Zanzibar – Part 16
by Lori Carlson
The smoke filled Hemi’s lungs as soon as he, Nellie and Ethan reached the end of the caverns. He couldn’t stop gasping for breath and coughed constantly. Finally, Nellie tore a piece from her white robe and tied it around Hemi’s nose and mouth.
“This is why only Ethan and I go into the Smoke,” she said as she plodded along behind Ethan, with Hemi in tow. “We are used to the effects of the smoke.”
Ethan didn’t even turn around to see if the other two were keeping up. Whoever was out there in the Smoke needed to be found immediately. Shelter was scarce and the lure of the Village was impossible to deny for newcomers. He followed the lava flow until it settled into a pool at what they’d come to call the Center of the Smoke. Only then did he wait for Nellie and Hemi.
After a few moments, Ethan spotted them. They were still a few meters behind him. He leaned against a large boulder and took out the tracking device from his knapsack. The blip on the screen held a strong signal. Whoever was out there wasn’t moving. Lightning flashed across the barren land and lit up a small area in front of him. They would head there, he decided.
“Sorry, mate,” Nellie said with a frown as she and Hemi finally caught up with Ethan.
Ethan nodded at Nellie. “Don’t mention it. The signal is strong. I saw a clearing with the last lightning flash. We should go there first.”
Hemi slouched against a boulder and wiped his forehead. “How come you two aren’t even sweating?”
“I don’t know. We just don’t. Maybe we’ve become immune by coming out here for nearly a century now,” Ethan replied, but that was only a half-truth. He removed a canteen from his knapsack and handed it to Hemi. “Better drink up now. We won’t have time to rest again.”
Hemi did as he was told. He took a long drink from the canteen and handed it to Nellie. She took a sip and handed it back to Ethan. Hemi found that strange too. Did they not even need water? He shook his head. His companions were odd indeed.
Ethan tucked the canteen back into the knapsack and held up the tracking device. “About a kilometer ahead,” he informed the other two. “Let’s go.”
Once they left the circle of lava, the lightning strikes became more frequent, once every few minutes. They hugged the boulders and eased their way ahead. Every few meters, Nellie dropped a green glowing stick.
So that’s how they get back to the lava, Hemi mused as he trotted along behind Nellie.
Once they were within about five hundred meters of the blip’s origins, the ground began to shake violently under them. Nellie pressed Hemi against a boulder as Ethan eased ahead of them, tapping his feet along the path. Every few seconds, he would yell back, “Safe, safe.” Nellie grasped Hemi’s hand and followed the sound of Ethan’s voice.
“What’s going on?” Hemi asked.
“Ethan is checking for cracks from the earthquake. Some are small cracks, but others can be as wide as a river. Just hold my hand and you will be safe,” she assured him.
They continued on, dodging cracks and lightning strikes. The smoke was even thicker now than when they’d been near the lava flow. Hemi was lagging further and further behind. Once, he even though about staying behind near a shelter of boulders, but he just knew that whoever was out there, it was one of his friends. And so, with his head tucked down and his shoulders rolled forward, he kept moving.
They hadn’t seen Ethan for quite a while. They did continue to follow his voice as he sent out the “safe” message. Nellie didn’t seem to be at all concerned. She just kept moving along. Finally, Ethan’s voice grew louder and he no longer said merely “safe.” Now he cried out, “Found her! Found her!”
Hemi’s heart pounded. If it was a she and a friend, it could only be Comet. Then his heart sank. What if it was someone new? He picked up his pace and even surpassed Nellie, but she jerked his arm back until he was walking beside her.
“Not until we reach Ethan,” she scolded him. “There are still cracks out here.”
After a couple more cautious meters, they finally spotted Ethan, who’d lit a flare. He was cradling a young girl in his arms and had her face covered with a piece of his robe. Hemi stood still for a long moment. If it wasn’t Comet, then he’d endured this entire journey for nothing. He crept forward. His eyes watered. As he approached them, Ethan slowly pulled back his robe from the girl’s face. The young girl didn’t move and her eyes were closed.
Hemi rushed forward shouting, “Comet! Comet!” and buried his face against hers.
Slowly, Comet opened her eyes. “Hemi,” she whispered. “I knew you’d find me.”
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
Zanzibar – Part 15
Shortly afterwards, Jacob joined them, carrying a box of pigments and a set of a dozen or so paintbrushes of various sizes. The smallest was almost as fine at its tip as the narrowest needles Mustang had seen his mother using, when knitting for the baby. The largest brush was as thick as the baby’s wrist.
“You will need to mix the pigments with oil,” Jacob said to Mustang.
“What sort of oil?” Mustang asked.
“It doesn’t matter, although the paler the oil, the truer the colour.”
“Can I use vegetable cooking oil? That’s pretty pale, and I know where there is some.”
“Why not try it and see how it looks?”
“Okay,” Mustang said, “what can I paint it on?”
“That’s entirely up to you,” Jacob replied, backing away from the group, “I’ve done all I can; it’s in your court now.”
Javelin, who by this time and in the absence of Hemi, had taken on the mantle of leader, looked pensive. “Do you know about painting with oils, Mustang?” he asked.
“You’re kidding, aren’t you?” he replied, “I only do cartoons and sketches. I’ve only ever used pencils and crayons.”
“I saw you using chalk on the footpath, mate,” Cobra interjected, “damned good drawing, too.”
“Yeah, but that’s not oil paint, is it?” Mustang objected. “Oil painting is for proper artists, and that’s not me.”
“Okay, guys,” Javelin said, “I don’t see what choice we have. You’re the only one knows how to even draw properly, Mustang. Any idea what you want to do it on? Wood? Stone? Slate? What?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never used oil before, but if you tell me I’ve got to do it, then I’ll do it.”
“I can’t tell you to, mate; you know the rules here as well as I do. All I can say is that there’s nobody else can do it.” Javelin looked around the group. “Unless any of you wants to have a go.” Rambler, Cobra and Cougar looked down to the ground. Three heads slowly shook from side to side.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” Mustang said, “Let’s get some stone, some slate and some wood, and see which it takes on best. Not big, just a small piece of each.”
“I’ll get a nice, flat stone,” Cougar said.
“I saw some slate yesterday,” Cobra added, “I’ll see what I can find.”
Rambler looked up and said, “I’ll get wood.”
At this point, it’s important to remember that our heroes are all teenaged boys, with all that entails. Knowing that, you won’t be surprised to learn that Rambler’s comment was met with what can only be referred to as juvenile titters. Rambler blushed, making the rest chuckle even more. Eventually, Cougar, Cobra and Rambler went off in search of their respective materials, leaving Javelin and Mustang in the clearing.
“Are you sure you’re happy about this, mate?” Javelin asked, “You know you don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to. Nobody can force you.”
“Yeah, but… first Hemi, now Comet. Who’ll be next? If there’s any way we can get word to them, we have to take it. What I don’t know is whether the message will get through.”
“What? You mean whether they’ll see it?”
“No. Whether they’ll get it.”
“If you can do the design, Mustang, it’ll be clear to them that we’re all in it together, and that we all want to go home; back to our parents.”
“Will it be?” Mustang asked. “It took me a while to get it. I mean, it’s not obvious, is it?”
“When you do it, we’ll put our names on the back, and add the Motorheads’ secret motto. They’ll understand that.”
Cobra ran into the clearing carrying a slate that looked as though it once formed a part of someone’s roof, and handed it to Mustang, saying: “There you go, mate. Was I first?”
“Yes, you were first,” Javelin said, “but only just. Here comes Rambler.”
Rambler came in, carrying what looked like a piece of driftwood. He handed it to Mustang, who had a quizzical expression on his face. “I know,” Rambler said, “how do we get driftwood? We’re nowhere near the sea, as far as I can see.”
While the four were busily applying their combined intellect to the conundrum that had presented itself, Cougar rushed in, breathlessly, carrying a large stone. “Hold up, guys,” he said, “what do you make of this?” He stretched down and placed in front of them a stone on which had been painted, in oils, a man on horseback, throwing a spear at a big cat that’s attacking a snake, while a man with a backpack walking toward a distant house with a domed roof looks up at a shooting star that’s fading away.
“Turn it over,” Mustang said. Javelin leaned forward and turned the stone over.
Five boys gasped.
On the back of the stone were five names: Javelin, Rambler, Cobra, Cougar and Mustang. Below the names was the Motorheads’ secret motto.
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
Zanzibar – Part 14
by Lori Carlson
Hemi sat on the floor of one of the game alcoves with Bukara, a ten year old from somewhere in Africa. Bukara didn’t remember where. Technically, he was twenty-seven, but since no one aged here, he still looked like a child. Hemi was careful not to treat him as one though. As they played a game of checkers, Hemi asked questions.
“What’s it been like living in this cave for seventeen years?”
Bukara broke his concentration and looked up at Hemi curiously. “Has it been that long?”
“By my calculations, yes.”
“Doesn’t feel that long. Are you sure?”
“Ms. Simone showed me the ledger she’s kept since arriving here. She lists everyone who arrives and records the year of arrival. You arrived here seventeen years ago.”
“Oh.” Bukara paused for a moment and then waved his hand across his face. “I am sure they are still relying on that old timepiece of Nellie’s. It’s broken down many times. I doubt it has been that long in real time. What year is it now?”
Bukara leaned back, resting on the palms of his hands. “Wow,” he finally said. “I guess it has been that long. Since every day is the same here in near-darkness, I hadn’t realized. No matter though.”
“No matter? Don’t you want to go home?”
“I am home. Besides, no one would know me back in Africa now anyway.”
Hemi stood up and shook his head. “I will never accept this place as home. There has to be a way to leave this place.”
Bukara chuckled. “Don’t you think we’ve all tried to find a way out of here? The First Ones have been searching for over a century.”
Hemi paced around the small alcove. He missed his friends and with each passing day, he felt more and more alone.
“Sit down and finish the game, Hemi.”
Just as Hemi was about to sit down, an alarm went off.
“Someone is in the Smoke,” Bukara said as he stood up. “C’mon!”
Bukara charged out of the alcove with Hemi following behind him. They weaved in and out of the cavern’s tunnels until they finally arrived in the main gathering room. The First Ones stood in the center of the room surrounded by all of the other inhabitants.
“Someone has entered the Smoke,” Ms. Simone said. “We don’t know if it is a first time or a banishment from the Village. Nellie and Ethan will go out and investigate.”
Hemi stepped forward. “What if it is one of my friends? Can’t I go along?”
Ms. Simone placed an arm around Hemi’s shoulders. “Dear child, it is best you stay here. Only Ethan and Nellie go out into the Smoke. We wouldn’t want to lose you out there.”
“But if it is one of my friends, won’t they be less scared if they saw me?”
“Possibly, but if it is someone new to this place, we have to get to them before they end up in the Village. Expediency is a must.”
Hemi shrugged off her arm from his shoulders. “Why do you want to bring someone new here. The Village is so much nicer!”
Ms. Simone looked at Nellie and Ethan and each nodded their heads. Ms. Simone feigned a smile. “The Village is not nicer, Hemi. You know that. It is filled with rules and swift punishment for breaking those rules. We have no such rules here and no measure of punishment. People disappear from there for even minute infractions. We much prefer to get to them before they even make it to the Village.”
“Please, Ms. Simone? I know my gang. They are unruly like me. If anyone is in the Smoke, I can guarantee it is one of them. Please let me go?”
Nellie walked over to a table, picked up a rope and went toward Hemi. “I will tether him to me,” she said as she wrapped the rope around his mid-section.
“Very well,” Ms. Simone said. “But you stay close to Nellie and Ethan. We’ve never lost anyone in the Smoke and we don’t intend to now.”
Hemi smiled and shook his head. He followed Nellie and Ethan out of the main room as they weaved their way through the cavern and out into the Smoke.
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
Zanzibar – Part 13
Leaving Ruth’s house, Javelin took a few deep breaths, ran his fingers through his hair, held his young body erect and made his way to the square, where he found the rest of the Motorheads in a huddle. Jacob was a few yards from them, talking with some of the other Villagers.
“What’s happening?” Javelin asked as he approached his friends.
“Comet’s in a pretty bad way, mate,” Rambler replied. “Hemi being missing still has really got to her.” He pulled Javelin to one side and whispered, “You know she’s got a thing for Hemi, don’t you?”
“I know,” Javelin replied, “I think I’ve suspected something for a while—”
“We all have—”
“But I know now. I know she has feelings for Hemi, and I’ve got an idea they’re pretty strong.”
“Who told you?”
“Nobody told me, Rambler. I just know stuff. Don’t ask me how, though. I just do.”
“Since you met the Curator?”
“So what do we do about Comet?”
“Nothing. Just follow my lead, mate. That’s a suggestion, not an order, by the way,” Javelin added, looking skyward. The two returned to the group. All eyes turned expectantly to Javelin.
“The two moons are supposed to be full in three nights’ time,” he said, “We should have a plan.”
“What for?” Cobra asked.
“Coz it’s better than not having one. Look. I’m going to talk with Jacob and the others. If we can find out what sort of stuff goes missing, we can leave something so we’ll know if it’s people from the Smoke that are doing it. Ruth seems to think it is.”
“I’d like to leave a note for Hemi,” Comet said.
“What’s the point of that?” Mustang asked.
Comet burst into tears. “If he never comes back, Hemi’ll never know how much I love him.”
Jacob strode across from the other group. “I understand how you feel, Comet, but I don’t think that leaving a note is such a good idea.”
“Why not?” she asked, “What’s wrong with it?”
“Think about it. If it is people from the Smoke stealing from us, we don’t know what effect it would have on Hemi, if the others there have that sort of information. If it’s not, then we don’t know who it is, and we don’t want them to have anything they could use against us or Hemi.”
“Well I want to send him a note,” Comet screamed, “and I’m gonna tell him how much I love him.”
“Please, Comet,” Javelin pleaded.
“No, Jav. Stuff you, stuff this place, and stuff the bloody Curator.”
“What the— Not Comet, please,” Javelin said, looking up again.
“This is what I was afraid of,” Jacob said. “I just didn’t know who would be next to give in to their feelings. Any idea where she’s gone?”
“The Smoke,” Javelin replied, “though not to the cave system where Hemi is now.”
“What cave system?”
“Dunno. I just know there’s a cave system. Hemi is in it and Comet aint.”
“This is not good,” Jacob said, “We need to go back to Ruth. Probably best if the rest of you stay here; Javelin and I will be back as quick as we can. Coming?”
Jacob trotted off toward Ruth’s house, Javelin following close behind.
“You’re back soon,” Ruth said as she saw the pair approach her door. Jacob and Javelin followed her into the room where, only recently, Javelin had been in a trance.
“Comet’s gone,” the young gang member said.
“I know,” Ruth replied.
“She’s in the Smoke.”
“But not with Hemi. I expect they’ll meet soon, though.”
“We need to talk about the next full moons,” Jacob said. “If stuff goes missing this time…”
“We’ll talk about it afterwards, Jacob,” Ruth said firmly, “and only if anything is taken.”
“What sort of stuff do they usually take?” Javelin asked.
“It varies,” Jacob replied, “It must be stuff they can’t get where they are. Some food – fruit and veg – but some empty boxes, too. Always metal, not wooden.”
“Can you leave some metal boxes out? Mustang’ll paint a design on them.”
“Yeah. A man on horseback, throwing a spear at a big cat that’s attacking a snake, while a man with a backpack walking toward a distant house with a domed roof looks up at a shooting star that’s fading away.”
“Very clever, young man,” Ruth said, “I’m impressed. But won’t the Curator see what’s going on?”
“I’m hoping so,” Javelin replied. “This should tell him that I’m serious about wanting us all to go home.”
“Am I missing something here?” Jacob asked.
Ruth laughed. “I should say so, Jacob, but I’m sure you’ll work it out with a bit of thought. Bravo, Javelin, bravo. Brilliant plan.”
“Does that mean I can do it?”
“One hundred percent yes, lad. Get to it now.” Javelin gave a whoop and ran to leave the house. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Ruth asked.
“Boxes, paints, brushes…”
“Go on,” Jacob said, “I’ll get them to Mustang.”
Javelin made his way back to the group. He found them still in shock at Comet’s disappearance, but when they heard his plan, and understood the meaning behind the design, they were all immediately on board and keen to get started.
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
Zanzibar – Part 12
“Okay, Ruth,” Javelin said, “I’ll trust you – for now.”
“Yes, for now. I’ll let you put me under and see what I remember. Then I’ll decide if I can trust you completely.”
“That’ll do for me,” Ruth replied, “now lie back on the couch, close your eyes, and focus your thoughts on a place and time where you have felt completely safe, warm and loved.”
“Grandma’s kitchen, when I was young.”
“Okay. Describe it to me. Give me every detail you see. Miss nothing out, no matter how unimportant it seems. And speak slowly and quietly, as if you’re in a dream.”
“I’m sitting on a chair at the kitchen table.”
“Tell me about the table, Rodney.”
“Yeah. It’s very big, and has a yellow top. There are flowers in a green glass vase in the middle of it. Three plates and a mixing bowl are around the flowers.”
“Good. Now get off the chair, look around the room, and tell me what else you see.”
“Ooh. The room is a lot bigger than I remember. It’s so big I can’t really see the walls or ceiling. The floor is covered in something that feels like moss; moist and squidgy; but has a weird, spaced-out look. There are spooky sounds around me, or maybe they’re in my head. I can’t really tell. It’s very bright, but only around me, like I’m in a spotlight. The whole thing is making me feel a bit sick. I’m alright, though. I’m not going to be sick.”
“That’s good, Rodney,” Ruth said, almost in a whisper, “now tell me. Are you alone in there?”
“I thought I was, but someone is speaking to me. Wait. There’s another light. It’s shining on…”
“Take your time.”
“It’s a slug. A huge see-through slug with something weird moving about its insides. It’s saying something.”
“What’s it saying?”
“It’s saying, ‘I am the Arikatoteshika, the head of the Zumotokuari family of the Cnazvu. My kind have curated the Lacteus galaxy since before time began.‘ It’s telling me to look up at some windows, where I can see my family, my friends. But they can’t see me. I tell it I want to go home, but it says I can’t, unless prove that I really, really want to, and can convince all my friends, too. Hahaha!”
“What’s so funny?”
“His real name is Norman,” Javelin said, as his body went limp and fell to the floor.
Ruth picked him up and gently placed him back on the couch. There she left him for a period, while she went outside and sought out Jacob.
“Have you learnt anything?” Jacob asked.
“Plenty,” she replied. “He has been to the Great Hall. I’m sure it’s the same one I was sent to all those years ago, but I can’t remember anything about it. Maybe I’ll get him to regress me when he’s stronger, so we can compare notes, but I’m sure it’ll be the same.”
“What did he say about it?”
“Ignoring the physical aspects, the main thing I learnt is that he has met and spoken with the Curator.”
“Mostly just that. Apparently the Curator showed him some scenarios and asked him which one he would like to go to.”
“When he told the Curator which one he wanted to go to, he was given some conditions. He has to show that that’s what he really wants, and convince his friends to want the same thing. That’s going to be hard, with one of his friends in the Smoke.”
“But… don’t you see what this means?”
“Yes. He’s stuck here like the rest of us.”
“No. It means there is a way back. All we have to do is find it. Help him, Ruth. Help him as much as you can. It’ll be good for all of us.”
“There’s one other thing, Jacob.”
“He told me the Curator’s name.”
“Don’t keep me in suspense. What is it?”
“Rule one, Jacob, remember? The name of the Curator is his power; it is not to be spoken or written by any guest. I don’t want to end up in the Smoke.”
“But what of Javelin? He spoke the name.”
“Only in a trance. I guess… I hope it doesn’t count. I must get back to him.”
Ruth left Jacob and re-entered her little house. Looking back, she saw Jacob’s face redden, and his palm repeatedly beat his forehead. Jacob, the ever cool; Jacob the calm; Jacob the ultimate diplomat. What had she done to him? Should she have told him anything?
On the couch, Javelin was regaining consciousness has she entered.
“How are you feeling, young man?” she asked.
“Okay, I guess; apart from a blinding headache.”
“That’ll pass. Do you remember anything?”
“I remember everything. I don’t think I can ever forget it.”
“Promise me one thing, Javelin. Promise me that you will never, ever say the Curator’s name. Not in the Village, not in the Smoke, if you ever have to go there.”
“Okay, okay. I know the rule. And don’t forget, I understand how this place works.”
“What we need to do now is to wait for the next double full moon night and see what we can learn about the disappearing items. With that behind us, I’ll call a meeting of a few people—”
“Jacob and a few others who’ve been here as long.”
“And my posse?”
“We… Jacob and I, will meet with them separately afterwards. This first meeting will be to talk about the missing items and whatever we learn about them, as well as your information. What you’ve told me has an effect on everyone in the village and beyond. We need to be careful how we disseminate it.”
“How you what?”
“My uncle’s a vet. He does that with cows.”
“That’s inseminate. That means putting the bull’s seed into the cow. Disseminating is spreading the seed, or in this case the information.”
Javelin looked down and quietly asked, “How come the Curator didn’t make me as smart as you?”
“It will come, Javelin. Give it time. He has planted the seed; it will grow and develop in its own time.”
“So the Curator inseminated me?” he asked, his face brightening.
“I suppose you could say that, in a way. But not to your friends.”
“They don’t have the smarts to understand. They’ll think of it like your uncle does to the cows.”
Javelin’s face reddened at the thought as he left Ruth’s house, muttering “Bye then” as he went.
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
for Haiku Horizons – Prompt: sign
the sky, a calm blue
lulls me to an inner peace
taken as a sign
©2016 Lori Carlson. All rights reserved.
Zanzibar – Part 11
by Lori Carlson
The next two weeks felt like an eternity to Hemi. He spent most of the time with Tang and Lena who showed him the layout of the cavern, which seemed to snake deeper and deeper into the earth. The first section that they showed him was where everyone slept. They assigned a small alcove just for him. Hemi had his own room for the first time in his life. The tours continued daily. He was shown a hospital unit and the school, a place he swore he’d never go. He didn’t need any book learning. Then they showed him several sections that had been marked off for recreation – a small alcove were people played cards and board games, a medium-sized one used for various forms of exercise like yoga, tai chi and weightlifting, and a large alcove where people practiced soccer.
One day during a tour, the three came across a closed off section near the common room. The U-shaped entrance was covered with painted symbols in intricate designs.
Hemi couldn’t control his curiosity. “What’s this place?”
“Sorry, that room is off limits,” Lena said as she tugged on Hemi’s arm.
Hemi jerked his arm away and stood in front of the door, tracing the patterns with his finger. “What makes it so special?”
“It’s the temple room,” Tang finally said after looking at Lena for a long moment.
With a big grin on his face, Hemi turned around. “Let me see it.”
Tang pulled Hemi away from the temple. “We can’t, Hemi. Only the First Ones can open the temple door. And only on the night of the new moon.”
Hemi sulked as he followed Tang and Lena to the common room. They each grabbed a tin cup, scooped up some water and went to a table inside one of the small alcoves. Hemi tapped his fingers against the cup. His imagination was in overdrive as he thought about what could possibly be inside the room. He looked up at his companions.
“Have either of you ever been inside the temple?”
Lena shook her head. “It is forbidden.”
“But I thought we didn’t keep secrets here.”
“It isn’t a secret, Hemi. It is just forbidden for anyone other than the First Ones to enter it,” Tang confirmed.
Hemi lowered his head and pondered the information. He didn’t like being told he couldn’t go somewhere. He already felt trapped in this cave.
“How do you know when the next new moon will be?”
Lena patted Hemi on the back and stood up. “Ms. Simone will tell us.”
“But how will she know?”
Tang stood up too and followed Lena out of the small alcove. “Ms. Simone is an astronomer. She keeps charts of the sky.”
“But how? It’s not like we can look up at the sky and see anything, not with all of that bloody smoke.”
Tang stopped and turned around. “You sure do ask a lot of questions. Come with me, Hemi. You need to spend some more time with the First Ones.”
Hemi let out a deep sigh. He was tired of spending time with Ethan, Nellie and Ms. Simone. They gave him headaches with their riddles and doublespeak. They acted like they were so wise and knew everything in the Universe, but they knew nothing about the world Hemi came from and that was what they always wanted to know from him.
“Why, Tang? I don’t have anymore stories to tell them.”
“Maybe they have stories to tell you.”
Hemi stood up and handed his cup to Lena. He followed Tang to the other alcove, watched him tap on the stone wall and then stepped inside the dimly lit room once the stone rolled opened. Today, only Ms. Simone sat at the large table.
Ms. Simone patted one of the crates. “Come and sit with me, Hemi.”
He moved away from the doorway and felt the swoosh of the stone rolling shut. He sat down at the table and placed the palms of his hands upon it. With a weary look upon his face, he glanced up at his companion.
“Good day, Ms. Simone.”
“Ah, Hemi. You don’t sound too happy to visit with me today.”
Hemi lowered his eyes. “I’m not.”
“I know it is hard for you here, but haven’t we been good to you? Aren’t you well fed? I know Lena and Tang have shown you all that we have to offer here for you. Why are you still so unhappy?”
“I miss my friends and, and…”
Hemi lifted his head. “How can you stand living in this cave? It’s so dark and damp here. Don’t you long to be out in the sunshine?”
Ms. Simone let out a slight chuckle. “Of course we do, Hemi. But what alternative do we have?”
Hemi shook his head. “I don’t know, but there has to be some way to remain in the Village without being zapped back out again by the Curator.”
Ms. Simone placed a brown hand across Hemi’s and smiled down at him. “We tried many years ago to do just that. We crossed over to the Village and tried to make a stand. It was useless. We found ourselves back in the Smoke.”
“You, Ethan and Nellie?”
“Yes, the three of us.”
“Have you ever tried it with all of you?”
Ms. Simone removed her hand and placed a finger on her chin. “No, I can’t say we have. I doubt it would do any good. We’d all be tossed back into the Smoke and many might not find their way back here.”
“But since you’ve never tried, you don’t know for sure if that would happen.”
Ms. Simone sighed. “Hemi, we can’t take the risk. Our lives here are suitable. They aren’t ideal by any means, but we are at least content.”
Hemi pushed himself away from the table and stood up. His face reddened. “I’m not content! I hate this place. I just want to go home.”
“Sit down, young man!” Ms. Simone yelled. Hemi glared at her for a moment and then took his seat. “That’s better,” she said before continuing. “Do you think any of us want to be here? No, we don’t. We all want to go home. But even if we did find a way to return to the Earth we knew, we have no idea what kind of world we would return to. All we have is what is here and now and you’d better learn to be content with it.”
Hemi rested his head on the table. He knew Ms. Simone was right. If only he had his friends with him, then he could withstand anything. But for the moment, he just felt so alone. Slowly, he raised his head and looked up into Ms. Simone’s brown eyes.
“I will try,” Hemi whispered.
“Very well. Now, I heard you’ve been asking questions about the Temple.”
Hemi perked up. “Yes! I want to see inside the Temple. Please?”
“I am afraid not.”
“But why not? Why is it the only room off limits?”
Just then, a small stone door opened behind them. Ethan and Nellie stepped into the alcove. Ms. Simone stood up and joined the other two.
“Show him,” Ms. Simone said.
The three of them pulled up the sleeves of their white gowns and turned their arms inward. Black lines trailed up and down their arms.
Hemi’s eyes grew wide and he let out a gasp. “What’s wrong with you?”
“We’ve been going into the temple for too many years now, Hemi. Our blood is no longer red. It is now replaced with some black, tarry substance,” Ethan explained.
“I just want a quick peek. Surely that wouldn’t cause my blood to turn black, would it?”
“It would begin the process, Hemi. Day by day, your blood would change. We cannot allow that to happen to anyone else in this settlement,” Nellie said.
“But you three seem okay.”
Ms. Simone pulled her sleeves back down. “Looks are deceiving.”
Hemi rubbed his eyes and shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
Nellie walked over to Hemi and placed a hand on his arm. “We are dying, Hemi. That’s why we cannot put anyone else at risk.”
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.