On looking up she took too long to find Edward’s face. They stared at one another in an impasse he did not indulge, pressing a hand to the side of her neck then taking the torch from her head and turning it into her eyes, peering intently at the sluggish action of her pupils. Susan shrank from him, attempting to crawl away from his hands, her dread of the hidden wounds behind them prompting another nauseated emission that ran from her chin. He pulled her to her feet and watched her lurch toward the slope with the inebriate ease that confirmed all his suspicions.
"I will take you back and put you on a plane. You won’t have to tell him anything.” he assured her. At her refusal he looked away through the trees, then startled her by ripping the half-shed parka from her wrist and forcing her fists into the sleeves against her efforts to repulse him. He lost his temper, shaking her with a tight snap of the arm that so offended her, eyes waxing bright. "You are hypothermic." he hissed. "You are going to die." She froze stiffly, and he leant down to zip the parka before she could resist again. Susan watched him find her forgotten tote and throw a plastic bag of dried fruit into her lap. The refusal on her face pushed his fist into his trousers and he produced a handgun, directing its snout at her forehead. “Eat.” he commanded.
The pieces of apricot were so tough and sour in her mouth that she ejected them. He aimed an arid whistle into the trees, precipitating William from his rear guard to their position in double time, the scout hauled in his wake. They conducted an acrimonious exchange then set about dredging the sleeping bag from Susan's pack and incarcerating her in its depths. Tears rolled down her nose and tapped onto the quilting as she sat propped against a tree.
“Making you eat at gunpoint is his way of saying I care.” William told her, taking a sachet of fruit juice from her pack and holding the straw to her lips. The liquid slid down her throat, leaving its acidity on her tongue. “I can deal with you hating me cloudcheeks, but seeing you cry is stabbing my soul in the testicles, so be mad, not sad." he urged. "Think what an inconsiderate prick I am for getting you into this shit. I should have sent you back to Gévaudan with a smack on the arse for company.”
“I wouldn’t have gone.” Her whisper prompted him to glance up at his brother and communicate relief with a gesture. She leant her head against the trunk. “You smell like trees.” Her smile formed and faded in the space of a blink and she ejected the empty carton from the mouth of her sleeping bag. "Stay here... just for a minute... I think I have to stop."
“It’s always me me me with you, isn’t it?” William sighed, easing himself down onto the bracken beside her. "Fuck.” he exclaimed, flinching as the stone swung from his brother's hand struck the side of his head.
“His way of telling you he cares.” she murmured.
The colour that had opened her eyes rose from the wrinkled floor of her tent, a nebulous Pleiadian blue glowing on the back of her hands and what she could see of her own face in the darkness. Beside the foot of her sleeping bag, as though surprised in the act of encroachment, a string of lights lay crowded on a knotted black cord, emitting the powdery glow that had roused her. With her eyes narrowed she saw that it passed through a gap at the base of the zippered door, and slid out of her sleeping bag, crawling with them into the quiet night.
The bulbs ran tendril-like along the ground between trees heavy with a felted nocturnal blackness; through them she could feel the sound of water scouring stones, its lapping babel translated into pulses expressed by the globes in a strange, staccato transcription. The venous cord diverged like some engulfing tropical vine, climbing and hanging in snarled loops from the branches, dry violet dust spilling from their frayed ends as she passed beneath them. A scent fell with it and lit upon her, of mingled, pungent lilies and a sliced and sappy green, strangely unrelated to the glow that deepened to the flickering hue of holographic shade on her arms and in passive trees fruited with bulbs blooming almost as round as her head. The cable had begun to express the same cyanic hue, lighting the undergrowth until the leaves gave way to round grey stones where the lights climbed down and ran between her ankles into sable water. It swallowed and slowly dimmed them; she stared into the depths while they spiraled around the cord, its luminescence pulsing slowly, the water rising in slippery black fingers, tendrils swaying before her like a hundred eyeless serpents.
No birds chimed the hour as cold soaked through Susan's socks and lapped her feet. Dawn pierced the dilettante mist over the river of her luring dream and cast its spiritous gold through her lids while she stood, shivering fitfully, no glowing vines slithering between her ankles when she looked down. Her teeth clattered together in her head; the forest ran up a slope behind her that she did not remember, though the mud streaking her knees and forearms recounted her descent of it. She waded back toward the shore over clinking river cobbles blue with cold. Her own weight brought her down on a boulder while cloud shouldered out the sun, its condensing mass once more portending rain. In their shadow she felt her eyes well, bled by a despondency that pushed up through her throat, and she leant over to weep into her lap.
William wiped at his own face when it began to stream in sympathy with hers, sitting amid grass-green aigrettes of ferns at the edge of the trees. She heaved a broken sigh at the sight of him, shifting to make room on the stone and nodding slowly to the sleeping bag he lay over her shoulders. They sat while she pondered his unquestioning constancy.
"Something blue was glowing... I think it wanted to talk to me." she murmured.
"The river... they do that sometimes. What did it say?"
Shrugging, Susan shook her head and gazed down at her arms amid the quilting.
"I found out why your brother wears suits."
"Long sleeves." he admitted, surprising her with his grasp of the allusion. "If I had told you, would you've believed me?" She shook her head. "He stopped for a while, I think, with Helaine, but..." He suffered a moment of conflicted silence. "Is it better to know?" She shrugged again, unable to assort the wreckage of her own sentiments.
"I don't know... but I don't think I can call you William any more."
He leant over to puff the dew from the length of their last cigarette.
"Ala'il sha bai. I don't think I ever was one."
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce