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The Valley of Flowers

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“Mahina is a fantastic tale involving multiple storylines from both historical times and the present… beautiful and complex, like the threads of fine tapestry… a memorable and well told story, full of adventure and romance… Someone should turn this book into a motion picture. You should read the book.” Kathy Olson

 

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“I’ve finished THAT BOOK and will now have to do something constructive!!!… if book number three is as riveting as the other two, I will need pulse-reducing medication. I can’t believe the depth of all that he was able to bring in to that story!!! (I’m thinking that I will have to stick to “Little Women” and “Heidi” in future.)” Maureen

 

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“…Aunt Tabbie’s Wings… How can you not thoroughly immerse yourself in the warmth of the Savior’s love demonstrated through real-life characters? I was touched by the storyline, the surprises and the figurative language, “…as the sun yawned away the darkness…” January 1, 2015—the day I read a page-turner from cover to cover. Thanks Jack.” Suz

 

“Paradise Warrior… thrilling fiction. It’s quite impossible to close the book before the end. And when I finished reading it, I’ve read it a second time to enjoy even more all its subtleties, this for the first time in my life…!” Dominique

 

[Nanuq] “…very engaging story. Awesome job!… Really enjoying… exciting… incredible. A NY times best selling author couldn’t do it better. It is real. It is engaging. It is captivating… just comes off the page… and it will keep you guessing until the end when he skillfully ties all the lo°se ends into a satisfying knot. Don’t miss this exciting adventure.” Kathy

 

“…Mahina. The story draws you in chapter by chapter. Thoroughly enjoyed it…” Craig

 

“…amazing, delightful, absolutely intriguing, WONDERFUL book… PARADISE WARRIOR!!! I can’t put it down…” Gwennie Simpson

 

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“MAHiNA… engaging and informative. It is hard to put down… characters are intriguing… Aunty Rosa was the one character that I was especially drawn to; her wisdom and sensitivity were authentic and endearing… And the ending was superbly done; tying in each of the real life issues in a clever and perceptive way.” Susan

 

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[Mahina] “I was up reading half the night last night…” Kathy

 

 

 

~

 

 

THE VALLEY OF FLOWERS

by

JACK DEY

 

 

~

 

Shakespir EDITION

 

PUBLISHED BY:

C.D. & A.R. Day at Shakespir

 

COPYRIGHT 2015 C.D. & A.R. Day

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means–electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or otherwise–except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the owner of the copyright.

 

Original Cover Design: C.D. & A.R. Day

Cover images: pixabay.com

 

Shakespir EDITION, LICENSE NOTES

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 others 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 Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This book is also available in print.

(paperback)

For further information please contact:

URL: jackdey.com

Email: [email protected]

 

 

~

 

Dedicated to: Papa

For Your Honour and Your Glory

 

~

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 20

Chapter 25

Chapter 30

Chapter 35

Chapter 40

Author’s Note

About the Author

Connect with Jack

Discover Other Books by Jack Dey

Exclusive Preview – Mahina by Jack Dey

Exclusive Preview – Paradise Warrior by Jack Dey

Exclusive Preview – Aunt Tabbie’s Wings by Jack Dey

Exclusive Preview – The Secrets of Black Dean Lighthouse by Jack Dey

Exclusive Preview – The Legend of Ataneq Nanuq by Jack Dey

Exclusive Preview – La Belle Suisse by Dodie La Mirounette and Jack Dey

 

 

 

~

 

Note from Jack

 

The Valley of Flowers is a gentle read, full of intrigue, fun and romance. It will capture your heart from the very start, leading you through strange but Biblically purposeful places and challenging you to recognise the stage and intent of its theme. For those readers who are familiar with my style, The Valley of Flowers is a break from the usual hectic pace of cryptic mysteries. But be warned, when you think you have it worked out, it will sneak around behind you and pull your chair out from under you.

This novel is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons or people groups, living or dead, incidences, places or events, past or present, unless otherwise stated, is purely coincidental. Poetic licence has been taken in writing this fiction.

I hope you will enjoy reading it, as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

 

Jack Dey

 

 

~

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

I would like to thank the following for their tireless support in bringing The Valley of Flowers from a thought to a finished work.

Papa God, for allowing me to be a pencil in His hand.

My wife, the Editor, for turning my full stops into commas, encouraging me to keep going and using words like ‘disturbing’ to keep me on track. Constantly filling my cup with tea and love.

My Assistant Editor, the very charismatic Phil Hollett, for never letting me get away with anything.

The ever vigilant prayer team.

Finally, you, the reader. We pray for you as you take Papa’s hand and sojourn through this story. May you never forget the journey you are about to take and judge everything against what Papa tells you.

 

Jack

 

 

 

~

 

THE VALLEY OF FLOWERS

 

Out of your heart the tears I keep and when I am no longer, your knowledge is complete.

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 1

June 6

Dear Diary,

Today was the worst day of my life. Mum dropped by to see Dad but I was hoping she’d come over to patch things up and move back in with us. My hopes evaporated when I peered through the curtains in my room and saw ‘him’ sitting in the driver seat of her car, waiting for her to finish talking with Dad. Turns out she’d only dropped by to deliver the divorce papers and she didn’t even take the time to stop by my room and talk with me.

I feel really hurt!

Things have been tense around Dad since she dropped her bombshell and moved out. The walls are so thin in this house and sometimes I hear him crying late at night in his room, although around me he tries to maintain his composure, but I can’t help thinking their breaking up is somehow my fault. Maybe if I had been a better daughter, not so moody or so fat, maybe if I was prettier or helped her more around here… IDK!

I ‘HATE’ coming home to an empty house after school too. It freaks me out and I check behind each door and in every cupboard, then lock myself inside my room once I feel kinda safe. Scaredy cat, maybe… I guess; I should stop watching horror movies before bed. It’s pretty late when Dad finally walks in from work and I’m sure I can smell alcohol on his breath. I try my best to take the load off him and I know I can’t cook to save myself, but he usually doesn’t want any dinner anyway – don’t blame him really. So I end up eating in my room… I feel so empty and alone!

Sorry, Diary, I smudged your beautiful pink pages with my useless tears. Don’t go away, Diary, I need to blow my nose… I’m back; did you miss me?

Tina knows something’s up, but I feel too embarrassed to tell her. She keeps asking me if I’m alright and I keep telling her I’m fine, but I know she knows something’s wrong and she won’t give up until she’s got the ‘gos’. She’s spending a lot of time with Danny Dickson lately, too. Yuk…! I can’t stand the guy, but Tina likes him and I think she’s intending to go all the way with him. I hope she thinks about it a lot before and isn’t making a big mistake. I don’t know what I would do without my BFF!

I just don’t get life and what it’s all about. It all seems so pointless and sometimes I feel like the world would be a better place if I just died! No one would even realise I was gone or miss me once they found out, I’m sure. Although! Mr Bryce stopped again to have a chat in the hallway at school; he’s always so positive and encouraging and I always enjoy talking to him. Wonder if he wants a daughter? No, I guess not! He reminds me a lot of Grandpa Dan; I wish he wasn’t so sick and we could spend time together again.

Why does everyone want to leave or get sick when I’m around?!

I should finish now, Diary; I still have some homework to do but I feel too depressed and can’t be bothered. It’s only maths and I can’t stand maths!

 

~

 

Elly Parker’s finger hovered over the start button on her small laptop, contemplating watching another horror movie before turning out the light and trying to sleep. The movies seemed to resonate with the horror of her short teenage life and in some strange way, the images on her screen shocked her into a fantasy world, leaving her own desperate world far behind and in the shadows. She drew in a long breath, holding it trapped in her lungs while she studied the outline of her pink laptop.

In a moment of decision she released her breath, closed the screen with a click and checked the bedside clock. It was just after midnight and the passageway light was on, signifying her father was still up. She combed out the length of her long blonde hair, the hairbrush crackling with static electricity at each deliberate stroke. When she had finished preparing for bed, she reached for the bedroom door handle and cracked it open. In a raised voice she called to her father, “Goodnight, Dad!”… No answer.

She sighed and closed the door again then made her way to her bed and climbed in, pulling the blankets up to her eyes. Soon after making a mental check of her surrounds, Elly disturbed the neat blankets partially covering her face and reached for the bedside table, extinguishing the light and reducing her room into a confusion of darkness and shadows. With a sharp motion, she pulled her arm back into the safety of the blankets, her eyes slowly closing and soon she drifted into another world.

 

~

 

A distant rumble echoed up and down the steep green valley walls. Then a gentle breeze rippled across the valley floor stirring a patchwork of yellow, pink and blue, making the colourful tall stems of happy flowers seem to giggle softly and sway gently in the giddying silence. Patches of blue sky peered around the tall cliffs, partially obscured by lazy clouds hanging deftly and close to the rocky peaks. A monolithic giant, draped in the royal green velvet of deep rainforest, towered high above the trail and stood guard over the entrance to the enchanting scene, making sure only the invited found the secret, narrow breach.

Something was beckoning, tugging at her heart strings and drawing her onto the path, urging her to keep walking. Step by step the trail led her deeper into the valley, tantalising her senses with each guarded step and piquing her curiosity.

Where was she?

Suddenly, the valley erupted into whispered laughter, adorable impish laughter echoing across the valley floor and entangled among the swaying flowers. She searched around trying to identify the voices, but they remained shy and hidden from her view.

Then the sky opened and a warm, gentle shower drizzled over her, flooding her mind with childish delight as she tasted drops of water sweeter than honey.

The rain began to teem down on her and as it did, the impish laughter increased; she heard a giggle trickle over her tonsils and then an echoing laugh bubbled up from deep inside her and spilled out into the rain. In a moment of ecstasy, she peered up at the sky and the mountains surrounding her and twirled on the spot, pirouetting like a ballet dancer, lost in excited elation and sending her long white gown whirling around her.

As suddenly as it came, the rain stopped and a gentle breeze caressed her face, dancing with her, calling to her in a loving whisper, “Elly… Elly… come to me, pretty lady,” enticing her down into the valley while its call halted her ecstatic dance.

The voice made her heart burn within her and she searched among the flowers until she saw a beautiful young man standing on the path, beckoning to her with an outstretched arm. She gazed at the gesture for a moment, hesitating and a little confused, but then his haunting green eyes peered into the depths of her heart and overpowered her emotions, gently pulling her towards him, desperate to experience the love he was offering.

A rasping clamour broke into her fantasy and before Elly knew what was happening, the scene had evaporated like a steamy breath into a cold atmosphere, sending her into a tailspin and searching frantically about the sunlit room for evidence of her intrigue and the green-eyed young man. She sighed, slapping the alarm clock into silence with an agitated hand and fell back to her pillow, exasperated and grieving for the lost opportunity for romance. It took her moments to realise she’d been dreaming, but the ecstasy she’d felt and the beauty of the young man haunted her.

If only she hadn’t hesitated…!

Even as she peered around her empty room, the emotional depths of her encounter still remained and she longed to return to the gentle, enchanting world in her dream.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Replaying the fading emotion and frustrated by her hesitation, the green-eyed apparition captivated her heart, entangling her desires in a unknown world of enchantment and leaving her desperately pining for the romance of her dream.

She dragged her distraught outline from her bed, quickly dressed and critically assessed her appearance in the reflection of the full-length mirror covering the doors of her built-in robe. The reflected image of her seventeen-year-old figure described the features of a mature young woman, but held captive in the final year of her childhood by the less than flattering high school uniform. She teased the idea of applying a light shade of makeup to help her feel more appealing, however the school rules forbade any such attempts, even for seniors and were staunchly policed.

As she stood examining her reflection, an electric tingle sparked through her senses, reawakening the memory of the romantic close encounter, stealing the focus from the image reflected in the mirror and back to the ethereal dream man once again. A pleasing sigh escaped her lips, remembering how the young man made her feel, while a haunting desire to search the back roads of her imagination and reconnect with her apparition overtook her. However the romantic memory was waning fast and she tried desperately to hold on to the fading image of another world, a world where love existed, while she attempted to make sense of her own desolate world, a place without love.

Her thoughts suddenly jolted out of the fantasy and her attention fixed on her reflected impression once again. Unimpressed with the gawky uniform and yearning to break free of the bonds of childhood and launch into womanhood, she sighed heavily. “I feel like a frump in a bag.” She teased her thoughts again and wondered what her dream man would think of her offering, imagining his thoughts while her blue eyes did a final critique from every angle, twisting her body in front of the mirror.

Elly was a senior at Armadale’s exclusive Don Patton Senior High, nestled in the foothills of the Darling Range and overlooking the vast tracks of Perth’s distant and smoggy sprawling skyline. The school was designed to cater for the elite of Armadale’s hillslope families, but Elly’s dad was struggling to keep up with the ever expanding fees and assure her continued presence at the exclusive school. She’d be happy to leave and get a job, however her parvenu mother had other ideas and now that her mother had left, maybe her dad might reconsider.

A quick glance at the bedside clock alarmed her and she broke from the mirror, making a sudden grasp at a nearby pile of books needed for the day’s tuition. She seized the bedroom door handle and twisted it, unlocking the access into the passageway, intent on making her way to the kitchen and grabbing a quick bite before catching the bus to school.

As she entered the passageway, she pulled the door closed behind her, noticing immediately that the passage light was still on. A sudden stab of apprehension clawed at her heart, wondering what this could mean; her father was always imploring her to economise, and leaving a light on all night was akin to the crime of murder in his book. Elly carefully searched the passage into the kitchen, pursuing any indication that her father was near, but finding it empty she continued her search into another part of the house. Still clutching her schoolbooks, she approached her parent’s bedroom and listened at the closed door, hoping to discern any sign of life. She held her breath, intently listening and then after a long moment released it, wondering whether she should dare to open the door and invade his private sanctuary.

She decided to knock and see if he was still in bed. “Dad! Are you in there?!” She waited anxiously, but there was no answer.

Elly nervously reached for the door handle and clasped it in her hand, hesitating before twisting the knob and cracking the barrier open. She cautiously peered around the room from her position at the door, but everywhere she scanned the area was in chaos, seemingly from her father’s attempts to remove a painful chapter from his life.

The pictures of her mother were missing from the wall and even the bedside drawers she used were turned upside down and her personal items scattered about the floor. The bedding had been reefed from its base and deposited about the room while memorabilia lay in scattered piles of turmoil. Elly gazed dumbfounded at the turbulent mess, but her father was nowhere to be seen. She ventured a few steps into her father’s domain, imagining his pain etched into the very fabric of this intimate place he had shared with her mother.

As she scanned the destructive scene, her eyes rested on two tiny velvet boxes lying open, crushed and discarded on the floor. She quickly tiptoed over to the place they were lying and squatted down to investigate. A large diamond ring lay next to one crumpled box and a gold band lay a little distance away, still contained in another.

The consequences of the actions were clear; her mother had rejected and broken her vows to her father by callously thrusting the symbols of her commitment back at him and he had responded by forcefully discarding the rings, in a vain hope of erasing her from his memory.

It soon became evident that her father was not in the house and she began to wonder whether he had come home at all last night. With a heavy and anxious heart, she made her way back into the kitchen, trying to concentrate on the looming school day instead. As she approached the kitchen table, a scrap of paper lay in a crumpled heap towards the centre as if it had been thrown there. She stared at the note for a few uneasy seconds before willing herself to pick it up and read its content. As her eyes scanned the messy paper, she recognised her father’s handwriting and then the seven words scribbled across it tore at her heart.

Won’t be back until after this weekend.

 

~

 

Elly’s worried gaze reflected in the dirty windows of the school bus while she sat staring absentmindedly at the hilly scenery passing by the moving vehicle. The noise of younger students reverberated around the cavernous transporter, but she had blocked it out, concentrating on the ramifications of her father’s note instead. A nagging thought held her captive, pondering whether he had discarded her as well, in the fervour to distance himself from any reminder of her mother. The implications of spending the weekend alone in the house just added to her burden and a frustrated tear formed in the corner of her eye; the recollection and the curtness of the note made it appear overwhelmingly…

He had rejected her too.

She reached up to her face and swiped at the recalcitrant tear with her hand and ordered it not to make a scene. Instead, she tried to concentrate on her dream and the young man who had filled her emotions with longing; but to her dismay, the dream had faded and along with it, so had the strong feelings. She searched her memory in a vain hope to reconnect with the joyous sensations the young man had invoked in her; but it was gone, destroyed by the cruel reality of her bitter world and all that was left was just a faint hint of a tender and warm afterglow.

The rumbling movements of the school bus shifted into a tight turn and the action shook Elly from her musings. In front of her, the school buildings perched atop the hillside came into view and for now, she needed to forget about the dramas happening at home and redirect her thoughts into her school environment. The bus squealed to a halt at the entrance to the buildings; a cacophony of babbling noise assaulted her senses as the bus aisle filled with young teenagers eager to alight the lumbering vehicle.

Through the bus window, Elly scanned the moving mass of humanity milling around the classrooms and waiting for their day to begin. She searched the faces, looking for Tina’s familiar figure, hoping she’d be able to add some comfort and normalcy into her crumbling world. Soon she recognised Tina standing by a group of older teenagers, surveying the mass of exiting bus passengers, obviously searching for someone. Elly’s face crumpled and revulsion rose when she saw Tina holding hands with Danny Dickson, as if he had been suddenly and forcefully grafted onto Tina’s body.

As soon as Elly climbed down the steps off the bus and reached the sidewalk, Tina recognised her friend, broke from Danny’s clasp and excitedly rushed over to meet her, engulfing her in a BFF hug. “Elly, am I glad to see you!” Tina gushed.

Elly warmly returned Tina’s embrace and momentarily gazed past her to Danny Dickson, waiting impatiently for Tina to return to his side. Tina caught Elly’s disapproving glare staring past her and back at Danny Dickson.

“Come on, Elly, he’s cool. Give him a chance,” Tina implored, an adoring smile lighting her lips as she gazed back at the dorky teen boy and nodding her head as if he had given her an instruction and was demanding a response.

“You’re my best friend for ever, right?”

Elly nodded, wondering what Tina was leading up to.

“Danny has a friend who has a car and we have arranged with him to go away camping for the weekend, but here’s the catch. My parents wouldn’t let me go, until I told them you were coming with us.”

“You what, Tina?! I like your parents and I don’t want to lie to them!” Elly was indignant.

“Yeah, but if you come with us you won’t be lying. Come on, Elly, for me… please! Danny’s friend is way cool too and he has heard about you and wants to double date with us.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Elly grasped at her schoolbooks and pressed them against her chest, crossing her arms and locking the books into her grip as she stepped down off the school bus. The day had been reassuring in its familiarity and normalcy, but now as she walked the five minutes to her home, her heart pounded and her head began to ache in anticipation of a new domestic nightmare unfolding.

She hadn’t seen much of Tina all day and when she did happen to glimpse her, she was attached to Danny Dickson and surrounded by his crowd. Elly longed to confide in her best friend about her own troubles, but Tina was too distracted with Dickson to even notice her.

As Elly dawdled along the sidewalk, the well-known housefront came into view and shook her from her fractured thoughts. Unkempt lawns and dry spindly weeds protruding above shrubs and bushes advertised to the neighbourhood all was not well within the Parker residence.

Elly ambled up to the front door and grasped her books precariously with one arm, then reached around her neck for the gold chain and the front door key. With an unsteady hand, she leaned in to the door and threaded the key into the lock and twisted the tumbler, carefully pushing the door open once she had withdrawn the key and hoping her father may have changed his mind about not coming home.

She stood on the threshold for a moment, listening to the sounds of the big empty house. In an anxious voice she called out, “Dad!” But no one replied. Then with the gaze of a commando searching for a hidden enemy, she measured each step cautiously throughout the building, wondering what she would do if she came upon someone intent on doing her harm.

With her anxious search coming to an end, there was only one room left to check. Her eyes stared for a long moment, pondering the door to her father’s room and hoping she would find her desperate parent cleaning up the mess and assuring her she was still an important part of his shattered life.

She listened intently at the closed door and then slowly reached for the doorknob and twisted the handle, causing the door to give way under her guidance. Then pushing it further open, even now the chaos of the morning lay where it had fallen and in the pandemonium, nothing seemed out of place. Elly stared at the destruction so eloquently contained within the four walls, pondering the devastation with harrowing trepidation and feeling like she had been an innocent victim, too, callously discarded onto the bedroom floor with the other reminders of her father’s turbulent pain.

Elly sniffed back a tear, trying to convince herself that he still did care about her and the present circumstances would pass once he had had a chance to process his grief, but the thought wouldn’t help her cope with the next three nights alone.

Closing the door to the scene and satisfied the house was empty, she flicked on the kitchen light and then the passageway light, apologising in her thoughts to her dad for wasting electricity. Finding the door to her room once again, she pushed it open and locked it behind her.

The familiar surrounds of her sanctuary brought Elly immediate relief and even if the world beyond her bedroom was in tatters, the world inside it was not. She reached for her pink laptop, ran her fingers over the keys in an appreciative caress and then gently depressed the start up button. After manipulating the computer’s start up sequence, the familiar scene of her and Tina in an embellished hug, set as her desktop image, danced across her screen. It was a photograph her dad had taken only months ago when they were still a family and Tina was staying the night, just before she became interested in Danny Dickson.

The sudden, repulsive thought of Danny Dickson tore at her insides, and Tina’s animated plea to join her on a double date with Dickson and his friend on a dubious weekend camping trip rang alarm bells within her head. Being in Tina’s company on the weekend instead of being alone had its appeal, but she suspected Tina’s motives for the trip were to carry out her desire to go all the way with Danny, instead of enjoying a fun time together. The more she pondered the situation and the more Dickson’s greasy features came into her mind’s eye, the more revulsed she became. Even the thought of being in close quarters with Dickson was starting to make her feel creepy, and then another disturbing thought flashed across her imagination. What about Dickson’s friend? If he was as creepy as Dickson, which she suspected he was, what expectations did he have of her?

Elly’s stomach was in knots as she tried to put the distressing thoughts out of her mind, but she only had tonight to think about her answer before delivering her decision on Friday morning at school. She had promised Tina she would ask her parents and now that her dad was nowhere to be found, the decision was hers alone, leaving her in a quandary.

She knew Tina was intent on the camping weekend–with or without her–and no matter how she toiled with the decision, either way she figured she would let her BFF down.

Elly needed a distraction and decided to check her emails, finding her inbox stacked with mail… all from Tina. She excitedly opened the first email and sighed at the content. Tina was begging her to join her on the weekend trip and the more she read, the deeper the guilt Tina laid upon her. Finally, she finished reading Tina’s diatribe and opened the next email. It contained one word.

PLEASE!

As she worked her way through the remaining emails, they all contained one word, the same word.

Please!

Nausea began to rise at the stress and guilt Tina had piled on her, making it almost impossible for her to refuse, but she didn’t want to say yes to something that Tina may regret in time to come and let Tina or Tina’s parents down.

With the weight of her decision crushing Elly’s shoulders, she needed to confide in someone, someone who could be trusted to listen to her desperate thoughts and offer a solution.

She reached beneath her pillow with a searching hand for her silent confidant, and touching the hard cover of her pink diary as it brushed against her fingertips gave her a deep sense of hope.

At least it was still there and willing to listen to the deep cries of her troubled heart.

Elly drew out the trusted guardian of her inmost and secret thoughts, reached for her gold necklace, found the tiny key and inserted it into the diary’s lockable clasp. She turned the pink sheets over until she found the next blank page, before hesitating and searching her thoughts carelessly then putting to pen her guarded troubles.

 

June 7th

Dear Diary,

I feel so confused and my world is coming apart at the seams. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next few nights alone in this big, deserted house. I feel weak and totally freaked out at the thought of the coming days by myself, too. I sense Dad has rejected me, along with everything that reminds him of Mum; I know what she did was selfish and she was only thinking of her own happiness, but she did that… not me!

Why is he punishing me for what she did?!!!

Sorry, Diary, I didn’t mean to get angry at you and fill your beautiful pages with my blubbering snotty tears. Okay, I’ve got it together again; now where were we…?

This whole thing with Tina is just adding to my burden and I really don’t know what to do. It’s as if she wants me to collude with her against her parents in making a decision and I just know Danny Dickson will take what she wants to give and use her, and then when things go wrong, he will just leave her with the mess. If I say no and she gets hurt, I won’t be able to forgive myself. But, if I go and she gets hurt…?

Oh, Diary, please tell me what to do!

Elly lay face down on her divan, leaning her head on her hands and staring past the open diary on her pillow to the headboard of her single bed, deep in thought until her melancholy musings were interrupted by the kitchen phone. Thinking this could be her father wanting to tell her he was on his way home, she almost tripped over herself trying to get off the bed and answer the expected caller. Maybe her dad would come to her rescue and take the decision out of her hands.

She threw open her bedroom door and ran down the passage to the kitchen, then coming to an abrupt halt in front of the wall phone, she swiped at the incessant noise in a frantic, ill-timed snatch and almost dropped it. “Hello… Dad?!” she panted.

“Hello, is that Elly?” a woman’s voice enquired.

Elly deflated like a bursting balloon; the voice didn’t belong to her father and she tried hard not to let her disappointment show through. “Yes, it is.”

Elly, dear, it’s Donna Rankine, Tina’s mum. Can I speak with your mum or dad, please?”

Elly’s heart was pounding, wondering what she wanted with her parents and then the reason struck her like lightning. Tina would be listening to her mum trying to talk to Elly’s parents, discussing Tina’s camping trip and whether Elly was permitted to go.

“I’m sorry, Mrs Rankine, but neither of my parents will be home for a while,” Elly’s nerves jangled sharply talking to Tina’s mum, hoping she wouldn’t pry any further.

“Oh, I see. That’s okay, I just wanted to know whether they are allowing you to accompany Tina on the weekend trip with Danny’s parents.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

[]Chapter 4

 

Elly’s blonde hair tangled around her face and settled like soft velvet thread across her pillow. Her eyes were hollow and staring, matching the turbulent turmoil at war with her emotions. The focus of her unmoving gaze positioned on a spot on the far wall of her bedroom as she listened–frightened–to the noises of the big house settling in the cooling night air and keeping the desire for sleep far from her panicking thoughts.

Her bedside table light illuminated the familiar room, chasing the prowling caricatures of her imagination away from the stage of a desperately terrified theatre fuelled by too many late-night horror movies, and leaving her heart pounding violently in fear with each new unidentified creaking noise.

In contrary to her father’s rules, she defiantly decided the elegant little table lamp would remain on duty all night, ensuring she had full control of the frantic darkness and flooding her insidious world in a protective glow, even if it was only a deluded attempt to protect herself from the lurking unknown.

In a forlorn bid to find comfort, she twisted in her blankets, repositioning her body to face the opposite wall and at the same time swiping at her hair, keeping its long strands from blocking the view of her intimidating situation. A stab of worry and a growing sense of angry frustration crept across her mind, once again surveying the scene of her father’s bedroom in her memory and wondering where he was. She was sure she hadn’t deserved his abandonment, leaving her to cope with the fallout from his pain and apparent rejection… alone… or had she?

The unsettling thought kept her checking for any possible misdemeanour on her part that could have caused her parent’s action, but she dismissed all contenders that came to mind. She tried to reason from his painful perspective, but her reckoning was interrupted and chased away by the memory of the dreadful silence of his destroyed bedroom and the crushed images of wedding ring cases lying strewn across the floor.

A rogue tear slipped from the corner of her eye, tantalising her emotions to release the floodgates holding back the prickly feelings, but she refused them their right and her gaze settled on the bedside clock instead, stubbornly counting every moment of her ordeal. With the back of her hand, she swiped the tears from her eyes, clearing her blurry view and noticed it was just after midnight.

It was going to be a long night.

She’d reset her alarm clock an hour early to prepare the things she needed for the coming weekend; and that’s when Elly’s thoughts returned once again to the phone call with Tina’s mum and the deception she had been so cleverly forced to ally with. Not only did Tina trap her into an unwanted intrigue with Dickson and his friend, but now she was a silent collaborator in the deception of Tina’s parents too, believing their only daughter was going on a camping trip with Dickson’s parents, accompanied by Elly as an added protection mechanism.

In a naive bid to satisfy and relieve themselves of their parental obligations, and if Tina did have the suspected ulterior motives, Elly was supposed to play warden, averting their daughter’s desire to get herself into trouble. But in the process, they had knowingly and selfishly transferred their burden and responsibility to Elly to keep Tina from doing anything stupid, absolving themselves of any blame if anything went wrong, instead of just saying no to their determined and infatuated daughter and risking being seen as proper parents and not just their daughter’s buddies.

The growing pressure on Elly seemed insurmountable.

An involuntary shiver shook the mattress and blankets as she reacted to the growing apprehension of being in close company with Dickson and the horror she was sure awaited her of Dickson’s unknown friend.

She searched the circumstances, trying to focus on any form of positive in the weekend’s encounter and to her surprise, she did find something. At least the long hours until her dad came home wouldn’t be spent alone in the huge deserted house, isolated from other friendly human contact. But the nagging guilt of deceiving Tina’s parents kept eating at her; and the thought of Dickson’s greasy features close to her turned her stomach, making her feel dirty.

A loud bump from the ceiling just above her head unnerved her and sent a wave of fear-laden pins and needles prickling through her body. She held her breath, listening to the house, waiting for further confirmation she may be in trouble and someone was trying to break in.

After many long moments anxiously testing the silence, she let go of her breath and when no other threatening sounds could be heard, she relaxed again, hoping it was just the house settling into sleep and trying to get comfortable after a long day in the hot sun.

Elly worked up the nerve to move from her position cemented in her bed and craned her neck towards the door, checking to see the lock was still how she’d left it and the door was firmly closed against any intruder. Satisfied, she drew in another shaky breath and silently let it out in a effort to calm her nerves, hoping she could finally convince herself to relax enough to sleep.

In the distance, the sounds of dogs barking drifted in and out of the silence and then a car glided to a furtive stop against the kerb, lights extinguished in the hope of deflecting late-night prying eyes and avoiding detection. From the driver seat, a man dressed in blackout fatigues pressed against the darkness and blended invisible into the gloomy quiet surrounds.

Stealthy, like a big cat, he stole across the street into the safety of nearby bushes and momentarily cased the outside of the suburban house, driven on by the intoxicating smell of fear and mischief firmly on his mind. With steps as light as air, he drifted like a leaf to the backyard fence and with a determined, fluid movement he vaulted over the tall divider and landed softly, leaving the blanket of night undisturbed. Once again listening to the quiet, his probing, dark eyes reflected the starlight while he searched the exterior for an easy entry point.

Close to the back door, a large window gave a commanding view of the house interior and with a heavy cloth drawn from a pocket, he pressed against the glass until it bowed past the point of no return and yielded with a muffled crack. Then with a practiced hand, the subservient glass succumbed to the master felon’s touch and allowed the intruder unabashed access to the refugees inside, betraying those it was supposed to protect.

Into the kitchen the intruder crept, all the while the pungent odour of unwashed flesh preceded his journey and unwittingly announced his presence… the only evidence he could not disguise.

Making his way down the passage, he stopped outside the closed bedroom door and turned the handle, but was met with a resistance that kept him from the object of his search. He twisted the handle again with a greater force and this time, the lock melted under his superior strength, finally allowing him the prize he sought. The door creaked open, giving him the first glimpse of the sleeping form. She would soon be in his grasp and nobody could stop him now.

He moved closer until he was right over the top of her and bent to touch her face with faltering, shaking fingers and turbulent desires. His pungent body scent drifted in and filled the tiny space with a choking nausea and stole the purity from the room, replacing it instead with a trembling putrid gag while a knee depressed the mattress close to her, intent on finishing the mission he had embarked on.

Instead, the action shook her awake with a bone chilling… s-c-r-e-a-m!

Elly kicked at her blankets in a desperate bid to throw off her attacker, while her terrified scream echoed throughout the bedroom and down the corridor. In a confused panic, she sat bolt upright in horror, searching for the beast and ready to defend or at least plead for herself in any way she could.

The abrupt scene change bewildered her mind and her heart pounded as if it was going to jump from her chest, all the while preparing for a rapid and frenzied escape.

The pandemonium began to subside, realising the room was empty and undisturbed, her faithful bedside light still on duty and the door closed and locked as she had left it.

But the pungent smell lingered in her memory and tortured her conscious mind, a smell she knew all too well and it made her tremble.

Danny Dickson’s unwashed body scent!

Elly nervously peered around the room, checking off each indicator and trying to understand whether she’d had unwanted company or if she’d been visited by an overactive imagination, coerced and orchestrated by the unprotected night time fears.

As her heavy heartbeat subsided into a more subdued rhythm, it was soon obvious and confirmed by her clock she’d drifted off to sleep while the intensity of the day’s dramas had spilled over and invaded her sleep.

Feeling as if she had been violated by the dream of Danny Dickson, the depth of Tina’s selfish betrayal took on a new intensity. Elly wanted to back out of her forced decision to collude with Tina, spending a full weekend in Dickson’s company, but every angle of escape was fraught with treachery, trapping her into a situation she was dreading.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 5

“Dramble, please stop pacing; you are making me nervous! I shouldn’t be here with you anyway; I should be back at my post. You know what the punishment is for deserting a designated station; and the stakes get even higher if something happens while I am absent!”

Dramble stopped in mid stride and turned to face his friend. “It’s your fault I am in this mess anyway, Puncher! If you had been doing your part properly, none of this would have happened!”

“How do you work that out?!” Puncher complained.

“Never mind, I have greater worries than arguing with you at the moment. We need to work something out before this whole situation unravels nastily.”

We… Dramble?!” Puncher’s small face stared back at his friend with an eyebrow cocked unceremoniously.

“Yes, we! You and me. It may even require direct intervention.”

“D..direct intervention…! Are you mad, Dramble…?! The handbook emphatically prohibits such a tactic and we are supposed to report this type of event to our superiors!”

Dramble sighed loudly, his head and shoulders slumped forward in defeat. “I know, Puncher, but I just can’t,” the small voice was low and straining with emotion. “If I report this, they will reassign me. I just can’t let that happen.”

With a troubled demeanour, Puncher moved closer to his friend and lifted his head with a finger and gazed into Dramble’s teary eyes. “You haven’t…?” Puncher whispered hoarsely, concerned that his friend had committed the worst trial the handbook listed. “Oh… Dramble! How could you let this happen?!”

Dramble pulled away from Puncher’s stare and tried to hide his feelings. “I didn’t do it deliberately; and I know it’s wrong!”

Puncher sighed; he had heard of this type of thing happening before but had never experienced it and now his best friend was firmly entangled in its tentacles. He couldn’t bear to see the hurt and worry in Dramble’s forlorn features.

“I can’t believe I am even contemplating this, but seeing though it’s my fault!” Puncher glanced across at Dramble with a nervous smile, watching his reaction to his speech. “We had better get started then. What do you plan to do?”

 

~

 

Elly awoke with a start and peered around the surrounds, staring through gritty eyes at the sunlit room. The alarm had broken into her disturbed sleep and it took all of her resolve not to strike the mute button, silencing the herald of doom and returning back to sleep.

Even after her strange nightmare had faded, the unmistakable body odour lingered in her subconsciousness, unsettling the seventeen year old even more and making her dread the coming few days.

She made a move to throw off the blankets and stood, but as she did her head felt light and dizzy. Pausing for a few moments for the giddiness to pass, she pressed her eyes closed and then open again, steadying herself against the bed frame with a shaky hand and waited for the room to stop spinning. Soon the room came into focus, but a thudding pain stretched itself across her mind followed closely on its heels by a sudden bilious urge, causing her to fight to regain control of her body and stuff the desire to retch back down into her stomach.

Cautiously, she unlocked her bedroom door and peered nervously into the passageway, but all seemed in order. She decided to check the back window to confirm the nightmare was just her imagination gone wild. Elly peered around the passage wall and studied the back door and the window from a safe place out of view.

The door seemed solid against the outside and the window stood undisturbed, still keeping the fleeting fears of the night at bay. Satisfied, she sighed in relief and made her way to the shower, attempting to wash away the tremors of the night and basking in the soothing luxury of steaming hot water.

Feeling more optimistic after her shower, she dressed for the day and prepared for the weekend, gently folding clothes into her backpack that would be appropriate for two nights in the bush.

In a late night email, Tina excitedly assured Elly the boys had taken care of the sleeping arrangements and food, but it hadn’t even crossed her mind this statement alone should have rung alarm bells.

All Elly had to supply was herself and her clothes for the weekend.

Finally, and with a sense of foreboding, Elly stood at the threshold of the big empty house, backpack slung over her shoulder and paused for a moment, peering around at the vacant entry hall and wondered what the next few days would bring. She couldn’t shake the awful memories of the past few weeks and as she closed the front door, the secrets of her shattered life were silenced and entombed in the big house’s walls. The finality of the lock as it thunked closed, steeled the house against intruders and sealed inside her broken family life.

Somehow, she felt relieved to leave the sadness locked away and try to make the best of her new situation.

 

~

 

At the final bell for the day, Elly and Tina made their way into the girls’ change rooms and quickly exchanged their school uniforms for neat jeans and blouses. Danny Dickson stood leaning against the change room wall, peering out into the busy car park and waiting for the signs of his friend’s car to come into view. It didn’t take long for a familiar rumbling noise to enter the massive congestion of vehicles and students gridlocking the car park. The rumbling exhaust was familiar to Dickson and although he couldn’t see his friend yet, he certainly could hear him.

As the girls exited the change rooms, Dickson’s attention quickly diverted from searching for his friend while an unmistakable leer ran up and down the figures walking towards him.

Elly felt uncomfortable as she met his eyes, knowing the leer had been directed at her instead of Tina.

Tina had seen the unchaste stare too and a jealous frown settled over her features, firing Elly a warning glare across her bow and diverting Dickson’s leer back to her with an envious tug on his arm. Tina and Dickson disappeared into a quiet huddle close by, leaving Elly standing alone, watching the couple arguing while Tina animatedly read him the riot act.

Then from out of the crowded car park, a small sedan pulled up in front of Elly, its exhaust chugging like a demented fly with a megaphone. Elly stared at the occupant through dirty windows, hoping this wasn’t Dickson’s friend, but as Dickson broke away from Tina in mid threat and excitedly dragged his friend from the driver seat, her worst fears became reality.

An overweight, short stubby boy stood before Elly; his thick glasses accentuated his bloodshot eyes and greasy black hair sat like a bird’s nest over his shoulders. The shirt he was wearing was stained with food and the buttons were all undone, displaying an off-white coloured singlet hugging the mountainous form of his belly.

“Elly. This is Zig!” Dickson gushed, full of excitement.

Elly gagged as a swirling cloud of body odour caught up with his features and she tried not to be rude and show the disdain on her face. She held out her hand to greet the boy and after he shook it, she discreetly backed away.

From her position some distance off, Elly heard Dickson excitedly proclaim to Zig, “Told you she was a babe!”

With the bags loaded into the small trunk, Dickson had to lean on the lid for it to close properly. Elly stood next to the car expecting to occupy the back seat with Tina, but Tina shook her head and pointed Elly to the front seat. The two girls locked eyes for a moment, an unspoken battle raging with raised eyebrows, frowns and disapproving glares until Tina tilted her head onto the side and nodded defiantly towards the front seat.

Dickson and Tina climbed into the back seat and slammed the door shut, ending the mime and leaving Elly with no other option but to comply with Tina’s demands. The front door swung open from inside under Zig’s excited guidance, while Elly couldn’t help a glare of disdain at the floor covered in empty pizza boxes and beer cans. She took a big breath and lowered her elegant frame into the car and pulled the door closed then wrapped the fraying seat belt about her, aware that Zig was watching every move she made.

Elly, gasping for fresh air, tried to wind down the complaining window, but the window stubbornly refused to comply and Zig had to wrestle with the obstinate glass from the sidewalk for fifteen minutes before they finally set off. Elly cautiously smiled her appreciation, more from survival then honour.

The small megaphoned fly blurted and burped its way through the crowded city streets, keeping Zig busy and finally burst onto the open country roads.

“Where are we going, Zig?” Tina’s voice drifted over the back seat, breaking the uneasy silence in the front of the vehicle.

“Bally Bally,” Zig shouted back.

“Where?!” Tina exploded.

“It’s about five hours from the city out in the middle of nowhere. Nothing there but a deserted campsite on a remote hill.”

“Mmm, that sounds idyllic!” Tina turned back to Dickson and cuddled uncomfortably into his arms, restrained by the length of the seat belts.

After a few hours, Zig turned down a dirt road and sped up, fishtailing and showing off to an unimpressed Elly. She grasped at the seat belt in fear, wanting to tell the boy to slow down but feared another unwelcome, disapproving glare from Tina.

Soon, sickening slurping noises could be heard coming from the back seat as Tina and Dickson mixed their saliva, making Elly feel sick. She caught a glimpse of Zig watching them in the rear vision mirror and her stomach churned even more, hoping he wasn’t getting any ideas.

She jumped as Zig reached for her seat belt and unbuckled it, grasping at her arm and trying to draw her closer. She desperately shook her head, fighting off his advances and pushing his hand away from her.

The car unexpectedly lurched on the gravel road and sideswiped a large tree, sending a shudder through the tiny vehicle while the rear tyres mounted a gravel berm and threw the car fishtailing uncontrollably down the gravel track until–in slow motion–the vehicle flipped and crashed, barrel-rolling into the thick native bush and spilling clouds of red dust into the cloudless blue sky.

An excited and horrified voice screamed across the cacophony of breaking glass and bending metal.

NOW, DRAMBLE…! NOW!“

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 6

Dramble stooped worriedly over Elly’s prostrated and unconscious figure, hoping he had acted at exactly the right time to save her life. If he had messed up the timing, Elly may still perish and he would be banished from his world forever, for nothing.

It wasn’t until Puncher’s shocked features appeared, surveying the unfamiliar scene in horror, did the gravity of what Dramble had done finally sink in. His eyes diverted from Elly momentarily and concentrated on Puncher’s uncontrolled babbling, mindlessly foaming at the mouth about the path, the signs fading and having to get back before he too was trapped and separated indefinitely from his designated post.

Dramble’s stomach knotted tighter in concern and a frustrated tear threatened to spill down his dimpled cheek. Maybe his stubborn desire to protect Elly from her fate may have set some irreversible chain reaction in place that could have devastating effects on the delicate balance of the known world.

“What have I done?” Dramble whispered desperately, peering down at the beautiful blonde girl’s unmoving outline, then kneeling beside her in a guarded pose and without thinking, repositioned her velvet locks from obscuring her pretty face with a gentle stroke of his finger.

Puncher approached, gawking around Dramble’s concerned posture and down at Elly’s unmoving form. Fearing the worst, he compassionately placed his hand on Dramble’s shoulder, feeling his longtime friend’s pain and grief.

In a reflex action, Puncher’s attention suddenly turned to their exposed position, sheltered only by lifeless trees and bush on a small, blackened hill. Then with a gasp, he scrutinized the desolate scenery, convinced Dramble’s concern for Elly had left him blind to his new predicament.

Caught between his friend and duty, Puncher’s time was growing shorter and he had to make a decision: either go back to the entry point before it closed off his escape or stay and remain trapped in this strange place, too. Anxiously, he scanned the incredible surrounds and then back at his friend, knowing Dramble wouldn’t leave Elly and any attempt to convince him otherwise would be futile.

As if in slow motion, Puncher threw his arms around Dramble in a panicked embrace. “May the Son forgive us for what we have done and may God be with you, Dramble. I have to go before I am trapped here, too. Forgive me, my friend, but I cannot stay!”

Puncher’s embrace tightened around Dramble and Dramble returned the hug, knowing full well they had done something expressly forbidden but had no idea how far reaching the consequences or what the outcome of their actions could possibly be.

“Thank you for your help, Puncher; I will not forget this. Now go! Leave before you can’t find your way back,” a tremor accompanied Dramble’s speech, hoping his friend wouldn’t pick up on his trepidation and waste time trying to convince him to return.

Dramble’s faltering gaze followed his friend, tracking his own footsteps back to the place he had come in and then turn to signal his final adieu, but just as Dramble lifted his hand to wave back, Puncher vanished into an illusion of brittle gnarly trees, dead thorny shrubs and burnt black sand.

Dumbfounded and now sentenced to this strange new place, Dramble rushed to the spot where his friend had disappeared, but finding only an impenetrable mass of lifeless vegetation and no indicators that Puncher had ever been there.

Even his footprints were now gone.

The finality of Dramble’s choice expressed itself in a nervous swallow. It appeared that wherever they were, was now a permanent addition to their landscape and if Elly survived, she would need his unseen guidance more than ever now.

But what if she didn’t…? What then?

Dramble began to panic, disoriented and disgusted, staring at the desolate scenery starkly contrasting the accident site and wondering where they were, and whether his actions had contributed to the destruction he currently overlooked. As far as the eye could see, black and charred remains of small, crumbling brick buildings, reduced to rubble, spilled into once tidy suburban streets and littered the horizon in what loosely could have been described as some kind of city.

The sun appeared to be on a collision course with the earth, strangely close to the horizon and enormous against the backdrop of the sky. It’s massive size reflected distressing red shadows across the panorama, but too impotent in its power to light the landscape properly. Dramble felt a chill tease the back of his neck. The sentinel that had stood guard over the earth for millennia, heating its surface and driving the weather systems, was now more like the full moon on a cloudy and brisk night, even making it difficult to guess the time of day. It seemed to smoulder in its orbit, constantly surrounded by dirty smudges and brown, polluted fog while the atmosphere reeked with the heavy scent of stagnant sulphur.

Dramble pulled in a cautious breath and held it for many seconds, staring up at the huge spherical ball in awe and at the same time straining his hearing, hoping to identify the slightest movement. But the ambience was as still as death; not even a bird disturbed the bizarre quiet.

Then unexpectedly, a groan nearby caught Dramble’s attention and severed the silence. Instinctively he spun around, searching for the disorder and directed his gaze back to where Elly was lying. She began to stiffly move and attempted to raise herself unsteadily into a sitting position while gawking around, trying to come to terms with her fuzzy surroundings. Relief flooded through Dramble’s body and the familiar protector instinct arose, pushing down his own astonishment and disbelief, then rushing to her side in a desperate bid to offer her his assistance.

“Oh…! I feel awful, where am I?” Elly rasped hoarsely, holding her head, trying to maintain herself in a sitting position and make sense of the stark, tangled bushy scenery.

Dramble sighed in frustration. “I don’t know, Elly,” he answered, thinking she wouldn’t be able to see or hear him still, while his spoken reply was more for his benefit than hers.

“Who are you?”

Elly’s innocent deep blue eyes unnerved Dramble, as if she was gazing into his very existence and trying to determine whether he was a threat. The unexpected question disturbed him; she shouldn’t be able to see him at all. But to his shock, she seemed to be scrutinizing him as if she could see him, and her unmoving gaze caused him to stare back in disbelief.

A thought suddenly overtook him and he spun around, searching the area, making sure she was speaking to him, instead of someone else who may have stolen onto the stage, unnoticed.

“C..can you see me, Elly?” Dramble stammered, returning to her piercing gaze.

“Of course I can! What sort of a question is that and how do you know my name?”

Dramble dropped into a stunned silence and looked away for a few moments, trying to take stock of the strange situation, then finally he answered under Elly’s intensifying gape. “I have known you since you were a little girl, Elly.”

Dramble suddenly wondered whether the matter-of-fact statement was just a little too familiar and would lead to other questions he wasn’t sure he could–or should–answer. Elly’s incredulous and puzzled frown creased her delicate features. Dramble knew the questions were only going to get deeper.

“How could you have known me since I was a little girl when you don’t look to be more than a small boy of ten or so yourself?!”

Elly’s quick mind was working just fine and her injuries seemed to have faded. In an attempt to sidetrack her, he turned the direction of the conversation, “How are you feeling, Elly?” deflecting her from any further interrogation.

Elly sensed the small boy was trying to divert her attention away from her questions. That’s when she finally noticed the destruction around her, stretching in every direction to the horizon and the huge red sun and weird sky that stood guard over it. The sight held her silent gaze for many moments, contemplating the devastation, her eyes big and round in astonishment.

Things just weren’t making sense.

To make the situation worse, a worrying recollection teased her mind, adding to her confusion. Then turning her attention back to Dramble, she sighed heavily as if she was trying to recall her thoughts. “I seem to remember… a car… tumbling over and over and crushing metal and shattering glass.”

Then realisation dawned in an explosive recollection.

Tina…!” she gasped suddenly. “Is she alright?!” The concern etched deeply on Elly’s features and she searched the vista frantically, expecting to see some trace of the car accident. But finding nothing she recognised, another astonished thought demanded an answer, raising a concerned red flag and hoping her suspicions were wrong. “A..Am I… dead?!” Her eyes hollow with fear, Elly gawked past Dramble to the destruction once again and expected to hear him confirm her demise and that this desolate place was the land of the deceased.

Dramble’s voice set in a baritone whisper, seemingly too deep for his age. “No, Elly, you’re not dead; that’s the only thing I can be sure of at the moment.”

She sighed in relief, but Tina’s unknown predicament and the outcome of the accident was still bothering her.

“As for Tina and your other friends, I just don’t know. I can’t explain where we are or why you can see me, either. It’s all a big mystery to me also. By the way, my name is Dramble; that’s two things I know for certain.”

Elly tilted her head in surprise and studied the small boy in front of her. “Dramble? That’s an unusual name for a boy; and why wouldn’t I be able to see you?”

Her incredulous voice was suddenly interrupted by a small scraping movement among the nearby ruins. The noise, in usual circumstances, may have gone undetected but in the deathly quiet that surrounded them, it sounded like an enormous ruckus.

“Sshh!” Dramble ordered, stopping Elly before she could reload with another question and listened to the stillness with caution.

There it was again, the same commotion but this time, closer.

“I don’t know what that is, but until I can figure out where we are and whether we are in danger, we had better hide. Can you move okay?” Dramble whispered.

Elly cautiously pushed herself to her feet, bending her body to conform with the camouflage of the bush and waited for signs of pain, but everything seemed willing to function. Momentarily distracted from her questioning, she concentrated on Dramble’s warning instead. “I think so,” she whispered back, scanning the ruins nervously for signs of danger.

Dramble instinctively held out his hand and Elly willingly took his offering, reassured by his small, but strong grip.

Feeling Elly’s warm, soft hand in his, a new realisation suddenly struck him: they could communicate physically, too. As he led her away from their exposed position in the charred hillside bush and secreted themselves into the relative safety of the confused ruins further down the slope, Dramble pondered this strange new development with a mix of concern and euphoria, but keeping a watchful eye in the direction the ruckus had come.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 7

Elly limped into the safety of a burnt out structure and with Dramble’s help, lowered herself painfully to the floor. The imposing, crumbling skeleton of four walls stood intact around her, but the roof was missing, giving a clear view to the darkening, smoky-red sky directly above them. The concrete floor had a covering of rubble and fine copper-coloured dust which kicked up easily with any movement, no matter how small or unintentional.

She’d stumbled and rolled her ankle trying to keep up with Dramble’s brisk pace, picking her way quietly through the ruins and over charred bricks seemingly scattered like colossal black Lego building blocks as far as the eye could see, after a Goliath-sized child’s tantrum had left the scene in angry disarray. Dramble negotiated the ruins with ease, but Elly slowed them down, having to pick her way cautiously over piles of loose bricks and rubble, being conscious to minimise any noise she was making. Placing her foot on top of a block that had looked solid, but the block had crumbled under her weight and sent her crashing heavily to her knees and at the same time, rolling her ankle painfully. Determined not to cry out, she’d covered her mouth with her hand while her face contorted and turned crimson against the pain.

In an astonishing move and fraught with concern, Dramble had scooped her up and effortlessly carried her across the remaining debris, nimble like a mountain goat, until he found an acceptable place to rest and re-evaluate their situation. The surprises associated with this small boy just kept coming; he hadn’t even flinched under her weight and carried her without signs of strain.

Dramble peered out through a crumbling opening in one of the walls where a substantial window pane used to be and searched the surrounds, taking stock of potential threats and signs of movement. While he was distracted, Elly studied his back in wonder and puzzled over her strange new companion, working up to a storm of questions in her mind but meticulously picking her time to unload her concern and curiosity. Elly leaned her back cautiously against the blackened wall, the pain from her fall muffled by whimpering gasps. As she reached down to inspect her injured ankle, it was evident the damaged limb was beginning to swell and for the short term at least, her rock hopping jaunts had come to an abrupt end.

“Let me take a look at that,” Dramble stooped beside her as she watched him gently prise the runner from her foot and expose an angry black bruise. He stretched her foot as far as he dare until Elly winced in pain, forcing him to abandon any further manipulation. “It’s not broken, but we’ll have to give it some time to heal. I think we’re relatively safe here for the moment.”

Elly shivered involuntarily; the insipid red sun was setting swiftly and the chill was intensifying dramatically. “I’m cold!” she whispered frailly, feeling the wall and the concrete floor stealing her body heat while the pain in her foot exaggerated her discomfort.

Without thinking, Dramble positioned himself beside Elly sitting in the growing darkness, kicking rubble from his path in the process and stretched out his feet with his back against the wall; then once he had settled, he patted the top of his leg with his hand. “Here, use my leg as a pillow.”

Elly stared at the boy with a questioning gaze; his grey eyes were soft with concern and displayed a maturity that far outweighed his size. She wondered if somehow this small person was as familiar to her as he claimed and in a strange kind of way, she felt an odd sense of comfort in his presence.

Another shuddering chill trembled through her body and finally convinced Elly to trust his intentions; she stretched out across the concrete floor and self-consciously lay her cheek on his leg, swiping her blonde locks from tangling around her face in the same instance. Awkward uneasiness soon gave way to an electric warmth that tingled up and down her body and the chill drained away. Even her foot became less painful.

Elly felt the gentle touch of the small boy stroking her hair, but even this seemed natural and loving, not threatening and violating. Soon her eyes began to close under the weight of exhaustion and Dramble’s gentle caress, drifting contentedly into a deep sleep as if she lay in the security of her own bed.

 

~

 

Soft mist swirled and parted, gently stirred by an unseen hand in the warm morning sunshine, while small honeyeaters chimed and darted above her head and teased her with their call, eager for her to follow their beckoning play. A mellow rumble echoed in the distance and rolled off the sheer valley walls, accentuating and drawing her attention to the lonely, meandering path with its low growl.

Elly gazed excitedly at the scene unfolding in front of her and before long, she recognised the green velvet carpet of rainforest surrounding her on all sides. A gentle breeze blew from somewhere and then impish laughter giggled across the swaying, long stemmed flowers. Blues and pinks collided with yellows, greens and lilacs, all happily tittering and tantalising Elly’s heart with joy.

She gazed delightedly around the panorama and searched the swaying colour, hoping to catch a glimpse of the green-eyed young man who had enchanted her with the promise of romance. Her eyes pursued the path like the steady beam from a lighthouse, the place where she had last seen the enchanting apparition. At their last brief encounter, time had been against them and they were parted before they could touch, leaving her with an overwhelming ache in her heart.

From out of nowhere, a gentle drizzle fell from the heights above her. She closed her eyes and lifted her head to the sky allowing the soothing raindrops to caress her face, spill down over her lips and trickle onto her tongue. Its taste, sweeter than honey, lighting her senses into a fury of passion unlocked her feet in an elegant pirouette, then dancing and leaping with pleasure and sending her long blonde hair cascading and shining about her like icy velvet, while her white gown twirled about her graceful figure in an appreciative response. The flowers giggled louder and seemed to be applauding her giddying dance.

Then at last a murmur, a soft, teasing tone tugging at her heart strings and the moment she had dreamed and ached for, whispering her name and drifting across the valley like fine expensive perfume but laced with such tenderness and emotion.

Elly… come to me, pretty lady, the man whispered, almost despairing.

Elly searched frantically for the voice and then her gaze fell upon the young man standing in the middle of the path, one hand outstretched to her, beckoning her nearer with a huge perfect single rose, singing a haunting love song in his other hand. His green eyes brilliant like erupting suns, mesmerising her, drawing her closer and closer, her heart burning within her chest. Her floating steps were frantic trying to get to his side but she couldn’t feel the ground under her feet; instead, drifting like a mirage ever closer to the focus of her desire.

Elly held out her hand to the apparition and suddenly they touched, igniting the atmosphere and sparking like lightning cascading through all the colours of the rainbow around them. He drew her, stunned by surging electric passion and hypnotised by his deep green eyes floating ever closer, unable and not wanting to resist the magnetic pull into his waiting embrace.

Closer and closer until his sweet, hot breath teased her skin, sending a blissful shiver prickling through her body and feeling like her heart was going to burst.

Then in mind-numbing expectation, her emotions melted, erupting in a cascading explosion of romance and floating in a euphoric cloud as the warmth and softness of his kiss on her lips stole the breath from her lungs.

“Elly…! Elly…! Wake up, girl, I think we’ve got visitors,” Dramble’s frantic whispered voice broke into the darkness, shaking her awake and shocking her out of her pleasurable encounter.

It took a while for Elly to refocus and come to terms with her surrounds, her heart still pounding and her body tingling from her romantic rendezvous with her dream man. A huge sigh filled the quiet, causing Dramble to stare at Elly’s silhouetted shape in concern, thinking she had woken in pain.

“I just had the most delightful dream,” Elly confessed, sighing again and unconcerned about the potential threat Dramble was concentrating on.

Dramble couldn’t see the euphoric smile on Elly’s face in the dark, but he could hear the intense sighs and feel the heat radiating from her face. “The green-eyed man,” Dramble whispered quietly and drawing a shocked gasp from Elly.

A sudden movement from outside, followed by spilling bricks and then a frustrated moan, caused Dramble to act quickly and cover Elly’s mouth with his hand, silencing her unguarded shocked response before she gave away their hiding place.

“This looks like a good place; let’s put it down here and get out of this graveyard!” a gravelly voice rasped, whispering to his companion.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 8

Dramble listened carefully to the sounds of the strange night, holding his breath as the tinkling of bricks clinking against one another died away into the distance while the morbid silence descended over them once again. Whoever their visitors were, they didn’t have any qualms about disturbing the quiet and weren’t intent on staying around either, relieving the need for Elly and Dramble to escape their shelter in a desperate and awkward bid for freedom. At least if anyone tried to approach their hiding place in the depths of quiet that surrounded them, they couldn’t do it stealthily, without the clinking rubble announcing their arrival.

Convinced the threat had dissipated for the moment, Dramble removed his hand from Elly’s mouth and apologised for his actions then climbing to his feet, he stole over to the window frame and peered out at the wall of darkness, hoping to gauge what their visitors had been up to.

The sky was almost totally black with an lone red blinking star, winking as if it was intensely irritated, frantically trying to recover from a mortal wound and making it almost impossible to survey the landscape.

He felt Elly’s presence disturb the still air beside him and her dark outline silhouetted against the crumbling window frame by the struggling light of the single star. Dramble gazed at Elly’s darkened features, watching the light of the star reflected in her wide and staring eyes, stunned into horror at the unexpected night sky.

“It’s so dark. Where’s the moon?” she whispered quietly, as if she was staring into the face of death itself.

“I don’t know, Elly.”

The defeated tone in Dramble’s whispered voice surprised her; somehow he knew more about what was going on than she did, and she wanted answers. A new chill shuddered through her body, causing her to shiver loudly while her teeth chattered together.

“C’mon, let’s try and get some sleep again,” Dramble offered, knowing he could at least protect her from the cold.

“Only if you tell me what’s going on,” Elly shivered, stubbornly turning to face the place where Dramble’s small frame stood.

Dramble pulled in a breath and let it out again quietly, but in the total absence of noise it sounded like he had shouted it. “Alright. I’ll tell you what I can, but some things I’m not permitted to disclose,” he whispered harshly.

Elly’s curiosity was piqued and about to explode; she played his words over and over in her mind, wondering who the authority was that had set the gate over Dramble’s willingness to talk.

It didn’t take long before Elly had settled back into her previous posture, settling her head onto Dramble’s leg and instantaneously the warmth returned, as if he had covered her with a thick comforter. Almost immediately, she felt at peace and had to fight hard to keep her eyes open and not drift back off to sleep.

Elly yawned, covering her mouth with her hand and pulled in a deep breath, but once she had recovered she sleepily announced, “Okay, Mr Dramble, tell me what I should know.”

Dramble fidgeted nervously, disturbing Elly’s pillow. She lifted her head momentarily, allowing him to settle comfortably before replacing her head back on his leg. He cleared his throat and searched for the place to begin his fantastic tale without betraying the rules that had been so meticulously drummed into him. The silence extended as if he was doing a mental stocktake, dismissing some information and trying to put words to others.

Finally, Dramble’s unsteady voice broke the silence and if Elly hadn’t seen the small boy’s image, she would guess the voice belonged to a mature man.

“Where we are now and how we got here, I can’t tell you.” Dramble could almost hear Elly’s complaint growing in the silence. “Not because I won’t. I just don’t know, Elly,” Dramble cut off her objection before she could voice it. “I do know that the accident had something to do with it.”

“Then you were there at the accident?”

“Yes,” Dramble whispered.

“Were you a witness, standing watching from a distance?” Elly could feel Dramble’s reluctance to talk and her frustration was growing.

“Yes, in a way I was a witness,” Dramble steeled himself, waiting for the questions he was sure would come. The silence between the two people seemed to separate them like a stony wall, until Elly filled the uncomfortable standoff.

“You said you have known me since I was a little girl. How could that be and how did you know about my dream and the green-eyed man?!”

Dramble swallowed hard, knowing he couldn’t answer her truthfully without divulging the secret life he was expected to protect at all cost. He sighed heavily, divided between loyalty and the love he felt for the blonde girl. “I… I can’t answer you, Elly, and I don’t want to cover over my mistakes by misleading you!” Dramble’s desperate plea echoed around the ruins.

Elly caught the sincerity in Dramble’s emotional voice and her tone softened, knowing this small boy had no intentions of wilfully harming her and had protected her since the moment they’d met.

The tense atmosphere stretched for what seemed like hours, until Dramble startled Elly’s focused thoughts by his whispered speech. “I long to tell you about things too wonderful for you to understand now, Elly, but I just can’t. I love you too much to hurt you and one day you will understand,” Dramble stopped abruptly as if he was considering a thought. “I can’t tell you how I know about your dream man or my knowledge of your life as a little girl, but I have a riddle that I am allowed to share with you and at the appropriate time, the meaning will be disclosed. If you remember it and explore it, everything will eventually make sense.”

Elly lifted her head from Dramble’s lap and stared at his outline with enquiring eyes. The depth of his feelings confused her more but strangely, she wasn’t afraid of his confession and somehow that love she sensed keenly, deep within her. “What’s your riddle?” she whispered softly.

Dramble shifted in his position, pondering whether the intelligent blonde young woman would guess the answer and expose his true identity before their appointed time. He had committed to telling her his riddle and if she guessed his true character, he wondered what ramifications it would have for both of them. He cleared his throat and searched for the words locked in a private compartment of his mind especially for this day. Then with a low rumble, the words escaped him, given the freedom they had longed for.

Out of your heart the tears I keep and when I am no longer, your knowledge is complete.”

Elly’s head settled back down onto Dramble’s leg again, puzzled but strangely warmed by his words and turning his poetic riddle over in her mind in wonderment. She felt his hand gently stroking her head, while the nagging questions seemed to fade and soon her eyes became too heavy to hold open, drifting into a tender, peaceful sleep.

 

~

 

The first red rays of morning stretched its chilly shadows over the ruins as the massive red sun peered painfully across the landscape, desperately trying to rise into the early morning sky but seemingly exhausted at the effort. The oppressive silence, however, remained, intensely dumb and formidable to their straining ears.

Elly’s night had passed in blissful sleep, but Dramble’s had been plagued by haunting, unanswered questions and the reason for the strange scenery they both had been cast into. Puncher’s words kept repeating in his mind. May the Son forgive us for what we have done. Dramble, in his exuberance, had manipulated his world and reached down into Elly’s to try and stop a less than pleasant experience for her, but somehow, their worlds had collided head on and welded themselves together in a maze of uncertainty.

Elly stirred, raising her head stiffly from Dramble’s lap and stretched, finishing her wakening gymnastics with a breathy yawn. Dramble drew his knee up to his chest, pumping his limb a few times to get the blood flowing again after all night in one position.

“Did you sleep well, Elly?” Dramble quizzed.

“Mmm, but you must have been awfully uncomfortable with me leaning on your leg all night.”

“Labour of love; it was no imposition,” Dramble smiled, but his stiff movements as he raised himself from the rubble and concrete spoke of a different scenario. He hobbled around the small, devastated room for a few moments until the stiffness left and then he cautiously settled in the crumbling window ledge, peering out at the ruins.

A strange sight a few hundred metres away caught his eye and he stared at it for many moments, trying to identify the image, obviously the subject of last night’s visitors.

Elly realised Dramble had locked his attention onto something outside of their protected sanctuary and positioned herself alongside him and tried to find what he was so interested in. “What is it?” she whispered.

“It appears to be a small table of some kind and it looks like plastic tubes on top of it; maybe it’s food,” Dramble whispered back.

“Food! Oh, that would be nice; I haven’t eaten in days,” Elly bubbled. “But who would bring food out here and from where?” Her inquisitive mind was putting words to Dramble’s thoughts.

“I don’t know; it all seems a bit too convenient to me,” Dramble ruminated. “Stay out of sight, Elly, and I’ll take a closer look.”

Dramble picked his way through the rubble, stealing closer to the unsteady table and peering around at the same time to see if he was being watched. He glanced back at Elly’s face, partly hidden by the ruins but clearly stressed and concerned for his welfare. The position of the table was exposed, while anyone with binoculars could be watching from any direction, but Dramble knew Elly had to eat to remain alive and this single fact pushed him on to the goal of his mission.

Camouflaged by piles of charred bricks, Dramble blended into the scenery and cautiously peered around and then turned his attention to the table again.

Feeling the anxiety prickling at his feet, he charged at the tubes with a swift movement, almost tripping on scattered bricks in his haste. Then with an arcing movement of his arm, he swiped at the table top, knocking the items to the ground and diving for a clearing in the rubble at the same time, executing a perfect commando-type operation without damaging himself seriously.

Laying where he had fallen, breathing heavily and with his heart pounding in his chest, Dramble took stock and listened, straining to identify the sounds he had been detected.

The agitated clinking of bricks close by caught his attention. Someone had seen him and they were rapidly closing in on his location. Dramble held his breath, wondering who or what was tracking him and how he could possibly defend himself.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 9

Disorientated, Dramble swiftly pulled his aching body into a crouching position and tried to hide behind a charred pile of rubble, leaving the contents of the tabletop strewn all around the ground near him. In a desperate attempt to avert the situation developing into a one-sided battle, he selected a comfortable hand-sized brick, weighed it in his grasp and waited for his assailant to approach, hoping to use surprise as a game changer.

He was only small, but he could pack a punch when needed.

The sounds of clinking bricks seemed to be exaggerated and the hunter was making no attempts at hiding his approach. Stumbling feet coming closer, set his adrenaline pumping as he grasped the brick in his hand tightly, intent on making a one-off impression that would stop his attacker dead in his footsteps. Holding his breath and listening attentively, the adrenaline surged unrestricted through his veins, winding his muscles into a tightly wound spring and worked his mind into a frenzy of attack.

Then suddenly, a long red shadow appeared over the top of his hiding place. Dramble drew in a sharp breath, shrieked like a banshee and pounced, lunging at his opponent with all the strength he could muster.

A shrill scream confused Dramble’s assault and he only just managed to divert the missile before he struck Elly with a force that would have seriously wounded her.

“Elly…! Oh my goodness, I nearly killed you! What were you thinking, girl?”

Elly dropped to her knees and hung her head, shaking with abject fear, realising she had only just managed to escape a serious blow at the hands of her only ally.

Dramble discarded the projectile with a flick of his hand, clinking loudly against other charred bricks as it found a new home among its comrades. He quickly bent to Elly’s shaking figure and pulled her into his embrace, comforting the quivering young woman. Then he placed a trembling finger under her chin and lifted her shocked, tear stained face to meet his eyes. She was still shaking as he spoke.

“Why did you leave the protection of the shelter?!”

Wiping at her eyes with a vacillating hand, it took a few moments for Elly to regain her composure enough to speak. “I… I saw you disappear from my view really suddenly and I thought something had happened to you. I panicked and came looking for you.”

It hadn’t occurred to Elly until she saw Dramble disappear how much she was relying on him to guide and protect her in this unfamiliar and desperate new place she found herself in and when he’d suddenly disappeared, the gravity of her situation was driven home.

She’d be alone… again!

The same hollow and panicked feelings cornered her. Recalling the chilling despair and intense fear of the big empty house at night and her father’s note, intending to leave her vulnerable and unprotected, closed in on her once again.

Dramble pulled in a huge breath, reading her emotions exactly as if she had explained in minute detail. “Well, you’re not alone, Elly, and as long as I am here, we will walk this strange place together.”

Elly stared at the grey-eyed boy in surprise; once again he had startled her with another astounding revelation of her inmost thoughts and tangled emotions without her voicing a single word. “How did you know that, Dramble?!” she quivered, holding his gaze with piercing, watery blue eyes, almost demanding an explanation.

“Lots of practice, Elly. Now, let’s collect these tubes and take them back to the shelter before we really are discovered.”

Elly continued to hold his gaze with a tense expression.

Dramble sighed loudly, frustrated with the laws that held his tongue dumb to her questions; he wanted to explain, but the rules just simply wouldn’t allow it. “The riddle, Elly; if you can decipher the riddle, then it will all make sense,” Dramble’s intense eyes were begging her to drop her line of interrogation.

Elly read the frustration in his demeanour and realised he wouldn’t–or couldn’t–open up and betray the source of his intimate knowledge of her. She turned the riddle over in her mind again, but nothing made sense. She sighed loudly, frustrated with the impossible rhyme. “Can’t you give me a clue, Dramble?!”

His answer was a deliberate dimply smile and a shake of his head. Elly felt a great empathy for this small boy struggling with her demands and for some reason, she accepted his terms for now and then as if to deter her even more, he quickly gathered the strange items strewn on the ground around them.

Once there was a substantial pile, Elly stacked the tubes high above his line of sight and into his outstretched arms, using them as a carry basket. Soon after Dramble’s arms were fully loaded, Elly took his arm and using her unhindered view, guided him through the rubble; in turn she limped alongside him, leaning on his strength and enabling her to painfully hobble back to the shelter.

“Are we there yet?!” Dramble quizzed, walking almost blind.

“Maybe!” she teased.

Dramble shot her a sideways glance around the load, wondering what she meant, then realised she was giving him a taste of the frustration he had left her with. Using his foot to feel around in front of him, remembering there was a step up into the ruined building, he stopped and his affronted soft grey eyes slowly and dejectedly searched hers, like a trusting Labrador puppy.

Elly experienced a powerful grief tussling at her heartstrings and her resolve melted. She felt drawn and intensely emotional, wanting to draw the forlorn figure into her embrace and shower him with her protective love and beg for his forgiveness. The crushing sentiments were confusing her and enticed her to relent on her tough stance towards Dramble, but at the same time, trying to make sense of her strange, intense feelings.

“O…kay! Just two more steps and then step up,” she said, averting his eyes and regaining control of her compassion.

Dramble smiled and his happy eyes assured her the puppy was safe; then he stepped up and using his periphery vision, could see the crumbling walls of the shelter engulf them while the crunching of crushed brick rubble under his feet alerted him to the safety of their refuge. The weight of his load began to lighten as Elly carefully unloaded his arms one tube at a time and then stacked them neatly against the wall. Finally, Dramble was free of his burden and he shook out his arms to relieve the pain and get the blood flowing again.

Giving Dramble a perplexing glare, Elly slid her back down the wall, relieved to be off her injured foot once again, at the same time grasping one of the tubes and turning it over with an enquiring expression on her face before shaking the contents. “This is strange looking food,” she said, listening to the contents rattle like a salt shaker. “You don’t suppose it’s a trap? After all, the only reason we suspect it is food is because of the label on the side that says so; and what of those creepy people we heard last night? It just doesn’t make sense,” Elly puzzled out loud.

“Well, I guess the only way we will know for sure is to open one and find out,” Dramble stated the obvious. “I’ll be the guinea pig and if I’m still kicking after a few hours, then it should be safe for you to eat.” Dramble took the long pill-shaped tube from Elly’s hands and examined the contour, searching for an entry point to the contents inside. Turning it over, he ran his hands up and down the vessel, pulling and twisting the container until it clicked under his hand and an end unfolded, like a door opening under the guidance of a spring and exposing a grey, sandy compound. Dramble stared at the grainy material with disdain.

“Let me see!” Elly excitedly hobbled alongside him, realising he had finally overcome the enigma of the container. Her lip curled. “Doesn’t look too appetising to me.”

Dramble licked his finger then dipped the moist appendage into the cylinder and drew out a number of grey crystals sticking to the tip and touched them to his tongue. The crystals quickly soaked up his saliva and tantalised his taste buds. With an abrupt swallow, the brew slid down his throat and energised his body, making him feel revitalised.

“Well…?” Elly prodded. “What does it taste like?”

“Strange, but nice. It almost seems like some kind of souped up survival ration.”

“Can I try? I’m hungry,” Elly begged.

“Not yet! Please be patient, Elly; I know you’re hungry, but we have to make sure this stuff is okay.”

Elly sighed and turned away, feeling her stomach complaining bitterly but she knew Dramble was only protecting her well-being and she reluctantly complied with his request. The hours seemed to drag by as Elly kept vigil over Dramble’s activities, closely watching every movement with great interest, but he seemed to be just fine and didn’t display any side effects of the grainy meal.

Finally, he relented when he felt nothing but satisfied gurgling coming from his stomach and a revitalised stride in his step. “Okay, Elly, I think it should be alright for you to eat now,” Dramble conceded, handing her the tube. “Just a little at a time though!”

Elly’s face broke into a happy grin as she took the tube from Dramble and poured a handful of granules into her palm and then licked the grains with hungry desperation. Quickly the substance drew the moisture from her tongue and then with a satisfied swallow, the brew warmed every part of her body and chased the hunger far from her mind as if she had eaten a three course meal.

“Mmm, that feels so much better already,” Elly purred. She turned her palm over to brush off the remains of her meal and as she did, the breath escaped from her lungs in a heavy insufflation.

Dramble!”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 10

Elly’s exasperated cry caught Dramble off guard and he spun urgently on his feet, abandoning his searching gaze surveying the scenery beyond the shelter through the crumbling window frame and refocused on Elly’s frightened face. She was staring at her upturned hand in shock, as if it was a foreign addition grafted on instead of her own limb.

Dramble quickly crossed the floor and took hold of her wrist, examining the strange crystals vibrating ever so slightly on her skin and wondered what this could possibly mean. “How much did you eat?!” Dramble quizzed, but the worried frown on his face disturbed Elly even more.

“About a handful. What’s happening, Dramble?!” she panicked.

Dramble fingered the vibrating grains, teasing them with his touch to see how they would react, but the tiny granules continued to pulsate, undisturbed by his prodding. “Do you feel alright, Elly?”

Elly’s blue eyes were big and round as she listened to the sounds and monitored the trembles of her body. Swallowing hard after a thorough mental search and discovering nothing untoward, she finally nodded. “I feel fine.”

Dramble swiped at the remaining granules with his fingers, knocking the remnants from Elly’s hand to the dirty concrete floor. “I don’t know what’s going on, but this is giving me the creeps,” Dramble muttered.

The matter-of-fact statement was laced with memories of Elly’s previous musings: You don’t suppose this is a trap, do you? sending an immediate prickly shiver through him.

“We need to monitor our bodies tonight for signs of trauma and maybe we should push on tomorrow and try to find another shelter or some answers about this strange environment. I desperately need to find drinking water for you, too,” Dramble worried.

Elly nodded in agreement; the granules, although filling, had left her mouth dry and now that Dramble had drawn her attention to the need for water, she felt even thirstier. Sliding her back down the wall into a sitting position, she became fearful her body would betray her and shut down under the duress of the strange meal. She held her breath, listening and feeling for signs of illness but nothing untoward appeared, while Dramble returned to his position by the window frame, resuming his survey of the surrounds.

His piercing gaze was intensely searching but his mind was diverted, concentrating on the strange vibrating crystals and the mysterious people who had deliberately set them out for someone to find.

What were their intentions and what effect would the strange substance they left behind have on Elly? Dramble’s troubled thoughts kept eating at him. Maybe I should have scrutinised the grey material longer before offering it to her.

His concentration refocused on the scene and for the first time his curiosity began to burn, deliberately asking the hard questions he had filed away at the beginning of their adventure while he tried to stabilise Elly.

The world she was used to was nothing like this new place, totally devastated and bereft of life. The residents who once populated these destroyed houses were gone without trace; and not even a bird or cricket moved or sounded in the breathless atmosphere. If not for the clear evidence that something had once been here and functioning, the scene may well have been acquiescent with the surface of the moon. Obviously something catastrophic had happened to cause such endless destruction; even the sun hadn’t escaped the melee and seemed to have suffered some kind of near fatal trauma.

Dramble stared directly at the huge red ball, but his eyes were unaffected by the celestial light’s usual burning power and seemed as if he was staring at the moon instead.

Then another disturbing thought crossed his mind. He hadn’t seen the moon at all the previous night and the sky was so dark with only one red star desperately trying to shed its injured light upon the situation.

Dramble’s concerned unanswered questions were starting to crowd out his ability to think clearly and once again, his thoughts drifted back to the accident and his interference in things he had no business interfering in.

Even if it was to save the girl’s life he was desperately fond of and didn’t want to lose.

He began to turn from the window and face the young woman to get perspective again. Elly was sitting on the concrete floor with her back against the wall, her knees bent slightly making an arch under her legs while her long blonde hair fell around her shoulders and lazily hung over her waist. Her head lay against the crumbling brickwork and her piercing blue eyes were closed, leaving her face expressionless but deep in worried concentration. Even in this unattractive stance, she was beautiful and Dramble’s heart melted all over again. He still needed to protect her and make the best of a dreadful situation.

 

~

 

The cold red shadows of dawn painted eerie shapes on the charred brick wall behind Dramble’s head. Elly was still asleep, laying across the concrete floor and using Dramble’s leg as a pillow; he stroked her soft blonde hair spread across his lap, enjoying its soft velvety feel under his hand. But sleep evaded him and he kept vigil with the inky night devoid of a moon, worrying about Elly and the bizarre events of the past two days and his part in manipulating their current circumstance.

He needed to find water for her also and quickly; the human body can survive weeks without food but regular water was a necessity to keep it functioning properly and alive. His tired gaze fell on Elly’s sleeping form; her regular breathing showed no signs of distress and to all intents and purposes, there didn’t appear to be any side effects of the grainy food they had consumed the night before.

Dramble peered up at the dull red sky through the open ceiling where the roof should have been. The atmosphere, confused by spiralling wafts of sulphurous vapour, insulated the wounded sun’s warming rays even further and deflected its heat back to the source, leaving the earth shivering in a numbing chill.

As he contemplated the awakening sky, an impression near the top of the wall caught his eye. He stared at the silhouette for a long moment, trying to decipher the pale white outline etched onto the charred black wall. Tracing the profile with his eye, he finally made sense of the contour and his mouth dropped open in shock as a cold shiver grasped at his spine.

The perfect shadow of a human body lay stamped onto the wall as if a bright light was reflecting the shape, but the sinister light–or the body–was nowhere to be seen.

Dramble couldn’t take his eyes off the ghoul-like brand, horrified by the implications the silent shape was alluding to, thankful it was high enough on the wall that Elly most probably wouldn’t see it. After the episode with the pulsating crystals on Elly’s hand, the unnerving imprint disturbed him further and added to the already nervous desire to evacuate the shelter at the earliest possible opportunity.

Elly suddenly moved, dragging his concentrated stare away from the image high above his head and refocused on the young woman, slowly grinding awake.

She lifted her head from his lap into a sitting position, yawning and stretching and then offered a revitalised, “Good morning, Dramble. Did you sleep well?”

With another stolen glance at the top of the wall, it took a few moments for Dramble to connect the movement from her lips to the question she was asking, but the tired gaze must have given him away and Elly interrupted his thoughts.

“No, you didn’t, did you?”

“H… how are you feeling, Elly?” Dramble managed to reply, diverting further questions.

She held his gaze for a few seconds and wondered why such an innocent question deserved the evasive tactic Dramble was becoming more proficient at. She was beginning to recognise when he didn’t want to answer a question, and it usually had to do with protecting her from some unseen trouble. Not wanting to pursue her already sleep-deprived companion down a frustrating road of avoided questions, she decided to trust his judgement and conceded the game until he wanted to talk.

She offered with a slight smile, “I feel terrific and even my foot seems almost new.” She twisted the injured foot in all directions to demonstrate her mobility.

Dramble stared at the foot gymnastics Elly was performing, adding to his concern and all too aware a badly twisted and bruised ankle did not usually repair itself overnight. “We have to leave here today and find water and another shelter,” Dramble abruptly changed the subject.

Elly reached for one of the granule tubes and turned it over in her hand. “Do we take any of these with us?”

Dramble studied the tube laying innocently in her hand and contemplated her question, but he couldn’t shake a nagging suspicion that the tubes were more than just a food source casually placed by a philanthropic benefactor. He also couldn’t deny the fact Elly seemed healthier this morning than she did when she went to sleep.

The small boy unintentionally glanced up at the roofline above them again and then quickly diverted his gaze, hoping Elly hadn’t noticed. “Yeah, okay, but just enough to keep us going and not enough to hinder our journey; we can stash the rest in a safe place. We have to move quickly and I’m just not certain what awaits us beyond the safety of these walls.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 11

A silent figure stole along a skinny, darkened tunnel using small hand grips equally spaced and meticulously carved into the hard face of the underground passage wall as a guide. Different recognisable shapes impressed into the hand grips indicated the traveller’s location throughout the extensive burrow, negating the need for telltale lighting to navigate through the labyrinth. If a dweller lost their bearings in the darkened maze, a quick examination with their fingers of the coded, guiding hand grips would soon reorient them and find their way back to safety.

Keeping the vast network of underground passages dark, quiet and unobtrusive was the only way to ensure the family survived the prying butchery of the feared black hooded ones. The superstitious and barbaric Alama Masu didn’t like the total darkness and only the desperately militant with something to prove would enter the subterranean world, searching for the family’s blood.

Attempting to confirm the figure’s location with the tips of their fingers, they grasped the next hand grip and together with the sounds of dripping water deeply wrapped around the stench of sulphur told the figure they were approaching the contaminated Pool of Strange Fire.

The pool, enticingly clear, was only a hundred metres from the concealed entrance to the extensive passageway system and the surface world, but its waters held a deadly secret to the uninformed thirsty. The life-giving liquid was contaminated, leaking the toxic adulterate of the charred ruins into the water and killing an unsuspecting parched victim in minutes with a horrifying flame that burned from inside out, if they were tempted to drink from its unconvincingly polluted reservoir.

Breathing deeply of the pungent sulphur and confirmed by the presence of loudly plinking water droplets, individually diving from the roof of the subterranean cavern and into the clear, deep water below, the figure stopped abruptly in their footsteps and turned in the darkness to face the direction they had just come. Holding their breath and peering back, listening for sounds that their intrigue had been detected but satisfied the tunnels were empty and their sojourn from the warm dark world would go unobserved, they pushed on into the chill and sudden dull light of the red shadowy surface, quickly disappearing among the chaos of the blackened ruins.

Eventually finding the barren hillslope and then backtracking to locate the drop-off point, it took several intense hours of frantic searching until finally, the object of their hunt came into view.

The unobtrusive table was roughly positioned where it had been agreed, leaving a determined smirk stretching across the wrinkled face and a hungry growl emanating from the depths of their stomach. It had been a long time since they had tasted real food and they were sick of the muck the family shared. It was just refuse, unbefitting a human being, compared to the invigorating and revitalising grey crystals now tempting their imagination.

The information leaked to the barbaric enemy was risky, but the food offered was well worth the gamble.

As the figure drew nearer to their prize, the smirk dropped and a concerned frown settled instead, leaving a betrayed glint rankling in the smouldering eyes.

The tabletop was empty and the tubes were nowhere to be seen.

Staring with an enraged glare and burning with treachery the figure swept the charred ruins, searching for a trap, until their glower settled on the palpable imprint of a struggle. The tubes had quite obviously been there, their impressions clearly evident in the dust of the coppery coloured soil, but disturbed by the tracks of another unidentified intruder.

Disapproving eyes scoured the scene, looking for evidence of the culprit’s whereabouts and the missing booty, then written in the coppery soil were two sets of footprints leading over piles of rubble and into a nearby ruin.

With clenched fists the figure fumed, someone or something had so easily stolen their expected rewards and left them with empty hands after they had borne all the risk. Or just maybe this was a deliberate betrayal. After all, the Alama Masu were known for their treachery and cruelty, while integrity wasn’t a key characteristic.

Feeling a shiver recourse through their body in a spiteful tingle, the chilling atmosphere bit at the nape of their neck and the teasing growl of a hungry stomach only fuelled their betrayal even further. The rancorous heart plotted revenge and with a determined huff, they spun on their heels and followed the track to the ruin, unsure what they would do to regain their spoil from the thieves.

Within metres of the blackened ruin, the hunter stumbled while attempting stealth, crossing a large pile of rubble. They stopped, motionless, chiding themselves for being so clumsy and announcing with absolute clarity their presence, at the same time listening intently for signs that their mission had been discovered.

But after many moments of undisturbed silence and standing perfectly still, they regained their nerve and continued towards the devastated building, following the tracks, driven on by gnawing hunger as well as a deep sense of violation.

The figure tentatively stepped up into the shattered building and peered around the crumbling door frame but the structure was empty, all except for the disturbed patterns in the dust of the concrete floor. Studying the patterns on the floor, it was evident that someone or something had been here and they had the prized tubes.

Not finding any clue of the prize or the thieves, the figure turned with a disgusted flounce, murder burning in their heart and retraced their steps, searching for the concealed path leading back into the warmth and security of the dark subterranean world before they were discovered missing.

 

~

 

Dramble and Elly had been walking for what seemed like hours, but the scenery hadn’t changed and they were still cautiously picking their way through destroyed buildings and piles of charred rubble, all the time watching for treachery.

The horizon in all directions seemed to offer the same answer to Dramble’s unspoken question, with apparent cataclysmic devastation going on ad infinitum. Not even a bird or insect moved in the polluted sky and what plant life he could identify, was long dead and withered.

The stillness of the day and the absence of wind suddenly struck Dramble as he watched his own footsteps kicking up copper coloured dust like small puffs of smoke in the violently silent and undisturbed atmosphere.

He waited again for Elly to catch up to the brisk pace he was setting. “Are you okay, Elly?” Dramble called back, reaching for her hand to help her over another pile of perilous rubble.

She took his hand, obviously struggling with his pace and used his strength to steady herself, descending off the latest charred mound and then stopped abruptly beside him, staring at her runners in disgust. They were black and the cuffs of her jeans were filthy, reflecting the dusty terrain surrounding them in all directions.

“Yeah, I’m okay, but I’m getting really thirsty and this dust is making my hair feel like straw,” she complained.

Dramble’s concern was beginning to grow; he had to find water for her and quickly, but there just didn’t seem to be any indicators to give him confidence he would find anything soon. The only bright spot was the cool of the day while the big, impotent red sun seemed incapable of heating the scene above a chill.

A plan was beginning to form in his mind.

He could move a lot faster on his own and if he could find a safe shelter for Elly while he travelled on alone and found a water source, she could reserve what hydration she still retained by remaining inactive and hidden among the ruins.

Standing upon a large pile of rubble, Dramble scoured the scene looking for a possible fortress and then his eyes focused on a potential contender. Some distance away, a wall stood in defiance to the surrounding destruction, giving hope of finding the shelter he searched for.

Leaving Elly wouldn’t be an easy decision, but pushing her along beyond her capacity would only exhaust her remaining strength and subject her to increasing thirst and dangerous dehydration.

“There’s a ruin just ahead, Elly, and it looks to be a safe place for the night. I’m going to leave you there for a while and push on alone and see if I can find water.”

Elly’s deep blue eyes were big and round at Dramble’s intended plan, her piercing gaze making no attempt to hide her alarm and the fear plainly written across her face. “I can keep up with you!” she panicked, trying to convince herself as well as him.

“No, Elly, you need to conserve your strength and your fluids. I’ll travel a couple of hours over the horizon and then I’ll turn around and come back, saving you the need to expend your strength if there’s nothing out there and if I find something, I will come and get you.” Dramble tried to keep his countenance positive and encouraging, deliberately hiding the suspected outcome, but he knew they were probably wasting their time.

Although the possibility of being left alone in this hostile place frightened the young woman, deep down Elly knew Dramble’s plan was the only sensible avenue open to them. She swallowed hard, forcing a dry knot down into her parched throat, fully aware she was already exhausted.

Then with a consenting nod, she reluctantly accepted his strategy, confirming the wisdom in his proposal and realising their situation was becoming dire. “Okay, Dramble. I don’t like this one bit though,” Elly whispered, searching the boy’s grey eyes, “but I know I would only slow you down. Try to be quick, please!”

The desperate plea in Elly’s voice caused Dramble to momentarily reconsider his plan, but after reappraising his decision, he knew he had no other choice.

He took Elly’s hand once again and held it firmly, intent on instilling courage into her frightened blue eyes. “You know I wouldn’t leave you if there was another way,” Dramble admitted, once again exposing the depth of feelings he carried for the pretty, blonde young woman.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 12

Hakham pulled the hood over his head before leaving his modest chamber, a ritual he performed every time he entered into a public space, hiding his identity from even the closest of his many friends, the friends that over the years had become his family.

Some had seen the contours of his ancient face up close but the powerful, staring gaze from his black eyes soon deterred any attempt to familiarise observers with more than a stolen glance, turning their eyes away and averting his formidable burning glare that unintentionally bored painfully into their inner being.

As their leader, today more so than usual, he felt the responsibility pushing his ancient shoulders into a painful bow shape, adding pressure to his back while he sauntered along the dimly lit corridor and finally into the sanctuary. It was far too early for other family members to be active, assured he would be alone in the outer court of the sacred altar, leaving him on his face before God and pleading for understanding.

His antediluvian bones ached with regret. He suspected there was a traitor among the faithful and that could be catastrophic to their survival.

Disturbing word found its way into the family gathering from outside sources, usually carried by the grateful voices of traumatised but rescued resistance people, snatched from the atrocities of the murdering Alama Masu by Jehovah’s heroic Raiders.

The dreadful torture, demeaning abuse and barbaric atrocities laid against their own never ceased, bringing pain to the family but there was a growing, desperate number resisting the Alama Masu and the Assyrian.

A resistance that would ultimately cost them their lives and they needed immediate rescue.

New family members were constantly arriving as the raiding parties sought to free the resistance from the genocide on those who refused to become Alama Masu. With new members added to the family almost weekly, the gathering was expanding at an alarming rate, putting a strain on their meagre resources.

The humidity and sounds of dripping water began to increase as the old man pushed on through the maze of tunnels in their subterranean sanctuary and on towards the Lake of Purity. This large underground body was not only their water supply, but the place people came to worship and offer their sacrifices. In the many years since they had discovered the lake and their reliance on its life-giving water, the lake level had not altered. Neither had the level increased but more importantly, it hadn’t decreased either, assumedly being fed by another pure unknown source, deep within the family’s extensive underground home.

Even though Hakham was highly revered as the leader among the people, he didn’t pertain to be their priest and according to family law, he wasn’t allowed beyond the lake and into the direct presence of the God of the altar, hidden from view on the opposite shore and behind the separating rock curtain of the sacred sanctuary.

Hakham finally limped into the expansive cavern carrying the Book of Wisdom with him, the book he often read to the family gathering from, always lapping up his words like a dry thirsty sponge and asking many questions of the past and the future, apparently stretching his memories and his knowledge.

A lone flaming torch spilled flickering light across the clear waters of the Lake of Purity, while dancing shadows reflected off the water onto the jagged stone walls and painted crazy iridescent images on the cavern roof. The clear water was so pure the bottom seemed only inches away, but it was well known this was a deception and the bottom was far below the surface.

The old man stood at the diminutive rock doorway and peered around the cavernous antechamber, probing for signs he wasn’t alone. After many moments listening and searching, he convinced himself the scene was bereft of human occupation and he could confidently pour out his concerns to the God of the altar in absolute solitude and seek His counsel.

Hakham reverently entered the sanctuary and stiffly lowered himself to his knees on the opposite bank of the lake and faced the rocky curtain obscuring his view of the altar and then with more exertion, the elderly frame came to rest flat on his face. In a silent dialogue, the concerned petitions escaped the aged lips, earnestly seeking the counsel of his God. Hours seemed to pass as minutes and Hakham fell into a deep sleep while the antechamber bristled with electricity, illuminating the cavern with the white, dazzling light of the presence.

Reflections of Babylon flashed into his sleeping memory, disturbing him to his core while fleeting images of Yoni screaming in pain tortured his mind.

Just as quickly as the dazzling light of the presence had come, it left and the Lake of Purity fell into the dim light of the flaming torch once again.

Hakham awoke with a start, grappling with the terrifying simulacrum and wondered what significance the dream had on their situation and what the Mighty One was trying to say.

It was as if the potent message had been cut short and he wondered why.

A timid female voice close by broke into the deathly quiet and startled Hakham, causing him to quickly regain his composure.

“I… I’m so sorry, Hakham; I didn’t mean to disturb you,” she whispered reverently, backing away and realising she had interrupted something sacred.

Hakham took a moment to recognise the apologetic figure receding from the doorway to the antechamber. “It’s okay, Heather, come and sit with me and tell me what’s on your mind at this late hour,” the old man raised himself to a sitting position and made sure his hood was firmly covering his head, still trying to shake the disturbing dream from his mind.

Heather, comforted by Hakham’s soothing words, took strength from his calming and accepting voice and entered his presence in a fractured attempt to gain clarity on the load she was carrying. The young woman nervously lowered her petite frame onto a rocky ledge, her legs dangling over the edge just above the lake surface, to sit beside the elder.

Comfortably positioned, she tried to scan his dark eyes but the powerful stare diverted her gaze and she focused on the lake water instead. She had not intended on talking with a member of the gathering about her secret feelings and fears, let alone Hakham himself, but only to find solace in the sanctuary. She felt sure she would be alone at this time of night.

It took a few moments of soul searching before Heather came to a decision to speak and overcome her self-consciousness enough to unburden on the esteemed man. Perhaps this was God’s way to get some clarity on the perplexing situation and quell her troublesome emotions.

Heather’s voice cracked as it disturbed the turbid quiet and she heard her own echo bouncing off the sanctuary walls and back at her, as if it was mocking her.

The stammer told Hakham that Heather was struggling with a difficult scenario and he wondered whether she would be more comfortable discussing her plight with one of the older women of the gathering. He was just about to put an end to her discomfort when she managed to fill the air with an emotional statement.

“I… I have feelings for Finn, but he doesn’t even notice me. Am I really so disgusting to look upon, Hakham?!” The distraught statement followed with a waterfall of heaving grief as the young woman sobbed loudly, filling the silence with a tumult of emotion.

Hakham sighed; he was expecting it to be the troublesome concerns of the heart and he searched his ancient experience, looking for a way to comfort the distraught young woman.

Finn was a handsome prize sought by nearly all the women of the gathering: powerful in his physique and strikingly attractive; blonde wavy locks; finely contoured features and deep green eyes that mesmerised anyone foolish enough to contend with his gaze. To top it off, he was the esteemed champion of the raiding party and the stories of his impudent courage and valour followed him, tantalising every fair maiden’s heart with longing, desperate to be wooed by the apparition.

Hakham searched for an answer for the struggling woman and could only imagine what it would be like being captivated by someone like Finn. Heather’s beauty wasn’t to be scoffed at either; she was far beyond plain, but Hakham believed that all women were far beyond plain and that just being female entitled them to the great respect that their gender deserved.

“Heather, listen to me,” Hakham explained. “I am always respectful to the complex matters of the heart but there is no doubt, Heather; you are a beautiful young woman.”

Heather raised her head, trying to gaze into Hakham’s eyes and gauge the depths of his sincerity, managing to hold his pierce for a few seconds only, but his intensity drove her glower away again. She sniffed through her tears. “Do you really think so, Hakham?” she pressed, searching for another boost to her injured self esteem.

“The way to a noble man’s heart, Heather, is through wisdom, purity and Godliness; and an astute man will recognise these valuable attributes in the woman he seeks and pursue them with all the strength he can muster, without a woman needing to pursue him. When the time comes and if God wills, Finn will search out these fine qualities of which you have in great abundance; and if Finn does not have the wisdom to recognise such fine feminine quality, then your God will have another, who will. Don’t sell yourself short, Heather, on looks alone and the first man that comes along; for the bait you use will determine the fish you catch.”

Heather was speechless, replaying the deep words the elder had spoken and soaking in his encouragement and wisdom. The gathering didn’t call him Hakham for nothing.

“May I give you a hug?” she whispered, feeling revitalised and a new confidence in her womanhood.

Hakham stiffly stood and took the young woman into an embrace, careful not to expose his face.

“Thank you, Hakham; I feel much better.”

“You’re welcome, Heather,” the old man rasped.

Hakham settled back down onto the rock ledge as Heather’s footsteps disappeared into the darkened silence and wondered once again at the interrupted dream of Babylon and Yoni’s pain-filled screams, but it was too late to enquire of God again tonight; he could hear the sounds of the gathering waking and echoing into the vast cavern.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 13

It had taken the anxious figure a desperate hour, searching to find the well concealed path back into the underground shelter. Apprehension rose quickly and spiralled into panic, leaving the figure alarmed that they wouldn’t find the trail and perish horribly in the doomed, lifeless wastelands of the ruins.

But after a concentrated effort, the familiar hidden indicators once again appeared, pointing to the path and the safety of the shelter, alleviating their panic but leaving their heart pounding erratically in nervous relief. They had been so focused on their reward and driven on relentlessly by growling hunger pangs that the sheer arrogance of the thieves had broadsided their sense of fair play and crippled rational thought. With that, good judgement had been abandoned, momentarily losing their bearings in the confused and chaotic desolation.

Soon the heavy potency of choking sulphur and the darkened entrance loomed before them, still rankling and disturbed they’d been cheated out of their just compensation but thankful to have rediscovered the life supporting safety of the familiar underground family gathering place again.

There would be another opportunity to sell information and this time, the Alama Masu would pay for their treachery–and the price would double.

The figure burst into the entrance and then stopped abruptly by the pungent sulphurous Pool of Strange Fire, waiting for their eyes to readjust to the complete darkness once again before continuing on into the protected assembly. Covering their mouth and nose from the acerbic sulphur with one hand and resting the other upon the first guiding handrail, the impression felt good to their touch and brought immediate comfort to the figure’s uneasy countenance.

Gaining strength and shaking off the stunted guilt from their selfish mission, the figure listened intently for signs the covert operation had been discovered, but after satisfying themselves that their treachery had gone undetected, they grasped for the next hand grip and then slowly disappeared back into the refuge.

From a rock ledge completely drowned in darkness and gasping silently on sulphurous fumes, two calculating stern eyes watched the silhouette disappear into the maze of the asylum. Finn’s suspicions had been right and although no one wanted to believe someone from the family would be conspiring with the enemy, the evidence was overwhelming.

All the plans and timetables would have to be readjusted now, putting many lives of the resistance depending on the Raiders at risk, and making it necessary to implement the trap, bringing a spirit of bondage and distrust among the gathering.

 

~

 

Finn’s determined swagger, accentuated by his muscular physique and flowing wavy blonde locks, broke into Hakham’s chamber, his green eyes alight with indignation and intent on challenging the elder for dismissing his concerns.

Hakham, as usual, had his hood covering his head and the dark eyes bored into the young warrior with a patient intensity at the unannounced visit.

Finn held Hakham’s gaze for as long as he could before the probing glare overpowered the young man, settling the fire burning in his gut and averting the old man’s glower.

“I apologise, Hakham, for the interruption but we do have a mole in the family as I suspected and intent on selling out our lives too. They were seen by one of the Raiders, returning via the entrance to the Pool of Strange Fire.”

The old man’s gaze dropped away from the confident young warrior and his thoughts fleetingly returned to Heather’s tearful confession. The young man standing before him was indeed a pleasing figure to behold and the green eyes would melt any young maiden’s heart. Refocusing on the warrior’s speech, Hakham slumped into a nearby seat, turning over Finn’s chilling words and not wanting to believe the accusation levelled against one of the family. He was silent for a long time, making Finn feel uncomfortable and wondering what was passing through the esteemed leader’s mind.

Then finally the old man spoke in a disappointed and distressed monotone, “I will call a gathering of the family and then you can set the trap. What have we become that we must stoop to the ways of the Alama Masu?” Hakham whispered so softly that Finn had to step closer to tune into the old man’s answer.

 

~

 

Dramble lowered the load of tubes and Elly’s exhausted figure to a pile of rubble outside the anticipated shelter, allowing her to sit and regain her composure until he ventured inside to survey the ruined structure carefully and deciding whether to trust the edifice with his valuable charge.

She would have to be completely safe before he would even consider pushing on alone into the deserted confusion of ruins looking for an impossible miracle.

He checked the towering walls while Elly waited outside and thankfully, there weren’t any ghoul-like figures painted onto these blackened and dusty structures. If there had been and she noticed, he doubted whether he could convince her to stay there alone, regardless of how distressed and exhausted her body had become.

He peered around one corner of the crumbling structure and discovered a discreet, fragmenting concrete staircase disappearing under the cracked floor. Dramble cautiously followed the lure of the curious steps, hoping to find a hiding place intimate enough to protect Elly. Kicking rubble, blocking his descent from the stairs and clattering noisily to the floor below, Dramble finally stepped onto a solid floor, protected on all sides by thick, reinforced concrete but the floor was scattered with debris and the chamber was dry, semi-dark and stifling with dust. He would have to clean up a bit before Elly would accept her new hiding place.

As Dramble peered around the tomb-like structure, his confidence began to grow and he was sure the fortress would serve Elly well.

After half an hour of clattering and banging, clearing debris, Elly’s cautious face appeared around the wall and peered down into the dusty hollow, wondering what Dramble was doing.

Choking on the disturbed, listless dust climbing the staircase, Elly waved at her face with her hand, trying to swat the airborne powder from settling into her lungs. “I gather this is where you want me to stay?!” Elly coughed and shouted above the din, startling Dramble.

Dramble’s amused grin peered back up at the blonde woman. “The dust will settle soon enough and I feel confident you will be safe here, Elly.”

Elly waited at the top of the stairs until Dramble completed his rigorous task then after a considerable time, he appeared beside her covered in copper coloured dust. His dusty hair and clothes gave him the disposition of a small, elderly man and Elly couldn’t help but laugh. Then with a fond gesture, she tenderly rubbed the dust from his hair and wiped at his face with her small hand while the helpless, childlike expression drew her gaze and she peered into his soft grey eyes, catching the depth of his sincerity.

The gentle compassion hiding behind the astonished look suddenly overwhelmed her and she pulled him into a desperate hug. “I wouldn’t have survived a day out here without you, Dramble,” she confessed gratefully.

Dramble was stunned by Elly’s show of emotion and he returned the hug, confused by what was right and appropriate and what was true and expected. The softness and warmth of the young woman felt like velvet and her embrace was dismantling his ability to think rationally.

A sudden surge of determination refocused his mind; he had work to do.

Regretfully, he broke from her arms, pushing down the desire for the forbidden fruit of her delicate lips and prepared to push on into the unknown, before the darkness trapped him halfway through his intended mission to find water and leaving Elly unprotected and susceptible in the chilling night.

“I have to go, Elly,” Dramble whispered. His crimson face shone through the smudged copper dust, hoping his colour wouldn’t betray the depth of his emotions.

Elly’s reply was laced with concern. “Please be careful out there, Dramble!”

Strange emotions played with Dramble’s mind, remembering their embrace and the way Elly had made him feel. Reluctantly and quickly, he disappeared over scattered rubble, occasionally glancing back to where Elly’s fortress stood as the distance between them increased exponentially. Having fondness for a charge was one thing, but having anything more was taboo and expressly discouraged. Dramble tried to push the confusion of Elly from his mind and concentrate on finding water, but his thoughts kept returning to her hug and he couldn’t wait to be reunited with her.

 

~

 

Elly settled into the furthest corner of her silent dungeon, laying her back against the thick, unmoving concrete and studying the food tubes prostrate before her on the floor. She fidgeted with one of the lids as Dramble had shown her and the cap opened, exposing the grey crystals. Thirst had taken the place of fare and the thought of dry food stealing any more of her dwindling saliva added another dimension of aridness to her throat and constricted it into a painful, retching cough.

The crystals were still vibrating ever so slightly and the weird display was unnerving her. She slammed the lid shut again and dropped the tube back to the floor and laid her head against the cold concrete, sighing loudly. She closed her eyes, hoping to sleep and distract her mind from the increasing desiccation tugging at her tongue until Dramble hopefully brought back news of a water source.

Elly’s eyes abruptly jolted awake and her heart raced as a misplaced sound disturbed her slumber; her head was thick with sleep and she wondered whether the disturbance had been real or just the result of an overactive imagination teasing her dreams.

A reassuring thought crossed her mind; it may be Dramble returning from his adventure, but she decided to remain quiet just in case. She steeled herself again, holding her breath and waiting for confirmation she wasn’t just dreaming.

Then the unmistakable crunch of dust under nearby booted feet stole the breath from her lungs. She cowered against the concrete wall, shaking in apprehension, but the crunching boots were coming ever closer, until the unmistakable click of stepping feet climbing down stairs assaulted her sanity.

In a desperate bid to defend herself, she frantically searched for a weapon but to no avail; Dramble had cleared everything out of her dungeon and unintentionally left her trapped.

A red, shadowy figure painted itself on the opposite wall, mimicking the moving silhouette of her assailant. She opened her mouth to scream, but the fear stole the sound and trapped it lifeless in the dry walls of her parched throat.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 14

The word quickly spread among the members of the family, disturbed and anxious that Hakham had called a gathering in the place of meeting, an unusual affair that seldom affected everyone. It was considered far too risky, even in the relative safety of their underground world for the whole family to be together at once, should the Alama Masu consequently stage a surprise attack, breach their defences and wipe everybody out in one foul swoop. Then without the surety of a remnant escaping a bloodbath, the resistance would have nowhere to go and a great multitude would remain at the mercy of the barbaric warlords, forced to comply with their pagan rituals or perish at their bloodthirsty hands.

The shores surrounding the Lake of Purity soon swelled with murmuring people, but leaving the sacred rock curtain and the altar behind it with a reverent gap devoid of worshippers. The altar was the most revered place among the family and they knew of the awesome power that emanated from its cloaked surrounds, but the priest of God was the only one allowed safely into the sacred presence of the Mighty One, to offer sacrifices on their behalf.

The gathering soon quieted. Hakham’s hooded figure standing before them was nothing out of the ordinary, but Finn’s handsome stature standing head and shoulders above him certainly was. To have the champion of the Raiders and the leader of the family together at one time was unheard of and a perfect time for the Alama Masu to cripple the irksome thorn in their side with an attack.

The family took no chances when it came to the treachery of the dark hooded ones, leaving the gathering concerned something tragic had or was about to happen.

Hakham glanced around the cavern, his dark eyes scanning the faces of the people he loved dearly: men, women and children and the thought of a traitor among their ranks stabbed at his heart. As his gaze fell upon familiar individuals, they smiled back at their leader but averted his overpowering stare. Hakham understood the phenomenon very well and accepted their averting stance as an act of love, not rejection.

The presence of Finn’s athletically handsome figure at the gathering was akin to a lighthouse, with his hypnotising green eyes drawing stolen and admiring glances from all avenues of the feminine sway, most particularly the unattached young women.

A murmur erupted among a group of young maidens when Finn smiled directly at one pretty and innocent young woman, stealing her heart and her breath in a gasp of adulation at the same time. Envious stares settled on Finn’s intended recipient, causing a ripple of dissention to break out around Heather.

Hakham raised his hand in a gesture to bring order to the murmuring crowd, drawing the attention of admiring eyes away from the blonde Raider and back to the business at hand. He glanced momentarily around the crowd before he began his speech; his gaze noticed many things, especially the momentary interlude between Heather and Finn. He couldn’t help feeling happy for Heather, but now the pressing assembly had to quickly concentrate on a disturbing matter and the trap needed to be baited.

 

~

 

The crowded and intimate surrounds of the family made romance between the single young men and women almost impossible in their subterranean world. It was said among the older married couples, who had faced the dilemma of courtship in a confined environment, there was a specific passage among the maze of passages that led deep into the confines of the tunnel systems and into a cave described as the place of delighted enchantment.

The cave was said to be beautiful beyond belief and dripping with jewels of every kind, tended by God Himself and the only location where the delicate, pale Altar Rose bloomed under the timeless light of His presence. The entry into this hidden utopia was at best elusive and those who had supposedly found the jewel were rewarded with an overwhelming experience. But to those couples who truly found the love of a soul mate, the Altar Rose waited patiently in isolation for the day in which its bloom could be picked and planted in the hearts of the couple.

As the existence of this cave and its treasure was difficult to substantiate and very few had found its dubious location, a tradition grew out of the legend and the very fact that a young man invited a young woman on an expedition into the vast maze to discover the cave and the shy rose, left no doubt of his intention to anyone.

The family had adopted the tradition with fervour and it became a time of great celebration when a young man approached a young woman’s father and asked for the privilege to search the path of the Altar Rose with his daughter. If it was clear that the daughter was sufficiently taken by her suitor, her father would consent and the search for the rose could begin. It was customary for the couple to spend the day together exploring the deep passages and when they returned, they were considered engaged to be married.

However, in the reaches of the extensive cave system a coloured tree root flourished in the dark and it was expected the couple would return with something as proof of their innocent love. If not the timid rose itself, then usually it was the coloured root, a sure accepted sign that God had condoned the match.

Should the couple return empty handed, then the betrothal was cancelled, a clear sign the match was unequal and under God’s disapproval.

The few couples who claimed to have found the wonderland cavern described its beauty and effect on the people who found it as profound and life changing. No one could deny the legend’s impact and the love story written in the lives of those who made the claim, adding a deeper romantic desire for young lovers to seek out the Altar Rose and its blessing upon their kindling love, too.

Forever to bloom and confirm the presence of soul mates.

 

~

 

Finn seemed distracted as Caleb, Finn’s second in command, tried to discuss the coming raids and develop a new strategy since the old one had been apparently leaked to the Alama Masu.

Finn’s mind kept replaying the dazzling smile of a young woman whose face shone with innocent beauty and purity, and he couldn’t get her out of his thoughts. She was well known among the family for her sense and maturity, making Finn’s curiosity pique even further.

Recently he’d felt God’s urging to take a wife and start a family, but the dangerous raids on the enemy were consuming more and more of his time and effort, an occupation that wouldn’t bring comfort to a waiting spouse, wondering whether her husband would return at the end of a mission. Besides, apart from the courteous smile, Heather gave no indication she was the slightest bit interested in him, making him even more curious and willing to attempt to capture her heart.

Finn liked the rush and excitement of stealing the condemned resistance from the enemy, and usually from directly under their noses. Although he carried no care for his own life, having a worried spouse waiting for his return added a new dimension to his chaos, and maybe cause him to lose the psychological edge over his enemy.

His quandary was interrupted when he heard Caleb’s intention to massacre a great number of the Alama Masu in a deadly raid. The intensity of Finn’s green eyes focused heavily on Caleb, wondering whether he had actually heard what Caleb had planned.

Finn’s indignant, “WHAT?!” stopped Caleb in full-on furious babble.

“It’s the only way, Finn! Fight like they do and rid ourselves of their barbaric curse. God would be with us; they are His enemies too!”

“God would not be with us if we adopted their barbarism!” Finn exploded. “He has given us success in the raids because we do things His way and not theirs. What do you suppose would separate us from being barbarians if we take on their ways; would we also adopt their worship?”

“Please, Finn, stop! I find that offensive to even give breath to. I concede you are right; we need to consult Hakham’s wisdom and ask God to give us the next plan,” Caleb admitted.

“Then let it be; now you make sense, Caleb.”

 

~

 

Dramble guessed he had been tramping the endless, charred ruins for hours now and the scenery had remained unchanged; but worse still, there were no signs of water and there was nothing more he could do. Dejectedly, he stood atop a pile of bricks and searched the flat topography to the horizon in all directions, but nothing appeared different.

He was just about to dismount the loathsome dusty pile in a defeated huff and turn back with empty hands, to face a desperate young woman whom he cared deeply for and possibly watch her life ebb away in a torturous death through dehydration, when he saw a strange shape in the distance.

The low, hemispherical outline dominated one complete corner of the surrounds and its stark contrast to the devastation around inspired a small flicker of hope. From his position, it looked like a huge glass dome and inside the dome, a contrast of colours reverberated violently against the barren landscape, giving the impression of a huge glass terrarium carelessly dumped in the desert.

If there was greenery, then there would be water!

Dramble jumped down from the pile of bricks in an excited leap and started to run towards the dome many miles away. But he suddenly stopped, guessing if he made it down to the dome, he wouldn’t have time to get back to Elly before the depths of night descended and made it impossible to retrace his steps in the encompassing darkness. The quandary tore at Dramble’s undecided mind in a desperate storm of bitter debate.

Should I go and get water and try to make the journey back in the dark or should I go back and carry Elly to the water?

Finally, he came to a unanimous decision of one and decided to retrace his steps and carry Elly to the water source, hoping it wouldn’t be too late to revitalise her badly dehydrated body.

Desperation overcame Dramble, anxious to be back in Elly’s company again, sprinting like a man with a determined mission, jumping over debris as if it was an athletics hurdle. The hope pounding through Dramble’s veins pushed him on through the long hours, stopping only briefly to recognise landmarks, reorient himself and confirm he was on track.

As the familiar fortress finally came into view, the red sun had almost set and the evening chill was descending quickly. Elly would need his warmth too, giving him a legitimate reason to get closer to her.

He sprinted up to the structure, minute dust clouds languishing in the trail of footsteps and calling as he went. “Elly! Elly, I’m back and I’ve found water, too!”

Bursting into the ruins, Dramble abruptly slowed his pace as he descended the stairs into the vault where he had left her only a few hours ago, but he was faced with an eerily empty room.

Panic began to rise and he shot back up the stairs, taking three steps at a time and searching, while calling her name at the same time. He listened, straining to hear the expected sounds of distress, but the stillness and quiet answered him instead.

Descending the stairs once again, his heart pounded in his chest as he searched the room, hoping to discover a clue to Elly’s disappearance and if she had gone willingly.

A crazed pattern in the dusty soil suddenly pointed to a one-sided scuffle and the forceful abduction of the young woman who had been his life. The food tubes were gone too, only confirming their suspected collusion in Elly’s disappearance. Tears of frustration began to form in the corners of his eyes.

He had no idea what to do next.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 15

Heather busied herself in the chores of the small family chamber, the young seventeen year old felt safe and secure among the family and privileged to have been given a new life with the God-fearing people. Under Hakham’s gifted teaching, she recognised the hand of God in their deliverance and committed to following His ways, thus developing a jewel of great price reflected in the personality and character of the young woman.

She and her father had been stolen from the hands of the Alama Masu by the Raiders too, just seconds before they were to be beheaded in a macabre crowded public forum, shouting perilously like animals for their blood.

But her mother hadn’t been so fortunate; she had been executed before their eyes the day before, in a haunting scene that plagued every wakening hour of Heather’s young life and filled her sleep with raging trauma. The very fact her mother wouldn’t look up at the crowd just before she was executed, spoke of her shame and the atrocities she had suffered at the hands of her pagan captors.

Most decent people hated the Alama Masu and many opted execution over being forced to join their sordid ranks. But those despots who joined the ranks and survived the executions were treated with such contempt and barbarism, they wished for death anyway. Some joined the Alama Masu and adopted their ways with such vigorous cruelty, hoping to gain the hooded ones’ approval, but they were the people given the task to murder their own kind with the sword.

Hakham spent many hours with the newly freed, soothing the horrors they’d witnessed and teaching from the Book of Wisdom, while pointing out the prophecies of old hidden in the words of its text like a breaking news story. But more troublesome, he pointed to the desperate times ahead for all and encouraged everyone to adopt the eternal ways of Jehovah and escape the torment awaiting the Alama Masu in His final judgement.

Heather wiped the silent tears from her eyes as the raw wounds festered and burst open again. She flinched when an arm engulfed her shoulders and then recognising the concerned outline of her father, pushed into his embrace.

“Your mother would have been proud of you, just like I am, Heather.”

The trembling words fell softly into her wounded heart, while her father shared in her loss. Heather stayed in her father’s embrace, soaking up his love. Although the man had had his life destroyed and the joy of his wife callously ripped from his life, he still found strength enough to emotionally nurture his only child.

The tone of her father’s soothing words unexpectedly changed and she pulled out of his embrace and stared directly into his watery eyes. “I see you are being noticed by the young men of the family, Heather, and rightly so. You are a beautiful young woman inside and out, just like your mother was.”

Heather smiled at the encouragement but she knew her father hadn’t finished. The stern glaze had settled into his eyes, like whenever he had to discipline her in the rare occasions when as a child she messed up.

“Be as gentle as a dove and as a wise as the elderly, Heather. Make your choice of a husband with great care, for he can make your life a dream or a nightmare. I have seen the searching eye of the captain of the Raiders fall upon you and I am concerned that he has intentions towards you. He is a powerful and hypnotising young man and any woman would find it difficult to resist his fine attributes, but he is a wild man and I wonder at his ability to make room for another in his careless plundering and abandon his hatred for the Alama Masu. Not to mention the constant distraction of other maidens vying for his attention.”

Heather searched the concerned eyes of her father and tested every word he spoke. “He has only smiled at me, Father; he hasn’t offered to walk the path in search of the Altar Rose and besides, I have heard he seeks Jehovah on all his decisions,” Heather coyly whispered, trying to reassure her father his fears were unfounded and that Finn’s intentions were disappointingly innocent towards her.

She kept her own secret feelings for Finn quiet and hoped that her father would not speak to Hakham on the matter. In retrospect, even though Hakham had been gentle and encouraging, her unguarded emotional display was possibly a little unwise and she quietly chided herself for revealing something so intimate.

The fact that Finn was the centre of desire for every young woman in the family only strengthened her suspicions; he was just being pleasant when he smiled at her and she was reading too much into the gesture.

 

~

 

Caleb and Finn walked together along the well beaten path to the Lake of Purity and stopped short of the sanctuary door. The lone flame illuminating the rock curtain flickered as their bodies disturbed the calm, humid and warm air surrounding the sanctuary, casting silent dancing shadows against the great cavernous walls. The deep, crystal clear waters of the Lake of Purity seemed more turbulent today than either Finn or Caleb had ever seen before.

Although Caleb was impressive in his stout and well muscled figure, he was overshadowed by Finn’s tall, athletic fine features; while the two men together represented a formidable force and the well being of the family and the hope of the resistance rested on their shoulders.

Finn took a step towards the rock opening, leading into the sanctuary and almost stumbled over Hakham’s prostrated figure worshiping before the altar and seeking Jehovah’s guidance. The elder stirred at the disturbance but as usual, his countenance was peaceful and tolerant at the interruption.

“I’m sorry for disturbing you, Hakham,” Finn apologised, but intent on holding his ground.

“It is of no consequence, Finn; Jehovah has spoken anyway and you have saved me the effort to find you both.”

Moments later, Caleb entered the sanctuary also and bowed before the altar in reverence to Jehovah, inspiring Finn to do the same.

“We need Jehovah’s wisdom and guidance in planning the next raid, now that the trap has been set; does the great wise one have a plan for the Raiders, Hakham?” Caleb asked.

“Yes, the raid this time will be on the palace itself,” Hakham offered emotionlessly.

“The palace?!” Caleb’s concern was immediately piqued; this would be an almost impossible mission and the heaviest fortifications that the barbaric empire could muster.

“Why does the Lord God Jehovah have us tackle such a dangerous part of the Alama Masu?” Finn calmly asked.

“It’s not just the palace, Finn, but Malhalem’s Harem.”

Now it was Finn’s turn to offer his concern. “Malhalem’s Harem?! That would be like attempting to walk into the Alama Masu’s throne room and spit on the stone of Diana, the worthless idol they worship.”

“There’s more,” Hakham paused for gravity.

The two high ranking Raiders waited for Hakham to speak again, wondering what new challenge he was about to unveil.

“You must leave the rest of your band behind; and only Caleb and yourself are to know of Jehovah’s plan and in fact, the two of you are the only ones Jehovah requires for this raid.”

Finn’s expression was incredulous. “Two against so many, Hakham; how are we to survive such a mission and what is the anticipated goal?”

Hakham turned his back to the two Raiders and faced the altar, hoping he had heard the instructions correctly, and then filled the tense void.

“Jehovah Himself will go ahead of you. I can’t tell you what the mission is, but He will reveal it at the appointed time; and if the trap has been successfully baited, the Alama Masu won’t be expecting you.” Hakham spun to face the men again and his piercing gaze diverted their stare. ”I’m not even sure you will survive the raid, but Jehovah will prevail and your mission will succeed regardless, leaving Him alone to take the glory for the victory,” Hakham’s voice was tense, understanding he could be sending the two men to their peril.

Finn took a few moments to recover and overcome his shock, then bowed in reverence to the altar. “Jehovah’s will be done and if we perish, then we perish serving our King,” Finn said proudly.

Caleb stepped forward and bowed to the altar too. ”How great is our King Jehovah and such an honour to offer our lives on His altar.”

Hakham laid his hands on the two men and blessed them. “I am proud of you, my sons; you have not flinched in offering your lives so others may live and most of all, your commitment to the wise Ancient of Days. Now the raid begins from here tomorrow night at midnight; that should put you at the walls by early morning when the Alama Masu will be at their most vulnerable. Once you have breached their walls, then Jehovah will tell you His plan and guide your steps. If you have unfinished business within the family, I suggest you make your peace and leave a clean slate.”

Hakham dismissed the two Raiders and with a heavy heart, turned to worship the God of the altar again, knowing the pleasure of God rested on the shoulders of the two brave young men.

 

~

 

Finn and Caleb parted company, preparing themselves for what may be their final mission and to tidy up their affairs, as Hakham had suggested.

Finn sauntered along the narrow, dimly lit passage and almost walked straight into a figure coming the other way. His green eyes flashed in an animated apology and his heart raced when he recognised Heather’s voice.

“Don’t concern yourself, Finn; I’m not injured,” the shy, soft voice tantalised his ears and he didn’t speak for many seconds.

The long pause disturbed Heather and she wondered what the handsome Raider was thinking. “Are you alright, Finn?”

“Heather, th… there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you…”

A battle raged inside the young man’s head, silencing his speech and replaying Hakham’s words again: I’m not even sure you will survive.

Heather’s heart began to race wildly and she felt faint, anticipating something she dared not even think about. The dim light hid her crimson face and the shock of anticipation.

Finn sighed deeply, wondering whether it was right to make the gesture when he may not be in any position to keep it. He sighed again and decided he had no right to speak the things that were on his heart.

“Nothing, Heather. I’m sorry for walking into you.”

With that, he turned and walked away, but the desperation in his voice had communicated a lot more than he intended.

Heather was stunned. She stood shaking in the half light, watching the blonde form increasing the distance between them and tearing her heart in disappointment, sure he was about to say or do something she really did want to hear.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

The depths of frustration and loneliness nearly drove the small figure insane, waiting through the empty hours of the never ending night, amplifying his imagination into a fury of despair and desperate for the first rays of morning to relieve the blanket of darkness drowning him. Sleep was out of the question and by the time the effete red sun had risen enough to distinguish horizon from sky, the small figure was stretched mentally and desperate to begin the search for Elly. Not knowing where she was, if she was being mistreated, or worse, dying cruelly and alone in some foreign environment and desperately calling out to him for help added another dimension to his panic.

He would find her, no matter what it took.

Regaining his commonsense, he checked off a list of possibilities and then reluctantly decided the best avenue of attack was to look for signs in the telltale dust and for once, he was glad of its irksome presence.

But that would mean a delay in initiating the search and a frustrating wait until he could actually see the imprints in the ground and the direction the abductors had taken her. Time was critical and spending vital moments confirming clues added to the anxiety, but imperative to a successful hunt and without them, he could very well search fruitlessly for eons.

For the thousandth time, Dramble’s mind replayed the sequences of the last known contact with his charge and the events leading up to his eager return to the ruin and the hollow feeling of finding her missing.

Another perplexing question added its voice to the crowded forum: had she already succumbed to the horrors of dehydration and died of thirst?

Nervously, Dramble trudged the ruin, castigating it for carelessly abandoning the responsibility and trust he’d bestowed upon its protective walls, but judging by the ruinous rubble, it hadn’t been the first time someone had trusted meticulously in its power and strength and been let down.

Standing, staring into the morning, he slumped against the crumbling door post with such force it cracked his shoulder bones, but he didn’t even register the pain; the ache in his heart was overpowering every other need and function. He just wanted to find Elly again, while the sun teased him in the frustrating pace of its ascent into the polluted sky and reluctantly lending its light to his dilemma.

With the audacity of a lightning bolt, a sudden thought abruptly entered his worried mind. The dome he had discovered early yesterday. It was the only vestige of life and just possibly there was something more to this strange massive structure and Elly’s disappearance than a forest of botanic mystery, hidden under masses of perilous glass.

Dramble stepped down off the concrete landing, disturbing the ground with a copper coloured plume of dust. He’d have to carefully examine the mix of footprints and distinguish between his own tortured ramblings the previous evening and legitimate clues of Elly’s abductors.

The sun, in an exhausted effort, finally consented to supplying usable light over the decaying environment, allowing Dramble to make out specific imprints but he would have to be patient and painstakingly track the direction they had gone, while his suspicions were highly aroused and pointed towards the glass dome.

His eyes locked onto a set of prints and with his heart pounding, recognised Elly’s runners immediately, the distinct pattern on the sole made it easy to identify, but the realisation that the accompanying prints were his own gallingly sent him scurrying back to the beginning of the trail again and set out on another track.

This time, a set of unknown imprints arrested his gaze; the large, flat impression was too big for his foot and there were two sets of similar depressions, first leading into the building and then leading out.

Taking on the mind and posture of a bloodhound he locked onto a trail, following the indents through the rubble and watching them disappear in the direction he had traversed the previous evening, but in a wider arc.

A disturbing vision played with his mind and a thought bristled the hair on his neck; he may have unknowingly passed right by them in his haste to get back to the ruin. Then another disturbing thought rankled his mind. He could easily see the captors’ boot prints, but where were Elly’s? The absence of Elly’s footprints mystified him for long moments until enlightenment suddenly cut through the fog.

They were carrying her!

 

~

 

The risky rendezvous had been scheduled for quite some time, so missing the meeting meant a valuable contact would be lost and the supply chain broken forever. It was a necessary evil and besides that, they had an irritating bone to pick over the missing last payment. Adding to their dilemmas, they were becoming suspicious that the family had suspected something and the rescheduling of the raiding party’s activities in an unusual public meeting, only confirmed their suspicion.

Meanwhile, pacing around the mounting dust of the domain of the ruins had its trials too and concealing the obvious coloured dust stains to their clothing was another hurdle in the dealings with their trusted business associates. To avoid rousing suspicion further, their clothes were always washed away from the other members of the family and at a time no one would suspect. This was extremely dubious and had drawn some discussion from other members when they were discovered doing the dreary task alone, a task that was normally done in complete community with other family members, making a loathsome chore a time of fellowship.

The mounting heat of suspicion added a new dimension of caution to their activity and after the morning’s business intrigue, they intended to call a brief intermission to their dealings, hopefully downplaying the family’s suspicions and diverting the real possibility of being detected.

The thought of betrayal upon the family had been perfectly rationalised. After all, they were only giving the Alama Masu the schedule for the raiding party, not the whereabouts of the family’s hiding place.

They weren’t that stupid. That would have dire consequences for everyone, even them.

The raiding party, however, was bringing more and more new people into the crowded gathering and taking food from their own mouth, in turn absolving their justified feelings in their deceit and certain the Lord God Jehovah not only agreed with their activities, but wholly condoned it. In their opinion, the raiding party was considered to be committing a crime against the Alama Masu and all they were doing was equalising the playing field… to their twisted way of thinking at least.

Finn, Caleb and the men of the raiding party were strong, fit and agile and according to their own conceited admission, enjoyed the adrenaline rush of outfoxing their adversary, so now with the new information in the enemies’ hands, the rush would be even more enjoyable.

Any thought of their champions being caught, tortured and executed wasn’t even a remote possibility and didn’t even cross their mind.

They even fantasised about sharing some of the rewards with other family members when the limited food supply dwindled to the point of drying up altogether and becoming an immediate saviour among the family, elevated to a position of respect and wielding great power.

Thoughts of grandeur slipped from their mind as the escape from the family gathering place took precedence instead, but as usual, it had gone off without a hitch and in complete competence.

Too early for prying eyes and easily outsmarting the lookouts once again.

It had been nearly two hours since leaving the safety and confines of the family, using the total darkness for cover, but the necessary tactic made the journey perilously slow without the guidance of the sun.

Eventually, two black hooded figures loomed in the distant growing light, moping among the ruins and waiting for them to show. The figure increased their pace and closed the void quickly.

Moments later, the huddle completed its unholy circle and dissipated into animated and excited hand gestures, while raised voices galloped across the bareness without concern for being overheard in the dreaded graveyard.

 

~

 

An abrupt rendition of aggravated voices close by took Dramble by surprise, wondering whether he had been detected and if he would soon be another victim of Elly’s fate. He stole to the top of a concealed pile of rubble, raising his head slowly to get a closer look and gather intelligence.

With his head just above the rubble and well hidden by his surrounds, from his vantage point he could see three figures engaged in a fury of hand gestures. Two figures looked like evil incarnate with black hoods covering their heads and faces, while a strange mark was clearly tattooed to their foreheads and the same mark banded around their right arms. The other figure wore a tan robe and its head was also covered with a encompassing scarf of some description; clearly they were members of different groups, but furiously jabbering in a language he didn’t understand.

The commotion was gathering momentum until one of the black robed figures raised his hand and struck the tan robed figure with a smack that echoed across the quiet and dislodged the scarf hiding its face, with obvious pain.

Dramble gasped when he realised the robed figure was a middle aged woman and suspected, by the force of the blow, the other two were men. His ire exploded at the cowardly attack on a woman and without thinking, erupted from his hiding place, carried on by the pent up anxiety of Elly’s plight and screamed like an attacking banshee, running toward the scene in a flashing blur.

The abrupt and unexpected assault made Dramble’s tiny frame appear like an army of one, and the three figures broke from the scene in three different directions, kicking up clouds of dust in an attempt to escape the unknown assailant, stumbling and scurrying over piles of charred rubble in a rabid bid for freedom.

Dramble didn’t know which one to chase first and halted his attack in a flurry of confusion, watching all three departing figures in a bewildered scan.

This strange place was becoming stranger by the moment, but his main concern was tracking down Elly and her captors before it was too late. The thought of Elly’s abduction drew another painful stab and with a final glance at the distant figures, he set about to meticulously follow the clues her captors had left plainly printed in the copper coloured dust.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 17

 

Stinging tears made it difficult to see the trail and the obstructions, lacing it with unseen dangers as she made a hasty retreat. Breathless and gasping for air to refill her heaving lungs, she slowed her furious pace to a stop and turned to face the direction she had just come, holding her hand over the throbbing injury site and feeling the heat of indignation mix with the bitter wound aching relentlessly across her face.

Bending painfully into an arch and holding her side as a stitch gripped at her stomach, momentarily paralysing her escape but her eyes never left the desolate scenery, constantly searching for the presence of the Alama Masu or the wild man who had charged at them from out of nowhere.

A woven, woollen scarf fell limp from across her shoulders and dangled spastically to the ground. She grasped it with a high degree of annoyance and cast it over her shoulder again; the blow from the Alama Masu had dislodged it from her face and given them a clear view of her identity, something she hadn’t ever wanted to do.

As the stitch began to subside and her breathing slowed, she scanned the flat horizons with the intensity of a searchlight, cutting across a darkened sky and scrutinized the lifeless, arid plain for movement.

She couldn’t believe the Alama Masu would stage a stunt like this on someone who had nothing but good intentions directed towards them. A suspicious thought stole across her mind and mingled with her folly: maybe they were intent on following her to learn the whereabouts of the family sanctuary, something she had point-blank refused when they had asked her.

The implications of the thought caused her to drop warily to her haunches and hide behind a rubble barrier, blending in with the surrounds while she tried to think what to do next. An indignant hand lightly touched the throbbing wound on her face again and with tender fingers wiped away the flowing tears, signifying they were doing their best to quell the pain in her eye.

A stab of conscience played with her mind and a new problem presented, adding to her mounting concerns. The pain in her face would soon turn to a telltale bruise in plain sight for all to see. She would have to concoct a new ruse to cover her nefarious activity and divert suspicion away from herself and the evidence of her treachery.

Things were fast getting out of hand and she squatted motionless behind a charred rubble hill and listened to the lifelessness of the ruins, straining her ears to hear anything, but the only sounds were her own guilty heartbeat pounding loudly in her ears.

How had a simple business transaction turned into a nightmare, leaving her holding the bunny?

A disdainful glint mingled with the pain as she began to recall the screaming attacker. She suddenly realised he was only small in stature, but very loud. He didn’t have the black hood or the loathsome identifying mark of the Alama Masu… then who was he?

Even the resistance tried to mimic the hooded form of the Alama Masu and blend in to avoid capture, torture and immediate death; but the mark was the only way to ensure they belonged to the contemptuous satanic being the Alama Masu worshipped and without it, among other things, they would eventually be found out and executed.

The minutes turned to hours, but the stinging injury remained ever vigilant, reminding her of her last encounter with the people she thought she could trust.

Her haunches were becoming sore from the cramped position and tingling in her legs told her they needed more blood flow. With a huff, she unfolded her legs and dropped her body into a sitting position, immediately relieving the tingling but disturbing the dust into a small choking cloud and irritating her throat instead.

Reluctantly, after completing a final scan of her surrounds and satisfied the threat had diminished, she decided to continue her escape, finding the trail back into the sanctuary but all too aware another looming storm was about to erupt back among the family.

As she picked her way through the rubble she teased out her thoughts, wondering how she could account for the massive bruise and the copper dust staining her tan robe.

 

~

 

Christina was a single recent addition to the family, rescued from the cutlass of the Alama Masu by the Raiders only three months ago. She was a middle aged woman, dogged by fears and claustrophobic in her new underground world, but she was well liked by the other women. They’d tried to coach her through her terrors, however the only thing that would quell the panic attacks was an unwise and secret rendezvous with the surface and the open space of the ruins.

She didn’t understand the coded hand grips located around the corridor walls and constantly got lost in the dimly lit maze of passages, even though the rest of the family had tried desperately to tutor her. A puzzled look stretched across the face of one of the women when Christina asked for directions to the Pool of Strange Fire, quickly explaining the smell of sulphur relieved her symptoms. Accepting her explanation at face value, she willingly pointed Christina down the correct path and added a warm hug to seal her journey.

Christina could feel her anxiety rising and gasped heavily on the sulphurous vapour hanging like a wet blanket over the Pool of Strange Fire. In a desperate lunge for open air, she tripped and crashed forcefully to her knees, clipping her head and shoulders on the wall as she fell, but quickly regained her stance and stumbled for the hidden entrance, tussling with claustrophobia and desperately trying to break its stranglehold gripping at her throat.

Finally bursting out into the red sunlight and heaving voraciously, she dropped to her knees and began to weep, tormented by the pain rippling through her head and shoulders but relieved to be outside again.

A shadow fell across Christina’s weeping form, wrenching her heart and frightening her like a cowering child caught in the act of some insignificant misdemeanour. She stumbled sickly to her feet and in the process, fell forcefully against the figure, but just then a stern male voice called from the secret entrance and directly to the two itinerant figures, startling them both.

“What is the meaning of this? Do you intend to advertise the sanctuary to the enemy with your foolishness and jeopardise the lives of all it protects?”

 

~

 

It took a few anxious moments for Dramble to recover from the strange and violent meeting he had just witnessed. It appeared to be some kind of clandestine gathering, judging by the reaction and the pace all three participants left.

The painful slap and its hollow sound reverberated in Dramble’s mind, hoping Elly’s captors weren’t of the same brave clan. Indignation once again found its voice in Dramble’s psyche, pushing him onwards with a determined gait, searching the agitated copper dust for the tracks that would lead him to Elly’s abductors.

It was obvious now that Elly and Dramble weren’t the only inhabitants of the disastrous ruins and judging by the meeting he’d inadvertently broken up, there were at least two distinct and possibly opposing groups.

Having no knowledge of the landscape or its people, he considered it a prudent move to treat everyone as a possible conspirator, with a decisive investment in Elly’s and his demise.

He decided that when and if he rescued Elly, he would do everything he could to get her back to her own world, but that seemed like an even greater feat than finding her again in the current baffling circumstance.

He chided himself for babbling and wasting time, but once again determinedly lowered his head and searched for the trail before the journey forcefully ended for the day and he lost the tracks in the aging daylight.

After a flurry of wrong leads, confounded and aggravated by the footprints of the rapidly departing despots he’d disturbed this morning, he abruptly found the twin tracks of the booted abductors and just as he suspected, the tracks were pushing on relentlessly towards the glass dome.

After frustrating hours of meticulous tracking, the glass dome once again adorned the horizon, tempting Dramble to push on without following the tracks, but caution prodded his good sense and he fought the desire to run ahead.

Then strangely, the imprints became confused and abruptly, there were three sets of tracks; the familiar imprint of Elly’s runners stamped the ground and led her captors on a merry dance. As Dramble followed the confused procession, darting this way and then that, the boots followed her every move until once again, the dictatorship was re-established and Elly’s prints disappeared.

Up to this point, Elly was alive and coherent enough to give her abductors the runaround.

Hope bristled at Dramble’s mind and then a delirious imagining drew a sly smile; just possibly, Elly had intentionally broken free of their grasp long enough to leave a clear message in the coppery dust.

Dramble danced with delight; she knew he would be looking for her and worked out a plan to communicate that she was still alive and able to resist to some extent.

Then his dance unexpectedly stopped, hoping she hadn’t been seriously punished for her disobedience.

Dropping his head to the trail again and filled with optimism, he took up the indicators and noticed that one of the tracks was stamping unevenly; Elly was resisting her captivity and making his awkward gait stamp her efforts in the dust.

Dramble felt a tinge of pride; his intelligent girl was still writing him a message and recording her sojourn for him to follow.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 18

 

Hakham’s piercing stare bored into the two figures standing silently and directly in front of him, forcing them to avert his steely gaze and concentrate ashamedly on the still, unmoving water of the Lake of Purity.

His hooded features appeared calm, but that only added to the tension and the mystery of the desperate situation.

The altar torch flame flickered with vigour, as if it was adding its unspoken opinions to the severity of the meeting now in progress and painted disturbed shimmering images around the two women suspected of treason.

If convicted, they faced expulsion from the family and being cast into the chaotic and fatal never world of the ruins. If they weren’t found by the family’s enemy, then thirst, starvation and exposure would, quickly descending upon them among the dusty ruins and crushing the life from their bodies in a cruel and violent hammer blow of painful death.

Beyond the confines of the sanctuary and well out of sight, a large gathering of family members pressed into the cramped corridors, stricken silent by the gravity of the situation but close enough to capture any spoken word spilling from the sanctuary and confirming Jehovah’s expected verdict laid upon the women by Hakham’s voice.

Finn and Caleb stood either side of the condemned pair, guarding their escape route and eager for the confession one of the women bore. The confession of a traitor, so often placing the family and the Raiders in ultimate peril.

Finn was determined Jehovah would expose the guilty one and the traitor would pay for their game of deceit in justified expulsion from the safety of the family.

Hakham’s silence was unnerving Finn, wondering whether the old man was out of his depth with the situation, but the Godly wisdom of the elderly was never in a hurry to fill awkward voids, giving an extended occasion for the perpetrator to consider their guilt and squirm.

The burning gaze diverted from the two women and Hakham’s eyes settled on the rock curtain separating the sanctuary from the altar, inadvertently listening for Jehovah’s timing and His instructions. Unknown to those waiting in silent trepidation, Hakham already knew the guilty party and Jehovah’s will concerning them. Jehovah’s decision wouldn’t be easily understood, but he had to trust his God that the best interests of the family were at the forefront of Jehovah’s wisdom.

A quiet murmur rippled through the family as Hakham finally broke the unnerving tension, realising something was about to happen and influence the lives of everyone concerned.

Hakham’s low rasp was hard to hear and a desperate whisper spread throughout the cramped gathering, appealing to those close to the front of the crowd for clarification.

“What did he say?!” the whisperers frantically begged for understanding.

A harsh whispered, “Sshhh!” was the only reply and once again, the family dove into anxious silence.

“Louisse, you have been with the family for the longest and are respected among the gathering, therefore you will speak first. Tell those assembled and in the presence of the Lord God Jehovah, why you were outside of the sanctuary without the protection of a Raider and of the bruise you are intent on hiding.”

Hakham could see the momentary struggle parade through Louisse’s eyes like she was flicking through television channels searching for an appropriate script. Settling on a convincing pious libretto, she cleared her throat, aware the next few moments could determine her fate with her life dependant on a convincing show.

“I… I was only…”

“Speak up, Louisse, so your words can be measured by all,” Hakham prompted, his voice just above a rasp.

Louisse pulled in a breath and continued, “If I answer truthfully before the family and the altar, I am aware my words will condemn my sister, Christina. For my reasons for being outside were only to enquire of Christina’s journey among the ruins.”

A disturbed murmur ran through the family gathering; Christina had acted strangely since the day she arrived and maybe the reasons for her behaviour were only just now coming to light.

Christina’s astonished face lit with contention and glowed red, stuttering to defend herself.

Hakham held up his hand and silenced the debacle about to turn into a flaring fight. “You will speak next, Christina,” Hakham assured, and demanded order in the proceedings.

Louisse, now determined in her debut speech, spoke with great conviction. “As I said, I followed Christina along the passage past the Pool of Strange Fire, concerned she was lost. She broke out into the ruins and when I tried to stop her, she went berserk and struck me across the face with her hand; but I struggled with her and that’s how she injured her head, and you can see the place on her robe where she fell heavily to the ground after I fought back. Fortunately for me, the lookout found us just before Christina could counterattack. I am thankful he did, for you can see the bruise across my face and the force this woman is capable of.”

Frustrated tears were forming in Christina’s eyes; she couldn’t believe the story she was hearing and the truth was far from Louisse’s words.

“What do you say to the accusations levelled against you, Christina?” Hakham challenged.

Christina dropped to her knees and began to tremble. “Before Jehovah and all the kindness of the family, I have no reason to have done what Louisse has accused me of. As many know, I suffer from countless fears, and claustrophobia is one of them. The confines of the cave makes my head feel like it’s going to explode and I panicked trying to get outside. I am not gifted with steady feet and tripped in the darkness and fell against the wall; that’s how I injured my head and shoulders and I never raised my hand to Louisse for any reason! I know I should have sought the protection of a Raider before leaving the sanctuary, but I felt like I was about to die if I didn’t get out. This was my only transgression against the family and I apologise profusely for not following the rules.” Christina began to sob and through her blubbering she managed to add, “I’m not a traitor!”

Finn stared down at the two women, confused; both were convincing in their stories but both told vastly differing tales and for once he was glad the decision wasn’t his. He didn’t know who to believe, but one thing was certain.

Someone was lying.

Caleb, however, was determined that Christina was the mole, but his rumbling disgust was interrupted by Hakham’s voice.

Hakham knew dissension had been sown among the gathering and he was determined to crop it before it took root and destroyed the love shared among the family. “It is not our place to judge between our two sisters. Jehovah Himself will eventually bring about His decision and expose the treachery. Therefore you will be responsible, Caleb, to see that Christina’s fears are catered for and she gets outside when needed. Unless you are occupied with a raid, you will treat Christina as a respected mother and look after her needs.” Hakham’s gaze burnt into Caleb, reading the smouldering hatred with acute accuracy.

The light of indignation flickered in Caleb’s eyes. Had he just been demoted to a babysitter to someone who didn’t deserve anything? But now Hakham was treating her like a honoured member of the family. Caleb bowed his head in submission to the elder. He would obey, even if he didn’t agree with him.

Hakham then directed his glare to Finn. “In the same light, esteemed leader of the Raiders, you will be responsible for Louisse. Unless you are on a raid, you will attend to her every need as a son tends his mother. She will not leave the sanctuary without your knowledge and company, and you will be responsible for her welfare.” Hakham then concluded with, “Jehovah has spoken.”

Words he seldom used unless he was sure Jehovah had indeed spoken.

Finn and Caleb exchanged shocked glances as Hakham left the sanctuary and ambled toward his chambers, dividing the reverent family members congregating across his path; at the same time, leaving two young men and two middle aged women stunned by Hakham’s decision and unsure whether anything had been established.

 

~

 

Finn escorted Louisse to her single chambers and after she refused further attention from the Raider, he wandered back to his own accommodation and pondered Hakham’s strange decision.

As he prepared for the following night’s clandestine raid, Hakham’s shocking decision to give him the responsibility for Louisse’s care opened a exasperating wound.

Unintentionally, Finn dawdled down a familiar frustrating mental path, reviving the ache and not able to recall his family roots. He couldn’t even remember his own mother, but he was sure there was a disturbing story behind her absence in his life today.

His mind drifted back to a raid several years ago when he was a very young man and freshly groomed by Hakham to rescue the resistance people from the Alama Masu. The raid had started out like all the others, breaking into the enemy’s camp and stealing doomed hostages from under their incredulous noses.

However, the enemy had practised a response to the Raiders’ attack this time and the alarm had been sounded quickly, trapping the raiding party into a bitter slugging match, something they were supposed to avoid at all cost. Each member of the raiding party was locked into a life-or-death battle and fought desperately while the odds were stacked three-to-one in favour of the Alama Masu.

As a consequence, the Raiders’ plan of attack never followed a predictable path again and every raid was a one-off affair.

An unseen, crashing blow sent the young and inexperienced Finn sprawling to the pavement and it was only Hakham’s prayer coverage and Jehovah’s grace that protected the Raiders and allowed them to escape with their lives.

As a part of his terrible injuries, Finn had lost his memory of the event and everything prior to that day, erasing every image of his childhood, his family and the events leading up to that point in his life. Hakham knew of Finn’s loss, and his decision today only added to Finn’s quandary. His thoughts began to drift back to the raid preparation and he wondered why Hakham would give him and Caleb the responsibility of surrogate mothers when there was a good chance they wouldn’t be coming back.

All the confusing thoughts seemed to swirl together, the responsibility of taking care of a mother figure, then the desire to become a husband and father turned his focus once again back to the beautiful Heather. Her sharp beauty, calming wisdom and fine character was sought by every young man in the family, but she declined every attention, leaving another broken heart in her wake.

Finn sighed as the image of the beautiful face tugged at his heart strings; he needed to see her once again before the final raid and carry her memory into battle one last time.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 19

 

It had been many hours since Dramble had interrupted the strange group and the cowardly men who’d struck the woman across her face with a harrowing blow. The sickening sound played across his mind repeatedly and no matter how hard he tried, the neck-snapping image and the scarf unwinding from her face forcibly, burnt ineradicably into the image receptors of his brain and refused to leave his memory.

The geodesic dome was looming larger with every meticulous step, but glancing up at the huge structure further distracted his mind from the task of tracking and possibly diverting him from an important clue.

A vision of Elly’s beautiful face abruptly focused his thinking and drove all other images from his mind. In a concerted effort he forced his concentration back to the trail, left like a signpost for him to follow and abandoned the bewildering looming image of the dome. Dramble took a last incredulous glance up at the hypnotising structure and then compelled his attention back to the coppery dust, but the construction kept vying for his attention. The dome resembled an oversized igloo, filling the skyline to the horizon and contrasting the stark, desert-like surrounds by its colourful green images of vegetation purportedly contained within its glass walls.

Dramble couldn’t afford to lose Elly’s direction at this stage even though he knew the abductors had taken her inside the bizarre structure, but the structure appeared far too big and his time was too limited to find her by searching every part. Besides, he had no clue of what he would face once he’d worked out how to breech the glass obstruction, but if he had a hint of a starting point he would have a greater chance of narrowing down where the abductors had taken her.

At one stage, by concentrating on the looming structure’s impressive dimensions instead of the tracks, he’d lost the trail completely and valuable time as well, forcing him to backtrack to regain his bearings. But as he did, a disturbing indicator appeared in the imprints on the ground.

The tracks were steady and stamped evenly into the dust, meaning Elly’s resistance had stopped.

Dramble began to feel uneasy and finding her was even more urgent than ever before. Long red shadows began to creep along the desert floor and reflected imposing images on the chaotic vestiges as night stole closer and swallowed the light in the deepening darkness.

The ruins deflected the cold sun’s rays and projected threatening images onto its neighbours, causing Dramble some angst when he caught the display in his periphery vision. Snapping his head around to confront an attacking foe, his heart hammered in fear, but he was relieved to find it was just a ruse of the strange environment.

Finally, the guiding tracks came to an abrupt halt and turned onto a fractured stone path, less than half a kilometre from a unobtrusive doorway into the glass structure. The structure close up was more imposing than expected, forcing Dramble to crane his neck to capture the full extent the image occupied. A shadowy movement from behind the glass arrested his attention and he quickly dove for cover, hiding behind a barrier of charred rubble and keeping a constant vigil over the entrance, while studying its vast expanse and searching for a way inside.

Whatever he did, he needed to evade capture if he was to help out the young woman who would be relying on him to set her free.

Dramble pulled in a frustrated breath and let it out carelessly, escaping from his lungs and sounding like a steam whistle chortling in the extreme silent domain. Again, he found himself waiting on the dawdling sun, nervously counting the moments until complete darkness hid him from prying eyes.

As he kept watch over the thickening night, shards of dim light from within the structure stole through the gaps in the vegetative curtain and escaped into the darkness through the glass walls. The massive edifice appeared to be coming to life like some nocturnal jellyfish laying flat against the surrounding beach sand, but without the water.

The thought of water disturbed him; surely Elly’s captors would have known she was desperately dehydrated and needed immediate help if she was to be any use for ransom purposes.

Dramble caught the foolishness of his own thoughts. Who would they attempt to extort a ransom from? Nobody knew they were itinerant visitors to this strange world and Elly’s folks wouldn’t know of her current dilemma anyway, even if they were capable or prepared to help.

It was suddenly obvious the captors had other plans for Elly, but nothing he could imagine consoled Dramble’s worrying.

With no apparent way to violate the structure’s defences, and Elly’s contorting face ever before his mind’s eye, raw adrenaline pumped through his veins and he decided he had had enough waiting, conceding the only way in was to be captured himself.

At that, Dramble sprinted for the glass doors blocking his passage into the dome, while splintered light spilled onto the paving around the door and lit up his small figure like a searchlight on a dark sea. He danced around the door, pounding on its thick glass with his open fists, looking for some way to violate the extraordinary construction’s defences or at least attract attention from within, but as always happens when he wanted to be caught, the exact opposite occurred and his animated actions went unnoticed.

A mischievous glint sparkled with determination and his grey eyes narrowed into slits. Desperate times called for desperate measures; and he backed away from the glass doors and into the dark ruins once again, picking up handfuls of attention and piling them onto the path leading into the dome.

With an aggressive stance and legs spread wide apart for accuracy, he yelled with all his might. “Hey, numbskulls! Here I am, come and get me or are you too much of a chicken?! Bawk, bawk, bawk… !” And then with all the determination he could muster, he reached to the stockpile on the ground, selected an appropriate missile and hurled the winning number at the doors, cracking the glass on impact and waiting for the desired and expected response.

 

~

 

Slung unceremoniously over the shoulder of a large hooded figure, Elly’s constant wriggling and slapping at her captor wore her out and just as she was about to give him her final exhausted encouragement, he ran out of patience and pressed something cold into her neck and her consciousness deserted her. Limp like a doll, Elly’s attempts to record her sojourn in the telltale tracks of the dust, keeping Dramble aware she was still alive and resisting, abruptly stopped too.

Once shocked fear had turned to indignation at her abduction, Elly became bold. It appeared they had no intention of harming her and the more they refused to react to her defiance, the more defiant she became.

As soon as they had covered some distance from the sheltering ruin and the threat of a counterattack had faded, one of the captors reached under his black robe and withdrew a green coloured army canteen. Elly watched the figure in disgust and when he tried to force the receptacle to her lips she struggled, intent on opposing his actions. The figure burst into an angry jabbering barrage of a language she didn’t understand and while Elly kicked and slapped at him, he finally overrode her strength and the cool liquid slid over her tonsils and down her throat. Tasting the life giving water running down over her parched organs, all the objections soon stopped and instead she tried to drain the canteen in one large gulp. The abductor violently reefed it from her grasp and exploded in his jabbering strange tongue again, castigating her for reasons she didn’t understand. However, a few hours later he gave the canteen back to her and realisation dawned, he was trying to stop her from overloading her system with too much at once.

For some unknown reason they wanted her alive.

 

~

 

A tickling sensation irritated Elly’s nose, dragging her from the depths of sleep. Still groggy and with her eyes closed to the surrounds, she listlessly swatted at the offender with an aggravated hand and slowly regained her consciousness after being silenced for bad behaviour by her captor. As more understanding trickled into the gathering dawn of consciousness, her eyes sprang open, wondering where she was.

Scanning her surrounds with an anxious stare, she kept her head and body perfectly still, while it soon became evident that she’d been placed on her side atop an animal skin rug in the centre of a large room and the beast’s long hair was annoying her face as she breathed.

Another bout of the jabbering language in close proximity caught her by surprise and before she could process her new environment, a hand grabbed a generous portion of her hair and reefed her into a sitting position. Elly felt the pain stinging her scalp and tried to scream at her assailant, but a massive hand covered her mouth and quieted her disapproval.

Then, another male voice rasped across the room in a language she could understand. “Be careful, Rashid; don’t bruise her. Malhalem loves blonde kafiri women and this little one will bring him much pleasure.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 20

Louisse had spent many restless hours laying awake on her bed, trying to gauge Hakham’s logic. She was impressed with her earlier award-winning performance before the altar of judgement and even more amazed at the incredible good fortune of stumbling over Christina’s innocent and haphazard escape from the family underworld, consequently letting her off the hook and spilling just enough contention into the situation to cast doubt over her guilt.

Even though it appeared she had hoodwinked the great Hakham, unnerving questions kept her from sleep and her conscience passively rumbled in the dark alleyways of her mind until an echoing voice silenced it with a crisp… get a grip!… command.

Finn had made many visits to her single chambers to check on her condition and comply with the elder’s directive. His magnificent figure filled the entry to her room but he refused to pass beyond the boundary door.

Feeling annoyed at the constant monitoring of her movements, she sent him on a flurry of personal errands, hoping he would become irritated at her pettiness and finally leave her be. But as each new whim was completed, he returned to her door prepared to continue the charade, ad infinitum. It was Louisse herself who concluded the game after tiring of the Raider’s constant attention and she waved him away, feigning a headache.

To her dismay, moments later he returned again with a herbal root someone had collected from deep within the cave system, allegedly for the express purpose of calming worried nerves and relieving headaches. He left a tumbler of water and the root meal at the door of her chamber and let her choose to contend with the pain.

If Hakham’s childish game of mummy and son was to continue, it would make it very difficult for her to resume her business with the Alama Masu and miss out on the niceties contained within their glass city walls. They owed her for the missing payment anyway and someone was going to pay for the bruise tattooed across her face. She angrily rolled on her mattress, shifting from her stomach and lay flat on her back, ignoring the tumbler and the vile root concoction waiting at her door. Then, with a gentle touch of her finger, she traced the smarting bruise and could only imagine what a sight it had made of her face.

A small figure standing at her doorway broke into her brooding and beckoned to her. “Louisse, it’s Christina; may I come in?”

Louisse couldn’t believe the nerve of the woman, visiting her after the damning shredding of her character before the whole family.

“What do you want, Christina?!” she bluntly replied.

“Caleb gave me a gift from the last raid he was involved in. It’s a small amount of the Alama Masu food; I just wanted to offer it to you in the hope you could forgive me.”

Louisse swallowed hard and couldn’t believe what the nutty woman was about to do, and then she fell silent for a long time before she erupted, “I know what you are up to, Christina, but it won’t work. Leave me alone before I call Finn in to take care of you!”

Louisse heard something being placed on the rocky floor of her chamber and then heard Christina dejectedly shuffle away.

When she raised herself to her elbows, she could see the unmistakable shape of an Alama Masu food tube and the coveted grey crystals it contained. She stared at it for many moments, salivating at the treat, but her conscience once again began to rattle its sabre and alert her to His presence.

Another crushing realisation flawed her. She had threatened Christina with Finn’s presence, drawing on the Raider’s protection instead of dealing with the situation herself. She was baffled. What was happening to her?!

 

~

 

A black robed figure quietly crept through the silent passageways and eventually stood at the doorway to Finn’s chamber. As he approached, he could hear whispers coming from the room and then Finn’s and Hakham’s silhouettes etched against the dark background of Finn’s underground home.

“Finn, are you ready? It’s almost midnight,” Caleb’s undertone broke into the meeting from the protection of his dark hood covering his head.

“Come in, Caleb,” Hakham’s unmistakable rasp beckoned the Raider’s second-in-command.

Caleb joined the two men before Hakham pronounced a blessing and Jehovah’s protection over him, just like he had done moments earlier for the black robed Finn.

“I am unsure whether you will escape with your lives tonight from Baal Malii, but it is imperative that your mission does not fail. If the floundering red sun rises before completing your task, then it will be too late and have a devastating effect for our people. I know the plan of Jehovah, and He Himself will divulge it to you once you have violated the glass walls. Take the way that leads to the garden of the palace and into the Malhalem’s Harem. I will act as intercessor before Jehovah’s altar until you have returned, or some word is known. Have faith in the mighty Jehovah, Creator God and protector of our people.”

As Hakham finished his encouragement, Caleb and Finn pulled up their hoods and stole out of the sanctuary maze, leaving Hakham behind and swiftly wound their way through the familiar tunnels and disappeared into the darkness while Hakham nervously watched the two brave Raiders leave, fearful for their safety.

 

~

 

A half a dozen stunned black hooded Alama Masu warriors stood facing a small ranting figure making poor impersonations of a delirious chook in the dark and calling their characters into question.

He was obviously an unrobed kafiri who had gone off his rocker and without the mark, he stood out an easy target.

Charred fractured bricks lay strewn across the entry path like a crazed minefield, and glass mingled with the dust of the ruins while the glass door to their protected world had shattered and left a gaping hole to the uncontrolled pollution of the detritus.

An angry warrior stepped forward, intent on capturing the troublemaker and taking him straight to the front of the line for the morning’s executions as a reward for his foolishness.

A dangerous smirk broke out across the warrior’s face and as he stepped menacingly towards the little figure he took a swipe at the felon, but the boy ducked around him and weaved past the other stunned warriors with such speed and agility that he had breached their protective barrier and was inside Baal Malii before they knew what was happening.

The sudden change in environment took Dramble by surprise and almost winded him; the lush vegetation and ordered streets of a thriving city stood reaching far beyond the horizon in all directions while the air moved as if driven by the wind and smelt clean and fresh, unlike the polluted sulphur of the ruins.

The sounds of angry footsteps closing in on him, clicking on the dry concrete paths as they ran, shook him from the shock and forced him to seek shelter.

The looming presence of a well manicured park, partially hidden by thick trees, caught his eye and right in the middle was a statue of some robed dude with water falling from his hand and spilling into a concrete tarn immediately below him. Dramble fixated on the concrete reservoir and hoped it was deeper than just a wading pond.

In a run for his life, he sprinted like lightning across deep green grass and dove across the fountain’s decorative low wall, aiming directly for the waters’ soothing bubble splashing into the depths of the fountain’s lagoon. With an expert dive, his entry into the water was almost faultless and left only a ripple breaking the surface and nothing of consequence to point to the fact he had taken refuge below its calming facade.

Feeling the exuberant luxury of soft, clean water almost stunned the small figure. The tepid cool of the fountain’s depths kept him submerged for a long time, enjoying the cleaning freshness, rubbing away days of dusty existence and only the straining of his lungs eventually forced him to the surface. He let out the trapped breath slowly from his complaining lungs and gasped in new air quietly, but keeping a low profile just in case he had been detected.

Glancing around the striking gardens, Dramble waited and listened, straining for the sounds of his pursuers. After nearly fifteen minutes of quiet, he felt assured he had shaken them off and in a smug moment of luxury, he dove for the fountain’s depths again and frolicked in its cleansing opulence.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 21

 

“Where is your master?!”

A huge black robed figure standing over the blonde girl bored down into Elly’s frightened eyes, demanding an answer, while his huge, hulking companion was silent in anticipation of her reply and concerned to the extent the warrior would go to force her to speak.

“Answer me!” the broken English flared again, while his big arm raised above his head in a threatening pose and just before he delivered his heroic blow, another arm arrested his movement in mid strike.

“I told you not to bruise her! Malhalem will have you executed if his play things are damaged in any way before he has had his picking,” the other huge black robed figure warned.

The cold, staring eyes searched disgustedly at the enormous man holding back his violence. Hesitatingly, he lowered his weapon against the petite woman and then turned back to Elly, his eyes alight with hatred.

“You are fortunate, kafiri, that the commander lends favour towards you, but there are other ways to extract an answer without damaging the mighty leader’s filthy play toys.”

The emphasis made it very clear Elly and the heroic warrior were somehow on opposite sides of an open wound, a battle she didn’t understand.

“Unless of course you cooperate!” the harsh voice offered.

The small woman peered back up at the huge build and quavered with fear; her big blue eyes were moist and had turned a petrified tinge of grey. Her mouth was dry and it took all her concentration and strength just to form an answer that wouldn’t enrage the snorting bull.

“I… I don’t have a master,” Elly shivered.

WHAT?!”

The raging bull drew the frightened young woman into his sights, snorting dryly. Elly’s innocent reply had enraged him and she was sure he was going to charge. He came within millimetres of her face and erupted.

“It is a disgusting thing and expressly forbidden by the Koyarwar for a woman to roam without permission and unaccompanied by a man! No woman is free to do as she wants; she is a man’s possession and must obey his every whim! This is the law!”

Elly cowered from the angry face, his nostrils flaring with abject hatred, certain if the commander wasn’t in the room with her, she wouldn’t live to see another day.

A gesture between the two black robed men confused Elly and they gathered in a huddle, whispering among themselves. As they bent into the whispers, an ugly, identical mark engraved on their foreheads came into plain sight, sending an urgent shudder up and down Elly’s back. She didn’t know what the mark represented, but the sheer anger sculptured into its artwork was enough to alarm her.

In a moment of bravery, Elly glanced around the room, looking for comfort. It was tastefully furnished and with not too much imagination, it could even be described as opulent. To one side, a fine, see-through gossamer curtain hung lazily across a divide and Elly stared at it with confusion, but glancing warily back at the whispering brutes and momentarily keeping them under her full attention. Elly’s staring gaze peered into the curtain and her curious, but alarmed features concentrated on a silent black blob behind it.

Suddenly, a part of the black blob moved and Elly realised it was a group of black robed women congregated together, their faces completely covered and watching the interrogation through slits in their facial attire but their identities hidden by the semi-opaque curtain.

Her gape was abruptly interrupted as the commander approached her, making her instinctively tense her muscles in preparation for a different tact.

“You must forgive Rashid’s harsh manner, kafiri,“ the smooth baritone voice of the commander drifted over Elly and lulled by its texture, she relaxed just a fraction. “He is used to dealing with the lies and deception of the common kafiri; but you, you are not common. You have been selected to indulge the great leader, an honour not many women have the pleasure of. Now, if you will answer just a few of my questions, then we can get on with something much more pleasant.” He pointed beyond the gossamer curtain to the women beyond. “Massages, beauty treatments, perfuming and even fine clothing and jewels.”

Elly’s eyes riveted onto the curtain again, following the pointing figure.

The commander peered back to Rashid, who was concentrating on a small screen, quickly acknowledging that the commander’s tact was working. “Now, just tell me where the kafiri family is hidden; we know it is somewhere around the place we ‘rescued’ you from this morning.”

Elly’s eyes were blank; she had no idea what the softly spoken commander was talking about. “I don’t know of this kafiri family,” hiding her indignant feelings and well aware she had been ‘abducted’.

The eyes of the commander began to smoulder and Elly could sense the atmosphere was about to change for the worse until a glance from the commander to Rashid evaporated his anger.

“So if you don’t know the location of the kafiri we seek, then how did you come to be in possession of our treats left behind for the family to enjoy.”

Elly defiantly held the gaze of the commander; nothing he was saying was making any sense. She pulled in a frustrated breath and was just about to explain the crazy story of the last few days when a loud wailing voice echoed from outside the window, chanting in a harrowing monotone across the world beyond the room.

The room abruptly emptied, leaving Elly completely alone and bewildered by the strange happenings.

The booming monotone continued and she seemed totally free to roam around at will; the women behind the curtain had disappeared as well, but a soft female voice entering the quiet, changed Elly’s mind.

“Hello. My name is Eliana; what’s yours?”

The petite form of a pretty young woman entered the room, seemingly unconcerned at the distress Elly was under. Her small frame was adorned in a flowing white dress and her bare feet were tastefully decorated with the clinking jewels of anklets. Her appearance was distracting and elegance flowed around her, while her perfume was gentle, but persuasive. She wasn’t like the black hooded women but Elly was wary anyway and her distraught gaze locked onto Eliana’s beautifully sculptured features, noting her brown eyes were compassionate and inviting.

“E… Elly,” she managed, wondering what new surprise this woman would bring.

“Don’t worry, Elly, Jehovah has everything under control and somehow He will rescue us from Malhalem before he has a chance to violate us,” the unconcerned young woman’s matter-of-fact statement both brought comfort and dread.

Violate us?!

Eliana took Elly’s hand and then sat down on the rug next to her, studying Elly’s frightened blue eyes. She had never seen someone so innocent and ignorant of the situation. “I can see why you were chosen; you are stunning, Elly, and after your treatments you will be even more attractive.”

The frustration was beginning to upset Elly; she had no idea what was going on and she became indignant. “I don’t understand anything you are saying or the questions those men were expecting me to answer; why do they keep calling me kafiri or whatever it is?! My name is Elly and where am I and why was I abducted?”

Eliana watched tenderly as the frustrated tears flowed over Elly’s eyelids.

“My friend, Dramble, will be searching for me too,” she sobbed. “Please tell me what’s going on and how I can get out of here.”

 

~

 

Dramble’s soaking form kept a low profile, stealing from tree to tree, making his way to the edge of the manicured park. He couldn’t afford to cross a dry path or road until he had dried enough to conceal his direction, but as he stood peering into the dim night and down towards a vast sparkling metropolis, a strange phenomenon vexed his eyes. Stars were prickling in the sky and the hint of a moon began to rise from behind the city skyline.

Then from out of nowhere a low, monotonous voice bellowed out across the city and chanted a disturbing monologue, amplified throughout by some type of sound system. Far away in the distance, black robed figures scurried about into a huge building resembling a temple. Dramble quickly realised the city was being called to worship and if that was the case, he would have free roam until the monotone ceased.

Making good use of the protection offered by the disturbing voice and the absence of sentries, Dramble quickly made his way into the vast city. The sights were overawing him, but he couldn’t afford to ogle too long and in his current outfit, he was a sitting duck.

He noticed a group of houses nearby and made a scurrying beeline for the closest one, wondering whether he could borrow a child-sized black robe and safely blend in.

Peering through a gap in a wooden picket fence, he checked the first house for washing lines, the most obvious place to find the fashion statement he was looking for. But as he searched, the focus of his endeavour was nowhere to be seen. Patiently, he searched the row of dwellings until finally, the last house fulfilled his desire; a small black robe hanging from its hem, supposedly drying in the warm evening air, was his for the borrowing.

Under the cover of darkness and cloaked by the haunting chant bellowing out into the night, Dramble breached the fence and snatched at the robe, dragging it to the ground, spitting wooden clothes pegs from the line in all directions and leaving the rope itself bouncing precariously.

Away from prying eyes and hidden behind the fences, Dramble threw the robe over his small figure and pulled up the hood. His face and body were completely covered; only a small slit for his eyes gave any indication that a live human body was incarcerated within. Feeling less vulnerable in the disguise, but something was still bothering him; the outfit didn’t look anything like the warriors’ he had seen in the past. The warriors’ faces weren’t completely covered and it wasn’t until the monotonous voice stopped and people began to return to their homes, did he realise what was different.

He was disguised as a girl.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 22

 

It didn’t take many minutes in Eliana’s company for Elly to feel a degree of comfort, but she was suspicious it was just another tactic of the angry hooded men. The confusion that surrounded these men only made Elly more uncertain of their intent, while the questions they were asking her, expecting her to know the answers, frustrated her even further.

Outside the window, the chanting monotone reverberated without end, plunging the confusion to a deeper level and making her feel nauseous.

Eliana must have read the fear in Elly’s eyes and her calming voice broke into Elly’s thoughts. “Don’t be concerned, Elly; just have faith in Jehovah. I know He will deliver us before we have to go anywhere near Malhalem in the morning.”

“Who is Malhalem?” Elly asked, adding to the angst and focusing on Eliana’s brown eyes, searching for signs of treachery.

A concerned battle flared in Eliana’s mind, holding Elly’s piercing blue-eyed stare; either Elly was playing a convincing game or she really didn’t know. After searching Elly’s innocent gaze, Eliana decided it was the latter.

Pulling in a large breath, Eliana settled herself on the rug next to Elly, while the blonde woman followed her every move. The petite Eliana was beautiful to behold, but beauty was deceptive and it would take more than a few kind words for trust to become a valued companion on this new stage. The fact she was dressed in plain white and not the dowdy black Elly saw everywhere, filled her mind with further questions.

“Okay, Malhalem is considered to be one of the mystics of the moon god and is the vassal leader in this region for the one world government. The Alama Masu…”

“The who?!” Elly interrupted, her mind becoming more confused with every new discovery.

Eliana stopped the explanation abruptly, challenging her own appraisal of Elly’s apparent innocence to the world she inhabited. Her eyes narrowed and held Elly’s gaze again, searching for signs of duplicity and then she remembered the tainted grey food crystals and Rashid’s response to the questions the commander was asking.

Eliana’s uncertainty evaporated. The specially adapted grey food crystals didn’t lie and it was nearly impossible for a human being to control their bodies to the extent needed to outwit the cunning tool.

Many of the resistance people had been tripped up by the Alama Masu’s clever weapon and butchered for their subversion against the Alama Masu and the mark. The grey crystals were manufactured by the kafiri as a high nutrition food source and the cylinders were its normal storage receptacle. But the kafiri, forced by the Alama Masu, had added a cocktail of chemical additives to nominated capsules that effectively turned the normal food source into a high-tech tracking device and internal body scanner, until it was evicted by the body some days later. Eliana’s own parents had succumbed to the deceitfulness of the altered food; being discovered without the mark they were immediately executed, and Eliana’s capture and story was closely interwoven with the same sedition.

Eliana glanced to the locked door trapping her and Elly inside the formidable room. Evening worship would be over soon and the Alama Masu interrogators would have been wound up by the Koyarwar, making their return into the harem even more unpredictable and threatening.

“Maybe my own story, Elly, may throw some light on your questions.”

Elly noticed Eliana’s concerned glance to the door and mimicked her action, then with a subtle nod of consent, her gaze rested on the troubled brown eyes once again.

“Not many years before I was born, a great and terrible conflict erupted around my parents’ home, Israel. A great attacking horde swept down from the north, accompanied by enemies to the west and east. The rest of the world had suffered harshly under a catastrophic financial collapse, but Israel prospered under the watchful guiding hand of Jehovah. The horde coveted the exuberant wealth of Israel and the technology she was famous for, but in a collaborated attack sanctioned by most of the world, the horde rattled its warring sabre at the tiny country and unleashed a great rain of nuclear terror aimed at conquering the jewel of Jehovah’s heart and her wealth.

“Needless to say, under Jehovah’s protection, the weapons fell well short of their target and Israel was unaffected, but once the weapons began to launch, countries around the world joined into the fray, using the distraction of the Middle East to exact revenge on neighbours and continents far across the world with their nuclear retaliation. The devastation was terrible and as you have witnessed for yourself beyond the glass walls, it left a trail of destruction and death never before seen.”

Elly swallowed hard as stinging tears erupted and realisation suddenly dawned. The ruins that she and Dramble had been sheltering in were a result of a deliberate act of aggression against a peaceful people unable to defend themselves. A normal city going about their peaceful business, annihilated in seconds.

Eliana watched Elly’s eyes spill over tears onto her face and with a sigh of compassion, she reached in and wrapped the distraught blonde woman in her embrace, but at Elly’s insistence, Eliana continued with her story.

“After seven years, the radioactive fallout more or less settled, but it was still impossible to live in much of the world’s devastated city ruins. There were many who survived but they lived under horrific conditions, immediately converted from suburban city dwellers to jackals living among the ruins or in caves. Some Israeli scientists came up with a radical idea to use a geodesic glass dome to construct complete cities within its glass walls, controlling the atmosphere and environment so people could resettle in destroyed areas. Baal Malii, the city you are now in, is one of them. My father was one of the scientists working on the geodesic design, and he and Mother were sent by the Israeli government to construct it. Many Israeli people came to work on the project, but the project was shrouded in suspicion by the rest of the world. Once it was finally complete and it began to function as it was designed, a band of plundering Alama Masu invaded and captured the dome, setting it up as a captured city.

“The Alama Masu–the name means the marked ones–quickly settled and forced the people to take the mark and worship their moon god. But those who refused and wanted to remain faithful to Jehovah were quickly found and butchered in front of the crowds for their stance. By the time the genocide started, Mother had given birth to me and hidden me among our people who remained alive. We survived by adopting their dress and disguising ourselves, becoming slaves to the Alama Masu; they call us kafiri or infidels. We grew the food the city needed by the sweat of our brows. But it was easy to detect that we didn’t have the mark and we became a game for the Alama Masu’s amusement and beheaded at will.”

Eliana’s voice suddenly dropped and Elly had to strain to hear it.

“My Mum and Dad were found and butchered soon after my birth, and the resistance raised me. There is a legendary group that loves Jehovah living among the caves somewhere; the resistance calls them the Raiders. They appear out of nowhere and rescue whoever they can from the Alama Masu; but the Alama Masu can’t work out how they violate the city’s defences and disappear just as quickly without trace, taking another lucky member of the resistance with them. The resistance has been praying for Jehovah to rescue me from Malhalem’s Harem; that’s why I know we will be safe and I will make sure they take you with us.”

Elly sat with her head hanging low, trying to digest the incredible story, but then the questions began to flood her mind. “So, the grey crystals are some kind of tracking device?” Elly glanced up at Eliana with a disturbed expression.

Eliana nodded. “Only some have been modified by the Alama Masu, but they do much more, Elly. Once the crystals have been consumed and are within your body, they can tell everything about you: where you are; your temperature; whether you are telling the truth; what condition your body is in; and importantly for them, whether you have been with a man.”

Elly stared at Eliana with horror. “It’s really that invasive?!”

“Rashid was watching a screen as the commander was asking you questions; they could tell by the reactions from your body whether you were telling the truth. Nothing about you is hidden, so it’s probably better for you that you don’t know too much more about anything else.”

Elly’s quick mind started to put the threads together. “So this man, Malhalem, is preparing you and me for his sick pleasure and then is going to execute us after.”

Eliana sighed loudly. “That’s his plan, but have faith, Elly, and trust Jehovah! He will come through and rescue us.”

The monotonous chanting unexpectedly ended and the room fell eerily silent.

An abrupt manipulation of the harem door lock caused both women to spring to their feet in fear, wondering what was about to happen. Standing before them was a group of black robed women, their faces completely covered.

One woman stood forward of the pack and in broken English demanded, “The time has come for the kafiri’s preparation! It is below an Alama Masu woman to touch a kafiri pig, so you will carry out her preparation!”

The woman pointed at Eliana and then threw a white dress and jewelled anklets on the floor at their feet. Just as abruptly as they entered, the group backed out as if they would become contaminated if they stayed any longer, locking the door again behind them as they left.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 23

 

It seemed awkward for Eliana to be attending Elly as if she was a queen, helping her to bath and massaging lotions into her tired and aching muscles. Elly had objected at first to Eliana being present at such an intimate part of her private world, but as she pointed out, the Alama Masu had very definite ideas about how a kafiri woman was to be presented to their leader.

If the rigorous routine was not adhered to, both the kafiri and those preparing her would meet the full ire of Malhalem and end up facing the executioner’s cutlass sooner than expected.

Hours seemed to pass in meticulous preening until Elly stood before Eliana, examining her handiwork. The soft, white dress flowed effortlessly off Elly’s shoulders and hung elegantly to the floor, while tinkling jewelled anklets alerted all to the presence of extreme graceful beauty. Elly’s long blonde hair fell across her back in silky braids, interspersed with fresh flowers and accentuated with the delicate hint of sweet perfume. Elly’s skin felt like velvet and her profound blue eyes reflected the deep innocence of a pure young woman.

“Wow, you’re beautiful, Elly!” Eliana proclaimed. “Let’s hope you don’t dazzle our rescuers before they can get us out of here.”

Elly’s smile was laced with an undercurrent of fear. She knew Eliana was banking on being rescued, but from where she stood, that didn’t seem even remotely possible. Not wanting to panic Eliana with her negative thoughts, she kept her doubt silent, then wondered whether Dramble had found her tracks and followed her into the city. Even if he had, there wasn’t anything to indicate her whereabouts and searching the city took time and time was fast running out.

The two beauties stood by the window looking out over the palace gardens; the sight before Elly was in stark contrast to the ruins and she sighed with awe. Eliana’s father had designed a wonderland and it was hard to believe there was another devastated world just beyond the glass.

“It’s getting really late and we had better get some sleep before the Raiders arrive,” Eliana bubbled in excitement.

Behind the gossamer curtain, two luxurious single lounges waited, almost in expectation for the two women to make use of their services. It wasn’t long before Elly succumbed to the comfortable luxury and drifted off into an anxious, exhausted sleep.

But Eliana’s mind was troubled. What if the Raiders didn’t come? She shuddered and tried to put the alternative out of her mind and then glanced across at Elly’s sleeping form. What had the two innocent girls done to provoke the lusts of a barbarian?

 

~

 

Dramble roamed the city burrows, searching in the streetlights for signs of his missing companion. He knew she was here somewhere, trouble was… where?!

The black bag he was wearing kept slipping down over his eyes and blinding his direction, while the hem tangled under his feet more often than not and tripped him up, landing him flat on his face.

At one stage, a group of opportunistic male youths had cornered him, thinking he was a lost girl and unattended by a chaperoning male. Seeing an occasion for some fun at Dramble’s expense, they got more than they bargained for when he fought back and injured the attackers’ egos. Not wanting to admit a group of males had been overpowered by a girl, the attackers ran off to lick their wounds, threatening each other with violence if anyone dared to mention it again.

A growing sense of foreboding kept Dramble on the move; after all, how big could this city be?

A majestic building loomed on a distant hillside, floodlit with dozens of powerful coloured searchlights reflecting a fairytale scene. The ominous structure peered down off the hillsides in all directions, giving a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. Dramble stared at it with concern, thinking it was some type of castle but quickly dismissed it as an implausible prison for his beloved Elly. More than likely she had been taken by a grovelling thug and it was just a matter of time before he found her and took her back.

 

~

 

The long, echoing tunnels plinked with droplets of poisonous water leaking into vast pools on the flat surface of the underground route and overpowering their senses with the raw smell of sulphur. It was a slow trudge, feeling every hand grip in the utter darkness and confirming their whereabouts, at the same time making sure they didn’t trip over the rubble that so often spilled across their path.

The train tracks were twisted from the great heat of a traumatic event and nothing but apparitions of the dead rode the long forgotten and derelict subway cars of the past.

Finn let the last hand grip go and waved his arms around blindly in the encompassing darkness, searching for the next clue and then with a sigh of relief, his hand brushed across the derelict subway car, reassuring him he was at the junction that led to the palace gardens.

“We’re here,” Finn whispered, alerting Caleb to the turn. “Caleb?” Finn whispered again, wondering whether he had fallen behind.

“Yeah, right with you, Finn; I walked into something and I’m just cleaning it off. Okay, I’ve got the old subway car, so we should be able to find the next hand grip about… here!” Caleb groped around in the black stillness, brushing against the rock walls until he felt something familiar. “Got it, Finn!”

Finn tried to find Caleb from the direction of his voice and aimed his exploring hand around to where he thought he was and walked onto his foot by mistake. “I hope that was just your foot I trampled?”

“You sure have big feet, Finn; next time I’ll give you more room!” Caleb jested.

Finn took hold of the hand grip and examined it with his fingers, meticulously searching for the code that confirmed the correct tunnel. “This is it; another hour and we will be in the gardens. Has Jehovah whispered His plan to you yet?”

“Not a word. What about you, Finn, have you heard anything?”

“No, nothing yet, but Hakham did say he would tell us once we entered the palace garden.”

The two Raiders were about to push on for the last leg of the utter darkness before exiting the tunnel and into the palace gardens, when a low rumble reverberated down into the depths of the gloom and gradually amplified into a crescendo of cracking rubble. Pieces of something were stinging Finn’s body, fired at him like a shot from a rifle. He crouched on the spot and protected his face with his hands until the furore finally subsided.

“That was close. Are you okay, Caleb…? Caleb?!”

 

~

 

Eliana tossed and turned on the lounge, expecting to hear the sounds of their rescuers at any moment. She glanced to the harem window through the gossamer curtain, peering into the reflected shadows of the streetlights. While the scene gave her some comfort, the trauma of first light, indicated by the rising dawn, still seemed to be a while off.

She guessed it was early morning, although the unwelcome sunrise would come soon enough.

The strong faith in Jehovah she’d comforted Elly with, began to crack and tormented images disturbed her sleepy mind, threatening to derail her faith altogether. In a desperate plea, she called out to Jehovah begging for His intervention.

An abrupt jangling, punctuated by the forceful unlocking of the harem door, startled Eliana and her heart hammered in fear.

The disturbance woke Elly too, staring across at the frightened image of Eliana, hoping to find comfort, but Eliana’s face spoke of intense fear.

The door swung open and a huge image blocked the passage light trying to leak in around the massive frame.

“Get up! Malhalem can’t sleep and wants something to distract his mind. You have fifteen minutes to prepare, then I will be back.”

The voice of the commander was abrupt and forceful; no sign of the gentle baritone calm Elly had experienced earlier. The door plunked shut, but the lock remained disengaged.

Eliana’s trembling hand ran through her long, dark luxurious locks; would this be the end for Elly and her? Violated and murdered at the hands of a despot?

In a desperate plea she cried out, “Please, Jehovah, rescue us!”

Footsteps echoing down the empty passageway warned the girls of the commander’s return. Elly felt faint listening to each reverberating click-clack coming closer and sealing their shameful fate in an expression of spiralling despair.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 24

 

Louisse reefed violently at the light blanket covering her body, tangled in its confining grasp and annoyed by the obstruction to her free movement. Everywhere she turned, people were wanting to restrict her freedom and her movements. Feeling her ire rising, she unleashed a temper tantrum toward the misbehaving cover and transferred her frustration to its woollen texture, kicking the inanimate object from her bed with manic force.

Even if it was just a stupid blanket, it sure felt good to impose her will on something and not have it retaliate and restrict her further.

She felt a growing desire to overthrow Hakham’s limitations on her life and shake off Finn’s constant and irritating presence. A sudden plan formed in her mind and abruptly, she knew how to strike back at Hakham and Finn, deciding she needed some errands run at this early hour.

In a deliberate drive to find Finn’s chambers, she steered herself out of her compartment and into the silent passageways. As she crept noiselessly through the sleeping tunnels, light snoring could be heard emanating from different family dwellings and bringing an agitated bout of envy for the lucky ones able to sleep through the night.

A slight stab of conscience rattled at her brain as she passed by Christina’s chamber, but a swift and stinging mental rebuke settled it back into the wide open spaces of denial. She stood peering into the darkened chamber, replaying the wretched woman’s pathetic attempt at disturbing her inactive conscience with a selfless gift of coveted food. She whispered harshly and sarcastically into Christina’s chamber, deliberately thumbing her nose at Christina’s suspicious gift. “It was delicious too, Christina.”

Fearing Caleb may be close by and listening, Louisse pushed on until she stood at the front of Finn’s dark chamber. Eavesdropping for the sounds of sleep, she waited. Either he was a silent sleeper or he wasn’t there.

Unsure of his presence and totally unconcerned about waking nearby sleeping family, Louisse drew in a breath and disturbed the darkness with her childish clatter. “Finn! Mummy has a headache and needs some more of that special tree root and a tumbler of water!”

Moments went by, but no answer found its way back to her. The surrounding chambers had fallen into a disturbed quiet; all signs of glorious snoring had stopped and just maybe they were listening to the woman’s juvenile demands in the depths of night.

Feeling like Finn was ignoring her, she became incensed and stormed into his dark chamber, searching around with her hands stretched out in front of her. She unexpectedly kicked his bed with a poorly aimed toe, sending pain receptors responding in a panicked flight and delivering disturbing messages to her brain. With antagonised tears of pain escaping her frustrated eyes, she slapped at his bed with an open fist, only to discover the crib was empty.

She straightened her stature while the pain in her foot seemed to ripple with each movement, wondering where her little boy could be. Dropping her intense figure to the empty bed and trying to placate her smarting foot, her scheming imagination soon overrode the pain sensors and a new plan began to form.

Hmm, this is interesting, she thought. Maybe Hakham and his Raider buddies were up to something, something she should know about and draw a benefit from.

 

~

 

Every task Heather tried to accomplish was fraught with images of Finn. She was sure he was hiding some kind of regard for her, but his strange actions of the past days only confounded and confused her.

When she combed out the generous length of her soft, dark hair, Finn was in her thoughts. As she gathered together with other family members to wash clothes, Finn stole her thoughts, too. Even when Hakham stood teaching the family from the Book of Wisdom, Finn tantalised her mind, fantasizing his words, asking her to join him on the hunt for the Altar Rose.

Tonight she couldn’t sleep, recalling the image of Finn and his piercing green eyes watching her across the crowd. She smiled when she caught his gaze, but he had turned away as if he was hiding something from her. She kept trying to reengage his glance but he wouldn’t accommodate her silent request; instead, his distance and aloofness pierced her heart and the stirrings of rejection began to flounder in the young woman’s mind.

The more she tried to entice sleep, the more it evaded her, while the constant confusing thoughts echoed in her mind as she lay in her bed, trying to make sense of Finn’s behaviour. She grappled with each disturbing scenario parading through her imagination, vying for understanding, but only stabbing loneliness settled in the place where once joyous emotions existed. She had turned down many romantic advances by good young men, holding out for the blonde magnificence of the Raider’s leader instead, hoping eventually he would notice her and pursue her.

Feeling the need for some time in Jehovah’s presence, she silently threw back her blanket and listened for the sounds of her father’s sleeping form, some distance away. The reassuring deep breaths of her beloved father brought a smile to her face, the first positive emotion she had encountered in the battle with Finn’s disturbing actions.

Quietly stealing from the family chamber and into the deserted passageway, Heather ambled down the familiar path to the Lake of Purity, seeking solace in Jehovah’s gentle wisdom. The flaming torch keeping watch over the clear waters of the Lake of Purity sent flickering images along the passageway and beckoning Heather into the powerful presence of Jehovah.

She soon stood at the doorway into the sanctuary and bowed her head reverently and then entered the sacred amphitheatre and began to silently empty her heart.

 

~

 

Louisse was now completely out of control, leaving a harsh, bristling indignation stabbing at her mind. How dare Finn disobey Hakham’s directive and not be where she wanted him to be, especially when she needed some entertainment to relieve the night time boredom.

A shadow momentarily painted on the corridor wall and flashed past her, scaring her half to death and with her hand grasping at her heart, she recognised the small figure of a woman stealthily moving about the passageways. Who would be active at this time of the morning? Her thoughts tingled with curiosity, hoping she had uncovered some clandestine rendezvous.

Louisse seemed disappointed when the figure vanished inside the sanctuary but decided to listen anyway; maybe she would learn something of Finn’s mysterious disappearance. She pressed against the wall and clung to the darkness, waiting for the woman to speak out her petitions to the God of the altar. Most of the young women were enthralled by Finn and it wouldn’t take long before she would learn of his antics by the infatuated prayers of some delirious young girl.

It took Louisse off guard when she heard two voices instead of one, the other contender was a male voice and it sounded like Hakham.

Now she really was curious.

 

~

 

Heather jumped with fright when she realised someone else had sought the comfort of Jehovah and the solitude and peace of the sanctuary in the early hours of the morning.

“Don’t be afraid, Heather; it’s only me, Hakham,” the old man’s voice sounded tired and drawn. “You seek Jehovah’s wisdom and guidance too for the blonde young man?” he rasped.

Hakham’s unexpected disclosure of his reasons for being in the sanctuary at such an early hour disturbed Heather.

“I… I’m just a little confused at the moment, Hakham,” Heather whispered, settling beside the old man with her legs dangling over the rock wall and intending to say no more, but Hakham’s kindness and powerful personality drew her without him saying another word.

“Sometimes I’m sure Finn has regard for me and then, like tonight, he seems evasive and distant, as if he couldn’t care what happens to me. I wish he would just come out and tell me his intentions and put me out of my misery, instead of getting my hopes up only to dash them again.”

Hakham took many moments to enter Heather’s pain and measured his words carefully. “Sometimes a man has to make decisions that affect the people he loves, decisions of honour and duty that forces him to think about the lives of others and not his own wants and desires. Jehovah has called Finn to follow him in a very particular way, a way that means he will lay down his life so others can live. They may not be deserving of his sacrifice, but Jehovah has spoken and sometimes it is difficult to understand His decision.”

Heather stared down at the deep clear water just near her feet and wondered what Hakham was alluding to. She tried to hold his gaze again when he began to speak, but she had to turn away as his gaze overpowered her stare.

“I will tell you something that must not leave the sanctuary. He has undertaken a very dangerous raid tonight and our people’s wellbeing depends upon him and his ability to complete his mission. However, the possibility of his return could be very doubtful and only Jehovah knows the answer.”

Heather gasped as if Hakham had struck her and drew in a quavering breath, stifling the desire to burst into unrestrained tears and express her shattering grief.

Hakham could see the pain rising in Heather’s troubled eyes, as if a thermometer was recording every degree of her escalating emotions. Convinced her safety valve was about to boil over, Hakham drew her into his fatherly embrace, allowing the safety valve to blow off securely, muffled in the old man’s arms.

Hakham let Heather’s heaving cries settle before he teased the silence with another whisper. “Finn has not disclosed his heart to you, because he wanted to spare you the grief and allow you to choose another to walk the way of the Altar Rose. His decision to obey Jehovah comes at a great personal price and his character and integrity are an immense example to all of us. If it is any consolation to you, Heather, he spoke very fondly of you and only Jehovah and Finn know the cost he paid to let you go.”

Heather’s weeping boiled over again, drifting across the sanctuary, but she stayed in Hakham’s protective embrace for long moments, soaking up his calming presence and together they prayed for Finn, pleading for Jehovah’s will and Finn’s safe return.

 

~

 

Louisse stood motionless, gripped with remorse and riveted by the stolen story and shattering emotion drifting over her. The impact of what she had just heard stabbed at her heart and a storm of guilt raged relentlessly in her mind. The young man who had selflessly served her fanatical selfishness had now offered his life so the family could live.

That included her.

Feeling worthless, she turned on her heels and silently dawdled back to her chamber, realising she may never see the blonde Raider again and just possibly, her dealings with the Alama Masu had something to do with his demise.

Returning to her darkened chamber, she bent to a sitting position and lowered her shocked figure onto the bed, struggling with the dead weight of culpability crushing at her chest.

Grappling with deep resonating guilt, she swivelled her body over her bunk and lay flat on the mattress. Figures of the noble Raider paraded across her mind in the dark, attending to her every whim and as she replayed the sequence with her feigned headache and Finn’s concerned response, another flood of guilt raged. Then Heather’s pitiful sobs and her confessions of love for the Raider assaulted her ears.

She was guilty of Heather’s painful cries, too.

In the presence of deep grief, Louisse silently cried out to Jehovah and pleaded for forgiveness. Then somewhere in the stillness, a tiny voice answered and spoke to her reprehensible heart and tears of remorse flowed over and ran down her face.

You are forgiven; now be worthy of your son’s sacrifice.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 25

The metronomic click-clack of approaching boots terrified the two girls, while the echoing rhythm seemed to chime out a foreboding prophecy, counting down each remaining moment of their lives with the surgical beat until the short symphony abruptly stopped, signifying the humiliating curtain call and their unwanted death lay just ahead.

Elly stared across the room and into Eliana’s petrified brown eyes, looking for solace and the surety of a planned escape route, but all she found was defeat in her distressed expression. She silently begged Eliana to offer a means to elude the grave situation.

Immediately Eliana’s eyes became clear and focused, as if someone had offered her an army at her disposal. “If this is Jehovah’s will, then I accept His terms. Malhalem can abuse and mutilate my body, but the spirit of Jehovah’s child is forever protected from man’s cruelty and lives immortal with Him forever.”

Elly’s dumbfounded gaze settled on Eliana, her mouth hanging open listening to Eliana’s murmurs. It was alright for her to accept what was coming with bravery, but Elly had no assurance that Jehovah would recognize her as His eternal child.

She wondered what it would feel like to die, and hadn’t ever thought about this moment but now it was here, she wasn’t ready for it and panic set in.

Eliana refocused on Elly’s shocked mien, then uttered the words that Elly could draw strength from. “Just have faith, Elly, and trust Jehovah; it won’t matter if we die. He will be there on the other side to bring us home forever.”

The time to ponder had come and gone as the door to the harem swung open and the commander ordered them out and down the passageway.

Tiny gold bells tied together with chain encircled each girl’s ankle and tinkled with each nervous step as they apprehensively walked to their fate. The flowing white dresses followed the girls regally and caressed the balcony floor, sweeping the decorated surface with each elegant motion. Soft perfume danced around them, alluring and seductive in its scent, but totally defiant to the heart and will of each unwilling seductress.

The commander followed the girls from behind and guarded each step, making sure they would enter Malhalem’s bedroom before breaking away and then returning a few hours later to escort them to the executioner’s stage in front of the chanting crowd.

The part each Alama Masu lusted for.

An opulent double doorway loomed up across the passage, garlanded by two royal purple curtains and embroidered with the disgusting mark, divided in the middle and hiding the ornate palace brickwork with its generous gold edging.

Elly felt numb and emotionless, like a machine, her body separated from her will. She glanced across the second floor balcony and glimpsed the sprawling palace gardens disappearing into the distance and pondered the freedom that lay beyond.

She refocused on the path and her heart pounded as she and Eliana walked past the dividing curtains; but something appeared even more strange and time seemed to stand still. It must have been her mind shutting down in the exceedingly traumatic circumstances.

Then abruptly and unexpectedly, angry voices jostled them from all sides until she lost her footing and soon there were more angry voices yelling in all directions.

It took Elly many moments for her mind to compute what had happened; it was still expecting the unpleasantness of Malhalem. But suddenly, the girls were dragged away from the palace at great speed, while an angry crowd of black hooded figures followed closely behind.

More commotion confused the night and abruptly everything went black. She could still feel the hand of her rescuer holding hers and then his desperate and breathlessly rasped order hanging in the darkness as voices she didn’t recognise drew up their plan.

“Get them to safety, Caleb, and I will distract the hooded ones from finding the hidden entrance and give you a chance to make your escape.”

Elly’s chest was burning, gulping air furiously into her heaving lungs from the manic escape. In the pitch darkness, she felt the strong hand release hers and then she guessed he had linked her hand to Eliana’s smaller, softer hand and then with an abruptness that disturbed the still air around her, her rescuer was gone.

Caleb didn’t have time to argue Finn’s order, trying to calm his breathless heaving instead and slow it to a pace where he could think again. He intended to do exactly what his leader told him to, recognising immediately the situation Hakham had spoken of and soon the angry Alama Masu had deserted the pursuit for the secret tunnel and were intent on a far greater prize.

Finn had a price on his head and was far more valuable as a catch to the Alama Masu then two disposable girls. He had alluded capture for too many years, embarrassing the hooded ones as he snatched many kafiri from under their noses and then vanished into thin air.

Malhalem was enraged each time, beheading his warriors for their incompetence, but now as more Alama Masu warriors joined the chase, Finn’s possibility of escape narrowed.

He would not evade their grasp this time.

Caleb stood silently, listening to the darkness; maybe Finn would lead them on a merry dance before doubling back and finding the safety of the tunnel. In any case, he had a job to do and he had to get the two girls back to the family but once the mission was complete, he could concentrate on a rescue for Finn if they hadn’t murdered him beforehand.

The darkness and the quiet in the tunnel was so intense when Caleb suddenly spoke, Elly and Eliana jumped in fear. He noticed the surprised flinch; the girls were terrified and he guessed it wasn’t just from the escape, leaving him to wonder what the Alama Masu had done to them.

“It’s okay, ladies, you’re safe,” Caleb’s soothing voice broke into the silence and he thought he heard muffled sobs. “My name is Caleb and I’m the second in command of the Raiders. You will need to hold onto my hand and stay close to me as we pick our way through the tunnels and back to the safety of the family.”

Eliana’s sigh was accentuated by the silence of the tunnel and the comfort of Caleb’s words, realising Jehovah had indeed answered their prayers.

Then in a complete reversal of her fear, she squealed with delight, jumping up and down on the spot. ”See, Elly, I told you Jehovah would come through and the Raiders would come for us!” Eliana’s exuberant excitement echoed up and down the tunnel walls.

Elly didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic and Eliana was puzzled at her silence.

Soon Elly clarified her concern and all became known. “I am apprehensive for the man who rescued me and what those people will do to him if he’s caught.”

The tunnel went silent as all three contemplated Elly’s words.

Then she spoke again with equal conviction, but in a whispered voice, “I also have a friend searching for me and if my hunch is right, he will be somewhere in the city too and he won’t know where I am. The longer he stays searching for me, the greater the threat he will be captured and I know he won’t give up until he finds me.”

The silence was difficult. Caleb had heard many heart wrenching stories of family and sweethearts separated by the actions of the barbaric Alama Masu in the past, but there was nothing he could do.

“Trust Jehovah, Elly, and see what he will do,” Eliana gushed, but the words seemed empty to the blonde girl pondering the fate of two of the bravest men she knew.

Caleb drew their attention back to the escape route and relayed vital survival information. “Okay, are we ready to move? Take hold of my hand and don’t let it go; it will get darker, smelly and scary as we get further in but remember, the tunnel will lead to the family and safety. Trust me and do whatever I tell you. Okay?”

The girls mumbled their consent and slowly they made a determined path further into the darkness.

 

~

 

Dramble perched precariously, sitting on a low stone wall, massaging his sore feet and wondered whether the annoying black bag disguise had been a poor choice. It seemed whenever he came near a group of black hooded men or boys, they took advantage of his masquerade as a girl and he had to make an abrupt escape. It insinuated that Alama Masu women were fair game for any Alama Masu man if they were alone and unprotected by a chaperone.

Dramble felt a perplexing sinking feeling, deep within the pit of his gut and for the first time, he was uncertain of his ability to find Elly.

A precipitous commotion approaching from his right disturbed him and in a fluid move he dropped over the wall, but when he landed, the black bag tangled around his neck and exposed his trousers. Remembering the attention from Alama Masu men, he quickly and coyly pulled down his hem, covering his jeans again.

Boy, it’s tough being a woman, Dramble complained bitterly to himself.

Then keeping well out of sight and using the stone wall for cover, he watched an exhausted blonde escapee hurdling obstructions and trying to outpace a group of pursuing black hooded men. Judging by the outfit and the absence of the ugly mark on his forehead, this fine looking fugitive was not of the hooded people.

Dramble was intrigued and didn’t feel quite so alone, knowing another human being didn’t fit into the weird and cloying society of the black hoods.

In an exhausted attempt to clear another obstacle and just in front of Dramble’s line of view, the man crashed to the ground.

Dramble drew himself up, but before he could offer assistance to the fallen figure, the black hoods were all over him, jabbering in a joyous commotion, but completely overlooking the unchaperoned and hiding form of a young hooded girl just metres away from their celebrations.

At a safe distance, Dramble followed the festive band and kept watch; maybe the blonde man’s unfortunate capture would lead him to other unmarked people and possibly, his beloved Elly.

This was the most positive lead he had had to date, but not so good for the incarcerated refugee.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 26

 

Heather had fallen asleep, laying her head against the rocky walls of the Lake of Purity while watching the lulling images of the torch flame reflecting across the water’s surface and mesmerising her into a peaceful calm.

Her tears had finally stopped for Finn, but Hakham’s endless baritone petitions to Jehovah reverberated through his chest and echoed into her ears, hypnotising her with tranquillity and the gentle, tingling power of the God of the altar.

Jehovah was singing His wounded daughter a love song, seemingly promising her Finn was in His sight, no matter what happened.

Movement and sounds from within the passageways signified the morning had come and family members were starting their daily routine. Heather awoke and struggled to sit upright, her neck stiff and sore from an extended time in one position. Gently she twisted her head from side to side to regain movement while her hands massaged her shoulder muscles.

“I fell asleep,” she offered, slightly embarrassed and covering her mouth to stifle a yawn.

“Did you feel Jehovah’s love and His promise, Heather?”

Heather suddenly smiled. “I thought that was just in my dream?”

“I asked him to reassure your heart with His love and guide you in the coming days.”

“He did and it was very special; thank you, Hakham. I feel very honoured to have been rescued from the Alama Masu and placed within a caring extended family.”

“Then you will trust Him with Finn?” Hakham’s words seemed to draw her back to reality and her face dropped with the reminder.

“I’ll try, Hakham.”

Heather embraced the elder and stood to leave, thankful for his gentle wisdom and his fatherly care, but lost in his words. Then without further disruption, she silently left the sanctuary, allowing the old man to continue his vigil in front of the altar.

 

~

 

The underground tunnel had wound its way around in the dark for what seemed like hours. Eliana’s bare feet were sore from stumbling over rocks and debris, and judging from the occasional anguished moan from Elly, she was trying to ignore the pain and keep up with Caleb’s pace, too.

The constant tinkling of the anklet’s were beginning to drive Elly mad and reaching the end of her patience, she called out for a respite. “Can we have a break for a few minutes please, Caleb? My feet are killing me and these bells are driving me nuts!” Elly finally burst.

The little group came to an abrupt halt, feeling around in the dark with their hands and making sure they wouldn’t sit in something nasty. Assured the space was clear, the girls dropped slowly to the ground, exhausted, but Elly’s anklets began to tinkle loudly.

“What are you doing, Elly?” Eliana queried.

“Getting rid of these bells! I feel like Santa Claus riding his sleigh.”

“Who?!” The statement left Elly dumbfounded and now it was Eliana’s turn to ask incredulous questions.

“I’ll explain later, Eliana; I’m too tired just now,” Elly sighed.

The sound of anklet bells bouncing off the dark floor a little distance away made Eliana laugh and she joined in with Elly’s example and created her own bouncing bell sonata.

“I’m so glad to see the last of those horrible things,” Elly complained, shivering at how close they had come to something overtly dire.

Just as Elly laid her back against the tunnel wall, a pair of warm hands gently grasped at her feet, causing her to flinch. Eliana began to massage Elly’s aching soles with tender strokes.

“Mmm, that feels so good, Eliana.”

Moments later, the sound of ripping cloth tore through the blackened tunnel. Eliana stopped her work, wondering what was happening until Caleb felt his way close and started to tie the black hood fragments to Elly’s feet, making her a pair of makeshift thick cloth boots.

“Oh, that’s a great idea, Caleb, thanks!” Elly bubbled, feeling the heavy cloth insulating her feet.

More ripping sounds and Eliana knew it was her turn, settling her back against the wall. Feeling for her feet, Caleb’s strong hands took her tiny soles in his grasp and gently massaged, ironing out the soreness.

Eliana was quiet for a long time, embarrassed at the close attention of her rescuer, but soon she was enjoying the gentle and methodical relief of his big hands. It all ended too soon with Caleb wrapping her feet in cloth and then tying the ends securely around her tiny ankles.

“Thank you, sir,” Eliana whispered.

“Okay, are we ready to go?” Caleb softly invited and then reached for Eliana’s hand again, feeling very comfortable with her hand in his.

Eliana grasped for Elly’s hand with her free hand and soon the little convoy was underway again, complete with new shoes.

After a while, Caleb grasped for the wall, searching for the next hand grip and confirmed what he was hoping to find.

The shelter and safety was only moments away.

Eliana’s inquisitive voice bubbled over Caleb, diverting his thoughts, “What are you doing, Caleb?”

He reached for her arm and then closed her hand over the hand grip. “These are our guiding hand grips and they are positioned throughout the sanctuary. Each grip has a coded mark etched into it; can you feel the circle and the two lines, one above the circle and one below?”

Eliana was incredulous as she struggled to identify Caleb’s description. “Oh yes, I can feel it.”

“Well, the circle is the sanctuary, and the line above means we are within one hundred feet of a turn, and the one below tells us it is a left turn.”

“How do you make that out of a circle and two lines?” Eliana queried.

“It’s just practice and if you don’t understand the code, you will get lost quickly in the maze of tunnels in which we live. The Alama Masu won’t come down here, because they don’t understand the code and they don’t like the dark.”

“That figures,” Elly responded, feeling more antagonised towards the cowardly bullies.

Soon the convoy was on the move again and made a left turn, exactly where the hand grips had pointed to. Moments later, sounds of habitation drifted down to meet the band and then the unmistakable illumination of flaming torches lighting the sanctuary, stung their eyes with the sudden light.

“We’re here; you’re safe at last,” Caleb whispered and then called into the sanctuary, announcing their arrival.

But before anyone could approach, Eliana reached up to Caleb and hugged his neck then planted a thankful kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, I will always be grateful for your courage.” Her adoring brown eyes settled on the brave Raider.

It was the first time Caleb had had a chance to have a good look at Eliana and her beauty broadsided him, capturing his heart immediately and tying his tongue in knots.

Elly smiled at what she could see happening and then reached in to hug Caleb as well. ”That’s ditto for me, too.”

Before long, the joy of people hugging the girls and welcoming them into the family echoed through the sanctuary in great excitement.

Elly watched a beautiful young woman approach Caleb with deep concern etched in her eyes. Her intense gaze searched Caleb’s, but he turned away from her frantic eyes and silently shook his head in despair.

The young woman burst into desperate tears and the pain in her turbulent cries echoed throughout the passageway, leaving the joyous greeting to fracture into sombre remorse.

Elly’s heart tore for the young woman. “Is that your companion’s wife?”

“No, Heather and Finn were friends; Hakham warned us one of us wouldn’t make it back.”

Suddenly, the price of Eliana’s and Elly’s freedom from the Alama Masu had a tangible human price.

And Heather and Finn had paid dearly.

 

~

 

Caleb entered the sanctuary and bowed his head to the altar in reverence and then turned to the distraught figure of Heather, sobbing bitterly in Hakham’s embrace. His ancient hand rubbed her convulsing back, coaxing the painful waves of grief to find solace in the old man’s wise words.

Caleb stood before the elder, the fire of expectation in a new dangerous mission burning in his eyes. Searching Heather’s convulsing form, Caleb was determined to revenge his leader on the Alama Masu.

“I can take the Raiders straight back to rescue Finn? We can be ready to go within the hour.”

But Hakham’s response puzzled Caleb.

“Jehovah has a plan, Caleb, and it does not include the Raiders or yourself. You must be prepared to trust the wisdom of the Ancient of Days and wait for His deliverance. It is difficult to see Jehovah’s beautiful daughter in such distress, but we must think with the mind of Jehovah and bow to His will, or something He did not intend may result from our interference.”

Heather’s tirade quieted at Hakham’s decision and she felt strangely peaceful. She wiped the tears from her face and determined to follow Hakham’s words. “Father and I have room enough to accommodate both of the new women in our chamber,” Heather sniffed and then wiped her face again with the back of her hand.

“Then let it be as you have suggested, Heather. Jehovah teaches his learned daughter with the hand of pain and she understands the wisdom taught in His classroom very well. Seek His face and the reasons will eventually fall into place.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 27

 

Elly and Eliana were quickly adopted by the family, drawing immense interest from the young men in particular vying to gain the attention of the two new beautiful arrivals.

It was a strange ambience among the family members, joyous for the rescue Jehovah had appropriated, but remorseful that Finn had not returned and one of their own was still missing in action.

Many had witnessed the cruelty of the Alama Masu firsthand and a prize like Finn would be tortured brutally before being executed in front of a bloodthirsty and vengeful crowd.

The fact Hakham was still face down in the sanctuary and not mingling among the family on such an occasion spoke of the depth of his concern, the hope he held to and the intensity of the situation.

Heather finally worked her way through the crowd and stood face to face with Elly and Eliana; Jehovah’s warmth and love streamed through her veins and a new determination strengthened her will. For reasons unknown to Heather, Jehovah had taken the only man she had ever loved from her life and instead, replaced him with two young women her own age who badly needed a family and a new start in life.

It was a moment by moment battle of submission to Jehovah’s will and to choose acceptance of her two new sisters, but her resolve was severely tested as uncharitable thoughts boiled over in her emotions and Finn’s memory haunted her.

In these harrowing times, sitting before the altar, the only question her heart would allow her to ask of Jehovah was… why? But as usual, Jehovah was silent and His all knowing peace settled instead, allowing her to battle on for another few hours before the process repeated.

“Welcome to the family, Elly and Eliana; your new home will be with Father and me. My name is Heather.” Heather leaned into the two girls, one at a time and took each one in a warm hug. Even with their soiled white dresses, disturbed manicured hair and the hint of sweet perfume, these girls were beautiful and it didn’t take much imagination to understand what the evil Malhalem’s intent had been for them.

As Heather gleaned from Caleb’s description, he and Finn had intervened just in time and her heart melted again for the intense fear these two women would have had to endure.

“Come, you must be tired from your ordeal; the warm bathing spring will revitalise you and then you can eat and sleep. I have two spare robes that you can use and while you sleep, I will wash your clothes,” Heather whispered with the care of a mother after her child’s close scrap with tragedy.

An exhausted sigh emanated from Elly; the thought of a warm bath and safe, comfortable sleep almost overcame her on the spot and her eyes wanted to close then and there. She dragged her feet tiredly behind Heather, disappearing once again into a darkened passageway dimly lit by a small flaming torch attached to the wall and curious to see how Heather found her way, feeling the hand grips for confirmation.

Soon, a discreet opening in the passage wall appeared and the three women wound their way behind a rock curtain and into an intimate cavern. A small flaming torch attached to the far wall illuminated a crystal clear babbling brook, running into a small swimming pool sized tarn.

“This is the women’s bathing brook,” Heather pointed to the pool.

Just then, another of the young women appeared carrying an armful of clean clothes and handed them to Heather and waited for the girls’ soiled garments, ready for cleaning. Just as Heather had promised, the water was warm and soothing and Elly almost fell asleep immersed in its luxury.

Heather’s father had forbidden any visitors to his family chamber, dispersing the large gathering of curious family members, mainly young men, from the doorway. The girls had returned from their bath and wore Heather’s spare robes, but had opted for sleep over food. It was hard enough for Heather’s father to keep the admirers from his chamber door with one beautiful daughter; now he had three and he was even more determined to keep the admirers on the back foot.

Caleb had offered his services as a guard over the chamber entrance, but his intentions were immediately discredited and he was sent on his way, too.

The family women gathered around Heather as she worked at the laundry stream, each wanting to assist with washing the girls’ clothes and to help Heather bear the load of grief, supporting her in her time of despair.

They all understood the pain Heather felt and admired her for wanting to serve the recipients of Finn’s sacrifice.

 

~

 

Caleb’s thoughts were boiling with many emotions and he couldn’t understand Jehovah’s refusal to allow the Raiders to return and fight for Finn’s release from his captors. The day had dragged on in a confusing and frustrating black pit of despair; he was powerless to do anything to help Finn, and if Finn had evaded capture he would have returned to the sanctuary by now.

Caleb wandered aimlessly into the dark reaches of the tunnel mazes, far beyond anywhere he had ever been before. The guiding hand grips suddenly stopped, but the dark tunnel did not, making him realise no one had been beyond this point before.

His thoughts suddenly turned to Eliana. Her brown eyes and tantalising soft feminine features burnt into the deep reaches of his heart and her perfume haunted him, like the fine and mellow essence of lavender fields gently wafting on the soft winds of summer and playing with his heartstrings, while desire for the young woman began to stir.

Carelessly, Caleb pushed on beyond the guiding boundaries and into the unfathomable maze of the deep, subterranean tunnel system, fuelled by frustration and drowned by conflicting images of the beautiful maiden and his traumatic past.

Even the delightful childhood stories his mother told him about life before the terrible destruction had destroyed their world and then the Alama Masu invasion that stole their hope, seemed like an impossible dream and only added to his heavy burden. Caleb’s grief intensified as the memories of his mother’s last moments on earth stabbed at his mind. She had been executed too, like many others, but with her last breaths she had admonished her young son and begged the boy not to hate the Alama Masu and to forgive, for his own sake.

Now, as another member of his family had been murdered by the black hooded ones, Caleb struggled with the putrid hate his mother had warned him against, pulling his heart strings away from the beautiful Eliana and drawing him further down into despair.

In a desperate attempt to divert his mind, he deliberately recalled the warmth and tender touch of Eliana’s hand in his, bringing a flutter of delight. The feel of her soft skin and her tiny feet as he massaged the tension out replayed in his mind and then her hug and the kiss that sealed his fate at the end of their journey.

Caleb pushed on into the darkness, lost in the highs and lows of troubling and confusing emotions, and unaware of how far beyond the hand grips he had travelled or whether the passage had crossed other tunnels.

The darkness appeared like a cloak over his mind, enabling him to think without the distractions of the light. The path happened to dip down quite suddenly, making Caleb’s stomach complain at the sharp decline and his footsteps a little unsure at the turbulent change, but then the unmistakable presence of gently moving air caressed his hair and brought relief to the steadily increasing humidity.

Soon, his ears filled with the sounds of cascading water, like a weir tumbling carelessly over chaotic rocks placed disparagingly in the clear liquid’s path. But then as he turned a corner in the deep path, a majestic sight flooded his mind and filled the young man with awe.

A mammoth cavern opened before him, lit colourfully with tiny, brilliant apparitions attached to the cavern roof and shining like minute pinpricks of starlight.

Illuminated in the colour, the cascading waterfall bubbled and a lake of pristine beauty opened before him while the magnificence of the sight caught his heart and allured him into the charismatic scene.

A rock wall stood guard over the splendour, giving an unhindered view. Caleb picked his way into the chamber but stumbled over a lose whinstone, sending a crashing interruption into the peaceful scene. As if orchestrated by some giant hand on a light switch, part of the roof blacked out, sending the cavern into an unexpected partial curfew.

However, as Caleb settled into a sitting position above the waterfall and remained still and quiet, the tiny lights began to blink on again, one by one. Each coloured light seemed to take courage from its influential neighbour and gingerly its energy began to shine again, but only after they were convinced the covert threat had passed.

As Caleb concentrated on the beauty of the arena, his eyes fell on the pure white sandy soil surrounding a portion of the water’s edge. It was like an immense beach leading into the pristine water, a sight he had never seen before.

The hours passed in calming awe and inspired by the enchanting chamber, Caleb poured out his concerns to Jehovah and connected with the mighty presence of his God, delighting his soul even more.

He spoke of Eliana in his plea and searched his heart before the powerful presence and asked Jehovah for her hand, if He was willing. The silence of Jehovah’s reply seemed to discourage his affections toward the beautiful Eliana and his heart dropped at the lack of a response.

But out of Caleb’s sight and behind the waterfall, the dim light surrounded a delicate and shy face, pale in its texture but beautiful beyond comprehension and almost mature, awaiting Jehovah’s time and eager for its place, picked and planted in the hearts of soul mates.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 28

 

By the time Caleb had retraced his steps and found his way back into the community, leaving the wonderland behind him, many hours had elapsed and the family had begun to gather for the evening meal.

Turning to face the direction he had just come, he felt peaceful and recharged, wondering whether he would ever be able to find the dazzling cavern again and more to the point, whether anyone would believe his fantastic tale.

Heather sat close to her father at one of the many old tables neatly placed throughout the cavernous hall of dining, but there were no signs of Eliana and Elly. Heather patted a seat beside her and invited Caleb to join them in their evening routine. He accepted her invitation with a nod of his head and made his way over to join Heather and her father.

“You look very relaxed, Caleb,” Heather offered.

“Mmm, I spent some time with Jehovah today.” He thought about telling Heather of the enchanted colourful cave far beyond the guidance of the hand grips, but the whereabouts of the two girls sidetracked his intention with a sweeping glance of the dining cavern.

Heather had seen the searching eye of a man in pursuit of a maiden before and understood the quizzical glance, answering his unspoken question with a teasing, knowing smile. “They’re both still fast asleep and I gather they will sleep well into the morning. Their ordeal would have been unenviable and I’m just so glad you and Finn…” Heather tapered off as her voice cracked and caught in the back of her throat, coughing on a stab of pain.

Full of Jehovah’s wisdom, Caleb squatted beside Heather and encouraged the stricken young woman. “I don’t know what Jehovah is doing with Finn and the family, Heather, but we have to believe He knows best and He will bring out the best for all of us. Finn was like a brother to me and I have to trust Him with the details, even if it means pain.”

Comforted by the handsome Raider, Heather reached over from her seat and hugged Caleb’s neck. “You’re like a big brother to me, too; thank you for your wise counsel.”

Caleb returned her hug and took his seat next to Heather and glanced around the tables again, this time searching for Christina or Louisse, but he couldn’t find either. “Have you seen Christina or Louisse today, Heather?” Caleb whispered.

Heather wiped at her face with the back of her hand, clearing an itinerant tear from her cheek and then shook her head vigorously, answering with a nasally, “No, I haven’t.”

Caleb began to wonder about the two older women and decided to track them down after his meal and check on their wellbeing. He was still duty bound to Christina and more than likely, Louisse would become his responsibility too now.

 

~

 

Filled with grief and a badly aching conscience, Louisse stared up at the solid rock roof of her chamber from her bed and mulled over her situation.

First listening to the convincing arguments of the black voice in her head, telling her she was being conned by Jehovah and colluded by Hakham; then the persuasiveness of the white voice had its turn, pointing her to honour and putting right the untruths she had levelled against the community that cared, fed and protected her.

The joyous celebrations rippling throughout the sanctuary usually meant another resistance member had been rescued and delivered safely into the family’s care. But this time, Louisse was indifferent and unusually deaf to the black, complaining voice rattling her misguided ire and enticing her to mingle among the gathering, sowing the seeds of discord and dampening the family’s generous spirit when a new member arrived.

She couldn’t even work up the enthusiasm to leave her bed, let alone throw the soaking black blanket of discouragement over the familiar crowd.

All through the wearisome night and keeping her from her sleep, images of Finn and Christina working feverishly and parading dementedly like some sideshow clown, respectfully responding to each one of her orders as she had barked them. Continually tossing and turning, she tried to convince herself she was worthy of the respect she demanded, but the gentle words of Jehovah kept replaying over and over in her mind and shot down any attempt to bolster her nonsense.

You are forgiven; now be worthy of your son’s sacrifice.

The harder she tried to keep the words from her conscious mind, the louder they became and the deeper the guilty pangs resonated.

Finally, she had had enough and conceded defeat. Glancing to the ceiling she disdainfully whispered, “You win! What do you want me to do?”

Raising herself drowsily from her divan, she glanced around the room, disoriented and tried to guess at the time. The reverberating voices of the family as their celebrations drifted across the passageways had been silent for some time now and the usual echo of family life had fallen still, also. Either it was late at night again and she had managed some form of fitful sleep or the family had gathered together without her, for some strange reason.

The fact that it may have been a mealtime completely eluded her wisdom and a strong feeling of being left out and isolated from the others crept across her mind. Although it was warranted, she didn’t like the thought of being excluded from family life and the warmth and acceptance that pervaded the gathering.

Panicking at the lack of activity around the passageways, her mind was working overtime and she wondered whether the gathering had assembled before the altar and was devising a plan to evict her from their presence.

Louisse crept along the familiar tunnel, listening for known voices. Pressing a hand against the wall for guidance in the semi-dark, she stopped at the door to the Lake of Purity and peered in, but the family were not there. In a halfhearted attempt, she nodded her head at the altar before entering the sanctuary, but then a rasped whisper startled her and she stifled a scream.

“I apologise, Louisse, for frightening you,” the simple, but earnest words of the old man were powerful, laced with the calming presence of Jehovah and drawing the guilty woman with kindness.

Settling from her start, the overwhelming love emanating from the old man tore at Louisse’s heart, but fighting desperately to resist, she dropped to her knees before the elder, trembling.

Moments later, the pent up dam of deceit and lies overflowed its walls and gouged the woman to the depths of her heart, leaving no desperate soil untouched or unwashed by the flood of confession.

 

~

 

The late session of the evening meal had been a time of sombre prayer and petition to Jehovah as each table took turns praying for Finn. One table would pray as the rest quietly consumed the meal and agreed with an exuberant amen at the conclusion. The next table would then fill the airwaves with their petition, until all those present had added their pleas to the feet of Jehovah.

Many loving arms embraced Heather as she quietly sobbed and pleaded for Finn’s safe return, but the family listened with compassion as Heather found Jehovah’s wisdom and repeated Caleb’s words to her, only moments ago.

I don’t know what Jehovah is doing with Finn and the family, but we have to believe He knows best and He will bring out the best for all of us. Finn was like a brother to many of us and we have to trust Jehovah with the details, even if it means pain.

Caleb smiled at Heather’s resolve to heed his words and again, gave her a big brother’s hug of encouragement.

The tables soon began to empty of their occupants, while those family members rostered to clean up after the meal worked feverishly toward the goal and looked forward to other family activities as the evening continued to wind down and night settled comfortably over the little settlement.

Caleb wandered along the passageways quietly, deep in thought and feeling the need for some time before the altar ahead of attempting to track down Louisse and Christina.

Just as he approached the doorway, he could hear the unmistakable sounds of deep distress accompanied by blubbering speech, begging Hakham not to evict the voice’s owner from the family. Caleb was about to turn from the disturbing scene and leave the deeply troubling situation in the revered elder’s hands, when he heard Hakham’s gentle rasp.

“Your folly wasn’t in selling out your family, but in selling out yourself. Jehovah has taught you a painful lesson, Louisse, and you have learned it well. No one is going to evict you from the family because of your confession, and I will gladly stand by you and call you daughter.”

The sanctuary dropped into an intense silence, forcing Caleb to step closer to the door to satisfy his curiosity and find out what was happening. Peering around the door, Louisse was wrapped in the old man’s embrace while her shoulders heaved silently and uncontrollably.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 29

 

The early morning buzzed with activity around the family gathering. Heather had been up early to tidy their family chamber, careful not to wake her father or her two new sisters, peacefully sleeping. Curious family members stopped by, hoping to get a glimpse of the new arrivals up close and maybe learn of people they knew and friends and family still trapped among the Alama Masu. But disappointedly, they would have to wait for the girls to wake before they could gather news of Baal Malii.

It was almost intolerable speaking to the Raiders of their adventures and the rescues they undertook; mostly the men wouldn’t talk of their heroic deeds and left it to the rescued to fill in the tale.

The latest rescue was no different and although Caleb was approached by many inquisitors, he would only shrug and point them to the girls for details, allowing them to say as much or as little as they chose.

Heather continued to busy herself with the demands of the chamber and when she glanced across at the sleeping figures, a pair of deep blue eyes followed her movements from the warmth of her blanket.

“Good morning, Elly,” Heather whispered.

“Good morning, Heather,” Elly stretched and then yawned, holding her hand over her mouth. “Boy, I slept good!”

Heather placed Elly’s white dress onto the foot of her bed, freshly washed, dried and folded.

“Thanks, Mum!” Elly teased, smiling a cheeky smile directly at Heather. It had been a long time since Elly had been on the receiving end of any selfless female kindness, even if it was from a girl her own age.

Heather laughed a little too loud at Elly’s antics and woke a very sleepy Eliana from her dreams. Elly threw her pillow at Eliana, bouncing off her head and sending dark hair sprawling across her face.

“W..what was that for?!” Eliana struggled to break free of her sleep and put together a lucid statement.

“Guess who isn’t a morning person?” Elly jested, full of energy.

Eliana pulled her pillow over her head and moaned. “A good morning starts about ten o’clock!” a muffled voice complained.

“Hi, Caleb! Lovely morning isn’t it!” Elly taunted, expecting a reaction from Eliana.

Eliana quickly surfaced from under her pillow and brushed her hair wildly with her fingers, tidying her appearance as best she could in anticipation of the much coveted meeting. She suddenly realised Elly and Heather were laughing hard but Caleb was nowhere in sight.

“That’s mean, Elly!” Eliana complained and then threw her pillow back at Elly.

Elly ducked the missile easily. “Well, it got you up in a hurry and now we know, someone has a sweet tooth,” Elly sang.

“Don’t you dare tell him, promise me?!” Eliana implored worriedly.

“Your secret is safe with us, Eliana.”

Elly reached for her pillow again and lobbed it back at Eliana and soon the chamber erupted in a three-way pillow fight, until Heather’s dad broke up the furore, ending with three young women hanging their heads in guilty submission while a chorus of, “Sorry, Dad,” reverberated around the chamber.

Heather’s father smiled to himself at the antics of his daughters and felt a great tinge of pride that they had already started to call him dad.

 

~

 

The great cavern of dining fell into a muted hush as the three young women entered. Many mouths hung open at the parade of beauty that elegantly entered the later family breakfast gathering. It was as if a sweet, graceful breeze whispered into the chamber and before they could be diverted to any particular bench, Dad pointed to the family table and all four people took their seats.

Christina’s stare was just as innocent and enquiring as the rest of the family glancing to the nearby table, surrounded instantly by young men, and eagerly awaiting her turn to engage and welcome the new members.

A sudden order from Heather’s dad and the young men dispersed, leaving competitive and fervent glances drifting across from all points of the dining hall.

Being among the latecomers to the second sitting of the family breakfast, Christina recited a prayer of thanksgiving over her meal and then began to eat. With her head down and concentrating on her meal, a shadow flickered across the table, accentuated by the artificial light offered by small flaming torches positioned about the cavern wall.

Christina raised her head to greet the family member, but a pang of fear took the place of greeting and sealed up her speech. She glanced around the room hoping to find Caleb’s presence close by, but her protective son wasn’t anywhere to be found.

“Christina, I need to talk to you,” Louisse’s voice was direct, but soft and her gaze was determined.

Christina wondered whether it was Louisse’s intention to make a scene in the family dining area and particularly in front of the new family members. She steeled herself, whispered a prayer for protection and invited Louisse to sit.

The next half hour unfolded unexpectedly as Louisse filled the stunned air around Christina with the truth of her exploits outside the family sanctuary and the opportune blame she had levelled at Christina’s feet, then the apology that stole her breath away.

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness, Christina, and hope you can look past my foolishness, but regardless whether you will accept my apology, I intend to publicly declare my sin in front of the family and absolve you of any wrongdoing. I deserve to be expelled from the family and if they decide that’s the course to take, then I will leave!”

Christina abruptly peered up at Louisse’s heartfelt confession, shaking her head worriedly. “I don’t want you to be expelled from the family, and I do forgive you. Thank you for having the courage to do the right thing,” Christina sighed as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

Louisse reached across the table, offering her hand in a gesture of friendship but was concerned when Christina unexpectedly got up and walked determinedly around the obstruction and wrapped Louisse in a hug.

A deep, shocked silence pervaded the dining cavern and the sight of the two rival women hugging openly in public even diverted adoring eyes away from Eliana and Elly. Christina again took her seat across the table from Louisse and over a shared meal, chattered away together.

 

~

 

Having finished their first meal seated among the family, Heather took Elly and Eliana over to meet the kitchen leader who immediately allotted them a place on the dining cavern cleanup roster. Leaving no doubt of their acceptance as family members.

The three girls exited the dining hall, chattering excitedly to each other among an audience of admiring eyes and just as they were about to navigate their return to the family chamber, Heather had an idea.

“There is someone special to me I want you to meet; come this way,” Heather beckoned.

Elly and Eliana glanced at each other, wondering who this person could be and nervously followed Heather’s lead, but reassured if they were special to Heather then they indeed would be special.

The path wound around the dim tunnels until a doorway appeared into another cavern. A lone flaming torch spilled light across a pristine lake and deflected shimmering images onto the grotto roof. Heather motioned with her hand for the two girls to follow her, silently entering the chamber door and bowing her head reverently to a rock curtain. Elly and Eliana followed Heather’s lead and did exactly as she did, bowing their heads reverently to the rock curtain.

A rasping, tired voice startled the girls, but Heather was expecting the confluence. “Hakham, this is Eliana and Elly.”

The sight of an elderly hooded figure sitting on a rock ledge in front of the lake brought a stab of fear to the girls. He looked very much like the beasts they had just escaped from, but they couldn’t hold the gaze of Heather’s esteemed friend.

“Welcome to the family,” Hakham offered, his voice low but calming and allowing his wise charisma to immediately draw the girls and allay their fear.

“Hakham is the family leader and teacher; his name means wise one,” Heather beamed with adoration.

The elder didn’t respond to Heather’s bubbling introduction, but admonished her with a statement of his own. “Take good care of your sisters, Heather, and open your heart to them for they have much to offer and teach you.”

Heather lowered herself to the rock ledge, prompting Elly and Eliana to do the same.

“I will, Hakham; we have had much fun together already.”

Hakham turned his attention to the girls. “Eliana, another dazzling jewel in Jehovah’s crown. He has taught you much about His trustworthiness and character; and with your wisdom and love, you will be a mother figure to many and bring hope among the family of Jehovah.”

Eliana stared at the figure until she had to look away again, but deep within her, her heart burned with compassion and her spirit seemed to agree with Hakham’s words.

Then Hakham’s gaze bored directly into Elly but the stare, although powerful, was laced with love and kindness. “Elly, Jehovah’s precious lost lamb. His Son searches the meadows with a worried gaze, but will He find you? Your legacy is tangled and out of place at the moment, but your influence on the family is and will be profound, even until that day. Heather will be a sign and a delight to you, closer than a sister or a mother or a daughter.”

Elly stared back at the hooded elder, amazed at the puzzling prophecy, but strangely, somewhere down in the depths of her heart it resonated, even if her head didn’t comprehend it now. Elly wanted to question the elder further about the strange revelations, but the aura of authority surrounding him overwhelmed her and she remained respectfully silent.

Then a troubling expression clouded Elly’s piercing blue eyes. Reminded of another riddle, her mind once again returned to Dramble, feeling a dragging weight of concern tugging at her heart.

He was still devotedly searching for her, unaware she was safe and being well looked after. Then she pictured the grey eyes, so full of love and compassion, melting her heart instantly. Dramble desperately wanted to divulge the secrets he knew of her hidden personal life, but he was unable and held accountable to silence by some restraining force. Then absentmindedly, she uttered the riddle as if she were alone with him.

Out of your heart the tears I keep and when I am no longer, your knowledge is complete.”

She puzzled at Dramble’s words again and then realised the three other people in the chamber were staring at her, snapping her out of the nostalgia. Their gazes indicated they were waiting for an explanation.

“I… It was a riddle a friend gave me just before I was captured, and as far as I know he is still back in that dreadful place, searching for me.”

Elly’s worry dropped like a blanket of grief over Heather and thoughts of the green-eyed Raider stabbed at her heart and her face fell in despair.

Realising her actions had affected Heather, Elly immediately smothered her in a hug. “I’m sorry, Heather, that was so insensitive of me.”

Hakham’s whispered words filled the chamber, acknowledging Elly’s and Heather’s distress. “The Book of Wisdom teaches us a friend loves at all times and a brother or sister is born for adversity and again, at the end of all things everything else passes away, all that remains is faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 30

The morning shift had changed hands with the evening shift, but they were already well behind time and there was still a lot to do before the quota could be met and the crystals blended precisely, according to the recipe the kafiri slaves had developed over many years.

The vast gardens were worked by the kafiri slaves and Yusuf knew they didn’t carry the mark–a crime punishable by execution. He couldn’t fathom their hostility towards taking the stupid mark; he did and it was painless enough. The mark was forced on everyone and apart from being a representation of worship to the one world religion and its leader, the Assyrian, it was just another of a sundry list of deity the Alama Masu worshipped. Besides, in itself, it was world currency and without it, no one was able to buy, sell or barter; hold a job; get married; own a house; go to school; or any list of normal day-to-day activities.

Yusuf argued vehemently in favour of the mark.

If the kafiri leaders would only relent their stubborn stand, concede to the paltry requirement and played along with the stupid game, then possibly they wouldn’t be hunted and life would be much easier, instead of being slaves and fearing execution at every turn.

But Yusuf’s cloudy arguments fell apart when it was suggested the Alama Masu were intolerant of all other ethnic groups, forcing him to reappraise his argument on the grounds of truth and agreeing, ‘maybe the kafiri were better off as they were’.

Fearing the decline of his workforce and losing the secrets of the coveted grey crystals, he turned a blind eye to the kafiri stubbornness and allowed them to escape the obligation of taking the Assyrian’s mark; an obligation they painted as betrayal to their God and a stumbling block to ever finding eternal salvation.

Intrigued by their protests, he was astounded by the kafiri God’s stance of worshiping Him alone, whereas the Alama Masu worshipped every possible entity known and there was room for all. But no matter how he tried to convince the kafiri otherwise, the kafiri would not worship anyone or anything other than their own Lord God Jehovah and would rather die than defile themselves with idols.

Another vexing threat raised its head to Yusuf’s business and reputation with the palace. Most of the Alama Masu knew there were still large hordes of kafiri hidden somewhere in their world, but finding them proved to be a substantial bother.

It was suggested more than once by Malhalem’s warriors when they returned empty-handed after a raid, someone among their own ranks was a sympathiser, having a vested interest in the kafiri and were assisting them to remain invisible. Yusuf worried, the absence of the mark was a dead giveaway and led to constant raids, checking the slave population for proof they indeed were Alama Masu.

In return for shelter from Malhalem, the vassal ruler of Baal Malii, and a small portion of food, the kafiri would work as slaves to Yusuf clothed in the same uniform every Alama Masu wore, giving them some immunity to suspicious eyes.

It was a marriage of convenience. Yusuf got cheap and extremely efficient labour–the secret blending of the grey crystals–and the kafiri had something of a steady home among the Alama Masu, without the forbidden mark. Whereas outside of Baal Malii, there was only the desolate ruins to live in and no food or water, sun or soil that would support growing anything. Yusuf knew the kafiri faced a desperate situation: accept his terms or die a horrible death, leaving him clearly the victor.

To some extent, Yusuf suspected Malhalem knew of his business alliance with the kafiri, but because Yusuf’s produce was the finest, cheapest and most reliable, supplying the palace with outstanding grey crystals, Malhalem turned a blind eye. But occasionally, to save face with his people and to show he was up to their demands to rid Baal Malii of the kafiri, Malhalem raided the shelters and stole the best of the kafiri women, abusing them maliciously and then executing them before a blood lusting crowd of Alama Masu.

The raids, however, were predictable and when one was suspected, the kafiri would hide their women and pray in earnest for Jehovah to send the Raiders and save the lives of His precious daughters.

Women were considered chattels among the Alama Masu and had no value; they expected the kafiri carried the same sentiment, attacking the valueless women and leaving the men to carry on the tedious work in the fields unharmed and continue supplying the palace with the quality grey food crystals.

In Malhalem’s twisted mind, he was doing the slaves a favour, and taking nothing of value in his raids, an action he was sure would be appreciated by the kafiri men. But Malhalem was intolerant to all kafiri if he suspected any hint of defiance to his rule emanating from the kafiri patriarchs.

When warranted and riled into anger, it didn’t take much effort on Malhalem’s part to find a sample of male kafiri to execute.

 

~

 

Moshe’s chipping hoe came down solidly, jarring his arms as he tried to break the surface of the hard, artificial soil and uproot the annoying ever present weeds growing unrestrained around the lush rows of synthetic beans.

His ancient back was showing its age and ached with each painful stroke, but if he wasn’t able to work, he’d be singled out by Yusuf for one of the Alama Masu’s execution raids.

He stopped for a brief respite, leaning on his blunt chipping hoe, gathering his breath and gazing with uncertainty at a fast moving figure making a beeline for his position. The figure moved like Binyamin and as he came closer, Moshe could see it was him and the alarm bells began to ring, wondering what new emergency he would describe and why he would risk such an open meeting.

Moshe had been the resistance leader ever since it was founded many years back and now because of his progressing age, he had been grooming Binyamin to take his place when Jehovah finally released him from slavery and took him home.

To meet in an open field was dangerous and frowned upon, considered only necessary in extreme situations.

As expected, Yusuf’s slave warden, housed in a tiny observation hut in the middle of the field, had seen the approaching man but his rotund frame remained seated in a chair with his massive booted feet comfortably perched against the wooden structure, exercising his eyes alone but apparently not alarmed enough by the unusual situation to disturb his comfortable position.

“Why do you risk such a meeting?!” Moshe continued to work, chipping the hard soil and chiding the breathless Binyamin as he drew up alongside the old leader.

Binyamin peered around the neat rows of synthetic beans and settled his gaze on the heavy build of the slave warden reclining his feet against the wooden structure and obviously watching the discussion.

“We have a desperate situation,” Binyamin whispered, slapping the old man on his back, feigning laughter and gesturing impressively with his hands in a academy award-winning performance.

Catching on to the charade, Moshe returned the gesture in equal exuberance. “What is the situation?”

Binyamin glanced at the overweight guard and noticed he had dropped his glare, returning his attention to the roof of the hut and much needed rest instead.

“One of the Raiders has been captured and it is rumoured to be the leader, Finn!”

Moshe’s intense glare studied Binyamin’s face in alarm. “Finn! Oh dear Jehovah, please be with your son! Have the leaders met?” Moshe whispered.

“Yes, and it has been decided to attempt a rescue,” Binyamin offered, knowing Moshe’s past resistance to internal heroics.

“This is agreed by all, then?”

Binyamin nodded slowly, unsure their leader would agree with their decision without his presence to dissuade the rescue. Moshe glanced up at the guardhouse, but continued chipping. The warden was fast asleep and appeared unconcerned.

“Then let it be. I will meet with the others to discuss their plan when I am done here. Now leave, before we are discovered by someone else!”

Binyamin was incredulous; Moshe had agreed to a strategy that went against his usual judgement. But Finn was a valuable and esteemed member of the Raiders and the resistance relied on their stealth and bravery to rescue at risk members of Jehovah’s family from the Alama Masu.

Just as Binyamin disappeared from view, another figure swaggered across the field, making a beeline for the guardhouse. In moments, the rotund and sleeping guard stood in front of a raging Yusuf and then peered comically, like a bulging lighthouse, out across the bean fields with glaring eyes and mock concentration at each kafiri slave.

Moshe considered whether Yusuf had seen the clandestine meeting with Binyamin and decided if he had, the guard would be on his way to talk to Malhalem and his barbarous cutlass by now.

He glanced up as Yusuf pushed his way through rows of healthy artificial beans, catching at his black robe as he aimed his dark hooded features directly toward him. The old man watched his approach in his peripheral vision but kept working, wondering what Yusuf had in mind.

“Ah, Moshe! Esteemed leader of the kafiri. I have some wonderful news for you! Tonight Malhalem has ordered a great celebration throughout Baal Malii and it appears your mighty Finn is to be the honoured guest before he is tortured and executed in the great city square at noon! This is a great victory for our people, with a holiday being ascribed to celebrate and all people have been ordered to attend. So thanks to your illustrious Finn, you will not have to work tomorrow and you can witness firsthand what happens to the enemy of the Alama Masu… isn’t that nice of Malhalem?” Yusuf turned his back on Moshe and almost skipped across the rows and out of view.

A worried frown settled across the old man’s face, but at least their intelligence concerning Finn had been confirmed. He turned back to chipping the hard ground while a thought began to form in his mind and then the thought turned into a prayer. After many hours of concentrated chipping and praying, an uneasy feeling settled over Moshe.

Something wasn’t right and Jehovah was tight-lipped to his pleas.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 31

 

From a position well out of sight, a small black robed figure peered across an open area and concluded it was the main city square. With a sweeping glance, the piercing eyes studied the surrounds carefully, making certain the confining hood didn’t block out potential threats concealed in his periphery vision.

The enormous tightly structured plaza was bordered on all sides by neat and decorative building fronts while small walkways between each structure led into and out of the city square, giving an intimate feel but still capable of accommodating several thousand people. In the centre of the open area, striking green grass bordered by poplar trees drew the inquisitive eye to a small music shell, obviously modified to suit a more sinister activity.

As the tiny figure scanned the dowdy black hooded pedestrians going about their business in the piazza, a comedic thought crossed his mind and he stifled a laugh. The scene appeared like a spoilt and well fed murder of crows, dancing about the rubbish bins of some fancy city but with stomachs already full, they declined to stop and investigate the treats on offer.

A commotion abruptly erupted among the busy pedestrians and a crowd gathered about the music shell stage as two burly black hooded warriors forcefully dragged a magnificent looking blonde man and imprisoned him into shackles and cuffs attached to the shell wall.

The young athlete was impressive and handsome, drawing the black hooded women like moths to a flame. They started jeering at the young man and shaking their fists, while chanting something Dramble didn’t understand.

He noticed the front rows of the gathering crowd were nearly all women and more were pouring in from all over the city square as the word spread, joining in the chant and vying for a place to study his fine features and athletic build and eager to fill their minds with images of the legendary kafiri Raider’s leader before he was executed.

A guard, situated on the stage, lunged at the unruly women with a determined swing of his boot, sending a reflexive wave of black hooded figures stumbling backwards, away from the platform and toppling on top of each other.

Dramble’s curiosity burnt unwisely, hoping to get closer to the young blonde man and establish the reason for such an unprecedented outpouring of excitement, particularly among the women. The jabbering language was confusing him too, but he knew some of the guards spoke English and his disguise positioned him to get closer, without drawing too much attention to himself.

He gently picked his way through the jostling women and in an attempt to get to the front of the fray and close to the stage, he inadvertently came into eye contact with some of the jeering proponents, peering back at him through the hooded slits with dark, hate filled eyes.

Their murderous gazes unsettled him and he was sure if the women could get to the young man, they would attack until the Raider lay shredded and lifeless.

As he pushed closer to the front, a solid wall of resistance stopped his progress until he was in the fight for his life. Ducking punches and aggravated kicks, Dramble finally wound his way to the edge of the stage and decided to wave his arms around and start jabbering too, hopefully helping him to blend in with the manic crowd.

One of the guards grabbed a handful of blonde locks and pulled the prisoner’s head down to his level, inciting a thunderous cheer from the rampaging women. Then to be heard above the din, the guard raised his voice so the captive could hear his words.

“You rescued the beautiful blonde woman so she escapes, but you sacrifice yourself instead, and now you will die in her place!”

The guard swept his hand in a semicircle in front of him and pointed out to the crowd. “See the treachery of women, Raider; they are nothing but dogs and they will thank you by spilling your blood tomorrow! But tonight, Malhalem has ordered a party and you are the honoured guest!”

Dramble’s mind couldn’t get past the warrior’s words: you rescued the beautiful blonde woman so she escapes. But as he turned the words over in his mind and peered around the gyrating black hooded women, he was more certain than ever the beautiful blonde woman could be none other than Elly.

This young man was in trouble and probably because of Elly. He most certainly knew where she was and judging by the guard’s boasting, she was safe, too.

Dramble felt an abrupt tsunami of hope washing over him, but had to think quickly. The black hoods were going to execute the blonde young man in the morning and it appeared their intention was to allow a woman to be the executioner.

 

~

 

Moshe’s ancient frame perched comfortably in the leader’s chair at the head of the resistance meeting. The chair had moulded and adapted over many years to the old man’s frame and bore his body image in its tattered fabric. He had planned and executed many daring rescues from this very seat; some had been great successes, but some had failed dismally and ended with dire consequences, forcing a more subdued approach to dangerous rescue bids in the old man.

Tonight, the seven leaders bristled with determination to rescue the young man who had been central to so many of the resistance escaping desperate cruelty at the hands of the Alama Masu.

Now in return, Finn needed their help.

But Moshe had an uneasy feeling that Jehovah had other plans and reluctantly, he shared his doubts with the rest of the leaders. Although Moshe tried to encourage the others to seek Jehovah first and confirm his uneasiness, they were hesitant to commit and decided there was no time for prayer, just action. Besides, it was a moral cause and Jehovah surely would back them in this noble attempt.

Moshe returned to his modest dwelling, sharing the small structure with several other kafiri families and prepared to rest his aching bones after a long, tiring day in the fields. This time he would not accompany the resistance in their plan and after so many years conducting rescues, it was time for Binyamin to show his mettle, step up to the plate and lead the small band wisely.

The thought of a holiday tomorrow would be welcomed among the resistance, until they learned of the reason.

Moshe couldn’t remember in the forty odd years he had been a slave to Yusuf ever having a day off from his toil. But as he laid his ancient bones down onto his modest bunk, sleep would not come and a growing sense of foreboding took its place instead.

He slipped out of bed and dropped to his knees in search of Jehovah’s wisdom and peace, but the longer he stayed in the Mighty One’s presence, the more unnerved he became.

Rising from his knees, he pulled open the wooden door to his room and ambled into the night in search of Binyamin’s dwelling, hoping to dissuade him and the others from their mission. Surrounded by familiar faces whom he loved, he stopped to ask of Binyamin but no one could direct him to his whereabouts. A gentle knock to Binyamin’s door went unheeded and Moshe could only assume the mission had already begun.

Turning from the small dwelling, he gazed across the darkened fields to the city glow some distance away and studied the colourful lights beaming out from the square. Yusuf’s excitement and his announcement of a party tonight was accurate; the lights were brighter and more colourful than he had ever seen them before, but that just added to his uneasiness.

As his gaze intensified, a sudden thought captured his attention. Maybe the Alama Masu were using Finn as bait to draw the resistance into a trap. It was obvious that the esteemed Raider was valuable to the kafiri and they would attempt anything to release their hero. The Alama Masu would then destroy the plaguing Raider and the resistance in one foul swoop.

The old man’s head drooped forward as he realised the reason for Jehovah’s silence. And instead of trusting their wise God, they were walking–unguided–into a trap.

Overcome with anguish, Moshe dropped to his knees and began to pray in earnest, begging Jehovah to forgive their disobedience and step in and save the day.

Familiar faces gathered around the elder, concerned he may be unwell, but hearing the anguished petitions to Jehovah, it soon became evident a disaster was unfolding and they joined the old man, pleading for His help.

 

~

 

The party atmosphere raging in the square took Dramble off guard. His hiding place had been discovered a number of times by revellers and he’d narrowly escaped becoming a fancy to some inebriated black hooded man.

Although the crowd was rowdy, the guards had kept them from harming the prisoner until the plans of the resistance had been laid bare and the trap sprung.

From his hidden position, Dramble watched a guard set up more shackles and cuffs close to the captive, wondering whether there would be other prisoners to be executed alongside the incarcerated man.

Dramble had a plan, but he wouldn’t be able to stall more than one execution at a time and he had to concentrate on the blonde man if he was to ever find Elly again.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 32

 

A stinging ache tore across Dramble’s neck, locking his shoulder muscles into a spasming knot. The hiding place was brilliant for surveying the activities in the square, but it kept him trapped in one position and he’d fallen asleep, exhausted from days of evading capture. In an anguished attempt to ease the cramps, he twisted the offended muscles and tried to straighten his neck, placing a hand over his mouth to stifle the sympathetic voice box commanded by his brain and connected to his pain sensors, thus eliminating treason and giving away his hidden position. Finally, after grievous manipulation, the cramp began to ease, freeing his tortured neck muscles and silencing the complaining sensors.

Dramble peered around in shock; the scene of the party had decayed into an ordered rubbish heap with empty food tubes, bottles and expired black hooded men laying where they fell, trashing the once pleasant city square.

Now that the plaza was empty of revellers and had descended into a morbid quiet, a team of elderly black hooded men worked the area with shovels, brooms and plastic bags, dumping the refuse along with inebriated passed out figures onto a cart, and returning the scene into its normal manicured self.

A scan of the stage revealed the blonde man asleep, hanging uncomfortably by the cuffs in a hands up position, but the new restraining devices remained free of occupants and the latest captives hadn’t materialised.

Dramble noticed piles of rubbish scattered at the feet of the prisoner and stains on his clothing. The guards had thwarted attempts to storm the stage and execute the captive by mob rule, but there was no way to stop the missiles emanating from the raging crowd.

On the stage, two guards jumped to their feet, still expecting an attempt by the kafiri to rescue their hero, waking the incarcerated man instantly in a reflex action.

An elderly black hood stepped onto the platform and pointed to the mess at the prisoner’s feet and scattered all over the dais. Settling back down into relaxed positions, the guards nodded their assent and the old hooded man bent and went to work, filling a new garbage bag.

Dramble watched the old hooded figure with distant disinterest, until the old man glanced up at the hostage and some form of silent communication passed between the two.

Dramble’s glare intensified. Had he seen what he thought he had? He stared at the old man, watching for another stolen glance but his eyes never left the job again and the prisoner didn’t seem to acknowledge the black hood in any way. Dramble kept up the vigil with unmoving eyes, hoping to glean something more from the odd behaviour, but his neck began to complain again and he had to change his position or suffer another debilitating cramp.

A sudden bout of jabbering behind Dramble frightened him and he snapped his head around to confront the owner, but before he could move from his hiding place, a gaping grin spread across the assailant’s face and a big arm took a handful of his black robed disguise, suspending him in mid air.

Thinking quickly, it was obvious the black hooded man didn’t understand English and he couldn’t speak the jabber either, so Dramble decided to play the part of a helpless young girl and began to kick violently.

The action seemed to work and a bigger grin exploded across the hairy face at his prize; but before he could torment the kicking girl further, another bout of jabbering allayed his fun and he dropped Dramble to the ground, with a thud.

Two black hooded men stood jabbering; one seemed to be a higher rank and before Dramble could effect an escape, his tiny frame was hauled up under a huge armpit and transported over to the stage and then dumped at the feet of the prisoner.

Thankfully, the guard began talking to the captive in English and Dramble very quickly pieced together what was happening.

“You have a young admirer, kafiri. She hides out to get a unhindered view of your execution, but we have a big surprise for her. She will have the honour of executing you! A fitting end, don’t you think? The brave kafiri Raider butchered by a small Alama Masu princess!”

The black hood then turned to Dramble and started jabbering again, expecting him to comprehend. Dramble panicked, not understanding what he was saying and glanced up at Finn. The wavy blonde locks caught his eye and he was sure every black hooded woman would want to feel the texture of his unusual crown. In the performance of his life, Dramble reached for his own hood and made a massaging motion of his hair and then pointed to Finn.

Gaining the desired response, the black hood laughed and seemed to understand his gesture. “Your executioner, kafiri, wishes to touch your hair. The Alama Masu women don’t often see white hair on such a young man. So you are an anomaly to us.”

Then with a jabber aimed at Dramble, the captor pointed to Finn’s crown and walked away, allowing the girl payment for her services.

Dramble stood, glanced across to the guards and then ambled over to Finn’s disdainful glare. Reaching up to his face and then caressing his hair, two stolen words escaped Dramble’s lips.

“Trust me!”

Finn heard the petition from a male voice coming from the girl’s disguise and reacted with a confused grimace and then realisation dawned. Finn’s face quickly lost all expression, understanding the small figure’s intention.

As if the guard had had enough of the adoring display, he jabbered angrily at the girl and summoned her to his side. He placed a watermelon on a block and then with a razor sharp cutlass grasped in his hand, came down with a thump, splitting the fruit with surgical precision. The remains were scraped from the block and another oversized melon positioned in its place. With a gesture that Dramble understood, the guard handed the ornate execution cutlass across to him.

“See how easily our smallest girl can take your life, kafiri.”

The guard nodded and Dramble raised the cutlass above his head and drew it down, splitting the watermelon with limited effort and watching the two halves drop to the stage floor, with a hollow bump.

Satisfied the rehearsal had gone to plan, the black hood glanced over to an adjacent tower clock; the execution would take place in little over an hour and the crowds would gather soon. Malhalem himself would give the order from a nearby third floor window, regally overlooking the crowded piazza. The guard was sure his little sideshow would bring a pleasing response from the vassal ruler and a well earned reward for his creativity.

Now that the captive had been suitably unnerved, the guard took a seat and drew Dramble onto his lap, holding his prize so she wouldn’t escape and destroy his planned sideshow.

 

~

 

A well behaved crowd began to trickle into the piazza and before long, the trickle had turned to a raging flood. The front rows were populated by gawking black hooded women, while the back rows filled with hungover hooded men, desperate to escape the loud speakers trained onto the horde.

Black hooded warriors lined the periphery and scanned the massing population, expecting a rescue attempt at any moment, but nothing seemed out of place.

Binyamin worried as he and the others gathered against a wall, still smelling like garbage from the cleanup operation. They had managed to make eye contact with Finn, but because of the guards, that was all they could do and now the operation seemed doomed to fail, leaving the rescuers powerless and only able to observe.

Binyamin pleaded to Jehovah for His intervention and confessed their sin of acting without consulting the great God first. Just as his pleading prayer gathered momentum, it was interrupted by jabbering over a loud speaker.

The crowd roared in exhilaration and their attention fixed on a third floor window, while the figure of Malhalem pressed against the glass, waving his hand to the adoring crowd. Then the vassal ruler nodded his head toward the executioner and all eyes diverted to the stage.

It was the executioner’s intention for the small Alama Masu girl to torture Finn before finally executing him and give the crowd an awe inspiring show. But unfortunately, Dramble hadn’t understood the jabbering instruction and as the girl appeared on stage with the cutlass, the crowd went wild with the spectacle, calling for the Raider’s blood.

Finn had his hands tied behind his back with rope and the guards forced him into a kneeling pose, with his head over a block. As the tension mounted, so did the blood lust and the chants for the death of the kafiri echoed ever louder.

The guard yelled above the crowd. “Now, kafiri, our little Alama Masu princess will hack bits off you before she finally puts you out of your misery!” Then he nodded to Dramble to begin.

Dramble’s heart was pounding; he hadn’t understood the earlier directive to torture the blonde man and now he felt sick at the thought. But what could he do? The blonde man had no chance to escape with his hands tied and the crowd was chanting, louder and louder.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 33

 

Binyamin peered across a seething mass of blood lusting black hoods, writhing with hideous intent and egging the small Alama Masu princess on toward torture. The chant was gaining momentum, to the point where Binyamin could feel a helpless, nauseous lump rising in his throat and needing to leave the hapless scene immediately.

The small girl suddenly bent over Finn, blocking the guard’s view and played with his wavy blonde locks, grasping a handful and then with an unassuming stroke of the cutlass, a patch of blonde hair cut free and lay across the girl’s hand.

She held up the blonde locks for the women to see, creating a wave of explosive excitement, and erupting into wild animal gyrations while the energized seething crowd became more enthralled by the teasing young Alama Masu princess.

With an animated wave of her hand, the princess cast the blonde hair follicles out among the crowd and it drifted down over the crazed women, causing a frenzied stampede as each woman competed for a small piece of the prize.

Unseen by the crowd or the guards, the cutlass had made a detour from Finn’s haircut and had easily sliced through the ropes holding his hands bound, with only a gentle rub of the razor sharp blade. Waiting for an opportune time, Finn pressed his hands together and pretended they were still tightly bound.

But as the guards moved in to break up the commotion among the women, a blonde flash grabbed the Alama Masu princess, tucked her under his arm and bolted from the stage, careening through the crowd at high speed.

In full flight and before anyone could comprehend what had just taken place, Finn was gone, navigating for the safety of the tunnel system, only minutes away.

As the Raider crashed past him, Binyamin threw a black robe at the escapee and then tripped up a pursuing group of warriors, creating a human roadblock.

Pretending to be outraged at the Raider’s escape, Binyamin berated the warriors, dragging them to their feet and ordering them to follow his lead. The warriors followed the angry man, figuring he was someone of importance, but Binyamin led them in the opposite direction to the one Finn had gone.

Realisation dawned and shock lifted slowly over the crowd.

Soon, they spilled from the square in all directions, indignantly searching for the escapee and their stolen excitement.

Finn abruptly stopped in a sheltered grove of trees, slipped the black hooded robe over his body, pulled up the hood and casually exited, holding the hand of a small, black hooded girl and walked slowly away from suspicion.

A tsunami of highly agitated black robed pedestrians caught up to him from behind and overtook his position, drowning him in a sea of antagonised searching black. But mingling among the growing number of hunters, Finn blended perfectly and pretended to search for the fugitive, too.

Approaching the palace grounds, he slipped away from the crowd unnoticed and entered the gardens; as expected, the grounds were empty with all the guards busily searching in other places.

Finding the secret entrance, he pushed Dramble down into the tunnel and closed in behind him. Then grabbing the small figure’s hand, pressed headlong into the blanketing darkness, feeling along the tunnel wall for the familiar guiding hand grips.

As the first hand grip moulded into his grasp, Finn let out an enormous sigh of relief, reverberating down into the encompassing darkness.

He was free, something that only moments ago seemed impossible, but his God specialised in the impossible and he began thanking Jehovah loudly and full of emotion as he continued to walk.

Suddenly remembering Dramble, he turned his attention back to the silent figure. “I owe you a debt of gratitude and thanks, my little friend; now tell me who you are.”

 

~

 

Moshe tended the rows of beans with enthusiasm and renewed vigour, chipping delightedly at the hard soil and humming a hymn of praise as he worked. Binyamin and his secret group had returned from their mission and exposited the whole incredible story, without a single misadventure.

Binyamin and the resistance leaders had learned a valuable lesson; and Moshe was sure they would pray and seek Jehovah first, before attempting any further missions.

Moshe took a break from weed chipping and leaned against his hoe, admiring the neat rows of artificial beans. Everything seemed brighter and full of life.

He squinted, trying to recognise a figure walking towards his position; the walk seemed like Yusuf’s, but he was staggering slightly. Within minutes, Yusuf’s sickly appearance came into full view and with a huff that should have raised the dust, he engaged the old man without wasting a word.

“How did the kafiri rescue Finn?!”

“Good morning, Yusuf!” Moshe entreated, almost singing.

“Don’t patronise me, old man, and answer the question!” Yusuf’s sulk was evident and he wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Moshe answered.

“Don’t tell me you knew nothing of the planned escape!” Yusuf seemed a little hungover and intolerant.

“Yes, I knew about the escape; it’s all over the settlement and people are celebrating,” Moshe’s eyes twinkled.

Yusuf eyed the old man with a steely stare. “Look me in the eye, old man, and in front of Jehovah tell me your people didn’t plan this escape.”

“My people did not plan this escape!” Moshe reiterated. “But I do believe Malhalem had an execution, anyway. Wasn’t it the guard who concocted the whole bizarre show?”

Yusuf held the old man’s gaze for a long moment, and then spun around on his heels in disgust. Grabbing his entangled robe in an enraged fist, he reefed the fabric from a stubby bean bush and stormed off, making no secret of his displeasure.

Moshe contentedly returned to chipping weeds, humming another hymn.

 

~

 

The flaming torch guarding the Lake of Purity unexpectedly flickered, as if it had been stirred by a violent wind current. Hakham lifted his head tiredly and gazed around the cavern, wondering what had caused the diligent light to react the way it had. His eyes were drawn to the shimmering images painted onto the cavern roof and then to the small swirling waves agitating the calm surface of the Lake of Purity.

A shiver ran up and down his spine, wondering whether their protected, subterranean world was suffering a distant trauma.

The tunnels were extensive, but none of the family had ever been much beyond the outer reach of the guiding hand grips before, although some had insisted they had experienced strange and wonderful places deep within the extensive tunnel systems, when young love had beckoned them into the search for the Altar Rose.

Hakham’s mind drifted back to Yoni and his screaming. If only he had listened, he wouldn’t be dead now, lost without eternal hope. Even if it meant hiding in a cave and hunted by terrible people consumed by blood lust. The blood of Jehovah’s tribulation people.

Another bout of disgruntled rumbling echoed from deep within the cave system and diverted Hakham’s mind. He steeled himself for the telltale signs of a cave-in, but the rumbling abruptly stopped and settled again, bringing an immediate sigh of relief. The unhappy murmurings of the family shelter were a direct result of the changed world they now lived in and at any time, the final domino could be set tumbling, bringing the shelter down around them.

In the times before the terrible war, things were vastly different and the earth was stable, green and full of life. But since the dreadful attack at the hands of armed and dangerous nuclear vandals, many strange happenings had taken place. New volcanoes had appeared overnight, displacing and devastating vast tracks of land and sea; while towering tsunamis, triggered by massive earthquakes never before seen, had devastated much of the coastal regions, wiping out whole cities and forcing those who remained to take shelter far inland.

Meanwhile, the constant dust storms of radioactive fallout from the worldwide nuclear exchange had turned a fertile world into a contaminated desert, leaving those who survived to eventually die of starvation and thirst, or the acidic effects of radiation poisoning.

Thanks to the ingenuity of Jehovah’s jewel, Israel, many enormous climate-controlled geodesic cities had been constructed. But only to be overrun by the Assyrian’s armies and populated by the likes of the evil Alama Masu, leaving those who refused to worship the Assyrian and take his mark, suffering starvation and exposure in the desolate wastelands, or persecuted and dying at the hands of their barbarian overlords.

Feeling the weight of things to come prophesied in the Book of Wisdom and its consequences for the family, Hakham tried to remain focused on Jehovah and not lose heart. The loss of his beloved friend Yoni and the hope of ever seeing him again in a joyous atmosphere, pierced his heart.

If only he had heeded Hakham’s words, instead of building a personal empire.

Even so, he knew death awaited all those who refused to worship the Assyrian or take his mark; and that dreadful time was just a few short years ahead.

Many of the family had already paid the ultimate sacrifice. No matter how they died, if they kept themselves pure from accepting the mark, they would have an eternal future; but if not, their future would forever be entwined with the Assyrian’s and suffer the same fate.

Hakham could feel the gentle stirring of Jehovah’s love, drawing him back from his tragic past and now as leader of the family, he had to live constantly in tune with Jehovah’s will and not become focused on the troubles of the near future. As he uttered quiet words of worship to Jehovah, a bubbling joy overwhelmed him.

Something had changed.

Expectation and new hope bristled in the back of his mind.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 34

 

Mealtimes in the family kitchen were busy and a full time job for the kitchen leader and those rostered on to help. She, with her rostered team, prepared and cleaned up after six meals in two shifts throughout the day.

It was Hakham’s policy not to have more than half the family gathered in one spot at any given time, should the Alama Masu inadvertently find their way into the underground gathering and attack; thus leaving a remnant to carry on the rescues and offering an alternative Godly lifestyle to the barbarism and deceit of the Alama Masu.

The loss of Finn’s leadership and presence was a significant blow to the family fabric and all family members were affected by his absence. The traumatic disappearance of such a high profile and strong member of the family served as a wakeup call and an indicator of just how vulnerable their lives really were and at any unguarded moment, tragedy could strike.

To make things worse, the family were considered by the one world government as an illegal extremist group that offered a substantial risk to the safety and security of the new world order. So any attack on the family members were not only condoned but encouraged by the charismatic Assyrian, and anyone executing a family member was considered to be carrying out a service to god and a hero to the faith.

Heather sauntered into the kitchen with her two new sisters in tow, ready to roster on and start the day’s work. As an experienced member of the family, it was her responsibility to instruct the girls on practices and procedures, but before she could gather her fraying thoughts, Elly noticed her downcast expression and wondered whether she was suffering another bout of grief at Finn’s continued absence or if she just wasn’t well.

“Are you okay, Heather?” Elly asked, the concern for her new sister showing clearly across her face.

When Heather finally lifted her head to acknowledge Elly’s question, the corner of her eyes were moist. She hesitated for a moment, before laying down the cause. “Finn and I were rostered on at the same time and we used to have a lot of fun together, but now kitchen duty just pierces my heart,” she admitted dejectedly.

Elly wrapped Heather in a warm hug and held her for a long time, trying desperately to allay her suffering. “I know we’re a poor second choice, but we can surely find some fun to get into.”

Heather giggled away her melancholy thoughts and broke from Elly’s hug, wiping her eyes at the same time. “I don’t think Cook would allow a pillow fight in her kitchen, Elly.”

“Well, you never know what mischief we girls can find,” Elly peered over at Eliana and invited her to join in the encouragement.

“Of course, Heather, peeling ancient tree roots may just have a comedic side,” Eliana peered at a large tray and wondered what fun could possibly be involved in that task.

Then from behind the girls, a familiar voice entered the conversation, sending Eliana into a bedazzled spin and preening her luxurious locks relentlessly with her fingers.

“Looks like we’re working together, ladies,” Caleb grinned, stealing a generous adoring glance sideways at Eliana.

“Caleb!” Heather and Elly exclaimed together while an infatuated sigh announced Eliana’s greeting.

Elly and Heather stared at each other in amusement until Elly shot down the stars floating in Eliana’s eyes. “Close your mouth, Eliana; you’re starting to drool and that’s not an attractive look,” Elly whispered.

“Elly!” Eliana whispered back, glancing sideways at Caleb. “You’re embarrassing me!”

It didn’t take long for Caleb’s tongue to extend between his teeth too and before long, Caleb and Eliana were flirting unashamedly, laughing and giggling at the slightest things and standing as close to each other as a crowded kitchen would allow. Cook had to berate the two young people for too much noise and not enough production, but she was delighted and approved of the antics of fledgling attraction in her kitchen.

It had been a busy morning cooking, cleaning, serving and mingling among the family; Caleb and Eliana hadn’t noticed the morning passing and each new chore seemed to bring them closer.

Heather’s mood swung between giggling laughter and envious melancholy as she watched Eliana and Caleb flirting and enjoying the pheromones igniting like fireworks across the kitchen. It had been like this with Finn, too. Quickly glancing around the faces, she settled her back against a bench, hoping for a brief moment to herself to remember the man who had stolen her heart.

Caleb glanced around in full-on flirt from one of Eliana’s innocent funny games and his gaze briefly settled on Heather, understanding full well her loss.

Caleb’s jesting abruptly turned to compassion, striding over to Heather and pulling her into an all encompassing hug, with Eliana watching the scene with a flash of envy. Realising the depth of compassion instilled in the man she was falling in love with, she joined the hug and before long, all the kitchen staff had surrounded Heather and lent their arms to their hurting sister.

Once the cavern of dining emptied, Cook placed a meal for each one of the team on a table, gathering together to enjoy some time in each other’s company before the next round started in an hour or so. Caleb and Eliana instinctively drew up a seat next to each other while Cook, Heather and Elly sat opposite the two new friends. Cook sighed heavily as she lowered herself to the seat, relieving her aching feet, and then called across to Caleb to give thanks for the meal. Once everyone had begun to eat, Cook glanced across at Caleb and then Eliana, attempting to encourage the couple with a story.

“You know, Eliana, there is something you should be aware of about the family,” Cook started and then held Eliana’s inquisitive gaze. “There is a tradition among the family that when a young man fancies a young woman, he makes his intentions known by approaching the girl’s father and asks for the right to search the path of the Altar Rose. The rose is a shy bloom, beautiful beyond description and only grows in a special cave somewhere in the extensive tunnel system and under Jehovah’s light. It is said that only true love ever finds the shy and reclusive flower; and if it is found in the presence of soul mates, then once picked, it replants itself forever in the hearts of the two lovers, and binds their love with unbreakable bonds.”

“Wow! What a lovely story!” Eliana sighed. “Is it true?”

“Nobody knows, although some among the family lay claim to finding the cave and the rose,” Cook replied.

Caleb’s eyes twinkled, intending to awe Eliana even more. “The cave exists; I think I found it a couple of days ago, far beyond the last hand grips, but I don’t recall seeing any flowers.”

All attention settled on Caleb as he set about to explain his find and by the time he had finished, four sets of female eyes were dazzled by his enchanting description.

The call back to work began another round of frivolity behind the kitchen scene and before long, the day had closed after the final evening meal and everyone was tired.

“Can I escort you ladies home?” Caleb offered, with a hidden ulterior motive.

Elly answered before Eliana could accept Caleb’s offer, fully aware of his reasons for offering. “I think we…” nodding to Eliana, “would be honoured to have your company, sir.”

Elly locked her arm around Heather’s and they walked off together, closely followed by Caleb and Eliana. After an exhausted hug and parting adieu, Heather and Elly left Caleb and Eliana talking at the family chamber door. But only at Dad’s insistence some hours later, did Eliana finally consider saying goodnight to the handsome Caleb and retiring to bed.

When Eliana finally wriggled into bed, Elly and Heather had already retired. “Elly, Heather, are you asleep?” Eliana whispered.

“Not anymore,” Elly jested, figuring Eliana wanted to discuss her developing feelings for Caleb. Elly could just make out Eliana’s delicate features and her long hair in the limited light of the family chamber.

“You guys are my confidantes, right…? He’s the one…! I know he is…! And that story today about the Altar Rose just made my heart tingle!” Eliana sighed in hushed delight.

Elly threw back her blanket and stooped to hug Eliana. “He’s just smitten with you too, Eliana; you’re a lucky girl and I’m happy for you.”

Soon Heather joined the hug, but a pang of envy stabbed at her heart. Now that Finn was gone and even if she went in search of the elusive rose with someone else, it would never be with her soul mate; and the Altar Rose would remain hidden from her, forever.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 35

The day had been busier than usual around the kitchen. Hakham had finally deserted his post holding vigil in front of the altar, while crowds had gathered around him in the cavern of dining, hoping to glean some understanding of what the esteemed elder’s movements really meant. Hakham couldn’t relay the meaning of the renewed hope he held, but he knew Jehovah had done something… and it wouldn’t be long before He revealed it.

Heather translated Hakham’s meaning as deserting all hope that Finn would ever return and life would go on as normal without him. The thought tore at her heart, but she knew life would go on for her, dragged along by the current of never ending drudge and forever devoid of love. Deciding to leave the past in Jehovah’s hands and remain single and true to the memory of the man she loved, she would devote herself instead to selflessly serving Jehovah and others.

Eliana and Caleb lived in a private world of two, constantly interrupted and berated by Cook to keep their minds on the job. Caleb was often caught stealing infatuated long looks at the outline of the woman he loved, instead of concentrating on his task: the exquisite lines of her fine cheekbones; impish nose with the tip turned up just ever so slightly; soft, luxurious long hair and brown eyes that knocked him for six; clear smooth skin and two thinly textured velvety red lips that just begged to be kissed.

A chorus of giggles from behind Caleb drew his attention back to the kitchen and he realised he had been caught out again. Eliana turned toward the ruckus just in time to see Caleb avert his adoring stare. Eliana smiled an innocent smile and flushed red, realising he had been staring at her again and hoping he liked what he saw.

The day finally came to an exhausted end with the girls once again escorted back to their chamber. Elly and Heather left the two beaus cooing at the chamber door and entered the room throwing their casual, “Goodnight, Caleb,” over their shoulders as they departed, but receiving no response.

Heather searched the chamber for dirty washing, collecting it into a large bag then turned her attention toward Elly. “Do you have any washing you want done, Elly?”

“You can’t be serious, Heather; you’ve just finished a full day on kitchen roster!”

“I guess I just want some time alone and the laundry needs to be done; doing the laundry at the washing stream will be cathartic and kill two birds with one stone,” Heather replied glumly.

Elly smothered Heather in a big hug. “Oh, precious lady, I wish there was something I could do to ease your pain!”

Heather returned Elly’s hug, pressing one hand full of dirty washing against Elly’s back.

“Tell you what, Heather, and only if you want. I’ll help you do the washing and we can talk; it might help to get some of these painful, debilitating emotions out in the open. You know, woman to woman.”

Heather tightened her hug on Elly and after thinking about Elly’s offer, she decided a woman to woman talk would be a welcome reprieve from the tightly wound despair she carried. After all, she was beginning to see Elly like a twin sister, soft and trusting–and wise too. “Thank you, Elly; I think I would like that,” Heather finally conceded.

As the two women carried an enormous bag between them, they attempted to squeeze past the chamber doorway and out into the passage that led to the washing stream without losing their load.

Oblivious to her surrounds, Eliana stretched her small frame standing on her tiptoes, wrapping her arms around Caleb’s neck and with her soft brown eyes closed in ecstatic rapture. Caleb engulfed her petite form in his embrace and pressed his hungry lips to hers, tasting the pure wine of her innocent love. Entangled in embryonic ardour and lost in the explosive wildfire of their first passionate kiss, the world melted into a furious blur and the two hearts pounded, melding together as one.

As Heather and Elly pushed past the scene unnoticed, the intense heat of desire radiated into the tunnel, threatening to ignite the air around them in the fury of a consuming, white hot flame.

 

~

 

The dappled light, gentle peace and splashing trickle of the washing stream enticed comfort and drew the deep pain to the surface of Heather’s broken heart.

Another older member of the family had just finished her chores and was packing up her cleaned clothes into a weaved basket. As she left, she pressed a compassionate hug into Heather’s embrace and whispered encouragingly into Heather’s ear. Heather nodded appreciatively as she broke from the older woman’s encouragement and then with a hug for Elly, the older woman left the two young women to their work.

It took a few moments, soaking up the ambience and the intense silence for Heather to gather her thoughts. She removed her sandals and then stood ankle deep in the pure and warm, slowly moving water, found a suitable rock to sit on then gathered a garment into her hands, gently soaping it before manipulating the cloth against another smooth rock.

Elly silently followed her lead and sat beside Heather with another garment and gently rubbed the cloth against a rock. She stole a sideways glance at Heather but didn’t speak, allowing her to open up when she was ready.

Heather abruptly started with a flat, emotionless voice that reverberated around the tiny cavern. “I’ve loved Finn ever since he rescued me and Dad from that terrible day, nearly four years ago. The Alama Masu abused my beautiful mother and then murdered her right in front of our eyes. But we knew she had suffered badly, because she wouldn’t even look at us just before they killed her. Dad died that day with her; and I can still see the brutalised look on her face as she was forced to kneel over that block… she was a lot like you, Elly.”

Heather and Elly stopped working as a painful choke gasped at the back of Heather’s throat, followed by two soft plink, plinks as Heather’s tears dropped quietly into the warm water.

It took a moment for Heather to regain her composure and start the story again.

“I was only thirteen when Finn brought us here; and the family adopted us without reserve. I lost one mother and gained a multitude. The ladies of the family practically raised me, and the men helped Dad to find a way through his minefield. Finn was a lot older than me and it wasn’t until recently that he even noticed the skinny kid had matured into a woman. Even so, I was sure he held a deep regard for me; and just before he left on the secret raid, I was nearly certain he was going to ask me to walk the path in search of the Altar Rose.”

Elly choked up and swallowed Heather in a hug and began to cry. “I’m so sorry, Heather. If I could give you back Finn and take his place in death, then I would do it without a second thought.”

The women wept together for many moments, until Heather spoke again. “It’s not your fault, Elly; Jehovah wanted it this way and besides, you and Eliana are precious, precious daughters of Jehovah too. I am already starting to appreciate both you and Eliana as beloved sisters; anyway, Eliana has stolen Caleb’s heart and I’m guessing there will be an attempt to walk the path in search of the Altar Rose very soon.”

The washing continued relentlessly for many long moments without another spoken word, both girls blinded by tears as they worked the soapy garments against the smooth rocks.

Until Heather’s emotional voice broke the silence once again. “Tell me about your friend, Elly; the one who is still looking for you back at Baal Malii.”

Elly’s emotions flowed over again at the thought of Dramble’s tortured search and it took many moments to think through the crazy story and make sense of it, not only for Heather, but for Elly too. After many confused moments, Elly tried to piece together the story as she knew it, but as she did, many bewildering questions entered her mind, questions she had forgotten about through the trauma of her abduction and her close escape from a pending, horrific death.

A big sigh interrupted the stream’s gentle babble and echoed around the chamber; Elly’s mind was confused trying to remember details. “I… I was travelling with some people I didn’t know very well and one of them made a grab for me; I… I think he had amorous intent but I didn’t want his advances a… and there was some kind of accident.”

Elly’s expression was tense and staring, until Heather’s hand on her arm startled her, trying to convey comfort. Elly turned toward Heather’s compassionate face and smiled, drawing Elly out of the confusion before she regained her thoughts and continued.

“All I can remember is waking up in the ruins and Dramble was there; he was ever so gentle with me and so concerned. He has the softest grey eyes I’ve ever seen and he looks like a little boy, but speaks and acts like a man–and strong too! He carried me as if I was a weightless rag doll when I stumbled over my big feet and rolled my ankle. Anyway, we heard some kind of commotion among the ruins and quickly decided we needed to find shelter. After hours of searching we found a suitable place to hide but that night, we heard someone fossicking among the rubble and in the morning, we found a small table out among the ruins and on top of it was all these strange tubes.”

“The Alama Masu!” Heather interrupted pointedly. “It’s a trick they use to entice the family into searching among the ruins for food; they know we subsist on a bland diet and the grey crystals are like candy to a child, but the family know they do it and sometimes the temptation becomes too strong and someone will fall for the trap. But the exquisite tasting grey crystals are sometimes laced with a tracking device–among other things–and if someone falls to the temptation, they will eventually lead the enemy straight to us… sorry, Elly, I interrupted you; go on!”

“We ate some of the grey crystals and as you said, they were very filling and palatable. But I noticed the crystals vibrating on my skin and it panicked me.”

“The tracking device!” Heather conceded with disdain.

“Dramble was concerned I was dehydrating in the dusty environment; I hadn’t had water for over two days and my body was starting to shut down. It was becoming desperate, so we searched all the next day trying to find water, but I was slowing Dramble’s pace and he was concerned I wouldn’t make it much further.”

Heather stared blankly at the cavern wall, intrigued by Elly’s story. “It’s just as well you didn’t find water in the ruins, Elly; everything out there has been poisoned by the great attack. The water would have killed you quicker than the thirst.”

Heather’s comment flabbergasted Elly, halting her commentary. “This isn’t a friendly place is it, Heather?”

Shaking her head, Heather’s lips turned up at the ends in a mock smile. “Go on, Elly.”

“Dramble eventually found an underground concrete bunker of some kind and left me there, but before he could return, a couple of black robed thugs found me and abducted me forcefully and disabled my resistance, taking me into that place. When I woke from whatever they did, I was in the harem and laying on a rug; they questioned me about the family and of course I didn’t know anything, but then some awful chanting or something erupted over loud speakers…”

“The Alama Masu being called to worship their satanic god,” Heather’s face was drawn and a fire of anger burned in her desperate stare, reciting the ritual she had seen and heard so many times.

Elly stared blankly past Heather, the memories perturbing her anxious mind, trying to short-out the unpleasant events leading up to Finn’s heroic rescue; but for Heather’s sake, she tentatively continued.

“Once the chanting started, the Alama Masu left the room and then Eliana was sent in to prepare me for that sicko, Mal… something or other!”

“Malhalem, he’s the vassal ruler.”

“Mmm, that’s him,” Elly swallowed and tried to brace herself for the worst. “Anyway, Eliana bathed me and prepared me so this Malhalem could…” Elly choked as she remembered how close both she and Eliana had come to being abused and murdered; and Finn’s timely sacrifice that ultimately led to their rescue.

Heather sensed the trauma Elly was carrying and smothered her in a hug. “It’s okay, Elly, I can guess the rest; it’s a familiar story among the family women, especially the exceptionally beautiful ones.”

Elly trembled in Heather’s arms and then finally found the courage to whisper, “If it wasn’t for Finn’s and Caleb’s bravery–right at the last minute, too–we would have been brutalised and dead by now.”

Remaining in the comfort of Heather’s embrace, both girls stared at the cavern’s rocky wall in silence while the thoughts continually traumatised Elly. She hadn’t had time to process the shock, or the full extent of Finn’s and Caleb’s bravery and what that meant for both Eliana and her.

But more importantly, what it cost Heather.

Elly had intended to comfort Heather, but found Heather’s comfort instead. “You’re such a wonderful woman, Heather, and just like how I imagined a sister would be.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 36

 

It was late when Elly and Heather hauled their load of clean washing back to the chamber, but Caleb and Eliana were still holding hands, gazing adoringly and talking exclusively at the chamber door. Eliana’s gape was that of a woman deeply in love and Caleb’s expression betrayed the depth of emotion he held for the petite young woman too. Even as her two sisters struggled into view, Eliana hadn’t registered that someone else could possibly be alive on the planet until Elly, overcome with gratitude, dropped her end of the bag and hugged Caleb’s neck, prompting an envious flash from Eliana’s eyes.

“Thank you for your bravery and for what you did for both Eliana and me.”

Elly’s sudden display took Caleb by surprise and then when she kissed his cheek with a watery kiss, he was stunned even more. To make things worse for Eliana, Heather did the same thing, prompting Eliana to twist her head to one side and place her hands on her hips.

Realising this wasn’t a grab for her man, Eliana spoke up and with a jesting smile, teased the situation with humour. “I’ve been thanking him all night; haven’t I, sweetheart?!”

Caleb’s expression was troubled at the unusual and overwhelming outpouring of feminine appreciation but one more glance at the young woman who had stolen his heart and he was ready to admit to anything. His adoring smile spoke volumes, but his tongue was tied and his words had forsaken him.

“We’ll leave you two alone for now, but don’t forget to come to bed, Eliana. Kitchen duty in the morning,” Elly warned, sharing a corner of the clothes bag with Heather and wrestling the load of washing inside.

Dad suddenly appeared at the chamber door and with an amused smile, he chided the two love birds to leave some for the morning and sent Caleb home. With a final passionate kiss that would keep her on his mind all night, Eliana drifted inside while Caleb floated home along the late night passageway.

It was early morning before Elly and Heather wearily prepared for bed, although Eliana was hyped up and wanted to continuously talk about Caleb still.

“Eliana, I love you and Caleb with all my heart, but if you don’t let me get some sleep, I may turn into the pillow fight grump and you don’t want that, do you?” Elly chided, while drawing a stifled laugh from Heather.

“Okay! I get the message. Goodnight, Elly and Heather,” Eliana conceded defeat and settled her head on her pillow.

“Night, Eliana, and he’s a very fine man; you’re a lucky girl.”

“Yeah, he is and did you know…?“

Eliana!

Elly silenced Eliana with a good natured jibe and with a final shared giggle, the family chamber drifted into exhausted sleep.

 

~

 

Tender bare footsteps treaded the darkened mountain trail, sharp with stones of imagination but no jab of the fractious sole was enough to discourage playful curiosity. The shimmering sun, brilliant and powerful like a fresh cut gem, reflected its colours through the prisms of time and painted the mountain’s shadowy cloak with a rainbow of delight.

Competent and more than willing to light the sojourner’s way.

A graceful step… and then another… bared a perfect ankle, hidden so shy and deeply innocent behind the maiden’s flowing white gown. Long strands of supple blonde velvet, tussled by a teasing wind, caressed the dawning air, so heavy with the sweet scents of undisturbed perfume and tense with expectation.

Profound pools of pure piercing blue searched the tinsel-like scene, until a child’s giggle drifted across the valley floor and invited her emotions to play.

Soft kisses of sweet, warm rain drifted down from on high and upon the maiden’s superb beauty, thrilling her senses and swelling her heart.

She knew he was here somewhere and he was watching, filling his gaze with her magnificent innocence.

Bursting into a uncontrolled giggle, she spun her figure on the spot, twirling the long gown in a ballet of delight, while shimmers of the rainbow flashed like lightning and danced across her dazzling blonde velvet, tempting him with her radiance; but finally, bowing to an applause of childlike laughter drifting from across the stems of perfect lilac, yellow, red and green.

“Elly…! Elly…! Pretty lady, come to me,” the whisper beckoned, tantalising her heart with tingling desire.

She turned this way and that, probing desperately, piercing blue flashes alive like the laughing flowers, searching here… there… but where was he?

Deep green trails of a desperate searchlight pulled her heart towards him. She was floating above the ground, drawn along by his powerful stare and encapsulated by his beckoning call but powerless to resist the yearning she felt.

Without warning, the green eyes held her mesmerised and she drifted on the wings of love, gasping to fill her heaving lungs and desperate to feel the heat of his passion once again.

Her heart exploded as he drew her teasingly, slowly into his embrace while gentle featherlight fingers caressed her lips, drawing her closer into his desperate kiss.

“Elly… Elly! Wake up, girl, you’re moaning and talking in your sleep.” Heather and Eliana stood over her bed, shaking her from her slumber.

“H-m-m!” An exasperated Elly was still coming to terms with her romantic dream and once again, she had missed the best part. Trying not to give too much away and concerned she may have embarrassed herself, she tried to fathom the depth of her folly. “W..what did I say?” she managed sluggishly.

Eliana glanced across to Heather, an impish smile lighting her lips. “I don’t know exactly, but it sounded very intense.”

Feeling assured she had escaped the worst, Elly tried to play it down. “Must have been a nightmare,” she offered unconvincingly, and still incoherent from her dream.

Eliana wasn’t going to let her get away with that. “Mmm! I’ve never had a nightmare where I’ve been caught murmuring… Kiss me…! Kiss me!

Elly flushed red, while Heather and Eliana giggled and then hugged their sister.

Unexpectedly, a long trumpet blast tore through the passageways, reverberating off the walls and into every part of the subterranean world.

The chilling sound brought fear to the girls and immediately, Heather’s face fell.

“What’s happening, Heather?!” Elly demanded, frightened to her core.

“It’s the emergency trumpet, coming from the lookout. Quickly, follow me into the tunnels; we have to find shelter and hide.”

Abruptly, Caleb appeared at the door, frantic for Eliana’s and the girls’ safety. “Heather, take the girls and your father down into the winding tunnels and head deep; and don’t come out until I come for you personally. Okay!”

Heather nodded vigorously while Eliana reached for Caleb; he kissed her and then sent them on their way, desperate to get them to safety before they were attacked.

“I love you, Eliana,” his pledge struck at her heart, echoing in the dark passageway.

“I love you too, Caleb; please be careful!” the worry evident in Eliana’s voice.

It was up to Caleb and the Raiders now to defend the family and in the absence of Finn, Caleb was responsible for their protection and he would fight with everything he had to protect the people he loved.

As the trumpet continued its toll, people were panicking and screaming, abandoning their family chambers in haste while heading deeper into the dark tunnels, well beyond the Lake of Purity.

Commanding voices among the terrorised fray hurried them to their allotted shelters, then ordered the family to remain calm, silence their shouting fears and hide.

With her heart pounding in her chest, Elly glanced back to see a group of young men travelling in the opposite direction, led by Caleb’s handsome figure and disappearing into the tunnels. The first and last line of defence, supposedly going out to meet the threat and cut it down before it could find its way into the family refuge.

Elly erupted into frustrated tears, knowing fear stalked the family at every turn and danger was a constant part of the family’s struggle. The gentle people and the place she had been thrust into could never rest, and their vigilance was key to life or death.

This was a wakeup call to Elly. She had grown to love the peaceful and loving people of the family, family who were hunted at the hands of pure evil and their only crime was to love Jehovah and each other above everything else.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 37

 

Silent and frightened eyes glistened in the dark passageways, punctuated only by pounding hearts and laboured breaths, deliberately drawn and controlled so any sound could not be detected, closing the snare of a trap around the family members.

The family group stood scattered and invisible throughout silent tunnels; not a sound or even a whisper could be heard. But fear lurked like a heavy blanket and settled over the hunted, while the hunter thrived on its presence, sensing it like a rabid dog tracking down an injured fox.

The Raiders’ strategy to engage the enemy: silence in waiting and then as much noise as possible while the battle raged, warning the family the enemy was near and the signal to run deeper into the black tunnels.

Moments dragged by in anxious contemplation and many fearful prayers crossed quavering lips and waited, hoping for deliverance while their very lives remained at Jehovah’s will.

A muffled voice drifted from far away, concealed and muted by many metres of thick rock. Hearts raced and straining ears tried to tune into the commentary from among the dark passages, waiting anxiously for the sign to flee.

The voice abruptly changed from a quiet, challenging tone to a rowdy, boisterous dance. Confusion gripped the tunnels as more Raider voices joined the cacophony.

Was this a battle cry or was this a victory shout?

Soon, the staccato call of the trumpet bellowed out across the tunnels, adding more confusion, and debate erupted among the family members. The all clear was sounding victoriously and some of the family began to murmur and move back toward the familiar sanctuary while other members sensed a trap and preached caution, halting a mass migration.

Then Caleb’s excited voice drifted into the confusion and caused a furore. “Come out! Come and see! Finn is back and he is alive and unharmed!”

Then as the stunned words began to sink in, a body shoved against Elly and dropped to the floor, pushing her off balance.

Desperate to find the cause of the strike, Elly tried to feel around in the dark, but the body slunk down at her feet and crashed against her toes. Heather had been in the same direction the shove had come from and Elly began to worry.

Searching the figure’s features, she gasped, realising the petite Heather had been overpowered by the unexpected news and had fainted right at her feet.

 

~

 

As the fear began to subside, many dazed family members ambled into the dining cavern and silently began to assemble, but still suffering the effects of shock at an averted attack. The apparition of Finn standing before them was surreal and it took a while for reality to sink in.

Then the hysterical voice of Louisse broke the silence and she hugged the Raider and began to kiss his cheek, begging for forgiveness. The family abruptly recognised Finn by the tender hug and warmth directed at Louisse and his consoling words of love, respect and forgiveness.

A murmur rippled through the gathering and then grew in intensity as people recognised the Raiders’ leader and burgeoned into a full-blown celebration. The noise of excitement filled the chamber and before long, a solid wall of people gathered around Finn, hugging him and crying all at the same time.

The cacophony suddenly quieted as if a plug had been pulled and the crowd divided, while a trembling young woman stood in the doorway to the chamber and stared at the Raider leader with an uncertain gaze. Her eyes were haunted but soft and pleading, locked onto the gape of the green-eyed warrior.

In that moment, all sound stopped and Finn crossed the floor in a swift, fluid move, sweeping the woman he loved into his arms and holding her off the ground, stunning her with the fire of passion from his lips. Heather returned Finn’s passion, her small frame lost in his embrace and her heart pounding with joy.

A raucous cheer erupted throughout the sanctuary as the two people slowly became aware of their surrounds again and swallowed up by adoring family members. The family women were dancing with elation as their little girl’s sadness quickly turned to ecstasy; she was destined to fit the shape of Finn’s embrace and walk the path of the Altar Rose and become his wife.

A small boy with searching grey eyes stood at the back of the crowd and lapped up the obvious love these people carried for their warrior.

As Finn stood holding a glowing Heather’s hand, people began asking about his mission and how he had escaped the terrors of the Alama Masu. In the heat of the moment, a light of forgetfulness suddenly blinked on and Finn scanned the crowd, settling his gaze on the small, grey-eyed boy.

The boy watched the Raider stride towards him and before he could blink, Finn had hoisted him above his head and settled the small figure on his shoulder. “This person is the one who is responsible for my escape!”

The family fell silent, expecting an explanation, but before the crowd could process the information and ask another barrage of questions, Elly’s impassioned voice drifted from the doorway.

DRAMBLE!

She ran toward Finn and as he let Dramble down again, she smothered him in an emotional hug. The two friends fell together, whooping and dancing in a touching reunion.

Red faced and out of breath, Elly glanced up at the Raider with overwhelming joy and for the first time her eyes met his and in a gasp that stole her breath, her innocent, piercing blue eyes fluttered closed and she collapsed at his feet.

 

~

 

When Elly finally regained consciousness, she was lying on her bed attended by Eliana and a very glowing Heather. She could hear the sounds of whispered male voices at the chamber door and recognised Dramble’s boyish banter among Caleb and Finn’s company.

Elly stumbled to understand what had just happened; and as Heather stroked Elly’s face lovingly, the shock returned but this time she managed to keep her herself in check.

“Are you okay, Elly?” Heather whispered with concern.

“Yeah, I think so; I’ve never done that before,” Elly admitted.

Eliana tried to humour Elly. “It’s no wonder you fainted, Elly; he’s quite a piece of man this Finn of Heather’s, but he’s nothing on my Caleb, though.”

Elly returned Eliana’s fun with a wry smile. “I don’t think so, Eliana; I’m not sure what happened though.”

But deep down inside Elly, a war of emotions was raging. She knew this man and he was fire to her fuse. The fact he held Heather’s heart only confused her more and now the turmoil could only grow deeper.

“Try and get some sleep, Elly; it’s been an emotional day for all and morning is just about upon us,” Heather suggested.

Elly nodded, reaching for Heather’s hand. “That sounds like a good idea, Heather; I’m bushed.”

A voice from the passageway called to the three men gathered at Heather’s door. “Hakham wants to see all three of you in the sanctuary.”

All three men nodded their assent to the messenger and after Finn and Caleb had kissed their girls goodnight, they ambled down the passages, wondering what Hakham had on his mind.

The family began to settle back into what was left of the night time routine and attempt to sleep the remaining night hours. It wouldn’t be long before the morning’s activity began in earnest and called in the day among the corridors of the gathering.

 

~

 

As the men gathered at the door to the Lake of Purity, Hakham’s figure lay prostrate before the altar; it was soon clear he hadn’t moved from his position, even during the panic of the purported attack.

While the family chambers drifted into exhausted silence, every word uttered in front of the altar reverberated out into the quiet passageways. The men bowed their heads to the altar before entering the Lake of Purity, just as Hakham’s figure rose from the floor and took Finn in a fatherly hug.

“I am so proud of you, Finn, and your allegiance to Jehovah,” then his hug shifted to Caleb. “Well done, Caleb; you are a true son of Jehovah and your valour in times of distress has served our family admirably.”

Then Hakham turned to Dramble and his hug tightened around the boy. “Your allegiance to Elly is unshaken, but once I have learned of Finn’s adventure, there will be much to pass between you and me.”

Dramble nodded to the elder and waited for Finn to espouse his mission and the details that led to his safe return.

After an hour, Finn had exhausted the whole tale, even to the fact that a cave-in had slowed their journey back to the sanctuary from Baal Malii and they had to dig their way through with their bare hands. Thus causing a prolonged journey back and an early morning panic at the lookout post leading into the subterranean sanctuary.

Hakham dismissed the two Raiders, leaving Dramble with the elder, while Finn and Caleb spent the remaining moments of the night to catch up on the happenings of family life. Hours passed while the morning activity around the family ground slowly to life after an unusual and fearful night.

People found Finn and Caleb in the cavern of dining, talking together and interrupted their heroes with fond greetings.

But in the sanctuary, stone-faced and with his head bowed low and concentrating on the rock floor, Dramble stood in front of Hakham and listened to the elder’s exhortation, nodding occasionally in agreement and shaking his head at other instances, but never lifting his head to make eye contact.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 38

 

“I tell you, Finn, I found it and it’s just how I described it. There were millions of tiny coloured lights attached to the roof and if you make a sound, the lights all blink out. But if you keep quiet, they slowly blink back on again. At one side there was a white sandy beach, leading into deep flowing, pristine water and at the far end was a waterfall. I think the cave went on further behind the waterfall, too, but I didn’t follow it… you don’t believe me, do you, Finn?!” Caleb searched the intense green eyes.

“You have to admit, Caleb, it’s a pretty big stone to swallow.”

“Yeah, I know, I know, but it was just awesome; if I can find it again I’ll prove it to you and you can see it for yourself!” Caleb was lost in awe, but Finn was still dubious.

“So this was how far beyond the last hand grip?!” Finn was intrigued but not ready to accept Caleb’s story yet.

“I don’t know, an hour maybe,” Caleb tried to recall.

“I’d be doubtful if you could find it again, Caleb. There’s a confusion of tunnels out past the hand grips and no one is really sure what’s actually out there!”

“So you believe me then?!”

“You haven’t ever given me a reason to doubt your word, Caleb, and it sounds like a great distraction when things are a little slow among the community.”

Two petite hands ran their fingers over Caleb’s back as he sat talking to Finn, and then wrapped her arms around his neck in an adoring embrace. Recognising Eliana’s perfume immediately, he spun around on his seat and swooped up her tiny frame into his lap and stole her breath away with a fiery kiss. She gasped as his passion overpowered her, catching a delighted sigh in the back of her throat and then floating back to earth on the gentle wings of love.

Still held in Caleb’s embrace, she turned her attention to the boys’ interrupted conversation. “What are you two talking about?” Eliana’s cheeks were glowing, flushed with a healthy rosy bloom.

Finn glanced to the door as another petite young woman made an entry, expecting to see Heather, but catching Elly’s brilliant blue eyes instead.

She flushed with embarrassment at his stare and uttered a confused stammer. “Ah… she… um, Heather was sidetracked by Hakham and she said she may be a while but would be along as soon as she had finished with him.”

Finn nodded, holding his gaze on Elly’s beauty for just a little longer than he should. She was stunning and her blue eyes were captivating, enticing a man to have a closer look.

Breaking eye contact with the blonde beauty wasn’t an easy thing to do. “Thanks, Elly,” Finn finally managed.

Caleb was still holding Eliana on his lap when an idea flashed across his mind. “The family will be late getting started today and I gather Heather will be waylaid with Hakham for a while, so we still have a few hours until our kitchen duty starts; why don’t we have a go at finding the cave again? And then you’ll see I wasn’t making it up. It shouldn’t take long and we’ll be back in time for the roster.”

“What’s this all about, honey?” Eliana prodded, still holding onto Caleb’s neck and gazing adoringly at her man.

“Finn doesn’t believe me about the cave I found and I just want a chance to prove it exists.”

“I believe you, sweetheart,” Eliana protected. “Come on, Finn, we can all go; it would be an adventure and we’d be back before we were missed,” Eliana added her positive consent to Caleb’s case.

Finn tussled with the idea and then finally agreed. “Okay, but let’s make it quick.”

“Are you coming, Elly?” Eliana pleaded.

N-n-o-o…! I don’t think so, Eliana. I’ll wait here,” Elly’s eyes flashed at Finn, not trusting herself in his presence.

Eliana wriggled from Caleb’s embrace and then grabbed Elly’s hand. “Come on, Elly; I don’t want to be the only girl on this expedition. Please!”

Elly remembered the last time she had heard this same argument and she had ended up in mess of trouble.

“I really don’t think it’s a good idea, Eliana!” Elly protested.

“Then come for my sake, Elly,” Caleb enticed, throwing his opinion behind Eliana’s plea. “I’ll need an independent witness to verify we did actually find the cave again.”

Elly stole another sideways glance at Finn and then swallowed hard, knowing she would regret being talked into something so dangerous.

“Okay, but you promise we’ll turn back as soon as we find it.”

“Well, maybe not straight away; we’ll at least have to check it out a bit first and then we’ll come straight back. How’s that?” Caleb offered.

Elly nodded reluctantly, feeling she had no choice but to comply.

Before long, the four young people disappeared along the dimly lit passages, pushing deeper and deeper into the maze. Caleb stopped a few times and backtracked, losing the trail and then finding it again. He reached the limit of the flaming torches and then the tunnel descended into thick blackness.

“We’re not going in there?!” Elly objected.

Caleb held Eliana’s hand. “Yes, I’m sorry, Elly, we’ll have to. Take Finn’s hand and don’t let it go,” he ordered.

Finn reached for Elly’s hand and a tingle ran through her body as they touched. Elly’s tiny hand was warm and soft and felt good against Finn’s skin.

The little expedition pushed further and further into the darkness until Caleb’s voice announced the last hand grip. They walked in pitch blackness for what seemed like hours, straining to see anything in the dark, but Elly’s mind kept drifting back to Finn and the warmth of his hand in hers.

A stab of conscience stirred her memory and replayed Heather’s beautiful, trusting face and the depth of her anguish and emotion for the green-eyed Finn.

The blackened path suddenly descended down, prompting an exuberant response from Caleb. “We’re almost there; the path is dropping down! Now, don’t anyone speak until we’ve found the cave entrance or the tiny lights will switch off.”

The path finally flattened out and then as they turned a corner, a shock of colour spilled out onto the trail, exposing the opening to the massive cave. Four sets of incredulous eyes twinkled in the coloured display, gazing around the secret domain in awe.

Elly gasped at the magnificence; she had never seen anything so beautiful in her life and it tied her tongue, forgetting she was still holding Finn’s hand.

The four people stood motionless, drinking in the amazing display while Caleb drew close and whispered quietly, “Believe me now?”

Finn nodded, his silhouette just visible in the myriad of colour.

Eliana’s whisper spoke volumes, ”It’s so beautiful, honey… kiss me!”

Caleb and Eliana fell together in a fire of passion, while Elly abruptly dropped Finn’s hand as if she had just been stung, and stepped aside to give them some privacy. Finn followed her lead and left the sweethearts to their moment in paradise.

An exuberant moan escaped from Eliana as they broke from their kiss and echoed through the chamber, instigating an immediate, shocked blackout throughout the cave.

Caleb’s voice whispered into the blackness, “Don’t make any noise; the lights will come back on again.”

Moments later, the bravest lights blinked on again, allowing the less brave to glean from their intention and soon the cave was alight with colour.

Caleb and Eliana struggled across the rocky entrance and strolled onto the soft beach sand, kicking off their sandals and digging their feet into its luxury. Eliana waded into the water and exhaled a delighted sigh. “It’s so beautiful and warm; come for a swim,” she beckoned.

Elly shook her head, but Eliana beckoned again with her hand and then Caleb followed her into the water too, sighing with delight.

“Come on, you two; it’s so relaxing,” he whispered again, gently nudging Eliana into the water until she overbalanced, offering a sharp and short scream as the luxurious pool engulfed her.

Eliana’s playful scream caused another partial blackout, but their pleasurable splashing left no doubt to the depth of their enjoyment. Eliana’s dress pressed tight against her body while the water seemed to drain away every care, reaching her arms around Caleb’s neck, kissing him adoringly and displaying the signs of two people deeply in love.

As the tiny stars blinked on again, Eliana and Caleb swam together, chasing each other, frolicking and playing under the waterfall as it gently washed across their bodies, enjoying being close. The ties of soul mates, already knitting their spirits together in a deep bond of innocent love, condoned and celebrated under a silent and watchful eye.

Eliana gestured to Elly and Finn from under the waterfall and beckoned them to enter the exhilarating water, but pushing her point further she whispered a little too loud, prompting another blackout.

“If you don’t have a swim, you’ll regret it. It’s wonderful!” Eliana gushed.

As the coloured lights blinked on again, Finn held out his hand to Elly, urging her towards the water. “Eliana’s not going to give up until we’ve had a swim.”

Elly reluctantly took his hand and followed him into the water. The softness and exuberance washed over every part of her and she began to relax her guard.

Before long, Elly and Finn were swimming alongside Eliana and Caleb and soon the two couples erupted in a playful game of chase, bobbing each other under the water when an opponent was overtaken.

Elly suddenly disappeared underwater as Finn dunked her. She giggled and swallowed a mouthful of water as she went down and when she surfaced, coughing, she chided him playfully, “Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side!”

She chased him around the waterfall, swimming with determination and when she finally caught him, she lunged at him and pushed him under. As he came up, he grabbed her feet and pulled her under, too; but Elly responded with a short, sharp scream, plunging the cave into darkness again.

Before she knew what was happening, she felt Finn’s embrace and then his lips met hers, exciting a storm of electricity. She felt the burning desire of passion and wanted more of the green-eyed man, returning his fire; but then the stricken memory of Heather’s soft eyes stabbed at her decency and she broke away with a whimpering… “Don’t!”

As the lights blinked on, there was silence across the cavern as Eliana and Caleb watched and wondered what had just taken place.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 39

 

Elly determinedly swam for the white sandy beach and away from Finn’s allure. Annoyed with herself that she had been trapped into the situation she was dreading, wanting the green-eyed man with all her passion but denying it out of concern for Heather, the rightful recipient of Finn’s attention.

Finn waded out of the water and followed Elly, grabbing her hand to stop her retreat. “I… I’m so sorry, Elly; I don’t know what just happened…”

Finn’s gesture forced Elly to turn and face the troubled green eyes; her piercing blue eyes were smouldering with unfulfilled passion. She wanted him and she knew he wanted her.

The confusion and sincerity was painted so deeply in his frown and mixed eloquently in his distressed gaze, trying desperately to convey to her, he meant what he said.

She turned away from his stare, convinced they had both learned a valuable lesson and he should be as eager as she was to do things properly.

Despondently, she began to turn from him, murmuring what she didn’t want to say. “Don’t do it again!” Elly dropped to the white sand, tucking her soaking wet dress under her knees with her arms and staring past Finn to the water in deep frustration.

Eliana and Caleb watched from the waterfall, still wondering what had happened. Then with a nod, intent on escaping the tense situation, Caleb dove underwater and Eliana followed, resurfacing behind the luxuriant tumbling waterfall.

Even behind the splashing water, the deep pool was crystal clear and the bottom seemed closer than it actually was. As Caleb cleared away the water from his eyes and refocused his vision, a smaller cave opened up before him with a gentle slope of white sandy beach enticing the two young people out of the water and into the cave. Taking Eliana’s hand, Caleb led his beauty into the cave, but a strange light stopped the couple in their tracks.

A beam of piercing white light shone like a spotlight down onto a concentrated spot in the sand.

Caleb stared at Eliana and she returned his gape with equal curiosity, together drawn to the light with a guiding desire. As they approached, a beautiful shy face peered back at them, seemingly smiling at the couple with delight. Caleb and Eliana sighed together, smitten with the elegant beauty of the pale rose.

“The Altar Rose!”

Caleb breathed out a long breath while Eliana started to cry. They both knew the significance of finding the delicate single flower and Jehovah’s blessing upon their courtship.

Caleb reached down to pick the mature bloom, while the rose seemed to eagerly entice him to her fate. Eliana took hold of Caleb’s hand and as he plucked the rose from the soil, the light changed its direction and sparkled over the couple like a tiny lightning storm, filling the couple with awe.

Caleb took the tender rose in his gentle hands and then kissed his bride, knowing Jehovah had consented to their love.

As the couple turned to leave the waterfall cave, the brilliant white light shining on the place where the rose had been suddenly blinked out, as if someone had shut off the power.

Caleb and Eliana resurfaced from behind the waterfall, gently carrying the tender rose, but she seemed to be unaffected by the watery escape and happily bloomed in the couple’s presence.

The four people stood around the gentle, single rose and peered at her with awe.

Elly was cut to the heart at the beauty of the delicate bloom and Finn just stared. “Where did you find her?” Finn whispered.

“Behind the waterfall,” Caleb tenderly replied. “We dove under the water and found a new cave when we surfaced again. There was a strong white light shining on her.”

“I’ve gotta see this cave!” Finn determined, and strode off toward the waterfall and dove under its splashing. Elly was still enchanted by the beauty of the rose and when she understood Finn’s intention, she was curious to see the rose’s home as well, and hurried to join him.

Finn burst through the surface behind the waterfall and found the cave, exactly as Caleb and Eliana had described. He was just wading up to the beach, when Elly’s exhaled breath broke into the quiet. He reached for her hand to help her out of the water and onto the beach, and she accepted his gesture gladly.

Tentatively, the young people peered around the dark cavern, unable to see the light Caleb had spoken of.

Finn and Elly pushed further into the cave and turned a bend, when a skinny white beam illuminated a patch of soil and drew them to its majesty in total disbelief. As they approached, a beautiful pale face seemed to smile at the couple in greeting and just below the main bloom, a smaller shy bloom attached to the same stem offered a joyous greeting and smiled back at them.

The scene was electric with tenderness and the two rose blooms seemed to beckon the couple to pick the enchanting blossoms.

Finn reached down to the retiring flowers and plucked the single stem from its soil, redirecting the thin white light over Elly and him, and sparkling like an electric storm.

Elly was confused at the meaning of the rose’s tale; she understood it was Jehovah’s blessing over a couple, but it just didn’t seem right or make sense. Although she wanted the green-eyed man desperately, she knew in her heart that Heather was right for Finn, and Jehovah would not bless any other union.

Finn gently took Elly’s hand and with the single stem and the two blooms, they exited the Altar Rose’s home and resurfaced into the main cave, catching Caleb and Eliana in a tender moment and clutching their single blossom sandwiched between them.

 

~

 

Heather had spent the morning with Hakham, listening to his exhortation but she was distracted, replaying Finn’s passion for her as they were reunited. Finn had openly displayed the regard she was so sure existed between them and in front of the whole community too; but now she was anxious to replay the tender moment in person and feel his passion once again, instead of just in her boiling memory.

Understanding Jehovah’s plan, Hakham watched Heather leave with concern. She was like a daughter to him and the last thing he wanted was more pain for the young woman. She was a tender heart and beautiful to behold, but Finn had to take his part in the lessons Jehovah was about to teach.

Excitedly, Heather ran down the passageways and into the dining chamber, but it was empty.

She stood staring around the hall and wondered where everyone had gone. Then turning her attention to another possible gathering place, she focused her mind on the family chamber, believing her man would be waiting for her there among the others. But as she turned breathlessly into the family home, it too was empty.

She leaned against the rocky wall, catching her breath, when Dramble stepped up behind her and startled her.

“Sorry, Heather, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“That’s alright, Dramble. Have you seen Finn and the others?” Heather asked expectantly.

“No! But I know where they went,” Dramble’s sharp grey eyes turned slightly dull and Heather noticed.

“Where?!” she insisted.

“They’ve gone in search of the cave Caleb found last week,” Dramble muttered, unimpressed.

“The cave!” Heather began to think through the implications of Dramble’s speech and then her heart tore. “Was Finn with them?!” thinking she already knew the answer before he spoke.

Dramble nodded. “Elly, too!”

Heather peered around her surrounds in shock, hoping this didn’t mean what she thought it did.

Reason escaped through a tiny window in her emotions and then she fell to the floor, heartbroken. Was Finn just playing with her emotions last night when he seemed to offer his love to her in front of the whole gathering?

Heather’s face crumpled while a storm of emotions began to rumble in her heart. A tear of betrayal slipped down her stunning features and left Dramble worried for the beautiful young woman, struggling to contain the gathering typhoon. Heather’s teary eyes caught a soft spot in Dramble’s heart, but before he could consol her any further, she erupted from the family chamber, running and sobbing as she flashed past the sanctuary and towards the never lands of the deep tunnels.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 40

The journey back into the family community had taken Caleb a little longer than expected. He panicked at one stage when the dark passageway led him into an unfamiliar uphill grade, but thanks to Finn’s exceptional memory and ability to navigate, they found the path again after backtracking.

Elly wasn’t taking any chances or giving Finn a reason to forget the promise he made to her back at the cave, taking Eliana’s free hand instead of Finn’s and allowing Caleb to guide both girls in the dark.

As the perilous expedition continued on towards its goal of returning back to the family, Elly kept puzzling over the meaning of the Altar Rose she and Finn had just found, that Finn now carried in his possession.

Caleb gave a sigh as his hand rubbed against the first guiding hand grip, relieved they were still on track. Moments later, the first flickering torch spilled light across their path and soon they were entering the family gathering.

As if Hakham was waiting for the intrepid explorers to return, a family member greeted the four young people and directed them to the sanctuary and Hakham’s patient figure. Caleb glanced at Eliana and wondered whether they were about to be disciplined.

Standing at the sanctuary door, they bowed to the altar and then entered. “You wanted to see us, Hakham?”

“Is Elly and Finn in your company?” Hakham’s deep voice reverberated into the quiet.

“Yes, but they wait outside in the passageway,” Caleb replied respectfully.

“Come, sit with me and show me what you have found,” Hakham rasped.

Eliana and Caleb kneeled by Hakham and then Caleb produced the magnificent pale face of the Altar Rose.

Hakham stared at her beauty and whispered, “Jehovah’s heart.”

Astounded and mesmerised by the innocent symbol of deep love, Hakham blessed the two recipients and placed his hands on Caleb’s and Eliana’s heads, proclaiming their betrothal.

Caleb’s heart was burning with pride for his bride, and Eliana was overcome with respect and adoration for her soon-to-be husband.

“Go in peace and let there be a celebration among the family; but please ask Finn to enter alone at first, Caleb.”

Caleb and Eliana nodded, then left Hakham’s presence, shortly after a desperate whispered conversation erupted at the doorway.

Finn entered the sanctuary and bowed his head to the altar, while Elly obediently waited in the passage.

Standing in Hakham’s presence, Finn whispered to the silent elder, ”You wished to see me, Hakham?”

“Tell me of your morning’s adventure, Finn,” Hakham’s baritone rumble echoed across the Lake of Purity.

Finn sighed, as if he was under interrogation from a parent, but he knew Hakham’s ability to read the truth and decided to tell it as it lay. He explained the cave and all its awesome beauty, the extent they went through to get there and even the games they played, but deliberately danced around the incident with Elly. Then he described how Caleb and Eliana found the Altar Rose, but said nothing of the find he and Elly had made. Then he waited in silence for Hakham to respond, once he had finished his story.

After a long, drawn out silence, Hakham finally spoke. “Tell me, Finn, is it right for Jehovah’s man to desire two beautiful women?”

Finn stared at Hakham, until his glower averted his eyes. He sighed and dropped his head, knowing somehow, Hakham knew of his indiscretion.

“I’m so confused at the moment, Hakham. I know I love Heather with all my heart, but I love Elly too and I know she loves me.”

“Then show me your prize,” Hakham’s baritone rasp demanded.

Finn stared at the elder, wondering how he knew about the bloom he and Elly had found together. He fidgeted with the hidden blossoms and then finally they appeared from under his belt. Hakham peered at the pale innocent blooms, spectacular in appearance and enchanting in emotion, but recognising its hidden meaning immediately.

Hakham spoke again, “Tell me, Finn, is it right for Jehovah’s man to desire two beautiful women?”

Finn dropped his head onto his chest in defeat and shook his head. “No, Hakham, it is not!”

“Then the beautiful rose you and Elly found has made your decision for you.”

Finn stared at Hakham, confused, until he could hold his gaze no longer. “I still don’t understand, Hakham.”

“Heather has been wounded by your perceived betrayal and run off into the deep tunnels, frightened and lost.”

Like a veil lifting from his heart, Finn’s feelings intensified for Heather, but the confused regard for Elly remained. No matter how he tried to reconcile a relationship with Elly, it just felt wrong. But Heather fitted him perfectly. He wanted to be with Heather desperately and in an approaching storm of emotion, he needed the woman he was increasingly sure was Jehovah’s choice for him. Finn’s heart was breaking and sorrow engulfed him, becoming increasingly agitated to calm the hurt and soothe the injury he had so carelessly inflicted on her. He wasn’t sure she would forgive him, but he was desperate to try. Finn’s eyes searched Hakham’s in a flurry of despair, until the piercing gaze diverted his gape again.

Hakham could see the desperation and eagerness in Finn’s eyes to leave the sanctuary in search of Heather. “I have sent Dramble to keep her company and calm her fear until you arrive. She needs you; now go to her and when you have talked to Dramble together, things will make sense. She is in a cave in the eastern tunnel, five thousand steps from the last hand grip.”

Finn almost panicked, imagining his beautiful Heather’s hurt face cringing from his love, and with a burning passion in his heart, Finn exited the sanctuary in haste but left behind the precious flower.

“Elly!” Hakham called.

Elly stepped into the sanctuary, watching Finn disappear from view and sprinting swiftly into the dark tunnels. She bowed her head in reverence to the altar and then stood to face the elder.

“Elly, come sit beside me and ponder a while with an old man.”

Elly slowly lowered herself to the rocky ledge beside the elder and then tried to hold his gaze, but the sheer authority steeled in his glower diverted her eyes. She concentrated on the glorious bloom Hakham had laid by his side instead, and wondered how Finn had explained its presence.

“Do you understand Jehovah’s Altar Rose?”

Elly shook her head and whispered, “No, Hakham, I don’t.”

“Then let me tell you a long story of suffering and missed opportunity and maybe then you will understand.” Hakham peered across the Lake of Purity and after a brief interlude, he began his lesson.

“The Book of Wisdom is Jehovah’s Bible and it has many hidden treasures for the astute student to discover. About thirty years ago, the world fell under a terrible financial crisis, orchestrated by a group of very powerful and evil men. All the world’s economies crumbled except for Jehovah’s jewel, Israel. Because Jehovah’s hand was and still is upon his bride, He spared her from the desperate poverty that befell the rest of the world and she prospered and grew very wealthy.

“Many people sought to insulate themselves from the world’s troubles by stockpiling cash; so those evil men manipulating the economies simply outlawed cash and the world drifted into the cashless society we now know and that was predicted thousands of years ago by the Book of Wisdom. As poverty’s grip tightened on the throat of the world’s people, anarchy reigned supreme and lawlessness exploded out of control. Not long after the financial collapse, Israel’s enemies and immediate neighbours surrounding her, attacked her with venomous hatred and wanted to annihilate her off the surface of the earth. But Jehovah stepped in and squashed her neighbours, leaving Israel to occupy their land and spread out. This was also prophesied in the words of Psalm 83; and Israel lived in peace and without walls.

“But jealousy and envy erupted again. This time, great nations of the world came together in an alliance, wanting to attack Jehovah’s jewel again and strip her of her riches. As a great nuclear force rattled its sabre against Israel, she once again defied her enemies and Jehovah spared her from nuclear destruction. But as so many nations had developed nuclear capability and while most of the world concentrated on the troubles surrounding Israel, many nations sought to exact revenge on their enemies. A great nuclear holocaust was unveiled around the earth and many nations simply ceased to exist.

“The earth’s great beauty and productive lands were reduced to radioactive deserts in a matter of hours, and many millions of people died horribly. Jehovah, however, used this tragic event to mask one of the greatest events in human history–apart from His Son’s death and sacrifice on the cross. The people belonging to Jesus Christ were Raptured off the earth at the same time, while those not belonging to Jesus evaporated in a nuclear cloud or burned to death where they stood. Again, this event was prophesied in the words of Ezekiel 38 and 39.”

Hakham paused as the memories came flashing back and then with a low rumble, he continued on, “Many who survived the events of that day suffered horribly: radiation poisoning, hunger, thirst, exposure to the elements as most housing and shelter had been destroyed. People survived whatever way they could, living in caves or the like. Food couldn’t be grown; the soil was irradiated and useless. Water was polluted and contaminated, and rain fell like burning drops of poison, killing people horribly from inside out if they drank of it.

“But then Israel herself developed the geodesic cities like Baal Malii and started building them to accommodate the displaced peoples of the world. However, satan’s man–The Assyrian–had already tantalised the ears of the survivors with his charismatic rhetoric, promising them all kinds of things that eased the suffering and drew the people together as a force to battle the odds and reunite the world under his rule and against Jehovah, whom he blamed for the world’s troubles. He has instigated a mark, the same ugly mark you have seen, Elly.”

Elly nodded, following Hakham’s story like he was reading from the daily newspaper.

“This mark would be a symbol of unity and an act of worship to satan, and if you refused his mark, you simply died of starvation or worse, tortured and beheaded. But only those who refused the mark had a good reason to–and that was their allegiance to Jehovah. He would not accept anyone into His coming Kingdom displaying satan’s mark, after the day satan was finally defeated. This, too, is prophesied in the Book of Wisdom.

“Eventually, the Assyrian and his plundering hordes captured the geodesic cities and instilled his people into the completed structures and murdered Jehovah’s people relentlessly. To make things worse, the Assyrian enforced a clever covenant with Jehovah’s people, Israel and deceived them into believing he was their long awaited Messiah and relieved them of much of their wealth. One of the things the coming Messiah was expected to do was to help them rebuild their temple to Jehovah, which he is doing now.

“It is prophesied, however, that he will turn against Jehovah’s people, Israel and force them to worship him in Jehovah’s place. This time will be the blackest time in history and people all over the world will suffer terribly at this man’s hands, much worse than you see around us now, Elly. Everyone who belongs to Jehovah will die… everyone… and die horribly! This dreadful time has already begun, Elly, and in fact we are living it now. In a few short years, everyone in the family will be tortured and murdered.”

Hakham began to weep bitterly, only adding to Elly’s shock. Once she realised the family she loved dearly would be murdered ruthlessly: Finn, Caleb, Eliana, Heather and all of the rest, she choked up and wept bitterly too.

The astringent tears slowly relented and Hakham regained his composure.

“Most of us here had the chance to follow Jesus and escape in the Rapture but found other reasons not to. Many watched loved ones perish horribly in the after effects of the great nuclear holocaust, but by then there was no hope or chance to escape into salvation. My dear friend, Yoni, was a powerbroker among the evil men planning all this destruction for his own selfish power and gain, enjoying a comfortable, self-indulgent lifestyle in the rebuilt city of Babylon but he never supposed it would turn on him. I remember his painful screams as radiation poisoning ate through his flesh and his intense desire to hate Jehovah because of it. The Book of Wisdom offers hope to those who missed the Rapture, but even to his last breath, Yoni refused to listen to the words written in its wise pages and entered death without any hope at all. It is very clear, though, not all people who refuse Jesus will get another chance after the Rapture; and we are blessed to be counted among those Jehovah has set aside and die as martyrs for the extreme privilege of eternal life.”

A figure at the sanctuary door bowed to the altar and then quietly entered, calling gently into the quiet. “Hakham?!”

Hakham cleared his throat and wiped away the tears of despair. “Come in, Louisse.”

Wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand, Elly stared at the middle aged woman, wondering why she had interrupted such an intense story and at a crucial part where Elly had so many questions.

Hakham stood to leave and handed Elly the Altar Rose. She took the precious bloom from the elder’s hand and pondered his reasons for leaving her with this unknown woman. Hakham read the questions in Elly’s eyes and promised, “I’ll be back once you two have had a chance to talk.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 41

 

Hakham reverently slipped out of the sanctuary, leaving Louisse and Elly to bridge the awkward silence.

“May I sit with you, Elly?” Louisse whispered.

“Please,” Elly motioned to a space beside her.

Once Louisse was comfortable, she turned to face the piercing blue eyes full of questions. “The family call me Louisse, but that’s my middle name,” she choked on a memory, trying not to cause further angst for the blonde young woman; then steadying her thoughts, she regained her composure. “Just after turning eighteen, I had a baby to a man who used me. Soon after his child was born, I found out he had had babies to two other women. I was so devastated I exchanged my first name with my middle, trying to hide my shame.”

Elly stared at the woman, wondering what on earth this had to do with her. “That’s terrible, but I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me, Louisse!”

“My name is Tina Louisse Rankine!” Louisse stared into Elly’s eyes, watching the confusion turning over in her mind, until a incredulous spark started a fire.

“Tina…! How…?! I… I don’t understand; is this even possible?” Elly exclaimed. “You’re old and…”

“Thanks, Elly!”

“I didn’t mean it like that!” Elly squirmed.

“Yeah, it took me some time to swallow the story when Dramble told me, too; but he told me about things he shouldn’t have had knowledge about and now that I’m sitting close to you, I can see your face in my childhood memories. You always were a stunner, Elly, and I was profoundly jealous of you.”

“So the baby…?”

“Danny Dickson’s. You always tried to dissuade me from him but the more you tried, the more determined I became and unfortunately for me, he wrecked my life. I raised his child alone, but the boy went wild and I think he perished in the great attack anyway.”

Elly stared at Tina, still not sure whether this was reality or a clever deceit.

Tina could see the scepticism in Elly’s eyes and moved to cement certainty. “The last time I saw you was at your wedding. As soon as you turned eighteen you married that hunk of a doctor man that attended you at the accident site. Now what was his name…? Ah… Callum…! Callum, that’s right! Doctor Callum Greer! He was the bachelor catch that every girl dreamed of and wanted to land, but you broke a lot of hearts when he asked you to marry him. He always used to call you… Pretty Lady!

Elly’s gaze intensified, wondering about this mystery man.

“He was a devoted Christian too and would talk to anyone about Jesus Christ; and the both of you tried to convince me of my need for a Saviour. As usual, I didn’t listen and when I realised that you and Callum and every Christian I had ever known had disappeared after the great attacks, but so many people around you had survived and not one was a Christian, I started searching for myself and many years later, here I am. It’s kind of ironical, really; this sanctuary is directly under where Don Patton Senior High used to be and Baal Malii is built over the ruins of Perth City.”

Elly’s eyes were wide at Tina’s story, wondering whether her own family had escaped the terrible attack. Then her brow creased in a frown as she struggled with Tina’s narration.

“But if I was a Christian, why am I here now?!” Elly’s confusion intensified.

“I believe it’s because of something that happened at the same time as the accident, before you were a Christian. Apparently, the dimensions were manipulated and you fell through an opening into another parallel world. You had some kind of supernatural experience at the accident site, as well and soon after leaving hospital, you were desperately trying to tell people about the coming horror and the only way to escape was faith in Jesus Christ.”

Elly stared at the calm water just below her feet, thinking through the implications of Tina’s story. Then with a cheeky smile and full of curiosity she turned to Tina. “So describe this man I married?!”

Tina exhaled loudly, a little confused at her question. “Um… he was tall and athletic, blonde wavy hair and green eyes that could melt a girl’s heart with just one look… just like your son!”

“My son…?! I had a son?!”

Tina turned to Elly with incredulous eyes and a deep furrow in her brow. “Yeah, of course! Our very own Raider leader, Finn…! Finn Greer is your son!”

 

~

 

Finn finally counted out the steps in the darkness and as he came to the end, an opening appeared into a large cave. He turned into the opening and stood at the door, listening to a male voice speaking softly and the gentle, muted cries of a young woman. A small colony of coloured lights attached to the roof silhouetted the small, boyish frame of Dramble and the petite figure of Heather.

Finn fell in love all over again with the beautiful apparition of a girl, while her muted cries cut him to the heart. He was about to enter the cave and beg for Heather’s forgiveness, wondering how she could ever trust him again, when Dramble’s speech hit him like a sledgehammer.

When he heard Dramble recite, “Elly is Finn’s mother,” every other word from Dramble’s mouth fell to the ground.

Dramble droned on and on for what seemed like hours, but the incredible words kept replaying in Finn’s mind.

Elly is Finn’s mother.

By the time Dramble’s monotone had finally finished, Heather was crying again but this time, they were tears of happiness. Heather stood and wrapped Dramble in a hug and planted a watery kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, Dramble; it all makes sense now. Will you take me back to the family gathering? I need to hug Elly and find Finn.”

“No need, Heather; I’m right here!”

Finn rushed into the cave and swooped Heather’s petite frame into his arms and then stole her breath away with a steaming kiss. The two young people melted together, sharing a fever of passion and finally, it felt right to be together.

When their ardour parted briefly Finn begged Heather for her forgiveness, but a loving, slender finger pressed against his lips, stopped the flood of words and she leaned into a kiss that stole the Raider’s heart for good.

Dramble sighed heavily and then turned to depart, listening to the sounds of two people deeply in love.

In the back of the cave, a brilliant white light shone down on a patch of soil like a miniature spotlight, illuminating the pale and beautiful face of a huge shy blossom.

Finn’s loving fire delighted Heather and she felt giddy in his arms. She glanced into his mesmerising green eyes and fell deeper in love and now, thanks to Dramble, she understood Jehovah’s intention.

In her periphery a brilliant beam shone, attracting her attention to a mesmerising light. From Finn’s arms she pointed to the light and before long, the couple had plucked the stem of the happy flower. Holding the beautiful Altar Rose in their hands, the spotlight turned and showered the couple in Jehovah’s approving light, igniting their passion again and cementing the ties of soul mates.

 

~

 

Hakham picked his way gently back into the intense atmosphere surrounding the sanctuary and found Louisse and Elly lost in a hug.

His sudden baritone voice sliced into the quiet and interrupted the scene. “Jehovah has taught you many things, Elly, but now it is time for you to go back.”

Hakham’s words seemed surreal as Elly broke from Tina’s embrace. “Go back? What do you mean, Hakham?”

“To your own time and so Jehovah’s order is restored.”

Elly panicked at the thought of leaving the people who had become her family and with whom she had bonded so deeply. “Can I see my beloved family before I go and tell my son I love him very much?”

Hakham nodded his head in approval. “Then you understand the rose bloom you now hold?”

Elly stared at the delicate blooms and studied its meaning. “Is it the never ending love a mother feels for her son?”

Hakham smiled. “You have learned well, Elly. The large rose bloom is the mother’s love and the smaller one growing on the same stem is the son’s. For this is how Jehovah made it to be.”

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 42

 

Heather and Finn quietly stole back into the family gathering and made a determined pathway to the sanctuary. Heather was radiant, holding the Altar Rose while happiness surrounded the couple like a guard of honour.

Things had changed in Finn’s heart towards Elly, and now he was desperate to put things right and honour his mother, even if at this point in time she was considerably younger than he was. He now understood Jehovah’s intention and indeed, a man could love two women, but that love was two different kinds.

The love and desire for his wife and the love and respect for a mother.

He had also learned that a wrong choice of life partner made in the depths of passion could lead to disaster. But waiting and watching for the signs of Jehovah’s approval, punctuated by the presence of the exquisite Altar Rose in the couple’s lives, was a sure sign of a lifetime of trust and companionship through every trial.

The bond of a soul mate.

Fully exclusive to every other romantic influence, but strong enough to reach outside of the bond while protected from all infidelity by the strength of love from within that bond, and able to safely offer the arms of agape to hurting individuals from the reservoir of Jehovah’s love.

Finn bowed his head to the altar in respect and then peered around inside the chamber to find Elly alone and sitting staring at the calm waters of the Lake of Purity and deep in contemplation. She had her knees bent in an arch and her arms tucked underneath, hugging her legs while her chin rested on their apex. As Finn tried to enter, still holding Heather’s hand, he felt Heather tug him back. He stopped at her prompting and peered into her soft eyes.

“You go in first and spend some time with her and I’ll follow in a little while.”

Finn’s brow furrowed at Heather’s request and then he accepted her decision. The time to get to know Elly was running short and those moments were precious.

Entering the sanctuary alone, Finn quietly approached Elly, not wanting to startle her from her deep thoughts. Her face erupted with a warm smile when she recognised Finn and then she jumped to her feet and smothered him in her hug. The hours seemed to pass as if seconds, while mother and son learned more and more about each other.

Finn explained about the Altar Rose he and Heather had found, causing Elly to burst into tears of joy. “Take good care of Heather, Finn. Hakham once described Heather and me as closer than a sister, a daughter or a mother. Now I know what he meant. She is a woman of great Godly wisdom and a precious pearl to treasure.”

Finn threw his arms around Elly again, realising she had just given him and Heather her blessing. Something he would prize in the coming years.

“I just can’t get used to calling you Mum, Elly.” Finn’s green eyes were swimming.

Elly sniffed back her tears, knowing she would eventually see Finn and Heather and the whole family again, in the promise of eternity with Jehovah if they remained faithful.

But according to Hakham, their near horizon was fraught with dangerous and painful horrors; and the ever present fear of denying Jehovah in the face of the great tribulation soon to come.

Elly felt like a deserter, knowing she would escape the holocaust because of her faith in Jesus Christ, but the members of the family had been deceived and when the Rapture had occurred, they were left behind to suffer.

Not one would be alive at the end of the wickedest time in history and it brought Elly pain.

Heather’s whisper emanating from the sanctuary door interrupted Elly’s thoughts and she broke from Finn’s embrace and enfolded Heather in a determined hug. The two women held each other tightly and sobbed together for a long time before Elly found the words to speak.

“I am so proud of you and Finn, and will always be thankful to Jehovah for giving me such a precious daughter, mother and sister.”

It took a while for Heather to respond, but she knew exactly what Elly meant. “Finn has your blood flowing through him, Elly, and I will always remember that and the special woman you are. I am proud to call you Mother.”

Finn joined the hug and the three stood together, knowing with each passing second the time to depart was growing nearer.

As the story spread throughout the family and Elly’s time was becoming shorter, Eliana and Caleb quietly joined Heather and Finn and took turns solemnly pressing into Elly’s embrace, followed by a line up of beloved family members. Elly’s heart was bursting; she didn’t want to leave.

But as Hakham continually insisted, Jehovah’s order had to be restored.

Elly stared at the family leader, this time his kind and consuming eyes allowed her behind the facade and staring back at her, she could see the distant eyes of eternity. Hakham embraced Elly with the love of a Father and then released His daughter to walk out of His classroom and back into her destiny.

Dramble was the last one to enter the sanctuary, but before he could approach Elly, Hakham took him aside and spoke sternly, seemingly giving him directions. Staring at the floor, Dramble nodded his understanding and when he turned to face Elly, his grey eyes were moist and teary. He took her hand and led her along a tunnel out of the family gathering and into the ruins.

Elly turned one last time to face the people she loved, before their loving faces disappeared from view and only existed in her memory.

As Dramble swiftly led Elly into the darkness, past the sulphurous Pool of Strange Fire and out into the impotent red sunlight, he peered around looking for threats. Finding none and with desperate haste, he made his way into the ruins, searching for the place.

After many hours of intricate probing, he finally recognised the object of Hakham’s directions and placed his hand over the spot until a small opening appeared, just as Hakham had described.

“Quick, Elly, step through before the window closes again.”

Elly stared into the guiding and protecting soft grey eyes. “Aren’t you coming with me?”

“No, Elly. I am needed here. I am to be a part of the Raider’s band and serve the needs of the family. Someone has to keep an eye on Finn and Heather too!” Dramble knew his last statement would bring Elly comfort and she smiled at his words.

“Don’t forget my riddle will you: Out of your heart the tears I keep…”

“ …and when I am no longer, your knowledge is complete. I haven’t forgotten, Dramble.”

The two people stood staring at each other for a long time, lost for words to express the swirling emotions.

Elly finally pulled Dramble into her embrace, her hug tight around the small boy and then with a blurry gaze, she peered around at the desolate ruins stretching in all directions one last time. Before stepping through the opening and just before the window closed, she heard Dramble’s trembling, “I love you, Elly!…” and then he was gone.

 

~

 

A turmoil of colours violently mixing in a swirling vortex made Elly feel sick. As her vision cleared and started to pull into focus, the backdrop slowed and allowed the merry-go-round’s only rider to step clear of the thrashing ride.

As her surrounds came into focus she lay on her back, staring into a bright blue sky and watched smiling clouds and flying birds wave to her, on the never ending business of occupying Jehovah’s creation. There were tall trees and thick scrub, all very busy and very much alive in her potent world while the sweet scent of abundant life filled her senses.

Nearby, an ambulance loaded three other victims through its gaping back door and left the scene hurriedly, leaving Elly in the care of the doctor until it returned to transport Elly to a local hospital too.

Elly peered around the broken bush and at a severely crumpled car some distance from where she lay, surmising she must have been thrown from the vehicle when Zig released her safety belt and tried to pull her closer.

A gentle hand carefully lifted a blonde strand from her face and startled the beauty with a grateful, whispered greeting. “Hello, pretty lady, welcome back. You frightened me for a bit there, I thought I was losing you,” a man in a medics uniform announced, gazing at the stunning features of his patient.

Elly seemed confused to start with, but her questioning frown searched for the owner of the voice, remembering Louisse’s description of her soon-to-be husband.

Two stunning emerald green eyes arrested her gaze with a gasp, then she stole a glance over his athletic build and wavy blonde locks, settling on the lines of his handsome face with an infatuated sigh. She giggled to herself, recalling telling Eliana to close her mouth and stop drooling over Caleb when they first fell in love, but here she was doing exactly the same thing.

She felt her mouth move and then her voice bubbled up in her throat, but unaware of what her emotions were about to reveal.

“Hello, Callum Greer,” Elly whispered. “Did you know we have a son and he looks exactly like you?”

A stunned, but delighted smile crept across Callum’s features at the announcement from this beautiful young woman laying at his feet. But before he could respond, she opened her hands and a shy and retiring rose smiled up at him, filling him with tenderness and a love he had never felt before.

Whoever this pretty lady was, Callum was already falling for her.

Powerless to resist, Elly reached up and drew him to her lips and kissed him with a fiery passion that left him stunned. TNT and electricity mixed together in a deadly brew and before Callum knew what had happened, she had stolen his heart in a massive explosion.

Somewhere close by, childlike laughter drifted on the lazy afternoon breeze and with another determined stretch, she reached for Callum again but this time, he wowed her with a passionate explosion of his own, leaving Elly’s heart pounding and gasping desperately for more.

 

 

~

 

 

 

Chapter 43

 

Elly awoke to the sounds of a busy district hospital and glanced around at the scene. A nurse entered the room and greeted her.

“Good morning, sweetheart; did you sleep well?”

“Mmm, I slept really well,” Elly stretched and then yawned, covering her mouth with her hand.

“Well, you will be pleased to know you can go home this morning, as soon as Doctor Greer signs your release.”

Elly smiled at the nurse when she mentioned Doctor Greer and the nurse understood the reasons for her excitement.

“You seem to have captured his special attention; he sat and watched you sleep all last night,” the nurse admitted.

Elly beamed. “Did he really?!”

“Just in case you were wondering about your three companions…” the nurse teased, “they aren’t badly hurt, but they will need to stay here longer for further observation.”

Elly was just about to thank the nurse, when Callum arrived and stole the air from the room. Elly gave him a teasing smile and reached for him and then the electricity flew when their lips met.

The nurse waited for the passion to abate, but when it appeared to continue on, she interrupted with a discreet clearing of her throat.

Callum turned to the nurse and with a cheeky expression on his face informed her, “Did you know my pretty lady and I have a son and he looks exactly like me?”

Elly’s face turned crimson at the intimate disclosure and then knowing the nurse wouldn’t understand, she nodded. “It’s true, but at the moment, he is a little older than me.”

The nurse thought she was being played with, so she left the doctor and his patient be.

 

~

 

It had been nearly twelve months since Elly’s return home and her wedding day was fast approaching. Her parents had divorced but decided to stay friends, after Elly’s mother’s new lover left her for a younger woman.

Elly’s dad settled down after the turmoil and tried to rebuild the relationship with his daughter, but now Callum had stolen her heart and he would soon take her from the family home forever.

“Elly! Callum’s here!” her dad’s voice announced from two rooms away.

Elly’s heart jumped at the thought of her man; she scrambled from her bed and checked her appearance in the dresser mirror, then satisfied she was suitably impressive, she placed the diary on the bed so Callum would easily see it.

A knock came at her door. “Come in if you’re a green-eyed blonde hunk. Boy, am I waiting for you!”

The door flung open and Callum chased Elly around the bedroom in a mock attack; she screamed with delight at the chase, climbing over furniture in escape, but finally relented and succumbed to his arms and then the passion she had waited all day for.

As they parted from their play, Elly whispered, “I love you with all my heart, Mr Dream Man.”

“I love you too, pretty lady; I can’t think of anything but you, and can’t wait to be with you.”

Elly sat down on her bed and dragged Callum down with her, and then handed him her diary.

Callum stared into Elly’s piercing blue eyes. “What’s this?”

“It’s my diary. All my intimate thoughts and feelings are recorded in there, and also the story of Dramble and the other world. I would be honoured if you would read it.”

Callum stared into Elly’s vulnerable eyes. She was offering her man the keys to her inmost, secret heart and allowing him into a world no one else had ever been.

Elly curled up on her bed and laid her head across Callum’s lap and while he read, he played with Elly’s soft velvet, gently caressing her head with tender hands. Occasionally he would ask questions and Elly would fill in the detail, but generally he remained silent as he read.

As he turned the last page, his quiet whisper broke into the silence, “So we named our son Finn; he sounds like a man a father would be proud of.”

Elly’s tears flowed over as she peered into Callum’s eyes. “Yes, he has your integrity and sense.”

“So did you ever work out Dramble’s riddle?”

Elly shook her head. “No, even to this day it puzzles me!”

Callum turned to the back page and stared at the cover, then a thought crossed his mind. “How does it go again, Elly?”

Out of your heart the tears I keep and when I am no longer, your knowledge is complete,” Elly recited verbatim.

“I think I just solved it.”

Where?!” Elly jumped up, staring at her diary and then across to Callum.

Out of your heart the tears I keep… your secret diary, Elly; everything you do and feel you write in your diary. Now look at the back page…”

Elly turned the diary over to the back page and there in tiny writing was written: Produced especially for you by the Dramble Company, your own private heart’s guardian angel.

Elly’s eyes filled with tears. ”And when I am no longer, your knowledge is complete.”

“He knew you would eventually fill the pages and discover who he is,” Callum offered.

“So… he was my diary?” Elly tried to come to terms with the impish boy.

“Apparently so, pretty lady.”

“No wonder he knew so much about me!”

 

~

 

A distant rumble echoed up and down the steep green valley walls. Then a gentle breeze rippled across the valley floor stirring a patchwork of yellow, pink and blue, making the colourful tall stems of happy flowers seem to giggle softly and sway gently in the giddying silence.

Patches of blue sky peered around the tall cliffs, partially obscured by lazy clouds hanging deftly and close to the rocky peaks. A monolithic giant, draped in the royal green velvet of deep rainforest, towered high above the trail and stood guard over the entrance to the enchanting scene, making sure only the invited found the secret, narrow breach.

Something was beckoning, tugging at her heart strings and drawing her onto the path, urging her to keep walking. Step by step the trail led her deeper into the valley, tantalising her senses with each guarded step and piquing her curiosity.

Where was she?

Suddenly, the valley erupted into whispered laughter, adorable impish laughter echoing across the valley floor and entangled among the swaying flowers. She searched around trying to identify the voices, but they remained shy and hidden from her view.

Then the sky opened and a warm, gentle shower drizzled over her, flooding her mind with childish delight as she tasted drops of water sweeter than honey.

The rain began to teem down on her and as it did, the impish laughter increased; she heard a giggle trickle over her tonsils and then an echoing laugh bubbled up from deep inside her and spilled out into the rain.

In a moment of ecstasy, she peered up at the sky and the mountains surrounding her and twirled on the spot, pirouetting like a ballet dancer, lost in excited elation and sending her long white gown whirling around her.

As suddenly as it came, the rain stopped and a gentle breeze caressed her face, dancing with her, calling to her in a loving whisper, “Elly… Elly… come to me, pretty lady,” enticing her down into the valley, while its call halted her ecstatic dance.

The voice made her heart burn within her and she searched among the flowers until she saw a beautiful young man standing on the path, beckoning to her with an outstretched arm.

She gazed at the gesture for a moment, hesitating and a little confused, but then his haunting green eyes peered into the depths of her heart and overpowered her emotions, gently pulling her towards him, desperate to experience the love he was offering.

Elly’s heart burst as she recognised the familiar scene, but this time it was real.

As a young boy, Callum had lived with his scientist parents on a tropical volcanic island out in the depths of the relentless South Pacific. The island was generally closed to the public and protected under a government study grant, but the adventurous boy knew the island well. The descriptions of his childhood home in Elly’s diary had stunned and astounded him, describing the enchanting Valley of Flowers to a tee. He had kept the secret from her until this day, when they journeyed to the island to be married.

The green-eyed man standing waiting for her, beckoning her across the Valley of Flowers and to his side, holding out the ring that would forever seal their love. In his other hand, a single red rose sang a haunting song from its perfect beauty; and when they were finally pronounced man and wife, a distant rumble echoed out across the scene.

Jehovah, consecrating and approving the love of soul mates.

 

 

~

 

 

 

THE END

 

###

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

Author’s note

G’day,

Choose today to get onboard with Jesus Christ and escape the coming tribulation. He is the only way out and the only one who has your best interests at heart. But don’t take my word for it, put Jesus Christ to the test and find out for yourself.

See, now I have told you, too!

There is no doubt the future is a scary place, and it is even more scary because the Bible predicts it and it is indelibly true. Papa God puts His word even above His name and everything in the Bible is there for our learning.

A simple faith in Jesus Christ is all it takes and if you follow me in the subsequent prayer, you will escape like Elly did. But if you put it off, that coming day will overtake you as a thief in the night and you will share in the sufferings and torture of the family and possibly without eternal security.

Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I have done wrong and I understand that my sin separates me from You forever. I want to be forgiven of my sin and live forever with You in a beautiful place free of pain, death and hopelessness. I understand that You are the Son of God whom He sent to Earth, to die on a cross and shed Your blood as a perfect sacrifice to cover my wrongdoing and allow me to be forgiven. I understand that Jesus absorbed my sin upon Himself and entered the grave and took it with Him and buried it forever; and when He was resurrected three days later back to life, I also was reborn, without the sin that separated me from Jehovah God .

I accept You, Jesus, as my Saviour and Lord.

Please understand, Jesus died for you and all you are required to do is accept His death and resurrection in this simple prayer and believe.

If you did pray this prayer and meant it, please find some Christian people who can help you to grow in your newfound faith, or contact me via my website.

If you enjoyed this book, then tell your family and friends; if you have a comment about The Valley of Flowers, I would love to hear from you. Your thoughts are important and if you take the time to leave me a comment, I will respond and your comment could be selected for my next book. Go on, put finger to keyboard… you can do it!

 

Jack

 

 

 

~

 

 

About the Author

Jack Dey, born to adventure, lives in the beautiful rainforest of tropical North Queensland, Australia. He has four loves in his life: Jesus; the Editor (his wife of 30 something years); writing adventure novels; and the Sand Flea. The Valley of Flowers is Jack’s sixth novel. He is also the author of MAHiNA; Paradise Warrior; Aunt Tabbie’s Wings; The Secrets of Black Dean Lighthouse and The Legend of Ataneq Nanuq. As this book goes to publishing his new novel, La Belle Suisse, is being co-written and is soon to be released. Jack writes only to please Papa God, but he won a prize for a writing contest at school once when he was six years old. The prize was five cents.

 

 

 

~

 

 

Connect with Jack

Thank you for reading my book. I enjoyed writing it for you. If you enjoyed reading The Valley of Flowers, please tell your family and friends and take a moment to leave a comment at Shakespir or at my web site JackDey.com. Please also like my Facebook page. I invite you to read my other novels, MAHiNA; Paradise Warrior; Aunt Tabbie’s Wings; The Secrets of Black Dean Lighthouse and The Legend of Ataneq Nanuq. Click for an exclusive preview of my new novel, La Belle Suisse, which is currently being co-written and soon to be released. I invite you to connect with me online, leave a comment or review and that is where you will find out more: JackDey.com

 

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~

 

 

Discover Other Titles by Jack Dey

 

MAHiNA

Paradise Warrior

Aunt Tabbie’s Wings

The Secrets of Black Dean Lighthouse

The Legend of Ataneq Nanuq

La Belle Suisse

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

Exclusive Preview of Jack Dey’s First Novel

 

MAHiNA

Things are not always what they seem. A compelling novel of mystery and exotic intrigue loosely based on historical fact.

 

The faded blue paintwork of the converted trawler Annemarie made him wince. He could not afford to paint her again. She was a sixty foot, forty year old fishing boat and in her heyday she was the fastest and tidiest vessel in the northern fleet.

Since the government had cracked down on the fishing industry and developed great allotments of marine park in the lucrative fishing grounds of the greater north eastern coast and Torres Strait, Damon and most of the other vessel owners had fallen on hard times. His misfortunes continued, until he had to sell his fishing licence, just to keep his beloved Annemarie.

He peppered his disdain for his demise, with large, toxic amounts of alcohol, that should have killed any other man. In the morning, he was clear headed again and at the helm.

Damon was known amongst his peers as a tough, no-nonsense skipper. He prided himself on his skill and ability to conquer and tame the sea, in any of her moods. His crew did what he said, without question, otherwise it was a long way to swim, as some of his past crew had found out. He was a tall, dark haired man, built on solid muscle, with a face worn hard by continuing battle with the sea. He looked a lot older than his thirty eight years. He had a knack for sniffing out trouble and on more than one occasion had to use his fists to clear his nostrils.

Below decks, Annemarie had a good sized galley; sizeable cabins along the port and starboard sides, fitted out with bunk beds; a common toilet and bathroom; and plenty of room undercover. All in all, she could comfortably accommodate ten people. Her hull was a deep vee, all steel. And she cut through the water like a well sharpened knife. Perfectly at home in the roughest of seas.

Damon was reduced to running Annemarie on joyrides into the Torres Strait for rich tourists. It pricked his pride and irked him to have rich boys climbing all over his boat. Still, it was money, even if he had to play along with these snot noses. They paid to keep his vessel in the water.

Today was a strange charter. A young woman had hired his boat and his crew to take her to Bathurst Bay, on some secret mission. She had paid cash up front.

There was a mythology amongst the fisherman of the Torres Strait. To anchor in Bathurst Bay, was considered bad luck. It all stemmed back to some cyclone that had snuck up on the pearling fleet in Bathurst Bay, a hundred and fifty years ago and wiped out the fleet anchored there. Legend has it, at night, when the south east gales come, you can hear the souls of the lost, crying out for help in the pitch darkness.

Damon shook the thought from his mind and wiped his mouth, immediately accepting the young woman’s cash. He had not seen so much money in cash for a long time. The destination would remain concealed from the crew, for the moment. He did not want them getting spooked and abandoning ship.

After all, if he didn’t take the charter, someone else would.

The woman was covered head to toe. Khaki, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, hat and sunglasses. He wasn’t any good at guessing women’s ages, but if he had to take a stab, he would say twenty five.

“Mister,” she said.

“Damon,” he replied.

“Damon, let me get something up front, straight away. I am chartering your boat for a specific purpose. I will not tolerate any interference in my business. I expect you to keep to your business. Are we agreed?”

Damon’s hackles went up, but he swallowed them back down. After all, she had paid good money for the charter. “Whatever you say, Miss…?”

“Elishia. Elishia will do fine.”

He helped her onboard, had one of the crew show her to her cabin, while the others stowed her gear.

It was nearing mid morning when Damon eased Annemarie from her berth on Thursday Island. It was close to high tide, so there was plenty of water in the south eastern channel. If he was delayed a couple of hours, the tide would be too low and he would have to take the western channel. That would add nearly a hundred nautical miles to his journey. He had taken on fuel, food and water the day before, in anticipation of the voyage.

The crystal clear, emerald green waters of the Torres Strait, still took his breath away, even after twenty years.

He was doing what he loved and that was all that mattered.

Horn Island was to starboard. He had been involved in a lot of fights there, usually at the local bar, sitting minding his own business. A drunk local would recognise him and want to settle a score. It was a rough place, where the dregs of the earth seemed to inevitably find a home. He did not care for the uncivilized rough-necks that hung around, looking for trouble.

Thursday Island, however, just twenty minutes across the harbour by boat from Horn, was civilized and comfortable, with a family feel to it.

A contrast that he did not understand.

The other islands surrounding Thursday Island were primitive and sparsely inhabited. Usually by people looking to escape something, or someone.

The harbour at Thursday Island was a naturally occurring safe haven, protected by Hammond Island to the North; Palilug Island to the North-West; Gialug to the South-West; Muralug to the South; and Horn to the South-West. Several tidal channels allowed shipping to enter and leave the harbour safely at high water.

Annemarie’s engine, just above idle, pushed the sixty foot vessel slowly through the calm waters of the harbour. Damon steered her into the South East channel and pushed her throttle forward to wide open. Annemarie dug her stern in and the bow lifted, like a racehorse given its head, unlocked from its stall.

Elishia was standing against the railing at the bow, just staring into the expanse of emerald water. Her long, auburn hair danced crazily behind her in the wind. She was directly in front of Damon’s view, as he skilfully orchestrated the vessel’s controls. He found himself staring at her form and there was no doubt, she was a stunner.

Annemarie burst out of the South East channel and was now in open water, the swell gently rocking the vessel, like a mother lulling a child to sleep.

Damon pushed the buttons on the chart plotter: 14 degrees 25 minutes South, 144 degrees 23 minutes East, set, enter. The apparatus beeped, as it accepted the instruction. Set auto pilot, enter. Another beep. Annemarie was acting on her own now, which left Damon to attend to other things.

The voyage would take 12 hours.

Damon opened the wheelhouse door that led to the forward deck, where Elishia was standing. He startled her when he spoke and brought her back to herself. She had been a long way away and judging by her facial reaction, he was intruding on some sacred moment.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? The sea, I mean.”

She nodded.

“I don’t mean to intrude, but you…”

“Damon!” she interrupted, in a low voice that he had to struggle to hear, ”I thought we had this discussion before we left T.I.”

His dark eyes narrowed, as he met hers. Fury burned and he turned and stalked away.

 

 

Read more of MAHiNA

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

Exclusive Preview of Jack Dey’s Novel

 

PARADISE WARRIOR

Sometimes it takes an accidental hero. A riveting story of courage, redemption, love and friendship. Warning: Paradise Warrior is not for the faint hearted. Don’t read it alone!

 

Mendacante rocketed skyward, his tiny frame blurring as he sped high above the community. Two Yellow Lights were close on his tail, grasping at the air as he slipped out of their reach. Below, groups of people gathered and pointed skyward, marvelling at the sight. He corkscrewed backwards and dived, gathering speed as he plummeted towards the ground. The Yellow Lights, although bigger than he, were caught off guard by his manoeuvre and overshot him. Incensed by Mendacante’s tactic, they threw themselves at a blinding rate towards the little Grey Light, gathering speed and closing the gap. Just as Mendacante was about to hit the ground and within reach of the Yellow Lights, he suddenly shot sideways and the Yellow Lights disappeared into an explosion of colour, ploughing headlong into the ground.

“Daydreaming again, little Grey?” came a gruff voice beside him, shaking him from his pleasurable thoughts. “How do you think you are going to earn your colour, if all you do is shirk your training?!”

Mendacante recognised the owner of the voice. It was his drill sergeant. He wore his yellow and blue coloured light proudly, shining all around him like a light through a prism. The superior being made sure his subordinates understood they were not yet worthy of the prestige that came with colour.

“I..I was just going through some tactical procedures in my mind, sir.”

“Report to the colonnade and join your platoon. You will see what awaits those who do well.”

Mendacante made his way slowly to the colonnade. His dream of becoming a hero and enjoying the adoration that came with colour seemed further away than ever, after the rebuff from his commander. He wondered if he would ever make it out of the Grey Lights, the lowest in the ranks of the Army of The King. He brightened when he remembered that his friend, Detanyun, was amongst those being honoured today. He momentarily forgot about his troubles and hurried to join the other Grey Lights gathered around the great structure.

An impressive throng assembled around the place of honour, each in their respective colours and each in their ascending ranks. There were the Grey Lights at the back; next were the Yellow Lights; then the Blue Lights; Green Lights; and finally, the Red Lights at the front. The platoon commanders wore a base light of red, interspersed with bands of coloured light. The higher the rank, the more coloured bands.

When a warrior did well in his training, he was honoured at the colonnade and depending on his achievements, was assigned a higher coloured light. The newly honoured warrior was then given an assignment for The King, to prove himself worthy and maybe earn a coloured band if he did well in his assignment. Every warrior knew the assignment meant crossing over through the door in the dimensions that led into the Tempter’s kingdom and the confines of four dimensions. Being chosen for dimensionalism was a distinguished honour, but it carried terrible dangers, restrictions and extreme temptations to indulge in the ways of the creatures of the earth.

In the legends of the phenomenal battles of Heaven, it is said that Lucifer, the impressive Fallen One, had led a revolt against The King and was thrown out by the High Prince Michael. When Lucifer fell, he took a third of the warriors with him and in so doing, they lost their light and their honour, never to return. Dwelling forever in a place caught between dimensions, in an eternity of darkness, these fallen warriors roamed the dimensions often, finding entry points into the human world when invited by humans looking for supernatural power. Once indwelling a human host, they could command terrific power and significant evil in the world using the host.

The Son of The Great King Himself was the only one to take on four dimensions, become human and not indulge in the Tempter’s kingdom. He was adorned with pure white light, an honour reserved only for the greatest warrior. He came back scarred and disfigured, beaten beyond recognition from His battle, but He succeeded in releasing the chosen ones from the captives of the Tempter’s kingdom.

There were rumours among the ranks of an ensuing battle, soon to take place, where The Great King would send His Son back to the earth, to rid it of the Tempter, judge the creatures identified by the Tempter’s mark, and do away with the restrictions of the four dimensions, forever.

Today however, there were murmurings that the impressive warrior, Michael, was going to be present, to honour a special warrior and assign him a dangerous mission. This was the stuff of dreams, the epitome of every warrior’s desire, to be honoured by the prodigious and humble warrior prince. From his distant position among the Grey Lights, Mendacante could see his friend proudly walk out into the middle of the colonnade with three other warriors. Detanyun’s light shone a brilliant yellow among the three other Blue Lights.

Although Detanyun was a rank above Mendacante, he by no means treated Mendacante as if he was inferior. In fact, Detanyun had tried to coach the little Grey Light in all forms of combat, but giving up as the little Grey stumbled over, tripping on himself. However, Detanyun became aware of Mendacante’s ability to plan a battle strategy that left even his wiry skills stretched to the limit and trapped in an embarrassing defeat. As Detanyun became hopelessly ensnared in Mendacante’s trap, the sly little Grey would excitedly proclaim, “…and check mate!” his crooked little smile evidence that he was enjoying Detanyun’s embarrassment. Though they were worlds apart in capability, their friendship was strong. For many years, they had grown together in the Grey Light platoon, until Detanyun had been honoured and moved up a rank. Now Mendacante spent most of his time dodging the drill sergeant and dreaming of glory.

A sudden ‘aww’ rumbled through the colonnade. A huge figure appeared, dressed in red light with six bars of colour, one on top of the other and topped off with a band of white light. Michael had made his entry and the gathering fell silent at the sight of the majestic warrior, while Michael’s booming voice echoed across the gathering.

“Fellow servants of The King, messengers and protectors of the chosen ones, we have come together to honour the achievements of these, your brother warriors. Through their impressive performance, training as warriors of The King, they have been chosen to represent Him in a commando assignment behind enemy lines. Their ability to carry out their assignment is imperative, to set the ground work for the plans of the next, looming battle against the Fallen Ones.”

Michael then walked up to the four warriors, dwarfed in his presence and nodded toward each one. The three Blue Lights immediately turned green and the warriors smiled in appreciation to Michael, obviously proud of their promotion. Detanyun gazed up toward the great warrior and Michael smiled directly at him. Detanyun’s Yellow Light turned red, sending a ripple of disbelief through the gathering. Michael reached down and handed Detanyun a medallion, a small gold circle, encircling a six-sided star on a chain. The medallion awarded to The King’s elite warriors.

Mendacante broke protocol and cheered from the ranks of the Grey Lights and was immediately castigated by his fellow Greys for drawing attention to them. He didn’t care. He was living his dream through his friend. Michael and Detanyun glanced towards the direction of the ruckus and Detanyun smiled. He couldn’t see Mendacante, but he knew his voice.

Michael then handed Detanyun a red folder, with the star emblem on the front. He commended the four warriors and made his way determinedly back to stand in the presence of The King.

 

~

 

Mendacante buzzed around Detanyun like a fly attracted to a dead carcass, while Detanyun sat with his back against a tree, staring dejectedly at the folder lying in his lap. Mendacante’s euphoria at his friend’s promotion to a Red Light warrior and his acceptance as a member of the special Forces suddenly ceased, as he surveyed his friend’s downcast features.

“What’s wrong, Detanyun?” Mendacante asked with concern.

“My assignment is to watch over a baby Earth girl,” Detanyun replied disappointedly, “an assignment any other colour, including you, could do. Am I to be a babysitter after many years of intensive training? And now the Prince chooses to embarrass me, with this.”

Mendacante sat next to his friend and thought for a while. “This baby must be very important if she is to be assigned a Special Forces Red Light. I am sure there is more to the story, otherwise the Prince would have chosen someone else.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Mendacante.”

“When does your mission start?”

“Tomorrow. Michael will open the dimensions for me to cross over, first thing in the morning.”

“Are you scared?”

“No, just a bit disappointed.”

 

~

 

Gabriel, who also stands in the presence of The King, met Michael at the entrance to the throne room. “How did he take it, Michael?”

“As expected. He thinks we are sending him in as a baby sitter,” Michael responded.

Gabriel waited for a moment and then spoke again. “The King wants to give him the heart of a human as soon as he crosses over,” Gabriel whispered, fearing for Detanyun.

“The heart of a human?! That’s a heavy load for any warrior to carry,” Michael answered, sharing Gabriel’s concern.

Michael thought for a while. “The King is the Great Wise One. He sees things from every angle, at every moment in time. He must have a plan, Gabriel.”

 

~

 

Detanyun stood expectantly by the tree that marked the opening to the four dimensions. It was early morning and as he searched the surroundings, he could see Michael’s huge outline approaching, moving swiftly towards him.

 

~

 

Concern gripped Michael as he drew near the tree to the dimensions and Detanyun waiting nearby. He knew the warrior wouldn’t have any of his heavenly assets on Earth and for his own safety and the success of his mission, his identity would be masked while operating deep inside enemy territory.

Michael approached the tree and commanded the dimensions to open.

Mendacante stood nearby, hiding, hoping to stay out of sight but also wanting to see his best friend leave. A doorway appeared and Detanyun stepped towards it. Mendacante glanced at the place where Detanyun had been sitting and saw his medallion lying there. He rushed in and scooped it up and then sped towards Detanyun. Just as he was about to hand it over, the dimension closed and both Detanyun and Mendacante tumbled through.

Michael watched the scene unfold in front of him and then spoke softly to himself, “So this is the plan of The King.”

 

 

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AUNT TABBIE’S WINGS

A beautiful story of love, adventure, struggle and redemption

 

The old Bible, dog eared and fraying, lay closed on the old woman’s lap. She painfully flipped the cover open and stared down at the inscription on the first page.

To my beloved Father, Sergeant Major Pell (Bluey) Burns, All my love, Tabbie.

She ran her finger over the inscription. A tear slipped from her eye and plopped onto the back of her gnarled, skinny hand, lying across the open Bible.

The chrome wheelchair was parked hard against a large window, overlooking the garden and her legs were covered by a homemade, knitted, woollen blanket.

As she sat peering out into the warm afternoon sunshine, her praying lips began to slowly move, but making no sound.

Tabbie was sixty, but she looked more like ninety. Rheumatoid arthritis had invaded her body at an early age and now painfully swollen joints made it impossible to do much, but sit and stare. The nurses did all they could to make their favourite charge comfortable and ease the pain, even though she didn’t complain.

Tabbie would always enquire into the happenings of the lives of the nurses, her deep, blue eyes full of compassion and wisdom. It wasn’t unusual to see a nurse sitting next to Tabbie, sobbing violently, as she emptied her heart to the old woman, basking in the love and hugs of which she seemed to have in volumes.

Everyone lovingly called her Aunt Tabbie.

There was something about Tabbie that drew people to her. A warm smile, a charismatic personality and a deep love for troubled humanity.

She had a word of encouragement for everyone, from the doctor to the ones who emptied the rubbish bins. She was very observant and the nurses wondered whether she could actually see inside a person.

Tabbie’s skinny frame worried the doctors. She hadn’t been well for many months now and the arthritis was engulfing her, ever faster.

Asked if she was feeling well, she would often reply with a twinkle in her eye, “My times are in the hands of my Father in Heaven.”

Tabbie had a busy visitor schedule. Every day, well wishers would engulf her, hoping to bring comfort to the old lady, but in most cases, the visitor would leave receiving the comfort.

The nurses became annoyed, when people visited just to take from the giving woman and use her as sounding board for their own problems. By the end of the day, they could see Tabbie’s strength starting to fade. She would become distressed physically, until they forbade any more visitors.

Even after the tired woman was wheeled back to her room, her phone would ring incessantly into the evening. Tabbie, still giving and giving, until Matron put her foot down and the phone was diverted.

Although the night hours were racked with awful pain, that was the time she spent in the presence of Father, learning from Him and sitting at His feet in prayer.

The door to her room was never locked. The nurses checked on her frequently during the night, monitoring her pain level. Even though Tabbie never complained, they knew when the pain level was becoming intolerable. Her sharp, blue eyes would start to cloud over, until a pain killer was administered and Tabbie would drift off into another world.

 

~

 

Matron Jillian Miles took her job seriously. She was a large woman with a round face and ran the nursing home like a tight ship. Nothing escaped her notice.

If the nurses did anything wrong, they owned up to it immediately. Not only was she known for being tough, she also had a huge heart and didn’t hold a grudge. It was best to come clean with Matron and confess. Some had tried to conceal their guilt and Matron let them have it with both barrels, once they were discovered.

They didn’t try it on again.

Matron looked up at the clock on the wall. 9.30 am. Time to do her rounds. The phone on her desk began to ring, calling her attention away from her responsibilities. She sighed and tussled with leaving it to ring, but gave in to her curiosity and answered it.

“Matron Jillian Miles.”

“Hello, Matron, this is Senior Constable Ian Palmer.”

“Yes, Constable Palmer, what can I do for you?”

“You have helped us out with our Young Offender Programme in the past. I was wondering if we could bring a young, fourteen year old, at-risk female to see Aunt Tabbie. The last time, she facilitated a turnaround in a very tough case and this time, it’s even worse.”

“Constable Palmer, Tabbie is not well. I understand that she has an immense love for people, but she is in a nursing home for a reason!” Matron was becoming annoyed.

Palmer was feeling the sting of Matron’s tongue.

“I understand your concerns, Matron, but the Young Offender Programme is falling helplessly behind and is failing this child. If I don’t do something, this child she will self destruct.”

Matron could hear the desperation and concern in the young policeman’s voice and she became a victim to her own good heartedness.

“I will talk to Tabbie and if she agrees, then you may bring her here. On one proviso…”

“Name it, Matron,” the young constable was about to agree to anything.

“The moment she starts to show signs of distress, you and the child are to leave. Immediately. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” Palmer nodded.

 

~

 

Two nurses helped Tabbie shower and dress and after she was presentable, Matron entered her room.

“A young policeman has made a request, Tabbie. He has an at-risk, juvenile female, who he is hoping to bring for you to talk to. I will allow him to bring her here, only if you agree.”

The two nurses looked up at Matron in surprise, their gazes saying, you are not serious.

Tabbie’s blue eyes were brilliant in the morning light. She nodded, as if this meeting had already been arranged and she was expecting the child at any time.

“Of course she can come,” Tabbie gasped, as the nurses lowered her into her wheelchair and then placed her woollen blanket over her legs.

 

~

 

Ian Palmer walked up to the front door of the nursing home, accompanied by a young girl. The young girl had protested loudly at coming to an old people’s home.

Palmer gave her the choice. The old people’s home, or back to Greyton, a tough and regimented institution for hardened, juvenile offenders.

The young girl had piercings all over her face and boot-polish-black, short cropped hair. She wore traditional, Greyton dark green, long trousers and shirt. Her face was hard beyond her years.

She didn’t trust anyone.

Palmer pulled the door open for the girl and she slipped in, without saying anything. They walked down a polished corridor, his shoes making a clip-clop sound, echoing in the quiet, as he walked.

The girl looked around in horror, at the sights she was taking in. Old people were being wheeled around, slumped or parked in wheel chairs, next to windows, just staring.

“Why did you bring me here?!” she asked, peering over her shoulder for a quick exit and back onto the streets.

“There is someone I want you to meet.”

“Well, I don’t want to meet them!” the girl was getting agitated.

“Calm down, Casey. There is nothing to fear, here.”

“I’m not afraid!” she suddenly spat.

“Ok, Wonder Woman, prove it.”

The challenge calmed her down.

No one spooked out Casey Lowe.

They rounded a corner and pushed open a glass door, entering a large lounge room. An old woman in a wheel chair sat at the end of a lounge and smiled, as they entered.

Casey was immediately taken by the depth of the old woman’s blue eyes and she seemed to be surrounded by a peacefulness and warmth she had never felt before. Her smile drew Casey and she fought against it, closing her mind, not wanting to trust anyone.

“Casey, this is Aunt Tabbie.”

 

~

 

Tabbie took in the sight of the young girl, perched uneasily on the edge of the lounge in front of her. She winced at the pieces of metal forced through the young, attractive, facial features, a sign of deep, self hatred. In her eyes reflected the hollow, destructive paths of violent storms, not too distant past.

The emptiness of a short life full of pain, etched in distrust and her story, written across her face.

“Casey, is it dear?” Tabbie asked quietly.

“Yeah!” she retorted.

“Would you like to tell me something of yourself?” Tabbie asked gently.

“Fat chance, lady!” Casey spat, looking around at Palmer.

“Casey…!” Constable Palmer chided.

Tabbie eyed the constable for a moment and then spoke.

“Mr Palmer, would you excuse us for a moment, please?” Tabbie pointed to the door.

Reluctantly, Constable Palmer rose from his seat, gave Tabbie a look of concern and started for the entrance.

“I’ll be just outside!”

Tabbie followed him to the door, pushing her wheelchair with her skinny arms. Once he was outside the room, Tabbie locked it behind him.

A bewildered look on Palmer’s face, as he rattled the door from the outside, made Casey laugh. She quickly brought herself back in check. She didn’t want to find any reason to connect with this old lady.

Tabbie then wheeled herself directly opposite Casey.

“Now, if you can’t tell me about you, would you allow me to tell you about me?” Tabbie asked, with a smile.

Casey eyed Tabbie for a long moment, finally coming to a decision. “Yeah, if you want. But I ain’t saying nothing.” Casey enforced her stance, by folding her arms across her chest.

She couldn’t help notice Tabbie’s rich, deep blue eyes, as Tabbie searched the ceiling, looking to find a place to start.

 

 

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THE SECRETS OF BLACK DEAN LIGHTHOUSE

Adventure. Danger. Intrigue. Love. Courage. Redemption. Come on the journey but be warned, there is no turning back and the consequences will leave your head spinning. A haunting mystery with a sting in its tail.

 

Katie stood transfixed on the beach. Her hands shook slightly and her stomach tightly knotted. Her dark hair whipped around her face and stung her eyes, driven mercilessly by the approaching storm. This was the first time in years she had returned to Contention Island since… she pulled in a shuddery breath at the memory, hung her head in her hands and collapsed to the beach sand. The tears began all too easily again. The familiar ache returned as if it was just yesterday, let alone twenty years ago.

Maybe it hadn’t been long enough.

Curled in the cold sand and with her face buried in her hands, she thought she had overcome the demons lurking in her past and was ready to make sense of the circumstances that had so drastically altered her life. Sobbing, she castigated herself for being so stupid. Obviously she was wrong and this wasn’t such a good idea after all. She raised herself to her knees, her tear stained eyes searching the blackness of the sea behind the breakers. Searching, always searching, just like in her nightmares.

A blinding flash lit up the dark winter night closely followed by a deep, opulent rumble. The intensity hit her in the chest, making her scream in fear and cover her ears against the tumultuous cacophony.

She had come a long way in her recovery just to be standing in this place, the place that had haunted her sleep and stolen so much of her youth. Over the years, the relentless nightmares and cowering fear had faded, giving her a reckless sense of strength, but tonight, she was living her past again. She imagined she was strong enough now and if she confronted her tormenter, things would change. Things would become normal.

Whatever normal was.

But standing here on Contention Island, it was all too clear she had overestimated her strength and wasn’t ready to take such a drastic step. She still had a long way to go to reclaim her life.

It had been a night exactly like this, dark and imposing, raging at the foot of an unnatural storm. The rain began with such tenacity, it chilled her to her core and she began to shiver. Raising herself to her feet, she kept searching the sky beyond the breakers, her arms crossed over her chest against the teeming rain and wind driven chill.

Then she saw it, not once but several times. The walls of fear, undermined and partially dismantled by many years of absence from Contention Island, began to build its foreboding prison about her again. Katie grappled with the nightmare scene, clutching at her hair in desperation. Her mind refused to believe what she had just seen. It was still here, waiting for her to return.

To trap her again.

Her knees buckled under her and she collapsed to the sand, her mind shutting down under the immense shock.

 

~

 

From a place outside of her line of sight and buried in the night, another pair of eyes watched her motionless form with a cat-like stare. Stalking through the sand and leaning into the wind and rain, the figure stooped over the place she had fallen. Searching deliberately around the scene for prying eyes, he cautiously scooped the unconscious figure into his arms and effortlessly disappeared into the shadowy night without a trace, carrying his prey.

The sudden movement brought Katie around momentarily. She focused onto the black, cat-like eyes of her captor and screamed, but nothing came out. It was all happening again, as if history were repeating itself. She had been a fool, lured back into her past by the same events that had trapped her in her youth, seduced by the idea of gaining control over her nemesis and finally breaking free of his power. Her strength stolen – trying to stop the circle of events – her body went limp and she blacked out again.

 

~

 

A scream broke into his deep subconscious and activated his fight or flight sense. He sat bolt upright in his bed, ready to deal with any intruder. It took only a moment to realise where he was and what was transpiring. The dark room, only illuminated by the red digital numbers of the clock radio, was light enough to see the pained face of his wife battling in a nightmare.

“Becky, wake up!” he gently shook her awake.

The bedside lamp erupted, dividing the formidable darkness, paining their eyes and driving the world of fear back into the shadows. The confused look on Becky’s face, her brow moist from the battle, was an all too familiar indicator of the depth of her enchantment. Recognising the familiar world around her, she spoke, exhausted and in a low, perplexed voice.

“What happened?”

“It was Katie again, wasn’t it?” the concerned voice of her husband, Brett, enquired as he pulled her into his arms.

“She was back on Contention Island,” the worried frown deeply furrowed on Becky’s face, her voice muffled in her husband’s shoulder. Becky hadn’t dreamt of Katie for years and now, for some reason, Katie was troubling her subconscious again.

Katie had been a regular visitor into the young couple’s lives at first. Unknown to Brett, Becky had been plagued by nightmares of Katie throughout her life. Once they were married, Katie’s invasion of Becky’s subconscious lessened, but was regular enough for Brett to form a picture of Katie and her troubled adventures through Becky’s commentary of the nightmares she suffered. Becky had no idea how she came to dream of Katie. She had never met a girl named Katie in real life, let alone become friends with one. Katie’s arrival back on Contention Island was not a welcome revelation. Brett now knew enough of the nightmares to surmise Katie’s anguish was set to get deeper and Becky would suffer as a result.

He had to get to the bottom of these nightmares, and find out who Katie was and why Katie affected Becky’s dreams so profoundly.

 

 

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THE LEGEND OF ATANEQ NANUQ

When injustice and fear collide it has a name… Ataneq Nanuq. A disturbing mystery

 

A crisp command silenced the dogs as the weathered, leathery face pressed hard against the fractured window; a legacy from last winter’s trials. His faltering gaze followed the rocky shoreline of the bay through the broken glass and from the confines of the tired, dishevelled hut, keeping his aging outline pressed against the wall and trying to stay out of sight. His panicked hot breath steamed the pane, partially obliterating the view while two milky brown eyes, bloodshot and squinting from too many years exposed to the glaring icy landscape, traced the small ship’s progress as it entered the deepest part of the wilderness of Scoresby Sund.

A worried frown settled across his wrinkled brow. It had been nearly two years since he had glimpsed another European and by his reckoning, that wasn’t long enough. The fear rose into his chest and threatened to freeze the scene into a long buried moment in history he’d worked so hard to forget.

In the isolation of the wilderness, there was no one to impress or be judged by. Being alone was sometimes lonely, but it was far easier than feeling hunted by his own kind and required to perform or give an account of what he had done. There just wasn’t a plausible, easy explanation for what had happened able to satisfy him, let alone a civilised European court. He had evaded his hunters for well over fifty years, vanishing like a shy Arctic fox into the tundra and beyond the reach of their prejudiced form of justice.

He was bitterly aware, maybe even more so today than the day it happened… he was a fugitive: a wanted man.

Dwarfed by icebergs, floating lazy and majestic in defiance to the seasonal thaw and towering rebelliously against the smoky-blue backdrop of the late summer sky, the tiny ship appeared insignificant by comparison. The remnants of the winter sea ice, now scattered and breaking up over the surface of the warming water, playfully nudged the steel hull of the white ship as she pushed closer to the shore and his hut. The ship’s movement through the Sund created ripples that disturbed the tranquillity and betrayed the ship’s intended direction. As it came closer, he could make out the Russian name: MV Multanovskiy.

Momentarily distracted, his eyes diverted from the vessel and focused on a nearby berg. Desperate thoughts chased around his mind. Surely the Russians couldn’t have an interest in my history or a reason to pick a fight with me.

Just to be certain, he stayed well out of sight anyway.

Surrounded by a backdrop of rugged, snow capped mountains, the tortured old hut stood on crumbling brick pillars just one metre above the rocky tundra floor and only a stone’s throw from the Sund. The floor timbers sagged with age, complaining bitterly with every step the old man took while the fire had finally gone out in the old fireplace. He had used up the last of the seal blubber fuel and the gaps in the stone chimney let the windblown chill into the hut, something he would have to fix in what remained of this summer, before the ice storms of January. The roof above him was the strongest part of the hut, strengthened to support the weight of dense winter snow and the turbulent gales of the long Arctic night.

It wasn’t the Ritz, but it was home.

After the summer thaw had advanced and defeated the winter pallor, Salix glauca turned the once-white snow covered tundra into a rich red, giving the illusion of a living welcome mat sprawling across the landscape and leading to the rocky shores of the Sund, testifying that the long winter had indeed retreated and the short summer was now in command.

As he gauged the ship’s position once again, a sense of irony struck him. In the depth of the endless Arctic night, he had driven his dogsled clear across the frozen Sund on an iceshelf two metres thick to fish through a drilled hole in the ice, close to where the ship now cautiously picked its way across the fluid summer sea and towards his home. He watched in surprise as the ship executed a wide arc and came within fifty metres of his old dwelling. Seemingly convinced there were no signs of life, it turned unexpectedly and steered again for the entrance to the Sund, picked up speed and silently slid out of the fjord, bringing a sigh of relief from the old man.

From his position hidden within the shelter, the aging eyes struggled to focus on the departing vessel as it vanished from view.

The dogs began to whimper, eager to get back outside into their natural environment and leave the confines of their hiding place. He cautiously surveyed the scene outside the window, sweeping the barren landscape for any threats. His searching stopped abruptly, while his blurry eyes pressed shut and open again in an attempt for clarity, trying to focus on a large granite boulder some distance away. It was still there after so many winters and summer thaws, perched lifeless on the granite mound, weather bleached and staring in the direction of the fjord where Nanuq had slaughtered him: the skull of a muskox.

The hapless creature had wandered into a two day standoff between the old man trapped inside his hut and a hungry nanuq, keeping the human pinned down. The dogs had alerted the old man to the presence of the dangerous male polar bear, while Nanuq had watched every move from his hidden position, his fur camouflaged perfectly against the white winter environment. Unwittingly, the muskox had sacrificed his life and meandered into Nanuq’s patient trap, ending the ordeal for the old man. Nanuq struck with such stealth and ferocity, driven by hunger. His agile and powerful 600 kilogram frame, standing 2.7 metres tall, launched with deadly accuracy as his voracious, tearing jaws crushed the life from his victim. It was doubtless the muskox even saw him coming. His hunger then satisfied, Nanuq, the powerful male polar bear, had turned toward the hut and tossed his head and sniffed the air in a warning toward the old man. Nanuq’s dark eyes had set a deliberate challenge, daring him to do battle in a future time. One last huff and Nanuq had sauntered away into the depths of the polar winter, leaving enough of his conquest as a sign of his rank and stature among the polar bears, allowing the smaller, hungry subordinate bears to clean up after him.

After the altercation with Nanuq, the old man had left the skull of the muskox where it lay, as a chilling reminder and evidence of the ruthless fight for survival in a hostile and unforgiving frozen wilderness devoid of friendly human contact. One lapse in concentration in a powerful winter storm—where the temperature plunged to in excess of minus twenty-three degrees Celsius—or an unguarded moment flaunting his life in front of a hungry, prowling nanuq away from the safety of his shelter, could prove fatal. Still, he was more at home in the cruelty and isolation of the tundra where man, beast and the environment fought to the death only for survival purposes. When hunger and the depths of winter no longer threatened, man and beast lived together in an uneasy cohabitation, keeping a close, wary eye on each other. Unlike European society, where a fatal blow constantly lurked in every corner and every human being was an enemy and a target in a relentless drive to conquer and dominate each other. He shivered as he imagined society closing the door on his troubled freedom and trapping him in a crowded man-made nightmare.

Sensing the threat had passed, Akiak’s warm muzzle pushed into his empty hand, forcing his thoughts back to the present and reminding him his dogs needed to get outside. She was his faithful dogsled team leader, wise in the things of the tundra, saving his life more often than he cared to remember. He stooped to ruffle her thick fur and then opened the hut door, the dogs bursting out into the warm sunshine excitedly barking and enjoying their sudden freedom.

The temperature this time of year was an exhausting one degree Celsius and there was much to do before the relentless winter night once again descended on his world, plunging him into the crippling freeze. The old man felt different in the bright polar sunshine, lighter in spirit and even a small sense of hope pervaded his thinking. A noticeable freshness drifted across the polar tundra leaving the threats of winter far from his mind, while his old enemy, Nanuq, had migrated further north following the food source associated with the permanent pack ice of the extreme Arctic pole.

For now he was content and an uneasy peace settled over his soul.

As he ventured outside, he bent to investigate the sled lying unused in the protection of the crawl space under his hut. He stiffly drew it from its resting place and examined its condition. The shaped timber skids had dried and split, but it was still solid and usable. The tow straps the dogs wore were stiff, but would soon become pliable once the dogs had worn them in again. A shrill whistle from the old man called the dogs to the sled and away from the serious play they had engaged in. They came barking and running, excited at the thought of pulling a sled again.

Today he would venture onto the edge of the vast tundra away from the hut to trade Arctic fox furs he had trapped during last winter. His buyer, Katu, lived fifty kilometres away and his store was an outpost for the remaining trappers living deep in the wilderness. He would trade for supplies for the coming winter and learn the grave news of the outside world. Katu was a native born Greenlander with no apparent interest in the history of an old European fugitive. The round trip would take two days and he usually stayed the night with Katu.

The old man peered over his shoulder at the hut from his position standing at the back of the sled, a sick feeling rising in his gut as if he was saying goodbye to a trusted friend. With a pile of furs lying in the passenger well of the sled, he breathed out a nervous sigh, turned and mushed the dogs on toward Katu. The dogs barked with excitement as the old wooden sled jolted forward and sped across the Salix glauca effortlessly.

Two hours into the journey, the old man spotted a strange sight in the distance. He called the dogs to a halt and tried to squint, to clear his vision and focus. The fear rose, marshalling his senses to high alert at the outline of a large nanuq prostrated on the ground, as if he was preparing to pounce.

Thoughts flashed through his mind and then reason took over: all nanuq should be hundreds of kilometres to the north by now and if this particular bear was a threat, Akiak would have surely warned him. The old man trusted her implicitly; her senses were sharp, always testing the environment around her for threats and she missed nothing. From her position at the head of the stationary dog team, she raised her snout again to taste the air in the direction of the nanuq, wary of the deadly menace. Convinced Nanuq offered no threat, she turned to concentrate on another distraction and contemptuously lost interest in the hulking, motionless form.

The old man stepped from the sled and reached for his rifle, then cautiously measured his ground till he was almost on top of the predator. The smell of decaying flesh assaulted his senses and a gasp filled his lungs. There had been a momentary struggle before this large, three metre tall male nanuq had succumbed to a single, brutal force that had stolen his life. The old man prodded the dead beast with his rifle butt and estimated the nanuq to be close to 700 kilos then searched around till he found the footprint of the culprit, perfectly preserved in a mud puddle created by melting snow. He dropped to his haunches and examined the massive pad print, then compared the huge male bear’s paw lying dead before him.

It was nearly fifty millimetres bigger.

He swallowed hard, the fear bristling the hair on the back of his neck and out of habit he searched the surroundings, gripping the barrel of his gun tightly. After all these years, his old nemesis was still around somewhere. The last time he saw a track like this he was only a boy, nearly sixty years ago, and the memories of that horrific day etched forever into his young mind, shaped his life and as a fugitive, drove him deep into the wilderness.

 

 

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LA BELLE SUISSE

 

With his meagre belongings in his hand, Philippe de la Calle stepped from the crowded train, pondering the rising apartment towers and the lavish streets of his once boyhood home. He hadn’t been back here in thirty years and now the memories sealed in the timeless corridors of his mind collided heavily with the opulence that staggered about in the unrecognisable streets where poverty once gripped his hand and kept his family prisoner. Somewhere in his tangled thoughts, wooden shanty housing leaned together in a mass for communal support and if one stick was removed then the whole town would collapse; so it was with the simple community structure of poor families living and relying on each other to survive.

A storm of wealthy influential invaders had seen the potential of the small seaside hamlet as a tax haven and playground for the rich and famous. With the casual stroke of a pen on a blank cheque book stub, life changed drastically for the poor, stealing the land from under their feet in a desperate greedy grab and displacing families who had depended on it to survive for centuries.

Philippe gawked around at the ordered lavish streets, bordered by sandstone buildings groomed with gold leaf architecture and emblazoned with impish statues. Walk paths of rich, intricately cut Italian stone meandered lazily between millionaires’ villas, diverting here and there through an ornate and expensively decorated park. Fountains splashed and gurgled on every profligate street corner; where once there was thirst, now water seemed to bubble up from under every manicured rock.

An incredulous sweeping gaze at the tidy harbour, protected from the Mediterranean’s boisterous moods by heavy rock barriers, abruptly halted Philippe in mid gawk. In a time gone by, a great and proud natural seawall of granite protected the village from the ocean’s wrath; now it stood impotent and tamed as a backdrop to a fester of towering apartments. The sea in front of the buildings, reclaimed and pushed back, now accommodated meandering streets and a circus of harbour front villas. Beyond the reaching luxury, a fleet of magnificent private floating palaces lay at anchor, neatly moored in million dollar pens, polished and watched over by zealous crews until their millionaire masters were ready for another lavish party among the latest sports or movie stars, showing off their abundant wealth in another exuberant sea jaunt.

Philippe swivelled on his feet and slowly completed a three hundred and sixty degree scan. All about him, trillions of Euros lay buried in a hoard of personal greed, while the people he had lived and worked among had died in droves from lack of a daily meal, clean drinking water or a few Euros of antibiotic medicines.

“Excusez-moi, monsieur!”

A petite, well-dressed young woman drew Philippe back to earth. “Pardonnez-moi, mademoiselle,” he apologised and stepped aside so she could navigate around his gawking, incredulous frame. Another group of approaching spellbound humanity disturbed Philippe’s train of thought further and he began to follow the young woman along the path lest he be swept up by the wave of coveting tourists.

It took some time to orient himself in the unfamiliar streets but as his thin and tall, fifty-year-old frame came to an abrupt stop in front of an opulent structure, the bitter memories came flooding back. He was just about to step from the ordered kerb and cross an immaculate street to face his nemesis when a red and black Bugatti-Veyron sports car blared its horn in warning, and then quickly slipped away in an expensive plume of racing formulae fuel. Philippe stared after the vivacious vehicle, realising he had just missed being run over by 1.1 million Euro. Checking for further fast moving indulgent drivers, he quickly scampered across the street before a yellow Lamborghini, driven by a sports model blonde, approached and roared past in a flash of vibrating noise.

Now safely across the roadway of spoilt disdain, Philippe stood silently, contemplating the extravagant building threatening to engulf him in a tsunami of past regret and shame that divided his family and destroyed the people he loved. Philippe’s father, the village leader, had colluded with the wealthy invaders and engaged with them in a despicable bid to defraud the people of their ancestral home and for his efforts, he was rewarded with a small fortune by poor people’s standards. Seeing the need for a rich man’s playhouse, Philippe’s father had invested all he had in a gambling den for the wealthy and now after thirty years, he was one of the wealthiest men among the wealthy.

As a young man, Philippe sensed the rising tide of affluent evil gripping at his bones, stifling the overwhelming desire to make a difference in a lopsided world, ignoring the cries of the suffering and filled his mind instead with the rich man’s disease. But no longer able to survive an audience with his conscience, Philippe, along with his mother, left his father and brother to live a life of indulgent riches. Now, as a fifty-year-old missionary and after working in abject poverty in some of the poorest hot spots of the world, it had been nearly three decades since he’d seen his wealthy and elderly father and the place he once called home.

Philippe took a last glance at the opulent casino, patted down his ragged clothing and started to climb the hill to his father’s house bulging out onto a nearby hillside. As he approached the sprawling driveway, he reached into his pocket and withdrew the letter that had started him on his latest pilgrimage and began to read again.

Philippe

Your father is not well and the doctors suggest he has only weeks or possibly months to live. I am not sure why he requested to see you and mother one last time before he dies, but you owe it to him for giving you life, to at least make some kind of effort and fulfil his dying request. I still can’t forgive you for walking away from the family when father invested his complete fortune in the casino and it looked like we would be poor again, but as you will see, father is exuberantly wealthy now and I only hope he has kept his promise to cut you out of his will. Just so you know, it is my intention to contest any favours he has set aside for you in his last testament and I can afford the best legal team possible. Personally, I couldn’t care if you don’t come, but father asks every day after you and I urge you for his sake to make a concession in your selfish lifestyle and fulfil a dying man’s request.

Once again I remind you, I am the first born son and I am entitled to every bit of father’s substantial estate, simply because I stayed and supported him in his decisions and I will see to it you receive nothing from this incredible self-made man.

As agreeable as ever, your older brother Robert.

Philippe folded the tattered letter and placed it reverently back in his threadbare shirt pocket. From the moment he had received the news of his father, it had taken him nearly a month to travel across some of the most inhospitable territory on Earth, calling on favours with grateful people to help him traverse across continents just so he could get to his ailing father’s side. But now, he wasn’t even sure his foolhardy journey was all for naught and whether he was too late to fulfil his father’s dying wish. After the nerve-racking trek, he stood peering down a lavish driveway and into the haughty eyes of extreme opulence. He paused for long moments, considering the final few metres of his sojourn and what lay in wait for his arrival. With a quick prayer for strength, he pushed his feet on toward the enormous front doors, staring at a plethora of closed-circuit cameras, watching him, watching them.

Philippe lifted his hand to knock, but before his knuckles made contact with the expensive paintwork, one half of the massive doors opened and a maid met his eyes with a disdainful frown. “Eh, vous là-bas, le vagabond, get away from the door before I have security run you off!”

“If you please, mademoiselle, I am Philippe de la Calle and I have come to see my father, Henri Rousseau!”

The maid’s eyes suddenly clouded with fright. “Excusez-moi, monsieur, I did not know! Your father told us to expect an unusual person in the form of a fils prodigue.”

Philippe smiled at the quavering maid. “Oui, mademoiselle, I guess my attire does suggest the presence of a prodigal son.”

The front door soon gave way into a mammoth, echoing amphitheatre with full length windows traversing two storeys above to the ground floor and giving an unhindered view of the impressive harbour and the millionaire’s paradise below the foot of the mountain. Gold staircases led to ornate balconies far above Philippe’s head, while each unintentional sound amplified and distorted in the clinical ambience of splendid white marble floors and ceilings.

A booming voice originating from one of the opulent staircases overpowered Philippe’s awestruck gaze and he turned to meet the unmistakable owner. “So, you have disowned my name as well as my family, Philippe de la Calle! Why are you known as Philippe of the Streets?”

Philippe’s shocked countenance stole the ability to respond to the spritely elderly gentleman walking effortlessly down a flight of stairs to greet him.

“I… it is an identity with the people I live and work among, Father. The poor of the world!” Philippe’s voice echoed around the palatial surrounds as he gawked at the healthy older man.

“Arr, the poor of the world,” the disgruntled voice echoed around the cavernous hall. “People who refuse to take advantage of the wealth the world offers.”

“No, Father, you have it wrong. These are people who have no opportunity to take advantage of the wealth of the world; when you consider that one percent of the world’s population controls fifty percent of its wealth.”

“Statistics, Philippe, that mean nothing. You grew up with the poverty of this place and look at me now. I have power, recognition and everything I could ever want.”

“But are you happy, Father?”

“ARE THE POOR HAPPY, PHILIPPE?!” the booming voice echoed around the room and shocked the younger man.

“They are among some of the happiest people I have met, especially when they know our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

“You always were a simpleton child, filled with the superstitions of religion. But there is no religion except wealth and fortune. Look what it can do for you!” the elder man swept his arm around the opulent surrounds.

“And what of your impending death, Father?” Philippe whispered.

“I will not die, Philippe; you can see how healthy I am and I have many beautiful young women around to keep me young.”

“Everyone dies, Father, and yet we are eternal beings; our spirit is alive for ever. You may be rich now, but what awaits you without Jesus is eternal agony and poverty.”

“Huh! More of your confounded brainwashed idealism, Philippe! Robert told me I was wasting my time trying to make you see reason. The only thing that exists is now and today; and today I am a king!”

A calculating stare settled in the old man’s eyes as he bored into his wayward son. “Here is my challenge to you, Philippe de la Calle. Stay with me and in my home for six months and I will show you the power money wields and the truth of its idealism, instead of your toothless God.”

 

 

*** COMING SOON ***

 

 

~

 

 

 

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The Valley of Flowers

A distant rumble echoed up and down the steep green valley walls; then a gentle breeze rippled across the valley floor stirring a patchwork of yellow, pink and blue, making the colourful tall stems of happy flowers seem to giggle softly and sway gently in the giddying silence. Patches of blue sky peered around the tall cliffs, partially obscured by lazy clouds hanging deftly and close to the rocky peaks. A monolithic giant, draped in the royal green velvet of deep rainforest, towered high above the trail and stood guard over the entrance to the enchanting scene, making sure only the invited found the secret, narrow breach. Something was beckoning, tugging at her heart strings and drawing her onto the path, urging her to keep walking. Step by step the trail led her deeper into the valley, tantalising her senses with each guarded step and piquing her curiosity. Where was she? Suddenly, the valley erupted into whispered laughter, adorable impish laughter echoing across the valley floor and entangled among the swaying flowers. She searched around trying to identify the voices, but they remained shy and hidden from her view. Then the sky opened and a warm, gentle shower drizzled over her, flooding her mind with childish delight as she tasted drops of water sweeter than honey. The rain began to teem down on her and as it did, the impish laughter increased; she heard a giggle trickle over her tonsils and then an echoing laugh bubbled up from deep inside her and spilled out into the rain. In a moment of ecstasy, she peered up at the sky and the mountains surrounding her and twirled on the spot, pirouetting like a ballet dancer, lost in excited elation and sending her long gown whirling around her. As suddenly as it came, the rain stopped and a gentle breeze caressed her face, dancing with her, calling to her in a loving whisper, “Elly... Elly... come to me, pretty lady,” enticing her down into the valley while its call halted her ecstatic dance. The voice made her heart burn within her and she searched among the flowers until she saw a beautiful young man standing on the path, beckoning to her with an outstretched arm. She gazed at the gesture for a moment, hesitating and a little confused, but then his haunting green eyes peered into the depths of her heart and overpowered her emotions, gently pulling her towards him... A gentle, easy read that will captivate your heart and hold it prisoner as it pleads with every word to take you deeper into an enchanted world of mystery, valour, romance and redemption. “So did you ever work out Dramble’s riddle?” Elly shook her head. “No, even to this day it puzzles me!” “How does it go again?” “Out of your heart, the tears I keep and when I am no longer, your knowledge is complete,” Elly recited verbatim. “I think I just solved it.” “Where?!”

  • ISBN: 9781310478543
  • Author: Jack Dey
  • Published: 2015-12-03 10:05:19
  • Words: 84994
The Valley of Flowers The Valley of Flowers