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Falling Asleep
By Anna Berry
Genre: Fiction Level: Junior 7-9
Category: UAA/ADN Creative Writing Contest

The darkness penetrated everywhere. The whole world was asleep, waiting. Preparing. Then a voice rang out in the silence, hoarse, exhausted: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Then: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The world was shaken by the dying breath of God.

It was still dark. Through the thick, cloudy air drifted. A friend had recently introduced her to the world-wide treasure hunt that was geocaching, so Estella was taking advantage of a lazy Saturday morning, as well as an abnormally light load of ninth grade homework, to hunt for caches. She wasn’t very good at using her handheld GPS or looking too closely at her surroundings for strange details, but she enjoyed stumbling through the wilderness and finding interesting places. Geocaching made her feel connected to other people, as all too often Estella felt like an outcast. At school especially, she was ridiculed for being the one student who read Jane Austen for fun. Being Catholic didn’t help with her popularity either, so Estella was a social outcast. After the other high schoolers had made fun of her Faith on the first day of school, Estella had made sure that she never mentioned the Mass, Christ, or anything possibly Catholicism-related. At least she wasn’t called “that Catholic girl” anymore. Everyone seemed to have forgotten. No one even remembered her name. They just called her “Ella,” which was fine because Estella wasn’t even sure what her full name meant. Estella? Maybe a star, like “stella” in Latin? Or... Estella huffed. The geocache she was searching for appeared to be in the woods somewhere, off the dry-leaf-encrusted sidewalk she was walking along. Her little town was surrounded by a large forest, and it seemed to be forgotten by the rest of Alaska. Just like herself. Well, if I have to bushwhack, I have to bushwhack. She dove into the woods that she hadn’t explored since her childhood.

After what seemed like an hour of trudging through the woods alone, Estella’s handheld GPS led her into a small clearing. As she was>heading into the clearing, she paused to smell the sweet, crisp fall air and imagined that she was in a fairy tale or an adventure story that someone was reading. Something exciting had to happen now. That was always what happened in those books--the fearless heroine would be exploring when she would discover a clue that would change her life around. I could use that she thought, although I’m more like an oblivious heroine. I’ll take one step...and one more step....and then....Estella stopped abruptly and stared incredulously. She had made it into a clearing. But it wasn’t what she had been expecting.

It was not what Hên had been expecting.  He had no idea how he arrived on this legendary planet called Earth or how he was saved from death; the only memory was that of a dilapidated time machine. He just thanked the Creator that he was alive. He thought it terrible that his entire race could have been wiped out by three words; at least that was what the time machine had told him while hurtling through the time-space continuum towards Earth. Fortunately, the machine failed to mention what the words were, if they were tragic enough to trigger the bane of the Bain. The Bain, his family of creatures, were unique among all other races because when they would hear the most impossible, appalling thing in the universe a toxin would be released in their systems, killing them within minutes. This foreseen occurrence had happened right after Bain was sent away. His parents had decided to send him away as soon as they discovered the transmission from the hired spies. Now they were dead.

There was a large pit. Smoke trickled up into the sky from something that seemed to still be burning inside, and as Estella gaped she noticed charred bits of metal that appeared to be flung from the wreckage. She warily walked closer and peeked into the massive hole in the ground. From the darkness, peeking out of her in turn from the hole,  was a child. “Er...hello,” she said. “What are you doing in there?” 

"I escaped from my planet and crash-landed,” Hên said, as though it were obvious. Estella began to pull him out of the pit and he now stood beside it. Hên decided to use the ritual greeting question of his people. “What is your life for?”

Estella was floored. She was afraid that her mouth was opened embarrassingly wide, but she decided to focus on her reply. She tried to dig up from the cobwebbed corners of her mind an old Sunday school answer to that question, but she decided that would be too trite. “Ummm...I’m not sure.”

Hên peered at her incredulously. “Not sure? I thought the Creator had revealed himself to all worlds. There was something I was going to ask you, but I can’t remember now.”

Estella, still surprised by the child-like frankness and strange ideas of this visitor, decided to disregard both statements for the moment and take a more ordinary tack. “My name is Estella. What’s yours?”

Hên smiled absently. “Hên. Estella...that’s a very good name. It’s only given to nobility in my home...or it was.”

Estella screwed up her eyebrows (a peculiar expression for which she was endlessly teased at school, but she was to excited and bewildered to care). “What does it mean, if it’s so special?”

Hên didn’t appear to hear this, as he was in deep thought. “Oh, I remembered what I was going to ask you! Back on our planet our prophets said that Creator sent his Son to Earth. What happened? It must have been wonderful.”

Estella had never thought about the Incarnation in that way before. She had a strange feeling that her mind was slowly awakening from an oblivious sleep. “Yes, I suppose it was,” she said thoughtfully.

"Yes, but what happened? I’ve always wanted to know.”

"We...we killed him,” said Estella, wondering if she should tell this stranger why He died, and how he rose again out of the ashes of death and ascended into Heaven, and how he will meet any one of us and love us and protect us, if only we will open our hearts just a crack, just a little crack; things she hadn’t told anyone before; but she wasn’t brave enough. Her mind hadn’t yet emerged from its prolonged stupor.

It was too late. Hên stumbled backward and fell to the ground in the grass still wet from dew.

Estella gasped and ran to him, supporting him and running through emergency procedures in her head. “What’s wrong? Should I call an ambulance? The fire department? What happened?”

It’s too late,” Hên replied with effort. “I’m dying and it can’t be stopped. This...this is what happened to my people and now it’s happening to me.” His voice was growing quieter. Estella had to lean next to his lips to hear his final words. Then Hên fell asleep. He never awoke again.

Dawn was coming. Estella walked down the sidewalk on her way to her twelfth grade classes. She was engrossed in reading The Odyssey (belated homework) when she stopped and looked into the familiar tangled forest to her right. Memories of the child she had met there and how he had changed her life flooded back to her. She remembered how he had frightened her and inspired her all at once. As Estella turned from the forest and moved on, she remembered his last words: “Estel. Hope.”

 

[The words “Estel,” “Hên,” and “Bain” are from Sindarin, a fictional Elvish language by J. R. R. Tolkien.]

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