The Town of Home
Leif looked around in a daze. The last thing he remembered was closing his eyes and focusing on the Pull. Now he found himself on a deserted but well-kept gravel road, though it more resembled a path, he decided. Sun-lit meadows were dotted with trees and flowers. The sun felt good and Leif saw bees around the flowers and heard birds in the distance. He began walking in the direction he knew was right, though how he knew he couldn’t say.
Rounding a bend he saw a cluster of rustic, well-kept cabins, each with a big yard and trees for shade. People were on porches or milling around on lawns, looking happy and smiling as they talked. When Leif walked closer they noticed him but weren't alarmed in the slightest. One of the closer groups of people walked towards him.
"Welcome, friend," one called out.
"Where am I?" Leif responded, a little surprised at being called “friend” by someone he’d just met.
"You're in Home. That's the name of this town."
Leif spent the rest of that day and the next several days visiting and asking questions.
"Do you work?"
"What do you eat?"
"We don't get hungry or thirsty."
Leif realized he hadn’t been hungry or thirsty since arriving.
"Why not?" Leif asked.
"No one needs it here," one replied.
Leif decided to try again. "Where am I?" he persisted.
"You are in the town of Home in the land of Beyond."
Oh, great, Leif thought.
Any effort to acquire more information was met with vague answers or smiling silence. They seemed happy but something didn't seem right to Leif. No one would look him in the eye when they spoke to him. No one was as happy as they appeared to be. Their expression was far from happy when they thought no one was looking.
Despite the name of the town no one stayed for long. People would arrive, but they were coming from the opposite direction Leif had come. Leif tried in vain to ask where they had come from. Someone Leif had met only a few days before would now be gone. When Leif asked about them, no one knew or cared what had happened to them.
After three days of this Leif was becoming uncomfortable.
Is this what life is? he wondered. This place sure isn’t home to me.
It was therefore with joy and relief when he looked down the path and saw his three friends. He rushed to meet them.
"How did you get here?" he exclaimed. "Am I glad to see you!"
"It's because of you,” said Isabella.
"Me? What do you mean?"
"It was your longing and pulling story. That's what."
"But don't you see? It's real. Something is beyond what we had previously believed. Life has a purpose more than just existing," said Leif.
"Or we could get killed," Devan responded.
"Better than not ever knowing," Leif retorted.
"I don't know about you," Devan said, "but I have felt an evil presence here, though how I know that is beyond me."
"Yes, but can't you also sense a tremendously good presence?" Leif asked.
Devan had to admit he did.
"But you’re right," Leif agreed. "Something is wrong with this town, if that is what this cluster of cabins could be called. People come and go but no one stays for long."
After more discussion they decided they would continue on the path the next day. They found four empty beds in one of the cabins, four beds that had been occupied the night before.
At two in the morning they were awakened by someone standing over them, someone who whispered in a voice that didn't sound threatening.
"Quick, come with me. You are in danger."
The stranger introduced himself. He had a long, lanky build and a boyish but weather-worn face that made him look anywhere from thirty to fifty years of age.
"My name is Gerard. And you are Leif, Isabella, Kamiko and Devan," he said to each in turn. "You must come with me. I was sent to find you and take you to a safe place."
"But why are we in danger?" Devan asked.
"No time for talk. Follow me."
It made no sense, but the four friends trusted Gerard. They certainly weren’t comfortable staying where they were. He led them stealthily along some shrubs and up a wooded hill until they had a view of the entire village.
"Why the secrecy?" Leif asked. "No one else is up."
Gerard motioned for them to be quiet and pointed to the top of a tree across the way.
"There’s your reason," he stated.
Once pointed out, they could see a creature hazy in detail, glowing blue.
Gerard silently led them out of Home and along a path he seemed to know well. Leif was confused.
"What’s happening? Are you taking us back to the world we came from?"
Gerard was silent for a moment before answering.
"Don't you understand?” he replied. “This is the real you. That creature wants you back in Back, where you came from. Do you want that?"
"What was that creature?" Kamiko asked.
"It isn’t your friend. We call them the Dark Forms. I'll tell you more later."
"Those people in Home, aren't they in danger too? Why aren't you rescuing them?" Devan asked.
Gerard was silent again for a while before answering. A sadness came over his countenance.
"For now they are beyond help. They no longer want the Pull, so the Dark Forms leave them alone. They become hungry and thirsty for physical food, and they are drawn back to Back. That’s why people disappear in the middle of the night."
"Why wait until the middle of the night?” Devan asked.
"Because they are too ashamed to admit it," Gerard replied.
They walked continuously at a steady pace, and were now out of earshot from Home.
"We'll stop and rest. We still have a long walk ahead of us," Gerard announced.
"Where again are we going?” Isabella asked. She had been conspicuously silent until now.
"I didn't say. We’re going to the Training Center. We try to take new arrivals there before they go too far on their own. Many dangers are in Beyond. You must be trained in how to survive here."
"But why am I here?" Leif asked. "Why are any of us here?"
"Isn't it obvious? To find the source of the Pull. With my help, of course."
For the first time since arriving, Leif tuned in to the Longing within him. Sure enough, he could still feel the Pull. But now it was different. It was stronger. The color gold popped into his mind.
Am I going nuts? he wondered. He realized instead of being over, his journey had just begun. His efforts had only brought him to the starting gate. But at least I can start the real race…to find what life is about, he concluded.
Leif had a tremendous excitement, along with a smidgen of concern, at what lay ahead as he sat down alongside the others. It felt good to rest.
Their arrival in Beyond did not go unnoticed by the enemy.
“Four have arrived and are now with the one they call ‘Gerard,’ ” the scout reported to his superior.
“He will not be happy,” the superior replied. His face became hard. “Why weren’t they stopped?”
“The Pull was maybe too strong?” the scout ventured.
“Go back and keep me informed of their progress!” the superior shouted. He feared having to pass this information up the chain of command.
“We still have time to stop them,” he muttered to himself.
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