia trees, and the endless sunshine. He loved his family. But most of all, he loved antelope!
He loved to nibble and growl at the meat of the antelope. But most of all, he loved to chase the antelopes!
Cheetahs are the fastest animals on land. The Mommy and Daddy Cheetahs could almost always catch the antelopes they chased. The Sister and Brother Cheetahs sometimes caught the antelope they chased. Little Cheetah wasn’t yet fast enough to catch the antelope, but he loved to chase them.
One hot afternoon in the Serengeti the Little Cheetah played near his sister, who was gnawing on a bone. To his sudden delight, he saw a herd of antelope bounding through the tall, tall grass nearby. Little Cheetah was so excited!
The antelope were so graceful as they leaped through the tall grass! Little Cheetah leaped, too!
The antelope were so beautiful as they ran through the tall, tall grass! Little Cheetah ran, too!
Little Cheetah chased the beautiful antelope through the tall, tall grass of the Serengeti. He chased them as they leaped this way and that, and chased them as they bounded through the tall, tall grass.
Little Cheetah became tired, though, because his legs were not as long as the legs of the pretty antelope. He lay down in the tall, tall grass and went to sleep.
He woke up when his tummy growled. Chasing the antelope through the tall, tall grass of the Serengeti had made little Cheetah hungry. He decided to see what Mommy had for him to eat. He took a step, but was not sure if he should go that way. Which way was home? He looked all around and all he could see was the tall, tall grass of the Serengeti. He could not see his family.
He looked to the north. All he could see was tall, tall grass.
He looked to the east. All he could see was tall, tall grass.
He looked to the south. All he could see was tall, tall grass.
He looked to the west, and saw the tall, tall grass and a rhinoceros! He looked at the rhinoceros and the rhinoceros looked at him. He looked back at the rhinoceros and the rhinoceros looked back at him! He looked at the rhinoceros and squealed and the rhinoceros turned and ran away!
Little Cheetah was scared and lonely. He wanted his Mommy. He sat down in the tall, tall grass and began to cry.
Mommy Cheetah knew it was time for Little Cheetah to eat. She had food for him, but he did not come when she called. Mommy saw Sister Cheetah and Brother Cheetah, but the Little Cheetah was not with them. She and Daddy began hunting for Little Cheetah. Sister Cheetah remembered seeing a herd of antelope bounding by through the tall, tall grass and Mommy and Daddy thought they knew what had happened to Little Cheetah. They began walking through the tall, tall grass of the Serengeti looking for their Little Cheetah.
They could see that the antelope had leaped this way and that through the tall, tall grass. They could see that the antelope had run a long way.
They came upon a family of lions. The lions had not seen Little Cheetah, so the Mommy and Daddy Cheetah continued to search.
They came upon a family of giraffes. The giraffes had not seen Little Cheetah, so the Mommy and Daddy Cheetah continued to look.
They came upon a family of hippopotamuses. The hippos had not seen Little Cheetah, so the Mommy and Daddy Cheetah continued to look.
They came upon a family of rhinoceroses. The rhinos had not seen Little Cheetah, so the Mommy and Daddy Cheetah turned away to continue to look. Suddenly, a little rhino remembered he had seen a little cheetah! He told the Mommy and Daddy Cheetah which way to go, and the Mommy and Daddy Cheetah went back into the tall, tall grass.
They found Little Cheetah very quickly because they could hear him crying as they came closer. The Mommy scolded Little Cheetah for running away, but she and Daddy Cheetah were very happy to have their baby back.
Little Cheetah ate a good meal when he was back home. He knew his Mommy loved him.
There are a young husband and wife who are British doctors. The wife is a GP, the husband is a cardiologist. They have three children. The twins are two years old and their older daughter, Madeleine, was three when the family went on a beach vacation to Portugal a couple of weeks ago.
Fantastic parents? Do fantastic parents leave toddlers alone in a different building for half an hour at a time? Do fantastic parents leave their tiny children in a hotel room with the door ajar? Do fantastic parents ignore their children’s security so they can enjoy a meal?
I realize that the focus needs to be on finding this little girl. After nearly 20 years working in the field of child abuse and neglect, however, I cannot believe that the two year old twins have not been removed from their parents’ custody yet. These parents have demonstrated their unfitness to have the care of children with very public repercussions.
Parents who disregard the safety of their children deserve to lose them. Period.
Someone on another site I frequent was commenting on this situation and brought up the question of class. A poor or working class (blue collar) family would have had criminal charges brought and the other children removed for fear of additional harm. Because these were middle class, more affluent people, they were free to criticize the efforts of the Portuguese law enforcement officials who unsuccessfully searched for the child.
Regardless of socioeconomic status, these children were toddlers left alone. Protection of children is common sense, not a class issue. It infuriates me that money and status protect negligence of this nature.
Had the children been alone and asleep when a fire broke out, would have been criminal charges brought against the parents for their deaths? It only takes a moment for a child to be electrocuted, to drown, to be burned, to fall and be seriously injured.
Someone in that other forum pointed out that even if the parents had been in the apartment, a kidnapper could have broken in and taken the little girl. This fact is no excuse. Presumably had the parents been there, the door would not have been ajar and the cries of the child as she was being abducted could have been heard. Their very presence would have been a deterrent to this unthinkable act.
The cold, hard fact is that these parents, who probably see abused and neglected children in their medical practices, neglected to supervise their children adequately.
I am concerned for the missing girl. I am just as concerned for her younger siblings who are still in the custody and care of these thoughtless parents. My concern is for the children. I have very little sympathy for the mother and father, whose selfish, lazy decision not to get a free babysitter increased the likelihood that something of this nature would happen.
Have these parents been punished enough for their negligence? I would say they’ve been punished in the most horrific, unforgettable manner possible. When and if their daughter’s abused corpse if located, they will never be able to forgive themselves.
Nevertheless, the notion that their socioeconomic status protects them from the legal repercussions a less affluent couple would face is wrong. Either this couple needs to be prosecuted, or the less affluent parents who allow something like this to happen should not be. Our society needs to choose.
When Jack was a little guy he was dinosaur crazy. Well, truth be known, his mama was (is) dinosaur crazy and she decided it would be a good thing for Jack to be crazy about them, too, so she made sure he knew about dinosaurs.
One of the main things I did was tell him stories. We told lots of stories, but his favorite ones were a series of stories about dinosaurs. The main character in all of the dinosaur stories was Tony the Good T. Rex, a vegetarian carnivore. We took The Tony Show on the road when he started school. I would bring his plastic dinos to school and tell his class stories. Each kid would get a dino and would act out the part that dino had in the story.
I continued this through fourth grade, when Jack’s teacher turned his class over to me for two hours every Thursday afternoon all year long. We had a great time. At the end of the year, I got some of my lawyer buddies together and we put on a trial for the class. I want to post that trial, because it was so much fun, but I have to work my way up to it. You need to have the same background as the kids did so the story makes the most sense.
Here is the very first story that introduces Tony.
Tony the Good T. Rex
Many, many years ago there lived a young Tyrannosaurus Rex named Tony. Tony lived with his family in the deep caves high in the mountains.
Tony did not like the food his family liked to eat. They liked hamburgers, steaks, and any other kind of meat they could find to eat. Tony preferred sweet fruits and vegetables, fluffy bread, salads, and berries from all sorts of plants. He hated meat.
In the mountains where Tony lived no plants could grow. The ground was much too rocky and steep. Tony had to wander very far from home to find the kinds of foods he liked.
Tony’s brothers and sisters laughed at him for eating fruits and vegetables. “What kind of T-Rex are you, anyway, Tony?” teased his older brother.
“Yes,” added his younger sister. “You eat the weirdest things. Yuck.”
None of the other young dinosaurs in the neighborhood would play with Tony either, and Tony was very lonely. He decided to go look for friends in other places. Surely there was someplace in the world where dinosaurs ate fruit and vegetables.
Tony’s mother was sorry to see him go, but she understood. Tony’s father was a big, tough, brawny T-Rex, was disgusted, because he always hoped Tony would develop a taste for meat. Tony’s brothers and sisters just laughed at him.
“Yeah, right! You think you’re going to find plant eaters to be friends with!” the other dinosaur kids taunted. Tony turned his back on them and headed down toward the lush green forest below his mountain home.
The further he walked, the greener the land became. Tony snagged a mouthful of pine needles. “Mmmmm, crunchy!” he thought as he munched happily. He dipped his head and took a bite of the broad leaves of a plant growing near water. What a wonderful taste! He came upon a bush that had lots of plump, juicy fruit. He picked the fruit with the claws on his hands and ate until he was stuffed. Yes! This was the place for him!
Tony spent his first night away from home lying in the lush green grass looking up at the stars. Somehow the stars seemed closer here, even though he knew the mountains where he was born were higher than the plains were he found himself now. He fell asleep thinking happy thoughts.
The next day Tony decided to look for friends. The food was wonderful, but everyone should have friends to share dinner with. He was very happy and began humming a little song and dancing just a little bit as he wandered along.
Before long, he came to the edge of a lake. Across the lake he saw two dinosaurs with incredibly long, thin necks and very. He decided to try to make friends with them.
“Hallloooo!” he called, and jumped and waved so the other two dinosaurs would be sure to see him. The strange dinosaurs turned their long, graceful necks to look at him, and almost before he realized what was happening, the both had walked into the lake and began moving away from him.
“Come back! Come back!” Tony called. “Let’s be friends!” But the two long dinosaurs swam away from him a little faster. Tony might have followed them, but he did not know how to swim.
Tony was disappointed that the two dinosaurs were not interested in making new friends, but he did not let it bother him. He knew he would find friends soon. Sure enough, as he continued wandering through the green land, he came upon two other dinosaurs.
These two dinosaurs were even stranger looking than the two with the really long necks and tails. They had little, bitty heads that were low to the ground, high arching backs, and spikes at the ends of their tails. And all along their tops they had funny looking rocks.
Tony knew how to make friends, though. “He walked straight toward them with a big grin and said, “Hi! My name is Tony and I want to be your friend!”
He was startled at the reaction these two dinosaurs had. The bigger one immediately turned his back and waved the spiky end of its tail at Tony in a threatening manner. The smaller one got into the same position right behind the first.
“Don’t come any closer or we’ll poke you full of holes!” shouted the bigger of the two.
“But I just want to be your friend!” Tony protested.
“Forget it!” yelled the smaller one. “Go away!”
This made Tony sad, but if the two strange looking dinosaurs didn’t want to be friends Tony knew he could not force them. He wandered on through the green places. He wasn’t humming his happy song, and he wasn’t dancing any more. He had no idea that making friends would be so hard!
Tony came to a wide open field. He saw a family of dinosaurs in the field. There was a mother, a father, and a baby. The mother and father had three long horns that stuck out from their heads. The baby didn’t have the long horns yet, but he looked as though he was trying to grow them.
“Haaalllllooooo!” Tony called across the field. “My name is Tony and I want to be your friend and play with you!”
The dinosaur family looked up and the baby dinosaur immediately started running across the field toward Tony. “Okay!” the baby called in a squeaky baby voice.
But his parents had other ideas. The huge daddy started to run toward Tony, too, but he ran with his long sharp horns pointed right at Tony’s soft belly. The large mommy ran toward the baby and blocked his way so he couldn’t reach Tony.
“Go away, meat eater!” shouted the daddy as soon as he saw the mommy had stopped the baby. “We don’t want your kind around here!”
Tony was horrified. He took two steps back and ran toward the trees near the field. He didn’t stop running until he was deep in the jungle. His sides hurt from running so far and he was out of breath. He saw a big boulder and sat down on it.
He thought about the friends he had not made. The two dinosaurs with the long, long tails and long, slender necks hadn’t said anything mean, but they had run away from him as fast as they could. The two dinosaurs with the spiky tails and the funny rocks on their backs had threatened to poke him full of holes. The father of the baby who was willing to play with him said that Tony’s kind was not wanted. Tony felt very sad. In fact, he felt so sad he began to cry.
This part of the jungle had never heard a T. Rex cry. Tony cried very loudly because the more he thought about his day the more he felt sorry for himself. And the more he cried the louder he cried. Pretty soon all the leaves on the trees nearby had fallen off because of how loud Tony was crying.
The animals who lived in that part of the jungle had never heard a T. Rex cry, either. One by one, then in twos, they came to see what was making such a strange noise. They all stayed hidden in the jungle, though, when they saw it was a T. Rex.
All of them stayed hidden but one, that is. A young Iguanodon named Pete, who was about the same age as Tony, finally decided to find out what the problem was.
“Why are you crying?” asked Pete.
Tony looked up and saw Pete standing a little way away. He blinked away his tears. “I’m crying because no one will be my friend,” he said.
“Why are you looking for friends in this part of the world?” asked Pete. “Why aren’t you looking for friends in the part of the world that has other dinosaurs like you?”
“Because they make fun of me for eating fruits and vegetables,” explained Tony.
The dinosaurs hidden in the jungle began whispering to each other.
“It’s a trick!”
“How does a T. Rex know about fruits and vegetables?”
“Pete had better be careful or he’s going to be that T. Rex’s dinner!”
Pete heard what the other dinosaurs were saying, and he knew that dinosaurs like Tony were not usually very friendly.
“I think everyone is afraid you’re going to eat them,” Pete told Tony.
“I won’t! I only like green food and sweet food! I hate meat!” Tony declared.
There was more whispering.
“When Dip Diplodocus and I were at the lake, this T. Rex called to us and said he wanted to be our friend,” said one of the long dinosaurs.
“He said the same thing to us, didn’t he?” exclaimed the little stegosaurus to her brother.
“That’s exactly what he said to us, too!” piped up the baby triceratops.
There was more murmuring and whispering among the gathered dinosaurs.
“I have an idea,” said Pete. “Let’s gather leaves and fruits and see if he really does eat them. If he does, then we will know he’s telling the truth.”
“Good idea,” agreed the Daddy Triceratops. Everyone knows that meat-eaters like him don’t eat salads. If he does eat it, then we’ll know he’s not trying to fool us.”
So the dinosaurs gathered the leaves that had fallen from the trees and brought them to Tony. They placed all the fruits and vegetables and leaves in a big pile.
“I hope you’re hungry for this,” said Pete.
Tony grinned his big T. Rex grin and started eating. “Yum, yum!” he said as he gulped down a huge serving of fruit. “This is delicious!” he said, smacking his lips after a mouthful of leaves. Pretty soon he had eaten the entire pile of fruits and vegetables and leaves.
“Do you ever eat meat?” asked Pete.
“No,” said Tony. “I don’t like meat at all.”
Pete grinned. He looked at the rest of the dinosaurs gathered around.
“What do you say?” he asked Daddy Triceratops.
“I think he’s telling the truth,” said the big horned dinosaur. The mommy triceratops, standing next to him, nodded. The two dinosaurs with the long, long necks dipped their heads in agreement.
Pete stuck his hand out toward Tony. “My name is Pete and I’m an iguanodon,” he said. “See how my thumb sticks up?”
Tony grinned and put out his own two-fingered hand. “I’m Tony, and I’m a T. Rex who eats fruits and vegetables,” he said as he shook Pete’s hand.
And that’s how Tony found his first friends in the plant-eater part of the world, and how he met his very best friend, Pete.
When I was 12 years old, before my bar mitzvah, even, the God of my Fathers spoke to me telling me I was chosen to spread a warning about how unhappy he was with the behavior of the people of Judah. I was hesitant to be a prophet. The pay isn’t great and generally no one much listens to you until it’s too late. Then you’re forbidden by the deity from saying “I told you so,” which would be somewhat rewarding. In fact, I told him I was just a kid and I didn’t want to do it. He insisted. I refused to listen.
Boy, should I ever have listened. This is what happened.
“Jeremiah!” yelled my mother. “Have you finished your chores yet?” For some reason she sounded exasperated.
“All except for milking Susannah,” I replied. I always put off the camel milking for last. I knew it made Susannah more cranky, but even when she’s in a good mood a lactating camel is no barrel of monkeys.
This time it was Susannah from whom we got the milk. That was somewhat better than when the Lilith, our other female camel, was the target of the evening milking. Whenever I had to deal with Lilith I’d hide for extra hours to avoid her. I would always hope that my brother would be assigned to deal with her, or even one of the girls. Lilith was, I swear, possessed by demons.
They say there’s a lot in a name. Lilith was already named when my father bought her from Adam, who claimed to be a wandering Edenite. Riiiiight. Old Adam said he had a new camel and keeping up with two was just too much work in his wanderings. I think he had trouble finding fodder for them both. I could have told him that wandering in the desert was no way to feed a lactating camel, but I was just a kid and he wouldn’t have listened to me.
My mother was pleased because we had to rely on goat’s milk when Susannah wasn’t producing, and she thought the strength and endurance of a camel was preferable to that of a goat. She said that children raised on camel’s milk would be strong and able to withstand the life of a Bedouin better. Since we lived in a city, I found that somewhat difficult to reconcile, but I was told to honor my father and mother or suffer the wrath of a nasty, vindictive god, so I did. It didn’t make milking time any better, though.
Lilith is the name of the first demon mentioned in our holy book. She was a bitch, that Lilith. She didn’t want to be with her husband, interestingly enough also named Adam, and refused to return to the Garden of Eden when Adam’s god (also my family’s god), sent some angels after her. That pissed the god off, so he made her eat her own children or something. I forget exactly how the story goes, but I know that if any woman doesn’t want to be married to you, you might as well put her aside because she’ll make your life hell on earth otherwise. And bad things will happen to your kids.
I don’t think the camel Lilith wanted to be a member of our family. On this particular day I recall that I trudged grudgingly to the barn to milk Susannah and the first thing that happened was Lilith spat upon me. I hate camel spit. It’s slimy and it stinks. I wiped my neck and shoulder off and glared at Lilith. I swear that camel-bitch was laughing at me.
I brought the bucket and milking stool into Susannah’s stall and set myself up for a twenty-minute session. I had to keep Isaiah, Susannah’s new baby, away from me while I milked his mother, so I opened Lilith’s stall door to put him in with her for the time being.
As soon as the stall door was open Lilith pushed out to make a break for freedom. I cursed under my breath and headed after her. I grabbed a rope to attach to her halter as soon as I could catch her. She was out in the barn yard and the first thing she did was antagonize the billy goat. She was nosing around him like she might eat him alive, and he was butting her for all he was worth. Even with those sharp horns on his head, Lilith didn’t seem to care. She just kept tormenting him.
I finally managed to insinuate myself between Lilith and the fence and slip the rope through the loop hanging from her halter, but tug as I might she wasn’t coming with me.
“Jeremiah!” my mother yelled again. “I need that milk now!”
I didn’t answer. It was talking all my energy and breath to try to tug Lilith away from the goat. The last thing I wanted was to have to dress Lilith’s wounds if those nasty horns penetrated her skin. Lilith was oblivious to me, though. Of course, a twelve year old boy, and I was a small twelve year old boy, is no match for a full-grown she-bitch camel.
Herod, the king of the yardbirds, decided that was the prime moment to dive at my face. I threw up my arms to protect myself and Lilith took that opportunity to pull completely away from me and gallop to the other side of the barn yard. Slapping Herod and kicking his harem of pullets away from my path, I decided to go milk Susannah and leave Lilith for later, after I had taken my mother the milk.
Of course, when I got back to the barn Susannah had kicked over the stool and had one of her big nasty dung-covered feet in the milk bucket. Cursing again, I growled and took the milk bucket over to the well. The well was to one side of the barnyard. Unfortunately, it was the side of the barnyard where Lilith was placidly chewing her cud. She stared at me as I groused my way over toward the well, muttering under my breath about camel demons and buckets of shit. I glared at her for good measure. I could have sworn she was laughing at me the way she curled her lip. I hoped she wouldn’t spit on me again.
It was taking several minutes of rinsing and scrubbing to get the camel-foot shit stain off the inside bottom of the bucket. I had to a good job because if I didn’t, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stomach drinking the milk with my supper and Mama would want to know why, and when I told her she’d accuse me of trying to poison the little ones. I could lie and say I wasn’t feeling well, but then she’d just send me to bed early and I wouldn’t get to go play with my friends afterward, and she’d probably want to stuff me full of foul-tasting potions until I really did feel sick. Mothers.
So there I was, scrubbing away at the bucket, when Delilah, the barn cat, decided to chase a rat under my feet. Why Delilah chose that moment to become a mouser I will never know. Why the damn rat chose the safety of my feet I will surely never know. I hate rats. I yelped and jumped. I jumped in a direction intended to take me out of the path of the rat. That means I jumped closer to the well. Since I was already leaning up against the well, there wasn’t far for me to go. I sort of landed across the well.
I was unbalanced, half into the well which was pretty deep – we were in the desert after all and water doesn’t exactly grow on trees near the surface. I had a bucket in one hand and a rag in the other and had to drop one of them in order to hold on and not contaminate the well water with my corpse. Unfortunately, I couldn’t decide which to let go of in that split second, and I ended up with the bucket still in one hand and my rag-covered fist against the opposite side of the well. I couldn’t see the bottom. I looked, and it was nowhere in sight. At this point, if I dropped the bucket I’d be bringing milk to the supper table in my cupped hands. IF I could get out of the well intact, that is. And IF Mama would let me even darken the door of the house.
I did the only thing I could think to do. I started yelling for help. Of course, my head was pretty much down in the well so my yells weren’t doing me much good. They were sort of echoing and reverberating off the well and not going much of anyplace at all.
That is when Lilith decided to be helpful.
At least, I hope that’s what she was doing. Frankly, I doubt it, but I still, to this day, do not allow myself to dwell overly much on what her thought processes must have been. I’ll share with you my deepest fears, though.
I think my yells, echoing and reverberating as they were off the walls of that deep well, bouncing off the water at the bottom and bouncing their way of the walls back to the top, must have sounded like a male camel in must. You know, horny.
Lilith was drawn to me by those yells, I think, and started licking at my backside.
Now, it was during the hot months of summer, and I wasn’t exactly wearing a lot of clothing. I mean, I had ditched my normal Bedouin-style robe for the loincloth I wore while tending to dirty chores, especially those dirty chores that had me mucking out camel stalls and such. Robes drag in the dirt and get, well, dirty. And if there is camel shit for them to drag through, they’ll drag through that. Did I mention that camel shit really stinks? It stinks worse than camel spit, I’m here to tell you.
So I’m naked except for a loincloth, stretched across the opening of the well, my nearly bare ass poking out, and my yells making me sound like a bull camel ready for action. My voice was changing in those days and sometimes the higher-pitched yells came out as a lovely basso. Lilith, naturally, was curious. She started licking my backside, as I mentioned.
Did I mention that camel spit is sticky? She was bathing all my parts in sticky, stinky camel spit and of course, my reaction was to yell harder. Lilith’s reaction was to lick harder. I thought she was going to remove my parts entirely with her stinky, sticky camel spit and her really long, nasty camel tongue.
Have you ever tried to suck your manly parts completely inside your body while a camel is licking them? By the time Mama sent my little brother Solomon out to see what was taking me so long, I thought my parents were going to have to change my name to Jemima and hold a bat mitzvah for me the next year.
Solly poked his head in the well where I was yelling. “Hang on, Jerry,” he said. Right. Like I had much choice. Solly was eight, and realized he wasn’t strong enough to get me out of the well by himself. He got my dad.
My dad, Hilkiah, busied himself with scholarly pursuits for the most part and left the running of the barnyard to his kids and the hired help. Dad saw me there, spread-eagle over the well, that she-devil Lilith licking me between the legs for all she was worth, me yelling for all I was worth, and apparently he thought I was enjoying myself.
He found the rope I had dropped earlier when I was trying to catch Lilith and put her back in the barn and started whacking me with it. That had the fortunate side effect of making Lilith’s demon tongue stop slobbering my privates with stinky camel spit, but did nothing to help me get out of my precarious position over the well.
Fortunately our neighbor, Zedediah, happened by at that moment and helped Dad haul me out of the well. Both of them were laughing. I failed to see any of the humor and told them so. I was rewarded with another whack with the rope, but fortunately it wasn’t a very hard whack. Dad was laughing too much to haul back and hit me really hard. Solly was looking a me pretty wide-eyed.
I’m not sure who milked Susannah that night. I know it wasn’t me. I went into the house and Solly brought me bucket after bucket of water and I spent about two hours scrubbing camel spit off my manly parts. The next day they bred Lilith to Zedediah’s bull camel, Rocky. It seems that she was in heat.
A few days later I meditated on my experience. Sort of simultaneously I was looking for the deadliest insult I could muster for the sinning people of Judah, just to make sure they listened to me. Yes, I decided I really had no choice but to take up the staff of a Prophet of God. To be effective, I knew I had to get my point across in the most graphic way possible to let my people know that this shit they were doing was not going to be tolerated any longer.
Naturally, given my experience, I came up with the notion of using the words “Lustful She-Camel.” There is nothing worse. I included it in the first sermon I gave. It’s immortalized in Jeremiah 2:23-25.
Believe me, if God gets a Lustful She-Camel to fellate you, not only will you listen, you will do anything he asks just so it doesn’t happen again.