Part 1: Tossing and Turning
Kari’s bed creaked softly as she turned in her sleep. Tomas couldn’t see her with the curtains drawn so tightly, but he knew she was there. Just as he knew there was some…thing else there with them.
He’d had moments like this before—several, recently, as he’d wandered the stone streets at night. Moments of feeling eyes on his back or seeing movement at the corners of his vision. Always, when he turned, he’d find himself alone, his eyes chasing shadows, the sensation past.
It wasn’t passing tonight. He was frightened; everything around him seemed wrong, somehow. Or different—unsafe. Was he dreaming? In the dark like this, there was no way to truly tell; he felt very small surrounded by the black. The end table between himself and Kari had matches in its drawer, but that was beyond his reach, and matches would take too long anyway. The curtains would be faster, but so much further. The very air was hostile in this black place, the floor covered in crawling, writhing things he didn’t dare put his feet near. The darkness pressed in on him as he tried to sink deeper into the unfamiliar mattress beneath him; he pulled strange sheets up to his nose.
It was safe beneath the sheets; he knew this for certain. But the air was stagnant and humid in there. Tomas needed fresh air. He was mostly safe, though, mostly covered. Tomas hoped Kari was snuggled up inside her blankets, asleep like a log in her bed.
Was it at her feet or standing inside the door? Without the light, he could only judge direction, not distance. It didn’t seem to be doing anything; perhaps it was standing guard at the door. A chill went down Tomas’ back. It was trapping them, keeping them inside their room, and watching them besides. What could he do? He couldn’t leave the sheets even though Kari needed him. Tomas squeezed his eyes shut against this new kind of pain. Kari’s greatest fear was coming true, and she didn’t even know it was happening. A hot tear rolled down his face and wetted his pillow behind him; he hoped she was asleep. Then she wouldn’t know he was failing her again. Again! Sheets rustled as she shifted in her bed.
Had he done anything worthwhile since crossing the Mountains? He couldn’t even carry that bag of Black Flour back from the bazaar. He was only slowing Kari down as she tried to save Home by slogging through this terrifying, unfamiliar place. More burning tears escaped now, and when he tried to sop them up with his sheet, the horrible, muggy air filled his nostrils again.
Tomas rolled onto his side, facing the window. He found a bit of dry pillowcase and dabbed his eyes with it. The wet spot pressed warmly against his forehead when he settled in, still acutely aware of whatever stood over Kari. Perhaps if he didn’t do anything, neither would it. Bees hurt when they stung, but they didn’t attack out of malice. No, all they cared about was the good of—
Don’t think about that! Focus on happy memories from Home…of Kari!
New, cool tears washed over the salt crusted on his face. Tomas immediately wiped them away with another dry corner and took a quick, deep breath of the cool night air. Happy memories?
There was watching Kari find her pass. The party beat their best elevation early that outing, but Kari didn’t show a lick of excitement when it happened. Tomas watched her excitement grow as the route stayed relatively gradual without ceasing its climb. He also watched everybody else notice neither the progress they were making nor Kari’s rising spirits—until they reached the tree line. Everyone noticed that. It was lucky, too, because from there it was easy to spot the nearest saddle between two peaks. Tomas’ encouragement had kept everybody climbing that time.
Too bad he wasn’t that helpful on this outing. In her bed behind him, Kari sighed deeply.
No! Happy things!
Tomas wanted to glance behind himself, but instead thought about the innumerable times they’d walked back from town together. The laughter, the comfortable feeling of being known so well by another person…
[I’ll spare you the rest of it. It went back and forth like that for the rest of the night. Eventually, he ran out of memories of Kari. When he did, he switched to his father, then his mother, then his brothers. Jillian, Grant, Cal, Loretta. Tomas held as tightly onto that spark of light as he could until the sun began to come up, gradually banishing his fear as more and more light leaked around the tightly drawn curtains. Only once he could make out the individual boards in the floor could he actually enter a state we’ll call sleep. Or did he sleep? He could hear it when Kari sat up with a weary sigh. He heard her feet hit the wooden floor. Wasn’t it slimy down there?
Had he slept at all?]