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Ice House: Asetma

Brian Mark Weber
Robert 'Admiral' Coeyman

Chapter 4: A Taste of Freedom


Mornings had been starting earlier than they ever had after the gardener had disappeared.  It was only five o'clock in the morning when I found myself knee-deep in mud planting shrubs for the forthcoming tourist season, even though I had never had a green thumb.  Duty substituted for spirit and will.  Empty devotion could drive me onward into the daylight, yet it could not give hope and strength to the bushes in my hands.

Through the thick fog I thought that I heard someone calling my name.  It was as real a voice as Asetma knew reality.  After having lived in Asetma for so long, I had learned that it wasn't always wise to respond to mysterious callers, or any callers, as the case may be.  The voice, coming from the main gates, sounded familiar, so I decided to see who it was--or was pretending to be.

I was only five feet from the gate and I still couldn't see anybody through the fog.  When the newspaper hit me in the face the possibilities diminished radically.  I knew that it wasn't the milkman, anyway, as he only threw bottles.  Unfortunately they were whiskey bottles as he was always afraid to come up to the front gate without a good stiff drink.

Tommy was quick to realize what had happened as he heard the slap of the day's top stories against my forehead and was even faster to apologize.  "Sorry Mr. Holder.  I didn't mean to hit ya'."

It would not have been fair to blame the kid since, in the dense Asetma fog, he couldn't see me either.  I walked a little closer until; finally, his face emerged from the ungodly mist.  I was beginning to realize that, of everyone I had come to know at Asetma, it was little Tommy who provided me with my only sense of reality and peace.  Real is a term seldom used in Th'Estate that it felt odd in my mind.

"Don't worry, Tommy.  I'll be alright.  It's nothing compared with what I've been through in this place."

He looked at me for a moment, not sure what I had really meant.  Maybe, I shouldn't have said anything at all.  The last thing he needed was to hear about the evil of Asetma with which all of Obsille had lived for centuries.  Ignorance and denial were comforts to people who had nothing else to cling to.  I had been born to the age of chosen ignorance.

Tommy was about to speak when I tried to prevent him from going on.  "Tommy, forget about what I said.  And forget what everyone says about this place."  It didn't keep him quiet for long.

"But I haven't heard anything, Mr. Holder.  Well, not much anyway.  Just what my grandpa tells me and that ain't much.  Poppa doesn't like grandpa's stories."  While he spoke, he handed me a small bag of what I believed to be groceries.

I opened the bag and, along with a jar of grape jelly, there was a note which read:

Dear Mr. Holder:

      I need to speak with you as soon as possible.  The matter involves you and Th'Estate.  The best time to meet would be this afternoon--Bring your own lunch.


                              Sheriff Braggs

Before I had a chance to think about the note, Tommy went on with what he was saying.  "I'd really like to know more about this place, Mr. Holder.  Would you give me a tour sometime?  How 'bout tomorrow?  It's my last day before school begins."

"Stop by later, Tommy.  Four O'clock tomorrow is a good time." Tommy smiled and rode off on his bike into the fog.

During lunch, I kept the Sheriff's note on the table.  It was eventually covered with jam but I could still make it out.  Finally, the Sheriff had done something good in my life after having chained me to Asetma.  This note was a valid reason to get out of Asetma.  Even the sheriff of Obsille could not threaten to lock Orsa into my fate if I left on his command.

With the miniscule stipend I'd been receiving, I could never have afforded to go out on the town, yet this was official business so I could take the money out of the house fund.  It was not much of an excuse, but it was a real reason that the Sheriff could not hold against me.  Fare Orsa would be protected from the curse of Asetma even in my absence.  My honor would remain intact. 

As I was thinking, I heard myself softly mouth the words," Is this Miriam's reward for letting her out of the world of death?"  Was I being rewarded or punished?  It was nearly two-thirty when I left for town with only my journal and a toothbrush.  I could not be forgiven for staying long outside of Th'Estate so it was enough.

It was a fine afternoon for a walk.  Even as it had been a long time since the fog had lifted from the estate, through the ancient oak branches, I could see actual patches of blue sky.  It was truly gray however, compared to the darkness that I had become used to seeing, it appeared to be bright blue.  The last week of summer actually felt like it.

As I slowly pulled open the great oak gate, a cool breeze rushed in and, momentarily, I felt a chill.  At last, I walked through the portal and started down the avenue toward the town, into freedom.  For a moment, I was to be free.  Or so I thought.

I looked up at the portcullis, for a moment, seeing the iron spikes coming down upon me.  But it was only fear that made me envision such horrors.  My own hesitance wanted me to remain within the safe walls.  My home was an evil that I had come to know.

Between Asetma and Obsille there is only a long, unpaved avenue with trees overhanging it in such a way that branches from either side extended into those of the other side.  The sky was very blue above with the sun so warm.  It was shameful that the sight was reserved only for the prison bus driver and the condemned prisoners.  Of course, the tourists went through there, although the wonderful sight was clouded by their preoccupation with the mansion.

The town set two miles from Asetma, yet this did not bother me as the walk was exactly what I needed to relieve myself of all the pressures of Miriam's curse and all the other unseen terrors which I had never before been able to escape. Just as I thought that I was in heaven, the traffic on Main Street became audible.  It was the mundane world of my youth returning to claim me.  I did not want to remain forever alone; however, I could not be comfortable remaining the child whom I had been in Obsille.

I was closer to Obsille than I had been on any day since first arriving at Asetma.  The sandy avenue abruptly turned to blacktop upon which I noticed that the traffic was heavy for such a small town as Obsille was.  Turning to my right, walking down the street, city hall came into view, bringing back many memories of my childhood.  My mission drove my feet while my mind wandered through time.

And then I had to find the Sheriff's office since it was in a different place from when I was little.  Time steals away the warming cloak of familiarity.  The old police station had become a video store, although I didn't recall many VCRs being in town.  My sentence in Th'Estate had been both long and hard.

Coming toward me, from the opposite direction was an older, though not decrepit, lady.  Our paths were destined to collide on the narrow walkway.  She was tall, wearing a white dress along with her black high-heeled shoes, wobbling with her every step.  Her feet were leaning inward as though high heels were new to her. 

Before I could ask her for directions to the office, she hastily turned and crossed the street.  Our eyes never met.  I stopped to watch her as she marched into the video store.  For some peculiar reason, I wanted to follow her. 

And I did.

When I walked up to the front door, a short man was turning the OPEN sign around so that it would read CLOSED.  With that my pursuit of the odd woman was over.  As I thought about her, the image of Oletta appeared in my mind, for reasons which were not known to me.  I accepted the image and moved quickly onward.

I had business to attend to so I couldn't waste anymore time worrying about this woman.  Yet for the absence of Orsa, I was compelled to study the image of any woman in my sight.  Or was there more to my sighting than even I know?  Did Miriam's power reach even into Obsille.

As I began to walk down the street again, the sheriff's car passed by and parked about fifty-five feet in front of me.  I couldn't believe that I had overlooked the office, which was directly adjacent to the massive church, even though the only markings were written in poor script on a sheet of paper taped into the window.  The small sign read "SHERIFF"S OFFICE" even though the markings on the building read "BOOKSTORE."  Then I recognized the place as a location at which I had spent hours when I was a kid.

Mr. Oleary, the owner, had been a kind old man who had really taught me how to read.  He knew that I didn't have the money to buy books, so he would allow me to read his books in exchange for sweeping the floors.  I had learned more about life in that store than I ever had in school.  It had been my portal to the real world.  Time had taken my faith that there really was anything like a real world.

Lost in liberty's muse, I walked directly past the Sheriff's Office.  It was just after three which gave me a little time to breathe the mold-free Obsille air before my appointment, thus I didn't turn around.  I walked on.  The choice felt good.

The brisk wind, which I had once considered cold, now invigorated me.  My nose rose to the snow-scented wind while my body stretched, then something dropped from my hand.  When I bent down to pick it up, I realized that I was still carrying my journal, having dropped my toothbrush.  Considering it inappropriate to attend my business meeting carrying such apparel, I checked into the hotel at the end of the lane.

Asetma would still have a stream of tourists that week, so I wondered where all the tourists stayed.  My thoughts wandered out and spoke themselves aloud.  "Why aren't all the hotel's full?"

Obsille, as any teenager could refute, had only three hotels-- any of which had ample room for young lovers at any hour.  I hadn't noticed that, since I'd been out of town.  While my brother had been the keeper of Asetma, two of the ones from our youth had closed down and only three remained.  Having no use for a hotel room back then, I never noticed how empty they were.

It didn't make sense to me that anyplace with such a tourist trade as Obsille would have such a small hotel trade.  I looked around and found only one souvenir shop in the whole town, with only the restaurants and pawnshops doing any real business.  Even our movie theatre was small.  My town was still a child.

"Nothing ever changes around here," I said aloud.

The girl behind the hotel counter answered me. "Excuse me, sir." 

She was the girl with the green eyes.  Somehow, I fell to the floor.  Two people, whom I did not know, helped me to my feet, yet the green-eyed girl was gone.  I scanned the room several times for the girl, oblivions to all the chatter around me.  The Asetma girl was simply not there.

It was a simple lobby.  Segmented shelves bordered the office door, behind the heavy mahogany counter which was centered in the back of the room, flanked with magazine racks of old books and topped by a coffee can full of pencils.  A crude library had been set up on the three walls in front of the counter, concealing the staircase to my immediate right.  The atmosphere was homey.

A short, young woman presented me with the hotel register and asked me to sign in.  I knew that she was not Orsa, so I paid little attention to her.  She had no idea of who I was until I wrote the Asetma name in the register.  It was something that I had no real reason to do.

She rang for a young boy, whom she called the bellhop, after I paid my rent.  His round face sank into a flat oval when he realized that I didn't have any bags to carry.  Remembering that I had once been a little boy from a poor family, I decided to tip him some of my Asetma spoils just for showing me to my room.  Asetma belonged to all of Obsille.  Obsille paid the price, bearing the weight of the curse.

His uniform had been starched to the stiffness of plate mail, yet I knew that most of his problem was that he had not yet grown tall enough to have an adequately long stride.  The bellhop could not have been more than six by the difficulty he had climbing the stairs.  It was sickly relieving to see that the rest of the world also had problems.  We were both kin and kindred.

Mine was room thirteen, a door locked as though it had rarely been opened.  "Here we are, sir," said the bellhop.

Part of me was repulsed that the hotel clerk had intentionally assigned me to a room which nobody else ever wanted.  I almost asked why my room was the only one which had not had the cobwebs cleared from its door, since the hotel was not full.  Instead, I showed what kindness I had within me.  "Thank you.  Here's a little something for your trouble."

His eyes widened above his gaping mouth at the shock of getting a tip for no real work.  I allowed a short chuckle to escape through my nose before entering my room.  From the time he spent looking at the money I'd placed in his hand, I knew that my stay would be pleasant.  It was the least that I could do.

The boy gave me my key and eventually left.  My room was almost exactly like the room I had in Asetma, except for the window.  All of my luggage went directly on top of my dresser before I sat on the bed to think.  It was a shame that I couldn't make the tourists tour our lovely town.

Obsille's people needed the money.

A tear crept into my eye.  In wiping it on my sleeve, I noticed that it was just after four and I had yet to attend to the business of the day.  Thoughts of what could happen to me for taking this money and not attending this meeting flooded into my mind with such speed that they became tangled beyond recognition.  My mind quickly filled to capacity.

And what of my prized Orsa?

I leapt to my feet, hastily washing my face before leaving for the Sheriff's office.  The young boy came to attention like a toy soldier as I passed through the lobby, walking out into the street.  Sheriff Braggs' car was still at his office.  It was exceedingly lucky that the Sheriff's office was on the same side of Andover Street as my hotel.  But, I didn't think that it was all luck.

  Finally my meeting with the sheriff would commence.  I wonder what he wanted to talk to me about as I couldn't have done anything wrong.  Maybe he wanted me to coordinate some kind of fundraising campaign to raise money for the station which was falling into rubble.  I silently muttered to myself to deny my nervousness about meeting him.  It's something I had to do.  I walked to the station as the four o'clock church bells tolled the end of the private school's day.  I knocked on the wooden door and there was no answer.  Another knock and the door opened slowly.  I happened to notice the sheriff's scaly hand, connected to the snake-like arm beneath my own, which was turning the doorknob from the outside.  The refreshing breeze broke into a hot blast of damp air against my back before I realized that the sheriff was standing behind me.  He had bumped me gently, not realizing that I couldn't get through the door with his arm in the way.

The sheriff led me down a rather dark hallway with paneled walls and empty candleholders where dim lights once flickered during the busy past of this town.  Many ghosts stirred in my memory upon entering what may have been the most important place in my youth.  We came to the end of the hallway and made a sharp right turn but I noticed that to the left there was an empty room that was dark so that I could not see what was inside.  It now came back to me that this is where the old bookstore was.  As I tried to make out anything inside through the darkness the, sheriff had kept on walking for a few seconds until he realized that I had stopped.

Looking back at me he said "C'mon Mark, this way."

And so I followed him down a shorter hallway.  I would return to the old room of my youth another time.  For now I had an important meeting to attend for Orsa's sake more than my own.  At the end of this short hallway was a door made of aluminum with no doorknob.  He opened it easily and turned on a small lamp on a desk that I knew I had seen before.  The light was extremely bright after walking down such dark hallways and my vision was temporarily disabled.  I recovered in a few minutes.  As the white shadows faded into coherent reality I noticed the green-eyed girl sitting calmly behind the sheriff's desk.  Startled as though they had a mind of their own, my eyes closed involuntarily.  Suddenly weak and unstable I began to sweat slightly.

"Marka, snap tight!  Wakes up and smell da coffee!"  Whispered the sheriff with his overpowering garlic breath.  It was enough to wake a dead man.

My eyes opened slightly and the sheriff handed me a soda pop.  It was orange and ice cold, just what I needed to feel better.  "Thanks sheriff.  I think I'm feeling better now.  I guess this stuffy air isn't good for my lungs.  Where did you get this pop?"

"Are ya sure dat you are alright?  Well, you jist rest tight now and we will git down to business.  What we need to talk about is very important not only for me and for you but also for this whole town."

Before this moment, I had never really taken this meeting seriously.  The Sheriff had invited me all the way to town for the first time in his dealings with me.  Now I could feel that something was about to take place that was going to effect my life.  I had only been considering the effect on Orsa's life. 

"Sheriff," I asked sternly.  "I don't know why you asked me to come all the way down here for, but please get to the point so I can get out of here."

"Now boy, you sit down and drink your pop while I explain.  Something very unusual happened over at your abode the other day.  I have never seen anything like it before and I want an explanation.  You hear me boy?"

I couldn't imagine what he was talking about since something unusual happened every day at Th'Estate.  "Sheriff, be more specific.  I know that my home is unlike the others in the area yet that is why the tourists keep coming over.  They don't come by the hundreds to see my antique furniture or the picture of Aunt Allabelle on the wall.  They come to see ghosts and, basically, the unusual."

"Mark, settle down!  I know you live in a weird place.  I was one of the people that put you there in da beginning.  But what happened to me an to my deputy was unreal.  Dat door of yours jumped like it had a mind of its own.  And then my deputy burned his hand on the doorknob that I saw you playin with not a second before.  What are you keeping in that room boy?"

"Sheriff, I think you and your deputies overreacted to the situation.  I don't know how your deputy burned his hand but it wasn't on any doorknob in my house.  Tell your deputies to keep their hands out of the fire and away from my business."

"That's just it Mark.  It ain't your house.  Never was and never will be.  You are jist what they call a overnight guest in the long history of Th'Estate."

"That isn't what Oletta said.  She told me that you've been paying me less than minimum wage and you owe me more than that pile of blood soaked stones is worth."

"Git in your place, boy.  I don't know who ya'all been talking to, but you'll never own the Earth you been spitting on."

"Oletta says otherwise.  You get in your place before I tell the old men in bad suits how much your blunder is costing them, if I want to collect what I've got coming to me. "

"What you talking about, Mark.  Dare ain't no Olemma in this whole world that I'm afeard of."

"Well, you hired her and forced her on me.  You deserve what you get from it."

"Proud Orsa doan want you ta talking like that.  You can stick your Oletta."

"I don't have time for this Sheriff.  I'm going back home now.  When you feel like discussing this in a sensible manner, then you stop by.  The oak gates are always open.  Good day, Sher-riff."

"I want to know who is dis Olemma.  Who is she?  Are you keeping a women in your home and disgracing the good moral citizenry of Obsillia?  I'm gonna find out who she is even if I have to search dat hole place.  Good evening, Mr. Mark."

I was more than happy to get out of there.  I really can't blame the sheriff for how he felt because those strange things really did happen, yet I didn't have an explanation anymore than he did and he was the professional.  Mysteries were his vocation and one of them was my curse.  We were kindred for that moment.

Not far from the station, I stopped for dinner.  I may have told the sheriff that I was going back to Asetma, in my moment of haste, although I had no intention of cutting my holiday any shorter than necessity dictated.  Besides, I knew that the sheriff would remain far from the cursed mansion for as long as his fear lasted.  Time and distance would bring him forgetfulness as I knew it never would grant me.

The fine eating establishments of Obsille are seldom frequented by tourists past the setting of the sun, thus I found it easy to get a table.  Obsille had not been a rich town since the days of the Asetmas.  Our town was far from rich, to be sure, so only teenagers spent any time in our restaurants after the tourists ran from the rising moon over Asetma.  Orsa was not a teenager, although I knew that college students often worked in such places as the one in which I was dining.  That may have been my real reason for going.

It was not known to me whether or not Orsa worked in Barry's, but I knew that her roommate did.  I only had to arrange to be eating at the right time to catch a fleeting glance at the woman I idolized more than anything I had or was.  She was sure not to recognize me, after all the years between us, although that meant little to me.  Asetma would always hold us apart.

I would have died to hear her voice again.  In my mind, I ran across a dozen and more scenarios in which I was enabled to first defend and then run off with my only love, yet none of them were real enough to free Asetma's slave.  A moment lost for a second's joy.  The dreams were becoming my reality.  Dreams alone were the land in which I could live true and free.

Hunger was not the reason for my choice.  My first priority was to see Orsa, if she even worked there.  I found myself sitting at a corner table, the type usually reserved for a family or small group.  On the table sat a small white candle within a glass holder, thusly granting me vision of the slowly dancing flame.  The flickering light sent my mind into another world where the image of my beloved girl slowly appeared.  Whenever I thought of her, it seemed as though I could smell sweet flowers and hear songbirds.  In the dreamy atmosphere, I felt warm and comforted. 

"Good evening, welcome to Barry's.  We have three specials tonight and, presently, we're out of the first two so you are left with the grilled ham and cheese with Barry fries or the salad bar." The waitress happened to be Orsa's roommate, Lynda.

"I'm really not hungry.  Give me a rum and coke, and some popcorn."

"Coming up, sir...You look familiar.  Have you ever been in here before.  I mean, I only work here and it's none of my affair but you look awfully familiar.  Well, not that you look awful.  I mean, well, I'll get you that ham sandwich and rum."

Words would not come to my flustered mind.  I watched her walk across the floor and push open the swinging doors.  As they moved back and forth I saw another girl standing in the kitchen and she looked very much like Orsa, yet, to me, every girl looked like Orsa.  My imagination began plotting ways of getting a closer look.

I knew how I could get back there: She screwed up my order and I had to go into the kitchen to tell her about it.  And so I walked over to the swinging door, my palms sweating and my heart pounding faster.  As I placed my hand upon the cold steel door, the other door swung open quickly revealing the bearded cook.  My eyes expected to see the green-eyed girl.

I really needed sleep.

There were only two people in that kitchen: Lynda and the cook.  I wonder if his name is Barry or if Barry is one of those old men in a bad suit.  Before returning to the table, I went into the men's room to wash my face.  The water was cold and refreshing and it helped me to return to sensible thinking.

Upon returning to the table, my food had already been set out in a fashion more orderly than one would expect at a place like this.  Under the plate lied a checkerboard cloth.  On the plate, I discovered, between string bean pie and brussel sprouts, a large three-layer overstuffed turkey sandwich.  Just what I ordered!  At least Lynda thought so.

I ate like I was starving, though my hunger was never noticeable.  As I finished the last bite, Lynda walked over to my table.  Obviously she was bringing the check, or so I thought.  Lynda sat across from me and set down two glasses of what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage.

"I'm sorry Mark.  You asked for a rum and coke and I forgot.  With all of this on my mind, you know, the job and my boyfriend and not to mention all of my bills.  My problems just keep going on and on and on and..."

I had to stop her from talking at all cost.  "Lynda, how do know my name?"

"Mark, I know more than you think I do.  I know about how you are planning to gain control of Th'Estate and all.  And I know about that older woman servant who you've been seeing.  And I know about the murder."

"Lynda, hold on for a minute.  I don't what you're talking about.  Please explain."

"Well, word has it that you and that servant are planning to claim the mansion and the grounds as your own.  It really isn't fair, you know.  I mean, that property has allot of history and it's a big part of this town's history and economy.  I don't know why you want it all, but right now that isn't my first concern.  People 'round here are also talking about the murder of your brother.  We all know that he had some money."

"Lynda, I don't know who you've been talking to but I demand an explanation now."

"Mark, everyone knows.  I thought the sheriff was going to straighten this whole thing out.  That woman is very dangerous and though it's none of my business to tell you who to see, I just want to help you before things get out of control."

She was too late to prevent Asetma from getting out of hand and, I suspected, she was the same way with everything that she tried.  "What makes you think that Oletta might be dangerous?"

She reached across the small, dark table and grabbed my left hand.  "Well, you know how we get to talking and all.  Obsille is a small town as I think you can imagine living all alone up there in Th'Estate."

"I can come back when you arrive at your point, Lynda."

"See-we all know each other in small towns like this." She sipped down half of the strong drink in my glass before continuing.  "We got to talking about how Stan died under such interesting circumstances and all the servants seem to have survived unharmed.  You know, it was like they were in on it.  Of course, she was drunk at the time, but Orsa happened to mention that it would be neat if it was the maid that done it.  You didn't have a butler--I checked."

Orsa's name sounded almost musical on Lynda's overworked tongue and I drifted almost into a trance at the tone of it.  Shaking the trance from my head, I continued my examination.  "The servants don't live in the manor.  Why the maid and not the gardener?  I haven't had a maid long."

"Now is that a fact?  I heard that Stan had a maid, and I never thought that you might have brought in one of your own.  Tell me where you found her and don't spare me the details, you sly old raccoon."

"I didn't know that Stan had a maid.  It's the first I've heard of it."

As Lynda turned to prod more detail from me than I was willing to give, a group of her friends arrived at the door.  College students didn't have much money in Obsille, so they walked home in groups, unable to buy even one car between them.  I didn't remember even one incident in my lifetime which called for the caution in their sharing the walk home, yet I was glad to know that Orsa was safe.  Her knight was trapped in Asetma's dungeon.

And yet I was sad that even Lynda, who knew so much about my business, didn't know how I felt about Orsa.  If the sheriff hadn't known about it, I wouldn't have been recruited into Asetma duty.  Stan volunteered for the job when the manor was opened to the public after its long abandonment.  Orsa was the flaw in my armor that chained me to the eternal night of the bloodstone fright.

It was me or her.

I saw the back of her head, a moment later catching a glance at her angelic face, before Lynda walked off with the group.  Orsa didn't seem to notice me, although I thought I heard her mention me to Lynda.  Not by name, as I would have liked.  The pain of the near miss removed me from the conscious passage of time until the bearded cook threw me out of the establishment.

Even if Orsa had known me, what could I do without the power to leave the torment to which Sheriff Braggs had chained me?  How long would I last with it on my conscience that some other sucker had been forced into my fate because I had abandoned my post?  For me, there was no hope.  Mine was a curse that I could wish on no other.  Should I have been able to leave with the trouble it would cause, then I knew that I would have deserved the imprisonment that I endured alone because I could not run off.

The Obsille air was cold as I stepped from the warm restaurant into the dark, abandoned street.  Walking down the paved road was not unlike walking through the stone floored foyers of the main Asetma house.  And, also like my prison, Orsa was nowhere to be seen beyond the faded memories in my head.  It was not the escape that I had wanted it to be.

I was exceptionally quiet in returning to my room, as everyone else was in bed.  Obsille was one of those towns that you hear about where the sidewalks roll up at sunset.  But you wouldn't notice that without the long nights I often spent alone in the estate.  Without meaning to, the town acted in unison.

Suddenly, I felt the great weight of exhaustion crush me into the bed.  My vacation would last but a single day, thus I had to get a year's rest in that day.  Tired from more work than I'd known I had done, I laid a long time before sleep came to me.  Rest was not something that I had been in the company of in years and I gave myself wholly to it.

That was a mistake in the same world as was Asetma.

Elder came to me from the fog which hid all the forgotten memories of my long discarded childhood.  My memory opened up so that my whole life seemed to pass by in an instant, unaware of the time which, in truth, gave order to the chaos of extancy.  I began to recognize the barren terrain of these encounters to be the emptiness of my mind in some unknown part of me.  To Elder, no part of me was unknown or private.

Still groggy, I thought a greeting at my teacher.  "Elder, I'm on vacation."

"Evil knows not a holiday in the sun for the order of rest is far more than anarchy can endure."

"Can we get this over fast enough for me to rest up before being dragged back to Th'Estate in irons?"

"The second lesson is simple, thus my need of time is short.  You have not the power to remain long in this domain."

"How may I increase my power, Elder?"

"Insight serves you well, Job.  Your first lesson is in increasing your power.  Miriam has accelerated your lessons far more than I would have liked."

"Then I would have been called into this even if I hadn't allowed Miriam to escape?"

"Fate is the will of God, Job.  Increase your power by using the power you have more efficiently.  Be deliberate and have purpose in every act you commit, no matter how small.  Your having taken initiative in choosing to stay here has improved your power."

"But I don't understand.  Where do I get the power from?"

"Life is power.  Remember that the warrior is never a victim.  He takes sustenance from the world, thus it is only fair that the world draws sustenance from him.  Responsibility is the conservation of power."

"This all sounds hokey, Elder."

"It's no joke.  Your insight will guide you at the right pace.  And you will have enough power for our next encounter."  Then the world began to fade in my fatigue.  "And enough for Miriam."

In the dream, I fell asleep.  I awoke more rested than I ever had, starting for the Estate just after my host fed me breakfast.  Before leaving on my solitary journey, I tipped the cook with most of my money, and the bellhop with all that remained.  Money was of little use to me in the loneliness of Asetma.  It always belonged to the people of Obsille anyway.


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