“Hello, boys!” said Catherine in the kitchen. She wore a long pair of loose and no doubt comfortable light blue pants and a patterned blouse; she really was a very beautiful woman, and despite her graying hair, I couldn’t even attempt to guess her age. Older, certainly. But vibrant and sweet. “Lenn, are you sure you’re all right walking around?”
“I’m… I’m fine,” I said, breathing heavily. Just walking from the bathroom into the kitchen was fairly difficult. “Thank you.”
“If you’re sure…” she said. She stepped towards me around the kitchen island, maintaining a respectable distance. “There’s no reason to exhaust yourself.”
I nodded, continuing to take awkward steps towards the island. Ian had followed beside me, his giant feet pounding behind me at my meager speed, his skin adhering to the hardwood with every step. Maybe he expected to catch me should I become unstable.
“Oh, Ian…” Catherine said with disapproval, pointing at her son’s chest. “Can you at least put socks on? And a shirt? I’m sure Lenn doesn’t want to smell you all day.”
“Mom,” he whined. “It’s fine! Lenn doesn’t mind.”
I couldn’t stop a laugh.
“Um,” I said, unable to turn to look back at Ian but able to look up at Catherine. “I do mind. A little.”
“Yup, I thought so. I’ve got a rancid little boy, don’t I?”
“What!” he exclaimed. “I am not ‘rancid’! I don’t even know what that means!”
She stepped right around me as I rested myself against the island and turned Ian right around on his heels.
“Right into the bathroom and wash your feet, young man, and then deodorant. Come on, go!”
“Mom!” he cried. “It’s not a big deal! I took a shower yesterday!”
“You’re almost a teenager now, so it’s time to get used to keeping yourself clean.” I turned around just in time to see Catherine not only spin him around, but take him by his shoulders and shove him back into the hallway. I laughed as he continued to moan.
“Stop embarrassing me!”
I heard the water in the tub turn on, and Catherine stepped into Ian’s room, no doubt to get him fresh clothing.
“Phew!” I heard her say as she entered. “Lenn, you could stand it in here? It’s awful!”
Instinctively, I lifted my own arm as high as it would go and sniffed. Not terrible. Besides, what could I have possibly done to further poison the air in that gigantic room? The thought of the word ‘poison’ made me chuckle again, and my throat burned all the more for it.
“Mom! Cut it out!” Ian’s voice rose over the din of the cascading water.
After a moment, Catherine stepped back into the bathroom, and the water turned off. Ian grumbled something to his mother, and Catherine came back into the kitchen with a smile.
“Much better,” she said to me. “Would you like anything to eat or drink, Lenn?”
“Sia, kaldi, serdi,” I said, not thinking. When she stood there with a look of confusion, I shook the Iatnasi out of my head. “Oh, I mean, yes, please.”
“You have a fascinating language,” she said. “You should teach us all some of your words.”
“I’d like to. I keep stumbling back into it when I should be speaking English. I’ve already started speaking some with Ian,” I told her as she stepped over to the counter near the sink. “We’ll see if he remembers anything.”
Ian then stepped out of the bathroom, down the hall, and right towards me. Now dressed in a short-sleeved shirt with a colorful design on the front and white-and-grey socks on his feet, he certainly did smell better as he came to stand over me. Looking directly at my eyes, however, he wore a slight sarcastic frown; considering I didn’t even stand halfway to his knees, he really could be quite intimidating when he wanted to be.
“Why didn’t you tell me I stunk?” he growled.
“Uh, I…” I felt my back press into the wall of the kitchen island. “I… I didn’t want to insult you again.”
Ian let out a small giggle as he descended towards me, taking me by my waist and lifting me slowly to the cold surface of the flat island top. Once he put me down on my bottom, he folded his arms against the counter and rested his head upon them, a scant half-foot away from me.
“Don’t worry, I’m not insulted.”
“Sulm,” I said, my nerves cooling.
Ian’s eyes narrowed.
“You have a very good memory. How are you doing bad in school?”
“Ian? You’re doing bad in school?”
“No, Mom,” he sighed, standing. “I just didn’t do very well on my last math test. Or my… vocab test.”
“Ian, do I have to check on your grades again? You told me they were going up.”
“They are going up! I just… need to do some extra credit to catch back up, that’s all. Besides, Lenn said he would become my teacher and help me in school.”
Catherine rolled her eyes a bit.
“Lenn has his own problems, Ian. Don’t go throwing your responsibilities at him. He needs to focus on healing, not doing your homework for you.”
“I know, it’s not like that,” Ian said, a bit crestfallen.
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” I said, spreading my legs a bit. “I won’t overexert myself. Ian showed me his phone and his… ‘enter-net’? Is that what it’s called?”
“Internet,” Ian said.
“Sia, inter-net. It’s humbling to see how much Iatvi know about the world. I’ll be able to learn anything Ian needs.”
“Yee-aht-vee?” Catherine asked.
“It means ‘human’,” Ian said. “And yee-et means person.”
“Yee-aht. Like Iatvi.”
“Oh yeah, Iat.”
“It’s the least I can do for you for saving my life,” I continued. “I’m useless in so many ways. But I love reading, and I’m not a terrible teacher… at least I don’t think I am.”
“Oh, Lenn, don’t put yourself down. You’re not useless. From what you’ve told us, you’ve done quite a few impossible things, and despite it all, you’ve survived. Now that your voice is back, you’ll have to tell us all about it. Well… everything that isn’t too painful. I understand if there are questions you don’t want to answer.”
Catherine set down a measuring cup of water beside me and, to my utter shock, a small plate of the most delicious fruits I’d ever seen and smelled, chopped up into small pieces: strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, and cantaloupe (most of which I had no names for, or had ever eaten in so fresh a form).
“No, I… I think I need to talk to someone,” I said, trying to focus over the numbing food beside me. “Talking to all of you might help me process some things.”
“Mom,” Ian said. “Lenn wanted to learn about Heavenly Father, remember? Do you think we can have home evening tomorrow instead of Monday?”
Catherine clasped her hands.
“That’s something you’d really like to talk about?”
“I didn’t tell Ian this,” I said. “But… when Ian prayed last week, and said ‘Heavenly Father’, I remembered something I was taught by one of the elders in my village. That he had read ‘scriptures’ before, I’m not sure which ones. Are there many scriptures?”
“Yes, there are,” she said. “Each of these books have many sections and chapters written by many different people.”
“Elder Namen was his name,” I continued. “He talked to me and some of my students about a powerful person that watched over us and protected us from harm. Not all of the elders believed him, but he was certain something kept our village safe for so many years. At least…” my shoulders fell. “Until the water disappeared. He always told us his favorite words from the scriptures, and I think I remember them. Something about this being taking away sorrow and pain. Maybe he was talking about God.”
“I’ll bet I know which scripture he read,” Catherine said. “I’ll go search for it and tell you the whole thing.”
“I’d like that.”
“All right, go ahead and eat, you two. Ian, the bigger pieces of fruit are over there on the counter.”
“That’s okay, I’ll have a bowl of cereal.”
“Can you put the fruit away, then?”
My mouth had already begun to salivate just looking at the delicious colors and flavors. My hands first picked up a slice of fresh strawberry, and I jammed the whole thing into my mouth; naturally, I failed to jam the last bit in, and juice spilled down my chin and onto my bandages. Although laughing and chewing hurt, I did so. Ian turned from the counter he was reaching into and noticed my predicament.
“Still making a mess?”
I nodded with a grin.
Pulling a colorful box out of the counter, Ian then leaned over the sink and grabbed a paper towel, tore it in half, and placed the half next to me.
“Serdi,” I said, wiping myself off.
“Um… does that mean ‘thank you’?” Ian asked.
I tossed him a glance.
“Sulmtol. Via medasti.”
“Good… something. What’s ‘vee-ah meh-das-tee’?”
“I said: ‘Very good. I’m impressed’.”
“Oh. Thanks! Or, um… serdi!”
More delicious than the last, each piece of fruit sang in my mouth, and I fought through the pain that radiated from my neck to eat as much as I could. The food Ian ate called ‘see-real’ were crunchy squares with an intensely sweet coating of sugar and something he called ‘cin-ah-mahn’. As I tried his food, I started to hiccup, and Ian told me not to wolf down my food. I had no idea I ate like wolves, and I told him so.
“I can’t… *hic*… help it,” I said. “I’m so used to being in danger… *hic*… I learned to eat as quick as possible…”
“Want me to pat your back?” he said, lifting his hand. Three of his fingers lightly tapped me.
“Not… *hic*… helping. You and your family have so much…*hic*…food… I’m going to have to force myself to stop eating.”
“I would explode otherwise! At the village, I never knew when my… *hic*… my next meal would be. That’s why I relied on Aria so much. Sometimes my students would… *hic*… bring me small meals from their parents, but it wasn’t often… *hic*.”
“You went hungry?”
“So that’s why you’re so skinny.”
I looked down at my hands and my arms. Any further down or around, and my neck would complain.
“Am I?” I asked, my diaphragm slowly ceasing. “I guess I’m used to it. *hic*.” I pounded my chest. “Ah, wrande, kaldi…”
“What’s that mean?”
“Huh?” I must have been so tired and full, I hardly noticed what I said. “Oh. I said ‘stop’. To my dumb… um, lundosi. English… what are they called? What I was doing just now?”
“Yeah, hiccups.” I waited a moment. “I think they’re gone.”
Ian looked at me with an entertained smile. I then pointed at him.
“You don’t look skinny at all. Nothing like the kids I taught.”
“They didn’t eat much either, huh?”
“The elder’s children did. But the poorest kids were nothing but skin and bones. I… I never liked it when some of my students didn’t come back to school because they became so hungry. We… lost a lot of kids.”
For a moment, Ian didn’t say anything, putting his spoon down and chewing. When he swallowed, he perked up.
“What if we took them food? I know your village left without you, but what if we went looking for them?”
I shook my head.
“I don’t think that’s possible. They’re probably dozens of miles away by now. And our gatherers are trained to cover their tracks so no one follows them. Besides, even if you shouted for them, that would make them scramble to hide.”
I laughed lightly.
“Could you imagine how horrified they would be if they saw me helping a human kid find them? They’d think it was some kind of revenge for leaving me.”
“I guess so,” Ian said.
Ian and I finished breakfast (with Ian consuming more food from his trough-sized bowl than I could possibly imagine any Iat eating at once). I took one more mouthful of water and stood. Before Ian could carry me to the floor, however, James entered the room from a set of stairs… that I honestly had never realized was there. With the two sets of banisters, I should have assumed they protected a stairway. But from my view from the ground and my anxious mind, I hadn’t noticed them before.
Ian blocked me from James’s direct view until he stepped around.
“Hey Ian. Is Lenn still in the… Oh, there you are, Lenn! How are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m okay,” I answered. “It’s a bit hard to eat, but… I’m not dead.”
“I certainly hope not.”
James approached the counter, making me strain and lean backwards to look up at him.
“I’m glad you and Ian are talking. It hurt Catherine and I to see you injured again, Lenn. And it hurt to see Ian feeling so guilty.” He placed a hand on Ian’s shoulder. “It was all Lenn talked about this week that he didn’t blame you for hurting him.”
Ian nodded, looking down at the table.
“I know…” Ian said. “But I still had a nightmare about it last night.”
“I’ll help you change your mind,” I replied, lifting a hand. Ian took it and shook it. But then he laughed.
“Shaking hands is weird. How about we do this instead?”
Ian lifted his hand and held it out to me palm-upwards. I tilted my head.
“…what am I supposed to do?”
“You’ve never high-fived someone before?”
I shook my head.
“What is that?”
“We hold up our hands and hit them together.”
Ian and James both laughed.
“It’s just something friends do,” Ian explained.
“Consider it less formal than a handshake,” James added.
“…don’t hit me too hard.”
“I won’t hit you at all. Just hit my hand instead.”
I’ll admit it, this was as strange to me as a thumbs up. But I lifted my hand and gently slapped the center of Ian’s palm. At least… I thought it was a slap. Ian didn’t agree, and his hand remained before me.
“Come on,” he said. “You can do it harder than that.”
“Be nice, Ian,” James growled.
“I am being nice.”
My nerves should have taken hold of me. But I took it as a challenge.
I leaned forwards, grabbed the joint of Ian’s middle finger, and brought my hand down upon his fingertip. Less of a slap and more a dull thud, but it proved its point.
“Ian,” James said. “Let’s not have a repeat of last week, yeah? Don’t force Lenn to do anything that will put too much strain on him. You’re a lot stronger than him, you know.”
“Yes please,” I agreed cheerfully. “You’re quite a monster.”
A hilarious and stern frown draped on Ian’s face as a smile grew on James.
“I am not.”
“You haven’t noticed that you’re a mountain to me?”
“That means Dad is an even bigger mountain!”
“But he’s a doctor. That makes him normal and harmless.” I looked up at James, realizing what I’d said. My stomach turned. “I mean, uh… not harmless, exactly. You could, uh… I mean…”
“You’re right, Lenn,” he said with a chuckle. “I wouldn’t hurt you if the world depended on it.”
“Dad’s harmless and I’m not?” Ian moaned. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
I slowly smiled.
“But you’re a very kind monster. You just need practice being one, that’s all.”
Ian puckered his lips to the side and grunted. He didn’t look satisfied with that answer.
“Lenn, you should get as much rest as you can,” James said. He nudged Ian’s shoulder. “I know this bug wants to hang out with you, but don’t hesitate to tell him you need a nap or two.”
“Via su-. Er, I’m okay. I actually wanted to spend some time out of bed for a while. Stretch my legs before I get too tired.”
“This is just the laundry room,” Ian said, stepping over me. He clicked on the light, and I stepped inside, exhausted from my walk from the kitchen. This room was past the guest room and dining room, and with a single small window at the very top of the far wall, the atmosphere was slightly dingy. Never before had I ever been hit in the nostrils with a stronger scent of soap and detergent, so much so that it took me a minute to acclimate. To the left was a structure-sized laundry basket partially filled with clean towels, and beside it was an even taller white bin for discarding dirty cloth.
“I’ve… I’ve never seen a washing machine before,” I said, walking forward. The enormous appliance (and the matching dryer next to it) appeared to be a large metal box with a circular window in the facing surface. I was just tall enough to peer in. “Please never put me in there.”
“No way. You’d drown.”
The kid was certainly good at stating the obvious.
“I’m sure you can imagine how we washed our clothes.”
“Yup,” I said. “If it didn’t rain, we didn’t clean our clothes. But you have running water at all times, and if you didn’t have these machines to do it, you could wash your clothing in the tub or in the sink.”
“And even though you’re a little smelly, everything about this house smells so fresh. Even me, thanks to your dad. You really have soap all the time?”
“Uh-huh, of course,” Ian said, bending down. “Didn’t you?”
“Not all the time. If the gatherers didn’t return with any soap, you could smell everyone in the entire village.”
“Eww,” Ian said, sticking his tongue out.
Ian then made a ‘hmm’ sound.
“Where was your village? It wasn’t in town, was it? Was it up in the hills nearby?”
“I’ll… tell you later, okay? I’m getting kind of tired.”
It was only partially the truth. To be honest, I didn’t want to give him even a rough direction, even though I was fuzzy on its location in the forest myself. He accepted my answer.
“Do you want to go see downstairs?” he asked. “I can carry you. Or… do you want to go to bed?”
I laughed lightly.
“I probably wouldn’t make it down those stairs by myself.”
“So you want to go down?”
So, once again, I found myself in the arms of the boy, initially facing backwards. However, I quickly requested that he spin me forwards, as the thought of going down an enormous set of stairs without seeing where I was going made my stomach churn. So, awkwardly, I sat upon one of his arms while his other acted to hold me in place.
“I’m not heavy, am I?”
“Nope,” Ian said, perhaps too cheerfully.
The gray-and-black speckled carpet of the living room led downwards between a set of ivory banisters, lit by a single light on the angled ceiling. On both walls hung a myriad of pictures in frames, showing images of people I didn’t recognize (no doubt extended Petersen family). Until I looked at one picture in particular that hung near the bottom of the stairs. It was a picture of a younger-looking Catherine and James standing close together with an infant in their arms, holding a piece of paper in between them; I couldn’t make out what the paper in the picture said. I patted Ian’s arm.
“Is that you?”
Ian stopped, peered at the picture, and nodded.
“Yup,” he said. “That was when I was adopted.”
“Wait…” I said, unable to turn around but declaring my surprise. “You’re… not James or Catherine’s son?”
“Of course I am,” Ian said with a chuckle. “But I still see my birth mom sometimes. She’s awesome.”
“Why did…?” I shook my head. “Eh, sorry, I shouldn’t ask.”
I felt Ian shrug.
“Mom and Dad know more than me, and told me they’d tell me when I was older. But I think it was something really sad.”
“But you look so much like James.”
Ian took a breath.
“I think that’s why it’s sad. Dad won’t tell me what it means, though.”
I couldn’t fathom what it meant either. So I let it alone and allowed Ian to take me further.
Turning left at the end of the stairs was a pair of hallways, one proceeding straight towards the far wall of the house and one to the left. Instead of proceeding down them, however, Ian pushed open a door to the right and stepped inside.
This room was equally as large as the kitchen and dining room upstairs. Covered in the same comfortable speckled carpet, this room had cupboards and shelves in the left corner filled with all sorts of boxes and blankets. The walls were covered in tasteful framed images and paintings, small shelves covered in knick-knacks and other such items, and even the words ‘family is forever’ written in black ink above a wide leather L-shaped couch. A dark-colored ottoman sat in the center of the room, and an impossible television larger than Ian’s hung upon the wall opposite the seats. Further into the room was a table with a strange flat device sitting upon it. For such a simple room, I had a lot of questions… and I worried I wouldn’t be able to ask them all before I fell asleep.
“This is the TV room,” Ian said. “Um… yeah. It’s nice to watch movies in here and take naps.”
“Is that…” I pointed. “It can’t be a television, it’s so big…”
I felt a short blast of breath from Ian as he guffed.
“Yeah it is,” he said. “Check it out.”
At first, Ian stepped forwards and tried to reach for what appeared to be a television remote on the ottoman. His arm beneath me vanished, and the arm that secured me instead flattened me against his chest. When the breath flew out of my lungs, I grunted as loudly as possible, and my injury growled along with me as my upper arms tried to lift myself upwards away from the pressure on my stomach.
“Ah, oops,” Ian said. Both hands recovered me and lowered me down to the ottoman. “I’m sorry, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine…” I said, breathing for a moment. Although not serious, it did feel as though my insides had been squished out of place.
“Ah, I’m sorry, Lenn…” Ian growled. “I’m so bad at this.”
“Vah sulm, Ian. You would be just fine if it wasn’t for this… urg, neck of mine. Normally I can take a bit of jostling… I think. Give me a few weeks, and you can squish me all you want.”
“Okay,” he said with a smile.
Ian sat down behind me on the couch. To my great discomfort, Ian propped up onto the stool, his crossed legs and feet landing right next to me. I couldn’t turn around to see any expression on his face, although I believe I did hear a light laugh as his socked feet stretched and bounced up and down; revenge for making him wash them, I supposed.
The images that flashed upon the television’s surface were so clear, I could have sworn that I was looking through a window. For a few moments, Ian and I relaxed and watched one of the channels on this remarkable piece of technology, an animated show of moving colors and entertaining characters. I didn’t understand most of the jokes this ‘cartoon’ made, but the way the characters moved and stretched made me laugh. I decided I liked this particular show simply because of how silly it was; it made me forget for a moment about all the fuzzy thoughts going through my mind.
The food that sat in my stomach and the pain of my neck made my head dizzy, and my eyes involuntarily drooped. I couldn’t rightly turn my head, but after fifteen minutes or so, I waved at Ian.
“I think I’m ready for sleep,” I said, woozy.
“You sure? You don’t want to see the rest of the house?”
“I think I’ll… see it later, if it’s okay with you.”
I heard Ian rise and I felt a pair of warm hands lift me upwards. I expected Ian to hold me to his shoulder again, but then I felt myself lying prone in the crook of his arm.
“I’m not a child… silly kani,” I said quietly.
“Ha, you are too.”
I closed my eyes but hardly intended to fall asleep right then. I only made it to the top of the stairs before I fell unconscious.
My next sensation was one of extreme heat. My eyes opened, and I found myself in the familiar setting of the guest room. I don’t remember having been placed there, or beneath so many blankets. But as I lowered them from my chest, I found myself drenched in sweat. Ian must have thought that more blankets meant more comfort. The room itself was neutral, adding a bit to my discomfort. Yet I relaxed and let the distant breeze of the air conditioning wick the moisture away.
It was then I felt myself sitting in a terribly familiar state. I was naked again. Beneath and above my waist were cotton pads, same as before.
No, Ian would never… would he? Surely it was James.
Outside, the morning had been replaced with a dull light, and I could see a few raindrops upon the glass of the window. I pressed my hand upon the bandages of my shoulder and neck; they were sore and pulsing, but the bandages felt somehow new and tightly wound. I expected loose bandages, not more secure. I threw my eyes around to see the red lights beneath the old television. They read ‘2:36 P.M.’.
“Huh,” I mumbled. I’d only been asleep for a few hours.
Sleepy minutes passed when I heard the front door of the house open like a hammer on metal. To be honest, it shocked the daylights out of me for its volume. I couldn’t help but squirm as great footsteps bounded in my direction. Then, the footsteps slowed to silence, and I saw a great head slowly emerge from the side of the door frame. A large pair of green-blue eyes met mine.
“Lenn!” exclaimed Ian, who entered the room and quickly kneeled in front of the bed. He wore a hoodie and his hair appeared tossed, but he didn’t look too much different than when I had fallen asleep. “Are you okay? You scared me!”
“…what?” I rubbed an eye. “What do you mean? I just got up.”
“You’ve been asleep for two days! Dad told me not to worry, but I thought you were in another coma!”
I pulled the blanket further up my body, just to be sure.
“Yeah,” Ian said. “I just got home from school.”
I hadn’t even remotely regained consciousness in all that time, even when the Petersens had handled me. Of course, when I had been in a ‘coma’, it was expected, but to sleep so soundly that not even humans could wake me…
“Yul…” I whispered. “I guess I really did need sleep.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Ian agreed.
It was silent for a moment as we both looked at each other awkwardly.
“Um,” I whispered. “Where are my pants?”
Ian blinked and scratched his arm.
“Oh. Yeah, Dad wasn’t sure if you were gonna… uh… pee on yourself…”
The expression on his face struck me immediately. I laughed out loud and covered my face with my hands.
“Ahh!” I growled. “I have never had so much trouble going to the bathroom before. It’s so embarrassing…”
Ian smiled and laughed as well.
“When you gotta go, you gotta go,” he said.
“Eh, speaking of which,” I said. “Can you help me? I… really need to go. I don’t like the thought of making a mess in my bed.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, raising his hands to take me. “Dad set up a bedpan on the floor to make things super easy.”
“Wait, wait. Pants first please.”
“Oh. Sorry! They’re over here.”
“Explain something to me,” I said, now seated in the chair in Ian’s bedroom. Ian had swung the chair towards his bed, which he sat upon. Beside me was the strange blue-bound book, and in Ian’s hands was his phone (which apparently had the same words). The book was opened to the first chapter, one called ‘Nephi’.
“This ‘Nephi’ person. And his father. It says they lived in ‘600 B.C.’ What does B.C. stand for?”
“B.C. means ‘before Christ’. I think.”
“So they lived 600 years before Christ lived? What would that be… 2600 years ago?”
“Right. So, Lehi prayed and saw a ‘pillar of fire’… like, a bonfire? Or something bigger?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Did God make the fire?”
“Does that happen a lot?”
Ian lightly laughed.
“Nah. I’ve only heard of it in the scriptures.”
“And then Lehi went to sleep and had a dream about a book and… something about Jerusalem, and… a-bom-in-ations? And Babylon? I don’t know these words.”
“Jerusalem is the city where the Jews lived. And Babylon was a bad place. I think ‘abominations’ means ‘sins’.”
“Who are the Jews?”
“They were God’s people in the Bible. They were also the people that killed Jesus.”
“God’s people… killed Heavenly Father’s Son?”
“It was really sad. They were really sinful.”
“So, with Lehi, God… or these ‘bright people’… told Lehi that Jerusalem was going to be destroyed and the people made slaves because of their sins?”
Ian nodded again.
“Sins are that bad?”
“Sometimes,” Ian said. “In the Bible, God gave the Jews the Ten Commandments. It says things like ‘don’t kill’, ‘don’t steal’, ‘keep the sabbath day holy’.”
“What’s the last one mean?”
“It, uh… It means go to church and learn about God on Sunday. And visit family and friends and help them.”
“The Jews were killing people and stealing and… not going to church? I mean, killing people and stealing is pretty serious. Not all of those people stole and killed, did they?”
“I don’t know. It sounds like they did. They didn’t listen to God’s prophets, and tried to kill them when they told them to repent, like Lehi.”
“What is ‘repent’?”
“Um, it’s asking God to take away your sins, and you promise not to do them anymore. Or, asking Jesus, since He was the One that died to take sin away.”
“Wait…” I said, holding up a hand. “I got confused. Is Heavenly Father God or is Jesus God? Are they both Gods?”
“Kinda? Dad told me that it’s just like a prayer: we pray to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus. And then there’s the Spirit like it says right here,” he leaned over, and pointed to the line that began with the number eight. “That’s the Holy Ghost. He’s the one that guides us to do good things. So there’s Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. All three of them are the Godhead.”
“God… head? Two words? Or one word?”
“I know, kinda confusing. But there’s a scripture that says that their whole plan is to help all of us return to heaven.”
“Hmm,” I said, scratching my arm. “You said that we needed to be resurrected and have our bodies to get to heaven. Do we really? I don’t want to live forever dragging this stupid leg behind me.”
“But that’s the exciting part. When we’re resurrected, everything that’s wrong with us will be fixed. Your leg will be fixed, people who are blind will be able to see, and there won’t be any sickness. Because of Jesus, everything will be perfect.”
I perked up.
“Really? Where does it say that?”
“Hang on. Let me find it.”
I’m unsure what Ian was typing into his phone, but it only took him about thirty seconds to find what he was searching for.
“Yeah! Turn to Alma 40.”
“Um… where is that? Was he another prophet?”
“Yep. Here, I’ll find it,” Ian said, taking the book from me. He flipped through a large portion of the book until he found the right page, then he returned it to me. “This is one of the scriptures that talks about resurrection. See?”
I read in my head: “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost.”
I thought about this for a moment.
“Every hair? That’s a lot of hair. I’ll need a haircut in heaven then? Or several.”
“That would be weird, huh?” he laughed.
“I remember you said something about the spirit. Like a ghost but not? What is a spirit?”
“Without your body, you would be a spirit.”
“So I would have to be dead?”
“Not really. You have a spirit right now in your body. Or, I think you are your spirit. I was taught this in church: pretend you’re wearing a glove on your hand.”
He wiggled his fingers.
“The glove would be your body, and your hand would be your spirit. And the glove can’t move without your hand. And when you die, the glove – your body – stops moving. But your hand – your spirit – can move, and still lives on after your body dies.”
“So I’m a spirit wrapped in my body like a glove?” I’d never heard that before. “Strange. So if I die, my spirit will still be alive? I won’t actually be dead?”
Ian wobbled his hand back and forth.
“Your body will be dead, but your spirit won’t be. When you die, it isn’t the end. Oh see? A few verses back.”
I looked down and studied backwards.
I read silently: “There is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.”
“Hmm.” I shugged. “II would rather be happy than miserable when I die. So I’ll get my body back, and my legs won’t be crippled, and then God will judge me for my sins, what I’ve done wrong?”
“Yep. That’s why it’s important to repent and live right, so we can be happy.”
I then had an odd question.
“How tall is my spirit? Will I be taller than you when I’m resurrected, like a Iatvi? Or will I be smaller than you forever?”
Ian pursed his lips.
“I have no idea,” he admitted. “That would be cool if you were taller, though. Then you’d be my big brother instead of my little brother.”
“Does any of this make any sense?” Ian asked.
“A little. I’ll have to read more. You said you’re not good at explaining this, but you’re better than you think.”
“Thanks. I hope everything I said is right. If not, Dad will definitely know. He’s a teacher in our ward, so he’s really good at it.”
“Oh, um… our church group, I guess. There’s lots of wards that meet in the same building.”
“Do you want to keep reading, then? Or… I’ve got some homework that’s due tomorrow, and maybe you can help me with some of it?”
“I told you… unless it’s about reading, writing, or counting to ten, I’m not going to be of much help.”
“Do you know multiplication tables?”
I bounced my eyes around.
“Um. Multiple… kitchen tables?”
I got a sincerely confused stare back.
“I’m kidding. I think. You’ll probably have to teach me before I can teach you.”
“It’s just lots of memorizing.”
I was this nerdy kid when I was growing up. I knew the scriptures pretty well (I thought) and I kept it reverent in church as best I could… even when I felt friendless. I tried to describe a conversation between a boy and someone who didn’t know anything. I hope it doesn’t sound overly preachy.
“So I have a soul? Or… I am my soul? And when I die, or my body dies, my soul won’t die along with it? I kinda like that idea. It makes death seem less scary. But where do I go after my body dies? I don’t stay here, do I? Invisible and floating around? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a soul.”
James and Catherine chuckled as Ian sucked down his food loudly.
“A lot of people think that,” Catherine said. “That dead people are just ghosts that haunt places. That may be, but I don’t think things aren’t quite that simple. There are also a lot of people that think that death is just the end, that once you die, you just stop… being. But we do know that we have both bodies and spirits, and when we die, we go to a place called the spirit world. Just like the scripture Ian shared with you, it’s the place we go to between death and the resurrection.”
“When we die, our spirits continue to live on either in happiness or misery depending on how we’ve lived our lives. Good job, Ian, sharing those scriptures.”
Ian nodded and hummed, slurping his soup.
“So… what’s in the spirit world? Does it look like the regular world, with houses and trees, and regular things like that?”
“We don’t know exactly what it looks like on the other side,” said Catherine. “But we do know that we have family there watching over us that love us, and that many of them are working to call people to Christ.”
I frowned, scratching my bandages.
“What people? Dead people can teach about God?”
“Yes,” James said. “Just imagine how many people, humans or even your people, who have lived on Earth since the beginning of life. God loves all of His children, so He wants to teach them all, even the ones that have died without hearing about Him. So many of those people have never even heard of the Savior or Heavenly Father, or why they need the Atonement. Have you heard that word before?”
I shook my head.
“Ian probably told you about Jesus and how he died to save us from death and sin. But He did more than that. He felt every pain that people have ever experienced, endured all of the sickness and weakness of Heavenly Father’s children so everything could be made right. If you make mistakes, Christ is there to help you. If you get frustrated with your legs, Jesus knows exactly how that feels because He’s experienced it. Not physically, but mentally and spiritually.”
“Atonement. I’ve read ‘atone’ before. ‘Atone for crimes’, something like that. Matashk… Shame? Is it like shame? To feel shame for something?”
James pursed his lips.
“Not exactly, although shame goes hand-in-hand with poor choices, doesn’t it?”
“Let’s see…” James put his spoon aside and produced a large from his pocket. It looked remarkably like Ian’s in color, but much larger in size. He pressed a few buttons. “To atone: to make amends or reparations.”
“Repair-ations. Like, to fix something?”
“Right,” James said. “We don’t always act perfectly, do we? We always make mistakes. The Atonement ‘fixes’ us. But we have to do our part. That’s where repentance comes in.”
“So I’m… broken. Ian said that I need to repent so I can live in heaven. But… I don’t think I’ve ever done anything really bad. I haven’t… really killed anyone, or stolen anything… exactly. I haven’t gone to church, I guess, but I never knew what church was until now. I mean… does this Atonement fix everything? Like my legs? Did I… sin to make my legs this way? If I repent, will they be fixed?”
“No, your legs don’t have anything to do with something you did. Some things just happen. Life isn’t easy, and some are dealt more difficult circumstances than others. But I don’t have to tell you that.”
“Oh, um… different… situations? Some are poor, some are rich, some are sick, some are healthy. That sort of thing.”
“Jesus healed a lot of people when he was alive,” Ian said. “Maybe if Dad gives you a blessing, Jesus can fix your legs?”
“A blessing?” I said quickly. “I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s like a prayer that can give comfort and healing. But I’m not too sure about that. It’s true that Jesus healed people when He lived. But there are a lot of people with a lot of problems who won’t be whole until the resurrection. I help them every day, and it never gets any easier to see them suffer.”
My expression fell.
“Then…” I whispered, stirring my soup with my trowel-sized spoon. “I don’t get it. I’m pretty broken, but… what’s the point of repenting if it doesn’t actually fix me? Why should I do it?”
James’s face hardened into thought.
“Let’s see,” he said. “Can I share a scripture with you?”
I nodded. After a moment, he cleared his throat.
“This is in Alma as well,” he said. I was impressed how many answers came from this particular section. “Chapter thirty-four: ‘The verse says: ‘For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God’. This whole life is preparing us for a better one, so long as we soften our hearts and do right. Because of Christ’s Atonement, you can find peace in yourself right now and forever.”
“Hmm,” I said, folding my arms. Peace seemed a little too distant a promise, much less a ‘forever’ peace. “I’m… not sure I know some of those words. What does a soft heart mean? And I read the word… salvation? Salvation from what?”
“Well, I suppose someone with a hard heart would turn away from God’s promises to us, away from the Atonement. We’re not perfect,” Catherine said. “No one but Christ lived a sinless life. If it wasn’t for Him and the Atonement, we would never be able to return to live with Heavenly Father again and progress beyond this life. It’s salvation from death… and all the terrible things this world is filled with.”
“Right,” James said. “And repenting is about separating yourself from everything that stops you from progressing and learning. Repenting isn’t a one time thing. Look at it this way. Repentance is a way to work with Heavenly Father to improve yourself day by day. I believe that repentance isn’t just about telling God about everything you’ve done wrong. It’s about asking Him to change your mind and heart. In ways He would want you to change to become the best person you can be.”
I thought about everything for a moment.
“I guess I like the idea of repentance if it’s like that,” I said. “If I felt bad about everything I did all the time… Like I do right now… I wouldn’t be able to do it again and again.”
“Exactly,” James said. “It’s not about feeling terrible. Heavenly Father and Jesus love us too much to make repentance like that. It’s about improvement. And thanks to the Atonement, all those feelings you have about your family and your people abandoning you, or even your frustrations about your legs… It won’t immediately make it right, obviously, but it can help you forgive and help you heal emotionally. You could probably use some comfort, right?”
The pain of everything I said to you was eating me up inside. I could hide it by saying my guilt and anger came from the village, but… They didn’t matter, all the gatherers and all the elders. They were the least of my concern. I’d been abandoned by them all years before. You never abandoned me.
But I abandoned you.
I still don’t forgive myself for what I said to you. But if this heavenly Person could take away my pain, at least for a little while… I would never forget, but maybe the sting could go away until I could find you. I wrapped my arms around myself and closed my eyes. I suppose I should have been more surprised, but tears formed. I rubbed them away before they dropped.
I nodded to James.
“I… “ I whispered. “Yeah, I could… I could use that right now.”
“Repentance might not take away your physical challenges,” James said, gently patting my knee. “But you’d be surprised at how much more you can accomplish with a peaceful heart.”
I nodded and did my best to stop myself from feeling emotions of the past. I couldn’t deal with it all in front of the Iatvi around me. Not that they couldn’t help, I suppose. More because of the matashk that was apparent in my face.
“Peaceful is better than sad, huh Lenn?”
I looked up at Ian’s face as soup dribbled out of his mouth and down his chin as he said my name. His eyes widened as he leaned over his bowl. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I raised my arm against any potential splashing.
“Hey,” I said. “Don’t spit on me.”
He laughed as he smeared the soup from his mouth with the back of his hand.
“So…” I said, thinking. “How do you know about all of this? Is it all from these old books, these scriptures? But then… where did the scriptures come from? How do we have them thousands of years later?”
“Well,” James said. “We have scriptures because of righteous men called prophets. Some lived thousands of years ago, some hundreds, and some even live today. Did Ian tell you about prophets?”
“He did. Is it like an elder of a village?” I smiled and mimicked the facial feature I would never grow myself. “Maybe an ancient person with a big white beard?”
“Yep, some of them certainly had wild beards,” James chuckled. “I should show you some pictures. Today, they’re more clean shaven, but yes, I imagine they are much like your elders. They are wise leaders that lead God’s church and teach God’s children about Him.”
“In our village, each elder picked the next elder, and on and on. Does a prophet get picked like this?”
“Not exactly. God chooses his prophets.”
“There are technically many prophets today called apostles that teach and travel all over the world,” said Catherine. “But there is a single prophet that leads the church. He receives revelation for everyone.”
“Receiving information from God,” James explained. “I don’t know how often the prophet speaks with God directly, but he does. The prophet can receive revelation for the whole world. I can receive revelation for my family.” Then he pointed at me. “And you can receive revelation for yourself.”
I tilted my head.
“God can talk to me?”
“That’s what prayer is, right Dad?” Ian asked.
“Prayer is how we talk with God,” James said with a nod. “And we can receive answers from God through the scriptures or by listening to the prophet.”
“Oh. I thought God would speak to me… just like we’re talking. What about Lehi and the bonfire? Or in dreams?”
“He means a ‘pillar of fire’,” Ian said. “In Nephi.”
“In fires, not so often,” James said with a chuckle. “But the Spirit can sometimes speak to us in dreams, or even in the middle of the day when you’re awake. Sometimes I’ll be doing something at work or at home, and I’ll have a thought about how God can help me be a better husband for Catherine and a father to Ian. Revelation usually comes through simple things. The Spirit speaks in different ways, but once you come to recognize it and act on what you feel is right, it gets easier to hear.”
“Oh. The spirit. Not my spirit, but the Ghost? The Holy Ghost?”
“You and Ian covered a lot of ground, didn’t you?”
“I think so.”
Ian nodded, almost finished with his bowl of food. I hadn’t even touched mine yet.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground, too. And this is all new to you, isn’t it?”
“Sia, ven,” I said. “I mean, yes, it is. But it all sounds good.”
“I’m glad. Take some time to think about it, and hopefully it can help you feel better about yourself and everything that’s happened to you.”
James turned back to his food, but then something connected in my mind.
“Um… James?” I said. James looked down at me again. “…when Ian said Heavenly Father for the first time, it suddenly felt really important to me. I’d never heard the two words combined before, but they felt right, like… nepio… a puzzle? Like pieces of something fit together, or…“ My face turned red. “Sorry, I don’t think I’m making much sense.”
James lit up like I’d never seen him before, and Catherine smiled at him.
“No, you’re making more sense than ever. What do you think about it?”
I looked down at the table.
“I mean, it wasn’t a voice. Just… something really strange. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s why I asked Ian if I could learn about God in the first place.”
“I’d say something pretty important happened, wouldn’t you?” James said. “Moments like that mean something you just heard or learned is true.”
I paused for a moment. And then an entertaining thought struck me.
“I didn’t feel anything like that when I learned where the Mediterranean was.”
James and Catherine laughed.
“Good thing the Holy Ghost doesn’t quite do His work like that,” James said. “My head would burst from all of the new things I learn every day.”
“I never get good feelings about things like math,” Ian said. “That means multiplication and fractions must not be real important.”
“Hah, you’re funny, kid,” James said. “You’re still doing your homework. And yes, I heard you in your room. Lenn isn’t going to do it for you, is he?”
“Ugh,” he growled, throwing his head backwards and slumping in his chair. “No!”
“And, no, I’m not riding in your backpack to give you the answers on your next test.”
Catherine’s face flashed with shock.
“Ian James Petersen! Don’t you dare!”
“What? No!” He pointed at me. “He’s making that up! I didn’t say that!”
Ian gently pushed my head sideways, and when James barked at him, I had to pull back my laughter to make my throat stop burning.
And this is what I did on my mission to Los Angeles. If someone had a question about resurrection, that’s the first place I went. That’s what it’s all about: all things set to their proper frame, mind and body. Why would Lenn be different?
Before I settled in for the night, Catherine had an admittedly expected ‘surprise’: with a flexible measuring strip, she had me stand up upon the bed and raise my arms up high. Writing down each measurement on a pad of paper, she placed the tape across different areas of my chest as well as around my waist. She simply said the results of her project would be ‘another present’, even though it was fairly easy to deduce what she had in mind. I played dumb, just for her sake. I also didn’t tell her Ian had already told me. I didn’t want to sour anything.
I slept very well that night, and experienced no dreams. I was just grateful that the cotton pads were gone and my pants were on. I’d only known James for a few weeks, but I trusted him several times more than any herbalist I’d ever visited. The bandages I wore were itchy and coarse, and the wipes and creams he applied smelled sickeningly medicinal, but for nearly having my throat torn open and nearly bleeding to death twice now, I felt very comfortable. Very tired, but comfortable. I didn’t have any fear of the dark inside that bedroom, even with the churning of the air pumping through the home’s vents and the gentle clicking of the annoying bug repellent in the hall outside.
In the blink of an eye, dark night turned to morning, and I found something lightly nudging my shoulder.
I blinked my eyes and initially looked towards the window until my senses pulled me sideways.
“Lenn,” whispered a boy’s voice.
“…Ian?” I asked. I carefully rubbed an eye. “What is it?”
“I’m going to school. Dad wanted me to ask you if you needed anything before I go. Water? Food?”
My addled brain thought for a moment.
“Um…bathroom,” I whispered, feeling the bandage at my throat. The pain was particularly intense that morning.
Ian helped me to the floor and I could hardly stand on my own. I moaned lightly and wobbled back and forth above the bed pan, and even my lungs couldn’t take in much air. I’m sure Ian wasn’t looking, but it took all of my strength to finish. In fact, I barely pulled my pants back up before I collapsed to the carpet on my bottom. When I grunted from the crash, Ian turned around.
“Lenn? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t… I don’t know…” I whispered. My head spun like someone stirring syrup. “I think… I worked myself… too hard yester… yesterday.”
“What can I do?”
“Yeah yeah. Should I pick you up?”
“Uh-huh… I can’t get up… by myself.”
Ian did so, and placed me back in bed. After helping me with a drink of water and a piece of apple, he departed, reminding me that Catherine would check on me every once in a while. As it turned out, this wasn’t necessary at all, as I slept without interruption until I again felt a soft nudge on my shoulder. My eyes opened, and I turned my head (with much difficulty) to see Ian’s eyes. I didn’t register the time of day.
“Sorry Lenn,” he said quietly. “Mom wanted me to check on you again.”
Already? Had he left for school at all? Had he even left the house?
I contemplated my existence for a moment. This alone was difficult. My arms weighed like lead and I could hardly bring air into my chest. I flexed my fingers and my toes, and this was a struggle. I had no attention, and everything was blurred. After a moment of not responding, Ian nudged my shoulder again as if unsure I had heard him.
“Lenn? Are you okay?”
“Neh, vai faem… dalbea…“
“I… I don’t know what that means.”
“Neh phodia… undai lai lediaji… Monria… codi…”
I was out of it, thinking only of you. I felt a human finger brush across my hair.
“Lenn… I can’t understand you. Can you speak English? Don’t fall asleep, please… I have to know you’re okay…”
My eyelids fluttered open and closed, and I saw stars in my vision. I had no nausea, but the mind beneath my brow was pulsing.
“Via… Ke… I… I’m…”
I lifted my left hand, and I felt a pair of fingertips grip it tightly.
“Ian…” I whispered. “Reli, I’m… need to…”
“Don’t, don’t, please don’t go to sleep…” Ian’s voice said. “I don’t want you to.”
For about two minutes, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open and live in the world. Perhaps the only thing that tethered me to reality was the sensation of Ian gently rubbing my hand together in his fingers. I had never felt quite like this before, so tired and weak. When it finally exhausted itself, there was nothing for my body to do but shut down.
“Aria…” I whispered. “Unor, Ar… Aria…”
I blew more air, but my voice didn’t follow along.
“Lenn… Tell me what that means. Please tell me.”
My sight went black.
I have no idea how much time passed. Five minutes? An hour? A day? The next feeling was a solid cold weight pressing against my chest. I looked, and bending down above me was the silhouette of James. Ian knelt beside him again rubbing my hand as if he hadn’t departed. For all I knew, he hadn’t. The weight was a stethoscope, and James’s expression was neutral.
“He’s awake, he’s awake…” Ian said, his voice filled with concern. “Is he gonna be okay?”
It was a moment more before James spoke.
“I can hardly hear his heartbeat,” he said.
“What? Is he gonna die?!”
“No, don’t worry. I don’t think so. He’s still feeling the effects of losing so much blood, probably.” I felt the back of a finger brush across my forehead. “He’s sweating, so no fever. That’s a good sign.”
I felt dizzy. Perhaps a bit more lucid, but still floating in my own little pond.
“Lenn? Are you awake?”
“Ian…” I whispered.
“Are you all right? Can you speak English?”
“Tareh… ahh… wa-water…”
“Go grab him some, Ian,” James said, and Ian shot away from my side like a bolt. “What are you feeling?”
“Hoda… c-cold…” I stammered.
“I’ll bring in a space heater to make sure you stay warm.”
This is how I made this story a bit personal. Like I said, I never meant to publish it. But hey, here it is. Why shouldn’t a family be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? I am part of one, and I’m doing just fine.