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Gavin’s Journey

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Gavin’s JourneyThis is a post-apocalyptic tale about a boy coming of age. Gavin travels to visit his great great great grandpa Hugo, whom Gavin’s own mother refers to as a dangerous man. Why is a man so old, dangerous?a novellaBy: Hugo Carlos ArreolaCopyright © 2014 Hugo Carlos ArreolaAll Rights ReservedTo my parents for their love and support.A Note from the Author:The following is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and occurrences are a product of my imagination. Any resemblance to real life is purely coincidental.OneThe call of the rooster woke me up. It was the morning of the first day of the spring season and it was also my nineteenth birthday. Among other things, I consider myself a bit of historian and I can tell you for sure that time used to be measured in a different manner. People used to be so concerned about time down to the minute. They were always running around in a hurry so they wouldn’t be late for an important something or other. My father likes telling us stories at night after dinner about how things used to be and how things changed for everyone. My father wasn’t around during those times. He only tells us what was told to him by his mother when he was a boy. My mother, on the other hand, isn’t too keen on those stories. She says there is no use in dwelling on the past. She says she is more of the live-for-today sort of person. It is my firm belief that she does so enjoy the stories and puts stock in them as well, but only says otherwise to give my father a difficult time. As I was saying, time used to be measured differently. People used to travel so fast that the number of miles travelled were measured per hour. That’s just plain too darn fast in my humble opinion. Nowadays our travel is measured in days. I’ve traveled near twenty miles in one day on my horse. Well, it was only ten miles or so to my destination, but I had to travel back so I can say it was twenty miles in one day. I was only traveling to Bart’s, a nearby trading post, for a newspaper my younger sister wanted, so I wasn’t in a hurry. Time is still measured the same way, but we just look at it differently. Months no longer have names but rather are grouped in the four seasons of the year. Each season has ninety days. I’ll give you some examples to illuminate the idea for you. I was born on the first day of the spring season. My younger sister Beth was born on thirty-fifth day of the winter season. My older sister Jana was born on the eightieth day of the summer season. I hear a knock at my door. It’s my mom reminding me just as she does most every morning, “Gavin you be sure to go tend to the chickens and go milk the cows,” my mother says. “I will mother. Although after tomorrow it will be added to your list of many responsibilities for a while,” I carefully say. She giggles and ducks back out, but then a few moments later she rushes in and sings me happy birthday. She follows the song by planting a big wet kiss on my cheek and then she ruffles my morning hair. “Now Gavin, I know we agreed a few months back that we’d allow you to go visit your great-great-great grandfather to see if he can help you with your little problem, but you know that you have to be ever so careful around him, he’s dangerous,” she says. “Mother, it’s a risk I’m willing to take if he is able to help me. When Jana went to go see him a few years back, she was safe and came back home without a problem, and the best thing was that he was able to help her with her ‘issue.’ After all, she did come across a man she found ‘interesting’ a few months after she got back and they were joined a few months after that. Although, I’m not sure her ‘issue’ qualified as a real problem in the grand scheme of things, but dear old grandpa Hugo was able to help her out in her time of need,” I say. Hugo is my great-great-great grandfather, but we mostly refer to him as grandpa Hugo. “Oh Gavin. You hush on up. You know darn well how few people there are around these days and that makes it twice as difficult when searching out for a partner,” mom says. “Mother, what are you talking about? Jana had twenty plus potential suitors in line waiting to court her and still she had to go see grandpa,” I say. My mom responded by simply saying, “She didn’t find any of them ‘interesting,’ and that was clearly something she wanted in a partner.” My older sister Jana who people say is arguably the most beautiful girl in all of Oregonia is now joined with Chuck, who she would say is the most interesting man on the planet. Whatever that can possibly even mean, I really have no clue or idea what it means to be an ‘interesting’ man. They now live in what used to be British Columbia, Canada, which is now simply called Columbia. We received a letter from them a few days ago saying that she had given birth to twin girls and that they would be bringing them down to come meet the family. She didn’t say exactly when they were coming. She only made reference to coming at some point when the girls were strong enough for travel. “Now Gavin, you hustle on up, get ready for the day, and get going on your morning chores.” “Will do, mother.” She stands up and makes her way out the door into her usual domain of the kitchen. My morning routine; I get up, get dressed, make my bed, put on my boots, and head to the house washroom to clean my face and brush my teeth. Before getting to work on my morning chores, I head outside to the outhouse to do my business. As I sit there, I think about the old times, according to my father, when people used to do their business indoors with the running water. I’m deep in thought about running water when all of a sudden the door to outhouse is flung open and I see Beth holding herself while bobbing up and down. “Gavin! Will you please hurry up and finish, I have to go. Please hurry, I’m about to explode,” Beth says. “Go do your business in the bushes if you need to go so bad,” I state. “I have to go number two right now, and you know mom gets angry when she catches us going in the bushes. She says ‘an outhouse is there for a reason’,” Beth responds. “I know. I know. Okay. Give me a minute. I’m almost finished,” I say. “Okay, hurry,” she says. I finish and the moment I finish pulling up my pants, the door is flung wide open again. Beth grabs me by the wrist and flings me out. Moments later I hear an “ah” followed by a healthy sigh of relief coming from the outhouse. As I make my way to the henhouse to feed the chickens and collect the eggs, I think about the long trip ahead of me to go see grandpa Hugo. It will take me roughly forty days worth of travel south to reach grandpa Hugo’s cabin in Redwood Town, Californoya. That’s assuming I go in a straight shot and make no unnecessary stops except for food, water, and sleep. Redwood Town is a long way from here. Beth wanted to go with me, but my parents said there was no way she would be going this time. My mom told Beth that when she gets to be my age she could go down to see him if it was necessary. Jana went to see him when she was my age and my guess is, so will Beth. There is no real ‘if’ about it, all the c***dren in our family go see him once we are old enough. The parents determine the ‘right’ age. My dad says that the trip down to see grandpa Hugo is a right of passage for the people in our family. I’m still trying to figure out what he means by that. My dad went to see him when he was my age. My mom also made the trip down to Redwood Town a few years after she was joined with my dad. I proceed to feed the chickens, collect the eggs and hand off the basket full of eggs to Beth whose responsibility it is to take the eggs in to mom. After having tended to the chickens, Beth and I head over to milk the cows. I swear there is no one better or faster at milking cows than Beth. She always manages to beat me. I should say that she always finishes before I do, as we never actually say we’re in a race to see who wins. On our way over to the cows we both see off in the distance three people on horseback riding up to the gate of the ranch. We then look at each other and realize who it is at the gate, it’s dad with two other riders. I turn to look at the gate then turn to look at Beth; only, she is no longer by my side, she’s running and making her way to the gate, then I yell out to her, “Beth, wait!” Dad and the other riders will be through the gate and up to the house in about twenty minutes. Beth turns back for a moment and yells back, “No way! I’m going to see dad!” I stand there, laugh and all I say is “Okay.” They’ll be through the gate and halfway down path to the house before Beth even gets close to reaching them. My father is coming home from a council meeting up north from here. We live on a large ranch that serves as more of farm outside of Portland, Oregonia. Among other things on the farm we grow corn and we raise cattle for beef. Aside from running one of the biggest farm operations in the area, my father is also on the Oregonian governing council. The council is made up of a group of five elected men and women who make decisions that affect all the people of Oregonia. You could say the five members of the council are essentially the governors of what used to be the state of Oregon of the United States of America. The thing of it is that the United States of America fell and hence ceased to exist as a country a long time ago. Other areas outside of Oregonia have similar governing bodies, though from what I hear some areas out there are still in complete chaos without a semblance of any kind of government. The area formerly known as the state of Nevada is a complete and utter wasteland. It’s now called Nevid, and only a handful of people still live there mostly around small farms and without any kind of government. The former state of Washington is now called Wash. It also has no government, but it’s not exactly in chaos so it’s safe for travel between Oregonia and Columbia. South from here is Californoya. Due to its size, one would think that Californoya was ungovernable but that is not the case. My father tells me that it has a governing council with two major differences. Only women can be elected to the Californoya council and there are eleven members rather than our five men and women. Currently, our council is made up of three women and two men. I finish milking one of the cows when I look up to see my father ride up to the house with Beth up on the horse with him. Behind them, also on horseback, are Belinda and John. A few things of note regarding those two are that they are joined, they have an age difference of fifteen years, and they are both former slaves from Californoya. That is part of danger in my journey to see grandpa Hugo and the reason why Beth is too young to go with me. The slave trade in Californoya is not condoned by the governing council, but is rather the work of rogue groups of men of the area. The slavers are men who enslave women in protest of men not being allowed on the governing council. They also enslave men from time to time, as was the case with John. My father bought Belinda and John during two different trips he made many years back when he went to meet with members of the Californoya governing council. That’s my father in a nutshell; always trying to help others, he buys slaves when he can and brings them home where he gives them their freedom and then offers them work at the ranch with pay. The majority of the people he brings home accept the offer of work. Once they accept the offer a house is built with their help and from others on the farm. The house is located nearby or even on the ranch depending on circumstance. There have been a few who have said no to the offer of work; they are given a horse and wagon full of provisions for a month and they go on their way. I think most head north. At least that is what John did when he did not accept my father’s offer. I found out sometime later that in fact he did travel north when he came back two weeks later, having changed his mind. My father in his usual way said, “Not a problem John. It’s not a problem at all. Come inside for something to eat and some sleep. We’ll see about getting you fixed up and working in the morning or the next day.” I remember the conversation clearly because John was and has been the only person to change his mind and return to the ranch. John responded by saying, “Thank you, sir.” To which my father quickly responded, “Please don’t call me sir or boss or anything like that. The name is Rush. Please, just call me Rush.” “Well, okay. Thank you Rush, I won’t let you down,” John said. Belinda came to the ranch when she was only fifteen years old. The slavers that took her and her mother killed her father. Her mother was killed a couple years later when she was found trying to escape captivity with her daughter in tow. Belinda was spared, but suffered further abuse for another year before my father came upon the group of men who were finally looking to sell her off as well-used goods. Belinda had a difficult time when she first came to the ranch because of everything she had gone through with the slavers. For months the only word she could or would say was “Okay,” and she had all but forgotten how to read or at least did not try due to fear. She lived in the main house with us for the first few years and as a result, I’ve come to consider her as a sister of sorts. My mother really took Belinda under her wing and is the reason why she grew up into such a strong and healthy woman. We recently learned that she and John were to be expecting a baby. We all thought that to be welcome news, being that she was like family. Beth finally makes her way to where I am at the milking shed and she begins helping me to milk the rest of the cows. While milking she says, “Guess what?” I just know she’s going to answer with her usual follow-up to that question with a ‘chicken butt.’ So I say, “Okay. What? Please, tell me.” She then surprises me by saying, “Dad says there is going to be an election this year for a council position.” In shock I say, “What? Is he stepping down? Did he decide to step down?” “I don’t know Gavin. That’s all I heard when he was telling mom in the kitchen before I came out here to help you with the milking. I’m sure you can ask him to tell you more when we go inside for breakfast,” Beth says. “You bet I’ll ask. So Beth, aren’t you concerned with council matters?” I say and ask. “Me? No. What do I care about Oregonia council stuff? I’m still just a k**,” she says. “Okay. Okay. Don’t bite my head off, I was only asking. You do, after all, live in the area and the Oregonia council makes decisions that affect you too. So you should concern yourself with issues surrounding the council,” I state. “Gavin will you please stop spouting off about the council. You’re always going on and on about the darn council,” Beth says in anger. “Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll stop because I happen to like my head where it’s at right now,” I say in a near-apologetic manner. “Good. Thank you. Now come on and let’s finish milking these cows so we can go eat breakfast,” Beth says. The Oregonia governing council positions aren’t held for life, but there isn’t exactly a limit to the number years you can serve on the council. Council member Jenny Sunnyvale has been on the council since it first took form. My father has been on the council for a long time as well. Bart Oakley of Bart’s trading post served a few years back for a short two seasons. He stepped down for, according to him, personal reasons. I can’t say I blame him; being a governing council member is a huge responsibility. We finally finish milking the cows and head into the house for some breakfast. Walking up to the house, I see my dad waiting on the porch eating an apple. On the farm we also have a few apple, pear, orange, lemon, and cherry trees. Though we don’t have enough of any of each type of tree to be considered a farm of that particular type of fruit. Aside from the fields of corn there are also multiple vegetable gardens. I walk up to my father and give him a kiss on the cheek while giving him a hug. “Rush! It’s good to see you. How was your trip? What’s this about an election? Are you stepping down?” I say. “Whoa, take it easy there bud. Let’s do this one thing at a time. It’s good to see you too birthday boy!” my dad says. “Thanks dad. I don’t feel much different than I did yesterday,” I say. “That’s the way it goes son. Time passes and before you know it, you’re old,” he says. Following his train of thought I say, “You’re not old dad.” “Yes I am.” “No. Grandpa Hugo is old.” “Yes. I agree with you on that.” “Speaking of grandpa Hugo, are you ready to get going tomorrow?” “I think so.” “Okay. Let’s head on inside for some breakfast and I’ll tell you all about my trip,” my dad says. We head on inside with Belinda and John for some breakfast. The moment we step inside we hear a reprimand coming from the kitchen, “Rush! Just what do you think you’re doing with that apple? For Pete’s sake, we’re about to eat breakfast,” my mom says. “Amanda my darling please consider of the apple to be part of my meal,” my dad responds. “Oh okay. I’m sorry. Everyone let’s sit down to eat,” my mom says. Beth chimes in at this point, as she does most every morning, “Yes, ma’am. You surely know that I do love me some breakfast.” For breakfast we have eggs, bacon, hotcakes, and toast. It’s accompanied with fresh milk, juice, and chicory coffee. Real coffee from actual coffee beans hasn’t existed in this part of the world for a long time. I’ve never tasted real coffee, though I know it from mom and dad that it comes from a bean instead of from a root like chicory. John is eating his eggs and swallows to say, “Amanda these are the best eggs I’ve ever tasted. What is that you put in them?” My mother is about to answer him when we hear a yelp of pain coming from John. It’s Belinda who answers him with a look of chagrin and a flash of anger on her face, “Onions. She puts onions in the eggs, John. I’ll be sure to put onions in your eggs from now until the end of time.” My mother sternly looks at Belinda and says, “He was just being polite. There is no need for v******e.” There is a long moment of silence when a giggle finally escapes my mom. Belinda also bursts out in laughter and says, “I wasn’t being violent. I was encouraging him to see the truth via some love taps.” “Mother these are some fine tasting eggs,” I add with my mouth full of egg. “Gavin! Don’t talk with your mouth full of food. This isn’t a seafood breakfast,” my mom replies. Everyone laughs. As the laughter winds down, my dad takes the opportunity to tell me of his trip north to the council meeting. “Gavin you were asking about my trip north with Belinda and John? Just so you know right off that no, I’m not stepping down from the council. There is still a lot of good for me to do while serving,” my dad says. “Beth said she heard you telling mom that there is to be an election this year? Who is stepping down?” I ask. “Nobody is stepping down,” he says. “But I thought you said…” “Diego Henry died, son. He was close to ninety years old. He died during the council meeting while discussing available crop yield of all things. He just collapsed,” my dad says. “Daddy, Mr. Henry died?” Beth asks. “Yes he did Beth.” Beth liked Mr. Henry. He would bring us peaches from his farm, which is out to the east. We never got around to planting any of the pits to grow a tree. I wonder if we still have them somewhere. We most probably do, as nothing on this farm goes to waste. I’ll have to find them and put them in the ground somewhere before I leave tomorrow. “So who’s up for the election?” my mom asks. “Well, three people have shown interest in the past,” my dad says. “Well come on Rush, spill it,” my mom says. “One of them is Bart Oakley’s son Jeff, the closest person to us. We saw him on the way home and he confirmed that he is interested. The other is Maya Spoons from way up north by the Oregonian border. She vaguely made mention of some interest years ago,” my dad says. “I don’t know her,” my mom states. “Yes you do. Remember, last year at the Portland Gathering you were afraid to try one of the avocados she brought,” my dad says. “That was Maya?” my mom says. “Yes!” my dad replies. “Oh, Okay. Now I remember, I do know Maya, but I still say that didn’t like her avocado,” my mom says. Belinda jumps in to say, “I loved the avocado. John and I asked to keep the pit and we planted it in our yard. Quite a little tree has grown, though I suspect that it’ll be quite a while before we see any avocados.” My father continues on to say, “The third person is Molly East from out West near the ocean. She boldly said she wanted a seat on the council last year at the Portland Gathering. It looks to be that she’ll now get a shot at it.” All of a sudden mom says, “Oh I like her a lot!” “Why, mom?” Beth asks. “She makes the most delicious cheese.” I smirk and say, “Okay.” “Gavin, hush!” My dad throws me look. The election process is not a simple endeavor. It takes a lot of time and effort. We don’t have the communication networks or the television or even the radio of many days past. The first step is having an official rider sent out to meet with those interested in the council position. The rider is then tasked with getting both verbal and written confirmation of the person’s intent to run in the election. The confirmation is then taken and delivered to the following scheduled council meeting. Jeff’s confirmation to my father on the trip home doesn’t count as official, even though my father is a member of the council. As I was saying, the confirmation of those interested in running for a spot on the council is delivered to the next meeting. There are no special council meetings called for any particular purpose. If a council member is ill or cannot make it with sufficient reason to the next meeting a rider is sent in his or her place to give notice on the first day of the meeting. The council simply waits to conduct business at the next scheduled time. I’d like to say we’ve become a patient people. Once the council receives the confirmation multiple riders are sent out to give notice to each of the candidates, informing them that they can then begin their campaign pilgrimage around Oregonia. Also, once the council receives the confirmation, and the campaign pilgrimage is started, the election is considered begun and nobody may enter the election process as a candidate at that point. The candidates then each make their way around Oregonia to visit with every single resident. This is much more than a simple ‘hello’-type visit. The candidate stays with each person for as long as he or she feels is needed for each resident to gain an understanding of who he or she is as a person. This may sound impossible, a visit with each resident, but I assure you it’s not. My mom spoke the truth earlier this morning when she mentioned how so few people there are around these days. Once the campaign pilgrimage is completed each candidate returns home and sends out a rider with a completed campaign pilgrimage report letter sent to the following meeting. Once all the letters are received riders are again sent out, this time many, on their own pilgrimage of sorts to inform every resident that an election is to be held. Over the course, of however long it takes, every resident of Oregonia makes his or her way to Portland to cast his or her vote. Everyone votes. If you’re old enough to know how to read, you can vote. Everyone learns to read at as an early an age as possible. One of the first governing council decisions at its forming was that everyone in Oregonia knows how to read. Once the votes are all tallied the riders are sent out once again to inform every resident of the newest governing council member. Each candidate finds out whether they won or lost via the same riders. As I said, it takes a lot of time and effort. Our process is nothing compared to what is gone through in Californoya, especially since it covers a lot more area. We finish eating breakfast, and then Belinda offers to help clean up. “Nonsense. That job is reserved for Gavin and Beth,” my mom plainly states. With that, Belinda, John, and my dad excuse themselves to go see to the cattle. My dad offers my mother a kiss and smack on the butt, which she gladly accepts. Beth and I get to work on cleaning up. Beth briefly makes her way out to the pigs to feed them what was leftover from breakfast. I still laugh inside when I think of feeding bacon to pigs. Beth comes back, looks at me, and giggles. She and I share a similar humor regarding the pigs. As we’re cleaning I say to both my mom and Beth, “It’s sad to hear that Mr. Henry died.” Beth apparently has nothing to add at this point, she simply continues to clean, though I do hear a quiet sniffle coming from her direction followed by a movement of her hand to the face. Probably wiping at a tear, I think. My mother then comes in to add, “He was an old man, son. It was just his time to go, I suspect. At least he died talking about his favorite subject, while doing what he so loved which was serving on that council.” “I suppose you’re right mother. Hey, you know what I was thinking?” I say. “No, but I’m willing to wager that you’re about to tell us what you’ve been thinking about,” my mom responds. “Well, I was wondering if we still had those peach pits from the peaches Mr. Henry gave us?” I ask. “We do,” my mom, replies. “Do you know where they are?” I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Will you please tell me where I can find them? I want to plant a couple before I leave tomorrow,” I say. “They’re on a shelf in the barn, but don’t plant them too close to the other fruit trees. They will need room to grow,” she says. “Okay. Thanks mother.” Beth finally enters the conversation, “I’ll go with you Gavin. I want to help plant the peaches.” “Okay, sounds like a plan, but we’ll go when we finish cleaning up,” I say. After cleaning up, Beth and I head over to the barn to look for the peach pits. I’m the one who ends up doing the looking, as Beth makes her way to the rope swing that’s in the barn. It was originally part of the rope ladder up into the hayloft. A wooden counterpart eventually replaced the rope ladder. Beth had asked my dad to convert the rope ladder into a swing. He did and now Beth swings on the result. While looking through the shelves, I come across something old and unusual. It’s a portable light source called a flashlight. “Hey Beth come over and take a look at what I found,” I say. “What is it?” she asks. Beth gets down off the swing and makes her way over, and she sees what I’m holding. “What is that Gavin?” “I believe it’s called a flashlight,” I say. “What does it do?” “It’s supposed to shine light on things like a candle,” I say. “How does it work?” “I’m not sure,” I say. “You don’t know? Come on. You’re the historian,” Beth says. “Okay. Just give me a minute,” I say, stalling. I rotate the flashlight in my hand see that it has a switch with the words ‘on’ and ‘off.’ The switch is currently in the ‘off’ position. “Oh. Here we go. See. To make it work you move this switch to ‘on’,” I then say. I do and nothing happens. I’m disappointed and then it hits me. “Beth these things work on batteries, and the batteries in this flashlight must be dead,” I say. “What are batteries and what happens when they are alive?” “Batteries aren’t alive,” I say. “But you said these were dead,” she says. “That’s just a way of saying that they no longer have any power; that they no longer work. You see, back in the old days people used to depend on batteries to provide power for things they used everyday. So when the batteries in flashlight ‘died’, new ones were put in to continue supplying the power,” I say. “What happens to the ‘dead’ batteries?” “I think they were just thrown in the trash,” I say. “Gavin. Come on. That’s just plain silly. Why didn’t they just use a candle?” “I don’t know everything, Beth.” I put the flashlight back where I found it. A few minutes later Beth yells out, “I found them. These are the peach pits, right?” “Yes, those are the pits we need. Now let’s grab two shovels and make our way over to where the fruit trees are so we can plant these pits,” I say. “Okay. Let’s do this!” Beth says. We make our way to where the fruit trees are over by the pond. It’s about a twenty-minute walk from the house. Though it took nearly an hour with Beth having to stop every five minutes to look at ‘something’. As I mentioned earlier, we are a patient people. I have a little trouble walking and I have a bit of a limp, so taking my time getting anywhere comes natural to me. When we finally arrive I mention to Beth that she’ll dig a hole for one pit while I dig the hole for other. “That’s fine by me. You did, after all, bring two shovels.” Beth takes the pits out of her pocket and pops one up in the air to me. I catch it, put it in my pocket, and we get work on digging the holes. We each decide to plant them opposite a different type of tree. I elect to plant mine near an apple tree, while Beth chooses to plant near her favorite fruit, the cherry. We dig the hole, plant the pit, and then we cover the hole with dirt. I then get a nearby bucket that’s sitting by the orange tree, and go over to the pond to draw some water. I pour a bucket full of water over each buried peach pit. Hopefully, a tree will have sprouted by the time I return. With that task completed, I look over at the dock at the pond’s edge and say, “Hey, do you feel like going for swim before we head back to the house for our afternoon chores?” “Sure, that sounds great. Let’s do it,” Beth responds. So we head over to the dock, strip off our clothes, and we jump in. I choose to dive in head first, while Beth as per usual goes in yelling, “Cannon Ball!” We take turns diving down to an old car that is at the bottom of the pond. How did it get there? I have no clue. According to my parents, the car has been there since before they first started working this ranch. I only know it’s called a car from my father’s stories. Nobody has seen a car on land for a long time. I haven’t. My parents haven’t. We then swim together across the pond and back a few times before getting out to lie on the dock to dry off. While we are drying off Beth turns to me and says, “I sure am going to miss you while your gone, brother. Our chores won’t be the same without you.” “I know, Beth. I’m sorry, but I have to go see grandpa Hugo to see if he’ll help me with my problem.” “I don’t see it as problem. You walk funny and have a tremor in your hands, that’s all,” Beth says. “My guess is that it will only get worse as time passes. Grandpa Hugo is my best shot at living a normal life. So, I simply have to go,” I say. “Okay. Fine, but I’m still going to miss you.” “I’ll be back soon enough,” I say. Once we’re dry we get dressed, collect the shovels over by the fruit trees, and head back to the house. That night after dinner we all sit down in the living room for one of my father’s stories. He begins by saying; “Tonight I think I’ll tell a story about the good old Internet.” “Hey dad, wait.” I interject. “What is it, Gavin?” “The Internet is fun with the tweeter and the giggle, but before that will you please tell us the story behind the old flashlight on the shelves in the barn. I came across it today with Beth while we were looking for Mr. Henry’s peach pits,” I say. “Yeah daddy, tell us about dead batteries,” Beth says. “What? Oh, dead batteries. I get it,” my dad says. “Oh great. Here we go,” my mom says. “Well, that story is for your mother to tell. Amanda, you want to take the lead here?” my dad says. “Okay, okay. Here I go,” mom says. My mother telling an after dinner story was certainly unusual. “That flashlight belonged to your great-great-great-great grandfather Wilson, on my side of the family. When Wilson was a boy he was k**napped by a young couple that lost their son to something called cancer,” mom started. “What’s cancer mommy?” Beth asks. “It’s a sickness that kills you,” mom tells Beth. “Oh,” Beth says. “They took him under the pretense that they were friends with his parents, and that they were asked to watch him for a while,” mom continues. “How long did they keep him, mom?” I ask. “I’ll get to that. One night Wilson started having bad dreams that soon turned to nightmares. Night after night, he had these bad dreams. They wouldn’t stop coming in the night. So Ned and Betty, the young couple’s names, bought him a flashlight and told him to use it when he got scared at night. It didn’t work. For two years he woke up every night screaming and clutching at the flashlight that was supposed to help. It didn’t. Ned and Betty finally had enough and dropped him off at a fire station with the flashlight in his hand,” mom says. “Mommy, what’s a fire station?” Beth asks. “It’s where men and women live whose job it is to put out fires,” mom says. “Oh,” Beth says, in wonderment. “He was returned to his parents the following day. That night he slept on through the night without a single bad dream. He still had them, everyone does, but his bad dreams had abated,” mom says. “Mother, what happened to Ned and Betty?” I ask. “Oh, they were found sometime later thanks to Wilson’s description to the police. They were both sent to prison for a long time. Ned died in prison. We don’t know what happened to Betty after she got out from prison,” mom says. “So Wilson kept the flashlight as a memento?” I ask. “He kept it as a reminder of what he went through. He only found out he had been k**napped and missing after he was returned to his parents,” mom says. “Wow, mom,” I say. “That flashlight has been in my family for a long time. You put it back where you found it, right?” mom says and asks. “Yes I did, mother.” “Good.” “Thanks for telling the tale behind the flashlight, mother,” I say. “Yeah, many thanks mommy,” Beth adds. The stories were not yet over because Beth wanted to know more about dead batteries. So my dad went on to tell her a short story about batteries and their supposed usefulness. We all enjoyed hearing the story about how batteries were used all over, in so many different gadgets. At the conclusion of the story, Beth still thought that batteries were silly. With that we pass the time in each other’s company and then head to bed. TwoThe following morning the same routine I get up, get dressed, make my bed, and get ready for the day. Beth and I knock out our morning chores, and we head into the house for breakfast with mom and dad. Belinda and John are, no doubt, having breakfast at their place this morning. I’m even sure that John is getting some onion in his eggs. My mother asks us all to sit down. Beth chimes in with, “Yes, ma’am. You surely know that I do love me some breakfast.” For breakfast we have some tamales we helped to make yesterday in the afternoon. They are some good stuff, especially with some chicory coffee. While we eat, my dad turns to me and says, “Gavin, you have everything you need for your journey? You have the map I gave you, right?” “Yeah dad I do. I’ve been setting aside what I’ll need for a week now, the map included. As a precaution, I’ve committed the map to memory just in case something happens to it along the way. I just have to load everything up on Don Juan and I’m good to go,” I say. A covered giggle comes from Beth’s direction as she says after swallowing, “I still can’t believe you named that donkey Don Juan.” I’ll be riding Pablo, my horse, with Don Juan in tow carrying my supplies. Beth named her horse Peanut because he was the smallest of all. I mention this to Beth when my dad interrupts our banter, “Okay. Settle down you two.” In unison, Beth and I reply, “So sorry father.” My mom and dad laugh. My mother then comes in to say, “When you make stops along the way, you’ll probably come across people who’ll be interested to know your business in their neck of the woods. It’s probably best to keep that information to yourself. Be especially quiet about who you are going to see. If people find out that you are related to grandpa Hugo, they just might see you as dangerous as grandpa Hugo is known to be and they might act on that knowledge.” “Okay. Mother, I’ll be careful. I promise,” I say. We finish eating breakfast. Beth and I clean up, while my dad goes off to meet a group of workers. Before leaving he says, “Be careful out there. See you when you get back, son.” “Okay. Will do, dad.” I then head to my room to gather my things.Once everything is gathered, I head outside to load up Don Juan and to saddle Pablo. I would have preferred to just take Pablo, but mother insisted on me also taking Don Juan to carry all my supplies. This, according to her, will limit my number of needed stops along the way. The donkey will mostly be carrying my food and water. I guess this makes sense, as this isn’t necessarily a sightseeing trip. I’m a man on a mission that needs to be completed, without failure and safely. As I load my supplies onto Don Juan, my mind begins to wander. I experience some anxiety as I think about how far away from home I’ll be traveling. I’ve never been so far from home. I don’t know what has gotten over me; I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. “Gavin, are you okay? Wow! Where were you just now? You must have been spaced out. I’ve been calling out to you for the past five minutes, trying to get your attention,” mom says. “What? Oh. Sorry, mother. I just was thinking about this trip and how far away from home I’ll be. It’s a bit daunting,” I say. “Gavin, just focus on why you are going and you’ll be fine. It’s natural to be scared; it keeps you sharp and focused. I was scared when my father brought us to Oregonia from Arizona. That was one long trip, let me tell you,” mom says. My mother came to Oregonia when she was a little girl. Grandpa Robert was looking for some other place to live outside and far away from Arizona. So he wandered the land for a few years with my mother and my grandmother Susan. They came by way of Californoya and eventually decided to settle in Oregonia. Grandpa Robert and his family travelled from town to town, staying in places for short periods of time to work and earn money. Travel through Californoya, back then, was relatively safe, as the slave trade had not yet taken root. The former state of Arizona kept its name. It’s considered to be an area in chaos now, as it doesn’t have any form of government. “Okay mother, I’ll stay scared while remaining focused,” I say. “Gavin, that’s not exactly what I meant,” mom says. “I know, I know,” I say. “Okay. Anyway, I wanted to make sure you didn’t leave without seeing Beth before you go. Also, do you have the money your father gave you?” mom says and asks. “I won’t forget Beth and yes, I have the money,” I say. “Okay. Good,” she says. The money my mother was referring to is gold and silver coin. Paper currency hasn’t been in use for a long time. My father has some old hundred-dollar bills in a drawer somewhere. They have the picture of some guy named Franklin on them. It’s strange to me that in the old days people put so much value in paper. I mean, it is just paper. I finish loading up Don Juan and after I saddle Pablo, I head to the barn to see Beth. Entering the barn I thought I would find Beth on the rope swing, but she was nowhere in sight. Then I hear her up in the hayloft. She’s crying. I head up the ladder to go into the hayloft to console Beth. As I reach her she turns around, gets up, and rushes into my arms. “Gavin, please don’t leave me. I’ll be by myself. I hate doing chores by myself. Please. Please don’t go. Who will go swimming me? You know I like you to put me on your shoulders to pick fruit. It won’t be the same around here without you Gavin,” she says. “Oh. Beth, you know this is something I have to do. I’ll be back home before you know it. You’ll find a way to pass the time. Be strong, Beth. Try to stay busy. You’ll have mom to do chores with you,” I say. She begins to wipe her tears. “Oh. If you go swimming by yourself, don’t go diving down to the old car. Be smart. Be safe. Now, come on and give me a hug and kiss so I can get going. I’m burning daylight,” I then say. She squeezes me tight in a hug and smacks me a peck on the cheek. “Take care of yourself, Gavin,” Beth says. “I will.” I leave Beth in the barn. As I exit the barn I turn to see her on the rope swing. I smile. I then head to the house to bid my mother farewell, and then head to my horse and donkey to depart for my destination of Redwood Town, Californoya to see grandpa Hugo. ThreeA few miles from the ranch, I decide to take part in an act of defiance by peeing in a bush. My mother would definitely have issue with it. What can I do about it? There are no outhouses out here in regular intervals. I get back on my horse to be alone with my thoughts. Come to think of it, now would be a good time to share a story about my grandpa Hugo. He was born sometime during the spring season a long time ago in what was once Redwood City, California. When he was younger than I am now he began to experience problems with tight muscles. These problems were more of an annoyance than anything as his ability to walk properly was somewhat hindered. He also had a minor limp and had tremors in his hands. As time passed, the problems were getting worse and more pronounced. He went from doctor to doctor looking for an answer. Until one day he came across one doctor in particular who with one look at grandpa Hugo, had a strong inkling of what she was seeing when looking at him. She prescribed some medication right away to test the waters of her inkling. Grandpa Hugo noticed almost immediate results. Then after a couple more years of tests to rule out certain afflictions, the doctor came to a conclusion – a diagnosis. It took so long because it couldn’t be what she suspected it to be as it was something seen in people who are much older. But it was the case. It was Parkinson’s disease.For years, my grandpa Hugo alleviated his symptoms with the prescribed medication. It worked well and he experienced only a few problems. The side effects were minimal. He was active. He went on trips. He did things. He had a girlfriend. He had a great time. The medication worked. Then things started to go wonky. The medication started losing its effectiveness. Grandpa Hugo began to close off from the world. He spiraled down a dark hole. The side effects were left and right out of control. The symptoms of the disease hijacked his life. He experienced pain and discomfort on a daily basis. He had a constant ongoing headache. He was addicted to a the prescribed medication he still took because even though it wasn’t as effective, it still helped him achieve some level of proper function. He came to experience constant state of panic between dosage times. He knew that not taking it, which he did at times to be defiant, would send him off into a dystonic spasm. He came to know solace in his pain. On more than one occasion, he felt the need to end his life. It was a terrible time for him. Then one day my grandpa Hugo decided he had gone through enough pain to get up and do some things that he feared. He decided to go in to the doctor to be evaluated as candidate for deep brain stimulation. It’s brain surgery to implant a device that sends a constant electrical pulse to the brain to alleviate the symptoms of the disease when medication loses its effectiveness. He feared the evaluation because part of it was to test the two ends of the spectrum in the symptoms of the disease. On one day the doctor would purposely give him too much medication to see how he reacts. Grandpa Hugo knew what the results would be, but the doctor needed to witness it firsthand. He experienced extreme dyskinesia, which is uncontrollable movement of the body that can last for hours. The next day the doctor had my grandpa Hugo come in completely off his medication. Again, he knew what would happen, but the doctor needed to see it firsthand. He experienced a painful dystonic spasm, which is an uncontrollable bending and twisting of the body that can last for hours. After some further testing as part of the evaluation, all that was left was to await the decision of the medical review board. So it was decided that my grandpa Hugo would go through with the surgery after a successful nod from the medical review board. The surgery was something else he feared. It was, after all, surgery on his brain. Adding to his worries was the fact that he would have to go into the surgery completely off his medication. He was living an anxiety-fueled existence. So when the day for the surgery finally came, he gathered all his available mental grit to get through the day. It was four long hours of discomfort. He was awake for the majority of the time. Halfway through the surgery he saw a brief flash of light. It was a strange light. It was so bright, yet it did not hurt his eyes. He asked the doctors what it was he saw. The doctors were somewhat alarmed and struggled with a response. Not knowing what to say, they simply replied not to worry and that there had not been any flash of light. Grandpa Hugo shrugged it off and dismissed the notion that he saw anything at all. Unbeknown to my grandpa Hugo, something happened to him on that operating table. A couple months later the implanted device was turned on. Grandpa Hugo experienced instant relief. He was almost giddy, as the results of the surgery were outstanding. The symptoms of the disease had somewhat abated. He had better control of his body. He was feeling great. Then one night he had a dream where he was normal and didn’t have Parkinson’s. The following morning he woke up feeling great. He got up and felt like going for a run. He ran twelve miles. He wondered what was going on; he had never in his life, run that far. He was so puzzled because he felt so great. He was given a device after the surgery that gave him the ability to turn the implanted device off and on. So he decided to try something out. He turned the implant off. He witnessed an apparent miracle. He still felt great. There was no headache. No discomfort. No anxiety. Nothing. His walking was normal and fluid. His limp was nowhere to be seen. The tremors in his hands were just gone. It was simply incredible. He left the implant off.For the next six months he lived, stunned at what was going on. Parkinson’s disease had no cure. Yet here he was, cured. His body had apparently fixed itself. So when he walked in to the doctor’s office for his six-month follow up visit, the doctor’s jaw dropped. Just as quickly as the doctor saw something was wrong with grandpa Hugo in the beginning, she now saw right away what was not wrong with grandpa Hugo. She was further stunned when grandpa Hugo told her that he had turned off the implant six months before. She cancelled and rescheduled the rest of her appointments that day. Grandpa Hugo was put through an entire series of tests and scans. The doctor was left completely flabbergasted, as she could find no sign whatsoever of Parkinson’s disease. She was completely sure in her diagnosis and had the proof to back it up, yet she still could see no trace of the disease. Grandpa Hugo was then observed and tested for an entire year. His case was the talk of the medical community. After the year of testing and analysis, his implant was removed never having been turned on the entire time. He became the world’s first person cured of Parkinson’s disease. His doctor then held a press conference to share her discovery with the world. The majority of world eventually heard the story. Grandpa Hugo and his doctor became quite famous. They were on all kinds of television talk shows. They were featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. The Internet was abuzz about the story. A book was being written about them. A movie was eventually made about their story. When the buzz died down and the next big story took the spotlight, something else happened. Grandpa Hugo’s doctor asked him a serious question. She asked him if he would allow her to intensely study him in an effort to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. My grandpa Hugo was torn. He asked for some time to think on it. On one side he wanted to go off and simply live his life. This side of him felt as though he had gone through enough and deserved to go see what life had to offer. Something was holding him back. He remembered the constant pain, discomfort, and anxiety. He remembered it clearly. He heard the proverbial call of duty. He felt compelled to do something to help those still afflicted with Parkinson’s. The other side of him wanted to say yes to his doctor. So he made an appointment with her office and a month later he was sitting with her in her office, asking where they would begin. They started the next day with more extensive and detailed scans of his brain. The following day a minor procedure was scheduled to biopsy his brain. His blood was tested. His DNA was mapped. The collection of data carried on this way non-stop for six months. Then came the time for analysis. Research on the data collected carried on for years without a single step made towards a cure. They had absolutely nothing to show for all the research completed. Nothing. Everyday, grandpa Hugo would show up to the research center to answer questions pertaining to the gathered data. As he was not a medical professional, he was really there in more of an honorary role. He grew more and more frustrated with the passage of each year. Then one night my grandpa Hugo had a dream that everyone in the world with Parkinson’s was cured. What a great dream. It was almost as if he was conscious during his dream and asking for everyone to be cured. He woke up the following morning feeling refreshed. Later that day he shows up for work at the research center as usual. The same routine is followed for another month before the first reports start pouring in to the center. Elderly patients with Parkinson’s that had been immobile for years, were suddenly up and moving around. Middle-aged people with Parkinson’s who had been struggling down a long road suddenly felt symptom-free. Doctor offices all over the world were being bombarded with appointment requests. People wanted answers. It was thought to be an elaborate hoax. It was incredible. Grandpa Hugo was astonished. About a year later, every single person with Parkinson’s around the world had been declared cured of the disease. About six months after that, the research center was declared unnecessary and was shut down. Grandpa Hugo was dumbfounded. Then a thought knocked him sideways. Could it have been him? Could it have been his dream? No, he thought. That’s just plain crazy nonsense, he said to himself. A week later while eating lunch at outdoor café he saw that a shop next door sold lottery tickets. He bought one and saw the next drawing was the following day. The entire rest of day he geared his thinking toward winning the jackpot. He thought about it so much that that night he had a dream where he won the lottery. The following night he was awestruck when he won. He still thought it was nonsense, so bought a ticket for the two following drawings. He dreamed he won and he did win. He then came to a realization. It hit him. It was the flash of light he saw during his surgery. Something happened to him. He couldn’t explain it. When he showed up to collect his money with three different winning tickets, questions were raised. An inquiry was opened to determine if he had cheated in some way or tampered with the lottery system. Security footage captured my grandpa Hugo buying each ticket. No foul play was uncovered, and grandpa Hugo was awarded the money. Coming back to the present day for a moment. I’ve come up to what appears to be a fork in the road. Both roads seem to go in the same general direction, which is south. I thought I had the map memorized. Apparently, I was wrong. It could just be my anxiety about being away from home, making me unsure of myself or of my route. Either way, I need to take out my map to examine it for a few moments. My eyes pour over the map. It’s not easy. Maps in the old days were easy, with turn-by-turn directions and the GPS. Today it is a different story. After a few moments I am clear about which path to follow. I get on the trail again. So now I’ll get back to my story. My grandpa then travelled the world. He went from country to country. He travelled so much that he nearly filled eight passports. As he got close to filling that eighth passport he stopped because he met my great-great-great grandmother. Her name was Aoife. She was an Irish girl who was half grandpa Hugo’s age, and she was living with her parents in a country called Norway. Aoife’s family had immigrated to Norway from Ireland many years earlier. She had an infant baby brother named Bjorn. Her parents owned and operated a gluten-free bakery in Lillehammer, Norway. They met when grandpa Hugo went in to buy a loaf of bread, and she was behind the counter. She didn’t think anything of him at first look. He was just another customer. Grandpa Hugo, on the other hand, was enamored beyond belief. He smiled as a devious thought entered his mind. All he had to do was dream it and it shall come true. So that night he dreamed his heart out, and when he went back the following morning for a pastry and some coffee, he was still just another customer. Grandpa Hugo was outright furious with himself. That night he tried again, and was faced with the same result the following day. For two weeks he tried, but was not successful. Grandpa Hugo then decided to buckle down and go to plan B. He had to resort to good old-fashioned methods. He would have to approach her to introduce himself and get to know her. This would take some time, he thought. Grandpa Hugo finally accepted that perhaps he could just not ‘dream’ his way into her arms. Love is a tough nut to crack, he thought. He was somewhat lucky, when the following day, she ‘noticed’ him when he went into the bakery for his usual pastry and coffee. Introductions were exchanged and a conversation was struck upon. For six months my great-great-great grandparents would sit together every morning to talk, smile, cry, and joke about a variety of topics. Then the time came when grandpa Hugo would make his move. He went in one morning and instead of their little chat, he asked Aoife if she would join him for an evening of dinner and dancing. Aoife started crying and said that her father would never allow it. Talking is one thing, but her father, Grant, made it clear to her that my grandpa Hugo is too old for her. I mentioned it earlier. He was twice her age. Aoife was only eighteen when she met Hugo. My grandpa bit his tongue, kept his mouth shut, and didn’t say a word. He accepted Grant’s decision. The story does not end there. I did tell you that Aoife was my great-great-great grandmother. Grandpa Hugo decided he didn’t want to do anything devious that may jeopardize things for him. Instead, he dreamed that Grant’s bakery would come to enjoy great success. Grandpa Hugo went into the bakery the following morning for his pastry, coffee, and conversation. He would continue this routine for weeks. Then one day grandpa Hugo turned on his television to the regional news channel, and was astounded to hear that somehow the entire population of Lillehammer had been diagnosed with Celiac disease. The ‘how’ could not be explained. The reporter went on to explain what that meant. The population of Lillehammer, Norway could no longer consume anything with wheat in it. Grandpa Hugo smirked and then he smiled. He saw this as an unintentional consequence to his good intentions. He knew that Aoife’s gluten-free bakery was the only one of its kind in all of Lillehammer. So when he went to the bakery the following morning, there was only the conversation and coffee. Every single thing in the bakery sold within an hour of the bakery’s opening. So it would be for an entire year before a competitor opened another gluten-free bakery in town. It was too late; the population had come to depend on and then fallen in love with Grant’s gluten-free bakery. Six months later, Grant opened a second and third location that enjoyed a similar level of patronage. A month later Grant found himself doing quite well and in a good mood. So it was when he was asked permission by my grandpa Hugo to court Aoife, he found himself to be amenable and said yes. Grandpa Hugo and Aoife spent every day together for months. Some days it would be something as simple as reading together. Aoife introduced grandpa Hugo to her friends, and they’d all spend time together doing a number of things, including cross-country skiing. Grandpa Hugo was not very good at it in the beginning, but soon got the hang of it. Aoife was already near speechless at the incredible nature of my grandpa Hugo’s story, that she was not surprised at how equally taken aback her friends were when the story was shared with them. Aoife did not yet know of grandpa Hugo’s dreaming ability. The two of them became really good friends in that time. Then one night it was Aoife who made her move. They sat reading together in the living room of the cottage grandpa Hugo was renting, when Aoife dropped her book and started yelling at my grandpa Hugo. She wanted to know why he hadn’t made his move to kiss her. Just as my grandpa was about to reply, he looked up and saw Aoife rushing him from across the room. She jumped on top of him, pulled his face in, and started kissing him with a burning passion. Like I said, she made her move. The romantic nature of their relationship would heighten over the next few months. Then disaster struck. Grandpa Hugo knew it was coming as he saw Aoife going through the application process. Aoife was going off to college. She was genius smart. Grandpa Hugo did not want to stand in her way, so they broke it off amicably. Aoife had his contact information, in case she wanted to get in touch with him in the future. She went off to college and grandpa Hugo left Norway to continue his travels. Only this time, something was different. It felt wrong. It just wasn’t the same, so he travelled home to Redwood City, California. He bought himself a house and car. He spent time visiting with his parents, Jose and Maria, who also lived in Redwood City. He also spent time with his brother, Sergio, and his family in San Francisco, California. Time passed and my grandpa grew bored. He needed something to do. He needed a project. So he invested the rest of his money in the stock market. He invested in an Internet company called tweeter. Then, you guessed it; he dreamed that the company would see wild, record-breaking, unprecedented success. Over the course of the next few months, the company’s stock price skyrocketed and grandpa Hugo sold his stock. He made so much money that he’d never have to work again. My grandpa then started a company. He bought homes and then rented them out to families for next to nothing. He bought and rented out so many homes that he drew the attention of the television news and newspapers. He was asked on numerous occasions to explain his actions. Grandpa Hugo kept quiet about the whole thing. He was simply a businessman doing good for his community. Grandpa Hugo then started a property management company to maintain and oversee all of his properties. Years passed while my grandpa worked on his project. It kept him quite busy, yet his mind was constantly wandering off to Norway. He missed Aoife. Some time passed and things changed yet again. Grandpa Hugo received a call on his mobile from an unknown foreign number. The call was coming from Spain. He didn’t know anyone personally in Spain so he let it go to voicemail. The caller left no message. Grandpa Hugo shrugged it off thinking that if it were important, the person would call again. The phone rang again five minutes later. A call was coming in from the same number. So grandpa Hugo answered the call. It was Aoife. My grandpa cried. They were tears of joy. Aoife sounded nervous on the other end. She told my grandpa Hugo that after graduating from college, she then went to Spain to go to law school. Aoife finished law school and was about to get married, when she got the overwhelming urge to see my grandpa Hugo again. She left Nathan, her fiancé, on the day of their wedding and called my grandpa Hugo a couple days later. Aoife told my grandpa Hugo that she was on her way home to Norway with her parents and brother. They had flown to Spain for the wedding. Aoife was calling from the airport. Grandpa Hugo, meanwhile, was trying to take it all in. He was simply stunned. Aoife continued by telling my grandpa Hugo that she would then be heading to the United States to see him. She wanted to know which airport she’d be traveling to. My grandpa could not believe what was happening. He told her to fly to the San Francisco International Airport. She made note of it, told my grandpa Hugo that she missed him, and that she would see him soon. The call ended. She had to go catch her flight. Grandpa Hugo was taken aback by all of it. He was sure of it; he didn’t dream this into happening. Still, it was happening. Grandpa Hugo didn’t question it any further. He accepted it.A few weeks later grandpa Hugo was getting out of his car in short-term parking lot at the airport. He would have brought flowers, if he and Aoife believed in that sort of thing. But they didn’t believe in giving someone something that was going to die within days, so he never even considered getting flowers. He was enough of a present in her eyes. Grandpa Hugo took his time because he knew that international travel took time. Aoife landed about a half-hour before, and would probably be going through Customs at that point. Grandpa Hugo arrived at the receiving area, sat down, and waited. He was nervous. After about twenty minutes, he saw Aoife. He got up to make his way over to her, and saw that she was doing the same only she was running. Grandpa Hugo followed suit and picked up his pace. Before he knew it, they were in each other’s arm and kissing. The next moment as they both pulled away from the kiss they told each other, in unison, “I love you.” They go in for an additional kiss. Grandpa Hugo gives Aoife a smack on the butt and tells her how much he missed her over the years. He tells Aoife that he thought of her and Norway constantly. Holding hands, they make their way over to collect Aoife’s luggage. They pick up the bags and head out to the car, where they proceed with some more intense kissing. After a while, they headed down to Redwood City, California. The following day grandpa Hugo brought Aoife to his parent’s house for dinner. They were shocked by how much younger she was than my grandpa Hugo. Jose and Maria didn’t mention it, of course. At the end of the evening, they headed to grandpa Hugo’s house. That week grandpa Hugo spent his time playing the tourist, showing the sights to Aoife. The following weekend grandpa Hugo and Aoife went to visit Sergio, grandpa’s brother, and his family in San Francisco. They too, were shocked by the age difference. Grandpa Hugo and Aoife spent the weekend there. Aoife enjoyed getting to know Sergio’s identical twin girls. Sergio’s five cats loved getting to know Aoife. They then spent time together all over California. They flew down to Los Angeles, and then drove up the coast all the way up into British Columbia. They made numerous stops along the way, staying for a while at each of the many coastal towns. They then flew back down to San Francisco. One night while sitting together and reading, Aoife makes another move. She flat out tells my grandpa Hugo that she wants to marry him. Grandpa Hugo is not surprised, as it’s just like Aoife to take initiative on such things. My grandpa agrees it is an excellent idea. After quite a bit of discussion, they agree on living in the United States with plenty of travel to Norway. It was settled. Within the next few days, they made arrangements for Aoife’s family to come over from Norway. Within a month, they were standing before a Justice of the Peace and getting married in the Napa Valley. It was a small wedding. Grandpa Hugo had his family there and the doctor that had diagnosed him with Parkinson’s so many years before. Aoife had her family there and a couple of friends who also made the trip over. They married and had their first c***d two years later. Four years after that they had a second c***d, my great-great grandmother Julia. Grandpa Hugo and Grandma Aoife went on to have six c***dren. The fourth c***d, a boy named Ramiro after my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, died shortly after birth due to complications. Julia, my great-great grandmother, gave birth many years later to Sam who was my great grandfather. Sam married many years later and soon had Bethany who was my grandmother. My sister Beth was named after her. Grandma Bethany gave birth to my father Rush many years later. FourTwo days into my journey I make a stop at Jenny Sunnyvale’s farm. She is on the Oregonia governing council. Her daughter Ruth and Ruth’s husband Ron do the actual running of the farm. Jenny’s husband Harold died a while back of a heart attack. He was a good man. He was a doctor. He didn’t have the miraculous d**gs and equipment of the old days. He did know how to take care of a fever, and could patch up most any injury. He cared for many people in his day. Ruth and Ron grow mostly vegetables, but they also have a small orange tree grove on the farm. They also have one milking cow, a ton of chickens, and one rooster. As I look around I see what must be ten cats hanging out over by the barn. We have one or two around our farm to help control the number mice and rats. Jenny must have more of problem with vermin around here. As I ride up to the house I’m greeted by a voice coming from behind me. It’s Ron coming out of the barn. “Hello. Can I help you, stranger?” “Ah, hello to you sir. My name is Gavin. I met you last year at the Portland Gathering. You and Ruth beat me and my sister Beth in the sack race.” “Ah, yes you’re the young man who walks in a strange manner. How are you doing with all that?” Ron says. There are two ways of looking at Ron. He is one big jerk, but he is honest and calls things how he sees them. In an effort to remain polite and courteous I say, “Oh, I’m doing okay with it sir. Thank you for your concern. I was looking for Jenny Sunnyvale. I’m on a trip down to Californoya, and just wanted to stop to say hello.” “She’s in the house. She’s probably asleep,” Ron says. “Oh,” was all I could think to say when Ruth comes walking up to us. “Well, hello there Gavin. How interesting it is to see you here on our farm. What brings you here?” “He’s on his way to Californoya, and he wants to see your mother,” Ron butts in. “Damn you Ron, will you shut your damn hole. I wasn’t asking you. I was asking the k** here. Now, Gavin is that right? Do you want to see my momma?” Ruth says. She looks at me like she’s angry with me. I dry swallow and say, “Yes, that’s correct.” She comes right back to say, “Well now, look at you speaking all proper and respectful.” All of sudden, out from inside the house comes Jenny Sunnyvale. “What is all this darn ruckus about? What’s going on out here? What’s this about now?” Jenny says. Then she sees me, coughs a couple times, smiles, and then says, “Oh. We have ourselves a visitor.” She takes a moment to get a better look at me, then continues, “You’re Rush’s boy. Devin, right?” “It’s actually Gavin, Mrs. Sunnyvale. And yes, Rush is my father,” I say. “Gavin. Goodness gracious, I sure was close. Wasn’t I? Welcome…welcome. Call me Jenny, please. What brings you to these parts?” Jenny says. “Thank you. Okay then, Jenny. I’m just passing through on my way down to visit someone in Californoya. I thought it might be a good idea to stop and say hello,” I say. “By the looks of it, you also stopped to fill up your water supply,” Ron chimes in. I get nervous, turn somewhat red, and say, “Water would help. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.” “Water? That’s no trouble at all. We can fix you right up on the water? In fact, why don’t you stay the night? We’ll be having dinner soon. Are you hungry?” Jenny says. “Momma! Now I’ll have cook for one more person,” Ruth states. Jenny flashes her a look of steaming anger and says, “Ruth hush! We have guest, and yes you will cook for one more if I say so. This is still my farm, and what I say goes. You get me?” Ruth is startled and somewhat shamed when she says, “Yes, momma. I’m sorry. I was being disrespectful. I spoke out of turn. I’m sorry.” When Jenny isn’t looking, Ruth throws me an angry look. Ron chuckles. “Ron, what are you chuckling at?” Jenny asks. “Nothing,” Ron quickly responds. “I thought so. Now, make yourself useful and help Gavin stow his a****ls in the barn. Then show him to the spare room in the house. After that go into the kitchen to help Ruth with making dinner,” Jenny says. “Okay. Will do, Jenny.” Ron replies. Jenny heads back inside the, and Ruth follows her in. Ron and I make our way to barn to see to Don Juan and Pablo. The minute we’re inside the barn, Ron forcefully grabs me by the shoulders, pulls me back, and throws me against the door. My heads slams against the wood, and my vision blurs for a moment. “Hey man, what’s with you? That hurt,” I say. “Listen here you little shit. I don’t care that you’re a guest. I don’t even care that your father is on the governing council. Big fucking deal. You’re nobody in my book. Are you hearing me, sonny boy? You got my Ruth in trouble with Jenny. That is not okay with me,” Ron says bluntly. “Listen, sir. I didn’t do…” I start. Ron cuts me off with light slap on the face, so he doesn’t leave a mark. He then punches me in the stomach and says, “I don’t want to hear any damn lip coming from you. Shut up. Now, here is what’s going to happen. We are both going to see to your damn stupid a****ls. Then we are going to head into the house, and we are going to be ever so fucking cordial at dinner. And don’t fucking overdo it either. Then tomorrow at first fucking light you’re going to be on your merry way. You get me?” I’m about to respond, but catch myself thinking I better look for permission to speak. I give Ron a non-threatening, questioning look. “Yes, you can answer me now. Little turd,” Ron spits out. “Yes. I understand, sir. Cordial. First light. Got it,” I say. I must note that this is the first time I have experienced such naked, raw hostility directed at me. I inwardly shiver in fear. I take some time to recover from the stomach punch, and then we finish seeing to Don Juan and Pablo. I’m nervous the entire rest of the time spent in the barn with Ron. I was surprised when he did end up helping me with Don Juan and Pablo.We make our way into the house. Ron walks in front me the entire time, never once looking back at me. He shows me to the spare room, as he was ordered, where I put down my belongings. Ron then escorts me into the kitchen, where after whispering something into Ruth’s ear his entire persona changes. I see Ruth respond with a devious-looking smirk. She also looks at me with the most horrid look of disdain. She then smiles and jovially says, “Gavin you said you were on your way down to visit someone in Californoya. Who are you going to see? How long will you be traveling?” “Well, the ‘who’ is something I’ll keep to myself. I will say, however, that I plan to travel roughly forty days there and forty days back,” I say. “Wow. That’s quite a long way to go, young man,” Ron says. I am about to respond to his comment when I hear my name called from upstairs. “That’ll be my momma. She told me she wants to talk to you privately in her room while Ron and I work on dinner down here. It should be a couple hours before the food is ready. Go on up.” “Okay,” I nervously say.I make my way upstairs and see the room with the candlelight shining through the slightly opened door. I think to myself that that must be Jenny’s room. I knock on the door. “Come in…” Jenny says. “…And please close the door behind you,” she continues. I open the door, immediately gasping and closing my eyes while saying, “I’m so sorry Jenny! I didn’t know you were…” Jenny then says, “Relax. Gavin my dear young boy, you need to relax. Now I said to come in and close the door, so come in. It’s okay, you can open your eyes.” She is standing across the room completely naked in the candlelight. I open my eyes as instructed, walk in, and close the door behind me. As I’m turning around from closing the door, I realize after looking down that I’m excited. Jenny is old but she is still a naked, full-figured woman with huge breasts. I’ve seen my mother and sisters naked, but that’s totally different. I’m related to them, they’re family, and I only see them naked when we go swimming in our pond. It’s different. This is different. My excitement is the proof to show that it’s different. So I stand to face Jenny, while trying to hide my excitement. I find I am not successful because she says, “My word, that is quite a nice package you have there. Is it for me?” Not knowing what to say, I don’t respond. Jenny then says, “Well? Come on and tell me. Do you like what you see and is that package for me?” All that comes to mind is that these people are a bunch of loons, but I respond, “Yes. Yes Jenny, I like what I see and yes it is for you.” I don’t know what’s come over me or why I responded that way.She slowly walks over to me and puts her hand around my excitement, grabbing on to it. It gets even stiffer, though I don’t know how that’s possible. “Oh,” she quietly moans. “I like that lot. You know, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve had one as young as you. What are you, eighteen?” she says and asks. “I’m nineteen as of a few days ago,” I say. “Oh my, that’s perfect!” she excitedly states. “Okay, this is how it’s going to work. Please, take off all of your clothes and hop on that there bed,” Jenny says. I respond with an inquisitive, “What?” “You heard me. We will be engaging in some intimate activity. Now, please do as I ask. Take off your clothes and get on the bed.” Jenny wasn’t asking, that was just plain easy to see. Because she wasn’t being threatening in any way, I decided to comply. I get naked, excitement still ever-present, and hop on the bed as Jenny ‘requested’.I’ve never been ‘intimate’ with a woman, so I have no idea what to expect. No clue. Jenny gets on the bed with me. She starts running her cold, dry fingers up and down my entire body. Her eyes are studying my flesh as though I was her next meal. I suddenly get goose bumps all over. “You are one fine-looking boy. Now I want you to lightly bite and play with my nipples in your mouth. Work on one at a time, of course. Remember, I said lightly and please don’t chew on them,” she says while pointing to each of her breasts. As I move in, I see that she has large nipples. I work on them for about five minutes each nipple. As I do, I realize that one is hairy while the other is not. Jenny then stops me. “Lie back down,” she says. Jenny then begins to run her wet tongue down my body, when eventually I realize she has my excitement in her mouth. Her head begins going up and down, though I can’t see what’s happening because her hair is blocking my view. I can feel it. It feels great. A few minutes later, I finish. Wow! What a great feeling. Interesting, is all I can think. “Now use your tongue and mouth down on me, while we wait for your excitement to return,” she says. She lies down and spreads her legs, and I get into position. Again, I have never done this before so finding the right area with my mouth is awkward. I cringe at first because she tastes ‘interesting’. Jenny guides me, as best she can, to the right area to stimulate with my tongue. About a half hour passes and then I must have done something right, because Jenny tightens up for a few moments then loosens up. I think I did do something right. I’m not sure. My excitement has been back for near twenty minutes. In the position I was holding, it got kind of sore. A few moments later Jenny says, “Your excitement is back. Good. Now please insert your excitement into me and go to town. Don’t worry, I’ll guide you in.” She notices a worried look on my face and then she adds, “You can’t get me pregnant, Gavin. I’m way past that time. Okay?” “Okay Jenny,” I say. I relax. She must have read my mind. I may not be ‘experienced’ in this area, but I do know how babies are made. She guides me in. I awkwardly go to town and a few minutes later, I finish. Again, wow! What a great feeling. We lie naked, holding each other for a few minutes. “That was wonderful, thank you. After we get dressed go to the spare room, get your belongings, and bring them here. You’re staying with me tonight. I could go for some more of that,” Jenny says. “Okay Jenny.” We get up, get dressed, and I head to the spare bedroom to collect my things. I come back to place my things in Jenny’s room, and then we both head to the kitchen. In the kitchen, Ruth and Ron are nearly done preparing dinner. Jenny leads me to the living room. She whispers, “The food’s not ready. Come on, let’s go have us a little chat in the other room while we wait.” We sit close to each other. She then leans over like she’s about to kiss me and says in a low voice, “I know who you are on your way to visit in Californoya.” I’m so shocked that I almost blurt out a loud response. I catch myself and respond in a low voice, “How? How do you know?” “Oh, I’ve known about him for years. Your mother told me a long time ago at a Portland Gathering. We both had one too many beers and got loose with our words. Imagine my surprise when I found out you were directly related to a man who’s indirectly responsible for so many deaths. I was downright shocked when I found out,” Jenny says. “I’m going to see if he can help me with a problem,” I say. “Well, I hope that you find what you are looking for in terms of help. In my opinion, with ability like that, he should get rid of the slave trade in Californoya. That would be helpful,” she says. I then wonder who else she’s shared this knowledge with, and give her a look. As though she was reading my mind she says, “Oh, don’t you worry. I haven’t told a soul. I know how to keep a secret.” Ruth walks in, gives us a strange look and says, “Dinner is ready, momma.” We head to the dining room to eat. Sitting at the table I see chicken, potatoes, green beans, and water. We’re all sitting there quietly eating when Ron all of a sudden blurts out, “So young man, do your a****ls have names?” I take a moment swallow the food in my mouth. “Yes sir. The horse is named Pablo, and the donkey is named Don Juan,” I finally say. “Well now, those are some damn fine names,” Ron says. Ruth then chimes in, “Those are some good names.” Ruth pauses for a few moments as though she was pondering some deep thought. She forks into a few green beans, puts them into her mouth, chews pensively, and swallows. Then she continues, “Gavin will you please tell us who you are going to visit down in Californoya? It’s killing me. I’m dying here. I want know. Please.” Before I can respond, Jenny calmly but firmly says, “Ruth that’s none of our business. Now please just forget about it.” “Oh okay, momma,” comes Ruth’s reply. I look over at Ruth and see her pouting in disappointment. Ron then says, “Personally, I say the young man has a right to keep his business to himself.” Jenny nods in agreement. We finish up eating dinner. I think about home for a moment, and how I help Beth clean up after meals. I’m a guest here, so Jenny tells me not to worry about cleaning up. Ruth and Ron get started on that. Jenny says goodnight and leads me upstairs for some more ‘intimate’ activity. We make love another eight times that night. I hardly get any sleep at all. The rooster wakes us up and we do it twice more. As I’m getting dressed Jenny says, almost yelling, “What the hell happened to your stomach?” “Nothing,” I say. “Nothing. Indeed. Come on, tell me what happened.” I tell Jenny everything that happened with Ron in the barn yesterday. “I’ll get him back for you. Don’t worry; I’ll be ever so discreet about it. I won’t tell him I know what happened, but I’ll get him. I’m old, but I have my ways,” she says. “Ron said for you to be gone at first light. I think not. This is still my farm, and I say you’re having breakfast with us before you go,” she continues. “Sounds good Jenny, thank you,” I say. We all have breakfast together, and then I go out to get Don Juan and Pablo ready for travel. I also fill up on water. I then ride up to the house to say farewell. Ron and Ruth both give me a hollow wave goodbye with no smile. They then walk away to go on about their work. Jenny waits for them to leave, and then she blows me a kiss and winks at me. She also bids me safe travel. I turn with Pablo and Don Juan, head down the path, and resume my journey. FiveWell, I’m five days in and I’ve stopped by a creek to fill up on water. Pablo and Don Juan are smart enough not wander off so they are currently by the creek bed drinking some water. Once they’re done drinking, I’ll tie them up so they don’t get too comfortable and wander off during the night. I haven’t reached Californoya yet, so I still have a feeling of safety surrounding me. I need to boil the creek water before I’m able to drink any of it, so I’m currently building a fire. I’ve set up camp for the night, which means I’ve set up my bedroll, unsaddled Pablo, and unloaded some of my supplies from Don Juan. I find myself thinking of home. I sure do miss my family. As I work on building the fire, I find myself also thinking of Jenny. She wore me out. Where did she get all that energy? She is so old. Age apparently is no concern of mine because my excitement returns while thinking about Jenny. It’s an occurrence that has happened a number of times in the past few days. I try to focus on something else, so I think about grandpa Hugo. I wonder what he is doing this very moment.While getting the water pot ready to go on over the fire I think I’ll share another tale of days past. This one isn’t about grandpa Hugo, but it is related to his story. This one is about a man named Walter “PPK” Smith. The “PPK” was the nickname he was given because it was the type of gun he carried with him at all times. He carried a Walther PPK everywhere he went. He carried the proper permits and documentation that allowed him to carry it anywhere he wanted. The man even slept with it under his pillow, finger on the trigger. It’s a miracle it didn’t go off nightly. It was his comfort. It was his safety blanket. It was also the last thing he tasted when he blew his head off with it. Walter was one of the near-elderly people who had Parkinson’s disease, and was cured thanks to my grandpa Hugo’s dream.Before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, in his youth, Walter was a savant in the field of biomedical research. He held five PhD’s in chemistry, biology, theology, zoology, and epidemiology. In short, he was really smart. For a time he worked for a place called the CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He lived a good and busy life. He was married and had four k**s. Then along came a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that shook his very foundation. He snapped. He abandoned his family. He just left and skipped town. One moment he was in the backyard manning the grill for a BBQ to celebrate the birth of his eldest daughter’s new baby boy. It was his first grandc***d. The next moment he was seen with a twelve-pack of beer, getting into his car, and driving away. He drove clear to the other side of the country. He ended up in Cupertino, California. He started a biotech firm that worked under the guise of developing treatments and eventual cures to various diseases and illnesses. Remember, I told you he snapped. He had a mental breakdown; Walter was a complete loon. He had no intention of finding himself a cure for Parkinson’s. Walter lost touch with reality. What the firm or Walter – to be specific – was really up to was the creation and cultivation of viruses for eventual release into the populace. Walter wanted to hurt people. Finding the funding for such an undertaking was easy for Walter. With his brain and qualifications, venture capital firms were lining up to fund his project. For years Walter worked under the pretense of doing some good, and he did produce viable results. His firm developed an instant cure for the flu. For whatever reason, preventive flu vaccines had just stopped working. The flu became a big problem. So, one moment you would be at home sick with the flu. The next moment you’re in the doctor’s office getting an injection, and instantly cured of the flu. It was immediate with almost no waiting for it to kick in. It was a minor miracle. After that, the money really started flowing in. Things were going really well for Walter, and then finally the Parkinson’s swooped in and hijacked his life. It got more and more difficult for him to carry on his work. One day he decided to pack up his secret research so he wouldn’t be found out. He took all the secret work and put it into storage. Parkinson’s Disease had disabled him, but his biotech firm carried on without him on the legitimate side of things. As he was leaving, the firm was pursing a cure for Cancer as well as for AIDS. The patent on the cure for the flu was still bringing in a lot of money. Walter soon found himself severely disabled. In time, he experienced the full brunt of the side effects to the medication he took to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s. It turns out that in his case, he was not a candidate for deep brain stimulation. He thought he was doomed. He considered ending his life, and came close to doing so once. He even considered contacting his family, but decided against it. He was a stubborn fool. Just when he was about to give up on life, he woke up one day feeling great. It took him a while, but his massive intellect came to the conclusion that he was cured. What his intellect couldn’t decipher was the ‘how.’ How was he cured? He couldn’t figure it out. It drove him further into madness. He snapped even further than before. He lost his handle on reality. He grew paranoid and obsessive on the inside. On the outside he seemed as normal as anyone.During the time he spent being nearly incapacitated, he had a lot of time to think. He had come up with the solution for his formula to the perfect virus. His newfound madness was the driving force behind him that would lead him to carry out his plan. He wanted to change the world because he felt he could. Walter would be going back to work at his biotech firm, which after years of his absence had come to find success in developing a cure for both Cancer and AIDS. Walter wanted to change the world in a different way. Before going back to work, he acquired his Walther PPK for ‘protection.’ He also got the proper training with the weapon so he could be given the permits and documentation to carry it with him wherever he went. He walked in through the doors of his biotech firm with his PPK in its holster and he went to work on his secret research right away. By the time Walter heard the news that everyone in the world with Parkinson’s had somehow been cured, he was deep into his research. He was close to developing a strain of his virus. Years passed as he inched even closer to his goal. At around the time my grandpa Hugo was getting married to Aoife, Walter finally created his virus. He was very old at this point. He just needed to wait until the conditions were right to release his work. Years passed, and then suddenly conditions were right for his needs. It was time. Walter found himself sitting at the bar in a nightclub full of people. He sat with a small vial of liquid in his pocket. It must have a strange sight seeing a man as old as he was in a place like that. Anyway, he sat at the bar and waited until the right drunk person wasn’t paying attention. He found his mark, and poured the small vial into the young woman’s drink. He then saw her take down her entire drink in one gulp. That was all it took. Walter completed his work. He changed the world his way. Walter then walked out into the center of the dance floor, did his overbite dance move, took out his PPK, and shot himself through the mouth. He died there on the dance floor among the panicked mass of people. The police later discovered that Walter had apparently bribed the man at the door a million dollars ahead of time to allow him into the club with the gun. The crime scene unit found the empty vial on Walter, but couldn’t get any forensic evidence from it because what little liquid remained had evaporated and left zero trace evidence. Leaving zero trace evidence was part of Walter’s plan. The club’s security footage was blank. The police also discovered that the bribe to the man at the door also included making sure the security cameras were turned off. The case of Walter’s death was left open and unsolved by the police. It was not ruled a suicide for some reason. It’s the following day and I’m back on the trail down to Redwood Town. I see a rider headed in my direction. He or she is going north from the looks of it. As we get closer to each other, I see that it’s Anne French. She and my father used to be a couple before my parents met. The rumor is that my mother stole my father away from Anne. That is not a story that has been shared with Jana, Beth, and I. Although, I do suspect that Jana knows the story. “Gavin, is that you? How are you? Where are you headed? How are your parents? How are you?” Anne asks. She is what was once called an ‘airhead.’ That is my opinion of the lady. She is not joined with anyone. After things ended with my dad, I think she must have had some sort of breakdown. She lives on the Oregonia-Californoya border. She doesn’t have a farm or anything. My mother says Anne spends her day accepting various gentleman callers from all over the area. I’m not exactly sure what that means. “Yes, it’s me, Miss French. I’m doing well. Thank you for asking, twice. I’m headed to Californoya,” I say. “Twice? Oh I get it. Gavin, you’re such a tease. Californoya, huh? Well, be careful down there,” Anne says. A normal person would be a little more curious about why I was going to Californoya. Then I think this is Anne we’re talking about. She shows up half-naked to the Portland Gathering every year. There is little or no mystery left about her. I then ask her, “Where are you headed Miss French?” “Oh, I’m headed north to see your father if you can believe that,” she says. So there is a bit of mystery left about her. I was wrong. I don’t want nose my way into her business, so I say, “Okay, well it was good to see. Travel safely, okay?” “Okay thanks Gavin. It was good to see you also. You be careful in Californoya,” Anne says. With that we nod to each other and go our separate ways. Now I’ll continue with the story of Walter “PPK” Smith and his deadly virus. So Walter died on the dance floor. The young woman he dosed with vial was named Jane Wallace. The curious thing about her is that she didn’t get sick for twenty years. She didn’t even get a cold for all that time; she was the picture of health. Then one day she suddenly got sick and was dead within twelve hours. The medical community was baffled. Jane’s medical history was near flawless. She had the chicken pox as a c***d, was hospitalized twice in her twenties for excessive alcohol consumption, and then nothing. To the medical community she just got sick one day and died. The autopsy showed that her heart just burst from sudden severe coronary complications. It turns out the drink she swallowed many years before infected her with a ticking time bomb. All she had to do to infect others was to come into contact with them and they would become infected. Any kind of contact was sufficient. If Jane was breathing near you, you became infected. In the twenty years of perfect health, Jane came into contact with countless numbers of people. Because she was so healthy, she got the urge to travel the world – unknowingly infecting everyone she came close to. The infected then turn around and infected everyone with whom they came into contact. Soon the entire globe was infected with the ticking bomb. There were various news reports about the unexplained perfect health of people around the world. Even those who were once sick and now newly infected experienced perfect health. The need for the medical profession itself was questioned. Then it happened many years later. Walter’s plan came to fruition. He changed the world. From what we can gather we know that roughly two percent of the world’s population escaped the ticking time bomb, thanks to immunity. My grandpa Hugo and his family were among the lucky few. Grandpa Hugo loved to read. His favorite genre was post-apocalyptic fiction. Thanks to all his reading into the subject he had some ideas about what to do. One of the first things he did was dream that there was no such thing as nuclear power plants. He was successful in his desired outcome. All nuclear power plants around the world simply vanished. This was to prevent nuclear fallout from contaminating the world. Grandpa Hugo also dreamed that guns and explosive ordinance no longer functioned. It apparently worked because I’ve never seen a gun. I only know about them via my father’s stories. The only weapon I’m carrying with me on my journey is my knife. I’m not exactly sure why grandpa Hugo wanted to eliminate guns from the equation, but he did. To ward off disease, grandpa Hugo dreamed that everyone who died from the ticking time bomb would vanish. I’m not exactly sure what happened in that dream that gave grandpa Hugo his desired result. It must have worked because my father hasn’t told any stories about the burying of mountains of dead people in the past. It was also during these times that grandma Aoife found out about grandpa Hugo’s dreaming ability. He just decided to tell her about it. She was shocked at first, and then terrified. Grandma Aoife eventually got over it, and then forgave grandpa Hugo when she found out that his dreams had no affect on her.SixSixteen days into my journey I find myself setting up camp for the night. I’ve been checking my map along the way and as far as I can tell, I’ve travelled well into Californoya. I’m about to get a fire going when I’m startled by voices up ahead on the trail. I hear male voices, and they’re arguing. I can’t make out the words. What I hear is more like whispers on the wind. One thing is for sure; building a fire is not a good idea on my end. I tie up Pablo and Don Juan, and then make my way over to the other camp. I need to determine if the men up ahead are friendly. I avoid walking through any bushes so I don’t make too much noise. In fact, I make every effort to make zero noise on my way over to them. After about twenty minutes, I find myself in the shadows near their camp. I’m not seen, as I look over the camp. I see three men; two by the fire eating and the other is apparently sleeping. Then as I look over by their wagon, I see what appear to be two women. I look more carefully and notice that they’re tied up and gagged. My eyes widen as the realization hits me in the face. Slavers. I instantly go into full on panic mode; I don’t know what to do. My first thought is to return to my camp, get on my horse, and quietly make my way far around these men. With my decision made, I get up to quietly make my way to my camp. As I’m saddling Pablo, another thought strikes me square in the jaw. I can’t leave those women to the machinations of those men. So I decide to follow in my father’s example and go buy some slaves.I make my way down the trail to the slaver camp. As I do, I find myself nervous and afraid; I have never done anything like this before. As I ride into the camp, I notice everyone is sleeping. The fire is still going. I want to make myself known so I clear my throat a couple times, loudly. Nothing, they do not move at all. I clear my throat yet again. At this point I realize both women are wide-awake and looking at me in fear. One of the men, short and bald, wakes up and is startled when he sees me. He pulls out a long knife and says, “What the he… Who are you? What do you want? Hey Carl… Hey Jim… Wake up! We’ve got a visitor.” One of the other men is waking up as he says, “Bill? What is it?” He stops speaking when he sees me and reaches for his knife. At this point the third man is also awake and reaching for his knife. “Whoa, whoa. Gentlemen. Take it easy. There’s no need for any theatrics. I just want to buy your slaves,” I say. Bill says to the second man to wake up, “Carl will you look at this k**? He called us ‘gentlemen’.” Jim then says, “We’re not done with them yet. They’re not for sale. What are you, a slave sympathizer?” I must have been so focused on Jim that I failed to see Carl coming up around my side. Just as I’m about to answer Jim, I’m pulled off my horse. There is a bit of a struggle as I try to get free. I’m suddenly struck in the face with something hard and everything goes black.I wake up in horrible pain; my right eye is swollen shut. I look around with my good eye and see that I’m now in the back of the wagon with the two women from last night. I then shake my head as I further realize that I too am bound and gagged. The wagon is now headed south. There is some good news; Pablo and Don Juan are still with us. They’re both tied up to the wagon and in tow. What have I got myself into? I almost feel like crying. Almost. I decide to put my mind to some use and figure out a way through this trouble. The men then decide to strike up a conversation. “Hey Jim I thought we were supposed to head further north to look for more slaves,” Bill says. “Hey Bill I thought I told you man. We have our quota, so we’re headed home to Fremonton,” Jim responds. “Yeah Bill, we’re headed home,” Carl adds. According to my map, Fremonton is close to Redwood Town. The map! I yell out in perfect silence. My mind is racing. Have they found the map? Will they find it? It’s folded up and placed in a hidden pocket inside Pablo’s saddlebag. I focus sharply on one goal; I must find a way to destroy that map. I have to. I will. As we travel south in the wagon, the two women and I exchange numerous glances. I wonder who they are? I wonder where they’re from? How long have these men held them captive? One looks older than the other, but they look similar as though they’re related. I think they must be mother and daughter or at least sisters. The age difference seems to be great enough that I’m willing to bet they are mother and daughter. In between glances I study them further to notice that their clothes are dirty, ragged, and worn out. They also appear to be somewhat malnourished; my thoughts carry to an understanding of getting used to being fed as little as possible. I enjoy a brief moment of levity when I think about how I’ve wanted to lose some weight. I then catch myself. This is a serious situation, act like it. I’m grateful to be riding in the wagon. We could be made to walk, but we’re not so I’m thankful. I look over and see that both women are now sleeping, so I decide to follow suit. When I wake up I see the sky has turned dark and we’ve stopped to make camp for night. There is a fire going and the three slavers are on the other side of it eating, talking and laughing loudly. Just as I realize that my gag has been removed, I feel a hard kick at my boot. It’s the older woman trying to get my attention. “Hey,” she whispers. “What?” I whisper back. “Who are you and why were you trying to buy us?” she asks. “Ma’am, my name is Gavin and I was trying to help you,” I reply. The younger one says in an almost raised voice, “Yeah, nice work jackass!” “Rebecca, not so loud or they will hear you,” the older woman says. Realizing her mistake, Rebecca whispers to the older woman, “Sorry mom.” Rebecca then looks at me and continues her whispered tirade, “What you did was pure stupidity, getting yourself taken captive. If you wanted to help so bad, you could’ve snuck into the camp in the middle of the night and quietly cut each man’s throat while they slept. That would have been helpful, idiot. But no, you had to come in and be the big hero, calling them gentlemen and using big fancy words like theatrics. You are such an idiot, I can’t believe you.” She is fuming mad, that much is plain. “I apologize for my daughter, Gavin. She has a lot to be angry and frustrated about and frankly, so do I. My name is Lottie, by the way, and this loquacious young lady is my daughter Rebecca,” Lottie says. “You can call me Lottie,” she adds. “It’s nice to meet you both, despite the circumstance. Like I said, I was only trying to help. I was trying to follow in the footsteps of my father,” I say. “And just what kind of footsteps are those? Idiot. If you ask me your father, whomever he is, has boots too big for you to fill,” Rebecca snaps at me. “Rebecca, hush. Gavin, just who is your father and why does he buy slaves?” Lottie says and asks. I take pause and wonder whether or not I should reveal information about myself. They are, after all, strangers. But then it occurs to me that we’re in this mess together, so I decide to take the proverbial leap of faith. “My father, Rush, is on the Oregonia governing council, and he buys slaves to then gives them freedom upon returning to Oregonia,” I say. They look at me with eyes and mouth both open wide. Then Lottie’s expression turns to one of caution and she says, “Gavin, if I were you I would make sure these men don’t find that out. That would definitely spell bad news for you.” “Okay, thanks for the word of warning,” I say. We end our conversation as notice that Jim and Carl are making their way over to us with plates and cups in hand. Lottie looks at me and quickly says, “Feeding time.” Oh great is all I can seem to think. Jim places a plate in front of me and Carl gives me cup. The cup is only water and the plate has beans, dry cheese, and a piece of hard bread. It’s about what I would expect. “Eat up boys and girls, and then it’s off to sleep for all of you. We’ve got another long day of travel ahead of us tomorrow and we leave at first light,” Jim says. “Yeah, we leave at first light,” Carl, adds. He says this while glaring at Lottie and grabbing at himself and wetting his lips with his tongue. I wonder about that and don’t know quite what to make of it. I shrug it off, deciding not to worry about it. Jim and Carl leave us to go back to whatever it is that they were doing on the other side of the fire. Then, while we eat, our conversation picks up again. “Where are you two from anyway?” I ask. “We’re from southern Californoya near the Arizona border. My husband, Rebecca, and myself operate, I should say operated, a small trading post,” Lottie says. “What happened to your husband?” “Man, you really are an idiot. These slavers killed him, jackass,” Rebecca chimes in. I do feel like a bit of an idiot; I feel bad. I then look to Lottie. She gives me a look of confirmation and says, “Yes, they killed my husband Ben. The dirty bastards cut his throat on the porch of our house right in front of us. Luckily, Rebecca’s older brother was away on trading post business in Arizona so he’s still alive. I hope. He has to be alive. I know it. I’m betting Jacob came home to find Ben dead on the porch, and wondering were we are.” “You’ve been traveling with these men for a long time,” I say, stating the obvious. “These guys are bigger idiots than you are, Gavin. It’s a miracle they can even make a fire. They’ve been dragging us all over Californoya for a long time. The slave trade has gotten out of control. It used to be that a few got taken every now and then. At least, that’s what I heard. Nowadays, it seems like more and more of us are being taken. Why? To protest some governing council rule that has been around forever. Men are not treated badly in Californoya, yet they still have to protest,” Rebecca rants. I find myself wondering about her brother, and how devastated he must be now. He came home to find his father dead and his family gone. I then think about grandpa Hugo. Why has he not done something about this problem? With his ability, he could solve the problem of the slave trade overnight. “Where, in Oregonia, are you from Gavin? What does your family do there?” Lottie asks. “I live just outside of Portland with my father Rush, my mother Amanda, and my younger sister Beth. I also have an older sister named Jana, but she lives up north in Columbia with her husband and twin girls. My family runs a farm slash ranch,” I say. I continue by telling them more about the farm and my family. Once we are done eating, we get as comfortable as we can and go to sleep.I wake up in the middle of the night and I hear a loud moaning. I also hear someone crying. I take a moment to gather my bearings, and I realize that Lottie is gone. I try putting things together in my mind, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around what’s happening. I then look over by the fire and I clearly see what’s going on. Lottie is facing me and completely naked, though she is still tied up at the wrists. Behind her is Jim, r****g her. Lottie is crying. It’s Jim doing the moaning. He finishes and the moaning stops. I can’t believe what’s happening; this is crazy. How could this be happening? I instantly think of Belinda. Did she go through something similar? Was she subjected to something so heinous? I then realize that Rebecca is also crying. She is the one I hear crying. As Jim gets up to pull on his pants, I see Carl pull down his pants. He is going to take his turn, I think. I now know what his look was all about earlier. My eyes meet with Lottie’s, and then her expression hardens for moment. She then resumes crying in silence. Bill takes his turn as well. I still cannot believe it, but it’s happening. When they all finish, Lottie is then untied so she can dress herself. She is then escorted back over by us, where she is tied up again. Lottie and Rebecca sob the rest of the night. I feel sick; I don’t get anymore sleep.The following morning we are woken up, untied, and watched carefully as we’re allowed to attend to our morning business in the bushes. When the three of us are done we’re tied back up and made to get up on the wagon for our daily ride. I don’t know how Rebecca and Lottie do it; my wrists are killing me from being tied up and I’ve only been in this predicament for a short time. For whatever reason, we are no longer gagged. I think that maybe the slavers believe we’ll be more ‘in line’ if they allow us to talk to each other. Then I think something different. They have not interrogated me in any way since capturing me. I think that perhaps they expect me to spill everything about myself to them in casual conversation with Rebecca and Lottie. So instead, I commence with some small talk. “Lottie, tell me, what sort of goods did… …do you sell at your trading post?” I casually say. Then I catch myself; I am an idiot. I just revealed to Jim, Carl, and Bill that the three of us had a conversation last night. Then I see it. Jim, who’s driving the wagon, turns his head slightly as though he’s looking back at me in his peripheral vision, and smirks. Well the cat is out of the bag. Rebecca gives me a stern look that says it all, “Idiot.” Lottie apparently doesn’t see much harm done so she says, “Oh, well you know, we have the usual: cheeses, eggs, preserves, some fruit, seed, shovels, newspapers.” “Okay, now shut up, someone is coming. Rebecca, Lottie – you know the drill. As for you, whatever your name is, keep you hole shut and we won’t have ourselves a problem. Got it?” Jim turns to say, abruptly. “My name is Gavin, sir. And, yeah, I got it. Mouth closed,” I say.It’s a single rider, male, and he has a cautious look about him as though he knows what the three men before him represent, trouble. “Good morning,” he says. “Move along pal. Be on your way. We’re not looking for any help or trouble from you,” Jim says. “Wait, please. My name is Brent and I need some help finding my way. I lost my map a few days ago; I’m from Nevid. Can you direct me to Kurt’s trading post? Kurt is my brother,” Brent says. Right away my mind starts to wander off; come to think about it, I’ve never met anyone from Nevid. From the sound of it, either this Kurt guy moved here from Nevid or Brent went to live in Nevid. Why would anyone move to Nevid? As far as I know, there is nothing there. Obviously, there is something there. I suppose Jim realizes that Brent isn’t looking to become ‘involved’ because he answers him. “Oh, okay. Just give me a minute while I get and look at my map. But, keep your distance man. Okay?” Jim says. “Okay, no problem. Thank you,” Brent says. Jim examines his map carefully. I pull up my map in my mind and calculate that Kurt’s trading post is two or three days to the west from here. “Brent, you’re going to have to travel about five days in that direction,” Jim finally says. I inwardly shake my head; Jim just sent the guy the wrong way, to the east. I keep my mouth closed. “Okay, thank you so much,” Brent says. “Oh, you’re quite welcome Brent,” Jim says. Brent rides off in the wrong direction and we continue on the trail south. A short while later Jim looks at me, laughs out loud, and says, “I just sent that guy, Brent, the wrong way.” Well, at least the man admits to what he’s done wrong, I inwardly say. I just look at him and keep my mouth shut. SevenA few days later I still find myself in captivity. We are fed once a day in the evening. Jim, Carl, and Bill take and have their way with Lottie every other night. I still feel sick to my stomach whenever the thought crosses my mind. For some reason, however, they refrain from taking and having their way with Rebecca. I haven’t figured that one out yet. Anyway it’s not like I want them to take her. I hope they don’t take her. We’re coming up to a large creek. It could almost be considered a river, but not quite. According to my map, this creek should flow into a larger body of water. We’ve been traveling the same direction for days. It should be a simple task to cross the creek, I think. Jim turns to us and says, “Okay everyone we’re going to stop at this creek. We are all going to take the opportunity to bathe. It’s been a good while, so now is a good time. Plus, this is a good spot as there isn’t much of a current. Got it?” The three of us nod in unison. I inwardly smile as this gives me a chance to destroy the map. “This is how it’s going to work. We’ll be going first, and then you three. Got it?” he adds. We all say, “Got it Jim,” in unison as if our mind are linked. I then turn to thinking about my task. My level of focus is intense. I run through various scenarios to concoct some sort of a plan. I even wonder if I should bring Lottie and Rebecca into helping me. I decide against it, as I don’t want my plan to have too many moving parts. Whatever I do, it must be devious, quick, and decisive. Then something happens in the water. Three vulgar men committing one lewd act suddenly distract me. After having worked the soap into lather over their bodies, they decide to call out to us, gaining our attention, and then they swing ‘themselves’ in circles. They have their hands up and locked behind their heads. “Lottie, Rebecca – do you like what you see?” they ask. Rebecca and Lottie force a smile, but they choose not say anything. Once the antics in the water are completed, the three slavers dip themselves into the water to wash off the soap. Then they get out to dry themselves and then they get dressed. It’s our turn, I say to myself. Carl unties me and while he unties Rebecca and Lottie he says, “Yes ma’am it’s time. Yes miss, it’s time for the show to begin.” We are made to get off the wagon, and then Jim sternly says, “Strip off all your clothes, take the soap, get in the water, and get to work. Rebecca, Lottie – I want to see you clean your entire body and also make sure to clean each other. Understand?” Jim fails to give me any such instruction. Rebecca and Lottie simply nod understanding. We are made to strip naked in front of each other. I try to keep from looking at Rebecca and Lottie, but I can’t help it. I’m a guy, after all. I immediately notice the more than obvious difference between Rebecca and Lottie. Where Lottie has large breasts, Rebecca has none at all. She almost looks like a boy up there, though from the sight of her down there she is clearly female. Then I wonder if perhaps, she is as young as Beth and simply has not yet developed any breasts. Then I think, no, she must be older than I am. I’m now clearly confused. Another thought strikes me; I think that maybe not having any breasts is the reason why they don’t ‘take’ her at night. As I shrug that thought off, I look down and see that my ‘excitement’ is clearly apparent. Right away, I think that the breast ‘issue’ must not be a problem for me. Bill whistles and says, “Ha, look – he’s excited.” “Looks like the k** can’t control himself around naked women,” Carl says. “Don’t get any ideas k**, they belong to us,” Jim adds. I turn red, feel hot, and try to hide myself to no avail. Rebecca and Lottie both see what I’m trying to hide and grin. I then rush into the water in an effort to further hide myself. The wind is instantly knocked out of me; the water is freezing cold. It takes me a few moments to regain my breath. My teeth chatter and I get goose bumps all over. What is it with goose bumps, naked women, and me? I shake away the thought, knowing this time it’s the cold water giving me the goose bumps. I noticed that Rebecca and Lottie share a similar reaction. As I’m using the soap on my body, an idea comes to me. So I clean myself in a hurry, and make my way out of the water. I figure the three men will be distracted by the ‘show’, to give me the time to destroy the map. I go up to Jim and say, “Hey Jim can I please go to the bathroom over in the bushes? I’ve got to go really bad.” He doesn’t even look at me, he just says, “Sure go ahead k**.” I was right. They’re all mesmerized by the ‘show.’ First thing is first; I make my way over to Pablo. I am still naked and wet. I quickly reach inside the saddlebag, finding the hidden pocket. I grab the map and then look over to make sure they aren’t looking my way. They’re not looking. I feel a bit of luck on my side. Taking the map, I hurry over away from the wagon and dig a hole, quickly. I rip up the map quietly and put the pieces into the hole. I then fill the hole and do my best to make it look like normal ground. I inwardly cheer for myself. Success. My mission is accomplished. Before heading back to the wagon, I go pee in the bushes. The heightened anxiety of the moment helps to dry me off. As I’m putting my clothes back on I see that the ‘show’ is over. Rebecca and Lottie are getting out of the water and giving me a look that says, “What were you doing over there?” I just smile and return a look that says, “Nothing.” Once we are all dressed, we’re tied back up and made to get on the wagon. It’s time to resume the journey. For a short while Lottie continues to give me a questioning look, but soon she follows in Rebecca’s example and falls asleep. A short while passes, and then a question is answered. “Hey Jim, tell me again, why can’t we have fun with Rebecca at night?” Bill asks. “Bill I told you a thousand times, we’re supposed to leave the young ones for Hunt. We’re not supposed to touch the goods before he does. Understand? We’re headed home now, so once Hunt breaks her in properly we can have our go at her,” Jim says. “Yeah, I can’t wait to have me some of that. I like them young too,” Carl enters the chat. “She can’t be that young. How old do you figure she is, Jim?” Bill says. “I don’t rightly know, Bill. Wait a minute. Her mother mentioned something once. Now hold on, let me think…ah…oh yes. According to her mother, Rebecca is twenty-four…twenty-six. One of those is right,” Jim says. “She’s old enough, come on Jim – what do you say? Let’s have her tonight,” Carl says. “Carl, I said no. Unless you have a real desire to find yourself in an early grave, she belongs to Hunt. Now, if you know what’s good for you, I don’t want to hear anymore about it. Understand?” Jim says in anger. Looking defeated Carl nods understanding. I’m awake during the entire conversation, and now I finally have an answer to my puzzle. Hunt sounds like the head slaver in-charge; something tells me, he is not someone I want to meet. I have a new mission; I have to somehow rid myself of these terrible men, gain our freedom, and do it all before we reach Fremonton. How? That is a completely new b**st of a puzzle, isn’t it? Just as I’m about to fall asleep, I’m jerked to attention by the sight of a building of some sort up ahead. As we get closer I see it is a trading post. Then, I can’t be sure but I think I see two people running around to the back of the building. I wonder what that’s about. We ride up to the front of the establishment, and I see a handwritten sign that says ‘Wilfred’s Goods.’ Wilfred, I think to myself – I’ve never seen or heard the name before, but it’s a fun name. It wasn’t on my map, so it must be a newer trading post. “Bill, Carl – you two stay out here and watch the women. Gavin, you’re coming in with me. I’m going to untie you and I don’t want any trouble out of you,” Jim says. I nod understanding and so do Bill and Carl. “We’re here for supplies – not to cause trouble,” he adds. Bill and Carl both say, “Okay Jim.” Jim unties me and has me get off the wagon. For whatever reason, Pablo’s saddlebag has remained untouched, so I know they won’t be using my money today.We walk into the trading post and we see a man behind the counter. He’s working on something; perhaps he’s taking inventory. That would be my guess. Whatever he is doing, he is making a concerted effort to look busy. I get the feeling like he is trying to avoid making eye contact with us. “Good afternoon, sir. We’re here to buy supplies,” Jim says. “Okay sure, that sounds good. Just tell me what you need. My name is Wilfred and it’ll be my pleasure to serve you. We take gold and silver coin. I’m also willing to barter,” the man behind the counter says. It strikes me as odd. Wilfred is here, manning the store alone. Then I see a pair of super-valuable binoculars behind the counter. I get the inkling that the two people I saw running earlier, were probably two women. They must have seen us coming and ran off to hide while Wilfred conducts business. Smart. Jim also sees the binoculars, “How much for the binoculars, friend?” “They’re not for sale,” Wilfred says. “Wilfred, come on now, everything is for sale. Wait a minute…hold on. Forget the binoculars. You have bottles of whiskey! I’ll have some of those instead. Add them to my list,” Jim says. He doesn’t have a list of course, but he tells Wilfred what he wants. While Wilfred is gathering the requested items, I ask if I can take a look at the binoculars. Wilfred cautiously says yes. I pick them up and awed by the size and weight. We have a pair at home, but they’re so small compared to these. With my curiosity satisfied, I put them down and stand waiting for instruction from Jim. He pays Wilfred for the goods and the whiskey and says, “Gavin, start taking these things out to the wagon, an you be careful with the whiskey. I’ve seen you walk and I don’t want any accidents. Understand?” I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone notices my strange walking. “Yes, sir. I got it. No accidents,” I respond. It takes me five trips, but I load everything on the wagon. We leave Wilfred’s shortly after I finish loading. I am made to do the task alone; nobody else helps me. After we leave, from a distance, I look back to see the two people coming out from where they were hiding. Smart, right? Later that night, after an afternoon of drinking on the trail, the slavers decide to do even more drinking in the evening. They get so drunk that they forget to eat, which probably means we won’t be getting any food either. Soon enough Bill passes out by the fire they did manage to make before they got too inebriated. Jim, surprisingly, follows suit soon after Bill. Carl, who seems to have a bit more endurance, stumbles over to us. He kneels down and begins to untie Rebecca. He tries to untie her, anyway. “You…Rebecca…you. I’m going to (hiccup)…going to (hiccup)…going to have fun some (hiccup)…with you,” Carl says. Just as he finishes his sentence, he collapses and passes out. “They’re all passed out. It looks like no dinner for us tonight,” Lottie says. “Nope,” I say in agreement. “Forget the food; I think Carl loosened my rope. I think I can get free,” Rebecca exclaims. “Well come on, hop to it. Work on loosening that rope, so we can get out of here!” I say. I then notice a fiendish expression on Lottie’s face. Minutes later, Rebecca works herself free of the rope. She then works to free her mother, and then she frees me. “Rebecca, Lottie – grab a horse and let’s get out of here,” I say. “Oh…no…I don’t think so Gavin. This is what we’re going to do. Each of us is going to pick a man, take his knife, and cut his throat. We are killing these bastards tonight. They won’t be waking up in the morning,” Lottie says in angered frustration, showing her teeth. I gulp down a long, dry swallow; I’ve never killed anyone before. I know deep inside that we should kill them or else they’ll be out hunting for us in the morning. I just don’t feel at ease with it because…well, I’m scared to have to kill an actual person. Rebecca sees my fear and says, “Don’t be afraid of killing them, Gavin. They deserve to die, after everything they’ve done to us.” I take some time to think it over and then I say, “Okay, I’ll do it.” “Okay, good. I’m glad to have you with us. I’ll take Jim,” Lottie says. “I’ll get Carl,” Rebecca says. Which leaves me with the task of killing Bill. Rebecca takes Carl’s knife and slices deep into his throat without hesitation; Carl dies moments later, only making a minimal amount of noise or commotion. Lottie then goes over to Jim; Rebecca and I stand nearby. Rebecca’s knife is glistening red in the moonlight and is dripping blood. Lottie grabs Jim’s knife and also, without hesitation, cuts deep into his throat. She also takes the knife and plunges it into Jim a total of nine times; when she’s done I see that she is covered in blood. She kills Jim in a controlled silence. Lottie gives a quiet sigh of relief, and then she flashes us an enormous grin of satisfaction. Now, it’s my turn to kill Bill. I go up to Bill and take his knife. I hesitate. Then I take a swipe at his throat, only it isn’t a strong enough strike because Bill jolts up screaming and looking around. Rebecca and Lottie, who are both standing nearby with knife in hand, jump into action. They each plunge their knife into and out of Bill a couple times. His death isn’t a silent occurrence. He yells out, “Jim…Carl…are you…they got me…they stuck me.” He gets up and begins to run away. A few steps later he turns and says, “You bit…” He collapses and falls dead before he can finish the sentence. I look at Lottie and say, “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t cut deep or strong enough.” “Don’t worry about it, Gavin. Look. We’re free now,” Lottie says. We both turn when we hear Rebecca crying behind us. “Rebecca, what’s wrong?” Lottie says. “Huh? Oh…nothing mom. I just can’t believe we’re free. It’s been so long,” Rebecca says. “Now come on, let’s move the bodies away from the camp. Then we can clean up and get something to eat,” Lottie says.Before moving the bodies we removed anything of value from them. We then moved the bodies far away from the camp. So far away, that by the time we finish it is morning. We decided that we should move the bodies in three different directions. We also decided that they didn’t deserve to be buried, so we left them out for the a****ls. When we finished moving them, we got back to the camp, cleaned up, and got some food. We also had to rekindle the fire. We then all got some much-needed sleep. Later that night, I wake up to find Rebecca and Lottie looking through the supplies in the wagon. I walk up to them yawning and say, “What are you looking for in there?” “We’re trying to decide what we’re going to eat, Gavin,” Rebecca says with a slight smile. “Oh,” I reply. We decide what we’re going to eat, get the fire going, and get started on making our meal. After I complete my portion of the meal preparation, I go over to say hello to Pablo and Don Juan. Then, we sit down to eat. While chewing Lottie looks at me and says, “Gavin, where were you headed when you first came upon us?” I pause for a moment to consider what I should tell them. I decide on the truth, sort of anyway. “I’m headed down to a place called Redwood Town to see my grandpa Hugo. You can take the horses and the wagon full of supplies. All I need is Pablo and Don Juan, and I’m good to go,” I say. “Pablo…and Don Juan?” Rebecca asks. “Oh…my horse and donkey,” I tell her. “Oh…those are some fun names for two a****ls,” she says with a smile. I look at Lottie and say, “Why do you ask, Lottie?” She pensively says, “Well, I was thinking we’d go with you. You pretending to be a slaver, and we pretending to be your slaves. I figure we stand a better chance that way of traveling safely through Californoya toward home. Once we get to Redwood Town, we can decide how to proceed from there. How does that sound to you?” I take a few moments to think it over. “I think it’s a great idea. It’ll work, and having someone with me on my journey will be a good thing. Okay. Let’s do it…one thing though…do I have to tie you up?” I say. “Yes, you do. We have to really sell the idea that you’re a slaver. It has to be believable…but not too believable. Okay?” Lottie says. “Okay,” I say. We decide to stay here for the night and leave in the morning. Then, still tired from last night’s activity, we get some sleep. EightThe following morning I wake up well past dawn, having slept in. I also wake up to a surprise; Rebecca’s arm is d****d over my chest, and her face is planted in my neck. I can hear her light snoring, and I feel her drool running down the back of my neck. I naturally think, what? So I clear my throat, hoping to ease her out of her slumber. I’m not successful; she only half wakes up, plants a small, wet kiss on my cheek, and then goes back to sleep. Again, I think, what? “Rebecca…(clearing my throat)…Rebecca wake up. Rebecca,” I say. Still, there is no response. Lottie wakes up, sees what’s going on, and almost yells out but decides against it. She just laughs and says, “Oh Gavin, just shove her off you and she’ll wake up. Rebecca is a deep-sleeper, when she’s comfortable.” So I do as I’m told and shove her off, lightly. Rebecca wakes up suddenly and says, “What? What’s going on?” “Well, you were drooling down my neck…and…and…well…you kissed me and then went back to sleep. You were also snoring,” I say. Rebecca laughs and then punches me in the face. She then winces in pain, clutching the hand she punched me with in her other hand. “Ouch…hey…what the he…what was that? That hurt,” I say. “Listen, you idiot. I don’t snore and I certainly do not drool. And why would I kiss you?” Rebecca says and asks. “If you say so. I have no clue why you kissed me; you were the one d****d all over me,” I respond. Just as she’s about to take another swing at me, Lottie speaks up, “It’s true…he’s right. You were d****d all over him before I told him just to shove you off. I cannot speak for the kiss or the drool, but you do snore.” Rebecca groans out in frustration; it takes her a few minutes to calm down. “Did I kiss you on the lips or on the cheek?” she finally asks, after calming down. Tell the truth, I think to myself. “You gave me quick, wet kiss on the cheek,” I say. “Well now, isn’t that something?” Lottie says, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah…well…okay. I was asleep when I did it, so it doesn’t count,” Rebecca says. I decide not to say anything further. My face is still in pain from the punch; Rebecca sure can hit hard, that’s for sure.Once we’re all up and moving around, we see the blood – the evidence – from our night of v******e. It was there the morning after, but I suppose I was too tired to notice it. Aside from the blood there are also the drag marks in the dirt, left behind by the three bodies we moved. I now feel better about what we did; it was the right thing to do. We get some breakfast and make some chicory coffee. Lottie is feeling adventurous, so she adds some whiskey to her coffee. “Gavin, you know the way to Redwood Town?” Lottie asks. “Yes I do,” I say, simply. “How? We haven’t been able to find their map,” Rebecca says. “What happened to it?” I say. “We don’t know; we just couldn’t find it,” Lottie says. “I know the way. I have…I had a map. It’s in my head; I memorized it,” I say. “What do you mean you had a map? Where is it? What do you mean, you memorized it?” Rebecca says. “Remember the day by the big creek? The day we were made to bathe?” I say. “Yeah, I remember. You got out in a hurry and went over by your horse. Then you were playing in the dirt. What were you doing?” Rebecca says. “I was destroying my map, so the three slavers wouldn’t find it. The map showed the way to my grandpa Hugo’s cabin in Redwood Town. I didn’t want to expose him to any trouble. He’s old. Don’t worry though; I memorized it for just that reason. I memorized it in case something happened to it. In this case, it just so happened that I had to destroy it,” I say. “So that’s what you were doing in the dirt. Well, that answers my question. Now I know,” Lottie says. “Okay, well since you know the way, we’ll be fine,” she adds. We finish eating, close up our camp, and get ready to go. I tie them up, apologizing while doing so. Rebecca and Lottie then get in the wagon, and I position myself as the slaver in Jim’s seat. We then head off to continue on south. We left Carl and Bill’s horses unsaddled, so it wouldn’t look too suspicious having two saddled horses in tow behind Pablo and Don Juan.A few days later we come upon a small town, but we’re good on supplies so we ride on through it. We receive a few awkward looks from the handful of people we come across. Later that afternoon, we see another wagon coming toward us. One other rider accompanies it; in the wagon are the driver and one person in back. I believe them to spell one thing, trouble. We ride up near each other. “State your business,” the driver of the other wagon says. I say to myself, remember not to use big words and keep it short. Before saying anything, I look at the person riding in the back of the other wagon. A woman and I can see that she’s tied up. It’s confirmed; slavers. “Just taking these two slaves home to Fremonton. Got a young one here for Hunt’s personal inspection,” I say. “You are by yourself? Where is your second or third man? Why do you have so many horses in tow? Who are you? I don’t know you.” Just as I am about to answer him, the other rider comes up to driver, leans in, and whispers something into the listening ear of the driver. I decide to hold off on saying anything as I then see the rider moving up alongside our wagon. As he does so, the next thing I see is a blur of movement in my peripheral vision. Lottie lunges at the rider and stabs him in the throat, knocking him off his horse. I then hear a loud yelp of pain coming from the driver of the other wagon. I turn to look at him and see the hilt of large knife coming out of his chest. I then realize, in pure amazement, that Rebecca was the one who must have thrown the knife at him. I didn’t tie up Rebecca and Lottie tightly. They must have untied themselves and sprung into deadly action. The slave woman in the other wagon sees her opportunity to get some revenge. She loops her tied up wrists around the driver’s throat and strangles him with everything she’s got. Both men are dead within minutes.I get off the wagon and make my way over to the tied up woman, with the intention of setting her free of her rope. As I approach her, she leaps on me and tries the same move on me. As she is trying to strangle me I manage to say, “Please…stop…I’m not…a…slaver.” She does not pay any attention to my plea. Rebecca sees what’s going on. “Wait! Stop. He’s not a slaver. He’s with me…I mean he’s with us. Stop. Please,” she says. The woman hears Rebecca’s plea and lets go. She takes a moment to calm down. “What do you mean he’s with you? He said he was taking slaves back home to Fremonton,” the woman says. “He was only pretending to be a slaver; we figured it would be safer to travel through Californoya posing as slaves under the control of a slaver. We were only pretending,” Lottie tells the woman. “Well, according to those dead slavers, it seems you’re one or two men short of a full slaver crew,” the woman says. “We didn’t know that. Now we know. My name is Rebecca. That’s my mom Lottie, and guy you just tried to kill is Gavin. What’s your name?” Rebecca says and asks. “Sasha. My name is Sasha,” she says. Rubbing at my throat I say, “It’s good to meet you Sasha (cough). Where are (cough) you from?” “I’m from outside of Los Angeles. My family has a farm there; I was on my way to visit my aunt in Nevid when they grabbed me. They grabbed me at night while I was sleeping by the fire,” Sasha said. “We’re on way home also, but we’re making stop in Redwood Town. We should take this other wagon and ride down together. There is some measure of safety traveling in numbers. Before we get going, we should stash these bodies in a bush somewhere, and then clean ourselves up a bit,” Lottie says. Sasha just has this look on her face. “Redwood Town? Redwood…Town? Why do you want to go there? I’ve heard rumors…that he lives there. The Dreamer. He’s dangerous,” Sasha says. “Gavin is going to visit his grandpa Hugo. I don’t anything about ‘The Dreamer.’ What are you talking about? Gavin, what is she talking about?” Rebecca says. “Sasha tells us what you’re talking about,” Lottie demands. “No way; I’m not saying a word,” Sasha says. “Gavin?” Lottie says. “I’m not ready to say anything about it. I think, right now, we need to concentrate on moving the bodies and then getting on our way. Sasha are you coming with us or are you going to travel alone?” I say, flatly. “I don’t want to travel alone, so I’m coming with you,” Sasha says. “Okay well, let’s move these bodies,” Lottie says. I figure I should tell them about grandpa Hugo, but not yet. NineI’m forty days into my journey and I haven’t reached my grandpa Hugo’s cabin. It’s taking longer than I thought it would, but we’re close. In the distance, I can see the Golden Gate Bridge. Beyond the bridge are the ruins of what used to be San Francisco. According to my father, the ruins are completely abandoned; a****ls and trees have taken back the streets. We are no longer traveling as slaver and slaves, but we’re being careful. We haven’t come across any more slavers since the incident where we came upon Sasha. We’ve stopped at a couple towns and stayed for a day or so in each town. In one of the towns we traded a couple of our horses for money and supplies. In the other town we spent a lot of time in the local pub, drinking beer. That was an interesting experience as I’m not a big drinker. Rebecca and Sasha got into an argument over which was better, potatoes or yams. They both, obviously, drank too much. When asked for my opinion on the matter, as if to help decide the dispute, I simply said that I liked both the same. That just earned me a look from both Rebecca and Sasha. Lottie never entered the dispute; she just sat savoring her beer. When asked for her opinion on the matter she just ignored them both, which earned her a look as well. We’ve been getting to know each other along the way. I now know, for example, that Rebecca and Sasha are the same age. Lottie is my father’s age. I also learned that Sasha was to be joined to a guy named George, before she was taken. I’ve also decided that after visiting grandpa Hugo, I’ll accompany Sasha, Rebecca, and Lottie to their homes. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge out in the distance, we decide to stop and make camp for the night. “We didn’t come this way on our way north with Jim, Carl, and Bill. I’ve never seen this bridge before. Does the bridge have a name? Gavin, what did you say the city was called?” Lottie says and asks. Before I am able to answer, Sasha says, “Yeah I wasn’t brought this way either.” “It’s the Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond it are the ruins of the city once called San Francisco. Don’t worry – nobody lives there anymore. At least, I don’t think so,” I say. “Mom, Sasha – will you two please volunteer to get dinner ready tonight? I want to go for a walk with Gavin,” Rebecca says. I turn deep shade of red, wondering what this is about. Lottie looks to Sasha for confirmation then says, “Okay, we volunteer. You two be careful out there.” “Thank you. Gavin, will you please come with me on a walk?” Rebecca says. Before I’m able to answer, I am taken by the hand and almost dragged to the apparent entrance of a trail. We walk for what seems to be ten minutes at a brisk pace. Rebecca’s walking is fluid and smooth, while mine is nothing but pure awkward and strange. She notices, but doesn’t say a word. She holds on to my hand the entire time, as though to assist me in keeping the pace. The moon is bright tonight so we don’t have any trouble seeing where we’re going. After about ten minutes, our walk slows to a mere amble. She lets go of my hand, but continues to walk alongside me. “Gavin, I know you are a lot younger than I am. Well…not that much younger…but younger. And I’m older…well…not that much older…but older. Oh, look at me; I’m nervous. Why am I so nervous? What I am trying to say is…well…what I want to tell you…is that…well…I really like you,” Rebecca says. I’m stunned and don’t know how to respond. Sure, she hasn’t punched me in a while and hasn’t called me ‘idiot’ in an even longer while, but I had no idea that she ‘liked’ me. “But what about all the punching and calling me ‘idiot’ and all that?” I ask. “You deserved it,” she says, simply. Before I can say anything else, she steps in front of me and faces me. She then grabs me by the arms and pulls me in for a kiss, tongue and all. The only thing that comes to mind at first is, ‘what?’ As we’re kissing I come to realize that I too have feelings for Rebecca. The realization hits me plain as day. So I return the affection, deeply and with passion. We stand there kissing and holding each other for a further few minutes. It’s intense. Rebecca’s hands run all over my body, finally coming to rest on my butt where she squeezes, firmly. I do my best to explore her body with my hands as respectfully as possible. I have only been intimate with Jenny Sunnyvale, so this is still somewhat uncharted territory for me. The fact that I’m nervous is made clear by the increased intensity of the tremor in my hands. My heart is beating so fast and hard, that I fear it will pop out of my chest. We stop kissing and Rebecca presses her face into my neck. She takes in a long, deep breath and then she kisses my neck. “Come on, let’s walk a little further to see what’s ahead of us,” she says. We walk down the trail while holding hands. I’m feeling light on my feet. We walk for another ten minutes until we arrive at what appears to be a large pond or a small lake. I don’t recall a body of water located here on my map, but then I think that probably not everything was on the map. Rebecca says, “Hey, let’s go for a swim.” “Okay,” I say tentatively, knowing that the water will most likely be freezing cold. We strip naked in front of each other, knowing that we’ve already seen each other in the nude. As soon we’re naked my ‘excitement’ is very apparent as I gaze on Rebecca’s body. She sees me, smiles, reaches to grab my hand, and we walk into the water together. Just as I suspected, the water is freezing cold. We both yell out and immediately grab on to each other for warmth. We run out of the water and instead of swimming we find a spot by the reeds in the grass to lie down. We kiss and explore each other’s bodies for a long while. We then realize we’ve been gone for a good long while, so we decide to get dressed and head back to camp. We walk back holding hands. As we exit the trail and enter the camp, we see Lottie and Sasha cooking and chatting by the fire. As we walk up to them, Lottie says, “Well now, look at you two…holding hands. I take it your walk together was eventful.” “Yes…mom…Gavin and I decided we are to be joined as soon as we get home!” Rebecca says. Knocked over sideways, I say, “What! What? We never even talked about that. What are you talking about? All we did was kiss and all that. You must be confused.” She just gives me look and out of nowhere, punches me in the groin. I crumple to ground in a haze of confused pain. “Well, now that that’s settled, let’s eat,” Lottie says. I get up after a few moments, and hobble over in pain to grab some food. Rebecca ignores me and avoids looking at me the entire time. She sits away from all of us, eating in silence. She’s angry, I can tell. I then wonder where she came up with the notion of us being joined. She must be confused. Sure, we’ve been getting to know each other on the way south, but I’m not sure why she would want to join with me. I spend the time eating in silence as well, thinking. I arrive at a conclusion; I’m on a mission to accomplish a goal. Looking into the fire, I regain my focus. Then, out of nowhere, I am overcome by the urge to share my grandpa Hugo’s story. After we finish eating I say, “I’d like to tell you all a story about my grandpa Hugo and also the story about a man named Walter ‘PPK’ Smith.” I go through the entire tale of both men, fielding multiple questions with clarifying answers. The tale goes on late into the night. When I’m done telling the stories, everyone’s eyes are wide-awake with something to say. “Wait, wait, wait…this old man…this grandpa Hugo of yours…he’s your great-great-great grandfather? How is he still alive? He must be older than dirt,” Lottie says. “Yes he is my great-great-great grandfather, but I just mostly refer to him as grandpa Hugo. He is still alive because he dreamed himself into living for two hundred years,” I say. “What about your grandma Aoife? Is she still…you know…alive?” Rebecca asks, to my surprise. She was listening to my stories the entire time. “No, unfortunately grandpa Hugo’s dreams had no effect on grandma Aoife. She died a long time ago. I never met her. I only know of her or about her through the stories that were passed down to me,” I say. “And why are going down to see him?” Sasha asks. “Well, you all have probably noticed that I have a strange walk and that I have a tremor in my hands. I think I have what grandpa Hugo had in his youth, Parkinson’s disease,” I say, and then am suddenly interrupted. “And you’re going to see if he can dream you a cure, right?” Sasha says. “Yes, that’s my hope,” I say. “That’s amazing!” Lottie says. “Wait…there is something I don’t understand. If your grandpa Hugo has this amazing dreaming ability, why hasn’t he gotten rid of the slave trade in Californoya?” Rebecca says. “I…I don’t know. I’ve thought about that exact same thing. I just don’t know,” I say. “You were saying that all the members of your family make this trip to see him?” Lottie asks. “Yeah…that’s right. My older sister Jana came down to see him a few years ago,” I say. “Wait! You’re sister made the same trip? How did she make it through Californoya without running into slavers? She made it back home, right?” Rebecca says. “Yeah, she made it back. I don’t know how it happened that she didn’t run into slavers. She’s much more ‘stealthy’ than I am,” I say. “Stealthy? Rebecca told me you rode into the slaver camp and tried to play the hero. You call that stealth?” Sasha says. “He was trying to help us. He didn’t succeed, but he did try to help. I believe that to be commendable,” Lottie says. “So your grandpa Hugo is the reason why all the cars disappeared?” Sasha says. “That’s right. He dreamed away all cars in physical contact with the ground. With so few people around, he saw cars as a massive clutter that needed clearing, so he got rid of them. There are, obviously, still some cars around. There is an old car at the bottom of our pond at home on our ranch,” I say. “Wow, how’d you find the car at the bottom of the pond?” Lottie asks. “My parents knew about it and they told us about it,” I say. “Yeah, I came across one on a lift in some old garage in the ruins of Los Angeles. I like to go exploring in the ruins in my spare time,” Sasha says. “Really? That sounds fun,” Lottie says. Deciding that I’m thirsty, I get up to get some water. As I am drinking the water, someone comes up behind me and hugs me. It’s Rebecca. She kisses my neck and whispers in my ear, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I punched you. I was angry. Forgive me?” “Of course I forgive you, but next time you get angry do you think you can talk to me instead of hitting me?” I say. I turn around and kiss her. “Okay…talking…got it…check, but I make no promises. I reserve the right to get physical with you when you deserve it. But I will try to talk it out, promise,” she says. Laughing, I say – “Okay.” We both go back to fire and sit down next to each other. “Well now, it seems you two are on good terms again,” Lottie says. It’s late into the middle of the night, but nobody seems tired or ready to go to sleep. “Mom – I have a confession to make. Gavin and I never discussed joining. I just got over excited because we had been kissing. I think it’s probably safe to say that we’re an ‘item’ now,” Rebecca tells her mother. “I knew it…I knew it. The way you two are always looking at each other…I knew it,” Sasha exclaims. “Well, good…I’m happy for you. But you’d do well to remember that Gavin lives way up north in Oregonia, and we live…well…we live far away from him,” Lottie says. This gives me something to think about. “Well, we’ll deal with that when the time comes. We’re not home yet,” Rebecca says. “Gavin, I have a question about this ‘PPK’ guy. Did he and your grandpa Hugo ever meet or come across each other?” Sasha says. “No they never came across each other in person, but they did know about each other. Grandpa Hugo was a constant figure in the news through the years and so was Walter,” I say. “What a terrible…terrible man, that Walter. I had no idea that’s what happened. I mean, I was told stories as a c***d about the ‘great dying,’ but I had no idea it was all because of one man,” Lottie says. “Okay…if they never met…and Walter did all his research in private…and the security cameras were off in the club the night he dosed the girl with the stuff in the vial…how do you know what happened?” Sasha says, trying to put things together in her mind. “That’s easy. Grandpa Hugo dreamed that he knew the truth about what happened to cause the ‘great dying.’ And the story has been passed down over the years,” I say. “When we first met you…you said ‘the dreamer’ was dangerous. How did you know about Gavin’s grandpa Hugo?” Rebecca asks Sasha. “I didn’t know about him. I just heard stories…rumors really…about some guy living in Redwood Town that had a ‘dreaming’ ability and that he was responsible for the ‘great dying.’ I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but it sounded dangerous. Now, knowing what happened, I feel better about meeting him,” Sasha says. “Gavin, tomorrow we’ll cross that Golden Gate Bridge. Are you sure it’s safe…structurally I mean,” Lottie says. I take a moment to kiss Rebecca on her neck. “My father says the bridge was built to last. We’ll be fine. Yes, it’s safe,” I say. “Okay, I trust you. Well, I think I’m going to get some sleep,” Lottie says, yawning. “Me too,” Sasha says, also yawning. Rebecca and I nod at each other, smile, and then we kiss. We decide that sleep sounds like a good idea. We fall asleep holding each other by the warmth of the fire. Before falling asleep, I think about grandpa Hugo and what it’ll be like to finally meet him. Soon, I think. Will he be able to help me with my problem? Soon, I think and I fall asleep. TenForty-seven days into my journey I find myself standing in front of my grandpa Hugo’s cabin. We arrive in the early afternoon. We made it over the bridge safely, and it took us few days to maneuver the wagons through the ruins of San Francisco. My father was correct, there was nobody living there. As far as we could tell, it was only trees, wildlife, and crumbling buildings. Standing in front of the cabin, I see that it is not an actual cabin. It’s a rather large home. Redwood trees surround the house like all of Redwood Town. Redwood City used to be filled with redwood trees; my grandpa Hugo dreamed that the redwood trees would return in their full growth. Going through the actual town, we received warm greetings from everyone we saw. There was an overall feeling of safety in the town. Grandpa Hugo lives on the outskirts of town, away from the town’s center. Looking at the front door of the house I’m confused as I see a woman coming out to greet us. She’s holding a baby and has a young toddler in tow. I’m at the right place, I think. “Hello there…welcome…welcome to my house…what can I do for you?” the woman says. “Yes ma’am…perhaps you can direct me in the right direction…I’m looking for my grandpa Hugo’s cabin,” I say. “Oh…well…you’ve found it…this is it. He’s inside sleeping. I’m his wife and these two are his c***dren. You all look as though you’ve travelled quite a long way; put your wagons and a****ls in the barn and then come inside. There’s a water pump, buckets, and hay in the barn for your a****ls,” she says. I’m completely taken by surprise; I don’t know what to say. “Yes ma’am…thank you…we’ll do that and then be right in. Thank you,” Rebecca says, seeing that I’m at a loss for words. “My name is Hannah…by the way…and please take your boots off before you come into the house,” the woman says. Wow! She’s so young and he is so old, I think to myself. I snap out of reverie and say, “Yes…yes ma’am…no boots in the house. My name is Gavin.” “It’s nice to meet you Gavin…see you in a few,” Hannah says. We see to Pablo, Don Juan, and the other horses. As we’re in the barn Lottie says, “As far as barns go, this one is quite nice.” As I’m nodding in agreement, I get slapped hard on the butt. “Gavin…what’s wrong with you…I saw you back there…cat got your tongue? So he’s joined to young and beautiful woman…and he’s got two young k**s…big deal…I say good for him…he’s living a full life,” Rebecca says. “Yeah Gavin…so what? Get over it pal,” Sasha adds. “They’re right, Gavin. It’s amazing,” Lottie chimes in. I shrug my shoulders, purse my lips and then say, “Yeah…I suppose you’re all right…it is no big deal.” “I wonder how they met?” Sasha says. “It is not really our business…but I’m sure Gavin can ask…right, Gavin?” Lottie says. I pump out some cold water for myself in a cup taking a long swallow, cough up a bit of water, and then I say, “Yeah, I’ll find out.” “Do you think she knows about…you know…his ability?” Rebecca says. “Shoot…I don’t know…I guess I can also find out about that,” I say. We conclude our business inside the barn, and then we make our way to the house. At the front door, we all take off our boots and then we knock on the door. A few moments later, Hannah opens the door and tells us in a low tone; “I just put Lucy and Isaac down for a nap upstairs. Everyone who is asleep is on the third floor, so as long as we don’t yell, we should be fine. Let’s all go into the kitchen; I have freshly made pies.” Pie sure does sound delicious. “Yes ma’am…thank you,” I say. Moving through the house and into the kitchen, I see that the house is absolutely amazing. It seems relatively new. In the kitchen I take a moment to introduce everyone; “Hannah…ma’am…with me are Rebecca, Lottie, and Sasha.” “You can call me Hannah, Gavin. Before we go any further, I want to confirm you are who you say you are, okay? Now…I know about your grandpa Hugo. He’s told me everything. Everything. He had to tell me everything…not just because I’m his wife…but also because I was drawn here to him all the way from the Kingdom of Florida…I travelled for a long time…left my parents without an explanation…because of him. He owed me an explanation, but we’ll get to that later.” “Okay…Hannah…what do you need from me to confirm my identity?” I say. “That’s simple…two things…one…your grandpa Hugo had a baby with Aoife in his youth…the baby girl died…what was her name?” I look at her in a serious manner and answer without hesitation, “It wasn’t a girl…it was a boy that died and his name was Ramiro.” “Okay…two…what was your grandpa Hugo’s father’s middle name?” Hannah says. “It was Luis,” I answer again, without hesitation. “Okay, that’s good enough for me. Now, you’re a bit young to be his grandson…looking at you…I’d guess you’re his great-great-great grandson…am I right?” Hannah says. “Yes, that’s correct,” I say. We all get some pie and some milk to wash it down. It’s a strange mix of apple-cherry pie, but it’s the best pie I’ve ever tasted. “You’re from the Kingdom of Florida? Wow! I’ve never met anyone from that far away before…can you tell us about it? Were you a princess or something?” Sasha says with nervous excitement. Hannah quietly laughs out loud. “No my dear…Sasha, right? Nothing so grand…I was the daughter of a peasant farmer,” Hannah says. “The bachelor-King of Florida runs the place…and I was far removed from the likes of him…let me tell you,” she adds. “You mentioned you were drawn here to my grandpa Hugo…I don’t understand…can you tell us more?” I say. “Well…let me see…where to begin? Okay, well one hot July day…oh wait…I forget that out here ‘July’ is no longer used…it was one hot summer season day, and I was walking home from school. I was fifteen at the time. And right before I walk through the gate to our house, I collapse. My dad found me about an hour later; I was out cold. I was brought into the house and didn’t wake up for three days,” Hannah says. “Three days? Were you sick or something?” Rebecca asks. “I don’t know…and my parents didn’t know. We couldn’t afford a doctor. My parents told me that I kept repeating a name…once every hour…for the three days I was out. I kept repeating your grandpa Hugo’s name, Gavin,” Hannah says. “What did your parents make of it?” I ask. “They didn’t know what to think…it is not a common name. My parents didn’t know anyone in the surrounding villages by that name,” Hannah says. “Once you woke up, did you know you had been repeating the name?” Lottie asks with her eyes wide-open in wonderment. “No, my parents told me a few days after I woke up. I was scared because it was so strange. My younger brother thought I was cursed or something. My older sister thought it was nothing, and just shrugged it off,” Hannah says. Getting herself a second serving of the delicious pie, Sasha then says – in between bites of pie, “Then what happened?” “At the end of the summer season, something strange and unusual happened. I got a clear image in my head…as clear as I see you all standing here in my kitchen. The image was of this house and of an older man working in the front yard. Something inside me was saying…yelling and screaming at me…that the man in the image would be my husband. In my head I also had clear and precise directions on how to arrive here. Above all else, I had an overwhelming desire to come out west to what was once California. I couldn’t explain it; I just knew I had to do it,” Hannah says. “That’s astonishing,” Rebecca says. I can almost guess why it happened, but I want to hear more so I keep my mouth closed. “Please, tell us more,” Sasha says, having finished her second slice of pie. “I knew I could not tell my parents. If I did tell them…they would have forbidden me to go…and I couldn’t have that. I knew it would be long odyssey of trip, so I had to prepare. It took me about a month to devise a plan to steal enough money from the village coffers. I had my bag packed and ready, as well as hidden. Once I stole the money, all that was left was to steal a couple horses from the village elder. It’s amazing what you can achieve, provided that you have sufficient motivation. I had the horses, got my bag, supplies, and money; I took off the same night I stole the horses. I was lucky that we lived on the outskirts of the Kingdom of Florida, and was well outside the border by morning,” Hannah says. “How long did it take you to get here?” Rebecca asks. “Are you trying to find out how old I am? You are a naughty one…I’ll have to watch you,” Hannah says in a jovial way. Embarrassed and turning red, Rebecca says, “Oh my gosh…I’m sorry…I was only wondering…well…because…it is so far away.” Again, laughing quietly, Hannah then says, “Relax sweets…I was only k**ding with you. It took me a total of four years to get here. Well…three years to get to California…sorry…I mean Californoya. I spent a year in Californoya avoiding slavers. What happened was that one night, I came upon a camp with two men and one tied up woman. It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was a slave trade in the area. Before that, I ran into all kinds of trouble. I got sick somewhere in the Lousana Territory and had to find refuge in some sort of monastery. I had to walk most of the way through the Empire of Texas, after my horses were stolen. The only place where I didn’t experience any trouble was in Arizona.” “That’s simply astounding,” güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri Lottie says. Hannah excuses herself to go upstairs to check on her sleeping c***dren. Meanwhile, I get another smack on the butt from Rebecca; “You see…Hannah knew well enough…to avoid the slavers,” she says. “Oh pipe down…if I had avoided the slaver camp…we would never have met,” I respond with a silly grin on my face. I got her with that one, as has no response for me. She just leans into me for a kiss. Sasha pours herself another glass full of milk. Lottie makes a move to clean up our plates in the sink. “Wow…will you look at this…your grandpa Hugo has running water!” We all rush over to the sink to marvel over the incredible running water. This is another ‘first’ for me; I have never seen running water inside a house. I immediately wonder if there is an indoor outhouse as well. I’ll have to find out. A few moments later Hannah enters the room. “I see you all have discovered the running water. That’s wonderful. Later, before dinner, you are all welcome to take a hot shower or bath. To be perfectly honest…not trying to mean or rude…but you’re all kind of ripe from your travel. You’re staying for a few days, right? There’s room in this house for you all to have your own room, if you want,” she says. None of us are embarrassed by the ‘ripe’ comment because we all know it’s true. “Did you say hot…hot shower?” I say. “Yes…I said hot…amazing, right? There’s working toilets too, just so you know. Of course, I must ask that you help keep the house clean and that you help with the cooking and laundry while you’re here,” Hannah says. “Oh…no problem…we are more than willing to our share of housework,” Lottie says. “Indoor plumbing…wow, that’s amazing…but…but…how does it work?” I say. “I have no clue…it just works. There’s even something called electricity,” Hannah says. I say, “What?” Sasha, Lottie, and Rebecca ask almost in unison, “What’s electricity?” “It’s light without candles…it is power like in the old days, before the ‘great dying,’” I tell them. Seeing that they are still confused, Hannah flips a switch. The three women nearly scream, but catch themselves. This is so amazing, I think. After they calm down, Sasha – who is clearly more mesmerized by the story, than by the electricity – asks Hannah to continue. “So when I arrived here, an older man was working in the front yard; just as in my image. I went up to him and asked, ‘are you Hugo?’ He said yes and then also said, ‘you must be Hannah; I dreamed about you,’” she says. Hannah takes a moment to take a drink of water, and then to splash water on her face. She then continues, “Then I collapsed. I woke up three days later in the downstairs bedroom. He was sitting by the side of the bed waiting for me to wake up. He told me later that he only got up for water and for the bathroom. It turns out that I arrived a few days after a family member of his was here for a visit…someone named Jana, I think,” she says. “That was my older sister…oh…sorry…I interrupted…please…continue,” I say. “Well, Hugo said he was used to visitors and that he was overjoyed to finally meet me. He was a lot older than me, but I was in love. Looking into his eyes, I knew he felt the same. We were married…sorry…joined…a few weeks later. Lucy was born about a year later, and Isaac just recently. I learned about his ability shortly after we were joined…but…I somehow already knew. It turns out that he had dreamed that the one girl alive whom he could love, and could love him in return…would come to him. And I did. That’s my story, and I am sticking to it,” Hannah says with tears of joy in her eyes. I feel an overwhelming sense of joy inside. Sasha, Lottie, and Rebecca are also crying. The next thing I know, I hear footsteps coming down the stairs. It must be grandpa Hugo. A few moments later he walks in; I can’t believe it…it is finally happening. I’m instantly shocked by how young he looks. I mean he’s old…but not as ‘old looking’ as I envisioned. He seems strong. He seems to have great balance. “Well now, who do we have here? Visitors…I see. Welcome to our home…who, may I ask, are you?” he says. There is a slight mumble to his speech; I think it’s probably due to his age. “Hugo…my love…this is Gavin,” Hannah says, pointing to me. “He’s your great-great-great grandson. I asked him the two questions…to verify…just like you said,” she adds. Grandpa Hugo moves forward to give Hannah a light pat on the butt, and then he kisses her lips. “Thank you…my love,” grandpa Hugo says to Hannah. “Who are your parents, Gavin?” he asks. “Amanda is my mom, and Rush is my dad. Oh yeah…and Jana is my older sister,” I say. “Ah…Rush…Amanda…yes, I remember them. They came to see me years ago. Your dad wanted some financial help, and your mom simply wanted to meet ‘The Dreamer’…and Jana had some boy issues,’” grandpa says. At the very mention of the term ‘The Dreamer,’ I see Sasha’s eyes go wide as she bolts upright in her chair. “You know…what people call you?” Sasha says. Grandpa laughs quietly – aware of the sleeping c***dren upstairs. “Of course I know…I’m old, but I’m not dumb, young lady. Gavin, will you please introduce your friends,” grandpa says while sitting down. Hannah excuses herself again, to check on the c***dren. “Oh…sure thing…grandpa, this is Sasha, Lottie and her daughter, Rebecca,” I say. “It’s great to meet you, sir,” Rebecca and Lottie say. “It’s wonderful to finally meet you mister dreamer sir,” Sasha adds. “Likewise…now…where are you all from and how did you meet?” grandpa says. Just as I am about to start in on our story, my grandpa adds, “Oh wait…hold that thought…wait for Hannah to come back…so she can hear your story as well. While we wait, I believe I’ll grab some gluten-free pie. It’s delicious, right?” We all nod in agreement. Grandpa Hugo eats his pie, while we wait for Hannah to return. A few moments later Hannah enters the room. “Why is everyone so quiet in here?” she says. “We were waiting for you, my love. I asked them where they were from and how they met…and rather than have you miss the beginning…I thought it prudent to wait for your return,” grandpa says. “Oh good thinking, honey. I do love a good story,” Hannah says. I drink the last of my milk before I begin. “Well…grandpa…I’m from just outside of Portland, Oregonia. Sasha is from just outside of Los Angeles, Californoya. Lottie and Rebecca are from southern Californoya, near the Arizona border. We all met because we were victims of the slave trade,” I say. Grandpa Hugo and Hannah’s eyes go wide in apparent shock. I go on to tell Hannah and grandpa Hugo an abbreviated version of my journey here and how I came to meet Rebecca, Lottie, and Sasha. The three of them then tell their side of the story…about how they came into being slaves…and how they came to meet me. Just as Sasha finishes telling her portion of the story, we hear a crying baby upstairs. Lucy appears at the doorway, surprising us. “Mommy…Isaac is up…and…he’s crying,” Lucy says. Hannah leaves the room to go get Isaac. Lucy then goes up to her dad and hugs his arm. “Daddy…who are…those people,” she says. “Lucy…my sweet girl…this is Gavin…he is your family…and these are his friends…Lottie, Rebecca, and Sasha,” grandpa says. “It’s very nice to meet you all,” Lucy, says, half hiding behind her father. “Can I have some pie, daddy?” she adds. “Only a tiny piece. We’ll be having dinner soon…here, sit down and I’ll cut you a piece,” my grandpa says. While Lucy is eating her pie, a bold thought comes over me. “Grandpa…there is something I have to ask you. With your ability…why is it…that there is still a slave trade in Californoya? Why don’t you get rid of the problem? I’m sorry to have to ask…but…it is something that has been weighing heavily on my mind,” I say. Grandpa Hugo looks at me cautiously as if wondering something. He doesn’t seem upset. “Well…as it turns out…I haven’t been able to ‘dream’ in a long time,” grandpa says. There it is. I deflate like a balloon of the old days. My hopes of a cure are crushed flat. My problem will have to remain a problem. “What do you mean?” I ask as Hannah walks back into the room with Isaac in her arms. Out of the corner of my eye I see Rebecca, Lottie, and Sasha give me a look of a shared disappointment. “What I mean…is…that I believe I’ve lost the ability to ‘dream.’ Shoot…the last successful dream I had was the dream of Hannah. I feel blessed enough, and cannot ask for more. Besides…a long time ago I dreamed that Redwood Town would remain a safe area…so the slavers were never a problem here. Looking back…I should have done something…but I didn’t and for that I’m sorry,” grandpa says. “But…but…how were you able to help Jana?” I ask. “You mean she did find someone?” grandpa says. “Yes she did find someone. She found the most ‘interesting’ man on the planet. They are now joined, living in Columbia, and just had twin girls,” I say. “Wow…that’s wonderful. Looks like what helped…was…getting out of her element…and away from home for a while. To be honest…I don’t know for sure if I helped her…she came to me during the time when I was discovering the possible loss of my ability. I’m sure…now…that I’ve lost the ability,” grandpa says. He then looks at me as if something inside him clicks. “Oh shoot…Gavin…you came all this way for some help…right? I’m so sorry. What did you want help with?” he says. My eyes well up with tears and I take hold of Rebecca’s hand. I squeeze it, gently. “Well…grandpa…I believe I have what you had in your youth. I believe I have the Parkinson’s. I came here looking for a cure before it gets worse,” I say. Grandpa Hugo develops a sad expression on his face. “Show me your hands held out flat in front of you,” he says. I do as he says. I feel odd as though a doctor is examining me. Grandpa Hugo just stares at my hands for a few moments. “Now let me see you get up and walk to the other end of the room…then walk back,” grandpa says. I get up and walk, feeling watched. When I sit back down, he just says, “It sure does look like Parkinson’s to me…keep in mind that I’m not a doctor…I’m just saying it does based on my own experience…from what I remember. Gavin, I’m so sorry. Just so you know…not everyone’s experience with Parkinson’s…is the same. Now…come on…get up and give your old grandpa a hug,” grandpa Hugo says. I get up, go over to him as he gets up, and we hug. “It’s great to finally meet you, grandpa,” I say. “I feel the same way, Gavin,” he says. As I step away from the hug, I feel a sudden tingle all over my body and then I see a bright flash of light. The flash of light doesn’t bother my eyes. “What was that…that flash of light…what was it?” I say, unsure of myself. “Gavin…what are you talking about…what flash of light? Are you talking about the electricity?” Rebecca says with concern in her voice. Feeling dizzy I say, “Grandpa…I saw the flash of light…I saw it.” Then I collapse to the floor. The last thing I see, before passing out, is Rebecca rushing over to my side. ElevenAs I wake up, I find that I am both naked and clean under the covers of a bed. I’m in a strange bedroom. It takes me a few moments to realize where I am. Then it comes to me; I must be in one of the bedrooms in my grandpa Hugo’s cabin…house. From the view in the window, I see that it’s morning and that I must be in one of the downstairs bedrooms. I have a bit of a headache. I’m also in need of some water, though that can wait because I also have to use the bathroom. “Hello…is anyone there?” I call out. A few moments later, Rebecca walks in with some clean folded up clothes in her hands. She sees that I’m awake; she drops the clothes on the chair by the door, and rushes over to my side. “You’re awake…I was so worried,” she says. “What do you mean…you were worried? Why? How long was I out?” I say. She looks at me, seriously. “You’ve been out for three days,” she says. “What? Three Days? What happened?” I say in disbelief. “We were in the kitchen…with everyone…you said you saw a flash of light…and then you collapsed to the floor,” Rebecca says. “A flash of light? I don’t remember that…I just remember feeling dizzy and then falling to the floor,” I say. I remember that I’m naked, so I add, “Rebecca, why am I naked…and why am I clean?” “When you didn’t wake up that first day, we decided to give you a bath. We thought the water might wake you up, but it didn’t. I’m so glad that you’re finally awake. I brought you some clean clothes,” she says. “Oh good…excellent timing…I have to use the bathroom,” I say. I get up; a bit unsteady on my feet, I get dressed. Before heading to the bathroom, I push Rebecca down on the bed and we kiss for a few moments. “Do you want some help in the bathroom…remember this house has the indoor plumbing…and it’s a bit tricky,” Rebecca whispers into my ear. I get up, and straighten my clothes. “I’ll figure it out…thanks,” I say. “Well…okay…talk about good timing…breakfast is almost ready. We’ll all be in the kitchen. Lottie and Sasha are cooking…you are hungry, right?” Rebecca says. “Yeah…I could eat,” I say, with a grin. I make my way to the indoor outhouse; I’m excited. Stepping inside the small room, I see the toilet. It’s a bit daunting. I know I’m supposed to lift the seat, so I do. I then take aim and relieve myself of my water. This is exhilarating. When I’m done, I am a bit perplexed, as I’m not sure what I need to do next. Is it automatic? Then I see a small lever above the bowl. I try pulling it back. Nothing. I try pushing it forward. Nothing. I try pushing it down. Flush. I’m startled. Proud of myself, I pull up my pants and head out towards the kitchen. “Whoa…look who’s finally up and around. Welcome back to the land of the living,” Sasha blurts out as I enter the room. I just give her a look. “I’m glad you’re okay, Gavin. I was going to send for a doctor, if you didn’t wake up today,” grandpa Hugo says. “Thanks…grandpa,” I say. “Hungry?” Lottie says. “Yes I am,” I say. “Well have a seat,” Hannah says. I sit down, give Rebecca a kiss, and then I feel a small tug at my sleeve. “I’m sure glad you’re okay now, Mr. Gavin,” Lucy says. “Thank you miss Lucy,” I say. Lucy giggles and runs into Hannah’s arms. “Mommy…he called me ‘miss’ Lucy,” she says, all a giggle. “Yes…yes he did, my Lucy,” Hannah says. I see that Isaac is sleeping on a blanket over by the shaded window. As we’re eating, I realize I haven’t eaten in three days so I remind myself to eat slowly. “So what’s this flash of light…you say you saw…before you collapsed…and passed out?” Sasha says. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sasha. I was telling Rebecca earlier…that I don’t remember seeing any flash of light…I just remember feeling dizzy and then falling to the floor,” I say. Sasha gives me a look that suggests she doesn’t believe me. So I say, “Honest. I don’t remember seeing any flash of light.” “Don’t worry about it…it was probably nothing,” grandpa Hugo says, with a look of deep concern. After breakfast Rebecca, Sasha, and I head over to the barn to see to Pablo, Don Juan, and our other horses. Grandpa Hugo stays with the c***dren. Lottie and Hannah get started on some laundry. As we enter the barn I notice that both Sasha and Rebecca smell clean. “So…how was the experience of the hot shower?” I ask. “Oh…man. Gavin, it was the most wonderful experience ever. The showerhead comes off and is attached to cord so you can spray hot water all over your body. It makes the shower interesting; I enjoyed cleaning my lady parts with it,” Sasha says. “Don’t be gross, Sasha,” Rebecca says with a grin. I see her grin and say, “Rebecca, I suppose you took advantage of the same showerhead.” The comment earns me a hard punch to the shoulder. “Ouch…that hurt!” I say. “Yeah…well…you deserved it,” Rebecca says. As we’re cleaning up after our a****ls, I wonder what happened while I was passed out for three days. “So what were you all up to while I was…you know…out?” I ask. “Oh…wow…I almost forgot. I have a great story to tell you,” Sasha says. I’m curious. “What…what is it?” I ask. “Just so you know…I wasn’t there…I was by your side,” Rebecca tells me. “But I was there and so were Hannah and Lottie. Okay the second night you were out, Hannah took us into town to the pub for a night out. Your grandpa Hugo stayed home with the c***dren, and Rebecca stayed with you, Gavin. So okay…we were drinking the local brew and listening to people read their poetry to the small gathering. It was open poetry night at the pub. Interesting, right?” Sasha says. “Very,” I say. “Then this lady gets up to read her poem…and she has the most unusual accent in her speech. My mind was racing…where was she from? I had to know. So when she was done with her poem, Hannah invited her over to share a pitcher with us. She was the last poet to read, so we could talk. Are you ready? Her name was Edith and she came here all the way from England?” Sasha says with excitement and waiting for my reaction. I’m confused; “Where is that?” I say. “She’s from a country on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. She came over on a trading ship to York…what used to be New York on the other side of what used to be the United States,” she says. My eyes go wide in amazement; I’m stunned. “Wow…that is amazing! Why…why is she here…I mean…how is it that she ended up in Redwood Town?” I say. “Get this…she came over looking for her brother William. Apparently, William left England many years ago; he was seeking out your grandpa Hugo. He wasn’t called or summoned or compelled to come here like Hannah. He just caught wind of a rumor about a man living in a place called Redwood Town…a man who could change things with his dreams. This was years ago, before there was a slave trade in Californoya. It looks like he never made it; he just vanished…because when Edith finally arrived here…she asked your grandpa Hugo about William. Edith said your grandpa Hugo told her that he had never received any visitors named William. Edith said she was shocked. She’s been living here ever since, waiting for her brother to show up,” Sasha says. “Sad, isn’t it?” Rebecca chimes in. “Yeah…it’s sad. It’s a great story…and awesome that you met someone from so far away…but yeah…it’s sad,” I say. We finish dealing with Pablo, Don Juan, and the other horses…and then we head over to help Hannah and Lottie with the laundry. As we approach Lottie and Hannah, they are apparently having a good time as they are laughing. “What are you two laughing about?” Rebecca asks. “Oh…I was just telling Hannah about how Gavin named his horse and donkey…Pablo and Don Juan,” Lottie answers. I turn red, but don’t have any response to the comment. “Come on mother…I know you…what else are you two laughing over?” Rebecca adds. This time Hannah responds; “Your mom was telling me about the morning when Gavin woke up with you d****d all over him…and how you were drooling down his neck…and how you half woke up and kissed him. She also told me how you so enjoy smacking Gavin. Oh…yeah…she was also telling me about the time you and Sasha drank too much…and then had an argument over yams or something.” Rebecca looks mad…like she wants to say something but she holds her tongue for a moment. “I…I…I don’t enjoy hitting him,” she finally says. “Okay…but for someone who doesn’t enjoy it…you sure do hit Gavin a lot,” Sasha says to Rebecca. “I never drink too much…and that was a perfectly valid argument,” she also adds, looking at Hannah. “So…I understand this Edith lady is from across the other Ocean? Sasha was telling us that you introduced Edith to her and Lottie,” I say to Hannah, in an effort to change the subject. “Yeah…I did…and she is from that far away. She’s a smart lady. She works at the pub, and lives with the owner. The night I introduced them to Edith, was her night off work and she was there enjoying herself. Why? If you’re looking to make a change in your love situation…you’re out of luck for three reasons. One…she’s taken…two…she’s into women…and three…she’s joining with the pub owner, Martha, next season,” Hannah says. “No, Hannah, I’m not looking to make a change as you put it. Being that you come from the Kingdom of Florida…I was curious to know…what you know of or about contact with the part of the world where Edith is from? Is there a lot of trade that happens with places on the other side of that Ocean? Sasha mentioned that Edith came over on a trading ship. I ask because…well…as far as I know…there hasn’t been any contact with anyone from the other side of this Ocean,” I say. “Well…first…yes there has been contact with people from the other side of this Ocean…the Japanese people make the trip into the port of Redwood Town to trade in goods…mostly our beer for their salted fish and seafood. They come from a place called Japan. They say they only come here to trade because ‘The Dreamer’ lives here. When they come they stop in to see your grandpa Hugo…they come to hear his stories of the past. Your grandpa Hugo travelled to Japan in his youth; he loved it…especially the food,” Hannah says. I’m stunned. “Holy smoke! People from the other side of this Ocean come here to visit grandpa Hugo…that’s incredible! Oh…sorry…I interrupted…you were saying…please continue,” I say. “It’s okay to interrupt…I’m not trying to spout off some long speech. As I was saying…second…yes there is quite a bit of contact with Edith’s part of the world. Trading ships come in to ports all over on that side. My father once visited the eastern shores of the Kingdom of Florida…and he was in a pub one night where he met a group of sailors from some place called Italy or something. I have no idea where that is, but it sounds far away,” Hannah says. “Interesting,” I say. “So these Japanese trade for beer…must be some pretty good beer,” Rebecca chimes in. “Oh it is…trust me,” Sasha says. “I wholeheartedly agree!” Lottie adds. Hannah laughs out loud and then says, “It is a good beer…it’s a very dark gluten-free beer that’s worth the travel…trust me,” Hannah says. “Hannah…I have a question. What’s up with all the gluten-free food around here? First…I noticed it was gluten-free pie…then it was gluten-free bread at dinner the other night…now I hear about gluten-free beer in the pub…can you explain?” Rebecca says. Hannah and I just look at each other as if we knew a family secret or something. “Well…Gavin’s grandpa Hugo used to be gluten intolerant…which meant he couldn’t consume gluten…he dreamed himself out of that one…of course. It turned out…however…that he found he preferred gluten-free food…and so…he monetarily supports any venture – with startup funds – that provides gluten-free foods…get it?” Hannah says. Rebecca simply nods and says; “Now…I understand…thank you.” With so many helping hands, we’re done with washing the laundry in no time at all. We hang the wet clothes and things up on the lines to dry.Later in the evening, we’re all sitting at the table outside for a barbeque dinner. There are two fires going. A large one in a covered fire pit to light up the night for us; there are electric lights available outside, but we wanted to use the fire pit to set the mood. There is also a smaller fire over on the side, which we will use for cooking. A man named Pete stopped by this afternoon from town, and he dropped off a box of food. Pete also brought a medium-sized barrel of beer. It looks like I’ll get to try the world famous dark gluten-free beer. Grandpa Hugo sure does eat well; he arranged for some salted steaks and potatoes to be delivered for our group. It’s grandpa Hugo’s night to cook. Isaac is sleeping over by Hannah in a portable crib. Lucy is over with her father, helping. “So…now that you’re awake we can talk about a couple things, Gavin. What’s your plan from here? Are you heading back home or what? Don’t get me wrong…it is wonderful having you here…I was just wondering what you plan to do.” Hannah says. “Well…I came here looking for a cure to my problem…knowing now that it isn’t going to happen…I’m okay with that. I mean…what can I do…you know. As far as my plan from here is concerned…I plan to go with Sasha, Rebecca, and Lottie down south. First…I think we’ll go with Sasha to her home. I’m positive that her family is probably sick with worry…shoot; they may even think she’s dead. I’m sure George is eager for Sasha to return so they can be joined…that is…unless he hasn’t found someone else,” I say, earning myself a savage look from Sasha. I take a moment to take a few swallows of my beer. “Wow! That is a good beer!” I exclaim. “See…I told you,” Sasha says. Rebecca then follows suit and drinks some of her beer. She licks her lips, wipes her mouth with her arm, and nods in agreement. “Then…I think…I’ll go with Lottie and Rebecca to their home by the Arizona border. I’m sure Jacob is also worried…he’ll be relieved to see them I’m sure…and with him probably manning the trading post by himself…I’m sure he’ll appreciate the newly arrived help,” I say. I take another moment to drink some beer, and then lean over to kiss Rebecca. “Then…well…I figure I’ll make my way back home…this time doing my best to avoid any slavers. On my way home…I’d like to stop here again…if that’s okay, Hannah,” I say. “That’s not a problem…you should stop here on your way home. I think accompanying Sasha, Lottie, and Rebecca home, sounds like a great idea. That’s a long way to travel…I’ll be sure to give you money for that leg of your journey. Now…you mentioned two people I don’t know…George and Jacob. Who are they? Oh…wait…I do know whom Jacob is…he’s Rebecca’s older brother…Lottie’s son. I remember from the story about how Rebecca and Lottie fell into slavery and came to meet you, Gavin…but who is George?” Hannah says. “He’s my intended…we were supposed to be joined after I got back from visiting my aunt Rose in Nevid…at least…I hope is still my intended. We’ll see,” Sasha says. “If the man has any sense…he’ll be waiting for you when you get back, Sasha,” Hannah says. “Yes…I hope so too,” Lottie adds. “Hannah…thank you…we appreciate any money you can spare,” I say. “Nonsense…I’ll give you plenty of money,” Hannah says. “Huh? What money? I’ve got hot food here…plenty of hot food…who’s hungry?” grandpa Hugo says, carrying a large platter of steaks and baked potatoes. “I was telling Gavin that we’d give him money for his journey south,” Hannah tells her husband. “What…oh…yes…of course we’ll give you money. So…you’re going further south, eh? I assume you’re escorting these ladies home, right?” grandpa Hugo says. “Yes I am, grandpa,” I say. “Good…that’s good. Now…let me get myself some beer…and let’s eat. Lucy sit with daddy…okay?” he says. A few days later, we are gathering our belongings to leave. It was an amazing few days spent in the company of grandpa Hugo. One night we all went to the pub in town to listen to a visiting musician play. Even Lucy and Isaac went with us; Lucy spent some of the night dancing with her father. Well…grandpa Hugo held her in his arms, while they danced…but they still danced. Lottie drew the attentions of several of the single men in town. Apparently she caught their eye the last time she was in the pub. She spent the night talking to them. Rebecca, Sasha, Hannah, and I spent the night drinking beer and listening to the music; it was a fun time…it was a great night. Another night was spent at the house listening to Hannah go into further detail about her journey from the Kingdom of Florida to Redwood Town. Another night was spent listening to grandpa Hugo’s stories about the old days. He told us of his adventures and travels before he met grandma Aoife. Last night was spent reading together, grandpa Hugo’s favorite pastime. Even Sasha got into it, and she’s not a big reader type person. Lucy was on the floor with her alphabet blocks. I make my way to grandpa Hugo’s office; he keeps a small office in one corner of the house. He told me to meet him there; he said he wanted to have a private conversation with me before we left for southern Californoya. I stand at the door; I knock. “Come in,” grandpa says. I enter to see him taking a drink of water. In the windows I see Redwood Trees. They grow right next to this part of the house. “Please…come in Gavin…close the door behind you…and have a seat. Water?” he says. I come in, close the door, and then have a seat. “No thank you, grandpa. What did you want to talk to me about?” I say. “Well…first…I wanted to say that it is always great to meet family that I’ve never met before…and that it has been great having you here. I look forward to spending more time with you when you come through Redwood Town on your way home to Oregonia,” he says. “Thank you, grandpa. I too have enjoyed my time here with you. I also look forward to stopping here on my way home,” I say. “Also…I know you don’t have any c***dren yet…but I want to ask you…to continue passing down the story of what happened to me…you know…my story…pass it on…it’s important. Remember to also continue telling the story of ‘PPK.’ He was an evil man, but his story is important in conjunction to mine. Together the two stories tell the tale of consequences to every action. To this day…I feel bad…I feel horrible anguish…for being indirectly responsible for the actions of a man who is directly responsible for so many deaths. Keep telling the story…it’s important,” he says. “I will, grandpa…though I must say that I am selective with whom I share the stories,” I say. “Okay…well…that’s fine…as long as you continue to tell the stories. Now there is something important I want to go over with you…just go with it…okay?” he says. “Okay,” I nervously say. Grandpa Hugo takes another drink from his water glass. “The day you arrived…in the kitchen…before you collapsed…you told me you saw it…you said you saw a flash of light. Did it bother your eyes?” he says. “Grandpa, I told everyone…I told you…that I don’t remember any flash of light,” I say. “Well…you may not remember it…but you said you saw it at the time…and I believe you did see it, but just don’t remember it. Nobody else saw anything…I didn’t see it. But…don’t you see…it is the same flash of light I saw during my brain surgery all those years ago. Nobody else saw it back then, but I did. Sure I remembered seeing it and shrugged it off as nothing at first. I don’t know why you can’t remember it,” he says. “Grandpa…what…what are you saying? What are you trying to tell me?” I say. “What I’m trying to say…to tell you…is that if you indeed saw the same light that nobody else saw…I may have passed on my dreaming ability to you. Here is the thing…I want you to know that if I did…that I’m okay with it. If you do now have the ability…remember the stories…think of them as cautionary tales. What I’m saying…is…be careful what you dream about,” he says. It is as if I’m punched square in the middle of the face; I’m shocked to my core. Could this be real? I grab hold of grandpa Hugo’s water glass and gulp down the rest of it. “Grandpa…if I do…now…have the dreaming ability…how…how does it work? You know…how do I do it?” I say. “Ah…well…let me see…I’ve never had to explain how it works. Well…first, you have to learn to be aware of yourself while you’re dreaming. Another way to put it…you have to learn to be conscious within your dreams. Once you do that…you have to really focus on what it is that you want…you must fixate on it…and then you have to actually ask for it within the dream,” he says. That is going to be a problem; I hardly ever remember my dreams. “Don’t worry…you can have regular dreams where nothing happens as the result…just don’t ask for it within the dream. I know…I know…easier said than done. I’m not even sure that I did pass on the ability…but I thought it’d be best to warn you…to tell you…in case you do now have it. You know…so you don’t go causing another huge disaster by accident. Well…that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. What do you think about what I’ve told you?” he says. This is a lot to take in; it will take time to process. “I’m shocked…I’m surprised. If it turns out that I do now have the dreaming ability…I’ll be careful, grandpa. I know it’ll take some time because right now…I hardly…even remember my dreams. So as far as learning to be conscious within my dreams…that’ll take some practice. Thank you for telling me…for warning me. I appreciate it,” I say. “You’ll do fine,” he says. Grandpa Hugo walks with me outside, where the wagons are loaded and waiting. I give grandpa Hugo a big hug. “I’ll see you soon, grandpa,” I say. “See you soon, Gavin. You all be sure to travel safely. I hope you all arrive to your homes, without any further trouble,” he says. Grandpa Hugo picks up Lucy in his arms, and then she leans over to kiss me on the cheek. “Bye-bye…Mr. Gavin…see you real soon,” she says. “See you soon miss Lucy,” I say with a smile. Lucy giggles. “Here is the money I said I would give you, Gavin. I also gave you all some extra clothes and supplies. Plus, I want you to take this small pair of binoculars; they may help you avoid slavers along the way,” Hannah says. “Thank you…thank you so much,” I say. “Yes…thank you so much for all of your warm and generous hospitality. We sure do appreciate it. It was great meeting you,” Lottie says. “Thank you…so much. I’m glad I got to meet you, Dreamer…oh…and it was getting to know The Dreamer’s wife and c***dren,” Sasha says. “Thank you very much…bye little Lucy,” Rebecca says, winking an eye at Lucy. We all get up on the wagons…Lottie and Sasha in one…Rebecca and I in the other. It’s difficult leaving, but we do. I’ll be back, I say to myself. As we’re about to get on the trail, I turn back to look at grandpa Hugo. I see him and I suddenly get strangest feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t know what it is that bothers me, but I feel unsettled somehow. We wave to each other before I turn around to focus on driving the wagon. I try my best not to let the strange feeling bother me, but it does. TwelveI tried becoming aware of myself within my dreams night after night without any success. We’re seventy-five days into the journey. We’re getting closer to reaching Sasha’s home outside of Los Angeles. We’ve managed to avoid two groups of slavers using the binoculars Hannah and grandpa Hugo gave us. Each group we avoided consisted of three men, and both had three slaves in the back of their wagon. We figured, based on our acquired knowledge of the slave trade, that they had their quota and were headed for their home base in Fremonton. We could help, but we all agreed not to go looking for trouble so we chose to avoid them. The slave trade in Californoya is weighing heavily on my thoughts. Rebecca has the binoculars up to her face, studying the trail ahead. “I see something,” she says. I slow and stop the wagon, while signaling Lottie to do the same with the other wagon. “Can you make out any detail?” I ask Rebecca. “No…not yet,” she says. I get off the wagon for a few minutes to stretch my legs a bit. “Rebecca,” Lottie calls out, “what do you see?” Rebecca holds up a finger while she continues to peer out into the distance, as if to say wait a moment. “I see two men sitting together on a wagon. There is only the one horse pulling the wagon, and I can’t see the back part of the wagon yet…oh wait…yes I can. They don’t have any human cargo…I don’t think these two men are slavers,” Rebecca then says. I let out a sigh of relief. “Let’s continue on then…we’ll approach them with caution…but let’s all keep our knives within reach…just in case…you never know what will happen,” Lottie says. We all nod in agreement; I get back onto the wagon and we then continue on. It’s a good thing that binoculars are not common. We are fortunate to have a pair with us, as they have been helpful. As we ride close to the couple of men on the wagon, I see that Rebecca was correct; these two men don’t seem or appear to be slavers. They just seem to be ordinary travellers. “Good afternoon folks, my name is Jerry and this is Phillip. How are you all doing on this fine day?” Jerry says with a grin. “Well…we’re all doing just fine. Now…please state your business,” Lottie says, almost sternly. “Sure…not a problem ma’am…we’re brothers headed north from south of Los Angeles. We’re going to Sacramento to visit our sister Kate,” Jerry says. Phillip remains silent. “Sacramento? There’s nothing in Sacramento…it’s in ruins,” I say. “Huh? Oh…well…our sister lives just outside of it, in the small town of Ment,” Jerry says. Ment, I think to myself. We stopped in Ment. “Have you two been to Ment before?” Sasha asks. “I have, but Phillip has not,” Jerry says. “Have you been to the pub in Ment?” Sasha asks Jerry. “Yes…yes I have been to the pub in Ment. Why?” he says. “Describe it,” Sasha says. “Okay…it’s a two story building with an orange sign above the door that reads PUB, in black lettering. The man behind the bar is the owner. His name is Greg. He’s orca fat, completely bald, has two missing teeth, but he always smells like flowers or something. He rents out his two rooms upstairs to travellers. The only thing he serves is disgusting beer and watered down whiskey. He tells people who want water to go outside to drink from the horse trough. Does the description meet with your approval…young lady? Did I pass your test?” Jerry says. We all look at each other in surprise; the description was flawless. He is telling the truth. They must be on their way to visit their sister in Ment. They’re definitely not slavers, I think to myself. “Yes…your description of the pub in Ment…is accurate. Thank you,” Sasha says. “Well…now that that’s settled…we were about to stop to get some food in our bellies…would you all care to join us? We’ve got salted pork.” Jerry says. “Salted pork? Food sounds like a great idea…sure…we’ll join you. We’ve got a couple small barrels of beer to add to the mix,” Lottie says, letting her guard down a bit. “Splendid,” Jerry says. “I’m Lottie. This is Sasha. Over in the other wagon are Rebecca and Gavin,” she says. “We’re both pleased to meet you all,” Jerry says. Phillip still has not said a word. We all get off of our wagons; we approach each other, shake hands while exchanging some further pleasantries. I notice that Phillip does shake hands with everyone, but he does not say anything. He just nods in place of saying something like hello. He must be shy, I say to myself. Rebecca and I volunteer to build the fire. Lottie brings over one of our two remaining barrels of beer. We left Redwood Town with eight barrels, four carried in each wagon. Hannah was generous. Don’t get me wrong; we’re not a bunch of drunkards, but it’s nice to have had the supply of beer with us. Moreover, we don’t dip into the supply every day; besides, as I have mentioned, I am not a big drinker. Lottie pours Jerry a cup of the gluten-free beer. “Here you go, Jerry. Try this on for size,” she says. “Don’t mind if I do,” he says as he takes a swig. “Well? What do you think, Jerry?” Sasha says. “Mmm…wow…that’s delicious. Where’d you pick that up? Hey…Phil…you’ve got to try this beer…man…it is beyond comparison. Lottie…do you mind…if I pour out a cup for Phillip?” he says. “Sure…no problem…go ahead…pour away,” Lottie says with a semi-devious smirk on her face. “We picked up the beer in Redwood Town. We were there visiting some of Gavin’s family. Have either of you ever been to Redwood Town?” she then adds. “No…we have not been there…I’m not familiar with it…but this is some damn good beer…and dark too? Would you be willing to part with your other barrel of beer…I’d be willing to pay you ample coin for it,” Jerry says. “I’m so sorry…Jerry…but…it isn’t for sale,” Sasha chimes in. Jerry and Phillip pour themselves another cup of beer. “Well…okay…but it sure doesn’t hurt to ask…does it?” Jerry says. “No…no…it sure doesn’t hurt to ask…speaking of which…we’re headed down to the Los Angeles area…you mentioned coming from that area…how long have you two been on the trail north?” Lottie says after taking a swig of her beer. “Well now…let me see…I’d say we’ve been on the trail north…a good twenty-four…twenty-five days or so. What’s in Los Angeles for you all?” Jerry says and asks. “Twenty-five days…that sounds about right. We’re taking Sasha home. Rebecca and I are then headed home near the Arizona border,” Lottie says. “How did you all meet?” Jerry says, already working on his fifth cup of beer. I notice that Phillip is drinking in a similar fashion. “Oh…well…we all met on the trail,” Lottie says. The answer she gave wasn’t exactly a lie, but it also wasn’t exactly the truth either. I must say that I’m okay with it; it’s probably best not to tell everyone everything. We all eat and drink some more of the beer. Jerry and Phillip drink quite heavily; they must have consumed something like twelve or f******n cups each. They are behaving themselves quite well, for two very drunk men. Then, out of the blue, Phillip speaks; “So…ladies…which one of you is single? Ah…I suppose it doesn’t matter…I guess it’ll be…instant acceptance into the group…when we show up…in Fremonton…with three very…choice women…in our wagon,” he says. His speech may have been slurred, but it was clear enough to understand…Fremonton…women in our wagon…and acceptance into the group. That’s why they didn’t seem to be slavers, because they weren’t yet in the slave trade. These two lied about going to Ment. These two are on their way to Fremonton. They wish to become slavers. They want to join the slave trade. I cannot believe my ears; Phillip opened his mouth for the first time, and spoke hidden truth in his drunken state. We all heard it; we all heard what Phillip said just a moment before. The four us erupt into sudden chaos, as we are brought up to a heightened alertness by Phillips drunken confession. Rebecca leaps into action, by grabbing the hot griddle from over the fire with a gloved hand. In their drunken state, Jerry and Phillip are in no condition to react; they’re practically falling asleep. Rebecca takes the hot griddle and pounds Jerry over the head, knocking him out. At this point, I’m standing near Rebecca semi-unsure about what to do. Lottie and Sasha are over by the wagons, looking through the bags for something. As Rebecca whirls around to move over to Phillip, she doesn’t see me standing nearby and gives me an accidental glancing blow to the head with the now cooling griddle. “Oh…Gavin…I’m so sorry…are you okay?” she says hurriedly as she moves past me toward Phillip. It hurt, but failed to knock me out. I feel a bit dizzy and my ears are ringing. I turn my head to see Phillip make a move in an attempt to scramble away from the impending blow to his head. His scramble is too little too late, as Rebecca’s blow connects with his head again. It’s lights out for Phillip. Feeling a bit useless, I move over to stand next to Rebecca while rubbing my head with my shaky hand. It all happened so fast. The women I’m traveling with move like a blur among the winds, when the situation calls for it. “Good work, honey. You move faster than the wind,” I say, still rubbing my now throbbing head. “Gavin, honey…I didn’t see you standing there. I was so focused on knocking them out, that I just didn’t see you. I’m sorry I hit you…again…but this time…it was an accident. Forgive me…pretty please?” she says. “Rebecca…darling…of course I forgive you. I know it was accidental, although – I do have a question for you,” I say. “What’s your question?” she says. “Well…it just occurred to me…these guys…they…want to be slavers or they are already slavers…who knows? So…why knock them out? Why not just kill them instead? Also, how did you know to knock them out rather than kill them? Oh…and what are Sasha and Lottie looking for in the wagon?” I say. “That’s an easy question to answer. My mom told me to do it…to knock them out. They were so drunk that they were already halfway knocked out; I just had to finish the job. She wants to question them, before we kill them,” she says. I’m still confused. “When…when did your mom tell you?” I say. “She whispered into my ear, the moment after we heard Phillip mention Fremonton. She told me that I was in charge of knocking them out, while she and Sasha went in search of some rope,” Rebecca says. I’m annoyed. “Well…thanks for telling me. Why didn’t you keep me in the loop?” I say. “There wasn’t any time. The decision was made and I had to act quickly. I am sorry that I hit you in the head with the griddle,” she says. I understand completely, and decide not to let it bother me. I let it go.Lottie and Sasha return from their search with rope in hand. “Everything go okay?” Lottie asks. “Yeah mom…I got them on the head with the griddle. I got Jerry first…then Gavin…and then Phillip gave me bit of trouble…but I got him in the end,” Rebecca tells her mom. “Gavin? What do you mean…you got Gavin? Why’d you do that?” Lottie says. Sasha is all a giggle. “Even when the situation doesn’t call for it…you manage to hit Gavin. Rebecca, we’ve got to get you some help…of the professional kind,” Sasha says, jovially. “Oh…pipe down…Sasha. Hitting him with the griddle was an accident. I hit him as I was spinning around to go get Phillip over the head,” Rebecca says. “Oh yeah…I’m sure that’s how it happened,” Sasha says, giving Rebecca a hard time. “Believe what you want, Sasha. That is how it went down,” Rebecca says, sternly. Sasha has no response; she just gives Rebecca a look of cautious acceptance. “Okay…enough of that…let’s hurry and get these fools tied up before they wake up…now, hop to it. They’re not going to tie up themselves,” Lottie says. Sasha and Lottie hand us the rope, and we tie up their wrists and ankles. We then also tie a length of rope that extends down their backs between the wrists and ankles. We make the ropes as tight as we are able; they are not going anywhere. After they are securely tied up, Lottie has a suggestion. “I say we splash some water on their faces, so they wake up. That way we can get the interrogation over with, so we can then kill them and be on our way,” she says. I get two cups full of water and slowly trickle the water over their faces, gradually speeding up the pour to end in a splash. Jerry is the first to wake up, followed soon after by his partner in crime, Phillip. “What the…what the hell…what the damn hell is going on? Why are we tied up? Oh…you whores…you whores are going to regret this real soon…I’ll get you all,” Jerry says. Phillip is crying at this point; he’s almost wailing. His nose and mouth are dripping with his slimy snot and saliva. He looks like a regretful and sorrowful c***d who has just been spanked for the first time in his life. It’s a downright pitiful sight to see, but I don’t feel sorry for him. He made his choices in life; it’s unfortunate, but as I’m learning – all choices have an associated consequence. “What…what…what are you going to do with us?” Phillip says, sobbing and slobbering all over himself. “I’ll tell you what these whores are going to do, Phil. They’re going to do what dutiful little whores do, and they’ll do what I say. First…they are going to untie us. Second…they are going to get down their knees and beg for our forgiveness. Third…while they’re on their knees…they’re all going to take turns shining our knobs…like the good little whores that they are,” Jerry says, visibly fuming with a fevered anger. Rebecca and Sasha look at Jerry with an angered disgust. I just look at Jerry and all I can seem to think is that this man is clearly nuts. Lottie then lets out a deep guttural laugh. “We’ll be doing exactly none of that. Well…wait…I take that back. We’ll untie and let you go on your way…if…if you answer a few questions for us first,” Lottie then says. Just as we’re all about say something to question the move and protest, Lottie holds up an open palm to us – as if to say I’ve got this. Our protest is quickly assuaged, as we lie in wait to see where this is going. “You will let us go right the hell now!” Jerry spits. “What…what…what do you all want to know?” Phillip says, now calming down seeing that there is hope. “Phillip! Shut your damn mouth,” Jerry says, still fuming. “Jerry…you heard them…they’ll let us go…if we answer a couple questions…so…that’s what I’m going to do…I’m going to get us out of this…okay?” Phillip says, mouth full of slobber and snot. “Ah…well…shoot…fine…go ahead,” Jerry finally says, as though giving permission.Lottie goes over to what’s left of the beer. She pours herself a cup and gulps it all down. She then takes pause for a few moments, as though she’s weighing between two thoughts. Lottie then pours herself a second cup and drinks it all down. She then puts the cup down and turns to face the would-be or want-to-be slavers. She gives them a stern and serious look, as she walks over to them. Lottie just stands in front of them, for what seems to be multiple minutes. “Are you two…actually brothers?” she says, asking the first question. “No…no ma’am…we just happen to look similar…alike I mean,” Phillip says. “I thought so…now are you two really headed to Ment?” she says. “No ma’am we were…we are headed to…to Fremonton,” he says. “Yeah…that’s what you said during your drunken confession. But…how…if…you were never headed to Ment…Jerry, how is it…that you described the pub in Ment so perfectly?” Lottie asks, directing the question at Jerry. He has a look of complete annoyance on his face. “You are a stupid whore. I described it so perfectly, because I’ve been there a number of times during my travels. That part of my cover story was true. Phillip has never been there; that part was also true. You see…it’s important to mix a little fact within the fiction,” Jerry says. “Cover story…huh…that’s interesting. So…I take it…that you don’t really have a sister named Kate,” Lottie says. Jerry lets out a laugh of his own. “No…hell no…she’s a whore just like you…I met her in the brothel just outside of Ment. In case you didn’t know, brothels are left alone by our soon to be slaver brethren. Brothels provide a vital service; the world could always use a good whore like Kate…like you,” Jerry says. “That is interesting. That I didn’t know…brothels…are a place of refuge and a prison at the same time…interesting, to say the least. Here’s another one for you. Why? Why become a slaver? Don’t you have mother? What happened to her?” she says and asks, first looking at Jerry. “That’s simple. Women are nothing but whores, who have no right to be on the Californoya governing council. I don’t know how they even got to be on the council; I sure as hell didn’t vote for any whore to decide anything for me. As for my mother…well…that’s easy…I ****d and killed her after my father died. That was the same day I decided to travel to Fremonton, and sign on to join the cause. Gavin, you better think twice about traveling with these whores. You’d do better if you join the cause; be a man,” Jerry says. “I think you must have been dropped on your head as a baby one too many times,” I say. “Yeah…you are not right in the head,” Sasha says. “You’re a damned fool,” Rebecca chimes in. Lottie then looks at Phillip, expecting him to give an answer to her question. “My mother died giving birth to me…ma’am. To be perfectly frank, I’m glad to note she’s the first woman I ever killed. I enjoy killing women. It’s a healthy sport for a man, to kill women. I don’t think women are whores, but they do all deserve to die after a good old-fashioned **** of their lady parts. As for why I want to become a slaver, that’s simple. I believe in the cause. No woman has the right to reign over me. I’m just being honest with you. Will you please let us go now?” Phillips says. “Well now…Phillip…Jerry…let me perfectly honest with you. I’m going to make this crystal clear for you two. I lied. I never had any intention of letting either of you go free. I lied to yank to the truth out of you both. I knew you two would be more forthcoming if you thought there was even a glimmer or shred of hope of being set free. So…who’s the stupid whore now, Jerry? I’m going to take great pleasure in cutting you both with this knife. I’m going to bleed you both, and I’m going the paint the ground red with your blood. We’re not even going to bury your sad sorry bodies. We’re going to leave you out here to be eaten by the a****ls. My hope is that the crows will feast on your eyes…eyes that failed so miserably, to see the error of your ways. I have just one more question for you both. Are you ready to die?” Lottie says. Jerry just looks fuming mad, defiant to the end. “But…but…but you said you’d let us go if we answered your questions,” Phillip says, reverting to his crying and slobbering. Lottie has no response for Phillip. She just quietly pulls her knife out, and moves over to Jerry. She gets down on one knee, looks Jerry in the eye, and then plunges the knife hilt-deep into his throat. She leaves it there for a moment. She then twists the knife, and then pulls it out. She stabs him just once. As she pulls out the knife, blood sprays all over her. As Jerry’s blood pulses out of him onto the ground, Lottie moves over to Phillip and stabs him the same way. They’re both dead within moments. We leave Jerry and Phillip lying in a pool of blood. They both look strangely peaceful in death. We unload everything from their wagon and distribute it all onto ours. Surprisingly, they didn’t have much. What they did have, we took. We even took their horse from their wagon; we didn’t see any benefit in adding a third wagon to our train. We then loaded up and got back on the trail south. Later that same evening, we stopped to make camp for the night. Oddly, since we left Jerry and Phillip, we have all remained silent. After eating the talking began as we sat around the fire. “Gavin, how’s your head feeling?” Rebecca asks. “It still hurts, but my ears aren’t ringing anymore so I think it’s getting better,” I say. “Good,” she says. “Hey Gavin, what’s your mind? The whole time we were eating, just now, you looked as though you were having some really deep thoughts,” Sasha says. “Oh…I was just thinking about what my grandpa Hugo told me before we left his place,” I say. “You mean when he said he wanted to talk to you in private? What did he tell you?” Rebecca says. “I’ll tell you, but know that I tell you because I trust you all,” I say. “Oh…this ought to be good…tell us,” Lottie says. “Okay. Well…remember that flash of light I said I saw before I collapsed…I still don’t remember seeing it or saying that I did…but grandpa Hugo told me I did say I saw it…and he said he believes I did see the flash of light,” I say. “And?” Sasha says. “Well…you all remember my grandpa Hugo’s story…how he saw a flash of light during his brain surgery. He saw a flash of light that nobody else saw. He said he thinks I saw the same flash of light after I hugged him. He thinks he may have passed his dreaming ability on to me,” I say. Rebecca, Lottie, and Sasha all give me an animated look of disbelief. In unison they say, “What?” “He doesn’t know why I can’t remember the light,” I add. “Wait…Gavin…if this is true…then…why haven’t you changed things? Why haven’t you cured yourself?” Rebecca says. “Well…here’s the thing…I can’t get it to work. Grandpa Hugo told me how to do it. I’ve been trying every night…but all I get is nothing,” I say. “How…I’m curious…how are you supposed to do it?” Lottie says. “I’m supposed to learn to be aware of myself…to be conscious within my dream. Once I do that, I’m supposed to actually ask for what I want within the dream. But…here’s the other thing…I hardly even remember my dreams…so you see the problem,” I say. “Wow…that’s a bummer man,” Sasha says.I must say I feel as though something is different. Something has changed. It’s just a feeling I’ve had since this afternoon. I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t know exactly what changed, but I suspect it has something to do with blow I received to the head. We spend the rest of the evening talking and laughing about our good times. The talking dies down, and we go to sleep. As I’m sleeping I see that I’m walking by the pond at home in Oregonia. I’m alone. It’s warm. The sun is shining; birds are singing. Oh snap, I say. It’s happening…I’m aware of myself within my own dream. I knew it…I knew something was different. I wonder if it had anything to do with being hit in the head by Rebecca. If so, I’ll have to remember to thank her in the morning. Wait…I better not…it may egg her on into thinking it’s a good idea to hit me in the future. Okay…I need to focus. I walk along the path toward the house. On the way, I come upon Beth. Hello Beth, I say. She smiles at me, but remains silent. Grandpa Hugo told me that I needed to actually ask for what I wanted within the dream. I figure asking Beth within my dream sounds like the right way to go. Beth, I’m asking, will you please cure me of Parkinson’s disease, I ask. She just smiles and nods. I then walk with Beth to the house to say hello to our parents. ThirteenThe morning following the night of the dream where I asked dream Beth to cure me, I woke feeling great. I woke up, pushed a drooling Rebecca off of me, got up, and then went for a short walk. It was wonderful. I was walking normally and without any difficulty. The tremor in my hands was gone; I felt great. I found myself, cured. When I got back to the wagons from my walk, everyone was still sleeping. When they all woke up, I stunned them with my news. I showed off my perfect walk; my limp was gone. Everyone was elated. The following night, I decided to test it. In my dream I asked for three straight days of rain, followed by a day of light snow, followed by a day of near extreme heat, and then ending with one half-day of rain. In the same dream I asked for a return to normal conditions after all the strange weather. It happened just as I asked. A few nights after the strange weather occurrence, I had another dream. In that one I asked my dream dad to make it so that at the following Californoya governing council meeting, a decision be made to allow men on the council. In the same dream I asked that five current members step down from the council to allow for new members. This request will take some time; my hope is that once it happens the slave trade will be no more. As far as I know, the slave trade started in protest of men not being allowed on the governing council. On the journey south we’ve come across and managed to avoid one other crew of slavers. We are now one hundred and two days into my journey and we are riding up to Sasha’s house. It’s just as Sasha described it, a small farm outside the ruins of Los Angeles. Sasha’s house is almost as big as grandpa Hugo’s cabin…house. We see a woman coming out of the house in her robe, as it’s still early morning. She’s holding a cup of something in her hand. Sasha told us we were really close to her home, so we decided to travel through the night to be hopefully be here by morning. We were successful. “Sasha? Sasha…is…is that you?” the woman says, dropping her cup to the ground where it breaks. Oddly enough, as much as we know about Sasha, we don’t know much of anything about her actual family. We just know she has a family. Sasha gets off the wagon, goes up to the woman, and gives her a powerful hug. We can hear Sasha crying within the embrace. She pulls away for a moment to look the woman in the eyes. “Mama I’m home. I’m back,” she says. “You were gone for so long, we thought something might have happened to you. George has been worried. How was your trip to Nevid? How is my sister…your aunt…how is Rose? Who are these people with you? Where is Celery…your horse? Why are you traveling in wagons? Where did you get them?” Sasha’s mother says. A moment later another woman walks out of the house, sees Sasha and moves in to hug her as well. “Mama…Ada…I never made it to see aunt Rose in Nevid. I got taken captive by slavers along the way. These people helped me to escape. Rebecca…Lottie…Gavin…I’d like you to meet my mom Helen and her wife Ada. Mama where are Brooke, Kelli, and Maya? Are they okay?” Sasha says. “Your sisters are still in bed, getting their beauty sleep. It’s their day off from chores. Slavers, eh? I told you to be careful, but I suppose there is no point in talking about spilt milk. I’m just glad you’re home, and that you’re okay. Rebecca…Lottie…Gavin…it’s great to meet you all…and thank you…thank you for getting our Sasha home safely,” Helen says. Rebecca, Lottie, and I take turns greeting both Helen and Ada. “We were just fixing to have breakfast; stow your wagons over by the barn and put your a****ls in the barn. There’s feed, a water pump and buckets in there for them. Then, please, come into the house; breakfast will be ready by the time you come in. You all can then tell us more of your story; I’m eager to hear it,” Ada says. We did as we were told; we put the wagons over by the barn, and put our a****ls in the barn. Sasha helped us to feed and give them water. As we are walking up to the house, we all look up to see a girl in an upstairs window. She’s smiling and waving at us. We all wave back and return the smile. “That’s my sister, Maya,” Sasha says. “I have a question for you, Sasha. After all the time we’ve spent together, why didn’t you tell us about your family?” Lottie says. “Yeah…what’s the deal? I’ve noticed you’ve been tight-lipped around the general subject,” Rebecca says. Sasha stops us for a moment. “Okay…look…here’s the thing. I didn’t tell you about my family for a couple of reasons,” she says, quietly. “We’re all ears,” Lottie says, seriously. Sasha looks somewhat nervous. “Okay…look…honestly…I didn’t know how’d you all react if you found out my mom was joined to a woman. I saw it didn’t bother any of you…back in Redwood Town when you found out that Edith was into women…but I couldn’t be sure for sure…you know? The other reason is that…with me included…that is six women living together with no man…I just thought…it might seem kind of odd or strange…you know? After my dad died in an accident, it was just the five of us for a few years. Then my mom met Ada in town. They became close friends. After about a season they became lovers, and they joined two seasons after that,” Sasha says. “I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t trust us. Don’t worry…I understand. I forgive you. By the way…I’m curious…and I hope I’m not out of line…but…how did your father die?” Lottie says. “He broke his neck in a fall from the hayloft in the barn…he tripped on a loose nail,” Sasha says. “Oh…I’m so sorry,” Rebecca says. “It’s okay…I miss him…but…it was an accident,” Sasha says. We get moving again, toward the front door of the house where we all take off our boots and enter. Sasha goes in first.As we walk in, my mouth waters as I catch a whiff in my nose of the waiting breakfast. We’ve been on the trail all night, and I’m tired but even hungrier than tired. Ada walks into the entryway. “Sasha will you go tell your sisters that your home, and that breakfast is ready. I know it’s their day off and will probably sleep until noon, but it’s a special occasion. You’re finally home, so please go get them,” Ada says. “Okay will do mother number two. I’ll be back down in two shakes of that lambs tail,” Sasha says with a smile. “Gavin…is it? Rebecca? Lottie? You all look famished, come into the kitchen for some breakfast, will you?” Ada says. As we walk into the kitchen, Helen is still somewhat busy, cooking. I take a moment to notice that, she too, knows the secret of putting onions in the eggs. It all smells delicious; I’m instantly and briefly reminded of home. “Well? What are you all waiting for, the slave trade to end? Sit down and eat, will you?” Helen says. “Ma’am…thank you…I am mighty hungry, but I believe we’ll wait until everyone comes downstairs…so we can all eat together,” I say. “Nonsense…I’ll be having none of that. Now…eat…so it doesn’t get cold. You are…after all…our guests. Eat it all if you can. I can always make more for my girls when they come down,” Helen says. “Thank you, Helen. We won’t argue with you. This all looks downright scrumptious. We’re ravenous; we’ve been on the trail the whole night in an effort to get here by morning,” Lottie says. Rebecca, Lottie, and I sit down at the table and begin to eat. I’ve noticed that ever since I asked for the cure, food…all food tastes so much better. I don’t know why; it just does. While we’re eating, Sasha and her three sisters enter the room. “Gee…thanks for waiting,” Sasha says in jest. “Your mom told us to start eating without you,” Rebecca says. “Oh…it’s okay…I understand. Brooke…Kelli…Maya…this is Rebecca and her mom Lottie…and this is Gavin,” Sasha says, making the introductions. We all exchange greetings. Brooke, Kelli, and Maya look at me as though they have something pressing to say to me. They appear as though they are about to burst, due to some held-in curiosity. I’m fully aware of what they may be dying to say or ask. “Is it true? You’re related to The Dreamer? I heard he was dangerous…Sasha said that he isn’t…is he…you know…dangerous?” Maya finally says, in a giddy outburst. There it is, I think. Sasha must’ve spilled the beans while she was upstairs. Helen and Ada’s eyes go wide in apparent shock, but they hold their tongues for the moment. “Maya…right?” I say. “Yes…that’s right…I’m Maya. By the way…just so you’re informed…I’m nineteen…single…and looking,” she says. I let out a bit of a humored chuckle. “Well Maya…first of all…thank you so much…I’m flattered but I’m spoken for by Rebecca. Second…yes…yes I am related to The Dreamer. He’s my great-great-great grandfather, but I mostly just refer to him as my grandpa Hugo. We were all in Redwood Town to visit him; we were there for a few days…and I know now that he isn’t dangerous,” I say. Then I think to myself that I am now the one who is possibly dangerous. “Wow…that’s fantastic,” Brooke says. “Yeah…that’s incredible stuff,” Kelli says. “Come on…let’s all sit down before the food gets any colder…I’m so hungry,” Sasha chimes in. Helen looks at us with curious eyes. “So…where are you all from…how did you meet…and how is it that you came to help my Sasha escape the slavers?” she asks. “Well…my mom and I are from near the Californoya-Arizona border. We were taken from our home by slavers, and we crossed paths with Gavin up in northern Californoya. He was trying to buy our freedom when, he also, got taken by the slavers. We later found out that Gavin was on his way to Redwood Town to visit his grandpa Hugo. Then came one night when the slavers got drunk, and one of them had loosened my mom’s rope. We were then able to get free. We killed the slavers and went on our way south. We soon came upon another slaver wagon. This one was carrying Sasha. The slavers tried to take us, but we killed them before they could. Sasha helped. We’ve been traveling together ever since,” Rebecca says. I clear my throat. “I’m from just outside of Portland, Oregonia…ma’am,” I say. “My word…that is quite a story…and all the way from Portland. That sure is a long way to travel,” Ada says. The very next moment, we hear a knock at the door. Brooke gets up and makes her way to the front door to see who is knocking. She walks back into the room with a man in tow. Sasha turns her head, sees the man, and leaps from her chair into his arms in a single movement. George. They kiss and get it on in front of us all for what seems to be five minutes, before Helen finally clears her throat. We’ve been on the trail for so long; it’s great to see Sasha finally reunited with George, her intended. “Oh…sorry mama…I lost myself for a moment. George, I’d like you to meet my traveling companions…Gavin…Rebecca…and Lottie,” Sasha says. He walks up to me and shakes my hand, his grip strong and powerful. He’s a big one, something like a full two feet taller than I am. You can tell he has a somewhat confident persona. He doesn’t grab me as being arrogant about it. I like him, is my first impression of the man. “It’s sure is nice meeting you all. How did you all meet?” he says, his voice deep and commanding. It takes a few minutes, but we bring George up to speed on our story. “Well…my word…I sure am glad you all made it down here safely. I’m equally glad you took care of the slavers that took Sasha. Those guys are a bunch of fool idiots. We’re lucky…we don’t get many of them around here. I think we must be outside their usual slaving routes…or something,” George says. After everyone is finished eating, Rebecca and I helped Helen clean up the mess. It was true; today was Brooke, Kelli, and Maya’s day off from chores. “Mama…George and I are going for a walk down to the creek,” Sasha says. “You should get some sleep…you have been traveling all night,” Helen says. “I’ll be fine mama…I’ll sleep when I get back…promise. I’ve been gone for so long…I just want to spend some time with my man…some just the two of us time…you know?” Sasha says. “Oh…okay Sasha, but please be sure to go right to bed when you get back…you hear? George, I’m holding you responsible for making sure Sasha gets some sleep…do you hear me?” Helen says. “Yes ma’am…I hear you loud and clear. I’ll be sure to put her in bed myself when we get back,” George says. Sasha and George walk out the side door holding hands. I noticed that before walking out, Sasha managed to grab hold of some sort of blanket. As she exits through the doorway, she tucks the blanket under her free arm while she turns her head and throws us a big smile.Once they’re out of the house and on their way to the creek, a sudden elongated yawn overpowers me. I realize how tired I must really be. Sasha must be running on adrenaline. I know I’d be on my fourth wind as well, if I were in her shoes. Ada notices my powerful yawning. “Oh my…you all must be so tired. Am I right? The good news is that we have three spare rooms in the house. The bad news is that only one of them is equipped with a bed…although the bed is rather large,” Ada says. “I think…that…all three of us will be more than willing to share the one bed…thank you,” Lottie says. “Are you sure?” Helen says. “Oh…I’m sure. Besides…we’ve seen each other naked…so the mystery is well past gone. We’ve come to know each other well, so we’ll be fine with sharing…thank you,” Lottie says. “Rebecca you’ve seen Gavin naked? Is he…you know…well…equipped?” Maya chimes in. I turn a deep shade of red with embarrassment and a bit of shock at the question. “Maya! Manners. Will you please mind that tongue of yours…my word…really?” Helen says, sternly. “His equipment…is just fine,” Rebecca says with a grin, as though she is somehow taking ownership of my ‘equipment.’ I inwardly have myself a good chuckle at the thought. “I’ll have one of the girls show you to the room. Maya, will you please show our guests to the spare room…and be sure to show them where the washroom is also. Lottie…Rebecca…Gavin, please stay as long as you like…okay? I’m sure there will be a joining ceremony in the next few days. I’m sure Sasha told you…that she and George were to be joined when she returned from Nevid. Well…I know she never made it to Nevid…but in any case…the plan was to join when she returned. Maya, will you please show our guests to the spare room,” Ada says. “It’s not a problem mother number two,” Maya says. The three of us say our thanks, as we’re led upstairs to the spare room with a bed. The description was right; it is a rather large bed. It has more than enough room for the three of us to sleep comfortably. Maya excuses herself, leaving the three of us in the room. “Do you two think we should…stay for a few days? We’re so close to getting home, I can taste it…but…I would like to be there for the joining ceremony,” Lottie says, openly. “I’m here to accompany you two home…so…I mean…I’m up for staying if you two are. Seeing Sasha be joined would be pretty great,” I say. “Yeah…let’s stay mom,” Rebecca says. It’s settled; we’re staying for the joining. We’re all tired, but we would make the most terrible guests if we just hopped into the bed with our dirty travel clothes so I make a suggestion. “Lottie…that thing you said about the mystery being gone…well I think we should sleep naked. It would make sense…I mean…well…we don’t have anything clean to sleep in,” I say. Lottie and Rebecca both see some humor in my statement, and they both giggle. “We could always ask to borrow some clean clothes to sleep in,” Lottie says. “Oh…come on mom…where’s your sense of adventure. If you’re worried about Gavin grazing you while you sleep…don’t…I’ll gladly sleep in the middle,” Rebecca says. “Okay…fine…I’m game. I can be adventurous…but no funny business between you two…I mean it…not while I’m in the bed…got it?” Lottie says in a somewhat jovial manner. We all strip naked. I do my best to hide my excitement. I hurry and jump under the covers first. I lie on my side so my excitement doesn’t show. “Thanks…now I’ll have to climb on top of you to get into the middle,” Rebecca says, sarcastically. She lifts the covers, looks down and she sees why I got in first. She and Lottie both climb into bed, and we’re all asleep within minutes. A few days later we’re all in town for the joining ceremony. George’s parents and his younger sister are also with us. They’re all very nice people. We’re in what in the old days would be called the Office of the Justice of the Peace. In the old days it was widely believed and accepted that a marriage was somehow the union of two halves. Two incomplete people would become one complete entity through marriage. Nowadays, we believe something different…at least we do in this part of the world. We believe that two complete people are brought together in the joining. We believe that the two complete people join to make something even stronger. The difference is minor, but we believe that the significance is important. Sasha and George are standing in front of the Joiner. His name is Seth Fry; he’s an old man. His assistant stands behind him and to the side; she’ll take care of the paperwork. “Thank you…everyone…for being here today. We are here today to witness a Joining…between Sasha Flynn and George Mayer. Sasha, what would you like to say?” Seth says. “I want to say that I’ve known George all my life. I remember when we were c***dren…one day…we were playing by the creek. I tripped, fell, and broke my arm on a nearby rock. George helped me get home; I cried the entire way to the house. George is the first boy I ever kissed. He is the first boy to ever see me naked. George has seen me at my worst and at my best. He tells me the truth no matter what. He is the most honest person I know. He always treats me with respect. I want to have c***dren with him. George will be a wonderful father. I want to be with him. George, I love you,” Sasha says. “That was simply beautiful…thank you, Sasha. George, what would you like to say?” Seth says. “I remember the day you broke your arm; you did cry the entire way home. I’ve known Sasha my entire life. I also remember another day…when we were c***dren. One day…when we were at school…I was getting bullied because of my then small size. Sasha stuck up for me. She had my back when I really needed someone. I was never bullied again; that came to mean a lot to me in the years to come. I grew to be confident. I have Sasha to thank for her help. She treats me well. She is the most honest person I know. I never wanted to kiss anyone else. I’m glad we’ve seen each other naked. Sasha knows who I really am. I want us to have c***dren. Sasha will be a great mother. I want to be with her. Sasha, I love you,” George says. “That was so touching…thank you. Would any of the witnesses like to say anything?” Seth says. In the old days the priest would generally ask those gathered at the ceremony, if anyone present objected to the union of the two halves. They were asked to speak or forever hold their words. Nowadays, it happens a bit differently. The witnesses are asked if they wish to say a few words. Objections are generally not voiced, for a specific reason. A Joining is not binding for life; today we accept that all good things end. The two people joining do so because they choose to be together. They do so, knowing that a Joining can and should be undone with just as much ease as its creation. Two people stay joined because they choose it. Today, the thoughts shared by witnesses speak to the positive aspects of the Joining. It must be noted that not everyone speaks; take of that what you will. “I’m so glad Sasha finally made it home; we’ve been waiting for her return. Our George was getting worried. It’s so great to see these two finally joined. I’m so looking forward to my grandc***dren. That’s what I have to say,” says Martha, George’s mother. “I’ve only known Sasha for a short time…and George for only a matter of days. In the short time I’ve known her, I’ve come to consider Sasha a close friend. From what I can tell, George is a great man…he deserves to be with my friend Sasha. I wish Sasha and George all the best…may they have some beautiful babies,” I say. “Sasha and George make a wonderful couple. I watched them grow up together. I saw them develop into something more. I’m so happy that they are now joined. I too, am looking forward to meeting my grandc***dren,” Helen says. “I’m so glad we were here to witness the moment. I wish you both the best,” Lottie says. “Congratulations,” Rebecca says, short and to the point. The room goes to silence. A few moments later Seth Fry clears his throat. “Well now…that was all well said…thank you. Sasha…George…you may now consider yourselves now joined…in front of the witnesses in this room. I ask that you two now kiss to ceremonially complete this Joining,” Seth Fry says. Sasha and George say, “Gladly,” in unison before facing each other for the kiss. The kiss, tongue and all, is drawn out and deep. It is a passionate kiss. We are all invited to share a celebratory meal at Helen and Ada’s house. It was a good time.A couple days later we’re all standing in front of the house, saying our goodbyes. Ada loaded us up with supplies. We’ve decided to take both wagons, but we’re leaving Sasha with one of the horses. She says she’ll name the horse Celery Two. I like the name. “So…what are your plans now?” Rebecca asks Sasha. “I plan to live with George at his parent’s place, until our house is built. We are only looking to build a small house, and add on to it…when we need it…for…you know…c***dren. What about you? You all be careful in getting home, you hear me? I’m so glad I met you, Rebecca. I’m glad I met all three of you. Rebecca, what will you and Gavin do when you reach home?” Sasha says. “You know…I’ve given that one a lot of thought…but…well…I just don’t know…you know? I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Don’t worry…we’ll be careful getting home. I’m glad I met you, Sasha…and George…and both of your families,” Rebecca says. “Sasha, I’ve told you where I live…so…you know where you can find me. If you and George ever feel like making the trek to visit…you will be more than welcome in Oregonia. I’m glad we met,” I say. “Gavin…that is long way to go for a visit…but thank you for the invitation,” Sasha says. “It was a great pleasure meeting everyone. Thank you…thank you so much for your generous hospitality,” Lottie says. “You’re welcome. Thank you for getting Sasha home. Be safe. Take care,” Helen says. Maya walks up to me, grabs hold of me and kisses me on the lips. She then walks away without saying a single word. “Well…that was bold. You all take great care now,” Ada says. Brooke and Kelli wave goodbye and then go on about their chores. “It was sure nice meeting you all…take care,” George says. With that, we get on the wagons and head toward the Californoya-Arizona border. f******nA couple days after leaving Sasha’s house, I came up with an idea. I then asked for something in a dream. I asked that our route of travel to Rebecca’s home be clear of any slavers. This helped and made for some relatively speedy travel to our intended destination. We made some good time, I think. It is now one hundred twenty four days into my journey. It’s mid-afternoon and we’re riding up to Rebecca and Lottie’s trading post. Their house is nearby, but we figure we stand a better chance of finding Rebecca’s older brother Jacob at the trading post in the middle of the day. As we pull to a stop in front of the trading post, a woman carrying a small crate of green apples greets us. “Oh…hello…welcome to our shop. Are you here to buy some supplies? If so, what may I get for you? If not, how may I help you?” the woman says. She has the most familiar accent to her speech pattern; it reminds me of my mother. “Who, may I ask, are you? I’m looking for Jacob…Jacob Hodges. He’s my son,” Lottie says to the woman. She doesn’t answer, but she says, “I’ll be right back,” and then she bolts into the trading post. The woman emerges a couple minutes later with a man in tow. “Mother? Mom, is that you? Rebecca? I thought…I…I thought you were dead…I thought…you…were…both dead,” the man says. He then falls to his knees and starts to cry; the woman kneels next to him and puts her arm around his shoulders. I then make the connection; this must be Jacob, but who is this mystery woman with an accent similar to my mother’s.We then get off the wagons, and we go over to Jacob and the mystery woman. She’s a mystery to me at least; I mean Rebecca never mentioned having a sister or other sibling aside from Jacob. It takes Jacob a few minutes to calm down and compose himself. He then clears his throat a couple times before speaking. “Mom…Rebecca, I’d like to introduce you both to Acacia…Acacia Hodges…my wife,” Jacob says. “Wife? When did this happen? Well…that just goes to show we were gone for a long time. It’s great meeting you, Acacia. I’m Lottie. This is Rebecca and this is our close friend Gavin. Tell me…where did you two meet?” Lottie says. She’s clearly in a good mood. “Oh…we met in Arizona; that’s where I’m from,” Acacia says. “That’s it. I knew your accent sounded familiar. My mother is from Arizona,” I blurt out, interrupting. Acacia lets out a bit of a giggle. “Jacob was in Arizona on trading post business. I was about to start working my first night at the local brothel, but I decided to enter the local pub instead. I needed a drink while I reevaluated my decision to work at a brothel. Jacob was at the same pub trying out his luck with another lady pub patron. He struck out. Jacob then turned his head and our eyes met. He walked over to me, to – let’s just say he wanted to try out his charms on me. It worked; we struck up a conversation that went on into the early morning hours. We then had breakfast together, where he convinced me to move with him to Californoya. It was pure crazy, but it felt right. When we arrived at the house, we were horrified when we found your husband…Jacob’s dad…dead. We didn’t know what to think when we couldn’t find you or Rebecca. We searched for you for a full season, but saw no sign of you. We then assumed you were dead. I’m so sorry. I’m glad we were wrong. Jacob and I were joined in town a season ago…and…Lottie, I have a surprise for you…I recently found out that I’m pregnant!” Acacia then says. “Yeah! That’s fantastic…yes…grandbabies! I’m looking forward to meeting them. Wow, Acacia that is quite a story. Jacob has always been a charmer; I’m glad he was able to talk you into his arms. This makes me so happy. I’m sorry I missed the Joining; I’ll tell you what happened to us in moment, but first…please…Jacob tell me…what did you do with your father? Where is my husband buried?” Lottie says, with both tears of sadness and joy falling simultaneously. “Dad’s buried over by the side of the house; I marked it. Go over to the house to see him; you can tell me what happened to you and Rebecca, later tonight at dinner. I’m just glad…so glad you’re back,” Jacob says. We make our way over to the house, which is just around the bend. On our way over, I can’t help it but I have a few things on my mind – so I’m a bit distracted and distant. One…I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the Rebecca situation. I have some strong feelings for her…I may even go as far as saying that I love her. I don’t want to leave her, but what I really can’t do – is not return home. My parents will fear me dead. Shoot, they may already think I’m dead – I’ve been gone a long time. The plan was to go to Redwood Town and then return home. I guess it’s true what is said about plans and life; that is, in life your plans generally go out the window. I just can’t do that to my family; I need to return. I wonder if I should ask Rebecca to return with me. The question is – does she feel strongly enough about me to leave her home…maybe for good…to come home with me? I make a mental note; that is one possibility. Another possibility is that we break it off and go our separate ways. I’m really not hoping for that one let me tell you. Two…it will take some time for the dream I had that ends the slave trade to take effect. The dream aims at the root of the problem; I hope my dream is successful in its intended outcome. Until then – I’ve been thinking – I should dream to have both Sasha and Rebecca’s homes protected from the slave trade. At first I thought I should just dream to protect all of Californoya, but decided against it as that may just somehow trigger some sort of cosmic conflict. After all, what do slavers do when they are somehow are prevented from slaving – who knows? The dreams have the potential for dire consequence; remember ‘PPK?’ So – it’s decided – tonight I’ll dream for their homes’ protection. We arrive at the house; we immediately see the burial plot on the right side of the house. Ben Hodges is buried near a tree; his plot is shaded for most of the day. I’m not familiar with the type of tree; I’ll have to ask when it’s somewhat appropriate. We climb down off our wagons and move around, stretching out our legs a bit. I don’t know why – we were just down a short while ago – but we do. We probably do it out of habit; a habit developed over the course of our long trek through Californoya. Lottie gets down on her hands and knees to kiss the ground; she is clearly elated to finally have made it home after all this time. “Well…Gavin…this is my home. We made it; can you believe it? Come on…let’s go over to where my dad is buried…I want you to meet him…well…sort of…you know what I mean…right?” Rebecca says, taking me gently by the hand. Lottie follows, holding Rebecca’s other hand. Their somberness is apparent, though they are somehow in a good mood. The return home is indubitably bittersweet. What an odd feeling, eh? On the one hand they’re both so happy to finally be home. On the other hand they’re about to stand in front of Ben’s grave – father to Rebecca…husband, lover, friend and who knows what else to Lottie. I suppose what may explain their somewhat good mood, is that they did have plenty of time to grieve and to process their feelings. After all, Ben died a relatively long while ago. We are now standing above the grave. In front of us is the grave marker that reads: Ben Hodges, beloved father, friend, and husband to Lottie Hodges. “I just knew that Jacob would bury Ben by the Avocado tree; it was his all-time favorite food,” Lottie says. Bonus, I think – now I don’t have to ask; Lottie answered my question…thanks. We all stand in silence before the grave for a few moments. I decide to remain even more silent – is such a thing possible? I don’t know; I didn’t know the man. Lottie has not said much of anything about her husband. What I know of him, I know from things Rebecca has told me. She told me he was a difficult man to love. He was stubborn and tenacious. She told me he was the type of man who would have wanted to run for the Californoya governing council, if that sort of thing was allowed. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, Ben spoke out against the injustice of men not being allowed on the governing council. He didn’t see any merit in the form of protest that slavers chose to participate in. He was an avid supporter of change. I know other things about him. For example, I know he loved having eggs in the morning. I know he was born and raised outside of San Diego, Californoya. I know he was against the act of spanking c***dren as a form of punishment. I know he didn’t drink alcohol; he wasn’t against it, but it just wasn’t for him. I know many things about the man, but I didn’t know the man. If I were asked what I thought of Ben, to make a judgment of character – I’d have to say he was a remarkable person. He would have made an excellent addition to a governing council. That is just my humble opinion of a dead man I didn’t know. “Ben…honey…I’m home. This is our friend Gavin; he’s been with us through some really difficult times. Believe it or not…he once tried to buy us. It sounds bad when it’s said like that, but the truth is he tried to help us by buying our freedom. We were captives of the slave trade. Gavin was not successful, and was taken for a slave himself. Don’t worry Ben, we were finally able to escape thanks to some drunken fool idiots. Rebecca is here with us; she has taken quite a liking to this young man. They have a bit of a love hate thing going. We’ve since seen some good times together. You won’t believe it but we met Gavin’s great-great-great grandfather, who he mostly refers to as his grandpa Hugo. This man, whom people refer to as The Dreamer – I don’t know why we never heard of him – is indirectly responsible for the ‘the great dying.’ That’s crazy, right? I’ll tell you more about it later. A long story made short, Gavin is the new Dreamer – he has the ability to change things in life through his dreams. That’s crazy stuff, right? I’ll explain it later. Anyway…I miss you Ben…more than any words can truly express. I love you. I came here for some closure, so I am able to move on. To be perfectly honest…those slavers hurt me bad…but I want to be strong…so I’m also here to tell you that I’ll be looking for another husband. That’s what I wanted to say,” Lottie says. “Hello dad…it’s me…your daughter…Rebecca. I miss you. I love you. I’m angry that the slavers that took us killed you. I would have liked for you to meet Gavin in person, but you’re no longer with us so it looks like I’ll have to settle for the next best thing. Dad, this is Gavin…and…well…I love him. I wanted you to know how I felt about him. I’m glad Jacob buried you near your favorite tree,” Rebecca says. She loves me, I say to myself. I feel a sense of giddy elation. I then feel compelled to also say a few words. “Hello Ben…sir…ah…I mean Mr. Hodges, I’m Gavin. Yes…it’s true…I did try to buy me your women. It’s true…I have seen some difficult times with both Rebecca and Lottie. I’ve also seen and experienced some good times with them. I must even confess…that…I’ve seen them both naked. I must also further confess that I did like what I saw. In short, we’ve come to know each other well. In particular, I’ve come to know your daughter Rebecca quite well. I have strong feelings for Rebecca. In fact, I love Rebecca. I want you to know that. Thank you for listening,” I say. We then stood in silence for a few more moments, breathing in deeply and just taking it all in.We walk back to the wagons out of habit. “Wait a minute…what are we doing? Why are we making like we’re about to get back on the trail again? We’re here…we made it,” Rebecca says. “I don’t know…it’s probably force of habit. Gavin as you can see…we don’t have a barn…but we do have a corral and a large shed. So we’ll put the horses and Don Juan in the corral after we place the two wagons over by the shed. Once we do that…I think we should all take a bath. I don’t know about you…but…I’m feeling a bit ripe. What do you two think?” Lottie says. “Okay…mom…sounds like a good idea. I didn’t want to say anything, but you do stink just a little…I mean you smell really bad,” Rebecca says. “Hey! We all smell bad…okay?” Lottie says. “Okay…sounds good…I could use a bath right now. It isn’t a big deal about the barn…not everyone has one. The corral will work just fine,” I say. “Good…I could use getting into some clean clothes. Gavin…we’ll get you some of Jacob’s…or even Ben’s clothes…okay?” Lottie says. “Sounds good,” I say.We first move the wagons in front of the house, so we can unload our gathered belongings. We then park both wagons over by the shed, and then we lead the a****ls into the corral. Before heading into the house we make sure the a****ls have feed and that there is water in the trough. Then it is the arduous task of heating and then carrying the water to the tub for the bath. “Okay…Rebecca…since you are the one with such strong opinions…you’ll be taking the first bath,” Lottie says. “That sounds good to me. Say…hey…mom…I was hoping to take the bath with Gavin. So…you know…so we save time,” Rebecca says, wishfully. “Yeah…right…to save time my eye. You mean…so you two can fool around…waste time while the water gets cold…and not get clean. I think not. You’ll be taking the bath alone missy. If you want to fool around with Gavin, do so tonight after you’re all clean,” Lottie says. “Oh…okay…fine…I’ll go first and alone. Wait…did you just say that Gavin gets to sleep with me in my room?” Rebecca says and asks. “Yes…yes I did. I’m not going to stand in the way of young love. Besides it’s not like we have a spare room to offer Gavin…and I won’t be having him sleeping outside. He’s our guest. Now…come on…hustle yourself naked and into that tub before the hot water goes cold,” Lottie says. “Okay mother…and thanks…for you know…letting Gavin sleep in my room,” Rebecca says. Seeing that Rebecca is still moving slower than a snail – she’s still not naked – Lottie gives her, a look. “Okay…okay…I’m going…I’m going,” Rebecca says. She strips naked as though the clothes just fall off of her and she climbs into the hot water, giving off a deep sigh of relief. “Okay…come on Gavin…I know there is nothing better than a great show of a naked wet woman…but I want Rebecca to get clean…not to be distracted by giving you the show you want. Let’s go into the kitchen for a small bite of something. Rebecca, remember to change into these clean clothes please…and not into the dirty travel clothes out of sheer habit. Rebecca…are you listening to me…did you hear what I just said?” Lottie says. Rebecca doesn’t answer; she just opens one eye, smiles, gives us a thumbs-up and gives us her nod of affirmation. I follow Lottie into the kitchen, and we’re delighted when we see the remaining half of what appears to be an apple pie. We each dole ourselves out a more than generous slice apiece. We also pour out some milk and begin eating the pie. “Gavin…here’s the thing…I would have been fine with you and Rebecca bathing together…fact is that it would save time even with some fooling around being involved…but…well…I wanted to discuss something with you,” Lottie says, seriously. I finish the bite of apple pie in my mouth, and then take a slow swallow of milk. I’m then silent for an additional moment. “What did you want to talk to me about, Lottie?” I say, nervously. “Well…I think you know or you should know,” she says. “Sorry…I haven’t dreamed myself into having the ability to read people’s minds…although saying it…makes it sound like useful ability. I’ll have to consider it,” I say. “Gavin! Focus. Sometimes I forget that you’re only nineteen years old. I need you to focus for me…okay? This is serious,” she says. My attention is suddenly brought into focus; Lottie has my undivided attention. “Okay…Lottie…what do you want to talk to me about?” I say, seriously. “I want to talk to you about the Rebecca situation. What are going to do about Rebecca? You know you’re welcome to stay for as long as you’d like, but I want to know what your plans are for the near future. Are you planning on staying here for good? Are you planning on returning home after a few days? What?” she says. I take a moment before clearing my throat. Here it is; it’s time to begin crossing the proverbial bridge. “Well…Lottie, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought…a lot of thought. Here is what I’ve come up with: One…I love her. Two…she loves me. Three…I absolutely must return home. I just can’t let my parents think I’m dead. Four…I want to ask Rebecca to return to Oregonia with me. I now know I can guarantee safe travel back home. How do you feel about that, Lottie?” I say, feeling relief having finally said it. She takes a few moments, looking at me in complete silence and then she smiles. “Well, that’s good…I don’t have any problem with that. If I were your mother, I’d want you to return home – especially so I’d know you weren’t dead but alive. You do plan to stay awhile, right?” she says. “Oh…I plan to stay for at least a few days. I also wanted to mention that I’ve decided to dream for protection from slavers for each of you, so you’ll be safe when I’m gone. I was going to dream for protection of your home and trading post, but then I thought about – what if you decide to move? So…I think individual protection will work best…I plan to do the same for Sasha and her family. I know George said that they don’t get much slaver trouble where they live…but I will anyway…just in case,” I say. “Hey, now that’s a great idea. Thank you so much, Gavin. When do you plan on asking Rebecca to return home with you?” she says. “Well now…that is a difficult question to answer. Not right away, that’s for sure. I also know I shouldn’t wait until the last minute; I want her to have some time to think about and process it if she needs to…you know? What do you think she’ll say?” I say. “I honestly have no clue what she’ll say to you? She just might punch you. I do know that she has some mighty strong feelings for you, Gavin. It sure is a difficult situation. I hope she gives you some good news,” she says. “I do too,” I say. A few minutes later, Rebecca walks into the room in clean clothes, bare feet, and a towel wrapped around her wet hair. She leans in to give me a kiss, but she stops halfway to the kiss. “I’ll kiss you after you get as clean and spiffy as I am. Okay?” Rebecca says. “Sounds good,” I respond. Then comes the job of work to empty the cold water from the tub, and then refilling it with hot water for bath number two. “Gavin, you have the distinguished honor of having the second tub of hot water…really…I insist…now strip and get in. Don’t worry about clean clothes for when you get out…I’ll bring you a set of clothes in a few minutes…okay?” Lottie says. I take my turn in bath, taking my time to enjoy the hot water. Sure enough, Lottie brings me some clean clothes, which are a tad large for me but they are only temporary while I get to work on cleaning my dirty travel clothes. When I’m done it is then time to help Lottie get her bath ready. While Lottie is taking her bath, Rebecca and I get to work on dinner. Rebecca’s house may be small, but it is well stocked in food. While we’re working in the kitchen, Acacia enters the house with Jacob in tow. “Finally…will you take a look babe…a night where you and I don’t have to have to cook,” Acacia says. “That does sound appealing. I’m going to open a bottle of wine, and since tonight is special I think I’ll dip into dad’s salvage from the old days. Gavin…right? Would you care for some wine? My dad has a small collection of wines from what used to be the Napa Valley, California. He never drank any of it, but he sure did enjoy collecting it. I still think it was an odd thing to do. Collect it, but not drink it.” Jacob says. “Yes…my name is Gavin and sure, I’ll have some,” I say. “Red or white?” he asks. “Whichever one you were planning on opening. I’m not picky, especially over such an old wine. Thank you. You know…we stopped in the town of Napa for supplies on our way to Redwood Town,” I say. “Redwood Town…that’s on the peninsula, right?” he says. “Yes it is,” I say. I take the offered glass of wine; it’s full to the brim with really old red wine. A while back with my hand in its state of tremor, I would have assuredly spilled the wine all over the place. These days both my hands are rock steady, so not a single drop of the wine is spilled. It’s wonderful. “So…Gavin…where…are you from?” Acacia asks. “I’m from just outside of Portland, Oregonia,” I say. My brief answer is immediately followed by long whistle of astonishment. Just then, Lottie walks in. “What’s all the whistling about?” Lottie asks. “Oh…hey Lottie…just finished taking a bath? Your hair is all wet. Jacob was whistling because Gavin was just telling us that he’s from Oregonia. That’s far,” Acacia, says, after taking a sip of her wine. “Ben’s old wine? Oh…I want some…pour me a glass…will you…Jacob? Yeah…Acacia…I took a bath; it was so refreshing. Yeah…Gavin is from Oregonia,” Lottie says. “So…what brought you to Californoya? How did you come to be traveling with my mom and sister?” Jacob asks. “Uh…well…I believe it’s best for either Rebecca or Lottie to tell that story,” I say. Jacob looks to his mother for an answer, but it is Rebecca who answers. “Mom an I were in the hands of some slavers…and Gavin tried to buy us,” Rebecca starts saying. The next thing I know; Jacob throws his glass of old wine to the floor and then he rushes me. Jacob has my throat in his grip. “What the hell…man…you tried to buy my mom and sister? I thought…my mom said you were a friend!” he says. I’m gasping for breath. My hands are up to his, trying to free myself of his grip. Rebecca rushes over to her brother. “Let him go…Jacob…let him go. You didn’t let me finish what I was saying…he tried to help us…he tried to buy our freedom. He failed and was taken as a slave himself,” Rebecca says. Jacob releases my throat from his grip and takes a step back. “Well…shit…I’m sorry man. Please accept my humble apology. Sometimes…I just jump the gun and all I see is red. It’s what I’m told is a flaw in my character…know what I mean?” Jacob says. It takes me a few moments to catch my breath and to compose myself – I even hold up a finger as if to say hold on, give me a minute. “Don’t worry about it…man. I accept your apology…no harm done. Well, that’s not exactly true…I mean that glass of wine got it…didn’t it? I have a character flaw or two…so…don’t worry about it. I’ll make it through the bruising of my neck. Rebecca has taught me a thing or two during our time spent together,” I say, earning a punch in the arm from Rebecca. While we eat, Rebecca and Lottie continue to share the story of our journey together. They tell the story up to our arrival in Redwood Town, leaving out anything having to do with my grandpa Hugo. After dinner we all move to the living room, where I start by telling the story of my grandpa Hugo. Then I also share the story of ‘PPK.’ By the time I’m finished with that one it is late into the night, but Jacob and Acacia clearly want to hear more so I continue with the story of our visit with grandpa Hugo. Rebecca, Lottie, and I then tell them about the remainder of our trek south. The tale told included the telling of how the dreaming ability was passed on to me, and how I’ve since come to wield it. “So you cured yourself of this…this Parkinson’s disease just like your grandpa Hugo did all those years ago?” Acacia asks. “I don’t know for sure that that’s what it was, but yes – I’m essentially cured,” I say. “I was wondering about those crazy few days of strange weather we had a short while back. So you’re saying – that was you testing out your ability?” Jacob says. “Yes…I was responsible for that…sorry man. I had to…you know…be sure,” I say. “Wow…shit…man…that’s just plain incredible. I almost don’t believe it, but I trust my mom and sister. If they’re vouching for you then I’m in your corner man,” Jacob says. He then looks at Lottie and says, “Wow…now that I know what happened…I sure am glad you and Rebecca are home…and…that you made it safely.” Acacia looks hesitant as though she wants to say something. I notice that she almost seems nervous. “Gavin…I was wondering…could I ask you for a favor?” she finally says. “Sure…I guess,” I say, not knowing really what to say. “Well…okay…here is the thing. My mother died during the birth of my only brother. He died minutes later. My father raised me as best he could…anyway…I was wondering…if you could do that dreaming thing for my baby…also for me? I want for my baby to be born healthy and without any problems. I also want to make sure nothing happens to me…like dying during the birth. You see…because of what happened to my mom and brother…I’m afraid of the same thing happening to my baby and me. Do you think you could help?” Acacia says. “Sure…I can do that. Consider it done,” I say. “Thank you…thank you so much,” she says. “Okay everyone…it’s late…I’m going to bed. Jacob, I assume you and Acacia have been sleeping in the master bedroom…stay there. I’ll take your old room…I’ve already settled in there. Jacob…just so you know…Gavin will be sleeping with Rebecca in her room…we don’t want you seeing red again…okay? Oh…it’s so great finally being home,” Lottie says. A few minutes later, we all follow suit and head to bed. Rebecca lights some candles and closes the door to her room. “Gavin…hustle on up and get naked…you have two minutes…I’ve been waiting all day. Now get naked and hop in bed,” she whispers to me, while taking her clothes off. I strip naked in a hurry. My excitement is visible even before getting in bed, as I see Rebecca nude in the candlelight. She is amazing. My heart is pounding; it’s racing. The adrenaline is flowing. My excitement is pulsing. We get in bed and we begin kissing. Our hands are exploring each other’s bodies. We then make love. We try our best to keep it quiet, but we are not successful. We make love another ten times before we’re both spent. We lie there like a couple of tired spoons. “I love you, Gavin,” she says. “I love you more, Rebecca,” I say. “No…I love you more. Hey…thanks,” she says. “For what?” I say. “Thanks, for helping Acacia,” she says. “I haven’t dreamed it yet,” I say. “But you will, right?” she says. “Yes,” I say. “Good,” she says, as she falls asleep. I fall asleep a few moments later; I have some dreaming to do. FifteenThe following morning we wake up still tired and worn out. With all the activity last night, we didn’t get much sleep. “Gavin, I think we should head to the kitchen for breakfast and then come right back to bed. In fact, with the exception of meals and the call of nature, I think we ought to spend the entire day in bed. I feel hungry for some fooling around…you know? Last night was wonderful, but it wasn’t enough. What do you think?” Rebecca says. “I’m game…I mean that sounds like a good plan to me,” I say with a casual grin. We get dressed and then head to the kitchen; something is cooking and it smells great. I’m famished and in need of some replenishment. We walk into the room and see that Lottie is cooking. “There you two are…how do you two even have the energy to stand? I heard you last night and again really early this morning. Did you two go at it all night?” Lottie says. I turn slightly red, but have no response. “I’m sorry mom, but we couldn’t help ourselves. We had to…you know…go for it. I hope we didn’t keep everybody up,” Rebecca says. “No…no…I got used to it after the third or fourth time, and then was able to get some sleep. The other thing that got me up early this morning was my excitement for being home; that’s when I heard you two this morning. I must admit – I’m a bit jealous…and somewhat envious…but more importantly…I’m happy for you two,” Lottie says. “Thanks mom,” Rebecca says. “Where are Acacia and Jacob?” I ask. “Oh…they didn’t get much sleep either…so they decided to get an early start on the day. They went over to open the trading post,” Lottie says. “Oh…I’m sorry…now I feel bad,” I say. “Nonsense…Gavin…don’t even worry about it…it’s okay…it’s fine. Now…Rebecca…Gavin…sit down because breakfast is just about ready,” Lottie says. We sit down to eat; the bacon and eggs are delicious. “So what are your plans for today? Do you think you’ll go into Loyola with Gavin? I think he would enjoy a visit into our nearest town, especially since it’s on the Arizona side of the border. Gavin, I’m guessing you’ve never been into Arizona. Gavin, you said your mother is from Arizona, right?” Lottie says. “Yes…yes she is from Arizona, but I’ve never been there,” I say. “Loyola does sound like a great idea, but we’ve decided to spend the day…all day or most of it…in bed. Knowing now that our ruckus kept everyone up last night…it sounds like a good idea…to…you know…keep the ruckus confined to the daytime. That way…we’ll be way beyond worn out…at the end of the day…so tonight we sleep rather than…you know…create any more ruckus,” Rebecca says with a grin. “Wow…okay…that does sound like quite an adventure!” Lottie says. “What will you do today, mom?” Rebecca asks. “Well…I certainly won’t be having as much fun as you two, but I also won’t be spending the day in bed. I thought I’d head over and spend some time with Acacia and Jacob. Then, later come back home and work in the garden for a bit,” Lottie says. “Sounds good, mom,” Rebecca says. “I tell you…Rebecca…I must say I really do like Acacia. My first impression of the young woman…is that she makes a great match with Jacob. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman…or a person…with hair that red before. It’s so unusual…isn’t it? It is beautiful; she’s beautiful and she’s pregnant. Rebecca…can you believe it…you’re going to be an aunt…I’m going to be a granny. It’ll be great having a newborn around…tiring and a lot of hard work…but great, nonetheless,” Lottie says. “I know…right…red hair…I like it. You know…I wonder if the baby will be born with red hair. Either way…I’m sure the baby will be an interesting combination of the mom and dad. Yeah…I like Acacia too, mom,” Rebecca says. “I’ve only known Jacob for a day, but I think that he and Acacia make for an interesting couple. I like them both,” I say. With our breakfast finished, Lottie takes off for the shop and we head back to bed. We spend the rest of the day in bed making more love than we know what to do with. We are so spent by the end of the day that we both just fall asleep on through to the following morning. Not a single sound was made that night other than Rebecca’s light snoring. The following morning after breakfast, we got to work and took a bath. Lottie told us to do so, because we carried the powerful aroma of our lovemaking marathon. Jacob and Acacia didn’t say anything about it, but they did grin when Lottie commanded us to take a bath. This time, to save time and effort, we took the bath together. Now, Rebecca and I are headed to visit the town of Loyola in Arizona. It’s only a half-day ride. We took Pablo and one of the other horses rather than one of the wagons; we’ll be spending the night and then return in the morning. When we arrive, I’m stunned by the number of people I see and by the general level of busyness I see. I almost get a sense of what living in city must have been like in the old days. It’s so busy that there are even police officers walking and riding around. I guess they are the reason why I’ve heard whispers and rumor about how Arizona has become such a safe place to live. A lot has changed, I think, since my mom used to live in Arizona. It has become a safe area to live via law enforcement. It’s probably the main reason why Hannah didn’t experience any trouble traveling through Arizona on her way to Californoya. By the number of people I see, Arizona has probably come to have a large population or at least a large number of visitors. “Halt! Please state your business…what’s the purpose of your visit to Loyola? Where are you both from?” says a police officer as he sees us entering the town. “My name is Vincent…by the way,” he quickly adds. “My name is Rebecca…I’m from Californoya…and this is Gavin…he’s from Oregonia. We’re just visiting for the night. I’m doing a little sightseeing with my guest; he’s never been to Arizona,” Rebecca says. “Well now…Oregonia you say? That is far away. Welcome, both of you, to the town of Loyola. I’m officer Vincent Jamon. Just a few things to note…we tell all visitors. Our current population is five hundred three people. If you’re here to consume alcohol…you best watch and monitor yourself…public drunkenness is against the law. Drink too much…get out of control…get rowdy…and you’re ass belongs to us. There is a fine and two days hard labor involved for the first offense…a larger fine and twenty days hard labor for the second offense…no fine and a quick death for the third…understand? Slaving is not tolerated; anyone caught trying to engage in slaving, will be killed for the first offense. Treat our brothel workers with respect; they may be whores, but they still deserve respectful behavior. Please…while in the pubs…tip your waiter or waitress generously…they work solely for tips. Thank you for listening and we thank you kindly for visiting the town of Loyola…enjoy your stay,” Vincent says. Wow, I think, law enforcement has a tight grip around Loyola. “Thank you officer Vincent Jamon…we’ll be sure to observe the rules,” I say, as we ride into the town. We ride to one of the local pubs. The pub we choose, according to Rebecca, is famous for its unusual red beer. I’m so curious to try this red beer. The pub is called Ike and Tina’s Tavern. It’s packed full of people drinking and having a generally good time. We find an open table and take a seat. A few moments later I see a woman in an apron walk over to us. She’s also wearing some sort of corset with her breasts out in full display. I’m immediately glad I’m sitting down, as my excitement is clearly evident. “Welcome to Ike and Tina’s Tavern. My name is Dolly; I’ll be your waitress. What can I get for you? Just so you know, there is a two drink minimum…and no maximum…but you’re expected to know your own limits,” the woman says, with her breasts all in my face. Rebecca, seeing that my eyes are occupied gives me a swift punch in the arm. I quickly snap out of it. “Do you by any chance have any rum in stock today?” Rebecca asks Dolly, while giving me a look. “Yes we do…as a matter of fact…it’s a spiced rum,” Dolly responds. “Okay…we’ll each have a shot of the spiced rum and a large mug of that red beer…please,” Rebecca says, placing our order and satisfying the two drink minimum rule. “Sounds good…I’ll be right back with your drinks,” Dolly says.While we wait for our drinks, we notice some mild commotion going on at the bar. Two patrons, a man and a woman, are having an animated and somewhat loud conversation. It’s almost bordering on an argument. It’s difficult not to listen to them. “Dammit Jill…I told you…I want to stop working in the brothel. For goodness sake, you’re supposed to be my wife and not the community horse for everyone to ride at their leisure,” the man says. “That’s not fair, Frank…come on…you were the one who told me to go work in the brothel because we needed the money,” Jill says. Dolly and her breasts walk up to us, placing our drinks on the table. “Would you like to pay now or do you want to run a tab?” Dolly asks. “We’ll pay now…thank you,” I say. Rebecca settles the bill with Dolly, and she gives her a generous tip. “My word…that is a nice tip…thank you…thank you so much. If there’s anything else I get for you…please, just let me know,” Dolly says. Our attention is once again drawn to the conversation at the bar. “What would you have me do instead?” Jill says, before taking a drink from her mug. “I just told you woman…I want you to stop working as a whore and come back to work on our farm. We’re good on money now…plus…the c***dren want you back home. Do it for the c***dren,” Frank says. “Shut up Frank…you shut your mouth. Don’t you dare talk to me about the c***dren. You turned those damned rotten c***dren against me. You’re always telling them lies about me. They’re not my c***dren anymore. I want this to be over; I want our Joining to be undone…like today. You hear me, Frank?” Jill says. “Over my dead body. You hear me, Jill?” Frank says. Jill goes insane and punches Frank in the face, catching him off-guard. He falls to the ground. “You no good dirty stinking whore…you’ll pay for that,” Frank says. “That’s were you have it wrong, Frankie…you see…it’s other person who pays the whore. Although…in your case I think not…you haven’t been able to get it up in years,” Jill says. Frank gets up, growls, and attacks Jill. Someone from behind the bar runs out the front door, only to come back a few minutes later with someone in tow. It just happens to be our friend, officer Vincent Jamon. As he’s walking in, we hear him say, “This better be a real offense…I’m off my shift soon and…oh…Frank…Jill…it’s you. I should have known. I thought you two learned your lesson.” Frank and Jill both have a bloody nose and what appear to the beginnings of several bruises. “I’m just having a conversation with my wife. Be on your way, Vince…this isn’t your concern,” Frank says. “We’ll see about that. Billy go get three of my men,” Vincent says. The man goes to get the three men, returning minutes later. “Now, Frank…Jill…I want you both to walk a straight line for me…right now,” Vincent says. Frank and Jill, under protest, both attempt to walk in a straight line. They are not able to; they’re all over the place. Vincent sighs and shakes his head. “You two are clearly drunk…that combined with your altercation and general rowdiness…equals offense number three for both of you…and you know what that means,” Vincent says. “No! No…please have mercy…my c***dren…who’ll take care of my c***dren,” Jill says, crying. “I accept the punishment for my third offense,” Frank says, stoically. Vincent motions for his men to grab hold of the offenders. “Your c***dren are not my concern. I must uphold the law,” Vincent says. They are then taken outside and their throats are cut without ceremony. Rebecca and I see the throats being cut through the window near our table. “Well…it seems Vincent’s speech to incoming visitors will have to change to reflect the difference. The Loyola population is now five hundred one,” I say, taking a cautious sip of my red beer. “Two things: One…it looks like their Joining was undone ‘like today,’ just as she wanted. Two…it looks like it happened over his dead body, just like he wanted,” Rebecca says. We finish our drinks and exit the pub, passing by the dead bodies on our way to our horses. We then decide to stow our horses at the local livery stable for the night. As we walk around the town, taking in the sights, I see that Loyola is like a city of the old days. It has a variety of places to eat, hotels, brothels, a messaging office, markets, and many other points of similarity. After our long walk around town, we decide to grab some dinner at the local steakhouse. Our waitress at dinner also had her breasts exposed for us to see in their entire splendor. For the night, we pick the hotel that’s nearest to our horses. The room is small and the bed is really made for one occupant, but we make it work. After a short lovemaking session, Rebecca falls asleep and I find myself thinking about home. I wonder what Beth is doing – she’s probably sleeping, given the time. I wonder how she is doing? Looking out the window in our darkened hotel room, I see the billions of stars up in the night sky. Beth and my parents probably think I’m dead; I’ve been gone, away from home, for a long time now. I’ve been gone for a full season and almost half of another. I make a decision; it’s time rip off the Band-Aid of the old days. It is time to complete my crossing across the proverbial bridge. Tomorrow, on our ride to Rebecca’s home, I’ll talk to her about my plans and ask her to return home with me. It’s time. I should get on the trail toward home in the next couple days. Hopefully, Rebecca and I will be leaving together. Hopefully. The following day, we’re riding side by side toward Californoya. “Rebecca my darling…I want to talk…I want to discuss something with you…something important,” I say, opening the conversation. She gives me look as though she thinks I’m plotting some devious or underhanded scheme. “What is it, Gavin? It better not be about your opinion of the waitresses in Loyola!” she says, jovially but sternly. “It’s not about them…though now that you bring it up…I do think they add value to the visitor’s overall experience of the town,” I say. Rebecca moves her horse, which she’s named Carrot, over close to Pablo; she turns to give me a good swift punch in the arm. “That’s such a guy thing to say! Now…come on…tell me what’s really on your mind?” she says. There it is, I broke the ice and now to get to the meat of the subject. “Well…okay…here it goes. I’ve decided to return home to Oregonia in the next couple of days…and…well…I’m asking you to return with me,” I say, feeling intense relief. “Bastard! You damn idiot bastard…what the hell, Gavin? You decided? What happened to talking it over with me first? I thought you’d stay here so we could join and start a family,” she says with clear anger and confusion. She’s right, I blew it, and I should have discussed it with her before making any decision. Damn. “Rebecca, I’m sorry I didn’t discuss it with you before making my decision, but I have to go home. My parents and sister probably think I’m dead. I just can’t do that to them…letting them think I’m dead…I won’t do it. Joining and starting a family sounds absolutely wonderful…why not return home with me…and we can do just that. Take a day or two to think it over…I don’t want your answer right away…it’s a big decision,” I say. I see that my explanation has calmed her down a bit. “Damn you…Gavin…fine…I get it. I mean I understand why you have to go home…and I will…take some time to think about it…coming with you I mean,” she says, calmly. A couple days pass after having told Rebecca of my plans. She has kept more or less silent the whole time. I wouldn’t exactly call it giving me the silent treatment. Amongst the silence there was moments of communication like ‘will you please pass the salt’ or ‘are you ready to go to sleep,’ but she didn’t really talk to me at any point. She was obviously doing some soul searching or at least doing some deep thinking. At night there wasn’t any lovemaking involved; we just slept next to each other. Then on the third day after breakfast she says, “Gavin, let’s take a walk…yeah? Mom…we’ll be back in a little while.” Rebecca grabs an opened bottle of wine and a large blanket. She hands them off to me and we walk out the door. We walk side by side in complete silence. We walk south. I don’t know what to say; I’m at a loss for words. Rebecca seems to be calm and she is walking at a casual pace. Suddenly, I get an odd feeling in my stomach. The strength of my decision to leave begins to wane. There is a sudden back and forth in my mind. What if she says that she is staying here? I feel a wave of anxiety come over me, as I’m gripped by indecision and fear. Should I stay if she says no? Be strong, I tell myself. My reason for leaving is solid. It’s the right decision; it’s the only decision – I tell myself, feigning strength. Ahead, in the distance, I see what appears to be grove of orange trees. That might be where we’re headed; we’ve been walking for about an hour. As we enter the grove of orange trees, we keep walking to what must be the middle of the grove. We stop and Rebecca then asks me to hand her the blanket. She lays it out on the ground. “Now…hand me the wine,” she says. I hand her the bottle. Rebecca takes it and places it on the blanket. “Now…take off all your clothes and sit on the blanket,” she says while taking her clothes off. “Rebecca…what’s going on…what are we doing? Aren’t we going to…you know…talk?” I say, nervously. “What is going to happen…is…we’re going to get naked together among these orange trees…and we’re going to drink this bottle of wine together…got it?” she says. I finish getting undressed and sit down on the blanket next to Rebecca. I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside an orange grove, but I’ll tell you that it’s a busy place. There are bugs flying and crawling all over the place; it’s hectic. Rebecca then gulps down half the bottle, and then she hands it to me. She catches me off-guard with her display of drinking antics. “I want you to down the rest of it,” she then says. I make a concerted effort to drink the rest as quickly as she did, but I have to pause midway. I eventually finish my half of the bottle. Even having eaten breakfast, the wine takes effect. That much wine so quick, has me adequately buzzed. “Now…Gavin…I want you inside me,” Rebecca says. Again, I’m caught off-guard but decide to go with it, thinking it may just be part of her soul searching process. We make love five times, both of us fully buzzed on the wine. We’re both somewhat sober by the time we finish; the strenuous physical activity sobered us up. As we’re lying there, naked and dripping with sweat, Rebecca says, “Gavin…I’m sorry but I won’t be going with you. I just can’t see myself leaving home. I love you…but I just can’t leave with you…I’m sorry,” she says, with a sad and depressed look on her face. My heart breaks in the same moment. I take a dry swallow and do my best to choke back the tears, making my best effort to remain strong. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll leave first thing in the morning,” I then say. We get dressed, fold up the blanket, and then head back to the house. The walk back is long, quiet, and full of sadness for both of us. Before reaching the house, Rebecca stops me and says, “Look…just act normally, okay? Don’t say anything about you leaving…or about me not going with you…and can you please hold off leaving until tomorrow afternoon…because I plan on breaking the news to my mom tomorrow morning during breakfast.” “Okay…I’ll act normally…I’ll leave tomorrow afternoon, so you can tell Lottie in the morning,” I say. The rest of the day we act as if nothing was different. We try, anyway. At dinner we’re both more quiet than usual; I even notice that Lottie seems a bit off. It is almost as though she senses that something has changed but for whatever reason, she chooses not to say anything about it. That night we do not make love; we just sleep. The following morning, we’re in the kitchen eating breakfast. “Okay…enough! Come on…tell me…what’s going on with you two? For the past few days…ever since you got back from Loyola…you’ve both been weird…why?” Lottie says. “Well…mom…it’s like this…Gavin is leaving for Oregonia this afternoon…and he asked me to go with him…but…I told him that I won’t be going with him,” Rebecca says. Lottie has a look on her face that says she’s both shocked and sad. “Why? Rebecca? Why not go with Gavin? You love him, don’t you?” Lottie says. “Yeah, I love him…but…I just can’t see myself leaving home. It’s such a long distance to travel…plus, I understand his reason for having to go back…not letting his family think that he is dead…I get it…but I just can’t go with him,” Rebecca says. “Okay, if you’re sure…then I respect your decision,” Lottie says. “I’m sure, mom…I’ve given my decision a couple days worth of thought,” Rebecca says. “Okay,” Lottie says with an odd look on her face. A look that says she inwardly thinks Rebecca is making the wrong decision. “Gavin, what route do you plan on taking toward home?” Lottie asks, changing up the subject a bit. “Oh…I plan to go from here directly to my grandpa Hugo’s in Redwood Town. Then, I’ll go via the Golden Gate Bridge toward home,” I say. “Gavin, you know you’re welcome to take one of the wagons,” Lottie says. “No…I just plan to take Pablo and Don Juan, as it will allow me to travel with greater speed,” I say. “Are you sure?” Lottie says. “I’m sure,” I say. Later that afternoon, we’re standing in front of the house. I’ve loaded my supplies onto Don Juan, and have saddled Pablo. I’m ready to go. I first give Rebecca a kiss and a long hug. Then I give Lottie a hug. “It was great meeting you both. I’m glad we got to know each other. I’ll miss you. Thank you for your hospitality. I plan on stopping at the trading post to say farewell to Jacob and Acacia,” I say. “We feel the same way, Gavin. You’re welcome…and tell Acacia and Jacob that I say to give you whatever supplies you want, on the house,” Lottie says. I get on Pablo and make my way toward the trading post. I look back toward the house to see Lottie holding Rebecca in her arms. A few minutes later, I’m standing with Acacia and Jacob. “Are you leaving for home?” Acacia asks, seeing my horse and loaded donkey behind me. “Yes, I’m leaving. It’s time; I’ve been away for a long time. I want to thank you both for your hospitality. Acacia, I also want to let you know that I dreamed your request. Your baby will be born healthy and nothing will happen to the baby or to you, Acacia, during the birth,” I say. Acacia gives me a hug and says, “Oh…thank you, Gavin. Thank you.” “Thank you, Gavin. It’s appreciated. It was good meeting you. Have a safe journey home,” Jacob says. I shake Jacob’s hand, and then get on Pablo. I then get on trail north, toward Redwood Town. SixteenI’m now one hundred sixty days into my journey, and I’ve arrived back at my grandpa Hugo’s in Redwood Town. Travel here from Rebecca’s house was mostly uneventful, especially since I didn’t have to worry about running into any slavers. I dreamed for my route home to be safe and clear of slavers. I made stops along the way for supplies. I must confess that I experienced another first; I visited a brothel. What can I say, you know? I got lonely. It was interesting; I enjoyed myself. Well sort of, you see I must also admit I thought of Rebecca the entire time. At one point, I swear I saw Rebecca’s face in place of the prostitute’s face; it was strange. Well, it’s not so strange I guess, I mean I do miss her so much. So much, it hurts all over – to the bone. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that I went searching for solace in the loose embrace of a whore. I must say it was a poor substitute. I don’t feel guilty about it, as it did satisfy my immediate ephemeral physical needs. Back to the present, I’m excited to see grandpa Hugo again. I want to tell him that everyone made it home safely. I want to tell him that I did it; I got the dreaming ability to work. I want to tell him that he did pass on the ability to me. I also want to tell him about what I’ve dreamed, including for an end to the slave trade as the result of men being allowed on the Californoya governing council. I tie up Pablo and Don Juan to the railing, and then head to the front door. I knock twice. A few moments later, Hannah answers the door. She looks awful; She looks dead on her feet, as though she hasn’t had a moment of rest in a season. “Oh…Gavin…you’re back. It’s great to see you again. Lucy, look…look who is back. Did everyone make it home, safely? How are you? How was your trip south? You look tired, Gavin. Come in to the kitchen and have a seat. I was just about to fix Lucy with a snack. Isaac is sleeping. Do you want something to eat? I could fix you something,” Hannah says, all at once. She seems preoccupied. I notice unlit candles throughout the house. What about the electricity, I say to myself. I decide the candles are decorative, and shrug off the thought about electricity. “It’s great to see you again, Hannah. And hello to you, miss Lucy. Yes, everyone made it home safely. Sasha joined with George; we witnessed it. It was wonderful. Lottie and Rebecca found Jacob. I’m not hungry, but thank you for offering. I look tired? You…look tired. I’ll tell you what…let’s go into the kitchen…you can have a seat…and I’ll fix Lucy with her snack, okay?” I say. “Okay, that sounds good, Gavin…thank you,” Hannah says, with relief in her voice. I take off my boots and head to the kitchen. As I’m cutting up an apple for Lucy, I look over to see that Hannah has fallen asleep in the chair. “Okay…Lucy, here is your apple. Will you please eat it quietly, while I carry your mommy up to her bed? When I get back, we can play a game if you’d like. Later, when Isaac wakes up, I’ll need your help – to take care of him, so we can let your mommy sleep…okay?” I say, quietly. “Okay…Mr. Gavin,” Lucy says in her sweet little quiet voice. I carefully pick up Hannah out of the chair, trying my best not to wake her up. I then quietly carry her upstairs to her bedroom. I put her in bed and exit the room, closing the door behind me. I then wonder, where is grandpa Hugo? He’s probably in town, I say to myself. I head back downstairs and upon entering the kitchen, I see that Lucy has finished her apple. She ate it quickly. She’s sitting quietly, while looking – staring really – out the window. She sees me entering the kitchen and says, “Mr. Gavin…I want to play the spelling game…with my alphabet blocks. Will you play the game with me?” “Okay…sounds good miss Lucy…but you’ll have to tell me the rules…and how to play…okay?” I say. “Okay…I will,” she says with a smile. “But first I have to take Pablo and Don Juan into the barn. Wait for me right here, I’ll be back shortly…okay?” I say. “Okay,” she says. I then go out to take my a****ls into the barn. I reenter the house, get Lucy from the kitchen, and we go into the living room. Lucy explains the game. Apparently, I’m supposed to say a word and it is up to her to spell out the word with her blocks. Not knowing where to start, I decide to start with easy words. I start with cat. She spells it out within moments. I give her dog, which doesn’t give her any trouble. “Give me something more difficult,” she says. I move on to chicken. She spells it out, and then asks for something even more difficult. I give her miasma. She spells it, and then dares me to challenge her. I give her loquacious. Again, the word doesn’t give her any trouble. She then gives me a look with her little face that says, come on Gavin challenge me. I take a few moments to come up with a word, and then I give her neuropsychiatry. It’s difficult because it is a field of study more so relevant to the old days. My grandpa Hugo went to see a neuropsychiatrist a long time ago when he was dealing with Parkinson’s disease. The word seems to do the job, tripping up Lucy a bit. It takes her about five minutes, but she manages to arrive at the correct spelling. Her level of intelligence awes me. A few moments later, we hear a small noise coming from upstairs. “Isaac is waking up,” Lucy says, as if by premonition or something. We go upstairs to tend to baby Isaac. When we reach his room we see that he’s awake and sitting up in his crib. It’s strange that he isn’t crying; babies are supposed to cry, right? Isaac isn’t, he is just sitting patiently as though he is waiting for someone to pick him up. So I pick him up, and I’m instantly struck by the smell of his soiled cloth diaper. He needs to be cleaned and changed, and I don’t have a clue about how to do it. I’ve never changed a baby before. I mean I remember watching my mom while she changed Beth, but I wasn’t really paying any attention. “Lucy…do you think…could you…would you kindly guide me through changing your baby brother? I don’t know how,” I say. “No problem…Mr. Gavin…I’ll tell you how,” she says. Lucy then does a superb job of guiding me through the entire process of changing a baby. Here I am, getting life lessons from a toddler. With Isaac now changed, the three of us go spend some time downstairs. Later, it starts to get dark outside. I go over to wall to flip the switch for the electric lights, but nothing happens. That’s odd, I think the switch must be broken. I have no idea about how to fix it, so I decide to try a different switch. Nothing happens. As I go around the first floor trying various switches, I feel a tug at my shirt behind me. It’s Lucy. “The electricity doesn’t work anymore, Mr. Gavin. We have to use the candles,” she says. So the candles weren’t just for decoration. That’s strange, I say to myself. Then an ironic thought enters my mind; what is strange, is a house today with electricity. Again, I have no idea about how to fix the electricity so candles will have to do for now. They are the norm everywhere else, so it really isn’t a problem. “Okay, Lucy…let’s light some candles…want to help?” I say. “Okay,” she says. Perhaps, when grandpa Hugo gets back home, he’ll know how to fix the electricity. Lucy and I go around, lighting some candles. By the time we’re done, it’s completely dark outside. Hannah is still sleeping, so we go to the kitchen for some dinner. I then wonder, again, where is grandpa Hugo? I’m not exactly worried, but I do think it’s strange that he’s not home. It is getting late. I decide to let Hannah sleep. I put Lucy and Isaac to bed in the downstairs bedroom, with me taking the floor next to the bed. It’s uncomfortable, but allows me to watch over both of them with ease. In the morning I wake to find the c***dren are gone; they are no longer in the bed. I erupt into an anxiety-fueled panic. My mind is racing; my heart is pounding. Where are the c***dren? I sure did mess this one up. I was supposed to watch them. This is crazy; they couldn’t have gone far, I say to myself. I do my best to compose myself, but all I can seem to assume is the worst-case scenario. What if someone came and took them in the night. It will have been my fault. Get a grip, I tell myself. I get up and race out the door, only to be stopped dead in my tracks a few steps beyond the doorway. I hear Lucy’s giggles and laughter coming from the kitchen. I then hear Hannah, in good spirits, saying something. She’s speaking to Isaac. “Yeah…you’re hungry…aren’t you, Isaac?” she says. I immediately let out a long sigh of powerful and relaxing relief. The muscles in my body unclench. The c***dren are safe; there was never anything to worry about, I’m sure. I wipe the sweat from my brow with my arm as my heart returns to a normal rhythm, and my mind slows down. As I enter the kitchen, Lucy is telling her mom about yesterday. “Mommy…Mr. Gavin played the spelling game with me…he challenged me…and then…and then…mommy I helped him change Isaac…and then I told him the electricity doesn’t work…and then I helped him light the candles,” she says. “Really? That’s wonderful. Lucy, thank you for being so helpful, while I slept. I really needed the rest,” Hannah says. Her eyes light up when she notices that I’ve entered the kitchen. “Gavin! You’re awake. I have to say – thank you – for last night. I assume you are responsible for carrying me all the way up to bed. Thank you for that and for watching the c***dren. I really needed the rest,” Hannah says. “You’re welcome…it was not a problem…I was more than happy to help out. Hannah, I have a couple questions: One…what happened to the electricity? Two…where is my grandpa Hugo? Is he in town or out on some errand?” I say. The feeling of the kitchen suddenly turns serious and sad. “Gavin, let me give the c***dren their breakfast first…and then you and I can eat…and then we can discuss it…okay?” Hannah says, wiping at a tear on her face. The tear says it all; something happened. Not knowing what happened has me going into a full on composed panic. “Okay,” I tell Hannah, feigning a calm demeanor. Hannah and I eat our breakfast in pure silence. We then go into the living room. Lucy is on the floor with her blocks, and Isaac is placed in his portable crib. Hannah then breaks the silence with her words. “Gavin, the electricity stopped working because your grandpa Hugo dreamed that it would work as long as he lived,” she says. Wait. What? What is she telling me? “Are you saying…that…he’s dead? He’s gone? How? I thought he dreamed that he’d live for two hundred years,” I say. “Yes…he’s dead. He’s buried outside in the side yard under his favorite tree, a Japanese maple. His mother planted it. Yeah…he told me about the two hundred year thing. Sometime after you all left, he told about how he thought that he had passed on his dreaming ability to you,” she says. “He told you that?” I say. “Of course he told me, I’m his…was…his wife. Sure, he didn’t tell me right away…but he did tell me. You know…something strange happened…your grandpa Hugo died…and then a day or so later…we experienced a few straight days of the most peculiar weather. It even snowed one of the days,” Hannah says. I take a long dry swallow; I suddenly know what must’ve happened. The strange weather after grandpa Hugo dies; it fits. It makes an absurd kind of sense. Shortly after curing myself with my dream, I decided to test the ability with a few days of really odd weather. My grandpa Hugo must have died as soon as I got the dreaming ability to work. Consequences. By some sort of cosmic reasoning, there can only be one Dreamer. That must be what happened. I then decide to share this information. “Hannah, I know what happened,” I say. After sharing my theory with Hannah, her whole attitude changes from that of sadness to complete relief. I think that not knowing why something happened is a much larger weight to bear than some people realize. Knowing brings relief. “I’ll tell you, Gavin…things have become so difficult around here since your grandpa Hugo died. He also dreamed for the running water inside the house to work as long as he lived. I’ve been hauling water from the water pump inside the barn. I don’t know if you have tried using the bathroom, but…well…indoor plumbing doesn’t work too well without running water. Living here, I’ve gotten so used to hot showers, electric lights, and being able to go to the bathroom without having to go outside to an outhouse. I don’t know if you noticed it as you pulled up to the house, but I had to pay someone from town to build me an outhouse. Life was easy. Now, it’s a struggle. I’m just glad your grandpa Hugo left me with plenty of money. I thought about hiring some help, but decided to hold off on that…until you got back,” Hannah says. “Oh I get it…sure I can help…it’s no problem,” I say. “Help with what?” she says. “I can dream the running water and electricity back into place,” I say. “I’m sure you can, but that’s not what I was going to say. You see…I was hoping that you’d be willing to take us with you. I want…we want to go north to Oregonia. We are family. I could have you restore the water and the lights, but there are just too many reminders here for me of my husband. Plus, there would also be the constant reminder of him when the stream of steady visitors come looking for him…and then having to explain to each what happened. Besides, his grave is well marked; visitors will find it and get the idea. It’s just too much, you know? Your grandpa Hugo would have wanted us to move on with our lives. I know for sure that’s what he’d want. It’s time to move on; it’s time to get fully used to living without electricity or running water. What do you think, Gavin?” Hannah says. I take a few moments to process what Hannah just said. “I think it sounds like a great idea, but there is one small problem. I don’t have a wagon and as far as I know, you don’t have one either,” I say. “We never needed one, but that won’t be a problem. We can get one in town…and a horse to pull it…you have your horse…Pablo…right? But we should really get another horse…right?” she says. “Getting another horse sounds like the right idea. When do think we should leave?” I say. “We could leave in the next few days. I feel better now. I feel as though a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she says. I then go on to tell Hannah about how we’ll be traveling a safe route home, clear of any slavers. “Oh…that’s great. You know, I was wondering about the whole slaver issue for trip north. It’s good to know I’ll be traveling with The Dreamer, so I know we’ll be safe. Now that it’s all settled, would you like to go see where your grandpa Hugo is buried?” she says. “Yes…I would like to say hello,” I say. Hannah picks up Isaac and takes Lucy by the hand. “Come on Lucy we’re going with Gavin to say hello to your father,” Hannah says. We then walk outside to the side yard, where my grandpa Hugo is buried. My grandpa Hugo is buried under the shade of the Japanese maple – I think that’s what Hannah said it was called. I’ve never seen one before; it’s beautiful. The pointed green leaves somehow give the tree a calming effect. It’s funny because it seems to be the only tree of its kind in the surrounding area. The rest are Redwoods. It’s ironic that even though the maple is much smaller than the surrounding Redwoods, it’s probably much older. If my great-great-great-great grandmother planted it, it must be older because grandpa Hugo just made the Redwoods appear in full growth. The grave marker reads: Hugo Arreola, The Dreamer – beloved husband and father. I notice something to the right of grandpa Hugo’s grave marker. I lean in to have a closer look. I see another grave marker. It’s made of stone and is engraved. I’m suddenly taken unaware; I’m shocked as I realize that I’m now also standing over the grave of my grandma Aoife. I had no idea she was also buried here; I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that she would be buried here. I’m suddenly glad I get to meet her as well, sort of anyway – you know what I mean. Her grave marker reads: Aoife Arreola, beloved wife and mother. “Hannah, I had no idea that my grandma Aoife was also buried here,” I say. “Yes, she is here also. You know…your grandpa Hugo loved her so much; he talked about your grandma Aoife all the time. Don’t get me wrong…I know he loved me…but he loved her too. Your grandpa Hugo buried her here a long time ago. He used to tell me that I rebuilt his heart for him because it shattered the day your grandma Aoife died. The day your grandpa Hugo died I was also heartbroken, but I was also confused because of the two hundred year thing. I had the c***dren to worry about, so I knew I had to be strong for them. I don’t think the fact that he is dead has fully hit me yet. I had to wait until your strange weather stopped before I could bury him. Let me tell you one thing; that was a big job. I decided I wanted to do it myself. Six feet under is deep; it took me days just to dig the grave, but I finally got it done. Look at me; here I am going on and on. Gavin, go ahead and say a few words to your grandma Aoife and grandpa Hugo. We’ll say hello after you do,” Hannah says. “Okay…thanks,” I say. I then take a few moments to compose my thoughts, and figure out what I want to say to them. “Hello…grandma Aoife…my name is Gavin Mann. I’m your great-great-great grandson. You never met me while you were alive, but I sure know a lot about you…or…at least I’ve heard a lot about you from the stories that have been passed down over the years. I have something to tell you – something I’ve carried with me for as long as I can remember. I love your name, Aoife. I remember the first time I heard your name spoken; it was during one of my father’s nightly tales of the past. I’m still not sure if I believe in the afterlife, but if there is such a thing – I’m glad that you and grandpa Hugo are together again. Hug him for me, yeah? Hello…grandpa Hugo…it’s Gavin…I’m back. I wanted to tell you that everyone made it home safely. We witnessed Sasha’s Joining with George. Lottie and Rebecca found Jacob, safe at home. He went and found himself a wife, while they were gone. She was with c***d. Her name is Acacia. I’ve got some good news for you…well…it depends on how you look at it. I mean…I suspect it was the cause…or…reason for your death. What I am trying to say is that I finally got the dreaming ability to work. You did pass it to me, just as you thought. Anyway…I cured myself of Parkinson’s disease. I also dreamed for the Californoya governing council to now allow men to serve on it. My hope is that it will spell an end to the slave trade. I’m on my way home now. Hannah and the c***dren are coming to live with us in Oregonia. I’m glad I got to meet you. I’m sad for Beth, my younger sister, because she will not get to meet you. I’ll remember what you told me about the dreams having consequences. I’ll be as careful as I can with the ability. Take care of yourself, wherever you are now,” I say. A few minutes pass, while we stand in perfect silence. Well it’s almost silent, but not quite. Birds and other wildlife are making their usual symphony of sound. Then, all a sudden, Lucy speaks. “Hello daddy…it’s me, Lucy…again. I miss you so much. I love you, daddy. We’re going to go live someplace new. I’ll think of you everyday, in this new place. Mommy says it’s far away, so I won’t see you everyday. Someday, when I’m older, I’ll come back here to visit you. Promise,” she says. She’s so young, I’m not sure if she is able to fully grasp the idea of death. Given what I know about her level of intelligence, she just might understand it. Either way, she does seem to be in good spirits. “Hello my love…I miss you too. It’s true; we’re all moving to Oregonia. Don’t worry…Gavin says our route will be clear of any slavers…thanks to the dreaming ability…so we’ll travel safely,” Hannah says. We stand in silence for a few more moments, and then we head into the house. Later that afternoon, I take Pablo and go into town. My mission is to acquire a wagon and another horse for our trek north. Hannah gave me plenty of money. From my description, I make it sound as though this town is swarming with Redwood trees but that is not actually the case. Sure, there are a lot of them in the outskirts of town and there are some in town but not as many. In town I need to find Yvonne, who Hannah says will be able to sell me a wagon to suit our travel needs. I walk into her shop and see a short lady humming a tune, standing behind the counter. “Pardon me, ma’am…I’m looking for Yvonne…you see…I’m looking to buy a wagon,” I say. “Uh…do I look like a ma’am to you? What? Do I look old to you, sonny boy? I bet you’re expecting me to call you sir and all that jazz,” the lady behind the counter says, somewhat sternly. “I…I…I’m sorry. I was just trying to be respectful. What should I call you?” I say. The short lady suddenly busts out into laughter. “I’m just messing with you, boy. Truth is, I’m probably older than your own mother but don’t ever call me ma’am. Call me by my name, which just happens to be Yvonne. What’s your name, stranger?” the lady says. “My name is Gavin,” I say. “Well…I’m pleased to meet you, Gavin. If you’re in the market for a wagon, I can sell you one. I currently have three for sale. Where are you headed?” Yvonne says. “I’m headed home to Oregonia. I had a wagon for part of the way here, and then further south…but I left the wagon in southern Californoya…and returned here on a horse. Now…I’m in need of another wagon,” I say. “Say no more…if you need a wagon…well…you came to the right place. Now…come on…let’s go outside and have us a look at the available wagons…so we can see which one suits your needs,” Yvonne says. I follow short Yvonne outside; we then head around to the rear of the shop, where the wagons are parked. I see the three wagons and I immediately feel the urge to laugh out loud, but I hold myself back from doing so. Two of the ‘wagons’ are nothing much bigger than handcarts, and the third is a monstrosity of a wagon. It’s twice the size of the wagons we had going south, and will take two horses to pull it rather than just one. I take a few minutes, pretending to look over the three choices. Something tells me that Yvonne is only person in town selling wagons. I decide I have no choice so I say, “Yvonne…these are some fine looking wagons. I believe I’ll take the big one.” “That’s a great choice. You do know you’ll need two horses to pull it, right?” she says. “Yeah…I thought so…where in town can I buy a couple of good horses?” I say. “My brother, Jason, sells horses on the other side of town,” she says. Oh great, it’s a family racket – I say to myself. “Okay…good…I’ll buy the wagon from you now…and then go buy the horses from your brother. I’ll then come back here to pick up the wagon, okay?” I say. “Sounds good,” Yvonne says with a sly grin. I pay her for the wagon, and she gives me directions to Jason and his horses. I locate Jason with ease; he’s really short, just like Yvonne. It’s probably a trait that runs in their family. Like his sister, he was also humming a tune when I came upon him. He seemed to be in a good mood, and was more than willing to sell me a couple horses. I bought two strong looking horses, and then headed back to Yvonne’s to hitch them up to the wagon. “I see you found my brother…and bought yourself some fine-looking horses. Well…good…you travel safe now…okay? I’m sure I speak for my brother when I say, we thank you for your business,” Yvonne says to me, while I’m hitching up the horses to the monster wagon. “Thank you, Yvonne…I will,” I say. With Pablo in tow behind the wagon, I then head back to the house.As I’m pulling up to the house, I see Hannah and Lucy sitting on the porch. As I move closer, I also see that Isaac is on the porch in his portable crib. They are waiting for me, I think. “Whoa…Mr. Gavin…that…is one huge wagon!” Lucy shouts with excitement. “Gavin…you chose wisely…that wagon is perfect. It’ll do,” Hannah says. I chuckle and then share the story about having to choose the right wagon. The story does its job and makes Hannah laugh. Lucy, unfortunately, fails to see the humor in it. We then sit on the porch together, discussing the journey north to Oregonia. Home. Hannah spends the next couple days deciding what to take with us in the wagon. The decision takes a couple days because she obviously can’t take everything, and that is what makes it difficult. I spend those same couple days, wandering around Redwood Town. I spend some time in the pub, thinking about Rebecca and all the good times we shared together. In town I even come across a faded historical sign of some kind. It is from the old days, I think. It reads: Climate Best by Government Test. I’m not entirely sure what it is supposed to mean. Hannah also had a task for me. While I’m in town, I’m to find a buyer for the house. It turns out that Martha, the pub owner, and her wife, Edith, were interested in buying the house. So I sold it to them with the understanding that the graves were to be left undisturbed. They’ll take good care of the house. That night, just in case, I dream for the two graves to stay protected; Lucy and/or Isaac may want to return for a visit at some point in the future, when they’re older. We spend the majority of the following day loading up the wagon. We leave Redwood Town the following morning. We then head north toward home…toward Oregonia. s*******nIt’s morning. I’m now two hundred twenty days into my journey. We should reach home by this evening. We’re so close that I can hardly contain my anxious excitement. The leg of the journey from Redwood Town was safe and clear of any slavers, which also means it was completely uneventful. I never thought I’d find myself saying that safety is overrated; safety is downright boring. Danger seems to add a little something to life. It also seems that once you get a small taste of said danger, life just doesn’t seem the same afterwards. I guess it could be I just miss the rush of associated adrenaline. If I had to be really honest with myself, I’d say that what it actually is – is that I miss Rebecca. She brought a lot of a little something to my life. I’ve even thought, once or twice, of doing something devious. I’ve thought of dreaming Rebecca into coming up to Oregonia, but decided against doing so. I feel it just wouldn’t be the right thing to do. On the journey north, we made several stops – not so much for supplies, but so Lucy could run around, play, and explore a bit. We got to know each other really well. At night, after dinner, Lucy would enjoy my nightly tales of the old days. I’m sure she had heard similar stories from her father – I mean he was from the old days – but she never seems to get tired of hearing about: airplanes, trains, cars, and the Internet. Before falling asleep at night, I’d look up at the stars and wonder how I was going to explain my journey to my family. I mean it was eventful. More importantly, how would I tell them about grandpa Hugo? Should I just come right and tell them that he died and that he passed on his dreaming ability to me – oh by the way this is his wife and c***dren. They came to live with us – surprise! I had a lot to mull over. I turn to Hannah and say; “We should reach the house by this evening. I recognize where we are now.” “Mr. Gavin are we there yet?” Lucy says, almost whining. “Lucy…almost…Gavin just said we’ll be there by tonight,” Hannah says, holding Isaac. “I know mommy…I heard him…I was just being a difficult c***d…that’s all,” Lucy says, jovially. Hannah is currently holding Isaac, but we’ve taken turns holding the little guy. The one not holding him has been in charge of driving the wagon. Lucy has had the absolute best time of her life, we think, riding in the back of the wagon. Isaac hasn’t cried at all. He just looks around and at you, as though he’s measuring things up. He just doesn’t cry. He also hasn’t said his first word yet, but looks as though he is ready to burst into conversation any day now. Hannah and I have had many a debate about what his first word will be. I think it will be mommy. Hannah, for whatever reason, wants his first word to be pooping. I think it has to with us wanting a bit of warning – as in mommy I’m pooping now – when he is about to let one out of his coral. His diaper activity during the journey north has made for some interesting times. Isaac, for some reason, doesn’t keep to a regular pooping schedule, and always seem to catch us off-guard. Moreover, the smells the little guy is able to concoct are some outright potent stuff – let me tell güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri you. “Look at you…Lucy…you’re getting bolder and bolder as you get older. Good for you…I think. Hey…Gavin…have you given any thought about how you’ll tell your parents who the c***dren and I are? Don’t get me wrong…I like you…you’re a nice enough guy…but…what I don’t want is for them to think…that we are somehow husband and wife. Know what I’m trying to say? I just don’t want your parents to get the wrong first impression of me – that’s all,” Hannah says. “I was just thinking about that…about how I will tell them. I figure I’ll just come right out – telling them first that you’re my grandpa Hugo’s wife and c***dren…second that he died…and third that you’ve all come here to live with us. Then, later, I’ll fill them in on the whole dreaming ability thing and the rest of journey story,” I say. “Coming right out that way and saying it first like that…sounds like the right way to go,” she says. We then ride on getting ever so closer to reaching home. Later, as the sky darkens a bit, we arrive at the gate to the ranch. We’ve arrived a little earlier than my estimate. We’re home; we made it, I say to myself. “Well this is it, the family ranch or at least it’s the gate to it…I mean. From here, it’s only a short ride up to the house,” I say. “Mr. Gavin…is this the new place…is this our new home?” Lucy asks. “Yes, Lucy – it is,” I say. “Gavin, you were pretty close to your estimated time of arrival. I’m looking forward to meeting more family,” Hannah says. I get down off the wagon, and then move to open the gate. I’m excited. I’ll be providing my family with a huge surprise, as they won’t be expecting my arrival. Getting back onto the wagon, we then cross the open gate. I get off again to close the gate; my father likes for the gate to remain closed or rather, he doesn’t like for anyone to leave it open. We then make the short trip up to the house. As we stop in front of the house, I hear my mom’s voice. She’s saying something to my dad, but I can’t quite make out what it is. “Let’s all get off the wagon and then walk inside…making as little noise as possible…okay? I want to catch them off-guard and surprise them,” I say, quietly. As we’re approaching the front door, I hear my mom say, “Rush…I thought I heard someone arriving outside.” She then opens the door and sees us. Nuts. I really wanted to walk in to surprise them – oh well. “Hello mother…I’m back…I’m finally home…did you miss me?” I say. Without saying a single word, she grabs me tightly and yanks me in for a hug. She holds me and after about a minute or so, I feel her crying. “We thought…you…were…dead,” mom says. She then releases me and glances at Hannah and the c***dren, but chooses not to say anything for the moment. My dad then comes in to give me a strong hug. “I’m glad you’re alive, son” he then says. I’m too overwhelmed by emotion to say anything for the moment. I then see Beth coming out of her room. Our eyes meet. “Gavin!” she shouts, as she runs in my direction. She then jumps into my arms for a hug. “Gavin…aren’t you going to introduce us to your guests?” my mother asks, curiously. “Yes mother…but I think we should all sit down…for this one,” I say. “Okay,” mom says, nervously. We all sit in front of the fire in the living room. I look around the room at everyone. I then swallow and clear my throat. I can see my mom and dad are both waiting patiently for me to begin. I then see Beth; she is about to burst with questions for me. “Well…you see…it’s like this…this is Hannah and her c***dren…Lucy and Isaac. Hannah is…Hannah was grandpa Hugo’s wife. I say…was…because…well…you see…grandpa Hugo died. Hannah…Lucy…and Isaac have come here to live with us. Hannah…Lucy…I’d like you to meet Rush, Amanda, and Beth,” I say. Lucy gets up and walks over to Beth, holding out her hand. “Good to meet you, Beth. I think I’m your aunt…sort of,” Lucy says. “It’s good to meet you too, aunt Lucy,” Beth says, shaking Lucy’s offered hand. We all get a good chuckle out of that. Lucy then sits on Beth’s lap. “Well…it sure is wonderful…meeting more of my husband’s family,” Hannah says. “I never would have thought the old man had it in him…getting joined again…good for him. We’re happy to have you here,” dad says. “Yeah…we have more than enough room. You all came at just the right time. I was fixing to start making dinner. Are you all hungry? Gavin, we’re so glad you finally made it home!” mom says. “Oh…let me help you with dinner. Gavin, would you kindly hold Isaac?” Hannah says. “Gavin taking care of a baby…that’s wonderful. Okay…Hannah…I’d appreciate the help,” mom says. Hannah hands me Isaac to hold. “Dreamer,” Isaac says, speaking his first word as I hold in my arms. The entire house pauses in stillness for what seems to be minutes. “Gavin…why did Isaac just call you Dreamer?” my mom and dad both ask in unison. I cannot believe my ears; Isaac called me Dreamer. How in the world did he know? Surely, he is too young to understand the dreaming ability – I say to myself. Either way, he did it – he let the cat come out of the bag. I have no choice but to explain. So as my mom and Hannah are fixing dinner in the kitchen, I’m sitting in the same room to explain. Dad is sitting next to me, ready to listen. I brought in the portable crib, and placed Isaac in it. He’s in the living room with Lucy and Beth, who are within earshot of the kitchen. Beth brought out some of her dolls to play with Lucy. “Well…you see…we were in grandpa Hugo and Hannah’s kitchen down in Redwood Town…and I gave grandpa a hug. As I stepped back…I apparently saw the same flash of light that grandpa saw a long time ago during his brain surgery…the flash of light nobody else saw,” I say. “What do you mean by ‘apparently?’” dad asks. “I mean I was later told that I said I saw a flash of light…you see…then I passed out and didn’t wake up for a few days. I don’t remember saying I saw the light. Anyway…on the day we were leaving for southern Californoya,” I say, only to be interrupted. “Southern Californoya? Why on earth were you on your way to southern Californoya?” mom asks, surprised. “Mom! I’ll tell you about my journey later…right now I’m explaining the whole Dreamer thing. So – on the day we were leaving, grandpa Hugo meets with me privately in his office. Wait. Backing up a bit – to before I passed out after seeing the light. Grandpa Hugo told me then that he hasn’t been able to dream in a long time. He told me that he believed he had lost the ability to dream. Okay – now back to the meeting in his office. He told me he believed that I did see the flash of light. Mom…dad…brace yourselves…this is where it goes sideways. Grandpa Hugo then told me that he thought he had somehow passed on his dreaming ability to me. He then instructed me on how to do it – the dreaming thing, I mean,” I say. The look on both my parent’s faces is one of pure shock and bewilderment. “This…is…incredible. I just don’t know if I believe it. How can this be? So – did he? Did he pass it to you?” dad says. “Well at that point I wasn’t sure…I kept trying without any success. Then we had a run-in with some would-be or want-to-be slavers, where I received a minor blow to the head. Something must have clicked inside my head because I then got the dreaming ability to work. Mom…dad…Beth I know you’re listening…I cured myself of my little problem…I cured myself of Parkinson’s disease. Look…there is no more tremor in my hands…they are steady as rock,” I say. “That’s great stuff, son. I noticed you are walking like normal person. Congratulations,” dad says. “I’m so happy for you my son. You know…you have to be ever so careful with your ability…it’s dangerous,” mom says. “Thanks, both of you…I will be careful with it. I know – there are consequences. So…okay…I had to test it…so I dreamed for a few straight days of strange weather, including snow. That is what gave me the clue as to what or why grandpa Hugo died earlier than the two hundred years he dreamed to live. You see upon my return to Redwood Town to visit before returning home, Hannah told me grandpa Hugo died. She then told me that a day or so later she also experienced the few straight days of strange weather, including snow of all things,” I say. “That was you. You know I was wondering where that straight few days of more than weird weather came from,” dad says. “It was me, sorry,” I say, taking a moment to pause. Man, talk about consequences – I had no idea my little weather experiment had affected everyone. “Anyway…it was my thinking that grandpa Hugo died as soon as I got the dreaming ability to work. Through some sort of wild cosmic reasoning, there can be only one Dreamer,” I say. “As far out as that sounds, it does sound logical to me. Gavin…you keep saying we this and we that…oh wait I get it. You’ll explain we later…as they were probably part of your journey…right?” mom says. “Yeah mom…I’ll explain later. So…that is why Isaac called me Dreamer. How he knows, I have no clue. You know…I also dreamed for the Californoya governing council to allow men to serve on it…my hope is that it will end the slave trade…since the slave trade is carried on in protest of men not being allowed on the council,” I say. “I see…well…good. We’ll have to wait to see how that turns out,” dad says. While we’re eating dinner the oddest strangest thing happens, Isaac suddenly starts talking up a storm while Hannah is spooning some food into his mouth. “This food is very good, mom. I’m glad I finally got my talking under control so I can express myself verbally. Mom, it’s only a matter of time before I get the walking under control – then, watch out world,” he says. We are amazed beyond belief. “Isaac, you’re so silly!” Lucy says. “So…Hannah…how’d you and our grandpa Hugo meet?” mom asks. Hannah then shares the story about how she was drawn to travel to Redwood Town from the Kingdom of Florida. She goes in great detail with regard to her own journey across such a great distance. She tells the story well while she’s eating. She shows some real talent, as she is also feeding Isaac mouthfuls of food while telling the tale. By the near end of the tale, we are just about done eating dinner. “You know…it turns out that as I finally reached the house in Redwood Town…your daughter Jana had just left for home from her visit with her grandpa,” Hannah says. “Oh…really? That’s interesting. You know…Hannah…you’ll get to meet Jana at some point…she’s said that she’ll be traveling down from Columbia…so we can meet her twin girls,” dad says. “So…wait…you walked most of the way through the Empire of Texas?” mom asks. “Yes,” Hannah says. “That’s amazing; that’s what I call a real commitment,” mom says. “Mom, where’s the Empire of Texas?” Beth chimes in. “It’s down closer to Arizona, where I’m from,” mom answers Beth. “Oh,” Beth says. After dinner my father helps me unload the wagon. We then park the wagon over by the barn. We also then put the horses and Don Juan in the barn; we feed them and give them water. Upon entering the house we see that everyone is gathered in the living room. “Mom, can you please change my diaper – there’s something in it waiting for you. Then, can you please put me to bed? I’m tired,” Isaac says. “Hannah…I’ll show you to one of the spare bedrooms,” mom says. My mom shows Hannah to the bedroom and helps her setup the portable crib in the room. A short while later, they both walk into the living room and sit down. “Well…Gavin…I believe it’s your turn to astound us with the tale of your journey south,” my mom says. I start by telling them about my visit to Jenny Sunnyvale’s, making sure to leave out the explicit details. I notice a slight smirk on my father’s face, letting me know that he knows what Jenny was probably up to during my brief visit. I then tell them about how I came upon the slaver camp, where Lottie and Rebecca were being held. I share how I failed to follow in my father’s footsteps by buying some slaves – how I was then also taken captive as a slave. I share some detail about my time spent as a slave – including my having witnessed all the **** that went on. The description was completely toned down, as Beth and Lucy are also listening. My parents look both shocked and disgusted, but somehow don’t seem to be surprised. I share how I came to destroy my map. I tell them about our subsequent escape from captivity. I tell them of my odd beginnings with Rebecca. I share how we soon came upon Sasha – how we all came to know each other. I tell them about our time spent in Redwood Town with grandpa Hugo. I tell them about our time spent traveling to southern Californoya – about our time spent at Sasha’s home. I tell them about the time spent at Rebecca’s home, including our visit to Arizona – about how difficult it was leaving Rebecca. I give them the brief account of my mostly uneventful return trip to Redwood Town. I tell them about the time I spent in Redwood Town on my way home – about how I visited grandpa Hugo’s grave. I tell them about our time spent on the trail home. By the time I’m finished everyone is yawning – not because my story was boring – but because they’re tired. It’s late into the night; it’s time for bed. “That was one interesting and eventful journey, Gavin. Tomorrow, it’s back to your daily routine…by that I mean your chores…okay?” mom says. “Will do, mother,” I say. We then all head to bed. Over the next few days, I slowly get used to the daily routine of farm life. On the fourth day after my return home as part of that daily routine, Beth and I are milking the cows. She has been more or less quiet around me, as though in contemplation or something. I think that hearing about everything I went through on my journey was difficult for her. So it’s no surprise that she catches me off-guard when she starts speaking to me. “Gavin, I was so worried about you. Mom, dad, and I thought you were dead. I’m so glad you’re alive; I’m so happy you’re home now,” Beth says. “Thanks. I’m glad to be home, Beth,” I say. “I have a question about Rebecca. If you loved her so much, why did you leave her? Why didn’t she come home with you?” Beth says. “I left because I just couldn’t let you all think I was dead. Rebecca didn’t come with me because she said that she just couldn’t see herself leaving her home,” I say. Beth simply nods understanding – her mood visibly improves. “Well…at least…now…I won’t have to travel all the way to Redwood Town to visit The Dreamer. I only have to travel as far as your room. Dreamer, I have an official request. I really want to have boobs early – like now. Can you please help me with that?” Beth says. I chuckle quietly, and then clear my throat. “Beth, there’s no hurry. I believe I’ll have to say no to that peculiar request, believing it is probably best to let that sort of thing happen naturally. Think of something else, okay?” I say. “Oh…okay…fine – I’ll just wait for my boobs to arrive on their own. I’ll get back to you with a different request. I’ll have to think it over,” she says. Days later, Beth comes to my room in the middle of the night, waking me up. She tells me quietly that she has a request – apparently, she gave it plenty of thought. She asked me to make her hair blue. I don’t remember saying yes, as I was half asleep. I must have said I would dream it because in the morning I hear a loud scream. When I go to investigate, I see my dad and Hannah doing the same thing. As we approach the source of the scream, we find my mom standing in Beth’s room. When my mom asks Beth what happened to her hair, Beth gets up and looks at herself in the mirror. “My request was granted! Well…do you like it?” Beth then says. My mom turns and gives me a look. She laughs and says, “Well…I suppose there’s nothing dangerous about having blue hair. I like it. Now that we know you have the dreaming ability, I have a request for you. Can you make the house a lot bigger, so we have more room to work with,” mom says. “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea,” Hannah says. “I agree,” dad says. “Okay,” I say in agreement. Over the next couple days we all discuss what we want the new house to be like. We then all sleep outside under the stars – just to be on the safe side of things. We also pack up our belongings and place them outside with us. I then dream the new house into being, and the following morning – we wake up to find the new house. It’s wonderful and spacious. EighteenSome time has passed – it has gone around to being twenty-five days into the spring season. My birthday has passed; I’m now twenty years old, though I don’t feel older. Belinda and John had their baby a short time ago. They named the boy Brian. Isaac recently started crawling all over the place. It’s only a matter of time before he’s walking all over the place. Beth has taken Lucy under her wing; Beth is currently teaching Lucy how to milk a cow. Lucy is still a bit young to do any real work on her own, but is ever so eager to learn. My mom and Hannah are becoming good friends. The new house has been great; it has more than enough room for everyone. I think about Rebecca everyday, though I’m doing my best to move on with my life. We have a new Oregonia governing council member to replace Mr. Henry, who died. Molly East was elected. She’s from out west near the ocean; my mom loves the cheese Molly makes. I think we’ll see her at the upcoming Portland Gathering. I hope Molly brings some of her cheese, for my mom’s sake. I’m currently swimming at the pond during this warm spring season day. Before getting in the water, I went over to check on the peach pits we planted last year; they’ve since sprouted into the beginnings of a couple fine looking little trees. As I’m coming up from a dive down to the old car at the bottom of the pond, I hear some yelling as my head breaks the surface of the water. “Gavin! Where are you? It’s important!” Beth yells from the dock over by the edge of the pond. “What?” I say from the exact middle of the pond. My head and shoulders are the only part of me visible, as I bob in the water. Lucy is standing right next to Beth, looking excited. “Oh…there you are…were you diving down to the car by yourself? You know…that’s not safe!” Beth says, forgetting for a moment why she came looking for me. “Yeah I was…never mind about that for now, Beth. What is so important that you came here yelling my name, looking for me?” I say. She looks confused for a moment, as if she actually forgot. She then smacks her forehead with the palm of her left hand. “Oh…yeah…now I remember it. There are…some…people…at the house…looking for you. Lucy says one of them is named…Rebecca,” Beth finally says. What? I say to myself. My mind begins to race. My heart begins to pound. My body springs into action. I break some sort of pond record for fastest swim from the center to the edge; the adrenaline is flowing. I move like I’m a mission. I get out of the pond and onto the dock. Still wet, I put on my clothes and boots. “Come on you two…let’s head to house to see what this is all about,” I say, trying my best not to seem or appear to be anxious or nervous.The three of us walk to the house. The first thought to enter my mind, is that I should have dried off a bit before putting on my then dry clothes. Oh well – what’s done is done, I say to myself. The second thought to enter my head is what is Rebecca doing here? Could it be some other Rebecca? No, Lucy said it was Rebecca. Lucy must have recognized her. This is crazy; Rebecca told me she couldn’t see herself leaving home. She felt strongly about it. Why would she change her mind? Why? And who are these people she came here with? It couldn’t be Lottie; could it? If it is Lottie, who else is with her? These questions go round and round inside my head. I don’t how I’m managing to control myself. I don’t know why I’m walking to the house; I should be running to the house. I think it is because I’m so nervous…or something. “Beth, how many people did you say are looking for me?” I say, trying to assuage my nervous energy. “I didn’t say…but for your information…I’ll say it now. There are four…and a half…people looking for you. One of them is way pregnant; she has red hair,” Beth says. I’m even more confused. From what Beth says, it sounds like it could be Acacia but that makes no sense. Why would Acacia and Jacob leave their home? This is crazy, right? I then pick up the pace a bit; Lucy and Beth follow suit, as we edge closer to the house.As we approach the house, I notice three wagons parked in front of the house – two of them seem familiar. I don’t see anyone around them; they must be in the house waiting for us, I think. As we approach the front door, someone exits. It’s Rebecca Hodges. Our eyes meet; we just stare at each other for a moment. She looks more beautiful than I remember. Lucy and Beth pass by us and enter the house. Rebecca and I grab hold of each other and hug; we then kiss with passion so intense, words cannot adequately describe it. I then feel something extra around Rebecca’s midsection. I stop kissing her and take a step back to inspect the something extra. My eyes go wide in surprise. “I’m pregnant!” Rebecca says. I then immediately wonder why or how I didn’t notice she was pregnant when I first saw exit the door. I think because I wasn’t looking; after all, Beth said the red-haired woman was pregnant and Rebecca is a brunette. Beth probably didn’t notice that Rebecca was also pregnant; she probably didn’t notice among the excitement of having visitors. It then dawns on me; I’m going to be a father. “I see that…congratulations…to us,” I say. I put my hand on Rebecca’s stomach and say, “Hello.” “You’re all wet,” Rebecca says. “Oh…yeah, I was swimming in the pond. I was so excited at the mention of your name, that I forgot to dry off before putting on my clothes,” I say. We see that everyone is waiting for us in the living room.We go inside to the living room, where I see Lottie, Jacob, and a very pregnant Acacia. Introductions have already been made. Lucy and Beth are also brought up to speed on everyone. I hug Lottie, shake Jacob’s hand, and greet Acacia – telling her not to get up. I excuse myself to quickly go change out my damp clothes. When I return in dry clothes a few minutes later, everyone is laughing. I’m told that Lottie was just retelling the story about when I woke up to find Rebecca d****d all over me – drooling and snoring. Isaac then walks up to me, pulls on my hand – to get my attention – and then points at Rebecca. “Look at what you did,” he says. “I know, Isaac…isn’t it wonderful,” I say. “We were waiting for you, Gavin. Lottie was just about to share the story about why they left their home – about why they came all the way up here from southern Californoya,” my mom says. I sit down next to Rebecca, ready to listen to the tale. I kiss Rebecca once more, and then focus my attention on Lottie. I still can’t believe this is actually happening – but it is. They’re actually here; this is happening. “So…Gavin…you left and Rebecca was okay…everything was fine…and then it wasn’t. About a week after you left, we’re all having dinner and out of nowhere – Rebecca starts to cry. She cries her eyes out; she’s hysterical. When I asked her what was wrong…I mean, I knew what was wrong…but I wanted Rebecca to say it – I wanted her to let it out. I knew it would help to say it out loud. So…when I asked…she said, ‘he left…he left…and…I let him go. What have I done? Am I insane? I love him and I let him go…without me. I should’ve gone with him. What’s wrong with me?’ Now – keep in mind – that as she says all that, her face is running full of snot, slobber, and tears. Like I said, she was hysterical. After about an hour, she calms down and finishes her then cold dinner. She then goes to bed and stays there for a couple weeks. She only came out of her room to eat and to use the outhouse. She didn’t bathe and was getting a bit ripe – let me tell you. And then something happened; Rebecca started throwing up in the morning. She tells me, ‘mom, I think I’m pregnant.’ She then got her act together; the first thing she did was to ask for help preparing a bath. Rebecca gained a level of focus and determination I had never seen in her before. Over the following couple weeks, she convinced us all to pack up and leave. We sold the house and the trading post. We soon acquired a third wagon and began our slow journey north – toward Oregonia. Thanks to your dreaming ability, Gavin…we knew we’d be safe from slavers…anywhere we went in Californoya. That made the trip easy and worry-free. We knew you lived just outside of Portland, so once we thought we were close we just asked locals along the way for directions. We even stopped at Bart’s trading post; Bart was very helpful,” Lottie says. We’re all having lunch together. “Hannah, I’m so glad to see you and the c***dren again. You’re all unexpected surprises…tell me…how did you three come to make it to Oregonia? Where is grandpa Hugo?” Lottie says. Hannah looks a bit dejected. “Gavin, can you please tell that story?” Hannah says. “Okay…sure…Hannah I’ll take that one. Well…you see…grandpa Hugo died,” I say. I then tell Lottie, Jacob, Acacia, and Rebecca my theory to explain his death. As a side note, I tell them about how the straight few days of strange weather had apparently affected everyone. I share the story about my time spent in Redwood Town on my way toward home. I tell them of my time spent with grandma Aoife and grandpa Hugo at their grave. I then tell them about how Hannah came to decide to come with me to Oregonia. I also give them a brief account of our journey north. A few days later, Acacia goes into labor and has a baby boy. They name him Ben. I dream up a house for Acacia, Jacob, and Ben. I place it near the ranch. I also dream up a house for Lottie. Rebecca chooses to live on the ranch with me until the baby is born. Rebecca and I are joined at the Portland Gathering. Sometime after the Gathering, Rebecca gives birth to a baby girl. We name her Melissa. I then dream us up a house on the ranch. Some time passes. My father, coming home from a council meeting, has some news for us. He tells us that the slave trade in Californoya has come to an end. Some more time passes, and I pause in contemplation; I think back to my time spent on my journey. The world is a dangerous place. No matter how safe you think you are, you can turn around and find danger lurking in the shadows. A little danger makes life worth living. Not knowing what’s up ahead is a key part of living. It’s only a matter of time before enough rumors circulate, and I get my first visitor – someone looking for The Dreamer. I’m also aware the dreams can have dire consequences. I remember what happened with ‘PPK.’ I’ll help people as they come, being as careful as possible. I’ll do it, knowingly flirting with a little danger. Disaster could be waiting around the bend, no matter which path is chosen. This is a post-apocalyptic tale about a boy coming of age. Gavin travels to visit his great great great grandpa Hugo, whom Gavin’s own mother refers to as a dangerous man. Why is a man so old, dangerous?a novellaBy: Hugo Carlos ArreolaCopyright © 2014 Hugo Carlos ArreolaAll Rights ReservedTo my parents for their love and support.A Note from the Author:The following is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and occurrences are a product of my imagination. Any resemblance to real life is purely coincidental.OneThe call of the rooster woke me up. It was the morning of the first day of the spring season and it was also my nineteenth birthday. Among other things, I consider myself a bit of historian and I can tell you for sure that time used to be measured in a different manner. People used to be so concerned about time down to the minute. They were always running around in a hurry so they wouldn’t be late for an important something or other. My father likes telling us stories at night after dinner about how things used to be and how things changed for everyone. My father wasn’t around during those times. He only tells us what was told to him by his mother when he was a boy. My mother, on the other hand, isn’t too keen on those stories. She says there is no use in dwelling on the past. She says she is more of the live-for-today sort of person. It is my firm belief that she does so enjoy the stories and puts stock in them as well, but only says otherwise to give my father a difficult time. As I was saying, time used to be measured differently. People used to travel so fast that the number of miles travelled were measured per hour. That’s just plain too darn fast in my humble opinion. Nowadays our travel is measured in days. I’ve traveled near twenty miles in one day on my horse. Well, it was only ten miles or so to my destination, but I had to travel back so I can say it was twenty miles in one day. I was only traveling to Bart’s, a nearby trading post, for a newspaper my younger sister wanted, so I wasn’t in a hurry. Time is still measured the same way, but we just look at it differently. Months no longer have names but rather are grouped in the four seasons of the year. Each season has ninety days. I’ll give you some examples to illuminate the idea for you. I was born on the first day of the spring season. My younger sister Beth was born on thirty-fifth day of the winter season. My older sister Jana was born on the eightieth day of the summer season. I hear a knock at my door. It’s my mom reminding me just as she does most every morning, “Gavin you be sure to go tend to the chickens and go milk the cows,” my mother says. “I will mother. Although after tomorrow it will be added to your list of many responsibilities for a while,” I carefully say. She giggles and ducks back out, but then a few moments later she rushes in and sings me happy birthday. She follows the song by planting a big wet kiss on my cheek and then she ruffles my morning hair. “Now Gavin, I know we agreed a few months back that we’d allow you to go visit your great-great-great grandfather to see if he can help you with your little problem, but you know that you have to be ever so careful around him, he’s dangerous,” she says. “Mother, it’s a risk I’m willing to take if he is able to help me. When Jana went to go see him a few years back, she was safe and came back home without a problem, and the best thing was that he was able to help her with her ‘issue.’ After all, she did come across a man she found ‘interesting’ a few months after she got back and they were joined a few months after that. Although, I’m not sure her ‘issue’ qualified as a real problem in the grand scheme of things, but dear old grandpa Hugo was able to help her out in her time of need,” I say. Hugo is my great-great-great grandfather, but we mostly refer to him as grandpa Hugo. “Oh Gavin. You hush on up. You know darn well how few people there are around these days and that makes it twice as difficult when searching out for a partner,” mom says. “Mother, what are you talking about? Jana had twenty plus potential suitors in line waiting to court her and still she had to go see grandpa,” I say. My mom responded by simply saying, “She didn’t find any of them ‘interesting,’ and that was clearly something she wanted in a partner.” My older sister Jana who people say is arguably the most beautiful girl in all of Oregonia is now joined with Chuck, who she would say is the most interesting man on the planet. Whatever that can possibly even mean, I really have no clue or idea what it means to be an ‘interesting’ man. They now live in what used to be British Columbia, Canada, which is now simply called Columbia. We received a letter from them a few days ago saying that she had given birth to twin girls and that they would be bringing them down to come meet the family. She didn’t say exactly when they were coming. She only made reference to coming at some point when the girls were strong enough for travel. “Now Gavin, you hustle on up, get ready for the day, and get going on your morning chores.” “Will do, mother.” She stands up and makes her way out the door into her usual domain of the kitchen. My morning routine; I get up, get dressed, make my bed, put on my boots, and head to the house washroom to clean my face and brush my teeth. Before getting to work on my morning chores, I head outside to the outhouse to do my business. As I sit there, I think about the old times, according to my father, when people used to do their business indoors with the running water. I’m deep in thought about running water when all of a sudden the door to outhouse is flung open and I see Beth holding herself while bobbing up and down. “Gavin! Will you please hurry up and finish, I have to go. Please hurry, I’m about to explode,” Beth says. “Go do your business in the bushes if you need to go so bad,” I state. “I have to go number two right now, and you know mom gets angry when she catches us going in the bushes. She says ‘an outhouse is there for a reason’,” Beth responds. “I know. I know. Okay. Give me a minute. I’m almost finished,” I say. “Okay, hurry,” she says. I finish and the moment I finish pulling up my pants, the door is flung wide open again. Beth grabs me by the wrist and flings me out. Moments later I hear an “ah” followed by a healthy sigh of relief coming from the outhouse. As I make my way to the henhouse to feed the chickens and collect the eggs, I think about the long trip ahead of me to go see grandpa Hugo. It will take me roughly forty days worth of travel south to reach grandpa Hugo’s cabin in Redwood Town, Californoya. That’s assuming I go in a straight shot and make no unnecessary stops except for food, water, and sleep. Redwood Town is a long way from here. Beth wanted to go with me, but my parents said there was no way she would be going this time. My mom told Beth that when she gets to be my age she could go down to see him if it was necessary. Jana went to see him when she was my age and my guess is, so will Beth. There is no real ‘if’ about it, all the c***dren in our family go see him once we are old enough. The parents determine the ‘right’ age. My dad says that the trip down to see grandpa Hugo is a right of passage for the people in our family. I’m still trying to figure out what he means by that. My dad went to see him when he was my age. My mom also made the trip down to Redwood Town a few years after she was joined with my dad. I proceed to feed the chickens, collect the eggs and hand off the basket full of eggs to Beth whose responsibility it is to take the eggs in to mom. After having tended to the chickens, Beth and I head over to milk the cows. I swear there is no one better or faster at milking cows than Beth. She always manages to beat me. I should say that she always finishes before I do, as we never actually say we’re in a race to see who wins. On our way over to the cows we both see off in the distance three people on horseback riding up to the gate of the ranch. We then look at each other and realize who it is at the gate, it’s dad with two other riders. I turn to look at the gate then turn to look at Beth; only, she is no longer by my side, she’s running and making her way to the gate, then I yell out to her, “Beth, wait!” Dad and the other riders will be through the gate and up to the house in about twenty minutes. Beth turns back for a moment and yells back, “No way! I’m going to see dad!” I stand there, laugh and all I say is “Okay.” They’ll be through the gate and halfway down path to the house before Beth even gets close to reaching them. My father is coming home from a council meeting up north from here. We live on a large ranch that serves as more of farm outside of Portland, Oregonia. Among other things on the farm we grow corn and we raise cattle for beef. Aside from running one of the biggest farm operations in the area, my father is also on the Oregonian governing council. The council is made up of a group of five elected men and women who make decisions that affect all the people of Oregonia. You could say the five members of the council are essentially the governors of what used to be the state of Oregon of the United States of America. The thing of it is that the United States of America fell and hence ceased to exist as a country a long time ago. Other areas outside of Oregonia have similar governing bodies, though from what I hear some areas out there are still in complete chaos without a semblance of any kind of government. The area formerly known as the state of Nevada is a complete and utter wasteland. It’s now called Nevid, and only a handful of people still live there mostly around small farms and without any kind of government. The former state of Washington is now called Wash. It also has no government, but it’s not exactly in chaos so it’s safe for travel between Oregonia and Columbia. South from here is Californoya. Due to its size, one would think that Californoya was ungovernable but that is not the case. My father tells me that it has a governing council with two major differences. Only women can be elected to the Californoya council and there are eleven members rather than our five men and women. Currently, our council is made up of three women and two men. I finish milking one of the cows when I look up to see my father ride up to the house with Beth up on the horse with him. Behind them, also on horseback, are Belinda and John. A few things of note regarding those two are that they are joined, they have an age difference of fifteen years, and they are both former slaves from Californoya. That is part of danger in my journey to see grandpa Hugo and the reason why Beth is too young to go with me. The slave trade in Californoya is not condoned by the governing council, but is rather the work of rogue groups of men of the area. The slavers are men who enslave women in protest of men not being allowed on the governing council. They also enslave men from time to time, as was the case with John. My father bought Belinda and John during two different trips he made many years back when he went to meet with members of the Californoya governing council. That’s my father in a nutshell; always trying to help others, he buys slaves when he can and brings them home where he gives them their freedom and then offers them work at the ranch with pay. The majority of the people he brings home accept the offer of work. Once they accept the offer a house is built with their help and from others on the farm. The house is located nearby or even on the ranch depending on circumstance. There have been a few who have said no to the offer of work; they are given a horse and wagon full of provisions for a month and they go on their way. I think most head north. At least that is what John did when he did not accept my father’s offer. I found out sometime later that in fact he did travel north when he came back two weeks later, having changed his mind. My father in his usual way said, “Not a problem John. It’s not a problem at all. Come inside for something to eat and some sleep. We’ll see about getting you fixed up and working in the morning or the next day.” I remember the conversation clearly because John was and has been the only person to change his mind and return to the ranch. John responded by saying, “Thank you, sir.” To which my father quickly responded, “Please don’t call me sir or boss or anything like that. The name is Rush. Please, just call me Rush.” “Well, okay. Thank you Rush, I won’t let you down,” John said. Belinda came to the ranch when she was only fifteen years old. The slavers that took her and her mother killed her father. Her mother was killed a couple years later when she was found trying to escape captivity with her daughter in tow. Belinda was spared, but suffered further abuse for another year before my father came upon the group of men who were finally looking to sell her off as well-used goods. Belinda had a difficult time when she first came to the ranch because of everything she had gone through with the slavers. For months the only word she could or would say was “Okay,” and she had all but forgotten how to read or at least did not try due to fear. She lived in the main house with us for the first few years and as a result, I’ve come to consider her as a sister of sorts. My mother really took Belinda under her wing and is the reason why she grew up into such a strong and healthy woman. We recently learned that she and John were to be expecting a baby. We all thought that to be welcome news, being that she was like family. Beth finally makes her way to where I am at the milking shed and she begins helping me to milk the rest of the cows. While milking she says, “Guess what?” I just know she’s going to answer with her usual follow-up to that question with a ‘chicken butt.’ So I say, “Okay. What? Please, tell me.” She then surprises me by saying, “Dad says there is going to be an election this year for a council position.” In shock I say, “What? Is he stepping down? Did he decide to step down?” “I don’t know Gavin. That’s all I heard when he was telling mom in the kitchen before I came out here to help you with the milking. I’m sure you can ask him to tell you more when we go inside for breakfast,” Beth says. “You bet I’ll ask. So Beth, aren’t you concerned with council matters?” I say and ask. “Me? No. What do I care about Oregonia council stuff? I’m still just a k**,” she says. “Okay. Okay. Don’t bite my head off, I was only asking. You do, after all, live in the area and the Oregonia council makes decisions that affect you too. So you should concern yourself with issues surrounding the council,” I state. “Gavin will you please stop spouting off about the council. You’re always going on and on about the darn council,” Beth says in anger. “Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll stop because I happen to like my head where it’s at right now,” I say in a near-apologetic manner. “Good. Thank you. Now come on and let’s finish milking these cows so we can go eat breakfast,” Beth says. The Oregonia governing council positions aren’t held for life, but there isn’t exactly a limit to the number years you can serve on the council. Council member Jenny Sunnyvale has been on the council since it first took form. My father has been on the council for a long time as well. Bart Oakley of Bart’s trading post served a few years back for a short two seasons. He stepped down for, according to him, personal reasons. I can’t say I blame him; being a governing council member is a huge responsibility. We finally finish milking the cows and head into the house for some breakfast. Walking up to the house, I see my dad waiting on the porch eating an apple. On the farm we also have a few apple, pear, orange, lemon, and cherry trees. Though we don’t have enough of any of each type of tree to be considered a farm of that particular type of fruit. Aside from the fields of corn there are also multiple vegetable gardens. I walk up to my father and give him a kiss on the cheek while giving him a hug. “Rush! It’s good to see you. How was your trip? What’s this about an election? Are you stepping down?” I say. “Whoa, take it easy there bud. Let’s do this one thing at a time. It’s good to see you too birthday boy!” my dad says. “Thanks dad. I don’t feel much different than I did yesterday,” I say. “That’s the way it goes son. Time passes and before you know it, you’re old,” he says. Following his train of thought I say, “You’re not old dad.” “Yes I am.” “No. Grandpa Hugo is old.” “Yes. I agree with you on that.” “Speaking of grandpa Hugo, are you ready to get going tomorrow?” “I think so.” “Okay. Let’s head on inside for some breakfast and I’ll tell you all about my trip,” my dad says. We head on inside with Belinda and John for some breakfast. The moment we step inside we hear a reprimand coming from the kitchen, “Rush! Just what do you think you’re doing with that apple? For Pete’s sake, we’re about to eat breakfast,” my mom says. “Amanda my darling please consider of the apple to be part of my meal,” my dad responds. “Oh okay. I’m sorry. Everyone let’s sit down to eat,” my mom says. Beth chimes in at this point, as she does most every morning, “Yes, ma’am. You surely know that I do love me some breakfast.” For breakfast we have eggs, bacon, hotcakes, and toast. It’s accompanied with fresh milk, juice, and chicory coffee. Real coffee from actual coffee beans hasn’t existed in this part of the world for a long time. I’ve never tasted real coffee, though I know it from mom and dad that it comes from a bean instead of from a root like chicory. John is eating his eggs and swallows to say, “Amanda these are the best eggs I’ve ever tasted. What is that you put in them?” My mother is about to answer him when we hear a yelp of pain coming from John. It’s Belinda who answers him with a look of chagrin and a flash of anger on her face, “Onions. She puts onions in the eggs, John. I’ll be sure to put onions in your eggs from now until the end of time.” My mother sternly looks at Belinda and says, “He was just being polite. There is no need for v******e.” There is a long moment of silence when a giggle finally escapes my mom. Belinda also bursts out in laughter and says, “I wasn’t being violent. I was encouraging him to see the truth via some love taps.” “Mother these are some fine tasting eggs,” I add with my mouth full of egg. “Gavin! Don’t talk with your mouth full of food. This isn’t a seafood breakfast,” my mom replies. Everyone laughs. As the laughter winds down, my dad takes the opportunity to tell me of his trip north to the council meeting. “Gavin you were asking about my trip north with Belinda and John? Just so you know right off that no, I’m not stepping down from the council. There is still a lot of good for me to do while serving,” my dad says. “Beth said she heard you telling mom that there is to be an election this year? Who is stepping down?” I ask. “Nobody is stepping down,” he says. “But I thought you said…” “Diego Henry died, son. He was close to ninety years old. He died during the council meeting while discussing available crop yield of all things. He just collapsed,” my dad says. “Daddy, Mr. Henry died?” Beth asks. “Yes he did Beth.” Beth liked Mr. Henry. He would bring us peaches from his farm, which is out to the east. We never got around to planting any of the pits to grow a tree. I wonder if we still have them somewhere. We most probably do, as nothing on this farm goes to waste. I’ll have to find them and put them in the ground somewhere before I leave tomorrow. “So who’s up for the election?” my mom asks. “Well, three people have shown interest in the past,” my dad says. “Well come on Rush, spill it,” my mom says. “One of them is Bart Oakley’s son Jeff, the closest person to us. We saw him on the way home and he confirmed that he is interested. The other is Maya Spoons from way up north by the Oregonian border. She vaguely made mention of some interest years ago,” my dad says. “I don’t know her,” my mom states. “Yes you do. Remember, last year at the Portland Gathering you were afraid to try one of the avocados she brought,” my dad says. “That was Maya?” my mom says. “Yes!” my dad replies. “Oh, Okay. Now I remember, I do know Maya, but I still say that didn’t like her avocado,” my mom says. Belinda jumps in to say, “I loved the avocado. John and I asked to keep the pit and we planted it in our yard. Quite a little tree has grown, though I suspect that it’ll be quite a while before we see any avocados.” My father continues on to say, “The third person is Molly East from out West near the ocean. She boldly said she wanted a seat on the council last year at the Portland Gathering. It looks to be that she’ll now get a shot at it.” All of a sudden mom says, “Oh I like her a lot!” “Why, mom?” Beth asks. “She makes the most delicious cheese.” I smirk and say, “Okay.” “Gavin, hush!” My dad throws me look. The election process is not a simple endeavor. It takes a lot of time and effort. We don’t have the communication networks or the television or even the radio of many days past. The first step is having an official rider sent out to meet with those interested in the council position. The rider is then tasked with getting both verbal and written confirmation of the person’s intent to run in the election. The confirmation is then taken and delivered to the following scheduled council meeting. Jeff’s confirmation to my father on the trip home doesn’t count as official, even though my father is a member of the council. As I was saying, the confirmation of those interested in running for a spot on the council is delivered to the next meeting. There are no special council meetings called for any particular purpose. If a council member is ill or cannot make it with sufficient reason to the next meeting a rider is sent in his or her place to give notice on the first day of the meeting. The council simply waits to conduct business at the next scheduled time. I’d like to say we’ve become a patient people. Once the council receives the confirmation multiple riders are sent out to give notice to each of the candidates, informing them that they can then begin their campaign pilgrimage around Oregonia. Also, once the council receives the confirmation, and the campaign pilgrimage is started, the election is considered begun and nobody may enter the election process as a candidate at that point. The candidates then each make their way around Oregonia to visit with every single resident. This is much more than a simple ‘hello’-type visit. The candidate stays with each person for as long as he or she feels is needed for each resident to gain an understanding of who he or she is as a person. This may sound impossible, a visit with each resident, but I assure you it’s not. My mom spoke the truth earlier this morning when she mentioned how so few people there are around these days. Once the campaign pilgrimage is completed each candidate returns home and sends out a rider with a completed campaign pilgrimage report letter sent to the following meeting. Once all the letters are received riders are again sent out, this time many, on their own pilgrimage of sorts to inform every resident that an election is to be held. Over the course, of however long it takes, every resident of Oregonia makes his or her way to Portland to cast his or her vote. Everyone votes. If you’re old enough to know how to read, you can vote. Everyone learns to read at as an early an age as possible. One of the first governing council decisions at its forming was that everyone in Oregonia knows how to read. Once the votes are all tallied the riders are sent out once again to inform every resident of the newest governing council member. Each candidate finds out whether they won or lost via the same riders. As I said, it takes a lot of time and effort. Our process is nothing compared to what is gone through in Californoya, especially since it covers a lot more area. We finish eating breakfast, and then Belinda offers to help clean up. “Nonsense. That job is reserved for Gavin and Beth,” my mom plainly states. With that, Belinda, John, and my dad excuse themselves to go see to the cattle. My dad offers my mother a kiss and smack on the butt, which she gladly accepts. Beth and I get to work on cleaning up. Beth briefly makes her way out to the pigs to feed them what was leftover from breakfast. I still laugh inside when I think of feeding bacon to pigs. Beth comes back, looks at me, and giggles. She and I share a similar humor regarding the pigs. As we’re cleaning I say to both my mom and Beth, “It’s sad to hear that Mr. Henry died.” Beth apparently has nothing to add at this point, she simply continues to clean, though I do hear a quiet sniffle coming from her direction followed by a movement of her hand to the face. Probably wiping at a tear, I think. My mother then comes in to add, “He was an old man, son. It was just his time to go, I suspect. At least he died talking about his favorite subject, while doing what he so loved which was serving on that council.” “I suppose you’re right mother. Hey, you know what I was thinking?” I say. “No, but I’m willing to wager that you’re about to tell us what you’ve been thinking about,” my mom responds. “Well, I was wondering if we still had those peach pits from the peaches Mr. Henry gave us?” I ask. “We do,” my mom, replies. “Do you know where they are?” I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Will you please tell me where I can find them? I want to plant a couple before I leave tomorrow,” I say. “They’re on a shelf in the barn, but don’t plant them too close to the other fruit trees. They will need room to grow,” she says. “Okay. Thanks mother.” Beth finally enters the conversation, “I’ll go with you Gavin. I want to help plant the peaches.” “Okay, sounds like a plan, but we’ll go when we finish cleaning up,” I say. After cleaning up, Beth and I head over to the barn to look for the peach pits. I’m the one who ends up doing the looking, as Beth makes her way to the rope swing that’s in the barn. It was originally part of the rope ladder up into the hayloft. A wooden counterpart eventually replaced the rope ladder. Beth had asked my dad to convert the rope ladder into a swing. He did and now Beth swings on the result. While looking through the shelves, I come across something old and unusual. It’s a portable light source called a flashlight. “Hey Beth come over and take a look at what I found,” I say. “What is it?” she asks. Beth gets down off the swing and makes her way over, and she sees what I’m holding. “What is that Gavin?” “I believe it’s called a flashlight,” I say. “What does it do?” “It’s supposed to shine light on things like a candle,” I say. “How does it work?” “I’m not sure,” I say. “You don’t know? Come on. You’re the historian,” Beth says. “Okay. Just give me a minute,” I say, stalling. I rotate the flashlight in my hand see that it has a switch with the words ‘on’ and ‘off.’ The switch is currently in the ‘off’ position. “Oh. Here we go. See. To make it work you move this switch to ‘on’,” I then say. I do and nothing happens. I’m disappointed and then it hits me. “Beth these things work on batteries, and the batteries in this flashlight must be dead,” I say. “What are batteries and what happens when they are alive?” “Batteries aren’t alive,” I say. “But you said these were dead,” she says. “That’s just a way of saying that they no longer have any power; that they no longer work. You see, back in the old days people used to depend on batteries to provide power for things they used everyday. So when the batteries in flashlight ‘died’, new ones were put in to continue supplying the power,” I say. “What happens to the ‘dead’ batteries?” “I think they were just thrown in the trash,” I say. “Gavin. Come on. That’s just plain silly. Why didn’t they just use a candle?” “I don’t know everything, Beth.” I put the flashlight back where I found it. A few minutes later Beth yells out, “I found them. These are the peach pits, right?” “Yes, those are the pits we need. Now let’s grab two shovels and make our way over to where the fruit trees are so we can plant these pits,” I say. “Okay. Let’s do this!” Beth says. We make our way to where the fruit trees are over by the pond. It’s about a twenty-minute walk from the house. Though it took nearly an hour with Beth having to stop every five minutes to look at ‘something’. As I mentioned earlier, we are a patient people. I have a little trouble walking and I have a bit of a limp, so taking my time getting anywhere comes natural to me. When we finally arrive I mention to Beth that she’ll dig a hole for one pit while I dig the hole for other. “That’s fine by me. You did, after all, bring two shovels.” Beth takes the pits out of her pocket and pops one up in the air to me. I catch it, put it in my pocket, and we get work on digging the holes. We each decide to plant them opposite a different type of tree. I elect to plant mine near an apple tree, while Beth chooses to plant near her favorite fruit, the cherry. We dig the hole, plant the pit, and then we cover the hole with dirt. I then get a nearby bucket that’s sitting by the orange tree, and go over to the pond to draw some water. I pour a bucket full of water over each buried peach pit. Hopefully, a tree will have sprouted by the time I return. With that task completed, I look over at the dock at the pond’s edge and say, “Hey, do you feel like going for swim before we head back to the house for our afternoon chores?” “Sure, that sounds great. Let’s do it,” Beth responds. So we head over to the dock, strip off our clothes, and we jump in. I choose to dive in head first, while Beth as per usual goes in yelling, “Cannon Ball!” We take turns diving down to an old car that is at the bottom of the pond. How did it get there? I have no clue. According to my parents, the car has been there since before they first started working this ranch. I only know it’s called a car from my father’s stories. Nobody has seen a car on land for a long time. I haven’t. My parents haven’t. We then swim together across the pond and back a few times before getting out to lie on the dock to dry off. While we are drying off Beth turns to me and says, “I sure am going to miss you while your gone, brother. Our chores won’t be the same without you.” “I know, Beth. I’m sorry, but I have to go see grandpa Hugo to see if he’ll help me with my problem.” “I don’t see it as problem. You walk funny and have a tremor in your hands, that’s all,” Beth says. “My guess is that it will only get worse as time passes. Grandpa Hugo is my best shot at living a normal life. So, I simply have to go,” I say. “Okay. Fine, but I’m still going to miss you.” “I’ll be back soon enough,” I say. Once we’re dry we get dressed, collect the shovels over by the fruit trees, and head back to the house. That night after dinner we all sit down in the living room for one of my father’s stories. He begins by saying; “Tonight I think I’ll tell a story about the good old Internet.” “Hey dad, wait.” I interject. “What is it, Gavin?” “The Internet is fun with the tweeter and the giggle, but before that will you please tell us the story behind the old flashlight on the shelves in the barn. I came across it today with Beth while we were looking for Mr. Henry’s peach pits,” I say. “Yeah daddy, tell us about dead batteries,” Beth says. “What? Oh, dead batteries. I get it,” my dad says. “Oh great. Here we go,” my mom says. “Well, that story is for your mother to tell. Amanda, you want to take the lead here?” my dad says. “Okay, okay. Here I go,” mom says. My mother telling an after dinner story was certainly unusual. “That flashlight belonged to your great-great-great-great grandfather Wilson, on my side of the family. When Wilson was a boy he was k**napped by a young couple that lost their son to something called cancer,” mom started. “What’s cancer mommy?” Beth asks. “It’s a sickness that kills you,” mom tells Beth. “Oh,” Beth says. “They took him under the pretense that they were friends with his parents, and that they were asked to watch him for a while,” mom continues. “How long did they keep him, mom?” I ask. “I’ll get to that. One night Wilson started having bad dreams that soon turned to nightmares. Night after night, he had these bad dreams. They wouldn’t stop coming in the night. So Ned and Betty, the young couple’s names, bought him a flashlight and told him to use it when he got scared at night. It didn’t work. For two years he woke up every night screaming and clutching at the flashlight that was supposed to help. It didn’t. Ned and Betty finally had enough and dropped him off at a fire station with the flashlight in his hand,” mom says. “Mommy, what’s a fire station?” Beth asks. “It’s where men and women live whose job it is to put out fires,” mom says. “Oh,” Beth says, in wonderment. “He was returned to his parents the following day. That night he slept on through the night without a single bad dream. He still had them, everyone does, but his bad dreams had abated,” mom says. “Mother, what happened to Ned and Betty?” I ask. “Oh, they were found sometime later thanks to Wilson’s description to the police. They were both sent to prison for a long time. Ned died in prison. We don’t know what happened to Betty after she got out from prison,” mom says. “So Wilson kept the flashlight as a memento?” I ask. “He kept it as a reminder of what he went through. He only found out he had been k**napped and missing after he was returned to his parents,” mom says. “Wow, mom,” I say. “That flashlight has been in my family for a long time. You put it back where you found it, right?” mom says and asks. “Yes I did, mother.” “Good.” “Thanks for telling the tale behind the flashlight, mother,” I say. “Yeah, many thanks mommy,” Beth adds. The stories were not yet over because Beth wanted to know more about dead batteries. So my dad went on to tell her a short story about batteries and their supposed usefulness. We all enjoyed hearing the story about how batteries were used all over, in so many different gadgets. At the conclusion of the story, Beth still thought that batteries were silly. With that we pass the time in each other’s company and then head to bed. TwoThe following morning the same routine I get up, get dressed, make my bed, and get ready for the day. Beth and I knock out our morning chores, and we head into the house for breakfast with mom and dad. Belinda and John are, no doubt, having breakfast at their place this morning. I’m even sure that John is getting some onion in his eggs. My mother asks us all to sit down. Beth chimes in with, “Yes, ma’am. You surely know that I do love me some breakfast.” For breakfast we have some tamales we helped to make yesterday in the afternoon. They are some good stuff, especially with some chicory coffee. While we eat, my dad turns to me and says, “Gavin, you have everything you need for your journey? You have the map I gave you, right?” “Yeah dad I do. I’ve been setting aside what I’ll need for a week now, the map included. As a precaution, I’ve committed the map to memory just in case something happens to it along the way. I just have to load everything up on Don Juan and I’m good to go,” I say. A covered giggle comes from Beth’s direction as she says after swallowing, “I still can’t believe you named that donkey Don Juan.” I’ll be riding Pablo, my horse, with Don Juan in tow carrying my supplies. Beth named her horse Peanut because he was the smallest of all. I mention this to Beth when my dad interrupts our banter, “Okay. Settle down you two.” In unison, Beth and I reply, “So sorry father.” My mom and dad laugh. My mother then comes in to say, “When you make stops along the way, you’ll probably come across people who’ll be interested to know your business in their neck of the woods. It’s probably best to keep that information to yourself. Be especially quiet about who you are going to see. If people find out that you are related to grandpa Hugo, they just might see you as dangerous as grandpa Hugo is known to be and they might act on that knowledge.” “Okay. Mother, I’ll be careful. I promise,” I say. We finish eating breakfast. Beth and I clean up, while my dad goes off to meet a group of workers. Before leaving he says, “Be careful out there. See you when you get back, son.” “Okay. Will do, dad.” I then head to my room to gather my things.Once everything is gathered, I head outside to load up Don Juan and to saddle Pablo. I would have preferred to just take Pablo, but mother insisted on me also taking Don Juan to carry all my supplies. This, according to her, will limit my number of needed stops along the way. The donkey will mostly be carrying my food and water. I guess this makes sense, as this isn’t necessarily a sightseeing trip. I’m a man on a mission that needs to be completed, without failure and safely. As I load my supplies onto Don Juan, my mind begins to wander. I experience some anxiety as I think about how far away from home I’ll be traveling. I’ve never been so far from home. I don’t know what has gotten over me; I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. “Gavin, are you okay? Wow! Where were you just now? You must have been spaced out. I’ve been calling out to you for the past five minutes, trying to get your attention,” mom says. “What? Oh. Sorry, mother. I just was thinking about this trip and how far away from home I’ll be. It’s a bit daunting,” I say. “Gavin, just focus on why you are going and you’ll be fine. It’s natural to be scared; it keeps you sharp and focused. I was scared when my father brought us to Oregonia from Arizona. That was one long trip, let me tell you,” mom says. My mother came to Oregonia when she was a little girl. Grandpa Robert was looking for some other place to live outside and far away from Arizona. So he wandered the land for a few years with my mother and my grandmother Susan. They came by way of Californoya and eventually decided to settle in Oregonia. Grandpa Robert and his family travelled from town to town, staying in places for short periods of time to work and earn money. Travel through Californoya, back then, was relatively safe, as the slave trade had not yet taken root. The former state of Arizona kept its name. It’s considered to be an area in chaos now, as it doesn’t have any form of government. “Okay mother, I’ll stay scared while remaining focused,” I say. “Gavin, that’s not exactly what I meant,” mom says. “I know, I know,” I say. “Okay. Anyway, I wanted to make sure you didn’t leave without seeing Beth before you go. Also, do you have the money your father gave you?” mom says and asks. “I won’t forget Beth and yes, I have the money,” I say. “Okay. Good,” she says. The money my mother was referring to is gold and silver coin. Paper currency hasn’t been in use for a long time. My father has some old hundred-dollar bills in a drawer somewhere. They have the picture of some guy named Franklin on them. It’s strange to me that in the old days people put so much value in paper. I mean, it is just paper. I finish loading up Don Juan and after I saddle Pablo, I head to the barn to see Beth. Entering the barn I thought I would find Beth on the rope swing, but she was nowhere in sight. Then I hear her up in the hayloft. She’s crying. I head up the ladder to go into the hayloft to console Beth. As I reach her she turns around, gets up, and rushes into my arms. “Gavin, please don’t leave me. I’ll be by myself. I hate doing chores by myself. Please. Please don’t go. Who will go swimming me? You know I like you to put me on your shoulders to pick fruit. It won’t be the same around here without you Gavin,” she says. “Oh. Beth, you know this is something I have to do. I’ll be back home before you know it. You’ll find a way to pass the time. Be strong, Beth. Try to stay busy. You’ll have mom to do chores with you,” I say. She begins to wipe her tears. “Oh. If you go swimming by yourself, don’t go diving down to the old car. Be smart. Be safe. Now, come on and give me a hug and kiss so I can get going. I’m burning daylight,” I then say. She squeezes me tight in a hug and smacks me a peck on the cheek. “Take care of yourself, Gavin,” Beth says. “I will.” I leave Beth in the barn. As I exit the barn I turn to see her on the rope swing. I smile. I then head to the house to bid my mother farewell, and then head to my horse and donkey to depart for my destination of Redwood Town, Californoya to see grandpa Hugo. ThreeA few miles from the ranch, I decide to take part in an act of defiance by peeing in a bush. My mother would definitely have issue with it. What can I do about it? There are no outhouses out here in regular intervals. I get back on my horse to be alone with my thoughts. Come to think of it, now would be a good time to share a story about my grandpa Hugo. He was born sometime during the spring season a long time ago in what was once Redwood City, California. When he was younger than I am now he began to experience problems with tight muscles. These problems were more of an annoyance than anything as his ability to walk properly was somewhat hindered. He also had a minor limp and had tremors in his hands. As time passed, the problems were getting worse and more pronounced. He went from doctor to doctor looking for an answer. Until one day he came across one doctor in particular who with one look at grandpa Hugo, had a strong inkling of what she was seeing when looking at him. She prescribed some medication right away to test the waters of her inkling. Grandpa Hugo noticed almost immediate results. Then after a couple more years of tests to rule out certain afflictions, the doctor came to a conclusion – a diagnosis. It took so long because it couldn’t be what she suspected it to be as it was something seen in people who are much older. But it was the case. It was Parkinson’s disease.For years, my grandpa Hugo alleviated his symptoms with the prescribed medication. It worked well and he experienced only a few problems. The side effects were minimal. He was active. He went on trips. He did things. He had a girlfriend. He had a great time. The medication worked. Then things started to go wonky. The medication started losing its effectiveness. Grandpa Hugo began to close off from the world. He spiraled down a dark hole. The side effects were left and right out of control. The symptoms of the disease hijacked his life. He experienced pain and discomfort on a daily basis. He had a constant ongoing headache. He was addicted to a the prescribed medication he still took because even though it wasn’t as effective, it still helped him achieve some level of proper function. He came to experience constant state of panic between dosage times. He knew that not taking it, which he did at times to be defiant, would send him off into a dystonic spasm. He came to know solace in his pain. On more than one occasion, he felt the need to end his life. It was a terrible time for him. Then one day my grandpa Hugo decided he had gone through enough pain to get up and do some things that he feared. He decided to go in to the doctor to be evaluated as candidate for deep brain stimulation. It’s brain surgery to implant a device that sends a constant electrical pulse to the brain to alleviate the symptoms of the disease when medication loses its effectiveness. He feared the evaluation because part of it was to test the two ends of the spectrum in the symptoms of the disease. On one day the doctor would purposely give him too much medication to see how he reacts. Grandpa Hugo knew what the results would be, but the doctor needed to witness it firsthand. He experienced extreme dyskinesia, which is uncontrollable movement of the body that can last for hours. The next day the doctor had my grandpa Hugo come in completely off his medication. Again, he knew what would happen, but the doctor needed to see it firsthand. He experienced a painful dystonic spasm, which is an uncontrollable bending and twisting of the body that can last for hours. After some further testing as part of the evaluation, all that was left was to await the decision of the medical review board. So it was decided that my grandpa Hugo would go through with the surgery after a successful nod from the medical review board. The surgery was something else he feared. It was, after all, surgery on his brain. Adding to his worries was the fact that he would have to go into the surgery completely off his medication. He was living an anxiety-fueled existence. So when the day for the surgery finally came, he gathered all his available mental grit to get through the day. It was four long hours of discomfort. He was awake for the majority of the time. Halfway through the surgery he saw a brief flash of light. It was a strange light. It was so bright, yet it did not hurt his eyes. He asked the doctors what it was he saw. The doctors were somewhat alarmed and struggled with a response. Not knowing what to say, they simply replied not to worry and that there had not been any flash of light. Grandpa Hugo shrugged it off and dismissed the notion that he saw anything at all. Unbeknown to my grandpa Hugo, something happened to him on that operating table. A couple months later the implanted device was turned on. Grandpa Hugo experienced instant relief. He was almost giddy, as the results of the surgery were outstanding. The symptoms of the disease had somewhat abated. He had better control of his body. He was feeling great. Then one night he had a dream where he was normal and didn’t have Parkinson’s. The following morning he woke up feeling great. He got up and felt like going for a run. He ran twelve miles. He wondered what was going on; he had never in his life, run that far. He was so puzzled because he felt so great. He was given a device after the surgery that gave him the ability to turn the implanted device off and on. So he decided to try something out. He turned the implant off. He witnessed an apparent miracle. He still felt great. There was no headache. No discomfort. No anxiety. Nothing. His walking was normal and fluid. His limp was nowhere to be seen. The tremors in his hands were just gone. It was simply incredible. He left the implant off.For the next six months he lived, stunned at what was going on. Parkinson’s disease had no cure. Yet here he was, cured. His body had apparently fixed itself. So when he walked in to the doctor’s office for his six-month follow up visit, the doctor’s jaw dropped. Just as quickly as the doctor saw something was wrong with grandpa Hugo in the beginning, she now saw right away what was not wrong with grandpa Hugo. She was further stunned when grandpa Hugo told her that he had turned off the implant six months before. She cancelled and rescheduled the rest of her appointments that day. Grandpa Hugo was put through an entire series of tests and scans. The doctor was left completely flabbergasted, as she could find no sign whatsoever of Parkinson’s disease. She was completely sure in her diagnosis and had the proof to back it up, yet she still could see no trace of the disease. Grandpa Hugo was then observed and tested for an entire year. His case was the talk of the medical community. After the year of testing and analysis, his implant was removed never having been turned on the entire time. He became the world’s first person cured of Parkinson’s disease. His doctor then held a press conference to share her discovery with the world. The majority of world eventually heard the story. Grandpa Hugo and his doctor became quite famous. They were on all kinds of television talk shows. They were featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. The Internet was abuzz about the story. A book was being written about them. A movie was eventually made about their story. When the buzz died down and the next big story took the spotlight, something else happened. Grandpa Hugo’s doctor asked him a serious question. She asked him if he would allow her to intensely study him in an effort to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. My grandpa Hugo was torn. He asked for some time to think on it. On one side he wanted to go off and simply live his life. This side of him felt as though he had gone through enough and deserved to go see what life had to offer. Something was holding him back. He remembered the constant pain, discomfort, and anxiety. He remembered it clearly. He heard the proverbial call of duty. He felt compelled to do something to help those still afflicted with Parkinson’s. The other side of him wanted to say yes to his doctor. So he made an appointment with her office and a month later he was sitting with her in her office, asking where they would begin. They started the next day with more extensive and detailed scans of his brain. The following day a minor procedure was scheduled to biopsy his brain. His blood was tested. His DNA was mapped. The collection of data carried on this way non-stop for six months. Then came the time for analysis. Research on the data collected carried on for years without a single step made towards a cure. They had absolutely nothing to show for all the research completed. Nothing. Everyday, grandpa Hugo would show up to the research center to answer questions pertaining to the gathered data. As he was not a medical professional, he was really there in more of an honorary role. He grew more and more frustrated with the passage of each year. Then one night my grandpa Hugo had a dream that everyone in the world with Parkinson’s was cured. What a great dream. It was almost as if he was conscious during his dream and asking for everyone to be cured. He woke up the following morning feeling refreshed. Later that day he shows up for work at the research center as usual. The same routine is followed for another month before the first reports start pouring in to the center. Elderly patients with Parkinson’s that had been immobile for years, were suddenly up and moving around. Middle-aged people with Parkinson’s who had been struggling down a long road suddenly felt symptom-free. Doctor offices all over the world were being bombarded with appointment requests. People wanted answers. It was thought to be an elaborate hoax. It was incredible. Grandpa Hugo was astonished. About a year later, every single person with Parkinson’s around the world had been declared cured of the disease. About six months after that, the research center was declared unnecessary and was shut down. Grandpa Hugo was dumbfounded. Then a thought knocked him sideways. Could it have been him? Could it have been his dream? No, he thought. That’s just plain crazy nonsense, he said to himself. A week later while eating lunch at outdoor café he saw that a shop next door sold lottery tickets. He bought one and saw the next drawing was the following day. The entire rest of day he geared his thinking toward winning the jackpot. He thought about it so much that that night he had a dream where he won the lottery. The following night he was awestruck when he won. He still thought it was nonsense, so bought a ticket for the two following drawings. He dreamed he won and he did win. He then came to a realization. It hit him. It was the flash of light he saw during his surgery. Something happened to him. He couldn’t explain it. When he showed up to collect his money with three different winning tickets, questions were raised. An inquiry was opened to determine if he had cheated in some way or tampered with the lottery system. Security footage captured my grandpa Hugo buying each ticket. No foul play was uncovered, and grandpa Hugo was awarded the money. Coming back to the present day for a moment. I’ve come up to what appears to be a fork in the road. Both roads seem to go in the same general direction, which is south. I thought I had the map memorized. Apparently, I was wrong. It could just be my anxiety about being away from home, making me unsure of myself or of my route. Either way, I need to take out my map to examine it for a few moments. My eyes pour over the map. It’s not easy. Maps in the old days were easy, with turn-by-turn directions and the GPS. Today it is a different story. After a few moments I am clear about which path to follow. I get on the trail again. So now I’ll get back to my story. My grandpa then travelled the world. He went from country to country. He travelled so much that he nearly filled eight passports. As he got close to filling that eighth passport he stopped because he met my great-great-great grandmother. Her name was Aoife. She was an Irish girl who was half grandpa Hugo’s age, and she was living with her parents in a country called Norway. Aoife’s family had immigrated to Norway from Ireland many years earlier. She had an infant baby brother named Bjorn. Her parents owned and operated a gluten-free bakery in Lillehammer, Norway. They met when grandpa Hugo went in to buy a loaf of bread, and she was behind the counter. She didn’t think anything of him at first look. He was just another customer. Grandpa Hugo, on the other hand, was enamored beyond belief. He smiled as a devious thought entered his mind. All he had to do was dream it and it shall come true. So that night he dreamed his heart out, and when he went back the following morning for a pastry and some coffee, he was still just another customer. Grandpa Hugo was outright furious with himself. That night he tried again, and was faced with the same result the following day. For two weeks he tried, but was not successful. Grandpa Hugo then decided to buckle down and go to plan B. He had to resort to good old-fashioned methods. He would have to approach her to introduce himself and get to know her. This would take some time, he thought. Grandpa Hugo finally accepted that perhaps he could just not ‘dream’ his way into her arms. Love is a tough nut to crack, he thought. He was somewhat lucky, when the following day, she ‘noticed’ him when he went into the bakery for his usual pastry and coffee. Introductions were exchanged and a conversation was struck upon. For six months my great-great-great grandparents would sit together every morning to talk, smile, cry, and joke about a variety of topics. Then the time came when grandpa Hugo would make his move. He went in one morning and instead of their little chat, he asked Aoife if she would join him for an evening of dinner and dancing. Aoife started crying and said that her father would never allow it. Talking is one thing, but her father, Grant, made it clear to her that my grandpa Hugo is too old for her. I mentioned it earlier. He was twice her age. Aoife was only eighteen when she met Hugo. My grandpa bit his tongue, kept his mouth shut, and didn’t say a word. He accepted Grant’s decision. The story does not end there. I did tell you that Aoife was my great-great-great grandmother. Grandpa Hugo decided he didn’t want to do anything devious that may jeopardize things for him. Instead, he dreamed that Grant’s bakery would come to enjoy great success. Grandpa Hugo went into the bakery the following morning for his pastry, coffee, and conversation. He would continue this routine for weeks. Then one day grandpa Hugo turned on his television to the regional news channel, and was astounded to hear that somehow the entire population of Lillehammer had been diagnosed with Celiac disease. The ‘how’ could not be explained. The reporter went on to explain what that meant. The population of Lillehammer, Norway could no longer consume anything with wheat in it. Grandpa Hugo smirked and then he smiled. He saw this as an unintentional consequence to his good intentions. He knew that Aoife’s gluten-free bakery was the only one of its kind in all of Lillehammer. So when he went to the bakery the following morning, there was only the conversation and coffee. Every single thing in the bakery sold within an hour of the bakery’s opening. So it would be for an entire year before a competitor opened another gluten-free bakery in town. It was too late; the population had come to depend on and then fallen in love with Grant’s gluten-free bakery. Six months later, Grant opened a second and third location that enjoyed a similar level of patronage. A month later Grant found himself doing quite well and in a good mood. So it was when he was asked permission by my grandpa Hugo to court Aoife, he found himself to be amenable and said yes. Grandpa Hugo and Aoife spent every day together for months. Some days it would be something as simple as reading together. Aoife introduced grandpa Hugo to her friends, and they’d all spend time together doing a number of things, including cross-country skiing. Grandpa Hugo was not very good at it in the beginning, but soon got the hang of it. Aoife was already near speechless at the incredible nature of my grandpa Hugo’s story, that she was not surprised at how equally taken aback her friends were when the story was shared with them. Aoife did not yet know of grandpa Hugo’s dreaming ability. The two of them became really good friends in that time. Then one night it was Aoife who made her move. They sat reading together in the living room of the cottage grandpa Hugo was renting, when Aoife dropped her book and started yelling at my grandpa Hugo. She wanted to know why he hadn’t made his move to kiss her. Just as my grandpa was about to reply, he looked up and saw Aoife rushing him from across the room. She jumped on top of him, pulled his face in, and started kissing him with a burning passion. Like I said, she made her move. The romantic nature of their relationship would heighten over the next few months. Then disaster struck. Grandpa Hugo knew it was coming as he saw Aoife going through the application process. Aoife was going off to college. She was genius smart. Grandpa Hugo did not want to stand in her way, so they broke it off amicably. Aoife had his contact information, in case she wanted to get in touch with him in the future. She went off to college and grandpa Hugo left Norway to continue his travels. Only this time, something was different. It felt wrong. It just wasn’t the same, so he travelled home to Redwood City, California. He bought himself a house and car. He spent time visiting with his parents, Jose and Maria, who also lived in Redwood City. He also spent time with his brother, Sergio, and his family in San Francisco, California. Time passed and my grandpa grew bored. He needed something to do. He needed a project. So he invested the rest of his money in the stock market. He invested in an Internet company called tweeter. Then, you guessed it; he dreamed that the company would see wild, record-breaking, unprecedented success. Over the course of the next few months, the company’s stock price skyrocketed and grandpa Hugo sold his stock. He made so much money that he’d never have to work again. My grandpa then started a company. He bought homes and then rented them out to families for next to nothing. He bought and rented out so many homes that he drew the attention of the television news and newspapers. He was asked on numerous occasions to explain his actions. Grandpa Hugo kept quiet about the whole thing. He was simply a businessman doing good for his community. Grandpa Hugo then started a property management company to maintain and oversee all of his properties. Years passed while my grandpa worked on his project. It kept him quite busy, yet his mind was constantly wandering off to Norway. He missed Aoife. Some time passed and things changed yet again. Grandpa Hugo received a call on his mobile from an unknown foreign number. The call was coming from Spain. He didn’t know anyone personally in Spain so he let it go to voicemail. The caller left no message. Grandpa Hugo shrugged it off thinking that if it were important, the person would call again. The phone rang again five minutes later. A call was coming in from the same number. So grandpa Hugo answered the call. It was Aoife. My grandpa cried. They were tears of joy. Aoife sounded nervous on the other end. She told my grandpa Hugo that after graduating from college, she then went to Spain to go to law school. Aoife finished law school and was about to get married, when she got the overwhelming urge to see my grandpa Hugo again. She left Nathan, her fiancé, on the day of their wedding and called my grandpa Hugo a couple days later. Aoife told my grandpa Hugo that she was on her way home to Norway with her parents and brother. They had flown to Spain for the wedding. Aoife was calling from the airport. Grandpa Hugo, meanwhile, was trying to take it all in. He was simply stunned. Aoife continued by telling my grandpa Hugo that she would then be heading to the United States to see him. She wanted to know which airport she’d be traveling to. My grandpa could not believe what was happening. He told her to fly to the San Francisco International Airport. She made note of it, told my grandpa Hugo that she missed him, and that she would see him soon. The call ended. She had to go catch her flight. Grandpa Hugo was taken aback by all of it. He was sure of it; he didn’t dream this into happening. Still, it was happening. Grandpa Hugo didn’t question it any further. He accepted it.A few weeks later grandpa Hugo was getting out of his car in short-term parking lot at the airport. He would have brought flowers, if he and Aoife believed in that sort of thing. But they didn’t believe in giving someone something that was going to die within days, so he never even considered getting flowers. He was enough of a present in her eyes. Grandpa Hugo took his time because he knew that international travel took time. Aoife landed about a half-hour before, and would probably be going through Customs at that point. Grandpa Hugo arrived at the receiving area, sat down, and waited. He was nervous. After about twenty minutes, he saw Aoife. He got up to make his way over to her, and saw that she was doing the same only she was running. Grandpa Hugo followed suit and picked up his pace. Before he knew it, they were in each other’s arm and kissing. The next moment as they both pulled away from the kiss they told each other, in unison, “I love you.” They go in for an additional kiss. Grandpa Hugo gives Aoife a smack on the butt and tells her how much he missed her over the years. He tells Aoife that he thought of her and Norway constantly. Holding hands, they make their way over to collect Aoife’s luggage. They pick up the bags and head out to the car, where they proceed with some more intense kissing. After a while, they headed down to Redwood City, California. The following day grandpa Hugo brought Aoife to his parent’s house for dinner. They were shocked by how much younger she was than my grandpa Hugo. Jose and Maria didn’t mention it, of course. At the end of the evening, they headed to grandpa Hugo’s house. That week grandpa Hugo spent his time playing the tourist, showing the sights to Aoife. The following weekend grandpa Hugo and Aoife went to visit Sergio, grandpa’s brother, and his family in San Francisco. They too, were shocked by the age difference. Grandpa Hugo and Aoife spent the weekend there. Aoife enjoyed getting to know Sergio’s identical twin girls. Sergio’s five cats loved getting to know Aoife. They then spent time together all over California. They flew down to Los Angeles, and then drove up the coast all the way up into British Columbia. They made numerous stops along the way, staying for a while at each of the many coastal towns. They then flew back down to San Francisco. One night while sitting together and reading, Aoife makes another move. She flat out tells my grandpa Hugo that she wants to marry him. Grandpa Hugo is not surprised, as it’s just like Aoife to take initiative on such things. My grandpa agrees it is an excellent idea. After quite a bit of discussion, they agree on living in the United States with plenty of travel to Norway. It was settled. Within the next few days, they made arrangements for Aoife’s family to come over from Norway. Within a month, they were standing before a Justice of the Peace and getting married in the Napa Valley. It was a small wedding. Grandpa Hugo had his family there and the doctor that had diagnosed him with Parkinson’s so many years before. Aoife had her family there and a couple of friends who also made the trip over. They married and had their first c***d two years later. Four years after that they had a second c***d, my great-great grandmother Julia. Grandpa Hugo and Grandma Aoife went on to have six c***dren. The fourth c***d, a boy named Ramiro after my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, died shortly after birth due to complications. Julia, my great-great grandmother, gave birth many years later to Sam who was my great grandfather. Sam married many years later and soon had Bethany who was my grandmother. My sister Beth was named after her. Grandma Bethany gave birth to my father Rush many years later. FourTwo days into my journey I make a stop at Jenny Sunnyvale’s farm. She is on the Oregonia governing council. Her daughter Ruth and Ruth’s husband Ron do the actual running of the farm. Jenny’s husband Harold died a while back of a heart attack. He was a good man. He was a doctor. He didn’t have the miraculous d**gs and equipment of the old days. He did know how to take care of a fever, and could patch up most any injury. He cared for many people in his day. Ruth and Ron grow mostly vegetables, but they also have a small orange tree grove on the farm. They also have one milking cow, a ton of chickens, and one rooster. As I look around I see what must be ten cats hanging out over by the barn. We have one or two around our farm to help control the number mice and rats. Jenny must have more of problem with vermin around here. As I ride up to the house I’m greeted by a voice coming from behind me. It’s Ron coming out of the barn. “Hello. Can I help you, stranger?” “Ah, hello to you sir. My name is Gavin. I met you last year at the Portland Gathering. You and Ruth beat me and my sister Beth in the sack race.” “Ah, yes you’re the young man who walks in a strange manner. How are you doing with all that?” Ron says. There are two ways of looking at Ron. He is one big jerk, but he is honest and calls things how he sees them. In an effort to remain polite and courteous I say, “Oh, I’m doing okay with it sir. Thank you for your concern. I was looking for Jenny Sunnyvale. I’m on a trip down to Californoya, and just wanted to stop to say hello.” “She’s in the house. She’s probably asleep,” Ron says. “Oh,” was all I could think to say when Ruth comes walking up to us. “Well, hello there Gavin. How interesting it is to see you here on our farm. What brings you here?” “He’s on his way to Californoya, and he wants to see your mother,” Ron butts in. “Damn you Ron, will you shut your damn hole. I wasn’t asking you. I was asking the k** here. Now, Gavin is that right? Do you want to see my momma?” Ruth says. She looks at me like she’s angry with me. I dry swallow and say, “Yes, that’s correct.” She comes right back to say, “Well now, look at you speaking all proper and respectful.” All of sudden, out from inside the house comes Jenny Sunnyvale. “What is all this darn ruckus about? What’s going on out here? What’s this about now?” Jenny says. Then she sees me, coughs a couple times, smiles, and then says, “Oh. We have ourselves a visitor.” She takes a moment to get a better look at me, then continues, “You’re Rush’s boy. Devin, right?” “It’s actually Gavin, Mrs. Sunnyvale. And yes, Rush is my father,” I say. “Gavin. Goodness gracious, I sure was close. Wasn’t I? Welcome…welcome. Call me Jenny, please. What brings you to these parts?” Jenny says. “Thank you. Okay then, Jenny. I’m just passing through on my way down to visit someone in Californoya. I thought it might be a good idea to stop and say hello,” I say. “By the looks of it, you also stopped to fill up your water supply,” Ron chimes in. I get nervous, turn somewhat red, and say, “Water would help. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble.” “Water? That’s no trouble at all. We can fix you right up on the water? In fact, why don’t you stay the night? We’ll be having dinner soon. Are you hungry?” Jenny says. “Momma! Now I’ll have cook for one more person,” Ruth states. Jenny flashes her a look of steaming anger and says, “Ruth hush! We have guest, and yes you will cook for one more if I say so. This is still my farm, and what I say goes. You get me?” Ruth is startled and somewhat shamed when she says, “Yes, momma. I’m sorry. I was being disrespectful. I spoke out of turn. I’m sorry.” When Jenny isn’t looking, Ruth throws me an angry look. Ron chuckles. “Ron, what are you chuckling at?” Jenny asks. “Nothing,” Ron quickly responds. “I thought so. Now, make yourself useful and help Gavin stow his a****ls in the barn. Then show him to the spare room in the house. After that go into the kitchen to help Ruth with making dinner,” Jenny says. “Okay. Will do, Jenny.” Ron replies. Jenny heads back inside the, and Ruth follows her in. Ron and I make our way to barn to see to Don Juan and Pablo. The minute we’re inside the barn, Ron forcefully grabs me by the shoulders, pulls me back, and throws me against the door. My heads slams against the wood, and my vision blurs for a moment. “Hey man, what’s with you? That hurt,” I say. “Listen here you little shit. I don’t care that you’re a guest. I don’t even care that your father is on the governing council. Big fucking deal. You’re nobody in my book. Are you hearing me, sonny boy? You got my Ruth in trouble with Jenny. That is not okay with me,” Ron says bluntly. “Listen, sir. I didn’t do…” I start. Ron cuts me off with light slap on the face, so he doesn’t leave a mark. He then punches me in the stomach and says, “I don’t want to hear any damn lip coming from you. Shut up. Now, here is what’s going to happen. We are both going to see to your damn stupid a****ls. Then we are going to head into the house, and we are going to be ever so fucking cordial at dinner. And don’t fucking overdo it either. Then tomorrow at first fucking light you’re going to be on your merry way. You get me?” I’m about to respond, but catch myself thinking I better look for permission to speak. I give Ron a non-threatening, questioning look. “Yes, you can answer me now. Little turd,” Ron spits out. “Yes. I understand, sir. Cordial. First light. Got it,” I say. I must note that this is the first time I have experienced such naked, raw hostility directed at me. I inwardly shiver in fear. I take some time to recover from the stomach punch, and then we finish seeing to Don Juan and Pablo. I’m nervous the entire rest of the time spent in the barn with Ron. I was surprised when he did end up helping me with Don Juan and Pablo.We make our way into the house. Ron walks in front me the entire time, never once looking back at me. He shows me to the spare room, as he was ordered, where I put down my belongings. Ron then escorts me into the kitchen, where after whispering something into Ruth’s ear his entire persona changes. I see Ruth respond with a devious-looking smirk. She also looks at me with the most horrid look of disdain. She then smiles and jovially says, “Gavin you said you were on your way down to visit someone in Californoya. Who are you going to see? How long will you be traveling?” “Well, the ‘who’ is something I’ll keep to myself. I will say, however, that I plan to travel roughly forty days there and forty days back,” I say. “Wow. That’s quite a long way to go, young man,” Ron says. I am about to respond to his comment when I hear my name called from upstairs. “That’ll be my momma. She told me she wants to talk to you privately in her room while Ron and I work on dinner down here. It should be a couple hours before the food is ready. Go on up.” “Okay,” I nervously say.I make my way upstairs and see the room with the candlelight shining through the slightly opened door. I think to myself that that must be Jenny’s room. I knock on the door. “Come in…” Jenny says. “…And please close the door behind you,” she continues. I open the door, immediately gasping and closing my eyes while saying, “I’m so sorry Jenny! I didn’t know you were…” Jenny then says, “Relax. Gavin my dear young boy, you need to relax. Now I said to come in and close the door, so come in. It’s okay, you can open your eyes.” She is standing across the room completely naked in the candlelight. I open my eyes as instructed, walk in, and close the door behind me. As I’m turning around from closing the door, I realize after looking down that I’m excited. Jenny is old but she is still a naked, full-figured woman with huge breasts. I’ve seen my mother and sisters naked, but that’s totally different. I’m related to them, they’re family, and I only see them naked when we go swimming in our pond. It’s different. This is different. My excitement is the proof to show that it’s different. So I stand to face Jenny, while trying to hide my excitement. I find I am not successful because she says, “My word, that is quite a nice package you have there. Is it for me?” Not knowing what to say, I don’t respond. Jenny then says, “Well? Come on and tell me. Do you like what you see and is that package for me?” All that comes to mind is that these people are a bunch of loons, but I respond, “Yes. Yes Jenny, I like what I see and yes it is for you.” I don’t know what’s come over me or why I responded that way.She slowly walks over to me and puts her hand around my excitement, grabbing on to it. It gets even stiffer, though I don’t know how that’s possible. “Oh,” she quietly moans. “I like that lot. You know, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve had one as young as you. What are you, eighteen?” she says and asks. “I’m nineteen as of a few days ago,” I say. “Oh my, that’s perfect!” she excitedly states. “Okay, this is how it’s going to work. Please, take off all of your clothes and hop on that there bed,” Jenny says. I respond with an inquisitive, “What?” “You heard me. We will be engaging in some intimate activity. Now, please do as I ask. Take off your clothes and get on the bed.” Jenny wasn’t asking, that was just plain easy to see. Because she wasn’t being threatening in any way, I decided to comply. I get naked, excitement still ever-present, and hop on the bed as Jenny ‘requested’.I’ve never been ‘intimate’ with a woman, so I have no idea what to expect. No clue. Jenny gets on the bed with me. She starts running her cold, dry fingers up and down my entire body. Her eyes are studying my flesh as though I was her next meal. I suddenly get goose bumps all over. “You are one fine-looking boy. Now I want you to lightly bite and play with my nipples in your mouth. Work on one at a time, of course. Remember, I said lightly and please don’t chew on them,” she says while pointing to each of her breasts. As I move in, I see that she has large nipples. I work on them for about five minutes each nipple. As I do, I realize that one is hairy while the other is not. Jenny then stops me. “Lie back down,” she says. Jenny then begins to run her wet tongue down my body, when eventually I realize she has my excitement in her mouth. Her head begins going up and down, though I can’t see what’s happening because her hair is blocking my view. I can feel it. It feels great. A few minutes later, I finish. Wow! What a great feeling. Interesting, is all I can think. “Now use your tongue and mouth down on me, while we wait for your excitement to return,” she says. She lies down and spreads her legs, and I get into position. Again, I have never done this before so finding the right area with my mouth is awkward. I cringe at first because she tastes ‘interesting’. Jenny guides me, as best she can, to the right area to stimulate with my tongue. About a half hour passes and then I must have done something right, because Jenny tightens up for a few moments then loosens up. I think I did do something right. I’m not sure. My excitement has been back for near twenty minutes. In the position I was holding, it got kind of sore. A few moments later Jenny says, “Your excitement is back. Good. Now please insert your excitement into me and go to town. Don’t worry, I’ll guide you in.” She notices a worried look on my face and then she adds, “You can’t get me pregnant, Gavin. I’m way past that time. Okay?” “Okay Jenny,” I say. I relax. She must have read my mind. I may not be ‘experienced’ in this area, but I do know how babies are made. She guides me in. I awkwardly go to town and a few minutes later, I finish. Again, wow! What a great feeling. We lie naked, holding each other for a few minutes. “That was wonderful, thank you. After we get dressed go to the spare room, get your belongings, and bring them here. You’re staying with me tonight. I could go for some more of that,” Jenny says. “Okay Jenny.” We get up, get dressed, and I head to the spare bedroom to collect my things. I come back to place my things in Jenny’s room, and then we both head to the kitchen. In the kitchen, Ruth and Ron are nearly done preparing dinner. Jenny leads me to the living room. She whispers, “The food’s not ready. Come on, let’s go have us a little chat in the other room while we wait.” We sit close to each other. She then leans over like she’s about to kiss me and says in a low voice, “I know who you are on your way to visit in Californoya.” I’m so shocked that I almost blurt out a loud response. I catch myself and respond in a low voice, “How? How do you know?” “Oh, I’ve known about him for years. Your mother told me a long time ago at a Portland Gathering. We both had one too many beers and got loose with our words. Imagine my surprise when I found out you were directly related to a man who’s indirectly responsible for so many deaths. I was downright shocked when I found out,” Jenny says. “I’m going to see if he can help me with a problem,” I say. “Well, I hope that you find what you are looking for in terms of help. In my opinion, with ability like that, he should get rid of the slave trade in Californoya. That would be helpful,” she says. I then wonder who else she’s shared this knowledge with, and give her a look. As though she was reading my mind she says, “Oh, don’t you worry. I haven’t told a soul. I know how to keep a secret.” Ruth walks in, gives us a strange look and says, “Dinner is ready, momma.” We head to the dining room to eat. Sitting at the table I see chicken, potatoes, green beans, and water. We’re all sitting there quietly eating when Ron all of a sudden blurts out, “So young man, do your a****ls have names?” I take a moment swallow the food in my mouth. “Yes sir. The horse is named Pablo, and the donkey is named Don Juan,” I finally say. “Well now, those are some damn fine names,” Ron says. Ruth then chimes in, “Those are some good names.” Ruth pauses for a few moments as though she was pondering some deep thought. She forks into a few green beans, puts them into her mouth, chews pensively, and swallows. Then she continues, “Gavin will you please tell us who you are going to visit down in Californoya? It’s killing me. I’m dying here. I want know. Please.” Before I can respond, Jenny calmly but firmly says, “Ruth that’s none of our business. Now please just forget about it.” “Oh okay, momma,” comes Ruth’s reply. I look over at Ruth and see her pouting in disappointment. Ron then says, “Personally, I say the young man has a right to keep his business to himself.” Jenny nods in agreement. We finish up eating dinner. I think about home for a moment, and how I help Beth clean up after meals. I’m a guest here, so Jenny tells me not to worry about cleaning up. Ruth and Ron get started on that. Jenny says goodnight and leads me upstairs for some more ‘intimate’ activity. We make love another eight times that night. I hardly get any sleep at all. The rooster wakes us up and we do it twice more. As I’m getting dressed Jenny says, almost yelling, “What the hell happened to your stomach?” “Nothing,” I say. “Nothing. Indeed. Come on, tell me what happened.” I tell Jenny everything that happened with Ron in the barn yesterday. “I’ll get him back for you. Don’t worry; I’ll be ever so discreet about it. I won’t tell him I know what happened, but I’ll get him. I’m old, but I have my ways,” she says. “Ron said for you to be gone at first light. I think not. This is still my farm, and I say you’re having breakfast with us before you go,” she continues. “Sounds good Jenny, thank you,” I say. We all have breakfast together, and then I go out to get Don Juan and Pablo ready for travel. I also fill up on water. I then ride up to the house to say farewell. Ron and Ruth both give me a hollow wave goodbye with no smile. They then walk away to go on about their work. Jenny waits for them to leave, and then she blows me a kiss and winks at me. She also bids me safe travel. I turn with Pablo and Don Juan, head down the path, and resume my journey. FiveWell, I’m five days in and I’ve stopped by a creek to fill up on water. Pablo and Don Juan are smart enough not wander off so they are currently by the creek bed drinking some water. Once they’re done drinking, I’ll tie them up so they don’t get too comfortable and wander off during the night. I haven’t reached Californoya yet, so I still have a feeling of safety surrounding me. I need to boil the creek water before I’m able to drink any of it, so I’m currently building a fire. I’ve set up camp for the night, which means I’ve set up my bedroll, unsaddled Pablo, and unloaded some of my supplies from Don Juan. I find myself thinking of home. I sure do miss my family. As I work on building the fire, I find myself also thinking of Jenny. She wore me out. Where did she get all that energy? She is so old. Age apparently is no concern of mine because my excitement returns while thinking about Jenny. It’s an occurrence that has happened a number of times in the past few days. I try to focus on something else, so I think about grandpa Hugo. I wonder what he is doing this very moment.While getting the water pot ready to go on over the fire I think I’ll share another tale of days past. This one isn’t about grandpa Hugo, but it is related to his story. This one is about a man named Walter “PPK” Smith. The “PPK” was the nickname he was given because it was the type of gun he carried with him at all times. He carried a Walther PPK everywhere he went. He carried the proper permits and documentation that allowed him to carry it anywhere he wanted. The man even slept with it under his pillow, finger on the trigger. It’s a miracle it didn’t go off nightly. It was his comfort. It was his safety blanket. It was also the last thing he tasted when he blew his head off with it. Walter was one of the near-elderly people who had Parkinson’s disease, and was cured thanks to my grandpa Hugo’s dream.Before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, in his youth, Walter was a savant in the field of biomedical research. He held five PhD’s in chemistry, biology, theology, zoology, and epidemiology. In short, he was really smart. For a time he worked for a place called the CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He lived a good and busy life. He was married and had four k**s. Then along came a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease that shook his very foundation. He snapped. He abandoned his family. He just left and skipped town. One moment he was in the backyard manning the grill for a BBQ to celebrate the birth of his eldest daughter’s new baby boy. It was his first grandc***d. The next moment he was seen with a twelve-pack of beer, getting into his car, and driving away. He drove clear to the other side of the country. He ended up in Cupertino, California. He started a biotech firm that worked under the guise of developing treatments and eventual cures to various diseases and illnesses. Remember, I told you he snapped. He had a mental breakdown; Walter was a complete loon. He had no intention of finding himself a cure for Parkinson’s. Walter lost touch with reality. What the firm or Walter – to be specific – was really up to was the creation and cultivation of viruses for eventual release into the populace. Walter wanted to hurt people. Finding the funding for such an undertaking was easy for Walter. With his brain and qualifications, venture capital firms were lining up to fund his project. For years Walter worked under the pretense of doing some good, and he did produce viable results. His firm developed an instant cure for the flu. For whatever reason, preventive flu vaccines had just stopped working. The flu became a big problem. So, one moment you would be at home sick with the flu. The next moment you’re in the doctor’s office getting an injection, and instantly cured of the flu. It was immediate with almost no waiting for it to kick in. It was a minor miracle. After that, the money really started flowing in. Things were going really well for Walter, and then finally the Parkinson’s swooped in and hijacked his life. It got more and more difficult for him to carry on his work. One day he decided to pack up his secret research so he wouldn’t be found out. He took all the secret work and put it into storage. Parkinson’s Disease had disabled him, but his biotech firm carried on without him on the legitimate side of things. As he was leaving, the firm was pursing a cure for Cancer as well as for AIDS. The patent on the cure for the flu was still bringing in a lot of money. Walter soon found himself severely disabled. In time, he experienced the full brunt of the side effects to the medication he took to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s. It turns out that in his case, he was not a candidate for deep brain stimulation. He thought he was doomed. He considered ending his life, and came close to doing so once. He even considered contacting his family, but decided against it. He was a stubborn fool. Just when he was about to give up on life, he woke up one day feeling great. It took him a while, but his massive intellect came to the conclusion that he was cured. What his intellect couldn’t decipher was the ‘how.’ How was he cured? He couldn’t figure it out. It drove him further into madness. He snapped even further than before. He lost his handle on reality. He grew paranoid and obsessive on the inside. On the outside he seemed as normal as anyone.During the time he spent being nearly incapacitated, he had a lot of time to think. He had come up with the solution for his formula to the perfect virus. His newfound madness was the driving force behind him that would lead him to carry out his plan. He wanted to change the world because he felt he could. Walter would be going back to work at his biotech firm, which after years of his absence had come to find success in developing a cure for both Cancer and AIDS. Walter wanted to change the world in a different way. Before going back to work, he acquired his Walther PPK for ‘protection.’ He also got the proper training with the weapon so he could be given the permits and documentation to carry it with him wherever he went. He walked in through the doors of his biotech firm with his PPK in its holster and he went to work on his secret research right away. By the time Walter heard the news that everyone in the world with Parkinson’s had somehow been cured, he was deep into his research. He was close to developing a strain of his virus. Years passed as he inched even closer to his goal. At around the time my grandpa Hugo was getting married to Aoife, Walter finally created his virus. He was very old at this point. He just needed to wait until the conditions were right to release his work. Years passed, and then suddenly conditions were right for his needs. It was time. Walter found himself sitting at the bar in a nightclub full of people. He sat with a small vial of liquid in his pocket. It must have a strange sight seeing a man as old as he was in a place like that. Anyway, he sat at the bar and waited until the right drunk person wasn’t paying attention. He found his mark, and poured the small vial into the young woman’s drink. He then saw her take down her entire drink in one gulp. That was all it took. Walter completed his work. He changed the world his way. Walter then walked out into the center of the dance floor, did his overbite dance move, took out his PPK, and shot himself through the mouth. He died there on the dance floor among the panicked mass of people. The police later discovered that Walter had apparently bribed the man at the door a million dollars ahead of time to allow him into the club with the gun. The crime scene unit found the empty vial on Walter, but couldn’t get any forensic evidence from it because what little liquid remained had evaporated and left zero trace evidence. Leaving zero trace evidence was part of Walter’s plan. The club’s security footage was blank. The police also discovered that the bribe to the man at the door also included making sure the security cameras were turned off. The case of Walter’s death was left open and unsolved by the police. It was not ruled a suicide for some reason. It’s the following day and I’m back on the trail down to Redwood Town. I see a rider headed in my direction. He or she is going north from the looks of it. As we get closer to each other, I see that it’s Anne French. She and my father used to be a couple before my parents met. The rumor is that my mother stole my father away from Anne. That is not a story that has been shared with Jana, Beth, and I. Although, I do suspect that Jana knows the story. “Gavin, is that you? How are you? Where are you headed? How are your parents? How are you?” Anne asks. She is what was once called an ‘airhead.’ That is my opinion of the lady. She is not joined with anyone. After things ended with my dad, I think she must have had some sort of breakdown. She lives on the Oregonia-Californoya border. She doesn’t have a farm or anything. My mother says Anne spends her day accepting various gentleman callers from all over the area. I’m not exactly sure what that means. “Yes, it’s me, Miss French. I’m doing well. Thank you for asking, twice. I’m headed to Californoya,” I say. “Twice? Oh I get it. Gavin, you’re such a tease. Californoya, huh? Well, be careful down there,” Anne says. A normal person would be a little more curious about why I was going to Californoya. Then I think this is Anne we’re talking about. She shows up half-naked to the Portland Gathering every year. There is little or no mystery left about her. I then ask her, “Where are you headed Miss French?” “Oh, I’m headed north to see your father if you can believe that,” she says. So there is a bit of mystery left about her. I was wrong. I don’t want nose my way into her business, so I say, “Okay, well it was good to see. Travel safely, okay?” “Okay thanks Gavin. It was good to see you also. You be careful in Californoya,” Anne says. With that we nod to each other and go our separate ways. Now I’ll continue with the story of Walter “PPK” Smith and his deadly virus. So Walter died on the dance floor. The young woman he dosed with vial was named Jane Wallace. The curious thing about her is that she didn’t get sick for twenty years. She didn’t even get a cold for all that time; she was the picture of health. Then one day she suddenly got sick and was dead within twelve hours. The medical community was baffled. Jane’s medical history was near flawless. She had the chicken pox as a c***d, was hospitalized twice in her twenties for excessive alcohol consumption, and then nothing. To the medical community she just got sick one day and died. The autopsy showed that her heart just burst from sudden severe coronary complications. It turns out the drink she swallowed many years before infected her with a ticking time bomb. All she had to do to infect others was to come into contact with them and they would become infected. Any kind of contact was sufficient. If Jane was breathing near you, you became infected. In the twenty years of perfect health, Jane came into contact with countless numbers of people. Because she was so healthy, she got the urge to travel the world – unknowingly infecting everyone she came close to. The infected then turn around and infected everyone with whom they came into contact. Soon the entire globe was infected with the ticking bomb. There were various news reports about the unexplained perfect health of people around the world. Even those who were once sick and now newly infected experienced perfect health. The need for the medical profession itself was questioned. Then it happened many years later. Walter’s plan came to fruition. He changed the world. From what we can gather we know that roughly two percent of the world’s population escaped the ticking time bomb, thanks to immunity. My grandpa Hugo and his family were among the lucky few. Grandpa Hugo loved to read. His favorite genre was post-apocalyptic fiction. Thanks to all his reading into the subject he had some ideas about what to do. One of the first things he did was dream that there was no such thing as nuclear power plants. He was successful in his desired outcome. All nuclear power plants around the world simply vanished. This was to prevent nuclear fallout from contaminating the world. Grandpa Hugo also dreamed that guns and explosive ordinance no longer functioned. It apparently worked because I’ve never seen a gun. I only know about them via my father’s stories. The only weapon I’m carrying with me on my journey is my knife. I’m not exactly sure why grandpa Hugo wanted to eliminate guns from the equation, but he did. To ward off disease, grandpa Hugo dreamed that everyone who died from the ticking time bomb would vanish. I’m not exactly sure what happened in that dream that gave grandpa Hugo his desired result. It must have worked because my father hasn’t told any stories about the burying of mountains of dead people in the past. It was also during these times that grandma Aoife found out about grandpa Hugo’s dreaming ability. He just decided to tell her about it. She was shocked at first, and then terrified. Grandma Aoife eventually got over it, and then forgave grandpa Hugo when she found out that his dreams had no affect on her.SixSixteen days into my journey I find myself setting up camp for the night. I’ve been checking my map along the way and as far as I can tell, I’ve travelled well into Californoya. I’m about to get a fire going when I’m startled by voices up ahead on the trail. I hear male voices, and they’re arguing. I can’t make out the words. What I hear is more like whispers on the wind. One thing is for sure; building a fire is not a good idea on my end. I tie up Pablo and Don Juan, and then make my way over to the other camp. I need to determine if the men up ahead are friendly. I avoid walking through any bushes so I don’t make too much noise. In fact, I make every effort to make zero noise on my way over to them. After about twenty minutes, I find myself in the shadows near their camp. I’m not seen, as I look over the camp. I see three men; two by the fire eating and the other is apparently sleeping. Then as I look over by their wagon, I see what appear to be two women. I look more carefully and notice that they’re tied up and gagged. My eyes widen as the realization hits me in the face. Slavers. I instantly go into full on panic mode; I don’t know what to do. My first thought is to return to my camp, get on my horse, and quietly make my way far around these men. With my decision made, I get up to quietly make my way to my camp. As I’m saddling Pablo, another thought strikes me square in the jaw. I can’t leave those women to the machinations of those men. So I decide to follow in my father’s example and go buy some slaves.I make my way down the trail to the slaver camp. As I do, I find myself nervous and afraid; I have never done anything like this before. As I ride into the camp, I notice everyone is sleeping. The fire is still going. I want to make myself known so I clear my throat a couple times, loudly. Nothing, they do not move at all. I clear my throat yet again. At this point I realize both women are wide-awake and looking at me in fear. One of the men, short and bald, wakes up and is startled when he sees me. He pulls out a long knife and says, “What the he… Who are you? What do you want? Hey Carl… Hey Jim… Wake up! We’ve got a visitor.” One of the other men is waking up as he says, “Bill? What is it?” He stops speaking when he sees me and reaches for his knife. At this point the third man is also awake and reaching for his knife. “Whoa, whoa. Gentlemen. Take it easy. There’s no need for any theatrics. I just want to buy your slaves,” I say. Bill says to the second man to wake up, “Carl will you look at this k**? He called us ‘gentlemen’.” Jim then says, “We’re not done with them yet. They’re not for sale. What are you, a slave sympathizer?” I must have been so focused on Jim that I failed to see Carl coming up around my side. Just as I’m about to answer Jim, I’m pulled off my horse. There is a bit of a struggle as I try to get free. I’m suddenly struck in the face with something hard and everything goes black.I wake up in horrible pain; my right eye is swollen shut. I look around with my good eye and see that I’m now in the back of the wagon with the two women from last night. I then shake my head as I further realize that I too am bound and gagged. The wagon is now headed south. There is some good news; Pablo and Don Juan are still with us. They’re both tied up to the wagon and in tow. What have I got myself into? I almost feel like crying. Almost. I decide to put my mind to some use and figure out a way through this trouble. The men then decide to strike up a conversation. “Hey Jim I thought we were supposed to head further north to look for more slaves,” Bill says. “Hey Bill I thought I told you man. We have our quota, so we’re headed home to Fremonton,” Jim responds. “Yeah Bill, we’re headed home,” Carl adds. According to my map, Fremonton is close to Redwood Town. The map! I yell out in perfect silence. My mind is racing. Have they found the map? Will they find it? It’s folded up and placed in a hidden pocket inside Pablo’s saddlebag. I focus sharply on one goal; I must find a way to destroy that map. I have to. I will. As we travel south in the wagon, the two women and I exchange numerous glances. I wonder who they are? I wonder where they’re from? How long have these men held them captive? One looks older than the other, but they look similar as though they’re related. I think they must be mother and daughter or at least sisters. The age difference seems to be great enough that I’m willing to bet they are mother and daughter. In between glances I study them further to notice that their clothes are dirty, ragged, and worn out. They also appear to be somewhat malnourished; my thoughts carry to an understanding of getting used to being fed as little as possible. I enjoy a brief moment of levity when I think about how I’ve wanted to lose some weight. I then catch myself. This is a serious situation, act like it. I’m grateful to be riding in the wagon. We could be made to walk, but we’re not so I’m thankful. I look over and see that both women are now sleeping, so I decide to follow suit. When I wake up I see the sky has turned dark and we’ve stopped to make camp for night. There is a fire going and the three slavers are on the other side of it eating, talking and laughing loudly. Just as I realize that my gag has been removed, I feel a hard kick at my boot. It’s the older woman trying to get my attention. “Hey,” she whispers. “What?” I whisper back. “Who are you and why were you trying to buy us?” she asks. “Ma’am, my name is Gavin and I was trying to help you,” I reply. The younger one says in an almost raised voice, “Yeah, nice work jackass!” “Rebecca, not so loud or they will hear you,” the older woman says. Realizing her mistake, Rebecca whispers to the older woman, “Sorry mom.” Rebecca then looks at me and continues her whispered tirade, “What you did was pure stupidity, getting yourself taken captive. If you wanted to help so bad, you could’ve snuck into the camp in the middle of the night and quietly cut each man’s throat while they slept. That would have been helpful, idiot. But no, you had to come in and be the big hero, calling them gentlemen and using big fancy words like theatrics. You are such an idiot, I can’t believe you.” She is fuming mad, that much is plain. “I apologize for my daughter, Gavin. She has a lot to be angry and frustrated about and frankly, so do I. My name is Lottie, by the way, and this loquacious young lady is my daughter Rebecca,” Lottie says. “You can call me Lottie,” she adds. “It’s nice to meet you both, despite the circumstance. Like I said, I was only trying to help. I was trying to follow in the footsteps of my father,” I say. “And just what kind of footsteps are those? Idiot. If you ask me your father, whomever he is, has boots too big for you to fill,” Rebecca snaps at me. “Rebecca, hush. Gavin, just who is your father and why does he buy slaves?” Lottie says and asks. I take pause and wonder whether or not I should reveal information about myself. They are, after all, strangers. But then it occurs to me that we’re in this mess together, so I decide to take the proverbial leap of faith. “My father, Rush, is on the Oregonia governing council, and he buys slaves to then gives them freedom upon returning to Oregonia,” I say. They look at me with eyes and mouth both open wide. Then Lottie’s expression turns to one of caution and she says, “Gavin, if I were you I would make sure these men don’t find that out. That would definitely spell bad news for you.” “Okay, thanks for the word of warning,” I say. We end our conversation as notice that Jim and Carl are making their way over to us with plates and cups in hand. Lottie looks at me and quickly says, “Feeding time.” Oh great is all I can seem to think. Jim places a plate in front of me and Carl gives me cup. The cup is only water and the plate has beans, dry cheese, and a piece of hard bread. It’s about what I would expect. “Eat up boys and girls, and then it’s off to sleep for all of you. We’ve got another long day of travel ahead of us tomorrow and we leave at first light,” Jim says. “Yeah, we leave at first light,” Carl, adds. He says this while glaring at Lottie and grabbing at himself and wetting his lips with his tongue. I wonder about that and don’t know quite what to make of it. I shrug it off, deciding not to worry about it. Jim and Carl leave us to go back to whatever it is that they were doing on the other side of the fire. Then, while we eat, our conversation picks up again. “Where are you two from anyway?” I ask. “We’re from southern Californoya near the Arizona border. My husband, Rebecca, and myself operate, I should say operated, a small trading post,” Lottie says. “What happened to your husband?” “Man, you really are an idiot. These slavers killed him, jackass,” Rebecca chimes in. I do feel like a bit of an idiot; I feel bad. I then look to Lottie. She gives me a look of confirmation and says, “Yes, they killed my husband Ben. The dirty bastards cut his throat on the porch of our house right in front of us. Luckily, Rebecca’s older brother was away on trading post business in Arizona so he’s still alive. I hope. He has to be alive. I know it. I’m betting Jacob came home to find Ben dead on the porch, and wondering were we are.” “You’ve been traveling with these men for a long time,” I say, stating the obvious. “These guys are bigger idiots than you are, Gavin. It’s a miracle they can even make a fire. They’ve been dragging us all over Californoya for a long time. The slave trade has gotten out of control. It used to be that a few got taken every now and then. At least, that’s what I heard. Nowadays, it seems like more and more of us are being taken. Why? To protest some governing council rule that has been around forever. Men are not treated badly in Californoya, yet they still have to protest,” Rebecca rants. I find myself wondering about her brother, and how devastated he must be now. He came home to find his father dead and his family gone. I then think about grandpa Hugo. Why has he not done something about this problem? With his ability, he could solve the problem of the slave trade overnight. “Where, in Oregonia, are you from Gavin? What does your family do there?” Lottie asks. “I live just outside of Portland with my father Rush, my mother Amanda, and my younger sister Beth. I also have an older sister named Jana, but she lives up north in Columbia with her husband and twin girls. My family runs a farm slash ranch,” I say. I continue by telling them more about the farm and my family. Once we are done eating, we get as comfortable as we can and go to sleep.I wake up in the middle of the night and I hear a loud moaning. I also hear someone crying. I take a moment to gather my bearings, and I realize that Lottie is gone. I try putting things together in my mind, but I can’t seem to wrap my head around what’s happening. I then look over by the fire and I clearly see what’s going on. Lottie is facing me and completely naked, though she is still tied up at the wrists. Behind her is Jim, r****g her. Lottie is crying. It’s Jim doing the moaning. He finishes and the moaning stops. I can’t believe what’s happening; this is crazy. How could this be happening? I instantly think of Belinda. Did she go through something similar? Was she subjected to something so heinous? I then realize that Rebecca is also crying. She is the one I hear crying. As Jim gets up to pull on his pants, I see Carl pull down his pants. He is going to take his turn, I think. I now know what his look was all about earlier. My eyes meet with Lottie’s, and then her expression hardens for moment. She then resumes crying in silence. Bill takes his turn as well. I still cannot believe it, but it’s happening. When they all finish, Lottie is then untied so she can dress herself. She is then escorted back over by us, where she is tied up again. Lottie and Rebecca sob the rest of the night. I feel sick; I don’t get anymore sleep.The following morning we are woken up, untied, and watched carefully as we’re allowed to attend to our morning business in the bushes. When the three of us are done we’re tied back up and made to get up on the wagon for our daily ride. I don’t know how Rebecca and Lottie do it; my wrists are killing me from being tied up and I’ve only been in this predicament for a short time. For whatever reason, we are no longer gagged. I think that maybe the slavers believe we’ll be more ‘in line’ if they allow us to talk to each other. Then I think something different. They have not interrogated me in any way since capturing me. I think that perhaps they expect me to spill everything about myself to them in casual conversation with Rebecca and Lottie. So instead, I commence with some small talk. “Lottie, tell me, what sort of goods did… …do you sell at your trading post?” I casually say. Then I catch myself; I am an idiot. I just revealed to Jim, Carl, and Bill that the three of us had a conversation last night. Then I see it. Jim, who’s driving the wagon, turns his head slightly as though he’s looking back at me in his peripheral vision, and smirks. Well the cat is out of the bag. Rebecca gives me a stern look that says it all, “Idiot.” Lottie apparently doesn’t see much harm done so she says, “Oh, well you know, we have the usual: cheeses, eggs, preserves, some fruit, seed, shovels, newspapers.” “Okay, now shut up, someone is coming. Rebecca, Lottie – you know the drill. As for you, whatever your name is, keep you hole shut and we won’t have ourselves a problem. Got it?” Jim turns to say, abruptly. “My name is Gavin, sir. And, yeah, I got it. Mouth closed,” I say.It’s a single rider, male, and he has a cautious look about him as though he knows what the three men before him represent, trouble. “Good morning,” he says. “Move along pal. Be on your way. We’re not looking for any help or trouble from you,” Jim says. “Wait, please. My name is Brent and I need some help finding my way. I lost my map a few days ago; I’m from Nevid. Can you direct me to Kurt’s trading post? Kurt is my brother,” Brent says. Right away my mind starts to wander off; come to think about it, I’ve never met anyone from Nevid. From the sound of it, either this Kurt guy moved here from Nevid or Brent went to live in Nevid. Why would anyone move to Nevid? As far as I know, there is nothing there. Obviously, there is something there. I suppose Jim realizes that Brent isn’t looking to become ‘involved’ because he answers him. “Oh, okay. Just give me a minute while I get and look at my map. But, keep your distance man. Okay?” Jim says. “Okay, no problem. Thank you,” Brent says. Jim examines his map carefully. I pull up my map in my mind and calculate that Kurt’s trading post is two or three days to the west from here. “Brent, you’re going to have to travel about five days in that direction,” Jim finally says. I inwardly shake my head; Jim just sent the guy the wrong way, to the east. I keep my mouth closed. “Okay, thank you so much,” Brent says. “Oh, you’re quite welcome Brent,” Jim says. Brent rides off in the wrong direction and we continue on the trail south. A short while later Jim looks at me, laughs out loud, and says, “I just sent that guy, Brent, the wrong way.” Well, at least the man admits to what he’s done wrong, I inwardly say. I just look at him and keep my mouth shut. SevenA few days later I still find myself in captivity. We are fed once a day in the evening. Jim, Carl, and Bill take and have their way with Lottie every other night. I still feel sick to my stomach whenever the thought crosses my mind. For some reason, however, they refrain from taking and having their way with Rebecca. I haven’t figured that one out yet. Anyway it’s not like I want them to take her. I hope they don’t take her. We’re coming up to a large creek. It could almost be considered a river, but not quite. According to my map, this creek should flow into a larger body of water. We’ve been traveling the same direction for days. It should be a simple task to cross the creek, I think. Jim turns to us and says, “Okay everyone we’re going to stop at this creek. We are all going to take the opportunity to bathe. It’s been a good while, so now is a good time. Plus, this is a good spot as there isn’t much of a current. Got it?” The three of us nod in unison. I inwardly smile as this gives me a chance to destroy the map. “This is how it’s going to work. We’ll be going first, and then you three. Got it?” he adds. We all say, “Got it Jim,” in unison as if our mind are linked. I then turn to thinking about my task. My level of focus is intense. I run through various scenarios to concoct some sort of a plan. I even wonder if I should bring Lottie and Rebecca into helping me. I decide against it, as I don’t want my plan to have too many moving parts. Whatever I do, it must be devious, quick, and decisive. Then something happens in the water. Three vulgar men committing one lewd act suddenly distract me. After having worked the soap into lather over their bodies, they decide to call out to us, gaining our attention, and then they swing ‘themselves’ in circles. They have their hands up and locked behind their heads. “Lottie, Rebecca – do you like what you see?” they ask. Rebecca and Lottie force a smile, but they choose not say anything. Once the antics in the water are completed, the three slavers dip themselves into the water to wash off the soap. Then they get out to dry themselves and then they get dressed. It’s our turn, I say to myself. Carl unties me and while he unties Rebecca and Lottie he says, “Yes ma’am it’s time. Yes miss, it’s time for the show to begin.” We are made to get off the wagon, and then Jim sternly says, “Strip off all your clothes, take the soap, get in the water, and get to work. Rebecca, Lottie – I want to see you clean your entire body and also make sure to clean each other. Understand?” Jim fails to give me any such instruction. Rebecca and Lottie simply nod understanding. We are made to strip naked in front of each other. I try to keep from looking at Rebecca and Lottie, but I can’t help it. I’m a guy, after all. I immediately notice the more than obvious difference between Rebecca and Lottie. Where Lottie has large breasts, Rebecca has none at all. She almost looks like a boy up there, though from the sight of her down there she is clearly female. Then I wonder if perhaps, she is as young as Beth and simply has not yet developed any breasts. Then I think, no, she must be older than I am. I’m now clearly confused. Another thought strikes me; I think that maybe not having any breasts is the reason why they don’t ‘take’ her at night. As I shrug that thought off, I look down and see that my ‘excitement’ is clearly apparent. Right away, I think that the breast ‘issue’ must not be a problem for me. Bill whistles and says, “Ha, look – he’s excited.” “Looks like the k** can’t control himself around naked women,” Carl says. “Don’t get any ideas k**, they belong to us,” Jim adds. I turn red, feel hot, and try to hide myself to no avail. Rebecca and Lottie both see what I’m trying to hide and grin. I then rush into the water in an effort to further hide myself. The wind is instantly knocked out of me; the water is freezing cold. It takes me a few moments to regain my breath. My teeth chatter and I get goose bumps all over. What is it with goose bumps, naked women, and me? I shake away the thought, knowing this time it’s the cold water giving me the goose bumps. I noticed that Rebecca and Lottie share a similar reaction. As I’m using the soap on my body, an idea comes to me. So I clean myself in a hurry, and make my way out of the water. I figure the three men will be distracted by the ‘show’, to give me the time to destroy the map. I go up to Jim and say, “Hey Jim can I please go to the bathroom over in the bushes? I’ve got to go really bad.” He doesn’t even look at me, he just says, “Sure go ahead k**.” I was right. They’re all mesmerized by the ‘show.’ First thing is first; I make my way over to Pablo. I am still naked and wet. I quickly reach inside the saddlebag, finding the hidden pocket. I grab the map and then look over to make sure they aren’t looking my way. They’re not looking. I feel a bit of luck on my side. Taking the map, I hurry over away from the wagon and dig a hole, quickly. I rip up the map quietly and put the pieces into the hole. I then fill the hole and do my best to make it look like normal ground. I inwardly cheer for myself. Success. My mission is accomplished. Before heading back to the wagon, I go pee in the bushes. The heightened anxiety of the moment helps to dry me off. As I’m putting my clothes back on I see that the ‘show’ is over. Rebecca and Lottie are getting out of the water and giving me a look that says, “What were you doing over there?” I just smile and return a look that says, “Nothing.” Once we are all dressed, we’re tied back up and made to get on the wagon. It’s time to resume the journey. For a short while Lottie continues to give me a questioning look, but soon she follows in Rebecca’s example and falls asleep. A short while passes, and then a question is answered. “Hey Jim, tell me again, why can’t we have fun with Rebecca at night?” Bill asks. “Bill I told you a thousand times, we’re supposed to leave the young ones for Hunt. We’re not supposed to touch the goods before he does. Understand? We’re headed home now, so once Hunt breaks her in properly we can have our go at her,” Jim says. “Yeah, I can’t wait to have me some of that. I like them young too,” Carl enters the chat. “She can’t be that young. How old do you figure she is, Jim?” Bill says. “I don’t rightly know, Bill. Wait a minute. Her mother mentioned something once. Now hold on, let me think…ah…oh yes. According to her mother, Rebecca is twenty-four…twenty-six. One of those is right,” Jim says. “She’s old enough, come on Jim – what do you say? Let’s have her tonight,” Carl says. “Carl, I said no. Unless you have a real desire to find yourself in an early grave, she belongs to Hunt. Now, if you know what’s good for you, I don’t want to hear anymore about it. Understand?” Jim says in anger. Looking defeated Carl nods understanding. I’m awake during the entire conversation, and now I finally have an answer to my puzzle. Hunt sounds like the head slaver in-charge; something tells me, he is not someone I want to meet. I have a new mission; I have to somehow rid myself of these terrible men, gain our freedom, and do it all before we reach Fremonton. How? That is a completely new b**st of a puzzle, isn’t it? Just as I’m about to fall asleep, I’m jerked to attention by the sight of a building of some sort up ahead. As we get closer I see it is a trading post. Then, I can’t be sure but I think I see two people running around to the back of the building. I wonder what that’s about. We ride up to the front of the establishment, and I see a handwritten sign that says ‘Wilfred’s Goods.’ Wilfred, I think to myself – I’ve never seen or heard the name before, but it’s a fun name. It wasn’t on my map, so it must be a newer trading post. “Bill, Carl – you two stay out here and watch the women. Gavin, you’re coming in with me. I’m going to untie you and I don’t want any trouble out of you,” Jim says. I nod understanding and so do Bill and Carl. “We’re here for supplies – not to cause trouble,” he adds. Bill and Carl both say, “Okay Jim.” Jim unties me and has me get off the wagon. For whatever reason, Pablo’s saddlebag has remained untouched, so I know they won’t be using my money today.We walk into the trading post and we see a man behind the counter. He’s working on something; perhaps he’s taking inventory. That would be my guess. Whatever he is doing, he is making a concerted effort to look busy. I get the feeling like he is trying to avoid making eye contact with us. “Good afternoon, sir. We’re here to buy supplies,” Jim says. “Okay sure, that sounds good. Just tell me what you need. My name is Wilfred and it’ll be my pleasure to serve you. We take gold and silver coin. I’m also willing to barter,” the man behind the counter says. It strikes me as odd. Wilfred is here, manning the store alone. Then I see a pair of super-valuable binoculars behind the counter. I get the inkling that the two people I saw running earlier, were probably two women. They must have seen us coming and ran off to hide while Wilfred conducts business. Smart. Jim also sees the binoculars, “How much for the binoculars, friend?” “They’re not for sale,” Wilfred says. “Wilfred, come on now, everything is for sale. Wait a minute…hold on. Forget the binoculars. You have bottles of whiskey! I’ll have some of those instead. Add them to my list,” Jim says. He doesn’t have a list of course, but he tells Wilfred what he wants. While Wilfred is gathering the requested items, I ask if I can take a look at the binoculars. Wilfred cautiously says yes. I pick them up and awed by the size and weight. We have a pair at home, but they’re so small compared to these. With my curiosity satisfied, I put them down and stand waiting for instruction from Jim. He pays Wilfred for the goods and the whiskey and says, “Gavin, start taking these things out to the wagon, an you be careful with the whiskey. I’ve seen you walk and I don’t want any accidents. Understand?” I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Everyone notices my strange walking. “Yes, sir. I got it. No accidents,” I respond. It takes me five trips, but I load everything on the wagon. We leave Wilfred’s shortly after I finish loading. I am made to do the task alone; nobody else helps me. After we leave, from a distance, I look back to see the two people coming out from where they were hiding. Smart, right? Later that night, after an afternoon of drinking on the trail, the slavers decide to do even more drinking in the evening. They get so drunk that they forget to eat, which probably means we won’t be getting any food either. Soon enough Bill passes out by the fire they did manage to make before they got too inebriated. Jim, surprisingly, follows suit soon after Bill. Carl, who seems to have a bit more endurance, stumbles over to us. He kneels down and begins to untie Rebecca. He tries to untie her, anyway. “You…Rebecca…you. I’m going to (hiccup)…going to (hiccup)…going to have fun some (hiccup)…with you,” Carl says. Just as he finishes his sentence, he collapses and passes out. “They’re all passed out. It looks like no dinner for us tonight,” Lottie says. “Nope,” I say in agreement. “Forget the food; I think Carl loosened my rope. I think I can get free,” Rebecca exclaims. “Well come on, hop to it. Work on loosening that rope, so we can get out of here!” I say. I then notice a fiendish expression on Lottie’s face. Minutes later, Rebecca works herself free of the rope. She then works to free her mother, and then she frees me. “Rebecca, Lottie – grab a horse and let’s get out of here,” I say. “Oh…no…I don’t think so Gavin. This is what we’re going to do. Each of us is going to pick a man, take his knife, and cut his throat. We are killing these bastards tonight. They won’t be waking up in the morning,” Lottie says in angered frustration, showing her teeth. I gulp down a long, dry swallow; I’ve never killed anyone before. I know deep inside that we should kill them or else they’ll be out hunting for us in the morning. I just don’t feel at ease with it because…well, I’m scared to have to kill an actual person. Rebecca sees my fear and says, “Don’t be afraid of killing them, Gavin. They deserve to die, after everything they’ve done to us.” I take some time to think it over and then I say, “Okay, I’ll do it.” “Okay, good. I’m glad to have you with us. I’ll take Jim,” Lottie says. “I’ll get Carl,” Rebecca says. Which leaves me with the task of killing Bill. Rebecca takes Carl’s knife and slices deep into his throat without hesitation; Carl dies moments later, only making a minimal amount of noise or commotion. Lottie then goes over to Jim; Rebecca and I stand nearby. Rebecca’s knife is glistening red in the moonlight and is dripping blood. Lottie grabs Jim’s knife and also, without hesitation, cuts deep into his throat. She also takes the knife and plunges it into Jim a total of nine times; when she’s done I see that she is covered in blood. She kills Jim in a controlled silence. Lottie gives a quiet sigh of relief, and then she flashes us an enormous grin of satisfaction. Now, it’s my turn to kill Bill. I go up to Bill and take his knife. I hesitate. Then I take a swipe at his throat, only it isn’t a strong enough strike because Bill jolts up screaming and looking around. Rebecca and Lottie, who are both standing nearby with knife in hand, jump into action. They each plunge their knife into and out of Bill a couple times. His death isn’t a silent occurrence. He yells out, “Jim…Carl…are you…they got me…they stuck me.” He gets up and begins to run away. A few steps later he turns and says, “You bit…” He collapses and falls dead before he can finish the sentence. I look at Lottie and say, “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t cut deep or strong enough.” “Don’t worry about it, Gavin. Look. We’re free now,” Lottie says. We both turn when we hear Rebecca crying behind us. “Rebecca, what’s wrong?” Lottie says. “Huh? Oh…nothing mom. I just can’t believe we’re free. It’s been so long,” Rebecca says. “Now come on, let’s move the bodies away from the camp. Then we can clean up and get something to eat,” Lottie says.Before moving the bodies we removed anything of value from them. We then moved the bodies far away from the camp. So far away, that by the time we finish it is morning. We decided that we should move the bodies in three different directions. We also decided that they didn’t deserve to be buried, so we left them out for the a****ls. When we finished moving them, we got back to the camp, cleaned up, and got some food. We also had to rekindle the fire. We then all got some much-needed sleep. Later that night, I wake up to find Rebecca and Lottie looking through the supplies in the wagon. I walk up to them yawning and say, “What are you looking for in there?” “We’re trying to decide what we’re going to eat, Gavin,” Rebecca says with a slight smile. “Oh,” I reply. We decide what we’re going to eat, get the fire going, and get started on making our meal. After I complete my portion of the meal preparation, I go over to say hello to Pablo and Don Juan. Then, we sit down to eat. While chewing Lottie looks at me and says, “Gavin, where were you headed when you first came upon us?” I pause for a moment to consider what I should tell them. I decide on the truth, sort of anyway. “I’m headed down to a place called Redwood Town to see my grandpa Hugo. You can take the horses and the wagon full of supplies. All I need is Pablo and Don Juan, and I’m good to go,” I say. “Pablo…and Don Juan?” Rebecca asks. “Oh…my horse and donkey,” I tell her. “Oh…those are some fun names for two a****ls,” she says with a smile. I look at Lottie and say, “Why do you ask, Lottie?” She pensively says, “Well, I was thinking we’d go with you. You pretending to be a slaver, and we pretending to be your slaves. I figure we stand a better chance that way of traveling safely through Californoya toward home. Once we get to Redwood Town, we can decide how to proceed from there. How does that sound to you?” I take a few moments to think it over. “I think it’s a great idea. It’ll work, and having someone with me on my journey will be a good thing. Okay. Let’s do it…one thing though…do I have to tie you up?” I say. “Yes, you do. We have to really sell the idea that you’re a slaver. It has to be believable…but not too believable. Okay?” Lottie says. “Okay,” I say. We decide to stay here for the night and leave in the morning. Then, still tired from last night’s activity, we get some sleep. EightThe following morning I wake up well past dawn, having slept in. I also wake up to a surprise; Rebecca’s arm is d****d over my chest, and her face is planted in my neck. I can hear her light snoring, and I feel her drool running down the back of my neck. I naturally think, what? So I clear my throat, hoping to ease her out of her slumber. I’m not successful; she only half wakes up, plants a small, wet kiss on my cheek, and then goes back to sleep. Again, I think, what? “Rebecca…(clearing my throat)…Rebecca wake up. Rebecca,” I say. Still, there is no response. Lottie wakes up, sees what’s going on, and almost yells out but decides against it. She just laughs and says, “Oh Gavin, just shove her off you and she’ll wake up. Rebecca is a deep-sleeper, when she’s comfortable.” So I do as I’m told and shove her off, lightly. Rebecca wakes up suddenly and says, “What? What’s going on?” “Well, you were drooling down my neck…and…and…well…you kissed me and then went back to sleep. You were also snoring,” I say. Rebecca laughs and then punches me in the face. She then winces in pain, clutching the hand she punched me with in her other hand. “Ouch…hey…what the he…what was that? That hurt,” I say. “Listen, you idiot. I don’t snore and I certainly do not drool. And why would I kiss you?” Rebecca says and asks. “If you say so. I have no clue why you kissed me; you were the one d****d all over me,” I respond. Just as she’s about to take another swing at me, Lottie speaks up, “It’s true…he’s right. You were d****d all over him before I told him just to shove you off. I cannot speak for the kiss or the drool, but you do snore.” Rebecca groans out in frustration; it takes her a few minutes to calm down. “Did I kiss you on the lips or on the cheek?” she finally asks, after calming down. Tell the truth, I think to myself. “You gave me quick, wet kiss on the cheek,” I say. “Well now, isn’t that something?” Lottie says, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah…well…okay. I was asleep when I did it, so it doesn’t count,” Rebecca says. I decide not to say anything further. My face is still in pain from the punch; Rebecca sure can hit hard, that’s for sure.Once we’re all up and moving around, we see the blood – the evidence – from our night of v******e. It was there the morning after, but I suppose I was too tired to notice it. Aside from the blood there are also the drag marks in the dirt, left behind by the three bodies we moved. I now feel better about what we did; it was the right thing to do. We get some breakfast and make some chicory coffee. Lottie is feeling adventurous, so she adds some whiskey to her coffee. “Gavin, you know the way to Redwood Town?” Lottie asks. “Yes I do,” I say, simply. “How? We haven’t been able to find their map,” Rebecca says. “What happened to it?” I say. “We don’t know; we just couldn’t find it,” Lottie says. “I know the way. I have…I had a map. It’s in my head; I memorized it,” I say. “What do you mean you had a map? Where is it? What do you mean, you memorized it?” Rebecca says. “Remember the day by the big creek? The day we were made to bathe?” I say. “Yeah, I remember. You got out in a hurry and went over by your horse. Then you were playing in the dirt. What were you doing?” Rebecca says. “I was destroying my map, so the three slavers wouldn’t find it. The map showed the way to my grandpa Hugo’s cabin in Redwood Town. I didn’t want to expose him to any trouble. He’s old. Don’t worry though; I memorized it for just that reason. I memorized it in case something happened to it. In this case, it just so happened that I had to destroy it,” I say. “So that’s what you were doing in the dirt. Well, that answers my question. Now I know,” Lottie says. “Okay, well since you know the way, we’ll be fine,” she adds. We finish eating, close up our camp, and get ready to go. I tie them up, apologizing while doing so. Rebecca and Lottie then get in the wagon, and I position myself as the slaver in Jim’s seat. We then head off to continue on south. We left Carl and Bill’s horses unsaddled, so it wouldn’t look too suspicious having two saddled horses in tow behind Pablo and Don Juan.A few days later we come upon a small town, but we’re good on supplies so we ride on through it. We receive a few awkward looks from the handful of people we come across. Later that afternoon, we see another wagon coming toward us. One other rider accompanies it; in the wagon are the driver and one person in back. I believe them to spell one thing, trouble. We ride up near each other. “State your business,” the driver of the other wagon says. I say to myself, remember not to use big words and keep it short. Before saying anything, I look güvenilir bahis şirketleri at the person riding in the back of the other wagon. A woman and I can see that she’s tied up. It’s confirmed; slavers. “Just taking these two slaves home to Fremonton. Got a young one here for Hunt’s personal inspection,” I say. “You are by yourself? Where is your second or third man? Why do you have so many horses in tow? Who are you? I don’t know you.” Just as I am about to answer him, the other rider comes up to driver, leans in, and whispers something into the listening ear of the driver. I decide to hold off on saying anything as I then see the rider moving up alongside our wagon. As he does so, the next thing I see is a blur of movement in my peripheral vision. Lottie lunges at the rider and stabs him in the throat, knocking him off his horse. I then hear a loud yelp of pain coming from the driver of the other wagon. I turn to look at him and see the hilt of large knife coming out of his chest. I then realize, in pure amazement, that Rebecca was the one who must have thrown the knife at him. I didn’t tie up Rebecca and Lottie tightly. They must have untied themselves and sprung into deadly action. The slave woman in the other wagon sees her opportunity to get some revenge. She loops her tied up wrists around the driver’s throat and strangles him with everything she’s got. Both men are dead within minutes.I get off the wagon and make my way over to the tied up woman, with the intention of setting her free of her rope. As I approach her, she leaps on me and tries the same move on me. As she is trying to strangle me I manage to say, “Please…stop…I’m not…a…slaver.” She does not pay any attention to my plea. Rebecca sees what’s going on. “Wait! Stop. He’s not a slaver. He’s with me…I mean he’s with us. Stop. Please,” she says. The woman hears Rebecca’s plea and lets go. She takes a moment to calm down. “What do you mean he’s with you? He said he was taking slaves back home to Fremonton,” the woman says. “He was only pretending to be a slaver; we figured it would be safer to travel through Californoya posing as slaves under the control of a slaver. We were only pretending,” Lottie tells the woman. “Well, according to those dead slavers, it seems you’re one or two men short of a full slaver crew,” the woman says. “We didn’t know that. Now we know. My name is Rebecca. That’s my mom Lottie, and guy you just tried to kill is Gavin. What’s your name?” Rebecca says and asks. “Sasha. My name is Sasha,” she says. Rubbing at my throat I say, “It’s good to meet you Sasha (cough). Where are (cough) you from?” “I’m from outside of Los Angeles. My family has a farm there; I was on my way to visit my aunt in Nevid when they grabbed me. They grabbed me at night while I was sleeping by the fire,” Sasha said. “We’re on way home also, but we’re making stop in Redwood Town. We should take this other wagon and ride down together. There is some measure of safety traveling in numbers. Before we get going, we should stash these bodies in a bush somewhere, and then clean ourselves up a bit,” Lottie says. Sasha just has this look on her face. “Redwood Town? Redwood…Town? Why do you want to go there? I’ve heard rumors…that he lives there. The Dreamer. He’s dangerous,” Sasha says. “Gavin is going to visit his grandpa Hugo. I don’t anything about ‘The Dreamer.’ What are you talking about? Gavin, what is she talking about?” Rebecca says. “Sasha tells us what you’re talking about,” Lottie demands. “No way; I’m not saying a word,” Sasha says. “Gavin?” Lottie says. “I’m not ready to say anything about it. I think, right now, we need to concentrate on moving the bodies and then getting on our way. Sasha are you coming with us or are you going to travel alone?” I say, flatly. “I don’t want to travel alone, so I’m coming with you,” Sasha says. “Okay well, let’s move these bodies,” Lottie says. I figure I should tell them about grandpa Hugo, but not yet. NineI’m forty days into my journey and I haven’t reached my grandpa Hugo’s cabin. It’s taking longer than I thought it would, but we’re close. In the distance, I can see the Golden Gate Bridge. Beyond the bridge are the ruins of what used to be San Francisco. According to my father, the ruins are completely abandoned; a****ls and trees have taken back the streets. We are no longer traveling as slaver and slaves, but we’re being careful. We haven’t come across any more slavers since the incident where we came upon Sasha. We’ve stopped at a couple towns and stayed for a day or so in each town. In one of the towns we traded a couple of our horses for money and supplies. In the other town we spent a lot of time in the local pub, drinking beer. That was an interesting experience as I’m not a big drinker. Rebecca and Sasha got into an argument over which was better, potatoes or yams. They both, obviously, drank too much. When asked for my opinion on the matter, as if to help decide the dispute, I simply said that I liked both the same. That just earned me a look from both Rebecca and Sasha. Lottie never entered the dispute; she just sat savoring her beer. When asked for her opinion on the matter she just ignored them both, which earned her a look as well. We’ve been getting to know each other along the way. I now know, for example, that Rebecca and Sasha are the same age. Lottie is my father’s age. I also learned that Sasha was to be joined to a guy named George, before she was taken. I’ve also decided that after visiting grandpa Hugo, I’ll accompany Sasha, Rebecca, and Lottie to their homes. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge out in the distance, we decide to stop and make camp for the night. “We didn’t come this way on our way north with Jim, Carl, and Bill. I’ve never seen this bridge before. Does the bridge have a name? Gavin, what did you say the city was called?” Lottie says and asks. Before I am able to answer, Sasha says, “Yeah I wasn’t brought this way either.” “It’s the Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond it are the ruins of the city once called San Francisco. Don’t worry – nobody lives there anymore. At least, I don’t think so,” I say. “Mom, Sasha – will you two please volunteer to get dinner ready tonight? I want to go for a walk with Gavin,” Rebecca says. I turn deep shade of red, wondering what this is about. Lottie looks to Sasha for confirmation then says, “Okay, we volunteer. You two be careful out there.” “Thank you. Gavin, will you please come with me on a walk?” Rebecca says. Before I’m able to answer, I am taken by the hand and almost dragged to the apparent entrance of a trail. We walk for what seems to be ten minutes at a brisk pace. Rebecca’s walking is fluid and smooth, while mine is nothing but pure awkward and strange. She notices, but doesn’t say a word. She holds on to my hand the entire time, as though to assist me in keeping the pace. The moon is bright tonight so we don’t have any trouble seeing where we’re going. After about ten minutes, our walk slows to a mere amble. She lets go of my hand, but continues to walk alongside me. “Gavin, I know you are a lot younger than I am. Well…not that much younger…but younger. And I’m older…well…not that much older…but older. Oh, look at me; I’m nervous. Why am I so nervous? What I am trying to say is…well…what I want to tell you…is that…well…I really like you,” Rebecca says. I’m stunned and don’t know how to respond. Sure, she hasn’t punched me in a while and hasn’t called me ‘idiot’ in an even longer while, but I had no idea that she ‘liked’ me. “But what about all the punching and calling me ‘idiot’ and all that?” I ask. “You deserved it,” she says, simply. Before I can say anything else, she steps in front of me and faces me. She then grabs me by the arms and pulls me in for a kiss, tongue and all. The only thing that comes to mind at first is, ‘what?’ As we’re kissing I come to realize that I too have feelings for Rebecca. The realization hits me plain as day. So I return the affection, deeply and with passion. We stand there kissing and holding each other for a further few minutes. It’s intense. Rebecca’s hands run all over my body, finally coming to rest on my butt where she squeezes, firmly. I do my best to explore her body with my hands as respectfully as possible. I have only been intimate with Jenny Sunnyvale, so this is still somewhat uncharted territory for me. The fact that I’m nervous is made clear by the increased intensity of the tremor in my hands. My heart is beating so fast and hard, that I fear it will pop out of my chest. We stop kissing and Rebecca presses her face into my neck. She takes in a long, deep breath and then she kisses my neck. “Come on, let’s walk a little further to see what’s ahead of us,” she says. We walk down the trail while holding hands. I’m feeling light on my feet. We walk for another ten minutes until we arrive at what appears to be a large pond or a small lake. I don’t recall a body of water located here on my map, but then I think that probably not everything was on the map. Rebecca says, “Hey, let’s go for a swim.” “Okay,” I say tentatively, knowing that the water will most likely be freezing cold. We strip naked in front of each other, knowing that we’ve already seen each other in the nude. As soon we’re naked my ‘excitement’ is very apparent as I gaze on Rebecca’s body. She sees me, smiles, reaches to grab my hand, and we walk into the water together. Just as I suspected, the water is freezing cold. We both yell out and immediately grab on to each other for warmth. We run out of the water and instead of swimming we find a spot by the reeds in the grass to lie down. We kiss and explore each other’s bodies for a long while. We then realize we’ve been gone for a good long while, so we decide to get dressed and head back to camp. We walk back holding hands. As we exit the trail and enter the camp, we see Lottie and Sasha cooking and chatting by the fire. As we walk up to them, Lottie says, “Well now, look at you two…holding hands. I take it your walk together was eventful.” “Yes…mom…Gavin and I decided we are to be joined as soon as we get home!” Rebecca says. Knocked over sideways, I say, “What! What? We never even talked about that. What are you talking about? All we did was kiss and all that. You must be confused.” She just gives me look and out of nowhere, punches me in the groin. I crumple to ground in a haze of confused pain. “Well, now that that’s settled, let’s eat,” Lottie says. I get up after a few moments, and hobble over in pain to grab some food. Rebecca ignores me and avoids looking at me the entire time. She sits away from all of us, eating in silence. She’s angry, I can tell. I then wonder where she came up with the notion of us being joined. She must be confused. Sure, we’ve been getting to know each other on the way south, but I’m not sure why she would want to join with me. I spend the time eating in silence as well, thinking. I arrive at a conclusion; I’m on a mission to accomplish a goal. Looking into the fire, I regain my focus. Then, out of nowhere, I am overcome by the urge to share my grandpa Hugo’s story. After we finish eating I say, “I’d like to tell you all a story about my grandpa Hugo and also the story about a man named Walter ‘PPK’ Smith.” I go through the entire tale of both men, fielding multiple questions with clarifying answers. The tale goes on late into the night. When I’m done telling the stories, everyone’s eyes are wide-awake with something to say. “Wait, wait, wait…this old man…this grandpa Hugo of yours…he’s your great-great-great grandfather? How is he still alive? He must be older than dirt,” Lottie says. “Yes he is my great-great-great grandfather, but I just mostly refer to him as grandpa Hugo. He is still alive because he dreamed himself into living for two hundred years,” I say. “What about your grandma Aoife? Is she still…you know…alive?” Rebecca asks, to my surprise. She was listening to my stories the entire time. “No, unfortunately grandpa Hugo’s dreams had no effect on grandma Aoife. She died a long time ago. I never met her. I only know of her or about her through the stories that were passed down to me,” I say. “And why are going down to see him?” Sasha asks. “Well, you all have probably noticed that I have a strange walk and that I have a tremor in my hands. I think I have what grandpa Hugo had in his youth, Parkinson’s disease,” I say, and then am suddenly interrupted. “And you’re going to see if he can dream you a cure, right?” Sasha says. “Yes, that’s my hope,” I say. “That’s amazing!” Lottie says. “Wait…there is something I don’t understand. If your grandpa Hugo has this amazing dreaming ability, why hasn’t he gotten rid of the slave trade in Californoya?” Rebecca says. “I…I don’t know. I’ve thought about that exact same thing. I just don’t know,” I say. “You were saying that all the members of your family make this trip to see him?” Lottie asks. “Yeah…that’s right. My older sister Jana came down to see him a few years ago,” I say. “Wait! You’re sister made the same trip? How did she make it through Californoya without running into slavers? She made it back home, right?” Rebecca says. “Yeah, she made it back. I don’t know how it happened that she didn’t run into slavers. She’s much more ‘stealthy’ than I am,” I say. “Stealthy? Rebecca told me you rode into the slaver camp and tried to play the hero. You call that stealth?” Sasha says. “He was trying to help us. He didn’t succeed, but he did try to help. I believe that to be commendable,” Lottie says. “So your grandpa Hugo is the reason why all the cars disappeared?” Sasha says. “That’s right. He dreamed away all cars in physical contact with the ground. With so few people around, he saw cars as a massive clutter that needed clearing, so he got rid of them. There are, obviously, still some cars around. There is an old car at the bottom of our pond at home on our ranch,” I say. “Wow, how’d you find the car at the bottom of the pond?” Lottie asks. “My parents knew about it and they told us about it,” I say. “Yeah, I came across one on a lift in some old garage in the ruins of Los Angeles. I like to go exploring in the ruins in my spare time,” Sasha says. “Really? That sounds fun,” Lottie says. Deciding that I’m thirsty, I get up to get some water. As I am drinking the water, someone comes up behind me and hugs me. It’s Rebecca. She kisses my neck and whispers in my ear, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I punched you. I was angry. Forgive me?” “Of course I forgive you, but next time you get angry do you think you can talk to me instead of hitting me?” I say. I turn around and kiss her. “Okay…talking…got it…check, but I make no promises. I reserve the right to get physical with you when you deserve it. But I will try to talk it out, promise,” she says. Laughing, I say – “Okay.” We both go back to fire and sit down next to each other. “Well now, it seems you two are on good terms again,” Lottie says. It’s late into the middle of the night, but nobody seems tired or ready to go to sleep. “Mom – I have a confession to make. Gavin and I never discussed joining. I just got over excited because we had been kissing. I think it’s probably safe to say that we’re an ‘item’ now,” Rebecca tells her mother. “I knew it…I knew it. The way you two are always looking at each other…I knew it,” Sasha exclaims. “Well, good…I’m happy for you. But you’d do well to remember that Gavin lives way up north in Oregonia, and we live…well…we live far away from him,” Lottie says. This gives me something to think about. “Well, we’ll deal with that when the time comes. We’re not home yet,” Rebecca says. “Gavin, I have a question about this ‘PPK’ guy. Did he and your grandpa Hugo ever meet or come across each other?” Sasha says. “No they never came across each other in person, but they did know about each other. Grandpa Hugo was a constant figure in the news through the years and so was Walter,” I say. “What a terrible…terrible man, that Walter. I had no idea that’s what happened. I mean, I was told stories as a c***d about the ‘great dying,’ but I had no idea it was all because of one man,” Lottie says. “Okay…if they never met…and Walter did all his research in private…and the security cameras were off in the club the night he dosed the girl with the stuff in the vial…how do you know what happened?” Sasha says, trying to put things together in her mind. “That’s easy. Grandpa Hugo dreamed that he knew the truth about what happened to cause the ‘great dying.’ And the story has been passed down over the years,” I say. “When we first met you…you said ‘the dreamer’ was dangerous. How did you know about Gavin’s grandpa Hugo?” Rebecca asks Sasha. “I didn’t know about him. I just heard stories…rumors really…about some guy living in Redwood Town that had a ‘dreaming’ ability and that he was responsible for the ‘great dying.’ I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but it sounded dangerous. Now, knowing what happened, I feel better about meeting him,” Sasha says. “Gavin, tomorrow we’ll cross that Golden Gate Bridge. Are you sure it’s safe…structurally I mean,” Lottie says. I take a moment to kiss Rebecca on her neck. “My father says the bridge was built to last. We’ll be fine. Yes, it’s safe,” I say. “Okay, I trust you. Well, I think I’m going to get some sleep,” Lottie says, yawning. “Me too,” Sasha says, also yawning. Rebecca and I nod at each other, smile, and then we kiss. We decide that sleep sounds like a good idea. We fall asleep holding each other by the warmth of the fire. Before falling asleep, I think about grandpa Hugo and what it’ll be like to finally meet him. Soon, I think. Will he be able to help me with my problem? Soon, I think and I fall asleep. TenForty-seven days into my journey I find myself standing in front of my grandpa Hugo’s cabin. We arrive in the early afternoon. We made it over the bridge safely, and it took us few days to maneuver the wagons through the ruins of San Francisco. My father was correct, there was nobody living there. As far as we could tell, it was only trees, wildlife, and crumbling buildings. Standing in front of the cabin, I see that it is not an actual cabin. It’s a rather large home. Redwood trees surround the house like all of Redwood Town. Redwood City used to be filled with redwood trees; my grandpa Hugo dreamed that the redwood trees would return in their full growth. Going through the actual town, we received warm greetings from everyone we saw. There was an overall feeling of safety in the town. Grandpa Hugo lives on the outskirts of town, away from the town’s center. Looking at the front door of the house I’m confused as I see a woman coming out to greet us. She’s holding a baby and has a young toddler in tow. I’m at the right place, I think. “Hello there…welcome…welcome to my house…what can I do for you?” the woman says. “Yes ma’am…perhaps you can direct me in the right direction…I’m looking for my grandpa Hugo’s cabin,” I say. “Oh…well…you’ve found it…this is it. He’s inside sleeping. I’m his wife and these two are his c***dren. You all look as though you’ve travelled quite a long way; put your wagons and a****ls in the barn and then come inside. There’s a water pump, buckets, and hay in the barn for your a****ls,” she says. I’m completely taken by surprise; I don’t know what to say. “Yes ma’am…thank you…we’ll do that and then be right in. Thank you,” Rebecca says, seeing that I’m at a loss for words. “My name is Hannah…by the way…and please take your boots off before you come into the house,” the woman says. Wow! She’s so young and he is so old, I think to myself. I snap out of reverie and say, “Yes…yes ma’am…no boots in the house. My name is Gavin.” “It’s nice to meet you Gavin…see you in a few,” Hannah says. We see to Pablo, Don Juan, and the other horses. As we’re in the barn Lottie says, “As far as barns go, this one is quite nice.” As I’m nodding in agreement, I get slapped hard on the butt. “Gavin…what’s wrong with you…I saw you back there…cat got your tongue? So he’s joined to young and beautiful woman…and he’s got two young k**s…big deal…I say good for him…he’s living a full life,” Rebecca says. “Yeah Gavin…so what? Get over it pal,” Sasha adds. “They’re right, Gavin. It’s amazing,” Lottie chimes in. I shrug my shoulders, purse my lips and then say, “Yeah…I suppose you’re all right…it is no big deal.” “I wonder how they met?” Sasha says. “It is not really our business…but I’m sure Gavin can ask…right, Gavin?” Lottie says. I pump out some cold water for myself in a cup taking a long swallow, cough up a bit of water, and then I say, “Yeah, I’ll find out.” “Do you think she knows about…you know…his ability?” Rebecca says. “Shoot…I don’t know…I guess I can also find out about that,” I say. We conclude our business inside the barn, and then we make our way to the house. At the front door, we all take off our boots and then we knock on the door. A few moments later, Hannah opens the door and tells us in a low tone; “I just put Lucy and Isaac down for a nap upstairs. Everyone who is asleep is on the third floor, so as long as we don’t yell, we should be fine. Let’s all go into the kitchen; I have freshly made pies.” Pie sure does sound delicious. “Yes ma’am…thank you,” I say. Moving through the house and into the kitchen, I see that the house is absolutely amazing. It seems relatively new. In the kitchen I take a moment to introduce everyone; “Hannah…ma’am…with me are Rebecca, Lottie, and Sasha.” “You can call me Hannah, Gavin. Before we go any further, I want to confirm you are who you say you are, okay? Now…I know about your grandpa Hugo. He’s told me everything. Everything. He had to tell me everything…not just because I’m his wife…but also because I was drawn here to him all the way from the Kingdom of Florida…I travelled for a long time…left my parents without an explanation…because of him. He owed me an explanation, but we’ll get to that later.” “Okay…Hannah…what do you need from me to confirm my identity?” I say. “That’s simple…two things…one…your grandpa Hugo had a baby with Aoife in his youth…the baby girl died…what was her name?” I look at her in a serious manner and answer without hesitation, “It wasn’t a girl…it was a boy that died and his name was Ramiro.” “Okay…two…what was your grandpa Hugo’s father’s middle name?” Hannah says. “It was Luis,” I answer again, without hesitation. “Okay, that’s good enough for me. Now, you’re a bit young to be his grandson…looking at you…I’d guess you’re his great-great-great grandson…am I right?” Hannah says. “Yes, that’s correct,” I say. We all get some pie and some milk to wash it down. It’s a strange mix of apple-cherry pie, but it’s the best pie I’ve ever tasted. “You’re from the Kingdom of Florida? Wow! I’ve never met anyone from that far away before…can you tell us about it? Were you a princess or something?” Sasha says with nervous excitement. Hannah quietly laughs out loud. “No my dear…Sasha, right? Nothing so grand…I was the daughter of a peasant farmer,” Hannah says. “The bachelor-King of Florida runs the place…and I was far removed from the likes of him…let me tell you,” she adds. “You mentioned you were drawn here to my grandpa Hugo…I don’t understand…can you tell us more?” I say. “Well…let me see…where to begin? Okay, well one hot July day…oh wait…I forget that out here ‘July’ is no longer used…it was one hot summer season day, and I was walking home from school. I was fifteen at the time. And right before I walk through the gate to our house, I collapse. My dad found me about an hour later; I was out cold. I was brought into the house and didn’t wake up for three days,” Hannah says. “Three days? Were you sick or something?” Rebecca asks. “I don’t know…and my parents didn’t know. We couldn’t afford a doctor. My parents told me that I kept repeating a name…once every hour…for the three days I was out. I kept repeating your grandpa Hugo’s name, Gavin,” Hannah says. “What did your parents make of it?” I ask. “They didn’t know what to think…it is not a common name. My parents didn’t know anyone in the surrounding villages by that name,” Hannah says. “Once you woke up, did you know you had been repeating the name?” Lottie asks with her eyes wide-open in wonderment. “No, my parents told me a few days after I woke up. I was scared because it was so strange. My younger brother thought I was cursed or something. My older sister thought it was nothing, and just shrugged it off,” Hannah says. Getting herself a second serving of the delicious pie, Sasha then says – in between bites of pie, “Then what happened?” “At the end of the summer season, something strange and unusual happened. I got a clear image in my head…as clear as I see you all standing here in my kitchen. The image was of this house and of an older man working in the front yard. Something inside me was saying…yelling and screaming at me…that the man in the image would be my husband. In my head I also had clear and precise directions on how to arrive here. Above all else, I had an overwhelming desire to come out west to what was once California. I couldn’t explain it; I just knew I had to do it,” Hannah says. “That’s astonishing,” Rebecca says. I can almost guess why it happened, but I want to hear more so I keep my mouth closed. “Please, tell us more,” Sasha says, having finished her second slice of pie. “I knew I could not tell my parents. If I did tell them…they would have forbidden me to go…and I couldn’t have that. I knew it would be long odyssey of trip, so I had to prepare. It took me about a month to devise a plan to steal enough money from the village coffers. I had my bag packed and ready, as well as hidden. Once I stole the money, all that was left was to steal a couple horses from the village elder. It’s amazing what you can achieve, provided that you have sufficient motivation. I had the horses, got my bag, supplies, and money; I took off the same night I stole the horses. I was lucky that we lived on the outskirts of the Kingdom of Florida, and was well outside the border by morning,” Hannah says. “How long did it take you to get here?” Rebecca asks. “Are you trying to find out how old I am? You are a naughty one…I’ll have to watch you,” Hannah says in a jovial way. Embarrassed and turning red, Rebecca says, “Oh my gosh…I’m sorry…I was only wondering…well…because…it is so far away.” Again, laughing quietly, Hannah then says, “Relax sweets…I was only k**ding with you. It took me a total of four years to get here. Well…three years to get to California…sorry…I mean Californoya. I spent a year in Californoya avoiding slavers. What happened was that one night, I came upon a camp with two men and one tied up woman. It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was a slave trade in the area. Before that, I ran into all kinds of trouble. I got sick somewhere in the Lousana Territory and had to find refuge in some sort of monastery. I had to walk most of the way through the Empire of Texas, after my horses were stolen. The only place where I didn’t experience any trouble was in Arizona.” “That’s simply astounding,” Lottie says. Hannah excuses herself to go upstairs to check on her sleeping c***dren. Meanwhile, I get another smack on the butt from Rebecca; “You see…Hannah knew well enough…to avoid the slavers,” she says. “Oh pipe down…if I had avoided the slaver camp…we would never have met,” I respond with a silly grin on my face. I got her with that one, as has no response for me. She just leans into me for a kiss. Sasha pours herself another glass full of milk. Lottie makes a move to clean up our plates in the sink. “Wow…will you look at this…your grandpa Hugo has running water!” We all rush over to the sink to marvel over the incredible running water. This is another ‘first’ for me; I have never seen running water inside a house. I immediately wonder if there is an indoor outhouse as well. I’ll have to find out. A few moments later Hannah enters the room. “I see you all have discovered the running water. That’s wonderful. Later, before dinner, you are all welcome to take a hot shower or bath. To be perfectly honest…not trying to mean or rude…but you’re all kind of ripe from your travel. You’re staying for a few days, right? There’s room in this house for you all to have your own room, if you want,” she says. None of us are embarrassed by the ‘ripe’ comment because we all know it’s true. “Did you say hot…hot shower?” I say. “Yes…I said hot…amazing, right? There’s working toilets too, just so you know. Of course, I must ask that you help keep the house clean and that you help with the cooking and laundry while you’re here,” Hannah says. “Oh…no problem…we are more than willing to our share of housework,” Lottie says. “Indoor plumbing…wow, that’s amazing…but…but…how does it work?” I say. “I have no clue…it just works. There’s even something called electricity,” Hannah says. I say, “What?” Sasha, Lottie, and Rebecca ask almost in unison, “What’s electricity?” “It’s light without candles…it is power like in the old days, before the ‘great dying,’” I tell them. Seeing that they are still confused, Hannah flips a switch. The three women nearly scream, but catch themselves. This is so amazing, I think. After they calm down, Sasha – who is clearly more mesmerized by the story, than by the electricity – asks Hannah to continue. “So when I arrived here, an older man was working in the front yard; just as in my image. I went up to him and asked, ‘are you Hugo?’ He said yes and then also said, ‘you must be Hannah; I dreamed about you,’” she says. Hannah takes a moment to take a drink of water, and then to splash water on her face. She then continues, “Then I collapsed. I woke up three days later in the downstairs bedroom. He was sitting by the side of the bed waiting for me to wake up. He told me later that he only got up for water and for the bathroom. It turns out that I arrived a few days after a family member of his was here for a visit…someone named Jana, I think,” she says. “That was my older sister…oh…sorry…I interrupted…please…continue,” I say. “Well, Hugo said he was used to visitors and that he was overjoyed to finally meet me. He was a lot older than me, but I was in love. Looking into his eyes, I knew he felt the same. We were married…sorry…joined…a few weeks later. Lucy was born about a year later, and Isaac just recently. I learned about his ability shortly after we were joined…but…I somehow already knew. It turns out that he had dreamed that the one girl alive whom he could love, and could love him in return…would come to him. And I did. That’s my story, and I am sticking to it,” Hannah says with tears of joy in her eyes. I feel an overwhelming sense of joy inside. Sasha, Lottie, and Rebecca are also crying. The next thing I know, I hear footsteps coming down the stairs. It must be grandpa Hugo. A few moments later he walks in; I can’t believe it…it is finally happening. I’m instantly shocked by how young he looks. I mean he’s old…but not as ‘old looking’ as I envisioned. He seems strong. He seems to have great balance. “Well now, who do we have here? Visitors…I see. Welcome to our home…who, may I ask, are you?” he says. There is a slight mumble to his speech; I think it’s probably due to his age. “Hugo…my love…this is Gavin,” Hannah says, pointing to me. “He’s your great-great-great grandson. I asked him the two questions…to verify…just like you said,” she adds. Grandpa Hugo moves forward to give Hannah a light pat on the butt, and then he kisses her lips. “Thank you…my love,” grandpa Hugo says to Hannah. “Who are your parents, Gavin?” he asks. “Amanda is my mom, and Rush is my dad. Oh yeah…and Jana is my older sister,” I say. “Ah…Rush…Amanda…yes, I remember them. They came to see me years ago. Your dad wanted some financial help, and your mom simply wanted to meet ‘The Dreamer’…and Jana had some boy issues,’” grandpa says. At the very mention of the term ‘The Dreamer,’ I see Sasha’s eyes go wide as she bolts upright in her chair. “You know…what people call you?” Sasha says. Grandpa laughs quietly – aware of the sleeping c***dren upstairs. “Of course I know…I’m old, but I’m not dumb, young lady. Gavin, will you please introduce your friends,” grandpa says while sitting down. Hannah excuses herself again, to check on the c***dren. “Oh…sure thing…grandpa, this is Sasha, Lottie and her daughter, Rebecca,” I say. “It’s great to meet you, sir,” Rebecca and Lottie say. “It’s wonderful to finally meet you mister dreamer sir,” Sasha adds. “Likewise…now…where are you all from and how did you meet?” grandpa says. Just as I am about to start in on our story, my grandpa adds, “Oh wait…hold that thought…wait for Hannah to come back…so she can hear your story as well. While we wait, I believe I’ll grab some gluten-free pie. It’s delicious, right?” We all nod in agreement. Grandpa Hugo eats his pie, while we wait for Hannah to return. A few moments later Hannah enters the room. “Why is everyone so quiet in here?” she says. “We were waiting for you, my love. I asked them where they were from and how they met…and rather than have you miss the beginning…I thought it prudent to wait for your return,” grandpa says. “Oh good thinking, honey. I do love a good story,” Hannah says. I drink the last of my milk before I begin. “Well…grandpa…I’m from just outside of Portland, Oregonia. Sasha is from just outside of Los Angeles, Californoya. Lottie and Rebecca are from southern Californoya, near the Arizona border. We all met because we were victims of the slave trade,” I say. Grandpa Hugo and Hannah’s eyes go wide in apparent shock. I go on to tell Hannah and grandpa Hugo an abbreviated version of my journey here and how I came to meet Rebecca, Lottie, and Sasha. The three of them then tell their side of the story…about how they came into being slaves…and how they came to meet me. Just as Sasha finishes telling her portion of the story, we hear a crying baby upstairs. Lucy appears at the doorway, surprising us. “Mommy…Isaac is up…and…he’s crying,” Lucy says. Hannah leaves the room to go get Isaac. Lucy then goes up to her dad and hugs his arm. “Daddy…who are…those people,” she says. “Lucy…my sweet girl…this is Gavin…he is your family…and these are his friends…Lottie, Rebecca, and Sasha,” grandpa says. “It’s very nice to meet you all,” Lucy, says, half hiding behind her father. “Can I have some pie, daddy?” she adds. “Only a tiny piece. We’ll be having dinner soon…here, sit down and I’ll cut you a piece,” my grandpa says. While Lucy is eating her pie, a bold thought comes over me. “Grandpa…there is something I have to ask you. With your ability…why is it…that there is still a slave trade in Californoya? Why don’t you get rid of the problem? I’m sorry to have to ask…but…it is something that has been weighing heavily on my mind,” I say. Grandpa Hugo looks at me cautiously as if wondering something. He doesn’t seem upset. “Well…as it turns out…I haven’t been able to ‘dream’ in a long time,” grandpa says. There it is. I deflate like a balloon of the old days. My hopes of a cure are crushed flat. My problem will have to remain a problem. “What do you mean?” I ask as Hannah walks back into the room with Isaac in her arms. Out of the corner of my eye I see Rebecca, Lottie, and Sasha give me a look of a shared disappointment. “What I mean…is…that I believe I’ve lost the ability to ‘dream.’ Shoot…the last successful dream I had was the dream of Hannah. I feel blessed enough, and cannot ask for more. Besides…a long time ago I dreamed that Redwood Town would remain a safe area…so the slavers were never a problem here. Looking back…I should have done something…but I didn’t and for that I’m sorry,” grandpa says. “But…but…how were you able to help Jana?” I ask. “You mean she did find someone?” grandpa says. “Yes she did find someone. She found the most ‘interesting’ man on the planet. They are now joined, living in Columbia, and just had twin girls,” I say. “Wow…that’s wonderful. Looks like what helped…was…getting out of her element…and away from home for a while. To be honest…I don’t know for sure if I helped her…she came to me during the time when I was discovering the possible loss of my ability. I’m sure…now…that I’ve lost the ability,” grandpa says. He then looks at me as if something inside him clicks. “Oh shoot…Gavin…you came all this way for some help…right? I’m so sorry. What did you want help with?” he says. My eyes well up with tears and I take hold of Rebecca’s hand. I squeeze it, gently. “Well…grandpa…I believe I have what you had in your youth. I believe I have the Parkinson’s. I came here looking for a cure before it gets worse,” I say. Grandpa Hugo develops a sad expression on his face. “Show me your hands held out flat in front of you,” he says. I do as he says. I feel odd as though a doctor is examining me. Grandpa Hugo just stares at my hands for a few moments. “Now let me see you get up and walk to the other end of the room…then walk back,” grandpa says. I get up and walk, feeling watched. When I sit back down, he just says, “It sure does look like Parkinson’s to me…keep in mind that I’m not a doctor…I’m just saying it does based on my own experience…from what I remember. Gavin, I’m so sorry. Just so you know…not everyone’s experience with Parkinson’s…is the same. Now…come on…get up and give your old grandpa a hug,” grandpa Hugo says. I get up, go over to him as he gets up, and we hug. “It’s great to finally meet you, grandpa,” I say. “I feel the same way, Gavin,” he says. As I step away from the hug, I feel a sudden tingle all over my body and then I see a bright flash of light. The flash of light doesn’t bother my eyes. “What was that…that flash of light…what was it?” I say, unsure of myself. “Gavin…what are you talking about…what flash of light? Are you talking about the electricity?” Rebecca says with concern in her voice. Feeling dizzy I say, “Grandpa…I saw the flash of light…I saw it.” Then I collapse to the floor. The last thing I see, before passing out, is Rebecca rushing over to my side. ElevenAs I wake up, I find that I am both naked and clean under the covers of a bed. I’m in a strange bedroom. It takes me a few moments to realize where I am. Then it comes to me; I must be in one of the bedrooms in my grandpa Hugo’s cabin…house. From the view in the window, I see that it’s morning and that I must be in one of the downstairs bedrooms. I have a bit of a headache. I’m also in need of some water, though that can wait because I also have to use the bathroom. “Hello…is anyone there?” I call out. A few moments later, Rebecca walks in with some clean folded up clothes in her hands. She sees that I’m awake; she drops the clothes on the chair by the door, and rushes over to my side. “You’re awake…I was so worried,” she says. “What do you mean…you were worried? Why? How long was I out?” I say. She looks at me, seriously. “You’ve been out for three days,” she says. “What? Three Days? What happened?” I say in disbelief. “We were in the kitchen…with everyone…you said you saw a flash of light…and then you collapsed to the floor,” Rebecca says. “A flash of light? I don’t remember that…I just remember feeling dizzy and then falling to the floor,” I say. I remember that I’m naked, so I add, “Rebecca, why am I naked…and why am I clean?” “When you didn’t wake up that first day, we decided to give you a bath. We thought the water might wake you up, but it didn’t. I’m so glad that you’re finally awake. I brought you some clean clothes,” she says. “Oh good…excellent timing…I have to use the bathroom,” I say. I get up; a bit unsteady on my feet, I get dressed. Before heading to the bathroom, I push Rebecca down on the bed and we kiss for a few moments. “Do you want some help in the bathroom…remember this house has the indoor plumbing…and it’s a bit tricky,” Rebecca whispers into my ear. I get up, and straighten my clothes. “I’ll figure it out…thanks,” I say. “Well…okay…talk about good timing…breakfast is almost ready. We’ll all be in the kitchen. Lottie and Sasha are cooking…you are hungry, right?” Rebecca says. “Yeah…I could eat,” I say, with a grin. I make my way to the indoor outhouse; I’m excited. Stepping inside the small room, I see the toilet. It’s a bit daunting. I know I’m supposed to lift the seat, so I do. I then take aim and relieve myself of my water. This is exhilarating. When I’m done, I am a bit perplexed, as I’m not sure what I need to do next. Is it automatic? Then I see a small lever above the bowl. I try pulling it back. Nothing. I try pushing it forward. Nothing. I try pushing it down. Flush. I’m startled. Proud of myself, I pull up my pants and head out towards the kitchen. “Whoa…look who’s finally up and around. Welcome back to the land of the living,” Sasha blurts out as I enter the room. I just give her a look. “I’m glad you’re okay, Gavin. I was going to send for a doctor, if you didn’t wake up today,” grandpa Hugo says. “Thanks…grandpa,” I say. “Hungry?” Lottie says. “Yes I am,” I say. “Well have a seat,” Hannah says. I sit down, give Rebecca a kiss, and then I feel a small tug at my sleeve. “I’m sure glad you’re okay now, Mr. Gavin,” Lucy says. “Thank you miss Lucy,” I say. Lucy giggles and runs into Hannah’s arms. “Mommy…he called me ‘miss’ Lucy,” she says, all a giggle. “Yes…yes he did, my Lucy,” Hannah says. I see that Isaac is sleeping on a blanket over by the shaded window. As we’re eating, I realize I haven’t eaten in three days so I remind myself to eat slowly. “So what’s this flash of light…you say you saw…before you collapsed…and passed out?” Sasha says. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sasha. I was telling Rebecca earlier…that I don’t remember seeing any flash of light…I just remember feeling dizzy and then falling to the floor,” I say. Sasha gives me a look that suggests she doesn’t believe me. So I say, “Honest. I don’t remember seeing any flash of light.” “Don’t worry about it…it was probably nothing,” grandpa Hugo says, with a look of deep concern. After breakfast Rebecca, Sasha, and I head over to the barn to see to Pablo, Don Juan, and our other horses. Grandpa Hugo stays with the c***dren. Lottie and Hannah get started on some laundry. As we enter the barn I notice that both Sasha and Rebecca smell clean. “So…how was the experience of the hot shower?” I ask. “Oh…man. Gavin, it was the most wonderful experience ever. The showerhead comes off and is attached to cord so you can spray hot water all over your body. It makes the shower interesting; I enjoyed cleaning my lady parts with it,” Sasha says. “Don’t be gross, Sasha,” Rebecca says with a grin. I see her grin and say, “Rebecca, I suppose you took advantage of the same showerhead.” The comment earns me a hard punch to the shoulder. “Ouch…that hurt!” I say. “Yeah…well…you deserved it,” Rebecca says. As we’re cleaning up after our a****ls, I wonder what happened while I was passed out for three days. “So what were you all up to while I was…you know…out?” I ask. “Oh…wow…I almost forgot. I have a great story to tell you,” Sasha says. I’m curious. “What…what is it?” I ask. “Just so you know…I wasn’t there…I was by your side,” Rebecca tells me. “But I was there and so were Hannah and Lottie. Okay the second night you were out, Hannah took us into town to the pub for a night out. Your grandpa Hugo stayed home with the c***dren, and Rebecca stayed with you, Gavin. So okay…we were drinking the local brew and listening to people read their poetry to the small gathering. It was open poetry night at the pub. Interesting, right?” Sasha says. “Very,” I say. “Then this lady gets up to read her poem…and she has the most unusual accent in her speech. My mind was racing…where was she from? I had to know. So when she was done with her poem, Hannah invited her over to share a pitcher with us. She was the last poet to read, so we could talk. Are you ready? Her name was Edith and she came here all the way from England?” Sasha says with excitement and waiting for my reaction. I’m confused; “Where is that?” I say. “She’s from a country on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. She came over on a trading ship to York…what used to be New York on the other side of what used to be the United States,” she says. My eyes go wide in amazement; I’m stunned. “Wow…that is amazing! Why…why is she here…I mean…how is it that she ended up in Redwood Town?” I say. “Get this…she came over looking for her brother William. Apparently, William left England many years ago; he was seeking out your grandpa Hugo. He wasn’t called or summoned or compelled to come here like Hannah. He just caught wind of a rumor about a man living in a place called Redwood Town…a man who could change things with his dreams. This was years ago, before there was a slave trade in Californoya. It looks like he never made it; he just vanished…because when Edith finally arrived here…she asked your grandpa Hugo about William. Edith said your grandpa Hugo told her that he had never received any visitors named William. Edith said she was shocked. She’s been living here ever since, waiting for her brother to show up,” Sasha says. “Sad, isn’t it?” Rebecca chimes in. “Yeah…it’s sad. It’s a great story…and awesome that you met someone from so far away…but yeah…it’s sad,” I say. We finish dealing with Pablo, Don Juan, and the other horses…and then we head over to help Hannah and Lottie with the laundry. As we approach Lottie and Hannah, they are apparently having a good time as they are laughing. “What are you two laughing about?” Rebecca asks. “Oh…I was just telling Hannah about how Gavin named his horse and donkey…Pablo and Don Juan,” Lottie answers. I turn red, but don’t have any response to the comment. “Come on mother…I know you…what else are you two laughing over?” Rebecca adds. This time Hannah responds; “Your mom was telling me about the morning when Gavin woke up with you d****d all over him…and how you were drooling down his neck…and how you half woke up and kissed him. She also told me how you so enjoy smacking Gavin. Oh…yeah…she was also telling me about the time you and Sasha drank too much…and then had an argument over yams or something.” Rebecca looks mad…like she wants to say something but she holds her tongue for a moment. “I…I…I don’t enjoy hitting him,” she finally says. “Okay…but for someone who doesn’t enjoy it…you sure do hit Gavin a lot,” Sasha says to Rebecca. “I never drink too much…and that was a perfectly valid argument,” she also adds, looking at Hannah. “So…I understand this Edith lady is from across the other Ocean? Sasha was telling us that you introduced Edith to her and Lottie,” I say to Hannah, in an effort to change the subject. “Yeah…I did…and she is from that far away. She’s a smart lady. She works at the pub, and lives with the owner. The night I introduced them to Edith, was her night off work and she was there enjoying herself. Why? If you’re looking to make a change in your love situation…you’re out of luck for three reasons. One…she’s taken…two…she’s into women…and three…she’s joining with the pub owner, Martha, next season,” Hannah says. “No, Hannah, I’m not looking to make a change as you put it. Being that you come from the Kingdom of Florida…I was curious to know…what you know of or about contact with the part of the world where Edith is from? Is there a lot of trade that happens with places on the other side of that Ocean? Sasha mentioned that Edith came over on a trading ship. I ask because…well…as far as I know…there hasn’t been any contact with anyone from the other side of this Ocean,” I say. “Well…first…yes there has been contact with people from the other side of this Ocean…the Japanese people make the trip into the port of Redwood Town to trade in goods…mostly our beer for their salted fish and seafood. They come from a place called Japan. They say they only come here to trade because ‘The Dreamer’ lives here. When they come they stop in to see your grandpa Hugo…they come to hear his stories of the past. Your grandpa Hugo travelled to Japan in his youth; he loved it…especially the food,” Hannah says. I’m stunned. “Holy smoke! People from the other side of this Ocean come here to visit grandpa Hugo…that’s incredible! Oh…sorry…I interrupted…you were saying…please continue,” I say. “It’s okay to interrupt…I’m not trying to spout off some long speech. As I was saying…second…yes there is quite a bit of contact with Edith’s part of the world. Trading ships come in to ports all over on that side. My father once visited the eastern shores of the Kingdom of Florida…and he was in a pub one night where he met a group of sailors from some place called Italy or something. I have no idea where that is, but it sounds far away,” Hannah says. “Interesting,” I say. “So these Japanese trade for beer…must be some pretty good beer,” Rebecca chimes in. “Oh it is…trust me,” Sasha says. “I wholeheartedly agree!” Lottie adds. Hannah laughs out loud and then says, “It is a good beer…it’s a very dark gluten-free beer that’s worth the travel…trust me,” Hannah says. “Hannah…I have a question. What’s up with all the gluten-free food around here? First…I noticed it was gluten-free pie…then it was gluten-free bread at dinner the other night…now I hear about gluten-free beer in the pub…can you explain?” Rebecca says. Hannah and I just look at each other as if we knew a family secret or something. “Well…Gavin’s grandpa Hugo used to be gluten intolerant…which meant he couldn’t consume gluten…he dreamed himself out of that one…of course. It turned out…however…that he found he preferred gluten-free food…and so…he monetarily supports any venture – with startup funds – that provides gluten-free foods…get it?” Hannah says. Rebecca simply nods and says; “Now…I understand…thank you.” With so many helping hands, we’re done with washing the laundry in no time at all. We hang the wet clothes and things up on the lines to dry.Later in the evening, we’re all sitting at the table outside for a barbeque dinner. There are two fires going. A large one in a covered fire pit to light up the night for us; there are electric lights available outside, but we wanted to use the fire pit to set the mood. There is also a smaller fire over on the side, which we will use for cooking. A man named Pete stopped by this afternoon from town, and he dropped off a box of food. Pete also brought a medium-sized barrel of beer. It looks like I’ll get to try the world famous dark gluten-free beer. Grandpa Hugo sure does eat well; he arranged for some salted steaks and potatoes to be delivered for our group. It’s grandpa Hugo’s night to cook. Isaac is sleeping over by Hannah in a portable crib. Lucy is over with her father, helping. “So…now that you’re awake we can talk about a couple things, Gavin. What’s your plan from here? Are you heading back home or what? Don’t get me wrong…it is wonderful having you here…I was just wondering what you plan to do.” Hannah says. “Well…I came here looking for a cure to my problem…knowing now that it isn’t going to happen…I’m okay with that. I mean…what can I do…you know. As far as my plan from here is concerned…I plan to go with Sasha, Rebecca, and Lottie down south. First…I think we’ll go with Sasha to her home. I’m positive that her family is probably sick with worry…shoot; they may even think she’s dead. I’m sure George is eager for Sasha to return so they can be joined…that is…unless he hasn’t found someone else,” I say, earning myself a savage look from Sasha. I take a moment to take a few swallows of my beer. “Wow! That is a good beer!” I exclaim. “See…I told you,” Sasha says. Rebecca then follows suit and drinks some of her beer. She licks her lips, wipes her mouth with her arm, and nods in agreement. “Then…I think…I’ll go with Lottie and Rebecca to their home by the Arizona border. I’m sure Jacob is also worried…he’ll be relieved to see them I’m sure…and with him probably manning the trading post by himself…I’m sure he’ll appreciate the newly arrived help,” I say. I take another moment to drink some beer, and then lean over to kiss Rebecca. “Then…well…I figure I’ll make my way back home…this time doing my best to avoid any slavers. On my way home…I’d like to stop here again…if that’s okay, Hannah,” I say. “That’s not a problem…you should stop here on your way home. I think accompanying Sasha, Lottie, and Rebecca home, sounds like a great idea. That’s a long way to travel…I’ll be sure to give you money for that leg of your journey. Now…you mentioned two people I don’t know…George and Jacob. Who are they? Oh…wait…I do know whom Jacob is…he’s Rebecca’s older brother…Lottie’s son. I remember from the story about how Rebecca and Lottie fell into slavery and came to meet you, Gavin…but who is George?” Hannah says. “He’s my intended…we were supposed to be joined after I got back from visiting my aunt Rose in Nevid…at least…I hope is still my intended. We’ll see,” Sasha says. “If the man has any sense…he’ll be waiting for you when you get back, Sasha,” Hannah says. “Yes…I hope so too,” Lottie adds. “Hannah…thank you…we appreciate any money you can spare,” I say. “Nonsense…I’ll give you plenty of money,” Hannah says. “Huh? What money? I’ve got hot food here…plenty of hot food…who’s hungry?” grandpa Hugo says, carrying a large platter of steaks and baked potatoes. “I was telling Gavin that we’d give him money for his journey south,” Hannah tells her husband. “What…oh…yes…of course we’ll give you money. So…you’re going further south, eh? I assume you’re escorting these ladies home, right?” grandpa Hugo says. “Yes I am, grandpa,” I say. “Good…that’s good. Now…let me get myself some beer…and let’s eat. Lucy sit with daddy…okay?” he says. A few days later, we are gathering our belongings to leave. It was an amazing few days spent in the company of grandpa Hugo. One night we all went to the pub in town to listen to a visiting musician play. Even Lucy and Isaac went with us; Lucy spent some of the night dancing with her father. Well…grandpa Hugo held her in his arms, while they danced…but they still danced. Lottie drew the attentions of several of the single men in town. Apparently she caught their eye the last time she was in the pub. She spent the night talking to them. Rebecca, Sasha, Hannah, and I spent the night drinking beer and listening to the music; it was a fun time…it was a great night. Another night was spent at the house listening to Hannah go into further detail about her journey from the Kingdom of Florida to Redwood Town. Another night was spent listening to grandpa Hugo’s stories about the old days. He told us of his adventures and travels before he met grandma Aoife. Last night was spent reading together, grandpa Hugo’s favorite pastime. Even Sasha got into it, and she’s not a big reader type person. Lucy was on the floor with her alphabet blocks. I make my way to grandpa Hugo’s office; he keeps a small office in one corner of the house. He told me to meet him there; he said he wanted to have a private conversation with me before we left for southern Californoya. I stand at the door; I knock. “Come in,” grandpa says. I enter to see him taking a drink of water. In the windows I see Redwood Trees. They grow right next to this part of the house. “Please…come in Gavin…close the door behind you…and have a seat. Water?” he says. I come in, close the door, and then have a seat. “No thank you, grandpa. What did you want to talk to me about?” I say. “Well…first…I wanted to say that it is always great to meet family that I’ve never met before…and that it has been great having you here. I look forward to spending more time with you when you come through Redwood Town on your way home to Oregonia,” he says. “Thank you, grandpa. I too have enjoyed my time here with you. I also look forward to stopping here on my way home,” I say. “Also…I know you don’t have any c***dren yet…but I want to ask you…to continue passing down the story of what happened to me…you know…my story…pass it on…it’s important. Remember to also continue telling the story of ‘PPK.’ He was an evil man, but his story is important in conjunction to mine. Together the two stories tell the tale of consequences to every action. To this day…I feel bad…I feel horrible anguish…for being indirectly responsible for the actions of a man who is directly responsible for so many deaths. Keep telling the story…it’s important,” he says. “I will, grandpa…though I must say that I am selective with whom I share the stories,” I say. “Okay…well…that’s fine…as long as you continue to tell the stories. Now there is something important I want to go over with you…just go with it…okay?” he says. “Okay,” I nervously say. Grandpa Hugo takes another drink from his water glass. “The day you arrived…in the kitchen…before you collapsed…you told me you saw it…you said you saw a flash of light. Did it bother your eyes?” he says. “Grandpa, I told everyone…I told you…that I don’t remember any flash of light,” I say. “Well…you may not remember it…but you said you saw it at the time…and I believe you did see it, but just don’t remember it. Nobody else saw anything…I didn’t see it. But…don’t you see…it is the same flash of light I saw during my brain surgery all those years ago. Nobody else saw it back then, but I did. Sure I remembered seeing it and shrugged it off as nothing at first. I don’t know why you can’t remember it,” he says. “Grandpa…what…what are you saying? What are you trying to tell me?” I say. “What I’m trying to say…to tell you…is that if you indeed saw the same light that nobody else saw…I may have passed on my dreaming ability to you. Here is the thing…I want you to know that if I did…that I’m okay with it. If you do now have the ability…remember the stories…think of them as cautionary tales. What I’m saying…is…be careful what you dream about,” he says. It is as if I’m punched square in the middle of the face; I’m shocked to my core. Could this be real? I grab hold of grandpa Hugo’s water glass and gulp down the rest of it. “Grandpa…if I do…now…have the dreaming ability…how…how does it work? You know…how do I do it?” I say. “Ah…well…let me see…I’ve never had to explain how it works. Well…first, you have to learn to be aware of yourself while you’re dreaming. Another way to put it…you have to learn to be conscious within your dreams. Once you do that…you have to really focus on what it is that you want…you must fixate on it…and then you have to actually ask for it within the dream,” he says. That is going to be a problem; I hardly ever remember my dreams. “Don’t worry…you can have regular dreams where nothing happens as the result…just don’t ask for it within the dream. I know…I know…easier said than done. I’m not even sure that I did pass on the ability…but I thought it’d be best to warn you…to tell you…in case you do now have it. You know…so you don’t go causing another huge disaster by accident. Well…that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. What do you think about what I’ve told you?” he says. This is a lot to take in; it will take time to process. “I’m shocked…I’m surprised. If it turns out that I do now have the dreaming ability…I’ll be careful, grandpa. I know it’ll take some time because right now…I hardly…even remember my dreams. So as far as learning to be conscious within my dreams…that’ll take some practice. Thank you for telling me…for warning me. I appreciate it,” I say. “You’ll do fine,” he says. Grandpa Hugo walks with me outside, where the wagons are loaded and waiting. I give grandpa Hugo a big hug. “I’ll see you soon, grandpa,” I say. “See you soon, Gavin. You all be sure to travel safely. I hope you all arrive to your homes, without any further trouble,” he says. Grandpa Hugo picks up Lucy in his arms, and then she leans over to kiss me on the cheek. “Bye-bye…Mr. Gavin…see you real soon,” she says. “See you soon miss Lucy,” I say with a smile. Lucy giggles. “Here is the money I said I would give you, Gavin. I also gave you all some extra clothes and supplies. Plus, I want you to take this small pair of binoculars; they may help you avoid slavers along the way,” Hannah says. “Thank you…thank you so much,” I say. “Yes…thank you so much for all of your warm and generous hospitality. We sure do appreciate it. It was great meeting you,” Lottie says. “Thank you…so much. I’m glad I got to meet you, Dreamer…oh…and it was getting to know The Dreamer’s wife and c***dren,” Sasha says. “Thank you very much…bye little Lucy,” Rebecca says, winking an eye at Lucy. We all get up on the wagons…Lottie and Sasha in one…Rebecca and I in the other. It’s difficult leaving, but we do. I’ll be back, I say to myself. As we’re about to get on the trail, I turn back to look at grandpa Hugo. I see him and I suddenly get strangest feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t know what it is that bothers me, but I feel unsettled somehow. We wave to each other before I turn around to focus on driving the wagon. I try my best not to let the strange feeling bother me, but it does. TwelveI tried becoming aware of myself within my dreams night after night without any success. We’re seventy-five days into the journey. We’re getting closer to reaching Sasha’s home outside of Los Angeles. We’ve managed to avoid two groups of slavers using the binoculars Hannah and grandpa Hugo gave us. Each group we avoided consisted of three men, and both had three slaves in the back of their wagon. We figured, based on our acquired knowledge of the slave trade, that they had their quota and were headed for their home base in Fremonton. We could help, but we all agreed not to go looking for trouble so we chose to avoid them. The slave trade in Californoya is weighing heavily on my thoughts. Rebecca has the binoculars up to her face, studying the trail ahead. “I see something,” she says. I slow and stop the wagon, while signaling Lottie to do the same with the other wagon. “Can you make out any detail?” I ask Rebecca. “No…not yet,” she says. I get off the wagon for a few minutes to stretch my legs a bit. “Rebecca,” Lottie calls out, “what do you see?” Rebecca holds up a finger while she continues to peer out into the distance, as if to say wait a moment. “I see two men sitting together on a wagon. There is only the one horse pulling the wagon, and I can’t see the back part of the wagon yet…oh wait…yes I can. They don’t have any human cargo…I don’t think these two men are slavers,” Rebecca then says. I let out a sigh of relief. “Let’s continue on then…we’ll approach them with caution…but let’s all keep our knives within reach…just in case…you never know what will happen,” Lottie says. We all nod in agreement; I get back onto the wagon and we then continue on. It’s a good thing that binoculars are not common. We are fortunate to have a pair with us, as they have been helpful. As we ride close to the couple of men on the wagon, I see that Rebecca was correct; these two men don’t seem or appear to be slavers. They just seem to be ordinary travellers. “Good afternoon folks, my name is Jerry and this is Phillip. How are you all doing on this fine day?” Jerry says with a grin. “Well…we’re all doing just fine. Now…please state your business,” Lottie says, almost sternly. “Sure…not a problem ma’am…we’re brothers headed north from south of Los Angeles. We’re going to Sacramento to visit our sister Kate,” Jerry says. Phillip remains silent. “Sacramento? There’s nothing in Sacramento…it’s in ruins,” I say. “Huh? Oh…well…our sister lives just outside of it, in the small town of Ment,” Jerry says. Ment, I think to myself. We stopped in Ment. “Have you two been to Ment before?” Sasha asks. “I have, but Phillip has not,” Jerry says. “Have you been to the pub in Ment?” Sasha asks Jerry. “Yes…yes I have been to the pub in Ment. Why?” he says. “Describe it,” Sasha says. “Okay…it’s a two story building with an orange sign above the door that reads PUB, in black lettering. The man behind the bar is the owner. His name is Greg. He’s orca fat, completely bald, has two missing teeth, but he always smells like flowers or something. He rents out his two rooms upstairs to travellers. The only thing he serves is disgusting beer and watered down whiskey. He tells people who want water to go outside to drink from the horse trough. Does the description meet with your approval…young lady? Did I pass your test?” Jerry says. We all look at each other in surprise; the description was flawless. He is telling the truth. They must be on their way to visit their sister in Ment. They’re definitely not slavers, I think to myself. “Yes…your description of the pub in Ment…is accurate. Thank you,” Sasha says. “Well…now that that’s settled…we were about to stop to get some food in our bellies…would you all care to join us? We’ve got salted pork.” Jerry says. “Salted pork? Food sounds like a great idea…sure…we’ll join you. We’ve got a couple small barrels of beer to add to the mix,” Lottie says, letting her guard down a bit. “Splendid,” Jerry says. “I’m Lottie. This is Sasha. Over in the other wagon are Rebecca and Gavin,” she says. “We’re both pleased to meet you all,” Jerry says. Phillip still has not said a word. We all get off of our wagons; we approach each other, shake hands while exchanging some further pleasantries. I notice that Phillip does shake hands with everyone, but he does not say anything. He just nods in place of saying something like hello. He must be shy, I say to myself. Rebecca and I volunteer to build the fire. Lottie brings over one of our two remaining barrels of beer. We left Redwood Town with eight barrels, four carried in each wagon. Hannah was generous. Don’t get me wrong; we’re not a bunch of drunkards, but it’s nice to have had the supply of beer with us. Moreover, we don’t dip into the supply every day; besides, as I have mentioned, I am not a big drinker. Lottie pours Jerry a cup of the gluten-free beer. “Here you go, Jerry. Try this on for size,” she says. “Don’t mind if I do,” he says as he takes a swig. “Well? What do you think, Jerry?” Sasha says. “Mmm…wow…that’s delicious. Where’d you pick that up? Hey…Phil…you’ve got to try this beer…man…it is beyond comparison. Lottie…do you mind…if I pour out a cup for Phillip?” he says. “Sure…no problem…go ahead…pour away,” Lottie says with a semi-devious smirk on her face. “We picked up the beer in Redwood Town. We were there visiting some of Gavin’s family. Have either of you ever been to Redwood Town?” she then adds. “No…we have not been there…I’m not familiar with it…but this is some damn good beer…and dark too? Would you be willing to part with your other barrel of beer…I’d be willing to pay you ample coin for it,” Jerry says. “I’m so sorry…Jerry…but…it isn’t for sale,” Sasha chimes in. Jerry and Phillip pour themselves another cup of beer. “Well…okay…but it sure doesn’t hurt to ask…does it?” Jerry says. “No…no…it sure doesn’t hurt to ask…speaking of which…we’re headed down to the Los Angeles area…you mentioned coming from that area…how long have you two been on the trail north?” Lottie says after taking a swig of her beer. “Well now…let me see…I’d say we’ve been on the trail north…a good twenty-four…twenty-five days or so. What’s in Los Angeles for you all?” Jerry says and asks. “Twenty-five days…that sounds about right. We’re taking Sasha home. Rebecca and I are then headed home near the Arizona border,” Lottie says. “How did you all meet?” Jerry says, already working on his fifth cup of beer. I notice that Phillip is drinking in a similar fashion. “Oh…well…we all met on the trail,” Lottie says. The answer she gave wasn’t exactly a lie, but it also wasn’t exactly the truth either. I must say that I’m okay with it; it’s probably best not to tell everyone everything. We all eat and drink some more of the beer. Jerry and Phillip drink quite heavily; they must have consumed something like twelve or f******n cups each. They are behaving themselves quite well, for two very drunk men. Then, out of the blue, Phillip speaks; “So…ladies…which one of you is single? Ah…I suppose it doesn’t matter…I guess it’ll be…instant acceptance into the group…when we show up…in Fremonton…with three very…choice women…in our wagon,” he says. His speech may have been slurred, but it was clear enough to understand…Fremonton…women in our wagon…and acceptance into the group. That’s why they didn’t seem to be slavers, because they weren’t yet in the slave trade. These two lied about going to Ment. These two are on their way to Fremonton. They wish to become slavers. They want to join the slave trade. I cannot believe my ears; Phillip opened his mouth for the first time, and spoke hidden truth in his drunken state. We all heard it; we all heard what Phillip said just a moment before. The four us erupt into sudden chaos, as we are brought up to a heightened alertness by Phillips drunken confession. Rebecca leaps into action, by grabbing the hot griddle from over the fire with a gloved hand. In their drunken state, Jerry and Phillip are in no condition to react; they’re practically falling asleep. Rebecca takes the hot griddle and pounds Jerry over the head, knocking him out. At this point, I’m standing near Rebecca semi-unsure about what to do. Lottie and Sasha are over by the wagons, looking through the bags for something. As Rebecca whirls around to move over to Phillip, she doesn’t see me standing nearby and gives me an accidental glancing blow to the head with the now cooling griddle. “Oh…Gavin…I’m so sorry…are you okay?” she says hurriedly as she moves past me toward Phillip. It hurt, but failed to knock me out. I feel a bit dizzy and my ears are ringing. I turn my head to see Phillip make a move in an attempt to scramble away from the impending blow to his head. His scramble is too little too late, as Rebecca’s blow connects with his head again. It’s lights out for Phillip. Feeling a bit useless, I move over to stand next to Rebecca while rubbing my head with my shaky hand. It all happened so fast. The women I’m traveling with move like a blur among the winds, when the situation calls for it. “Good work, honey. You move faster than the wind,” I say, still rubbing my now throbbing head. “Gavin, honey…I didn’t see you standing there. I was so focused on knocking them out, that I just didn’t see you. I’m sorry I hit you…again…but this time…it was an accident. Forgive me…pretty please?” she says. “Rebecca…darling…of course I forgive you. I know it was accidental, although – I do have a question for you,” I say. “What’s your question?” she says. “Well…it just occurred to me…these guys…they…want to be slavers or they are already slavers…who knows? So…why knock them out? Why not just kill them instead? Also, how did you know to knock them out rather than kill them? Oh…and what are Sasha and Lottie looking for in the wagon?” I say. “That’s an easy question to answer. My mom told me to do it…to knock them out. They were so drunk that they were already halfway knocked out; I just had to finish the job. She wants to question them, before we kill them,” she says. I’m still confused. “When…when did your mom tell you?” I say. “She whispered into my ear, the moment after we heard Phillip mention Fremonton. She told me that I was in charge of knocking them out, while she and Sasha went in search of some rope,” Rebecca says. I’m annoyed. “Well…thanks for telling me. Why didn’t you keep me in the loop?” I say. “There wasn’t any time. The decision was made and I had to act quickly. I am sorry that I hit you in the head with the griddle,” she says. I understand completely, and decide not to let it bother me. I let it go.Lottie and Sasha return from their search with rope in hand. “Everything go okay?” Lottie asks. “Yeah mom…I got them on the head with the griddle. I got Jerry first…then Gavin…and then Phillip gave me bit of trouble…but I got him in the end,” Rebecca tells her mom. “Gavin? What do you mean…you got Gavin? Why’d you do that?” Lottie says. Sasha is all a giggle. “Even when the situation doesn’t call for it…you manage to hit Gavin. Rebecca, we’ve got to get you some help…of the professional kind,” Sasha says, jovially. “Oh…pipe down…Sasha. Hitting him with the griddle was an accident. I hit him as I was spinning around to go get Phillip over the head,” Rebecca says. “Oh yeah…I’m sure that’s how it happened,” Sasha says, giving Rebecca a hard time. “Believe what you want, Sasha. That is how it went down,” Rebecca says, sternly. Sasha has no response; she just gives Rebecca a look of cautious acceptance. “Okay…enough of that…let’s hurry and get these fools tied up before they wake up…now, hop to it. They’re not going to tie up themselves,” Lottie says. Sasha and Lottie hand us the rope, and we tie up their wrists and ankles. We then also tie a length of rope that extends down their backs between the wrists and ankles. We make the ropes as tight as we are able; they are not going anywhere. After they are securely tied up, Lottie has a suggestion. “I say we splash some water on their faces, so they wake up. That way we can get the interrogation over with, so we can then kill them and be on our way,” she says. I get two cups full of water and slowly trickle the water over their faces, gradually speeding up the pour to end in a splash. Jerry is the first to wake up, followed soon after by his partner in crime, Phillip. “What the…what the hell…what the damn hell is going on? Why are we tied up? Oh…you whores…you whores are going to regret this real soon…I’ll get you all,” Jerry says. Phillip is crying at this point; he’s almost wailing. His nose and mouth are dripping with his slimy snot and saliva. He looks like a regretful and sorrowful c***d who has just been spanked for the first time in his life. It’s a downright pitiful sight to see, but I don’t feel sorry for him. He made his choices in life; it’s unfortunate, but as I’m learning – all choices have an associated consequence. “What…what…what are you going to do with us?” Phillip says, sobbing and slobbering all over himself. “I’ll tell you what these whores are going to do, Phil. They’re going to do what dutiful little whores do, and they’ll do what I say. First…they are going to untie us. Second…they are going to get down their knees and beg for our forgiveness. Third…while they’re on their knees…they’re all going to take turns shining our knobs…like the good little whores that they are,” Jerry says, visibly fuming with a fevered anger. Rebecca and Sasha look at Jerry with an angered disgust. I just look at Jerry and all I can seem to think is that this man is clearly nuts. Lottie then lets out a deep guttural laugh. “We’ll be doing exactly none of that. Well…wait…I take that back. We’ll untie and let you go on your way…if…if you answer a few questions for us first,” Lottie then says. Just as we’re all about say something to question the move and protest, Lottie holds up an open palm to us – as if to say I’ve got this. Our protest is quickly assuaged, as we lie in wait to see where this is going. “You will let us go right the hell now!” Jerry spits. “What…what…what do you all want to know?” Phillip says, now calming down seeing that there is hope. “Phillip! Shut your damn mouth,” Jerry says, still fuming. “Jerry…you heard them…they’ll let us go…if we answer a couple questions…so…that’s what I’m going to do…I’m going to get us out of this…okay?” Phillip says, mouth full of slobber and snot. “Ah…well…shoot…fine…go ahead,” Jerry finally says, as though giving permission.Lottie goes over to what’s left of the beer. She pours herself a cup and gulps it all down. She then takes pause for a few moments, as though she’s weighing between two thoughts. Lottie then pours herself a second cup and drinks it all down. She then puts the cup down and turns to face the would-be or want-to-be slavers. She gives them a stern and serious look, as she walks over to them. Lottie just stands in front of them, for what seems to be multiple minutes. “Are you two…actually brothers?” she says, asking the first question. “No…no ma’am…we just happen to look similar…alike I mean,” Phillip says. “I thought so…now are you two really headed to Ment?” she says. “No ma’am we were…we are headed to…to Fremonton,” he says. “Yeah…that’s what you said during your drunken confession. But…how…if…you were never headed to Ment…Jerry, how is it…that you described the pub in Ment so perfectly?” Lottie asks, directing the question at Jerry. He has a look of complete annoyance on his face. “You are a stupid whore. I described it so perfectly, because I’ve been there a number of times during my travels. That part of my cover story was true. Phillip has never been there; that part was also true. You see…it’s important to mix a little fact within the fiction,” Jerry says. “Cover story…huh…that’s interesting. So…I take it…that you don’t really have a sister named Kate,” Lottie says. Jerry lets out a laugh of his own. “No…hell no…she’s a whore just like you…I met her in the brothel just outside of Ment. In case you didn’t know, brothels are left alone by our soon to be slaver brethren. Brothels provide a vital service; the world could always use a good whore like Kate…like you,” Jerry says. “That is interesting. That I didn’t know…brothels…are a place of refuge and a prison at the same time…interesting, to say the least. Here’s another one for you. Why? Why become a slaver? Don’t you have mother? What happened to her?” she says and asks, first looking at Jerry. “That’s simple. Women are nothing but whores, who have no right to be on the Californoya governing council. I don’t know how they even got to be on the council; I sure as hell didn’t vote for any whore to decide anything for me. As for my mother…well…that’s easy…I ****d and killed her after my father died. That was the same day I decided to travel to Fremonton, and sign on to join the cause. Gavin, you better think twice about traveling with these whores. You’d do better if you join the cause; be a man,” Jerry says. “I think you must have been dropped on your head as a baby one too many times,” I say. “Yeah…you are not right in the head,” Sasha says. “You’re a damned fool,” Rebecca chimes in. Lottie then looks at Phillip, expecting him to give an answer to her question. “My mother died giving birth to me…ma’am. To be perfectly frank, I’m glad to note she’s the first woman I ever killed. I enjoy killing women. It’s a healthy sport for a man, to kill women. I don’t think women are whores, but they do all deserve to die after a good old-fashioned **** of their lady parts. As for why I want to become a slaver, that’s simple. I believe in the cause. No woman has the right to reign over me. I’m just being honest with you. Will you please let us go now?” Phillips says. “Well now…Phillip…Jerry…let me perfectly honest with you. I’m going to make this crystal clear for you two. I lied. I never had any intention of letting either of you go free. I lied to yank to the truth out of you both. I knew you two would be more forthcoming if you thought there was even a glimmer or shred of hope of being set free. So…who’s the stupid whore now, Jerry? I’m going to take great pleasure in cutting you both with this knife. I’m going to bleed you both, and I’m going the paint the ground red with your blood. We’re not even going to bury your sad sorry bodies. We’re going to leave you out here to be eaten by the a****ls. My hope is that the crows will feast on your eyes…eyes that failed so miserably, to see the error of your ways. I have just one more question for you both. Are you ready to die?” Lottie says. Jerry just looks fuming mad, defiant to the end. “But…but…but you said you’d let us go if we answered your questions,” Phillip says, reverting to his crying and slobbering. Lottie has no response for Phillip. She just quietly pulls her knife out, and moves over to Jerry. She gets down on one knee, looks Jerry in the eye, and then plunges the knife hilt-deep into his throat. She leaves it there for a moment. She then twists the knife, and then pulls it out. She stabs him just once. As she pulls out the knife, blood sprays all over her. As Jerry’s blood pulses out of him onto the ground, Lottie moves over to Phillip and stabs him the same way. They’re both dead within moments. We leave Jerry and Phillip lying in a pool of blood. They both look strangely peaceful in death. We unload everything from their wagon and distribute it all onto ours. Surprisingly, they didn’t have much. What they did have, we took. We even took their horse from their wagon; we didn’t see any benefit in adding a third wagon to our train. We then loaded up and got back on the trail south. Later that same evening, we stopped to make camp for the night. Oddly, since we left Jerry and Phillip, we have all remained silent. After eating the talking began as we sat around the fire. “Gavin, how’s your head feeling?” Rebecca asks. “It still hurts, but my ears aren’t ringing anymore so I think it’s getting better,” I say. “Good,” she says. “Hey Gavin, what’s your mind? The whole time we were eating, just now, you looked as though you were having some really deep thoughts,” Sasha says. “Oh…I was just thinking about what my grandpa Hugo told me before we left his place,” I say. “You mean when he said he wanted to talk to you in private? What did he tell you?” Rebecca says. “I’ll tell you, but know that I tell you because I trust you all,” I say. “Oh…this ought to be good…tell us,” Lottie says. “Okay. Well…remember that flash of light I said I saw before I collapsed…I still don’t remember seeing it or saying that I did…but grandpa Hugo told me I did say I saw it…and he said he believes I did see the flash of light,” I say. “And?” Sasha says. “Well…you all remember my grandpa Hugo’s story…how he saw a flash of light during his brain surgery. He saw a flash of light that nobody else saw. He said he thinks I saw the same flash of light after I hugged him. He thinks he may have passed his dreaming ability on to me,” I say. Rebecca, Lottie, and Sasha all give me an animated look of disbelief. In unison they say, “What?” “He doesn’t know why I can’t remember the light,” I add. “Wait…Gavin…if this is true…then…why haven’t you changed things? Why haven’t you cured yourself?” Rebecca says. “Well…here’s the thing…I can’t get it to work. Grandpa Hugo told me how to do it. I’ve been trying every night…but all I get is nothing,” I say. “How…I’m curious…how are you supposed to do it?” Lottie says. “I’m supposed to learn to be aware of myself…to be conscious within my dream. Once I do that, I’m supposed to actually ask for what I want within the dream. But…here’s the other thing…I hardly even remember my dreams…so you see the problem,” I say. “Wow…that’s a bummer man,” Sasha says.I must say I feel as though something is different. Something has changed. It’s just a feeling I’ve had since this afternoon. I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t know exactly what changed, but I suspect it has something to do with blow I received to the head. We spend the rest of the evening talking and laughing about our good times. The talking dies down, and we go to sleep. As I’m sleeping I see that I’m walking by the pond at home in Oregonia. I’m alone. It’s warm. The sun is shining; birds are singing. Oh snap, I say. It’s happening…I’m aware of myself within my own dream. I knew it…I knew something was different. I wonder if it had anything to do with being hit in the head by Rebecca. If so, I’ll have to remember to thank her in the morning. Wait…I better not…it may egg her on into thinking it’s a good idea to hit me in the future. Okay…I need to focus. I walk along the path toward the house. On the way, I come upon Beth. Hello Beth, I say. She smiles at me, but remains silent. Grandpa Hugo told me that I needed to actually ask for what I wanted within the dream. I figure asking Beth within my dream sounds like the right way to go. Beth, I’m asking, will you please cure me of Parkinson’s disease, I ask. She just smiles and nods. I then walk with Beth to the house to say hello to our parents. ThirteenThe morning following the night of the dream where I asked dream Beth to cure me, I woke feeling great. I woke up, pushed a drooling Rebecca off of me, got up, and then went for a short walk. It was wonderful. I was walking normally and without any difficulty. The tremor in my hands was gone; I felt great. I found myself, cured. When I got back to the wagons from my walk, everyone was still sleeping. When they all woke up, I stunned them with my news. I showed off my perfect walk; my limp was gone. Everyone was elated. The following night, I decided to test it. In my dream I asked for three straight days of rain, followed by a day of light snow, followed by a day of near extreme heat, and then ending with one half-day of rain. In the same dream I asked for a return to normal conditions after all the strange weather. It happened just as I asked. A few nights after the strange weather occurrence, I had another dream. In that one I asked my dream dad to make it so that at the following Californoya governing council meeting, a decision be made to allow men on the council. In the same dream I asked that five current members step down from the council to allow for new members. This request will take some time; my hope is that once it happens the slave trade will be no more. As far as I know, the slave trade started in protest of men not being allowed on the governing council. On the journey south we’ve come across and managed to avoid one other crew of slavers. We are now one hundred and two days into my journey and we are riding up to Sasha’s house. It’s just as Sasha described it, a small farm outside the ruins of Los Angeles. Sasha’s house is almost as big as grandpa Hugo’s cabin…house. We see a woman coming out of the house in her robe, as it’s still early morning. She’s holding a cup of something in her hand. Sasha told us we were really close to her home, so we decided to travel through the night to be hopefully be here by morning. We were successful. “Sasha? Sasha…is…is that you?” the woman says, dropping her cup to the ground where it breaks. Oddly enough, as much as we know about Sasha, we don’t know much of anything about her actual family. We just know she has a family. Sasha gets off the wagon, goes up to the woman, and gives her a powerful hug. We can hear Sasha crying within the embrace. She pulls away for a moment to look the woman in the eyes. “Mama I’m home. I’m back,” she says. “You were gone for so long, we thought something might have happened to you. George has been worried. How was your trip to Nevid? How is my sister…your aunt…how is Rose? Who are these people with you? Where is Celery…your horse? Why are you traveling in wagons? Where did you get them?” Sasha’s mother says. A moment later another woman walks out of the house, sees Sasha and moves in to hug her as well. “Mama…Ada…I never made it to see aunt Rose in Nevid. I got taken captive by slavers along the way. These people helped me to escape. Rebecca…Lottie…Gavin…I’d like you to meet my mom Helen and her wife Ada. Mama where are Brooke, Kelli, and Maya? Are they okay?” Sasha says. “Your sisters are still in bed, getting their beauty sleep. It’s their day off from chores. Slavers, eh? I told you to be careful, but I suppose there is no point in talking about spilt milk. I’m just glad you’re home, and that you’re okay. Rebecca…Lottie…Gavin…it’s great to meet you all…and thank you…thank you for getting our Sasha home safely,” Helen says. Rebecca, Lottie, and I take turns greeting both Helen and Ada. “We were just fixing to have breakfast; stow your wagons over by the barn and put your a****ls in the barn. There’s feed, a water pump and buckets in there for them. Then, please, come into the house; breakfast will be ready by the time you come in. You all can then tell us more of your story; I’m eager to hear it,” Ada says. We did as we were told; we put the wagons over by the barn, and put our a****ls in the barn. Sasha helped us to feed and give them water. As we are walking up to the house, we all look up to see a girl in an upstairs window. She’s smiling and waving at us. We all wave back and return the smile. “That’s my sister, Maya,” Sasha says. “I have a question for you, Sasha. After all the time we’ve spent together, why didn’t you tell us about your family?” Lottie says. “Yeah…what’s the deal? I’ve noticed you’ve been tight-lipped around the general subject,” Rebecca says. Sasha stops us for a moment. “Okay…look…here’s the thing. I didn’t tell you about my family for a couple of reasons,” she says, quietly. “We’re all ears,” Lottie says, seriously. Sasha looks somewhat nervous. “Okay…look…honestly…I didn’t know how’d you all react if you found out my mom was joined to a woman. I saw it didn’t bother any of you…back in Redwood Town when you found out that Edith was into women…but I couldn’t be sure for sure…you know? The other reason is that…with me included…that is six women living together with no man…I just thought…it might seem kind of odd or strange…you know? After my dad died in an accident, it was just the five of us for a few years. Then my mom met Ada in town. They became close friends. After about a season they became lovers, and they joined two seasons after that,” Sasha says. “I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t trust us. Don’t worry…I understand. I forgive you. By the way…I’m curious…and I hope I’m not out of line…but…how did your father die?” Lottie says. “He broke his neck in a fall from the hayloft in the barn…he tripped on a loose nail,” Sasha says. “Oh…I’m so sorry,” Rebecca says. “It’s okay…I miss him…but…it was an accident,” Sasha says. We get moving again, toward the front door of the house where we all take off our boots and enter. Sasha goes in first.As we walk in, my mouth waters as I catch a whiff in my nose of the waiting breakfast. We’ve been on the trail all night, and I’m tired but even hungrier than tired. Ada walks into the entryway. “Sasha will you go tell your sisters that your home, and that breakfast is ready. I know it’s their day off and will probably sleep until noon, but it’s a special occasion. You’re finally home, so please go get them,” Ada says. “Okay will do mother number two. I’ll be back down in two shakes of that lambs tail,” Sasha says with a smile. “Gavin…is it? Rebecca? Lottie? You all look famished, come into the kitchen for some breakfast, will you?” Ada says. As we walk into the kitchen, Helen is still somewhat busy, cooking. I take a moment to notice that, she too, knows the secret of putting onions in the eggs. It all smells delicious; I’m instantly and briefly reminded of home. “Well? What are you all waiting for, the slave trade to end? Sit down and eat, will you?” Helen says. “Ma’am…thank you…I am mighty hungry, but I believe we’ll wait until everyone comes downstairs…so we can all eat together,” I say. “Nonsense…I’ll be having none of that. Now…eat…so it doesn’t get cold. You are…after all…our guests. Eat it all if you can. I can always make more for my girls when they come down,” Helen says. “Thank you, Helen. We won’t argue with you. This all looks downright scrumptious. We’re ravenous; we’ve been on the trail the whole night in an effort to get here by morning,” Lottie says. Rebecca, Lottie, and I sit down at the table and begin to eat. I’ve noticed that ever since I asked for the cure, food…all food tastes so much better. I don’t know why; it just does. While we’re eating, Sasha and her three sisters enter the room. “Gee…thanks for waiting,” Sasha says in jest. “Your mom told us to start eating without you,” Rebecca says. “Oh…it’s okay…I understand. Brooke…Kelli…Maya…this is Rebecca and her mom Lottie…and this is Gavin,” Sasha says, making the introductions. We all exchange greetings. Brooke, Kelli, and Maya look at me as though they have something pressing to say to me. They appear as though they are about to burst, due to some held-in curiosity. I’m fully aware of what they may be dying to say or ask. “Is it true? You’re related to The Dreamer? I heard he was dangerous…Sasha said that he isn’t…is he…you know…dangerous?” Maya finally says, in a giddy outburst. There it is, I think. Sasha must’ve spilled the beans while she was upstairs. Helen and Ada’s eyes go wide in apparent shock, but they hold their tongues for the moment. “Maya…right?” I say. “Yes…that’s right…I’m Maya. By the way…just so you’re informed…I’m nineteen…single…and looking,” she says. I let out a bit of a humored chuckle. “Well Maya…first of all…thank you so much…I’m flattered but I’m spoken for by Rebecca. Second…yes…yes I am related to The Dreamer. He’s my great-great-great grandfather, but I mostly just refer to him as my grandpa Hugo. We were all in Redwood Town to visit him; we were there for a few days…and I know now that he isn’t dangerous,” I say. Then I think to myself that I am now the one who is possibly dangerous. “Wow…that’s fantastic,” Brooke says. “Yeah…that’s incredible stuff,” Kelli says. “Come on…let’s all sit down before the food gets any colder…I’m so hungry,” Sasha chimes in. Helen looks at us with curious eyes. “So…where are you all from…how did you meet…and how is it that you came to help my Sasha escape the slavers?” she asks. “Well…my mom and I are from near the Californoya-Arizona border. We were taken from our home by slavers, and we crossed paths with Gavin up in northern Californoya. He was trying to buy our freedom when, he also, got taken by the slavers. We later found out that Gavin was on his way to Redwood Town to visit his grandpa Hugo. Then came one night when the slavers got drunk, and one of them had loosened my mom’s rope. We were then able to get free. We killed the slavers and went on our way south. We soon came upon another slaver wagon. This one was carrying Sasha. The slavers tried to take us, but we killed them before they could. Sasha helped. We’ve been traveling together ever since,” Rebecca says. I clear my throat. “I’m from just outside of Portland, Oregonia…ma’am,” I say. “My word…that is quite a story…and all the way from Portland. That sure is a long way to travel,” Ada says. The very next moment, we hear a knock at the door. Brooke gets up and makes her way to the front door to see who is knocking. She walks back into the room with a man in tow. Sasha turns her head, sees the man, and leaps from her chair into his arms in a single movement. George. They kiss and get it on in front of us all for what seems to be five minutes, before Helen finally clears her throat. We’ve been on the trail for so long; it’s great to see Sasha finally reunited with George, her intended. “Oh…sorry mama…I lost myself for a moment. George, I’d like you to meet my traveling companions…Gavin…Rebecca…and Lottie,” Sasha says. He walks up to me and shakes my hand, his grip strong and powerful. He’s a big one, something like a full two feet taller than I am. You can tell he has a somewhat confident persona. He doesn’t grab me as being arrogant about it. I like him, is my first impression of the man. “It’s sure is nice meeting you all. How did you all meet?” he says, his voice deep and commanding. It takes a few minutes, but we bring George up to speed on our story. “Well…my word…I sure am glad you all made it down here safely. I’m equally glad you took care of the slavers that took Sasha. Those guys are a bunch of fool idiots. We’re lucky…we don’t get many of them around here. I think we must be outside their usual slaving routes…or something,” George says. After everyone is finished eating, Rebecca and I helped Helen clean up the mess. It was true; today was Brooke, Kelli, and Maya’s day off from chores. “Mama…George and I are going for a walk down to the creek,” Sasha says. “You should get some sleep…you have been traveling all night,” Helen says. “I’ll be fine mama…I’ll sleep when I get back…promise. I’ve been gone for so long…I just want to spend some time with my man…some just the two of us time…you know?” Sasha says. “Oh…okay Sasha, but please be sure to go right to bed when you get back…you hear? George, I’m holding you responsible for making sure Sasha gets some sleep…do you hear me?” Helen says. “Yes ma’am…I hear you loud and clear. I’ll be sure to put her in bed myself when we get back,” George says. Sasha and George walk out the side door holding hands. I noticed that before walking out, Sasha managed to grab hold of some sort of blanket. As she exits through the doorway, she tucks the blanket under her free arm while she turns her head and throws us a big smile.Once they’re out of the house and on their way to the creek, a sudden elongated yawn overpowers me. I realize how tired I must really be. Sasha must be running on adrenaline. I know I’d be on my fourth wind as well, if I were in her shoes. Ada notices my powerful yawning. “Oh my…you all must be so tired. Am I right? The good news is that we have three spare rooms in the house. The bad news is that only one of them is equipped with a bed…although the bed is rather large,” Ada says. “I think…that…all three of us will be more than willing to share the one bed…thank you,” Lottie says. “Are you sure?” Helen says. “Oh…I’m sure. Besides…we’ve seen each other naked…so the mystery is well past gone. We’ve come to know each other well, so we’ll be fine with sharing…thank you,” Lottie says. “Rebecca you’ve seen Gavin naked? Is he…you know…well…equipped?” Maya chimes in. I turn a deep shade of red with embarrassment and a bit of shock at the question. “Maya! Manners. Will you please mind that tongue of yours…my word…really?” Helen says, sternly. “His equipment…is just fine,” Rebecca says with a grin, as though she is somehow taking ownership of my ‘equipment.’ I inwardly have myself a good chuckle at the thought. “I’ll have one of the girls show you to the room. Maya, will you please show our guests to the spare room…and be sure to show them where the washroom is also. Lottie…Rebecca…Gavin, please stay as long as you like…okay? I’m sure there will be a joining ceremony in the next few days. I’m sure Sasha told you…that she and George were to be joined when she returned from Nevid. Well…I know she never made it to Nevid…but in any case…the plan was to join when she returned. Maya, will you please show our guests to the spare room,” Ada says. “It’s not a problem mother number two,” Maya says. The three of us say our thanks, as we’re led upstairs to the spare room with a bed. The description was right; it is a rather large bed. It has more than enough room for the three of us to sleep comfortably. Maya excuses herself, leaving the three of us in the room. “Do you two think we should…stay for a few days? We’re so close to getting home, I can taste it…but…I would like to be there for the joining ceremony,” Lottie says, openly. “I’m here to accompany you two home…so…I mean…I’m up for staying if you two are. Seeing Sasha be joined would be pretty great,” I say. “Yeah…let’s stay mom,” Rebecca says. It’s settled; we’re staying for the joining. We’re all tired, but we would make the most terrible guests if we just hopped into the bed with our dirty travel clothes so I make a suggestion. “Lottie…that thing you said about the mystery being gone…well I think we should sleep naked. It would make sense…I mean…well…we don’t have anything clean to sleep in,” I say. Lottie and Rebecca both see some humor in my statement, and they both giggle. “We could always ask to borrow some clean clothes to sleep in,” Lottie says. “Oh…come on mom…where’s your sense of adventure. If you’re worried about Gavin grazing you while you sleep…don’t…I’ll gladly sleep in the middle,” Rebecca says. “Okay…fine…I’m game. I can be adventurous…but no funny business between you two…I mean it…not while I’m in the bed…got it?” Lottie says in a somewhat jovial manner. We all strip naked. I do my best to hide my excitement. I hurry and jump under the covers first. I lie on my side so my excitement doesn’t show. “Thanks…now I’ll have to climb on top of you to get into the middle,” Rebecca says, sarcastically. She lifts the covers, looks down and she sees why I got in first. She and Lottie both climb into bed, and we’re all asleep within minutes. A few days later we’re all in town for the joining ceremony. George’s parents and his younger sister are also with us. They’re all very nice people. We’re in what in the old days would be called the Office of the Justice of the Peace. In the old days it was widely believed and accepted that a marriage was somehow the union of two halves. Two incomplete people would become one complete entity through marriage. Nowadays, we believe something different…at least we do in this part of the world. We believe that two complete people are brought together in the joining. We believe that the two complete people join to make something even stronger. The difference is minor, but we believe that the significance is important. Sasha and George are standing in front of the Joiner. His name is Seth Fry; he’s an old man. His assistant stands behind him and to the side; she’ll take care of the paperwork. “Thank you…everyone…for being here today. We are here today to witness a Joining…between Sasha Flynn and George Mayer. Sasha, what would you like to say?” Seth says. “I want to say that I’ve known George all my life. I remember when we were c***dren…one day…we were playing by the creek. I tripped, fell, and broke my arm on a nearby rock. George helped me get home; I cried the entire way to the house. George is the first boy I ever kissed. He is the first boy to ever see me naked. George has seen me at my worst and at my best. He tells me the truth no matter what. He is the most honest person I know. He always treats me with respect. I want to have c***dren with him. George will be a wonderful father. I want to be with him. George, I love you,” Sasha says. “That was simply beautiful…thank you, Sasha. George, what would you like to say?” Seth says. “I remember the day you broke your arm; you did cry the entire way home. I’ve known Sasha my entire life. I also remember another day…when we were c***dren. One day…when we were at school…I was getting bullied because of my then small size. Sasha stuck up for me. She had my back when I really needed someone. I was never bullied again; that came to mean a lot to me in the years to come. I grew to be confident. I have Sasha to thank for her help. She treats me well. She is the most honest person I know. I never wanted to kiss anyone else. I’m glad we’ve seen each other naked. Sasha knows who I really am. I want us to have c***dren. Sasha will be a great mother. I want to be with her. Sasha, I love you,” George says. “That was so touching…thank you. Would any of the witnesses like to say anything?” Seth says. In the old days the priest would generally ask those gathered at the ceremony, if anyone present objected to the union of the two halves. They were asked to speak or forever hold their words. Nowadays, it happens a bit differently. The witnesses are asked if they wish to say a few words. Objections are generally not voiced, for a specific reason. A Joining is not binding for life; today we accept that all good things end. The two people joining do so because they choose to be together. They do so, knowing that a Joining can and should be undone with just as much ease as its creation. Two people stay joined because they choose it. Today, the thoughts shared by witnesses speak to the positive aspects of the Joining. It must be noted that not everyone speaks; take of that what you will. “I’m so glad Sasha finally made it home; we’ve been waiting for her return. Our George was getting worried. It’s so great to see these two finally joined. I’m so looking forward to my grandc***dren. That’s what I have to say,” says Martha, George’s mother. “I’ve only known Sasha for a short time…and George for only a matter of days. In the short time I’ve known her, I’ve come to consider Sasha a close friend. From what I can tell, George is a great man…he deserves to be with my friend Sasha. I wish Sasha and George all the best…may they have some beautiful babies,” I say. “Sasha and George make a wonderful couple. I watched them grow up together. I saw them develop into something more. I’m so happy that they are now joined. I too, am looking forward to meeting my grandc***dren,” Helen says. “I’m so glad we were here to witness the moment. I wish you both the best,” Lottie says. “Congratulations,” Rebecca says, short and to the point. The room goes to silence. A few moments later Seth Fry clears his throat. “Well now…that was all well said…thank you. Sasha…George…you may now consider yourselves now joined…in front of the witnesses in this room. I ask that you two now kiss to ceremonially complete this Joining,” Seth Fry says. Sasha and George say, “Gladly,” in unison before facing each other for the kiss. The kiss, tongue and all, is drawn out and deep. It is a passionate kiss. We are all invited to share a celebratory meal at Helen and Ada’s house. It was a good time.A couple days later we’re all standing in front of the house, saying our goodbyes. Ada loaded us up with supplies. We’ve decided to take both wagons, but we’re leaving Sasha with one of the horses. She says she’ll name the horse Celery Two. I like the name. “So…what are your plans now?” Rebecca asks Sasha. “I plan to live with George at his parent’s place, until our house is built. We are only looking to build a small house, and add on to it…when we need it…for…you know…c***dren. What about you? You all be careful in getting home, you hear me? I’m so glad I met you, Rebecca. I’m glad I met all three of you. Rebecca, what will you and Gavin do when you reach home?” Sasha says. “You know…I’ve given that one a lot of thought…but…well…I just don’t know…you know? I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Don’t worry…we’ll be careful getting home. I’m glad I met you, Sasha…and George…and both of your families,” Rebecca says. “Sasha, I’ve told you where I live…so…you know where you can find me. If you and George ever feel like making the trek to visit…you will be more than welcome in Oregonia. I’m glad we met,” I say. “Gavin…that is long way to go for a visit…but thank you for the invitation,” Sasha says. “It was a great pleasure meeting everyone. Thank you…thank you so much for your generous hospitality,” Lottie says. “You’re welcome. Thank you for getting Sasha home. Be safe. Take care,” Helen says. Maya walks up to me, grabs hold of me and kisses me on the lips. She then walks away without saying a single word. “Well…that was bold. You all take great care now,” Ada says. Brooke and Kelli wave goodbye and then go on about their chores. “It was sure nice meeting you all…take care,” George says. With that, we get on the wagons and head toward the Californoya-Arizona border. f******nA couple days after leaving Sasha’s house, I came up with an idea. I then asked for something in a dream. I asked that our route of travel to Rebecca’s home be clear of any slavers. This helped and made for some relatively speedy travel to our intended destination. We made some good time, I think. It is now one hundred twenty four days into my journey. It’s mid-afternoon and we’re riding up to Rebecca and Lottie’s trading post. Their house is nearby, but we figure we stand a better chance of finding Rebecca’s older brother Jacob at the trading post in the middle of the day. As we pull to a stop in front of the trading post, a woman carrying a small crate of green apples greets us. “Oh…hello…welcome to our shop. Are you here to buy some supplies? If so, what may I get for you? If not, how may I help you?” the woman says. She has the most familiar accent to her speech pattern; it reminds me of my mother. “Who, may I ask, are you? I’m looking for Jacob…Jacob Hodges. He’s my son,” Lottie says to the woman. She doesn’t answer, but she says, “I’ll be right back,” and then she bolts into the trading post. The woman emerges a couple minutes later with a man in tow. “Mother? Mom, is that you? Rebecca? I thought…I…I thought you were dead…I thought…you…were…both dead,” the man says. He then falls to his knees and starts to cry; the woman kneels next to him and puts her arm around his shoulders. I then make the connection; this must be Jacob, but who is this mystery woman with an accent similar to my mother’s.We then get off the wagons, and we go over to Jacob and the mystery woman. She’s a mystery to me at least; I mean Rebecca never mentioned having a sister or other sibling aside from Jacob. It takes Jacob a few minutes to calm down and compose himself. He then clears his throat a couple times before speaking. “Mom…Rebecca, I’d like to introduce you both to Acacia…Acacia Hodges…my wife,” Jacob says. “Wife? When did this happen? Well…that just goes to show we were gone for a long time. It’s great meeting you, Acacia. I’m Lottie. This is Rebecca and this is our close friend Gavin. Tell me…where did you two meet?” Lottie says. She’s clearly in a good mood. “Oh…we met in Arizona; that’s where I’m from,” Acacia says. “That’s it. I knew your accent sounded familiar. My mother is from Arizona,” I blurt out, interrupting. Acacia lets out a bit of a giggle. “Jacob was in Arizona on trading post business. I was about to start working my first night at the local brothel, but I decided to enter the local pub instead. I needed a drink while I reevaluated my decision to work at a brothel. Jacob was at the same pub trying out his luck with another lady pub patron. He struck out. Jacob then turned his head and our eyes met. He walked over to me, to – let’s just say he wanted to try out his charms on me. It worked; we struck up a conversation that went on into the early morning hours. We then had breakfast together, where he convinced me to move with him to Californoya. It was pure crazy, but it felt right. When we arrived at the house, we were horrified when we found your husband…Jacob’s dad…dead. We didn’t know what to think when we couldn’t find you or Rebecca. We searched for you for a full season, but saw no sign of you. We then assumed you were dead. I’m so sorry. I’m glad we were wrong. Jacob and I were joined in town a season ago…and…Lottie, I have a surprise for you…I recently found out that I’m pregnant!” Acacia then says. “Yeah! That’s fantastic…yes…grandbabies! I’m looking forward to meeting them. Wow, Acacia that is quite a story. Jacob has always been a charmer; I’m glad he was able to talk you into his arms. This makes me so happy. I’m sorry I missed the Joining; I’ll tell you what happened to us in moment, but first…please…Jacob tell me…what did you do with your father? Where is my husband buried?” Lottie says, with both tears of sadness and joy falling simultaneously. “Dad’s buried over by the side of the house; I marked it. Go over to the house to see him; you can tell me what happened to you and Rebecca, later tonight at dinner. I’m just glad…so glad you’re back,” Jacob says. We make our way over to the house, which is just around the bend. On our way over, I can’t help it but I have a few things on my mind – so I’m a bit distracted and distant. One…I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the Rebecca situation. I have some strong feelings for her…I may even go as far as saying that I love her. I don’t want to leave her, but what I really can’t do – is not return home. My parents will fear me dead. Shoot, they may already think I’m dead – I’ve been gone a long time. The plan was to go to Redwood Town and then return home. I guess it’s true what is said about plans and life; that is, in life your plans generally go out the window. I just can’t do that to my family; I need to return. I wonder if I should ask Rebecca to return with me. The question is – does she feel strongly enough about me to leave her home…maybe for good…to come home with me? I make a mental note; that is one possibility. Another possibility is that we break it off and go our separate ways. I’m really not hoping for that one let me tell you. Two…it will take some time for the dream I had that ends the slave trade to take effect. The dream aims at the root of the problem; I hope my dream is successful in its intended outcome. Until then – I’ve been thinking – I should dream to have both Sasha and Rebecca’s homes protected from the slave trade. At first I thought I should just dream to protect all of Californoya, but decided against it as that may just somehow trigger some sort of cosmic conflict. After all, what do slavers do when they are somehow are prevented from slaving – who knows? The dreams have the potential for dire consequence; remember ‘PPK?’ So – it’s decided – tonight I’ll dream for their homes’ protection. We arrive at the house; we immediately see the burial plot on the right side of the house. Ben Hodges is buried near a tree; his plot is shaded for most of the day. I’m not familiar with the type of tree; I’ll have to ask when it’s somewhat appropriate. We climb down off our wagons and move around, stretching out our legs a bit. I don’t know why – we were just down a short while ago – but we do. We probably do it out of habit; a habit developed over the course of our long trek through Californoya. Lottie gets down on her hands and knees to kiss the ground; she is clearly elated to finally have made it home after all this time. “Well…Gavin…this is my home. We made it; can you believe it? Come on…let’s go over to where my dad is buried…I want you to meet him…well…sort of…you know what I mean…right?” Rebecca says, taking me gently by the hand. Lottie follows, holding Rebecca’s other hand. Their somberness is apparent, though they are somehow in a good mood. The return home is indubitably bittersweet. What an odd feeling, eh? On the one hand they’re both so happy to finally be home. On the other hand they’re about to stand in front of Ben’s grave – father to Rebecca…husband, lover, friend and who knows what else to Lottie. I suppose what may explain their somewhat good mood, is that they did have plenty of time to grieve and to process their feelings. After all, Ben died a relatively long while ago. We are now standing above the grave. In front of us is the grave marker that reads: Ben Hodges, beloved father, friend, and husband to Lottie Hodges. “I just knew that Jacob would bury Ben by the Avocado tree; it was his all-time favorite food,” Lottie says. Bonus, I think – now I don’t have to ask; Lottie answered my question…thanks. We all stand in silence before the grave for a few moments. I decide to remain even more silent – is such a thing possible? I don’t know; I didn’t know the man. Lottie has not said much of anything about her husband. What I know of him, I know from things Rebecca has told me. She told me he was a difficult man to love. He was stubborn and tenacious. She told me he was the type of man who would have wanted to run for the Californoya governing council, if that sort of thing was allowed. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, Ben spoke out against the injustice of men not being allowed on the governing council. He didn’t see any merit in the form of protest that slavers chose to participate in. He was an avid supporter of change. I know other things about him. For example, I know he loved having eggs in the morning. I know he was born and raised outside of San Diego, Californoya. I know he was against the act of spanking c***dren as a form of punishment. I know he didn’t drink alcohol; he wasn’t against it, but it just wasn’t for him. I know many things about the man, but I didn’t know the man. If I were asked what I thought of Ben, to make a judgment of character – I’d have to say he was a remarkable person. He would have made an excellent addition to a governing council. That is just my humble opinion of a dead man I didn’t know. “Ben…honey…I’m home. This is our friend Gavin; he’s been with us through some really difficult times. Believe it or not…he once tried to buy us. It sounds bad when it’s said like that, but the truth is he tried to help us by buying our freedom. We were captives of the slave trade. Gavin was not successful, and was taken for a slave himself. Don’t worry Ben, we were finally able to escape thanks to some drunken fool idiots. Rebecca is here with us; she has taken quite a liking to this young man. They have a bit of a love hate thing going. We’ve since seen some good times together. You won’t believe it but we met Gavin’s great-great-great grandfather, who he mostly refers to as his grandpa Hugo. This man, whom people refer to as The Dreamer – I don’t know why we never heard of him – is indirectly responsible for the ‘the great dying.’ That’s crazy, right? I’ll tell you more about it later. A long story made short, Gavin is the new Dreamer – he has the ability to change things in life through his dreams. That’s crazy stuff, right? I’ll explain it later. Anyway…I miss you Ben…more than any words can truly express. I love you. I came here for some closure, so I am able to move on. To be perfectly honest…those slavers hurt me bad…but I want to be strong…so I’m also here to tell you that I’ll be looking for another husband. That’s what I wanted to say,” Lottie says. “Hello dad…it’s me…your daughter…Rebecca. I miss you. I love you. I’m angry that the slavers that took us killed you. I would have liked for you to meet Gavin in person, but you’re no longer with us so it looks like I’ll have to settle for the next best thing. Dad, this is Gavin…and…well…I love him. I wanted you to know how I felt about him. I’m glad Jacob buried you near your favorite tree,” Rebecca says. She loves me, I say to myself. I feel a sense of giddy elation. I then feel compelled to also say a few words. “Hello Ben…sir…ah…I mean Mr. Hodges, I’m Gavin. Yes…it’s true…I did try to buy me your women. It’s true…I have seen some difficult times with both Rebecca and Lottie. I’ve also seen and experienced some good times with them. I must even confess…that…I’ve seen them both naked. I must also further confess that I did like what I saw. In short, we’ve come to know each other well. In particular, I’ve come to know your daughter Rebecca quite well. I have strong feelings for Rebecca. In fact, I love Rebecca. I want you to know that. Thank you for listening,” I say. We then stood in silence for a few more moments, breathing in deeply and just taking it all in.We walk back to the wagons out of habit. “Wait a minute…what are we doing? Why are we making like we’re about to get back on the trail again? We’re here…we made it,” Rebecca says. “I don’t know…it’s probably force of habit. Gavin as you can see…we don’t have a barn…but we do have a corral and a large shed. So we’ll put the horses and Don Juan in the corral after we place the two wagons over by the shed. Once we do that…I think we should all take a bath. I don’t know about you…but…I’m feeling a bit ripe. What do you two think?” Lottie says. “Okay…mom…sounds like a good idea. I didn’t want to say anything, but you do stink just a little…I mean you smell really bad,” Rebecca says. “Hey! We all smell bad…okay?” Lottie says. “Okay…sounds good…I could use a bath right now. It isn’t a big deal about the barn…not everyone has one. The corral will work just fine,” I say. “Good…I could use getting into some clean clothes. Gavin…we’ll get you some of Jacob’s…or even Ben’s clothes…okay?” Lottie says. “Sounds good,” I say.We first move the wagons in front of the house, so we can unload our gathered belongings. We then park both wagons over by the shed, and then we lead the a****ls into the corral. Before heading into the house we make sure the a****ls have feed and that there is water in the trough. Then it is the arduous task of heating and then carrying the water to the tub for the bath. “Okay…Rebecca…since you are the one with such strong opinions…you’ll be taking the first bath,” Lottie says. “That sounds good to me. Say…hey…mom…I was hoping to take the bath with Gavin. So…you know…so we save time,” Rebecca says, wishfully. “Yeah…right…to save time my eye. You mean…so you two can fool around…waste time while the water gets cold…and not get clean. I think not. You’ll be taking the bath alone missy. If you want to fool around with Gavin, do so tonight after you’re all clean,” Lottie says. “Oh…okay…fine…I’ll go first and alone. Wait…did you just say that Gavin gets to sleep with me in my room?” Rebecca says and asks. “Yes…yes I did. I’m not going to stand in the way of young love. Besides it’s not like we have a spare room to offer Gavin…and I won’t be having him sleeping outside. He’s our guest. Now…come on…hustle yourself naked and into that tub before the hot water goes cold,” Lottie says. “Okay mother…and thanks…for you know…letting Gavin sleep in my room,” Rebecca says. Seeing that Rebecca is still moving slower than a snail – she’s still not naked – Lottie gives her, a look. “Okay…okay…I’m going…I’m going,” Rebecca says. She strips naked as though the clothes just fall off of her and she climbs into the hot water, giving off a deep sigh of relief. “Okay…come on Gavin…I know there is nothing better than a great show of a naked wet woman…but I want Rebecca to get clean…not to be distracted by giving you the show you want. Let’s go into the kitchen for a small bite of something. Rebecca, remember to change into these clean clothes please…and not into the dirty travel clothes out of sheer habit. Rebecca…are you listening to me…did you hear what I just said?” Lottie says. Rebecca doesn’t answer; she just opens one eye, smiles, gives us a thumbs-up and gives us her nod of affirmation. I follow Lottie into the kitchen, and we’re delighted when we see the remaining half of what appears to be an apple pie. We each dole ourselves out a more than generous slice apiece. We also pour out some milk and begin eating the pie. “Gavin…here’s the thing…I would have been fine with you and Rebecca bathing together…fact is that it would save time even with some fooling around being involved…but…well…I wanted to discuss something with you,” Lottie says, seriously. I finish the bite of apple pie in my mouth, and then take a slow swallow of milk. I’m then silent for an additional moment. “What did you want to talk to me about, Lottie?” I say, nervously. “Well…I think you know or you should know,” she says. “Sorry…I haven’t dreamed myself into having the ability to read people’s minds…although saying it…makes it sound like useful ability. I’ll have to consider it,” I say. “Gavin! Focus. Sometimes I forget that you’re only nineteen years old. I need you to focus for me…okay? This is serious,” she says. My attention is suddenly brought into focus; Lottie has my undivided attention. “Okay…Lottie…what do you want to talk to me about?” I say, seriously. “I want to talk to you about the Rebecca situation. What are going to do about Rebecca? You know you’re welcome to stay for as long as you’d like, but I want to know what your plans are for the near future. Are you planning on staying here for good? Are you planning on returning home after a few days? What?” she says. I take a moment before clearing my throat. Here it is; it’s time to begin crossing the proverbial bridge. “Well…Lottie, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought…a lot of thought. Here is what I’ve come up with: One…I love her. Two…she loves me. Three…I absolutely must return home. I just can’t let my parents think I’m dead. Four…I want to ask Rebecca to return to Oregonia with me. I now know I can guarantee safe travel back home. How do you feel about that, Lottie?” I say, feeling relief having finally said it. She takes a few moments, looking at me in complete silence and then she smiles. “Well, that’s good…I don’t have any problem with that. If I were your mother, I’d want you to return home – especially so I’d know you weren’t dead but alive. You do plan to stay awhile, right?” she says. “Oh…I plan to stay for at least a few days. I also wanted to mention that I’ve decided to dream for protection from slavers for each of you, so you’ll be safe when I’m gone. I was going to dream for protection of your home and trading post, but then I thought about – what if you decide to move? So…I think individual protection will work best…I plan to do the same for Sasha and her family. I know George said that they don’t get much slaver trouble where they live…but I will anyway…just in case,” I say. “Hey, now that’s a great idea. Thank you so much, Gavin. When do you plan on asking Rebecca to return home with you?” she says. “Well now…that is a difficult question to answer. Not right away, that’s for sure. I also know I shouldn’t wait until the last minute; I want her to have some time to think about and process it if she needs to…you know? What do you think she’ll say?” I say. “I honestly have no clue what she’ll say to you? She just might punch you. I do know that she has some mighty strong feelings for you, Gavin. It sure is a difficult situation. I hope she gives you some good news,” she says. “I do too,” I say. A few minutes later, Rebecca walks into the room in clean clothes, bare feet, and a towel wrapped around her wet hair. She leans in to give me a kiss, but she stops halfway to the kiss. “I’ll kiss you after you get as clean and spiffy as I am. Okay?” Rebecca says. “Sounds good,” I respond. Then comes the job of work to empty the cold water from the tub, and then refilling it with hot water for bath number two. “Gavin, you have the distinguished honor of having the second tub of hot water…really…I insist…now strip and get in. Don’t worry about clean clothes for when you get out…I’ll bring you a set of clothes in a few minutes…okay?” Lottie says. I take my turn in bath, taking my time to enjoy the hot water. Sure enough, Lottie brings me some clean clothes, which are a tad large for me but they are only temporary while I get to work on cleaning my dirty travel clothes. When I’m done it is then time to help Lottie get her bath ready. While Lottie is taking her bath, Rebecca and I get to work on dinner. Rebecca’s house may be small, but it is well stocked in food. While we’re working in the kitchen, Acacia enters the house with Jacob in tow. “Finally…will you take a look babe…a night where you and I don’t have to have to cook,” Acacia says. “That does sound appealing. I’m going to open a bottle of wine, and since tonight is special I think I’ll dip into dad’s salvage from the old days. Gavin…right? Would you care for some wine? My dad has a small collection of wines from what used to be the Napa Valley, California. He never drank any of it, but he sure did enjoy collecting it. I still think it was an odd thing to do. Collect it, but not drink it.” Jacob says. “Yes…my name is Gavin and sure, I’ll have some,” I say. “Red or white?” he asks. “Whichever one you were planning on opening. I’m not picky, especially over such an old wine. Thank you. You know…we stopped in the town of Napa for supplies on our way to Redwood Town,” I say. “Redwood Town…that’s on the peninsula, right?” he says. “Yes it is,” I say. I take the offered glass of wine; it’s full to the brim with really old red wine. A while back with my hand in its state of tremor, I would have assuredly spilled the wine all over the place. These days both my hands are rock steady, so not a single drop of the wine is spilled. It’s wonderful. “So…Gavin…where…are you from?” Acacia asks. “I’m from just outside of Portland, Oregonia,” I say. My brief answer is immediately followed by long whistle of astonishment. Just then, Lottie walks in. “What’s all the whistling about?” Lottie asks. “Oh…hey Lottie…just finished taking a bath? Your hair is all wet. Jacob was whistling because Gavin was just telling us that he’s from Oregonia. That’s far,” Acacia, says, after taking a sip of her wine. “Ben’s old wine? Oh…I want some…pour me a glass…will you…Jacob? Yeah…Acacia…I took a bath; it was so refreshing. Yeah…Gavin is from Oregonia,” Lottie says. “So…what brought you to Californoya? How did you come to be traveling with my mom and sister?” Jacob asks. “Uh…well…I believe it’s best for either Rebecca or Lottie to tell that story,” I say. Jacob looks to his mother for an answer, but it is Rebecca who answers. “Mom an I were in the hands of some slavers…and Gavin tried to buy us,” Rebecca starts saying. The next thing I know; Jacob throws his glass of old wine to the floor and then he rushes me. Jacob has my throat in his grip. “What the hell…man…you tried to buy my mom and sister? I thought…my mom said you were a friend!” he says. I’m gasping for breath. My hands are up to his, trying to free myself of his grip. Rebecca rushes over to her brother. “Let him go…Jacob…let him go. You didn’t let me finish what I was saying…he tried to help us…he tried to buy our freedom. He failed and was taken as a slave himself,” Rebecca says. Jacob releases my throat from his grip and takes a step back. “Well…shit…I’m sorry man. Please accept my humble apology. Sometimes…I just jump the gun and all I see is red. It’s what I’m told is a flaw in my character…know what I mean?” Jacob says. It takes me a few moments to catch my breath and to compose myself – I even hold up a finger as if to say hold on, give me a minute. “Don’t worry about it…man. I accept your apology…no harm done. Well, that’s not exactly true…I mean that glass of wine got it…didn’t it? I have a character flaw or two…so…don’t worry about it. I’ll make it through the bruising of my neck. Rebecca has taught me a thing or two during our time spent together,” I say, earning a punch in the arm from Rebecca. While we eat, Rebecca and Lottie continue to share the story of our journey together. They tell the story up to our arrival in Redwood Town, leaving out anything having to do with my grandpa Hugo. After dinner we all move to the living room, where I start by telling the story of my grandpa Hugo. Then I also share the story of ‘PPK.’ By the time I’m finished with that one it is late into the night, but Jacob and Acacia clearly want to hear more so I continue with the story of our visit with grandpa Hugo. Rebecca, Lottie, and I then tell them about the remainder of our trek south. The tale told included the telling of how the dreaming ability was passed on to me, and how I’ve since come to wield it. “So you cured yourself of this…this Parkinson’s disease just like your grandpa Hugo did all those years ago?” Acacia asks. “I don’t know for sure that that’s what it was, but yes – I’m essentially cured,” I say. “I was wondering about those crazy few days of strange weather we had a short while back. So you’re saying – that was you testing out your ability?” Jacob says. “Yes…I was responsible for that…sorry man. I had to…you know…be sure,” I say. “Wow…shit…man…that’s just plain incredible. I almost don’t believe it, but I trust my mom and sister. If they’re vouching for you then I’m in your corner man,” Jacob says. He then looks at Lottie and says, “Wow…now that I know what happened…I sure am glad you and Rebecca are home…and…that you made it safely.” Acacia looks hesitant as though she wants to say something. I notice that she almost seems nervous. “Gavin…I was wondering…could I ask you for a favor?” she finally says. “Sure…I guess,” I say, not knowing really what to say. “Well…okay…here is the thing. My mother died during the birth of my only brother. He died minutes later. My father raised me as best he could…anyway…I was wondering…if you could do that dreaming thing for my baby…also for me? I want for my baby to be born healthy and without any problems. I also want to make sure nothing happens to me…like dying during the birth. You see…because of what happened to my mom and brother…I’m afraid of the same thing happening to my baby and me. Do you think you could help?” Acacia says. “Sure…I can do that. Consider it done,” I say. “Thank you…thank you so much,” she says. “Okay everyone…it’s late…I’m going to bed. Jacob, I assume you and Acacia have been sleeping in the master bedroom…stay there. I’ll take your old room…I’ve already settled in there. Jacob…just so you know…Gavin will be sleeping with Rebecca in her room…we don’t want you seeing red again…okay? Oh…it’s so great finally being home,” Lottie says. A few minutes later, we all follow suit and head to bed. Rebecca lights some candles and closes the door to her room. “Gavin…hustle on up and get naked…you have two minutes…I’ve been waiting all day. Now get naked and hop in bed,” she whispers to me, while taking her clothes off. I strip naked in a hurry. My excitement is visible even before getting in bed, as I see Rebecca nude in the candlelight. She is amazing. My heart is pounding; it’s racing. The adrenaline is flowing. My excitement is pulsing. We get in bed and we begin kissing. Our hands are exploring each other’s bodies. We then make love. We try our best to keep it quiet, but we are not successful. We make love another ten times before we’re both spent. We lie there like a couple of tired spoons. “I love you, Gavin,” she says. “I love you more, Rebecca,” I say. “No…I love you more. Hey…thanks,” she says. “For what?” I say. “Thanks, for helping Acacia,” she says. “I haven’t dreamed it yet,” I say. “But you will, right?” she says. “Yes,” I say. “Good,” she says, as she falls asleep. I fall asleep a few moments later; I have some dreaming to do. FifteenThe following morning we wake up still tired and worn out. With all the activity last night, we didn’t get much sleep. “Gavin, I think we should head to the kitchen for breakfast and then come right back to bed. In fact, with the exception of meals and the call of nature, I think we ought to spend the entire day in bed. I feel hungry for some fooling around…you know? Last night was wonderful, but it wasn’t enough. What do you think?” Rebecca says. “I’m game…I mean that sounds like a good plan to me,” I say with a casual grin. We get dressed and then head to the kitchen; something is cooking and it smells great. I’m famished and in need of some replenishment. We walk into the room and see that Lottie is cooking. “There you two are…how do you two even have the energy to stand? I heard you last night and again really early this morning. Did you two go at it all night?” Lottie says. I turn slightly red, but have no response. “I’m sorry mom, but we couldn’t help ourselves. We had to…you know…go for it. I hope we didn’t keep everybody up,” Rebecca says. “No…no…I got used to it after the third or fourth time, and then was able to get some sleep. The other thing that got me up early this morning was my excitement for being home; that’s when I heard you two this morning. I must admit – I’m a bit jealous…and somewhat envious…but more importantly…I’m happy for you two,” Lottie says. “Thanks mom,” Rebecca says. “Where are Acacia and Jacob?” I ask. “Oh…they didn’t get much sleep either…so they decided to get an early start on the day. They went over to open the trading post,” Lottie says. “Oh…I’m sorry…now I feel bad,” I say. “Nonsense…Gavin…don’t even worry about it…it’s okay…it’s fine. Now…Rebecca…Gavin…sit down because breakfast is just about ready,” Lottie says. We sit down to eat; the bacon and eggs are delicious. “So what are your plans for today? Do you think you’ll go into Loyola with Gavin? I think he would enjoy a visit into our nearest town, especially since it’s on the Arizona side of the border. Gavin, I’m guessing you’ve never been into Arizona. Gavin, you said your mother is from Arizona, right?” Lottie says. “Yes…yes she is from Arizona, but I’ve never been there,” I say. “Loyola does sound like a great idea, but we’ve decided to spend the day…all day or most of it…in bed. Knowing now that our ruckus kept everyone up last night…it sounds like a good idea…to…you know…keep the ruckus confined to the daytime. That way…we’ll be way beyond worn out…at the end of the day…so tonight we sleep rather than…you know…create any more ruckus,” Rebecca says with a grin. “Wow…okay…that does sound like quite an adventure!” Lottie says. “What will you do today, mom?” Rebecca asks. “Well…I certainly won’t be having as much fun as you two, but I also won’t be spending the day in bed. I thought I’d head over and spend some time with Acacia and Jacob. Then, later come back home and work in the garden for a bit,” Lottie says. “Sounds good, mom,” Rebecca says. “I tell you…Rebecca…I must say I really do like Acacia. My first impression of the young woman…is that she makes a great match with Jacob. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman…or a person…with hair that red before. It’s so unusual…isn’t it? It is beautiful; she’s beautiful and she’s pregnant. Rebecca…can you believe it…you’re going to be an aunt…I’m going to be a granny. It’ll be great having a newborn around…tiring and a lot of hard work…but great, nonetheless,” Lottie says. “I know…right…red hair…I like it. You know…I wonder if the baby will be born with red hair. Either way…I’m sure the baby will be an interesting combination of the mom and dad. Yeah…I like Acacia too, mom,” Rebecca says. “I’ve only known Jacob for a day, but I think that he and Acacia make for an interesting couple. I like them both,” I say. With our breakfast finished, Lottie takes off for the shop and we head back to bed. We spend the rest of the day in bed making more love than we know what to do with. We are so spent by the end of the day that we both just fall asleep on through to the following morning. Not a single sound was made that night other than Rebecca’s light snoring. The following morning after breakfast, we got to work and took a bath. Lottie told us to do so, because we carried the powerful aroma of our lovemaking marathon. Jacob and Acacia didn’t say anything about it, but they did grin when Lottie commanded us to take a bath. This time, to save time and effort, we took the bath together. Now, Rebecca and I are headed to visit the town of Loyola in Arizona. It’s only a half-day ride. We took Pablo and one of the other horses rather than one of the wagons; we’ll be spending the night and then return in the morning. When we arrive, I’m stunned by the number of people I see and by the general level of busyness I see. I almost get a sense of what living in city must have been like in the old days. It’s so busy that there are even police officers walking and riding around. I guess they are the reason why I’ve heard whispers and rumor about how Arizona has become such a safe place to live. A lot has changed, I think, since my mom used to live in Arizona. It has become a safe area to live via law enforcement. It’s probably the main reason why Hannah didn’t experience any trouble traveling through Arizona on her way to Californoya. By the number of people I see, Arizona has probably come to have a large population or at least a large number of visitors. “Halt! Please state your business…what’s the purpose of your visit to Loyola? Where are you both from?” says a police officer as he sees us entering the town. “My name is Vincent…by the way,” he quickly adds. “My name is Rebecca…I’m from Californoya…and this is Gavin…he’s from Oregonia. We’re just visiting for the night. I’m doing a little sightseeing with my guest; he’s never been to Arizona,” Rebecca says. “Well now…Oregonia you say? That is far away. Welcome, both of you, to the town of Loyola. I’m officer Vincent Jamon. Just a few things to note…we tell all visitors. Our current population is five hundred three people. If you’re here to consume alcohol…you best watch and monitor yourself…public drunkenness is against the law. Drink too much…get out of control…get rowdy…and you’re ass belongs to us. There is a fine and two days hard labor involved for the first offense…a larger fine and twenty days hard labor for the second offense…no fine and a quick death for the third…understand? Slaving is not tolerated; anyone caught trying to engage in slaving, will be killed for the first offense. Treat our brothel workers with respect; they may be whores, but they still deserve respectful behavior. Please…while in the pubs…tip your waiter or waitress generously…they work solely for tips. Thank you for listening and we thank you kindly for visiting the town of Loyola…enjoy your stay,” Vincent says. Wow, I think, law enforcement has a tight grip around Loyola. “Thank you officer Vincent Jamon…we’ll be sure to observe the rules,” I say, as we ride into the town. We ride to one of the local pubs. The pub we choose, according to Rebecca, is famous for its unusual red beer. I’m so curious to try this red beer. The pub is called Ike and Tina’s Tavern. It’s packed full of people drinking and having a generally good time. We find an open table and take a seat. A few moments later I see a woman in an apron walk over to us. She’s also wearing some sort of corset with her breasts out in full display. I’m immediately glad I’m sitting down, as my excitement is clearly evident. “Welcome to Ike and Tina’s Tavern. My name is Dolly; I’ll be your waitress. What can I get for you? Just so you know, there is a two drink minimum…and no maximum…but you’re expected to know your own limits,” the woman says, with her breasts all in my face. Rebecca, seeing that my eyes are occupied gives me a swift punch in the arm. I quickly snap out of it. “Do you by any chance have any rum in stock today?” Rebecca asks Dolly, while giving me a look. “Yes we do…as a matter of fact…it’s a spiced rum,” Dolly responds. “Okay…we’ll each have a shot of the spiced rum and a large mug of that red beer…please,” Rebecca says, placing our order and satisfying the two drink minimum rule. “Sounds good…I’ll be right back with your drinks,” Dolly says.While we wait for our drinks, we notice some mild commotion going on at the bar. Two patrons, a man and a woman, are having an animated and somewhat loud conversation. It’s almost bordering on an argument. It’s difficult not to listen to them. “Dammit Jill…I told you…I want to stop working in the brothel. For goodness sake, you’re supposed to be my wife and not the community horse for everyone to ride at their leisure,” the man says. “That’s not fair, Frank…come on…you were the one who told me to go work in the brothel because we needed the money,” Jill says. Dolly and her breasts walk up to us, placing our drinks on the table. “Would you like to pay now or do you want to run a tab?” Dolly asks. “We’ll pay now…thank you,” I say. Rebecca settles the bill with Dolly, and she gives her a generous tip. “My word…that is a nice tip…thank you…thank you so much. If there’s anything else I get for you…please, just let me know,” Dolly says. Our attention is once again drawn to the conversation at the bar. “What would you have me do instead?” Jill says, before taking a drink from her mug. “I just told you woman…I want you to stop working as a whore and come back to work on our farm. We’re good on money now…plus…the c***dren want you back home. Do it for the c***dren,” Frank says. “Shut up Frank…you shut your mouth. Don’t you dare talk to me about the c***dren. You turned those damned rotten c***dren against me. You’re always telling them lies about me. They’re not my c***dren anymore. I want this to be over; I want our Joining to be undone…like today. You hear me, Frank?” Jill says. “Over my dead body. You hear me, Jill?” Frank says. Jill goes insane and punches Frank in the face, catching him off-guard. He falls to the ground. “You no good dirty stinking whore…you’ll pay for that,” Frank says. “That’s were you have it wrong, Frankie…you see…it’s other person who pays the whore. Although…in your case I think not…you haven’t been able to get it up in years,” Jill says. Frank gets up, growls, and attacks Jill. Someone from behind the bar runs out the front door, only to come back a few minutes later with someone in tow. It just happens to be our friend, officer Vincent Jamon. As he’s walking in, we hear him say, “This better be a real offense…I’m off my shift soon and…oh…Frank…Jill…it’s you. I should have known. I thought you two learned your lesson.” Frank and Jill both have a bloody nose and what appear to the beginnings of several bruises. “I’m just having a conversation with my wife. Be on your way, Vince…this isn’t your concern,” Frank says. “We’ll see about that. Billy go get three of my men,” Vincent says. The man goes to get the three men, returning minutes later. “Now, Frank…Jill…I want you both to walk a straight line for me…right now,” Vincent says. Frank and Jill, under protest, both attempt to walk in a straight line. They are not able to; they’re all over the place. Vincent sighs and shakes his head. “You two are clearly drunk…that combined with your altercation and general rowdiness…equals offense number three for both of you…and you know what that means,” Vincent says. “No! No…please have mercy…my c***dren…who’ll take care of my c***dren,” Jill says, crying. “I accept the punishment for my third offense,” Frank says, stoically. Vincent motions for his men to grab hold of the offenders. “Your c***dren are not my concern. I must uphold the law,” Vincent says. They are then taken outside and their throats are cut without ceremony. Rebecca and I see the throats being cut through the window near our table. “Well…it seems Vincent’s speech to incoming visitors will have to change to reflect the difference. The Loyola population is now five hundred one,” I say, taking a cautious sip of my red beer. “Two things: One…it looks like their Joining was undone ‘like today,’ just as she wanted. Two…it looks like it happened over his dead body, just like he wanted,” Rebecca says. We finish our drinks and exit the pub, passing by the dead bodies on our way to our horses. We then decide to stow our horses at the local livery stable for the night. As we walk around the town, taking in the sights, I see that Loyola is like a city of the old days. It has a variety of places to eat, hotels, brothels, a messaging office, markets, and many other points of similarity. After our long walk around town, we decide to grab some dinner at the local steakhouse. Our waitress at dinner also had her breasts exposed for us to see in their entire splendor. For the night, we pick the hotel that’s nearest to our horses. The room is small and the bed is really made for one occupant, but we make it work. After a short lovemaking session, Rebecca falls asleep and I find myself thinking about home. I wonder what Beth is doing – she’s probably sleeping, given the time. I wonder how she is doing? Looking out the window in our darkened hotel room, I see the billions of stars up in the night sky. Beth and my parents probably think I’m dead; I’ve been gone, away from home, for a long time now. I’ve been gone for a full season and almost half of another. I make a decision; it’s time rip off the Band-Aid of the old days. It is time to complete my crossing across the proverbial bridge. Tomorrow, on our ride to Rebecca’s home, I’ll talk to her about my plans and ask her to return home with me. It’s time. I should get on the trail toward home in the next couple days. Hopefully, Rebecca and I will be leaving together. Hopefully. The following day, we’re riding side by side toward Californoya. “Rebecca my darling…I want to talk…I want to discuss something with you…something important,” I say, opening the conversation. She gives me look as though she thinks I’m plotting some devious or underhanded scheme. “What is it, Gavin? It better not be about your opinion of the waitresses in Loyola!” she says, jovially but sternly. “It’s not about them…though now that you bring it up…I do think they add value to the visitor’s overall experience of the town,” I say. Rebecca moves her horse, which she’s named Carrot, over close to Pablo; she turns to give me a good swift punch in the arm. “That’s such a guy thing to say! Now…come on…tell me what’s really on your mind?” she says. There it is, I broke the ice and now to get to the meat of the subject. “Well…okay…here it goes. I’ve decided to return home to Oregonia in the next couple of days…and…well…I’m asking you to return with me,” I say, feeling intense relief. “Bastard! You damn idiot bastard…what the hell, Gavin? You decided? What happened to talking it over with me first? I thought you’d stay here so we could join and start a family,” she says with clear anger and confusion. She’s right, I blew it, and I should have discussed it with her before making any decision. Damn. “Rebecca, I’m sorry I didn’t discuss it with you before making my decision, but I have to go home. My parents and sister probably think I’m dead. I just can’t do that to them…letting them think I’m dead…I won’t do it. Joining and starting a family sounds absolutely wonderful…why not return home with me…and we can do just that. Take a day or two to think it over…I don’t want your answer right away…it’s a big decision,” I say. I see that my explanation has calmed her down a bit. “Damn you…Gavin…fine…I get it. I mean I understand why you have to go home…and I will…take some time to think about it…coming with you I mean,” she says, calmly. A couple days pass after having told Rebecca of my plans. She has kept more or less silent the whole time. I wouldn’t exactly call it giving me the silent treatment. Amongst the silence there was moments of communication like ‘will you please pass the salt’ or ‘are you ready to go to sleep,’ but she didn’t really talk to me at any point. She was obviously doing some soul searching or at least doing some deep thinking. At night there wasn’t any lovemaking involved; we just slept next to each other. Then on the third day after breakfast she says, “Gavin, let’s take a walk…yeah? Mom…we’ll be back in a little while.” Rebecca grabs an opened bottle of wine and a large blanket. She hands them off to me and we walk out the door. We walk side by side in complete silence. We walk south. I don’t know what to say; I’m at a loss for words. Rebecca seems to be calm and she is walking at a casual pace. Suddenly, I get an odd feeling in my stomach. The strength of my decision to leave begins to wane. There is a sudden back and forth in my mind. What if she says that she is staying here? I feel a wave of anxiety come over me, as I’m gripped by indecision and fear. Should I stay if she says no? Be strong, I tell myself. My reason for leaving is solid. It’s the right decision; it’s the only decision – I tell myself, feigning strength. Ahead, in the distance, I see what appears to be grove of orange trees. That might be where we’re headed; we’ve been walking for about an hour. As we enter the grove of orange trees, we keep walking to what must be the middle of the grove. We stop and Rebecca then asks me to hand her the blanket. She lays it out on the ground. “Now…hand me the wine,” she says. I hand her the bottle. Rebecca takes it and places it on the blanket. “Now…take off all your clothes and sit on the blanket,” she says while taking her clothes off. “Rebecca…what’s going on…what are we doing? Aren’t we going to…you know…talk?” I say, nervously. “What is going to happen…is…we’re going to get naked together among these orange trees…and we’re going to drink this bottle of wine together…got it?” she says. I finish getting undressed and sit down on the blanket next to Rebecca. I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside an orange grove, but I’ll tell you that it’s a busy place. There are bugs flying and crawling all over the place; it’s hectic. Rebecca then gulps down half the bottle, and then she hands it to me. She catches me off-guard with her display of drinking antics. “I want you to down the rest of it,” she then says. I make a concerted effort to drink the rest as quickly as she did, but I have to pause midway. I eventually finish my half of the bottle. Even having eaten breakfast, the wine takes effect. That much wine so quick, has me adequately buzzed. “Now…Gavin…I want you inside me,” Rebecca says. Again, I’m caught off-guard but decide to go with it, thinking it may just be part of her soul searching process. We make love five times, both of us fully buzzed on the wine. We’re both somewhat sober by the time we finish; the strenuous physical activity sobered us up. As we’re lying there, naked and dripping with sweat, Rebecca says, “Gavin…I’m sorry but I won’t be going with you. I just can’t see myself leaving home. I love you…but I just can’t leave with you…I’m sorry,” she says, with a sad and depressed look on her face. My heart breaks in the same moment. I take a dry swallow and do my best to choke back the tears, making my best effort to remain strong. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll leave first thing in the morning,” I then say. We get dressed, fold up the blanket, and then head back to the house. The walk back is long, quiet, and full of sadness for both of us. Before reaching the house, Rebecca stops me and says, “Look…just act normally, okay? Don’t say anything about you leaving…or about me not going with you…and can you please hold off leaving until tomorrow afternoon…because I plan on breaking the news to my mom tomorrow morning during breakfast.” “Okay…I’ll act normally…I’ll leave tomorrow afternoon, so you can tell Lottie in the morning,” I say. The rest of the day we act as if nothing was different. We try, anyway. At dinner we’re both more quiet than usual; I even notice that Lottie seems a bit off. It is almost as though she senses that something has changed but for whatever reason, she chooses not to say anything about it. That night we do not make love; we just sleep. The following morning, we’re in the kitchen eating breakfast. “Okay…enough! Come on…tell me…what’s going on with you two? For the past few days…ever since you got back from Loyola…you’ve both been weird…why?” Lottie says. “Well…mom…it’s like this…Gavin is leaving for Oregonia this afternoon…and he asked me to go with him…but…I told him that I won’t be going with him,” Rebecca says. Lottie has a look on her face that says she’s both shocked and sad. “Why? Rebecca? Why not go with Gavin? You love him, don’t you?” Lottie says. “Yeah, I love him…but…I just can’t see myself leaving home. It’s such a long distance to travel…plus, I understand his reason for having to go back…not letting his family think that he is dead…I get it…but I just can’t go with him,” Rebecca says. “Okay, if you’re sure…then I respect your decision,” Lottie says. “I’m sure, mom…I’ve given my decision a couple days worth of thought,” Rebecca says. “Okay,” Lottie says with an odd look on her face. A look that says she inwardly thinks Rebecca is making the wrong decision. “Gavin, what route do you plan on taking toward home?” Lottie asks, changing up the subject a bit. “Oh…I plan to go from here directly to my grandpa Hugo’s in Redwood Town. Then, I’ll go via the Golden Gate Bridge toward home,” I say. “Gavin, you know you’re welcome to take one of the wagons,” Lottie says. “No…I just plan to take Pablo and Don Juan, as it will allow me to travel with greater speed,” I say. “Are you sure?” Lottie says. “I’m sure,” I say. Later that afternoon, we’re standing in front of the house. I’ve loaded my supplies onto Don Juan, and have saddled Pablo. I’m ready to go. I first give Rebecca a kiss and a long hug. Then I give Lottie a hug. “It was great meeting you both. I’m glad we got to know each other. I’ll miss you. Thank you for your hospitality. I plan on stopping at the trading post to say farewell to Jacob and Acacia,” I say. “We feel the same way, Gavin. You’re welcome…and tell Acacia and Jacob that I say to give you whatever supplies you want, on the house,” Lottie says. I get on Pablo and make my way toward the trading post. I look back toward the house to see Lottie holding Rebecca in her arms. A few minutes later, I’m standing with Acacia and Jacob. “Are you leaving for home?” Acacia asks, seeing my horse and loaded donkey behind me. “Yes, I’m leaving. It’s time; I’ve been away for a long time. I want to thank you both for your hospitality. Acacia, I also want to let you know that I dreamed your request. Your baby will be born healthy and nothing will happen to the baby or to you, Acacia, during the birth,” I say. Acacia gives me a hug and says, “Oh…thank you, Gavin. Thank you.” “Thank you, Gavin. It’s appreciated. It was good meeting you. Have a safe journey home,” Jacob says. I shake Jacob’s hand, and then get on Pablo. I then get on trail north, toward Redwood Town. SixteenI’m now one hundred sixty days into my journey, and I’ve arrived back at my grandpa Hugo’s in Redwood Town. Travel here from Rebecca’s house was mostly uneventful, especially since I didn’t have to worry about running into any slavers. I dreamed for my route home to be safe and clear of slavers. I made stops along the way for supplies. I must confess that I experienced another first; I visited a brothel. What can I say, you know? I got lonely. It was interesting; I enjoyed myself. Well sort of, you see I must also admit I thought of Rebecca the entire time. At one point, I swear I saw Rebecca’s face in place of the prostitute’s face; it was strange. Well, it’s not so strange I guess, I mean I do miss her so much. So much, it hurts all over – to the bone. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that I went searching for solace in the loose embrace of a whore. I must say it was a poor substitute. I don’t feel guilty about it, as it did satisfy my immediate ephemeral physical needs. Back to the present, I’m excited to see grandpa Hugo again. I want to tell him that everyone made it home safely. I want to tell him that I did it; I got the dreaming ability to work. I want to tell him that he did pass on the ability to me. I also want to tell him about what I’ve dreamed, including for an end to the slave trade as the result of men being allowed on the Californoya governing council. I tie up Pablo and Don Juan to the railing, and then head to the front door. I knock twice. A few moments later, Hannah answers the door. She looks awful; She looks dead on her feet, as though she hasn’t had a moment of rest in a season. “Oh…Gavin…you’re back. It’s great to see you again. Lucy, look…look who is back. Did everyone make it home, safely? How are you? How was your trip south? You look tired, Gavin. Come in to the kitchen and have a seat. I was just about to fix Lucy with a snack. Isaac is sleeping. Do you want something to eat? I could fix you something,” Hannah says, all at once. She seems pre

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