Missy was kind of sleepy. It had been a strange night, filled with weird dreams. That was very unusual for her. She usually had quiet, peaceful dreams. So, of course, when she woke, it was with an unsettled kind of feeling. Most unusual, indeed! She was loved and respected for a cool, calm demeanor.
Well, that was only the beginning of what was to become an unsettling day; a long, unsettling day! At the very moment that Mugs was discovering the missing path down below, Missy walked to the top of the path (as was her custom) only to find that it wasn’t to be found! She stared and stared. But no matter how hard she stared, the path would not appear. Her usual, calm bearing moved a little off center. She didn’t panic, exactly—it wasn’t her way. But at that moment, for probably the first time in her life, she felt certain uneasiness. In her mind she thought, “There seems to be something almost evil in this—whatever this is!”
She turned to walk back to the village to report her discovery to her husband, the very kind and gentle Hearan. Hearan, being a leader of The Hai, would certainly know what to do (she hoped). Whatever “it” was, Hearan could (would) handle it. She never loved him, or needed him, more than at this very moment.
With that thought soothing her somewhat shaken serenity, she turned and left what used to be the path to the Le Han.
As she approached the village, she heard the welcome sounds of children laughing. Usually, that sound could lift her spirits right to the peak of the mountain, but not this morning; not this eerie morning. This morning, when she heard their laughter, she couldn’t help thinking, “Very soon, those sounds might become sobs. No. No! That must not happen! Whatever else, they must protect the children. Everyone must be protected, but most especially, the children!”
Hearan, as was his custom each morning, was walking out to greet Missy on her return from the path. Immediately, he could sense her uneasiness. There was something in her manner that told him, “Something is very wrong.” She looked up and he could see the worry in her eyes. He reached out, took her hand—and her tears began to flow.
“What is it? What is it, my dear Missy?”
She couldn’t get the words out. How could she express the extent of the disaster awaiting them? She couldn’t! She couldn’t.
Hearan gripped her hand more firmly, letting her know that whatever the problem, they would face it together. Missy seemed to calm somewhat. She gathered her breath. Some of her calmness was returning. In just a moment now, she would be able to express the inexpressible. In just a moment she would.
When she began speaking, the words poured out in a torrent: “The children! Ah, the children! The path is gone! The path to The Valley is no more—disappeared. What will become of us? What will become of the children? How can we survive without the assistance of and sustenance from The Valley? How will they survive without the precious Hai berry? What will become of the people, the children? Ah! Ah! Ah!”
Well, this outburst was so out of the ordinary (especially for Missy), that the nearby children also began to cry, “Ah! Ah! Ah! What is to become of us?” They were frightened—not so much because of the path (of which they knew nothing), but because of Missy’s uncharacteristic outburst. If Missy was hysterical (by comparison to her normal composure), then something must be really wrong!
Hearan and Missy turned to the children and each gathered a couple of them in their arms, speaking soothingly with words of comfort and assurance. They were reassured, mostly by Missy’s return to her usual calm demeanor. After all, they had been around her all of their young lives, and never (never!) had they seen her so un-Missy-like. This was better; much better.
Now, suddenly, they became curious about the root of this flare-up. Those children who had not been picked up had been clinging on to the garments of the grownups, in something resembling a life-or-death grip. Slowly, Missy returned to herself. With the soothing tone and comforting words from both she and Hearan, the children released their holds. Gently, Missy and Hearan then set the toddlers down.
“All right, children, now everything is all right,” Hearan said aloud. Inwardly he was wondering if he had just lied. He didn’t yet know what had caused Missy to lose her generally sunny and assured composure. Whatever it was (and she could tell him privately), it must be big. In all of the years he had known Missy, and in all of the years of their marriage, never had he known her to be afraid or less than calm. Now, she was both!
Again, Hearan spoke to the children. “Surely it is time for your breakfast. So please get to your homes and have a good, warming breakfast. Be sure to have your Hai berries. Now, go along.”
With that instruction from their respected leader, they scurried off, totally confident in his encouragement.
Hearan turned to his wife, and took her hand in his. His grip was firm and she relaxed in the comfort of his grasp. She trusted him, not only as a leader of her people, but also of their family. In that silent communion, they, too, returned to their home. They both allowed the quietness to continue as they went about the morning ritual of preparing their morning meal. When they had given prayers of thanksgiving, they consumed their breakfast—still in that noiselessness. Finally, they settled down with their warm Hai berry tea.
Hearan spoke first. “Ok, my dear. In your own time, in your own way, please explain the cause of your extraordinary behavior this morning.”
“Oh, husband, I apologize for my outburst; for my immoderation. I feel so sorry for scaring the children in that way. I would never intentionally frighten them or cause them uneasiness. I would not harm the little ones!”
“Of course I know that, precious one. You are and have been a strong, steadying influence with our people. You serve with such love and patience, that you are trusted and looked up to by everyone—especially the children. So do not express regret any further. I am totally secure in your purposes. Now, tell me.”
With that expression of confidence, Missy took a deep breath and proceeded to tell of her discovery: “Well, as is my custom, I walked to the head of the path to give prayers of thanksgiving and to ask a blessing—on the people and on the path. But when I arrived there, it wasn’t there! It was gone; disappeared! Consequently, after determining that my eyes were telling me the truth, I decided to consult with you about what this could mean. Really, what could this mean? Is it a sign? Is it a warning? Then, there is the bigger question: what is to become of our people and what about the Hai? What about Mugs?”
All Hearan said was, “Show me.”
Together, they walked to the head of the path. Sure enough, just as Mugs was showing its absence to The Leader (down in the valley), Missy was demonstrating its nonexistence to Hearan.
“See! It is gone! Missing! Lost! I was in such hope that I was mistaken, but you can see clearly that it is not to be seen!”
Just as with The Leader, Hearan attempted to put his foot on what should have been the beginning of the path. Just as with The Leader, his foot was pushed back. Missy tried to put her foot to the path, and she, too, seemed to be pushed back. Curious, Hearan tried again with the same result. Again, he put his foot to the missing path and again, he was pushed back. This time, however, he strained to keep his foot where he wanted it. This time, something seemed to push back with even more force. He stood there, contemplating what he was experiencing.
“This is not a naturally occurring occurrence. This is created—by someone or something! We will find out. Come. Let us return to the village. There are procedures we need to put in place to secure our survival and that of the Hai. We will need to have gathering of the other leaders. We need to make plans. Also, it is only right that they should be informed. We’d better get going. It seems that time is not on our side.”
To prevent the young people (tots and teens alike) from becoming anxious prematurely, Hearan went from door to door and quietly invited leaders to the meeting hall. The young people were already attending their lessons with various teachers, so they probably didn’t even notice the gathering of leaders. Besides, this calling together of the leaders was not unusual. There often were problems of importance to the community which needed addressed. So this impromptu gathering would not seem that extraordinary.
Hearan opened the meeting with a fervent prayer for guidance. All present concurred with the prayer—not only its content, but also its fervency. Because of her discovery earlier, Missy was asked to give her report first. She gave a succinct account of what she had discovered early that morning. Of course, everyone wanted to see the event (or absence thereof) personally. It was decided to postpone that observation until later.
The primary mission was the making of contingency plans for food, water and suggestions for contacting the people in the valley. Hearan stated that the leadership welcomed suggestions from the congregation. What followed was a prolonged period of silence. That is, silence except for the shuffling of feet and rustling of clothes as people shifted positions.
To save the members from further discomfort, Hearan spoke. “All right, that is a big piece to deal with all at once. Let me make some suggestions to get things started, and then maybe that will get other ideas flowing. I think it wise to gather up all supplies, including food, water, and any other item that you might consider useful to the people.”
That small suggestion did, indeed, prompt more thoughts of how to proceed in this unprecedented situation. Some of them were: “We could bring dried berries and a container of water from the stream,” and “We have some twined rope and netting from the berry field,” and “There is wood aplenty around the edge of the village. That could be used for extra heat.”
“Yes, yes!” Hearan replied. “Those are all good ideas. Don’t stop there. Continue to ponder other means of helping one another. Though time may be short, there is yet much we can do. Now, there is another big difficulty which I have yet to broach. Of the many problems facing both people is this: how do we get the Hai berry from the mountain top down to the ovens in the valley? It has always seemed prudent to have the berry-growing and berry-curing done separately. This separation of tasks gave all of us more opportunity to serve one another. “
“Well, until this morning it had seemed prudent,” Hearan said under his breath.
Then he continued to the gathering, “There is plenty for everyone to do. We need volunteers for several immediate tasks: someone to entertain, teach and otherwise keep the children occupied, several of you to receive the items brought in for community use, someone else to catalog all that is provided, and a couple of leaders to determine, by what is gathered, just how much time we have.”
Talman, among the leaders, and a close friend of Hearan, spoke up and suggested that someone be posted at the head of the now-missing-path. “That would serve two purposes. First, that would provide continuous coverage of any changes that might occur. Second, it would keep the children safe from any possible misfortune that might occur because of the path’s disappearance. After all, we don’t really have any idea what is going on!”