Authors: Lena Hillbrand
Meyer could respond, Herman returned. Sally gave Meyer one last look before
standing to give Herman his seat. Herman handed Meyer the papers—work cards for
a Third, a ration card that had been used and never reset, ID cards.
Castle, is it? Well, I may have to pay this Draven a little visit.” Meyer
ignored Sally’s panicked look. He stood and pushed in his chair. He had to meet
Draven doubted the baby would survive long following the fall from the tree, it
continued on, its suffering increasing with each passing night. The group of
runaways rested one day longer than planned, but they could delay no further.
The night they left the tarp shelter, clouds hung low above them, sagging with
oppressive weight. Leo did not cry when he awoke. He stared ahead with glazed
traveling at night, they progressed slowly with Cali walking. Though Cali used flashlights, she often tripped over the rough terrain. Draven carried her baby
and all their possessions, leaving Cali’s hands free to break her frequent
falls. The first night of travel, the wind blew at their backs with a raw, icy
edge, tearing away their heat and replacing it with aching cold. The second
night, snow began to fall in huge dry flakes before they’d even broken camp. Cali begged for another night’s rest, but Draven packed in silence and set off, his face
grim. He knew he could not keep Cali and her baby alive in the mountains during
winter. He did not imagine he could keep even himself alive, and they were but
halfway through the night, the snow had risen above their ankles. As they
continued, the baby wailed himself hoarse and then fell ominously silent. Cali
had stopped complaining and slogged through the snow, which soon reached
mid-calf level and soaked through her trousers, the legs of which soon froze
solid. The snow impeded their progress, as wading through it slowed them
considerably and blinded them to the world beyond an arm’s length ahead. Even
Draven’s senses were dulled by the conditions, the wind coming from the wrong
direction for precise scenting and the blowing snow obscuring his night vision.
Draven’s mind had begun to swirl with horrible possibilities, imagining falling
asleep and waking to find his humans frozen solid beside him in the evening, or
plummeting from a cliff hidden by the blizzard. But he could not afford to stop
even in the treacherous conditions. They must leave the wilderness or die there.
dawn began to stir restlessly in the eastern sky, Draven stopped and switched off
the flashlight. The snow had ceased its assault, and in the distance, a glow
illuminated the horizon. Draven grasped Cali’s arm, a wave of relief flooding
through him with such intensity it nearly overcame his reason.
you see?” he asked.
she said, her voice muffled through layers of blanket. “Lights?”
reached the end of the mountains.”
that good?” Her voice struggled to conceal her hope.
It won’t be so cold below. But difficult to hide.”
we sleep here?”
further than it looks,” Draven said, knowing they’d have to cross kilometers of
open land before reaching the city. “We should continue onwards. Are you very
we shall rest. We should not light a fire, though. If they see a fire on the
mountain, they may investigate.”
once, Cali did not protest. She tried to feed Leo while Draven erected the
black lightproof tent. After shaking the snow from their shoes and clothing,
they crawled inside. Through the tarp, the cold snaked up from the ground to
tempt the warmth from their bodies. Draven remembered last winter, the days he
had awakened to find his fingers frozen stiff.
they had survived the night and seen the light ahead. Hope blossomed within him
upon imagining the possibilities of the plains. They too would be cold, but not
as brutal as the mountains. And not as much snow would fall there.
during the day, Leo awakened and began to cry, his voice hoarse and weak. He
did not stop crying. When evening came, Draven collapsed the tent while Cali made
another attempt at feeding Leo. The baby grabbed at the food and crammed it to
his mouth and sucked ravenously, but after every mouthful he stopped and
screamed, his face red and eyes squeezed shut. In response to Cali’s pleas for
him to indicate the problem area, he only patted his stomach, his face
contorted with pain.
packed the camping gear, averting his eyes when he noticed Cali’s helpless expression
as she tried to feed her baby. When he’d finished, he knelt beside their
belongings and studied Cali for a moment. “Cali,” he said slowly. “I know that
you will not like what I have to say.”
don’t say it,” she snapped, shooting him a dark look before returning her gaze
to the child’s tortured face.
know he is dying.”
told you not to say it.”
also know I speak the truth.”
he’s just sick. He’ll eat again tonight. Later. Maybe tomorrow.”
is not sick, Cali. He wants to eat,” Draven insisted. “Something likely happened
when he fell, something inside that we cannot see…”
it didn’t,” Cali said, glaring at Draven. She took a deep breath and raised her
chin defiantly. “I looked at him and he only has a few bruises. I know what you
want. You just want to suck his blood, and you think if I say he’s dying, that
I’ll let you. Well, I won’t, so you can just stop your words.”
pressed his lips together and thought of the promise Cali had made, that she’d
do as he asked. He could have reminded her. But she was just a sap, human and
emotional, grieving for her child.
well,” he said, standing and shouldering the pack. “Though I imagine it would
be humane to put an end to his suffering.”
not a mad dog, okay? He’s a person. You can’t just put a person out of their
misery because they’re hurt. And besides, you’re not a doctor. You don’t know
what’s wrong with him. Maybe he just has a stomachache.”
give him to me and let us go.”
you going to bite him?”
know we are both growing weaker and hungrier, and he contributes nothing. There
is no use for him at all.”
evil,” she said. She held Leo close to her chest. “I’m not giving him to you.
You’ll probably drop him on purpose.”
well, carry him yourself. I’ve plenty to carry.”
walked in silence most of the night. After a few hours, Cali lagged behind, and
when Draven offered to take Leo, she made no protest. The boy lay limp in
Draven’s arms, breathing hard and with great effort. Though Draven wanted to speak
further to Cali, she refused to look at him, so he remained silent and they
continued onwards. Midway through the night, they began to hear the occasional
yips and howls of wolves. As the lonesome sounds drew nearer, Cali no longer
lagged behind but walked close on Draven’s heels.
a howl sounded to their left, so near it sent a shiver through Draven, he stopped
and turned to Cali. Without a word, he gathered her in his arms and began to
climb a nearby tree. The tree’s branches grew high above the ground, and Draven
had to struggle to hold onto Cali as he made his way up the rough trunk. He
could no longer leap into trees as he had when his journey began.
body shivered against his, and she clutched his neck as he climbed. The wind’s
chill had stolen so much of her heat that he could scarcely detect it through
her many layers of clothing. When he reached the first branches that could
support his weight, he hoisted Cali onto them. She scrambled up, took Leo from
him, and waited while he leapt from the tree to gather their remaining
belongings. While recovering the bags, he glimpsed several pairs of eyes in the
trees, lurking, watching. With a shudder, he grasped the tree trunk and began his
ascent, acutely aware that he had turned his back on a hungry wolf pack.
Climbing as quickly as he could manage, he scaled the tree and joined his
humans, his hands shaking. A glance at Cali’s stricken face settled him a bit.
Her own fear had blinded her to his.
fear gave him purpose, and he pushed his own discomfort aside and busied
himself settling them in the tree. He secured the bags, removing the sleep
sacks for the humans as he did so. He steadied Cali while she slid into one,
then handed her the child and began to tether the entire bundle to the tree
are you doing?” Cali asked, her voice sharp with alarm.
you to the tree,” Draven said. “This way, you cannot slip from the branch and
she said, twisting back and forth so wildly he had to pounce to catch her when
she lurched off the branch. Draven hauled her back onto the creaking limb,
cursing under his breath.
you so intent upon a quick death?” he asked, pushing her back against the tree.
“Because you nearly got one.”
she said, her voice sullen even as her eyes betrayed her guilt.
be still, you foolish thing.”
no, no…” As he began to wind the rope around her once more, her hands resisted
him but she did not lurch about so wildly as before. “Please,” she begged, sounding
close to tears. “Please don’t tie me. I’ll be totally still, I swear. Please,
master. Don’t chain me like he did. Please?”
sighed and sat back on his heel.
stay right here, and I’m leaning on the trunk,” Cali said. “I won’t fall. I promise.”
his better judgment, Draven withdrew the rope from around her and coiled it
beside him on the branch. He sat guarding them, looking for any sign of
movement on Cali’s part, but she sat as still as a human could, shifting
slightly now and then when a rustle sounded in the woods nearby. Only Draven
could hear the other noises of the forest—the snow packing beneath the pad of
the wolves’ footfalls, the soft huff of their breath, the constant thrum of
many heartbeats, the whisper of their movements beneath the lower branches. He
monitored Cali for a reaction, but her heartbeat had returned to normal, and he
knew she could no longer detect the presence of the other creatures.
some time they remained in the tree, silent and motionless. The moon shone on
the white world around them, illuminating the snow-laden branches of the
neighboring fir trees and the stark black of the aspens silhouetted sharply
against the muted backdrop. Nothing moved but for an occasional blistering
breeze that penetrated to the very bones.
shifted positions, trying to diffuse the ache that crept into his extremities,
growing ever more intense as the flesh of his fingertips began to freeze. He must
remain mobile, for Cali. If she fell, neither she nor Leo would not survive
after ice solidified Draven’s toes, he noticed Cali’s eyes beginning to close
for longer and longer periods each time she blinked.
if you fall asleep…” he said.
jerked her head up. “I’m okay.”
a few minutes later, she nodded off again. Draven stood and made his way along
the branch to her, his feet clumsy and stiff with frostbite. He dropped into a
sitting position. “Let me hold onto you. Or at least the boy.”
a moment, he thought she’d protest. Instead, she nodded. Draven slid behind her
on the branch and seated himself, drawing the girl and the baby close against
him. When he touched her icy cheek with his own, she turned her head and rested
it on his shoulder. Moments later, her breathing settled as she drifted into
sleep. Though only a trace of her heat seeped through the sleep sack, he was
grateful for even a hint of warmth. He sat holding her until light began leaking
from beneath the horizon in the east. The wolves circled below the tree. A few errant
snowflakes drifted past.
wolves slunk further from the tree, although they remained nearby, lurking just
inside Draven’s range of hearing. One let out a long, bone-chilling howl that
echoed into the flatlands below. Cali’s head jerked up. A shudder wracked her
body, and she nestled back against Draven. He tightened his arms around her and
pressed his nose into the curve of her neck.
waited for the howl to come again, but it did not repeat.
several minutes of silence, Cali said, “I have to pee.”
course,” Draven said, trying to remember the last time she’d stopped to relieve
herself. “You cannot wait?”
been waiting all night.”
I forget sometimes that you do that.”
what am I supposed to do?”
pondered a moment, and then said, “You’ll have to do it from here.”
am I to know? I don’t do that.”
don’t see how I can get my pants down.”
you need assistance, I will provide it.”
she said drily. “That’s just what I need.” Despite her obvious misgivings, she
let him help her from the sleep sack and take her baby. She then began to inch
along the branch. After a few feet she stopped. “I can’t go any further.”
you’re right near me. It’s…oddball.”
you done that near others all your life? You had public toilets as well as
showers at the Confinement.”
but…those were other people. They peed, too.”
Cali. It matters little to me.”
you sure? Because I would think it was rotty if someone went right next to me.”
I’m to have a sapien, I should adjust to your needs and habits, yes? You’ve
adjusted to mine.”
Here, take ahold of my hand.”
chuckled at her ridiculous notions, but sobered when he noticed her narrowed
eyes. “I’ll not look. Honor of Thirds.”
honor of Thirds?”
It only means a promise.”
why don’t you just say, ‘I promise’?”
well. I promise.”