Not unlike the doting mother who supports their gawky son or daughter at an American Idol audition, several of you have been following my blog for a while. I very grateful for this, and I am here to report that your fortitude has been rewarded- assuming you consider my continuing to write more rewarding than punitive.
Sometime last fall, I began a story called the Messengers. In short, it is a contemporary fantasy about two ordinary neighbors who receive strange, identical letters. Upon reading them, they find themselves in an altogether different world, on a mysterious mission. The story also profiles other characters from within this new world, who are heroes and villains in their own right.
After writing the first chapter, it became clear that the Messengers would be longer than what myself- and those who support me- are accustomed to. So, it took the form of a serial.
After a long dormition, it is high time to revisit this little adventure in hopes that more will join me, and that I will be able to follow it through to completion. I wanted to include the links to the previous chapters along with this brief explanation, so you could get caught up.
Chapters One and Two
I would suggest reading the chapters in order, as this is the way stories usually work. Plus, I tend to jump from one character to another when the chapters change, so reading them out of sequence might mean you miss out on an entire character, not to mention having a considerably harder time following the storyline.
Please note this is a story for adults. I hope you find it worth the extra time it may take to read; may you stick around along with me to see what happens next.
Without further ado, here are Chapters 4 and 5. I do hope you enjoy. You may safely expect more to come soonish.
There were only a few things Liem could remember about the day things fell apart. He remembered being twelve years old. He remembered his mother had been making a stew in the kitchen. And he remembered being in the garden.
He loved the garden. It was shabby and wilted. It always wanted water, but it was his. Liem was strong for his age and had no problem plowing and digging, but his greatest pleasure was in the planting itself. He relished the feel of the soft, cool earth between his fingers. He would place a seed gently in the ground, and move dirt over it with his hands. To watch him, you would think he was afraid to wake it.
Liem spent countless hours scrutinizing the tiny green leaves when they first peeked out at him through the thick, black dirt; he never tired of it. He marveled at the new life each time it emerged from the soil, bursting without fear into the great beyond.
He was daydreaming when he first realized the scream he heard was his mother. He didn’t even take time to set down the shovel. Charging into the house, he saw her on the floor, cowering in the corner. Her skirts were raised and she was surrounded by a group of men, armed and vicious. They were forcing themselves on her, one after the other, and beating her with their fists. And Liem realized he could no longer hear her screaming.
He felt frozen, as if his very blood was turning to ice. His eyes were in the same moment void of feeling and completely furious. His stomach seemed to flip over and he wanted to wretch.
“Leave her be!” he shouted, trembling.
All the eyes in the room turned to him.
“Get the little brat,” came a voice from somewhere in the calamity.
Liem didn’t even realize his arms were moving until he heard the dull thud of the shovel across the head of one of the thugs, who fell to the ground in a heap. He gripped the handle tighter. He swung harder, in every direction. One swing for each thing he had loved about his mother. One by one they fell. He felt something warm on his hands
I had just wanted, he thought, to plant her some flowers.
Liem said aloud, “Mother”, and was no longer brave.
He fell to his knees. The shovel clattered to the floor
He reached for his mother. She was all too still. That’s when he saw something green and glowing, resting in her open hand. It was small and round, dangling from a chain of gold. He took it and put it on. The light dimmed.
It felt like hours, but it was really only a moment before a figure darkened the doorway. Liem looked up, into his piercing green eyes. The stranger surveyed the room: he followed the trail of blood, mingled with hate and anguish, to the boy with the strong hands and the tear-stained face.
“Take him with us,” said the stranger, “he may be useful”.
Liem opened his eyes. Ten years had passed, but the nightmares came now more than ever. He wiped the cold sweat from his brow and slid out of bed. Carefully, he crossed the halls and moved about the stairwells; descending until the moonlight vanished. He found a torch and continued through a narrow hallway. They were quiet now, most of them sleeping; the heavy sleep of the confined. From a few of the cells he passed he heard sobs, from others prayers.
From one, a song.
He had discovered her songs pacing the prison halls one sleepless night, and he found himself returning to hear them nearly every night, after the terrors of his past woke him. Something in her gentle refrains quieted his soul. He thought of how weak she had been in his arms when she fell. He thought of her fearful eyes, and wondered how they were still so bright and blue.
The amulet around his neck glowed a deep, emerald green.
His hands rested on the latch that kept her in darkness.
“Morning will come,” he whispered.
It was all at once a fact and a promise.
There was no storm. There was no city. They were alone, in the middle of a forest clearing. Sarah looked at her bare feet, remembering her shoes were on the floor of John’s apartment, a world away.
“Do you think this is a dream?” he asked her.
“I sure hope so,” she said.
“Sorry about your shoes,” John said. He looked at his own feet. His sneakers were a little big for Sarah’s feet, but he slipped them off and handed them to her.
“It’s the least I can do for being partially responsible for your being sucked into some kind of alternate dimension.”
Sarah laughed and thanked him for the sneakers. Tying them, she looked up at John. He was pacing the clearing and avoiding eye contact.
She walked over to him. Placing her hand on his shoulder, she said, “This isn’t your fault. It isn’t yours or mine or anyone’s. We just took a chance and now we’re here.”
John nodded. He sighed. After a moment, he looked at Sarah and said, “Do you still have the letter?”
On the ground rested one of the letters, face down. The other letter was nowhere in sight. It had been lost somewhere between Life as They Knew It and Now.
Sarah turned the paper over in her hand.
“It’s gone,” she said.
“What’s gone?” John turned toward her.
“The message we read at first. There is a new one now, “ she said.
“What does it say?” he said, with more than a little hesitation.
Sarah read a single word aloud:
In that instant, the ground rumbled and shook. The brush and branches before them parted; it was as if the very foliage was giving them permission to pass. They exchanged a bewildered glance.
“Can’t argue with that,” Sarah said.
Laughing, her neighbor shrugged his shoulders and pulled half his mouth into a smile. He stepped carefully onto the path, wondering to himself about the durability of his socks. Though he thought he would look odd strolling through the woods in green argyles, he was not adventurous enough for bare feet.
At a given moment, the path stretched no more than a few yards in front of them. Before they could step off the end of the path, the ground and grass would sputter and shift, keeping them on course.
“I wonder how far we’re supposed to go,” he said.
Sarah shook her head. Answers, words, and understanding were all eluding her. John didn’t seem to mind, or notice. They proceeded in an awkward, heavy silence for a while.
John was the first to speak, “Do you think we will ever get back home?”
“God knows,” Sarah said, “I don’t know what I’ll do if we do get back.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, my job, for one,” she said, “My boss has no patience for me missing work.”
John felt a pang of guilt and attempted to nod knowingly.
“No job, no money, no rent,” she trailed off.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “If I hadn’t pushed you to open your letter—“
“I wouldn’t be here,” she watched his eyes avert before she continued, “I would be sitting in a cubicle alone, answering phones, living a perfectly predictable life.”
John smiled; he could feel his cheeks flush. Sarah patted him on the back.
They almost strolled through the unfamiliar woods. Either they had forgotten the oddity of the path, or they were resigned to trusting that it knew where to take them.
“And what would you be doing?” she asked him, lightly, “If we weren’t on this little expedition.”
“Skipping work, smoking too many cigarettes, painting. “
“Yeah,” he said, feeling sheepish, “I work in an office, pushing paper. I don’t even really know what I do, honestly. And every few weeks, when I feel myself drowning in that stuff, I call in sick. And I stay home and paint.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up. “That’s amazing. I hope to see them someday—your paintings, I mean.”
“Of course,” John said, a bit embarrassed. He had never shown his paintings to anyone before, but he wanted her to see them, too.
He looked over at her and felt at ease for the first time since sipping his morning coffee. He wasn’t even sure how long ago that had been. He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment, hoping he would open them and be looking at his dirty kitchen floor. They snapped open when Sarah yelped. He turned to find her on the ground, clutching her foot.
“The path ran out,” she said, “I wasn’t looking. I stepped on something.”
John knelt down beside her, gently lifting her right foot. Something sharp and metallic had pierced his flimsy canvas shoe. It was roughly the shape of a nail, but broader, with a square base. John looked at Sarah apologetically. She was wincing from the pain.
“You may hate me for a moment, but I’m going to have to pull it out,” John said.
Sarah nodded. She closed her eyes and held her breath.
John closed his hand around the base of the strange object and pulled, hard and straight. It slid back through the shoe, with some abruptness. Sarah cried out, as much in pain as in relief that John was able to remove it on the first try.
“Sorry,” he said, “Here, let me help you.”
“Thank you,” she smiled at him, wiping some stray tears.
John carefully removed the shoe. Unbuttoning his over shirt, he took it off and wrapped it around Sarah’s foot. When the makeshift bandage was secure, he asked her, “Do you want to keep going? If you need to, we can rest here a moment.”
“No, that’s alright. Something tells me we should keep on,” Sarah looked gingerly at the pointed metal shard in her hand, “What shall we do with this? Keep it is a memento?”
“I suppose so,” John said, “Here, I have pockets.” He wrapped it in a handkerchief and placed it in his back pocket. Then removed the letter, which he had put there at the start of the path.
“What do we do now? What does it say?”
John took a deep breath and read:
Their eyes met, afraid for one another. The thick grasses, bushes, and brambles cleared away around them. And there where they stood, the path divided.