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Beyond The Hero's Chamber

 

Beyond The Hero’s Chamber

By

Ian Newton

 

 

Copyright 2016 Ian Newton

Illustrations by Marcia Adams Ho, Copyright 2016

Cover design and Cover illustration by Marcia Adams Ho, Copyright 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9913034-4-1

 

Shakespir Edition

[]Dedications

Elizabeth -

Hand in hand, heart to heart, always by your side.

 

Gwynn -

For your limitless support and love and for being a zombie.

 

Connor, Brandon, and George -

Because you were there when I dreamt it and because I told you I would.

 

Lynn B. -

You’re one of a kind and I’m a huge fan.

 

Neil, Geddy, and Alex -

If you read between the lines, you’ll hear your songs.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

[]Note from the Author

In the early morning hours of July 5th, 2006, I woke up from a dream. Since then, I’ve tried to write down what I experienced, to express what I saw, to tell the story of my dream. 

The reason for my effort and the purpose of this book is to get the images, the story, the characters, and the emotions out of my head.

With my dream finally down on paper, I know I might never be able to put aside the unreasonably detailed visions that have danced through my head for years. After you read it, I hope you understand why I had to write it down.

 

Ian Newton

 

July 5th, 2016

Warning

This is NOT a stand-alone story. Beyond The Hero’s Chamber is the continuation of The Hero’s Chamber. If you didn’t read The Hero’s Chamber, just go online and do a quick search. It’s free and it’s a wonderful story that thousands of people have enjoyed for years. You’ll find the eBook available in every downloadable format on Shakespir.com or Amazon.com if you have a kindle.

If you’ve already read the The Hero’s Chamber, welcome back! You’re in for a real treat. However, before you read Beyond The Hero’s Chamber, I have a couple of suggestions you may want to consider.

First, if it’s been a while since you read The Hero’s Chamber please consider going back and reading Chapter 18, Promises Fulfilled and Chapter 22, Wisdom. These chapters should quickly bring you back up to speed.

For those of you looking for a more extensive refresher, please read the synopsis on the following pages. This should help jog your memory and allow you to fully enjoy Beyond The Hero’s Chamber.

Synopsis of The Hero’s Chamber

Andrew Weaver and Connor Duncan were left at an orphanage while their fathers went off to save the world. Andrew’s father never made it back and Connor’s father was horribly wounded, but survived.

Years later, we meet seventeen year old Andrew and eighteen year old Connor wandering the countryside. They take a swim, and Connor loses his big toe to a giant snapping turtle. Just as he’s about to bleed out, his father Jacob shows up to save the day.

Jacob Duncan (Connor’s father) retains his alias of Jacob Miller, essentially lying to Connor and Andrew about his true identity. Jacob introduces the boys to a magical shield and book that he and Andrew’s father found years ago when they traveled to the Kingdom.

With the help of the magical items, Jacob convinces Andrew and Connor that saving the world is possible, and now’s the time.

They all head out together across an unforgiving desert landscape where they are eventually joined by an imposing figure known only as a Wanderer. With the help of the Wanderer, Jacob, Andrew and Connor are escorted to the Kingdom.

When they execute their plan, everything goes wrong. Connor is banished into the desert, Jacob is mortally wounded and Andrew is left to die outside the Hero’s Chamber. Connor and Andrew also learn the truth about Jacob’s identity, and needless to say it’s a real shocker.

Due to a series of improbable events, our Wanderer is revealed to be a young woman named Kaya Elbe. Kaya becomes overly involved in the circumstances at play and takes an enormous leap of faith.

Andrew also takes a huge leap of faith and both he and Kaya restore the Kingdom and save Jacob’s life. In the process, they free Kaya’s village from an ageless burden, restore hope to a dying world and become unsuspecting pawns in a master plan that’s been playing out for more than twenty thousand years.

As we leave our Heroes, Connor is hopelessly stranded in the desert wastelands, while Andrew, Kaya and Jacob are about to embark on an amazing journey with an extraordinary being.

Table of Contents

WARNING

Preface – STALEMATE

Chapter 1 – ALONE

Chapter 2 – PRACTICE LIFE

Chapter 3 – SPILL THE BEANS

Chapter 4 – CARETAKERS

Chapter 5 – RETURN

Chapter 6 – THE LADY MARIE

Chapter 7 – BAGGAGE

Chapter 8 – DISTANT EARLY WARNING

Chapter 9 – FIRST LESSON

Chapter 10 – ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE

[+ Chapter 11- NOW +]

Chapter 12 – OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY

Chapter 13 – SHADOW TALK

Chapter 14 – COME SAIL AWAY

Chapter 15 – SHOW TIME

Chapter 16 – ANY SINGLE REQUEST

Chapter 17 – INVISIBLE

Chapter 18 – LITERALLY

Chapter 19 – FOLLOW THE LEADER

Chapter 20 – THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL

 

Synopsis of The Hero’s Chamber

My Team of Hero’s

About the Author

About the Illustrator

Endnotes

Dedications

Note from the Author

[]Preface

Stalemate

In the fleeting moment linking the Defender with the Hero, Jacob came to know his son. It was miraculous to embrace the essence of the boy he always loved, but heartbreaking to feel the abandonment, shame, and anguish caused by so many years apart.

He reached out to soothe Connor’s anger and bitterness, but the emotions recoiled, tightening into a knot of greed and pride. The dark, swirling mass overshadowed the boy Jacob once knew, and it began growing, making him feel small and unwelcome. Though the joining was brief, Jacob was not the only one learning.

At precisely the same time, Connor curiously probed the essence of the man defending him from far below. In a bewildering blur, the knowledge and skills of a Blacksmith and those of a Cooper transferred without words from father to son.

Connor watched Jacob Miller transform into Jacob Duncan, and he was electrified with emotions that spawned an unbelievable pain. His breath caught in his throat, his back arched in agony and with each beat of his heart he stiffened. He was unable to move and unable to look away from the visions in his head.

Lightning coursed through Connor as it flashed in the Chamber, transforming his view of the world. He witnessed and experienced a lifetime of people and places from Jacob’s perspective.

When the thunder subsided, the two men pulled away from each other and time stopped. In their private, timeless void, ribbons of emotions became flesh and nowhere became the past.

Jacob stood at the bottom of the steps leading up to the orphanage while Connor looked down upon his father.

Connor glanced from side to side, almost turning completely around. He knew the tragedy this place had to offer, and it fanned the coals of hatred within him like the bellows to a forge.

“Do you remember this place?!” he demanded of Jacob.

Jacob nodded, knowing there was no right way to undo this wrong.

“I’m not sure how you could! You only spent enough time here to abandon me!”

“Connor I’m…”

“How could you lie to me this whole time?!”

Jacob began to answer, but Connor wasn’t interested in answers.

“Why did you leave me here all alone?!” he screamed.

Anger, loathing and bitterness rose like the welts of a switch across the fabric of Connor’s soul. He and Jacob separated and the orphanage dissolved.

Jacob watched helplessly while the Light ruthlessly harvested the strongest emotions from his son.

Connor writhed and screamed in pain as the very essence of his being was torn to pieces.

With the menacing goliath of evil towering over Jacob and bellowing with rage, he knew there was no escape. He had gambled and lost.

Minutes later, his life slipping away, Jacob wedged his hand between the glowing spire and his broken back.

“You cannot have my son!” he screamed at the towering creature.

As the massive fists came crashing down, Jacob whispered, “Stalemate.”

[][]Chapter 1

Alone

In what should have been his moment of glory, Connor Duncan cowered in terror on the floor of the Hero’s Chamber. With his arms wrapped around his legs and his face buried in his knees, uncontrollable screams of terror poured from his quivering body.

With the sound of a “pop”, Connor disappeared. Concealed within the emptiness of nowhere, his darker, evil side was stitched back into the frayed tapestry of his soul. With another “pop”, he reappeared far beyond the borders of the Kingdom in a tuft of tall dead grass. With his eyes shut tight and his knees clutched to his chest, he screamed in terror with every breath.

Long wisps of grass fluttered against his arms and legs as the dark silence of the moonless night slowly replaced the horrors of the Chamber.

Between sobs, he found tiny pieces of courage. When he had collected enough, he opened his eyes and peeked his head up above his knees. A little stem of grass flickered across his face, and he flinched, ducking his head back down to hide his face. With his eyes closed, the Chamber rushed back into his mind.

His heart raced, and his breath came in short, explosive bursts. He covered his ears, but it was no use. He couldn’t hide from his father’s disappointment or the creature inside the Chamber. The deafening screams echoed in his head, sending him adrift in a stormy sea of voices and images. He felt the liberation of madness, but forced his hands into fists, opened his eyes, and screamed, “Enough!”

Pushing himself up, he swatted at the visions dancing just beyond reach and lost his balance. With fear and frustration pounding in his head, he came down hard on his hands and knees.

The quietness of the desert landscape wrapped itself around his senses, soothing his troubled mind. Struggling back to his feet, an overwhelming need pulled him forward on unsteady legs.

Just ahead, a pair of half-buried wagon wheels stood out against the sand. They were twisted and broken with their wooden spokes sticking out at odd angles. He tripped over bits and pieces of wood and saw a half skeleton and a pile of bones.

Staring at Duke’s remains, he hissed, “No! It can’t be!”

Connor kicked at the bones launching the dismembered jaw from its sandy resting place. The old teeth scattered like pearls, lost in the dark of night.

Every muscle in his body went taut. “This isn’t possible!” he growled through clenched teeth.

It had been weeks since they had come this way. And after countless steps and an unbelievable sacrifice, here he was, right back where he started. But this time, he was alone, humiliated, and betrayed!

“My father!” he seethed, with hatred in his heart.

“Everything is his fault,” he yelled into the night sky, “EVERYTHING!

So this is it?! This is my reward?! This was your fool-proof plan?! At least last time you abandoned me, it was at an orphanage!

You can keep your stupid Kingdom!!” he screamed to the stars above, kicking at the tarp on the ground. It tangled around his foot, bringing him back to his knees.

He started picking up pieces of their old camping gear and throwing them into the distance, building his anger into rage. He kept on throwing things until he found a large, cast iron frying pan. His shoulder and arm ached from his pointless tantrum, and he suddenly felt exhausted and confused.

He dropped the pan, untangled the canvas tarp from his foot and curled up into a ball. Pulling the tarp over himself, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The next day, with the sun well past its zenith, Connor opened his eyes. “I need to go to the well,” he mumbled, getting to his feet.

His arms hung lifelessly at his sides as he turned north and started walking into the distance. “I must drink from the well,” he said flatly.

Clumps of dried grass became thicker, and the tendrils of long-dead creosote bushes pulled at his clothes. He walked around cactus and rocks, but never wavered from his course, never said a word and never took his eyes from the horizon.

With the sun in retreat and Connor mindlessly pushing on, the desert Wastelands slowly transitioned into a barren, endless collage of colorfully stacked sandstone.

As twilight obscured the scene, the first edge of the softly curving crescent moon took its place just above the horizon. Its presence went unnoticed as Connor moved ever closer to the insurmountable sandstone wall in the distance.

Just before reaching the cliff-face, he turned like a meandering river, adjusting his course to run parallel with the barrier. Walking ever onward, with the towering obstacle as his constant companion, he shuffled across timeworn stone that was as smooth as it was endless.

The subtle complexity of the barrier wall was wasted on him, just as it was on everyone who had been removed from the Kingdom. From any vantage point except that of a bird, it was impossible to see how the cliff face regularly indented, mile after mile.

Each time the cliff indented, it created the shape of a waxing crescent moon. Along the inner border of each crescent, twenty-one smaller crescents were pressed into the sandstone wall. Along the inner edge of each of these crescent shapes, fourteen fractures appear in the stone. Each of these fractures joined to form seven narrow crevasses, each one just wide enough for a single person to navigate. Along each crevasse, further bifurcation occurred, creating a staggering number of pathways.

Down the winding corridor of one singular crevasse, scattered amongst the endless possible choices within the barrier wall, rests a Sanctuary known only as the Oasis.

The Oasis is lost to all who have never entered the Kingdom, and those who cannot claim the right of Caretaker. It appears on no map and has never been found by the curious.

Connor was oblivious to these complexities. Even if someone had been there to question him, he would have been unable to explain why water from any other source would not quench his thirst.

Fortunately for Connor, none of this mattered. His senses were dulled, and his memory would fail should he try to recollect his journey.

As the night moved on, it carried Connor with it. Step after step and turn after turn, he deftly navigated his way, mile after mile. When the sky had finally awakened with the first light of a new day, he had already entered one of the enormous crescent shapes within the sandstone wall. Passing into one of the smaller inner crescents, he approached a narrow crevasse. He took no notice of the silty, brown stream of water running out of it.

The narrow pathway leading into the rock blocked the light and Connor pressed on into the dark, claustrophobic corridor. The water quickly rose to his ankles, burdening his every step.

Sloshing one foot in front of the other, he finally emerged into a spectacular clearing. The large area was completely encircled by a colorfully layered sandstone wall rising hundreds of feet into the sky. In the center of this circular Oasis, the ground rose to meet a simple well made of stacked stone. Standing near the well, watching the water pour out of it, were three men barely older than Connor.

Connor was only a few steps into the clearing when the ground began rumbling, reverberating the air with something too deep to hear. The vibration grew more intense as the force moved like a wave across the land.

Everyone watched as a ribbon of Light came ripping out of the base of the cliff wall. The energy wave came at them, traveling across the ground at an incredible speed. One man covered his ears while the other two desperately held onto the side of the well.

When the wave of Light passed under them, the man with his hands over his ears crumpled to the ground. The other two kept their grip and barely remained upright. Connor didn’t even skip a step.

Before their looks of panic faded, before they even had time to help their friend from the ground, there was a “BOOM!!!” that rocked the world. It was so loud, none of them could hear anything except a sharp buzzing and no one except Connor was still standing.

Leaves fell en masse from the restless trees atop the cliff walls. Ancient rocks fell from permanent resting places, and the first rays of sunlight illuminated the top of the Oasis.

With their ears ringing, the leaves falling and all manner of rocks bouncing about, the men tried to help their friend to his feet, but he wouldn’t take their hands. Instead, he started yelling, “Ross! Ross!! He’s behind you! Look behind you!”

Another ribbon of Light rippled from the sandstone wall, lifting everything in its path. It traveled across the Oasis making the three men rise and fall like ships on the high sea. The accompanying “Boom!” was only slightly less intense than the first.

Oblivious to the mayhem unfolding around him, Connor continued walking toward the well. Ravi was flat on his back again, and Ross and Tarquin were on their knees.

Before the next wave hit, and it was clearly coming, Ravi looked at his friends. His eyes were open wide, and his arms were out, pointing at Connor.

Tarquin and Ross jerked around just in time to see Connor place his hands on the side of the well. Undisturbed by the newcomer, the water poured over his hands, covering his wrists as it continued down the ancient stones. Tarquin gasped, scooting away from the well until he bumped into Ravi.

Ross watched intently as Connor dipped his head down to the water. From high above, an acorn arrived with a little splash. Connor took a mouthful of the cold, sweet, mineral-laden water as the acorn bounded back above the surface. He swallowed, making his eyelids flutter and Ross captured every detail.

Another wave of Light rolled across the Oasis, but Ross stayed with Connor. It was incredible to see the awakening, the color returning to the man’s face, the muddled eyes of an outcast returning to the present.

“BOOM!”

A heartbeat later, Ross and Connor rose and fell as a smaller wave went under them.

The well began vibrating against Ross’ hands, sending bubbles to the surface.

“Boom!”

Connor stepped back from the frothing well, and Ross turned to watch the wave of Light pulse out of the cliff face. He relaxed, allowing himself to roll with it.

He smiled at Ravi and Tarquin, who were both on their hands and knees.

“BOOM!”

The stones surrounding the well were ripped away by a massive column of water shooting out of the ground.

When the geyser reached its apex, a downpour of fat water droplets began showering the Oasis with a thundering roar.

Tarquin got to his feet and stood with his hands up over his head as if he could keep himself dry. His eyebrows were knitted together, he was squinting, his mouth was open, and his hair was matted down.

Ravi stood up with his hands out to his sides, balancing himself against the next wave. Like everyone else, he was soaking wet, and his thick hair was plastered across his face, hiding one eye.

Ross held his hands out, cupping them together. Water was pouring down his face. It was such a heavy downpour, he had to open his mouth a little to breathe. Watching the water splashing out of his hands, he glanced up at the clear blue sky and started laughing harder than he had in a long time.

When the next wave of light passed under the well, the fountain grew. As the column of water rocketed to more than a hundred feet high, the rain paused.

Ross waited for it…, “Boom!” Then he started toward his friends. In the strangely quiet moment between the “Boom” and the absent rain, he gave his assessment of their situation and his orders.

“The Oasis is flooding. That man over there will not survive, and neither will we if we don’t act quickly. Ravi, before the house is flooded, we need four blankets, all the money, and as much food as you can put into the old apple barrel.”

The rain started again, but this time, there was much more of it. They watched a shimmering mist of water drops ripple above the next wave of Light as it zoomed toward them through the ankle deep water.

After the wave had passed, Ross put his arm around each of their heads, pulling them in with his mouth between their ears.

“BOOM!”

He yelled over the sound of the pouring rain, “Ravi, you’ll need to put the lid on the barrel. We need our supplies to float out of here with us.”

He could feel Ravi nod in agreement.

“Tarquin, gather every waterskin we have and all the rope you can carry. We’ve got less than ten minutes!”

Anticipating the arrival of the next wave, Ross stopped talking and released his friends. As soon as it passed, Ravi and Tarquin took off toward the house.

“Boom!”

The house was just like those in the village. It had been carved into the cliff face, exposing only the front door and several windows. Within the house, narrow shafts traveled up through the rock providing additional light and ventilation. There were ten rooms spread over three stories and several staircases.

Tarquin’s longer legs got him to the door first. He opened it.

”BOOM!”

Ravi ran inside, and the sound of the falling water quieted to a whisper.

In the hallway, Ravi turned abruptly and put his hands out to stop Tarquin. Tarquin nearly ran him down, but Ravi’s hands gripped him by the shoulders, and the two stood face to face.

He looked up at his friend, and asked, “This is it, isn’t it? It’s really happening?”

It took a few seconds for the concept to take form, then Tarquin smiled for the first time all day.

“Is that what’s going on? Is it really time?”

Ravi nodded, and ran upstairs, yelling, “Hurry up! We’ve got to go!”

In the clearing of the Oasis, a wave of Light whizzed along the ground as Ross sloshed over to Connor. Connor glanced up, then went back to staring at the water gushing from the ground.

“You need to come over this way,” Ross yelled, pointing toward the door, “over toward the house, all right?”

“BOOM!”

Connor didn’t respond.

“I’m going to take you over to the house,” Ross shouted, putting his hand under Connor’s arm and gently pulling him toward the house.

Another submerged wave of Light came at them, making the water dance. Ross seemed to have the hang of riding it out and Connor was still completely oblivious.

“Boom!”

Getting Connor to move through the deepening water reminded Ross of walking his Grandmother Elbe through the soft sand streets of the village. Each step was slow, slightly out of rhythm and unsteady to say the least.

By the time they made it to the house, they had survived another twelve large and small waves of Light. The deeper the water got, the less the Light waves affected their balance and the big and little “Boom’s” had faded away. The only thing they could hear now was the deafening sound of the unnatural rain.

The water was creeping up to Ross’ chest when Tarquin came wading out of the house. He had five lengths of rope around his neck, and a leather sack held over his head.

“Quickly, let me have some of the ropes,” Ross shouted, reaching over and taking two coils from around Tarquin’s neck.

“Start filling the waterskins with air.”

“Air?!” Tarquin yelled back, his voice barely audible.

“Yes, air! Breathe into them and start handing them over.”

Ross looked over just in time to see Ravi’s barrel coming out of the house, right at Tarquin’s head.

“Watch out!” he yelled, shoving Tarquin to one side and stopping the barrel with his other hand.

The water was already up to Ravi’s chin when he came out of the house. His progress was painfully slow, and his head bobbed up and down, just above the water.

Tarquin pulled an empty waterskin from the leather sack and started breathing into it as fast as he could.

Ross tied one of the ropes around the barrel and put the other one around his neck.

Ravi had finally moved next to Ross and was completely out of breath.

“Blankets please!” Ross yelled to Ravi.

“They weigh a ton, Ross!” he shouted back, pulling four wool blankets up to the surface of the water.

“Ravi, you got them all wet!” Ross laughed. “Did you get the top of the barrel on tight?”

“I did the best I could. By the time I got everything in it, it was bobbing around the kitchen!”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Ross shouted confidently, taking the blankets from Ravi and setting them onto the barrel. “Hold it steady for a second.”

Ravi held the barrel while Ross secured the blankets with rope.

“All right, let go!”

The barrel flipped over with the weight of the blankets but kept floating. Ross took the last part of the rope and tied it around his waist.

Ross took two of the air filled waterskins from Tarquin and calmly lifted the rope off his neck. He wasn’t hurried, nor did he give anyone the impression they were in any real danger. Tying the end of the line to the air bags, he yelled to Ravi, “Drop the money bag you silly man, unless you plan to drown with it.”

Ravi ducked his head below the water and untied the gold from his belt. Tarquin handed Ross two more airbags, and he moved behind Connor. Ross slipped the rope under Connor’s arm, positioning the airbags in front.

He put his mouth to Connor’s ear, shouting, “This will make you float.”

Ross measured the rope across Connor’s back and finished tying on the other two airbags. With Connor’s flotation device complete, all Ross had to do was finish putting it in place.

“Lift your arm please!”

Connor raised his arm, allowing Ross to push the last two airbags under it.

“All right, lower it!”

Again, Connor did as requested.

“Keep both of your arms down and these airbags will keep you afloat. Do you understand?”

Connor nodded.

Ross took the rest of Connor’s rope and secured it around his waist, linking them together. Ravi was treading water to Ross’ left. Tarquin was directly in front of him with water up to his chin while blowing furiously into the last waterskins.

Ross yelled to Tarquin, “Rope!”

Ross and Tarquin quickly assembled the remaining flotation devices while Ravi tied a long piece of rope to the bag of gold under the water. When all four men floated effortlessly, along with the bag of gold, Ross smiled at his friends and relaxed.

Ravi silently mouthed to Tarquin, “It’s happening!”

Tarquin paddled closer to Ross, and shouted, “Is it really happening?!”

With the smile still on his face, Ross yelled over the sound of the falling water, “Have you ever heard a story about a City of Light?!”

Chapter 2

Practice Life

Andrew, Kaya, and Jacob watched as Marcia and her band of six stood in front of the outer archway, straining to read the words above it.

“Is it a warning?” Sakra asked.

“I don’t think so,” Marcia said reassuringly.

She turned to face her little band of Travelers, and announced, “We have nothing to fear. Trust me my friends. We are all here for a reason.”

Everyone, including Andrew, Kaya, and Jacob, nodded in agreement.

“Follow me a while longer and we will all be home.”

Marcia and her team stepped into the towering doorway. Inside the letters atop the portal, a cobalt-blue liquid swirled and rippled.

In the time it took each of them to walk under the archway, their inner-selves had been revealed, and the swirling within the letters quieted.

Simone, a thin, tall, leathery looking man wearing little more than dirty rags walked up behind Marcia. She turned toward him as he approached and smiled. Her yellow, broken teeth betrayed the inner giddiness she felt deep within her soul.

“Marcia?” Simone asked.

“Yes, my friend.”

“That was truly the strangest thing, I cannot describe it.”

Deep wrinkles flared from around Marcia’s pale green eyes as tears welled up. She blinked, and they spilled over onto her cheeks.

“Do you feel like you just got recognized for being a good person?” she asked.

“Yes, but it was more than that,” he said, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands.

Sakra had taken up her post on Marcia’s right, and added, “It feels like I just opened the front door to a house I could call my own. I feel welcome.”

“Yes! That’s it. I feel welcome here,” Simone jubilantly agreed.

Marcia beamed with joy. Her months of traveling had taken her to exactly where she was supposed to be.

With every step, a scene too impossible to believe revealed itself, and the little band of seven kept pointing and gasping; never once taking notice of the lettering above the final, inner archway. As Marcia stepped out of the sand and onto the smooth stone, the towering spire dominating the City ignited with blue-white Light, calling to the world.

“Wow! I didn’t see that coming!” Andrew said as the Light surrounded them.

And that is how it all begins.”

“So they just showed up, and the Kingdom came to life?” Jacob asked.

You’re vastly oversimplifying things Jacob, but yes. When Marcia and her group finally arrive at the City, it all comes to life.”

“When you say it comes to life, you’re speaking metaphorically, aren’t you?” Kaya asked.

Not at all, this City is very much alive.”

“Alive like a tree or alive like a person?” Andrew thought to them all.

There is no difference to me. How do you see yourself as different from a tree?”

Andrew started to speak, then stopped. He thought about what he might say, and it was heard well enough.

So the tree doesn’t feel, and you do? The tree has no voice, and you do? The tree is alive, but not as you are?”

“You know it’s very disconcerting to have all my thoughts overheard by everyone, all the time.”

Kaya reached out and shared herself with Andrew. It felt like she had taken his hand into her own.

“It’s also very disconcerting not to have a body,” Kaya added.

Jacob agreed with both of them, and asked, “Is it possible to do all this in our regular form, as people?”

Each of you would clearly like this more than your current state,” and in a flash of brilliant color, they regained their human form.

Kaya floated next to Andrew, holding his hand. Jacob was across from them, and the kindly, wise face with the twinkling eyes took them all in with His sweeping gaze.

Let’s go to the Fountain at the east entrance, where we can sit and talk.”

Marcia sipped from the water of the Fountain just as the landscape around them blurred.

“Wait,” Kaya insisted. “I want to see how each of them responds to the water from the Fountain.”

There will be plenty of time for all that after you’ve lived a little.”

In the blink of an eye, they arrived at the Fountain of Knowing on the east side of the City. Falling forward on unsteady legs, they grabbed the edge of the Fountain.

It always takes time to get used to that,” their Creator said with a good spirited chuckle as He stepped up to the base of the Fountain.

“God?” Jacob asked.

The man cupped His hands beneath the shimmering curtain of water and began splashing water onto His face.

It will be easier if you just call me Father,” He thought to them all. “Having someone call you God creates all sorts of issues.”

“Don’t you like being God?” Kaya asked, hopping up and sitting down on the edge of the Fountain.

Father laughed aloud, sending waves of pure joy ringing through their souls.

That’s wonderful, Kaya,” He said, with water dripping down His face and off His beard. “I can’t remember a time when anyone has asked me that.”

He wiped the water off with the long sleeves of His robe and hopped up next to her. Andrew and Jacob backed up from the Fountain until they were all facing each other.

Water is such a beautiful thing,” He said, playing with a small drop between His fingers. “So simple and yet so versatile. You would be amazed at the messes I’ve seen cleaned up with this stuff.”

He looked up into their anxious faces, and said, “When you’re “God,” people think you’re going to solve all their problems. But that’s just not how I do it. Father is a much more appropriate title. I see to it that you arrive, then it’s up to you.”

“Is that why there is so much suffering?” Jacob asked, unconsciously rubbing his arms.

Father’s eyes lit up at the question, and He tugged at His beard as He answered. “You know Jacob, I get that question a lot.” His forehead furrowed with deep thoughts, and He stared off into the distance, “It seems strange to me that my creations look at their lives or the lives of others and see suffering. To me, there is only cause and effect. There isn’t any one thing in this whole universe that doesn’t have to come to terms with something, but that’s not suffering, that’s just how it works. I don’t create suffering, it’s all based on your perspective. Actually, that brings me to the very reason we’re together right now.”

He brought His gaze back to each of them, and said, “My precious cargo, you have a lot of living to do if you’re going to make it through five hundred years of the real thing.”

“All of this still feels like a dream,” Andrew thought aloud.

Well, it’s about to get even stranger, but there really isn’t any other way.”

“What is it, Father? What do we have to do next?” Kaya asked.

You have to become wise.”

“But the Fountain taught us more than I ever imagined possible. If that’s not wisdom…,” Jacob trailed off as Kaya cut in.

“Nobody who drinks from the Fountain gains wisdom Jacob, all they ever get is knowledge. That’s what I know from my grandmother and our stories. That’s what I know from the Fountain, too.”

Jacob and Andrew looked concerned because they knew her words were true.

Wisdom is harder earned than any cup of water. Wouldn’t you agree?”

They all nodded.

“But I thought that’s why you brought us back to the first Kingdom, so we could learn from those mistakes,” Andrew insisted.

Oh, we’ll get to that part soon enough, but watching someone make a mistake isn’t quite as good as the real thing. If it was that easy, I could have you witness a million bad decisions, and you would be the wisest people ever, but it doesn’t work that way. Wisdom only comes from creating cause and effect, and working through all the gritty little details. This is something you each have to do on your own.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” Kaya said.

“Neither do I,” Jacob and Andrew agreed.

Father stood up from the edge of the Fountain and walked between Jacob and Andrew.

Have a seat please,” He said to them.

When Jacob, Andrew, and Kaya were all sitting on the edge of the Fountain, He turned around and looked at them.

With His hands behind His back, He looked over their heads at the splashing, playful water of the Fountain. He took a deep breath and slowly brought His gaze back to them. He smiled reassuringly, brought His hands around and rubbed them together like a coach ready to call out the game winning play.

Once we all go back to your time, to the seventh Kingdom, everything will be up to you. I can’t meddle in your affairs, and I won’t be there to give you advice. So, we’re going to practice.”

“We’re going to practice living?” Andrew asked, sounding very confused.

Brilliant, that’s it exactly! You’re each going to have a few practice lives. That way you can get the hang of it. You know, go make a bunch of mistakes, maybe learn a little something and you’ll all be the wiser for it.”

Jacob reached his hand back into the cool water of the Fountain and wiped it on his face. He looked at Andrew and Kaya, and said, “My brain hurts. Are you getting any of this?”

“A practice life?” Kaya asked.

That’s right. I’m going to send each of you out into a different part of the universe. You’re going to live a life among people you never even knew existed. I’ll remove any language barriers, and you’ll know the basics of how your new body works, then you’re on your own.”

“This sounds like a horrible idea,” Andrew said. “We’ll be clueless. We won’t fit in. We’ll be just like babies.”

“Do we get to keep our memories? I mean, will we remember, this time, here with you?” Jacob asked hesitantly.

Of course, you will. Nothing will fade from your minds.”

“What else?” Kaya asked with a little enthusiasm.

You get to keep your power to heal, your gift of perspective and all the knowledge gained from the water of the Fountain.”

A smile spread over Jacob’s face, and he pumped his fist in the air, whispering, “Yes!”

Andrew was still skeptical, and he asked, “What about when we die?”

You’ll naturally come back to me, to this moment.”

“But we’ll never be the same again, will we?” Kaya asked, sounding sad.

Nothing ever stays the same, little one, but how you change is up to you. This is also the kind of thing we could talk about endlessly. You’ve all got excellent questions, but the important thing is to begin. I’m quite sure all your questions will be answered in no time at all. I’ll give each of you a few hints before you arrive in your new bodies,” He said, raising His hand.

He went to snap His fingers and paused. Not because of the protests being issued from Andrew, but for a chance to offer one last piece of advice.

Nobody really gets to do what you’re about to do. Try to enjoy yourselves. This is only the first time, not the last.”

With that, He snapped His fingers and Andrew, Kaya and Jacob disappeared.

“First, you’ll hear your mother, then you’ll hear the doctor, then you’ll hear your sister,” Andrew kept repeating to himself. These were the only instructions he had received. That and his name was still Andrew, which he found very comforting.

The light around Andrew was fuzzy but bright. He blinked, but it didn’t help much. Reaching up, he rubbed at his eyes and a woman next to him started screaming hysterically, “He’s awake! He’s awake!”

The blurry face of a man hovered above him, shining an even brighter light in his eyes.

“Normal pupil dilation, that’s good.”

“Is he going to be all right?” the woman asked.

“It’s still too early to tell, but this is a good sign. A very good sign.”

“He’s awake?! He’s awake!” came the voice of a young girl running into the room.

Andrew turned his head away from the doctor and saw two blurry faces, both with golden blond hair.

His mother was holding his hand now, and his sister looked like she was hugging his mom, but it was too hard to see them clearly.

“Water please,” Andrew managed to whisper from his parched mouth.

“A very good sign indeed,” the doctor declared. “Jean,” the doctor said to the little girl. “Please go to the nurse’s station and get your brother a cup of ice chips.”

With a squeal of excitement, Andrew’s sister disappeared from view.

The doctor removed the stethoscope from Andrew’s chest and pulled the blanket back up. Everything was still fuzzy.

“He’s been gone from us for five days,” the doctor said to Andrew’s mother. “There is no telling if he’ll be the same boy who left. We’re going to need to give him time. Don’t expect too much right away.”

Her hand squeezed Andrew’s, which felt small and weak, then she let go and grabbed his face. A shower of kisses and tears fell over him. His mother hugged him and gently stroked his hair.

Jean came running back into the room with a small plastic cup of ice. She quickly handed it to her mother and took Andrew’s hand.

“I knew you’d make it back Andrew. I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault.” Then she started crying and buried her head into Andrew’s chest.

In two more days, Andrew left the hospital. His five-year-old body felt small, and he was heading home to a place he had never been, with a big sister he just met, and a mother he had never known.

Kaya opened her eyes in a panic. She lifted the arm of a dead man off her chest, sat up, and clumsily removed her small dented helmet. Feeling the stiffness in her hair, she wondered how long she had been lying on the battlefield. The flies had started to gather around the bodies, the taste of blood filled her mouth, and the sounds of wounded and dying men filled the air.

She was cold, her hands were sticky, and she was afraid. She sat among corpses; waiting for the voice she knew would come.

“Take the boy, if he can walk. If not, end it here and now,” the Slave Master yelled.

That was her cue. She got to her feet, felt a little woozy, fought against it and turned to meet the gaze of a man dressed in rags. His name was Slop, and according to Father, she was going to have to kill this man if she wanted to live this life.

Jacob woke up in a wet field of grass. His legs were a bit twisted, he was cold but other than that he felt fine. Turning his head to the right, he came face to face with a large rock. “Sorry about that,” he whispered to the rock.

Turning away from the rock he watched his brother nervously pacing next to their horse.

“What will I tell Mother and Father?” he sobbed. “He can’t be dead, he just can’t be!” he cried, looking over at Jacob.

Jacob lifted his hand, smiled at his brother, and said, “I think I’m going to make it. Maybe you could help me up?”

“You’re alive?!” his brother gasped, rushing over to Jacob and sliding in on his knees. “Jacob, I’m forever sorry I let you fall off the horse. Can you ever forgive me?” he begged between sobs of grief and elation.

“I think I’m going to be fine,” he said reassuringly, “but I don’t remember anything about how I got here. What’s your name?”

“What’s my name!” his brother exclaimed. “Oh no, you’re not fine at all! What have I done?!” he wailed to the heavens. “What have I done to my brother?!”

“You’re being a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

“Poor Jacob,” he proclaimed. “Let me help you to your feet, come off of this wet ground and ride home with me to Mother and Father.”

Jacob’s brother got to his feet, and Jacob took his hand. With a soft, but firm assist, Jacob was standing. Straightening his clothes, he felt their rich embroidery, their softness, and the bulk of layers covering him from head to foot.

“Come quickly my brother, I must get you back to the castle before more harm comes to you.”

Chapter 3

Spill the Beans

Andrew couldn’t sleep, again. It had been this way since he arrived, almost two years ago. Every night, after only two or three hours of sleep, he would just wake up. He wasn’t tired the next day, he didn’t need to go back to sleep, and it was frustrating because everyone else was asleep.

It made his mother worry, and it took its toll on her. After months and months of trying to convince her he was fine, she finally yielded to the exhaustion and began letting him stay up in his room. He started drawing about a year ago, then moved up to watercolors. Now he was experimenting with oils and pastels. His room was filled with tiny masterpieces that exuded emotion.

Some of his art would force a smile on your face without you even knowing it. Some of it would make you laugh out loud. Others transported you to fantastical destinations or just serene places where deep thoughts or perfect harmony resonated in the air. Some of them made his mother cry when she looked into them, and she struggled to understand the source of her little boy’s gift. And these were just the pictures on the wall. Andrew had piles of pictures, sometimes he could finish four or five in a single night.

His favorite pictures were of Kaya. He had painted a new one about a month ago, and the unframed canvas hung on a nail, next to his child-sized art desk and easel. Her eyes would follow him anywhere in the room. He even managed to capture his own silhouette in the light bouncing off her chocolate brown eyes.

It was almost three o’clock in the morning, he was working on a picture of Father and trying to imagine what Kaya was doing; what life she was leading, but when he thought to her, all he got was silence.

That morning, when his mother came in to give him a hug and kiss, she saw the picture of the bearded man in his white robes. The Light emanating from him illuminated the beautifully ornate Fountain to his side. It had been hard enough to explain away who Kaya was, and here again was a portrait of a total stranger.

“He’s fantastic sweetheart,” his mother said breathlessly. “Do I know him?” she asked, tapping at the side of her head. “He looks very familiar.”

Andrew could tell she was drawn to the eyes. He had started with those and worked his way out and from the look on his mother’s face, he had done a pretty good job.

She was leaning in now, trying to see the details of the Fountain, and she asked, “Is he a wizard from a story, or is he right out of your imagination?”

“Of course, you know Him, that’s God.”

Mom flinched like she’d been flicked on the nose and Andrew instantly wanted to take it all back; to have said anything but God, to have painted anyone but Father. But his words just hung out there, awkwardly, right along with the painting.

“Oh…well…that’s wonderful. What’s for breakfast angel?” she asked, brushing away any discomfort that might have entered the room.

“Oatmeal with bananas and brown sugar would be amazing, please.”

His mother’s heart melted, and she smiled, kissed his head and hugged him tight.

“I love you sweetheart, more than you’ll ever know.”

“I love you too Mom,” he said, returning her hug.

Until the accident, Andrew always called her Mommy, but ever since the hospital, ever since he had drowned in the pool, she was just Mom. Part of her wondered where Mommy had gone, part of her didn’t care, and part of her would never forgive herself.

She tickled him lightly making him squirm like a worm. “Downstairs in ten minutes, and wake up sleepy head on your way down please.”

“Thanks, Mom, love you.”

“Love you more,” she said, taking a final glance at the man in the painting before heading out of Andrew’s room.

Later that day, Andrew’s mother called the doctor. Their conversation was brief but direct. Andrew was evidently dealing with bigger issues, and he needed someone to talk to, someone other than his mother or sister.

It was mid-summer, school was out, and Andrew watched Jean swimming in the pool from the back porch. Mom came out with a serving tray of lemonade and sat down on the step next to Andrew.

She handed him a cold glass, and he said, “Thanks, Mom.”

“Still not going in sweetheart?”

“No thanks. I just like watching Jean do her thing.”

Mom always gave Andrew the truth, no matter how much it changed things and today was no exception.

“We’re going to see a counselor today sweetheart, in about half an hour.”

“How come Mom? Is everything all right?”

Jean noticed the pitcher of lemonade and started getting out of the pool.

“I just think you need someone to talk to baby, that’s all.”

“So I’m going to see a counselor, not all of us?”

“That’s right. He’ll be your guy to talk to from now on. Somebody you can talk to about all the things you think about. About all the places you go when we’re asleep, about all the things you want to see and do.”

“Oh,” Andrew said, sounding a little surprised. He didn’t think he’d been quite so transparent, but there was no hiding the artwork; it just flowed out of him and covered every wall in his room. Mom had even put some of the bigger pieces around the house in frames.

Jean toweled off, walked over to the porch and took a glass off the tray.

“Thanks, Mom, you’re the best!”

“You’re welcome, Jeanie Bean. Say, can you get changed, we’re going out in a few minutes.”

“Sure, Mom, where are we going?” she asked, chugging down her lemonade.

“Andrew has an appointment. It’s no big deal.”

She set her empty glass down next to the pitcher and grabbed Andrew’s ear.

In a funny sounding voice, she asked, “Are ya sick?” Leaning down, she looked in his ear and pretended to wave at Mom through his empty head.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi love,” Mom said back, pretending to look through Andrew’s other ear. “How’s it going over there?”

“It’s great!” she yelled into Andrew’s ear, “It’s great,” she echoed.

“Have some more lemonade and go take a quick shower Bean,” Mom called back.

Jeanie Bean poured another glass, gulped it down like a dehydrated desert nomad, kissed Andrew on the top of the head and disappeared into the house. The screen door banged closed.

Andrew pawed at his ear and gently complained about the water Jean got in it.

“You’ve survived worse,” Mom said, with a hug and a kiss.

“Thanks for all the art stuff, Mom, it really helps.”

“Did you meet him in the hospital?”

“It’s sort of complicated,” Andrew said, not wanting to tell any more half-truths to this wonderful woman who loved him with all her heart.

“I’m sure it is, sweetheart, I’m sure it is,” she said reassuringly. “Come on slow poke, finish up that lemonade and let’s get going.”

Andrew flipped his perspective over to his mom’s point of view. He immediately felt her wondering if what she was doing was the right thing. She worried if Andrew was really going to be all right, and he felt the struggle in her to ask the questions she knew would make him uncomfortable. The ones he had avoided answering in the past. The ones his artwork manifested in everyone who looked into them.

The ice clinked into the bottom of the glass as he wiped his mouth. Mom was standing up, when he said, “Thanks for getting me someone to talk to, maybe it will help. The least I can do is give it a try.”

“Seven?” she said, kissing the top of his head. “So strong, so brave, so ready for next steps, but still my little boy.”

Andrew blushed. He didn’t need to flip his perspective to know she felt love and hope.

Doctor Dave started things off with a big handshake and a short speech about how this was Andrew’s time to talk. He said Andrew could talk about anything he wanted, and he wouldn’t tell anybody. He said he’d been talking to kids for fifteen years, and he was there to listen and help if he could.

Andrew had no idea this kind of thing was possible. At least there wasn’t anything in his memory from the Fountain about counseling. “What a fantastic idea,” he thought to himself.

Doctor Dave’s office didn’t feel like an office. He had lots of pictures on the walls, and a quirky bird thing that kept dipping its beak into a glass of water and coming up. It kept doing this the whole time, and Andrew couldn’t figure out what kept it moving.

Doctor Dave didn’t have a desk, just a small writing table off to the side, but he didn’t seem interested in writing things down. He was more interested in talking or maybe listening, it was hard to tell.

When Doctor Dave was done with his speech, Andrew jumped right in.

“So you’re like the best friend I might never have?”

“Sorta, but we’re not going to go play catch or anything like that.”

“So we’re just talking friends, and my secrets are your secrets?”

“Pretty much.”

“And you’ve been doing this for fifteen years?”

“I have.”

“Can you come over to my house?”

“Maybe, what’s at your house?”

“All my pictures.”

“Pictures?” Doctor Dave asked. “Like the ones on my walls?”

“No, yours are from a camera. Mine are from my hands.”

“So you’re an artist?”

“That’s what Mom says, but I just paint what I’ve seen, or sometimes just for fun.”

“I would love to see your artwork, Andrew. If you’d like, I can talk to your mom, and you can bring some when you see me next time.”

“There’s too much for that Doctor Dave. If you want to see it, you’ll have to come over.”

“Then let’s talk for a while and when we’re done, I’ll speak to your mom and set something up. Does that sound like a good plan?”

“That sounds perfect,” Andrew said with a sigh of relief.

“You seem relieved. Can you tell me why?” Doctor Dave asked.

“I don’t think you’re ready for the conversation I want to have with you right now Doctor Dave. We’ve just met, and I’m carrying around a pretty heavy load.”

“You sound like you’re seven going on forty-seven. Has anyone ever said something like that to you?”

Andrew closed his eyes, thought about it, and said, “No, but I don’t really talk to a lot of people right now.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m only seven, and all the kids I know are about the same age.”

“What’s wrong with being seven?”

“Nothing, I guess. Actually, I was excited about it when Father first told me I would be five again, but that wore off pretty fast. I’m just having a hard time relating to seven, or six or five for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, being seven is great and all, but I can’t tell a seven-year-old what I’ve seen or why I’m here.”

Doctor Dave leaned in from his chair until he got to Andrew’s eye level on the couch. “You’ve got a lot on your mind don’t you?”

Andrew nodded.

“So where can we start? What feels safe to you?”

Andrew stood up, walked away from the dark green fabric couch and stood in front of the red, bobbing woodpecker thing. It kept dipping in and out of the little glass of water.

“How does it work?”

Doctor Dave pushed his rolling chair over to Andrew, and said, “The beak on this end soaks up a little bit of water with each dip. The water runs down its body into this round bulb.” He pointed to the round bulb on the opposite end from the bird’s head, “Every sip makes it a tiny bit heavier than it used to be. That makes the bulb drop and the head go up. When the head goes up, it has to bob back down because of gravity, and when it does, it takes on a little bit more water. The whole thing can go on for about an hour, or until it either runs out of water or fills up its small bulb.”

“Osmosis?” Andrew asked.

“Brilliant!” Doctor Dave declared. “We’re not but fifteen minutes into our first meeting, and you’ve brought up a physical law that’s generally taught to high school students with an interest in chemistry.” He patted Andrew on the back and told him to take the bird home at the end of their session.

Andrew wandered around the room looking at all the pictures and objects.

Doctor Dave just observed, and eventually, he said, “It’s not osmosis. It has more to do with the capillary action of water than anything else.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Andrew replied, not paying much attention.

He was staring at a picture taken from atop a very high building. It was looking out over the horizon with all the smaller buildings below.

“Have you been here?” Andrew asked, pointing at the picture.

“I took every picture in here, so yes. I’ve been there.”

“I don’t believe you,” Andrew said flatly.

“You don’t have to. It doesn’t change the facts.”

“You’re a liar Doctor Dave. You didn’t take any of these pictures.”

“Why do you say that Andrew? I’ve already told you I took them. The pictures out in the lobby, I took those too. It’s my hobby. I’m a photographer.”

“Liar.”

“Interesting,” Doctor Dave replied.

“Prove it!” Andrew demanded. “Prove you’re not a liar. Prove to me you were there!”

“I’m not sure how to do that Andrew. What can I say to prove these are my pictures?”

“Nothing!” Andrew snapped back. “There isn’t anything you can say or do to prove you’re not lying.”

“Then I guess we’re just left with my word.”

“What’s that worth?” Andrew demanded, sounding rude and impudent.

Doctor Dave was a taken-aback by this brash young man. He thought about the question and finally replied, “It’s all I have. It isn’t worth anything, except the conviction and honesty I put behind it.”

“Are you a liar?” Andrew asked.

“No.”

“Do you promise these are your own personal photographs? That you took every one of these pictures because it’s not only your hobby but because you were there?”

Doctor Dave grinned. “I think we’re going to get along just fine you and me, and yes, I promise,” he said, holding up his right hand, “that these are my pictures, taken by myself when I visited these places.”

“Great!” Andrew said, jumping back onto the couch. “When are you gonna come over to my house?”

“Tonight maybe, if it’s all right with your mom.”

“Let me go ask her if you can come to dinner.”

Andrew hopped off the couch again and was making for the door, when Doctor Dave said, “Slow down, big guy. We’ll have plenty of time for all that when we’re done.”

Andrew had his hand on the door handle and twisted. He looked back, and said, “This is as slow as we can take it, Doctor Dave. If I sit back down on that couch and spill the beans, like my sister does about everything, you won’t want to come to my house. You’ll want to run away from me and pretend like this never happened.”

“I wouldn’t do that Andrew, it’s not how I do things,” he said, with a wink.

Andrew released the door handle and flipped his perspective over to Doctor Dave’s point of view. It felt like honesty and sincerity with a little surprise and excitement. He flipped it again, and from overhead everything felt pretty ordinary.

Andrew flipped back into his own point of view, and Doctor Dave asked, “Why don’t you head home with your family? I’ve got your address. Just tell your mom I’m coming over for dinner tonight, I’ll see you at six o’clock.”

Andrew reached for the door handle again, when Doctor Dave said, “One last thing Andrew.”

Andrew turned from the door, his little seven-year-old face was a mask of innocence.

“You’re not a liar are you?”

“Doctor Dave, I’m probably the only person you’re ever going to meet that you can trust completely. I give you my word on that.”

“See you at dinner Andrew, I’m looking forward to getting to know you and your family.”

“See you at six. The house is dark green with white trim, and it’s a two story. If it feels like you’re lost in an orange grove, you’re in the right place.”

Doctor Dave smiled, and Andrew went out to the lobby.

Andrew was kicking a soccer ball around the yard when he heard a car coming down the road. It was a few minutes before six, and Doctor Dave waved as he pulled his sleek, black convertible into the driveway.

“Is this an OK spot?” he called out.

Andrew gave him a thumbs up, and Doctor Dave killed the engine.

He got out wearing his work clothes and noticing he still had his tie on, he loosened it, took it off and tossed it in the front seat.

“That’s better,” he said, with a grin.

Andrew kicked the ball over to him, and he rolled it onto the top of his shoe, flipped it up to his knee, bounced it a couple of times, let it fall to his other foot and passed it back to Andrew.

“Did you use to play?”

“Use to?” Doctor Dave asked, sounding shocked. “I still do.”

Andrew kicked the ball toward the front door, and said, “Cool.”

“What’s for dinner?”

“Mom made pot roast with mashed potatoes, gravy, and broccoli with cheese.”

“That sounds fantastic!”

“It’s my favorite,” Andrew said, opening the front door for Doctor Dave.

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re very welcome my good doctor, won’t you come in,” he said, with a bow.

“Seven?”

“Going on forty-seven,” Andrew said, following in behind.

“It smells amazing,” he said over his shoulder.

“Just follow your nose and you’ll wind up at dinner.”

Mom poked her head out from around the corner, and said, “You’re just in time. Dinner is ready.”

“Thank you for being so gracious Mrs. Sutton. I don’t think I’ve ever invited myself to dinner before.”

“Please, call me Emily, and thank you for taking an interest in someone as special as our Andrew.”

Doctor Dave smiled, grabbed a water glass in each hand and followed Andrew and his mother into the dining room.

“Andrew sweetheart, can you please get the Bean?”

Andrew sidestepped his chair, walked a few feet out of the room and yelled at the top of his voice, “Jeanie Bean! Dinner is ready!!”

Stepping back into the dining room, Mom sarcastically said, “Charming. Thank you.”

A moment later the sound of a bowling ball tumbling down the stairs shook the picture frame on the wall, then Jean swept into the room. She plopped herself into her chair, chugged down half her water and looked up at Doctor Dave.

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and said, “Hi I’m Jean, I’m eleven, just finished the fifth grade, love yellow, play soccer, swim like a fish, drink like a whale, and Mom and I both think you’re handsome, want some potatoes?”

“Yes please,” Doctor Dave said, taking the potatoes.

“Are you also the Bean?”

“Oh yeah, I forgot that part. Everybody says I just “spill the beans” when I talk, so my nickname is Bean. Do you have a nickname too?”

He scooped the potatoes onto his plate and made a volcano-like hole in them for the gravy.

“People just call me Doctor Dave. It’s sort of a nickname, but not really.”

“Nope, it’s not,” Jean said, drizzling gravy over her pot roast and filling in her potato volcano. “It doesn’t tell you anything about your personality, so it doesn’t really count.”

Doctor Dave nodded as he put pot roast on his plate.

“What about you Andrew,” Doctor Dave asked, “do you have a nickname?”

“The kids call him Teacher. I think it’s cool, but the Rock doesn’t like it.”

“Jean!” Mom corrected with authority. “That is not acceptable, and you know it.”

Jean knew it. “I’m sorry everybody,” she said, with her head down. “It just slipped out.”

Doctor Dave looked at Andrew, then at Mom and shrugged his shoulders.

Andrew looked at Doctor Dave, and said, “A few years ago, when I was five, I drowned in the pool. When Jean found me, I was on the bottom, you know, like a rock.”

Jean was still staring at her plate.

“Jean, why do you think your mom dislikes the nickname you just used?”

Jean looked over at Mom, and Mom said, “What’s this gentleman’s name?”

“Doctor Dave,” she said hesitantly.

“And why is he here for dinner?”

“Because Andrew invited him?” she said questioningly.

“Remember what we talked about, and try again please.”

Jean fidgeted with her napkin, moved her fork around on her plate, and finally said, “He’s here to listen, he’s here to learn, and he’s here to help.”

“Thank you, sweetheart, now please answer Doctor Dave’s question, even if it hurts.”

Tear’s welled up in Jean’s eyes. She tried to look at Doctor Dave, but all she could do was stare at her mashed potatoes.

Her nose got stuffy, and she blurted out, “When I call Andrew the Rock, it takes everyone back to the day he died in the pool, and the time we spent in the hospital, and the whole time we didn’t know if he was gonna make it, and it makes me feel horrible for not being there when it happened because I had to use the bathroom, and left him out there by himself, and it’s not even funny, but I still call him that sometimes, and I know I’m not supposed to and…,” she said, looking up at Andrew, “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you, Jean,” Doctor Dave said.

“Thank you, Jeanie Beany,” Mom said. “Now please go to the restroom and blow your nose.”

Jean excused herself from the table, and Doctor Dave took a bite of the pot roast. The satisfying sound of “Mmmmmmm,” rolled out of his chest as he slowly sank back into his chair. He closed his eyes, and Mom smiled.

“Told you,” Andrew said.

“Delicious.”

“Thank you,” Mom said. “It’s an old family recipe. I’m glad you like it.”

Jean plopped back down and fired down most of her plate without saying another word.

“What’s with all the orange trees?” Doctor Dave asked the table.

Mom smiled, but it didn’t fill her face. The sadness in the corners of her mouth seemed to stop it just before it was genuine. “My husband,” she started out, “their dad,” she had to clear her throat and take a drink of water. “He planted these trees twenty years ago. Our little hundred eighty-acre farm has been in the family for almost seventy-five years.” She looked at Bean, then at Andrew and finally back to Doctor Dave, and said, “He died five years ago next week. There was a terrible accident, and he didn’t make it. It’s just the three of us now, and we keep going, even when it hurts. Isn’t that right guys?”

Andrew and Jean only nodded while Doctor Dave fit another piece of Andrew’s puzzle into place.

“Mom, can we be excused. I’d like to take Doctor Dave up to my room.”

“Of course, you may. I’ll call you boys down for dessert in a little while.”

Doctor Dave thanked Mom for the wonderful dinner. He offered to help with dishes and got rejected; learned they were having chocolate mousse pie for dessert and accepted. Then he was quickly escorted upstairs to see something nothing could have prepared him for.

Andrew flipped the door open to his bedroom and kept walking down the hall, “Go on in, I’ll be there in a minute. I have to use the bathroom.”

Doctor Dave cleared the top step and found himself thinking about all the waxy drawings he had seen over the years. Their subtle honesty, their crude lines, and the story each one told about their young artist. Not that he mentioned it to most people, but the interpretation of these subliminal glimpses was something he had taken a keen interest in during his entire career. He considered it a perk to be able to review and interpret the scratch work of his clients. Especially those with talent, the ones who liked details, the ones who could wield a stick of color or a pencil in a way that most could not.

With all this in mind, he stepped through Andrew’s bedroom door and stopped.

From floor to ceiling, and even on the ceiling, and scattered across parts of the floor, there were pictures. Some looked like they had been taken with a camera, others looked like pen and ink. There was a whole section of sketches and finished drawings in pencil. On another wall, there were brilliant images in drawing wax and watercolor. Oil paintings hung on the walls, and the shelves were filled with tiny sculptures made from modeling clay; they looked absolutely real. Pieces of origami floated on a mobile above the bed, and Doctor Dave gasped.

He looked down to make sure he wasn’t going to step on anything, then waded deeper into the sensory overload of Andrew’s room.

Andrew was at the door now. It was exciting for him to be on the brink of sharing his secrets, it was also a bit frightening, but he was anxious to begin.

He flipped his perspective to Doctor Dave’s. It was a mess. A complete jumble of overwhelm and trepidation, the discovery of a lifetime. Andrew’s room was light years beyond Doctor Dave’s expectations. The poor man didn’t know where to begin.

“I’ve got to slow this down for him,” Andrew thought. “I’ve got to give him time to process.”

Andrew stepped next to Doctor Dave and took his hand. Doctor Dave flinched, almost pulling away. His mouth was open when he looked down at Andrew, so Andrew reached up with a single finger and pushed it closed.

“It’s kinda hard to explain Doctor Dave. Would you like it from the beginning or would you like to look around for a while?”

“Andrew, I…,” he started to say but trailed off as he got pulled into Kaya’s eyes. “How do you do this? Have you always had this gift?”

“The answer to your question would put my explanation out of order. Why don’t we do it this way,” Andrew said, as he started collecting different pictures from around the room.

He carefully took things off the wall, from the floor and out of the stacks of work that seemed to challenge the capacity of the bedroom itself.

“Can you bring her with us, Doctor Dave?”

“What?” he asked, knocking into the easel and its wet painting. It rocked backward and started falling.

Doctor Dave grabbed the picture from the easel as it fell away, smearing the paint with his thumb.

“Oh my God!” he cried, looking at the painting.

“Let’s bring Him too,” Andrew said with a smile. “I like that one.”

Shuffling his artwork into one arm, he started pulling on Doctor Dave’s belt, saying, “Come on Doctor Dave, we need to get you out of here, it’s not helping.”

“What? What do you mean it’s not helping?”

“It’s way too overwhelming. I’ve never done this before, and I wasn’t sure if this would work. Grab the picture of Kaya off the wall, we’re going outside.”

Doctor Dave grabbed Kaya off the wall and with a couple more tugs, Andrew had him backing out of his bedroom.

Mom heard them coming, and asked, “Is everything all right? That didn’t take very long.”

“I don’t know,” Doctor Dave said.

“We’re good Mom. We’re just going outside to talk. We’ll be in the grove.”

“All right sweetheart, just holler if you need anything.”

Andrew was now pushing Doctor Dave toward the front door as he called back, “Thanks, Mom.”

Andrew sidestepped Doctor Dave and backed into the screen door, pushing it open.

“Come on Doctor Dave, we’re going this way,” Andrew said, heading to the side yard where the endless grove of orange trees made row after row of cool, calming shade.

When they were about a hundred yards into the grove, Andrew stopped. He set down his armload of pictures and took the other two pictures from Doctor Dave. Then he asked him to sit against one of the trees.

When Doctor Dave had situated himself, Andrew flipped to his perspective.

“Calmer,” he thought. “Now’s as good a time as any.”

“Doctor Dave I’m gonna give it to you straight from the top. I’m sure we’re going to do this a bunch more times, so don’t worry if the details slip away.”

“I’m ready, Andrew. Let’s hear it.”

“You’re not ready, but here it comes anyway.”

Using the pictures from his room, he took Doctor Dave on an epic journey from the orphanage, through the Hero’s Chamber, across time with God Himself and right into the orange grove. He’d never told the story before and even though it felt a bit jumbled, he was confident he’d hit the high points.

It was almost dark when Doctor Dave got to his feet. The shadows of the grove made it seem later than it was, but by the watch on his wrist, which he hadn’t looked at since arriving at Andrew’s, it was nine o’clock.

“How are you?” Andrew asked him as they walked back toward the house.

“I’m good, I think,” he said, trying to make out the face of God in his right hand and Kaya in his left. “I just never thought anything like this would happen to me.”

“I know how you feel,” Andrew said with a chuckle.

“I still don’t understand how the Fountain did all those things to you.”

Andrew nudged Doctor Dave with his elbow as they approached the edge of the grove.

“You still have to act like I’m seven remember?”

“Yeah, I got it.”

As they stepped out of the grove, Mom, and the Bean were waiting for them on the front porch. The yellowish light made everything look the wrong color, and Mom called out, “I was about to come in there after you two. Are you ready for dessert?”

“Yay! Dessert,” Andrew said, picking up his pace and acting the part.

Mom opened the door, and Andrew ran in.

Doctor Dave handed the two pictures to Jean and asked her if she would be kind enough to take them upstairs.

“Careful, this one’s still wet,” he said, gently handing her the painting of God.

Jeanie Bean took them and trotted upstairs after Andrew.

“Thank you,” she said, still holding the door open.

“The pleasure is all mine Emily.”

“How is he?”

“Gifted, confused, brilliant, seven going on forty-seven.”

“What about God?”

“God is just fine where He is. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Oh thank goodness, that is such a relief. You don’t even know how much better that makes me feel.”

The house shook, the screen door rattled on its hinges and the Bean came shooting off the bottom step, yelling, “Come on Doctor Dave, let’s have some pie!” And she took off like a shot toward the kitchen.

“You gotta love that Bean,” Mom said with a smile.

“You’ve got great kids Emily. I don’t know how you’re managing it all by yourself, but I’ve got to hand it to you.”

“Thank you. That really means a lot coming from a man in your line of work. It’s never been easy since he died. I do my best.”

Doctor Dave knew better than to clarify which death she was talking about, so he stepped through the door and into Andrew’s life.

 

Chapter 4

Caretakers

“…hope is epidemic, optimism spreads. Bitterness breeds irritation, ignorance breeds imitation…”i

The Song of the Shepard

The water level finally rose above the enormous column of water shooting from the well, and the Oasis quieted. Its center filled with churning whitewater, pushing everything toward the surrounding cliffs. And the only exit, the crevasse Connor had arrived by, now functioned as a drain.

Ross had tied everyone together for safety, and as the water poured from the Oasis, it pulled at them. As a team, they easily kept themselves, Connor and the old apple barrel between the center of the Oasis and the deadly crevasse.

Ross, Tarquin, and Ravi floated in silence, as the first direct rays of Light shimmered across their faces.

Connor was the last to have the Light touch him, and it felt like falling through the ice of a frozen lake. Every survival instinct instantly activated. He held his breath, jerked his head from side to side and surveyed his perilous situation.

He was in a lake surrounded by a sheer cliff, and he had some sort of airbags under his arms keeping him afloat! There was an unconscious man, held up by the same type of airbags, connected to him by a rope. It seemed like the man tied to Connor was also anchored to two other unconscious men, plus a small barrel.

He watched the water from the lake empty into a narrow crevasse filled with violently churning whitewater. Ominous crashing sounds emanated from the opening and blasts of mist-filled air licked out of it, showering the barrel.

Connor envisioned the twisting mouth of a giant, evil creature towering into the heavens. Fueled by adrenaline, instinct, and fear, he slipped free of the airbags and started swimming away from the point of no return.

There was a sharp tug against his waist as the barrel was sucked into the crevasse. It tumbled end over end in the churning whitewater, chafing the rope against his waist. He dipped under the water trying to get as much power as possible. His legs kicked, his arms pulled and the barrel bounced back and forth between the stone walls of the coffin corridor.

The lid to the barrel popped loose, yanking Connor backward as it filled with water. He surfaced, took a deep breath and dove. The blankets on the barrel slipped off, slamming the barrel against the wall and shattering it. As the debris washed away, the rope came free, and Connor moved forward.

Surfacing again, he took another breath, put his face in the water and fought for his life.

Ross, Tarquin, and Ravi all awoke at the same time. Ross had tears streaming down his face, and he slapped the water, yelling, “She did it! She did it!! She did it!!!”

Tarquin just floated with his face to the sky. Tears ran down his cheeks too as he watched the sunlight stream through the limbs and leaves of the trees above.

He whispered, “Home.”

Ravi awoke a mere ten feet from the mouth of the crevasse. He had two extra airbags, to help hold up the bag of money dangling from his waist, like an anchor from a ship. His dreamlike expression faltered as he watched Connor’s abandoned flotation device enter the mouth of the churning passage. It was pulled under the water, popped up above a tumbling wave of foam and disappeared into the maelstrom.

“Ahhhhh! Help me!” he screamed in panic.

Ross and Tarquin turned to Ravi, and Tarquin yelled, “Swim for the other side!”

Ross lifted his arms, and his airbags slid free. Diving under the water, he started swimming against the current with everything he had.

He came up for air when Tarquin’s rope began pulling at his waist. Breaking the surface he turned his head, took a breath, and yelled, “Come on Tarquin!”

His next stroke hit something and Ross took a foot to the face.

Connor felt the collision and stopped swimming. Ross did too.

“You’re awake,” Connor said.

“I’m awake?! Look at you. You’re swimming!”

“And we should keep swimming until we reach the other side of the lake.”

“The lake?” Ross asked

“Hey, you’re awake!” Tarquin shouted, swimming toward them with Ravi in tow.

Tarquin backstroked past Connor and Ross, laughing.

“Kaya!” he said aloud, with his face to the sky. “Kaya! Did you see how many rules she broke last night? Can you believe it?! It’s like we were there! That was incredible!!”

Ross swept his hair out of his eyes. He was smiling as only he could smile, and said, “She really did it. I can hardly believe it, she…,” he trailed off, turning away from Tarquin and looking at Connor.

“Come on,” he said to Connor. “Let’s get to the other side, then we can rest a minute.”

“Hi, I’m Ravi,” Ravi said, as he half paddled and half floated past Connor.

“I’m Tarquin! Come on Ravi, at least try to swim a little.”

“I’m Connor. Connor Duncan.”

“Nice to meet you, Connor, my name is Ross. I’m the eldest Caretaker for the Oasis. Come on,” he said, motioning his head toward the far side of the lake. “Let’s get to the other side.”

“Nice to meet you,” Tarquin added.

“A real pleasure,” Ravi quipped, as Tarquin pulled him along.

Connor and Ross were swimming side by side. When they reached the center of the Oasis, the fountain of water pushing up beneath them gave them a brief rest. Suddenly Ross noticed how sensitive his waist was. He reached under the water feeling the raw skin across his hips and back.

“Do you want your airbags, Ross? I saved ‘em for you.”

“Not yet Ravi, but thank you. Please don’t let go of them, we’re still going to need waterskins.”

Tracing the path of the ropes around his waist, he took an account of each one.

“One for Tarquin” he mumbled to himself, feeling the motion of his friend swimming. “One for Connor and one for…oh, no. The barrel!” The slack from the rope was in his hands. “Has anyone seen the barrel?”

Tarquin hadn’t stopped swimming, and his rope yanked against Ross’ waist.

“Ouch!”

Ross gave Tarquin a sharp tug.

“Hey, what gives?” Tarquin complained, popping his head out of the water.

“The barrel is gone!” Ravi shouted.

They were scanning the surface of the water when Connor said, “It’s not in the lake anymore. It got pulled into the waterfall over there. I don’t think it was a barrel either. I’m pretty sure it was a kilderkin, which is much smaller than a standard barrel. If it had been a full sized barrel, we probably wouldn’t be alive right now.”

Ross’ expression was a mixture of surprise and confusion. “Untie your rope and let it drop,” he instructed Connor, then he asked, “What’s a kilderkin?”

“A kilderkin. You know, it looks like a regular barrel, but it’s only half the size. I think it broke apart after it started smashing around in the waterfall.”

“But it was tied to my waist, wasn’t it?” Ross asked, untying Connor and Tarquin’s rope from around his waist and letting them go.

“It was pulling us into the crevasse, that’s all I know. I hate to see good Coopering go to waste, but I really don’t think I could have held out much longer. Especially with the three of you just bobbing around like dead fish.”

“You saved our lives?” Ravi asked breathlessly.

Connor shrugged, tilting his head to one side. “Maybe you would have come around before it was too late. I don’t know.”

Tarquin took off the rope connecting him to Ross but kept Ravi tied to his waist.

“He’s The One isn’t he?” Tarquin asked, sounding unsure and confused.

“Connor we are certainly in your debt,” Ross declared. “You have our thanks, and soon, you will have your new beginning.”

“A new beginning? That would be an impressive trick.”

“No, not a trick,” Ross corrected. “We’re here to help.”

“Would you like my flotation device?” Ross offered.

“I’m fine, but thanks. I feel like swimming.”

“All right, just remember, Ravi has it if you need it.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Connor, would you mind swimming ahead to the other side of the Oasis, I mean the lake. I need to have a quick word with my friends. We’ll be over in just a minute.”

“Take all the time you need. I’ll see you there.”

Connor swam away with a confident stroke, his strong legs churning the water behind him into a bubbly froth.

With Connor out of range, Ross, Ravi and Tarquin huddled.

“This is a glorious day my friends,” Ross declared, turning their huddle into a group hug.

“The Kingdom is reborn, and it’s as though we were there to see it! I can’t believe it was Kaya who found the way. I’m never going to hear the end of this.” Ross was wearing his famous smile again, and Ravi and Tarquin sniggered like children.

“We’re still Caretakers,” Ross said, sounding serious, “and Connor is under our charge. Without the Oasis, helping him isn’t going to be easy, and it’s definitely not going to be like the old stories.

Along with the Oasis, our food is gone, we’ve got no blankets or shelter, and we still have a job to do.”

“How can we?” Tarquin asked, sounding desperate. “The Oasis is gone, it’s all gone!”

“Ravi?” Ross asked, “What’s the responsibility of a Caretaker?”

Ravi lifted his chin, took a deep breath, and recited:

“The Caretaker is there when others are not, for those who have lost their way.

His job is to listen, with more than his ears, to what his guests do not say.

Encourage and guide, but judge them not. Your job is to help when others cannot.

Choices surround us every day; choose yours carefully, lest this be your day.”

“Perfect. Tarquin, did Ravi say anything about the Oasis?”

“I guess not.”

“Good, because I didn’t hear it either. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to escort Connor Duncan to the Empire.”

“To the Empire?! Ross, are you crazy?” Tarquin pleaded. “All we’ve got are fifteen waterskins and a guy who just drank from the well!”

“I’ve still got the bag of gold tied to my waist,” Ravi reminded them.

“A little lower please,” Ross requested.

Tarquin lowered his voice to a whisper, and continued, “We don’t act like them, we don’t talk like them and, and, and it’s against the rules.”

***

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Beyond The Hero's Chamber

This is NOT a stand-alone story. Beyond The Hero’s Chamber is the continuation of The Hero’s Chamber. If you didn’t read The Hero’s Chamber, just go online and do a quick search. It’s free and it’s a wonderful story that thousands of people have enjoyed for years. You’ll find the eBook available in every downloadable format on smashwords.com or Amazon.com if you have a kindle. If you’ve already read the The Hero’s Chamber, welcome back! You’re in for a real treat.

  • ISBN: 9780991303441
  • Author: Ian Newton
  • Published: 2016-06-26 21:35:10
  • Words: 76832
Beyond The Hero's Chamber Beyond The Hero's Chamber