“Just come back to us, Chess.” Ileana said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “We still need you.”
“Not a chance of anything else.” He dared to give her a light kiss on her forehead. “Just take care.” He looked over at Sariel, but she was steadfastly ignoring him, making her usual preparations in the shelter where the girls planned to spend the next few days alone.
By the evening of the second day out, they made it to the top of a large hill. “We’ll be able to see a lot of the area from up here,” Gryff said, peering over the hill where it dropped off steeply, just a few meters beyond them. “In the morning.” Then he turned away and began pulling the tent from his backpack.
Chess stood at the edge of the cliff for a few minutes, gazing off into the dim light. There was definitely a massive valley out there, he observed, feeling hopeful. He wondered if he would see any useful landmarks. He began gathering firewood, and they settled in for the night.
Chess had already told Gryff about his family back in civ, although he did not mention that they were now living off a stipend as a result of his “death” with the military. He tried not to think too much about them, these days: it would drive him crazy with worry. His sister was more than capable, he knew. And, although it seemed impossible now, he fervently hoped that he would be able to see them again, someday.
“You think you’ll ever go back to your family?” he asked Gryff.
“To visit, yeah, I will,” Gryff answered, rubbing his hands over the wind-tossed fire. It was colder up on the hill than they had expected. “But not to stay. I think there’s too much out here. You know: so much to learn and experience. Stuff they’ll never know. They are stuck in their own world.”
“I guess most people are,” Chess murmured.
Gryff straightened and looked up at the sky, where the stars had just begun to appear. “For instance,” he said, his expression suddenly tense, “there was this one guy who lived in town with us… had been there for years. One day, people find out -- I don’t know how, if he said something or what -- they find out he’s gay.” Gryff shook his head. “Some of the men beat the crap out of him. People ran and put a stop to it… but the council asked the guy to leave. You know, to keep the peace.”
“Huh,” Chess said. He was not sure how to respond. He had seen some pretty bad things since leaving civ. But, in his experience, civ had some pretty intolerant policies, too: like sending unemployed people to shelter. And the thought made him remember those poor kids, back at Razor’s compound.
Gryff shook his head again, and turned toward Chess. “I mean, yeah, that was a while ago. I think they have lightened up some since then… but I wouldn’t want to be the one to test how they feel about it now. Know what I mean?”
As he spoke, Gryff stared at Chess fiercely, making him feel kind of uncomfortable. Chess shifted on the rocky ground. “Uh, yeah, I guess not,” he agreed, still distracted by thoughts of the kids.
In the morning, when the sun had burned away the mist, they looked over the cliff. Gryff had been right: it was a great vantage point. But what did it tell them? Chess thrust the map out in front of him, turning it first one way and then the other, until Gryff grabbed it from him impatiently.
“Look, there’s a line down there.” Gryff pointed off to the left. “Looks like a river.” He turned to retrieve binoculars from his pack and, to Chess’s surprise, handed them over without even taking a look first, himself.
Chess stared at the river, and then at the wrinkled map, as Gryff held it out. Finally, with his eyes burning from the strain, he recognized a curve of the river. “That’s here!” he pointed at the map excitedly. “Which would make us…way over here. And, Lodestar, maybe about there.”
Chess fished his mom’s compass from his pocket. “Okay,” he said. “We definitely know more than we did before.” They started to plan a route forward.
Continued next page...
Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be chaos. Before a brilliant person begins something great, they must look foolish to the crowd.
- the I Ching, also known as The Book of Changes
It’s likely that nearly every person who embarks on a large creative project holds onto some quote that is similar to the one above. This quote is apparently an interpretation of certain symbols found in the I Ching. (It may or may not be an accurate interpretation, but since I don’t think many people alive today have personal cultural knowledge of ideograms and the original methods of divination on which the I Ching is said to be based... and since the I Ching has been interpreted, re-interpreted, re-translated, etc., well, I’m just going to run with this idea.)
Funny enough, the I Ching is also known as The Book of Changes. Here again is the idea that only by taking a risk can something worthwhile be accomplished. One has only to read the memoirs of Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, Alan Turing and others who, in years past, were brave enough to reveal - or at least not to deny - that they were gay to understand the difficulties that taking chances can bring. But standing here now in the twenty-teens, we recognize how much our society has progressed and can be grateful to those who took a chance.
I’m proud to be living in the first state where same-sex marriage was legalized, but I recognize that this is still a struggle for freedom and equality that will be waged for many years in many different parts of the country and the world. If not, then efforts like writer Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project would not be so important. And if not for continuous change and progression, the sentiment “it gets better” would not be nearly as true.
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