Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Ilene’s mother, Elaine, was busy in her gift shop on Main Street when she heard the train whistle in the near distance. The little railroad-stop town served as the closest source of supplies by train or riverboat for the vast remote region beyond the end-of-the-road community. She looked up from her task of dusting and rearranging her stock of mostly locally made items.
Ilene will be home shortly from her trip up the tracks, she sighed with relief. Her daughter seemed changed from just a couple of years ago. Although the change had been somewhat gradual, it was undeniably profound. What had become of the quiet, withdrawn, self-doubting young woman she once knew? The change was for the better, but what had been the catalyst, she couldn’t help wondering. She gazed at the paintings on display by the artist Ilene so frequently went by train to visit. Somehow, there was a connection.
Her daughter had never been especially pretty. Her grayish brown eyes and frizzy hair had always seemed a bit lifeless, but now, her eyes sparkled. Elaine looked at her own tired, worn face and graying hair in the mirror by a display of knitted hats and scarves. She hadn’t had much in the line of beauty to offer a daughter, and as for Ilene’s father…she couldn’t go there…it was best to pretend he didn’t exist.
Surprisingly, just a few years ago, her daughter had been romantically involved with an exceedingly handsome young man. Although he was a bit cold…she could see it in his eyes. Tragically, he had been mauled to death by a bear, which was one reason why she worried when her daughter was up in the woods. Elaine was jarred from her thoughts at the sound of the shop door opening. She expected to see Ilene, but instead it was an out-of-town customer coming in to browse.
Ilene stepped off the train, pack in hand, and glanced around unseeing, deep in contemplation. She was about to leave on an unimaginable journey to a distant world, and somehow she had to explain what was about to happen to her mother. This was not going to be easy.
Shouldering her pack, Ilene passed a fleeting glance over the quaint little town as she ambled across the nearly deserted park, a sadness settling in her heart. The park was usually a hub of activity during the fast-paced summer months, but the cool rainy season and the appearance of the first golden leaves of autumn had heralded a retreat of tourists to warmer climates, and the locals to the warm coziness of indoors. She walked unhurriedly by an inn, a tavern, and the general store, buildings as old as the town itself, and then onto Main Street, thankful that she hadn’t run into anyone who would require her to stop and socialize.
“There you are,” her mother greeted warmly as she held the door open for a graying middle-aged couple leaving with bags of purchased goods in hand.
“Thanks,” the gentleman nodded in passing, the lady merely nodding her head.
“How was your weekend?” Elaine asked as Ilene closed the door and dropped her pack to the floor.
“It was great, and yours? I see you’ve done a little business.”
“A few customers are still drifting in. That’ll change as soon as the snow flies. So what did you do?”
“Huh?” Ilene absentmindedly straightened the lace on a homemade doll, lost in her own train of thought. Elaine couldn’t help noticing her daughter seemed a bit distracted for some reason.
“Up in the woods, this weekend, what did you do?”
“Oh, well, we had a barbecue at Maggie and Vince’s place, and Melinda and I performed together on the flute. Our duet was a smashing success.”
Elaine knew that Maggie and Vince were Rahlys’ neighbors, and Melinda was Rahlys’ mute niece, but where she came from and why she lived with Rahlys’ neighbors was not clear.
“Mom, I would like to invite Theon to dinner tomorrow night.”
“Theon…Half Ear, you know who I’m talking about.”
Elaine gasped audibly. “Why,…whatever for?”
“You won’t have to do anything,” Ilene quickly jumped in. “I will plan and prepare the meal, and clean up afterwards.” Her stomach tied up in knots at the look of horror on her mother’s face, but now that she had broached the subject, she wasn’t letting go. “Please, it is very important to me.”
“If you are concerned about Half Ear being fed, you can always take leftovers to him. You don’t have to invite him here. Are you sure he is even in town? He may be up the tracks.”
“He’ll be here tomorrow night.”
“How do you know?”
“Because he was at the barbecue.”
For reasons Elaine could not begin to comprehend, Half Ear was also part of the group Ilene was hanging out with. Ilene’s friendship with Half Ear made Elaine feel very uneasy.
Before Elaine could think of what to say next, Ilene spoke up, “Thanks so much, Mom,” kissed her on the cheek, grabbed her pack, and ran out the door and up the stairs to their apartment above the shop.
“I don’t like this,” she heard her mother call after her, but Ilene did not stop.
Upon reaching her bedroom, Ilene shut the door, dropped her pack, flung herself on her bed, and breathed a deep sigh of somewhat relief. At least she had made it across the first hurdle.
Her eyes roamed about her tidy room, surveying the curtains, walls, and the matching furniture. It was too girlishly decorated she realized as she glared at lacy pink curtains and flower print wallpaper. This room is not me, but what my mother wants me to be. I will give the room a bold makeover when I return. If she returned, of course, was a distinct possibility. A journey as unheard of as the one she was about to embark on offered no guarantees of a safe return. Am I really looking at my room for the last time?…and saying goodbye to my mother forever? Tears welled up blurring her vision, but she quickly wiped them away.
She jumped up and reached under her bed, pulling out the painting she kept there, not so much hidden as out of sight. For better viewing, she propped it up against her pillows. The painted image of a crystal left its position on a snow-covered spruce bough in snowy woods on a dusky night, and floated out as a hologram image glowing softly with multi-colored light. Some of the oracle’s magic must have seeped into the canvas when Rahlys painted it, for the holographic crystal was no ordinary hologram.
What do you know about Anthya’s World? Ilene asked her crystalline mentor telepathically. The crystal blazed a trail of light through the air, forming letters.
The word sparkled and glittered for a few moments then faded away. Asking such broad questions did not elicit useful, specific information. She tried again.
Can a human from Earth such as myself go there and live to tell about it? Without hesitation, the crystal scribed its answer in a sizzling, fiery display.
Once again, the letters momentarily glowed before her before slowly dissipating. Ilene could hear her mother entering the apartment, and to her surprise, her mother’s footsteps continued without pause to her bedroom door. At the sound of her mother’s knock, the crystal reentered the painting. For the first time ever, Ilene did not attempt to stash the painting back under her bed.
“Come on in,” Ilene said unhurriedly.
Elaine entered. Ilene could see she was still agitated over the impending dinner guest tomorrow night. “Ilene, we really should discuss this more…” her speech trailed off as her gaze moved to the painting.
Elaine recognized the work; it hung on the gallery wall for a time. She remembered experiencing a vague uneasiness whenever she looked at it, and a feeling of relief when it was finally sold. The handsome boyfriend, later mauled to death by a bear, had purchased it and eventually gave it to Ilene. She figured her daughter kept it under her bed because it was a painful reminder of him. Perhaps enough time had finally passed for her heartbreak to have healed and she was ready to place it on her wall.
“Can I hang this up in the living room?” Ilene asked.
“In the living room? Why not over your bed?”
“I don’t want to hide it anymore. In the living room we can both enjoy it.”
“Sure, I guess so,” Elaine agreed reluctantly. “Let’s go find a place for it.”
Ilene didn’t know what had possessed her to make such a suggestion as she followed her mother into the living room, carrying the painting. Several fine paintings by local artists hung on the walls, but so far, none by Rahlys. They both did a visual sweep around the room looking for a suitable spot, when Elaine walked over to the wall by the front door that led to the entrance into the kitchen.
“How about over here? We could move the clock somewhere else,” she said, lifting the clock off its nail, producing sufficient space for the painting. Ilene stepped up and placed the wire hanger over the existing nail, straightened the frame until it looked level, then stepped back to get a better view. “It needs to drop down just a tad on that end,” Elaine said, pointing to the right corner. Ilene made the minute adjustment. “There, that’s perfect.”
Mother and daughter stared in mutual admiration at the iridescent glow of the crystal’s light on the sparkling snow. The painting had a three-dimensional look about it and the glow of the crystal seemed to admit a little light into the room. Elaine resisted an urge to reach out and touch it.
With mounting fear, Ilene speculated on her mother’s reaction to seeing the crystal actually leave the painting, but for now, the crystal remained in place. Would it eventually reveal its true nature to her mother? That would be minor compared to the revelations she and Theon were prepared to make.
Leafy! Where are you? Melinda called mentally, casually searching through the tall brush for her young charge as she absentmindedly brushed away tiny annoying black flies that gathered around her almond brown eyes and small oval face.
Melinda felt his response in her mind, but couldn’t see him. With berry bucket in hand, she waded through the late summer growth of heavily laden high bush cranberry bushes, fireweed stalks mottled red, green, and brown, its once bright red flowers bloomed out and turned to seed fluff drifting on the air currents, and tall grass with purplish seed heads waving in the breeze. Plump ripe rosehips and juicy high-bush cranberries gleamed red in the warm late-August sunshine, their fruity aroma permeating the air of the forest.
Unable to locate the toddler, Melinda felt for his familiar signature, searching through the brush around her, but Leaf was not there. With growing concern, she mentally widened her search…still not finding him. Panic flooded over her. Dashing about frantically looking for him, she tripped and dropped her pail of huckleberries.
A mile away as the raven flies, Rahlys put the final touches on the painting of the bear and the girl. Sensing a presence behind her, she turned quickly.
“Leaf Bradley, how did you get here?”
“Rah…ess!” the carrot-topped toddler beamed, his arms stretched out in gleeful greeting. Purplish blueberry juice and pulp stained his hands, face, denim overalls and plaid shirt.
“Beerr…eees!” Leaf exclaimed, offering Rahlys a handful of squished berry pulp and juice oozing between his fingers. Before Rahlys could respond to Leaf’s generous offering, she picked up on Melinda’s urgent message.
Rahlys, is Leaf with you?
Yes, he’s right here. He brought me some berries. Rahlys felt Melinda’s sigh of relief.
He just disappeared on me. Wow! Leaf can teleport!
That does seem to be the case.
Can you bring him back before Maggie and Vince find out?
I’ll bring him back as soon as I get the berry juice off his hands.
But what do I tell Maggie and Vince? Rahlys could feel Melinda’s concern, and rightly so. A ward of the Order of the Oracle, Melinda was a big sister to Leaf. Unable to speak vocally, she had spoken with him mentally from the time he was born. Maggie herself had often communicated with her infant son this way, for she could better sense his needs through thought impressions than from his crying.
Try telling them the truth…without scaring them too much. Toddlers were by reputation hard to keep track of, but Leaf’s parents were going to be doubly challenged keeping tabs on a toddler who could teleport.
I’ll do what I can.
Turning her attention to Leaf, Rahlys grabbed a clean sheet of watercolor paper, “Oh, thank you so much for the berries. Let’s try making a picture with them.”
“Picture,” he said in all eagerness, for Rahlys had painted with him before.
Placing the paper on the floor, she bent over him holding his little arms out to prevent the further spread of berry juice as she gently lowered his bottom to the floor. “We’ll make a picture of Leaf’s hands.”
“Picture,” he piped again in agreement. Rahlys rubbed his little chubby hands together to evenly spread the berry juice, and then placed his hands on the paper.
“Press hard,” she directed, and Leaf put his bodyweight into it as Rahlys helped him press his hands onto the paper. When she let go, he lifted them up, revealing two bluish purple handprints.
“Good job!” Rahlys reassured him.
“Pretty!” Leaf exclaimed, pointing to the impression with purple-stained fingers.
“Yes, very pretty,” Rahlys had to agree. “Now, let’s see about getting you cleaned up.”
She poured warm water into a pan from the recently refilled kettle on the woodstove, grabbed soap, a clean washcloth, and a towel, and set the items on a chair so Leaf could reach them.
“Hot,” Leaf said, pointing to the pan with serious concern.
“No, it’s not hot, just warm.” Leaf edged over to the pan on the chair and with dramatic caution, touched the water with one finger, jerking it back quickly. Then deciding the water temperature was tolerable, he politely submitted to the wash up.
Rahlys, is Leaf all right? Rahlys detected a bit of dismay and panic in Maggie’s telepathed message. Melinda said he teleported himself to you!
Yes, Maggie, he’s fine. You have a talented little lad here.
How am I ever going to keep track of him if he can just teleport himself anywhere he wants to go?
We are going to have to get across to him that he can’t just go off somewhere without telling anyone. Fortunately, he can only go to places he can picture in his mind.
Are you certain?
Rahlys was fairly certain, but let it go.
We’ll be there shortly. I’m washing berry juice off his hands. “Your mommy and Melinda are worried about you, Leaf,” Rahlys explained to the toddler as she dried his hands. “You should never just leave whoever is looking after you without permission. If something were to happen to you, it would break our hearts.”
“Break heart?” Leaf asked, puzzled.
“Yes, because we love you so very, very much, our hearts would break from sadness if anything bad happened to you.”
“What bad happen?”
“Well, someone could steal you away from us…or something could come along like a big mean bear or a big bad wolf and eat you up. Or you could fall and hurt yourself and we wouldn’t know how or where to find you.”
Rahlys couldn’t help but smile when his usually merry green eyes reflected serious concern. I’m going to miss so much by leaving, she realized as she disposed of the huckleberry-tainted wash water.
“Paint,” Leaf broke into her thoughts. By now, he was climbing up on the table to get to her paints.
“Wait, I’ll set you up on the floor.”
Averting a watercolor disaster just in time, Rahlys lifted the youth off the table and lowered him to the floor where she provided him with paper and watercolor pencils, then sat down beside him to keep him focused. Adding an occasional stroke to hold his interest, she thought about the journey ahead of her. How long would she be gone, and what would she encounter there? She tried to recall the descriptions Quaylyn had provided them of his world, while trying to suppress the fear and uncertainty gnawing at the pit of her stomach. Leaf quickly lost interest in drawing and Rahlys teleported them to Maggie and Vince’s yard.
“We’re here,” Rahlys announced, opening the door. An inviting comfort-food aroma assailed her nose. The wood-burning cook stove burned hot with pies in the oven and a moose pot roast simmering on top of the stove. Steam seeped out from under the lid of the pot, gathering as moisture on the windows, screening out the approaching nightfall.
“Oh, Leaf!” Maggie cried, giving her little son a thankful hug. “You gave us such a scare. Even Mommy and Daddy let someone know where they are going before leaving.”
“Don’t ever just leave like that again,” Maggie said, giving him another hug.
“I won’t,” Leaf said, his voice full of contrition.
“What do you have here?” she asked, pointing to the painting he clutched in his hand. Leaf handed it to her.
“Picture…hands,” he said, showing her his still slightly blue hands in explanation.
“How pretty! Good job! We’ll tack it up in our art gallery,” Maggie said, indicating a wall already overburdened with children’s art.
Vince stuck his head in at the door. “Melinda! Leaf! Chores!”
Leaf ran circles around Melinda, playing airplane as she came out of the children’s room. Melinda greeted Rahlys, and then helped Leaf into his jacket, handed him a water pitcher, and ushered him out the door.
“Thank you, Sweetie,” Maggie called out to Melinda in heartfelt appreciation as she closed the door behind them.
“What am I going to do about Leaf?” Maggie moaned when the house was quiet again.
“He can only go to places that he can clearly picture in his mind,” Rahlys reassured her again, “and in his short lifetime, that isn’t very many places.”
“Let’s hope you’re right. We’re going to have to watch him extra closely…and hope nothing happens to him before we can find him, should he try something like that again,” Maggie said, stirring the steaming pot and adding water. Then she filled two coffee cups and they sat at the table in her toasty warm kitchen.
“I can’t believe you are leaving? Are you sure you really want to do this? There could be a lot of risk involved here. Forget ‘could be,’ there will almost certainly be a lot of risk involved.”
“I have to go. I know it may be dangerous, but I can’t let Anthya and the Council of the Crystal Table down. We thought events ended with Droclum’s destruction, but there are some loose ends still. Besides, I haven’t done much with my talents. I feel guilty about that. I have all these powers; I should be doing more to right the wrongs in the world. Instead, all I do is hide out in the woods and paint.”
“Now, don’t be hard on yourself. When did all the problems in the world become yours to solve? What do you want to do, hang out at airports and intercept terrorists? You saved the world once. I was counting on you being here when the baby comes.”
“Maybe I’ll be back by then.”
“In two months? I doubt it.” There was a quiet lull as the close friends contemplated a long separation.
“You will see Quaylyn again,” Maggie said, her frown turning into a smile.
Rahlys often thought of Quaylyn over the years. Quaylyn had been sweetly boyish, but lionhearted too, a little irritating at times, yet an endearing soul. Sent to Earth by the High Council of the Crystal Table, his mission had been to train Rahlys in the use of her powers and help her to defeat Droclum. What Quaylyn didn’t know at the time was that he was also Sorceress Anthya and Droclum’s son. Droclum had defiled his mother, and while Quaylyn was still an infant, stole him from his mother in the Temple of Tranquility. Centuries later, the child was found by the first expedition to the Devastated Continent, encapsulated in suspended animation.
“We have a favor to ask,” Maggie said, reaching for something on the table.
“Vince and I have written Quaylyn a letter and would like for you to deliver it for us.”
Quaylyn had spent a lot of time visiting with Maggie and Vince, eating Maggie’s good cooking and debating political philosophy with Vince. Sometimes, he visited them to give Rahlys much needed space.
“By all means; of course, I will,” Rahlys said, taking the sealed envelope.
Vince entered the cabin carrying in a blue five-gallon plastic container of water followed closely by his young helpers, Leaf and Melinda. Almost immediately, Leaf placed his quart size pitcher of water down on the floor.
“Heavy,” he said dramatically, pointing to the pitcher of water.
Wimp, Melinda telepathed teasingly as she passed by him with an armload of wood for the cook stove.
“Good job, everyone!” Maggie praised them heartily. She went over and picked up the water pitcher, placing it on the table, and then helped Leaf out of his jacket.
Rahlys noted that Maggie was the picture of contentment, thriving on family life. Despite the fulfillment she derived from painting, she sometimes felt her own life lacked some hard core purpose in comparison. It hadn’t always been that way. There had been a time when she viewed herself as being the one full of purposeful drive while Maggie lived the life of a free spirit. How things had changed!
“Dinner is still a half hour away,” Maggie announced to expectant faces.
Can we watch a movie while the generator is on?
“You can start a movie, but I don’t want any arguments about putting it on pause when dinner is ready.” Leaf took off at a run into the next room to pick out his favorite DVD, Melinda following to help him put it in the player. Vince looked over at the computer, debating whether or not to get right to work on his fifth novel, but joined Rahlys and Maggie at the table instead.
“So, you are still going?” he asked Rahlys, settling into a chair.
Vince could hear the decisiveness in her voice and knew her mind was made up. “I wish you luck. I can’t say we won’t worry about you. A very strong part of me wants to go with you and protect you on this journey, but my love needs me.” He reached over to Maggie and touched her hand. “My family is the most important thing in my life now.”
“Yes, it is, and it is important to me that you stay here with Maggie, since I won’t be here to help her.”
“I need to take the pies out the oven and put the bread in,” Maggie said, rising from her chair.
“I’ll do it, you take a break,” Vince said getting up.
“Well, at least I know you are in good hands.”
The next day, Melinda and Theon were working together on a science project of their own making, a machine that would generate electricity using cold air as fuel. The cold generator was set up on the rustic ax-hewn table Theon had made for the little guest cabin in the woods behind Rahlys’ house. The cabin, originally constructed to house Quaylyn when he was here, was now used as a schoolhouse for Melinda and a place for Theon or Ilene to stay when they spent the night.
I don’t want you to leave.
“I will miss you, too,” Theon reassured her.
You don’t understand. There won’t be anyone left here once you and Rahlys and Ilene are gone. Who will be my teachers? Even Raven is leaving! It’s going to be so boring around here.
She looked up at him with mournful eyes. “Melinda, one thing in life is certain: There will always be change. You learn to live with it, grow with it, and find new focus.”
I want to go with you.
“But you can’t leave now. Maggie and Vince and Leaf need you. If you are having feelings of abandonment by our leaving, then imagine how Leaf will feel with you gone…especially after the new babies arrive.”
“Yes, well, I didn’t want to say anything, but I seem to detect two signatures developing in Maggie’s womb. I don’t recommend you say anything to Maggie, though; it’s not our place to do so…and I could be wrong. We wouldn’t want to alarm her unnecessarily.” Theon gave Melinda their secret-sharing wink and turned back to setting the power crystal in place.
Melinda struggled to turn her attention back to the cold generator they were working on. According to Theon, it was almost complete. It looked nothing like the diesel generators Vince and Rahlys used. For one thing, it was so light and small she could carry it around herself. What looked like an ordinary crystal, sat in an elaborate metal wire frame set on a wooden base large enough to house a plug-in receptacle. The inner support frame that held the crystal was mounted on swivels.
But how does it work?
“There is molecular energy stored in all forms of matter, but the energy stored in crystals is the most efficient to harness. I’ve programmed the molecular structure of the crystal to release a minuscule amount of stored energy when fueled by cold. The crystal will convert energy released by contraction in severe cold to electrical energy we can use. I believe we are ready to test it,” he said, making sure everything was in place.
But it isn’t winter yet.
“We will create winter. Here, plug that end of this extension cord into that lamp by the bed and I will plug this end into the generator. Don’t forget to turn the lamp on.”
Melinda plugged in the lamp and turned it on, and then watched as Theon concentrated on the air around the generator, steadily lowering its temperature. Soon, frost crystals began to form on the window, the table, and the metal framework around the crystal as the super cooled air lost its ability to hold moisture. The metal frame around the crystal snapped and popped as it contracted, and the crystal began to spin and glow softly. Then, suddenly, the lamp across the room came on.
It works! Melinda clapped her hands gleefully.
“Of course it works. Didn’t you expect it to?”
Melinda was sure there was not another teacher like Theon in the entire world. While scientists may be pondering ways to harvest energy from cold in a lab somewhere, she doubted there were many teachers building working cold generators in the classroom.
“Now, this winter when it drops below zero, put this outside and plug the cabin into it, and you will have electricity. The colder it gets, the more energy it will produce, but the crystal can store any excess power, sort of like a car battery. So you may still draw electricity for a while after it warms up.”
Theon ceased lowering the air temperature around the generator, and began warming it back up to the ambient temperature in the room. Gradually, the crystal slowed down its spinning and became less bright. The frost around the generator melted, and the lamp went out.
How long will you be gone? Melinda asked, returning to the topic uppermost in her mind.
Theon gazed down at Melinda’s youthful, inquisitive countenance with painful regret. “I don’t know. It could be a long time…maybe forever. I have outlived my expected longevity by centuries. I can’t have too much time left.”
Melinda knew that Theon was old. Not as old as the stars and the mountains, but older than the pyramids and Stonehenge. Her eyes welled up with tears and she fought back the urge to cry. She could not imagine never seeing Theon again.
“Now, now, cheer up.” He could sense Melinda’s stress. “I’m not gone yet. And I do believe Rahlys has cooked up a fine pot of spruce grouse stew for our dinner. Why, I can smell it from here. Um, um! What do you say we go and check on its progress?”
A gray cloud sheet brought in by a freshening breeze blanketed the sky as they made their way through the little stretch of woods leading to Rahlys’ cabin. The breeze darted and dashed through the tops of the trees, making the yellowing birch leaves jiggle. It smelled of rain, not spruce grouse dinner, Melinda reflected. Then Raven flew overhead cawing loudly, projecting images to their minds of the forested hills and valleys tinged with fall, the underbrush tall, but spent, with the waning of summer.
He landed on the branch of a nearby birch tree. “What’s gotten you so riled up, my fine-feathered friend?” Theon asked, scanning the surrounding woods and finding nothing alarming.
“Klaaawock!” Raven gurgled deep in his throat.
Melinda and Theon understood. Raven was also leaving soon; leaving Melinda, Leaf, Maggie, and Vince; leaving the mighty river, the familiar forests, mountains, and streams. Leaving, maybe forever, this place he called home.
After dinner, Melinda, still in a melancholy mood, strolled down to the rocky edge of the creek that flowed below Rahlys’ cabin. Raven soon joined her, his powerful wings swooshing air as he sped by. Circling around, he landed in a nearby tree.
I don’t want you to leave, Melinda telepathed to him, the message burdened with her sadness.
“Aaaaaa…,” Raven gurgled in return, his sentiments equally sad.
Disheartened, Melinda strolled over the rocks along the edge of the stream, staring down at them with little interest. It’s going to be so boring around here with everyone gone. Why did Anthya have to ruin everything? She should have stayed away, Melinda pouted.
“Aaaaarrrk!” Raven called, breaking into her thoughts. From his perch above the creek, he sent Melinda an image of a perfectly round golden stone he spotted under the water. Melinda’s line of sight from the rocks on shore made finding the stone a bit harder, but finally she located it in shallow water, a couple of feet out. With little thought to the icy cold water, Melinda stripped off her shoes and socks, rolled up her pants legs to her knees, and waded in, stepping cautiously over the slippery rocks, the intense cold of the water numbing her feet. Two steps in, after pushing up her sleeve to prevent it from getting wet, she quickly reached into the babbling creek, grabbed the stone, and hurried back to shore. Sitting on the dry rocks away from the stream bed, she dried off her feet with her jacket, and put on her socks and shoes. They felt wonderful on her cold feet!
I wonder where it came from, Melinda pondered, rolling the smooth stone between her fingers. She gazed into the luminously translucent golden stone, searching its depths for hidden worlds…clues to its origin…but the orb revealed no secrets. Dropping it into a pocket of her jeans, she climbed back up the hill to Rahlys’ cabin.
The train whistle finally blew around the bend, signaling its approach. Ilene, dressed in jeans and a brown cotton flannel shirt, huddled against the wall of the train-stop shelter, shivering from the cold drizzle and chilly breeze. She should have worn a jacket, but refusing to let summer go, convinced herself she didn’t need it. Now she regretted her decision, for the train ended up being late as usual and she was damp from the rain.
The train lights appeared around the bend and the engineer blew the whistle again. It squealed to a stop with the passenger exit and baggage car door aligned with the unloading platform, and hunters and weekenders, all dressed for the rugged outdoors, disembarked. Ilene spotted Theon in the baggage compartment, in the guise of Half Ear, conversing with the plump jolly conductor.
“I’m telling you, that dried moose there is the best you will ever have,” Half Ear said, pushing a package into the hands of the surprised conductor. “I guarantee it.”
“Well, thanks. You’re in a good mood today,” the conductor said, graciously accepting the gift. “What’s the occasion?”
“Just expressing my gratitude.” Half Ear paused as though carefully choosing his next words. But “Take care,” was all he said, in a rare contemplative moment for the persona he was portraying. He patted the conductor on the shoulder and climbed out of the boxcar. Ilene noticed he descended with less agility than she’d seen in the past.
“Hello, my pretty!” he greeted Ilene jovially. “Where’s your jacket?”
“Poor judgment on my part; I didn’t think I needed it.” Ilene felt the air around her warming and knew Theon was expending energy, energy he shouldn’t have to expend, to keep her warm, which made her regret even more leaving her jacket behind.
“How’s your mother doing? Have you told her anything?”
“Not yet. I know she is dreading dinner tonight. So am I,” Ilene added as an afterthought.
“What? Don’t like my company?”
“You know that’s not true.” She hooked her arm into his, not caring who may be watching, and leaned against him fondly.
Elaine heard them coming up the stairs and met them at the door. “Good evening, John,” she greeted him as she held the door open.
“Good evening, Elaine. But you know my name is not John. And it’s not Half Ear either,” he added quickly before she could speak.
“All right,” she said, barely over a whisper, waving them inside before anyone could overhear. “And what should I call you?” she asked, closing the door behind them.”
“Call me Theon. My name is Theon.”
What followed started out as an awkward moment, but soon ended with a startled shriek from Elaine as the crystal drifted out of the painting. Elaine stared in wide-eyed shock at the hologram glowing softly, suspended in the air.
“Now, now, it’s all right,” Theon said, embracing Elaine gently. “It’s just a harmless spell. Rahlys imbued a tiny bit of her magic into the painting when she painted it; she didn’t even realize it was happening at the time.”
“Oh, yes, Rahlys is a powerful sorceress.” Theon said, leading Elaine to the sofa and sat down beside her….Ilene took her cue and exited to the kitchen to finish up dinner.
“What does all this have to do with my daughter?” Elaine asked, fighting to calm herself.
“Our daughter,” Theon corrected her, raising her anxiety level again. “Our daughter and a fine daughter she is, too.”
“You really expect me to believe that my daughter is half alien? I know something is going on between you and Ilene, and I want to know what you are keeping secret,” Elaine stated bravely.
“Let me give you a little more background information first. Then Ilene and I can announce our surprise over dinner.” Theon patted her hand reassuringly. She did not try to move it away.
“As I was saying, Rahlys is a sorceress, and the real crystal, that’s just a portrait of it,” he said, pointing to the floating image, “brought the Oracle of Light which gave Rahlys her powers so she could defeat Droclum, a truly foul sorcerer.” Elaine stared at Theon with startled incredulity.
“Droclum used to be my boss,” he said as an afterthought. Alarm joined the startled incredulous look on Elaine’s face.
“No, no, don’t worry! I’m one of the good guys now. I helped Rahlys destroy Droclum.”
“What about that thing there?” Elaine asked, pointing to the floating image of the crystal.
“That thing? Little more than a child’s toy. Watch, I’ll ask it a question. What is my name?” he asked the crystal. The crystal blazed into action, burning letters into the air.
The answer sparkled before them, and then slowly dissipated. Elaine could only gasp.
“You try it. Ask the crystal something simple like, what are we having for dinner?”
Elaine hesitated, but then cooperated by mumbling, “What are we having for dinner?” She looked toward the glowing, spinning apparition with expectation, but nothing happened.
“No, no, not like that. Put your mind into it. In fact, you don’t even need to use spoken words. Relax, focus on the crystal, connect with it, and then ask the question in your mind. Elaine took a deep breath and focused on the hologram as best she could, trying to connect.
What are we having for dinner? she asked in her mind, and felt a slight tingling sensation in her brain. The crystal twirled into action, blazing letters across the room.
“Um! Smells good, too. You see, the crystal can tell what is known, but it has no ability to predict the future. For example, now, ask the crystal when you will die, and see what kind of answer you get.”
“Huh?” Elaine gasped and jumped back, out of Theon’s grasp. “I’ll do no such thing!”
“Okay, okay. Then ask it when I will die, if you are worried about the answer, and see what it says.
Still reluctant, Elaine struggled to concentrate on the spinning light. When will Theon die? she asked, again feeling the unusual brain sensation, unaware that Theon was helping her communicate. The crystal responded immediately, giving its sparkling answer.
The word melted away as Ilene entered the room. “Dinner is ready!” she announced cheerfully.
Cozily seated at the little table by the kitchen window with Theon in the middle looking out at the darkening night and her mother at one end, Ilene sat opposite from her. Lacking a separate dining room, Ilene had done all she could to achieve elegance in the tiny space available. The table was covered with a delicate white tatted tablecloth, and had been set with fine china, silver salt, pepper shakers, and linen napkins in silver napkin holders her mother kept stored away at the back of the cabinets and never used. Two silver candlesticks with lighted candles supplemented the light across the room to provide subdued lighting.
The meal was exquisite, the conversation safe, and they were enjoying a second glass of fine red wine before the real topic at hand was finally broached.
“So what is this surprise you were going to tell me about?” Elaine asked, bursting the bubble of contentment that surrounded them.
After a pregnant moment of silence, Theon started to speak, “Elaine…”
“No…it’s my responsibility from here,” Ilene said, surprising even herself. Theon graciously bowed out, giving Ilene the floor. “Mother…Father and I are going on a trip…to a place far, far away, to another world across the galaxy…Father’s homeland.”
Elaine gripped her chest, unable to breathe. Then, finally, she took air into her lungs. “I’ll never see you again,” she gasped to her daughter.
“Now, Elaine, that isn’t true,” Theon spoke up. “Ilene will be gone a year maybe, two at the most.” Elaine did not look consoled. Ilene hated to see her mother suffer so, but she had suffered, too, and there was no turning back now.
“I have learned a lot about who I am since discovering Theon is my father, the father you denied I had and kept secret from me all these years.”
“I was only trying to protect you.”
“Protect me from what? A father’s love and protection?”
“I just wanted you to have a normal life. I was protecting you from ridicule and harassment.”
“You denied half my existence!”
“I only wanted what was best for you! I love you.”
“I love you, too, Mom, but now it is time for me to find out who I really am.”
“By trekking across the universe? How? How will you do this?”
“We will travel in permanent physical time,” Theon explained. “It will take about three Earth days.”
“We leave tomorrow,” he said.
“Tomorrow…? Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“What will you tell people? How will you explain your absence?”
“Actually, since we will be gone, you will have to explain our absence,” Theon rationalized. “You could claim Ilene has gone off to school somewhere. As for me, I’ll hardly be missed. If anyone should ask, you could tell them you don’t really know…which would be true enough. Since I will teleport Ilene and myself to our rendezvous tomorrow, the train conductor will report, if questioned, that I was last seen coming into town, so there shouldn’t be much of a search for me in the woods.”
“You’re leaving me?” Elaine moaned, turning toward her daughter. “Tomorrow…?” She had taken in little of Theon’s speech, lost as she was in the struggle to comprehend and accept.
“Only for a while, I’ll be back, I promise.” Overcome with emotion, Ilene hurried over to her mother, put her arms around her, and cried on her shoulder. They held each other tightly and cried deeply as they forgave each other for past transgressions both real and imagined.
Theon sat quietly, and patiently waited. When they were cried out, he refilled their glasses with the remaining wine.
“So let us celebrate the undertaking of a grand adventure, and I will tell you all about home. Of course, I haven’t been there for a while, but surely some things haven’t changed.”
Putting on a brave smile, Elaine lifted her wine glass, joining Theon and Ilene in a toast. “To a grand adventure!” Theon proposed.
“To a grand adventure!”