Endolye Chapter 5: Lending a Hand

Chapter 5 – Lending a Hand

“ADDIS!” Seeya screeched. “What have you done? The indignity! The treachery! I can’t believe you would do that! Pushing me, unwilling, into goodness knows where! What if I never see my Bulu again? What if there’s danger here? What if,” he paused for a moment and closed his eyes, “it’s ugly.”

He flew at Addis and hovered in front of his face, “I demand you get me back to the Bulu! This is outrageous! I simply will not stand for this!”

As he hovered in front of Addis with his arms crossed, Dante thought he actually looked a little panicked. A hair had fallen across his forehead and there were a few beads of sweat on his brow.

“Seeya, you’re being ridiculous,” Addis said. “Not to mention that you’re nearly hysterical. Look, you have a hair out of place.”

Seeya instantly regained his blank expression and smoothed back his hair. “Well,” he sniffed, you don’t have to get personal.”

Addis reached into his bag and pulled out a pair of hiking boots and a camouflage vest. He pulled an ottoman from his bag and sat down to put on his shoes. When he was done he put the ottoman back into his bag and stood up. He looked at the other two, and then looked around.

“Right,” he said, “any of this look familiar to anyone?”

Dante and Seeya both shook their heads. Seeya approached the arch, but as with the portal in the field, it disappeared when he got close to it. He turned and Dante smiled at him kindly.

“Well,” he said, “it was worth a try.”

Although his face was still blank, Dante thought she recognized something about it. Then she realized it was the look of someone about to cry. She quickly tried to think of something that might make the small Oralian feel better.

“Well, Seeya,” she said smiling, “at least you’re the best looking thing around here.”

Seeya brightened a bit and looked around.“Well,” he said, “yes, I am, aren’t I?”

Addis just shook his head and picked up his bag. He looked around, decided on a direction, and began walking. Dante and Seeya followed him around the boulders and down a small hill. When they reached the base of the hill they had to walk around more boulders in front of them. As they rounded the corner Dante stopped and stared in surprise. Addis had stopped a few steps ahead of her, and stood watching the scene.

“What?” Seeya said, bringing up the rear. “Why did we stop?” Then he too saw what they were watching.

“Oh,” he said, “they’re not at all attractive, are they?”

A community of creatures was in front of them, digging industriously. They had rounded backs that looked like they were made of armor, and they had four arms and two legs. At least Dante thought it was four arms and two legs.

Although the way they’re using them, she thought, it could be four legs and two arms, or three arms and three legs, or six legs or six arms. The creatures were chanting as they dug, and huge amounts of earth were being moved. Dante took two steps forward to stand next to Addis.

“What are they?” she whispered.

“How should I know?” Addis answered, turning to look at her. “It’s my first time here too, remember?”

“Well,” Seeya said, swooping past the two of them, “there’s nothing like a good first impression, and that’s my job.” He flew down to the nearest creature and hovered in front of it.

“Hello there,” he said, pleasantly, his face expressionless. “Could you please tell us where we are, and who you charming folk might be?”

Without ceasing its work or looking up, the creature said, “You’re in the Hollow, and we’re the Brox.”

“I see, uh, Mr. Brox,” Seeya said, “well, I’m Seeya, and that’s Addis and Dante.” He gestured to the two figures standing slightly apart from them. The Brox didn’t look up from his work.

Seeya flew back to Addis and Dante, “Well, obviously there’s some problem with these people.”

Dante went slowly toward the working figure, and stopped a short distance away. “I’m sorry to bother to you,” she said, “but we could use some help.”

The creature stopped working and looked up. Dante smiled tentatively, while Addis and Seeya slowly approached.

“We don’t know where we are,” she said, “but we’re looking for portals, and for any news about the Lost Council.”

“I see,” it said, wiping its forehead with one of its arms, and placing two others where its hips would be, if it had any, which it didn’t, “and why are you doing that?”

He looked the three of them up and down. “We’re not interested in any Council or in any of those folks coming back. They went away to do a job, and when the Brox returned he was talking all about the journey of the inner self and aesthetic values. Kept getting distracted when he had a job to do. Just as well without him. And without you.” He turned back to his work.

Addis stepped forward. “Now look,” he began, but Dante cut him off.

“I’m sorry we’ve bothered you. We’ll just pass through and keep going.” And she began walking past the Brox, motioning for the other two to follow.

“Stop, stop,” the creature said. “I didn’t say you had to go, it’s just that I’m busy here. Look, we’ve got to finish our work before … well I don’t have time to explain now, but if you follow this path you’ll come to the Pod, and you can wait there until we’re finished. Then we can talk and see what help we might be.”

“That’s great,” Dante said, “thanks so much, and it’s been a pleasure meeting you.” She extended her hand.

The Brox looked at it a moment and then said, “You’ve only got two, I wouldn’t be giving them away. Or is that how you lost the others?”

Dante dropped her hand and stammered, “Well, no, it’s just that where I come from…”

“Is of no concern to me.” The Brox turned back to his work. “I’m Greff,” he said, “and you’re welcome to stay. Just keep following the path between the rocks.”

“Well,” Seeya said as they left, “wasn’t he charming. Addis, this might be a good place for you. These people might actually make you look good.”

The three continued along the path Greff had pointed out. They made a turn around another large boulder and then stopped, realizing they must have reached the Pod.

There were Brox everywhere. They were standing in groups, and the younger Brox were playing games with each other. Everyone seemed to be involved in something.

Dante said, “Wow, they just seem to be doing something all the time, don’t they? It’s like they just can’t sit still.”

Seeya said flatly, “Work is just obscene. You don’t see anyone looking very good when they’re working.”

“Let’s just see what we can find out,” Addis said. He moved forward into the group with Seeya hovering around his head and Dante following.

“Look, strangers are in the Pod,” one of the Brox spoke, but without stopping what it was doing.

Another walked by without stopping, adding, “Yes, it looks like they’ve come from far away.” The adults kept working, but the children stopped what they were doing and came over to where the three travelers stood.

“Who are you?”

“Where are you from?”

“Why don’t you have more arms? ”

“How do you fly?”

“What’s in your bag?”

They stood looking eagerly at the newcomers and spoke all at the same time. For once, Seeya seemed shocked into silence; Dante was still trying to make sense of what was happening.

Without a word Addis opened his bag, reached in, and threw a handful of what looked like shiny marbles into the crowd of Brox youth. They squealed with delight, and ran around and over each other to retrieve their treasures.

Dante watched, delighted, as they played. They ran and shouted and laughed and when one stumbled or fell, several others stopped to help their friend to its feet. Often they would roll themselves into balls and be batted around by the others. One rolled past Dante and she batted it. It rolled right into one of the adults, who without stopping what it was doing, batted it back out into the crowd of children.

Dante found herself liking the Brox, despite their apparent lack of warmth. It was obvious they took care of, and cared deeply about, each other. It’s not that they’re unfriendly, she thought, they’re just busy getting their work done.  But I do wish they could stop for just a little bit to talk with us.

After they stood there watching for a moment, Seeya crossed his arms and sighed pointedly. “Well, we can’t just stand here watching this all day.”

Addis said, “Well, Seeya, for once we’re in agreement.”

He headed over to a sandy clearing between several of the rocks and opened his bag. He pulled out a beach umbrella, three folding chairs, some sunglasses and a pair of flip flops. He set up the umbrella and chairs, took off his hiking boots and vest, donned the sunglasses and flip flops and sat down.

“Have a seat.”

Seeya snorted. “No, I’m going to sit in front of all these people. What if I fall asleep? How would that look? I’m just going to take a look around and get our bearings.” And he zipped away from the clearing and out of sight. Addis watched him go then looked at Dante.

“He’ll just find somewhere else to take a nap where no one can see him,” he said. “Too bad, he’s missing out on a comfortable chair.”

Dante sat next to him. “How do you do that?” she asked.

“Do what?” he looked at her.

“That,” she said, pointing to his chair, the umbrella, his flip flops.

“It’s my bag,” he said slowly, in that ‘you’re really not very bright’ tone. “Just like you get the things you want from your bag.”

“You mean my backpack?” she asked. “Well, I can only take out what I’ve already put into it, and I certainly couldn’t fit in all of this stuff, and all the other stuff you’ve taken out. Yours is like a magic bag.”

He just looked at her for a moment, and then said defensively, “I don’t know. Look, it’s just my bag, and that’s just what it does. I don’t ask it why, it just does it. And really, if the bag wanted anyone to know, it would be up to the bag to tell them wouldn’t it?”

Dante was surprised that Addis seemed angry, but before she could say anything he looked away and closed his eyes. “Perhaps,” he said loftily, “you and your bag have some issues.”

Dante studied him for a moment, but he didn’t move or speak again. She took her journal out of her backpack and began to draw Addis sitting in the chair. As she finished, she heard a gentle snore. She got up and stretched, and then walked over to where the Brox were working.

She approached the closest Brox. “Is there something I can do to help?” she asked.

Without stopping what it was doing, the Brox answered, “Do you know what it is we’re doing?”

They were weaving some kind of baskets, or maybe it was some kind of chair. Four arms were moving very quickly, and Dante had trouble keeping up.

She finally answered, “Well, it looks kind of like you’re weaving something, but you’re going so fast it’s hard for me to tell exactly what you’re doing.”

Without stopping the Brox simply said, “It would take me more time to explain than I would gain by your help.”

Dante just nodded, feeling stupid. Then the Brox gave her what looked to be a smile. “But I’m glad you asked. I doubt your friends would. They seem to be a little lazy. You at least were doing something.”

Dante looked over to where Addis was sleeping, mouth wide open, looked back at the Brox and they both laughed.

“I’m Turra,” she said, “ and if you want something to do, why don’t you just go spend some time with the little ones. It will be a treat for them to play with someone new.”

Dante wandered back over to where the Brox children were playing, and spent the rest of the afternoon with them. She learned several new games – all all of which required a lot of arms – but no one yelled at her if she did something wrong, and she found herself having a very good time even though she wasn’t very good. It was just fun to be playing and having a good time.

Suddenly, without warning, banks of fog started rolling in. It was so thick that you couldn’t see through it. Dante stopped in her tracks, the swirling mass surrounding and blinding her. She was a bit frightened, and was surprised that none of the Brox children seemed to panic.

She heard a voice to her left saying, “Central point here. Central point here.”

She wasn’t sure what to do, but as she heard and felt movement around her began moving toward the sound of the voice. She could hear the footsteps of the other Brox, and occasionally she bumped into someone. There would be a “sorry,” from the fog, and they all kept moving toward the voice calling “central point here.”

When she began bumping into more and more bodies, she stopped. There seemed to be a large group where she was standing. There was a moment of quiet, and then the voice spoke again.

“Everyone call out.”

And then each Brox began to call out their name. It was very orderly, and Dante realized that they all knew the order in which to give their names. When they were done, the voice said, “Visitors?”

“I’m here,” Dante said, “but I don’t know about Addis or Seeya.” At that moment something smacked her from behind. She heard a thump.

“Ouch!” she said rubbing the back of her head.

“Sorry,” it was Seeya’s voice. “I couldn’t see a thing, but I flew toward the sound of your voice.”

As she rubbed her head she heard Addis’ voice off to her right.

“I’m on my way,” he said. He was heading toward them, holding a yellow fog light in front of him, and working his way toward the group. Once he reached Dante’s side he put the light back in his bag.

“That’s not really very helpful after all,” he said.

“Good,” the voice said. “Everyone stand still and don’t move.” There was a collective groan.

“I know, I know,” the voice said, “but we can’t risk anyone getting lost or hurt. Just sit down and wait.”

Dante felt the ground around her and sat down. She wondered how long they would be waiting there. She asked, “How long does this usually last?”

“We don’t know.” She recognized Turra’s voice. “Sometimes it just lasts for a little while, and other times it lasts a long time. We lose a lot of work time.”

“Not to mention it makes us crazy just having to sit here and do nothing!”

“How long has this been happening?” It was Addis who asked this question.

“Well, it’s hard to say. Of course it’s distressing each time it happens so it seems like a long time, but now that I think about it, it’s probably only been two or three dig cycles.”

Of course, only the Brox knew what a dig cycle was, but the answer seemed to satisfy Addis.

He spoke again. “I’ll bet it’s about as long as the sudden rain storms have been happening at the Bulu.”

“What’s a Bulu?” asked a small voice.

“Not now, dear.”

They sat for a few more minutes, and you could hear restless shifting. Then, in the distance, a faint sound of chanting could be heard.

“Oh good, the diggers are coming back.”

The first voice began calling out, “Central point here, central point here,” and gradually the chanting stopped. Soon Dante heard shuffling footsteps moving toward them, and when he spoke she recognized Greff’s voice.

“How long?”

“We were mid-way through the day’s tying cycle.”

There was no answer. With the diggers back, everyone seemed content to sit. Just as suddenly as it had come, the fog lifted. Dante looked around and could see Brox surrounding her. Addis sat next to her in a folding chair, wearing a yellow slicker and hat. Seeya sat between them. Dante looked at Seeya and began to laugh.

“What?” he seemed slightly annoyed. Then suddenly horrified. “What?!”

“Your hair,” Dante said, trying to stop laughing. “The humidity must have made it friz a little.” She took the little mirror he had given her out of his backpack and held it up so he could see. His hair was a fuzzy mass.

Seeya’s hand shot to the top of his head and he gasped. He zipped off so quickly that you almost couldn’t see him go.

Dante looked at Addis with smile. “I tried not to laugh, but it was too funny.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Addis said, “he’ll be back.”

Although the fog had lifted, it was starting to get dark. The Brox quickly put away their tools and their work, while the children all ran over to a set of large flat rocks and began setting out gourds and dishes. As the food preparations began, Dante was astonished at the change in the Brox community.

The Brox hugged and laughed and patted the children. They all worked together to build fires and cook the food, sharing stories of their day and playfully teasing each other. It was ready quickly and all the Brox began taking their places at the large rock tables. Greff motioned to Dante and Addis to come and sit next to him. As they sat Dante looked around for Seeya.

Greff looked at Dante and asked, “Hungry?”

At Dante’s nod he handed her a plate laden with steaming food, a cup, and some eating utensils while heaping food on the plate of the small Brox to his right.

Dante began eating. She wasn’t sure what the food was, but it had a nutty taste to it, it was hot, and she enjoyed it. Greff waited until she had begun eating and then looked over at Addis, who was already busy stuffing his face with food.

“Where’s your other friend?” he asked.

“Well,” Dante said, “I don’t know. He got a little upset after the fog lifted, and he flew off somewhere.”

“Yes, it can be quite upsetting to lose so much work time, but going off by yourself certainly doesn’t help.”

“He wasn’t upset because he couldn’t work,” Addis said, between bites, “he was upset because he thought he looked funny.”

The Brox stopped eating and looked at each other.

“But,” Turra said, “what does that have to do with getting your work done?”

Addis just shrugged and kept eating. The children were staring at Addis until Greff said “Eat!” and they all began hurriedly cleaning their plates.

Turra said, “The one called Dante asked if she could help me with the tying today.” The others looked at her in surprise, and Greff eyed her with a new appreciation.

“But she couldn’t do much with just two arms,” another one said.

“No,” Turra agreed, “but she asked.”

The other Brox nodded approvingly, and Dante felt Greff pat her on the shoulder. “So,” he said, leaning back in the woven chair, “do they chant where you come from?”

“Well,” Dante said, “we sing sometimes.”

“Sing?” Another Brox was looking confused.

“It’s like chanting,” Dante said, “but it’s more, well, musical.”

“Show us.”

“Yes, yes,” all the Brox were chiming in now, “show us what you mean.”

Dante felt her face getting hot. She looked to Addis for help, but he gave her a ‘you wanted to talk’ look and just sat back.

“Uh, well, o.k.,” she said. “Um, let me think of a good song.”

The Brox waited expectantly, and Dante thought for a minute. “O.k.,” she said, “this is a song my mom used to sing to me when I was a little girl.”

She began to sing ‘Sing a Song of Blackbird’ and the Brox listened eagerly. They seemed to enjoy her singing, but before she could reach the end of the song she felt her throat close up and she began crying.

“I’m sorry,” she said, trying to stop her tears, “it’s just that I kind of miss my mom and dad. I don’t know where they are, or when I’ll see them again.”

“Oh little one,” Greff put an arm around her, and with another arm wiped her tears, “of course you’re sad. I’m sure all three of you are sad to be away from your others.”

“Addis doesn’t have any others.” The voice came from above them, and they looked up to see Seeya enter the clearing.

“At least not any that he can remember. I, on the other hand, miss my friends.”

“Come and eat,” Greff motioned to a chair across from him that had been left empty. Seeya eyed the table warily.

“Well,” he began, “that’s very nice, but you see, well, I usually eat alone.” The Brox all stopped eating, and Dante heard one of them gasp.

“Alone?” Turra seemed incredulous. “But why?”

“Oh, well,” Seeya began, but Addis interrupted. “They’re afraid they’ll look bad.”

Everyone seemed confused, but Greff finally spoke. “You can’t look bad to us, not if you’re eating,” he said.

He motioned to the chair. “Sit.” There was something about his tone that let you know it wasn’t any good to argue. Seeya sat down and watched as food was piled onto a plate for him. When it was set in front of him, he looked around. He looked at Dante, who quickly looked down at her own plate and began eating. He looked at Addis, who was still busy with his own food.

Seeya slowly began to pick daintily at his meal, and was soon eating without worrying that the others might be watching him. Dante couldn’t help but notice that his manners were impeccable.

Greff turned back to Dante. “I’m sorry you’re sad, little one, but we’ll do our best to put you to work so you can be happy and not think about your troubles.” The other Brox nodded in agreement.

Dante smiled at him. “That’s very kind of you, but I’m not sure we’re going to be able to stay.” She looked at Addis questioningly and he nodded. “I’m guessing that in the next day or two, another portal will show up and we’ll just keep on going.”

“Where is it you’re going?”

“We don’t know,” Dante looked into Greff’s eyes as she spoke. “But I think that if we can find the Lost Council, it might help us answer some questions. Like why I’m here, who Addis is, and maybe even why these weird things are happening, like the rain and the fog.”

Greff looked steadily back and her. He seemed to be making some kind of decision. “All right,” he said, “if another portal appears, I’ll go with you.”

“No!” Turra cried.

Greff looked at her kindly. “I must,” he said. “It’s as important to us as any other work I could do. We need to find out what’s going on with the fog; it’s happening too frequently and we’re unable to finish our work. Eventually there won’t be enough burrows, or chairs, or blankets.”

Turra just nodded. “Well,” she said hopefully, “maybe another portal won’t appear.” No one said anything, but there were three people at the table who very much hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

After dinner the Brox, with their usual efficiency, cleared the table. They let Dante help, although she felt rather silly and ineffective. But they all seemed to appreciate her desire to pitch in. Addis and Seeya had already retreated to the clearing, where they were gazing up at a clear sky full of stars. When Dante was finished she came over and joined them.

“Well,” she said, “how long do you think we’re going to be here?”

“Who knows,” Addis said looking up.

“Well, I certainly hope it isn’t long,” Seeya said, “I just don’t think you realize how difficult it can be living among people who don’t share your values. You know, people who don’t seem to understand what’s important.” He looked expectantly from Addis to Dante, but they both stared blankly back at him.

“Oh,” he said suddenly, looking slightly embarrassed, “yes, well, anyway, it would be nice to get back to the Bulu.”

“For you.” Addis said, and the three of them were quiet until the Brox began to join them. Greff started a small bonfire, and they all sat around in a large group. Greff stood up on the far side of the fire and began to talk.

“The Brox are a community of workers. We know that for each of us to prosper, we must all work. As long as we can remember it’s been this way. When it was time, we sent our Council members to the mountain for instruction.”

Greff paused and looked at the others around the fire. Each Brox looked very solemn. Unlike the Oralians they didn’t seem afraid, but this was obviously something they took seriously.

“The last time we sent a member to the mountains, he came back without the knowledge he was supposed to have gained. He tried to tell us not to work so hard – that there were other things to be enjoyed in life. He wasn’t contributing to the digging and he wasn’t bringing us news from the other tribes. The thing that was hardest for us to understand, was there were times he simply wanted to be alone.”

Here Greff paused and took another look around. At this point some of the Brox were looking away from the fire, and Dante sensed that something bad had happened.

“We tried to keep watch on him, because we were worried. Of course that was hard, because it took us away from our other work. Eventually, he slipped away without us seeing him. We organized a search party, but we never found him. Neither he nor any portals have appeared since.”

Here Greff stopped and looked down. He shuffled his foot for a moment and then looked back up. “If another portal appears, I’ll try to go through it with you. Since you’re all here, I have to believe that you’re part of the next Council.”

Seeya spoke immediately, “I can tell you that I most certainly am NOT part of the Council,” he said. “I’m just an unfortunate victim who was pushed through the portal – and what a nasty trick I might add. Addis just shoved me through and dragged Dante with us.”

No one said anything for a moment. Dante thought about it for a moment and then asked, “Well, if you’re not part of the Council, how did you get through the portal?”

Everyone looked at Seeya. “I…I…” he stuttered.

Addis spoke. “Maybe it was because he was with me.”

Greff looked at Addis with surprise. “What makes you say that?”

Addis fingered the pendant around his neck. “I don’t know,” he said, “I just think it was because he was with me.” They were all silent.

“There is one more thing,” Greff said.

They all looked up. He walked over to where they had put the food away, and pulled out a small wooden pipe with holes. He held it out to the visitors.

“What is it?” asked Seeya.

“We can’t remember,” Greff said, “but it came to us in the time of sharing, before the portals vanished. We don’t know its purpose.”

“May I see it?” Dante asked.

Greff handed it to her. She put it to her mouth, put her fingers over the holes and blew. Soft music came out. She moved her fingers to make different notes. Several of the Brox children gasped, and the adults seemed astonished. Dante handed it back to Greff who looked at it, and then her, suspiciously.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“It’s just that we have musical instruments where I come from,” she said. “It looks kind of like a recorder, so I just thought I’d try it out. I think you make music with it.”

Greff continued to stare at the pipe, then tentatively blew into it. He jumped at the sound that came out. He frowned, then extended the pipe to Dante. “Why don’t you take it, you seem to know how to use it, and it doesn’t help us with our work.

“Oh, well, o.k. Thank you,” she said, putting the pipe in her backpack. She felt a awkward, and didn’t know what else to say.

“Well,” Addis broke the silence standing and stretching, “I think it’s about time to call it a night.” Greff looked down at Dante and Seeya, who both nodded.

Turra said, “Addis, you and Seeya can sleep in one of the nursery burrows that’s not being used right now. Greff will show you. Dante can sleep with the little ones. Kell, show Dante where to go.”

Addis and Seeya followed Greff. One of the young Brox stepped forward, and Dante followed the rest of the Brox children down into a burrow. They entered through a large tunnel, and Dante realized that must have been what the diggers were doing – creating new tunnels. They passed large cavernous rooms, filled with woven furniture. There was no artwork or fabric coverings. Everything was very simple, and crafted with gourds or woven materials. They went deeper and deeper into the burrow. Small lanterns were set into the walls at intervals, so they could see where they were going. They turned down another corridor, and reached a large room with a very large woven mat on the floor.

“This is where we sleep,” Kell said, plopping down on the mat.

The other Brox children simply began piling down on top of each other. Dante looked at them in dismay. They reminded her of a litter of ferrets she had seen once in a pet shop, sleeping entangled in one another. She looked around at the stone walls.

“What’s the matter?” Kell asked.

“Aren’t you afraid that the walls might cave in on you?” Dante asked.

Kell looked surprised. “No, of course not. The burrow would tell us if there was a weakness in one of the walls. We would feel the vibrations before the walls fell.”

“Really?” Dante asked. “You can feel that?”

“Yes,” Kell answered. “Now come and sleep.”

Dante tried to find a place for herself in the heap of Brox. She tried very hard to stay still and go to sleep, but found herself having to roll, scratch, and occasionally move out from under another body.

Each time she moved, no matter how slight, they would all wake up and begin asked her what was wrong. She finally convinced Kell that she needed to find Addis, that he was the one she wanted to be with. Kell led her sleepily through the underground tunnels to the guest burrow where Addis and Seeya had gone. He pointed to the door and left.

Dante peeked inside. Addis was sitting in an overstuffed purple rocking chair with a reading lamp, dozing with his hands folded on his tummy. A small screen was set up on the far side of the room; Dante assumed Seeya was on the other side. Addis had on a robe and slippers and was smoking a pipe.

“Hey Addis” Dante said softly.

“Umpf?” Addis started awake and sat up. “Oh, come on in.” She heard a small sound of displeasure from behind the screen. Addis turned and spoke to it.

“It’s o.k., Seeya, it’s just Dante.”

“Well, I’m staying back here and no one come on this side! I’ll come out in the morning when I’m ready.”

Addis rolled his eyes and turned back to Dante. “What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t sleep, and every time I move they all wake up and want to know what’s wrong.”

“Ah yes. We couldn’t seem to get it across to them that Seeya wanted his own place to sleep. Apparently it’s just not done here. It’s fine, you can stay here with us tonight.” With that, Addis reached into his bag and pulled out two folding cots, two sets of sheets, two blankets and two pillows.

“Aren’t you going to put away the chair?” Dante asked.

Addis looked at the chair, and then back at her. “Don’t be silly,” he said, “it’s obvious that chair didn’t come from my bag.”

Dante looked at the chair, but couldn’t see anything about it that was any different from any of the other items Addis had taken from his bag.

Addis looked at her and snorted, “Hmmph, as if my chair would be that color.”

“Oh please,” came the disembodied voice behind the screen, “as if you’d even know a good color.”

“Then where,” Dante began, wondering how a purple rocking chair had gotten into the Brox burrow but Addis interrupted her. “It’s not my chair.”

She didn’t argue, and they settled into their beds. Dante, exhausted, fell into a deep sleep.

Endolye Chapter 4: Skin Deep

Addis stepped past Dante and took the lead. She followed him silently, not wanting to interrupt his thoughts. As they walked through the forest the trees became sparser and began to get shorter, more bent, and have fewer leaves. Eventually they disappeared altogether, and they were walking through a flat area that reminded Dante of the desert. Dante was getting tired, but didn’t want to complain. She looked into the distance and could see what looked like very tall, thin trees.

“What are those?” she asked, unable to remain silent any longer.

“The Bulu,” Addis replied.

“Oh good,” she said, sounding relieved, “we’re almost there.”

It took them another half hour or so to reach the first of what Dante had thought were trees. She looked up in wonder as Seeya came darting up to them.

“Finally,” he scolded. “What took you so long? And why didn’t you clean up? Oh well, never mind, come on, they’re waiting.”

They followed him into a round clearing, Seeya flying ahead shouting, “They’re here, I’ve brought them here.”

“Oh sure,” Addis said, “he brought us.”

Dante didn’t answer, because she was too busy looking around her. When she looked up, she could see the round, grayish-white trunks led up to an umbrella-like covering at the top. These weren’t trees around the clearing, they were enormous mushrooms. They looked just like normal mushrooms, but their stems were as big around as a house, and they rose several stories into the air. She could see more of them off in the distance. There were smaller mushrooms growing around them as well, but even these smaller mushrooms were as tall as she was.

“Wow,” she said, “I’ve never seen mushrooms this big.”

“They’re Bulu bushes,” Addis said. “The Oralians live in them.”


“Seeya’s tribe. That’s what they are. They’re Oralians.”

“Oh,” Dante said, smiling. She looked at Addis. “What are you?”

Addis didn’t answer for a moment, and then said, “We can talk about that later. For now, let’s try and get something to eat.”

Dante looked up to the top of the closest Bulu bush, where Seeya was now hovering in front of an opening in the stem of the bush. Seeya was facing away from the opening, and just hovered.

“What’s going on?” Dante whispered. Addis snorted.

“They’re so concerned with how they look, they never go inside another Oralian’s dwelling. And when they’re in front of a dwelling, they face away from the opening so they won’t see the occupant until he or she is ready.”

He looked at Dante and raised an eyebrow. “Of course,” he added, “the insides of their Bulus are always fabulous, so I’m sure someone is peeking in there when they think no one is looking.”

He shook his head and put his hands over his tummy. “All rather silly, if you ask me.”

Dante thought about this for a minute and then asked, “So they all live alone?”Addis nodded.

“And they never visit with each other in their homes?”

He paused a moment with his head to one side, thinking, “Well,” he said, “they don’t do it openly anyway. There’s rumors that sometimes one of them will go into another’s Bulu, but if it’s true they’d never admit it.”

“Huh,” Dante said. “Don’t they get lonely?”

Addis looked at her with a strange expression. It seemed as if he were on the verge of remembering something, but just couldn’t quite get it to come into his head. Finally, he just shook his head in response.

She was quiet for a moment then asked, “How long have you been here?”

“A long time. I don’t know exactly, but I do know I’d like to be able to go somewhere else once in awhile. All they really talk about is themselves and each other, and it gets kind of tiring.”

Dante wanted to ask Addis about the portals, and why he couldn’t use one to go somewhere else, but at that minute Seeya flew back down to where they were standing, and circled around.

“Well, I guess everyone must be in a complete flutter if they haven’t managed to make it out here yet. Let’s just wait in the Circle.”

Seeya led them to a clearing that looked like a miniature Greek amphitheater. There was a small central area that could have been a stage, surrounded in the middle by a few terraced rows of seats. Unlike a typical Greek theater, the seats had been painted bright colors, with gilt edging. It looked to Dante like a beautiful play house for dolls.

She sat on one of the seats; it was very hard and uncomfortable. She shifted around a little, crossing and uncrossing her legs. Addis followed her, watched her for a minute, and then pulled two brown plaid cushions from his bag. They were fairly ugly and looked out of place next to the beautiful seats. He silently offered one to Dante. She took it and put it on her seat. When she sat down she was surprised at how much more comfortable the cushion made her. She smiled at him gratefully as he put down his cushion and sat next to her.

Seeya flew in and joined them, lighting lightly on one of the benches.

“Addis,” he said and sighed.


“I thought we talked about those cushions.”

Addis looked at him, and then looked at Dante. “Would you like to give me back your cushion?”

Dante was confused. “Well,” she said slowly, “not really.”

She turned to Seeya. “I mean, this Circle is absolutely beautiful, it’s just that this bench is kind of hard and the cushion just makes it, well, you know, a little more comfortable.”

Seeya just stared at her, arms crossed and his face expressionless.

“Ah,” he finally said, “comfort. Over beauty. I see. How disappointing.”

“Really,” Dante began, “once we’re sitting on them you really can’t see much of them.”

Seeya opened his mouth to respond, but at that moment the Oralians began zipping into the Circle, surrounding them.

One of the new arrivals flew around Dante exclaiming, “Seeya, you’re so right, that head covering is so fabulous.”

She perched lightly next to Dante and began to touch her hair. Like Seeya, the Oralian used the slightest of facial gestures to express emotion.

“Later! Bye-bye! So glad you could make it!” Seeya was happily greeting each new arrival.

“Loveya!” Seeya shouted as one particularly well-dressed Oralian flew into the cirlce, “too good to see you. I love what you’re done with your wings.”

Loveya shrugged one shoulder slightly, and flew over to where Addis was sitting. “Addis,” she said, “charming as always.”

Addis sighed. “Uh huh.”

Soon the Circle was filled with Oralians, all preening and straightening themselves, admiring Dante’s hair and each other.

“There’s so many of you,” she said, “I can’t believe you all really live alone.”

“Well of course we live alone,” Seeya said, “Otherwise someone might see us, well, you know, ugly. Like first thing in the morning, or if we accidentally frown or something.”

“Or if it’s a hot day, you might sweat.”

“Or your hair might get mussed.”

“Your clothes might get dirty.”

“Your nose might run.”

“You might laugh uncontrollably.”

They went on and on, listing reasons why they didn’t want to live with anyone else.

Dante waved her arms in the air and cried out, “Wait a minute, wait a minute.”

They all stopped and looked at her. “Well, what do you do when you get married? Or when you have company? Or kids?”

Loveya flew down and looked directly at Dante, “What’s company?”

“You know,” she said, “someone you know comes to visit for the afternoon, or maybe stays with you in your home.”

“Stays? In your Bulu! For how long?”

“Well, it just depends.” She thought for a moment, “although one time my aunt came and stayed a really long time. She was there when we got up, she was there when we went to bed, she was there for every meal. I didn’t think she would ever leave.”

“Oh my,” Loveya said, “someone help me, I think I’m about to have a facial expression!”

“There, there,” Seeya said, and turned to Dante. “What a horrible story! Let’s talk about something more pleasant.”

Addis stood up. “Let’s talk about eating,” he said, “I’m starving.”

“That’s Addis,” Seeya said, “worrying more about what to put in his body than how it looks.”

“I have to admit,” Dante said, “I’m hungry too.”

“Oh alright,” Seeya said, “let’s go all, and get some food for our guests.”

Seeya, Loveya, Later and Bye-Bye flew off while the others dispersed gradually. Addis got up, took the cushion from Dante, put both cushions back into his bag and left the Circle. He walked to a small clearing at the back of three Bulu bushes.

“Here we are.” he said.

Dante looked around. “Is this where they eat?” she asked, puzzled.

“No,” Addis replied, “This is where we eat.”

And he pulled a folding table and two folding chairs from his bag. He set up the table and chairs, and then pulled out a checked tablecloth, a small candle set into a bottle, and some plates, silverware and napkins. When he finished setting the table he and Dante sat down. It didn’t take long for the Oralians to fly back to them with platters of food. They set the platters on the table. Dante just stared. She had never seen food that was so beautiful.

“This looks amazing,” she said, “thank you very much.”

“Oh good,” Addis said dryly, “food that you’re supposed to just look at and not eat.”

“Wonderful!” Seeyta said, ignoring Addis completely, “Enjoy, we’ll be back in a bit.” And he and the other Oralians flew off.

“What was that all about?” Dante asked.


“The least you could have done was thank them. They must have gone to a lot of trouble to prepare this food for us.”

“All they’ve done is gone to a lot of trouble to try and make themselves look good.”

Dante frowned at him. “Even if they did,” she said, “you should still say thank you. They didn’t have to do anything at all.”

Addis just shrugged and began to put food on his plate. Dante looked at him pointedly.


“You’re not going to wait for our hosts?”

Addis began to eat. “Well,” he said, his mouth full of food, “ do you seriously think they’re going to eat with us?”

Dante just looked at him. Addis swallowed and said, “They’re afraid they might dribble food, spill something, end up with stuff between their teeth, you know, look bad.”

He looked down at his plate and grunted. “Not to mention, I think the food they eat themselves probably doesn’t look this good, but I bet it tastes a whole lot better.”

Dante served herself from a dish that looked like colorful fruits and vegetables arranged in geometric patterns. Addis was right; the food really didn’t taste like much. But she was hungry so it didn’t really matter.

“I don’t get it,” she said, “I don’t understand how you can always live and eat by yourself?”

Addis just shrugged. “I’ve been doing it for a pretty long time. It’s not so bad. Better than listening to them all going on and on while I’m trying to enjoy my food. Could you pass me some of that?” he added, pointing to a mound of what looked like donut holes in spirals of color near Dante’s elbow. She passed him the dish and they were silent for a moment, eating.

“So how is it that you’re the only one here from your, um, family?” Dante asked. She wasn’t sure if she were prying or not, but Addis seemed like the type who would tell her to mind her own business if he didn’t want to talk about something.

Addis wiped his mouth and leaned back. “Honestly,” he said, “I don’t remember. I’ve been here for a long time, I know that. Every once in awhile, I feel like I’m just about to remember something, but then it’s gone. But it kind of bothers me sometimes,” he mused. “Like there’s something really important I’m supposed to do that I’m forgetting. Do you know what I mean?”

“Well, not really.”

It seemed to Dante she had plenty of people reminding her to do the things that were important, and then there were the people who thought that some things were very important, but they really weren’t. She thought about Carol and the girls at school, and how important they thought it was to be good at sports. She often thought that if they only knew how good she was at drawing, they might think differently. But she had never shown anyone her sketches. She was afraid it might be one more thing for them to laugh at, and they had enough already.

“It’s a good thing I’ve got this,” Addis said, fingering the pendant around his neck. “Even though I can’t really remember how I got here, I do know that this is really important. And that I’m really important.” Dante raised her eyebrows and looked at him.

“Oh, I know,” he said, “think what you like. But you’ll see. Every once in awhile I know things or can do things that are surprising. And it’s because of this.”

He held up the pendant and looked at it. “I’m not sure how it does it, I can’t remember that. All I know is that I can’t ever let it come off of my neck. I’d be in mortal danger.” Dante thought about it for a minute.

“But how do you know?” she asked. “If you can’t remember who you are or how you got here, or what that really is, how do you know it’s keeping you from mortal danger?”

Addis looked at her as if she were slow. “I told you,” he said, “sometimes I just know things. And this is one of those things.”

He looked at her for a moment, his eyes seeming to move through her. The stare made her uncomfortable, but she found she couldn’t look away.

“Like you,” he finally said, sitting back. “You don’t fit in. You and I are alike that way. You feel out of place where you are, like no one really understands you or your importance. They place a lot of emphasis on things that just don’t matter to you, and you’re not very good at them. And the things you are good at, no one cares about.”

He paused for a moment. “No, that’s not quite true. You think they don’t care about them, but you’d be surprised that maybe they do.” Dante looked at him in disbelief, her mouth open slightly. “Oh don’t worry,” he said, “I can’t read your mind or anything, I just, well, I know.”

Dante just nodded. She was still thinking about what Addis had said when the Oralians came flying back into the clearing, and took away their empty plates.

“Well, you certainly cleaned that up!” Loveya said, pulling a plate from in front of Dante. “You should really always try to leave some food on your plate. Helps you keep your figure.”

Dante grinned and asked, “Is that what you do?”

“Oh of course,” Loveya said, running a hand down her side, “I’ve got to be very careful.”

“Of course,” Dante said, glancing slyly at Addis, “you could pretty much say whatever you wanted, since no one is around to see.”

All activity among the Oralians stopped, and they looked at each other accusingly. After a moment, they continued their talking, completely ignoring the very valid point Dante had made.

“So, now that we’ve eaten, what should we do?” Later asked, smoothing an eyebrow with his perfectly manicured index finger.

“I know!” Bye-Bye said, “let’s have some stories! I know Dante must have some fabulous stories to tell us!”

“Oh yes,” they all chorused, “it’s time for stories!”

Dante wasn’t sure she had any stories the Oralians would care about, but they all headed back to the Circle and Dante quickly found herself on stage surrounded by eager faces,

“Tell us about your world!” Seeya said. “We want to know all about it.”

“Well,” Dante began, unsure of what to tell. “It’s a big place, and there’s a lot of variety. Where I live are a lot of rocks, and it’s mostly flat, but there are mountains and lakes and oceans, as well as forests….well, there’s everything really. Rain forests, arctic tundra, um, let’s see, what else….” The Oralians looked bored and Dante was starting to get the same feeling she got when waiting to be picked for a team. She was grateful when Addis spoke.

“O.k.,” he said, “this is all very well, but we need to talk about the fact that she’s here, and not worry so much about where she came from. You all know very well that she’s here because a portal opened. Seeya and I saw it, but we weren’t able to go through it. Every time we got close to it, it disappeared.”

All the extraneous chatter died instantly. A few of the Oralians tittered uncomfortably. Seeya zipped up to where Dante was standing and faced Addis.

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know that we need to bring all of that up, do we? I mean, here she is, here we are, do we really need to know any more?”

Just as the other Oralians were starting to nod in agreement, without any warning the sky opened and rain began pouring down. Dante looked up, confused. There hadn’t been any clouds, no thunder, no warning. The Oralians all began shrieking and zipping frantically out of the Circle.

Seeya zipped to Dante quickly, his eyes wide. “Take cover,” he shouted, “quickly, before you get all wet!” and he zipped away.

Dante looked out at the benches. Only Addis remained. He opened his bag and pulled out an umbrella, and then put his cushion away. He rummaged in the bag until he pulled out another umbrella, which he handed to Dante. She was already dripping wet. She took the umbrella and looked and him.

“Does is always rain like this without warning?” she asked.

“Not always, but lately it’s been happening a lot. It’s been pretty distressing for the Oralians – a few of them have even been seen with their hair hanging in their faces before they could get to their Bulus.” Addis grinned at her and Dante had to laugh.

“Well,” she said, “what are we supposed to do now?”

“Just wait,” he answered. “It will stop in a minute and they’ll all be back. Well, the ones who didn’t get ‘ruined’ by the rain.”

Sure enough, in a few moments the rain stopped and the sun began shining again. Dante gave her umbrella back to Addis and they waited for the Oralians to return. Finally Seeya came back to the Circle. He kept running a hand over his wet head, and without having any expression managed to look embarrassed.

“Well,” he said, “that was rather unpleasant. But I see the two of you don’t seem to have minded what it’s done at all.”

Dante just smiled at him and Seeya sighed. “At any rate, the others are getting cleaned up and we’ll be back out in a bit.” And he zipped away.

“Wow,” Dante said, “it’s got to be hard work worrying about how you look all the time.”

She looked around and wrinkled her nose. “What’s that smell?”

When the rain stopped a slight breeze had begun to blow. With it came a terrible stench – Dante couldn’t decide if it was garbage or rotted food.

“Oh that,” Addis said, “yes, that actually is a problem that’s being caused by these odd rain storms.”

He began to walk and Dante, not sure what she should do, followed him. As they walked, the smell got stronger. Addis was leading Dante away from the bulk of the Bulu bushes, and down a small hill. At the bottom of the hill he stopped. The smell was overwhelming.

“There,” he said and pointed in front of them.

Dante could see a large body of stagnant water. It was covered in slime, and there were bugs flying around it. She turned to Addis, “What happened?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. It just keeps raining like that, and the water doesn’t go away. It’s starting to smell.”

Dante looked again at the pool. “You need to get the water moving, or draining, or something. Maybe dig a trench?”

Addis looked at her. “And who,” he asked, “would you suggest do something dirty and sweaty like digging?”

“But that’s just crazy!” Dante said. “They can’t possibly think having this stagnant pool of water is better than getting a little dirty?”

Addis just shrugged again and began to head back to the Circle. Dante followed, glad to get away from the smell.

When they reached the clearing, most of the Oralians had returned. Seeya saw them first and zipped over.

“Where were you?” he asked anxiously.

Dante replied, “He was showing me that stagnant water you’ve got that smells so bad,” she said. “Surely someone can dig a trench or do something to help that drain?”

“Ah, well, no, not really,” Loveya chimed in. “Unless of course you’d be willing to help?”

“No,” Addis said firmly, “she would not. This isn’t her home and that isn’t her purpose.” Strangely, none of the Oralians argued with Addis, which surprised Dante.

“Well,” Seeya said, seeming eager to change the subject, “let’s talk about something else then.”

“The portals.” Dante said firmly and sat down.

Seeya looked around, but the rest of the Oralians just looked blankly back at him.

“Well,” he said, “o.k., I guess so.”

He zipped up to the front of the Circle where there was now a small, cushioned ottoman. Seeya sat down, and gracefully crossed one leg over the other, leaned back on one hand, turned his head slightly to the side, tilted it up and began speaking.

“It was so long ago now that we’re not sure if we really remember it, or if we’ve just heard the story so many times that it feels like a memory. But back then, there used to be a lot of portals on Endolye. And we used them to visit the other tribes.”

“What other tribes?” Dante asked.

Seeya sat up and looked at her, “O.k.,” he said, “you can’t interrupt when I’m telling a story. You have to wait until I’m done, and then maybe I’ll answer questions.”

“And if he doesn’t, I will,” Addis said.

Seeya looked blankly at Addis. “Well, yes,” he said, “of course.”

Seeya abandoned his story telling posture, and just spoke directly to Dante.

“Back in that time, there was a group made up of representatives from each tribe, called The Council. It was considered an honor to be on The Council, because you went with the other tribes members to the Mountain, and you looked into the Reflecting Pool, and gained the Wisdom of Self. After that, the Council members would travel between the tribes, making sure everything was going o.k, and that everything looked good, you know, stuff like that.”

“Well, the last time the Oralians sent someone to join The Council, a horrible thing happened.” Seeya paused for a moment.

He opened his mouth to speak, but Bye-Bye said, “I can’t do it! I just can’t listen anymore!” and zipped away.

Seeya continued. “The last Oralian Council member – her name was Heyya – she went through one of the portals, and we assumed she would make her trek to the Mountain, look in the Reflecting Pool, and come back with ways to help us look better and make things nicer. But that’s not what happened.”

Seeya stopped. He seemed to be struggling to keep from having an expression, and Dante began to feel a knot of apprehension building in her stomach. She waited as long as she could stand it, then asked, “Well, what happened to her?”

Seeya looked right at her and said, “She came back to the tribe and she was….she was….” Seeya was struggling to continue.

Finally Addis said, “Oh for pity sake, just say it.”

He turned to Dante. “She was ugly. Her hair was straggly, her clothes were torn, her face was dirty. She gesticulated wildly while she was talking, and then when the Oralians asked what had happened to her, she just burst out laughing.” Addis stopped and Dante felt a little confused.

“That’s all?” she asked.

“That’s all!” Seeya roared. “That’s everything!”

“Easy Seeya,” Loveya said, “You’re going to have a facial expression if you’re not careful.”

Seeya calmed down. “No, that’s not all. She said that looks didn’t matter, that we should all just give up on our vanity, not worry about our Bulus, just build one big communal area and all live together. It was horrible. Just horrible. We didn’t know what to do. She wouldn’t stay in her Bulu. Why, you’d be getting ready for bed, and there she’d be, at your opening, looking in.”

“O.k.,” Loveya said, “that’s enough, I’m sure she gets the idea. And it’s such an unpleasant story.”

“But wait,” Dante said, “what happened to her?”

“Oh, well, we don’t really know,” Seeya said. “It was about that time that Addis showed up, and she just disappeared. Addis didn’t know who he was, or who she was, or what was going on. And although he didn’t exactly meet our standards, we decided that it wouldn’t be neighborly if we didn’t treat him as a guest.”

“Humph,” Addis snorted but didn’t say anything.

“But,” Dante asked, “didn’t you worry? Didn’t you look?”

“Well, no,” Seeya said, “we couldn’t. About that time the portals just disappeared. We’ve never seen them since. Until that one today.”

“But haven’t you wondered?” Dante asked. “Haven’t you thought about why everything changed?”

“Well,” Seeya looked around the circle at the Oralians. They all seemed perfectly blank.

“Well,” he said again, “to be honest, no.”

Dante sighed. “So that’s it? You had someone come back who had probably been through some terrible ordeal, and all you could worry about was that she was dirty?”

“You just don’t understand,” Seeya said, “it wasn’t just that. We could have handled that – in fact we could certainly understand how traumatic that would be. The problem was she didn’t care. We just didn’t know what to do about that – and she just didn’t, well, fit in anymore.”

Dante was quiet for a moment. “Well,” she said, “what about Addis? He doesn’t fit in. What about me?”

“Oh, now, don’t be silly,” Seeya said heartily. “We’re happy to have you here, and Addis, well, we kid with him about his odd detachment from his appearance, but he certainly doesn’t go around trying to catch us looking bad.”

“Goodness!” Later exclaimed, “it’s gotten late. It’s time to get our guests to their Bulus. Addis, you can head to your usual place, and we’ve fixed up something special for Dante.”

“Well,” Dante began, “I don’t want to be any trouble. If there’s an extra room where Addis is staying, I could just stay there.” She looked at Addis, hoping he wouldn’t be upset, but he just folded his hands over his tummy.

“Uh, well,” Seeya began, but Loveya interjected.

“Don’t be silly! You can’t possibly stay together. Why, it wouldn’t be right for you to even see where the other is staying. We can’t make them both the same, and we wouldn’t want you to think we did more for one of you than the other.”

Dante just shook her head and laughed. “All right,” she said, “thank you.”

The Oralians said good night and left, with the exception of Seeya who led them first to Dante’s Bulu. There were hand and foot holds in the trunk of this Bulu bush, and it took Dante a great deal of effort to get to the top. When she finally did, Seeya hovered near the opening with his back to her.

“Well,” he said, “I hope it’s o.k.”

Dante looked around in wonder. The inside of the Bulu contained a large round bed, covered in rich velvet tapestries. The entire inside of the Bulu was lit by candles, which lined the chamber. There was a shimmering cloth draped from the ceiling, and a table next to the bed.

“It’s more than o.k.,” she said, “it’s incredible. Where did these tapestries come from?”

“I don’t know,” Seeya said. “I do know that no one here could have made them. They must have come from somewhere else.”

“But you don’t know where?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well, what if you want new ones?”

“Oh well, I don’t know. As long as you think they’re o.k.”

“They’re beautiful.”

“Good,” Seeya said, “well, I’ll be off, see you in the morning.”

“Good night,” Dante said.

She hadn’t thought she was tired, but as soon as she was in the bed, she was asleep.

Dante was awakened by the sound of Seeya’s voice shouting, “Morning warning! Morning warning!” She walked over to the opening of the Bulu, and saw his back facing her.

“Good morning, Seeya,” she said.

“Good morning.”

“You can look at me, you know. I don’t care.”

The small creature turned and looked her up and down. “Oh my!” he exclaimed.

Dante laughed and ran her hand through her hair. “It can’t be that bad,” she said.

“Oh but it is,” he continued, and held his hand over his mouth as though trying to keep from being sick. Like someone who is repulsed by an accident, but just has to take a closer look, he flew in the doorway and looked at her with disgusted fascination.

“I mean, you have these weird dry things in the corner of your eyes, your hair is sticking up, your clothes are all mussed – you look awful!”

Dante laughed again. “Maybe so, but I’m the same inside no matter how I look on the outside.”

“Like that matters,” Seeya muttered.

“Well it does to me,” she said.

She took a small brush that was lying on the side table next to a mirror and ran it through her hair. She rubbed her eyes and straightened her clothes, then turned to the small creature and said, “Ready to go down?”

“By all means,” he said firmly. “This seeing people first thing in the morning is a bad, bad idea. Here,” he said, thrusting a small hand mirror at her, “take this with you – I really think you just have no idea.”

She put the mirror in her backpack, slung it over her shoulder and made her way slowly down the Bulu bush, carefully placing her feet and hands in the appropriate holds. When she reached the ground Addis was waiting for her.

“So,” she said, “I guess we breakfast alone?”

He nodded and they headed back to the clearing where he once again produced the table and chairs from his bag. For breakfast, the tablecloth had a flowery print, and instead of a candle there was a small vase with a fresh flower.

After breakfast Dante and Addis headed to the Circle where the Oralians were gathering. They could hear the high pitch of excited voices before they got there.

“It was just there,” said Loveya, “I’m telling you, I was flying over here after I ate, and it was just there.”

“What was?” Addis asked.

“A portal!” exclaimed Loveya. “I don’t know if there was ever one there before, but there’s one there now. Dante must somehow be opening them!”

They all looked at Dante expectantly, but she quickly said, “I don’t know anything about them.”

“Well, but just think about it,” Bye-Bye said, hovering in front of her. “You’ve come through one, then you come here, and now there’s one here!”

“Well, yes, but,” Dante began, but Addis interrupted her. “Show me where it is.”

He grabbed his bag and followed Bye-Bye with Dante and the other Oralians trailing excitedly behind him. On the far side of the Circle, in the opposite direction that Dante had been the night before, there was an arch. Like the arch in the field, you could see right through it, to the Bulu bushes beyond. Addis walked slowly toward it, and when he reached it, it didn’t vanish. Dante walked up and stood beside him.

“It’s doesn’t look like it goes anywhere,” she said.

“I know,” Addis responded. They looked at each other.

“Well,” Bye-Bye said stoutly, “I’m not going through that thing, and I advise that no one else does either.”

“I wonder where it goes,” Dante said. She turned to them. “Look, don’t you want to know why things are happening the way they are? Don’t you think it’s weird that it’s raining all the time? Don’t you want to try and find someone to help you with the stagnant water?”

“Well, of course,” Seeya said soothingly, “we just don’t know what else could happen.”

He had flown in front of the portal, and hovered with his back to it, facing Dante and Addis.

“I mean,” he began, but at that moment it began raining.

“Rain!” screeched Bye-Bye and the Oralians went into a panic trying to zip back to their Bulus.

Seeya hesitated for a moment, and in that brief instant Addis took advantage of the situation. Grabbing Dante by the hand, he pushed Seeya through the portal, grabbed his bag with his other hand, and then plowed through the portal himself, dragging Dante with him.

Endolye Chatper 3: Seeya Later

To her surprise she simply kept falling, and landed on her back with a painful thump and a loud “Ooomph!” There was tall grass on either side of her. She lay there for a moment, trying to figure out what had just happened. She hadn’t hit a rock, wasn’t in the water as she had expected; in fact she wasn’t even wet. She sat up and took an inventory of herself to make sure she wasn’t hurt. Amazingly, her book was still in her right hand, and the drawing she had been reaching for when she fell was lying in the grass next to her, completely unharmed. Her backpack was tangled around her ankle. She stared at them for a minute, trying to figure out what had happened. After a moment she realized she didn’t hurt anywhere and seemed to be fine.

She pulled the backpack from around her ankle, opened the book and replaced the drawing, and then closed the book and fastened it with the band from her hair. She stood up and looked around, trying to figure out where she was. She certainly wasn’t in the park anymore, and nothing here seemed familiar. She turned around and saw that there was a wooden archway behind her, almost hidden in the tall grass. It looked old and worn, and there were strange symbols carved into the wood. She studied them for a minute, but realized she had no idea what they were or what they meant.

She turned from the arch and looked around again, trying to get some sense of where she was and what she should do next. In the distance in front of her, opposite the arch, she could see a line of trees which looked like the beginning of a forest. To her left and right the grass went as far as she could see. The sky was a rich, deep blue, and completely cloudless. She stood there looking at the landscape and considering her options.

“Well,” she finally said out loud, more to herself than to anyone else – since there was no one else around – “I can’t just stand here all day.”

She turned around again and faced the arch. She wasn’t sure why, but she thought that maybe going through it was her best bet. She tried walking through the archway but each time she got close, it simply faded from view as though it never existed.

“O.k.,” she said, hands on her hips, “I guess I’m not going that way.”

She looked around one last time and decided that heading toward the forest was the wisest move – it at least was something she could see. She had taken only a few steps when a voice behind her said, “Well, thank goodness you’ve finally made up your mind to go someplace!”

She spun around. She was still alone. “Hello?”

“But I must say,” the voice continued, over her left shoulder, “that’s an absolutely fabulous head covering you’ve got there. I mean, where did you get that color?”

She spun around again and found a small being hovering a few feet away from her at eye level. It wore beautiful, gauzy clothing, had very pale skin, and what would be hair on a person looked like a kind of sculpture on top of the creature’s head. If it had been standing on the ground, it would have just reached past Dante’s knees. Although she couldn’t see its wings she knew they were there; they were going so fast they were just a blur.

As she stared, mouth open in astonishment, it came closer and hovered in front of her, quite like a hummingbird. It studied her for a moment and then flew back, placing a hand to its face as if considering an important question.

“Well,” it finally said, “you’re certainly not as good looking as I am, but I must admit for this place you’re not too bad.”

Dante blinked. The creature continued to hover in front of her.

“What,” she stammered, “I mean, who are you?”

“I’m Seeya.” The small creature raised its eyebrows slightly, giving it a pleasant expression, and bowed its head. When Dante just stared, Seeya made a small circular gesture with its hand, saying, “and you are….”

“Oh! I’m Dante,” she said, smiling uncertainly. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Yes, I’m sure it is.” Seeya flew closer. “What is that thing you’re doing with your mouth?”

“Huh?” Dante was confused for a moment, and then said, “Oh, you mean my smile? You mean this?” and she smiled again. The creature nodded, its face a perfect blank.

“Oh, well, it’s a smile. It’s just, well, it’s just what I do when I’m happy or trying to look nice.” She felt confused, as she had never had to explain what a smile was before.

“But it makes lines on your face – I mean they go away when you stop, but what if they become permanent?”

Seeya’s face had assumed a blank look. “If you want to look pleasant you can do so by simply raising your eyebrows ever so slightly,” and he demonstrated (she couldn’t say why, but Dante felt Seeya was a “he”), showing Dante his pleasant look. “Not too high of course,” he cautioned as Dante tried it, “you don’t want lines on your forehead either.”

“Well, that’s really not the same as smiling,” she said.

He put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “No,” he said slowly, as if talking to a very small child, “it is not, but nothing says beauty like a clear, unlined face.”

When she continued to stare at him he said, “Well, some people do care about appearances. I mean, they really tell you everything about a person don’t they?”

“Well, no, they don’t,” she said. “Actually appearances can be quite deceiving.”

Without changing his expression, Seeya managed to look annoyed. “Hmmmph,” was all he said. “Well, never mind that, let’s just take you to Addis and see what he makes of you.”


He turned, hovering. “Addis. Come on then. I suppose you can’t fly?”

Dante shook her head and Seeya sighed. “Yes, yes, just like Addis. It does get tiring.”

And he shot off toward the trees. In an instant he was gone. Dante stood looking after him for a moment. Suddenly he was back, hovering in front of her face.

“Well,” he said, “come on then!”

And he darted off again. Dante began walking in the direction he had gone. He kept darting back to her, then darting ahead, and in that fashion they began heading toward the line of trees.

At one point he flew a circle around Dante, then quickly appeared in front of her. “That, that thing,” he said, sounding excited, “on your back. What is it?”

Dante looked over her shoulder and said, “My backpack?”

Seeya cocked his head and asked, “So what’s in it?”

She shrugged. “Just my journal today, and some leftover lunch. During the week I carry my schoolbooks in it.”

Seeya flew closer. “Can I see?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said. She stopped, pulled off her backpack and opened it. Her journal and the brown paper bag with her lunch trash and leftovers was inside. Seeya flew back, and seemed disappointed.

“That’s all that’s in there?” he said.

“Yes,” Dante answered, “like I said, today it’s just my journal and what’s left of my lunch. Why, what were you expecting?”

“Well,” Seeya began and then stopped. “Never mind, just follow me,” he said.

She followed Seeya to the edge of the forest. When they reached the first of the trees she could see they were very large, with thick pale trunks leading up to large, dark leafy branches. The bark was peeling away from the trunks in places, leaving marbled patterns on the trees underneath. She was surprised at how much of the ground she could see between the trees; they didn’t seem to drop any leaves.

They headed into the forest and before too long reached a small clearing. Seeya darted ahead but Dante followed slowly, unsure of what was happening.

“Addis? Addis? I’ve found something I want to show you.” Seeya looked around for a minute, then flew back to Dante who had just entered the clearing.

“Be a dear and stay here just a sec, he’s wandered off.”

Then Seeya flew off into the trees. For a moment, Dante was worried, realizing she had no idea where she was, and had no idea how to find her way back to where she had started. Before she could truly panic, Seeya was back.

He zipped into the clearing, singing out, “Found him, come on.” Dante followed Seeya to the far side of the clearing back into the forest.

After a short walk they reached a hammock stretched between two large trees. In the hammock was a round, lazy looking creature smoking a pipe. It was very different from Seeya, and had on a purple vest and a pair of green velvet slippers. A red carpet bag rested directly under the hammock. The creature didn’t look up as they approached.

“O.k., Seeya, what is it this time. . .oh!” The startled creature sat up as Dante walked over. She looked down at the belly protruding from under the vest.

“I’m Dante,” she said.

“And he’s Addis.”

Seeya flew over and sat at the head of the hammock. For the first time Dante could see a pair of beautiful, delicate wings folded neatly on his back.

“See, I told you I found something good.” Although Seeya had no expression on his face, Dante got the impression he was extremely pleased and impressed with himself.

“How,” Addis asked Dante, completely ignoring Seeya, “did you get here?”

“He led me,” she answered, pointing at Seeya.

Addis shook his head. “No, no, I mean how did you get to Endolye?”

“Oh, well, I’m not really sure,” Dante said. “I was sitting in my special place, by the pool. My drawing fell in the water and I was trying to get it. I thought I fell in, but then I landed in the field out there. I know it doesn’t make much sense…” she began but Addis had jumped quickly out of the hammock, dislodging Seeya from his perch. Seeya darted up before he hit the ground and hovered just behind Addis’ head.

“Come to think of it,” Dante said, thinking of it for the first time, “it was rather odd. I mean, there I was on a rock, and I fell into water but landed here.”

“A portal,” Addis said slowly, looking Seeya in the eye. “It’s got to be a portal.”

“A portal!” Seeya exclaimed. “But how? Why?”

“I don’t know,” Addis said, and he began to pace around the hammock.

“In fact,” Dante continued, watching Addis pace, “this is all quite impossible, which means I must be dreaming.”

“I wonder where it goes?” Addis said, stopping suddenly.

“Which means now that I know I’m dreaming, I should be waking up soon.” Dante concluded.

Seeya had been listening to them both, his gaze moving from one to the other, as if watching a tennis match. At Dante’s final statement he flew over to where she was standing and pinched her on the arm.

“OW!” Dante cried.

“So wake up!” Seeya yelled, hovering in front of her face. Dante glared at him, rubbing her arm. The commotion seemed to stir Addis from his thoughts.

“O.k.,” he said, jumping up from his hammock, “the first thing we do is find that portal. I want you to show me where it is.”

“Oh Addis, calm down,” Seeya ran a hand over his head, smoothing a spot and fussing with his clothes. “As if she’s going to be able to tell you anything. She doesn’t even know where she is.”

Dante, still rubbing her arm, glared up at Seeya. “I’m in Endolye,” she said.

Seeya stopped his grooming and stared at her with his blankest expression. “Oh well yes, that took some real deduction. Are they all this bright where you’re from?”

Ignoring him Dante turned to Addis. “It’s back this way.” She started through the trees but Addis called out, “Wait.”

She stopped and turned back. Addis reached under the hammock and pulled out the carpet bag. He took off his vest and slippers and put them in the bag. Without the vest she could see a large, round pendant hanging on a thick chain around his neck. He pulled a pair of khaki walking shoes and a nylon windbreaker out of the bag and put them on. Then he placed the bag back under the hammock.

“O.k.,” he said, “I’m ready.”

Seeya turned to watch them go, then said casually, “Well I’m not heading back there.”

“O.k.,” Addis didn’t even bother to turn around as he continued to follow Dante.

“No, really Addis, I mean it.”

Addis and Dante continued through the trees. Seeya watched them for another moment, until Dante stopped and looked around in confusion. He zipped over to them, lighting on a low-hanging branch.

“Problem?” he asked. Dante wasn’t sure how he did it, but he managed to look smug without really having any expression at all.

“Yes,” she said, “I don’t quite know the way back. You were going rather quickly and I was so busy trying to keep up with you I wasn’t watching where we were going.”

“Hmmmm, whatever will you do now?”

Addis sighed. “Now Seeya,” he began, “of course we could get to the edge of the woods, and climb a tree, or find another way to figure out where we’re going. But then you’d miss all the adventure, and have no story to tell in the Circle tonight.”

Seeya seemed to consider this for a moment. “Oh all right, the least you could do is say please.”

He flew off and the other two followed. “Really,” he muttered to himself, “not a single ounce of appreciation. Bring her there and everything, but not even a thank you. Oh no, just a ‘take us back Seeya.’ I don’t know why I even bother.”

Addis paid absolutely no attention to the small creature. Normally Dante would have said she was sorry, because she could see Seeya’s point, but he hadn’t been very nice about it so she followed silently after Addis.

They reached the edge of the forest, and when they walked into the field the grass reached over Addis’ head. Dante could barely see over the top.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “It’s gotten so much taller since we were here a few moments ago. How is that possible?” She tried to look around. “I’ll never be able to find the arch in this grass.” She looked up at the small creature hovering over their heads above the grass.

“Seeya?” She tried to sound as pleasant as possible.

Seeya rolled his eyes, “Let me guess,” he said, “time for a favor? After all, it’s been what, 30 seconds?”

“Well, yes. Would you please fly up a bit and see if you can see that wooden arch I was next to? I could really use your help because I can’t see it through all this grass.” She waited a moment then added again, “Please? We really can’t do it without you.”

“Oh we most certainly could,” Addis began, “why there are ways. . . .” But he didn’t get a chance to finish. Seeya had happily flown ahead of them looking around.

After a moment he flew back and said, “This way,” rather breathlessly.

They followed Seeya until they could see the top of the arch. Addis rushed eagerly toward it, but it faded away just as he reached it. He stood back with his hand on his chin, and examined it carefully. He turned to Dante, who had come up to stand behind him.

“This is how you got here?”

She nodded. “I mean, I guess it is. Like I told you, I fell into the pool and ended up on my back in front of this arch. But when I tried to go back through it to see if I could get home it just kept disappearing like it did just now.”

She paused, looking at it a moment. “What is it?”

Seeya flew down and said excitedly, “It’s a portal. A way to travel. You see, when you want to go somewhere else, you can go through a portal. Oh there used to be just SCADS of them, but they’ve been gone as long as anyone can remember. Ever since….”

His voice trailed off and he looked at the portal. Even with his face blank, Dante thought he somehow looked worried. He tried to fly closer to the archway, but it shimmered and vanished, only to reappear when he returned to where Dante and Addis were standing.

He looked at his two companions. “You don’t think anyone else is going to come through it, do you?” Addis looked thoughtful, but Dante shook her head.

“I was alone,” she said, “and unless someone else falls into the pool, I don’t think anyone else is coming that way. We certainly can’t get through it any rate.”

Seeya nodded in agreement. “Yes, it is rather inconvenient, that disappearing/reappearing habit it has.”

Addis, who had been ignoring them both, suddenly spoke. “You’re sure,” he said to Dante, “that no one else will be coming through here?”

She turned to him and considered the question, but before she could answer the portal flickered, and vanished completely. The three stood for a moment in silence.

“Yes,” Dante said, “I’m sure no one else is coming through that portal.”

Seeya snorted. Addis said nothing, but just stared at the sport where the portal had been. It was like he was trying to work out a very difficult problem in his head.

“So what exactly is a portal?” Dante asked, breaking the silence.

“A traveling device,” Seeya answered. “The stories tell us there used to be regular portals and we used to travel to other places, and visit with other people. Addis keeps telling us he got here through a portal, but he doesn’t have much to say about where he came from, and of course the portal is gone so he can’t go back. Hey!” he said, seeming pleased, “just like you.”

Addis turned slowly to Dante, the sun catching just a bit of the pendant visible around his neck. “Where was it you said you came from?”

“Well,” she said, not sure how specific she should get, “I’m from a state called Arizona.”

She figured she’d start there, then narrow it down if she needed to. Addis nodded his head, “Ah yes, Arizona.”

“Oh,” Dante said, brightening, “have you heard of it?”

Addis looked at her, still nodding his head and smiling a kindly smile. “No,” he said.

“Oh.” Dante tried not to look disappointed.

“Well,” Addis said, “I guess you can’t tell me anything else?” Dante shook her head.

“Right, well, no use staying here any longer.”

He turned around. The grass was now at his shoulder. Dante turned around and just stared in amazement. Addis headed back toward the line of trees, which could now be seen in the distance. Dante waited a moment, and then followed him. Several times Addis turned and looked back into the field. By the time they reached the edge of the woods, the portal had vanished behind them in the tall grass.

“Hmmmmmm.” Addis stood a moment as if considering something, then walked into the trees. They headed back to where Addis’ hammock was hanging. He appeared to be deep in thought.

“Come on,” Seeya said to both of them. “Let’s head back to the Bulu. There’s no point hanging around here worrying about something that’s already taken care of itself.”

He looked at Dante. “Of course you’re coming with us – it doesn’t look like you really have anywhere else to go.”

“No,” Dante said, “it doesn’t.” And she felt strangely excited to be having an adventure.

Addis just nodded, untied his hammock, folded it up, and put it into his bag. Then he picked up the bag and looked at Seeya.

“O.k.,” he said, “let’s go.”

Seeya darted ahead of them, “Oh Dante, everyone back at the Bulu will be so excited to see someone new! You’ll be our special guest – I mean, now that Addis has been there for just ages it isn’t like he’s all that special anymore. Well, you know what I mean,” he zipped back and hovered in front of Dante’s face. She nodded. Seeya zipped ahead again.

“I really think you’ll love it. I mean, you can’t ask for more tasteful accommodations, although I must warn you not everyone takes their appearance as seriously as I do. Of course, no one takes their appearance less seriously than Addis, so you really don’t need to worry. He’ll always make you look good.”

“Seeya!” Dante looked behind her to see if Addis was offended, but he appeared deep in thought.

“Oh, well, of course,” Seeya said hurriedly, “not that anyone cares what Addis looks like. Well, what I mean is, oh never mind, he’s not even listening. Dante I’m just excited you’re going to see the Bulu. No one would believe me if I told them about that fabulous – what do you call it?” and he gestured at her head.

“Hair,” Dante answered, smiling.

“O.k., hair.” Seeya said. He darted ahead again.

Dante looked back at Addis, “He certainly has a lot of energy.”

Addis looked up. “Hmmm? Oh yes, they’re all like that.”

He called out to Seeya, “Why don’t you go ahead and just fly on and let everyone know we’re coming? I can get there from here.”

Seeya darted back to him and hovered, “Oh perfect,” he said, “they’d kill me if I just wandered in with a guest and they didn’t get any warning.” And he immediately shot out of sight.

Endolye Chapter 2: Dante’s Dream

Chapter 2 – Dante’s Dream

That night, after a painful dinner listening to her brother recount the story he had heard about Dante’s “header with the softball,” Dante sat at her desk in her room and finished her homework. She leaned back in the chair and stretched her arms over her head, and then reached into her backpack to pull out her journal. She needed to write.

Dante had been keeping a journal for as long as she could remember; even before she could really read or write her mother had gotten her in the habit of scrawling drawings with crayons to help her sort out her thoughts and feelings. It started because of her mother’s desperate attempts to do something to help Dante through her nightmares. Well, it was really just the one nightmare because the dream was always the same.

She would find herself in a forest, without quite knowing how she had gotten there. Even though she had no idea where she was and the trees in the forest were strange to her, she wasn’t afraid. She would begin walking, as though she knew where she was going and the right direction to go to get there. Eventually she would always end up at the mouth of a cave with a faint glow coming from inside. Dante would enter the cave and follow the glow to its source. Rounding a corner she would see a pool of water in front of her, and the light would be coming from the water. She would begin walking over to the pool to look into the water, and on her way there would would realize she wasn’t alone.

The hairs would begin to stand up on her arms and the back of her neck, but she would find herself unable to turn around. Although she wanted to run, it was as if she had lost control over her body and could only keep moving slowly forward toward the water, the light dimming as she got closer. When she reached the edge of the pool she would look down. The water was always covered with fog. Unable to move, she would stare into the pool while the fog slowly cleared so she could see her reflection. As the fog continued to clear, she would watch in horror as the reflection from a pair of red eyes appeared in the pool next to her face. As more of the face started to come into view, she would try to scream but no sound would ever come out.

She would try to draw in a breath, but couldn’t. She wouldn’t be able to turn her head from the water, and could feel her heart pounding harder and harder as a sharp beak came into view under the eyes, and a claw would begin reaching toward her shoulder. Nearly frantic with fear at her inability to move or make a sound, Dante would try harder and harder to draw in her breath to scream. Right before the claw grabbed her shoulder, she would wake up with a tremendous gasp for air.

It was almost always exactly the same. Sometimes she would wander through the trees, sometimes she was right at the cave. Sometimes there was a pool of water, sometimes it was a fountain. The one thing that never changed was the red eyes, beak and claw that would slowly materialize while she was looking into the pool. The first time she had the dream she had been very young, and woke up her mother with her screams. The dream remained a vivid memory in the following months, despite her mother’s attempts to drive the images from her mind. As she got older, it began to come more regularly.

After about the third time Dante had the dream, her mother encouraged her to draw pictures of the monster. That was before Dante could read or write properly, so she made childish scrawls of the monster that haunted her sleep. As she got older, her mother encouraged her to write down her thoughts and feelings, to try and clear her mind. Over the years Dante had gotten into the habit of writing in her journal every night before she went to bed. Her mother said that if she got all the scary, unhappy thoughts out of her head before she went to sleep, it made room for all the wonderful dreams awaiting her. Dante wasn’t so sure it really worked, but she faithfully wrote in her journal every night, and it had been a long time since she had had the dream.

That night she was writing some particularly painful thoughts and feelings about Cory. She really liked him, but was sure he thought she was just a stupid girl who couldn’t catch a softball, make conversation, or do anything the popular girls could do. She was just finishing up when her mother came in to say good night.

“Getting all those unhappy thoughts out of the way so you can have some good dreams?” her mother asked, smiling at her. Dante tried to smile back, but she had never really been able to fool her mother. She sat still in her chair as her mother came up behind her and started to pull her hair back over her shoulders and form it into a ponytail. She dropped it, and then began again, this time braiding it casually.

“You know honey,” she said, “I know it’s hard to move to a new place and try to fit in, especially when it seems so easy for Shaun.” Dante didn’t say anything. Her mother let her hair drop, and bent down to kiss Dante’s neck. “Come on,” she said, turning around and pulling back the covers on Dante’s bed, “let’s say good night to this day and try again tomorrow.” Dante got into bed, laid back and let her mother smooth the covers over her. Her mother bent down to give her a kiss on the forehead.

“Good night sweetheart.”

“Good night mom.”

Her mother turned out the light and closed the door. Dante rolled over on her side and turned her thoughts to Cory. She knew he didn’t like her – no one liked her, or at least no one like Cory. He could run faster than anyone in class, and always finished his math test first. Although he always knew the answer when the teacher called on him, he didn’t raise his hand every time. And he seemed to be pretty nice. After all, when the other kids would tease Dante about her journal, or her clothes, or how bad she was at sports, Cory didn’t exactly come to her defense but he didn’t join in either.

Dante could never talk around him, because she always felt kind of funny when he was standing near her. If he smiled at her, she was never sure why; she just figured he was trying not to laugh at her. She sighed and rolled onto her other side. There was no point in thinking about him. She fell asleep happy in the knowledge that the next day was Saturday, and she had two whole days before she had to go back to school and face everyone. She felt herself relaxing into sleep.

Dante looked around at the walls of the cave. They seemed familiar but she wasn’t sure where she had seen them before. There was a glow of light in front of her, and she walked toward it. She rounded a corner and saw a low, round stone wall in front of her encircling a pool of water. The water was completely smooth, and there was faint glow of reflected light. Dante walked slowly to the edge of the pool, and looked down into the water. There was a mist covering the surface but as she gazed in it began to clear. It began to feel like someone was standing behind her, but she realized with horror she couldn’t turn around. As the mist cleared she could see her frightened reflection in the water. And then she saw the eyes.

She tried to scream but no sound came out. In the reflection of the water she could see the monster behind her. It reached out a claw and grabbed Dante’s shoulder. She kept trying and trying to scream, but couldn’t get her breath. As the monster was bending down toward her, Dante tried desperately to take a deep breath and scream with all her might. The monster threw back its head and began to laugh. It was a horrible sound, a high pitched tone that pierced Dante’s ears.


Dante woke up to her alarm clock blaring in her ear. She groaned and reached up to turn it off. Saturday. It was Saturday. She couldn’t believe she had forgotten to turn off her alarm clock before she went to sleep. She fell back on the bed and sighed. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but her heart was still racing from the nightmare and she couldn’t relax. As much as she would have liked to sleep in, she had to admit she was awake and ready for the day to begin. She sighed, and decided to get an early start on her day by getting her chores done so she could have a picnic in the park next to her house.

After breakfast, Dante decided to start by cleaning her room. She also needed to clean the bathroom she shared with Shaun, and change the litter in the cat box. After that she would be free to go. She just needed to get into the bathroom to clean before Shaun got in there to take his shower – not that he would be up this early. But still, maybe she should just start there. Abandoning her room she headed for the bathroom and her morning of chores.

Once her chores were finished she went into the kitchen to make her lunch. She made a tuna fish sandwich, and included a baggie full of potato chips, an apple and a few cookies. She took a bottle of water from the refrigerator and put the rest of her lunch in a brown bag. Going back up to her room, she dumped her schoolbooks out of her backpack and put her lunch and her journal inside. Realizing that the pile of books on the bed ruined the nice, neat image her morning cleaning had given her room, she pushed them higher up toward the pillows and covered them with stuffed animals. She was ready to go.

She loved the old house her parents had bought, and she especially loved the park right next to it. She had discovered a great hiding place shortly after they moved in by hiking around some rocks on the far end of the park. Lots of the kids wouldn’t go there, saying it was an old burial ground and that the spirits of Native Americans haunted the rocks. There was even a story about a boy who had gone hiking in the rocks and hadn’t come back. Dante half doubted the stories, and half hoped they were true. Ghosts aside, the rocks were a great place to get away by herself, write her thoughts in her journal, and illustrate her feelings in and around the words.

She hiked up over the first of the rocks and, climbing over and between the large boulders, made her way to an outcropping of rock that formed a natural cover. She ducked under the overhang to get out of the sun, and made her way over to a small pool of water in the middle of a large, flat rock. She sat down cross-legged and shrugged off her backpack.

She wasn’t sure where the water came from; there didn’t seem to be any source. She had stuck her hand in it one time, figuring it was just a shallow depression and she’d quickly feel the bottom, but she hadn’t  – even when the water reached her shoulder. It was a little creepy but she  still liked sitting there reading and working on her journal. Sometimes she would look at her reflection in the still pool, and wonder what it was that others saw when they looked at her.

She pulled the sandwich from her bag and began eating. In between bites, she grabbed her journal out of her backpack. The hard blue covers were filled with drawings and there was a hair band holding it together. Dante removed the band, used it to tie back her hair, and began leafing through the pages. There were pictures of fluffy clouds, her cat Shiraz, and even one picture of Cory that she had folded over so no one could see.

She had also made some entries about things that had happened at school. She felt a little sad as she read them over. Finishing her sandwich, she reached into the bag for the apple. As she started munching, she reread the softball episode from the day before. As she read she could feel the tears stinging her eyes. She put the remains of her apple in the baggie her sandwich had been in, put it in the paper bag with the chips and cookies, and put the bag back into her backpack. She really wasn’t very hungry. She sat for a minute wondering if she should leave, and then remembered the nightmare. It had been a long time since she had drawn a picture of the monster. Maybe that would help.

She zipped up her backpack, shifting to get more comfortable, and then picked up her journal and pen. She bent her head over the book and began to draw the monster from her nightmare. She paused, remembering how it looked in the reflection of the pool, and for a moment she gave a wary glance to the water in front of her. Then she shook her head at her own foolishness and continued her work. She was having trouble getting the image right, and some of the details seemed to tease along the edge of her memory without ever really coming clear. She struggled to get the image right.

A strong breeze began to blow, picking up Dante’s hair and blowing it around in her ponytail. She looked up in surprise, since the wind rarely blew that hard and she never remembered it blowing under the rocks. She looked back down at the drawing, and noticed that the page it was on had begun coming loose from the cracked binding of the book. She looked at it for a moment, getting lost in the pattern of the cracked binding when a sharp wind tore the drawing she had been working on from the journal and blew it into the pool.

“Shoot!” Dante scrambled forward and reached out to capture the drawing before it was ruined. She moved too quickly, and got her leg tangled in the straps of the backpack lying at her feet. For a moment she wavered, but then lost her balance. She realized with a shock that she was going to fall into the pool. She closed her eyes tightly and waited for the inevitable splash and the water to close over her.

Endolye Chapter 1: Out in Left Field

The cool of early morning was still in the air as Ms. Ferrill’s gym class lined up on the blacktop in front of the fields. Dante Spenser took her place in the front row, trying not to make eye contact with any of the girls around her. Even after three months she was still the new kid, and still hadn’t really made any friends. Ms. Ferrill looked brightly at the girls in front of her, some still shivering in their gym uniforms.

“O.k., girls, it’s Friday, why don’t we do something just for fun? This morning we’re going to pick some captains, and choose teams for softball.”

Dante groaned inwardly, thinking that there was nothing about gym class  she would consider fun, least of all picking teams for softball. She waited while the teacher looked over her roster and picked Carol Hansen and Renee Richards as captains. Both girls were athletic and competitive, and Dante knew neither would want her on their team. During her short time at Norton Lewis Middle School, she had already proven herself to be shy, bookish, and terrible at sports. Once the captains had been chosen, the girls moved onto the field to begin picking their teams.

Dante stood on the grass studying her shoes, waiting for Carol and Renee to begin calling out names. She knew she would be one of the last ones picked, because she couldn’t run very fast, she couldn’t hit the ball, and she was afraid to try and catch it when it was hit to her. But mostly she knew she would be one of the last ones picked because none of the other kids liked her very much.

When her family moved to town three months ago, Dante had gotten sick right before school started and had to begin the school year during the third period of the third day of classes. In that short time her older brother Shaun had already made several friends, and seemed to be popular with the cool kids. Dante had gone to her third-period class and waited outside, gathering up the nerve to walk in. When she finally did, 28 pairs of eyes were glued to her. Not only was she the new girl with the funny name, but she had a cute and funny older brother most of the girls wanted to get to know.

Although she had wanted to make friends, she wasn’t good at it. That first day at lunch she had walked into the cafeteria looking for a place to sit. One of the girls who had been in her third-period class smiled and waved her over.

“Hey, want to sit with us?” she smiled and seemed friendly. Dante just nodded and set her tray on the table. The other girls watched her expectantly, but she just sat down with her eyes on her tray, and put her napkin in her lap.

The friendly girl spoke, “I’m Becky, and this is Renee, Carol and Susan.” The other girls said a perfunctory “hi,” and Dante said a quiet “hi” back. They seemed to be waiting for her to say something else, but she had no idea what that would be, so she began to silently eat her lunch.

“So, your brother is really cute!” Susan said. They all giggled and Dante swallowed. She looked up at their eager faces. “I guess,” she said. They waited, but she continued to eat.

“Well,” Renee said, “maybe we can come over to your house sometime after school. It would be really great to get to know you.” She and Carol exchanged glances and smiles and Dante just nodded.

“Hey,” Becky said, “don’t you live in that really cool old house over by Saguaro Park?”

Dante could feel her face getting hot. Although she loved the big old house her parents had bought, she knew it was just one more thing that made her stand out – the weird girl living in the weird house. When she had first seen it, she couldn’t believe her parents had bought it. It looked like it was falling apart. They had both been so excited about the “potential.” Her brother had taken one look and said, “What a pile of junk.” Her dad had smiled broadly.

“Well,” he said, “that might be what you see. But I think we’ll be able to clean it up and fix it up and it will be perfect for us. What do you think Dante?” he asked, looking at her.

“It kind of reminds me of the house in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” she had said. “Before it was fixed up.”

Her parents just laughed. They knew it needed work but they had gotten a great deal on it, and couldn’t wait to get enough work done so they could move in. Now that her father’s transfer was final, getting the house had been the last step in the big move.

Dante  wallowed another bite of her lunch and just nodded in response to Becky’s question.

“I’ve heard it’s haunted!” Susan said with excitement, then looked around conspiratorially. “Dante have you ever seen any ghosts?” The other girls laughed and Dante just shook her head. Her face was getting hotter and she knew she was starting to turn red.

“Oh, I’ll bet it’s really cool inside,” Becky said, starting to look worried. She had frowned at Susan, but Renee and Carol didn’t pick up on the hint. Instead, they picked up where Susan left off.

“Yeah,” Carol said, “didn’t someone get murdered in there? Isn’t that why it was empty for so long?”

“My dad said the Realtor was just waiting for some sucker thinking he could do renovation,” said Renee casually. She then looked quickly at Dante and said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything.”

“It’s fine,” Dante said picking up her tray. “I’ve got to go to the library.”

“But you’re not done eating,” Becky said.

“I’m not that hungry,” Dante replied, heading for the tray drop. As she walked away she heard a whisper and an explosion of giggles. After that she had packed her lunch and eaten by herself, avoiding the other girls and looking down whenever she passed anyone in the hall. Once Susan had come by her house on her bike asking to see Dante, but when she found out Shaun wasn’t there she said she’d forgotten she had homework to do, and left.

“Come on, Renee, pick.” Carol’s voice brought Dante back to the blacktop, where the first few picks had gone quickly and then the captains had slowed down a bit, considering their choices. Dante looked over at Judy Snell, who got teased because she was overweight; Judy looked as miserable as Dante felt. She didn’t want anyone to know that she cared what they thought or whether they picked her for their team. She folded her arms in front of her chest and tried to look extremely bored while the last few girls on the field took their places behind the captains.

After a few minutes, Judy and Dante were the only two girls left to be picked for a team. It was Renee’s turn to pick. Becky, who had been Renee’s first choice, leaned over to whisper in her ear. Renee frowned for a moment, looked thoughtful and then shook her head. “No, sorry. Come on, Judy,” she said, and Judy seemed surprised and delighted that she wasn’t the last girl standing.

“O.k.,” Carol said, “I guess I’ve got Dante.”

Carol had her hands on her hips and was looking at Renee like she wasn’t very happy. Renee just shrugged and began walking out to the field.

Carol said, “O.k., let’s go,” and the girls broke apart. Carol directed Dante to left field, which everyone knew was the position where the captain felt you could do the least damage.

Dante stood with the morning sun in her face, and shifted her weight from foot to foot trying to warm herself up. The baseball glove on her left hand was uncomfortable and heavy, and she wasn’t even sure how to use it.

When Becky came up to bat, the girls in the field began backing up, anticipating a good hit. Dante held up her gloved hand to shield her eyes from the sun. She heard the crack as the ball hit the bat and looked up, trying to see the ball. She wanted to make sure that if it was coming toward her she got out of the way.

She glanced around and saw that the boys’ gym class was playing on the adjacent field. Cory Johnson, who Dante thought was about the cutest boy she had ever seen, was playing second base. She stood watching him for a moment, knowing that a boy like that could never like her. He was smart and really good at sports, and he had a lot of friends. All the girls liked him and he seemed really nice. He had smiled at Dante in the hallway a few times, and she had been so confused and embarrassed she had quickly looked away without smiling back. He probably hated her.

She heard someone shouting her name and turned around to the field. Becky was running and Dante looked around, trying to figure out who was shouting at her and what they wanted. She suddenly felt a searing pain in her head, and it took a moment for her to realize she’d been hit by the ball. Her knees buckled and it was all she could do to keep standing.

“You idiot!” Carol screamed as she ran from her post at shortstop, past Dante, to field the ball. “Didn’t you hear me yelling your name? It came right at you! And you just stood there!”

She grabbed the ball and threw it to the infield, but Becky was already safe on third. Dante was still standing in the same spot, looking blankly at Carol. She still wasn’t quite sure what had happened. Carol walked over to Dante and stood right in front of her.

“What’s wrong with you?” she hissed. “How hard is it to catch a softball?” Dante just stood there rubbing her head, feeling dazed and a little nauseous.

Ms. Ferrill was hurrying over to where Dante was standing, and Becky stood on third base looking guilty. Ms. Ferrill moved Carol aside with her arm and put her hand on Dante’s shoulder, looking directly into her eyes while asking, “Dante, are you o.k.?”

Dante looked at the teacher blankly. She could see Carol standing behind Ms. Ferrill, shaking her head and looking disgusted. Her head was beginning to hurt, she felt sick to her stomach, and to top it all off she could hear laughter behind her. She turned around and could see the boys on the other field had stopped playing and were looking at her, laughing. She didn’t dare look at Cory – she was too embarrassed. She turned to see Ms. Ferrill’s concerned face, and when the teacher reached her hand out, cupped Dante gently under the chin and asked, “Are you o.k. honey?” she dropped her head and began to cry. Oh great, she thought, desperately trying to stop. Now everyone will think I’m a baby too.

Ms. Ferrill gave Dante a quick hug and then stepped back and looked at her head, running her hand over the top where the ball had hit. “I think you’re o.k., you’re just going to have a little bump. Why don’t you  go over to the sidelines and sit down for a minute, and then we’ll take you to see the nurse.”

She led Dante off the field. As she was leaving, she could hear Carol say, “What a spaz. She just stood there and let the ball hit her.” Several of the girls snickered, and Dante wiped her nose with the back of her hand and tried to look as though she didn’t care. She heard Becky say, “Shut up Carol, why don’t you just leave her alone?” She looked over at Becky to show her gratitude, but the other girl looked down when Dante tried to catch her eye.

Mr. Ferrill insisted Dante see the nurse, who insisted on calling her mother at work. Then it was Dante’s turn to insist she was fine and her mother didn’t need to come and get her. Finally the day was over, and Dante was able to ride her bike home. She let herself in the back door, and dropped her backpack on the table where Shaun sat eating a peanut butter sandwich. He took the bus so was always home first; Dante hated the noisy, chaotic bus ride with all the other kids, so she rode her bike.

“What’s up dork?” he asked with his mouth full. Dante ignored him, and poured herself a glass of milk. She headed toward the stairs.

“Hey I heard you tried to head butt a softball today!” he called after her, laughing. She didn’t answer.

“Better do your homework,” he yelled.

Dante turned back around and grabbed her backpack off the kitchen table, and then headed up the stairs to her room. She thought about how all the girls at school thought Shaun was so cute, and how later she would have to sit at the dinner table with him, trying not to watch as he shoveled food from his plate directly into his mouth.

“What do they see in him?” she asked herself as she closed her bedroom door on the ear-splitting burp coming from the kitchen.

Has anyone got some wet wipes?

When Steve and I first got together Ben and Brandon were 6 and 2, respectively. They were sweet, cute little boys, full of love and innocence and that wonderful acceptance that most young children have for new adults. In the beginning, I’d meet them on Fridays for dinner at Arby’s or McDonald’s and we’d spend the evening together. Eventually, Steve and I decided to buy a house, where the boys would stay with us every other weekend.

We found a small house in a nice suburb with a fenced yard; on the weekends the boys were with us they would have a nice bedroom and a place to play outside. The boys were cautiously optimistic, Steve was worried about how they would fare on their first night in our home, and I was completely clueless.

Now let me explain. I was never one of those girls who loved babies, who played with dolls, who wanted to be a mommy. I hadn’t planned on having children, and didn’t see myself as a “kid person.” Growing up I babysat maybe three times and really didn’t enjoy it – I just didn’t get kids, even when I was one myself. I had changed one wet diaper when my nephew was an infant – a diaper my sister had to put on again because I had gotten it backward. I had reached the age of 34 knowing absolutely nothing practical about how to care for children. I was about to get my first real lesson.

The other thing I want to point out (somewhat in my own defense) is that most people get their children as babies. They’re small and helpless, and can’t move around or talk back. By the time they’re 2 and 6, most parents have gotten a handle on what to do and not do, what to give them or not give them, and how to otherwise not make a complete nitwit of themselves. In my case, however, we were gearing up for some serious nitwittery.

The first weekend the boys stayed with us, Steve had an emergency at work that required him to go back into the office after the boys went to bed Friday night. He explained this to Ben, who was (understandably) upset his father wouldn’t be there on his first night in a new house. After Steve put them to bed and left, Ben began to wail for his father.

I didn’t know what to do. Ignore him? Go up and comfort him? Go up and cry with him? Stay downstairs and cry by myself? About that time, Brandon began crying as well and I started to panic. I went with what I know best. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and said firmly, “Ben, your father isn’t here. He had to go to work. Now go to sleep.” Miraculously, the crying stopped. O.k., maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad.

I sat downstairs for a while watching television, and then went upstairs to go to bed. I checked on the quiet, evenly breathing forms, and went to bed satisfied that all was well. That lasted about two hours.

Shortly after 2 a.m. I heard a tremendous thump. I started awake, heart pounding, threw on my robe and raced across the hall to find Ben sitting on the floor looking confused. Brandon was still asleep. “Are you o.k.?” I whispered. He just looked at me with a complete lack of comprehension, got into bed and fell almost immediately back to sleep. I went back to my bed amped up and wondering what in the hell had just happened.

I lay down on top of the bed in my robe; listening intently, ready to spring into action if needed. Every sound, every twitch made me sit up in alarm. Were they o.k.? Did one of them fall on their head? Were they still breathing? Holy shit; do I remember how to do CPR? I dozed fitfully between visions of having to explain why there was a flat spot on Ben’s head, and how Brandon managed to crawl over his bed rail to play with matches.

Finally, at about 6:00 a.m. Steve returned, exhausted. He climbed into bed, and I was able to crawl back under the covers and get some real sleep. That lasted about an hour until the boys were up. I could hear what sounded like reasonable, normal kid noises, and crept across the hall to get them so their father could sleep.

I got them downstairs without incident, and was toasting up some frozen waffles while they waited at the kitchen table. Honestly, Eggos, couldn’t be easier. I set down their plates and Ben picked up his fork and started to dig in. I looked at Brandon, who was looking at me. What was he waiting for? Oh, right, he’s probably too little to pour his own syrup. Does he even like syrup?

“Hey Ben, does Brandon like syrup on his waffles?”

“Yes,” he said, confidently pouring syrup on his own waffle. O.k. no problem, I’ve got this. It’s not like you let a two-year old pour his own syrup, right? I took the Mrs. Butterworth’s and carefully poured some on Brandon’s waffle, picked up his fork, cut it into pieces, put the fork on his plate for him, and sat back smiling.

Until I realized he couldn’t really eat with a full-size fork. HE WAS TWO. He began to pick up the waffle pieces and lick off the syrup. He looked up at me in surprise and delight, and those sticky fingers began going on his face, in his hair, on the table – pretty much everywhere, dragging long, syrupy strings behind them. I turned to Ben and asked what should have been my first question. “Has he ever had syrup before?”

Ben looked at me, “I don’t think so,” he answered. “When is Dad getting up?”

“You don’t think so? But you said he liked syrup!” I could hear the pleading tone in my voice, wondering what in the hell Steve would say when he saw the stiff peaks beginning to form on Brandon’s head.

“Well, I figured he probably would,” Ben replied, “but I don’t think he’s had it before.”

O.k., I thought, don’t panic, this is not a problem. I just need to be a bit more specific in what I’m asking. Not if he likes syrup, but if he’s ever had syrup. O.k., I can learn from that one.

I turned my attention back to Ben who was starting to get restless. “Uh, I don’t know when your dad is getting up, honey. He was out very late working and didn’t get home until about two hours ago. We need to let him sleep a little bit, o.k.?” He didn’t look convinced. “Why don’t you go in the playroom and play?”

I had set aside a large bedroom downstairs for the boys, designated as the playroom. I figured this would keep the toys and clutter out of the family room, and give me some “adult” space in the house. I had planned on putting in a T.V. at some point, but hadn’t gotten to it yet. Come to think of it, there were quite a few things I was planning on putting in there, but hadn’t gotten to yet. So I had pretty much sent a six-year old to an empty room with a few toys to entertain himself for, what, like five or six hours?

In about ten minutes Ben came back into the kitchen where I was trying to clean up both the table and a two-year old with a damp sponge. I made a mental note to buy some wet wipes.

“Will you play with me?” I just looked at him. Play? Play what? “Uh, o.k., maybe in a minute, I need to get Brandon cleaned up, o.k.?”

“When is Dad getting up?”

“Um, I don’t know honey, we need to let him sleep a little bit, o.k.?”

He stood watching me try to clean up Brandon with a kitchen sponge, probably thinking I didn’t know what I was doing. He was right.

To be honest, I don’t remember how the rest of the weekend went, but I know it was long. Really, really long – for all of us. At about 10:00 that morning, I decided Steve had had enough sleep (I mean, come on, four hours) and I went and told him he had to get up. Now. We didn’t have all that many hours before he had to go back to work. That night, he put the boys to bed and returned to the office.

When he had to leave for work on Sunday afternoon, I was the only one who wasn’t crying. I think I was just on autopilot at that point and knew someone had to hold it together. That’s kind of my groove, so I step into it pretty naturally. Ben and Brandon were in tears, and Steve, exhausted, began to cry. Being the pragmatist I am, I shoved him out the front door and said, “See you later.” Again, I couldn’t tell you what happened next, or how I kept the kids occupied but apparently I managed.

Of course we all survived that first weekend, and I’ve learned a thing or two since. Now 25 and 21, the boys are capable of taking care of themselves. There are no more baths to give, diapers to change, behinds to wipe, tears to soothe… well, you get the idea. I learned how to feed them, clothe them and put them to bed. I even cleaned vomit out of shoelaces and changed a dirty diaper whose contents seemed to have made their way up to the nape of Brandon’s neck. We all ended up being comfortable with my parenting skills, and hey, they made it to adulthood so I’m declaring success.

It is with gratitude that I think of their father and mother, both of whom generously supported me over the years as I learned the lessons of parenting, and who did all the real work and heavy lifting. And it is with awe and appreciation that I tip my hat to parents everywhere. You need strength, stamina and courage to make it through. And wet wipes. A shit-ton of wet wipes.

A Kiss Before You Go

When I reached my late 30s, I finally began to understand the kinds of sacrifices my parents had to make throughout their lives. Sacrifices for their kids and for each other. Of course there were also sacrifices my sister, brother and I had to make, and the real pisser was they weren’t our sacrifices and we never agreed to them. But we had to make them anyway; sometimes that’s the way it goes.

When I was still in grammar school my father lost his job. It was a tough time for our family, particularly since the job market was so poor. My father decided to sell real estate, and began selling land about five hours away from where we had temporarily settled in a rental home. He would be gone for long stretches of time, and when he got home, he was anxious to simply relax.

I’m not really sure why I missed him so much when he was gone. He hadn’t ever been what you would call an involved father. He wasn’t interested in children, not even his own, and didn’t delight in any of the things we did. Don’t get me wrong – I know he loved us, at least in theory if nothing else – he just wasn’t really there. And when he was there, he wasn’t really interested in us.

I remember one time in particular when he had been gone for what seemed like several weeks. He came home and was sitting on the sofa talking to my mother. I’m sure he was anxious to see her after so much time apart. I was sitting next to him, and I picked up his hand and began kissing it. I think I was about 9 or 10. I was just so glad he was home, and even though he wasn’t even aware I was in the room, I just wanted to kiss his hand. As I kissed it over and over I saw my mom look at me, then look to my father and direct him to me with her eyes. At that moment he became aware of what I was doing, and put his hand on my head.

I don’t really remember what happened after that. He probably went on talking to my mom. But I can clearly remember that look on her face. She thought it was so sweet that I was kissing his hand, and it hurt her that he didn’t even notice I was in the room. I don’t think it hurt me – not really – because it wasn’t any different than any other time I’d been around him.

As the years went by my relationship with my dad went through some difficult times. There was a period where I didn’t care if I ever saw him again, a period where I was extremely angry over his dispassion with his children, and finally, there was a period where I had children in my life that helped me understand him much more. It turns out, for better or worse, this apple didn’t fall far from that tree.

The year I turned 40, my father turned 81. He had been sick for quite a while with a bad heart, and after two open heart surgeries to install artificial heart valves and a pacemaker, we kept thinking each new illness might be the last. I would ask my mom if I should fly from where I was living in Virginia to California to see him. She would always say not, yet. Just like a Timex, he kept on ticking.

He finally died in October just over a month after his 81st birthday. My mom had called to tell me he was in the hospital again and I should fly out, so I knew it was serious. When I first saw him in the hospital, I was scared to see how thin and old he was, how frail and sick he looked. I just knew the end was very close. That night, I sat next his hospital bed while he struggled to breathe. And I mean he struggled. He would roll over and grasp the bars on the side of the bed to help with the effort of filling his lungs, and sometimes his hands would reach out between the bars.

I can’t honestly say I don’t know why it took me so long to take his hand, because I know exactly why. Not because of some old grudge, or because I didn’t love him. I just wasn’t sure if he wanted me to. How stupid of me. I finally reached out and took his hand. And, not sure why, I bent down and kissed it. He mumbled something I couldn’t understand, so I said, “What was that?” “Thank you,” he said. I had no idea what to say, or how I felt. I just said, “Oh you’re welcome,” and bent to kiss his hand again. Then I laid my cheek on it and said, “It’s all going to be o.k.”

This time he knew I was in the room, and I knew it meant the world to him. As it turned out, that was the last time I spoke to my father and he died the next day. I’m glad I was able to send him off with a kiss.