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First pages

Chapter One

 

My mother, Lillian Ani, was both a curse and a blessing to Gerard Ani. A blessing because she bore him three children, but she is also the temptress responsible for destroying her first and second husbands. In order to best preserve our souls, Lehom has established natural roles for the sexes. Unlike Lillian Ani, women of virtue are not selfish, wanton, or independent of spirit. They should instead model themselves after the Ethereal Queen of Lehom, who is quiet, diminutive, graceful, and competent in a way that does not detract from the natural superiority of men.

-Rekin Ani in The Book of Lehom

 

As the H.M.S. Kentucky Maru glided quietly on the calm blue seas of the Pacific, the doctor held an old journal in her hand. She traced her fingers over the soft pages, unsure of what material made up the book’s paper. Papyrus, perhaps? Dr. Deanne Ambagu had been unable to get this book out of her mind since she pulled it from the bag that belonged to the people that they’d rescued. Thanks to a handwritten label on the inside cover, she at least knew it belonged to someone named Samsara Ani. The last name was the same as that of a long-dead actor whose movies she once watched on a classic movie streaming channel.

Also inside the bag were two purple dresses made from a soft, shiny material, a battered wooden case with a small porcelain statue that reminded Deanne of the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin, a gold bracelet, and a coconut. Deanne and the scientists also found an assemblage of tools on the boat, including a small machete.

“Doc?” her nurse, Tomas, interrupted. “You should go rest. It’s been a long week.”

That’s an understatement, Deanne mused. She gave Tomas a grateful look that became deformed by an exhausted yawn. “I know, but aren’t you curious about them?”

“Well, yeah,” the nurse replied, staring at the two people that rested on the sick room’s cots. “Everyone is. But people are still recovering. Including you because of your lack of sleep.”

“I’m fine,” Deanne said, inhaling the now faint, piney scent of disinfectant that permeated every inch of the ship. “I finally have a chance to read this book, and I’m not going to rest until I know more about them. You can get me some fresh coffee, though.”

Tomas gave her a nod. “Roger. I’ll be right back.”

A week ago, a norovirus had spread through the Kentucky Maru and struck down half the boat’s marine biologists with a vengeance. It thankfully spared the captain and Deanne. Very lucky indeed, for as the only physician of the ship’s many doctors, Deanne was responsible for supervising the crew’s decontamination procedures. They were heading west, intent on measuring the effects of the recent Pacific earthquake on the local dolphin populations, when the virus struck. While half of the crew quarantined themselves in their quarters, the doldrums of the past week’s holding pattern anchored Deanne’s spirits in with the filth of the sick, so investigating the book was a welcome respite from her week of sanitation efforts.

Even though she wasn’t as enamored with the dolphins as the marine biologists were, Deanne enjoyed watching them pierce the cerulean surface of the water with their noses, squealing and clicking as if they were friendly companions to the ship. She still felt amazed that she was here at all, appreciating nature in a world filled with so many important obligations. Human populations to monitor, geopolitical balances to maintain, and economies to strengthen. Those were everyone’s primary duties. However, thanks to the jointly-financed venture between Great Britain, the United States, and Japan, she was paying attention to creatures other than humans, a sign that the world’s recovery was moving beyond its usual grinding pace. Deanne believed that through time, all things right themselves just as these dolphins seemed to have weathered the earthquake and subsequent tsunami safely.

Then, two days ago, among Poseidon’s mirthful creatures, the Kentucky Maru came across a miniature bamboo Viking ship floating in the middle of the Pacific. With two very tired and thirsty people on board, no less. Deanne studied the woman. Her skin was an even shade of tan, and her straight waist-length red hair was still crusted with salt from seawater. Deanne remembered her piercing black eyes, which were laced with delirium, when she and her male companion were brought aboard the Kentucky Maru. The young woman had originally been wearing a strange teal dress made from the same soft, shiny fabric as the purple dresses from her bag, but Deanne removed it and let the girl remain naked beneath the bed covers.

Only then had the doctor noticed the seven faint scars that traced across the girl’s upper back. Deanne’s heart pounded as she remembered back to history class, where she’d seen pictures of slaves who’d been whipped by their masters in the old American South. Back then, those images made her muscles tighten and teeth clench as if she herself were about to be struck.

Such pain and sadness. Deanne wondered what this girl had done to deserve this lashing and vowed to ask her when she regained consciousness. Until then, the doctor decided to occupy herself with an excerpt from the book.

First, though, she had to wrap her head around the date, which was listed as: Year of the Pestilence 1, Month of Yaxkin, Day 15.

Yaxkin? That didn’t sound like any calendrical system that Deanne knew. And Year of the Pestilence? Shaking her head in confusion, Deanne continued reading.

It’s been nearly three years since my friends and I came back to Father’s island to set up our village, which we called Gaiae. We wanted to live in solitude and peace. Well, that’s ended. Ever since the mainland world died, I’ve been recording things beyond our crop yields and the patterns the clouds make in the sky. My new writing habits are not the only consequence of the plague. The damn onslaught of people also came here when the world went mad.

I was happy to welcome my sane brother, Chanson. I certainly don’t mind that he also brought his factory workers, machinery parts, tools, building materials, seeds, food, a menagerie of livestock, and enough medical supplies to last us a few years. I couldn’t refuse him and his workers when they asked for refuge. It’s his home, too, and he manufactured many of the tools that my followers and I used to build Gaiae. He’s bringing more of them, better ones that he says will resist decaying in this humid climate. Chanson is building around Father’s mansion and making it the new administration building of “Central Village,” as he’ll call his settlement.

However, my other brother, Rekin, is completely mad. When he and his followers descended from their ship, my stuffy brother “proclaimed” that Lehom destined this island for him. I had to remind him that it was father’s luck in the stock market and his purchase of this place, not the blessing of a misogynistic volcano deity, that saved all of our lives, for fuck’s sake. The only good thing is that Rekin also brought Chanson and his followers on that ship.

But, well, it’s done.

The world’s gone mad.

At least I know they don’t carry the sickness since they were at sea for five days. Everything I’ve heard so far indicates that the unfortunate ones sicken within forty-eight hours of exposure. These reports are growing fainter, quieter, like the fading heartbeats of the ones left on the mainlands of the world. I can hardly pick up radio signals anymore.

Rekin lives in direct opposition to me and Chanson. So far he’s abided by his decision to set up his “Village of Lehom” on the other side of the island from Gaiae and Central Village.

Let’s pray that you keep this promise to me, my mad, mad brother.

Deanne stopped reading.

Sickness? Plague? Was this journal referring to the pandemic that had killed a quarter of the world’s population just fifty-two years ago? Evidently, these people had found refuge somewhere. She walked over to her desk and examined the meager items she’d collected from their boat. Their pile of clothes and the other items looked so...primitive. Why hadn’t they had a long-range mobile communicator or even a navigation system on board the ship?

Then, with growing horror, Deanne dropped the journal on the desk with a thump.

Shit.

What if they’d been isolated from the world since the plague? She hadn’t even thought to follow the World Health Organization’s standard quarantine procedures! Why would she? Those measures had been dispensed with decades ago because the world had, through those same procedures and a new bacteriophage, rid itself of the antibiotic-resistant bacterium that had killed so many. If these people carried a mutated strain, though, they could present a terrible danger!

Deanne heard the rustling of sheets from one of the beds, so she turned to see the young woman’s brow furrow in either pain or confusion. Was she waking up again?

Wasting no time, the doctor ran out of the room and hoped it wasn’t too late to protect her crewmates.

Chapter 2

 

Although our father, Gerald Ani, did not mind Holy Wood of the Angels, it is a wicked city of dry, rocky mountains, one that is also tainted with the smell of combusting fuels and smog. Both flames and ruin flashed in Father’s eyes when he met our mother. She, in turn, cursed that place with her deception. Lehom shook the earth in his anger to condemn her, but he also inspired Father to purchase this lush island from a failing government.

How fortuitous.

While the rest of the world submits to the Pestilence, this blessed island provides us with safety from the Old World and its infectious monsters. The demons spawned by this plague howl through the night sky with bloodlust, and the skies over the mainland burn with a fire that cannot be quenched. We on the island are fortunate. Of the 300 of us all who merciful Lehom saved, only 100 of us, the Children of Lehom, are the courageous few who put our trust in him and abandoned the wickedness we had known.

-Rekin Ani, excerpt from The Book of Lehom

 

The crisp cool feeling of the sheets, unencumbered by a heavy humidity, was the first thing that struck me when my senses emerged from the ether of sleep. I let myself sink into the softness of what must be a mattress, which was so different from the thin palette of woven palm leaves and bamboo I was used to. I reluctantly tested my limbs and felt their soreness, but they still had more levity than when I had collapsed into this bed a day or two ago.

It was at least that long based on the hollow gnawing in my stomach.

Hollow.

That’s how my heart felt too from its weighty layers of grief. We’d been listless in the ocean for two days after the trade winds ceased their blowing, yet we still spent these many days at sea with the sails drawn outwards to catch the absent breezes. On that boat, far from home and with my mental infrastructure in flux, I didn’t know where in the world I was for the first time in my life.

Lost. And aimless. Maybe one day I’d sync back up with the earth’s spinning. Only laying under the sky’s myriad constellations in the cooler nights had provided a respite from the blinding heat. Well, his singing had too, parched though it was.

Was he here? Please, please, Lady Moon, let him be safe and near. Yellow cracks of sunlight made me wince when I opened my eyes, so I gingerly sat up and braced myself against my pounding head.

Everything about my surroundings was wrong, from the cold, stale air that pricked my skin, to the somehow artificial light that bounced off the sterile white walls of the small room I was in. But, then, my body flooded with relief when I saw my companion lying peacefully in the bed next to mine, his chest moving up and down with deep, placid breaths. I wouldn’t have wanted to survive this ordeal if he hadn’t.

We were alone in this strange room save for a series of strange hums that that whirled through the air. Scanning my surroundings, I saw a field of white walls, punctuated occasionally by circular windows that held back the blazing sapphire sky. In addition to the two beds, the room held some cabinets and a desk. The only way out, it seemed, was through one latched metal door.

Wherever we were, I needed to be near him, to touch his soft skin with my lips.

As I was about to pull back my covers to join him, that small metal door began to shake and creak and crack open like my waking eyes just had.

No, no, no, I thought, my heart and throat leaden with dread. Everything we’d been through was for naught. Something monstrous was emerging.

Either that, or my eyes and senses had failed me.

It had no face, only a head-like mass with a reflective plate where its eyes should be. There were four bulky appendages, yellow like a banana about to begin rotting. Was this a human the Pestilence had mutated into something?

As it lumbered toward the beds, I trembled beneath my meager blankets.

We weren’t safe. We’d been wrong to leave the island.

And it was completely my fault.

Everything was.

My grinding culpability gave me a brief pulse of bravery, which created enough steely adrenaline to propel me out from under my meager blankets, out in front of it to protect him.

There, I stood, completely naked and with fire coursing through my veins. I looked down to see that a clear rubbery snake, which was anchored in the top of my hand, tethered my wrist to a metal tower near the bed. When I tried to pull myself free, drops of blood gathered on the white sheets that rested on the floor near my feet.

“No!” the yellow monster yelled in a muffled voice. “Don’t pull that out!”

“I’ll kill you if you come closer,” I shouted back, my voice hoarse and shivering with my fury. How strange, then, in my panic, that I noticed how my lips still felt parched from the days at sea, crusted with an invisible salt that, along with the sun, had cracked my lips.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” it said. The creature’s arms extended above its head, and it began to pull at the head.

My legs weakened as I saw the ambiguous yellow head come off, only to reveal the face of a middle aged blonde woman with kind eyes. Kind blue eyes like the calm shallows of the island. Her voice was clearer with the headdress off. “I’ve been around you for two days without this suit, so I supposed a little longer won’t hurt.”

“Who are you?” I asked weakly, resting against the bed now that my immediate panic had ceased.

“I’m the ship’s doctor, and I need to know something.” She still remained a cautious distance away from us as she rested her hat on the desk. “How long has it been since your people have been sick from the plague, as you call it in your book?”

My book? She must’ve been referring to Samsara’s journal. I shrugged. “No one’s ever been sick from it.”

“Really?” she asked in disbelief.

“We found safety before it sickened us.”

Her anxious expression relaxed as she approached the bed. Gesturing to the metal tower before me, she said, “I’ll take this out since you’re not contagious. We gave you intravenous fluids and sugars to rehydrate you.”

Danger, my heart thumped and quickened thanks to all the conditioning I’d received growing up. She was from the Old World, a place of sickness, death, and howling beasts. But, with nothing else to do but obey, I watched as she deftly pulled the rubber snake from the top of my hand and covered the resulting small hole with an adhesive cloth. Since my body was finally free, I shrunk back and covered myself with my blanket. “I need my clothes back. Now.”

“Okay, okay,” the doctor said as she pulled some clothing out of a cabinet. “We’re going to wash your clothes as soon as we figure out what material they are. But for now, here is a clean ship-issued hoodie and some scrub pants.”

I took the bundle from her and unfurled the shirt, which read, Kentucky Maru. “What does it mean?”

“It’s the name of this ship,” she replied as she turned around to grant me some privacy, a wonderful thing since no amount of time in Gaiae, no matter how blissful, could completely erase nearly twenty years of religious conditioning that had condemned nakedness.

I slipped on the clothing and marveled at its strange shape, of the predetermined holes for various appendages, and at its utter simplicity, so unlike the iridescent garments I was accustomed to. Still, I relished the feel of the outfit’s soft fabric on my skin, especially since the garments covered my shivering arms and legs. “I’m done,” my voice cracked.

“And now you need water. I’ll be right back.” The doctor left me surrounded by my companion’s regular breaths. In less than a minute, she returned with a glass in hand. She had also removed her frightening yellow suit and instead wore a simple blue uniform. “Here you go.”

I grabbed the glass, and its lightning temperature struck my hand. Cold, this must be what cold is. The air around me was cool, but the sensation this glass gave off was much more extreme. I then noticed clear, solid cubes floating among the water. “What is this?”

“Just water.”

“No, I mean the floating pieces.”

“Ice…” The doctor cocked her head as if I were a curious specimen of bird or bug.

“Ah. Solid water. Like snow. I didn’t know it came in cubes.” I only remembered the description of snow from my grandmother’s story, how it both trapped and blanketed the lady in the tower until her escape. And, then, I escaped too. I hadn’t been the nightingale.

“Do you want crushed instead?”

It wasn’t the shape that puzzled me, but the entire existence of water in an unfamiliar state. I ventured an explanation. “Cubes are fine. I’ve just never seen it before. Our island is too hot, and we don’t have refrigeration.”

“Why not?”

“No means to power it.” I sipped the water and savored how its wetness removed the sandiness from my throat. “How wonderful.”

Her mouth gaped open for a moment, but finally, she shrugged. “Well, then. How about some food?”

It was so long since we’d eaten that the thought of some coconut cakes or grilled chicken made my stomach growl. I needed to resume slowly, though, if I remembered my nutrition lessons properly. “After I drink some more water and let my thoughts settle.” Another long sip of the gloriously cool water, and I drained the glass of its liquid contents.

“Of course,” she said as I handed her the glass, the ice cubes clinking against it. Assured I wasn’t contagious with the Pestilence, the doctor took her seat next to me again. “So, let’s start with the basics. My name’s Deanne. What’s yours?”

I decided to begin with the simple answer. “Leilani.”

“Where are you from, Leilani?”

I pointed to the journal. “I came from there, that island from the book.”

“Can you show me where?” Deanne walked over to the desk and retrieved a large map, unfolding it on top of my blanket and pointing to an unmarked spot amidst vast space of blue. “If it helps, we’re about here.”

“It doesn’t, at all, really,” I whispered and scanned the confounding thing she put in front of me. Most maps of the area surrounding our island, save for a single crude one, had been destroyed decades ago. But, that single remaining map had points with coordinates instead of landmasses with detailed coastlines or even accurate proportions. What would she do if I couldn’t help? I knew nothing about her world’s protocol. Are her people generous? Militant? “Are you going to put us back in the sea if I can’t answer these questions?” I asked, suddenly feeling helpless.

My words jolted her attention from the map to me. “Why would you ask that?”

Relieved that leaving us to our deaths was a horrifying proposition to her, I shrugged and thought of my original home, the Village of Lehom. “People withdraw favors all the time.”

As soon as I uttered those words, which tasted of betrayal, the tension that had been gathering inside my core broke to the surface in an explosive flurry of tears. Of sobs. Of grief. I brought the blanket to my face and shuddered, trying to contain the fluids weeping from my eyes and nose.

How disgusting, but how little I cared even as part of the blanket became drenched. I couldn’t breathe, only gasp in the scent of this soft, foreign material, which smelled clean and of sunshine. Then, I heard the crinkle of paper being folded followed by the caress of a soft hand on my shoulder.

“Breathe,” Deanne said calmly. “Breathe. We’re not going to put you back in the sea. Certainly not in that boat.”

That boat? She sounded so dismissive about that wonderful boat, the one that had saved us, and I needed to convey its importance to this doctor even through my choked breaths. I uncovered my face and said, looking at her squarely in the eyes, “Don’t condemn that boat. Please. Are we safe here?”

“You are. I promise, and I’m sorry if I upset you.” Deanne got up, pulled out a glass bottle of an amber liquid from her desk, and poured some into a glass. She took a long sip before gesturing to the bottle. “I have a feeling I’m gonna need this. I’d offer you some, but you’re dehydrated, and I’m too curious to risk you passing out drunk.”

“Like from palm wine?” It was the only point of reference I had for drunkenness.

“It’s scotch. I think it’s stronger than palm wine,” Deanne said as she finished the liquid. “Anyway. I’m assuming that you’ve been isolated from the world since the plague, right?”

I was thankful she understood. “Yes. The island was our refuge.”

My Lehom ancestors called the Pestilence the bringer of all good things and the gift of Lehom since it helped form our culture into being. There were many worship days where I listened to the King discuss this event as the cleanser of evil, the rapturous trigger of righteousness. The Old World had special medicines that could cure many diseases, but doctors abused these medicines by giving them to people who didn’t need them. They subsequently stopped working. Then, a sickness came from the shadows and spread across the Old World quickly since people in those days could fly through the sky to distant lands in the blink of an eye.

The disease reached all corners of the earth with nothing to stop it.

“We’ve forgotten about that horrible time and rebuilt. The world’s been safe for at least thirty years.” Deanne poured some more scotch for herself. “What else do you know?”

That was a big question. I had fragmentary knowledge that had been gathered from books, stories, and cautionary legends. “I can tell you about Viking ships, Norman castles, snow, horses, nightingales, and Calabasas.”

At my rambling assemblage of categories, Deanne asked, “Is that all?”

“My old religion taught me that Lehom sent this disease as punishment for humanity’s wickedness,” I said. “The people of the Old World worshipped false idols, allowed women to govern, and didn’t live according to the word of Lehom. However, in his mercy, Lehom chose an emissary, my great-grandfather, who gathered together a small group of faithful and delivered them to our island.”

Deanne almost spit out some of her drink. “Punishment for women in power? But that’s crazy. And if you were so afraid of disease, why’d you leave your island in that ship of all things?”

I reclined back on my bed and closed my eyes, recalling how endlessly blue the ocean looked from the white sand beaches of the Gaiae section of the island. I often felt both awe and longing as the infinite sea set itself before my eyes. I’d only known the limited space of our home island, where the sea laps up onto the land, and explored its immediate shallows, mild depths, and protected reefs. I could swim very well compared to the others from the Village of Lehom, but I only once ventured out beyond the point where the turquoise waters turned deep blue.

When I was swimming for my freedom.

I kept that to myself for the moment, though, and kept my answer simple. “My world went mad.”

Deanne nodded in appreciation at my reference to the journal. “But why’d your world go mad? And just how did you manage to survive such a long ocean journey in that boat?”

“My sleepy companion built it for us to be steadfast on the seas. We gathered water, food, and then set off from the shores. Your ship found us, then.”

I didn’t tell her then how, when our days turned to anxious shadow, I had to lie to my mentor, my friend, in order to get permission to copy the plans for an ancient ship called a knarr when working in the Central Village library. Those details would come later when Deanne had the context for my words.

This doctor, who’d apparently seen much of the world since she sailed upon it in this great boat, couldn’t know what our smaller vessel meant to us. At home, no one was allowed to use a boat without permission from their respective village’s leadership. Only those permitted to use small boats for fishing went, equipped with two days’ worth of food and water rations, briefly into our waters. They always returned at the end of the day with a supply of fish.

When I was a child, I once asked one of the fishermen from the Village of Lehom if he saw anything beyond the waters surrounding our island. He said no, that there was nothing but death outside of our sanctum. True, some people used boats for pleasure cruises upon the waters, but like the fishermen, they had to return the vessel within the prescribed time. Such ventures could also lead to death. That’s how it went for my parents, anyway.

She appraised me from the chair. “It’s a good thing we did. Your water was gone. But we do need to know more about you before we bring you back.”

I suppose I did owe her a story in exchange for saving us. “I’ll do that, but could I have some of that brown stuff first?” Deanne reluctantly poured me a glass of my own, and I let the liquid glide down my throat, savoring how this liquid fire sequestered the pain of remembrance, of violent waves, of screams, and of death, to oblivion.

 Chapter 3

Lehom first established the Old World as a garden. Humans defiled it since they ignored Lehom’s existence. Lehom and his queen thus moved away from the lush Earth to the Eternal Spirit Garden, where the righteous will join them after death. For now, behind the Temple of Lehom, we have the earthly Eternal Spirit Garden. It exists in the same place but on a different plane than the heavenly one. Each founding family in the village will also construct its own spirit garden, a place to bury their ancestors and where the living may partake of them by eating the garden’s fruit.

-The Book of Lehom

 

“My island home is a single piece of land with three distinct settlements: The Village of Lehom, Gaiae, and Central Village, each established by a different Ani sibling. This isolated land mass is about three miles long, a mile at its widest point, and a verdant shade of green from the beaches that form most of its perimeter to the mountains that rise up sharply from the shores about a quarter of a mile from the waves. At the bases of the island’s waterfalls, freshwater pools bisect the green and black craggy cliffs. I remember now that this water smells faintly of the hibiscus flowers that outline the edges of these pools.

These are the sensory details that help me imagine my last view of it as I close my eyes. Near the sea caves of Gaiae, there’s a chink in the mountain, a cleft that regresses back from the beach we departed from. The waterfall in the center of this large crevasse got smaller as the boat was carried further out to sea. As the crashing of waves on the shore became quieter, my home departed into a misty dreamscape as it often does temporarily when the rain clouds descend and conceal it.

It’s amazing that while some life events are formative for people, others coalesce into a collective mental background noise. Born privileged in the Village of Lehom, I emerged from a formative milieu of simultaneous conflict and compromise.

And also from the domain of ghosts.

We believed our ancestors came to visit us in our sacred gardens, and, conversely, that the night jungles were haunted by the damned dead. My world was therefore one of absolutes and firm boundaries, where deviation from the natural order is unnatural. Thankfully, I was assigned to work as a scribe in Central Village's library when I turned eighteen. These books, along with that village’s dynamism, saved me from being completely brainwashed by my upbringing.

Well, I have Gaiae to thank, too. Until I was nineteen, I’d only been there once at age ten. And how absolutely formative that single event turned out to be. After the death of my grandfather, my grandmother took me there to visit the newly erected monument to her aunt Samsara. Adjacent to her grave, the village built a temple to Lady Moon and the Lord of the Deep, the goddess and god Gaiae worshipped. I remember most the view of the sea there, the scent and sound of the waves assimilating with my vision to produce a vista of absolute tranquility and peace. The way the sea moved, glistening like blue diamonds under the sun, I knew it had to be alive.

Vital and so unlike Lehom’s silent, faceless statue. It was then that the ocean infused itself in my veins.

While my grandmother was communing alone with her aunt’s bones, I clasped my arms around one of the temple’s pillars. Closing my eyes, I felt the stones, somehow cool in the tropical heat, and listened to the wind. I heard the faint sounds of crying layered onto the wind’s whistle, so I looked around and saw a boy, close to my age, huddled at the base of a column.

Why’re you so sad? I asked.

My parents died, he replied through blue veils of tears.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, so we’re told, and his told me volumes.

There’s really nothing to say to make it better. Mine might as well be too, I admitted, thinking of how my own father and mother preferred to spend time with the King and Queen, their closest friends, instead of me.

So, you understand. He smiled and took my hand. It was warm and moist with the blazing sea air. In his other hand, he fiddled with a wooden dolphin pendant that hung around his neck.

I love this temple, I told him. The columns make the roof look like it’s floating.

His eyes perked up at my use of architectural terms. You like buildings? I want to create them when I’m older. I’m studying right now. I savored the next moments, happy that someone shared my interests. Then, he asked, Can you stay here?

I felt the knobby bones of his knuckles interlaced with mine and whispered back, They won’t let me come too often. I’m the daughter of a prince.

He gave me a curious look. Is that really a big deal?

I thought for a moment and then shook my head. No. I’ll try to come.

You can always find me here, was his answer.

So, there we were, children from different villages, each finding comfort in that temple until my grandmother came to fetch me with a deep sadness in her eyes.

I remembered his eyes the most, blue with flecks of aquamarine and fluid like the sea itself. These mere figments of a person sustained me in the frequent maelstroms of my natal village. I often wondered how he grew up because my grandmother never took me to Gaiae again. I think she grew afraid I wouldn’t marry well if people thought I’d been tainted by that place and its unholy people.

Well, that place did corrupt me, and I’m glad for it. Even considering that visit’s ultimate cost, I think my grandmother was also thankful right until the end of it all.

So, in my mind, Gaiae remained a magical place. It seemed far away even though only the mountain making up the island’s spine separated us. Despite that distance, I still found pleasure in my ancestral home, about a quarter of a mile from the Village of Lehom’s beach. I loved waking up to the fusion of pink sunrise and blue moontrap, the lamps fueled by iridescent plankton, that we use at night. Awash in blue light, I sometimes imagined myself as a mermaid under the sea. But in the morning, in the world of sun and sand, my world turned pink as the sun’s rays reflected off the inlaid mother of pearl carvings on the support beams of my room.

My cocoon hummed with the tweet tweet trill of birdsong as the light, as well as a sweet sea breeze, crept through the large fabric-covered window that dominated the wall across from my bed. I rolled on my mattress of woven palm leaves and cotilk, a fabric Samsara had created from infusing the old cotton plant with silk-like strength and iridescence.

In those cushioned days, when I was merely Leilani Ani, I had the mind of the simple sparrow. Uncomplicated, gliding where the island’s breezes took me, and appreciating that which appeared, from my point of view then, effortlessly before me. People often think it’s the big events in life that give meaning. I suppose that’s true. But unconscious routines, the mindless tasks we repeat, also define identity.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Anya Pavelle lives in the southern US with her husband and their dog. She loves the natural world, but often finds her mind wandering among the ruins of past civilizations. A trained medievalist, she teaches art history part time and also works as a writing specialist at a local college. When she isn’t writing, Anya enjoys scuba diving, watching movies, reading, cooking and spending time with her family. The Children of Lehom is her debut novel, but she has plans for more in the future.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I am fascinated by how people behave in cults and in post-apocalyptic scenarios. I also spend time on tropical islands and find them to be infused with a magical energy, particularly at night.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The moon glistening on the sea and a Viking ship play important roles in this book's plot. My cover designer used those images to capture the seductive beauty of nature, something I hope the book's prose also echoes.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
On Facebook and on Twitter. The name for each social media account is "Anya Pavelle."