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 I was born. Joy, was of course, an accidental baby. Mom had been lonely and gave into the advances of a traveling salesman. She had pictures of him and her. He had visited a lot over the years. He was, even to me, extremely good-looking. I’d even met him twice. But, true to his salesman nature, he was a con-man more than a family man. But I’m glad Mom had Joy, even if we only got to keep her for a little while. She was the best baby. Not a crier like me. She was all smiles and simply loved being with us.

These thoughts about Joy, my dead father, and the stinky-abandoning salesman occupied my mind until Manny and Zoe finally showed up. I was waiting for them behind the local Beelsson Library. We had found an interesting hideaway in the nook of some old stone steps where there was a hidden storage door that led into a cellar full of damp cardboard boxes and decaying books.

Manny bounced in looking, for all intents and purposes, as excited as I’d ever seen him. That means he had a half smile on his face and didn’t look like he expected me to waste his time. Zoe came bounding in behind him making mock-Manny-grumpy faces behind his back. She was a smart-alec and a pain-in-the-neck, but her sense of humor kept our team from thinking too hard about why we were in on this crazy plan together in the first place. None of us were strangers to death, or the rays.

“So,” Manny said, “where’s the closest Peach school, anyhow?”

“I looked them up. Strangely, the library has a listing of them and it’s not in the adults-only section.”

“I guess they want there to be information for young kids like us who want to grow up and be Peaches.” Zoe said, rolling her eyes.

“So, where is it?” Manny pressed, flexing a bicep.

“Well, it’s in Saxton, nearly two-hundred and fifty miles from here.”

Both Manny and Zoe deflated.

“But we don’t have access to a vehicle.” Zoe said.

“I know, I know, but we’ll find a way past that. Beyond the distance, the school is open all day and they even offer tours. If we can get there early in the day, we can take the tour which will give us the chance to look around—legally—and then we can go back later, sneak in before they close, and then use the nighttime to fish around for what we want.”

“Seems like a good plan.” Manny said. “I suspect they don’t worry about people trying to steal from the schools.”

“Who would? It’s nuts.” Zoe said. “It’s the brainwashed mindset the world has. Everyone knows you pay for religion. It’s not anything more than another business. I think once we get in it’s probably smooth sailing from there. But we’ve got to find transportation.”

“The bus takes all day and we can’t afford to miss a lot of work.” Manny said.

“True,” I nodded. “So, maybe a night bus?”

“Let’s just steal a stupid car.” Zoe interjected. “It’s not like we haven’t done it before.”

I sighed. “Yes, but we almost got caught. It was…too close. Remember?” I looked to Manny for agreement, but I didn’t get it.

“How else are we going to get wheels, Fern?” he said.

“I’ll figure that out. Let’s meet again in a few days.” I said.

Manny and Zoe agreed and then we all headed home.

I didn’t have to put the burden of all the recon on myself. But I always had; and Manny and Zoe had always let me. Deep down I knew it was because even though we all wanted answers to the rays, the sheer scope and work involved was too frightening to comprehend. Seriously, who would ever go as far as we were planning to go to learn the truth? I didn’t try to comprehend it, and that’s what saved me. There was simply no need. It was never a matter of if for me. I was determined, before I lost Joy, to go through with this plan, no matter the work or the cost. After losing Joy, the urgency had only increased. And, I knew if I did the leg work, Manny and Zoe were happy to be accomplices. I was the brains. They were the brawn. Our roles were quite clear.

***

There was a part of me that knew I was planning to manipulate Jack. He was offering free information, after all. But I pushed that part of me deep. I couldn’t worry about his feelings. I had only recently met him, and even though he was the most wonderful person I had ever met, I couldn’t let him interfere with my plans. Well, at least I was going to try not to.

“So, tell me more about the schools, Jack,” I said while trying to figure out how to steal a car legally in the back of my mind. “Where do they keep all the books, videos and things? When you’re studying to be a Peach, do they give you access to some secret library?” I asked as innocently as I could.

“That’s two questions in one, Fern. You want to waste two on some old schools?” Jack replied.

I nodded. “It’s like the secret place, isn’t it? I would like to know more about the rays, but I’m saving that question for last.”

Jack looked at me strangely. A sense of worry welled up in my chest. I wondered if he could see through me. He seemed to have all sorts of intuition and I hoped it didn’t spread into mind reading powers.

“Well,” Jack began, “the school I went to had several libraries. My school sorted them by Utopia: white, gold, and silver. Though some reference books talk about all the Utopias, most focus on one of the three. They weren’t hidden or secret. We had access to anything. It was the sheer volume that made it impossible to read and study it all.”

“So, how did you decide what to read?”

Jack smirked. “The professors assigned recommended texts. But I tended to find time to read wider selections. However, I didn’t find anything outside the recommended texts that shined more light on the rays than what my professors had assigned.”

It was hard to hide my disappointment. “So, no secret information they were holding back?”

Jack sighed. “I know you like to think the worst of the preachers and the schools, Fern, but I think for the most part the schools want to give their students as much information as possible. It is their responsibility to teach the public, after all. Even if they do charge.”

I looked down, feeling a bit sheepish. “Tell me about the rays, Jack. Who is in charge of them? I mean, have they always existed? Ugh, I just can’t get my thoughts all into one question.”

I didn’t know that I was crying. Evidently, tears were running down my cheeks because Jack handed me his handkerchief. I wiped them away and tried to gain conscious control. Where did those tears come from?!

“Fern, I can see you are upset. I don’t have all the answers. But I can tell you what I think. My opinion is all I can share with you on this topic.”

Jack’s offer was so generous. He offered information so freely. Suddenly, looking up at his genuine face, I didn’t want to know anymore. Not yet. I couldn’t go through with stealing from the school if I learned something from Jack that was as beautiful as what he taught me about selflessness. Then, I realized why people might not stick around for his free preaching. It pricked the soul. It inspired real change—and I wasn’t ready to change yet. How could I and still go through with our plan.

“No, Jack. Actually, I think I’ve heard enough today.” The tears began to flow anew, but they were because of my own fear—and because I didn’t want to take advantage of Jack. “I understand now what you said about religious philosophizing in small doses. I need to think about what you’ve told me…not only from today, but from last time too. I have a lot of cooking to do.”

Jack nodded. “Wise and mature beyond your years.”

My stomach sickened. No, I thought, screwed up and dishonest beyond my years.

I tried to smile, but my mind was in a jumble. I stood up from Jack’s front stoop and walked away as fast as I could without actually looking like I was trying to get away. I didn’t want Jack to know I needed to get as far from him as possible. I was afraid of him, of what he would tell me next. There were no easy conversations with him. He was all truth and feeling and goodness. If I wasn’t careful, he was going to talk me out of committing suicide without even knowing what he was doing. I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t.

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Angela Tempest
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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!