By John Thomas Tuft (excerpted from MIDNIGHT SHEPHERD)

Danny and Crea sat in the comfortable living room of a modest home in Bridetown, Pennsylvania. The home was a gift from Gideon Waters after the wondrous and disturbing events of the Healer revelation. Eli Marks and his wife, Jenny, and their fifteen-month old daughter, Esperanza, whom they called Zannie, or sometimes even more affectionately, Zannie Bananie, as fathers are wont to do for the precious daughters in their lives, welcomed their visitors with warm hospitality and probing talk.

“So, you’re the StoryGuide?” Danny asked, with a hint of incredulity, as he set down his plate with the piece of burnt lemon pie half eaten. Eli shifted against the ever-present pain in his back and legs and smiled. “Officially the Story Keeper,” he held up an intricately carved walking stick. “Tessa’s father gave me this,” his voice fell quiet. “Right before he was killed in Pittsburgh two years ago. Right now, though, we need a StoryGuide.”

“Do you believe in evil?” Crea asked softly. “Because I’ve seen it.”

“Well, considering two of the most powerful phrases in this world are ‘I believe’ and ‘I belong’ and that anyone who steps outside of those circles is automatically wrong…” he shrugged. “That’s how most people feel about life. ‘I believe’ and ‘I belong’ make people feel like they have power. I think evil is taking power that isn’t yours to take. As Tessa keeps telling us, human beings have a remarkable capacity to mistake taking for making.

Jenn set Zannie down so the toddler could work the room. “I…I thi…I think…th..tha…that…” she stopped, uncertain in the presence of these two strangers. Eli winked at her and turned to Danny and Crea. “After her healing, she has a stutter,” he said, matter of factly. “Pearl!”

“September 7, 2001.” Said a squeak of a voice from the kitchen. “No,” laughed Eli. “I need you to come help Jenn. But thank you for the day and year orientation.”

“I have to go walk the moon,” said the splash of colors and whimsical charm that is Cracked Pearl, standing in the archway that separated the two rooms. “But Jenn is saying that she thinks that ‘I believe’ groups turn into ‘I belong’ groups and the stories that they tell themselves make it okay to take what they want from the ‘I don’t believe’ people because…well, they don’t belong.” She offered a satisfied smile.

“Sexes, races, countries, religions…they all have their own stories about how it is okay for them to be takers. That they have that power. Their stories mean they can do what is best for themselves, no problems, no questions. Evil.” Cracked Pearl finished with a flourish. “Just like what happened to you, dear,” she said to Crea. “Now can I go walk the moon?” Her glass eye with the crack down the middle of the blue agate iris refracted the afternoon light streaming in through the front windows as she wiped her hands on her apron and headed down the hallway.

Danny and Crea exchanged a look. “Pearl and Jenn have a special kind of connection,” chuckled Eli. “Thank you, Pearl,” whispered Jenn. “Sorry, but if I whisper, I can speak much more easily.” The two travelers leaned in to listen. “Let me ask you something. Is there universal morality?”

“I’m all about action,” Danny proclaimed. “Tell me who to get, point me in the general direction, and Boom. It’s done.”

“That’s not what she asked, genius,” Crea said with a punch to his arm. “Willow taught that there is a universal reality that is governed by a universal morality, the BloodFire. It first showed up here and it is supposed to be passed on by us to the other worlds. But that part of the story has been lost. Now there is a big tear, a rending of the fabric of the universal morality which causes all manner of evil to flourish. It has to be repaired so that what we pass along to others is righteous.  She hoped that the Testament would help. That we need righteous stories…”

“…to continue the repair of the Original Story,” chimed in Eli, the StoryGuide. “And that is an outright threat to those who live by the torn fabric of ‘I believe’ therefore ‘I belong’ which gives me ‘power over you’ way of thinking and living that mark the history of the human race.”

Danny rubbed his eyes in frustration. “You lost me.” Crea rolled her eyes. “That’s okay, Mister Midnight Shepherd. Why don’t you go walk the moon, too? It’s down the hall and to the right.”  

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.