Chapter 22: Purple
MOONLIGHT beamed in through the opening in the ceiling of the town square as Lena and I sat with our feet dangling in the water near the base of the waterfall. She was such a different person without her memory. We talked before, but we weren’t really good friends. Now, she was easy to talk to. Her thicker French accent was a little hard to get used to at first, but that was normal for amnesia cases, as if the brain had forgotten what it learned the last several years that had reduced the accent.
“How’s your head?” I said, leaning back to try and get a glimpse of it.
Lena put her hand to her head, but there was no wound now. “Feels fine. Can’t even tell it was there.” She shook her head. “It’s so weird healing that fast.”
I smiled. “You’ll get used to it.”
“I hope I don’t get the chance,” she said with a laugh.
“Good point.” I giggled, but it trailed off. “Have you…seen anything out of the ordinary?”
She leaned in close. “You mean…like someone who might be the murderer?”
I shrugged. “Anything, really.”
Her eyes and lips sank with her shoulders as she shook her head. “No.”
“Where were you that night?” I said. Hopefully, she wouldn’t take it the wrong way. “Maybe you saw something that could help.”
Her mouth twisted. “I was still in the medical center, remember?”
I rolled my eyes at myself. “Sorry. Forgot.”
“It’s okay.” Her head tilted. “Your mom was with me the whole time. And a few people came by to see me. Joseph. Artie.” She smiled, a little giddy. “Reilly.”
“What’s that for?”
Her smile deepened. “He came by…a lot.”
“Seriously? Reilly?” I looked around to see if anyone was lurking so late at night.
“He’s cute, right?” Lena bit her lip.
I flushed. “He’s like an older brother to me.”
Her eyebrows rose. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s just weird to think of him like that.”
She hadn’t given me hardly anything to go on except that she wasn’t the killer. And I already knew it wasn’t my mom, though that’d be one heck of a twist.
“It’s getting late,” I said and pulled my feet from the water to stand. Lena stood with me and we headed back to the private quarters.
When I arrived at my door, Ian stood in the loft, folding laundry.
“Oh, I didn’t expect you here so late,” I said.
“I’m almost finished.” He sat a small stack of clothes on a shelf in the armoire.
I headed up the stairs when an idea came to mind. It had been intense here lately with the murder and questioning. Ian still seemed to be offended that people thought he could be guilty. I doubted I could do anything about that, but at least I could try to redirect his attention.
“Have you read my journal yet?”
“Yeah.” Ian slipped a shirt onto a hanger. “Memorizing the symbols is easy. It’ll take me a while to get quick at processing them, though. It’s so different than English.” He hung the last shirt in the armoire, then headed down the stairs. “See ya—”
“I wanna show you something in the Old City.” It was late, but I didn’t think he’d mind.
Ian stopped and looked back with a frown. “What, now?”
“Now’s the perfect time. Trust me.” I hurried down the stairs past him. “Come on.”
Quietly, we snuck out of my quarters, not wanting to wake the other residents. I purposely avoided the graveyard, half out of fear and half not wanting to discuss it with Ian yet. He’d freak just like Mom would, probably. I should’ve thought of that before bringing him to the Old City that night. Then again, I wouldn’t be able to avoid the subject forever. He’d ask again, eventually.
Soon, we were deep within the recesses of the ancient city. Fiber-optic cables fed light to the halls here, unlike the uncharted Outskirts surrounding the areas we’d explored and mapped.
We arrived at a long set of oversized stairs that wrapped downward around a room in a crescent shape. The stairs were made for a person probably ten feet tall. We followed them down to the lower part of the Old City, until we reached two stone doors, well over three times my height, with an elaborately-carved tree spanning their width.
“These are two of the tallest doors in the city.” I watched in anticipation, wondering what he’d think of them. Part of me wanted him to find the Old City as intriguing as I did. “Aren’t they amazing?”
“Yeah.” Ian’s eyes searched the stone-carved tree. “The detail’s incredible.” He stepped up to it, tracing some of the lines with his fingers the way I had so many times. He cocked his head. “Wait, that’s the tree from the theater engraving.”
He was right—it didn’t have the flowers surrounding it, but it was the same tree.
I nodded and smiled. “See that inscription?” I pointed up above the tree.
He backed away a few steps to see it. His hazel eyes searched it for a brief moment. “It says…The…Tree of Life, right?”
“That’s right.” He’d remembered it from the journal. “Looks like you’re learning the language pretty well.”
I moved toward the towering doors. Our hands touched as I passed him. Had he done that on purpose? I brushed it off, goosebumps playing at my skin. “Alright, now for the good part.”
“That wasn’t the good part?”
I smiled and pushed hard on the doors. Ian stepped up to help, his hip pressing into mine. The doors swung open to reveal the tree in the inscription, bathed in majestic moonlight that flowed from a large opening in the ceiling. Its branches and trunk were probably broader than any other tree on the planet, at least to my knowledge.
“Wow.” His mouth hung open. “How old is it?”
“We think the second inhabitants of the city planted it about four-thousand years ago. They’re probably responsible for boring the holes in the ceilings like this one and the one in the town square.”
“There are other holes?”
“Sure.” I removed my sandals. “Come on. I’ll show you another one.” I headed toward the tree, Ian close behind.
The tree’s foliage was too thick for the moonlight to fully illuminate the ground beneath it, but we could see well enough to make it to the trunk. There was something mysterious and exciting about the darkness.
Ian slowed and stared at the trunk as we passed by, letting his hand drag across the bark for a long moment. I couldn’t help but stare at the subtle nuances of his face in the blue-white light.
He smiled when he caught me looking, and heat rose in my cheeks as I looked away.
We continued to the other side until we reached a set of small doors. Only a little taller than us, they bore another elaborate carving of a different tree along with an inscription I knew well. “Can you figure out what this one says?”
The last one had been written in my journal, but this one wasn’t, so he’d have to translate it himself. Each symbol had several meanings, and each word could be used different ways. The word for city also meant chaos, and the word for wilderness also meant order. Their words were a deeper view into the mind of a nomadic Ancient Hebrew. And yet this group had settled down here at some point.
He frowned, probably referencing the symbols from memory. “Sleep…in my…winged image, children.”
I raised my eyebrows at him. “That’s not bad.” I pointed to the words as I spoke. “Rest in the shadow of My wings, little ones.”
His lips parted slightly as he understood. “Oh, okay. I get it.” He looked to me. “What does it mean?”
“Judging from the size of the doors, this room was built for children,” I said. “The My in the inscription implies the Creator is speaking. I think the different holes in the ceilings of the city are supposed to represent His presence.”
Ian nodded. “Sorry, I don’t know much about religion. I’ve never seen any proof that there’s a God.”
I shrugged. “I try to keep an open mind. Science demands it. We have enough data now to know that dark matter exists, but we can’t see it or observe it in any way. God’s the same for me. If things exist at all, something or someone must’ve created them. Things are way too ordered for it to be any other way.”
“But we can’t prove God exists.”
“I think existence itself proves that.” I shrugged again. “But even if we can’t prove God, why does everything have to be proved to be real?” It was a conversation Mom and I had had several times over the years. Mom wanted to change my beliefs, but I didn’t care about changing hers or anyone else’s. She was a scientist, though. She was supposed to be objective and keep an open mind. Otherwise, she could be missing something right in front of her. In a way, it was like scientific suicide to reject the concept of God altogether, because one lost the obvious causality of all things. Her emotions had clouded her objectivity. Ian seemed like her in that way. But if he didn’t believe in the mystical, it stole something important from the experience of the Old City, and that made me a little sad. “Can’t some things be outside of our ability to observe or prove? The fact that I can leave my body and be invisible to you should be evidence of that.”
Ian seemed to consider the statement for a moment, then sighed. “Alright, fine, I’ll give you that one.” He looked around then nodded toward the doorway. “So, what’s in the kid’s room?”
I pressed in on the doors to ease them open. Brilliant moonlight showed through the widening gap as it illuminated a beautiful, purple flowering tree set in a circular, grassy room only a little larger than the tree. It stood probably thirty feet tall.
“My dad planted this for me when I was born. It’s a jacaranda tree.” I strolled beneath its branches. “This is the perfect time to see it. The moon is just right.”
Ian marveled at the sight. That never got old. I hoped I’d see that face many more times as I thought of all the incredible sights of the Old City Ian had yet to experience.
“It’s beautiful.” The corner of his mouth tilted up. “It suits you.”
Just then, a gust of wind fell down from the mountainside across the gap in the ceiling, separating hundreds of purple flowers from their branches, whipping them into a tornado that lifted them out of the hole.
Ian’s eyes lit up. “Awesome.”
“This is the reason you see lots of purple in my room.” I picked up a flower bud. “It’s been my favorite color ever since I saw the first bud.”
“I’m almost tempted to make purple my favorite color.”
“There are blue flowering trees too, you know? That’s a little more manly.” I laughed, then pulled him across to the base of the tree and sat among the grass and fallen flowers. “This is my escape from everything.”
“Nice place,” he said, then sat beside me, looking up through the branches.
My eyes traced the strong lines of his face, which looked statuesque in the beams of moonlight. He closed his eyes as he relaxed back against the trunk, and for a long moment, we just sat together without a care in the world.
After a while, his expression became more serious and he turned to me. “Okay, I’m not rushing you, but…are you ready to talk about what happened?”
A tightness gripped my chest, but I managed to temper it with deep, even breaths. “I—” My words caught in my throat. “I was attacked.”
“Attacked?” Ian frowned, his back stiffening.
I pulled my knees toward my chest and wrapped them with my arms, trying to hide their unsteadiness.
“Are you hurt?” he said.
“I’m fine.” I lifted my shirt. The stripes of pooled blood under my skin had vanished from my stomach. “See?”
Ian’s brow furrowed with concern. “None of this sounds fine.”
“Really, I’m okay.” I pressed a finger against my stomach. “It was just pooled blood under the skin.”
“What attacked you?”
I looked away, deciding if there were any way to spin this so it didn’t sound so bad. Ian, I was attacked by a giant dark one with huge horns. He beat the crap out of me. I thought I was gonna die.
Yeah, that wouldn’t go over too well.
My eyes met his. “A dark one.”
“What?” His voice rose.
“It’s okay. It was trapped in the graveyard.” Was there any way to truly smooth this one over?
Worry creased his forehead. “And you’re gonna do it again?”
If I were being honest with myself, it scared me to death. I didn’t know if I’d run across another dark one. But I wanted to use my power. It was one of the single greatest experiences of my life—right before the dark one got a hold of me. But I’d told myself I just needed to stay away from the graveyard and everything would be fine. I wasn’t sure if that’d calm the sickening worry still lurking in my gut, though.
Ian pulled back. “You have a death wish, don’t you?”
“If I stay away from the graveyard, I should be fine.” I paused. “At least that’s how the inscription made it sound—like the dark one was trapped there.”
Ian let out a long breath and shook his head, resigned. “Please be careful.”
Ian looked deep into my eyes and leaned in.
My stomach fluttered, heat rising inside. For a second, I drifted in his direction, mindlessly.
This couldn’t happen. Not again.
My chest tensed again. I recoiled. Stumbled to my feet awkwardly.
Ian stared at me, confused, like I’d just ripped his heart out.
“I’m sorry.” Then I ran.
My lungs felt like they were filling with water. I tore through the halls of the Old City at a reckless pace, my increased strength going ballistic. It was all I could do not to separate from my body.
I slammed into a wall, unable to make a turn, then crashed to the ground. Barely missing a beat, I sprung to my feet and kept running.
The second I made it to my room, I locked the door behind me, leaned back against it, and sank to the floor. I held my head in my hands, stomach wrenching.
My god, what had I been doing? How had I led him on like that without realizing it?
After a while, a gentle knock came at my door. “Abby?” Ian said softly.
I stayed quiet, not wanting him to know I was merely inches from him.
It was late. He couldn’t stand out there much longer or he’d risk waking someone.
“I’m sorry.” The pain in his voice was like a vice crushing my insides. It wasn’t his fault. It was all mine, and he was paying for it.
His door opened and closed. It was the last thing I heard from him that night.
What was wrong with me? Why did Ian have this effect on me? He wasn’t any different than the other guys around the city.
Yeah, right. Who was I kidding? He was different because I cared about him. Because he had the power to crush my heart. Because he would leave me, just like every other guy I’d ever cared about.