“How do I get back?” Brian asked.
“You must cross the sea, there,” Jacob said. “The physical world lies beyond the far shore. You can’t miss it.”
“Looks like quite a swim,” Brian said.
“You’ll find a ship waiting for you.”
“Looks like a long walk, too,” Brian said.
“Take a Moa,” Jacob said. “Quicker than a taxi.”
“Sure. They’re victims of the Darkness too. All extinct species are. Here, I’ll get you one.” Jacob stuck two fingers between his teeth and whistled. An instant later, a large animal plodded up the hillside into view. Brian stepped back. The creature resembled an ostrich, only much larger, with no wings at all, a shaggy coat and a long neck swinging low in front of a barrel-like torso, its flanks like a buffalo’s. It turned its small head, a head out of proportion relative to its overall size, and scrutinized him.
“Don’t worry,” Jacob said. “They’re all gentle. Hop on.”
“Why couldn’t I have just ‘materialized’ closer to the shore?” Brian said, approaching the Moa with care.
“Because you can see better from up here,” Jacob said.
Brian reached out, patting the animal’s head. It did seem tame enough, even stooping a little so he could climb onto its back. He sat astride it like he would a horse.
“What now?” Brian asked, looking down at Jacob.
“Well, I’m going fishing,” Jacob said. “As for you?” He winked. “Be brave, my boy. Be brave.” He clasped Brian’s hand, held it for an instant, then turned away. “Make me proud, eh?”
“Yeah,” Brian said. Then, to the Moa, “Okay, then. Here goes. Hi-ho, Silver!”
The Moa trotted off; Brian came close to toppling from its back. He righted himself in time to see Jacob waving his gaudy hat in farewell. The Moa headed down the hill towards the waiting crowd. The hosts parted to allow them to pass.
Brian watched the faces staring up at him as he passed. All ages and races were represented, people from all eras, in all manner of dress. Here and there Brian spotted men and women he couldn’t be sure were even Homo Sapiens. But the expressions on the countless faces were all the same. They looked at him and their faces spoke of hope. Just hope.
“I won’t let you down,” Brian whispered, willing them to see in his face a reflection of their own faith and not his doubt. He clenched his jaw. “I won’t let you down,” he repeated.
And in his heart, Brian prayed for the ability to keep that promise.