Michael Edwards

On the way back from Knoxville, Joey avoided all the places he had used as guideposts along the way - the towns and villages that reassured him his path was leading where it was mapped to go.  But, as he and the others discovered during what seemed to them a nearly endless journey to Mount Guyot, these places were far more than simply markers along their route: though burned out and abandoned, they were reminders of man's presence, reminders that the travelers were not alone on this planet, that somewhere other people survived, and that one day they would be re-admitted into the fold of human civilization.  The trip home felt not only longer for the absence of man's creations but lonelier as well, as if a traveling companion had suddenly disappeared.

Shooks, Kimberlin Heights, Boyds Creek, Sevierville, Pine Grove, Middle Creek, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg - all the towns they expected to see on the way home they went miles out of their way to avoid, for no other reason than that, now, Joey was convinced the entire area had been affected by whatever Alice sensed fast at work beneath the ground, making their return from Knoxville a day and a half longer than their journey to the city.

Paris was waiting for them at the mouth of the cave.  Before going inside, Joey took out the book he had gotten at Knoxville and handed it to the boy.  "I can read it with you," Joey told him, "but I have to depend on you to learn it.  I'm not a teacher.  I may not even understand all of it.  I'm sorry that's all I can give you.  Alice says you already know everything you'll ever need to know; you just don't yet have the words to express it.  I know that God will give you the right words, even if I had never found this book.  God loves you."

"God loves, God hates," Paris replied.

"No," said Joey, "God cannot hate, only love."

Paris looked up at Joey and smiled.  "Joey can only love," he said.

"I would like only to love," Joey corrected the boy, "but I can hate also.  Only God is without flaws."

"To hate is not a flaw," Paris answered.  "Babies love, babies hate.  God loves, God hates.  It's not a flaw."

The boy quickly learned the basic concepts Professor Kirkus had put forth in his book.  Joey's role, as he discovered, did not need to be that of a teacher; it was enough simply to read the pages together with Paris and to help the boy understand terms which were beyond his experience.  Joey recalled a passage from an old book he had seen as a child; the book was Through The Looking Glass; the passage read "Take care of the words and the sense will take care of itself."  He had no idea - neither then nor now - if the words were intended ironically or not, only that they perfectly expressed the dynamic he witnessed as Paris gleaned from Kirkus' written words the concepts they were meant to convey.

"When it's time, I'll teach the babies," Paris told Joey.  "Felicia already knows."

"You've read that book?" Joey asked the girl, who was with Paris at the time.

"My father taught it to me," she said.  "But I don't like it."

"Why not?" Joey asked.

"It puts everything in little boxes and lines them all up by size," Felicia explained.  "I don't want my thoughts inside boxes.  I don't want to take my dreams apart and see what they're made of.  I want them to be bigger than the sum of their parts."

"But how can they be?" Joey asked.

"Because they have something special that you can't put a name to," Felicia said, adding "Paris understands.  He knows I'll go on the ocean one day and stay there forever.  That book would try and tell me it can't happen - but it can, and it will.  And Paris knows it."

"Will you go with Felicia?" Joey asked Paris.

He shook his head somberly and said "No," as he looked up into Felicia's big green eyes.

"Why not?" Joey asked the boy.

"I'll teach the babies," Paris repeated.

"But the babies will be grown then," Joey reminded him.

"They already know what they have to do," said Paris.  "I'll teach them how."