I Am Lenn – Chapter Six

“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.

“Good?”

I grinned.

“You have a very good memory. How are you doing bad in school?”

Catherine turned.

“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 nodded.

“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?”

Catherine nodded.

“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?”

“Yeah.”

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.”

“Why?”

“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?”

I nodded.

“Yeah. *hic*”

“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?”

“Hiccuping?”

“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.”

I hesitated.

“Why?”

Ian and James both laughed.

“It’s just something friends do,” Ian explained.

“Consider it less formal than a handshake,” James added.

I shrugged.

“…don’t hit me too hard.”

“I won’t hit you at all. Just hit my hand instead.”

“All right.”

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.

“Harder, huh?”

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.

“That’s better!”

“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.”

“In rivers?”

“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.”

I laughed.

“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 paused.

“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?”

“Yeah, sure.”

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.”

“Oh.”

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.

“What’s up?”

“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!”

I frowned.

“…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.

“…it’s Monday?”

“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’.

“Yeah?”

“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?”

“Yup.”

“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?”

Ian nodded.

“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?”

“One word.”

“Huh.”

“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.”

Ian grinned.

“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.”

I frowned.

“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.

“This one.”

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.”

“Hah. Funny.”

“Does any of this make any sense?” Ian asked.

I shrugged.

“A little. I’ll have to read more. You said you’re not good at explaining this, but you’re better than you think.”

Ian grinned.

“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.”

“Ward?”

“Oh, um… our church group, I guess. There’s lots of wards that meet in the same building.”

“Ah.”

“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.

“Huh?”

I laughed.

“I’m kidding. I think. You’ll probably have to teach me before I can teach you.”

“It’s just lots of memorizing.”

I shrugged.

“Sure.”


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.”

“Spirit world?”

James nodded.

“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?”

I nodded.

“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.”

“Circum… stances?”

“Oh, um… different… situations? Some are poor, some are rich, some are sick, some are healthy. That sort of thing.”

“Oh.”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.”

“Revelation?”

“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?”

James nodded.

“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!”

I laughed.

“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.

“…huh?”

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?”

“Water?”

“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.

I Am Lenn – Chapter Five

I awoke before the sun did. Or it seemed I had. From what I could tell, the day would be a stormy one. I looked over towards where the red clock numbers under the television should have been, and I found myself instead staring at the sleeping body of a boy. Ian was facing me, and most of his blanket had fallen down towards his feet during the night. I couldn’t tell before, but he was shirtless and appeared to be wearing long flannel pajamas.

It was curious. Usually I woke to my own scent in my blankets, which was awful at the best of times. But in the last few days, my skin instead smelled like soap. Like an Iatvi. I had asked James, and indeed, Doctor Petersen was the reason I had no trace of dirty canal left on any part of me: he had cleaned every part of me himself. This didn’t concern me as much as it could have; it was more the fact that I previously had a pad beneath me and a towel on top to take care of bathroom business. He told me that, considering my bandages, it was probably a bad idea that I tried to bathe in the sink anyway, so he used cold and wet wipes to clean around the sealing injury. These two facts that he had cared for me this way made me incredibly embarrassed and humble, and during those days in his care, I thanked him every single day.

Of course, there was nothing to do with my hair; no man could tame it, not even me.

That morning, though, the room smelled different. One was laundry detergent, stronger now. The second was Ian and his blanket. Without the clash of anything cooking in the kitchen, it was strangely comforting. Yes, I had siblings, but I never really knew them or spent time with them. I slept alone in the cold in my little school. Even during the summers in the forest, when the sunlight streamed through the gaps in the ceiling, I awoke to silence. Sleeping close to an unfamiliar person, I didn’t know how to feel about it.

I raised myself up, and felt the burn across my neck. It had improved in the few days since, but getting used to movement in the morning was a struggle. I sat up and popped my back as I lurched forwards. A yawn emerged, and I stifled it as much as possible to keep my throat and neck from overstretching. My blanket was warm, but so was the room, so I tossed it away from me. My right leg stretched easily, my left leg not so much. It may have been warped, but it needed stretching too; I bent it as far as it would, the knee slightly bending forwards instead of backwards. Good enough. It never got ‘better’, exactly, but I felt incredibly strong compared to my life as a teenager. You always told me to go out and exercise, but I never did listen. If I had known I would be putting so much pressure on this weak leg of mine, fighting for my life… Well, I might have been more attentive to your advice.

For a moment, I simply sat there, too tired to get up, too awake to fall back asleep. I kept looking back at the boy sleeping. A week and a half ago, I would have died of a heart attack to be so close to an ataika, this young boy. I couldn’t get over the difference in our sizes and lives. I wished again what I’d wished many times: I wished I were Iatvi. A smart Iatvi who could walk and talk with other Iatvi and go anywhere I please in complete safety.

If I had said as much to any of the gatherers or elder Iatili in the village, I would be kicked or spit on. Iatvi kept vicious monsters like cats and dogs as pets. They set traps for mice, but might as well have set traps for us. I would be swiftly reminded of how destructive and murderous they all were.

They weren’t wrong, I suppose, thinking about how one careless action by the child sleeping beside me could have ended my life. What was a teachable moment for him put me in a coma for three days. But then, those damn vyshtal, those idiots back at the village, were never wrong, and the spears and hooks they wielded ensured it. My people weren’t different from the Iatvi, though. Just as destructive. Just as murderous. They simply thought they had power and knowledge, where the Iatvi had that and much more.

You didn’t speak to me when I tried to talk to you about these things. You walked away from me more than once. But the Petersens never abandoned me, or threw me away. Ian wasn’t the one who gave me the scar across my neck. Or my sadness. I could blame the elders all I wanted, of course. I could blame my parents. But in the end, my choices were what ruled me.

All the negative emotions that welled up in my mind buzzed about so loudly, my head lifted and I looked at Ian as if he would wake by the chaos of it. But he was still fast asleep. I sighed and attempted to put it out of my mind; now sleep was truly far from me.

Trying not to grunt and groan, I fought through my bandages and my bum leg to stand. If I jumped or took mighty steps, I imagined the bed would shake Ian up.

A thought crossed my mind, a delightful one that shook me out of my haze in an instant. I wanted to do something. It would be strange. Daring. And when would I ever get the chance to do it again? My lips curled at the prospect.

I crawled out of my ‘nest’ and onto the bed itself; my bedding didn’t lay upon a mattress only, but a soft stitched blanket on top neatly laid flat… well, mostly flat, before Ian crashed down upon it. The bed was decidedly thinner even by Iatvi standards, as my bedding sat only a foot away from Ian’s dozing head. Or did he just move closer to me during the night? I shrugged, and approached him.

I couldn’t believe it: for the first time, I stood taller than him. Taller than his head was wide, anyway. I could see the red clock lights over his messy hair. Both his arms were laid in front of his head, blocking me from his face. I had to do something about them first.

I stood there for a moment, planning my method. I bent down and tested how best to do this. With the softest touch of my hand, I slid my fingers over his wrist. I continued brushing his skin for a moment, pinging the ethereal hairs that grew across the surface. And then it happened: his lower hand zipped around and scratched the spot with his fingernails. I pulled away just in time, and watched Ian’s face for a moment. His eyes didn’t open. He remained asleep.

I smiled. Now how to open up his arms…

I hobbled over to his elbows; his golden-white torso wider than I was tall, his scent very strong. If he reacted badly, I would probably get splattered between his arm and his chest. So, prepared to jut backwards, I reached out my hand and slid my fingers across his smooth arm. Again, no immediate effect. But then I reached up higher and higher, aiming for his underarm. And in a flash, his hand flew to itch, and I threw myself into the fabric beneath me.

Unfortunately, this had the wrong reaction. Ian fell from his side to his back. I frowned. Not what I intended.

So, standing to my feet and returning to Ian’s head, I folded my arms carefully and pondered. The idea popped into my head. Right in front of me (more specifically, at thigh level) was Ian’s ear. I stepped around to the top of Ian’s head, wary of the hand that would surely fly to correct my actions. I parted his soft brown hair to gain access, and bent down.

A week ago, I would have considered this incredibly suicidal. The threat level had been reduced to just probably suicidal. I reached my hand down against the ear and traced my finger around the flexible outer edge. I even squeezed his ear lobe out of simple curiosity. I couldn’t stop a laugh; Ian was right, I was weird, the whole thing was weird. He didn’t move right away, although I did see his head and his lips twitch at my touch. So I went with something a bit more influential. I bent lower and drew my finger right around the edge of the dark hole of his ear. When this didn’t work, I stuck all my fingers in there and wiggled them around.

Like a bolt of lightning, his hand flew to his ear, and I backed away. He groaned as he jammed his finger into the hole, and I thought for sure he was going to wake. To my surprise, he didn’t appear to. In fact, he rolled back over onto his side, I’m assuming, to ensure the itching of his ear wouldn’t happen again.

I thought I was such a genius.

Without his arms to stop me, I stepped before his enormous sideways face. Now I could enact my plan. I bent down, and the morning breath from his nose hit me immediately; not the most pleasant smell in the world. It was time to stop that. With both my hands, I pressed Ian’s soft nose together. The air stopped. The effect was immediate. His mouth opened to replace his nose and he sucked in, snorting and vibrating and gurgling like an engine. I struggled to hold a laugh; his nose wasn’t difficult to keep closed, but I only held it for a moment more. I released it, and he returned to normal.

I learned that day that the strange kid could sleep through anything.

“Ian…”

I whispered. I waited. Nothing.

“Ian,” I said in a normal speaking voice.

Nothing.

I gave Ian’s nose a soft bop with my fist. He flinched, but didn’t open his eyes.

Time to bring out the guaranteed solution: screaming. I cleared my throat.

“Ian!”

Ian’s eyes shot wide open and he let out what could only be described as a voice-cracking yelp. He sat up like a spring-loaded boulder, throwing me backwards on my rear. It hurt my neck a bit.

“Huh? What? Wha…! Lenn!”

His eyes quickly shot in the direction of my bedding, and he leaned over to look inside, ignoring me completely. I was in shock at the boy appearing to collapse upon me, but my laugh was building despite the danger. When Ian saw the bedding empty, his face became the very image of panic.

“Lenn!” he shouted, obviously disoriented. “Lenn, where are you!”

He looked underneath the blanket at his feet, across the bed, towards the television, and beneath him on the floor below.

I couldn’t help it. I burst out with laughter, kicking my legs and trying very hard not to put strain on my neck. Ian’s eyes descended upon me, and for a split second didn’t understand what was going on. Unfortunately, he picked it up quick.

“You!” he said, pointing an accusing finger. “It was… it was you!

“No!” I said, rounding my ‘O”. “It wasn’t me. It was just your imagination!”

Without warning, Ian came crashing back down. He made the entire bed bounce to the point where I think I parted with the surface for a moment. Lifting his head with his hands, his lips curled into a malevolent grin, showing his large and awkward front teeth.

“So…” he asked. “Are you ticklish?”

“No, uh… n-not at all. Why… would you ask me that?”

“Which one’s your good leg?” he asked me next, his fingers creeping dangerously close to my feet.

“Uh…” I said, my eyes going wide. “Neither. They’re both bad.”

“That’s not what you said. This one?” he asked, his thumb and forefinger pinching my left foot.

“Ah!” I cried. “Not that one! Please!”

“Oh,” he said, grabbing my right foot. “So it’s this one.”

“No, uh… that’s, um…”

Immediately, he used one hand to grab my right knee in place, and dug his fingernail across the bottom of my foot. Later, I was impressed at the care he took not to hurt me, but that didn’t occur to me at that moment; I was too busy panicking as my nerves exploded and I burst out into uncontrollable laughter. It was the first time I’d really laughed in months. I didn’t even care about my wounds. The voice that emerged from my throat came out loud and clear, rasping all the while.

After the torture ended (sooner than I thought it would), I laid exhausted as Ian crawled over and sat on the end of the bed. He stretched, impressively reaching his hands beyond his bare feet, finishing with a yawn; I could hardly believe that one of his feet was much wider than me, and a good amount of my height. Now that he was seated, I could see how… healthy he looked? Thinking back on the kids at the village, they were always dirty, hungry, and skinny. Ian was, for lack of a better word, spotless. And he had a good amount of meat on his bones, by comparison. Olem, if not for Ian, I would have wasted away just like the kids. As I stood and walked towards him, he folded his legs beneath him and hunched over, a tired yet comfortable smile on his face.

“I’m not sure I like my new voice,” I told him, taking a seat on the bed about a foot and a half away from him. “I sound like a tired old man.”

“Your voice was different before?” he asked.

I nodded.

“I wonder if it will ever change back.”

“That kinda makes me sad.”

“It’s okay. I’m just glad I don’t have to use sticky notes anymore. Talking is much easier.”

Ian chuckled.

“Nice pants, by the way.”

“Oh… yeah. I keep losing my voice before I can thank your mom for them. Would you tell her for me? Tell her that they’re the best gift I’ve ever gotten.”

“Uh-huh,” Ian said. He cupped a hand to his mouth. “I’m not supposed to tell you, but she said she’s going to make you a shirt, too.”

Yul… Really?”

“Ool?”

“No, uh… yul. It means, um… ‘wow’, I guess.”

“Oh,” Ian said. “Remember when you told me your name? You’re just ‘Lenn’? You really don’t have a last name?”

I shook my head.

Iatili don’t have last names. Just titles.”

“Yee-aht-till-ee?”

“It’s what I am,” I said. “I… don’t think it has a direct translation. ‘Iat’ means person. ‘Ili’ doesn’t really have a meaning itself.”

“‘Iat’? Like, Iatvi?

“You remembered? Vah sulm, Ian. ‘Vi’ doesn’t have a meaning by itself either, except to describe what you are.”

Vah sulm?

I shook my head.

“Sorry. Instinct. It means ‘you’re good’.”

Vah sulm,” Ian repeated. “I’ll remember that. So what was your title?”

I rolled my eyes and bit my lip.

“I… don’t want to tell you.”

“Why not?”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“Come on, tell me,” Ian said. “I won’t laugh or anything, I promise.”

I frowned.

Kanisiprotla.

“What’s that mean?”

“…it doesn’t mean anything.”

“Huh?” he said. He peered down at me. “It has to. You can’t just tell me and not say what it means.”

I growled.

“You’re going to laugh, and I don’t want you to. Everyone does.”

He zipped his lips shut with his fingers.

“I won’t make a sound.”

My brow sunk as my eyes watched his.

“It means…” I sighed. “‘Cute… little… teacher boy.’”

Ian’s neck went downwards to plug his throat.

“Don’t you dare!” I pointed my finger at him. “I told you not to laugh!”

“I didn’t!” Ian said with a grin. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t call you… say it again? ‘Kani’ something?”

“I’m not telling you. The gatherers gave me that title when I was ten, and the stupid thing stuck. They used it just to make fun of me.”

“Cute little boy,” Ian said, pinching my hair upwards with his finger and thumb. I shoved him away.

“Stop it! Olem, I’m not little, and I’m not a boy! I’m older than you!”

Ian giggled.

“What’s oh-lum mean?”

“It means…” I said, still a bit steamed. “Ah, I don’t know. You say it when something bothers you.”

“Like me.”

“Yes, like you,” I grinned.

Ian rested a hand on his chin.

“So,” Ian said. “What’s your language called? Like, English, French, Spanish?”

“None of those. It’s ‘Iatnasi’.

“Yee-aht-nah-see…” Ian said, looking up at the ceiling. “Yee-aht. I thought you said that meant ‘person’.”

“It does. ‘Iat’ means ‘person’, and ‘nasi’ means ‘words’, so… ‘person of words’. Words are just like a person who can act and make change. The elders knew it was important to learn English, so that’s why I was able to live as a teacher. Even though the parents of my students didn’t like the idea of learning reading and writing from… a… ‘norisin’… oh, what’s the English word…?”

I folded my arms.

“Someone whose limbs are crooked and can’t walk…”

“Don’t say that.”

“I’m just trying to think of the English word.”

“Um…” Ian hummed, folding his arms as well. After a moment, he said: “I can’t think of anything.”

I shook my head.

“Um, they… Oh, they didn’t like a broken boy like me teaching their kids, since they might learn to think and act like I do. But the elders insisted they learn English from someone, and I happened to be there.”

“And then they just kicked you out?”

I nodded.

“Most of my family had died by then, and so had all the elders that had let me teach. The village decided to move, and they decided I couldn’t keep up. So much for all the kids I taught for all those years.”

“So what happened?”

“Well…” I said, scratching my head. “My friend Aria… tried to speak up for me. But they didn’t listen to her. And… I was so afraid… I…”

Ian rested his arms on his knees and his head in his hands, waiting patiently.

Via havilktal,” I whispered beneath my breath, looking down at my hands. “Neh anga lai ehr ilir…

Ian frowned.

“What did you say? What’s that mean?”

I closed my eyes. The memory was too fresh.

“It means…” I whispered. “I can’t talk about it. Maybe I’ll tell you another time.”

Ian lifted up, grabbing one of his big toes.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“All I’ll say is,” I told him. “Don’t say anything to your family that drives them away. Always treat them right and love them, no matter what.”

“Even the family that hates you?”

So he remembered what I’d written about… them. I shot a frown at the boy. He made a face.

“Dad’s right, I have a big mouth. Sorry.”

“You say dev a lot.”

“What does ‘dev’ mean?”

“It means ‘sorry’. Devtol means ‘very sorry’.”

“‘Deev-tall’. I’ll remember that. I think. You’ll have to say all these words to me again.”

“I will,” I said. “I’ll probably slip up and start speaking Iatnasi a lot. So, via devtal lai li Iatnasi ilir. I’m sorry if I speak Iatnasi.

“That sounds cool,” Ian said. “I’ve never heard a language like that. Wait… can you say a bunch of words all together? Like, a few sentences? I want to hear what it sounds like fast.”

“You won’t understand anything.”

“That’s okay.”

“Hmm. What will I say… How about: “Qin vis ataika, preda dur lai vaisi waer lia umovre Iatvi. Angisi lai komar komesol sas zerike, janeir jani tol parda devi, eilir li eilwae hoji pendu devi. Nedilat tevralisi lai monrisi dol penduar lia pendu ves.

Ian sat stunned for a moment.

“…what did you say?”

“Nothing important,” I said with a shrug.

“Huh.” Ian shrugged back.

He didn’t press the issue further.

“So what about you?” I asked him. “Who are you, Ian Petersen?”

“Me?”

Ian pursed his lips sideways and looked at the ceiling.

“I dunno,” he finally said.

“Come on,” I groaned, folding my arms. “You’re the first Iatvi I ever meet, and you just say ‘I dunno’?”

“But I’m boring,” Ian said with a moan. “All I do is go to school all day and sleep.”

“But you get to sleep in a warm bed!” I said. “And I’m assuming your school isn’t some cardboard box in the dirt. Does your school have a name?”

“Yeah,” Ian said. “Broadmore Elementary School.”

“And what do you learn at Broadmore Elementary School?”

“Um… math, English, how to use computers, science, P.E..”

Most of the words were familiar. I knew the word ‘computer’. I didn’t know anything but that.

“What’s P.E.? Does it stand for something?”

“I think so,” Ian said. “Something exercise. Oh, physical exercise. Yeah, like running, push-ups, sit-ups, that sort of thing.”

“How long do you go to this school during the week?” I asked.

“Everyday except for Saturday and Sunday, and class starts at 7:45.”

“In the morning?”

“Yup.”

My shoulders slumped.

Yul. My kids would never have learned anything that early.”

“I know,” Ian said with a nod. “I don’t.”

“And when do you get back? Nine? Ten?”

“No. I get out at 2:15.”

I counted the hours in my head.

“That’s… six and a half hours!”

Ian nodded.

“I know! It’s too long.”

“I was lucky to get an hour of teaching before everyone got bored… How does your teacher do it?”

“She makes it fun,” Ian said. “Well, kind of. Missus Olsen teaches all kinds of different stuff.”

“Oh. Okay. You probably read lots of books, not just scraps of paper.”

“Yeah,” Ian moaned. “I hate it. My textbooks are so boring.”

“What?” I asked. “No! No book is boring! Iatvi books are amazing!”

Ian looked down at me with piercing eyes and pouty lips.

“But you’re a teacher. You think all books are cool.”

“Yeah, and you should too! You can learn anything you want from books!”

Ian’s insidious glare sat upon me for a moment. Then, he deftly turned himself right off the bed, making me bounce. Now on his feet, he became the tower of a child that I remembered.

“Come ‘ere,” he said, holding out both of his hands to me. “I’ll show you where you can really learn anything you want.”

I don’t quite know what expression I wore at that moment, but it must have been frightful as Ian’s intensity melted.

“Don’t worry, Lenn. I’ll be careful with you. Promise.”

I hesitated for only a moment more before hauling myself up. I didn’t reach for Ian, exactly; more like lifted my arms and waited for his hands to grab hold of my waist. I half-expected Ian to fling me into the sky, but he was very slow in bringing me upwards. As if holding a toddler, Ian placed me over his shoulder again, and I balanced myself by holding onto his shoulder bone. His unblemished skin was remarkably smooth, and to be honest, being rested against it unsettled my nerves.

“Ahh…” I whispered.

Ian paused immediately.

“What? Did I do something wrong?”

“No, it’s… it’s just…” My hands slid across the warm surface of Ian’s shoulder. “This is very strange.”

“Me holding you?”

I nodded.

“If you told me a month ago that I would be held by an Iatvi boy now, I would have done something… different.”

I looked over at his face, and he wore a solemn expression, perhaps even hurt.

“No no,” I said, waving my hands. “I don’t mean to insult you. It’s nothing you’ve done. I’ve just been taught all my life to avoid Iat… I mean, humans, at all costs. But now that I’ve met you…”

Ian nodded.

“I get it. If I were your size, I’d be scared all the time.”

Phosia, via… Er, I mean… I know I’m lucky. You and your whole family have been nothing but kind to me.” I patted Ian’s shoulder. “And me tearing my throat open is not your fault. Someday, if you ever take me back to that river, you’re going to help me find whatever it was that slashed me and we’re going to bury it.”

Ian laughed, sending vibrations through me.

“I promise,” he said.

“Okay. Where are you taking me?”

“Just to my room,” he said, and stepped towards the door.

“Oh, wait,” I said quickly.

“What’s up?”

“Can you…” I smiled sheepishly, pointing to the side table. “Can you grab one of those crackers for me?”

Ian grinned.

“Yeah.”

Compared to the small guest bedroom, the dining room and kitchen were practically freezing. Ian’s feet thumped across the hard floor, and I felt like I was riding some large beast. I munched on the cracker in my hands; not only was it not rotten and damp, I’d never had anything that crunched so delightfully. Once across the kitchen, I took a terrible bite and a fourth of the cracker followed its namesake, cracking away and falling against Ian’s chest and onto the carpet below.

Ian kept walking.

“Getting my house dirty…” Ian whispered under his breath.

I gulped.

Dev…” I said.

“I’m kidding!” he responded cheerfully as he entered his room.

Ian passed the chair in the center of the floor and placed me upon his bed with much care. I sat down as he turned to his desk. This room was also chilly, although it would probably be just right if I’d been properly dressed. From the tabletop he unplugged the strange device I’d seen a week prior, the thing he’d described as a phone.

My heart sank.

“I… I don’t want to learn about polio anymore.”

Ian looked confused for a moment.

“What? No, don’t worry, we don’t have to. We can learn about anything else. Can you scoot over a bit?”

I tried to, but found it difficult.

“Need help?”

“Yes, please.”

With both hands around my hips and legs, he slid me down past the center of his bed. He then took a seat, swung his legs right over my head, and laid down flat. After adjusting his pillow to lift himself up, he waved at me.

“Here, come see.”

Careful not to break the rest of my cracker on Ian’s bed, I got on a hand and knee until I reached the side of Ian’s arm. I tried to stay seated on my own, but found it easier to lean against the boy’s bicep; I did so lightly, still a bit hesitant to rely on him. With Ian on his back, I could easily see the phone’s screen that he held upright just above his belly. He pressed a few buttons on the phone until a nearly blank screen appeared. He pressed a box with a finger, and letters appeared for typing.

“What do you want to learn about?” he asked, looking at me.

I looked back at him blankly, munching on the cracker.

“What do you mean?”

“What have you always wanted to learn? I’ll search for it on the internet.”

I swallowed, and the cracker burned all the way down.

“What’s an internet?”

“Nope, no questions, just tell me what you want to know.”

I looked at the phone and then up at the ceiling. Something that I’d always wanted to learn? I scratched my cheek.

“This is silly…”

“What?”

“I… I know zhereda… Um, what’s the English word…? Light. Light something. Oh, lightning, yeah. I know it comes from the sky when it rains. But why?”

“Oh, that’s a good question,” Ian said. “I actually don’t know that either.”

Ian’s thumbs went to work, spelling the words ‘why does lightning happen’ in the box. The next screen that appeared was filled with line upon line of information. Ian read the largest text first.

“It says… ‘Lighter, positively charged particles form at the top of the cloud. Heavier, negatively charged particles sink to the bottom of the cloud. When the positive and negative charges grow large enough, a giant spark – lightning – occurs between the two charges within the cloud.’”

“Positive and negative… what? I don’t understand.”

“Me neither. Hang on.”

His thumb clicked one of the lines, and a page came up filled with text.

“Lightning is… an electric current. Oh. Have you ever seen a power outlet? Hopefully you’ve never put anything metal in one. I did when I was little. It gives you a big shock.”

“Power outlets and lightning are the same thing?”

“Yeah,” Ian said. “It’s electricity. Electricity makes things work.”

“So lightning makes things work, too?”

“Well… not really. It’s too strong. And it strikes all over the place, so no one can use it. I don’t think so, anyway.”

I folded my arms.

“So… electricity comes from clouds. What else does it say?”

Ian read:

“When the ground is hot, it heats the air above it. This warm air rises. As the air rises, water vapor cools and forms a cloud…”

“Okay, water in the clouds, which is why it rains.”

“When air continues to rise, the cloud gets bigger and bigger. In the tops of the clouds, the temperature is below freezing and the water vapor turns into ice. Now, the cloud becomes a thundercloud. Lots of small bits of ice bump into each other as they move around. All these collisions cause a build up of electrical charge.”

I scratched my head.

“Ice makes electricity?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Keep reading.”

“‘Eventually, the whole cloud fills up with electrical charges. Lighter, positively charged particles form at the top of the cloud. Heavier, negatively charged particles sink to the bottom of the cloud…’” He skipped a bit. “Oh. ‘This is like static electricity sparks, but much bigger.’”

“Wait, wait… static is electricity?”

“Uh-huh,” Ian said. “It’s just really really weak electricity.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Weak to you, maybe! Every time I get shocked, I feel my heart stop!”

“I’ll have to remember that next time I shuffle my feet across my carpet with socks on.”

“Huh?”

Ian frowned at me.

“You’ve never heard of that? That’s the quickest way to shock someone with static.”

I lifted myself from Ian’s arm and waved my hands.

“Well, don’t try to do it! My heart’s been through enough!”

Ian laughed.

“That’s true,” he said. “What else do you want to learn about?”

For about an hour, we went back and forth exploring this strange thing called the ‘internet’ on his phone. I learned about how Iatvi purify their water for safe drinking, how Iatvi books are made and published, and even about how far away the moon is from the earth (yes, it is another world, although much smaller than ours and without air). Part of the internet included a massive collection of information about everything humans knew about the world and the people in it, and nearly every word on each page connected to another page. Page after page after page, I pointed out a word, and Ian would pull up more info. I felt, and he agreed, that we could spend an eternity doing this.

They were so much beyond us. I always inherently knew that, but it hadn’t really sunk in until then. What had I accomplished in life? I taught some kids to read and speak a language that wasn’t ours. The first time I’d ever left the comfort of a home I hated, I became mortally injured and had to rely on someone else to support me… as had been the case as long as I could remember.

The more I learned from Ian, the more depressed I became. It should have been exciting, with a world of information at my fingertips. But it wasn’t, not then. After a while, I slid myself away from Ian’s arm and moved to the edge of the bed, clutching my middle against the chilly air. Ian continued reading for a moment until he realized I wasn’t listening anymore.

“…Lenn?” he asked me, rising from the bed. “What’s wrong? You’re not in pain, are you?”

I shook my head after shooting a glance at the boy.

“No, I’m just… I’m nothing,” I whispered.

“What? Nothing?”

Ian slid towards the end of the bed and took a seat beside me, his phone now turned off and in his lap.

“Is it something I said?”

I shook my head again, clearing my hoarse throat.

“No, you’re fine, it’s just…” I shut my eyes. “Vysht, I… I’m smaller than… everything. Crippled. That’s the word I was trying to remember before. Crippled. Everything in this world can kill me. ”

I took a breath.

“A mile is a four-hour journey to someone with working legs, and a whole day for me. But you can drive a car that distance in minutes, seconds even. My body isn’t the only thing that’s crippled. My mind, too. It seems like everything in the world has already been discovered. So what’s the point in learning it? I can read and write, but that’s all I’ve ever known. I’m crippled, and the only thing I’ve loved in life was learning about what humans knew. I’m nothing. I don’t know anything.

Ian said nothing. I didn’t look at him.

“The only reason I’m alive is because of others. Aria fed me and clothed me until I could learn English and then teach it. Then… I left, and you and James and Catherine are keeping me alive instead. If you hadn’t found me, I could have been eaten by a dog, or pecked to death by birds. Or another human could have found me and I’d live the rest of my life enslaved. My life isn’t mine. It never has been. And I don’t know what to do now. Once I’m healed, where do I go? What do I do?”

I felt ready to cry.

“I don’t want to be me anymore.”

For a moment, the air blowing through the vent was the only sound in the room. And then I felt a human finger ruffle my hair.

“Cute little teacher boy,” Ian said.

My anger flared, drying my tears. Ian’s finger disappeared before I could reject it.

“Stop it, Ian! Vysht, I’m being serious!”

Ian was not hurt. In fact, he slid off of the bed and knelt right in front of me. His left hand gripped my bare foot and played with it, and the heat made my skin burn.

“I’m being serious too,” he said. “I want you to be my teacher.”

I stared at him.

“Didn’t I just tell you I know nothing? What good of a teacher would I be to you? You’re a kid, and you already know so much more than-”

“Lenn, Lenn,” Ian said, lifting a hand. “Shh. I want you to read cool things, and then I want you to teach them to me. It doesn’t matter if humans discovered it, there are tons of things I don’t know. And my grades in school aren’t that good. It would really help me.”

I shook my head and looked down at my lap.

“All my life I’ve only learned scraps. I know words, but I don’t know what they mean, what they really are.”

I looked up into Ian’s eyes.

“And why do you care about me so much?” I asked him. “Even people who knew me for years hated me. I’ve only known you for a few days, and I couldn’t speak for most of them.”

Ian’s expression fell.

“Because…” Ian leaned back a bit, looking at the ground. “Well, I thought that… I mean, I don’t have friends at school. No one cares about me there. Aaron and Chris are my cousins, but they go to another school. And I thought… maybe I wouldn’t be invisible anymore if… if I had a friend I could talk to. I thought you liked it here. When you get better, I don’t want you to go.”

My legs crossed and I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. After a moment, Ian looked up at me again and watched me.

“I do like it here,” I whispered. “I understand. I only had one friend my entire life, too.”

I sighed.

“I mean… I’m not going anywhere for a while. And I owe you and your family my life.”

Ian’s face became a little brighter.

“I can’t promise I’ll be a very good teacher. There’s so much I don’t know, and…”

“It doesn’t matter!” he said, excited. “If you help me learn, I can help you learn too. I know I haven’t known you for that long, and that I hurt you… But I want to be friends.”

“Ian, we are friends, I just wish I knew my future. I wish I… I don’t know… I wish I had the choices you do. I don’t know if I can ever leave this house, even when I’m healed. I can’t survive on my own. I never had training to live outside.”

My lips pursed sideways.

“I never had cousins to visit or play with. I never even had parents who cared about me.”

“Well, now you do!” Ian said. “Remember what I said on Sunday?”

My eyebrows raised.

“That you’re my brother?” I asked.

“Right!” he said, showing a great smile. “Do you believe that?”

I crossed my arms.

“I… I don’t know.”

After a moment, both of Ian’s hands took my feet; I’d come to learn that the silly kani was quite affectionate, even to someone like me.

“Tomorrow, let’s talk about it. Dad and Mom can help too, they’re better at talking about it than I am. Is that okay?”

I nodded.

“I want to talk about Nephi, too.”

“Nee-fie.”

“What?”

“Nee-fie. Not Neh-fee.”

“…oh.”

“Yeah,” Ian said with a laugh. “Some of the names in the scriptures are hard to say.”

“It’s not ‘leh-hee’, is it?”

“No, it’s ‘lee-high’.”

“Huh. You’re right, that is confusing.”

“So…” he said, falling to the floor on his bottom. “What do you want to do now?”

I shrugged, and everything was quiet.

“I think…” I said. “I’ve been on the move for so long, I… I don’t know what to do with myself. I think that’s what bothers me the most.”

Ian nodded.

“How about…” I said. “That I use the bathroom and then I walk around for a while. I’m curious to see your whole house.”

“Yeah,” Ian said. “We can have breakfast, too. But won’t you get tired?”

“Probably. But I have to retain at least some of my dignity. When you carry me, it makes me feel like a one-year old.”

“Hah! And I’m going to grow even taller, so soon you’re going to feel like a one-month old!”

I rolled my eyes.

“You’re right,” I whispered. And then I thought about what I’d said moments ago. “Uh… also, sorry for my bad language. Don’t go around saying vysht.

“Veh-sht? What does it mean?”

“I’m not telling you.”

I Am Lenn – Chapter Four

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.

“Hi Lenn.”

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 frowned.

“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?”

I nodded.

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.”

I wrote.

“So if Heavenly Father is everyone’s father, is James my brother too?”

Ian studied the note for a moment. Then he smiled.

“Yup!”

Another idea struck me, one I thought too strange to be true.

“My friend Aria is my sister?”

Ian laughed.

“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?”

I wrote.

“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.

I wrote.

“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.”

“Suffered?”

“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 frowned.

“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.

“Oh!”

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.

“What’s Mormon?”

“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.

“What’s wrong?”

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.

“Ahhhh…”

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…

Ian.

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.

“Mom?”

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.”

Something clicked.

“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.”

Ian frowned.

“Yee-aht-vee?

“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.”

Ian grinned.

“Sure.”


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?”

Ian giggled.
“Both, duh!”

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.”

“Oh.”

“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.”

“Uh… okay.”

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.”

Ian nodded.

“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.

I Am Lenn – Chapter Three

The afternoon continued in a very strange way.

Although I was still confined to my bedding, Ian was more than excited to have someone to talk to. He showed me things that I had only read about in Iatvi advertisements. I’m sure you know what a ‘phone’ is. But you and I only knew them as enormous and clunky plastic devices with loud, angry ringing and cords everywhere. No, the phone that Ian showed me was a marvel, a thin square of glass, plastic, and metal with no cords and an incredibly smooth screen that looked much like a hand-held television with incredible clarity. Better yet, he brought the phone into my arm’s reach, and I realized that I could move the contents of the screen with my hand, as easily as if I slid a piece of paper across a table. Pictures flashed behind the screen, showing off images of Ian’s family, strange homes and places I had never seen before. The pictures even moved like a movie, and combined with sounds. This phone made me feel as if I were looking through someone else’s eyes, looking into rooms and conversing with Iatvi as if I were their size. You’ve probably heard Iatvi music as well, but the songs that Ian had me listen to were fast-paced and electronic. Some were played with string instruments, some featured pianos, and some were played with instruments I did not recognize. I know you hate it when I say things like this, but they made me wish for legs I could dance with.

Then, with this magical device, Ian ‘looked up’ information about polio, as both of us were curious. I learned later that when Iatvi ‘look up’ information, it meant they learned things from something called the ‘internet’. I still don’t understand how it works, but it is extremely useful. He quoted what was written about polio, and I later wrote it all down so I could explain it to you and study it myself. He said polio “is a contagious viral illness that in its most severe form causes nerve injury leading to paralysis, difficulty breathing and sometimes death”. This sounded familiar, except I had no idea I could have simply died as a child.

To my utter horror (and I’m sorry for quoting what he read to me), he explained how I probably became sick with the disease as a child: “The polio virus is usually spread from person to person through…” He paused. “…infected fecal matter entering the mouth. It may also be spread by food or water containing human feces and less commonly from infected saliva.”

Ian said the words, looked at my expression, and immediately expressed regret for reading the description. My eyes grew wide and I wore a face of complete disgust. How? How? How could this have happened? And why was I unique? No one else I knew had a leg like mine. I knew infants in the village sometimes died of illness. I knew our food and water was always of questionable quality. But while I knew the village we lived in was unclean for how many of us lived together, I never contemplated how filthy the conditions actually were. Didn’t we live the right way? Every gatherer I knew hated the pristine environments Iatvi lived in. But if I had polio like James said… It was much worse than I ever imagined. If they only knew what I knew. If they only knew what Iatvi knew.

I wrote a note to Ian asking how polio could be treated. He read the following: “The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends polio vaccination boosters for travelers and those who live in countries where the disease is occurring. Once infected there is no specific treatment.”

No cure. James had said as much. But I only thought of you. I wrote another note to him: “What is vaccination?”

“It’s a shot that doctors give you… I think Dad told me that vaccines have a dead version of the virus that your body fights off and makes you immune.”

I wrote another note, aware of how black my hands had become and how rapidly the graphite was shrinking: “How do you make a vaccine?”

“Hmm…”

Apparently, Ian’s device had all the answers.

“To create vaccines, viruses are completely inactivated (or killed) with chemicals. By killing the virus, it cannot reproduce itself or cause disease. Polio, hepatitis A, influenza, and rabies vaccines are made this way. Because the virus is still ‘seen’ by the body, cells of the immune system that protect against disease are generated and generally last a lifetime.”

I ignored all the other diseases, although in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have: they were no doubt all illnesses our people were dying from. Something you could die from in an instant, Aria. I couldn’t stand it. I wrote another note: “What chemicals?”

Ian paused, swiping and typing on the phone’s screen.

“Aluminum salts… antibiotics, uh… formaldehyde… That’s all it says.”

I wrote: “Do you have those? Can you make a vaccine?”

Ian frowned as he read the question.

“How come? Do you know someone who needs one?”

I nodded.

“I don’t know… We can’t even give you any medicine because we wouldn’t know how much would hurt you. If we tried to give you a vaccine, you could die.”

I closed my eyes and covered them with my hand. I didn’t know the truth. My whole life, I never knew why my leg was so bent and powerless. Our herbalist didn’t know. You didn’t know, surely. How could we? I wrote another note and gave it to Ian.

“Hang on,” he said, stepping out of my sight and into the hallway. I waited with severe anguish from the very thought of you suffering the way I did. I thought of you with thin, crooked knees, walking with wooden crutches, enduring sores under your arms, crawling in the dirt, every attempted step filled with pain. I thought of you having to care for someone like me all over again, making you live with a child just like me, someone you would love but ultimately have to throw away when the animals came, or the food ran out, or when the rains fell…

Hindsight is a curse. I know that if I had said such things to you, you would have struck me. And I would have deserved it.

Ian stepped into the room first, followed by James.

“Hi Lenn,” James said. “Ian told me you have questions about vaccines.”

I nodded, and repeated my question onto another piece of paper. He bent down low to take it.

“Can I make a vaccine?” he read. “Me personally, no. There are many companies that make them, though. What makes you ask?”

“I’ve been looking up stuff about polio, and reading it to him. There were some… things that don’t sound too good about it, like how it spreads.”

“Oh,” James said. “Yeah, you read that, huh? I know what you’re talking about. Lenn, I told you that polio can’t be cured. A vaccine doesn’t cure, it makes already healthy people immune to it.”

I quickly nodded, and wrote. James read it.

“Vaccine for a friend?”

I frowned and froze. I felt I was giving up way too much information about myself way too quickly to people I didn’t know, especially to Iatvi. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time to make up my mind, so I committed. I told them your name.

James read my note.

“‘My friend Aria. I need a vaccine for her.’”

I wrote another on a clean page.

“‘She’s special to me. She’s all I have left.’”

James frowned.

“Lenn, I have no way of knowing if our vaccines would work. They would most likely hurt her instead of help. There’s no way to know.”

I furiously scribbled my response.

It said: “She can’t become me.”

“Lenn, I…”

I was already writing.

“Don’t let her become me.”

I didn’t even hand the note over before writing another one.

“Please help her!”

I wrote another.

“Help me help-”

I even tried to scream, pounding my arms into my bedding and mouthing the words I had written. I yearned furiously to release the sadness that had been refused its outlet. No sound. Useless. Hollow and broken.

James picked up my last few, and read them. As I would find out later, this responsible doctor told me that he regretted his response.

“I’m sorry, Lenn,” he said. “I can’t help you.”

I looked up at Ian and James, who looked away and fell silent. James sighed, and Ian looked to his dad for any other answer.

I knew I was being foolish. I knew I was asking for too much. A miracle, maybe. An Iatvi miracle. And worse, I couldn’t know if I was overreacting or acting appropriately. I didn’t know if the most beloved piece of what heart I had left was on the verge of a death that could be prevented. I was too distant from you. I couldn’t save you like you had saved me. I had always been horrendously useless, and nothing but a burden to you, the Iatvi who stood above me, and to everyone else. The world left me behind, and I hated it. But worse, I left you behind. And the last words I said to you made certain that you would forget me.

I snapped. I shook my head violently despite the sting of my wounds and threw the piece of graphite and pad of paper from my lap. They fell to the floor… and I cried. No, I mourned. I mourned for you as if you were already gone. I mourned and pitied myself and my inability to do anything until I could no longer breathe. I could not call out your name. I could not scream at my newfound keepers. I could not crawl away into a dark place and rot. I mourned, and likely opened my wounds afresh from my anguish. Time abandoned me again. I may have heard the words: “What happened,” and, “Let’s leave him alone for now,” but my mind did not care. I wished only for two things: to either see you again and beg for your forgiveness, or to die.

I cried. Long enough to completely exhaust me, which, admittedly, probably wasn’t as long as I thought. I fell asleep from exhaustion between the afternoon and the deep evening. When I awoke, the room was much darker despite the yellow light that still shone from the lamp behind me and my chair.

Again, fear gripped me, if only for the fact that I’d spent so much time in Ian’s bedroom, denying him entry because of my outburst. For a fair amount of time, I remained seated in the enormous chair and my comfortable bedding; I knew that attempting to move would be more than a bad idea.

My mental state had changed enough that some reason had returned, yes. But when I thought of you, it filled me with a foolish determination to do… something. It wasn’t just restlessness. I had been floating, crawling, pressing my feet into concrete and dirt for days.The urge to continue moving filled me; I couldn’t simply wait to be doted on. The dark side of my mind continually reminded me that I was useless and crippled, but I had to prove that it wasn’t true. If not to myself, then to the Iatvi who were watching over me.

I know what you would say to me: “Saika, you idiot. Rest. Save your strength.”

But I had to do this.

I lifted myself. The pain was bearable. At first. I then heaved myself sideways with my arms, using all my strength to rotate my weighty legs in unison to remain straight. My legs moved just fine (unbelievable, I know), but my left arm and my unsteady neck exploded with pain, and made me pause. I could not see the thick bandages, but I could already imagine the wound opening and continuing to bleed. Again, I pressed my arms down to slide myself, aiming for the right side of the fabric chair. I ignored the inflammation, and pressed down again.

It took me about ten minutes to slowly remove myself from my thick bedding. Once on the flat surface of the chair, my troubles were greatly lessened. A few moments later, I slid my legs over the side of the great seat. The distance to the floor was only two, perhaps one and a half of my height. Simple. And yet, the edge of the fabric chair was curved, and offered no easy handhold to gently descend. So, I crawled myself to the rear of the chair where the back of the padding met with the wooden rear; I could wedge my fingers into the flat gap it provided.

I did not hesitate. I heaved my legs over the side, bent down to slide my hands into the corner of the joint, and let gravity take me.

My drop began as planned. My hands held fast as my body twisted 180 degrees to face the chair. James and Ian were right: I prided myself on my arm strength, if nothing else. Holding myself in the air, I did my best to look down. Only a few inches to fall, maybe a foot. On a count of three, I released my grip.

I did not fall straight. Because of course I didn’t. My lame leg bent forwards and caught the crossbar of the chair that I didn’t realize existed. This sent me into a head-over-heels spiral that only lasted a split second, but resulted in me smashing into the thick and plush carpet flat on my back. I let out a guttural whine as air escaped me. My entire wound flared, but my warped mind felt a sense of accomplishment once I realized that I hadn’t killed myself: I had achieved part one of my goal.

After about five minutes of resting on the carpet to allow the pain in my neck to subside, I thought to myself, where to go?

From my position on the floor, several things became immediately apparent. Just as when I woke up, the smell hit me first. Instead of a semi-pleasant identifying scent, it had officially been replaced with the funk of dirty feet. Lifting myself into a seated position, I noticed that the boy Ian was a fairly typical child, even for our people. Strewn about the white-and-black speckled carpet were discarded items of clothing, the occasional notebook and piece of crinkled paper, empty soda cans beneath the bed, and specks of dust and debris that desperately needed a good vacuuming.

My left knee from the fall grew sore immediately. My right, not as much. As I could see nothing I might use as a crutch, I supposed I would have to do this the hard way until I found a wall I could lean on. I chose a direction, and probably the most stupid one imaginable: towards the door of the bedroom. Despite the pain of twisting and turning, I hauled myself to my feet and stepped, one foot after the other, towards the exit.

It took me a good few minutes to get to the dresser upon which Ian had first placed me. Once there, however, I heavily leaned upon it. Careful not to fully bend my left backwards, I led myself by my hand and shimmied further towards the door at a much greater speed. I was sweating rather profusely when I finally arrived at my destination, and not due to the temperature of the room. I also noticed a fairly worrying characteristic of my adjusted larynx: under strain, it closed up rapidly, and made it difficult to breathe. I took a quick rest to gain my bearings, and decided to move much slower.

It was then that my greatest fear was all for naught: the bedroom door had remained open. I shoved it, and with the utmost quiet from the hinges, the door opened with a great amount of ease.

The hallway was dark. I peered around the corner in both directions. To my left was an end to the hallway, with a single door at the very end and one beside it to the right. I looked the other direction, and apart from the one door on the left, there appeared to be an opening into a colossal room from which bright lights emanated. Naturally for Iatvi, the hallway was immaculate, and offered no places to hide should any giants come in this direction. Fair enough, I said to myself, and despite the continuing pain in my neck and my shoulder, I limped around the corner and did my best to hurry.

Oh, the smell of roasted meat… I hadn’t eaten anything but black moss and roots in days. As I hobbled closer to the room of bright lights, the scent grew stronger and stronger. Although I doubted such a feast would be awaiting me on the floor of the room ahead of me, I decided I would do everything in my power to climb up to it and eat my fill.

I saw no movement further into the house beyond the lit room, but I heard the sound of a television murmuring deeper into the home, the sound of quiet conversation, and that infernal metallic clicking noise. I looked, and on the opposite side of the hallway was a strange device plugged into an outlet. Whenever the device clicked, a red light would also blink on and then immediately fade. I learned later that this startling device was meant to keep insects and other pests out of the home with something called ‘ultrasound’; apparently, it was effective at deterring me as well, and I hated passing by it.

On my strong foot and with the support of the hallway wall, it only took me a minute or so to reach the wide room. And ‘wide’ hardly described it. In fact, it appeared that this room was actually three combined into one: an obvious kitchen, perhaps a living room beyond a pair of banisters with a single door that no doubt led outside, and a dining room further in. I peered around the corner, keeping myself in the shadows as much as possible. I viewed a building-sized stainless steel refrigerator, a half-as-large stainless steel dishwasher and dark black oven, bright white wooden cupboards and drawers, the edges of dark marble countertops, and a large kitchen island the same color as the rest of the cupboards that dominated the center. Beside the hardwood pathway, the floor of the kitchen proper was decorated with a myriad of decorative tiles in a variety of complementary colors, making the kitchen feel remarkably elegant. In the dining room, I could see iron chairs and a tall hardwood dining table, though everything else that might have been there was concealed.

Feeling rather exposed in the bare hallway, I dared: using my strong right leg, I hopped into the kitchen towards the island. My reverse knee immediately groaned under the strain, but I ignored it. After all, the fear of my surroundings was more than enough to focus my attention. I finally collapsed against the wall of the island and took a deserved breath.

At this point, I had even less of an idea of where I intended to go. It was fairly obvious that there were no cords or descending plant vines with which I could climb to the counters above. No meat for me, I supposed. From my position on the island, I saw that it also had several cupboards attached to it. Curious, I stepped around the cupboard I leaned upon and opened it. Though dark within, I could make out two shelves that held the reflection of spotless pots and pans, trays, and cooling racks. Of course, they were all neatly organized with large pots upon the bottom shelf and smaller upon the upper.

From what the gatherers had told me when I was younger, there were definitely dirtier and more disordered residences. Was it James who kept all of the homemaking running smoothly? After all, it couldn’t have been Ian. Children are children.

The question answered itself in the most frightening way possible. I couldn’t see it properly from my position behind the island, but the loud click of the front door made my heart leap up into my weak throat. My first instinct was to climb into the island cupboard, and I obeyed it without question. The cupboard door closed most of the way, leaving me just a vertical line of light with which to peer through.

Footsteps. Click-clacking ones. Heels. The Iatvi that entered the house headed straight for the kitchen towards my hiding place, and I had a front-row seat to her destination.

Black dress shoes with shallow heels. Bare ivory legs. A dark-gray skirt and a suit jacket of similar color. All the way to the top, she wore a complex bun of deep brown sparsed with aged graying hairs. She stood in place for a few moments, apparently stirring something on the stove. The smell of meat hit me in the back of the nose and made me salivate.

She hummed with satisfaction, tapped her utensil against the edge of whatever the food was cooking in. She then turned away and disappeared from my sight.

I let out a breath. Close.

Then I heard a voice.

“Mom!”

Thundering footsteps up carpet, and then equally powerful steps thumping into hardwood.

“Hi Ian,” said the light voice of the woman. “I heard we have a guest.”

“You didn’t tell anyone about him, did you?”

“No, I didn’t. But why? When your father told me we had one of his patients in our home, I thought he had brought some stranger in to sleep on our couch!”

“Not the couch,” Ian said. “You’ve got to see him, he’s awesome. I think he’s sleeping right now, but I want to introduce you.”

“Awesome?” asked Ian’s mother. “What’s all this about? What’s with all the secrecy?”

“You’ll see!”

With that, the two of them proceeded down the hallway from whence I’d come. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the dreadful moment. All was silent. Both of their voices were hushed. Then Ian spoke up.

“Lenn?” he whispered, his voice barely audible past the hallway. “Lenn, where did you go? Come on out, it’s okay…”

“What is Lenn?” asked his mother.

The question went unanswered. Within ten seconds, Ian’s voice became panicked.

“Lenn!” he cried, his voice quite loud. “Lenn, please! Where did you go! Oh no… No no no…”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Watch your feet, Mom,” Ian said, breathless. “He could be anywhere. Lenn! Don’t be afraid! I know you can’t speak, but… bang on something! Come on! Let me know where you are!”

This continued for about a minute, with Ian’s mother becoming more confused as time went on. Finally, a pair of mountainous footsteps emerged from the hallway, and Ian’s voice exploded.

“Dad!” he cried. “Dad! Lenn’s gone! I can’t find him!”

No sound came for about five seconds. Then, another pair of footsteps emerged from somewhere beyond the kitchen.

“Are you sure, Ian? He didn’t just dig himself further into the towel?”

“I lifted it up and everything! I looked under my bed, behind my dresser and behind the TV… I can’t find him!”

“James, I’m very confused…”

“I know, dear, I know… Give us a moment, we’ll explain everything.”

Three pairs of Iatvi feet proceeded down the hallway to Ian’s room, and hushed whispers filled it immediately. Ian’s voice was less hushed, crying out for me every few seconds.

My eyes were still shut tight as I listened to the cacophony. What to do, what to do? The thought of standing in the middle of the floor only to be discovered by not one, not two, but three Iatvi filled me with incomprehensible fear. At the same time, my conscience didn’t dare allow me to cause Ian and James such incredible worry; my wounds were nowhere near healing, and it wasn’t as if I could simply leave their care. It didn’t seem I had any other choice. Again, my foolish decisions had placed me in a terrible position.

The three Iatvi were still feverishly searching for me when I gathered enough nerve to open the island cupboard. On my right leg, I closed the cupboard and leaned against it, stepping towards the open floor. By the time I could peer down the hallway, the desperation in the bedroom had descended into a tender form of mourning. I could hear it in Ian’s tone. He thought I’d left for good.

I shook my head. I could hear your voice loud and clear: I was a saika. A real idiot.

I walked into the open, supported by my right leg and the tender strength of my left, and once I’d reached roughly the center of the space, I sat upon the floor with my legs outstretched and waited. I didn’t know which was worse at this point: my fear of being discovered, or of listening to the Iatvi speak.

James consoled Ian, telling him it wasn’t his fault that I’d disappeared. That I had my own life and worries to deal with, and that Ian couldn’t have known what they were. James also described as best he could to his wife about what I was. She seemed incredulous at first, but as she listened to her son’s reaction, it became apparent to her that some measure of James’ story was true. And most painful of all, I could hear Ian crying.

Thirty seconds passed. Then, I heard them exit the room. Ian was supported with James’ arm around his shoulders, followed by his mother behind them. It wasn’t more than a short moment once they’d turned the corner that Ian and James’s eyes fell upon me.

Ian gasped first.

“Lenn!” he cried, and ran towards me at a frightening pace. Before I could scramble backwards in horror, he fell to the ground before me with the weight of a rockslide. He folded his bare legs, wrapped both of his hands around my waist, and hauled me up into the air. My stomach sunk into my feet, but Ian’s face told me everything I needed to know about his intentions: tears flooded his puffed-up eyes, but he wore a great wrinkleless smile. His hands were warm, and his grip was a bit tight, but I patted my hands on the backs of his and returned a sheepish expression. James leaned down beside his son and also beamed down on me as if sure that I hadn’t departed.

Ian’s mother, on the other hand, had a look of absolute shock, and my fear spiked as I looked at her. Her hands gathered themselves as she stood back and examined me from afar. Her expression looked like one I would have had if a cockroach appeared in the school in the dead of night.

“Mom, Mom! This is Lenn!” he said, twisting around and showing me to her. “I knew he didn’t leave!”

“I’m certainly glad he didn’t,” James said, placing his hand on Ian’s shoulder. “Who knows what would have happened to him. Be careful, Ian, don’t hold him too tightly.”

“Oh. Sorry Lenn.”

“What…” Ian’s mother whispered. “What is it?”

He,” Ian corrected her. “And we have no idea! He’s just… small!”

I frowned at Ian and gave him the first thumbs down I’d ever given someone. He caught a glance at me.

“Oh, uh…” he said with a laugh. “Not small?”

I gave him a confident affirmative in the form of a thumbs up. Ian laughed.

“Are you okay, Lenn?” James asked me. “From our conversation before? I’m sorry I don’t have more answers for you.”

I looked up at him as best I could and nodded.

“Are you in pain?” James continued. “Are your bandages loose?”

I couldn’t properly turn my head to look at him without burning, but I nodded and raised my hand and held two fingers up spaced apart. “Just a little bit,” it said.

“Lenn, why did you leave?” Ian asked me with sudden worry. “You could have hurt yourself! I thought you couldn’t walk without crutches. You didn’t crawl, did you?”

I shook my head, and pointed down towards the floor.

“Huh?”

“I think he wants you to put him down,” James said.

“Why doesn’t he talk?” Ian’s mother asked. “Does he understand English?”

“He does,” James said. “But he received an injury that took his voice. Possibly a laryngeal displacement. That’s what the bandages are for, although if he were human-sized, we would certainly have taken him to the hospital for surgery. Since he looks to be breathing fine and not coughing up anything, perhaps he’ll be able to heal on his own.”

“How awful,” she said. “Poor dear… Where is his shirt? Or his shoes?”

“I believe Ian found him without any.”

“Yeah. He was really cold. He’s still really cold. Aren’t you?”

I shrugged, and pointed down to the floor again. Ian followed my instructions, placing me down. Instead of sitting down, I exited his hands by standing on my strong leg. Then, I demonstrated what I could do. With a captive audience, I walked a second at a time, a strong step forwards on my right, and timid step on my left. It only took me a moment to reach the island, upon which I leaned and turned around.

Ian’s face was pure surprise. James was all smiles.

“Well look at you,” he said. “Whatever sickness you had as a child sure hasn’t stopped you, has it? Maybe we were being too careful with you after all.”

I shrugged, carefully bending my left leg as far as I could without pain. It wasn’t much, and it bent awkwardly backwards as it always did. But I didn’t care. For the second time in my life, I felt a strange amount of pride: my body was bent and slow, but it didn’t stop me from moving. But I don’t have to tell you about the first time, do I?

Ian laughed, wiping the tears from his eyes.

“Then I won’t worry about you ever again,” he said. “Just don’t disappear like that, okay? You scared me to death! I don’t ever want to step on you or anything.”

“True,” James said. “You should limit your explorations unless one of us knows where you are, yeah?”

At this question, I scrunched my face and shrugged my shoulders. In my mind, I made no promises.

“You’re really weird,” Ian said with a grin of his own.

I nodded, scratching my cheek.

“Well,” Ian’s mother said with a sigh, bending down. “I can hardly believe this… This sure is an interesting surprise! Lenn, was it? My name is Catherine, and I’m very glad you can stay with us. It looks like you and Ian are already good friends. And James is an excellent doctor, so you shouldn’t have any problem getting the treatment you need.”

“Yeah,” Ian said.

This made me smile. I’d known the ka for a day, and he had befriended me immediately. He would come to remind me of you, Aria: compassionate and unselfish. Like I once relied on you, I would come to rely on Ian. Even though I showed him I could walk and write, he never hesitated to come to my aid if I asked for it or not.

“I hoped you would say that, dear,” James said. “Like I told you, no homeless people.”

James looked down at me just in time to see me raise an eyebrow and wobble my hand, twisting it back and forth a few times.

“Oh,” he said. “Well, maybe I’m wrong.”

“Homeless or not,” Catherine said. “I’m certain that you’re ready for dinner. I think we all are.”

“Yup,” Ian said. He looked down at me. “I’ll bet it’s been a long time since you’ve had anything good to eat.”

My mood soared: that meat would be mine after all. I clasped my hands together and lifted them to my chest, begging with my eyes and a smile. At this, all the Iatvi laughed, and I did too. Without a voice to accompany it, and not without pain, but at that particular moment, I didn’t care.

“Not just yet,” James said, and my shoulders drooped. “We’ve got to check your bandages, Lenn. Get you some new ones. Don’t worry, no peroxide this time, just some neosporin and vaseline on the bandages. No sting to worry about.”

I nodded. The faster this wound healed, the less useless I would be. And maybe I’d get my voice back someday soon.

James was right; changing my bandages this time was not nearly as painful as the first. I sat near the edge of the bathroom counter, and James helped me remove them; what he could not remove with his large fingers I could do with my own. I couldn’t see my wounds, of course, but I could see James’s reaction to them: he pursed his lips as the bandage removed. I did see the fabric bandage from the center of my neck, a mess of cotton, white Lidocaine, and thick splatters of blood.

“Can you turn your head? Careful now, let’s not reopen anything.”

I did so, and the deepest part of my wound (the part that had taken my voice) felt ready to split. He removed the bandage from my upper neck and just below my ear. The bandage stuck for a moment beneath my jaw, and shocked me like an ant sting.

“Can you lift up, look up at the corner? Just as high as you can without pain.”

I tried, but it felt as if the wound were pulling apart.

With his glasses halfway down his nose, James examined me, his eyes intense.

“I guess it’s too early to tell,” he said, taking the bandages and throwing them in the garbage beside the toilet. “Inflammation has started, which is a good sign. No discharge that I can see. You don’t feel sick or nauseous at all? No fever?”

I shook my head.

“Does it itch?”

I nodded.

“Try not to scratch. From what I can see, it looks good so far.”

The neosporin froze me, as did the vaseline, but soon warmth returned with thick fabric bandages. On top of the bandages, James cut out pieces of plastic adhesive strips, and with his guidance, I placed them where they needed to go to keep the bandages secure.

“Excellent,” James said, patting my knee. “I can tell that you have a lot of willpower. If I had an injury like this, I’d be crying on a hospital bed like a baby.”

I wanted to tell him I already had, but I shrugged instead.

“Ian?” James called.

“Yeah?”

“Lenn’s all done. You can take him to the kitchen table, I’m sure he’s starving.”

“Okay,” he said. The boy appeared as his father turned on the faucet to wash his hands.

Ian took me in his arms and carried me to the dining room table. He placed me down, and I sat as comfortably as I could on its solid wooden surface. His hand held onto my wrist and arm for a moment, as if he expected me to fall backwards. When he saw I did not, he released me and brushed his hair away from his eyes.

Although connected to the large kitchen, the dining room was cozy: besides the metal chairs and the table, there was only one piece of furniture. Against the furthest corner next to dark glass windows was a great display cabinet filled with fine china, glass and ceramic figurines, and other knick-knacks that none of my people would ever dare touch. Memorable objects of that nature, no matter how valuable or useful they might look, were the first things that would be noticed as missing, leading to strife in the home as to who stole or hid it; all in all, more chaos in a Iatvi home was bad for gathering, or so I was told.

Upon the wall next to the cabinet was a painting that dwarfed me in both width and height. Within its dobs of thick paint was an image of a pleasant seascape, something that I had only read about. Endless water as far as the eye could see… Considering the luck I’d had in a rushing river, the idea of floating in something as big as the sea made my eyes cross. I had only painted a few times in my life, whenever the gatherers remembered to scavenge for ink and oils.

The longer I looked at the painting, the more it caught my attention. Ian watched his parents as I looked upon the canvas. Indeed, it wasn’t a mere flat surface. It truly was the work of some brilliant artist who utilized more colors than I had ever had access to at the village. I could imagine how bright your face would glow if you could have had paints like this. The painting didn’t merely show a blank featureless blue ocean; there were sailboats and trawlers, boats with thick smoke stacks bellowing gray into the stormy day, and beautiful white stone piers and buildings lifting up the composition.

Ian’s hand rested beside me, and I tapped his finger.

“What’s up?”

I pointed.

“The wall?” Ian asked. “Oh, the painting? You want to see it?”

I nodded.

With much more care, Ian lifted me into his arms and stood in front of the work of art. While his shadow mostly blocked the light that fell upon it, I was fortunate enough that he held me within arm’s reach. Gently, I touched its surface; indeed, the paint used to create it was thick, applied with powerful brush strokes. Looking at it closely (as is the case with all paintings), the colors seemed random and mishmashed. But the totality of the piece brought everything together.

“You like it?” Ian asked me. “One of Dad’s friends painted this for us. It’s an oil painting.”

“Early 1900’s,” James said from the kitchen. “One hundred years ago, a port in the Mediterranean might have looked just like that.”

I nodded, looking back at the painting. ‘Mediterranean’. I don’t know if you remember that word from the geography magazines. It’s a body of water as large as an ocean on the other side of the world, somewhere I would never even hope to go. If the gatherers only knew just how large this world was; I’ve studied countless maps, and I still don’t comprehend it. The size of the Iatvi, their endless numbers, and their countless towns and cities doesn’t help to put things into perspective, either. Yul, the floor space of Ian’s own room dwarfed the size of the village twice over.

“Do you know where that is?” Ian asked, curious. “The Mediterranean?”

I nodded, looking up at the boy’s face.

He frowned.

“You do? How?”

I pursed my lips. Then, I repeated my motion for something to write with.

“Oh, yeah. I’ll go grab them. Wait right here.”

Ian placed me down upon the table and stepped away towards his room. The feeling of being completely exposed hit me rather mercilessly again, but James and Catherine tended to their food preparation and didn’t pay me much attention. Ian reappeared quickly. He handed me the pad of sticky green papers and a larger piece of graphite than before.

“How do you know about the Mediterranean? You haven’t gone there, have you?”

I put pencil to paper, large as I could write, and handed him the note. He read it.

“Really?” he asked in surprise.

“What did he say?” James asked from across the room.

“He says he’s a… teacher?”

I scribbled on another piece of paper. Again, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to explain.

I handed him the new note.

“‘I teach kids how to speak and read English’, he says.”

“That’s wonderful,” Catherine said. “Good for you!”

“So you’re an English teacher?” Ian said. “Ew. That doesn’t seem fun.”

I laughed without pushing breath too hard, and wrote another note. Ian read it, and smiled.

“Cool.”

“What’s it say?”

“He says he couldn’t write or read if it wasn’t for his friend.” He looked down at me with a subtle tone. “Is this your friend you wrote about before? What was his name again?”

I wrote.

“Oh. Her name. Aria.”

I wrote again.

“He says she was the best teacher he ever had. How old were you when you learned to read?”

I held up my fingers.

“Cool.”

“How old?” James asked.

“Seven.”

“Well, that’s not too much later than us,” Catherine said.

Ian then lowered his eyes to look directly at mine; perhaps two arm lengths away, I leaned backwards a little bit and gave him a concerned look. I could feel his breath skip across the table, and noticed all the small freckles on his nose and cheeks. I couldn’t tell what he was searching for from the expression on his face.

“How old are you?” he finally asked me.

I blinked a few times. Gathering my senses, I wrote a quick note and handed it to him.

“Huh-uh,” he said with a shake of his head and a small smile. “I asked you first.”

I pretended to roll my eyes, which made him giggle a little. I held up two fingers in one hand and shaped an ‘O’ in my other.

Ian frowned.

“…two plus zero? You’re two?”

This time, I rolled my eyes authentically and mouthed the word ‘no’.

“Oh,” Ian laughed. He lifted up his fingers like mine. “Um, so you’re twenty?”

I nodded.

“You don’t look like twenty.”

I pursed my lips and raised an eyebrow. I wrote a note.

“You can’t grow a beard?” he said cheerfully.

James brought a blue plate as wide as I was tall to the table. Upon it was a rectangle of pure butter that could have helped feed a team of gatherers for a week. “Well, I’ve got a baby face, so my patients always think I’m still in my thirties. How long have you been a teacher?”

To my surprise, Ian’s hand strapped horizontally around my waist and legs, and rotated me to face his dad. The pad of paper almost fell from my lap, and it made me a bit dizzy.

“Ian, be careful with him,” James said quickly. “Don’t do things like that without permission.”

All of a sudden, I felt an immense presence of warmth to my right side. I looked as best I could, and I saw the enormity of Ian’s soft face hovering right next to me, his eyes peering sideways towards me.

“Sorry,” he said, his whispering voice booming in my ear.

You’d think I was crazy, but I lifted my arm and blindly reached behind me. I didn’t know what my hand met with right away, but the round shape and elasticity told me what it was. I probably kept my hand there for a moment too long.

“Hey,” he said, his hand suddenly appearing beside me. “That’s my nose.”

I smiled despite my apprehension. The smile faded and my eyes squeezed shut when a finger thicker than my thigh blinded me and gently bopped me in the face. I’m sure he intended my nose, but it ended up covering much more than that.

“Ian…” James growled.

When I waved my hand as if to push him away, he laughed and his face disappeared.

“James, can you come help me lift this?” Catherine asked from the kitchen.

“So how long have you been a teacher, Lenn?” James asked, rising and stepping towards his wife. “A couple years?”

I counted in my head all the time I’d spent in that sheet metal shack, attempting to clear my throat again. It came out as a gurgle, and the discomfort made me grimace. I placed my graphite down in my lap and held up all fingers.

“Ten years?” James asked. “Wow, probably since you mastered reading and writing yourself. That’s impressive.”

My eyebrows flashed upwards. It was certainly the first time I’d ever heard anyone describe my work as ‘impressive’. Let’s be honest, Aria: although you tried to convince me otherwise many times, everyone in the village simply tolerated my profession until I taught their kids to count and spell their names in English. I was just lucky there were so many kids. Everything else, from studying newspaper and magazine clippings to writing instruction books for gathering, these were just hobbies. No one took them seriously.

“What about your friend?” James asked, returning to the kitchen but continuing to speak. “Did she work with you?”

Complicated question, don’t you think? I wrote down an honest answer and handed it to Ian.

“Yes and no? What’s that mean?”

I couldn’t move my head to face the boy, but I shrugged and wrote more, handing him the note over my shoulder.

“‘She helped teach the kids some days. But the gatherers hated me.’”

I looked down at the table surface.

“You said that your family abandoned you,” Ian said. “How come? Just because of your leg?”

“Ian… Lenn, you don’t have to explain anything.”

“But that’s what he said.”

I wrote.

“He says he couldn’t gather, he couldn’t hunt, and he could hardly garden. What’s ‘gather’ mean?”

“Search for food, medicine, supplies, no doubt,” James said. When he saw me nod, he continued. “Can you imagine? A whole group of people like Lenn living beneath us and living off our scraps…”

I hesitated. But what I wanted to say was an honest truth. I wrote another note.

“He says that…” Ian paused. “…my people got rid of the dead weight.”

All Iatvi paused and looked in my direction.

“Dead weight?” Ian asked, his face leaning in close again. “They meant you? Are you serious?”

“You poor boy,” Catherine said. “How could they do something like that?”

I wrote again, and everyone waited for my response. I passed the note to Ian.

“The gatherers finally had an excuse to do it?”

“Oh!” exclaimed Catherine. “That’s terrible!”

“I should very much like to meet these gatherers of yours someday,” James said. “I would never abandon Ian for anything.”

I wrote a quick note.

“He says to them, it’s survival.”

“Don’t you think like that, Lenn,” James said, grabbing a pile of heavy plates from the cupboard above the counter. “That’s not fair to you. Like you said, it’s an excuse. They may have thought it was survival, but it wasn’t for you. But look where you are now. I don’t know about them, but you’re going to make it just fine.”

I looked away. Yes, the only reason I lived was because of the Iatvi that surrounded me. I had to break the only rule our people clung to in order to survive. At that time, I didn’t know what you would think about that. I thought so little of myself, despite the occasional tiny victory, that I believed the lies I’d heard for years. But I know that you would want me to do everything in my power to come back to you. I know that now.

“You’re not ‘dead weight’ to me,” Ian said to me next, his voice close. ”You’re awesome.”

I wasn’t sure about the second part. But I more than appreciated the first. I gave him a weak thumbs up that slumped to my side too quickly. To my shock, Ian’s whole fist slammed against the table beside me (at least it trembled the table like a slam), giving me a humongous thumbs up in return.

“Well,” said Catherine, carrying an enormous ceramic plate. “No more depressing talk. It’s time to eat and be happy. Right?”

“Right!” Ian said.

James placed down the plates and Catherine put down the… the…

My mind melted like the butter in the center of the table: I saw the reality of what I was about to experience. About half my standing height in thickness and a full arm’s span in width was the largest single piece of meat I had ever seen. You and I have had what Iatvi call hamburger before. This looked nothing like it, and smelled much different. You and I have added salt, or sugar, or sometimes even vinegar to food. Whatever spices were cooked into this slab of carnivorous goodness created a scent celebration that overwhelmed me. It wasn’t just because I was starving, either. I had this meal many times, and it never ever lost its appeal. So lost in the sight of the mouth-watering meat, I didn’t even see the cooked carrots, potatoes, and the strange green stalks that lined the plate. There was even bread on a separate plate next to it.

Catherine and James noticed my mind-twisted expression and laughed to each other.

“I think he’s going to enjoy this,” James said.

I shook out of my daze and looked up at Ian’s parents with a coy half-smile.

“Oh,” James said, returning to the kitchen. “We’ve been talking so much, I didn’t think of what Lenn would use as a fork.”

“Ian, would you grab a small plate for him?” Catherine asked.

“Yeah.”

“Let’s see,” James said, opening the cupboard between the oven and the fridge. “We have plastic forks, but I don’t know if… Lenn, what do you usually use to eat?”

I wrote a quick note and handed it to Ian after he placed before me a wide ceramic plate (not half as wide as the others).

“A plastic fork works fine, he says.”

“You’re sure?”

I nodded.

“Yeah, he’s sure.”

James returned and handed me the fork; about the size of a pronged rake, I held it near the neck and held the upper plastic over my bandaged shoulder. Fortunate that it didn’t weigh much at all.

With everyone seated at the table, I thought for sure everyone would proceed to dig into the delicious food. But to my surprise, everyone paused. James pointed at Ian.

“Want to say a quick prayer?”

“Sure,” Ian said.

All of the Iatvi then bowed their heads, closed their eyes, and folded their arms. In that moment, my eyes bounced from person to person, my anxiety level soared, and I clung to my fork; I had no idea what they were doing. Ian then spoke words that I had never heard combined before, a title for a being that I had never known.

“Our Heavenly Father…”

Ian continued speaking, but I clung to those first words. I’d learned many words before. But my insignificant knowledge gathered from scraps of paper had never taught me of this person. “Heavenly’. Like many words, I only knew of ‘heaven’ as an idea: a bright place where Iatvi go when they die. Advertisements described things like ice cream as ‘heavenly’, but I wasn’t so sure Iatvi died just to go to a place filled with ice cream.

And then, of course, the word ‘father’. The only example of a father I knew was my own. Yours as well, of course, but he was “kinder” than mine. You know how rare it was to see him home… or even in the village at all. He spent more time drinking the alcohol that the gatherers brought back than drinking water, and it never ceased to amaze me that he bothered to have more children besides me in his older years. Or maybe it was my mother who convinced him, I don’t know. I didn’t count as one, after all.

So who was this father that Ian called ‘heavenly’? It couldn’t have been like my father. There was nothing heavenly about alcohol or abandoning your son to die. Was this Father like James? Kind and loving, someone who actually cared for his son? I didn’t recognize it then, but I felt a sense of warmth in me. If it wasn’t like James, then it must have been someone very similar. Someone who had taught Ian to care about someone like me. I would later learn that Aaron and Chris also believed in this ‘Heavenly Father’.

I can hear you giggling at me now; you always told me I think too much. But you know me: when I do nothing, I think. And looking back, I know there were so many things I didn’t pay attention to; it was all so… immense. But this was certainly something I latched onto. And I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but in this moment of fear, combined with exhaustion and hunger… Hearing this title from Ian, ‘Heavenly Father’, I knew these words matched together. I wish that the gatherers had ever gathered scraps of scriptures as greedily as they did newspaper with obituaries and ads with scented perfumes.

As the Iatvi lifted their eyes, I looked down at the table and hoped none of them would then ask me to ‘pray’, or say anything about what had just occurred. When they did not, and a voice asked me what I wanted to eat first, I looked up and continued with life.

The feeling did not leave, though. It didn’t leave me for the entire night.