Ella

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Ella had been raised with humans since she was a wee calf, only two months old. She’d been abandoned by her mother, who simply walked away one afternoon while she was sleeping in the damp Savannah heat under a baobab tree.

Perhaps the mother forgot her? Perhaps she walked off to check on a sound or find something to eat. Perhaps she didn’t want to be a mother anymore. Perhaps she was too young for the experience, or it was more than she’d anticipated.

Regardless of the reasons why, the “what” was that Ella was by herself for a day and a night before she was found by a safari full of New Zealand tourists. That area wasn’t on their tour, but her bellows aroused their curiosity so they rerouted.

Ella was fine for a few hours after she awoke. It wasn’t unusual for Mama to go away. Calves had to learn to be independent early on, so mothers didn’t coddle them. But when sunset came and Mama still wasn’t there she started to get a little anxious. That hungry feeling in her tummy got more insistent, which only worsened her anxiety. It was a terrible self-reinforcing loop. Ella began to whine, quietly at first, feeling sad and alone. She didn’t want to call the wrong sort of attention to herself. There were plenty of animals in the Savannah who would love to make a meal of a young elephant left unguarded by her intimidating parents. But after a few hours alone under the stars, Ella started the bawl openly, no longer holding back. She no longer cared if some predatory animal was drawn to her cries. Death was better than this, this half-life of loneliness and fear.

What would she do? How would she care for herself? Her mama had been her world, her constant companion. And now as far as she looked across the flat scrubland, she saw nothing but thorn bushes and trees stripped of their leaves by the giraffes. She was still awake, red-eyed and hoarse from her keening in the early morning when the safari group found her.

A young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Eli Halverson, married just 6 1/2 months, decided to take her as their own. They’d agreed when they were engaged that they didn’t want children, both having been raised by abusive parents. They didn’t trust themselves to not repeat the pattern. It was as if they both chosen to be teetotalers after being raised by alcoholics. Safer for everyone all around if they didn’t even try. But an elephant was another matter entirely. And who couldn’t fail to fall in love with her? Her huge dark eyes with her long ashes locked into them like a tractor beam. There was no chance of escape.

However, there were a few obstacles to overcome. How to get her home? An airplane was out of the question. If airlines charge by the pound for luggage, there’s no way they can get her on board. Perhaps a combination of train and boat? It was the only way it seemed. However, the moment they put her on the train for the first time they knew there was going to be a problem. She began to bawl when Jake stepped out of the car. He and Margie quickly realized one of them would have to stay with her.

They hurried to get another ticket and had to pay extra for the “privilege” of riding in the animal car. It wasn’t meant for people, and Mr. Gruber, the engineer, had to pay off the station manager to keep him from grumbling. Fortunately the weather was good, because the animal cars were ventilated on the sides. No use wasting heat and air on them. But Jacob would have a hard time. Even though it was early summer, the speed of the train would mean it would be rather chilly while it was traveling. Margie gave him her mink coat that he’d given her as an engagement gift to soften the blow. The other animals kept away from him once they caught a whiff of it, unsure of what it, or he, was. It masked his aftershave, however, and that was good. He was grudgingly accepted as one of them at least long enough to get Ella to her new home.

The weather box

It was that time again. Around August, every year for the past two decades, Michael consulted the box. He had to. It was part of his job as chief forecaster for the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Some would say it was all of his job, but he would disagree. There were plenty of other chores he did around the office on Main Street in Dublin New Hampshire that justified his salary, but this was by far the most important.

The box was kept in the editor’s office on the floor. It was unlocked in fact, Michael was sure he’d never even seen the keys for it. The information inside it was too valuable to risk not being available when needed. Michael shuddered to think how much damage would result from an attempt to open that black box. He might never be able to create the eerily accurate year-long forecast that the almanac was famous for. No it was best to leave it unlocked, safe and the editor’s office. The office door could be locked, sure, but there was no need.

Nobody stole anything here. It just wasn’t that sort of town. What came first the town or the almanac? Was the reason for the honest nature of the citizens due to the intentions of the founder low those 225 years ago? Or did he choose to place his center of operations in the town because of its nature? Did it matter? The two went together like peanut butter and jelly, both make each other better by being connected.

Michael had been carefully advised on the preparations he had to do before even starting to write the forecast. It was a carefully guarded secret handed down orally from meteorologist to meteorologist. Even the editor didn’t know what was involved. Even Michael’s wife, a kind lady who’d claimed him as her own when they were both in their mid-20s half their lives ago, even she who had seen his ups and downs and in between even she didn’t know.

It was only after he understood and agreed to the very specific and arcane instructions that he was even offered the job. It was essential for everyone safety, no doubt about it. One step forgotten or performed in the wrong order and people would die. Not immediately probably but certainly. He was by nature and inquisitive man, but on this point he knew better than to question any part of the litany, and certainly never to write it down.

But what if he died before he found his replacement? Subsequent meteorologists were carefully selected and groomed for the job by the current occupant. How would the knowledge pass on if he wasn’t around? It turns out that this wasn’t a concern. In fact, it was one of the perks of the job although nobody else knew it. He couldn’t die by accident as long as he performed the annual pre-prognostication ritual carefully and correctly. He wasn’t sure how closely the ritual matched the preparations the high priest made to approach the holy of holies in the holy temple 3000 years ago but he was pretty sure it wasn’t far off.

That cool August day, he took the box from the current editor’s office and took it to his own. He sat down at his small wooden desk after he’d locked the door. It was best to not be interrupted. He made sure that everybody was out of the office so they wouldn’t need anything from him for the rest of the day. They understood how important it was to not interrupt him once he started, but there was no telling but they might forget and try to come in to get a refill on their coffee or to tell him the latest sports score. He often did his forecasts on a Saturday for this very reason, so he could be sure nobody would be there.

Michael took a deep breath in and opened the box. He took out all the papers and put them to the side. He kept the box in front of him. The box was what mattered after all. The papers were a red herring, put there to confuse and misdirect. That was the trick – anybody could open the box and look through the papers there. The instructions made no sense to anyone, even him. This was on purpose. The box was the secret. This is why it has never changed for 225 years, not out of a sense of sentimentality or thrift.

The box was forged from a blend of steel, copper, and tektites. The pieces of the meteor had fallen behind Robert Thomas’ house all those years ago and they told him when he touched them while turning the soil for his wife’s daffodil bed that he must save them, for they would tell him the future. Not meaningless trivia, mind you, not anything so banal as who would win the World Series or who would be president in 130 years. No these meteorites would tell him what really mattered – the weather.

It was the weather that caused the crops to grow or not, and made life pleasant or deadly. Balmy days were nice, but ice storms and floods were what really mattered. Robert knew better than to keep the meteor pieces as is. They might get lost, or forgotten, or mistaken for knickknacks or paperweights and taken to the thrift store or given to a grandchild. No, he knew what to do – melt them into liquid steel and then forge them into a box. Nobody would think twice about a small metal box, like one you would use for keeping cash in at a garage sale or school bazaar. Hiding in plain sight.

Michael looked into the box and knew everything all at once. Some people thought making up the forecast for the year for the whole country was difficult. It turns out that the hard part was separating it out. The information came all at once into his mind, like a zip file. It took him the rest of the afternoon to scribble the important parts of it down, and then a week later to fill in the details and sort it out into an acceptable shape. It was like working a jigsaw puzzle without the cover.  You put together the bits that you could figure out and then filled in the rest from the sides.

Unexpected time

Lillie had all the time she wanted to read now, but it wasn’t how she wanted it. There is nothing but time to be had in the ICU waiting room. It was a good thing she’d brought her library book with her, but it wasn’t an accident. She always had a book with her. She’d even figured out how to read on her daily walks to visit James, just over 2 miles away. They lived off the main roads, so there wasn’t much traffic. It was easy to hold a book up in front of her and read while on the way. Of course, it slowed her down a little, so it took close to an hour to get there, but she didn’t mind. It was that much more time to read.

Her parents frowned on all her reading these days. They’d encouraged it when she was a child, even made a big to-do about her getting a library card of her own as soon as she could write her name. But now she was reading darker things, things they didn’t approve of. Long gone with the days of Junie B. Jones and Winnie the Pooh. Edward and Bella were more like it, or at least they were a few years ago. Aliens, zombies, conspiracy theories filled the bill these days. There was wasn’t much else for a young person to read anyway. It was either supernatural thrillers or ooey-gooey romance novels, and Lillie wouldn’t be caught dead reading one of those.

Of course, now wasn’t the best time to be reading an unusual book. Strangers shared the room with her, this strange room filled with dull grey lumpy armchairs and hard plastic tables covered with last year’s magazines. The only new magazines were medical ones, designed to make you worry about that slow healing spider bite or sell you some prescription drug you didn’t need. It didn’t take the other visitors long to run out of things to read, so they decided to make conversation. Anything was better than sitting still in silence, waiting and worrying until they were allowed back into visit their loved one, who was often too sick or too drugged up to noticed they were there.

“What you readin’?” The gruff boy asked Lillie, just loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to have to pay attention to, she decided. Perhaps she could pretend she was deaf? Just because she was sitting in the same room as someone else didn’t mean she was obliged to chat. They may think it is rude of her to be silent, but she thought it was rude of them to not be. Surely he understood? Surely he could see she was reading – he’d asked about her book. So why would she want to talk? She was already in the middle of a good conversation with the characters in her book. She wasn’t interested in starting a new one with this person – this untried, untested character. He was probably dull. That was an easy guess based on the fact he didn’t think to have a book with him. Well, that and he was wearing denim pants and a flannel shirt. How boring! Plus she didn’t want to explain her book. Too many people judge you based on the books you read. She’d taken to bringing safe books with her when she had to go to her own doctor’s appointments.

But this was different. She was here for James, not herself. He called her late at night, saying his stomach hurt. It had to be bad if he was telling anybody about it. He said his parents were on their way to pick her up so she could stay with him in the hospital if needs be. They both were too busy to take time off from work for something as inconsequential as sickness. They didn’t even take off when they were sick, so they certainly wouldn’t for their son. Lillie was ready before she’d even gotten off the phone. She always was ready. It was part practicality and part preparedness.
Sure, everybody should have a go-bag in the event of a natural (or man-made) disaster. But Lillie’s life was a disaster. She never knew where she was going to have to go from day to day. Mom sometimes picked her up from school and took her home. Dad sometimes told her to walk to his girlfriend’s house. Sometimes she took the bus. Sometime she stayed after school to work on her homework rather than risk her books getting damaged at home. Sometime she slept at school, around the back, under the pine tree. Nobody seemed to notice her or keep track of where she was. It was better to have whatever she might need in her backpack at all times, just in case.

She always wore the same kind of clothes so nobody ever noticed that she didn’t go home every day. She’d been irritated when the school shifted over to a school uniform, but soon saw the advantage of it – nobody would notice her. Her parents were pleased because black wasn’t on the list of approved colors. She soon learned that she didn’t have to wear black to express how she felt. Angry and lost and frustrated could be expressed even in a khaki skirt and light-blue collared shirt. Seething wasn’t limited to black.

James was sick and the doctors didn’t know how or why or what. Not like they cared about the why, not really. All they were interested in was naming the symptoms and treating them, not the reasons for them. But his symptoms were troubling. High fever. Pain on his left side. Sensitive to light. His blood was full of antibodies, so there was some infection somewhere. The doctors told Lillie everything they learned. James’s parents had said it was okay. Sure, there probably should’ve been forms to sign for it, but this wasn’t the first time the doctors had treated him. They knew how hands-off his parents were, and how devoted Lillie was.

But since they didn’t know anything, it was time for Lillie to consult her sources. Others in her group would use runes or crystal balls, but Lillie had long ago learned something better. Those were the kinds of tools that people noticed in the wrong kind of way, or they got lost, or taken. Lillie was all about simple and easy, so she used a book. No, nothing as complicated or obvious as a book of shadows. Her book was whatever she had in her hands at the moment. The dictionary would do in a pinch. Words were good, but sentences were better.

You just held the book in front of you, one hand on top and one on the bottom, draw in your energy, focus on your question, and open the book to a random page. Whatever was there was what you needed. Then you read whatever your eyes fell upon. If you needed more insight, then repeat until clarity comes. Sure, she had to read between the lines a little sometimes. But meanwhile it just looked like you were reading a book.

The only problem right now was this book wasn’t exactly safe to have out in public. Sure it came from the library, but it still was going to raise some eyebrows here in the Bible Belt. The title was “Blood Infernal”. If the title didn’t draw attention, but the cover certainly would. Bright red, like fresh spilled blood, with a profile of a crow. Perhaps it was perching on a gravestone? Or maybe a skull? It looked like a satanic book for sure, but that was all most were likely to see. They wouldn’t take the time to learn it was about the Holy Grail, and banishing the forces of darkness back from whence they came.

Most folks who would judge a book by its cover would do the same to a person. Decide she is damned, and turn away. Little did they realize that those such people with the very ones who needed their friendship the most. Perhaps they didn’t read the part that said a doctor heals the sick, not the well. Jesus had sharp words for anyone who thought they had it all figured out. Lillie knew this, but most folks wouldn’t think she would. They’d judged her just like they were told they shouldn’t. Maybe if they spent more time reading the Good Book instead of thumping it, they’d know better.

It was time for Lillie to consult her book. First flip. Her eyes lit upon a passage about blood. Another flip, also about blood. Well that was to be expected, being the subject and all. But maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Maybe he had an infection in his blood, maybe the blood itself was damaged somehow. But how? He’d not done anything unusual recently, hadn’t needed a transfusion. But wait! He donated blood, specifically plasma. It was a simple way to earn money when times were tight. Go to the clinic in the strip mall in Madison, fill out some forms, hang out for an hour and a half and get paid about $30 twice a week. It wasn’t enough to pay bills like a car payment or rent, but it was something, and after all, he was saving lives doing it. At least that was what all the brochures said.

Maybe something bad happened. Maybe his red blood cells got mixed up with someone else’s. Lillie dipped further and the next sentence talked about jealousy and unrequited love. Maybe the tech had a crush on him and was mad that he did not return the interest. Some people heard “I have a girlfriend” (or wife) to mean “try harder”. To them, having a partner meant you were good enough for somebody. It meant you’d passed some sort of test. Those kinds of people weren’t interested in people who were single. They figured there had to be something wrong with them. Of course, they didn’t figure on the raw truth that if you could be enticed away from who you were dating to date them, the same could happen again. Cheating was contagious.

Maybe the tech had put a hex on him? She’d have to go to the clinic to find out. She gathered up her things – water bottle, energy bar, book and journal with various pens – the standard hospital kit, checked with the nurses in the unit and hailed a cab. James wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the doctors weren’t likely to discover how to cure him where they were looking. This kind of sickness doesn’t show up on a lab test, but it affects you just the same.

Lillie knew that all too often doctors look for symptoms and not causes. They treat the infection with antibiotics but not look for the source. This was like the insanity of rebuilding your house every five years when you live in a hurricane zone. Best to avoid the problem and live somewhere else. Or perhaps it was like putting a Band-Aid on an amputated arm – it just wasn’t enough. The people live like this, unwilling or unable to notice cause-and-effect. Perhaps they thought they were being polite. Like how it is considered rude to point out the obvious. Lillie’s Dad had died that way. 20 years of smoking and he had a bad cough. The doctor gave him cough medicine, meanwhile not even discussing the need to quit smoking. It was palliative care trying to soothe, to silence. It wasn’t helpful, or healing. It wasn’t directly harmful, sure, but it was certainly neglect of due diligence.

Lillie knew that now was the best time to go to the clinic because she was going. It had taken years of prayer practice to align her actions with God’s, but once she found the spot, she knew it. No more acting too soon or too late. Now she waited patiently upon the Lord and acted in the right time and in the right way. She no longer worried about having the right supply with her or having the right training. When she was walking in Christ’s footprints, she always had and knew what she needed.

James didn’t understand this way of being, no, not at all. He trusted only what he had control over, what he could do to affect the situation. Once left in other’s hands, who knew what would happen? He was used to being lied to, either intentionally or not. People made promises and broke them all the time. In fact, this was the one thing he could count on – that he couldn’t trust others. They’d proven it to him over and over. He wondered whether they knew they were lying to him, or was it simply the case that they were lying to themselves? Self-delusion was a horrible trap. It was better to have someone intentionally be deceitful. At least that way they knew what they were doing. It was bad, sure, but it wasn’t mindless. The mindlessness of self-delusion, of not being aware of your own actions and impulses, would lead to a wasted life. Socrates was right when he said “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

Lillie loved him anyway, and prayed for him that he might awaken. This constant reacting instead of acting was going to get him stuck in a corner he couldn’t get out of within a few years. Failing to plan ahead and having to be rescued with standard operating procedure for a teenager, and somewhat acceptable for someone in their early 20s, but certainly not OK for someone who was 45, for instance. He wasn’t there yet, but if he didn’t take care he’d be there soon enough. Meanwhile, she tried to help when she could but otherwise stayed out of the way. Picking up his messes would only cause harm to both of them. If she kept rescuing him, he would never learn to plan better because he would never had to fully experience the chaos that he created for himself. Pain is an excellent teacher, after all. To clean up after people all the time cheats them of the valuable lesson of learning how to avoid making that mess in the first place.

An Autumn Wander

Did you know that you can go on a Wander without even leaving your home?  Wandering is something that is internal, not external.  Plenty of people go on walks that aren’t Wanders.   They go to get somewhere, or something.  They walk just for exercise, or to catch the bus for school or work, or to visit a friend who lives up the street.  But Wanders are different.

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You Wander when you don’t have a particular place to go, or even a direction.

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Your heart leads you – not a map or a compass.

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Turning and returning is the same.  You aren’t in a hurry.  You don’t need to rush.

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Slowing down, we can take the time to really see what is there – not what we think is there.

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Slowing down, we can feel with all our senses.  We can smell the leaves. We can touch the flowers.  We can delight in the many colors our eyes notice.  We can hear all that is around us.

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Perhaps more importantly, when we slow down, we can finally hear all that is within us.

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“Solvitur Ambulando” – “It is solved by walking.” – said Diogenes. Thoreau repeated it.  Walking solves a lot of things that concern us – inside and out.

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But be sure to walk slowly.  Savor.  Saunter.  Amble.  Mosey.  Don’t be in a hurry, or you’ll miss the whole point of the walk.

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Just go.  Trust.  Be out in the wilderness of your heart.  Know that you are safe, wherever you are.  Listen to the still small voice inside.  It will never lead you astray.

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So many of us have forgotten the sound of our own voice. So many of us have forgotten who we are.

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There is hope!   You aren’t lost.  Your voice is quietly waiting for you to seek it again.

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On your Wander, you can practice being You again – the You that got forgotten, or ignored, or pushed aside for the rest of the world.

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On a Wander, you finally have the time and space to be the person you’ve always wanted to be – Yourself.

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(All photos are from Pinterest, and are copyright to their respective owners.)

Alien Walkers (short story)

All the ones who survived had learned to incarnate. There was no way to relay this information back – the signal wouldn’t cross the membrane barrier. It was sink or swim as best you could. It was a sure way to weed out the ones who couldn’t adapt quickly.

It was an ugly way to go for those who couldn’t shift, who wouldn’t, who didn’t know how or didn’t think to. Their thin gray bodies desiccated in the Terran environment, reducing them to wrinkled bags of flexible chiton in a matter of hours. Or the crushing gravity pulled Them down, rendering Them unable to move, unable to find enough nutrients to support Their hummingbird-like metabolism. Their silica-based skeletal structure was too flimsy for this planet, so much larger than Their own, with so much more gravity. Or Their eyes, large and round like ostrich eggs, black as a waterless well, were quickly blinded by the intense rays of a sun three times larger than Their own. The natives who saw one of Them as They truly appeared were either seeing one who’d just arrived or as a thought hologram.

They’d had some preliminary forays the safest way possible (for Them) over the years using that technology. Why bother with a true hologram which required a transmitter to be physically present, when the same information could be simply beamed directly into the brains of the intended audience? Getting the signal right had taken quite some time. Too many otherwise sane people had been reduced to drooling idiots after they saw one of Them this way. They all had to be institutionalized, blathering on about aliens contacting them. These were the ones who had money, or relatives with money, of course. The rest shuffled off the chains of modern life and took to living in shacks they made out of cardboard and adopting mangy rats as pets. Fortunately they didn’t know the difference. To them, the rats looked like the pets they had abandoned when they went walkabout.

Some of the early visitors chose to “walk” into those unfortunates after the fact. They were like abandoned cars – all shell and no spark. The visitors were taking advantage of their loss. Best not to leave a good vessel to waste. Sure, the person was alive, after a fashion, but it was no life worth living. There was no return trip from the place their mind had gone. Back where the visitors came from it was considered a mercy to not let a friend or family member continue in such an empty existence. There, early termination was normal. Perhaps the soul / body match was off. Perhaps it was the wrong timeline to incarnate in. Better to nip it in the bud before it grew into an ugly weed with thorns and rotting fruit. There just wasn’t space, money, or time for that kind of indulgence.

As a result, there was no homelessness, no poverty, no addictions of any kind where They came from. No pandering, no excuses, and certainly no jails. One example of self-or-other harm was enough. There was never a second. If the citizen didn’t realize their misalignment, others close to them did and took care of matters for them. There were EVAC tubes in every town hall for just such occasions. The soul was released, the body pulverized and scattered, returning the elements to the land from whence they came. Prayers were said, rituals performed. Within a month and a half the soul had found another body to incarnate in to try again. During that between time the souls attended a sort of rehabilitation school, and because they weren’t stuck in a body, they didn’t have to sleep, eat, or work to keep it from falling apart, so school was continuous

Everyone on the planet had been through this process countless times. It was what you did. Rather than suffer through an ill-fitting soul / body match for the duration of the life expectancy of the body, just try again.

After the first few visitors traveled bodily to earth and had such difficult transitions, They learned. The ones who survived took the closest body They could, be it eagle, skunk, or human. It didn’t matter as long as it was mobile. A few had “walked” into cacti or trees and found they were stuck. Not only could They not locate others (either of Their kind or local), but They also couldn’t leave Their new vessels like They were used to. There were no EVAC units here, and once They tapped into the collective unconsciousness of Their hosts, They learned it wouldn’t ever be likely to be an option here. Locals preferred to tough it out or make the best of a bad situation. They held on for the sake of holding on, not realizing that path was full of unnecessary suffering.

The visitors soon learned the religious stories of the objects of Their study. Several had discussed reincarnation. One even had as a central figure a man who had reincarnated in an unheard-of three days – but he had said that he was the heir of the sovereign deity of that region. Perhaps he was more advanced due to his lineage and didn’t need as much rehabilitation as Their souls did. It had long been suspected that certain bloodlines ran more true, but on Their planet, admission to these families was by merit, not by lottery like all the rest.

But then Their planet started to get full. There weren’t enough new bodies being created to fill the need for souls to inhabit. As a collective, the citizens had realized the need to maintain green space. For a long time They had treated undeveloped land as “scrub”, not understanding that the plants cooled the planet and made it possible for them to breathe. Once they understood, they intentionally chose to limit how many citizens could reside in an area and also required everyone to plant a garden to produce their own food as a permanent solution.

Once they all realized the dire dilemma that was facing them, all citizens chose to limit themselves to only one offspring per couple. Singles who were already celibate became so, and partners negotiated who was going to be sterilized if they’d already reached their quota. It was simple, really, and it made sense until there was no place for the spirits to return to.

Some started beaming directly to earth to incarnate. Very few souls wanted to stay in the null-space that was the existence after being dis-incarnated. It is uncertain who introduced the idea to who, but the Catholic Church referred to that space as purgatory. It wasn’t quite enough of a word, but it was close. It wasn’t Nirvana as the Buddhists called the next level on, the one where you had learned all you wanted to learn and became one with the All That Is. Nor was it as milquetoast as Limbo. It was a bit like reform school, or rehab, or where you took your car to get the dents hammered out after an accident. It wasn’t a place you wanted to stay at for long.

There were difficulties with the first downloads, as would be expected. The natives had to invent new words to express what was going on. The Germans came up with “doppelgänger”, the Vikings with “berserker” when adults were taken over. In England the word “changeling” was used to indicate a child who had been swapped. Perhaps “possessed” was the right word in all these cases, as the soul of the original occupant of the body remained but was suppressed. It was as if They were carjackers, who instead of stealing the car while it was parked outside of Walmart, took it at a stoplight and threw the driver in the trunk. It wasn’t ideal, and many of Them hesitated to do it, but They overcame Their reticence once They saw how backwards and unevolved the earthlings were. It was exactly the same as how the Europeans could justify the murder and eviction of the Native Americans. They were seen as less than animals, or even as animate beings. It is easy to oppress others when you don’t think of them as people, or even alive. They thought they were doing the inhabitants of favor.

But then there were individuals who were able to coexist with the visitors, those whose spirits were strong enough due to their own unique soul-work they had (fortuitously) done before the unexpected occupation of the “walk-ins”, or those who were naturally blessed with flexible minds. Rigidity of thought was a certain predictor of the occupation not going well for the original soul. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy while suddenly living in a vastly more-dimensional world was tenuous at best for those who had never contemplated anything more involved than who to vote for on American idol.

In times past these people who adapted to an extra presence and sensory experience would have been called seers or prophets, but in a world suspicious of anything even seeming to refer to religion, they chose to remain quiet about it. Some would read the works of mystics from the past to develop words for their own understanding of what was happening to them. Some read science fiction for the same purpose, while some wrote it. It was an odd awareness, this other knowing, this extra way of feeling and seeing before and between and beyond. It was precognition, to be sure, but it was so much more. It was hearing sound after a lifetime of deafness. It was seeing a rainbow after being born colorblind. It was everything all at once and with no warning.

Most native souls retreated during the onslaught of sensation that was the norm for the visitors, the aliens, the occupiers, making it easy for them to control the body-vessel. Enough of random access memory remained after the upgrade for the visitor to integrate virtually seamlessly. Passwords were remembered, along with names of pets and friends and where their house was located. The more adept “walkers” made it seem like nothing had changed it all. The moment of the possession had seemed as unremarkable as the lights flickering when a storm was in the area. Out for a second while the transfer overlay happened, and then back to business as usual.

It was discovered that those who were able to not only endure but thrive during the overlay experience either had a lot of gold in them or on them. In some cases they had gold rings on their fingers or crowns on their teeth. Some naturally had gold in their bodies, the same as most people had copper or zinc. But gold, unlike these metals, wasn’t something you’d find in a multivitamin. Some had unknowingly obtained it by walking barefoot in the forest, while others had consumed a sample bottle of Goldschlager schnapps on a dare in college. However the reason, the gold worked as a conductor and a buffer, retaining the best of both personalities and enabling both to work peaceably together.

A watery resurrection

Marley awoke and there was water everywhere. Dark, murky water filled her mouth and lungs, but she didn’t need them anymore, because the same water filled her grave.

She’d resurrected the moment Jesus appeared in the sky overhead. Even though there was 6 feet of earth and well over 20 feet of water between her and the air, she still knew. She knew the same way Bradford pears knew it was time to bloom, when all at once, seemingly overnight, every one of them burst into shimmering snowflakes of petals, all over the city. How did they know? They just did, and scientists still couldn’t figure it out. But it made sense after all – scientists couldn’t measure the Spirit, and that was what was it work, both with the trees and with Marley.

She was lucky she’d been buried before “professionals” took over the laying out. When she died, her mother and her aunts had cared for her, just like they had done when she was born. They took her down to the creek, an arm of the Stones River, and washed her body. It was like a baptism she’d never had. She’d died at 11 in 1843 of diphtheria. One week she was fine, and then she got a sore throat that seemed to take over all of who she was. It weakened her heart and that was enough to send her out of this world. Little did her family know but if that disease hadn’t killed her, the strain of her having a child years later would have. Better to die now, with no obligations, nobody beholden to leave behind.

Her Granny had told her about Jesus, about his coming back, so this wasn’t a surprise. There’d been many quiet talks over the years while they quilted together or snapped beans out on the back porch for the evening meal. They were looking forward to next summer when the preacher came by to do the yearly baptizing in the creek to formally include her in the local congregation. Sure, she went to church, when she could, when she remembered, when there wasn’t something she had to do at the house. There were always chickens to feed or weeds to pull, and these things didn’t do themselves, as Marly’s Pa was always saying when she tried to put the chores off until later. “Best do them now, Marley girl, before something else comes up what wants tendin’.” He was right, of course, but all those “have to’s” took away from the “want to’s” and the creek needed swimming and the flowers needed picking and the insects needed catching in her mind. The days were positively filled with things to do that had nothing to do with chores, but there was no way of getting around to it all.

But Marley always kept the Sabbath in her heart all her days. She was a simple girl, never one to pry or gossip. All children start off good, the only problem is that the clever ones were a quick study on how to be bad. It took smarts to figure out ways around the rules, and Marley was lucky in that she never had cause to worry about that being a problem. Normally her days were filled with daydreaming about playing with her dolls, once the chores were done, of course. There was no school to go to, not for her, not for anybody in Old Jefferson. There weren’t enough families to pay for a building and a teacher, and there weren’t enough children to fill it. The nearest school was a three hour’s walk away and her family couldn’t spare her for that long with so many things to do around the homestead.

She knew it was time to rise from the grave, the same as if it had been school bell calling her. The call was silent but just as insistent, just as impossible to ignore. And why would she? Who would want to play hooky from heaven? She pushed against the rotten pine boards of the coffin, sending them swimming lazily to the side along with thick clumps of mud. It took her about 20 minutes to reach the surface, which in this case was the bottom of the lake. It didn’t take long after that to swim up to the air, but it was hard work, hard for muscles that hadn’t been used in over a century.

Why was the grave underwater, she mused? Where did the lake come from? Where was her house? For that matter, where was the rest of her family? Surely they’d be rising with her, but she saw none of them nearby. Perhaps they were buried elsewhere? She didn’t dare consider that they might still be in the ground, like iris bulbs that had gone mushy, with no spirit left in them to bloom reborn from the dark earth in which they were planted.

The Corps of Engineers had flooded the town of Old Jefferson late in 1966 to make a hydroelectric dam, big enough to bring clean, reliable power to them and half a dozen other little towns to boot. Only trouble was that the towns had to relocate to higher ground to benefit from that progress. Power doesn’t do you any good if your farm is at the bottom of a lake.

Moving the people and their livestock was hard enough, but then someone remembered the graves. There were hundreds of family cemeteries in the valley, often tucked away at the ends of farms, at the highest point, so that the well water wouldn’t be affected. Here the dead were laid to rest at the tops of hills in order to be closer to heaven. But with the water coming, all the dead had to be relocated the same as the people. It wasn’t an easy task – living relatives had to be located, permission forms had to be signed and notarized. Many of the dead were moved to the Mount Juliet cemetery, but some stayed right where they were laid to rest however long ago that was.

Sometimes the family had moved on or died out so they couldn’t be asked for permission. Otherwise, the remaining relatives decided it was more respectful to leave their loved ones alone after seeing some of the other graves exhumed. Plain pine boxes and fancy mahogany ones all rot the same after a few years under the pressure of 4 tons of dirt from a standard size grave. It was a hard sight to see, all those coffins being dug up and falling apart. It wasn’t respectful, to their mind. Better leave them where they were.

In Marly’s case, it was a little of both. The family had moved away not long after she had died, too distraught to live in the same place where their child had died. It didn’t make sense for her to go so young. Mama blamed herself for not taking better care of her, while Pa lamented that he’d not had enough money saved up to take her to the doctor, who might have been able to do some good for a change. They’d left rather than have to answer all those open questions hanging around like dead fruit. It didn’t solve the problems, of course, just pushed them off until later. Unanswered questions always have a way of not staying quiet.

The family had left the tending of their graveyard to the neighbors, who promised to keep the small plot mowed and free of trespassers of any kind. They assured her kin that they’d treat them like their own, and sent them off with sandwiches and a jug of fresh apple cider on moving day. In return they got the house and the farm signed over to them. Her family was ready to start again from scratch. They figured it was the only way to make up to Marly for letting her die the way they did.

When the time came to move that plot, the neighbors had said no, in part upset at the hullaballoo created by the other exhumations, and in part hopeful that the Corps would give up on their plans. They thought that if enough people left the dead where they were, the government would have to relent and let the living stay. They didn’t count on the fact that the government doesn’t have feelings.

It sure was a sight to see the dead come up out of the grey-green water that late August day. It was a Wednesday when it happened in Davidson County. The Rising had started a day earlier in Israel, and had traveled like a wave over the world, spending just as long in each area as the number of dead required. Some areas took longer than others. Some were full of the faithful. Some took barely a moment, in spite of the many thousands of graves there.

The Messiah appeared in the sky, exactly as promised, trailing clouds of glory. Signs and portents had pierced the skies for weeks beforehand, but only a few people heeded them. Likewise, dreams and visions occupied the nights and days of many people, but most wrote them off to stress and took another Xanax or drank some Nyquil. They complained about their insomnia on their Facebook pages, not taking notice of how many others were having the same experience.

It was a lot like when the first raindrops started to fall when the Flood happened. Nobody but Noah and his family thought it was going to keep on raining. It was a lot like when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed – all those people died, and only Lot and his daughters were mindful enough to leave. Noah, Lot, Joseph – they all heard the voice of God and took it seriously and lives were saved. Only those who took the messages seriously were saved.

This time, many preachers told their flocks to ignore the messages, because they hadn’t heard the voice themselves. Surely God would speak to them, they thought. Why would God waste God’s time on the sheep and forget the shepherd, they mused. The problem was that they forgot that Jesus was the Shepherd, and they were the same as their church members. They’d forgotten that they weren’t in charge of anything at all. When they’d decided to take up the role of minister and do all the talking, they’d given up the most important part of following God – listening. Only those who’d remained humble pastors were called this time to the great awakening. They were the ones who remembered Who was the One who was the true leader of the Church.

Marly was listening, that was for sure. She rose up, high in the sky, and was greeted personally by Jesus. She asked him how this could be since she wasn’t baptized, and he said that she’d been baptized with the only baptism that counted, the one of the Spirit. He told her that a water baptism is something people do, for show. It wasn’t real. It was a hope, a promise. It pointed towards the real thing, but it wasn’t it. It didn’t mean anything at all when it came to being saved. That was something between the person’s soul and the Spirit, the presence of God in the world.

Like called to like in that case, with the Spirit calling and the soul responding. Water wasn’t necessary, because the Spirit could use any element it wanted. An element from the Earth was helpful, because it was a sign to the body. The soul knew when it was recognized by the Spirit, when it was welcomed home. The body needed a little more convincing, however, so some sort of ceremony was needed to remind it. That was all baptism was, he said, a reminding, a remembering, a joining back together with the side that had been forgotten during childhood. We are created in heaven, in the Spirit, and as babies are still attached to that world. Marley, having never truly left it, didn’t have any work at all to do to be part of that world again as a soul in a body.

Many others had a lot more work to do, because being a soul in a body was distracting. It was so needy, the body, so demanding. It made them forget their commitments by replacing them with cravings. It provided daily (sometimes hourly) reminders that they couldn’t possibly survive in this world without constant and persistent re-turning towards the Light that is God.

Gerald’s big truck

Gerald got a Ford F-150 years back, and he was never the same. He had always been mild-mannered, meek even. Never spoke up at work or home, never insisted on his way. It wasn’t like he was content with his life, just complacent. He’d spoken his mind before but nobody paid him any heed, so he just quit trying.

All that changed when he got his truck. He wasn’t even looking for one. The lease had run out on his Chevy Malibu and he no longer needed a car with all that passenger space. The dealer noticed he was tall and suggested a truck. “This is just like the one I drive!” the dealer said as he steered him over to a huge red truck. “All the big strong guys drive trucks these days” he said with a slap on Gerald’s back.

Gerald didn’t like the slap or the big booming voice of the salesman, but he had never thought of himself as being big or strong, and he certainly wanted to make the salesman happy, even though he’d already forgotten his name. Two hours of paperwork and a test drive later and he was the owner of a brand-new pick-up truck and a five year loan at 3% interest.

It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t obvious at first. But over the first month, Gerald changed, and not for the better. It seemed better at first, sure. He was more confident, more self-assured. Something about sitting way up high in that all-American piece of machinery made him feel he could do anything. He’d never felt so bold or brave before. His confidence carried into the rest of his life, and he started telling people what he thought for a change. Since he’d had no practice at it before, he would state his mind and not wait to see if there was a rebuttal. He ran over other people in conversation, and before long he was cutting them off on the road as well.

No more mister nice guy, he was a truck owner now so he feared nothing and no one. Nobody could tell him he was wrong, and nobody could get in his way. He’d transformed from an inchworm into a snake and there was no turning back.