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 when Jack gave that secret grove to me and last night, between tossing turning, dreams, and periods of deep sleep I’d remembered what he’d said.
“It’s just light. Focused light.” Jack answered my unspoken question.
I didn’t know why I felt so afraid. But seeing that pillar of light—even though it was nothing like the ray I had experienced with Joy—I couldn’t help but tense up. Jack sensed my numbness. He quickly walked over and stuck an arm into the pillar of light. I gasped reflexively and took a step back.
“Don’t be afraid of light, Fern. This is just light. And really, that’s all the rays are. And light brings clarity.”
The statues had drawn the ray. They had focused the light! I didn’t have to wait for the rays. I’d never had to figure out how to catch one. All I had ever needed was light. The rays would come to us, as long as we had the statues—clearly miniature shrines or temples. They were the connectors. They focused the light. They brought the rays.
My neck was still extremely sore, but I could turn it just enough. I looked at the clock and saw that I was up even earlier than the morning before. It was 5:45 a.m. Some sense of darkness still hovered outside my window, clinging as tight as it could before it completely dissolved before the rays of a rising sun.
Full of clarity and determination, I got ready in a combination of haste and grace that I’d never experienced before. My movements made hardly a sound. I was calm, yet my movements were quick and my thinking deft. I opened my door with hardly a creak and escaped down the hallway and out the front door with as little trouble.
Once free of the house, I took turns running and walking to Zoe’s house. I knew Manny was there. If he’d have gone home yesterday, he might have been caught. I spared only a moment’s thought for missing Jack’s sermon today, but I thought, “What is a sermon on the utopias worth if we are doomed to death; to have our bodies and our souls corrupted and forever damned, rotting in holes in the earth, because we can’t get to the utopias?”.
When I got to Zoe’s I was slightly out of breath. But a glance at my wrist watch said it was only 6:15 a.m. I knocked on her bedroom window to the side of the house. After a few moments, I was surprised when the curtains pulled back to reveal both Manny and Zoe’s anxious faces. Zoe cracked open the window.
“I had a feeling this was your plan. No Jack in tow?” she said.
I shook my head. “It’s just me.”
“We’ll be out in a minute.”
I waited down the street a bit. Within about five minutes, Zoe and Manny were by my side.
“You guys look pretty awake for so early.” I said.
Manny nodded, frowning. “We knew you’d come. Plus, I couldn’t sleep that well… I guess I don’t have a choice, now that Harold sprung me, you know. If I go back to the house and get caught breaking my house arrest, things will get worse for me. So, I figure this is my only option.”
I wanted to tell Manny that he could go back. But a flash of intensity from Zoe’s eyes told me that I’d better keep my mouth shut about that choice. So, I shrugged. “Everyone has to make their own choices.” I said. Then, as I turned away from Zoe’s gaze, I said, “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?” Manny asked.
“To my secret grove,” I replied. “I realized yesterday that these statues focus the light and call a ray. We don’t need to hunt rays or wait from them to appear. We can bring the rays to us. It was always possible. We didn’t have to wait until New Helix. We…only thought we did.”
Neither Manny or Zoe answered. But the silence was not awkward. It was somber.
“Crazy how easy it is all of the sudden, right?” I said as we got closer to the Learen Forest. Zoe and Manny grunted and sighed. “You guys ready?” I asked.
“Yah,” Manny said.
I stopped and turned around. Zoe just looked at me, smiled a tiny little bit, and nodded. “Okay, then.” And that was all there was to say.
We reached the secret grove as the first morning rays broke the dawn haze and got everything ready in silence for Manny to go to the silver utopia. The sound of shoes on grass, and an occasional leaf rustling was all the noise we made. I got out the star relic and grimaced. The statue was my only concern. Though the orb was intact, the statue itself had been damaged. It was cracked and chipped, and some of the stone was charred, but not from carbon, from something indescribable. It was greenish instead of black.
“Looks like we have plenty of oil,” Zoe said, soberly. She had been getting the lamp ready.
I looked up at the trees and could see that sunlight was about to break through a hole in the canopy that was lower than the midday opening. I’d seen it before. I’d known it was there. But suddenly that hole looked a whole lot more manmade. Perhaps, it had even been recently trimmed.
Sighing, I tried to imagine the trajectory of the light once it came through and hit the star orb. I pointed to a spot. “Place the star stone there.” Manny set the stone down roughly where I pointed. “Okay, get ready, Manny. Any minute now. Zoe, get ready to light the lamp.”
We all stood there, staring at each other, waiting. I held the statue in my hands. Zoe held an unlit match next to a striking pad. Manny was poised next to the star stone. I kept thinking that we should have said goodbyes or that the whole thing should feel more epic. It was the type of thing that most people would surround with a long, drawn-out ceremony. But, in some ways it was still an experiment. In some ways it was still unbelievable, and even surreal. We were kids playing with fate. Though the game had ended after visiting the Peach school, we were still in a place of the unknown. Not a game, but not yet larger-than-life, I supposed. I simply felt determined. Manny and Zoe were vibing the same focus.
“I’ll…miss you guys,” Manny said, suddenly. “K? You guys…both of you…you’ve been my only real friends. The only ones who knew the real me. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t know about me. But that stuff…well… Ah…I’ll miss you.”
I smiled, feeling the warmth of the sun hit my shoulder. “I’ll miss you too.”
Zoe didn’t respond. But I saw a tear wavering in her left eye, daring to escape and travel down her cheek.
As the less intense, early morning ray, filled the grove, I held up the statue until the ray hit the orb. I felt a burst of intense cold and then heat as Zoe lit the lamp. I focused my squinted eyes on the star stone and adjusted the statue, fighting tenuously against the cold that was vying for the energy in my body, until the silvery ray met the stone. I barely saw as Manny placed a large foot and leg into the beam of light. His whole body suddenly flickered out of existence. Then, a force knocked me backward into the trees and undergrowth behind me. The statue disintegrated in my hand. The orb dropped with a thud into the brush beside me. Then, just as it had come, the ray was gone.
“Fewer scrapes. Much better than last time.” Zoe said as though Manny had not just disappeared to an unknown realm.
I looked over and saw her standing up. She brushed off a few twigs and evaluated a few more that had gotten jammed into the back of her jeans and into the dark curls in the back of her hair. I stood up too. The force of Manny’s departure had snuffed the lamp—just like last time. The star stone still sat on the ground of the grove which was charred green immediately around the star stone.
“Not sure what good this is without the statue,” I said, picking up the stone.
“Or the orb. There’s no way to hold that thing by itself.” Zoe said.
“Your turn,” I said, hastily. “This light will be gone in another minute.”
Zoe nodded. “Going to be trickly lighting the lamp, and then jumping in, but I’ll manage it.”
Hurrying, but still feeling calm, I grabbed the moon statue and tossed Zoe the square moon stone. She placed the stone where the ray of light hit it directly, readjusted the lamp, then got a match and the striking pad ready.
“Wait,” Zoe said, and I began to raise the orb toward the ray. “How…um…how are you going to do this by yourself?”
“Don’t worry about me. I think I’ll have to light the lamp first. It’ll be a little rough. But I can do it. Anyway, that’s none of your concern anymore.” I said. “Now hurry. Here goes.”
“I’m sorry,” Zoe said in a hurried mumble. “I’m sorry. Okay?”
I nodded. Then plunged the moon orb into the remaining vestiges of the weak morning ray. Golden light exploded in every direction. I staggered back, immense cold—like nothing I’d ever felt before—suddenly searing every part of me. I waited in fear for several seconds until I felt the heat of the lamp reach me. It took longer than before—much longer. Yet, eventually, the heat of the lamp brought feeling back into my fingers and singed the feeling away in my toes.
I waited to be able to see what I was doing. But the golden light was fierce, I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open. And even closed, the light blistered through my eyelids.
“I can’t see, Zoe!” I yelled. “Is the light hitting the stone?”
“I can’t either!” Zoe yelled back. “Maybe, a bit higher?! Just try something…anything!”
I moved my feet just a few centimeters forward, then a few more, needing more heat as the cold had paralyzed my shoulders. I managed to lift the statue just a few inches higher, when suddenly, I was thrown backward, yet again. I felt branches poke harshly into my backside as my ears lost all sense of hearing. I could imagine the crunching and thrashing of the underbrush, however, even if I couldn’t hear it. My eyes shut tight against the blaring golden light. I couldn’t see anything. Then, I felt the statue leave my numb fingers, but only just. They were so cold; while my feet were beyond all feeling and my shins were on fire.
Just wait, Fern. You can do this. Just wait!
I felt trapped in a prison of light, both miserably uncomfortable, as my lower limbs burned and stung, and partially numb up to my shoulders and down into my chest. I couldn’t see, hear, and I nearly couldn’t feel the rest of my body. For many moments I wondered if I was still alive. It seemed to go on and on and on. Then, abruptly, it was gone.
I sat up as the hearing in my ears slowly began to return. The sound of crunching branches, sticks, underbrush, and leaves was muffled, but it was growing stronger and clearer. I tried to open my eyes, then hurriedly closed them again. I couldn’t see anything. I felt my way out of the brambles and then lay back. Suddenly, I gasped for breath. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding it. I felt my chest heaving, but I still couldn’t see anything. I kept blinking rapidly, but I could see nothing but light—glorious, golden light—even behind my eyelids, as if the light of the rays was somehow trapped, bouncing around inside my eyes.
I’m not sure how long I laid there. But, in time, my body began to feel more normal. The temperature of my hands and feet regulated along with my breathing. I wiggled them both, as I lay there, praying for my sight to come back. I was surprised to find that my feet had not burned off, and that my hands were not destroyed by frostbite. They moved better and better, the more I wiggled them. I placed my hands over my eyes, trying to make it darker so that the cones in my eyes could recover. I kept testing and waiting. Then, amidst silent prayers and waiting, I slowly began to see the world, though it was washed clear of color. Very slowly, that color began to return. Then, when it seemed the fear of going blind was past, my stomach began to growl. Hunger, unlike anything I had ever experienced, attacked me, almost as fiercely as the golden light.
“Fern, you crazy… You didn’t bring any food!” I said to myself.
As my eyes began to improve, I took short glances about the grove. The edges of the leaves seemed to be a bit bleached with a yellowy residue. Then, I realized they were charred in some unearthly way. Burned back at least a foot. The ground was also yellowy, and tinges of the yellow was on my shoes and knees.
The moon statue, however, had broken into shattered segments. The orb remained intact, as with the star statue. It was still cradled by pieces of the stone angel hand that had held it. The lamp had fallen over on its side. I hurriedly tipped it back up. However, a good deal of oil had seeped out.
“I hope I have…enough…” I said to myself.
For a long time sat in the grove in a sort of limbo. The morning light ray was gone. The secret grove was shaded now, and would be until about lunchtime. Hunger ate away at my insides. I wanted to wait. But the powerful hunger very quickly became a barrier to every future thought. I couldn’t plan how I would catch my white ray alone. I couldn’t do anything.
I staggered to my feet, nearly falling over several times before I could steady my legs. I was dizzy. My eyesight was still rather poor. My neck was extremely sore and the last two light aftershocks hadn’t helped, as now there were zaps of nerve pain on the left side, just behind my ear that reached down into my shoulder. But I had to eat. That, in fact, was the only thing I knew for certain.
I made my way back to Jack and Dora’s in a daze of shock mixed with starvation. When I got there, strangely, the house was empty. I was glad at first. But I was also in desperate need of their characteristic smothering. However, Dora—though absent—did not let me down. I found leftover breakfast quiches in the refrigerator and a large pitcher of freshly squeezed orange juice.
I downed two quiches and half the pitcher of orange juice before I began to feel even remotely normal again. My stomach stopped growling for a few minutes. But it was as if my body had only been saved from a partial death. Within a few more minutes I was just as hungry as before. I ate another quiche, drank the rest of the orange juice, and then found—probably to Dora’s horror—a slightly stale donut in a box from her bakery that she’d brought home two days ago. It was in my stomach before I could process the stale taste.
“What is wrong with me?” I said to myself, while pouring a large glass of milk. I patted my stomach, which had finally stopped growling again. “It’s coming, okay…”
Then, a door opened behind me. I heard Jack’s voice through the crack. “I’ll be right back,” he said. Then, I heard the murmur of acceptance from a large crowd.
The house isn’t empty! Jack and Dora are at Jack’s sermon!
Clarity returned to me in a heartbeat. I bolted down the hallway, nearly spilling the milk in my bobbing glass. I tucked myself behind the first door—the door to the bathroom hallway—and held my breath. I heard Jack shuffle past toward his and Dora’s room. The door to their room opened. I heard Jack shuffling about. Then, his footsteps were followed closely by the door closing forcefully. Jack jogged down the hall back to his chantry door. Then, while opening it, he called to his congregation, “This is the picture…” but the chantry door shut before I heard the rest of his sentence.
I gulped my milk down as I quickly shuffled to my bedroom. I hustled inside and found a piece of paper. I’d left that morning without saying goodbye to Jack. I simply couldn’t leave him again without leaving him something, anything. With milk still dripping down the sides of my chin, I got out a piece of paper and wrote:
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 than most. But you won’t find me. I won’t be at home. I won’t be in the forest…and I won’t be in the secret place you gave me to meditate in. I don’t know where I’ll be, but it won’t be here.
I know taking my own life isn’t supposed to solve any problems, spiritual or psychological. After all our discussions, I understand that truth. But I’ve realized that though I do have those problems—doesn’t everyone?—that they are not the reason I’m doing this. And I’m not justifying or submerging my emotions. Trust me. I do know that what I’m doing—what I’ve done by the time you read this letter—is suicide. Although, maybe it isn’t since Manny and Zoe agreed to do it with me. Not that a joint effort changes the nature of running eyes-open into a death ray.
Well, they’ve already pursued their rays—gold and silver. Ugh…
Jack, I saw them taken! I saw them die. The rays didn’t spit them back out or send them back because they weren’t chosen. They were simply taken, gone. And I should have been sad, you know, like I was with Joy and Mom, but I wasn’t. Because Manny and Zoe chose to go. What I felt, after watching them disappear, was courage and hope—the first sense of hope I’ve felt in years. They had taken control and I knew I could too.
I was going to tell you in person. I thought I owed you that after all you’ve done for me—all of us really. Yet, you and I both know you would have succeeded in talking me out of it, and I couldn’t have that. Not this time. I’ve got to do this. How else can anyone learn the truth about the death rays: where they come from, who’s behind them, and most importantly, the logic behind who gets taken when and where? Beliefs and faith aside, you have to understand! Well, maybe you don’t have to, but I hope you will.
Please don’t hate me, Jack. And, if I really do have an eternal soul, like you’ve taught me, then I hope your prayers for me—for us—will make a difference in whatever nether-realm we end up in. Utopia, here we come!
If you’re reading this, I’m already gone. Gone… Wow, it’s weird to write about that.
If, by some miracle—since you say miracles exist—you see me again, Jack—then I’ll have the answers I’ve always craved since that horrible, horrible day. And you’ll be the first to know what I’ve learned.
If you don’t see me again, I’ll miss you Jack. You were the father I never had. You were the best friend I never expected to find. Thank you for not being a Peach.
I wanted to read through the letter again. I wanted to make sure I’d said all the right things and told Jack just how dear he was to me. I wanted to stay, and not go. But I knew I couldn’t do that either. It seemed I couldn’t fulfill this personal mission of mine and keep Jack and Dora too. I had to choose, and I’d made my choice. Knowing my window of escaping the house was short as Jack’s sermons were wonderfully powerful and yet concise, I folded the letter, left it on the table, and slipped out the front door for the second time that day. My stomach had stopped growling, and all my senses felt like they had returned to their early morning acuity. It was my turn. It was time to complete my search for utopia. The only problem was, after what had happened with the golden ray, I didn’t know how I was going to do it alone.
Jack waited until his last patron left his small chantry. He waved to elderly Mrs. Norten and her tiny granddaughter from his front porch as they walked away. Dora stood beside him, all smiles and support. Then, as soon as they turned back into the house, the front door banging happily shut behind them, Jack saw the letter.
“What’s that?” he asked Dora, pointing.
Dora walked over and picked up the letter. She had hardly cracked the first bend when her eyes filled with tears. “Here,” she said. “It’s from our girl.”
Dora handed Jack the letter. He read it deliberately, taking in every word. As his eyes moved down the handwritten paper, his face turned from one of worry to clear decision.
“Dora,” Jack stated firmly. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got to help Fern.”
Dora smiled. “I don’t think you can stop her, Jack. Not now. She’s gone. We got her…truly a gift…but now we’re going to have to let her go”
Jack sighed, but not in resignation. He pursed his lips. “She’s not gone. She’s sent the other two. But she can’t go without my help. I watched her send Harold. It’s not something she can do alone. If she tries, she may get seriously hurt. I’ve…got to go help her. I see that now.”
Dora eyed Jack, eyes a little wide, but not in fear—in surprise. “But you’ve been so against this the whole time. Is it against your beliefs?”
Jack looked down. “I’ve tried to make it against my beliefs. But that was just selfishness talking, and we both know it. You’ve always been the better one Dora. I wanted to keep her. I didn’t want to sacrifice her to save this place. It’s been becoming clearer and clearer with every passing day; with every incident with her, I’ve known she had a mission…most likely this mission. But I fought it. I can’t do that anymore. I see that now. I’ve got to let what I want go…what someone who wants to go to the white utopia would do. I’ve got to be what I believe.”
Dora came over and put an arm around Jack, patting him. “Well, this is an unexpected sacrifice, my dear. You’re willing to sacrifice your own pride and your only daughter. I don’t know whether to hug you or hit you.” Jack laughed, but it was bittersweet, lacking the wonderful lightness he’d cultivated for years. Dora pushed him away, kindly, and toward the door. “Get on with it,” she commanded. A loving fire flashing across her warm eyes. “If she’s meant to fix all this, you can’t let her destroy herself trying to do it alone.”
Jack nodded. Then, looking sober, and with hurry in his step, instead of his usual bounce, her opened the door, leaped down the steps, and broke into a run toward the secret little grove he’d given Fern. In that grove he’d found his faith in the utopias. It was there now that it would be tested.
This kid-fiction serial is about done. The final chapter…will be available by purchasing the book! Head over to our Kentstead Media SHOP to pre-order your copy today. $2, or more, will go to The Road Home – UT to help shelter the homeless! Click here! Or on the picture above.
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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!