And such

<< Back to Chapt. 16

Chapt. 17: A Cry in the Dark

By Michael Jesse

Laura watched the ship until she could no longer see in the dimming light of dusk. She was alone.

But then she heard a sound — a faint ruah voice somewhere nearby calling for help. In the moonlight she could see the empty beach, but beyond the sand tall beach grasses grew, and as she listened she could tell the voice was coming from there. Approaching cautiously, Laura saw the figure moving in the tall grass. As its head turned towards her approach she recognized a familiar face.

"Ronnie!" she called, running up to him.

He was hurt. She could tell right away by the way he moved, lying back awkwardly on one side. And then she saw it — the remains of a spear sticking out of him. Most of the wooden handle had been broken off, and the metal tip was imbedded deep in the young ruah's shoulder. His eyes were frightened as he looked back at her, but he also seemed relieved to see her. "Laura, you're okay," he said weakly. "I'm glad you're okay."

Laura knelt next to him. "Oh Ronnie, you poor thing. Does it hurt?"

"It's . . . not too bad . . . as long as I don't move."

"Ronnie, where's Jack? Did he get hurt? Is he on the ship?"

Ronnie nodded. "He got knocked down when he tried to stop them from hitting Verdu. I don't think they were trying to hurt him. It looked like he got hit in the head by accident. And then they put him on the ship."

"Put him? Wasn't he . . . walking on his own?"

"No," Ronnie said. "It was like he was asleep."

"Oh my god," Laura cried as tears ran down her cheeks, but she forced herself to focus on Ronnie. She looked at the wound and the dark blood clotted around it, matting in his fur, and the short spear still imbedded in him, wondering what to do. "What happened to the others?" she asked, partly because she wanted to know and partly to avoid doing what she knew she would have to do.

"All captured," Ronnie said. "Verdu really fought them off, but they got him and beat him with clubs and tied him up. Riona too."

Laura thought of Riona's baby. "Did they hit her too?"

"Not that I saw. She was caught in a net though."

Laura looked back at Ronnie's wound, the short spear sticking out. "We've got to get this out of you," she said.

Just then she heard another ruah call in the distance. Startled, she stood up and looked around. It had been a male voice, young like Ronnie's. Now she heard it again, somewhat closer. "Help!," the voice called. "Help! Can anyone hear me?"

"Over here," Laura tried to call, but she couldn't whistle loudly enough. She didn't want to go far from Ronnie, but took a few steps towards the sound. Another young ruah like Ronnie come from behind a boulder outcropping near the beach. When he saw her he started and took a defensive stance. "Don't come near me!" he said loudly and looked around as if expecting other attackers.

Laura didn't recognize him, but assumed he was one of the students. "I'm on your side," she whistled to the youth. "I know I look like them, but I'm not one of them. My name is Laura and–"

He looked at her. "I heard about you! My name is Roe and I met this guy Rahnee who told me all about you. Did he really go on the ship with you?"

"Yes, he did," Laura replied. "And right now he's–"

"That's what he said he did," Roe went on excitedly. "He said he was captured by saviens and taken on their ship all the way across the ocean and then brought back again, and I thought he was just making it up and then we heard about you and your brother. Hey, where's your brother?"

"He's . . . he was forced to go back on the ship. Roe, were you here when they attacked? How did you escape?"

"Yes, I was here. I saw the ship and I saw them land and the saviens come out. And then I . . . I fought them. Yes, I killed some of them too I think, but there were so many and . . . then Verdu came and he killed more and . . . then things were confusing and I don't know exactly what happened but I . . . escaped somehow."

Laura did not find Roe's story very convincing, but she didn't care. "Roe," she said. "Rahnee was injured in the attack. Come help me."

Laura led the way and Roe followed, piping a nervous tune quietly as he looked around the desolate beach.

When Ronnie and Roe saw each other Laura could tell they were not friends. Roe seemed to be trying to be nice, maybe just because Ronnie was hurt, but Ronnie glared at Roe angrily. "Well, I see YOU made it through okay."

"Yeah," Roe said, looking down. "I guess I was lucky."

Ronnie snorted a discordant note of annoyance that reminded Laura of Verdu, and she wondered if he was okay and what was happening to him . . . and Jack. With an effort, she brought her mind back to the task in front of her.

"Boys," she said. "I think there are two things we really need to do right now. I think that one of us needs to run for help and one of us needs to . . . get that spear out." The two young ruah both looked at the bloody spear tip in Ronnie's shoulder.

"I'll run for help," Roe volunteered, causing Ronnie to snort again.

"That's a good idea," Laura said. "I can't run as fast as you and I don't know my way around here. We came down a path from the school, but I'm not sure if I could find my way back in the dark."

"I know a shortcut," Roe said. "And I'm a good runner."

"Yeah, I noticed," Ronnie said.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Roe demanded, finally exploding after trying to ignore Ronnie's taunts.

"You know what it means."

"We don't have time for this!" Laura interrupted, giving them both the Big Sister Stare. It no longer worked very well on Jack, but proved quite effective on Roe and Ronnie. "Just go on, Roe. Take that shortcut and get help — and make sure you tell them he's injured."

Roe was about to leave and Laura had started thinking about treating Ronnie's wound. She had a Girl Scout badge in first aid, but she had no supplies. And then something occurred to her

"Roe," she said, "when you and your friends came down here did you bring any supplies? Drinking water?"

"Yeah," he said. "We had some food, but I think it all got eaten, and, uh, some wine even though we aren't supposed to, and I think one of the girls brought a blanket."

"Where is that stuff?"

"I don't know anymore. Somewhere here on the beach I guess. We didn't go very far and they came . . . they came right to us because we were, well, sort of calling to them."

"Show me where you think it was."

In the moonlight, Laura and Roe walked around on the beach squinting at every shadow. Soon they found the remains of the campsite. There was a coarse blanket and two stoneware jugs with corks and hemp straps designed to be carried by a ruah's teeth.

When Laura had them she bid Roe goodbye and sent him on his mission and then she returned to Ronnie.

"What are you going to do?" Ronnie asked suspiciously as he watched Laura ripping the blanket into strips.

"We're going to need bandages, Ronnie," she said calmly, "because I'm going to pull that spear out of you and it might bleed a little so we have to be prepared. Here, drink some of this."

Ronnie held the strap of the stoneware jug in his teeth and inhaled sharply through his teeth as he did so. "This is wine," he said. "I'm only allowed to have wine on special occasions, and then only a little cup."

"Well I think this qualifies as a special occasion," Laura said, touching the broken spear gently. "I don't know if it'll help, but that's what they always do in . . ."

"In what?"

Laura would have said "in western movies on TV," but she didn't know the ruah words for that so she just said "in stories where I come from. It's supposed to help with the . . . the pain."

With a look of alarm, Ronnie did as she told him, gulping down several nervous swallows of the sweet, fruity wine.

"So," Laura said, trying to distract him with conversation, "how long do you think it will take Roe to get back to the school?"

"You mean if he doesn't get lost?"

She laughed. "You really don't like him, do you? How come?"

"Because he and his buddy Thaland act like they're better than everyone just because they're going to be twelves. Maybe I'll be one too, but right now I just have eight, and that's all they've got too, but you can see from how they're coming in that he'll have a third set. My mom says some ruah just mature faster than others and — ow! What are you doing?"

Laura had gripped the broken handle of the spear and tugged it just enough to see if it would move. And she did feel it come out just a fraction. She felt certain she could get it out.

"Why is it such a big deal how many horns you have? Here, have some more of that wine. Does it really matter how many horns a person has?"

"YES, it matters. Especially when it's someone like him because he shows it off and thinks he's so important. And I just know that the reason he ‘escaped' is cause he ran like a coward. But he'll come out looking like a hero — you'll see."

Laura wanted to change the subject. "So what exactly happened to you? How'd you get that thing in you?"

"Well, first I got captured in a net. Verdu tried to tell me to slow down, but I just ran right into the fight without thinking and got caught up in a net right away. It was so stupid. And I was thinking, ‘Mom is going to kill me.' Because it was one thing to be captured and taken across the ocean one time, but twice? The good thing was that after I was caught they stopped paying attention to me. Especially after Verdu showed up. He was amazing, but . . . in the end they got him, and Riona, too. And then Jack came running up and everyone was focused on him. So with nobody paying attention to me I was trying to work the net loose, and I finally did and wiggled out. But by that time Verdu and Riona were already captured and Jack got hit in the head and was being carried to the boats. I didn't know what else to do so I ran at the men that were standing over Verdu. I figured that if I could help Verdu get free, then he'd make more difference than anything I could do. But I didn't get anywhere. They saw me coming and one of them stabbed me and someone else had a net. I ran to get away from them. Not the way Roe ran away right from the start, but I knew I was hurt and once I got away I couldn't walk on my leg anymore because of the pain and I was scared by all the blood there was. I stumbled and fell in the tall grass and I guess I must have passed out because next thing I knew you were standing there."

"Ronnie," Laura said slowly. "I'm going to pull it out now."

"No, wait, maybe we should— Ahiiiieeee!" Ronnie hit an unusually high-pitched note that hurt Laura's ears as the spear came cleanly out and Laura tossed it aside. But now blood rushed out of the wound and Laura pressed one of the folded blanket scraps against it.

"It's okay, Ronnie," she said, "that wasn't so bad. That wasn't so bad." But she forgot to whistle and her voice quivered. The cloth scrap was quickly saturated with blood and Laura discarded it and switched to a fresh one. That one filled quickly too and then the next until all of her preparations were gone. Laura desperately pressed her hands against the wound, wishing she'd left the spear head in place as blood trickled between her fingers.

"It doesn't hurt anymore," Ronnie said weakly, "but I feel dizzy. Am I going to be okay?"

"You'll be fine," Laura lied, tears on her cheeks. "Everything's going to be fine."

Go to Chapt. 18 >>