Dream of Shadows Chapter Nine - COMPUTER SCIENCE CENTRAL

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Thursday, 20 July 2017

Dream of Shadows Chapter Nine

And The Flamecar...


“Have you been outside yet?” Lashawna asked Jack. “I mean other than to go back into the house?”
Jack, in her tiny little voice laughed. “Of course! But it’s dangerous out there. Isn’t it, Peter!”
Peter had been silent all the while until Jack addressed him.
“I’m sure of it. That’s why Jack, Cyn, and I take turns watching.”
The younger ones were fidgeting by then. Mari, a little Hispanic girl with jet-black hair and deep brown eyes exclaimed, “I want to go HOME! I don’t like it here. I want to see my mommy and daddy!”
“You can’t, Mari,” Cynthia said to her. “You know what Peter said. We’re stuck. Take Ashton and go play hide and seek or something. We can’t leave.”
“I’m tired of our stupid games. I miss Mommy and Daddy.”
Didn’t we all.
Jerrick had left Lashawna and was exploring the lines of shelves quietly, his fingers running over and along each jar, each box. I knew he could hear every word spoken, but he was like this crazy, intense machine.
“So now what?” Munster put to the obvious leader who approached us. “Ya’ gonna’ stay down here until ya’ keel over dead from boredom?”
“We only come down here to hide or get food,” Peter answered. “One of us is at the window up in the bedroom when the rest are in the house, or outside during the day.”
“Sounds like a pissy job. For your information, though, them things roamin’ around ain’t the only problem you—we—have. We just come from a run-in with real live humans a while back. Them space invaders might not see us, but there’s other people roamin’ around that can see good as you or me.” He brought the gun out proudly, and waved it for Peter and everyone else to see. “Had to cap one of ‘em back in the church we was in. Good thing you found us.”
“What? You mean you killed a child…in a church?” Cynthia asked indignantly.
“It was in the rectory, not the church,” I corrected her. A subtle difference of location in the act of murder. I guessed it was murder.
“Hah! That guy was no kid. ‘Sides, I didn’t know just where he was standin’ when I shot. But, I got ‘im.” Munster stopped and looked around at the faces of everyone with an uncharacteristically sheepish look in his eyes. I had no choice.
“He was ancient, an’ ugly as sin, an’ he was bent on killin’ us! Scared his buddy off after I done ‘im—shoulda’ capped him, too, but somethin’…He’s out there somewheres, and I’m bettin’ he ain’t the only one.”
“Oh no,” Jack said, slapping both hands over her mouth. I wanted to console her, but what does a fifteen year-old say to an eight year-old when it comes to explaining the moral rightness of killing another human, even if that human is “bent on” killing you? I just crossed the space between us and hugged her. Looking over my shoulder at Munster, I scowled for the umpteenth time that day..
“What are we going to do now that we’re here?” Lashawna asked.
“Get you a towel and some dry clothes,” I said, changing the subject from murder and violence to something more practical and calming. It was a cold night, even with the raincloud cover, but down there the temperature was seriously ten degrees colder. Lashawna was shivering heavily now.
“Jack, is there something in one of the closets that Lashawna and Jerrick and I could change into? And a towel?”
“Yes,” she answered. “Upstairs. I’m not sure any of the clothes will fit your brother…I mean her brother, but after you change I’ll hang the clothes up to dry.” She said that so matter-of-factly.
Jack took hold of my hand and urged me to go with her. As we passed Lashawna, she grabbed her hand as well.
“Tell your brother to follow us,” she said to Lashawna, as if his ability to do that was as easy as our quick-step out into the hall.
“Wait.” Lashawna stopped. “Jerrick, come with us. I’ll help you.”
Poor helpless Jerrick.
“You go ahead. I’m fine. I’ll wait here.”
“You’re soaked!” she shot back at him.
“I’m fine. Just go on without me. If you find a towel, just bring it back. I’ll wait here with the others.”
Lashawna shrugged, and then we left. Jack bounced up the steps ahead of Lashawna and me, both of us close behind. Out the door—which she closed when we’d gotten clear of the entrance—along the concrete path, into the kitchen, and through the house to the second floor.
She led us to one of the bedrooms opposite the direction Munster and I had taken earlier. Inside she went directly to the closet, opened it, and began pushing the dresses aside in the dim light.
“Can’t have a candle or a flashlight up here…I don’t know if any of these dresses…” She mumbled. She pushed, looked at and felt each garment hanging nearly as high as she could reach. “Ah, this one might fit you, Amelia. It’s warm feeling, too.”
Lashawna went forward to help the young girl in the search, but I left them, dry dress in hand, and crossed the room to the window overlooking the road in. Far away I saw the rear end of the Flamecar, and beyond it, the vague outline of the property’s end at the highway. There was no movement, save the steady rhythm of the downpour, and the occasional whip of orange tree branches driven by sudden gusts of wind. I stared out, my eyes clicking right and left for several moments, half-expecting to see someone or some thing appear, but it was thankfully quiet.
“I like that one. You’re shorter than Mommy, but it might kind of fit,” I heard Jack exclaim in an exuberant voice. “It’s pretty. We can cut the bottom off if it’s too long.”
Lashawna laughed. “At least it’s dry. Now let’s go find a couple of towels and something for Jerrick to wear, okay?”
“Right over there!” Jack said. I turned and saw her dart across the room to another closet that no doubt held her unfortunate father’s clothes.
“Amelia, Mommy and Daddy’s bathroom is right there,” she said pointing. “They have towels in there on a stand. You have to feel for them, I guess like Lashawna’s brother would do.”
And without another word she opened her father’s wardrobe and began again the task of selecting something dry for Jerrick to change into.
I entered the bath, found the rack of towels, and changed. The next thing I did was find the toilet and push the flusher handle down. The gush of water leaving the tank into the bowl, the swirling sound so familiar, and yet so foreign of late, lifted my spirits in a way that made all of the recent hell recede into something like the end of a very bad dream. A strange and hopeful awakening.
“It works! You have running water still?” I called out to Jack. She poked her head around the corner and explained the working toilet.
“Peter fills the tank up after anyone uses it. It’s hard because he has to bring big buckets of water in from the well,” she said.
Still, in this new, hope-filled existence, I knew we were absolutely not alone, and worse, light years away from being safe. I gathered up a few of the soft fluffy towels in the rack standing close by the gurgling toilet, and then carefully exited the dark room.
Jack and Lashawna had laid several pairs of slacks on the edge of the bed, two shirts—one light-colored, the other dark—by the time I returned.
“I don’t think color is important,” Lashawna said to her.
That would be true.
“What about socks?” Jack asked.
“Yes.”
“Underwear?” Jack giggled.
“Umm…no. I don’t think Jerrick would ever wear someone else’s. No. He’ll have to make do with what he has, or else skip them entirely.”
“I wouldn’t either!”
I interrupted their wardrobe selection, handing Lashawna one of the towels. “Here, Lashawna. Hurry and get out of those wet clothes and dry off.”
She took the towel, laid it on the bed beside Jerrick’s new clothes, and then began to undress. Jack turned her back, but I merely stared at this creature with dark skin, wondering if her entire body was one consistent color. As Lashawna rubbed the towel over her hair, I quickly surveyed her in a way I hadn’t had the time, or even the inclination to do before that moment. She was very pretty with her perfectly-featured face. I hadn’t noticed before that her neck was long, and her shoulders were much closer set than was visible when she was wearing her winter jacket. Undressed, I could see that she was much thinner than I’d thought, and that her knees were knobby. I don’t know why that struck me, but it did. Altogether, she seemed to be quite close to me physically. What did I expect, though? That the color of her skin would make her somehow entirely different? Like she might have two belly-buttons, or some other feature that set her apart from someone of my race?
Race. Or the consciousness of it. Those of us who’ve survived have nearly forgotten the word and all that it meant to so many before the catastrophe. What other species even notices such a differentiation, a classification based on color? Only humans. Thank you, Charles Baxter.
I handed Lashawna the dress as she finished the job of drying off. She took it without a word and slipped it over her head, working her thin arms through the short sleeves, and then she let the body of it fall. I couldn’t help but laugh. She did, too. Jack’s mother, lying face down in the pool—the woman didn’t appear to be that tall, but the short shift that probably would have hit her mid-thigh, hung nearly to Lashawna’s ankles. The short sleeves draped in an ungainly way far over her shoulders.
“Maybe scissors?” I offered, giggling. Jack turned, finally, and broke out in laughter.
“I’ll get them!” Jack said. “They’re over…”
“No. We have to go back to the cellar and give Jerrick a towel and fresh clothes first,” Lashawna said.
“I hope Daddy’s clothes fit him better than Mommy’s fit you!” So ebullient that little girl was under the dreadful circumstances.
We gathered up the towel and clothes, and then left the bedroom. I glanced back at the window just as I reached the doorway, thinking of the Flamecar stuck in the ditch for anyone happening by to see, or discover by whatever strange means those evil creatures possessed. Somehow we’d have to un-stick it, and then hide it.
Even in a downpour.

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