The Red Hand Part 17
by Shane Migliavacca
The Red Hand Part Seventeen Hiding Out
I’m lying under the Christmas tree. Staring up at the blinking lights. Red, blue, green and white. Mom hates the blink setting. She rather have them just on, no blinking. But she humors me. I’m always a bit of a drag around the holidays. Thinking about Dad and how Mom must feel. I try not to be a downer but I think she knows. She always acts extra nice to me around Christmas. I watch as a large spider crawls up the inside of the tree.
“Serena? What are you doing under there?”
I roll out from under the tree. Mom is standing there perplexed. I prop myself up on my elbows.
“I was just staring at the lights.” I say. “Mom, I think there’s a spider crawling on the tree.”
“There’s no spider Serena. You killed it. Now, why were you under the tree?”
It makes me feel safe, but I don’t tell her this. “I wanted to see what it was like.”
“You were staring at those lights just like that cat you had used too.”
“Mr. Itches? That cat was mental. He used to watch those lights for hours.”
“And that’s most likely why he went blind.”
“He was old mom. That’s why he went blind.”
I stand. Outside it’s snowing quite fiercely. Snow I never thought I’d seen it again. I’ve seen so much sand lately. Why is that? Why am I thinking about sand?
“Are you going to help me with Christmas dinner honey?”
“Is today Christmas?” I ask.
“It’s Christmas somewhere.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works mom.” I say.
I look under the tree where I was. It’s absent of presents. Not really a surprise, most years we just scraped by, but there was usually a present or two. Didn’t I get mom something?
“The presents honey?”
“You don’t get any this year.”
“No Serena. You don’t get any because you’re a murderer.”
This hits me like a brick to my chest. I feel the air leave my lungs. What is she talking about? Murderer? How could I be?
“How could you?”
Mom does something she’s never done before. She slaps me across the face. She’s never hit me. Even after all those times I got sent home for fighting. Not even when I wrote asshole on Scott Hampton’s truck after he slept with my friend Becky, dumping her the next day. I got suspended for that one. But she never once hit me. The pain explodes across my cheek like wildfire. It’s joined by a strange throbbing in my shoulder.
Her voice changes. It’s different somehow.
“Serena! Snap out of it!”
That smell. What is that? It smell like old cheese. She hits me again and the world explodes in a white heat. My eyes take a few moments to adjust. The living room, the tree and Mom are all gone. Replaced by a dusty old room. Bare except for some old wood furniture and sand. Always the sand. The old woman stares back at me. Her one hand raised, ready to smack me again.
“That’s enough of that.” I say. My throat scratchy and dry.
Shit. I know where I am now.
The old woman’s voice rings in my head. “You were having a hallucination.”
Of course I was. Home. It’s more distant every time I think about it. Christmas. I wonder how long I’ve been here now. How long has passed there? Has it been Christmas yet? Have I missed it?
We’re in a room in one of the old buildings. It looks like it was an office of some kind by the wood desk against the far wall. There’s no sign of Seventh or Ninth. My matted hair hangs down over my eyes. Maebh brushes it aside.
“Where?” I manage to say before coughing.
“We’re still in the city. Ninth is down a couple floors, keeping guard. Seventh is out scouting around.”
She hands me her waterskin. I gulp down a bit of water trying not to choke on it. I take a second swig of water before handing it back. Some water dribbles down my chin. I wipe it away before speaking.
“How long was I out?” I ask. I stretch, feeling my shoulder blades pop.
“A day. We finished off the rest of the patrol. But there were more coming. Seventh found this place to hide. Ninth carried you. Washed off your wound best I could. I put some salve on it later.”
That explains the old cheese smell. Instinctively I reach over and touch my bandaged shoulder. Needles of pain race through it. Another scar.
“What were you hallucinating, If I may ask?”
“I was back home with mom. It was Christmas.”
She smiles at me. “It’s been a very long time since I thought of Christmas.”
“Do you ever think of your parents?” I ask.
“Not very much anymore. My mother was human. I recall her having a pretty smile but I can’t see her face anymore. She was kind to me even if she was a little terrified of me. I don’t even remember when she passed. I very much wish I’d known her better.”
“Your dad, he was one of “them”, those beings you told me off?”
“Correct. He was quite distant. Very clinical. He would ask me questions about how I felt. What I was thinking. But I never got the sense he cared outside of the purely scientific aspects of the experiment.”
I can’t even imagine growing up like that and not only that, but being alive for as long as she has to be able to forget her mother’s face.
I decide to take a look out the window. I’m a little wobbly as I stand. Maebh hands me her staff to steady my shaky legs. I peek out the window. The wind storm is over. The sun is out. I hear a loud noise from somewhere in the city. A sound that reminds me of whale song but slowed down and deeper. It sends a shiver through me. I back away from the window.
“What was that?” I ask.
“There’s more patrols now that they know we’re here. They’ve been signaling each other like that. Don’t worry, we’re safe here, for the time being.”
That fails to fill me with any hope.
Maebh and I eat while we wait for Seventh to return. Ninth comes up to check on us. He’s pleased I’m awake. He was worried I’d lost too much blood and energy and wouldn’t wake up. He grabs a quick bite before going back to his post. I ask Maebh what our next move is and she tells me that we’re waiting for an opportunity to slip out of the city. There’s too many of the blue lizards now to get a closer look at that thing. Besides she waiting to see if I woke up.
I’m gripped by the fear that Tenth didn’t make it back home. Images of her getting caught by a patrol or something lurking in the tunnels assaults my mind’s eye. It’s ludicrous. If there’s one person who can make it back it’s her. But I can’t shake the image of her being killed. I have to take my mind off it.
“What are we going to do about that thing?” I ask. “What do you think it is?”
“Seventh hopes The Reint will invade the city. To try and capture or destroy it.”
“That sounds like suicide. Do they even have enough soldiers? It seems like the blue guys out number them.”
“He’s worried that they’re getting ready to use that as a weapon.”
Something in the old woman’s voice tells me she has other ideas about this. “But you don’t do you?”
“No. They need The Red Hand. I’m sure of it.”
Maebh has been keeping its location a secret. I’m fairly sure it’s on this planet, other than that I have no clue as to where. I don’t think it was at her cave. And she wouldn’t keep it with Tenth’s people. All that power would be too tempting for someone not to want.
“You wouldn’t tell me where it is?”
The old woman narrows her eyes. “You know that answer Serena.”
I do. If she told me and Mr. White and his boy got their hands on me again? They’d have no trouble ripping it from me.
“What do you think it is then?”
“I’ve been thinking about that since we first glimpsed it. Do you know what a tuning fork is?”
“They use them to tune musical instruments. We had one in music class.”
One I used to play with constantly. Whacking it on everything till Miss. Christie got pissed and locked it in her desk.
“Yes. They resonate at a specific pitch. That pitch depends on the length and mass of the two prongs.”
And that thing is huge. “Shit.”
“To what end I don’t know. Whatever pitch that will emit, I fear it will not be good for anything living.”
I feel the life drain out of me and I want to lie down again. If I was home I’d get in bed and pull the covers over me. Maybe I could finally wake from this nightmare. For so long in my life I wanted something, something more than the routine of going to school and then work. Get up in the morning and go to sleep at night. Now I have that. I’m on an alien world. A purple lizard chick and a weird old wizard lady are my best friends. I have a grand “adventure” and all I want it that routine back. Humans are fucked up. No, scratch that. The lizard people here are too. Wars, genocide, turning somebody into a spider. Guess you can’t get away from people being screwed up anywhere you end up.
I walk around the room some giving my legs a much needed workout. Maebh fiddles with making some broth for us to have later with a couple vegetables. Another reason we need to get out of here. Our food is dwindling.
Seventh comes back with some good news. He’s located a way out of the city. A few blocks from here, there’s an unblocked access way into the tunnels. Many of the openings have sadly been filled in by the consent sandstorms. He tells us we’ll go at night. Slip into the tunnels and hopefully get out of the city. We get our stuff together for a quick exit later. Then we eat. Seventh goes down to relieve Ninth. Sending him up to get some food. Then the three of us take turns getting a little shut eye before it’s time to move out.
At night we make our way down to the street. I’m tired of having to ride on Ninth’s back to go up and down to get around this city. But there’s no way I can try climbing down on my own in my current condition. My shoulder hurts like hell and even with a nice nap I still feel drained. The night sky is bright tonight. Due in part to all the light coming from the construction area in the center of the city. The air is still tonight. Not at all like the winds of yesterday. It’s risky going tonight. If it gets too cold Seventh and Ninth might have trouble thanks to their cold blood. But we’re lucky and the night air is fairly warm. A good sign I hope.
Thanks in part to the construction going on there should be fewer patrols. Seventh observed them beefing up security closer to the temple. Most likely because of us being on the loose. He also noted that they added some of the warriors to the workforce. Probably wanting to speed up the construction process.
On our way to the tunnel entrance we only come across one patrol. We take refuge in the lobby of a smaller building for what seems like hours, as we waited for them to finish their slow sweep of the block. When we’re finally sure they’d moved on and out of sight we continue on. Back down into the tunnels. Thank god there were no giant spiders this time, but we do get lost at one juncture, taking a wrong turn. After walking through the tunnels half the night, we finally make it back to the entrance. The same one we first used when we got to Kuma Torth. Exhausted we make camp in the shadow of the same rock outcropping. We nap till noon. Eating a quick meal before we head towards home.
We travel as fast as possible back to the caves. All four of us anxious as to what we’ll find waiting there for us. When we finally reach that large outcropping of rocks looming out of the desert sands like a large hand, I sigh in relief. I half expected to find it leveled or in flames. But it stands there untouched. I can hear Wolfie howling in excitement from one of the upper caves. I want to run up and see him but duty calls. The guard by the caves’ entrance tells Seventh we’re to report directly to The Reint. He’s decided on a course of action in our absence. We’re going to war.
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