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.

  Here is a test post.

There is a test post.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 2/19/2006 02:46:00 AM  
  Chapter 17 -- Fortresses and King's Lynn

The new year began with letters back to Harva, Phedre, and my parents. I did not think these would be my last letters. Somehow my parents would always have a priviledged line of communication and my friends from school could use that line. I counted myself as lucky. New Year's Day I saw the first people along the real street of the sunny world that shone through my window. Maybe it wasn't the "real" London after all. It was way too sunny.

"I wonder who those people are," said Taylor absently. She often came in Leilanni's and my room to watch out the window. "People who aren't as lucky as we are," Leilanni groaned back. "Who says we are lucky?" answered Taylor. "The fact that other dumb fucks aren't lucky says it," Mandi answered.

I ordered meals, took my turn on the tread mill, crocheted and watched DVD's. Mostly I kept my own counsel. I was lucky in so many ways. The real reason I was lucky was that I had friends who were fighting twice as hard as I was...but for what?

Here is another of Phedre's letters...

Dearest Koru,

It became official after four or five phone calls by my mom and yours to the Board of Education, there will be no school on January 2nd. One of the reasons for this is that we are running out of gas and or diesel. Your father says that school buses use diesel fuel. Trucks run on diesel too and so food has started running low at the Food Emporium and at the Pathmark in Frankfort. We live mainly on canned and nonperishible foods stored in boxes and pantries. My parents had a pantry as a matter of course. Your parents had one as a matter of planning.

Even this will run low soon. Your mother says not to worry though. For Christmas your father and and mine gave themselves a generator and they are currently excavatign through the hard rocky soil behind the workshop to put in a fuel tank. I guess this place is going to become a kind of fortress in a siege. My spirit friends suspect that your parents are very wealthy. I think they are right and they are spending their money the right way.

So ask me if I feel secure. The answer is yes. Ask me if I should feel secure. The answer should be "no." My little sister is still missing and while your parents will let my parents and me and also Harva say safe, warm, and well fed along with them because it is easy, none of those employees will do anything to lift a finger to help find Ligeia. I don't know thing one about finding Ligeia or I would get my stone and go looking for her myself. I knew how to rescue that boy from under the ice, but that was different. This is much more complicated.

They threw the stones again on New Year's Eve. I know because my dreams get very vivid and go on all night long and into the next day. Should I feel secure? Yes, because I know when I get my stone where I am going. The village is called Ardznorvo and it is located near the mouth of the Lena River in Siberia, only it won't be the version of Siberia on our maps here. From what my friends have explained there are dozens of parallel worlds. The name they have for where they have their beach head is Kitz-ivi. That is the best spelling I have. The people who made these names don't use a Roman alphabet. They use pictographs. Harva told me that.

Don't worry. I have no intention of leaving for Siberia until the weather gets warm and life here in the fortress your parents are making gets intolerable. I know that the latter event has to happen some time. With the world outside collapsing without even putting up half a fight, it is just a matter of time. I know this is news you do not want to hear. Don't feel bad about being behind the jammers. The time will come when you can find your way out. Being your father's daughter gives you an edge. You'll use it when you have to.

Phedre Goldberg

On the evening of January 2nd, we did not have any more meal forms to fill out. Uncle Bill and Aunt Jodie told all of us to get started packing. In the morning we would travel by bus to our school at King's Lynn way up in the Midlands and on the coast. I wondered which King's Lynn it would be but I kept my mouth shut. Maybe it would have been better had we asked questions all the time.

"It just gets worse from here," complained Taylor. "Shut the fuck up," Mandi answered. Leilanni groaned. Grace and Hannah complained they had too much stuff. I went to visit Tapati who was packing dutifully. Her face was composed into a half smile. "Learned a lot haven't you?" she asked. I did not feel as if I had learned anything. My friends were fighting and I was a well cared for and well fed prisoner. "I've learned this whole experience sucks super electric weenie," I answered. Tapati gave me a wry smile.

The next morning after a box breakfast of energy bars which I did not eat, we got on the bus with the picture of a stone with a hand. The lobby of the Dorchester appeared unchanged from what I remembered a week or so before. There was too much sun in the streets but I already knew that. London also seemed to have shrunk but I had only been to one of its suburbs once with Tapati and a lot of good that trip had done. Beyond London, the world was green with blue skies and an occasional old village. The ride took two hours and where they took us was flat and wooded with a village up the road.

I would still have my yellow bracelet and I would stay in a low rise building with a many angled black shingled roof pointing in many directions and a cedar or teak face in reddish brown and a big porch or deck. The building was called Medina 1. Tapati, Mandi, and I would join a bunch of kids who were already there. My class schedule was pinned to my already decorated dormitory room door. Yes, it was just what I had ordered. That made me sad. My trunk and boxes sat waiting for me. It was home as if I had never left. "Someone is trying to do tricks with my memories," I thought angrily. Then I started unpacking.

Lunch was in a big cafeteria that served an endless array of food. I thought of the time I'd spent in that mansion in Virginia when I was six. I also thought of Harva, Phedre, and my family eating canned food and living on their own fuel and electricity. How long would that fortress last and what would happen when it went? I did not have any answers.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 2/11/2006 12:35:00 PM  
  Chapter 16 -- Seeing Out

"What are you eating?" asked Taylor who was still a one armed bandit.

"Linguini with white clam sauce," I replied.

Taylor made a face. "And last night it was that stuff in tubes," she sneered.

"Manicotti," I answered. If it weren't for Taylor who proceeded to take out her confinement on every one around her, our stay in the Dorchester shortly after Christmas just might have qualified as pleasant. It reminded me of the time I had stayed in that mansion in Virginia. I had been six years old then and had never been to school. I was left alone all day with the cook, house keeper, governess and the owner's six and four year old children. My younger brother who was two at the time stayed with my mom. The cook asked us what we wanted to eat. We could have anything we desired and I desired presweetened cereal for breakfast, pineapple juice, and at lunch time sardine sandwiches, peanut butter and apricot preserve sandwiches, or one of several kinds of cold cuts. I would eat the same thing for dinner except I sometimes got soup instead. I had a list of about ten kinds that I liked and I also got a hot vegetable. I knew all the fancy mixed ones by heart. I drove the poor cook nuts so one morning she took me to the supermarket and let me pick out a whole bunch of stuff. After that, she knew what I liked and said I was a pleasure to cook for and started slipping in stuff she made for the grownups, vegetables mostly, especially if there were a party.

It was good food, but I was lonely. I remember the swimming lessons and trying to ride a horse and the fake train in the back yard that ran on a real little track and the go-carts that I was scaird to drive, and the VCR and DVD machines where I never got to pick the movie. My counterpart was eating chicken nuggets and some kind of hamburger on a bun and corn and nothing else. I don't know how the cook did not mind fixing two separate meals. They must have paid her well. I imagined a cook somewhere fixing our food.

We had two treadmills in the hall, and like the models, I exercised on one of them every day, usually in the late morning to get it over with or in the early morning if the late morning slot was taken. I hated the fact that one of the treadmills faced towards the fake wall where a guard always sat, placidly staring into space. Did they pay the guards well too? I couldn't imagine a more boring job. I usually imagined I was skiing as I walked the treadmill.

The rest of the day I wrote letters and did needle work and when I finished the squid design, I crocheted. I decided whatever I was making would be a back pannel for a sweater vest. It might look cute should I ever have the need to dress up again.

Around noon on the twenty-ninth of December, Aunt Jodie handed me a thick envelope. I tore it open. In it was a letter from each of my parents and letters from Phedre and Harva.

My parents said they were doing fine. Gasoline was in short supply. Hilel and Mir, my two younger siblings, had each other and were continuing their unschooled educations. Dad was busy with work. Mom was on "Social Committee" as a part of her work, and that had changed things. Nearly every family had lost at least one member in the stone toss. Sometimes a child or aged parent was left all alone. More than once, my mother had used precious gasoline to take such a person to another city where they had relatives. The phone and internet still worked. My dad warned me to listen to my minders and not try to cut holes in doors and windows or tear through them. Such actions would cost me my freedom. My dad also was glad that he knew where his entire family was and that we were all unscathed. My dad, at least was honest.

Harva and Phedre's letters were different.


I am writing this letter from your old bedroom where I am now staying. No, I am not in Highland Lakes any more. You are probably curious why I am down here in the valley and how I got here. Well, it is not a good story as you can well imagine. On the mornig of December 26th, my mother disappeared. I wish I missed her. Your mother says I am too traumatized right now and will miss her eventually.

That left my father and I in the house. It would have been Christmas Break anyway but it was just school and after going to work once and taking me with him (New York City was gutted beyond belief, nothing open, a lot of people wandering the streets aimlessly, "Have you seen?" posters plastered to walls. It is like one big scream.) he stayed home and it was just the two of us in the house.

Your mom can say my dad was traumatized, but he threatened to take my notebooks. I resisted. We fought. It got ugly. He ended up chasing me across the living room and beating me with a shoe. I still have the bruises to show for it. I couldn't believe my mom had been gone for two days only and it had come to this kind of thing.

Late that night after my dad was asleep, I escaped. I took some underware and my notebooks and nothing else. It was five in the morning by the time I arrived at your parents house. I knew your parents would still be around because they are behind all of the changes, if you want to use a euphemism. Yes, I fondly remember English and school. They took me in and later that day, a whole car load of employees with guns went up to my old house with your parents and me and they got the rest of my stuff.

Your mother will not let me go back to my dad. She saw the bruises on my back. She says I could be killed. There is no guarantee I could reach the police or that they could get there in time should my dad get violent again. Don't ask me what I think about any of this. I did not think the bruises were all that bad. I just did not want to lose my notebooks. That's the truth. I know you think that's crazy.

Anyway, I am here. Phedre and I use your old bedroom in the workshop (I'm sleeping in the house.) as a school room. I refused to sleep there. Phedre does not sleep with jammers and neither should I. Don't feel guilty if you sleep with jammers. Your situation and mine are very different, even if you now have spirit friends you like and trust. Yes, that is better. Keep up the good work in that department if and when you can.

Our plan is to have school every day and help both sets of parents (Phedre's parents are still here.) around the house to earn our keep and stay on every one's good side. At least that is possible here. Your parents are good at the survival thing. Even if the whole world falls apart, we will have heat and food and get through the winter. Best of luck to you. Please remember to read Phedre's letter

Harva Schumacher

And here is Phedre's letter....

Dearest Koru,

I hope you are well. Harva and I are as well as can be expected. Yes, Harva lives in your old bedroom, not the one in the workshop but the one in the house with your parents. Her family disintegrated on the twenty-sixth.

Your parents think that my parents may have some sort of natural immunity. Ligeia already had her stone and disappeared on the twenty-sixth. I miss her. My parents have a kind of shrine to her in the living room with pictures of her on the wall. I think there should be a candle there, but that would be overkill. I keep telling myself she will come back. We all believe that. It's probably bullshit.

Harva is the one among us who really suffered. I am so grateful to your parents and those employees for strong arming her dad to get her stuff out of that house way up in Highland Lakes. There won't be any more stores soon. There won't be any more phone. There will definitely be no gas, and soon no internet. If it is like this here, imagine what it is like in Siberia near the Arctic Circle.

No one is offering me a stone until after the Equinox. I am immune now for a time. Harva and Merlene and Illarion are as thick as thieves and also have an understanding. That means we are in it for the long haul.

That is a major relief. Now if only Ligeia will come back. Yes, I have asked the employees about it and Fern (remember her!) says it sometimes happens. Who knows if I believe her. Keep the faith and write again soon.

Phedre Goldberg

You can make of these letters what you wish. I wrote back to both Phedre and Harva. Then I wrote to my parents and mailed it out on the thirtieth of December. There was nothing to do then but wait for letters.

By the way, unlike New York which was a screamingly dead city, according to Harva, London or at least what I saw from my hotel room window in the Dorchester was a quietly disturbingly dead city. I saw no people, no cars, no movement. I don't know why I woke up on the morning of New Year's Eve (Yes that was the day!) and realized that what I was looking at was not a real world outside a window but a static tabelau.

"Koru, what are you doing?" Leilanni asked me. "Have you lost it?"

I did not want to break the window. Besides it was solid. I tried scratching at it with my house key. There was a kind of greasey film on it but the scratches only left scratches that looked a bit odd but which showed nothing. It would have taken weeks to scratch a large enough space to get anything approaching a decent view. I started looking for some kind of device. If this was one of my dad's illusion generators there had to be a device for it somewhere, but I found nothing in the window frame. Then I saw the thin cable going toward the floor and connected to a small box.

For a moment I thought about my dad and how I could not bear to destroy one of his creations because that would be like destroying him. Then I got one of my shoes and went to work. The shoe did not work, but it did work when I put it on my feet and could kick very hard. The device popped open and I got to work with a needle point hook and my hand wrapped in a cotton sock for grounding. I managed to pry the electronics loose just as my door flew open and I turned back to look at an embroidered shirt female guard and Uncle Bill.

"It's done and you can't change it," I said.

"Fuck," said Leilanni.

A bright blue sky shone through the window instead of the grey of the previous scene. There were several brightly colored cars parked beside the building that had not been there before. I did not see any people, but I did see several pigeons land and take off again.

"Why?" asked Uncle Bill.

"I needed to see out," I answered. "I'm not escaping."

"You can't escape," said the guard. "You can only get lost," she told me. "Do you understand. You have no way back."

"Of course," I said. "Home is 9,000 miles away, even if I could get to the airport," I countered.

The guard and Uncle Bill looked at each other. Meanwhile the connecting door had opened and Taylor and Mandi had emerged. "Holy shit," said Mandi. "The fucking sun is shining," answered Taylor. "This is London, but that's not the London we were in before Christmas. It's somewhere else,"

"How do you know?" I answered and I wished Harva were here because she though she does not believe it is good at explaining those things.

"My...friends told me about the other worlds. We're in one of them," stammered Taylor.

"I think you've started a panic," sighed Leilanni.

"Nothing that hasn't been here before. Koru, no more vandalism please," he said.

Oddly enough I kept my yellow bracelet. I really had no intention of escaping. Though the thought of smashing a window might have been a good one. As I explained home was 9,000 miles away if it was on this world at all. I wasn't sure if what Taylor said was right even when I saw people outside my window. Throughout the day, word of the real view in Leilanni's and my room spread and Yumi, Emma, Grace, Hannah, and even the three boys came by to view it. Only Tapati was resistant. She spent her time reading or in bed or eating or dutifully walking the treadmill.

And yes, I should have asked Taylor if the world out there had a name that was different from London but I didn't. Maybe it was all the stuff Harva said about words in other languages that stopped me. Taylor did not seem to be the other language type and neither was Tapati, but it was Harva who had taught me so I did not ask. I just watched and tried to figure out if I was really some place very different than the London where I had spent a week travelling before the gate slammed shut and the stones got tossed.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 2/08/2006 07:20:00 PM  
  Chapter 15 -- Super Electric Weenie

"Everybody, stay in their room!" bellowed Uncle Bill whose booming voice roused me from groggy sleep. The clock radio on the night table said 6:00am. &quto;It's happened," I thought and I missed it. I bolted out of bed and opened the door of my room. "Uncle Bill ssays we have to stay in bed," Leilanni informed me. "Fuck Uncle bill," I thought.

Then I saw it. There was no hole in the fake wall that sealed off our end of the corridor in the Dorchester. Instead, there was a red headed man in an embroidered white shirt sitting on a tall stool, sitting guard. Tapati never had a chace or else she got caught before she could make the first cut. I stepped out i nto the hall.

"Go back to bed," said the guard. I ignored him and knocked on Ymi and Tapati's door. "Come in," I heard Yumi's voice. I opened the door to see lights on and Tapati lying on her back like a coorpse. I wondered how to ask her what had happened.

"I'm sorry," I told her.

"My guide says patience, remember," she answered me.

I turned to whisper in Tapati's brown ear. "How close did you get?" I asked.

"I've been in bed the whole time," Tapati answered.

"You didn't even try?" I whispered again.

"There's a medical emergency tonight," she said.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Just then Uncle Bill appeared in Yumi and Tapati's doorway. I had to go back to my room now. We were not only under lockdown but also a medical emergency. "Who got sick?" I asked.

"Taylor tried to kill herself," said Leilanni. Don't ask me how she knew this. I could see a light shining from under the connecting door. "Don't open that" Leilanni begged me. I slowly opened the connecting door. That was how I saw Taylor sitting on the end of one of the beds with her arm bandaged and her nightie stained with bright red blood.

"Taylor is a dumb fuck," Mandi explained from her seat on the other bed.

"You're the dumb fuck," Taylor replied. "You don't care if you're trapped in this goddmamned prison forever. It may look nice, but it's just a prison."

I glanced at Taylor's wrist which was not bandaged. On it was a red bracelet. It hit me slowly. Taylor had tried to cut the surgicly implanted jammer out of her arm. "Life sure sucks doesn't it," I said to Taylor and Mandi and any one else.

"Only if you're an idiot," Mandi answered. "Taylor was going to leave her rabbit."

"You would have taken care of it," said Taylor.

"Your'e a stupid spoiled twrip, you know that Taylor," Mandi commented.

"And you're so stupid you have shit for brains. The stuff in the bottom of the bunny cage has more intelligence than you," Taylor answered.

"Well you never lived on a farm," said Taylor.

"And you have?" Mandi asked.

"Fuck yes, and we had sheep and cows. You know what they do with cows when they get tired of them and sheep when they are big enough....Up they go right into the turck and you know where that truck takes them. It's a wone way ride. I'm no fucking sheep!" Taylor raised her bandaged arm. She must have cut hrself badly; for I could see blood coming through the bandages.

I was a bit sick of Taylor and Mandi's fighting so I left them to fight withou an audience. I found Leilanni fiddling with the remote control. All the television brought in this morning was static. It was still dark outside. It looked as if it had rained. I crawled back under the covers taht wasere still a bit warm and dozed off until I again heard pounding at my door.

This time I leaped out of bed and cried "What is it?" Aunt Jodie boomed back that there would be a meeting in her room at 8:30am. It was now 8:20am and the sun had dawned behind grey clouds. I got dressed and straggled in to the meeting late. Taylor sat numbly on the floor cradling her bandaged arm. Tapati had a sweater over her saalwar khameez. The two dogs howled. Aunt Jodie explained that we would be on lockdown in the area behind the fake wall until after the first of the year. We would not go down into the rest of the hotel to eat. We would no longer be allowed outside at all. I listened and looked at Taylor who looked away from me.

Aunt Jodie then handed out slips of paper. We got three at a time. On each slip we were to fill out what we wanted for breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner for a specific day. We could have anything our hearts desired. "Like the condemned man's last meal" I thought as I stared at the cards. I thought of the dinner that Harva's mom made her daughter, Phedre, and me back in New Jersey. What was going on in New Jersey this night; for it was still night there? Aunt Jodie said she'd want our first menu slip in an hour. She dismissed us and I staggered back to my room. Leilanni toyed with her menu slip. I made up my mind to ask Uncle Bill and Aunt Jodie if it would be possible to still write to my parents and receive mail from them. Being the daughter of employees of this whole ugly scheme had its advantages. I could still stay in touch with Harva and Phedre. I realized I needed to feel very grateful. I also had menus to fill out.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 1/27/2006 10:11:00 PM  
  Chapter 14 -- Great Group Spirit

Replacing Zhenya with Ware, was good for me in so many ways it was not funny. First now that I had what most people, except those with surgical jammers implanted in their arms, had I could think straight about what I wanted. Ware was helpful in this but mostly it was my doing.

I started thinking: "What does Koru Senecoff want?" The answer was easy. First, I wanted to finish my education, at least to get through high school. If I stayed stoneless and went to the boarding school some time after the big day on the twenty-sixth, I would be fine. Sometimes it is nice to have a goal you can reach by doing what you are told. Second, I wanted to stay in contact with my friends. That meant we would need a backup system of communication should the internet either go down or be disrupted, and anything could happen after Boxing Day.

Then I was also oddly grateful to my parents for sending me to England. I had been angry about being sent away because I missed my friends, but I was now going to be able to back to school, while my friends would have to scramble for whatever home schooling parents would provide. I also realized I hadn't written my parents all week.

That was why I told Tapati we were hitting the cybercafe in Earl's Court first thing after breakfast Wednesday morning. She went along with it and sat silently on a chair while I did my emails. It was not until I was at the ATM and then on my way to the tube station with Tapati to realize she had never once sent an email to her mom or even bought a postcard for her. "How come you don't write your parents?" I asked Tapati as we rode on the tube towards Camden station where there was a market and a zoo. I did not have the heart to go ice skating though now that we both meditated, I could watch Tapati as I circled the rink and we'd probably go back to the gardens to have at least one skating session tomorrow. Today was the zoo and shopping and just roaming around to eat and bring back snacks.

If Tapati wanted something different, she'd have to speak up. Her passivity got me some times. It wasn't really passivity. Tapati was through with a world that was going to crumble in a matter of days. Tapati was ready for the new. She talked about it some times when I prodded her. Today though she only answered: "Why should I write my mother?"

"Because she needs to know you arrived safely," I said which was a dumb cliche of an answer. "She knows," groaned Tapati. "The counselors would tell her if it were different," Tapati took me literally. "Yes, but don't you have something to say to your mom. I mean there's going to be no school after the twenty-sixth, no more Madeira but there will be school for us," This was my rationale. I didn't think it was Tapati's except she didn't impress me as a slacker.

"This is prison for me," Tapati burst out. "Don't you get it? No you don't," she sighed.

I got it. "There on moratorium until the twenty-sixth," I told Tapati. "Who?" she asked. "The living people who run this whole new world business. If you get a stone today it will be worthless and once we hit the twenty-sixth, they'll lock us behind that electrified barrier that is a fake wall and surround us with jammers and they'll only let us out when there is a safe way to get us to the school and there will be jammers and barriers there." I did not find that comforting but thought of it as a necessary evil, a price to be paid for what really mattered.

Tapati said nothing. "My guide tells me to be patient. He says I'll find a way out," she said softly as our train pulled in to Embankment station where we had to transfer. I was thinking of things my dad had taught me. I thought of what he had showed me a few weeks ago, the illusion machine to be used for buses and indoor transitions. The door was an illusion field strung on some kind of membrane with a wooden door hanging in it. It was not solid but it was not just an image either. To walk through it without the swipe card, meant one would probably have to cut the fence and to cut an electrified fence with metal..."Yikes!" I thought. Of course there was a way around the problem.

I did not say anything to Tapati as we toured the zoo. It waas well into th eafternoon when we got to the markets and I had to ask several times before we got good directions to a hardware store that was the right kind of a hardware store. In the end we rode the tube several stops to the electrical supply place and Tapati spent more than she thought was right for a pair of thick rubbarized gloves and a large sturdy pair of sheers. The old man in the hardware store somewhere in the London suburbs looked somewhat surprised when I asked him where I could find some needle point supplies.

"We have very different hobbies," I explained. The man did not know but a woman in an off license did and we hiked over a wintery hillside to a shopping center and then went to a cafe to eat those very good British sandwiches. Tapati did not think them so good. "You should have been born here," she said toying with her chicken salad. I ate my usual smoked salmon with the works which they call salad in Britain.

I bought tons of needlepoint supplies, so many that I asked Tapati to kick in the rest of her funds. We were nearly broke, but I told Tapati not to use any ATM's in this part of London. "They can trace your purchases and we don't want them to know you were here," I explained. We had our tube passes and we rode all the way back to King's Cross to cover our tracks and find an ATM.

Tapati asked for dinner at the hotel, but I said "No." We'd eat out in the Docklands tonight and then head toward the Monument station and pick up more snacks. I wanted us burdened down with tons of stuff tonight. Since I shopped for one thing or another fairly regularly, it was doubtful that Aunt Jodie or Uncle Bill would inspect my packages.

We had a lovely dinner in the Docklands or at least I enjoyed the fish. Tapati again ate chicken. She was addicted to the stuff. She said the food gave her a headache. We got in forty minutes past curfew which was not good. Uncle Bill asked us what we bought and I showed him the food and the needlepoint supplies. He said I was thinking ahead and that was good. There would be several days of lockdown after the twenty-sixth.

I figured as much, and the thought did not alarm me. I had taken care of my parents and thanked them as I should. I had taken care of my friends. Both Phedre and Harva knew to give any mail for me to my parents who would forward it via Fern and the other coworkers who swarmed all over the workshop. I had taken care of business. I had even repaid Tapati.

Once Yumi had gone over to visit Claudette and Carla and closed the connecting door, I gave her the shears and gloves I had smuggled in buried under the needle point supplies. "Shit," sighed Tapati. "Your guide is right," was all I said back. The walls in the Dorchester after all had ears.

You can ask me if you like why I didn't feel guilty about helping Tapati. You can ask why I did not worry about her parents, well actually her mother. Her father probably knew all about where she was and what she was up to and in to these days. I am not sure even now except I felt a need to pay off my debt. Tapati was not Phedre or Harva but I felt somehow more complete once I had a sponsor or guide of my own. That deserved pay back.

And did I worry, that others would escape through the hole Tapati made? I thought it might be a great idea. After all, these were not my friends' younger siblings. My own younger siblings were naturally blessed. Also rescuing people was a thankless task. I thought of Chaim who put a piece of ski pole through Phedre's cheek.

Thursday was the day for ice skating in the afternoon which meant a short run to the cybercafe in the morning. I wished that Tapati would bid her mother farewell even in a fairly cryptic email but she was Tapati. She was no different than before I gave her the tools she'd need to escape. She meditated while I circled the rink thinking of how soon all of this would be gone. That started to make me very sad.

I thought of Phedre and Harva on vacation, both knowing there would probably be no school to which to return. Harva had started collecting used books when she went shopping with Phedre's parents. Phedre too had started putting together a somewhat academic collection. Phedre in her emails said this made her mother laugh. I wondered if it was nervous laughter. Phedre's parents had to know something was going on. Everyone around me had to be sensing it even in London.

Thursday afternoon we went to the Tate Modern. Tapati asked me if I wanted to meditate and we found an isolated padded bench so I could have some time with Ware. I was not sure I would miss him come the twenty-sixth. I just had the feeling I would see him again soon enough.

We had dinner that night in a large cafe where Tapati could eat roast chicken and I could get a Middle Eastern plate. After dinner we hit the cyber cafe one more time before walking back through Hyde Park. "What do you do live there?" asked Tapati as we emerged into the night. We had half an hour until curfew and would make it in plenty of time. "After Monday all that communication is going to shut down," I said. &qout;You'll miss it," complained Tapati. "I know," I told her.

Friday, I got us lost on the tube for the first time since our stay in London began. It was in the afternoon after a morning at the British museum. We found ourselves heading for Edgeware. I suggested we just stay on the train and see what happened. I felt tired or maybe it was the tiredness of knowing that there were only three days left, two if one didn't count Christmas which fell on a Sunday.

That was how we found the synagogue. It must have been an orthodox one because men and women sat on different sides. Tapati and I sat next to each other and shared a prayer book that had an English translation. I realized that even though I had been born Jewish and both my parents were Jews, I had never sat in a synagogue before. Well the service was boring and it was in another language and the prayers were repetitive and....The memory hit me like a sock to the stomach. It was a different synagogue. I sat next to a different mother. I was younger because in that life, as Libba, I never lived to be fourteen.

A few snowflakes danced in the darkening sky as I stood on the synagogue steps. A man with a thick black beard wanted to invite me to his home for shabbos dinner. I checked my watch. I told him I had to be back at the Dorchester in two hours. He said they did not serve kosher food at the Dorchester. I did not tell the gentleman that pork and Chinese vegetables was one of my favorite restaurant meals.

We went to the man's house and stayed long enough for bread, some kind of chicken soup with Chinese noodles and boiled vegetables and boiled chicken on the side, home made gefitle fish which Tapati wouldn't touch and salad. Poor Tapati, she ended up eating snacks for supper. The jammers over my bed could not keep out the memories that were roiling up inside me. I couldn't make sense of all of them as I lay in bed and Friday became Saturday.

The cybercafe was unusually crowded Christmas Eve day. I had to wait to get a machine and wish Phedre, Harva, and my parents and siblings a happy holiday. That done, I told Tapati it was time to ride the Eye. We waited close to an hour to ride the giant ferris wheel and when we did ride it, most of the view we saw of London was grey "You have your own way of saying goodbye don't you?" Tapati asked me as we rode the tube to where we would get dinner. I liked Gabby's Delli or wanted to try it. Vegetarian food had no appeal to Tapati whom I learned had fairly narrow tastes. I found a sandwhich shop where she could get what she needed and we brought our take away back to the Dorchester, arriving back early.

I dreamed of skiing that night. I dreamed that my whole family and all the younger siblings and Harva's and Phedre's families were all taking the big blue chair lift to the top of the old Vernon Valley side of Mountain Creek. I dreamed I was much younger and got pulled under a chairlift. "How many times had that happened?" I wondered as I awoke in the darkened room. It had happened a lot. The memory left me sad. Was I finally homesick?

Christmas Day we all ate dinner in the hotel. Most of the rest of the world was closed but not Hyde Park. This was my last freedom and my last walk. Tapati stayed behind this time. I did not care. I missed her but not all that much. The ATM's worked but the cyber cafe was closed. In a week I learned how to use the currency. Now there was not much it would buy. I found an open take away and bought a Pepsi. I sat on a bench in Hyde Park drinking it. I thought of skiing and school and ice skating and Harva's family and I hoped Chaim hadn't returned and that Ligeia, Phedre's little sister, wouldn't disappear tomorrow.

There were DVD's to watch Christmas night in Aunt Jodie's room and I sat crowded around the set. Uncle Bill thanked me for keeping the snack area well stocked. He said I had great group spirit. I checked my watch. When midnight came nothing happened, but of course it didn't. The revolution was based out of Washington, DC most likely, and that was five hours behind London time. I glanced at Tapati who sat watching the DVD quietly.

I glanced at Uncle Bill and Aunt Jodie who sat unflinchingly and quietly content before the large screen TV. I thought of Fern who admired my squid and took me out to buy yarn and who told me I would like England. I thought of Kimba who smoked cigarettes outside my father's workshop. I thought of the conversations going on across thin walls. Well they'd all get theirs tomorrow, those who thought they could disrupt everyone's life but their own and their children's. I pictured our little protected nest emptying out like a bathtub with the drain open. The thought pleased me. Of course without a stone, I would have no where to go so I'd get stuck and take the blame, but it was too late to worry about that now.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 1/15/2006 01:40:00 AM  
  Chapter 13 -- Down for the Count

I decided before breakfast the next morning that Tapati was blowing billows of hot air. My reasoning went something like this: First, I was doing fine without a stone and since my ambition was to stay stoneless, things were fine as they were. Second, there was no point in having good relations with a spirit guide if I was not going to get a stone. Third, to start dreaming again, I would have to fall asleep in the day time in a public place outside the hotel. That was a fantastic way to get your bag stolen and important papers stolen and to end up without stone and with a red bracelet to boot.

Tapati insisted on breakfasting with the rest of the group in the Promenade Tuesday morning. The place had a big menu and a buffet with both English and I guess Continental European treats plus eggs cooked to order and plenty of hot tea. I settled on beans and wheat toast. The toast was cold but the beans were warm. Tapati ate a pastry. She sat across from me at a table she shared with Mandi and Taylor who were talking about shopping and sending postcards home. Poor girls, I thought. The cards would never arrive. The mails were going to collapse in a week and if it took more than a week to send anything home, that was it.

Tapati and I took our leave of Uncle Bill and Aunt Jodie and the rest of the bunch around 9am and headed around and through Hyde Park again. It was threatening rain, and there was a chill in the air. It reminded me of spring conditions for skiing back home in New Jersey. We hit the ATM's and went into the Earl's Court tube station for the ride that would take us to Kew Gardens which was nearly all the way to Richmond. London, I was beginning to learn was one very sprawling city.

"Well are you going to try it today?" asked Tapati brightly as the train rocked me like the train that goes all over the world. Is there really such a thing, I wondered. "No," I wanted to cut Tapati off now and the moment I said "no" I regretted it. I rather liked Tapati or maybe I just wanted to like her. I was not sure. I still am not sure.

Tapati said nothing and I did not give my explanation about the uselessness of stones, red bracelets etc... Most of the outdoor exhibits at the gardens were half dead. That is what happens when you visit a garden in winter. The greenhouses were like steam baths, at least the tropical ones like the Princess of Wales conservatory. We found an ice rink in the temperate house but Tapati did not skate and I had left my skates in my hotel room. I made a note that I wanted to come back for skating. I decided that I would definitely do that if Tapati got on my nerves. She wasn't on them at the moment.

I was glad to get out into the fresh air again. We visited the rhododendron, winter, and finally bamboo gardens. Yes, you can grow bamboo outside in London. Tapati asked me if I liked biology. I said I liked biological illustration. "Biology gives me inspiration for my art," I explained. "You're an artist?" Tapati asked me. "I do fabric art, needle point, sewing, knitting, crocheting. My father wanted me to learn something I could do with my hands." Tapati did not reply. Was she thinking of her own dead father?

We walked a few blocks from Kew Gardens looking for something to eat. It was near lunch time. We stopped at Pret a Manger where Tapati ordered a soup and salad of some kind. She ate chicken and avacado salad. I thought Hindus were supposed to be vegetarians, but Jews aren't supposed to eat pork either and Tapati had eaten that last night too come to think of it. I had a smoked salmon sandwich and Pepsi bought from another store. I wanted a Dr. Pepper but maybe they did not sell it in England. We ate silently. Maybe Tapati liked the gardens. Maybe she didn't.

The mall at the Docklands bored her to tears and the train ride out there did not do much for her either even though I thought the Docklands Light Railway was totally spiffy, a queen among trains. I enjoyed walking among the buildings by the edge of the river. I hadn't grown up near water, and the novelty was terrific. At some point Tapati complained she was tired. She said she was glad the rain had held off as we made our way to some benches near an apartment complex.

"Don't go to sleep on me," I warned Tapati half playfully. I stared out at the water of one of the canals that is part of the Thames. London is really a harbor on a river. I pondered that and thought of all the ships coming in and out with people and freight and the longshoreman or whatever they call them in England who worked the docks and the men running the stores that served the dock hands and women hanging up clothing to dry between tenement buildings in alleys and my mother scrubbing the floor in advance of shabbos.

I must hvae been very young. I remembered standing in the living room or parlor watching her. There was a huge tiled stove in the living room. It kept the apartment overheated. Everyone was afraid my new baby brother would catch cold. I could not even remember my baby brother's name.

Then a male voice said "Shimon." I recognized the voice even before I saw the face attached to it. Zhenya had not seen me in weeks. He sat on his haunches in a clearing of greyish brown dirt over which huge tropical trees towered. I did not mind seeing those trees in Kew Gardens, but I minded them now. "I'm not your daughter any more," I told Zhenya angrily. All the while I wondered how to wake up. If I woke up all this would be over with, but the way back felt way too far and besides, I needed to have it out. I know that is a lame excuse, but it is the only excuse I have.

"I sponsored you," Zhenya answered. "I sponsored you in this life," Was he pleading? "Then quit," I told him. "I want a new sponsor. Cut me loose," I said. "Are you sure that is what you want?" Zhenya asked.

I said that of course I was sure and there was a flash of hot white light and the light turned red and smelled sweat and something else...blood...and I heard blows. It took me a long time to realize I stood at the edge of a boxing ring. I was just below the ropes looking up at the fighters, small fast men who were pounding one another bloody. It was an old fight, in an old run down ring. The canvas had old blood stains on it and now new bloodstains. Both men fighting were black. One wore green satin trunks. One wore white trunks. The one in green trunks was taking a terrible beating but he refused to go down. I watched one round after another and then, the fighter in the white trunks, made the fateful blow. The man in the green trunks fell to the canvas with a terrible thud.

All I could think was brain damage. "They still want to outlaw prize fighting," said a mmale with a smooth Southern accent. I sat on a leather hassock. A small black man reclined in a leather easy chair. I could see his nose was slightly out of joint. I thought of Phedre who will always bear a scar due to the ski pole Chaim put through her cheek. "Who are you?" I asked.

"Ware's the name I go by," the gentleman said.

"Are you supposed to be my sponsor?" I asked.

"Maybe. I dunno," Ware got up off the chair. I was in some kind of apartment in a very urban place. I could see water towers on the roofs of tall buildings and beyond the building a river or ocean. I could just make out the silver water.

"You know who you are right?" Ware asked. It was a strange question. My name was Koru Sennecoff. I was fourteen years old and the daughter of a brilliant and wealthy engineer and a clinical psychologist. My parents were talented, bright, and unconventional. They were good at making a living. My little brother and sister were blesed. Their guides/sponsors/what have you refused to give them stones. I was not blessed and I was about to end up with both a guide and a stone.

"Let's try that again," said Ware. "I think you know..." "All right," I said. "My parents named me Libba. Different parents. I was born in 1925 in Riga, Latvia. Some people there spoke Russian so there were Cyrillic letters on the buildings. My parents spoke three languages and they also read and wrote Hebrew. My father was a school teacher. Sometimes he did not get paid. My mother used to barter on the black market. We ate a lot of potatoes. I had hand me down dresses from my cousins and sometimes a new coat so I'd look presentable to the world. We'd go to visit the department stores and see the toys in December. Always there was a toy town, an aerodrome, a farm with animals and there were dolls dressed more beautifully than any real life baby. Real life babies wore their father's old shirts cut down to make dresses." I stopped. There was no end to my memories.

"Do you know what happened to that city and to your family?" asked Ware. I knew. I knew enough history to know that one. "World War II," I said. "I hope my parents in that life escaped the Nazis."

"Good you have a grip on things. You are an American now and so am I," said Ware. "I think I will give you a gift to seal our relationship." He smiled, but I shook my head. "If you give me a stone, they lock me in the hotel and herd me around with a bunch of snobby private school kids."

"Oh really," said Ware. I explained the whole situation right down to the jammers. "You're going to have to get someone to teach you to meditate," commented Ware. "It's not safe to sleep in public, not in London."

I thanked Ware and I woke up. "How long was I asleep for?" I asked Tapati even as I looked at my watch. The whole thing had lasted half an hour. It was getting on towards 4pm. Tapati said she had something to do and asked if I would watch her purse. Turnabout after all was fair play. I sat on a far bench and watched while Tapati meditated or slept. I found out later she meditated. Conscious trances were better. There was more control. She explained this to me on the tube ride back towards Earl's Court.

I needed to send emails home. I intended to tell Harva all about Ware. I also wanted to pay Tapati back somehow. I felt better than I had in weeks. "I got Zhenya to cut me loose," I told her as we emerged from the cyber cafe.

"Congratulations," she said. "I've got a new sponsor. His name is Ware. He was a lightweight boxer who got killed in the ring. He's from a big city somewhere," I let it all come tumbling out, here far away from Uncle Bill and Aunt Jodie where it was safe, though of course Zhenya just might talk to them. Don't ask me how but he had talked to Kimba and Fern back in the United States.

Tapati gave me a quizzical look. I said I owed her one big time and asked her what she wanted to do. She asked me if I still wanted to spend all week wandering around London. I told her that there was not reason not to have a good time. Tapati stared at the ground. "You can teach me to meditate," I let her know.

"Why?" asked Tapati. "Ware asked me to ask you," I answered. "Hmmmm," Tapati wondered aloud. We picked a random tube stop and went for Indian food that night. We came home full and tired. I picked up two more Pepsis at an off license and spent an evening doing needle point and drinking soda. Leilanni spent her evening tucked into her Ipod. Niether of us had much to say. Leilanni had not stuck up for herself enough with her sponsor to avoid getting a stone and I had no sympathy for her. Both Phedre and Harva had refused their stones too. I was now in the same sorority as them. Leilanni was one of the unlucky ones. In the end it was every girl to her own dreams or maybe every girl for herself since dreams and visions are private things. Well, almost, considering that Zhenya did have a big mouth.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 1/11/2006 05:59:00 PM  
  Chapter 12 -- Tapati

I opened the door to Yumi, Carla, Claudette, and Tapati's room to find a wall where before there was open hall. Now I knew what the hamering was, escept there was a door in the wall and the wall was wallpapered with the same floral print as thest of the hall and it was even as old looking as the wallpaper on the walls. If I had not been fairly observant and walking around, I would think that wall had always been there but it was not up twenty minutes ago and there was no way any one could do all the work of putting it together in twenty minutes. I remembered my father a couple of weeks ago showing Phedre and me, the car window illusion he had created. "That's not real!" I shouted and I walked toward the wall with the door.

I heard a door open behind me but did not turn around. I curled my hand into a fist and sent it flying towards the wall. It hurt to put my fist through it but it went, all the way up to the elbow. I pulled it out again and it still stung and tingled. There were reddish patches on my wrist and knuckles but no blisters. "The barrier may not be a woood and plaster wall," explained Aunt Jodie, "but it's electrified. Interesting huh."

"Yeah, real interesting," I thought. "Your card will give you access any time between eight am and eight pm, " Aunt Jodie said and she asked me to try the card swipe. I wondered what would happen if I let any red braceleted kids out. I didn't do it and now I regret that. Meanwhile, I could see that Tapati was watching me. She had opened her room door and just stood there staring with the weirdest and most beamused look in her pretty brown eyes.

"Well I know how my card works," I told her and headed back to my own room. I found my parka and my ski hat and my purse complete with tube pass, ATM card, and the guide book which had the map in it. I already knew where I was going. By the time I reemeged, Tapati was back in her doorway. She had a wool tweeed coat over her saalwar khameez and her scarf was tied tightly over her mussy black hair.

When I went through the door, she followed me. We rode down on the elevator together saying notthing. When I went through teh lobby and out into the streets, she followed me. When I checked the map, she asked: "Koru, do you know where you're going?" "No, but I've got a map," I answered. "Do you know this city?" I asked her. She said she had been here a coule of times with her parents, but they were mainly passing through on their way to Mumbai.

We started walking. Tapati insisted on following me and then walking with me. We followed the perimeter of Hyde park and eventually entered the park which was still green under the moist grey British sky. We came out of the park and continued left and then turned a corner that led past a Marks and Spence. and into a neighborhood of tightly packed white and brick apartment buildings and stores on the first floors.

The cybercafe was located not far from the Earl's Court tube station, a huge sooty building shaped like an oversized barn with grimey windows. There wer no lines though I thought four pounds for an hour's internet time fairly steep. I managed to get a machine. Tapati just sat on a chair behind me as I emailed Phedre and Harva to let them know I had arrived safely.

I wrote: "Most of the kids whom I am with went to private schools. Most are locked in the hotel and have red bracelets on their wrists. My bracelet is yellow and I can move around in the day time as much as I choose. I am not sure why I want to move, but I do. I guess I like being a tourist. I know my mind should be elsewhere. They, our minders for want of a better word, have put up a barrier at the end of our end of the hall. It looks like it has always been there but it some kind of thin electrical fence. I can put my fist through it. I know, because that is what I did. I did not get in trouble. It hurt a lot and it is a lot easier to use my swipe card to get in and out. That is all I have to say for now. I am glad I don't know any one in this city, so if there are people missing, I won't see it. Maybe that is why I want to roam around. I want to pretend that everything is still normal."

"You are fairly instrospective aren't you?" Tapati asked me as we walked toward the Earl's Court tube station. I stopped to look at the tube map. I wanted to walk around the big famous old palace near the Tower of London. I almost got us on the wrong platform but once we were on the right train, it was an interesting ride. The subway rocked like a giant underground tunnel full of people from all over the world. I tried to imagine a train that went everywhere and connected the whole world. It was a comforting thought except it just a little too close to real. Maybe there would be such a thing after they threw the stones on the twenty-sixth. Maybe such a thing existed all ready.

"I have two friends and we talk all about this shit," I told Tapati.

"What shit?" she inquired.

"The fact that the world is coming to an end. They're doing it with the stones and don't ask me who they are. Their name is not supposed to mean anything," I quoted Harva there. Thankyou Harva.

"Your friends are wrong," said Tapati in a very earnest voice. "The world is not ending. We are getting a better one. Don't you want that?"

"No," I told Tapati. "I'm not through with this one yet."

"You don't have a choice," Tapati answered. "It's for the good of all humanity."

I gave Tapati the last word and made her get off down in the City. We walked across a bridge filled with suited people and got in line to see the Crown Jewels and the Tower, but two nights wtihout much sleep plus jet lag had taken their toll. I felt woozey and nauseous. I broke out of the line. "Where are we going?" aked Tapati who sounded obviously distressed. "To find a convenience store," I growled. "They don't have them here in London," Tapati counseled me. "The fuck they don't," I growled back.

Once gain, I had Tapati at my heels as I made my way through an office district that was all grey buildings without a single Fast Track, Spectrrum, or Nice and Easy in siight. I just kept going until I saw what I needed. It was a restaurant and bar. That was fine. There was no lne to see the hostess who turned out to be a young man, so I guess he was a host. "Excuse me," I said " is there a supermarket or convenience store in this neighborhood?" I asked. The gentleman gave us directiosn and we were off.

Within three blocks, the neighborhood turned residential and there were docks behind the buildings with yachts and houseboats attached to them. We followed the quai and found a Tescos which is an English supermarket. I bought Tapati a bottled water while I got two Pepsis. There were no cherry Pepsis so regular had to do. I popped the first can and took the first swigs of sugary caffeinated goodness. I also dug some Aleve out of my purse and swallowed two of them for good measure. "You're going to rot your stomach," Tapati told me. "Nah," I told her. "I'm going to feel good."

I led Tapati back toward the Tower of London and we got our tour which ended in the late afternoon. I decided we should go for dinner. Tapati thought we should return to our hotel, but I said there was no need. We had hit the ATM's near Earl's Court, and so we had money. The guidebook suggested good places to eat near the Leicester tube station, and I suggested we needed to blow this pricey section of a very pricey city. Besides the currency made my head spin. I was going to have to learn to use it and not feel scaird. I was not going to let Tapati know what rough shape I was in, but she already knew.

We rode to Leicester and found a pretty good looking Chinese place. We found a table near the rear and spent all that wonderful time studying the menus, at least I did. Tapati asked me to order for her. Had she been that passive at Madeira? I did not want to know. We got pork and Chinese vegetables and a mixed spicey vegetable dish and lots of rice and tea. We ended up back on the tube with leftovers, my one can of Pepsi and two hours to kill before my curfew.

"We're not going home yet?" asked Tapati. "Home is nine hours away by plane," I reminded her. "You don't know where home is!" Tapti raised her voice for the first time all afternoon. "You're right," I answered, "but there's not much I can do about that at this late date is there?" Tapati, I thought, "You are no match for either Harva or Phedre."

We rode back towards the City and the Tower. We followed the streets back into the resdiential neighborhood again. By now restaurants along the quai had strings of lights on, white ones and red and green ones for Christmas. We made our way to the Tescos again and Tapati asked me what I wanted. I bought sevreal pounds of apples and a box of clementines that Tapati offered to carry. Our hotel had left a few weird looking chocolates in our rooms, but no snacks. Besides a lot of the girls were imprisoned behind the barrier and could not reach the snack machines. We walked home from Earl's Court Station up the streets and then through Hyde Park. The doorman smiled at us as we reentered the Dorchester.

My watch said 7:50pm. I made it in five minutes shy of curfew. Uncle Bill greeted me. He asked Tapati what she had bought. "I didn't buy anything," explained Tapati. "Koru bought all this," she said with disdain. Uncle Bill inspected our packages. "Lots of fruit," he commented. "I brought back snacks for everyone. Most kids here can't even get to the soda and snack machines," I said. I did not know England but I did know motels. Of course there were no snack machines in the Dorchester, but the kids with red braceletes could not get out to local small grocery stores and off licenses as the British called them either.

There was a small table under the window at the end of our hall. Uncle Bill suggested I put he apples and clementines on that table. along with a sign advertising free snacks. I took an apple from the bag and headed into my room. I caught Tapati in the hall one last time. "I'm going to the Royal Botanical Gardens tomorrow and then either to the Zoo or to the Docklands in the afaternoon. You are welcome to come with me," I said.

Tapati did not answer. She stared past me as if I were a lesser mortal. "Look," I tried a more conciliatory tone. "I can lend you my guide book. You can find your own way around theen and do whatever it is you want...."

"I all ready have one of those books," said Tapati. " OK," I said. "Then why didn't you use it and why don't you pick out where we go tomorrow if you still want to go with me. You don't have to you know."

"You need someone to look after you," Tapati explained.

"The Hell I do," I snapped. "Look did Uncle Bill and Aunt Jodie put you up to this? Did they order you to follow me around?"

"No," Tapati answered.

"Then who did?" I had had it. "My....guardians....soul mates, I don't have a good word for it in English. I have no interest in this world. It's a dying world. It's going to be dead in a week."

"There'll be chaos for the half of the people who are left behind,&quout; I told Tapati. "That won't be us of course. We got protected."

"It's part of the plan," Tapati added. Tapati motioned me into the room sh sshared with Yumi who was visiting with Claudette and Carla on the other side of the connecting door which was closed.

"It's a suckie plan."

"No," said Tapati in a tone that was gentle and I thought condescending.

" OK, Tapati, tell me why you like this plan that sucks super electric weenie. Tell me why you think the world ending is a good idea, and tell me so I can understand it."

"All right," said Tapati. "My father died two years ago," she began. "We were all lost then, my mother, my two brothers and I. Family wanted mom to go back to India. She refused. She made a good living as a physician and she is a very physical person and she liked California. She knew how it was for widows even in modern families back in Mumbai. I am a spiritual person. I missed my father. I saw things in dreams. I think a lot of people have. Some people pay no attention. I paid attention. Of course last year, my mother sent me off to Madeira.

"That really sucked super electric weenie. Being among all those rich snobs made my dreams worse. I say I am a simple person but dreams make everyone's life complicated. My life was very complicated. It was a double life. It was also a Hindu life and not an American one. In October I started dressing Indian. It helped a little bit. I know that sounded crazy. I told the counselor at Maderia that I did not want to be mistaken for something I was not. That got them off my case. My guardians are holding the stone for me until I am ready and until it is my time. I have to be patient. I don't mind. Do you understand?"

"Did you get to see your father in your dreams?" I asked. I remembered Harva's "vision work" and that she had not seen the kid who sat in front of her and who died in a house fire the same year that Tapati had lost her own father. "No," Tapati answered. "I saw friends of his instead. They say he is all righ tand I've sent him several messages. You won't laugh at me for this weill you?"

"I have friends who do this kind of thing ," I said "and I've had a few dreams myself. I came into this world trailing clouds of thick black smoke. The place I want to back to and the place I come from by choice is not where my spiritual guardian, guide, whatever he calls himself, I just call him Zhenya lives. I won't let Zhenya give me a stone. I have no stone. I wanted to face the end with my two best friends, but my parents have me here in England hiding behind jammers and barriers so I can't dream so it's all stopped anyway. I'm also not the little kid who klived in Eastern Europe and who died in the 1930's either. I grew up in the rural United States and that has changed me. Well that's my story in my own words."

I fully expected Tapati to "feel sorry for me," because quite frankly I think she did. Instead she asked: "Aren't you scaird?" I said that truthfully I was not. "Your guide will come for you, your true guide. You can't just be left out to wander around like you are now." Tapati leaned against the wall. She looked tired and greyish.

"If I don't just wander around this week, I end up with a red bracelet and get imprisoned in this hotel," I told Tapati.

"You can ask your guide to hold your stone, but you do not even know hyour true guide." She sighed. "You poor thing...so," she changed tone. "We do the gardens tomorrow and then the Docklands and then the zoo and then what..."

"How about that big ferris wheel, the London Eye" I suggested. "And when does it end and where?" Tapati asked.

"On Boxing Day everything goes crazy,"I reminded Tapati. "Some time after that we go up to school. We'll be behind barriers and safe and sound to ship home to our parents who are also protected."

"And is that what you were born on this earth for?" asked Tapati.

"I was born to pick up where I left off. I tried and now it's just not going to work. Shit happened."

"And you think I'm the passive one!" Tapati snorted.

"What can I do?"

"Ask your false guide to cut you loose so you can find your true guide," Tapati replied.

I pointed at the ceiling. "Zhenya can't reach me here and neither can your guides."

"there are ways," explained Tapati.

"What ways?" I asked.

"We make sure you make your curfew back," Tapati hissed. "After you are away at school, you'll be surrounded by jammers nearly all of the time. You won't have the chance you have now."

"I'm not sure I'm not fine as I am. I mean, I'm alive and have it pretty good except for missing my friends."

"You're talking like my mother. You can do better than that," Tapati complained. "Don't you think you deserve better?"

Spirituality had always been Harva's department back in New Jersey but this wasn't New Jersey any mmore. I truely had never cared about changing the situation other than getting rid of it and simply saying no to Zhenya and maybe finding that old city in Europe beause a piece of me was still homesick in the worst way or at least was now. "I want to think about all this," I told Tapati. "I have a few days," I added.

"OK," she answered. "When you're ready, let me know and I'll show you what to do," she said. That was all. I decided that what I needed was sleep but first another Pepsi and then an apple and then some needlepint and reading. I lay in th darkness under the black jammer after lights out and thought about Tapati's words. I also wondered if I would even like the foster parent I had had growing up after I died the last time around. I was a different person this life, similar but still different enough. Was I simply better off without guide or stone?

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 1/08/2006 11:05:00 PM  
  Chapter 11 -- Green, Yellow, and Red

Uncle Bill sat on his bed. His lap top was out as was a shoe box filled with what looked sort of like hospital bracelets except these were red, yellow, and green. "Well Koru," he said to me. "How do you like London?"

"It's confusing," I answered. "You're honest," he responded. "Do big European cities live up to your expectations?"

"I don't know what you mean," I said.

"Yes you do. You dream of a city in Eastern Europe. You do not know the country but you have a rough idea of where it might be. You lived and died there in the 1930's and have been searching for that place ever since." Uncle Bill sighed.

I wanted to bolt out of the room but I stood rooted to one spot. "How do you know this?" I asked.

"Zhenya has a very big mouth," said Uncle Bill. "Then we can both agree that you are partially sentient and for right now fully immune. Yours of course is NOT the best way to be fully immune but it is effective. How long it stays effective though is any one's guess. It needs to stay effective through the next week and a half."

I calculated the days. "That's two days past Boxing Day," I said remembering what Fern had called December twenty-sixth. Uncle Bill nodded. "We can provide different protection after the twenty-sixth but before then we need you to be a bit extra careful. Now in this lifetime, Koru, you've not had much experience with large cities have you?"

It was a funny way to put it, but the answer was that I hadn't. I remembered one or two visits to Manhattan and St. Louis, Washington, DC, Cleveland and Cincinnati, but I'd never been in a big city without my parents before.

"OK, Koru walk across the room," Uncle Bill said. I walked past his bed expecting something to happen. Uncle Bill shook his head. "Pickpockets, cut purses, thieves, are your greatest danger in a city like this," Uncle Bill explained. "Koru, your purse is not even closed. Always keep it closed. Now put the strap over the opposite shoulder. That makes it much harder to steal. Now when you ride the Tube, that's the subway in this city, you need to try to find a seat that faces forward or backward. If you can't find one, hug your purse and put yoru packages between your feet. When you use a restroom, never put your purse on the floor. Someone can reach into the stall and grab it. Put your packages between your feet while you use the toilet. This also prevents them from being taken. If you are trying on clothing in a store, take your purse in and out of the dressing room with you. I would give you a yellow bracelet even if you had permanent protection,&quiot; said Uncle Bill with disgust.

"It's not my fault," I blurted out. "No it's not," answered Uncle Bill "except for your dispute with Zhenya of course. That is one hundred percent of your making."

"Haven't you guys ever heard of privacy?" I asked. "I know what it is," said Uncle Bill. "Zhenya doesn't. He should have transferred you to another foster family sixty years ago," complained Uncle Bill. "He didn't and now I've got his mess on my hands.

"So here is the deal, Koru. It's the only deal in town. You keep your purse. I'm going to give you money, a card, a guidebook and a one week tube pass. Keep all those things and you keep your yellow bracelet. You do not have to travel this city yoked to a stranger who doesn't share your tastes. You can be out all day. I don't care how far you travel or where you go. I don't care what you do though I may ask you about it from time to time. Lose your purse, papers, money, or tube card before the ten days are out and the bracelet becomes red. That means you can only go with the group and you'll be spending most of your time at the hotel. Got that...."

I nodded. "If you run out of money, your ID card acts as an ATM card. Memorize your PIN and don't tell it to any one. I think you know how to work an ATM machine. There are lots of ATM's in London and the card works in just about all of them.

"Because you are considered a partial immune, you have a curfew, Koru. Realistically it is going to be 8pm. If you come in half an hour to an hour late, I am not going to make a federal case of it. The reason for that curfew is so that you don't fall asleep in any public place. We both know why that would be disasterous."

"My purse would be stolen," I replied. Uncle Bill gave me wry smile, shook his head, and put a yellow bracelet with my name on it on my wrist. It said "KORU SENECOFF -- (T)FULL IMMUNITY" The "T" was for temporary.

I returned to my room grateful the meeting was over and equally grateful for the guidebook. The advice Uncle Bill gave me had started to sound scarey. They sent Leilanni to Uncle Bill next. We must have been going in alphabetical order. She returned in tears as I was reading her guidebook. "Fucking facist bastards!" she wailed and showed me her blood red bracelet. "Well I'll show them!" she howled as she made her hand into a fist and opened her palm to reveal an irridescent gun metal grey stone that seemed to glow and pulsate with a life of its own. "Special huh..." she boasted. "I've never seen another one like it."

"I don't have a stone yet," I told her.

"Did they do the operation on you?" Leilanni asked.

"What operation?" I asked. "You don't know?" asked Leilanni. "They did it to those two," Leilanni pointed toward the connecting door. "Mandi, Taylor, Koru doesn't know about the operation. Show Koru your scars!"

Mandi walked slowly into the room and pulled up the sleeve of her hoodie. Just below her left elbow was a jagged bump shapled like a diamond in a pack of playing cards. It looked faintly greyish throgh Mandi's pale skin. "My dad made me get it done," she sighed. "It keeps the bad dreams from reaching you and means you don't get a stone," she said this sadly. "They put one of the implants in Taylor too. Do you have one?"

"No," I told Mandi. "Your bracelet is yellow though," she marveled. "It's called temporary full immunity," I answered.

"How'd you get that?" she asked.

"I refuse to take a stone from the person who offers it in my dreams. I don't like him. He's not my real..." I don't have a word for it so I stop. "Spiritual guardian," Leilanni rattled off the term. "That's not what I call it," I snapped back. "Then what do you call it?" asked Leilanni. "I don't know, but it's not that. I don't have the whole picture. Sometimes I get memories mixed up with what I think I'd like now. It all gets very embarassing but I don't have a stone and won't take one so if they can protect me when I'm asleep, I'm fine when I'm awake," I explained and hoped it was clear. It made sense in an odd sort of way.

"Still waters run deep," sighed Leilanni. "I had a grandmother who used to always say that." Just then there was a knock at the door and it was Mandi's turn to meet with Uncle Bill. She came back twenty minutes later wearing a green bracelet. Taylor, her roommate who also had an implant did equally well. A green bracelet meant that a kid could go and come as she pleased. I edged out into the hall. I wanted to see who had a green bracelet, a red bracelet, or a yellow one.

I tried remembering how many bracelets were in the box. I hadn't seen that many yellow ones. I knocked on the door to the room across the hall and a boy answered. He wore a green bracelet. He said his name was Aaron. He was Asian and from New York City and had gone to an entrance examination high school that he said he would miss now that he was stuck in England. I asked why he had a green bracelet and he told me he was "blessed." His guardian would not give him a stone which left him feeling rather sad and left out at times.

The other boy in the room was named Marcos and he was from Florida. He had small perfect white teeth and he had been the musician who won the contest. His bracelet was red. I felt awkward asking him anything. "I should have got out while I could," Marcos lamented and he showed me his stone. It was white and carved in alabaster like an angel. He said it was a gift from his dead little sister. Marcos made me feel sad and awkward.

Errol, the third boy in the room, was tall and gangly and had tiny white teeth. He had a yellow bracelet. He said he had not yet gotten his stone. He felt bad about that now. "We always feel bad about lost opportunities," he said aloud. "Ain't that the fucking truth!" echoed Marcos. I did not answer because I was glad that I had not taken a stone from Zhenya and now it looked like I never would.

The room next to mine belonged to Uncle Bill and Aunt Jodie, so I tried the far room or the one next to the boys' two rooms. Darcy poked out her face. Her eyes were red rimmed from crying. "They're making prisoners out of us!" she screamed. "Hey how come you only have a yellow bracelet. Your Enoch Senecoff's fucking daughter?" she asked. "I've had the dreams but no stone and no implant. That makes me a temporary full immune," I rattled off my new status. "Fucking shit. Your dad didn't even protect his own kid. Well my cluless parents didn't protect me until I was stupid enough to tell them..." Darcie's stone was a lovely pink gem.

Darcie's roommate was the very tall model, Grace. She too wore a red bracelet and had a stone as did her smaller companion Hanna who shared the room on the other side of the door with Emma who had white tips on her hair. "I should have got out while the getting was good but like a retard I stuck around," Emma bitched. "Shit, Koru's only got a yellow bracelet." "Koru's partially blessed," sing songed Darcie with disgust.

I tried the room next to the one I shared with Mandi, Taylor, and Leilanni on the side closer to the elevators and the girl with the rock star for a father answered the door. She looked tired despite her pretty dark brown curls. "You know my mother got called last week. I should have arranged to go with her," she told me showing me a blood red bracelet. "If you could arrange your own calling, you should be able to arrange other things," I said aloud. The curly haired girl whose name was Carla just shook her head and sighed. "Claudette," Carla spoke of her roommate "got a stone too so they're also keeping her a prisoner," Carla explained. Claudette lay curled in a ball. She was a black girl with very dark brown skin. I could see the bit or red plastic against her choclate colored wrist. "Why'd you get on the fucking plane?" I wanted to ask but

I had done the same thing. I only had my yellow bracelete because I was lucky. Of course I really wasn't lucky. I had a problem in my past that had bled into my present and left me more confused and stupid than any other girl on this hall. Yumi, who lived on the other side of this room's connecting door poked her face in and glanced around. Yumi was Japanese and a diplomat's daughter. She talked about missing her family and her old school buddies from Madeira and then I saw her red bracelet. "How many of your old school buddies got called at a shopping mall or on a ski trip?" I wondered. "They just took Tapati for her meeting," said Yumi to Carla. "Let's see if we go four for four," groaned Claudette from her bed.

Out in the hall I heard hammering. I wondered about the noise. "You don't expect them to have security here without enforcing it," complained Claudette as she rolled over on to her back. "And who's to say it would have been any better if we had fled before all this shit?" she asked no one. "It's all from memories," I tried to explain. "You don't know what you are going to find when you get there," I said. I was glad I did not have a stone right now.

I knew enough about where I did not want to go and London at least in part was mine for the next few days. I felt relieved. I wanted to go back to my room and read the guide book. It said where the cybercafes were and how much they cost. I needed to get in touch with Phedre and Harva in the worst way. They were my real friends.

That was what I was thinking when Tapati made her entrance with her left wrist held high. She wore a somewhat wrinkled electric blue salwaar khameez and coordinating light blue pants. She held up her light brown wrist as the scarf she wore slid from her jet black hair that needed a wash. On her wrist was an emerald green bracelet. "Going out to the pub to get wasted?" asked Claudette. "You know they don't card here."

Tapati pretended not to hear my question. She stared past Carla and Claudette as if they did not exist. Only Yumi met her eyes. "Congratulations," said Yumi softly. "Thankyou," said Tapati as she breezed through the connecting door and then she turned to look at me. "Should I congratulate you too?" she said in softly accented English. "What for?" I asked. "You can go out and that is what you want isn't it?" she asked.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 1/07/2006 08:52:00 PM  
  Chapter 10 -- DC to Dorchester

The jet taxied down the runway. The big golden retriever that was blocking the middle of the aisle woofed and then yelped. A girl in a white mini skirt and pink camisole under a hoodie grabbed the dog by her rhinestone collar which only made things worse. From their crates the two cats yowled. Next to me a girl with white tips on the ends of her jet black hair and tight black jeans with a big studded belt huddled inside her I-pod. Another girl with silvery hair stared past me and the yelping dog into nowhere.

I turned toward the windows and watched Washington, DC which mercifully was not home anyway recede into a tiny toy town and field of lights and then we were above the clouds and it was night and I took out my needle point and started to put in the big white rows of the background around my squid. I used to drive my dad nuts with my needle points because I still have no set way of working on them. Sometimes I start in one area. Sometimes I start in another. Sometimes I alternate. Either way it all gets done. Crochet and of course sewing are more systematic.

I did not need system that night flying over the Atlantic. I did not want to think of what I had lost and was losing. I told myself that I had pretty much lost everything. There is great consolation in hitting bottom you know.

After a time, the yelping dog in the middle of the aisle settled down and went to sleep. The dog snored. "Hey what are you doing?" a voice startled me. It came from the girl who owned the big sloppy dog. "Needlepoint project," I said. "I don't know any one who does needle point," said the girl who owned the dog. "I thought only old ladies did needle point."

"Well you just met someone who isn't old who does it," I corrected her. "Shit, Darcie," commented the girl with white tips on her hair. "Leave the poor girl alone."

"Since when the fuck did you care?" Darcie asked. "Since you started acting like an asshole. It was bad enough putting up with you at Madeira."

"Madeira sucked big weenie," complained Darcie. "At least where we're going there's boys."

"What's so special about boys?" I asked.

"Madeira is all girls and it sucked," said the girl with white tips. "Where'd you go to school?"

"Vernon High School," I said hoping that was OK.

"What kind of school is that?" white tips continued the interrogation.

"High school....public high school," that should have been understood. I saw white tips sniff and I thought I might have smelled bad. "Any one on this plane went to public high school?" asked white tips.

There was silence and then a thin Asian boy raised his hands along with a girl in a white Fair Isle sweater destroyed jeans, an interesting combination. "Well that's three of you," said white tips who obviously could count.

"Well I was always too busy for school," said an olive skinned boy with pearly white teeth. "How can you go to school when you're touring?"

"Being on the road sucks," I thought. I remembered it. I felt like telling the boy to get off the road. There was something familiar about his face. "I wish they could have gotten us out of there sooner," said a very tall girl with straight auburn hair and huge green eyes. I had seen her somewhere before too. "I kept beggging my agent. I kept saying the world is freaking out. I'm not getting any more shoots. Who's going to be left to read magazines. I mean you can't be a model without an audience."

"My dad's on tour in Europe," sighed a girl with short black curls and a pale peach camisole. "I don't know why I couldn't have gone over with him last week," she complained. I did not want to ask what this girl's dad did for a living. I thought now I recognized the boy from watching TV at Harva's parents' house. He was some kind of teen rock singer who'd won a contest. I guess I admired his ambition. I tried to tell myself that I was the only ordinary kid on the plane. I was one of the few who'd been to public school. Anyway the kids were going after a girl in Indian dress with a matching scarf, very long tunic, and long silk pants. They were asking her if she planned to run away when they hit London.

I wondered if these kids all knew each other. Of course I wasn't ordinary. All I had to do was look at the jammers in the ceiling of the cabin to know that. I was Enoch Senecoff's daughter.

"Look we made the last plane out," said the very tall girl who had worked as a model. "Doesn't that mean anything? At least we're out," she said. A smaller and very thin girl with sandy hair nodded. She was fooling with her hair the way I did needlepoint. "I left my two best friends behind!" I wanted to scream. I looked out the window, but remembered it was night. I went back to my needle point.

I don't know when I fell asleep. I dreamed I was ice skating on Lake Five with Phedre and Harva. Harva had on a new bright red parka and a pink scarf that flew out behind her. The ice was nice and thick and it held. Harva's father stood talking to the father of the little boy who fell through the ice. I awoke in a cold sweat. I thought I would be sick. I took some soda from the self serve galley and sipped the coke. "You're lucky to be able to drink coke with sugar in it," said the big model. "Diet soda doesn't taste right to me," I answered. She stared past me.

I did not care if the soda kept me awake. I did not feel like sleeping. I did not feel like crying for my lost friends. I knew there would come a time when I would cry rivers for them. I knew for sure they were lost. I took out my needle point again and worked on it and tried to ignore the other passengers most of whom were half asleep.

Then the plane began to land. It was still dark out wherever we were, but I could see air port lights through the window and city lights. For all I knew, we could have turned around and gone back to Washington again. I decided we had and that the whole flight had been a cruel joke, but there was no jet way with the red and white tent at the bottom of the stairs to the tarmac. Instead there was a bus on which someone in their audacity had painted a pale flesh colored hand holding a small silvery stone shaped like a lima bean.

"Coworkers," I said in disgust.

"What?" White Tips asked me.

"The people who run the thing with the stones. They're my dad's coworkers so that's what I call them." This seemed like a great explanation, but I knew it sucked. Maybe it was a euphemism.

"She's Enoch Senecoff's daughter," said the girl with silver hair. "So how was the farm in New Jersey?" she asked.

"I wish I were still there," I spat back.

Somehow we all got on the bus. No, we were not in Washington, DC but in a big flat sprawly city of old apartment houses of different sizes and the cars drove on the left side of the road. I noticed that and it felt disorienting. It was still not light as we drove past buildings and traffic lights. Everything felt like a normal city waking up, but this city was as doomed as anywhere else.

I knew the boarding school could not be here, and indded it wasn't. Instead after many twists and turns of which I could not keep track in what was a huge city (bigger than Washington but I have since learned I only knew the touristy parts of Washington) we came to the Dorchester Hotel. We milled around in the lobby while two coworkers, one male and one a female in a light yellow embroidered gauze dress tried to get us checked in.

The male was tall and black and could have been a football player. Those big shoulders would have been wasted on anything else. The woman was chosen for her maternal appearance that put Fern back in Vernon, New Jersey to shame. She had breasts as round s two fresh baked loaves of bread and golden hair streaked with frizzy grey and a face like a pink egg. She said her name was Jodie and the male coworker's name was Bill. Aunt Jodie and Uncle Bill were in charge, so Uncle Bill said as we sat huddled and draped over velvet couches in what was a very impressive lobby. It should have impressed me but I was weary tired and exile makes everything that is beautiful ugly. Uncle Bill said his and Aunt Jodie's word was law. We were to get upstairs and start unpacking. When we were unpacked we were to meet with Uncle Bill in his room for a briefing. I always thought it was a debriefing but I was not going to argue.

"We're in the belly of the beast," said white tips.

"I've been in the belly of the beast for three weeks!" I suddenly shouted back. I watched Aunt Jodie raise her eyebrows and smile indulgently. I somehow did not give Aunt Jodie the finger. Do the words "gesture of futility" come to mind? I went up on the elevator to the ninth floor. Our rooms which were connecting doubles were all in a row at the end of the hall.

I roomed with the girl with silver hair who had no pets. Across the way was the girl with the Fair Isle sweater who also had a rabbit in a crate. Her roomate was one of the cat people and had cute dark brown pony tails and incredible silver eyes. She was the daughter of a famous Hollywood director and she had lived abroad for several years. Her name as Mandi. The girl with the Fair Isle sweater came from North Dakota and was a Senator's daughter. She had gone to the public schools back in her home state because they were "good and safe." Her name was Taylor. My roommate's name was Leilanni and she said it was a dumb name. She was from California but had gone to Putney until the place nearly shut down. It probably wouldn't be open in the spring so it was time for this boarding school. Leilanni said she thought the whole idea of being sent away was stupid.

I glanced over the doorway of our room and along the ceiling. The black butter dish shaped jammer sat over the beds. There was one for each girl. "We're here because nobody trusts us not to get taken," I said. The girl with silver hair did not answer. "You want to stay?" she finally asked. "Who would take care of my cat if I left?" asked Taylor through the open connecting door. Just then Aunt Jodie poked her head in the front door of our room. "Unpack and do it lively. Bill is waiting for each of you," she ordered. "Yeah sure," Leilanni groaned.

I stared out the window. It was starting to get light on a grey day in a huge and strange city. I thought of the city of my dreams. It wasn't grey like this, but then again I had seen it through different eyes. I had grown up mainly in the country or on the grounds of other people's estates. I was not the person I was when I died in that other life. Memory could play very cruel jokes on people. I realized now it had played one on me.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 1/04/2006 09:19:00 PM  
  Chapter 9 -- Squid

By early evening all my stuff was packed except for one duffle bag that would come with me on the plane. True to his word, my dad took Phedre and me up to Harva's house in Highland Lakes. We broke the news to Harva together. "Holy shit you lucky duck!" was all she could say.

I did not feel one bit lucky. School would have been impossible without Phedre and when Harva got here, it would have been impossible without her. We three of us needed each other more than we needed our families. "You're losing me," I told Harva. "You're getting out of here," she replied.

Harva's parents thought they should take us out for one last dinner together. No one mentioned Chaim. I realized this as we cruised into the Food Emporium parking lot near the bottom of Break Neck Road. We were going to the Italian buffet place, but it was closed. Harva's parents stood wringing their hands on the sidewalk. They debated one or two other restaurants and then told us to go in the Food Emporium and pick out whatever we wanted for dinner and Harva's mother would cook it.

I remember clearing the dining table at Harva's. Harva's father had just camped out at it and Harva and her mom must have eaten sitting on the couch or back in the bedrooms or at the cluttered counter between the kitchen and the living room/dining room area. Phedre wiped the table down with a rag while Harva's mother watched the pan of lentil soup that was our first course. There was carrot salad, potato salad, bread pudding for dessert and the main course was a choice of sandwich. I was having sardines in lemon. Phedre had pickled herring. There was a jar of gefilte fish and there was salmon salad which Harva liked best for some reason.

What did we talk about as we ate this condemned woman's last meal you wonder. Mostly we talked of school. There was not much school left. We talked about snow and skiing and books we'd read. It was all small talk and that was very weird, but Harva's parents were out so spiritual subjects were off limits.

Harva's parents offered to rent us videos, but I said I wasn't interested. We retreated to Harva's room where we could talk more confidentially. I realized then that my father had not given me the address of the boarding school in England. I said I would write as soon as I knew it. I of course could email to my web based mail as soon as I could get to a cybercafe. We all agreed that would be the best plan of action.

I asked about Chaim. Harva said her parents were suffering from no sense of closure. Phedre said nothing needed to be closed. Chaim was still alive. He was out there, with half a million other souls. He'd be back. Harva shook her head. Phedre said that the university where both her parents taught had canceled finals due to so many students either having gone missing or having family members and friends who had. I thought of the closed restaurant.

"Didn't your mom home school you when you were little?" asked Harva suddenly.

"Before I was sven she did," I said. It wasn't that bad but I liked real school better. Even with all the bumps and warts and the social garbage getting up in the morning and having a place to which to go was a good thing.

"I don't think my parents are in any shape to home school me," said Harva.

"My parents may be unemployed in January. Maybe they could teach us together," Phedre suggested. I realized I was no longer part of the "we."

It was not fair. "Home schooling is going to suck," Phedre observed.

"Goes without saying," answered Harva. "As long as my parents don't mess with my journal, I'm going to let them be as crazy as they want."

"The whole world is going to go crazy," I replied.

"Look who's prophesying," commented Harva.

My dad came to get me about one in the morning. Phedre, Harva, and I were all talked out. Phedre's parents were waiting for her. They did not want her out and up all night. They were worried whether she had taken her medications. I went into the workshop. I was not ready to sleep. I had some spare needlepoint canvas lying around and needed a project to take to England. I rummaged through the workshop closet and found the opaque projector and set it up and plugged it in. I got a board to which I had long ago stapled what was left of a white bed sheet and started securely pinning my canvas to the board.

The woman in the plaid wool dress, one of my dad's coworkers, watched me. There were two male coworkers manning the "Control Center's" screens. They looked bored. "What are you making?" asked plaid dress. "A design for needle point," I answered. Most of the kit designs were horrible and I had already done the drawing for this design. I just needed to stick it in the opaque projector and then shine the image on the canvas. Then I could take markers and draw it on the canvas by following the projected image. "I've never seen any body do that before for needle point," said plaid dress. "My dad taught me the technique," I replied. "Otherwise, I'd just copy by hand. This is more accurate." "Your parents have been very good to you," commented plaid dress. I did not answer.

Plaid dress asked me where I was going to get the yarn to make my creation. I told her I would buy it in England. "They have yarn there," I reminded her. "Yes, but the exchange rate is a killerr. Everything there is in pounds and that's a dollar and a half to the pound. It's not cheap."

"So what do you want me to do about it? It's my parents who are sending me away!"

"Let's you and I go and get some yarn," said Plaid Dress.

"Where are we going at three in the morning? Besides I've got to finish this drawing."

"Oh take your time, Koru," Plaid Dress told me. "Wal-Mart in Franklin is open twenty-four hours."

I kept drawing. At a quarter to four the squid was finished. I packed it and Plaid Dress she was going out on an errand and taking me with her. We walkd into a starless night that glowed charcoal black due to light interference. The snow was frozen in hard heeps that had gone mushy during the day for several days in a row. I helped Plaid Dress scrape off her small black car. We rode in silence. Plaid Dress had a CD of jazz that felt far away and sad. We passed the closed ski area and drove past Franklin's deserted downtown. Plaid Dress said her name was Fern which sounded sweet and old fashioned. She said her mother whom I suspected was dead liked to crochet.

We walked across the nearly deserted Wal-Mart parking lot. I bought six balls of assorted colored yarn, mostly blues, greens, and lavenders. Fern said the yarn was her treat. Then we got into her car again and drove to Lafayette where the Pathmark stayed open all night. "Go get a few boxes of that flavored tea you drink and the herbal stuff. They don't do the flavored tea in Britain," Fern advised me. This too was her treat. I guess she had a guilty conscience.

Then she asked me if I was hungry. It was a quarter to six. We could get breakfast at the Pancacke House near the ski area on the way back. I told Fern I was not in the mood to eat. "You'll like it a lot in England," she told me. I stared out the window.

"What's with you anyway?" she asked.

I said nothing. I thought back about Phedre rescuing the little girl and then a week earlier to Chaim and to the week before that when she had dove under the ice. Phedre was sleeping now so I couldn't say goodbye.

When my mom got up she found me drinking tea in the kitchen. She asked me if I had slept at all. I told her I hadn't. I'd come in the house to take a shower and do my hair and now I was waiting for my hair to dry. I did not tell her about the trip to Wal-Mart. By 8:30am dad came into the kitchen. He asked me what I wanted for breakfast. I told him I already had had the condemned woman's last meal last night.

Still, I suggested boiled eggs on toast with mayonaise. He fixed a pile of sliced egg sandwiches, some with olives, and some without. The extras were for the trip later that morning. Yes, there is a euphemism for you. Dad said you couldn't always count on restaurants being open. He aid it as if it were normal and just one of life's inconveinences. "I bet the people in the mall will lose their jobs too and the ones who work at the ski area," I added.

"Probably so, but we'll take good care of them," dad answered. I took a long swig of peppermint tea. In the end I went back to the workshop and rested on the bare mattress of my bed. My coat lay over me like a blanket. Mir, Hillel, and both my parents were all traveling with me to Washington so there were no awkward goodbyes except for the last visit to Phedre's. That was a half hour before we left. She still had her pajamas on. We hugged and cried and by the time I got into the truck with my family, I felt all ragged and raw.

I noticed that in the front of the cab of the truck, sticking out from where the glove comopartment should have been was a black plastic device the shape of a butter dish. That was a jammer. I could sleep without dreams if I wanted to. I let my eyes drift closed as the hills of Northwestern New Jersey slipped away and we came down on to the crowded industrial flat lands. Dad cursed at the traffic on the New Jersey turnpike. I woke up again and watched all the cars and trucks still going places. There were going to be a lot of stones to toss and memory boards as long as my arms all stretched out before all this was done. December twenty-sixth would be the day. It would be Boxing Day in England accoridng to Fern. I wondered what it would be like at boarding school.

I counted the exits and watched the traffic in silence. Normally I did not like the road but now it felt like the last shred of normalcy. Then I slept again and this time I dreamed I was walking along the shores of Lake Five with Phedre and Harva and there was a big hole in the ice. All three of us ran through the pricker bushes and dead trees to the water's edge to investigate. A crowd of adults stood crying. Coworkers tried to calm them. Holes in the ice happened. Those who fell through would resurface. No one was ever really gone.

I awoke feeling stiff sore, and sick. It was three thirty pm and we were approaching Ronand Reagan Airport just outside of Washington DC in Virginia. I remembered the big mansion in northern Virginia, the last mansion I stayed in. I watched as the roadways became full of cream colored cement bridges and twelve lanes wide. We traveled toward Reston and got off at the right exit. My dad was so used to the road we hardly ever got lost in my family.

The airport looked lovely and futuristic. Oddly enough we did not stop at the main terminal building. International flights normally leave from Dulles not Ronald Reagan. We traveled across seas of empty parking lot to the rear part of the airport, passed hangars and small properller air craft to a small building with a few glass windows and a jetway that terminated in a red and white striped tent. We swung around to the far side of the building where security guaards in dark grey uniforms stood wearing helmets polished to an absurd silvery brightness.

My dad saluted them and gave them a goofy grin and then he showed some kind of ID. We all got to go into the little terminal building which was oddly enough quite nice. It was paneled in walnut and had thick carpeting and a big fake maple burl table. There was even a fake fireplace with a nice hot set of gas logs keeping the place warm. A woman behind the counter offered to get me lunch, but my family had brought its own food. I settled for a coke. There were kids and parents sitting in tight sad knots. A few kids had come alone. One or two had dogs with them. There was also at least one cat in a crate. I could hear it mewing piteously.

Several of the kids had dyed their hair funky colors. One wore very expensive designer jeans. Another had on a mini skirt and carried a designer purse. "You feeling OK?" my mother asked me. I tried to eat and stare out the window at the grey sky. "It's a good things planes fly above the clouds I told her." We did not say much. There was not much any of us could say in what still felt like a public place. A couple of men came over to meet my dad. My dad had done work for them and with them in the past. One asked why they had waited so long to send me to England and what my dad planned to do with the other children.

"We don't have to do anything with Hillel and Mir," my mother answered. "They're blessed." The man who was pink headed and half bald with grizzly light grey hair sucked on his lips shook his head and scanned my two siblings. "I remember you," the man said in a faint Southern drawl. "You stayed in my house...it would be half a life time ago."

"That was the mansion in Virginia," I recalled in a dazed and tired voice.

"You gave the poor cook fits," laughed the man from Virginia.

"I loved your house," I blurted out before I could stop myself.

"It's a beautiful mansion. You may be able to come home on vacation and visit. My wife and I would love to have...your whole family."

I wondered if there will be anything left to come back to on vacation. I wondered if the old man knew. I knew I don't have the time or the authority to explain. I was too tired anyway. I was glad when the sky finally turned jewel blue and they made us board the aircraft. My mom and dad hugged me one last time and then we headed out to the jet way that was under the red and white tent and across the tarmac and up a small ladder into what would have been a small jet except that it held the fifteen or so of us comfortably. It had huge reclinging seats and several couches set around tables. There was an onboard galley with snacks. There was plenty of cold soda and hot water for tea.

I thought of the tea and yarn that Fern had bought me, enigmatic Fern and Kimba and all the rest of those kind coworkers doing their jobs. Would Phedre really have smashed those computers in a fit of righteous rage? Had we really been so afraid of being grounded? Would any of it have made any difference? Near the ceiling of the plane, I noticed black plastic devices that looked like butter dishes. These were the jammers my father had manufactured. We could all sleep our way across the Atlantic without dreams.

# posted by ZOIDRubashov @ 1/02/2006 11:37:00 AM  
  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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