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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.
“Mom’s coming back.”