Guardian Angel-17 The Examiners, part 2 of 3

When they returned to the house with Kirsten in tow, Ali Pasha was not surprised to find Chief Examiner Ibin Mohamed Abbass, Lord of the Society of the Mahdi waiting for him.  He could hardly have expected more if he had sent the man an engraved invitation.  “Lord Abbass,” he said, and emphasized the latter half of the man’s name, which caused Kirsten to hide and swallow her laugh.  “What brings you to my humble home?”

“I have been anxious over your disappearance.”  The little man shared polite bows with the scholar.  “I was curious that it happened at the same time your former guests disappeared.  May I ask where you have been?”

Ali Pasha put on a sad face and invited the man inside.  He instructed Manomar to take Kirsten to the women whom he said were in the next room.  “And wait there.”  Ali Pasha instructed, sternly.  Manomar bowed in a way, which indicated he understood.  He and Kirsten would be able to hear everything that was going on from the other room.

“My former guests!”  Ali Pasha looked offended for a second.  “How sweet they talked.  How knowledgeable they seemed.  I am embarrassed to say they fooled me completely.  Even when your men came to collect them for the slave market, I thought it was a terrible mistake.  I went to my neighbors and borrowed the money to buy them back, but then I heard that you took them to be examined, and I finally realized that I had been played for the fool.”  Ali Pasha sat heavily in a chair and indicated that the Examiner should sit as well.  It was a good performance, but the question was whether or not Lord Abbass bought it.

The little man sat slowly.  “But this does not explain where you have been during these days.”

“The wilderness.”  Ali Pasha said quickly and waved his hand at some distant, obscure places while he added just enough curiosity to his tone of voice to suggest that the answer should have been obvious.  “When I realized the truth, I was truly embarrassed.  I came and grabbed my trusty servant, Manomar, and we headed for the wilderness.”  He waved his hand again.  “You know, I am only truly happy when I am exploring new things.  Thus is the life of an inquirist, I’m afraid.”  He sighed heavily, having learned how from Omar the Idiot.

“Just the two of you?”  Abbass was not convinced.  “There were no others with you, not even guards for your protection?”

“Well, yes, just the two of us.”  Ali Pasha paused as if considering his words.  “I see now that just the two of us was rather foolish, but to be sure, I was so upset I could hardly think straight.  Did you know there is a ridge some many miles inland, and from there we could see all the way to the River, and even see the smoke fires rising from New Ark?”

The Examiner did not answer right away.  Instead, like a good lawyer, he rephrased his previous question in the hope of catching Ali Pasha in a lie.  “So just you and your servant went off into the wild without any concern of wild animals, savages or anything.”

“Yes,” Ali Pasha said firmly.  “It sounds a bit crazy now to think of it.  I suppose I will have to give thanks for our safe return.  Perhaps a donation to the Mosque would be in order.”

“And with no equipment, no tents or otherwise?”

“Manomar had his long knife, and we were able to make a shelter from the trees and branches, and we could hunt a little.  I confess, I have lost weight, but my wives will certainly not object to that.”  Ali Pasha stood and pretended to model for the Examiner, seeking affirmation with his eyes for his trimmer figure.  The examiner nodded politely, though he would have no way of knowing if Ali Pasha lost weight or not.

“And we did run into a savage, to be honest,” Ali Pasha confirmed.  “But I never considered that possibility until there he was, painted face and all.  His name was Petar or Petras, I am not sure how you say it.  You know how difficult communication between two languages can be, but I shared a simple string of beads I had around my neck and he shared a rabbit, and then he was gone, just like that.”  Ali Pasha clapped his hands once, sharply.

“A remarkable encounter,” Abbass said as if this story was becoming more, not less difficult to believe.

Ali Pasha pretended sudden excitement at that point.  “But now I cannot hold my tongue any longer,” he said as his whole attitude changed.  He realized that he also had to change the subject.  “Please, I must tell someone and it would be an honor to speak of this to you.”  Abbass indicated that he was listening, and Ali Pasha began with a flourishing of his sleeves.

“On the fifth day, in the midst of my evening prayers, when the sun was at my back and I was facing the smoke in the East, a most remarkable thing happened.  Praise Allah, but I was inspired as I have never been before, which tells me well that the Holy Prophet has not abandoned me for my foolishness with those wicked people.  Come and see.”  He stood and stepped over to a worktable in the corner where he began to open boxes containing stamps.

“Look, look,” he said.  “When I was leaving my home in Andalucia, I had these stamps made to mark whatever specimens I might find and keep them together in an organized fashion.  You see, I have a stamp for every letter and form in the Arabic tongue.  Do you see how these make the word for fish?”  He laid them on the table upside down.  They formed a mirror image of the word, but it could be read.

“I see,” Abbass said, and he looked at Ali Pasha with new eyes of suspicion, which Ali Pasha ignored.

“It came to me in a flash that if I set these and others in a box where they would not move around, do you see, I could make a whole page of words at once.  I think the paper would have to be flatly pressed against the inked stamps, but I could make many pages of the same information.  Do you see what I am saying?  And then if I could change the stamps around, I could make a second page and a third.”

“I see.”  The Examiner stroked his beard though he did not sound impressed.

“You see, but you do not understand.”  Ali Pasha turned and took the man by the arms.  “I could print or press the Koran much faster and cleaner than all the scribes in Mecca.  People could at last have the Holy Words to touch with their own hands and read with their own eyes.  Don’t you understand what this means?”

“Yes.”  The Examiner spoke without any heart in his words.  “Moveable type,” he added in a language, which he always said was his native tongue, and claimed was an obscure North African dialect.  In the past, Ali Pasha would not have given it another thought, but now he understood the words, exactly, even if he had to let on that he did not understand.

“Yes?”

“And the girl you just purchased?”  The Examiner asked.

“Ah!”  Ali Pasha briefly widened his eyes and spoke as if this was all some great secret and he was letting a good friend in on the ground floor.  “I have seen this one sorting fish by the sea and laying them out for sale in the market.  She has a good eye.  She knows a straight line, she already knows how to work a press to extract the fish oils, and she claims her mother taught her to read and write a most unusual thing in a slave.  I will train her to run my press.  Do you see?  She will lay my letters in a straight line and press ink instead of oil, do you think?”

“Yes.”  The Examiner was still not impressed.  “But I think also I would like to know why the guards at the gate have no memory of you and your servant leaving town.”

“Auch.”  Ali Pasha inadvertently used Lars’ word.  “I have been in and out of the gate so many times since coming to this new world, I would guess they simply did not notice.”

“Perhaps.”

“Ah, but now please.  If you don’t mind I have much to do with my stamps.  I appreciate your visit and your concern, but as you can see, I am not corrupted.  I am still the same old inquirist.  That is all a forgotten incident, and one to embarrass, so I hope it will stay forgotten.  Now, if you will forgive me.”

“Very well.”  The Lord of the Mahdi headed for the door.  “But we will speak again.”  Then he added a phrase in his supposedly obscure native tongue.  “I know the Gaian do not stray very far from their dogs,” he said, but he smiled and bowed as if bidding good day, and he left.

November: NaNo: The month of the eternally stubborn … and the Politically Correct.

November is a full month even missing a day …

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The first of November used to be a holy day: All Saints Day.  Christians prayed and gave thanks for all the “great cloud of witnesses” that came before them.

Now it is the day Christmas decorations go up and Christmas merchandise makes it to the shelf.

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The eleventh used to be Veterans Day – an honorable day to remember the brave men and women who sacrificed so much to defend and protect this nation, our homes and our freedom. 

Now it is a day to flip a finger at the tomb of the unknown soldier and in an effort of short-sightedness, castigate ourselves as colonialists, imperialists and war-mongers.  It has become a day to hate all things military.

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The third Thursday used to be a day to give thanks to God for family, friends, neighbors – for all the blessings bestowed by the providential grace of God on our homes, communities and nation.  It was a day of prayer and gratitude, not only for a good harvest (good year) but for all the good things in life.  It was a feast of celebration of life.

Now, God is gone, gratitude is gone, the expressions of love for family friend and neighbor is gone.  We have excess food and football in preparation for shopping.

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On that first Thanksgiving, European settlers and Native Americans gathered together like the best of neighbors.  They celebrated life, the harvest, and peace.  It was a joyous time of fellowship and friendship with pledges to one another in the understanding that peace is always better than war.  And they gave thanks to God, each in their own way, and none other than God. 

Now, the people who came here from Europe to worship and practice their faith without persecution are painted as greedy, land-grabbing killers and murderers, And the Native Americans mourn Thanksgiving as if that one GOOD day is the cause of all the bad days that followed.

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These are simple things.  If you have a desire for any sort of historical fiction, especially during NaNo month, my thought is this: “Don’t let your modern prejudices get in the way of reality.”  And that is what they are.  They are not political correctness.  They are not open minded.  They are certainly not seeing the truth as if for the first time.  They are plain and simply prejudice and bigotry of the post-modern mind.

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Have a happy Thanksgiving, and don’t be afraid to be grateful and give thanks for all that you have.  And, if I may, don’t be in such a hurry to go out on Friday and get more …

 

Forever 1.12: Leaving Home

            “So what are you going to do after you graduate?” Joe, the church sexton asked.  He was sitting in his little room off the main auditorium and near the kitchen where every Sunday morning he had coffee and the Sunday paper waiting.  Glen turned his head briefly before he looked again on the evergreens that shielded a view of the empty church parking lot.  It was raining, not hard, but a miserable sort of cold, soaking rain.  Church was long over and Joe and Glen might have been the only two people left in the building.

            “Go to college.  I thought that was required.  At seventeen, I am not ready for college, but it seems I have no choice.  My great uncle sits on the board or something and went to great lengths to get me in.  To be honest, I should probably go to a local school, maybe commute to a community college for a year while I try to figure out what I want to do.”

            “You sound like you don’t have any choice,” Joe said.  But Joe knew Glen’s parents.  Glen simply glanced at the man again before his eyes were drawn back to the window.  It was finally beginning to rain.

            “Not here,” he said, and he thought long about that before he added, “Of course, this isn’t the real world, you know.”  When Joe said nothing, Glen began to explain.

            “In this place everything is twisted and distorted.”  Glen paused to consider his words.  “Exaggerated,” he decided.  “I mean, in the real world my parents were always hard on me.  I might have wanted them to be more easy going, but I never doubted they meant it for the best and only wanted the best for me.  Here, they are impossible.  In the real world, I might have wanted more positive attention.  Here, nothing is positive toward me and mostly they ignore me altogether.  There, I may have felt like I got more than my share of blame for things, but here everything is my fault, even if I have nothing to do with it.  Do you see?”  When Glen heard no response, he continued.

            “To be honest, I have begun to wonder if it is so much that things here are distorted as maybe just my feelings are distorted and then projected on my surroundings.  It is like maybe I am the one who wants things to be easy and wants praise and wants to not have to take responsibility for my screw-ups.  So here things get extra hard and I get only put downs and I get blamed for things even when I am innocent.  It is almost like whatever I want, I get the opposite.”  Glen stopped then to think and he thought Joe was being very patient by staying quiet.

            “You know what I mean?”  The question was rhetorical.  “It’s like whenever I find something good they discontinue it.  It’s like, I don’t know.  Maybe God is trying to work on my insides.  Maybe I am wanting certain things too much and others too little.  Of course, if that’s the case, it is easy enough to determine what I am wanting too much.  And it isn’t just my parents or my family, mind you.  It is teachers, friends, everyone really.  You may be excepted.  I don’t know.  You don’t really depend on me for anything and I am not over you in some way.  And same in reverse, I mean you are not over me and I don’t depend on you, necessarily.”  Glen paused.  “Actually, that is not true.  I depend on you to listen which no one else ever does, and I appreciate that more than you will ever know.”  Glen tried to get back on topic.

            “But anyway, it is easy enough to figure out what I may be wanting too much.  The trouble is, there are two things about that.  First, most people would just say I am wanting the good things in life too much; but there is nothing wrong with good things.  They say life is a mix of good and bad, but all I seem to get around here is the bad.  Is it really wrong to want some good things mixed in?  Good times and bad times are part of every life, they say.  All I can say is great!  When do the good times start?”  Glen took a deep breath before he continued.  His eyes were damp.

            “The other problem with that is I don’t have any idea what I am wanting too little.  I know some Eastern philosophers say you shouldn’t want anything at all.  I most strongly disagree.  God made us with the capacity to love and want the one we love.  I know we were made to love God and love our neighbor, to glorify God and do good for our neighbor.  These things I am doing, they are in my heart, in my soul if you will, but still I get crushed, it gets taken from me, things never work out for the good, nothing ever goes right, and I still get kicked, psychologically crushed, crucified in a small way, I suppose.  That seems to be the nature of this non-place I have found myself in.  Pain and torment appear victorious and I can’t seem to break out or escape.” 

            “The truth is, there is no good here for me, not in my life, not that I have ever experienced.  I don’t even know what a blessing might be.  I can’t say as I have ever had one.  About all I can say is what I keep saying over and over.  I’m not dead yet, and I ask, why did God let me live?”

            Glen heard a sound and turned around.  Joe was rushing back in from the kitchen with an apology.  “Sorry, I had to be sure the coffee was unplugged, and then the phone rang.  You were saying?  Your uncle got you into the college so you feel you have to go?”

            “Yes,” Glen nodded.  “That is exactly what I was saying.”  He turned his eyes back to the falling rain and said no more.

Forever 1.11: Going Home

            Glen ripped down the weeds and vines that guarded the cave entrance.  He stuck his head into the dark and called out, “Hello?”  He was only mildly surprised when he got an answer and an invitation.

            “Yes?  Hello.  Do come in.”

            “It is rather dark,” Glen said as he stepped in and stepped aside to let in as much of the fading sunlight as possible.

            “Oh, I beg your pardon.”  There was a roar of flame like flame from a flamethrower.  Glen had to shade and close his eyes to not be suddenly blinded, and he had to keep back to not be burnt.  When it was over, a big campfire was lit in the middle of a round room cavern and there was a dragon curled up comfortably against the back wall.  There was also a man sitting cross legged before the fire.

            “Hello?”  Glen spoke to the man and again he was only mildly surprised when the dragon answered.

            “Yes, hello.  Do come in.  The old man said to expect you.”  Glen stepped forward toward the old man who had his back turned and made no indication other than that he was perhaps sleeping sitting there.  He made sure the fire remained between him and the dragon.  “Sometimes the shaman prefers the dark, and to me, of course, it makes no difference.”

            “Who are you?” Glen asked, not that he expected an answer he could understand.  He imagined this was the dragon of the long march from the Windy Castle on the Fogwart River or some such thing.  What he heard did actually surprise him.

            “I am the Spirit of Home,” the dragon said. 

            “I beg your pardon?”  Glen repeated the dragon’s phrase.

            “I make a house into a home and a community into a hometown.  I am the greater spirit that reaches out when people go away.  I remind them of all the good things.  I sing to them in the night.  I draw them back to the place they were raised and hold them close to family and loved ones.”

            “So you are the one I have to thank for Debbie.”  Glen showed his anger.

            “Regrettable.  I am not allowed to discriminate, but how a person responds is entirely up to them.  Which call was stronger?  Regretable.”

            Glen let go of his anger in a breath of hot air.  It was puppy love, as he knew.  There really was no future there.  “Yeah, well I would like to get home,” he changed the subject.

            “So would we,” the old man spoke and Glen took a step back.  “But our home has been taken by people from the old world.  We have no right of return.  Our home is lost to us forever.  We have had to make a new home.  I am here to see that time of homelessness and despair is short, not long.”

            “I am sorry,” Glen said.  “But all of that was ages before my time.  I would like to go back to my time, if it is not too much trouble.”

            The dragon lifted his head and stared long at Glen.  It cocked its head to one side and then the other before it spoke.  “I see no home in you.  Yet you are not of the nomads or gypsies or travelers who carry their home with them.  I see many homes in you down through the ages, and I see you in many forms living a native among many people.”

            The old man spoke over top.  “You have an ancient touch of the Tuscarora people.  That alone is why I let you live.  That is why I called you here, but I see now there is no help in you.”

            Glen took another step back and swallowed.  He was not aware his life was in danger.  “The reason it is an ancient touch of native is because I don’t belong here.  I don’t belong in this time.”

            “I see many days,” the dragon continued.  “I see many times.  I am confused.  I cannot sing to you.”

            “I don’t know.”  Glen shook his head.  “I am only me, right now.  And I belong a hundred years in the future.  I should not have come in the first place.”

            “You do,” the old man confirmed.

            “You should not be here.” The dragon agreed.

            “Well?”  Glen waited.

            “Why are you here?”  The dragon asked.

            “The old man?”  Glen suggested.

            The old man shook his head.  “I saw you in the entrance and called to you, but you came of your own volition.”

            “Why did you come?”  The dragon rephrased its question.

            “To have my heart broken?”  Glen said.  “To find one more wonderful thing that I am not allowed to have.  You have no idea.”  The tears came up into his eyes.  “Why?  Every time I find something good, it gets discontinued and taken from me.  Everywhere I go I am not welcome and not wanted.  I disappoint everyone.  I get passed over and neglected always.  There is no good in me, and though I beg for forgiveness, all I hear is silence.  The silence in my life is deafening.  Please, I just want to go home.”  He began to cry and fell to his knees because all his strength to stand left him at once.

            “You have no home,” the dragon said.

            “Though you fear homelessness and despair, you must pass through to make your own home,” the old man added.

            “You have had and will have many homes, but you don’t belong here,” the dragon concluded.

            “That is because I am not dead yet,” Glen mouthed.  “Why did God let me live?”  He faded from sight.

Forever 1.11: The Transient Heart

            Glen danced.  Not well, but he gave it his best shot, and Debbie helped him literally every step of the way.  He surprised her when he showed that he knew how to waltz, and he was somewhat graceful being rather athletic.  But the truth was, Glen spent most of his time trying to maneuver Debbie toward the punch bowl and then out of the torch lights.  It was not easy.  Debbie liked to dance.

            “You are a really good dancer,” Debbie lied as she set her punch cup on the edge of the table.  Glen took her hand and brought her out under the stars.  Showing her the big dipper was the only way he could get her alone.

            “I am not,” Glen admitted with utter honesty.

            “Well.”  Debbie took back her hand so she could worry her hands together.  She looked down again at her boots as she spoke.  “But you are much better than the other boys.  I think with a little practice you could be good.”

            Glen chose not to respond.  He grabbed her hand again and tugged her a little further into the dark while he pointed to the sky.  “There,” he said, and he traced the stars of the dipper with his outstretched finger. 

            “Oh,” she said with some excitement in her voice.  “I see it.”  And Glen was glad.  She knew what a dipper was, unlike the girls a hundred years in the future.  Glen turned to her and risked setting his hand around her waist like they did when they waltzed.

            “Now about this dancing,” he said.  Debbie was not fooled.  She slipped her arms around his neck like she no doubt watched her mother do it.  Glen needed no more invitation.  He kissed her, and it was no tentative kiss.  Debbie’s eyes went wide before she squeezed them shut and poured herself into the kiss.  When their lips parted, Glen did not let go.  He held her tight, and she held him with equal desire.  He pecked at her lips, kissed her cheeks gently and kissed her forehead before he kissed her eyes.  He had no doubt her heart was racing.  His certainly was.

            “You know,” Glen said.  “In some cultures kissing is considered an invitation to marry.”  Debbie looked at him and looked deeply into his eyes.  Then she kissed him, smack on the lips, and did her best to leave a permanent impression.  Glen got the feeling she was marking her territory.  When she was done, she spoke.

            “I would not mind,” she said, and Glen was the one who felt it was best to bring Debbie back into the light.

            For the rest of the week, Debbie snuck away from home and came to the digs by lunchtime.  She always brought a basket of goodies, and Glen found her harder and harder to resist.  They sat in the grass, held hands some,  kissed some, and talked about everything and nothing and sometimes did not talk at all.  But every day, Glen became more anxious.  It was coming up to the time when he was supposed to leave and join his family up north at the club.

            Glen found the cave, but this time he opted to leave it covered.  He did not want to end up in 1768, although he imagined he would not mind seeing Debbie in something more low-cut in place of that turtleneck prairie dress she always wore.  When his last day came, he held on to her.  He gently touched her breast and felt her fire roar.  He knew he was on fire already, but he went no further.  Deep down he knew it was not right.  Still, he could not help the words that came unbidden from his lips.

            “Come with me,” he said.  “It is not far to the city where we can catch a train for the east.  We can,” he almost hesitated.  “We can marry and have three children, just like you want, and we can be happy.”  He was surprised at how little he had to struggle to talk her into it.  She had a bag.  He had a duffle he could wear as a backpack.  He could hardly sleep that night.  And in the morning, his grandparents said good-bye, apologized for not being rich enough to sending him off with a horse.  But he said that was alright, kissed them and ran to the spot.

            Debbie was already there, and she looked excited.  He was thrilled to see her as well, and he decided in the night that 1868 might not be so bad if he was with her.  He certainly knew what to invest in if he ever got any money to invest.  Given the chance, they might even become rich.  No, that might not be bad at all.

            The first few hours were wonderful, though they held hands and said very little.  In the following hours, Glen caught her glancing back.  When they stopped for lunch, the glance had become a look and Glen asked her about it.

            “I’m just thinking of my family, my home, my friends.  I’ll get over it.”

            “This is a great adventure, just you and me.  As long as we are together I know everything will be wonderful,” Glen said.  She smiled, but even then Glen knew it was a lost cause.  Soon enough she was talking about going home where they could have a proper wedding first, and then she began to talk about what they were doing, that it was wrong and they were going to hurt a lot of people.  Glen did not let it go too far.  He might have been a teenager, and really a teenager, but somewhere inside him there was still the wisdom of one much older.  Indeed, his parents often accused him of being old even when he was a child.

            “Your bag,” he said.  “I have to go.  But I will come back next year and maybe I can come to stay, if you still want me.”

            Debbie cried.  She took her bag and turned around, but she cried for as far as Glen could still see her.  She would get over it, indeed.  It really was only puppy love, or perhaps puppy-lust with raging hormones, but she would get over it.

            Glen also turned and walked without paying too much attention to which way.  He stayed pretty much on course, but found a surprise a couple of hours before dark.  He came to the digs.  He had not intended that, but somehow he must have gotten turned around.  He did not mind, though.  This time he was not only going to the cave, he was going inside.

Forever 1.11: Gone to Dance

            “So, are ya going to hold her hand?”  Tyler asked.  He was the nice one, and he was asking about Debbie.  Glen shook his head when he spoke.  He could not believe that fifteen and sixteen year old boys in 1868 actually talked that way.

            “Of course, it’s a dance.”  Glen understood the young men sincerely respected the young women enough to treat them gently and believed that sex was best kept to marriage, if even then.  Heck, one out of ten girl’s Glen’s age back home in 1968 had already given up her virginity.  The boys expected it and the girls no longer respected themselves enough to say no.  “I’m going to kiss her.”  Glen announced, just to see their reaction.  Tyler turned red.  Curtis looked at his feet.  Robert, the big mean one, sneered.

            “Don’t lie,” Robert said.  “You’re just making that up.”

            Glen grinned.  He had no idea how well they knew him – how long he had supposedly been in town, but it was long enough for the boys to know who he was and at least one girl knew him.  He was glad to hear that his feelings in that brief encounter a hundred years in the future were mutual feelings.

            “Hey look,” Curtis changed the subject.  “Look who is riding a horse.  It’s old man Wilson’s nig –“

            “Hey!”  Glen hit Curtis in the shoulder and the boy dutifully said ouch.  “Show some respect for a free man.”

            Curtis looked like he did not understand.  Tyler stepped in.  “Okay, negroid.”

            “That’s not much better,” Glen frowned.

            “What would you call him?”  Tyler asked.

            “How about African-American?”

            “Shit,” Robert erupted.  “You talk like a damn Yankee.”

            Glen whipped around and hit the boy hard enough to send him to the dirt.  “My family is all over the Carolina rolls of the honorable dead, and my uncle also died defending Vicksburg from the damn Yankees.  Don’t you ever call me a Yankee again, and you better keep that nasty talk to yourself around me, too.  God is my witness, you will respect other people, all God’s children, or so help me I’ll hit you again.”

            Robert thought about it.  Tyler and Curtis did not know what to think, until Tyler got between Glen and Robert.

            “He didn’t mean nothing bad by it.  Did you Robert?  It’s just how we talk here, that’s all.  Nothing bad.”

            Glen nodded slowly.  In 1868, they honestly did not know any better.  He knew it would be generations before anything really changed and there was nothing he could do about it in the short term.  He stuck his hand out to Robert who was still on the ground, thinking.

            “Sorry I hit you,” Glen said.  “No hard feelings.”

            Robert grinned as slowly as Glen had nodded.  He took the hand and let Glen help him up.  “Sorry I called you a damn Yankee,” he said until he got to his feet and added, “Ya damn Yankee.”  He turned and ran.  Tyler shouted and ran after him a short way.  Curtis might have run, but looked at Glen who was grinning and shaking his head.  After a moment, Tyler came back and he, Glen and Curtis walked to the school together.

            Outside the school, there was a dance floor set-up on the lawn.  There was an American flag flying on the flag pole with far less stars than Glen was used to, but Glen got the impression if he peeled back the stars and stripes he might find the stars and bars just beneath the surface.  There was a separate stage for the band and a few tables shoved together that had all sorts of baked goods and sweet goodies on them, along with the required punch bowl. 

            Curtis wandered off when Tyler and Glen made their way to the food.  Ms Esmeralda Commons, the school marm scolded them and said they had to wait until the dance started.  Glen put on his best humble face.

            “Yes, mam,” he said, drawing her attention to himself while Tyler stuffed something sweet into the pocket of his slacks.  With that accomplished, Tyler echoed the “yes, mam,” again as a distraction, but Glen honestly felt he could wait.

            “Glen.”  It was a girl’s voice that made him turn around.  Debbie came up, all smiles.  Susan was with her, and Glen was startled to realize he knew Susan’s name.  He hardly had time to contemplate the implications of that, however, because Debbie’s father was right there beside his daughter.  And he was sporting a pistol at his belt.

            Glen swallowed as Debbie introduced him.  “This is Glen that I told you about.”  The man eyed Glen with laser beam eyes.  No matter that lasers would not be invented for a hundred years.  

            “Debbie tells me you are bright.  Any thoughts about the future?”  The man jumped straight to the point, whatever his point might have been. 

            “Yes, sir.  I was thinking after I finish my schooling here I might venture east to Davidson College or maybe William and Mary.  I am thinking about the law.”

            “Where?”  Debbie asked.

            “Virginia.  Davidson is in the Carolinas.  I have some family there.”

            “Oh, but that is so far.”

            Glen looked up at the man who was considering something.  This was clearly not the response the man expected.  Then Glen almost overdid it. 

            “Of course, Harvard has both a school of law and a Seminary if I should find myself moving in that direction.  But, that is even farther from home.”

            The man nodded, but came to a conclusion.  “Stick with the law.  That is where the money is, and an entrance into politics besides.”

            “Yes, sir,” Glen said.  “But wisdom suggests I wait to see how the dust settles before any political venture.”

            “Yes it does.”  The man almost smiled.  He patted Glen on the shoulder.  “We may talk more later.”  He turned to his daughter.  “Alright sweetheart,” he said, but it was almost swallowed by the shout, “Bob.”  And he left them and went off to see Bob, whoever that might be.

            Debbie grinned.

            “What?”  Glen asked.

            “My father has given his permission for you to court me.”  Glen looked shocked.  He had not considered that an issue.  Debbie took the expression on his face the wrong way.  “Unless you don’t want to.”  She looked down at her dowdy boots and twisted one in the dirt.

            Glen did not have to think for long.  He held out his hand.  “I want to.”

            Debbie looked up, turned a little red at the sight of his hand but also did not have to think long.  She place her hand gently in his and Glen felt her smile return in full force.

Forever 1.11: Southern Nights

            About two out of three summers Glen and his family traveled south so Gram and Grandad could also spend some time with their grandkids.   The south was hot in the summer.  Glen often thought of it as a steam bath and would point to the steam that appeared to rise from the pavement as proof.  He did not mind the steam bath, though it was hard when he was young in the days before air conditioning.  Back then there was no escape.

            One thing that was certain about that small town in the south, Glen was always considered a tourist.  It did not matter how much family he had in town, he was an outsider.  He came from the outside and soon enough would return to the outside, and there was a touch of jealousy or some unnamed emotion that went into the stares he got.  Glen ignored all that. 

            When Glen was fifteen he had a chance to stay in the south for a while when his family went up north to the club without him.  He didn’t mind because his uncle was into digging up the past.  The area had been settled for almost 2000 years, and Glen’s Uncle had some of it and had found a great deal more.  Of course, it all got written up in fancy journals and such, but Glen did not care about that so much.  He loved the artifacts, and he loved finding them. 

            Glen understood that the digging was a slow and laborious process.  As has been said, it was about as interesting as watching grass grow.  What Glen did not realize was the work that had to go into preparing a site for the dig.  He spent most of the week with a scythe in his hands chopping weeds and grass and bushes and sweating and trying hard not to step on any adders or rattlesnakes.  It was brutal in the southern, summer sun.  But he would chop all day with his future cousin-in-law beside him and then go home to the air conditioning and the television where he stayed up far too late watching the Republican National Convention.  He saw the one four years earlier – the one with Goldwater, Mister AU H2O, though he did not understand all of it.  He saw the one where LBJ got the nod, and the one that nominated Humphry around so much violence.  Now it was Richard Nixon’s turn.  He still did not understand all of it, but found it fascinating all the same.

            The site was a mound built against a small cliff that continued above the cliff in a small hill.  It was the end of the week when Glen swung at a hanging vine, he thought he might bang his scythe on the cliff face but curiously banged only air.  As the vine fell, he found a cave.  He was alone at that point, his future cousin-in-law having gone to town for lunch and something cold to drink.

            Glen did not know what to do.  The cave was not big, though perhaps big enough for him to stand in the entrance.  And it was dark, like it was covered up for so long it looked reluctant to let go of the darkness.  Glen imagined between the trees and vines and the bushes, prickers and briars that hemmed it in, no one had looked into the cave for years, perhaps decades.  Maybe no one alive even knew it was there.  He was tempted briefly to do the foolish thing and go inside, but then he thought the snakes probably knew the cave was there.  He imagined the bats and spiders that might also know about it.  Still, he thought one shout would not hurt.

            “Hello!”

            His heart skipped a beat when he heard a response.

            “Hello?”

            The steam came.  It surrounded him quicker than his panic could make him turn and run.  It smelled of sulfur and smoke, made his eyes tear until he could not see, and left him to stagger toward the fresh air.  After a short way he had to sit down.  His eyes closed and teared terribly, but his lungs were grateful.  Meanwhile, his ears picked up a strange sound of squeaky wheels, stomping hooves and rattling planks.  It amplified when he heard his future cousin-in-law say “woah.”  Then he heard a ratchet sound like a brake and just had to peek through his tears.

            “Come on, Glen.  That’s enough for today.  Time to go get cleaned up for the dance tonight.”

            “Dance?”   Glen looked.  The young man was driving a horse and wagon.  Glen did not understand.  What happened to the pick-up?

            “At the high school.  Debbie will be there.  Don’t you want to see Debbie all cleaned up?”

            “Dance,” Glen said more firmly.  As his eyes cleared from the smoke he got up and gathered his scythe and shovel.  He remembered a Debbie.  He met her once earlier in the week.  She was fourteen, a year behind in school.  He really never talked to her, though, because his cousin had to go and dragged him off with her.

            “So what happened to you?”  Glen’s future cousin-in-law asked.

            “That cave I found.  When I uncovered it, it spewed out some sort of sulfur-like smoke.”  Glen pointed but there was no cave to be seen.  The vines and bushes were all back in place.  “Huh!”  He was startled, and his companion had the kindness not to say, “What cave?”

            Glen’s grandmother dressed Glen in a shirt with a stiff collar, black pants and suspenders.  She said he looked very nice.  With the black tie boots, Glen imagined he looked like somebody named Clem.

            “Don’t stay out late.  At least not too late,” his Grandad said with a broad smile on his face.

            “Yes, sir.”  Glen responded in the way he felt was expected.  Then he was not sure what to do.  He had no idea where the high school was, but he saw a couple of kids dressed like him walking along so he thought to follow. 

            Glen had been quiet all afternoon, ever since his wagon ride back from the digs.  He saw many men on horseback and most looked like farmers, but a few looked like cowboys complete with chaps and guns.  He also examined the wagons they passes.  Most were loaded with hay, corn, cotton, tobacco and peaches.  There were tons of peaches. 

            Glen finagled the year out of his future cousin-in-law.  It was 1868, one hundred years earlier than he began that morning.  Curiously, he was not surprised or shocked or especially upset at his transition in time.  It felt like he had done that sort of thing before, though it also felt like he should be a different person in 1868, and his future cousin-in-law and his grandparents should not have been there. 

            “Glen!”  One of the boys saw him and waved and Glen knew he was trapped.  He jogged to catch up and then had to struggle to figure out the names of the boys. 

Forever 1.10: When Sorrow Comes of Age.

            When Glen was ten, he touched the fairy for the second time.  It happened when he asked the fairy to sit beside him on the big branch where he often stretched out his legs.  Aster stayed out of reach, but she was glad to comply until Glen made a request.

            “Would you get big?”  He asked, because she had not done that and he wanted to see her full sized.  Glen knew in their big size, fairies could pass for ordinary people, though very beautiful people.  So Glen wondered what Aster looked like in human terms, and he wanted to try and guess her age.

            Aster said nothing.  She rose up from her perch and flitted back and forth a bit as she appeared to think.

            “Please.”  Glen thought to add the word, and that seemed to be enough.  Aster sat again on the branch and became big, and her dress also got big to accommodate to the larger Aster.  Glen was astounded.  He said nothing for a good minute, and Aster actually had to prompt him.

            “Do you like the way I look?”  She said and turned her head away like one embarrassed.

            “Very much,” Glen said.  “And I would guess you are about twelve.”  He could see the signs that her stick figure might be getting ready to develop some shape.”

            “Thanks,” Aster responded with a look in his eyes.  “But I am much older than that.”

            “Wait a minute,” Glen made her pause as he thought about it.  “That would make you about sixty in real years.”  He guessed.

            “Exactly.”  Aster sounded surprised before the two of them sat, looked at each other now and then and mostly looked at the lake.

            “You are taller than I am,” Glen said at last.

            “Girls mature faster.”  That was the first time Glen heard that, but he believed it.

            “Let me see your hand.”  Glen raised his hand and waited while Aster fretted.  Aster worried her hands, looked down at her feet over the water, brushed her hair behind her pointed ear, but at last put her hand to his so her thumb was to his thumb.  She had long fingers and fully a third rose above his, but her hand was narrow and disappeared entirely behind Glen’s.  They both smiled when they touched.

            “Your fingers are longer,” Glen said.

            “Your hand is wider,” she responded while she wiggled the part of her fingers that stuck over the top of his.

            “But you have longer fingers than I do.”

            “But your hand is wider and swallows my little hand.”

            “It does, but yours is softer.”

            “Yours is stronger.”

            They were babbling.  Neither wanted to let go even if they weren’t exactly holding hands.

            “Glen!”  Someone called from the path in front of the Big House.  Glen and Aster snapped their hands back to themselves.  “Glen.”  The person inched down the steep hill to see where Glen was sitting in his tree, but Aster was already little and gone.  It was Brother Tom.

            “I’ll be back next summer,” Glen whispered, though there was no response.

            “Who are you talking to?”  Glen’s brother looked at him like he thought Glen had surely lost his mind and was talking to himself.  Or maybe he glimpsed something.

            “Just telling stories,” Glen said as he scrambled back up the hillside.  He said no more about it.

 

###

 

            When Glen turned thirteen and Aster turned sixty-three, Glen could see that he guessed rightly.  She had the small bumps and curves of a girl who was going to become a beautiful woman.  Glen smiled all summer and they sat close, side by side, and held hands, often.  They did not say much that summer, but they did not have to.  They were content to be together.

            Glen took that whole summer to work up the courage, but at last he took her to the end of the trunk where the roots of that big tree clung to the side of the hill.  He was about to speak when something zoomed past them like a sudden gust of wind.  Aster rolled her eyes in a very pre-teen fashion that Glen knew well.  The gust came again in the opposite direction.

            “My cousin.”  Aster admitted.

            “Oh?”  Glen stuck out and stiffened his arm and immediately felt the bump against his forearm and heard the complaint.

            “Ow!”  Aster’s cousin fell to the ground in a crumpled heap and rubbed his chest.  He was an elf and about eight or nine in human terms, the age Glen was when he first met Aster.

            “Caleon!”  Aster scolded him with his name and stomped her foot.  He totally interrupted what might have been an intimate moment.

            “I wanted to see him.  I can see if I want to.”  Caleon even sounded like an eight-year-old, though he sounded more like a nosey little brother than a cousin.  Aster responded in her most grown-up voice.

            “Well, you’ve seen.  Now go tell Iris I’ll be home shortly.”

            Caleon looked up at Glen and Glen had a word to add.  “Go.”  Caleon went.  Aster watched but as Glen felt the wind, he found his hands move to Aster’s waist. 

            Aster turned to Glen with great joy written all over her face.  She was still a bit taller than him in her big form, but that did not matter.  She slipped her hands over his shoulders and pulled in for a great hug, and both fairy and human felt exactly the same way – full of joy and peace and warmth.  Then their lips met.

            Most Grown-ups forget what it is like to be twelve and thirteen.  They think of such young people as children.  They forget what it was like before sex invaded their lives.  There was nothing sexual in that kiss, but it was full of more passion than most grown-ups would believe.  When they parted, Aster had tears in her eyes.  She took a step back and Glen did not resist, though Glen wanted to hold her longer, maybe forever.

            “I have to go,” Aster said, and she let go completely.  Glen also let go, though he felt the stab in his heart when he took back his hands.

            “I’ll be here next year,” he said.  “You will be almost thirteen then and I’ll be fourteen, and maybe as tall as you.”

            Aster let out a whimper of a laugh before she began to cry in earnest.  She immediately got small and fluttered out of reach.  Glen saw her head shake and heard her words between her tears.  “I cannot see you again.”

            “What?  Why?”

            “Because you are growing up, and I can’t help that.  You are becoming a young man and I am still the same little girl you met on that first day.”

            “No, but you are growing, too.”  Glen saw Aster shake her little head.  He put his hand out to her, but she just backed up a bit more to stay out of reach.

            “When I am of age, Iris says you will be fifty, and when I am full grown you will be eighty.  I don’t want to see you get old.  I want you to stay young with me forever in my heart.”

            “But that is not fair.”  Glen did not know what else to say.  Aster hovered and stared at Glen while he came to grips with it all in his mind.  “If you change your mind.  If you ever need me or just want to see me, promise you will find me.”  He felt the tears come to his eyes as well, but shoved them back down.

            Aster nodded and said something that Glen could never have articulated on his own.  “I love you.”

            Glen responded with his heart.  He felt the same way.  “I love you too.”  And he watched as Aster flitted across the lake, a fairy at first, then indistinguishable from a butterfly or horsefly and finally she disappeared altogether in the silver sparkles of the sun that danced on the lake in the late afternoon.

Forever 1.10: Between Waking and Sleeping

            Glen rushed back to the tree on the following morning, but Aster was not there.  Apart from a brief break for lunch, Glen spent the whole day on the tree, but Aster never came.  By evening time he was half-convinced he had dreamed the whole thing.  When he awoke the following morning he found out the cousins were coming and that meant he had to be sociable and play games and keep company with the gang.

            Glen did his best, though his mind kept wandering back to his tree and to Aster.  His heart was there as well.  He liked his cousins well enough and his brother and little sister, though his sister was still too small to join in all the running around, but it was not the same.  He saw them just about every summer.  He saw Aster once.  And while his mind kept saying he fell asleep and dreamed it all, and only came awake at the sound of the dinner bell, his heart said otherwise, and he was not disappointed.

            It was the last day before they departed when Glen managed an afternoon to himself.  He hurried straight to the tree and called softly for Aster.  He called, but there was no response, and so he began to talk to the air.   “This is my last day here this summer.  I would really like to see you again.  I won’t say anything or tell anyone if that is what you are afraid of.  You see, my cousins were here the whole time and I never said a word, not to them or my family.  Please.  I need to know you are real.  I mean, you started it all by buzzing around my head.  Now the least you could do is show yourself.  Otherwise I just go home thinking I’m not right in the head, or something.”  Glen paused at a sound in the leaves further down the tree.  There was something there, and at first Glen thought it was a bird.  He started to shift away from that spot, back across the trunk in case it was a squirrel or something that might feel trapped.  He did not want to be attacked by a desperate squirrel.  Something squirted out from the leaves.  Glen threw his hands up and shrieked even as he heard the words, “I’m here.”

            “Aster?”  She zoomed behind him like she was going to hide behind his head.  She fluttered from ear to ear still wary about what was in the leaves.

            “I barely escaped,” Aster said.

            “What is it?”  Glen asked.  He was not feeling very brave, but he was determined to try.

            “My sisters,” Aster whispered very close to his ear.

            “Hey!”  Glen shouted in part because of the surprise at having a fairy so close to him and in part because he was scared.  “Come out of there and show yourselves,” he said.  “There is no point in hiding now, it is too late.”

            There was a rumbling in the leaves and Aster whispered very softly.  “Don’t believe everything you see.”

            A wolf head poked out from the leaves, barking, snarling, drooling and showing great big canine teeth.  Aster shrieked and grabbed on to Glen’s hair.  Glen jumped back and grabbed his chest, but held on and yelled.

            “Stop it.  You should be ashamed of yourselves trying to scare a little boy who never did you any harm.”  Glen remembered and named the fairies.  “Iris and Apple, stop the nonsense.  Show yourselves now.”  His words were sharp because of his fear, but the wolf head dissipated as he spoke.

            Two fairies floated up from behind the leaves.  Iris was dressed in purple which faded to blue at the edges.  Apple was pink and white, like the blossom.  Neither looked happy, but Aster simply tugged on Glen’s hair and took a seat on his shoulder.

            “I told you it wouldn’t work,” Aster said.

            “Yes it did work,” Glen admitted.  “You really scared me.  But Aster is my friend and it is not nice to keep friends apart.  It is easy to scare little boys, but that is not nice either.”

            Iris and Apple simply floated at a good distance and said nothing.

            “I bet you two are both much nicer than that,” Glen said with a smile.

            “Not Crabapple,” Aster whispered in Glen’s ear.

            “Crabapple?”  Glen said it out loud and barely avoided turning his head to look at Aster which would have simply knocked the fairy off his shoulder.

            “Hey!”  Apple objected, but Iris giggled.

            “We are nice,” Iris said quickly to cover her laugh.  “But Aster broke the most important rule.  We are not to show ourselves to mortals.  It isn’t done.”

            “Ha,” Glen objected.  He was not laughing.  “I have heard lots of stories about fairies and people.  Elves and others, too.  Don’t tell me fairies have never been seen by people.”

            “That isn’t the point,” Iris said.

            “It isn’t done,” Apple added.

            “But he looked so lonely, all by himself day after day,” Aster whined a little.

            Iris came down to a small branch by the end of the tree and sat, so Apple joined her.  “And what did you do for all of those hours?”  Iris asked.

            “My imagination,” Glen answered honestly.  “I told stories to myself, like about pirates and cowboys.  I imagined Captain Hawk of the Golden Hawk which was really the Flying Dutchman, disguised.  And Marshal Casidy, not the fastest, but maybe the smartest gun in the west.  Sometimes I imagined big Lars before the revolution, living with real Indians.  You know, adventure type stories.”

            “Stories that boys like to read.”  Iris nodded her head, but Glen shook his.

            “Brother Tom is the reader.  I’m not much of a reader.”

            “Oh, but I bet those are great stories,” Aster said.

            “Yes, they were,” Iris agreed.  She seemed to be thinking of something else.  “But we should not interfere when the storyteller is telling stories.”

            “It isn’t dome,” Apple repeated.  “It shouldn’t be done.”

            “Oh, but,” Aster did not know what else to say.

            “But you make my stories better,” Glen spoke for her.  “Don’t you see?  I mean, I would never tell stories about you exactly, but having a friend to share with and dream about always makes stories better.”

            “You dreamed about me?”  Aster sounded warmed by that idea.

            “I think so,” Glen nodded carefully.  “I’m not sure because I never or hardly ever remember my dreams exactly.”

            “But there are some things you are not supposed to know,” Apple said.

            “Far too late for that,” Iris smiled for the first time.  “He already knows all there is to know about all of us, even if he doesn’t know it.”

            “That is a silly thing to say,” Aster spoke up.

            “That doesn’t make sense,” Apple looked at her sister.

            “Come along, Apple.”  Iris let out her wings and rose slowly into the air.  “This is Glen’s last day for this summer.  There is no reason he should not spend it with a friend.”

            “But, Iris.”

            “Come along Apple.”  And Apple did, while Aster let out a cheer.

            “Hurray!”  Though as soon as they were alone, Aster flew off Glen’s shoulder and settled down on a branch just out of reach.

Forever 1.10: Wilderness Ways

            Glen was perhaps seven and walking with his grandma to the dining hall when he first saw the tree.  It was not that he never noticed before, but you might say this was the first time he saw it.  Glen and Grandma just climbed the hill path to where it ran in front of the Big House.  Grandma walked slow and steady with her cane while Glen danced all around in the exuberance of youth.  He slipped on a pinecone and slid down the steep side of the hill that faced the lake.  He caught himself quick enough, but his eyes went to what seemed a peculiar sight. 

            There was a tree, but it did not grow straight up like trees were supposed to grow.  Instead, it grew horizontally, straight out from the steep side of the hill, out over the lake.  It appeared like it was reaching out for the sunset which always set behind the other side of the lake.  True, the tree was stunted, but it was big and thick and old, and Glen realized then that he could walk out on the trunk itself.  The following morning, he did just that and found where a big branch made something like a natural seat.  And best of all, it was out of sight from the Big House, and even from the path that ran in front of the big house.

            Glen sat there for hours on and off over the next eight or ten summers, untouched by the world of people, undisturbed by the ways of human life.  He was touched only by the tree and the lake and the sun reaching for the trees that he could just make out on that distant shore.  He let his imagination roam free and he imagined great tales of high adventure.

            Once when he sat there, though he might have been a whole year older by then, it was nearly the time for the people down at the dining hall to ring the great dinner bell that was out by the lake.  Fishermen and travelers all across the lake could hear that bell as it sounded for miles.  Glen was just thinking he ought to get back to the cabin and wash up when something caught the corner of his eye.

            He thought at first it might be a horsefly.  He turned his head and the fly turned with him.  He turned his head back and forth several times but could not catch sight of it.  He thought to get clever.  He sat about as long as an eight-year-old can sit still and then turned as fast as he could.  Still, the thing stayed out of sight, just at the outer edge of his peripheral vision.  He had to ask.

            “Are you a boy or a girl?”  He was almost shocked to death when he heard a shy little answer.

            “I’m a girl.”

            He sat for far longer than a normal eight-year-old might sit and thought about what he heard.

            “Why can’t I see you?”  Glen asked at last.

            “I’m supposed to stay hidden,” the answer came.

            “You can let me see you if you want to.  I won’t hurt you.”

            There was a moment of silence before the girl spoke again.  “I’m glad you won’t hurt me, but I am not supposed to be seen.”

            “A bit late for that,” Glen responded.  “We are already talking so you should let me see you.  It is only polite.”

            “Well.”  The girl drew out the word like it was a whole sentence.  “If it is only polite.”  She fluttered into view, a fairy, bigger than Glen’s hand but not as big as his forearm; and perhaps not as big as Glen’s eyes.”

            “Hello.”  He hardly knew what else to say.

            “Hello,” the fairy responded.

            “My name is Glen.”

            “I know.  I’ve been watching.”  The fairy flitted to a small branch a bit further out over the lake and took a seat.  “My name is Aster.”

            “Good to meet you,” Glen said as he tried not to stare.  The fairy was wearing a short dress that was yellow but flared to lavender-white at the collar, on the sleeves and at the bottom.  A passing glance might easily mistake her for a flower, perhaps a daisy.

            “Good to meet you.  I’ve been watching.”

            “You said that.”

            “I did?”

            “No, I mean you already said you were watching.”

            “I did?  Well it’s true.”

            Glen shook his head.  “Tell me, why were you watching me?”

            The fairy looked away like one suddenly shy.  She turned a bit pink and for a second her dress mirrored the color.  “I like you,” she said.

            “I like you too.”  It was an easy thing for Glen to say because it was true.  The fairy smiled broadly at his response before she got suddenly serious.

            “Oh, but my sisters say I am not supposed to bother you.  They say all the Little Ones are supposed to stay away from you.”

            “Sisters?”

            “Yes, Apple and Iris.  They say we are not supposed to disturb any of the people.”

            “But I’m not disturbed,” Glen said.  “And this is such a nice tree for dreaming, but it is better to share it with a friend.”

            The fairy looked around.  “You have a friend?”

            Glen was the one who smiled this time.  “You could be my friend, if you want.”  

            The fairy turned shy again and looked away.

            The dinner bell rang from down the shore.  Glen automatically looked in that direction though he could not see anything.  When he looked back, the fairy was gone.  He slowly got to his feet.

            “I’m sorry,” he spoke up nice and loud.  “I’m late, but I can come here tomorrow.  I would love to see you again tomorrow.  If you came earlier we could spend some time together.  Aster.  My friend.”  There was no response.