fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Forty Six. {fiction}

As we neared the compound with the multi-storied building in the center, we saw many people outside the buildings but inside the fence, milling about.

It sounded like some were arguing, some crying.

We were only a block away when suddenly a masculine voice behind us said, “Stop or I’ll shoot! Put your hands up!” We didn’t have to be told twice. I wished very hard that the voice belonged to a Maker and not a Slaver.

Hands raised, I turned my head very slowly to get a look at our captor. My hands flopped downward and my jaw dropped nearly to my knees.

“Robert? I didn’t recognize your voice. It’s deeper.”

Robert stared at me as if I were a phantom.

“L-l-lakshmi?” his voice dropped several decibels as he lowered his crossbow. “Is that really you? I… I thought you were dead.”

Turning my horse, the others did the same, probably having sensed that it was safe. The others dropped their hands.

“Why did you think I was dead?” I asked. My head felt like a floating balloon. Crossing paths with one old enemy and one old friend, minutes apart. That’s how small our world had become.

“Well, because Darian said you were. Said they killed you and buried you in the desert.”

“God, Robert. I’m so sorry. I escaped. They didn’t catch me.”

“Uh, you guys…,” said Frank pointedly.

Suddenly vigilant and looking around anxiously, Robert told us, “Keep moving. I doubt the Slavers will be back tonight, but we can’t be too sure. Let’s get inside!”

Robert led us to the well-guarded gate as the people milling about the yard inside the fence stared at us suspiciously. A woman with short, unnaturally scarlet hair, and dressed in a flowing, floor-length desert camouflage dress and heavy boots, marched up to us authoritatively.

“Who the hell are these people?” she demanded of Robert.

“Friends, at least one of them…” said Robert defensively.

The woman scowled at us, looking us over for several long seconds before visibly relaxing.

“Well, I know you’re not Slavers because two of you are women. And you don’t dress like them. Not enough leather.”

Frank handed her the letter, “This is from Matthew, at the monastery. We’ve been friends since we were kids.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Her face lit up as she read. “Wow. You mean you came all the way from there? Risking the Slavers and everything to get to us? What on earth for?” Looking us over again, she added, “It doesn’t look like you’re starvin’ or anything. Hey Robert, could you please get their horses to the stable so they can be taken care of?”

Turning back to us, she added, “We don’t keep many horses since we don’t really go very far, but we do have a few, and there’s plenty of room in the stable for yours. Oh, yeah, and my name is Mystery.”

We each introduced ourselves as we removed our packs from the saddles. Robert led our horses away.

“I’ll come find you soon,” Robert assured me.

Mystery led us into the tallest building, the one we could see coming into town.

I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about Victorio and what he must be going through as Mystery led us through the lower floors of the building, so I didn’t hear much of her brief comments about the areas we passed through. Still, I couldn’t help but notice some things through the doorways we passed.

One room smelled of growing things, radiating warm moisture, with marvelous scents wafting out. I caught a glimpse of greenery that seemed to extend for a very long way into the room, and up as well. Another room looked like a clay studio, and still another contained hulking pieces of metal machinery that I couldn’t identify.

Many people milled about in the open areas, and passed us in the broad hallway through which we traveled. Finally, we came to a wide brick-lined stairway that took us steeply upwards and out of the building we had walked through. The air was drier and somewhat stale.

After we had ascended a full story, the stairs topped out into another large, carpeted, hallway, this one dotted with doorways every few feet, much like hotels used to have.

After walking down that hallway for about a half a block, it opened into an enormous room littered with comfortable chairs and couches, a huge television screen in one corner with seating arranged for easy viewing. In another corner opposite the screen was a pool table, a foosball table and a ping pong table. A few people were watching the TV, playing an old Star Trek film, and a couple were playing pool.

We passed all these, then turned down another hall like the one we had first gone through. Mystery stopped at one door, knocked, and hearing no response from within, swept into it. We followed her in.

“This room is connected to the next room,” she said, gesturing to the closed door in one wall.

“Between the two rooms, you have four beds. The bathrooms don’t work, so you bathe and pee down the hall, just a few doors down. It says ‘bathroom’ so you won’t get confused,” she added wryly. “Drop your stuff so we can go talk. Clearly you folks came here for a reason. Robert said you lost someone in your party to the Slavers raid just now. We did too.”

While there were a surprising number of people awake and busy so late at night, we were able to find a quiet corner to sit and talk in the big common room. As we settled in, Robert found us, bringing a large tray of food and drink for us all. While Frank, Ching Shih and Tochuku told Mystery the story of our trip there, our reasons, and the misadventure we had, Robert and I settled into a couch a few yards away.

The knot in my stomach sat in constant vigilance in worry about Victorio.

Robert shook his head in disbelief as we sat close together on the couch, him holding my hands in his.

“All this time, I thought they had killed you. I’ve cried so much for you. We even had a secret memorial service for you, late at night. How did you get away? Who are those people you’re with?”

I gave him the highly abridged tale of my journey and my life with the Cave People, leaving out our location and the fact we lived in caves. Now Robert shook his head in wonder.

“God, I’m so happy you made it. But what about…”

I cut him off, “I’ll tell you more details later, but you’ve got to tell me what happened at the compound! How did you escape?”

Robert launched into his own tale, which turned out to be every bit as strange as my own.

“Oh man, things got really weird after you left. When it became clear you were gone, Emma got out of her bed finally, acting a little zombie-like but otherwise doing all the stuff she normally did. She cooked, cleaned the kitchen, fed everyone like usual, but she almost never talked and looked like she was a million miles away. I took your place in the kitchen, working with her.

During the days they looked for you, that’s how she was. I’m pretty sure Darian hadn’t ever realized that she was so checked out, just lying in her bed all that time, because they were gone so much of the time after… the thing with Sylvia.

Anyway, when they came back the last day, Darian saying they had found you north of Deming, and that they had killed you and buried you, things got even weirder with Emma. She started making a point of being the one to take food to the big house, or serving Darian herself if he ever came in the kitchen to eat.

The rest of us were reeling. Some were so scared they could hardly work or think straight. Me and some of the others talked at night about how messed up it all was, that we didn’t want to stay there and be slaves anymore, no matter what. It seemed like maybe they wouldn’t have killed you if you hadn’t gone alone, that you would have stood a chance anyway.

So some of us started stashing bags with provisions, sneaking knives from the kitchen and the like. Emma sort of provided cover for us by being so nice to Darian, even though we never talked about it with her.

In the meantime, Darian sent Lem and Jeff away. It wasn’t too ugly because they were so outnumbered by the others, who were still totally loyal to Darian. He said to them, ‘You can either leave peacefully or we can kill you. You choose.’ So they left.“About six of us had packed enough for a week or two and were just putting the fine points on our escape plan when Emma did something that none of us saw coming, least of all Darian.”

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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