Coming of Age in the 23rd Century: Part One excerpt
The man stopped his truck on the overgrown logging trail and switched its fuel cell off. He glanced at the blindfolded girl sitting beside him. She was silent now and seemed calm, but he could feel her tension.
They had chatted and sang happily together while he drove along the highway in the early morning, beginning with nursery ditties and ending with a scat version of Beethoven’s Ninth, joyfully rendering its vocals in excruciatingly poor German.
But the girl had become quiet, and pensive when he turned from the paved road on to the forest track. He knew that when she felt the truck begin to sway over the rough ground, she realized that the first part of her journey was over.
He gazed at her for several long seconds while the many emotions he had repressed all during their drive surged into his thoughts. Then he took a deep breath and set his face in stone, almost. He climbed out of the cab and walked around the truck. He paused for another long moment before he opened the girl’s door and helped her to climb out.
When she stood before him, the man took her hand and led her into the forest, its cool dimness dappled with rays of bright morning sunlight filtering down through the colored foliage of fall. He guided her with care as they walked a hundred meters through the old growth trees and the girl accepted his lead with calm trust.
The man halted her in the center of a small clearing and removed her blindfold. He waited while she blinked her eyes in the sudden light until she could return his gaze.
”Please remove your clothes,” he ordered.
The thirteen-year old girl kicked her moccasins off without hesitation, and stripped out of her shorts, top and underwear then stood at attention before the man. He looked down impassively at her, beautiful in her advancing puberty and her copper-colored skin glowing with health.
”You may ask one question.”
“I have no question, Sir,” she answered as she looked up at him.
The man could not keep a smile from twitching at the corner of his mouth at the girl’s reply. Then he saw her eyes gleam and he knew she had read his face, and realized that her first decision was correct. His pride in her almost overwhelmed him, but he showed no emotion, instead removed a sturdy leather belt from the fanny pack on his hip and offered it to her. He waited while the girl buckled it around her bare waist then he handed her a small knife sheath with a loop of leather thong sewn to it. She accepted it, and draped the thong around her neck so the sheath hung between her budding breasts.
He next offered her a small cloth bag closed with drawstrings. Marybell took it and he watched her feel its contents for a second, until he saw she recognized the shape of the pack of military field rations it contained.
She shook her head and silently offered it back to him.
He refused it with a smile. “Always have something in reserve. You can return to me if you don’t need it.”
She nodded solemnly at his words and tied its drawstrings to her belt, again without speaking.
The man reached in his pouch again and pulled out a coil of stout cord and a little knife. He held them out as he gazed down at the girl with a silent question in his eyes.
She accepted the cord and the knife, and held them as she returned his gaze for a moment, then she shook out the coil and swiftly measured it against her out-stretched arm. She used the knife which had a short blade that was quite dull, to hack three meters from its length. She slid the knife into the sheath on her chest and coiling the shorter piece of cord, tied it to her belt. She then knotted the cut end of the other piece and re-coiled it as well.
“I have all that I will need, Sir. You may keep the rest,” she said as she offered the remaining cord back to the man,
He could not quite control his expression again, and the pride that flickered on her face showed him she had read his expression, again and knew her second decision was also correct.
The man gazed down into the girl’s emerald green eyes for a moment, then when he felt he could safely speak in a normal voice he reached into his pouch a final time.
”We will expect you starting at noon three days from now. The first star that shines in the evening is your deadline. Now please close your eyes until I have gone.”
She clamped her eyelids shut and he lifted her left wrist and looped something around it then hugged her to his chest with a fierce tenderness.
”Don’t worry Marybell, all of your ancestors walk with you, Baby Bird,” he whispered.
”I know Daddy,” she whispered back as she wrapped her arms around his neck and returned his hug with her eyes tight-closed.
”Thank you for everything - and I’ll bring dinner.”
The man kissed his daughter’s forehead then released her. He gathered up her discarded clothing and left the clearing without another word while Marybell stood braced at attention in the bright morning light.
He, who could move like a wraith through the wilderness, crunched on fallen branches and noisily forced his way through the understory brush as he made his way back to the truck. He climbed in the cab - and pressed his forehead on the steering wheel for many moments while he thought with love and pride, and anguished worry about his daughter.
He knew she was strong and resourceful for her age, but he also could not ignore what he knew of the dangers she could find in the wild world where he had left her…
The man raised his head from the steering wheel after another moment then slammed the truck’s door with unnecessary force. He switched on its fuel cell and drove back down the old logging road to the highway.
He increased his speed when reached the main road and began driving the thirty kilometers back to where his wife and the parents of the three other children undergoing the trial waited. As he drove, he occasionally hummed snatches of the Beethoven piece again - but now in a slower and much more somber tempo...