Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Over the following weeks, the days gradually began to warm, bringing heavy wet spring snow. After each snowfall, Vince ran his woodlot loop packing the trail with the snowmachine…following with the trail drag. The heavier wetter snow packed down well, and the low night time temperatures froze the trail hard.
Vince felt restless, the hint of spring in the air spurring him into action. Wanting a little adventure, he turned the snowmachine off his packed trail, cutting across the undisturbed snow pack through the center of the loop. He did this a couple of times; forming a giant figure eight trail system. Snow conditions were great. He glanced up into the graying sky, filled with the promise of more snow. This is probably a good time to try and reach Rahlys’ cabin.
Upon reaching the southwest end of his hard-earned work trail, Vince turned off onto virgin snow and headed up a gentle rise. He leaned forward, out of his seat, as he steered the snowmachine through the trees, seeking the path of least resistance. The terrain nearly leveled out again as he reached the next land shelf. Eventually, he connected with Rahlys’ unbroken trail and followed it the rest of the way to her cabin.
As he approached the last rise, the smell of wood smoke triggered alarms in Vince’s awareness, warning him to be cautious. Was someone staying at Rahlys’ cabin, and if so, who? The scent was even more prominent when he crested over the rise into the untracked yard; so much so, he was surprised to find the cabin undisturbed. But the smell of wood smoke was still strongly evident, and it didn’t take long to trace it to the guest cabin schoolhouse.
Whoever was staying there would have heard his snowmachine by now, so there was little point in practicing stealth. They were probably friends of Rahlys, but how did they get here? There were no trails, not even snowshoe or ski tracks. His main concern was the fact that he was unarmed should it prove to be someone dangerous, perhaps hiding out from the law. He decided a direct approach was probably best, and guided his machine through the narrow winding gap that served as a path through the swath of forest between Rahlys’ house and the guest cabin.
Upon arriving at the little cabin, it was obvious someone was there. A lazy tail of smoke drifted off the end of the stovepipe and footprints peppered the clearing, but strangely, there was no trail leading on or off the property. Inside, a light shone brightly, although there was no sign of a generator, and outside, on a shelf under the eaves, something bright spun in a wire cage. Then, suddenly, a woman slight of frame with reddish hair and violet gray eyes appeared before him. Although dressed in familiar-looking clothing, her countenance and posture were subtly off-worldly. He shut off the snowmachine, not knowing what to expect.
“Greetings, Vince Bradley, chosen father of Melinda and Leaf. I am Caleeza of the lost expedition from Anthya’s World. It is my honor to serve,” she said, bowing gracefully.
He certainly hadn’t expected that. Vince’s tension eased from extreme alert to alert caution. Caleeza didn’t seem to present an immediate threat.
“Greetings, Caleeza of the lost expedition. What are you doing here?”
“I seek a way home.”
“How did you get here, and how are Melinda and Leaf involved?”
“I walked here following the railroad tracks. Melinda and Leaf helped me. They gave me food and a place to stay.”
Vince could hardly believe what he was hearing. Melinda and Leaf had a lot of explaining to do.
“How would you like to take a snowmachine ride?” Vince asked Caleeza. He might as well take her to the house so he and Maggie could find out what was going on.
“That is snowmachine?” Caleeza asked, pointing to it.
“Yes, you can sit behind me, okay?”
“Maggie! Melinda! Leaf!” Vince called upon entering the cabin and seeing no one. Activated by his summons, kids and Maggie poured out of the children’s room. Upon seeing Caleeza at his side, Melinda and Leaf held back in realization that they were probably in big trouble. Maggie rushed forward.
“Oh, we have company!” she exclaimed, surprised by the appearance of a stranger in her remote home in the woods. Where could she have possibly come from?
“Maggie, this is Caleeza,” Vince said.
“Greetings, Maggie Bradley, chosen mother of new person Melinda, new person Leaf, new person Rock, and new person Crystal. It is my honor to serve.” Caleeza’s formal salutation gave Maggie a valuable clue to her origin…which startled her even more.
Maggie warmly invited Caleeza into their home while Vince gave Melinda and Leaf a hard stare. “I believe the two of you and Caleeza have already met?” he said, the statement inflected as a question in which the answer was already known. With bowed heads…Leaf following Melinda’s example…they both admitted to their guilt. Leaf, quickly deciding the period of contrition appropriately long enough, broke from rank.
“Caleeza!” Leaf exclaimed, running up to her and giving her a hug. She gently reciprocated, acknowledging his affection.
“Please, come have a seat where it’s warm,” Maggie said. Having helped Caleeza out of a much worn coat that was far too large for her, she guided her guest to the comfortable armchair. “I’ll make us some tea,” she said, heading for the kitchen.
“Where did you find her?” Maggie whispered to Vince in passing.
“In the schoolhouse,” he whispered back. Melinda grabbed on to Leaf when he came into her vicinity and tried to back out of the room with him in tow.
“Hold it!” Vince called out, seeing the move. “I want the two of you over there on the sofa. You have a lot of explaining to do.” Reluctantly, they complied, moving baby blankets aside before sitting down. Caleeza spotted the babies in a cushioned enclosed play area filled with baby toys.
“There are the babies!” she exclaimed.
“Would you like to hold one?” Vince asked.
“Oh, yes, may I?”
Vince lifted Rock from the playpen, placing him in Caleeza’s arms. She gazed with wonder at the little person gazing back at her. Sensing a tiny bit of alarm on Rock’s part over the unfamiliar arms holding him, she sent him happy reassurance. Soon Rock was smiling up at her.
Maggie returned with cups, spoons, sugar, and a selection of teas, placing the loaded tray on the coffee table in front of the sofa and armchair. A full teakettle already simmered on the woodstove. They chose tea flavors and Maggie filled cups with steaming water. Crystal, feeling neglect with Rock’s absence from the playpen, began to cry. Maggie went to pick her up. With teacup in hand, Vince sat down in one of the rockers, waiting for Maggie to return to the gathering before asking questions. Crystal stopped crying as soon as she was picked up. Holding her daughter, Maggie took a seat in the other rocker.
“So, Caleeza, where are you from?” Maggie asked casually, although she could guess. Vince sat back and let Maggie do the questioning for now; she had some catching up to do, since he had already gathered some information.
“I am from the world of Theon, Quaylyn, and Councilor Anthya. I think you know them, yes?”
“Yes, of course. Have you brought news of Rahlys? What about Ilene, Theon, and Raven? Are they all right?” Caleeza took a deep breath before answering.
“I’m sorry; I have no news to share. You must miss them greatly,” Caleeza said, reading Maggie’s disappointment.
“So why are you here?”
“I’m not sure how I ended up on your world. One moment I was in the Crystalline Landscape, and the next I was in a land of ice and snow.”
“Crystalline Landscape?” Maggie asked.
“Yes, a landscape of giant crystals surrounds Mt. Vatre in the center of the Devastated Continent,” Caleeza said, telepathing stunning images. “It might have been energy from the crystals that transported me here.”
“But that’s where Rahlys and the others were headed,” Maggie said.
“I’m a member of the expedition that set out long ago to explore the Devastated Continent. Melinda has informed me that your friends are on an expedition to find us.”
“How do you know the kids?” Maggie asked at the mention of them. Maggie and Vince glanced at the kids, and then at each other. Leaf found it increasingly painful to remain still and began to fidget. Melinda kept a hand on his knee, giving him calming strength.
Kids…? Caleeza asked Melinda telepathically, not sure of the meaning.
She means us children, Melinda clarified. Caleeza sensed they were in trouble for harboring her. She had to find a way to make things right.
“I was traveling south along the railroad tracks when I detected someone drawing on the elemental forces. It led me to Leaf and Melinda. The children gave me food and a place to stay. They saved my life.” Maggie stared hard at Leaf, unusually quiet, and even harder at Melinda, quieter still, sitting on the sofa.
“How long have you been staying at the schoolhouse?” Vince asked. There was a pause while Caleeza reviewed in her mind the calendar Melinda had taught her to follow.
“Four months,” she said finally.
“Four months! Why, that’s how old the twins are.” Maggie said, turning her attention once again to Leaf and Melinda. “You have known about this for four months and you didn’t tell us anything?” Maggie asked Melinda.
We found Caleeza just before we left on the train to have the babies, Melinda tried to explain. We wanted to tell you, but you had other things on your mind, and she needed our help. When we got back, I didn’t know how to broach the subject. Later, keeping her a secret had become a habit.
“You said you found her. Found her where?” Maggie didn’t use telepathy if she didn’t have to. Speaking took far less effort.
At the schoolhouse. Melinda realized she shouldn’t have said that as soon as she said it.
“You were at the schoolhouse without us knowing about it? When? How?” Maggie grew increasing upset.
Leaf would take us….
“Leaf would take you!” Maggie’s heart skipped a beat.
“Leaf is very talented for one so young,” Caleeza said in the way of praise.
“See, Mommy,” Leaf said, “Caleeza says I’m talented.”
Be quiet, Melinda warned. Maggie was speechless.
“I think you two should go to your room for now,” Vince said, stepping in. “We will decide what will happen to you later.”
Leaf and Melinda gladly departed.
Once in the children’s room, Leaf went immediately to playing with books and toys, but Melinda sat in a corner worried. Would Vince and Maggie send her away as punishment?
“Elaine?” Angela pounded on the door to the apartment above the gift shop, and then adjusted the baby she carried in her arms and knocked again. “Elaine, it’s me, Angela.”
Roused from her stupor by the attention-demanding pounding, Elaine rose to open the door. Ilene’s friend, Angela, stood in the doorway, holding her blanket-wrapped new baby, born two weeks premature. Elsie, Angela’s mother, had stopped by to gloat about it just last week.
“Angela, come in,” Elaine said. Hearing the furnace kick on, she rushed to close the draft, nearly catching Angela’s coat in the door. The high cost of heating fuel was making it tough for her to make ends meet.
“I wanted to show you little Daniel,” Angela said as bouncy as ever, unwrapping her tiny bundle in the warm apartment. “Isn’t he just gorgeous,” she said, holding him out proudly. Elaine took the little bundle of life into her arms and gazed at the infant’s carefree continence. Her face cracked into a smile.
“He’s indeed gorgeous. Congratulations! He is perfect,” she said, examining his tiny features.
How’s Ilene?” Angela asked, helping herself to a seat on the sofa.
“She’s fine.” Elaine said, following her. Handing Daniel back to Angela, she sat down beside her. Since there was nothing more she could offer concerning Ilene, she tried to steer the conversation back to the baby. “Your mother is awfully proud of her little grandson.”
“Do you know where she is?” Angela prodded.
“Who, your mother, she’s at home, isn’t she?”
“Not my mother…Ilene…do you know where she is?” Before Elaine could fabricate an answer, Angela gasped and pointed.
“Oh, look, the painting!” she cried, pointing to the portrait of the crystal, shining brightly in the night, perched on a snow-covered spruce bough. The holographic crystal floated away from its two-dimensional background. Created by Rahlys long ago, the painting had inexplicable qualities. Fear gripped Elaine’s throat, choking off words. How could she explain this to Angela? She should have taken the painting back down long ago.
“It’s all right,” Angela said, seeing the distress in Elaine’s face. “Ilene told me about the unusual painting.” Elaine didn’t know if she should feel relief at that or not.
“She told you?” Elaine’s voice quivered. The holographic crystal moved closer.
“Yes…and I know Ilene is not off to college. I just hoped you had some news of her.” How much did Angela know? Elaine wondered. Could she become an ally?
“We can ask the hologram about Ilene,” she said timidly.
“Yes, it has magical powers.”
“That I want to see.”
Muscling up her courage, Elaine focused her thoughts, directing the inquiry to the floating translucent crystal.
“Is Ilene all right?” Elaine asked.
Without hesitation, the crystal glowed into action, burning an answer in the air.
“Awesome!” Angela exclaimed.
The word sparkled clearly before them, and then faded.
“Where is she?” Elaine asked, causing a blazing fanfare as the crystal wrote out its answer.
ON THE DEVASTATED CONTINENT.
Wow!” Angela cried, otherwise speechless, watching the sparkling message fade.
“Will Ilene return soon?” Elaine asked hopefully. The crystal didn’t hesitate in answering.
Elaine covered her face with her hands and cried. She knew the holographic crystal could not predict the future, but still she could not resist asking. As though the crystal felt responsible for her tears, it returned to the painting in seemingly self-reproach. Angela put a comforting arm around Elaine, who quickly regained control.
“You must not tell anyone about this,” she told Angela, in dire seriousness.
“I won’t. I promise.”
“Not even your mother or your husband.” Elaine didn’t really know Angela’s husband, Steve, but she could imagine how her mother, Elsie, would react to all this.
“I promise I won’t breathe a word to anyone,” Angela reassured her. “You’re to let me know if you learn anything new?”
Yes, of course.”
“I really should be going. I told Mother I wouldn’t be long. I think she has the rest of the day planned out for us.” Angela bundled baby Daniel back up.
“Follow me down to the shop on the way out,” Elaine said, grabbing a set of keys. The shop had been closed for weeks, but as the days continued to get longer and warmer with the approach of spring, she needed to start opening up again, at least on weekends, only she hadn’t felt any desire to do so. Once inside the shop, Elaine picked out a knitted cap and sweater set for Daniel, wrapped it in tissue paper, put it in a bag, and gave it to Angela.
“Oh, thank you so much!” The two women hugged as best they could with Daniel between them, and Angela rushed out the door. After she was gone, Elaine mindlessly puttered around the shop for a while, feeling emotionally a little better. The warm human contact had done her good. “I think I will open the shop tomorrow,” she said to herself, and got busy putting things in order.
“The first life forms I met were the musk-oxen,” Caleeza said, looking down at the map of Alaska spread out on the table before them. “I spent the night with them.”
“What do you mean you spent the night with them? I’ve heard these animals will team up to charge if they feel threatened,” Maggie said.
“I communicated with the first male, and he let me sleep next to him for warmth.”
“My word!” was all Maggie could say.
“So let’s see, how did you get from musk-oxen to the upper Susitna Valley?” Vince asked. Standing at the table, the three of them leaned further over to better see the map.
“I followed a long road.”
“The only long road that runs that far north is the Dalton Highway. It takes off from the Elliott Highway, seventy miles north of Fairbanks, and runs all the way to Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope.”
“A man named Stanley gave me a ride in his big truck across high mountains.”
“That must have been the Brooks Range,” Vince surmised.
“Tell us more about Stanley,” Maggie inserted.
“He shared his food and water with me. He wanted to share more, so I left.”
“I found a shelter made of trees…logs,” Caleeza corrected herself, “and I stayed there during a snowfall. That’s where I found boots and coat to help keep me warm.”
“I think I can find some spare boots and a coat around here for you to use that will fit you better.”
“So you must have eventually intercepted with the Elliott Highway,” Vince said, trying to stick to the subject.
“Yes, I keep going south.” Caleeza’s English wasn’t perfect, but it was improving by leaps and bounds. “I see…I saw…more people and more trucks. There was a store with hotdogs to eat. Then I took a ride in another truck. We came to a large village with lots of lights.”
“Do you mean Fairbanks?”
“Then I found the trail for the train and followed it.”
“The Alaska Railroad runs all the way from Fairbanks to Seward,” Vince said, tracing the route on the map for Caleeza with his finger.
“Passing right through the Susitna Valley,” Maggie added. “So that is how you found us.”
“I want to go home, but I don’t know how to go back to my world. I wait for Sorceress Rahlys’ help to return home,” Melinda heard Caleeza say from the other room.
Vince and Maggie hadn’t sent Melinda away as punishment as she had feared, but she received a severe reprimand for encouraging Leaf to teleport and for not telling them about Caleeza. Leaf was only reprimanded for leaving the yard without permission.
Caleeza wasn’t sent away either. Vince and Maggie understood immediately her need for help, and allowed her to continue to stay at the schoolhouse cabin. With a desire to learn about family life on Earth, Caleeza visited every day. She soon became part of the family, taking meals with them, helping with laundry and in the kitchen, and tending to the increasing demands of the twins.
In fact, Caleeza’s presence made life easier for Melinda. No longer Maggie’s prime helper around the house, she had more time to devote to her own interests: art, music, botany, geology, and astronomy. Her side of the children’s room was already cluttered with her artwork and specimens. Soon, the snow would melt, allowing her to collect more.
Caleeza enjoyed the immersion into family life. She did all she could to help with the huge volume of work entailed in raising a large family, consequently learning volumes about foods, tools, language, and customs…as well as child care and development. Maggie brought relief to Caleeza’s loneliness. For Maggie, Caleeza’s presence helped in filling the void left by Rahlys’ absence.
Rock and Crystal were growing fast, seemingly getting stronger by the day, and were much more aware now of those around them. It was fun to try and make the twins laugh, especially together, and Leaf proved best at making the babies cackle up a storm. They liked being held in an upright position so they could look around while pushing their feet against the floor or against someone’s soft, warm lap as though they were walking. When placed on their stomachs, the twins pushed themselves up with their strong arms and kicked their feet, sometimes making a little progress across a surface. They had to be watched all the time. Their little hands grasped anything within reach, and everything went in their mouths!
“Melinda, come, we’re going to play a game,” Leaf informed her as he burst into the room.
What kind of game?
What? Do you mean Monopoly?
“Monopoly,” he repeated after her.
You’re not old enough to play Monopoly.
“Uh-huh, Mommy and Daddy and Caleeza said I could play.”
Okay, I’m coming. Leaf ran out the room while Melinda put a final stroke on the painting she had been working on, dropping her paintbrush into a jar of water on her desk.
Maggie was already setting up the game, with Leaf getting in the way in an effort to help, when Melinda joined the family gathering at the large table. Crystal was sleeping at the moment; Vince stood nearby entertaining Rock by pretending to throw him up into the air. Rock cooed with delight. Melinda helped Maggie count out money while Caleeza struggled to understand the rules of the game, which involved concepts unfamiliar to her like “money” and “property.”
“You use the money to buy property,” Maggie explained. “Then you can charge rent.”
The game lasted most of the afternoon, with Leaf and Caleeza ending up with all of the property. While they played, Caleeza told stories of her adventures on the Devastated Continent, describing the rifted valley, the great Crescent Mountains, and the foreboding ruins of the Temple of Tranquility.
“We were at the ruins when Cremyn went missing. For many rotations, the expedition sent out search parties looking for her. She was finally found cowering in a tiny tunnel of jumbled fallen stones, her body still alive, but her mind gone. Ollen, another member of our party, volunteered to escort Cremyn back to the beach to intercept Captain Setas. Then Traevus disappeared while crossing the central plains. We searched for him for a long time, but never found him. Eventually, we gave up and moved on. But most of the members of our expedition were lost in the Crystalline Landscape…including me.”
“But you’re not lost, my dear, you’re here with us,” Maggie consoled her.
“If your friends have entered the Crystalline Landscape, they may be in great danger,” Caleeza said.
“What kind of danger?” Vince asked.
“Sarus says that the giant crystals store energy, creating powerful energy fields. These are triggered when someone stumbles across them, transporting the victim to someplace unknown, possibly even into the cold depths of empty space.”
The festive mood was crushed. Rahlys, Theon, Ilene, Raven, Quaylyn, and Anthya were in grave danger.
“If you knew the place was dangerous, why did you enter?”
“We didn’t know such a place existed until we came to it. At first, it didn’t occur to us to blame the crystals when Caponya vanished. Others had disappeared during the course of our mission, long before we arrived at the Crystalline Landscape. It wasn’t until Selyzar vanished suddenly that we made the connection. By that time, we had already ventured deeply into the Crystalline Landscape, and the slopes of Mt. Vatre remained tauntingly out of reach.”
“So when did Sarus tell you about the crystals’ powers?” Vince asked.
“Sarus communicates with me in my thoughts and dreams.” She told Vince and Maggie about her contacts with Sarus in the Crystalline Landscape, and his promise to try and bring her home. “I’ve informed him of the new expedition approaching, and he’s agreed to try and help them.” Caleeza didn’t say anything about Sarus’ claim that his mode of existence had changed…for she didn’t understand it herself.
“Are you sure you are making contact across the galaxy?” Vince asked. “Dreams can seem very real.”
“I have regular dreams about him, too,” Caleeza admitted quietly, “but the contacts are not dreams; I can tell the difference.”