IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
V: Sharing Insanity
Saturday, November 28, 2708
Night falls. I open my eyes to take note of the fact. At first I thought I heard the twittering of birds greeting the dawn. Then I realize that no, they call to each other in their last conversations as they roost. And I have slept all day, and could use still more.
(Night falls, and with it snow, just like Magda said it would.)
(Night falls, and the showers give us a brief respite from the chill,)
(Night falls on us like all the tears in the world, but the hardhearted sky won’t shed a drop of rain.)
Tanjin kneels beside me, smiling wearily. “I took Steddy and the wounded back to Zofia,” he says. “But she says keep the horse for now, the plowing’s done. I just got back. Can you sit up and eat something, Deirdre?”
“Can I...yes. Thank you.”
“Good, because Zofia made a sandwich for you...” I snatch it from his hand before he can finish his sentence. He laughs as I gobble it down. “It’s good to see you with an appetite,” he says. I finally taste the last bit—ham, spring greens and homemade mustard, on good, coarse country bread. Zofia kept no pigs; the neighbors must be sending food over to her.
Tanjin gives me water, and then tucks the blanket back around me. “Stay warm, Deirdre, and get some more rest. You need it. You earned it.”
I can’t argue with tha...
(Maury finds two boulders leaned against each other; he and Shon build a fire in the sheltered space between, then huddle around it like an outdoor fireplace, the glow crackling and sputtering on the barely combustible fuel that we can scrounge, smoky with the damp. It casts a fitful shimmer on the rocks, making them look rich with gold, and it makes our faces look flushed with more warmth than we feel.
Magda uses some of our hamster-feed to bait a snare for whatever creature has a taste for it; none of us feel particular at this point. But she doesn’t go very far, and hastens back to our hearth as soon as she can. Ah, the joys of the fresh air lifestyle!)
(I want to stay in the shower’s warmth as long as I can, let the hot water drench me till my reddened skin wrinkles. But the air smells rancid with lye soap, and the steam suffocates me—so thick that if we were ships we’d find the navigation treacherous.)
(I told Sarge that if I couldn’t handle oxen-reins with one hand he might as well cashier me now. I didn’t tell him that somebody’s got to keep an eye on our little traitor...somebody who...no, that doesn’t make sense. Reno, you never make sense—everybody agrees on that.)
(Jacques squats beside me before the fire. “Glad to see you come to your senses, mon cheri,” he grumbles genially, rubbing arthritic fingers in the heat. “But how far are you going to carry on this quest or whatever it is of yours?”
“Mission,” I say. “Agents call them missions. And I will go as far as I am physically,” I swallow, “or mentally able to.”
“You going to kill anybody else to do it?”
“Gates, I hope not!”)
(How far before we finally get to camp? Sarge pushes us for long hours to try and make up time, but you can only ask so much of oxen and demoralized men. The kids have fallen asleep already. I wish I could join them. Oh lord, they look so innocent!)
I wake as another youngster shifts. I dreamed something about...loss of innocence? About Kiril betraying me? Noooo, I rub my face. I don’t want to follow that thought! Yet...the same guy who drives the cart she rides, the same one I’ve seen her cuddled up against, knew about our raid and waited for us.
No. I’ll understand it all better later, after I rest up a bit more. But Zeb and Rozhen flicker on the edge of my sight in the dark. I don’t think they’re satisfied with the vengeance that I offered them.
(Kill any more...is that how they see me now, as a killer? Is that who I am? I’ve had to do it before, in my line of business—but not so many at once, and not while linked to their minds!
Face truth: I didn’t care as much before, because I didn’t know them—I didn’t feel them. Now I know. I kill.
I feel Cybil’s soft hand on my shoulder. “Zanne, you look so tired—you still need your sleep after...whatever that was.” Also true. “Here, We’ve got our bedding all spread out and tarped. Nothing more needs done; call it a day.” So we all snuggle in close under decompressed camping-quilts, and I think that friendship is one of the greatest truths of all.)
How did I even fall asleep in the first place? Warm little bodies now crowd close all around me as we lay together in the hay, shoving in between me and Tanjin; I can hardly move without disturbing all of them at once. Yet, so exhausted, they fall instantly asleep again, and soon the hay murmurs with all the different rhythms, breathing in and out just on the verge of snores.
And I want them. I want the smell of them as a dam wants to scent her young. I want to pretend that we have this sinless mother/child relationship, that I have not abused them, that their trust in me means something pure.
Oh God, what am I, now?
Too tired to work it out, that’s what. And I can’t stay awake long enough to even think about what we’ll have to do about Kiril, anyway.
(I’m just too exhausted to figure out what to do about Kiril. Stress sure takes it out of you—I could sleep for weeks, I think, if I could only get a chance. But in the few hours I had last night this ripped-up arm kept jolting me awake every time I moved.)
Sluggard! I’ve already slept an obscene amount of time—what kind of agent warrior human being am I to indulge my weariness so? But crashing isn’t really sleep, it’s just catching up. I know I can’t think straight right now. Let it go, Deirdre, just for now.
(I’m sure the answer will come to me if only I can get a good night’s sleep. But the cookies that Kiril sometimes gives me blocks my dreams. That’s how my mother always said we work out our problems, in our dreams. But I can’t remember mine anymore, and daylight just brings more waking nightmares.)
Some say that dreams can answer all the toughest problems. Some say that if you fall asleep asking a question, you will learn something that you can put to use. I don’t know how true that is, but it cannot hurt to try…
If I can capture this at all, it will be a miracle. One of those brief nap-dreams, more a subjective impact of emotions and impressions than a series of events and sensations, a picture briefly flashed with complex meaning, steam and dewy skin and a wicked grin. I was Jake, I know that much. I’ll try and coax Jake out of me to say it for himself, but I sense a reluctance and a fear...
(...reluctance and a fear, and a great deal of hate, affection too—no, lust. Dishonesty kills oracles. Lust and a hatred for the despicable person that so seduces me...no! Tries to seduce me. Let’s keep the distinction, so all-important to one’s self-esteem.
Hatred projected away from myself, lest I remember a horror in the past...
Or maybe love, for an original mind that tests the bounds of this cheerily repressive place, this prison of souls, school of the perverse—unnature, unnature in its squared-off lines and curtailed thought. Next to these George Winsall is a bastion of nature. So yes, I do love him. But I could also gladly hurt him.
That moment in the hall, as he came out of the shower, for a moment the steam still around him, the hiss of other showers behind him, and he let the towel slip—not even in front, just to the side, just to reveal that muscled curve of a hip, still glistening-wet, a few drops of the shower still jeweling it like dew. And all the rest of the hall, the wood and the plaster and the tiles had been cut into right angles, painted and varnished, but he had only the water to polish him. He made the one organic line that I had seen for days.
Oh, there must’ve been others. But even the lettuce in our salads they shred into rectangular ribbons. Even the gardens they hack into shapes of buildings, windows, doors. I crane to see clouds out the window, but the Venetian blinds mince my view, and it always seems overcast when I step out.
That hip. The animal smile that went with it, with his too-large teeth and his eyes full of evil knowledge. Hypnotic, as one spot of red seen after days in a gray-walled prison.
Only Winsall Changewright would know the precise moment when I would feel his temptation the most. He and only he not even Randy AND HOW DARE HE GRAB ME BY THE SOUL!
Deliberate? You bet. He caught my eye, he stopped, his fingers relaxed, just on that one side, and the towel slipped. Then he smiled, teeth and all. When he walked away the world jarred for me; I thought he’d stand there forever, we two petrified for all time by a revelation never intended for mortals, damned, or else invading some god’s reserve.
It wasn’t just the hip, dammit! The electricity. Magnetism. Shock. Spark. Lightning and power squeezed into a little wire of time. I don’t even remember if he sauntered when he left, just that he left. I hated him for doing that to me.
I hate myself! What happened with Jesse, years ago. But we were both boys, and by law we were both men, and it just got so confusing...it just...what happened, exactly?
I am the adult, now, though, even if I pretend to be a teen. I’m the one in control. Feeling a temptation and following through are two different things.
I want him. I would like to kill him, kiss him, throw him down on the floor the way my father sometimes took my mother. I want to shelter his face in my hands and say George, George called Changewright, it doesn’t have to go this way. You can find so many better solutions to who you are than the path that you’ve embarked on. Let me show you...
Let me abuse you! He would make me do evil in his stead!
He would...he would...oh the things that he would...
Don’t blame the victim, Jake. Don’t make him the victim. Just...don’t.
I don’t know what path he has embarked upon.)
“I don’t know what path I have embarked upon,” I murmur, waking myself up. But the dream seemed to tell me, really, what I can remember of it. I recall being a man, lusting after a boy. I am a molester. I have molested children’s souls.