Paul’s First Adventure: A Story of Transformation

 

Paul’s First Adventure

By James Harris

 

1

“After leaving the darkness for the light, one must first enter into a deeper darkness.”

 

Paul awoke to the sound of his favorite song. It was the alarm on his cell phone, the latest model that could do almost anything: play songs and movies, broadcast television programs, and access the internet at any time and place. For Paul, it was a constant source of entertainment, and so he carried it around with him wherever he went. Without it, he felt almost as if he were naked or alone, like a dog with no owner or a sheep with no shepherd. Thus, he kept it close to him at all times, even while asleep.

His finger tapped the “snooze” button on the touch-screen, hoping that a few more minutes in bed would turn into an eternity of sleep. But, of course, as everyone knows, that never happens. Sure enough, the same song began playing again. Feeling a bit grimy and a bit hungry, he felt it was finally time to make the effort and roll out of bed. He disabled the alarm, pulled the messy covers off his back, and slowly stretched his legs out to stand up. He checked his phone again, this time, not for the “snooze” button, but for messages.

Each time Paul checked for messages, there was an internal excitement that sparked. He was always hoping that he would receive that one message that would change his life. It could be something small or big; it did not matter to him, as long as it was something new, fresh, or exciting. Unfortunately for Paul, he never really received anything like this, but only basic, daily feelings and events from people that actually should not be messaged at all, like, “Bored at work…” or “Eating a delicious steak with Mike…”. Yet, that was the popular thing to do at the time.

When checking his phone this time, however, Paul was doubly disappointed after reading “No new messages”. “What a horrible way to start off the day,” thought Paul. In fact, most people felt the same way when they did not receive any messages, but no one ever dared to express such feelings. It would come off as being weak to trifle over something so insignificant, though, nearly everyone felt the same way as Paul. The truth was, it was indeed insignificant, because life was never made any worse by not receiving such useless information, but to Paul, as well as many, it was necessary to receive such things.

Always after looking at the message icon on his phone, Paul checked the time. It was 1:11pm. It was time for a shower. His feet shuffled across the soft, carpeted floor of his room and into the hallway until he reached the bathroom. He turned the knob of the shower to a point where the water would be hot and steamy, not so hot that it would burn the skin, but so that it would be like that of a Jacuzzi. He undressed and stepped inside, phone still in hand. It was waterproof, so Paul could even listen to music from his phone in the shower if he wanted to, which he often did.

After about five minutes’ time, the hot, steamy water began to fade into a lukewarm blah, and as the comforting sensation from his skin began to disappear, so did Paul’s spirits. “It must be someone downstairs using the hot water in the sink,” he thought, “That person is stealing all of my hot water.” Again, this added to the already “not-so-good” of a day that Paul was beginning to have. He stepped out of the shower, dried himself off, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He proceeded to clear off the fogged-up mirror and look at his face.

Paul did not have a dreadful-looking face, though he would have said otherwise. He was accustomed to noticing every imperfection rather than every perfection, despite the good features heavily outweighing the so-called “ugly” ones. He was an ordinary, healthy fourteen-year-old boy, how bad could his face really be? There were a couple pimples emerging on Paul’s forehead that he was not too happy about. There was also a small scar on his left cheek. It was from a small accident when he was five, running around the coffee table in the living room, only to fall and gash his cheek on the corner. But besides these petty factors, Paul looked just fine, though he did not recognize it, nor did anyone enlighten him regarding this issue.

He returned to his room and threw on a pair of shorts and one of his favorite t-shirts that had a popular brand name written on the front. He owned about forty different t-shirts but wore only ten of them regularly because those were the ones considered to be “cool”. Why those brands were better, he himself did not quite fully know. It was just that everyone his age thought they were so, and Paul never wanted to do anything that would contradict that, though deep down, he did not want to be so bound by the opinions of others.

At the bottom of the closet was his shoe collection. It was not nearly as large as his collection of t-shirts, so Paul never really felt bad about having too many shoes, and especially since girls were the ones who supposedly had too many. But actually, Paul did not notice the size of his wardrobe at all. It was just something else there. His shoe collection was composed of a pair of white, a pair of brown, and a pair of black casual shoes. He also had flip-flops and sandals for summer months; basketball shoes, baseball cleats, and football cleats for sports; and pair of shiny black dress shoes for holidays or special occasions. This was a typical amount for a boy his age. Perhaps, an adult, however, would have possessed many more pairs.

He decided that his current look would be sufficient. It was time for him to go downstairs. In his mind, he could have gone without seeing his parents. Being alone would have been much better than having to listen to constant arguing over why it was the other’s fault that the mail never made it into the mailbox in time to be picked up, or that there was a juice stain in the carpet, or that one was not listening to the other when he or she was speaking. But Paul’s hunger was getting to him. He had felt his stomach start to growl ten minutes earlier, and he never wanted to let that go on for more time than he could handle.

Leaving his bedroom, he walked into the hallway past the hardly-used-at-all guestroom. It was occupied, at most, once or twice per year when an aunt or friend would spend the night. Everything in that room matched. Absolutely every item was a navy blue color, from the curtains down to the fourth pillow on the queen-size bed. Besides those occasions, one would never even have noticed the guest room to be part of the house. It was just something else there. And there were many other rooms and even objects in the house that were hardly used or thought of at all. But, according to Paul’s family, it was necessary to have such things.

Paul came to the staircase and treaded down the stairs, with his phone of course, finally to enter into the world where stuff was happening. His first thought was to satiate his hunger with a hearty breakfast, and so he approached the kitchen. If Paul was not awake by that point, he certainly would have been by the sound he heard next. It was his father screaming and banging who knows what.

“This stupid computer keeps crashing on me! Why doesn’t anything ever work!?” he yelled.

“Why don’t you call the company? They will know what to do,” suggested Paul’s mother.

“Why don’t you call the company and help me out?” barked his father, “I always have to do everything by myself.”

“Can you stop yelling?!” yelled his mother, “Call the company, now!”

Paul was not at all interested in partaking in such a conversation, or lack thereof. His parents’ arguing distanced him from the two of them. He felt far off. His parents, however, never quite realized that lacking in love and respect for each other would produce the same effect in their son towards themselves. Yet, that was the case, and no one could pretend otherwise and still be honest with him or herself.

There never was a conversation between Paul and his parents. The closest that they ever came was when Paul was much younger and his mom would tell him not to do something. As any kid would, Paul cutely responded, “Why?” The answer he would get was, “I will tell you when you are older,” or sometimes, “Because I said so.” But Paul never did get an answer to that question from his parents. Perhaps, it was because the whole thing was forgotten about. That is, at least, what Paul hypothesized. Yet such a question is never truly forgotten about, for it affects every action of everyday life. The reason that the question was not answered was either that Paul’s parents did not really know why one should not do something that was supposedly wrong or that they knew why but did not like to talk about it because it would make them obvious hypocrites.

There was no care for this now, however. The better option in Paul’s mind was to put in some earphones and listen to music, which he did. He opened the refrigerator, looking for something tasty. To his delight, he found an entire glazed doughnut left over from the other day. The shine alone was too appealing to resist, and he quickly grabbed it and took a bite. He was off in his own little world now.

Thankfully for Paul, it was a summer day, which meant he did not have to go to school, that place where students would learn subjects like algebra, literature, health, computers and other “useful” subjects. Though algebra was supposed to make the students think more logically, most of the students were not too logical. Though literature was supposed to make the students think more poetically, most of the students were not too poetic. Though health class was supposed to help the students become healthier, most of the students had no sense of living a healthy life. And though computer class was supposed to make the students put technology to good use, they used it for almost nothing but wasting time. Such was the school experience for Paul and his classmates.

If anyone were to ask them, “What do you know?” they would perhaps name a few names of people or events that they had learned from their classes. But if anyone were to ask them, “What can you do?” very few of them would be able to say anything other than, “I can play a video game,” or “I can find out what so-and-so is doing.” This was the future generation, the ones who would become the next politicians, police officers, doctors, businessmen, and teachers; they would be the ones taking care of their future families and their future community, and any sensible person could see how those things would be once that generation was in charge.

Paul heard the internal voice shout, “Television!” and so he walked over into one of the living rooms (the one his mom was not in) and sat on the couch looking for the remote. As seen earlier, nothing was quite working out for Paul on this day. He was hoping that the remote would be on the couch so that he would not have to get up to turn the power on and change the channel. Instead, it was sitting on top of the television. Paul groaned as he had to shuffle himself off the couch to stand up. He hastily snatched the remote, turned the television on, and began watching the news.

Even though it was a summer day, Paul was not in the habit of going outside much. He had no siblings, and there were very few neighbors with children, not that his family spoke much to the neighbors anyway. There was no one with whom he could have good fun as any child or teenager should have. Plus, it was considered by his parents to be too hot out, and the air conditioning suited them just nicely. They were “conscious” of Paul’s health and did not want him out in the sun too long, because he could get skin cancer. Yet, if anyone else were to recognize such pale skin on Paul, one would see that a little sun never hurt anybody.

Paul paused the music to which he was listening in order to hear the blabbering of a news reporter: “Towns across the state are losing power for the first time in five years. Some families have had to endure one, two, and even three hours without electricity in their homes. Experts claim that these outages may be caused by too many people using their air conditioners all at the same time…”

Just at that moment, all the noise that was happening disappeared into a sudden silence; they had lost power, too. Silence, it was Paul’s worst enemy. He could not stand being more than five minutes without a song, program, or game. He never learned the benefits of thinking, reading, and praying. These practices were of the past, and the majority of people at Paul’s time were more like him regarding this matter. However, the silence lasted no longer than a few seconds.

“NOOO!” shouted Paul’s father.

“What just happened?” asked his mother in a confused fashion.

Paul walked around to the other room where his mother was seated and poked his head out to briefly talk to her. He did not dare put his entire self in the same room as her. That would be giving too much of himself to another, and Paul never could give of himself entirely. “The power went out. They said it was because too many people were using the A/C,” explained Paul.

His mother, totally surprised, jumped at the sound of Paul’s voice. She turned her head to look at him and said, “Paul, you’re awake. You scared me.”

“Hi, Paul,” said his father from the computer room.

“Hi, Dad,” he responded. But that was enough talk with his parents until dinner time. He made the retreat to go back upstairs for a while until he could find something fun to do that did not involve electricity; (though he always had his phone, it could not remain a main source of entertainment, only a secondary one). Only after a few strides towards his escape, another unattractive conversation erupted between his parents, and that made him all the more relieved to be leaving them.

He walked up the dark staircase until he reached the top. Upon his arrival, he nearly toppled back down the stairs and was a bit shaken up. He had tripped over a flashlight that his father had left there after doing some work in the attic, and the fact that it was his father who left the flashlight there distanced Paul from him even more.

Paul reached down, picked up the flashlight, and switched it on. It was one of those flashlights that can shine all the way down an entire block. It is fun to use, but it cannot be used much because people will come out of their houses and start complaining. Although this device was much simpler than his phone, Paul found it to his liking. He pointed the light to his left and then to his right; he pointed it up and then down. He paused for a moment and aimed the light back up at the ceiling. There was the door leading to the attic. It was the one place in the house Paul had never been before.

“Well, there is nothing else to do,” reasoned Paul. He pulled the drawstring and the attic door began to open. Everything was pure darkness. The stairs to the attic unfolded downward, leaving a path to ascend into the unknown abyss. The only guide he had was that flashlight that almost killed him. He started the journey upward and was really beginning to hope that he would find something interesting and exciting. “Wait,” thought Paul, “What if there isn’t anything worthwhile there? Or worse, what if there are rats?”

But at this point, there really was no other option for Paul. He could go back down and sit in his room, playing with his phone and feeling more and more disappointed. He could also descend even further to the first floor and be with his parents, but anything would be better than that. So, he continued the climb, though he did not know exactly to where he was going, nor did he know what he would find there.

He stuck his head out the top of the entrance so that his eyes were just above floor level. Immediately, he shined the flashlight in every direction to make sure the coast was clear. In one corner was a pile of unlabeled brown boxes. In another was a pile of clothes that had been sitting there since Paul’s family moved in seven years earlier. The rest of what Paul found would take too long to be described but simply can be called “junk”.

Pulling himself up, Paul’s whole body was now in the attic. He was not at all interested in the clothes or junk, but found himself really yearning to know what was in those boxes. He aimed the flashlight at his target and began crawling. Paul felt as though he were on an adventure. In fact, this was the most adventurous thing he had ever done in his entire life.

The boards beneath Paul’s knees and hands began to creak and bend. Paul really was not sure if he was going to make it to the boxes or if the entire floor was going to collapse, but he was determined to make it. That sense of wonder within his mind drove him to his goal, and if that were ever taken away from him, all hope for him would have been lost in that very moment.

Finally coming within arm’s reach, he grabbed the first box which sat on the ground in front of two boxes that were piled on top of one another. It was surprisingly very light, and he lifted it with one arm to bring it to himself. He opened up the top flaps which were not taped shut and looked inside. Empty. “How could it be empty?” thought Paul feeling quite discouraged. He took the second box which felt to be the same weight as the first one. He quickly looked inside, hoping to find redemption. Empty. It was another empty box.

Now, Paul was feeling even more discouraged than before. There was no hope for him except for that which lay in the third box. Hesitantly, his hand approached the open cardboard flap and gave a tug. “Yes!” whispered Paul excitedly. This box had weight to it, and quite a lot one might add. Instead of pulling this box closer to himself, he went closer to it. He threw all four flaps open in excitement and stuck the light of the flashlight dead in the center.

“Oh, man,” murmured Paul disappointedly, “It’s just a bunch of books.” Paul never liked books. He thought reading to be one of the most boring activities that ever existed and could never understand why a certain group of rare souls would engage in it. Yet, someone should have told Paul that reading is never the problem, rather it is a question of what one reads that makes all the difference in one’s life.

He reached his hand in the box and pulled out the first book. It was a thick, hardcover book. He shined the light directly on the front cover and read “Family Psychology”. He laid that book to the side and pulled out another one. This one read “Statistical Analysis”. “These must be my mom’s textbooks from when she was in school,” realized Paul. And seeing the titles of these two books made Paul despise reading even more.

He laid the second book on top of the first and reached in the box to pull out the third. He immediately liked the feel of this book as soon as he touched it. It was a black, leather-bound book with gold-trimmed pages that nearly blinded him with the reflection of his flashlight when he shined it on it. This one was different. He sat Indian-style on the floor of the attic and gently placed the book in his lap. He opened to a random page (though everyone knows there is no such a thing as luck), and at the top it read “The Acts”. Feeling a bit awestruck, his eyes gazed towards the middle of the page and began reading the words: “Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do.”

Paul continued reading what was in the book for another minute or two and found many interesting things. “I have never heard this before,” thought Paul. “Why haven’t my parents and teachers told me about this?” he questioned.

He stopped for a second and looked up. There was a light coming from the entrance (now exit) to the attic. Paul could also hear the noise of people speaking. “The power is back on,” he inferred. He gathered the books and stuffed them back in the box. Believing the power to have returned, Paul forgot all about that book (and the flashlight). He scurried over to the opening and began to make his journey downward.

Halfway down, he stopped and took a good look around. It seemed something was different, but perhaps not something, rather everything seemed different. The walls, the floor, the colors, the textures, the temperature, everything was different. The shock finally hit Paul, realizing what seemed to have happened. He cried out, “This isn’t my house!”

 

2

“Nothing new is ever built without something old being broken.”

 

Remaining in disbelief, Paul simply gazed upon the astonishing new sight of where he was. He indeed was no longer in his house, that large, comfortable, wretched place. This place, however, seemed to be somewhere out of history. He had first looked at the walls, which were made of wood. There was no wallpaper, no paint, no paintings, no object of any kind, just the walls. He then had looked at the floors; wood again. There was no carpet, no rug, no tiles, only wood.

Several table-and-chair arrangements (made of wood) were set up throughout this “wood world”. Actually, it was not a world of wood, only the first few objects Paul had seen in that place were made of wood. But, of course, there is always the danger of believing that everything that exists in the immediate also exists everywhere else. And that is what happened to Paul in that moment.

Paul was still unknowing as to where he was. He quickly began to feel that this place had no air conditioner. He felt the sweat start to build up on his forehead and then drip down the sides of his face. Though sweating was a natural, healthy bodily function, Paul never liked doing it if he did not have to. The only time he could handle sweating was when he was playing sports. Like any player, he would be too focused on the game to worry about sweating and the temperature (and rightly so). It was only when focusing on some end objective that Paul could overcome difficulties. However, when he focused on himself, the most insignificant things turned into seemingly the biggest problems.

His eyes continued surveying the new environment and fell upon a long counter. They then followed the counter until they came upon the most frightening scene yet. To be honest, in itself, it was not frightening at all, but a good thing. In any case, there were two men standing there talking to each other, neither of whom Paul had ever met in his life, and that is what was frightening to him.

They were each standing on one side of the counter partaking in an amicable conversation. The one on the far side of the counter appeared to be taller than the other man who was actually fairly short in stature. From a distance, Paul could not make out anything unique about their appearance other than that they were wearing a different style of clothing than what he was used to seeing, and also that they both carried full beards that hung two fist-lengths off the chin.

Paul could not make out much, but this is what he did manage hear: “Thank you for your hospitality,” said the shorter man.

“No, thank you,” responded the man behind the counter. “You have done more for us than for which we could repay you in a thousand years… Why are you giving me this? This is not necessary.”

The shorter man had given the other one a few shiny coins. One of them looked as though it were made of solid gold. “For your work,” he said. “Besides, where I am going, money has no use. Use it for the good of your family and the poor. Remember, if you never give, you can never have love.”

The taller man opened his mouth and smiled, and tears began to stream down his cheeks. He bowed his head and shoulders down in a way that made it seem like he was asking for something. The shorter man then made some hand gestures and uttered some phrases Paul had never seen or heard in his lifetime, though perhaps they existed. The other man made some sort of a response and then stood erect again. He waved farewell as his friend strode away, not to be seen for some time.

Paul was really beginning to wonder where he was and what was going on. Everything that had just happened was entirely strange to him. He was not used to seeing two people act so kindly toward each other, and one of them, a man crying. Paul had always learned from his peers, as well as his father, that men should never cry. Yet, anyone can see the insanity in that. Crying is, in a way, just like laughing. You can hold it in if you try, but you feel more relieved letting it out. It is an ordinary reaction of the body, and there is nothing wrong with it. But that thought never conquered Paul’s ego. He was more interested in pleasing others than acting how he was supposed to. Everyone thought the person in travail who did not cry was tough. They were wrong, because tears are tougher than vanity.

At that moment, Paul finally put it all together in his mind, that is, the fact that he had just come out of the attic in his house and, by some miraculous event, ended up in a completely new place. He began to doubt. He got scared. He forgot the reasons why he had wanted to leave his house in the first place. For Paul, however, there was no time to think about that now. He simply had to get out of there.

Paul’s body tensed up, and just as he was about to make the climb upward, a providential thunder froze him in his tracks: “Son. Hey, there. Come down here.” It was the man behind the counter. He started to move out from behind the counter to approach Paul. There was no escape now. He had to confront the man.

In that instant, Paul wished he were back at home where everything and everyone was familiar to him. He thought that the whole adventure he had set out on was a terrible mistake. But Paul should not have let such passing thoughts vex him. In the end, he still had no idea where this adventure could bring him or where he might end up. It might be better than that old life of his, and that certainly would make it worthwhile. And if one never takes the risk of adventuring, one’s stagnant life will decay into a pile of rotted bones that look like they have been sitting in the same spot for ages. They will do nothing, see nothing, and more importantly, be nothing.

Coming to grips with the situation, Paul slowly stepped down the ladder until both his feet reached the floor and made the wooden panels creak. He was expecting the man to still be near the counter. Yet, as he lifted his eyes, there was the man standing before him. Getting a close-up view of him, he could not only see but understand more of this mysterious man who had just cried no more than two minutes ago.

“Son, what are you doing over here? Are you lost?” the man asked. Paul could not help staring at the man, but it was not exactly his fault. After all, the whole thing felt like something out of a movie. The man’s face was rather large. His hair was dark and curly, and his beard was not any different. There were a few manly wrinkles on his face, and his skin looked as tough as leather. His nose was round, and his eyes were dark but gentle. The most distinctive feature of the man’s face was a pair of scars; one ran vertically down from the his right temple to the top of where his cheek began, and the other was a bit shorter and ran perpendicular to it, just below his eye and coming to the side. The two scars together formed the shape of a cross.

The man never told Paul their origin, though he would have liked to have known. It was from a precarious situation that happened just two years earlier. The man had been riding his horse home after dropping off some iron tools at his sister’s house (the tools were for her husband). It was never wise to ride alone at nighttime, for it would be dangerous, and one could easily get lost. But dusk was only just beginning to emerge, and so the man thought it safe to travel.

About halfway through the journey, while riding on the same dirt pathway he always used to take, two dark figures sprang up out of the wayside and knocked him flat off his horse. They were thieves. The first one immediately attempted to mount the horse and ride off. (The original plan between the two thieves was to kill the rider, take his money, and ride off together on the horse. But as you will see, that did not happen, because thieves are selfish by nature, and so sharing never lasts too long between them.) But the horse was so startled that it bucked wildly and threw him off, leaving him unconscious on the ground.

The second thief quickly approached the rider, who lay winded after being knocked off his horse by the two thieves. The thief drew a small, shiny object from his side and approached his victim. That object turned out to be a knife. Fortunately for the man, he was anything but helpless. He was quite wise and always desired to be prepared, because just a little bit of preparation goes a long way.

At his side was sheathed a medium-size sword that had been given to him by his father. Though he had never taken the life of another, nor did he want to, he knew the sword would come in handy at some point, and he therefore carried it with him whenever he traveled. This time, however, he was a bit late in utilizing its power.

The thief lunged forward, wildly slashing his weapon. The man was on one knee attempting to stand up with his head bent forward just as the first two slashes came in. It was a vertical stroke followed by a horizontal stroke which both gashed opened the man’s face, nearly blinding him and eventually leaving the scars at which Paul was staring. The man backed up, dodging the next three slashes from the thief. He then took up his sword, keeping the sheath on, and cocked his arm back.

The thief, in desperation, was planning to throw the knife at the man. He was desperate because for the majority of his life, he had only trusted in himself. And seeing now that his plan was failing, there was no hope for him left. But before he could even retract his arm, down came the sword of the man (still in its sheath of course). It cracked dead on the thief’s fingers, sending the knife flying to the side twenty feet out of reach.

A yelp came out of the thief’s mouth, mostly from the pain but also from fear. He immediately grabbed his injured fingers and in disbelief looked up at the man. He took two steps backward but was trembling so much that he stumbled and fell down onto his back. The man stepped forward to the feet of the thief like a towering giant looking down at an insignificant fly which he could squash with one stomp of the foot.

The man was indeed large. Paul measured him to be about a foot taller than himself, and he had a sturdy build to him. The thief, however, was more worried about that sword that the man still wielded in his hand, and he kept his eyes on it. He thought the man would unsheathe it right there and end his life. The truth was, the man never had any intention of doing that. He kept a tight grip of the sword only because he was unsure of the next move of the thief, and he knew he could not trust him, for one should never trust someone who has just tried to do harm.

Actually, at that point, the man would not have needed the sword at all to finish off the thief. He had bear’s paws for hands; they were so thick he could have choked the man to death with only one of them if it so pleased him. Nonetheless, it is not what you have but what you do with what you have that matters.

Legally, the man had the right to eliminate his enemy who had first assaulted him and drawn first blood. That would have been what most people would have done. However, the man generally liked to focus more on doing what he knew to be good in itself rather than on what people called good. At this moment, therefore, the man performed an act so controversial, so revolutionary, that not even he foresaw its coming.

He knelt down on one knee next to the thief and reached into his own side-pocket. He took out a single coin and placed it in the hands of the thief, which were still clenched together after taking a well deserved punishment. The man put his lips to the ear of the thief and whispered these words: “If you needed some help, you could have just asked, and I would have given it to you.” He then stood up and began making his way toward his horse. The thief simply lay where he was in astonishment, not looking at the coin, nor looking back at the man, but was amazed by the fact that he was still alive and breathing. The one whom he had just attempted to dice into pieces had spared his life and given him a second chance at getting himself straight.

“Easy, easy,” said the man to his horse who was still rattled from the whole ordeal. The horse knew his master’s voice ever since being a little pony and was always much happier when hearing it. Seeing the beautiful harmony between them would make anyone wish that such existed between all people.

The man was not finished yet. He still had the other thief to reckon with. He went over and in a similar way knelt down on one knee next to the man. Though the thief had been knocked unconscious, he was still breathing and was already beginning to wake up. He would be alright, just a bit sore the next few days. “The horse my family needs,” the man said, “But to be fair, this is for you.” He smiled, took out a second coin, and flipped it up in the air; it landed on the thief’s chest.

Those two coins, it was all the money he had made in an entire day’s worth of work.

After standing up, the man realized that the wounds on his face were really starting to drip with blood and that they needed attention. He unsheathed his sword and cut a long strip of fabric off the bottom of his cloak. The strip of fabric he wrapped tightly around his head and tied a knot in the back. Though it would temporarily cover one of his eyes, one eye was all he needed to travel, and the man was just thankful he did not lose his vision in that battle. Plus, the man knew very well the benefits of giving up something temporarily in order to gain something greater in the end, so this whole incident was not so much a mishap as it was a blessing.

The man finally reached his horse. He looked it in the eyes, stroked its head, and said, “Peace.” By some grace, the horse had not run off after being startled by the thieves twice. Its nerves calmed upon feeling the touch of its master. The man mounted his horse and rode home faster than ever before, never once looking back. And that is the story of how the man got those scars on his face.

“Son… Son, are you alright?” asked the man. Paul had been staring at him like he was an anomaly.

“I’m ok,” he managed to speak.

“What is your name?”

“Paul.”

“The same name as a good friend of mine who just left. It’s a wonderful name. Do you know what it means?”

“No.” (Paul was not really any good at conversing, nor were many other people of his generation. They preferred more to send short little messages electronically and never see the other person. So, they were not in touch with the natural way of communication.)

“No?!” the man exclaimed shockingly. He was not surprised so much by the fact that Paul did not know but that he did not seem to care. “Then, that is something you must find out. It’s an important part of who you are.”

But Paul was repugnant. He never could handle advice or criticism given by others, and he only liked to listen to himself. So, he tried to ignore what the man had said. Someone in Paul’s life should have told him that all people are in need of help from others, and this can only be beneficial. One cannot remain healthy without the help of food and the people who provide it. One cannot be warm, covered, and protected without the help of clothes and the people who make them. And one cannot see one’s own face without the help of a reflection. However, Paul did not think much of these truths. In fact, he did not do much thinking at all.

“My name is Gabriel,” said the man without Paul even asking. “It means ‘God is my strength’. It is nice to meet you, Paul.” Paul did not say anything but instead gave a quick nod. He was not really sure if he was happy to meet Gabriel by any means. At this point, he much rather would have been back at home drinking a cold soda and listening to music.

Paul began to pat his legs feeling for where his phone would normally be. Upon feeling nothing, he frantically reached into his pockets only to realize the horrible truth; his phone was missing. It must have slipped out of his pocket during his adventure in the attic. In his mind, he had to have it back. It was too important to be without. What if something were to happen to it?

It was not certain whether or not the attic still existed. There could have been some totally new place up the stairs and into the attic just as there was when Paul came out of the attic and down the stairs. The only thought on his mind, however, was that phone. So, he immediately made up his mind to leave this new place and find his phone at all costs; (he had forgotten a second time why he had left his house in the first place).

Again, right as Paul was about to turn to make his trip up the stairs, Gabriel gently lay his thick hand on Paul’s back, inviting him over (away from the stairs). “You must be thirsty, and perhaps hungry,” inferred the man. “Would you like something?”

Paul thought about it for a couple of seconds and said, “Okay.” He did not resist the pull of Gabriel to go farther into the building. He forgot about his phone as soon as the man had spoken to him. Sometimes all it takes to leave behind some preoccupation is interaction with another person. Paul was actually a bit unsure as to whether or not he could trust the man. However, he figured that he would not have ended up in this place if everything were just to turn into a total tragedy, so he might as well have trusted him for now; there really was no other option anyway.

Paul sat down at a round, wooden table close to where the counter was while Gabriel went back into another room. He sat there thinking about the man and what he had said. “Why does he keep calling me ‘Son’?” Paul thought bafflingly. “He is not my dad.”

He was confused, surprised, and pensive all at the same time. “Son” was not an appealing title to be called by some stranger, and Paul did not like it much. At this stage, Paul’s image toward Gabriel, however, was not one of hate (nor love), though he did admire certain aspects of the man. The man’s physical appearance was something Paul was not at all accustomed to seeing. Most of the men in Paul’s time shaved off their beards. The popular opinion was that beards were ugly and dirty things that normal people should not have. Yet, Paul could see from the man that a beard was not so bad a thing, and he admired that aspect of the man.

Gabriel’s physical size and strength were also something worthy of praise. They were a reflection of all the hard work the man had done throughout his life, in contrast to the majority of men Paul had known who were overweight and could hardly move themselves, never mind anything else. He admired that aspect of the man as well.

However, Gabriel’s gentle and fatherly disposition was repulsive to Paul. He was not used to being cared for in such a direct and open way by anyone, so it was hard for him to handle such affection by another. And so Paul detested that aspect of the man, though it was in fact a good thing. The reality was that Paul could not handle it very well, and inside he blamed the man for that, despite it being his own fault (as well as of those who raised him).

Gabriel came out from the room carrying a wooden cup in one hand and a wooden dish in the other, (now, Paul was really beginning to think that everything in this place was made out of wood). He placed them in front of Paul and sat himself down in a seat on the opposite side of the table. Paul looked down at the gifts that had been given him, but as spoiled as he was, he thought them to be more of a punishment than gifts.

“You better let the water settle for a minute or two first,” suggested Gabriel.

Paul took the cup and looked inside. It certainly was not the purified crystal-clear water he was used to seeing. There were specks of dirt swirling around within, which was why Gabriel suggested he let it sit. On the dish was what appeared to be a piece of bread. “Subpar bread and water…what a welcoming treat,” Paul thought arrogantly. This was possibly his worst sin yet: scourging the generosity of a caring man.

He then picked up the bread and, by the strength of his teeth, managed to break off a chunk in his mouth. Yet, when he began to chew, he was not quite sure whether he had taken a bite of the dish instead of the bread, for it was much harder to eat than he was used to. Paul was, in fact, eating the bread; it was just a bit coarse and stale.

“You know, Paul,” said the man, “when I first saw you, I thought your name was that word on your shirt.” Gabriel was referring to the brand name printed on the front of the t-shirt Paul was wearing.

Paul did not say anything but simply thought, “Well, that’s a dumb thought by him.” Actually, it was Paul’s thoughts that were foolish, not Gabriel’s. The man had never seen a word written on clothing before, so he was not quite sure why Paul would have one there. Paul thought it as something normal and even “cool”. After all, most of the people he knew did the same. What he did not realize was that with that name on his shirt, he was unknowingly advertising for some company that did not care about him at all but only enjoyed taking his money. And any sensible person can see the contradiction in that situation.

After a few moments, Paul finally asked the question, “Where am I?”

Gabriel gave a good chuckle. One could not really blame him either. Paul had asked the question in a way that made it seem like he thought he had gone to bed and woken up on another planet. Though this is not quite what happened, Paul certainly was in a unique state.

“This is an inn,” said the man, “my brother’s inn to be exact. I am taking care of it until he returns.” Gabriel did not bother mentioning what city or country they were in. He just assumed Paul already knew, and that was not a terribly culpable assumption. Have you ever met a fourteen-year-old boy who was hanging out at some place and simply had no idea where he was?

Paul took a sip of the water. It was not as bitter as he first thought it might be. An inn. He was gradually beginning to figure out what had happened to him. He knew that no inns existed in his time, but he remembered hearing about them from somewhere as being like motels of the past. What must have happened was that upon reading that mystifying book in the attic, he was transported back in time. How far back, Paul could not tell. Whether it was one, two, or three thousand years in the past, he was uncertain. For all of those time periods were quite similar in many regards; it was only the modern times that were vastly different.

He put the cup down and began to speak, “Look. I’ve had a rough day, and I didn’t even…” Gabriel’s face immediately grew stern, and the fiery gaze of his eyes alone made Paul so fearful his tongue clung to his palate. Gabriel sprung up out of his seat, knocking it onto the ground. His tree-trunk legs thudded over towards Paul, which he was almost sure felt like an earthquake.

Gabriel took his big right hand, grabbed Paul by the face, and yanked him onto his feet. He inspected Paul’s face, twisting his head to the right and then to the left, as if he were looking for something. He then grabbed Paul’s arms and looked at those. He turned him around, lifted up his t-shirt, and scanned his back.

When Gabriel was finally done, he turned Paul back around and said to him in a rather annoyed and surprised voice, “You haven’t got a scratch on you at all, not a nick, a prick, a bump or bruise! No rash, cut, scrape, or scab! If you have had a rough day, I beg you to explain yourself.”

Paul was feeling quite nervous at this point and could only utter out this jumbled mess of a sentence, “Um, uh, well, this morning, I mean, this afternoon, I woke up and, uh, no one messaged me and, um, when I took a shower, uh, the water was cold, and, um…”

The man calmly placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders and said tranquilly, “Paul, do you know I just gave shelter and bade farewell to a friend who was nearly beaten to death for committing no other crime than speaking the truth? If you think you have had a ‘rough day’, I suggest you go talk to him and see what he has to say about ‘rough’.”

In that moment, Paul’s ego had been made into a tiny, little bug and stomped on by Gabriel’s foot of correction. Paul, at this point, was feeling broken and sad by the whole situation. This was only natural, but Gabriel saw it as a good thing; either way, he had to break Paul’s spoiled nature and let him know when he was wrong.

If Paul were younger, this would have been the point where he would start crying in the hope of getting the adult to retract what he had said. Instead, since he was fourteen, he stood there with a pout on his watery-eyed face, trying to gain some sort of sympathy from the man. But Gabriel was accustomed to the tricks of children (and adults) who tried to gain power over him, and so he did not buy Paul’s attempt. Though, Gabriel did present this kind offer to him: “Son, I know you are a bit lost. Why don’t you spend some time at my house with my wife and kids? If you tell them I sent you, they will certainly give you a warm welcome. My wife is a great cook and my children will love to play with you.”

This seemed like a pretty good idea to Paul. He was getting tired of being in this wood world of an inn with nothing but hard bread, dirty water, and a man who wanted nothing except to scold helpless boys (though, of course, this was not true). Paul also liked the thought of receiving a “warm welcome” from a loving family, which he had been missing for most of his life.

“Alright,” Paul said with a hopeful attitude.

“I have to remain here at the inn until tomorrow afternoon, so you will have to travel by yourself. Can you ride a horse?” asked the man.

“No,” he responded.

“Hmm, well, then it looks like you’re going to have to walk.”

 

3

“Godspeed, sojourners of the world.”

 

“Walk?!” Paul spoke the word in a way that made it seem like he did not want to do it at all.

“Of course,” replied Gabriel. “How else would you get to my house?”

“By car…” This time, Paul said it as if Gabriel should have known this. But he forgot he was in the past now and that there were no cars for ninety-nine percent of history. Paul had always thought of a car as something owed to him as a human being, while he should have treated it as a great luxury. Most people in Paul’s time were like him, however.

Gabriel understood “by car” to mean “by cart”. He said, “No, there is no cart here. You will have to walk. Don’t worry it’s a short walk – only a half hour.”

“A half hour?!” exclaimed Paul.

“Why? Have you never walked a half hour before?” asked Gabriel.

Paul remained silent. In fact, the longest distance he had ever walked was to the end of his block, a mere ten minutes, which is why he said nothing. He was so used to being effortlessly transported place to place that having to walk somewhere made Paul think he was being chastised. For some reason, he never learned that walking was the basic way of travel and that all other means were simply extra gifts.

“Do not be afraid,” assured Gabriel. “You will be fine.” He walked over to the front door of the inn and opened it. “Come. It is time for you to go,” he said.

The bright sunlight shone through the doorway and onto the floor of the inn. A gust of wind rushed in and relieved Paul of his sweating (of which he had forgotten ever since he began conversing with the man). “Okay,” he said acceptingly. He walked over into the light, and after feeling the warmth of the sunlight on his skin, Paul believed that everything would be alright. “But how do I get there?” he questioned.

Gabriel responded, “Walk out here to the left and continue straight on the road. Do not leave it until you reach my house. It is a white house, the first on the right, and I assume my children will be outside running about, so you should not miss it. Pay no attention to the houses on the left side. If you start thinking about those houses, you may be led astray. Stay the course, and you will make it. I promise you that.”

“Thank you,” Paul replied.

Gabriel gave Paul a gentle pat on his back. “I bid you well, Son,” he said.

Paul slowly took a few steps until he was entirely outside the inn, and Gabriel carefully shut the door behind him. This was no goodbye by any means; the two were supposed to see each other the next day. Paul was still not quite sure what to make of him. He was big, yet in some way, humble. He was tough, yet in some way, tender. Paul never learned about the paradoxes that exist in life, and so Gabriel’s persona left Paul in a state of confusion.

He turned and looked back at the closed door of the inn. Knowing that there was no going back, Paul made the resolve only to move forward and see where this adventure would take him. Being outside, the first thing he noticed was the fresh air. In Paul’s time, pollution ran rampant, leaving the air smelly and unhealthy and damaging natural life in numerous ways. According to the people, this was worth the convenience of making things quicker and easier. In any case, Paul really felt the joy of breathing for the first time in his life.

It was hot outside and the sun was strong, but whenever someone felt like he or she was going to overheat, the wind would pass by just in time with a soothing cool. The color green seemed to be everywhere, and an aura of peace permeated throughout. The road was about forty yards from the inn, and so Paul thought after reaching the road, he would turn left, continue straight, and look for the first house on the right, just as Gabriel had instructed him. On the other hand, he was curious about all those houses on the left that were mentioned. “Why would Gabriel not want me to look at those houses?” he wondered. Paul began to think that Gabriel was hiding something from him. Yet, this was not the case. Gabriel had already told Paul why he should not pay attention to those houses (they would lead him astray), but Paul forgot about it. He forgot the reason why, and the reason why is always the key.

Paul started toward the road, and as he got closer, he could see that the road was made of a light brown, dusty dirt. That road was the means by which he would reach his destination. Paul’s generation generally took an “all paths” approach when it came to finding God, for those who even considered the question of Him. But for Paul, the only path he could take right now was literally the one in which Gabriel had instructed him. A different path would bring him to a different destination. Thus, it was foolish for Paul’s generation to believe in an “all paths” approach to finding God when an “all paths” approach to finding anything else never works.

Finally, his feet arrived onto the middle of the road. It was a bit rockier than he expected it to be, and his shoes were getting a bit dirty already. He looked right, and the road extended as far down as he could see. Then, he looked to left and found it to be the same, though this was the direction he would be taking. Paul hesitated for a moment and finally with his right foot took a step forward. A new stage in the journey had begun.

Everything happened so fast. One moment he was sitting comfortably in his house enjoying a glazed doughnut, the next he was treading down a long, perhaps even dangerous, unknown road from some historic time period. As Paul was walking, many thoughts came to his mind. The intriguing book from the attic he thought of first. “If I never read it, none of this would have happened,” concluded Paul, and in that moment he wished he had not read that book to begin with. “It’s all my fault. I should have stayed downstairs,” he continued in his mind. But Paul was judging things too quickly. This adventure was not over, and he had no idea where it might bring him. It could be better than where he was before (and nearly anything was better than that). Sometimes, people are wont to judge their current life situation before everything has played out. That is the mistake Paul made here, and he would have saved himself a lot of trouble had he possessed some wisdom to see that.

Secondly, Paul thought of his family, his house, and his comfortable lifestyle that he possessed in his normal life. The historic world, as Paul mentally called it, that is, the world into which he was transferred, seemed to be stripped of all the comforts he was so used to having. The deprivation of these comforts instantly caused his ego to undergo such a shock that it would leave him in a state of suffering until he fully understood why everything was happening the way it was. Paul thought himself to be worse off than anyone else in the world and that his sufferings were greater than anyone else’s. But because he had been spoiled his whole life, minor inconveniences such as eating ordinary food or walking somewhere always turned into intense moments of suffering. Coping with the ordinary blessings in life instead of swimming in luxury was evidently difficult for Paul.

There were still many other thoughts in his head as he walked the rocky, dirt road. When he was in the modern world, he did almost no thinking at all. On the other hand, here in the historic world, it was necessary for him to think, being that everything was so new and unfamiliar. Paul was also forced into observing his surroundings. Every instance of creation had to be constantly examined to make sure no one was out to kill him and that he would reach Gabriel’s house without delay.

Paul briefly looked to his left and then back at the inn. A horse that must have belonged to Gabriel was tied to a post with a bucket of water at the base. Though Paul had not seen many horses in his life, this horse appeared to be quite large, a good size for a rider of Gabriel’s stature. There was also a dirt road that ran perpendicular to the one on which Paul was walking. He tried to pay no attention to it and focus on arriving at Gabriel’s home as soon as possible, which was the best decision he had made since deciding to go into the attic.

On his right was a thick forest of tall trees. It ran as deep as the eye could see; and as far as Paul could tell, it stretched back along the road into infinity. A wooden fence separated the road from the forest. It was not much of a fence, but was just enough to keep anyone from wandering off into that forest, and Paul never even thought of doing such a thing as that.

After a few more minutes of walking (though the time seemed to take much longer), to the left, Paul faintly began to see what appeared to be a high wall, and immediately became fascinated with what could lie behind it. Gabriel had instructed him not to pay attention to anything over there, but he was getting tired of the monotonous tree-after-tree ensemble taking place on the right.

Just as his thoughts were about to delve into the forbidden left side of the road, a tumult of noise rushed upon his backside. Upon turning around to check what it was, Paul immediately recognized a pair of horses lugging a wagon charging straight at him. What was worse was that they were no more than fifteen feet away, leaving nearly no time to react.

Paul instinctively went to leap to the side, out of the way of the incoming force, but being so nervous, he more or less twisted and fell sideways, barely landing on his hands and knees as the horse hooves and wagon wheels stormed by, inches away from his feet. As fast as the horses were running, that was how fast Paul’s heart was beating. Following a few seconds of recuperation, he stood up, coned his hands around his mouth, and cursed the driver of the wagon who continued speeding onward, not thinking twice to look back.

Paul believed his near death to be the fault of the driver. The driver did not yield to a pedestrian after all, nor did he warn Paul to get out of the way. The driver on the other hand thought Paul was the culprit. He was mindlessly meandering down the middle of the road where busy travelers could potentially pass. The truth was, they both could have acted a little smarter and were therefore both to be blamed for the situation. In life, often times, a problem arises between two people, and each of them blames the other for it, when in reality they are both at fault. That is what happened here.

In his mind, Paul began to think evil thoughts. He wished the driver would crash and everything in his wagon explode, just like something from an action movie. Now, everybody knows the saying “be careful what you wish for”. Well, after what happened next, Paul certainly regretted ever having thought those evil things. The front right wheel of the wagon rolled into a violent dip in the road, causing it to shatter and the wagon to turn to the side. The driver yanked on the reins, stopping the horses which neighed loudly.

The wagon had broken down a couple hundred feet from where Paul was standing, but he could still hear and see what was happening, and even more so the closer he walked.

“No, no, no!” the driver screamed wildly. “Help! Somebody help!”

This seemed to Paul to be an overreaction of the man, and he was almost glad the man was suffering in this way, getting what he apparently deserved. But Paul could only see the surface of things, unable to penetrate his mind beyond the immediate, which always bears the fruit of rash judgment. It was not the driver who was in dire need of help, rather it was a passenger hidden in the back of the wagon, lying down flat and covered with blankets. It was the daughter of the driver, unexpectedly bitten by a venomous snake and requiring medical attention within the hour, or else leaving behind this world that very day.

The entirety of this event was not comprehended at that very moment by Paul, but he understood a great deal more after seeing the next event. (As you can see, Paul experienced more on this adventure in perhaps one or two hours’ time than he had the previous fourteen years of his life.) By some providence, a rider of a horse was coming up from the horizon and approaching the wreck. The driver of the wagon waved and shouted to the man who quickly recognized the desperate state he was in.

Paul watched as the situation was explained by the one man to the other. He then witnessed the driver of the wagon lifting and handing over a young girl to the rider who sat her in front of him on his horse. “Yah, yah!” he shouted to the horse and bolted back into the direction from which he came out towards the horizon. It then came to Paul’s mind that the driver had been in such a rush not because he was some selfish, impatient man, but because that girl was in some immediate need.

And then Paul felt really bad about the whole situation. As one can see, when wishing evil upon someone, what the wisher is actually doing is wishing evil upon everyone connected with himself; and since all people are connected, he is not only wishing evil upon others, but upon himself. Even though the situation was a disaster, Paul learned many valuable lessons from this experience, ones that he would carry with him the rest of his life.

The broken-down wagon lay there on the road. The man had already begun replacing the shattered wheel with a spare. “What a hard life these people live!” thought Paul as he walked past the wagon and looked back at the man, but of course any life would seem difficult compared to the one Paul had lived in that modern time where everything was done for him. The man briefly looked up at Paul who was walking by, making eye contact only for a moment, and then focused again on his work, still thinking of the status of his daughter. Paul, not possessing any repairing skills, would be no use to the man in fixing his wagon, so he continued on his journey deciding to not look back for now.

The high sun beat down through the overhanging trees onto Paul’s pale skin, and there was not much he could do to prevent his metamorphosis into a cooked lobster. The air tasted fresh, and the scenery was something to adore. Close to the edges of the road were wild flowers, ones that Paul recalled seeing back at home in certain flower arrangements and gardens, and he was surprised seeing them sitting out there in the wild like that; but they had to originate somewhere. Another pleasant piece of this picture was that there was no garbage anywhere; no plastic wrappers, no dirty cigarette butts, no tumbling napkins in the wind, and no crushed beer cans. And Paul had never thought that such existed, but it did, and it could have existed even in Paul’s time if everyone wanted it to.

After a total of twenty minutes of walking, Paul was already starting to get tired, and the muscles in his legs were complaining. He wished for some easier way of getting to Gabriel’s house, though now he was not certain whether he even wanted to go there. “If Gabriel does not find walking to be a problem,” thought Paul, “I wonder what else he thinks is okay!” The idea of reverting back to his old, easy way of life became very appealing at that moment.

Suddenly, he noticed up on the left side of the road that he had come somewhat close to a large brick wall (the one he had faintly seen before the previous incident) that extended farther than it actually needed to. There were several different gates, marking the entrance into this enormous piece of property. From the different gates were well-paved paths that led up toward a cluster of colossal mansions. As far as Paul could tell, there were six of them. He was not sure exactly why they were there or whose they were, but he figured they must have belonged to some closely-knit rich family or families. And he became very intrigued about the idea of going inside the wall.

Paul abruptly stopped in his tracks, not from seeing the mansions, but from a new, unexpected obstacle. The road forked, something Gabriel had not told him about, and Paul became quite nervous. To the left were those rich mansions. All he had to do was continue for about a minute down the left path and he would reach the first gate. Perhaps, they would let him inside and allow him to partake in their lavish dining and distinguished activities. At least, those were Paul’s thoughts.

But, somehow, he immediately remembered Gabriel specifically telling him not to regard those houses and that his house would be on the right. And so a conflict arose within Paul’s heart as to what he believed was best to do. “Is he trying to hide something from me or protect me?” questioned Paul. Yet, the appeal of those mansions nearly made Paul forget about Gabriel entirely.

The surprises never ceased coming to Paul throughout his adventure, whether they be of good origin or evil origin. Such is an adventure, entering into the unknown in the hope of finding something valuable. But whether this particular adventure was worth it for Paul, he would not know for a long time.

Then came approaching on the left side a carriage which appeared more elegant in design than anything Paul had seen thus far in this historic world. The driver was clad in fine clothing and sat very proper as he directed the horses which were healthy and groomed with shiny brown hair and smooth black manes. It stopped in front of the first gate and waited as someone exited the carriage on the far side. Paul could not see who it was until the carriage pulled away. When it did, he saw there a woman in very expensive-looking garments. From what he could make out, her cheeks were padded with a blush makeup, and the rest of her face was decorated in the fashion that was popular for rich people at her time. Paul could not see much else of her as she approached the gate.

She waited at the gate for a moment and turned around. There she found Paul off on the road staring at her, and she stared back. Paul was not sure whether he should approach her, run to Gabriel’s house, or go back home, but because of how nervous he was, he simply stood there looking at her not knowing what move to make. Just when he was about shout to the woman, a man who appeared to be a guard opened the gate from the inside and let the woman in. The gate shut curtly, and Paul wondered if he would ever see that woman again. He was really hoping he would have the chance to meet her and possibly explore those mansions and even become part of her rich family.

Sighing, he felt disappointed in not being able to go. Gabriel would be expecting him at his house, and if he were to find Paul at one of those houses on the left, his bear paws could tear him to shreds. And though Paul decided to do what was correct out of fear, it was better than doing what was wrong out of false courage. So he took the path to the right at the fork, wishing to find Gabriel’s house before any further trouble would come about.

It was not long after until he found it. The house was small and white, retired a ways back from the road. There was not the same quiet stillness (almost an eerie feeling) that existed around those rich mansions. At Gabriel’s house was immediately recognized the playful laughter of children running around in the open field and it was a lot breezier not being around those gigantic walls. Paul confirmed this to be the house that Gabriel had described. “If the children are happy, then I suppose it won’t be so bad,” Paul considered. He pulled open a wooden farmer’s gate, stepped inside, and pulled it shut. He stepped onto fresh grass for the first time, and that was a good change from the rocky, dusty path. In any case, he gazed upon that white building and the children running about, and realized that, indeed, he had arrived safe and sound at Gabriel’s house, just as Gabriel had promised.

 

4

“Goodness is always a surprise to the newcomer.”

 

Paul nervously made his steps forward toward the joyful commotion that was taking place near Gabriel’s house. He began to observe the beautiful scenery that nature so wonderfully depicted for Gabriel and his family. The same type of trees as before surrounded the property and gently swayed in the breeze. Though they surrounded the property, they did not give a confining feeling to the area, but a comfortable sense of boundary. There was some medium-length grass and wild flowers of all different sorts. Many chickens were walking about near the house, clucking and strutting in their chicken sort of way.

The house was indeed white, and well-maintained. Although he was not too close to the house yet, Paul could see from the house and everything around it that this was a good place. Everyone knows the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but sometimes the outer appearance is the manifestation of the inner being, and such was the case with Gabriel’s house and household. Paul felt the peace of this heavenly abode resonate within him, (though this sensation was brief and only happened as far as he could handle it).

One piece of good news for Paul was that, at this point, the rich mansions on the left side of that dirt road had slipped away from his memory. The sight, sound, and smell (from the flowers and fresh air) of Gabriel’s property directed Paul to a new focus; and though Paul had never been focused before in his life, being alone without distractions in the face of something so holy compelled him to continue on forward and find out just what was going on. Perhaps, even a significant change took place within him at this very point.

After a few more steps, Paul clearly noticed just who it was that was making all those joyful sounds which were so foreign to his experience. There were five young girls playing in the field. They were running, jumping, dancing, and singing. Some were clapping, others were tossing flowers in the air, and still others were waving their arms in different directions. They all contained that innocent laughter of a child that all people are supposed to have had when they were young. Paul had never seen people so happy in his life, and he could not look at them for much longer without feeling uncomfortable.

Two sudden figures arose up out of the distance and started approaching him. Paul immediately lost his senses and became frightened, yet this was not a reasonable thing to do. He had found a place that resembled heaven. However, people of Paul’s time period were quicker to forget heaven rather than remember it, and so Paul was not acting much differently from everyone else.

Paul soon realized that the two figures were not much of a threat, and so he relaxed a bit. They were boys. One appeared to be about his own age, while the other seemed much younger. Paul stood still and allowed the other boys to do the approaching. When they were just ten feet away, they stopped and greeted Paul in a friendly manner.

“Hey, there, brother,” said the older boy, “Are you lost?”

“No,” responded Paul in his underdeveloped-conversation-skill way.

“So, how can I help you then, my brother?” asked the older boy politely.

Paul recognized almost instantly that this had to be one of Gabriel’s children, for he spoke and acted in that same genuinely caring way as Gabriel, which was so distasteful to Paul’s poor, corrupted mind. “Gabriel told me to come here,” Paul answered.

“Great!” exclaimed the boy, “Welcome to the family! What’s your name?” he inquired.

“Paul,” he said.

“Paul?! That’s a wonderful name! Do you know what it means?” asked the boy.

Hearing the question for a second time, Paul became a bit frustrated, lowered his eyebrows in contempt and jawed, “No!”

The boy, somewhat startled, replied, “Oh. Alright. My name is Michael. It means ‘Who is like God?’ Isn’t that great? And this is my brother, Raphael. His name means ‘God has healed’.”

Paul was getting tired of listening to this obnoxiously happy boy talk about names and God. At this moment, Paul wanted to escape. He wanted to escape with his music, a doughnut, the television, or anything that would bring him out of this seemingly hideous reality he had to deal with. Deep down, everyone knows, nevertheless, that handling reality with the right mindset is far better than wasting time trying to escape it, for reality can never truly be escaped.

As Paul was wandering in his thoughts for a few seconds, the boy interrupted, “I am fourteen, and my brother is seven. How old are you?”

“Fourteen,” responded Paul, a bit dissatisfied at the fact that he was the same age as this boy who appeared to be his total opposite.

“Fourteen?! That’s the same age as me!” he exclaimed, “It looks like you and I will be spending a lot of time together, then. Let’s go inside. You look like you’ve just spent a day and a half working out in the wheat fields. I bet you could use a good rest.”

The three boys turned and started towards the house. Both of the boys had dark hair, like their father. Michael’s was wavy, and Raphael’s was curly. As they continued forth, they passed the girls who were on the right. They took no notice of the boys but continued playing and laughing. All of them also had dark hair, two straight, one wavy, and two curly. They were of various ages, but none of them had any chance of being older than Paul.

“Could they be Gabriel’s children, too?” wondered Paul. “How many children does he have?” he asked himself. This was a bit of a strange situation for Paul, for he had never seen a family with more than two children, and seeing Michael and Raphael together made him feel a bit jealous. As an only child, though he “enjoyed” the selfish life of not having to share anything with anyone, he would have liked a brother with whom he could do things. Although his parents gave him a phone and other gadgets to kill his time, a brother would have been a far better gift.

The truth was, Paul’s parents were always too preoccupied with themselves to have ever wanted children. Even they would have considered Paul to be “an accident”. If they were to look Paul in the eyes and say, “We have always wanted you,” they would have been lying. Gabriel’s children, however, were, perhaps, in quite the opposite situation.

“Do you see those girls? They are our sisters,” stated Michael.

“All of them?” asked Paul.

“All of them,” responded Raphael. Michael and Raphael looked at each other at started laughing gaily. “We have five sisters,” Raphael continued.

“Do you have any other brothers?!” Paul questioned shockingly.

“Come inside and see,” replied Michael.

They reached the front door, which contained a bed of flowers on the ground on either side. Raphael opened the front door inward and entered the house, followed by Michael and then Paul. As Paul stepped inside, he immediately felt the smell of freshly baked bread enter his nostrils. This scent he had only experienced one time when he had entered a bakery. In Paul’s time period, the art of baking bread in homes had largely been abandoned, but it seemed that it existed in this historical place. Later on, Paul often thought about more ways in which the past was more advanced than the present, and there were many.

Paul looked around as soon as he entered to see if he was in another “wood world”, but he was not. The walls were made of some brick or clay painted over, and the floor was a series of large, flattened stones. There were also other various objects in the house which were not made of wood. Paul’s eyes stopped as soon as the most astounding being since seeing Gabriel met his eyes. It was the woman of the house, the mother of the children, the wife of Gabriel. She was sitting there holding a pair of twins in her arms, baby boys. She was nursing one of the infants while the other was fast asleep.

The woman appeared to Paul to be very feminine and very motherly. She had long, dark hair (like the rest of the family) and wore a long, simple, modest dress. She sat looking into the eyes of her nursing baby with tender affection. Her disposition seemed calm and composed, untroubled, even smiling at the fact that she had recently given birth to her eighth and ninth children.

Paul was a little afraid to speak to the woman, as Gabriel’s entire family came off as a total surprise. When Paul thought of meeting Gabriel’s wife and children, he imagined meeting a stressed, angry woman yelling at two misbehaving children; yet here he was, staring at a caring mother, as peaceful as could be, two in her arms, two at the door, and five outside, all cheerful. He also had never seen a woman nurse a baby. In Paul’s time, most women considered it savagely to give a baby natural milk, but things were much different during the several thousand years before the modern times.

The silence was soon broken. “Hello, boys,” said the woman.

“Hi, Mom,” responded Michael and Raphael in unison.

Paul did not say anything at first. He was still overwhelmed by the situation that had just taken place as well as the entire adventure thus far. He could tell a lot about the woman just from hearing her “Hello”. A lot can be known about a person from his or her “Hello”, and this is what happened to Paul. He knew that this was a woman who had a good grasp of life. She knew what she was doing, just like Gabriel. She held her children in high regard but did not spoil them. Her wisdom was evident, not only in her “Hello”, but in the fruit that she bore.

There were many stories surrounding the woman, just as there were surrounding the man, and their ability to share such miraculous stories with each other made them a good match to get married in the first place. Paul noticed on the shoulder of the woman’s left sleeve was a cross. It was the same shape as the pair of scars on Gabriel’s face. The night Gabriel was attacked by thieves, he returned home a bloody mess. The woman, startled by her husband’s ill situation and entry into the house quickly attended to his needs.

She swiftly retrieved some salt, liquid herbal medicine, water, bandages, and towels. She delicately removed Gabriel’s torn garment piece from his face, washed the area clean, and wiped it dry with the towels. Next, she applied salt, some of the liquid herbal medicine and fresh bandages. The wounds were not all that bad. No organs or major veins were touched by the knife. Gabriel had become weak mainly because he had been bleeding for so long. The makeshift bandage he had applied to his head had only helped moderately at best.

There was no way to prevent such wounds from turning into scars. Nonetheless, the couple did not allow those scars to become a sore spot in their memory. Rather, they chose to look at the event and as a reminder to them that every moment they spent together was a blessing. When Gabriel’s wounds had finally healed, they had a good talk by the fireplace late in the evening.

“Gabriel, I feel so sorry,” said the woman, caressing the scars with her left hand. “I want to share in your sufferings. I want a mark like yours,” she desperately uttered.

“No, Angelica,” he replied. “These marks were not made by me. I caused myself no harm. You also should cause yourself no harm.”

“Then, what can I do?” wept Angelica. “I want to be closer to you. I want to remind myself that you are always with me.” She began to sob and gently pulled Gabriel’s face toward herself, resting his right cheek on her left shoulder. After a minute of tears flowing from her face, she lifted up Gabriel’s head with a sudden idea. “Gabriel,” she said, “if you will not allow me to mark my face, permit me to wear a mark on the shoulder of my dress.”

After thinking for a moment, Gabriel nodded his head, meekly saying, “I think that sounds like a wonderful idea.” The two hugged, and from that day on, the woman faithfully wore a cross-shaped mark on the left shoulder of her dress. Whenever the two would feel upset with each other, the two would hug, Gabriel placing his mark on the mark of his wife Angelica as a reminder of the blessing of love that they shared.

“Mom,” said Michael. “This is Paul. Dad sent him to us. Isn’t that great?”

“It is nice to meet you, Paul,” she spoke politely. Paul did not say anything, but gave a nod, just like he did when meeting Gabriel. He was still not so used to everyone being so nice to him. “Raphael, bring our guest some freshly baked bread,” Angelica told her son.

“Yes, Mom,” he said smiling. He went away for a few seconds and retrieved a plate of several slices of warm, steamy bread. Paul picked up a piece and took a bite. If the bread from the inn was the worst thing he had ever tasted in his life, then this was the best, far better than any factory-made, artificially-flavored, preservative-filled doughnut. The sensation of the rich, natural flavor filled his mouth, moved down into his stomach, and then spread throughout every inch of his body.

Paul was now starting to feel happier. Sometimes the only thing one needs to get in a good mood is something tasty. It was true; Paul was now feeling good. He decided to make the boldest move he had ever made in his life (besides going into the attic and avoiding the mansions on the left side of the road).

“You are a good cook,” Paul complimented the woman.

“Oh, not me,” she chuckled. “My two oldest daughters, they made that bread.”

Paul felt surprised that such young girls were capable of making such a delectable delight. In fact, he did not believe that someone their age could cook something at all. He was embarrassed and did not dare tell Gabriel’s family that he himself was unable to make anything to eat. He had never even made a sandwich. His entire family took for granted the skill of being able to make one’s own food. Had Paul grown up and, due to adverse circumstances, was forced to live in an area without restaurants, he would have been at a loss. Fortunately for him, he had met Gabriel’s family.

“Don’t worry, though,” she said. “Tonight, you will have a chance to taste my cooking. Michael, can you slaughter two chickens and bring them to me? Raphael, go to your sisters. See which two want to come take care of the babies, and go with the other three to search for mushrooms and berries. Remember not to eat any of them. I need to check them first to see if they are safe. And take a basket!”

“Yes, Mom!” they both said in unison. (Paul was irritated by the fact that they sometimes spoke in unison.)

Both of the boys bolted excitedly out the door, so Paul followed. It would seem strange for him to follow the younger boy, so he stayed with Michael. He watched at a distance as Raphael explained the situation to his sisters, and they all let out a girly cheer and began running to their destinations. Paul felt almost sick from observing the glee of these people in such ordinary or even seemingly burdensome situations, and if something as harmless as this upset Paul, then his next experience with the chickens was about to give him a big wakeup call.

Paul followed Michael around to the other side of the house where the chickens were, making noises and walking in all different directions. “You can kill one, and I’ll kill the other,” Michael stated casually. Paul instantly felt his heart sink into his stomach. He had never seen an animal killed before, let alone killed one himself. He had never even gone fishing. It was a strange feeling having to kill the food he was later going to eat. For Paul (and those of his time), food was just something that appeared on one’s plate. There was no sense of how it got there or what purpose it served other than to fill one’s stomach and tickle one’s tongue.

Now, Paul could no longer live in a fantasy world. He had to face the reality of what food actually was. There were two pairs of gloves along with a few sharp objects in a large wooden tool bin which Michael opened. He handed Paul a pair of gloves and said, “Here, you take the better ones.” Both of them put on their gloves. Paul was afraid to tell Michael the truth about how he was feeling, though he should not have been. He did not want to appear scared or foolish, so he followed along.

Michael took out two knives and began sharpening one of them. Seeing the blade made Paul even more nervous about what he was about to do. As Michael was sharpening the knife, Paul took a good look at the chickens. He suddenly felt sorry for them and almost wished he had been a vegan for the earlier part of his life, but there was no time for such thoughts now. Michael handed him the first knife and began sharpening the second. Paul looked down at the knife in his hand and then stared at it with his full attention. He had never wielded any other knife except a steak knife, and so he was uncomfortably careful with this one.

He made no move but waited for Michael to be an example to follow. Michael stood up erect with the knife in his hand. “Be careful. Try not to let the blood get on your clothes,” he advised. Michael looked around a bit and found a fattened chicken to his liking. When he found his prey, he knelt down on one knee, closed his eyes, and whispered some words that Paul could not quite make out. When he finished, he grabbed the chicken by its legs. It flapped its wings as it hung upside-down from Michael’s gloved hand.

Michael then lifted up the knife. It shimmered with the reflection of the sun. Like a warrior, Michael stood strong. Paul, on the other hand, felt like a coward. He could not bear to watch what was going to happen next. He shut his eyes with all his might and turned around to face the other direction. In the process of turning, he dropped the knife onto the ground, not even wanting to think of sharp objects for as long as he lived.

Paul did not know how everything came to this. “Why me?” Paul thought. “Why do I have to be in this wretched place doing this wretched business?” He forgot about how the real wretched place was the one that he came from and that the real wretched business was wasting time in front of the television.

Come to think of it, Paul forgot many things in his life. He had a poor memory, because everyone or everything had always done the remembering for him. His phone had remembered all of the phone numbers and addresses he ever needed. His school books contained all the information he needed to pass the tests. His parents knew all the other information he had to know, and if there was anything else, he could just quickly search for it on the internet. However, without these, he himself was nothing.

Paul’s eyes were still tightly shut. He did not cover them with his hands because of the dirty gloves he was wearing. Although, he could not bear to look, his curiosity was taking hold of him. Plus, his eyes were getting tired from being squeezed for more than twenty seconds. He decided he was finally going to open his eyes, turn around, and see what Michael had done.

He slowly opened his eyes and watched as the light returned to his world, except that this time, there was something new, something that had not been there before, which made Paul almost immediately feel uneasy. He finally opened his eyes, only to be staring at a big, bearded face.

 

5

“Transformation occurs in the adventurous heart.”

 

“Ah!” shrieked Paul as he fell back in a startled manner. At first he did not realize who or what it was he was looking at, but after speaking, the creature revealed himself to be no other than Gabriel.

“Son! I see that you made it!” he exclaimed jollily. “Did you find the place ok? How long did it take you? How are you feeling? Did you meet my wife and kids?” came the questions one after the other. Paul, however could hardly respond. He was astonished to see Gabriel in the first place, and this adventure was bringing him more surprises than he was accustomed to. In the modern world for Paul, there really were few times when he experienced the joy of being surprised, and nearly all those times involved money or things. Perhaps, Paul was surprised in other ways than he knew, but his eyes were not trained to see such events, and the same went for almost everyone else.

Paul was beginning to improve with his conversation skills. He had no other choice, now being part of such a big, merry family. He bypassed all the questions and said, “I thought you were coming tomorrow. What happened?”

Gabriel smiled and answered, “I got surprised. Surprises always happen when you expect them to. My brother arrived back at his inn a day early. You wouldn’t believe it. He came no more than two minutes after you left! I spoke with him briefly and then decided to return home to see you and my family one day in advance. But then…” Gabriel’s face changed suddenly into a downcast look. He continued on with great efforts to explain what happened next. He uttered, “…as I was riding on my good old horse on the good old road home, not far from the inn, I saw a man in the middle of the road working hard to fix a shattered wheel on his wagon.”

No sooner did Gabriel mention the man with the wagon than Paul made a big, swallowing gulp in his throat, nearly revealing that he too had witnessed the same thing. Gabriel recognized Paul’s reaction and questioned in a hopeful manner, “Did you see the man, too?”

Paul tried to cover his mistake as best he could and responded, “Uh, nevermind. So, what happened next?”

Gabriel, a bit puzzled, squinted his eyes looking dubiously upon Paul, and continued his story, “My conscience compelled me to stop and help this man. I had never seen the man before, but I suppose that makes no difference as to whether or not I should have helped him. I rode up to where he was, dismounted my horse, and began my work fixing the wheel. The original was obsolete, and so I put on the spare with little effort and helped the man get going again.”

Paul was finally beginning to change in his interior being. By some miracle, he started to look at Gabriel with wonder and awe rather than jealousy or contempt. He was amazed at how skilful this man was, and although Paul had only known him for a few hours, he could tell that Gabriel possessed more skills than he ever dreamed of having. However, Paul still did not recognize that the acquisition of those skills was not by accident.

Paul himself was never any good at fixing anything. The only thing he ever tried to fix was one of his mom’s plates that he dropped on the ground and broke by accident. Wanting to avoid any further yelling from his parents, he secretly tried to glue it with some glue that he had gotten from school. After that failed, he buried the plate in his backyard and simply hoped that he was not around when his mom discovered that one of her plates was missing.

In fact, most people of Paul’s time never even tried to fix anything. If something were to break, they would almost instantaneously throw it in the garbage and look to buy a new one as soon as possible. It was no wonder that the majority of people in the modern time were in such financial trouble and that the landfills were spilling off into the oceans that people swam in.

“And then?” asked Paul.

Gabriel mustered up his strength to tell what happened next. He spoke, “The man told me he was rushing to the nearest doctor for urgent medical attention, not for himself, but his daughter. A poisonous snake bit her on the leg. Within a short time, she would be dead, unless, of course, that doctor could see her. He also told me…” (remorse was beginning to take hold of Paul), “that she was all the family he had left. His wife and two sons were all killed last year in an accident. This time, fortunately, a providential rider came by and supposedly took his daughter to that doctor. The man was anxious to get going to know the status of his daughter, but before he left, I bade him to pray with me. He did, I wished him well, and then he and I departed.”

Gabriel’s mood then changed into a lively one. “And now I am home!” he exclaimed. “There is no place I would rather be. I don’t know why so many people feel like they need to leave their home to go on an adventure and have fun. I have all the adventure here that I need!”

“I know what you mean,” agreed Paul as he thought of his adventure in the attic of his home. This was the first time that Paul was actually on the same page as someone else in this historical world.

“Michael!” shouted Gabriel gladly as he took notice of his son.

“Dad!” responded Michael as he looked over at his father. Michael put his gloves, knife, and the slain chicken on the ground. The two met each other halfway and embraced each other. Paul stood back and watched. “I’m so glad your home!” he said peacefully.

“Me, too,” asserted Gabriel. “And I’m so glad that you and Paul have been spending time together,” Gabriel mentioned, looking at the both of them. “What are you two doing now?” he asked.

Michael looked over at the chickens and then looked back at his father and said, “Getting dinner.” The father and son burst out in laughter and even Paul let out a few giggles. It was the first time he had laughed after waking up in the morning. It had felt good to finally partake in something that resembled true happiness. The time he had spent alone with his phone or the television never brought him that same feeling he had now, enjoying real life with some real people.

Gabriel looked and noticed that Paul was also wearing a pair of gloves. He recognized the situation and said, “Michael, why don’t you let me handle the rest? I think we are going to need three chickens for tonight’s feast. Paul and I have been so hungry traveling today that we need a whole chicken just for the both of us. You two head inside, and I will take care of this.”

“Alright, Dad!” shouted Michael, still elated by the fact that his father had returned home. Paul began following Michael around the house to go inside. Before turning the corner, Paul stopped and looked back with a grateful attitude, saying thank you to Gabriel in his heart. It was true that Paul was making some improvements within himself. He was still not quite there yet, though getting “there” generally takes a lifetime for those who try.

Michael and Paul arrived back inside the house. Gabriel’s wife was in what seemed to be the kitchen area. The two girls who had come to take care of their baby brothers were now helping their mother prepare dinner. The twin babies must have both been fast asleep somewhere else in the house.

The house was certainly not a rich-looking house. Gabriel was a manual laborer with his own business, making different objects for certain uses, and also building and repairing. Perhaps, he was somewhat similar to what modern people called a “handyman”. Because he was so capable in so many ways, he was able to make everyone he met into a customer, for everyone needed help with at least one thing. He did not make a ton of money, but enough to support him and his family. Despite the fact that his house did not look rich, it appeared much better than it could have, mainly because of proper care. Paul later realized that almost every person or place, if properly taken care of, would appear to be not too shabby.

“Let me show you something special,” said Michael. “Here. You can sit here.” Paul sat in a chair as Michael went over to a wooden chest to retrieve the special item. To be honest, Paul never thought that someone would be so eager to share something special with him. He himself was totally unwilling to share not only his most valuable possessions with anyone, but also the ordinary ones. Sometimes it was because he was selfish, but often times it was because people would become jealous, which was the fault of his era. He was, therefore, intrigued by Michael’s openness to sharing a treasure.

Michael came over and sat down in a chair next to Paul. He placed the special item wrapped in cloth on the table in front of them. Michael slowly unveiled it, which revealed itself to be a book. Michael’s eyes lit up while Paul’s remained unchanged. “Do you see?!” said Michael passionately. “It’s a book!”

“Yeah, I see,” responded Paul in his typical monotone voice. Paul was not at all thrilled to see a book. He had already seen libraries filled with thousands of them. Books, paper, reading, and writing were things that everyone had and that everyone could do. It was no extraordinary feat in the modern world to own a book and be able to read it. However, in the past, literacy was not commonplace, and to own a book, which necessarily had to be handwritten, was certainly a valuable treasure.

Paul ignored the reality of all the treasures in his life, not only books, but also hot water, meat, phones, and a comfortable bed in which to sleep. All these treasures he regarded as non-treasures. The only things he considered to be treasures were the stuff he used to waste his time, and any sensible person can see the absurdity in that.

Michael opened the book, still with his eyes glowing, to a random page (though everyone knows there is no such a thing as luck), and at the top it read “Wisdom”. “My dad is teaching us to read,” he commented. “Isn’t that great? I love reading, even though I am not good at it yet.” Paul rolled his eyes in disgust. “Look that this sentence here,” said Michael pointing to it with his finger. “A-And I w-was a…hmm, I don’t know what this says.”

Paul pulled the book closer to himself and effortlessly spoke out the words, “And I was a witty child and had received a good soul.”

“Wow!” shouted Michael, throwing his hands into the air. “I love this book! I want to read all of it! By the way, you are a great reader. How did you learn how to read?” asked Michael inquisitively.

Paul did not say anything, but stared at the book. For some reason, the spirit of this book seemed familiar, but he could not quite make out how. He felt uneasily connected to this book in some way. Paul felt too uncomfortable with the book close to himself, so he pushed it back towards where Michael could read it.

“My dad told me he wants me to share everything in this book with everyone I meet,” Michael explained. “He said that what is written in here is wisdom for eternity. Maybe you can teach me how to read more,” he suggested.

But just as Paul was about to give his answer, an explosion of noise entered through the front door. It was the children who had just returned from their quest for mushrooms and berries. They were all overjoyed because Raphael had found the biggest mushroom they had ever seen and one of the girls discovered a new kind of berry that they were hoping they could eat. Their basket was full of all sorts of mushrooms and berries that perhaps would be part of their next meal as well as dessert.

Raphael and the girls bolted into the kitchen with their findings, taking no notice of Michael or Paul who were sitting on the side with their book.

“Mom, look! Raphael found the biggest mushroom ever!” squealed one of the girls.

“No, Mom, look! She found a new kind of berry! Do you think we can eat it?” bellowed Raphael.

“Woah, woah. Ha ha,” laughed the mother. “Let’s wait for your father to take a look at this berry. I have never seen it before, but probably he has.” The girls continued to smile and laugh as they hoped for the new berry to be deemed edible by their father, whom they still had not seen return from the inn. “Girls, we have a guest,” Angelica interrupted. She walked over with the girls to where Paul and Michael were sitting. “Say hi to Paul.”

“Hi, Paul,” they said in unison. “It is nice to meet you.” Paul nodded his head as usual when meeting someone new for the first time. To him, it felt creepy that all the girls spoke at the same time. In reality, the sound was quite adorable, but all brainwashed minds like Paul’s cannot see the truth. It takes time and proper schooling in the truth to become “unbrainwashed”. Fortunately for Paul, he still had time and was already undergoing changes for the better. He was alive after all, and as long as someone is alive, that person has a shot at coming to the truth, but after death, that is an entirely different story.

“Ok, everyone,” said Angelica, like a shepherd herding sheep. “It’s time to wash up and settle down. Dinner will be ready in half an hour. Michael did you take care of the chickens?”

But just as she had spoken these words, the big, stouthearted Gabriel entered through the front door with the light shining at his back and gleaming through into the house.

A smile shined on his face as he lifted up his arms outstretched, wide enough to hug all of the other eleven people in the house at the same time. “I’m home,” he muttered gently. All of the children (including Michael) were ecstatic at the sight of their father’s return. Gabriel bent over slightly to hug the incoming crowd of people, but after the fourth had grabbed him, he had no other choice but to fall backwards onto the ground and let the piling on of children begin.

Paul could not quite understand why the children were so elated to see their father.

Paul was never half this excited to see either of his parents. In fact, he was more excited when they were not there. The yelling and the fighting had really placed a blockade between him and his parents, which Paul never thought twice about, since he had never known the difference, never experiencing complete love in the circle of his family. Gabriel and Angelica, on the other hand, were not much of the yelling type. They preferred to solve problems in a calm, respectful manner rather than causing more problems by yelling. They could not see why so many people would choose to be nicer to other people than their own family. Who was right in how they acted, Paul’s parents or Gabriel and Angelica? The answer could be found in the children.

“Ha ha ha,” laughed Gabriel hysterically. He could not hold in his emotions even if he tried. Paul stared at the scene of this giant rolling on the floor chortling like a little boy.

Even though Paul wanted to look away, the joy of the family united compelled him to continue looking on.

“You were gone for a whole week, Daddy,” said the youngest of the girls.

“Yes, but your uncle came back a day earlier, and so I did, too,” mentioned Gabriel. “Isn’t that great?” All the children embraced their father even tighter and with more love. Paul could not understand how the children could become so happy after just a week’s time of not seeing their father. The truth was, it was the longest in their whole lives that they had endured their father’s absence. Paul, however, faced quite a different situation in his life. His father would sometimes go away on a business trip for work. Even though he would announce the day of his departure and return, Paul would easily forget. His father was not a priority in his life. The only priority he had was entertaining himself, rather than helping others; and even if he were to argue the contrary, one could just look at the amount of time he spent in front of the television or on his phone and see that he never really cared about anyone except himself.

Paul was left alone in his chair sitting there. As far as he wanted to, he observed the happy exchange between the children and their father; but Paul felt isolated. He had no idea how to behave during these moments. He wished he could have escaped with his phone, but he could not, which was a good thing for him in the long run. Interiorly, Paul’s heart experienced a kind of longing. It was the same kind of longing that everybody faces every once in a while when you know you are looking for something, but you cannot quite make out what it is.

He turned away from the commotion of the family and noticed that the book Michael had taken out of the chest was still lying on the table on top of the cloth in which it was previously wrapped. It was still open, and Paul could see the exact words that he had just read. “This seems eerily similar to the book I read in the attic,” thought Paul. Intrigue began to fill Paul’s mind, and for the first time in ten years, he entered the realm of wonder. Wonder, which so many adults often neglect, gave Paul the sensation of being born anew. He saw everything in a new light, especially the book upon which his eyes gazed.

Paul was hooked. He almost could not help himself (though, of course, still with free will). He approached the book, but just as he was about to read something new, a providential voice sprung out. “Dinner,” cried out Angelica, “is almost ready! Everyone wash up and start preparing the table.” All the children in a scattered fashion began making their way out the front door. There was a water collector outside that contained rainwater in which the family would wash up.

“Michael,” said Gabriel, “the chickens are de-feathered and ready for Mom to cook. Can you bring them to her and then go wash up?”

“Yes, Dad!” responded Michael excitedly. Michael then exited in the same way as the other children.

Paul quietly followed behind, but paused in the doorway. He looked back to find the most beautiful encounter he had ever seen between husband and wife. Both stood there alone looking at one another almost with disbelief, but more importantly, with that very deep joy that brings many people to tears.

The two moved towards each other slowly with an equal number of steps until they were within elbow’s reach and engaged in a warm hug. Paul looked upon the couple as they hugged for a good fifteen seconds or so, and after that, he realized that he had never hugged anyone for more than five. He waited there, expecting to see the married couple kiss, but they did not (Gabriel and Angelica believed kissing to be a very intimate action, and so they never did when there were people around).

Paul wanted to see more, but was soon forced aside as three chickens wildly flopped past his face into the house. They were dead and in the hands of Michael who could not wait to bring them to his mother. “Chicken!” he let out as he ran past Paul. He was not, in fact, calling Paul a chicken. Michael was simply celebrating the fact that they would be eating chicken for dinner, as many days for him and his family had been meatless ones; but this was something that Paul could never associate with. Paul and the rest of the modern world always had the power of choosing exactly what their tongue desired at any minute of the one-thousand-four-hundred-and-forty-minute day, and when many of them did not get exactly what they wanted exactly when they wanted it, they complained.

Michael placed the three chickens in the hands (and arms) of his mother and then made his way for the door. He put his arm around Paul’s shoulders leading him outside and said, “Come on, Paul.” Paul listened and went with Michael. For the first time, (as you can see, Paul was experiencing a lot of things for the first time on this very interesting day) Paul felt like he had a brother, like he had a family.

 

6

“All need their fill.”

 

“We’re going to have a great dinner!” exclaimed Michael. “Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah a great dinner is great,” replied Paul.

Michael was leading him around the corner of the house to where the rain collector would be. Paul in his mind was working hard to figure out exactly where they were going and why. It was difficult for him to understand the concept of going outside to wash up rather than inside, so he was forced to trust Michael’s leadership. Sometimes it happens that you are lost and have to trust the direction of someone else. Of course, there are a few bad apples, but almost always that other person proves to be helpful; and this fact can give anyone a bit of hope that there is still some goodness left in the human race.

Michael all of a sudden left Paul and ran around the corner of the house, temporarily out of Paul’s sight. Paul was confused as to why he did this, but decided to proceed with caution around the house. As he poked his head out, a big splash of water hit him in the face. Bursts of laughter erupted among all the children except Paul, who needed a few seconds to recuperate. In fact, they were not picking on Paul specifically. All the children were sprinkling and splashing water on each other; and then something unexpected happened. Paul laughed. He ran over to the water collector and participated in the water war, as enthusiastically as the rest, first with one hand, and then with both.

After another ten more seconds of fun, the excitement died down. The children were left gasping and panting for air but still giggling with joy. They all stood around, some with their hands on their knees, others with their hands on their hips. Then, another unexpected thing happened. Gabriel came thumping around the corner. He stood there looking down at the wet mess of children scattered about.

Paul’s countenance fell from glad to sad, water dripping down his soaked face. He immediately became frightened. His mind flashbacked to that time at the wooden inn when Gabriel had scolded him so harshly. He could not bear to imagine what Gabriel would do this time.

Gabriel no longer stood still but started walking towards Paul. Fear took complete hold of him. He wanted to run but was paralyzed from head to toe. He wished he was back home on the couch in the cool air-conditioned place where there really was no hope for true happiness, but it is impossible to go anywhere just by wishing it; (action is also required).

Just as Gabriel was about to reach his arm out towards Paul, one of the girls let out, “See, Dad. We washed up!” Gabriel stopped for a moment, looked at Paul, and then exploded into laughter. All the children followed, except for Paul.

“Alright, then,” said Gabriel. “You washed up. Now dry up. Dinner is nearly ready for the table.” He turned around and headed back for the front door.

The children began using different towels to dry their faces and hands. They helped each other dry spots that were wet that they themselves could not see or reach. But Paul could not move. He was still shocked at the fact that he was still alive. In addition, he could not believe that Gabriel was not angry at all, but delighted. Had Paul done something such as these children had done in the modern world, his parents would have screamed their lungs out until Paul’s socks were dry. However, Gabriel decided to laugh rather than scream. The surprises were really beginning to pile up for Paul.

Michael was trying to give Paul a towel, but Paul’s mind and eyes were staring off into space. “Paul. Paul, are you ok? Paul?” asked Michael.

Paul shook out of it. “Yes. I’m fine,” he said as if nothing had happened.

“That was fun. Don’t you think, Paul?” Michael spoke.

“Yeah,” he answered. Paul then cupped his hand over his mouth and whispered into Michael’s ear, “Hey. Why didn’t your dad get mad?”

Michael with a puzzled face turned and looked at Paul. He responded in a low voice, “Dad? Mad? Why would he get mad?”

Now Paul was puzzled. He whispered again, “Because we were splashing each other with water.”

“No, my dad wouldn’t get mad at that,” Michael confirmed. “He only gets mad when we sin. And even if that happens, he encourages us to be better people.”

Paul did not ask any further questions about the issue, though it was still unclear to him. He had never heard of anyone speak of “sin” in the way Michael did. It was a foreign concept to Paul, and family differences between Paul’s and Michael’s families were evident, which was why everything was so new to Paul.

Paul on this adventure had certainly spent a lot of time whining and complaining, in his own mind, at least. Dissatisfaction was his partner not only for the majority of this trip but for the majority of his life. But things were beginning to change. Being pessimistic in a place where pessimism gave him no reward was a tiring activity, and seeing such a splendor of attitude at Gabriel’s house made Paul feel embarrassed to complain about anything. Therefore, Paul made the resolve in his mind to keep quiet and play along with any activity the family would perform, no matter how unusual. After all, the family had not done anything truly bad, just some things he was not used to. Sometimes, growing closer to the good is simply a matter of getting used to, just as many are so used to atrocities, so are a few used to virtue.

Paul proceeded back inside the house with his companion, (not with dissatisfaction but Michael). What he viewed was the bunch of children moving about all assisting with the supper they were about to eat. It looked like one of those busy restaurant kitchens. Even if you have never worked in one, you can imagine what one is like, everyone with his or her own specific assignment, picking up and putting things down.

Michael quickly joined his siblings to aid in their preparation of the meal. Paul observed the youngest of the girls carrying one cup at a time to the table, clenching it carefully with both hands and looking inside with her nose barely missing the water which lay inside.

It was at that point that Paul realized that he had never helped either of his parents with any of the meals. Of course, with their busy lifestyle, Paul’s parents were more in the habit of eating out and ordering food for delivery. Yet, the one or two times a week they decided to cook at home, Paul would often lose his appetite. It was because his mother would cook ordinary dishes of meat, potatoes, and vegetables, which Paul “did not like”. His tongue was so accustomed to eating non-food made in factories, such as doughnuts and cookies, that real food made at home was unpalatable. There was nothing wrong with Paul’s mother’s food, nor Paul’s tongue, but his soul. Paul believed that if something was subjectively good for himself, it was necessarily objectively good for himself, too. Thankfully, this erroneous thinking was finally being corrected.

“Ok, everyone can sit down now,” spoke Angelica as she cupped and folded both of her hands together about waist-high. Everyone began to take their places around the table, which seemed to be assigned. Paul watched until being invited.

“Here, Paul,” said Michael with his right palm open as he showed Paul his rightful position. It was near the head of the table, in fact, the very seat at the left hand of the head (the table was rectangular, not round). Nobody sat down but remained standing behind their seats. Angelica brought over on three separate platters oven-roasted chickens with that golden-brown skin color that makes them look so delicious. Their freshness made them even more attractive to one’s mouth.

Angelica stood behind the seat opposite Paul at the right hand of the head of the table. It was not hard to figure out who would be at the head. It was no other than the leader of the family, Gabriel. Now he appeared much differently from when Paul had first seen him at the inn. He looked more like a king, and a very respectable one at that. His body was tall and strong, and his face was full of wisdom. The only thing missing was a golden crown.

“First,” Gabriel began, “let us welcome our guest, Paul.” Paul was nervous. No one had ever given him such recognition in his entire life. Gabriel continued, “I found him lost at my brother’s inn. He did not know where he was. He was lost but now has been found. This enjoyable meal we gladly share with him. Where he is from, we do not know, nor can we change it. What we can do is help him with where he is going.” Gabriel then turned and looked directly at Paul. “Paul,” he said, “this meal is for you.”

Paul was absolutely speechless. Even if he tried, there were simply no words that could suffice. Gabriel’s generosity was too good to match.

Gabriel then bowed his head and simultaneously closed his eyes. He made some peculiar gestures with his hands and did something Paul had never seen before but only heard about. He began to pray. The rest of the family followed, sharing the same word, all united in the same prayer.

Paul would also have followed for the sake of conformity if it was at all possible. But praying was something Paul had never done, neither a personal prayer nor a formal one. The closest he typically came to a prayer was when he sneezed and someone said, “God bless you,” but even this phrase was beginning to be phased out of language.

There was no choice for Paul but to stand there and close his eyes. Anyone can pray if one tries, even if one does not know exactly what to do. Paul got this feeling and decided to give it a whirl. He did not speak anything with his mouth, as he had never done this before, and to pray aloud for the first time is, like all first-time things, a rather interesting experience. What Paul did was almost nothing. It was not nothing, but almost nothing. He spoke something from the heart. Of course, this cannot be precisely measured by words, but if it had to be, it would be the equivalent of one word. It was all that Paul had inside of him to muster up, but it was enough to produce a new feeling inside of him.

The feeling was not totally new, for it had felt somewhat similar to the feeling he got after reading the book in his parents’ attic and after reading the book in Gabriel’s house. It was not something that Paul was at all accustomed to feeling in his old life. If there ever were a time when that feeling would come near, Paul would shy away from it, as he was never used to feeling those deep feelings of peace that one could imagine a monk feeling after spending an hour alone with God.

Paul could hear the prayer coming to an end and opened his eyes. He observed more hand gestures at the end of the prayer which he could not currently follow. Gabriel then pulled his chair out enough for his big body to fit between the table and chair and then sat himself down with his entire body symmetrically aligned. The rest of the family followed (the whole scene was not as militaristically rigid as it may sound). Paul was the last to seat himself, feeling nervous about the previous prayer session. He was still running through it in his mind wanting to know what he should have done and perhaps if he was even in the right place. But there was no time for that now.

“Enjoy, everyone!” boomed Gabriel as he held both of his arms out toward the family and the food.

“Paul gets the first serving of chicken,” told Angelica to the rest. She took a large carving knife and cut a slice which peeled off smoothly. The white, juicy meat steamed upward with the rising of the heat. After the initial cut into the chicken, the rest of the slice may as well have just fallen off with gravity due to the tenderness inside. Paul could start to feel the glands in his mouth work and his stomach growl. He looked at the slice which now sat on his plate beneath his nose, (the plate was not made out of wood but some better material that Paul was unfamiliar with and had no time to investigate). The smell with the steam rose up and entered into Paul’s senses. The delight of soon being able to eat real food (cooked well) for the first time seized his mind.

“Go ahead, Paul,” Gabriel encouraged. “This whole chicken is for you and me.” Gabriel patted his own stomach and let out a chuckle. The rest of the table also laughed. Paul picked up his fork and knife and (improperly) cut a small piece of chicken off of the big slice. He lifted it into his mouth and tasted the sensation. The juice covered his tongue and reached every corner of his mouth. He chewed and then swallowed the treat.

“Very good. Thank you,” he muttered looking up at Angelica. The chicken was more than just very good, but Paul had never quite learned the importance of giving honest compliments. Even though he had done it before with the fresh bread, it was not one of Paul’s habits to pay compliments when they were due, so the case with the fresh bread was just an exception.

All of the children began serving themselves with the various dishes of food placed on the table, the older helping the younger, especially with the cutting of the chicken. Besides the chicken, there were the mushrooms that the children had found which Angelica had cooked and topped with a type of gravy. Next were stewed tomatoes of an orangey-red color with a green herb mixed in. Then was a basket of sweet buns wrapped in cloth. Finally were two kinds of salted olives with bits of cheese sprinkled throughout.

It was a feast. All of the food was utterly scrumptious. Gabriel and his family could not help expressing their joy with due compliments to the chef and frequent laughter. The children went into further detail about how many mushrooms they had found and exactly where they had found them. Paul was so focused on eating his food that he forgot there were others around him, despite their celebrative emotions. Gabriel and Angelica continued to put food onto Paul’s plate faster than he could eat it, and all of the new sensations that filled Paul’s mouth kept his mind occupied.

Michael took his cup and raised it in the air and then wrapped his arm around Paul’s shoulder and spoke in a loud voice, “For Paul!” The rest of the family followed, “For Paul!” Then they all took a drink from their cups.

Paul, of course, did not join in the toast aimed at himself except by picking up his cup. He was hesitant to drink from it as he recalled the less than purified water Gabriel had given him at the inn. Paul looked for a moment inside to see what it held. Gabriel let out a chuckle. “That there is fresh stream water which flows down from the local mountain. It is quite good.”

From the sound and look of it, Paul believed Gabriel’s words. He brought the cup to his lips and chugged a mouthful. It was the best-tasting water he had ever drunk. Paul never drank much water in his life. He had preferred the more sugary drinks (and food) that were popular in his day. Maybe it was not Paul’s fault that the water available was always so tainted, but if he had this kind of water, it would easily have supplanted any other option.

The festive moment continued until everyone was feeling satisfied. Conversation died down a bit, and the mood became more and more relaxed. Gabriel, who was a big eater whenever food was available, was just finishing off the last chicken leg. It was the most contenting meal in Paul’s life and also perhaps the lives of Gabriel and his family. Angelica had put her whole heart into it.

Paul soon received the news that the eating was not over. “Time to clean up,” affirmed Angelica. “After everyone cleans up, dessert will be ready!”

“Yay!” shouted the family, including Gabriel. All the children started cleaning off the table in the same way they had set it up. The ones who were responsible for the plates were still responsible for the plates, and the ones who were responsible for the cups were still responsible for the cups. Dishware and silverware were being transported outside to the water collector for washing. Angelica went back to the kitchen area to fix up dessert, and Gabriel and Paul remained at the table. It was the perfect time for a brief conversation.

“Paul,” started Gabriel, “I really am glad that you made it. It has been a pleasure having you here at our home, and it seems like Michael is eager to be your friend. I hope that he hasn’t scared you in anyway. Oh, and I hope you enjoyed the meal. You must have been so hungry. Being lost doesn’t do anything but make you feel worse, I’ve found. Isn’t that right, Paul?”

“You’re right,” responded Paul. “Thank you for having me. I feel good now.” Paul turned and looked in the direction of where the book had been. He was still thinking about it, and all of the good things that happened to Paul on this adventure called him to think even more. He turned back to Gabriel and said with an inquisitive voice, “Gabriel?”

“Yes, Son?” wondered Gabriel. Just as Paul was about to ask about the book, the commotion of children reentered the house.

“Everything is clean!” exclaimed Raphael excitedly.

“We’re ready for dessert,” told the oldest of the girls to Angelica.

“We’re ready for dessert,” copied the youngest of the girls.

“Ok, great,” replied Angelica. “Everyone take a plate of dessert to the table.” All the children took from Angelica a plate on which she had already placed the dessert. Each child brought his or her own plate to the table. Michael, in addition, brought Paul’s plate, and Angelica brought Gabriel’s as well as her own. “Enjoy!” she declared.

It was a warm pie made from the berries the children had found. It was sweet and delicious. “Mom,” uttered one of the girls, “did you use the berries we found?”

“Yes, dear,” responded Angelica.

“Even the new kind?!” she asked hopefully.

“Even the new kind,” Gabriel butted in. “It is from the north, where I’m from. I’m surprised it made its way all the way down here, but I guess surprises happen when you expect them to.” The children were overjoyed at the fact that the new berry that they had found they were now eating. Finding something new is always a pleasure, and then when it turns out to be even better than expected, the pleasure is doubled.

The taste of the berry pie needs no explanation. It was enjoyed to the max. Although the time taken to find the berries and make the pie outweighed by far the time to eat it, it was, without question, still worth it. Good food is always worth it. A good meal can cheer up despondent souls and make already confident souls excel in their endeavors. Thus, a good cook possesses a great gift.

Paul and the rest devoured the multi-berry pie with ease and felt utterly at rest afterwards. Many of the children sat back in their chairs and slouched down with delight and satisfaction. Everybody took a much needed five-minute break before Gabriel announced, “Alright, everyone. Clean up the table, and I will tell you a story.”

The energy that had previously left the room from the filling up of bellies had suddenly returned with the news that Gabriel would tell a story. “Yay’s” could be heard from each and every child, except Paul who was not sure why listening to a story from an adult would be exciting. He was never too keen on stories, mainly because he could never really focus himself on one thing at a time, but also because he was rarely ever told any. Stories naturally spark interest in listeners. It was unfortunate that Paul could hardly ever share in such vital experiences, but he was soon about to.

Gabriel and Paul again did none of the cleaning up but moved over to where the story would be told. It was the same spot where Michael and Paul had read from that mysterious book. The book itself still lay on the table where the boys had left it.

Gabriel saw it and gently lifted it up to eye-level as he remained standing and gazed at the pages. “This is a great book,” asserted Gabriel, “perhaps the greatest book, perhaps the book.” Paul again wanted to question Gabriel about it. His interest had reached a fever pitch. It was the first time Paul had felt interest in something that was not largely a waste of time. He was trying to think of the right question to ask Gabriel.

Gabriel continued to skim through the pages as Paul pondered in thought. A reasonable question was finally aroused in Paul’s mind, and he gradually obtained the courage to ask it. But just as he opened his mouth, the children who had exited the house to wash the dessert plates had returned with a thundering, “Story time!” When everything in the kitchen area was in order, everybody gathered around Gabriel who stood in the middle. Some sat in chairs and others on the floor. The youngest of the girls sat on the lap of the oldest. Even Angelica joined in to hear the story her husband was on the verge of telling.

His mouth opened and began speaking. The children fixed their eyes on their father and could not help letting their jaws descend. It was the story of how Gabriel had first met his wife Angelica. All the children were particularly interested in this story, as one could imagine, all except Paul. His mind was distracted. He could not remove the book from his thoughts. Not only that, he began to think of his own parents, his own family. For the first time in his life, he felt as though he missed them. If he were to have something such as the television or his phone to keep himself occupied, he would have cared less where his parents were. However, now since there were no such things available, he was forced to think about the more important things in life.

Gabriel’s narrative carried on. The children oo’ed and ah’ed as the story progressed. Gabriel waved his arms around as he presented the story with heartfelt emotion. He was a fine storyteller. The sentences flowed one after the other with rhythm and suspense. Paul, nonetheless, could only hear words. He was wondering whether he would ever get a chance to know why he had come to this place and when he would be able to go back home. Although Gabriel and his family had been very kind to him, he was still hoping to get back to his own home (being home really gives one a unique feeling).

The story winded down and came to a close. Everyone clapped, including Paul, though he had not listened to much of it. “It’s almost dark out. Time for bed. Make sure you say your prayers,” reported Angelica. The children did not mind that it was time for bed, nor that their bedtime was actually before it was totally dark and not after. Each of the children hugged and kissed their mom and dad good night.

“Good night, Paul,” said the girls. “Night night with the angels!”

“Good night,” replied Paul.

“Come on,” said Michael. “All the boys share their own room. Raphael and I used to have it to ourselves, but now it’s even better with our baby brothers there!” The boys went over to their room. Michael whispered, “Try to be quiet. The babies are sleeping.” They tiptoed into the room, which was smaller than Paul had imagined. “You can sleep in the bed. Raphael and I will sleep on the floor. Don’t worry about us. We do it all the time when there’s a guest. We’re used to it! We enjoy it!”

Paul looked at the bed which was no more than an enlarged cot with a woven sheet on top. He took his shoes off, climbed into the bed, and covered himself with the sheet. It was the most uncomfortable bed he could ever remember sleeping on. Though he was displeased, he felt no way in the position to complain with Michael and Raphael lying on the floor.

“Since our little brothers are sleeping,” whispered Michael, “you can pray silently and then go to sleep. We will do the same thing. Good night!”

“Good night,” replied Paul.

“Good night!” spoke Raphael.

“Good night,” said Paul and Michael together.

Paul lay in the bed looking up at the ceiling. Complete darkness had enveloped the evening sky, and so the children we eager to fall asleep. They looked as comfortable and content as if they were sleeping on a cloud. Paul, on the other hand, was feeling quite the opposite. He had projected that he was now in bed no less than five hours earlier than he normally would be. The cot-like bed gave his back the impression that he was sleeping on a table rather than a bed. After one minute of fussing to himself, Paul noticed that the children had fallen fast asleep, seemingly after they had finished their prayers.

Paul did not feel like praying. He still was not quite sure how to, and his mind was racing with all kinds of thoughts from the day: the attic, the book, Gabriel, the man on the wagon, this historical world, himself. He lay there for an hour examining his day trying to comprehend all the people and events. After all, being transported back in time and dealing with life there is not an easy thing.

Finally after covering each important detail of the day in his mind, he felt his eyes becoming heavier. He had not prayed yet but he wanted to, though he did not know how. He felt some kind of peace in his heart, and with that, he fell asleep.

It was not long before his eyes opened and noticed the bright morning light filling the room with warmth. Paul sat up and looked around, but no one was to be found. For a moment, Paul did not remember where he was. He wondered if his adventure had been a dream, but it could not have been. He was still in the cot bed with the same sheet on his legs, however, the four other boys were gone. Paul’s mind was empty; he had no idea what to do. He sat there waiting for some kind of guidance.

Just then, Michael burst through into the room. “Good morning, Paul!” he bawled. Paul nearly jumped through the ceiling in terror. “Here, Paul. I brought you breakfast. It is not like last night’s dinner, I know. We are on our way to the market. My dad wants you to come along. We are leaving in fifteen minutes. Make sure you’re ready!”

Paul looked at the plate of breakfast. It was a hardboiled egg with some bread and cheese. A glass of fresh water was also on the side. “Well,” thought Paul, “it seems better than a doughnut.” Paul was right. It was better than a doughnut. “What time is it?” he asked Michael as he was leaving the room.

“Ha ha,” Michael laughed. “You slept a long time. It’s a whole hour after sunrise. Don’t let the rest of the sun go to waste. Eat your breakfast and we’ll go!”

Paul was not exactly sure how the sun could be wasted, but he quickly ate his breakfast, brought his plate and cup over to the table and set it down, and then ran out the door to where a cart was being prepared by Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. “Good morning!” let out Gabriel. “It’s a beautiful day! I’m sure Michael has told you we are on our way to the market. I wanted you to come along. My wife and the others are running their own errors. All the big boys and I get to do our own stuff. The wagon’s ready, so hop on.”

Paul climbed up onto the wagon with all his ability and sat down in the back next to Michael. Raphael sat in the row ahead with Gabriel who held the reins of two horses and spoke to his son about the proper technique for conducting a horse-drawn wagon. They started moving forward over the bumpy ground and out onto the road which Paul had walked. They did not turn left to go back towards the inn. Instead, they turned right and headed up the road still untraveled by Paul.

The ride was relaxing and refreshing with a gentle breeze. Paul did not pay much attention to the scenery around him, though there was not much that was new anyway. He was still trying to absorb everything that had happened the day before. Perhaps, he would not be able to soak everything in for quite some time.

It was not long before they reached the marketplace, only about twenty minutes, and when they did reach it, it was impossible to ignore. Noise was bustling throughout the place. It was filled with chickens running wildly about and baskets of their eggs, cows, horses, fish, swine, fruits, grains, and vegetables. Paul thought of it as a supermarket of the past.

“We’ll park here where we can keep our wagon in sight,” said Gabriel as he used the reins to command the horses to come to a halt. Everybody got off the wagon and planted their feet into the dusty, rocky ground of the marketplace which had been tread upon by thousands or millions of feet from both humans and livestock. “Here’s some money, Michael. Go with Paul and buy us enough fish for tonight’s dinner. I’m going to teach Raphael how to bid for a cow at the auction place.”

“We’re getting a cow?!” blurted Michael.

“That’s right,” responded Gabriel. “We’ve been lacking one for two years now, and I really think our family could use another one. Let’s go, Raphael,” he said. Michael was thrilled at the news. He turned to Paul and showed his excitement, though Paul could not understand the reason why, as his family had never owned an animal.

“We’re getting a cow!” shouted Michael over the noise of the market. “Isn’t that great?”

“Sure,” said Paul not knowing what else to say. Michael took the coins his father had given him and walked with Paul over to the fish section where there were various types of live, dead, and dried fish. Both Michael and Paul were scanning the various types of fish to see which ones might be suitable for the day’s dinner. Michael, of course, knew better than Paul who was simply trying to take in the new experience of being at a market.

Then, something sudden happened. Michael’s expression changed. He quickly said to Paul, “Wait here.” He left Paul with the fish and went to a man who was selling biscuits. Paul could see that Michael had purchased many of them and gained a lot of hope that at least half of those biscuits would be for him. He even hypothesized that Michael and himself would later lie to Gabriel about what they bought and get away with it. He imagined buying not only biscuits, but cookies, cakes, and even doughnuts if there were any.

However, to Paul’s dismay, Michael did not go back to where Paul was standing. He went over to a man who had only one leg and was walking along on a crutch. The man was dressed in total rags. It was a pitiful sight to anyone who felt like looking. The man had not been asking anyone for anything but was just crutching along.

Michael took the numerous count of biscuits he had just purchased and gave them to the man. The man with a joyful expression of surprise began laughing, as did Michael. Michael then gave the man a hug, not worrying at all about the consequences he could face, especially if there were onlookers from the crowd. The embrace lasted for a good while and then finished with both parties smiling and wishing each other well.

This very event was the most extraordinary thing Paul had ever observed. He had never even seen a pauper before, let alone helped one. In that moment, Michael appeared to be the most selfless creature he would ever know, and himself, Paul, the most selfish. What Paul miraculously recognized was not only the greatness of the physical encounter between Michael and the poor man, but the greatness of the spirit behind it. That spirit was a spirit of justice and peace, a spirit of compassion and mercy, a spirit of wisdom and grace, a spirit of truth and love.

Paul’s seams were bursting with this new experience. He noticed an unoccupied stool and so went over and took a seat for a while.

 

7

“The light is only the beginning.”

 

The temperature was on the warm side, and the sun was shining. The shadow of a large canopy that hung above prevented Paul’s face from receiving a second course of sunburn. Paul’s shoes were still lightly browned with dust from the first road he had traveled on and were gradually accumulating more and more bits of dirt.

Michael still had not returned to where Paul was but stood in the open area of the market and watched the poor man crutch away with his new gifts. Paul’s eyes wandered from the scene. He scanned the rest of the market, not looking for anything in particular, but he had to look somewhere.

He made out in the distance a very familiar figure. He was not sure where he had seen the figure before, but he was almost sure that he had seen it in this historical world. It was a woman dressed in costly attire. Her back was temporarily facing Paul, so he could not see verifiably who it was. As she turned around, she revealed herself to be no other than the woman from the forbidden mansions that Gabriel had warned Paul about. Her eyes gazed directly into Paul’s. Both Paul and the woman made no movement towards each other but continued staring without interruption, unless a pedestrian were passing by. The woman looked on with curiosity as if she wanted to meet Paul. Paul, on the other hand, was dreadfully frightened by the woman and her apparent interest in meeting him (though he had previously wanted to meet her). The only acquaintances Paul had in this historical world were Gabriel and his family. He felt safe enough with them and was not adventurous to the point of being able to talk with any more strangers at this point (which was good for Paul, because being recklessly adventurous is never a good thing).

Although Paul was now scared of the woman, he kept his eyes on her in case she decided to approach him, and that is what she did. She started walking directly at Paul. Paul was panicking in his head, but the rest of his body was frozen, his heart petrified. He felt hopeless. He did not want to meet this woman by any means, and since she was getting closer every second, he believed that there might be no escape. Paul closed his eyes wishing that he could disappear and go back to the modern world.

Immediately after wishing himself away, he was pulled by the arm off the stool and onto his feet. “Come on, Paul!” It was Michael. He was carrying a bag which most likely contained the fish needed for the day’s dinner. Michael started running. “Let’s go!” he waved his hand. Paul was happy to see Michael and even happier to be running away from that wretched woman. “My dad told me before we left that he wants to buy a couple bags of tomato seeds to start a tomato farm for our family. This shop over here sells them.”

Michael pointed while running over to a small wooden building that looked similar to the inn in which Paul had entered this historical world. Both of the boys entered the shop which was open and filled with sacks of various kinds of seeds. Some were on the floor and others were placed up on shelves.

Michael was browsing the bags with one of those looks that a shopper in a supermarket has when not in a rush, carefully looking at every item as though it were a matter of inspection. He was determined to find the exact kind of seed that his father had requested. “Hmm, this one isn’t it,” he said, carefully picking up one seed and putting it back into the sack, and then repeating the process with several other sacks.

Paul observed Michael, not caring too much about the seeds, but trying to generate the strength to ask him a question. There was something burning within his heart. After everything that had happened so far on this journey, Paul knew that he himself had changed much, but there was no practical skill he had learned (except, maybe, how to sleep on a hard bed). He wanted something concrete to keep with him.

Paul went over and tapped Michael on the shoulder and muttered hesitantly, “Michael.”

“Yes, Paul?” he turned around and answered.

“Can you teach me how to pray?” he asked with a voice that sounded weaker than when he was an elementary-school student.

“Of course!” shouted Michael. He was not at all surprised at the question, nor did he look at Paul with arrogance because of Paul’s ignorance of prayer. He was glad to help.

The conversation that then occurred between Michael and Paul was too beautiful to be described. The two had reached a point where they could honestly call each other “friends”. Paul was able to focus entirely on Michael’s instruction without distraction. There was no phone, television, or music to get in the way of Paul hearing the words he needed to acquire the ability that he was seeking. Michael was just as focused as Paul was, carefully explaining the detailed information Paul was going to keep with him the rest of his life.

“Thanks,” said Paul as the conversation came to a close.

“No problem,” was the response from Michael. “Hey, do you see that ladder over there leading up to the storage room?”

Paul looked and answered, “Yeah.”

“Why don’t you go up there and see if the shopkeeper is there? I will keep searching down here for the seeds,” suggested Michael.

“Alright,” affirmed Paul.

Paul went over to the base of the ladder which led up into a dark place. The sunlight coming into the building lit up the storage room just enough to give anyone enough illumination to be able to find what one needed. Paul had no idea what might be up there. He imagined that there might be rats, but even if there were, he was no longer afraid.

Driven by a new purpose, Paul ascended the ladder with courage into the shadowy storage room. He reached the top, not even bothering to check to see what was there before bringing his full body inside, though he had to crawl, lest he bang his head on the wooden ceiling beams that hung low.

“Hello?” cried out Paul as he slunk around the wooden floor. “Hello? Is anyone there?” he continued to bawl out. The temperature was hotter than downstairs, and Paul’s forehead began to fill with sweat. The floor was dusty from neglect of the owner. He became anxious to leave but wanted to be no less than one-hundred percent sure that the shopkeeper was not in the storage room. “Ten more seconds and then I’m out of here,” he thought.

Paul crawled a little further and then his knee hit something hard. He stopped and felt the object with his right hand and then both hands together lifting the object off the floor. One of his fingers touched something, and then a big, bright light shined forth from the object. “A flashlight!” Paul recognized. “But there were no flashlights in history,” he pondered.

He pointed the flashlight around in several directions, not finding any other living creature except himself. There were a few various objects around in the storage place, but Paul ignored those in favor of an open box which caught his appeal. He scooted over to the open box and put his head inside along with the flashlight. There on top was the book Paul had read when he first entered the attic of his parents’ home. He didn’t dare touch it.

Shutting off the flashlight and placing it on the floor, he crawled and returned to the opening from where he came. He made the descent downward as quickly as possible into a house that was now filled with light. Paul could hear yelling and arguments coming from some part of the house, but that was no concern of his at the moment. His body feeling filthy from everything that had taken place up until this point, Paul was ready for a shower.

He made his way over to what he remembered to be a bathroom, entered inside, and closed the door. Approaching the shower, he grasped the knob and turned it to where there was the letter “C”. Paul undressed and stepped into the shower. He could feel the blast of cold water in his face which in turn ran down his back and to the shower floor.

Even though Paul did not feel as if he were at a spa, his mind was totally at peace. Nothing could have bothered him at this point. There were no distractions, annoyances, or sin, just pure being. All the events of Paul’s past, positive and negative, came together. His life was before his eyes. Surely, there must have been something to say about all this, but Paul could not think of anything. He had nothing to say, but he felt like he had to say something, and that “something” was, perhaps, better than anything he himself could have come up with.

Paul closed his eyes into deep meditation as the water continued to pour onto his body. Opening his mouth, he carefully uttered the words, “Pater noster…”

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