Aramink

Engaged with the World

Tag: science fiction

NaNoWriMo.

Reason in the Rock is over. I’m totally doing NaNoWriMo to unwind.

nanowrimo-2013-calendar

Calendar stolen from Dave Seah

 

I’m going to try to get The Wall finished – if I can stop editing myself long enough to get the last of it down on paper. Exoplanets. Aliens. Heroic kids. Telepathy. Resilience. Survival. The whole world is at stake.

And if I finish The Wall, I’ll revisit Chigger Hollow to see if Bigfoot has won the girl away from the dwarf with impulse-control issues.

My characters are calling me.

Nagge and Foy

   “Tell us the story of the Hruang, Grandmama!”

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.

In sudden panic they seized each other.

To be continued…

Karyan

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.

Karyan shrugged.

“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.

Why I Haunt Them

 

In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.  But his concubine became angry with him and she went away to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. – Judges 19:1-3

“It’s Bobby Wayne!”

The shock at hearing my husband’s name was only slightly less than the shock of hearing it spoken with such pleasure by my father.  Exchanging a look with Mama, I moved to the kitchen window. The familiar F-150 was indeed in the driveway, and Daddy, who had been working on his old Camaro under the shade of the live oak, was stuffing a shop rag in his hip pocket and walking toward the truck with a grin on his face.

I couldn’t believe it.  Daddy knew why I had left.  The meth had led Bobby to more and more erratic behavior, and by the time I was able to get the money together to get back home I was practically unable to use my left arm any more.  I think Bobby had broken it at least twice, and the second time he didn’t let me go to the hospital for two weeks.  They said they’d have to break it again and do surgery, and he said he didn’t have the money to pay for it, so it never did heal right. Finally it seemed like the muscles just seemed to quit working in it.

But Daddy was greeting him like a long lost son, not the abuser of his only daughter.

Bobby stayed three days. By Monday morning, Daddy had loaded my things into the bed of the pickup and told me my place was with my husband. Mama didn’t argue about it any more after Daddy popped her in the mouth Saturday afternoon. I had no choice. Bobby had been making sweet promises about how good things were going to be. I thought that if things got bad I’d just walk out again.

We were on the outskirts of the city, about an hour and a half from home, when Bobby told me he had to go see a man there for business.  Since the only business Bobby ever did involved things like guns and drugs, I knew we weren’t likely to go to a good neighborhood.  I was right.

We were in an area that had clearly seen better days. “Urban blight” is the euphemism for it. Porches sagged without anyone standing on them.  Graffiti covered everything from the walls of the homes to the fire hydrants to the sidewalks, and I could understand none of the writing. No one ever taught me this other language or the script in which it was written.

Bobby parked on the street in front of what looked like a store front that had been converted to living quarters. Before getting out of the truck he reached under his seat and removed his pistol. He checked it to be sure it was loaded, then stuck it into his pants at the waist, covering it with his t-shirt. “Stay in the truck,” he said.

As I waited, tough looking men drove by.  I saw no women.  No children played outside. Finally I lay down on the seat and slept.

Bobby had been inside almost three hours when a group of men approached the truck. When they tapped on the window I sat up, confused for a moment. An ugly scar bisected the cheek of the tall man who demanded Bobby’s whereabouts through the slightly lowered window. Wordlessly, I pointed at the building. The tall man stomped off, his followers behind them. There were about ten of them.

They pounded on the door, and although they apparently talked with whomever was on the other side, I could hear nothing.  I saw the angry looks on the men’s faces, though.  I saw two unsheath knives. Another’s gun was poorly concealed in the waistband of his jeans. A man on the edge of that crowd leaned down and picked up a piece of pipe.

While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have intercourse with him.” And the man, master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.”  – Judges 19:22-24

The door opened then, and I saw an older man holding a young girl by the arm.  She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen years old and she looked terrified. He shoved the child toward the crowd of men, but the tall one with the scar pushed her back inside.  There was more discussion.  Gesturing, and then loud voices told me that they wanted my husband, they wanted him now, and they wanted him dead.

Bobby had taken the keys with him when he went inside. I locked the doors of the truck and sat in the middle of the seat.  I was afraid, but I didn’t panic until I heard the thundering demand from the tall, scarred man: “If he won’t come out here and answer us like a man, he’s a pussy.  We want the pussy. If you don’t give us that pussy, we’ll take his other pussy!” He was pointing at the truck.  He was pointing at me.

The men surrounded the truck.  Terrified, I refused to open the doors.  The man with the pipe struck the window on the passenger side.  It took him several tries, but finally it shattered and he reached inside and unlocked the door.  They pulled me out of the truck.  At first I screamed my husband’s name. Then I simply screamed.

They more than raped me.

Every man in that crowd had his turn, and several of them had more than one turn in more than one place on my horrified body. I lost track of the number of times each took me, and the way each took me. My abdomen felt near to exploding, then was numb. Two at once, three at once, there were more than I could count. I knew I was bleeding because they pulled away from me drenched in my blood.

Apparently their access was not easy enough, because they pulled my legs apart to more easily get at me from front and back at the same time. My hips and thighs cracked audibly, and I knew I would not be walking again any time soon.

When they forced my mouth open to defile me there, too, I bit down. Mercifully I felt only the first few of their blows to my head.  After that, I lost consciousness.

As morning appeared the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. – Judges 19:26-27


“Get up. We are going.”

I lay on the pavement at the door to the house. I couldn’t answer.  My jaw was probably broken, and the teeth on the left side of my mouth were gone. Painfully I lifted my head slightly and dropped it again. I could only see out of my right eye, and Bobby looked blurry even out of it.

He reached down and yanked on my arm. I screamed wordlessly.  It was obviously broken and the shoulder was probably dislocated as well. My legs had no feeling in them.  I couldn’t walk.  Bobby dragged me whimpering to the truck and threw me in the passenger side, ignoring the fact that I was naked and the broken glass was ripping my skin to shreds.

I died on the way home.

When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.  – Judges 19:29

What I found to be humorous about the whole affair was that he packaged up the parts of my body and mailed them to the men in that crowd.  He also mailed a piece of me to the man in whose house he had hid.  He sent my head to my parents. Daddy opened the package and vomited. I laughed.

I haunt them all. The pieces of my flesh that were sent to each man allow me to stay with him.  The fact that their flesh is part of me because of that awful night allows me to stay as long as I wish. I have learned to give them boils, to call lice and fleas to their hairiest regions, to drench them in a stench so powerful none can stand near them, to afflict them with breath so fetid even their vicious dogs turn away from them. They don’t sleep at night, these twelve men who wronged me.  The man whose seed created me, the man whose seed claimed me as his wife, and the ten men whose seed defiled me against my will do not sleep because of the wrongs done to me.

The thirteenth man, the one whose seed never became a part of me, is haunted by his own daughter, whose reproachful eyes remind him of the woman he sacrificed, and remind him that he nearly sacrificed her.

She prays to the bit of finger she saved from the rotting flesh that was delivered to their door by an unsuspecting postman.  She prays to me to help her escape the madman she calls her father.

She will kill him soon.

I will help her.

Meganeura Monyi

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.

Meganeura Monyi

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?”

“I’m Meganeura Monyi,” said the dragonfly. “Call me Meg. It’s easier to say.”

“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.

Tony the Good T. Rex

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.

The Wall, Part 3

“But why can’t we go look for her?” Irem’s face is pale, and her voice is twisted.

The headman’s look of irritated impatience quells her momentarily. “Irem…”

“She’s a baby, Keiji!” the young mother cries.

“And the last trace of her is two days away!” The annoyance Keiji feels is apparent in his tone.

Fia speaks now, her tone consoling. “Nagge says the little wild people are searching for Bian.”

“Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound?” demands Irem, turning furiously on the weaver. “Those wild creatures are here! They are not searching for my child, and they are not doing anything but making silly eyes at one another and grunting! How can you say they’ve sent out searchers when they’re nothing but animals?” She looks at Fia in disgust, and once again turns her demands on Keiji.

“Keiji, my little girl is out there, all alone, without even her doll to comfort her. And now you are telling me that you will not organize a search party even though Foy and Nagge can take us to where she was four days ago!” Irem would continue ranting, but her husband, a generally taciturn man, puts his hand on her arm.

“Fia, I want to hear what Foy and Nagge have to say about Bian,” Jarrah says, his gravelly voice steady, but taut.

His wife shakes his hand off and turns her attack on him. “You want to hear more ravings from children!” she shouts.

“The only one I hear raving is you,” he replies.

His wife gasps with the indignity of his accusation and tears begin falling from her wide eyes.

“Minna’s children can tell us more about this,” Jarrah says softly.

“The only child who matters is ours!”

“I agree, Irem.”

“Then go find her!” Irem turns away, sobbing.

Jarrah looks helplessly at his wife, then turns to Keiji. “I will hear what the children have to say,” he repeats.

* * *

They find the children still at Minna’s with their troupe of small brown companions. Keiji hails the door and Minna greets them.

“Where is Irem?” she asks.

“Hysterical,” the headman answers shortly.

“I wish to hear what your children have to say,” Jarrah tells her. His deep voice is soft but urgent. Minna beckons them inside.

The children are seated in a circle of small brown creatures unlike any Jarrah has ever seen. Each creature looks the same, a palette of sepia dressed in an odd cloth of the same hue. Almond eyes turn curiously toward him as he enters the gathering room.

“You remember Jarrah,” Minna says to her children, and they both nod to the man in greeting.

“Nagge, tell me how it is you know the creatures are looking for Bian,” says Jarrah simply.

The sister’s smile is serene. “They have called their kin to tell them where she was, and to look for signs. The Tynan look for her traces even now, and will learn what has happened to her and bring her home if they can.”

“Explain,” Jarrah growls in his gruff voice.

The girl does not answer immediately. She turns her attention instead to the sepia circle and one graceful arm dances to punctuate the unfamiliar words she speaks. The brown eyes are fixed on her, but none of the brown creatures with sound or gesture of their own. She turns back to Jarrah.

“The Tynan can communicate over long distances without speaking aloud,” she says simply. “They have communicated with their brothers and cousins. Many of their kin search for signs of your Bian right now.”

Jarrah looks at the girl’s younger brother. Foy’s expression is faintly smug, but appears to hide nothing. “How do you know this is true?” Jarrah asks, directing his question to the boy. The young man straightens his shoulders and looks to his sister, who nods.

“They speak with their minds, and distance does not matter. They taught us how, too.”

“Show me,” Jarrah says. His firm request does not challenge Foy’s words, but asks for verification.

Again the brother looks to his sister. “Do you want to see how Foy and I can do this, or how the Tynan can?” The girl’s placid look relays her confidence.

“The Tynan are those creatures,” Keiji interjects, waving his palm toward the creatures impatiently. Both Nagge and Foy glance at the headman, then their eyes meet each other’s.

“I want to see the Tynan communicate without speaking.” Jarrah’s answer is decisive, delivered without hesitation.

“Mam, will you take two of our companions to Grandmama’s room?” Two of the creatures rise, one from the girl’s left and one sitting directly across from her. They walk to Minna and look at her expectantly. Wordlessly, Minna turns and the creatures follow her into the back rooms of the home.

The sister turns back to Jarrah. “You will want the Tynan to come back and demonstrate that they can communicate telepathically.” Jarrah nods. “You must tell me something for them to do when they come back into the room. Something I can describe to them.”

Jarrah nods again. “I wish one to draw the sigil for the rain. The other – I would like Foy to step outside with me. I will tell him what the other should do.”

Foy rises and walks through the entry to the outside. He stops a little way from the door. Jarrah follows him out. A few moments later Jarrah returns alone. He nods to the girl.

“Mam!” At her daughter’s call, Minna appears in the doorway. “We need a slate and chalk for drawing, please,” Nagge asks.

Minna locates a gray tray and places it on the table. She finds a chunk of chalk and sets it on the tray. “Is anything else needed?”

“Thank you, no. Please have our friends return now.”

Minna retreats again to the rear of the home and the Tynan appear in her place.

One of the small creatures immediately walks to Jarrah, looks into his eyes, then circles him three times. Turning his back to the tall farmer, facing the circle of his people, the Tynan raises his left arm to shoulder height then crooks his elbow in a salute, which he holds. Jarrah nods and returns the salute and the small creature resumes its seat with the others. Jarrah looks expectantly at the other Tynan.

The Tynan is examining the chalk stick curiously. He lifts it with two fingers, scratches it gently, then tastes the powder that has crumbled on his fingertip. He makes an experimental mark on the slate, then wets his finger and erases it. Quickly the creature makes several marks. He sets down the chalk and resumes his seat in the circle. The headman walks across the gathering room and picks up the slate. He holds it up for Jarrah to see. The sigil for rain, the tiny slanted lines in their staggered rows, are there on the slate.

Foy appears at the door, steps softly inside. He approaches Jarrah and asks, “Do you need more proof?”

The big man shakes his head. “Do the creatures –”

“Tynan,” Foy reminds him.

“Tynan. Do they write?”

“No,” Foy shakes his head. They use paint for art or for ceremonies, but they do not write. They have no need.”

Jarrah looks at headman Keiji. “I am satisfied,” he says. “I will tell Irem that they can communicate. But I must know more.” He is looking speculatively at Foy again, and at Nagge.

Minna brings him a cushion, and he sits between the children. “Tell me about the Tynan,” he requests solemnly.

The Wall, Part 2

The small band of brown ones, led by the tall young man and woman, huddle close together for comfort. They have allowed the adopted strangers to lead them to this strange place, with its wall too high and its gate too narrow. They have allowed the adopted strangers to persuade them that life would be better here. All they sense now is hostility, barely disguised beneath the curiosity the strangers have for their adopted ones.

The adopted sister speaks next. She speaks in the strangers’ odd sibilant tongue. She directs her words to the older female stranger, the one in red. The woman in red takes a hesitant step toward the sister, then two. Then the sister steps forward, but not before taking a child from the arms of its brown mother. She meets the woman with the child in her arms.

“They are not so different,” the sister says to her old mother. “This child sucks its thumb, dreams of growing up, and plays just as I did.”

Before the mother has a chance to answer, the stranger man speaks again. “Where are the adults? Have you stolen their children to bring the wrath of the elders down on us and our city?”

The sister laughs. “The others are small people. The adults are here. When they captured us, we did not know that they meant us no harm. In fact, they did not intend to capture us at all.”

“Then why did you not return home?” blurts her mother.

“That is a story best told over a meal,” the brother chides gently. He directs his remark to his mother, not to the man whose out-thrust chin demands answers. He knows that his reminder that he and his sister have been denied their mother’s table for three years should prompt the woman in red to act. He is right.

“Yes, come. Have them all come.” His mother speaks quickly, as though she is afraid she may change her mind if she is given time to think about her decision.

Curious strangers wander hesitantly toward the small band of brown ones. They stare, but keep a wary distance even as they pace the mother, brother and sister. The hostile man, muttering to himself, keeps up a few paces to the right of the troupe. Apparently he has invited himself to share the bread and stew at the mother’s table, too. Clearly he wants to know the story the brother and sister have to tell.

* * *

The mother’s home has a large gathering room, which is fortunate. The brother and sister have directed the odd little brown creatures to sit in a semi-circle on the thickrug covering the floor. The mother calls to her neighbor to please bring more bowls. The neighbor, who has come to see if she can help, ducks out quickly to comply.

It is the first day of the week, the day the mother traditionally makes her hearty stew and bakes her bread. It will take a week’s worth of bread to feed all these creatures, but the mother does not think of that. She only hopes she has enough. If she does not she will call upon her neighbor again.

The silence that descends is awkward. This mother has imagined her children’s homecoming so many times, but never has she imagined that it would take place in an uncomfortable quiet, broken only by the shuffling of brown feet and the shifting of ragged garments.

The mother ladles the stew and her neighbor, who has returned with a stack of bowls, breaks off pieces of the dense bread. The sister delivers each bowl to one of the brown creatures, murmuring something to them as she hands them the stew and bread. Taking her own bowl, she drops to the floor, cross-legged, next to her brother. The neighbor gives the mother the last bowl and steps back. The mother sits on the cushion facing her lost children.

She soaks the bread in the stew, but does not take a bite. The brown creatures and her children all look at her, expectantly. She notices that none of them have begun eating. Hastily, she brings the wet bread to her lips. Her children mimic her, then the creatures begin eating. The mother is amazed. The creatures seem to have understood that it was polite to wait until the hostess took the first bite before eating. She glances back at her children. Her son is smiling as he chews a bit of stew-soaked bread. Her daughter daintily sips the warm broth and meets her mothers eyes over the rim of her bowl. Silent amusement sparkles in her expression, and the mother looks away, startled. She has no appetite. She has too many questions.

Adjusting the red fabric of her garment, the mother sets her bowl on the floor in front of her cushion. “Will you tell me….?” she begins to ask, hesitant, not sure what, exactly, she wants to know first.

The boy, the younger of her children, speaks first. “There was a misunderstanding,” he begins, but is cut off by his sister.

“We lost ourselves,” she says quickly. “And while we were lost, these friends,” she gestures toward the brown creatures, “took us in. They did not want to, but we really gave them no choice. We were afraid.”

Her brother starts to speak, then thinks the better of it. He takes another bite of stew-soaked bread and chews, looking at his sister thoughtfully.

The outspoken man from the gate speaks up. He is just inside the door, as if he believes the brown creatures and these wild children carry a foul odor with them. His sneer is evident in his tone. “Why did you bring our enemies here?” he demands. “Have you joined them? Need we destroy you with them?”

“Keiji!” a voice from deeper within the house is sharp with admonition.

The angry man’s head jerks toward the voice from within, and his arms cross one another over his chest. He sticks his jaw out defiantly as an ancient woman appears in the doorway to the common room. Her arms are crossed in an echo of his.

“My daughter offers peace and food to these people, yet you come into her home to threaten them?”

“They are enemies!”

“It does not matter if they are from the stars or from under a rotting log. Minna has opened her home to them.”

“These creatures are evil, Ciannait, and you know it! You, of all people, know it!”

“I know nothing of the sort,” the old woman snorts. As she walks further into the gathering room, her spine is straight and she holds herself tall. “I know that Minna has guests, and I know you are being extremely unpleasant.”

The man glares at the old woman. “A band of enemies has invaded our town and as headman here I am demanding answers!”

The brown creatures are wide-eyed at the heated exchange between the angry man and the old woman. Understanding none of it they are not alarmed, merely curious. They look to the brother and sister, who have stopped eating and have leaned their heads together to whisper.

The sister rises gracefully from her floor cushion. “We will give you answers, Keiji. But first, our friends are hungry. We have traveled a long way and we are tired. And Foy and I owe the first answers to our mother.” She speaks gently, respectfully, but her words fall like heavy weights in the room.

Her brother, acting unaffected by the strong words of the elders, takes another mouthful of stew-soaked bread and chews it slowly. He turns and smiles encouragingly at the brown creatures, who also resume eating.

Clearly Keiji is at a loss for words for a moment. Then he attacks the sister with his hard words. “You owe this entire city an explanation. You disappear for three years only to return in the company of those who have been our enemies for generations! As headman I believe those answers should come now!” His left hand is on his hip and he shakes an enraged finger at the sister, who smiles sweetly at him, then turns to the ancient woman.

“Grandmama, are there two more bowls? Perhaps you and the headman should join us.”

The old lady winks at the sister in approval. Yes, child, I believe there are two more bowls. Thank you, dear,” she nods to the neighbor, who has handed her a bowl and a hunk of the dense brown bread.

“I don’t need food,” growls the headman. “I need to know what is going on.”

“You will, Keiji. Did you not hear the child invite you to stay?” The old woman’s tone is sharp, exasperated. “Now, please, sit.”

Minna brings another cushion and places it near the brother and sister. Kieji takes his seat, but waves away the bowl he is offered. He scowls at the sister, waiting for her to begin.

The sister takes her time, soaking the bread, sipping from the rim of the bowl, and saying nothing. “Your stew is even better than I remembered, Mam,” she smiles sat her mother.

“Yes!” agrees her brother enthusiastically. “We have missed it! And we have missed you and Grandmamma, too.” His nod and smile is directed at both women.

“We want to hear about you,” says the grandmother. “We believe it is a miracle that you are home with us again.”

“No miracle,” says the brother, his mouth full. “A mistake, but no miracle.”

“You said that at the gate,” Minna says to her son. “How could it be a mistake? Why have you been gone so long, and why, now do you return with your … companions?”

The brother begins to answer, but the sister clears her throat. The sound hushes him, and he settles back, waiting for her.

“The mistake is that we thought we had been captured. In reality, we had startled them as much as they had startled us.”

“Captured!” exclaims the headman. “So you were kidnapped by these vile creatures?”

“She said nothing of the sort, Keiji, if you will clean out your ears and listen!” snapped the Grandmother.

“I heard what she said. She said they captured them.”

“No, Keiji. We were not captured. In truth, they had no idea why we followed them back to their camp. But we did not understand that at the time.” The sister speaks slowly, as if to a young child.

“Then what did happen?” the head man is impatient.

“Foy and I were playing just outside the gate that day, and we wandered farther into the valley than we should have. What we learned later was that the group of Tynan who found us were scouting for food and for caves for shelter. They were planning to move their camp and were looking for a likely place. They had wandered farther into the valley than they should have, too.”

“Scouting for ways to attack the city, most likely,” snorts the head man.

“Not true,” the brother speaks up again, sounding rather cheerful, even amused.

“They could not understand why we followed them,” agreed the sister.

“You weren’t forced to go with them?” Minna is not eating, but listening intently.

“Then why did you go?” This is the neighbor speaking. She covers her mouth quickly, embarrassed that she has spoken out when this is clearly a family and political matter.

The brother turns to his mother’s neighbor and smiles. “We went because we thought we had been captured.”

“Bah! This makes no sense!” declared the headman. “Either you were captured or you weren’t. Which was it?” He has jumped to his feet again in frustration.

“It makes perfect sense,” retorted the grandmother. “The children thought they had been captured, so they went along with these others. They were mistaken. Is that right?” she nods toward her grandchildren, who nod back in return.

“Yes,” says the brother. “They did not mean for us to follow them, and they led us on a very long, roundabout trip back to their camp because they kept hoping we would get tired of following them and go back where we came from.”

“What makes you think that?” the headman growls.

“They told us so,” shrugs the boy. His sister nods.

“Told you so! That’s ridiculous!” the head man stomps to and from in frustration.

“No,” offers the sister with a wry smile. “Once we learned their language they did not mind telling us how silly they thought we were.”

“Language!” scoffs Keiji.

“That’s true,” laughs the brother, ignoring the headman’s outburst. “We have been teased about it ever since.”

“You mean to say that you learned how to communicate with these beasts?” Keiji is incredulous.

The brother and sister exchange a look. The brother rolls his eyes.

“Yes, Keiji. We learned their language.” The sister again speaks slowly and gently, as if to a child.

“Once you learned of the mistake, why did you not come home?” asks Minna.

“It took us a long time to understand how they communicate, and then to learn how ourselves. By the time we had the communication skills to understand and ask about going home, the camp had moved too far away. A large enough group could not be spared to escort us back. There was too much work to be done,” explained the sister.

“And the camps moved with the seasons, farther and farther away, and it was not until this cycle of seasons that we began moving closer again.” adds her brother. “But we knew we were close enough to travel back when we found a doll with a dress made of Fia’s weaving. “ He nods to his mother’s neighbor and beckons her to him. From under his tunic he brings out a small figurine wrapped in a soft, woven blanket. The neighbor gasps.

“It is yours, isn’t it, Fia?” the sister asks, and wordlessly the neighbor nods.

“Do you recognize the doll?” asks the grandmother.

Fia nods again. She has an indescribable look on her face, part awe, part fear. “It belongs to Bian, the daughter of Jarrah and Irem.” The mother and grandmother sigh, almost as one.

The brother nods. “I remember little Bian. One of the dogs must have stolen the doll and dropped it. But it was found two days’ walk from here.”

“Two days!”Fia exclaims.

“When was it found?” Keiji demands.

“Four days ago,” answers the brother. I spotted it when I was out with a group…” he trails off after a warning look from his sister.

Minna catches her breath and doesn’t notice the signal between her children. “Bian disappeared six days ago!”

Keiji is agitated, but not hostile like before. “Can you find the place again where you found this doll?” he demands. “And is it possible these creatures have her?”

“Have Bian?” the sister shakes her head. “We would know if Bian or any other child were found by the Tynan.” She turns to face the brown creatures, makes gestures and odd noises which are answered by the strange little creatures, then turns back to Keiji. “No child has been found. But they will look. The camp is only a half day’s walk from that spot, and if she is there the Tynan will do their best to locate her.”

Fia speaks, now, “I will run to get Irem!” and she is gone.

The sister again turns to the brown creatures. Again she makes the gestures, the odd sounds. After a brief exchange with three of them, she turns back to Keiji. “They have sent their scouts to look for signs of Bian. They will let us know.”

“They have sent their scouts already?” asks the grandmother. “How?”

“Ah,” smiles the sister. That, too, is part of the story we have to tell.”

The Wall

“If we build a wall from the valley floor as high as we can reach and around on each side to the cliffs above us, we will be safe from the marauding predations of the others.”

We build the wall. It reaches as high as we can build it, and we begin it in the valley below, dodging the raids of the alien predators who resemble us but are so uncivilized. We wall ourselves into a ring of safety and we do not pass beyond it.

The others do not venture past our wall. They keep their distance, watching with wide eyes as we build our world away from them. One by one they disappear into the valley until no more are seen as we finish piling the rocks and mortaring them into place, building our wall impossibly high.

The others fade from memory and are the demons and villains only of the stories told by the grandfathers to the young ones, the threats of mothers to stubborn and disobedient children.

* * *
Two children play near the gate.

Why did we build a gate? We built a gate, of course, to prove we could leave our enclosure if we wanted. The wall is to keep the others out, not to keep us in. Besides, by the time the wall was finished, no one remembered why it was really necessary and we were tired of building it and we may have forgotten to finish it. Maybe this is not so much a gate but the incomplete last stone panel of the immense wall, abandoned in our arrogant certainty that the others were repelled at last by our daring feat of architecture and engineering.

The boy and girl are curious and have heard the stories of the vicious, mysterious other beings. None of those creatures have been seen in so very long. Grandmama says she saw them many years ago as a child herself. She says Mama has never seen them, though, because our wall is frightening to them and they do not come close now. They are right to be afraid of us, with our impressive wall and our civilization.

Surely there is no danger in just looking beyond the wall! The others have been driven away by their rightful fear of our superiority. They do not dare to come near our wall! The boy and the girl peek around the unguarded opening. They venture beyond, each daring the other to go further, then forgetting the danger as they play unmolested and unnoticed.

A pathway of sorts winds through the barren rock of the craggy hillside. They run along it, holding hands, then stop again to play. They have played for so long safely outside the wall that they forget there is a need to stay safe. They forget the stories of danger-and-terror-before-the-wall.

The boy comes upon a flat place that overlooks the valley and leads to another hill. He stands upon it, throwing out his chest like the bravest hero of battles, howling his superiority to the empty land beyond the whipping wind and throwing wide his skinny arms. His sister laughs and jumps to her place beside him. She strikes a mocking pose with one hand on her hip and a graceful arm outstretched to accept the adoring cheers of imaginary crowds. She bows deeply. Her brother laughs. The children jump from the rock to greet the throngs of their admirers.

In sudden panic they seize each other. The others have found them! They are beyond sight of the walls of safety. The others surround them!

The creatures are terrifying in their otherness. The children stand rigid for inspection, holding their breaths. The dirty, oddly shaped things come close enough to touch them, then shy away as if burned. They chatter rapidly with no words comprehensible to the ears of the boy and girl. The things retreat and appear to argue among themselves.

They are small, stooped, walking with leaping, crabbed steps from rock to rock. They are brown all over, brown eyes, shaggy dark brown hair, brown skin, dirty brown rags clinging to their skinny bodies. Their brownness makes each individual look like every other.

They are the others: the others who kidnap slaves and steal food and threaten the peace and are the reason for the wall. They are the unshaped creatures of nightmares and the stealers of babies and the evil of every story ever told. They are no bigger than the boy and girl.

The children take advantage of the others’ argument to look for escape. They must climb up to the place from which they had jumped into this horror. They cannot climb quickly enough to escape.

The brown things are quiet, watching the children with interest. Hearing the sudden silence, the children stop climbing. They look around and sheepishly climb back down. The others are before them, watching them in silence and stillness. The girl reaches for her brother’s hand.

The children sigh. They know they have been captured. They did not obey the warning of the wall and now are forced to live out the terrifying tales of children who disappear to the others never to go home again.

They hold hands, hang their heads, and step into the small group of brown people who will now make them over into uncivilized beasts unrecognizable by their mother and mold them into the stuff of the nightmares their friends will surely suffer.

* * *
The sister stops her work and turns, smoothing her dress.

“What is it?” asks her friend, tucking a strand of dark brown hair behind one ear.

“Something is happening,” replies the girl. Her friend turns to look over her shoulder toward the approaching men.

Another woman remarks, “They have found something.”

The group of men and boys comes closer, growing as it nears the small group of women. The girl sees her brother in the group, gesturing animatedly as he speaks to the leader. The men stop. The leader of the men questions the boy. He is insisting, and explaining again. He shows the leader the object he carries. The leader turns and stalks away in disgust.

The boy calls to his sister, “It is from home!” She drops her work and runs to him.

* * *

They have walked so long, and they have traveled up, up so far. The rocky path and barren landscape are indifferent to their passage. The people behind them do not speak unnecessarily. The occasional voice is shushed by a terse response. In the distance, green hills hold a mere suggestion of comfort beyond the reddish-grey line separating the valley from the heights. For now, the rocky path is all that exists for them.

“We are closer,” the brother says to the sister. She glances at him in exasperation.

“Of course we are closer. We are traveling in the right direction, aren’t we?”

He shrugs and they continue leading the small, tired, fearful group along the rocky path they have traveled only once before.

When the path ends in a pile of rocky rubble, the boy and girl look up. They exchange rueful glances. One playful leap at this spot so long ago changed so much. A shout from one of their companions directs them to another, smaller pile of rubble, easier for the young ones to cross.

The path continues upward; grass is determined to hold on to its place among the rocks on either side; scrub defies the odds and reaches maturity to gather the blowing dust. A yellow flower peeks from behind a red-gray stone dropped long ago by the builder of a wall.

* * *

The brother and sister walk hesitantly through the gap in the wall, followed by their tired companions. They now stop, wondering what will happen. They hear gasps from the others behind them.

Their eyes drink in the stone structures they have not seen in so long. No one notices them except two children sitting in the shadow of the wall who freeze in mid-play, gaping at the alien vision that has just invaded their normal world.

Then a woman cries out and rushes to collect the frozen children. All eyes turn upon the travelers.

Another shout, this time of question, not daring to know, disbelieving. The brother smiles to greet this woman.

The woman does not recognize this strange young man and woman before her, yet there is an underlying familiarity that has startled her question from her. She sees the others but does not look at them. The young man and young woman fill her eyes. She takes a tentative step toward them, but heeds the sudden warning called by a man. The young woman calls her by name. How does she know her name?

The man approaches the group of travelers carefully, hand and arm upraised as if to ward off attack by this soiled brown army led by the strange young man and young woman. He steps forward and barks his demand. The young man also steps forward.

The others stand still, imperceptibly shrinking from this onslaught of alien activity and confusion. A child buries its startled brown eyes in its mother’s shoulder and softly moans its fear.

The young man greets the older one by name in the language of the people behind the wall. “My sister and I have returned. Do you not know us?” He smiles. His mother utters his name, utters his sister’s name.

The others exchange furtive glances. These are two words they recognize. The rest is a babble.

“Do you bring an enemy to us?” demands the man. He stops a safe distance from the travelers.

“An enemy? An enemy with babies and old ones? What enemy uses its weakest forces to invade?” the young man says. There is strained laughter in his voice, which is rusty from not having spoken this language in so long.

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

What if magic was real, and enjoyed a long tradition? And what if magicians only studied magical history and not magical practice? Then, what if someone discovered the practice of magic again, and brought it back?

This hefty tome by Susanna Clarke explores those ideas, as well as the arrogance and failings of hubris.  It’s not a classic good vs. evil story, which is really what I expected when I bought this book at an airport (for the 800 pages of light reading).  It’s conflict of the establishment against progress, of innovation versus convention, of the young and the old both grasping for a valid place in the world.

It takes place in early 19th century England, primarily in London although there are forays to the countryside as well as to the French battlefield when Napoleon becomes a nuisance.  The author wrote in what she deemed the period style, but it was much more easily readable than, say, even Victorian (shudder) literature.  She was quite liberal with commas, which certainly lent a degree of credulity to the period writing style.  She also used footnotes throughout the book, and if I were the sort of person annoyed by footnotes, I suppose they would have annoyed me.  But since I’m the sort of person who uses a second bookmark to keep up with even endnotes, and I kind of enjoy flipping back and forth (it burns more calories)I found the footnotes to be a humorous way to give the reader “background” without sacrificing the pace of the story.

The pace of any story that takes 800 pages to tell will occasionally drag.  I really didn’t find that to be the case with this book, though, until very near the end, when poor Jonathan Strange spent entirely too much time in Italy and not nearly enough time arguing with Mr. Norrell.  I liked their conflicts.

I gave the book to my mom to read.  I figured with her science fiction/fantasy inclinations she’d really enjoy it.  Shows how much I know!  She struggled through it to please me, but the last 100 pages never got read.  How she could have left the story before it was resolved, I will never understand!  But she got bogged down in Venice and just had to extricate herself before she suffocated, I think.   Oh, well.  Thanks, Mom, for trying.  Now I really wish I knew someone else who had read the book so I could talk about it without giving away the many significant plot twists!

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