Chapter 1: A Home
“We tell them to not fight, it not worth it,” said Alistaar, the first of the four to speak since they had entered the room. “Yet, their tempers … very dilay.”
“Dilay?” Mrs. Arden paused to give Alistaar a long look.
“Quick, hot, unmanageable,” Melisza quickly provided. “They do not think before they act.”
“What do they have to say for themselves?” questioned Mrs. Arden, fixing her gaze on Jaqob, who had been the one caught in the fight that day. “Why are they intent on making this orphanage unfit for children?”
Jaqob grunted, but said nothing.
“They say mean thing! They want us fight!” exclaimed Tabetha, her eyes flashing. Those words seemed to exhaust her English vocabulary because she then launched into a torrent of meaningless words.
“Tabetha!” Mrs. Arden admonished. “Stop it!”
Tabetha did not stop, however, until Melisza leaned over and whispered something in her ear. Then Tabetha turned her eyes sullenly towards the floor, and folded her arms over her chest.
“Jaqob, Tabetha,” said Mrs. Arden carefully, “I understand that the other children sometimes say unfavorable things about you, but that is no excuse for lashing out so violently. You are different from them, that is obvious, and they …” She sighed and shook her head. “What they do isn’t right either, but you don’t need to make things worse by trying to kill them. Honestly, if you would stop isolating yourselves from the others and get to know them, perhaps they would start treating you better.”
“They do not understand our ways,” said Alistaar, his voice calm and even. “We don’t understand theirs. We have tried, but their words confuse us, and we can make no sense of their games.”
“And they can make no more sense of you,” said Mrs. Arden.
“But we do not torment them about their differences,” said Melisza. “For differences are inevitable. It is no excuse for Tabetha and Jaqob to lash out in anger, I will admit, but as I’ve said before, Tabetha and Jaqob’s tempers are very quick.”
Tabetha shot Melisza a reproachful look, and muttered a few words that Mrs. Arden couldn’t understand.
“However,” said Mrs. Arden, deciding that she had had enough of this conversation, “I did not call you in here to talk to you about your tempers.”
She gained three surprised looks. Jaqob was still glaring at the floor.
“You … didn’t?” questioned Tabetha, giving her brother a kick in the shin.
Jaqob shot her a confused glare, which lead Tabetha to say a few words to him in their language. Of all of the children, Jaqob was the one who understood English the least.
“No, I didn’t,” said Mrs. Arden, once she had Jaqob’s attention, and, she hoped, his ears. She drew in a deep breath. “You four have been incredibly hard for me to find a home for, and increasingly so as you have gotten older.”
“The people who you select for our families understand us less than you do,” said Alistaar.
“Your desire to not be separated doesn’t help things,” continued Mrs. Arden, noting, but not commenting on Alistaar’s remark.
“We are alone in a strange place,” continued Alistaar. “If we were to lose each other, we would have no one who understands us.”
“But you cannot remain with us forever,” said Mrs. Arden with a shake of her head. “In a mere two years, you will be eighteen, and you must venture out into the real world. On your own. The real world is a cruel place to things it doesn’t understand.”
“We will face that day when it comes,” said Alistaar, after drawing in a deep breath. “It is inevitable, but we do not see why we should worry about it.” He gave Jaqob a sidelong glance.
“Yes, but you can prepare for it,” said Mrs. Arden. “Get to know people, learn how to manage households and money. You and Jaqob should find yourselves jobs. Jaqob, perhaps, can go into the army, and Alistaar would do well as a teacher.”
“We will consider your suggestion,” said Alistaar. “As long as they do not require than any of us are isolated from the others.”
Mrs. Arden frowned. “I do not understand you four.”
“And we do not understand you,” said Melisza.
“Well, I would like you to talk it over,” said Mrs. Arden. “For now, you are dismissed, but I would like to see you back here tomorrow, understood.”
Melisza and Alistaar nodded. “We understand.” They cast a glance towards the other two, “And we’ll make sure they come as well.”
Mrs. Arden sank down into her chair and put her head in her hands. It wasn’t that she didn’t love those children, she did. Miss Pearstean sometimes accused her of favoring those four over all the others.
But they were so strange, so different.
“She is right,” said Alistaar, as the four settled themselves into their corner in the yard. “We can’t stay here forever.” He was speaking in their own language since it wasn’t necessary for any of the other children to understand what he was saying.
“I don’t want to stay here forever,” said Jaqob, smacking his palm with his fist. “And I know that none of you do either.”
“But there is nowhere to go beyond there and here,” Tabetha pointed out. “There are no other options.”
“We can’t be the only people like us in the world,” argued Jaqob. “Even I can figure that one out. We had parents once, didn’t we?”
“Once,” agreed Melisza. “But they abandoned us. They obviously didn’t want us, since they haven’t come back to get us either.”
“Maybe we were too strange for them,” said Tabetha. “Maybe they got rid of us because we were deformed …”
“Four of us on the same night?” Alistaar pointed out. “If it were only one of us – or perhaps one set of twins, it would have been plausible … but we Lilnas are obviously not related to you Harshas.”
“Two sets of twins cannot be coincidence,” said Melisza.
“Then where is our family?” questioned Jaqob. “Why did they leave us here?” He punched the wall in frustration, which only resulted in sore knuckles.
“I would appreciate knowing that myself,” said Tabetha. “When you figure it out, would you please tell me?”
Their conversation would have gone longer, but, at that moment, the supper bell rang, so they had to file into the building. They ate in silence, then they went to the bedrooms.
Tabetha found herself unable to sleep. There was an energy to the air that whispered of things that were about to happen.
For a while, she just laid in bed, staring at the ceiling, but at last she threw off the blanket and went to the window. She shivered as she gazed across the lawn. Something was happening.
“You feel it too?”
Tabetha almost jumped, then glanced over her shoulder to see Melisza standing behind her. “Yes, but what is it?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Melisza. “But … something’s happening tonight, and I have to find out what.”
“I wonder …” muttered Tabetha.
“Wonder what?” questioned Melisza.
“If the boys feel it too.”
Melisza frowned as she considered that possibility. “Perhaps. But we’re not allowed to leave the girls’ room at night.”
“Tonight’s important, Lisza,” said Tabetha, turning to her friend, her face dead serious. “Something’s happening. I, for one, don’t want to miss it.”
Melisza decided that she might as well go along, to do what she could to keep Tabetha out of trouble. Silently they crept through the halls, towards the front door. They met with no one, which they thought odd, since someone was usually keeping an eye on things in the hall, even at night.
When they arrived at the front door, they found Jaqob and Alistaar already waiting for them.
“You girls felt it too?” asked Alistaar.
Melisza and Tabetha nodded.
“Something important is happening tonight,” said Tabetha with conviction.
“We know,” said Jaqob. Without hesitation he put his hand on the handle of the large door, and, to his surprise, pulled it open with ease. Normally, it was locked.
His surprise at an open door, however, faded as soon as he saw what was behind it, for it wasn’t the orphanage lawns that they looked out upon, but a field of red grass with dots of blue here and there. The doorframe, too, was different. On their side, it looked the same as ever, but on the side where the field was, it was rough, and covered in black bark.
For several minutes, the four just stood their, motionless, speechless, but at last Melisza broke the silence. “It looks familiar.”
“I’ve seen it in my dreams,” said Alistaar.
“It’s home,” said Tabetha, and without hesitation, she stepped into the field. None tried to stop her, but they didn’t follow, either. She took several steps, relishing the feel of the grass against her bare toes, then stopped, and turned back to face the others. “It’s a tree.”
“A tree,” repeated Alistaar, not as a question, but as a restatement.
“With two trunks,” continued Tabetha, “that share branches … and red leaves. Everything is so red here … so pretty.”
“What are we waiting for?” questioned Jaqob. “That’s where we belong, even I can tell that.” He followed his sister. For a few minutes, he just stood on what used to be the orphanage steps, then he walked around the two-trunked tree that the doorframe had become.
“There’s nothing but empty air on this side,” he commented. “Nothing of that horrid orphanage.”
“And yet you can still see it from this side,” said Tabetha.
“Where do you think this place is,” said Alistaar. The Lilnas were hesitant about following, not being as bold as their Harsha friends.
“I haven’t a clue,” said Jaqob, circling back to the side where the orphanage was visible.
“But it feels right here,” said Tabetha. “It feels like home.”
“It’s better than the orphanage and the prospect of having to be separated,” Jaqob added. “Come on, what are you two waiting for?”
“Do you think it’s safe?” questioned Melisza.
“Is anywhere safe?” returned Tabetha.
Melisza looked down and bit her lip. “Come on,” said her brother. “We’ll go together. Tabetha and Jaqob don’t look any the worse for the wear, so it can’t be that bad.”
Melisza’s pale blue eyes met those of her brother. “All right,” she said. “If you think we should.” Hand in hand, the Lilna twins stepped over the threshold into to the red world.
Tabetha and Jaqob gasped.
“What is it?” asked Melisza, a wave of panic washing over her.
“It’s … nothing …” said Tabetha. “Only … the orphanage just disappeared.”
“It did what?” the two Lilna’s exclaimed, whirling around to the tree they had just stepped through. Sure enough … there was no sign that there had ever been an orphanage there.
“It’s gone,” said Jakob. “I guess that means that there’s no going back!” He looked quite pleased.
“But … what are we going to do here?” exclaimed Melisza, her panic rising.
“Why don’t we do some exploring?” suggested Tabitha. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”
“But is it safe here?”
“We’re here,” said Alistaar, squeezing his sister’s hand. “It’s irrevocable now. We may as well explore.”
Melisza bit her lip and stared at her feet. “Very well.”
So they began their journey. Tabetha took up the front, Jaqob the rear, and Melisza and Alistaar walked hand in hand between them, hoping that their Harsha friends would be able to fend off anything that might attack them.
It was a strange world they explored, but, as Tabetha would remind them, it felt right to be there. It felt like home.