Time of Isolation, Chapter 9, Part 6

And with this post we close out 2016:

First and once again I’m announcing the release of my novel, The Harsh Lands – The Complete Survival Trilogy. It is presently available as either a paperback (ISBN:978-1-946179-00-5) or an EBook but only for Kindle (ASIN:B01N69YCCW). I’m still dealing with conversion problems transferring the manuscript to the EPub format. Once I’m successful then the novel will be available in all the popular formats.

And as I have been doing all month, I’m presenting links back to my previous Christmas short stories throughout the month of December. This one I wrote for 2015 and is titled, Time Shared, Time Lost, and this is seen through the eyes of a child.

https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/time-shared-time-lost/

Two weeks ago we left Shellian and the other three members of the team packing and heading in the direction where Saige fell. She has no idea if he survived the fall, or whether there’s even access to this hidden valley or canyon. And as they approach the area where the accident took place she sees Saige standing there. To see him fall and expect the worst and then find him apparently alive and walking is a shock. (The Survival trilogy, Time of Isolation, Desperate to Survive, and A Taste of History Past, and now The Harsh Lands, are available as Ebooks, with the exception of The Harsh lines which is available as stated above.) And with this introduction is part 6:

Smiling although it hurt Saige said, “Now don’t just stand there with your mouth open say something.”

“Sorry. Ah, but, I saw you fall and from what I could see that valley was completely walled –especially on this side. There was no way out of there. So how’d . . ?

“How did I get out sis? Is that what you are asking?” He then turned slowly around and said to all of them. “Just follow me and all will become clear.” He then began to limp off in another direction beckoning them to follow. Shocked by seeing him it took a moment for the rest to react and begin to follow. Since he was moving slowly because of his injuries he was not that far ahead of them. Saar looked at Shellian and said. “He obviously has some injuries, but for someone who fell as far as you said he did, he seems to be in remarkable health.” Saige appeared to be heading straight for a rock wall. There appeared to be no reason for this action as there was no trail, and the area was somewhat exposed. Shrugging they tried to catch up only to watch him walk right up to the wall and then disappear from sight. It surprised them enough that they stopped in their tracks once again, and again stared. What was it that Saige had discovered? They quickened their pace and then when they approached the same area Saige made an appearance as if he had walked through solid rock and then asked. “Does something about this appear to be familiar?”

“Yes.” Saar stated. “Yes this appears to be something similar to what we are using in the cities to hide entrances. But why would such a thing be here?”

“A very good question and one I think will need some time to confirm. But my initial impression is that this, although obviously much older, is of the same technology that we use in the cities.”

“No. No can’t be. There’s no record of any of this here in these mountains. Yes I know I’m the doctor, but I always enjoyed history and it has been my hobby. Well, at least until our world fell apart.”

“Understood Saar, but before we really get cold let’s all step inside. I think that there are many surprises awaiting all of us.” He then turned and once again disappeared. This time they followed and found that they were standing on a large platform sitting above a large open cavern, and it was warm. When the warmth hit them they shivered a moment as the heat penetrated. “I haven’t had much time to do any real exploring here. And I know it is almost a miracle that I am even walking let alone standing before you. And I’ll explain my side of this adventure, but let’s take the ladder down to the floor. I can see by the size of your packs that you’ve brought everything with you. Would that be because someone lit the signal fire?” He saw them nod their heads. He then gingerly climbed down the ladder to another platform, and then continued the process through two other platforms before finally standing on the ground. Even though the light was dim, the whole cavern was bathed in the soft light. It was huge, and looking around there appeared to be many areas that had been modified for storage. One thing about it, whatever this was, it was not a small operation. It would have been easy to put their whole compound in here and still have room. Then it came to them that the volume of this area was enormous and yet the whole area was warm. That took some power and yet there was no sign of any. Looking down they could see Saige’s tracks from his earlier walk across the dirt floor. These tracks led away into the distance towards what they suspected were the valley that he had fallen into.

“Okay some explanations are necessary.” He said as he led them across the floor in the opposite direction of his previous tracks. “When I fell I thought I was dead. But after falling for about ten meters I was fortunate enough to fall into one of the many trees. The boughs of the tree broke my fall, and I broke many of the branches on the way to the ground. Then when I hit the ground it knocked me out. I don’t know how much time passed before I was conscious. But the first thing I noticed was the tree I had fallen through above me, and then realized that I had also fallen into a deep pile of needles which further broke my fall. No, as you can tell I did not come off unscathed. I have many cuts and contusions, with some of them deep, but at least none of them were close to a main artery so they scabbed over pretty quick. I have a large deep bruise on this leg and it’s why I am limping, and to be honest I hurt just about everywhere. Later Doc you can check me out to be sure nothing is worse, but overall I feel very lucky. I then searched this small valley for a way out. Found some things that just did not look quite natural and then found the corner of an ancient building, which led me to this huge cavern and then hearing all of you. I wasn’t sure of the way out so I climbed up and saw that there was an entrance there at the top. And for now you know the rest.”

They stopped briefly looking around the enormous cavern. Its height disappeared above them and it seemed that it went on forever around them although they knew it was an illusion. Near some of the walls there appeared to be small structures. Guessing, they felt that at one time these structures were probably a place where supplies had been stored. Again looking at them from a distance one had the impression that the owners had just temporarily stepped out and would be returning at any moment. Yet at the same time the place had the feel of age laying on it. “What is this place?” Saar asked to no one in particular. “And who used it and built those structures?”

“You got me Saar”, Saige replied. “As you know I have been here just a little longer than you, by no choice of my own I might add, so I truly know no more than you at this point.”

“Really just thinking out loud Saige,” Saar replied, “I’m sure that all of us are wondering the same thing. This building that you found, where is it from here?”

“Well before we stopped to admire the shear size of this place I was heading to it. Very little of it shows in the valley and I was surprised when I found the entrance to it. I expected it to be just a home, a place for a small group to live, but . . . well instead of just telling you, follow me and you can see for yourselves.” He then led them across the floor of the cavern to another wall that again appeared to be solid. Yet looking down they could see his tracks disappearing through the seemingly solid wall. Again another barrier like they were familiar with – identical in fact to the ones used in their cities.

Contemplating what little had been revealed so far Stone said. “I wonder . . .”

“Wonder what Stone?” Shellian asked.

“I know we have seen very little yet, but what we have appears to be very familiar. I don’t know or understand how all of this could still be functioning after all of this time, but it is. So there has to be some type of auto maintenance going on here. Otherwise it would have quit a long time ago. Still . . . still this feels like we are home, in one of our cities that are down below.”

“Yes, I think you are right Stone.” Shellian said. “It is, well it was like the moment we came inside that we immediately felt comfortable, safe, and yes like we were back in one of our cities.”

“That’s quite a conclusion being that we have seen so little of this place”, Saar replied. “But yes I can understand it and really have to agree. And truthfully, I cannot even tell you why.”

“Ready?” Saige asked. He could see that they were and so he went through the illusion and they then followed him. Before them was a set of double doors, which they went through. Once through they stopped again in awe with what was before them. Here they found a large area that could easily have been an administrative section. There were places to handle whatever supplies that would arrive in that cavern, and a section with cubicles for whatever business needed to be carried out. Behind the cubicles were a few rooms with standard doors identifying ones who were probably in charge of the operation. All of it laid out neatly making the different areas easily accessible for any that required the services provided.

“What is this place?” Seirra asked, “This is just huge. Why here in the mountains? There’s nothing here for something this size?”

“I can’t disagree. When I came into the building it stopped me in my tracks. I’ve really had very little time to explore it, but from what I have seen we are just touching the very beginnings of this place. Before coming into the building I realized that there was another problem and it was the trees. There was something very wrong with them. I don’t mean that they were damaged or dying or anything like that – well, other than the damage I did falling through one of them. But they are subtly different than any I remember seeing and are living around these mountains. That’s not to say that that they don’t belong here since plants and trees are not my specialty. Well, as we finally get back outside, inside that valley you’ll see what I mean.” He then led them down a hallway, which had a number of closed doors on either side. Finally ending at a set of double doors, which he opened, and walked into what looked to be a large dining area, and off to one side, an area that appeared to be a large kitchen. Then on the opposite wall a couple of doors that looked to be entrances into public bathrooms.

“You know what; I think I could use that.” Shellian said, pointing to the door for the woman’s restroom. “I wonder if it is still functional after all this time. And if it is it sure will beat using the bushes for our nature calls.” then turning to Seirra she said. “Shall we go find out?” They both left and entered the restroom leaving the men standing there.

* * *

Suddenly the mysteries deepen. What is this place Saige discovered? And why the abandonment? And what is it about this place that makes it feel like one of their cities, makes them feel safe? None have any answers. And as they begin to explore this vacant and abandoned facility they discover it has public restrooms. Shellian wonders if they are still functioning and suggests that she and Seirra go and check it out leaving the men standing there. And here we break.

And as a final bonus I’m providing a link to a MGM cartoon from 1939 titled: Peace on Earth.

May the new year be good for you and your family and have a great week, and God Bless! (www.fdbrant.com)

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The Ornament

Again I’m announcing the release of the novel, The Harsh Lands – The Complete Survival Trilogy. Available as either a paperback (ISBN: 978-1-946179-00-5) or an EBook for the Kindle (ASIN: B01N69YCCW).

It is Christmas Eve day, and I am opening this post with two links. This first link is for a simple Christmas wish and a link to a YouTube video which represents the season, and one that I personally believe does a wonderful job.  https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/a-christmas-wish/

This second link refers back to the Christmas short story I wrote for 2014. And if this is the first time to this blog I need to warn you that these look more in the direction of the way others might experience this time of year. After all, not everybody is as blessed as we. So this story and the links I’ve provided to my past Christmas short stories all reflect this other side. Think of a recently released Disney animated short titled, The Match Girl, (And this short story that’s linked here is actually my personal favorite).

https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/and-it-came-to-pass/

This year my Christmas story is a bit different. Actually the subject was suggested by my wife, and I thought it was a great idea. Still if I was to go back many years to the small church we were members of, (long before I met my wife) for one Christmas we, (my family and I) wrote a play that would be presented to the congregation. The simple premise of the play had to deal with the idea of, What if someone never heard of Christmas, and why it is important. Now I could go into how we did this, but that’s unimportant. Because if we think about it, with the way the world presently is, the Christmas story would be known to most. And let’s just say that the play was well received and enjoyed. And before you ask, no we have no copies as they were lost along with everything to the wildfires of 2003.

So when I began this story it has much of the same ideas and direction. Now if we want to be honest, we have a tendency to attach personalities to inanimate objects all the time. And even, at times, have imaginary conversations with these things. So with the above thoughts, and our tendencies, I decided to write this from the perspective of an ornament. And through the eyes of this inanimate object we become privy to one family, and learn the true meaning of Christmas. And with this introduction, I present this year’s Christmas story, The Ornament:

She came running up to the display where I sat. And I could see the sparkle in her eyes, and a soul full of merriment and excitement for the time of year. She can’t be more than five, I thought, and probably a bit younger. In the distance I could see the one who had to be her father coming to collect her. It became obvious to me that somehow in the hustle and bustle that she had escaped his watchful eye. In the distance I could see the one who must have been her mother as she stayed with the shopping cart. In that cart sat an infant, plus one more that had to between this one standing before me and that baby in age.

If I could smile, I probably would have. But, I am of glass, made to look like a shining silver star with a slight gold tint. Like the one that could have been the one announcing the arrival of another child over two thousand years ago. With the bright lights I shown brightly, reflecting that light from the many facets that is a part of me . . . Just the thing to catch a child’s eyes, but much too delicate for them to handle. I heard him, the one who had to be her father, say, “Come on honey, mama’s waiting for the two of us and we still have much to do. Plus, you know, if we have time, we need to go over and see your grandmother today.”

She answered excitedly, “But daddy . . . look! Isn’t it pretty?”

He took a quick look that said to me that he really hadn’t, and nodded to her. “Yes, yes it is. Now please come back. There are lots of strangers in the store, and it would be easy for you to get lost.” With that he grabbed her hand and pulled her gently in the direction where the rest of the family awaited.

I could see that she resisted, reluctant to leave, but it was also obvious that she really wouldn’t disobey and with her head down, said quietly, “Yes daddy.” She quickly looked up at him and back at the display where I was and she said with hope, “Can we get one of the stars? Please?”

I could tell from his reaction that this wasn’t the first thing she had asked for in the shopping center, and it was also obvious that with the crowds that his nerves were on edge. He simply said, “Look, as I said, we have a lot more to do here today. And if we still have time, and you’re not tired, we can come back, okay?”

She stopped for a moment, and then looked back to me with a big smile and said, “We will be back, and then I can take you home with me and put you on our Christmas tree.”

I thought that it would be something which wouldn’t happen. With so many bright and shiny things to draw the attention of one so young, she would forget and it would simply be a brief memory for me . . . but I was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, with as many who had looked and with the crowds there was a great possibility that some other person or child would pick me and I’d become part of their personal family and history. Yet, as the day moved on, and many of my brothers were chosen, I remained. Why, who knows, I surely didn’t. Still it must have been providence, or whatever word you like, for me to remain.

With the time of year all the stores remained open late, but even so eventually they would close down for the day. After all, the ones who worked here had families of their own, and they deserved to return to them at the day’s end. It was close to closing, and the crowds in the stores had thinned when suddenly in the distance I saw them. To be surprised was an understatement. I could see the weariness in the parents. I mean think about it. Running all day through the many stores with young children who would become overly tired and cranky as it is called, besides all the crowds. Well, I’d give it to them. I really felt they’d have gone home a long time ago, probably stopping off and picking up something to eat so nothing had to be prepared once they got home. And I honestly suspect the children – all three of them – would be fast asleep from that ride home.

With that big smile on her face she pulled a reluctant father back over to the display where I remained. I could see by his reaction that he was surprised that I was still here, and I suspect that he had promised his daughter that if I was still available that yes, they would buy it for her. So with care he lifted her up and she carefully picked me up and gently carried me back to their shopping cart where I became part of the many items. I guess I was to be a part of this family and only this family and thusly why I hadn’t been picked earlier in this day. As we wheeled out into the parking lot I could feel the fresh cold air as all the numerous bags of treasure were placed into the trunk of their car. But, she wanted to hold me and so her father carefully dug me out and had her sit in the car, followed by safely being strapped in before he handed me to her.

I looked up and saw the excitement in her eyes, but she yawned so I suspected she’d be asleep soon. Still before we really got on the road to where they lived they pulled into a drive-thru and ordered their dinner. She carefully placed me on the seat between her and the baby. She quietly admonished the baby to “not touch”, and happily grabbed the burger, fries, and drink, and began to eat them telling me all about her day. And as we headed down the road I could see that she was trying hard to stay awake. But the food, the excitement of the day, plus the quiet droning of the car was winning, and as hard as she tried, she lost the battle and soon was sound asleep as were her siblings. I saw the mother look back and smile a loving smile and say something to her husband, where he whispered something back. And by the lateness of the hour I felt they would be heading home instead of going over “to grandmother”.

I really couldn’t see out from where I sat but I could see that the side windows were frosted telling me it wasn’t warm and soon I heard a change as we pulled off the interstate and onto the side roads. I could hear the windshield wipers rhythmically slapping the car as they cycled trying to keep the windshield clean and clear. Eventually the car slowed even more and then pulled into a driveway where it stopped. They left the car running with the heater on and one of the parents left and I guess unlocked their door to the home where they lived. Then one by one they took the children inside. Yet before they could take the little girl she awakened slightly reached down and picked me up hugging me to her breast and then her father carried her inside with the mother locking up the car and following behind.

They took her to her room, got her into her night clothes – you know those pajamas with the footsies – had her take care of the bathroom routine and tucked her in her bed. Looking up she reached out and hugged her father saying, “I love you daddy.” For which he smiled a tired smile saying, “And I love you too sweetheart.” At this point he handed me to her since it was obvious she wasn’t going to let me go. At this point she snuggled down deeper under her covers, sighed a contented sigh, and was almost instantly asleep. I could see from where I was that he smiled a loving smile, making sure she was tucked in, and quietly left the room, turning out the light and closing the door. Still there was a nightlight so the room wasn’t dark. I knew they – the parents – still had to unload the car, plus all the other responsibilities they had to do before they would retire. I thought about this sleeping child where I remained. Yes to be young and innocent, to not understand what the world really is, to think what little I see and understand to be the real world, and feel safe knowing I’m loved, such a wonderful thing.

I knew as he put her daughter down for the night that she, her mother would be doing the same thing for the middle child and I suspect that together they’d get the baby to bed before heading out and finishing the night. Yet, for me it simply is a guess since here I am in this bedroom with the one who’d chosen me.

* * *

It was the next day and for a while I remained in her bedroom. It seemed she had much to do and at this time it didn’t involve me. I guess it is the standard stuff, but you must remember I hadn’t been around such before. I learned she had to go to the bathroom, take a quick bath after getting out of her pajamas, and from the laughter and splashing I could tell she, and later I learned her younger brother had a good time playing in the water. From where I was I heard screams of laughter as the sounds got closer to her bedroom and she ran into her room with her mom close on her heals. She jumped on the bed naked as a jay bird, as the saying goes, throwing the towel she had with her on the floor. I could see her mother shaking her head, even though she had a smile on her face. “Okay, little one, it’s time for you to get dressed and then we need to go downstairs and have breakfast.” It was quiet for a moment as the mother appeared to be listening and whatever she heard caused her to shake her head again.

At this point she turned around and went to the door and yelled down the hallway. “I have this one, you take care of your son, and then we can all head downstairs and get some food.” Whatever the answer brought laughter to the lips of the mother. She turned around and her daughter was still on the bed daring her to make her get dressed, but in a fun way as there was a sparkle and challenge in those eyes. I could see that this was a familiar game the two played and with much tickling of the daughter and laughter from both of them the mother finally got the girl dressed, had her sit on the bed as she brushed her damp hair, and again it was obvious this young one didn’t really like having her hair brushed.

Soon they disappeared downstairs and for the longest time I knew nothing and could hear nothing. Then she ran back into her room came over to where I was and carefully picked me up and said, “It’s time. I get to put you on our Christmas tree!” When we left her room I could hear, in the distance, what sounded like music – Christmas songs and such. And as we reached the stairs where I could look down I found a room transformed from what I remembered from the previous night. There was garland interwoven in the railing of the stairs, and a big green tree in the middle of what they call the living room. And it was obvious that much time and care had been given to decorating this Christmas tree with lights, bobbles, globes and so much more. But at this moment there wasn’t anything placed on the top, the place of honor.

It was at that moment I realized that this was to be my place. To be the one on top of the tree and to look down on all that existed here. If I were a living thing I probably would have glowed and been filled with pride for such an honored place. I watched as she handed me to her father who then carefully unpacked me from the packing that protected me from being broken. I could see the impatience on her face as he took his time. Looking up I could almost see a hidden smile saying to me that he was deliberately being slow, while watching her and her impatience. Finally when he could tell that she had almost reached her end he handed me over. She reverently took me in her two small hands as her father lifted her up and with care she placed me in this place of honor. She studied me for a few moments, made a slight adjustment and then told her daddy she was done. He carefully set her down and tickled her a little bit getting the expected giggle.

He looked down and asked. “So what do you think?”

“Oh I think the star is won-der-ful, and just right!”

I could tell that the big word was something she said with some difficulty, but I could also see that she was proud that she could say it. I watched from my high perch and he looked up and appeared to be studying me and where I was, paused, looked down, and I could see that she was waiting for his approval. At this point he crouched down so he could be eye to eye with her. He simply said, “Yes, I agree.” At this point they turned on the lights and the Christmas tree shown in its own splendor.

* * *

The days flew by and I could see, as the days passed, the children, at the least the two older ones, were becoming more and more excited. As to the whys I really didn’t understand then. Still there was a routine to what happened in the house, and I fell into this feeling comfortable with the love I felt here. Then one night they left – all of them – and this was different. Yet it had become obvious that something important was about to happen. I heard something about going over to the children’s grandparents as it was a tradition they did every Christmas Eve.

Now I knew that I had been created for this time of the season, but really didn’t understand the significance of what it represented. In fact it took a few seasons for me to put it all together, and then it all made sense. It represented a time of giving. And while it appeared to be a magical time for the children, it really was much more serious than it appeared. It was a couple of conversations the parents had that finally put it all in perspective. This time of the year represented the ultimate gift – God bringing man back to Him through the gift of His Son. This led to the understanding of the gifts magically appearing under that tree. That same tree where I sat on top, but I’m getting ahead of myself since this is the first year or season I became a part of their tradition.

The house was quiet and seemed empty while all of them were gone. And while the lights that lit the tree were normally on at this time, they weren’t at this moment, and a soft glow from the hallway light was all that could be seen. It was hours later when I heard the car park in the driveway and the key open the lock. This was followed by the daughter being carried in by her father sort of half asleep. She looked over at the tree and me, and I could make out that huge smile of hers as I could see she was anticipating something. Again what this was all about I hadn’t a clue. Her father carried her up the stairs and I suspected to her room, then returned and with a practiced routine returned with the son with the mother carrying the baby.

The next hour or so seemed to be involved in getting the three to bed and tucked in for the night. Then they came downstairs and went into the kitchen where they turned on the light, made some coffee, and sat quietly and talked. It seemed, to me, that all was right with the world at this moment. I heard the chairs scrape the floor as they were pushed back and I watched the parents head upstairs. I thought they would go to bed also, but I was oh so wrong. I heard them whisper something and then, as if by magic, many wonderfully wrapped gifts appeared under the tree. I noticed, for the first time that a plate had been left out and there appeared to be some cookies on it with some kind of note propped up. And like the gifts appearing, the cookies magically disappeared, and a new note replaced the one that had been left. Then it was quiet, quiet until just before dawn.

I thought I heard a creaking of the floor, and I saw her quietly come down the stairs wide-eyed and full of wonder. She carefully looked at all that was there – all the brightly wrapped gifts and presents. She tentatively picked up a couple. If it had been lighter in that room I probably would have seen that huge smile, and probably impatience. I suspected that she had to wait until everybody was up, and right at this moment she knew she was the only one. So she went over and sat in one of the big chairs and tried to wait. Again, it was obvious she was too excited to be able to sit still. So she headed into the kitchen, and kind of walked around trying to make that old clock go faster, but nothing seemed to work.

I could see that she thought, a couple of times, that she heard someone moving upstairs, but each time it turned out to be nothing. Eventually, and it was still before dawn, she saw her brother at the top of the stairs rubbing his eyes and looking like he had just awakened. She looked up at him and whispered he needed to be quiet, and come down and see what Santa had left them. So, with care, taking one step at a time, he came down, and I saw that incredulous look that said he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Now taking on the role of her mom she told him he could look but that’s all, until momma and daddy came down to join them. Now I had two impatient kids waiting and it was obvious it seemed to be killing them.

Eventually I heard the coffee machine begin its daily ritual of making coffee. This only heightened the anticipation for the children as they knew their parents would put in an appearance shortly and then they could find out what awaited them behind all that beautiful wrapping paper. Yet, as I learned this day, they had a family tradition where fresh cinnamon rolls would be baked, and with coffee for the parents and milk for the children, they would gobble the food down before the father would become the official gift giver as he would look to each package, read the name on it and hand it to the new owner. And they had to wait until all of those wonderful gifts were piled in front of them. Then they’d each open one and show all what they got, and continue until all of them were open.

I could see from the squeals of excitement, and the joy that these items they received were loved things, and soon with Christmas music playing in the background, each child began playing with their new treasures, and quietly, since there had been gifts exchanged between the parents, it was time to clean up all the torn and beautiful wrapping paper, plus all the boxes these gifts came in. And as the morning progressed I began to see yawns on the young ones, and with urging from mom and dad, they took their gifts to their bedrooms and soon it was quiet. I saw the mother and father look at each other and smile. For a while it would be quiet and they could relax before working to put together that final Christmas meal that they all would share later that evening.

And then, it was over. As a new year dawned everything got packed away including me. So until it became that time of year once again, I would know nothing of what happened with the family. Again that is the way it should be since I am to shine during that special time of year. Still this isn’t the end of the story. I guess we could say so but that leaves so much out, and so much that is important. Still I have to admit that very first Christmas that I participated and remembered will always be special to me. But I digress and it’s time to continue . . .

Now I feel that it’s important that I cover that first Christmas season in much detail, but to continue to do so really would make no sense. Yet I remained an important part of the family for years to come. I watched the change in the little girl as she grew. And each year she became less and less of a child, until she became what her parents called a pre-teen. I began to notice a change and while she still placed me in the position of honor on the top of the tree, it seemed to be more of a chore instead of a privilege. Still all things change, and believe it or not even me. I now had a few scratches, nicks, and such even with the careful handling. Still I could feel the love in this house and the care they gave to everyone and everything.

Then one year a few after this one she was gone, and only her brothers were home. I found that the mother and father now placed me on top of the tree, and the two boys helped with the rest of the tree. Yet, once again, I could feel the changes that were in the air. I didn’t know what to attribute these changes to, but realized it had to be because the young ones were no longer young. And then all the children were gone and it was only the two. And while I could feel the love, it seemed the magic was gone.

It was during this time that the children would show up for an evening – not all, all of the time – before returning to wherever they lived. I realized that the ones who lived here, well, their hair had turned gray, and they seemed to move a bit slower. It surprised me that so much time had passed. Then in the middle of one of those years, where I normally remained packed safely away, a new change happened. Suddenly I, with everything in this house, was packed away and this house with so many happy memories became empty. The mom and dad moved away from this home and into something much smaller. I guess it made sense because they really had no need of all that space.

It felt strange that first Christmas in this new place. I knew nothing about or of it. It was then I realized that when the children came to visit, that they had children of their own, and of course soul mates – all beginning a new tradition for each new family. And it was then I found that I was removed from the tree top and given to the daughter, the one who originally spied and wanted me so long in the past. So I left this home and went to a new place. I saw, as I was carefully packed into the car that she rode while her husband drove. I heard the sounds of a baby, and knew I would be seeing another family grow.

* * *

And yes I did. I watched as the magic returned and her four children grow, and like when she left I saw her family leave. And on a sad note I also knew that her parents had passed making her the matriarch of her family, as well as her younger brother who became the patriarch. And, for whatever the reason, it seemed that none of her children were interested in me – those two girls, and two boys. Yet, as I had seen it happen to her parents, I saw the gray beginning, and suddenly she was alone as she lost her soul mate. It had been just before Christmas, and while I ended up on her small tree, I could tell it was a sad time for her.

* * *

And yes, life goes on, and I got to see it renewed as her children found loved ones and had children of their own. It meant that most likely that I would see an end to my beginning, to see the one who had chosen me so long ago join her parents, and her husband, but again that is life. Yet, before I witnessed any of this, one of her granddaughters fell in love with me, and I could see, while the one who had chosen me so long ago was reluctant, she passed me on to her granddaughter. Where I became special and once again held the place of honor . . .

Yes, I wondered what happened to my brothers who had become part of other families, but this is something I will never know. Still, I consider myself blessed with all I’ve seen in those snapshots each and every Christmas. I learned of love, and what it meant, and what it does. I learned the importance of family and the ties that keep them together. And I learned of the true reason for this time of year. So as an ornament what more could I ask, other than to continue being a part of something so great. God Bless, and Merry Christmas!

 

Time of Isolation, Chapter 9, Part 5

The Harsh Lands is now available! ISBN: 978-1-946179-01-2 (B01N69YCCW) Kindle, ISBN: 978-1-946179-00-5 Paperback.

This will be the third look back to past short stories that I’ve written for Christmas. If you’ve read the last two you know the direction that these stories take. This one was written in 2013, and is the second story to end up in two parts. Again normally I limit them to a single post, but there were readers who wanted to know what happened – what is it that took place that wasn’t mentioned in the original short story. https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/storms/ , https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/storms-the-rest-of-the-story/

Last week we left the ones who had been thrown out of the winter camp desperate and in need of finding a food source. With a decision made the five who are here break up into two teams with Saige and Shellian as one team and the other three the other. They head out in opposite directions attempting to locate a food source. In the direction that the sister and brother explore, they find the going tough. It appears that the broken land is so tough that even the animals avoid it. After a break they decide to push a little further before giving up.

Sometimes such decisions can change one’s life, and for the  two of them this decision leads to Saige falling off a cliff that is hidden, leaving Shellian at loss as to what to do. She has no idea if her brother has survived the fall or whether there’s even a way down to find out. She realizes that she needs help and heads back to get the others. Meanwhile Saige awakens from being unconscious and is surprised he is alive, He realizes by the broken branches above him and the depth of the needles under him, it is the only reason he is. Still he didn’t get off unscathed. (The Survival Trilogy – available as a single book titled, The Harsh Lands, or Time of Isolation, Desperate to Survive, and A Taste of History Past are available as Ebooks.) And with this we open part 5:

Working his way to the side with the deeper shadows he stopped and stared, then looked hard once again. Then shaking his head he thought. No that can’t be what it looks to be. But it did. From where he was standing it looked to be the edge of a building – one built out of the native stone but looking so old that it almost looked to have been here since the beginning of time. Shaking his head again, he thought. This has to be an illusion. After all why would there be such a thing in the valley? And if indeed it is a building how was it built and by whom? He slowly worked his way towards what he thought could be a building and as he got closer he could see it begin to take shape. There was no doubt now, his eyes had not deceived him, it indeed was a building. Now excited he limped up to the corner that he had seen and stood and looked at it. Indeed it could have been here since the beginning it looked that old. But at the same time there should have been signs of decay, of it returning to where it came from. Yet it did not. How was that possible? If there were no one here to maintain it how could it continue to exist?

* * *

With no answer from Saige she made her way back down the mountain towards the cave they had made their base camp. With the other members of their now reduced group also out exploring she would have to use the signal fire to call them back. From her initial scanning of the small valley she could see no way down. Her impression was that it probably was an area that collapsed when the volcano was still active. Then over the years after the volcano died it become a small hidden valley with no way to get to the floor except by using ropes. She could see a point opposite where a small waterfall cascaded over the edge and entered a small lake below, but with the amount of trees she could not see much more. She knew that it would be hours now before she could make it back. But she worried that with the troubles that they had with the rest of the group that by sending up the smoke signals that she would be giving away their location. So that meant that once they had determined what had happened to Saige they would have to move. There just was no choice. With their location compromised they would be open to attack if Schylar decided that he would want to just eliminate them completely. She did not feel that he would since they were pretty even, with very little chance of surprising her and the others with her, plus there had been time for them to replace the weapons that they had lost, but one could just not be sure.

It was between midday and dusk when she finally reached the camp and had to stop and catch her breath as she had almost run the last portion. Sitting on a large rock just outside of the cave she contemplated lighting the fire or not lighting it. Was she ready to let the world know where they were? She knew that they had arranged the fire as a last resort and had discussed it for size and visibility. They had felt confident that no one in the valleys below would be able to see the smoke, and if so that it would be so faint that it should raise no suspicions from any there, just their local group would be affected. Knowing in her heart that this could be the only chance that Saige could have she took a deep breath and then went ahead and lit the fire. Once it was burning well she added a couple of green boughs. These immediately began to steam and smoke changing the almost invisible smoke to white as the moisture burned out of the boughs. It then briefly turned dark as they were consumed. Once the boughs were consumed, the smoke cleared once again and was a very light blue, almost invisible. She waited for a short time and then repeated it, and once again for a third time. Once the final boughs had burned she extinguished the fire. Now all she could do was wait and hope that they had seen the signal.

She knew that it probably would be a few hours before they returned so she began to go through what they had. Yes they did have rope, but would it be enough? And if not what did they have that could be used? Stretching out the rope she thought that maybe it would be long enough for them to be able to reach one of the trees, and then climb down that way. She could tell now that it would be the only way they would be able to descend into that hidden valley. Time dragged as she waited for the rest to return and she continued to pace, looking out in the distance a number of times thinking she had heard them approaching only to be disappointed. She also looked back down the mountain to see if maybe Schylar and his group were heading their way, but she knew that was foolish since it was at least a four day hike to here from that original cave. But she couldn’t stop herself from checking now and then. After all she had just compromised their location so she worried that the others would show up immediately. Eventually she heard crunching on the gravel that was surrounding the cave. They had suspected that it was material taken from the hillside to create the cave. And shortly Stone, Saar and Seirra arrived. They were breathing hard and had a worried expression on their faces. When they had set this signaling system up they really thought it would never be used. “What’s going on?” Stone asked, as the other two caught their breath.

He had pushed them hard to get back and had actually made great time. But now she could see that the other two were quite winded and it would take a little while for them to be ready to travel again. Quickly she outlined what had happened and that they would need to move out immediately if they were going to get back to the area before dark. It also meant that there would be a good chance that they would need to spend the night close by the valley since the area they had been searching was treacherous. There were many places one could get hurt.

“We need to hide anything we don’t take with us. If all of us are going to be gone then it would be easy for the others”, Saar said, “now that they should know approximately where we are, to come here and destroy what little we have left.”

“True, very true. I didn’t think about that. What if we just take all of it?” Shellian asked. “After all we carried it here and since we would only be going a shorter distance it should not be too much of an issue.” She could see a little rebellion in Seirra’s eyes but she didn’t say anything. Once she had found out that it was Saige that had fallen she wanted to go there as quickly as they could, but now with what had been said Seirra knew that it would delay their departure.

“Saige could be seriously hurt. Do you think it’s a good idea that we take this additional time to get our stuff when he could be dying?” Seirra asked.

“It’s been hours Seirra, and it will not be easy to get down to where he is. When I sent those signals out to get you back here it probably alerted the others to where we are. We can’t afford to lose what little we have so we really don’t have a choice. We must take everything or risk losing everything including our lives. It really is that serious. If it means we end up losing one of us then there is very little we can do about it, but by not covering ourselves here we could find ourselves at the end also. Yes I do know you care for him, we all do, but we can do him no good if we do something stupid that will end up destroying all of us. After all he is my brother and we have been close all of our lives. I hate the idea of delaying but Saar has made a very valid point, and once he did, I happen to agree with him. So let’s see how fast we can get this stuff together and then I’ll lead us back to that hidden valley.”

Looking at the positions of the suns they realized that by the time that they reached the valley once again that it would be close to dark. But it was something they would have to face once they arrived. After a day of exploring, returning to their camp and then once again heading out they found that they were tired, which meant that they would have to be doubly careful. It would be much easier to make a mistake and not recognize it until it was too late, when one was exhausted, and the snow that was on the ground did not make it any easier. Even though the trail that she had taken was plain to see, it was obviously not an easy path. As they struggled their breath came out in great clouds of steam. It was also cooling rapidly as the suns began to set, and the sunset that was displayed as they continued the climb, was spectacular. It was absolutely clear with no sign of any approaching storms. Probably a good thing, but it provided another problem. Clear skies at night meant extreme cold, and they would not have the heated cave this night. As they continued their trek Shellian began to wonder if they should have waited until morning, but immediately put that thought out of her mind. That could be too much time and might ensure that her brother would die. So what if they were a little uncomfortable tonight if it meant that Saige would survive.

It wouldn’t be the first time since this whole mess began, and she suspected that it would not be the last. And if they were unable to stop the primitives then there would be other refugees heading to these mountains. But with the failures that they had faced she wondered if they could have any impact at all, or even if they would be around to try. Considering the size of their group originally and what it was now it did seem impossible. Feeling the cold beginning to penetrate and the shadows lengthening she picked up her pace once more. Once again time seemed to be against them. She slowed as they got close to the area. She did not want to repeat what had happened to Saige, but was stopped in her tracks as standing before her was Saige. At loss for words she just stood there and stared.

* * *

We finish this week’s post with Shellian reaching their camp, signaling the other team to return, packing up, and then heading out. Once again it seems that time is against them, and with the unknowns still facing them they really don’t know what the overall outcome will be. Here, meaning with the fall of Saige into the unknown valley, the remnant of the original team, what has been happening with the surviving cities, and if they can do anything to let these cities know what’s truly happening. And then, when we reach the area where the accident happened, we are left with Saige standing before them.

And before I wrap this up. Next week, Christmas Eve day, I’ll be presenting my annual Christmas short story. Have a great week and God Bless! (www.fdbrant.com)

Time of Isolation, Chapter 9, Part 4

Again I’m announcing the release of the novel, The Harsh Lands. The complete Survival trilogy in one book. Presently it is available as an EBook and only as a Kindle release (B01N69YCCW). I’m still dealing with some issues, and once they are solved the novel will be available as an  EPub, the other EBook standard. The paperback should be available as I’ve given final approval. The ISBN is 978-1-946179-00-5.

As I have been doing since Thanksgiving I’m providing a link back to a previous Christmas short story. If you’ve read some of these from the past links you know the direction and the thoughts that went into the writing of these stories. This one is from 2012 and is titled, A Darkness Incomplete. Again remember that these short stories reflect other possible outcomes to the “feel good” stories we’ve grown accustomed to reading. So before reading this week’s post, here is the  link back:  https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/a-darkness-incomplete/

Last week we left the ones who were thrown out with major issues. Their food is almost gone, and they have yet to find a way to replenish their supply. They’ve followed that almost invisible trail deeper and higher into the Sacred Mountains discovering additional worked caves and find that there seems to be no place to go beyond the caves, whether they are at the first one discovered by Shellian, or the one they are presently staying. This almost invisible trail seems to simply end. And whether they are at that first discovered cave or this one it is like all of the caves are it. It deepens the mystery, but it still doesn’t solve the most pressing issue. (The Survival Trilogy, Time of Isolation, Desperate to Survive, A Taste of History Past, and the, The Harsh Lands, are available from your favorite EBook, with the exception of The Harsh Lands which presently is exclusively a Kindle release, retailer.) And with this introduction I present part 4:

It was dawn and all had eaten far too little, but had no choice. Breathing out heavily Saige said, “I guess today then we all should go out. I think our gear is safe here. I think that we will form two teams with Shell’ and I on one and you three on the other. We’ll work northwest, and I’d like the three of you to work northeast. We all need to be back here tonight, so keep that in mind – half day out and half day back, just that simple. And yes I know it’s never that simple climbing around these mountains, but with our group now down to what it is we just cannot be out longer than that for now, at least until we have some additional food. Okay then, let’s head out, and we will see you tonight.” He shouldered his pack and headed outside of the cave and waited for Shellian to join him. They needed to find something before the food completely ran out and they became too weak to search.

As they explored the area that they had assigned themselves they found the going rough. The area was a broken land. Yet whatever had caused it was long in the past. Again because the area had been volcanic, they assumed it was the old volcano. Breathing hard as he pushed through another large crack in one of the many broken boulders he stopped to catch his breath. “Shellian this area is rough. I haven’t even seen any sign of the animals that live up here. And there doesn’t appear to be any game trails, paths or anything. Do you think that maybe we should abandon our search of this area and just move on to another one?”

Shrugging she said. “I don’t know, I really don’t know. But we are not far from mid-morning so let’s push through to at least that. Boy is this land broken. I can’t see very far in any direction and setting any landmarks are difficult. It had to be an explosion of some kind to fracture these boulders like they have been, and then this brush, tough with wicked thorns on them. The stuff doesn’t even want to break. It’s like it’s made of iron or something similar. I have a feeling that we really haven’t gotten very far from our cave. I hope the others are having a better time of it than we are. And I have to agree I’ve seen nothing to indicate anything as far as animal life goes. Okay, I’ve caught my breath shall we continue then?”

“Yeah, this brush is tough but did you notice that it seems to have a lot of spring in it also? This stuff, because of its strength, might make good bows. And we do need to make new ones since Schylar and his group confiscated the ones we had. But it’s something we can check on later, if there is to be a later. Okay I guess I’m rested also.” Then with a sigh he headed back out and pushed through another section of the brush. Here between the broken boulders the brush forced him to move to the right. As he stepped he found nothing under his feet, screamed a warning to Shellian, and felt himself falling. There had been no warning of a drop off or cliff but it had been there, hidden. He felt that he had been falling for a while but suspected that it was just an illusion, but he could see trees rushing up at him and then he struck them near their tops, falling through them as the limbs broke his fall somewhat, but when he finally struck the ground he remembered nothing.

Shellian hearing her brother scream and warning her, crawled through the brush, up to the edge and caught a brief flash of him falling and then lost sight of him. Looking desperately for a way down to see if he was injured, or worse killed, she could find nothing. Now what to do? Now what should she do? There had to be another way down there. But did she chance it or should she go back for help? The problem with that was the other members would not be back until dark, and then they would have to wait until morning to get back here and that might be too late. She yelled down to Saige hoping that she would hear an answer from him but all there was, were silence and the sounds of the breeze blowing through the scrub trees and brush. Again she searched desperately for a way down and found none. Then making her decision she marked the location and began to head back to their present base camp. She needed help and knew that with a prearranged signal the other team would return, cutting their exploring short. It was something they had arranged just in case of an emergency. It was a last resort as it would identify their location and it was something they had wanted to avoid if at all possible. But now there was no choice.

It would be after midday when she got back to their camp and lit the signal fire and then throw on it some green boughs to produce smoke. Once there all she could do was wait for the other team. But in the mean time she could put together some items that she thought they could use.

* * *

He returned to consciousness and just lay there for a moment trying to get himself together. He remembered falling and desperately trying to grab anything to break his fall, and then hitting those trees and falling through the boughs. He remembered the sound of breaking branches and then he had hit the ground and had passed out. I guess I should try to move. But again he just stayed there and didn’t, afraid that he may have broken something. Glancing up he saw his path through the trees, and then looking around he saw that he had landed in a deep bed of needles that had fallen over time from the trees in the area. He now knew that through a combination of luck and this deep soft surface that he had landed on was the only reason he was alive. It must have been close to a thirty-meter drop, and the trees he’d fallen through had to be close to twenty meters tall. Finally taking a deep breath he slowly sat up and inspected his body. He found that he hurt just about everywhere and that he was bleeding in a number of places from the cuts and scrapes he received from the branches as he went through them. With a careful check of his body he found that there was nothing broken. He just could not believe his luck. That fall should have killed him, but here he was alive if not hurting, but alive. Now where is here anyway?

Finally, gingerly he stood and found that he was favoring one of his legs. Pulling up the pants leg he saw a large ugly bruise that covered most of his thigh. He must have struck one of the larger branches with this leg and again if that is what happened he was fortunate he did not break it. Looking up as he hobbled around he saw where he had fallen and now could see the trap he had stepped into. From above, this small valley wasn’t visible and where he stepped off was a rounded end that appeared to sit just a little higher on the side he had stepped off. Searching carefully he could find no way back up, at least at this point. So how long was I out? He had to admit he had no idea, and with much of this small valley in the shadows at this point he had no way to judge. Then he remembered that he was with Shellian at the moment of the fall. He then yelled to see if she was still around, but there was no response. He had to assume that she went back to get help. Looking around he found a dead branch that he could fashion into a walking stick. He was finding it difficult to walk with that bruise. It must be very deep with the amount of pain he experienced every time he put weight on that leg. Guess I better look around . . . if she went back to get help it will be a while before anyone could get back here anyway. Then he realized that something here did not feel right. At the moment he could not place what it was.

It was silent. Other than the breeze that was very gentle here at the moment, there were no sounds of birds or the scurrying of the small animals, just the wind. At least it felt somewhat warm here even with the heavy shade. Then he realized that there was very little snow on the ground. It was winter and late into winter besides. There should be a lot of the white stuff but there was just a dusting. Again looking up he could find no reason for the lack of snow. There was nothing above to block it from here. He realized this as he looked around, while he had been standing and leaning on his walking stick, he then began to explore this strange place. As he limped away from the point where he fell, he worked towards what he hoped would be an opening into this valley and a way of escape. But in a short time he had reached the other side and found a pond with a waterfall providing the water for the pond. But there seemed to be no exit from the pond, and while the waterfall was not large it was large enough to require the water to exceed what this pond could hold. So where was the excess water going?

Once again he realized that something wasn’t right about this pond also. But what was it that was wrong? Then two things struck him at once. First while the pond was not huge the edges were far enough away from the disturbance caused by the waterfall that it should be frozen, but was not. And secondly the pond did not look natural. There was something about it that said that it had been constructed. But what that was he could not say at the moment. He bent down and put his fingers into the water finding it quite cold, in fact cold enough to numb his fingers. Looking into the water he found it crystal clear and he could see all the way to the bottom. While not especially deep he could see that as he looked further from the edges that it continued to drop in depth. And he thought that he could see fish there also, but with the shadows could not be sure. At least I won’t lack for water, and if I have to remain here for a while probably won’t lack for food either. As he continued to work his way around the valley he was beginning to believe that it would turn out to be completely surrounded by cliffs – making it a trap for anything that fell into it and maybe the reason for no animal sign.

* * *

With the remaining five it is decided that they are to break up into two teams as this will allow them to cover a larger area and with luck find additional sources of food. At this point we follow Saige and Shellian as they work through an especially tough portion of the mountains. From what they can see there appears to be no animal life in this section, and with no obvious trails they must break their own path. It’s tough enough that when the two break briefly they discuss the idea of abandoning their search in this direction, but decide to push a little further. It is here that Saige pushes through a rather tough section of brush and broken boulders that he falls into a hidden valley. He warns his sister, and she catches a glimpse of him falling, before disappearing from sight. At a loss she decides to head back to their camp. Meanwhile Saige awakens from unconsciousness and is surprised he is still alive. And with care begins to explore this hidden valley. And with this we close out part 4. Have a great week and God Bless! (www.fdbrant.com)

Time of Isolation, Chapter 9, Part 3

First, an announcement: The novel, The Harsh Lands is presently available at Amazon as an EBook. I’m still dealing with issues on the portion of the release for Epub, the other EBook format. I’ve just finalized the paperback. When those are available I will announce it here as well as my other sites.

With Thanksgiving in the past, and all looking forward to Christmas, (at least in our household) I’m presenting the first link back to the first Christmas short story I wrote for this blog. And in truth because of the questions I received, later I wrote part 2. So I’ll be presenting both links here as I will later on another short story since again I received questions that could only be answered by writing a second. And this one is titled appropriately, A Christmas Story: https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/a-christmas-story/ , and here’s the link to part 2:  https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/a-christmas-story-part-2/ , and now on to this week’s post.

With the accidental death of the ones who were out exploring, which only becomes known by the remainder of the team, when one of the two who is mortally wounded, returns and states that their failure and resulting deaths is their fault. They got careless, and while, at times, one can do this and get away with it, when one is in the wilderness, nature won’t tolerate fools and deals with them in her own way. She is a hard teacher and to fail as these two it can easily mean your life. It is a shock to the whole team, and especially Sorrel.

It is during this time that the majority of the refugees decide it is time for new leadership and in no uncertain terms let the leaders know that they are done here and are to be gone. And this will include any who happen to be seen as favorable to the old leadership. This means that five will have to leave once the morning arrives. Saige tries to convince Sorrel to come with them, but she is still in shock from the loss of the one she secretly loved, and will remain with the conspirators. And with this we are up to date. (The Survival Trilogy: Time of Isolation, Desperate to Survive, and A Taste of History Past, and The Harsh Lands are either available at your favorite EBook retailer or Amazon for The Harsh Lands.) We continue with the this chapter, beginning with the next morning, as I present part 3:

The next morning at sunrise they were all outside the cave. Saige looking at the group could see no change in their expressions and knew that there would be no way to change their minds. Sighing softly, he shrugged and with the others headed away from what had become their home. They had been given only their knives; all other weapons had been kept. At least the five of them had a destination, the caves that they had located. But since the ones who had just thrown them out knew of the first, they would continue on to the second. Again he and Shellian felt that the ones who would remain here would not go far to find them, or spend the energy locating the almost invisible trail that they had followed to the other caves. Once again the weather appeared to be ready to change. It had been sunny now for a few days, but now it felt like snow. They needed to hurry if they were going to arrive at the first of those caves before the snow began to fall again.

They pushed through the morning and as midday approached it began to snow once again. Fortunately they now were just a short distance from the first cave. But if this storm turned out to be severe then it would delay their move to the ones further along. Plus new snow would make it easy for any to track them if they so desired, and it was something they did not want or need. Nobody spoke as they made their trek up and deeper into the mountains. They all knew that with what had happened that their chances of survival had dropped significantly. Thinking about what happened Saige felt that now he had failed Shayne. Had they been a little more alert to what had eventually happened, maybe, just maybe it could have been stopped. But as someone had once told him, “You can ‘what if’ yourself to death, and that doesn’t change a thing. What is done is done and there is no way to go back and change it. So get over it and live with it, and do the best you can.” He had to admit it was good advice, but it still was hard to live with this apparent failure.

* * *

Once inside the first cave they broke down what gear they had. Saar turned to them shaking his head saying. “I just don’t like it. I know I am repeating what we talked about last night, and I am sure we all are thinking it right now. But I just don’t.” Pausing before continuing, “I know I know, there’s nothing we can do about it at all. But I am a doctor and all of my instincts say that I should be there if there are any complications with those women, and I won’t be, can’t be . . . oh I know it was their choice, their decision, but they are wrong, so very wrong.” He could see that there was no disagreement from the rest of them and fell silent.

Saige signaled Stone to join him and then the two went back out into the snowstorm. “We need to gather some wood – at least enough to put a meal together. I still haven’t figured out how this cave is heated, but at least we won’t need to worry about a large supply to keep us warm. We need to be on our way to the next one as quickly as we can.”

“Yeah I agree. I can’t say that they will come after us, but I want to be sure that if they do decide to do that, that we are where they cannot find us. Darn! Now we have two enemies to worry about, and one of them are our own people. Saige, I wish I had seen it coming to this point also. I mean we had discussed the fact that there were some problems but how did he and Storme keep it such a tightly kept secret? Usually in such a small group nothing is kept hidden long.”

Shrugging Saige said, “Wish I knew. Why he was one of the ones who had to survive all the way here I don’t know. There are so many others who either died or were captured that deserved this.” Shaking his head he continued, “I will never understand how this works. I mean we lost so many good people coming here, and somehow one of the worst ones survives and now have divided us further. I just hope we can survive now. I was worried about our chances when there were fifteen of us. Now it’s just the five of us. I don’t know, maybe it gives us a better chance. And now I wonder if we will be able to do anything at all for our people. That’s if any of our cities have survived these attacks. I mean I hate just not knowing but again there is nothing I can do about that either.” They continued through the wooded area picking up firewood where they could find it. Again much of it was buried in the snow. After finding a sufficient amount, the two of them returned to the cave, dropped their load outside and returned to the warmth within. While they had been gone the remaining three had made the area within the cave as comfortable as they could for the short time they were going to stay here.

Shellian said, “I know, before you say anything that our plan is to remain here as short as we can. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be comfortable while we wait. I, for one, do not want to tackle the next part of this journey with a storm blowing out there. And yes I know we will want to go before the storm blows over so that the snow will cover our tracks. But I think personally that we will be safe today, and should just spend the rest of today here, and then have all of tomorrow to reach the second cave. We discussed that while the two of you were out gathering wood and concluded that it would be a good idea. Well, Seirra listened more that said anything.” Looking directly at her she asked, “Seirra you have been awfully quiet, is there something wrong?”

Still not saying anything, she just shook her head in the negative. But anyone looking at her could see that she was upset. Well, truth be told, that probably applied to all of them. “Anyway I think that Schylar and Storme will be too interested in making sure that they are in control than pursuing us.” Silent for a moment she continued, “I do hope that they like their choice for a leader back there. But I think everything is just about to come unraveled. I really think that they are not going to survive. He has never been a leader no matter what he thinks of himself. And that is going to haunt them and I believe destroy them.”

No body disagreed with her assessment. In fact if there was anything that they could agree upon it was that Schylar would destroy the ones who threw in with him.

* * *

The next seven days passed rapidly as they had continued up through the caves that Shellian and Saige had discovered. Until they had reached the final one that they had discovered, and here they had made their base camp. The storm had lasted three days, and had allowed them to leave no trail behind them. So if Schylar decided to pursue there would be no trail for him to follow. Here once again they needed to follow the almost invisible path to its source. Worry was with them since they had been given much too little food to be able to last more than fifteen days. They began to ration the food to extend their days, and they knew even then it would not be enough. They had to find something and very soon.

They continued their exploring deeper into the mountains, following the almost invisible path that had been placed who knew how far in the past. They discovered six additional caves, all constructed, and all with the same unknown heating system and dim lighting. But here they just ended, or begun, they did not know which. But as each new cave was discovered they would move their camp into it until now they were days away from their original camp. Saige, thinking out loud, said. “I just don’t understand this. These caves have me stumped. I mean look they are at half-day intervals. The first one you found Shell’ was where we made our first camp, and this one just seems to be either the last or first. Either way we should be within half a day of either the end of the trail or the source, I don’t know which. It just seems weird to me that there should be nothing but these caves. Yet we have searched both sides, the first one that we found we searched for additional caves and there were none. Not to say that we could have missed them, but the faint trail that we followed to find all of them disappears beyond this one, and beyond the first one.”

Listening as he talked it out Stone then said, “I agree. It is a puzzle that’s for sure. The trail that we followed is very ancient and like you and Shellian stated you sense more than see it. But to have nothing at either end just doesn’t make sense. And from looking at them they were never constructed to be more than a safe stopping point along this route. So where do these things lead us? Right now I have to admit the answer seems to be nowhere . . . but why nowhere? Why waste your time constructing these things? I just don’t know or understand the logic of it all.”

“The one thing I do know that if we do not find some additional food soon the rest is a moot point anyway. We are down to just a few more days, so either we find some of the grazers to provide meat or we find something else. Right now we cannot be particular in our choices”, Saar added. “Yes I know that as we found these caves that we have been searching, but not the location of where the grazers, which stay in these high areas are hidden, and these mountains are huge so they could be anywhere.”

* * *

The five push ever higher and deeper into the Sacred Mountains following an almost invisible trail that seems to have simply ended. The first cave lower down that had originally been discovered by Shellian shows no sign of this trail extending beyond its location back towards the lower slopes, as well as this final cave they are staying in presently. It makes no sense that this chain of caves begins and ends with nowhere to go, no destination, and no beginning. Desperate, as their food supply is almost at an end, Saar states the obvious, still it is something that is in the forefront and on all of their minds. Without finding a new source of food they will starve. And it is with these thoughts we close out part 3. Have a great week and God Bless! (www.fdbrant.com)

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