Tag Archives: Evanor

Chapter 60: The Big Five

He was five years old today. This year they were going to celebrate his birthday in the clearing of the forest so that Yggdrasil could participate too. He had such a droll sense of humor.

 

Ellen’s maternal instincts had finally kicked into play. She was only human. She had resisted the temptation to undergo the operation that Lem had performed on the boy five years ago.

The little boy walked hand in hand with her the whole way from the cave to the clearing. He wanted to make sure Ellen didn’t get lost along the hyper-dimensional paths and junctions. His head came up  just a little above Ellen’s waist.

He skipped beside her the whole way, a complicated mathematical skipping, not just the two right feet then two left feet that normal human children skipped, but Fibonacci numbers – one right, one left, three right, five left, eight right, and so forth. He would ask her to guess what series he was skipping to and when she couldn’t guess, he’d tell her the answer and then try something easier. He started skipping again and, after some time, he asked Ellen to guess. “I have absolutely no idea,” she said.

“Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, silly,” he giggled.

“Father,” Lem said from behind them, “stop showing off. It’s making Ellen self-conscious.” Yani looked at Lem and smiled.

Now he was doing the cha-cha. Ellen figured that one out and cha cha’ed alongside him.

Finally they reached the clearing. Everyone was there — the Tin Man, Vitruvius, Thort and Evanor, Cori, Sam, and Yggdrasil. Lem unfolded a large blanket and spread it on the ground for everybody to sit on cross-legged. Yani passed out plates and cups to everyone, and placed bowls of fruit and vegetables and breads in the center. Evanor opened the basket beside her and took out the cake. It had a big five made of yellow icing on top of it.

“Oh good!” the little boy exclaimed clapping his hands together. “That’s my favorite number!”

Thort lit each of the five candles that Evanor had placed around the big five on top of the birthday cake.

Since there was no sense in making a wish, the little boy filled up his rosy cheeks with air and blew all the candles out.

A leaf flitted down from one of Yggdrasil’s upper branches, meandering through the air until it landed in front of the boy.

He looked up at the tall canopy of over-arching trees above them. A tear trickled down his cheek.

 

That night, after they had returned with Lem and Yani to the cave and the couples had gone to their respective bedrooms, Ellen and the little boy lay together in bed quietly listening to each other’s thoughts.

“Let’s just hold each other closely tonight,” Ellen whispered to him.

He said nothing but moved in closer to her and wrapped his arm around her waist, holding on to her for dear life. His ear pressed against her breast and he heard and felt her heartbeat. It soothed him until he fell asleep.

Ellen felt his head heavy against her breast and also fell asleep.

 

Time wove their dreams, but the whirlpool would not be sated until it had swallowed their worlds and their dreams.

 

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 56: Birthday Party

This time he decided he would celebrate his birthday with his loved ones. After all, it was his tenth birthday. He looked around the table. Almost everyone was there: Ellen, Lem and Yani, of course, but also the Tin Man, Vitruvius, Thort and Evanor, Cori, and even Sam. Only Yggdrasil was missing. The boy looked at Ellen across the table lovingly and winked at her. They would make a brave heart of it no matter what lay ahead of them. Ellen did the honors this time. She sliced the cake Yani had made and made sure everyone received a respectable wedge of it.

After the cake the boy opened up all his presents. There was a mess of wrapping paper on the floor beside his chair. Sam had given him a shiny new shot-blaster. It looked almost real. The boy turned it over and over in his hand, admiring the weight of it. He had received a present from everyone, except for Ellen. He was crestfallen. He looked across the table at Ellen and she silently mouthed the words “I will give you your gift later.” Suddenly he was happy again, so much so that he could scarcely contain himself. Everyone at the table laughed at his transparency.

 

After the party, when everyone except for Lem and Yani had left, the presents had been stowed away, and the trash had been sterilized or recycled and returned to the cabinets, Ellen and the boy went for a walk in the valley by the creek, enjoying the cool night air. The top of the boy’s head only reached Ellen’s shoulder. She still leaned against him when they walked, a single shadow, but she was careful not to topple him with her weight.

 

They undressed in the dark and slipped into bed. They lay together, wrapped in each other’s arms and legs. It felt to him like every part of their bodies was pressed together. He felt the throbbing of her breasts against his ribcage and the dampness between her legs near his groin. It thrilled him so much he thought he would burst.

 

But he was prepubescent.

 

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 22: Just in Time

Lem opened the front door to his cabin quietly. A lop-sided cone of light from the kitchen spread out in the living area gracing the rough-hewn furniture with a shadowy gold softness. He walked noiselessly through the living area into the kitchen and put his arms around his mother who was stirring a pot of porridge.

“You frightened me Lem,” Evanor gasped and nearly fainted. “You mustn’t creep up on me like that. My poor heart!” She managed to turn around in Lem’s arms and return his hug with equal warmth. “Did you miss me?” she murmured to the top of his buried head. Lem shook his head, indicating he had in fact missed his mother very much during the week he was gone. “Good,” she said and squeezed him to her. “How was your visit with Yani and her family?”

Lem sat down at the breakfast table and told Evanor about the visit while she stirred the porridge and reached for a bowl to serve him. Lem told her about the group of grown-ups like Yani and him who had visited Kivo and Thana on their way to a place called the Refuge somewhere in another place called the uncharted area across a big river. He told her they wanted to see Yani too.

“Mama,” Lem mentioned between spoonfuls of porridge, “they told Kivo that all the people like us were going to the Refuge with their families… It was the only place where we could be safe.”

“Well I don’t know,” Evanor said sullenly. “I’m starting to get used to the place here. I’m not so sure I want to pick up and move somewhere else.”

“Mama, we can’t stay here forever,” Lem put down his spoon and looked at his mother seriously. “One day somebody is going to follow you back to the cabin from the village. He’s going to tell somebody else about you. Rumors will spread through the village and people will become curious. Somebody will come to visit our cabin and they will see me … or they won’t see me, but they’ll suspect something is not right because you’re not like them. You’re different. You don’t go to church and you don’t visit them and you don’t invite them to visit.”

“Lem, you know something’s going to happen, don’t you,” Evanor said feeling something, knowing it without being able to say it.

“Yes Mama,” he said.

“When?”

“Within one month, eleven days, six hours, twenty-two minutes, and three seconds, a large rock wrapped in a flaming oil-soaked cloth will be thrown through our window to smoke us out of the cabin to catch us and hang us upside down from the skag tree in our back yard,” Lem said in a monotone, as though he were reading somebody else’s newspaper account of their lynching.

“What will we do Lem?” Evanor pleaded for some other future other than what had been dealt them, some alternate fate that somehow hoping could make so.

“We’ll be long gone before then,” Lem said as though looking up brightly from the newspaper account he had been reading. “Oh and we’ll have company!”

Five weeks after Lem had come home from his visit, there was a soft knock on the door of their cabin. Evanor slipped her arms into her robe and went to the front window to slip the curtain aside so that she could see who was knocking at the door so early in the morning. It was Kivo and his wife, Thana, and their little girl, Yani! She rushed to the door to open it wide for them. “Come in quickly,” Evanor said urgently. “What’s happened? Why are you here? You look like you haven’t slept in a week!” She turned from Kivo to Thana, and then to Yani. “Oh, you poor dears! Come to the kitchen … The porridge is still warm … I’ll make another batch.” Then Evanor turned to the stairs and called out, “Lem! Come down and see who’s…”

Lem was already standing next to Yani and looking back at Evanor.

They all went into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Kivo spoke first. “I don’t know how she knew, but Yani had been trying to get us to pack up our things and leave our home … I told her she was imagining things that would never happen. I told her she shouldn’t worry her pretty blue curls. I told her …”

“I told Papa to look out our front window at the path from the village up to our cabin,” Yani interrupted, a little bit of pride mixed in with her tiredness. Thana was rubbing the sides of her head continuously.

“… I went to the window to prove there was nothing to see,” Kivo said and didn’t finish, lost in the memory of it.

“Papa?”

“… Oh yes … I could see the torches coming up the path from the village. The flames were small at first, but they grew larger as they came closer… I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. Thana ran to the kitchen and dumped whatever food she could from the pantry into some bags, while Yani ran upstairs to throw some of clothes into other bags. She dragged the stuffed bags down the stairs. They tumbled down and almost knocked her over. She dragged them over to me, looked me in the eyes, and said it’s time to go Papa! … We barely got out in time. We ran up the path to the place we had our picnic with you… About half-way up, I turned around and saw our cabin down below go up in flames… They probably thought we were inside it because nobody came after us.”

Kivo stopped to eat his porridge. He had eaten very little in the last week. He nearly vomited from eating so fast.

Thana had eaten her porridge while Kivo had been telling their story. Now she took over the telling of it. “It took us seven days and nights to reach you… Yani guided us all the way. She showed us where to drink, told us when and where to sleep, and when to keep going. She told us Lem had made a map for her when he came to visit us, and it was in her head.”

“I swear to the Lord Almighty,” Kivo said solemly, “I don’t know what witchery our children have in their heads, but our little Yani saved our lives! If it weren’t for …”

Evanor said, “It took me some time to get used to it, but I’d trust Lem with my life … He got so grown up, so fast, the day my Thort was murdered… I think we must trust that our children know what’s best for us and follow them blindly, because that’s what we are compared to them: blind as a day-old gorm.”

“They won’t be coming to our cabin for another four days,” Lem said, “but we should still get ready to leave tonight to get a head start on them, and be well on our way to Sector 127 and the uncharted area.”

Kivo’s family was already packed. Evanor cooked and baked for the long trip and packed their clothes. Lem told Yani to have her parents sleep upstairs on their beds so they’d be refreshed to continue that night.

Yani fell asleep in Lem’s bed. He lay down beside her and wrapped his arm around her. Lem stayed awake the whole afternoon, thinking about the uncharted area and the Refuge.

That night the two families left the cabin quietly, slipped over the ledge, and descended into the gulley.

Four days, six hours, twenty-two minutes, and three seconds later, a large rock wrapped in a flaming oil-soaked cloth was thrown through the front window of Evanor’s and Lem’s cabin. The curtains quickly caught fire and smoke began to billow out of the broken window, but nobody came out coughing and blinded and begging for mercy as intended. The good people of the village nearby were forced to wait until the cabin fire had died down before they could check the ashes for the charred remains of that godless woman and her evil guest, who surely lived with her in sin.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 21: The Refuge

Evanor and Lem lived quietly together in that cabin for the next twelve months. They tended a small patch, growing enough vegetables and fruit for their own needs, and then some. Evanor was able to trade the extra produce for a gorm with a few months of milk left in her. People would try to be friendly with her when she’d go down to the village but after she deferred their persistent requests to join them for some local church function, they left her alone thinking there was something not quite right about her. No matter. God would decide what to do about her in His own good time, they would think to themselves. Only Lem knew how to calculate just how long that good time would take. Until then they could live in that cabin.

Some of the forest animals would come close to the cabin at night just before dawn to lick salt from the rocks half buried in their yard. Lem enjoyed watching them nuzzle against the corner of the porch.

The gardening work was challenging for Lem. He dislodged the rocks from the garden patch and rolled them over to make a short wall around the patch. He tilled and seeded the ground with the seed his mother had purchased, the way he’d seen his father do it in the fields of Styg’s farm. The work made him lean and strong.

One evening, as they sat at the supper table in the kitchen, Lem told his mother that he wanted to go back to visit Yani and let them know where they were. “You’ll be safe here awhile longer Mama,” Lem promised Evanor. “I’ll be safe too because I won’t let anybody see me where I go.”

There was something in the sureness of Lem’s voice that made Evanor trust that he knew what he was saying and doing, as well or better than any grown-up would. She knew Lem could take care of himself and, if he said she’d be safe here without him, then she’d be safe here without him. Besides, she knew Lem had a thing for little Yani. Who knows? Maybe their fates were knotted. Who was Evanor to stand against fate?

Evanor baked a couple loaves of bread and packed some fruit and vegetables in a bag for Lem. Lem packed some clothes and filled his water bag.

Lem woke just before dawn when the forest animals were licking the rocks in their yard. The animals scarcely noticed him as he slipped past them, over the ledge and down the hill. He ran swiftly along the gully. Lem made the base of the first ridge by first light. Just as the sky was graying, Lem looked sideways at the boulder-strewn hillside and disappeared inside.

Lem knocked on Kivo’s door the morning after the third night. Thana opened the door and was alarmed. “What are you doing here? Where’s your mother?”

“She’s at home safe,” Lem said pleasantly. “I came to see Yani. Is she at home?”

“Well I don’t know Lem,” Thana answered.

“What do you mean you don’t know Thana?” Lem asked, knowing full well Yani was upstairs in her bedroom.

“I mean I don’t know if you should be here without your mother,” she said uncertainly. “Maybe Kivo…”

“Hi Lem!” Yani said, standing right beside her mother all of a sudden. “I knew you were coming today. Why don’t you come up to my room? Is that all right with you Mother?”

“Well, I suppose so,” Thana said reluctantly and the children ran past her up the stairs before she could say another word.

“I didn’t know where you were,” Yani complained to Lem as soon as they sat on her bed.

“I’ll show you,” Lem said. He drew a map of Sectors 87 and 95 in the air with his finger. The image lingered in their minds. He drew a line along the path Evanor and he had taken and by which he had returned, over the ridges, through the gullies, and up the hill where the cabin hid. The map and the path lines were etched in her brain.

Lem told Yani about the previous occupants he’d found hanging from the tree behind the cabin and how he managed to cut them down and bury them before his mother had seen them. “It was terrible Yani!” he said quietly. “I knew Mama would never have agreed to stay in the cabin if she had seen those bodies hanging there like that… She’d be afraid they’d come back and do that to us.”

“Aren’t you afraid they’ll come back,” Yani asked with a hint of a smile on her pretty little face.

“No, silly,” Lem said, “I know exactly when they’re coming back to the cabin … We’ll be long gone before they arrive.”

“You must be hungry,” Yani told Lem matter-of-factly. “Let’s go down to the kitchen and ask Mother to give you some breakfast. I already ate mine, but I’ll sit with you and we can talk.”

“All right,” Lem said. “I am really hungry!”

Yani and Lem descended the stairs and found Thana in the kitchen already preparing breakfast for Lem. “Thanks Mother,” Yani said.

“Thanks Thana,” Lem said as he sat down at the table. The stove fire warmed the kitchen.

“It isn’t every day we get special visitors,” Thana answered graciously.

“Lem, did you know there are others just like us?” Yani exclaimed brightly. “They came to visit Papa and to see me… They were bigger than us … like Papa and Mother, but as blue as us.”

Lem’s big blue eyes opened widely. “Why did they come to visit you?” he asked Yani. Thana was watching and listening closely while puttering around in the pantry behind the stove.

“They were all leaving the sector, just like Evanor and you,” she answered. “Some were only passing through our sector from another one, on the way to some place they called the Refuge … It’s in a place they called the uncharted area. Nobody has ever been there. Yani traced a map for Lem on the kitchen table with her index finger. “They are going the same way you went. From Sector 95, they’re going down to Sector 127 to a big river that separates the sectors from the uncharted area. The Refuge is somewhere on the other side of that river.” She returned Thana’s glance and continued, “They said the Refuge is the only place in our world that people like us can live in peace. Our parents can come too, if they want, and they will be protected … from the war.”

Thana couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Your father told those people nobody was talking about war in these parts. If they were, he would’ve heard of it.”

“But Mother,” Yani said, “we see things happening before they happen.”

“I don’t know how that can be,” Thana answered without a lot of conviction.

Yani glanced over at Lem just as he turned his head and saw into her eyes. He finished the last of his porridge and pushed the bowl away from him. He thanked Thana for breakfast and told her he would have to go back home that evening after supper.

Yani and Lem ran outside to play a kind of hide-and-seek.

“Yani,” Lem said during one of their games, “you must persuade your parents to take you to the Refuge.”

“Of course Silly!” Yani said with a smile. “Why did you think I told you?”

Lem seemed not to mind Yani calling him “silly” anymore. The truth was that he didn’t mind anything she said.

After Kivo came back from work in the fields behind the cabin, they all sat down to a delicious supper. When Lem rose from the table and said he had to leave, Thana filled his food bags with fragrant bread, crisp vegetables, and fresh fruit. Lem hugged them all, but especially Yani, and disappeared through the door into the night.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Chapter 20: The Lie

Lem took his mother’s hand and guided her up the path they’d taken to Kivo’s picnic site and Yani’s secret hiding place, only now it was pitch black and Evanor could not see her feet, let alone the ground beneath them. Eventually she fell into the pace of her son’s sure stride.

“I never realized you could see so well in the dark Lem,” Evanor said breathless from the upward slope of the hill path.

“I can’t see any better than you Mama when there’s no light to see by,” Lem said. “I just look ahead to see where I’m going to be in another few moments and then that’s where I go.”

Evanor tried to digest her little boy’s words. She could understand them and yet she couldn’t understand them. At least she wasn’t afraid of him anymore like she had been the morning after her Thort had been killed. She knew deep in her breast that Lem would protect her and would never hurt her.

They reached the rock picnic table. “Do you want to rest a bit Mama?” Lem asked Evanor.

“Yes,” she said, “just for a moment until I catch my breath… Do you know where to go?”

“Not really,” Lem answered. “We’ll walk along the ridge and continue eastward until we get out of this sector. We’ll only move at night. If we see a farm or a village, we’ll walk around it.”

“What will we do about water and food?” Evanor asked.

“We’ll walk parallel to a stream so we can get to one when we need to drink or refill our water bags,” Lem said, “and we’ll get whatever fruit and vegetables we need from the orchards and fields at night…”

“… But that’s stealing!” Evanor protested, shocked to hear her son talk like that. Thort and Evanor had raised Lem better than that.

“It can’t be helped Mama,” Lem explained looking down at the ground. “Otherwise we’d die … We’ll be honest again, as soon as we can afford to be … Come Mama, let’s go. We have to keep moving.”

They walked around the bend and kept on walking. Lem did not show his mother Yani’s secret hiding place. It wasn’t that he wanted to keep a secret from his mother. It was just that she was having a hard enough time getting used to her little son she thought she knew so well but didn’t and Lem did not want to make it any harder on her.

When the night began to grey into dawn Lem could see the dark meandering line of the creek below them running parallel to the ridge on the far side of the fields to their left. He moved Evanor away from the path edge so they would not be visible to any farmers in the fields. His mother must have been exhausted by now and he looked for a suitable place to eat and rest for the day. If only he could teach his mother to see sideways, they would not have been so exposed to prying eyes. Lem found a shallow cave hidden behind two skag trees and suggested to Evanor that they make themselves at home in the cave for the day. Evanor took out the rations for the day and spread them on the blanket for them to eat. She could scarcely eat her sandwich, she was so tired. She said to Lem that she would just rest for a little while but soon she was fast asleep. Lem picked up Evanor’s half-eaten sandwich and returned it to the bag. He lay down beside his mother and slept like he hadn’t slept since he could remember.

They made fairly good time. Within one week they reached the border between Sector 87 and Sector 95. The land was hilly with large tracts of virgin forest. There wasn’t much farm land and the villages were few. The roads weren’t well-maintained; mostly packed dirt. The gorm seemed to run wild. You could see drac tracks on the road and off it, but Lem and Evanor never actually saw any dracs.

Before first dawn they crossed over one hill and descended into a gully clogged with bramble and skagwood. Up on the hill to the left of them, Lem caught a glint of light from the sun below the hill. He squinted his eyes to see better and discerned a glass window in a cabin. He told his mother to stop a moment so he could listen to the sounds of the forest. Lem heard the quiet, the quiet of held breath the animals of the forest made when they were watching and listening for Lem’s and Evanor’s every move, the quiet when no farmer or farmer’s wife is up and about in the fields kicking around cans or driving the animals this place or that.

“Mama,” Lem said, “let’s go up and look around that cabin up there on the hill. We’re getting low on food and it’s been awhile since we had a good bowl of stew. I’ll stay out of sight.

“Can you see us inside that cabin up there, Lem?” Evanor asked suddenly.

Lem looked at his mother intently. Maybe she was starting to get used to him and his ways. “Yes Mama,” he answered. “I see us both sitting at the table in the kitchen eating our second helpings of thick soup … all by ourselves. There’s nobody else in the cabin but us.”

“Are you sure Lem?” she asked.

“Yes Mama,” Lem said matter-of-factly.

Evanor asked her small son hesitantly, “What happened to the people who own that cabin?”

“I don’t know Mama,” Lem lied for the first time in his life because he didn’t want to frighten his mother.

Against her better judgment, Evanor climbed up the hill behind Lem towards the cabin at the top of the middle of nowhere.

When they reached the narrow plateau where the cabin nestled, Evanor was tired and her skirts were torn from the bramble clinging to the hillside. She would have to sew and patch her skirts that evening. As agreed, Lem hid just below the ledge of the plateau while Evanor ascended the porch steps and knocked lightly on the door.

There was no response. She called out, “Hello there! Is anybody home?” in her most pleasant but loudest voice. There was still no response. She looked through the window, blocking the sunlight from her eyes with her hands in order to see through the darkness inside. “Hello there!” she called again. Still no response. Evanor walked back over to the door and tried the door handle. It gave way. She opened the door and leaned through the doorway, her heart racing under her blouse. “Hello there!” she called tentatively. She looked back in the direction of the ledge where Lem was hiding and then slipped inside.

While Evanor was inside the cabin Lem ran around to the back of the cabin to the skag tree at the edge of the clearing where two bodies, black with death, hung upside-down from the lower limb. He shimmied up the tree and cut the ropes so the bodies fell to the ground. He rolled them behind the brush and dug shallow graves for the man and woman and covered them with the soft moist dirt he’d dug out.

Lem ran stooping low around the cabin back to the ledge where he had been hiding. A moment later, Evanor leaned out of the cabin doorway and called to him, “Lem, you can come in. There’s nobody here in the cabin, just like you said!”

Evanor saw Lem’s head pop up from behind the ledge. He walked up the steps of the porch and they explored the cabin together. There was a fireplace with a stack of logs. Upstairs there was a real bed with blankets and sheets. The pantry in the kitchen was full of good food.

That evening Evanor and Lem sat at a table in the kitchen and ate their thick soup.

It was their second helping.

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Part 3: Plowshares into Swords; Chapter 19: Escape

Lem ran back to his father’s lifeless body. The blood was cauterized around the gaping wound from the energy pellets of Styg’s shot-blaster. Lem turned the body over, mustering all the strength of his small frame, and saw the frozen look of confused horror on the face that was not Thort anymore. He picked up the bags of food and necessities they had brought from Kivo’s place.

Lem returned to the boulder where he had left his mother. Evanor was slumped against the rock in shock. Although she was facing him, Lem could not tell whether his mother was able to see him or not. He tried to soothe her raw emotions with his child’s voice rather than shout harshly into his mother’s mind. “Please Mama,” he said, “please try to get up onto your own legs… I’m not strong enough to carry you and we have to get away from here as fast as we can. I’m not sure how long I can control Styg…”

Evanor seemed to rally to the sounds of her little son’s voice. She twisted halfway around and put her palm flat against the ground to push herself up and get her legs under her. Her knees buckled and she fell, but Lem caught her just in time. He tried to support her weight as best he could until she could stand on her own.

There were still a few more hours of darkness before first dawn. They had to get as far from Styg’s farm as possible. A threshold had been crossed and there was no going back to what was. Hatred spread through the sector like a virus. You could see it in their eyes. Maybe they’d have to leave the sector. Lem decided they could walk along the road until first dawn light but then they’d have to hide until nightfall.

Lem heard the purdybirds caw in the fields to either side of them. He knew that animals sensed the coming dawn before people could. He started scanning the dark horizon for caves, dense orchards, or hills – anywhere they could hide from prying human eyes.

Lem took his mother’s hand and guided her through the orchard to the western low-lying hills. Evanor slipped twice on the gravel and tree roots but Lem caught and steadied her each time. By the time they made the boulder ledge, the sky had turned from black to grey. Lem saw a shallow depression in the hillside behind one of the boulders. He cleared the area of rocks and spread a blanket on the ground. He laid one of the bags on the blanket and told his mother to lie down on the blanket and use the bag as a pillow. They would sleep for awhile and eat something when they’d wake up.

Evanor closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep. Lem lay down beside his mother and closed his eyes too, but his sleep was light. He sensed the volume of the sunlight grow against his eyelids. He heard the birds cawing in the fields below. He heard the silence enveloping the path above and below the ledge where they hid. If a twig had snapped, if a pebble had been dislodged, Lem would have heard it.

Lem sensed his mother stir on the blanket beside him. “Thort!” she cried out and sat up straight.

“Please Mama,” he pleaded. “Father is dead. Please wake up!”

She looked at Lem, recognizing him and not recognizing him all at the same time. “What are we going to do?” she said to herself out loud.

Lem explained to Evanor, “We have to get away from here, as far as we can… I endanger you, Mama. You can’t put them off my scent or sidetrack them like Father could… So we can only move at night… We must return to Kivo and Thana and Yani to warn them and tell them what happened. Then we must go away, find a place to live as far as we can from other people.”

“Why did Styg do this?” Evanor asked. “What did we do to them to make him kill Thort?” She thought of the extra flour she had stolen to make their bread.

Lem answered her, “Who knows why? Maybe the neighbors pressured Styg or infected him with their hatred… Maybe the hatred was there all along, but as long as he needed Father he let us live with him. Perhaps Styg will think about what he did when he buries Father. Perhaps he will be afraid of what I did to him just long enough for us to escape this hateful place.”

“What did you do to Styg?” Evanor asked her son, wondering what kind of stranger occupied his small body.

“I entered his body like I entered yours,” Lem said softly, “only I entered his to stop his evil from injuring us.”

“You entered my body?” Evanor stuttered.

“I only wanted you to run faster so you would survive Mama,” Lem said. “I’m sorry, Mama. I was so afraid. I wouldn’t have done it if I weren’t afraid for you.” He hugged her and buried his head in her stomach.

Evanor wrapped her arms around his frail body and soothed him, “It’s alright, my brave heart, I just never felt anything like that before and – I’m not sure I know you anymore.”

“You know me Mama,” he begged her, “you still know me!”

She continued to wrap her arms around him. “I’ll just have to get used to you I guess,” she murmured.

After Evanor relaxed her hold on him, Lem reached for one of the bags and pulled out a third of a loaf of bread, which he divided in half, giving one to his mother and keeping one for himself. They ate some fruit and drank down some water from the bag.

There was nothing to do now but to wait for nightfall.

They moved only at night, and then slowly and carefully. They walked around the villages, 435, 436, and 437, and never through them. Lem could see the faint glitter of streams under the star light, so they were able to refill the water bag whenever they needed.

Just before dawn on the third night, Lem and his mother knocked on the door of Kivo’s cabin. After a few moments Thana opened the door. “Oh, I’m so glad you finally …” she stopped in mid-sentence. Then, “Where’s Thort? What’s happened? Come in you poor dears!”

Yani had just come down the stairs holding a stuffed doll. Thana told her to go out to the field to fetch Papa. “Tell him Evanor and Lem are here.”

Evanor broke down in a gush of tears and anguished moaning. Thana held Evanor in her arms, shushing and soothing her.

Kivo rushed in through the front door and stopped short. Yani came in behind her father and stood beside him with her doll gripped tightly too her. “What happened, Evanor?” Kivo asked gently.

Evanor spoke softly, emptied of emotion. “Thort’s dead… The farmer we had been staying with, Styg, went berserk and … and … and shot him in the back! He would have shot us too if it hadn’t been for my brave little boy here.” Lem squeezed his mother’s hand.

Yani stared at Lem. How did you overcome him? I don’t know. I just had to and it happened like it had to. Why didn’t you stop that bad man before he killed your father? I don’t know Yani. I don’t know. I didn’t know before it happened and then it was too late to stop it, but I saw him coming to kill us in time and I went inside him and stopped him in time. What’s happening to me, Yani? Has anything like this ever happened to you? No, the last time you were here you seemed so retarded, but now you do things I can’t do yet. Yani, I must take my mother away from here, as far away as possible. They will hunt us down and kill us if they can. You must get your parents to leave too. It’s not safe for them here.

“You can stay with us as long as you need,” Kivo said, looking over at Thana and Yani for tacit approval.

Evanor looked at Lem and told Kivo, “Thank you for your kindness … but we don’t think it’s safe here either. They called us Rat lovers, Thort and me. You could see the hate in their eyes.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Kivo protested. “People are basically good. I’ll go to the authorities and report Thort’s murder. They’ll find Styg and punish him. You’ll see!”

“No!” Evanor screamed. “They will come up here and hang us from the nearest tree … and they’ll hang you too for helping us or … because of your daughter.”

There was a tense silence among them.

Kivo looked, full of concern, at Yani and then at Thana. “Please, Evanor,” he pleaded, “you’re frightening my wife and daughter. I just can’t believe –“

“I’m so sorry, Kivo,” Evanor said, “but we must leave tonight. We don’t know where we will go, but my Lem will guide me and protect me… Please don’t say anything to the authorities about Thort or Styg, for your own sakes and for ours… When you decide that it is time to leave this place, trust your daughter to guide you.”

Thana and Evanor silently cooked food and baked bread for their flight. Kivo stood at the front window looking out. Yani and Lem sat together in Kivo’s chair in front of the fireplace holding hands.

When night had fallen, Evanor and Lem said their goodbyes to Kivo, Thana, and Yani. “You be careful,” Kivo bade Evanor.

“You be careful too,” Evanor answered.

Outside the cabin, Lem took his mother’s hand and they disappeared into the night.

That night Kivo didn’t sleep.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Chapter 18: Childhood’s End

Thort and his family returned home to Styg’s farm on the evening of the seventh day since they’d left. Thort wanted to put the bags away in the hay loft and get Lem to bed before going over to the house to let Styg and Marza know they’d returned. He went to open the barn door but it was locked. That was funny since Styg never locked a door in his house or the barn. Thort was worried in the back of his mind as he walked over to Styg’s house and knocked on the front door. He knocked another two times before he heard the creaking of someone descending the stairs inside the house.

Styg opened it finally, brandishing a shot-blaster. “You git off my property right now or I’ll blast you all, startin’ with your son and thin yer wife…”

Thort was dumbfounded. “Why are you doing this Styg?” he asked softly. “What did we do to deserve this? I told you we’d be back in seven days … You agreed … Here we are ready to work…”

Styg said nothing in response. He just slowly raised his weapon to the level of his right eye to take careful aim.

Thort stared at Styg thinking that someone had replaced him with somebody else who looked an awful lot like him, but that couldn’t be. It just didn’t make any sense at all. A long snakelike feeling of fear rose up slowly from the pit of his stomach. Something awfully bad was about to happen and if he didn’t prevent it, he’d never be able to undo it.

Thort shouted over his shoulder at Evanor to take Lem and run for that line of trees they had come through while he blocked Styg’s line of fire with his own massive body.

When his wife and child were safely out of shot-blaster range, Thort said to Styg, “I’m going too” and cautiously turned his back on Styg, picked up the bags in both hands, and started walking slowly toward the tree line. He could feel the shot-blaster pointed at his back as he walked away slowly. It was almost physical the way the fact of aiming of it dug into the center of his back … and then it did become physical, as Styg’s finger twitched on the trigger.

Thort was already half-dead when he heard the blast.

Lem whirled around at the clap of noise, in time to see his father collapse onto the ground and Styg recharge his weapon. He took Evanor’s hand and shouted into her mind, “Don’t think – just run with me to the trees!

Evanor was in shock and her mind did not work anymore.

Lem ordered her legs to run as fast as his, synchronized with his zig-zag motion as they nearly flew across the open field. Shots sang shrilly past their ears and kicked up hot clumps of dirt near their feet. Lem heard Styg recharging his weapon again.

They reached the tree line and Evanor almost collapsed, her legs wobbled so much. Lem helped her sit down with her back propped against a boulder behind the tree line, facing away from Styg’s property. Lem whispered in his mother’s ear to wait there for him to return. There was something he had to do before they could leave.

Lem rose slowly, quietly, from behind the boulder and scanned the field looking for Styg. Lem saw him at the edge of the field poking his shot-blaster between some bushes and trees a short distance away. Lem stooped low and moved behind the tree line towards Styg until he stood in front of him, scarcely two drac-spans distant. “I know yer in there,” Styg mumbled, “I’ll find you … just you wait’n see.”

Suddenly Styg shut up.

His shot-blaster began to move upward in short jerking motions until it was pointing at his own face.

Styg heard a child’s voice in the dark night, “Can you feel me inside you?” Styg nodded his head twice. The smell of hatred on Styg’s skin was replaced by the smell of undiluted fear.

Lem explained to Styg, “I am going back to Mother now… We will leave this sector… You are going to stay here until morning with the barrels of the shot-blaster in your mouth and your twitching fingers on the trigger. If you try to move or make a sound before morning, you will pull the trigger and that will be that… You will bury my father before the moon rises on the eastern horizon.

Lem backed away into the night and returned to his mother.

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Chapter 17: Yani

Thort woke up at the same time he’d done since he started working on Styg’s farm. He woke up Evanor, dressed quickly, milked the gorms and dracs, and fed the puppies. Evanor also dressed quickly and hurried over to the kitchen to light the fires and prepare breakfast for Marza and Styg. She hoped they wouldn’t mind if she took a couple of loaves of the bread she’d baked the day before for the trip. She could go without eating for three days but Lem and Thort needed to keep up their strength. Evanor knew Marza would’ve said no if she’d ask her for the loaves, so she had baked two more loaves than she needed from the flour, hoping that Marza wouldn’t notice the missing flour.

After she had set the table for breakfast and heard Styg and Marza stirring upstairs, she left quietly to wake up Lem so they could get started on their trip. Lem dressed himself quickly and went down to say goodbye to the puppies, promising them he’d be back in eight days.

They set out from the barn along the pebble path and turned south on the main road. Lem was a good walker so they made pretty good time. As a matter of fact, they made Village 435 before dusk. They walked through town, along the main street. On the other side of town they found a good spot to camp out. There was good tree cover and a narrow gurgling stream nearby. Evanor took one of the bread loaves out of her bag and sliced it into thirds. She put one-third back into the bag and handed one of the thirds to Thort. She took a small piece of the remaining third for herself and gave the rest to Lem. Thort divided his third in half and gave one half back to Evanor along with a look that told her he’d be damned if he’d let her starve so he could eat. She accepted it, knowing there was nothing to be done about his stubbornness.

The stars off toward the horizon were crystalline in the clear night air. Insects in the trees and grasses nearby chirped and zzzzicked, as though it were the trees and the grasses making the noises and not the insects. Lem fell asleep between Thort and Evanor, and soon their snoring joined the noises of the trees and grasses.

They woke up at first dawn, grateful to no one in particular for the couple extra hours of sleep wrested from the night under the stars. After splashing the sleep from their faces and a cool soothing drink at the stream, they were soon on the road again. The stream glittered in the morning sunlight and kept them company as it ran parallel to the road they walked almost until they reached Village 436 early that afternoon.

Thort could see a church steeple in the middle of the valley below them. He decided they should walk around the town, rather than through it, since he had no idea what kind of people were there. There would probably be enough light for them to make it all the way around the ridge to the other side. Lem felt terrible about the sacrifices his parents were forced to make for him, but there was nothing he could do about it. Never you mind, his father would have said if he had been able to read Lem’s thoughts.

The second moon had just started its ascent above the eastern horizon when Thort and his family found a suitable camping site for the night. Evanor gave the last third of the first loaf to Lem, took out the second loaf of bread, and cut it into three parts. She gave one of the parts to Thort and put the remaining two in her bag. While Evanor was looking in the bag, Lem quickly divided his third in half and gave one half to his mother. When she began to protest, Lem gave her a look just like Thort’s from the night before. He was becoming so like his father, impractical and stubborn, and she loved him more than she could bear.

They woke as the light of first dawn tapped on their eyelids in an air of expectation. Lem saw a creek glitter in the valley below them. Lem led them down one of the gorm trails to the creek bank where they drank and washed themselves.

Lem carried a burlap sack and mittens in his bag to put over his head and hands in case somebody came near them. He was so quick putting on the sack and mittens that, even if you had seen him without the sack and mittens covering his skin, you would have sworn he had them on all the time.

They walked along a packed dirt road over a dusty plain in the midmorning sun. They drank frequently from the water bags they’d filled at creek a few hours before.

Before long, Thort saw some farm houses dotting the distant hills floating above the shimmering mirage of a lake. “Must be 437,” Thort said to Evanor and Lem. Lem smiled and reached into his bag for the sack mask and mittens, although it would be a good hour or two before they’d arrive at the village.

When they finally reached the edge of Village 437, Thort walked up to the first man he saw. “God’s greetings, brother,” he said to the man.

“God’s greetings to you too, brother,” the man answered guardedly.

“Would you be able to direct me to the Kivo place?” Thort asked.

“Who’d be asking?” the man asked suspiciously.

“Name’s Thort,” he answered pleasantly enough. “This here’s Evanor, my wife, and over there’s my son Lem.”

“What’s with the sack over his head?” the man asked. There was no way Thort was going to get a simple answer to his question.

“My boy’s skin is sensitive to the sunlight,” Thort responded glumly, hating to lie in front of his son. Evanor understood but Thort wasn’t sure that Lem understood. “He’s kind of sickly.”

“Kivo don’t get many visitors,” the man said. “Keeps to himself.”

“He owes me money,” Thort said.

“You need your wife and sickly son to help you get it from him?” the man asked, apparently enjoying this little interaction and trying to stretch it out for all it was worth.

Thort had had enough of this. “Do I look to you like someone who needs his wife and son to get something owed to him?”

The man sized him up and down, and said, “No, now that you say it, I guess not… You go straight on that there road to the edge of town. You’ll see a gorm trail to your right after the third field. The trail goes halfway up the hill to the tree line. Nobody else lives in that area. Nothing much grows there but rocks and drac turds. You can’t miss it…”

“Much obliged brother,” Thort tapped the brim of his hat with his index finger.

Thort led his family down the road and counted three fields. Sure enough there was a gorm trail leading up the hill. His eye followed the trail up the hill to the tree line. He scanned the tree line until he caught sight of the distant cabin roof, all by itself on the hill. They walked up the trail. There were a few places on the trail where loose pebbles and rocks made the footing treacherous. Evanor slipped once but Thort caught her in time. Lem walked up the path like a gorm and was waiting for them at the end of the trail.

Once they got to the tree line the walking was easier. As they approached the cabin, the inside lights seemed to overflow the windows and push back the encroaching dusk. They could hear the clinking of utensils and voices. Thort went up to the door and knocked on it. The voices and the clinking went quiet.

“Who’s there?” a muffled male voice said behind the door.

“It’s Thort,” Thort replied. “Is that you, Kivo? We met at the general store in 435 a few months back… You said you’d only gotten a third of the yield you should have from the seed we were looking at…”

“You’re the one with the blue boy?” the muffled voice asked incredulously and opened the door without waiting for an answer.

“Hi Kivo,” Thort smiled. “This here’s my wife Evanor.”

“Why is your son wearing a sack over his head?” a little girl standing behind Kivo asked. She was roughly as tall and thin as Lem and the same color.

Lem pulled the sack off his head and the mittens off his hands. He stuffed them into his bag and said, “My name’s Lem. What’s yours?”

“Yani,” the little girl answered simply. “Do you want to play in my room?”

Lem looked up at Thort and Evanor. Thort nodded. “Sure!” he said and they ran up the stairs together.

“Glad to meet you Evanor,” Kivo grasped Evanor’s hand in one of his hands and Thort’s in his other hand. Then he turned to the woman standing beside him. “This is Thana, my wife,” he said proudly. “… I thought you’d never come! It’s been months since I invited you… You all must be starving! We’re just sitting down to dinner…”

Thana said to Evanor, “Kivo told me all about your family. I’m so glad you finally came to visit us. I’ll set places for you at our table and you’ll get some good food in you bellies. Afterward I’ll make up your bedding and you can sleep.”

“Bless your kindness,” Evanor said. “Let me help.”

When the two women had finished setting the table, Kivo called the children down to supper. They ran down the stairs and sat beside each other at the table. When everyone had sat down at the table, Kivo raised his tankard of brew to Thort and Evanor, who also raised theirs, and said, “Welcome to our humble home. You are welcome to stay with us as long as you like – as long as you like the food and the company, that is!” Kivo laughed, pleased with himself over his joke, and the other adults joined him in laughter.

After the laughter had subsided, Thort spoke hesitantly, “We can only stay until the morning after tomorrow… We must get back… I promised.”

“But you just got here!” Kivo objected sadly.

“I know,” Thort said with matching sadness. “I wish we could stay longer.”

They ate thick brown vegetable soup, gorm stew, sweet dumplings with gravy, fresh baked bread, and a wildberry cobbler for dessert. Thort and Lem had second helpings of everything. When Thana asked them whether they had room for thirds, they both patted their full stomachs and shook their heads no.

After supper Yani and Lem went outside to sit on the porch steps and look at the starry night sky. A meteor shower erased thin pencil lines in the black sky. 763.3 was rising over the eastern horizon. It was beautiful to behold. Lem glanced sideways at Yani. She was also beautiful to behold. She would be his wife when the time came, he thought. Time comes and time goes and sometimes time stays awhile.

Yani glanced sideways at Lem while he was looking at the sky. He sees me. Yes, he sees me, she thought. And he sees what is and what will be. Yani played with the fingers of Lem’s hand, lifting them and letting them fall. “Do you have any pets?” she asked him.

“Just the gorm puppies in the barn where we live,” Lem answered.

“But they raise them for food,” she asked. “How can you eat them after you’ve seen them?” By seen Yani meant that Lem had looked into their eyes and seen their souls.

“I also play with the dracs,” Lem said softly, almost to himself. “I’ve looked into their eyes and seen their souls…”

“But nobody eats dracs!” Yani protested. “They’re only good for transportation and…”

“The dracs I’ve seen would eat me if they could,” Lem explained patiently, “and that would be alright with me.”

“I see,” she said, and then brightly, “Do you know what they call us?”

“What who calls us?” Lem asked knowing the answer.

“You know,” Yani said, “the others, not our parents.”

“Yes I know,” Lem said, also knowing the answer. “They call us Rats.”

“That’s funny!” Yani laughed in a most delightful way. “We don’t look a bit like rats.”

“You know what they mean,” he said. “It’s short for Rationals. I heard someone say it to my father.”

“Do you know what we call them?” she asked brightly.

“No,” he truly didn’t know.

“Saps!” she squealed with uncontrollable laughter. “Short for Sapiens, you know, Homo Sapiens!” Yani put her hand over her mouth in an unsuccessful attempt to stifle her mirth.

“If only people didn’t have names for each other,” Lem said quietly, “maybe they could see each other better.”

Thana called Yani in to go to bed. Evanor came outside and told Lem he’d sleep on the sofa. There were fresh sheets and blankets and soft pillows for them. Lem went inside with his mother. A couple thick blankets were spread on the floor beside the sofa for his parents. They turned out the lights and undressed in the dark. Within a half hour only a soft snoring could be heard.

The next morning, Thort got up with Kivo and went out to the field with him. Kivo said, “As long as you’re here, I could use your help moving some rocks from the field.”

“Glad to help,” Thort said. They moved four boulders off to the side of the field in two hours and then went back home for a hearty well-deserved breakfast, prepared by Thana and Evanor.

At breakfast Kivo and Thana suggested they all go for a hike up the mountain behind the cabin. They could pack picnic baskets for their lunch and the children could breathe some fresh air. Both Lem and Yani were excited by the prospect. Yani whispered to Lem that she’d show him her secret hiding place.

It was a beautiful day for a hike. They packed the picnic baskets with cold meats, bread, vegetables, and fruit and filled the water bags, and set off on a rather steep winding gorm path up the hill leading to the base of the mountain. The grasses were dry and sparse but every once in a while, one of them would spy a small flower, blue or red or orange, delicate but courageous in its survival above the tree line and he or she would tell the others to stop and admire it. The view of the village and the surrounding valley below them was breathtaking.

After an hour Kivo proclaimed that they had arrived at the perfect spot to have lunch. There were some large flat boulders by the side of the winding path that had fallen in such a way that they made a kind of picnic table and bench.

While they were eating the lunch they had packed for the hike, Kivo told Thort and Evanor that if things ever got too tough or dangerous for them in 435, they could come stay with them. There was enough room on his property to build another cabin. Thort answered in a low voice, not to frighten the children that, if things got too dangerous in 435, they were likely to spread to 437 and all over the sector or to all the sectors, but he thanked Kivo just the same and said he hoped he’d never have to take him up on his kind offer.

After lunch the children were excused to run off and play nearby (within hollering distance). The women were talking softly and Kivo told Thort that he gets awfully drowsy after lunch and, if Thort had no objections, he’d stretch out on the ground and take a short nap. He called out to Thana, “No more than an hour!”

Thort not only had no objections, he thought it was a pretty good idea and told Evanor he’d have himself a nap too.

Yani and Lem had run just beyond the bend in the path and stopped. “Where’s your secret hiding place?” Lem asked Yani.

“It’s here,” she answered.

“Where?” Lem asked, seeing nothing but the rock slabs embedded in the side of the mountain and the tops of the trees beneath them on the other side of the path.

See it!” Yani said, a little impatient. “Look, I can’t explain it in words, only in pictures…” She said, “Here, look at my finger!”  She pointed with her index finger at something in the air. “Are you looking?” Yani asked, looking sideways at Lem.

“Yes,” Lem said, wondering where she was going.

Yani moved her other index finger next to her first and then spread them apart as though her arms were resting on a transparent glass surface. “Are you still looking?” she asked him again, not trusting his attention span.

“Yes I am,” Lem answered, a little less patiently. “Stop asking me each time.

Yani next moved her arms and index fingers up and down in parallel. “Are you…”

“Yes,” Lem cut her off.

And then something amazing happened. Yani’s two arms and two index fingers disappeared. “Are…”

Lem didn’t answer. He was at a loss for words.

By now the right side of Yani’s body had disappeared. She seemed to wiggle just a little bit, as though she were slipping through a narrow passage between two huge invisible rocks, and then she was all gone.

“Where are you Yani?” Lem called out.

“You try it,” said a detached voice sounding very much like Yani’s voice. “I’ll help you.”

Lem pointed with his index finger. He moved his other index finger next to his first and then spread them apart as though his arms were resting on a transparent glass surface. He next moved his arms and index fingers up and down in parallel.

And then something amazing happened. Lem’s two arms and two index fingers disappeared. The right side of his body was starting to disappear. He wiggled a little bit, as though he were slipping through a narrow passage between two huge invisible rocks, and he was all gone.

Now Lem could see Yani. She was sitting with her back against the wall of a cave. “Where are we?” Lem asked Yani.

“I don’t know what it’s called in words,” Yani smiled smugly, “but isn’t this a great secret hiding place?”

“It sure is!” Lem responded in awe. “Can we see our parents?”

“Sure silly!” Yani said. “Just look sideways”.

Lem tried looking sideways and, sure enough, he saw his mother talking to Thana and his father stretched out on the grass next to Kivo. They appeared to be sleeping because he heard a muffled snoring. “Can they see us?” Lem asked.

“No silly!” Yani said. “They don’t know how to look sideways.”

“Stop calling me silly!” Lem said in exasperation. “It’s name calling, like Rats and Saps, and it keeps you from seeing me!”

“Alright silly,” she giggled.

He ignored her joke at his expense. “How do we go back to our parents?”

“You go back sideways, like you came,” she said. “Here, take my hand … I’ll lead you back.”

Lem reached across the cave to take Yani’s proffered hand. His arm seemed to stretch like rubber. His stomach felt a little queasy, as though he might need to vomit. As soon as they were hand in hand, he was standing next to her and his arm was just as long as it should be. He didn’t feel queasy any more. Holding Lem’s hand, Yani turned toward the cave wall and walked through it to …

… the other side. Lem saw the rock slabs embedded in the side of the mountain and the tops of the trees beneath them on the other side of the path.

Lem and Yani ran around the bend straight to the picnic rocks where their mothers were talking and their fathers were just waking up.

Kivo said to everyone that he thought it might be a good idea to get back down the mountain while there was still light. They packed the remainders of the food in the picnic baskets and carefully descended the gorm path.

That night they ate a light meal of cooked cheeses, toasted bread, and tankards of brew to make the sleep easier. Lem and Yani thought from now on, if anything bad happens to us we will find each other.

What with the fresh air, the exercise, and the brew, the sleep engulfed both families easily.

The next morning Thort and Evanor got up and prepared their departure. Thana made them a nice breakfast and stuffed their bags with good food for the trip back to 435. Thort hugged Kivo and Thana. Kivo hugged Thort and Evanor. Lem hugged Yani for a long time. When he parted, he pointed to his eyes and then to Yani’s eyes.

They set out on their long journey back to Styg’s and Marza’s farm, home such as it was.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 15: Trip to the Village

First thing next morning Styg asked Thort to drive into the village to buy much needed supplies. He told Thort to take one of the stronger farm animals and hitch it up to the two-wheeled cart. Thort went back to the barn and chose the smaller of the two dracs and led him out of the barn, or rather he pulled him out with all his strength and will. Once he’d maneuvered the drac over to the front of the cart Thort hitched her up and ran back to jump up into the driver seat. Styg reached up to give Thort a coin purse to pay for the supplies. “You get me the best price you can,” Styg continued holding onto the purse, “those coins aren’t made of skagwood, you know.”

Thort said, “Yes sir I will.” Styg let go of the purse and stepped back from the cart. Thort thwacked the drac’s backside with the switch and lurched forward with a sudden jolt in the direction of the village.

Styg hrumphed to himself about Thort’s choice of animals. Everyone knew that dracs were contrary as hell and dumb as all get out, and Thort had chosen the dumbest and most contrary of the two dracs. “Well, good luck to him,” he grinned humorlessly.

The drac, a rather ugly dragon slightly larger than an earth1 mule, kept pulling to the right, as though she had something more important to do back at the barn. Maybe she left the kettle on the fire, he chuckled to himself darkly. It was all he could do to pull her head back to the left to keep her going straight. They finally reached the main dirt road. Thort pulled her head to the left with all his might but the drac proved stronger. Thort decided to let her pull right all the way around until she was facing back toward the barn and then he kept pulling her head right until she was facing the main road again. The drac started to pull left and Thort was able to finesse her onto the main road in the direction of the village. Well, good for me, he reflected, I was able to outwit a drac!

By now the sky was starting to lighten. When the first light began to graze the tops of the skagwood trees the purdybirds burst into a cacophony of song. The drac would stop every once in a while to sniff the flowers until Thort thwacked her on the backside and then she’d lurch forward again. The air was starting to taste dusty. Thort worried he’d get to the village after the stores had all closed. He didn’t have enough money to buy himself dinner and he didn’t want to disappoint Styg. A bead of sweat trickled down to his brow.

By mid-day Thort finally side-stepped the drac and cart into the village. He tied the drac to the nearest hitching post that looked strong enough to hold her and started looking for the general store on foot.

When he found the store, Thort walked in, and looked around with his list in hand. He walked up and down the aisles looking for wire, fertilizer, and seed. He didn’t have any luck finding the wire so he asked the man at the desk next to the door. The man pointed over to the far corner and then Thort saw the rolls of wire hanging from the ceiling. He measured out and cut off the length of wire Styg had requested. He found the fertilizer they needed and stacked twenty sacks of it along with the wire by the desk.

Thort went to look for seed. He found it in the last aisle. There was another man standing in front of the stacks of seed bags closely inspecting an open sack of seed. Thort stood next to the man reading the small white sign stuck in the open seed bag. “God’s greetings, brother,” Thort said just to be friendly.

“God’s greetings to you too, brother,” the man said back to him. After a few moments of silence, the man said, “Last time I bought this seed I only got a third of the yield I was supposed to get from it.”

“Are you sure it’s the seed?” Thort asked. “Maybe your soil’s just plain tired.”

“No brother,” the man answered, “I rotate my crops and let a seventh of my land lay fallow every twelve months like it says in the bible…”

“I was just saying,” Thort mumbled. “I didn’t mean anything by it.” Thort scooped up a handful of seed and examined it closely, wondering what he should do about it. Both men stood shoulder to shoulder in silence pondering the sacks of seed in front of them.

Then the man turned to Thort and said, “By the by, my name’s Kivo.”

Thort replied “My name’s Thort. Glad to meet you.” He turned and shook Kivo’s hand. They got to talking. It had been an awfully long time since Thort had had a friendly conversation with another man. He found out Kivo came from a village 3 days from this one. Kivo had a wife and … he mumbled something about a little daughter. Thort and Kivo exchanged a few humorous anecdotes at the expense of their respective wives, but Kivo deflected any discussion about the younger generation. The truth was that Thort didn’t volunteer any specific information about his child either. He was just asking to be polite and to keep the conversation from dying off. Kivo looked Thort in the eyes sadly and said he’s got a blue daughter about 5 years old.

Thort grabbed both Kivo’s shoulders with his large hands and said incredulously, “What? You have a blue kid too? We have one ourselves, a blue boy named Lem, about the same age as yours!” They compared notes and parted company amicably with promises to visit each other with their families sometime.

Kivo and Thort paid for their purchases. Kivo carried the sacks of grain out to his four-wheeler wagon in front of the store. Thort went to get his two-wheeler and come back to park in front of the store to load the supplies into the cart. The drac had other ideas but Thort eventually prevailed. He hoisted the seed bags, fertilizer, and wire rolls into the back of the cart. Thorn ran around the cart and jumped up into the driver’s seat. He thwacked the drac good on her backside and jolted forward to a recalcitrant stride. Thort wanted to get back home before dark.

The moon was high in the night sky by the time Thort turned off the main road up the pebble path to the barn and unhitched the drac, leading her into the stall. He unloaded the supplies and carried the heavy bags two at a time into the barn.

When Thort walked up the path to the kitchen he heard the clinking of dishes being washed and dried. He was disappointed that he’d missed supper. When he got to the back door, however, Evanor opened it for him and told him to sit at the kitchen table. Styg and Marza had gone to bed but Evanor had saved a meal for Thort. The stew was warm from the cooking pot on the stove. She set a half loaf of bread and a mug of skag tea in front of him.

Thort had a ravenous appetite and everything tasted so good to him. While Thort was sopping up the last of the stew with his bread, he told Evanor, between bites and swallowing, about his conversation with Kivo.

They couldn’t wait to tell Lem about it in the morning.

Mike Stone

Raanana

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Chapter 14: Friendly Gossip

Thort was strong and willing to work morning to dusk. He rose in the morning before Styg and milked the grom and dracs, fed the pups. When Styg came to the barn, Thort was pulling the plow to the door and loading it into the flat-bed wagon. He hitched up one of the dracs to the wagon. Styg hopped up onto the driver’s seat and Thort hopped up to take his place beside him. The two of them together plowed more rows by lunch time than Styg had ever done by himself in three days.

Evanor was pretty much the same as Thort. She rose with him and hurried over to the kitchen to light the stove and hearth fires. Evanor baked fresh rolls in the hearth, soft-boiled eggs, and cooked hot gorm links for Styg and his wife’s breakfast. The tantalizing smells of Evanor’s cooking wafted up the stairs of Styg’s house, inviting the older couple to get up and come down to eat. At first Styg’s wife, her name was Marza, was suspicious of Evanor’s intentions, but she was quickly won over by Evanor’s good cooking and her pleasant disposition. Evanor knew she had won the battle when Marza told her her name.

At lunch time, Evanor suggested she prepare a lunch basket for “the men”. She offered to take it out to the field where Styg and Thort were working. On her way to the field she’d stop by the barn and leave something to eat for Lem at the barn if he were playing with the animals. After awhile Marza suggested Lem could sit in the kitchen by the hearth and play with his toy soldiers.

Between meals, Evanor made the beds, swept the floors and stairs, dusted the furniture, and washed and hung the laundry. Marza washed and dried the cooking and eating utensils after meals. She said it was because she’d always pulled her own weight and she wasn’t about to stop now, but the real reason was that she still didn’t quite trust Evanor to clean the glasses and dishes like she did without breaking something. Little by little that changed too and Marza let Evanor take over that task as well.

Evanor prepared the supper. When the men came home from the fields, Styg would wash up and change his clothes in the house upstairs and Thort would do the same in the barn. He’d come back with Lem to the kitchen. Marza set the dining room table for Styg and brought in the food Evanor had prepared. Thort and Lem sat at the kitchen with Evanor waiting for Marza to sit down with Styg.

Styg saw the two place settings on the table and called into the kitchen for Thort, Evanor, and little Lem to bring their plates and cups and eat with them in the dining room. From that day onward Styg and his wife shared their meals with Thort’s family.

One evening at the dinner table, Styg mentioned to Thort that he had heard of another family with a blue child, three days distant from them. He heard they were quiet people, minded their own business, and kept to themselves. Styg said that he had never actually seen them himself. He’d just heard talk about them, that’s all. Thort and Evanor glanced at each other quickly and then back down at the food on their plates. Lem’s ears perked up. He knew he wasn’t normal like other children. He’d always thought he was the only living blue child in the world. Lem waited expectantly for Styg to say more, but he had already gone on to another subject that didn’t interest him nearly as much. They were getting low on plant seed and fertilizer. They also needed some wiring to mend the fences in the field by the creek.

Styg would figure out what to do in the morning.

 

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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