Zanzibar – Part 11
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.
or Jump ahead to Part 12