The waves crashed against the ocean’s shore while the moon cascaded along the beach, creating a breathtaking vision. Exhausted, Mei stood by her husband with their sleeping son in her arms. It was after midnight and the seventy-two hours of traveling had left them all drained.
They had flown on a private jet to a small island off the coast of South Africa. From there, they’d boarded a luxury cruise ship for a full day and a half of smooth seas. In the middle of the night, they’d been awakened by security guards and led to a helicopter which had brought them to this deserted shore on this faraway, private island.
Now, as they stood on the sand and waited for an instructor to walk them to a dorm for the night, Max looked at the gentle waves, his mind miles away.
“Stop frowning, Max,” Mei said, nudging him with her elbow. “We belong here.”
This was the last place he wanted to be, but for the past year Mei had insisted on attending this faraway college. Max felt certain his father had persuaded her to make this decision. He’d always wanted them to go to this college.
“Do you know what coming here means?” she asked.
He knew the speech by heart: King Solomon University, an elite private college, had been founded in 1952 by Max’s grandfather, Maximilian Martinez Jr. and had remained hidden from the public for over fifty-eight years. While the Martinez family would always be the founders and respected as the leaders of the organization, Maximilian had created a college school board consisting of nine dedicated families. His own as well as the families of Koroma, Pennington, Jameson, Sizemoore, Ortiz, Witfields, Eagelfeather and Hamptons. Each family had at least one member who attended all meetings.
“The university was designed for people who wish to learn the art of spiritual warfare and study the wisdom of King Solomon,” Mei went on, continuing his line of thought. “The wisest man to have ever lived.”
Max knew the college offered all the same classes as any topnotch college, only with a location that was difficult to reach. The only way board members could ensure the school remained secret was to make it so difficult to find. They’d also paid large amounts of money to maintain the college’s privacy.
The island had nine private vacation homes, one for each of the board members’ families. Situated in the middle of the island, the college had numerous large buildings and all the amenities students could need.
“I know you have some reservations, but I’m happy you finally gave in,” Mei said.
Max offered her a dry smile. She always knew just how to make him say yes and it drove him crazy.
“Let me take him. You look tired,” Max said walking towards his wife and picking up his sleeping son.
“Okay.” Mei looked past the shore and through the forest to see lights far off in the distance. “Should we walk over there or should we wait?”
An image of the security guard yelling at them moments earlier to stay put on the island replayed in Max’s mind. “No, lets just stay here.”
“What if nobody shows? How do they know we’re here?” Mei asked as she pulled her backpack off her shoulders, letting it hit the sand with a muffled thud.
“Yeah, well, you’re the one who wanted to be here, Mei. Welcome,” Max said sarcastically.
“You’re still mad?” Mei snapped, whipping her head around to face him.
Max instantly regretted his comment. In no mood to argue, he rolled his eyes and sighed. “All I’m saying is that this is what I was trying to tell you. This is not your regular college. I love my grandfather, but the man was crazy. This school will challenge you on every level.”
“Don’t you think that’s important?” Mei retorted.
“Babe, please not now, not here.”
“If not now, then when? Makayla said you should never go to bed angry.”
“Look around you, babe. Do you see a bed?” Max growled.
“Oh, we’re doing this?” Mei said, nodded.
Max knew exactly what she meant. He laughed remembering the quiet Mei of a year ago. Now he had created a monster. “Come here. I don’t want to fight, but yes, I’m mad about being here,” he admitted.
Mei stood her ground, visibly still upset by his comment. “Shouldn’t someone be here by now?”
She’d changed the subject and turned away from him. Max got the message and dropped the matter. “Dad told me they might do this.” Max pulled the baby bag off of his shoulders dropped it on the sand. “Let’s make a bed for our little angel and gather some wood to make a fire.”
“What? Why? I thought someone would be coming.” Mei responded.
“Okay, welcome to crazy land. This, my dear, is your first class. Survival 101 or one on one depending how the night goes,” Max teased.
Mei bit down on a laugh, but couldn’t stop the giggle that escaped her lips. “Max, they just said…”
“I was standing right next to you. Dad said they might do this…leave us stranded for a night, just to see how we handle the situation.”
Mei frowned and her lips tugged into a worried line as she looked at their son sleeping in his father’s arms. She felt bad for forcing Max to come here. Although she had been warned by every one of the hardships they’d face on the island. Max and Mei had
also been told that if they could survive the next four years here, nothing would be impossible for them.
That’s what had inspired her to attend this college. She understood what they were up against spiritually and wanted to make sure they would be able to handle anything that came their way.
“Hey, together we can do what?” Max said attempting to rally her up.
“Anything,” Mei mumbled looking around nervously.
“Sit down, babe, and hold Uriel. I’ll go get a fire started,” Max instructed.
Mei sat on the sand while Max laid Uriel in her arms. “Max, I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Max looked into her eyes, lifted her chin and kissed her lips. “I love you. I know why you wanted to be here. I just can’t help but want to protect you from the world.”
“Sweetie, you can’t.”
“I know, but I will die trying.” Max stood and walked off into the darkness.
“So stubborn,” Mei spoke under her breath as she brushed a curl away from Uriel’s face. She leaned over to kiss her son’s forehead and nuzzle her nose against his cheek.
Thirty minutes later Max returned with dry old wood and palm fronds. He dropped everything and headed back into the woods to retrieve more. After a few armloads of firewood, Max finally made his last trip into the forest, returning with two long logs to build a temporary hut to shield them from the elements. He started a fire while Mei tended to a now awake Uriel who was cranky from the long trip. Max worked quickly to build a temporary shelter. They used Uriel’s baby blankets and a variety of clothes to make a comfortable bed for the three of them.
Max watched his wife as she put their son to sleep. He enjoyed seeing the gentle motherly affection she showered on the boy. It was soothing, leaving him to sometimes wonder who was really being put to sleep.
Drenched in sweat from working so feverishly, Max took off his shirt. “I’m going to go rinse off.” He walked towards the ocean and dove in. After a quick dip in the cool salt water Max returned to find Mei and the baby missing. Maybe she needed to relieve herself, Max thought. He fought the urge to go looking for her. He knew he tended to be overprotective and didn’t want to drive her away. He’d promised himself he would back off.
He sat in the sand trying to change his focus when he heard Mei scream. His heart pounding, he bolted up and ran in the direction of her scream. Tearing through the foliage as he entered the forest he yelled her name until she answered back.
“Max, don’t come any farther!” Mei screamed. She stood motionless on the edge of a saltwater marsh, her son gripped tightly in her arms.
“What’s going on?” Max questioned nervously.
Mei didn’t want to answer him. She didn’t want to tell him she’d just been bitten by a snake and she was sure an alligator had his eyes on her. “Um… just trust me, Max.”
“That in no way answered my question,” Max growled with impatience.
As Mei began to nervously take a step backwards, the alligator quickly crawled onto the bank and came into Max’s view.
He panicked and swiftly made his way behind the alligator, jumping on its back and closing its open jaw. “Mei run!” he yelled.
“Max, no!” Mei screamed.
“Don’t argue with me. Go back to the camp!” Max yelled as he struggled with the alligator.
Mei held onto Uriel tightly as she took off for the beach. Tears blinded her as she ran into the clearing. In all the excitement Uriel began to cry and she could not console him. Mei fell to her knees and began to pray.