Wednesday Serial: Farther Part LXII

Anie fire_handANIE

It got dark that night. Anie laid on her wooden cot with the blanket tight to her chest, and wasn’t sure why it seemed so much darker than it had the night before in the small space of the cabin she shared with her sisters. It was cold, but she kept her arms outside the blanket, elbows tight to her sides, hands on her chest. It felt safer than trapping her hands underneath.

She blinked up at the ceiling, high above her, lost in the crawling black that had settled over her eyes as soon as the lamps were blown out. They had spent hours filling in the spaces between the planks of the cabin with mud and clay and straw. She knew that there was no way any light came through the walls or roof, as tight as they’d been made to hold in heat. This hall was just larger. And still, she knew last night had been more grey.

She tried not to listen to the footsteps and voices outside. They should have died down a long time ago, and she couldn’t hear any of them clearly in the huge, echoing space. And there were too many thuds and cracks.

The hall doors opened and slammed shut a little before midnight. For just a moment, the voices and cracks were crisp. She thought there was a metallic ring, and she hoped it was just the hinges.

Someone murmured at the other end of the hall, a man with a low, earnest voice. Then there were uneven footsteps, and the door in the wall swung open. Vetlynn stumbled inside, while the man who had led her in shut the door behind her and left again.

Anie sat up on her elbows, blinking at her shadow in the dark.

Vetlynn didn’t move for a minute, one arm crossed in front of her. When she did move, she just sort of rocked on her heel and shoved her hair behind her ear.

“Come this way,” Anie said. She’d barely spoken above a whisper, but it was loud in the silence.

Vetlynn jerked toward the sound and went very still again.

“There’s an empty bed next to me,” Anie said.

“Anie?” Vetlynn asked.

“It’s me,” Anie said.

Vetlynn took a short, unsteady step toward her.

“What’s going on out there?” Sevi asked as she passed him.

Vetlynn stopped. Her head bent toward his cot, and her hair fell over her face to make a longer shadow. She didn’t answer him. When she took her next step, it was fast, and she nearly ran toward Anie’s cot.

“Careful,” Anie said.

But Vetlynn banged her shin against the empty cot, and skidded to a stop against it. The wooden feet groaned against the floor. She caught herself on both hands against the blankets, and jerked the cot and herself to a quick stop.

“Careful,” Anie said again.

Vetlynn picked up her feet and crawled into the bed, but didn’t lay down. She tucked her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around them and just sat there.

Anie sat up too. She watched Vetlynn in the dark for a long moment. “Are you okay?” she whispered. She thought she saw Vetlynn nod. Anie didn’t ask anything more, since Vetlynn didn’t seem to have much of her voice.

Anie didn’t sleep. She stayed sitting, and Vetlynn stayed sitting, and the dark stayed dark.

It was another hour before the hall doors opened again. It was a woman this time. She talked quietly, and though the high tone of her voice seemed clearer in the echoes, Anie couldn’t hear any of the words.

The door in the wall squeaked open. A boy stumbled inside. Anie wasn’t sure who it was, until he shouted back through the wall: “I’m just s’posed to stay in here?” It was Nessim, and he pounded one fist on the door, mimicking a deeper thud from outside.

“Sim!” Sevi said. “What’s happening?”

“They’re fighting,” Nessim said. “They’re all fighting.”

Anie swallowed hard. “Why?” she asked.

“Because they took us,” Nessim said. He kicked the door. It clapped on its hinges, and held steady. “Why’d you think?”

Sevi rustled in his bed. So did a lot of the others.

“Is the door locked?” Sevi asked.

Nessim turned toward him. “No, I’m kicking it because it’s more fun than pushing the latch.”

“Should we break it down?” Sevi asked. “Should we run?” He was pushing the blankets out of the way, standing up beside his cot.

Anie shook her head.

“Got anything heavy?” Nessim asked. “It’s just wood. We can run at it.”

“Wait,” Anie said. “It’s not safe.”

“We can do it,” Nessim said.

“It’s not safe,” Vetlynn said. “Nothing’s safe out there.”

“We can do it,” Nessim insisted. Sevi stepped a little closer to him. He turned, and lined himself up beside him, shoulder to shoulder.

“Get into bed,” Cidra said from across the room. Anie looked toward the back wall where the older girl had taken a cot. She wasn’t much older than Anie – a year or two, maybe – but she was taller by three inches and she had always looked like she wouldn’t talk without knowing what she was talking about.

Nessim went quiet.

“Why?” Sevi asked carefully.

“They’re fighting because we’re in here,” Cidra murmured. She sounded sleepy, or just uninterested in their stupidity. “And we’re going to stay in here, because they’re out there.”

The room echoed again when she stopped talking, as if even the walls had expected more from her.

“Why?” Anie asked.

“If we stay, our families will understand after a while, that we’re okay,” Cidra said. “If we try to get out, the fight will just go on longer. People will get more hurt.”

“You don’t know that,” one of the other girls said. “We should try.”

Cidra sat up, and it took longer than it had to, as if she would rather climb a mountain than put out the effort to look at them all. “You think that they haven’t thought that we might break down the door? They have something else to keep us in here. Or something to make sure they can put us back. They’re not doing this for fun. Not like Nessim kicking the door.”

“And that means that we shouldn’t try?” Nessim demanded.

She was quiet for a second. “You’re angry,” she said finally. “Vet’s scared. I know it’s bad out there. I don’t want to go into it in the dark.” She waited to see if any one else would argue. “Get into bed,” she said, and she fell back onto her pillow.

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