– CHAPTER THIRTY –
They hung her in the evening, from the gazebo rafters in the compound’s park.
At her back the sun was aglow, a red drop of blood splattered across the sky. The dusking light stretched out long her dangling shadow, her shadow’s dark toes searching to find the ground, to keep her neck from stretching. All eyes gathered before the gazebo regarded her, judged her, gawking, taking bets as to the judgment of her soul after her neck finally snapped and her life leapt away. She knew all this, regardless of the hood pulled down over her head. Her own eyes somehow pierced the hood’s thick material, allowing her to see her morbid spectators, a crowd of faceless shades.
This nightmare failed to wake her, until the shades called for fire. Hanging was not enough to send a conduit to judgment…
But it was not the flames licking her bones clean of flesh—one slow orange tongue roll at a time—that forced her to break the surface of wakefulness. The gambling specter spectators stood vigil to witness her fate, growing more agitated, rowdy, dancing to the sway of the bonfire’s blaze, their liturgy fueled by her screams and the pop-sizzle-crack of the flaming wood. She had chosen her abilities, which she told the Reverend was as much a part of her life as breathing. Instead of letting her go, the Reverend said she would go to God. The vague faces stood below the pile of wood, looking up to that deity and the sinner He would receive and judge. One face stood out to her among the inky blurs. She recognized him! She knew the vertical scar across the man’s nose and through his dead eye. The apple rose cheeks flushed not with mirth but embarrassment. Marty! He had betrayed her. He brought her to the His Hand in hopes his daughter would forgive him. Most frightening, his face and his good eye were clear of mist. He understood… a surrogate daughter for one of his blood.
Clara woke then.
Her heart pounded against her back, the impact against the mattress seeming to have bounced the young conduit to a sitting position. Sweat stuck Clara’s shift to her body. The collar around her neck had turned frigid with the night’s cold, the circular metal band now heavier than ever.
She gulped and heaved sips of air. Her heart must have beat a thousand times before settling and allowing her to breathe normally again.
Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, Clara padded off to the…
Where was she going?
She rubbed away the sleep that clung to her face, nearly as heavy as the collar around her neck.
Right! No windows. No other way out besides the front door.
What time had she woken to? She guessed it was after midnight, early morning probably. Clara wished she had her portable device with the digital clock. So useful, like her, like a conduit.
After her confrontation with Deseray the night before, Clara had eventually found her way back to the building that housed her frugal living space. At the late hour, none of the other conduits were awake. All the lamps and candles were blown out or cranked off. The urge to see if the thumpers had housed Wendy in her same building nearly overtook Clara’s better judgment then.
In the end, Clara decided letting the conduits sleep was a mercy. The shifts on the Junker golem were long and the sleep fretful and short. Let them sleep. Catch up. So, she had go to bed instead.
Clara was reconsidering the decision she made before sleeping.
They might find longer sleep soon, Clara mused morbidly, after Jimmy Boy forces them to make up their minds about staying or leaving. Throw away their gifts or die as my dad did.
She would not cry. When she returned to house last night she promised herself she would keep all emotions distant and anger as close as an enemy needing chummy watching.
Strange enough, the realization of her father’s demise didn’t stab at her as sharply as she would have believed. The urge to cry was distant.
What she really wanted was someone to talk to. Clara felt lonely right now. Room with no windows. Field out of reach. That annoying buzzing, the snap-crackle just beyond her normal senses gave her a headache. The Field isolation was getting to Clara, the white noise growing louder.
Clara stuck a finger in her ear and wiggled, trying to get the odd sensation out of her head and to keep goose pimples from rising to the surface of her skin.
She wondered again what time it was.
She went over to a wardrobe that kept her follower skirts and blouses. Would it really be too early to look for Wendy, to peak in on the conduits staying in the house with her? She would not shake them. Clara would only look closely.
Probably. Although she reaffirmed her original decision, Clara got dressed anyway.
The buzzing of the collar’s disturbance grew more insistent as she was buttoning up her blouse. She tried to concentrate hard on looping her thumb-width leather belt around her waist, to occupy her mind with automatic tasks. Didn’t she only sense the white noise disturbance when she tried touching the Field? Right now Clara was not attempting to probe for…
Light flickered in the dim of the room, growing brighter, a shooting star plummeting to the earth. The collar’s Field-dampening wailed angrily.
Clara fell to her knees. Her hands flew to the sides of her head and applied pressure in a vain attempt to block out the wreckage of noise from the Field and the collar’s blocking colliding. But this was not sound. No one but her could sense the noise, except maybe another conduit. But no one came running. The house remained silent.
At the point Clara was about to curl up in a ball, the star light ceased its expanding, focused back down to a pinprick of light, and focused into a petite wispy form of a young woman made of beautiful Nite light.
Tears rolled down Clara’s eyes. She did not stop herself from weeping. She was too happy.
Tink’s firefly-like Field form flickered two handspuns away from Clara’s nose.
Clara’s arms rose to embrace Tink as a long lost friend. The motion halted midway when the conduit realized she could not physically touch the Field or Nites, not even Tink. That did not stop the bloom of warmth in Clara’s chest from spreading its pedals as wide as her outstretched arms!
“Tink… where have you been? How are you even here?” Clara spoke quietly, afraid anything louder would banish the Nite, spreading the Field out to disappear once more. One of the thumpers set to watch the unconverted conduits might also hear her.
As Clara’s last word left her lips, the Nite blinked away. Inside herself, Clara felt that spreading flower close up tightly. She couldn’t breathe. The darkness of the room closed in.
Then the Nite returned, her glow sputtering to life from a pinprick to a tiny star. Tink couldn’t hold her form, not for long. She struggled to maintain the connection, her bluish light contracting and opening every few seconds.
Quickly. The blips in the field drifted toward Clara, tapping at her sixth sense lightly, a fingernail against a wooden door. Barely there. Just. Clara strained to make out the taps. There’s not a lot of time. Listen.
“Did you get help? Is someone here to help me get away from the His Hand?” Clara’s words came out in a rush, though pitched low.
Although Clara tried to keep hope, she wondered… who outside was left to offer aid to Clara? Rose and Clayton were in the compound. Not that Clayton would have helped. And Uncle Marty would leave Clara here, probably thinking her conduit’s life a token for his daughter’s affection and forgiveness. That thought stung as badly as the nightmare burned still, no matter how much it made little sense.
More listen. Less lip. The blips were short and terse. Tink doesn’t take guff or attitude. Clara grinned and exhaled with relief.
After nodding for the Nite to continue, Clara remained silent.
It’s early. Move quick before the sun is up. Come to the southwest corner of the town’s border. There’s an orchard there. Someone who’ll help—
The remainder of Tink’s message cracked and popped out while the collar around Clara’s neck suddenly grew very warm. Tink had fought against the collar’s dampening as long as she could, long enough to make Clara understand.
Clara quickly finished dressing for the day. She would run ahead of the dawn to make sure Tink’s message meant something.
Outside Clara’s room, not a person stirred in the house designated for the unconverted conduits. Gauzy curtains covered the windows in the main living areas, obscuring the view of anyone outside but allowing in light via the shutters opened to let in the last chill breezes of spring. Through those curtains, Clara saw that the shade of night was still pulled down over the world. Her body told her to sleep, to slink back to her bed and finish sleeping. Look at the world outside! Look! It’s night! Night is for sleeping… and you’re exhausted. It was not long ago she’d finally found her bed, after a long search. She also found nightmares.
Clara yawned until her eyes watered and her belly was near to bursting with the intake of air. Slowing her steps and distracted, Clara put a foot down too hard on the floor and the floor squealed back to betray her. Her eyes darted all around, waiting for doors to open, for people to ask what she was about at this early hour.
When no doors opened, Clara inhaled a quiet sigh and resumed stepping lightly, being careful where she placed her feet.
While wiping her eyes, she glanced at the kitchens and decided rummaging in the dark would root out too much noise. Likely Clara would find rattling drawers with the silverware rather than food. She also was running out of darkness and was unsure how long it would take her to walk to the orchard Tink referenced.
She was near the door when somewhere behind her a familiar board squeaked.
“What are you doing?” someone said sleepily from behind her, no regard for the secrecy Clara’s mission demanded.
Dozens of excuses formed in her mind. Clara’s shoulders tightened with the stressful constraints from which she had to choose. Turning around, she decided whatever random story came from her lips would do and left her fate to chance.
A girl either as old as Clara or as young as Rose stood wondering at Clara with big eyes, holding a candle that lit the room. Her heart-shaped face was smooth as chocolate, dark as coffee. The teen was shorter than Clara’s already shorter than normal height. Clara remembered the girl’s frizzy hair as a tangled nest; she’d brushed out the tangles and a wash had left the thick locks shinny and sticky up like a bristle brush. She also remembered the girl’s canary yellow eyes, now gleaming in the candle’s light. Wendy should have called Nites to light her way, but like Clara, the collar around the conduit’s neck kept her from relying on her connection with the Field.
That candle light seemed brighter than a hundred Nites brought out from the Field and made real. Especially when Clara was attempting a swift and stealthy exist from the conduit house!
Regardless of her glee at seeing Wendy—at knowing of the girl’s safety—Clara rushed forward and pinched her thumb and index fingers to the flaming wick. The light snuffed out.
Still as skittish as when they first met in the Junker bus golem, Wendy coiled in on herself and took a couple of hasty steps away from Clara, the latter’s sudden rush to put out the candle startling her. Clara must have looked a charging bull to the once caged conduit.
Instead of grabbing at Wendy, Clara did what she wanted to do after that night when Wendy comforted her, rubbing her back after Clara nearly burned herself out. She drew the girl into a hug and held fast until the other relaxed in the embrace.
“Good to see you, Wendy,” Clara whispered. It was like squeezing a broomstick with arms and legs. A couple/few days with the His Hand could not put meat on any person after he or she engaged in the Junker’s recommended diet for conduits.
She wanted to ask Wendy how the His Hand had treated her up to this point. Had the Reverend met with Wendy individually or in a group with other Junker conduits? If not the Reverend, perhaps the gideons had stood on their soap boxes high above all the conduits? What had they promised her? How were the other conduits faring?
Wendy had just as many questions for Clara. And just in case Clara could not hear her, Wendy asked loudly.
Dawn would not wait for any of the girls; inquires. And the conduits in the house wouldn’t remain asleep with all this chatter, neither would the followers sleeping here to watch over the conduits.
“Keep quiet,” Clara told Wendy conspiratorially. “Quiet or you’ll wake everyone.”
“Where are you going, Clara?”
Clara ignored the other conduit’s question, glancing at the door and then the still dark windows. “You need to go back to bed, Wendy. We never were able to have so much sleep until now.”
They might just let us sleep forever if we stay here too long.
“Clara… Where are you going so early?” Wendy insisted on asking, even as Clara pushed her back to bed and promised to speak with her when the sun rose.
Heels dug in, showing the spark of stubborn rebellion that allowed them to become allies—if not friends, if you could find friends in a grim situation like being a battery for the Junkers—Wendy refused to return to her bed.
Exhaling heavily but smiling, Clara dropped her arms and walked backwards toward the front door. Her golden-brown eyes locked with Wendy’s yellow.
“I’m meeting somebody,” Clara said in a whisper.
The word “who” stretched Wendy’s lips into a circle, her lower lip plump and pouty.
Clara rolled her shoulders casually. She touched a finger to her own lips and when she pulled it away, she wore an impish grin that Wendy imitated. Partners in crime.
“Get your clothes. Hop to it,” Clara ordered.”We leave in less than a minute ago! Nites wait for no conduit.”
Wanna read more? Turn the page to Chapter Thirty-One by clicking here.
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved