by K Griffin © 1999
His slumber was disturbed by a soft whisper. Over and over, it called to him. His subconscious heard it and refused to answer. He listened as the voice whispered, "Why are you still sleeping? The creche will leave without you."
He half-stirred in his sleep and the dancing colour nodes on his skin, gleamed brightly like the phosphorescence of the deepest oceans. His wings tingled at the thought of freedom, but his body snuggled deeper into the warmth of the encasing shell. His subconscious finally whispered a reply "Soon, creche-partners. Soon. The time is not yet right."
His re-growth had been slower this time. The distraction of that other voice was something he could not bring himself to tell the creche. He could not tell them that he had been ready to awaken many times already, but somewhere, a voice was calling him, and the voice was not a creche-partner. He turned back to his slumber, knowing that he could not risk delaying the awakening for much longer. As he drifted back into the nether reaches of deepest slumber, the little golden voice tinkled in the distance. His last waking thought was the same thought that had returned him to sleep so many times already, "It is too beautiful to silence. I will wait a little longer, before leaving."
The message from her mother came out of the blue. The message title had simply said "Gran". As far as Terry knew, no-one in the family had visited Gran for several years. Visiting had become impossible once personal vehicles became a luxury beyond the means of the average citizens, When she had been young, they had visited the isolated home on a few occasions. She closed her eyes and could still see that strange little wooden house, far from the comfort and safety of any town. Now the heart was missing from the picture, because now, Gran was dead.
Her mother's message had attached a note from Gran. A last message to her only granddaughter. Terry felt a little guilty that she hadn't visited the old lady, so she hesitated over opening the message. Her mother's message had, not surprisingly, given no clue as to the contents of the attachment. Gran's refusal to leave the old homestead had embarrassed her mother to such an extent that she had gradually stopped mentioning her. In her mother's opinion, no sane person would live away from the safety of the concrete cities. Gran had become a childhood myth linked with all the other fantasies that build a childhood.
Terry sat and stared at the screen for a long time, mesmerised by the flashing icon reminding her of the waiting message. She knew she was merely avoiding the inevitable, but she let her mind wander back to those early visits. Her first memories of visits were of being carried from the vehicle to the house. If they carried her, there was no chance that she might accidentally step on the bare earth. They had been afraid that her little legs would not manage to reach across to each of the stepping stones that had been placed as a safe path to the front door. Once inside the house, she was not allowed outside again until they left. Gran's house was surrounded by bare earth, not safe concrete, so playing outside was forbidden.
As she grew older, they judged that she was capable of negotiating the hazards of the path to the house. They no longer carried her. She still remembered the little thrill of fear that had run through her the first time she missed a stepping stone; the first time she touched bare earth. At home, she was taught to not even step on the cracks in the concrete, in case the hungry earth sucked her down into it, yet here, she had actually touched the earth and nothing had happened. She'd hugged the secret of her illicit act tightly to herself, telling no-one and several times after that, she had deliberately missed the stepping stones.
Terry could feel herself starting to picture the last family visit but she retreated from the images. Now was not the time to open that Pandora's box. With a mental shake, she drew herself back to the present and forced herself to open Gran's massage. The words leapt into life on the screen.
"Keep stepping on the cracks, child. Just don't tell anyone"
A shiver ran through Terry as she stared at the screen. Astonished, she stared at the words and whispered, half to herself, half to the old lady who'd known her better than she knew herself "You knew...".
She had just enough composure left to kill the screen before she stood and fled from the office. She needed a place of sanctuary to sort out the strange feelings that swamped her. The conflicts within her, made rational thinking difficult.
Terry didn't call her personal transpod. Instead, she rode the public shuttle back to her unit. A few nervous and curious glances were directed her way by her fellow riders, but she avoided any eye contact. Her flushed face and distracted air was not the usual demeanour for one dressed in the uniform of the Corporation. It was also rare for a uniformed Corp Officer to be seen alone on the shuttle.
Terry was safer out here in public, than most Corp Officers would have been. She had a slight, athletic build but her long, loose, black hair, framed a delicate, pale face. A sweet little mouth that seemed always about to break into a smile and two enormous haunting dark eyes framed by sweeping dark lashes, gave her a vulnerable air. Few citizens took her seriously enough to think of her as a threat. She'd long ago learned that to be underestimated is a powerful weapon.
The shuttle trip was too short for her purposes today. All too soon, she was discharged onto the terminal of her building. She made her way up to her Unit and took a deep breath. The door slid closed behind her and she leaned back against its cold hardness. She closed her eyes and gave into the memories. The pure white walls of the sterile unit faded from her vision and a tiny dilapidated wooden house, took its place. Her memories overtook her reality and she wandered back to that last visit with Gran.
Terry's favourite room in the little wooden house had been the drawing room. Why it should be called that, she had no idea. The couple of dusty, faded sketches, framed on the walls, hardly qualified it as a drawing room and she couldn't imagine the room ever being used for anything creative. It was a dark musty room, dominated by a huge battered leather couch. Patchwork scatter cushions lightened the darkness of the old leather, and a lacy crochet throw rug was draped across its back. It crouched in the dim light, surveying the room from its vantage point beneath the huge double windows. Terry loved the room because no-one else did. It was a place where she could hide and indulge herself in the forbidden treat of staring out at the unbroken expanse of open country. Her mother never came into this room to chase her away from her perch atop the old couch. She could gaze out at the unchanging and ever changing landscape undisturbed.
On the fateful day of her last visit with Gran, it was to this room that she had retreated. In the distance, she could hear her parents arguing with Gran. The voices were raised and shrill, but she couldn't make out the words. She didn't really need to hear the words though, to know that her parents were once again remonstrating with Gran over her stubborn refusal to move from this isolated little house. Terry didn't even try to listen. The argument was just a backdrop to the drama that was unfolding outside. Terry raised the window sash and leaned on the sill. She stared out the window, watching the dark clouds build on the horizon. The birds had disappeared in a flurry of wings at the first faint roll of thunder. Even the ants had disappeared back into their homes, leaving high buttressed walls around the entrances to their nests.
A streaking flash of lightning split the sky. Its image was imprinted on the little girl's mind. If she closed her eyes, the burning image leapt into life again, a magnificent picture of energy linking the heavens to the earth. A rolling crack of thunder shook the house. Terry opened her eyes to again watch the distant storm. Try as she might, she couldn't quite see another lightning strike. Each brilliant flash was always just on the periphery of her vision. They were closer and closer each time, but never where she was actually looking. The dark clouds slowly filled the entire sky, blocking out the sun. A rhythmic noise on the tin roof, announced the arrival of the actual storm front. The raindrops were enormous. Each drop marked its signature on the dry earth. The first drops disappeared under a coating of dry earth. The dust fought to smother each drop, but it was a battle that couldn't be won. The rain continued its assault on the dry earth and the droplets joined force, forming little rivulets of water that slowly conquered the dry landscape.
It wasn't a fierce storm and it soon passed. The fresh smell of wet earth filled the room. The little birds fluttered their way back to the yard. They congregated around the slowly disappearing puddles and chattered noisily as they splashed and played. Terry wished she could draw and capture that scene of carefree happiness, framed as it was by a full rainbow that arched across the sky. She also wished she could join the play.
Even as the errant thought crossed her mind, she was acting upon it. She pushed the window sash higher and climbed onto the window sill. She sat on the sill for a moment, with her feet dangling above the forbidden earth. A momentary lull in the adult discussions decided her. She dropped from the window sill and felt the mud ooze between her toes. She ducked low to avoid being seen from any windows and slipped around to the blind side of the house.
The secret thrill of doing something forbidden was underpinned by a strange tingling. At first she had thought that it was merely the electric storm, still charging the air, but then she noticed that the tingling started in her toes.
She felt like the divining rod from her grandmothers stories of the old ways. Only it wasn't a stick that was quivering and reacting to the forces beneath it; she was the rod and the call was so strong that without even thinking, she sat down in the mud and rested her palms flat on the ground. A pulsing rhythm filled her entire body. She closed her eyes and felt her own heartbeat attune itself to the rhythm. It was as though she was one with the earth. It was as though the earth had made her a part of it.
This was how her mother found her. She was sitting alone and muddy, swaying slightly to a rhythm that only she could hear. Her eyes were closed and her mouth was moving. Her mother had later accused her of talking to someone but Terry had little recollection of the event. A memory of a comforting warmth and an all encompassing love were hardly something she could explain to her mother. It was her mother, who had braved the bare earth to grab her and hold her close. It was her mother who had rushed her into the shower and stood holding her, both of them still fully clothed. The water ran over and over them both until all of the mud was gone. It was her mother who had snatched her from a beauty she could never quite recapture in her memories. But it was her grandmother who had given a conspiratorial smile and whispered cryptically, "You answered the call."
Terry sat alone in the silent, cold, flat all afternoon, coming to terms with the situation. Once the inevitable decision was reached, she acted swiftly. A flip of the call button set in motion the recall of her transpod. She assembled a small travel pack and sat down at her console to log some file directives that would excuse her from the office for a few days. Compassionate leave was usually granted for family deaths, but she didn't want to apply for a permit to travel to an untamed zone. She also didn't want to admit on the record that her Gran had never accepted the citizenship obligations. In official jargon, her Gran had been a transient. It was an ironic description for someone who had refused to move, but all those who refused to reside in the enclave cities and accept citizenship, were officially designated as homeless.
It took Terry several days to find her Grandmother's house. She hadn't dared to ask her mother for directions, nor enter the search criteria into the transpod's data base, for fear of leaving a trail, so the journey had required manual navigation. Several times she had seen the great hills in the distance and remembered the image of the storm rolling in, but each time, her guess had been wrong. Rather than give up though, she delved deep into her memories for clues. Her father had definitely headed south-west, perhaps more west than south and the house had been near the old abandoned freeway. She could remember the potholes in the old concrete strip and the stories her father had told her of its former glory in a time when vehicles were limited to travelling on the concrete ribbons. Just when she was beginning to doubt she would ever find it, a building appeared silhouetted against the horizon of the flat plain. It was a little wooden house, linked by a rough track to the old freeway she was following. As she drew closer, she could see the glass in the windows was broken and the door was ajar and banging in the wind. In the privacy of the transpod, she didn't bother to hide the tear that trickled down her cheek. The house was a shell without the vibrant old lady to bring it to life.
Terry parked the transpod at the front gate and sat staring at the old house. The stepping stones still marked a path to the front door, although dust and weeds were starting to camouflage them. Now that the moment had finally arrived, she hesitated. "Tomorrow" she told herself, "Tomorrow, I'll answer the call." She grabbed her travel pack from the transpod and stepped out onto the first stepping stone. "Tomorrow," she repeated to herself as she followed the stepping stones into the house.
Surprisingly, the house wasn't stripped . So little had changed, that to enter the house was like entering a portal to the past. Gran's presence was everywhere. Even her knitting bag and sewing basket were still propped beside the kitchen rocking chair. Terry retreated to the drawing room and curled up on the couch. She stared out the window wondering if a storm was brewing after all. A hum of energy filled the air but not a cloud could be seen on the horizon.
She hadn't intended to sleep on the couch, but somehow she must have dozed off. She slept until the small hours of the morning. When she did awake, she was chilled to the bone. The broken window was little protection against the cold night air and the pre-dawn dew. Although the sun had not yet risen, it was not dark. Long shadows flitted across the room as a light breeze rustled the leaves and branches outside the window. Terry sat up and looked out at a stark grey landscape, bathed in the light of full moon and stars. It was like a grey-scale print with all colour washed away.
She had hoped for a storm, to recreate the wonder of that last visit, but the weather looked unlikely to oblige. She resisted the urge to climb out the window and walked back through the house to the front door. Once outside the door, she paused and removed her boots and, bracing herself for the shock, stepped off the verandah.
The sensation of channelled power was immediate this time. She'd known what to expect and recognised the flow of energy that surged through her. The connection was so strong that she found walking difficult. To take a step involved breaking the contact, even if momentarily. Slowly, she walked around to the blind side of the house. Deliberately, she sat in the dust and rested her palms on the ground. With a wry grin, she understood for the first time why the Corporation perpetuated the myth of danger. There was power here and it was their business to control power. She'd been a party to that conspiracy of control for too long. She looked up into the clear night sky and whispered "Yes Gran, I'll answer the call."
He felt her answer him. The little golden voice was doing more than sing now. It was reaching out to him. So many of the other voices, simply sang into the void, trying to slow his regeneration by tapping the power of the creche. This one was asking. He'd been right to wait. This one might be a true candidate for the journey.