He’ll be dead- he’ll be dead- he’ll be dead-
I could not think!
He’ll be dead- oh, God, Elan-
My hands were over my nonexistant ears, but nothing would shut out the ceaseless turmoil of the other Kezia. The deeper we had followed the limping Zakhar, the greater her grief and anxiety for her brother had grown. I could hardly blame her for it. But I also found that I was embittered by it regardless. It had all been too much- I was worried for Gabi, for the horsemen, for myself. Her hissing thoughts were an unhelpful irritant.
She felt this from me, of course. I could not hide it from her, and did not try. At first she had pricked at my coldness with soft memories of the young Elan, as she had known him. But now she was too far gone into her own mire of fear and doubt to care anything for me at all.
Ahead of us, shining weakly amongst the close trees, Zakhar stopped walking and turned his horse’s head back. His form was more realistic-looking than I had ever seen, and more sorry, too- an emaciated white nag with an unkempt, trailing mane. His left shoulder still seemed to be partially caved in. It made me feel sour each time I saw it.
“We’re nearly there,” he whispered.
I did not reply. The other Kezia was so loud within my head that I could barely hear my own thoughts, let alone his words.
Ahead of us, the trees parted into a little clearing, idyllic amongst shafts of sunlight. There was a fallen mossy log covered in pink and orange mushrooms, and green twisty vines, and white snowdrops demurely facing downwards. The brilliant light made Zahar’s white coat look dull.
Elan was not there.
“Ah,” murmured Zakhar, very softly, as I came to stand beside him. The other Kezia had abruptly gone silent within me.
“Are you sure that this is the place?” I asked.
“Without a doubt,” whispered Zakhar. “I’m truly sorry.”
I gazed around at the beautiful little place. It just did not seem right.
“Maybe he walked away, then. We could try to follow…”
I trailed off. Follow what? Not a footprint marked the emerald moss.
“I wish I could assist you further,” said Zakhar, in that painfully soft voice, “but I must return. My mistress will turn her eye on me soon.”
I caught some strands of his mane in my hand to stop him leaving, though he had not actually moved yet.
“You said that Baba Yaga was going to go after Mother Forest when she had all three of you. But just what is she going to do? Will she attack her? How?”
In truth, though everyone seemed to fear it so much, I had no idea what a confrontation between the two witches would even look like. I did not even know what Mother Forest herself really looked like. All I could imagine was the face of the golem who was not my mother.
“I would be forbidden to tell you if I knew,” said Zakhar, “and I do not in any case. But I can say that I think what my mistress wants to do is a rather good thing, though it might seem cruel. After all… you yourself witnessed what Mother Forest has wrought on innocent people.”
Now that I thought about it, he was right. Those white trees… and the villagers. And what had happened to Kezia and her family, too. And Gabi.
Why were we trying to stop Baba Yaga?
Zakhar lowered his head and looked at me through his long blue eyelashes for a moment.
“You have a rare gift,” he whispered, “and that is true freedom, Kezia. As you are now, no one controls you but your own self. You have no earthly hungers to bind you to the will of others. From all of this, you could simply walk away and craft yourself a new existance in some other place. Not a single being could stop you.”
“What are you trying to say to me, Zakhar?”
He took a long breath, his chest expanding, and slowly the caved-in part began to fill out again.
“I think you know, so I shan’t say it. Only that I wish you well, particularly in the choices that you make.”
There were many things that I could have said in reply to this, and all of them roiled up and around in my head. It occurred to me that I was not really sure if I liked Zakhar, after all. He had such a queer character, and I could never tell if he was being honest or sincere. But it was true that he had tried to help me.
“Goodbye, Zakhar,” was what I said, finally. “Thank you.”
He inclined his head very low, so that the hairs of his trailing mane just brushed the mossy ground, and slipped from between my fingers, then slowly began making his way back into the trees.
I watched him go for a little while- his movements did not look so painful as they had before- then turned and looked helplessly back at the empty clearing.
Kezia, I ventured to think, since she was so quiet. But there was no answer. Had she given up? But why? We had not found Elan, but we had also not found Elan’s body, which would have been worse. There was no blood, or sign of a struggle. He had to have simply walked away.
As I was thinking this, my eye caught a slight movement near the underside of the fallen log. There came a hoarse little mewl.
With sudden fervor I crouched and put my shoulder against the log. With little effort it shifted, shedding moist earth and fungal roots, insects scurrying for cover as they were suddenly exposed. The sun made dozens of moist little snail-trails shine. And in the center of it all, lying in a dirt hollow, was a one-eyed black cat.
His empty socket gaped at me already, but now he opened his lonely eye. A tremor went through him, and I thought he tried to raise his head- but then it lolled back against the ground. His black fur, once sleek as velvet, now lay matted and filthy on his narrow flanks, and his shoulders stood out from his skin sharp as knives. If I had not seen his chest rising and falling in the barest way, I would have thought that he was dead.
That was the other Kezia, suddenly resurfacing. I did not know how she knew of the association between Noroc and Elan- had she been poking around in my memories? But either way, she was right. It could not be a coincidence that Noroc was in this clearing. And in this condition…
With a sick feeling, I remembered his words. The survivor… Noroc was a spirit like the cat in the village- a domovoi that cared for his people. If Elan was the only survivor… and Noroc was now so sick…
Noroc blinked his filmy eye, and let loose his piteous mew again. Carefully I scooped him into my arms.
“Elan would not have left you behind,” I murmured, to myself and to Kezia. I felt her agreement, her sudden resurgance of fear.
They’re connected. They’re connected! What’s happening to Elan? What will happen to him if the cat dies?
Do not panic-
We can’t let him die, Kezia! We just can’t!
Suddenly I was moving, and with a disoriented lurch I turned myself about and began to run clumsily through the trees. It took my bewildered mind a moment to understand what had happened.
The other Kezia had taken over my body! I willed myself to stop, and swerved and crashed into a tree. In my arms, Noroc gave a little cry as bark and splinters rained down upon him. I had hit the tree very hard.
“What are you doing?” I said aloud. “Do not do that again!”
I felt her surging in response, a cold swell of grim determination: Noroc must not be allowed to die. She pushed me aside with the fierce simplicity of this thought and took control again as I struggled in the backwash. As she forced my body to move once more, I was frightened. I was frightened! It was as though all of the sudden she had changed!
She took us quickly through the forest, running faster and faster, and I was afraid to try and stop again in case it would really hurt Noroc. Where was she going? What did she hope to do? It was maddening that I could see nothing of her intentions now, only that cold swell, a compression of a hundred hateful memories, a singleminded desire to preserve her brother.
“Kezia!” I shouted, as my body ran out of my control. “Kezia! Stop this now! What are you going to do with Noroc? Say something to me!”
She did not respond. It was as though she did not even hear. It was like some fundamental part of her had splintered and fallen off at the thought of Elan. For the first time since I had realized her existance, I thought of what the word ghost meant. No, not ghost- dybbuk.
Noroc pushed his small head against my chest. I felt a kind of quiver that was not quite a heartbeat coming from his body. I felt his bones through his rank fur. I did not know much about the domovoi, but I was very afraid that we were too late, no matter what the other Kezia thought she could do. And Elan- Elan- where had he gone, and what had happened?
The other Kezia stopped running.
It was as though the trees around us blurred and then jerked back into place, for we had been going terribly fast and stopped all at once. Noroc’s head swung back from the force of it, and he closed his eye tightly. I pulled him closer- or tried to- she was not giving up her renewed control to me without a fight.
We had stopped at the edge of the forest, in the meadow. The sun was going down. I had a frightful feeling at the sight of the sky, washed in hues of orange and pink, laced with clouds. There were crickets chirping, and small bright eyes within the tall grass. Right in front of us there was a little hut.
It was there all of a sudden. Not that it had appeared out of thin air- it was more as though I just had not noticed it before, even though that seemed imposible: it was but ten feet away, and stood well above the grass. It was a miserable-looking little thing, with nailbitten shingles, a large hole in the roof, and a door with peeling yellow paint.
In my arms, Noroc mewled, his head bobbing like a newborn’s.
As if in response, the door to the hut wobbled open. Sudden light glowed warmly from within, outlining a figure in the doorway. A woman dressed in a chaste blue dress, wiping her hands on her apron, her hair tucked away behind a red scarf. When she had dried her hands she looked up and met my eyes with a smile.
Of course, it was Sorina.
The sight of her sent a dull kind of thrill through me- but it had come from the other Kezia, that realization. I felt her thoughts very suddenly. Sorina would stop Noroc from dying. Nobody could get hurt in Sorina’s house!
Her intent was bare, and she started to move my body forwards. Perhaps she thought that I would not resist the idea. But with a force of will I dug in my heels and jolted us to a stop. Sorina’s house was a trap, even if it was a nice one. The last time Gabi and I had been caught there for weeks without realizing! I could not afford to stay there so long now!
For Noroc’s life! hissed the other Kezia. I could feel her fighting to gain control of my limbs once more. For Elan’s! The strigoi will keep!
The strigoi? It was Gabi! Furiously, I resisted, and managed to take one step back. The other Kezia was making my leg shake with her angry resistance.
Let go! This is for my brother!
She managed to arrest the motion of my leg, and for a moment we teetered together on one foot before I got it down again. Sorina was watching me from the doorway with a calm expression, even though I must have looked ridiculous. I wondered why she did not say anything, but it was difficult to understand what she might be thinking.
Her efforts thwarted, the other Kezia now banged around angrily within my skull, her thoughts like needles.
You’ll kill him, then! You’ll kill them both if you don’t take him in!
Angrily, I tried to shut her out, to pretend as though she had not planted an insidious thread of guilt within me. Would I be the cause of Noroc’s death? I had not hurt him at all! But was not helping the same as killing?
Yes, snarled the other Kezia, but I mentally shoved her away. I had done what Gabi asked. I had looked for Elan. I had found Noroc instead, and I had the opportunity to try to save his life- but with every moment delayed, what was Baba Yaga doing to Gabi? How badly was she suffering?
And yet- Noroc! Suddenly a more powerful surge of guilt seized me, not from the other Kezia this time. He had been my companion before I ever knew Gabi! And in all that time I had never realized that he was Mother Forest’s unwilling slave. He had suffered so much, and it was not fair to let him die like this, and Elan too, if it was true that they were so connected…
The other Kezia was hissing and spitting like fire at these thoughts, and I realized that while I had gotten lost in them she had moved us two steps closer to Sorina. Again I resisted. Perhaps- perhaps if I only handed Noroc to her, she could take him in and that would be all.
Yes, urged the other Kezia, yes! Just do that! Come along now…
Her eagerness wormed through me, and I stiffened further: she was lying. I felt it, her intent- she would follow Noroc over Sorina’s threshold if she could force it, because now somehow he had become one and the same with her Elan. She would not let him go alone.
She was mad! Or had gone mad- for the first time, I was afraid. She had completely turned against me- even if I managed to tear us away from this place, would I be at odds with her forever, fighting to have control of my own body? The thought of it was horrid. Only just before, she had been so kind to me- she had told me stories, shared her memories-
I’m not your plaything, Kezia, she snarled, feeling my thoughts, a statement that bewildered me even more, for I had never… And then, I was angry! I would have felt grief over Noroc all on my own, and tried to help him in my own way, but her interference was tainting it and twisting my thoughts. I did not want to leave anyone to die! Why was she forcing this choice on me? How could I now give in to her?
I put these thoughts out in the open for her to respond to, but that coldness of hers simply swept them away, pushed through my head with a brutal simplicity that made me dizzy. It was as though she was unraveling, and taking me with her.
There was a creaking sound. I had nearly forgotten about Sorina. She had pushed the door open as wide as it would go, and beckoned towards me.
“Kezia,” she called. “Kezia, here.”
With a sick feeling, I realized that she was not calling for me.
The control I had regained over myself vanished, pushed aside by the ghost’s cold intensity, and she walked me forward, legs swinging stiffly. I very faintly felt Noroc’s claws digging into my arms. What did… what did he want out of all of this, anyway? No one had asked him.
But it was too late for that. Sorina stepped aside, and against my will I walked through the door and into her house once more.
I was not very surprised to see that the door to the rickety old shack led into the familiar manor foyer, with the tall staircase and stone floor and doorway leading to the kitchen on one side. The brown cow was standing beneath the stairs, her head poking out, chewing on what looked like a discarded parasol.
Sorina shut the door behind us, and I felt rather than heard the click of the lock, like a different kind of weighty atmosphere being sealed in. There was light here with no source, and certainly no windows for sunlight to shine through- time had vanished.
The cow dropped the parasol and mooed.
“Yes, I quite agree,” replied Sorina, and she came around beside me, peering with a frown at Noroc’s little body. He had gone quite limp in my grasp.
I said- and it was me who said this, not the other Kezia- “Can you save him?”
She raised her eyes to mine.
“Save him? A tricky question. He won’t vanish here, but I also cannot hold him, since he did not cross my threshold of his own volition. And neither can I hold you, Kezia.”
At this she laid a warm hand on my forehead, and I felt strangely comforted. This time she had been addressing me, and only me.
The other Kezia remained silent. Not merely silent: it was as though all of her furor and fear had been stuffed out, like a candle’s flame, the moment we stepped through the doorway. Gingerly I felt about for some sign of her, but only my own throughts were now echoing about within my clay skull.
Sorina pulled her hand from my head to lift Noroc’s chin.
“Ah,” she said, her face clouding.
“What is it?” I asked, suddenly fearful in spite of myself. He was so still- had we been too late? Was he already gone?
“He’s fading away,” said Sorina. “A Domovoi draws strength from those he protects. But the old man, I think, recently died.”
Her words hit me like stones. Numbly I waited for some response from the other Kezia- nothing.
Died. Elan was dead? He was gone?
Sorina was speaking, I realized, and with great effort I forced myself to comprehend her words. It was like trying to rise up through deep, cold water.
“…without it,” she was saying. “He left most of himself here.”
Her words first baffled me, then made me frightened.
“You mean, parts of his body are-”
“No, his body is gone,” said Sorina. She stepped back from me and leaned against the bannister of the great staircase. The brown cow rubbed the side of its head against her shoulder in a companionable way.
“He took himself from my house, against the wishes of his Domovoi,” said Sorina, nodding towards Noroc, ignoring the cow. “I watched over him best I could until he entered the forest; there I have no power.”
“Why would he go back into the forest?” I asked. “Was he trying to find his old home again?” My mind suddenly buzzed with awful images; how had he perished? Had the blajini tormented him for drops of his blood? Had one of my clay siblings crushed him at Mother Forest’s behest? Or had he simply been ravaged by wild beasts?
I felt sick, and I did not even have a stomach to be sick with.
“No,” said Sorina. “He wouldn’t have remembered that. By the time he left my home, he had forgotten even his own name.”
Sorina opened her mouth, but was interrupted by an angry sound that came from within my arms. Noroc had revived without my realizing it, and with a jerk he pushed forward and tumbled to the floor.
I knelt down to try to retrieve him, but he hissed at me as he staggered sideways and back onto his feet. His single eye flashed.
“His soul… his soul… you took his soul!”
His high, unearthly voice echoed unpleasantly though the wide foyer, and the fur on his back rose as he glared at Sorina.
Her expression did not change with the accusation.
“I did not take. He gave.”
Noroc spat, a hateful sound, but seemed too weak to do anything but stand there, all puffed up.
“You took…” I was still trying to follow all of this. “You took Elan’s soul?”
“I didn’t take it,” said Sorina, somewhat wearily; it reminded me of the way she had repeatedly denied being a witch. “But it is still here, within this house.”
“If it is still here-” I struggled for a moment, my knowledge on what exactly souls were being weak, but I did have an idea or two- “if it is still here, can you put it back into his body and make him live again?”
“No, my dear,” said Sorina, and Noroc twisted his head around to look at me, as if only just now realizing I was there. “One’s soul is not the same as their life. And it seems that his is gone now.”
At this Noroc started and gave a great yowl, a terrible sound that rose up like smoke towards the ceiling.
“Dead! The last survivor is dead! My people…”
He stumbled and swayed, as though drunk, and then, with surprising energy, dashed up the stairs.
“Noroc, wait!” I pushed past Sorina and ran after him, my big legs thumping on the stairs and leaving muddy smears on the carpet. When I reached the top I caught sight of a black streak vanishing though a partially-open door, and ran to grab the handle, and then hesitated.
Through the railing that was fencing in the landing I saw that Sorina had stepped back to peer up at me, her arms folded beneath her breasts. When she caught me looking back, she said, “Don’t be frightened. There are only stories behind that door.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, a feeling of wariness dawning on me. I could not forget the strange, snowy place that Gabi and I had wandered through the last time we were in this house.
“Stories,” she repeated. “Souls are stories, Kezia, the ones we’ve lived. All witches feed on them.”
“I thought that you said you weren’t a witch.”
That sparked a little smile in her.
“I’m not. Not yet.”
I opened the door.
At once a bright light flared before my eyes, a hot summer light, hot summer sun. I raised my hand to shade my eyes, even though they were merely holes and had no need to adjust. I felt the sun, saw the light, but saw no sun. Instead there was only… grass, yes, fresh-looking grass, and many flowers, and the trickle of water- a great, vast, plain of water, muddy, silty river water, the banks covered over in small round stones, and cracked shale, and little rivulets packed with sand.
I had to orient myself, to understand what was happening. There had been no gradual transition from the walls of the room this time, but this had to be like the snowscape that Gabi and I had traversed before. That was why I felt the sun but could not find it in the blue- sky? Ceiling?
Stories, Sorina had said. It seemed to be that she really meant memories.
I was not sure whose memory I was standing in now, because it certainly was not mine. I did not recognize this river, which swung lazily in front of me, nor the houses visible a few meters away along the fields. Far, far back, I glimpsed a line of trees.
Splashing sounds caught my attention. A little ways downriver, where water cascaded over a series of staggered rock layers, then pooled wide and dark and swirling below, was standing a young girl, very young, with her skirt hiked up and knotted at her hip. Her knees, which were just visible above the water line, were muddy, and one had a large scrape upon it.
She did not seem to notice me, and I stayed very still, so I would not frighten her. She was bent forward with her arms beneath the water, her expression intense, her brown hair falling forward to shade her eyes. After a moment, with a pleased little cry, she straightened. On one hand, she held a small knife, in the other, a brown river clam.
She threw the clam in a graceful little arc so that it sailed into a basket that I had not previously noticed sitting on the shore. It landed with a clatter.
The sound evoked a memory in me. But it was a memory of something I had never done. I studied the girl, her sand-colored skin, light enough to see the pale blue veins running down her wrists, her mussed hair, strands falling forward over her ears and temples- some of it was stuck together with river mud- the faint ruddy marks of sun on her cheeks, the tip of her nose, the little mole on her cheek, the creases of her knuckles. The rise and fall of her chest.
She did not seem to hear my voice. Of course she did not. This was only a memory. It made me feel numb, though, looking at her: to see her with such a semblance of life, outside of myself- she was real.
Yet this child had died already.
She pulled another clam from the water, rubbed the mud off of it with the hem of her shirt. I had seen this scene before, from her perspective. She was digging for clams, not to eat, as they were not Kosher, but to sell to an old woman who would make their shiny shells into jewelry. This was years before that same old woman spat obscenities about her to her father at a public market.
The memory-Kezia was trying to open the clam with her knife, face set in childish concentration. She had always been curious what they tasted like, even if they were forbidden. Eventually she would eat one, at the urging of her older sisters, who giggled and shrieked at the sight of her fulfilling the dare. But she had not yet.
She gave up trying to open this clam and threw it into the basket with the others.
“Kezia,” I said to the little girl, as she bent forward once more, “when everything is burning, do not… do not go looking for your father. Stay with your brother.”
The river sloshed against its banks. She was nearly up to her shoulders now in the dark water, brow furrowed, head turned sideways so that one cheek just brushed the surface.
Kezia, I thought, in case there was any chance at all that the ghost in my head would respond.
The girl raised her arm in triumph. She had caught a crayfish, which waved its small claws in midair in a parody of rage. With a grin, the memory-Kezia let the crayfish snap on to the sleeve of her shirt and hang there.
This time, I was not the one who had called out. Kezia had just been bending down to the water again, but now she straightened, rubbing her forehead with her knuckles. The crayfish let go of her shirt and plopped back into the river.
Up over the grassy hill between the river and houses came a boy, dark-haired and slight, carrying a little bundle in his arms. His lower lip was trembling, his eyes red and puffy.
“What’s the matter, Elan?” called Kezia.
Down the hill he stumbled, sniffling and dribbling miserably, reaching up to rub his forehead in the exact way his sister had just done. As he moved his arm, a black tail slipped loose from the bundle in his arms and dangled down.
Kezia walked to the river’s edge, shaking the wetness from her fingers, rubbing her cheek on her sleeve. She had left a big smear of mud across her forehead when she had wiped her hand there, but neither of them appeared to notice it. Elan crouched down on some of the rocks by the bank to show her what he had in his arms. From where I was standing, I could not quite see what it was, but I knew anyway.
“The boys were throwing rocks,” he slurred out, “and they wouldn’t stop, and I screamed at them, Kezia, but they wouldn’t stop, and they stamped on it, and-”
Worry was etched on Kezia’s face, but she was not looking at the bundle. She smoothed Elan’s hair with one of her dirty hands.
“That was rotten,” she said. “They’re all bastards.”
A sob burst out of Elan. “Why wouldn’t they stop?”
“I dunno,” said Kezia, and for a moment the two of them were silent, and the only sound was that of flowing water.
Presently Kezia pulled herself up onto the rocks beside her brother, and put an arm over his shoulders, and extended her other hand, the one with the knife.
“Let’s go, then.”
They walked out away from the river, towards the grassy knoll where the soil was dry and loose. Kezia stabbed down at it with her knife, and scraped with her fingernails to drag out the earth, while Elan sat and watched, the bundle clutched close to his chest. Tears were still running down his cheeks.
When the hole was deep enough, or as deep as she could make it, Kezia reached out and gently pulled away the blanket in Elan’s arms. She unwrapped it slowly.
Within, black and bloody, there was a black cat. Its open, staring eyes flashed like two green gems in the sunlight.
Kezia kissed Elan’s forehead and took the cat from him to lay the body down into the clumsy grave. Elan leaned forward, as though he were going to look, then rocked back, biting his lip.
“Should we say anything?” asked Kezia. “The mourner’s kaddish?”
“I dunno,” said Elan, then, in a choked way, “It was only a cat.”
Kezia hesitated, then put a handful of dirt back into the grave, brushing it down with her knife. After a few moments, Elan reached out and put a handful in as well.
I watched the two of them quietly finish the burial from my spot on the other side of the river. From so far away I could not see the details, but I knew them. They had been shared unintentionally by the other Kezia, in one of the many times that the boundary between us two had blurred so much as to turn invisible.
I remembered that the grave had not been deep enough, and the next day when Kezia came to the river it had been torn open by some scavenger. She had not told Elan, and had tidied up the area so that when he eventually returned it looked undisturbed.
Now, though, she embraced him tightly, and told him to go home, and to hide from Ayla, who would tease him for his tears. She would follow shortly when she had collected her clams.
Elan, young, vivid, with messy tears on his cheeks- Elan, with his sister’s same nose and hair and a little scar on his chin from when he had fallen from a shelf during a game of hide-and-seek- Elan turned and walked away, his shoulders stooped, his hands in his pockets, every bit of him a terrible vulnerability. And yet a great potential.
When he had vanished back over the hill Kezia turned, rubbed the dirt off her palms. She looked down at the sorry little grave, then across the river at me.
“You’re there, aren’t you, Kezia?”
Oh. She had changed– she was different now. This was not quite a memory anymore.
“Yes,” I whispered, and then, louder, “You can see me?”
She shook her head.
“I feel you looking,” she said.
I did not know quite what to say. She seemed so small, and far away.
“I am sorry.”
“For what?” she asked. “I should thank you. You brought me to where Elan is.”
“But… he is not…”
The wind made her muddy skirt flap, up there on the hill beside the cat’s grave.
“I know it’s only a memory,” she said, “and I probably don’t even remember it right. I probably forgot some things, or made some up. I don’t know. But it’s still him, Kezia. He- he left himself behind here, a little bit at a time. I think it was for me, because he knew I’d be looking for him.”
She stared around, at the murmuring river, the grass, the strangely flat sky, the houses in the distance like little paintings. I felt, for a moment, the walls of the room pressing us in.
“I suppose,” she said, “that’s all he is now, just a bundle of memories, but that’s all I am, too. I’m dead. I haven’t got any more future left. Just my past. And if it’s- if it’s all right, I want to stay here where he left his.”
She was gazing at me now, her eyes beseeching, as though she wanted my permission. I found it hard to speak.
“Of- of course.”
She smiled. My gaze was drawn to the smear of mud still on her forehead.
“I’m sorry I was so rotten to you, in the end.”
“I understand why.”
“It was still rotten. I think I was starting to go mad. It’s a bit… frightening. But I think I’ll be safe here.”
“This is a safe house,” I acknowledged. “Sorina will be happy.”
For the stories she would get. It made me wonder.
“Kezia,” said the other Kezia, clasping her hands together before her waist. “I want you to take my name. My voice, too. And whatever my memories gave you. I want you to know that you should have them.” Here her voice became slightly stern. “So don’t be feeling bad about it anymore.”
I clasped my hands together too, big, clumsy clay fingers entwining.
“You feel bad about things much more than you should,” she continued, in that same severe vein. “That’s how I know we’re really two different people. You’re more like my brother than I am.”
“Don’t be impertinent.” But there was a smile on her child’s face. I tried to smile too, pushing the corners of my hollow mouth upwards.
“There’s one more thing I want you to have,” said Kezia. She pointed down towards the river. I followed her finger with some puzzlement. All I could see was murky water.
“What is it?”
“My bones,” she said. “You haven’t got any. So if you ever need them, you can use my bones.”
I looked up, rather shocked, but she was no longer standing on the hill. The sunlight had gone cold and grey and cloudy, and the wind was picking up. It blew dry earth from the top of the lumpy grave in a thin stream.
There was a distant rumble of thunder, but no answer from the ghost. I looked down at the river again, at the hill, the distant houses. Her bones? Oh- oh. I knew this place from more than her memories. I simply had not recognized it, because it looked so different in the present. The river. The mud. The grass. The treeline, so far away, beyond the houses.
This was the muddy meadow where I had been born, and where Kezia had finally come to rest.
As I thought this, and stared down into the dark water, I thought I glimpsed movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up quickly. Had I imagined it, or- had the line of trees moved just slightly closer to the quiet village?
Again the thunder rumbled. Something warm brushed against my feet.
“Kezia,” said a soft voice. “We shouldn’t stay here much longer.”
I looked down. Gazing up at me, with a single green eye, was Noroc.
“But was not helping the same as killing?” ah, the eternal question…
“all of the sudden” of a sudden
“nailbitten shingles” nail-bitten?
“been stuffed out, like a candle’s flame” snuffed
“woman dressed in a chaste blue dress” dressed in a dress
Damnit… why is it so dusty in front of my computer, and who’s chopping up all those onions in front of my face…