Dear Ladybird, I'm homesick...

Submitted into Contest #164 in response to: Start your story with a character saying “Where I come from, …”... view prompt

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Christian Inspirational Mystery

This story contains sensitive content

[Contains a frightening scene]


She flashed me the sweetest smile I think I’ve ever seen from someone. It was so pure and as if I was her favorite person in all the world... yet we had only just met twenty minutes ago.  

She spoke with that special smile, the one I didn’t feel worthy of, “Where I come from...” but then she paused to shove a French fry against her lips before continuing. She handed me one as well, and I tossed it into my mouth and chewed, anxious for her to finish that sentence.  


“Where I come from... there is no such thing as death or...anything evil, for that matter. Death isn’t even a notion. Where I’m from, life is perfect.”   


Her words hit my brain like a bolt of lightning, and suddenly I had forgotten how to chew. I choked on the fry, and my fist came up, thudding my chest in an attempt to clear my throat, but then a glass of ice water was thrust into my hands and pushed up to my mouth.  


“I’m sorry, so sorry. Please don’t die...” She was staring at me with a face about to cry and with her moss-green eyes filled with that gaze that dragged me from this present world into something new. It was that same look that had penetrated deep into my soul, twenty minutes ago.   

I forced down a mouthful of the cold water, nearly making a disastrous mistake of taking an ice cube down as well, and then coughed till the fry was cleared and I could take a normal breath — this was the second time the wind was knocked from me today.  


“Are you okay? Please be okay. Say something. That was my fault, I know. I should have realized it would be a shock... that was careless of me, I didn’t—”  


“Can we just... back up for a quick second?” I spoke hoarsely, and held up my hand to halt her ramble, “you come from where??”  


She scooted up straighter in her chair, keeping watch of me, “Life how it should have been.” She remarked casually as if that was totally normal to say. 

I pinched my eyes closed and shook my head, trying to comprehend, “I’m sorry— ho-how...is that a thing??”  

The dainty girl with hair that reminded me of unblemished feathers, and was the color of rich maple syrup, placed careful hands onto the restaurant table.  

“This place, this world...is full of suffering, yes?” She inclined her head as she spoke.   


“Uh, yes.”  


“And fouled by evil humans that fall short of perfected holiness?”  


“Sure...?”   


“Well, there.” She exclaimed, “It’s not like that where I live.”  


For the first time in several minutes, I tuned in to my surroundings. Beginning to notice the added glances being drawn to us, from the nearby tables. More than likely from overhearing our outlandish conversation, not including the fact that everyone here knew me.   


“Uh oh.”  


“Uh oh, is precisely right. This world is cursed!”  


“No, that’s not what I—” I tried but gave up, and scooted my chair back ready to stand up, uneasy with the number of prying eyes on us.  


“Theo, don’t you know that? You all are curs—”  


“ANNDDD we should be going now!” I cut her off, but raising my voice only encouraged more stares and I felt my face burning. I gestured with a nod of my head for us to go and helped her out of her chair. She followed my every move with her now quiet yet compliant gaze. 

I left a wad of money on the table to take care of the bill and then led us away from there.  


“What’s your cause for worry?” She asked now that we were alone.  


“Talkin’ like that could get us into trouble. People are meddlesome and love to cause a scene.” I said, and faced across the street, toward the forest where this mysterious girl and I had met.  

She was facing the trees as well and then turned to eye me, “I’ll keep you safe, Theo.”  


I snorted and met her gaze, “Sure. That’s nice. Like when you knocked me from the tree, earlier?” 

Feeling safe or okay, especially in today’s world wasn’t on my list of existing feelings, and for that very reason, I found myself more prone to wandering the woods to get away. Such an occasion I gave into, today.    


“I want to bring you somewhere.” Disregarding my last statement, she touched my arm, drawing my attention.  


“And where might that be? I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that you aren’t from HERE.”  


She pulled me along and we crossed the vacant gravel road and entered the forest.  


“Forget your worries, Theo.”  


It didn’t take long to realize that she was leading me to the very spot where we’d met. As we approached, I eyed the tree that I had been sitting in. 

Something about resting in the arms of a good tree has always brought me ease from life’s many stresses. It was a habit I founded as a child whenever I wanted to hide from the turbulences of home. Although today, the tree method hadn’t been working well, I suspect the reasoning behind that had something to do with the mystery girl tugging on my hand.  

“You realize I’ve seen this already, right? This is where you crashed into me, after all.” I mentioned and she laughed.  

 

“This is where I saved you, silly.”  


My eyebrows arched in scrutiny, “Is that so...?” She laughed again and nodded her head excitedly.  

“A conniving little demon freak — well it wasn’t that little actually — had snaked its way up to your branch and was perched right there, behind you, whispering lies into your unguarded ears.” She pointed to the spot, and all I could do was stare. I faced her with my brows now scrunched into disbelief.  

What is she trying to pull? 

Twenty minutes ago...


My thoughts were driving me bonkers as I tried relaxing in the tree, I’d picked out to climb— its scraggly bark was abnormally bothersome beneath me, and I kept shifting positions. I was already miserable enough with the day I was having and didn’t need a tree to worsen my mood. 

Having enough money to buy the small mountain town I resided in got really tiresome when people only wanted to be around you for your wealth. Trust went out the window and paranoia became my only true friend, and even though I had everything, an unquenchable void lurked in my heart. 

All I wanted to do right now, was let my worries slip away as I rested in the branches of this tree. 


When I finally was comfortable enough, dozing wasn’t a problem. Yet dark thoughts began to intrude and bled into a dream that got me restless. Although those kinds of thoughts weren’t abnormal for me, whenever I was uptight, but the tree was SUPPOSED to be helping...   

I was unable to say how long exactly that I'd nodded off to sleep before something shoved me, knocking me from the tree and I landed with a hard thump on my back into a clump of grudging ferns. 

My eyes flew open and I gasped for air, as I now gazed up at the tree that I had just been resting in.  

A face appeared above me, jarring me further, “Well hi! I’m Ladybird.” She introduced herself with captivating eyes and with her feathery hair hanging down, practically grazing my cheek. I let out a groan as oxygen seeped back into my lungs.  

“Theo...” I wheezed and her smile brightened. She helped me sit up and as I rubbed my neck where I felt an ache, I noticed ladybugs crawling on my cargo shorts and t-shirt. They were scattered everywhere I looked, like tiny red polka dots freckling the ferns and forest floor around me.  

Those weren’t there before...were they? 


“Sorry about that startle...I suppose that could have been the death of you. That surely wasn’t my intention.” She said as she wiped my shirt of twigs and dirt and then picked off the ladybugs, cradling them in her palms.  


I turned to her, trying to gather my bearings, “Are you lost?” 


“Oh no, I’m not lost. Are you?” 


With the pain in my neck gone, I blinked in confusion and looked around, wondering where she had come from, and then mentioned the only other thing that made sense to me right now. 

“Want to grab lunch with me?”  

She grabbed my arm, “Okay!” And helped me back on my feet. She pulled me forward with her arm in mine and we headed out from beneath the shelter of trees. 


“Don’t you need shoes...?” I questioned as we went, only now noticing that her feet were bare. 


“Who needs shoes?” She replied with a small skip that sent the red prairie dress, she wore, bouncing against her legs.  


“Doesn’t everybody?” I asked, but she must not have heard me because she rushed forward to the spot where the forest made way for a road and the town. Down the street was the nearest café with outdoor seating, and she followed me over to get lunch there.  

I had stopped walking when Ladybird mentioned the demon, but she kept going, apparently content on dragging me along by the end of my ever-shortening strand of tolerance. I didn’t even know how to respond to her in my perplexity, and she wasn’t waiting, as she beckoned me forward— her frilly skirt swished with each peppy step.  

My thoughts were interrupted anyway though as I followed her, and stepped into a part of the forest that filled my gaze with wonder. The shades of green all around me were staggering compared to what we had just walked through, so much so that they actually looked unnatural.  

Am I tripping? 


A melody of bird songs caressed my eardrums and the air I breathed tasted of honeyed milk and toasted pecans. I wished I could gulp it in like a warm beverage.  


I watched Ladybird stoop down at the edge of a murmuring creek and glance into the water. I moved to join her when ribbons of wind wound around me and the sound of a child’s laughter came with it. It wasn’t eerie or bone-chilling, instead, the laughter sounded of perfect joy. I turned to look over my shoulder, following the direction of the breeze.  


“Did you hear that?” I wondered.  


“Yes, and so much more. Come sit.” She told me, as I turned back to her and walked up. She was playing with a Holly Blue butterfly as it flitted around her fingers and kept landing in her palm.  

“Wonderful, isn’t she?” Ladybird asked, with her warm gaze on the puny-winged insect. I sat down on the bank of the creek across from her and eyed the delicate butterfly.  

“Look at her stunning silver-blue wings... so tiny yet perfect in design to carry her anywhere she’d like to go.”  


“Sure, it’s pretty. I’m more interested in this area of the forest though... it feels magical.”  


Ladybird giggled and my face grew warm.  


Silly thing to say... 


“I need you to see where I’m from, Theo.” She said in a now subdued voice and reached for my hand. The Holly Blue flittered away and I inhaled sharply as she drew my hand down into the creek with hers. The cool water wrapped around our wrists, and for the first second, fear swept through me but before I could react something else came over me. It wasn’t a feeling, but a knowing that clutched my heart. My gaze was drawn to the water’s surface where it flowed but transformed into some kind of vision. 

The sound of singing filled my ears, and it was nothing like I’d ever heard before. The harmony and voices didn’t even follow along with any known rhythm or pattern that I was aware of, it was entirely new and the most wonderful thing I’d ever heard. But it wasn’t only what I was hearing, but what I saw.  

A landscape that filled my eyes with tears, and was too awing to even put into words... 

Both children and adults gathered in a way that spoke of unblemished unity, with glowing faces and loving eyes. What I was seeing though was only a glimpse and as the images faded, my eyes strayed to someone standing on a hill. His arms were outstretched and little children were racing to him, but his gaze wasn’t on them. It was on me... with a smile that spoke of sacrifice and love. It overwhelmed me from head to toe, and I was sure my heart would explode.  

My hand was withdrawn from the water and now all I could hear was the creek’s soft current. My face was drenched in tears as I faced Ladybird, speechless. 


She looked at me with pleading eyes and then spoke, “That is where I am from, and where you belong, Theo. This world is not your home, it is fleeting and will pass away. That sense of incompleteness that you always feel, no matter what you try and fill it with, or how many times you deny its presence... it’s that ache deep down telling you there is more, but you have turned to the world for answers. All of humanity was created with an incredible purpose, but only a few choose to walk in it.”  


I couldn’t decide if I was terrified or elated by what I had just seen and what Ladybird had just said to me, but hearing her tell me, to my face, what that dreadful hole in my heart was and how she even knew about it, spoke of something greater that I couldn't even fathom.

Besides all the questions, one demanded my attention. 


“Wh-who was that? Standing on the hill, staring directly at me?”  


Ladybird smiled, “Our Chief Shepherd, He is above all. Before anything was, HE was.” 


I swallowed, longing to understand and to hear more but I noticed her expression change. 

“Time is running thin, and I have one thing more to show you.” She said and grabbed my hand again, “I caution your eyes and ears, but you must see...” She warned and then thrust our intertwined hands into the water again, without giving me time to react.  

Another vision appeared on the glassy surface but I couldn’t even look. I didn’t have to, to feel the searing heat. Bombarded with another knowing in my heart that screamed and clawed at my everything. I couldn’t breathe. My bones seemed to clinch and quake within me; my heart thumped frantically as if some unspeakable evil was trying to tear it through my ribcage — regret... so much regret scalded my thoughts like I was feeling it directly from the innumerable tortured souls. 

The screaming and gnashing of teeth in my ears, alone, was enough to break me.  

I cried out in agony and my arm was wrenched from the creek. Everything stopped and silence crashed down so heavily upon me, I thought I was dead. My body was consumed in unrestrained shaking as I knelt hunched over, hugging my arms and panted. I couldn’t think properly and the groans coming from my throat didn’t sound real. To tell you I was horrified didn’t even skim the surface... 

Ladybird laid a hand on my shoulder, and whatever had overtaken me faded as fog when the sun comes out.  


“That place is the polar opposite of where I'm from... that was only a taste of humanity’s doom. An eternity of torment beyond measure for the price of their sins.” Ladybird explained with a soft voice, “When death comes to claim each human, final judgment will be there to greet them. Down into fire or to paradise everlasting, they will go. Our merciful Shepherd longs for all humanity to be with Him, but He will not demand their will. You all must choose for yourselves.”  

She moved her hand to my chin and lifted it, “My task is finished... I will depart now.”  


“Wait... please.” I begged, “Let me come with you. What do I need to do?”  


Her smile returned, and it encouraged me to uncurl my body and to sit straight, “You must give up everything, surrender your sinful ways... sin cannot accompany a soul into paradise. Only then may you come home.”  


“That...that is too much. How can you ask all that of me??”  


“The penalty of sin is death, but the good Shepherd paid it for us. The way of salvation has been made simple because of His sacrifice.”  


Before I even spoke a word, she knew my answer.

That nightmarish place would haunt my every move but the pleasures of my life tugged at my heart and I saw no way of giving them up. 


Ladybird’s face filled with sorrow and she backed away from me. 

“If you long for home... you know what to do, Theo. The Shepherd will be listening.” She spoke, and I tried to get up and follow after her, but my body was weakened. 


A blinding light burst from her and then she was gone in a flurry of ladybugs that dispersed among the treetops.  

~  

That day left me shaken, and after weeks of trying to make sense of my life again, it all felt utterly pointless. Who cares if I had money or a life that everyone envied. I could only see how empty it all was now... the color had left, and my eyes were dulled. 

The parties and friends did nothing to console me, and by the end of week five and after countless nights of misery, I was down on hands and knees, remembering the Shepherd's outstretched arms and finally... I was ready.

Take my heart, Chief Shepherd. I am Yours.


“Dear Ladybird, I’m homesick...” 

September 24, 2022 03:37

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10 comments

Brendan Sanders
21:59 Apr 12, 2023

Incredible story. "Her words hit my brain like a bolt of lightning, and suddenly I had forgotten how to chew." I loved how you put that, it's very expressive!

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J.M. De Jong
17:11 Jun 26, 2023

Hey, Brendan! I only now just saw your comment... but thank you so much for reading it and for your encouraging compliments :) It means so much to me! I hope your Apocalyptic story is going well? I was just thinking of it last night actually, haha.

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Rachael Laing
19:53 Oct 01, 2022

Beautiful imagery and endless truth! God bless you and hope you have a wonderful day!

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J.M. De Jong
21:00 Oct 01, 2022

Thank you so much, Rachael :) I so appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment!! God bless you as well!

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14:20 Sep 27, 2022

This was such a sweet story, honestly. Ladybird’s concern for Theo was very warm and engaging, it got me invested in the characters right away! The end of the story reminds me of a song my Nana used to sing “I’m kind of homesick for a country, to which I’ve never been before” Good job! 👏👏👏

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J.M. De Jong
17:04 Sep 27, 2022

Thank you so much, Hannah! I'm so glad to hear that! Ladybird and Theo were very fun to write, especially with the contrast in character 😅 And aww, that is so special...thank you for sharing that with me! Is your Nana's song one she made up or is it a song I can look up? ☺️ Thank you for reading and commenting! Means so much to me :)

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18:03 Sep 27, 2022

Here is the song! Well, a version of it by Casting Crowns (it's a really pretty rendition) Try copy/paste into your search bar, or search "Beulah Land" by Casting Crowns https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1___aNfWiig :)

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J.M. De Jong
18:44 Sep 27, 2022

I've been listening to Casting Crowns since I was young but have never heard this one by them! Oh my, yes, it is such a beautiful song 😭😍 Your nana has great taste in music ;) I will be listening to this on repeat now, hehe. Thank you!!

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Kevin Marlow
03:28 Sep 25, 2022

I really liked the imagery and the stark choices you elucidated without being sanctimonious.

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J.M. De Jong
06:21 Sep 25, 2022

Thanks, Kevin! I really appreciate you taking the time to read it! Your comment made me smile, thank you for sharing your thoughts on it :) I would be so disappointed in myself if my writing ever implied any such thing as my being sanctimonious. That should never be...

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