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The bus stopped, and Arvid Olsen stepped from one world into another.
The bus ride had been like an extension of high school itself: Boisterous, worldly, juvenile. And noisy, above all noisy. Chattering voices, roars of laughter. The noise surrounded him, enveloped him, seeped into him. And then he stepped out into loneliness, stepped out into cold, into serenity. He was coming home.
The road cut like a beam of dark light along the surface of the earth, a line drawn on the map of the land by a collossal hand, dividing and connecting at the same time. To the south of the road lay the farms, the fields and meadows showing only stubble now after the harvest. On both sides of the road lay the houses, surrounded by large lawns. Outposts of suburbia, allowed by the land only grudgingly because of the protection of the mighty road, or so it would seem. His home - or rather his parents' home - was on the north side of the road. Beyond the lawn started the wilderness. Trees, shrubs, ferns, wild grasses all tried to invade the lawn, every year, the primeval forces of chaos and growth creeping up on the lawn of order, only to be repelled again, year after year.
For 18 years he had lived here, and everything had remained the same. The lawn was immaculate, unchanging, always the same. The same were also his parents. Even his sisters had not really changed, they only grew, and then married. And the marriage was not a change, it was their destiny. Only he had no destiny. Only he was changing. Losing his faith and getting nothing in return, only this uncertainty. Looking up and down the road, seeing the elaborate fences around every house, he felt suddenly, utterly alone. He was coming home.
At 18, Arvid was way too old to need to come home and find Mom waiting with the dinner. More important, he was way too old to have his pious parents spy upon his every step, ever fearful that he just might happen to sin and go to hell. Yeah, they meant it well. But it was really grating on his nerves. He couldn't phone a girl about homework without his parents praying loudly for his poor soul, or so it seemed.
At least they didn't follow him into the forest.
The short steps across the lawn, which seemed like a mile when he was a kid. When the fence was like a wall against the unknown. Now, as a young man, he could jump the fence easily. The thought made him chuckle. But the jump still seemed to take him to another world: Open leafy forest mixed with grass coated the low rolling hills, and small streams wound their way through the small valleys, surrounded by bracken and bushes. Soon the houses were out of sight, hidden by the hillsides. The sound from the road faded to a part of the background, overlaid by the babbling of the brooks and the soft sighing of the wind in the leaves.
The rains that kept him indoors all weekend were gone now, the streams gradually returning to something near their usual size. He walked along the largest of them, wending his way upstream. His eyes had caught something unusual: The raging waters of the flash flood had undercut the riverbank and made a small part of the hill slide out. Then the loose earth had been carried away by the stream, leaving a jumble of stones in its wake. The stones were tentatively sorted by size as the waters slowed down and deposited smaller and smaller particles. Then the waters receded, leaving a strange peninsula for him to walk: Small boulders at one end, fine sand at the other. And there were newly broken stones in strange shapes and colors, not yet worn down. Arvid had always had a thing for stones. He stopped as he saw something glitter in the afternoon light.
Crouching down, Arvid picked up a large clear stone crystal, the size of a child's hand. For a moment his heart leaped, but then he saw that the crystal was not perfect. It was shadowed within in colors of green and brown and gray, vague and foglike colors in the center of the stone. And the shape was also imperfect, seeming more like a piece broken from a long stick of crystal. Too bad. It was almost certainly worthless, even though it was still quite pretty. The colors inside were hazy and indistinct, and he was unable to make out any clear pattern. Yet there was something intriguing to it. He put the stone in his pocket and looked around for more. But there were no more good stones. The others were too everyday to be worth collecting. Just more rough and irregular than the average, because they were newly broken free from the hillside.
Arvid came home to see the car ready to go. "Where are you going?" "To Susanne. Do you want to go with us?" They must know he did not want to. Susanne was his oldest sister, out of three, all older than him. She was also the most pious of them all, and her husband was insufferable. It was a mystery to Arvid that they could not see the preacher's ambition for what it was, raw hunger for power. The man wanted to dictate other people, relished the pleasure of seeing them do his bidding, all in the name of God. But for Arvid to try to tell his trusting parents? They would just pray that much louder for his sinful soul. In their eyes, having a daughter marry a preacher man was like getting a gold medal from God. "I have homework to do" he replied curtly.
A little while later he sat down on his bed and picked up the crystal again. Quite pretty. Too bad about the shadows within. But he would not try to sell it anyway. Instead he just turned it over in his hands a little while, then put it on the shelf near the bed. He had a small collection of unusual stones there, none of them valuable, but all of them decorative or at least unusual. This one was the best so far. Not a bad day after all! He placed the new stone closest to his pillow. From there, he would be able to look at it while falling asleep.
But before that, there was homework to do. And girls to think of. Daydreams to dream.
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