Monday, May 25, 2015


Your northern grasses as blue as jade,
Mulberries curve green-threaded branches;
And at last you think of returning home,
Now when my heart is almost broken 
O breeze of the spring, since I dare not know you,
Why part the silk curtains by my bed?

            Liping admired the beautiful characters, still slightly damp, that graced the paper pinned to her wall. It had been one of her favorite pieces of Tang poetry when she was small. When she closed her eyes, she could still hear her grandfather’s steady voice reciting each phrase, the syllables swirling into the air on tufts of steam released from the bamboo baskets. It was their little custom, a poem for the little girl before they bit into the sweet steamed buns. She’d understood only some of the words then, but the sounds were a kind of magic to her ears.
            Liping had transcribed the poem, verse by verse, line by line, on a large sheet of paper that had been rolled up in one of the desk drawers. The characters hadn’t come out perfectly–certainly nowhere near the way her grandfather painted them–but they were there nevertheless. Liping had needed to see them. She’d needed to know that those characters were still a part of her.
            The truth was, Sophie’s words had frightened her. As outlandish as her tales had been, Liping had worried that there had been some truth to them. After all, how was it possible that these foreigners all spoke such clear Chinese? There’d been no stumbling, no mispronunciation. Not even the hint of an accept. They’d spoken it natively, and even amongst themselves. How could something like that be explained?
            Liping read the characters aloud again, savoring the sound of her own voice as it proved, proudly, that she was still Chinese. Whatever changes the world had undergone, she had been untouched, and that was what counted.
            “You chanting in here?” Asked a man’s voice from the doorway behind her with a suddenness that startled her.
            “How did you get in here!” Liping snapped.
            “Your door was open. I heard you saying the same thing over and over, thought I’d come check it out,” Jack said.
            “This doesn’t concern you,” Liping said, her lips an unyielding crease in a scowling face.
            “Hey, easy. I’m not trying to be nosy, I just wanted to see what was up. See if you were in trouble, ok?”
            “I don’t need any foreigner’s help!” Liping hissed.
            “Foreigner? What’s that supposed to mean?”
            “American, British, European, whatever you are. I don’t care. I just want my privacy.”
            “Wait, where are you from?” Jack asked.
            “I’m Chinese, of course!”
            “Well your English is pretty good. I thought you were American. No accent.”
            “No accent? I don’t speak English!”
            “You must be pulling my leg, lady. We’re speakin’ it right now.”
            Liping froze. It was true. The language she now spoke with this man was not the same she’d been reading the poetry in. In the heat of the moment she’d missed the change, but it had come, with all the ease of flipping a light switch or turning a dial. Somehow, she had learned a new tongue overnight, just as Sophie had said.
            “Goodnight!” Liping said abruptly, pushing Jack into the hallway and shutting the door.
            Liping stood in the center of the room, nerves buzzing. How was it possible? What had these people done to her? Was this even real?


            “Vestigial organs,” boomed a deep voice from somewhere behind Charlie. He jumped slightly, turning to see where the words had erupted from.
            “Excuse me?” Charlie asked, noting a tall man in a plaid yellow coat. The man smiled widely and removed a large right hand from his jacket pocket, extending it in Charlie’s direction.
            “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard your inquiry at the front desk. My name is Vladimir Rousek.”
            “Oh, hi there,” Charlie said, fumbling with his bag to free one of his hands. “Nice meeting you, Brother Rousek. I’m Charlie.”
            “Hello. When I first heard you talking with Kiana, my mind wondered what a brother in the New World would want with information on vestigial organs.”
            “What’re those?”
            “They’re what the evolutionists used to call biological structures that seemed useless.”
            “Oh, I see. Yes, I’m here to do some research.”
            “Let me guess–you’ve been assigned with welcoming back an Old World scientist who didn’t believe in the existence of a Creator and you’re preparing for his arrival?”
            “Close enough. Actually, he’s already here. I’ve come to realize I need to brush up on my biology. It sounds like you’ve got some experience, though.”
            “I was an evolutionist myself, many years ago, and a scientist.”
            “You don’t say.” Charlie turned to face Vladmir and pulled out a chair for him to sit.
            “In those days, looking for so-called useless organs was believed to be a means to disprove intelligent design. However, one by one, these biological structures were all proven to have uses. Some very significant.”
            “For example?” Charlie asked. The two were now seated at a long oak table on the second floor. Charlie removed a notebook and pencil for one of his bag’s pockets and began taking notes.
            “Well, two examples would be tonsils and the appendix in humans. After all, people in the Old World would often have these surgically removed without any evident ill effects. Of course, that’s sort of like removing a few rivets on an airplane’s wings to prove that they’re not necessary for flight.”
            “What was their function–I mean, not the rivets, the organs?”
            “Actually these organs are related; both are part of the body’s lymphatic system, which helps us to fight off infections. You can remove them without compromising the body’s main functions, but they still play an important role. They’re just one extra layer of defense in an already incredibly well-protected and intricately-designed organism.”
            “And that wasn’t the only problem of pointing to the appendix as proof of evolution. You see, the whole idea of vestigial structures revolves around the notion that as a species evolves over time, certain unused organs atrophy and eventually completely disappear in the organism’s descendants. So, that would mean that in man’s supposed ancestors–namely, primates–some of our so-called vestigial organs should have a function, or at the very least, exist in some pre-evolved form.”
            “Ok, I’m following,” said Charlie.
            “Well, this is not the case. In fact, the appendix is missing entirely from certain ape species! Even Darwin was aware of this issue, and he wrote about it in one of his books. Still, over one hundred and fifty years later, many textbooks still liked to mention vestigial organs. I guess they were an easy sell to the scientifically unwary.”
            Charlie scribbled madly in his notebook, barely keeping up. “What about vestigial structures in birds? The man I’m assisting–Harold is his name–he specifically mentioned birds as having useless organs. What do you think he was talking about?”
            “Well, you’d have to ask him, but my guess would be that he was referring to the wings of flightless birds. That was a favorite of evolutionists back in the day.”
            “But they do have a use, don’t they?”
            “I’m not ornithologist, but I could cite a few examples for you.”
            “Please. This is very helpful.”
             “Well, there are quite a few flightless birds, but I do recall some Old World studies that were done on the wings of ostriches.”
            Charlie jotted the word OSTRICH in large letters at the top of a new page.
            “At one time, scientists hypothesized that one day, flightless birds would lose their wings entirely. They claimed that since the wings served no purpose, evolution would eventually do its job and remove them. Smart thing, that evolution!” Vladimir winked.
            “But one by one, after a careful study of these different bird species, the wings were proven to serve crucial functions. Have you ever seen an ostrich running at full speed?”
            Charlie paused for a moment as he tried to remember. He shook his head.
            “Exquisite creatures, those ostriches. They move at speeds comparable to cars on an Old World freeway, and unlike other animals, can maintain their speed over some distance. The problem, of course, is stopping. And turning. You can’t put brakes on legs, and if you’ve ever tried to make a sharp turn while running as fast as you can, you know it’s near impossible. Well, fortunately for the ostrich, it’s got these great set of wings. The wings flap out to create air resistance when the bird wants to make a sudden stop, and a single wing will reach out to help the bird pivot when it wants to turn while running. Does that sound vestigial to you?”
            Charlie shook his head again. “This is all very interesting,” he muttered under his breath. “I just hope it’s enough to convince Harold.”
            “My advice: be patient with him. Many evolutionists in the Old World held on to their beliefs religiously. Many had shut the door on God in their mind and heart, and it was difficult to let Him back in.”
            “What convinced you?” Charlie asked.
            “Well it certainly wasn’t scientific fact. My Bible study conductor wasn’t highly educated, and at the time the Organization hadn’t published many books on the subject. But what really stood out to me was the love I felt at the Kingdom Hall. My wife and I both could see it was something special. I had my colleagues and she had her friends, but it was nothing like the feeling of family we experienced in Jehovah’s organization. That was definitely the factor that won me over, in the end. And then, with time, I began to see the whole creation element come alive in my personal research.”
            “That’s good advice, and it’s the same thing I’ve been telling myself since I first met him, but I’m not sure our love is getting through. He seems to have his mind set, and he just refuses to accept another way of looking at things.”
            Vladimir rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then said, “Well, none of us can read hearts. We can only do our best. Give him time. He may be farther along than he’s showing. What seems like a battle with you may actually be a battle with his own pride. Be patient.” Vladimir smiled and gave Charlie a slap on the back that nearly sent him face-forward into the table. “I’m sure things will work out,” said Brother Rousek as he slipped from his chair and stood beside the desk.
            “Thanks for your advice,” Charlie said, shaking the man’s hand. “I’ll keep in it mind. And hey, if you ever get a chance, come see us. We’re on the peak, at the top of the lift. I bet Harold and you would have a lot to talk about.”
            “I’ll take you up on that,” Vladimir said. Then, with a wave, he’d disappeared back down the wrought iron staircase, leaving Charlie alone in the quiet room with his bag, notebook, and the sudden realization that it was already dark and he was very, very hungry.


            Where was he?
            It was unusual for him to miss a day at the center, and stranger still that he hadn’t been at the kitchen table buried in the pages of his books when she’d returned home. And now it was past seven o’clock and completely dark outside. He wasn’t at the lake, either. She’d checked. Strange.
            Naomi glanced over at the table where Charlie had been reading when she left him that morning. The books were still there, stacked in a neat pile, though his notebook was gone. She sighed, trying to shake off the stirrings of anxiety.
            It was probably nothing to worry about. She was just all nerves lately. With the guests, Adrina’s fall, the fight at the peak, having to scramble here and there to take care of everyone... It had been thoroughly exhausting. Maybe it would be easier with Adrina close by, Naomi wondered. It was hard to tell.
            “Hey, Mom,” Sophie said as she walked through the front door. “I saw the lights on in the guest house. Who’s visiting?”
            “Oh, Adrina’s in there. She wanted to get out of the center for awhile.”
            “Why? Did something happen?”
            “I don’t know, she won’t tell me.”
            “You sure it’s ok that she’s down here?”
            “I haven’t asked your father yet–he hasn’t been here all day. But I don’t think he’d mind.”
            “Huh,” Sophie said, shrugging. “How is she otherwise?”
            “Seems ok. She’s finally opening up a little about her past. There’s still a lot I don’t know, but I think it’ll come out eventually.”
            “Well, that sounds better than Liping. She’s kind of getting weirder and weirder.”
            “How so?”
            “Well, the other day she asked about language. I guess she noticed that everyone was speaking in a tongue she could understand, so I went through the whole explanation. Tried to keep it very simple. I was really hopeful that it would be a turning point for her, that she’d think that was something positive.”
            “But she didn’t.”
            “Nope. She went into this whole thing about China and some revolution where they tried to change the people’s language and culture, and she somehow connected that to this.”
            “And what did you say?”
            “Nothing, really. We talked about something else. What would you have done?”
            “I’m not sure I would’ve known what to do. But we do have to try our best to understand them. You know, your father and I went to Old China when we first adopted you.”
            “Yeah, I remember the stories,” Sophie said, falling into a sofa in the den.
            “My first impression wasn’t a good one, to be honest. I was under a lot of stress at the time. I was taking a lot of my frustration out on your dad. When we arrived in Zhengzhou, we were shocked by how heavily polluted it was–the air, the water, everything. Pollution–I know that’s just a word to you, Sophie, because you’ve spent most of your life here in paradise and you have no way of imagining it. It was literally difficult to breathe. You could smell the chemicals in the air. It was awful! On top of that, the adoption center was loud and full of children and not very clean.
            “It wasn’t until we came back home, with you, our little Chinese girl, that I began taking an interest in Chinese language and culture. One of the reasons, of course, was to figure out how you knew about the Society’s publications. I know you’ve heard the story a thousand times, but I can’t express just how shocked your dad and I were to learn that one of the caretakers of the adoption center was our sister and had been reading through the Great Teacher book with you.”
           “I still remember how excited I was to see that book on your shelf. I had been praying for good parents, and when I saw that book I knew I’d found the best,” Sophie said warmly. Naomi thought back to that day hundreds of years ago and how thankful they’d been for making the right decision. Naomi and her husband were convinced it had been Jehovah’s direction.
“Of course, your dad was much better with the language–he started learning Mandarin long before we flew out there and he could speak quite a bit. Eventually we even joined a Chinese congregation for awhile.”
            “I remember that. That was shortly before the Tribulation…”
            “That’s right. After we joined the congregation and started talking with some of the Chinese that had moved abroad, I really began understanding more about what life there was like, and what it had been like for the previous generations, including the one Liping belonged to.”
            “So you know about the revolution?”
            “Sophie, that revolution was one of many. The Chinese of your mother’s generation experienced so many atrocities, and the generation before them was the same. It was literally one tragedy to the next, and often it was instigated by those in power.”
            “But that’s what I don’t understand–why does she have so much pride for a country that abused its people so badly?”
            “That’s what patriotism did, Sophie. It masked a country’s true nature in bright colors and loud national anthems and stirred up the people into a fervor while it dominated them to their injury. It was one of Satan’s chief means of controlling the Old World.”
            “It’s so hard to understand...” Sophie said, looking out the back windows at the moonlit lake.
            “But we have to try,” Naomi said. “If we put a wall between us and them, they’ll never learn about Jehovah as we have.”
            The two sat for a moment without speaking, instead letting the droll of singing crickets roll in through the open windows and fill the air. Then came a ring, shattering the silence of the room.
            Naomi ran to the phone and lifted the receiver.
            “Hey babe, it’s me,” said the voice on the other end.
            “Where are you? I was starting to worry,” Naomi said in a voice with a harshness that surprised her.
            “I’m sorry, I got carried away doing research. I’m at the Clive Public Library.”
            “Way out there? How will you get home in the dark?”
            “I think I’ll stay with friends here for the night and bike back to the cabin first thing in the morning.”
            “Ok, but be careful. We’ve already had too many injuries in the last few days and I don’t want to have to haul you back with a sprained ankle.”
            “I’ll be fine. Love you. See you in the morning.”
            Naomi let out a long sigh and returned the phone to the cradle. She walked over slowly to Sophie, who was already fast asleep on the couch. Leaning over, she brushed Sophie’s hair from her eyes and kissed her gently on the forehead.
            “Love you, baby girl,” Naomi whispered, dimming the lights and retreating to her upstairs bedroom for the night.


            Harold sat hunched over his journal on the back deck of the Welcome Center, buried in his thoughts. This conspiracy spread farther than he’d first anticipated. It went beyond this little family on a hill. It extended to whole towns... Assuming, of course, he had actually been connected to a real town. It was just as likely that there was someone huddled in a room of this very same building posing as an operator, taking calls. There was no way to be certain.
            The temperature had dropped with the sunset, and even the thick quilt draped around Harold’s shoulders and legs wasn’t keeping the chill out. He lumbered over to the wood stack next to the outdoor chimney and threw another pine log into the flames, watching as the fire chewed at the wood’s loose fibers and singed its edges black. Harold tilted his head back and watched the wire of blue smoke twist into the clear night sky. The air here certainly was cleaner than back home.
            There was a shuffling noise behind Harold as a door clicked shut.
            “Yes?” He said without looking back.
            “It’s me,” said a soft voice.
            Harold felt the tendons in his neck and back tighten. His pulse quickened, a wave of heat descending suddenly over his body. His hand clenched the fire stoker with blanched knuckles.
            “What do you want, Jack?”
            “I just want to talk.”
            “Yeah? Well, if memory serves me right, last time we talked it didn’t end well,” Harold said, turning the heavy tool slowly in his hands, his back still facing Jack.
            “Yeah, well, I didn’t mean to. It was the alcohol. It must’ve been stronger than what was written on the bottle.”
            Harold shrugged. “What’s done is done. What do you want?”
            “Can we sit?” Jack asked.
            Harold turned slightly, revealing the iron pick in his hand. Seeing it, Jack’s eyes widened. He took a step back and raised his palms in front of him.
            “Harold, I’m sorry about hitting you. Please, let’s just talk.”
            Harold lifted the curved point into the air, holding the rod like the sword of a sparring fencer. He stood a few paces from Jack, but the end of the stoker pointed at Jack’s chest. “Now what could the two of us possibly have to talk about?” Harold’s voice sizzled.
            “You were a scientist, right?” Jack said, hands still in the air.
            “I am a scientist. And?”
            “And have they talked to you about this place? Do you know what they’re saying about everything, about us? How we came back from the dead?”
            “I’ve heard enough.”
            “And what?” Harold hissed.
            “What do you make of it? Is it possible?”
            Harold lowered the stoker slightly, the look on his face a mix of anger and distaste. “Of course not!” He scoffed.
            “So how do you explain it then? How is it that one moment we were dying and the next we’re here on a mountain somewhere. I mean, even my scars are gone...”
            Harold turned and tossed the stoker next to the wood pile. It clanged loudly against the wood planks of the deck. Harold rubbed his face and patted down his slick black hair.
            “I’m not sure yet,” he said softly.
            “But you don’t believe them,” Jack said.
            “Of course not. Do you?”
            “I... I don’t know, man. I can’t figure out what else could be going on here, unless we’re all dead and gone to heaven.”
            “What is it with you Americans and always trying to answer questions with religion?” Harold said.
            “Hey, I came to you for answers and you’ve got nothing. I’m just saying it’s a possibility, is all. I mean, isn’t that what scientists are supposed to do? Consider all the possibilities and then make a decision?”
            “We don’t consider the impossible.”
            “So you think this is impossible?”
            “It’s not scientific.”
            “I know it sounds crazy, but... Look, my last memory before I woke up in that room was losing my legs. Some Jihad Joe in Iraq shot a grenade at me and it literally blew me in half. I was lying there in the sand, losing consciousness, realizing that I was gonna die. And the next thing I know, I’m opening my eyes here. How does science explain that?”
            “I told you, I’m not sure yet. But there has to be an explanation.”
            “What about you? What was your last memory?” Jack asked.
            “I was going to a seminar in England.”
            “That’s it? You were going to some seminar and then–POOF!–you arrive here?”
            “No. I was having chest pains that day. I got to the meeting hall, one of my colleagues was there. And then I felt a bad pain.”
            “Let me guess, you had a heart attack?”
            “I... don’t know. I don’t remember much from the event. I just remember waking here.”
            “Let me ask you another question: how old were you when you... had those last memories?”
            Harold paused for a moment. “Sixty,” he said grudgingly.
            “Sixty! Have you taken a look in a mirror lately?”
            “Only briefly.”
            “You look like you’re in your twenties.”
            “And what are you trying to say?”
            “I’m just looking for another explanation, is all.” Jack mumbled. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked over to the balcony railing, peering up at a vast web of stars and planets.

            “Well if you really want to look for an explanation,” Harold said, “then maybe I have an idea.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

UPDATE: "The Unrighteous" eBook now available for download

For those who've emailed or posted messages regarding the eBook version of The Unrighteous, I'm pleased to announced that it's finally here! The downloadable book is formatted for reading on handheld devices. It includes all twenty-six chapters of the novel, a linked table of contents, and even three maps that I've specially designed to help readers picture the areas mentioned in the novel. As always, I'm happy to provide this publication completely free of charge, but any donations are greatly appreciated. Happy reading!

Click here for links to the eBooks and more information...

Monday, May 18, 2015


One hundred and twenty years before Harold’s first entry in his journal, and roughly half a century before the arrival of Charlie and Naomi Lewis, another family had made their way to grassy plain nearly twenty miles west of where the Lewises would eventually build their lakeside cabin. They were the Clive family, traveling towards the Pacific Ocean from the North American Midwest.
            They had originally been a family of four, a couple and their two sons, but the sons had since married and now their clan had grown. The plains where the Clives settled was located in a lush valley bisected by a river and flanked to the north by a majestic mountain range. Like the Lewis family, The Clives had been tasked with the construction of a Welcome Center soon after settling in the valley, and many of the righteous whom they’d helped to bring back had chosen to remain in the area.
            The Clive family’s residence eventually expanded to facilitate the population growth, and new buildings had been added. Now there were nearly eighty residences spread over seven hundred acres, and the town center was soon home to an assembly hall, a river inn, a tavern, a brewery, a coffee mill, a town library, and a sprawling bazaar. Even an outdoor amphitheater was in the works. The town was expected to continue growing. Appropriately, it had been named after its first settlers: Clive.
            Charlie’s bicycle coasted off the downhill dirt path leading to town and slipped under the cool shadow of a great pine. He propped his bicycle against the tree’s coarse trunk and stepped onto a small paved footpath. He couldn’t remember if the footpath had been there the last time he’d visited. Clive was changing quickly and it was sometimes difficult to keep up.
            Charlie heard the distant clacking of hammers on lumber and wondered what new things were being built today. He enjoyed the solitude of his mountain cabin, but there was a certain social electricity in the air here that was uniquely intoxicating.
            Charlie dug his hands into his jeans pockets and strolled along the main street. While the residence buildings were located in the quieter, more remote parts of Clive across the river, the public buildings had been built conveniently close to one another. Picnic tables and benches with umbrellas lined most of these buildings, and small clusters of friends sat here and there, chatting and sharing experiences.
            Bits and pieces of conversations fluttered past Charlie as he walked. Rumor had it that a new welcome center was being planned for Bighton. Forty rooms and plenty of nearby condos! Had that new family from India come in yet? They were supposed to arrive next month and were bringing plenty of spices from the East. It’s been a long time since we had authentic curry! More solar planes are being delivered this month–straight from Europe and supposedly state-of-the-art. Did you hear, they’re offering custom paint jobs now!
            “Hey, Charlie!” Someone called out from one of the tables, waving a green cloth napkin. His name was Gavin. He and his wife had been two of the first to be resurrected right there in Clive.
            “Hey, long time no see,” Charlie said as the two shook hands and he sat down.
            “Heard you just got some new guests. What brings you into town?”
            “Yeah, just last week. It’s been busy. Doing a little research today.”
            “Oh, the library. I hear they’re expanding soon,” Gavin said. He pushed a platter of cut fruit wedges on the table in Charlie’s direction.
            “Oh? What for?”
            “New books coming in, I think. Now that the unrighteous are coming back, some things need updating, I guess.”
            “Perhaps they’ll have a manual on how to talk to them,” Charlie snickered.
            “That tough, huh?”
            “It’s been... an interesting week. We’re all tired,” Charlie sighed.
            “What their background like?”
            “Each of them is different. My guest is an evolutionist. Highly educated. Very intimidating.”
            Gavin let out a descending whistle. “Evolution! Man, haven’t heard that word in a long time. But I guess we’ll be getting all sorts from here on out.”
            “Have any come back anywhere else that you’ve heard of?”
            “Your guests are the first in this area so far as I know, but we’ve had a few travelers come through with stories. Seems that some take to the truth right away, other take some persuading.”
            “Any stories of those who just refuse to change?”
            “No, not yet. It’s still all so new, though. You that worried about the evolutionist?”
            “I am,” Charlie nodded gravely, slipping a slice of mango into his mouth.
            “Well, I’ll be praying for you. We’ll all be in your shoes soon enough, I’m guessing. If you learn any good methods, be sure to pass ‘em on.” Gavin rose from the table and slapped Charlie on the back. “Good seeing you, buddy. Say hi to the family. Gotta get going now. We’ve got a busy schedule today,” he said.
            “You still in construction?”
            “Yup. We’re working on the amphitheater. Can you imagine, seeing some live music and performances all together like that? It’ll be great.”
            Charlie smiled distractedly. “Good seeing you too, Gavin.”
            Charlie sighed again and rose from the table slowly, then sauntered off in the direction of the library.


            The Clive Public Library was a tall hexagonal red-brick building across from the assembly hall near the center of town. Tall glass widows stretched up its six sides, allowing the natural light to illuminate its three-story interior. Like many of the buildings in Clive, the library’s perimeter was lined with well-trimmed shrubs and flowering plants. A large shaded grassy area wrapped around the north and south sides of the building, where a dozen visitors now sat outdoors at chairs and tables, flipping through reference books and making notes.
            Charlie entered through the main doors and was met by another familiar face. Her name was Kiana. She had settled in Clive decades before when the town was just a small village with a population just over a dozen. To everyone’s surprise, Kiana had remained single, despite her remarkable intelligence and beauty. She and Sophie had become good friends over the last five decades, though lately they’d barely had time to talk.
            “Hey, Kiana,” Charlie said as the glass doors whisked shut behind him. She was a frequent guest in the Lewises’s cabin and Charlie was happy to see her.
            “Hey, Charlie, didn’t expect to see you all the way out here. What brings you down from the top of the mountain?”
            “I’m looking for a book about birds,” Charlie started.
            “You have a specific title in mind?”
            “No, I guess not. One of our newly resurrected guests was an evolutionist–is an evolutionist, I suppose–and he mentioned something about birds having useless organs. I wanted to research the topic.”
            “Got it. You’ll find what you’re looking for in an article by a research team based in South America. I believe it was called Birds–Old Concepts Versus New Discovery. It should be in the second volume on Ornithology, which was published just last year. Check the zoology section on our second floor at the south-west corner.”
            Charlie stared at the girl in amazement. “You’ve read the article?”
            “I did, but I don’t remember all of the details. I recommend checking the source if you’re going to talk with a scientist.”
            “Yes, I suppose that’s best. Thanks, Kiana.” And with that, Charlie sensed the looming intimidation as he climbed the winding iron staircase to the second floor and took a deep breath. He was never a science guy.


            It had taken no small courage for Daniel to approach Jack’s door. They hadn’t seen much of each other over the last couple of days; Daniel’s father had suggested they give Jack some space. He was probably still a little disoriented  and needed some time to himself. Time and of course, as always, love. Daniel had thus spent the last forty-eight hours in prayer and meditation, looking for the keys to helping his guest.
            The sound his knuckles made on the door was nearly inaudible. In his mind, Jack emerged in a drunken fury and slammed one or both of his fists into Daniel’s head, sending the terrified boy flying across the hallway and through the glass picture window. He’d imagined it many times, and did his best to shake the horror from his head as he forced himself to knock a second time.
            “Yeah? Who is it?” Said a dull voice from within.
            Daniel’s mouth shut like two ends of a strong magnet. His throat was a padlock keeping any words from leaking out. His body froze. Sweat began forming on his arms and neck.
            “I said who is it?” Came the voice a second time, louder. Angrier.
            The padlock cracked enough for a whisper to leak out: “It’s m-me. It’s Duh-Daniel.”
            Silence. Then the sound of chair legs scraping against the wooden floorboards as Jack stood and approached.
            “What do you want?”
            Daniel swallowed hard and wiped the back of his damp arm on his shirt. “I was hoping we c-could have a little ch-chat. What do you think?”
            Jack squinted, studying Daniel carefully without a word. More sweat. Daniel’s heart was a jackhammer in his chest, a deafening thudding in his eardrums. He felt the organs in his belly twist and churn, as if shifting away from what would certainly be a swift kick in their direction.
            “Yeah, ok. But let’s do it outside.”
            Daniel nodded enthusiastically. Whatever he wanted. Anything at all. He led Jack down the hallway and into the kitchen, where they grabbed a pitcher of fresh juice and two glasses. A minute later they were sitting on the back deck, overlooking the tree-lined valley swooping below.
            “I’ll admit, this is one spectacular view,” Jack said, throwing a cup of juice down his gullet. Then, after tugging his shoes off, he leaned back on two legs of the chair and crossed his feet on the edge of the table. “Don’t worry kid, I’m not gonna hit you. You can relax,” he said.
            “Oh, ok. That’s good. Thank you.” Daniel smiled, but it was gone a moment later.
            “So your Dad tells me I need to ask more questions.” Jack bit a hanging fingernail and flicked it into the grass. “What do you think, Daniel?”
            “Well yeah, I agree.”
            “You agree because Dad said so or you agree because you really think so?”
            “I really think so.”
            “Why?” Jack looked at Daniel with an expression Daniel had never seen before. It was something between anger and curiosity. But it did not fill Daniel with a sense of dread. In some strange way, it gave him courage. There was honesty in that look, and Daniel could sense it. It was the look of a challenge.
            “Because questions lead to answers,” Daniel said with the dawn of confidence.
            “Sounds good enough, but you could’ve read that line in a book.”
            “Would that be so bad? Don’t books teach us things?”
            “They can, I guess, but real experience teaches us more.”
            “And what have your experiences taught you?”
            Jack fell silent and his expression shifted slightly. The intensity of the fire in his eyes had turned down a notch. “I guess they’ve taught me to be careful.”
            “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every step.”
            “Not bad. What’s that from?”
            “It’s a proverb from the Bible.”
            Jack’s eyebrows raised slightly with a nod of his head. “Ok, I’ll shoot,” he said suddenly, setting all four legs of the deck chair back on the ground.
            “A question. I’ve got one for you. If this is paradise, as you’ve said, and humanity has been reunited with God and whatnot, why can’t we see him? Where is he? Why does he hide?”
            “God’s invisibility to human eyes is not due to our being distanced from him, but due to our differing natures of existence. We are material creatures, he is a spirit.”
            Jack swiped a flattened hand over the top of his head with a blank look. “What does that even mean?”
            “Think of it like this. Suppose you’re watching a live broadcast on television.”
            “The people you see on the screen–are they real?”
            “Can they see you?”
            “Right. Although they exist at the same time as you and I and are real as the people watching them, they don’t know what their audience looks like.”
            “I’m following so far. Go on.”
            “In the same way, the things that happen in our physical world can be observed clearly from the non-physical–or spiritual–world.”
            “Ok. You’re saying that God sees us, and exists like us, but we can’t see him, like we’re trapped in some TV screen.”
            “Well, it’s not an exact parallel, but you’ve got the idea. The fact is, there are many things invisible to the human eye that we can prove the existence of. Radiation, magnetism, radio waves, wind, sound, emotions, and so forth. We all accept that these things exist although we can’t actually see them. Our eyes are only built to see the things we need to.”
            “And what if I said that I need to see God to believe in him?”
            “Then I would suggest you look at a scripture: Romans chapter one verse twenty.”
            “You got a Bible around here?” Jack asked.
            “Of course,” Daniel said. He could barely contain his smile as he rose from his chair and dashed back into the cabin.


            Adrina could feel some of the tension release in her back and shoulders as they stepped off the platform at the bottom of the hill. The view here was no less stunning than the one on the mountain. She wasn’t able to see quite as far as from the peak, but the gently rolling hills that spilled into the massive lake at the center of the clearing gave Adrina a sense of calm and peace that sunk deep into her bones, warming her. An angular wood cabin stood a short walking distance from the lift, its tall glass windows reflecting the brilliant light of the sun off the lake.
            “This is your house?” Adrina asked. It was two stories tall, surrounded by flowers and hedges, and sat in the center of a large field of grass. Adrina was awestruck.
            “Can I ask how much you paid for this place? It’s a mansion!”
            Naomi smiled. “Not a dime.”
            Adrina shook her head in disbelief.
            “You can stay here with us, for awhile, until we figure some things out. We’ve got a guest house on the other side.”
            Adrina followed Naomi around the side of the house as her eyes soaked in the dazzling scenery. A small troop of foxes emerged from the tree line and trotted to the water’s edge, paying no apparent attention to the humans who stood less than a hundred feet away.
            “They don’t seem afraid at all,” Adrina muttered.
            “They’re not. None of the animals in paradise are. That’s part of what makes it paradise,” Naomi said without looking back.
            Adrina plodded up the stairs behind Naomi and heard the creak of the large twin doors as the hinges bent open. Naomi swatted at a film of cobwebs in the doorway. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s been awhile since this place has seen guests.”
            Adrina didn’t mind. She was used to living in places much, much worse. A bit of dust and cobweb wouldn’t be a problem.
            “I’ll get the cleaning supplies. We can clean the place together,” Naomi said.
            Adrina waited while Naomi wandered off for the supplies. Though small when compared to the Lewis cabin, the guest house was much larger than any of the apartments she’d ever lived in. It was, in many ways, the kind of house she’d always wanted. It was far from the city and the gangs and sirens. Nothing but nature all around as far as the eye could see. It was the house of her dreams, when she still had them. Dreams of marrying Corey, of raising kids, of being happy... Well, at least she had the house. For now. She smiled, enjoying for once what she imagined to be a first streak of good luck. About time.
            Adrina strolled through the foyer and into the living room. It was adorned simply and attractively, with two recliners and a sofa set beside a large picture window. The opposite wall housed a fireplace beside which lay a neat stack of cut wood. Adrina walked to the mantle, noting a row of dusty framed photos.
            The first two were pictures of Charlie and Naomi. They stood in the grassy clearing where Adrina had just walked. In the background of the photo, where the cabin should’ve been, stood a single, red water pump. It had to have been years ago, long before the two buildings were built.
            In the third photo, there were three faces: that of Charlie, Naomi, and the young woman, Sophie. Their arms were around each other and they sat on a sofa next to a fireplace–this fireplace, Adrina realized.
            In the fourth photo, Charlie and Naomi stood by the lake with a small boy. It was only after carefully studying the fifth photo that Adrina realized that this was the young man she’d seen at the Center. Daniel. And it was this completed center, sitting atop the peak of the mountain, that the four of them, with the boy now fully grown, stood next to in the sixth and final photo.
            Adrina scanned the photos again. Something seemed odd. She lifted the first photo carefully from a dustless footprint and blew it off, getting a clearer view of the image behind the glass film. She held it next to the sixth and final photo, and peered at the faces of Charlie and Naomi. Was she seeing things? Adrina rubbed her eyes and looked again. Their faces hadn’t changed. In all those years building the cabins and raising a son, they looked exactly the same. Not a day older.
            Adrina felt a wave of goose bumps wash over her body.


            Margaret Dresden–or Maggie, as the girls around the office knew her–neatly folded the paper sack at her desk as she finished the remnants of an egg sandwich. She momentarily fluffed her hair as she caught her slightly disheveled reflection glaring back at her from a strip of metal. The metal, together with an array of switches, sockets, cables, and plugs, stood vertically less than two feet from the edge of Maggie’s desk. She flicked the paper bag into a recycling bin beneath the table and swiveled back to the wall of wires and holes, slipping on an old-fashioned headset.
            In fact, the entire scene in the sixteen-by-twenty foot room was strikingly old-fashioned. In it, eight female operators with smartly curled hair and polished fingernails muttered polite sounds into their headsets, helping the nearly eight hundred residents of Bighton (and three hundred residents of neighboring Clive) place calls to the outside world.
            Call centers like the one here had popped up slowly as a global phone network had reestablished itself. In some regions, many of the existing phone lines had been left intact after Armageddon. In others, lines had needed to be re-laid. In many places, unsightly above-ground telephones poles were taken down as the lines were moved to underground conduits. It had taken many decades to examine the nearly seventeen million miles of telephone wire strewn across the globe, but gradually things had come together. And now, even remote places like Clive had at least one telephone per household.
            “Hello, operator,” Maggie said pleasantly as a red bulb flashed atop the switchboard.
            “Yes, hi. I’d like to speak with someone in Cambridge, England.” Said a crisp male voice.
            “Please hold,” said Maggie. She expertly rearranged the cables in front of her and soon there was a new voice in the earpiece.
            “Hello, operator,” Came the voice on the other end.
            “Hello there. I’m an operator from Bighton, region twenty-two A, and I’ve got a caller looking for someone in Cambridge. Can you please connect us?” A pause.
            “Are you sure it’s Cambridge?”
            “Yes, I believe so.”
            “Sorry, no Cambridge here.”
            “Oh? Are you sure?”
            “Quite positive. Cambridge was completely leveled during the Great Day. Nothing left out there but trees. Even if there are a handful of settlers now, I’m sure they haven’t got phones yet. You want me to check for HAM frequencies?”
            “Perhaps he’s speaking of another Cambridge?”
            “Not near here. There’s just the one. Sorry.”
            “I see. Well thanks anyway.”
            Maggie said goodbye and the voice clicked off. She replaced the cables and explained the situation to the first caller.
            “That can’t be!” He gasped.
            “I’m sorry brother, that’s the information I was given.”
            “Who am I speaking to? Where are you?” The voice demanded.
            “Uh, well, my name is Margaret Dresden, I’m an operator here in Bighton.”
            “Bighton? Where’s that?”
            “Well, just across the river from you. Are you feeling al–“
            “Across the river from me? How do you know where I’m calling from?” Said the voice.
            “This is a switchboard. We know where all our calls are coming from. You’re at the Lewis family’s Welcome Center.”
            There was no response.
            “Hello?” Maggie said gently into the mouthpiece.  Still nothing.
            Maggie realized the line was dead and was suddenly flooded with familiar feelings of dread. Her hand was trembling against her headset.
            “Maggie. Maggie? Are you ok?” said a voice to her right. Maggie turned her head slowly, eyes wide, unblinking.

            “I think it’s happened somewhere else,” she said.