I Know A Secret

This is a new fiction blog. I know it's another one, but Blogspot lets me have as many of these as I like, so it begins again....and who knows where it will lead. This blog is dedicated to the good folks on The Chronicle of Higher Education's Job Seeking Forum. You are the best. To return to the Unfettered Soul click here. To return to the main front page click here.

I've decided to set up a solo blog rather than a role play because I want to make sure this character has a real first class home. She was an attempt on two role plays. I created her in my head and held her out as a reward to write her up when I returned from a job interview a couple of weeks ago. The board on which she was going to star, died. I created her a second time a few days ago to go here, but Invisionfree is having trouble with the server that houses the board. Seeing a character who wants to be born and can't seem to get born has to be a sign of some kind so here is the place and now is the time. Let the tale begin.

Well this blog will need a new introduction soon. It has a nice decorative scheme and it also has a backfile for older posts.

  Chapter 8 -- Early Christmas Present

I can't hate my parents. I hope all of you understand why I can't and why I couldn't even then. I don't know what my mother said, but she convinced Harva's parents to let her come back to school. She was there in the Social Studies Research room on that snowy Friday eight days before Christmas when Phedre walked in without her dressings and some thin scars caressing her brown cheeks. Phedre has lovely olive skin and the scars were lighter. I think Phedre secretly liked them. Maybe she liked them not so secretly. That was possible too.

She told all of us the good news. Her plastic surgeon said the wounds were healing without a lot of scarring which meant she had the option to watch, wait, and perhaps do nothing. Phedre clearly approved of doing nothing. "I just wish we could go skiing this weekend. Maybe if we left the younger sibs home...." Harva stared at the floor. Phedre knew as much as I did why Harva did not put her little brother on the fairly crowded Memory Board.

"Everything's changed now," Harva said. Her brother at least was not back. How did people come back? Did they return different? I thought of pod people. I resolved to ask my father or one of the coworkers, maybe Kimba who wore the black sweater.

Kimba smoked cigarettes and did it standing outside the workshop door. It was early Saturday morning. I'd go see Phedre soon. Maybe we would go visit Harva. We'd have to visit her. Her parents were leery about letting her out of the house except for school, but at least she was not grounded. "What happens when people come back from being taken?" I ask.

"Being what?" asked Kimba.

"Riding those buses, the ones with stones, like at the ski area. The bus comes up and takes them..."

"The bus doesn't take them," Kimba answered. "They go voluntarily. They choose to go when they are called."

"Yeah so and what happens to them when they get back?" I asked.

"Most of them don't come back. There are other better worlds than this one and we have those set up," Kimba sighed. "The fight is over," she told me. "You've lost. Your side lost."

I hadn't been dreaming lately, but it seemed more like my side if there was such a thing had been bushwacked and never made it out on to the field. "Where are you going?" asked Kimba. "To go see Phedre," I said. Where else did I ever go.

"Your mother said she wanted to talk to you," said Kimba.

I headed into the house and found mom in the living room with half a dozen folded up boxes. "What are those for?" I asked. They were way too big to be Christmas present boxes unless I was getting a bicycle and even then they were the wrong shape. The only time I remembered boxes like that was at my grandparents house in Dutchess County, New York when my parents were moving things out of storage before moving to Vernon, New Jersey. "Are we moving again?" I asked.

My mother looked at me and then she looked to see if my two younger siblings were around. "Koru," my mother began. "We need to talk," she said and that was how it began. "Your father and I have been talking and we know how much you like school and how much you need to go there. Well, in a few weeks, things here will be very chaotic."

"They're going to toss the stones on Christmas Day," I answered.

"They're waiting until December 26th," said my father who poked his head out of the kitchen door. His bearded face was smiling. "They should have held off on the small callings and just thrown the stones."

"I don't have a stone," I reminded my parents.

"Yes, but you'll have to live with the aftereffects. Dad and I both know how unhappy you'll be just hanging around the property. After they toss the stones there may not be enough teachers left to keep the school open or enough students. I can't home school you the way you'd want to learn, and Dad is too busy."

"So what are you going to do?" I asked.

"There's a boarding school in England, sixty-five miles north of London. It is for the children of important families. A lot of parents who are staff are sending their children there as are other families of importance. We qualify so we are going to send you."

"So those boxes are for me?" I asked.

My mother nods. My dad folds his arms. "I don't have a passport," I reminded both my parents. I could not even remember posing for a picture for one if someone got a passport for me. "I took care of that this summer," my dad said. "I was doing a bit of side work related to this project and you went into one of those self photo booths at the mall. I asked you for one of your pictures."

"They'll take one of those shitty things for a passport!" Now it was my turn to be surprised.

"Yes," answered dad. "Actually they did not come out so bad now, don't you think."

I sit down on the couch. "I don't want to leave my friends," is all I can say. "How long do you think they will stay here?" dad asked. That was an open question. Antibiotics, doctors, and short cold days would hold Phedre here most of the winter. An unhappy family situation would drive Harva forward. I envied both of them. I had never gotten a chance to get my stone, not that I wanted it from Zhenya but maybe there was another way to get it, another place. At least if I had a stone, I'd have a choice. I had no choice now.

"There's still school," I protested. "Only until the end of next week," said Mom. "You don't want to live in collapsed society do you?" she asked a rhetorical question.

"What about my friends?" I asked again. "I can't do anything for Phedre and Harva. You've seen all I can do," my mother told me again. "There are forms you need to fill out for school and things you need to order. It's like apartment hotels, very posh, like some of those fancy houses you liked when we were on the road all the time...remember. Only you're going to live there permanently. They want you to order your room furnishings, paint, and wallpaper and fix up your room. We're going to have a lot of your stuff ordered ahead and sent in advance. Remember working on your room last year?"

I should have run out of the room then but I didn't. "I'm going to tell Phedre and she can tell Harva and they'll both know everything!" I shout. My parents said nothing. I sat on the floor of Phedre's room relating the whole miserable tale. "Crazy," she said but she sat with me in the workshop as we used the faster connection there and no doubt the coworkers got to see that I was buying in to the whole boarding school idea.

I ended up picking a paint color and a wall paper border and a bedroom set in mission furniture that is custom painted. My room was to be light avacado green and the furniture darker green and the bedding a dark green comfortor set and sheets in two shades of green, plus a set of flannel ones. I got towels in two shades of green,and orange and golden yellow and I had green and yellow blankets for the bed. I wanted to be warm. Dad promised me my own computer.

Meanwhile Mom, Hillel, Kimba, and another coworker began packing and disassemblign my bedroom. "When do I leave?" I asked. "Tomorrow at six pm," said my dad without missing a beat. "Here I'll show you the tickets." Phedre's eyes grew wide. I watched as dad opened the security safe in the floor behind his desk and pulled up a golden brown manilla envelope. From that he pulled out an envelope. These were not conventional airline tickets but an itinerary and on yellow paper a ticket authorizing my one way passage on a private jet leaving otu of Ronald Reagan airport in Washington, DC. I remembered what Harva had said long ago about where my parents went the weekend after Thanksgiving. "It would be Washington," I said.

"That's how this works," my dad answered. "I want to see Harva one last time," I protested. Meanwhile, a coworker came out of my bedroom with a box full of clothes. I peered into my bedroom and found it nearly gutted all ready. Everything was so damn efficient. "OK," my dad said. "Once your packed I'll take you and Phedre up there."

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/31/2005 11:31:00 PM  
  Chapter 7 -- My Father Just Works Here

Dad pulled a seat away from one of the computers and the coworker took another. Phedre and I found two more seats. The other coworkers stood still as stones. They must have known something was up.

"OK," my dad began. "Here is the prototype. What it does is create an illusion of continuity. That is very important to any one who gets called and has to ride the bus, like Harva's brother did today and like that little girl almost did before Phedre returned her to her mother. I wish we didn't call children who were so young, but I don't make policy." From behind a computer my dad pulled what looked like a car door. he turned it so we could see the inside which was padded and covered in cheesey vinyl.

In the semi dark work shop I watched a sunny day pass by in the window and then a starry night and then a sunrise. "Neat huh?" my dad asked. Was this just one more job to him? Did he not care because his wife and all his own children were immune in some way? I stared at the floor. My mouth felt dry. I found myself thinking of that old Eastern European City with the department store window with the fake aerodrome in it. "And that's an aerodrome," I heard myself say to a girl with oriental features. We had to be careful that no living people walked through us. I let my head rest in my hands. I hadn't found that second and plain city yet and it was not the same anyway, not at Christmas time. I blinked back hot tears.

"I also do continutity work for the stone tosses," my dad kept explaining. "That is more complicated since it is an indoor environment transitioning to an outside environment." Dad showed us examples of prototypes using three dimensional computer renderings. I watched the show. I thought of all the summers and winters I'd spent on the road. Dad never worked for anything as big as Disneyland or Universal Studios but he had never been short for private clients who lived in mansions. I thought back to the mansions, one in California, another in Virginia, and a third...I couldn't remember the state. I had barely been three yet and Hillel wasn't born. I remember looking at picture books as I sat in a sea of shag carpeting.

"What are all the computers for then?" asked Phedre. "Design work and back up mostly," he said. "Looks like some kind of control room in here," Phedre commented.

"It's one of the Northeastern control centers," said the coworker in the black sweater and pants. "I'm Kimba. I've heard about you. Partially sentient, for now completely immune and totally fearless. In most societies that would be quite impressive especially if you were male."

Phedre rested her fist on her chin and did not say anything. "I don't work for you," spat Phedre. "And neither does Koru," she added.

"Nobody said you did," my dad tried to smooth things over. "Hey why don't we go over to the house for a snack. Your parents would be glad to see you have something to eat."

"I'm still on soft foods," Phedre reminded dad. He shrugged. We had some apple sauce and each took a bowl of that and sat in the kitchen while Mir and Hillel bounced about talking about how they had just seen all the trees looking like diamonds in the ice.

"I'm going to check the emergency generator in the workshop," dad said and he headed out the back door.

"What are you going to do?" Phedre asked me softly.

"He's my father," I answered.

"We know now..." said Phedre.

"You want to get grounded or banned from seeing me and me banned from seeing you?" I asked.

"Absolute power..." said Phedre.

"No, more like a big pay check," I replied.

"Your dad sold himself," sighed Phedre.

"It may be partly ideological."

"That is so stupid!" sighed Phedre. "Why?"

"He's never much liked the established way of doing things," I answered.

"Yeah, but this is just a different leadership." Phedre shook her head. "I keep thinking about home...real home all the time."

"You're still on antibiotics," I reminded her.

"I know. I'm stuck here until April but there are times when I'm counting the days."

I walked Phedre home that evening. Later that night there was a blackout, I know because the heaters switched off and then came on with a weird buzz and I heard the rumble of the emergency generator. "Glad we're not tossing stones tonight," said a voice on the other side of the partition. I burrowed my face deep into the covers. "Well tomorrow it's business as usual," commented a male voice. "Not if there's no power all over the east coast," the female voice answered. I wondered if it was the voice that gave Phedre that backhanded compliment. I tried not to think about it.

"I am going to vote for a three day moratorium," said a male voice. "There ought to be a moratorium all the way to Christmas," commented another male voice that I recognized as my father's. I bit my lip and presed my fists to my chest and drew my legs together. "This is going to crack things because it is fragmenting families. Two or three weeks of little callings is going to do more damage than a stone toss. Aviva did the social indicator chart and she said it's conservative. You can see for yourselves."

"What a nice thing to watch at four am," the female voice commented.

"Looks awful," said the other male voice.

"It is awful. I have a daughter in the local public schools..." my dad started. "Why?" asked female voice. "She wanted to go and I did not stand in her way. I did not have the resources to handle all the garbage they threw at you in New Jersey the first year we moved here. Anyway, it's worked out well, but she's going to be feeling the effect."

"She's not completely immune you know," the female voice responded. "Not like your other two."

"She seems fairly resistant so far," quipped my dad.

"That's because she's been fighting a very old battle and it has her preoccupied. She fought it before she came into this world. She's fighting it now. It's one of the reasons she likes school. If you hadn't just aquiesced to the education beaurocracy, she would have fought with you to go to school and you would have had to send her. I know that sounds strange. I don't understand it either." Female voice made a self satisfied snort.

I did not like people other than Harva knowing so much about the afterworld and about my past lives in particular. What else did the female coworker in the black sweater and pants know? I tried not to think about it. I awoke late. The house was unheated. There was no hot water and a sign not to flush the toilet. Mom was making tea on a sterno stove. I sat drinking it and thinking that my bedroom in the workshop was warmer though I was glad to be out of the place. Phedre and I studied in there until at 2pm Mir brought the word that power had been restored. That meant school on Monday.

School meant normalcy or did it? Harva was not there. We could only guess what was going on with her and her family. Phedre and I settled in to her abandoned spot on the stairs behind the cafeteria. In English there were eight empty seats. In math there were five. In history, the teacher asked us to give up our assigned seats and all come down to the front of the room to cover up the empty spaces. Mr. Alexander and Liza were still there Marielva and two of Liza's friends were missing from lunch and the temporary male gym teacher was gone too. It was unclear who had been taken and who was just staying away in fear due to the loss of family and friends.

By midweek at school, someone had covered the main board with brown paper and we had an assembly. The principal and the school psychologist asked us all to bring in pictures of missing friends and loved ones and write things about them and put them on the board which was to be our memory board. I thought this a great idea in a very sad way. I tried to picture Harva putting up something about Chaim. I couldn't do it. I kept thinking of Phedre explaining what Chaim had done to her when she tried to pull him out of the crowd trying to get on the bus. He was probably telling his new friends wherever he was that Phedre had kept attacking him like a maniac. Well that was partly true but he should have just come out with her and not disfigured her for life.

Phedre did not see the memory board assembly. She was with her psychiatrist in the morning and with her plastic surgeon in the afternoon. She was going to lose her dressings by week's end and start scar removal treatment/scar prevention the week before Christmas. Spending the school day totally alone left me feeling light headed and sick. Mom picked me up on Wednesday. She tried to make conversation. I told her I was worried about Harva. I at least knew where Phedre was and was looking forward to spending an evening with her.

"Harva will be back," mom assured me. "She has no where else to go and her parents will realize that. Give them time."

"If it gets bad enough," I said. "Harva will accept a stone."

My mom did not answer. "She'll be back soon," she repeated. That was when I noticed we weren't headed home but headed toward Mountain Creek which had a fresh dusting of snow but not enough for really good conditions and then on toward Break Neck Road and up into Highland Lakes. I watched Lake Five which was scabby with old metled and refrozen ice through the truck window. We parked behind the two cars in Harva's parents' driveway.

Mom led the way up the front open porch and through the unlocked screen door. Harva's father was writing on legal pads and a lap top spread out all over the dining room table where the family took its meals. The television in the big open living room/dining area was off. Harva's mother came out of the kitchen and answered the door.

My mom said how sorry she was which meant I did not have to say anything. I went down the hall and knocked on Harva's bedroom door. "Come on in," she said. Harva was not dressed. She was in bed. She had been trying to catch up on school work. She said since she was not allowed outside there was no point in her getting dressed. No she did not really miss her brother.

"You know what he was like," she told me.

"I know what he did to Phedre," I said.

"Well then you know."

"Know what?"

"He had a jealous mean streak in him. That's what. I lived with him."

"Shit, he didn't hit you. He's bigger than you are? You said he's been bigger than you were since you were eleven," I retold the story of Chaim, the giant in a field of short people.

"Hit me, punched me, kicked me, shoved me around. Mostly just shoved me around and wrestled. It doesn't leave marks. He never punched me in the face. He also had an ugly mouth," answered Harva. "I hope he doesn't come back. He'll be insuferable and everyone will be fawning over him. I won't be able to stand it. He comes back and I'm gone. I'm sorry Koru."

A week or two ago I would have been angry at Harva but now what can I say. I tell her that I understand. I then say I wish I had a way to get a stone from someone I trust. Zhenya isn't it and I am not having those kinds of dreams any more now that I sleep in the workshop anyway. In a way, getting a stone and going out in the toss might be better than staying around with corrupt parents, abusive siblings who could return and make life hell, and a school with a memory board on the wall.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/30/2005 11:25:00 PM  
  Chapter 6 -- Pied Piper

Sunday I walked to visit Harva. Both my parents were busy and they had done ride duty yesterday afternoon. I crossed the valley and climbed Break Neck Road into Highland Lakes on top of the mountain. Long ago, Highland Lakes was a club community of summer houses, but some time in the early 1970's it went year around. The club is still there. Some people belong to it and some don't. I am not sure how and why Harva's family moved there. I do know her father still worked in New York City which is quite a commute.

I turned right at the top of Break Neck Road and began the road that circles Lake Five. There was snow everywhere now, and whatever tracks Phedre made when she crashed through the woods on her way to rescue the boy from the lake were now covered. I could hear kids somewhere sledding. There were also small figures on the snow covered ice. Apparently the lake was thick enough for skating. Too bad, I had not brought my skates with me.

I climbed one of the open porches at Harva's house. The door to the screen porch was unlocked. I peered through the big sliding door into Harva's family's combination living room/dinging area. There was some kind of very important board game taking up a lot of space on the dining room table but no one was playing it. The television was on softly. Harva's mother greeted me at the door.

"Harva's grounded," she told me.

"That's why I came here to see her," I told her.

"I'll call your parents," she said. "Do they know you're here." How could I tell this woman who hovered about like most mothers that my parents did not care if I took off to visit a friend. "I'm allowed to go see my friends," I complained. Harva's mother pretended not to hear me. She called my mother and got Mir who got one of my father's guests/friends from the workshop. Suffice it to say, I did not see Harva until Monday.

"How's Phedre?" she asked. We were sitting on the back stairs behind the cafeteria as usual. "Home and on a soft diet and all kinds of medication. The doctors don't want her getting an infection," I said. I had been eating my meals with Phedre. The Goldbergs were hospitable. Not all rescues make the newspaper.

"You tell Phedre that the next time Chaim is involved let the devil take him. He's a piece of walking dog shit as far as I am concerned." Harva's face looked pale and tired. Whatever was going on in that prison of a house on Lake Five was just plain no good.

Of course my home situation was not great either. To put it concisely, sleeping int the workshop sucked. First, I had no bathroom facilities out there, so if I needed to pee during the night, I had to put on socks, boots, my coat, hat and gloves, and cross the snowy backyard and come in the hosue. I had to do this when I washed up in the morning. I decided to do my showering in school after phys ed so my hair could dry out while I was in class. We had phys ed second period so this worked out pretty well.

School was different. It had to be different after the buses on what turned out to be both sides of Mountain Creek. The differences were small ones. There was a student here and there missing, but most of them had either not been at the ski area or did not have stones or in the words of Mr. Alexander who was an apologist for any one dumb enough to accept a stone, they were not called. One of the people who had been called was Coach Barker, the boys' gym teacher. We now had co-ed gym taught by the elderly Ms. Ellis who made the boys spend half the period setting up volley ball nets. I didn't feel much like playing and probably could have sat out most of the gym class on the folded up gymnastic mats. Ms. Ellis must have felt funny about teaching square dancing and social dancing to boys.

When we met for lunch in the Social Studies Resource Room, I took a census. Harva and I were still there. So too was Liza, Marielva, and their friends. Mr. Alexeander asked after Phedre and Harva and I related her tale of heroism. "One more exploit like that and she might not come back to school at all," he said. I wanted to slug him, but I am not Phedre.

"Chaim was lucky," said Marielva.

"What do you mean?" asked Harva.

&quiot;He could have gotten on one of the buses. I tried and they wouldn't take me. I have the wrong stone," Marielva hung her head.

"You'll get another shot," I reminded her. "This is just the beginning."

"Marielva," said Mr. Alexander. "The callings come from within ourselves. You have to listen to your own heart."

"My calling is to stay here," I said.

Harva took out her journal and then moved to a far table. She clearly wanted no part of this conversation. "Do you believe we are all just pawns of bigger and stronger powers, creatures of fate?" I asked.

"Now that is a very interesting philosophical question," said Mr. Alexander.

"It's not philosophical any more," I thought and I tried to banish the picture of Phedre with her bandaged and damaged face from my mind. It would not go. Phedre was and still is my best friend, but hurt Phedre is not something one wants to take twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.

The week dragged on. Towards the middle of it, temperatures started to rise. Snow melted off the bushes and laurel leaves in little crystal drops and became soft and gooey under foot. It turned the ski area parking lots to mud and the school parking lot into puddles of black water. My boots now got muddy when I had to cross between the workshop and the house in the middle of the night. The school managed to find a temporary boys gym teacher and we went back to learning social dancing.

At midweek, Phedre saw her psychiatrist for the first time. He diagnosed her with generalized anxiety disorder. This meant she was definitely not crazy as she explained. It meant she either made too much adrenaline or more likely just reacted way too well to it. The adrenaline had both good and bad effects. It could dull the feeling of pain during fight or flight which it did superbly in Phedre's case but an eternal heightened state of fight or flight wreaks havoc with the digestive tract, staying warm, and sleeping. Phedre was now on medication three times a day for her nerves and she had the first decent appetite in two years. She was even psyched to go back to school at the end of the week. She did not care if people saw her with bandages and she could carry her soft foods to school. As her face healed she could go back to a normal diet.

By Friday half the snow had melted and the world turned into a slushy muddy mess. Phedre came back to school, and Harva and I embraced her in our spot on the back stairs behind the cafeteria. Of course there would be no skiing that weekend, but who wants to ski spring conditions. My dad was even willing to take all of us to the mall if Harva was no longer grounded. Harva was indeed free of her sentence. "Your coming out to the house Sunday, did not help," she reminded me.

I did not care. I was just glad that Harva's parents let their daughter out on Saturday morning. I was glad when Phedre, Harva, and I were all together in dad's truck. Mom hated crowded malls at Christmas and so too did dad, Hillel, and Mir. I just wanted to walk beneath the tinsel in the big new mall in Orange County. I did not even want to buy anything, though I had money this year.

"What if they attack at the mall?" asked Harva as we headed down through Greenwood Lakes and the mountains that led eventually back to New York City.

"It's not going to matter," my father said. "You're all immune aren't you?"

"I'm too hurt to go anywhere," explained Phedre, pointing to her dressings.

"None of us have stones," said Harva.

Sun made the puddles on the black pavement shine in oil soaked rainbows. Snow was now piles of brown crud mud like turds. Inside the mall sung of upcoming Christmas. I wanted to go up the third floor and peer down through the tinsel and ride the escalator down past the two huge Christmas trees, one of which was decorated with the flags of the world and the other of which....

Harva's scream resounded all over the mall. "What's the matter?" asked Phedre. "You don't recognize this do you..." Harva pointed to the flags. "If I told you those were spirit flags what would you say."

"You mean like flags of afterworld countries," I asked.

"Yeah," sputtered Harva. Of course a mall was a big place and like the ski area, it would not take much to pull buses up to the front entrance except that someone from the newspaper would take pictures. It had to happen. People could not notice friends and loved ones disappearing and that was what was happening.

I don't have to say that the mall stopped being fun. We began doing reconnaissance. Phedre was the expert in this. We let her lead. We went to each entrance and looked for buses. We did this several times, but there were none. Then we saw what was hidden in plain sight like the spirit flags. In one of the food courts, I noticed people who could have been friends of my father. Friends, colleagues, what did it matter. I recognized the embroidered shirts and the wooly plaid robe dress. I even thought I knew a couple of the faces.

My father nearly always had guests in the workshop now. I tried not to listen to them on the other side of the petition. They asked where I had been when I had eaten dinner at Phedre's. "They know all about us," I confessed.

"What do they know?" asked Phedre. She eyed them from our vantage point one level above the food court. We leaned against a red railing overhung with silver tinsel. Not far away, a glass elevator surged up filled with happy oblivious shoppers, except by now probably no one was oblivious.

"They know I eat dinner with your family," I confessed.

"Is that all you told them?" asked Phedre. "I told them you were hurt," I add, and that really is all. A couple of times they asked me if I liked school. It surprised them that I did. Well I still liked school.

"So this was business for your dad," said Harva. She was watching the carousel that spun in the food court. "You know they refurbished this place since I was here last." she commented. I glanced absently at the carousel and noticed that on top of it was a red and yellow flat figure playing a flute. The figure stood something like a court jester.

"That's the Pied Piper of Hammelin," said Harva.

"The who?" asked Phedre.

"He's famous and from a story," I explained. "See the flute he's carrying. He used it to charm the rats so they all followed him to the river and drowned."

"And what happened when the Pied Piper didn't get paid?" asked Harva.

"He played his flute and the children followed him. He took all the children except one lame little boy. He took them into a secret mountain that closed up, and they were never seen again. The lame little boy lived to tell the tale." I end the story.

"Shit," answered Phedre.

"What are you planning to do?" I asked but I already knew. Mediction or not, Phedre was a fighter in her heart and her soul. It was her calling. She bolted for the emergency exits before we had time to stop her. We raced after her on the stairs. I think in that moment I feared that this confrontation would be her last.

Instead, she came out the door that led on to the same floor as the food court and then stood stock still. We were between a stand that sold fried chicken sandwiches and another that sold crumby Chinese. The carousel was only a few feet away. My father's friends were on the other side of it.

"We need to split up," said Phedre softly. "Harva take this side. I'll take the opposite side. Koru, you go in the rest room."

"Huh...." I said. "If something happens, it's going to disturb people in the bathroom or they might go there to hide," Phedre expalined. "If you come up positive shout 'Merry Christmas' as loud as you can." With that we split up.

I entered the bathroom and thought of camping out in one of the stalls, but before I had a chance to sit down, I heard a kid having a meltdown. "But mommy, I got to go!" she wailed and I saw her open her hand to reveal....We all know what she had. She was young, no older than five or six. "You're not going anywhere" said the enraged parent or guardian. She grabbed the kid. I thought of Chaim and Phedre last week and knew what a mistake that would be. The kid pulled away and broke into a run. Enranged parent was out the bathroom door and so was I.

"Merry Christmas!" I bellowed at the top of my lungs. Enranged parent turned aroundd as did several others. I kept my eyes on the kid and took off after her. I was not quite as fast as Enraged Parent, but I did not have to be. Where there was one speeding kid, there would soon be a crowd of children and adults moving down the second floor hallway towards Lord and Taylor. They were seven or eight abreast and tightly packed as if on parade. I estimated about twenty to thirty of them. Phedre and Harva fell in behind them. Then I saw my father and one of his friends.

"What are you doing?" my dad asked.

"Going to Lord and Taylors," I replied. "I can't afford anything there, but I want to window shop."

The woman in the wooly plaid robe dress shook her head. "Why?" she inquired.

"It's a cool store," I said.

"I need something to cheer me up," answered Phedre.

Into the store we all went, the thirty people in the packed crowd, Enraged Parent, my father, his coworkers, Phedre, Harva, and I. We headed for the down escalator. Everyone seemed to know where they were going. They were going to the china department and then through a small passageway taht said Employees Only. Enranged parent began to push and shove. My dad's coworker grabbed her. She shook free.

Phedre stood with her arms folded. I left Phedre and ducked into the passageway past lockers and a time clock. No wonder we had not seen any buses. They were there though parked outside the small employee door. It was a lemon yellow bus this time with blue and green stars painted on it and a robed woman checking stones. Good, the line would slow things down. Now where was Phedre? She was outside as was my father, his coworker and Harva. Phedre edged toward Enraged Parent who was futilely trying to fight her way through the crowd for her daughter.

"This way!" shouted Phedre who stuck out her elbows and started to flail and jab. People gave her rude looks but made way. Enraged Parent came through the opening. She got close enough to her daughter to grab but it was Phedre who grabbed first. "You're going back to your mama!" Phedre snarled as she and the kicking writhing mass of little girl emerged from the crowd.

Dad and his coworker were standing with their backs to a bit of wall near the employee only entrance. I saw coworker raise her eyebrows as Phedre and Enranged Parent and by now very enraged offspring emerged. The child was bellowing and thrashing wildly. "That girl is going to get hurt," complained the coworker.

"Can you hang on to her?" Phedre asked Enranged Parent. "OK, we'll do it real gentle," Phedre explained. She dropped to a squat and set the child on the ground. The child tried to escape, but Phedre's grip was like iron. Once the child bit Phedre right in the bandages. "Sorry," Phedre apologized. "Someone got my face last week." She put a knee to the child's belly and pinned her to the pavement and then sat on her. "OK," said Phedre to Enraged Parent. "Take my place and she's all yours," Phedre told the mother who slowly climbed on top of her daughter. The child screamed as the bus loaded and pulled away. Then she cried. She howled. Her loud sobs cut through the greying sky.

"There's going to be an ice storm and I want to be out of here early tonight," I could hear dad say. The coworker said something back that I did not understand.

Enraged Parent climbed off of her offspring and led her away into the parking lot. We all stood there and watched their figures grow smaller and smaller. Dad suggested we all walk around to a regular mall entrance and go back inside. We did some shopping after that because that was our reason for being at the mall and then went to have a late lunch/early dinner at the food court. Phedre wanted refried bean buritos and I wanted a stuffed potato with spinach. Harva had a weisswurst. We sat at one of the ordinary tables in a now much emptier food court.

"I'm not angry with you," the coworker said. "Actually I found it a fascinating performance."

"Is that all?" asked Harva.

"Pretty much," she said. "Phedre, you can't be everywhere. There will be a next time or at some point we will toss the stones. You understand?"

Phedre was not going to be in any trouble and that made the ride home from the mall sweet. It only turned ugly and weird when we dropped Harva off. Chaim had vanished. Phedre had not been there to rescue him or not rescue him. I thought of the coworker's words. A strange man in a woolen plaid jacket stood in the living room. It took me a while to remember that he was the adult who had given Harva, Phedre, and me a ride home in his truck after Phedre pulled his son out from under the ice. His boy was missing too.

We listened as he told about how kids had talked of a magic bus that would take them to New York City or Walt Disney World or any number of other places and about meeting it on the backroads when they went out to play on Saturday. Chaim had apparently been listening with the other boys and had simply kept his mouth shut. Maybe he didn't know he was going away permanently or that his going away would make holes in what was left behind.

Harva's mother said we had to leave, so dad packed Phedre and me back into his truck and we rode down past Lake Five and then down Break Neck Road back to the farmstead. Freezing rain was starting to fall. "Looks like an ice storm," my father said.

"Our friend just lost her brother," Phedre complained.

&qut;I'm sorry," my father answered.

"Bullshit," I said.

"Let's drop Phedre off first," said dad.

"You think I'm going to keep anything from her?" I asked.

Dad pulled into the driveway close to the workshop and pushed open the door. Two guests, one in a black sweater and black pants and the other in the more familiar embroidered tunic were sitting at computers. There was a lot of new equipment in the workshop which was coming to resemble a lab. There was even a sign warning people to wipe their muddy boots. I tracked rain and mud on the floor heedlessly.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/29/2005 01:18:00 PM  
  Chapter 5 -- Mountain Creek

"I need to eat," explained Phedre as she scooped up a spoonful of Maltex. Phedre would eat hot cereal of several varieties, jello, and fruit and of course tea. Tonight's dinner that Wednesday was Maltex, cherry jello laced with apple sauce and raisins, oranges, and decaffeinated tea with plenty of sugar. "If I don't get my strength back," Phedre explained. "I can't go skiing this weekend."

This made sense, and Phedre's parents understood her as Phedre and took it from there. At least Phedre was eating again. The snow on the ground meant taht we could ski that weekend at Mountain Creek. Mountain Creek (formerly Vernon Valley and Great Gorge ski areas if you remember that far back) is infected with the unimaginative names people give ski areas in this part of the country. Maybe it is because we are so far south and only sixty miles northwest of New York City that no one figures they have to think very much about ski area names. That there is a ski are and that it has the biggest and probably the best snow making equipment in the world is simply enough I suppose. Even before MOutnatin Creek was Mountain Creek it was Great Gorge which made no sense since there are no gorges around here, and Vernon Valley which is named after the town. Then we had Hidden Valley which was not in a valley but in an abandoned farmstead healf way down the hill from Highland Lakes.

Even with the biggest and the best snow making equipment in teh world at Mountain Creek, you still needed some natural snow to ski. Our half snow day on tuesday afternoon had provided that and the weather stayed cold enough to keep the snow from melting.

We also had younger siblings. Because the lift chairs took two at a time, we needed an even number of people for a ski party. Chaim, Hrva's brother, was a reckless skiier. He usually paired off with Phedre whowas the daring type. Ligeia, by contrast, who was also Phedre's sister, was a cautious skiier who usually went with Harva who was cautious on the slopes. Hillel, my little borther (My parents believed Mir was too young to let up on the slopes without adult supervision), hated the ski area due to the crowds, but he went along to protect me of all things.

Phedre and I spent most of Saturday mornjing studying. Around 1pm, we at ea light lunch and got our gear together. We met Harva and Chaim at the South Lodge of Mountain Creek a bit before 2pm in time to get half day lift passes. We all had skis so did not have to rent. I wanted to talk school work wtih Phedre and Harva but we had younger siblings on our hands. They wanted to talk w here we would go. I liked to take the lift from the half way house over to Bear Peek and then ski down itno the Vermon Valley side. From there, I could take a nice easy slope called Khyber Pass and vary the differen tplaces I got off near the bottom. Hillel hated takign the same slopes again and again which meant we'd be crossing the mountain endlessly to relieve his boredom. Harva usually stuck to Khyber pass followed by either Sugar Slope or Matchmaker for the last half mile of the run. She liked to tally up how many m iles she skied. She usually waited for Ligeia at the bottom of the hill.

Somehow we straighted out all the logistics and got on the lift for the top of South Peek. I got off at the half way house along with Hillel to ride the flat lift into Bear Peek. Phedre wanted one run from the top of the mountain with Chaim and said she'd join us later. Harva and Ligeia took the Bear Peek lift (Like there are any brbears in this part of the world...) along with Hilel and me.

We lasted through two runs on Khyber pass before Hillel started complaining. "Phedre's not even here yet," I said. "Phedre's off using the ski jump," Hillel. The ski jump was an old joke. Phedre had found it in the woods one time. She threatned to try it. She must have been not much younger than Hillel was now. Well Im anaged to keep us on the Vernmon Valley side until Phedre and Ligeia appeared. They were racing each other and wanted us to race them as well. I'm not up for a race and got creamed coming down Sayanora at the end of Khyber Pass, and then they wanted to try some tough slopes and HIllel and I wnet along wtih that.

Harva thought the whole buisness a bit insane and stuck to Khyber Pass. That was how she lost track of Ligeia. We stood at the bottom of Matchmaker where Harva came out by hesrself. "She msut have taken Sugar Slope," I said. Sugr Slope was all the way at the other end of Ver,on Valley. We skied over the flat packed snow at the bottom of the slopes and came out near the red and brown chair lifsts. There was no sign of Ligeia, but by then of course we had another problem.

"Chaim's gone!" called out Phedre. Sure enough he had given Phedre the slip. "Oh he'll turn up," complained Harva "My brother is such an ass some times." "No he won't," said Phedre. "look....."

In the parking lot on the slushy snow sat the buses. They were not ordinary ski tour buses. They were decorated with Christmas lights, and glitter paint and sculptures to make them look like animlas or parade throats. I felt my throat go hot and tight. "Let's get out of here," said Hillel.

"Not until I get my sister back," growled Phedre who was all ready undoing her skis. " Hillel," she took charge. "Watch our skis for u s." In front of each bus and all the buses was a great crowd who were mostly skiless. We couldn't ski into that crowd without mashing a lot of feet, and Chaim and Ligeia wer probably in that crowd. I wondered if Ligeia and Chaim had stones. How many people had stones? I did not have a stone. I would be safe.

I barreled into the crowd. Phedre's sister, Ligeia, was satnding near the edge of the crowd. Her long olive skinned face looked blank and sad. She had no skis. She stood with folded arms as if trying to make up her mind. I grabbed her by an arm and said: "No, you're not going with these people." Ligeia, blinked. She wasn't sure if she was going to listen to me, but in the end she came out saying nothing and nearly crying. Then she started sobbing.

"You'll get another shot," I told her somewhat angrily. "You wait with Hillel. I'm going to try and find your skis. OK..." Earth to Ligeia. Well I hope it got throgh. I dashed back into the crowd again. I found Harva who had one of Chaim's skis and one of his boots too. They had once been rental boots and they had a scratched off number on their yellow back. "My idiot brother is running round in his socks on the snow," complained Harva.

I found Phedre's skis fairly easily. She had left them near the edge of the crowd not in teh middle where skis, polls and boots and occasionally scarves and hatts lay scattered as if throwing them away on to the snow was the most natural thing in the world. I picked up all her equipment and brought it out. By now Harva had Chaim's other ski, his poles, and his other boot as well as his hat, but no Chaim. Worse still, the buses ahd started to load and who knew where they were going.

Harva stared into the crowd with exasperation. "He's probably on the bus by now," she said. "No he's not!" yelled an angry and bloody Phedre. Phedre's face was a mixture of purple bruise that was turning black and fresh red blood that sprang from I don't know where. Phedre looked like she was dancing with Chaim. She had him in her arms. He was bigger than she was, by nearly a whole head. He was bigger than any of us including Hillel. Still he could hardly walk as Phedre pushed his groggy figure over the snow. Once Chaim tried to push himself out of Phedre's arms and run back toward the white bus wtih the white Christmas lights and glitter paint. Phedre cold cocked him upside the head so he couldn't walk at all, but she just dragged him then. She set him down in teh snow. He sat there woozy and shaken. "You fucking idiot!" Phedre screamed at Chaim.

"Calm down Phedre," Harva counseled. "In a pig's eye, I'll calm down. I got your borther back didn't I?" Yes, and this time Phedre had brought back Chaim but this time it wasn't going to make the papers. Chaim had two black eyes and it looked as if his nose was broken. He did not look as bad as Phedre who was still bleeding profusely. I wondered where ski patrol and the Vermon bumblebees or even Jeresey State Troopers were hiding. Phedre had just committed assault in a public space. Phedre needed medical attention. there was not an authority figure to be seen.

Phedre squatted down. "She's fucking crazy," said Chaim. "Phedre, they ought to lock you up," said Chaim as he struggled to hsi feet. "Don't," Phedre warned him as she got out her cell phone. She called my parents. She said we needed to be picked up now on the Vermon Valley side. Chaim had broken a ski and there was a small riot in progress.

By now the buses had pretty much loaded. I turned to Ligeia and Chaim. Chaim stared wistfully at the buses. He'd get another chance. He'd get lots of other chances. Next time around, Phedre would go to jail for trying to rescue his no good ass.

When the buses pulled out, Ligeia started to whimper. Her whimpers turned into sobs. Anm older lady came by and tried to console her. "Your time will come," she said. "My son just left on one of those buses. I think they're going to New York." "My sister's not going on any buses," growled Phedre. She stared ath te older woman who backed off as she saw teh blood oozing and rdying all over Phedre's face and the huge spreading bruises. "You saw what I did to Chaim," Phedre lectured her little sister and the old woman, just as my dad's truck pulled up.

We threw the ski equipment into the load bed. My dad took one lok at Phedre and declared that we were going to the emergency room. "What about me?" asked Chaim. "You're not hurt as bad," my dad answered.

Harva and I sat through the long wait in the emergency room. Phedre really was hurt much worse than Chaim. It was not until the nurse wiped away the dried blood and we were all sitting calmly in the litle offic eaway from Chaim that Phedre said: &qut; Chaim picked up a piece of brorken ski pole and attacked me with it."

"Why didn't you run?" asked the nurse who clearly did not know Phedre well at all.

"I had to get him out of there," explained Phedre.

"But he hurt you," the nurse spoke to Phedre as if she were a small child.

"Sometimes you have to put up with pain to get what you want," Phedre answered. "Otherwise you will never win."

To make matters sweet, the doctor gave Phedre a topical anaesthetic anyway when they sweed up the three wounds in he face. Chaim had put the sharp end of a ski pole through my best friend, Phedre's cheeks. She ahd rescued him anyway. No authority figure had stopped thime. Phedre was home from school for the next weekor two and on a soft diet until her face healed. There was talk of plastic surgery and other means of reducing scars.

I listd to all of this and then I listened as Harva and I told what had happenedto Chaim and Ligeia and how Phedre had resuced their son. Harva's parents only saw two very beat up looking kids who could not behave themselves at the local ski area. Needless to say Harva and Chaim were both grounded.

Phedre's parents also decided taht the ski are was just simply unsafe. At least they listened to Phedre's side of the story. They also heard Ligeia back her up. I was glad Ligeia was such a decent little sister. "You may not be able to go to school any more," Hillel said to me as we sat over dinner.

"She'll keep going to school," dad said. "I don't think schools' that bad yet," he added. "Of what?" I asked. "I don't have a stone. I'm not getting on any strange buses. Also I'm not going to beat any one up or risk my life to keep any one off a bus." "Well put," my mother said.

I went to spend time with PPhedre this evening. She had finally started hurting and was taking her pain medication. She had an appointment with a psychiatrist for the middle of the week. I tried not to look at the stitches on my friend's face.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/28/2005 12:39:00 PM  
  Chapter 4 -- Colored Stones

"I don't have my stone yet!" Phedre greeted me as we walked to our bus stop. It was a cold Tuesday with the snow coming down fairly hard. The road was dusted white. The ploughs were not yet out nor are the salt and sanding trucks. Phedre wore a grey marl ski hat that stood high enough for bastard to tear it off her head. Of course no one touched Phedre. They remembered from five years ago the kind of damage she could inflict when enraged.

"Me neither," I told her. Of course I did not even know I was supposed to get a stone. I argued with Zhenya again. I told him that whatever I signed up for before I was born I don't remember it and besides, he and I have been on different sides for years. Well not really. It is more like I just ran away. I did not understand the entire story. In the light of day it made even less sense then when the long reels of memory were unfolding.

Suffice it to say, one life time ago, I did not live to be fourteen, not even close. I lived in a city somewhere in Eastern Europe. I did not know where that morning. I died in a hospital and ended up in what should have been heaven except like blue jeans, the afterworld is not a one size fits all affair. Harva would understand all of this, but this is a radical notion if you just let it sink in.

I wanted to continue where I left off. I had fallen in love with my parents, my family, the Eastern European city and the surrounding culture. Heaven was mostly lush green forest, subtropical or tropical climate and not much in the way of building. I was homesick. I don't know how much I went back to that city in Eastern Europe or how I found the other city. It was a huge place and a plain one, but at least it was a city with four seasons and a school, like the one I was to go, but didn't live long enough.

The problem with me, is that very little ever changes. I thought of myself standing at the bottom of the hill waiting for the yellow school bus to come nosing over the top and take me to school, a poor rural school filled with kids from Jersey City, Elizabeth, Ocean County and sometimes even the New York Metro area.

Finally, when I was about fourteen the last time around (fourteen and ded but still with an age because that often happens with dead kids.) I moved into the big plain city and went to school full time. I bid Zhenya adieu. He handled my rebirth into this world though. I did not understand all the politics but knew it had to be politics of a sort. He had told me I had a mission. The world was not going to be permitted to go its usual rotten way. He had said something about a new heaven and new earth, but I did not want a new heaven or earth. I wanted to pick up where I left off, repeat what was comfortable and then.... on to college...university...doing what...That seemed like a stupid question this morning as the yellow bus came over the rise.

"I'm not getting a stone," I told Phedre. "I want to stay here. I'm sticking this one out to the bitter end."

At school we went to seek out Harva. I realized for the first time it was to seek out whether Harva was actually still there. She was in her usual spot. Predictability can be a very good thing. She was writing like a bandit. She put down her journal reluctantly and made a space for us on the back stairs behind the cafeteria.

"I've been thinking," Phedre explained. "I don't want a stone, not now any way."

Harva's eyes widened.

"It's simple,&qout; said Phedre. "I'm Inuit. That's what it's called and that is what part of me is anyway, the part I care about. The part that wants to be decent. The problem is do you know what the Arctic is like this time of year?"

"Dark," answered Harva who was and still is quick on the uptake.

"Dark fucking twenty-four hours a day," answered Phedre. "It's also living people who aren't going to remember some female baby put out for exposure fifty to two hundred years ago. They are going to take me in in a pig's eye. Maybe in summer I have a better chance. Anyway, I'm not going anywhere until the weather gets warm."

Harva smiled. "I'm staying until everything falls apart too," she said.

I stared at the floor. I was staying period and I expected better of my friends. "I didn't even know about the stones," I sputtered.

"That's because you are being unbelievably good and virtuous," commented Harva. She lauhged. I felt like crying. "Sit tight," Harva counseled me. "It's going to get very weird in the next week or so. We're going to need steady people like you."

I did not want to be needed though. I wanted my friends to be absolutely loyal. It was clear this morning they weren't. I slumped down. There was a hot hurting place behind my eyes that slowly dissolved into tears. Harva took me to the bathroom to get my face washed in time for homeroom. I was shaking as badly as Phedre. "Just sit tight," Harva counseled me.

I made it all the way through homeroom and most of my morning classes. Phedre, Harva, and I always had our lunch in the Social Studies Resource Room. We had permanent passes we kept on us in case the hall monitors gave us trouble. Any one who wanted a pass, we wrote them in for the first time or told them how to get one but today there were no takers.

That meant it would just be the regulars: Liza, the senior, and her buddies, the three of us and a couple of other kids, including Marielva, whose parents had picked onions in the fields of Pine Island to the north of here until her father ended up on disability and her mother got a job cleaning rooms at the Playboy Club Resort. Now her mom worked in ski rental at Mountain Creek since the resorts around here all merged. Most people don't think of the northwestern corner of New Jersey as ski country, but it is. It's too poor for most farming and it's only sixty miles from New York City.

Marielva's family was from Mexico. She was talking half in English half in Spanish which I did not understand about mining spirits and a deep canyon. The social studies teacher, Mr. Alexander who ate his lunch in the resource room each day listened with rapt attention as did Phedre who had her tongue part way out, as if Marileva were sending secret messages. "So the silver god he gave me this. He said keep it always. He said Marielva, you can't lose it." Marielva reached out a small brown hand and uncurled it to show a small silver carving of an eagle.

"Stone!" shouted Harva. Marielva nodded, beaming. "That's not much of a stone," said Liza, the senior. "Here watch this," Liza smiled as she opened her fist. There was a ruby. I was not sure if it was fake but it was red as blood and glistening with polished facets, and it filled nearly her whole palm. Then Liza closed her palm again and when she opened it the stone was gone. "The stone stays with you," she said. "You never lose it."

"And what happens when they toss the stones?" asked Harva.

There was an uneasy silence. "Haven't we always been creatures of fate?" asked Mr. Alexander. "I try to think I'm something better than that," I found myself saying. "I don't have a stone yet," I added.

"Me neither," answered Phedre. Mr. Alexander shook his head. "Do you have a stone?" asked Harva. Mr. Alexander clenched his fist and opened it. His stone was a long dark blue, almost black crystal.

Harva took out her diary and flipped through the pages. She read. "Merlene said to me: 'It was really quite simple. When you lose everything, and I mean everything, you realize what is important and you fight for it. The movies were a piece of that, but so too was going back to school later and watching over Treize and Evita like an older sister instead of a mother. I wanted to work again, go back to school, and I wnted a world that let me do that. If it could not be Westchester County, then it could be other places that were similar...'

"I'm not dead this time around," Harva explained, "but I'm going to fight."

"Only until things fall apart," I thought and for Phedre only until the days get long enough to make the Arctic tolerable. Still none of us had stones that Tuesday.

They let school out early an hour after lunch. It would be half a snow day. The buses cut dirty tire tracks in the snow covered pavement. Phedre's and my bus lurched and skidded as it made its way over the rise to drop us off.

My father had guests. I could see their cars parked out by the workshop where I sometimes went to use the computer. My father's guests were bearded men in embroidered shirts. My dad who is also bearded and very scruffy wore a flannel shirt and a thermal undershirt and boots. There were snow puddles drying on the workshop's cement floor. My dad introduced me around and then said that from now on I was sleepig in the workshop. I blinked.

"You'll sleep better here," explained one of dad's coworkers.

"Does mom know?" I asked feeling as if I was treading water.

"Mom knows," dad said. We talked about this Sunday.

I remembered what Harva told me. Still I did not feel comfortable talking in front of the guests. "We'll set it up to give you privacy," dad explained.

"This has to do with the dreams and the stones doesn't it?" I asked.

My dad and several of the guests nodded. "What about Hilel and Mir?" I asked inquiring of my brother and sister who might as well come from another planet, since I went to school and they did't and well...maybe we come from another planet. We all come from different pasts. Is that a euphemism or what?

"Mir and Hilel carry their own protection," dad said. "It's you who are vulnerable. It would make mom feel better if you slept in here."

"Why?" I did not want to give up my bedroom.

"This," my dad explained. It was a small device mounted over the workshop door. There were other similar devices along the wall. They looked like small black plastic loaves of bread. "I'm sorry we didn't get these up sooner, Koru," dad explained. "They're a kind of signal jammer. You won't have the nightmares if you sleep in the shop," he said.

I did not know what to answer. I let dad's two guests help me move my stuff into the workshop. We moved my bed, my dresser, my decorations, my desk, bed rug, everything. This was a permanent move. Zhenya and I would no longer argue. Phedre and Harva of course were on their own. Phedre's parents were not going to let their daughter sleep in a workshop heated by two electric space heaters and protected by home made signal jammers. It was dark after all my stuff was in the workshop and mom had gotten pizza for dinner and invited all the guests to eat. I ate the last of the jello for dessert.

Mir and Hilel talked about the new snow and their day in the woods. I looked at them and thought of children running half naked through a forest. I was the child in the frilly velvet dress. I wanted a taste of something dirty, rich, and civilized. I wondered what Mir and Hilel remembered.

I was glad when I could return to the workshop and straighten things up. Before I started studying, I fetched Phedre to show her my new quarters. She thought the workshop was cute. She and I studied in my new room until well after midnight. I wondered what the electric bills would be because there was no way I'd turn off those heaters all night. I was not going to freeze.

Phedre worried about the workshop which was built of cement blocks and no insulation catching fire, but I did not worry. On the other side of the thin wall that separated my new bedroom from the workshop I could hear dad and his guests talking. "They want to hold off on the first toss until close to Christmas. Daley wants to hold off until after Christmas give Americans one more holiday with fanmily...you know..." "I don't have a stone," I told myself as I lay in my bed by the heaters.

I slept without interference from Zhenya and the next night as well. Of course neither dad, his guests, Mr. Alexander, in fact no adult at all could answer the question: "what does one do if one's friends don't hold up their end?" Of course, neither Phedre nor Harva had stones yet that first night. I had time. The only question was how much. I knew even then that the amount was finite and just not that long.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/27/2005 10:53:00 AM  
  Chapter 3 -- Harva and Phedre

I guess I do have to tell all of you about Harva. Harva has a story that is small and complicated. I guess that is what made it real. It is still real today. Harva had a hard time of it back in Westchester County where she lived since she was three. Harva can remember before that but that is not such a big deal for a verbally intelligent girl.

Yeah thanks mom for your wisdom on child development, but Harva went where your wisdom did not go. There is a technical name for what happened to Harva, peer rejection. Mom ran a database search on that. She had access to something called Psychinfo. There is no good long term research on the effects of peer rejection, not on kids who survive and stay out of trouble. No one knows what kind of adolescents or adults those kids become. No one knows how they survive.

Harva did it by crying out to something bigger than she was and that something answered her. Of course there was an unexpected complication. Harva "lost a conetmporary." Do you love euphemisms. We have tons of them. Harva could get lost in a sea of them, but not drown.

The contemporary was not a good friend, but she sat right in front of Harva and that was enough. Harva wished it had been her. Harva did not want to kill herself but why had this kid with all the connections perished in a house fire and why was Harva still there on two feet left to walk wounded. Fate was unfair. Harva became fascinated and obsessed with the afterlife and then that bigger power to whom Harva clung like a rope lowered into the school yard, gave Harva a gift.

Harva never found the contemporary who died in a house fire, but Harva became able to wander among the dead as well as the living. There is a word for this and it is not a euphemism. It is called shamanism. Harva caught up with Merlene, a woman who had died of lupus, leaving behind four children. Why a woman with lupus would get pregnant four times is beyond me but Merlene had four living children and did not want to be dead. Merlene liked to sneak into one of the movie theaters on Central Avenue, a street that forms the backbone of lower Westchester. She could sit in the back without living people walking through her or bothering her so movies were her sanctuary and she took a dead girl from the Bronx with her too.

Of course you can't spend eternity sitting through movies. This was no problem with Harva who was still living a fairly normal life. For a couple of dollars she could fill notebooks with her observations. She kept them off the family computer so that her parents who "did not want to read them" were not troubled by them. Harva was never without he notebook.

Merlene, the spirit lady who liked movies was another story. Merline and Treize, her protege, needed some place permanent with more of their own kind and the lights of heaven were not going to cut it. I can understand a lot more of this than I once did but back in ninth grade near Christmas time, I just knew the story the way Harva told it. One day, a scraggly blond spirit man came into the movie theater and watched the show with Merlene and Treize and afterward convinced him to come home with him to the edge of a city that had been a burnt out shell, covered with graffiti, and consisting of the burnt out shells of industrial buildings. In these cow skulls burrowed spirits who painted the walls, held school for the dead kids; for there are always dead kids, but not the dead kid who sat in front of Harva. The grownups talked politics. Everyone learned to fly and journeyed far and wide too but they always came back to the comfortable nest of bricks and paint.

So heaven was a converted factory and spirits loved movies, politics, forming cliques, eating big meals at dawn and would play with a living girl who was awake enough to deserve an extra treat for having had a rough life no one appreciated. That was Harva's message which did not make her much of a profit, except I think she was right and of course there is a bit more. There always is more. The world of the dead, the world of spirits, the supernatural world is like a great seething sea according to Harva and we living people in our narrow three dimmensions and short lives are the flotsam or better yet just a bunch of sailors huddled on a flimsy raft that could easily capsize, or one could always just dive overboard and swim in the sea.

That was Harva's tale and her message. If you want something better, go to someone else, maybe even the kid who died who sat in front of Harva. Some how we made it to lunch time on the cold day after Phedre pulled the boy out of the lake. The newspaper people came by at lunch and interviewed Phedre in the principal's office. We managed to get passes to keep our friend company though it took a lot of explaining on my part to explain why Phedre might want company. I mean facing the media alone, is scarey.

Harva sat and wrote in her journal. "Did you have any scarey dreams last night?" I finally asked her as we sat outside the principal's office where the reporter was busy with Phedre. "Koru if I told you, I wouldn't have the words," protested Harva.

"That's a new one," I said. "A spirit named Zhenya told me I had a mission on earth I had to fulfill."

"What kind of mission?"

"I don't know, but it's not one I want. I mean..." I honestly did not know the rest. "Ever read that stuff about the Ascension?" asked Harva. "Some people call it the rapture...It's mythology except it has a root of truth if powerful spirits who would like that kind of thing could get government and technology among living people on their side. It might take some lying and conniving..." Harva stops. She doesn't always make sense. She doesn't have all the pieces.

"The world is going to come to an end?" I ask.

"It might. The world as we know it, anyway," quipped Harva as Phedre emerged. "Eliezer [Merlene's friend who rescued her from the theater and took her back to the cow skull city of bricks.] says they may invade through dreams. That is the easiest way and one day it will all start to turn physical. It may take several days. People will ever wonder how it was before. They won't forget but when it is hard to hook up memories, they fray apart..."

"I wish I had time to get some tea," said Phedre as she emerged. There was no time for tea, just another afternoon of school. By the time the school day ended bits of snow circulated in the sky. The grey clouds threatened more snow. My dad was there in the schoolyard with his truck. It looked like Phedre and I weren't taking the bus home and neither was Harva. We all piled in behind my dad who was smiling.

"How was Washington?" I thought Harva would ask him. She didn't. She was silent the whole ride home. Phedre's parents weren't in yet and mom was busy with patients. Dad had to work in the workshop. My brother and sister were having fun in the woods. I made Phedre some serious caffeinated tea. We took our steins of tea in my bedroom and started studying.

"Harva thinks I'm the strong one, but I'm not," said Phedre as she drank tea which she sugared. Phedre had not touched her jello. She had had no lunch. "I'm the weakest link in the chain. The trouble is the strangest things have always tempted me and I pick bad things to fall in love with."

"You sound like Harva," I told her.

"No...It's just...hard to explain...Sometimes you want what you can't have very badly....Forget it...I think Harva's advice is bad. I think I'm half crazy. It's better to rescue kids than to beat them up but it's the same kind of crazy. In another part of the world I'd be a boy soldier with a machine gun and not one bit of remorse. I'd be so brave, the generals on any battlefield would love me. I'd ride point and feel no pain if they shot me. I'd ride as a scout deep into enemy territory." Phedre squinted her black eyes. When she opened them tears washed down. She rested her face in her hands.

"Do you want to know what the biggest fight I had in my life was?" Phedre asked.

"It was beating up the asshole boy who was groping us..."

"That was nothing," laughed Phedre. "Fucking nothing. The real fight, the big one was to convince..." Phedre's voice faded. "You aren't going to believe any of it and it's so hard to describe."

"Real stuff tends to be..." I coax her.

"Well, once I was born...not here. I did not live very long. In fact my parents put me on the ice...This was way up north. Inuit is the name for it I think. They put me on the ice. Either they were hungry or I was sickly or I wasn't what they wanted. It was predestined. Before this I had killed without remorse. A hunter loves the chase, but in nine months and the time...the time before I was conceived I had fallen in love with the land. You can fall in love with land. Have you ever seen the very north country in spring time...."

"You mean the tundra?" I have the word this time.

"The tundra...That's it. These were my people. This was my country and I wanted to be with my relatives after I died. I must have been ten, twelve...You grow up on the other side. Harva knows all about this shit. I only know snatches but they laughed at me. Then they sent me away. Then I told them that I had been a great warrior, one who could put all of them to shame. They laughed so I proved it. The tundra was soaked with blood. I broke bones. Spirits will heal but they can hurt and I needed to hurt them to show them I was bigger than some little baby they put on the ice. If I was big enough they'd take me....and..." Phedre hiccuped.

"What happened?" I asked.

"They took me," said Phedre. "I have a people and a place and a home."

"And now you've been born someone else somewhere else and you just remember this because you saw it in a dream."

"They'll wait for me and they'll come for me and now that things are going to be different, I don't have to wait."

"Don't die on my Phedre," I beg.

"Don't worry, I have no intnetion of dying but I know where my gift is coming from."

"Your gift is an outgrowth of anxiety disorder," I protest.

"Not that gift," sputters Phedre. "I'm talking about the one you get in a dream. Your passport, your mark, your stone. It says whose tribe you are and I have mine."

"You took something in a dream?" I asked.

Phedre shook her head. "I held back," she answered. "I love my parents and this life now. I'm not sure of my priorities, but until I sort them out, I am not sure I want that tribe stone."

"Then don't take it," I plead.

"I might, and I might not," said Phedre. "It's a choice and I can't just do what Harva says. Harva likes this present world a lot better than either of us does."

"How do you know I don't like it?" I ask.

"Don't you have someone named Zhenya sending you on a mission?" Phedre asked.

"Fuck Zhenya," I reply, and I'm serious, dead serious if you will.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/26/2005 12:29:00 AM  
  Chapter 2 -- Dreaming in Technicolor

The city is grey with winter. It is the most beautiful and ancietn city in the world. The buildings are of camel colored granite and each carefully carved like a sugar cake. On the steps of the cathedral there is a bunting of fir boughts.From the cathedral window shine candles. These are not my lights. The cathedral is not my family's cathedral, but we have a grand synagogue, or at least one taht looks grand eough from the outside located some streets away. Services in the snagogue could e dull at times, but it was our place, and our holida was already over that year. Now my father and I walked through the city that was celebrating its own holiday. I could feel my father's woolen shoulders under my thighs which were sheathed in wool blend tights. My feet were cold in patent leather shoes inherited froma cousin and restored with polish and a rag and a trip to the shoe maker's. Yes, the shoes fit. On my head was a little woolen cap that my mother had knit in several colors. On my hands were matching mittnes which were also tied to my coat for safekeeping.

My father trudged downtown, toward the new and very modern department store whcih had its name written in Roman script over the big glass window and a banner of red with its name in gold cyryllic letters hanging below; for the inhabitants of this city spoke several languages. In the window were marvels: an overstuffed teddy bear with a ribbon the color of wild rose petals, . A family of odolls with all female siblings, the youngest one sitting at a hh chair, but best of all there was the mdoel train set and the aerodrome. I stared at the trains as they rode round and round through their imaginary town, and the aeroplaines, in their magnificent detail, right down to their props. True they could not fly, but in my imagination they soared.

You can tell a lot about a civilization by the toys it builds, though some would argue that it doesn't matter what kind of toys it builds if most paernts can not afford to buy them for their children. Still the toys were there for all to see even if they were out of reach and little girls weren't suposed to play with aeroplanes anyway.

Then the city changes and I am much older. The city I am in is ot quite ad beauitufl but what makes a city beautiful is not the gingerbread careved of stone, but a vibrant electricity borne of close contact, so I fearlessly walk the city's streets. My rose colored woolen pants are tucked into comfortable black leather boots and over my patterned chenille sweater is a quilted coat or rich chinese red trimmed with synthetic ermine at the cuffs, hem, collar, and fringe of the hood. I know where I am going and whom I will meet. I think of my father in his woolen coat and how if he knew all or even most of the details, he would be quite proud of me. I just wish there was a way to tell him.

You can't do this to me! I scream. I can feel myself glow red hot with anger though actually the color is more orange. I sit on a cold flag stone outsie of an enclosure with no walls and a big thatched roof. Sometimes screens of either reeds or transparent plastic get let down to provide privacy, but people here mostly respect privacy so the screens stay up most of the time. I recognize the face and it is not my mother's or my father's or any of my favorite teachers'. It's Zhenya, the peace maker and resolver of disputes. No the title does not get capitalized. Zhenya and his kind don't rely much on writing. "Koru," says Zhenya "It's your time. The mission has begun. It's time to do your part."

"It's been twenty-eight years, " I tell Zhenya in English. I remember several other languages or at lest think I can speak them. "It doesn't matter,"Zhenya answered. "You know why you were born on Earth?" "Oh puh-leeze," is all I can think. I was born to pick up where I left off and to live in the beautiful city, if not the city I remembered, then nother one. I was not fussy. The New World was as fine as the old, though I adore both. My mission was and is not Zhenya's. He's going to ha ve to get that through his thick spirit skull now!

BRRRRRRRRRRINNNNGGG! went my alarm clock. I shut it off and lay in bed dazed. "This is the first time," I thought, the first time for that kind of a dream, but it did not feel like a first time. The dream was more a memory. Shit, this kind of thing was Harva's department. I wondered if whatever Harva had was catching. It couldn't be. Harva was unique. Harva is unique.

I started getting ready for school . In early December in the frist few years of the twenty-first century it was a Monday morning, the same as any other cold Monday. I dressed and headed down to the kitchen. It had been around two when I left Phedre's. To their credit, Phedre's parents have gotten used to Phedre being the way she is. Phedre got to stay up because she wouldn't sleep She even ate some jello and drank another cup of herbal tea.

There was no question Phedre would not be on her way to the bus stop, down the trail and out to the main road and up three blocks to the top fo the rise. Everyone else' parents in the neighborhood drove their children to school, but my parents figured I was on my own for school and at fourteen I was old enough. Phedre's parents had to leave early to go to their jobs a good forty miles away. That is the way it is around here out in the country.

My mother was the only one up this morning. My parents came in some time after I went to bed. My other siblings who are unschooled (Yes, my parents finally got it straight with the educational beaurocracy here in New Jersey) were still asleep. My mother had morning appointments. I thought of what Harva had said. Washington, DC is after all farther away then New York city.

My mom asked me how I slept. I told her I slept fine. I told her about Phedre jumping into the lake to save the boy who fell through the ice. Mom sighed. "We ought to do something for Phedre," she said somewhat absently. I did not tell my mothe rabout my very weird and vivid dream that read like a memory.

"The newspaper is going to interview me at school" said Phedre as we stood blowing little clouds of steam from our mouths at the bus stop. We watched the yellow school bus climb the hill and then come down for us. The bus was unusually quiet this morning.

"I reamed of doing kayak rolls last night," Phedre said. She smiled. It was this incredible smile taht was going to devour me and everyone. "Phedre are you OK?" I asked. She nodded. She was as OK as she could be given that she had risked her life without a flinch the previous day and did not know know why others could not do the same. Her system was rattled but it got rattled regularly. What was new in that.

We made it to school and went looking for Harva. Harva is in my homeroom so I'd bump in to her anyway, but Phedre wanted to make sure Harva was OK. Harva is anything if not predictable. We found her in her "spot" on the back stairs behind the cafeteria writing away in her notebook which is her log and diary. "How were your dreams?" she greeted us. "I dream in technicolor," I quipped. Harva shook her head. "Terrific," answered Phedre who meant it. "Good, I'm having great dreams too," Harva could have ended our meeting. Instead she put her notebook aside and said. "Promise me that if any one in authority offers you anything in a dream for any reason, DO NOT TAKE IT."

I promised. Harva sometimes knows what she is talkign about and besides my parents did get in some time between two am and six-thirty when I get up. "If you care about who you are and living a good surburban life and going off to college and having the future you promised yourself, then you have to fight them and the best way to fight them is to ignore them. Got that?"

I wanted to ask who they were, but of course I had some idea. "Harva," I asked. "What do you know of what happens before you are born and I don't mean in the womb?"

Harva raised her eyebrows. "You exist and you have had other lives and time between lives," she answered in a soft serious voice. "What else do you want to know," she continued. I could see tha I had made Harva very happy. One of Hrava's biggest problems and her biggest problem back when we were all together in Vernon was that all too often no one was interested in buying what Harva had to sell or even give way and when they got information from Harva they were often fiercely disappointed.

"Zhenya isn't getting shit from me!" I proclaimed. "I don't know who Zhenya is, but good going," Harva answered.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/25/2005 01:05:00 PM  
  Chapter 1 -- The Boy in the Lake

It was the week after Thanksgiving and there was only a bit of snow on top of the dead leaves in the woods, but it was cold and it had been a few days since any of us had seen the sun. We were out on the dirt roads frozen solid. The three in the "we" were Harva, Phedre, and I. We were walking because running is stupid and none of us have ever liked it. Harva's mother is an excellent cook and she had plied the three of us with gourmet treats imported from the city for a big Sunday dinner.

Phedre of course picked at her food. There are really only a very few things that Pnedre likes to eat. I could list them but they change from time to time and so the list would be obsolete. Anyway, what Phedre was currently eating that morning was unimportant. We were on the road rounding Lake Five in Highland Lakes which is up on top of the hills. Lake Five was already part way frozen. The ice looked angry and dull grey like the eye on a dead crow.

We could see it through the trees and that is how we saw the kids. They were on the ice. "Stupid kids," complained Harva. The ice was too thin. Harva's parents' neighbor had tested it just this morning. I hoped none of the kids would venture too far out or worse yet....

We did not hear the ice break about a hundred feet off shore or at least I didn't. I just saw it through the trees, the hole black and like velvet after the child went through. "Look Harva and Phedre," I said. Harva who was lost in her own thoughts as she frequently is was slow to look, and by the time I got her attention directed to the hole, Phedre was crashing through the woods. She just walked through the pricker bushes, trailing thorns, brambles nad beggars lice. We had a hard time keeping up with her.

If she was planning on walking out on that ice she was crazy. She wasn't planning on walking. She ran and about fifty feet out the ice gave way, making a second and larger hole. The kids on the shore were crying. From what I could find out, one of them had sent for an adult who was lumbering back cursing and talking about getting a boat. I wondered if I should tell them that there were now two people under the ice. I wonder if I could tell him how helpless I felt standing there with my best friend from school drowning.

No, she was not drowning. Phedre resufaced. She thrust up one hand which was bare and blue and curled into a fist with the thumb upraised. Her other arm was curled about the child whom she held against her breast. Then she and the child disappeared below the surface again. By now the adult had his jacket off and was holding it out over the water and ice as Phedre resurfaced for the second time near the hole she had made closer to shore when she fell in. She had come up in the child's hole for air.

Phedre put the child on the more solid ice at the shore side of her hole. I could hear her now as she treaded water. "Get up," she told the child. "It's safe here." The child stood, dazed. "Go...move..." The boy took a few steps and then the man threw him the jacket and pulled him until he could grab him. When the child was on dry land in the man's arms, Phedre pulled herself out of the hole, rolled to standing and ran back to dry land. I thought her hair would freeze but it didn't.

"We got to get you somewhere warm," I said. The man reappeared by then and said he had room for all of us in his truck and he had the heat turned on. He had the heat like an oven. Harva told him to take Phedre and me back to her house where we had had dinner and done some studying and played computer games.

Fortunately, the man did a fair amount of the talking. Harva's parents were not sure what to do with the cold, wet, Phedre so they gave her some of their pajamas and a robe and made her towel off, put them on and sit near the fire. The man kept asking Harva's family what he could do. Harva said he should ask Phedre who was changing in the bedroom.

Since Phedre was taking a while, I decided to go back and visit her. She sat on the bedside in the nightie robe and slippers that belonged to Harva's mother and shivered. She stared into space. I thought she would cry. "Phedre, that guy who put the little boy in his truck wants to give you money," I said. Phedre seemed not to hear. "You're getting like Harva sometimes," I added. "I don't need anything," said Phedre. She got up and came out to be thanked. The man had to get his nefew home to his family who lived back a ways from the lake. The boy shouldn't have been wandering so far. "Please don't beat the child," said Harva suddenly. "He's been through enough." The man blinked.

"Harva is right," answered Phedre. "He almost drowned."

"And what about you?" asked the man.

"I didn't come close to drowning. I can swim," answered Phedre.

Harva's parents looked at each other. After the man was gone she told them and all the rest of us: "I did what I have to do. Why does that always surprise people? It's not like I beat any body up." No one had an answer for Phedre.

Later her picture would appear in our local puppy paper. GIRL FOURTEEN SAVES CHILD. Hold that picture in your mind. This is one of my best friends and her name is Phedre.

We went to school together and she showed me the ropes because my parents did not care one bit about school. They believed in unschooling, but they were off the road because my mother needed to finish up her PhD. My mother is a clinical psychologist. Going to graduate schbool does not count as "schooling." My mother wanted to unschool all our children and my father agreed. He is an engineer by trade but he is an inventor and a scientist and he works for himself. He too did not think that school was either good or necessary.

My father created rides for carnivals and amusement parks and amusements for wealthy people. Before I was seven years old I lived in trailers at circuses and county fairs, in carriage houses on estates, and even once in a mansion where every morning the cook asked me what I wanted for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I started keeping lists of favorite foods and giving them to the housekeeper to have on hand. I even wrote up menus on a word processor, picking away at the giant letter keyboard my father got me.

Of course that fun time got balanced out by all the times I slept on what was a thin matterss on a shelf above the floor in the back of my father's favorite trailer which is still parked on our land. My little sister Miir used to use it as a play house. Maybe she still does. It got grubby and close in the trailer. One time my mother went walking through a book store with me and we ended up buying work books in mathematics and with reading games in them. I liked those so I'd sit on my mattress doing workbooks.

I'd sometimes do workbooks when we were camped near midways. Carnival people are noisey. I wanted something quiet. I remember memorizing my times tables, something my dad suggested I try. I was seven then. I lived on the road. I desperately longed for permanment space to call my own. I liked the quiet cold of supermarkets.

Then mom needed to finish her residency requirement and being on the road with two kids was a distraction. My dad and mom bought the farmhouse down in the valley in Vernon, New Jersey and I got a room of my own. My parents also ran into a fairly stiff beaurocracy including a school system that had fairly stiff requirements for home schooling. Unschooling just would not do.

That was when my father decided to send me to the public schools. It was easy. I liked sit down work any way, as many small girls do, and since I was not particularly fussy as to subject matter, I'd at least get some variety and access to a library for all the free reading I could handle.

With all that, my parents still disliked the idea of school. It was like being in the army as far as they were concerned. "You need to have clean hands and a clean face, clean fingernails and a clean shirt every day or people will not think well of you." That was my father's advice. I needed a lot of other things, some of them superficial, some of them just stuff I've never had. Being a quiet kid who likes to read and doesn't have use for a lot of running around and who only likes songs to which she can sing, does not get you very far when television tells the other kids what to want and they want very particular things and eschew everything else. Being an omnnivore in a herd of picky eaters, means no place at the table or eating lunch alone.

I would not have made it in school without Phedre. She also did not fit in, but her parents, both of whom were college professors, worshippped education and treated school like a temple and what it taught as holy. Phedre was an acolyte, brilliant if a bit high strung, no make that very high strung, but still brilliant. In Phedre I had a study buddy as Phedre's father called it and my father called it too. I called it a best friend. Phedre made sense ninty percent of the time.

And the other ten percent she made sense as well. It was the world that did not make sense. There was a big stupid hulk of a boy who moved here from Jersey City who was bumping into us and then groping feels when we were in fourth grade. He tried that one time too many with Phedre and me, and Phedre let him have it. She asked him to meet her across the street from the school after school let out. She purposely missed the bus. The boy showed up with a bunch of his friends.

Phedre then proceeded to beat the shit out of him. Of course he gave her a broken nose and two black eyes, but she would not quit fighting. "She fights like a maniac." he would say afterwards. Twice the hulk had Phedre nearly pinned to the ground, but she spat in his eye. He let go to take another whack at her and she kicked him in the stomach and started pounding on him. He ended up with three broken ribs. Phedre had one in addition to the broken nose and two shiners. The other boys were afraid to touch her. The big stupid hulk stopped groping girls in the hall too.

Of course Phedre had to live with two week's suspension but I brought her homework home to her and my mother argued that she should proctor the one exam Phedre missed during that week off. Phedre never missed a beat though she had to promise to go to the authorities rather than beat up on any one who tried to cop an unwanted feel. Phedre also saw several psychiatrists because she doesn't sleep well and has a very picky appetite and complains of stomach cramps and head aches.

Harva's parents finally coaxed Phedre into having some tea with sugar. She sat sipping it shivering at the dining room table that looked out on to the two wooden porches that flanked Harva's parents' house. There was a big screen porch at one end that had doors on to each open porch. The sliding door on the screen porch and one wooden door in the living room was the way in to and out of Harva's parents' house.

Over in the hallway that leads to the bedrooms, Harva's mother got on the phone to Phedre's mother. Phedre really was in sorry shape and needed to be a sad sack somewhere else. My own parents were gone for the weekend and had taken the two younger siblings with them. It was my job to look after myself so no one worried about me.

Harva had out her journal again and sat on the couch writing in it. Yes, Harva's father was right: she did write in that thing to escape the world but considering that Harva lived in close quarters in what once had been a year around vacation house up in Highland Lakes, who could blame her. Right now I wished Phedre had an escape like that. I'm not sure why I wished it.

I wasn't really scaird of spending the afternoon and evening alone. There was always plenty for me to do besides study. My father had finally hit upon a manual skill that he said I needed, needle work along with sewing and knitting. My mother and Pnedre's had taught me how to cook.

I was doing needle work projects for 4-H and things for use in the house. The trouble was that most needle work was for older ladies who did not have my own practical tastes. I was learning to make my own designs and fill them in.

Harva looked up from her journal. "Can we talk privately?" she asked. I looked around. There was not much chance of doing it at Harva's parents' house. Harva of course had a room of her own amid all this chaos. We went in there and closed the door. If this was going to be about Phedre, I did not want to hear it. "Your parents are lying about where they say they went," said Harva.

"My parents had work on site near New York City," I answered.

"No, they didn't. They went to Washington DC, Silver Spring, Maryland," Harva countered.

"The fuck they did," I answered. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and showed Harva the number I used to call them last night. "See 914 area code. Westchester county," I complained.

"Then the calls get forwarded," answered Harva.

"Shit," I said. "How do you know this?"

"You know how I know this," she said.

"So are my parents working for the CIA?" I asked. It was possible, but given what my dad did for a living, I did not think so.

"No, but it's the government...kind of has to be."

"So what am I supposed to do about it," I asked.

"There's going to be some big shit at school next week. They may come after me."


"I don't know their name and it is different in different languages. Look I want your help. You were a witness for Phedre when you were both nine. I want you to be a witness for me, got that..."

"Harva, you really are talking crazy," I protested.

"I don't have to worry about Phedre," said Harva. "When the time comes she'll do the right thing because she acts on instinct when she gets threatened. You're another story."

"Gee thanks for telling me I can't be trusted."

"I don't mean it that way, Koru. What I mean," said Harva "is that...some of my friends think that all hell is going to break loose, and when it does enemies of my friends are going to make my life very difficult. Can you stick with me? You're my best friend you know."

"Well if you put it that way," I answered. After all, what were friends for and what are they for. By now Phedre's parents had arrived full of worry and equipped with fresh clothes. We let in Phedre who started to dress because it was better than dealing with her own parents and Harva told Phedre that her "friends" had said that the world was ending next week, and that she was going to be on the front lines of the battle for Armageddon and wanted back ups and reenforcements. Phedre said she'd do what she could for Harva. After all, that is what friends are for.

After Phedre and I had to go home with Phedre's parents who made noises about dinner. Phedre of course made noises about having an upset stomach. Even the tea had made her sick, she protested. Phedre's parents made noises about the last psychiatrist she saw. I stared out the window glad my parents did not believe in the mental health establishement. I had long ago given up wishing they believed in school. I am not sure what I believed my parents in and I did not care.

I sat on my bed because it was a while until dinner at Phedre's. Phedre's parents lived in another building at the same farmstead. My parents and Phedre's owned the property in common and called it the world's smallest co-op. This meant Phedre and I could have been sisters and that would have been good except I am not one bit like either Phedre or Harva. Well we are all good students would left to our own devices stick to our studies, but my mom says that is not so unusual in some girls.

I went down to the kitchen to make cherry kosher geletin, the all natural kind with juicey juice and Queen Anne Cherries from a can. I love jello even though my parents look down on it. I thought Phedre who was still too sick due to the excitement of rescuing the boy under the ice, might like jello too. It would be ready late at night, but Phedre never slept and I hoped her mother would not be rude to me. I knew my own parents would understand and would probably be home by the time the jello had set.

I wondered if Harva was right about them going to Washington instead of New York. That seemed like such gratuitious information. I mean, what did it really matter. I was just glad I had been here and not out on the road. I had enough of the road the first half of my life. It is so good to be settled down. Maybe you agree with me. I think a lot of you do.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/23/2005 02:02:00 PM  
  This is a test post.

This is just a throwaway post. I will rip up the template once I am sure everything works.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 12/23/2005 12:58:00 PM  

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