Zanzibar – Part 23
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.”
This is now a round-robin between Keith Channing and I.
If you missed a chapter, 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, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22
or Jump ahead to Part 24