fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Thirty Six. {fiction}

“It’s Ben…” Kate began, “he did it again…”

I looked at her, wondering what she could be talking about.

She tried again, “This morning… This morning at breakfast, he said, ‘There are too many of them. There shouldn’t be so many!’ I asked him who was there too many of and he said, ‘Those Mongolian people! Those tipi people!’ After that he wouldn’t say anything more.”

We looked at each other for a long moment.

“I don’t know what we could do. If something happened, it’s already happened. It’s too far away to stop it,” I said. “Look, maybe we should tell the others.”

We rang the gong inside the hill and the others came. Kate and I explained about how Ben had seemed to know about the tipi and yurt-dwellers when Frank, Ching Shih and Tochuku went on their trip.

“But how could he know what was happening? That doesn’t make any sense,” said Gary.

Yazmin turned towards him, hands on her hips, “How does a computer work Gary? The internet? A cell phone?”

Gary looked confused. “I… I don’t know. How would I know? I’m a biologist!”

“But you used a computer, surfed the net, called people on a cell phone, right?” Yazmin pressed.

“Of course. Everybody did,” he replied.

“Well, okay then. We don’t have to know how Ben knows these things but it seems like he does. He was too accurate, both in what he reported and the timing, for it to be a coincidence. We don’t really have to know how Ben knows things, we just have to decide if we need to do something about it,” said Yazmin.

“Look, I believe Ben saw something, but he didn’t say something was wrong exactly, just that there were too many people. What does that mean? If there were more people than expected, that doesn’t really mean they were doing anything to our folks. They really didn’t look like a war-making bunch when I saw them,” said Frank.

“Ben always had the Sight,” said Joe, “he just didn’t let too many people know because they’d either make too big a deal about it, or act like he was crazy, stupid, or some kind of snake oil salesman. I have strong intuition too. And I know that Victorio is fine. I feel it in my bones and flesh.”

If something went very wrong on the excursion, we wouldn’t know until it was days too late to help them. Between this fact, the uncertainty of what Ben actually saw, Joe’s assertion that they were fine, and the fact that we had agreed that we would wait a full week before assuming the worst, we decided to just sit tight.

Sitting tight or not, I buzzed with anxiety like a hummingbird on an electrical wire. I startled at every snap of a twig or rustling in the brush when outside. I listened hopefully for the sound of horse hooves on the hard-packed dirt trail.

I tossed fitfully in my bed at night, sometimes bolting upright, awoken by dreams of Daddy, Seth and Mama lying dead and stiff, and of a yawning, cavernous grave waiting to swallow whole all that I loved in the world.

“The Forest People know that we know where their camp is, and they don’t know where we are. They can’t be too foolish if they’ve made it this long. I don’t think they’d risk our retaliation,” said Joe, as we sat eating dinner the evening of the sixth day after they left, along with Hallie, Beto and little Uma, who we had invited to eat with us.

“Yeah, I see that, Joe. I’ll just feel better when they’re back,” sighed Hallie as she held Uma on her lap, offering her a forkful of steamed carrots. Uma opened her rosy mouth like a baby bird, then chewed contentedly.

“It’ll mean a big change, to be involved with them. What if they’re some kind of nutty religious group with a crazy leader?” asked Beto. “What if they beat their kids?” he added jokingly.

Joe sighed, “We can’t predict. We’ll just have to hear what they have to say when they get back. If we don’t like what we hear, then we’ll just let ‘em be. We might have to stay hidden more carefully for a bit, in case they come lookin’ for us. But they’re the ones most exposed, not us.”

I just sat in silence, shoving my delicious meal around my plate as it turned cold. I felt like I was so far away, and yet, still way too close to this perilous world.

It was early evening on the eighth day and my nerves rang like clamorous gongs. Frank, Beto and Yazmin would leave in the morning to find out what had happened to our little expedition, so I was preemptively worried about them too. It would be a disaster to lose three strong adults. It was unthinkable that we could lose six.

I was certain that the worst of my fears had come to pass, that Victorio, Noah and Ching Shih were dead, or even worse, traded by our would-be friends to others as slaves. I thought grimly that it was a good thing I hadn’t gotten too close to Victorio, or this would be even worse.

Joe and I ate dinner in pensive silence. After I washed the dishes, I paced outside for a time, then sat on mine and Victorio’s favorite rock outcropping. The western sky glowed a molten orange above the sun that had just vanished behind the mountain, leaving the whole valley in pale shadows, punctuated by the towering, spectral ponderosas.

At first I thought that the faint rhythmic beating I heard was that of my own beleaguered heart. Then I realized that the sound echoed down the canyon from upstream. The thudding soon grew louder and coalesced into the sound of horse hooves on the trail.

Emerging from the shadows like the ghosts I had expected them to be, Noah and Victorio rounded the curve of the hill, side by side, sauntering beside their respective horses. My chest convulsed, flash-freezing my breath. Then just as suddenly, I could breathe fully again, if gasping. Boundless relief, then fury, then laughter rushed through me like successive gusts before a storm.

I ran to the cave door, yanked it open, and yelled inside to Joe, who by then may have been sound asleep in his bed for all I knew, “They’re back! They’re back!”

I spun away from the door and ran back towards the trail. Victorio was waving goodbye to Noah, who continued his journey to his own home. Ching Shih had already stopped at hers, with Kate and Ben further up the canyon. Victorio turned to see me running towards him and his face lit like the mid-summer sun. I swear it actually glowed.

I threw my arms around him, and he pulled me close with his free hand.

Half-laughing, half-scolding, I hollered into his jacketed chest, “How could you let me worry like that?”

He threw the lead rope around a branch and drew me in more tightly with both arms, lightly kissing the top of my head.

Later that night, after Victorio had eaten and showered and Joe had gone to bed, Victorio and I sank into our usual spots on the couch for a little reading. We had been reading Outlander. We were at the part where Claire had agreed to marry Jamie.

“You miss me?” Victorio interrupted suddenly, his voice low, hopeful uncertainty in his eyes.

“Yes,” I said, a little grudgingly.

A tiny grin sneaked into one corner of his mouth. “Well, you did seem happy to see me…”

“Yeah…” I sighed, “I didn’t want to. I don’t want to… like you that much.”

“Do you? Do you like me… that much?”

Droplets threatened to leap from their eyelid precipices onto my cheeks. I felt so childish.

Victorio wrapped his arms around me, “It’s okay, it’s okay…” I pressed my face into his chest and we sank into the thick soft corner of the couch. Soon we were asleep, the couch blanket draped over us, curled together like littermates.

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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