Grey Matter of an Irish Aries
Random short stories I've written
Northern Stream Valley was a quiet little town settled deep in the Corona Mountains. It was settled along the Northern Stream Valley, hence its name. It was settled so high and deep in the mountains that no one even knew it existed. It was secluded from the rest of the world. The valley had rare passers-by, causing it to be a self-sufficient society. Its tiny population consisted of people who were just as secluded as the town itself was. The folks settled on farms, growing enough to barely feed their own families.
If there were any families, there weren’t many. They couldn’t have had many children due to the need to feed more mouths. The few kids that were born had various ages, ranging from the youngest six to the eldest fourteen. With ten children altogether, they were a family among themselves. Every day, they would escape to their favorite setting, a hidden riverbank of the Northern Stream. They’d joke and laugh and dream of the day they would escape their secluded hometown and journey out in the world. On these adventures, they would be able to discover the fascinating technology that they had been deprived of for so long.
Oddly enough, it was the youngest child who spoke up one day. Six-year-old Sarah said, “We dream and we think, but we never actually do.” Everyone was gathered in their usual place, sharing thick slices of breads smothered in butter and jam. Today was one of the quiet days when everyone came, but didn’t really say much. They were more interested in their own dreams than what was going on around them. They were so eager to leave and all had certain places they wanted to go.
The eldest one, Catalina, was typing her latest article for The Wall Street Journal. Eleven-year-old Derek was in Africa, exploring the Dark Continent. Joey was wherever the American Soldiers were. He loved the idea of dying for his country.
Little Sarah herself was mentally absent. She was in Ireland. That is, until a little voice inside her asked her how she intended to get there. That made her think and return to reality. She realized she’d never get to Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter if she was trapped here her whole life. She looked around at the others and blurted out, “We dream and we think, but we never do.”
At that moment, nine children woke up and turned to the little girl.
“We dream of leaving this place all day and all night, but when will we actually pack our stuff and go? What’s stopping us?”
Catalina nodded, justifying what Sarah was getting at.
“There’s nothing stopping us but fear,” she said, “This town is strong, but we’re stronger.”
“We have no plan though,” he said, sadly.
“We leave tonight and travel until we get to a town. We stay there until we get directions to a destination everyone wants to go. We’ll travel the world. If we do it carefully, we’ll make it to where everyone wants to go,” Catalina said, feeling proud of herself.
Nine-year-old Brezlyn looked at Catalina, her sister.
“How long have you been waiting to say that?” she asked in awe.
“I’ve always thought about it.” She looked around. “I guess it’s the first time I actually said it out loud.”
“It’s a great plan,” Sarah said, congratulating her.
“I know!” Catalina said, putting a hand on her own collarbone. She rolled her eyes in a self-praising way.
The others sighed. Catalina was always showing off.
Brezlyn suddenly looked worried.
“Would our parents let us go?” she wondered out loud.
“Hell, no. My parents told me it’s way too dangerous,” twelve-year-old Tracy spoke up.
“She’s right,” Derek confirmed, “our parents won’t let us go.”
“See, that’s why we’re still here,” Sarah pointed out.
“We can’t always go by what our parents say,” Catalina added.
“Maybe we shouldn’t go. It might be dangerous,” she said, nervously.
“We can’t live in prison here forever,” Joey explained.
That changed Brezlyn’s mind
“I guess that means we’re leaving tonight and we should all go pack,” Derek said.
Sarah smiled, satisfied.
“I guess that means we’re dreaming and thinking and doing!” She smiled, happily.
The others concurred with her.
The sky transformed to a dark cloud that night, somewhat thicker than usual. It grew darker sooner and so the children crept out of their houses when the moon had risen high up in the sky, lighting things dimly like a small candle as midnight approached, several kids crept quietly from their homes, their childhoods being left behind and forgotten.
Within minutes, everyone had arrived and the group prepared for their journey. Each child was clothed in darkness. Each had a lightweight pack, which held only the necessities and valued items. All the children wore serious looks, assuring that adventure was not the sole motive to this abandonment of the previous lives they all led. These children wanted to get out of the prison that locked them out of the rest of the world. They wanted to see the rest of the world; they wanted to know everything about the world.
After checking each pack, Catalina motioned for the exit. And so, they headed off down the Dark Cliff trails. Each child took one last look at the Northern Stream Valley, the only place he had known his entire life.
Brezlyn and her last look was one different from the others. It was the only look of regret and uneasiness. She wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but she kept her opinion to herself. She did want to see the rest of the world, after all.
Deeper and deeper the children went into the woods. They had been walking for numerous hours and the sun was silently sneaking into the sky. Eventually, the children began to feel tired and one by one, they collapsed, unwilling to face any more movement. However, it wasn’t until thirteen-year-old Timothy suggested that they stop that they actually did pause.
They picnicked on juicy red berries, white bread with jam and fresh milk along a calm river that was not the Northern Stream. Seeing as how they’d never been outside of the Northern Stream Valley, they had no idea where they were or which way to go. Timothy was an excellent tree climber and scrambled up the nearest one he could to see if there was a sign of city anywhere. As the others ate and waited, the boy scanned the area, squinting his eyes anxious himself. Finally, he cried out in happiness that they were indeed near some city, which one he had no clue. He descended the tree and suggested he lead the way. Agreeing, the others finished their snack and started to leave.
They had to waddle across the river to get to the other side, but not even little Sarah was worried over that. One by one, each child crossed. As Sarah’s turn approached, there was an unnoticeable change in current. Sarah grew nervous and Timothy agreed to go across the river with her. The two started to shuffle across and were nearly to the other side when there was a sudden and noticeable change in the water’s movement. The water that had moving along calm and slowly was now moving quickly and roughly down the river. Before they could make it to the other bank, Timothy and little Sarah were swept away, screaming, down the river. As the others watched on, helplessly, their friends disappeared into nowhere.
The journey was postponed until Timothy and Sarah were located. The fact that the friends were divided up on either side of the river helped a little in their search and each group raced up and down the riverbanks of the watercourse, calling out the names of the lost friends. Seven hours had passed when Derek discovered Timothy, streaked in blood, walking toward them. He was carrying a dead child in his arms.
The Northern Stream Valley children found no choice besides burying the child. They debated for several hours whether they should go home and tell Sarah’s parents what had happened. They knew, however, that they would never get out of the Northern Stream if they did that. They knew that the outside world would never come to them; that they would have to go to it if they wanted to see its glory and fame. But, right now, they wanted comfort. They wanted protection. Would they go home to get it and risk losing the world?
After placing the girl in a hole dug by Derek and Joey dug on the bank closest to where she took her last breath in Timothy’s arms, the other children each placed a handful of sand over the body.
“We have to move on,” Catalina urged the others, who all wore uneasy looks.
Brezlyn spoke up in disagreement.
“We can’t lose anyone else,” she said, wiping away tears.
“This mission is turning out to be too dangerous. We should turn back while everyone is still alive.”
Catalina was mad.
“NO!” she screamed. The others looked up in alarm.
“There is a world out there,’ she told them, pointing in the same direction Timothy had when he climbed the tree. “And I do not want to miss out on it.”
She sat down on a rock and sighed.
“We know nothing about this stupid planet except names and stereotypes. We don’t know if New York is an exciting place to be or a slum area. We don’t know why Africa is called the Dark Continent or what we’d find there. We don’t know if the civil war is even over!”
Tracy spoke up.
“Is it worth risking to lose one of our friends over?” she asked Catalina, who shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I just don’t know.”
There was a time of silence until Derek spoke up.
“Why does this mean so much to you?” he asked, curiously.
Catalina looked at him through unsure eyes. She didn’t answer right away, as if she wasn’t sure he could fully understand her reason.
“My mother tried to get out,” she said, sadly.
“But, she’s the mayor’s wife! She can’t just pack up and leave!” Tracy interrupted Catalina, who shot her a glare.
“Sorry.” She shrugged her shoulders apologetically.
“Anyway, she wanted to join the Peace Cores. She’s such a nice, giving person that she wanted to give help to the world. She always took care of me when I was sick and she wanted to take care of everybody when they were sick.” She wiped more tears.
“No,” she said, “she met my dad and soon, she was stuck. I don’t hate my dad, but he trapped her. He knew what she wanted and he still trapped her here.” She sighed, deeply.
“I’m not going back there.” She finished her monologue and there was another short period of silence. This is was only broken by Tracy who swore, “I’m not going back, either.” Soon, the other children chimed in and they reached an agreement.
They would not go back to the Northern Stream Valley.
As they walked away from Sarah’s shallow grave, Catalina held back.
“We should promise her something,” she said.
“What?” the others wanted to know.
“We should come back when we’re all settled in our new home. We should give the burial she deserves.”
The others were only too willing to agree.
After walking for about fifteen more hours, the children took a long needed rest. They studied their surroundings and concluded that were near a city. After a little more walking, they noticed a figure in the distance. Cautiously, they advanced and it wasn’t long before the children were standing face to face with the stranger.
The figure examined the group of youngsters with extreme curiosity. He was a tall man, probably in his late twenties. He had short curly black hair that was almost as filthy as his clothing, dirty ripped jeans and an oversized green sweatshirt. His eyes were dark and dreary.
After some staring, the man spoke in his deep voice.
“Why are you children walking out here by yourselves?” he asked them.
Catalina replied, “We are traveling to the city, sir. Our parents are way in front of us and we must hurry to catch up with them.” She gulped softly, so the man could not hear her.
The others prayed he would trust her response.
“I saw nobody else,” he accused.
“They left early, perhaps, three or four hours ago.” Derek looked up at the man, bravely.
The man eyed him, but shrugged.
“All right, you must hurry,” he said, stepping away. “Walk quickly, these woods are not safe for children like you.” He tipped his head and continued walking.
Curious, Tracy called out to him.
“Sir, what year is it?”
The man paused and turned around.
“Why, it’s nineteen fifty four,” he answered, “and Cuba is soon going to be an equal state.” He stood, waiting, for another child to ask another question.
Obviously, if the kids didn’t know anything about Cuba, they wouldn’t know what the man was talking about. However, this was not a concern for the kids since the man still answered Tracy’s question.
“Do your parents know you children are traveling alone?” the man asked, questioningly.
At first, the Northern Stream Valley children did not know what to say. The truth was that their parents had no clue they had fled the town. If the man found this out, he would try to get them home before they could say “freedom.”
“Yes, they do, sir.” Catalina did her best to keep the truth inside her head.
“You know, I have a house not far from here,” the man told them, suggestively, “You children could wait there safely for your parents. I don’t want you to get lost…. or worse.”
Derek swallowed, nervously.
“What could possibly be worse?” he asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.
The man eyed him up and down.
“You’re too young to know,” he said.
There was a moment of silence before the man spoke again.
“Well, would you like to stay at my house?” the man inquired, a bit impatiently.
The children weren’t sure if they could trust this dirty-haired outsider. They shook their heads, politely, and the man went on his way.
Catalina watched his until he was a pinecone among the trees. She turned toward the others and sighed.
“He may have had maps to help us,” she realized, too late.
The others groaned.
“But we didn’t know him,” Brezlyn pointed out.
“That’s true,” Catalina replied.
The children walked on for hours, none of them saying a word.
That night, the children opted to keep going. The city was getting closer and closer and it wouldn’t take much longer to get there if they hurried. All the children were in a rush to get out the tainted woods and into the fresh clean city. After five and a half hours of pushing themselves to move on, they reached a clearing. The clearing started with a big, twirling road that led into the city. Too excited for words, the children felt like travelers in an unknown land as they skipped down the cement and tree branch covered road. Once they reached downstairs, they were too tired to explore. Settling in a nearby park, they rested on park benches or solid ground and dozed off.
The first to awaken was Derek. He opened his eyes and turned his head all which ways, flabbergasted by his alien surroundings. There are sky-high buildings with thousands upon thousands of tiny windows. The park is plastered in grass and trees and people, going out for a morning jog. There were several other benches besides the one he had been sleeping on and some playground equipment was stuffed into one section. He recognized swings; he had one on his favorite branch of his favorite tree in his front yard. The streets were packed with honking cars, a noise never heard back home, and he was surprised by the various types of car. Back home, the store was around the corner, so walking the usual form of transportation.
As he gazed around the world, the others began to stir.
“Look, look!” He pointed, excitedly.
The children walked around, investigating the city they would soon call their home. As they approached a street corner, Derek paused.
“Man, my stomach is growling!” he complained.
The others nodded. Some held their tummies. Catalina searched their moneybag and found a ten-dollar bill. She went over to a vender selling pretzels and bought a few. She also purchased three sodas to wash them down. After a delicious breakfast, the children set off to find a new temporary home. While they walked around the city, they gazed at the odd things around them; these were things they had never seen before. Derek pointed out cars to seven-year-old Liam, who couldn’t close his stunned mouth. They were in awe over the people hustling about on their way to work. Even Catalina couldn’t comprehend the concept of television. They passed a store with six television sets displayed in the window. The children spent twenty minutes staring at it. It was from the TV that they learned the date: July 12, 1985.
Brezlyn was the first to note this. She leaned in, real close to make sure her eyes were not playing tricks on her. Then, they widened like hard-boiled eggs.
“Guys, it’s 1985!” she shouted, in amazement.
The others were just as shocked as she was and showed it.
“Are you serious? We’ve missed out on everything!”
“What’s happening to the world now?”
“Now, we can find out,” she said, satisfied.
The others nodded.
They wandered around, aimlessly but not on purpose, until Liam felt a drop of water land with a splat on his head.
“Rain,” he said, flatly.
Tracy paused and waited. Before long, the rain came and it came fast. It poured from the sky as if it was being emptied from a bucket. The kids rushed to a bus stop for cover. They ducked inside and grasped each other for warmth.
“We can’t stay here,” Tracy said to Catalina, who nodded in a knowing and worried way.
“We have to find a place of our own,” she answered, stroking Liam’s soft chocolate colored hair.
The kids had no choice, but to stay in the tiny cubicle for hours following until the shower ceased. When it was finally over, they came out and continued to walk, afraid of asking anyone for directions to anywhere. It was when Liam started getting hungry again that they stopped for a snack at a newsstand. Liam picked up a Twix bar and clutched it tightly.
“I want this!” He curled his lip, desperately.
Catalina rolled her eyes and bought it for him. Then, a newspaper caught her eye. It was a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal. She took it in her hands and paid for it, without thinking. As the group wandered around, she studied the paper closely. She read the articles and the others heard her say “Wow!” and “How interesting!” quite often. It was when she got to the classified section that she stopped dead in her tracks.
“Hey,” she told the others, “check this out!” She showed her friends the page, eagerly.
“I can’t read yet,” he groaned, “What’s it say?”
“It’s a apartment,” she informed, “that we can buy with the money we have. There’s furniture already in it so we don’t have to buy any” She seemed excited.
“Of course, I’d have to get a job, “ she said, sensibly.
The others sighed. Sophie was the second oldest and she was fifteen. Even she wondered if she could be able to look over all nine, eight, children while Catalina was gone.
It took some more walking and talking, but it was decided that it Sophie would have to tough it up. Catalina, no doubt, would have to get a job to support the others, who in return would have to help in one way or another. After everyone agreed, the eldest child pointed to the apartment in the paper.
“Should we take it?” she asked the others.
“Yes!” they cheered.
They had begun a new part of their journey. They were going to experience Life for the very first time.
They arrived at their new home after asking many people for directions. They spoke with the landlord and were able to negotiate a price within their range. After having constantly to repeat “Yes, sir”, “I understand, sir” and “You bet, sir”, the Northern Stream Valley children had their first real home away from home.
After a week in their new apartment, the children discovered the post office and the concept of sending and giving mail. They opted to write to their families and assure them that they were all fine.
Well, Joey thought, nine of us are all right.
When it came time to sit down and write the letters, Catalina chose to write one to Sarah’s parents. She would lie in the letter and make it seem like their little girl was still alive. They were still close to the valley and could be tracked easily. If anyone found out where they were living, then the children would be found and brought back to their prison.
Despite everything they had been through, going back was not something they wanted to do.
I know you’re probably mad at me right now and you’ve a reason to be. You’ve got to know something, Mom, and that something is the reason why I left. No, the reason why we left. Yes, we’re here and we’re fine. In fact, we’re better than we’ve ever been. We’ve learned so much about the World, things that we didn’t know cooped up in a secluded town high up on a mountain. Did you know that civil war is over in America? Did you know that Cuba is a communist country? Do you even know what that means, Mom? It means that everyone is treated equally? They get paid the same and a man named Fidel Castro rules them. The music is different, too. Singers wear their hair in tons of various hairstyles and singing about things besides the war, which has been over for some time now.
Anyway, please forgive me, but I couldn’t live in a place where we know nothing about the rest of the world. None of us could stand it and so, we left. We arrived in the city in a number of days and we found an apartment. I hope she doesn’t know which city, Catalina prayed as she wrote.
I love you so much, Mom, but I love the world, too, and I need to discover the rest of it before I come home.
I’ll write again, soon, I promise, but until then, please don’t forget me!
She put her pen down and leaned back in the comfortable forest green armchair that was her favorite place to sit after a hard day of working at a clothing store. Even in a secluded area, she was a fashion expert and had quickly caught up on the latest trends and styles. She was wearing jeans and a tie-dye t-shirt. She looked around at the two others writing letters at that time, Joey and Tracy. It was nearly midnight and everyone else was asleep. Luckily, Catalina didn’t have to work the following day. She planned to sleep late and maybe read through the latest edition of The Wall Street Journal.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Hello, how are things in there? I’m great here. I found out that we’re somewhere in North Carolina. I love it here, though I miss you and the valley terribly. It’s the completely different from this huge city that we have made a home in. We have an apartment here and it’s got an armchair, a table that we all can eat at, two beds with two mattresses so we can separate them and make four beds. We have electricity and running hot water! Of course, Catalina went out a few days ago and now has a job at a clothing store. She’s been the glue that holds us together. We’d suffer without her.
We love our cozy little high-rise. We spend hours in front of the television set, which fills us in on what’s going on around the globe. There are so many things that we didn’t know! Did you know that there have been two more wars since the Civil War? We were involved in both of them and won both of them, too. The Second World War happened almost twenty years ago and it explains why you heard all those gunshots and saw all those helicopters flying overhead. I remember you told me that story so many times!
It’s really late, almost midnight, and I’m yawning more and more. I sing the soothing lullaby you sang to me, Mom, and it helps. I hope it helps you.
I love you both, but I have to see the world.
Joey let his head drop onto the table the children always gathered around and ate the food that Catalina would bring home. Sophie had done a fine job occupying the rest of the children and keeping them at ease for being alone while she was Catalina was working. She worked long hours with half hour breaks each day and was plumb worn out by the time she arrived home, sometimes late at night, when the children were all sleeping.
I am fine. Catalina suggested we all write letters to our parents, to assure them that we’re okay and I thought this was a good idea. I miss you so much, but sitting back and watching the world pass by is not something I want to do. I’m sorry.
Anyway, I am fine and so is Tracy. She’s been so scared lately about the world and worried that it’s a bad thing, but it’s not bad. At least, the part we’ve seen so far isn’t bad. Don’t worry, I’m protecting her, Mom, and soon, we’ll come home and be with you. We both miss you very much and feel awful about leaving you alone with baby Nicole.
Let me tell you about where we are. We’re in a city, a big one and we have a cozy little apartment that all of us are living in. We’re very lucky to have found a decent roof to have over our heads and although it’s not the most homely of all places to live, it’s serving us well. Catalina has landed a job and soon the older children will have them, so we could pitch in a little around. In a year or so, perhaps, we could have a nicer home than this and maybe we will return to the Northern Stream Valley.
I must go now. The kids have decided to pain the walls and using a bright red paint our good landlord has donated, we’re going to paint as many rooms in this small apartment as we can to make it more like home.
Love you all,
After Derek had finished, he went to the living area of the apartment to help the others. It was his idea to color the walls of the place red and he got that idea from when he was entering the building and saw the landlord painting the walls of the lobby. Okay, he knew that the red wasn’t the best of colors to use and nobody else favored it to rose red either, but it was better than the mucky brown that covered the walls now.
The painting took the kids several days and when Catalina was home and not too tired from her hard job, she would join in. After a few days, the job was done and the kids stood still, proud of the giant improvement they made on the apartment. True, it was still small and worn down, but it looked a lot better than it did the day they moved in.
A year later,
Time passed and soon it had been a year since the kids moved in. During that time, Catalina’s mother had tracked down where the kids were staying and had come for a visit, a permanent one.
On the one-year anniversary of Sarah’s death, the group held a memorial service and listened to a speech prepared by Brezlyn, who the group thought of as the best writer. They gathered at their two small dining room tables with soda glasses and appetizers in tact and listened.
“Look around you and think. How did we ever come this far? We left home in search of answers, all of which we have found. Besides our silly questions, we have uncovered a world which has amazed us in more good ways than bad, terrified us in ways we have become accustomed to, and thrilled us to the bone. Think of all the rough times and how we pulled together as a whole and surpassed them. Remember all the great times we shared and forget all the awful times where we wanted to go back and seek comfort in Hell. All those times we wanted to give up and go back to out normal lives, we couldn’t. No matter how bad it got, bear in mind how we knew we didn’t belong there.”
She started using her hands, which she had the tendency to do.
“When we left, I thought it was so weird that the youngest child in our group was the only one with enough sense to say aloud that we needed to leave. Sarah was the smartest one out of all of us, I’d say. She was outspoken, yet she always had something to add to the conversation. She was the sweetest girl you could ever meet.” Brezlyn paused to obliterate some tears that had developed in her eyes. “She will be missed, no doubt about it. She definitely was an inspiration to us all.” There was another pause. “She also succeeded in doing us the greatest favor of our lives. She taught us that it didn’t matter where we were. It mattered that we had each other. All around us are our few possessions and as much as they may mean to us, we have more important ones that are right under our noses. Most of the possessions we own have prices, low ones at that, on them, but these possessions are priceless. They are too precious to lose and it would not be in our best interest to risk losing them. Do you know what assets I am referring to?”
She waited for a response, but got pin-dropping silence as if the audience expected her to just blurt out the answer, anyway.
“They are us,” she told them. “We are a tribe, a cult, a group, whatever you want to call us.”
She paused a third time and smiled as she gazed over the crowd.
“The best thing we can own is our love for one another. We have been there for one another and we always will be because we are the Northern Stream Valley Children, a society that is to remain from this point forward in the midst of civilization.”