Chapter 8 – A Soul to Hold Them
As the Rebels marched forth through the Dominion of the Nome King they carried with them a collection of half understood dictation from an unknown stranger known only as “R8” as well as a heavy burden on their shoulders… Almost as if they were pioneers of an undiscovered frontier without quite fully grasping the magnitude of their exploits. With a bit of anxiety and a whole hell of a lot of pride, the Rebels carried that weight of responsibility with the trust that this “R8” would continue to guide them through. Whoever they were, they had obviously been down the very rugged road they found themselves on. How else could this person know so much about why they were there, what they were looking for, and where they were coming from? All too often instincts are dismissed as dangerous whims that will inevitably lead us to trouble… but what if they’re REALLY flashes of Morse code straight from the Universe trying to tell you where to go in the hopes that you’re listening? Either way, this “R8” was on to something…
Keeping tight knit as a group like an army of Spartan Warriors, the Rebels looked like a team of drifter fashionistas with their ability to combine rugged wear with chic execution. Clearly the Rebels were all from the same tribe but upon closer inspection you could see each of their defining characteristics on their sleeves like a lighthouse to the sea. You had Pete and his hammer walking in stride with Ruben’s tie-dyed Rock Republic uniform. Jamie and her rock hammer teaching Rick how to fix his bike with it. Suzanne and her two champion Shiba Inus, Buddy and Myra, sharing space with Tami and her black cat “Vigi-latte” as they both kept their eyes peeled for cowboys along the way (just in case). It was hard to pinpoint, but the rebels seemed to thrive off the metaphorical mass hysteria that the likes of dogs and cats living together brought about on this Rebel parade.
Muscles were tight as the Rebels pounded the path to Emerald City with a gritty tenacity a lot of them had never felt before. Prior at the Post Office, everyone took pen to paper at the urging of the note they had found there and poured their hearts out with vigor. They figured that if there truly were other Rebels out their looking to make it as far as even just the few steps they themselves had made then it was worth a shot to help, even if it was a long one. After all, “it’s not about how much you give but giving what you can” one Rebel was overheard saying. Once they were done they folded up their notes, scribbled “Rebel” on top, and placed them in the empty cubbies blindly trusting that “R8” would deliver them to the “others out there.” Instincts… or Universe? They were putting their faith in both.
Not to be forgotten was the urging to gather supplies they didn’t need “for those who do.” As a group they agreed that it was pretty self-explanatory what was being asked, they just didn’t know WHY. Keeping with the notion of putting their reliance in the unknown the Rebels each went through their backpacks and knapsacks and set aside all the clothes, toiletries, and foodstuffs they truly didn’t need. At the urging of Tami and Leah, each Rebel carried a box or bag of the surplus goods as they all forged ahead. Many hands make light work. Better yet… One team, one dream.
After a few days of bear crawling, lunging, and damn near flapping their arms trying to FLY across the canyons and traverses they trekked up, on, around, and through the Rebels decided to set up camp for some much needed rest. They’d found that you can only keep pushing forward for so long until your weary body needs to recover. It’s not about how hard you hit but how hard you can get hit and keeping moving forward. Knowing when to shift down is part of that process, and gear back is exactly what those Rebels did. It was easy since they had ample camping gear to tent them all and provide shelter from any storm. It was a good thing they were all really starting to love each other, because although accommodations were enough for everyone to fit they were still going to resembl a pack of Rebel sardines. All they had to do now was find a safe enough spot to spend the night without stepping into hostile Nome King territory marked by precious metals and shiny jewels set out as a trap…
The Nome King has a devious penchant for collecting “upstairs people,” essentially anyone walking the surface above the caverns, and doing nothing with them other than enjoying the ownership. The gems and metals were planted by rock fairies as a way to attract those greedy enough to dig deeper for more, eventually succumbing to sinkholes designed to imprison those searching for the “wrong treasure.”
Using a binocular attachment she’d brought with her (which was no doubt going to come in handy in the future…), sweet Rebel May sat perched atop Justin’s shoulders as she scouted for clear space to camp lacking glimmer and shine. As they rounded a corner of stacked boulders in the shape of an “8,” May saw just the clearing they were looking for about 500 yards in the distance.
“I see a good area I think!” she shouted exuberantly as Justin tried to peer a little higher attempting to get a visual himself.
“Well that’s good… I feel like an Ant in need of sleep! No more ant hill…” Sebby said wearily with a smile, rubbing her courage charm that hung gracefully from her neck like an ornament of hope as she gazed at the ground in fatigue.
“Hey, keep your head up!” Surfer Cliff said cheerily. “I mean, I need you to drag my busted ass the rest of the way so you can’t go passin’ out on me just yet!”
“Yeah, and if anybody has any ‘Coorebels Light’ then maybe we’ll meet ‘Faluge’” Carlo muttered under his breath in reference to Cliff’s alter ego when he gets a little “too spirited.”
“You wouldn’t be lucky enough.” Cliff chuckled back as he slapped Carlo on the shoulder.
With May still spying the potential landing spot she noticed a rustle of movement behind a massive boulder standing guard to an even sadder makeshift rock igloo. Supported only by its own weight and anchored down with dust and sediment, May spotted another “rock-gloo” camouflaged by another boulder disguising its presence. By the time she spotted a 3rd shabby structure, she saw a dirt-caked foot draw back through the opening as if startled. It didn’t take much longer for May to soak in the whole scene and realize the perfect shelter spot they were now 200 yards away from was littered with these huts made out of Boulders. Every time she blinked she had to adjust her eyes to see the structures right in front of her because the combination of drab coloration and sad tone caused it to blend in with the environment perfectly. Had May not been keen of eye, she might have missed it all together!
“Uh, guys… we’re not alone here…” May said while nervously stroking a malamute patch sewn into her purple clad collar in remembrance of her lost puppy.
Stopping about a football field’s length away from the mysterious site, the Rebels pondered what to do. Who were the people they were stumbling on? Were they sleeping? Scared? Friendly? Violent? Angry? Evil? Harmless? All of the above? None of the above? After some brief and scattered deliberating, phoenix haired Cliff decided he had had enough. With the shovel in hand, he jaunted away from the group suddenly and meticulously, careful not come off as bum rushing this muted, dirty city of rocks. The rest of the Rebels hushed as the distance between Cliff and the first structure shortened quickly. Without even a hint of hesitancy, Cliff stopped his focused pace right outside the “doorway” of the first Rock-gloo and peeked in from the outside.
With the force of a shotgun blast a woman shot out from the entry way Cliff was investigating. Before he could put his hands up to defend himself she had a sharpened stick at his side and a silent, menacing glare deafeningly demanding who this “trespasser” was while breathing heavily and angrily 2 inches away from his face.
“Whoa whoa whoa!” Cliff shouted as he shot his hands up in an attempt to show neutrality. “We’re not here to hurt anybody, I swear…”
“Who ARE you? What business do you have here? How would you like it if I took a peek into your living room? HUH?!” The woman hissed, jabbing the stick harder into Cliff’s side.
“We’re Rebels!” a voice cried out from the group urgently running over to intervene.
Keeping the stick firmly positioned against Cliff’s ribs, the rightfully defensive mystery woman darted her head towards the crowd closing in on them and put her free hand up sternly demanding “stop right there!” All the Rebels heeded the call, except for one… Annabel. She had barely spoken two words in the few days they’d be traveling but in this moment, as one usual does when it matters most, she had found her voice:
”We’re from the State of Rebellion. We don’t mean anything bad lady, we just… we’re tired, you know?”
The woman’s grip on the stick loosened as she asked “You’re all the way from the State of Rebellion? No one ever ventures away from there… What brings you all this way?”
“Honestly, we don’t really know. We had this crazy blackout back at home and when it was over, there was a map and some other stuff that led us here. We found out there are other people traveling from far away too. I think we’re all trying to go to the same place.” Annabel responded earnestly, wearing her heart on her sleeve and a tear born of fatigue sliding down her cheek.
The woman brought her arm down and slowly lowered the stick away from imminently puncturing Cliff’s lung at the falsest of moves. Her face went from wild and protective to worn and understanding in the blink of a hummingbird’s eye. She stared into all of the Rebellious eyes staring back at her in charged silence before she spoke.
“My name is Jane, and I represent lost souls of the Dominion. A long time ago, the Nome King decided to build an epic underground palace where he could admire all of his ‘collectibles’ and throw glorious parties with the rock fairies and stone sprites. Before we knew it, the Nome King had a brigade sweep through, capture, and imprison each and every man of the land to do his bidding and create his dream. The men who weren’t caught ran in cowardice and deserted their families. That left, well… us… We have little more than each other and what little belongings we could salvage…”
At that, she fanned her hand out to hundreds of startled woman and children suddenly and slowly stepping out from the rock-gloos surrounding the Rebels, anxious to understand what was happening. They were huddled close, still not quite sure about these foreigners intruding on their home. For all they knew it was more Nome King trickery in an attempt to collect more slaves for his next ego-maniacal project consisting of Oz knows what. After all they’d been through they couldn’t afford to think otherwise anymore. These lost souls had found the universe has a seemingly oft cruel method of reminding them that around every corner awaits an obstacle to hurdle whether they’re ready or not. The solution? Always be ready, stick together, and love will prevail. Within these stone structures lived love born from struggle and they weren’t about to give that up without a fight if so be it…
As the Rebels absorbed the moment with heavy hearts, one Rebel in particular figured something out before anyone else did:
“That’s it… IT ALL MAKES SENSE!” Stephanie gasped as her eyes diverted from the ground to the sky wit all faces directing their attention towards her in wonderment.
“Gather supplies you don’t need for those who do! We were meant to bring our extra stuff to these people! I KNOW we were!” Stephanie said excitedly, all the while nodding her head vigorously.
“She’s right… she’s absolutely right…” Kelly said as she clasped the hand of her husband Rick after setting her box of surplus down at her feet.
“What do you mean…” Jane asked cautiously, eyeing the boxes she now noticed everyone had cradled in their arms.
“Well… here. This is for you” Lori said as a single, solitary tear slid down the war paint smeared across her cheek. It wasn’t a tear of fatigue however but a tear of realization. There are no coincidences and the epiphany that THIS was the reason for escaping the monotonous and lame was game changer to say the least. The prize wasn’t at the end of the yellow road… it was in the journey itself. It was this moment Lori’s circus brain brought up the location of where they were on the map like a wave crashing hard on the beach shore… This “R8” knew all along the Rebels would follow the map with gusto while simultaneously having no clue whatsoever at the enormity of the impact their actions would have along the way. No clue that is until right now…
One by one the Rebels stepped up and handed their boxes to Jane as the crisp dusk air held the moment still like the sands of time had stopped falling. Once it was clear the Rebels not only meant no harm but rather brought with them survival goods that they were simply giving them out of love, the lost women and children rushed to give the Rebels a hug.
“Thank you so much…” one child stifled into Alyx’s hip after she’d received a box of her own.
“You’re so welcome little one.” Alyx said with a smile as the heat from her silent tears escaping fogged up her classes.
“Here you go” David said as he handed her his light blue handkerchief (inscribed with a “V”).
“Thank you sir” Alyx replied, thankful for the chance to clean up some of the unexpected waterworks.
As the last of the boxes were handed off, Jane shook her head in disbelief with a look of confusion emitting like a beacon. Before anybody could ask if everything was alright, she turned to Abbie and said “you know, the only way you’re going to believe what I’m about to tell you is because I have the proof a few feet away in my home there” as she gestured behind them. “Yesterday one of the girls woke up to go to the bathroom early in the morning, and when she stepped out there was a box with a note on it on top of her home… The note said ‘when they get here, give them these’ and I can only assume you all are who that crazy note was talking about” Jane said as her voice trailed off.
“What was in the box?” Abbie inquired, looking over Jane’s shoulder trying to catch a glimpse.
“I’ll show you, come with me dear…” Jane replied while taking Abbie’s hand.
As Abbie stepped foot into the small structure it was only a millisecond before Jane had the box in her hands and was prying open the top to reveal its contents. What Abbie saw confirmed what the Rebels were beginning to realize more and more with each passing day… That they were not alone.
Within the box resided a red metal charm identical to the ones they’d found back in the State of Rebellion when they initially started this odyssey. Placed on top was a small placard inscribed with what could only be the next clue:
“You passed. The masquerade is upon you… Take shelter for now. – R8”
Banking on the trend thus far, Abbie flipped the placard around to see if it had any addition instructions on the other side like all the others. She wasn’t disappointed upon finding out her hunch was correct. However, she wasn’t very clear on what it meant, either…