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Promised Land

PROMISED LAND

By Bob Craton

 

Grandfather stopped walking and tried to straighten his back. Katie, the one designated to keep an eye on him today, stepped over to him. She showed no strain from wearing a backpack that seemed much too large for a child of such small stature.

“It hurts again today, I can tell. Here, let me help,” she said. She put her little hand on his lower back and rubbed. The pain lessened.

“That’s better. Thank you, dear,” he said. The five year old girl smiled up at him, all red hair and freckles today with dimples. She looked to where one of the other children in the group ahead was watching them. Grandfather missed whatever signal passed between the two, as usual, but the whole band halted.

“Tell them not to stop, Katie,” he said. “I don’t want to slow everyone down.”

“It’s lunch time.”

“It’s too early.” He looked at his wrist, then caught himself and shook his head ruefully. How long does force of habit last, he wondered. When did he last wear a wristwatch?

“The little ones are hungry. We’ll stop now to feed them.” The youngest children were out of sight ahead of Katie and Grandfather in the procession, riding in a cart pulled by some of the teens.

“How do you know . . .” The old man stopped mid-sentence. Silly question. He sighed but didn’t argue. The girl’s touch had relieved his backache but he was still tired. Nothing cured getting old. He stepped off of the path and set up the lightweight folding chair that he carried so he wouldn’t have to sit on the ground. After resting for half an hour, Helen, Janie and a boy Grandfather didn’t recognize at first came to the back of the line to talk to him. The old man worried about his own memory, afraid he might forget one of the fifty-two names. But the children also liked disguises so perhaps the boy had just changed his appearance. To Grandfather’s relief, the name Roger popped into his mind. These three children were second generation, twelve years old with high marks for leadership skills.

“How are you today, Grandfather?” asked Helen.

“The same as always, darling. Let’s start moving again. Unless we find transportation, we all have to walk.”

“You could ride in the cart.”

“No! I will not put the little ones out. Besides, I can still walk faster than them.”

Janie stepped forward to take his hand while Roger touched the other wrist, taking the old man’s pulse while pretending not to. They signaled something to Helen who then looked at Katie. The younger girl nodded her head.

“Alright, we’ll start hiking now,” said Helen. “We’ll send Aaron and Michael back in case you need to lean on them while we walk. They’ve finished their turn pulling the cart.” As the three gen-twos left, Grandfather saw the older boys coming back to him, their pale blond hair shining in the sunlight. He remembered when they, and the other two of their generation, were tiny babies fourteen years ago. The entire community had been so excited about the arrival of the first of the children. Now these boys were almost as tall as the old man and had broad muscular shoulders. Once they would have been called world-class athletes in their age group, but such designations no longer existed. Grandfather walked for an hour before Aaron and Michael put their arms around him to help hold him up.

They continued their trek across the prairie without seeing any signs of human habitation that day. The foothills of a mountain chain loomed in the distance. Before sundown, fleet footed ten-year-olds left to scout the area around them while the rest set up a makeshift camp. The scouts returned with news of other campsites and tracks of both men and horses.

“There could be an outlaw gang in the area. Plenty of those are around these days. Everyone come closer so you can hear,” the old man said. He waited until they assembled before proceeding. They already knew how important their survival was, but their aversion to violence made them reluctant to fight back. He decided to appeal to their concern for him instead. “I know how you feel, but you must defend yourselves. Losing even one of you would be a tragedy that I couldn’t take.”

“Don’t worry. We won’t let anyone hurt you, Grandfather. Not even that way,” a fourth generation boy assured him.

 

When the old man fell asleep, he dreamed again. In the dream he faced the main building of the Institute. The sign saying ‘Mercy Orphanage & Home for Abandoned Children’ was to his right, meaning he was standing in the front entrance gate. He heard the noise behind him – angry shouts and frightened screams – and knew what he would see if looked. He had been there in real life – facing the mob and not looking away. Against his will, his dream-self started to turn and his mind fought to avoid seeing that scene again. “Wake up!” his dream-self shouted.

Abruptly his eyes opened to the night. He sat up and congratulated himself on being able to avoid the worst of the nightmare. He had gotten better at doing that recently. Then he saw little David sitting next to him. It was the boy’s turn to watch Grandfather, a duty taken over from Katie. When David smiled, the man realized he hadn’t woken himself up after all.

 

The attack came in the morning. Eight men carrying a mixed bag of weapons rode horses while others on foot followed behind. Older children hurried to form a line in front of smaller ones. Grandfather tried to squeeze through to stand in front but the children blocked his path. Standing in the second row, however, he could still be seen. Spotting just one adult, the outlaws assumed he was the leader. The old man might have laughed at that had the children not been in danger. The lead outlaw aimed his rifle at Grandfather but simultaneously a boy raised his arm and something small and metallic flashed in his hand. A spark flew and knocked the rider off his horse. He lay on the ground twitching and jerking uncontrollably. Two more sparks felled other men and the rest reined in their horses. Totally intimidated, the remaining riders turned and fled, knocking over some of their trailing cohorts.

As the entire gang ran away, some children chased the three abandoned horses. The animals were wild and unruly (no doubt having been abused by their previous riders) until children approached. Then the horses calmed and placidly followed where they were led. Some of the twelve-year-olds, including Helen, went forward to look at the men on the ground and Grandfather followed. “They’ll survive,” said one, “But they’ll be sorry when they wake up.” The old man wished the men were dead so they couldn’t hurt anybody else, but he could not say that out loud. Not to these children.

“It’s all right,” Helen said to him. “They won’t bother anyone. They’ll remember what happened and how painful it was.” It wasn’t the first time a child had responded to a thought in his head that he hadn’t verbalized.

Within minutes one of the horses was harnessed to the cart, using only odd bits of old rope. The arrangement looked hopelessly haphazard but it worked. Just like everything else the children did. A smiling gen-five girl came up to the old man.

“Do you want to ride one of the other horses, Grandfather?” She tried to keep a straight face but could not suppress a giggle. The man just smiled and shook his head. He never minded their teasing. It was always gentle and never insulting. In truth, he had never been this close to a horse before and would only fall off if he tried to mount one. He thought of the injuries that a person of his age could get from such a fall – and then he forced himself to stop thinking. He had to survive until the children reached home and there was no point in worrying about accidents he could avoid.

 

Grandfather dreamed that night but this time it wasn’t as bad. Not at first. He sat in a meeting of the Guidance Committee. Dr. Mitchell had raised his voice and shouted, “We’ve gone too far. This is not God’s will!” Several others barked objections at him until Elaine Petrov banged her gavel.

“We are a scientific community,” she said sternly to Mitchell. “While we remain neutral and not judgmental to all religions, we cannot let anything interrupt our quest for knowledge.”

Mitchell glowered and the dream jumped forward in time. This man had been one of those who had betrayed them – one of those who opened the gates to . . . Grandfather flinched in pain and woke. He looked around to see which child was watching him and said, “Thank you.” He sat up to stay awake for a while so he wouldn’t fall back into the same dream. Not for the first time, he pondered the question of why he was the one who had survived. He was not a scientist, merely the administrator. Yet he was the one who had started planning and packing when the danger arose, and he was the one who got the children away before the end. He had almost reached a conclusion about ‘why’ when sleep overtook him.

 

Two days later they came to a crossroad. The group waited while two children named Peter and Martha went ahead to reconnoiter. When they returned they reported to Helen and some of the others, “A town is ahead. The road is blocked and guards are posted but we got close enough to see the people. They don’t look like us.”

“Show us,” Helen told the two and their skins darkened considerably. Every child looked to Grandfather. He knew none of them could recognize the type. In their alleged wisdom, the educators at the Institute had scheduled certain courses for last, including race relations and much of history, and the disaster had ended all teaching before those subjects were reached. Before leaving, the children had met (and sometimes copied) employees who were of Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern descent, but to Grandfather’s regret none had ever seen a black person. On their journey they had only seen what the old man called ‘generic white folks’ – like himself – and that is what the children looked like now.

“They are called black people or African-Americans,” he told them. Then he tried to explain why skin color remained significant in what was left of the world. Despite the children’s intellectual brilliance, it was impossible for anyone lacking worldly experience to fully understand a situation that was to them totally irrational. Grandfather gave up.

“You’ll learn everything when you reach your destination, but for now just trust me and transform the way Martha and Peter have,” he told them. Of course they trusted him.

Grandfather was used to the small changes they often made to their appearances but a group conversion was something new. He watched closely – especially the smaller children who would change the most – hoping he would still be able to match all the names to their faces when the alterations were finished. As in other things, the later generations were better at modifying themselves than the older children. The first generation teens, for example, could only adjust skin pigmentation and would need the cosmetics and contact lenses that Grandfather had packed to make their hair and eye color match. Members of gen-five, however, changed not only color but also hair texture and the shape of their noses and lips. The only children that the old man didn’t watch were the two little ones of generation six. These last babies could be easily recognized by their smaller size. Although toddlers in appearance, their development already exceeded that of ordinary kids twice their age and size. Within minutes, the group resumed marching and soon they were within sight of the guarded roadblock.

“What are they doing?” Grandfather asked Timmy, his caretaker that day. “I know you can see everything from here.”

“One of them is scrutinizing us with binoculars,” replied the boy as they walked. “Now the guards are talking together, undoubtedly analyzing and assessing us as possible threats. One has gone back towards the town, obviously with a message for someone.” Such language from a small child was no surprise to Grandfather. When the children reached the roadblock, a man wearing a gun in a holster stepped forward.

“Wait here,” he told the group. “We’ve sent for Mother Harriet and I’m sure she’ll want to talk to you. It may take a few minutes for her to get here.” The children waited patiently. The guard had kids of his own and after a while he noticed how still and calm these children remained, even the smallest of them. It seemed uncanny, but his thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a woman who was obviously Mother Harriet. She was slightly chubby, had gray hair, and wore a brightly colored dress that seemed to be one wide piece of cloth wrapped around her. As she strode towards them, gen-two children filtered their way to the front of the group.

“Oh, dear. So many children without parents. Are you all orphans?” asked the woman.

“We came from Mercy Orphanage,” replied Janie. She did not explain further. Grandfather had cautioned them against revealing details about themselves to strangers. And besides, the word ‘orphan’ was close enough in meaning to describe children of their status.

“My poor darlings. Don’t worry. Our people will take care of you now. Here, come to Mother Harriet.” She spread her arms and stepped closer. The children instantly calculated the best course of action. Those closest moved to her and let her arms surround them like the wings of a mother hen. After a long moment, she gave orders to the guards. Without raising her voice, she still commanded instant obedience from the men. The children were led past a sign reading ‘Welcome to New Jerusalem Brothers & Sisters’ and on into town. Grandfather noticed men glaring at him. Timmy took his hand and pulled him forward.

Taken to the town meeting hall, the children entered a room large enough to hold them all plus many more. People set up folding tables and chairs, and Harriet introduced them to a number of individuals, the most important of whom seemed to be Sister Roquelina and Brother Saleem.

“We’ll have food for you in a little while,” Roquelina told them. “Dinner is already being prepared. We won’t have meat today, though. We only eat that on Sundays.”

“What is it, Saleem?” Harriet asked when she saw the way he was staring at Grandfather.

“We shouldn’t have let a white man in,” he grumbled.

“Don’t be that way, brother. Good people come in all colors and the fact that he’s trying to take care of these children is enough recommendation for me.”

“Still, we have to be . . .,” Saleem started to say before a burst of words from the children interrupted him.

“He helps us,” “We need his advice,” and “We love him,” were just some of their replies. Mother Harriet smiled widely and there were no more objections to Grandfather’s presence. The food which arrived soon after was unfamiliar to the children. They had eaten green peas but the ones on their plates were brown and obviously had been boiled in a pot with salt and chunks of pork fat for seasoning. The cooked greens and bread made of corn meal were totally new to them.

“We like traditional dishes,” Sister Roquelina explained. Each child evaluated the nutritional value then ate everything except the fat. As everyone else dined, Mother Harriet ignored her food to examine her guests more closely. They were polite but spoke as little as possible. The age grouping seemed odd, too, with little groups of children all the same age with gaps in between. The four oldest were young teens who had youthful faces with athletic bodies. The second set of six were just on the edge of puberty. Harriet guessed they were twelve. A section of ten children all age ten came next, followed by fourteen who were eight and sixteen more who were five. Each group consisted of half boys and half girls with no exceptions.

The two toddlers were mysteries to Harriet. With cushions in their chairs, they sat up straight and fed themselves, using forks more than fingers. Surely they were older than they looked, the woman thought to herself. Then both turned to her, smiled, and said, “Hello, Mother.” Charmed, Harriet smiled back and decided everything was all right. After dinner she spoke.

“Tell us about yourselves, children. You mentioned an orphanage, but why did you leave and how did you get here?”

They all glanced at Grandfather. After a moment of thought, he nodded yes and held up his hand with forefinger and thumb close together. The gesture obviously meant ‘a little.’ Roger started talking. Others took his place later but no matter which child was speaking, the story flowed continuously.

“We had to leave the orphanage due to things that were happening outside. It was in a city with a lot of people living around it. Grandfather arranged everything, and all that we needed was packed and ready in trucks. We left at night and drove without stopping for four days before we ran out of fuel. Then we packed our things and started walking. New Jerusalem is the first town we came to. It wasn’t on the map we memorized.”

Implying that they avoided towns they knew about, Mother Harriet thought silently. Wise move, but the vague explanation was unsatisfying. Before she could speak up, however, Brother Saleem asked a question.

“Who drove the trucks?”

“Aaron, Julie, Tess and Michael.” The members of gen-one nodded their heads as their names were called. This was not a question that Harriet cared about and she interrupted before Saleem veered off into trivial details.

“I still don’t understand the reason for your departure,” she said. “Exactly why did you leave home?”

“We were frightened.” Fifty-two facial expressions changed to looks of fear. The woman could not make herself question them further. “Besides, that wasn’t really our home. Our true home waits for us.”

“We all have homes waiting in Heaven,” said Sister Roquelina. Grandfather silently cursed the structure of the children’s interrupted education. As much as he wanted to avoid it, he would have to say something. None of them recognized the word ‘heaven.’

“Ma’am, if I may. These children have a home here on earth also. I think we can reach it in two weeks or so. When they arrive, they’ll have everything they need and will be taken care of.” The last part of what he said was not exactly true, but how could he explain children who needed no adults to care for them?

“But we want you youngsters to stay here,” Mother Harriet declared. “Plenty of our families will want to adopt you. It will be no trouble to find homes for you all.”

“Thank you, Mother, but we have a place of our own. We’ll leave in the morning.”

Harriet, Roquelina, and others tried hard to convince them otherwise, but the children were adamant. And persuasive. When one said, “We must go Home,” there could be no more argument.

“Well, at least we can help you,” Harriet said sadly. “Do you need food or other supplies?”

“We brought everything we need,” replied Helen. Grandfather decided to speak up again.

“They won’t accept anything if giving it causes you even the slightest difficulty.”

“We have plenty of food. The harvest was good this year,” she assured them. The children truly needed nothing but knew how to be polite and acquiesced. Harriet asked, “Anything else?”

“I know transportation is hard to find out here, but do you have any type of wagon or cart that could be pulled by horses?” inquired Grandfather. Harriet looked to Saleem who responded.

“Yes, we have an old farm wagon that no one uses. I can’t promise how long it will last before the wheels fall off, but you’re welcome to it.” That settled, he asked about who and what they had seen on their journey. Obviously he was hoping for intelligence from the outside.

“Once we sneaked out of the city, we didn’t see anyone else while we were driving. Grandfather thought someone might try to steal the trucks so we avoided all people. While we were walking we saw a few hungry-looking people living in shacks but they stayed away from us. We did see bandits but they didn’t really bother us.”

“Bandits? Don’t worry about those here. Our guards will keep them out of New Jerusalem,” Saleem assured them. Grandfather had no doubt. The outlaws were white men. “If you must leave, let me give you some advice about your route. Do not head northeast. That road will take you past Avalon Estates.”

“What’s that?”

“It started as a gated community. You know, back when the wealthy bought extravagant homes and locked out people like us and other poor folks. Now it’s an armed camp. If they catch anyone who isn’t like them, they hold those people captive and make them work like slaves.”

The children thanked Saleem and promised to avoid the place. But in their minds, they saw which way the route went on the map that they had memorized.

 

The children and Grandfather rose early the next morning. They hitched two horses to their newly acquired wagon and loaded it with backpacks and donated food. The third horse pulled the cart as it had since the encounter with outlaws. Five-year-olds pushed the old man to the wagon and told him to climb up and sit on the front bench. “We’ll go faster if you ride,” they insisted. He laughed and did what they said. He knew they were right.

A great many citizens of New Jerusalem turned out to see them off. Mother Harriet made another plea for them to stay and the children politely declined again. For the sake of those who watched, the procession went south at first. Only when out of sight of the townspeople did they leave the road and circle around to the northeast. Two days later, their scouts spotted Avalon Estates and came back to report. The entire group circled around Grandfather to discuss their next action. They stood while he sat.

“I think we should see this place,” Helen stated. The old man felt the others agree.

“Please don’t. It’s much too dangerous,” he begged.

“Grandfather, we’ve lived all our lives in isolation. You knew the only people we ever saw back in the Institute. How could we know about the rest of the world and everyone in it? Sure, we learned much from computers and edu-bots but there is so much we still don’t understand. Why did those men try to rob us earlier? Why are the nice people in New Jerusalem afraid of white neighbors? We learned economics and recognize the difference between rich and poor, but we can’t comprehend why those who have a lot don’t share with the rest.” The girl paused for a moment then concluded her speech. “If we don’t understand why humans behave the way they do, we’ll never achieve everything you want us to, Grandfather.”

With his heart in anguish and his stomach churning in anxiety, the old man wanted to explain why their survival was so important but there was no point in repeating himself. They wouldn’t listen anyway, he knew. After all, they were right.

“Watching these people won’t explain everything,” he said at last.

“Maybe not,” replied Janie. “But we have to see as much as we can, even if it’s just peeking through a fence. Don’t worry. We’ll stay hidden and won’t get too close. You know about our eyesight. You stay here with the wagon and cart. We’ll leave the little ones too. You can watch over them.”

“She means they’ll watch over you,” added Katie and the old man suddenly remembered the little girl’s red hair.

“Change back to the way you looked before New Jerusalem,” he blurted. “It’s important.”

They all did and then left.

As soon as they were out of sight, Grandfather sat down. Glancing at the cart, he saw that Katie was right. The two little ones stared back at him with that eerie, unblinking concentration of theirs. Of all the children, these were the only ones he did not understand. As a layman, he knew genetics in general but not enough microbiology to grasp the details behind the origin of the group. He did know, however, about their abilities and the special talents of each generation. Except for gen-six. They were as different from gen-five as gen-one had been from ordinary people. He had no conception of what these two would do in the future. But then again, he didn’t much care. The future was their responsibility, not his. The old man remembered when some people wanted to name the last-born Adam and Eve. That idea was quickly vetoed. “It would antagonize some people and draw unnecessary attention to our Project.” For once, Grandfather had agreed with those in charge. Now, the two toddlers still had no official names. The other children just called them Little Mother and Little Father.

He tried to relax but memories intruded. Another of those interminable committee meetings came to mind. Grandfather had tried hard back then to make the leadership see the danger brewing all around them. “The turmoil outside is spreading and our walls can’t protect us forever,” he had told them. “Many people out there hate this Institute and everything we stand for.”

“You exaggerate the situation, Administrator,” Dr. Petrov had replied. “Our security system is solid.”

“At least send the children to the Alternate Site now.”

“Our subjects are not ready for that and they are safe here.”

Remembering the word ‘subjects’ triggered a sudden insight for Grandfather. Now he understood why he had survived. He was the only one who thought of the children as individuals and not experiments. The only one who realized they had feelings and the only one who cared about them. By taking them away to protect them, he saved himself too. Because the others cared only about themselves, their careers, and their laboratories, they stayed behind and met their fates.

When the children returned from observing Avalon Estates, they said nothing. They just formed their procession and started moving again.

 

Another night, another dream for Grandfather. This one recalled the split in the scientific staff that had occurred before the end. Most stayed with Dr. Petrov and remained committed to the original plan but others followed Professor Cohen in wanting changes.

“Our experiments have exceeded our expectations,” Cohen had argued. “We must not go further until we fully understand all ramifications.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Petrov.

“For one thing, we must never transport our subjects to the Alternate Site. If they get . . .” An uproar ensued and Cohen shouted to be heard. “They will out-compete homo sapiens. If they get free, they will replace us all!”

“So what?” snapped Grandfather. He wasn’t invited to any more committee meetings after that. He did not wake from the dream this time, however. He didn’t need to. Avoiding the meetings was not bad at all.

 

Three days later, they came to something else that was not on the map. As usual scouts observed from a distance and reported back to the main group.

“It’s a refugee camp of sorts,” said Grandfather after listening to the children’s description. “They must have moved here recently to escape . . . well, to avoid other people. These folks have more to fear from strangers than the people of New Jerusalem do. That makes them dangerous.”

“They don’t feel dangerous,” replied a child. “I think they’re too weak to do anything.”

“Still, if you insist on going close – and I know you will – just walk around the edge of the camp and not through it. Remember, nothing you can do will help these people. You heard that many times back at the Institute and it’s true. I’ll take the wagon and meet you on the other side. It’s best if I stay out of sight.” And the wagon with the food too, he thought to himself.

As the children filed past the ragged tents that made up the camp, they saw people with brown skins – lighter than the inhabitants of New Jerusalem but darker than their own current appearance. Emaciated people sat listlessly on the ground gazing at nothing. Many were sick; all were hungry. A few stared at the children but most did not bother. An aura of fear and desperation exuded from the crowd. The children sensed anger and hatred also, mostly from young men, but no one interfered with the procession.

When they met up with Grandfather afterwards, the children gathered around him. Their faces were somber with a look in their eyes the man had not seen before.

“We should leave the food from New Jerusalem for them. We have enough of our own,” stated Roger.

“Please don’t. They’ll fight over it. The strongest, those who need food the least, will take it all. I fear some of the weak ones will be killed.” The children did not know how starving people could riot over a morsel of food, but the old man did.

“Are you sure about that, Grandfather?” asked Janie. He had never before heard them express any doubt about something he told them. Did he also detect a note of worry in the children? If so, they weren’t worried about themselves.

“Yes darlings, I am. It’s sad but I’m certain. Giving them what little food we have will not save their lives and only cause conflict among them. But I’m proud of you for wanting to do something for them.” He was, too. No one at the Institute had ever planned on instilling sympathy or care for others in the children. These feelings had appeared spontaneously, a sign of humanity in those who were something more than human. Had anyone from the scientific staff survived, they would have been surprised. Grandfather continued, “I hope you can see why you are so important. But you can’t change the many things which are wrong with the world. Not this world anyway, only the next.”

 

When they camped for the night, the old man expected questions about what the children had seen that day, but his was wrong.

“Tell us about Home, Grandfather,” they insisted. He smiled. The children had been fully briefed about the Alternate Site by the chief engineer before they left the Institute. And yet they still wanted to hear (and think) about it again.

“Everything is ready for you,” he began. “The houses are fully furnished with furniture and appliances, and contain new clothes and prepared food. Storage buildings are stocked with all the supplies you will need until you become a self-sufficient community. I know. I was involved in the planning. The Village is several times larger than you need for now with construction materials stockpiled for even more future expansion. The underground power source will last at least a century. By that time, you and your descendants will have invented something better. Gardens are already growing with perennial crops which provide food without the need for re-planting every year, and gen-modified farm animals are in the fields. The large building in the center has shielded walls where computers will keep working no matter what. The databases contain more information than has ever been assembled before in any one place. In time, you really will learn everything. And the Barrier around the entire Land will protect you. Although invisible, it will detect anyone who does not have your DNA type and stop them.”

The children knew the barrier would kill outsiders and not just stop them, but no one quibbled with Grandfather’s choice of words. As he watched, they began transforming their appearances, seemingly on a whim. Some remained white, some turned black, and others changed to every shade of brown in between. Every race they had ever seen – both at the Institute and on their journey – was represented. Grandfather liked this microcosm of the world’s population. How could racism exist in a population that could change skin color at will? How could they not empathize with someone who looked different when they could make themselves look like anyone?

 

They saw no one else during the remainder of their journey. The location for Home was well away from any populated areas. No trail or path existed now. All traces of the road which had been used during construction of the Village were gone. No problem: the Children had memorized every minor landmark. The route went steadily uphill. That was no hindrance to the Children but Grandfather struggled and needed help from time to time. When they reached a forest, they abandoned the wagon and let the horses run free. In the early afternoon on a bright sunny day, they emerged from the forest into a wide meadow which rose to the crest of a ridge ahead. Between them and the top, a row of metal towers crossed their path and extended as far as they could see in each direction – the Barrier. Every Child knew what lay on the other side of the ridge. They swelled with excitement and tried to push Grandfather forward faster.

They aren’t supposed to get this enthused, the man thought to himself – not according to the plan. But then, they weren’t supposed to feel sympathy, kindness and love either. They truly did exceed their makers’ designs. Then Aaron and Michael picked him up and carried him faster than he could walk. Before they reached the Barrier, he made them stop and put him down.

“I can’t go any farther, my loves. The Barrier won’t let me. I’m not one of you.” To his surprise, they responded with big smiles.

“We learned all about it. Do you think we don’t know what to do?” they answered gleefully. A few ran to the nearest tower to do something he couldn’t see while the rest formed a tightly packed group with him at the center. They pushed and pulled Grandfather past the Barrier without harm. Relieved and rejoicing, he told them to go ahead.

“You don’t have to wait on me any longer, Children. We’re all safe now and I will follow as fast as I can. Go ahead and see your new Home.”

As they ran up the hill, the man felt a pang is his heart for the old world he had left behind. The children would learn about it but he remembered it, something entirely different. And he knew it wouldn’t last much longer. He thought of the people he had cared about in his life and some of the ones that he disliked intensely. No matter what he did, he would never see any of them again. Then the negativity faded. He had been prepared to spend his final days alone outside the Barrier. Now instead he would stay with his ‘grandchildren,’ as he always thought of them, despite the biology. He looked ahead to the hillcrest and saw that while most of the group had already gone over, a handful of Children still waited patiently for him at the top. He was out of breath when he reached them.

“I’m going to sit and rest for a while. I’ll be fine. Please go be with the rest of your brothers and sisters now,” he told them. As they hurried downhill, he looked around.

The valley was wide and greener than anything he had ever seen. The buildings in the distant Village were blocky and utilitarian but still could not detract from the natural beauty of the surroundings. A stream flowed down from the hill to his left, wandered through the Village, then emptied into a reservoir on the other side. The fields were as he had described them. Off to his right, he saw placid cows grazing.

The Children had reached their Promised Land. His job was finished but theirs had just begun. He sat in the sunshine for a time. When he stood and started down the hill, bees without stingers buzzed through the wildflowers around him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Bob Craton


Promised Land

A band of children, exiled by hatred of them, trek across the fringe of a failing world. Accompanied only by a man they call Grandfather, they seek a home – but not just any home. It must be the land prepared for them where they will fulfill their destiny.

  • ISBN: 9781370097814
  • Author: Bob Craton
  • Published: 2017-01-23 17:35:07
  • Words: 6138
Promised Land Promised Land