My Brother’s Keeper – Second Interlude (text)

Blackness.

Everywhere… everything… blackness. That was the first thing Kayeen noticed but the second followed close on its heels. He was alone. It wasn’t just that there were no people around. There was nothing. As dark as it was, somebody could have been a foot away and he wouldn’t have been able to see them. No. This darkness was more than being unaware of what was around. It was more than that. He wasn’t laying on a bed like he should have been. Kayeen reached out but there was nothing to feel. He stretched his legs out beneath him but there was no ground. There was nothing.

“Hello?”

Kayeen called out but he could not even hear his own voice. It wasn’t just that it sounded hollow. It was more than the fact that there was no echo or anything like that. His mouth had opened and he had voiced the words, but no sound had come. He tried again. Again, nothing.

Kayeen looked up and down. He turned. He placed his hand so close to his face he felt it touching his nose but still he could not see it. Kayeen began to panic.

“Is anybody there?!”

Even if somebody was, they could not have heard him. Kayeen could hear the words in his head. He even had put his hands to his throat and mouth and felt the words being formed. He had screamed the question out as loud as he could, but there was no sound. There was nothing. Nothing but the blackness.

Kayeen could feel his heart racing. He had never been so scared in his life. His eyes darted this way and that but there was nothing to see. His hands and legs stretched and kicked and reached, but there was nothing to feel. Nothing to touch.

“What is this?” Kayeen called into the silence. “Where am I?”

“Not where… when.”

Kayeen heard the response in his head even though no sound reached his ears. He turned around but still, there was nothing there. He could not pinpoint where he had heard the voice. It had simply appeared in his head.

“I haven’t brought you anywhere else. You are still exactly where you were in the cabin on the Blue Spray. But now you are there before.”

“Before what?” Kayeen asked.

“Everything. Before the beginning. Before time itself.”

The voice he heard was not his own. It could not be said that these were his own thoughts and words or even a voice like he would hear in his mind when he imagined or remembered the words of another. It was… different. It wasn’t just different in quality, timbre, or tone. It was different in kind. There was no way he could ever really explain it to another or even understand it himself. The words, the thoughts… they just were.

“Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?” Kayeen thought his response. He didn’t even bother trying to form the words. There was no point.

“The beginning.”

Something turned Kayeen around. But that doesn’t explain it right. He wasn’t being turned so much as re-positioned. There were no hands. There was no sense of touch at all. Something, somehow, had moved him a bit to the right and tilted him upward.

Then there was nothing again. Kayeen had not even realized that he had felt some… presence… until it was gone again, but that voice, that presence, had brought calm with it. It had brought peace, and now that it was gone the panic was beginning to rise up again. The darkness, the nothingness, threatened to overwhelm him…

“Let there be light.”

The voice seemed much louder than it had before. This time it didn’t seem to be speaking to him in his mind. No, he had actually heard it shouting a command into the darkness. That voice carried so much authority that Kayeen looked down at his hands and truly believed that they would be glowing. It was almost a disappointment to find out that everything was still just as dark as it had been a moment before. Then he saw it. Directly ahead was there a tiny pinprick of light.

“There it is.” He heard the voice say.

“What is it?”

“Everything that is. It is all of time. It is all of space. Every star, moon, and planet. The air you breath, the sounds you hear, every animal and bird and creature of the sea, the wind and waves, the sunrises and sunsets seen by millions of lovers, all of the laughter and tears of ten thousand generations, the wars, the nations, the love, the pain and so much more. All of reality as you understand it has just been born and is growing even now.”

Indeed it was growing. Even during that short speech, the tiny dot seemed to have grown brighter. For a time there was silence as Kayeen tried to grasp what the voice that had spoken how on earth could that tiny dot of light contain… everything? Another thought followed close on its heels, just how far away was that little dot?

“It is already larger than you can begin to imagine and further away than you think but it is also heading our way at a speed you couldn’t possibly fathom.”

Kayeen thought about that for a moment. “I can imagine pretty fast.”

The voice laughed. It was not derision so much as amusement.

“What? I can.”

There was almost a smile in the words Kayeen heard next. “Your imagination is limited by your experience. You have spent your entire childhood being raised in a tiny unknown forest on the far corner of the fifth and smallest of eleven planets rotating around your below-average sized sun. You have only begun to strike out from that forest and explore a small portion of one corner of one of the continents on your planet.

“You have lived for less than two decades and have spoken to just over a hundred people total in that short life. You have read an insignificantly small fraction of all that has been written, which is but a tiny portion of all the literature yet to come. You speak only one of the hundreds of languages on your planet and although you have an above average potential for creative magic you are still but a drop in the ocean of the vastness of time and space.”

Kayeen chewed on that thought for a while. How many people had lived in the generations who had come before him? How many would live on in the years past his death? How many people were living now, eating and drinking, waking and sleeping, living and dying all over the world even now who were, and always would be, completely unaware of his existence? How much power did he, could he ever truly have? True power was to be able to speak out four words and have the universe resonate in response.

Even as he had listened and thought, that white dot continued to grow. It was now nearly as big as his thumbnail and he could almost imagine that he could visibly watch it expand larger. No, it was not his imagination. He really could see it expand and as it did so, the pace of that growth gradually increased. When that white dot was the size of his fist the Creator spoke again.

“It is wisdom to recognize your place in the world. It brings humility. Know also that among the tens of billions of people who will walk the earth. You are unique. You are special. I love you, Kayeen, my child, and you are mine.”

Until those last three words, Kayeen could literally feel the warmth and love enveloping him. But those last words reminded him of another dream on another night. Someone else, as different as night and day from the Creator had said the same thing to him. When Kayeen remembered that other, the awe and humility he felt when thinking of the Creator was gone. All that remained was jealousy. Here was a God who could speak the universe into being with four words. That was true power. Kayeen envied it.

“I belong to nobody.”

Kayeen sensed a sadness. A presence he had not even realized was there suddenly was gone. Even as that light grew larger and larger right up to the moment it enveloped him, he was all alone.

 

–     –     –     –     –

 

She woke up shivering. Her body was as cold as ice. There was a blanket around her, but it was grossly inadequate to the task of giving her any warmth. Nadezha tried to force her body into stillness as she curled up as tightly as she could. It was no good. Every single exhale brought with it another shiver. The soreness throughout her body told her that she had been shaking for a while before rising to consciousness.

The blanket over her would not cover both her head and her feet when she stretched out. The tingling in her toes told her that they were the priority and she pulled the blanket down over her feet. That left her face was exposed to the icy air. Immediately, Nadezha’s nose and ears began screaming in protest. Nadezha opened her eyes. Nothing. She blinked. Still, there was nothing to see. Reluctantly she pulled one of her hands out from under her armpit and placed it in front of her face. There wasn’t even a shading of deeper blackness. She could see nothing.

“Good morning.”

The voice startled her and she scurried back under the blanket. When she curled as tightly as she could, the blanket did cover her entire body. Nadezha imagined what she must look like, a little mouse shivering under the blanket. She remained there as her fear was replaced by the silence and the cold. She could hear nothing beyond her breath and the shaking of her body against the blanket and the cold stone floor below her. Eventually, she did work up enough nerve to peak out from under the blanket.

‘I was wondering when you would wake up. You have been sleeping for days.”

At the first sound of that voice, Nadezha dropped her head back under the blanket. It wasn’t a frightening voice, rather, it sounded friendly and slightly amused.

“You do know that blanket does not hide you.”

The voice seemed to expect an answer and eventually, reluctantly Nadezha quietly answered, “Yes.”

“So why do you continue to hide?”

Nadezha thought about that for a moment. Slowly she poked her head back out of the blanket. The cold still beat at her face as she looked around. It was just as though her eyes were still shut tight. There was absolutely nothing to see.

“I can’t see you. I don’t know where you are.”

“Yes, the darkness is a problem, but what is the greater problem?”

Nadezha did not need to think before answering this time, “The cold.”

“Yes, the dark and the cold. I have given you an ability that can overcome both of these problems.”

Nadezha knew immediately what the voice was talking about.

“No.”

Her answer echoed into the darkness and for a time there was no response. “Why no?” She thought to herself. She had been taught that it was evil. She had been taught that it was an abomination. What had she done to become an abomination? She didn’t feel any different. She didn’t think she was any different. Then again, she was a murderer.

“You are not a murderer.”

The voice spoke into the darkness so quickly after her last thought that Nadezha wondered if she had voiced it out loud. The voice spoke again.

“If he had not died, where would you be?”

“I would be dead.”

“Just you?”

“No. Avril would have died as well.”

“That young man, Avril, willingly placed his life on the line to save yours, did he not?”

“He did.”

“In turn, you sacrificed something you value far more than life to save him, did you not?”

“I did.”

It was almost as if this mysterious voice was reading her mind when it prompted her to continue, “But…”

“But I killed a man.”

“Let me show you something.”

Before her, Nadezha saw the forest where the confrontation with the Drepti had taken place. With the view of a bird in a branch above, she watched as Avril and the Drepti squared off. Nadezha’s breath caught when she realized it was Davit. Twice Davit came at Avril and was thrown aside. The third time, he kicked Avril square in the chest and landed just feet from Nadezha. She watched with breath held as her image on the ground lit Davit’s face on fire. Then she was seeing what went beyond her memory. The Drepti continued moving forward through the pain, blindly trying to get at her even as the flames spread. She saw Avril jump to his feet and in one fluid motion draw his sword and take off Davit’s head.

“You did not kill him. In a way, Avril did not kill him either. Davit killed himself when he put on the cloak of the Drepti. More than that, he died when he chose to continue beyond any possible hope of success. Nadezha, my sweet child, you do not need to condemn yourself where I do not condemn you.”

At these words, Nadezha broke down and wept. She curled back into a ball under the blanket, brought her hands to her face, and sobbed. All the fear, all the condemnation, all the anxiety, and all the guilt came pouring out of her through the tears spilling from her eyes. For a time everything else was silence as the voice, the Creator, let her work through her sorrow. After what seemed like hours, the tears gradually stilled. As they did so, Nadezha noticed the cold coming back. Until then, she had not even noticed how much warmer the room had been as she wept.

“You can provide heat.”

“I can. Every day I provide that and so much more, but in this room so can you.”

“How can I light a fire when there’s nothing to burn?”

“There is something. I have created a fireplace ready to be set alight.”

Nadezha looked about almost expecting to somewhere see this fireplace. All she saw was the same darkness.

“I can’t see it.”

“No. With your eyes, you cannot. Close them. Look beyond your normal senses.”

Nadezha closed her eyes. She was about to speak again when she vaguely saw, no sensed, no… There was no way for her to describe the image growing in clarity and certainty. She just knew where the fireplace was.

“Good. Now set it ablaze.”

Nadezha reached towards the wood. There was a blinding explosion of light and heat and sound as the wood, the fireplace, and half the wall on that side of the room caught fire. From behind her, she heard a good-natured laugh. She did nothing but somehow the fire everywhere except where it should have been disappeared.

“Right aim, but we definitely need to work on that control. Here try this…”

Nadezha turned to see a man about the age of her father but with older eyes and a younger, more innocent smile looking at her. This man seemed to have a radiance of his own and Nadezha wondered how the room could have been so dark if he had been there the whole time. In this man’s right hand, held between thumb and forefinger, was a small twig.

“Try lighting this.”

“But I’ll burn you.”

That smile came back. “I am not too worried about that.”

Nadezha tried to create the smallest flame she possibly could. A tiny wisp of smoke appeared on the end of the twig.

“A little more.”

The twig, the hand, and half the Creator’s forearm burst into flame. He simply smiled and the flame somehow seemed to be swallowed up into the palm of his hand. Then he pinched his fingers back together and a new, different twig, was there.

“Try again.”

She did try again, and again, and again. Over and over she was creating either too much or too little flame. Occasionally she would do it just right but then the next time, it was off again. When she finally was able to create on the twigs a candle sized flame three times in a row the Creator suddenly disappeared. On the ground near where he had been was a large row of different sized sticks and twigs and even some twine.

His voice spoke into the room. “Now that you have learned control, practice turning these to ash without creating a flame. When you feel you are ready, wake up. Your friends have need of you. Nadezha, even though you do not always see me, I am always near.”

Nadezha set to work.

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