Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 17

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

Proverbs 3:3 Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.

Wichita, KS

Eleanor followed Mr. Washington through a maze of dancers. The other students had been left in the entrance lobby. The crowd was a pulsing rainbow of Spandex. Techno music electrified the air. When Eleanor spotted Talia and the three North High students, she was disappointed to see that they looked like everyone else, but that triggered another thought. She walked in front of Mr. Washington and blocked him.

“What are you going to do to them?”

Mr. Washington stopped walking and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment. “I brought you along to observe, Miss West. To learn about leadership. Not for dramatic interference.”

Eleanor sucked in her breath, stricken, but then nodded. “I understand. But I just had a thought. A picture.”

“Go ahead.” His eyes looked past her to where Talia and the students stood stretching.

“We’re already here, Mr. Washington—you, three decent dancers, me, and five brilliant students in the lobby. We’re in a building full of look-a-likes with computer generated tunes.”

“That’s the vision?”

“No, the vision is buckskin dresses, braided hair, a giant drum, and a singer. Something different. Something beautiful.”

Mr. Washington’s lips were a straight line. Eleanor knew she was being stupid; there was no way she could change the course of things. She was a freshman. She had no real power. Why should she even care?

But then in a flash she saw the Kaufman Center, the layered ears, Io’s poem telling her to listen carefully, and Principal Solovanka telling her to do whatever it took. This was it; this was Eleanor’s moment to act.

“I know this is insanity, but let me go talk to Talia. I don’t know anything about this competition, but I think we can win it.”

Mr. Washington opened his mouth to speak just as a burly man came up and slapped him on the back. “Danny!”

Mr. Washington stumbled forward.

“I thought I might see you here.” A great mass of gelled white hair framed the tanned face of a man wearing sunglasses. He spoke with a Russian accent.

“Crete.” Mr. Washington didn’t smile with either his face or his voice.

Crete laughed a cold, pointed sort of laugh. “They tell me, ‘Come here. Big talent here.’”

Mr. Washington’s reply rolled out like the careful strokes of a paintbrush. “Perhaps you will yet see the sun.”

Mr. Washington turned to walk toward Talia.

“I come here from great distance, only to find flea-bitten old farm dogs.”

Mr. Washington kept walking, kept his face straight ahead, but spoke in a low voice to Eleanor. “Do whatever it takes, Eleanor.”

The Island of Endeni

When the lids on the two chests were opened, the children screamed with delight and raised their hands. Gye Nyame tossed golden necklaces heavy with diamonds, silver bracelets dotted with pearls, rings with enormous, glittering stones.

Starla looked over at the sleeping pirates, then back to Gye Nyame. Then she thrust her hands in the air like the children. Gye Nyame nodded approvingly at her and pulled an intricately crafted, silver tiara from the chest.

***

The Tufe traveled on for many hours. The children played with their jewels and the pirates slept on. Gye Nyame gestured to Starla to join him near the lamp stand.

“You are not one of these pirates.”

“No.”

“Then who are you?”

“A shepherdess.”

“Ah. It is your flock they have brought here.”

“My flock is here?”

“Did they not tell you? Yes. Your flock is here. I can take you to them.”

“I desire this above all else, but I am not eager to part company with you, sir. I have many questions.”

“Voice them, daughter.”

Her heart stuck in her throat for a moment.

“Sir, what is the fuel that drives the Tufe?”

He eyed her sternly. “One must dig deep to find this fuel.”

“Show me, sir. It would be of great benefit to my people.”

“Your people.” He looked away, across the horizon.

Starla looked over at the slumbering pirates.

“Clearly, the pirates are not your people, but do not be too hard on them, shepherdess. On the ocean, they have gathered the forsaken gandas* and brought them here.”

“Forsaken?”

He looked at her, his eyes pitying.

“These pirates are driven by a force that I do not truly understand. I think you will be surprised by their reasons for doing the things they do. There is a great darkness coming. They believe your muvvons may be the key to stopping it.”

Eleanor doubted this.

“What is your drive, country girl?” he asked.

At the center of her soul, she found no answer. Only a rock.

After a long time, he spoke again. “You seek to know what drives the Tufe. First, I think you should discern what is driving you. This fuel is good in the right hands, but it is a force of destruction in the hands of the blind and unknowing.”

*Swahili word for pods. In this fictitious world, children are a gift from the Great Creator, sent to the chosen ones in pods that float on the oceans.

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Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 16

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

Proverbs 3:1-2

My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.

Wichita, KS

Mr. Washington and Mrs. Polovanka stood at the far end of the cafeteria talking while Eleanor and her classmates wiped down tables. She knew they were discussing whatever she had witnessed with Talia and the students last night. Mr. Washington’s eyebrows were furrowed. Both he and the principal frowned down at their phones. When Eleanor put her dish cloth in the soapy water after her last table, she turned to find Mrs. Polovanka right behind her.

“Do whatever it takes, Miss West,” Mrs. Polovanka said before turning to walk into the main part of the school.

Mr. Washington called the freshman to the end of the cafeteria. “We’re taking another field trip today.”

“Where to, Coach?” Curly asked.

“Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts,” Mr. Washington said. “Let’s go.” He turned toward the doors.

“Kansas City?” Portia asked. “We’re going to Kansas City?”

“Correct.”

***

Three hours later the group was gawking at the skyscrapers and trying to get Mr. Washington talked into lunch at Big T’s. “We’re here on a mission,” Mr. Washington said. “I’d rather not be here at all.”

Curly said, “Aw, I thought we were having fun.”


“There’s a curriculum I’d like to stick with,” Mr. Washington said.

“Not retrieving runaways?” Eleanor said.

Mr. Washington looked at her in the rearview mirror. “How do you know about that, Eleanor?”

“I ran into them last night when I was coming back in from checking on the goats.”

He grunted.

“This is it,” he announced as they turned into a drive.

The building looked to Eleanor’s eyes like two fragmented barbells dropped into the ground, but when she glanced down at the words Io scratched onto a page in her notebook, Eleanor realized that Io saw ears when she looked at the building—layers of ears—growing larger as they expanded out from the center and then smaller again. Her hand swirled along the page, writing:

Layered Listening

The listening and observation occupation

Help wanted

Heaven ears

Ten thousand needed

Left unheeded

hell tongue

will

inflict legion tears.

Within your eyes—

a festered sore,

store

of hurt,

dirge score of mourners

bent over,

poor.

Pry bar wanted

Apply within

Could my lips dislodge

the long nails

that fastened this wall

between us?

Apply within

The poem reminded Eleanor of her mom always telling her “God gave you two ears and only one mouth for good reason.”

“That’s good, Io,” Eleanor told her. Io just unbuckled her seat belt and followed the others out of the van.

Eleanor sighed. What had Principal Polovanka meant by “Do whatever it takes?”

The Island of Endeni

Hend transformed Starla from mourning prisoner into morning star. Her face and arms were striped with gold paint. A simple, yet striking, dress was composed of the long petals of a person-sized yellow flower that grew within the walls of Hend’s spacious quarters. She had sewn them together right in front of Starla that morning.

Children ran to the dock to greet the pirates, but halted, running into each other, when Starla emerged from the ship, walking down a long plank behind the other pirates.

Where the plank met the shore, a man stood. A silver drum was slung over one shoulder.

“That is Gye Nyame*,” Ines said. Her sword, wrapped in an elegant scabbard, bumped against her leg as she came along beside Starla, whispering to her. “He is the wise attendant of the Tufe**.”

Starla said nothing.

“Kenza hates the Tufe.” Ines laughed. “If she is not the object of worship . . . “

And that is when Starla lifted her eyes to see a great sphere on the horizon. It was gray, tinged with purple. It stretched up so high that she thought it could scrape the moons in the morning sky above. What could this strange thing be?

When Kenza’s foot touched the ground, Gye Nyame struck the drum. He matched each of her steps with a stroke on the drum until all the pirates had disembarked.

Then the beat picked up. The children called out in loud voices, stretching their hands to the heavens and then lowering them in time to the drum. The children—hundreds of them—appeared to be royalty. The boys wore bright blue, close fitting hats with white bands. The girls wore knee length, white dresses. White ribbons hung from their braids.They repeated the up and down motion with their hands tirelessly. Then their bare feet kicked up dust as they ran toward the sphere, ahead, along, and behind the pirates. The white ribbons now sailed across the blue sky behind the girls.

As they grew closer, Starla saw that something was hanging over the gray, stone sphere: a vine plant whose million flowers bore eyes.

The opening to the sphere was a dark square. The smell of burning oil wafted out to her.

When she entered, she could see nothing, having passed from the bright sunlight into semi-darkness, but slowly she came to see a small fire trembling on the iron plate of a slender lamp stand. Two enormous white chests stood on either side of the lamp stand.

Silhouettes of iron benches slowly dawned on her vision. Ines gently moved her into the row of seated pirates.

The celebration atmosphere evaporated. The children entered the stone womb quietly. The drum ceased. Gye Nyame danced slowly to the front; his feet seemed to trace the lines of geometric figures, twisting this way and that on his long walk to the lamp stand.

Starla noted that Kenza’s eyes were closed, not in prayer but in sleep. Hend followed, yawning, stretching and then cocking her head to one side. The other pirates, even Ines, followed suit.

The children, on the other hand, leaned forward on the edge of the benches, palms up. Starla had the feeling that whatever was to come would be even more athletic than the procession she had just witnessed.

Gye Nyame reached the lamp stand. He blew out the flame. For a moment, all was dark. And then a million eyes opened along plants on the inside of the walls. The eyes shot forth blinding light. The light pierced the stone walls.

Very quickly, Starla could see through the stone walls as though they were glass. Everything shook. Everything moved. The sphere whirled and moved straight ahead, toward a great field.

The children screamed, their eyes dancing. They held onto the benches, but bumped into each other at times and laughed. Gye Nyame laughed with them and threw open the enormous lids on the two chests.

* Gye Nyame is a symbol used on adinkra cloth from Ghana. The symbol means “Except God I fear none.”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 15

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will inhabit the land, and those with integrity will remain in it, but the wicked will be cut off from the land,and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.” Proverbs 2:20-22

Wichita, Kansas

The next day Mr. Washington gave Eleanor a baby monitor. The class burst out laughing. Namely Curly. “A shower?” he roared. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? It’s a baby shower,” he said in a sing-song voice, tilting his head from side to side in a way that made Eleanor want to throttle him. He looked at Mr. Washington and said, “Hey, do you know why there are more girls born on holidays than other days.”

Mr. Washington winced. “Why?”

“There’s no mail delivery on holidays.”

Everyone groaned.

“This is just another way for Eleanor to keep her flock safe,” Mr. Washington said as he wrote down some numbers from the monitor.

“And never get away from them,” Eleanor grumped to herself.

“Where does safety fit into leadership?” Mr. Washington asked.

“Depends,” said Cezario. “Are we talking about a platoon leader or a kindergarten teacher?”

Mr. Washington nodded. “There are always risks,” he said. Next, he pulled a keychain from his pocket. It was decorated with red and white feathers. “This is a key to that door,” he said, pointing to the door leading to the outside on the west end of the cafeteria. “I had to get special permision for this.”

Curly’s eyebrows slowly raised.

Mr. Washington shook his head. “Don’t get any ideas, Curly.”

***

It was no problem getting up with the sheep when they started to bleat around midnight because Eleanor had been awakened by the wail of police sirens coming through the monitor several minutes before.

Eleanor slipped out of bed and looked over at Io, hoping to find her awake. But she was turned toward the wall; her back raised and lowered with steady breathing.

Outside, the lights on the bridge reflected on the rippling water and the warm air smelled like good barbecue—a pleasant scene interrupted by the bleating sheep. She trudged toward their pen but was stopped in her tracks by the sight of a medium-sized, brick-like dog snapping at the fence. The sheep, bleating, squeezed against the wall of the school, away from the fence. Eleanor grabbed the scoop shovel and ran toward the dog which quickly turned and ran away.

Heart pounding, legs noodle-like, Eleanor stood the shovel up and leaned against it, watching the dog until it meshed with the darkness of the riverbank.

The sheep continued to bleat, running around each other with wide eyes.

“It’s okay,” Eleanor said, not so sure that anything was okay. “It ran away.”

The sheep now crowded toward her, hooves clamoring on the wire fence. She opened the tote of grain, the sweet smell wafting up, and scooped out several cups of grain for them.

***

When Eleanor opened the door to go into the building, Talia and four female students practically fell into her and laughed nervously.

Talia shushed them and turned to Eleanor, forcing an authoritative frown on her face. “What are you doing here at this hour?”

Eleanor took a moment answering. They were so intimidating, this famous ballerina and the four upperclassmen, and yet, they were scared of something. Each member of this troop carried multiple pieces of baggage—rolling suitcases, duffel bags, cosmetic cases. They were on their way to a competition; she knew it. She could smell it. She wanted to ask if she could go with them, but instea she answered, “Mr. Washington gave me permission to leave the building if I heard the sheep making noise on the monitor.”

Talia pursed her lips and nodded. The four students straightened themselves.

“So he did,” Talia said. “See to it that it doesn’t happen again.”

Eleanor nodded slowly as the group filed out the door, the notes of their nervous laughter like so many pieces of kindling piling up in the dry, dry forest of Eleanor’s heart.

The Waters of Ugunduzi: Aboard the Uzuri

Cold water struck Starla’s face. She opened her eyes and jumped up. A slight woman stood before her, sword drawn.

Had she fallen asleep among the flock? Or was this the prison?

The ship rocked, throwing her off balance. Now she remembered. She was on the pirate ship. And her father was dead.

“Are you going to fight me, Peasant Girl?”

A voice deep within Starla said, “Do not.”

The woman tossed Starla a sword, but Starla let it fall onto her father’s raiment.

“Then you will die.”

“I have already died,” Starla replied, steadfast.

The woman cocked an eyebrow. “I like you,” she said, sheathing her sword. “My name is Ines. I’m sorry I doused you.”

Ines wore sand-colored cloth that hugged her arms and legs and appeared to stretch with the young woman’s movements. She untied a red sash from around her waist and handed to Starla. “To dry yourself,” she explained.

Starla’s heart was dead to all this. She rubbed her face with the cloth dumbly.

“We shall be arriving at the Island of Endeni soon. We are something of celebrities there. You are expected to appear to be one of us. Come with me. Hend is waiting for us.”

Ines

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 14

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God; for her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the departed; none who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life. Proverbs 2:16-19

Wichita, Kansas

The campfire’s coals pulsed. The smells of bug spray and s’mores and smoke hung in the air. A child lay across Mrs. Washington’s lap, eyes closed, black hair hanging off her mother’s jeans, breathing deeply. A baby was nestled into the crook of Mr. Washington’s arm, sucking on a pink pacifier. In the background their other children played a game of tag, wearing glowing bracelets and necklaces.

Curly used the flashlight on his phone to illuminate his face from the chin up. With a gurgley woman voice he said, “Curfew, my minions. I must get my beauty rest.”

“Be careful,” Mrs. Washington warned. “That’s Mr. Washington’s ex-girlfriend you’re making fun of.”

Curly spun on his heel and pretended to puke into the grass. He spit then and turned back around. “I thought she was like three hundred years old.”

Mr. Washington shifted uncomfortably. “Maybe it is time to turn in.”

“Neena the Knife,” Portia said, the coals reflecting in her eyes. “I’ve been hearing her legend around Wichita since I was little.”

“Me, too,” Cezario said. “The girl who was a two dollar side show at a county fair.”

“That would be like saying that Harrison Ford was just a carpenter when he was discovered,” Mr. Washington said. “Ninnette had been educated at the School of American Ballet since she was seven.”

Curly leaned forward. “So how did she end up in a side show?”

Mr. Washington sighed. “People make it sound like she had three eyes or something.”

Curly cleared his throat. “Well, it would be rude to talk about the third eye. The horns, however, I think are fair game.”

***

Mr. and Mrs. Washington told the story of a very beautiful, promising young dancer who was also a troubled runaway. Mr. Washington was doing some drum work for the Friends University dance department when he discovered Neena’s choreographed knife-throwing show at an arts festival. He did a little fancy footwork of his own that resulted in Ninnette receiving a full ride scholarship. These were not the only doors he tried to open to her; he believed she could carry on a legacy handed down to him from his ancestors—a legacy of faith, their dream of a school for artists from all nations who could change the world for good.

“But all she knew how to build was a crypt,” Eleanor thought to herself later that night as Portia’s paintbrush made a wide pass along their dorm room wall.

Eleanor yawned, looking at the painting—broken steps leading to a cement shelf where a wrapped body lay.

Io’s little lantern still glowed on her bed. She read from a book of poetry. Her voice wove through Eleanor’s last, sleepy thoughts.

“How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

“And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.” *

The Waters of Ugunduzi**

Her father had been slain by the soldiers of Mennix, most likely mistaken for a pirate, his body cast into the waters which bury all but honor none. The tale rung in her ears as she was led to the cell where they would hold her.

The door swung open before her. She sucked in her breath.

“Enter,” the metallic being said, releasing her arm.

She entered and knelt before her father’s robe which sparkled in a shaft of moonlight that filtered down from the deck. Her hands trembled as she lifted one corner to her tear-streaked face.

“If this be my prison,” she whispered, “May I never leave.”

*From “When You are Old” by William Butler Yeats

**Swahili for “Discovery”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 13

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.” Proverbs 2:6-15

The Port of Mennix

Something caught at the back of Eleanor’s mind; she had been called ‘Peasant Girl’ before. The pirates—yes, that was it.

Fear electrified her extremities as the flying beings lowered her onto the worn, wooden planks of an enormous ship that had once eclipsed her own small sailing vessel on the day her flock was taken from her. When her feet touched the ship, she strained to run for the edge, but the metallic hands held her fast.

“Not very thankful, are we?”

Eleanor looked up to see a beautiful woman seated on a wooden throne, her high cheekbones illuminated by the moonlight. At the same moment, unseen hands unfurled the sails and the vessel lurched away from the dock.

“I rescue you from prison, seeking to reunite you to your precious lflock, and you try to run away.” She tapped a long fingernail on the arm of her throne. Her loose dress shimmered in the moonlight. “What is your name, Peasant Girl?”

Eleanor’s mind raced. What actually came out of her mouth surprised her. “Starla.” She had answered truthfully, from somewhere deep inside of her. Starla was the name her mother had given her at birth. Eleanor was the name she had chosen at the time of her princess coronation, shortly after her mother was removed.

The pirate smirked. “And what was your business in Mennix?”

Having had some success drawing from a deep place, Starla searched for an answer there again. What had she really been hoping to find in Mennix? “I sought word of my king.”

“Why were you imprisoned?”

“I did not understand the ways of Mennix. I think perhaps I violated a custom. I started to speak before a magistrate and the next thing I knew, I woke up in the prison.”

“Are you a servant to your king?”

“Indeed.”

The pirate commanded the flying creatures to release Starla and summoned them to herself. Starla turned to run, but the pirate said. “I may know something of your king, Peasant Girl.”

Starla stopped and turned back. The pirate eclipsed three moons as the flying creatures carried her down to the deck. As she descended, her shimmering gown spreading like great wings. Once she had landed, the pirate lifted her long skirt just enough to reveal matching, heeled shoes that clicked as she walked toward the starboard bow. The flying creatures released her arms and hovered in the throne’s shadow, only their glowing eyes visible.

The pirate looked out across the waters. “After the great rains, we came upon a a ship run aground on an uninhabited island. The owner of the ship promised us his raiment in exchange for transport to his kingdom. We accepted. But the next night, disaster struck.”

Wichita, Kansas

Eleanor looked up from the sheep to see Mr. Washington walking toward her. A woman with long blonde hair walked beside him, holding a baby. Nine children crested the rise alongside them, the last rays of light kissing their skin with a shocking magnificence. They were a cabinet, a congress, a platoon, a pride—a cosmically radical force . . .

And they were headed straight for her.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 12

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,

making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5

Mennix

Eleanor sucked in her breath and squeezed her eyes shut, expecting great pain, but instead there was a moment of bitter cold followed by the sensation of heavy material being draped about her. She opened her eyes. A wool coat that extended well past her dangling toes was being fastened around her by a second metallic being. The fire in its eyes was green. “Your disguise, Peasant Girl.”

The panic dropped out of her. Surely this was a rescue arranged by Silversong. She smiled in relief and looked around her. The windows in the small dwellings below glowed with yellow light. Smoked curled upward from their chimneys and the snells of cooked meats and yeasty treats with them. Ahead, tall structures stretched toward the sky, their curves and straight lines outlined in cold, white lights. In the distance, dim lanterns illuminated wooden ships.

Wichita, KS

Principal Sokolova stood at the west bank of windows on the third floor of the school, looking down on the red-tinted river and, near it, a pen of sheep. The sun seemed to rest on the deep green trees of the city before removing its light from this place to shed it elsewhere.

She held a half-full goblet in her hand; one finger tapped the glass in time with the scherzo her daughter danced behind her.

The door creaked open. “You needed to talk to me?”

Danny.

The finger stopped tapping.

“Shut up, Google,” Talia called out. The music stopped and Talia grabbed a towel from the barre. “Hey, Larry,” she said, smiling.

Mr. Washington smiled at her uncertainly before she stepped out of the room. When the door had shut, Mr. Washington turned toward Principal Solovenka. “Why does she call me Larry?”

Principal Sokolova threw her free hand in the air. “No idea.” She cleared her throat. “I see you’ve turned our top dancer into a shepherdess.”

“It was in the reports.”

She grunted and looked back out the window.

“It’s only for ten weeks.”

“Ten weeks she could be training.”

“These children aren’t automatons; they’re human beings. I want them to feel that, I want them to begin to understand it. They need beauty and history and they need music that is something more than a taskmaster. They need nourishment for their souls, an understanding of their deep worth and how they are connected to the soil and the river and galaxy they belong in. If one breaks, I want them to know that we won’t throw them away. They need to learn to care for others, for themselves. I think caring for sheep is the best way to teach Miss West.”

“There’s a lot of pressure on me, Mr. Washington. To produce top performers. To build the school’s portfolio. To win competitions. To win prize money, frankly.”

“Then walk way, Ninette.”

Her heart seized. This was not the first time Danuwoa Washington had said these words to her.

A sycamore tree. Cicadas singing. Lightning bugs pulsing on the green campus lawn. “I know that it’s not good for me.”

The feel of his sweater on her wet cheek. His words in her ears. “Then walk away, Ninette.”

“To where?”

“To me.”

“I want to.”

“But?”

“I need to go to the studio one last time.”

Danny had urged her not to. “Just call Stevens. Resign over the phone.” But she went. And she should not have. And the shame and the anger still burned down deep within her. She clutched the goblet in her hand and set her jaw like steel.

“You’re dismissed, Mr. Washington.”

His footsteps on the wooden floor echoed in the large room. When the door was shut again, Ninette hurled the drink at the door. The goblet shattered against the transom and the red wine trickled down the wooden door, staining it forever.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 11

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Proverbs 1:32-33

Mennix

Eleanor awoke to an ear-piercing siren, the stench of smoke, and a metallic hand pulling on her bare arm. “Hi-ya, Peasant Girl! Wake up!”

Eleanor’s eyes fluttered open and beheld two black, glass globes that contained small, red fires. These “eyes” were embedded in a silver disk. She backed away from the hovering disk from which thick arms extended toward her.

“Hi-ya! This is a prison break!” A flashing light illuminated Eleanor’s small, puke-green cell. She looked down at her puke-green smock. Yep, she must be in prison. That’s when she realized that the burning smell was coming from one of the walls of her cell. Part of it was obliterated; a hole yawned into the starry night beyond.

Before she could react, the being grabbed her arms, whisked her, feet dragging, across the floor, and together they swung out into the night sky.

Wichita, KS

Eleanor’s grandfather met the fifteen passenger van at the curb where she was unceremoniously dropped off. Eleanor had thought that she was in control of this situation, but her grandfather registered no surprise at her sudden reappearance; he was having the same slightly bored reaction as Mr. Washington.

Eleanor and her grandfather walked into The Foundry, the homeless shelter that he and her grandmother administered, and stopped by her grandmother’s office. Her grandfather handed her the day’s mail. “Thank you,” she said, looking up from her computer. “Hi, Eleanor.” No surprise registered on her face, either. Just “Hi, Eleanor,” as though she had been expecting her.

Eleanor followed her grandfather back out of the shelter. They walked down the street together, over to Douglas, and then north on Market, into the heart of downtown. Her grandfather took wide, purposeful steps that she had to keep catching up with. He veered at a tall building simply denoted as 125 N. Market. Eleanor glanced at the swanky lobby and was disappointed when her grandfather passed by it and opened a less grand door to the side.

Inside, a mirrored wall reflected a group of young professionals passing through. Her grandfather passed in front of them, walking straight for the wall like a crazy man. Eleanor cried out, “Papa!” without thinking about how baby-ish it would sound. Than, amazingly, a panel of the mirror pushed in; it was a door. Eleanor stood there, blinking.

One of the women passing by winked at her, jarring her to her senses. She ran through the open door and hurried up an escalator to catch up to her grandfather.

At the top of the escalator, they walked out onto a skywalk where her grandfather stopped. He leaned against the railing and looked down at the passing cars.

Eleanor waited for him to say something, but he was quiet. It was strange, really, that this existence—the downtown traffic, the people walking around in suits and polos, the goings on at the government buildings, even the perfect symmetry of the walkway windows—was carrying on parallel to all the activity happening a few blocks away at the Farmer’s Market. This was a grid work, a sheet of graphing paper to her as compared with the color, music, and food smells being pumped out into an electrified atmosphere at the market. Why was she here and not there?

When her breathing returned to a normal rhythm, she broke the silence. “You expected me to quit, didn’t you?”

Her grandfather nodded.

“Did you know about the sheep?”

He nodded.

“What a stupid thing to spend funding on,” Eleanor said.

“Your grandmother and I paid for the sheep. The sheep were my idea.”

Eleanor swung and faced her grandfather. “What?!?”

“Calm down, now,” he said in a quiet voice, still looking down at traffic. “I just walked through a door you thought was a wall. Right now, you look at those sheep and all you see is a wall, but I see a door, a door that will take you to a higher level, a door that will open up a larger world. Your mother loves you, Ellie; she took good care of you while you were a little girl. But you’re not a little girl anymore. It’s time to grow up.”

“I don’t understand.” Arms folded across her chest, she regarded her grandfather with an icy gaze.

“You took a personality test to get into Mr. Washington’s program. It showed us that you have an aptitude for leadership. What is the job of a leader, Ellie?”

“To make decisions. To give instructions.”

“And to look out for the needs of the people she leads.”

Eleanor bit her lip and looked back down at the traffic. “I see,” she said. “I don’t want to see, but I see.”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 10

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“. . . when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.”Proverbs 1:27-31

Mennix

Eleanor stood before the Mennix magistrate with her shoulders thrown back and her head high, ready to file her complaint. She played the role of strong and defiant, to be sure, but terror was choking her. Mennix was not at all what she had expected. She had spent her whole life in their little archipelago, assuming the rest of the world was just the same. Stone. Grass. Wood. Wool. And the webs of the golden dargofonn.

The great hall of the magistrate was lit by small suns, trapped in glass globes; it was brighter inside the cube-shaped building than outside. The magistrate sat on a throne elevated to the height of two formassia trees stacked on top of each other. The collar of his black robe was white, tastefully illuminated, and rose five feet above him in a half moon shape, as though he were one of the twelve governing moons. In the center of the ceiling of each room, including this one, was a very strange configuration of three enormous glass bells, each artfully designed with primary-colored paisleys. But despite their beauty, there was something ominous about them—a darkness reaching out from them.

The magistrate rose and stretched out his hand. “You have no voice here.”

Silversong side-stepped, dance-like, and bowed. Then he struck the floor with his staff, jingling the bells he had affixed to the staff that morning, but remained bowed down.

Eleanor remembered Silversong’s warning to respond as he did to the magistrate since he was well-versed in their traditions, but heat flashed across her face. She stretched out her neck, opened her mouth to speak, and then was struck by a powerful sound wave that knocked her out cold.

Wichita, KS

Eleanor stepped up to the horse trailer and stood next to Mr. Washington. Through an opening between the metal slats, she could see a flock of black and white sheep. Their hooves clanked against the metal floor of the trailer. One lamb stood up against one wall for a moment and then got back down. “They’re so cute,” she thought, “But they smell so bad.”

“They are yours, Eleanor,” Mr. Washington said.

She looked at him, expecting laughter, but his large eyes were serious. Eleanor fell backwards but then grabbed for a slat of metal on the trailer with one hand so that she just landed a little clumsily on the cement. Rage mounted within her briefly before she exploded.

“I didn’t apply to this school so that I could listen to your stupid Indian stories or work like a slave in the cafeteria. And I definitely did not sign up to handle a bunch of mangy, stupid sheep! I am a dancer! And if I can’t dance, I quit!”

She expected Mr. Washington’s jaw to drop in astonishment, but his eyes registered ‘slightly bored’ as he replied, “Okay. I will take you to your grandparents. It’s been a pleasure knowing you.”

“You don’t know me!” She screamed, but Mr. Washington didn’t seem to be in the mood for a fight; he was ushering her to the van. As he opened the driver’s side door, he called to Cezario, telling him to keep an eye out for the others until he returned.

“We’ll have to make one quick stop along the way,” Mr. Washington said as he buckled in. He glanced down at his phone and then started the van.

Eleanor had the distinct feeling she was being played and she didn’t like it. Mr. Washington pulled out of the Farmer’s Market complex and then pulled into an alleyway. Io’s unmistakable red Afro practically glowed in a shaft of light breaking through a crack between two buildings. She stood in the middle of the alley, unmoving, looking upward, even as the can van parked right in front of her.

“See that Fitbit on her wrist?” Mr. Washington asked “Her parents’ only hesitation about enrolling her was her knack for getting lost. I used grant money to buy that and I have it connected to my phone. Pretty cool stuff. It’s a great way to keep her from getting hurt until she learns a few more things and grows up a little more. I just wish there was an app for other kinds of lostness.”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 9

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you . . . “ Proverbs 1:24-26

Mennix*

Silversong’s vessel, the Shairi**, was an altogether different creature than Eleanor’s agricultural boat and her father’s swift cruiser. While theirs were used for quick day trips, the Shairi was designed for long, diplomatic missions and therefore had cabins, a galley, and other various rooms and compartments that Eleanor never saw nor cared to see.

Silversong had strongly recommended that Maurice come along to guard her, but she was still upset about Maurice’s reaction concerning the tower and refused to heed Silversong’s advice. As she stood before the mirror in her cabin now, she imagined the awe she would inspire in the people of Mennix when she disembarked the Shairi, wearing her father’s royal robes; the light would illuminate the golden fibers and cast a great brilliance upon her hair, face, and arms.

Wichita, KS

Brightly colored flowers popped. Easy-up tents snapped into place. A group of dancers in black leotards and tights jumped to the beat of drums. Eleanor wondered how she could have been missing out on this all summer; her grandparents ran a homeless shelter just a few blocks away. If only she had wandered over here with Grandma West rather than landing here now with this rag-tag troupe of lunatics.

Eleanor was flanked by Cezario and Jaqueline. Jaqueline wore a black and white striped shirt, black pants, and had her face painted white. As she walked, she stroked her pretend cat. They walked into an open square, following Mr. Washington. Eleanor spied a manhole cover that she was contemplating removing in order to escape from this humiliation when they passed a man and a woman hammering together two-by-fours.

“Jack!” the man cried out.

The woman looked up and came running at Jaqueline, arms wide, and hugged her, but then stepped back, alarmed. “Beanstalk!”

Jaqueline extended the pretend cat to the woman for inspection.

“We’ll get you a hammer, Jack,” the man said. “This is our best set so far.”

Just then, a guy from the Tallgrass Film Festival tent called out, “Cezario!” He passed by Eleanor like she wasn’t even there in order to fist bump Cezario.

A memory flashed before Eleanor: Her mom’s green eyes, her Pantene-perfect hair, and her alto voice saying, “It’s okay with me if you want to keep learning under Mrs. Kourda via Zoom, but I was looking online at dance studios in Wichita and it looks like there are some great offerings. This new job I’m getting will pay enough for any of these. It’s up to you, Ellie-Belly.”

Eleanor winced—at the nickname and her own, stubborn stupidity. She turned away from the warm communities that “Jack” and Cezario were already enmeshed in and watched as Mr. Washington walked up to a horse trailer and started speaking to whoever, or whatever, was within.

*Name inspired by an ancient African port, Meninx, on the southeast coast of what is now Tunisia. This area was famous for its purple dye. A fun fact for you: Tunisia was once the ‘breadbasket of Europe.’

**Pronounced “Shy-Uhnee” (Swahili for “poem”)

***When looking for a good last name for Eleanor’s dance instructor, I googled founders of Seattle and found this interesting tidbit: In 1851, a group of immigrants from Illinois, led by one Arthur Denny, arrived at Alki Point on the eastern shores of the Puget Sound. The settlement they created was named Seattle in honor of a helpful local Indian leader Chief Sealth.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 8

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:

‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.’” Proverbs 1:20-23

Isle of the Rising Star

Silversong stood before her, holding the scroll, reading.

“Detestable,” he said.

A cool wind blew in through the open window. Eleanor drew her royal robes more tightly about her. She looked out at the moons in their various forms. Was that what she was? A moon in a particular form? Ever waning and waxing? She wanted to be as sure as the sun in its course, not a reflective, dead object, but a pulsing, life-giving force, moving ever forward.

“You say these pirates were women?”

“Yes.”

“Armed women?”

“Yes.”

“And how many of your flock did they pilfer?”

“Forty-three. And they had many more on board.”

“No doubt enough to account for all that have been rustled since the rain.” Silversong set the scroll on the desk and paced the room. “Did you reveal your identity?”

“No.” Eleanor ran her finger along the grooves on the desk’s middle drawer. “Why didn’t they take my vessel and all of my flock?” There was a long pause. “Not that I wish it.”

Silversong did not answer. He was looking at a map affixed to the far wall. After some time, he turned on his heels. “It is time to sleep, Your Highness. We must travel tomorrow.”

Wichita, KS

The eight freshman ate their breakfast in a quiet corner of the kitchen, separated from the din of the student body by swinging doors and refrigerators and sizzling deep fryers where two women worked, dropping frozen hash browns in and pulling them back out.

Eleanor had hoped that she would begin classes this morning, but it wasn’t meant to be. In fact, none of the freshman would attend traditional classes in the mornings for the first eight weeks. After breakfast, the freshman wiped down the tables in the cafeteria, swept, and followed Mr. Washington out to a white van in the parking lot.

“I want to die,” Eleanor muttered under her breath as they climbed in.

“Is there a problem?” the guy with the blue -rimmed glasses asked, buckling in beside her. “Is her royal highness not used to earning her keep?” He looked out the window as she tried to form a retort. The van was loud with Mr. Washington blaring classical music on the stereo and the loud guy with the bushy eyebrows imitating Will Ferrel.

A few blocks into the trip, the guy with glasses turned back to Eleanor. “I get it, for whatever it’s worth. My name is Cezario The name of a king, right? A ruler. And that’s what I thought I was.” His voice dropped to a whisper and he looked away, back out the window. “Until this summer.”

Eleanor was locked in her own little pain room and it didn’t have windows. She crossed her arms, looking straight ahead. She didn’t think that anything could pull her out of her funk, but then the van turned a corner onto a brick street. A large white banner with purple writing was being hoisted above the street that read “Final Friday” and everywhere her eyes looked down the street of warehouses-turned-venues, there was a pulsing, artistic energy that made something in her glow again.