In a small, middle-class Southern California municipality
there lived a woman named Faith Waters. On the surface she
appears to be the epitome of the domesticity -- a loving wife, a respected
member of the community and a generally well-liked person. But what was hidden
beneath the pleasing countenance of this woman?
xxxxA young man found out one day when he attempted to rob the domicile where Faith and her husband Lemar resided. This thief was confronted by this stately woman and, after being physically mauled, mutilated and flat-out killed in a violent feminine frenzy of blood-thirsty rage and revenge.
xxxxMeanwhile, in the far-flung future, a young man rebels against his elders and the wise words of friends and family when he ... using a time-traveling vehicle ... makes an outlandish attempt of fleeing from his future period of habitation in order to flee to the past. The past where Faith Water resides....
IN THE PRESENT
Dear Officer Hope,
Just thought I'd drop you a line and give you the informa- tion about myself that you requested. First off, my name is Deacon. I was born the youngest of two children to a native California couple named Manly and Summer.IN THE FUTURE
My folks met while Mama was majoring in economics at UCLA and Pop was doing accounting and playing football for their rivals at USC. Around the time I was two or three it was discovered that Mama had some kind of congenital heart disorder, so Pop moved us away from Los Angeles and to the calmer surroundings of Estrella Grande, California. We were there only a year when Mama died. Still, Pop wouldn't move us back to the big city. You see, he'd gotten rather used to the slow-paced life in Estrella Grande. My older brother, Junior, was comfortable in any environment. But I hated that small town.
And I never hated it more than on report card day, for every adult I encountered on my way home from school felt it was his or her duty to peruse my grades and pass judgement upon me. The people of that town just got a kick out of casting a warm eye on kids' academic accomplishments ... and berating our failures or lack of improvement. The people who lived in this town were either elderly or of the generation of African Americans born and reared in communities where it's people acted as a support group for each other -- towns that followed that old damn African proverb that it takes an entire village to raise a child. Yeah, I appreciate the people of that town now that I'm a bit older, but when I was eight years old I couldn't help but feel as if I was living on the outskirts of hell.
The people in Estrella Grande did things as their parents had done them, and though some outsiders complain that their ways seem rather ultraconservative by today's standards, I never once saw a drug dealer or gang banger in my neighborhood. Indeed, the most controversial figure in town was Jasper Peace, a refugee sixties hippie who was known to make homemade wine in the den of his home. Yes, the populace of Estrella Grande were (and still are) solid -- retaining the values of community and caring that seem almost alien to the masses ensconced in big cities.
But, like I said, I didn't appreciate this fact when I was eight and had to face these people with the slip of paper advertising my usually less than perfect scholastic performance. I remember one report card day in particular when I was trying my best to sneak past Old Man Handy's place by crouching low behind the cars parked along the street. I had just about made it past his house when I heard a gravely voice call out,"Deacon, don't think I can't see yo nappy head behind that Buick, boy! Get yo tail over here."I made my way over to the old man and stood awkwardly before him. I can't tell you how nervous this senior citizen, who was of absolutely no relation to myself, made me. I felt as if I were awaiting judgement from my school's stern principal. He was tall, dark-brown and big-boned with a thatch of gray -- almost white -- hair. He was retired from full-time carpentry work, but still did repairs and such for friends and relatives. If they asked him nicely, that is.
He took my report card, scanned it thoroughly, then looked at me with clear disdain,"You got a D in history, boy. I can almost forgive the C you got in language, but this D here is unacceptable, hear?"I nodded fearfully, inwardly praying that Pop would still be working after hours in Bridgeport by the time I made it home.
"But I got an A in math," I protested.
"Well, good for you. But this A in math don't change the D in history. I'm sure you an' yo Daddy gon' have words about it.""I think you got it easy. Yo Daddy ain't got nearly as heavy a hand as mine did when I was a boy. On report card day I'd be near to bustin' my bladder with nervousness. If my report card was good, Daddy'd give me a pat on the head and some change to buy my fill at the candy store. If my card was bad, I'd wake up on the floor with a loose jawbone."The look of surprise that came to my face didn't appear because I actually believed the tale he was telling me -- I knew the carpenter was just yanking my chain. What shocked me was the idea that there were actually things like report cards and school in existence when Old Man Handy was a boy.
Anyway, I took off from the Handys' place and had just hit the corner of Aspen and Nichols when Miss Baker spotted me while in the throes putting up her laundry. She was a widow with a bright smile and a laugh that was almost as big as she was. I liked her a lot, bu -- as you may have already guessed -- I was loathed to show her my report card."Let me have it, Deacon," she asked patiently.Then she abruptly turned and went into the house. She returned after a few moments with a cordless telephone.
"Let you have what?" I asked innocently.
"Your report card. They were given out today, weren't they?"
"No," I lied. "They don't give them out to us till ... till next week I think!"
"You think? Are you telling me the truth, Deacon?"
"Yes, ma'am," I replied, looking down at my sneakers.
"Wait right there a moment," she ordered."What're you doin'?" I asked, perplexed.Apparently waiting for someone on the other end to pick up. After a few moments she spoke into the receiver saying,
"I'm calling your father," she said, beginning to dial. "If he's home, I'm sure he'll tell me just exactly which day the report cards are due to be handed out."
"But he ain't home," I said, inwardly praying that my words were true.
"We'll see," Miss Baker said firmly, phone to her ear."Hello, Manly? This is Charity Baker."My heartbeat raced. Pop was home!
Miss Baker continued,"I was just wondering if you happened to know which day the report cards from Deacon's school were supposed to be handed out. Today? Are you sure? Well, that's not what I heard from...."The stately woman finally happened to notice me jumping up and down and waving my arms like a chicken on crack to get her attention."Manly, will you hold on a second?"Miss Baker put her hand over the mouthpiece and gazed at me,"Boy, what on earth are you doing?"I stopped jumping around,"Please don't tell Pop I lied to you!"She looked at me closely. Everyone knew that my Pop raised me and Junior rather hard. You see, he figured that me and my brother had to be at least as hard as himself in order to make it in this cold, mean world. But in the process of teaching us to survive, he damn-near killed us on several occasions.
"So you want me to lie to your father to cover up for one of your lies? Now why should I do that?"
" 'Cause you know how mad he'll get if he finds out I lied to you. You know how hard he'll beat me," I said earnestly. "If you love me, you won't tell him."
I waited for Miss Baker's decision."Will you show me your report card?"She nodded, then calmly hung up the phone!
"Yes," I said resignedly. "Yes, I'll show it to you.""Hey, you just clicked-off Pop without even sayin' goodbye," I observed.My heart leaped with joy. This meant that there was still a chance that Pop wasn't home yet from Bridgeport. I was so elated that now I didn't really mind handing my report card over to Miss Baker all that much. What I did mind was the delicious aroma of fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies wafting out of her house. Because of my grades, it was for certain that I would not be allowed to partake of nary a morsel.
"There was no one on the phone, silly boy. I can always tell when you're trying to fool me, but apparently you don't have instincts keen enough to warn you when somebody's trying to do the same to you."
She eyed the card with a placid expression. Then looked at me with mock disappointment,"You can do better than this, Deacon."Head hung low, I continued my journey homeward. The next person I encountered was stocky Jasper Peace -- former hippie and alleged pot-grower and wine-maker. I handed him my report card without him even having to ask for it. He scanned it carefully and flashed me a crooked grin,
"I know," I mumbled, retrieving my card."Hey, you pulled up your math grade!"I swear, I wanted to hug him.
After a few moments of further perusal, he handed me back my card. He saw my sullen expression,"Hey, it's a lot better than last time, Deek. Why you so down, man?"Jasper leveled his deep, black eyes on me,
" 'Cause I know it ain't good enough for Pop. I don't know what he's gonna do when he sees the D that I got in history.""The secret is to try to give this news to him while he's riding high on something else. I know your Dad ... it's hard for him to shift gears once he gets going on something. So first you tell him about the A you got in math, and how your teacher has commented on how much you've improved. And while your father's heart is just overflowin' with pride -- Pow! -- you let him know about the D in history."Though I didn't tell Jasper, I knew that the only hope I had of getting through the rest of the day unscathed was if Pop stayed after hours in Bridgeport, like he sometimes does. And when he stays after hours he usually doesn't return home until long after Junior and I are in bed. By morning he'll surely punish me for my grades, but he won't have the necessary zeal to give me a whipping.
" 'Pow' is right," I mumbled, thinking about Pop's large fists and what they could do to me.
After waving a fond goodbye to Jasper, I made my way down Fellowes Street. From the corner I could see our neighbor's flower bed, my own house and, God have mercy, my Pop's car parked in the driveway! Doom.
Sighing pitifully I made my way into the house, retrieved my report card from my pocket, and handed it to Pop who looked it over, frowned for a few moments, glared at me intently, and said,"You know what this means don't you?"I nodded.
At thirty-eight, Pop radiated paternal power. Though he was probably ten pounds overweight for his height of six feet even, his well-muscled arms and legs made this fact hardly noticeable. Bald by choice, his skin was the same toffee brown as Junior and me. His eyes were a kind of hazel, lighter even than my own clear brown ... and much harder.
And these hard eyes bore down on me like an iron weight that day.
Pop patted his stomach. It had just the slightest trace of flab,"You know how worried I am about developing a paunch, but I made a bet with myself. I bet myself a cola that you would come home with a report card that I would be satisfied with ... and a beer if it was one that would really piss me off."Pop tried to stifle a laugh, but was unsuccessful at it.
"Well, then I guess it's Miller time."
I myself felt a sudden jolt of hope. I had made Pop laugh; I had wiped the hard sternness from his face and had returned, though only for a second, the friendly laughing man I vaguely remembered from the time before Mama died. I even dared to think that there might be a chance that he would let my bad report card slide for once.
No such luck.
Before I even knew what was happening, Pop had grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and was dragging me towards the bedroom. I didn't even have time to get out a few good pleas for mercy before I was bent over. I was whacked across my seat with that belt I don't know how many times ... and it hurt like hell! Pop whipped so hard that even jeans were no protection.
When it was over, Pop had settled down into the living room with his beer, while I was left alone in the bedroom. My seat was stinging too badly to touch, so I just lay face down across my bed and cried into my mattress. (I found out days afterward that I hadn't gotten whipped because of the bad grade, but rather because of the teacher's comments on the back of the card -- a paragraph about how much cutting up I do in class) I was hurt to my very eight-year-old core.
Later that evening, still full of the fury and humiliation that all kids feel after experiencing that kind of punishment, I stealthily climbed out of my bedroom window and stole away from home with a duffle bag full of supplies. I can't exactly remember where I thought I was going. I only vaguely recall wanting to make Pop sorry.
I had traveled about a block down the street when I heard yelling. It was Faith and Lamar Waters. They were a youngish couple and well-liked in the neighborhood. But on this particular night they didn't seem to like one another all that much. Even from where I stood on the sidewalk I could hear Lamar yelling and knocking over furniture. I waited and listened for the thwack of his open hand connecting with Faith's face, but none came. I don't know why I was even expecting it. Lamar would never hit Faith, no matter how angry he got. He was cool -- always insisted that I call him by his first name. He had slicked-back black hair, and heavily hooded dark eyes that were both warm and faintly glowing with an inner intensity. He stood just under six feet and was in excellent physical condition from playing racquetball and shooting hoops.
After a few moments of listening to the yelling and rumblings I saw him storm right out the front door of the house with his coat. Then, cursing all the while, he made his way to the driveway, hopped into his Lexus and started it up. He drove off just as Faith appeared on the front porch. We both watched as the Lexus faded off into the distant evening. Once he was completely out of sight, I turned to her. She was twenty-six years old and the most beautiful woman in the world next to the memory of my Mama. She had brownish red hair extensions that hung down to her waist, amber-flecked, widely spaced brown eyes, a full and unbelievably luscious mouth, and a dimpled chin."Deacon, what are you doing out at this hour?" she asked, seeming to forget all about her husband.I didn't know how, but the look she cast in my direction seemed to tell me that she knew all about my running away. Certainly she, like everyone else in the neighborhood, was aware that it was report card day. Looking back I can see how It wouldn't be too hard to piece together the reason why I was roaming the streets alone at night with a full duffle bag slung over my shoulder.
"It's only around nine o' clock," I replied."Well, as long as you're out here, how about joining me for a drink on the porch swing?" she said after a moment. "I've got hot chocolate brewing on the stove."I nodded, suddenly aware of how cold I was getting.
As nice as Faith was at this time, I found it hard to believe that she had once killed an intruder in her home several months earlier. It happened on a Saturday when she and her friend Katrina Street had returned home from mall-hopping. They had just parked the car in the garage when they stumbled upon a handsome, muscular young man riffling through the carefully stacked crates near the parked Lexus. He was five feet ten with red hair and blue eyes. He had tattoos on both hands and multiple piercings in one ear.
The youth's name was Owen Lawless, a young methamphetamine addict so focused on appropriating something worth stealing that he didn't notice the two women until it was too late.
Faith and Katrina was upon Owen before the red-haired thief even saw them clearly. They pushed him against the side of a parked Lexus, prodding him with the sharp-edges of their nail-studded wooden planks.
The stately woman had the most hateful eyes the young thief had ever gazed into."Meth-head?" Faith asked.It was a lie of course.
"No," Owen replied timorously."Come on, Faith," Katrina said nervously.She could see that any fear within her good friend had been replaced by hate,"Just bop this boy upside the head hard enough to knock him out so we can call the police."The stately woman ignored her friend. She slapped her red-haired young victim across the face several times,"Parasite," she spat.He pushed the point of the bat into Owen's chest,"My brother Devon was killed by a thieving little amphetamine addicted bastard like you?"Owen could only stare at her, wide-eyed and terrified. He had come to rob for some quick cash ... not engage in anything physical."I promised myself if someone ever tried to pilfer anything from MY home I'd make sure it was the LAST home he'd ever rob from!" the stately woman said, tapping the bat harshly against the red-haired thief's muscled chest.Owen realized right then and there that he was in more trouble than he had even imagined. Even Faith's friend Katrina, who had previously displayed a modicum of mercy, was now staring at him with murder in her eyes.
He watched as the woman with the corn-rows in her hair removed her belt from around her waist. The other stately woman -- the one who was called Faith -- seemed to be deciding on whether to use the buckle-end of her belt or the spiked wooden plank.
The terrified thieving youth felt a warm trickle of pee slide ignominiously down his leg,"N-no ... p-please...."But Owen Lawless' pleas fell on deaf ears. And now the red-haired thieving youth heard his feet move on the ground as he faced away from the two angry women ... felt Faith's hand grip his leg and spin him back around to her."Nope ... you're gonna watch this, boy," the stately woman snarled and raised her nail-studded plank.The thieving youth was slammed to the ground by two of the women. The first thing he saw when his red head cleared was a nail studded blank descending towards him. He watched helplessly as the weapon shot down out of the air like a wooden thunderbolt.
With a meaty thud it smacked into Owen's thigh, stuck to the lad for a moment then slid off leaving several deep, pierce wounds that began to bleed almost immediately. The pain made the red-haired youth contort first then shriek then arch his back as the stately woman swung the weapon again.
This time the plank ripped into his stomach and stayed there until Faith yanked it free with gory tear. As Owen howled and jerked around he felt hot trickles of blood down his chest and gut.
The stately woman took half a step back and swung harder, a long whistling lateral swing.
The nail-studded plank smashed into the right side of the thieving red-haired youth's rib-cage, right into the bones which felt as if they had splintered upon impact, ripping a gash in his pale skin as he screeched. With all her strength Faith swung the weapon down across Owen's left rib-cage hoping to smash clear through to the boy's lung. The spiky nails beached in him as he began coughing up blood and gasping as the stately woman tore the plank-back and swung it again right into the soft yielding flesh of his stomach."Uugggggggg!" Owen grunted, his body curving at the waist, red-head rising, face twisted in agony.He rolled over onto his stomach."Bastard!" the stately woman spat.Then swung the plank in a downward swoop into his victim's back as Owen rolled over and made his chest rise perpendicular to his legs. Then he rolled back over on this stomach."AAAAAHHHHH!" the red-haired screamed as the nail-spikes filled his left ass cheek.It began to seep blood as the leader tore the plank out of him and swung it again.
The bat then smashed into the side of his leg.
Owen felt the power of the blow all the way to his hip as the stately woman yanked the plank out of his victim.
She then stepped back again and swung hard and buried the nail-spiked weapon into her victim's ass-cheek again. As Owen screamed as Faith tore into him ... kicking her young victim away with her foot to pry the spikes out of the red-haired youth's butt-muscles, starting his victim on a pendulum swing as Owen rotated ... bleeding and crying ... his hands reaching out beseechingly, his eyes looking for pity as the stately woman mercilessly pounded the plank into his rump-flesh yet again ... and into the backs of his thighs, blood flying ... blood running down the youth in rivulets. Blood even bespattered the women's legs and stomachs.
Faith's corn-rolled friend Katrina began to whip the red-haired victim's back with the buckle end of her belt ... placing deep gouge-cuts on either side of Owen's spine, and several in his shoulder blades. Owen's gasping shrieks melted into choking, coughing gasps as blood drooled down his body in streams.
Stately Faith was smiling now, a broad evil, even-teethed grin as she swung the nail-spiked wooden plank into the back of her victim's knees. Each brutal blow she delivered was harder than the one before as she sank the spiked plank into the back of the young thief's knees and ass."AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!" the red-haired youth screamed.His eyes were very wide, his body shuddering traumatically then spasming as he mercifully lost consciousness.
Faith stopped her assault upon seeing that the thief had passed out, but Katrina responded to the red-haired boy's helplessness by retrieving a butcher's knife from her friend's kitchen and returning to the garage.
Katrina positioned the deadly point of the blade to the left side of Owen's throat, midway down the neck, taking his chin in hand to tilt the head back for a good, clean thrust.
There was a soft squishing sound as the honed steel slid effortlessly through the skin and into the delicate, vital inner structure of the throat to sever the windpipe. Just as swiftly, it withdrew, a little gurgling foam of blood following it to snake its way down over Owen's upper body.
A gout of blood issued from the thief's mouth and his head flopped over to one side, his bright blue eyes closed, his face a portrait of suffering as the life began ebbing away from within his anguished form.
When the police arrived, the entire bloody, murderous incident was chalked up to a case of self-defense. You remember that, don't you Officer Hope? After all, you were one of the people who saw to it that neither Faith or Katrina were charged with murder.
Anyway, back to the present....
After Faith retrieved two mugs of cocoa from inside the house, we sat on the porch swing and rocked ever so gently in the cool night air."Why did Lamar leave?" I asked, sipping the steaming brown liquid.She patted my shoulder and smiled rather wryly,"Oh, it's nothing really. It's just that Lamar sometimes has a hard time dealing with a woman so powerful and wise as myself. I was offered a top management position in Danville, you see, and my man isn't too thrilled about the idea of us moving in order to advance my career. Now, had he gotten that job he wanted in San Luis Obisbo, we would already be packed and ready to go. Lamar rarely acts this way, but sometimes, sometimes he has trouble believing that he's married to a woman who's, at the very least, his equal. What can I say, he's just a man. He doesn't want me to take the position an...."I nodded. My eight-year-old self didn't fully understand the depths of her current marital woes, but I was willing to do what I could to alleviate them,
"I don't want you to take it either," I said, using my feet to kick my supply-filled duffle bag under the swing.
"Deacon, don't tell me you're corrupted already!"
"If takin' the job means you gotta move, I hope you don't take it. I love you, Faith. You an' Lamar. I don't want y'all to go."
"Aw, baby, we love you too," she laughed and draped an arm across my shoulders. "As a matter of fact, I'm not taking the position. And I'm not taking it because of Lamar or even you, cutie. It's just that a position with that much responsibility would require too much of my time. You see, I want kids, Deacon. If Lamar had taken the time to hear me out, he wouldn't be off sulking right now.""I'm glad your stayin'. And even if you don't ever have any kids, you still got me."She hugged me with one arm,"Because of Lamar's funky attitude, I almost wish I was taking the position. These days women aren't apologizing for taking their rightful place in this world. And sometimes our place is both in the maternity ward and in the board room. Men, and even some women, see a contradiction in the terms 'mother' and 'businesswoman'. Not me. Not if a man can be both a father and a businessman. I know you probably don't understand half of what I'm tel...."She had stopped in mid-sentence upon seeing what I myself had spotted in the distant, star-filled sky. Something shining brightly, cycloid-shaped and solid, moved quickly across the sky from east to west. It might have been a weather balloon (whatever the heck that was) or maybe some new sort of ultra-secret, NASA-created airplane. I didn't know what it was, but the sight of that glowing ember streaking across the heavens made my heart leap in my throat. Not in fear, but in wonderment."Whatever it was looked as if it crashed not too far away from here!" I whispered in awe.Faith waved the whole notion away with her well-manicured hand,"Please! It was probably a meteor or comet or something. Things like this happen all the time ... I guess. Anyway, I think they burn up as they come through Earth's atmosphere. If you went out looking for whatever it was, I bet you'd find nothing but rocky ash."I sat back, and tried to use my feet to cause the porch swing to move just lightly enough to keep my steaming beverage from spilling. I drank my cocoa and glanced thoughtfully at the woman beside me. She was singing now. Softly crooning Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow as we swung gently back and forth. My eyelids began to droop, and I became dimly aware that the cocoa and Faith's voice were lulling me to sleep.
"You prob'ly right," I sighed.
I was almost out when she suddenly asked me,"Will you love me when I'm really old, Deacon?"She laughs softly and begins to sing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. I finally drift off, dreaming of the sun rising in my eyes, the Earth moving in my hand, and the trembling hearts of captive birds.
"Yep," I mumbled drowsily. "Even when you're forty."
It must have been at least an hour later when I felt the first new glimmers of wakefulness. Semi-conscious, I felt somebody taking the empty mug out of my limp hands and lifting me off the porch swing. I couldn't tell who it was, but the beer on his breath was making me nauseous."What happened? He ran away?" said a voice a little ways of in the distance.It was Lamar -- I could tell without even opening my eyes. The faint, day-old scent of his Eternity for Men was as familiar to me as my own nose. He must have returned sometime while I was asleep. But he wasn't the person who had lifted me off the swing. That Budweiser-stenched person was remaining silent for some reason."Tried to," said Faith.And I could almost feel her soft smile in the darkness,"Didn't get more than a block, poor thing."I was just about to sit up and inform everyone that I had every intention of moving on after taking my little cocoa break with Faith. But I was just too sleepy to protest or argue. The nameless, beer-scented person who was carrying me sat down on the porch swing and began to gently stroke my forehead with a rather rough hand. I fell asleep again.
In the morning Pop woke me and Junior up out of our bunk beds,"Rise and shine knuckleheads, breakfast is almost ready."I rolled off the bed to my feet and stood blinking. I actually felt better than I had in quite a while. It was rather hard to smell beacon frying in the morning and not believe that all was right with the world. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I made my way to the bedroom window. No matter how bad the previous day might have been, morning never failed to uplift me. I peered through the semi-frosted pane towards the sun's early brightness, and made out a row of sparrows collecting on a telephone wire across the street.
After Junior had finished, I ambled into the bathroom, washed up, and almost convinced myself that everything that happened the night before had all been a dream.
But, as we sat at the kitchen table stuffing ourselves with pancakes, I heard on the radio about a genuine unidentified flying object reported in our vicinity. Also Junior had turned to me at the conclusion of the morning meal and said,"The next time you take my duffle bag without asking, I'll break your arm."Well, I guess I've used up the allotted number of pages I'm able to send to you at once. I'll make the time to fax again real soon and give you the rest of the story. I'll try and give it to you as straightforward as I can, and maybe you'll even believe me when I tell you that every word is true. Love Ya!
Very sincerely yours,
Arcangelo awoke in cool sheets, on a soft mattress. Rubbing his eyes, the drowsy youth looked past the foot of his bed at his familiar surroundings; a low white ceiling, intricately carved arabesques, walls of cherry wood paneling, curtains of soft, fine silk draped around the bed.
Climbing out of bed, he saw that shafts of early morning sunlight were beaming down upon the glass, semi-circular tank located in the far right corner of his room. Within this transparent container, it's shelled body moving at an unbearably slow pace, was his pet box turtle. A box turtle that was perceptively hungry.
Realizing that he was already late for class, Arcangelo hurried outside without even bothering to dress himself in order to pick a few plants for his pet's breakfast. So he stooped down in an area rich with white and gold jasmine, mint-leaf plants, full-stemmed roses and dazzling purple bougainvillaea. While he was picking, he happened to spot young Porter Rivers sprawled atop the cream-colored stone fence that kept one from falling over the cliffs upon which several dwellings were situated. The boy had electric orange hair that capped probing green eyes and a pug nose dusted with freckles.
"Hey, Port, will you do me a favor?" asked Arcangelo, approaching the boy with the plants still clutched in his hands.He motioned towards the structure from which he had just emerged,
"Sure," replied the boy amiably, "What is it?"
"I am almost late for class, but I still have not given my turtle his breakfast."
"Could you take these plants in there and feed them to him?"He knew that it was strictly forbidden to keep animals in captivity,
"You're keeping a pet turtle in there?" the boy asked in an awed tone.
"What do you call him?"The boy giggled.
"His name is Alexander Steven Eddings -- Bob for short."
"So will you feed him for me ... and keep quiet about him to everyone?"Porter nodded and eagerly accepted the clump of leafy greens that Arcangelo handed him. Ruffling the boy's hair in appreciation, the insurgent youth rushed off to take a quick bath. As he traversed, he noticed the starlight reflecting off the gold and crystal spires of the great Temple of the Masters in the far distance. The Temple's towers graced the azure sky along with tall white birch trees and leafy oaks. The were buds blooming on the trees. Whooping cranes and cockatiels wheeled over the rim of the silver courtyards, casting their shadows over fields and fields of daffodils and hyacinths.
After cleansing himself, Arcangelo took time out to stand naked before the mirror-like crystal waters of one of the bath-house's receptacles. He can see his reflection clearly in spite of the heavy steam wafting above and around him. It revealed a perfectly normal teenager, though a trifle tall for his age. His blonde, almost golden hair tumbled across his forehead in unmanageable curls. Though his complexion was somewhat dark -- a golden-brownish tan -- his cheeks were rosy and easily flushed. And his deeply tanned skin coloring was set off uniquely by bright, twinkling gray eyes.
He was just about slip on clean clothes when Sly Rivers, Porter's older brother, beckoned him out onto the courtyard. Wrapping a towel around his waist, Arcangelo left the bathhouse to join him. The air outside was somewhat cool, but it felt almost pleasurable as it played against the youth's slightly damp skin. The very second he was confronted by the older man, the insurgent youth knew that Porter had told him about Bob.
"You can't go off to class without some sort of sustenance," Sly said, calmly handing Arcangelo a glass of milk and a freshly baked tart.But the insurgent youth just stared at the victuals, wondering just how much trouble he was in.
"Porter tells me you keep a pet turtle in your home," said the older man.Arcangelo shrugged,
"Guess so."Arcangelo shrugged again, eyes cast downward towards the bare earth.
"You are aware that doing such is forbidden."
"Animals and such have not been kept in captivity since the days before The Morning Glow. Why would you do such a thing?"The older man narrowed his eyes on the youth,
"Vainglorious, Sly!" said Arcangelo, half-shouting his favorite interjection. "The turtle is over a hundred years old ... it belonged to my grandfather It is the only trace of him that I own. And it was born in captivity long before The Morning Glow. It probably would not survive if I just set it free."
"I sincerely doubt that, Arcangelo, so why don't we jus...."
"Please do not make me set it free, Sly. It is the only link I have to my family's past."
"Are you sure that you truly want any links with your family's past? Your grandsire, I understand, was one of the traitors who helped The Adversary to rise to power."To Arcangelo it sounded as if Sly's voice was coming from far off. Up until this very moment, everyone had been polite enough not to verbalize the truth about the insurgent youth's shameful familial past ... at least not in his presence. Now here it was, out in the open for the first time. His grandfather, whom he'd never known, had indeed conspired diligently (thought unwittingly) to bring The Adversary to Power many years ago.
And, upon The Adversary's defeat at the hands of The Chief Shepherd, he was allegedly destroyed along with the rest of the "traitors". In the quintessential, peaceful world that arose after this climatic duel, the tranquil youth was left alone. Of course he had countless friends who loved him dearly, but there was no one to whom he could claim to share blood ties with from the previous world.
Sly, obviously, could see the want in the gray eyes of this cherubic young man. Though Arcangelo's grandfather was indeed a known traitor, the youth's face took on a special kind of quality whenever he spoke of this long-dead relative; it glowed with an inner light, and it begged people to understand his longing to experience the enchancement of a flesh and blood kinship.
The older man reached out a hand and ruffled Arcangelo's already carelessly tousled hair,
"Don't be too angry with Porter. He honestly didn't want to let your secret slip, but when I saw him emerging from your dwelling and confronted him about just what he'd been doing in there ... well, he just broke down and told me everything. There aren't many people left who are as adept at lying as you are, Arcangelo."These words weren't meant to cause the young man more shame, but that's precisely what they did. Arcangelo knew that it wouldn't be long before his eyes would begin to feel the sting of hot tears.
"I hope you know that you've placed me in an awkward position. Porter, in the short time he's spent with your turtle, has fallen in love with it. Now how am I supposed to convince him that it has to be set free?"Arcangelo shrugged, eyes still cast downward.
Sly gently lifted the young man's chin,
"You're a good boy, Arcangelo, and I have all the faith in the world that you'll do the right thing. Now eat-up and finish dressing yourself. You're already late for class as it is."After devouring his haphazard meal, Arcangelo journeyed to class clothed in white muslin pants and a white long-sleeved muslin shirt. Cinched around his waist was a belt of corded silk and his sandals were painstakingly constructed of plated reeds, but had the appearance and almost the feel of finely tooled leather.
The journey was long, but not unpleasant. The cube-shaped city he lived in was a large one, and it's architecture had a level of sophistication that was equal in each of it's four corners. Corners that each possessed their own specific purpose and cultural ambiance; and in it's center there was the "gathering place" -- where those that dwelled in the four corners came together to share, sample and exchange ideas and the like. It was here that the schools were located.
His own school was a wall-less structure, no more than an intricately carved wooden frame. And directly encompassing it was a meadow -- growing around it in a perfect circle -- and beyond that was a garden of innumerable varieties of plants and flowers stretching all the way down to a place known as the Spring of the Steps. Arcangelo noticed the numerous bees humming over this foliage as he jaunted along -- an indication that future honey hunting expeditions would be easy. He bypassed a hundred or more young people of every size, shape, and color who were hurrying in several directions, late (as he himself was) for their morning classes.
In this center of the city there were none of the banal tensions that were so common in the world that existed before the Morning Glow. They had no need to fear, hate or envy one another, for their disagreements (should any arise) could be taken up to The Chief Shepherd -- the One in whose sight they were all equals. They could deal with each other as true siblings -- sometimes in argument, but most often in jocular aplomb. From the very moment of The Adversary's imprisonment, there was no barrier between them. They were no longer the flesh and blood shadows of themselves, but pure beings made whole and almost -- but not quite -- in complete light.
In the world that was, there were those who hated. There were those who were driven to hatred, and also those who loved, nurtured and cherished hatred. There were those who'd been crushed under so thoroughly that they could never imagine, not even in their wildest dreams, of taking the hand of their despised enemy in tender reliance. But in the blink of an eye on Mount Zion, a great blessing was bestowed upon them. A blessing that not only cleared away the cobwebs from their slumbering minds, but also healed their hearts and reconciled them to the siblings that they never knew they had. Their spiritual kinship was made in less than an instant, and no amount of blood or collection of genes could more firmly bind them.
There were, of course, exceptions. Arcangelo was one of them.
All the diverse, flowering inhabitants from the city's four corners acted as water to one another -- an elemental source from which they grew by. But Arcangelo was always left of center -- his rebellious comments set those who feared self-corruption on guard. His actions often bordered on the unlawful, and even his physical make-up seemed inappropriate for this world, or even the world that existed before The Morning Glow.
It shouldn't have been so difficult for him, for no one despised or disliked him because of his looks or actions. They were, however, quite worried for him. Though the Morning Glow had come, those who inhabited the city were still mortal, and would remain so for a millennium afterward. There was still a chance that one might rebel against the Chief Shepherd and, if they are judged incorrigible, find themselves wiped out of the very fabric of resistance. Like an erased computer program. Many of the older men would all make attempts at bestowing the guiding influence of a father on the youth ... for in this world no one had one particular father but The Chief Shepherd himself. But Arcangelo, though not always purposely, resisted. No one was quite sure what to do about this young man who seemed permanently out of step.
The insurgent youth walked inland from a natural creek, stepping gingerly into the thickness of trees that proceeded the garden. It was within these clumps of foliage that one could almost hear nature speak. Though there was no breeze now, the treetops rustled and were alive with bird song. Strutting towards the meadow that precariously surrounded the school, he kicked in his sandals with the other students' on a long mat of straw bordering the tall fescue plants. The dew-covered stone path which led to the wall-less structure was cool on his bare feet. He happened to catch a glimpse of a small group of larks, aligned and unmoving, atop the wooden structure of his school. They were all silent but, in the clump of trees from which he'd just emerged, the blue jays were still happily screeching their hearts out.
Arcangelo finally made his way into the shading wooden frame, his feet wet with dew from the stone path and the grassland, then joined his fellow students within the sanctum. They were an intent, but comfortable, passel of bodies; bare-footed, bare-legged, and bare-chested as they knelt, sat and lay in a semi-circle around the teacher. Their only tools were the .22 x .28 meter computers positioned on their laps or situated before them. A tool that Arcangelo, in his haste to make it to class on time, forgot to bring with him. This wasn't much of a problem, however. He was sure that his good friend, Reinhold, would share.
Mr. Potter, the teacher, was six feet tall with virile good looks in spite of an unworldly wide nose. He was a cocoa brown man possessing thick black hair with patches of premature gray here and there. He had penetratingly dark brown eyes, a bushy beard (with a perfect streak of gray down its center) and a generous mouth.
He was strict, but also nurturing and obliging. Not one of his students' questions was ever too trivial. In his class you were taught to think as your own person and find the immeasurable value in thinking as an individual. His students found peace and pleasure in pursuing all of their unrealized potential. In Mr. Potter's class -- indeed in every class throughout the center of the city -- students were challenged to expand the love and intelligence that they already possessed inside. And though the goal to be the most loving and intelligent person possible was not a competitive goal, they strived hungrily.
"Glad you could join us, Arcangelo," commented Mr. Potter sincerely as the insurgent youth settled down beside his friend, Reinhold.Mr. Potter sighed thoughtfully and ran his fingers through his own head of silky black curls,
"I apologize for being late, Mr. Potter," Arcangelo mumbled.
"It is all right. We were just delving into a discussion concerning love in Western Civilization during the years prior to the Morning Glow."
"Prior to The Morning Glow?" commented Arcangelo, perplexed. "Vainglorious, teacher... can we really call that love?"
"I couldn't do this before The Morning Glow," he often said, laughing, but with an edge of seriousness in his voice.The teacher often mentioned a time when his hair actually felt as kinky and rough as it looked -- a time when an attempt to run one's hand through his tangled thatch was an invitation to receive cut fingers. Now, though his hair still looked like a gnarled black mass, it moved with the slightest breeze or close exhalation of human breath. At the precise instant of The Morning Glow, the Earth was somehow thrown off it's axis, resulting in a drastic change in atmospheric conditions. The most noticeable results of this was the rapid drying of the oceans and an increased moistening of the human population.
Arcangelo's friend Reinhold looked up from the computer in his lap,
"In the world before The Morning Glow, most people were taught from the cradle to the grave that it's best to 'contain' their emotions and feelings. Laughing out loud at what you thought was funny, or crying openly about what you thought was sad was an invitation to be ridiculed or branded puerile."Mr. Potter nodded,
"And this was the dominant factor in the adult male population being handicapped when it came to expressing strong tender feelings. But, I must make it clear, that this handicap was peculiarly dominant only in 'certain' Western Cultures. The French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese were not as emotionally disabled as others."Reinhold nodded. The studious young man was barely five feet four, lithe, with curly dark brown hair and sparkling eyes. He was Arcangelo's oldest friend, his most trusted buddy ... his best pal.
"But there are some traits common to almost every culture. And to both sexes," he said.He was leaning to the left a bit so that Arcangelo could see what he had called up on his computer's view-screen.
Mr. Potter nodded,
"Yes. The art of kissing backsides for the sake of social advancement. But though we frowned upon this practice back then and most certainly now, we cannot judge these people harshly for wanting to be part of a collective. Before The Morning Glow people needed to be loved by others. Without this love they leaned towards mental instability, or they began to emotionally wilt and die like flowers lacking sufficient water or sunshine."Again Mr. Potter nodded,
"Problems arose because of the limited, and often detrimental, choices of the groups to which these people curried acceptance," said Clay, a stocky young student with a thick, blonde fuzz matting his big-boned arms and legs.
"Who can tell me what The Word has to say concerning love? Arcangelo?"The insurgent youth, gray eyes wide with surprise, quickly cleared his throat,
"Uh, It says s-something like, 'And now abideth faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love'. Uh, right?"There was more than a touch of sympathy as well as regret in his voice. He most certainly wished he had not taken the boy off-guard.
"Your confusing love with charity in that particular verse, son," said the teacher.
"How could you possibly get those two mixed up?" Clay asked Arcangelo, almost ridiculing him. "You should spend more time on schoolwork and less hanging around the vehicle hanger."Mr. Potter raised his eyebrows,
"Vehicle hanger? Why would you be interested in what goes on there, Arcangelo?"The insurgent youth replied with his usual shrug. It was true that, for the past several days, he had been spending an unseemly amount of time around one of the hangers where the vehicles were docked.
"I think he's planning on stowing away aboard one of the ships," said Clay, forever the teacher's pet and unsolicited informant.The teacher had marked worry on his face now,
"You shouldn't loiter around the hanger. These thoughts you have of going back through time on a ship are just plain foolish. You know that changing the past is...."Arcangelo lowered his head, his golden curls spilling over his tanned face,
"Do not say it."
"I know already what you are going to say. Changing the past is impossible. But in this class we speak often about how things were before The Morning Glow. We all know now that nothing is impossible. There is a theory that if one were to sling-shot a specially-crafted time-ship backwards around the arms of Orion, it is possible to arrive at any given point in the past with minimum time-loss at the trajectory point."His twinkling gray eyes were wide with earnestness.
He did not mention the fact that he knew all about the new vehicle docked at the hanger -- the Fantasii. A vehicle possessing the capability to traverse backwards and forwards through both time and space at will. He also did not mention the fact that he himself could be bio-cybernetically implanted with a chronol interference troubleshooter chip which would limit the amount of damage he'd cause to the probability fields governing historical events.
In other words, the city possessed the technology to infuse him with an inner alarm clock of sorts which would warn him (should he somehow get the opportunity to actually travel back through time) that he was straying too close to upsetting major portions of the past or future. Still, "time-bending", as the process was often called, was probably illegal. Performing such an act was so unheard of that doing thus was not even mentioned in the written law of the land.
"You will stop entertaining these thoughts of time traversing, Arcangelo?" asked Mr. Potter.Clay angrily leaped to his feet, his computer spilling off his lap,
" 'Maybe' nothing!"
"You've got to cease with this way of thinking immediately. You're already too much of a corrupting influence as it is, Arcangelo. Do you wish to perish as well? Who knows what The Chief Shepherd's penalty is for mucking about with the past. Time-bending is probably the most highest offence!"The teacher took a knife from his pocket, opened it, and carved off a bit of sugar cane,
"The Chief Shepherd would understand my reasons for...."
"You're hopeless!" Clay almost screamed. "Our words will never convince you that absolutely nothing can be gained by going against the will of The Chief Shepherd. The rest of us students may as well say goodbye to you now, for your willfulness will surely be the death of you!"
"Calm yourself, Clay," Mr. Potter ordered sternly.
"Arcangelo will do what he must. A boy's hard-headedness, unfortunately, is a trait that even The Morning Glow could not eradicate."
This earned the teacher a hurt expression from Arcangelo. Mr. Potter managed to erase it easily enough by reaching out a hand and ruffling the youth's curls. When Arcangelo first came under his tutelage, the teacher saw in him a child who almost belonged to the chaotic world outside of the orderly, peaceful city. Most of the youth's teacher's did. In their minds, a young male inhabitant of their city should produce love and encouragement in others so that they can reproduce it back to him and in turn. Arcangelo did this. And a young male of their city should also show unwavering obedience to The Chief Shepherd. Arcangelo most certainly did not. And Mr. Potter had no way of rectifying this situation, for everyone was blessed with free will.
"I know all about your grandsire, Arcangelo," he said gently. "But he lived his life, and then lost it in disgrace. You have your own life to live, and thus far The Chief Shepherd has not judged you unfit to own it. You cannot change the traitorous acts that your grandfather committed, but you can keep yourself from traveling the same willful route that he did."And, at that moment, the insurgent youth was utterly crushed: Hearing his grandfather slandered for a second time in one day, the questioning eyes of his fellow students bearing down on him heavily. Soon Arcangelo was weeping freely, not even bothering to conceal his misery-contorted face. He could not hide or contain his sorrow -- people like Mr. Potter had taught him long ago that such falsely-prideful acts were fruitless.
Reinhold threw an arm around him,
"You're our brother and our son, Arcangelo," he said. "We may not be able to change your mind about this time-bending business, but we can love you. We're your kin."And, as if accenting the studious boy's words, Mr. Potter put a hand on Arcangelo's shoulder. The other students ruffled his hair and patted him, including Clay. Then they all gave him a warm, friendly cuddle.
And Arcangelo -- shedding tears for their heart-felt kindness instead of his own self-pity now -- knew that he was welcomed and that he was loved. But he remained dissatisfied. There was still no real place for him in the city. Or outside of it for that matter. At least not in this present time and place. Somehow, some way, he had to leave.
He REALLY felt the need to leave when Mr. Potter decided to show the class an old holographic disc recording of an event which occurred in the world that was ... an circumstance which transpired decades in the past. Arcangelo couldn't help but suspect that his teacher suddenly felt the need to show this event as a warning ... to show him where the error of his way could lead him.
The tape began with a particularly handsome young man with long blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes positioned on a nondescript bed in a nondescript room. His hands were bound behind his back and was clad in nothing but his underwear.
A beautiful woman named Lauren appeared before a half-naked and bound Corey with a veil her face and a dildo strapped around her waist.
And once Corey was lubricated, she climbed on the bed and knelt over him on all fours, the fake cock hanging obscenely between her legs. She grabbed one of his nipples and twisted it violently, pain shot through his body as she tugged and twisted -- pulled on his sensitive flesh with all her might.
She slapped his handsome face while she clawed his nipples with her other hand. The dildo swung back and forth.
Corey groaned she slapped him over and over. Moaned and pleaded to fucked by her imitation penis.
She reached between his legs and ripped the underwear away from his ass, then positioned the fake cock between his cheeks.
Suddenly, she rammed the phallus into the bound handsome youth's tight ass. He clearly felt a searing pain as the blunt head of it probed deep into the space between his cheeks. She began to ride him, shoving the dildo in and pulling it out over and over. He felt a warmth come over him as she fucked his ass. He even began to push up to meet her thrusts and moaned at the incredible pleasure he was beginning to feel.
The pleasure soon turned to fright when Harriet's best friend Sharleen Jefferson appeared on the scene. Like Lauren, Sharleen was clad in a face-obscuring veil and was wearing a dildo strapped to her waist.
Soon a terrified but helpless Corey was on his knees -- hands bound securely behind his back -- taking Sharleen's dildo down his throat, while still taking Lauren's cock up his ass! He was undulating in a painful orgasm as the two girls fucked both his miserable holes with painful dildos. Sharleen forced her artificial barbed cock deeper into his tight throat, subsequently shredding the soft tissues. She only withdrew when the youth began to cough blood.
After he finished retching crimson he lay there for what seemed an eternity as Lauren explored his body with his trembling, ecstatic hands. The skin was like velvet compassed tautly over hard muscle. The warmth radiating from the youth was delicious and the throb of the pulsing heart echoing in the young flesh was wildly exciting. Even the musky male aroma filling her nostrils was heady and arousing.
And Corey was clearly afraid, as was only proper. In fact, the boy was terrified and that seemed to fire the two girls' lust to new heights.
Sharleen let her fingers slide down into Corey's now exposed, defenseless crotch. She lovingly toyed with the big bulbous man parts for a bit, then secured the twin orbs filling the silken scrotal sac. She pulled on them to stretch the bag out and rolled the ovals around within his fingers, liking the fluid way they oozed around. Corey was so busy moaning with pleasure that he didn't see Lauren retrieve the knife.
Lauren brought the gleaming blade down and let it touch Corey's stretched-out sac.
"No! Please! Not that...."Corey was trembling all over as he realized the woman intended to castrate him,
"Please...!"His whimpering pleas became a deep, gagging cry and his body contracted powerfully as the searing burn began between his parted thighs. The cutting was performed with cruel, studied slowness as Lauren savored each second of the delicious process. The bound youth bucked and thrashed violently against his bonds, his cries becoming screams as his castration moved inextricably towards completion.
The holographic disc recording stopped just as the life could be seen fading from Corey's bright blue eyes. Mr. Potter's class were all stunned silent by what they'd seen. A few were even light-headed with dizziness.
Yes, the images were displayed to dissuade Arcangelo from acting rebelliously, but in truth it had the opposite effect. And the boy's resolve intensified even more upon returning home and discovering that his pet turtle was missing from it's plexiglass container.
"Where is Bob?" Arcangelo asked, confronting young Porter Rivers. "I thought you were guarding him."A new wave of grief rose within Arcangelo ... as well as a certain amount of anger towards the young boy,
"I was," the boy replied brightly. "But Sly came and told me about a special place near the New Jaffa gate where Bob's long lost family lives. I didn't know he had a wife and four kids!"
"So Sly took Bob away to be reunited with his family, huh?"Porter nodded,
"We couldn't keep him separated from his family, could we? That would be wrong."Once again he felt hot tears beginning to threaten his eyes. Sly, who was always so concerned when Arcangelo came close to breaking the rules of the city, had actually gone so far as to break a couple himself by lying to an innocent child (his younger brother of all people) and taking away Arcangelo's turtle. Brazenly stealing the only link the insurgent youth had to his grandfather. I have all the faith in the world that you'll do the right thing Sly had said after confronting Arcangelo about Bob earlier that day. But apparently the older man didn't have any true faith in the insurgent youth ... otherwise he would not have found it necessary to strike with such stealth, manipulation and treachery.
"Vainglorious," the insurgent youth muttered under his breath.
And Arcangelo knew that he would never see Bob again. The area by the New Jaffa gate was inhabited by billions of reptilian and aquatic life-forms. Even if he spent every waking moment of a thousand years searching, he would never be able to locate one medium-sized box turtle. His pet was lost to him forever.
The insurgent youth was just about to depart for the vehicle hanger when he was once again confronted by Sly.
"Where do you think you are going?"These words clearly stung the older man, but his face remained calm,
"Someplace where I can trust the people who claim to be my friends."
"I am sorry about the turtle. But while you were gone It slowly dawned on me that you had no intention of ever parting with it. I had to set if free, Arcangelo. It is the law. Now where are you off to?"Arcangelo, still packing his duffle bag, remained silent. He couldn't explain to the older man how he'd experienced a rush of excitement every time he picked up the turtle ... how he could almost feel his grandfather's presence when he did so. The shelled reptile had been his grandsire's very own pet, and through it the boy was able to touch a living piece of his ancestor's world. Now it was gone. Forever.
"I know where you are going. I cannot say that I am surprised," the older man sighed, then calmly walked out of the room and shut the door behind him.Arcangelo continued hoarding supplies into his duffle bag, amazed that Sly had actually left without giving him a heated argument about traveling to the vehicle hanger. For a while the insurgent youth considered the possibility that everyone in the city had given up on trying to convince him to abandon his plans to traverse back through time. He figured that they'd all finally get it through their heads that his mind could not be changed.
He had just stepped out of his home when he spotted his friend Reinhold,
"Hey, Arc, the creek's full today. Want to go swimming?"Arcangelo glared hard enough to silence his friend,
"Yes, swimming. You know ... the process by which you propel yourself through a body of water by using various arm strokes and leg...."
"I cannot go swimming now, Rein."Arcangelo smiled,
"Got places to go."
"Someplace so important that you can't even take time out for a quick swim? I'm impressed. You must have an audience with The Chief Shepherd Himself."
"Well, I guess I do have time for some swimming. Probably the last chance I will ever have to do it."So the two friends were off.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing. Let us hurry, alright?"
The sun had set, but traveling was no problem for this duo because there was still sufficient light. The Merkavah -- mother-ship of The Most High -- glided smoothly out from behind one of the spires of the Temple and followed them, it's brilliant luminescence reflecting on the dew-covered plants and flowers like billions of tiny stars brought down to earth -- providing these two friends, and everyone else journeying on foot through the city that evening, with more than enough light to travel by. The forest was thick where they now walked, separated here and there by wide fields full of low, flower-sprouting shrubs. Eventually they reached their destination in the area of the city known as Outer Bethesda. There Arcangelo solemnly announced to Reinhold that, should he ever "perish", he could feel free to take possession of his complete collection of Stephen King hardbacks.
"What's all this nonsense about perishing, Arc?" Reinhold asked him, though he wasn't too concerned.He had heard strange talk from his good friend on numerous occasions.
The insurgent youth shrugged,
"You never know, Rein. Even though we are a lot better off than we were before The Morning Glow, we are not immortal. We can still die."Arcangelo waved his words away,
"Yeah, but you'd have to put in a lot of time and effort to do so," replied Reinhold. "Extinguishing The Chief Shepherd's most precious gift to us is not as easy as it used to be."
"Whatever the case, feel free to call my Steven King collection yours if I do somehow manage to die, all right?"Arcangelo did the same. Then both youths wriggled off their outer garments and slipped into the bath-warm pool.
"Sure, Arc," Reinhold replied absently as he kicked off his sandals.
After a couple of hours of swimming, the two waded out of the water and sat down at the pool's edge among the surrounding foliage.
As he stretched himself out on the sand with his arms folded behind his head, Arcangelo said out of the clear blue sky,
"Every day of my life, I dream about going back, Rein. You know, thinking about what I would do to change things so everything would turn out differently."His thin legs were stretched up the trunk of a young spruce tree with his ankles crossed and his bare feet twisting this way and that way to the music of their natural surroundings,
"But your grandfather has already lived his past, Arc. And it's not up to you to change it," Reinhold replied, knowing instinctively what his friend was referring to.
"Time-bending is most-likely illegal, and it's most-certainly immoral. What's done is done."Reinhold brought his legs down from the tree trunk and rolled over onto his stomach. He could now clearly see the hurt bewilderment in his friend's gray eyes,
"But I simply must save my grandfather an...."
"Have you ever considered the possibility that your grandfather may not be worth saving?"
"What I mean is," he began in a softer tone, "The Chief Shepherd was betrayed by him. Your grandfather claimed to be a member of The Faith, but when The Adversary came on the scene, that traitor practically leaped into his hip pocket."Sighing, Arcangelo walked back towards the water, feeling the sand running smoothly under his feet. Though he considered young Reinhold to be his ace boon coon -- his inmost heart -- he could not change the studious boy's mind. But neither could Reinhold change his. They were both far too stubborn. While still damp, he began putting his outer garments back on. He decided to depart the city as soon as was possible.
"That is because he was tricked into it!" Arcangelo shouted, springing to his feet. "The Adversary gave almost everyone the impression that he was The Chief Shepherd Himself! And he was certainly displaying enough power to convince billions of others as well! It is not fair, Rein!"
"The Chief Shepherd is always fair, Arc."
And Arcangelo would never remember how he accomplished all of that -- accompanied Reinhold home, sneaked his way past the watchmen at the vehicle hanger, made it into the area where the vehicles themselves were docked; all that he would remember was that somehow, some way, he managed to accomplish it all in very little time.
He walked through the area tentatively. The gate surrounding the crafts opened as he advanced (as it would have done had anyone advanced). Arcangelo was not too surprised that the vehicles weren't heavily guarded. No one in the city had any reason to steal one of the crafts. Perhaps not even the capability to think of such a thing. There were rebels who turned against The Chief Shepherd and evaded punishment by escaping through time and space within one of the chronol vehicle prototypes, but that had been several years back. Everyone else -- those even rumored to be part of a secret coup against the Chief Shepherd -- were taken away and dealt with rather quickly. Some were currently productive citizens, while others were never seen nor heard from again.
Reinhold's words echoed through his head: Time-bending is most-likely illegal and most-certainly immoral.
As he moved in closer to the crafts, he did feel an electric tingle on his skin. He assumed it was the energized protection fields lifting.
When he got his first up close view of the chronol-star-ship known as the Fantasii, the insurgent youth gasped at the beauty of it: the craft was bathed in a light that seemed to be emanating from within. It shone with a hazy whiteness that split into all the colors of the rainbows when you squinted at it. The metal, a gleaming bronze-like substance, was seamless and incredibly smooth-looking.
"Vainglorious...," he whispered in awe.Arcangelo reached out, touched one of the vehicle's rounded walls ... and came very close to making Reinhold the new owner of a complete collection of Stephen King hardback novels. The protection fields had not lifted, and it lashed out at the unsuspecting young man with full force. There was a shower of gold bolts of energy which spread all over Arcangelo's body in a dozen luminescent streams. An exquisite pain slammed through the insurgent youth, flooded his thoughts with a white-hot blankness. Fiery agony screamed in his thin chest and plunged him into a merciful darkness.
Lapped in cool sheets, consciousness returned slowly. Arcangelo's head blazed with pain. When he finally opened his eyes what he saw made him wonder if someone had carried him home after his unfortunate incident with the protection field. The insurgent youth lay on a comfortable bed in an oval-shaped room with cherry wood paneling and a low, white ceiling.
It wasn't until he saw the chains on each wrist that he realized he wasn't home. These manacles weren't heavy. They didn't restrict your movements in any way. In fact, they were so comfortable that Arcangelo could get out of the bed a stroll casually around the room while wearing them if he desired. But if he attempted to leave the room, an invisible network of sensors within the chains would send a low-voltage jolt of electricity through his body that would be just strong enough to render him unconscious again. The room that he had been put to bed in was a cell. It was comfortable and decorative, but a cell all the same.
Arcangelo curled into a ball on the bed and hugged his knees. He fought back tears, but realized almost immediately that it was a losing, senseless battle. He thought about how close he had gotten to climbing aboard the Fantasii, and he could feel the hot wetness gathering up in his eyes and streaming down his face. He realized now that there was absolutely no way he could help his grandfather, and he began to twist and knot his body in rails of agony while still in the fetal position. He quaked with unbearable anguish, his tears soaking into the white sheets.
He wept long and hard.
He awoke exhausted hours later. This time, Arcangelo realized, Sly and Reinhold were standing together at the opposite end of the room, both peering out of the circular window. Reinhold turned towards his direction when the insurgent youth began to stir. Sly, however, did not turn around. In fact he made no sign whatsoever that he was aware of Arcangelo's return to consciousness.
The pain in Reinhold's tearing eyes, however, was clear and strong. Without him saying a word, the insurgent youth knew that his good friend was somehow responsible for his having been captured. He had, perhaps with the help of Sly, alerted the watchmen to his plans of taking a craft and leaving the city. They in turn saw to it that the protection fields around the ship would remained locked on.
"Arc...," Reinhold began miserably. "Arc, I-I didn't know what else to do. I didn't know...."He would never forgive Reinhold. And the look in his now stormy gray eyes made this abundantly clear,
"If my so-called evil, traitorous grandfather were alive he would not have betrayed me ... but you did, and you were my best friend. You knew how important it was for me to get away, but when I finally came close to accomplishing what I have so long dreamed of, you aided them in capturing me."Reinhold, at a loss for words, reached out to him, but Arcangelo pulled away,
"The both of you should depart from here and leave me alone. I think I know now why The Chief Shepherd destroyed my grandfather instead of forgiving him ... you simply cannot forgive those who betray you."Sly turned away from the window and faced him for the first time. Arcangelo was surprised to see how red his eyes were. He had been crying as well. He looked at the insurgent youth pleadingly, but Arcangelo averted his eyes. Sly just looked away, like there was suddenly something interesting to see out of the window. But he was shaking ever so slightly.
When Reinhold made a second attempt to touch his shoulder, the insurgent youth sank his fist into the area under his former friend's rib-cage. Then, while Reinhold was doubled-over, he caught him with a powerful left hook. His former friend's whole body whiplashed backwards and hit the floor.
Almost immediately Sly raced from across the room, grabbing fistfuls of Arcangelo's thin muslin shirt, bringing the boy's face in very close to his own,
"Do you see what you're doing to us? You've just hurt your friend in a way that a person in the former world would have hurt his worst enemy. And just this instant I myself desired to brutally knock the rebellion out of your head! Your actions -- your very presence -- causes those around you to revert back to the old ways!"Then, quite suddenly, he pulled Arcangelo to him. Hugged him tight,
"Poor child! You poor, poor child! What's to be done about you? You're so out of it here...."Reinhold staggered to his feet and, groaning painfully, reached out an arm and patted Arcangelo's head. The insurgent youth pushed them both away with every ounce of strength he had left.
Sly and Reinhold stared at each other helplessly, and Arcangelo turned away from them on the bed. The older man and the studious boy slowly left the room.
"It will turn out all right," Sly said to Reinhold, feigning hope. "Arcangelo will abandon all this talk of time-bending and come to see the light eventually."He walked slowly beside the older man as they left the building,
"I don't think so, sir," said the studious boy.
"I don't think Arc will be satisfied until he's either gone back in time to aid his grandfather ... or he's dead."Arcangelo finally heard their footsteps fade away to nothing. He cried out mentally towards the one person in whose hands his fate now rested. Chief Shepherd, I know that You can hear me. Why will You not explain to me the reason why You spared my soul after The Morning Glow? And why do I still have these nagging doubts about my grandsire? If You truly loved me and wanted me to be happy in this city that has been prepared for all who love You, why did you not erase the few memories that I do have of Grandfather? Is the example he set in his life supposed to somehow influence my own life now? This simply cannot be ... for I know next to nothing about his life! I do know that he was an unwitting agent of The Adversary, and that he was destroyed along with the rest of those you deemed traitors. This is not nearly enough, Chief Shepherd ... I must know more.
He silently begged for the Chief Shepherd to show him a way to attain the peace of mind that everyone else in the city was given so freely after The Morning Glow. Just a little peak into His grand design so that he could see why things had to turn out the way that they did. He begged and begged until tears were once again pouring from his eyes. His grief and want were unbearably sincere, for Arcangelo knew that, should The Chief Shepherd close His ears to this plea, he would die. By his own hand, or another's. It would be the only way he could attain any semblance of peace.
The next morning he had just emerged from an uneasy sleep when he heard the slow footsteps of someone entering his cell. Arcangelo didn't even bother to lift his head from his covers to get a clear view of who it was. He didn't really care. He had nothing to say to anyone. Not Reinhold. Not Sly. Not anyone. And because the sun was shining directly through the window opposite his bed, the person now standing at the foot of the mattress was obscured by it. Arcangelo raised his head from the covers and squinted into the bright sunlight to see just who it was, but it was no use.
The sun hardly ever shines this brightly so early in the morning. He thought to himself, feeling the heat of the solar rays penetrating his thin muslin clothing.
A pair of hands reached towards him. The insurgent youth closed his eyes, half-fearing that this stranger intended to do him harm. But the hand that stroked his curls was gentle. A small object was placed on the pillow beside his head. Then the unidentified person turned to leave. Arcangelo kept his eyes shut and did not open them until the stranger's footsteps had faded off into the distance.
He slept again for close to an hour. When he awoke he saw that the object lying on the pillow next to his head was a signet ring. The kind The Chief Shepherd's scouts used to engage the star-ship vehicles. Whoever had visited him the night before had actually given him the key to the Fantasii time-ship!
Arcangelo didn't bother with a fresh set of clothes or even his sandals, just rushed out of the room and down the winding corridors of the almost empty building. The two pinpoints of light that once flashed red on his manacles weren't glowing now. He knew immediately that they were no longer operational and easily pried them off his wrists as he ran.
As he hurried along, he happened to pass two of his watchmen jailers. They were sprawled out on the floor as if something had struck them dead in their tracks. After a quick examination, the insurgent youth discovered that they had merely been rendered unconscious. He didn't know why or how, and he was in too much of a hurry to truly care. He had to get to the vehicle hanger.
He finally escaped the building and made his way across the fields which led to the tram. He marveled at how quickly he had reached the center of the city. Then he was running in the direction of the vehicle hanger, the sharp grass pricking his pounding bare feet. Once he reached the building, the gate swung open and he felt absolutely no electric tingles emanating from protection fields. He came upon the Fantasii -- touched it. The bronze-like metal felt as smooth as it looked.
He practically leaped for the door and entered into the craft's gleaming hull. Arcangelo nearly cried with absolute amazement upon discovering that the controls had all been pre-set for his desired destination. He used the signet ring to activate the craft.
He came upon the coffin-like cryogenic hibernation chamber. He felt the smooth, slightly rounded glass top of the receptacle. It contained a biological quick-freeze and revival system -- also activated by the signet ring he wore. Before he could have second thoughts, Arcangelo lifted the top and climbed into it. Lying in it's cushioned interior, the silver mattress cool beneath his bare heels and the back of his neck, the insurgent youth took a deep breath and made every effort to calm himself as the glass top automatically swung down closed -- effectively sealing him into the coffin-shaped receptacle like a corpse awaiting burial.
He felt the ship's power boosters trebling with life beneath him. His heart pounded heavily in his ears. He heard a high pitched whining sound and suddenly the entire vehicle shuddered and lifted. The force of this nearly pressed the air out of Arcangelo's lungs as the thrust of the ship's ascent created an invisible iron weight on his chest. An iron weight that pressed him into the mattress he was lying on, made him cry out in pain.
The few people standing outside of the vehicle hanger saw the Fantasii lift off through the building's opened roof. It's golden exhaust flame temporarily blinded them, and it's power boosters shook the earth beneath them. When their vision cleared, they saw the craft accelerate higher and faster into the clear blue sky. It raced upwards and upwards until, finally, it dwindled from view.
Within the ship, the invisible iron weight finally lifted from Arcangelo's chest, allowing him to breathe freely. After taking a moment to fully contemplate what he'd just accomplished, he decided that -- if he didn't want to arrive at his destination as a very elderly man -- he'd better activate the quick-freeze. He silently thanked The Chief Shepherd for the technology that allowed a frozen body to be revived without cellular damage. He pressed his signet ring into a molding within the hibernation chamber. The quick-freeze was activated.
For several moments, Arcangelo lay trembling, his lithe body bathed from crown to toe in the cryogenic mists that were rapidly filling the coffin-shaped receptacle. His eyelashes were freezing together, but he looked up -- through the rapidly fogging glass top -- to the ceiling of the vehicle.
Good-bye everybody -- Reinhold, Sly, Mr. Potter, Clay, Porter, Sway, Mr. Shipman, Turner, Shoemaker....
He tried to remember all of the names of the people who were special to him, but his thoughts were becoming dull.
The tranquilizing gas that was intermixed with the cryogenic mist began to take effect slowly. Soon his eyelids grew heavy. Sleepiness washed over his freezing body in a wet, warm wave. He suddenly remembered his pet turtle.
Good-bye, Bob, wherever you are....
He was trying desperately to remain awake ... force his eyelids to stay open ... not fall asleep ... but, too late, he was losing consciousness ... inhaled too much of the gas. He had no regrets however. I've got to do this. Still, I wish I could have found out who it was that gave me the signet ring and helped me to escape. Was it you, Reinhold, my ace boon coon? Or was it you, Sly? You always were a bit on the stealthy side. If anyone could somehow free me out of a guarded cell, it would be you. But you are not very adept with this level of high technology, Sly. You could not have set the navigational system on this ship. At least not by yourself. I wonder who could have....
Before he could finish the thought, unconsciousness claimed him.
The power booster's on the Fantasii had died, but they had done their job. The vehicle continued to fly. Flying faster ... Flying faster through both space and time ... flying....