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 the clock. It was 6:30 a.m. “Geez.” I mumbled. It was early for me.

A quick knock sounded on my door. “It’s time, Fern,” Dora said.

“Jack’s not going to send me off, is he?” I asked back.

She opened the door a crack. “Well, he dislikes that you’re skipping school, and he still hasn’t come to terms with this whole…plan.”

I sighed, and opened the door completely. I set my bags down and gave Dora a big hug. “It’s going to be okay. I don’t know how. But it will be.”

“Well, then. You best be on your way,” she said, smiling reservedly. “Might be better to be gone before he’s up and about.”

I nodded. “Thank you.”

Dora turned and started to walk away.

“Dora,” I called.

She turned back. “Yes, Fern.”

“How come you and Jack never had kids? I mean, sorry, I know that’s personal. But…I was just wondering.”

Dora smiled even while pressing her lips together. “It hasn’t been in the cards for us, I guess. Not that we haven’t tried. It’s been hard, at times…” she paused, then her eyes seemed to connect with mine and hold them. I simply couldn’t look away. “Sometimes we get what we want but not in the way we want, or expected…only to find afterward that it was exactly what we wanted.”

I felt her full meaning and it brought tears to my eyes. “You mean…you mean…” I’m the child you got in a way you didn’t plan or intend?

Dora nodded, a tear escaping her eyes as well. “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean,” she answered even though I hadn’t spoken the rest aloud. “Now, please be safe. We’ll…be waiting to hear from you.”

It felt odd to leave the house without seeing Jack. It felt odd to not have his full support. It felt a little less hopeful, knowing he would be worrying about me. It felt odd that if things went the way I hoped, I might never see him again.

 

***

 

When I reached the hilltop that overlooked Sharanville, Harold, Zoe, and Manny were there waiting for me, looking alert if a bit disheveled. It seemed odd, very unceremonious, and even a bit surreal to be gathered as we were, considering we were all about to do something that had never been done, that was a bit crazy, and yet ultimately would be world-changing.

“At last!” Harold said, dramatically, while grabbing my arm and pulling me the rest of the way to the summit. “The rays should appear any minute! Get it all set up! Get it all set up!”

“Hey!” Manny called, eyeing Harold. “Take care how you grab her.”

I jerked my arm away. “No worries, Manny. He’s not that strong.”

Harold pursed his lips and turned on the spot, scanning the sky for signs of the rays, appearing only somewhat perturbed by the comment on his slight physique. I took my time getting out the moon statue, moon stone, and lamp. I arranged the lamp next to the square, dark gray stone and pointed it toward myself. I held the angel with the glass orb with the etched moon on the inside. Everyone took a deep breath.

“Look, over there in the sky!” Zoe called. We all looked, and what appeared to be the beginning of the New Helix rays began to show in the sky: ribbons of dancing light that flickered from white, to yellowish, to silverish.

I felt immediate relief. “Maybe this is going to work,” I said, swallowing. “Zoe, light the lamp.”

Zoe pulled a cigarette lighter from her left pocket and bent to light the wick of the oil lamp that I’d put in place of the black cork. Immediately, the lamp’s wick caught. A wave of heat hit all of us, sending us backward. Manny actually fell back, rolling. “Dang that’s hot!” he exclaimed as he got back to his feet.

I inched back toward the lamp’s heat until it was only a bit uncomfortable. “Manny, get in place near the stone.” I said. “You’re first.” I waited for him to move, watching the ribbons of rays in the sky closely. They didn’t seem to be getting closer, or to be slowly angling down into actual rays. I glanced back to Manny, but he hadn’t moved. He was, however, standing quite stiff and looking shocked. Harold stood behind him looking strangely fearful and triumphant at the same time.

“I’m afraid Manny’s not going, you see,” Harold began. “I’m going instead. And I’m going to get to the utopias and fix this problem. I’ve thought about it a lot. It should be me, after all. No one knows the school better than me. No one…”

The shock had worn off Manny’s face and he began to look angry, if apprehensive. “He’s got something pointed into my back, Fern. Not sure what it is. Doesn’t feel like a knife…could be a gun.”

“What?!” Zoe exclaimed. She started to charge Harold; fists clenched.

“Stay back or I’ll shoot!” Harold called out. He grabbed Manny with his free hand and turned to place Manny between him and Zoe. “I have a gun, and I will use it.”

Zoe stopped short and held her hands up, eyes genuinely incredulous. “You said…you said you wanted to help me! How could you?! I trusted you!”

Harold sneered and snorted. “I told you I’d help. I didn’t say why. Now…I do what I must, girl. Just as you did what you thought you had to by coming to me. Well, Manny’s been sprung, like you wanted. Only, I’m going in his stead. That’s my payment.”

I looked back up at the sky. Still, the rays hadn’t moved. Ribbons of light swirled and danced, but they should have been shining down by now. They always cast rays down by 7:30 a.m. and continued throughout the day, slowing moving away unto other unknown places, waning until they disappeared in the evening. I knew we had until about 7:50 a.m. before the rays moved on past our immediate reach. Yet, nothing had happened. They were still only ribbons in the sky.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any going anywhere,” I said. “Zoe, snuff the lamp.”

“What?!” Harold yelled.

“Look at the sky!” I called to him. “There’re not coming any closer… They’re not coming, Harold. They’re not coming…”

“But…but…that can’t be!” He said, eyes wide in fear, looking up at the sky in disbelief. “I was certain…”

“Then it’s all been for nothing!” Zoe said, and I was surprised to see tears streaming down her cheeks.

“He’s not letting me go,” Manny pointed out, calling both of our attention back to him. He seemed strangely calm even though Harold was slowly inching toward me, nudging Manny ever so slightly as a barrier in front of him.

“Zoe, snuff the lamp,” I said, a little more firmly. But Zoe had sat down on the ground, head in her hands. “Come on, Zoe!”

She didn’t budge. Harold was getting closer. Manny met my eyes and nodded to comfort me. “It’ll be okay, Fern. Just do what he says.”

Suddenly, to my surprise, a bolt of light hit the orb of the statue in my hands. The force of the beam nearly knocked me over, but I just caught myself. Holding myself upright, I felt the paralyzing freeze of the ray instantly numb my hands and start into my wrists and forearms. It was all I could do, but I managed to take another step forward toward the searing aura of the oil lamp. The freezing cold was still inching up toward my elbows, so I took a step closer. My toes felt like they were on fire, but the cold was still pushing painfully up my arms. I couldn’t look to see what was happening around me because my head was unable to turn to the right or the left. But I felt certain everyone was frozen in place too, or minimally slowed down, just like I was. The numbness reached my shoulders.

With a last effort, I took one final step, straight toward the lamp. I was sure my feet were nothing but burnt stumps, the heat from the lamp was so fierce. But with the last step, I began to feel a hint of warmth in the fingers, locked around the statue. That warmth spread quickly up my arms, and suddenly I was released from the freeze. I moved my eyes and was stunned to see a weak, silvery ray of light filtering down through the small crystal orb in the statue in my hands. The ray was metallic, and sparkling so brightly, my vision took a hit. I quickly closed my eyes.

With my eyes closed, I heard Manny’s voice say, “Point the ray toward the stone, it’s doing something weird to the grass.”

Peeking open one eye, I looked down. My vision was still bleached from staring directly into the ray, but I could see the grass immediately around me turning from summer green into an odd, washed out grey-ish blue. Responding, now that my arms could move, I adjusted the statue around ever so slightly until the square moon stone was in the center of the ray. The stone burst into blue flame, but only for a moment. Then, just as quickly, the flame was quenched the and stone began to develop a layer of frost.

“POW!” A gunshot fired and I heard yelling and groaning. Then, there was suddenly something poking in my back. “Hold that thing higher, girl. Now!”

It was so bright all around me, that it was hard to tell what was going on. But, trying to keep the ray focused on the small square stone, I raised up my arms, inch-by-inch. No sooner had I made the ray sufficiently taller, than a blast of heat threw me backward. I slammed down hard on grass that was cold, dead, and covered in frost. My head and neck twisted funny, and I felt the statue fly from my hands. Then, after a few moments of blackness and flashing lights swimming in the darkness under my eyelids, I felt a gentle nudge.

“Fern, are you okay?”

I’d know that voice no matter where I heard it. “Jack?” I asked. “Jack…is that you?”

“Can you open your eyes at all?” he asked.

“I’ll try.” I said, then, tentatively cracked open my eyes. Everything was blurry, at first, and too bright. I closed my eyes again. “I need to sit up.”

I felt Jack’s sure hands grab my shoulders and pull me to a sitting position. My neck and aching head complained. I tried not to grimace. “Are you hurt?”

“My head is killing me,” I replied, “and my neck got twisted funny. But I think I’ll be okay.” I slowly opened my eyes again, and Jack’s face, very close to mine was clear enough. “I’ll be okay, Jack.”

“That’s yet to be seen.” He said.

I couldn’t turn my neck very well, but I looked about. The entire hilltop looked as if it had been burnt by a fire. Smoke still wafted up from a few patches of grass. Beyond that, the grass had an ombre color from baby blue just past the burned patches to summer green several feet further on. Just behind Jack I could see the moon stone, sitting, looking as if nothing had happened. The oil lamp was out, but otherwise untarnished by the heat or the fire.

“Where’s the statue?” I asked, trying to turn my whole body to look behind me.

“It’s looks like ashes,” Zoe’s voice spoke sharply behind me. “It went up like a firework when you let it go and just burned. I saw the whole thing. But, it’s still technically intact.”

“Technically? Where’s Manny and… Wait! I heard a gun! Who was shot?” I asked, the shock wearing off and my anxiety rising.

“That was me,” Jack said, averting his eyes and clearing his throat. “After you left, I simply couldn’t wait. I was too worried, so followed you. I was just going to watch from a distance. Make sure you were okay. But then I saw Harold put something to Manny’s back. When Manny didn’t turn and attack, I figured there was a problem. Manny’s so much bigger than Harold. I knew he wouldn’t just stand there like that. Even from a distance I could see something was off. But I wasn’t fast, running up the hill. I tried to stay low and inconspicuous. I headed straight for Harold, but I think he may have seen me coming at some point, because he kept getting closer and closer to you, even after the ray hit. He threw the gun at me and then pushed Manny to the ground. I grabbed the gun and fired it up into the air, hoping to scare him. But he dived into the ray right as I fired, and…disappeared. It all happened really fast. When Harold entered the ray, that’s when it sort of burst and exploded. Harold is…gone, Fern.”

“But, I’m still here,” Manny’s confident voice spoke.

“Do you think Harold’s alive?” Zoe asked, her voice back to its usual nonchalance with a hint of skepticism. “I mean, the ray didn’t burst until Harold went in. Do you think he went to the silver utopia?”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t know anything about all of this. I don’t know if Harold is alive. I mourn his soul. Maybe he was right about the rays, but he made the wrong choice threatening you kids. You shouldn’t have brought him into it. Anyhow, for my part, I don’t see how that explosion could have been anything other than his end.”

I felt frustrated. But, in Jack’s defense, I didn’t know if we’d actually sent Harold to the silver utopia or not, except… “But his body isn’t here,” I pointed out, carefully. “Doesn’t that mean it was…well…taken?”

Jack shrugged and looked as if he didn’t want to talk about it. Zoe shrugged too. Manny just stood to my right. I couldn’t turn my neck up enough to see his face.

“How, though…” I asked. “How did I do that? The rays never came down, did they Jack?”

Jack took a deep breath and finally met my eyes. “They didn’t come down. It looked like your statue attracted the ray, pulled it down, even.”

My feelings were suddenly buoyed. “Then, then…Harold did go!”

Jack sighed. “Maybe. But we don’t know for certain, do we? And, Fern, considering what this experiment has done to this hilltop, I don’t think any of you trying to go to the other utopias is a wise idea. And…despite the fact Harold’s body didn’t get left behind…it still seems likely that this is still suicide. I strongly advise you to give this up.”

No one else spoke after Jack. I certainly didn’t know how to answer him. I certainly wasn’t going to tell him that I had to keep going, especially now that I knew what to do. What caused the explosion was certainly unknown. But Harold was gone—all of him. And that was enough for me. The evidence strongly suggested the statues worked. I certainly hoped the moon statue still worked, despite its damaged exterior.

I got up slowly, with Jack helping. “I think Dora is going to scold me,” Jack said. “But I think we’d better get you home just the same. Manny, some help please?”

Manny grabbed Jack’s hands, once I was standing, and together they formed a sort of chair with their hands. I sat down, at their insistence. At the same time, I heard Zoe sigh and could feel her eyes rolling without even seeing them. I knew that despite the fact that getting Harold involved was her fault, that right now she was more concerned that Manny’s attention was on me and not her. I saw her differently now, since my conversation with Dora. I saw clay, and wondered why she disliked me so much just because I was a stone. We were made of the same stuff, fundamentally. Yet she was so unsettled, and uncertain.

As Manny and Jack carried me down the hillside with Zoe trailing behind, Jack spoke quietly to Manny. “I’ll get you back to your house as soon as I get Fern settled. Will that do, Manny?”

“I’ll find my own way back, Jack. No offense, I hope.” Manny said in a tone that communicated both regret and hope. Manny had never been regretful before. He was so different now, since visiting the school. I turned my neck, just slightly, to try to see his face, and was rewarded with a sharp twinge.

“Ow,” I whimpered.

“Don’t move, Fern,” Jack commanded, and I obeyed.

 

***

 

As I Jack drove me the short distance back to the house, my mind was full of hope. For one thing, Jack had come to my rescue. He had been there for me after all. There was something about his presence, his willingness to step in, that sealed something between us. In one thing Zoe was right. Jack was the father I’d always wanted.

“Jack,” I said. “The rays didn’t actually come, did they?”

“No, Fern. They didn’t.” he answered.

“Then, in one thing Harold is right, isn’t he…the rays can’t really connect here anymore?”

“As much as I dislike Harold today, peace to his soul, he does seem to be right about the rays. Something is really, really off, Fern. But I still don’t take back what I said. You can’t risk it. You simply can’t.”

“You really think it’s suicide Jack? Really?” I asked, only just able to see his mouth in my peripheral vision.

“There’s no proof otherwise, Fern. There’s hope. I give you that. But no proof. And there’ll be no proof unless Harold magically returns. And that is something I don’t think can happen. I don’t think anyone has ever come back after being taken by the rays.”

“So, I might be the only one who can fix the disconnect, and you still think I shouldn’t risk it.” I said, carefully.

“We don’t know if you’re the only one who can fix it, Fern. You and your friends, with Harold’s inexpert help, have come to the conclusion without sufficient evidence.” Jack said, calmly, and with a returning warmth in his voice. “But I admit. I don’t want to think you are. Because if you are, then that means I could lose you. And sadly, I’ve discovered I have a good deal of selfishness there. You’re like a real daughter to me, Fern. Even more, you’re an intellectual equal, and a friend. I’m selfish. I don’t want you to be the one to fix it. I want someone else from some other dimension to fix the breach.” Then, he laughed in a sad sort of way. “Perhaps I’m not white material after all. Selfishness is not a trait allowed in the highest utopia.”

“You forget,” I laughed back, just a little bit sadly as well. “You can’t go to the white utopia anymore…at least as far as we know.”

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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!

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