Staring at the sky quieted the flashbulb flickers at the edges of her vision and dimmed their association with the silver-foiled eyes that might have stared back from between the trees. The prospect of captivity beneath an eidiré with the woman standing guard as her only companion shared its colour with the interstellar spaces. That no one would come to intervene was something that lay like the snow, anaesthetic once accepted, its principles and mechanism just as spotless and pristine. When Susan closed her eyes she saw the face that Sachiin turned to her in another kind of darkness, discovering the ease with which those most private of exchanges could serve as a farewell, its tender, down-like irony bending the trees once more as tears beaded between her lashes.
Josephine shifted in her seat upon a fallen bough. The girl had turned her face away, rolling into a curve around a cough between the two chains that held her in the mist of the small clearing. Her hair, still gently blue, retained its close-set braids, the tortuous romanticism of the arrangement skewed by the blind rote of their construction. Slowly, she returned to lying on her back. Josephine counted off the hours the hostage had already passed in silence while the prospect of captivity grew protean features and an intent tuned to her darkest spectrum. She had seen its nightmare aspect rend and gut resolve and knew that it required no assistance, thinking herself privy to one of the small concessions dowering submission when she saw the girl's attention had shifted toward her.
A closer look revealed that it did not solicit or even consider her, but had settled on the darkness over her shoulder. Reclaiming her weapon, Josephine turned and beheld the shape that had come forth between the branches. An owl grasped a slender limb at the edge of the clearing, wearing a white far warmer than the snow and as plush as winter ermine, the disquieting schematics of its pallid, annular mask laid round eyes like polished domes of quartz. It shrugged its pinions before blinking from the way ahead, setting a stare on the girl as she used her arms to rise and sit back on her knees. Josephine oversaw their exchange with the suspicion she accorded all requited silence, opening her mouth in unformed objection while Susan reached out slowly and took up snow between her fingers, touching it to her brow in deference to the visitor. The beam from her guard's torch crossed the branches and found the bird's glowing eyes; it clapped its beak, put out its wings and flew on over their heads.
The same light blanched the girl's face when Josephine turned it on her, studying her for a while.
"Call to them." she instructed, her voice echoing slightly in the quiet. The captive sat without moving, her saturnine refusal drawing Josephine from the fallen tree. She unclipped something from her belt as she approached. "Put your back into it." Susan let the woman loose the chain from her hands without looking at her. The ruby binding of her multitool was empurpled by the darkness, like the ends of her own fingers. "Do it now. Nice and loud or I will hurt you, just like before." She felt her cold hand flattened across her knee and pinned fast at the wrist. When she would not comply, the woman closed the alloy jaws on her bitten index finger and prised the riven nail from its bed.
Susan did not know which of Sachiin's names she screamed into the trees. One of the conscripts, his skin prickling with its shivering abandon, halted at the northern end of the clearing with his rifle in both hands, his frown hardly distinguishable from his customary expression.
"I gotta relieve you if you can't keep her iced." he called, making a careful study of the surrounding trees as Josephine rose. In watching him return to his unseen station, she pressed her boot down on the girl's bleeding hand, leaning over as she twisted it slowly into the snow and desisting only when her full weight did not elicit any more audible response.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce