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A light fog descended upon Aversano following the setting sun. On better days, Asher could be found tracing the celestial giant’s path to its lodging beneath the horizon, but not so today. It had been a full week since the incident at the Education Facility, but Asher still felt a shiver crawl up his spine whenever the sun began to set.

He sat alone in his bedroom, staring through the window into the fog like he had for the past few days. Jordan hadn’t spoken to him, but that was understandable. The older boy had a life; he had other friends and responsibilities to take care of. Even so, Asher wished he were here. Jordan possessed strength and courage that Asher could only dream of having for himself. It was the calm in his friend’s eyes as they walked home that assuaged Asher’s fear. Now, as he sat on his small bed in his small attic bedroom, he wished Jordan could help him understand.

“Dinner is ready!”

The voice of his mother, irritated as though she had called him a dozen times already, called from below. Asher sighed and slid onto the ground. His mother spent most of the day working with customers down at the market that were less than cooperative. When she returned home in the afternoons, some of that negativity rubbed off onto her. That, and the fact that she was pregnant, meant she could be rather mean at times.

“One would think that these townsfolk wouldn’t be so cheap,” she had complained one evening after a troubling incident with a carton of eggs. “We are exposed to the Words of Life nearly all hours of the day. One would think that it would rub off onto them.”

“Well, make sure you keep showing them love,” his father had replied. “Don’t repay them with what they have given you. You will be surprised by how far that gets you.”

Of course, they raised their voices while speaking to each other many times in the past month, repaying each other for the rude words spoken during those arguments. And they spent many more times engaged in less than calm, never-ending discussion about what was said, or what was meant to be said, and how one should not do this, but so does the other and on and on and on.

Asher knew it was not easy for his parents, and he didn’t expect them to get along all the time. He just wished they could bring the love they showed to the outside world into their home.

That was why this new child bothered him. The way his mother spent hours rubbing her bulging belly, speaking to the child about how much she loved him, while shouting at Asher about how lazy he was and how he needed to work harder disturbed him. Was there something wrong with him that they could not find it in their hearts to treat him well?

Granted, they provided him with a lot, but he was no longer satisfied with what little they had to offer.

He climbed down the wooden ladder from the attic and into the kitchen. Both parents were seated at the table, awaiting his presence. Asher smiled nervously and settled into one of the wicker chairs his father had fashioned earlier this year.

“Asher, will you say the blessings for our food?”

He closed his eyes and mumbled a few words about the Giver of Life and his wonderful provisions. He immediately began to eat, not looking at his parents.

“Mr. Timothy told us that you weren’t in class last week.”

“That is correct.”

His father picked up a fork and began to eat.

“Where did you go, Asher?”

“I went to Tarkine Falls,” he lied. “I was tired.”

“Well. Next time, tell us before you go running off.”

“What is the Hill Country like, Father?”

His parents exchanged glances. He knew he had caught them off guard. They didn’t like to talk about the Hill Country, but he wanted to know what they knew about it.

“Asher, the Hill Country is in the past. We don’t like to dwell on the past.” His mother filled her wooden cup with some water and took a drink. “There’s nothing we can tell you that you don’t already know.”

“But you lived there, Mother. The only thing we know about the Hill Country is what they tell us in books, and it isn’t much.”

“Asher,” his father said, setting down his fork. “The Hill Country is exactly as they say in the books. It is a violent land—”

“Filled with oppression and endless destruction. All who live there are bound to the chains of self and live in constant fear,” he finished, reciting the axiom that every child is forced to learn before they turn five years old. “But you have to know more than that, Father. You chose to leave it behind. Why did you make that choice?”

“Asher, we will not speak of this any further.” Picking up the fork he had set down, his father resumed his meal.

“Why did you make that choice?” Asher persisted.

His father faced him angrily.

“I said, we will not speak of this any further. If you cannot respect my authority, then you can go upstairs without finishing your dinner.”

Asher stood up. “I’m not hungry.” He pushed open the front door and slipped outside, ignoring the shouts of his mother to come back inside.

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