No Charge for Truth…or Dinner

It took me a week to leave my room. I didn’t go to school. I ignored my mother’s pestering to talk. I felt bad about that, knowing that she was grieving too. But somehow, I justified my unkind behavior to her. I knew she’d seen the rays take others—far more than I had ever seen. I told myself she was an adult and that adults didn’t need to grieve like teens did. I told myself adults were less caring and immune to the pain. I didn’t believe my justifications. But I used them to push her away anyway.

However, my own conscience only allowed me a week to be a pain-in-the-behind. On the eighth day, I finally took a shower, put on some clean clothes, and brought out all the dirty dishes from my room that had collected from my mother bringing me meals. What a rotten daughter I had been.

I found my mother on the couch watching a chick flick. I opened my mouth to tease her but stopped. From the side I could tell she wasn’t watching the TV at all. She was staring, blankly, at the wall. I slowly sat down next to her and put my hand on her leg.

“Mom.” I said.

Mother closed her eyes.

“Mom, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Mom swallowed. “Jack came to see you. He said he’d promised you two would talk.”

I vaguely remembered Jack promising me we’d talk later before walking me home, but at the time I thought he was only making polite conversation. It never occurred to me that he would visit and make good on his word. That wouldn’t be normal for a Peach to do without the promise of money.

“Did you talk to him?” I asked.

Mother nodded. “Nice man, that Jack.”

Mom finally opened her eyes and looked at me. We stared at each other for a moment. Then, she grabbed me into a hug.

“I’m sorry I’ve been so terrible this week. I just…” I began.

“Don’t talk, Fern. Don’t apologize.”

“But I ignored you and didn’t help and you were hurting too…”

“Fern.” Mom said sternly.

I closed my mouth. Mom leaned back and held me by the shoulders. “Tomorrow it’s back to school.” She said. I nodded. “Now, get a snack and then go clean your room. Jack said he and his wife are bringing dinner over this evening. We’ve got to get this place picked up.”

I looked at my Mom pensively. “Maybe he’s being nice to recruit us to his chantry. Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen that. Wants to save our soul, or something…”

Mom shrugged. “His wife has a reputation for good cooking. Recruiting or not, I’m eating whatever they bring over.” Then, she sort of smiled.

I sort of smiled back. Neither of us could give too much emotion to the humor, but we gave what we could. After another quick embrace, I went and cleaned up my room.

Jack’s wife, Dora, was all roses and sugar. She had dark auburn hair, warm golden-brown eyes, beautiful brown skin, and let’s face it, a huge dose of genuine soul. She didn’t pretend to know our pain. She didn’t smile too much. She brought in food and got right to serving it out. There was no pretense or shallow chatter. She didn’t talk too much or try to force conversation. We were all completely at ease. Jack too. Therefore, by default, Mother and I talked a ton more than we thought we wanted to. Thoughts and feelings flowed from our mouths like water over a waterfall.

When the subject of Joy came up, Dora didn’t tell us not to talk about her. She didn’t look awkward or worried that mentioning her would hurt our feelings. She was somehow able to take complete happiness in our memories and to feel appropriate sorrow when we tearfully talked about how small and little she was when she was taken. Jack said very little and like a good man let his wife’s cooking do all the comforting. I couldn’t help wonder where these people had come from. They were what everyone should be—in my opinion—and what no one truly was. I could hardly believe they were real.

As dinner came to a close, Dora cleared the table and began to clean up and Mom naturally joined her. They fell into conversation leaving Jack and I sitting alone at the table.

“Care to go have a seat on the front stoop?” Jack asked.

“The promised conversation.” I said.

“I keep my promises,” Jack said, “at least all the ones I remember.”

I smiled and it came a great deal easier than I would have thought.

Without a word, Jack stood and I went, of my own accord, with him out to the front porch steps and we sat down. Since I’d first met and talked with Jack on his porch steps it was easy to restart our conversation on my porch steps. The location provided the right ingredients for a deep conversation: home—a place of safety only a few steps and a door away, freedom—the ability to run away simply by charging out into the night, and a feeling of stability—cool, concrete steps that seemed like ancient rock that had lived, survived, and was still here.

“There are three different kinds of death rays.” Jack began. “But you’ll know all about that. Should I explain anyway?”

I nodded. “I’ve never been to your chantry. You might as well give me your rundown of religious philosophy.”

Jack tilted his head and kept on. “Everyone believes, and we preachers have been taught, that the white ray takes the parting soul to the highest Utopia. The golden ray takes the parting soul to the second highest Utopia. The silver then would take its victims to the third Utopia.”

I raised my hand slightly, and Jack nodded for me to go ahead. “Sorry to interrupt so quickly, but I’ve always wondered what the word utopia means. Can you tell me?”

Jack swallowed. “It is a term we use rather loosely, especially in these days of hundreds of chantries and religions; but I believe it means a heaven of sorts, or a place that runs in some kind of perfect order. It’s supposed to be better than here. People live forever, there, and live happily.”

“If it means there is perfect order, why are there three of them? Isn’t one enough?”

Jack scratched his chin. Then, he looked at me and asked, “Are the things that make you happy the same things that make your Mom, or all your friends happy?”

My first instinct was to say yes, but then as I thought about it, I wasn’t sure. “Well, my friend, Manny, he would play video games all day every day for eternity if he could. He doesn’t want to have to think, if he can manage it. My friend Zoe, she’s not as family oriented as I am, but I think that’s because her dad was taken by a silver ray years ago, right after he’d gotten drunk and beaten her and her mother to near-death. Right after leaving them unconscious, he stumbled several miles through the Learen and out onto the highway and got run over by a semi-truck. She thinks family is great but she believes being alone and free is preferable. Less chance for pain.”

Jack nodded. “A lot of people don’t like to hear it, but goodness comes in many levels. Many people can be good in many ways, but not all of us are good in the same ways, and not all of us want to be good in the ways other people are good. Does that make sense?”

I shrugged. “I think I see what you’re getting at. So that’s why there’s more than one Utopia? Each one is suited to the types of goodness people want and what will make them truly happy?”

“Well, it’s much more complicated than that and also in many ways far too simple. But that basic explanation works fine for me.” Jack said.

I was still a bit confused, though. “So, when the chantries preach certain commands and actions taking you to one Utopia or the other, they are what, like an initial filtering process?”

Jack arched a brow and half-chuckled. “I suppose you could think of it that way… In fact, that may be one of the best summations of the chantries’ intent that I’ve heard. You’ve clearly given this a lot of thought. I think we try to encourage people to live so that the white pillar will take them, but we preach about the others so that people at least have an idea what other places death can carry them. It’s about happiness. But each person has to decide what that happiness is for themselves.”

“I guess now I’ll have to relearn what I thought I knew but have mostly forgotten about the behaviors for each of the three Utopias.”

“I’d be happy to teach you.” Jack said.

I smiled. “So, this is a veiled attempt to get me and my mother to attend your chantry.”

Jack looked taken aback. “That’s what you thought this evening was? Solicitation?”

I squirmed a little and looked away. “Well, isn’t it? Not that you and your wife aren’t nice and all. You’re like the best Peaches I’ve ever met.”

Jack shook his head. “Fern, I’m not trying to get you and your mom to attend my chantry. I’d be more than happy to talk to you, anytime you want, about anything. No donations or contributions to the chantry wanted or required. My only motivation is to help you. You’ve stirred up a lot of interest over the years. I consider you a searcher and a spiritual equal.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Me? A spiritual equal to a Peach? Who was this guy?

Jack smiled at last, making me feel at ease again. “Best if we do it at your house or mine. But, if we do it at my house you’ll likely get to benefit from Dora’s cooking.”

 

***

 

“You’ve got private lessons with a Peach?” Manny snorted. He turned away from me and crossed his arms.

I punched him in his oversized left tricep. Aside from video games, the other ten-percent of his life was spent at a weight set. I never understood his obsession with weight-lifting since he only needed his hands to play video games. But, then again, there were a lot of things about Manny I’d yet to puzzle out.

“Well…yah!” I said. “Wouldn’t you have appreciated some answers after you lost your mother, two years ago?”

“Hey, now. No need to get snippy and personal. But you do realize that all the three of us stand for is exactly everything the Peaches try ruin or hide. They only want our money. They keep people hanging with a little information here and there to continue to get revenue. That’s how they keep running. And now you want to pay a Peach for one-on-one manipulation?” Manny said. “I can’t believe you’d do that!”

“I told you. It’s no charge. And finding the truth behind the rays requires a full investigation. Talking to one of the Peaches without having to donate is something I couldn’t pass up.” I said. When he didn’t respond I gave him a demanding look. “Could you?”

We called the preachers Peaches after several visits to some of their chantries. It took money to attend and at the time none of us were old enough to have a real job. So, we offered to pick peaches from a local orchard and sell them if we could keep thirty-percent of the profit. That thirty percent went to pay for chantry attendance. Then, as we kept investigating, we had to constantly use the word ‘preach’ or ‘preachers’ and pretty soon we were simply calling them Peaches. It worked out well because it was easier to drop the ‘r’ and call the religious leaders the very fruit we sold to listen to them. It carried the derogatory vibe we ascribed to them.

“Just wait ‘til Zoe finds out. She’s going to be pissed.” Manny said as he eyed me through the long front locks of his blond hair. The side and back of his head were shaved short, but the top and front hair hung over his forehead and into his eyes.

I shrugged. “I know she’ll be upset, but Jack seems sincere.”

“Jack? Jack? You’re calling the Peach by name?”

I clenched my jaw. Manny was being his normal overbearing, annoying self. He was determined to make me apologize for doing something he and Zoe and I had all wanted and tried to do for years. I wasn’t going to put up with it. I turned and stomped away. But, before I could get far, Manny grabbed me from behind and held me in sort of a bear hug. After I stopped struggling, he turned me to face him.

“I’m sorry, Fern. I…I do understand. It’s only that we’ve learned not to trust the Peaches. They set themselves up, you know, to get attention and praise. The more followers the more money they rake in. You’ve seen their ridiculous mansions. It’s hard to believe one of them is really interested in helping us learn something real. And for one to promise you information for free? Surely you can see why I’m skeptical.”

I nodded and tipped my head. “I was so shocked when Jack said he’d talk to me pro bono. I mean, I’m actually supposed to go over there tonight. You want to come?” I asked.

Manny’s eyes went wide. “Heck no! This is your thing. This Peach doesn’t know me and doesn’t care. I don’t want any part of him. But you have to promise to share what you learn.”

I met Manny’s gaze with intent and nodded. “Of course. We’re a team. Anything I learn that will help us figure out how to fulfill our plan, you know I’ll share it. Why else would I be doing this? It’s for all of us—and all the others out there with the same questions as us.”

Manny turned up one side of his mouth and gave me a look that screamed, I’m tolerating this dumb idea you have…for now. “I’ll tell Zoe.” He said at last. “I’ll keep her calm. But tomorrow we’ll all meet after school and you have to give us the low down on Jack’s BS from tonight. If you get something good, then we’ll support you whole-heartedly moving forward. Anything for the plan, right?. If it seems like he’s playing games… Well, you know we won’t let you get taken in on some recruiting scam.”

I nodded. “Deal.”

Read from the beginning!

A Search for Utopia – Prologue: Letter of Farewell

Prologue: Letter of Farewell 2nd day of Helix 1000 Jack, I never thought suicide was something I’d ever consider. You probably won’t even believe this letter. You’ll go look for me. I know you will. After all, you really taught me everything I know about life and religion and so you know me better...

A Search for Utopia – 1: Joy and the Peach

Joy and the Peach  I’d seen it before—a narrow column of blinding silver light, way off in the distance. Usually it was so far from me physically that it was distant emotionally too. Sometimes the light was more golden, or white. But it was silver that I saw most: a cold, metallic vacuum sucking...

A Search for Utopia – 3: Bank Deposit…and a Plan

Bank Deposit…and a Plan I felt a sense of apprehension as I walked to Jack and Dora’s house. I took the path through the Learen Forest on purpose. Retracing my steps from the day Joy died brought all my questions back afresh and reminded me why I was doing this. I was going to get answers, one way...

A Search for Utopia – 4: Brains and Brawn

Brains and Brawn Manny and Zoe had both recently turned sixteen which was why they could work. I had a little bit of time yet. But, when I did turn sixteen, I was going to get a job, too, to help out my Mom. She hadn’t had help supporting our family since Dad was taken by a golden ray right after...

A Search for Utopia – 5: Jack’s Sermon on Light and Death

Jack’s Sermon on Light and Death My mom had a car, but she could barely afford the gas for going to and from work. If I took it, not only would she freak wondering where I had gone, but I would use up the gas she needed. She would have to find another way to work, too; because we couldn’t afford...

A Search for Utopia – 6: A Little Silver and Gold

A Little Silver and Gold Manny was not shocked at my declaration, but he knew that Zoe and I knew that he was the one to do it. If I said we had to steal a car, he would be the one to take the risk—not us. Manny wasn’t only skilled at video games and weight-lifting; he was a loner with a random...

A Search for Utopia – 7: Light-Filled Dinner

Light-filled Dinner For the first time, in a while, I wished I had a job. Something to keep my mind off two horrific upcoming events. First, was dinner with Jack and Dora, where I was sure my resolve to steal a car and break into a Peach school would be tested to its limits; and…oh yes, stealing a...

A Search for Utopia – 8: Betrayal on the 51st

Betrayal on the 51st I sat on my bed, ruminating over the pleasant dinner. I hadn’t laughed that much in as long as I could remember. Now, it was late. But I couldn’t go to sleep yet. I was in my pajamas: an old pair of grey sweatpants that had a growing hole in the inner seam of my right thigh,...

A Search for Utopia – 9: A Peachy Tour

A Peachy Tour I don’t know what I expected a Peach School to look like, but 413 Bilton Avenue was not anywhere near it. It was palatial, to say the least. And it looked as if it was a relic from another time and place. It looked to be made of marble, from top to bottom—and perhaps cement, but not...

A Search for Utopia: 10 – Four-dimensional Disillusionment

Four-dimensional Disillusionment Zoe’s freckles faded in the red and blue flickering light of the torches. I knew she hated her freckles. Even though she had dark brown skin and black curls—from her mother’s genes—those freckles were a sign of the father she wanted to forget. He’d had red hair,...

A Search for Utopia: 11 – Overlapping Realities

Overlapping Realities The table in the room was full of objects and books. I ran my hand over several statues of angels holding crystal spheres, thick stone carvings of moons, stars, and suns that looked like extra thick coasters for a coffee table, silky white cloths with understated ivory...

A Search for Utopia – 12: Table Talk

Table Talk I sat at Jack and Dora’s kitchen table. The glass of milk in front of me was only half full. I could see where the film of the milk still clung to the sides, hinting that more milk had been in it a few minutes ago. I stared at the milk remaining. My stomach was as numb as my heart. I...

A Search for Utopia – 13: A Positive Spin

A Positive Spin “Chase the rays?” Jack asked, though rather more calmly than I expected. He fixed me with an interested gaze that left me feeling like perhaps I hadn’t really thought my idea through. I swallowed. This was it. “Ever since I was old enough to understand the rays… No, that’s not...

A Search for Utopia – 14: Death Becomes Real

Death Becomes Real Five days. I had five days until I sent my best friends to another dimension, or alternate reality, or an…afterlife. Five days until I finally got all the answers I’d been wanting for years. Five days was too long, as well as altogether far too short. I sat up in bed on the...

A Search for Utopia – 15: Hot, Cold, and Lukewarm

Hot, Cold, and Lukewarm “I think we have no way of knowing what it all means,” Jack said to Zoe and I, as we drove back from the Peach School. Harold had wanted to come, since he couldn’t stay at the school any longer. But Jack had forbidden him from joining us, calling us, or meddling. Harold had...

A Search for Utopia: 16 – A Stoney Perspective

A Stoney Perspective Three days. Three days until the New Helix rays were supposed to come. I sat on a vast hilltop on the other side of town from the Learen forest. It rose out of the landscape uniquely, giving a beautiful view of Sharanville—my town—and a distant glimpse of rolling hills, small...

A Search for Utopia: 17 – New Helix Rays

New Helix Rays I woke up from a dead sleep. I felt alert, and anxious. The morning was bright and clear, yet quiet, matching my mood. I dressed quickly, brushed my teeth, tucked my hair into a ponytail and gathered up the bag with the artifacts and a backpack full of snacks and water. I glanced at...

A Search for Utopia – 18: An Unexpected Sacrifice

An Unexpected Sacrifice I woke up, just like the morning before, full of quiet anticipation. I had puzzled it out in the night while remembering my experience with Zoe in the secret grove. I remembered yesterday morning when we’d sent Harold, possibly, to the silver utopia. I remembered the day...

A Search for Utopia – 19: A Pillar of Light

A Pillar of Light People use the word “surprise” far too much to apply to a general sense of unexpectedness or awe. We surprise people with parties and presents. We show up unexpectedly at an event. But, never in my life had I truly understood the full meaning of the word “surprise” until Jack...

A Search for Utopia – 20: A Place Outside Death

A Place Outside of Death At first, I thought I couldn’t feel my body. Then, as the light around me persisted I noticed that instead, it was only that there had been a severe drop in the painful prickling I had felt when I stepped into the ray. My mind began to reach out—to feel. I could feel my...

The Adustum Diaries

A faithful record of the quest of Rhed Viridis

Copy Cat Earth – 17: Friends at Last

Chapter 17: Friends at Last By this time, I was tired of alter-Earthling deception and traps. I...

Copy Cat Earth – 16: Universe in Trouble

Chapter 16: Universe in Trouble If someone had told me only a few days ago that fighting with...

Copy Cat Earth – 15: Mom Bait

Chapter 15: Mom Bait It took me a few tries to get the right combination of buttons for traveling...

Copy Cat Earth – 14: It’s Bigger Than Us

Chapter 14: It’s Bigger than Us It took me only a few minutes to recover from my devastation. I...

Copy Cat Earth – 13: Crying is a Good Thing

Chapter 13: Crying is a Good Thing I’m certain Japanese is a great language. But when those were...

Copy Cat Earth – 12: BOOM! BOOM! KAPOW! BOOM!

Chapter 12: BOOM! BOOM! KAPOW! BOOM! Ginger wiped her eyes with a Kleenex. She’d cried too many...

Copy Cat Earth – 11: How did it Come to This?

Chapter 11: How Did it Come to this? I don’t know how many times—especially when Daisy had stuck...

Copy Cat EArth – 10: Water 3.0

Chapter 10: Water 3.0 Vander-Kelp did not send me back to my ship right away. He tried to walk...

Copy cat Earth – 9: Blue Smoke

Chapter 9: Blue Smoke “Tell us what the Glugenal suit does.” Betty and George demanded over the...

Copy Cat Earth – 8: The Deceivers

Chapter 8: The Deceivers Daisy was held in the grey interrogation room for hours. She was certain...
Angela Tempest
  • KentsteadMedia
  • Print Friendly

Angela Tempest

Fiction Author

Hi! My name is Angela Tempest. I write fiction that entertains, takes you to another world, and fills your life with truth. I hope you’re enjoying A Search for Utopia. If you love it, there’s more. Check out my author page to read my other stories!