Before continuing, they warmed their cold bodies around the morning fire. The breakfast had no resemblance to the one they had received the day before. Lily cooked the rest of Marc’s potatoes, and Marc surprised Joel by preparing a coffee-like drink from dandelion roots. Lily and Meribah could not understand the big fuss about the funny smelling liquid even after having tasted it.
After eating, they broke camp. Dark clouds overhead looked threatening, but Marc assured everyone that it would not rain until night. They then continued along the road that had begun after New Earth.
“And I want to know, how come I can’t read your thoughts any more, dad?” Petal said turning in her tote to face Marc. “I mean before I was born, I could hear you and mom all the time. But now it’s like I’ve been separated from you.”
“Maybe you’ve been disconnected,” suggested Joel. “Have you been paying your phone bills?”
“My phone what?” asked Petal with frustration in her tone.
“Uncle Joel, was just making a joke, dear.” Marc ruffled his daughters thin hair. “Maybe it has something to do with growing up, becoming more independent.”
“I’m only eight days old,” Petal complained. “Why should I be growing up?”
“Petal, dear,” Lily interrupted, “the universe is only seven days old. And heaven is only six days old. Age is relevant to the creation. At eight days old, you’re more mature than a six year old from any planet.”
“Yeah well, just don’t be sending dad any thoughts about me behind my back.” Petal turned again so that she could see where they were going.
A river bent from the left of the road and began to follow it. Petal asked Joel many questions about the animals that lived in and by the river. Although Petal knew all of the names of the animals, she didn’t understand how they worked. Joel had to explain how fish breath water, that beavers’ teeth never stop growing, and that turtles breathed air but could stay underwater for a long time.
An hour went by when they came to a village, or what could be two villages. The river cut the village down the centre making it two villages. Each village had its own drawbridge that allowed the villagers to cross the river, but the drawbridges were both raised. Beside one drawbridge was mounted a large crucifix, and beside the other drawbridge stood a large straight pole. They were walking toward the village with the crucifix.
As they neared the crucifix village, a boy wearing a green and yellow suit came to meet them. “Brothers and Sisters welcome to my village, the village of True Cross. I am Sean. I hope you will be staying, we could use more followers.”
“Thank you, Sean,” said Meribah looking to her friends. “But we never stay anywhere long. We are however in need of food. We are willing to trade work or anything that we have for some.”
“You will stay for lunch then.” Sean smiled a smile a little too big for Marc. “And we’ve need of some workers in our garden. If you like you can work today, stay the night, and tomorrow we will give you vegetables in payment.”
Seeing that a civilized conversation was taking place, many people started to come from their huts and stand with their leader. On the other side of the river another crowd was starting to form. One of them, a girl, motioned for their drawbridge to be let down.
She came across, and stopped where the bridge ended. “Brothers, Sisters, don’t listen to those prevaricators,” she yelled in her preacher’s voice. “Leave the village of False Cross, and come with me to True Cross. There we will feed you, and give you food for work.”
“Heather!” hollered Sean. “These people are the lambs of God, and I won’t have you perverting them.”
“It is you, who will pervert them,” she countered.
“We seem to be in the middle of a religious war,” Joel said to his companions. Sean and Heather continued to yell at each other.
“What’s a religious war?” asked Meribah. Lily nodded at her question.
“Well, a religious war is…” started Joel, but he was interrupted when someone screamed ‘blasphemer’. He paused and started again, “It could be something as simple as when two peoples have different interpretations of the bible, or as complex as two different religions entirely. The people stop seeing what they have in common, and only focus on the differences.”
“Profaner!” shouted Sean returning to Meribah. “I think we should leave the river so that we may talk without interruptions.”
“No, give me moment.” Meribah turned to her friends. “I think we should divide the group and meet in the morning. Half of us go with that village of True Cross, and the other half go with the other village of True Cross. That way neither village will feel left out, and both will be shorted the same amount.”
“Or we could just leave,” advised Marc.
“No, we need the food,” said Joel. “Okay we’ll separate. Besides, maybe we can help them.”
“Okay.” Meribah turned to Sean and signalled that they had made a decision. “Sean, Marc and I will stay here with you. Joel, Lily, and her daughter will go with Heather.”
“That is most un…” Sean started but was interrupted as a woman, who stood behind him, poked him in the back. “As I was saying, that is acceptable.”
As the sun began its descent in the sky, Joel wiped his sweaty brow. He had been turning soil in that part of the garden for two hours, before that he had carried a large watering tank on his back. He could see Lily and Petal picking green beans at the other end of the garden. Petal picked the low ones, and Lily gathered the others.
He tightened his grip on his spade and was about to continue turning the soil, when a glob of black mud hit him in the face. Joel called to Ron, the boy who was turning soil with him. When Ron saw the mud, he yelled, “Mud-slingers!”
Ron and many other workers ran toward the direction where the mud had come from. Joel and Lily looked at each other in confusion, hoping for an explanation.
Ron came back twenty minutes later. “Sorry, we couldn’t catch him. He was probably gone before you were even hit.”
“Why would someone throw mud at me?” asked Joel.
“Well, you’re working with us. So I guess, they consider you one of us,” said Ron.
“What’s the major difference in your beliefs?” Joel leaned on the handle of his spade.
“There’s only one difference, and its a very big one. They believe that Jesus carried a complete cross to Golgatha.” Ron stopped to yawn. “But we knowing that wood was a rare substance, know that He only carried the transverse piece. And the cross was assembled when he got there.”
“It seems to be a small difference,” said Joel.
“To an outsider maybe,” answered Ron.
“That’s it? That’s the difference?” Meribah could not believe what Sean had just told her. “I’ve been attacked twice while working, and witnessed three more attacks because you have a different opinion about Jesus’ cross?”
“Yes, because they believe that Jesus was weak, that he couldn’t even carry a third of the weight of a full cross,” Sean defended his position. “Don’t you understand.”
“Have you ever carried a tree on your back?” Meribah asked. “Me neither, but I bet you its pretty heavy. A third of a cross, a full cross. It’s all so absurd.”
“Maybe to an outsider it is.”
“Sean, gather the food you owe us and leave it by the river. We’re leaving tonight.” Meribah spun around and went to find Marc.
“What’s the problem?” asked Joel crossing the bridge with Lily and Petal.
“Have you heard why they’re fighting?” Meribah asked.
“It doesn’t seem right,” said Lily.
“Yeah well, I’ll fix that. Did you get the food?” asked Meribah.
“Sure did, kid.” Joel lifted a burlap sac for evidence.
“Okay, everybody stand back.” Meribah took out her maple tool, kissed it, and threw it into the river. The ground shook violently, and everyone near the river fell. A maple tree, many times larger than the ones she had planted in New Earth, shot out of the river. It grew twice as wide as the river, but it left a hollow for the water to pass under. The roots spread out and formed a bridge, while leaves and branches sprouted everywhere. When the tree finished growing, it had formed railings and lanes two metres wide on each side of its trunk.
Sean and Heather both came running to see what had happened. Both were hysterical, and both were yelling at Meribah.
“Stop your screaming and listen.” Meribah walked to the middle of her bridge. “This is ridiculous. You’re all angels here. Whether you believe that Jesus carried part of the cross or the whole cross doesn’t make you enemies. Whether you believe that God is a woman or man, or whether you believe in two entirely different gods shouldn’t make you enemies. Since your, so-called, two different communities have been pushing your beliefs on each other, now you can listen to mine.” Meribah waited a moment to regain her composure. “It’s whether you’re a good person that gets you here. And good people don’t go around shooting mud at each other. This new bridge can’t be lifted up, or chopped down, or destroyed in any way. So you’re going to have to respect each other’s beliefs. And respect each other. We’re all of one blood, and you had better start acting like it.” Meribah walked toward her friends, picked up her sack of food, and led them out of the city.
Joel and Marc made a lean-to to hold them for the night. As Marc had promised earlier, it began to rain. Everyone fell asleep quickly from the hard day’s work and the relaxing sound of the rain. Before going to sleep, Joel reminded himself to ask Isaac why rain made people sleep better in heaven and on earth.