“You were cleared this morning, so you’re on your own.” Jody shook Meribah’s hand.
“How far to the nearest town?”
“Don’t know, we don’t trade with anyone else, and nobody who left ever came back. My brother wishes he could come with you.” She gave Joel back his sword and spear.
“He can,” said Lily extending her hand.
“No, he can’t. Last night you got his heart set on the future. Instead of what is, he and I now think of what will be.”
“For a person who’s never known anything else, he’s come a long way,” said Marc.
Jody shook Marc’s hand. “I hope that soon I will see everything that he does. Oh, and he apologizes for not being here. He has to improve his writing style, and he doesn’t want to lose a minute.”
“We’d better be leaving.” Joel grinned. “We aren’t sure where we’re going, but we have to move while the sun is out.”
“Goodbye then.” Jody waved and smiled back.
“Au revoir, you mean,” Lily corrected. “According to my friend Nathanial, we’ll all see each other again.”
The day wore on slowly. The tall trees, which that morning were exciting to look at, now made progress seem minimal, as there were trees to the horizon on left and to the right. Lily and Petal were the only ones who were undaunted by the trees. Lily told Petal about Utopia, about the trees many times larger than the ones they now walked.
“Something’s not right,” Joel looked into the woods.
“What?” asked Marc.
“I don’t want to sound cliché, but did you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?” Joel signalled for everyone to stay still. From their left, they heard a twig snapping. “If someone’s there please come out. We’re not dangerous.”
A girl, the same age as them, came out from behind a tree. Dirty blond hair fell to her shoulders, and green eyes stared from behind flat bangs. She wore the same gown as Marc, but it was much cleaner and less wrinkled. Behind her head, stretched two white feathery wings.
“Where am I?” she asked timidly.
“Uh, how do you mean? Where do you think you are?” asked Lily.
“Rotan?” she shivered.
Meribah, hearing the name Rotan, moved closer. “No dear, this is not Rotan. My father was on Rotan, I hear you have the most beautiful sunset in the universe.” The girl nodded. “We’re in heaven. In a very leafy part of heaven, but heaven nonetheless.” The girl fainted.
They carried the girl to a clearing, and started a fire to warm her. Joel prepared supper from the potatoes that Marc had found earlier, while Marc made a salad with Indian lettuce and hog peanuts. Lily watched after the girl, and Meribah went for a walk.
Meribah walked to the end of the clearing, and checked to see if anyone was watching her. She took out the piece of wood that Feg had given her and was about to push it to the ground.
“Hey you, don’t be planting any maple trees in my forest,” warned an old woman coming out of the woods. “These trees aren’t earth trees and I don’t know how they’d mix with maples.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any harm. I just wanted to try out my tool.” Meribah looked at the tool that the old lady was holding in her hand. It was darker and more coarse than her own. “Where are these trees from, if not from earth?”
“Oh, these trees are crenates from Rotan.”
Meribah looked over to her friends and the girl. “Did you say Rotan?” she asked, but there was no reply. The old lady had gone.
“There’s something to it,” Meribah said firmly. “She’s a Rotanian and this is a Rotanian forest.”
The girl who had been sleeping, sat up and smiled. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to cause so much fuss.” She brushed her bangs out of her eyes. “What happened?”
“You fainted when we told you that you were in heaven,” said Petal.
“But were not. These trees are crenates. I’m on Rotan. And your joke is not funny.” She bit her bottom lip nervously.
“What’s your name?” asked Marc.
“Zirka. And where are your wings?” she asked.
“Listen Zirka, your name is Rotanian and you are speaking Heavenish. I’ll say something in your language.” Meribah paused for a second to make sure she would have the proper pronunciation, “Zirka, how are you today?” Meribah switched back to Heavenish, “In Heavenish, your name is Penny. When people come to heaven they know both their own languages and Heavenish.”
“If you’re not in heaven, then why do you have wings?” asked Joel.
“Everyone on Rotan has wings,” Penny said.
Meribah cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention, “It’s said that the angels who built their planet mingled with humans. Now they all have wings.”
“Half-breeds? A whole planet not fully Sorom and not fully Dorom,” Marc thought aloud.
“Anyway Penny,” Lily started, “Is it okay if I call you Penny? Good. If we were on Rotan, wouldn’t we have wings?”
“Mutants maybe,” said Penny. “That’s mostly why I fainted.”
“How old are you Penny?” asked Marc.
“Penny, I don’t know what you see us as. But we see you as an eight year old girl with blond hair and green eyes.”
“I don’t believe in heaven, besides why would God bring me here? I’m a prostitute, and a sinner.” She looked to the ground as tears formed in her eyes.
Marc inhaled and sighed. Here was another angel who did not believe in heaven. He decided to sit down and let everyone else work it out, after all, he had to help Joan all by himself.
“We’ll tell you what we know about heaven,” said Lily. “But we can’t change your mind.” Lily stopped and looked at Penny. “We share common ancestors, all of us do. Dorom, people born outside of heaven, are all children of Adam and Eve. I’m a Soron, that is a child of a Dorom who was born in heaven, so I’m also a child of Adam and Eve. You follow?” Penny nodded. “Because Adam and Eve sinned, all of their descendants were to be mortal, and have to be reborn until they had paid for the sins of their ancestors. The only way to escape being reborn would be to save the life of another while giving up your own.” Lily looked deep in her eyes. “Did you save someone?”
Tears rolled down Penny’s cheeks. “I don’t remember. The house next door was on fire, a little girl, Liziba, was screaming from a window. She wasn’t old enough to fly. I went in, and I don’t remember coming out. I just remember her screaming and the smell of burnt feathers. I woke up yesterday, in this forest.”
“Penny,” Meribah caught her attention, “I know that you find it hard to believe, but these trees were planted by angels. Probably the same angels who first planted the trees on your planet. I too, am a Soron, but Marc and Joel, they’re from earth. When a Dorom dies and comes here they almost always have young bodies. And Soron age very slowly, I’m seven hundred and twelve years old and Lily is eight hundred.” Meribah inhaled, “Dear, you’re here because you were a heroine, and you deserve to be here.”
“Guys, I’m sorry,” Joel cut in. “But if we’re going to get out of this forest today, we had to get moving. You’re more than welcome to come,” he assured Penny.
“No, go ahead. I’ve got to sort some things out. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Everyone wished her well, and began walking again.
Penny looked around at the large trees from her home world. Sometimes their size and beauty was comforting, but now they made her feel lonely and small. “Uhm. Hey, can I come after all?”
“Let’s make camp!” Meribah shouted.
Even though night was falling and everyone was tired, Marc gave Joel an annoyed look. “Whose quest is this anyway?” he whispered.
“We’re a team, everyone has the right to make suggestions,” Joel whispered back. “Or did you like it better in that last city?”
“Point taken,” said Marc.
They set up camp which was still surrounded by the giant trees. Marc fell asleep quickly with Petal sleeping next to him. Meribah took out a pipe much like her fathers’ and began to chew on the stem. Lily spoke to Penny about their quest and told her a little about each person.
A while later everyone fell asleep.
“Marc,” whispered a voice, “Wake up! I need your help.”
Marc lifted his head from his pack. He looked up into the eyes of a young boy. “Robbie! What are you doing here?”
“I’m not really here,” Robbie waved erratically, “and neither are you. We’re dreaming, and as soon as you wish your friends away, we can do some talking.”
“How do you know we’re dreaming?” asked Marc.
“Because I’m standing on invisible legs.” Robbie put his hands on his hips.
“Okay, okay.” Marc stood up, and the trees and his friends disappeared. “It’s good to see you again. What can I do for you, Rob?”
“Well, the other day I went to an amusement park. And I really wanted to ride the roller coaster, but they wouldn’t let me because I don’t have legs.”
“Aren’t you getting artificial ones?” asked Marc.
“Yeah, but I won’t have them for at least another month. What’s left of my legs are almost finished healing, then I have to be fitted, then the exercises. And I’ll bet you they still won’t let me on,” said Robbie.
“Well I know it doesn’t seem fair but the safety bars probably work best with people who have legs. Maybe you should look for a coaster that has the over-the-shoulder-brace,” Marc explained. “It’s not guaranteed but its better than giving up.”
“I guess you’re right.” Robbie turned his back to Marc. “There’s a lot of things I won’t be able to do, and I guess this is just the first.”
Marc grabbed Robbie’s shoulder and spun him around. “I never said there were things you couldn’t do. All I said was that you would have to find special ways to do them. You’re a smart kid; you can find a way to do anything anyone else can do, and I think you can do more. Who knows, maybe you’ll invent a wheel chair to go up stairs, or maybe be the first physically challenged person in outer space, or become Prime Minister.”
“You think so?”
“Sure, I think so.” Marc pulled Robbie’s arm. “And to prove it, we’re going to ride that coaster.” Marc snapped his fingers and the very same roller coaster that Robbie had been denied appeared. “Okay, but I never rode a coaster before, so let’s sit in the back.”
“No way. That front buggy has our names on it.” Robbie giggled, and their names appeared on the buggy. Both names were printed in large crayon colours in front of their seats.