Greetings Zarahemla Fans!
As many long-time blog readers know, I've already posted Chapter 1. Those who read it many months ago may find differences and improvements, but it's basically the same chapter. Don't worry about typos and such. That's what editors are for. I promise they will be corrected. Just enjoy the progress of the story.
Because I've suddenly found myself with a ton of unsold books and products from the old cheimerdinger.com website, I wanted to offer a special "incentive" to those who purchase some of these items. No, they're not all posted yet, but I'm getting close. Frankly, I've wanted to devote my time to finishing up Escape From Zarahemla rather than spend so many hours putting up books on Amazon. Nevertheless, I have well over 200 items on the site now. Anyone who purchases any item from Amazon (or from me directly--just call 1-801-495-0555 and thereby save some shipping money) I will send Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 of Escape From Zarahemla upon request. You have to request it because sometimes, especially if you order from Amazon instead of directly from me, I won't know your email address. The chapters will be sent as an attachment. This is only for new orders made after the posting of this blog. For those who are wondering, yes, you will find any and all Passage to Zarahemla products--Book, Audio Book, and DVD--just to make sure you're up to date with the adventure. Go to:
It may be true that reading Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 will only make someone more anxious for Chapter 5, etc., but hey, I'm doin' the best I can. ;)
Here's some "fast facts" about the new novel: It's longer than Passage to Zarahemla. It's better than the first book in the series. And there are some cool tie-ins with the "Tennis Shoes Adventure Series" that readers won't discover until the book is finally released. This story deals primarily with the time period in the Book of Mormon addressed in Passage to Zarahemla. Watch the movie again if you've forgotten! :)
ESCAPE FROM ZARAHEMLA
The Lamanite reexamined the wounds along his ribcage, a trio of diagonal slashes starting at his hip and traversing high up the abdomen on the right side. One of them was frighteningly deep. Over several hours he'd lost a lot of blood. And yet, when the injury was first inflicted, he'd felt very little pain. This had seemed odd to him. It was the sort of wound that would have incapacitated most warriors. At the instant when he was struck, his body had been pulsing, surging with vigor—a desperation to survive. Now, four hours later, the pain was finally starting to overwhelm him. It had been steadily increasing, like water boiling slowly on a hearthstone. Soon, he realized, it would become unbearable. Anguish swept through his mind as he staggered beneath the shadows of the forest canopy. He perceived his life force seeping out, drip by drip, emptying from his muscles, abandoning his senses, withdrawing from his body and mind. Tiny blackouts were growing more frequent, momentary lapses in awareness and concentration, forcing him to grab onto the mossy trunk of the nearest tree to steady himself, catch his breath, and reinforce his resolve.
He had to reach the sacred place, the glowing place, the place where the air became like vapors of steam. Not steam from heat, but vapors created by . . . something else. Something that he couldn't explain. It was a place where colors turned slowly in a circle, like the oily surface of a whirlpool in a bottomless cenoté, shimmering with rainbows, except that this surface was not horizontal. It was more like a wall, and it smelled of lightning after it strikes the earth, sucking away whatever element enters the lungs and sustains life. It was a place where darkness was sometimes daylight and sunset was often sunrise. It was the place where his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather had gone in generations past to contemplate the future, discern the mysteries, and witness secret visions.
It was the Place of the Whistlers.
He was almost there. These were the very woods where his friend had first appeared—the Hunter with the orange-colored vest. Or was it a shield? Thirteen years. He realized it had been more than a decade since he'd first laid eyes on his friend. It seemed astonishing that so much time had elapsed. The Hunter, whose name had two parts—Chris McConnell—had first entered the ancient world in the midst of a violent skirmish with robbers of Gadianton. He'd been suffering from an arrow wound in the shoulder. It had been fired from a Gadianton's bow. His puffy orange "armor" (as it was described by the Lamanites), had on that occasion utterly failed him. The Lamanite and his comrades had auspiciously rescued him from certain death.
Chris McConnell—or Miʹcon—as he was known among his Lamanite tribesmen—may have been the most unique soul that the Lamanite had ever met. The pale-skinned, bearded hunter with unusual garb claimed to have emerged from the glowing place, the wall of miracles. In the beginning Miʹcon's only desire was to go back, return to his home. But the "passage" had faded; the miracle had disappeared. Since that time Miʹcon the Hunter had become an integral part of their lives, and moreover, an integral part of the life of the Lamanite's sister.
But two years ago everything had changed. One morning, near the time of the first harvest, the Lamanite's village was attacked. Most of the villagers were slain by a band of Gadianton robbers more bold and numerous than anyone had ever seen. Their crops and homes were burned. Some of the men were enslaved, including him and Miʹcon. The younger women were also taken hostage. But not Paísha. Paísha had escaped. At least . . . for a time.
That's why the Lamanite had come. His name was Ishlom. Ishlom desperately needed to find the blurry whirlpool that glowed beneath the archway of the dead, but living trunk of a mighty Ceiba tree. He needed to find Miʹcon. He needed to tell him all that had transpired—all the he had seen. Ishlom had risked everything—the torment of his sister, the safety of his young nephew—his life as well as theirs—to escape and find him. With each passing moment it appeared that all his efforts might prove futile. The vigor was fading fast from his limbs. His thoughts were becoming scattered and hazy. He had risked everything . . . and perhaps he had lost.
He wasn't even certain if Miʹcon was still alive. Miʹcon the Hunter—the strange, ashen-faced man who had joined his kinship—hadn't been seen for over six months. He'd escaped the clutches of his captors and presumably returned to the land of Zarahemla. A few of the most ruthless members of Gadianton's band had gone to pursue him, including Kush, the dreaded assassin. But after a great and terrible battle in the wilderness of Zarahemla, only one member of the particular unit of renegades that enslaved them had returned, and he was not one of the warriors sent to pursue Miʹcon. This Gadianton had claimed that Miʹcon was dead. He'd also claimed that Giddianhi—the king and commander of the Gadianton army¬—were dead. He warned that the Nephite army was marching toward their hiding place in the mountains, determined to root out and exterminate their second in command, Zemnarihah, as well as their sons, kinship, and any remnants of the robber bands who did not surrender.
Ishlom had believed all of the stories told by this single surviving robber—except one. He did not believe that Miʹcon the Hunter was dead. He felt certain that his friend still lived. And if Miʹcon was still alive, he would certainly have returned here, to this sacred, mysterious place in the forest.
Ishlom had carefully planned his escape from the renegade's encampment. He'd managed to recruit several young Gadianton acolytes who wished to surrender to the Nephites rather than continue a dreary existence of hunger and squalor in the wilderness. Five days ago, shortly after sunset, they'd executed their plan and fled into the forest. As expected, the Demon Balám were unleashed. The Demon Balám had tirelessly pursued them for five days. In the end, his companions did not escape their ruthless clutches. He, himself, had survived only by leaping into the river gorge. But had he really escaped? His wounds continued to rack his body. It seemed that the Demon Balám would succeed in their murderous mission after all.
Ishlom felt sure that he had nearly reached the place of miracles, the archway of the dead, but living tree. Pain blurred his vision. Still, he was sure that he would recognize it. His father and grandfather had brought him here more than once. Ishlom would recognize the landmarks, the stones, as well as the trickling waters of the tiny creek. Of course, during all the other visits of his lifetime, the miracle had not been present. At least not in the way that Miʹcon had described. There was no outward evidence to prove the existence of a magical "passageway." But what other explanation was there for the Hunter's arrival? A man with so many strange customs? So many unusual gifts?
Besides, Ishlom had felt the spirit of the place. He'd felt the cool and warm sensations against his skin as he stood beneath the archway of the Ceiba's massive trunk. He could also hear the faint song on the wind. No, it wasn't "whistling" or "whispering," as Miʹcon and his fathers had described. But it was audible nonetheless. Not by the ears. But by the soul. By the heart.
Ishlom pushed forward. He felt sure the archway would fall into view at any moment. He wasn't certain what he expected to see, how it might be different from the other times that he had stood at that place. He knew only that Miʹcon had come here. The same inner "voice" that convinced him that Miʹcon had traveled here after his escape and found a passageway home, also whispered that a similar miracle might be awaiting him. Perhaps the same shimmer of rainbows. The same vapors of lightning.
A thunderclap resounded above the trees. The rain, much like every other day during this season of the year, was suddenly unleashed from the sky. Within minutes it was a downpour. If his eyesight wasn't foggy enough from blood loss, the sheets of rain made landmarks nearly impossible to distinguish. He felt a shudder of terror. He could not afford to crouch against a tree trunk and wait for the rain to subside. If he paused at all, it might be the last thing he ever did. He might not have the strength to go on. He had to fight the rain, find the archway, if it was the last thing his body ever did.
His clothing drenched, he brushed the hair from his eyes and staggered on. Blood from his wounds washed onto the forest floor in pink rivulets. And then, there it was—the mysterious archway. The majestic fallen Ceiba loomed just ahead, its horizontal trunk festooned with another season of lush, verdant leaves despite its roots being torn from the earth and pointing skyward. The archway stood only a little higher than the height of a man, but if everything Miʹcon and his fathers had told him was true, the miracles that took place beneath its curved shadow were as lofty as the stars of heaven.
His ears suddenly filled with a terrible ringing. He shook his head briskly. Not right. This was not the sound that Miʹcon had described. It was neither a whistle nor a whisper. More like a choir of shrill and angry voices, mingled with the frenetic percussion of the rain. As Ishlom drew closer to the archway, he paused and squinted. In his present bleariness of mind, he didn't trust what his eyes beheld. It seemed that, indeed, something was happening beneath the arch, something perplexing and abnormal, but Ishlom couldn't speculate what it was. Moreover, he wasn't sure what it meant. For an instant the swirling colors seemed to coalesce into a face-like visage—the elderly, grizzled, and snarling face of a Lightning Deity—one of the unholy Bacab, the insatiable gods that his ancestors had placated with blood sacrifices in the decades before their conversion to Christ. The image frightened him. The cacophony of shrill voices increased in volume, as if in warning. Nervously, he took several steps closer, trying again to focus his sights, concentrate his mind.
The window continued to shimmer with energy, but the image had changed. It was no longer a dreadful face. The whirlpool of colors revealed a landscape, one that was very different from the surrounding jungle. The foliage beyond the window was . . . desert-like. Arid. Prickly. But not necessarily drier. Rain still pattered on Ishlom's face and streamed off his body. But it was also raining on the other side. Not just raining. The place beyond the window was experiencing a roiling torrent. The rich greens and mahogany browns of the surrounding jungle were seemingly "flowing" into a place of muted yellows and pallid grays, but also a place where waters were surging, as if some muddy river had changed course. A current rushed inside (through?) the window of the archway, as if the window itself was the water's source, or perhaps something behind the window. The current roared through scrubby-looking trees, uprooting and washing away thorny brambles. Was this torrent the source of the shrill, gnashing voices? The water was clogged with debris—branches, weeds, bark and . . . Was that a lizard? Yes, he saw a lizard swimming against the current, swept helplessly into the distant, brushy terrain.
A flood? It seemed to Ishlom that he was witnessing a flash flood. It was a curious thing. In times past Miʹcon had speculated that the "miracle" was influenced by the forces of nature—the temblor of an earthquake or some other cataclysm. Could the delicate miracles of heaven and earth be set in motion by a flash flood?
Ishlom joggled his head. Such questions seemed pointless. They didn't matter. The window was "open." The miracle was taking place before him. It might close again at any second. He had to act quickly. But what would happen to him? If he decided to leap into the archway, would he be engulfed by waters? Would he exchange a slow death by loss of blood for a swifter demise by drowning? Again, a pointless question. He was a strong swimmer. Such skills had saved his life only hours ago, when he'd leaped into the gorge. The gashes on his ribs hadn't seemed as serious while immersed in water. But that was hours ago, before the pain and delirium. Still, the prospects of swimming against the floodwaters did not intimidate him. And if it killed him—if indeed he drowned—there was a kind of comfort in knowing that he would die in the midst of a divine miracle. He would drown in the waters of another world, the same world where Miʹcon the Hunter had originated.
For a fleeting instant the illusion of the snarling Bacab reappeared. Ishlom squeezed his eyes to shut out the vision. He clenched his teeth and tightened his fists. The chorus of discordant voices amplified to a screaming pitch. Eyes still shut, he thrust himself forward, diving into the archway.
There was a flash of heat, a sudden shock to his skin, but the sensation ended quickly. When his eyes reopened, a wave rushed over his head. His mouth and throat were choked by water as his body was carried as helplessly as the lizard. He reached toward the sky, but the torrent dragged him forward, as if the window of energy really was a kind of whirlpool sucking its victims into the airless precincts of Xibalba, the underworld of the Great Maw. He seized the branches of a desiccated bush and coughed water from his throat. Just as fresh air reached his lungs, the current again pulled him under. He was carried downriver. But was it a river? A brief glimpse of the terrain again convinced him it was a flood. He was swept down a ravine filled with twisted, thirsty trees. The current was choked with detritus: leaves and branches and even the carcass of some dead animal. A dog? A coyote? Kicking his legs Ishlom realized the current was not deep, just strong. It carried him another twenty yards before his body struck a stone. Wincing, he found his limbs wedged between a boulder and the fallen trunk of a large tree. Water splashed around him, but his nose and mouth were clear, and he breathed freely.
After hoisting himself further out of the current, he lay on his back and searched the sky for any kind of sun. He found only a jaundiced globe in a viscous gray sky. Daylight had been obscured by storm clouds. The pale, yellow globe of the sun was poised at the lip of a steep ridge overlooking a forested valley. The sun's orb was setting. Darkness would soon overtake this new and peculiar world. This realization brought on a fresh stab of pain from his ribs. With tear-filled eyes, Ishlom understood that his journey was near an end. Even assuming that the floodwaters eventually subsided, he still couldn't travel at night, even if his legs had been able to gather sufficient strength.
"Just let him find me," he whispered. "If Miʹcon finds my corpse, it may be enough."
Enough, he thought, to tell him that he must return. Enough to let him know what I have seen. That his loved ones—his flesh and blood—require his help.
Enough, he hoped, for Miʹcon the Hunter to conclude that he was their last and only hope.
Ishlom let his eyelids close. Sleep settled around him like the orange wings of a thousand celestial butterflies. The same butterflies, he imagined, that would carry his soul back to the eternal realms of his Maker, his Lord, and his Savior, Jesus Christ.
Mom and Dad wouldn't have approved. But that only made this new adventure for the three young Whitman children all the more intriguing.
It was so cool! All of yesterday and throughout most of the night a flash flood had rushed through the "hollow"—that is, the narrow stretch of woods and wilderness that meandered along the valley floor west of their house. If the water level had been a mere two feet higher, it could have washed away their home's foundation! Or so Mom had said. As it was, Dad had confirmed that it washed away a sizable chunk of the road leading down to their property. Grandpa Lee speculated that it had been more than ten years since a flood like this had visited the hollow. And what a whopper! No one had seen so much water before. It had flowed like a river through the foliage on the opposite side of their driveway. All evening and morning the Whitman's phone had been ringing—concerned neighbors and friends verifying that everyone was okay.
Now that the sun was up, 11-year-old Colter, 8-year-old Tessa, and 5-year-old Sariah stood at the lip of the ravine, gazing downward. They could hardly believe their eyes. Virtually everything had been transformed. Every blade of grass, every patch of yerba mansa, every cluster of weeds, had been washed flat or buried in mud. Familiar logs and other deadfall had been twisted to face in a new direction or carried off into oblivion. It was like waking up to discover that someone had rearranged your entire back yard.
The water was gone now. All that remained was an ugly layer of reddish mud, streaked with gray.
"Let's check it out," said Colter, grinning like a pirate with visions of discovering hidden treasure.
Tessa nodded with equal enthusiasm.
Little Sariah, however, adamantly shook her head. "I'm staying here."
"Staying here?" mocked Colter. "What for?"
Sariah looked at her brother, then at her sister—studying them both very carefully. "Didn't you hear it?" she asked.
"Hear what?" said Tessa.
Sariah didn't answer right away. Whatever the 5-year-old had heard, she'd heard it as they were walking out the front door. No, she couldn't hear it now. But a few moments ago, when she did hear it, she'd have sworn that it was a whistling sound—a kind of musical echo that trilled and swooped as if from the throat of an exotic bird—a bird that surely didn't live anywhere near Leeds, Utah. In fact, she was sure that it was a whole flock of birds. It reminded her of sounds made by the enormous pipe organ they'd heard when they visited the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City. But as they were walking up the driveway, the sound steadily faded until it was completely gone. Up to now Sariah had been certain that her siblings were hearing it too. The little girl realized, with some alarm, that Colter and Tessa had no idea what she was talking about.
"I heard,"—Sariah's voice trembled—"the Wh-whistlers."
Her siblings didn't laugh. It was not a humorous thing. In fact, it was a very serious subject for the Whitman family. The "Whistlers" had been something all of them had been hoping to hear—listening for with great diligence—for the last eight months.
"You really heard the Whistlers?" said Colter in surprise.
Sariah nodded timidly.
"I didn't hear anything." Tessa looked at Colter. "Did you?"
Colter shook his head. He turned to Sariah and put his hands on her shoulders. "Are you sure?"
"I-I think so." Then less confidently, "I don't know anymore."
All three children gazed back into the hollow.
"Maybe she's right," said Tessa, suddenly more apprehensive. "Maybe we should wait for Skyler or Natasha."
"Are you serious?!" balked Colter. "If the Whistlers are back, you know what that means, right? It means—"
Tessa interrupted. "I know what it means. I just think we should wait for Skyler and—"
"Skyler is camping with the Priests and on Saturday Natasha won't wake up 'til noon. You know that!" Colter turned away in exasperation and threw up his hands. "Sisters! If you two won't come, I'll go by myself."
"Aren't you scared?" asked Tessa, her tone deadly serious.
"Of what?" asked Colter.
Tessa dropped her shoulders and said petulantly, "You know what."
Colter shook his head. "No, I don't know what. And I'm not scared. You can both stay here. I'm goin' in." He loped down the hill of the ravine and past the first trees that marked the traditional boundary of the hollow.
"Wait," said Tessa sharply. After taking a breath, she scampered after him.
A moment later, Colter and Tessa turned back to look at Sariah. Their sister hadn't moved. The 5-year-old was standing her ground. Finally she plopped down, cross-legged, at the lip of the ravine.
Instead of calling out, Colter sent her an "okay" sign. He felt curiously uneasy about raising his voice, though he couldn't have explained why. Somehow, the area had become a kind of sanctuary. A holy place. And he didn't want to disturb . . . uh . . . whatever it was that made it holy. Colter thought again: A holy place? Maybe it was exactly the opposite. Maybe the hollow had become unholy. A realm where demons or Gadianton robbers lurked. Either way, no need to make unnecessary noise.
Tessa latched onto the hem of Colter's shirt as they ventured deeper into the woods, their shoes pressing perfectly-sculptured footprints in the virgin pathways of mud and debris.
"How far are we going?" asked Tessa.
"Not far," he whispered.
"Why are we whispering?" whispered Tessa.
"Shhh!" said Colter.
Colter knew precisely where he was going. Admittedly, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to find it—everything looked so different—but he was headed to the clearing. He was going to the place where Kerra and Brock and Grandpa Lee had witnessed all the "miracles." The place where Kiddoni the Nephite and all the other ancient warrior "ghosts" had appeared and disappeared.
A short distance later, Colter glanced to his left. He spotted the "No Trespassing" sign. It had been knocked over in the flood. Half the letters were smeared with mud. Still, it confirmed that they were going the right direction.
Tessa's heart thudded. "Colter," she squeaked, "m-maybe we should go back."
Colter stopped abruptly, gesturing for Tessa to be quiet. He listened hard. Both children remained perfectly still.
"What's wrong?" Tessa finally asked.
Just as she spoke, she heard the same sound that had made Colter stop. It was a whisper—a dozen whispers. The sounds seemed to "swoop" over them from all directions, indecipherable. The language sounded otherworldly, something alien. The voices seemed to originate in the woods directly behind them and move swiftly in a circle, like a legion of ghosts.
Tessa was hyperventilating. Each breath produced a moan in her throat. "I wanna go back," she said. "Let's go back!"
Colter's heart pounded too. Then, as suddenly as the whispering began, it vanished. Both children slowly turned in a circle, trying to home in on the source of whatever they'd just heard. All efforts to pinpoint further whispers failed.
Colter faced his sister. "I'm not going back. You can do whatever you want."
Tessa trembled like Jell-O. She swallowed hard, worried that her tears might start to flow. Colter studied the intensity of her expression and felt guilty. He was about to give in and escort her home. Heck, he could easily take her back to the lip of the ravine, leave her with Sariah, and return alone. But at the last second, Tessa relented.
"Okay," she said weakly. "Just stay with me. Don't walk too fast."
Colter nodded, then clenched his teeth, steeling his resolve. There was no going back. If there was anything to see, he would see it first.
The morning sunlight danced wildly as it shone through branches and foliage. After 30 yards, both children ground to another halt. Air caught in their lungs as their eyes lit on a mindboggling sight. Just ahead, upon a heavy log with brush piled against one side, lay a human being. He was slathered from head to toe in mud, as if camouflaged to appear like the terrain. What stood out were the whites of his eyes. They were gaping wide—unblinking. Colter and Tessa edged closer. They thought they perceived a primitive mantle around his waist and coal-black hair, just like the ancient ones who'd appeared before. Colter and Tessa were certain that they were staring at a visitor from another century. Unfortunately, the visitor was dead.
"I'm gonna be sick," said Tessa, pressing her stomach.
Colter seemed unaffected. "That's a Nephite," he said confidently. "I know it."
"Do you think . . ." said Tessa hesitantly, ". . . it's Kiddoni?"
Colter glanced at her like it was a stupid question. "How should I know? He must've drowned. The flood washed him here."
"The flood washed a dead Nephite to our hollow from another century?"
"So it appears," said Colter. "We better get Dad or Grand—"
The piercing white eyes blinked. Slowly, the head of the "dead" man rolled to the side and looked straight at them. A trembling, mud-crusted hand reached out. A sound issued from his throat—the exact sound one might have expected from a ghost: thirsty and shrill.
Colter and Tessa screamed.
©Copyright, Chris Heimerdinger, May 2011