Kiah’s Soul-Shifting Journey 1: The Quadrant War
When my mother and brother died, my dad dropped me off at the orphanage. I didn’t want to be here, I withdrew—I spoke to no one . . . except Ryker. My feelings for Ryker are strong. I’ve tried not to love him—I lose everyone I love. Besides—how could anyone love someone with a secret as strange as mine? The orphanage is not what it seems. We have been raised to fight and die in the Quadrant War. They will be here soon to take us away. Ryker and his group of followers plan to rebel. Maybe—I can help—maybe with the use of my secret ability, Ryker and I can lead our New Freedom Force to fight against the overseer who has brought starvation, death, and destruction to our quadrant. Am I the chosen one—the one destined to bring peace to the quadrants? I don’t know. What I do know is that if we don’t act now, all hope will be lost . . . not just for us but also for the quadrant people—my people.
“Swim, Little Butterfly, swim,” I hear Toby gasp as he pushes me to the shore. When I can stand, I turn and see the ocean pull him under.
“Toby!” I scream. “Come back, please come back.”
We live in a time when most of the quadrant citizens die in the Quadrant War or starve to death. My twelve-year-old brother didn’t die in the war. He didn’t even starve to death—Toby died because I killed him.
When I was seven, I lived deep in the woods of the Southern Quadrant with my mom, dad, and brother, Toby. I guess life was hard, or at least that is what I had overheard my dad say to my mom. I didn’t notice that life was hard because that was the only way I had ever lived.
One hot, sticky morning, I followed Toby into the woods near our home. The recent rains had turned our path into a line of randomly placed puddles. Toby skillfully jumped over the puddles, but I purposely jumped in the middle of each one, squealing with laughter as mud splattered his backside.
He climbed our favorite tree, and I was right behind him like a shadow. I positioned myself on the branch beside him with my wet, muddy legs dangling. He had his slingshot and a pocketful of rocks for shooting rabbits which would scurry under our tree. I ducked my head as a squawking bird flew out of a nest from the branch above us. “She’s telling us that we are disturbing her home.” Toby watched the bird flying nervously back and forth from her nest to another tree.
I watched Toby take aim with his slingshot and shoot at a rabbit, but he missed. “I’m hungry,” I said.
Toby looked at me and tousled my hair. He reached into his other pocket and pulled out a piece of dried beef. “Here, I didn’t eat this last night, so you can have it.”
I looked at the dried beef in his hand and then back at him. I shook my head. “Mom’ll be mad.” Mom always got mad when we didn’t eat. She said there was so little food that we had to eat our portion just to stay alive.
“We won’t tell her.”
“You mean, like a secret?”
“Yes, like a secret, Little Butterfly. Now, take the dried beef.”
I took the dried beef and shoved it into my mouth. “Why is life hard, Toby?”
“What do you mean? How is life hard?”
“I don’t know. I heard Mom and Dad talking in their room and Dad said that life is hard. I just want to know why.”
Toby eyed me suspiciously. “Kiah, you can’t hear anything in Mom and Dad’s room from your room.” I chewed on my bottom lip and avoided looking at him. I knew he was going to scold me for eavesdropping on Mom and Dad. I didn’t meet his gaze, but I knew he was still eyeing me. “Kiah, were you eavesdropping while you were butterfly-dreaming?”
I guess there is probably another name for the weird thing I do, but butterfly-dreaming is what Toby had called it when I told him I could float like a butterfly. I’m not sure why, but when I am asleep, I can leave my body and float around to different places in our house. I think I could go farther than my house, but I am always afraid to go too far or to be gone too long. When I come back to my body, I feel like my soul is connected to my body with a long rubber band. When I focus on my body, the rubber band snaps my soul back to my body. I always hear a popping sound when I come back; and the longer I am gone, the louder the popping.
Toby had explained to me that my soul is an invisible part of me that feels—the part of me that makes me love and sometimes hate. He had said that my soul lives in my body and that someday my body will die, but my soul will live forever.
“Kiah! Were you in Mom and Dad’s room while you were butterfly-dreaming?” He crossed his arms like Mom does when I am in trouble.
I was still chewing my lip and avoiding his eyes. “Yes,” I mumbled.
“Little Butterfly, you can’t go into their room and spy on them. What if Dad would’ve been—”
“Naked?” I giggled, and covered my face.
“Kiah, you didn’t . . . he wasn’t . . .” Toby stammered.
I laughed harder. “No! He wasn’t, but I would have closed my eyes.” Toby grabbed my arm so that I wouldn’t fall out of the tree from laughing so hard.
Suddenly, I got serious again. “You didn’t tell Mom and Dad that I can butterfly-dream, did you?”
“If they know about butterfly-dreaming, they didn’t hear it from me . . . but why do you ask?”
“Why do they call me Little Butterfly too? You started calling me that after I told you about butterfly-dreaming, but now, they call me Little Butterfly.”
“They probably think you’re flutter-brained, like a butterfly.” He tousled my hair again.
Toby was my best and only friend. We lived deep in the woods away from any other families. I had never played with any other kids. I seldom saw anyone except my family. Sometimes, men in uniforms would come and talk to my dad. He would always give them an envelope. After the uniformed men would leave, my dad would storm off into the woods, and Mom would go to her room and cry.
One warm Sunday morning, Mom woke me up early. “C’mon, Little Butterfly, we have a big day planned.” Occasionally, if Mom could convince Dad to go, we would travel a few miles to the ocean in Dad’s old truck. The ocean was located on the southern border of our quadrant. We would picnic, play on the beach, and hunt for seashells.
That day was one of those days when my mom was able to convince my dad to go. We ate a lunch of dried beef, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Toby and I were looking for seashells while Mom and Dad napped in the shade of a large tree. “C’mon, Kiah,” Toby urged me to keep up with him.
I was playing in the sand, digging my bare toes into the moist white grit. “Make me.” Stubbornly, I stuck my tongue out at him. When I looked to see if he was coming back, something in the water drew my attention. I don’t know why, but I walked straight to the water and waded up to my knees. Suddenly, the ocean just reached up, grabbed me, and sucked me under. I screamed as I clawed at the water, trying to get away. I was pulled deeper. My mouth and throat filled with saltwater making my chest feel like it was going to explode. My nose burned. Then, I felt Toby’s hands around my waist.
“Swim, Little Butterfly, swim.” I heard him gasp. I felt his hands push me toward the shore. When I was able to stand, I choked on the saltwater. As I coughed it up, I turned around to see Toby being sucked under the raging water. “I love you, Little Butterfly,” he mouthed, just before he disappeared completely. I screamed and screamed.
The hours following Toby’s death are blurry fragments of time imprinted in my memory, like a book with missing pages. I don’t remember getting home, but I remember Dad taking me to my room and telling me that he had to take care of Mom and that I had to be a good girl and stay in my room for a while. I remember thinking that they just didn’t want to be around me because I killed Toby.
Later that night I cried myself to sleep. I was determined to go to my unseen world and never return to this one. A flickering candle on my nightstand made frightening shadows in the darkness of my room. My body was asleep on my small bed, but I was butterfly-dreaming. I had floated out of my body in the same way that I had always done, but until that day, when I would butterfly-dream, I had always wanted to come back. I had even been a little afraid not to hurry back. But, because Toby died, I wanted to go to my unseen world and never come back. Toby was dead and I was the one who killed him.
I had been butterfly dreaming for two days when my mother entered my bedroom and positioned herself beside my sleeping body. She touched my long hair and smoothed it away from my face. Her eyes were swollen and red. I knew she had been crying, and I was sure it was because I killed my brother. I floated to the top of my dresser and watched her.
“Hey, Little Butterfly-Dreamer, it’s time to come back,” she whispered. I looked at her, trying to figure out how she knew I was gone. The only person I had told about floating out of my body was Toby, and I was sure he hadn’t told Mom.
“It’s not your fault, Kiah, he died because it was his time to go. He chose to save you because he knew that you are destined to change the world.” I didn’t know what she meant by that, but I was surprised when she looked right at me. “Kiah, if you don’t come back soon, you won’t be able to come back. Then, Toby will have died for nothing.”
I floated to the other side of the room, and she followed me with her eyes. I guess my seven-year-old curiosity was what brought me back. I focused and popped back into my body. That time, the popping sound startled me because the sound was louder than any other time.
I sat up in my bed. “How did you know where I was? How did you see me?”
“I’m your mother, Kiah, I will always see you.” She hugged me tight in her arms. Then, she held me by my shoulders at arm’s length and scolded me. “Kiah, you must never be gone for more than three days. At the end of three days, your body will die, and you will be lost forever. Promise me, Kiah!” The look in her eyes scared me, and I promised.
After Toby’s death, my mom tried to act like things were normal. If I was in the room, she forced herself to smile, and sometimes she would sing a little tune that she thought I wanted to hear. I knew she was sad because she cried a lot. I seldom ever saw my dad. Mom would say he was working late for Mr. Gray, but I thought he just didn’t want to be around me.
I was sad too. I missed Toby so much that my heart hurt. I guess that was what Toby meant by my soul, the part of me that makes me feel. My body was okay, but my soul was crying. I spent a lot of time in Toby’s room. If I was not in his room, I was in our tree. I would try to remember everything he had ever said to me. I was afraid that I would forget what he looked like, so I made a list. Everyday, I would squeeze my eyes shut and describe everything about him. “He has light-brown curly hair, brown eyes, a round nose, and little dimples on each cheek.” I repeated my list every day. Before I got up one morning, I was going through my list, and I forgot to say “dimples.” When I realized that I had forgotten his dimples, I ran to his room and cried. Times were sad but life went on.
About two-and-a-half months after Toby died, my dad came into my room. “Little One, your mother isn’t feeling well, so don’t bother her, okay?”
I agreed, and he gave me a hug. Later that afternoon, I peeked into her room, and she was sleeping soundly. Dad had fixed fried rabbit and vegetables for my dinner. “Do you want me to take some to Mom?”
He looked at me sadly. “She is sleeping, Little One, she’s not hungry.”
The next day, when I peeked into her room, she was still sleeping. I made a coughing noise in hopes that she would open her eyes, but she didn’t.
Then, the following morning, as I was waking up, Dad walked into my room. From the look on his face, I knew that something was wrong. “She is gone, Kiah—your mother is gone.”
Why do adults say that? Why do they say someone is “gone” when someone dies? My mom wasn’t gone. She was dead. If she was gone, she could come back, but she was dead, and she would never come back.
My soul was hurting again. No, it was still hurting from losing Toby. Now, my soul was hurting even more.
Two weeks after Mom died, Dad and I were sitting at the table. He had been home with me since that day. I looked at my food, but I wasn’t sure what it was. It looked like some kind of grainy-stuff, cooked in water. It was thick and gritty. “I don’t want this.” I stared at my plate with a disgusted look on my face.
“It’s all we have, Kiah. I have to start back to work, or we won’t have any food.” Dad ran his hand through his hair. “I can’t leave you alone, so you will have to come with me.”
I was still moving the grainy stuff around on my plate. “I can stay by myself. It’s not like you’re really here, anyway.” I looked at him hoping to get some sort of reaction from him. Any kind of reaction would have been better than the silence that I had lived with for the last two weeks.
All he did was slide his chair away from the table and walk to the door. “You need to be up and ready to go by seven in the morning. I told Mr. Gray that I would be back to work tomorrow, and I’m not leaving you alone.” He walked out of the room, and I was left in silence.
The next morning, my dad and I were in Mr. Gray’s barn. Dad was under an old tractor, working on the engine. I was bored, so I climbed up to the loft. A narrow board, about as wide as my foot, had been placed from one side of the loft to the front of the barn. The dirt floor of the barn was about eight feet below me. Checking my balance, I stepped onto the board. I took three steps forward, then slowly turned around and went back. Then, I took four steps, turned around, and went back. I did this several times, until I was halfway across. Just as I decided to walk the full way, Mr. Gray walked into the barn and noticed me. “Paul!” he shouted. Needless to say, he scared me to death. I lost my footing and fell, but I grabbed the board with my hands. I hung for a few seconds, until my heart stopped pounding. I pulled myself up and straddled the board.
What I did next was unforgivable, in my dad’s eyes. I looked down at the gray-haired, old man. “Are you stupid or what? You could’ve killed me!”
My dad was no longer under the tractor. “Kiah, get down here right now!” I knew I was in trouble, so I shimmied across the board on my seat.
I heard Mr. Gray curse at my dad as I came down from the loft. Just as I got in front of my dad and Mr. Gray, I heard him say, “Get this . . . this—”
“Kid?” I looked at him with my arms crossed and my foot tapping on the ground.
Mr. Gray was panting and puffing like he was going to have a heart attack. “Get her out of here, Paul, and don’t come back!” His face turned red with anger.
As if I hadn’t heard enough yelling to last forever, my dad yelled at me all the way home. “I’m ashamed of you, Kiah,” he repeated over and over.
When we got home, I went to Toby’s room and decided that I liked the silence better than the yelling. For the next five years, I mostly lived in silence. My dad hunted wild game for food and did odd jobs for a small wage. He continued putting the money that he earned in an envelope, which he would give to the uniformed men who came each month.
I’m not saying that we never talked, but we never talked about anything important. Dad would ask a question, and I would answer. I would ask a question, and he would answer.
Occasionally, I butterfly-dreamed, mostly just to pass the time, but without having Toby to talk to about my experience, it wasn’t as much fun. I tried to talk to Dad about butterfly-dreaming, but he freaked out and said that he didn’t want to hear about that kind of nonsense.
The night of my eleventh birthday, I lay on my bed and cried. Dad didn’t even remember my birthday, or if he did, he didn’t mention it. I was surrounded by the darkness of my room, and then I heard her voice. “It’ll be okay, Little Butterfly.”
I sat up in bed. “Mom!” I whispered, but she was not there. I ran to Toby’s room and pulled his blanket over my head. After that happened several more times, I decided to stay in Toby’s room. I never went to my room after dark, again.
One cold, winter morning when I woke up, Dad was talking to a trooper in our front yard. When he came back inside, he said that he would be taking me to the orphanage and that he would be fighting in the Quadrant War. “The trooper promised that they would take good care of you.” I turned away from him and began to cry. “They will give you plenty of food, warm clothes, and a warm bed to sleep in every night. You’ll go to school and make friends.” His words were like a knife in my heart.
The night before Dad took me to the orphanage, he came into Toby’s room. His voice was low and shaky. I could barely hear him. “I don’t want to leave you, Little One.” I was angry and didn’t want to talk to him, so I kept my eyes closed and pretended that I was asleep. “This is the only way I can keep you safe and away from all that nonsense. Just know that I love you, Little One.” He kissed my cheek and left the room.
I sat up and stared at the door as I tried to make sense of what he had said. What “nonsense” was he talking about? All I could think about was that very soon I would be alone, with no one to love me. I buried my head in my pillow and cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, my dad drove me to the orphanage, and my life as an orphan began.