BE SURE TO BOOKMARK THIS TALURA E-BOOK TO YOUR FAVORITES TO HAVE YOUR FAVORITE TALURA LINKS AT YOUR FINGERTIPS!
by Meredith Burton
Can you imagine a world where everyone is blind? How would this world be
different from ours? How would it be similar? Would anyone in that world
be able to see?
This story examines these questions. As a blind individual, my
desire is to help you examine the world in a different way.
In retelling the Gospel in a fantasy setting, I have, unfortunately,
had to eliminate certain instances and fabricate others. My first
fantasy novel, Crimilia, relied more explicitly upon accounts within
Scripture. That novel dealt with two handicapped protagonists from
Earth who entered an alternate world. This novel is set entirely in a
world that is different, yet also similar, to our own. This story is
inspired by God’s Holy Word. However, it is not as explicitly obvious
as my first book. Never, under any circumstances, read more into this
book than is meant. I do not intend to blaspheme or offend. If you
have any questions, criticisms, or comments, pleas email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org God bless you all.
As always, I dedicate my work to my marvelous Savior, Jesus Christ
with heartfelt thanksgiving. He guides me and keeps me from stumbling
into the Evil One’s net. When I do not listen to His warnings, He lifts
me from the mire and carries me to safety. He transmits His joy to me
and gives me sight. I hope He accepts this book as my feeble attempt to
worship Him and give Him glory.
my precious nieces. Aliya Davine, who is so observant and smart, and to
Tristyn Layla, who loves ice cream, has a vivid imagination, and is as
smart as her sister.
Also to my aunt, Brenda Pollock. I love our outings! Thank you for
taking me to so many theatrical productions. We always have to stop for
ice cream on the way home. Our trip to Baltimore Harbor and the
encounter with the unusual hand dryer in the restroom inspired the idea
for the traffic boxes within this story. Thank you for everything you
“Jamrack time, class.”
Livingston removed her hands from the lump of cold, elastic-like clay
she’d been stretching. The amria was becoming thinner with every
work, Bruce.” She clasped hands with the boy who sat across from her.
His hands were rough to her touch. Of course, this fact wasn’t
unusual. Her hands were rough, too. Rough hands meant that a person
worked hard for King Shalamar.
“Thanks, Martha. You, too. It’ll soon be ready, don’t you think?”
“Sure. Just one more session should do it.”
Several students whooped as they jumped to their feet. The gruelling
twelve-hour days of schoolwork sometimes seemed endless. Jamrack time,
which occurred at the six-hour mark, was a true delight.
soft swish-swish of cloth slippers filled the room as the students
hurried to their lockers. Martha noticed that Barson Cox wrenched open
his locker with more force than necessary. The metallic clang
reverberated in her ears. He must really be hungry!
sit with me today?” Bruce asked.
“Sure.” Opening her locker, Martha retrieved her lunchbag. Each
students’ bag was made from a soft, fibrous plant material called
jamrack. The plants grew in the southern regions of Talura, where the
hot, perfume-laden air caused the workers to develop asthma. Martha’s
own father was a jamrack harvester. Often, he’d awaken at night, his
body wracked by spasms of coughing that shook the whole house.
morning at breakfast, Martha had asked him, “Dad? Can’t King Shalamar
find you another job?”
father’s rich bass laugh echoed around the breakfast room. Of course,
his laughter had been cut short by more coughing. “Nonsense, girl. I’m
a harvester. That’s my job! It’s a privelige to suffer for the king.”
more had been said on the subject.
Martha opened the bag and felt within its cavernous depths. There was
one thing for sure: no one ever went hungry. Martha whooped as she felt
the four paper-wrapped parcels inside the bag. There was the usual
turkey sandwich, thermos of vegetable broth and carrot sticks. However,
she also discovered a treat: a parcel containing three maluria muffins.
got them too, Martha!” Bruce called excitedly. Other students were also
exclaiming in delight.
at her desk, Martha hurriedly began to eat her sandwich. She wanted to
get done as quickly as possible with the ordinary food. “When do you
think he brought them?” she asked, her mouth full.
“Dunno,” Bruce admitted. “Bet it was during recitation time.”
nodded. “Yeah. You know how loud Rachel speaks. We probably didn’t
hear him because of her.”
was a long silence. “Martha? What do you think he’s like? Will we ever
shrugged. She’d finally finished all her ordinary food and was ready
for dessert. Tearing open the paper package, she inhaled the
intoxicating aroma. Ummm! They were still warm!
fierce longing filled Martha’s heart. Quickly, she snatched one of the
muffins and took a large bite. The soft, doughy exterior crawled with
multitudes of small seeds that crunched delightfully when your teeth
broke them. The juicy interior pulsated with vibrant life. Maluria
fruit was the sweetest snack around. Its taste resembled the tartness
of a strawberry combined with the silky smooth sweetness of vanilla ice
cream. Only King Shalamar and his officials were allowed to eat the
delicacy on a regular basis. Once a month, the king ordered that
muffins be made from the fruit and distributed to all the subjects in
his realm. He himself brought the muffins to the schoolhouse, but none
of the children had ever seen him.
Martha ate her way through the three delectable muffins, the familiar
feeling began to creep upon her. This feeling was one she experienced
everytime she ate this delicacy from the king’s table. She heard
muffled groans of delight and yawns. Martha knew the other students
were feeling the same thing: a sweet, yet overpowering sleepiness.
Martha’s eyes grew heavy, but she knew she couldn’t sleep. Six more
hours of schoolwork stretched ahead of her.
sharp, clapping sound jerked her out of her drowsiness. “Back to work,
Sighing, the students shakily rose and returned their lunchbags to their
lockers. Then, they hurried back to their tasks.
sat down at the work table and began stretching the amria once again.
When the substance became so thin that it broke apart like sticky
powder, she knew she’d be done. Of course, there was always amria that
needed to be molded and stretched. That was their job. Nevertheless,
she always felt a sense of satisfaction when a batch was completed.
as she worked, the effect of the maluria muffins remained with her.
Soon, her mind was completely devoid of thought. Her hands continued
their methodical task, but she allowed her mind to drift. Noone was
allowed to talk while they worked anyway, so it was nice not to think at
Clarkson smiled in satisfaction as she listened to the students work.
She took great pride in her job as Instructor of Dutiful Youth. She was
good at her job and even better at procuring what the king needed.
Humming softly to herself, the petite woman rose from her desk, her
chair squeaking slightly. The students didn’t respond to the sound, of
course. How could they? Maluria Muffins took care of the tedious
her Guidance Wand, Ms. Clarkson strolled leisurely around the room. The
wand was a slender object made of wood that you held with one hand and
swung at an arc in front of you. The wand had a top made from jamrack
that could be opened with the greatest of ease. Inside the wand was a
mass of wires that, when activated, served a noble purpose. Everyone
received a Guidance Wand when they were assigned a job.
Clarkson approached one of the students. Gently, she touched the girl’s
cheek with her hand. The girl jerked slightly but then continued her
work. Ms. Clarkson unscrewed the top from her Guidance Wand and placed
what was required inside. Immediately after replacing the top, the wand
vibrated fiercely in her hand. She knew the necessary equipment was
being transmitted to the king. Ms. Clarkson smiled and continued her
The Traffic Box
“Time’s up, everyone. Have a great day.”
from her sleepy trance, Martha quickly felt the amria and cheered.
“We’re done, Bruce!”
praise Shalamar. Come on. Let’s get to the arcade before all the good
kiosks are taken.”
retrieved her jamrack bag and followed the swish-swish sound of Bruce’s
slippers out the classroom door.
school hallway, the texture of the floor immediately changed from smooth
linoleum to a ridged, glass-like substance. The sensitive slippers
immediately notified Martha’s feet of the change.
ya gonna play today?” Bruce inquired as they hurried down the hall,
their hands trailing along the smooth wall.
probably Beloved Castle. It’s my favorite.”
You’re weird, you know that?”
no weirder than you. At least I don’t play Swashbuckler Boys!”
two companions made their way outside. Immediately, their nostrils were
assailed by the sweet perfume of Butteria, a sweet-tasting spice that
grew in the fragrant meadows by the schoolhouse. Butteria, like the
maluria fruit, was not often given to the ordinary citizens of Talura.
Only on Feast Days were you allowed to partake of this sweet spice.
hard cobblestones struck against Martha’s slippers as she walked. For a
moment, she winced with pain. Then she shrugged. Pain was necessary if
she wanted to get from place to place. The slippers were only doing
companions approached the intersection of 1st and Holbrook
and came to an abrupt stop. “I’ll go first,” Bruce said.
listened as Bruce gingerly approached the rectangular metal box she knew
was positioned on the corner. The cheerful beeping noise told her that
it was safe for Bruce to cross. “See you on the other side,” he called
Steeling herself, Martha approached the box. She tentatively touched
the apparatus. Sure enough, it was pulsating and ready to be used.
Martha inserted her hands into a grooved opening at the top of the box.
She braced herself for the feeling that always accompanied this task.
sensation came quickly: a sharp, yet strangely kind squeeze. The
feeling was not painful but oddly frightening in a way that Martha could
never explain. Immediately, the strange feeling ended with an abrupt
push as her hands were released. The beeping sound began, and she
quickly crossed the street.
other side, Bruce clasped her hand. “I can’t stay more than half an
hour today,” he explained. “Some Elders are coming over for dinner.”
me, too.” Martha winced. “I get so tired of them coming, don’t you?”
laughed. “No way! I’m different every visit. They’ll never figure out
what I want to do.”
“You’re so weird.”
who wants to go to work, anyway? I like school. At least there you get
nodded in agreement with this statement, but she didn’t respond. In the
innermost chasm of her mind, she secretly longed for a job: something
that she could do to make some money to help Dad. Maybe if she made
enough, he wouldn’t have to harvest jamrack anymore.
sharp cobblestones abruptly changed to concrete, and the children turned
to the right. The temperature had dropped, which told them that they
were approaching Shalamar’s Sanctuary and Sandwich Shop. The arcade was
just up the spiral ramp ahead.
door, a brusque, broad-shouldered man intercepted them. “Names?” he
“Martha Livingston,” she said.
“Um-hmm. Well, show your allegiance to our great king. Then you may
children bowed their heads in reverence. They touched the man’s
Guidance Wand, which he had held out to them. “Long live King
Shalamar,” the children chorused. The wand vibrated sharply and then
released their hands.
“Welcome,” the man said gruffly. “You may enter now.”
automatic doors opened with a thunderous swoosh. Martha’s nostrils were
assailed by the luscious fragrance of snack foods: potato chips,
submarine sandwiches, Cokes, and candy bars. The clangs, bleeps, and
chimes from machines mingled with customers placing orders.
you later, Martha,” Bruce called. His voice faded into the other
shuffled to a corner of the massive building. She knew where every
kiosk was located. Her favorite booth rested on a carpeted portion of
the floor. Every kiosk rested on a different textured floor to make
finding the game you wanted easy.
kiosk was small, and the only furniture was a hard-backed chair. Martha
sat down and groped till she located the pair of headphones sitting on
top of the control panel. She placed them in position and pushed the
rectangular button at the top of the screen.
“Welcome to Beloved Castle,” an automated female voice chirped
cheerfully, “the game where your wildest—“
Impatiently, Martha used the arrow keys located beneath the start button
to bypass the instructions and begin the game.
Beloved Castle was very simple to play. You could either play a knight,
a servant, a king or a queen. Usually, Martha chose to be a minstrel.
She loved weaving stories with music. However, today she longed to
shake the sluggish feeling that still clung to her. Martha chose
Knight. Immediately, she felt a firm, galloping body beneath her. She
was clutching the reins of a horse and galloping fiercely in the
direction of clanging swords. The amazing thing about these games was
that while you played, you could see what was going on. You didn’t just
feel the objects and actions around you, you saw the scenes and were
actually a part of them.
the action of the games made Shalamar’s Sanctuary and Sandwich Shop a
very popular place. Not only did children go there, but grownups did as
well. In fact, there were rooms within the large building designated
specifically for adults. These rooms housed games designed to appeal to
their needs. Dad often went to one of these rooms when he and Martha
came to the arcade for dinner.
became immersed in the game, deftly parrying blows from her opponent.
Perspiration covered her, and she reveled in the excitement and
adventure. Bruce would laugh at her later and remind her of her remarks
about his game choice. At the moment, she didn’t care.
time is 6-35. The game will stop now. If you wish to mark your
abrupt automated voice cut into Martha’s thoughts. Sighing, she slapped
the star-shaped key at the bottom of the control panel to mark her
place. Tomorrow, she could resume playing where she’d left off. She
rose to her feet and left the building. Supper was at eight, and a
delegation of Elders from the palace would be there.
approached the intersection once more. As she was about to place her
hands into the traffic box, a cry of pain arrested her attention. The
cry came from the center of the street. Oh, no! Not another one.
Quickly, Martha placed her hands into the aperture, obtained the
permission to cross, and then gingerly approached the sound. As she got
closer, a putrid odor filled her nostrils, and she quickly stepped back.
“P-Please,” a little girl’s voice sobbed. “It hurts. Please help me.”
braced herself. Pinching her nostrils with her right hand, she
approached the figure. “Get going, or you’ll hold up traffic,” she
hissed. Sure enough, the barely discernible purr of a seekcar could be
heard in the distance.
“P-Please, ma’am. I-I can’t move. It—“
all right!” Martha took the little girl’s arm and roughly propelled her
across the street. She quickly released the girl’s arm. “Yuck!” she
“Th-Thanks,” the girl managed to say. “It hurt so bad.”
there a problem, here?” a gentle male voice reverberated in the silence
that followed the girl’s statement. Martha jumped. She hadn’t heard
fine,” she said. “She’s one of them. She needed help crossing the
of who?” the man asked. His voice was still gentle, but an undercurrent
of sharpness had entered it. His voice was strange, anyway: a twangy
voice that, nevertheless, was not unpleasant. The voice was also
strangely authoritative. Martha fidgeted.
know who I’m talking about. Them.” She began to walk away. She turned
back around. “I’d use the traffic box next time,” she called. “It’ll
hurt worse if you don’t.”
hurried down the cobblestone sidewalk, she shuddered involuntarily. She
hadn’t lied to the girl. She knew the pain got worse from personal
Supper with the Elders
rang as Martha turned right onto the asphalt-textured sidewalk. She
approached the porch of her two-story home. “Hello, Martha Livingston,”
an automated voice chirped. “Welcome home.” A swishing sound told her
that the door had unlatched and opened automatically.
hurried into the house. Classical music blared from the stereo. The
pungent odor of tomato sauce filled the air.
you, Martha?” The raspy voice of her father came from the kitchen.
Dad.” She entered the spacious room. Merry bubbling from the stove told
her a pot had just come to a boil.
“Spaghetti?” she asked hopefully.
betcha. It’s Elder Arnold’s favorite, you know. Get that pie from the
oven, will you, please?”
shrill buzzer on the stove had just begun emitting its plaintive
shriek. Martha reached for the oven mitts on a hook beside the door.
She retrieved a large pie pan. The luscious scent of lemons filled the
was your day?” Dad asked.
“Fine. Bruce and I finished another batch of Amria.”
good.” Dad’s voice had acquired its far-away sound as if he were
thinking about something else.
all right, Dad?”
I’m fine. Did anything else happen today?”
Immediately alert, Martha sniffed her hand. The putrid perfume still
clung to her fingers. She winced. “Um, I, uh—“
told you repeatedly not to help those people! They bring it on
themselves.” Fear entered Dad’s voice.
know, Dad. But, she was really hurting. I had to get her across. A
seekcar was coming.”
Livingston placed his hand on Martha’s left shoulder. “I understand,
hon, but you have to listen to me. It’s very important. The violators
don’t abide by the rules. They reject King Shalamar’s provision. He’s
trying to teach them a lesson, and your interference could—“ Suddenly,
spasms of coughing wracked his body. Martha hurried to the table by the
door and retrieved the plastic inhaler that always sat within easy
reach. She placed the nozzle of the machine into Dad’s mouth and
vigorously pumped the medicine into his lungs. “Breathe, Dad. It’s
gradually regained his composure. “You better go upstairs and wash as
thoroughly as you can,” he rasped. “The elders can’t smell that perfume
don’t you need help down here?”
all right. Go on, now. They’ll be here any minute.”
hurried upstairs to the bathroom. She flipped a switch on the wall and
listened to the cheerful burbleing of water as it began to fill the
claw-footed tub. She pressed a button from the array on the wall to
select the scent she wanted: vanilla. She began to undress. A chiming
sound alerted her to the fact that the tub was filled. The water flow
slid into the scented water and leaned back with a sigh of contentment.
Her mind drifted to the scene on the street. Who was that strange man?
It unnerved her that she hadn’t heard him approach. Usually, the
slippers served to announce someone’s presence.
girl had been foolish. Who in their right mind would think of trying to
cross the street without paying homage to the king? With a pang of
guilt, Martha remembered the first time she’d disobeyed the traffic
rule. She’d been five, and she’d gone with her mother to the
“Momma, why do we always hafta touch the traffic box? It’s yucky!”
had laughed. “Why? Because the king orders it.”
don’t argue, Martha. You must do what King Shalamar says. It’s for
your own safety.”
way back from the store, Momma had stopped beside the traffic box.
While she was distracted, Martha had seized her opportunity. She’d
sauntered down the ramp at the curb and begun taking purposeful strides
toward the opposite curb.
Immediately, white-hot pain had driven her to the ground. Her legs felt
as if thousands of knives were being stabbed into them. Martha’s
screams had brought Momma running.
“Martha! Martha! Drat you, girl!” Momma’s reprimand came between her own
gasps of anguish. She’d rushed to Martha’s aid without completing the
scooped Martha up and stumbled back to the curb. “I told you. It’s
important to listen to me.”
Martha, her voice choked with tears, said, “It really hurt, Momma.
was a long silence. “Because, darling, King Shalamar wants to protect
us. These measures keep us safe.”
Martha remembered how she and Momma had placed their hands into the
traffic box together. Then, they’d walked across the street after
obtaining permission. The trolley in which they’d carried their
groceries had clattered deafeningly as they journeyed home.
memory of Momma brought a sting of tears to Martha’s eyes. Momma had
acted so strange a few weeks before she died. The last time Martha had
spent time with her, she’d been nine years old. Momma had begun
smelling like the people they were always instructed to avoid.
quickly banished the sad thoughts and stepped from the tub. She hurried
to her bedroom across the hall. Opening the closet door, she touched
the array of dresses hanging there. Each dress held a distinct
fragrance: red dresses smelled of cherries, and blue dresses smelled
like the crystal waters of the lake in Shalamar Park. Of course, the
concept of color meant nothing to Martha. She focused on the smells.
Martha selected a dress with lace at the collar. The fragrance of
strawberries clung to the garment.
dressing, Martha placed her dirty school uniform, (a jumper that smelled
of butteria), into the self-cleaning hamper in the bathroom. The whir
of the motor inside told her the machine had begun its work. The
uniform would be hanging in her closet tomorrow morning; freshly
scented, clean and ready to be worn.
“Good,” Dad said approvingly. The creak of his favorite rocking chair
could be heard over the blaring concerto. “I suspect they’ll be here
on cue, chimes filled the house. “Rick Livingston? Three deligates from
the palace request permission to enter. Please notify me if they may do
They may enter,” Dad said. He nervously whispered to Martha, “Turn the
approached the elaborate stereo system in the corner of the livingroom
and pressed the bottom of the heart-shaped volume button. The music
lessened in intensity.
voices filled the house. “Well, hello there, Rick. It’s been a long
time. Here. Butteria. Compliments of the king.”
you, Arnold,” Dad said. “Come on in and make yourselves comfortable.
Dinner will be ready in a moment.”
there, Martha,” Arnold Peterson said. He was a boisterous man, but he
had always been nice. “I like the strawberry dress. How was school
sir. Bruce and I finished—“
“Another batch of Amria.” The high-pitched voice belonged to Reginald
Marcus, another elder. “We know. The collectors delivered it to the
palace this afternoon at 6-30. Good work. Many people will benefit
from the healing powder you’ve made.”
felt her cheeks tingle with a blush of pride. Everyone in the kingdom
of Talura worked together. Even though she was still in school, Martha
knew she was doing something to help others. The amria was placed on
patients who were sick. The powder brought comfort and healing.
“Dinner’s ready,” Dad called from the kitchen.
Everyone sat around the large oak table in the dining room. Bowls of
salad with poppyseed dressing and plates of vegetarian spaghetti sat
what have you been doing on your volunteer days, Martha?” The
deep-toned, gentle voice belonged to the only female elder, Charlotte
Perkins. All the elders held prominent positions. They were treated
with the utmost respect. They always worked for the greater good of the
knew that she was always being monitored by the eldrs. The slippers
took care of that. They not only helped individuals as they travelled;
they left tangible footprints that could be tracked from the palace.
Any subject of the kingdom could be located if the need arose. All an
elder needed to do was speak a subject’s name into a large computer.
Then, the automated voice would locate and transmit the subject’s
location to the elder.
was aware that this computer existed and that the elders knew where she
went on volunteer days. However, she also knew this question was an
opening the elders used so that youths could voice any concerns they
help out at the Music Center,” she said.
course,” Charlotte said. “You are talented with the zomore. Am I right
in assuming that music is your passion?”
nodded. “I think so. I volunteer in the music therapy room. I enjoy
helping the patients.” The music therapy room was located in the
infirmary of the palace. Of course, Martha had never seen the king.
Music soothed the patients, particularly the elderly, who were sent to
the palace because of sicknesses. Music distracted them from the pain.
therapists were revered throughout all Talura. Not only did they do
their daily jobs of helping those who were sick, but they also performed
in concerts for the whole kingdom once a month.
know you volunteer in the therapy room. You play exceptionally well,”
Elder Arnold said jovially. “Would you be comfortable starting your
training at the center as soon as possible? This would, of course, mean
your schooling would be completed. You’ve been at the center so often,
you’d probably be allowed to bypass most of the training. Of course,
this depends on your audition.”
hesitated for a moment. She thought about her friends at school. Then,
she thought about her father and his grueling work in the jamrack
fields. “Yes, I think I’m ready,” she said.
“Excellent!” Reginald said. He laughed. “I must say, you’re much
easier to place than some of your classmates. Bruce Norton, for
instance. Phew! You never know where that boy’s going to volunteer.
It’s a real pickle placing him. He’ll probably have to take an aptitude
smiled to herself. Bruce hated tests. At the same time, she was
worried for her friend. People who couldn’t find their special talents
often got stuck with the boring jobs.
“You’ll stay in school until the beginning of next month,” Charlotte
said. “Naturally, you’ll receive your own zomore. You must practice as
often as possible for your audition.”
beamed. “Really? My own zomore? Wow! Thanks!”
cleared his throat nervously. “Um, I’m afraid I have no money to—“
“Nonsense, man,” Reginald said. “It’s a gift King Shalamar provides.
The instrument is necessary for her training.” Was it Martha’s
imagination, or had an edge of menace entered the elder’s voice?
Quickly, she dismissed the thought.
“Enough business discussion,” Charlotte said hastily. “Let’s eat this
small talk began in earnest. Martha half-listened to the voices as her
mind wandered. Her own zomore! Never in her wildest dreams had she
thought she’d actually own one. She couldn’t wait for it to arrive.
I told him that it simply isn’t done,” Arnold boomed. “But, he wouldn’t
listen to me. Just told that woman to lean on him and he’d help her!
He’s just asking for trouble.”
was immediately alert. “Who?” she blurted.
“Martha,” Dad asid warningly. “Mind your place.”
lowered her head. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment as she forked up
a large bite of spaghetti.
Reginald laughed indulgently. “Don’t chide her, Rick. It’s natural to
be curious at her age.” He addressed Martha. “It’s a man who calls
himself Jarah. Noone knows where he’s from, exactly. Just arrived in
Talura one day last year. His shop doesn’t do much business,
think he’s from the town of Nuria,” Charlotte said. “Rumor has it he
didn’t stay there long. They threw him out.” Her words were filled with
Nuria?” Arnold chortled. “That explains it, then!”
“What’s he do?” Martha asked.
helps the violators with their daily activities. He also tells stories
to children about a strange fountain in the courtyard of a palace. What
nonsense! The violators wouldn’t help him, that’s for sure. I bumped
into one of those violator families last week trying to cross a street.
They were, of course, unable to do so. Well, that man walked past me
and instructed them to lean on him. He said he’d get them across. I
reprimanded him, of course, but it did no good.”
he use the traffic box?” Dad asked. Martha smiled as she caught the
interest in his voice.
didn’t hear it beeping. I don’t think so,” Arnold said. “Doesn’t that
strike you as odd?”
“That’s not the oddest thing,” Charlotte said. “It’s strange things he
says. One day, I heard him speak as I was walking past the arcade. He
called out, “You look very nice today.”
followed her statement. Confusion entered Martha’s mind. Look? What
did that word mean? A person could say, “You sound like you’re happy
today,” or, “You seem to have a lot on your mind.” But, look? What did
the strange man mean by that?
it takes all kinds to make a world, I suppose,” Rick said. “Now, who
would like some pie? It’s lemon meringue.”
Everyone agreed enthusiastically. “Slice the pie, will you, Martha?”
rose and went to the counter by the stove. She placed the pie pan onto
the platform of the pie slicer machine and flipped the switch to Five.
With a whir, the sharp blades cut into the sweet-smelling dessert. The
machine deposited five equal slices of pie onto china plates.
“Butteria, Dad?” Martha called.
retrieved the grater of spice Elder Arnold had brought. Rotating the
metal handle, she shook some of the spice onto the plates. She flipped
another switch on the slicer, and the plates spun into the air. They
gently deposited themselves before each person at the table.
“Thanks,” Dad said.
sat down and speared a large bite of pie with her fork. She sank her
teeth into the fluffy, sweet meringue and tart, citrusy lemon filling.
The butteria added a hint of vanilla flavor. She let her mind wander
over the news of her job. Excitement coursed through her. For a
moment, she thought of the conversation about the strange man. Then she
quickly dismissed it. The man didn’t concern her. Did he?
An Invitation to an Ice Cream Shop
mean, you only have three more weeks of school?” Awe filled Bruce’s
“Yeah. Can you believe it?”
“Sure. The way you always volunteer at the same place. Why do you do
Because I like it?”
snorted. Then, his voice grew serious. “Some elders came to my house
last night, too. We had meatloaf.” Disgust entered his voice. “It’s
all Mom makes. When she does cook, I mean.”
mom makes great meatloaf.”
hesitated. “I guess,” he finally admitted. “Anyway, they said I’d have
to make a decision soon. They can’t decide what would be the best job
was out for the day. The companions hurried along the cobblestone
sidewalk toward the arcade. They stopped before the traffic box. “If
you’d just pick something you like. We’ll both be eleven soon. School
ends when you’re eleven.”
you think I know that?” Bruce snapped. “I just—“ His voice trailed off
as he stopped before the humming box.
Suddenly, the familiar putrid smell assaulted Martha’s nostrils. She
gagged involuntarily. The swish-swish sound of slippers approached her.
“Eeeuw, man!” Bruce said. “Who is that?”
miss?” Martha recognized the shy voice of the little girl she’d helped
yesterday. “I-I wanted to find you, and—“
can’t talk to you,” Martha whispered. “Just do what I said, okay?
Believe me, it hurts worse each time you cross without using the box.”
Briefly, she thought about the three other times she’d defied the
traffic rules. The last time, she’d been unable to walk for a whole day
after the incident. The jolting electric current had finally pitched
her onto the curb after several tortuous moments. One of the elders had
found her and taken her home after a harsh chastisement.
Roberta,” another familiar voice filled the air. Martha started
violently. That strange man! He’d approached again without her hearing
Mr. J!” The nervousness in the little girl’s voice had faded. “Thanks
for the ice cream yesterday. It really helped.”
problem.” The man’s voice held a broad smile. “Mint chocolate chip’s
your favorite, isn’t it?”
Roberta giggled. “Yes, sir. Thanks for putting it in a milkshake for
me. It didn’t fall off the cone like the last time.”
man laughed. “The secret is to take small bites of ice cream every now
and then around the edges of the cone. That way, the scoops don’t
perfume that clung to Roberta was overpowering. “I gotta go,” Martha
said in disgust. She noticed that Bruce had already left. Traitor.
wanted to thank you, miss,” Roberta whispered. “For, um—“
wants to thank you for helping her across the street,” the man said
know that,” Martha hissed. “You wanna get me into trouble? Anyway,
you’re welcome. See you.”
I wanted to—“ Roberta’s voice trailed away. Martha distinctly heard the
little girl sniffle. She fidgeted.
can’t you take a hint” she finally said. “I’m not allowed to associate
with people like you.”
“People like who?” The strange man’s voice held sternness, yet it was
also sad. “People like you?”
rose sharply to the surface. Martha reached out her hand and touched
the man’s shoulder. He was very muscular. She leaned close to him and
caught the surprising fragrance of butteria. She spoke in a fierce
whisper, “Not people like me. People like them. The violators. Don’t
you know the rules?”
man laughed gently. “Yes, of course I know them. They don’t apply to
me, though. Shalamar does not rule over me.”
gasped in shock. She quickly removed her hand from the man’s shoulder.
“Who do you think you are? He rules over everybody,” she whispered.
“You could get in trouble.”
know,’ the man murmured. “I think Roberta wanted to ask you something.”
a moment, Martha sighed. “Well? What is it?”
wanted to take you for some ice cream. Can I, please?”
mean, at the arcade?” Immediately, Martha regretted the suggestion.
Roberta wouldn’t be allowed inside.
Horror filled the little girl’s voice. “I mean, Mr. J’s shop. He has
every flavor you can think of.”
Martha remembered last night’s conversation at the supper table.
Surprise washed through her as she listened to Roberta’s words. The man
owned an ice cream shop? “I don’t remember any other snack shops except
the arcade,” she said.
on the corner of 11th and Broadway, on the outskirts of
Shalamar Park,” the man said. “I’d be delighted for you to come.
However, you must remove your slippers before we go.”
“Remove my—“ Martha’s mouth flew open in shock. “That’s forbidden
except at your home.”
said, Shalamar’s rules don’t apply to me. I have shoes to give you if
you’re willing to wear them. They’ll keep you safe.”
Safe from what?”
“You’ll find out if you come with me. You must make the decision.”
moment, Martha thought of the unfinished game of Beloved Castle that
awaited her at the arcade. Then, for some unaccountable reason, she
thought of the pleading in Roberta’s voice. The girl smelled awful, but
she seemed nice. Finally, Martha nodded and shrugged.
man handed her a pair of boots. Martha explored them with her fingers.
They were very smooth and light. “The soles are harder than the
slippers,” she said. “How can I walk in them? They won’t transmit
messages. I’ll get lost.”
“You’ll have to trust me. I’ll guide you. My name is Jarah, by the
you? I don’t even know you.”
man was silent. Martha sighed and decided that going to a different
place for one day couldn’t hurt. She bent down and removed her
slippers. She placed the slippers into her large jumper pocket and
slipped her feet into the boots.
boots are red,” Jurah said. “Red is your color. It brings out the
chestnut sheen of your hair.”
“Color?” Martha was bewildered. “What is color?”
you remember the time you were taking a cake from the oven and burnt
your hand? That’s the color red.”
blinked in surprise. “But, that hurt. I don’t understand.”
man laughed. “Red is very bright. I simply meant that colors can be
startling at times. Think of your garments and how they smell. Red is
the color of the garments that smell like cherries.”
small flicker of understanding dawned. “So, colors can be sweet, too?”
She only selected clothes because of their smell. Martha had never
thought that garments might have something unique about them.
“That’s right. Shall we go now? You can hold my arm above the elbow.
Roberta has hold of my other arm.”
hated to admit it, but she was intrigued. She took the man’s arm and
began to walk. She was surprised at how comfortable the boots were.
The cobblestones no longer hurt her feet.
walking a few steps, something the man had said made Martha come to an
abrupt halt. “How did you know I burnt my hand?”
Almond Fudge and Amria
whoosh of the automatic doors announced their arrival at the shop.
Sweet fragrances tickled Martha’s nostrils; chocolate, vanilla,
strawberry, and the sugary lightness of waffle cones. Cool air tousled
her straight, shoulder-length hair.
we are,” Jarah said cheerfully. The three individuals came to a stop
before a large, marble-topped counter.
get your ice cream,” Jarah said. “I’ve got any flavor you might want.
Roberta knows the list by heart.”
felt the little girl grasp her arm. “It’s homemade,” she said. “It’s
started to wrench herself from Roberta’s grip, but then she hesitated.
Was she imagining things, or had the putrid odor of Roberta’s perfume
even has maluria,” Roberta whispered in awe. “I can’t get it anywhere
course you can. At school once a month, remember? The king brings us
me,” Roberta whispered. “I’m not allowed in school.”
Footsteps approached from behind the counter. “Roberta’s right,” Jarah
said. “I have maluria ice cream, but, of course, the side effects have
been removed. Maluria wasn’t created for Shalamar’s purposes, anyway.”
don’t know what you’re talking about,” Martha said. “You’re really
“Uh-uh,” Roberta said. “He’s telling the truth. Shalamar’s maluria
muffins make you sleep. The fruit is good, but Shalamar drugs it.”
King Shalamar. I don’t believe you.” Even as Martha spoke these words,
she thought about the way she’d felt yesterday after lunch. But, the
amria had gotten done. How could that have happened if she’d been
don’t sleep when you eat his muffins, Roberta.” The sound of a plastic
cup being placed on the counter told Martha that Roberta’s milkshake had
arrived. She smelled the luscious aroma of peppermint. Jarah
continued, “Your mind empties itself of thought.” He placed another cup
on the counter in front of Martha. “For six hours, you are nothing but
a zombie. You mindlessly perform a task without any ability to think
explored the plastic cup sitting before her. A spoon rested within it.
“I didn’t order yet. You haven’t played the audio list for me.” At the
arcade, automated voices read the menu selections aloud. “I—“ She
stopped. The scent of fudge filled her nostrils.
“Almond fudge ice cream. That’s your favorite, isn’t it?” Jarah’s voice
held a broad smile.
was flabbergasted. Slowly, she nodded and reached for the cup. She
placed a tentative spoonful of ice cream into her mouth. Dark chocolate
chunks and vanilla cream mingled together in her mouth. The flavors
melted onto her tongue in glorious rivers of creamy sweetness. Crisp
toasted almonds crunched delightfully and added a savory undercurrent to
feeling of utter contentment filled Martha’s heart. However, it was not
this feeling that startled her. It was the fact that as she ate this
treat, a peculiar incident occurred. Martha saw pictures with her eyes:
pictures of a flowing fountain and a shimmering tree. The tree
contained fruit so bright that it stung her eyes. The pictures reminded
her of the computer games at the arcade; yet they were much more vivid
than the virtual images.
began to shake. She banged her spoon on the counter. “What’s going
on?” she gasped. Fear constricted her voice.
“You’re seeing,” Jarah said gently.
“Wh-What do you mean? It’s just an illusion, isn’t it? Seeing is a
myth. It’s not real.”
seeing is real,” Jarah said. “You’ve just never experienced it before.
Noone in Talura has.”
“Roberta, do you know what he’s talking about?” Martha’s mind was
a little, but I don’t understand it too good. It’s a long story.”
hesitated. She was frightened, but at the same time, she was curious.
She remembered the wonderful sense of peace that had filled her when she
took the first bite of ice cream. The sensation resembled happiness,
but the feeling was deeper and stronger than mere happiness. The
feeling was a deep-rooted delight that she’d never experienced before.
She longed to experience that feeling again.
Jarah’s voice suddenly broke into her thoughts. “My ice cream is made
using only the finest of ingredients. The secret to making it is to use
an old-fashioned hand-cranked freezer. The flavors mix better that
way. In addition to traditional ingredients, I mix joy into the ice
cream. Joy is a feeling that transcends any situation. Even if there
is sadness in your life, joy can still live within you.”
felt a thrill of nervousness. This man was different from anyone she’d
ever met. It was as if he could read her mind. Despite her
apprehension, she was intrigued. After a moment, she lifted another
spoonful of ice cream to her lips.
panorama of varying types of light filled her eyes. Some of the lights
were brighter than others. She heard Jarah’s voice describe each type
of light. “Red. Orange. Pink. Yellow. Blue.”
“Stop!” Martha said in panic. “It’s too much.”
Gently, Jarah touched her shoulder. “I’ll lessen the output,” he said.
“These pictures are transmitted from my mind to yours, and my joy often
surpasses your ability to understand. Don’t worry. It’s frightening at
first, but you’re always safe in my shop. Anytime you want to rest,
just let me know.”
varying lights continued, but they had lessened in intensity. Martha
was finally able to absorb the colors and focus. The lights formed
themselves into vivid scenes.
saw a shimmering palace constructed entirely of gold. The seven steps
leading to the ornate doors were each made from a different stone:
sapphire, amethyst, ruby, garnet, carnelian, jasper, and diamond. The
golden doors of the palace were inlaid with pearl.
Martha stared at the dazzling building, she heard Jarah begin to speak.
“A long time ago, an all-knowing, all-powerful king fashioned a vibrant
kingdom called Talura. The king exists from age to age. He will never
grow old. His palace is called Alphaomega.
king wanted to make a land of beauty filled with subjects who glorified
him out of their sincere love. He constructed the land with painstaking
listened as a mighty voice shouted commands. She saw extraordinary
sights: vast bodies of water, dizzying arrays of multi-colored
vegetation and trees. The most beautiful sight was the astonishing
display of joyful animals of every kind imaginable. They cavorted in
Jarah’s voice continued. “The king made servants called Lamuria’s.
They were his messengers and worshippers; created to fellowship with him
and all the people in his kingdom. Lamuria’s were not equal to the king
in power, but he gave them wisdom and many different gifts.
“Lamuria’s have the torsos of horses, the heads of eagles, and the legs
of elephants. They can transform themselves into anything, including
Lamuria’s were extraordinary creatures, but the king’s masterpiece was
humanity. Humans were lesser than the Lamuria’s in appearance, but they
were of greater value in the king’s eyes because their inner beings
contained his love. The king took great delight in them. They were
fashioned from his very image. The king taught them, spent time with
them, and gave them gifts. He placed them in a vibrant park to live.
The people had freedom to go to the palace whenever they chose, and the
king could visit his subjects at any time.”
listened to the story with awe. Could it be possible that there had
been a king she’d never met? She’d never seen King Shalamar, but she
knew just from going to the palace on her volunteer days that it was not
nearly as grand as the one she’d just seen. She interrupted Jarah’s
words. “Where is this so-called king?” she asked. “I’ve never heard of
continued the story. “One Lamuria was greater than all the others. His
name was Lucien. He was dazzling in beauty and possessed extraordinary
knowledge. His gift of music was unsurpassed, and he often performed
solos in concerts arranged by the king.
though Lucien had everything he could ever want, a corrupt desire ate
into his soul.”
Jarah’s voice gradually faded away. Martha watched as the pictures
began to unfold before her eyes. The doors of the dazzling palace slid
open automatically. A broad-shouldered man stood at the grand palace’s
entrance. He wore a jeweled robe of honey-colored cotton. His sapphire
blue eyes glimmered with a piercing light, and his shoulder-length
jet-black hair shone with radiance. Martha blinked in awe. She longed
to sink to her knees and pay homage to this brilliant man.
Then, Martha’s eyes were arrested by another man who stood beside the
first. Martha somehow knew without being told that the second man must
be the all-powerful king. Once you saw him, you realized how inferior
the other man was.
The king was difficult to describe; a towering man dressed in a
shimmering white robe. She couldn’t distinguish his features clearly
because he was cloaked in inapproachable light. She felt dizzy just
staring at his outline. One thing she did notice, however, was the
penetrating gaze that shone from his eyes. She somehow knew that his
eyes could look beyond anything; that they saw everything, including the
things you didn’t want them to see. Yet, despite this, Martha got the
impression that when you looked into those eyes, you were immediately
enveloped in a gossamer blanket. You were utterly safe and cared for.
The king began to speak. “You do not understand,
Lucien.” His rich voice resembled the stillness of a freshly fallen snow
and the power of a thunderstorm. “You are placed perfectly in my
kingdom. Your work overseeing the park is where your talents are best
“But, Mighty One, I only ask you for a small
promotion. You surely cannot blame me for seeking a little more
recognition. After all, I am a loyal servant. Look at my abilities! I
can do so much more for you if you will only listen to reason.”
Martha was awed by the musical cadence of the man’s
voice. It was not as awesome as the king’s, but it was close;
resembling a finely tuned cello.
“More work for me?” The king’s words rang in the
silent air. Lucien bit his lip and lowered his head. “I will not
promote you, Lucien. However, if you are patient, you will find that
greater delights await you in your work. You must trust me.”
There was a long silence. Finally, Lucien inclined
his head. A gentle smile played upon his lips. “Yes, my king. I will
abide by your wishes.” He lowered himself to the ground and held out his
hands in a reverent gesture of allegiance.
Martha screamed. She saw a shining knife glittering
in Lucien’s hand: a knife that shone with a dark, hazy light.
As Lucien raised the weapon, the king cast a look of
overwhelming pity upon the Lamuria. “You made that knife yourself.”
After speaking these words of sorrow, the king vanished.
Lucien snarled in anger and rose to his feet. “Come
back here and face me! You dare to—“ His voice trailed away, and he
smiled strangely. “So be it,” he murmured.
The dazzling Lamuria hid the knife in the folds of
his robe. He transformed himself into a towering creature. The
creature was beautiful. It had the head of an eagle, the brawny body of
a chestnut stallion, and the legs of an elephant. Large shining wings
unfurled from the creature’s back, and he launched himself into the
air. Angry hisses escaped from his blood-red mouth.
As Lucien flew away, a shimmering, sticky brown
powder flowed from his wings to the ground. “I’ll pollute your precious
kingdom, Mighty One!” he shouted.
When Lucien had gone, the king returned to the
palace’s entrance. He clasped a jeweled flask in his right hand. He
released the flask. It fluttered to the ground and caught the
glittering powder as it fell.
Tears flowed unchecked from the king’s eyes and
covered the ground in cascades. Where the diamond-like tears fell, a
crystal fountain emerged. The fountain’s music was extraordinary. Its
waters shimmered, and the king stared at them for a long moment. Martha
caught the distinct fragrance of a freshly fallen rain.
The king then surveyed the jeweled flask of
glittering powder which he’d retrieved from the ground. “Amria,” he
whispered. “Amria is this powder’s name. It will not be released till
the appointed time.” The king paused for a moment. Then he murmured
sadly, “The time will come very soon.”
The pictures faded, and Martha realized she had been
gripping the counter with trembling hands. She also realized that Jarah
had been relating this story as the pictures passed before her eyes.
“Why did you stop?” she whispered in awe.
“You need a moment to process the information. I’ll
leave you with Roberta for a few moments. Then I’ll come back and
reveal more to you.”
When Jarah’s footsteps faded away, Roberta said,
“He’s really cool, isn’t he, Martha?”
“Really weird, you mean. I don’t understand. It’s—“
Martha’s voice faded as she caught a rancid fragrance that emanated from
her hand. She gasped and stepped away from Roberta’s side. “Your
disgusting scent is rubbing off on me!” she snapped angrily. “My Dad’ll
“N-No, Martha,” Roberta stammered. “The perfume
is—it’s—it’s coming from you!”
“What do you mean?” Martha snapped. “You’re lying to
me. Everybody knows you violators are bad influences.”
Jarah’s footsteps echoed on the marble floor. “The
perfume is not on her, Martha,” he explained gently. “It’s on you, and
everyone else who follows Shalamar.”
“That’s not true!”
“Shalamar has altered the air currents so that his
subjects mistakenly believe the scent is coming from the “violators”.
This method is called Scent adaptability. It’s a cruel but clever
Martha’s mind churned with confusion.
“Are you up to hearing more of the story, now?”
Martha hesitated. Finally, she nodded. Jarah placed
his hand on her shoulder. The pictures began again.
The king approached the outskirts of a large park.
Numerous men and women flocked to him. They fell to their knees and
presented baskets filled with vibrant flowers, fruit and nuts. “Long
live the king!” they cried exultantly.
The king smiled upon each and every person. He
touched each of their hands with his own. The people noticed that the
king’s usually radiant countenance was pale from strain. Yet, his every
movement conveyed strength.
“My subjects, I must present to you a solemn
warning. Lamuria Lucien has become poisoned with his own pride. Do not
allow your children to associate with him. Also, remember my warning
about the maluria tree which I gave you earlier. I planted it in the
center of this park so that all of you could express your love for me.
As long as the tree stands, you have a choice. I do not want robots: I
want willing worshippers. Remember that on the day you eat the maluria
fruit, darkness will descend over this kingdom. You will all be forced
to leave my presence. You will die.”
As the king called out this warning to the people, a
listening shadow smiled in euphoric glee.
The afternoon sunlight fell in dazzling pools of
buttery yellow light. Lucien, in his dazzling Lamuria form, flew into
the midst of Talura Park. Towering oak and chestnut trees stood in
strategic positions throughout the vast acreage of land. Their branches
spread overhead; creating a vibrant canopy of shade for the king’s
subjects. The chatter of crystal waterfalls and brooks filled the air
with lilting music.
Large crowds of people fellowshipped beneath the
canopy of trees. They feasted upon lavish sandwiches made from honey
almond bread. The sandwiches had a cream cheese spread and were
liberally filled with watercress and other vegetables. The subjects ate
cakes filled with clotted cream and drizzled with pink frosting. They
drank from jeweled goblets filled with chilled apple cider.
When the meal was completed, Lucien watched as a
group of children began to play a game of tag. They screeched in
delight and galloped around trees and flowers. Occasionally, they dove
into one of the vibrant brooks. Lucien smiled to himself and began to
fan the air with his dazzling wings. He’d waited an entire month after
the king’s warning; just enough time for the parents to become
careless. Now, he could act.
The whooshing sound of Lucien’s flight created a
music that resembled the chimes within the great king’s sanctuary. The
sanctuary was located in the center of Talura Park. It held a
shimmering tree of exotic rejuvenating Talura Fruit. Everyday at
sunrise, the people of the kingdom entered the sanctuary. They sang
praises to their king and partook of the Talura fruit in a reverent act
A few feet away from the sanctuary stood another
tree. It was this tree that Lucien was most interested in.
The lamuria flew toward the children and landed in
their midst. “Hi, Lucien,” a little girl said cheerfully. “You’re in
your Lamuria form today. You’re so handsome!” She giggled in delight.
The children flocked to the majestic creature’s side. Lucien often came
to the park. He taught the children the language of flowers, and he
often took them for rides upon his glossy back. They were used to his
presence among them. Lamuria Lucien was a true friend.
The children stroked the lamuria’s eagle’s head and
chestnut stallion’s back. “Wait here, Lucien. We’ll get you some
honeycomb and peanuts,” a boy said. “Will you eat out of our hands
Talura Park boasted an abundance of food. The
animals lived in subjection to every human inhabitant. Therefore, the
children could safely extract honey from beehives without the fear of
being stung. They could obtain fresh milk from cows anytime they
desired. Everyone in Talura Park was a vegetarian, so the animals had
nothing to fear.
Lucien smiled broadly and spoke gently. “Don’t you
all want a ride first? I have something to give you this time.”
“A ride? Oh, yes, yes please!” the children exclaimed
in delight. “Let’s go!”
Lucien lowered his majestic head. “What I have to
show you is a surprise,” he whispered conspiratorially. “Let’s not tell
your parents. The surprise is for them, all right?”
The children whispered among themselves. Surely, it
would be best to ask their parents if they could go for a ride. There
were no secrets in Talura Park. On the other hand, a surprise was
different, and Lamuria Lucien always knew how to plan fun things.
Finally, the children nodded. They clambered onto
the lamuria’s back. Lucien rose into the air and soared away. His
flight was as gentle as a flowing fountain of water.
In half an hour’s time, Lucien alighted in a grassy
area at the bottom of a small hill. “Here we are,” he said cheerfully.
“What I want to show you is at the top of this rise.”
“But, couldn’t you have taken us to the top?” a boy
named Arnold asked.
Lucien laughed. “No, no. You must reach this sight
by yourselves. I’ll come with you, of course.”
The children eagerly began to climb the hill. The
incline was small and looked very easy, but each child struggled to
reach the top. When they finally crested the summit, their faces were
flushed with exertion, and perspiration dripped down their necks.
“Wh-What’s going on?” a girl named Eva gasped. “I’ve
never felt anything like that before.” She stopped talking as the group
spied what they’d come to see.
Before them stood a shimmering tree with fruit so
dazzling it took your breath away. The children gasped and stepped
backward. “That’s not a surprise. That’s the maluria tree,” a boy
whispered. “We can’t go near it. The king says we’ll die if we eat
from it. We can’t even touch it.”
Lucien smiled and inched toward the dazzling tree.
He brushed his glossy chestnut side against its bark. The girl named
Eva screamed in fright and reached out a hand toward him. “Don’t,
Lucien placed his majestic eagle’s head in her hand
and allowed her to fondle the feathers at his crown. “Are you sure the
king said you couldn’t touch the tree?” Lucien’s words filled the silent
air with a resounding ring. He smiled gently. “I touched it, and I’m
all right.” He knew very well the king had said nothing about touching
the tree. This plan would be easier than he first anticipated.
The children stood absolutely still. They gazed at
the dazzling tree and then at the majestic lamuria.
“Is it possible the king could be keeping something
from you?” Lucien whispered enticingly. “What if the king wants
everything for himself? Can all of you keep a secret?” Lucien winked
mychievously. He lowered his head and whispered teasingly, “I’ve eaten
a piece of this fruit myself.”
The children gasped in awe. “You, Lucien? What did
it taste like?” Eva asked.
“It tastes of summer and winter; of power and
“What are those things?” Eva asked excitedly.
“Marvelous secrets. If you taste just one bite of
maluria fruit, you’ll understandd. In fact, you’ll know everything
there is to know. You’ll be just like the king.”
The children hesitated for a long moment. They gazed
at the fruit tree with spellbound eyes. Although maluria was encased in
sharp thorns, there was no denying its beauty. Pink juice hovered in
the heart-shaped fruit, and the children began to salivate. Although
they’d just eaten a large lunch, they were suddenly ravenous. A
fragrance resembling vanilla ice cream filled their nostrils.
After a few pulse-quickening moments, each child
timidly approached the tree. They each picked a fruit for themselves.
The children gasped in pain as the thorny exterior pierced their hands.
Gently, Lucien approached each child. “Let me help you.” He removed the
thorns with his sharp teeth. Then, he handed the fruits back.
The children clutched the vibrant, ripe berries.
They sank their dazzling teeth into the pulpy flesh. Juice spurted from
the pierced fruit in waves. It drenched their hands and mouths.
Torrents of juice also spurted into their eyes. The children screamed
in pain and horror. The fruit was sweet-tasting, but its juice stung as
it entered their mouths. Trembling, the children dropped the pieces of
fruit and stumbled backward. Lucien took this opportunity to slip away
into the shadows. His body pulsated with triumphant delight.
A dark cloud suddenly drifted over the sunlit day.
Dark, hazy light fell in torrents over the maluria tree. Spreading
outward, the dark beams of light touched each child in turn. The light
then expanded; spreading throughout Talura Park. Far in the distance,
the children heard screams of panic fill the air.
The children groped feverishly, bumping into each
other in terror. The cloud had completely obscured their vision.
“Lucien! Lucien! They screamed. “Where are you? Help!” No answering
For a few more agonizing moments, the children
floundered; colliding with trees, falling to the ground, and clutching
each other with trembling hands. Tears flowed in torrents from their
eyes. They were searching for something, anything, to help them.
In the midst of panic, beautiful chiming sounds
arrested their attention. The music came from the king’s sanctuary.
The children suddenly remembered the other tree: the one that held the
rejuvenating Talura fruit. The Talura tree’s branches played bell-like
melodies in joyful praise to the king. Stumbling, the children ran
toward the beautiful music. “If we eat the Talura fruit, we can see
again,” Arnold cried in relief.
Just as they reached the
Talura tree, a mighty wind
flung them to the ground. They cried out in heartrending sadness
because of their dashed hopes. The children tried repeatedly to reach
for the tree again. It was no use. No matter how hard they tried,
their efforts were unsuccessful. The sharp wind repeatedly flung them
“This isn’t working,” Eva moaned. “Come on,
everybody. We hafta stick together. Maybe the king will help us.” Her
voice trembled. “Arnold, take my left hand. Priscilla, take my right.
We need to make a chain.” After a few moments, all of them linked
hands. They clung to each other; shaking with fear and anguish. The
sound of weeping echoed around them. The children somehow knew that the
weeping they were hearing came from the most powerful person they knew.
Clearing her throat, Eva mustered up her courage and
spoke. “Great king, why? Why can’t we pick the Talura fruit? Our eyes
hurt. Why can’t we eat and see?”
The strong wind that had thrown them to the ground
suddenly grew gentle. The woolen blanket-like breeze wrapped itself
around the children and picked them up. The voice of the great king
spoke to them from the wind as they were lifted into the air. “You are
too precious to me,” the king whispered. “If you ate the Talura fruit
now, you’d live forever in pain and fear. I cannot allow that. I love
you too much. I am taking you back to your parents.”
After a few moments of the smooth ride, the zephyr
lowered the children to the ground. The soft singing of the wind
evaporated as the children’s ears were assaulted by screams and cries.
Talura Park was filled with pandemonium. The children’s parents held
their hands over their clouded eyes and stumbled against each other.
Their eyes, like those of their children, were clouded with tears of
sorrow. This was the first day that tears had ever been shed. “Great
and might king, please forgive us. We did not take the warning about
Lamuria Lucien seriously. Please have mercy upon us.”
The king’s voice filled the park, silencing the cries
of pain. “You will make mistakes, but, I have provided a remedy for
those who will seek it. The remedy is a fountain of my tears which I
have placed at the entrance to Alphaomega Palace. Those who bathe in
the fountain will be inundated with my perfume. I will keep you safe.”
The king’s gentle tones grew harsh. “Lucien! Stand before me!”
There was a stirring within the crowd of stricken
people. The dazzling Lamuria emerged from a clump of rosebushes. His
face shone with triumph, yet his eyes held a hint of fear. “Show
yourself as well, king,” he said defiantly. “Come and face me!” Despite
Lucien’s vibrato, there was little doubt that he hoped the king would
The king appeared in his radiant glory. The people
heard his mighty footsteps and the powerful swish of his snow-white
robe. His radiance poured from him and bathed the people in
overwhelming light. Once delighted to be near the king, his subjects
now shrank back in fear. They covered their faces and turned away from
the searing light. Although they were blind, the light was too strong
to remain hidden. “You’re presence hurts too much,” a woman sobbed.
“It burns my eyes! Go away!” The king’s eyes filled with pain at their
rejection. Yet, at the same time, his face did not register surprise.
Lucien laughed. “Yes, Mighty One. They rightfully
belong to me, now. I will care for them.”
“You do not own them. They’ve chosen you, but there
is a way for me to rescue them. I will come for my people when the time
is right. I will take their pain upon myself. Now, stand before me to
Lucien hesitated. His voice trembled. “You no
longer hold me. I will—“
“Stand!” the king’s voice ricocheted around the
immense park. His mighty voice shook the trees.
The Lamuria changed to his human form. He slowly
approached the king. His eyes held terror, but, even so, he did not
kneel before his ruler. The king’s dazzling eyes bore into Lucien’s
own. The Lamuria howled in pain and raised his hands to shield his
face. “Shalamar is now your name,” the king said. “It means enslaver.
You are now blind and will forever remain so. One day, I will bring
sweetness and sight to my subjects. Your sour spells will suffocate,
but my sweetness will prevail.” With these final mysterious words, the
“Your so-called subjects will never return to you!”
Lucien cried jeeringly. “You will regret the day you ever opposed me.”
The zephyr blew gently, and the king’s voice spoke
again; a voice that throbbed with pain. “I know I shall.”
As the king spoke, a powder-like substance filled the
air. The people coughed and gagged as a rancid odor attacked their
nostrils. The cloud of brown, sticky powder covered each person with a
choking vapor. “Amria is the name of the perfume you all must wear
until you choose to bathe,” the king said. “When any of you want to go
to the fountain, call to me, and I will take you there.” Once again,
the voice faded away.
Shalamar broke the stunned silence that followed.
His voice was gentle. “What kind of ruler is this king? I’ll tell you.
He is a bloodthirsty tyrant! Why would he blind us all if not to make us
his slaves? He wants everything for himself. My dear friends, I only
sought to give you knowledge; knowledge that he strove to hide from
you. This perfume is a trick. He lies. It is the water of that
fountain that is poisonous. That water is the scent you smell. This
amria perfume is good. It flows from me and is a healing potion. With
your help, I will produce a salve from this amria that will restore our
The people gasped in wonder and longing. Lamuria’s
were powerful beings. Could Lucien be speaking the truth?
Finally, a man from the crowd spoke. “What must we do?”
“Simply kneel to me. Listen to my song of peace.” So
saying, Shalamar began to sing a mesmerizing melody in a bass voice.
His cello-like tones reverberated in the air, weaving a sticky web of
poisonous promises. He sang of uniting for a common cause; of building
a world filled with beauty. Some of the children covered their ears,
but their parents listened, entranced by the treacle-like notes. Each
and every person fell prostrate at the Lamuria’s feet. Only the girl
named Eva and the boy named Arnold stood straight and tall. “Great
king!” they cried. “Please! Take us to the fountain. Wash us.”
Shalamar stopped singing and laughed at them. “Don’t
be foolish,” he whispered. “Your lives will be nothing but misery if
you follow that tyrant. Join me.” He began to sing again.
The children did not listen. The zephyr lifted them,
and the king’s voice spoke gently. “Arnold and Eva. Well done.
Although you made a mistake, you called upon me to help you. I will
wash you and restore your sight.”
“Yes, wash us, sir,” Arnold said, “but do not restore
our sight. “
“Yes,” Eva said. “We must trust you for help.”
“You are wise,’ the king said. “You will work
together to lead others to the fountain. I will keep you safe.”
The pictures came to an abrupt end. Martha was so weak from all
she had experienced that she lowered herself onto a stool. “I-I
“More things will become clear,” Jarah murmured.
“What about Arnold and Eva? Were they all right?”
“Yes. Shalamar made their lives difficult. However,
they managed to lead many people to the fountain. They used tools the
king provided for them. It’s 6-45. Your father will be worried about
you. I’ll walk you back home if you want.”
For a moment, Martha hesitated. She raised her hand
to her face and grimaced at the putrid perfume that she now realized was
clinging to her. Slowly, she reached for Roberta’s hand. The little
girl smelled of fresh, springtime rain.
Martha bent to remove the boots Jarah had given her.
“No,” he said. “They’re yours. Keep them. I also have this for you.”
Jarah handed Martha a round, smooth stone. She
explored it with her fingers and realized it had a hole drilled through
the center. “This stone is called a Cyral Weaver. It’s constructed
from pearl. If you need something, you’ll know how to use it. Are you
ready to go home, now?”
Martha nodded. “Um, thanks,” she said, “but, I don’t
think I’ll need the boots. I mean, the slippers work just fine.”
“You never know.” Jarah’s voice was gentle.
“Everyone who comes to my shop gets a souvenir to take home with them.
Martha took the man’s right elbow. Roberta clasped
Martha’s other arm. “Thanks for coming with me, Martha,” Roberta
whispered. “It gets lonely, sometimes.”
“Lonely?” Martha asked. She was about to say
something else when she remembered a detail she’d forgotten. “How much
do I owe for the ice cream?”
Jarah laughed. “My ice cream is always free, and so
are my gifts.”
Urgent Dispatch to Shalamar Palace
Great King Shalamar,
I had to contact you right away. I’m sending this
message through my Guidance Wand so it will reach you faster.
One of your young subjects removed her slippers
against regulations. She always goes to the arcade after school but did
not report there today. The transmitter on duty lost track of her for a
full hour. You told me to inform you if anything of this nature ever
I Remain your Loyal Servant,
Elder Reginald Marcus
Dispatch to Reginald Marcus from Shalamar Palace
Excellent work. Report to me any further suspicious
activity. Most importantly, watch the man called Jarah. Dog his every
movement! I have reason to believe he is a threat to the realm.
Although he refuses to wear the slippers, he leaves a distinct trail.
Now, regarding the matter at hand. If the girl is
who I believe she is, I have had trouble with her in the past. She
helps the violators cross the streets despite repeated warnings. I
think now is the time to carry out my plan. Take action immediately.
As Martha entered the cool interior of the house, her
father’s wracking coughs were the first sounds she heard.
“Dad? It’s me. I’m coming. Just relax.”
Martha hurried into her father’s bedroom. She
snatched the inhaler from the bedside table and quickly administered the
breathing treatment. The cloying scent of jamrack perfume clung to
Dad’s clothes, and his skin was clammy to her touch.
Finally, Dad’s breathing returned to normal.
Shakily, he rose to his feet. “Where have you been?” he rasped.
“Um, just around,” Martha said. “Are you all right?”
“Don’t change the subject! I received a message from
my Guidance Wand while I was walking home. You weren’t at the arcade.”
Martha bit her lip. The Guidance Wands! She should
have known. Finally, she said, “I went to get some ice cream with a
girl named Roberta.”
“Ice cream? There’s no place to get it except the—“
Dad’s voice trailed off. After a moment, he said, “The conversation at
supper last night! You associated with a violator, didn’t you? Did you
go to that strange man’s shop?”
“You knew he owned an ice cream shop? Why didn’t you
ever tell me about him, Dad?”
“Isn’t it obvious? He’s dangerous. Now, did you go
to his shop or not?”
Martha sighed. She plopped down on Dad’s bed.
“Yes,” she admitted.
Dad strode from the room toward the kitchen. Martha
heard the distinct sound of a switch being pressed and the familiar
automated voice. “Yes, Mr. Livingston? Two cups or three?”
“One,” Dad snapped.
“Please state how many teaspoons of powder you
Martha smiled to herself. Dad always made ovaltine
after an asthma attack. The hot drink soothed him. Maybe he wasn’t
going to punish her. For a moment, Martha shuddered. Dad never did
anything to her that she didn’t deserve, but she definitely didn’t want
to receive another reprimand from the king. The only one she’d ever
received would never be forgotten.
Dad had received a message from his Guidance Wand
that Martha required chastisement. It was the second time she’d helped
a violator across the street. “Martha, you must come here,” Dad had
said. His voice was strained.
Trembling, Martha had approached her father. He’d
instructed her to place her hand on his Guidance Wand.
When she had obeyed, a sharp, biting pain had caused
her to scream aloud. She felt as if her entire hand was on fire. After
a few agonizing seconds, her hand had been roughly pushed away; almost
as if the wand was tired of her. She’d cried in terror and ran into the
protective shelter of Dad’s arms. When he’d hugged her, she’d felt his
entire body trembling. “Obey the king, Martha,” he’d whispered. “It’s
very important.” His voice was thick with fear and pain. She still
wasn’t sure if Dad had been angry or if he’d been sad.
Now, she rose and went into the kitchen. “Sorry,
Dad. I won’t do it again.”
“Your ovaltine is ready, Mr. Livingston,” the machine
Martha heard Dad take an appreciative sip of the
fragrant chocolate. “So, what was the shop like?” he asked. She was
surprised at his tone. Dad wasn’t angry. He sounded curious.
“It was really weird. I-I actually saw things
there. The man was very nice. His name is Jarah.”
“What do you mean you saw things? Like at the
“Kind of, but not really. The pictures were so
“Did the man make you uncomfortable?” Dad asked
“No. He’s just different. I didn’t even give him my
order, but he gave me fudge almond. It was delicious!”
“Fudge almond’s your favorite,” Dad murmured. Then,
he said as if in deep thought, “You probably shouldn’t go there again.
Well, are you ready for supper now?”
“Sure. Do you want me to fix it?”
“I thought we’d go to the arcade if you want to.
It’s anchovy pizza night!”
Dad wasn’t mad after all. The mentioning of
anchovies proved it. Dad had tricked Martha into trying anchovies when
she was six. Martha still remembered his uproarious laughter and Mom’s
playful chiding. “Now you’ve done it, Rick!”
Martha grimaced and wrinkled her nose. “Gross!”
Dad laughed. “Well, maybe we’ll skip the anchovies.
How does chicken burritos sound. They’ll have their famous homemade
Martha grinned. “Great! I’ll go change.”
Chimes reverberated, and the automated voice spoke.
“Elder Reginald Marcus is here. He requests permission to enter.”
Dad sighed. “Of all times,” he murmured. Then, he
gave his permission. Martha heard the latch being released.
“Why, Reginald! What a surprise!”
“Hello there, Rick. Thought I’d go ahead and deliver
“Of course. Come in.”
Martha’s heart leapt. She catapulted toward the
“Hi there, Miss Whirlwind. Are you ready for your
instrument, now?” Reginald asked. Amusement was in his voice.
“Yes, please. Thanks!”
Reginald placed a rectangular instrument carved from
cedar wood into her hands. The top of the instrument was made of
jamrack. Martha placed her hands inside the fibrous material. She
positioned her fingers in the holes that rested within the sticky mesh.
Instantly, a sensation similar to the one felt when using the traffic
box seized Martha’s hands. She ignored the sensation and began to play.
Martha rotated her fingers in a circular motion. A
deep-toned, shivery music emanated from the zomore: a music that
resembled a clarinet and a violin being played simultaneously. As
always, she felt her mind grow hazy as she became absorbed in the
music. She could play different notes by positioning her fingers in
“Well done, Martha,” Elder Reginald said
approvingly. “Your audition will occur in three weeks’ time. We’ll
send you the piece you are to learn.”
Martha nodded. All job applicants underwent
auditions to determine what level of training they were to undergo.
“Will Ms. Shriver be conducting the auditions?”
“Of course. Naturally, King Shalamar will be there
as well. He makes the final decisions.”
Martha felt an unaccountable shiver creep up her
spine. She quickly banished the feeling.
“Thanks for making the special trip, Reginald,” Dad
said. “It wasn’t necessary. I could easily have picked it up on my way
“No. We like to make sure the equipment we
distribute works properly. I must go. However, I have another gift to
give you. It’s from the king.”
Dad laughed in surprise. “Another gift? But, surely
the butteria was enough.”
Reginald laughed jovially. “Best not to ask
questions, Rick. Just say thank you. Here you are.”
Martha heard the thud of a large object as it was
placed on the kitchen counter. She detected the unmistakable odor of
maluria muffins. In spite of Jurah’s story, her mouth watered.
“A whole basket of food?” Awe filled Dad’s voice.
“Yes. Bacon and spinach quiche, roast mutton
turnovers, butteria pudding, and maluria muffins. Enjoy.”
When Elder Reginald had left, Dad said, “Well, I
suppose we don’t have to go out if we don’t want to.” He laughed in
Martha was silent. All she had seen in the ice cream
shop filled her mind. But, surely Jarah was lying. Nevertheless, she
felt uncomfortable. “Can we still go to the arcade, Dad?”
There was a long pause. “Are you sure you’re all
right, Martha? You sound troubled.”
“I’m fine. I just wanna eat out for a change. Can
“I suppose so, hon. Go ahead and get changed.”
Martha went to her room and opened her closet. When
she’d selected a chocolate-scented jumper, (what color could this
garment be?, she briefly wondered), she let her hand trail along the
smooth stone that the ice cream man had given her. She thought about
placing it in the jewelry box on her desk. Then, she shrugged and put
it in her pocket. Maybe she’d show the stone to Dad at supper.
The noise was deafening. Rap music blared. Martha
and her father sat at a round table; plates of burritos, glasses of tea,
and bowls of chocolate mousse sat before them. The plings and burbles
from game consoles filled the air.
“So, tell me more about this man. Did you say his
name is Jarah?”
Between large bites of tender chicken and smooth
guacamole, Martha related the story that Jarah had revealed to her.
When she was finished, she braced herself for the tirade she felt sure
would come. It didn’t.
Dad was silent for a long time. Finally, he said,
“I’ve heard that legend before. It’s a story the violators are fond of
telling. You can’t believe everything you hear. The story is just
vicious slander against King Shalamar. Go ahead and smell my hand if
you want. See if what I say isn’t true.”
Martha’s cheeks burned. “You want me to smell your
“Absolutely. Anything to get this nonsense out of
your head.” He placed his hand beside Martha’s. She leant forward and
took a long sniff. Nothing. Dad’s hand smelled perfectly normal.
Suddenly, the hilarity of the situation caused Martha
to laugh aloud. How foolish she’d been! Quickly, she pushed her dessert
in front of her. She sank her spoon into the cavernous depths of the
bowl and took an appreciative bite of mousse. She sighed with
contentment as the silky, cold chocolate melted onto her tongue. She
knew one thing for sure: the arcade had wonderful food. She’d never
waste another afternoon at that ice cream shop.
Cries of pain mingled with wracking coughs jerked
Martha from her trance. Quickly, she placed her zomore on the bed and
bolted from the room. “Dad? I’m coming.”
When she reached Dad’s bedroom, Martha ran to the
bed. She gasped as she touched her father’s arm. His skin was burning
hot, and his entire body convulsed with spasms of pain. Martha groped
on the bed and found the inhaler lying by Dad’s side.
Trembling, she tried repeatedly to place the inhaler
in his mouth. Everytime she managed to do so, Dad’s convulsions would
yank it free. “Dad! Stop! It’s all right. I can’t help you if—“
“M-Martha, c-contact the emergency—“ Dad gasped.
Martha ran to the bedroom wall and pressed a
rectangular button. A series of beeps and clicks were followed by an
automated voice. “You’ve reached emergency services. For calls
regarding physical violence, press one. For poison cases, press two.
To speak directly to a dispatcher—“ Shaking, Martha jammed the third
button situated beneath the rectangular one.
“Yes? Emergency services. How may I—“
“It’s my dad! He can’t breathe! I need help!”
“Remain calm.” The dispatcher’s monotone filled
Martha with more dread than comfort. “Address?”
“T-Twenty-Six Crescent Way,” she stammered.
“How long have the symptoms been going on?”
“I-I don’t know. I’ve been practicing on my zomore.
Please! Send someone quick!”
“Don’t get hysterical. Has he had these symptoms
“Not like this. He has asthma, but—“
“This may very well be a simple case of lung
irritation. The databank says that your father owns an inhaler. Have
you used it?”
“Yes! Yes! I’ve tried to, but—Please!” Martha’s voice
rose in a desperate plea.
“We’ll send someone right away.” There was a decisive
click as the connection was broken. For a moment, Martha stood, stunned
by the abrupt end to the conversation.
Dad’s agonizing thrashes caused her to rush back to
the bed. “J-Just try to lie still, Dad. They’ll be here soon.”
“Martha, I—“ His voice was barely audible, and Martha
leant closer. “I ate a—“ The words were cut short by a gurgling gasp
that struck terror into Martha’s heart. In spite of all her efforts,
she began to cry.
Martha sat down on the bed beside Dad and frantically
touched his face. He was still breathing, but his breaths were
shallow. Please come soon, she thought desperately. It was at this
very moment that she detected the distinct odor of the rancid perfume
emanating from her father’s body.
Martha reached into her pocket. She was searching
for anything to distract her mind. She jumped when her fingers
encountered the smooth stone that Jarah had given her. She’d forgotten
all about it.
Martha took the stone from her pocket and held it
up. “Dad? The strange man gave me this stone. I don’t know what it’s
for.” She spoke rapidly, trying to get him to focus on anything at all.
“Jarah said it’s made from pearl. It’s called a Cyral Weaver.”
Absentmindedly, Martha ran her fingers along the
smooth surface. She placed her index finger in the hole drilled through
the center of the stone.
Instantly, a gentle warmth spread through her hand.
“Yes, Martha? Do you want me to come to you?” Martha’s heart froze.
Surely she was imagining things!
“Martha? Your father is dying. Do you want me to
come?” Jarah’s voice was gentle, but it was filled with an earnest
pleading. “I need your consent.”
Jarah’s story filled Martha’s mind. Taking a deep
breath, she said, “Y-Yes. Please come.”
A moment later, she heard footsteps. “I’m here”
Jarah’s gentle voice filled the small bedroom.
Dispatch to Shalamar Palace
Regarding the Call from Martha Livingston
Great King Shalamar, live forever! In response to
your request, I am sending information to you through my Guidance Wand.
Martha Livingston called at precisely 12-15 AM. The
symptoms she described match those for poisoning. Identification of the
poison is as yet undetermined. We did not send assistance as you
Your Loyal Servant,
Margaret Meriwether, Dispatcher
Dispatch from Shalamar Palace
Good. It is now 12-45. Send paramedics
immediately. You’ll find that the man is dead. Bring his daughter to
me at once. Instruct her to bring her zomore. Do not fail in this!
“How did you get in here?” Martha’s voice came out in
a strangled gasp.
“I’ll explain in a moment.” Jarah stood at the head
of Dad’s bed. “Rick Livingston. I say to you, arise.”
Instantly, Dad’s ragged breathing stopped. Martha
gasped as she listened to his feet touch the floor. “Wh-What’s going
on?” Dad asked.
Martha was shocked. Dad’s voice was strong. It
didn’t sound weak at all.
“Martha? What happened?” Dad repeated.
Martha was overcome with happiness. She threw her
arms around Dad’s neck. All dignity vanished as she began to sob with
relief. “I don’t know, Dad. I just know Jarah saved you!”
“Schshshsh,” Dad soothed. “It’s all right.”
“Rick,” Jarah’s voice filled the room. “You are now
“Who are you?” Dad’s voice was filled with awe. “How
did you get in here?”
“I am the one your daughter told you about. I am
Jarah. I travelled on the current of Martha’s music. It formed itself
into a carpet I could ride.” Jarah placed his hand on Martha’s
shoulder. “Well done. You are very brave.”
“What are you talking about? What music? You mean my
zomore?” Martha was dumbfounded.
“Place your hand in the Cyral Weaver once again. All
will become clear.”
Martha obeyed. Instantly, a beautiful melody filled
her ears; a swelling symphony of silken notes. This music far surpassed
anything she’d ever heard.
“I don’t understand. You knew I was a musician? Who
“I know all your talents. I gave them to you, after
all. Who do you think I am?”
Martha hesitated. She raised her hand to her face
and inhaled the awful perfume. Swallowing convulsively, she whispered,
“I think you must be the true king.”
Jarah clasped Martha’s hand. “Well done.”
“But, if you’re Talura’s true king, why are you in
“Think about what happened in the park. The people
could not withstand my true presence. Not until you are washed can you
look upon me fully. Now, I know you must be tired and hungry. I’ll
feed you and your father when we reach my shop. We must go quickly.
Some people are coming here to collect you. You mustn’t go with them.
He’d kill you. He’s already tried to kill your father. He killed
Rosemary when you were nine.”
Martha gasped and clutched Dad’s arm. Rosemary was
her mother’s name. “What’s he talking about?” she asked urgently.
Then, Dad’s words during his sickness entered her mind. He’d talked
about eating something. “It was the basket! The basket of food!” she
“It was the maluria muffins,” Dad whispered. “I ate
one before going to bed.” Disbelief filled his voice. Then, Dad’s
voice became harsh as he addressed Jarah. “What do you know about my
“Are both of you willing to come with me? My shop has
a barrier around it that Shalamar cannot penetrate. You’ll be safe
there. I’ll reveal more things to you when we arrive.”
Dad squeezed Martha’s hand. “What do you think?” he
asked her. “Should we go?”
Martha hesitated. Then, she nodded. “I say let’s
Dad laughed nervously. “Well, he’s offering us food,
and we obviously can’t take a chance with what King Shalamar sent us. I
need some rest, too. All right.”
Jarah touched Martha’s hand. “You know what to do,”
Martha placed her finger into the Cyral Weaver. The
beautiful music began again. She felt a soft, fibrous substance wrap
itself around her. “The carpet you made,” Jarah explained. “Are you
Martha bent down. The slippers that encased her feet
suddenly filled her with revulsion. “Wait one minute. I’ll be back.”
Martha hurried to her room and retrieved the boots
Jarah had given her. She flung the slippers to the floor and placed the
boots on her feet. Then, she ran to Jarah’s side.
“You are very wise, Martha,” Jarah said approvingly.
Martha placed her hand into the Cyral Weaver once
again. The carpet of melody lifted them all into the air. The ride was
extremely smooth. Martha allowed her mind to relax.
“What are you saying to me?” The cello-like tones of
King Shalamar ricocheted around the vast throne room. The usually
beautiful voice now throbbed with anger.
King Shalamar sat on an elaborate throne made of
gold. His restless bejeweled hands constantly moved. Over the years,
the false king had grown heavyset, but beauty still clung to every part
of him. He had an aura of charisma that drew people like a magnet.
Though he sat absolutely still on his throne, one always had the feeling
that he was in perpetual motion. This fact was true. He was forbidden
to move from the throne, yet this prohibition did not constrain his
Although Shalamar’s vibrant sapphire eyes were now
clouded with blindness as a result of the king’s interference, his
sensitive hands could distinguish any movement in the air currents that
surrounded him. With a simple touch, he could manipulate these currents
in any way he chose.
The king turned his full attention onto the figure
that knelt before his throne. Gently, he raised his hands, and the
figure rose. “Reginald. I simply want an explanation.” Shalamar’s tone
Elder Reginald Marcus cleard his throat. “Um, yes,
sire. All I know is that when the paramedics reached the house, it was
empty. They searched every room. The basket of food had been opened,
and a maluria muffin had been eaten. All they found was the girl’s
zomore and her slippers. I can’t understand—“
“How they escaped? Isn’t it obvious?” An edge of
menace reentered Shalamar’s voice. “It’s that ice cream man who calls
himself Jarah. I want him brought to me, do you understand? I want him
alive so that I can feel the life drain from his body. He alluded me
once before. I’ll not allow that to happen again! He’s corrupting my
“Yes, sire. But, what do the girl and Rick have to
do with him?”
Calmly, Shalamar brought his left hand down on the
armrest of his throne. Reginald emitted a choking gasp of pain and fell
to the ground. Laughing quietly, the king raised his arm once again.
As he did so, Reginald rose to his feet. The elder resembled a
marionette. “Do you have anymore questions, Reginald?” Amusement filled
“Excellent. Find that man and use any means
necessary. If this means killing the girl and her father, then do it.
Find them and use them. If they cannot be located, use the girl’s
friend at school. His name is Bruce Norton, I believe. You have a
brain. Maybe not a large one, but you do possess one, do you not? If
you’re at a loss as to what to do, then contact me.”
Reginald rose to leave, but Shalamar snapped his
fingers to detain him. “Give me the girl’s slippers before you go.”
Reginald obeyed and hurriedly withdrew. Shalamar
leant back and raised his hands. He was hungry.
The king rejoiced as he felt the vibration of the
traffic box at 1st and Maple. With his extraordinary sense
of touch, he could feel every portion of his kingdom. Everyone and
everything was linked to him. Someone was about to cross the street.
Gleefully, Shalamar felt a woman insert her hands
into the grooved box. The transmission equipment immediately sprang
into action. The woman’s hands touched his own. Shalamar sighed with
contentment as portions of the woman’s skin attached itself to his own.
The cells from her skin became his. Strength surged into Shalamar, and
he reveled in the glory of the woman’s allegiance.
Worship was all Shalamar had ever wanted: devotion
and recognition for his many gifts. He’d witnessed the people’s sincere
love for the king. For a time, he’d enjoyed worshipping the king as
well. Gradually, however, a fierce longing had begun eating into
Shalamar like a cankerous cancer; a longing so great that whenever he
heard the people in Talura Park sing praises to the king, he’d felt
physically sick. Well, he’d finally acted on his desire. He’d gotten
what he wanted. Not even the true king could take it away from him.
Shalamar used to fear that his subject’s cells were
constantly being replenished. The king was such an interloper, Shalamar
was sure this was happening. However, with his ability to manipulate
the air currents, this fact no longer caused a concern. He had devised
a strategy to prevent new cell growth.
The false king loved these moments; the joy of
feeding upon his subjects. He not only fed on them when they prepared
to cross streets, but also when they performed their jobs, played games
at the arcade, and did their schoolwork. On the days maluria muffins
were delivered to the school, the teachers retrieved cells from the
students as they mindlessly performed their tasks. The drugged muffins
took care of any problems that might arise. The children’s cells were
transmitted to him through the use of the Guidance Wands.
Reluctantly, Shalamar gave the woman’s hands a gentle
pat and released her. He began fingering the slippers that Elder
Reginald had given him. Since Jarah’s arrival in the realm, Shalamar
had begun losing track of some of his subjects. Something had to be
done, or all would be lost. Humming softly to himself, Shalamar
strategically began to formulate a new plan of attack.
Pancakes and Revelations
Martha’s next conscious thought was how comfortable
she felt. She sat up and groped with her hands. She was lying on a
canopied bed. The sheets were smooth and soft.
Martha rose after a few moments and shuffled slowly
around the room. She located the strange boots Jarah had given her.
They sat at the foot of the bed. Martha put them on and left the room.
Dad’s voice came from down the hall and to the right. The scent of
maple syrup was thick upon the air.
Martha entered a small kitchen. The warm sunlight
streamed through a small window. It placed its warm hand on Martha’s
shoulder as she made her way to a round table. “Good morning, Martha,”
Jarah said cheerfully. “I hope you slept well. You were out like a
light, so we didn’t want to wake you up when we arrived.”
“Um, I slept fine, thanks. Where are we?”
“My shop. It’s bigger than it first appears. Are
“Yes, please. Are you all right, Dad?”
“Yes, honey. If it wasn’t for you, I might not have
been.” Dad’s voice came from the corner of the room. The sound of
sizzling and the luscious scent of sausage filled the air. He hurried
forward and gave Martha a long hug. “I gotta get your plate myself. No
machines here.” Dad chuckled and sat a plate in front of Martha.
Martha methodically began cutting the pancakes that
sat before her. She took a bite of crispy sausage. Peace filled her
and she sighed with contentment. “This food is really good.”
“I’m glad you like it.” Jarah sat down across from
her. “May I have the syrup, please? It’s in a pitcher on your right.”
Dad sat down on Martha’s left. They ate in
companionable silence for a long time. Finally, Martha said, “Dad? Did
he give you some ice cream?”
Dad laughed. “Rocky Road, my favorite! It was
extraordinary. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.”
“You saw, too?”
“Yes. I still don’t understand everything, but—“ Dad
stopped abruptly as three knocks sounded on the door. Martha stiffened.
“Don’t worry,” Jarah said. “It’s some more people
coming for breakfast.” He rose and left the room. After a few moments,
three people entered the kitchen. Martha heard Roberta’s voice cry out
excitedly, “Martha’s here? Really?”
The people sat down. “Martha? Rick? This is the
Wilkerson family. Roberta, Robert, and Matilda.”
“Hi, Martha,” Roberta said. “Momma? Daddy? This is
the girl who helped me.”
Martha heard Roberta’s mother emit a surprised cry.
“Praise the True King,” she whispered. “Thank you, courageous girl.”
Martha’s cheeks grew warm with embarrassment. “It
hurts,” she said. “I know how she felt. I couldn’t just leave her
“Jarah, I must speak with you.” The gruff voice
belonged to Roberta’s father. “Privately.”
“There are no secrets here,” Jarah said. Authority
and power had entered his voice.
“But, it’s about—“
“Robert, please,” Matilda whispered urgently. “I’m
sure it’s safe.”
“Speak your thoughts aloud,” Jarah said. “They have
a right to hear them.”
Robert rose to his feet and began to pace. Martha
heard the clomping sound of his footsteps. She surmised that the family
must be wearing boots identical to her own. The man finally spoke.
“Forgive me, but you haven’t ben washed yet. Both of you reek of that
disgusting perfume. Why are you here?”
Martha lowered her head in shame. She felt as if
she’d been slapped. She heard Dad rise to his feet.
“We’ve taken advantage of your hospitality,” he
murmured. “We’ll go now.”
“It’s imperative both of you remain here,” Jarah
said. “Robert, you yourself reeked of the perfume only a few days ago.
All are welcome here.”
A fork clattered on a plate as Robert finally sat
down and began to eat. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I just believe in
caution, that’s all.”
An awkward silence descended. Finally, Dad said,
“We’ll stay for a little longer if you will have us.”
“Momma, Martha was really nice,” Roberta said. “She
even came here with me yesterday. Noone’s ever done that before.”
“You don’t think before you act, Roberta,” Matilda
murmured, “but, I’m glad you didn’t in this instance. Maybe you met
Martha for a reason.”
Martha stood up and approached Matilda. Shyly, she
shook the woman’s hand. “When I was five, my mom saved me from getting
hurt. Now, I understand so much. Sorry for everything I’ve said about
For a moment, Martha felt Matilda’s hand stiffen in
hers. Then, the woman returned the handshake with sincere warmth.
“Your mother told me about the incident when you were
five,” Dad said. “I also remember the day Elder Arnold brought you
home. You couldn’t move.” Shocked silence filled the room.
Robert brought his hand down with a ferocious smack
onto the table. “I allowed that filthy king to make his meal off of me
for years. I lived only for my work and my time at the arcade.
Something must be done to dethrone that usurper.”
“Something shall be,” Jarah said softly. Pain was
evident in his voice. Martha felt a twinge of fear she couldn’t
“I remember the first time I tasted your ice cream,
Great King,” Robert murmured. “Those pictures have never left my mind.
When I think of how that tyrant molested those poor children—“ He gasped
sharply, and his voice trailed away.
Martha spoke. “Couldn’t we all storm the palace or
something? I mean, Jarah’s supposed to be the true king. Once Shalamar
sees him, maybe—“
“You don’t understand Shalamar’s power,” Dad spoke
quietly. “Your mother was washed in that fountain. She told me the
night before she died. I-I sent a message to Shalamar.” Dad’s voice
grew bitter, and he angrily pushed his plate away. “I did what I
thought was right! I thought that perfume was coming from her, and that
she’d been corrupted.”
Horror filled Martha’s heart. She began to shake.
“W-What are you saying?” she whispered. She wanted to know, but was
frightened at the answer she knew she’d receive.
Dad placed his hand on Martha’s arm. “The next day,
she didn’t come home from her work in the butteria fields. An elder
found her body on the edge of a curb. She’d tried to cross a street
without using the traffic box. A seekcar had ran her down. Now, I know
the truth. It was all planned.” Dad’s voice choked, and he began to
sob. “Forgive me, Martha. Please forgive me!”
Shakily, Martha brushed tears from her eyes. For a
moment, biting anger clutched at her heart. Then, she drew Dad close.
Father and daughter clung together. “Now do you understand why I
allowed you to receive chastisement from the king? I didn’t want him to
do something worse to you.”
“Yes,” Martha whispered. “How did Mom know about the
“My followers are everywhere,” Jarah explained
gently. “They deliver the message despite the danger. Rick, I told you
the truth. Rosemary is waiting for you at the palace. You’ll se her
There was a long pause. Finally, Robert broke the
silence. “What can we do?”
“All of you can stay here,” Jarah said. “When the
time is right, I will do something.”
“The time is now,” Robert said.
“No. You must be patient.”
Suddenly, a sharp knock sounded on the door. Jarah
rose and left the room.
“Um, I was told to come here,” a familiar voice
said. Martha’s heart leapt. The voice belonged to Bruce!
“Yes, Bruce Norton. Welcome. Come in and have some
breakfast,” Jarah said.
“Martha?” Bruce’s voice was filled with awe. “What
are you doing here?”
The two companions sat on stools at the ice cream
counter. Bruce had been at the shop all day. He and Martha had finally
gotten an opportunity to be alone.
“It’s a long story,” Martha said. “I still can’t
Bruce laughed harshly. “Another story? I don’t need
another story. I’ve already heard one today. That story about another
king is the wildest thing I ever heard!”
“I think it’s true. So much has happened to me. By
the way, what flavor of ice creamdid he give you?” Bruce and Jarah had
talked for a long time earlier that afternoon.
“Peanut Butter Cup. I hate to admit it, but it was
great. Way better than the ice cream at the arcade!” Bruce laughed.
Then he hesitated. When he spoke again, his voice was bewildered.
“Seeing those pictures was really creepy. Martha, I got a message to
come here this morning. The message came to Mom’s Guidance Wand. I
think it was sent by one of the elders. They gave me this address and
said I needed to come here for an aptitude test. I don’t know what’s
“I don’t understand it any better than you do. I
want to show you something, though.” Martha retrieved the Cyral Weaver
from her pocket and handed it to him. “It plays music,” she explained.
“If the king hadn’t given it to me, Dad might have—“ She gulped and
blinked back tears. She couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.
“King? You mean, you really believe this ice cream
man is a king?” Bruce asked incredulously.
“I think so,” Martha admitted.
Suddenly, footsteps announced Jarah’s arrival. “I’m
glad you came, Bruce. This is my gift to you.” Martha listened as the
sound of metal hit the countertop.
“A ring?” Bruce asked in disbelief. “You’re giving
me a ring?”
“Jarah laughed. “It’s made from polished sapphire
and has a pearl interior. Men wear rings too, you know. You’ll know
what to do with it when the time comes.”
Bruce slammed his hand on the counter. “Why do you
always talk like that?” he snapped. “I missed school today because of
your stupid message. Mom’ll have a fit when she finds out there wasn’t
a test. What do you want from me, anyway?”
“I want you and your mother to enter my kingdom. I
offer entrance to everyone. By the way, it wasn’t me who sent the
message. I think you know that already. I don’t own a Guidance Wand.
If I want to extend an invitation, I do it personally.”
Bruce hesitated. “What time is it?” he finally
“6-30,” Jarah said. “Do you want to leave? I’ll walk
you home if—“
“Yes, I want to leave, and I want to go by myself!”
“I understand.” Jarah’s voice held sadness. “You’re
free to leave anytime. You need some boots for your own safety. Wait
When Jarah’s footsteps faded away, Bruce bolted to
his feet. The stool scraped loudly along the floor. “Where are you
going?” Martha asked.
“I’m going home. Mom’ll be worried about me. If
you’re smart, you’ll come with me. This wierdo’s too much!”
“I’m not leaving Dad. Are you crazy?”
“Fine, then!” Bruce opened the door and let it slam
shut behind him. Martha rushed to the door and flung it open. Without
stopping to think, she ran outside; the boots she wore scraping along
the narrow, cobblestone sidewalk. “Bruce! Wait!” she called.
Suddenly, a scream of fear and pain filled the air.
“Thought you’d never come out!” a gruff voice said. Martha’s heart
skipped a beat. The voice was Elder Reginald’s. “All right, Bruce.
You’re coming with me.”
Martha ran toward the voice. With a resounding pop,
she ran headlong into a fibrous net and went sprawling. Struggling to
her feet, she feverishly explored the jamrack contraption with her
fingers. She heard Bruce struggling from inside the net. He fiercely
pulled at the net’s interior. The sticky substance squeaked and
stretched as Bruce pulled, but it did not relinquish its hold.
Martha reached for Bruce’s hand. Maybe she could
pull him out. But, it was no use. Her hands were flung from the net,
and she fell to the ground once again.
Reginald laughed. “Well, I suppose the problem is
solved. Hello there, Miss Whirlwind! Looks like you’re coming with me,
too. Might as well kill two birds with one stone.” His bony hand shot
forward and gripped her left arm. “The king desires to see you.”
Reginald pushed Martha into the sticky net.
Instantly, she was pitched outward onto the sidewalk. “What’s going
on?” the elder snarled.
“She’s under my protection, Reginald,” Jarah’s voice
emerged from the doorway of the ice cream shop. It was sharp. “Go tell
your master that if he wants to see me, the courteous thing to do is
come himself. I went to see him a year ago. Remind him of that fact.”
Reginald laughed harshly. “I’ll relay the message,
ice cream man! I’ll also deliver this boy to him.”
Martha heard the screech of the net as it was
viciously dragged away. Bruce’s screams rang in her ears.
Bruce’s mind felt numb. The sharp, sticky perfume of
jamrack filled his nostrils. His head swam, and he tried taking some
deep breaths. The attempt was useless. Only strangled gasps emerged.
His lungs felt as if they’d been pulverized.
“No need to exert yourself,” Reginald said with
amusement. “You’re just going to pay a visit to the king.” A metallic
click told Bruce that the door of a seekcar had unlocked automatically.
“You’ll be sorry!” Bruce gasped. “My mom harvests
maluria for the king’s table. She’s asked to feasts lots of times! I’ll
tell her how you grabbed me, and—“
Reginald snorted. “Do you think I don’t know where
she works, Bruce Norton? I know all about you. Now, be quiet! You’re
giving me a headache!”
Bruce was pitched onto the back seat of the vehicle.
The net tightened around his arms and legs. The perfumed seats of the
car smelled of butteria, but Bruce was not comforted. The front door
slammed as Reginald entered the seekcar. Only high-ranking officials
owned seekcars. Bruce had never ridden in one. At any other time, he’d
be ecstatic. Somehow, though, being shoved into a back seat while
encased in a disgusting net wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind.
“Hello, Reginald Marcus. Please state your
destination,” the automated voice chirped.
“King Shalamar’s palace!”
“Please state the entrance where you wish to be
“The throne room.”
“Your journey will begin now.”
Bruce felt the gentle vibration of the seekcar’s
engine. No engine noise was discernible except a low purr. The gliding
motion of the motor should have lulled him to sleep. Already, he heard
the elder snoring from the front seat.
Bruce’s heart pounded, and he frantically pulled at
the fibrous net. The jamrack screeched in protest but did not loosen.
Bruce heard a sharp snore as Elder Reginald jerked
awake. “How many times do I have to tell you, it’s useless to pull at
that net,” he snapped. “You’re going to the palace in style. Enjoy
“Please, sir. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“Approaching pedestrian at 15 Horton Drive. Sensors
detect a violator. Please state if you wish to proceed.”
Bruce was immediately alert. A violator? He briefly
wondered if the person would use the traffic box. A high-pitched
buzzing and a scream told him the answer.
Reginald cursed. “These fools! How often will they
defy the king? I’ve had to chastise several of them over the last year.”
For a moment, he hesitated. Then, Reginald said, “Yes, proceed.”
The seekcar lurched forward. Oddly, the motion was
still smooth. Bruce heard a ringing in his ears. A hysterical voice
was screaming. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” It took Bruce a moment to realize
that the voice was his. He flung out his hands, and his fingers brushed
the ring that Jarah had given him. A metallic screech filled the air.
“Warning! Warning! The current has been
sh-short-c-circuited. E-Engine will—“ The voice died with a strange
gurgle. Bruce heard a strangled gasp of pain and the sound of running
“What happened?” Reginald asked in bewilderment.
A beautiful bass voice filled the vehicle; a voice
that sent shivers down Bruce’s spine. “Get out of the car. Bring the
The door opened with a metallic click, and Reginald’s
footsteps hurried toward the back. A high-pitched buzzing reverberated
in Bruce’s ears. A surprised cry was followed by a thud.
The seekcar’s back door opened with a bang. Bruce
didn’t care what would happen to him. He began to scream. In his
panic, he reached for the ring.
“Don’t even think about it, my friend.” The musical
voice erupted around him, and the net was savagely jerked into the air.
“This will hurt. You should have just enjoyed the ride.”
“Wh-What’s going on? What happened to Elder—“ Bruce
gasped as a brutal current of air jerked him round and round. His head
The voice laughed. “He’s incapacitated, I’m afraid.
You shouldn’t have interfered. Now, silence! I need a moment to
myself. You interrupted my meal.”
Bruce’s mind was so jumbled from the wild motion, the
voice had become unintelligible. He tried to relax, but it was useless.
After what seemed like an eternity of endless jerks
and pummels, Bruce felt a tremendous jarring. Nausea gripped his
stomach. He felt himself falling, and his stomach rose into his
throat. He landed on a hard surface and lay still, stunned.
“Bruce! So good of you to drop in.” The musical tones
were filled with laughter. Bruce tried to stand, but his legs were as
wobbly as Jell-O.
“Do you wish to stand?”
“Y-Yes, please,” Bruce stammered. The high-pitched
buzzing he’d heard earlier arrested his attention. Strength surged into
his legs, and he sprang to his feet.
“That’s better,” the voice murmured. “Now, why don’t
you sit down?”
Again, the strange buzzing filled Bruce’s ears.
Without thinking, he plopped down onto the hard, stone surface. He
heard quiet laughter.
Like a thunderclap, Bruce realized that someone was
playing a game with him. Anger filled his heart. “Stop it!” he
A red-hot pain seized his chest, and he gasped in
fear. “Do you want to say that again?” the voice snarled. “Do you know
who I am, boy?”
The pain was so intense, Bruce couldn’t speak. The
buzzing noise reverberated once again, and the pain diminished.
“Y-You’re the king,” Bruce gasped.
“Exactly. Now, then. I don’t want to hurt you. I
don’t take pleasure in hurting anyone.” Oddly, Bruce believed these
words. He had a feeling King Shalamar might be speaking the truth.
Shalamar spoke again. “Noone understands. I just
want allegiance. Is that too much to ask?” Bruce was at a loss as to
what to say. “Well? Is it?” The king’s voice grew taut. “Answer me!”
“N-No,” Bruce whispered. “P-Please, sir. I don’t
understand what you want.”
Shalamar’s voice softened. “I just want to talk to
the newcomer called Jarah. You met him today, did you not? What lies
did he tell you?”
“He told me a story about another palace and another
Shalamar laughed. “Story is the correct terminology,
Bruce. You’re a smart boy. He gave you something too, didn’t he?”
“A ring,” Bruce whispered.
“Yes. A dangerous object. Now, I’d like to propose
something to you.” Shalamar’s voice acquired a paternal note. “Simply
give me the ring. It must be destroyed. Go to that man’s shop tomorrow
night. The elder’s will accompany you. I cannot gain admittance
myself, and I must talk to him. If you do these things for me, you and
your mother will be rewarded.”
As Shalamar spoke these words, Bruce heard the
buzzing sound once again. A round jar fell to the floor beside him with
a soft clang. Trembling, Bruce retrieved the jar and opened the metal
lid. A sweet, intoxicating fragrance made him gasp. “Marah Perfume?”
Shalamar laughed gently. “Correct, my boy. Simply
anoint your garments with this spice. Gold will flow from your clothes
with every movement you make. Your father worked in the perfumery,
didn’t he? He made perfume from this very spice. He’d want you to
benefit from his hard work.”
Tears stung Bruce’s eyes. Dad’s voice filled his
head. “You’re the man of the house this week, son. I’ve gotta deliver
perfume to the palace and stay for a conference. Look after your mom,
all right?” Bruce had been nine at the time. Dad had never returned.
Bruce thought about Mom; her scarred hands and weak
voice. Her work harvesting maluria fruit left her physically drained.
Before maluria could be eaten, its thorny exterior had to be
systematically peeled away. The soft berries would then be collected
and taken to the palace. The thorns gouged the harvesters’ hands;
leaving scars that never healed.
For a moment, Bruce thought about the ice cream man’s
story. He wasn’t sure if he believed Jarah, but he was starting to have
second thoughts. Mom was so tired these days that she never cooked
anymore. Either he made the meals, or they ate at the arcade. Mom
desperately needed help. Briefly, Bruce remembered the lie he’d told
Martha; the one about not wanting a job. He wanted one, but he was
terrified: terrified that if he was assigned a job, he’d never return
“I’m speaking the truth,” Shalamar’s voice
interrupted his thoughts. “Do you need proof? Listen.” The king took
the jar and shook some perfume onto his robe. Bruce heard Shalamar rise
to his feet. A clattering jingle filled the air.
“Here. A down payment.” The king handed Bruce a
leather pouch. The boy gasped at the weight of his new treasure. He
quickly reached to put the pouch in his uniform pocket. Instantly, the
fiery pain seized his chest.
“Now, now. Mustn’t overexcite yourself,” Shalamar
chortled. “Very dangerous for the heart, you know. You can’t take the
money yet. I need your decision.”
Bruce clutched the pouch. He trembled, and sweat
sprouted onto his forehead.
“On the other hand,” Shalamar spoke musingly, “the
maluria harvesters are working slower than usual. I’ve been thinking
about extending their hours to meet demand. What do you think?”
Bruce’s ears rang. He fell to his knees and began to
shake. “P-Please, d-don’t,” he stammered.
“You’ve had a hard day. Perhaps you can make a
better decision tomorrow. You’ll stay here tonight. I’ll inform your
mother where you are. Would you like a muffin?” Shalamar’s voice had
The sweet fragrance of maluria filled the boy’s
nostrils. A wicker basket containing the delectable pastries was placed
into his hands. Bruce ignored thoughts of Jarah’s story. If he played
the king’s game, maybe Mom would be all right. He grabbed one of the
muffins and began to eat. The familiar sleepiness took hold.
Shalamar’s sensitive hands moved in the air. His
fingers lightly brushed Bruce’s cheek. The boy lay absolutely still on
the stone floor of the throne room. The king touched the ring on
Bruce’s right hand. Involuntarily, he shuddered. That interfering
Jarah! The ring had prevented a violator from being killed. Shalamar
winced as he remembered the excruciating pain that had exploded
throughout his body when the air current had been intercepted. He
longed to tear the ring from the boy’s finger but knew he couldn’t.
Bruce had to relinquish the gift willingly.
Once again, Shalamar stroked the boy’s cheek;
ravenously extracting as many cells as he wanted. When his appetite was
temporarily sated, he laughed jeeringly at the slumbering child. “Do
you remember when I told you I don’t take pleasure in hurting others?
Well, I lied.”
Snapping his fingers, the king summoned a servant.
When the throne room door opened, Shalamar addressed the person who
entered. “Go to the house of Bruce Norton and his mother. The woman is
still at work in the maluria fields. I’ve extended her hours for
today. Anoint the peach-scented garment she wears with this Marah
Perfume. The peach garment is her only formal gown. Tomorrow, extend
an invitation to her to come to a feast. Tell her that her son will be
“Yes, sire.” The servant prepared to leave.
“And take this nuisance of a boy to an upstairs
chamber. I’ll collect him in the morning.”
The servant bent down and scooped Bruce into his
arms. Shalamar snapped his fingers and propelled them from the room.
He leant back and sighed with contentment. All was right with his
The Icy Cage
“Don’t worry, Martha. Everything will be all right.”
Jarah’s voice was gentle.
Martha wiped her eyes. She sat on a stool in the
fragrant ice cream shop. Everyone else was asleep, but she’d been
restless all night. “What can I do?” she asked. “I-I tried to help
“I know you did. The boots serve as a shield. As
long as you wear them, you’ll be protected. Their soles are inundated
with water from the fountain. If you’d tried to free him, you’d have
been sucked into the net as well.”
“But, I can’t just sit here!”
“Of course you can’t. There’s work to be done.”
“Work that involves the Cyral Weaver. I have a song
for you to learn if you’re willing.”
Martha was silent for a moment. Something that Jarah
had said earlier nagged at her mind. “What did you mean when you told
Elder Reginald you’d gone to see Shalamar a year ago? Couldn’t you have
banished him or something?”
“Why would I do that?” Jarah’s voice held genuine
bewilderment. “The time for his reckoning has not yet come. Besides,
how can I be a true rescuer if I can’t empathize with my subjects?”
“What are you talking about? What happened?”
Jarah placed his hand on Martha’s shoulder. “I’ll
transmit the pictures to you. They’re unpleasant ones, I’m afraid.”
Martha braced herself. A dizzying array of colors
filled her eyes. “Hello, Mighty One.” Shalamar’s cello tones trembled
with wild ecstasy. The voice was startling in its intensity. Martha
trembled in fear. “I must say, I’m delighted to see you. Of course,
dropping in uninvited is highly irregular, but in your case I’ll allow
the infraction. Welcome.”
Jarah stood in an immense room before a glittering
golden throne. Sunlight poured through an oval-shaped window positioned
behind the elaborate chair. Jarah’s face was calm, and he wore a simple
robe of white, homespun cotton. On his feet were a pair of white boots.
Jarah’s appearance could not have been more
strikingly contrasted with the only other occupant of the vast room.
The dazzling sunlight created a halo around Shalamar’s handsome face.
He wore a luminescent golden robe. His bejeweled hands were constantly
moving, and his face was aglow with excitement. The man was very large;
almost bloated in appearance. It was as if he never stopped eating.
Martha had the feeling she was staring at an entity that lived solely
for its own personal satisfaction. She shivered.
Martha could feel the air in the large room vibrate
with strong electrical energy. Jewelled tables holding vials, bottles,
and jars were everywhere.
Shalamar spoke again. “Why so silent, Jarah? It’s
ill-mannered to ignore your host. Do you like my perfume collection? My
subjects make the perfume themselves.” Jarah did not respond.
“Ah, I hate stubborn fools. Well, I suppose we must
get down to business, mustn’t we? Since you’ve consented to be my guest
for a few days, you must wear appropriate apparel. This includes your
shoes. Remove those boots you now wear.”
Martha watched, aghast, as Jarah bent down and
removed the white boots from his feet. Shalamar handed him a pair of
Jarah placed the slippers onto his feet. Instantly,
he pitched forward toward the ground. A cry of pain erupted from his
Shalamar raised his hands and snapped his fingers. A
current of air wrapped itself around Jarah’s body and held him upright.
Shalamar laughed gently. “What’s wrong, Mighty One? Are you tired? Here
is the robe you must wear. Put it on. Then, I’ll show you your
accommodations. All my guests are given places to rest. I’m nothing if
Jarah removed his white robe and placed a garment of
jeweled, honey-colored cotton onto his body. A harsh hissing sound
filled the room. Jarah stood still, but his every muscle pulsated with
Shalamar began moving his hands in a circular
motion. The most frightening aspect of his work was that he hummed
while performing it. A shimmering contraption, resembling a large domed
sand castle, appeared in the center of the room. A door within the
contraption slid soundlessly open. Martha became aware of the drastic
drop in temperature. She realized with a jolt of horror that the
contraption was constructed entirely of ice.
“Enter this chamber,” Shalamar ordered. Jarah obeyed. Immediately,
he began groping around the tight enclosure. He stumbled and repeatedly
placed his hands to his eyes. A hazy mist descended. The vibrancy of
Jarah’s penetrating blue eyes dimmed.
Shalamar’s laughter rang out. “How does it feel?
Since you gave me the gift of sightless eyes, I thought it only fitting
to return the favor. I apologize that your accommodations aren’t
better, but it can’t be helped. Your interference prevents me from
moving from this location. I need you here so that I can keep track of
“Stop stalling,” Jarah spoke quietly. “Begin your
work. I am ready.”
After a moment, Shalamar reached for one of the
jeweled vials which sat upon a round, wicker table. Opening it, he
released a bitter perfume into the air. The acrid stench stung Martha’s
eyes and made her cough. Jarah clutched his stomach. Children’s voices
came from every direction. They echoed off the walls of the true king’s
prison. Jarah groped frantically, becoming more and more disoriented as
the voices doubled in volume. “Help us! Please! We’re hungry and lost!”
The children began to cry in pain.
“Do you want to feed them? Do you want to lead them
to safety?” Shalamar’s voice was gentle.
“Y-Yes,” Jarah whispered. Tears of compassion
shimmered in his eyes. “Please! Leave them alone!”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mighty One. However,
you can help them if you wish. You are a king, after all.” Shalamar
passed a rectangular bottle through the tiny opening in Jarah’s cage.
“This is the antidote to hunger and suffering. Just anoint yourself.
Wherever you walk, food will flow from you. You will be revered above
all people. You can satisfy your own hunger and the hunger of others.”
Jarah clutched the bottle. He explored it with his
fingers. Then he shook his head and passed the bottle back through the
aperture. “The only way for suffering to end is for my people to wash
in the fountain I’ve provided. The fountain is always waiting.”
Shalamar laughed. “Do you think they’ll accept your
invitation? I’ve changed your world for them. Instant gratification is
theirs for the asking. You’re going to be difficult, I see. Have it
your way, ice cream man. I’m far from being done with you.”
A series of pictures flooded Martha’s mind. She
somehow knew that days were passing as these pictures paraded before
her. She saw Jarah being offered large boxes of sweetmeats; confections
that, when eaten, would give the consumer perpetual strength and
Martha saw women approach Jarah’s icy cell. The
fragrance of butteria clung to their garments. They whisperd sweet
words. Their hands caressed Jarah’s face through the aperture in the
Martha watched Shalamar bring armloads of maluria
fruit to the prison. The enticing fragrance made her mouth water.
Jarah resisted each mesmerizing offer.
On one particular day, Shalamar fashioned a large
game console from the air. “Just give me your hand,” he whispered.
“I’ll program your characteristics into a new game that will be featured
at the arcade. The game will be called A fountain Waits. Everyone who
plays it will honor you.”
Jarah’s face grew stony with anger. “My love for my
subjects cannot be contained in a computer game! I am always ready to
come to them.”
On another day, Shalamar selected a square alabaster
box from one of the tables. When he opened it, merry laughter filled
the room. Joyous shouts of praise reverberated in the air. Feelings
came at Martha from every direction; feelings of adoration, reverence,
and happiness. She knew that Jarah was experiencing these feelings as
“Adoration Oil.” Shalamar said. He placed his hand
on the ice cage. “You can open your eyes now, Jarah. Your sight has
been restored.” His voice was filled with anticipation. “Look.”
The vibrancy of Jarah’s eyes returned. He stumbled
as the dizzying images flooded in upon him. A sweeping panorama of
cities, mountaintops, countries and valleys stretched as far as his eyes
could see. Jarah gasped and began to tremble with desire. However, it
wasn’t the arrays of land that interested him. Martha saw multitudes of
people bowing and paying homage.
“All the kingdoms of Talura,” Shalamar breathed.
“They shall be yours. Feel the energy and passion of your subjects!
Feed off of them! Revel in their adoration! All you need do is kneel to
me. I will anoint your head with this oil. Submit to me, and we’ll
rule Talura together.”
Jarah’s face was strained. He gripped the
ice-cloaked interior of his prison. Despite the cold conditions, his
body was drenched with perspiration. “Get away from me, Shalamar! I do
not feed off of my subjects like a leech. I honor them. They must
worship only me, because only I can truly satisfy them.”
Shalamar snarled in anger. “I’ll get even with you,
Jarah! You have won this first round, but I’ll see you again. You can’t
escape me forever.”
“I will come back to this palace soon,” Jarah said,
“When I do, I will bring healing to my subjects.”
The false king laughed uproariously. “Yes, you’ll
come back, ice cream man. I’ll make sure of it.” Martha saw him cast a
look of searing hatred onto his enemy and angrily turn away.
The ice cage disintegrated, and Jarah emerged from
its cold depths. His body was emaciated. He stumbled and fell to the
Suddenly, two dazzling Lamuria’s materialized in the
room. Martha saw Shalamar’s mouth open in shock. He quickly sank into
the shadows. His entire body was trembling with anger and fear.
On the Lamuria’s glossy chestnut backs sat platters of food and
goblets of wine. The Lamuria’s sang joyful songs and lowered their
majestic bodies into prostrate positions of worship. “Great and Mighty
King! Well done! Eat, and then we will carry you away from here.”
The pictures faded away. Martha realized that she
had been crying. Her shoulders continued to shake, and her face was
drenched with tears. She reached for Jarah’s hand. “Thank you,” she
whispered. “What song do you want me to learn?”
Jarah handed Martha a piece of paper. “My song is
contained within this paper. Just touch it. The song will be
transmitted into your mind.”
Martha touched a hand to the paper. A vibrant melody
filled her ears; a melody that spoke of suffering and pain. Yet,
underlying this theme was one of joy. She allowed herself to become
immersed in the thrilling music.
The Feast and What Followed
The first feeling that Bruce experienced was a sharp
coldness. He shivered and tried to get his hazy mind to focus. He
could tell that he was standing on a hard, flat surface. Where was he?
Why was he so cold?
“H-Hello?” The word came out in a strangled gasp.
Bruce groped with his hands. Why couldn’t he feel anything? Gradually,
he realized that his hands were numb. The cold ate into every part of
“All right, boy! Get to work!” A harsh voice filled
his groggy brain. “Don’t just stand there!”
Suddenly, yesterday’s events flooded Bruce’s mind.
Nausea gripped his stomach. At the same time, he was a little
relieved. The voice did not belong to the king. It was gruff and very
harsh. Recognition dawned. “Elder Arnold?” Bruce whispered.
“I told you to get moving!”
“Wh-What do I do?”
“You grind this Marah spice. What else? It’s all
you’re good for.” The elder laughed harshly. “Like father, like son,
“I-I don’t under—“
“The spice is beside you, fool! It’s on your left.”
Bruce groped until he found a large jeweled jar. A
rotating handle was on the side of the vessel. The sweet fragrance of
Marah spice filled his nostrils. “You mean, I just turn the handle?”
Arnold laughed. “Good observation, boy. Get going.”
Bruce picked up the jar. It was very light. This
will be easy, he thought. He began turning the handle. As he worked,
the cold continued eating into him. Where on earth was he?
The minutes dragged along. Soon, Bruce noticed a
tingling in his arms. Was it his imagination, or was the jar growing
heavy? His shoulders began to ache.
“What’s going on?” he called. “Where am I?”
“Be quiet. Do your job. Talking is not permitted.”
Perspiration broke out on Bruce’s forehead. His
hands grew weak as the jar grew heavier and heavier.
Suddenly, King Shalamar’s smooth voice filled the
boy’s ears. “You may go now, Arnold. Well done. Good morning, Bruce.
Arnold has gotten you started. Excellent. Did you sleep well?”
Bruce shuddered at the sound of the voice. “I-I—“ he
Shalamar laughed. “You what, boy? State your
“I wanna know where Mom is, please, sir.”
“Why, she’s at a feast in my banquet hall; one
especially designed for her. Would you like to join her?”
Bruce’s heart leapt. He stopped rotating the handle
on the jar. “Yes, yes! Thank you!”
“I don’t hear you working.” An undercurrent of menace
crept into the king’s voice. “Begin again. While you do so, I’ll take
you to your mother.”
“Huh? But, how can I get there while I work?”
“You ask too many questions! Just do your work, and
I’ll do mine!”
Bruce gritted his teeth in anger and continued
turning the handle. He felt himself being lifted into the air. The
coldness still clung to him, and his arms throbbed. They felt as if
they were about to break.
In a moment or two, he heard the distinct sound of
jingling and a scream of pain. He felt a tremendous jolt, and his
“Well, Adelaide. Here he is, safe and sound.”
Shalamar’s voice held a broad smile.
“What have you done to him?” Mom’s voice was tense
and shook with fear. “P-Please! Have mercy, great king! We’ve done
nothing!” Bruce heard the familiar swish of his mother’s dress and
caught the distinct odor of peaches. The odd jingling accompanied her
movements. Mom screamed in agony.
Bruce didn’t stop to think. Flinging the spice jar
to the ground, he groped feverishly and tried to run toward the sound of
his mother’s cries. A cold breeze hurled him backward. He fell onto
the flat surface. With a twinge of horror, he realized he was encased
in a prison of ice. Laughter erupted around him.
Shalamar addressed the boy. “You broke one of my
treasures. Retrieve the pieces immediately. As for you, Adelaide, your
plea for mercy is not mine to grant. The decision rests with your son.”
Bruce frantically groped for the pieces of the Marah
jar. Sharp, searing pain cut through the coldness in his hands, and he
realized that he’d cut himself. “Mom, what’s he done? What’s happened
to you?” he gasped.
“I’ll show you,” Shalamar said. Warm air rushed into
Bruce’s prison. “You may come out now.”
Bruce stumbled from the enclosure. The scent of
peaches grew stronger. He stumbled forward and bumped into a raised
platform. He groped and discovered a chair and table on the raised
surface. His nostrils were assailed with the delicious fragrance of
roast beef, roast potatoes, and chocolate pie.
“Mom!” Bruce flung his arms around the woman sitting
at the table. Tears flowed from his eyes. Mom’s shoulders were
shaking, and Bruce could feel her bare arms which the garment did not
cover. He gasped. Her skin was jagged with scars and hot to his
touch. Mother and son clung together in fear.
Shalamar’s voice rang out sharply. “You’ll have
plenty of time to catch up if you cooperate. Now, Adelaide. Stand up!
Show your son what awaits him if he disobeys my orders.”
Bruce listened, his heart pounding with terror, as
Mom rose to her feet. The strange jingling noise filled the room.
Bruce, who still grasped his mother’s arms, felt round coins cascade
into his hands. Multiple showers of money fell to the floor. Bruce
explored the coins with his fingers. An unmistakable stickiness clung
to the money, and an acrid stench overpowered the smell of peaches.
“Stop!” he screamed. “Sit down, Mom!” He frantically reached out to
force her back into the chair.
The sharp buzzing sound that he remembered from last
night filled the air. The jingling sound began again as Mom walked
along the platform. The woman whimpered in pain but did not stop
walking. “She obeys me, Bruce, just as you do. Both of you are my
slaves.” Shalamar’s voice grew musing. “There’s a story written about a
woman who commits a murder. She uses a robe for her weapon. You see,
she places a slow-acting poison upon the garment. The poison is
absorbed into the victim’s skin. It’s one of my favorite stories. Of
course, I like to add my own embellishment. Why merely kill a person
when you can get something from them before they die?”
Bruce reached for his mother’s arm. Trembling, he
led her to the chair and gently helped her sit. A ringing sound filled
his ears, and his heart pounded. “All right,” he whispered.
Bruce removed Jarah’s ring and held it out. A current of air
snatched the ring and placed it into Shalamar’s hand. “What do you want
me to do?” Bruce asked.
Shalamar spoke gently. “I want you and your mother
to eat. Then, we’ll discuss business. Adelaide, I have another garment
for you. You may change before eating.”
“Don’t touch her!” Bruce screamed.
“Who said anything about touching her?” The king’s
voice was amused. “She’s quite capable of dressing herself, is she
The night air was crisp and cool. Crickets chirped,
and the streets were deserted. Only one seekcar glided smoothly along
the roads. In the front seat, Elder Arnold and Elder Charlotte
conferred in low voices.
Bruce huddled in the back seat. Fear gripped his
insides like a vise. A sour feeling of disgust and fear pummeled his
stomach. It would serve them right if he threw up on their precious
“Sensors detect difficulty. Vehicle cannot proceed.
Stopping now.” The seekcar’s engine came to an abrupt halt.
“Curse that ice cream man! He’s a sorcerer or
something worse. All right, Bruce. Get out. We’ll follow behind you,”
Bruce swallowed and obeyed. His legs trembled, and
the sound of Mom’s cries echoed in his mind.
Before leaving the palace, Bruce had been ushered
into the throne room for final instructions. As Elder Arnold had shoved
him inside, Bruce had heard Shalamar say, “Adelaide, you’ll stay here
until your son returns. While you’re waiting, I need more maluria for a
feast that is being prepared. Remove the thorns from this batch.”
As Bruce listened to these instructions, he noticed
the temperature in the throne room was freezing cold. Breaking free of
Arnold’s grasp, he ran forward and collided with a domed cage. His
stomach convulsed. The cage was made of ice. From inside, he heard a
methodical scraping sound as Mom carefully removed thorns from maluria
fruit. “P-Please, let her out,” he pleaded. “I’m doing what you want.”
Shalamar laughed. “Of course, but we can’t risk you
trying anything, can we? You’ll both return home tomorrow. I’ll send
you there in style. Regarding my promise about your reward; I haven’t
“I don’t want anything from you. If I do this, will
you leave us alone?”
“What’s wrong, Bruce? Are you tired of me already?
Yes, you have my word. After this errand, I’ll leave you and your
mother to your humdrum lives.” Shalamar laughed mockingly. Then, his
voice changed. All jocularity had vanished. “Now, the night is going
quickly. Get moving. If you so much as attempt to escape, your mother
dies. Is that understood?” The voice was soft and smooth as silk.
Bruce’s blood curdled in horror.
“I said, is that understood?” The voice trembled with
Bruce bit his lip. His fear was changing to anger.
“Yes,” he murmured.
Now, the boy listened to the signals given to him by
his slippers. He inched his way forward on the concrete sidewalk. From
behind him, he heard the stealthy footsteps of the elders.
Bruce turned right onto a narrow, cobblestone
walkway. He knew the ice cream shop was just ahead to his right.
Suddenly, footsteps came toward him. They sounded
heavy and sluggish. He heard someone stumble and a low moan of
distress. The voice belonged to Jarah.
As the man drew closer, Bruce felt revulsion towards
himself. He gritted his teeth. If only he wasn’t such a coward!
Jarah was only a few inches from him now. The man
suddenly spoke. “Whom are you seeking, Bruce?” His voice was strained.
“Y-You,” Bruce whispered. “I’m—“
“You’re always welcome here,” Jarah murmured. His
voice grew louder. “Arnold and Charlotte, I’m ready.”
The two elder’s stepped forward. “You’ll come
willingly?” Charlotte asked. Her voice was taut. Was she afraid?
“Yes,” Jarah whispered. “Inform your master that he
doesn’t have to resort to force. The time for his work has come.”
Bruce had only a moment to react. In that moment, he
reached out his hand and touched Jarah’s arm. “I’m sorry,” he hissed.
“I had to. He’s got my mom.”
Elder Arnold reached forward and jerked Bruce away
from Jarah’s side. “The king will hear about this, boy!” he snarled.
Bruce didn’t care. He’d felt something being placed
into the pocket of his uniform before Arnold had grabbed him. He
somehow knew that Jarah had forgiven him.
Arnold and Charlotte took Jarah’s arms. Bruce heard
a distinct whooshing sound as an icy air current wrapped itself around
the man’s body. “We’ll not risk it,” Arnold said. “You’re not escaping
us, ice cream man.”
Suddenly, a door crashed open. The scent of vanilla
wafted outward, and soft music filled the night air. “Mighty King!” a
harsh male voice screamed. “What’re you doing?”
A man hurtled past Bruce. The boy heard the distinct
clashing of metal and a howl of pain. Jarah’s voice bellowed above the
sound. “Robert! Enough! I forbid you to retaliate in any way. Put away
your weapon. I’ll not regain my kingdom through violence!”
After a moment, Jarah’s voice grew gentle. “Arnold,
you’ll be all right. Your hand is now restored.”
There was a stunned silence. Then, Charlotte said,
“We’re wasting time! Come along, Bruce.” She reached for Bruce’s arm.
The boy wasn’t sure what caused him to do it. He
wasn’t even aware of making a conscious decision. The only thing he
knew was that he was starting to run toward the door that was just
ahead. He heard Charlotte screaming after him to stop, but then
Arnold’s voice detained her. “Let him go. We’ve got who we wanted.”
Bruce catapulted toward the fragrant sanctuary of the
ice cream shop. He stumbled inside and ran headlong into a figure
silhouetted in the doorway. “Help me,” he whispered.
“Bruce?” Martha’s voice was filled with surprise.
“What’s happening? Jarah told us to stay here until—Are you okay?”
Bruce realized that he was shaking uncontrollably.
He grasped Martha’s arm and allowed her to propel him toward a stool.
When he was seated, he reached into the pocket of his uniform and
withdrew a square, velvet box. Opening it, his groping fingers closed
over a ring. He knew without being told that it was made of sapphire
and contained a pearl interior.
Bruce placed Jarah’s gift onto the ring finger of his
right hand. He began to talk.
The Music Therapy Room
“I won’t hear of it, Martha,” Dad’s voice was sharp.
“He told us to stay here. I forbid you to go.”
“Dad, you don’t understand. I have to help him. He
saved your life. He’s shown me so many things.”
“Weren’t you even listening to Bruce’s story?
Shalamar could kill you.”
Martha shuddered. She knew that Dad spoke the truth,
yet she also knew that Jarah had taught her the song for a reason. “I
wanna help him, Dad. You hafta let me go.”
Dad was silent for a long moment. Finally, he said,
“You’re as stubborn as your mother. I’m coming with you.”
The sound of a hand hitting wood came from a corner
table. “He won’t let us fight for him,” Robert said harshly. “Why go
if we can’t help him?”
“I think I know what he wants me to do,” Martha
said. “I’m going.”
Bruce rose from his stool and grasped Martha’s arm.
“I’m coming with you to get Mom.” His voice was calm, but it was evident
he was still frightened. His grip on Martha’s arm was feeble, and his
hand trembled. “How’re we gonna get into the palace? We can’t just walk
in. Shalamar’s nuts! He’ll do anything.”
“I have a way to enter the palace,” Martha said.
“I’ll use the Cyral Weaver Jarah gave me.”
Roberta rose from the table in the corner. “Can I
go, too, Mommy?” she asked.
Matilda gasped. “No, Roberta. It’s not safe.”
In the silence that followed, a beeping sound
arrested everyone’s attention. The sound was coming from behind the ice
cream counter. Trembling, Martha groped along the countertopfollowed
until she located the source of the noise. The sound was coming from a
rectangular box made of plastic. A round button was positioned on the
top of the box. Martha pressed the button.
Static filled the room, and then Jarah’s gentle voice
echoed around them. “Make the ice cream. All is in readiness.”
The machine shut off with a metallic click. “What’s
he talking about?” Martha murmured.
“The only way to find out is to go behind the
counter, I suppose,” Dad murmured.
“Come on, Roberta. You can help me explore,” Martha
The two girls hurried behind the counter. They
entered a spacious closet. They immediately smelt a rich assortment of
fragrances; every sweet fragrance ever known. There were even a few
aromas never smelt before.
Martha groped along the walls of the large room.
Beside her, she heard Roberta’s footsteps as she explored as well.
“Martha! I found something!” The little girl’s voice was shrill with
excitement. “It’s really cool!”
Martha reached out her hand. Her fingers encountered
a round, rough-textured tub of some sort. Was it a machine? She groped
along its edges but could find no buttons of any kind. The only thing
she discovered was a rotating handle. The tub was cold to her touch,
and she realized that the delicious fragrances were emanating from
within its depths. Suddenly, Jarah’s words on the day she’d came to his
shop sprang into her mind. “The secret is to use an old-fashioned
hand-cranked freezer. The flavors mix better that way.”
Of course! “It’s an ice cream freezer, Roberta,”
Martha said. “I think I know what you can do while I’m gone! You turn
this handle to mix up the ingredients.”
“But, I don’t wanna just stay here. I’m not afraid.
Can I please go?”
Martha hugged Roberta close. “Don’t you understand?
Jarah knows he’ll be coming back. Maybe the ice cream’s for a
celebration after Shalamar’s banished. Won’t it be great to have the
ice cream ready and waiting when Jarah returns?”
Roberta hesitated. “Yeah,” she finally said. “I
hope this ice cream’s mint chocolate chip!” The little girl laughed
Martha hugged Roberta once again. “Thanks for
inviting me that day,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I was so mean to you.
I’ll bring Jarah back. I promise.”
As Martha left the room, the sound of sloshing cream
told her that Roberta had already begun working. Above the sound of
preparations, Martha heard the little girl humming happily.
Back in the main room of the shop, Martha took
Bruce’s right arm. Dad stood on her left side. She placed her finger
into the Cyral Weaver. Instantly, the mesmerizing symphony of music
swelled. The fibrous carpet of melody materialized and wrapped itself
around them. They soared away.
The carpet jolted gently as the group was deposited
on a fibrous mat. The sound of a zomore echoed around them. Recorded
music always played in this room unless a therapist was making the
rounds. Patients loved when real musicians played because they always
took the time to whisper words of encouragement. Martha sighed with
relief. They had arrived in the music therapy room without incident.
The therapy room was large and spacious. Martha
heard movement from the bunkbeds that were arranged in three rows along
the walls. People thrashed about and moaned in pain. Why wasn’t
everyone calm? The therapy room was usually a tranquil place. Martha
trembled with apprehension. As she listened to the patients cries of
distress, she realized for the first time how truly terrifying the music
of the zomore was. She listened to the recorded music with new ears.
The melody filled her heart with fear and despair. Nausea gripped her
stomach. Why were things so different today?
The music stopped abruptly. Shalamar’s voice filled
the room. Martha heard Bruce emit a gasp of terror. “Well, well. So
glad you all dropped in. I must say you are stubborn. Now, the time
has come for all of you to be transported to my throne room. A matter
that concerns the entire kingdom must be addressed. Be still, and the
ride will go smoothly.”
Martha cried out in shock. It had been a trap the
whole time. She’d stumbled into it without a backward glance. She
cried, “I’ll not do anything for you!”
Derisive laughter filled the room. “Don’t waste my
time, girl. I’ve got more important things to deal with than you. Did
you not think you’re arrival here was entirely too easy? Are you such a
dimwit that these truths don’t penetrate? Now, be quiet and stand
Martha shivered in terror. What could they do? She
grasped Bruce’s arm, and they braced themselves against one of the
bunkbeds. Martha touched the railing of the bed and gasped. She
realized something she’d never noticed before. The bed was encased in
an ice-cold net. Martha explored the net with her fingers. Jarah’s
story about his first time at the palace filled her mind.
As she continued exploring the net, Martha’s cold
fingers touched small holes at the top of the net. Her heart began to
“Bruce! Dad!” she said desperately, “Go touch the
other beds. I need to know if—“ At that moment, the large room tilted.
Martha’s head slammed against the icy net. Coldness bit through her,
and she crumpled to the ground in a faint.
The Perfume of Suffocation
“I told you to be still!” Shalamar’s voice called
Martha’s head spun. She realized she was standing
up. She began to shiver.
As her wild heartbeat of terror gradually calmed,
sounds filled Martha’s mind. She heard happy chatter. The fragrance of
maluria filled the air. What was going on?
Martha took a step forward. Instantly, her feet slid
out from under her. Her flailing arms smacked into a hard, cold wall.
She knew that she was trapped inside a prison of ice. She also realized
that her feet were now encased in cloth slippers. Where had Jarah’s
boots gone? Frantically, she began pushing against the walls of the
tight enclosure, but they did not yield.
“Don’t try my patience,” Shalamar said. His voice
seemed to be coming from a long distance away. “You left your shoes at
your home, and I thought it best to return them to you. If you
cooperate, there’s no reason for you to fear. Now, there’s work to do.”
Martha banged at the wall again. The only result was
that her hands grew increasingly numb. “I-I won’t obey you,” she
whispered. Her voice wasn’t nearly as defiant as she wished it to be.
No response came. Instead, Martha heard the staccato
snapping of the king’s fingers. The happy chatter that surrounded her
“My subjects, a misfit in our kingdom must be dealt
with.” Shalamar’s musical tones echoed. “He caused trouble in his own
hometown of Nuria. When they banished him in disgrace, this ice cream
man, (who claims to be a king), came here to our capital city. He has
come simply to spread his vicious slander and poisonous lies. In Nuria,
he caused unrest and riots by stirring up the people. I have proof of
his conduct. Listen.”
A harsh buzzing filled the room. Martha smelt waffle
cones and the sweet aroma of vanilla. She realized that Shalamar must
be fashioning these scenes with his hands. It was as if the king were
playing an arcade game of some kind.
Jarah’s voice called out cheerfully, “Hello,
Bennett. Isn’t it a beautiful day? Fudge brownie’s the flavor you want,
The swishing sound of slippers accompanied a man’s
sharp gasp of surprise. “I-Um, yes. Word has spread about your shop,
and I wanted to try it for myself.”
“I’m glad you came,” Jarah said. “I like your blue
robe, by the way.”
The man laughed in genuine bewilderment. “What are
you talking about? What is blue?”
“Blue is a color of tranquility and peace. Would you
like to see it? I offer you the gift of sight if you are interested in
“Sight? What is that?” Bennett’s voice had acquired a
sharper edge. He still sounded friendly, but a twinge of fear was
“Sight is understanding. I offer you a life of
Bennett laughed uproariously. “You really are an odd
character, I must say. I already live a life of vibrancy. I work hard
at my job as a game designer. I find time for amusements as well. My
life is fine.”
“Your life is empty.” Jarah’s voice was sorrowful.
The resounding sound of a hand hitting a hard surface
filled the room. When Bennett spoke, all good-natured humor had
vanished. “You dare to mock me? Who do you think you are? I just came
in here for some ice cream. Get it for me and stop preaching.”
Other angry voices filled the room. Martha surmised
that a crowd must be gathering. “Answer him, ice cream man!” another
harsh voice called, “Who do you think you are?”
“I am the only way to the fountain,” Jarah’s voice
rang out. “I am the true king.”
There was a long, deadly silence. Then, derisive
laughter filled the room. “You? A king? You’re just a merchant like the
rest of us. You dare to speak treason? We’ll not have it! Get out of
“I will go,” Jarah murmured.
“Yes, you’ll go! We’ll make sure of it! We’ll take
you to King Shalamar’s palace ourselves. You need to learn some
The brief sound of a scuffle was followed by a
surprised gasp of shock. “Where did he go?”
“I have a portion of his coat, but I can’t—Where
could he be? Someone help me find him!”
The sounds ended abruptly. In the stunned silence
that followed, Shalamar’s voice rang out. “You understand now? This
rebel called Jarah contaminates our land. He claims that we lead empty
lives. After making his accusations, he slips away. What say you, my
people? What should be done to such a cowardly troublemaker?”
“Traitor! Traitor!” Voices filled the room; voices
filled with fear and fury. “He needs to be taught a lesson!”
“I am bringing the impostor before you,” Shalamar
said. “You can pass judgment on him yourselves.” The king’s voice
assumed the tones of a concerned father. “All of you appear to be
shivering from cold. The very air that surrounds you trembles. While
you are waiting for the traitor to appear, enjoy the muffins that have
been provided. Partake of the mulled cider that sits beside you.”
Martha was becoming more chilled every moment. For
the first time, she became aware of the pungent scent of cinnamon.
Groping with her hands, she discovered a large mug sitting on a round
table to her right. Beside the mug sat a saucer that held three maluria
muffins. The warmth of the mug helped to ease the numbness in her
chilled hands. Martha longed to taste the hot drink. Trembling, she
bit her lip and forcefully placed her hands into her pockets.
Footsteps echoed, and Martha’s heart constricted.
She recognized the unique sound of Jarah’s boots. She wanted to plead
with him to run away, but her voice wouldn’t work.
“Impostor, you claim to be a king,” Shalamar said.
“You assert that something exists called sight, and that we lead empty
lives. My people strenuously object to what you imply. Do you have
anything else to say to them?”
Jarah’s voice was soft, but there was no possibility
of misunderstanding him. “Shalamar feeds off of you all. I have come
to provide abundant feasts of joy. Come to me and be washed and
nourished. See again.”
The crowd laughed. “You live in a fantasy world!” a
woman called; her voice emerging thickly. Martha surmised that the
speaker’s mouth must be crammed with muffin. “We have plenty to eat!”
“You are eating poison,” Jarah murmured. Compassion
and pain throbbed in his voice.
“Kill him! Kill him!” the woman screeched.
Other people took up the cry. “Kill him! Kill him!”
“No! Shalamar’s lying!” Martha tried to make herself
heard, but it was no use.
“The people have spoken,” Shalamar said. “Very
well. His execution will occur tomorrow.”
The people cheered. Shalamar’s voice broke through
the noise. “The day is passing quickly. Work must be done. All of you
return to your jobs. You’ll be summoned to the execution when the time
arrives. There will be a feast afterwards, of course.”
The swishing of slippers told Martha that people were
leaving the palace. Panic gripped her. Now what? She had to find a way
to rescue Jarah! She groped around her prison, searching for some way to
As Martha continued exploring the enclosure, she
discovered an object she hadn’t noticed before. A zomore lay on the
table beside the cider mug.
Shalamar’s voice filled her head. “You’ll remain
there for the rest of the day, Martha. You might as well entertain
yourself. Play music for me. The time will go faster if you do.” His
voice grew soft and persuasive. “That traitor has poisoned you with his
lies. I know you possess a rare gift for music. You can do so much
good in this kingdom. If you’ll only submit to my will, I can give you
Despite the terror Martha felt, her cheeks tingled
with a blush of pride at Shalamar’s praise. She was disgusted with
herself for wanting to listen to him. At the same time, his persuasive
words seemed to wrap themselves around her like a cocoon of comfort.
Suddenly, joyous applause filled Martha’s mind. Her
father’s voice spoke. “You make me so proud,” he whispered.
A hand touched her shoulder. “You’re the best
musician I’ve ever heard,” a woman gushed.
Longing filled Martha’s heart and overrode
reasoning. She thought about the prestige of becoming a music
therapist. Surely, it wouldn’t hurt to play just one song.
Martha traced her hands along the zomore’s glossy
surface. The scent of cedar wood filled her nostrils. She placed her
fingers into the holes and began rotating them. The shivery music
erupted around her.
Angrily, Bruce pounded on the unyielding wall of ice.
“It’s useless, boy,” Shalamar mocked. “You and that
girl are really starting to get on my nerves. You’re staying in that
cage, so you might as well keep busy. Grind some spice for me. I might
consider leniency if you behave. Don’t be stubborn like your father. I
was forced to make an example of him. He’d been approached by a
violator. I won’t tolerate defiant subjects. Anarchy would reign if I
didn’t reprimand those who deserved it Do you understand what I’m
saying to you?.”
Nausea gripped the boy’s stomach. His ears rang, and
he suddenly understood the reason behind Mom’s tiredness. She wasn’t
just exhausted from her hard work; she was literally being eaten alive
Bruce touched the table on which sat the cider mug
and saucer of muffins. It would be so easy to eat the pastries and sink
into oblivion. But, no. If he fell asleep, there was no telling what
Shalamar might do to Mom. Angrily, he flung the saucer onto the icy
ground. He heard it shatter.
Bruce touched the table once again. His groping
fingers discovered a Marah jar identical to the one he’d broken
yesterday. What choice did he have? There was little point in just
standing here. Until he came up with a plan, he might as well work.
Mom’s safety depended on his supposed cooperation.
In his mind, Bruce heard Dad’s voice. “The secret to
grinding spice is to rotate the handle in alternating directions. The
first turn, you go right, and the second you go left. Pretty simple,
Tears stung Bruce’s eyes. He began turning the
grinding handle; right, left, right, left, right—
As Bruce worked, a strange feeling crept over him.
At first, the feeling was barely perceptible. Then, it gradually grew
stronger. The feeling was a choking sensation. The boy’s heart began
to pound. His lungs constricted, and his hands began to tremble.
Was it her imagination, or was something wrong?
Martha felt goosepimples rise on her arms. She wrenched her hands from
the holes of the zomore. Pain sliced into her fingers, but she managed
to yank them free. A rancid perfume attacked her nostrils. Above the
ringing in her ears, she heard a strange hissing sound.
Martha remembered the mixing machine at her house.
She thought of Dad’s asthma attacks and how ovaltine soothed him. When
the machine was preparing the hot chocolate, it hissed as the
vitamin-rich powder was pouring itself into the milk. That hissing
sound was exactly what she was hearing now.
Why couldn’t she breathe? Her lungs felt as if a
giant’s hands were squeezing them. Martha began to panic.
Shalamar sat upon his throne. He quivered with
delight. The time had come! Gleefully, he listened as Jarah paced up
and down the vast throne room. The sound of pouring powder made
Shalamar laugh aloud.
The false king smiled to himself. His subjects had
been told to go to their jobs. How wonderful to know that even though
they had supposedly left the palace, they were never far from him.
Jarah’s execution could occur immediately. The muffins guaranteed
Shalamar six hours in which he could torment his foe. His subjects had
no idea that they were the ice cream man’s murderers.
“Remember to enter each cage, Mighty One,” Shalamar
instructed. “That’s very important.”
Martha had fallen to the ground. She thrashed about
in terror. The cold ice seemed to gouge her very flesh. Every breath
was a struggle. Far in the distance, she heard the distinct sound of
Dad’s raspy coughing. Where was he? She had to find him!
Suddenly, a hand touched hers. Someone gently helped
her to stand. “Martha, I am here.” Jarah’s voice. It was raspy and
trembled with agony. The man emitted ragged gasps as if he, too, were
fighting for breath.
“G-Go,” Martha tried to scream, but she could barely
Jarah feebly squeezed her hand. “See, Martha,” he
The dizzying array of colors crashed upon Martha’s
eyes. When she could focus, she began to tremble; her eyes filling with
Her prison of ice was exactly like the one she’d felt
surrounding the bed in the music therapy room. At the top of the domed
ceiling, she could see small holes. A brown, oily powder was seeping
into the chamber. The substance covered her from head to toe. Martha
remembered the days at school when she’d worked with the clay-like
substance called amria. She thought she’d been preparing medicine. Now
she realized she’d been preparing her own death.
Jarah’s grip on Martha’s hand diminished. “I’ll have
to leave you here, Martha. You’ll be all right now.” His voice was
“All right? But, I can’t—“ she began. Then, Martha
stared in shock. The oily powder no longer covered her. It had affixed
itself to Jarah’s body. She saw that the sticky substance clung to him
in layers like frosting on a chocolate cake. Jarah’s muscles were
quivering, and he struggled to stand upright.
“P-Please,” Martha whispered. “I’m sorry. Let me
take it back.” Her voice trembled.
“I would never give it back to you,” Jarah
whispered. He passed through the wall of her prison. Apparently, the
wall was transparent for everyone except her. Martha began to sob.
The Marah jar fell from Bruce’s trembling hands and
shattered. The boy coughed and desperately gasped for air. Suddenly, a
hand touched his. “Bruce. See.” Jarah’s voice!
An astonishing array of pictures flooded into Bruce’s
mind. He gasped as he saw that a sticky, brown powder covered every
inch of his body. Bruce grimaced in disgust and tried in vain to wipe
the powder away. The only result was that the substance seemed to
increase. His hands sank into the muck. The powder’s texture resembled
lumpy cottage cheese or, worse, curdled milk that had been dumped into
rotting refuse. Bruce’s stomach somersaulted at the unspeakable odor
that suddenly burst in upon him. From a distance, he heard jeering
Quickly, the boy shifted his gaze to the vast throne
room. His heart plummeted in shock.
The throne room was filled with cages identical to
his own. They seemed to stretch into infinity. Surely, Shalamar’s
throne room wasn’t this big, was it? The most startling aspect of the
sight was the imprisoned individuals.
Bruce saw some people who were, like him, staring in
horror. These individuals were not covered with the powder. However,
the majority of the prisoners were performing useless tasks; utterly
oblivious to the deadly, choking cloud of powder that rained down upon
them. Some of the people played arcade games. Others, Martha’s father
included, picked jamrack plants. Bruce saw that his mother was still
methodically removing thorns from maluria fruit. He realized that she
was smothering as she worked. Bruce began to scream in panic. All
common sense vanished as he hurled himself at his prison wall.
A gentle hand pulled him backward. “It’s all right,
Bruce. I am here.” Bruce turned toward the weak voice. Jarah! He’d
forgotten the man was beside him. When he looked at the ice cream man,
the boy gasped in horror.
Jarah was completely encased in the thick powder.
His features were barely discernible. The man’s breathing was labored.
Bruce was astounded that Jarah was able to stand at all. “Why?” the boy
asked, his voice choked. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I must. My very nature demands it. I would
do it even if no one understood.” Jarah feebly squeezed Bruce’s hand.
“You’ll be all right, now.” He passed through the wall. The powder that
had covered Bruce’s body had been carried away. It had been transmitted
“That’s right, Jarah. Enter every chamber. My
precious pets will entertain you with their many talents. Gaze upon the
diversity of my realm.”
Jarah staggered, and his gasps for air filled the
entire room. Shalamar could feel the choking vapor from the poisonous
perfume as it clung to his enemy. He laughed with glee.
The false king listened as Jarah approached the final
cage. The woman within was harvesting jamrack.
When Jarah entered the cage, he emitted a guttural
groan. The final deluge of powder cascaded onto his body. Shalamar
heard Jarah fall as his knees buckled under the weight.
“No, no, Mighty One. You cannot die yet. You must
stand before me.”
Slow footsteps announced that Jarah had managed to
exit the cage. He stumbled forward until he reached Shalamar’s throne.
Shalamar’s restless fingers finally stilled. They
hovered in the air and quivered with delight. “You seem to be weighed
down with distress. You are choking under the weight of these
insignificant simpletons, aren’t you? They are so self-absorbed. Most
of them weren’t even aware that you entered their cages.” Shalamar’s
words were filled with mockery.
“There were those that knew,” Jarah murmured.
“Who? Simple children? Do you expect them to rescue
you? Enough! The time has come.”
The usurper withdrew a glittering knife from the
folds of his honey-colored robe. “This brings back so many memories,”
he whispered triumphantly. The knife glowed and seemed to pulsate with
the dark energy of hate. It was the very knife Shalamar had tried to
use the day the king had refused to promote him. “We could have ruled
Talura in perfect harmony. Why were you so stubborn? You pathetic fool!
Now, my revenge is complete. Did you honestly think that taking the
amria upon yourself would heal these brutes? These people are my
cattle. I fatten them for the slaughter.” He laughed and spat at
Jarah’s feet. “You cannot rescue them. Victory is mine.”
With a vicious thrust, Shalamar drove the knife into
Jarah’s chest. Blood gushed forth as the true king fell to the ground.
“Die, Pure One! Die!”
Jarah lay in a crumpled heap. His entire body
convulsed, but he managed to raise his right hand. He clutched the hem
of Shalamar’s dazzling robe. A tremendous whooshing sound filled the
entire room. An avalanche of amria powder gushed from the false king’s
body and completely submerged Jarah’s form.
Shalamar shrank backward with a cry of shock. “Spare me your pity!”
he screamed. His voice no longer sounded remotely musical. He sounded
like a cornered wild animal.
Jarah didn’t respond to the outburst. Instead, he
addressed the imprisoned people. “The portal has been made. It is
done.” He emitted one final gasp and lay still.
Shalamar quickly dismissed the twinge of foreboding
that nagged at his mind. His hands hovered over Jarah’s still form.
The man was dead. Laughing, the usurper drove his hands into Jarah’s
face. His nails left jagged scars. Ecstasy coursed through his veins.
Finally! He was free from that interloper of a king! The people belonged
to him entirely.
Shalamar raised his hands and fashioned another
cage. He lifted Jarah’s amria-encrusted body and flung it into the icy
chamber. He quickly closed the chamber with a hermetic seal that no one
could open. Now, all would be well.
Martha’s mind whirled with numb shock. Everything
was ruined. She’d failed in every way.
When Jarah had left her, Martha’s vision had
vanished. She had listened in horror to the exchange between Shalamar
and Jarah. Now there was no hope.
Martha angrily brushed tears from her eyes. She
refused to just stand here while Shalamar fed off of her. She didn’t
care if he killed her. She was getting out of this prison if it was the
last thing she did.
Biting her lip, Martha hurled herself at the icy
wall. Her hands bumped into the cold substance, and she suddenly
gasped. Was she imagining things, or was the wall warmer than before?
Tentatively, she groped along the impenetrable shell. Coldness bit
through her hand almost everywhere she touched. Only one triangular
portion of the wall was different. This portion was vibrating slightly
and was definitely warm. Martha shuddered. What was going on?
Suddenly, a soft voice spoke. “Martha?”
“Bruce?” Martha’s heart began to pound. “Wh-Where
“I’m in a prison like yours,” Bruce whispered. “I
think our cells are side by side. Is there something strange about your
“Yes! There’s a spot that’s warm. Bruce, what’s
“I don’t know. I didn’t do anything, did you?”
“No. I think Jarah must have done something. Did
you hear him before—“ she swallowed, “before he was killed? He said—“
Bruce finished the sentence. “The portal has been
made! Do you think—“
“Let’s try something. Why don’t we hold our hands to
the triangular spot for a moment. Maybe something will happen.”
“All right.” Trembling, Martha placed her hand on the
spot. The vibration of the wall increased, and a portion of the ice
began to melt. Martha suddenly felt Bruce’s hand clasp hers. The
musical gurgling of a fountain of water filled her ears.
With a rending crack, a doorway suddenly opened.
Martha cried out in excitement. “Bruce! This is it! There’s a way out!”
Bruce whooped in delight. “Come on!”
The two companions clasped hands. Their minds were
filled with what they’d experienced. Tentatively, they each took a step
forward. The world seemed to tilt, and warmth engulfed them. They felt
as if they were being bathed in translucent waters. They both felt a
sharp twinge of pain and heard a scream. They knew that the scream came
Quickly, the pain disappeared, and their nostrils
were assailed by the rich aroma of waffle cones. A jolting sensation
was followed by a little girl’s cry of delight.
“Momma! Momma! It’s ready! They’re here!”
Martha felt the outline of the ice cream counter.
Her fet no longer were encased in cloth slippers. She wore a pair of
boots. She and Bruce were back in Jarah’s shop. She flung her arms
around Bruce’s neck.
Martha now understood what the word joy meant. Her very soul seemed
to pulsate with an inner peace that no one, especially Shalamar, could
Bruce returned Martha’s embrace. This fact proved he
had changed. The old Bruce would never have hugged her. Martha laughed
and turned toward the sound of Roberta’s voice. “Hi, Roberta. You made
the ice cream, huh?”
The little girl laughed. “It was real fun! And, it’s
mint chocolate chip!”
“Don’t be silly, darling,” Matilda murmured. She
laughed quietly. “It’s butter pecan, my favorite.”
Robert spoke. “Well, I tasted cherry.”
Martha gasped. “He knows everyone’s favorite
flavor,” she murmured.
“Where is he?” Roberta asked. “You said you’d bring
Martha’s lip trembled. She hugged Roberta close.
“I’m really sorry,” she whispered. “He’s—“
“We know,” Robert murmured. “He came to us here in
the shop. Roberta was in the back making the ice cream.”
Martha was dumbfounded. “What do you mean he came
here? He was in the throne room.”
“I think I understand,” Bruce said. “Jarah helped me
see. When Shalamar seized power, he constructed Talura like the arcade
building. It’s a big building with lots of cubicles. We’ve been raised
like rabbits. He just blinded us to the fact that we lived in cages.”
Martha shuddered, but she was not surprised. “I
still don’t understand, though. Why did he come here? You’ve all been
“Yes,” Matilda said. “When we called to the true
king to take us to the fountain, the amria covered him as we washed.
I’ll never forget the sight. He came today to tell us what to do.”
Martha swallowed. “I know,” she murmured. “We hafta
go back to the palace, don’t we?”
“I gotta go back and try to get Mom,” Bruce said.
“We gotta go back and offer ice cream to the people,”
Roberta said. “Jarah came to me in the back room. He said it was very
“They won’t listen to us,” Robert said
“Some might,” Martha said. “Come on.”
The group all joined hands at the ice cream counter.
The tub of ice cream sat in front of them. Martha touched the
rectangular box upon which Jarah’s message had been recorded earlier.
The group was lifted into the air as the world tilted once again.
The Cyral Weaver and the Ring
Noise in the throne room was deafening. The people
flocked around a domed, circular contraption in the center of the room.
Each person touched the contraption and jeered. It was as if they were
not aware that the ice prison existed.
“You thought you were so high and mighty,” a woman
spat. She groped along the exterior of the prison. She kicked outward,
and her foot collided with the cage. She laughed.
Other people followed her example. “Long live our
true king!” they cried.
Shalamar leaned back into the cushions of his throne.
He quivered with laughter. These people were such idiots! He’d numbed
their hands to such a degree that they believed they were touching
anything he said. The people had no way of knowing that they were only
touching Jarah’s icy tomb. While they were occupied, Shalamar gorged
himself. The feeding frenzy was marvelous!
The king ate and ate: glutting himself on his
subjects. Finally, he felt the currents of air grow feeble as the
people grew increasingly weak. They fell backward and crumpled to the
There were a few individuals who had refused to join
the others in their sport. The defiant ones were still securely locked
in their prison cells.
Shalamar raised his hands. “Well done, my people.
All of you must be tired and hungry. Let the feast begin!”
Delicious fragrances filled the air. Every kind of
food you could imagine appeared on a massive table beside the tomb. The
people hurriedly rose and took their seats. They began to eat with
“Now, now,” Shalamar called. “Where is your
self-control? Let us all raise our glasses to the extermination of
traitors. Let us—“
Suddenly, a beautiful symphony filled the room. The
music was utterly indescribable. Shalamar gasped in shock. What was
the meaning of this? Those fools!
Calmly, the king raised his hands. “Foolish
violators.” His voice emerged in a deadly whisper. “I’ll make all of
you die slowly. You’ll experience excruciating--”
A fiery pain suddenly erupted throughout his entire
body. Shalamar gasped and struggled to stand. He was so gorged from
his feast that he could barely move. Angrily, he tried to raise his
hands again, but it was no use. It was that boy and girl! Jarah’s gifts
Quickly, Shalamar began to sing. His mesmerizing
voice echoed around the room as he attempted to drown out the symphony.
The Cyral Weaver’s music only grew louder.
“You cannot win!” Shalamar thundered. “I am the
ruler of this kingdom! I have taken my rightful throne! All people
belong to me! I am—“
“You have been weighed and found wanting,” a
reverberating voice echoed.
Gasps followed this strange pronouncement. Stunned
silence echoed around the immense room. The silence was charged with a
mixture of fear and anticipation. Suddenly, the entire room began to
shake. The plates and cutlery on the table clattered loudly. Decanters
of wine fel with earsplitting shatters. People began to scream.
A low rumble filled the air. In the throes of agony,
Shalamar felt Jarah’s tomb tremble. The ice disintegrated with a
plaintive screech. Jarah stepped forward, his footsteps reverberating.
“You are dead,” Shalamar gasped. He shrank back in
terror as he felt Jarah’s hand clasp his arm. “I felt your life’s blood
flow over my hands! I drove the knife into your chest!”
“Amria’s poison is diluted when it encounters a
person of purity,” Jarah murmured. “I did indeed die, but your poison
could not withstand justice’s demands. Your time of reckoning has come,
The Lamuria forced himself to stand. He transformed
into the dazzling creature who had entered Talura Park on that fateful
day of deception. “I will never submit to you,” he snarled. “I have a
kingdom of my own, and I would rather rule in a domain of darkness than
“You have passed judgment upon yourself,” Jarah’s
voice was filled with compassion. His voice grew louder as he addressed
the entire assembly. “The time has come for decisions to be made. I am
waiting to reclaim my kingdom. Those who wish to be saved must come to
Shalamar’s voice echoed around the room. “Do not
listen to him, my people. He only wishes to enslave you all. What do
you truly lack? I give you so many delights. Stay with me.”
The people began to murmur among themselves. The
scraping of chairs and nervous fidgeting filled the room.
Martha, Bruce, Roberta and her parents approached
numerous people. They offered them cupfuls of ice cream. Those who
accepted the treat gasped at the delicious multitudes of flavors.
“Ummm! Strawberry. My favorite,” a woman murmured.
“Strawberry? Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone knows it’s plum
flavored,” a man laughed. Those who tasted the ice cream were laughing
with good-natured humor. Each individual gasped as dizzying arrays of
colors filled their eyes.
Several individuals approached Jarah and clasped his hands. However,
many people flinched and pushed the offered ice cream away. “It’s a
sorcerer’s trick!” a woman snarled. A ring of subjects approached the
shining Lamuria and clambered onto his back. “Long life to our true
king!” they cried.
Shalamar’s body quivered with triumph. Without
warning, he lunged at Jarah in a blind fury. His gigantic chestnut
stallion torso collided with the king and drove him to the ground. The
people on his back screamed in terror. Some tried to dismount, but the
crazed creature was cantering and jerking in such a way that they dared
Shalamar raised his massive elephant’s feet and
prepared to bring them down onto Jarah’s body. “I’ll crush you to a
pulp, Mighty One!” His voice seemed to tripple in volume.
Calmly, Jarah rose to his feet. “I told you your
time of reckoning had come,” he said. “You cannot escape justice.”
Lunging forward, the true king clasped his hands
around Shalamar’s torso and forced him to his knees. He raised his foot
and brought it down upon the Lamuria’s majestic eagle’s head. An
earsplitting scream of agony made the very walls of the throne room
shake. Once again, the room began to tremble. A large chasm opened
before Shalamar’s throne. From within the yawning hole, flames licked
The tongues of fire wrapped themselves around the
arrays of cages and swept them into the burning lake of flames. The
flames were of a supernatural variety, for the icy cages did not douse
The fire wrapped itself around the writheing Lamuria
and those who stubbornly clung to his back. The usurper and his
rebellious subjects were submerged into the gaping mouth of fire. Their
screams of absolute emptiness and unspeakable pain would never be
Jarah raised his hands, and Shalamar’s throne
crumpled in upon itself. It, too, fell into the gaping hole. Then, the
chasm closed forever.
The people who had joined Jarah fell to their knees
with cries of joy and thanksgiving. The king circulated among them all,
enfolding each individual in his arms. “All is accomplished,” the true
Martha stood clasped in the arms of her father. They
were standing before a massive gate. Martha knew that beyond this gate
awaited the true palace of Alphaomega. “I’m so proud of you, Martha,”
“Will Mom be waiting for us?” Martha asked.
“I’m certain of it.”
Beside Martha and her father stood Bruce and his
mother. All of them turned back to the newly restored Kingdom of
Talura. The entire kingdom glowed. The very air smelt of strength and
purity. Animals of every sort cavorted around the people’s feet. “I
feel stronger than I ever have,” Adelaide told her son. She bent down
and stroked the large head of an animal that stood before her. “Lion,”
Bruce grinned. “I can’t wait to hug Dad,” he said.
At that moment, Jarah approached the large crowd.
“This gate will now always stand open,” he said. “My kingdom is yours.”
With that, the king touched the massive gate. It
opened with a reverberating whoosh. He stood at the entrance and
touched each person as they hurried into the courtyard of the
magnificent palace. “Welcome,” he told each and everyone.
As Martha stopped before him, Jarah squeezed her
hand. “Well done,” he said. Then, he raised his voice to address all
his people. “All of you can now see. Your true life has begun!”
The dark cloud that had descended over Talura
vanished with a rending crack. The people’s eyes grew vibrant with
Martha clutched Bruce’s arm. “Seeing is not the best
part,” she whispered.
“No,” Bruce said. “I’d rather be physically blind
forever if that was the only way I’d be able to see him.” He gestured to
Jarah, whose face glowed with a joy that was tangible.
As the group stepped into the vast courtyard,
beautiful Lamuria’s met them bearing lavish platters of food and singing
joyous songs of welcome. Everyone entered into a life so marvelous it
is impossible to describe. The Kingdom of Talura had been thoroughly
remade, and a new story was about to unfold; a story in which each
chapter was better than the one before. Justice had prevailed, and all
things had been made new.