Later, Chess made his way back toward the complex of buildings, with Sariel beside him. For a few minutes, he was silent, until they had almost reached the overgrown bushes under the walkway that Woolf’s men guarded. There, he stopped and turned to her. She still looked lovely, with her long, silky hair tied up at the top of her head, but her dark eyes seemed tired as she waited for him to speak.
“So,” he said hesitantly, “so, you cured that little boy. But I saw what you did. At least I think I saw.” He rubbed the side of his face. His headache had grown so painful that he was seeing red spots at the edges of his vision. “So, are you for real… or are you a fraud?”
She gave him an impatient shrug and turned her head away. “What is this word: frod?”
Chess sighed. “You know the word intriguing, but not fraud?”
She scowled at him, a tiny line appearing in the skin between her delicate eyebrows. “My grandfather was a storyteller. He taught me many words, but in my village there was no fraud.”
“Sounds like a great place,” Chess muttered. His belly felt even more painful now, making it harder to move forward. “A fraud is someone who tricks people, pretends to be something that he’s not. You’re making those people believe that you can really heal.”
She arched one eyebrow. “Can’t I?”
He faltered, unsure. The swelling in the little boy’s arm had completely gone away. By the time they left the broken-down building, the boy was running along with the other children, calling for Sariel to bring Chess with her the next time she returned.
“And can you heal me?” Chess asked softly, brushing his hand just above the bruise on his face.
Sariel stepped near to him. “And here?” she asked, reaching out to touch his abdomen. Her fingers were light on the bruised flesh, but he flinched anyway. “For carrying the water: yes, I will. But there was more that you did.” She moved in very close and he again caught the scent of her perfume, which had faded over the time at the shelter. She then trailed her fingers down the fabric of his shirt and ran them along the inside waistband of his jeans. He pulled away from her with a gasp of shock.
She looked up at him with wide eyes. “But you will return there with me? You will help me again?” she asked innocently.
“Uh…” He backed away, his mind spinning. After her touch, he was breathing hard, and there were shooting pains in his belly because he had twisted away from her so abruptly. “Uh, if I do…” He held out his arms, warding her off. “If I do help… well, it won’t be because you pay me for it,” he snapped in frustration. “Anyway, I just told a dumb story to some kids.” He swallowed hard and turned away from her. Was he really refusing her? He felt stunned disbelief at the idea. But this was just too pathetic, he told himself, trying to steel his resolve. In his consternation, he blurted out, “I know what business you’re in here, and I don’t want to be part of the, uh, commerce.”
When he turned back to Sariel, he saw that she now looked amused. “And yet, you help Razor with all of his businesses, using those computers… and you eat his food,” she chaffed at him. “And today you help to steal his food… and you ogle his princess. Now, who is the fraud?”
Chess drew in his breath sharply. Back there, in the clearing, he had felt that she was reading truth into his story… but how? “That was just a story,” he protested, feeling alarmed.
“All stories are just stories,” Sariel answered cryptically. Then she smiled, looking almost apologetic. “You helped me, and I am grateful. So, then, what do you want, strange boy?”
Chess thought about all those people in the dark shelter behind them, barely scraping out a miserable existence. And he thought about this ethereal woman standing before him, who was trying, against all odds and probable dangers, to help them. And he remembered the people who had fled from the village that his patrol had destroyed, and wondered what, if any, shelter they had found since then. And the girl and the small child, who had not made it… And then his thoughts turned to his own family, whom he no longer dared to contact and would probably never see again. He turned away from her, overwhelmed, his eyes filling with the pressure of tears, and murmured, “I want to die.”
Continued next page...
… the young lady laughed and was rather at a loss for an answer—she stood and gazed about her, and thought of a cynical remark that had been made to her, that she was standing upon the brink of the pit of hell and throwing in snowballs to lower the temperature.
-The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Near the beginning of The Evolution of God, the author makes a statement that I truly like and seems pertinent to my story:
Primordial religion consisted partly of people telling each other stories in an attempt to explain why good and bad things happen, to predict their happening, and if possible to intervene, thus raising the ratio of good to bad.
However, my affinity for this idea might be because the first actual novel (not “young adult” book) that I ever read was Watership Down, by Richard Adams, in which the protagonists tell mythic stories to each other about their trickster-god/hero. The stories are always relevant to their predicaments at the time.
I read Watership Down in seventh grade… but that was a different era, I guess. Nowadays, it seems that most adults who read are reading books written for the young adult reading level -- you know, like Harry Potter (which I have to admit was a good series), Hunger Games, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Gray (yes, that’s bitter sarcasm you hear). Okay, to be perfectly truthful: the first four non-young adult novels that I read were Watership Down, To Kill a Mockingbird, Wuthering Heights, and Ghost Story by Peter Straub. And I’m sure that combination set me up for all the weirdness of the rest of my life…)
But Watership Down probably influenced me more than any other novel. It’s a story of a journey. It has a good and humble leader as a hero. And yet, Hazel definitely has his Captain Kirk moments:
A spirit of happy mischief entered into Hazel… He was confident and ready for adventure. But what adventure?
(But I am definitely getting off my intended subject!)
“If we ever meet again, Hazel-rah,” said Dandelion, as he took cover in the grass verge, “we ought to have the makings of the best story ever.”
“And you’ll be the chap to tell it,” said Hazel.
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