Sunday, September 27, 2015

Welcome!

August 2016 UPDATE: Paperback and digital versions of The Unrighteous now on Amazon!

Good news for those of you who have asked for hard copies of The Unrighteous. The books are now available and ready for shipment via amazon. Click here to order.

Additionally, I'm pleased to announce the launch of my newest site for my upcoming novel Critical Times

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Welcome to the official website for The Unrighteous. 

The Unrighteous is a work of fiction by EK Jonathan, the author of All Things New. Whereas All Things New documented the experiences of dozens of faithful survivors directly after the events of Armageddon, The Unrighteous offers a glance centuries into the paradisiac future, when the first of the unrighteous begin rising from the dead.

Unlike All Things New, The Unrighteous is not formatted as a collection of interviews, but is rather a traditional plot-driven novel, following the experiences of a single family as they cope with new challenges and band together to help a group of newly resurrected ones adjust to their new surroundings.

Please click here to begin reading chapter 1.

The Unrighteous is also available as a free, downloadable eBook. Please see this page for more information.

Prior to jumping into the book, please take a moment to read through the Author's Note.

As with All Things New, this novel was never intended to be financially profitable. Although both books required many hours of research, writing, and editing, it brings me great joy and satisfaction to share them with our friends free of charge. However, if you'd like to donate towards this project and future ones like it, please click the "Donate" button below.



Thank you!

Monday, September 14, 2015

CHAPTER 26


            The months following the plane crash passed by swiftly. The three men’s bodies healed quickly and soon they were back to their centers, albeit humbled and refined by their experiences.
            Jack and Harold returned to the Lewises, and met with Hyde and his hosts a couple times each month for Saturday night dinners on the back deck. There were stories of others that were coming back in these hills, long lost siblings and children, sometimes whole families. Harold had met several of them already, and found it increasingly difficult to deny that something miraculous was happening here. It would take him another couple of years to fully accept the existence of God, but in that time he would delve deeper into the sciences than he ever had at Cambridge. He returned to the Clive Library at every chance he could afford, often spending whole days buried in the textbooks. He attended lectures on biology (both macro and micro), chemistry, physics, astrophysics, and astronomy, all taught by accomplished minds, may of whom had been resurrected just as he had. The depth and practical application of the lectures astounded him. Moreover, the humility and modesty of the men who spoke was refreshing.
            John and Majorie were a part of Harold’s life now, too. Each month he’d travel to their lakeside house and spend a few days lolling on the water and watching the solar planes and the occasional dirigible or hot air balloon drift soundlessly through the skies. The doubt was fading. He had no need for it.
            Jack took on an apprenticeship with Mack Gervis at the Gervis Airstrip soon after his injuries had completely healed. He still felt terrible about crashing their stunning Madeline, but the Gervises had promised him that his work repairing planes and maintaining the hangar and tarmac would be sufficient compensation. He was grateful for the work and settled quickly into his assignment. A decade later, he would own and operate his own airstrip on the other side of the continent, and would eventually help design faster, smaller, and more powerful aircraft.
            Hyde stayed with Trent and Margaret for another year or so. The three of them signed up for work with the Trailblazers, and Hyde managed to locate and disable all of the traps he’d set. He suggested turning the cave into a campsite, and within a few months an outdoor grill and a set of picnic tables and benches had been installed there with his help. He returned often with Jack and Harold to the same spot and the three reminisced. When the story of the bears was told, they laughed until their sides hurt.
            Liping spent more and more time with Lirui and Hongjun in their family commune on the outskirts of Clive. Eventually they invited her to move in permanently, where she helped with chores like cleaning and cooking for the steadily expanding family. Liping grew close to the family’s children, whom she taught Chinese calligraphy and cuisine.  She learned how to make her own blossom boxes and enjoyed spending weekends in the bazaar perusing through the wares from around the globe and trading stories with the vendors. She often spoke of plans to travel, but was more content in Clive than she was willing to admit. Sophie visited her often and they exchanged letters and gifts, but it would take many years for Liping to view her as a daughter.
            And as for Adrina, well, she had one more surprise coming.


***

            The group of eight strolled down the dirt road into Clive. Charlie and Naomi led the pack with Jack and Harold closely behind. Sophie and Liping trailed somewhere behind them, and at the rear walked Daniel and Adrina. The low afternoon sun was warm on their faces and drew them ever westward.
            Six months had passed since the plane crash, and it had all but faded completely from the group’s mind. They felt healthy and well-rested and eager to see friends and family in town.
            “So, how are your studies coming along?” Daniel asked. Adrina glanced at him. His eyes studied the dirty road carefully at his feet and he was frowning.
            “You mean the green book?” She asked. He nodded. “Good, I guess. Just finishing up the section on the resurrection of the righteous.”
            “What do you think?”
            “About what?”
            “I dunno, everything,” Daniel said.
            “It’s incredible. I mean, it makes sense. It just takes some time to process it all.”
            “Yeah, I can imagine.”
            They walked in silence for several yards. A napping silver cougar was sprawled out in the shade not ten meters from their path. Her cubs tumbled and romped in the tall grass at her side, pawing at her swatting tail. Adrina smiled.
            “You grew up here, huh?” She asked.
            “Yeah. Right here, in this valley.”
            “How much do you know about the Old World?”
            “Just enough, from what I read in the books at the archives. It’s hard to get too deep into it. I find it depressing.”
            “I lived it. It was depressing.”
            Daniel nodded solemnly.
            “You know,” he said, clearing his throat, “when the righteous started coming back, some of the unrighteous children were resurrected with them.”
            “Yeah, I read that in the book.”
            “Right. A lot of them were just little kids. Four and five years old. Most were from Africa. They’d died in the last days from malnutrition, sickness, and civil wars.”
            “I’ve met some of them in town. They’re all grown up now.”
            “Yeah. If you go down the coast south of here you can find communities that are almost all African. Doesn’t feel at all like Clive.”
            “I can imagine.”
            “Do you know about the babies?”
            “The babies?” Adrina repeated.
            “Yeah, the ones that came back. The unrighteous.”
            “Sure, I know there were a lot of babies that were resurrected.”
            “You know how?”
            Adrina shook her head. She’d just assumed they’d come back like everyone else. Dead one minute and awake in a small room covered in a white sheet the next.
            “It was something no one had expected. First, notices went out around the world asking for willing volunteers to adopt. But it wasn’t a normal adoption. They were called surrogate pregnancies.”
            “Surrogate pregnancies?”
            “Yeah. The babies came back as fetuses in the wombs of the sisters who volunteered. The sisters would carry them for a full term and then give birth.”
            “They gave birth to someone else’s baby?”
            “Technically, yes. They didn’t share the same DNA. But the mothers raised the babies as their own. It didn’t feel any different from giving birth to their own child.”
            “Wow,” Adrina said. It was a hard concept to imagine, and she admired any woman who could be so selfless.
            “About fifty years ago, those surrogate pregnancy notices came through Clive,” Daniel continued.
            “Through here? Did anyone sign up?”
            “Oh yes. There were a dozen or so.”
            “Anyone I know?”
            Daniel paused. Adrina glanced at him. He stared straight ahead, to the spot up ahead on the path where Naomi walked. He nodded when Adrina’s eyes widened.
            “Your mother signed up?” She asked, shaking her head.
            “She’d adopted before in the Old World. They figured if they could do it then why not again, in paradise, with a perfect child.”
            Adrina nodded slowly, trying to piece it all together.
            “But then, that would mean… Daniel, are you trying to tell me you’re not their child?”
            He shook his head adamantly. “No. They will always be my dad and mom. They raised me. But biologically, I also belong to someone else’s family.”
            “Whose?”
            Daniel smiled widely without looking at her. His eyes glistened slightly as he turned slowly back and nodded. Adrina gasped. She threw her arms around the boy and cried.


***

            The dedication ceremony of the Clive Amphitheater was an event attended by nearly all residents of the small town and its neighboring communities. It had been designed by Rafe Kajihara, a renowned Japanese architect who’d moved recently to the area. It was an open-air arena shaped like a giant horseshoe built almost entirely from local materials. An ornate portico for the rear of the stage was framed in western white pine. Rectangular reliefs hand-carved from copper and silver lined the edge of the stage. Colored strips of waxed canvas hung from cedar poles that jutted inwards from the top of the back walls, forming a draped awning that shielded spectators from the midday sun. The stadium itself was built nearly entirely of polished granite, quarried from local bedrock and chiseled and fit into place by hand. The craftsmanship in every detail of the amphitheater was exquisite, making the ancient Roman versions seem crude and undistinguished by comparison.
            With a clear view of the river behind the stage and an impressive seating capacity of two thousand, it would prove to be a popular venue for traveling storytellers, performing troupes, and musical productions, and greatly helped Clive to expand and thrive for centuries to come. And for its first event, the community elders had planned something special.
            The opening ceremony was held on a late afternoon in Nisan, just as Spring was rolling in through the valley and turning everything that it touched vibrant greens and yellows. Winter was gone and there was a new energy in the air. That afternoon, as the sun set behind the back walls of the amphitheater and the torches were lit around the stage, a man dressed in a blue suede jacket with long coattails and shiny black leather shoes stepped into the center of the stage. He took in the crowds slowly for a few moments. Over eight hundred were in attendance. For a great number of the attendees, this was the largest crowd they’d seen in decades.
            Then, drawing a long, slow breath, he spoke. “Brothers and sisters, friends and family… On behalf of the community of Clive and the local elder body, it’s a pleasure to welcome to you to the Clive Amphitheater.” The man gave a slight bow and the theater filled with thunderous applause.
            “As many of you know, this structure took almost a decade to design and build, and it was accomplished with the help of many of our brothers from Bighton and abroad. These brothers gave of themselves tirelessly so that we could enjoy this beautiful arena in our hometown.”
            The orator went on to explain some of the challenges faced with construction of a structure that was almost entirely made of stone. The large granite slabs were dug from quarries twenty miles north of the construction site, loaded onto transports, and floated down the river. When they arrived, the friends lifted them from the boats and hefted them into place using gravity cranes and balance machines designed by brothers in Europe. As always, the project was completed without the slightest bit of pollution. Even the stone and wood chips were hauled off for recycling or otherwise repurposed onsite. More applause followed, this time joined by brief, hushed conversation amongst the spectators.
            “Of course, all honor and glory go to Jehovah for teaching how to bring a project like this together,” said the brother. Nods were shared in the audience, and a prayer was offered for the gathering. Then he continued.
            “To begin our program for this evening, we’d like to interview a local couple. Many of us have seen their faces around town. At the very least we’ve heard their names. They’ve played a particularly unique role here in our town, and so we’d like to interview them to start things off…”
            A sharply dressed couple emerged from the side of the stage, waving and bowing slightly to the crowd as they took their seats on a couch next to the brother. The man wore white slacks and a matching jacket. His shirt was a green button up and matched the color of his wife’s peacock feather earrings. She wore a billowy white skirt and a maroon shawl.
            “Now, brother Charlie Lewis, by now probably most of our friends here have heard your story. But for those who haven’t, maybe you and your wife Naomi could explain the assignment you were given roughly… two and a half years ago, wasn’t it?”
            Charlie nodded and glanced at his wife.
            “Yes, fifty-four months and four days ago, to be exact. Our family was asked to host four of the resurrected unrighteous.”
            “Four at one time! Now, that’s pretty unheard of, I understand.”
            Naomi answered, “Yes, it is. Typically a family or a couple just cares for one or two individuals. So four was a bit unusual.”
            “And how was it?”
            Charlie and Naomi looked at each other and laughed nervously. “Not easy,” Charlie said.
            “Excruciating,” Naomi blurted. There was scattered laughter among the audience. Dozens in attendance had experienced something similar.
            For the next few minutes the couple summarized the events of the months leading up to the resurrections. Liping’s preparations were the most difficult. They required copious amounts of research into the Chinese diet, decoration of her room, and clothing to be provided. Jack’s preparation had been a challenge, too, since his host, Daniel, knew nothing of the Old World and its wars and militaries. There had been countless family discussions, going over the lists of details and to-dos. The audience was mesmerized by the stories recounted and many took notes. Most were expected to be given similar assignments soon.
            The interviewer asked about the arrivals’ first reactions after being resurrected. Many in the audience seemed surprised by the answers. Those with experience nodded with appreciation.
            Then came the story of Jack and Harold’s trek through the woods. There were gasps and oohs and ahhs as Charlie expertly went through the details. He told it with a smile, but stressed how intensely trying it had been on him and the family, especially Daniel.
            The entire interview lasted for nearly thirty minutes, though many of the attendees later said it had felt like only five. The program closed with a musical performance and a fascinating but brief lecture on astronomy by John Clevitt. The torches were extinguished and the audience was invited to gaze up at the stars as John spoke. When the program was over, a line of inquisitive friends formed to talk with Charlie and Naomi. The questions were endless but they were happy to help. They knew many of these friends were soon to be faced with their own unrighteous guests, and anything could happen.
            Charlie finally made his way through the crowd and found Daniel at a table with Jack, Harold, and Hyde. The four were sipping at something colorful in tall glasses and watching the moon with their feet up on the table and chairs leaned back on two legs.
            “Nice job with the interview,” Jack said as Charlie took a seat and poured himself a glass of Shiraz.
            “Thanks, Jack. Hope I didn’t make you guys look bad up there,” Charlie said. It had been his foremost concern since they’d been requested to do the interview. He’d presented all of what he’d planned to say to their guests before agreeing to do the interview.
            “Nah, it was fine. If it helps the others then it’s worth it.”
            “Hey Harold, where’s John and Majorie? I wanted to thank him for the lecture. He was absolutely captivating,” Jack said.
            Harold grunted with approval. “They headed back to the inn. I agree, he’s quite the speaker. His grasp on astronomy is incredible, and his ability to make it so easy to grasp for the layman is something else. I need to take a chapter or two from his book.”
            “Well he’s got a bit of a head start on you,” Jack teased. He smacked Harold’s shoulder with the back of his hand playfully and Harold smacked it away with a grin.
            “I’ll catch up, he’s no genius.”
            “You must be exhausted, Dad,” Daniel said. “You practically had the whole audience wanting to ask you and mom questions.”
            Before Charlie could answer, a stranger approached their table and bowed slightly. He wore a large hat and a long grey coat and a curious expression.
            “May I?” Asked the man, motioning to an empty chair.
            “Of course,” Charlie said, smiling.
            The man sat and removed the hat, placing it neatly on the table in front of him. He brushed back his red hair with his long fingers and smiled. Jack broke from his sky gazing to glance at the man across from him. He set the chair back down on four legs and leaned forward.
            “Hey, I know you,” Jack said, trying to remember the man’s name. “Kessic, right?”
            The red-haired man nodded slowly.
            “You know each other?” Hyde asked.
            “We do,” said Kessic. “And I suppose it’s time you all heard the full story of your little adventure through the woods and how you came to end up in that lake.”
            All of the eyes at the table were now fixed on Kessic as he took a deep breath and began.


***

            “I first heard about Harold and Jack when I was visiting Bighton. I was staying at an inn gathering some information on another runaway, Hyde. He was the first, and I was asked to discreetly gather information about his disappearance.”
            “Discreetly? Did Trey and Margaret know?” Daniel asked.
            “No. The idea was that I was to figure out what had gone wrong without interfering with the hosts’ efforts to locate him.”
            “Seems a little strange not to tell them,” Hyde said.
            “Those were the instructions I was given. In any case, one night in the inn I was having dinner when two men from a nearby town stumbled in with their own runaway problem.”
            “Daniel and I,” Charlie said. He was leaning forward with his arms crossed on the table.
            “Right. I knew then this was no coincidence, and I suspected the disappearances were linked.”
            “You followed us,” Daniel said, starting to catch on.
            “I did. You led me back to the bazaar, where I managed to spot Jack running through the crowds and into the woods.”
            “You saw Jack run into the woods? And you didn’t mention it to us?” Charlie asked.
            “Remember, I was not to interfere with the hosts’ searches. I was merely an observer.”
            “What did you observe next? Did you see me looking for Jack?” Harold asked.
            “No. I never saw you that day. I decided to take to the mountain trails and search for Jack. I hiked through the campsites and questioned a few of the brothers and sisters I came across. No one had seen anything, but I began hearing stories of missing items–usually cans of food and water.”
            “Hyde,” Jack said.
            “Right, though I’d forgotten about him for the moment. I kept moving northwards on the trail and suspected that the two of you were probably camping somewhere in the hills. It would likely be close to a campsite but off the beaten trail. I spent a few days and finally tracked down the cave.”
            “I knew it. I knew someone was watching. I could feel it. You remember me saying that, right Harold?” Jack said.
            Harold nodded slowly. Everyone was visibly intrigued.
            “So you knew they were in the cave. Did you know about the traps?” Charlie asked.
            “Eventually, yes. I discovered the dead deer and reported it to some brothers on the Trailblazers crew. Since it was a serious offense I was required to do something.”
            “But you still didn’t stop them,” said Hyde.
            “No. Again, I was not to interfere. I was only to observe.”
            “But why? I don’t understand why you wouldn’t step in when you saw all of this happening.”
            “What good would it have done? We have no prisons to keep them in. They had to be satisfied enough with their answers to return on their own accord. No one could force them to do that.”
            “But what if they’d gone too far. What if they’d hurt someone?” Daniel asked.
            “It wouldn’t have happened. They would’ve been stopped, and I don’t mean by me.”
            As solemn silence fell over the table for a few minutes as the words and possibilities sunk in.
            “So then what? What about the airstrip?” Harold asked.
            “The airstrip is where my big mistake happened.”
            “How’s that?”
            “I figured that eventually you’d make your way there. I knew Jack was a pilot and that it would be a tempting target. Besides, if you headed north along the trails for any reason, you’d eventually come across one or more of the airstrips, so it was a matter of time.”
            “What was the mistake?” Jack asked.
            “The plane was never supposed to take off. The plane you flew, Madeline, was scheduled for repairs that day. I didn’t think it would get off the ground. Mack Gervis had flown it in the night before and had noticed a few issues. He went to get tools for its repair that morning, when you arrived. You were expected to examine the plane and then head back to the woods, where I could track you boys better. But that’s not what happened. Mack just so happened to drag the plane out to the strip, giving you a perfect opportunity to escape. I watched it all from the trees. It was not one of my greatest moments.”
            “So the crash…Was that… Planned?” Daniel asked skeptically.
            “No, of course not. The plane would’ve fared better if Mack had had time to repair it, though. I watched you fly off and had no idea what would become of you all. I worried that if something happened and you lost your lives, that would be it. No third chances.”
            “When did you hear about the crash?” Harold asked.
            “That same night. I placed a few calls to different airstrips and heard from the couple at Levlee that a solar plane had gone down in the lake. I got over there as quickly as I could. By then everyone had been pulled from the wreckage and was staying in different cottages nearby.”
            “Did you arrange for John and Majorie Clevitt to take me in?” Harold asked.
            “No. That was another remarkable coincidence that convinced me that everything was happening by design. John and Majorie knew you were at the Lewises’s center. They were even sent a notice of your resurrection months before it occurred. They had actually planned to visit you, but you ran away before they could. And they said they saw you once in Clive, but you ran off before they could confirm it.”
            “The couple at the bazaar… That was them…”
            “Ah, so it was you. How interesting. In any case, they returned to their cabin near the Levlee airstrip and waited for news about you. Then, one afternoon, you fall out of the sky.”
            “But you don’t believe it was by coincidence,” Jack said.
            “No. I don’t believe so. You men were set on finding your own answers, and you were allowed to experience things and meet people that provided those answers. The things that happened to you were more convincing than anything the Lewises could’ve said or done at the center.”
            Harold was watching Kessic intently and rubbing his chin. “That’s probably true,” he concurred.
            “That day, after I woke up by the lake, when we finally met face to face. What was that all about?” Jack asked.
            “I just needed to confirm a few things. I had most of the picture but I wanted to know what had made you run. And we needed to make sure there was nothing done wrong on the Lewises’s end.”
            “And if there was?” Charlie asked with raised eyebrows.
            “We would’ve passed on our suggestions. You have to understand, the resurrection of the unrighteous is still brand new for everyone. We’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. A lot of the details are being left up to us to handle.”
            “And who, exactly, is ‘us’?” Harold inquired.
            “The information committee,” Kessic said simply. “We put together the information on the candidates for resurrection and try to choose the appropriate centers and hosts.”
“So you’re the ones who assigned us four at a time,” Charlie said jokingly. Kessic smiled.
            “It probably won’t happen again, but for the record, your family did a fine job.”
            “Thanks.”
            Kessic nodded. Then he reached into the inner pocket of his long grey coat. His hand emerged with a thin, sealed envelope. The men at the table studied it intently. No one spoke, and they could tell from Kessic’s face that he was enjoying the moment of tension.
            “You’ve all been through a lot here, and you’ll have plenty of time to prepare for this. I think you’ll be more than ready when the time comes,” Kessic said as he slid the envelope across the table with three long fingers. The others leaned forward and studied the neatly-typed words on the envelope:
            TO: HAROLD DAWSON, JACK CREMSHAW, AND HYDE CREMSHAW
            The three men stared at each other quizzically. Harold reached for the envelope and pulled at its tear cord. They leaned closer as Kessic stood and excused himself politely. He placed the hat back over his head of bright red hair and sauntered off into the crowd.
            “What’s inside?” Charlie asked. He was smiling. He’d already guessed the answer.
            “It’s–It’s a resurrection notice,” Jack stammered.
            “Oh?”
            “Mom’s coming back.”

Monday, September 7, 2015

CHAPTER 25


            Somewhere, a voice was screaming. A boy’s voice, from deep below him. Jack stood at the water’s edge, peering into the black, foamy waves. Lightning struck, illuminating menacing shapes that writhed below the surface. The waves parted, and beneath them the murk and silt whirled away to reveal a forest of trees swaying with the rhythm of the current. And there, in the branches, lay his brother. Hyde. The boy, Hyde. Freckle-faced and withering away from the leukemia.
            His arm reached out, imploring. Jack leaned forward… But it was too far. Always too far. Another bolt of lightning, and everything was dark.
            You could never save him, Jack. Not then. Not now.
            Jack shot up in bed, shaking and half naked. His torso was covered in bandages. Two of the fingers on his left hand were wrapped in hardened gauze. Everything ached. He reached for a clean shirt folded on a chair at the edge of his bed and slipped into it. Slowly, he pushed off the covers and was out of bed and stumbling towards the door. He opened it slightly, peeking into the empty room beyond.
            A cheese sandwich sat neatly on a plate atop a green wooden table. The table was one of a few drab pieces of furniture scattered around what appeared to be a small dining room. Adjacent to that was a kitchen, with an old black stovetop where a kettle of water was being brought to boil.
            Jack lifted the sandwich and stuffed it voraciously into his mouth. He felt starved. How long had he been out? Hours? Days? And where was he now? The experience was almost identical to one he’d had just weeks ago…
            There were differences, of course. He’d woken up then feeling strong and healthy, the scars and dents magically erased from his body, and he’d been given a new set of legs. He could breathe deep and fill his lungs with the serenity of the mountain breeze. But today he was riddled with pain. It hurt just to breathe and the slightest movements required enormous amounts of strength. Jack knew his insides were likely as bruised and battered as his outsides. He could feel it all.
            The air in this place was damp and cold. This cabin was old. But he was glad to be alive.
            Footsteps. Approaching quickly. A fleeting instinct told Jack to run back to the room, to hide and feign unconsciousness, to keep up his guard. But a stronger impulse quickly replaced it, one fueled by reason and courage. It told him to stand his ground, seek penance, and face any and all consequences. Finishing off the final scrap of cheese from his plate, Jack laced his hands together on the table and waited nervously.
            The door creaked open, revealing a tall, shadowy figure. The figure, a man, sauntered in unhurriedly, walked straight past Jack, and pried open a cabinet on the other side of the kitchen. He removed a few items from cabinets and lifted the kettle just as it began to whistle.
            “Coffee?” Asked the man.
            “Yes, please,” Jack said, unsure of anything.
            The man prepared the coffee slowly, grinding a handful of beans and setting the grounds into a small cloth bag, which he then placed in an old metal French press. He brought it over to the table where Jack sat, and placed himself quietly in the seat across the table.
            Jack studied the man carefully. He wore a neutral expression. If there was contempt behind those dark eyes it wasn’t easy to spot. His clothes were simple, their palate dark and subdued. He was tall but not thin, handsome but not striking. In fact, the only thing remarkable about the man in the chair before him was his head of red hair.
            The man sat in silence for a few minutes as the coffee steeped, releasing an intoxicating aroma into the air and instantly warming up the chilly wooden house. Jack closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation. He was not sure what was coming, but he wanted to hold on to at least this moment.
            The man pulled two tin cups from a drawer beneath the table and set them down. He poured the coffee and waited for Jack to sip. Jack let the liquid radiate warmth through his body.
            “It’s good. Thanks,” he said simply. In truth, he wouldn’t have protested if the press had been filled with forest mud. It was strong and hot and it wasn’t stale water being sipped from a canteen. Jack was grateful. The man said nothing, only nodding once to confirm that Jack had been heard.
            “Well, my name is Jack,” Jack said finally, reaching out his hand across the table. The man regarded it for a moment and shook it without smiling.
            “Hi, Jack. I’m Kessic.”
            “Interesting name. Do you live here?”
            The man shook his head. “Let’s talk instead about what happened with your plane.”
            Jack lowered his eyes. “Ok,” he said. “What do you want to know?”
            “I want to know why you haven’t mentioned it since we’ve been sitting here.”
            “I figured you already knew.”
            “Is that the truth, Jack?”
            Jack shifted uncomfortably in his chair and shrugged. “Yeah, it is. I don’t remember how I even got out. Did you–“
            The man held up the palm of his hand suddenly. His fingers were long and spindly and perfectly straight. “Jack, you’ll find here that lies have a way of being uncovered quickly.”
            “Here and everywhere else,” Jack said, forcing a chuckle.
            “Perhaps. But then, this isn’t like any other place, wouldn’t you agree?”
            Another shrug.
            “Let’s talk about your friends.”
            “Okay.”
            “I want to know why you haven’t asked about the other two who were in the plane with you.”
            Jack swallowed hard. “I–I’m not sure. Things are still a blur. I must’ve hit my head in there. It was crazy. Everything happened so fast. Are they ok? Are they here?”
            The man looked hard at Jack but neither moved nor spoke. He appeared frozen in time, cut out of stone or marble and placed there to taunt Jack.
            “Who was flying the plane?” Kessic asked.
            “I was,” Jack said. “We were over the lake and I was looking for a place to land and then I heard something and looked back, and Hyde and Harold were fighting. Hyde had a knife and I figured I had to stop them. I left the controls to break it up, and when I turned back we were headed for the water…” Jack’s voice trailed off and he began rubbing his head.
            “Why were they fighting?”
            “They found out they were related. Father and son. Crazy. Just crazy.”
            “Why do you say that?”
            “It’s just… it’s all so weird. We ran into this kid in the forest and he ends up being related to both of us. It’s just like one coincidence after another after another, like we’re caught in some bizarre twilight zone. I don’t know what all is going on. People over here are telling me one thing and then Harold’s saying something else entirely. I just have no idea what’s happening. And then I wake up, yet again, in some strange house in the woods and I’m met by you, some mysterious guy I know nothing about. I just–I don’t know what any of it means. I mean, you know, I actually had the crazy thought just now that maybe I’m actually dead, and this is some kind of limbo to the afterlife, where I have to suffer for my sins before I can pass on. Is that what’s going on? Can anyone tell me?” Jack was breathing hard now, gripping the tin cup in his hand with knuckles as white as their bones within.
            “Why did you listen to Harold?”
            “What?”
            “It seemed, for awhile, that you were on separate paths. But then you went along with him. Why?”
            “How… How would you even know that?”
            “It doesn’t matter. Please answer the question.”
            “I… I don’t know. I guess I was just scared. Maybe being cooped up in a cabin didn’t feel right to me, sort of like this one doesn’t feel right. Maybe running seemed like a better option, felt like I had more control.”
            “Had the Lewis family done anything to drive you away?”
            Jack avoided the man’s stare. He shook his head.
            “Had they given you any reason to distrust them?”
            “No.”
            “Then why run? And with a man who you’d fought with only days before?”
            “I don’t know, I don’t know. Look, it was just a gut instinct. It felt right at the time, so I went for it.”
            “And what is your gut telling you now?”
            Jack thought this over carefully. Who was this man? Jack had the strong sense that this was an interrogation of some kind, but there had been no violence. No threats. No sack draped over his head while fists beat him and splashed water in his face. And yet the pressure felt so real, as if his next breathing moment depended on his every reply.
            “It’s telling me I was wrong,” Jack said softly.
            “About what?”
            “It’s just really hard to believe, is all. That I died, years ago, and that someone brought me back to life. It just doesn’t seem real.”
            The man gave the slightest of nods, then said, “Anything else? Regrets?”
            “I’m sorry I stole that plane. And then crashed it.” Jack looked into Kessic’s face and thought for a moment that he had seen a grin. But it was gone an instant later.
            The man stood, nodded once more to Jack, and said, “I’ll be leaving now. If you get hungry there’s more food in the pantry. I’m sure you can fend for yourself.”
            “Wait,” Jack said. “That’s it? What about the others? What am I supposed to do here?”
            “Jack, you broke three ribs and two fingers and you’re in no condition to do anything. Rest here. You’ll know more soon, when the time is right.”
            Jack nodded slowly, barely understanding. Kessic headed back through the kitchen and threw the door open wide.
            “Oh, and Jack, one more thing,” he said. “Try not to run away this time, hm?”
            “Yes sir,” Jack said, and with that Kessic stepped off the porch and into the rain, where his figure faded quickly behind a curtain of dense fog.


***

            When Harold came around the second time, the figure was still sitting at his side, clearer now, though he still couldn’t make out the face. He knew that voice, though. From somewhere long ago. Something warm was in his hand. He wriggled his fingers and felt the skin of another warm body. Someone’s hand was there, squeezing gently.
            “There you are,” said a gentle voice as Harold struggled to shoo away the mental cobwebs. His eyes opened, and as they began to focus his heart leapt into his throat.
           “John… John Clevitt?” Harold’s mind spun. It was his old friend and colleague from Cambridge, only much younger and trimmer than he’d been in decades.
            The man nodded, eyes swelling with tears. “Good to see you, old chum. Been awhile, eh?” His voice was soft and distant.
            “I’m dreaming,” Harold said.
            “No, I’m afraid not. I assure you this is all quite real,” the man said, chuckling. That was John’s chuckle!
            “But… How? How did I get here?”
            “A good question indeed, and one I anticipated you might have the answer for. It was, after all, your plane that crashed into our lake. Quite a mess that was, really. All cleaned up now, of course.”
            “My plane?”
            “Well, you were in it, in any case. Though the craft seems to belong to a certain Mr. Mack Gervis. Shame, really. Brand new solar plane and all, smashed to pieces in the lake. I don’t remember you having such sticky fingers back in the old days.”
            Harold managed a weary smile but it vanished a moment later. “The others… Hyde. And Jack. Are they alright?”
            “Jack’s fine,” John said. “Hyde survived but he’s still unconscious as far as I know. You were fortunate to land where you did. The wife and I saw you come down from our living room window and rushed out in our boat. Jack had pulled you and the boy from the wreckage but didn’t have the power to make it to shore. I jumped in and we got you all in the boat and onto land safely. It wasn’t until after I’d carried the boy in that I found he’d been cut pretty bad on his back. There must have been something rather sharp in that plane with you. He lost a lot of blood. Everyone seems to think he’ll pull through, though.”
            Harold closed his eyes. The emotions washed over him. He was glad to be alive, and happier still that the boys had made it through.
            “You live here? In these mountains?” Harold asked. He was struggling to understand.
            “Yes, Majorie and I moved in not too long ago. The lake is beautiful, when people aren’t crashing planes into it.”
            “Majorie? But… She…”
            “Died of cancer, of course. That was years ago and you still remember. But I assure you, she is back now. Alive and well.”
            Harold closed his eyes again, but he was frowning now.
            “So tell me, John… Do you believe it? Everything they say about this place?” Harold’s eyes were still shut tight.
            “What do you think, Harry?”
            “But, John… God. Religion. Those were the very things we were sworn to conquer. Don’t you remember?”
            John said nothing for a few moments as he held Harold’s hand tight. “You know, I once heard a lecture, back when I was still living in Cambridge, and there was a phrase in there that really stuck out to me: Don’t blame the architect for the termites. Curious little saying, don’t you think?”
            Harold was silent. John continued.
            “I realized, after hearing that speech, that I’d always confused the two in my mind. God to me was religion. You couldn’t have one without the other. But I learned later that it wasn’t true. A house in disrepair doesn’t negate the existence of its builder or its designer, does it? Yes, religion had wreaked havoc for centuries on nearly every continent, but could that alone disprove the existence of a Creator? After all, everywhere I looked, be it the cosmos or sub-atomic particles, I found order. Physics explained by simple mathematical equations comprehensible to a puny human brain. Remarkable. An open mind. That is the key to true science, Harold. As it always has been.”
            “And so you just accept there is some invisible eternal being in the sky that controls everything?”
            John chuckled. “Well, he doesn’t control everything. He certainly isn’t controlling you. But is the idea of an invisible spirit being really so difficult to grasp? Why, scientists long before our time were hypothesizing about dimensions beyond our own, dimensions that crossed beyond space and time, and some of those scientists wondered if life might exist on such a plane.”
            “Well that’s not my field, John, and you know that. I was strictly focused on biology.”
“And should that give you a license to ignore the other sciences?”
“I wasn’t ignoring anything, I just never studied it. I stuck to my field, studied the facts, and made educated decisions.”
            “They were guesses, Harry. Guesses no less wild than speculative theoretical physics. And certainly no less daring than the idea that all of this came about by purpose rather than chance. But guessing is ok. That’s what scientists do. We observe and we guess. Once in awhile we may even get something right. But there comes a point when any good scientist has to admit that his guesses are leading in the wrong direction.”
            “And you hit that point?” Harold offered skeptically. John nodded.
            “And you will too, Harold, if you stop fighting it. But no one’s going to force you either way.”
            John released Harold’s hand and stood. “Now get some more rest. We’ll talk more when you’ve recuperated.” And with that, John slipped out of the room and shut the door. Harold sunk bank into the sheets and retreated into his thoughts.


***

            Two days after Harold’s conversation with John, Hyde’s eyes finally eased open. He was impossibly weak and dehydrated, though the sight of a bag of clear fluids delivering a steady drip into his right arm afforded him a degree of relief. The room was familiar, and Hyde soon realized it was the same room he’d stayed in when he’d opened his eyes weeks prior. Trey and Margaret Dresden’s cabin.
            Without having to look, Hyde knew he was in bad shape. A leg and an arm were wrapped in what felt like plaster casts, and his side throbbed with a dull ache. Something bruised, maybe broken. But he’d lived. Somehow, despite all that had happened with the plane and that awful crash, he’d managed to pull through. He was strong, after all, no matter what anyone else thought or said. Take that, James.
            “He’s up! Trey!” Hyde heard a woman quietly whisper. She tiptoed across the room, disturbing a trail of creaky floorboards. She was a little fuzzy when she finally entered Hyde’s field of vision, but he could tell she had tears in her eyes. Her hands were clutched to her mouth and she held a tissue.
            “You had us so worried, Hyde! But we’re so glad you’re back with us, safe and sound.”
            “Well, more or less,” said a second voice, a man who entered in after Margaret and gently touched Hyde’s hair. “Good to see you, kiddo,” Trey said softly.
            Hyde felt Margaret’s fingers gently stroke his forehead and brush away wild strands of hair.
            “I survived,” Hyde whispered.
            “You did. Despite everything,” Margaret said.
            Trey leaned closer and pulled up two chairs for him and his wife. Hyde could see their faces clearly now. Their eyes were red but their smiles were clear and bright.
            “You know,” Trey began, “we know all about the things you faced in your old life. We know how awful and unfair all of it was. We don’t blame you for running away.”
            “You don’t?” Hyde’s voice trembled. His head shook slightly.
            “Of course not,” Margaret said, tears leaking from her eyes. “We’re just happy you’re back.”
            Hyde couldn’t control what came next. It was sudden and powerful and upon him instantly. His chest began to heave and his eyes swelled with moisture. The tears pooled fast and hot and streamed down the sides of his face and into the hair on his neck so that Trey and Margaret quickly wiped them away with warm fingers. Hyde’s throat was a ball of twisted muscle, straining not to gasp with the impossibly strong wave of emotion. He tensed, and his sides hurt, his arm and leg hurt, everything stung with pins and needles and the pain of years freshly remembered.
            “It’s ok, Hyde, let it all out. You’re our family now. Never forget that. We will never do anything to hurt you,” Margaret said, her voice catching as she wiped the boy’s face with her tissues. Trey had his arm around his wife’s shoulder and was trembling and sniffling.
            “I’m so sorry,” Hyde finally said between sobs. “I’ve just been through so much. I’m so glad to be here. Thank you. Thank you.”
            “We know,” Trey said, and the three continued to cry.