Gray eyes stared back at him as Theo focused on the blurry window in his cocoon of a room. Chills raced up his arms as he placed his scrawny hands against the window pane and watched the droplets race down. Buckets of rain seemed to pour down upon his ears, as the roof of their house was made of tin. Rain on tin was simultaneously a tranquil and chaotic uproar, and on this particular foggy dusk, Theo was mesmerized by the serene beauty of the outside world. As he leaned closer to look upon the lake, he exhaled peacefully. Just as his breath had formed a circle on the icy glass, his finger moments from drawing a picture, his gentle eyes caught sight of movement on the lake. Opening the simple chest drawer, Theo pulled out his spyglass, a gift for his twelfth birthday from his father. As he instinctively focused the lenses, he spotted a fragile paper boat, struggling not to sink in the downpour upon the lake. The boat was distinctly white, in contrast to the approaching darkness.
At once, Theo reached for his trusty boots and wool coat. Rain had never bothered him, but his mother had different opinions on the matter. As the brass colored buttons were fastened, he checked to affirm he was ready to collect the message the small paper boat carried inside its folds. Theo warned himself, as he opened the window with his gadget and began to climb down the rope ladder hidden under his bed, that the message may have already been ruined. He prepared for blurred ink and soggy paper, but he still clung to hope; somehow this many of the letters had reached him, and he trusted that somehow this one would make it to him as well.
No familiar scent of eggs or ashes wafted through his room, as his family was not yet awake. It would not be long, he knew, before the tin roof and rain mixture aroused them as well, so he hastened down the rope.
The lake wasn’t too far from their home, but it was a considerable distance. Theo made the trek out, making sure to avoid mud puddles, trying to be as dry as possible. When he’d crossed the hill, sprinkled now with clear drops of water, Theo surveyed the lake. Being winter, the scene was rather dismal, save for a little sail boat upon the surface of the lake. Hurrying to the edge of the lake closest to the boat, Theo reached for his sturdy tree branch, lying against his spot just as he’d left it. It was smooth from Theo’s hands and pointed at the the end. Etchings had been made into the creme colored wood with his carving stone; wood carving was a favorite pastime of his.
Theo stepped a bit into the pool of water, careful to not let his pants get soaked; they were his only pair presently. His arms stretched as far as possible, but the little folded boat was still floating an arm’s reach away. He resorted to using the carved branch, but there was always a bit of danger in using it. Once, he’d attempted to use the stick to bring the boat forward, but had accidentally tipped the boat over, sending its message into a soggy death sentence. He’d eventually gotten the message out, but when he’d dried it and unfolded it, the penned words were so blurry that he could only make out a singular word-‘alone’.
That was the essence of the messages. But Theo read the letters as often as they arrived at his gloomy shores, hoping that someday, things would change for the mystery girl. Maybe she wouldn’t be so alone.
Luckily, the stick successfully pulled the boat into arm’s reach without toppling the message over. Dreamily, Theo took hold of the folded message and boat, careful not to rip the sodden paper. The journey back to the house was always a delicate process, as if he was carrying a newborn baby. Protecting the message and its’ carrier vessel was the most important thing in those few solitary moments.
As Theo approached home, the door opened. Mother stomped out, her face livid. Grabbing his ear, she pulled him inside.
“Theo, how many times must I tell you to not leave the house! Do you not understand the dangers?”
Theo shook his head no, just for fun. “What dangers?” The worst his mother ever did was make him fold the laundry.
“You know very well, young man. I am done protecting you when you seem to wish more for your death than life. You say you fancy the outside more than the house? Well perhaps it’s time you figure it out the hard way.”
His eyes suddenly met hers, struck with fright. No, he thought. Please don’t. I was only kidding.
But his mother had fire in her eyes, and she wasn’t kidding. She was serious as a funeral procession.
“No, no- mother, I was-”
“I don’t want to hear it. I’ve had enough with you,” his mother exclaimed as she grabbed his wrist and led him inside. She walked fervently, with sternness carved into her stone face. Retrieving an old cloth from a drawer, she tied it across his eyes, making everything in sight darkness to Theo.
“If you don’t want to listen to me, perhaps you’d prefer to listen to the sounds of trees swaying about, flailing leaves, and screams from the forest.” Mother explained, as she tightened the knot on the cloth.
Then he heard a bang like never before as the oak door fit into the frame and they walked out.
They walked for hours it seemed, through more land than he thought was on the earth. Periodically, he’d shout out his plea, but was rewarded with a harsh smack on the mouth each time. Eventually his lips became so numb that he gave up speaking and just walked.
Theo tumbled upon the ground, tripping from stray branches, rocks, and once through a long stretch of mud. Wherever his mother was leading him, he was clueless of the end destination. Finally, after stumbling on his own feet, as a person does often when going down a hill, he was stopped. The material covering his soft eyes was hastily un-tied, as if there was no time to lose.
As soon as his sight was recovered, Theo pleaded, “Please, I was only joking!” He knew he’d been disobeying, but a punishment such as this far exceeded the realm of rational thought.
His mother only shook her head, the fire in her eyes burned out with only ashes remaining. For a moment, they stared at each other. The gaze consisted of hesitation, yet assuredness, love but dislike, and fear yet hope. Somewhere inside, Mara still had a heart. She’d lost her husband, and now willingly was about to lose her son. How she still lived, Theo did not know. The moment was broken as she pulled from her coat pocket a slice of bread within a folded piece of cloth.
“Here,” she explained, shoving the items into his hands. He took hold of them, as if they were objects he’d never seen before. The severity of the situation took hold in Theo’s mind as he was thrust into the woods, with his mother’s final words; “Food for you.” Mother paused. “Don’t come back.”
His mother left in silence, leaving Theo alone in the great void of nowhere.
Run after her, his mind cried out, but he shut it away. Doesn’t matter, he thought. She’ll just pull me away again, further into this place. There was no point in trying to find his way home. Theo was quite certain he’d just been disowned, turned away, perhaps even sacrificed, by the only people he’d ever met. His mother, father, brother, and cat. Mara, Michael, Elijah, and Zach. The only life he’d have if he returned was that of a servant, a poor beggar at his own door.
He had no intention of returning home.
Instead, he stood in the valley covered with tall, golden grass. The grassy field blurred into only a gold smear as his eyes bubbled with liquid. Finally they boiled over, the hot tears leaping down. The ground soothed his sorrows, accepting his silent tears as they dropped from his face. Wind hushed his internal groanings and swayed him a lullaby through the grass. The sun was deeply low in the sky, as if bending to comfort him. After some time, Theo arose from the ground, persuaded by the mocking voice in his head, saying, patheticboyyoudeservethisyouwilldiehereifyoudon’tgetup. Perhaps he wasn’t the most in control of his emotions, but he was strong. He would get through this.
Theo picked up his head, raised himself to his feet, and looked all around. Every which way he looked, there was grass, glowing in the fading evening sun. But in the distance, there was a splash of brown. “Trees,” he whispered to himself.
The trees would protect him, right? The stories from his father always began with a wanderer; alone, lost, and outside in the Night.
At the moment, that seemed an apt description for himself.
The story continued with fear. The sun would begin to set, and the wanderer, not knowing of the dangers, would relax in the Night.
Already a step ahead, Theo thought to himself. There was still perhaps thirty minutes of dim light left, and he knew of the dangers. Not specifically, of course, but he knew it existed.
He began to walk steadily towards the goal, as he recalled how the wanderer had run to the woods, escaping from the danger. The woods provided safety for a moment, but it punished him for coming without paying the price.
The price were words he dare not utter, for their power had been told to him since an infant.
Never use the words, his mother had instructed, unless you are there.
Where? He’d asked.
In The Night, she’d whispered.
But where is that? His small voice would question once more.
No one knows. Only those gone have discovered.
Gone? Confused, he’d looked up at his mother’s charcoal eyes.
Lost. Forgotten. Destroyed. They’ve been stolen by the night. Never go outside without the sun, or without me, understand Theo?
In that moment, he’d pretended to fall asleep, freeing himself from such a promise.
Now, here he was, alone, lost, in The Night. But it wasn’t time to say it yet. First he had to reach the woods.
Carefully he unfolded the letter which he had swiftly placed in his coat pocket when meeting his mother outside the door. With whatever light was left of the day, Theo began to make out the words scripted upon the now wrinkled and somewhat damp letter, while still walking towards the woods.
The note was heavily damaged, but from the signature, he knew this was Wren’s. Theo braced himself to hear the story Wren would tell.
Today #123 I cannot stand this chaos anymore. My mind screams for silence, and my eyes plead for anything but the- light. What is this fowl sight that I cannot see? He tells me to sleep during the darkness- the quiet and still tranquility!— How can I sleep when my peace awaits outside?
Today #124 Once again, he tells me to close my eyes in the Night, the one place I can see. This man seems to be frightened of the Night. But what is the cause of his fear? I fear the light, because in that, I am blind, and all the information about this place I can gather is from the tumult of screeches, whistles, coughs, and feet upon the ground.When the world outside is alive, all I want to do is disappear.
Today #125 I don’t know how much longer I can stand this. I have spoken to none since he took me from the Night. Where I was before, the silence was in the world, and the sound came from our voices. But here, in this place, invisible from me, the sound is in the outside, and the silence is in their hearts. No one has a voice. The earth speaks for them.
Today #126 I think I’ve begun to lose my voice. Everything that surrounds me speaks for me. I cannot get out a word, I cannot focus, when the world shouts around me. Send me away to the Night, where my thoughts can scream, and the cloak of stars enfolds me with warmth.
Today #127 Will I ever escape from this eternal curse of noise? Will I ever speak again? Will I ever think? He watches- me all of the time. He never sleeps. I can only write when he or I use the privy. In the light, he pushes me out the door to watch the sunrise, apparently right in front of me. What is the sun? I still cannot see.
Today #128 My eyes hurt. I cannot identify anything anymore by sight. The Night no longer gives me vision, either, and I write with only the knowledge of what the letters feel like. My journal is still hidden in the place.
Today #129 I pray every day that someone will get these torn out pages from my journal. I have been kidnapped. I have been forced into the light. Please. Come soon, deliverer. Get the message from the paper boat, and come find me in– the woods. The Night will protect you.
Theo read Wren’s words with apprehension. The girl was still a captive, still a prisoner. It bothered him that he had been receiving her letters for a few weeks now, and yet had done nothing.
There were questions he wanted to ask her, about her fascination with the Dark, about her arguments against the Light. Was not the Light good, and the Dark evil? But even if she was a perpetrator of the Light, none deserved to be held captive. Especially a young girl.
He could say the same of himself. None deserved to be a captive of the Dark. Especially a young boy.
There was no place to go but the forest, so he stepped forward into the gloom. But he was still wary of ignoring all he’d been taught since a baby. The night is evil. The night is dark. The night is blindness. The sun is all that is good, the day is the only place for anyone to be.
Was it? He didn’t know anymore. He’d never been exposed to the night, so how could he know it was dangerous and hideous, as he’d been taught by his mother? Wren seemed to believe in the Night like he believed in the Day. How could two people believe that the opposite thing was the only right way?
Wren told him the Night would protect him, his mother said it would hurt him. The brightness hurt Wren’s eyes, but the darkness hurt his. Theo didn’t understand, and that was the very thing that had driven him to go outside at dusk each day, getting a small taste of the darkness. He’d never seen the full scale of darkness, but he imagined none in the Light had seen as much as him. He wondered if he was the only one to have broken the rules. He’d mustered up the courage to go out for a bit, testing his mother.
But it wasn’t a game anymore. Now he had to explore, because now he was in the wild. He was in the Night.
His fear couldn’t make him run back to his house, the only house he’d ever known, the only house he’d ever seen. Instead, he was forced to conquer his fears and finally discover why he and everyone else were warned about the Night.As the sun was almost below the horizon, Theo tucked the note away into his jacket pocket, and started to run.
Finally the time had come to use Wren’s map that she always drew from the loop of her signed name. The ‘n’ in Wren flowed smoothly to create a map of landmarks to where she believed she was held captive. Theo tried to follow it, though it was difficult to see anything in the growing darkness.
As she’d explained in previous letters, she’d been able to catch a few glimpses of her surroundings; she knew there was a large rock directly out her window, a small building she guessed contained chickens of some sort, and most importantly, the stream that carried her messages in the paper boats down to Theo.
The first step for him was to find the stream. There was a soft sound of smoothly flowing water, so he allowed his ears to guide him rather than his sight, since darkness began to creep into his vision anyway.
After wandering a while, he hit a patch of mud, and soon found himself in the midst of a stream perhaps two feet wide. Theo recalled that the entrance of Wren’s place of captivity directly faced the sun in the morning, meaning the house must be facing the east. Standing at the stream, he looked at where the sun was barely floating, to the west. He turned the opposite way, in order to go to the east.
Trees began to crop up more and more around the stream as Theo ventured deeper within the wild darkness. His eyes tried to adjust to the light, but the darkness was blinding to him. Simultaneously, it enticed and revolted him.
His vision fading, Theo began stumbling upon- well, he didn’t really know what, because he couldn’t see.
And suddenly, the severity of his situation engulfed him.
He wasn’t just an outcast- he was a lonely outcast. A scared outcast. A vulnerable outcast. A tourist who came the day an earthquake happened. Theo was abandoned in a world he’d never been in, and no one cared. No one except a girl who may not even exist.
Truly, he’d never seen darkness before. The doors automatically locked at eight at night until five in the morning. And when they slept, kerosene lamps were placed all around the perimeter of the floor, so that light was always visible. Darkness was an unknown foe, and he had no clue how to combat it.
If he continued on, he’d only stray from the stream farther and farther, get hurt, and have no energy.
There was nothing left to do. Except sit. And pray.
But what was there to say? What could he say that could express the groanings inside of him? What words communicated his feelings? They didn’t. Nothing could.
He sunk to the ground, lay his head on the dirt, and released a tearful breath of “Jesus.”
A rustling began. Theo’s head rose an inch, then remembered there was nothing for him to see. His head bounced back onto the floor of stale leaves. But it intensified, the noise. So much so that a cacophony of woodland sounds filled his ears until there was nothing left around.
It sounded as if…..a tree was bending- and just then, Theo felt soft small shapes of plant brush him. They hit his face gently, as if to wipe away his tears.
And then, miraculously, impossibly, the branches curled around his feet and back and gently grasped his head. Slowly the tree lifted him up into the safety of its branches, until he sat atop the highest branch.
A breeze blew through his hair, and with it carried a voice. A voice not with words, but emotion. A voice of comfort and assuredness. Theo understood the voice like nothing else he’d understood- he didn’t just know what the voice was saying- he understood. He felt it.
Theo relaxed in the tree’s arms, with a wind ruffling his feathery hair, and feeling the voice of emotions. Theo just sat. He didn’t worry. He didn’t care how long he stayed there in the darkness- the darkness was all the same anyway. Plus, what else could he do but be with the tree? He supposed he could jump off onto the ground, but what was the point of that?
The tranquility there was something he’d never experienced before. His lack of sight increased his other senses, because he wasn’t thinking about how high off the ground he was- he really didn’t know anyway. He wasn’t thinking about how it had looked, to see a tree bending at the trunk and wiping his tears with its leaves; he wouldn’t have believed it anyhow.
But slowly, as he spent more and more time in the tree, he could recognize small pinpricks of a lighter darkness amid the pure black of the night. It wasn’t light exactly; it was tainted by the darkness. But still, it was a different shade.
So long Theo stayed in the arms of the tree that he began to recognize dimly lit shapes, not just pinpricks. Blobs of hues was more accurate, but it was still an improvement from his first moments in the absence of light. His confidence began to grow like Ivy, slowly creeping upwards. His gray eyes finally adjusted to the light, Theo noticed a spiral of gray smoke from some ways away. Mentally routing his path to the smoke, (where he assumed there was a house of some sort), Theo pictured all the turns. If he reached the ground in the same direction he was now, then it would be a simple matter of heading North East by a small degree.
Theo looked to the ground, now able to see as well as possible in the dark, and realized if he jumped down, he’d surely break some part of himself.
As if it knew his mind, the tree wrapped around his wrists and ankles, lowered itself once again, and returned him to the leaf-strewn earth.
Theo glanced up and whispered a small sliver of sound, “Thank you.” He allowed himself to gaze as the aged tree repositioned itself to its upright form. Had he never spoken the word, the miraculous tree would have been lost amidst the myriad of branches and leaves, leaving Theo helpless on the ground.
Awkwardly, he bowed, not knowing how to end their meeting.
As he walked in the general direction of the house, Theo ducked and swerved around outstretched branches and twigs, though still managed to acquire stinging red streaks and scratches across his shins and forearms.
He walked for a long while, occasionally gazing towards the night sky, filled with stars and the moon. Theo was dazzled by the brightness of such small and distant lights, and entranced by the moon- an object which he had been told was the symbol of all evil. He laughed to himself now- how could a light be evil? Wasn’t its constant glow proof of its dedication to light the way in the dark? The dark seemed to be the negative in the equation, not the moon.
He finally reached a place in his journey where he could see the faint outline of a house. Theo paused there in the woods. His next step was to…..figure out his next step. He hadn’t really thought about how he’d get inside the house, or thought about how they might be criminals in the house, of how its residents could deny Theo a place to stay the night. Mainly he’d just been kicked out of his house and taken a walk in the woods at night. And met a moving tree.
As he approached the area surrounding the house, Theo realized. It must be Wren’s place of captivity. For there in front of him lay a small building rather like a chicken coop, as well as a stream to the side.
He found the rock, as promised, and sure enough, there was a window. The curtains were drawn, no doubt to hide the night from Wren and to force the morning light upon her, Theo thought. He wasn’t sure how to go about getting Wren’s attention, or how to tell her he was the one receiving her letters, without alerting the her captor if his presence. According to her, he was always watching. Which meant he was awake. Which meant he couldn’t get Wren’s attention. Which meant he couldn’t rescue her. Which meant he failed. Which meant he had no purpose anymore.
Calm down, he told himself! He couldn’t help himself going from a single unpleasant occurrence to a horrid future, terrible in his mind but not yet even a reality. This wasn’t the end.
When did Wren come outside? The sunrise, he knew, but that wasn’t helpful. There was no way he could be unseen and talk to her. Besides, she wouldn’t be able to see. How could they escape in the sun and with one person blind?
The privy! She’s mentioned she only wrote when using the privy because she was alone. That was his best bet. Sort of pathetic, that his only solution was to wait for her to need the restroom. But what else was he to do?
Theo was hungry. He had no clue how to cook, but he walked towards the chicken coop anyway, knowing eggs were food at least. He slid open the little sliding door, and found absolutely no chickens. Not even a feather. It was no matter. What would he have done, eaten raw eggs?
Though, he was rather confused why this structure stood there if not to house chickens. He reached his hand inside, thinking there might be something inside he couldn’t see.
There wasn’t anything he could feel, but there was a space at the edge of the box. He squeezed his fingers into the space, and felt the edge of something rather thin and delicate. Pulling it out, Theo realized it was sheet of paper. He couldn’t make anything out but odd squiggles. There was no point in trying to read it, so he just returned it to its place.
Theo walked over to the privy, and sat on the side facing away from the house.
And then he waited.
He got very tired of waiting.
Though it was a nice break for his legs and feet. His stomach grumbled. Then, suddenly realizing he had bread in his pocket, he pulled it out. He was sort of surprised at his stupidity.
The bread reminded him of the surprise his father had given him after his dinner of freshly baked bread on his birthday.
“Here, hold it like this,” Theo’s father had explained. He placed his son’s hands on the spyglass and adjusted the lenses. “See, you move it like this,” he twisted it inwards, “and it zooms in. You twist it outwards, and it lets you see far into the distance.”
Theo remembered he’d been fascinated by the object, and that was why when his mom had purged all of his father’s belongings after his disappearance, he’d hidden the spyglass. His father had been the emotionally sound one. His mother kept the house together, but she wasn’t…..nurturing. His father was one the to talk to, to ask for a story, to express confusion over the darkness.
Michael was the one who wasn’t afraid of the dark. But Theo’s mother was the one who taught her sons about the dangerous outside world, not her husband.. When Michael had not returned before the curfew, his Mother had simply locked the door, sealing her husband to certain death.
“We must carry on the rules of our culture. We cannot sacrifice the guidelines for just one. Michael was a good man, but he had too much empathy for the outside. We must accept that he is gone.”
Theo had never understood her sternness, and belief in absolutes. She never seemed to realize that black and white sometimes crossed, and created a gray colored world. Theo had never been close to her, but after this episode, there was a permanent barrier between them.
Theo had been trekking out in the early morning for a long while. The colorful sky, wings of birds, and still air were the only peaceful moments who could snatch before his mother’s voice cracked through the house. Those stolen moments of tranquility and peace were Theo’s time for thought. His time for doing what he wished to do. No plowing the field, no stacking hay, no cutting wood…..in those moments he was selfish.
A door swung and broke through the air, screeching apologetically to the still, silent night. Boots clamped upon the floor of the house with vigor, then ceased. Smaller, softer steps crinkled the leaves and grew in volume. Theo realized it must be Wren, coming to use the privy. He sat straighter and stiffer- what was he going to say? How could he speak in the silence without Wren’s captor at the doorstep hearing him? She came closer and closer until she opened the door to the privy and shut it tight. There were no more footsteps, so he assumed the man was still at the door, watching. Guarding his prisoner.
It was as if molasses had slithered onto all of his quick witted responses; he couldn’t come up with anything to say.
But what if he didn’t have to say anything? He couldn’t write- Wren was losing her sight, even if it wasn’t dark- but he could show her something.
Quickly, though quietly, he pulled out the journal entries from Wren. His fingers swiftly folded it into a familiar shape. He slipped the paper boat under a small crack, then placed his hand back into his lap. He hoped she would get the message. He had no other plan, unfortunately.
A tiny gasp, so small it might have been mistaken for nothing at all, flew into Theo’s ears. He heard the scratching of something from inside the small rectangular outhouse, and waited expectantly for something to happen. A few seconds, and the paper boat came back to him with large, messy, uneven letters, as if written by a small child:
Into the chimney
Theo read the words carefully, squinting in the process. Had he read the words correctly? He brought his face closer to the worn paper boat, examining the letters once again. Yes, he was sure it said Into the chimney.
A whisper, more like a breath, spoke as the door swung open, “you came.”
He waited till he heard the door up front shut, then waited a couple of minutes for good measure. Sticking his head covered in caramel colored hair past the privy, Theo crept, as if bent with old age, to a side of the cabin without a window. Couldn’t risk having the captor spot him now,
How was he to get to the chimney, on top the roof, without letting anyone know? Surely footsteps above your head would alert anyone. He looked to his surroundings.
A wooden cabin, one story, with a slightly slanted roof stood in front of him. Trees surrounded the small clearing on all sides. The privy and almost-chicken coop stood past the house.
How was he to climb the roof?
Stealth was necessary. He slipped off his shoes and left them on the ground. Finding cracks in the wooden planks, Theo timidly climbed up the side of the house. Several times, he slipped, and each time, his breath was caught in his throat. The prospect of being caught, after all he had struggled through, was something he ignored. Instead, he focused on silently climbing wood.
After excruciating minutes of climbing, Theo grasped the beginning of the roof. His feet let loose, and this time, his legs banged across the wood. But as the noise struck, a violent wind rushed through the trees. Theo could hear the leaves moving, and imagined a torrent of muted color rising up and traveling a foot or two this way or that. He wondered if this was yet another gift from the trees. He didn’t dare look- he was just grateful for the cover it provided. He regained his footing, and climbed upon the wooden roof.
At the chimney, Theo took a breath. The smoke having ceased soon after he took his position on the icy ground by the privy, he knew there was no longer a fire, but imagined falling down a chimney would be an uncomfortable experience. Cheering himself on, he thought, one, two, three! And jumped.
Theo fell onto his shins, and knew he would receive some nasty bruises later, but heard no snapping of his bones.
Eyes scanning, he found himself in the gap between a girl with raven hair, and a man.
The man turned, his shadow dancing along the solid walls from the lamp, and Theo found himself staring into the eyes of his father.
“Hello, Theo,” spoke Michael, his voice the same, with its quiet authority hovering in the silence. He didn’t sound at all surprised to see his son sitting in the fireplace of his house.
“Yeah. It’s me.”
They stared at each other awhile, son trying to sort out the conflicting feelings of betrayal and ecstasy, and father marveling at his son’s intelligence and courage.
“I thought you were dead! Wha-why- how could you leave and not come back?”
“I know. I know, I’m sorry. So sorry, Theo. But how could I leave your sister? At least you had your mother and brother.”
“Wren. She’s your sister.”
Sister? It wasn’t possible. The girl to his left was completely different in complexion than he or his brother. Her hair was black as night, her body tall. Theo and Michael were sandy haired, average height boys. Besides their looks, she was- she was from the dark! How could she be from there, and the rest of them from the light?
It didn’t add up.
“Theo. Please understand,” it was Wren this time. “He means well.” Her voice was a strange sound. It was like icy water- alluring, yet slightly dangerous.
“Wren? I don’t…” his face spoke of confusion, his mouth open, waiting to speak the words his mind wanted to say. Was it all a lie? The notes, your captor- was it all a story? A story to get me to come here? Did he ever force you to see the light? Are you even from the darkness? If it was a lie, how can you be from the light? How long have you been here? Why don’t I remember you?
“Who are you?” Theo asked, incredulous. It was a cliche question, but one that seemed to encompass most of his current quandaries.
“I’m your sister. Your older sister. Your parents- they took me in as a baby when my parents died in a house fire. They didn’t have you, or Elijah, then. They had me for four years in their care- I was eight my last year with them. But when they were invited upon special invitation to move to the Light….”
Michael continued Wren’s story, upon her seeing her uncomfortable with the next part, “we were told we couldn’t bring a child of Darkness into the Light if they were older than ten. We were told they were inherently born with the ideals of the culture. They couldn’t risk having wild dark children present in the newly discovered society. You see, Theo, we were invited to join a different kind of place. The cities of the Dark were dwindling, the morality spiraling downwards faster every day, and there were those of us left who wished to create a better future for the generations to come.”
Thoughts spun around in sickening circles, until Theo couldn’t stand it any longer.
“What is the truth?!! You’re telling me you and mother lied to me about having a sister, about your lives, about the whole world? And you say you wished to create a better future for us? How about telling me and everyone else that the darkness doesn’t contain only all of the criminals, prostitutes, drunkards, and gamblers, but ordinary people like you? How about explaining how you’ve been lying to me and Elijah for thirteen years?”
“Theo, we had to-”
“Oh, you had to lie to your children. I see, that makes it ok. You had to disappear and let us think you were dead. Mother had to pretend she locked you out.” Theo was exasperated. What about any of this was ‘ok’?
“I chose to leave. Your mother did lock me out. She didn’t want me to go. Listen, the residents of the Light didn’t allow children over the age of ten, like I said. We tried to bring her- she was so tall, though, that she passed as an eleven year old. They wouldn’t believe us, that she was eight. We didn’t have anything to prove it. They wouldn’t accept her into the Light, but when they denied her access, they’d already let us, your mother and I, in. Once accepted, you couldn’t leave. If you did, you couldn’t come back. Your mother and I couldn’t leave. Even if we’d tried, there wasn’t any way we could reach her. She was being hauled onto a boat with other children by the time they told us.
It haunted me, knowing my daughter was back there, in that awful place, where there wasn’t any light allowed, nor sunrises or sunsets. She’d never get to see the colors melt on the sky. I ached for the loss of my now twice-orphaned daughter, but your mother- she just accepted it.” In a mimicking voice, Michael said, ‘tis the cost of a life full of light. We must leave our pasts behind us.’ I tried to tell her that Wren wasn’t just a part of our past- she was meant to be in our future, too! ‘Not anymore. She wasn’t even ours in the first place.’ I just couldn’t take it anymore. That day I left- it was the last day I could stand living without seeing my daughter.”
“What about seeing your sons? Didn’t you think about us?” Theo couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Had his father really sacrificed two of his children for another child?
“Theo, believe me, I would’ve gotten to you again. That’s what Wren and I have been trying to do this whole time, the-” Wren broke in at this point
“The paper boats were innocent, easily mistaken for a child’s toy. Dad said he knew you’d be curious, and well-” her cheeks grew a bit rosy, “he said you’d want to help anyone, especially an innocent person in trouble. All of it was true, you know. Though stretched a bit. Here, Dad and I live in both the Dark and the Light. When he first brought me after tracking me down to a city orphanage, I couldn’t see a thing in daylight. It took awhile adjusting to, and it was painful. He wanted me to see the sunrise so badly, but some days I just couldn’t take it. He made me sleep in the dark to get used to living in the light. Writing about it in a message was the only way we could think of to get you to come on your own.”
“And why, exactly, did you want me to come?” He asked, half trying to understand, and half trying to catch them in lies.
But did the reason even matter? Right now he was still trying to understand the fact that his as-good-as-dead father was alive, and that he had an adopted sister.
“To get an invitation to the light, you have to have heard about the Light from someone. We heard from Wren’s parents. The word ‘Light’ travels far and wide, but it doesn’t have the best connotation, nor do people understand its meaning. And even if people did have someone tell them about it, half of them would just ignore it, thinking they already knew everything about it. But Theo, you know. You know how good the light is. And you’ve even watched the sunrise.”
“So,” his father took a breath before explaining, “Wren and I want to go back. To the Darkness. We want to tell as many people as we can about the Light. We want to bring them here, to this clearing. We’ll clear it as much as we need.”
“But the darkness isn’t what we’re taught in the Light. Haven’t you seen the stars? Haven’t you heard the silence?” It was strange, defending the Darkness. At this point, what was he even arguing about? In truth, Theo was scared.
“This would be a safe haven for everyone. It’s a combination of Light and Dark. The people in the Darkness are locked in at the first sign of light- doors bolted, windows shut, curtains glued shut. They don’t know what they’re missing. At least in the Light, we have a bit of lenience. There aren’t any curtains, so the windows are still possible to see through if you look really hard. That’s why I gave you that spyglass, you know,” Michael added.
“We’d also go back to the Light. Tell them that can’t hide any longer. You can’t have perfection in a world half-perfect, half-imperfect. The Light isn’t even perfect. If anyone breaks any rules, they send them to the darkness, as I suspect your mother did to you. There is no mercy there. Perfection must have mercy. All that the people in the Light do is hide from the dark…and they pretend they’re perfect. There’s no such thing.”
“And? What does that have to do with me?” Theo wasn’t sure where this was going.
“Telling as many people as we can about the Dark and the Light is the only way to bring people together. Right now, everyone is divided. Not everyone in the Dark is terrible and dangerous. Think of Wren’s parents, and Mara and I. We were given a second chance, coming to the Light. But it’s hardly any better. They’ve told you and your brother that the forest is filled with murderers and thieves and hooligans, and that the Dark is a wasteland. None of that is true. They tell you that the Light is merciful and just and kind- and sometimes we are. But sometimes, we’re just as bad as the Dark. Think of Elijah, Theo. Do you want him growing up with lies, growing up thinking people like Wren are evil to the core? We have to help them. They need the truth. Both side do.”
“Come with us,” Wren jumped in. “Theo, you know both Light and Dark now, just like we do. Together, we can tell people. Together, we can share the beauties both sides have. We explain how the light brightens your mood. Explain how the light clears away questions, sharpens the frame of blurry and undefinable things surrounding us. We tell those in the Light how we have to help those in the Darkness. Surely there are those who will have compassion and courage, like you. What do you say?”
A few moments silence.
“Come with us, Theo.” His father whispered. “Please. I’ll make up for our lost moments.”
“What about Elijah and Mother’s lost moments? Don’t they deserve those too? Now they’ve lost both of us.”
“Yes. We’ll tell them about the dark first. We can bring us together, Theo, if we just tell them.”
“Tell them lies? Like you told me?”
“No, Theo. The truth. Hiding from the Darkness doesn’t make it disappear. It just hurts those who are stuck in it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that? Why wasn’t I given the truth?” Theo asked, trying to sort out their lies from truth.
“We’re still messing up. We’re still learning. But think, Theo. Think of all of those people who have never seen the sun. Think of all of those who have never seen how the darkness brings out the light. Think of all of those hidden moments of sunrises and sunsets.”
What was he to do? He was in the presence of liars who wanted to spread the truth. He was speaking to people who, minutes before, had been dead and non-existent. He was was about to have to decide.
He could try to go back home- knock on the door till his mother overcame her legalistic personality.
He could live in the forest, alone. Without any knowledge of survival methods.
He could go with Wren and his Father and bring people together.
“We tell them the truth? And just like that, they want to come? Do we really kidnap them?” Theo asked. He couldn’t do a thing like that.
“No, no. Neither. No kidnapping involved. I mean, technically, I kidnapped Wren. I certainly didn’t ask the orphanage staff to let me take Wren to the middle of nowhere. But anyone else, it can take any number of days. Years, sometimes, to convince people something isn’t right. Convince them there’s something else they’re missing. We have to get to know them. It’ll take time.”
“Is it dangerous?”
“Will we succeed?” Theo wondered. Was there any real chance of actually helping people?
“With the trees on our side? Yes.” Michael answered.
“The trees? You mean they move for you, too?” He couldn’t believe this- it had been true, all of it. The trunk bending, the leaves wiping his tears away, the wind covering his noisy fall on the roof- and his family knew it too.
“Theo, you met the trees already?” Wren asked, eyes widening.
“What? Is that….”
“It means they’ve chosen you too. They approve of you to tell people. They didn’t choose me till a year ago, and Wren a couple months ago.” Michael explained, eyes mimicking Wren’s.
“Theo, please. Please come.” Wren was pleading, softly. He looked at her. He tried to fit her into the mental image he’d had of her from her messages across the water. Remembered the first time he’d gotten a boat. Never had he thought the mystery girl was his sister. Never had he imagined it a grand plan to bring him to this place. This place of wonder, with light and dark.
That’s when he realized. It was home.
Why not let other people finally feel at home? How could he deny the world a place of belonging?
“I’ll come.” Theo stated.
Wren bounced from her seat at the wooden table and energetically embraced him, as soon as the words left his lips. He smiled. It was nice to have an older sister. His father came over and said, “let’s go get the map. We should get started soon.”
“Didn’t you find it in the box, over there by the rock? It’s the map of all the known places in the world.”
“You saw me?”
“The whole time.” Michael grinned.
Theo and Wren got up off the floor and made their way to the door. Michael opened it, and a burst of color crept onto the floor and into their faces.
A sunrise was spread across the cloud-filled sky. Silence filled the small cabin.
“It’s beautiful,” Wren breathed.
“All those colors…” Theo tried to explain.
“Never gets old, sunrises. That’s the thing about light. It comes in all shades and forms.”
And in the silence, father, daughter, and son gathered for the first time.