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by Richard L. Provencher
6/13/2008 / Short Stories
It made John-Jo sad to think he was poor. "Is it true, Ma-ma?" he often asked. Their tiny shack beside the road barely withstood the wind. "Why let it bother you?" her gentle voice always answered.
John-Jo's father was a Worker. His days of challenge were spent at the village dump, at the end of the road. John-Jo often watched people return with usable items. Pieces of wood, and old washers; everything had a use. Clothes, cardboard boxes and wire as well. Everything was carefully checked. To make sure there was a definite use for them in the community. Without this plan of kindness, his family would have even less. And so the days passed.
When John-Jo's father had his fatal accident, everything changed. Shortly after being placed on New Earth, John-Jo became a Helper. The dead on Mars had no need for special treatment. The Fire Pit near the Valley of Caves was a very short ceremony. Too much work was needed. And time for sentimentality very brief. The boy's hands were needed to labor on this harsh planet, which suffered ancient memories of war.
"This pail is very heavy, Ma-ma," John-Jo spoke. "I know dear," Ma-ma answered. "It is part of our duty, to feed the livestock first. Then bring liquid waters to the Workers."
"Yes, Ma-ma." His words floated on the wind. Wild birds heard his call of anguish. Such struggles were these, for a mother and young son. "Come...come, my little one." Ma-ma's tired bones creaked. Her thin arms struggled with the weight of two full pails. John-Jo's single pail was not so large. But it too was full. They dipped into the River of Liquid. After quenching the thirst of the Workers nearby, their task was complete. Both John-Jo and Ma-ma hurried back to their hut, a simple square building. It was time to cook their bacon and beans.
The rooms were very small. Only John-Jo's had a window. "It is to help you with your dreams," Ma-ma said. "Truly, you have earned the choicest of rooms."
"But we only have two, Ma-ma."
"Yes, my son. And one day you will discover your destiny, and an abundance." She teased him often with these words.
Tonight, he searched the far horizon with his eyes. Somehow he knew his vision would come true. John-Jo lay awake thinking of what was spoken in the street today. Talk of strange evening sounds disturbed everyone. Did some unknown beast prowl in the dark? Did it wander from the wastelands beyond the village? Questions turned and twisted. These were too many thoughts for a young boy.
A disturbance caused him to arise quietly before the sun drew itself up over the far off hill. Leaves blowing harshly against their small home was a signal to confirm his restlessness. Young feet tap, tapped across the planked floor. His tiny room was crossed in a moment.
John-Jo's eyes searched through the shade of late night. His gaze peered as a wise man seeking out truths. So many thoughts spoke to him this night. John-Jo quickly returned to blankets tossed wildly about. He burrowed into the safety of his nest. As he slept, he dreamed.
Somewhere beyond the winding hills, there was a stirring. A morning bell called loudly across the valley. John-Jo dressed swiftly as a deer. It was the sacred duty of all Helpers to come quickly. His green coveralls were starched and clean. Ma-ma was proud of her skills. Preparation for the day began by rubbing teeth with a forefinger. Toothpaste was not a luxury for this family. Porridge and hot chocolate filled his emptiness. Good hugs for Ma-ma and a devoted son, then he was off to the fields.
On the way to his duties a Worker approached. John-Jo dropped his eyes and stared at Mother Earth. As was the custom, the boy was not worthy to be acknowledged. The Worker was off to some important task and John-Jo sheltered his angry thoughts. How rude for a Worker to treat him as a block of wood! It was the way of his Elders. He was simply unworthy.
"Someday," he vowed. It was a word often pressed against his lips.
John-Jo meant it to be his mission. He wished to provide kindness for all Workers. Ma-ma did tell him once in the fields, "You have been chosen. To bring wisdom and caring into our village."
"It is your destiny," she whispered. This talk caused confusion within his spirit. His labors continued throughout the hot day. Young arms were quick to replenish the pails of liquid. Each Worker approached and received his offered cup. A cool drink was a quick reward. John-Jo looked down each time. It was taught in the Great Hall since the day he could barely speak.
Coming events began a spark of hope. Days and nights passed swiftly. After twelve summers, John-Jo began a new chapter in his life. Tonight, Ma-ma and her growing son spoke in the shadows of their tiny shelter. John-Jo read. It was a message Ma-ma had protected for many years. His eyes blinked tears, at the Revelation. Droplets flowed down his cheeks. A mother's arm across his shoulders caused a devoted son to shudder.
The book he held was precious. Its message was powerful as thunder. Almost like a clap of energy that encircled them. Love flowed through his veins. Knowledge lifted his spirits. He was more than the equal of a Helper. Not just John-Jo, growing into a man, not only a mother's son. Nor even the lowly son of Joe, his father. He was "Legend" as written in the book of Truths. The message read from secret scrolls sent shivers down his spine:
"A great mystery will be untangled by a boy.
He will turn the hearts of everyone. Each will
grow to care. And weep tears that show the
way. The Village will receive this boy and his
name is to be John-Jo."
Sacred words burned brightly as a lantern. It was as if his father's voice reached deep into his soul. And joined with the wind. Together, they would carry a message of hope. Years of hardship and longing now vanished. Difficult memories evaporated as from a passing mist. John-Jo cried out words of praise in this revelation. "Honor to Joe my father before me," he spoke into the stillness. Shadows from the gloom were banished. And a cry of great hunger pierced the sky.
A mighty roar descended from a hill nearby. It did not frighten John-Jo. Movement of cloud and thunder marched as an army, forward in the name of his destiny. It made him happy, as he understood that sound. It was the Seeker from his dreams.
His mission began as he entered the Village Hall. "Why do you stare at me Helper?" A Worker demanded. "Because I am Legend," John-Jo answered.
"Insolent and disrespectful," several Workers shouted in the crowded village hall. Their looks were menacing as they gathered to confront him. "How dare this child challenge the order of our village?" demanded one of the Elders. "What do you know of the Edicts from our forefathers?"
"I mean no disrespect," answered John-Jo's firm voice. "I know the secret of the Thunder." Everyone gasped. "You know? How? Where---?" they murmured among themselves. "Because I am Legend," the boy whispered.
Everyone was shocked. Yet their eyes did not stray from this young man. He stood tall among other men in the room. And sparks of electricity seemed to emanate from his being. Suddenly a voice boomed across the sky. It rocked the great hall and shook each person where they stood.
"LISTEN TO HIM!" it shouted. John-Jo smiled. All were subdued. They now stared upon this young man, seeking his eyes of knowledge. Now they knew. It was he. His brown hair shone like diamonds. Crystals of sunlight surrounded him. Raising his arms in a gesture of goodwill, John-Jo said, "Fear not."
Then the roof flew off as if snatched by some great force. And the walls of the Great Hall collapsed outwards. Everyone cried out as they leaned on one another. None were injured.
It was the first time they had heard a Worker with thoughtful caring. As John-Jo clapped his hands, their curious eyes sought his advice. Frightened ears wondered, was Mother Earth angry? At first the trembling in the heavens was distant as clouds spewed rain. Then sounds moved closer, as the rushing of hooves on a wide open plain. And a wind of great force hurled towards everyone.
In addition, echoes of, "Boom...BoomBoom," was difficult on most ears. These harsh exclamations moved closer, as if giant footsteps were approaching the gathering crowd. Helpers and Workers mingled in fearful comfort, as stricken friends. Fear had drawn them together. John-Jo smiled. A time of change had arrived. It was a good beginning.
Good things came to pass. At last, everyone had new shoes. Workers opened up the storage warehouses, and shared everything. Suits became the fashion, once again. Houses were built with baths and showers. No one had need for a privy anymore. Food became plentiful. Gardens with fresh vegetables moved freely from street to street. Workers and Helpers were happy to succeed together, as friends. Houses now had sufficient rooms for growing families. Some Workers even lived with Helpers.
Everyone smiled. It became a new goal. Caring for one another was declared a primary Edict. Feelings and thoughts were now openly expressed. And Helpers were allowed to observe eyes passing in the street. Staring at the ground was no longer acceptable. Hair became popular. Heads were allowed to have two coverings, hair and hat. No longer did Helpers need to have their heads shaved. They could now be warm during winter months.
The village became a collection of houses without boundaries. And many yards were without fences. Helpers and Workers began to work cheerfully in the fields. People-Person became a new word spoken in the streets. It brought an awakening, a new meaning to the Martian landscape. John-Jo and Ma-ma watched from the hillside. And they were glad.
* * *
Richard L. Provencher 2004
Richard enjoys writing poems; many of which have been published in Print and Online. He and his wife, Esther are also co-authors of stories and a print novel. They are "born again" Christians and very busy in their church, Abundant Life Victory International, in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia.
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