Exodus Stories

Strange Light

The stories told of the first-woman and first-man who descended from the stars in a ball of fire. With them, they carried the seeds for every plant and every animal of the land and sea. They walked their new world enjoying what they had created for a thousand seasons. The woman became pregnant and her belly grew and grew until with a sigh of relief she burst open. From her womb came the first tribe of Ohm, the Tolome. The people celebrated her sacrifice and used the gifts that she and the man had given them. The first-man, in his grief, became a fragment of his former self, the shadow-man. Everywhere he looked he could see the things he had made with the first-woman, and he despaired. Though ages passed, his sorrow never abated, and the tears he shed for his lost love filled the rivers and streams, and the land was quenched. Until one day, he came upon a child lost in the wilderness, and he gifted the child with The Path, so neither he nor his descendants would ever become lost again. For many generations the Tolome walked through forests with trees that touched the sky, and ran through green pastures that disappeared over the edge of the world. They led their cows to streams that were infinite in their source. Every night they told stories by firelight of the people in the stars. Every point of light in the night sky was another campfire where more stories were being told. And then… Well, there was more to the story but Muti could never remember how the next part went.

This was his land, and his family’s land, though his ancestors would not recognize it now. He could remember the sky from his childhood, and what grass had felt like. He could remember leading his family’s cattle to churning streams. What had seemed normal then now felt like a lost paradise. In his fifteenth year, just as he was to become a man, the droughts began. The soil grew hard and shriveled like a dry sponge. The streams grew thinner and thinner, as if they were a man starving. One day, they stopped completely. The cloudy water sat in the stream beds in puddles. They brought jugs and collected as much of it as they could, but the little they had left behind now felt like a foolish waste to Muti. After the streams went dry, the wind changed directions and a blanket of ash and smoke settled over the valley. In a matter of minutes the open sky was gone, and Muti was not sure if he had ever seen the color blue again since that day. Some green plants that were adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert still grew, but the vibrancy of that color had faded. Washed over by the red and orange that now soaked everything, like a dye for cloth that had spilled onto the whole world.

Many members of his tribe had perished or fled, their numbers were a fraction of what they had once been, but those that remained labored to scratch out a meager existence on a land that seemed determined to suffocate them. Water became more precious than any jewel, and at night thirst chased them into their dreams. Every night Muti would dream of being submerged in flowing, crystal clear water, and he would dream of carrying home waterskins full to bursting to his family.

Then, the Allies came in trucks at night, headlights shining through the ash like the eyes of demons. Women in blue vests and shining yellow helmets (how striking those colors were to behold!) gathered the women of the village together in the center of the village. They beseeched them to consider the health of their children. They told them that they would take them and the children somewhere safe. The women of the village thanked God for sending their deliverance, but then they realized that their husbands could not come with them. The Allies explained that, unfortunately, the camp for men had not been completed yet, but they would all be reunited at a later date. The women of the village said they would have to speak with their husbands. “They mean ask permission,” Muti remembered overhearing one of the Allies tell another, not realizing that Muti could understand their language, “they’re brainwashed by patriarchal savagery.”

Muti could understand the words but he was not sure what they meant. The women of the village continued to argue with the Allies, much to the vested women’s growing frustration. Then a man dressed like a soldier, with a large gun strapped to his chest stepped forward. He held a piece of paper out in the air as if he needed another source of authority besides the gun.

“This is a governmental order signed by all forty-eight congressional members of the Alliance. We have been charged with the task of taking all children and willing women to the camp at Prantonow. For you to complain and argue in the face of such a gift is a slap in the face to the people who have dedicated their lives to saving you. For you to continue to sequester your children in these conditions has been categorized as a form of child abuse. There is no place for the men at this time. The women can voluntarily stay behind if they want, but we aren’t leaving without those kids.”

The night grew still. He continued.

“Now take a few moments to collect your things. In five minutes, we are getting on those trucks and driving away from this wasteland. Once you see your new home you will be thanking us every day as you watch your children grow up healthy and strong.”

His wife, Corelli, came and found him. She had this crazed look in her eye like they were playing some sort of game. “I’m not leaving without you,” she said, hands gripping his arm. Luckily, their hut was on the edge of the village and they were able to collect a few possessions and escape into the night with their young son Adam, who was only four at the time. Shots rang out behind them in the distance, the flashes cut through the smog like lightning. The next morning when they returned to the village to salvage a few remaining items, they found the bodies of Donden and Mi, their neighbors and friends. They had been shot in the back as they fled the village just as Muti had done with his family. The young couple’s two daughters were nowhere to be found.

From that point on, Muti kept his family hidden while he went out to scavenge. Partially, out of concern for the savage men who roamed this lawless land, but mainly to hide from the Allies who still swept the desert looking for children to “save”.

They moved from cave to cave, using each as a base camp so he could explore the area. After his last cow died, food also became an issue. To be more precise, the money to buy food became an issue. That had been years ago now. Since then, he had become adept at foraging the desert wasteland. Following the signs in the sand that led him to clusters of vegetation; some of which were edible. The rule was, if it looked appetizing it would probably kill you, if it was covered in razor sharp barbs it was probably safe to eat (once the barbs were removed).

For the first few years he had been able to find ways to harvest water. It was still possible to locate small springs at that time, as well as water saturated soil that he would manage to squeeze a few drops from. Then, he had to move on to animal scat which, if found fresh enough, would typically contain a few drops of water that he could filter (though it still tasted like shit). But the animals that had provided the most abundant scat had died or moved on in his family’s first years of hiding. Now, their primary source of water was privately owned wells that he was forced to steal from. They would have happily sold water to him, and he would happily have paid for it, if he had any money. Some may have been generous if they had known that he had a family he was keeping alive, but letting anyone know that they hid in the desert would place them at serious risk. Not the risks that they already endured at the hands of this wasteland, but a more nefarious risk at the hands of other people.

God bless his family. Their perseverance was his inspiration.

He could see the small cave ahead coming through the gloom that was the most recent haven for his family. The metros, as they called the people who came from the great cities to the west, were fascinated by his people’s ability to find their way in this open landscape. He was confused by their questions.

“Can you not feel it?” Muti had asked.

“Feel what?”

He left it at that. Words doing what they usually did, obscuring the path instead of revealing it, like the smoke and ash that blotted out the horizon. Though, it did make him wonder. The Path bound his people together. It was something he and all the Tolome could feel, like the wind against their skin, but it did not come from without, it came from within. When he figured out a direction he wanted to go, the path became clear to him. There was nothing more to it. No mystery, just truth. Maybe, it was something the metros had lost, crammed together in their cities the way they were.

As he approached the cave, he saw a shimmering light coming through the gloom behind him. For a moment he was sure they had been found, but then he spotted its source lifting from the horizon, like a new sun bursting with light. It was another one of those rockets they were always launching. If that place is so great, why are they always leaving? he thought. He heard his daughter crying from inside the cave. He turned and stepped inside. His son Adam greeted him excitedly, but Corelli’s face was downcast to their infant daughter, Emile. Eyes filled with concern. He knelt next to her and gently raised her face to look at him. He swore she was just as beautiful as the day he met her. Her whole being was like some other kind of water that quenched his thirsty soul. At night in his dreams he would see her floating naked in water as clear as the sky he had once known.

“She’s barely eaten at all today, and she spit up what she has.” She said, “She cried all through her nap, the same as she did yesterday. I don’t think she has slept in almost three days, Gon.” Gon was her pet name for him. It meant ‘Tree’ or ‘straight like a tree.’ It was her teasing way of calling him boring. Muti pulled the blanket back from his young daughter and was struck by the yellowing tint of her skin. His sweet Emile.

“And your hand?” He reached and lifted her hand to examine it. It was swollen and red. Days before she had tripped and cut open her hand on a sharp piece of stone.


“It’s fine, but Emile needs a doctor, Gon.” She was always this way when she was distressed, completely unaware of her own suffering or her own needs. “She’s sick because of me Gon… We have to help her, if she…”

He put his hand to her cheek and steeled himself. “We will go tonight.”

She reached up and touched the angular features of his jaw, eyes flooded with gratitude. He could tell that she had been expecting to have to argue with him. She passed Emile to him, picked up a small wooden bowl and drew a small amount of milk from her swollen breasts. She handed him the bowl and he sipped it down slowly. The water was too precious for him to drink much of. Only half a gallon remained for his nursing wife and growing son. His wife’s body was strong enough to produce more milk than their young daughter could drink, which left excess water and calories that they could not waste. If they were down to only a few last cups, Adam would also subsist on small amounts of breast milk, which he would do without complaint, leaving the last of the water for his nursing mother.

It was after nightfall when they stepped out of the cave. The city glistened through the haze like the embers of God’s campfire on the horizon. They would head towards the lights, though none of them needed it for guidance. All of them could feel the path. This brought Muti immense pride, like they were the last holders of the mark of his people.

Are we the last?

Adam had seen the rockets launch many times, and Muti had made the mistake of telling him what he had heard about the Sleepers, the people who were stacked onto those massive ships and pushed out into the celestial sea while they slept. He was told they could lose their minds, forget who they were. Only rumors spread at an outpost in the middle of nowhere.

“Would you ever forget me, Dad?”


“Could I ever forget you?”

Muti considered for a moment.

“Could you ever lose the path?” His young son shook his head. “Then you will always know who you are, and you will always know where to find me.”

His son seemed satisfied, but in reality, Muti was not sure. Could someone forget their own life? Would they still feel the path if their feet were not on the lands of their ancestors? With people flying away into a place beyond; he felt lost. Disoriented. Was there something inside of him that made him immutably himself? Something that could never be taken from him?

He was not a philosopher, nor a holy man. He would have to leave such speculations to them.

They had been walking for a few hours when his wife started to lag behind. When he asked how she felt, she said she was fine, frustration in her voice. He asked if he could carry their daughter, but she said, “no, I have her.” His mother, before he married Corelli, had said she was ‘stubborn.’ He supposed that was one way to put it, but Muti only saw a strength and perseverance that filled his heart with love for his wife. Four years of wandering the desert, emaciated from hunger and thirst, and every night by the fire she would still make him laugh.

Within the next mile she said, “Muti,” softly.

She collapsed into his arms and he handed Emile to young Adam. He reached into his satchel and produced a crackstick, a precious item that he only used in emergencies. He cracked it and the slime-green light illuminated his wife’s ashen face. Her lips had gone pale, and her eyes seemed vacant. His heart began to beat faster. Those eyes had always been as sharp as a knife, to see them so dull filled him with dread.

He laid her softly onto the ground and then he turned to help Adam swaddle Emile.

“You will have to look after your Sister, Adam. Try and keep her face covered when the wind gusts, but not too much okay? Can you do that for me?”

Adam nodded, eager for the responsibility. Good boy.

He then lifted his limp wife from the ground and carried her, arms extended out in front of him. He realized, though, that he would not be able to make it to the outpost carrying her this way. He apologized to her for the indignity (a man should be able to carry his wife), and then he slung her across his shoulders and trudged on. He and Adam walked in silence, his senses shifted away from sight, useless in the darkness. A new wall of ash had obscured the lights of the city. His mind began to wander as exhaustion set in, hypnotized by the soft crunch of his and his son’s footsteps. Though his wife was skeletally thin from their past years of survival, he had also lost any of the meager musculature he once had. His shriveled muscles trembled and throbbed. He was choking down gasping breaths, ash and all, into his burning lungs. The edges of his vision filled with a sickening white. In the distance he thought he could hear a voice coming with wind, the shadow-man who had cried all of his tears long ago, he supposed.

Every ten steps he took, he thought, “Just ten more steps,” then those ten would pass and he would tell himself again, “Just ten more steps.”

He lost track of time, and he even wondered if he was still following the path. He wasn’t sure he could feel it, he wasn’t sure he could feel anything anymore.

“Adam, the path, can you feel it?”

“I can feel it, Father.”

“Good boy.”

They walked for what felt like an eternity more until he stumbled over a rock in the darkness and, unable to maintain his balance through his exhaustion, he toppled to the ground trying his best to twist and land his wife’s small frame onto his.

“Adam,” he panted. He could sense his son’s fear as he stood over his parents sprawled in the dirt. “Take a moment, we must lay down to rest.”

Adam sat, still cradling his sister and cooing to her softly. He would make a good Father one day, thought Muti. He would have a big family, with many strong sons and daughters. He could feel it.

After he had caught his breath, he took the small water bottle from his satchel. After taking a small swig, he passed it to Adam, who did the same. He then dunked the corner of a piece of cloth into the water and handed it to Adam for Emile to suckle. Then, cradling Corelli’s head, he poured small amounts of water into her open mouth. She coughed, but drank it down hungrily. She opened her eyes and looked up into his. She smiled at him; seemingly content, half-asleep, as he had seen her thousands of times. He stroked her cheek.

“Father…” He looked at Adam who was glowing, lit from above by a strange light. Muti looked up and gasped. Above them, a hole had opened in the gloom. He could see the stars. They were still shining there. They had not gone out. They had been waiting for him since he was a boy.

“What is it Father?”

“That’s the sky.”

“Where the rockets go?”

“Yes, where the rockets go.”

They watched for a moment until the gloom remembered its oppressive habits and closed the window to the open air above. He stood up on shaking legs. He bent down to lift his wife who had lost consciousness again. He tried to lift her, but toppled over in exhaustion. He tried again, but he had become too weak and could not get her onto his shoulder again.

You fool, you never should have stopped, he chastised himself. He felt overwhelming disappointment and shame at his weakness.

“Adam, give me your sister.” He took the infant in his arms, “Listen to me my Son. Can you feel the path?” Adam nodded. “You can feel the path even now?”

“Yes, Father.”

“You must find the outpost. It is only a few miles, can you feel it?”

“Yes. I can feel it.”

“Go there, you must tell them we are here. You must bring them to come and find us. Can you do that?”

For a moment he looked scared, but then he found his courage. “I’ll bring them here.”

“Good boy. Take the water bottle. Drink only when you must. If you feel the path begin to fade, take courage. Calm your heart and listen. It will come to you again.”

“What if you forget me?”

“I will never forget you Adam. Now go.”

His Son, not even two digits old, set off into the darkness. He had to smother his instinct to run after his son, to protect him. I can’t protect him forever.

He spread out the blanket that swaddled his daughter and he spread it over Corelli. He then laid down next to her and placed Emile between them. Sleep was pulling him downward and he tried his best to resist. But he must have been sleeping because in his dreams a man, cloaked in shadows, came through the gloom and stood over them. He felt too weak to move, but the man stood there, watching them sleep.

To love, without possessing or controlling. A voice like the swirling dust whispered to Muti. I knew what sacrifice she had to make and why, yet I still could not release her. Who is at the center of your love? Is it them or is it you? Is it all because you are afraid to be alone? Can you let go or must you possess?

The ground rumbled and the shadow-man drifted away into the night. Blinding lights washed over them.

Muti slept restlessly through the chaotic motion and rumbling. Normally he felt uncomfortable when riding on one of these metal beasts, but he was too exhausted to care about such things now. There were voices around him, and he could make out Adam’s voice from the group. He had saved them.

At one point he awoke to ask where his wife and daughter were, and fingers pointed to a pile of blankets up near the cab of the truck. They were close by at the very least, but he was still worried.

Once they made it to the outpost, all four of them were taken inside for medical care. They were severely dehydrated and Muti drifted in and out of consciousness while people in strange clothes poked up and down his arms looking for a vein to run the IV. Eventually, they found a decent vein on his foot and started the drip.

He was feeling significantly better the next day, as was Adam who had taken all of the night’s trials in stride. The people in the blue vests came into the tent. He certainly expected to see these people from that night years ago, but he had hoped that it would be anybody else. But who else would come to help people in a place like this? Though he was skeptical of them, he was grateful for what they had done for him and his family.

A woman who said she was a doctor, though she wore the same blue vest and yellow helmet, told him that Corelli and Emilie were very ill. They were dehydrated but they also had an infection that had put both of them in significant danger.

“What can I do?” He asked, body restored to continue his singular purpose of protecting his family.

“There is nothing we can do here, they will need significant medical attention with resources that are not available to us here. There is a camp where we will take them. There is water and food there. Your wife and children will be safe.”

“How fast can we get there?”

“It is an eight hour drive, and given your wife and daughter’s condition we need to leave immediately.”

It was all happening so quickly, but he had no other options. He helped them carry his wife on a stretcher to the truck and Adam carried his sister and handed her up to an Ally. Muti then gave his son a boost into the truck bed. He gripped the edge of the truck to climb in himself.

“Sir, what are you doing?” Said the Doctor from the truck bed.

“We’re going to the camps.”

“The camps are for women and children only. The camp for men is under construction and we hope to have it completed soon. You will have to wait until then.”

“But that’s my family, I’m not leaving them!”

“Sir, it’s as I said…”

“I don’t care what you say, I’m coming.”

The vested women looked at him with immense disdain, as if he was causing her a significant inconvenience. “Stop the truck!” She called, and the truck turned off.

The silence of the desert returned. “Now, listen.” She sat down on the edge of the truck as if she was explaining something to a child. “We want to help your family, we really do, but YOU. CAN. NOT. COME. WITH. US. Now, if you do not comply we can leave them here. We will load everybody out and we will be on our merry way. But by tomorrow the infection will have entered your wife and daughters bloodstream, at which point they will suffer a slow and painful death. You can do that, it is your right. We can no longer force anyone the way that we once could. Or, you can step away from the truck and your family will be saved.”

“But when…”

“The men’s camp is under construction.”

“That’s what they said years ago.”

“There have been delays. And let’s not forget that the reason we have to have a separate men’s camp is because of your culture’s backward notions regarding the rights of women.” He had no idea what she was talking about.

“How will I know they’re safe?”

“We can send you a message or something.” She said half-heartedly.

Muti let his head sink down as he held the edge of the truck, his knuckles white. He considered jumping into the truck and beating this patronizing woman to death, but then his family would surely die.

“How do I know you’re telling the truth and about the camps?”

“We don’t have time for this,” she said aghast, “here is a brochure.” She handed him a folded piece of waxed paper that was covered in images of children with dark skin, like his own, dancing as clear water rained down on them from a spurting well. Under the picture it said, “Clean Water,” and a picture of students sitting at desks with their hands raised was captioned, “Modern Education.”

“Regardless, you will have to take our word for it. We have to go now.”

“When can I come? Give me a day.”

“I’m getting tired of dealing with this.”

To love, without possessing or controlling.

“Please…” He begged, “just give me a moment to speak to them.”

She sighed and rubbed her temples. “You have one minute. Start the truck!” He jumped into the bed and went to his young son who had been watching their entire exchange.

“Papa, you’re coming right?” He had not called him ‘Papa’ since he was very young. He could not bring himself to speak with his son yet, but instead went to his wife. She was unconscious, and her skin was pale. He ran his fingers across her cheek. The most amazing woman he had ever known, somehow she had found it in her heart to love a goof like him. He apologized to her softly, he knew that if he were a better man, a smarter man; he could fix this. Maybe, he should have sent them away all those years ago. Perhaps forcing them to survive with him in this desolate place had been selfish from the beginning. He kissed his wife’s forehead and then turned to his son. Adam was still holding Emile close.

“Listen to me son, you have to take care of your mother and sister now, okay? You saved us last night, Adam. Now, keep protecting them and I will come and find you. I promise.”

“Time to go!” Called the doctor.

“Can you do that Adam?”

He seemed terrified but he said, “Yes, Father.”

He kissed his son on the forehead and then pulled back the blanket to kiss Emile, who wouldn’t even be able to recognize him in the future, young as she was.

“Time to go, I said!”

He jumped out of the truck.

The truck clattered into gear and pulled away. He watched it disappear down the road until it faded completely. When he came to, he realized he was on his knees in the middle of the road. He was at a loss for what to do next. They were his whole world. Every day, his only intention for the last nine years had been finding water, food, and shelter for his family. Without them, he couldn’t feel the path. He’d lost it. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

His only thought was, what a waste of water.

The next morning he awoke early and packed his bag. He prepared himself for the journey ahead. They wouldn’t let him ride in the truck, fine, he would walk. He had been walking his whole life. He left the small outpost in the direction the truck had gone with a few rations and two bottles of water. He had no idea how far he would have to go, or what he would do when he got there. Finding his family was his only purpose.

He set out, and with each step he could feel the path.