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Xenolith, Page 28

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 20: Parallels

  Mer brought Frank a bonus with breakfast that morning. Frank received his usual bowl of cracked wheat and crumbly cheese, some unidentifiable fruit, and a coarse biscuit heavy enough to stun a rat. When Mer stepped out, Frank squirreled away the biscuit. But before he could dip his fingers into the steaming bowl, Mer re-entered the room dragging his day pack. The boy left it in the middle of the floor, flashed a smile and left.

  Frank hustled over and began ransacking its compartments. The contents were mostly intact. He found his rain poncho folded more neatly than he ever would have bothered. His medical kit had been stripped of all ointments and pills, retaining only bandages and tape. His trail mix had not been tampered with, but his chocolate bars were gone and his tortilla wrap festered with ooze and bristled with mold.

  A small zippered pocket on the flap held the keys to his rental car. Frank wondered how many days overdue it was by now, and how the authorities might be reacting. Had those cretins at the rental agency even bothered to report it yet?

  He wondered if any of the constables who investigated Liz’s disappearance still held office? Might they remember the American lady who vanished without a trace? Would they find it odd to see her husband disappear from the same spot almost twenty years later?

  The why of his abduction still puzzled Frank. Tezhay’s explanations made no sense, but neither did Frank’s working hypothesis that the overgrown quarry in Belize was a staging area for drug smugglers or human traffickers. If these were indeed traffickers, why bother whisking him way to a dusty and decrepit city when they would be asking no ransom? Why not just kill him and dispose of his body in the jungle? Scavengers and decomposers would have made short work of his remains.

  This was the part that sent his heart racing: if these same Chiqibul operators were responsible for Liz and Father Leo’s disappearance, maybe they hadn’t killed them either.

  Frank tapped his foot in time to the mazurka percussing in his chest and reached for the foul medicine that Tezhay had given him. A tiny dose, he had found, would calm his heart without extracting its toll of grisly dreams.

  His cramping stomach would not let him neglect breakfast all morning. Frank returned to his meal and was just finishing up when Mer came to fetch the empty bowl. As usual, Elkaton came along to escort him to the latrines, wielding his ridiculous halberd indoors and out. From the gouges in the stucco, it was apparent that its top spike had been ravaging the ceilings for ages. They went out into the cool and dry mid-morning air and the stone-faced old man would lean on the burnished shaft of his weapon while Frank did his business, using the basket of wood shavings provided in lieu of toilet paper.

  When he left the latrine, he saw Elkaton’s halberd leaning against a wall without Elkaton. He heard groaning in the adjacent stall. He waited, noticing an alley that seemed to lead to the road that led by his window. Still, Elkaton failed to emerge. He considered making a run for it, but chickened out.

  “Hey, Elkie! You alright in there?” said Frank.

  He heard a scrambling and the old man rushed out, retrieving his halberd, regarding Frank suspiciously with his palsied eye. The old man urged him back into the building with a grunt and a shake of his halberd.

  Tezhay stood waiting in the corridor outside his room as they came up the stairs.

  “I come to tell you, I hear I will be travel soon,” said Tezhay, dismissing Elkaton with a nod.

  Frank leaned against the wall. “Oh yeah? Where to?”

  “Is my business,” said Tezhay.”

  “Will you be gone long?”


  The announcement twanged Frank’s equilibrium harshly. Tezhay was his only real liaison to this strange place. To whose mercy would Frank now be subjected? Unless it also meant—

  “Are you letting me go?”

  “No,” said Tezhay.

  “Why not?”

  “You not ready,” said Tezhay. “I will try to arrange another tutor. I don’t know if is possible.”

  “Why keep me?” said Frank. “What good does it do you all?”

  “Is not for us,” said Tezhay. “Is for you not safe. You still no understand.”

  “Because I think you’re full of shit when you tell me this is some kind of Wonderland?”

  “Is part, yes,” said Tezhay.

  “What if I never accept it?” said Frank.

  “You will,” said Tezhay. “You have no choice.”

  Frank sat down on the stool outside his door where Elkaton sat when he waited for Frank to dress. “You expect to brainwash me?”

  “Is not brain wash,” said Tezhay. “Some exile have not so much problem as you. You are more difficult than most.”

  “How many folks have you guys kidnapped?”

  “Not kid nap. Exile,” said Tezhay. “Over years, we take maybe hundreds.”

  Frank sat up straighter. “How long have you all been doing this?”

  “Always,” said Tezhay. “Ever since Philosophers have been using stones.”

  “What … stones?”

  “Is too hard to explain.”

  “Try me.”

  “Best word I find in your language is … xenolith.”

  “Zanoleet?” Frank wrinkled his brow. “Come again?”

  “Is stone that exist in two place at once,” said Tezhay. “Like ocean tide, every so on it pull a piece of one place into the other.”

  Made no sense, like everything else Tezhay tried to tell him about Ubabaor and Sesei.

  “Where do you keep these other hostages of yours?” said Frank.

  Tezhay sucked air through his teeth. “We no keep,” said Tezhay, voice rising. “Is not hostage. And is not always us taking them. Some come by self, by accident. But when we find, we help them.”

  “Help? You think this is helping me?”

  “Not you. You exile. Is different.”

  “So where are these other ones?” said Frank. “Where do they go?”

  Tezhay looked out the widow. “War make things complicate,” he said. “In early days, the Philosopher keep them hiding, to keep xenolith secret from our own people. Most in Piliar, where the big Academy stays. Since war, many exile become scattered. Some here, like you, some Piliar, some even far away across the ocean.”

  An ember flared in Frank’s heart. No arrhythmic contortion of his cardiac muscles, this palpitation felt like hope.

  “Is Piliar far?”

  “Not so far before war. Ocean is maybe two days travel by horse. You can see Piliar from coast. But since war, it is impossibly far without stone.

  Liz. That’s all he could think about. This is what happened to Liz.