The misadventures of a Boy named Christopher Paul Hickey. A building roaming.
Excerpt-ROUGHEST OF ROUGH DRAFT
The fall of 1991 was a special time in my life. I entered into my senior year of high school, and I knew that things were about to break my way. I spent the entirety of the late 1980’s filling my head with fantasies of what my college years would be like. This was aided in large part by really bad 80’s movies with poor plot lines and gratuitous breast shots. Having gone to an all boys four year Catholic high school didn’t much help matters. I was seriously handicapped when it came to social interactions with women. The celluloid world allowed me to live vicariously through the exploits of others, while maintaining a safe distance. I never got hurt, but was able to covet the experiences that others shared through the medium of film. I couldn’t talk to a girl, or woman, but I certainly thought that if I was put in the correct situation at the correct time, that I would ascend to my destiny like a great many of the surly down on their luck underdogs that came across the screen in 130 minute R-Rated films recounting the sexploits of misunderstood teens. You name a movie from the that was filmed and released from 1979 to 1989, and I found a way to see it and apply it to my perceptions of the world as it was, and to the world as I knew it could be if I was just given the chance to show everyone that I too could impress the class homecoming queen, hold a boombox outside of someone’s window, win the homecoming carnival, make a woman fall in love with me by being the best lover she ever had (even though I had never had sex to this point in my life. somehow, I just knew I would be the best. I believed I’d be the best), and throw the greatest party of all time with little of no consequences to follow despite any number of things that could and would naturally go wrong in such adventures. This is the time where I came of age. These are the ideas that shaped and formed me into the man I would become much later in the third stanza of my life. The base line of the beliefs of my life were set in fantasy, and the bar of living was adjusted in the living from my teen years that bridged my life all the way until I turned 29 (the year I barely escaped being wedded to a natural disaster). So naturally, I fully believed that I had a deadline to get things going. Senior year, 1991 into 1992 was where the rubber met the road. I had several cronies that helped, hell even went as far to fully encourage my fantasies about how life should be lived in the pinnacle year of our youth. It was a period of discovery, the birth of experience. We were free to explore in a very unencumbered manner. Leaving the homogenous homesteads of our younger lives behind. We were naturally drawn to these things. Things that were nominally dangerous, but lacking in consequence. We sustained our vanilla by remaining grouped, never straying too far from the shield that a foraging group of privilege people provides. There was no wrong option, as our hearts stayed attuned to the notion that we were associated with the Divine Right of Kings. There existed an extreme feeling of outlasting any adversity, and the world existed to provide for our whims alone. We didn’t understand how lucky we were to own the privilege our birth provided for us. We were insulated from its truth, and that is the very nature of the thing. We possessed the privilege of never having to think about the privilege we possessed. I think this greatly helped us to move around without inhibition. This and a supply of underage alcohol. Underage alcohol tastes much better than of age alcohol. The buzz that permeates a youthful bloodstream is enhanced by the challenge of procuring the drug and then eventually by its clandestine consumption in areas not meant to serve as a venue to such actions. One time we were drinking in public, and we were so involved with the conversation that we were having that we didn’t notice the cops coming up on us. We didn’t even have a chance to pretend that we weren’t drinking. Thank god we were white. Thank god we were known to the cop. They took and upturned our courage, can by can, all the while giving us a PSA on the finer points of what could happen if we became alcoholics. This was some time before the current opioid crisis, and the worst consequence that could occur was getting wrecked on booze and then behind the wheel of a car thus increasing the possibility of destroying your own life or even worse the lives or others. I remember how the cop’s words hung in the autumn air as he chided my friend for drinking and then challenged him to remember who he, the cop, actually was in relation to my friend. My friend, cheaply buzzing and within the confusion of a bright MagLite’s corona gave the eventual shrug that elicited a rush of air to come forth from the cop’s mouth. The cop allowed, that a long time ago, he used to tie my friend’s skates. So because we were not known drug addicts, white, and the one cop that busted us tied my friend’s skates in Charlestown Youth Hockey, we learned that as scary as an encounter with the cops could be, that it would be ok in the end. This is an interesting truth I had never considered would be applicable to only some of us in society and not all of us. The world I knew, that seemed so open to possibility for us, was not an equal playing field for all. The seduciton that came of believing that we were on the right side of things resided within a palace of non-consideration of what others were experiencing. This was the danger of pushing boundaries within the safety of known environs, we never had to consider that perhaps the way we moved about in the world was a singular experience not accessible to all. This was not a lesson to be learned until way off in a distant future. A lesson that would only be learned because of the proliferation of technology and the ability of society to enlist said technology as a means of exposing the inequality that existed but was not known to a great many because we were insulated from the truth by the segregation our experiences provided. Of course I speak for myself, and in truth I haven’t spoken these thoughts to my cronies of those times, but I have to wonder if they have arrived in the vicinity of these thoughts on their own. We shared an affinity for keeping the fantasy going all those years, and we felt entitled to keep trying, to keep pushing the envelope.
Our kingdoms were to be cultivated within a small window of opportunity and we wouldn’t take NO for an answer. Weekend keggers, packy runs after procuring an older relative to “buy for us”, hungover street hockey up at Hockeytown in Saugus, spending lavishly on clothes at Urban Outfitters, and THE GAP, having the time to figure out how we would waste our time, keeping the tabs of each beer we drank as if each was the relic of a Saint and could imbue upon us some further power of persuasion in a social setting, eating at HoJo’s with the septuagenerian Connie Catang who would deliver a mountain of banana pancakes across two of the shortest and strongest arms I’ve ever seen at 3 in the morning all while taking the abuse of six or seven smart ass teens. And that time I put my hands down on the table and excused myself at the Howard Johnson’s, as I had discovered while sitting there that there was a well lit sign with maneuverable letters that read “Please try our great meat balls”, which needed to be changed to “Please try our great balls”. Mission accomplished. Mission completed while under the shadow of the State Police barracks across the way. Another universal truth related to our run-ins with the cops that seemed to permeate my experiences of these years: you could usually do mischievous things right under the nose of cops and they wouldn’t ever catch you. It was only when bystanders called the mischief in, could they get a jump. Poor old Connie Catang, she has to be deceased by now. She was a great woman. I don’t know all the particulars of her story, but I know there was one. Certain of it. I never asked, and that is the vanity of youth, you never believe that the present will ever become the past, and that you will ever become a waitress slopping patty melts to the ungrateful punk mouths of North Metro Boston’s most conceited and unsatisfied rabble. I hope wherever Connie ended her days, it was in peace and that someone served her as well as she served us. No, they couldn’t have, she was the best. She had gumption and was clever enough to never get sucked into our patronizing games. Her hairnet was forged in the fight of living for others. She must have been sliding plates for a son or daughter that had a child of their own and was struggling through life, or maybe she was compiling a little extra to catch the bus from downtown Malden to Foxwoods to take her chance at the slots or stamping winners in the stadium bingo hall. I’ll never know. The only thing I regret is not seeing Connie for the humanity she possessed, but how I chalked her up as a stock character from one of my beloved 1980’s films. Maybe to me she represents the sorority house mother in “Revenge of the Nerds” that stood between the nerds(me) getting some nookie. Connie didn’t stand between me and anything. Perhaps a plate of hash, fries and patty melts, that’s about it. I should have asked her why she worked the shift she did. I should have tipped her better. I should have given her a hug and told her how appreciative that I was the she was there to take my order. How appreciative I was that she was THERE.
It’s hard to say whether or not I ended up at Howard Johnson’s on the night in question. I concede there was a significant probability that I did, but the end of the night is not as important to this story than what came before it.
What came before the fall night of 1991, in the pinnacle year of my most important youthful year of my pre-adult life, has already been laid out. I was ready to come out the the world and lend my services to any woman anywhere. I began trips to Harvard Square with increasing regularity, as I wanted to increase my exposure to the magical powers that resided in that special space. I honestly believe that Harvard Square is one of the few places in our world that is a wormhole, on top of an ancient Native American burial ground, teeming with a sub-sub level of complex catacombs that allow students, professors, transients, and the homeless to travel from any point of existence to any point within Harvard Square in an instant.
I make mere mention of another instance that occurred at Harvard Square as a dropped pin, so that I can return to it and explain at length the ire of homeless I’ve raised in my short life. The great bum and bindlestiff councils of the Northeast Corridor have myself and my great friend,the West Coast Bandit, tied atop the list as 1 and 1A on their most wanted civilians with crimes against the homeless. This was not an easy feat to achieve, as the homeless are rather resourceful and used to a lot of devilry coming their way unsolicited. Despite their greatest superpower of being invisible and a preternatural instinct to navigate the underbelly of Harvard Square, the West Coast Bandit and I made good on many a mischievous misdeed that interfered with the quotidian happenings of the local bummery and their strategems at survival. I am more than half convinced that some day I’ll be taking a quiet bath and fall asleep to only awaken at some point later on to a bathroom full of angry, soiled, vengeance-driven weirdos looking to make good on the transgressions of my long lost past. They will find me and they will make me pay. I know it, I’ve always known it. Of course, I could always join them. That may be the only way. I could request a meeting with their leader. I’ve always suspected that there is a hierarchy of bummery, an that they also have a union. Is this a digression? Well, in a way it is but it also relates to the magical fall night already thrice mentioned. You see, the closest I ever came to the leader of the bums, was the fall night in 1991 when I met Eve the Enchanter.
I believe I caught Eve the Enchanter before he slipped fully into his homeless designation. He was more of a traveler new the the parts of New England. He had a way about him that conveyed that he had been on adventures in this world and worlds beyond. He seemed to operate on another plane of existence. This all came to me in a singular moment, as I happened upon him while he was holding court with fairies in the Winthrop Square section of Harvard Square kitty corner from the Garage complex. I think there were fairies about, because there was no one there with this chap as he was moving and swaying and gesticulating wildly at an audience. A preacher with an absent congregation. As I said before, he was on another wavelength. This was the sort of thing that I was drawn to and rushed headlong into without consideration of consequence.
The air was replete with an energy that I had never known. It was electric. I moved around this character’s periphery, and I could sense that he sensed me. He was the cosmic black hole of my young life, and all those within my party drew a similar feel and recounted it as such after the fact. In retrospect, I like to think that my observation of this soul completed a mobius strip of fate between him and I that initiated a Hawthorne Effect that still reverberates throughout space and time to this very day.
Standing before me was a man unlike any other I had seen in the flesh to this point. Memory estimates that he could have been anywhere between twenty-five to forty-five years of age. The difficulty in determining the exactness of his age resided within the film of filth that surrounded him. It would be accurate to say that he was possessed of a cloud of dust that lent a golden glow to him. Quite angelic, and the halo about his crown was a muslin rag rolled tight and tied into a knot behind his head. The crazy tufts of hair that populated the head of my new found focus, played waveringly around the headband and fell this way and that without rhyme or reason. The cord that kept the sweat out of his eyes strangled his scalp and did less to keep the wayward hairs from falling forward and backward. One of the first things I noted about Eve, was his constant collecting of hair from his face and eyes and smoothing it backward over the glossy exposed skin that indicated some male pattern baldness gaining on him.
This movement happen over and over for the entirety of the time I was held under his spell. He also revealed healthy tufts of armpit hair edged by yellowing sections of the at-one-time white tank top seemingly painted onto his upper torso. He was adorned in well earned sweat, and the air was autumn crisp with a tinge of humidity. When I eventually got close enough, I believe I could taste cumulative amount of garlic and red onion he consumed in his lifetime as it attacked my nose from every exposed pore. His clothes were a map of his travels, and presented an alternative to the sedentary lifestyle I enjoyed. It never occurred to me that one could travel the world outside of the Greater Boston area.
The most memorable physical characteristic that still haunts me to this day was the supple scrotum that spilled out of the cut off jeans that Eve wore and he exposed to us all as he put his leg up on one of the cement fence posts while simultaneously bringing a cigarette to his mouth for lighting. The pud that was released in this motion was incongruent with the armpit hair I had already espied earlier on in my investigation. His balls were as bald and shiny as the patches on his head, and as he raised his knee ever higher, seemed to stretch the flap of skin to a breaking point. It was in the revelatory moment, I finally caught eyes with Eve. I didn’t know if I was more transfixed by his gaze or the novelty of taut testes playing peekaboo out the bottom of well worn shorts. The other thing that amazes me when I think of this night now, is how the exposure didn’t seem to phase Eve in the least. He just kept eyes locked at me, and seemed to be sizing me up and making decisions about how to engage me. It is as if I was at the zoo looking into the orangutang habitat, and the orangutang was looking back at the animal in me. I couldn’t handle the stare and I looked away, but it was too late. I made the connection and we were engaged now. He rolled his leg off the cement post, retracting his bald balls into his pants. It happened so quickly that I doubted that I even saw it. It wasn’t until I got an elbow in my ribs from the West Coast Bandit, did I realize that what I saw really happened. I snickered and took my eyes off Eve only long enough to get the visual validation that my friend was experiencing the moment with equal parts amazement and disbelief. The gravity of Eve pulled me closer than I ever wanted to get, or so I thought. All of the fairies in his congregation sidestepped as I moved closer to this marvel. Eve gave the obligatory head nod of recognition, which seemed slightly out of place to me, as we had not ever met before, at least in this lifetime. I now know that it was easier for him to assess me from the position of his worldliness than it was for me to venture guesses about him from my insular viewpoints. Eve was gracious in the moment. He invited me, and the group to enter his sacred circle. He held court, and seemed to be adding ammunition to his clip of profundity with every drag he pulled from the eternal cigarette that danced along his lips as he further engaged our collective curiosity. Once he opened his mouth to speak, what came next would be forever recounted in the tales told of our friendship and the history of shenanigans we pulled throughout that time. It is tough to place the exact accent that Eve possessed but it seemed to be an amalgam of Ringo Starr’s Liverpudlian Lilt and a wee bit of the Leprechaun from Lucky Charms commercials. With that said, it lacked any real cartoon quality, but seemed to frame every word he said in a slow melodic inquiry that seemed to say: hear what I’m saying, enjoy it, and never forget.
Mind you, it was not something to be forgot, but with all of this craziness in life happening about me, stuff gets back-burnered from time to time.
At any rate, I made my sacred bond to he, and I make the same to you, that I will one day tell of the story of Eve the Enchanter and Slappy-applause Nan here on this blog. I like to tease. So there it is.
A few points for you to dwell on while imagining Eve the Enchanter and Slappy-applause Nan.
there is no ambiguity here, Eve was a man, and a hell of a lot more Enchanting then several Enchantresses I’ve encountered in my hellion days. Even during the period that I was searching for lost idols and bartering with donated blood and Cool Ranch Doritios in the Dominican Republic (by the way, a used adolescent Jim Rice baseball glove has no apparent value in the D.R. )
There were others involved in the night in question, and for the sake of propriety I must insure that they would be flattered by being featured in this telling (yeah right, shit’s going to be exposed, consider this as fair warning)
Eve still haunts me to this day, and I must do justice to his visage, his actions, his soul, and the begrimed bubble gum pud that hung out of his tinker-tailor-soldier-spy Daisy Duke’s that night. Slappy-applause Nan must be out there in society somewhere, although she may not remember that night, I am sure that with the right hypnotist we could regress backward through time and help her to remember.
All these things are important, and must be cared for in the telling. So look for the Tale of Eve the Enchanter and Slappy-applause Nan by week’s end, there will be laughs, there will be tears, and yes I will have all the answers to the most important questions in life.
I got Eve started on the subject of Religion and he shot back quite agitatedly “I’m am entirely sick of hearing about people being killed by religious fanatics. It is shameful behavior for fellow humans to act out against other humans under the shield of fanatic faith. To those of the faith that feel that they are wrongfully persecuted because of the actions of the few fanatics within your tribe, where is your outrage? Why do you not speak out against it? You are collectively silent. Silence is assent. You are a joke. You belief system is a joke, and your incessant need to force others in our global community to pay attention to your madness is a huge time suck for all. Grow up, and pursue the advancement of all humans through examined and educational pursuits that will lift up our humanity for the better. Where is the critical thinking? Why can’t the people that commit these atrocities swallow themselves up within their own hatred. Grow up, embrace the impermanence of this life, and the void that follows. Place some importance on making this life worth living and not infringing upon others because you hedge your bets on what MIGHT come next. Religion is infantile in its entirety. It holds us back. There is no being that would create beings and hold them to impossible standards of behavior and penalize them for not adhering to them. That is only a human invention, because only humans are perverse enough to commit such sadism. If you don’t like the fact that I hold religion in such low regard, then perhaps you can convince the people that blindly believe and practice it stop fucking with the sane people of the world who pursue living without the shame, exclusion, and terror that most organized religion has brought to the masses for the last few thousand years.”
Today I’m fonding. What is fonding you may ask? Well, I’ve taken the liberty of taking an adjective describing how I feel about something, and I’ve turned it into a verb, in the hope that it might explain the action I take when I actively try to describe how I feel about something I am liking or have affection for. So, I’m fonding.
Fonding what? Why, the past of course. There is no such trajectory in fonding to be gained while imagining a future, simply because you can’t like something or have an affection for something that hasn’t occurred yet.
Regularity is a good. Most especially for kid’s bedtimes and stupped colons. If you don’t have regularity for either, there is no end to the amount of shit that can keep you in distress if the schedule is not adhered to.
That brings me to other things that could benefit from regularity. Raking the leaves during autumn days, spending autumn nights in Harvard Square.
In this same moment, over in the periphery of my sight, I saw an elderly asian couple bickering at length. They were heatedly pointing at a stone bench and seemed to be challenging one another to act in some way. I can’t confirm it, but they held all the markings of an old married couple. The violence of their argument was belied by the shame exuding from the wife. She kept looking around to see if anyone else was viewing what was going on. When she was satisfied that no one had seen her public domestic dispute, she reached into the long pocket of her trousers and pulled out a tissue and unfolded it several times. She then took the tissue and turned toward the stone bench gesticulating in a fashion that led me to believe that she at some point in her life had practiced the motions associated with conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a full Fourth of July rendition of the 1812 Overture. She then gingerly patted down and brushed the same bench with the unfolded tissue until it was appropriate for whatever purpose she engaged in the activity for. Somewhere near its conclusion, however, her husband who had been busying himself looking through one of many nondescript plastic bags tied in a series of exponential knots, saw what his wife was up to and flashed a look of disgust for all to see. I cringed having to bear witness to this. I’ve seen similar chapters act out in the relationship between my parents over the years. The look of disgust was just the tip of the iceberg, he had to teach her a lesson. He then went right up to her and windmill slapped her in the middle of her bent over torso. The sound was the sound one makes when attempting to and succeeding in creating a belly flop dive into a community neighborhood pool. This action stunned the wife and she let out a grunt. The husband not missing a beat went back to the business of his knotted bags. Again the wife stood up and looked around the area to see who had seen what had just happened. We all looked away, not wanting to inflict another wound to her. The husband then untied one of the bags and pulled out a series of tissues with which he started to repeat the activity his wife had just completed, but with many loud puffs and huffs, and the continual muttering that indicated that he was insistent that in order for it to be done right, he had to do it himself. The wife shot him a look that plainly said that when you are next waiting for a train to arrive, I will push you the fuck into the track and watch the train destroy you. I now the look, I’ve wished it upon many people, but never had the follow through. This woman was third rail electric to off this guy. She accepted the bench and sat down, once more looking around the perimeter to see if her shame was noticed. During this exchange, I also kept an eye on Eve, and he studied the couple up and down all the while taking measured drags on his cigabutt. I put my arm around the West Coast Bandit, and conveyed the myriad of thoughts on my mind, to only find that he was sharing many of my opinions of the scene. Forging a friendship through the recognition of commonly recognizing the humanity in others while they are being candid was a very enjoyable. I often feel that these youthful moments helped to plant the seeds of our longterm friendship that has been as rewarding over the balance of the years we’ve been friends, but most especially on nights like this one.
We all watched the asian couple have at each other. A game of chess with two grand masters, that seemed to believe they could out-duel each other, but could only end up in a continual draw of dissatisfaction. They sat themselves down and waited. What they were waiting for I will never know, but sound of the slap followed by the guttural grunt will always be with me. Whenever I”m in an uncomfortable situation, I just think of these two folks and remember how awful it must have been for them to live through that moment in time. Subsequently, I entered a long-term relationship that had its share of dissatisfaction and public domestic disputes, but luckily she never slapped my bent torso because I used a tissue to clean a stone bench to perfection before parking my behind on it.
Eve finished pulling on his cig and looked as if he had something profound to share with me, or anyone wishing sharing distance. I looked at the West Coast Bandit, and he back at me, the tractor beam look of what have we got to lose affixed between us and casting the die to favor an immediate engagement with the object of our observation of the last fifteen minutes. We headed over. In these types of social situations I generally conceded the lead to the West Coast Bandit, however, on this night I was feeling particularly courageous and wanted to show the others on my party that I could take the lead on one of these outings. When I think back on exactly what I did to engage him, I imagine it to be a lot more graceful than it likely was. I remember that I extended my hand to him and said something along the lines of ” What’s up? My name’s Chris. Yours?”. He surely had some world in him and he didn’t flinch at my approach and handshake that was wrapped in the safety of four high school age strappers. He was cool and rode the wave without giving it a second thought. He shook my hand and his head simultaneously, all while somehow slipping another cigarette magically between his lips and bringing a Zippo lighter in the non-shaking hand up to his mouth to breathe life into it. He sucked the life out of the cigarette breathed down deep, shrugged his shoulders, and squarely eyed me while saying “Eve.”
I said, “Eve?”
He said, “Eve.”
He continued to shake my hand and haul the cig. Then we went down the line giving each name over to him. He assessed each of us with a straight smirk that conveyed that he was skeptical but heading toward being okay with our group. I looked over at the asian couple that were now talking aggressively with many hand gestures and broad strokes of threatening posture.
There was a tremendous amount of small talk going on between my friends and Eve, and my friends in their infinite wisdom decided to engage Eve in the “Who do you know?” gambit. To no one’s surprise, none of us knew anyone that the other knew. The air was clear and we could move onto the business at hand. The questions came fast and furious: “Where are you from? What are you doing here in the Square? Do you have any weed?” To which the answers were: “All over. Hanging out. No weed, just some hashish, It’s moroccan, ya’know?”
Pay dirt! we weren’t truly interested in any drugs past alcohol, but we gained our highs in collecting the details associated with characters we encountered on our adventures. We were out of our minds with delight in happing upon such an earnest person. It is safe to say we never met anyone like Eve before. It was unanimous. He was the fulfilling embodiment of every Deadhead we didn’t engage in our previous trips to the Boston Garden during the Grateful Dead’s Annual Concerts. There was nothing quite like the smell that enveloped the Causeway Street and accompanying areas when The Dead came to spread their gospel. Patchouli, mushroom, earthy tones, body odor, tie-dyed timidity holding up one index finger in the quest for liberation from the reality of not possessing entry to the “show”. We jumped and jived around the Garden on these nights and soaked it all in, and reveled in being part of something unlike anything we’d ever experienced to that point in our lives. Eve was like these folks but not of them. I’m sure he had a passing appreciation of the culture, and could have blended in with any of them in their Volkswagen buses, but Eve was a citizen of the world and he could move in and out of any group without committing to long term designs.
We were enamored of his personality within moments of meeting him and would follow him anywhere if he led us. A lot more small talk ensued and we asked him to buy beer for us, and he kept smoking cigarettes and exposing his pud every time he put his foot up on the stone post. It was as if he was the Pied Pud Piper, and he kept willing people to come to him every time he flashed a nut.
I looked over to see if the unruly couple were still there, but they were now gone. Just to the right of the stone bench were they were, now stood a young woman. The bench was also notably littered by used tissues.
The young woman was frenetic in energy and vision. She had obviously spent the earlier part of the day in a tanning booth, and was dressed in a high-rising pair of khaki shorts. Her athletic legs measured in comparable smoothness to Eve’s. Ironically, as hairy as Eve seemed to be, his legs and scrotum were baby bottom smooth. The young woman had her hair pulled back tightly into a bun, and had highlights and sported a wet look. She had noticeable cheek bones and a puckered mouth. The midpoint of her ensemble incorporated a ribbed black tank top, through which a gold chain peeked around the neckline, lying on top of her copper sunned skin. She was looking directly at us, and had a shit eating grin from ear to ear. The four of us Townies and Eve the Enchanter formed a new pentaverate that ordered itself with exploring the small space we inhabited in Winthrop Square and arriving at the same conclusion that we needed more folks to join our exploration to validate our efforts. The woman that walked toward us seemed to be arriving at the perfect moment and she held all the hallmarks of someone wanting to join in the fun: a buzz, plenty of enthusiasm and no obvious encumbrances to speak otherwise of the chance she was now taking by engaging four man children, and a misplaced mystic.
We welcomed her into the fold.
“Hi, this is Eve the Enchanter, and my name is Chris. This is Dave, Brian, and Jeff.”
She looked us up and down and flitted in and out of our space like a hummingbird seeking water in a tulip.She then immediately started clapping extra fast and quickened her pace every time we made her laugh or impressed her.
“I’m Nan,” she giggled and then clapped repeatedly.
There was a bit of discomfort in her body language. After all, she was engaging with five strange men, and there didn’t seem to be many other people paying attention to our gathering. She slowly gravitated towards ease as Eve did a few little dance moves. Actually, what he did had amounted to a jig of sorts. It was as if he knew exactly what to do to make her feel at home within this new dynamic.
When he completed his jig, Nan clapped excitedly. The two of these creatures ran the gamut of the temperament spectrum with Nan running hot on the eager manic side of the scale, while Eve tended to observe the Zen chill approach. It was very interesting to see the space in between them, but also how easily each traveled to the other as they engaged. It wasn’t all quickness, but rather temperate movements that awarded patience and leisurely attempts towards being part of something special. They fit each other hand in glove, and there was no room in between for anyone else to turn their efforts aside.
-Excerpt from a work in progress:
“It was a period of discovery, the birth of experience. We were free to explore in a very unencumbered manner. Leaving the homogenous homesteads of our younger lives behind. We were naturally drawn to these things. Things that were nominally dangerous, but lacking in consequence. We sustained our vanilla by remaining grouped, never straying too far from the shield that a foraging group of privileged people provides. There was no wrong option, as our heart of hearts stayed attuned to the notion of the Divine Right of Kings. There existed an extreme feeling of outlasting any adversity, and the world existed to provide for our whims alone.”
Chapter 5: Our Own Prisons We Do Make
It had been days since the last contact with anyone. His cell was six feet by six feet square. There was a rusty pipe sticking out of the wall that gave minimal amounts of water. He didn’t know where the water came from, but it smelled of sulfur and burnt bread. As far as he was concerned, it was the sewage from one of the floors above, if not the sewage coming directly from the White Palace itself. He was provided two small buckets everyday. One bucket full of water, and the other empty, to carry away his waste. Regardless of what they took away, he still smelled of shit. It had been months since they dowsed him with the powders and hot mineral waters.
In his recollection, in the time before he became a fugitive from The Creators, the cells of the Tower of Creation never fell into the state that they were currently in today. Although, he had only seen his cell to this point, he believed the Lord Veeter Commander’s policies on holding prisoners was uniform throughout the cell block.
The last bout of interrogation was the hardest to endure yet. He can’t remember what he did or didn’t say. It was all a blur. He hadn’t slept for seventy-two hours, and they whipped him repeatedly. All they wanted to know was where he came from, and where he hid the child. He’d lasted this long, he needed to last just a bit longer. He had counted the days since his capture, and kept a record of scratches on the wall of his cell. If his calculations were correct, then Phoebe’s twenty-first birthday would be very soon.
Once she accessed her book, she would know the things I kept from her.
He had hoped that she could forgive him for keeping her from the truth for all of these years. He only did it out of love to protect her from all the dangers that would fall upon her if it were known what her true identity might be.
He followed the signs for years, and he had friends that assisted him in determining the validity of her birthright. Never had the moons aligned as they did on that night. Not in the two thousand year history of Valkron.
What if they were wrong? No, they couldn’t have been. It is she. I know it with all of my heart. She was born on that fateful night. I held her in my arms. She’s the hope of the world. I saw the magic with my own eyes. She saved my life with her hands. There’s no other explanation. It has to be her.
There came a thud on the door. He went and stood at the back of the cell facing the wall, with his hands on his head.
“Put your hands on your head Take.”
Trantaxus made a slow exaggerated motion of taking his hands off his head and then replacing them in the same position. The guard entered the cell and placed his club against the back of Trantaxus’s knee and pushed. Trantaxus lost his balance and fell against the wall and then slid down to the floor. The other guard standing outside the cell came in and switched out the buckets. Leaving one full of water, and another one with moldy bread inside of it. It never mattered to him that they delivered his food in the shit bucket.
When they finally left the cell, he rolled over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. It was blank darkness. He rolled over onto his side and dug a pebble out of the rut on the floor and scratched off another line on the wall. He measured the days by the deliveries.
It was a lonely adventure, but Trantaxus kept himself lucid by recalling memories and by constituting waking dreams. He knew every detail of his life to this point, and took the liberty to improve each memory and deed if they needed the slightest embellishment. He came from a long line of storytellers, and in spite of his militaristic past, he held fast to the nuances of a proper narrative structure.
After he finished making his mark, he palmed the bread from the bucket and tore it up into chunks. He needed his strength; he never knew when an opportunity to escape might present itself. He forced the moldy parts of the bread into his mouth first. They had a minty taste. It was tough to get them down, even after all of this time. He persisted. He washed it all down with a few gulps of water.
The tower probably hasn’t changed all that much, probably not at all. If I could get outside the cell, then I could descend the back staircase from the cellblock, and sneak into the hover sled repository. Once inside, I could initiate a fire alarm, and when the doors open, I can take a hover sled out.
The plans were always the same in his mind. The only difficulty was getting out of the cell and past the guards on this level. He remembered Veeter protocol, and knew that they always guarded or patrolled in groups of three. Back in his youth, it would not have been a problem to make short work or three Veeters, but in his current state, he would be lucky if he could take down one.
I’ll have to use experience to my advantage. I still remember the sequence of combat and self-defense maneuvers. Hell, I wrote the manual on them.
He heard more activity in the hallway. They were coming back. There was another loud thud on the door.
“Take. Move to the back of your cell, with your hands upon your head. Now!”
Maybe they’re back to take me for another round of interrogation.
“Your not moving fast enough, Take. Don’t make us force you.”
Trantaxus very deliberately moved to the back of his cell, and placed his hands upon his head for the second time today. He heard the first Veeter enter the cell, and then the second. The first Veeter grabbed his left hand from his head and twisted it down into the small of his back where it met an open shackle. Then the Veeter pulled the other hand down to the other open shackle. Now his hands were bound behind his back.
“Close your legs. I have leg irons.”
The Veeter hit him on the top of the back with his stick. It stung him.
The Veeter place the leg irons on Trantaxus’s ankles. The leg irons were a size too small, so his skin was pinched when they were closed.
He finally heard another thud, it sounded like a stool was place on the floor in the space behind him. The Veeter that had bound his hands and feet finalized his immobilization by putting a neck collar on him.
“Turn him around, and tether him to the wall post,” said the unknown voice.
As he was turned around, Trantaxus was slightly blinded from the light coming in through the door. After his eyes had a moment to adjust, he saw a blurry silhouette of a man sitting himself on the stool that was a quarter of a way into the cell.
The two Veeter guards left the cell. The third must have been waiting outside.
“The Great Trantaxus.”
“To what do I owe the pleasure? Majordomo.”
“Oh, you recognize me?”
“ I recognize the title that comes with the robes you wear, and the bureaucratic stink that comes off of them, but not the man inside of them.”
“That’s too bad, Lord Veeter Commander Trantaxus, or should I say Trantaxus the Traitor?”
“I am not a traitor.”
“The crimes you committed against the Supreme and Supremess are punishable by death.”
“I committed no crimes. I only protected our mutual interests.”
“What would you presume to know of my interests?”
“All Valkronians are interested in adhering to and preserving The Rote.”
“Ahh! The Rote, that pesky thing. It is certainly convenient in keeping the citizenry of our world at bay.”
“Of course you would think that way. Your eyes, ears, and heart are closed to the true interpretation and message of The Rote.”
“It always amazes me how large the hubris is of those that think they are in the know.”
“It is a document that perpetuates knowns based on faith and reason.”
“Have you learned nothing in all your years of service, Trantaxus?”
“I’ve learned that absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
“Yes, I would agree with that. But my question to you is where does the power lie? Does it lie in the rule of law, or in the rule of perception? People are stupid animals, and require lies to help them cope with the hardships of birth. Those who rule, will forever have the advantage over those that don’t, because they know it is their right to rule, and the right of the ruled to follow.”
“The Rote, proposes that every man is a ruler of himself alone, and that when brought into communion with others in the community, each individual adds to strengthen the collective. All benefit, when man becomes master of himself.”
“Let’s just agree to disagree. Valkron exists because of the order imposed upon it by The Creators. There is no other way.”
“That is where you are wrong. There is always hope.”
“Ahh! I know this hope of which you speak Trantaxus.”
Trantaxus grew tense in his bindings. He tried to relax. He didn’t want to tip off the Majordomo that he was hitting close to home.
“Let me be frank with you traitor, I know that you believe in the prophecy. I know that on the night of the eclipse of the twin moons twenty years ago, you kidnapped the child born to the Supreme and Supremess, and set forth from the Last City to live a life on the run. How you remained at large for so long is beyond me, but a testament to the training we provide to our Veeters.”
“You were all blinded by your own ambitions and could not see the child because you had and have bad intentions in your hearts.”
“Not so. We caught glimpses of her as you moved around our world. Every time she chanced upon discovering a new aspect of her abilities, we were able to get a general idea of your location. Do you think we just arbitrarily sent the Veeter Squadrons out to roam without a sense of where she might be?
You have endangered the lives of thousands upon thousands of Valkronians, just to protect the girl from fulfilling her destiny. They were all taken in her stead, because you hid her from us traitor. Do you think that you could hide her from herself? You have done the girl a disservice. When she turns twenty-one, she is going to be overwhelmed by what she finds out from her Certainty Book. So it’s a race you see. She is going to open it on her twenty-first birthday next week. So we will find her one way or the other. All this subterfuge, and the years on the run, they’ll amount to nothing. We’ve left nothing to chance. We will have her. Also, I am not sure how you got her Certainty Book out of here, but I compliment you on that bit of trickery. However, I find it ironic that what you went to so much trouble to steal from the Tower of Creation, will be the very thing that leads us to her.”
“You presume that she will open the book.”
“Of course she will open it.”
“How can you be sure? Perhaps, I told her to never open it.”
“Her curiosity will prove too great.”
Trantaxus was bluffing, he knew that as soon as she could open her Certainty Book, she would. He regretted not telling her everything all these years. Now she would have to find it all out without his guidance.
I have to get out of here before her birthday.
“We have a proposition for you.”
Trantaxus’s grew tense again.
“I will not work with The Creators.”
“Oh, I think you will.”
Majordomo Nimsey whistled. Then, Trantaxus heard a series of steps coming down the hallway to his cell. When he looked at the figure coming through the door, he immediately recognized the successor to his abandoned post.
“I believe you two are in no need of an introduction.”
Lord Veeter Commander Lorimor walked into the cell and spit on the floor in front of Trantaxus’s feet.
“You have no honor traitor. You have stole from the Supreme and the Supremess, and all the Valkronians of this world, but worst of all you stole from me,” said Lord Lorimor as he took the glove from his left hand exposing the nubs of fingers long gone. In a fluid motion he brought his hand up past his missing ear.
“It appears that you owe a debt to the Lord Veeter Commander Lorimor.”
“I’ve already paid him in full,” said Trantaxus.
Lord Lorimor made his gloved hand into a fist and placed a blow into Trantaxus’s midsection. Trantaxus would likely have fallen to the floor if his neck didn’t tether him to the wall. However, because of the surprise of the blow, he lost his footing and his weight put a strain against his neck and started to choke him.
“Guards! Guards! Please come in here to assist our traitor.”
Two more Veeter entered the cell to hold Trantaxus up. There was no more room in the cell. Trantaxus thought of his play. He was beat. He had no play. Not now. He just relaxed and allowed the Veeters to hold him up.
“ I promise you, you will help us find her. I think we’ll start where we found you last year. I can’t believe we found you on that raid. If not for the eclipse ending so soon, we would have had more time to search the area. Damn that squadron for not knowing who you were at the time. To tell you the truth, I probably wouldn’t have recognized a weak all man like you either. Lord Veeter Commander Trantaxus, how the might have fallen,” said Majordomo.
Trantaxus noticed that Lord Lorimor seemed to be enjoying this derision a little too much. He made a mental note that Lord Lorimor’s weakness would be his blinding taste for revenge against Trantaxus, for the wounds he inflicted upon Lorimor all those years ago during his flight from the Tower of Creation. This Majordomo was tougher to figure out. Although, he played mind games, and taunted him, he knew that there was a mind calculating every word, thought, and movement that was being made in that cell.
“Take him down and bring him to the springs. We need him to be ready for presentation to the Supreme and Supremess.”
Presentation for what?
“I want you to think about your crimes. Soon you will go before a tribunal headed by The Creators. Your fate will be in their hands. Good day to you.”
The Majordomo exited the cell. Lord Lorimor lingered for a moment longer. He looked ready to pop. He spit on the floor again, and then made a hasty exit. The other Veeters untethered him and then took of his leg irons and bindings.
Trantaxus couldn’t believe how tired he was from the visit. He collapsed in a heap on the floor. Sleep soon took him.
He was in the same dream again. It was the dream in which he realized it was a dream, but he kept following it for as far as it would take him. He learned long ago to navigate his dreams by letting the flow of action take him. If he resisted for even a moment, he would wake up.
He started on the beach; he was hauling in a net with the fish from the bay. When he looked over his shoulder, he saw Phoebe, just as she was last year. She was running down the beach with wind in her hair. Then he was sitting in a canoe paddling down the Grey Rapids of the West. Phoebe was a little girl in this sequence, and sat with her back to the bow of the canoe. Trantaxus sensed that they were going down the rapids, but he could not see what was in front of him. He was terrified of the unknown, but more terrified because he didn’t know where he was brining Phoebe. In the last sequence, the one where he always woke up because he would resist where the dream took him, he found himself with a knife against his throat. He heard a voice that must have been coming from the person holding the knife to his throat but he had no face to go with it. He only saw the legs and feet of the person, and they were covered in a black shadow. The worst part was about to come to pass. He could see Phoebe walking towards the balcony that abutted the White Palace in the Tower of Creation. How they got there he had no idea. But he noticed that Phoebe was using her hands to harm someone on the balcony. They were cowering beneath her on the floor of the balcony and she persisted in using her power to harm the person. Trantaxus screamed out, and Phoebe would turn to see him being held. Just as she moved off the balcony to where he was, he felt a cold breeze and pain across his throat, and then darkness.
Trantaxus sat upright and screamed. He was grabbing at his throat to feel where the blade had cut him. His throat was intact, and he was in his cell. He was covered in sweat. In his panic he didn’t realize that the door to the cell was being opened. Again, there were three Veeters outside of the cell. The light was disorienting. He felt the rope tighten around his neck, and he was pulled to his feet.
“Come on. You’re coming with us to be cleaned.”
“Boy he smells like shit.”
Trantaxus tried to adjust his eyes to the setting and started repeating the sequence and number of cell doors he traveled by. He knew that the springs were in the underground portion of the tower, they were instrumental to his escape twenty years ago. So he realized that they needed to bring him down from where he was on the cellblock. After trying to pull back on the rope, he felt a sharp blow to the back of his head, and then nothing.
A time later he awoke in the cavern springs under the tower. He was tethered to the wooden tub he was within by the neck manacle. His hands and feet were also bound. In the surrounding tubs there were other prisoners being tended to.
He felt warm water being dumped over his head, and realized that someone was standing above him.
“Okay, lower her here. Right, here,” said the voice.
He couldn’t lift his head to see what as above him, but the periphery of his upper vision he could tell that an object was being lowered into the tub with him. He started to realize that it was a body wrapped up like he was.
“That’s it. Almost there.”
Just as the object was getting closer, Lord Lorimor stepped in front of him to the left of the tub. He smiled at Trantaxus and said, “Majordomo sends his regards, and a gift for you while you are being cleansed. She is a little overdue, but we expect her to deliver any minute now. Cut it!”
There was a loud splash, and Trantaxus’s senses were overwhelmed. The sight before him brought back the moldy bread from his stomach. He was looking at the milky cataracts of a fetid corpse. It was a woman dressed in midwifery garments. This much he could tell. The smell was worse than any offal he cut from animals while he was a butcher for a short time.
“I believe you two have met before. Lord Veeter Commander Trantaxus, may I reintroduce to you, Meara the Midwife,” Lord Lorimor said with at smirk.
Trantaxus tried to get away from the corpse, but there was no use. The harder he fought against it, the more it seemed to meld to his body. There were all sorts of softness he could feel as the buoyancy of the corpse allowed it to rub against his naked torso. Just as he didn’t think it couldn’t get any worse, the facial skin of Meara started to droop and pull back from the skull. He could fully see the cheekbones. Lord Lorimor came over to Trantaxus and held his head still.
“You, over there. Come here. Now. Grab her head and push her face to his. Lord Veeter Commander Trantaxus, please don’t keep the lady waiting. Let us have a kiss.”
Chapter 4: Unknown By Any Other Name
Phoebe awoke after having been sleepless for most of the night. She was uncertain of how much time had passed since she had fallen asleep. It could have been minutes or hours. The darkness of the basement didn’t allow her to venture a guess. She searched for and found the matches on the table beside the cot. The sights of the room started to creep out of the darkness.
She looked over at Mompsy and envied the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. Phoebe spent most of the night hearing the whine of the Veeter’s hover sleds, while Mompsy had immediately fallen asleep in Phoebe’s arms while listening to her recount the tale of her Papa’s abduction for the hundreth time.
It was quiet in the basement, with the exception of the weak snoring coming from Mompsy. Phoebe realized that the whining of the hover sleds had stopped. She walked over to Mompsy and gently rubbed her shoulder.
“Hey, wake up.”
“Mompsy, it’s time to get up.”
“What time is it, Phoebe?”
“I’m not sure, I think it could be the morning, but I don’t know when I fell asleep,” she said. Phoebe pulled Mompsy up to a sitting position and hugged her fiercely. “I can’t take it anymore, these long nights are too much for me.”
“I know,” Mompsy said, as she hugged her back. She had a metallic taste in her mouth, and needed to drink water badly.
“Is there any water down here?”
Phoebe went to the table nearby and poured out a glass of water for Mompsy.
“I don’t understand why they came again so soon after the last time,” Mompsy said. Phoebe wondered the same thing. The attacks had become more frequent, and lasted for longer durations.
“They must be close to finding the one who will fulfill the prophecy. I can’t imagine them increasing their attacks without being close,” she said.
“I don’t understand,” Mompsy said between sips of her water, after Phoebe handed her the glass. “Why would that increase their attacks?”
“Because, they would want to find the chosen one more quickly Mompsy.”
“It just seems like they attack for no reason. I don’t know if I believe all that stuff in The Rote. It’s just stuff they told us to keep us scared,” she said.
“It’s not. Papa would never have lied about that stuff. He knew something very important about the attacks and the Veeters. He told me that they must never find the chosen one, or our world would fall into a darkness that we would never recover from.” Phoebe adjusted her shawl about her shoulders as a shiver went down her spine.
“It’s just that my parents never really talked about The Rote, except for the basics. They are too busy working in the fields to care about that. The Creators never gave us anything, and all they do is take from us. And if we don’t give enough, they take more. I hate them Phoebe, but it will never change.”
“Papa spoke of better time in the future, when we would all live in peace. A time when we could keep all that we made and worked to build, and a time when we would never have to worry about being taken by the Veeters ever again.”
Mompsy put her water glass down on the table after finishing it. She got up off the cot and grabbed Phoebe’s hand in hers and looked at her with sincerity. “It will never happen Phoebe. There is no hope.”
Phoebe pulled her hands away from Mompsy and turned toward the cabinet under the wooden ceiling beam. Her Certainty Book with all of the answers was sitting right inside of it. Unfortunately, she could not access it until she turned twenty-one. She knew the rules. As many times as she tried to pry open the book, it would never yield its secrets to her. The only thing that happened was that the book would get warm and start to glow with light.
“That book over there in the cabinet will give us the answers. It will tell us everything we need to know Mompsy. Papa promised.”
“It’s all lies Phoebe. I opened mine last year, and all it told me, was to be a good citizen and to support The Creators by working on the farm like my parents.” Mompsy turned her gaze from Phoebe, and looked down toward the ground.
“No, that can’t be,” Phoebe said.
“I’d show you, but obviously you can’t read it.”
Phoebe knew that Mompsy was right, even though Phoebe hard time believing that was all that her Certainty Book had yielded to her. Phoebe thought that Mompsy might be hiding something. She shot Mompsy a frown and then walked over to the cabinet. She opened the doors and inspected the contents.
Hanging on the left door was her grandfather’s white robe. It took on an orange hue in the candlelight, and she could see the outlined shapes of the many symbols sewn into the material. She ran a hand across it feeling its softness. She could have sworn that she felt her grandfather’s strength as well. Just inside the door, to the left, was where she kept his old staff. It was furrowed from many years of gripping by her grandfather’s hands. It curled upward from its base and rose to a knobby formation that Phoebe imagined would yield damage to anyone or anything it might strike. She knew it very well and fondly remembered all the times that she retrieved it from its place whenever her grandfather requested.
“Is that your grandfather’s staff?” Mompsy said.
“Show me how it lights up,” Mompsy’s eyes got large and she moved towards the cabinet where Phoebe was standing.
“It doesn’t work like that.” Phoebe said.
“I told you a hundred times that Papa only lit it once to distract the Veeters that were about to find my hiding place.”
“Well if he lit it once, then it can be lit again,” Mompsy said, as she grabbed hold of the staff
“I don’t know if it’s possible. I’ve never been able to get it to do anything.”
“Have you tried?”
“Yes, I’ve tried.”
“Maybe someone else could help us to get it to work.”
“Who would even know how to do that?”
“The man in black that is working on my farm told me a story of magical objects that couldn’t be explained.”
Phoebe laughed, “Magic? Who said anything about magic?”
“It has to be magic. That’s why we can’t get it to work.”
Phoebe’s tongue darted out of her mouth and licked her lips from the right to the left. Anytime she got nervous, she would wet her lips. She never really thought about it, but she had to admit that on the night her grandfather was abducted, that there was an inexplicable light that emanated from the staff. She had to consider that Mompsy could be right.
“When did that guy tell you about the magic objects?”
“Just last week when I brought him lunch, he pulled a coin from his breast pocket and made it disappear in a flourish. When I asked him where it went, he reached behind my ear and made it reappear in his hand and tumbled it over his knuckles back into his shirt pocket.”
Phoebe could tell that Mompsy was being serious, but she couldn’t help but giggle at the thought of Mompsy being fooled so easily by the strange man. She believed that magic was real, but didn’t want Mompsy to know how she felt about it. Throughout her childhood, there had been many instances where strange and mysterious things happened to Phoebe. Her grandfather tried his best to keep these things secret. He was fearful that it would bring unwanted attention to her. Her grandfather had always been cautious, and insisted that when the time was right that she would find out why all of these weird things happened to her.
She remembered the time that she set a fire in her bedroom by accident, and how she had been able to absorb the flames in her hands without it hurting her. She also thought about the time her grandfather was choking and she was able to reach into his throat and take out the foreign body as naturally as if there was no skin or cartilage there to obstruct her hand from plucking it out. She remembered the look on her grandfather’s face when she saved his life. He was in amazement and kept staring at Phoebe’s hands. For hours he ran his fingers over her hands and then would keep feeling his throat.
Phoebe looked in the bottom of the closet and found the glass jar that held the large cherry pit that her grandfather had choked on that day. She picked it up and rattled the pit around as if it held some hint as to the mystery that happened that day.
“What’s that?” Mompsy said as she grabbed the bottle from Phoebe’s hand.
Phoebe grabbed the bottle back from Mompsy, and stooped down and placed it back underneath some linen. When she got back up she turned to Mompsy and asked, “Would you bring me to this man on your farm?”
“What, the man in black?”
“Yes, the man in black. I want to talk with him.”
“I need to find out what he knows.”
“He’s there today. We can go as soon as your ready.”
Phoebe looked at her Certainty Book in its stand as she closed the doors to the closet. Then she and Mompsy went up the basement stairs to the barricaded door and removed the bars. Once they stepped out into the cottage, they saw that sunlight coming in through the windows. Phoebe opened the door to the cottage and stepped outside. She looked up into the morning sky and saw the sun and moon and realized that it was seven-thirty in the morning.
“It’s seven-thirty, Mompsy,” Phoebe called back to the cottage.
“Good, it should take us only ten minutes to get back to the farm. He’ll be up by eight.”
“Let’s get some food for the walk and lunch later.”
Phoebe walked back into the kitchen of the cottage and prepared three bundles of lunch and a snack pack for the walk. She was nervous about seeing the man in black, but hoped that he might be able to tell her something about her grandfather’s staff and about Certainty Books.
They started out over the path to Mompsy’s family farm. The path stretched back from the meadow on the other side of the road from Phoebe’s cottage, and wound inland until it passed two other farms before reaching hers. The path was unkempt and showed little or no wear. Mompsy was the only one who seemed to use it.
As they moved along, Phoebe looked up to the morning moon. The moon was named Chandra, and it was the twin brother of Chanrada the evening moon. The moons were named for the children heirs of the first King of Valkron. They lived two thousand years ago and started an age of peace and prosperity that lasted for five hundred years, until the first invaders came to Valkron.
Valkrons were unware that off-worlders moved among them for milenia. Somehow it was neglected in the histories, and soon forgotten after a few generations. Valkronians just grew to assume that all the people that had been there, had always been there. The bloodlines had been mixed, and time concealed their true identies. If the masses knew that life outside of this world existed, than the potential for the societies of the world to rise up against The Creators would certainly happen, as they would have motivation to strive for something outside of this life.
They had only been walking for five minutes when Mompsy started to talk about her discomfort. “I’m thirsty and tired,” she said.
“Tired. You just woke up.” Phoebe said as she passed the canteen back to Mompsy.
“I’ll catch a nap in the barn midday. My parents never notice if I’m gone. Especially, now that the man in black is there.”
“Does he have a name?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never asked him.”
“You found out that he does magic, and that he’s from the unknown territory, and you didn’t think to ask him his name?”
“No. I was too scared to.”
“Papa always said that if you knew someone’s name, then you had power over them.”
“Well, why don’t you ask him his name when we see him then?”
“I will,” Phoebe, said, as she took back the canteen from Mompsy and took a drink.
“C’mon, we only have a little further to go.”
They finished the trek to Mompsy’s farm in silence. Phoebe had a lot on her mind. She thought of her grandfather’s abduction again, as well as her upcoming birthday. She wondered why he had been so adamant about her concealing her secrets. She missed him and wanted to see if the man in black knew anything about what happened to Takes when the Veeters carried them off on the hover sleds. She tried to compose a list of things that she would ask the man in black, but she kept losing track of them all.
She was nervous about meeting him. She wondered what he looked like, and if he would talk to her. Most of her conversations at the market had become awkward lately. Although her customers had felt sorry for her after her grandfather was abducted in the raid, they were starting to talk about her because she was living alone. It was said by many in the village, that she needed to be married. Phoebe didn’t want to be married. She could take care of herself, just as he grandfather had taught her to do. Her shack was always a spectacle when the market opened, as she always had the best selections and most abundance of fish. Phoebe seemed to have a knack for finding the fish. Many single men in the village were biding their time until she turned twenty-one. Then the proposals would surely come, but since her grandfather was gone, there was no one to broker a marriage for her.
As Phoebe and Mompsy passed over the crest of the last hill before Mompsy’s farm, they saw the activity in the meadow before them. Mompsy’s parents were gathering the bundles of chaff, as the man in black was cutting through the rows with a scythe.
“He must have gotten up early,” said Mompsy.
“He’s not wearing a shirt.”
Phoebe watched him dance among the wheat stalks. There was fluidity to the movement that she recognized, yet it also seemed unfamiliar to her. He could certainly handle the scythe. It seemed that half an acre had been cleared already. It must be harvest time. Phoebe hadn’t realized that it was so close to that time of year. Pretty soon, she would be preparing the cottage for winter, and the long nights. Winter was always much worse for Valkronians, as the attacks increased. Although, she couldn’t imagine the attacks increasing any more than they already had.
Mompsy’s parents looked up from their work to see the travelers approaching the farm. When they realized it was Mompsy, they dropped their baskets and came running over to the fence.
“You scared us girl. We had no idea where you were. We had no idea if you were taken.”
“You know they can’t catch me. Besides, I always come home after an attack if I’m not here.”
“Where were you?” her father said.
“I was at Phoebe’s cottage.”
“Oh, hello Phoebe,” said Mompsy’s mother, “Seems as if our daughter is giving you trouble again.”
“No, it was nothing. I’m glad she was nearby when the attack came. We spent the night in my basement. We’re okay.”
“You’re a great friend, Phoebe,” said Mompsy’s father.
They came around the fence and hugged their daughter tightly, and then turned to Phoebe and hugged her as well. It had been a while since anyone other than Mompsy hugged her, and it felt nice to have affection from someone else.
“Why don’t the two of you come lend a hand?” said Mompsy’s mother.
Mompsy was happy that her mother suggested they help, as it would bring them closer to the man in black.
“Can you stay to help? Or are you going out to cast today?” Mompsy turned to her friend, pretending to act as if this wasn’t their plan all along.
“Yes, I can stay.”
“Great. You can both grab baskets from the barn. Why don’t you start over there where the chaff is being cut down?” Phoebe noticed that Mompsy’s father didn’t say too much. He was focused on the business at hand.
The two friends walked over to the barn and grabbed chaff baskets. Then they headed out into the field where the man in black was. When they reached the row he had just felled, they started to pick up the chaff and put it in the basket. They moved quickly, but respected the space he needed to wield the scythe. They didn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those swipes.
“You see the marking on his back?” Mompsy pointed to the upper left half of his back. There were marking there that Phoebe recognized. They looked like the insignias sewn into her grandfather’s robes. There were three rows of them, starting at the shoulder and then coming down into the middle of his back.
“Yes. I see it,” she said.
In the follow through motion, the man in black saw Mompsy pointing at him and dropped the scythe where he stood. He walked over to the canteen on the ground and picked it up drinking from it generously. He was now facing them, and Phoebe could see his throat move with each lusty gulp of water.
“He must be really thirsty.”
He dropped the canteen and wiped his mouth with the back of his arm.
“What are you staring at?” he said.
Phoebe was embarrassed that she was caught staring at him, but Mompsy giggled.
“This is my friend, Phoebe.”
Phoebe flushed and started to move nervously from side to side. The man in black went back over to the scythe and picked it up. He started back into the row of wheat that he was cutting.
“Hi. Just Hi. You came all the way over here to just say hi,” said Mompsy as she poked Phoebe in the side.
“He seems like he doesn’t want to be bothered.”
“I can’t believe you, that not what we came her for today.”
“I know, but it didn’t feel like the right time to ask him.”
The girls followed him around the field until lunch picking up the cut wheat and putting it in the baskets. It seemed like the harvest was going rather quickly. Phoebe had no idea how long it usually took, but she heard Mompsy remark several times that they would be done in no time at all. For some reason, this made Phoebe worry, as she thought if the harvest were finished then the man in black would move on.
“Wait, Mompsy,” said Phoebe, “we’re speeding up the process by helping. The man in black will leave if the harvest gets finished.”
“The wheat still has to be ground and stored, and the sale portion must go to market. That could take up to another month. But, that should loosen your lips and give you reason to go talk with him during lunch.”
“I just got worried thinking he would leave.”
“You’re weird Phoebe.”
They brought their full baskets over to the gristmill for separating with the others. Once all the chaff was collected, then the separation could be done and finally the grinding. When they went toward the house, they saw Mompsy’s mother emerge from within with a tray of sandwiches and a picture of water. Mompsy rushed over and grabbed two halves of off of the platter. She shoved one half in her mouth and took a bite of the second half. Phoebe approached the platter and reached for a sandwich half. Just as she grabbed one, she realized that the man in black was reaching to the tray at the same time. She had no idea where he had come from. He wasn’t there a minute ago. Awkwardly, they both reached for the same sandwich half, and that is when it happened. Their hands touched.
Phoebe felt the hairs on the back of her arm stand straight up, and then there was an arcing electric spike that jumped across her arm and landed on his. Phoebe realized that the man in black tried to pull his hand back, but it seemed as if it was melded with hers. She caught his eyes and got lost for a moment. She felt safe again. When she let go of his hand they both fell back. Phoebe fell to the ground, and he went down on one knee. There was a smell of ozone in the air. Mompsy’s mother dropped the tray and went to Phoebe with Mompsy.
“Cliven, come out here. Something happened.”
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, something happened to Phoebe.”
Mompsy cradled Phoebe’s head in her lap, while her father had gone over to the man in black and tended to him. Phoebe was conscious and smiling.
“What are you smiling at Phoebe?” Mompsy said.
The man in black was now composed and came over to see if Phoebe was okay, but he kept his distance.
“Is she okay,” he said.
“I think so,” said Mompsy’s mother.
“What happened?” asked Cliven.
“I don’t know, we reached for the same sandwich and we got shocked.”
“Bethel, did you see it?”
“No honey, I was looking at Mompsy because she was making a mess.”
“Was not,” said Mompsy.
“They must have been standing over a pocket of stored energy. I’ve seen it happen once or twice in my years. It generally happens when two animals fight over something. And end on the pocket. But it doesn’t always end like this.”
“What do you mean, Cliven?”
“It’s just that, in the times I’ve seen it, the animals end up dead.”
Mompsy started to cry and hugged what parts of Phoebe that she could.
“Are you okay, Phoebe?”
“Yes, I’m okay. I’m just really thirsty.”
“Me too,” said the man in black.
Cliven brought over another picture of water that he grabbed from the nearby table. He said to Bethel, “go back into the house to get more glasses.” When Bethel returned, she handed a glass to the man in black and then one to her husband. Cliven filled out the first glass and handed it to his daughter. Mompsy pressed it to Phoebe’s lips, as she was now trying to sit up. Cliven poured the other glass when the man in black held it out in front of him. Phoebe sipped gingerly from the glass, but the man in black gulped noisily from his, and let spates of water escape the sides of his mouth.
Mompsy brought her friend over to rest against a nearby tree. Phoebe righted herself and gained some color back in her cheeks. She had been looking pale for a few minutes. The man in black walked over to her and said, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, but what about you?”
“It really tickled more than anything. I’m sorry that it hurt you.”
“It didn’t really hurt, it just disoriented me,” she said. She wondered how she could suddenly feel so comfortable with a complete stranger. She recalled the feeling of airiness that the back of her arms held when the hairs raised upon touching his hand. There were also butterflies in her stomach in that instant.
“Well, I hope you’ll be okay. We just met, and don’t normally leave such and impression on people.”
Phoebe couldn’t help but smile. This man in black intrigued her. It seemed as if Mompsy and her family disappeared, and Phoebe was only left with him.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“If I tell you my name, then you’ll have power over me.”
Phoebe lost her breath, and looked into the man’s eyes.
“That’s something my grandfather used to say.”
“Well, your grandfather was a wise man then,” he said as he smiled. He moved to put his glass down on the table, and headed back to the field. Phoebe followed him with her eyes, when suddenly he stopped and turned around saying, “My name is Jaxus. Jaxus Wrintha”