David J. Coppola studied at New Jersey’s William Paterson University, earning a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and Journalism in 2000. Currently he continues to reside in the Garden State with his wife, in the wonderful town of Summit. Professionally he works in television production, as he has done so for over a decade. With a penchant for visual storytelling and a boundless imagination, he has always held a passion for writing. As a new author, David has brought forth his passion in his debut story: The Wise Man, The Rock And The River. “Being published,” he says, “Is absolutely a dream come true.”
The Wise Man, The Rock and The River
IT WAS UNBEARABLY HOT. The sun’s scorching rays were relentless, and the sky had been cloudless for far too long. The crops were in peril, and the livestock were fading fast. The last rain had fallen six months ago, but it felt more like six decades to the villagers of Kayland. The duration, however, no longer mattered, for the end result would be the same: the eventual ending of this small town and its inhabitants. Malnourishment and disease had become their reality. What was once a prosperous land of optimism brimming with fruits rich in vitamins, healthy livestock, and a harmoniously blended harvest was headed toward devastation.
The drought had also changed the Kayland villagers’ perspective of Joe—the person the villagers looked to for leadership, guidance, and stability. Prior to the drought, Joe had been a man full of hope, but this prolonged dry spell had changed both his faith in life and his ability to lead. Unfortunately his change of heart also affected the faith the villagers placed in him. No longer did they view him as their fearless leader.
Aside from harming Joe’s village and its inhabitants, the drought had also stolen the sole thing he loved most in this world—his Annabelle. The day he lost her, he composed his thoughts in a journal; words he wished to share with her again one day, perhaps in another life, another world. He stowed this journal in one of his canoe’s nooks. One day he would release it into the river where her ashes peacefully lay:
You were taken from me far too soon, and today, a part of me has passed on as well—a part I shall not recover until the day we meet again. You were my air to breathe, my life to live, my love, my world. I will think of you with every waking moment, and dream of you with every hour of rest. I hope you find happiness in the life thereafter; the same happiness you enlightened me with every day.
THE SKY WAS REMARKABLY CLEAR that morning. The sun was so bright and rich it failed to look like sun anymore. It was more like an interminable, fiery orange flash. One couldn’t lift the lids of his eyes for more than half a second before having to turn away, blinded by its power.
The sun had bleached the short locks of Joe’s light brownish hair and eyebrows to a permanent pearly white hue, and deeply bronzed his once fair skin. Joe, a tall slender man whose age now shown, had become a shell of his former vibrant self. One of the village’s last remaining fishermen, Joe headed out for the daily catch on the K-River—a long narrow waterway cut in a perfectly straight line running through the center of the village, its two ends jutting off the center to form their own separate passageways of water, and all perfectly angled to showcase the beautiful ocean to the east of the village—a once eager estuary named solely for its aerial geographic shape. If you were to look directly down from the tallest of trees, the river formed a symmetrical K, and this astounding K shaped river that nature had provided over time belonged to the inhabitants of Kayland.
Joe’s canoe was twenty feet in length. Long and slim, it had three sectioned compartments. Joe rowed from the far back, the middle was reserved for an additional villager, and the far front housed his nets. Unfortunately Joe’s partition was the only animate part left in the canoe. The rest lay dry, barren, and empty from months of inactivity. The drought had slowed the fishing in the village to a crawl. As the river increasingly depleted, it became warmer and lower than in days past. Joe paddled out along the western part of the river’s straight narrow passageway. In certain spots amidst the riverbanks, the waters were beginning to become so shallow they were giving way to the stone riverbed. In other spots, petrified branches and fish were revealing their deadened images.
In the not too far distance, Joe noticed something very unusual. A large conglomerate rock was jetting up out of the water, pushing aside the slow moving current. It was not this protruding rock, however, that appeared unusual for there were many of these rocks in the K-River. Rather it was the old man who sat perched upon the rock who captured Joe’s attention.
The man, many years older than Joe had ever projected for his own lifespan, had a long wrinkled face, flowing, cloud white hair, and an overgrown salty-beard. He donned a deteriorating red cloak, the hood of which was pushed back by the abundance of his wild curls. In one hand he clutched a long wooden staff with a rounded tip that ran the distance from the old man’s shoulders to his sandaled and weathered feet. A fused image of a sea serpent coiling itself down the length of the staff seemed to be sculpted out of a hardened clay material of which the serpent seemed to grasp. The old man’s flakey dried out hands tightly gripped the staff, using it to maintain balance atop the pointed rock.
Joe was slowly approaching in his canoe, and when the proximity between him and the mysterious gray-haired figure closed to about twenty feet, Joe let out his oars and slowed his course. When they were within five feet of one another, the old man turned his gaze toward Joe, and inquired in a soothing tone, “When will the rains return to this dry and dying land?”
Baffled by the old man’s presence, Joe drifted by in silence. Who was this enigmatic man? He knew everyone in the small village of Kayland, but this man was unfamiliar to him. As Joe drifted down the river, the old man on his conglomerate rock slowly began to fade from his view, but Joe’s wonder persisted. Unfortunately so did the famine. By day’s end, Joe’s fishing nets were still mostly empty. His catch would be insufficient. The dozen or so meager tilapia would fail to feed the entire village.
That night Joe sat by his campfire, hungry and helpless. The smoke from the embers rose high into the starry night. It was amazing how much the dark seemed to mask the severity of the drought. For a blissful moment, you could actually lose yourself in its bleakness and forget about the blazing air that was waiting to consume you as you awoke in the morning.
Behind him, some of the remaining livestock were grazing on the dried out grass near his campsite, and further away in the darkness of the low-lying brush he could see the seething, glowing eyes of the night’s creatures. They slowly and methodically paced under the cover of trees. Most likely they were waiting for the next victim to succumb to the heat, so they could feed and live to see another day. Natural selection had its own meaning here in Kayland.
There was an exceptionally bright crescent moon above Joe as he sat pondering his thoughts. The shine of the fire highlighted his cheekbones, which were beginning to slump slowly into his face. As he lay on his back staring up into the clear night, the roar of his famished stomach lulled him into a very deep sleep. The embers of the fire cracked and finally cooled. Unfortunately the dark mask of night would soon again reveal itself to the torrid sun.
OVER THE NEXT FIVE DAYS something very peculiar began to unfold. Each day as Joe fished the scalding waters of the K-river, he saw the old man balanced atop his rock. Every day the old man would ask Joe when the rains would return, and Joe would simply drift past in wonder. On the sixth day, however, the peculiarity of these events would turn into something quite unexpected.
The sixth day began exactly as the previous five days. The sun was high, permeating its now all too familiar unrivaled sear along the plains of Kayland, and the K-river was warm to the touch and becoming shallower by the second, as was the expression on Joe’s face. For him, the sixth day was one day closer to his own demise. He was falling direly ill. The drought had finally taken its toll on him, and Joe awoke weak from the dry months. Barely able to dress himself, he wearily stumbled up from his camp and into his canoe. He pushed off the scorched banks, and headed out once again onto the blazing K-river.
The river was becoming discolored from the amount of death beneath it. It resembled a pod for dead fish and animals, and had fallen so shallow it now slumped into itself, like an evaporating cup of water. Dried out branches from the mangrove forests that surrounded the K-River had fallen like pixie sticks along the shoreline, creating an obstacle course of the water. Joe did his best to row down far enough to cast his nets, but his efforts were futile. His strength was quickly waning. Succumbing to the parched weeks and months, Joe unwillingly dropped an oar into the water, and unable to maintain his balance, fell oddly face first into the dried out nets aboard his canoe. He did his best to get back up, but his efforts were in vain. He could only manage to turn himself onto his back, as his right shoulder and arm were trapped in the mess of the net. As he turned, the lone oar dropped softly into the river, and the canoe took its own course.
The canoe drifted along with the current in a slow spinning motion while Joe remained locked into position by the tangled web of the net. As he lay trapped in the dried out empty nets—a veritable mess of emptiness—Joe recalled how full of blissful bounty they had once been, a bounty that had sustained a village of people. Indeed, the irony of the situation was not lost on him.
The canoe continued to float down river while Joe lay powerless. Further and further he sailed away, unable to do anything but gaze up at the fiery sky, and wait for unconsciousness to overtake him. In a rare moment of serenity, he reflected on the past. He spoke aloud to himself in a soft and wilting tone:
“Regrets are something people should never leave upon their shoulders, but sadly it is what I leave upon mine. Elected as the leader of this land, I knew my responsibilities to my people, and stood beside them through every challenge the earth presented. However I failed them when the most horrific of challenges befell us. The drought brought with it great adversity, the likes of which none had ever experienced, and in its face, I faltered. When my people lost hope, I, too, lost mine. When they looked for an encouraging and forceful figure, they found only a fleeting illusion of hopefulness. When my villagers needed a voice, I was silent. I failed to be the man they needed me to---”
Joe’s words were quickly and harshly interrupted by the loud bang of his canoe crashing against a large river rock. The impact of the collision projected him through the air. He landed face first atop the rock, the rigid contours of the stone mercilessly scraping his face and elbows. His pain was deep, but he managed to turn himself over, only to be greeted with the mangled remains of his canoe. It was damaged beyond repair, and pieces of it had been flushed out into the river. Jolted by the course of events, Joe generated the necessary adrenaline needed to prop himself up to survey his surroundings.
Perhaps this is the old man’s rock, Joe thought with a twinge of hope.
Much to his chagrin, the old man was nowhere in sight. Alas there he sat, battered and bruised, stranded atop a rock in the middle of a scalding river, in the heat of a blistering drought without a trace of hope.
A THUNDEROUS SOUND arose in the near distance. It carried with it so much bass and depth the tops of the K-River were forced into a rippled frequency. That ripple soon churned the waters into a pounding and pulsing pool of white caps and wakes. The sound continued to thicken by the second, and the louder it grew, the stronger it felt. Trees began to rattle and sway, swiftly shedding their leaves. The livestock began charging about, frantically searching for cover, and the stone riverbanks began to crack and crumble under the water.
An earthquake, Joe thought, but then quickly realized this was no quake.
The myths and tales were true. Joe had heard the stories, but he had never seen him in the flesh. The trees now began to bend awkwardly and effortlessly as Rousty, the legendary great Bengal tiger pulverized his way across the plains of Kayland. With each long stride, he notched a hole in the ground three feet thick, leaving behind a debris-filled, smoky wake, and a village of astonished witnesses.
Rousty was no ordinary tiger. He was the rarest of breeds; a true freak of nature. On all fours, he was easily twenty feet in length and ten feet in width and girth, but if he stood on his hind legs, he was immeasurable. Rousty was a behemoth beauty of the animal kingdom. His coat was a burly, glowing orange, and broad, black pointed stripes were artistically positioned and blended across his immense body. An intense white hue colored the tips of his powerful, muscular limbs, and an incandescent yellow tint filled out the rims of his large, stalking eyes, which were quite possibly focused on a meal cowering atop a rock.
Rousty continued his charge across the plains with reckless abandon, and upon reaching the water’s edge, thrust himself powerfully yet gracefully into the air; a cloudless, teaming bluebird sky as his backdrop. It was truly picturesque.
An enormous splash ensued after Rousty landed on all fours in the river, shooting the steaming water up into the air like a volatile geyser. The force of gravity pulled the water back down to the earth, covering and coating the Bengel tiger’s muscular frame. When the last of the water finished its return, Rousty violently oscillated his body, drying his remarkable coat. As he whipped his body around, he glimpsed Joe.
Rousty’s trip to the K-River had affected his temperament. His movements had considerably slowed. He leisurely approached Joe, moving ever so slowly through the fevered currents, hunching himself close to the water’s surface. With each sleuthing step, Rousty grew ever closer, appearing larger and larger to Joe until he finally approached the rock upon which Joe desperately lay.
This was the defining moment of Joe’s life. As Rousty strategically positioned his colossal head above his own, Joe mustered all of his remaining strength, and looked up at this figure with utter amazement. The bridge of Rousty’s snout was wide and colorfully blended in varying hues of orange, the thick black stripes surrounding his eyes and mouth were masterfully aligned, and his long course whiskers were a stark pure white. He was indeed a living, breathing work of art.
Immaculate, sublime, and very dangerous, murmured Joe to himself.
Rousty let out a mighty roar, once again shaking his surroundings. He exposed his long, stout, treacherous canines, and then quickly snapped his mouth closed. On the verge of capitulation, Joe resigned himself to the inevitable. Rousty opened wide, and Joe’s world faded to black.
IT WAS EERILY DARK AND COOL. There was a pungent musty odor in the air, and the immediate perception of the present was quite contrary to the past. The here and now had an inviting, biting chill, unlike the feverish blister that had once been Joe’s reality.
What exactly is this place? Joe wondered. Is this life after death? Is this my new reality?
Before he could collect anymore of his thoughts, or even force open his eyes, a voice called out from the distance, “Wake up…Wake up!”
Not sure if he was in the present, or in the life thereafter, Joe inquired, “Who’s there?”
The voice did not respond, but instead its owner shook Joe by the tops of his shoulders to fully awaken him. Slowly but surely Joe was able to open the lids of his recently chilled eyes, but focusing them proved challenging. Eventually the image of the face that belonged to the voice came into vision.
“The old man? The old man from atop the rock?” Joe shouted.
“Indeed Joseph, it is I, Fabian,” he concurred. “Though, most call me The Wise Man. Please feel free to do the same. Fabian has such a sour ring to it, don’t you think?”
Awestruck, Joe replied, “Agreed. The Wise Man it is.”
As it turns out, he was not eaten by Rousty the great Bengal tiger, but rather rushed to safety by the beast. Unbelievably so, Joe had been carried a great and laborious distance within the refuge of Rousty’s ever expansive jaws to the great beast’s sanctuary—his den. It was truly unbelievable!
Rousty’s den was a cavern that began where the K-River ended. Over time, a small streaming layer of the river had eroded, exposing enough of the limestone bedrock for it to give way to a hollowed entrance. Once inside, the cavern tunneled down hundreds of feet below the bedrock. It was here, in the deepness of the cavern where the two men and the Bengal tiger safely resided.
The cavern had a mystical air to it. A small, narrow, yet powerful shimmer of light weaved its way all the way down from the cave’s entrance, softly illuminating and revealing the mastery of its interior. The eroded walls gave way to rigid but elaborate rock siding. In some areas, they were almost florid in design. The teeth of the cavern walls were treacherous, yet inviting—ingenious patterns had been etched upon them; masterpieces frozen in time. The air in the cavern glistened from a small, sprinkling of precipitation from a bending stream cutting along the cave floor. The stream had a bluish tint that metamorphosed to an emerald green as it ventured along to the dimly lit end of the cavern.
“Magic,” Joe whispered to himself.
“Not quite,” said The Wise Man. “It simply has to do with the absorption of light, and its connection to the minerals beneath the surface of the stream. But this on the other hand…” The Wise Man gently tapped his staff twice onto the base of the cave, “is something altogether different.”
What happened next was something that could not be as simply explained. In a timed succession, the unlit portions of the cave became softly illuminated, revealing more of the wondrous hideaway. This time, however, the light was not borrowed from the Sun’s rays, but by several classically crafted sconces lit by the summoning of The Wise Man’s staff. This new light blended with the blue and green hues that irradiated from the stream running along the cave floor. It was an enchanting scene, comparable only to that experienced when viewing the theatre of stars. The difference being that this milieu was in the here and now, whereas the galaxy of stars was billions of light years away. Weak and lightheaded from his injuries, Joe was in a euphoric state, mesmerized by what had just been revealed to him.
“Amazing,” Joe frankly stated. “This cave is just…”
A thunderous groan interrupted Joe, and the sconce at the cave’s far end revealed the source of the loud disturbance—none other than Rousty the great Bengal tiger.
His deafening snarl shook the cave to its core. The walls and ceiling violently pulsated for a short period followed by a torrent of dust and debris.
“Silence!” Bellowed The Wise Man.
Some of the soot began to clear as he gripped his staff tightly holding it high above his head. Rousty obediently reverted back into his corner dwelling, his beaming yellow-rimmed eyes squinting tightly and ominously in Joe’s direction.
“You would never have known that beast just carried me many a mile to safety,” Joe said.
“He is an ornery creature,” The Wise Man rebuffed. “He did a great deed, but it doesn’t mean he is generally fond of things.”
“Understood,” Joe amiably agreed.
The sconces had all been lit, and a cast of light unveiled a rowed section of the cave that was still gleaming and swirling with the most enchanting of synthesized colors. Rousty was lounging in a corner surrounded by a wealth of food. Cattle, hen, and chicken were among the vast array of livestock that Rousty had corralled to the cave from the plains of Kayland. The great Bengal tiger feasted on a raw slab of meat. It seemed impossible to believe that this pulverized patty had once been a cow peacefully grazing upon the village green. His large head jerked while he twisted and wrenched the deadened meal in his powerful paws. Within seconds there was nothing left of the poor cow but a measly flank of rib and a ripped portion of painted red snout, compliments of Rousty.
The Bengal tiger finished his meal, and proceeded to contently brood.
Joe watched in awe.
“It’s incredible,” he commented. “We are in the midst of a drought. My village has been hard-pressed to find food and cooler grounds, yet this lone beast has had the foresight to fend for himself, finding a richness of nutrients and a secure dwelling without help from a single soul.”
“Will,” The Wise Man uttered.
“Will?” Joe was seemingly confused. “I have will, and it has failed to help my village during this tumultuous time.”
“You had will, Joseph…but you lost it,” corrected The Wise Man.
The Wise Man took a step closer to Joe and crouched down beside him. Joe sat, propped up by the cave wall under one of the lit sconces. The wick of its inner candle cracked in his ear. The soothing tone of the stream below was the only thing that calmed him.
The Wise man continued, “I am here to help you find what has been lost, and to help you see that to which you are now blind.”
“Where are you from Wise Man?” Joe inquired.
“From a far away land, from a time other than your own. I drift through continents helping those who have lost hope. My life’s mission is to guide the lost toward the key to life.”
Joe sat dejected, “What is the key to life, Wise Man?”
“Belief,” he answered. “You know the word Joseph, but you must look deep within yourself to find its true meaning.”
At once, The Wise Man swiped his staff closely along the cave wall. A miraculous surge of intertwined colors followed in the wake of his motion, like a guiding ray. The heated embers forged the following into the rock behind them:
Belief in oneself is belief in others
With a rapid swipe of his staff, the words soon cooled and dissipated with a loud patter.
Joe could not believe what his eyes had just witnessed. He craned his neck to get a closer look at the words before they disappeared:
Belief in oneself is belief in others
When the cave wall resumed its original texture and grade, Joe implored, “Please Wise Man, explain to me your reasoning behind this magical proclamation!”
“Belief Joseph, can make the strong stronger and the wise wiser. It can also break those who are breakable. You must look deep inside to discover what it ultimately defines without looking past the simplicity of its definition. In this land, belief is anything and everything you and your people seek. Belief is the faith and confidence you lost in the midst of this drought, and that which your villagers lost in you. Fear has replaced faith, and the more you cling to this fear, the greater it becomes. Eventually you believe in fear so much, every challenge seems insurmountable.” The Wise Man paused momentarily, stroking his beard, then pointed at Joe, “That is what happened here, Joseph. The drought has gone on for so long that you believe it will never end. You fear it will never end, and with every passing day, that fear grows, trumping any glimmer of hope you and your people once possessed. I cast before you these words because you must shift back into belief mode before fear destroys all of you.”
The Wise Man rose up from the floor and once again swooned his staff across the cave wall. This time his motion was more forceful than before, and the tone of colors more vibrant. The same words appeared in its wake, but the characters were larger and crackling louder than before:
Belief in oneself is belief in others.
The Wise man turned toward Joe, the glow of the words flickering softly behind him casting a shadowy figure along the wall—reminiscent of the pictures cast upon a screen from an old movie projector, “You must believe that you can overcome this drought, Joseph. If you believe strongly enough, you can conquer the fear, this monster that has killed your faith. If you can do this Joseph, your people will follow in your belief, and together you will survive and find true conviction. Believe you will overcome this, and the fears will subside. Belief will become your greatest ally—your true strength over fear.”
The sizzle of the words once again cooled and vanished as swiftly as they had appeared. This new way of thinking filled Joe with a sense of empowerment, but he needed time for it to marinade. He gave The Wise Man a forced, accepting nod, and out of the corner of his eye caught a glimpse of Rousty, who was still crouched in a crook of the cave. Joe had forgotten the beast was there amidst all of the wizardry The Wise Man had been conducting.
Joe quietly laughed at the notion: forgetting about the hulking creature who had epically saved my life when he could have easily ended it.
Rousty behaved during The Wise Man’s remarks. He had not interrupted, but rather lay stoically silent, keeping his internal chaos in check. Perhaps he was aware of the magnitude of accounts that had been explained to Joe.
“It’s almost like he knows,” Joe said with wonderment.
“Maybe…it just may be…he does,” replied The Wise Man, his eyes twinkling.
Joe sat bemused with his eyes closed, nervously rubbing his fingers together before directing his gaze toward The Wise Man.
“I want to believe we can overcome this great obstacle, and perhaps we will, but the loss of my Annabelle is a mountain I fear I will never be able to climb,” admitted Joe. “I cannot see past her death. A great part of me died that day. It is an unforgettable void that cuts deep within my soul, and has come to define my every thought and move. I am afraid it has left a wound that will never heal.”
The Wise Man gently offered, “Your Annabelle is gone, Joseph, but do not allow her death to be for not. She loved you as you loved her, and she would not want to see you lose this battle, to lose Kayland. She would want you to believe that you can shift the energy of the villagers, and steer their spirits toward survival. Annabelle may no longer physically be here, but she can still help you. As long as she is still in your thoughts, she remains here with you. Look for her Joseph, and you may find all that you need.”
A singular tear formed on the lid of Joe’s eye; a tear born from the vast emotions now churning in his consciousness. An array of palpable memories of his time together with Annabelle flooded his mind—a touch of her hand, the warmth of a kiss, the feeling of safety when they held one another. It felt so real. With one blink, the tear left his eye, and ran along his dry, stained face. It was the first bit of moisture he had felt in seemingly forever. It was also the first bit of hope he had felt in many months.
“Where to now?” Joe inquired in a voice filled with faith and surety.
“We rest,” said The Wise Man. “You need to regain your strength, Joseph. The strength you have lost in these waning months must be restored, and your confidence must be renewed. It is integral you trust yourself. We will dine tonight on the livestock Rousty has provided from your village, and drink the clear, cool water from this cave’s stream. Tomorrow you will awaken a new and improved man, and we will voyage back into Kayland where you will address your people in the village’s town center.”
“Of what will I speak?” Asked a baffled Joe.
“Confidence,” answered The Wise Man. “You must instill a sense of confidence back into your people. Give them a reason to go on, and assure them together you can survive and thrive in this forsaken land. Fear not, Joesph, you will find the confidence to speak these words. Believe me,” said The Wise Man.
Joe fell silent. Could he really save his people and believe in himself? He rested his head on the cave wall, filled with thoughts of what had been and what would be….
THAT NIGHT THE WISE MAN effortlessly stoked a fire he had created from sticks and stones strewn about the cave. As promised, the men dined on the livestock Rousty had retrieved, and washed it down with the crisp water from the stream that sinuously flowed along the cave’s floor.
The Wise Man pointed to the ground, “The Emerald Stream, Joseph. Drink from its drenched vein, and you will be empowered by the richness of minerals and myths it harbors.”
“This stream is another power you set before me?” Joe questioned.
“Not quite. It has been here for eons. Look upon it as others before you have—as an enchanted boost you desperately need. Eat, Joseph. Drink, Joseph.”
Joe graciously did as commanded.
During their dinner, The Wise Man gave Joe a narrative; one Joe could take to heart or discard. The choice was his alone.
“Earlier I spoke with you at great length on the significance of belief. What I am about to share now is a tale passed down to me from many generations ago—a tale of the most unique of beliefs. Take from it what you wish, Joseph,” said The Wise Man in earnest. “You see, there are some on this earth that believe so strongly in themselves, in their capabilities, thoughts, and values, that they actually can distort their physical appearance through perception. They can make others perceive them as larger, stronger, and more powerful than they actually are—a veritable deception of the mind through the potency of self-belief. Only an extraordinary few have this capability, as it is a daunting and incredible feat to master, but such beings do in fact exist.”
“How do you know this to be?” Asked Joseph.
“I have witnessed some of these people in action,” assured The Wise Man. “This ability, however, can be used for whatever reason the beholder desires—good or bad, and for that of savior or sinister evil. The Wise Man paused before sharing the next bit of information, “These select few can be either of human or animal form, and are called The Mandis— the believers of all beliefs.”
Joe’s nerves had actually dehydrated him, baking his mouth shut and thickening his saliva. He drank down a large cup of water for replenishment then quickly refilled his cup from the crispness of the cool stream.
“You have now been presented with all of the facts,” The Wise Man continued. “We will rest here tonight, and at first light head back into Kayland.”
The Wise Man crouched down beside Joe, using his staff for balance.
“Only one thing left for you to do,” said The Wise Man.
With a forceful thrust he stood and wound his staff in a circular, methodical motion. Around and around spun his staff, quickening with each revolution. Slowly but surely his movements once again conjured the colorations, resembling a coronation high atop The Wise Man’s head. The colors became so vibrant they began illuminating the surrounding structures. The Wise Man cracked his staff of heavy hues in a whip-like motion toward the adjacent cave wall where Joe sat.
The colorations hurled their way through the air, smashing the sediments of the wall and evoking a large crushing blast.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
The words forged upon the wall sparkled and snapped like fireworks in the night, narcotizing Joe, the soft glow of the words lulling him into a trancelike state. The Wise Man sought out a quiet corner of the cave. It was time for repose. The glow of the words had fallen dim, and Joe, still sitting along the cave wall, felt at peace. For the first time in a long time, his belly was full and his thirst was quenched helping to further lull him into repose. It had been a grueling day and his eyelids very heavy, but he desperately fought off sleep, wanting instead to calculate the day’s events.
As dim as the cave was Joe could still make out Rousty lying in his makeshift den in the far right corner where the light of the sconces cast the brightest light. Joe watched as the beast relentlessly tossed and turned himself, nestling his portly neck along the cave floor searching for the perfect position, which he eventually found. A completely contented Rousty opened his jaw wide enough to fit a village hut, then proceeded to emit a noise comparable to that of a large orca whale calling out for her lost young. In Rousty’s case, he was merely yawning.
Better than his growl, Joe thought.
With everyone now settled in for the night, Joe turned his attention to the languid emerald stream running below his feet. It emanated a very subtle soothing splashing sound as it casually wound its way around the cave. The absorption of the coined light that narrowly shone down during the day was beginning to radiate a beautiful cascade of green-hued rays that rose off the stream and coalesced into a smoky apparition.
More streaks began to ascend, amalgamating with the apparition that had begun to take shape a few feet above the stream. The figure appeared vaporous, cloudy, a bit out of focus.
Or, is it in focus, thought Joe. It’s gone….no…no...it’s there again. Is this really happening, or am I dreaming? Finally it took shape. It was a woman’s face. She is so beautiful. Her eyes are so green. Her scent is so reminiscent. It can’t be…it’s not possible!!! Annabelle.
“WAKE UP JOSEPH,” The Wise Man implored, tapping his staff softly on Joe’s forehead. “You were talking in your sleep. You’ve been out cold all night. It’s time for the journey to begin. Let’s go.”
Joe could not discern whether what had just transpired held a sliver of reality, or was simply a hallucinatory manifestation of his past. It felt real, but was it? It had been so long since he had shared any type of emotion with his Annabelle that at times he couldn’t remember what their shared emotion had felt like, but during those fleeting moments he had felt her, within reach. He had felt the love that they shared, and it overpowered him.
“We go now!” The Wise Man shouted, interrupting Joe’s thoughts.
Beast and man stood before him, ready to begin the all-consuming expedition back to Kayland, and to faith. Rousty squatted patiently alongside The Wise Man, saving the last bit of his primal vigor for the trek that awaited all of them. While Joe appreciated the Bengal tiger’s demure behavior, there was something strange about his appearance.
“He looks…ehh…smaller?” Joe observed.
The Wise Man offered, “Perhaps the only time you have had the good fortune of close proximity to him was atop that rock when you were nearing your own demise. You were weak at that point, and perhaps confused.” He slowly gestured toward the beast, miming a reveal, “I believe small is not the operative word for a creature of this sizeable mass, Joseph.”
“I didn’t mean…ehhh…he is small. Just that he seems to have shrunk a size,” Joe managed.
“Nonsense,” The Wise Man proclaimed. “Now, let’s head out.”
AND SO THE JOURNEY back to Kayland commenced. The Wise Man and Rousty had played their parts, fulfilling their roles of the two inspirers. Rousty had even gone so far as risking his own life to save that of another. It was now up to that other to save himself and his land. Whether or not Joe had enough belief and courage to make the quest and galvanize his people was immaterial at this point.
Refreshed, the trio ascended up and out of the cave speedier than they had descended. Upon reaching the plains of Kayland, they were quickly reminded of the power of the unbendable sun. It appeared softer than before, but that was an illusion. The lack of moisture resulting from the harsh heat of the sun permitted the strength of its rays to pound onto their skin without mercy. They could do nothing else but walk squint-eyed for the first mile.
Being removed for a single day from the oppressive heat and other unpleasantries that plagued Kayland was enough time away to be seemingly startled by them. The insects hiding in the trees that soldiered Kayland were buzzing, hissing, and clicking uncontrollably at a high clamorous pitch. They shielded themselves beneath the foliage in a last ditch effort of salvation. Their coalesced screams were unnerving and frantic, but understandable. It was their final cry for hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
The breeze coming out of the north was meager at best, and seemed to further baste the temperatures, as it only served to slowly push around large chunks of heat. Nevertheless, the mere sound of that breeze helped Joe cultivate a state of calm. That subtle sound of the breeze rustling the leaves on trees had always provided Joe an escape from reality, but such escape was no longer possible. The sheer existence of the situation was enough to nullify all serenity.
The branches of the mangrove forest began to snap without any assistance. Some loudly detonated, succumbing to the pressures of the heat. As each branch burst it would fall, leaves and all, into the boiling riverbank. From their path around the K-River, the three travelers could see miniature plumes of dust emanating from this rare phenomenon. Kayland, for all intents and purposes, was giving in… the drought was winning.
Joe walked along, shaking his head and incredulously exclaiming, “I’ve never seen…I mean…I would have never believed this type of apocalypse could ever and would ever happen…especially in Kayland.”
These words resonated with The Wise Man, who was also now walking in a half-daze, “Life begins and ends throughout the course of every generation, Joseph. At times, it creeps away quietly into another existence, and at other times, it leaves in awe. What you are witnessing now is life’s final gasp for air, its final rush of adrenaline.”
THE TOWN CENTER FINALLY CAME INTO VIEW, and The Wise Man pointed to it, “That is where you will make your speech to your people.” He pointed again, “And there,” he said, directing his fingertip toward a small pulpit within the town center where a few survivors had gathered to pray, “Is where you will speak to those that remain. Upon that pulpit you will stand and instill the confidence they desperately need.”
Joe understood what needed to be done, the truth was, only those villagers possessing the greatest of hope and desire to live would survive the hard times that lay ahead. Taking charge, as leaders must, Joe led The Wise Man and the great Bengal tiger down the heated hill. It was somewhat steep, and angled in a way that required the group to rely on their heels for grounding and balance. Slowly and steadily they made their way, leaving behind the bangs and cracks of the destructing mangrove forest, a grave reminder that time was not on their side. The difficulty of the formidable task that awaited Joe was bad enough, but now the hands of time were moving in both a direction and at a speed that worked against him, against all of them.
“It can be done Joseph,” The Wise Man declared. “Believe.”
Joe’s heart began pounding full tilt. He could not discern if it was the gravity of the situation or the intense climate.
Detecting Joe’s anxiety, The Wise Man offered, “Feels like a monster inside of you trying to beat its way out, doesn’t it Joseph?”
Joe looked towards The Wise Man with a pained expression.
“Let the beast out Joseph, and you will conquer,” soothed The Wise Man.
The hill planed into a straightened stretch. The town center was only a few hundred feet ahead, and Kayland’s remaining villagers had already begun to fill the square. Muffled sounds of prayer could be heard, and beyond the hill, the K-River churned and boiled. A literal vapor of steam swirled into a corona over the water’s edge as the river further disintegrated.
No longer looking at what lay behind, the two men and beast made their way into the town center. Then suddenly…
An enormous shadow fanned over the square, leaving in its wake a sharp draft that nearly thrust aside the villagers.
The shadow appeared again, but this time it enveloped the square, and the violent gust of wind struck everyone to the ground. After the villagers recovered, there was a dead silence, and then…light.
High above in the sun-drenched sky a large sunless image began to careen downward, headfirst, in a death-defying dive. At first, no one could make out the shape of this ghastly figure, but as it plunged further downward, it began to take the form of a bird. Although it was still high above the earth, it was indeed a colossal, feathery creature. As the savage bird plummeted through the air at breakneck speed, it pinned its massive wings back alongside its dark body, but before crashing to the ground, it straightened its body to an upright position and let out two sharply tapered expansive wings. With a few quick thrusts of those incredulous wings, the being slowed itself, gracefully landing on giant talons. The crowd stood silent, awestruck with fear.
The Wise Man spoke one single word, “Fradarian.”
JOE GLANCED OVER at The Wise Man with disbelief, “You know this thing?”
The Wise Man explained, “Yes, we have met during my journeys across time. But Fradarian is not a thing, Joseph. He is a fabled entity, a member of the elite Mandis. He draws on the fears and anxieties of others in order to maintain his imposing, hateful projection.”
Imposing indeed, thought Joe, as he watched Fradarian thrust his stone colored talons deep into the burning soil, his dark chest bulging as he assertively pinned back his massive tapered wings.
Fradarian was a gargantuan jet-black hawk that stood four times taller than the ordinary man. The darkest of hues colored his bulky body clear up to his head, where his feathers glossed to an obsidian flare. If it was possible to delve darker into the color of black, it was managed at this point. You could literally lose yourself in the obscurity of darkness. If you stared into Fradarian’s dim brown-rimmed eyes, you would be met with cold grit and determination, their hauntingly black pupils churned slowly and evenly, a maze of pure hatred.
At first glance, Fradarian’s bill seemed out of place with its faded yellowish hue, but not to worry, the gloss of black reappeared at the bill’s tip, which was marked with scars from years of battle. It was impossible to imagine that any being could inflict harm on this evil death machine. However, life, as it always does, left a few scars as a reminder that none of us are completely invincible. Fradarian like every other living creature had his war wounds, and he wore them upon his beak which housed centuries of knowledge and maturity—the kind that guides one through the thickest of fog, and endures the most punishing of conflicts. Fradarian was a survivor, and he truly despised anyone and everything that figuratively and literally stood in his way. In this case, that anyone was Joe.
Fradarian stood between Joe and the gates of the Kayland Square, wherein stood those villagers who represented the hopes of Kayland. Behind Joe was what remained of his homeland: a smoldering heap on the verge of distinction. Joe anxiously scanned the area for The Wise Man, as he was no longer standing beside him, but Rousty and The Wise Man had retreated to the banks of the K-River, signifying that it was Joe’s battle to fight, and fight it he must, alone.
Sensing Joe’s desperation, The Wise Man stepped off the riverbank and walked slowly back to him, “Go forward Joseph, and you will restore hope. Be pushed back, and Kayland’s hope will be lost forever.” The Wise Man’s voice grew increasingly louder, “I willed you to this point, but my will ends here. Your shoulders will now bear your peoples’ fate.”
Upon finishing his words, The Wise Man retreated back to the water’s edge with Rousty following closely behind, laying down his guard. Both were anticipating Joe’s next move.
Fradarian’s massive vociferation pierced through the hills of Kayland. Joe, whose attention was focused on the Wise Man’s departure, was completely unnerved by the shrillness of Fradarian’s cry. Wanting to get away from the evil bird, Joe cautiously took a long step backward, but Fradarian took a longer step forward, toward Joe, his sharply wielded talons digging ever deeper into the earth, emitting a crumbling tone as they granulated the soil beneath. This process continued for what seemed to be an eternity—Fradarian advancing step by pulverizing step, and Joe attempting retreat. Then, something quite amazing began to happen. As Fradarian progressed forward, his size increased. His height amassed to an even higher elevation, and his body swelled to epic proportions. Fradarian had become an amplified extension of his former self, and the transformation had transpired in an instant. Emboldened by this feat, Fradarian let out a cry of victory.
The shrill of this howl was utterly deafening, and Joe attempted to cover his ears, but the thunderous shriek pierced through his hands like a determined arrow. His eardrums sharply and painfully vibrated, forcing Joe to the ground in crippling agony. From his hunched position, he could feel his auditory nerves beginning to numb. The sounds around him began to muffle. The ringing in his ears was relentless, and confusion soon enveloped him.
How could this be possible? Pondered Joe.
A voice called out from the distance. It appeared distorted, as his ears were in the process of readjustment, attempting to juggle the ringing and muffling sensations pulsating through his inner ear canals. It took a few moments to locate the frequency, but Joe eventually realized it was the voice of The Wise Man shouting from the river’s edge.
Realizing his first few attempts were futile, The Wise Man shouted once more. “Fradarian is feeding off your anxieties and fears, Joseph! Your despair is his drug! Remember the Mandis, Joseph, of which he is a part…the malevolent part! He will use your pain as power! The more you fear, the more he will grow! You must find calmness and confidence! Trust in yourself…believe!!!”
The Wise Man’s words had temporarily diverted Joe’s attention away from Fradarian, during which time the beast had progressed his course. The menacing creature now stood directly in front of Joe. Sensing his presence, Joe reverted his attention back to the foreground. Nearly twice the size, mass, and anger of his former self, Fradarian’s hulking image towered above Joe. He appeared deranged and demented, glaring at Joe with hatred and contempt. Joe’s expression, on the other hand, was void and blank. Fradarian had indeed fed off of Joe’s fear.
The bird had the upper hand, Joe lamented.
Fradarian’s wings had also grown in power and size, and one was cocked back and triggered. Upon impact, it propelled Joe off of his feet, hurling him through the air. How far he traveled was anyone’s guess, but the crash to the ground left an indentation on the hill, knocking Joe into unconsciousness.
WHEN JOE AWOKE he was no longer in Kayland, and the ground beneath him was cool to the touch. The landscape was stark, desolate, level, and vast. It was also green, but strangely void of trees, water, or life. Joe sat atop a river-rock, yet there was no river. The rock was eerily similar to the one The Wise Man had been perched upon when Joe first saw him. The sun here was bright, but not blinding, for which Joe was extremely grateful. The warm breeze that swirled around him was also comfortable in temperature, and its subtle noise soothed his traumatized ears. Joe realized that all of the elements surrounding him were simple and harmonious.
I am dead, he thought. I must be dead. What happens next?
THE DELICATE WHISPER of the warm breeze resonated softly upon Joe’s ears, as he watched a human figure emerge from the horizon. As the form moved closer, Joe could begin to surmise it was that of a beautiful woman. She was tall and slender, and the sheen of her light-brown hair wonderfully reflected the soft light illuminating her from behind. Unfortunately the soft glow of light concealed her facial features. Joe, however, could distinguish the shape. It appeared modest and perfect, but her eyes and nose were hidden by the glare. The glare began to subside as she moved closer, and Joe glimpsed the most alluring green eyes. It was Annabelle!
The rush of emotions flooded his mind and soul. He simultaneously cried and laughed, instantly filling the void in his heart and the pit in his stomach.
“My love!” He exclaimed.
She smiled in her signature delicate manner. It was so simple and angelic, illuminating all of her beaming qualities in one subtle and gentle motion. Overcome with affection, Joe reached in for an embrace. He closed his eyes, and opened out his arms, anticipating her soft touch, but when he closed his arms, he felt...nothing. Annabelle was no longer standing in front of him. She had literally vanished, the loneliness and the barren light was all that remained.
“No! No!” Joe bellowed. “Have I not gone through enough pain, enough suffering?” He thrust his fists down on the tops of his thighs, wailing inconsolably, “Why? Why? Why?”
His cries suddenly came to halt. Annabelle was now behind him. Joe, desperate and confused, turned to face his greatest love. He lifted his hand to caress her face, but quickly stopped himself, the realization washing over him that she was only an apparition, a fleeting illusion.
“ Am I in a dream, Annabelle?” queried Joe.
“Of sorts,” she began, “but you are not dead, just unconscious. It is not your time yet, Joe. In fact, at the moment, you are in the battle of your life.”
“But I cannot win this battle Annabelle, not without you. You were my everything, my life; without you, I have nothing.”
“It is true that I have passed on to another time, but I am always with you,” Annabelle promised. She touched his forehead, then his heart. “I am here, and I am here.”
She lifted up his chin so their eyes could meet, “I am always with you, Joe. As long as you believe and keep me in your thoughts, I will be with you forevermore. So, you can win this fight…with me. Go now, knowing that no matter how far apart our worlds are, we are always close.”
Annabelle reached in and sealed her words with a kiss. This time, Joe could feel her lips. They were so warm and gentle. The brilliance of every memory they ever had together enveloped his mind and his heart. He was once again whole.
“Go, Joseph. Your people need you. They need you to be brave. I need you to be brave. Believe in yourself, as I believe in you,” encouraged Annabelle. Her words and touch went far beyond mere encouragement, and her brief visit inspired him beyond measure. He was enlightened and emboldened, and his strength had been restored.
THE GROUND BENEATH his heals was warm again, and the air had returned to a thick mass of smoldering heat signifying he was in Kayland. Sitting upon the hill that Fradarian had cast him, Joe fought to steady himself. The sounds of the frightened villagers ringing in his ears, and the vibration of wretched beast’s massive talons crunching into the earth was impetus enough for Joe to arise.
The evil bird angrily stomped toward Joe, determined to finish the job. Feeding off of the momentum he had earlier secured, Fradarian’s size once again swelled with each thundering step. His mentality also underwent a transmutation. He was now completely unhinged, recklessly and wildly flapping his wings, his crazed eyes jostling around in his head like coins in a jar. The wicked beast could taste Joe’s demise, and his determination was set to a boil. He continued to rumble his way towards Joe, his steps increasing in frequency, leaving in his wake a plume of dirt and dust. With a full head of steam, he closed in for the kill. Cocking back a colossal wing to deliver one final blow, Fradarian heaved his ever-expanding body toward his victim…but this time, Joe was ready.
INSTEAD OF COWERING in fear, Joe cocked his own fist. His future now rested solely on instinct. Annabelle’s visit had changed the trajectory of his earthly course. Although unclear to him at the moment, he had a new set of ambitions, and one of them was to survive. Fradarian was a rogue comet, and he was headed directly for Joe. Thrusting his wing forward with an unbending force, the crazed bird descended upon his pray, unprepared for what await him. Without realizing what he was doing, Joe punched his cocked fist forward with the type of vigor he never imagined he possessed, and just like that, two polar powers converged.
Joe’s fist was swift to the task, enabling him to land the first shot of this battle. He walloped Fradarian’s right leg, shattering it in two. The deranged creature attempted to land on his left leg, but the awkward imbalance sent him tumbling uncontrollably, and finally hitting the ground with brutal impact.
Fradarian’s screams of pain matched the intensity of his screams of power, the shrill of his call violently echoing through the air. The villagers who had gathered in the town square stood in awed silence. Joe too, was in awe of his newly discovered powers.
AS FRADARIAN LAY CRIPPLED in agony, Joe stood above him trying to comprehend what had just transpired. He glanced down at his fist in disbelief, pondering how he could be capable of such power, but his ruminations were short-lived. A searing pain at the center of his core overtook him. His organs began to pulsate, his fingers stiffened, his shoulders pinned forward, and his blood began to literally boil. The peak of his pain, however, was centered in the pupils of his eyes.
What is happening? Joe wondered with terror.
Abruptly the acute pain dissipated leaving Joe completely numb. Then, as Fradarian had, Joe began to grow in all directions. He grew tall, he grew wide, and he did so with the greatest of strength and surety, quickly transforming into a mass of fury and keen instinct. Joe now stood many lengths and widths above his old self, but most importantly he stood ready for action.
Joe’s brain swiftly processed the phenomenon that had just occurred, and he immediately realized the gravity of his newfound physical prowess, “I am…I…I am…” stammered Joe in disbelief.
“…part of the Mandis, Joseph,” The Wise Man said, finishing his thought. He had moved in, and was standing beside a mystified Joe. “You have been all along,” The Wise Man continued. “The power of the Mandis lives in your heart and soul, and flows through your veins, but in order for it to surface, you needed to believe. Not only are you a part of the Mandis, Joseph, you stand above it. Every century or so, a chosen one is blessed with such unfathomable ability that he or she actually surpasses the Mandis. The chosen few who possess these skills are called the Mena. You, Joseph, are the Mena. However in order to retain this supreme status, you must always believe.”
Joe nodded. Everything that had transpired finally made sense, “I believe,” he declared with conviction.
“Then finish the job you were born to finish,” commanded The Wise Man before quietly stepping aside.
Only an empty indentation remained where the nearly defeated Fradarian had lain. In the few moments it took The Wise Man to explain to Joe the magnitude of his newly found talent, the vile creature had regained his strength, and was now standing behind Joe, seething with rage. Joe was not surprised by Fradarian’s rapid recovery. After all, he was part of the indestructible Mandis. Joe could feel the murderous beast’s warm breathe on the nape of his neck, and knew what was coming next.
Generating power from the hatred that still corroded his bitter soul, the malicious creature balanced himself upon his able leg, and plowed another dire blow against the back of Joe’s head. Unfortunately for Fradarian, the form of Mena was impenetrable, and his wing disintegrated upon impact. The depraved beast had never been in the presence of Mena; neither had Joe, for that matter, and the look of astonishment on both man and bird spoke volumes. Fradarian immediately realized who he was up against, and braced himself.
The loathsome creature knew he was no match for the Mena, and Joe’s senses were quick to feed off the presence of weakness, resulting in further bodily expansion. Fradarian was dumbfounded at the turn of events. Never for a moment, had the abominable bird imagined that he could feel vulnerable in any way, shape, or form. At the seemingly pace of light, Joe was evolving into a Herculean mass of epically unfathomable proportions, while the pernicious bird began to shrink. His fear of Joe had caused his self-inflated presence to narrow.
The moment had finally arrived for the newly formed physically impressive heap of power and good to destroy what remained of the black-hearted bird. With a hulking fist Joe powered a pulverizing blow, plunging a hole straight through the evil beast’s body. The bird squawked out a final wretched sound and then sunk over Joe’s shoulder. He retracted his arm, and Fradarian lifelessly fell to the ground. Good had prevailed over evil.
Lying helpless and defeated, the ire in Fradarian’s menacing black eyes began to dissolve away, until only an empty white remained within the dim brown rim that had once surrounded those diabolical black pupils. Without warning, as was customary in matters of this nature, something remarkable began to happen. Fradarian’s form began to rapidly shrink. The figure of the once seemingly invincible great black hawk had transformed into a common warm-blooded, egg-laying vertebrate, no larger than your average bird.
Joe reached down and scooped Fradarian’s inanimate body into his palm. On bended knee, he studied his eyes, and watched as the final bit of life left the malevolent creature’s physical form. Suddenly a shadow emerged over Joe’s shoulder. It was that of The Wise Man.
“Now you know all there is to know, Joseph,” he began. “Fear can be defeated, if you believe. The power, might, and size fear projects can be diminished, if you believe. If you believe, the projection of good has no boundaries.”
Peripherally Joe glanced something scurrying toward him in haste. Turning, he saw that it was a fuzzy, small domestic short-haired cat with a furry, rust-colored coat, a white puffy chest, and soft paws. Its tail was striped in the same warm rust coloring and ended in a pointed white tip. He jumped up into Joe’s other palm.
“And who might you be?” Inquired Joe of his fuzzy new friend. The cat let out a tiny purr and gently brushed up against Joe’s fingers.
“He doesn’t seem oddly familiar to you, Joseph?” Probed The Wise Man.
“Not in the least,” replied Joe.
The cat let out a minuscule, yet formidable hiss.
“No, it can’t be…” Joe said incredulously. “Is this…Rousty?”
“Indeed he is, Joseph,” The Wise Man said.
“But he is so…”
“Little?” The Wise Man once again finished Joe’s thought.
“Well, let’s just say that Rousty has let his guard down for the moment, so is appearing in his normal form. The Mandis does not discriminate against animals,” disclosed The Wise Man. “Rousty is part of the Mandis…the good part. He was one of your guides.”
As if on cue, Rousty jumped out of Joe’s palm, and headed toward the banks of the steamy K-River. Fradarian, on the other hand, was beginning to set into rigor mortis, so Joe released him down onto the warm grass.
“This creature,” The Wise Man proclaimed, gesturing toward Fradarian’s stiffened corpse, “was a representation of the great fear felt by millions of people throughout many realms for numerous centuries. For all intents and purposes, Fradarian was an insurmountable task, but one you have successfully completed by overcoming your fear through belief. You now believe in your abilities, judgments, courage, and strength, and your people, as a result of the awe-inspiring phenomenon they witnessed here today and through the leadership you will bestow upon them over the course of many years to come, will also rediscover their own beliefs. My work here is done.”
The Wise Man gave Joe one last reassuring glance, and then made his way toward the riverbank to join the short-haired cat who was playing in the heated grass. Placing his cloak over his head, The Wise Man led Rousty into the distance, the cat ebulliently shuffling around his feet. After a few steps the pair stopped, turned, and The Wise Man asked Joe one final question:
“How do you feel Joseph?”
Standing in the shadow of his own lengthy image, Joe turned the question over in his mind, then responded, “Tall…I feel…tall.”
The sky exploded in a thunderous clap, and the clouds quickly rushed in to form a beautiful grayish hue. The beloved rain had finally returned to Kayland.