When mountain ranges cut across the horizon before and behind her, and the blue Toyota still hovered in her rearview mirror, Terrin’s better judgement gave way to curiosity. She tapped the break lightly. The car seemed to hesitate, just a moment, as cruise control disengaged, and then she eased the car into a speed that might be described as grandmotherly. At least to other people. Her own grandmother collected speeding tickets like fine china and had recently begun wall-papering the dining room with them.
Dalia looked up as the car decelerated, glanced at Terrin, then the side mirror, and shook her head. “Don’t do it,” she said.
Terrin took her eyes off the road for half a second to purposefully give her an innocent look. “It’s not illegal to go under the speed limit.”
There was no hiding from sleep. Hushed, it crept through doors or windows, with all the familiarity of a cat too comfortable in its own domain to announce itself at the door. On padded feet, it might climb the stairs, ease itself into a room. On the space of a blink, it slipped in a shadow, then seated itself boldly in the corner. Not there, and then there all at once, calm and unsurprising. It was always there, prepared.
But Nesha could run from sleep. She drank her hot drinks, kept her hands busy, kept her feet moving. There were always small stacks of things to do and always thoughts to chase around her head. It didn’t matter that sleep was a quick-sand thing, gripping her all the firmer for how hard she kicked against it. Tugging her down more forcefully after each attempt to push it away. She tipped her head back to drag in waking air and ignored the way it pulled at her ankles.
Her problems faded out of sight in the rear-view mirror and she relished the roar of the highway wind. In a few minutes, maybe, she would turn on the radio, twist the volume up until it rumbled in her floorboards, her seat, her lungs. Until it filled the car and pushed the horizon farther away. She usually did, just as part of ignition, listening to the engine turn over once before she drowned it out with drums and guitar.
A friend had told her once that there was a science to why music sounded better when it was cranked up loud. She didn’t need the excuse, but she used it just the same, turning the dial higher. Turning decent songs good, and good songs great. Forcing everything back.
It was still dark when Anie started to hear heavy feet ahead of them, though the sky was turning promisingly gray. The trees were spreading apart, and their little band moved more easily. Mel kept up with her better, and Thea wasn’t far behind while Chas and Darien stayed to either side to keep them all together. When the voices petered back through the air, they drew in closer. Anie listened hard for armor, for the clink of metal that she had heard around the soldiers at the fortress. They only sounded dull, thudding along under the thin tones of their speech.
Chas slipped ahead. Anie watched him go, and almost moved in next to him. Long-legged as he was, she would have bet half the moon that she could keep up with him. But glancing at Mel, she stayed close, dropped back and threaded her finger’s through Thea’s.
“Hey!” someone shouted ahead of them. Not Chas, and not as far ahead as Anie would have expected from the rest of the rumble. There was a following thud, and a gasp, like someone forgot how to breathe.
“Hey, hey, stop,” Chas said. Quick, sharp. Not quite as loud as he usually was, as if he didn’t have the lungs for it.
Anie peered forward in the dark. Thea kept her close with tight fingers. Darien padded forward into grayer shadow.
“Where did you come from?” the woman asked.
Tanna had been awake so long, exhaustion no longer weighed on her. A few hours ago, she had been made of lead, tripping over stones that barely poked above the dirt road, shoulders aching, skull pressing down too hard on the column of her neck. Now, she wasn’t sure she owned bones, or if something had hollowed her out. She too light. Unsteady. Her hands shook in the breeze of her own pulse.
The wagons rumble behind her. The horses beat the ground in front of her. The rest of them walked the wide road, safe between them. Tanna glanced at the boy beside her, a little older and a little thinner. She listened to the others’ trudging footsteps, and considered looking at them as well.
Yesterday, they had all been strangers. Today, they were still strangers, and most of them were lost, following the two or three riders who had taken this road before. But the dirt taste in her mouth was growing familiar.
Lucas eyed the heaped collection of shirts, books, boots, breeches, coats, scarves, blankets, coins, and knick-knacks in the middle of his bed. Then he looked down at the empty shoulder bag crumpled on the floor. Even with the draw string dragged open as far as it would go, it looked as if he would have jump on top if it to get it to hold more than his blanket and three rolled up shirts. It would never swallow the entire mountain he had sorted out.
Lucas glanced sideways at Elli.
She was close to sighing, but still holding onto the task at hand. “So, you’ll have to leave behind a few more things,” she murmured.
Lucas looked at the pile. He looked down at the bag. He would have to leave behind a lot more things.
“I think,” he said after a moment. “It would almost be easier to just light it all on fire.”
There had been something hanging over the morning. There had been a dullness, something to pacify the discomfort in thought and slow the need for motion. As unsettled as the hours had felt, they had been calm, stretching out endlessly like a tedious, necessary mile. Maybe it had been tiredness, maybe just the chill of morning.
Whatever it had been, Tiernan watched his older brother walk away from him in the stone hall, and knew that it was gone.
The thoughtless strides that had brought him to the high mountain hall could not be repeated. And standing still was no kind of option.
Tiernan watched his brother’s back, then looked over his shoulder. As soon as he took his first step, he knew where he was going. He took long, quick strides in the opposite direction from Callix, the speed and motion clicking into place where the morning’s dullness had been to keep him calm.
On the hottest day of the year, the skirt of my red dress flutters against my thighs in the breeze manufactured by the fan. I’ve already thrown every window open, and shoved boxes against all the doors to keep them from closing on what little air presses through the apartment. I don’t sit, because the chair holds too much heat against the back of my legs. I’m wearing that little red dress because it’s the only thing in my closet that I can put on and forget that I’m wearing, all light fabric and short skirt that doesn’t know how to cling.
I shut my eyes and I bathe in the air off the fan, and I listen to the kids playing down the street, echoed and faint under the machine hum just beneath my window. There’s a bird somewhere who likes the heavy sunlight well enough. There’s a sigh and rustle that might be a bold breeze, if I can believe that there is such a thing on a day like this.
I know that it’s hot enough, and in a moment I’m going to close all the windows and turn off the fan, but I’m not quite ready yet. I’m not going to like the hug of the hot, dense air, and it’s going to get too tight when I decide it’s time to use it. I decide, without deciding, that I’ll stay as I am for a moment longer.
One moment passes.
And I’m sighing at myself. Because it’s the hottest day of the year – the only day I can be sure that I will get this to work – and I’m wasting it.
Goff always thought the horizon was a strange line. It was never straight, always bowed against the weight of the world pushing itself up into heaven, and yet it held its place every day and every night and never actually let them touch.
It was the line he had to cross to get home, sailing in off a wide ocean, and yet he never touched it. Waiting on land, he watched a thousand other ships tip over the edge, canvas first, but on his own ship, it was the islands that came over the top. Never him.
“This is the sort of place you get homesick for, even when it’s never been home,” Andie said, holding her cup of coffee.
Leah put her handful of strange small coins onto the counter and waved the scarf she was purchasing at the vendor. She had said hello a few moments before, asked how much, and exhausted her vocabulary frighteningly fast. She was holding tight to the word, good-bye so it would still be whole in her mind when she turned to walk away.
The man across the counter pulled the coins into his palm and counted them, smiling as he got the end of the rough stack. Then he handed one back, and nodded to her.