fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Thirty One. {fiction}

After lunch, Victorio and I prepared the rabbit meat for drying, working at the long table in the cool room, set deep in the hill with no windows.

Above us blazed two bright lights hung from the ceiling, so we could see what we were doing. A good thing, since Victorio kept his skinning and butchering knives razor-sharp. We worked together like this often enough that we had settled into an efficient routine. Victorio skinned, I deboned, then we both sliced the meat into thin strips, salting and spicing it for drying.

As had become typical, Joe went to bed early, and Victorio and I stayed up together. I was glad to have his company and his friendship even though I still felt some distance from him.

I understood that Victorio had tried to see me against the group’s wishes, which was a risk to his own safety, but it still left a raw feeling under my skin when I thought of how close I came to starving to death, while he sat up here, well-fed.

We were sitting on the couch, a stack of books next to me on the end table. Victorio picked up some strands of yucca fibers from a pile on the coffee table to twist into thin cordage, twine, for everyday use.

“Are you reading anything good that you could read to me?” Victorio asked.

“You like being read to?”

“Yeah,” he said, looking at the floor for a second, “my mom used to read to me. All kinds of stories. I like to read too, I mean, I like to read to myself, but it’s nice to be read to by someone else sometimes.”

I laughed, following his lead to ignore the pain in his voice when speaking about his mother. “Well, of course my dear, you are one of our most accomplished readers,” I said in a mock officious tone.

“Yes,” I continued in my normal voice, “I’ve been reading this story about a girl in ancient Russia, who finds she has a magical connection to the ‘old powers.’ I think you might like it.”

“Would you mind? I mean, making cordage isn’t really that interesting by itself,” he said with a grin.

“Sure. I used to read to to my brother, Seth, and Mama and Daddy read to us all the time too. I liked it both ways.”

So I began.

“It’s called, The Bear and the Nightingale…”

An hour later, my voice began to crack. I finished the chapter I was on and closed the book. Victorio looked up in alarm, “You can’t stop now! It was getting so good.”

I laughed, happy that he was enjoying it so much. “I bet that’s what you said to your mom when she was tired of reading too.”

He smiled, “Yeah, I guess I did.”

I leaned back into the couch, my arm brushing his. He looked into my face, as if searching for something.

I stood up.

“I guess I’ll get to bed then. Good night!”

I turned towards my room, crossing the distance in five steps, leaving him staring at my back as I disappeared behind the closed door.

The day I returned from my stay with Victorio and Joe, Kate and I were making dinner while Ben sat at the table, dozing off and on. Occasionally he looked around, bewildered, as if not sure where he was. During one of his more alert moments, he announced, “They found the others, with the big round tents.”

“Which others? And who found them?” Kate asked.

Ben scowled, furrowing his brow. “You know. Those kind of tents. Like the Chinese use. No wait, not Chinese… you know…”

Kate looked at me and I shrugged.

“Did you have a dream during your nap, Ben?” I asked.

He turned, frowning at me, eyes clear and bright. “No, I told you, they found those people, with the Mongolian tents…”

“Oh, okay. I’m sorry I misunderstood you, Ben. It’s alright,” I said.

Kate and I exchanged another glance, silently agreeing to let the matter drop. Ben stared intently into space for a few minutes before dozing off again.

The days passed quickly with all the work to be done at Kate’s — milking the goats, making cheese, cooking, caring for Ben, cleaning, and other household chores. In the early evenings, before sunset, the rest of the group visited each other inside the hill to trade stories of the day and generally catch up. The tension grew amongst us the longer Tochuku, Frank and Ching Shih were gone.

One evening, Kate and I had just tucked Ben into his bed when he suddenly started talking, after having been silent for a good half an hour. Lying on his back, staring at the ceiling as if watching some kind of show, his mouth stretched into a huge, toothy smile, eyes beaming in happiness.

“They’re back. They’re back! Almost. Almost! So happy. Good kids. They’re good kids, those ones. Strong. Smart! Now we can talk! Now we’ll know!” He shut his eyes and his breath deepened towards sleep.

Kate and I kissed him goodnight before leaving him to his dreams, however oblivious he was to our affections.

It hadn’t been quite two weeks yet, about the amount of time we thought it should take the explorers to make the trip there and back. No one said it out loud, but we were all scared they wouldn’t come home. Or that someone would follow them and tell others where we were, or only one or two of them would make it back, like last time.

Noah became much more irritable and argumentative, Hallie and Olga were extra attentive to their children, and Beto was unusually quiet.

The day after Ben’s latest outburst, late afternoon on the thirteenth day since the three had left, they were spotted by Gary from his place farthest upstream. While the riders took their horses through the tunnel built to transfer them from the outside of the hill to the inside of the bowl, Gary went inside of the hill and rang a large metal bell that was used to call everyone together quickly.

The others soon streamed out of their respective exits inside the hill, some carrying food and jugs of cool drinks, setting them down on the cluster of picnic tables near the garden.

“Are they back?” asked Noah, “All of them?”

“Yes, yes! They’re all back,” said Gary.

The anxious few who had arrived first relaxed visibly. Kate and I had been the first into the yard, pushing Ben in his wheelchair bumpily over the grass.

Ben exclaimed, “Ha ha! Good kids! Such good kids!”

Jeanne sprinted out her door to a tired but happy-looking Frank, nearly knocking him over before kissing him long and hard in front of everyone, apparently oblivious to the cheers, clapping and catcalls from the adults and giggles from the children. Frank scooped both Sid and Ruby into his arms before making his way to sit at a table, smiling so much it looked like his face might split in two.

Ching Shih joined us in her usual reserved manner after dropping her pack at home, receiving our hugs and kisses on the cheek with a shy grin. Tochuku was the last to arrive, looking tired but more content than I had ever seen him. Whatever else had or had not happened, I was just glad to see that they had all come back, and no one showed any sign of injury.

After the laughter, hugs and back-slapping died down, some sitting and some standing, we all turned our attention to the returned trio, waiting to hear their story.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.

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Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.

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