Zanzibar – Part 23
by Lori Carlson
Hemi couldn’t understand it. It’d been four hours since Comet was brought out of the Smoke and she still hadn’t regained consciousness. Ms. Simone assured him that she would be okay, but she looked so pale, so fragile, not at all like the Comet he was used to seeing. He sat cross-legged on a rug on the stone floor by the table, holding her hand and whispering to her.
“Come back, Comet, or I will tell the rest of the gang how girly you look right now.”
It was a lie. He wouldn’t tell the others, but if it helped convince Comet to wake up, he’d keep on telling that lie. And he did. Over and over again. He told her they’d call her a wimp or a slouch. She’d hate those words, but they didn’t seem to help at the moment. Then he leaned in close to her left ear.
“I love you too,” he whispered.
She still didn’t stir. Hemi sighed and released her hand. He stood up and walked to the water hole for a drink. Bukara joined him.
“She’ll be okay,” Bukara said as he placed a hand on Hemi’s back. “Lots of folks go through this.”
Bukara didn’t really know. He’d only seen a few people come in from the Smoke, but he knew Hemi needed to hear something positive. “Yeah, really. She’ll come around soon.”
“I hope so. I never realized how tiny she is. I mean, look at her,” Hemi said turning to stare back at Comet. “You’d never guess that she is the toughest member of my gang, but she is a fierce fighter and one of my best thieves.”
Hemi downed his water and sat the cup back on the stone wall. Turning back toward Bukara, he gave the young boy a half-smile. He remembered when all of his gang members were as young as Bukara. They’d all grown up with hard lives, fending off drunken parents, leers from pedos and fights with older kids, but they’d survived because they had one another to rely on. Now most of his gang was back in the Village and his best mate wouldn’t wake up. Hemi gave Bukara a light slap across the back.
“C’mon. No sense moping about,” he said to the youngster.
He led Bukara back to the table and was about to sit back down on the floor when the First Ones stepped out of their alcove. The first thing he noticed was how tired Nellie and Ethan still looked, like they’d aged ten years in only a matter of hours. They are old, he reminded himself. Maybe they just needed more time to recuperate these days.
“Everyone, please gather around,” Ms. Simone said.
The First Ones stood side by side in the center of the large common room with all three hundred and twenty-five members of the caverners gathered around them. They stared out at their flock as they’d grown accustomed to calling them. So many young and old, but so few as old as they were, and yet, everyone still looked the same as the day they were brought there. Silence hung over the room like a thick cloud. Finally, Ms. Simone cleared her throat.
“My friends, we have an important announcement that will change the very essence of our small community.”
The room filled with the sound of ahhs and ohhhs. Worried faces stared back at their leaders.
Nellie noticed the worried looks. “Now now,” she began, “it isn’t as bad as it sounds.” She flashed them a wise and knowing smile.
“Indeed, it isn’t. And this will give some of you a new opportunity within the community. A chance for some of you to hold more prominent positions,” Ethan informed them.
Excitement filled the room. Claps and cheers echoed in the chamber.
“Listen, please!” Ms. Simone yelled above the fray. The room slowly quietened. “Thank you. As you all know Nellie, Ethan and I were the first ones to find these caves over a century ago. When we were exiled from the Village, only the three of us lived here, eating bugs and rodents. A lot has changed over these many years,” she paused and glanced over at Nellie to her left and then to Ethan at her right. She cleared her throat and began again. “As some of you may have noticed, the three of us are not well and it is time for us to train others to take over some important duties here.”
The silence was replaced with astonished inhales. Apparently not everyone knew the First Ones were ill.
“We will still be with you,” Nellie said as she waved her hands to calm the flock. “But changes are necessary. We need volunteers to train in the Smoke. We already have Lena and Tang who take over for me and Ethan now and again, but we need fresh eyes out there. Any volunteers?” Bukara and Victor immediately stepped forward. Nellie smiled at both of them and nodded approvingly at Victor, but shook her head at Bukara. “You are much too young.”
“Am not! I may look ten years old, but in earth years, I am really twenty-seven. Just a few hours ago, I helped bring you, Ethan and Comet back in.”
“But you were only in the Smoke for a few minutes. Your lungs are still too young,” Ethan injected.
“I know I can do it. Please, let me prove myself first.”
Ethan and Nellie both looked at Ms. Simone. After a long silent moment, she nodded her approval.
“Okay, young Bukara, the task is yours. And you too, Victor. Ethan will begin training you tomorrow,” Ms. Simone said. Then she turned her attention to Lena and Tang. “We’ve asked much of you two in the years you’ve been with us and you’ve already served us well. However, we’ve decided that if the two of you are willing, we’d like to train you to make the trek to the Village.”
Lena and Tang quickly agreed.
Hemi grimaced. They all knew how eager he was to go to the Village to look for his friends. Why were they choosing Lena and Tang? “What about me?” Hemi pleaded.
Ms. Simone sighed heavily. “Hemi, you’ve only been with us a short time and you’ve expressed often that you do not think of this as your home. The rest of us here have come to the conclusion that we will never get home again. We’ve settled here. Maybe in a few years, once you’ve realized there is no going back, we will consider training you for the Village. For now, we need someone to train us in combat.”
Ethan and Nellie both turned their heads to Ms. Simone. Their eyes widened and their mouths hung agape. In unison, they both whispered, “Simone?” Ms. Simone turned and winked at the pair, and then faced Hemi again.
“We never know when we could come under attack. It hasn’t happened in over a century, but with each new person who joins us here, we never know what temperament they could bring. Hemi, we know your leadership skills. You’ve told us about how you and your friends fought in the streets. We know you can do this. Would you please train some of our flock to defend us all?”
Hemi bowed his head. He was a good leader. He’d trained all of his gang members to fight. Could he do the same here? Finally, he looked up at Ms. Simone and nodded. “I’d be honored.”
Ms. Simone let out a sigh of relief. She knew how eager Hemi was to find his friends, but she was glad she had defused him before he made a stink about the Village training. She clasped hands with Ethan and Nellie, turned her head to each and smiled, knowingly. Then she nodded at Nellie.
“We have one more important task. One that cannot be taken lightly,” Nellie said. “It involves the Temple. But before anyone volunteers, there is something we must show you.”
The three released their hands from one another and slowly began lifting sections of their robes. Some of the flock cried out, others just stood in place with the palms of their hands covering their mouths.
Nellie walked around the room with her thighs exposed. “This is what’s happened to us from Temple work. These black lines,” she said, pointing at them, “are a result of that work. Ever since we discovered the Temple sixty years ago, each visit has weakened us, sickened us. Our blood has slowly been replaced with this black substance. We are dying,” she concluded as she joined Ethan and Ms. Simone at the center of the room again.
Ethan stepped forward. “We don’t know if this is reversible or if we will only get worse. That’s why only Ms. Simone has been doing Temple work these past few decades. She was the healthiest of us three all along, but now, even she has gotten too sick to continue. We need one volunteer. Just one is all we can risk at the moment.”
From the back of the room, a small voice echoed through the common room. “I volunteer.” Everyone turned to see Comet sitting up on the table.
“Comet!” Hemi shouted as he bolted toward her. She held out her hand to stop him and Hemi stopped dead in his tracks with a puzzled look on his face.
“I know I just got here,” Comet began. “But as I laid here unconscious, I felt a calling. When I opened my eyes, I saw a bright light and then heard you all talking about the Temple. I want to be trained,” she concluded.
“No, Comet. Look at the First Ones. They are dying. You would too,” Hemi cried out.
Ms. Simone slowly glided over to Comet. When she reached her, she lifted her robe to reveal black lines running over her entire body. “Child, this is the damage,” she whispered and then lowered her robe again. “I cannot ask such a young child to endure this.”
“And I forbid it!” Hemi yelled.
Comet narrowed her eyes at Hemi. “Forbid? Just who do you think you are, Hemi?”
“Your leader and… and… your best mate.”
Comet rolled her eyes at Hemi and then looked up at Ms. Simone. “Perhaps some young blood is needed for this. And, I am stronger than I look.”
Hemi crossed the short space and stood beside Comet. He took one of her hands in his. “But we want to go home, remember? If you get sick…”
Comet leaned in close to Hemi. “I don’t think we will ever leave this place,” she whispered. Hemi opened his mouth to protest, but she placed a finger over it. “Hemi, let me do this. If you love me as you said, let me do this.”
He searched her eyes with his own. She heard me? He shook his head and tried again to protest, but Comet gave him THE LOOK. That look that said she was capable of anything and Hemi knew she was right. Slowly, he nodded his head. He was defeated by the knowledge that he wouldn’t win this fight, just as he rarely won any fight against her.
“Then it is settled. Ms. Simone?” Comet ask as she looked back up at the First One.
Ms. Simone smiled. “Yes, Lady Comet. It is settled.”
Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9,Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Chapter 18,Part 19,Part 20, Part 21, Part 22
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
Zanzibar – Part 22
“Bleugh? That’s not a name,” Javelin said on being told by his erstwhile partner-in-grime how he was now to be addressed.
“Is so,” Wildcat/Bleugh responded. “However, that is not why these units are here and in a form that is visible to your limited senses.”
Javelin frowned, turned to look at Ruth and Jacob, raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders in the universally recognised sign of confusion, bewilderment and mystification. Ruth simply nodded her head once.
“Go on then,” Javelin said, turning back to the three Settlers, “why are you here.”
“We are here, human,” he said, pronouncing the word you-munn, “to advise you strongly to stop entering our realm and stealing our possessions.”
That made Ruth stand up! She strode across the divide between the two groups and spoke. “What makes you think we would do such a thing? What do you even have that we lack?”
“Our information is that each time the two moons are full, humans come from your realm into ours and take valuable possessions.”
“Would you like to search our houses?” Ruth asked, “We can give you free, unfettered access to our village and its outlying communities. You will see that there is nothing here that does not originate here. The Curator provides all we require, there is no need for us to look elsewhere for anything.”
“What are you saying?” the female Settler asked.
“I am saying that no-one from this Village enters your realm to steal from you. Apart from the three of us that you see, none even knows of the existence of your Settlement.”
Jacob, who had made his way to the group, said, “Is this a trick? Are you using this protestation as a diversion, to draw attention from the fact that your people come into the Village under the cover of the two full moons and steal from us?”
“We would not do that,” the woman replied, “and we are insulted that you should think such a thing of us.” She nodded toward her companions. The three turned, picked up from behind them, something that neither Javelin, Jacob nor Ruth could see. They moved their hands over their heads as though pouring invisible water from an invisible jug, and promptly vanished. Jacob ran toward them and reached out to grab one, but they had gone, leaving no sign that they had been there. Even the hard ground showed no foot-marks to hint at their presence. He turned to face Javelin and Ruth.
“What happened there?” he asked.
“They poured water to wash off the point,” Ruth offered, “That’s the only thing that makes sense. What do you think, Javelin?”
“I think we’ve lost Wildcat,” he said, “and without him, none of us can get home. The Arikatoteshika made that very clear.”
“What interests me,” Ruth said, “is that they know about us, but not about the Smoke, and so they accuse us of stealing from them. Most of our people know about the Smoke, but not about the Settlement, so we accuse the Smoke of the thefts. Is it possible that there is yet another group supported by the Arikatoteshika, one that none of us knows about?”
“It’s possible,” Javelin said, “but I didn’t get any feel for that, when I was with the Arikatoteshika. Do we believe that the Great Black Head and the Curator are just different names by which the Arikatoteshika chooses to be known?”
“I think so. Throughout history, it has been quite common for a single Supreme Being to support multiple civilisations, each with its own physical and spiritual environment, with distinct systems of laws and beliefs that are similar, but differ markedly in detail.”
“So how is he known in the Smoke?”
“We don’t know, Javelin. We may never know. No-one has ever come back from the Smoke to tell us.”
“Where does this leave us in regard to the thefts, Ruth?”
“I don’t think it changes anything, Javelin. We can still keep watch on the night the two moons are full. Even if we can do nothing, we shall at least know.”
“Perhaps if we see whoever is taking our stuff,” Jacob said, “we can talk to them, find out what they need and why, and see if we can help in any way.”
“That’s a nice thought, Jacob,” Ruth said, “I should also like very much to establish a dialogue with the people from the Smoke, and with the people from the Settlement. I have a strong feeling that, were we to have open talks with them, we would find that we have more in common than there are things that separate us.”
Javelin frowned. “You’re starting to sound like a liberal vicar now, Ruth,” he said.
“Perhaps, young Javelin, such a person is exactly what this situation needs.”
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
Zanzibar – Part 21
“Wildcat!” Javelin called out loudly. No reply came. No hint of recognition of the name or of Javelin.
“What does this mean?” Javelin asked, looking towards Ruth and Jacob.
“I don’t know what Ruth thinks,” Jacob said, “but I reckon we’re in uncharted waters here. Do you have a line to the Curator?”
“Not really. Haven’t heard a thing since I was taken to him that time.”
“Can you try?” Ruth asked.
“I guess so, but I don’t know how.”
Abruptly, Ruth gazed skyward. Her lips were moving, but no sound came out. Javelin jumped forward, grabbed Ruth by the shoulders and gently shook her.
“Ruth,” he said, “Ruth. Are you alright, Ruth?”
Jacob held Javelin back and said, “This is exactly what you did when you went to see the Curator. Perhaps she’s going there.”
Ruth’s eyes rolled back into her head until just the whites showed between her open lids. Then she collapsed in a heap on the floor. The female from the group of three crossed the gap between them and the Villagers in an impossibly short time, touched Ruth lightly on the head for the briefest of moments and scooted back to her companions as quickly as she had arrived. Ruth coughed a little, and her eyes opened.
“I know what we must do,” she said, “and there is no time to waste.”
Javelin crouched over her and whispered, “Bit of a cliché, Ruth. Have you seen the Arikatoteshika?”
“I have,” she replied. “Now you must go over to the group, and touch gently on the forehead of the one you know as Wildcat.”
“I don’t just know him as Wildcat; he is Wildcat.”
“Not now, he isn’t. Now he has a name suited to his time and place. You must touch his forehead with your right index finger, as quickly and as lightly as you can manage, then withdraw and come back here. And, whatever you do, don’t say anything while your finger is touching him.”
“That sounds pretty specific, Ruth,” Jacob suggested.
“Jacob, my friend. You have not met the Curator. You don’t know his name. If you did, you would appreciate why this must be done in exactly the way he has instructed.”
“If I do this, Ruth, do you know what the outcome will be? Will anyone be changed? Will anyone be hurt? Will it help us? Will it help Wildcat? Can I say anything before I touch him? And afterwards?”
“Yes, yes, no, yes, yes, yes and yes, in that order. Now, for the sake of everything we hold dear, go and do it. There is a power that will be unleashed when one of us makes physical contact with one of the Settlers. That power can be destructive and damaging to both parties unless contact is made exactly as the Arikatoteshika commands. Then it will be benign and empowering.”
“I need to talk about this with the others, first. Meeting with Wildcat like this isn’t something I want to do without the support of the guys.”
“No time, young Javelin. They will not stay here for long. Remember; the lightest of touches. It is through such contact that the Arikatoteshika can weave his influence. Now go!”
Javelin leapt to his feet, leaving Jacob to help Ruth back to hers. Having been through a meeting with the big man, he knew how weak he felt afterwards; and he was young and fit. Not to put too fine a point, Ruth didn’t display either of those attributes.
His progress over the 150-odd metres between the two groups was considerably slower than the Settlement female had managed, though in fairness, he wasn’t in too much of a hurry to cover the distance. His hands were in his pockets and he was moving with that combination of walking, slouching and skipping with the odd ‘pas chassé’ that is a trademark of the Motorhead Gang.
Approaching the trio, he said, “I know you probably can’t understand me, but we need you back, Wildcat. The gang ain’t the gang without you.”
The whale-song response must have meant something to the Settlers, but to Villagers, it was just sound. It had a certain rhythmic quality to it, enough to suggest that it could have been a form of language, but nothing intelligible to Javelin or any of the others. Javelin reached out silently, and as one would quickly and carefully touch something one suspected of being dangerously hot, let his right index finger make fleeting contact with his friend’s brow. He then withdrew a few metres and addressed the three. “I don’t know if you can understand me, but I and my friends need our pal Wildcat back.”
The one he believed to be Wildcat responded in whale-song. Miraculously, Javelin could understand it.
“The one you call Wildcat is no more. This unit now bears the name given to him by the Great Black Head. Praise to the Great Black Head.”
Two whale-song voices echoed, “Praise to the Great Black Head.”
“This unit,” Wildcat continued, “bears the name that is a homophone of the initial uttering of the first unit to see it.”
“What is your name now? If I cannot call you Wildcat, what should I call you?”
“My name, given to me by the Great Black Head, [chorus of Praise to the Great Black Head] is Bleugh.”
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
Zanzibar – Part 20
by Lori Carlson
The First Ones met in the alcove behind their meeting room. The three had always shared the small living space which barely housed their beds and a small table where they ate their meals. They hadn’t always been so aloof from the others, but as their sickness became more noticeable, they spent more time away from the rest.
Nellie eased her head off of a pillow and turned over on her side. Ethan laid on his bed across from her and Miss Simone sat at the table with a star chart scrolled out in front of her.
“We have to tell them,” Nellie whispered.
Miss Simone looked up from her chart. “And what do you propose we say? Sorry, but we are dying and soon so will all of you.”
“Nothing as blunt as that, Simone,” Ethan argued without diverting his eyes from the stone wall above his head. “They have a right to know.”
“I won’t be able to make another trip into the Smoke and Ethan can’t go alone. We have…,” Nellie tried to continue speaking, but began coughing instead.
“We have to train someone else, or a couple of people,” Ethan finished for her.
Nellie nodded her head in between coughs.
Simone sighed deeply. She trained her dark eyes on Nellie for a long moment and then turned her head to Ethan. “I suppose you want to train others for Temple duties and to make the trek to the Village as well.”
Swaying unsteadily, Nellie swung her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up. “Look at me, Simone,” she said, lifting her white robe above her knees. Thick black lines ran up and down her calves and thighs. She tossed the robe down over her ankles and then lifted her sleeves, revealing the same thick lines up her arms. “It’s getting worse. I am getting worse. I get exhausted just walking across the Common room. Ar this rate, I won’t live until the next new moon for Temple duties. Hell, I may not even make it to the Village.”
“Mine has worsened too,” Ethan said as he sat up and pulled open his robe, revealing thick black lines streaked across his chest. “We can’t keep doing this alone,” he concluded as he pulled the robe tightly around his body.
“But we are the First Ones. If we let others in, we cease to be the guides for these people,” Simone argued.
Ethan stood up and walked over to Simone. He placed one hand on her back and caressed her cheek with the other. Simone lowered her head until her cheek was cradled in his hand. She closed her eyes and sighed. Ethan knelt down beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.
“If we die without passing along our knowledge, everyone here and anyone who ends up here, will die. You know that. We’ve just been putting off the inevitable,” Ethan whispered into her ear.
Nellie eased her way over to the other two and placed a hand on Simone’s arm. “We can still be their guides. They won’t lose respect for us just because we will no longer make the journeys.”
After a long moment of silence, Simone nodded her head in approval. “We will have to set up a whole new hierarchy. We can no longer allow those who sacrifice their lives for Temple duties to go into the Smoke or to the Village since those activities only accelerate the tainting of the blood. They will have to know the risks involved.”
“Agreed,” Ethan and Nellie said in unison.
“And it will have to be voluntary,” Simone concluded.
Nellie rose from the floor and grabbed a tablet and pen from under her bed. “We may as well write this all down,” she said as she rejoined Ethan and Simone at the table.
Ethan released his hold on Simone and sat down at the table across from her. “This is the right thing to do,” he said with a smile.
“It is never right to ask even a few to die to save the rest,” Simone sighed. “But the alternative…” Her voice trailed off as she shuddered from the thought of everyone dying. “Let’s get started.”
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
for Stream of Consciousness Saturday – Prompt: View
Sometimes I feel like an alien stranded on a foreign planet (something not so far from the truth – but that’s for another time). I look around at the people I come into contact with and wonder, “Who the hell are these people?” Where did all of this hate come from? Is it part of their DNA? Why are they so afraid of “others” who aren’t just like them? Why is diversity so scary to them? Why is helping others less fortunate so undesirable? This “me first” culture sickens my soul.
I don’t know where it all went wrong. Perhaps it has never been here on this planet. Did I dream it into existence as a child? A culture of giving and aiding, with no expectations. Perhaps my views are just too radical when they should be the norm. I know that like many, I was taught to “love thy neighbor” but that didn’t mean unless they are the same as you – or did it mean that all along? I don’t understand how a world that is so heavily religious can be so incredibly selfish. Fear seems to drive even the most devout, and trust isn’t even on the radar.
I envision a world where everyone helps everyone else. Where if you have more than your neighbor, you share what you have. Where an open society celebrates its differences as well as its samenesses. A world where people don’t have to barricade themselves behind walls to keep others out. Where education , healthcare, and housing is free. Where everyone works to better their world and themselves. And those who cannot work aren’t locked away and forgotten, but given aid and comfort. Is this an impossible society? Unfortunately in a “me first” world, it is.
And so, I go on looking at this world through foreign eyes, longing and wondering – am I the only one?
Zanzibar – Part 19
When Javelin entered Ruth’s home, he found her deep in conversation with Jacob. Ruth raised a finger towards Jacob and turned to face Javelin.
“I think I know what you want to talk to me about,” she said, “Jacob spoke to me of your encounter with a minor time paradox.”
“Yeah, that too,” Javelin replied, “but there’s something bigger.”
“Bigger than a time paradox?” Jacob asked.
“I think so. That space after Rambler’s name on the weird stone. It’s Wildcat. He came with us, but we haven’t seen him since we arrived.”
“Do you feel he is in the Smoke?” Ruth asked.
“No, I don’t. The image I have, when I try to picture where he is, shows a primitive place with nothing much apart from a few mud huts and brush land.”
“Could it be this Settlement you told me about?”
“I think so. But even that’s not the worst thing.”
“There’s more?” Jacob asked.
Javelin’s head and shoulders dropped. “Yeah,” he said, “none of us can remember what Wildcat looks like.”
“That is more worrying,” Ruth said and started whispering something to Jacob. Jacob left the house.
“Where’s Jacob gone, Ruth?”
“I’ve asked him to scan the Village archives for recent disappearances. Am I right in thinking you can still picture your friends whom you know to be in the Smoke?”
“Hemi and Comet? Well, yeah. I can see them almost as if they were in front of me now.”
“As I thought. I’ve tasked Jacob to find any anomalies in people’s recollection of those who had disappeared from the Village.”
“What are you expecting him to find?”
“I don’t know, Javelin. I wish I did. I know of some people who have left us without having broken any of the Creator’s rules – as far as we know, anyway. If they have ended up in the other place—”
“Exactly. If they are there, the question will be whether they were sent or taken.”
“You think they’ve been kidnapped by people from the Settlement?”
“When we know nothing, Javelin, that’s exactly what we can rule out.”
“Not with you.”
“We have to consider as possible, anything that we do not know to be impossible.”
“And if, as seems to be the case, nothing is impossible, then everything must be considered possible.”
Javelin and Ruth stood for some time in silence, each of them no doubt considering their position and the vast number of possible solutions to these latest issues.
“Javelin?” Ruth said at last, “What do you see when you visualise the Settlement.”
“Just what I said,” he replied, “mud huts, roughly grass-thatched, scattered among low bushes.”
“That may be because there’s no-one there, but my guess is that there’s some kind of filtering going on.”
“If I knew that, Javelin, I’d be the Curator!”
“I think I’ve found something,” Jacob said, entering Ruth’s house.
“Shouldn’t you knock before coming in, Jacob?” Ruth asked, “Young Javelin and I could have been engaged in something we wouldn’t want you to see.”
“No you wouldn’t,” Jacob said.
“No, we wouldn’t,” Ruth agreed, with a chuckle, “What have you found?”
“During the past three moons, of the six disappearances, only four are known to have broken any of the rules.”
“What of the other two? Who were they?”
“That’s the thing. No-one can describe them. If we hadn’t been able to establish their names from the records, we wouldn’t even be certain of their gender. It’s one young Egyptian woman, Fatima, and an older Australian man, Donald.”
“I’ll bet they’re in the Settlement,” Javelin said.
“I tend to agree,” Jacob said, “but were they sent by the Curator, and if so then why? Or were they taken. I mean, Ruth, we’ve been assuming that the missing things have been taken to the Smoke, but what if we’re wrong? What if they’re being taken by people from the settlement?”
“Yeah,” Javelin added, “and based on what I’ve seen, or not, they’d be effectively invisible to us.”
“Woah!” Jacob said, “This is big. Are we really saying that there are people who can come and go as they please, under the protection of invisibility?”
“No, we’re not saying that,” Ruth replied, “we’re saying that there may possibly be people who can come and go as they please, under the protection of invisibility. It’s all theoretical for the moment.”
“Like the Big Bang Theory?” Javelin asked.
“And string theory,” Ruth replied.
“Super,” Jacob said with a grin.
“Enough!” Ruth admonished. “This isn’t helping. Happily, unlike theoretical physicists, we can put out theories to the test.”
“How?” Javelin asked.
“When the full moons arrive, we’ll put out things that are often taken, and make sure we have people watching them all night. If we see someone making off with the items, it’ll be the Smoke; if the items simply disappear, we’ll know it’s the Settlement.”
“What can we do to help?” Javelin asked.
“Your group can join in the watch. We’ll have a meeting soon to organise it.”
Suddenly, the normal background sounds of the village; the usual run of birdsong, crickets, cicada and human chatter, stopped, only to be replaced by an air of panic. Confusion had taken over, people were screaming and running to and fro, seemingly without purpose. Ruth, Jacob and Javelin left the house and went into the square.
“What’s all the fuss?” Javelin said.
“Over there,” Jacob replied, pointing in the direction directly opposite that in which the majority of the villagers were running.
Looking across, Javelin saw three people, two male and one female. They were completely naked, their bodies coated in an off-white substance as though they’d been dipped in whitewash. Their eyes were open, but where there should have been eyeballs, there was total blackness, as though the sockets were empty. The two males were carrying large objects that resembled primitive clubs, the woman held her arms as though supporting a young baby, though nothing was visible. Although the three gave the appearance of speaking, no words came from their mouths, just a continuous stream of what sounded like whale song.
“That’s them,” Javelin announced, “That’s Wildcat and the others.”
“Do you know that?” Ruth asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
Jacob struggled to get words out. “H-how do you know that?” he asked at last.
“I just do, Jacob,” Javelin replied, “I just do.”
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
Zanzibar – Part 18
by Lori Carlson
On the trek back to the caves, Hemi couldn’t get Comet’s words out of his mind. “I knew you’d find me. I love you.” What did she mean? Sure, she was a girl, but she’d never wanted to be treated like one. She’d always insisted on being just one of the guys. A complete tomboy. Hell, she’d even talked about wanting to be a real boy a few times. Hemi was confused.
Ethan carried Comet’s limp body through the Smoke and around the winding lava flow. Every so often, Nellie would send a flare up. If he hadn’t been tethered to Nellie, Hemi would have fallen behind. As it were, he had to keep moving as fast as the other two did. A few times, when they stopped to rest, he noticed that Ethan and Nellie appeared exhausted. They kept a good front, but Hemi could tell something was wrong. Their breathing was erratic and their faces were flush.
“Not much further,” Nellie said as she shot another flare into the air.
Hemi nodded, but his curiosity got to him again. “How can you tell?”
Nellie walked over to one of the large boulders and pointed to a symbol. “That sign tells us that we are less than a kilometer away.”
Hemi finally understood. He thought the flares were to signal their return, but they were to light the way so they could see the symbols. There was still much so much he needed to learn about this place, but he hoped he wouldn’t have to be here much longer.
“Come,” Ethan stated as he stood up and lifted Comet into his arms. “We should get moving before the lightning strikes begin again.”
Hemi had noticed a pattern in the lightning strikes. Apparently Ethan and Nellie knew about it too. Five fierce strikes were followed by three smaller ones, and then it would stop for a bit. He wished he had a watch so he could time the between times.
They journeyed on, winding around the lava flow. After a while, Hemi began to outpace Nellie. He stopped and waited for her each time he felt the rope grow taunt. Ethan lagged even further behind since he was carrying Comet.
Nellie shot up another flare and then leaned against a boulder. “Just a few more meters,” she whispered as she untied the rope. “Go ahead, Hemi. Tell them we are almost there.”
A flash of concern crossed Hemi’s face. “Are you sure? I can wait until you two are ready to move on again.”
“I am sure. Run along. We will be there shortly,” Nellie said.
Hemi did as Nellie asked. He hurried along the last of the lava flow. The smoke was less dense as he neared the cave, but still thick enough to hide the entrance. He had to feel his way around the large boulder. When he finally felt the empty space, he rushed inside, winding down the barely lit passageways. After a few moments, he finally made it to the large common room.
“Miss Simone!” he yelled as he frantically searched for her. The others in the room stared at him, alarm present on all of their faces.
Miss Simone ducked her head as she stepped out of an alcove and into the common room. “Hemi?”
“Ethan and Nellie,” he panted. “Something is wrong!”
Miss Simone crossed the room and put a hand on Hemi’s back. “Calm down, child. Tell me what’s going on.”
Hemi bent over, placing his palms on his knees. He took deep breaths and then finally stood upright again. He feigned a smile at Miss Simone before speaking and nodded that he was okay.
“I think something is wrong with Ethan and Nellie. They are exhausted and still a few meters away.”
Miss Simone sighed. “Bukara and Victor,” she said, pointing to the two boys. “See if you can find Ethan and Nellie. Do not wander past the entrance to the lava flow though.”
The two boys nodded at her and rushed out of the common room. Hemi walked over to the large pool of water and dipped a cup in. He took a few drinks and headed back to Miss Simone who was now seated at a large table in the center of the room.
“It was Comet,” he said as he sat down across from her.
“My friend Comet. That’s who was in the Smoke.”
“Is she okay?”
“She is alive, but very weak from inhaling the smoke and ash. Ethan is carrying her.”
Miss Simone nodded. “We will fix her up.” She hesitated for a moment as she surveyed Hemi’s face. “Something else is bothering you, child. What is it?”
Hemi bowed his head and stared into his cup. “Just something Comet said. It’s nothing. I am sure she was just glad to see me.”
Placing a hand on Hemi’s, Miss Simone smiled. “I don’t want to pry, but if you need someone to talk to, you can always talk to me.”
Hemi was about to tell her that he couldn’t talk to her about Comet when a commotion broke out. Bukara and Victor ran into the common room.
“We’re back!” the two said in union, laughing and patting one another on the back.
Seconds later, Ethan walked in, still carrying Comet. Nellie followed close behind. Miss Simone rushed to Ethan and lifted Comet from his arms. She carried the limp girl to a table and began barking orders.
“Bukara, get the medical bag. Victor, get some water for this poor child. Ethan and Nellie, go get some rest. I will speak with you both later.”
Hemi stood in the middle of the room watching as everyone did what Miss Simone asked. He looked over at Comet lying on the table. For the first time since he’d known her, she looked frail and very much like a girl.
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.