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 urban neighborhoods, a tiny city center, farms, and roads leading out of town toward Saxton, and other places I’d never been. I could barely see the roof of the three-story, brick bank from where I sat. It made me think of Manny, homebound, waiting for trial.

Three days from now, this hilltop was supposed to shine with an array of colored rays, signaling the beginning of a new year—a new set of 365 days. I’d watched those rays every year since I was little. After losing my father, I’d watched the New Helix rays with a combination of awe, sorrow, and confusion. I had wondered how something so beautiful could be so cruel. Why had something so powerful made my life so horrific?

I’d come to hate the rays over the last several years—despite their beauty. I had hated the rays this year more than ever, especially after they took Joy. When they’d taken Mom, I’d felt betrayed, again. But confusion had outweighed the betrayal. The Peach school going wonky, the appearance of the artifacts simultaneously with the disappearance of the rays; not to mention the dead bodies left behind—it had all left me strangely open inside. Because, I was beginning to realize the rays were not necessarily the enemy anymore. I wasn’t sure what they were, really. But for the first time in my adolescent journey, I wasn’t vengefully angry. I was broken, and ready for the truth. Except, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get that truth—not anymore.

As I sat on the hilltop, I was fervently praying the rays would show up. I didn’t know what I’d do if they didn’t. For the first time in my life, I needed the rays. I needed them to be regular, to show up. I needed them to do what they’d always done. I could never have predicted, before visiting the Peach school, that within a few weeks I would not only not hate the rays, I would need them.

“Please come… please come… please come. I don’t know what I’ll do now, if you don’t come. This can’t be the end of this journey. It can’t be. You’ve got to come. You’ve got to…do you understand me? You’ve got to!”

My voice echoed out into a gentle breeze and died. There was no one there to hear my prayer. It was just me.

From the top of that hill, I could also see a growing row of stones and wooden signs along the edge of the valley beneath me. The stones were big rocks, mostly. A few had actually been sculpted into small rough statues. The wooden signs were mostly rectangle. But a few had been cut into hearts, or circles. The stones and signs all had something terrible in common. The stones were roughly carved, and the wooden signs were painted, with names and descriptions. The names were of people who had died. The stones and signs marked dead bodies that had been buried.

With the disappearance of the rays, death had taken on a whole new horror. I had to admit, at least with the rays, the bodies and souls of those who died had at least went somewhere. There was a certainty, a reality I’d taken for granted, that there was something beyond this life. Death had not been “the end”. Now, for the bodies—and maybe the souls—of those who passed to stay here; to be buried and marked; well, that was something I couldn’t wrap my mind around. Jack couldn’t either. It was wrong in so many ways. Without rays, had they been lost forever?

“Please come…please come…we need you…” I mumbled again into the wind.

 

***

 

“I always thought that the utopias…the people that live there that control the rays…that they were godly, you know…invincible.” I said to Jack over dinner. “It was easier to hate them.”

Jack shrugged. His face communicating something between determination and uncertainty. Then, he nodded. “I have to admit, Fern. This has all been a bit unnerving. One of the recent deaths was the adult son of a woman from my congregation. She came to me for comfort. For the first time, in as long as I can remember, I didn’t know what to say to her. I felt…hopeless. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before.”

I stopped chewing a mouthful of chicken pot pie and examined Jack a little more closely. “Hopelessness is my job, Jack,” I said in an attempt to be encouraging. “You just tell them everything will get figured out.”

Jack poked at his own dinner and sighed. “I can’t do that, Fern. I can’t lie. If I can’t be honest about what I don’t know, how I can keep preaching? How can I remain…me?”

Dora, who had been listening quietly, pushed the basket of warm dinner rolls and butter toward Jack, trying to tempt him. Then, she looked at me. “Hope is never lost. Whoever sent the rays here to begin with sent us here too. You need to remember that. They’ll find a way to make things right. We’re here for a reason.”

“Too true, my dear. Too true.” Jack said, smiling warmly at Dora. He reached out a hand and touched hers. Then, sly slid the basket of dinner rolls closer to himself.

I nodded and smiled. But my mind was full of the square stone included with the artifacts. They have found a way, perhaps. I thought as I too grabbed a dinner roll and chewed. They’ve given me a way to catch the rays. But how do I catch rays that aren’t coming?

 

***

 

Two days. Two days until the expected New Helix rays came—or not. I sat in my little secret grove, holding the weighty, square stone in my left hand. In my right I held the pictograph instructions for catching the rays. It seemed to me, that if the picture was as simple and literal as possible, then all I had to do was focus the ray onto the stone. Then, it looked like the person who was to go would step into the ray. I still didn’t know exactly where we were supposed to set the oil lamp, but it seemed it had to be placed between the statue and the stone—if the picture was as simple and literal as it seemed.

“Can it be so simple?” I said to myself. “Hold the statue, light the oil lamp, focus the ray, and then…go?”

As with yesterday on the hilltop, there was no one to answer me. I spoke to a tiny grove of trees. I spoke to myself.

I had gone to school. I didn’t miss anymore, even though going felt like a waste of time and energy, a barrier to the purpose that now consumed my life. I had waited for Zoe to arrive. But our 3:00 p.m. appointment time had come and gone a long time ago. There was no direct sunlight in the grove anymore. It was shaded, and a bit warm. I set the stone down and used my hand to wipe away a few trickles of sweat from my left temple. I glanced at my wrist watch. It was 4:25 p.m.

I packed up the stone and the papers back into the loose pages and bound it with the leather. I cinched up the bag and stood up, hanging it carefully over my shoulder. Tears were threatening to escape my eyes and my neck and back were hot. I felt angry and frustrated. Where was Zoe? Had she changed her mind? With Manny housebound and Zoe a no show, was I on my own now? Who would help me travel to the white utopia? Had the Utopians given us a way to fix things, only for us to fail to fix them?

 

***

 

One day. That’s all I had left. The school bell couldn’t ring fast enough. The moment it began to clang fervently, I darted from my pre-calculus class, backpack already on my shoulders. In my haste to leave the building, I bumped into a few students in the hallway. I didn’t even look in their faces as I headed for the freedom of the double doors at the end of a long hallway.

I fixed my gaze on those doors, still battling with confusion about what to do about the rays in my aloneness, when the door to the Janitor’s closet opened. I dodged it. But no sooner had I darted around its out swinging edge than a strong arm grabbed me and pulled me inside, shutting the door with a thud.

“Whaaa…” I choked out as I came face-to-face with Zoe in the flickering florescent light of the closet, “…are you doing here?!”

“We’re still on for tomorrow, right?” Zoe asked, avoiding my question.

She fixed me with an intense stare as if to keep me from turning to look at who had grabbed me. But it didn’t work. I looked to my right, and to my surprise, standing, with one hand still firmly gripping the doorknob, was Harold.

“Harold!?” I exclaimed. I turned back to Zoe. “Is this where you’ve been? I waited for you yesterday. You never showed up!”

Zoe rolled her eyes and nonchalantly held her hands up, as if to calm me. “We need help, right? You need someone to send you to the white utopia, right?”

I opened my mouth to argue, but nothing came out. Zoe was right. That had been my dilemma. “But Jack was adamant,” I spurted out. “Harold was not supposed to get involved. He has ulterior motives.”

“I’d hardly call them ulterior motives,” Harold spoke with a bit of an edge. He looked very different without his silver silk robe and antique surroundings, but he was still dressed in a suit and black dress shoes. “Especially with dead bodies littering the outskirts of our towns, and the Preacher school almost totally disconnected from our planet. It gets more tourists now that it’s a flickering phenomenon than it ever did as a seminary…to be sure.”

I had never disliked Harold. But now that he had dragged me into a janitor’s closet and was getting involved despite Jack’s insistence, a sudden distrust welled up within me. “What’s in it for you, Harold? Who are you?”

“Oh, come on, Fern,” Zoe sighed. “Let’s not get into your paranoid lecture mode.”

 Zoe’s words hurt. I looked at her, and she shrugged, frowning. “Sorry, Fern, but it’s a mode you have. A part of your whole ‘I’m better than you’ attitude.”

“I had no idea you resented it so much,” I answered with a softer tone. “Or maybe it’s that you resent me? And if that’s the case, why are you here, anyway? You’ve acted like this isn’t a big deal to you; that you can just go on with your normal life. Now, all of the sudden, you’re worried about me and getting help?”

Zoe looked away and refused to meet my eyes. “I got Harold for Manny. Not you.”

“Manny? What…Oh, I see. You’re going to have Harold help you spring Manny.” I shook my head and looked away. I felt tears welling up in my eyes.

“I can’t leave Manny, Fern. You know that. I refuse.” Zoe said. She spoke with a firmness that was unlike her. I snuck a peek at her from the corner of my watery eyes. She had hands on her hips and she was breathing hard as if gearing up for a fight. “You were willing to leave him behind. That changed things with me, Fern.” She continued when I didn’t argue back. “That changed everything.”

I finally found the courage to reveal the tears flowing down my cheeks. “You think it wasn’t hard for me to come to that decision? I was willing to leave him behind because I cared about him, not the other way around.”

Zoe choked out a laugh. “No, you were willing to leave Manny behind to appease Jack, Fern. Jack is more important to you than Manny and I. And…that’s cool, ya know. I get it. Ever since he’s become the dad you always wanted, Manny and I have become a side show. But it’s cool, Fern. It’s cool. So, I’m doing what I want now. You don’t get to call all the shots.”

I was stunned. Then, in my mind, I looked back over the past several months and saw everything differently. Ever since the beginning, Zoe had admitting having a crush on Manny. Yet, somehow, Manny had never seemed to notice her that way. I remembered her disinterest on the rays before visiting the Peach school. But then, I remembered Manny being different, in some ways after the tour and their experiences before ending up in that dream sleep: he had agreed to go to the silver, for Zoe. He had protected her in there. Then, he had taken the fall for both of us, but I knew that Zoe saw that he had taken the fall just for her.

“Breaking Manny out, trying to keep him from what he’s chosen… It’s not going to make him like you more, Zoe. I don’t know what you think has changed, but come on…”

Zoe glared at me. “There you go again. Always thinking you know it all. I don’t know why I ever let Manny talk me into sticking with you.”

The shock hit me hard. I couldn’t even process what she was saying. “What are you saying? That you guys were never my friends?”

Zoe sighed, then rolled her eyes again. “We were. But you got really tiring, Fern. Manny told me it was worth it. He told me you would help us. Maybe you have. Maybe that’s what this is. But I wouldn’t have stuck around if it hadn’t been for him taking your side.”

Finally, I was speechless. Harold finally interrupted.

“This has been enlightening. But no matter the personal feelings the three of you have going on, this world is going to hell, and quickly. You’re going to have to put all this petty teenage stuff aside. We’ve got to figure out how to catch the rays by tomorrow.”

I turned away from Zoe, toward Harold. “We don’t even know if the New Helix rays will come. If the other rays aren’t coming, what’s to say the New Helix rays will? And if they don’t, what then?” Silence. “That’s right. Nothing. Nothing, Harold. Artifacts or not, if the rays don’t come, then there’s nothing we can do.”

Harold examined me with a furrowed brow. Then, he twisted the doorknob and open the door. “Perhaps it’s best if we exit the school. Yes?”

“Yah, get me out of here,” Zoe replied, storming past me through the now open door.

I followed Zoe reluctantly out of the double school doors. Harold seemed to have disappeared. But after a bit of walking, I glanced back and saw him keeping a discreet distance.

“I’m headed home,” I told Zoe’s back. She walked too fast for me to catch her up.

“I thought we were headed to the secret grove,” Zoe said. She had stopped, but still wasn’t looking at me.

“There’s nothing left to figure out.” I replied, evenly. “It’s like you said, right? Nothing left but to try it. The stone square is simply a stone square. We’ll point the ray at it. Whala. That’s it. See you tomorrow, then.”

Without waiting for Zoe to respond, I veered off to the left and down a road that would lead me close to the Learen and Jack’s secluded house and chantry. Jack’s house had always felt comfortable. But with the revelation that Zoe and Manny were not the friends that I’d thought, suddenly Jack’s house felt like home. It felt like a safe haven. It was a place I could laugh, cry, fight, argue, talk, and most importantly, be accepted for all that I was. Maybe I was a know-it-all. Maybe I was a goody-two-shoes. Maybe I was annoying…always wanting to keep the rules or minimally, to break them as little as possible. But that was me. And for the first time in my life, I understood that. I might improve a little with time, like Jack had. But I liked towing the line. I liked being on time. I hated disappointing those I cared about. I wanted to be good—as good as I could. I always had. Only, now I knew it—really knew it.

“You are like a stone, Fern,” Dora said when I gave in a bit and explained that Zoe wasn’t as close of a friend as I’d thought. She’d insisted that I spill my guts in order to get a fresh cranberry-orange scone. I’d given in with very little argument. “Stones weather with time and elements, but they don’t stop being what they were formed to be. You’re a stone. On the other hand,” she continued, her warm smile further illuminating her dark caramel-colored olive skin. “Your friends are more like clay. They have the stuff of stone in them, but they don’t yet know what they are, or who they want to be. And if you’re a stone and you lean on clay, it can’t support you. That’s why they’ve always leaned on you, stuck by you, despite their frustrations. You have something others don’t. They can lean on you. And it’s to their credit they did. But all relationships come to a point where those involved either become more like each other or less like each other. Those that become less like each other can’t continue. Those that become more like each other can’t be separated. They join more completely than we can see with our eyes. You’ve heard preachers talk about how we become ‘one’ with those of the utopia we go to. This is sort of what they mean. Eventually we become so much of what we are that we can’t be kept from others who are like us. We draw toward them without even realizing it.”

“And when you become so much like the people in one of the utopias, then the rays come naturally…they almost can’t be kept from taking you… Is that what you’re saying?” I asked.

Dora nodded. “That’s how I’ve always seen it. Some people call the rays death rays. But I’ve never seen them like that. To me they don’t come because we are ready to die, though they do come then as well. To me they’ve always come because of us. We make them come.”

“Then why have you and Jack never been taken? You guys are certainly stones too, right?” I asked, feeling a little less hurt by Zoe’s words.

“Someone’s got to hang around and help others figure out what kind of stones they are. You are like a diamond, Fern. And some day your friends will decide if they are as hard and white as diamonds, or if they are another gem with less hardness. But for now, they are still a good deal like clay.”

“I don’t know… Zoe was a little hard today.” I said, sulking.

“Perhaps, like I said, she is starting to become enough different that its uncomfortable for her to be around you. Aren’t you a little uncomfortable being around her and Manny?” Dora asked.

“I’ve never thought about it. But, now that you say it like that, I think I’ve always been a little uncomfortable around them. I’ve always been trying to fit in with them, and it just never stuck, you know. I’d try, but then inevitably my own ways would show. I would change my mind about going along with one their schemes, or try to find a way to turn it into something less illegal.” I laughed then. “I always felt their frustration with me. But now I can see that I was just as frustrated with them…for being who they were. I was always trying to get them to see things my way and to want to do things…well…the right way. Except for mom’s car…of course.”

“You’ve always been unlike them but trying to get them to follow your example. That’s a very white-ray-thing to do, Fern.” Dora smiled. “But the times has come, I think. After this whole ray experience passes…for good or ill…it doesn’t seem like you and Zoe will still be the kind of friends you once were. Perhaps not ever again.”

“It’s very sad.” I replied.

“Yes,” Dora said, her voice suddenly so careful, kind and soft, “it is. It’s devastating. Or perhaps something to sorrowful we can’t really put words to it.”

“I like your stony perspective, though.” I said. “The utopias and the rays have never made so much sense to me as they have today. It means mom became a diamond. It means Joy was perhaps always a diamond.”

Dora nodded. “Your mother was most certainly a diamond.”

 

***

 

It was late. I sat on my bed, examining all three statues: sun angel, moon angel, and star angel. Their figures were polished and smooth, almost silky to the touch. I set them down and fingered each of the square stones carved with matching sun, moon, and star. It was very clear that it was not white, gold, and silver after all. The rays came from the luster of the sun, the sunset shimmer of the moon as it rose and the sun disappeared, and the twinkling silvery light of the stars. I ran my fingers over the square stones and noticed a very tiny difference in the feel of them. The sun stone was smoother, less chipped, and full of swirls of white and blue color. The moon stone was whiter, yet the grains of the stone were larger and less compact; and it sparkled faintly. The star stone was a dark grey with streaks of white. All were hard stones. And yet, I could tell that they were different for a reason. The statues were far more similar—they were mostly a cast grey stone—yet now that I noticed the differences in the square stones, the statues began to look more dissimilar. There was a hint of the swirling blue in the sun angel, a hint of sparkle in the moon angel, and a few slashes of white on the star angel.

There was only one oil lamp. It looked antique and its metal surface looked like polished bronze, with hints of the orange and turquoise of copper and its tarnish. Inside the lamp was a very clear oil. It seemed less viscous than cooking oil, yet not as flowing as water. The lamp’s lid fit in tightly and was hard to pull off. It also had what looked like a black cork stopper that kept oil from spilling out. The lamps wick was difficult to put in, but once in, it fit tightly as well.

“Tomorrow is New Helix,” I spoke to the walls of my room inside Jack and Dora’s haven of a home. “Please come…please come…please come…”

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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!

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A search for personal identity in a world that’s afraid of the truth.