Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Unwanted Visitors I: Rainfall

The rain came shortly after nightfall,‭ ‬a heavy downpour that flooded their camp and forced them out into the open.‭ ‬Samina stood watching the children gather up blankets and utensils,‭ ‬what little they had,‭ ‬and wondered what to do.‭ ‬The baby in her arms was wrapped in a wool blanket,‭ ‬but the blanket was already soaked.‭ ‬She could make shelter,‭ ‬of a sort,‭ ‬but they were already drenched and she had no way to keep them warm.

Oberon tugged on her sleeve and pointed off into the woods.‭ ‬At twelve,‭ ‬he was the oldest of the children in her care.‭ ‬He was trying to tell her something,‭ ‬but she couldn't hear him over the steady roar of the rain.‭ ‬He moved a little bit away,‭ ‬then came back and tugged on her sleeve again.‭

Where...‭?‬ He wanted her to follow,‭ ‬that was clear.‭ ‬The other children were gathering around,‭ ‬carrying what they could find.‭ ‬Whatever they did,‭ ‬they couldn't stay here,‭ ‬and moving would help them stay warm,‭ ‬at least.‭ ‬Untangling one arm from the baby's dripping blanket,‭ ‬Samina made a‭ ‬go on gesture.

Oberon stepped past her to Amarie,‭ ‬and placed the blind girl's arm on his elbow.‭ ‬She followed when he started walking,‭ ‬using him for support as they picked their way over roots and between trees.‭ ‬Samina followed them,‭ ‬and the others followed her.‭

They stayed close together.‭ ‬The storm washed away scents and limited sight‭; ‬it drowned out every sound but its own,‭ ‬and shrank the world until nothing was left but the trees around them,‭ ‬the mud beneath their feet,‭ ‬and the cold,‭ ‬steady‭ ‬weight of falling water.‭ ‬Oberon seemed to have a destination in mind,‭ ‬but Samina couldn't imagine what it might be.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬they were going generally downhill,‭ ‬half trudging and half scrambling through the mud.‭

Her shoulders ached from carrying the baby and the children were starting to stumble when Oberon came to a sudden stop,‭ ‬then gestured up ahead.‭ ‬Looking up,‭ ‬Samina saw light through the trees.‭ ‬A heartbeat later she realized she was looking at a house.‭ ‬Built with clean lines and angles,‭ ‬set in a little pocket of cultivated land that had been carved from the surrounding wilderness,‭ ‬it was the sort of place where the Dayborn lived.‭

A breath after that,‭ ‬she realized that she was exactly desperate enough to go there anyway.‭

She looked at Oberon and realized that he was waiting on her:‭ ‬giving her a chance to object,‭ ‬she suspected.‭ ‬What choice do we have‭? ‬She motioned for him to go on.‭

The man who opened the door was almost exactly Samina's height,‭ ‬with dark hair cut close to his skull and a heavy,‭ ‬muscular build.‭ ‬He looked down at Oberon and said,‭ ‬barely audible over the rain,‭ "‬You again‭?" ‬Then he looked up at the rest of them,‭ ‬paused,‭ ‬and said:‭ "‬Jesus Christ.‭ ‬Inside.‭ ‬Come on.‭ ‬All of you.‭"

He stepped back and they shuffled in,‭ ‬Oberon still leading the‭ ‬way.‭ ‬Samina stayed back to make sure everyone was inside,‭ ‬then closed the door behind them.‭

It was surprisingly dark inside.‭ ‬There was some light from around the corner,‭ ‬but nothing else.‭ ‬They were crowded into a short entry hall which opened directly into a large,‭ ‬central room‭; ‬the light came from a small area along one side of that room.

‭Then the man turned and stepped into another hallway.‭ ‬More light spilled over them,‭ ‬the unwavering glow of electrical lighting.‭ "‬This way,‭" ‬he said,‭ ‬and the children followed.‭ ‬Samina trailed along behind,‭ ‬carrying the baby in one arm,‭ ‬exhausted and wary.‭

There were three doors at the end of the hall.‭ ‬He led them through the middle one,‭ ‬into a small room equipped with a sink,‭ ‬a tub,‭ ‬and a toilet.‭ "‬Wet clothes in the sink,‭" ‬he said.‭ "‬Kids in the tub.‭" ‬He bent down and twisted a knob,‭ ‬and a stream of water began to fill the tub.‭ ‬He was kneeling with his back to them,‭ ‬but Samina wasn't sure whether that was a deliberate show of trust,‭ ‬or whether he simply didn't consider‭ ‬them a threat.‭

He made some adjustments,‭ ‬and the flow of water moved from the lower spigot to a higher one,‭ ‬spraying down into the tub from overhead.‭ ‬Three breaths later it was warm enough to fill the air with steam.‭ ‬He straightened,‭ ‬turned,‭ ‬and met Samina's eyes before she could look away.‭ "‬There are towels under the sink.‭ ‬I'll see if I can find something for them to wear while their clothes dry.‭"

He edged his way out past the children,‭ ‬then past Samina,‭ ‬and went back up the hall.‭ ‬By the time he came back,‭ ‬all five of the children were crowded into the warm water,‭ ‬the baby was wrapped in a dry towel,‭ ‬and Samina was trying to decide whether it was safe to take off her dress.‭ ‬She was shivering with cold and exhaustion.

"Here,‭" ‬he said,‭ ‬and set down a pile‭ ‬of clothes.‭ "‬Spare outfits,‭ ‬things that got left here over the years.‭"

He looked her over,‭ ‬then disappeared down the hall again.‭ ‬This time,‭ ‬when he came back,‭ ‬he was carrying a single bundle of grey cloth.‭ "‬These should fit you,‭" ‬he said,‭ ‬and set it beside the larger pile before turning away again.‭

The children,‭ ‬now warm,‭ ‬were reluctant to leave the shower.‭ ‬Oberon was the first to abandon his comfort‭; ‬no doubt he felt it was his duty.‭ ‬As he was dressing‭ (‬there was a pair of denim trousers that fit him almost perfectly‭)‬,‭ ‬Samina said:‭ "‬You've spoken to him before.‭"

Oberon froze,‭ ‬then nodded.

"You spoke to a Natural.‭" ‬She didn't put any particular emphasis on it‭; ‬just let the observation hang there.‭ ‬After a moment she added,‭ "‬Are we safe here‭?"

Oberon hesitated,‭ ‬but he didn't look uncertain‭; ‬he was thinking.‭ ‬Samina suspected that he was trying to put words to a decision that had been mostly intuitive.‭

"I think so.‭" ‬He glanced down the hall,‭ ‬then turned to face her.‭ "‬I talked to him yesterday,‭ ‬and he...‭ ‬he didn't want me there,‭ ‬but he wasn't mean,‭ ‬either.‭ ‬He didn't care.‭ ‬So I think we're safe.‭ ‬Does that make sense‭?"

"No,‭" ‬said Samina,‭ "‬but at least it doesn't sound like he wants anything from us.‭ ‬Go and watch him while I get the others dry.‭"

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