"You have to take my kids?"
I wore three rubber bracelets on my right wrist. "Yes, I'm sorry." One was bright green, for her daughter.
"Both of them?"
One was transparent orange, for her son. "Both of them."
"Is there something wrong with them?" She meant "her", with her daughter.
"Something like that. I'm sorry." She nodded knowingly: I'm sorry I can't tell you more.
One was black, for myself. "I'm sorry."
She hugged me, wary of the black one, and whose it was. "I am too. Thank you."
I nodded, and she let me go.
She raced toward me and I caught her in my arms, lifting her into a friendly parental embrace. "Hello, Katie."
She plucked at one of the bands on my wrists. "Is this one mine?"
I shifted her to my left hip so I could hold her with one arm; she was getting too big for this. "Which one?"
"This one." She plucked the brilliant green one again.
"It is. I've been holding onto it for you."
"No you haven't," she giggled, "it's been holding onto you."
I lowered her to the ground and knelt, our eyes almost level. "This is very important, Katie, I need you to understand."
She nodded, her mouth a thin, straight line.
"You can have this now, but you can't lose it. Nobody else can wear it. You must never take it off unless you're alone, and even then not for long. Do you understand?"
"Good. Then this--" I peel it off my arm "--is yours."
Katie accepts it, lights in her eyes, and pulls it on. "But why could you wear it?"
"Because I'm its keeper."
She doesn't understand, but knows that will come later. "Thank you Mr.-"
"Oh, don't call me that! It's too formal. I'm just a close family friend. Please, call me Paul."
"Thank you, Paul."
"You're very welcome." I stand. "Now, where can I find your brother?"
"Are you going to give him the orange one? I want to come with!"
"No. He must do this alone, just like you did. And if it goes... Well, I don't think I'll have to give it to him."
"Is that why you wear the black?"
I look down at her, startled. "What?"
She points to the black one. "Mom is frightened of who you were going to give that to, but I know it's yours. Is he going to take it from you?" Her voice grows frightened, worried.
Ruffling her hair, I reply. "Don't worry about it little one. Everything will turn out just fine." I walked away before she could probe any deeper.
This was bad, I thought, fingering my band. She's developing too quickly.
Then begin her training now!
But I must deliver the band to her brother first. If she's advancing so early, I'd hate to see--
Then get on with it!
Nodding to myself, I stepped up into a steady jog, and chased after her older brother. At least she and her mother don't understand what the black means. I hope he doesn't either.
I came upon, waiting for me.
"I don't want it." His arms were crossed.
"Either of them."
"You don't have much of a choice."
"Did you give my sister a choice?"
"I didn't need to. She'd already made up her mind."
"Well, you can't make me take it."
I took a step closer to him and he scowls. "Kris."
"Kris, I'm not asking. This is yours. I'm not giving you a choice."
"Kris, it's time to move on."
"Kris." It's the only thing you can ever own.
No! You can't make me! The scream tore through my mind.
I smiled. "Kris. You're ready." I pull off the orange band and toss it to him. He catches it, barely, his body shaking. "Put it on."
"I can't." He slumps to the ground, and I catch his shoulders.
"Yes, you can. You must."
I can't. His mindspeak is faint.
"It will destroy you then." I let him go, stand, turn away.
Wait. A tendril reaches out to me, and I pause. "Don't leave me."
I turn to him, help him stand. "I'll be with you every step of the way." Now rest. You have a lot ahead of you.
He whispers "thank you" as I slowly walk away.
We left the following day, taking nothing with us. Katie was teary-eyed. She won't miss either of you. Don't worry about her. Life without you will be such a relief.
And we walked. How far is it?
Don't ask, Kris. You'll make it longer.
The landscaping shifted around us, the miles falling away, though the sun seemed to remain fixed in the morning sky.
"This is weird."
Katie, use mindspeak.
Sorry. I know we've been traveling for hours, but the sun hasn't moved.
Moved? That's not your sun that you're looking at. And it's in the evening sky.
Relax. We're almost there.
Almost where? Kris pauses impatiently, only for a moment, but drops quickly behind us. What's going on?
Don't ask. And hurry up! Don't get left behind. Everything will be explained in due course.
Left behind? What are you talking about? I only paused for a moment. He stops again, but this time quickly fades from sight.
Where did he go?
Don't worry about him, Katie. I knew this would happen.
But you didn't do anything!
There was nothing to do. He had already made his decision. He has a separate future, a different path than you do. Don't worry about him. -Besides, there are more important things you need to focus on. This journey, for one: it's about time we arrived.
A small hut, with a clay-tile roof, materialized in front of us, surrounded by a dense fog.
I think you'll be just fine here.
A strong thought interrupts us, and Katie turns, surprised. Is that it?
Welcome back, Kris. Enjoy yourself?
I was better off there than here.
Heading back then?
I'm heading off again. I'm not staying here with you. Somewhere else this time. he walks off into the mist.
That was Kris? But we only left him a little while ago! He's aged so much...
To us, we only left him a short while ago, but time can be fluid here. It's been years for him, and he hasn't changed much. He's well on his way for discovering his full potential. You, on the other hand, will have a much more protected experience.
Protected? From what?
Kris, for one. There are other powers about, but the hut and the mist protect us. You have no reason to worry.