“We were exiled long ago.”
The fire crackled within the stone circle. In the distance the glass trees whistled in the breeze. The night sky sparkled with thousands of shades of green stars, from brilliant emerald to nearly pure white. And the children, the oldest of them thirteen years, huddled around the heat of the flames, listening to the old man. They had seen their parents bustling, arguing, packing, and sensed that something… something was coming.
And now, finally, the old man explained what would come.
Magim smiled through his tears. “We were exiled, children. Your father’s father’s fathers, and farther back than we can remember anymore. The first ones, their world…” He stopped to swallow back a sob. “Their world is not like this one. Their trees did not cut you when you picked their fruit. Kaelidim didn’t hunt, but they played with children on sun-lit hillsides. And no child… no child ever died. And neither did any wife.” He pressed his lips together. “The Name told them to enjoy. To enjoy. Simply worship by not taking from the Central Tree. Any other food, enjoy. Any other shade, enjoy. But this tree? Do not eat its fruit. But one of them… we don’t know her name any more, but we know she was tricked. She was told that she couldn’t enjoy what was around her unless she could enjoy everything. So she took from the Central Tree. And her husband… he was a coward. He did not step in. He did not show her all there was to enjoy. Instead… he went with her and ate with her.
“And the Name… he exiled them.” Magim looked past the fire. He looked past the faces of the children, those who had never heard this tale before, those who did not know the oldest story. He looked to a hill filled with those who had died. “He exiled them from that perfect earth. And we have wandered since. And we have longed for home. And tomorrow… tomorrow we search again.”
He gestured to the Stones behind him. “We have longed for home, for that Old, Old Earth. And every earth we find, we wait to see if… if perhaps, at long last, we are home. But every place we find… we find death.” His tears renewed. “We’re able to align the Stones about every ten years. And so, we go again, to a new place.”
“But, sir, if we go…” Dason looked into the fire. He couldn’t lift his eyes to Magim. “If we go, what about Tagin? What about my friend?”
Magim looked back up to the hill. He swallowed. “He’s already gone. We’re not leaving behind anything important.”
“Sir?” Jenai’s earnest eyes dared to meet Magim’s. “Sir? Did the Name… did he say when our exile would end?”
Magim didn’t answer.
“He said that he would send someone to bring us home.”
“So why don’t we wait for him?”
Magim shook his head. “The Name abandoned us long ago, child. We will find our way back.”
“But the Name – he gave us a place to enjoy. You said so! And we were the ones that disobeyed! Shouldn’t we wait for –”
“Child.” Magim’s quiet voice cut through the night. “You will not speak of that again. No. Tomorrow, we will all go through the hole that the Stones create. We will find another new earth to explore. And maybe. Maybe. Maybe in that place we will finally escape death. And maybe, finally… maybe we’ll never lose anyone like we lost Tagin, eh, Dason? No more death. As long as we just keep looking.”
The fire crackled. The children asked so many more questions. About the last earths. They were so young or even born here, they didn’t remember any of the others. But Magim, oh, he had seen seven earths he could remember. He told them about the fireroses and the blue skies and the freezing swamps and so many other stories, to prepare them for whatever they might discover when they passed through the Stones tomorrow.
But Jenai. She thought about the one they were supposed to wait for. The one the Name promised.
A pale green sun edged over the canopy of glass trees. They whispered the dawn melody. Magim stood at the edge of the Stones as they sparked, as they became other, as they flattened and spread out and yet remained just as they were. The air between them shifted, as if the space on the other side of the Stones was far, far away, even though it was still just right there.
The old man turned to the people. “Come. We journey to a new earth. And perhaps, our Old Earth. And as it is written, let the children lead.”
The crowd that had been around the fire the night before burst into eager laughter. They ran through the Stones – and were gone. Their parents shuffled after, eager and terrified and somber and resolute and laughing. Who knew what lay beyond the Stones this time?
They didn’t notice, though. Her parents thought she was with the other children. The children all pressed forward eager and didn’t notice their missing friend.
But Jenai stood back on the hill, among the dead. She watched everyone go. She witnessed them vanish through the Stones, but she didn’t chase after, even after the Stones became just stone again. The wind whistled through the glass trees. The sun rose. The sun began to set. She waited. And when the sun came up again, and the Name had not noticed her waiting, when he did not send someone to bring her Home, she wept.
She went back home. Her parents had packed as much food as they could carry, but this earth had been kind to them with food. There was enough that she could eat.
And the sun rose and set again. And the glass trees whistled. And she was alone. Soon she planted a little garden, like her grandmother had shown her. And she waited. She lit the fire in her home, and she learned to hide when the Kaelidim stalked through their old village.
And she waited.
The sun rose. The sun set. And no one came to show her the way home.
The Name. Maybe Magim was right, and now she paid for her foolishness.
But maybe. No, the Name was good. He could be trusted.
She grew. Her clothes frayed. She became a woman. She longed for a friend, but she was alone. She learned to fashion clothes from the grasses. She told herself stories.
She sat on the hill and told stories to her dead friends. She didn’t know everyone’s names, but she gave them names. And she talked. She told them how she was scared the Name had forgotten her. She told them how she was scared her parents forgot her. She told them all her fears, and the hill was the safest place she found.
And then the Stones flattened again. Ten years since her family left. Could she find them? Could she chase after them? The air between them lengthened, and she knew she could pass through if she wanted. She could find a new earth.
She gazed at that space between. Should she? She could. She could run through, and this earth would never miss her. And she would not miss it.
Her hands curled into fists. She shook. Her knees trembled. She fell to the earth before the Stones and cried out, she screamed, to the green sky and the glass trees and any Kaelidim that were near, and she screamed and screamed and screamed.
The Stones became stone again.
She found books left behind and reminded herself what language sounded like. She read aloud; stories of heroes and villains. Stories of love.
She longed for love.
She found a book filled with stories of the Name and his faithfulness to his exiled people, even as they traveled from earth to earth to earth. She wept.
The Stones flattened again. And again. And every time she watched, clutching the book of the Name’s faithfulness. And every time she cried out. She waited. And waited. And waited.
Her hair grew gray, and then silver. And she waited.
And one day, she watched the sun rise over the old Stones. The flattened again, and the air lengthened. But she did not pass through. She waited.
And then a man stood behind her. “Jenai! What are you doing here?”
She jumped a little at his voice. It sounded untamed, but not unkind. She couldn’t see his face through the sunrise, and though he appeared as any man she had seen in her childhood, she knew that he was good.
“The Name said to wait. So I’m waiting.”
“Well, daughter, you have heard. And the words created trust in you, didn’t they? Come. I have an old place I’d like to show you.”
And the One she waited for took her by the hand, and they walked from the Stones. And he took her to an old, old earth that was newer than any her people had ever found before.