Chapter 01

"Would you repeat that?"

"Your cousin is going to be staying with us for a while. You need to clear out some space in your dresser and your closet for him."

"Which cousin? Matthias? Did Aunt Margy and Uncle Rance finally decide to get a divorce?"

"No. I mean, yes, Margy and Rance are getting divorced, but Matthias is going to be staying with your Grandma Keller until they get things settled. We're going to be hosting your cousin Bitru."

"I have a cousin named Beetroot?"

"Brandton Lee Keller! We raised you better than that! I'm sure Bitru is going to feel very out of place here, so you need to be nice to him."

"But MOM! I don't even know him and I'm going to have to share my room with him? I've never even heard of a cousin 'bee-true'." Brandton urged her to understand.

"Well, to be honest, I haven't either. He's from your father's side of the family. But when Bitru's parents' lawyer contacted us, he explained that Bitru's family has been moving all over the world as part of their jobs since long before Bitru was born. It seems that they've recently become concerned that Bitru has never had what you would call a normal life or a home. He's never had the chance to form lasting friendships or even attend an actual school. He's been taught by local tutors, wherever they happened to be living at the time."

"How old is he?" Brandton asked cautiously.

"Bitru is eleven years old. Since you're a year older than he is, I expect you to watch after him. He hasn't had a chance to be around other children before, he might need your help fitting in."

"When is he coming?" Brandton asked resignedly.

"We'll be leaving for the airport to pick him up in about two hours."

"Two hours? Why didn't you tell me about this before? I don't have anyplace to put all the crap I've got, now I have to make room for some cousin that I've never heard of before and share a room with him?" Brandton whined.

"Brandton, I don't want you using that language in front of your cousin. Do you hear me? You were raised in the church and you know better than to talk like an unwashed heathen."

"Sorry. I know." Brandton said grudgingly.

"Now get to work, we still need to put fresh sheets on the top bunk... I wonder if he's going to need the rubber sheets?"

"Ewww! Mom!"

"Get to work."

* * * * *

"Go get your mother. At the rate we're going, we're going to be late."

"Me? When was the last time she EVER listened to a thing that I said?" Brandton asked seriously.

"Probably the last time you used inappropriate language."

"Yeah. Thanks for reminding me, Dad." Brandton said grudgingly.

"What are you doing just standing around? We need to be going." Brandton's mother said in a rush as she hurried out of the kitchen.

Brandton and his father shared a look. But before they could make a move toward the door, there was a knock.

"Oh, that's just perfect. This would only happen when we're already running late... Probably those damned Jehovah's Witnesses again." Brandton's mother muttered as she stalked past the men-folk to answer the front door.

Brandton and his father shared another look, then waited to see what was going to happen.

As Brandton's mother opened the door, there was a sudden, gust of cold wind that sent a chill right up Brandton's spine.

"Hello. Mrs. Keller?" A young boy asked timidly.

The boy was small and frail looking. He had dark, almost black, wavy hair, and fair skin that seemed a shade or two lighter than it should be.

The weather looked to be dark and foreboding, but there was no evidence that it had been raining. However the boy was dripping with fresh rain, with small droplets falling from the curls of his dark bangs.

"Yes. That's right." Brandton's mom said cautiously.

"My name is Bitru Rechin. I believe that I am supposed to be here." The boy said cautiously. He had a slight middle European accent, although it was so vague that it wasn't possible for Brandton to distinguish exactly which country it might be from.

"Oh, yes! I'm Liz Anne, please call me Aunt Liz. We were just on our way to get you. Did your flight arrive early?" She asked with concern.

"I don't believe so." Bitru said simply.

Brandton felt like he couldn't get warm. He half expected to be able to see his breath as he stood, watching the events unfold.

"Please, come in out of the cold." Liz Anne hurried to say as she stood out of the way.

Bitru picked up his suitcase and walked into the entry hall, where Brandton and his dad were waiting.

"You must be Mr. Keller." Bitru said quietly. He didn't sound exactly sad, but his voice was flat, devoid of any real emotion.

"Yes, but you can call me Uncle Warren while you're staying with us." Brandton's father said in a fairly credible warm and inviting tone.

Bitru nodded once, then looked at Brandton curiously.

"I'm Brandton."

"A pleasure to meet you." Bitru said simply, but the look in his dark eyes was nothing short of frozen control. Another shiver went up Brandton's spine and, at that moment, he wasn't sure if it had anything to do with the temperature in the entry hall.

"Well, I suppose that since you're here, I'd better get to work on dinner. Brandton, why don't you take Bitru to your room and show him where to put his things?" Liz Anne said abruptly in an overly cheerful voice.

That snapped Brandton out of his mental wandering. Besides, he very much wanted to go to his room, if for no other reason than to put on a sweater or a jacket.

* * * * *

"This will be our room. I emptied two drawers and about half the closet for you." Brandton said as he led the way into the bedroom.

"That's far more space than I will need." Bitru said as he stopped just inside the door and looked around.

"Is the top bunk okay with you?" Brandton asked as he walked to the closet to get himself a jacket.

Bitru stared at the bed for a moment, then quietly said, "I'm sure it will be fine."

"Just let me know if you don't like it or have a problem or something." Brandton rambled as he pulled on his fleece hoodie and huddled into himself for warmth.

Bitru gave a single nod, then walked to the dresser and placed his suitcase on top.

Brandton couldn't resist the urge to follow and see what Bitru had brought with him.

When the suitcase was opened, Brandton was amazed by the level of organization that had been used to pack the suitcase. Everything was so tightly and efficiently packed that there probably wouldn't be room for a slip of tissue paper.

"Which drawer is for me?" Bitru asked as he stopped all movement.

"The bottom two, if that's okay." Brandton stammered.

"One will be more than enough." Bitru said as he relocated his suitcase to the floor beside the dresser.

Brandton had a thought and quietly asked, "Do you have more stuff coming? You know, like toys or a bike or stuff like that?"

"No." Bitru said simply as he began to take items, one at a time, from his suitcase and refold them before putting them neatly into the drawer.

"Well, if you don't have any stuff of your own, I've got tons of stuff, so I guess you can share mine if you want." Brandton said carefully.

"I don't believe that will be necessary, but thank you for the offer." Bitru said as he maintained his focus on putting his clothes away.

A moment of silence fell between them as Brandton watched him work.

The clothes were of a slightly different style than Brandton was used to seeing and all of them appeared to be brand new.

Although Brandton probably had five times as many clothes, he had the feeling that nothing he owned could compare in style and quality to anything that Bitru had brought with him.

"Where would you like for me to put my hanging clothes?" Bitru asked as he stood.

"Over here. I cleared out the left side of the closet for you." Brandton said as he walked to the closet door and opened it.

Bitru closed the lid of his suitcase and lifted it to the top of the dresser before reopening it.

"I left you some hangers, but if you need more I can ask Mom." Brandton said quickly.

"Thank you, no. I have my own." Bitru said simply.

Brandton watched curiously as Bitru took a small pouch out of his suitcase, then extracted something that looked like a series of thin silver tubes with chains running through them. They looked vaguely like something a ninja might use. With a few well practiced moves, Bitru assembled the tubes and chain into a clothes hanger.

Once the hanger was assembled, Bitru then unfolded a carefully packed pair of pants and hung them on the crossbar. After that, he hung a cream colored shirt on the top.

Brandton was amazed at Bitru's efficiency. He thought that if he would do the same thing with his clothes, he could cut his closet space in half, or at least use half the number of hangers.

Suddenly, Brandton heard eerie organ music playing. Although he was used to hearing organ music in his parents' church, this seemed to be more like something that would be played at a demented, dark carnival.

"Excuse me." Bitru said as he fished a phone out of his pocket.

Brandton noted that it was probably the biggest cell phone that he had ever seen. It was wafer thin, but the screen was enormous. If it were any bigger, it would be considered a tablet computer.

"Yes. I have arrived." Bitru said in his quiet, icily controlled voice.

"No. I found it easily."

"I need to finish unpacking and dinner is being prepared. I must go." Bitru said seriously, then terminated the call.

"Was that your parents?" Brandton asked curiously.

"I believe it was the concierge at the hotel where my parents are staying, although I may be mistaken." Bitru said as he went back to work, hanging his clothes.

Brandton was disturbed by the answer, but felt that it was none of his business, so he didn't question further.

* * * * *

"There's some room at the back of the closet against the wall, if you want to put your suitcase there." Brandton said when he realized that Bitru had finished unpacking.

"Thank you." Bitru said as he closed the suitcase and put it away.

"If you want, I can set you up on my computer with your own account. It'll just take a couple minutes." Brandton said quickly.

"I can do most things on my phone. But I may ask you to do so later, if I find that there is a need." Bitru said carefully.

"Yeah. It's probably better that way, my parents have this really harsh Internet parental lockout thing set up on my computer, so I can't look at porn and stuff. But the way it works, I can't find about half of whatever I'm looking for even if it's just stuff for school." Brandton said regretfully.

Bitru didn't respond, and Brandton didn't really know how to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.

Finally, one question came to mind and no matter how inappropriate it seemed, Brandton felt that he had to ask.

"You don't wet the bed, do you?" Brandton asked cautiously.

"No. I've never really had that problem." Bitru said simply.

There was no trace of embarrassment or annoyance in his voice.

"Good, I just wanted to be sure because... well, I'm on the bottom bunk." Brandton said nervously.

Bitru gave a single nod which seemed to indicate that he understood and approved of Brandton's reason for asking the question.

"It'll probably still be a few minutes before dinner is ready. Do you want to do something?" Brandton asked hesitantly.

"Would there be a convenient place where I can charge my phone at night?" Bitru asked curiously.

"Yeah. You can plug into my USB or you can plug into the power strip behind the monitor." Brandton answered immediately.

"Is there an outlet nearer the bed? I would like to have the phone within reach should my parents attempt to contact me during the night. Given the different time zones and the fact that they have to relocate so frequently, they could conceivably call at any time of the day or night." Bitru said quietly.

"Um, I don't know. I don't think I ever looked for a plug over there. We can look now, if you want." Brandton finished with a smile.

Bitru seemed uncertain for a moment, then walked to the bed with Brandton and they both started looking along the wall for an outlet.

"Here's one, at the head of the bed." Brandton said in triumph.

"That will suit my needs." Bitru said simply.

Bitru then went to the closet and took out his suitcase again. From a zippered compartment on the outside, Bitru took out a phone charger cord and a small pouch.

Brandton watched curiously as Bitru rifled through the pouch until he found the electrical connector that he was looking for. From what Brandton could see, Bitru had about a dozen different connectors.

"What's it like to live in different places all over the world?" Brandton asked curiously.

"The inside of one hotel room is much like another. Although there are some differences, there is enough sameness to allow the entire experience to become one all-encompassing blur." Bitru said very precisely. There was no hint of sadness or longing in either his words or expression. He was simply stating the facts as he saw them.

"Boys! Dinner's almost ready!" Liz Anne called down the hallway.

"Good! I'm starving!" Brandton said with a smile.

"Where can I go to wash up?" Bitru asked quietly.

"Oh, yeah. Come on, I'll show you." Brandton said as he led the way out of the room.

* * * * *

"Everyone, sit down in the dining room. It'll be just another minute." Liz Anne said quickly when she spotted the boys.

Brandton changed direction and led Bitru into the next room down the hall.

"We usually eat at the kitchen table. The only time we eat in here is holidays." Brandton said as he took his seat.

Bitru took the seat opposite him.

Warren walked into the dining room and took his seat at the head of the table.

"Bitru, I noticed that you didn't bring much with you. Let us know if you need anything and we'll be happy to get it for you." Warren said seriously.

"I believe I have all that I need. But I will let you know." Bitru said simply.

Brandton huddled into his fleece jacket a little tighter and noticed that his father was also reacting to the chill.

As Warren got up to check the thermostat, Liz Anne rushed into the dining room carrying a large bowl of salad.

"Bitru, I should have asked earlier, are there any foods that you're allergic to, or that you especially don't like." Liz Anne asked curiously.

"I will normally eat whatever is set before me. However, I typically do not care for offals." Bitru said simply.

Although Liz Anne seemed to be confused by the response, it was Brandton who asked, "Offals? What's that?"

"Entrails and organs." Bitru said simply.

"Don't worry. Mom doesn't cook a lot of entrails." Brandton said with a smile.

Liz Anne ran out of the room without comment as everyone waited.

"So, Bitru, how are you liking Pennsylvania so far?" Warren asked casually.

"It reminds me very much of Ljubljana, although a bit more... rustic." Bitru said consideringly.

Brandton was completely baffled by the answer.

"I'm sorry, I don't know where that is." Warren finally admitted.

"In Slovenia." Bitru clarified.

After a moment, Warren finally shook his head to indicate that he didn't know where that was either.

"North of Croatia..." Bitru said slowly, then stopped at the befuddled look in Warren's eyes.

"South of Austria..." Bitru ventured, but to no avail.

"Northeast of Italy." Bitru said cautiously, and was rewarded with a reaction from his uncle.

"Okay. I think I know where that is. I suppose that when we talk to you about the places that you've visited, we'll probably need to have a map handy." Warren chuckled.

"Although I have visited more places than I can count, I remember very few individual details. One place is much like another to me. The overall topography of this place simply reminded me of Ljubljana." Bitru said seriously.

"Here we go." Liz Anne said as she placed the main course in the center of the table.

"Since Bitru is our guest of honor, I think it would be good if he led us in blessing the food." Warren said with a smile at his guest.

"I have to admit that I'm unfamiliar with this practice, but I have heard of it and did some research to prepare, just in case." Bitru explained quietly.

"That's fine. We'll understand if you don't know what to say." Liz Anne assured him.

"No. Although I'm not sure about your religious denomination, I believe that since this is a quote directly from your bible that it should be acceptable. In fact, from what I saw on the Internet, this was the Thanksgiving prayer from the Catholic Church for the President." Bitru said seriously.

"That sounds like it should be just fine." Warren said warmly.

"This is from the Psalm 109:8" Bitru said carefully, before reciting from memory,

"Let his days be few; and let another take his office.

Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.

Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg:

let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.

Let the extortioner catch all that he hath;

and let the strangers spoil his labor.

Let there be none to extend mercy unto him:

neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children.

Let his posterity be cut off;

and in the generation following let their name be blotted out."

A long moment of silence followed, then Warren quietly said a tentative, "Amen."

There was another hesitant moment, then Liz Anne took the salad bowl and started passing it around the table.

"If I'm going to be asked to pronounce a blessing frequently, I will need to do further research. I have only memorized this one." Bitru explained carefully before accepting the basket of warmed rolls from Warren.

"Please don't go to the trouble, Bitru. I only asked you this once because it's a special occasion, but from here on out, I'll be saying the blessing." Warren said carefully while Bitru split and buttered his roll.

"Thank you. Since I'm unfamiliar with your denomination and orthodoxy, it's difficult for me to know which tenets of christianity you hold with. I look forward to attending your church so I can witness your religious customs in person." Bitru said diplomatically.

"I'm glad that you're looking forward to going with us. Considering how hard Brandton tries to weasel out of going, I was afraid that you might not be interested." Warren said honestly.

Brandton flashed his dad a sour look at the statement.

"There is no need for you to worry about that. I have been fascinated by primitive belief systems and ancient mythologies for quite some time." Bitru said simply.

Warren and Liz Anne both seemed like they wanted to say something in response, but both held themselves back.

* * * * *

"Excuse me, but what is this that we're eating?" Bitru asked curiously.

"Lasagne. How do you like it?" Liz Anne asked hopefully.

"Did it come from a can?" Bitru asked cautiously.

"It's a frozen entree, don't you like it?" Liz Anne asked with a slight whine under her words.

"I'm not sure. I have experienced cuisine from all over the world, but I don't recall ever eating anything that tasted quite like this before." Bitru said seriously before taking another small bite.

"You'll get used to it." Warren said to Bitru sympathetically.

Liz Anne flashed a warning glare at her husband and he immediately turned his attention back to his plate of food.

* * * * *

"I hope everyone saved room for dessert." Liz Anne said as she dashed out of the living room.

"I wish to extend my apologies if I offended you with my questions." Bitru said quietly.

"Don't worry about it, Bitru. I can understand that if you're used to 'real' cooking, factory food must be quite a shock to the system." Warren said sympathetically.

"No. Not a shock. Quite the opposite. The absence of any real flavor and the fleshy texture of the... pasta, I suppose, were unlike anything that I have experienced before. I have never in my life tasted anything with such unyielding blandness." Bitru tried to explain.

"Like I said before, you'll get used to it." Warren said with a sigh.

"Raspberry cheesecake!" Liz Anne crowed as she entered the room with several already plated desserts.

Bitru looked at her with slight interest, then his gaze fell on what she was carrying.

"Did these also come from the freezer?" Bitru asked cautiously.

"Yes, but they've been thawing in the fridge since yesterday. They should be just right." Liz Anne said as she placed a perfectly factory formed wedge of cheesecake before Bitru.

"Go ahead. Give it a try." Warren encouraged.

Bitru cautiously cut himself a small bite, then noticed that everyone was watching him.

Warren nodded in his direction, encouraging him to eat it.

Bitru put the small piece of cheesecake into his mouth and slowly began to chew.

Thanks to his years of eating the specialties from different cultures all over the world, Bitru was able to resist the urge to spit it out. However, it took quite a bit of work for him to force himself to swallow the perfumy pasty wad of cloying sweetness.

"How do you like it?" Liz Anne asked hopefully.

"I don't have words to express how much I am enjoying this." Bitru said carefully.

Liz Anne seemed to be happy with the answer.

As the others around the table scarfed down their desserts, Bitru tried to force himself to take another bite.

As he was working up his courage, he felt something bump against his leg.

It took a moment for Bitru to realize that Brandton was trying to get his attention.

Bitru looked at him curiously.

Brandton mimicked putting something into his paper napkin, then putting the napkin in his lap.

Bitru gave a slight, single nod, then waited until Liz Anne wasn't looking before hiding the rest of his cheesecake in the paper napkin.

When he glanced to his other side, he saw that Warren had been watching, but only gave a slight smile and a hint of a nod before pretending that his attention had been drawn elsewhere.

* * * * *

"Most places I have lived, they use the stove for cooking, not the freezer." Bitru said to Brandton as they walked toward the bedroom, away from the dining room.

"Yeah. Mom doesn't cook much. The closest thing she does to cooking is when she opens a can of something and heats it on the stove." Brandton said frankly.

"Is this typical here?" Bitru asked curiously as they walked into the bedroom.

"As far as I know, there is no typical. Every family is different." Brandton said as he walked to his bed and sat down.

"I fear that living here may take more of an adjustment than I had first anticipated."

"Just let me know if there's anything I can do to help you." Brandton said simply.

After a long moment of silence, Bitru quietly asked, "Tell me, what do you know of our family... your father's side of the family?"

"Nothing. I mean, I know about dad and Grandma Keller. But that's about it." Brandton said cautiously.

"So you know nothing of our more distant relations?" Bitru asked seriously.

"No. I don't think anyone's ever told me anything about them." Brandton said as he clutched his fleece hoodie tighter around him.

Bitru nodded thoughtfully, then started to climb up to the top bunk.

"Can you tell me?" Brandton asked curiously.

Bitru looked down at Brandton as if he had no clue what he was talking about.

"About our family." Brandton clarified.

"Not before time." Bitru said before turning his attention to the screen of his phone.

Brandton puzzled over what that might mean, but soon became distracted by the bone chilling cold and went to his closet to exchange his hoodie for a full-fledged coat.

* * * * *

"I can turn on the TV if you have any shows that you like to watch." Brandton said into the silence that had fallen between them.

"No. Thank you." Bitru responded absently.

"If you don't watch TV, then what do you do for fun?" Brandton asked curiously.

"I have become adept at keeping myself entertained. Typically, I read." Bitru said simply, without turning his attention from his phone.

"I don't read much. I can never find the time. But if you want to, we can go to the library sometime." Brandton quickly offered.

"That won't be necessary. I have an extensive library on my phone." Bitru said simply.

"Aren't you cold? I'm freezing!" Brandton asked as he huddled into himself.

"No. But changes in temperature usually don't affect me much. I'm used to adapting." Bitru said carefully.

"It looks like I may need to learn how to do that, too." Brandton said as he finally gave in to the urge and climbed into bed.

"We have a cousin who lives locally, do we not?" Bitru asked curiously.

"You mean Matthias?" Brandton asked as he huddled under his blanket.

"Yes. Do you have frequent contact with him?" Bitru asked seriously.

"Usually just when there's a holiday or something. It's not like we're close or anything. He's fourteen, so he doesn't really have much to do with me." Brandton said honestly.

"I hope that you won't have similar inclinations toward me, since I am younger than you are." Bitru said frankly.

"I can't promise you that we're going to become good friends, but I won't not like you just because of your age." Brandton said honestly.

"Thank you for your candor." Bitru said simply.

Brandton didn't know exactly what that meant and decided that having a dictionary close at hand might not be a bad idea if he were going to be holding conversations with his recently discovered cousin.

"You should be aware that I have not had any friends before. If there is some specific behavior or activity that one normally engages in to initiate friendship, I am unaware of it." Bitru said quietly.

"Well, I'm probably not the best person to talk to about stuff like that. There's lots of people at school that I think of as my friends, but I'm not really close to any of them. I'm usually pretty happy to just hang back and do my own thing." Brandton said thoughtfully.

"Are you speaking of masturbation?" Bitru asked curiously.

"What? No! I'm talking about being quiet and watching people! Why would you even... how do you know about that?" Brandton asked in surprise.

"My apologies. I did not mean to offend. I was told of certain cultural customs before I left for America in an attempt to prepare me. I was warned that some of what I was being told was based on hearsay and not necessarily on established facts." Bitru carefully explained.

"It's okay, Bitru. I'm not mad. And from what I've heard, some of the other guys at school do that stuff all the time, I just... don't... yet." Brandton said as he felt a blush rising up his cheeks.

"I understand." Bitru assured him, then continued, "And I've been told that masturbation is a perfectly natural expression of one's sexuality, and need not be looked upon with shame. I was only seeking to verify that I understood your meaning."

"I meant that I don't really talk to people much. I just hang back and watch them. Actually, I really don't like it when people talk to me. It makes me nervous." Brandton said reluctantly.

"I will refrain from unnecessary conversation if it makes you uncomfortable." Bitru said simply.

"No. That's not what I mean. You're fine." Brandton quickly assured him, then explained, "But at school, when there's a bunch of people around, I don't like for people to... notice me. I hate being called on in class or when we have to be picked for teams in gym. I don't like it when everyone is looking at me or listening to me."

"I have no such compunction." Bitru said simply.

Brandton once again thought about how useful a dictionary would be.

"Would you mind if I ask you a question?" Bitru asked quietly.

"No. I guess not." Brandton responded slowly.

"I was curious to know if you really believe in the religious teachings that your parents ascribe to?" Bitru asked carefully.

Brandton smiled before answering, "No. I don't."

"Why not?" Bitru asked curiously.

"All you have to do is look around at reality and if you're honest with yourself, you can't believe in it. I mean, it's obviously made up."

"Then, why do you think that so many people believe it?" Bitru asked curiously.

"I guess because they don't want to admit that when they die, they really die. There's nothing else. It's over." Brandton said seriously, then continued, "People get so scared about death that they talk themselves into believing all kinds of crazy impossible things just for the chance to continue living in some way... they're willing to say anything, do anything or believe anything to prove to themselves that they have an immortal soul... which they don't." Brandton said frankly.

"So, do you believe this to be the basis of religion?" Bitru asked with interest.

"No. I mean, I guess that's why regular people believe in it. But the preachers and priests and people like that use it to control regular people and take their money." Brandton said seriously, then continued, "I mean, what does a preacher actually do except threaten you with eternal hell or promise you eternal peace? Nothing. They bully and seduce you until you'll do whatever they say."

"How is it that you attend church yet still have such beliefs?" Bitru asked curiously.

"When I was about six or seven, I was in Sunday school and they were talking about something, I don't remember what it was, now. All I remember is that it was wrong. Maybe it was the talking snake in the garden of eden or something like that. I guess it doesn't matter. But that was when I realized that the church people were telling fairy tales to us like they were the truth. You know, like with Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. After that, I just listened to what they were saying and compared it to reality." Brandton said frankly, then continued more quietly, "If you read some of the stories in the bible knowing that there's no such thing as magic, then you realize that it's all just a bunch of crazy people telling made up stories."

After a long moment of silence, Bitru quietly said, "I can imagine that you would get along well with my father. He is also very grounded in reality. And, I should add, that I admire you for being able to see past the falsehoods that were being taught to you as facts. Most do not have the courage to think independently."

"Well, I don't know about courage. I mean, I still go to church and pretend to believe, just to try and keep my mom off my back about it." Brandton said quietly.

"What about your father? What does he believe?" Bitru asked curiously.

"I don't know. I think he goes to church because Mom makes him go. But we've never talked about it. I don't know what he really believes, or if he believes in anything at all." Brandton said honestly.

"Yes. I've noticed that there are people who choose to simply not deal with such questions. I haven't decided if they're fools or if they have great wisdom for choosing not to ponder philosophical matters." Bitru said thoughtfully.

"Ignoring things doesn't make them go away. If I take the time to figure out what I do believe, then when something happens, I don't have to stress out about it. I already know how I feel about it and I can keep going." Brandton said seriously.

"How do you mean?" Bitru asked curiously.

"Like, if someone dies, I don't have to talk myself into believing anything to make me feel better about it or struggle with the fantasy problem of what's going on with their soul. I'll just be sad that they're gone and I know that I'll miss them. That's it. There's no candles or prayers or... magic." Brandton said frankly.

"I'm curious to know, what would you do if you found out that you were wrong?" Bitru asked slowly.

"Like, how?"

"What would happen if you found undeniable proof that some of the things that you believed were magical or imaginary turned out to be real?" Bitru asked carefully.

After a moment, Brandton thoughtfully said, "I guess that if I knew it was real and wasn't a trick of some kind, then I'd just have to go ahead and accept it."

There was a long moment of silence, then Brandton cautiously asked, "What do you believe, Bitru?"

"I believe in reality, just as you do. However, my perception of reality may be a bit different than yours." Bitru said seriously.

"How?" Brandton asked curiously.

"If you wouldn't mind terribly, could we postpone the rest of this talk until later? I'm quite tired from travelling and from the change of time zones." Bitru asked hopefully.

"Sure. We can talk about it some other time." Brandton quickly agreed, then had a sudden thought and quietly asked, "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

"I may choose not to answer, but you are free to ask." Bitru said simply.

"Why are you really here?" Brandton asked cautiously.

There was a long moment of silence, then Bitru quietly responded, "To find my family."

Although Brandton wanted to delve deeper into Bitru's motivations, he had another commitment that was starting to weigh heavily on his mind. "If I keep laying here I'm going to fall asleep and I've got a ton of homework that I need to get done. Will it bother you if I have the light on for a while?"

"No. That shouldn't be a problem." Bitru said quietly.

With more than a little reluctance, Brandton got out of bed and went to his desk. Although he would liked to have spent more time talking to his cousin, he knew that he was already behind on his homework. No matter what he did at this point, it was going to be a late night for him.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

First, let me say that I am finding this story extremely interesting. I don't think I have ever read anything quite like this story.

Upon first being given the opportunity to read it, I had a few preconceived ideas, but I think it will take me a bit longer to have things gel with me, to the point where I can see where MM was heading with the story. I don't find that to be a problem for me. In fact, the sooner I can start reading Chapter 2, the happier I will be.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher