This time around Lyle caught a number of fish before turning in last night. He added them to our larder, increasing the weight we are packing. But gladly, with the knowledge that it will get lighter.
Stan borrowed the binoculars to check out the trail on the other side of the lake. He gave a good report. The way is clear though he added that it will take longer.
Soon all was prepared and we set out.
This way has a lot of ups and downs quite different in that respect to the one we came in on. At whatever level we were always in sight of the water.
Come night, Stan settled us in a cave near a rise.
DAY NINETY ONE
An eventful night. And surprising. Stan and Lyle persisted in chasing down noises that rose from the back of the cave. Each time they returned empty handed and with no explanations. With the morning Stan had disappeared completely. We checked ahead down the path with negative results. Therefore we conclude he must have went deeper down into the cave. Fearing Stan may be in trouble, Lyle descended into the depths further than hitherto. All was silent as the tomb, not a single sound this time. We wasted the better part of the day looking for the young man with a beard. Nothing.
Lyle remarked that the cave would be a good fallback position to keep in mind for future contingencies.
DAY NINETY TWO
Calm has descended upon us again. This after we have discovered that Stan was not lost, but his disappearance was planned. He abandoned us.
I was going through our supplies and found that someone has heavily pilfered from them.
Anyway that was my conclusion deduced from that discovery. But Lyle takes it a step further. He believes that Stan was actively trying to impede us, which in his estimation makes it all the more imperative that we leave now and get back on track.
Between us we got every thing left packed up and ready to go. By the evening we had left the picturesque lake area behind us and set up camp to spend the night under the stars.
DAY NINETY THREE
We got an early start this morning at Lyle’s insistence. Trouble is, there are a few more things missing than we realized yesterday.
For one, the binoculars are gone. We assume that Stan never returned them when last he had them. Lyle says it’s okay and that we’ll just have to rely more on my excellent vision and what he calls my foresight. I’m flattered but think he is actually counting on our drones to fill that need.
About midday the first village this side of the mountain came into our view. Many more lay beyond, with the city on the plain farther still, beckoning before the desert.
We should be standing near its humble buildings this same time tomorrow.
DAY NINETY FOUR
Useless, utterly useless. We had just passed two uninhabited cabins, outliers to our next goal, when Lyle decided to put his drone up to check the village proper. It crashed.
Lyle immediately ordered my drone be examined.
It was plain to see that it had been tampered with too. We will have to go through it carefully before — and if we ever use it.
We will need to reconnoiter every building in the village ourselves in person. This will slow us down, but Lyle is unwilling to loose the chance of finding someone to point onto the right path.
I agree. It would sure help to find someone who knows who is still in the area to speed things along.
DAY NINETY FIVE
Discovered a citizen of the village today. In the third dwelling we checked. An elderly woman. She confirmed to us that she is the sole remaining tenant here. She knows little beyond her neighborhood
A month ago people were moving in both directions. Everyone was trying to convince her to come with them. She felt that they all had convincing arguments. For both choices. And that’s what confused her – she couldn’t make up her mind and by default decided to stay put.
Lyle has been talking with her all day to persuade her to come with us.
To no avail. She won’t budge. She believes she’s too old for any new adventures.
On the plus side we’ve traded for foodstuffs.
DAY NINETY SIX
Bid Hilleth (so she is named) goodbye this morning. She bid us God speed.
We passed by two villages – both empty. Hilleth had told us that would most likely be the case. And so it proved. People from the one furthest away had come east through her village and had reported that the nearer had all gone west through theirs.
We stayed the night in the second township. It had been picked clean. Either the original residents took absolutely everything with them, or it was denuded by others passing through.
Lyle finally examined my drone. Given what happened to his, he was very circumspect. The results were inconclusive. We may have to stiffen our resolve and launch it and watch.
DAY NINETY SEVEN
So, on this side of the mountain, we have three villages behind us, and a couple of dozen ahead. We can see them all in the light of day, but at night, unless there is a strong moon, they all disappear.
In contrast, one can make out the outline of the city off in the distance at night. There has to be some kind of power available there.
So we hiked while the sun was out. As best we could we kept our goal to the front of us. Only to have the trail itself swerve away from the next village, keeping us on the wrong side of a river from it. Do we cross or look for another way?
DAY NINETY EIGHT
Lyle finally added his vote for the decision to send the last drone up. He was very reluctant, hoping to save it for the city and the possibility of giving it a more complete going over.
We launched it with no mishap, and sent it off in search of the best crossing, be it a bridge or more shallow and less turbulent water.
It went out, but did not come back. All we know for sure is that the best place to cross is right where we are now. The “How” is still up in the air. Between us we should settle on something.
It got late, so we decided to wait for tomorrow.
Walking may be the best option.
DAY NINETY NINE
I stood by the river alone and closed my eyes. And though they were closed, I could still “see” the river. The current slowed and the level of the water dropped – the riverbed emptied. Its babble silenced.
I opened my eyes and the river still flowed.
It must not be the right time. I will await direction.
Lyle does not know that I’ve seen him do it. If he can do it just for himself, he can do it for the both of us.
My problem is how to ask him. I have a sense that he will protect himself by just denying it. But that won’t get us anywhere.
Maybe if I knew why he hides that ability, it would make it easier to ask.
If I am projecting the reasoning behind my actions upon him, it’s like we are cut from the same cloth. I can understand his reticence.
He may have no more control over it than I do over those things that disappear when I perceive that they threaten our well being.
DAY ONE HUNDRED
The water in the river stopped flowing – somewhere upstream out of our sight.
Lyle called me out of the tent with the news. After a brief burst of rushing about we were all packed and across the waterless obstacle on ground that was only damp.
On the other side the woods were thick and choked with under brush. It took some time to find a path that led us off of the river bank.
I was left wondering, did Lyle do it? I certainly didn’t see him do it this time. No chance of asking now, it would all be too easy to deny.
Without any further trouble we arrived in the next village. A crossroads really. No one here.
DAY ONE HUNDRED ONE
Both Lyle and I are feeling the pull. We need to get to that distant city and beyond. It is my belief that the fifteen remaining villages scattered between here and that city are empty.
Lyle won’t give up his intent to visit each of them, whether they are inhabited or not. He dares not miss a chance of catching up to the widow and her son.
Wouldn’t the fact that I am so much more senior to my young friend entitle my opinion to have a little more weight in our deliberations? I think so, but Lyle does not.
Perhaps the only way to prove myself right is to go along and check each in its turn.
DAY ONE HUNDRED TWO
We covered three villages today. The last one proved me wrong. Though I will say for my part that I was the first to locate two inhabitants there. Outside the town I had a vision of a woman and a boy. And so it proved to be the widow and her son, the very ones for whom Lyle has been searching.
Lyle was overjoyed to find them at last. And they were overwhelmed and relieved to be found by him. However they had some important news. They tell us that we’re too late. That they had given up waiting for Lyle, and headed into the city. Their request for asylum had been denied without an explanation.
We’ll go down tomorrow.
DAY ONE HUNDRED THREE
Passing by the last villages on the way to the city, Lyle didn’t bother to look.
I did. Unexpectedly people filled their tiny streets. I wondered why they were not in the city, but then I remembered the widow’s rejection.
Lyle kept the mother and her son close by. At some distance from the city gate, we flowed into a pen with waiting people. The son explained that only one can go forward to speak for his group. They hope that Lyle can persuade the gatekeepers of the metropolis to accept us.
We found an end to the line that wound through the pen, and joined it.
We had only advanced halfway when the gate closed.
We dared not leave.
DAY ONE HUNDRED FOUR
Some people who were behind us left. None from in front.
The whole situation bothers Lyle. He says that nothing is like it should be.
The widow and her son settled in to rest. From what I’ve learned, when her husband was alive, they took care of Lyle at a needy period in his life. It explains my companion’s actions of late.
Come morning the line grew again as people returned to take their places. What they had to say was not encouraging. Many have been out all week and have yet to be called up to the gate.
The morning went swiftly, but the afternoon dragged on.
I have the feeling that we will be spending the night again.
DAY ONE HUNDRED FIVE
Our hopes were raised this morning when the first six petitioners were admitted. When told “yes,” they appeared before the gate and waved the rest of their party forward.
However the next five were turned away. This set me thinking that there may be a daily quota in effect. Lyle must have read my thoughts for he spoke the idea out loud. The widow admitted that this idea had never occurred to her.
But then as people continued to answer the call up to the gate, I thought why not just close down for the day.
Still we kept advancing behind people who went up and back down again. Finally the day ended. Tomorrow we will be first in line.
DAY ONE HUNDRED SIX
Lyle was first up to the gatehouse this morning. He was a good long while talking there, so our hopes were lifted with each passing minute. But at the last our expectations were dashed.
Lyle trudged back down the hill to rejoin us. He spoke to the widow first, telling her that all is not lost, and then gathered us all together and led us away from that spot.
He explained that we have to apply at another gate. And before we could protest, he added that we are promised that we will be all admitted.
He grinned at me and insisted it’s still not the way things should be.
After a long hike we arrived at another staging area.
DAY ONE HUNDRED SEVEN
Per Lyle, yesterday’s inquisitors made it plain that the eldest member of any group had to make the petition for admittance.
Thus I found myself designated to appear on our behalf at this new gatehouse this morning.
I was calm before the gatekeepers, and answered all the questions they posed. Their demeanors were courteous and efficient, but enigmatic. And they asked the oddest questions. Nothing about occupation, what we could do for them, and nothing about where we come from.
I view it now as their attempt to classify us as to our beliefs.
I thought that all who are headed here, are here because they do believe, and have been called.
Whatever I said we are now in.
DAY ONE HUNDRED EIGHT
Our roles have undergone another reversal today. This time the widow and her son are taking the lead. They have been given a home, and Lyle and I are assigned to live with them.
What it all means, we do not know, but we are looking for answers.
Lyle and I have been given permission to circulate freely within the city. A privilege that we will make good use of.
Already we have heard many strange rumors. Some disquieting. I shall endeavor to ascertain the truth in each situation. I sense that many things need to be resolved before I pass on to the desert beyond.
Yes, someday soon we will leave this all behind.
We are here for now.
DAY ONE HUNDRED NINE
Life is regimented here within the city. We have the freedom to move around, but with each section we cross into we have a check point to pass first.
My suspicion did prove true. People are grouped into areas on the basis of their beliefs.
This divides rather than unites the people. It is a ghetto mindset and brought Lyle to tears.
There remains the puzzle though. Who called for it? And who is in control?
None of the other sections have claimed leadership over the others. Yet the most likely candidate high in my estimation has got to be the section immediately behind the gate we tried on our first day here.
Some fine day I’ll know for sure.
DAY ONE HUNDRED TEN
Lyle came back today from a long tour of the eastern half of the city. He is optimistic that he can bring unity to the five districts in this area (the home we live in is part of the wall district).
I stayed here today to help the widow with set up. And to consider what needs
to be done next.
She reports that everything should be very comfortable here on out. Which reminded me to tell her to be sure to do as little as possible along that line for Lyle, knowing how much he dislikes ease.
She agrees with me that our (i.e. mine and Lyle’s) stay here should be brief.
All we need is the correct timing.
DAY ONE HUNDRED ELEVEN
It was Lyle’s turn to stay and help the widow today. I explained to him where I had left off, and what is left to be done.
He gave me some tips on what I might run into as I tour the western half of the city. He wants me to keep a look out for any sign of authority. He wants to meet with them and ask questions about their future plans.
It turned out to be a long day with little progress. I chose the district that I thought would lead to the other gateway. As it turned out, this district has no inhabitants and no gateway link.
The west end must be much bigger than we estimated.
DAY ONE HUNDRED TWELVE
Since I have so much yet to cover in the western half, Lyle agreed to remain in the east end. He’ll finish the last projects in the home, and then attend to the unification of the Spirit-led in the wall district.
I tried the second avenue entrance into the west end (I wonder how many more there are). No problem getting in, though there was a restriction as to the amount of time I had before my required return. Yes, required return – I needed to be back in the early afternoon.
I plunged onward. Every query as to where the government was situated was met by gestures pointing ever more westward.
What happens if I overstay the stated curfew?
DAY ONE HUNDRED THIRTEEN
I was so far west, I did not have time enough to get back before the gate closed. A local denizen, however swept me off the street. Kip guessed my plight and kindly offered a place to spend the night.
I’m very thankful. He is the only one that I’ve met who didn’t have an outright animus towards me, the poser of questions.
I asked him where I could find the rulers of the city. He didn’t seem to think that a very good idea and added people usually went out of their way to avoid their notice.
He explained that they’ve been adverse to strangers ever since large numbers migrated out of the east.
I need to inform Lyle.
DAY ONE HUNDRED FOURTEEN
Enough returned from the west end today after an overnight absence. It was a little disturbing that he did not get back last night. But that passed quickly after the thought came to commit him to the Spirit.
We were all thankful when he rejoined us, and were happy to be introduced to his new friend Kip.
When we were alone later, he informed me that the city rulers may be actively avoiding any contact from outsiders. Something he said made me think of another possible stratagem.
I was joking of course.
Kip asked me not to mention anything to the guards about my stay at his place last night.
That surprised me. I inquired was I in trouble? Or worse yet was he?
He didn’t think so, pending what happened when we got to the gate.
That was another surprise, he accompanied me to the gate.
He went through without a problem and waited for me on the other side.
I passed through after a brief lecture from the head guard and a promise that another such infraction would land me in front of the authorities.
Lyle joked it might be a worthwhile strategy if we can’t locate them on our own.
I introduced Kip all around. He returned before curfew.
DAY ONE HUNDRED FIFTEEN
Before he left yesterday, Kip offered to help us contact the authorities.
So, our chores, being all caught up, both Lyle and I ventured back into the western end via the second avenue entrance. This time the guards sent us on our way with an escort. All the way to Kip’s house.
There, Kip disclosed to us that he is one of the authorities that we have been seeking. I was speechless, though Lyle seemed to take it in stride, hardly reacting at all. He just took to posing all the questions he could think of.
For his part, Kip was the gracious host, and soon had explained most things to Lyle’s satisfaction.
And suddenly things became infinitely more complicated.
DAY ONE HUNDRED SIXTEEN
We returned to the east end last night (via special dispensation, it being after curfew). In the morning Lyle and I had a long conference about what to do next in light of Kip’s revelations.
First and foremost, do we attempt to contact any of the other rulers?
Especially since Kip is the only one from their number with any sympathy towards us. He is the one who arranged our entry into the east end.
I argued that it would only make sense, if we distrusted what Kip has told us.
However, Lyle feels duty bound to contact the others.
I told him I want to learn what is going on. How things came about.
We need to be prepared.
DAY ONE HUNDRED SEVENTEEN
I stayed in the east end today and met with some of the leaders. I learned that we are expected to help with the community garden outside in the fields. Did Lyle forget to tell me?
As for Lyle, he was back in the west end and this time found the exterior gate we have both been searching for. Neither gatekeeper had time to talk to him. They were too busy vetting people – one handling people trying to get in, the other dealing with people trying to get out. Lyle did get the name of their supervisor but was told that his office was only accessible from the fifth avenue checkpoint.
He’ll go tomorrow, if we’re not in the fields.
DAY ONE HUNDRED EIGHTEEN
A group of the east end leaders came to collect us. So our agenda was decided before the day began. After a brief hesitation, we concluded it would all be for the best. The more we know before we meet the rulers of the city, the better.
Besides, we grasped the benefits of our outing to the fields almost immediately.
For the gardens are located on the plains towards the desert. Just the sight of it in the distance rekindled the longing in my heart to be there. Now we know the best way to go once the time arrives.
And we learned more from our fellow laborers as we toiled.
I’ll sleep well after this day of hard work.
DAY ONE HUNDRED NINETEEN
A little late rising this morning. We sorted our day out quickly. I returned to the fields and took the widow’s son with me. Lyle left to attempt the west end again, this time via the fifth avenue entrance.
Though overcast at first, the sun burned through before lunch break. The aroma of the earth and growing things lifted our spirits.
The widow’s son joined the crew with which he will be working for the rest of the season. Their foreman pointed out the vast fields to the west of us, all worked by people from the west end. Their numbers appear much lower than ours.
Lyle was already home upon our return. He had shocking news – he sighted Stan.
ON TO MONTH FIVE