by Kai Staats
Copyright © 1992
The light music wove its way among those seated at the fire to the edge of the fire light and around the trees. It was caught by the ears of the deer that stood in the dancing shadows. The player of the flute leaned against the trunk of a giant fir, one of a few of its size on the forested rim. He breathed a melody that filled the night with sorrow, loss, and longing. It grew in volume, with the long notes produced by the rapid contraction of the player’s stomach muscles and strong beat of his heart.
The melody moved from a soaring bird to a galloping horse and climaxed with the cry of a lone wolf that stood alone on the edge of an empty canyon. When the player was done his tear stained cheeks glistened in the fire light. He quickly wiped them dry with the back of his long sleeve wool sweater, hoping that no one had noticed. He placed his flute into its leather sheath and slumped at the base of the tree.
“Thank you for the music Jon.”
Jon did not respond to Charlie. He had nothing to say.
Charlie looked over his shoulder and picked out the silhouette of Jon against the base of the tree, “Jon, would you care to join us? It’s much warmer here by the fire.”
Again Jon refused to respond. His muffled sobs were all that Charlie could hear. It’s not fair that a twelve year old boy should have to endure so much.
From across the fire a meek voice was barely heard above the crackle of the flames, “Ch-Charlie, I’m cold.”
“Well, where is your jacket that your mother gave to you earlier this evening?”
Samuel just shrugged his shoulders and looked down between his crossed legs. His stiff fingers plucked at the bed of soft pine needles beneath him.
“Samuel? Did you loose it?”
A young girl, the same age as six year old Samuel spoke up from her seat next to him, “I- I- … Sam gave his jac-jacket to me, Charlie, ’cause I was cold.”
“I thought your jacket looked an awful lot like Sam’s. Well now, what are we going to do? Samuel, why don’t you scoot a little closer to Renaia and maybe you can both share the jacket. I think it’s big enough for both of you to have a sleeve.”
The notion of having to sit any closer to Renaia made Samuel grimace and he looked pleadingly to Charlie for another solution.
Charlie smiled, “Samuel, she won’t bite you, or give you fleas, or anything of that sort. If you are really cold, then I think Renaia will share your jacket with you.”
Samuel lowered his head more and in a nearly inaudible voice, “I’m not really that cold, I guess.”
Charlie looked back over his shoulder in an effort to find Jon’s shadowy figure. Which tree was it? He turned again to the camp fire. Its light had dwindled to a soft amber glow but the heat was adequate and kept the dozen children seated around the fire warm, everyone except Samuel.
Charlie looked to his watch and pressed one of the side buttons to illuminate its face. The digital color display read only eight thirty two in the evening. He had to keep the children entertained for another hour until their parents returned from the fourth-shift perimeter patrol. All the parents except Jon’s.
“What kind of game would all of you like to play?” Charlie scanned the faces of the children. Some were very attentive, some were busy throwing pine needles onto the hot coals and watching them ignite into a soft yellow flame. Still others were fast asleep. None responded. “No games?”
“Char-lie? Would you tell us a story?” asked Renaia. One of the children who Charlie was sure was asleep added to Renaia’s plea without opening her eyes, “A story Charlie, tell us a story.” Charlie looked closely to the young girl who lay curled on the pine needles next to the coals. Her pink cheeks told Charlie that she was warm enough. A third boy whose dark skin made him nearly invisible, even next to the fire light, pleaded for a story as well.
A nine year old requested that they play Rebels & Guards, the children’s favorite game. Charlie had to look twice to see that it was not Jon, for Jon would usually be the one to request such an activity at that time of night. “Uhmm, Ceram? I don’t think that Rebels & Guards would be appropriate for this time of night. And I don’t think that your parents would approve.” Charlie paused to count again the number of faces at the camp.
He did so on a regular basis, more out of habit than conscious will. Still twelve, not including Jon. Charlie also noticed that Samuel had decided that sharing the same jacket with Renaia was not as bad as being cold. When Charlie’s eyes caught his, Samuel dropped his head and returned to picking needles from the ground and arranging them into orderly, geometric shapes. Bound to be a mathematician like his father, Charlie thought.
Charlie had to think for awhile to recall all of the stories that he knew. Some were funny, others were scary, but none seemed appropriate. Charlie looked to the starlit sky and found Cassiopeia, Cygnus the Swan, Pegasus, Orion, and the Pleiades- Subaru as one of the children of Japanese heritage often insisted. So many stories created in the imagination of people who lived thousands of years before. But it was not until a single bird soared over head and passed between the stars and those at the camp fire that Charlie knew the story he would tell.
“Charlie? Are you going to tell us a story now?” a few of the children asked nearly simultaneously.
“Um, yes. Yes of course.” He quickly looked to his watch again and noted that only a few minutes had passed. “Let’s see…” Charlie heard the crunch of pine needles a few meters to his rear and knew that Jon had returned, “I am going to tell you a story about a seagull named Jonathan who learned to fly like no other seagull had ever flown. Ready? Gather round, snuggle up ‘n get warm, and listen closely.”
The children moved as close as they dare to the hot coals in order to meet Charlie’s fire lit eyes. Some even forgot the strict, unwritten rules of childhood and held hands and interwove feet and legs to keep their uncovered extremities warm.
Content that all who were awake were indeed attentive, Charlie looked over his shoulder to be sure that Jon was still present and listening. And then Charlie began reciting what he could remember of Richard Bach’s story.
“‘Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight–how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly.’”
Jon shifted his weight from one side to the other as he sat with his legs pulled close to his chest, warm and content to remain away from the fire. An inner layer of synthetic fiber was covered with the thick layer of wool, in turn covered by a thin shell of plastic fibers. All helped him to remain comfortable, even the gusts of the winter to-come found him.
Jon felt on the ground next to him for his flute in its sheath. He found it and pulled it free. He fingered a tune that had recently come to mind. He wanted to play something other than the sorrow that so automatically came to play. He had felt nothing but anger since his parents were taken. Even with Charlie as his patient mentor, and the children who were his friends, Jon was alone. His happy melodies always turned sour.
Charlie mesmerized the children with his warm, passionate voice as he retold a story written a century before. “Jonathan was excited about his new discoveries of flight, he could not wait to return and tell the others. ‘Instead of drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!’ explained Jonathan.” Charlie told of Jonathan’s plight against the system of tradition, against what was the standard and the norm. Jonathan wasn’t satisfied with just eating, just doing what seagulls always did, he wanted more.
Jon half-heartedly listened to the story. He was amused by Charlie’s choice. His father had named him for the character in Charlie’s story. He knew that Charlie was telling the story for him and that made Jon want to listen even less. Charlie never stopped teaching; everything was a lesson, every breath was a deliberate action to prepare him for something Charlie knew was in his future. But Jon did not yet understand.
Jon slumped a little lower, leaned more affectionately on the tree. It was his favorite tree. A Douglas fir so large that even five children could not wrap their arms around it. It was the largest that he had ever found. Leif told him that there were once millions of such trees and now there were just a handful, scattered randomly throughout the remaining forests. Leif had worked as an ecologist before he and his family had escaped to the rim. His son Ceram was seated by the fire. Ceram was Jon’s favorite friend because he liked to climb trees and explore the forest as much as Jon did.
The roots of the fir protruded above the ground and seemed to welcome Jon’s tired body. He slumped even further until his body was curled like that of a sleeping coyote, Jon’s imaginary tail covered his chilled, moist nose. With the tree to his back and the roots and soft needles around and below him, Jon should have felt safe but there was always a presence of danger. His body was always tense. His eyes closed, opened again, and then fell shut as his mind began to recall the vivid images of his parents who he had not seen for three years.
Jon was ten then. His parents were both young, healthy, and Jon thought they would never leave him. Their family was strong and they spent a lot of time playing in the city parks or walking along the boulder-strewn, ocean beach.
“Jon! Hey Jon!” his father had said, “Look what I found!”
Jon quickly turned back to his father as he was always a few meters ahead, and ran to see what his father had discovered. Stopping just short of his father’s small but well built body, he teetered on the edge of a space between a few boulders on the beach. His father’s tan skin glistened with sweat from the noon sun. He reached to push a wisp of brown hair from his eyes and looked at Jon with an excited smile. Jon saw what he must have passed just moments before– a baby seal, just barely alive, lay wedged between two enormous, very slippery, blue-gray boulders.
“I’ll bet it came in at high tide and was separated from its family. It probably got trapped in these rocks and couldn’t get out.” His mother said, “It must be hungry and very thirsty after being in the sun all morning.” She then turned to Jon’s father, “Is there anything we can do?”
“Let me run back to the truck, I’ll grab some rope and we’ll make a sling. Maybe the three of us can lift it and drag it back to the water’s edge.”
Jon walked a little closer, careful to remain on the edge of the closest, lowest boulder and not fall in with the seal. He watched it breath, listened to it whine. It’s eyes looked frantic and wild. Jon dropped to his knees and braced his arms in front of him. He told the seal it would be ok, that everything would work out. “My dad and mom and me are going to get you out!” Jon looked up at his mother seated on the other side of the seal. Her head eclipsed the sun and her hair glowed with an amber fire. But she was not smiling.
Jon looked back down to the seal. No longer wild, his eyes had lost their fight. Slowly shifting from side to side, they fell on Jon’s and then stopped. Jon, for just a moment, understood what the seal was enduring. They shared the same sensation. The rock tomb, the terrestrial cage, was not the true confinement. There was something more that must be set free.
Jon’s father returned with the rope already tied in a makeshift sling, his proud knots suddenly useless as both Jon and his mother turned their saddened eyes to him. The seal had died.
“‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull,’ said the Elder, ‘Stand to Center for Shame in the sight of your fellow gulls!’” Charlie added, “Jonathan Seagull’s knees went weak and his feathers sagged. He couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to learn. Why couldn’t they see that flying the way he did was wonderful! It was something they could all learn. But the Elders banished Jonathan Livingston Seagull to live alone on the Far Cliffs.”
Jon’s father was a very famous architect. He had designed energy efficient, solar homes and community housing for many cities across the country. His work had been published in several magazines and newspapers.
Jon’s mother worked at home. She was a computer programmer and spent most of her time arguing with the computer that never answered her complaints. Sometimes Jon would sit at the door of her office and just giggle every time she got mad. It looked so ridiculous for her to yell at the screen, shake her head and yell some more. She would often turn to Jon, angry that he was making fun of her frustration, and then could do nothing but scoop him up in her arms and kiss his tan cheeks. She swore that he was the only thing that kept her from working in the office with the other employees, she needed Jon for her sanity.
Despite both his father’s and mother’s success, Jon’s parents were not content. They were financially stable and were outwardly satisfied, but late at night, shortly after Jon crawled into bed he could hear them talking. They talked about how unstable everything was, how the government could not be trusted. And they discussed solutions. His father once whispered, “It can’t hurt to go– just a couple of times. Jon will meet new children his age and we’ll have a chance to see what this new church is all about.”
His mother responded, “I don’t know, I just don’t know. All of our friends who have joined, they just don’t seem the same anymore. Haven’t you noticed?”
Jon’s stomach felt upset and his hands turned cold with his father’s firm reply, “No, I haven’t noticed. You are just being paranoid. Look, we have been through all of this before. There is nothing wrong with just going to see what it is like, right?”
Jon felt uncomfortable because his mother was usually right but his father had to try it his way. Jon did not want to make new friends, he wanted his parents to stop arguing.
When work was over and Jon’s father came home to join him and his mother, they would often grab a quick snack and then head to the park. But more recently they went to a new building just down the street. It had huge walls and towers that rose to touch the sky. It was the new church that Jon’s parents joined, “Just to see what it was like,” they had originally said. They enjoyed the company of other professionals who were all working together toward the common goal.
Jon did not like going to church. He had to leave his parents and spend time in small, crowded rooms with the other kids his age. He never participated and seldom spoke during the classes. The Elders that taught the classes grew to resent Jon because his passive resistance was a poor example to the rest of the children in the class.
At first his family went one or two times a week. A few months later they went daily, and within a year—two or three times a day. It all happened so fast, and Jon’s family was not alone. Nearly every family on the block had joined the new church. They ate their meals there, spent all of their free time there. Jon missed going to the park and spending time with his parents. He told his parents how he felt and they ignored him. His mother had lost her reservations and stated coldly that church would make Jon a good, proper young boy. It did not sound like something she would have said just months earlier. His parents had changed.
They did not have money for vacations anymore, they couldn’t afford the time, and Jon no longer got new clothes or toys. His parents explained that they gave all of their money to the church, toward the common goal.
One day Jon’s mother and father had taken the day off from work to go to an important meeting at church. They had talked about it for weeks. The meeting was not just in their city, but a nation-wide assembly of all the Elders, the church leaders, and every congregation member, simulcast across a massive network between the great meeting halls. This meeting was to decide something that Jon did not fully understand, something about a revolution that would precede the second coming. But Jon did not care about the meeting or who was coming, he wanted his family back. In route to the church Jon asked, “Mom? Dad? Can we go to the park?”
“Jon! We’ve had this discussion before! What’s wrong with you son? Don’t you listen to your mother and father anymore!” Jon’s mother was silent but her face was stern, cold, like stone. In a calm, more controlled voice Jon’s father continued, “Jon, I hear nothing but bad reports about your behavior in your church classes. You set bad examples for the other children and the Elders say you won’t listen to them. Today is a big day for all of us. I have asked Elder White to work with you today, in private, so that you can understand why it is so important to behave.”
Jon’s mother released her blank expression and turned to him, pleading, “Is that really necessary? I-I mean, can’t we give Jon another chance? You know what they will do.” She glanced over her shoulder just long enough to let Jon see the tear race down her cheek. A quick glance from Jon’s father dried the tear and returned his wife’s face to its prior state.
What did his father mean in private? He knew something was wrong and he had that same uneasy feeling and upset stomach. The car slowed and turned sharply into the parking lot of the church. Jon’s father abruptly pulled Jon from the back seat and carried him to the waiting arms of a bearded man. The man’s large, sweaty hands held Jon so tight that he thought his arms were going to break. Jon’s parents walked in the opposite direction without a word to him. He felt trapped, abandoned, and grew panic stricken.
Jon was carried as usual, screaming and kicking, to the classroom that he so terribly hated. Tiny plastic desks and neatly organized tables but no kids. Once set free Jon scurried to the corner of the room. He flipped a table and upset a chair in order to display his anger.
When the other children arrived, the class sat very still, listening to the men recite ancient texts that held no meaning for Jon, and Jon suspected few of the others understood either. These men wielded a large leather-bound book as though it were a weapon, gesturing wildly and with anger as they systematically exchanged words filled with strong emotion. But had Jon been able to understand what they were saying, he would have chosen to not listen just the same, for he felt nothing. In his mind, he traveled back to the beach, with the parents who once loved him, to a time when things made sense.
When the class had come to a close and all of the children had left with their parents, Jon waited for his. The larger of the Elders whose face was so fully covered with hair that Jon could only assume he had a mouth, chin and neck.
“Jon,” the Elder bathed him in foul breath, “Jon, don’t fight us anymore. Don’t resist and everything will be ok. You’ll be ok. We don’t want to hurt you. Just let us work with you, let us help you. In the name of the Savior Jon, we love you.”
We love you. How can you say that? You have made my parents hate me! They don’t care about me anymore. I hate you. “I hate you!” He spat in the face of the nearest man and aimed for the next.
The man wiped the mucous from his eye and cheek and slapped Jon with his moist hand. “I tire of this. Get the medication.” He placed his hand over Jon’s mouth and nose. He couldn’t breath. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a long, shiny silver needle in the hands of the third Elder. “Jon, this will help you relax, help you realize that we are your friends.”
Jon went wild, tried to scream. He was slapped again and held even more tight. The needle drew near, a single drop of clear liquid hung from its hollow, silver tip.
And then the door to the room was thrown open. “Let him go!”
All three Elders turned to see Jon’s father lunge at the nearest, easily knocking him to the ground with a single side step to the knee cap, shattering the bone and cartilage. The other two converged on him, leaving Jon to rest on the table. His father’s fist crushed the Elder’s throat. The Elder fell while holding his collapsed esophagus in his hands. His father’s blood covered fingers dropped to his side. The third Elder raised the needle above his head and took two bold steps towards him. Jon’s father side-stepped, ducked, and brought his elbow up, square into the Elder’s nose, breaking the bridge and jamming the shattered bone fragments into the frontal lobe of his brain. The Elder stopped short, his eyes rolled back to white, the needle still clutched in his hand. He fell to the ground dead.
Jon could only cry. He did not understand the blood nor the violence. And he hardly recognized the man that resembled his father in figure but not in action. Jon’s father came closer, tried to smile but instead struggled to keep his lower lip from quivering, “Jon, you were right. I should have listened to your mother. They lied, they have been lying to us all along. I’m sorry we didn’t see it,” he paused, “We are so sorry that we did not see it all before.”
They embraced for a moment and then heard commotion outside. Jon released his father’s neck. Both restraining tears, they ran to the waiting car, his mother was at the driver’s wheel. Jon noticed others running to their vehicles as well. Many of them had children; all of them were crying.
* * *
The next two days were very strange for Jon. Everything happened very quickly and it was difficult for him to understand. His parents spent many hours in their basement talking to neighbors, friends, and some people he had never met before. One was a very kind, soft spoken man with thick, braided, black hair that reached his lower back. He had dark brown eyes and skin that was the color of rich soil. His name was Charlie and he was one of his parents’ new friends. They talked quickly and spoke of a place called the rim; somewhere a long drive from home.
“Mom, Dad, are we finally going on a vacation?”
“Yes Jon, a long vacation. Your mother and I have made some very bad decisions this past year, and now we must leave. We have to go far away. I’ll help you pack your things. We leave in the morning.”
They came that night while Jon and his parents slept. They surrounded the house and shattered all the windows. The alarm sounded but they didn’t care. Men dressed entirely in black, with armor and special shields to cover their faces, and with guns forced their way into his parents’ bedroom. Jon heard his mother cry as he had never heard before.
There was a brief pause in the commotion, Jon heard the sound of a body falling to the floor, and then she yelled, “Jon! Run Jon! Run!”
Jon, momentarily frozen with fear, was activated when an arm reached through his shattered window. He jumped from his bed, and before the man at the window could enter, crawled into his secret hideaway in the closet, a trap door that led to an underground fort in his backyard. His father designed it as an emergency fire exit– it served as Jon’s secret tunnel. Once in the backyard, Jon ran to the neighbor’s home but they too were being invaded. He scurried down the block, through back yards, crawling under hedges and over bushes. Jon finally found a home that was not under seize.
He quickly slipped to the rear of the house. He could barely reach the lowest pane of glass of a window and tapped lightly on it. No response. He tapped again, harder. A gun shot blew the window into thousands of tiny fragments and scattered them across the lawn.
Jon fell to the ground covering his ears with the palms of his hands. He couldn’t move. Only a tiny fraction of his voice came to his command, “Please help me. My parents– help them.” A scream came from the house next door and a street light went out just thirty meters away. The sound of gunfire and screaming was overridden by a strange, soothing, synthetic voice that came from speakers. Speakers that Jon could not locate.
“Please, good citizens, please remain calm and in your homes. The newly appointed Citizen Guard will not harm you.”
Over the drone of the speakers, from within the house Jon heard, “I think it’s a young boy. You shot a boy!” Charlie, Jon thought, from the meetings in his basement. Charlie stuck his head out of the window, carefully, and found Jon curled into a tight ball at the base of the wall. Glass shards were stuck to his hair and night gown. A few pieces had penetrated the unprotected skin on his neck. Charlie looked cautiously across the back yard, reached down to grab Jon, and with ease pulled him up and into the dark room.
“Oh Charlie, my God what are we going to? Who is he?”
“It’s Chao and Karaen’s boy. The Guard have them. Damn it! I had no idea all of this would happen so soon. We’re get’n out of here, Carmen, we are getting out of here now. Grab clothing, ammo, food, the disks with the computer maps, anything you can carry and we’ll meet you in the garage. Jon’ll go with us.”
Carmen hurried off to other dark rooms, brandishing a blue filtered flashlight and semi-automatic rifle. Jon was stunned, confused, and simply held onto Charlie’s neck with all his strength that remained. Charlie dashed through the house, slinging a rifle, ammo belts, full water canteens, and food rations over his shoulders and around his waist. Charlie was very strong and fast.
In the garage they stood before a vehicle unlike any Jon had ever seen. It had shiny armored plates, enormous wheels, narrow slits for windows, and a covered cargo bed. Charlie had obviously known that night was coming. Charlie knew the lie would be told, the liars exposed.
All those who changed their mind, changed their religious affiliation would be crushed as Jon’s parents had been. Charlie and his wife were safe only for the moment. Everyone would eventually be checked, registered, accounted for, and forced to succumb to the new order, the new church. But it was man’s creation, not God’s.
Charlie, his wife, and Jon climbed into the dark, cold steel interior. They tossed the equipment they had gathered into the back. They fastened themselves into the seats, Carmen helped Jon with the buckles. Charlie started the huge motor and it roared to life with the sweet sound of an oversized power plant. Charlie did not even look behind him, he simply flipped the transmission into reverse and tore through the garage door, into the street. He crushed shrubs, rammed a smaller car, and even a new hovercraft, one of two on the block.
Charlie hit the breaks, jammed the transmission into forward overdrive and sped down the block, swerving to avoid the onslaught of the smaller but potentially dangerous vehicles of the Guard militia. They fired bursts of red and green light at Charlie’s vehicle but to no avail. The beams penetrated only the outer most skin, merely tarnishing the mirrored alloy.
Jon could not see very well; all that was happening was far too overwhelming. He remembered little of the rest of the night. The random bumps became routine as they drove through yards and over curbs, as routine as Charlie shouting obscenities and Carmen operating the rifle from the side window.
Once clear of the city, Charlie eased off of the accelerator and seemed more at ease. He reached for Carmen’s hand and held it as though he would never let go. “I hope the others have made it as well. They won’t have a vehicle quite like this one but they should do alright.”
Carmen responded, “We’ll just have to wait until we get to the rim and count heads. God, I hope they all make it.”
Jon wanted to know where his parents were and where Charlie was taking him. Charlie did not have the answer to the first but assured Jon that he would be well cared for.
Jon woke with tears in his eyes. He shivered and realized that the wind had picked up and the air was much cooler. He slowly rose from this slumber and walked to the fire. Only a few children were still awake and Charlie was nearly done with his story.
“‘Set aside,” came a voice from the multitude, “even if it be the Law of the Flock?”
“The only true law is that which leads to freedom, “Jonathan said. “There is no other.’” And with that the story was complete. A few children yawned, Ceram smiled, and Samuel and Renaia were fast asleep, leaning against each other beneath their one coat.
Charlie reached to his side and behind him and found Jon’s waist. He pulled him close, swung him across his shoulder and onto his lap, tickling him all the while, and then stopped abruptly when he saw the tears in his eyes. “Bad dreams again?”
Jon nodded. They were a frequent visitor of the night.
“Ceram, why don’t you gather some more fire wood? The patrol will be returning shortly and joining the next patrol for an evening discussion,” Charlie requested.
Ceram rose from his comfortable bed of soft needles, warmed by the dying coals. He did not need an artificial light for the Earth’s natural moon had risen to join the two artificial moons in the night sky. Waxing quarter phase, Ceram noted.
Charlie and Jon were left as the only ones awake at the fire. Charlie held Jon tight but Jon did not return his embrace. “Jon, tell me about your nightmare.”
Jon just shrugged, wiped the last tear from his eyes, and pulled away from Charlie’s chest. “Same as usual, I guess. I miss them, Charlie. I thought it would get easier, but it hasn’t. I still miss my parents and I still hate the Guard, I hate the Elders and- and the whole thing.” Jon jammed his heel into the ground and kicked dirt and needles onto the fire.
“Jon, your parents are alive, you must believe that. And no, it won’t get easier, not for a long time. We are doing everything we can to get your parents out. We have learned where they are being held, what they do, and we are trying. You have to have patience, Jon, because–”
“Charlie!,” Jon yelled, “I don’t want to hear this again. I’m sick of it! You tell me the same thing every time, that I should learn to be patient and practice all the things that you teach me ’cause I will need them some day. But when? When will I do something? When can I go on patrol? When will you let me drive the sand rail on missions in the desert?”
Charlie did not respond immediately. He looked out through the darkness of the forest, up at the moon lit sky, and back down to Jon who sat in his lap. Charlie sighed, “Jon, did you listen to the story I told tonight?”
Jon shrugged, “Kinda.”
“Well, that story was kinda for you, It’s about you. Jonathan Livingston Seagull did not learn all that he wanted to learn in just one day. Not even in one year! He spent hour after hour practicing, day a after day becoming better at flying like no other seagull had ever flown. You must keep practicing all the things I have taught you. Tracking animals, shooting a rifle, guiding yourself with the stars, and living in the forest and desert for days, alone. You will use all of those skills. You just have to trust me, Jon, believe me.”
Jon squirmed, still unsatisfied with the answer.
“Jon, your parents were wonderful people, I know that from just the few hours we worked together those last couple of days. If I knew them well, I know that they will fight the system.” Jon glared up at Charlie, questioning his integrity. Charlie continued, “Yes, they made a mistake, they thought they were doing the right thing, but they also knew when to get out. They knew when to do what they knew was right and not what everyone else said they should do.
“And I see a lot of your parents in you, Jon. You will always fight the system. There is no one who can stop you from doing that. Just remember that you can’t do everything in one day. Ok?”
Jon was a little more satisfied. He felt challenged. He was willing to wait, willing to listen to Charlie and learn what he had to teach. He looked up to meet Charlie’s face and nodded, allowing his body to go limp in Charlie’s arms.
* * *
The sound of horse hooves broke the silence. Sweating horses carried a half dozen cloaked riders. The rider in the lead dismounted first and ran to Charlie. She threw the hood from her face and kissed him firmly on his lips. Carmen wrapper her arms around his body and nearly lifted him from his seat on the ground. She quickly placed a light kiss on Jon’s cheek as well.
The other riders dismounted and were greeted by the children, some awake and some lacking coordination from the night’s rest and sudden rush of the adrenaline. Seven more adults walked over the ridge and broke the shadows to join the first group already seated by the fire. They all embraced and shared brief descriptions of the evening’s events.
An hour later, the seven new riders mounted fresh horses, turned, and with a hoof driven thunder disappeared into the night. The members of the first patrol rose from the fire that Ceram had carefully constructed, held the hands of their children, and turned to walk down the hill to camp.
Only Charlie, Carmen, and Jon remained, their faces lit by the flickering flames. Jon reached into his sweater and produced a leather sheath. He removed the flute from the sheath and handed it to Carmen, “Carmen? Will you teach me a happy song?”