First Chapter

Chapter One: The Crossing

As Katherine looked around the banquet hall at her closest friends and family, she knew she had to choose her words well. She would never see any of them again, tonight she would have to face death. There was no turning back, and so she took a big breath and stood up to answer her father’s toast.

“Today I turn 21 – finally an adult in my father’s eyes,” she smiled at her father who had never accepted 18 as the age of adulthood. He gaze caught her fiancé and she just about started to cry. How would he cope? She turned back to rest of the room and continued, “Thank you Dad for everything, especially this party. As our lives are moving forward, we know that we will be moving apart. Our teenage promises to stay together forever have already met the hard realities of adult life.” and so her speech continued, saying thank yous and hidden good-byes to them all. As the dinner wrapped up, and the parents began to head home, she asked her fiancé to let her go alone to the clubs with her high school friends.

He was 5 years older, and they both knew he found many of her friends ‘young’. He agreed, viewing her words during the party as the final break between her and the highschool crowd he was happy to give her one last night out with them, and with a kiss he headed over to the SUV her parents had brought. She hugged her Dad, and whispered to him to make sure her fiancé got the letter she left for him on her dresser. He understood – like his daughter he knew when death was coming. He nearly started to cry and she looked him in the eyes and said, “I’ll be ok, you know that. Take care of them for me.” And with a nod he left.

As they drove out of the parking lot and down the road, Katherine’s Mom suddenly realized she had forgotten to give her daughter the letter she saw on the dresser with David’s name on it.

“Oh, David,” She reached in to her purse and pulled out the letter, “I know Katherine wanted to give this to you today, I forgot to give it to her for you. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me giving it to you.” and with that she handed him her letter. Katherine’s father looked at his watch, it was almost time. He might as well let him read it now, it will make no difference.

My Dearest David,

You have always been there for me. This letter is so hard to write, because I know you will not want to let go – but you must. David, my love, I have known for a long that this time must come. But I’ve fought against it, hoping to cheat the unbeatable. “

David paused, Katherine was so much younger then himself. He knew she wasn’t as ready to settle down as he was. Like her last birthday, when she had broken things off, she was back to needing a break. He smiled and continued reading.

Do you remember the first time I met you at the hospital and you introduced me to the little girl Mia? I told you that night to make her as comfortable as possible, because she was going to die soon. I remember how hard you worked to keep her alive, but in the end even you were able to understand that when it is time, it is time.

David, you have been in love with me for so long. I have treated you so unfairly – for I have always known I was not meant for you. But David, you are irresistible, and, and I know it is no excuse. I should have ended things between us so long ago, spared you this pain. But I was selfish, and I hope you will one day forgive me for that.

As you read this, know that I am in no pain and that only love went with me. I accepted this death, as I accepted this life. It was simply my time to go on to the next world.

David stopped reading. There were so many times before when she would know someone was going to die – his patients, family members, he didn’t doubt her words. He felt he would throw up.

“STOP THE CAR – TURN AROUND NOW” He screamed at her father, who looked at his watch. Damn the man, worried about his tv show – his daughter was going to die unless he stopped it.

“David,” David’s mother reprimanded him – but even still, her father began turning the car around.

“It’s alright Julia,” Michael Gunston started the u-turn. “With the looks her old prom date was giving her even I’d go back.” As they pulled back in to the parking lot he noticed the cab leaving. David raced out and ran back after finding out she alone had been in the cab. At David’s urging, her father turned back in to traffic, to follow the cab. As he scanned ahead, her father saw the tanker truck on the overpass in front of the cab.

In slow motion, he watched the tanker truck driver swerve dangerously as the minivan in front of him stomped on its breaks to avoid a small animal the jumped up to the edge of the guardrail. The tanker couldn’t handle the manoeuvre and tipped over the side of the overpass landing directly in front of the cab. The cab spun around coming to a stop with Katherine’s door firmly wedged against the tanker. She was pinned against the door and was not going to get out. The driver was running away as fast as he could when a second car, unable to stop drove straight in to the tanker, causing the fuel inside to explode. The cab was engulfed in flame; there would have been no way to save her. David called her name in anguish as he watched his beloved die. Her father said a prayer which no one else would understand, translating as “Your love awaits you,” She died exactly 21 years after her birth.

***

The light was brilliant as Katherine’s life ended. As she floated up, she saw her body reducing to near ash. David was screaming, being held back by his father. She heard her father’s prayer, “Taley Kaileth chatum te.”, and watched her mother’s face, frozen in shock. Her brother moved their mother away, he held her as she began to cry. Her grandfather’s voice called her forward, and she said one last good-bye before she turned her head away from Earth and went straight to the light.

Be strong,” her grandfather smiled, “and follow that love that guides you.”

She heard the words “Come”, and closing her eyes felt her self being pulled backwards as she answered “yes”.

The air that filled her lungs felt like the fire which had just killed her, and for a moment she wondered if she had been saved from the crash. As she opened her eyes she gasped for air. Just above her was the man whose face had haunted her for the last year. Seen only once in a dream, his face had stayed with her till the end of her life. He had a full beard, not the goatee of the dream, and his long brown hair was pulled back instead of cut short – but it was him. His violet eyes looked into hers for only an instant, but it was enough for her to see he was hurting.

The next few days were a blur; her thoughts kept travelling back and forth between her home and this new place. Her body tingled and if she lay in one position for too long she sometimes felt as if she was burning inside. He would bring her food and water, but never spoke to her. His leather clothing reminded her of native Canadians. The room she was in was bare, the walls covered with skins. She was very confused. Was she dead or alive? Had her life existed at all? She felt hunger and thirst, and eventually she needed to eliminate. She cried for her life, wishing now that maybe she could have not died.

And then he brought her the child. He was maybe just over two years old. The man cradled him in his arms and brought him to her. As she held the boy, the child looked at her with tears in his eyes. Don’t cry little one, she tried to say to him. She moved the hair from his face and sang a lullaby her father used to sing to her. It soothed the child, and then he began to nurse. She was taken off guard momentarily – well I guess that works she thought to herself as the child cuddled. She smiled at the child who looked so contented at her breast. He fell asleep when he nursed the other side and only then did she look up and realize the man was sitting cross-legged at the end near the door. He too seemed sad. She didn’t want to wake the child and mimed to him that the boy was asleep. He motioned for her to put him down beside her. She lay him down gently and patted his back to keep him from awaking. She found herself falling asleep with him.

She awoke to find the child trying to nurse. After he finished, he pulled her towards the hide that acted as a door. She was rather nervous, but followed the child out. She found the man, an older boy about 11 or 12 and a woman with gray hair and a very pale complexion, in fact, Katherine almost thought she was a statue until she moved. They were sitting around a small table in an area which was covered with more skin tarps. She could hear the sound of rain. The women motioned for them to come over and food was placed before her.

The hide that separated her small area where she first found herself was taken down and she began sleeping in a metal hutch area with the woman and the two boys. The hutch was at one end of a long tent like structure, running maybe 30-40 feet that was covered by a hide that had no seams. It was an dull mix of colours, sometimes sandy other times greyish green. The texture reminded her of hardened leather, only the thickness of her finger. The general shape of the hide reminded her of a typical long neck dinosaur, but the neck would have obviously been shorter and thicker than her grade school books described.

What she presumed was a tail ended just over the door to the hutch, while two legs and two arms stretched forth to create separate areas. The legs on either side of the hutch ended with exits, but the man only used the one to the left while the right side was the kitchen area. The arms created small rooms the boys would study or play in, one of which had been where she first awoke. The neck of reached up to a second enclosure, also clad in the hide material but here she could see a seam along the top edge where it joined the roof. Though she could only see the sides in the main hall, if it were symmetrical it would be a ten sided room. The man would retire to that room at the end of the evening, obviously it was his quarters.

As she studied the hides and those around her, she wasn’t sure what to make of it all. Her thoughts were jumbled, moving back and forth between her two lives less frequently, but still enough to leave her disoriented from time to time. Over the days and weeks which followed a rhythm began to evolve. While the four of them communicated easily, she did not share their language – many times she couldn’t even hear what they were saying though she could see their mouths moving. With her they would mime and they would draw pictures in the sand floor and it didn’t take long before a rudimentary sign language developed. There was something familiar about them, comforting even, as if she had known them for a long time. If she were to guess, the older woman was the man’s mother, and the two boys his sons, but she couldn’t be totally sure. There were times when she caught glimpses of the man’s eyes directly, even the shortest connection left her feeling anchored and secure. Yet, the more she studied the enclosure, things felt wrong. He looked so different from the dream, and the gumble of memories from her old life were so incongruous with this world.

Katherine had always known she wasn’t meant for Earth, so many of her earliest memories centered around preparing for her prince. They floated back and forth in her mind, in a chaotic manner, leaving her confused as to where she was. Images of sharing a tea party with a guest would get super-imposed with the man as she saw him now, while other times the memory showed him as he was in her dream one year before. She suspected they knew far more than she did, but it wasn’t her nature to approach questions so directly. She had always been the type to watch and wait, gathering as much information as she could before asking others for help. Eventually, her desire to understand more outweighed the desire to wait.

She got up the nerve one day while cooking to ask the woman about herself. She drew the stick figure for the man, and pointed at the woman and again patted the tummy. The old woman smiled and nodded, yes she was his birth mother. Then Katherine pointed to herself and made the sign for question. The woman looked thoughtful and then picked up a bone and carved it with the knife. Then she pointed at the man’s symbol, made a carving motion with her hands and pointed at Katherine. I was carved? How is this possible? Was the woman carved? No, she was born. Katherine thought of the boys mothers. Earlier, Katherine had asked if the old woman was their mother, she had indicated no, that the younger boy’s mother had died and the older boys mother was far off. Katherine swallowed hard and asked if they too were carved, or born. Both had been carved.

With a lump in her throat she drew out an animal alive and then killed, like the ones the man brought for food. The women nodded and pointed to the dead animal, then to Katherine. Next she made a carving motion on her ladle and made a moving motion from Katherine to the ladle. Then she pointed at the live animal. She made the same motion for the other boys mothers. Katherine thought for a moment about the younger boys mother, who they had indicated had died. She motioned to the dead animal and pointed again to the picture of the younger ones mother and shock her head as she made carving motions, the woman only nodded and erased the animal from the sand where they had been drawing. No more carving the woman motioned, and then spread her hands as if to say, “gone”. Whatever place she may have found herself, obviously this isn’t eternity.

The old woman must have feared Katherine was worried she would die again. She had the older boy bring what looked like a calendar. Then, the women pointed to Katherine and that of the older boys mother, touched the man’s symbol with her other hand, linked the two fingers. She pointed to the man, then the dead animal, again she stressed linked fingers and then she touched the dead animal. When he dies, we die. BUT! BUT! She indicated with great joy, and began tapping out as she flipped through the calendar over and over and over again. She did this for a long, long time and at a certain point slowed the motions and then stopped, gently touching the drawing of the dead animal. Katherine made the motion for long, and pointed to the drawing of the man and the two remaining mothers. Yes, nodded the old woman, longer than long. I, she motioned, short and tapped out eight beats and mimed that she was tired. Katherine didn’t take the eight beats literally, understanding it only as the woman was very old.

In time, the confusion from her old life began to lift and the memories no longer blended with her present situation. As she contemplated the ones that prepared her most for this world she was left with an understanding that something was not quite right. They lived too primitive a life, and the death of the younger boys mother – something felt very wrong about that. He was the man she expected, but not like this. He was too distant, too aloof. She and the woman were responsible for the food and childcare and the man was only around during meal times. Every attempt Katherine made to follow him was met with dismissal, he was not to be bothered the old woman had motioned many times. He radiated pain, but there was a chasm between them that nothing she did seemed to bridge. He would leave the covered area, or go in to his tent which was the other end of the enclosed area leaving Katherine with even more to ponder.

She did not venture out of the enclosure often, the rain was often very strong and after one quick outing to throw out some bones, in frustration she signed “how long till the rain stops!”

128 days” the older woman calmly scratched in the sand.

what?” Katherine looked at her with curiousity. The old woman laughed at her and called to the older boy. He brought one of his picture books and with obvious disdain tossed the book at his grandmother. The older boy very obviously did not like the women and this was hardly the first time he was openly disrespectful, sometimes even when the man was around. The man did not tolerate this, but it did not stop the boy when he was not around. Katherine wondered if it was the distance between him and his mother, but every time she would try to talk to the woman the older woman would avoid the issue. After flipping pages of what appeared to be a young child’s picture book the grandmother stopped and showed Katherine. They were now in the rainy season – or ‘rising sun’ season as the grandmother signed. The sun was moving from a low point in the sky to a higher level. Then, when at its peak, they would be in the summer. After an equal time, the sun would then retreat, similar to our fall. She found it interesting that there wasn’t a winter – the sun just went down then up and stayed overhead. Three seasons, each 365 days long – exactly one earth year for each season.

Their conversation soon lead to ages, the woman said she was nearly 1000 years old, that that man was 162 and his sons were 3 years and only 2 seasons respectively. The older one was one season away from turning 4, so her age estimates had been reasonable for the boys. Wow, though Katherine, 1000 of their years was 3000 of her years. As Katherine did the calculation of her age when she died, something seemed to click in place. She signed to the woman, I died at 7 and the woman was very curious.

The woman drew children and grown-ups, and along the dividing line wrote the marker for 7. Yes, laughed Katherine, as he father had taught her, grown-up. Then the woman divided the children apart, there were three groups, the first three years were together, then the next three, and finally the last year. The older boy was on the verge of a new age she realized. Yes, the woman nodded and puffed up her chest in the universal sign that anyone whose raised a teenager knows all too well – the arrogance of youth! Katherine enjoyed the laugh.

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