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Canterwood was famed for its trees, the Academy for its tree house. The children learned their final lesson in this tree house, though none of the Elohim or adult B’nei Elohim were present as teachers. It was a lesson that had been taught and learned by countless children since the dawn of time. It was called “Doctor” or “I’ll Show You Mine & You Show Me Yours.”

Seven year old Inge had straight hair so blonde it was almost white. The eyebrows over her baby blues were nearly white as well, giving the appearance at first glance of having no eyebrows at all, yet her face was peppered with brown freckles for spice. By lot, she was the first one who had to strip. Everyone had the same shirt, jacket, and tie, but the bottom half of their uniform depended on gender. Inge dropped her pleated skirt and panties, and everyone could see the freckles extended over her whole body. They saw the fat lips of her labia, which was news to some of the boys. Nelchael said, “She has two butts!”

Abdiel Larund was the next name pulled out of the hat. He dropped his trousers and undershorts without a shred of body modesty and then the girls learned what boys had.

Dafla Firegem was a budding bodybuilder but when she doffed her uniform, going completely nude, her muscles were not so bulky that they overrode the feminine layer of fat on her skin, which was also darker than any of the other kids, even Shy Bear. Her body was beautiful, but Dafla would always be what cruel kids called a Butterface. That is, a great body, “but her face…”

Shy Bear was a few years older than the rest of the children. He was old enough that some tentative hairs were beginning to grow around his genitals, and this “lesson” in the tree house had excited him to the point that his dick was standing straight up at attention. So the children learned yet another new thing.

Hope Felton never needed to go to the bathroom, so she had never seen what the other kids did in there. Seeing the variety of genitalia on display in the tree house was a completely novel experience for her. Now it was her turn, and it dawned on her, too late, that perhaps she had made a mistake by agreeing to participate in this impromptu lesson.

The other children sensed her reluctance to strip and poured the pressure on. At length, Hope did remove her skirt, and what everyone saw was a girl as anatomically incorrect as a Barbie doll. But maybe everything was hiding. The other kids ordered Hope to drop to the floor and put her legs in the air, which she did, but no help there. Hope was a zero holer. “How do you pee? How do you poop?” they asked.

“I don’t,” was the honest reply, and what followed was an even bigger mistake than Hope agreeing to attend the session. The children could have kept it all quiet and just forget about it. Instead they shunned Hope as though she was a monster and evacuated the tree house like it was on fire.

Their frantic questions filtered up the chain of adults and in short order Victoria and Mark Felton in Taurus City knew their careful plans to keep Hope convinced that she was a real human girl were in complete disarray.

After Robyn let the air out of his vacsuit with her blade, John Glenn knew he was finished. He saw black dancing dots, his face and fingers went numb, and he sank to the ground in a faint. As deaths go it wasn’t the worst. He saw the lunar sky change from black to white, then there was cold water that leaked through the gash in his suit.

He floated to the surface of the water and when he rolled back his faceplate he heard a small child crying. Glenn had expected to be wearing a robe in heaven. Instead he found himself still wearing his ripped spacesuit. A pair of attractive women of indeterminate origin helped him twist his helmet off. Yeshua was kneeling beside him, smiling to put him at ease.

“Who do you say that I am, John Glenn?” Yeshua asked.

The question jostled Glenn’s memory of the scriptures from his Presbyterian background. “You are the Christ,” he said, and now John feared that he might be exactly right.

“You are not a spirit, John, there is no such thing. Just a mind, and you also need a brain to have one of those. But you were not using that brain when you committed suicide by Robyn. She can see the future. You could be locked in a room with her unarmed and you with a shotgun and you’d never get a clear shot.”

Glenn saw that the two women who helped him get his helmet off were now loading a white scroll into a watertight backpack and securing it to the shoulders of the crying girl, and he was disturbed. “Why is she so sad, Lord?”

“That little girl is Inge Lange. Her time here has been joyous, but now it has been cut short. She is being returned home and she will never see most of her friends again. And Inge is crying also because she believes she must leave on account of something that she did a short time ago.”

When Yeshua mentioned that the girl was going back Glenn felt a glimmer of hope. “So people do return from the dead. Aside from you, of course, Lord.”

“This isn’t the afterlife, John. Little Inge actually came here without dying. So did you, in fact. You’re here in the same old body you had, there’s no other body dying on the moon.”

“Why did you do that, Lord? Am I to be punished?”

“No. Traditionally at this point I heal the subject of whatever injury or infirmity led to their death, because as you might have read I’m a very good doctor. But you are in remarkably good health for your age. There’s an entirely real timeline, John, the one where Apollo 17 was the final American moon shot, the one where you lived to be about a hundred. You even went into space once more on something they called a space shuttle and were given a ticker-tape parade. That John Glenn finished out his life and it was a wonderful story. This John Glenn right here is not quite so amazing. You made a bad turn somewhere, but I think there’s a chance to show you what you did wrong. And it’s not really for your benefit that we discover the pivot point. I really want to know. This is really an experiment for the education of myself.”

“So I suppose the Roman Catholic Church had it nailed down all along,” Glenn mused. “There really is a purgatory and Presbyterians come here.”

“Close enough, John. If there is to be a punishment, you already suspect what it is. You’ll begin to miss your wife Annie very much, and you will know she will soon be grieving for you but there is nothing you can do to comfort her. And all I can say is that you should have thought about it before you joined Asmodeus on his suicide run.”

They watched as young Inge was lowered into the Sacred Pool. She gave a final sob, went head down, kicked her way under, and did not rise again.

“Don’t entertain the idea that you can go home that way, John. It won’t work for you.”

As with Inge, school days were over for Shy Bear, yet he did not leave Haaretz until years afterward, and his education did continue, but in a far less academic vein. During that time he was attached to a company of Fallen Angels who roamed the border between Hamar and Kurgan and kept Black Beard bad’uns out of Canterwood. Along the way they lived off the land and the Fallen Angels taught young Shy Bear how to hunt his own game. And when his body had changed sufficiently that he could appreciate it, they taught him an entirely different kind of hunt.

After that he was returned to Earth. To help the boy survive, a B’nei Elohim woman named Del gave him the weapon called the Golden Gift, a dark blade that transformed anything it touched into dark matter, from the head of an elk to the arrows of other men. Armed this way, such protection as he could offer became the coin to buy his way.

One-by-one he assembled stragglers like himself into a group too small and unrelated to be considered a tribe. Despite his youth, Shy Bear became chief of another group he called the People. The group he had been born and raised in, which had also called themselves the People, had probably migrated far away over the years, or more likely had been killed or assimilated by the Northern Raiders.

Shy Bear’s People possessed almost nothing except their horses, and even those were liable to be taken by the Northern Raiders from time to time. They survived by burning extensive swaths of the riparian forest in the Green River valley to create grazing ground which would attract large game animals. One autumn when the entire gorge of the Green River was shrouded in smoke, hunting parties from among the People stood upon a high hill and marveled. They called the large hill, in their tongue, the Island in the Sky.

White trappers called the hill End Dome, for it was the final high prominence along the westward course of the Green River.

North of the hill the Green River dropped its load of silt in a cluster of islands anchored by tall grass, which offered the easiest ford between the steep gorge and the steep Cascade front just to the east of End Dome. Herds of antelope and elk came to the water exactly there and passed through to the other side, and the People would take them for meat.

When Shy Bear found the largest bull of the regrouping elk he pointed the Golden Gift at its head. A hissing black line briefly connected his arm to the animal’s head, and there was no more head. The dead animal immediately dropped to the ground and his brother elk scattered once more.

The other hunters helped Shy Bear field-dress the carcass down to easily transportable slabs of meat and hide, to be dragged behind their horses on wooden skids. Most of the elk meat was set aside to become smoked jerky for lean times, but the remainder was enough for a great feast.

Below the hill to the west in a large bend of the river was the small pond that Shy Bear knew was a portal to Canterwood in Hamar, but he told no one. Sometimes at dawn the People would find footprints leading directly into or away from the water, but never circling it. On even more rare occasions they caught a nighttime glimpse of creatures that walked upright like men, with coats of white fur. They called these creatures Sasquatch.

Shy Bear said the creatures were messengers of the Sun God and not to be feared, and he was actually correct, the Sasquatch were simply Fallen Angels, Issacharites, and other servants on errands for Bat-El or El Shaddai. They tried not to alarm the People as they went about their errands and returned to Haaretz, but the People were expert hunters and trackers, and the intruders could not remain undetected for long. Others among the People said the Sasquatch were evil spirits in animal form, or the shades of ancestors who were not at rest.

Despite baskets of strange fruit from Barbelo frequently left by the so-called Sasquatch, which supplemented the diet of the People, Chief Shy Bear could not make them believe the Sasquatch were harmless. It was too easy to blame them for every misfortune. So at Shy Bear’s direction the People constructed an earth berm, or mound, to enclose the little pond in a perfect circle. There was one opening in the mound that pointed away from the lodge of the People, and after that the large footprints were found to be routed through this opening, leading far away from their hunting grounds.

Seconds before her ship was destroyed Chayn found herself standing before Yeshua beside the Sacred Pool. “So you find yourself playing the Judas role today,” he said to her.

With trepidation Chayn asked, “What shall become of me now, Lord?”

“You are free to go, actually. Happy Birthday. You’re B’nei Elohim, so you get a second chance. But you’re a very unusual case, Chayn. We know that Jill dominates your will. What is Chayn’s culpability now? What would be the point of a reward and punishment system applied against one who is possessed?”

“When you say punishment, Lord, are you talking about hell?”

“Not even Mastema is twisted enough to decree eternal torture as just retribution for a finite set of sins committed over a human lifetime. Even that thing about burying the Antero princess alive is so much bluster. No, dear, hell is a purely human invention. I won’t hold you to account for what Jill did to you against your will.”

And so Chayn bowed to Yeshua with genuine respect and departed on foot into Canterwood, time-frame unknown. Soon she found she had no more power to control beasts, which meant she had to make other arrangements to deal with the food situation. To remain incognito from the other B’nei Elohim, Chayn radically altered her appearance and began giving her name as Joy.

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Strangers In Paradise