Returned to my bedding and filled to the brim with the most wonderful meal I’d ever had, I allowed myself to close my eyes and empty my thoughts. I partially succeeded, laying my head back and letting my arms stretch naturally beside me. Upon seeing me in my relaxed state, I felt a large something shove my hair about and scratch the top of my head. I don’t think Ian saw the cheerful expression on my face in the shadow, and when I pushed his finger away, I saw a small frown form on his face.
“Sorry,” he replied. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
He then saw my grin, and laughed when I flopped my hand about.
The night was young when Ian moved my chair to the side, sat himself down on the floor, and turned his television on again. Instead of a movie this time, however, I watched the other activity the Iatvi enjoyed on their enormous electronic screens. Ian called them ‘video games’. ‘Video’ was a foreign word, but the ‘game’ he played hardly matched any form of game I had ever seen. We used to play games as children, like hiding or playing with sticks.
But Ian, taking a curious device into both of his hands that fit them perfectly, proceeded to move a strangely cartoonish character inside the television as fluidly as if he were the character himself. He showed me the device in his hand, called it a ‘controller’, and let me watch what was happening with his hands. His thumbs controlled rubber pads that rotated like wheels. When they didn’t do that, they pressed a myriad of different buttons with different shapes and colors on them.
The flashing lights and furious action that appeared on the screen was mesmerizing and almost a bit frightening; Ian’s ‘character’ would move so quickly, I could hardly keep up with it, even when Ian pointed it out over and over. He attempted to take me through the basics of the game, showing me which buttons did what action, and what each of the actions the characters were taking on screen meant, but even when Ian took it “slow”, it still didn’t mean much to my addled brain. Maybe it was all the food I just ate that made me sluggish that night, I’m not sure. But Ian seemed so excited to share his game with me that I just nodded and watched with a smile.
Ian was an only child. You may have guessed that from my description of his family. Even though I was twice his age, he treated me as a younger brother, showing me things in his room and describing everything, especially when I wrote him questions. Sleeping with him in the room that night was nerve wracking, as I could hear him snoring like a growling dog every few seconds. But he was faced away from me in his bed, and his breathing remained behind me, so I felt little threat from him. I soon fell asleep, and deeply as well.
When I awoke in the morning to see him dressed in slick dress pants and a button-down white shirt and red tie, I wondered what was going on. The day before he’d worn jeans and a grey tank top. I awoke to see that even his messy hair had been styled and combed.
What made this day different? Was it a Iatvi holiday? Sometime in March, I didn’t know the day. Wouldn’t a tie wrapped around his neck be terrible for a sunny morning?
As I lay there musing, Ian re-entered his room, and the first thing he did was look in my direction. He waved at me.
I looked over at him, waved at him, and looked around me; my pad of paper and graphite was somewhere. As I scrambled, he recognized what I was doing, and helped me find the sliver of graphite above my head. I gave him a quick thumbs up and wrote a response.
“You look fancy.”
“I do?” Ian asked with a laugh. “Thanks.”
When he didn’t expound further, I wrote another message.
“Where are you going?”
“To church,” he said. “It’s only for a couple of hours. And then I’ll be back and we can eat something.”
‘Church’? I’d read the word in obituaries and occasionally in magazines. But I didn’t know what it meant.
“What’s church?” I wrote.
“Oh. It’s a place we go to, um, pray to God, take the sacrament, and go to classes to learn about the Gospel.”
I blinked dumbly; I didn’t recognize any of the terms he used. ‘God’? ‘Sacrament’? ‘Gospel’?
I made a connection, and I’m glad Ian waited patiently.
“Is Heavenly Father in church?” I wrote.
“Yeah,” Ian said, kneeling down before me. “Do you believe in God?”
“I don’t know what that means,” I wrote.
“Oh,” he said, sitting on the ground. “You know about Heavenly Father, though?”
“You said those words yesterday,” I wrote.
“I did?” Ian asked. “Oh, during my prayer, huh?”
Ian pursed his lips sideways and appeared to be contemplating on how to explain something that, admittedly, was fairly complicated for someone who had never heard of any of this before. Looking back, I applaud him for his effort in those short minutes.
“So…” he said. “Heavenly Father, or God, is our Father. Of our spirits, I mean. Do you know what your spirit is?”
I shook my head.
“If you didn’t have a body,” Ian said. “Then you’d be a spirit. Kind of like a ghost, but not really. Before you or I were born, we lived with God together, and…”
He paused as my confused frown increased.
“Um… “ he said with a laugh. “Wait… That’s not… Uh, it’s kinda hard to explain, and I don’t know where to start.”
I nodded, itching the bandage near my throat. He pointed at me.
“You and I are brothers,” he said. “Because we have the same Father.”
My neck popped backwards in confusion.
“James isn’t my dad,” I wrote.
“No, no,” Ian said. “Because of Heavenly Father. He’s my Father, and He’s yours. We’re brothers because we’re part of the same family in heaven.”
The idea intrigued me, if only because of my personal opinion of my ‘previous’ family. The idea that Ian and I were brothers seemed a little strange, having known each other for only two days.
I wrote: “What is heaven?”
“It’s a place you go after you die. It’s a really happy place where every good person gets to live with their families and Heavenly Father.”
“So if Heavenly Father is everyone’s father, is James my brother too?”
Ian studied the note for a moment. Then he smiled.
Another idea struck me, one I thought too strange to be true.
“My friend Aria is my sister?”
“Yeah, kind of. She’s your friend here in life, but she’s part of Heavenly Father’s family too.”
Then another idea struck me that filled me with bitterness.
“So my family is part of Heavenly Father’s family too?”
“Yeah, you got it!”
When I made a nasty face and looked away, Ian spoke up.
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“My family doesn’t deserve to go to heaven.”
“Oh.” He scratched his nose. “Um… I don’t know. Maybe Dad can tell you more about that.”
I shrugged. The idea of processing that idea made me very tired.
“Oh yeah,” Ian said, perking up. “Someone else you should know about. Do you know who Jesus is?”
I shook my head.
“He’s God’s Son he sent to Earth two-thousand and nineteen years ago. Did you know His birth is how we measure years?”
I had no idea. I thought the number was completely arbitrary.
“Doesn’t Heavenly Father have lots of sons?”
“He does,” Ian said. “But Jesus was special. He was perfect, and He came to die to take away our sins.”
“What is ‘sins’?” I wrote.
“What are sins,” Ian corrected me. “They’re all the bad decisions and mistakes we make. When we don’t obey Heavenly Father’s commandments, that’s a sin.”
“What are ‘commandments’?”
“Um… it’s His rules for living right.”
I pursed my lips.
“Do I have sins if I don’t know Heavenly Father’s rules?”
Ian looked up at the ceiling.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’d have to ask Dad.”
“Sins are bad?” I wrote.
“Uh-huh,” Ian said with a nod. “If you have sins, you can’t go to heaven and live with Heavenly Father again.”
I frowned. That didn’t make sense.
“So I can’t go to heaven?” I wrote.
“You can,” Ian said. “That’s because of Jesus. He suffered to take away our sins so we could go to heaven.”
“Jesus bled from every pore in His body for us, and then bad men nailed him to a wooden cross by his feet and his hands, and then He died for us. He died for you too, to take your sins away.”
“He didn’t know me.”
“Yes, he did,” Ian said. “Jesus knows everybody, just like Heavenly Father. He’s our Brother like I’m your brother. He felt everything you feel so He can help us during bad times.”
“How? He died a long time ago, didn’t he?”
“He did. But He’s still alive because He was resurrected.”
“What does that mean?”
“He came back to life after dying.”
I shook my head.
“Nobody can do that.”
“He did,” Ian said with a grin. “He even brought people back to life.”
I was a few pages from running out of paper.
“So he came to die just to come back to life again?”
“Yup. So we can be resurrected too.”
“I don’t know if I want that.”
“Why not? You don’t want to go to heaven without a body?”
That didn’t make sense either.
“But don’t you have to be dead?” I wrote.
“It’s kinda complicated,” Ian said. “If you want, I can come back and talk to you about it some more. Maybe Dad can help, too.”
I nodded, if only for the fact that it seemed very complex.
Ian rose to his feet and stepped out of my view. He opened a shelf, closed it, and bent down beside the chair.
“Here,” he said. “If you want, you can read this. It’s called the Book of Mormon. It’s about people that lived hundreds of years ago and what they taught about Heavenly Father and Jesus.”
To my surprise, the book was thick, but not terribly wide or tall. In fact, I was fairly certain I could lean it in my lap with my blanket under it and keep my legs comfortable.
Ian placed the book beside me as I wrote another note.
“Who. He was a prophet who put the book together a long time ago.”
“What’s a prophet?” I wrote.
“A prophet is someone God calls to teach people about Him.” Ian sighed. “ I didn’t think there was so much stuff to explain.”
“Sorry I don’t know anything.” I wrote, using the last green paper.
“It’s okay, don’t worry!” Ian said. “I’m not good at explaining it yet. I’ve got a lot more to learn, too.”
“Thanks for answering my questions.” I wrote on the brown page at the end of the stack.
“No problem! Before we go, do you want something to eat or drink?”
I carefully lifted my arm and scratched my head. I had one last question and I couldn’t ask it. I pointed at the stack of papers in Ian’s fingers.
“Oh, you’re out of paper, huh? I’ll get more for you when I get back. Here.”
He gave me a used sheet, and I wrote on the back. He took and read it.
“Oh, bathroom again. Like last time?”
I shook my head. How to mimic the action without being crude…
“Just pee?” Ian asked.
That made me grin. Pretty straightforward. I nodded.
“Okay,” Ian said, offering his hands to me.
Quickly, I held up my own, making him pause.
Less immediate, yes, but I still smelled like canal even two days later. To be honest, it was making me nauseous. I made the motions of using water beneath my underarms and down my stomach.
“Oh, you need a bath. Gotcha. I didn’t wanna say anything, but you do kinda smell funny.”
He grinned, so I wasn’t sure if his statement was true or not. I flopped a hand at him and he laughed.
“Can we do that after I get back?”
I nodded. No rush.
With a bit of pain, I used an arm to peel myself out of my bedding as the hands took hold of me. Instead of cradling me this time, he hauled me against his chest and his shoulder, giving me a frightening view of life as an Iatvi. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to being carried like a newborn by a ten-year old. Or, even more importantly to me, have anyone willingly help me do things that should have been so simple. He took me to the bathroom and let me do my business into the sink; my right leg became exhausted almost immediately, so I tried to finish quickly. Ian looked away, and didn’t turn around when I finished… So I took a careful seat right before the edge and knocked on the surface a few times.
“Oh,” he said. “Sorry.”
I gave him a thumbs up as he cleaned up the sink with a few splashes of water.
“Ian?” called Catherine’s voice from beyond the hallway. “It’s time to go!”
“Coming! I’m just helping Lenn!”
Ian carried me back to his room, placing me back in my bedding and next to the curious book.
“Need me to fix the towel? Or are you comfortable?”
I had made a cozy impression of myself in the fabric, so I gave him another quick thumbs up.
“Okay, I’ll be back,” Ian said, rising to his feet. “See you later, Lenn!”
When I nodded, he turned and disappeared into the hallway. I heard the whole family leave the house and close the front door behind them.
I read the ‘Mormon Book’ for about half an hour before I couldn’t hold my eyes (or the large book) open any longer. I didn’t understand what I was reading, but considering it was the first intact book I had ever studied, I tried my hardest to take it all in. At last, I couldn’t continue. My wound stung beneath my bandages, and as James directed, I tried my hardest not to itch any part of it. I didn’t feel ill, fortunately, just very tired. I don’t remember hearing the family come back into the house, but I did feel something tug and ruffle my hair. I opened my eyes, looked up, and saw Ian kneeling over me. He’d removed his tie, and his hair was much more natural and unkempt.
“Hey Lenn,” he said quietly. “Did you want to keep sleeping?”
I felt a tinge of nerves at seeing this boy sneak up on me so easily, but it wasn’t as if I were trying to hide. I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment and wiped the gunk from the corners. Out of instinct, I tried to tell him that I was okay to wake up, but again, only my lips moved. No sound arose from my mouth. My shoulders fell.
“It’s okay,” Ian said, sitting down on the floor. “You don’t have to talk out loud. If I look close, I can see what you’re saying.”
I nodded. Might as well try. I parted my lips wide and emphatically mouthed the words ‘water’ (after which I cupped my hand to my mouth) and ‘bath’ (after which I pretended to rub water under my arms).
“Water and a bath,” Ian said with a nod. “Or maybe you want to drink bath water?”
I smiled and shook my head. Then I mouthed the words ‘you’re funny’.
“I try!” Ian laughed, much to my surprise that he understood me.
I raised my arms up and gave myself willingly into Ian’s strong hands, and he carried me into the bathroom across the hall. Ian placed me on the counter and scratched his head.
“How do we do this?”
I stepped over to the sink and pointed. Then I shrugged.
“Yeah? You sure?” Ian asked. “I guess that makes sense. Better than the bathtub. Hang on.”
Ian crossed the room and opened the glass shower door. From inside he produced a small sliver of soap, only a remnant of a larger bar, and snapped off a brittle end. I quickly sat on the edge of the white ceramic sink, as my legs were already growing sore. The faucet produced water, and without informing Ian, I slid down into the sink.
“Whoa!” Ian shouted, shooting his hand forwards to catch me. “Hold on!”
Too late. I slid right into the water… the very freezing water. Needless to say, I didn’t know any better. Unfortunately, there was little escape for me, especially with how my bandages had been strapped around my shoulder and neck, and my right foot slid uselessly against the slick porcelain.
“Lenn!” Ian cried, much to my shock. Then, horrifyingly, Ian’s hands attempted to grab me. I admit that I panicked. It wasn’t Ian’s fault. I both attempted to avoid the cold water and Ian’s grasping hands, and there wasn’t a single thing I could do to quell the chaos. In a single painful moment, Ian’s hand forced me upwards, his fingers grabbing beneath my injured shoulder and the side of my head. He didn’t intend to, but he twisted me as I collapsed to the surface of the counter on my back. We both heard something pop quite loudly; I thought it had come from my spine, but I realized later it must have been something else entirely.
I couldn’t cry out, but searing pain shot across my chest and up my neck. When I did not move, Ian’s face turned to a look of horror.
“Lenn! What’s wrong!”
The immediate sign that something had gone terribly wrong was rather graphic, to say the least: I coughed up blood, and not a small amount. Much of it flew into the air and came back down, splashing on my face. When I found myself struggling to breathe past the fluid pouring down my trachea, I turned to my side and coughed up what I could.
“Dad!” Ian cried, exiting the bathroom with frantic thundering footsteps. I could already hear him crying. “Dad! Help! Lenn’s dying!”
I admit, I wasn’t sure what to do at that point. The amount of blood I was discharging onto the bathroom counter was greater than I had experienced at the river. My gagging increased dramatically, and I gasped to obtain some measure of oxygen. I couldn’t see at the time, but most of my wound, from my shoulder across my neck, had reopened, and was quickly staining through my bandages.
Seconds turned into an eternity before I heard the earthquake of footsteps enter the bathroom. Very strong hands lifted me into the air and faced me upwards; this was unfortunate, as the blood poured more freely inward, which I coughed out violently upon my face. The hands then flipped me to my side and slightly downwards towards my head, allowing the blood to flow out. At last, I could choke down a bit of breath past the fluid.
“Lenn!” Ian shouted, uncontrollably sobbing. “Lenn, please don’t die!”
“Please, James, do something to help him!” shouted Catherine.
“I… I really don’t know what to do…” James said quietly, allowing me to continue coughing and breathing. “Holding him like this will only do so much good. If he were human-size, I don’t… Here, Ian, hold him like this, I’ll go-”
“N-No! No, I don’t want to!”
I was fading away, but the thought of his words broke my heart.
“Here, Catherine, here, I need to grab a few things.”
I felt a transfer of Iatvi hands, and I continued to pour blood freely from my lips.
“Come on, Lenn!” Catherine gasped. “Hang on, dear! Stay with us!”
If anything happened to me after that, I don’t remember it.
‘Passed out’ was the term I would have used. But it apparently turned into something completely different and much more serious: a ‘coma’. At least James was fairly certain, considering how long I was unconscious. When my brain once again switched on like a dim light bulb, the first sensation I felt was complete and freezing exhaustion. I felt as if I could return to sleep and leave the world behind me; I didn’t desire to die, but if it were to happen at that particular moment, I wouldn’t have said no.
But then a few thoughts entered my mind about why I shouldn’t be inviting Death a second time. First, you, Aria. The intense desire to see you again had been dampened by my loss of blood, but your memory in my mind was the first to appear.
Then, Ian. The poor boy. If I had access to my otadik voice, none of this would have happened. To hear him crying and refusing to touch me brought me such a strong sensation of guilt, one I could feel beyond the cold. I’d committed a foolish act, and he had nearly killed me trying to correct it.
I opened my eyes. At first, it didn’t appear that my surroundings had greatly changed. A white ceiling, two ninety-degree corners, and a window to my right halfway up the wall. But I was no longer in the chair in Ian’s room. Instead, I was propped up in white bedding with a thick blue blanket over top, turned sideways and laid flat. To say I felt stiff was an immense understatement. I brought my hands to my bare chest. I couldn’t quite rest them comfortably; the bandages wrapped around my shoulder and my neck were much more padded than they had been previously. My hands dropped back to my sides, and I realized something truly dreadful as my fingers felt the skin around my waist.
I was completely naked. Then I realized something else: I was too tired to care.
To my side, an old television sat upon a bed table, quietly on. A rotating fan in the corner near the window was the only thing moving. Every few seconds, I would sense a breeze blow across me, and then it would fade. My attention wasn’t too sharp at that point, so the television voices and sounds became muddied.
I opened my mouth and blew out a breath. Everything about my throat felt sore, as if I’d been screaming at the top of my lungs for days. Obviously, I couldn’t feel my throat to check, but it was apparent that I was no longer bleeding, inside or out. My jaw went slack and popped from a lack of movement.
Then, I pressed air into my vocal cords and forced it upwards.
My eyes opened wide. It was rough as sandpaper, terrible as a cracking stone, but it was something. I formed sounds with my tongue and lips.
“Oohhhh. Eeeeee… ow.”
‘Eeee’ hurt a bit, having to pull the corners of my mouth and the skin beneath my jaw taut.
“Aria…” I whispered. I didn’t recognize the voice that emerged from me. “Aria…”
My mouth was incredibly parched, and my stomach cried out for something to fill it, but the excitement of gaining back some vocal ability made me incredibly excited. Now I could tell Ian all about the village, and about you Aria, and…
My eyes closed, and I let out a breath. I had to apologize. I had to do something…
I attempted to lift myself from my bedding. I might as well have pretended to call upon my muscles for all the good it did.
My eyes gazed out the window; it was a sunny day, perhaps late morning. Trees blew in a slight breeze, which I could imagine blowing through my hair whenever the fan landed on me. Now more conscious, I could hear the television more clearly. Whatever it was, it sounded like Iatvi arguing contentiously about… custody? Relationships? Divorce? It sounded like nonsense to me, but I listened to the nonsense because I could not do anything else.
I drifted off for a few hours more, perfectly comfortable and much more stable than I had ever been. Perhaps it was the fantastic amount of blood loss, but I couldn’t think of anywhere in the world I’d rather be. Comparing the Petersen home to the village… It would only have been better if you had been beside me.
I awoke to the sound of a door loudly closing. I looked over at the window, and the sun had changed position: no longer was even a sliver of light draped upon the sill.
It was Ian.
“Ian,” I attempted to shout, but the grumble I created sounded like the croak of a frog and didn’t travel more than a few inches.
“Down here, hun,” I heard from a distant place. Ian’s footsteps disappeared into carpet, and I didn’t hear very much else for a while. I stayed quiet, hoping anyone would appear.
Then, I heard Ian’s energetic footsteps again, bounding across carpet and hardwood. They didn’t wander in my direction. Instead, they vanished again, and I heard a door close. The Ian I had known for two days would have checked on me, and I almost expected it. But he did not, and I remained in the quiet murmur of the room.
I’m unsure how long I remained resting in that room that day. It was long enough that the sun began to set bright orange beyond the house. I had dozed off when, again, the shutting of a door woke me. The steps that followed this door were heavy and slow, and by the lack of click-clacking heels, I figured it had to be James. I nearly dozed off again, expecting to be ignored.
But then an enormous presence entered the room.
My eyes traveled upwards. It was indeed James, dressed in a white shirt and black tie, wearing a different pair of glasses than I’d seen him wear. He did not notice that my eyes had opened and had begun watching him, nor do I think he even thought to see if I had woken up. Instead, he stepped into the room, clicked on a lamp in the corner that gave the room a warm glow, and stepped further into the room to turn off the television. Some sounds echoed, and at first I thought he was rifling through plastic bags. But he returned into my sight donning blue rubber gloves.
Then he scared heaven and hell out of me by lifting the blue blanket. My hands immediately covered my crotch and my voice put out as desperate a cry as it could: it sounded like a saw jamming halfway through a stubborn piece of oak.
“Oh!” James exclaimed, hearing my voice and realizing my horrified expression. He placed the blanket back down. “Lenn! Good heavens, you’re awake! I’m sorry about that, I… I should have checked first!”
“V-Vis sulm,” I gasped, my throat burning. The rasp that came out of my mouth was horrible, but it brought a light to James’s face.
“Lenn!” he said breathless, stepping around the bed to sit at my side. “You spoke! I think. Say something else!”
My eyes tightly closed shut, and I tried to make my voice a bit more smooth.
“Medirke… “ I cleared my throat. “Medirke… lai ke ilir?”
“I’m not sure what that means,” James said. “But I’m glad you said it.”
A bit of my nerves returned.
“Dev…” I whispered. “Neh nedia… Oh. S-Sorry, I… Mis… Mister Petersen, I didn’t mean…”
“Oh, come now Lenn,” James said. “Call me James. You’ve been through so much, there’s no need for any of that.”
“J… James,” I said, fighting the urge to fall silent. “Wh-Where is Ian?”
James’s expression fell a bit.
“He’s home. Probably in his room. I tried to convince him to watch over you when he came home from school, but… He feels responsible for everything.”
“…my fault,” I whispered, my voice fading. “My fault.”
“Now now, it’s okay,” James said, waving his hand. “Let’s not get into it, we’ve got to make sure you’re taken care of first. You’ve been unconscious for quite a while, and we need to get some food and water in you.”
“How… long?” I asked.
“About three days.”
“I’m naked… be… because I…”
James smiled warmly.
“I’m a doctor,” he said. “This is pretty standard stuff. Actually, with a young man your size, cleaning was very easy. During my residency, we would have to care for patients that were well over five-hundred pounds, sometimes more.”
My eyes widened. I couldn’t even imagine an Iatvi so large.
“So, since you have a voice,” James said. “I don’t suppose you could tell me if your bedding feels wet?”
My hands brushed the blanket on top of me, and I wiggled to feel beneath. I shook my head.
“It’s… not,” I growled. Not that I wanted to, of course, my voice merely sounded like an angry tiger covered in spiders.
“Excellent,” he said. “Well, let me go get the dropper and we can get some fluids in you. I really worried about keeping you hydrated. With how much blood you’ve lost, you’re going to need it.”
I nodded, and James stepped out of the room.
Catherine came and visited me soon after, and before my voice disappeared for the night, I asked her where my pants had gone. She replied that she had washed them, but upon seeing their terrible state of disrepair, told me that she had decided to use them as a template for a new pair of pants. She shocked me ever further by saying they were already finished for me to try on when I had the energy to stand. She placed the finished product on the bed next to me; they were dark brown, almost the same color as my original pair. I failed to thank her enough as my throat finally seized up.
Ian did not visit me that night. Nor did he visit me for the next three days, though I heard him go to and fro through the house. I saw him once out of the corner of my eye when his footsteps woke me from sleep, but he wasn’t looking into the room, perhaps purposefully.
I knew it wasn’t because he no longer liked me. No, it’s because he was scared of me. I overheard James telling him I could speak, but there wasn’t any joy in his voice from hearing this news. He was afraid of what I might say. That I would berate him for his carelessness. That I would yell at him and tell him how horrible he was. This was the furthest thing from my mind, but he didn’t know that, and he didn’t accept it when his parents told him as much.
He didn’t want to hear it from them. He needed to hear it from me.
On Friday night, I heard Ian tell Catherine that he would be studying with some boy named Taylor at this friend’s house around six-thirty. She told him to be back at nine o’clock. So I waited until about eight-thirty to enact my plan; below the television was a black box that told the time in dim red numbers, so I knew I wasn’t late. For the first time in nearly a week, I lifted myself from my bedding. I could manage it, but only just. I crawled over to my new pair of pants, and slid them up my legs with a bit of difficulty; while the width and length of the leggings were perfect, the waist was a bit too wide. Fortunately, Catherine had thought of everything. Around the top was a pair of thick drawstrings, something I had never had. I figured their function, though, and quickly tied them into a knot and prepared myself for the journey.
My bandages made moving stiff and inflexible, but the bed upon which I lay had a blanket with edges that hovered only a few inches from the floor. It only took me a few moments to drop to the carpet safely. Hobbling forwards, I walked out the door onto a solid floor, and recognized where I was in relation to everything else: I had been resting in a guest room at the end of a short hallway that led into the dining room. It took about five minutes with a short break in between to cross the kitchen. My legs were exhausted by the time I reached Ian’s door, and my sore throat did me no favors trying to breathe.
Thankful that the door was ajar, I stepped inside the room and made my way towards Ian’s bed. With the chair no longer in the way and most of the clothing cleaned up, I had no trouble crossing the floor. But the lamp was not on, nor was the upper light, so finding my way up the bed in the dark was a bit of a challenge.
I was seated on the edge of the bed when, ten minutes later, I heard the front door open and close. Enormous footsteps boomed across the solid floor, onto the carpet of the hallway, and then a boy opened the bedroom door. With a click, Ian’s room became flooded with light, and Ian didn’t notice me at first. He dropped his backpack near the door and began the process of removing his shoes when his eyes finally met mine.
He froze, despite my pleasant demeanor. And then, he cast his eyes away from me and nearly turned to leave the room.
“Ian,” I whispered, my voice crinkled like paper.
Ian looked back at me, almost frightened.
“Come here,” I said gently. I patted Ian’s bed right beside me.
After a moment’s hesitation, Ian obeyed. He finished removing his shoes and he crossed his room. Then he took an enormous seat about a foot away from me, the mattress springs groaning. He did not look down at me, instead looking at his folded hands. I allowed the silence to continue for a moment while I contemplated on what to say.
“You were trying to help me.”
Ian said nothing.
“Now I know,” I said with a light laugh. “Iatvi sinks don’t turn on with warm water.”
“Oh, sorry,” I mumbled, folding my arms as best I could without causing discomfort. “Iatvi means human. I haven’t spoken English for a while.”
It was quiet for a moment more.
“You have an accent.”
“Do I?” I thought I hid it pretty well. Obviously not.
“Yeah. I’m glad you can speak.”
“Me too. Now I can ask you questions about the Mormon book.”
“It’s ‘Book of Mormon’.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
Ian almost smirked, but then his shoulders fell back down.
Careful not to bend my knee too far backwards, I hauled myself to my feet. Ian did not look over. Despite the downward curve of the bed when approaching him, I managed to walk over to the boy. From his seated position, I stood many inches below his shoulder. I remember clearly that he wore the same gray tank top that he’d worn when he found me. When I reached him, I leaned against his upper arm as one would rest against a wall, and folded my hands. He was quite warm. I felt him pull away slightly, but when I didn’t move, he remained stable.
“Will you be all right?” I asked quietly.
For a moment, he didn’t answer. But then I felt his body begin to tremble, and I turned myself (with as much care as possible) to look up at his face. His neutral expression had been replaced with a growing face of sorrow, and quickly, he pulled in desperate breaths and began to cry.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you…” he whispered, a few tears falling from his eyes. He wiped them away with his hand, but missed a few, which fell onto his lap.
“I know you didn’t.”
He continued to cry for a moment, but let his tears fall as his hand came and wrapped itself around my middle to hold me in place against his arm. It was an awkward embrace.
“Do you know what ‘unlo kadomah’ means?”
Ian shook his head, sniffing.
“It means ‘what a foolish boy’. I always said that to my boy students whenever they dropped their bags or writing boards. But I made a much bigger mistake than that. ‘Via kadomah’. I am the foolish boy, and you were trying to correct my mistake.”
I patted the back of his hand.
“It’s not your fault.”
“But you could have died,” Ian said, his voice shaking. “I almost killed you.”
“Neh monria lai devir agra.”
Ian frowned and finally looked down at me.
“…what does that mean?”
“I didn’t need all that blood,” I said with a smile, patting his arm. “I had just enough. Besides, for all we know, you might have brought my voice back.”
Ian took a few breaths.
“Can… can I hold you?”
“And take me where?”
“Just right here.”
“That’s fine, I guess.”
Ian’s hands wrapped around my waist, and held me in his outstretched arms for a moment. Then, he brought me close and pressed me against his chest; by far the strangest hug I’d ever received, but not an unwelcome one. His chin touched the top of my head.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his youthful voice rumbling.
“Vah sulm, Ian,” I said. “You’re okay.”
After a moment, he held me outwards again. His grip was very gentle, much more gentle than it had been previously.
“Are you tired?” I asked.
Ian shook his head.
“I’m not. Are you?”
“I’ve been asleep all day. I can probably stay up for a while.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to watch you play your video game again,” I said. “I have a lot of questions.”
The next while was very different than the week before. I had slept for most of the day, so my head was much clearer. Ian set me up in the same chair as before, laying down his pillow to support my back. The game he began to play was actually different from the one before, which confused me initially: it’s bright and cartoony nature looked much like the last one. But even Ian’s controller was different. This particular game looked three-dimensional like the last, but the characters only moved up, down, and sideways. There were dozens of different characters to choose from, some malevolent and large, some that looked like children, and some that appeared like a combination of an animal and an Iatvi combined. Ian chose a character that looked like a man in a great suit of armor, although Ian quickly corrected me and told me the character was a woman. This would have shocked the gatherers, don’t you think? The point of the game was, according to Ian: “to hit the bad guys and make them fall off the platform”. Sounded simple enough; many of the children I taught at the village played ‘Ruler of the Mountain’.
It was not simple. Characters that Ian didn’t control fought back with such speed that I couldn’t keep track of them by their bodies; I could only follow the colored symbol that floated over their heads (unreal, I know). Ian’s character could shoot balls of light from a gun, and Ian used them to great effect. His ‘enemies’ kicked and punched and slashed until each fell off the stage in a great explosion. I mentioned to Ian that I was glad I didn’t explode every time I fell to the floor. He laughed at that.
At the end of the match (which Ian’s character won handily), Ian stood up and did something remarkable: he snapped his game into pieces with his hands. At least, it seemed he did. In fact, the parts he broke off were controllers themselves, and to my horror, he placed one of these gray devices into my lap. It wasn’t heavy at all. Much like Ian’s, this controller had a rubber peg that rotated on the left, four round buttons organized to form a diamond on the right, and a smaller square button besides those. Worse, Ian pointed out two more buttons on the back. Then Ian sat down and told me that we were going to play against each other.
“No no no,” I said, not daring to touch the plastic device. “No way I can play this…”
“Come on, Lenn! I know you can do it! We’ll go really slow, and I won’t hit you at all.”
“In real life or in the game?”
There were so many choices in this game, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it all. I let Ian choose everything except which character I would be. On this, he insisted I choose.
“Who looks cool to you?”
‘Cool’? I had no clue. I had never even pressed a button in my life. As I pressed one of them down, something beneath the circle cracked, and I thought I broke it. But I pressed down again, and it cracked again. I held it down. It wasn’t difficult to keep it that way.
“Whoops,” Ian said, snapping up my attention. “You took us back. Hang on.”
“O-Oh,” I said, my face turning red. “I didn’t break it, did I?”
“No,” Ian said simply. “You just took us back to the last menu.”
“What’s… a menu?”
The screen then showed the nearly-infinite list of characters again, and he pointed to the television.
“This screen is a menu. The character menu.”
“Here, I’ll show you how to choose. First, you use this and move it around. That will move the hand on the screen, see?”
I’m not sure this ‘stick’ filled me with much ‘joy’. The surface of this ‘joystick’ was textured and a little bigger than the width of my hand. I found it rotated with remarkable ease. I looked at the joystick, then up at the screen; it did indeed move the colored hand around the ‘menu’. I continued moving it around in awe.
“There! Then, once the hand hovers over the character you want, press this button.”
I couldn’t decide, so I went with the first character “my hand” was over. I pressed the button, and the ‘announcer’ voice of the game loudly said the character’s name. I honestly don’t remember it. Ian then chose his character, and the game started.
I chose to attribute my inability to play the game to my exhaustion. I could move my character left and right, punch, and jump, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around how to perform any of these three actions in unison like Ian. After a few minutes, I felt too embarrassed to continue. I told Ian that playing was a bit too taxing on me, and I insisted on watching him play instead. I could tell this wounded my young friend a bit, so I promised that when I was feeling better, I’d practice and play with him. He accepted this and continued.
I slept in the guest room again, and everyone in the house agreed that there was little problem allowing me to take the whole thing to myself. They even left me a shallow bowl of water and another filled with some orange crackers on the side of the bed in case I got hungry during the night. This time I had a voice, and told them I didn’t deserve any of their kindness.
“Oh, nonsense,” Catherine said. “You’ve been through more than anyone I’ve ever met, and we treat all of our guests when they’re in need. Don’t we, James?”
“It’s true. I haven’t ever had one of my patients staying in our home, but I’d treat you no differently than if you were a patient at my clinic.”
“And you’re my brother,” Ian added solemnly, kneeling next to the bed over me. “It’s my fault I made things worse and I have to make it up to you.”
“Brother?” I heard Catherine whisper to James. He acknowledged her whisper, but didn’t say anything.
“I told you, Ian,” I whispered, my throat still sore and parched. “You have nothing to apologize for.”
“Everything resolved itself all right,” James said, resting his hand on his son’s head. “Lenn is safe, and now you know how to treat him carefully. If you don’t know how to do something, Lenn can tell you now, or you can always ask me.”
I lifted my hand and reached out to Ian, just as I did a week ago. He quickly took my hand in his fingers.
“We have a lot to talk about,” I told him. “I have so many questions.”
“I’ll be home all day, so we can. Do you think Aaron and Chris could come over too?”
“He might be a little too exhausted to handle all three of you boys,” Catherine said.
I grinned, feeling exactly that.
“I still want to talk to you about needing a body to get to heaven.”
“You remembered what I said?”
I nodded, closing my eyes.
“I told you, I want to learn more about this Mormon book.”
“‘Book of Mormon’.”
“That’s what I said.”
“You had him reading scriptures?” James asked with surprise, ruffling Ian’s hair.
“Yeah,” he explained. “He wondered where we were going last Sunday, and I tried to talk to him about church before we left. And then… all this happened. I thought for sure when I hurt you, Lenn, you wouldn’t want to talk to me ever again.”
“Ian,” I growled. I removed my hand from Ian’s fingers and slapped his thumb. “Don’t be silly, of course I’m going to talk to you now that I can.”
Ian managed a smile as James and Catherine chuckled.
“All right,” James said. “Come on, everyone, time for bed. Let’s let Lenn get some rest.”
“Night, Lenn,” Ian said, standing. He waved at me, and I waved back.
I fell asleep quickly. But something happened that night that I did not expect, considering everything that had happened in that week. I’m not sure what time of night it was, but my mind switched on at the sound of enormous heel steps on wood. The room was dark save for the moonlight outside the window, and to be honest, the sound of this Iatvi approaching in the middle of the night scared me silent. A giant shadow entered the room and closed the door behind them. I couldn’t make out who it was until it walked around the bed on which I laid and fell upon the mattress. I rocked and rumbled, and looked towards the figure who now laid next to me. This Iatvi pulled up a blanket around his shoulders that he’d brought with him. I could make out little detail of this human’s face. To my dread, warm fingers spread across the blanket that covered my stomach and the lower parts of my chest.
Then he began to cry.
“Ian…?” I whispered, placing my hand upon one of his knuckles.
“I had… a n-nightmare…” he sobbed. His hand clung to me.
“…about what happened?” I asked.
Ian made no noise to the affirmative, but I knew. I hummed, rubbing the tip of Ian’s finger.
“Get some sleep. We can talk in the morning.”
Ian hummed, and his hand withdrew. He continued to sob, but pretty soon I heard his breath turn into light snoring.