Red, green, and blue lights crisscrossed overhead. Soaring, sharply angled mountain peaks stood silhouetted against a pale green sky. Cracks in the ground vented sulfurous smoke, causing the boys to choke as they tried to keep their footing on the rumbling surface.
Off to the right, beyond patches of fern, the two Earthling boys could make out a large circular area where the air seemed to be clearer. They immediately started for it, stumbling past a huge green plant stretching hairy tentacles toward them. Billy leaned down to pull one of the tubes away from his legs when suddenly another tentacle shot out at him and curled around his arm, pulling Billy toward itself. A wide opening like a hungry mouth appeared in the center of the stalk. Behind thick, fibrous lips, an organ that looked like a throbbing throat gurgled yellow slime faster and faster as Billy was drawn ever closer.
The young boy screamed, fighting to keep from being pulled all the way into the hungry maw. Sam, who was only a few feet ahead, looked wildly around for something to fight the plant. He spotted a long wooden stake that looked as if someone had sharpened it to a fine point. Picking it up, he lunged at the carnivore with all his strength. The stake found its way home. The plant shook for a moment, seeming to choke on its own slime, and then released Billy as it collapsed to the ground like a huge wilted weed. Billy fell away, exhausted by the ordeal.
“That was a close one, Sam,” he said, shaking. “That thing would be digesting me about now if you hadn’t found that stake. Thanks.”
They heard a voice from behind them. “You’re welcome.”
The two boys spun around. In front of them, perched on a boulder, was a small, stumpy creature who looked like an elf, with a whiskered face and long, pointed ears.
“I put that stake where I thought you would need it,” the creature said, scratching his head with a three-fingered hand. “These witch plants are vicious. The only thing that will do them in is a stake to the heart. I’m happy you figured out what to do!”
“Where did you come from?” Billy asked, still panting.
“Right over there, from the cave behind that bush,” he said, pointing to an area where the ground was not rumbling.
“Do you live here?” Billy asked.
“Me and all the other Turkins,” he said, pushing out his chest. “Of course, we don’t all live in the same cave. We’re pretty well spread over the planet. Some even live in a city—I’m going to show it to you.”
“Where’s this planet?” Sam asked.
“We’re the fourth from our sun, also known as the star Stratis, about in the center of the Fraxil galaxy. That’s four billion or so light-years from where you boys come from, I understand.”
“I don’t see any sun,” Sam said, looking at the flashing lights in the greenish sky overhead.
“It will be rising soon. It’s getting lighter already.”
“Gee,” Billy said to his brother, “four billion light-years! This is the farthest away from Earth yet.”
“How do you know where we come from, anyway,” Sam asked, peering down at the creature.
“Michael gave me a heads-up. He said to expect guests.”
“Well, I wonder what we’re supposed to do while we’re here,” Billy said, looking around.
“I would suggest you start by watching where you’re walking,” the creature said, pointing to the ground. “You almost stepped on Alfred. Ordinarily he’s a friendly little lizard, but he doesn’t like to be stepped on. When he gets angry, he flicks his tail, and his barbs sting!”
Billy looked down and saw a large green lizard slinking away with its head turned back, giving him a spiteful look with unblinking eyes.
“What’s your name?” Sam asked the squat creature.
“My friends call me Tork, short for Torkle. You can call me Tork.” The creature looked down at the ground and then jumped off his rock, coming down hard on a big, black spider crawling just below his feet. It appeared to be thoroughly squashed when he stepped back. The elfin creature bent down to inspect the remains. “That’s one of the spiders you need to watch for,” he said, straightening up.
Billy looked around apprehensively, wondering what else they needed to be wary of.
“What do you do here?” Sam asked.
“I’m waiting, just like lots of others here,” he replied with a distant look.
“For God to make up His mind.”
“God’s already made up His mind, you old fool!” The voice came from another creature who emerged from the same cave. She was about four feet tall, just a few inches shorter than Tork.
“I’m not ready to accept that,” Tork replied curtly. “We’ve waited this longwhat’s a few hundred more years or so? We’ve got nothing else to do. Oh, excuse me,” the Turkin said, bowing toward the other creature. “This is my soul mate, Reba. Problem is, she’s just too impatient.”
The female of the species shook her three-fingered hand at him. “You’re always saying wait…wait…wait. This waiting has been going on for five hundred years already. If God intended to give us spirits, He surely would have done so by now!”
“Reba, Michael has never told us we don’t stand―excuse the pun―a ghost of a chance. He’s never said that God has no intention of giving us a spirit so that we can have what man has―what these two boys have.”
Reba shook her whiskered head. “Tork, do you remember that passage from the Bible we pleaded Michael to give us—you know, the holy book where these boys came from?”
“You going to mention the Book of Job to me again, Reba?” Tork said gloomily.
“I think God was talking about us, or beings like us, when he had Job say, ‘They burn the roots of shrubs for heat and live in caves and among the rocks.’ Job also said, ‘They are nameless fools, outcasts of civilization.’ That’s us, all right, Tork, except we are not nameless fools. We have a name, and it’s ‘Turkins.’”
“Oh, Job was talking about people who were taunting him, Reba.”
“Nevertheless, one thing is for certain: we were not made in God’s image. Can you imagine a pint-size God with a whiskered face and long, pointed ears like ours?”
“I don’t know what He looks like for sure! Neither do you! And even if we don’t look like God, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t get spirits so that we could have a chance to be in Heaven with Him like humans can.” Tork looked around and saw several small animals munching on nearby ferns. “Without spirits, we’re really not much different from them!” he said, pointing in disgust.
“That’s not really true, dear,” Reba replied, patting him. “Even if we don’t have spirits and can’t go to the Heaven made for man, we do have souls that set us apart from the animals.”
“Animals have souls, also,” he said, turning away dispiritedly.
“They have a different kind of soul, dear, and we’re unlike animals in many ways. For one thing, we know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong, and can choose accordingly. They don’t. Also, God gave us the power of speech. You don’t hear these animals saying much to each other.”
Tork snickered, or at least the boys thought that the neighing, high-pitched sound he made was a snicker. “My, my, when God gave us Turkins the power of speech, he gave you an extra portion, Reba. All I’m trying to say is that we got shortchanged somewhere along the line. Spirits are really what count, regardless of who or what around here has a soul. Spirits could put us directly in touch with God. Our souls just put us in touch with ourselves and things around us.”
Reba nodded slowly. “That’s true,” she sighed. “Still, maybe God has some nice place for us to go after we die.” The boys thought they could see sadness in the two whiskered faces.