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Chapter 24: Lal Ded

April 29, 2013

WHO’S NEXT?

Fatima stood.
Her leg was killing her. She leaned on Falcon. The child was bearing up magnificently.

“Helen,” she said, the weakness in her bruised, exhausted body was matched by her strength of purpose. Enough was enough. “Helen is next.”

WHO. IS. NEXT?
“Helen,” repeated Fatima. “We’ve paid a fair price. More than fair. Now show us Helen.”
YOU. SEEK TO. BARGAIN?
“No,” said Fatima. “No more bargains. Show us our friend.”
SHE IS. NOT. HERE.
“Then bring her.”
I DO. NOT….

“I don’t care!” Fatima filled her voice with cold anger. Imagined the cloud as her defiant nephew, Omar. “I don’t care what you do or do not. You said you do not take. You’ve taken plenty. No more.”

It flared up, blazing. She thought she had made it angry. She hoped so.
A cold wind like ice swept over them, and the light was gone.

“What was that about?” asked Karen.
“We tried doing as it asked. Where did that get us?” said Fatima.
“She’s right,” said Lena. “We don’t even really know what it wants. We can’t just let it take and take.”

Fatima sat down heavily. That man, the kind one – Ian – was by her side.
“You OK?” he said.
She nodded. “Yes.”

It was very dark. Fatima looked up and could not see even the dim grey light that had filtered down from above, earlier. She wondered if that meant that night had fallen, back out there. She realised she had long since missed the gig. She wondered how Zane and Rosh were doing. If they were worried about her.

“But what if we just made it worse?” said Karen.
“I don’t see how this could get any worse,” said Pip.
“Then you haven’t got much imagination,” said Karen.

“Not right now, no,” said Pip. “I’m stuck in this dismal hole, in the dark, and I need a wee. I’m hungry, I’m tired, and there’s a monster thing that wants to eat my soul. I don’t even know what all of that means, but it sounds pretty bad to me.”
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” said Fred. “About needing a wee.”

Everyone shuffled awkwardly. Fatima supposed they were thinking about their bladders. Hers was holding out – one of the advantages of not having children, she supposed. There were some. But she was stiff and miserable, just like everyone else. They were all sitting now, too weary to do more, although it was so dark that Fatima could not see any of them. She could sense them close around her, by the warmth and smell and the sound of their movements.

“Hey, Hazel,” said Fatima. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah,” came the reply. Her voice was heavy, tired, strange.
“What was it like?” asked Karen.
There was a silence. Expectant, total, as though everyone was holding their breath.

The silence went on. And on.
“Hazel?”
There was no answer.
“Hazel?”
Still nothing. Fatima reached out instinctively for Falcon. He had hardly left her side the whole time they had been down this horrible trap, but he was not there.

“Anyone? Can’t anyone hear me?” she said.
She stretched out both her arms, groping in the dark, desperate now.
“Anyone?” Even Fatima could hear the panic in her voice. What was going on? Where had they gone?

It was pitch dark. And she was alone.

“This is not happening,” she told herself.
Then aloud – “This is NOT happening! I said NO!”

There was no answer. But at the edge of hearing, she noticed a dull hiss, like the white noise of a radio. The echos of cosmic events. The sound of vast, empty space.

“I’m not afraid!” she shouted.
The white noise dialled up a little. Maybe Karen was right. Maybe she had made things worse.

“Bring me Helen,” she said. She was resolved. “Or you get nothing.”
The static was getting louder, drowning out her thoughts.

A song of Rosh’s came into her mind, a song that came straight from his Kashmiri roots down the lines of his mothers.

I came by this path yet could not return
And passed the day here, by the river waiting
‏I looked in my pocket‪:‬ not a penny is there –
‏What could I pay for the ferry fee?‬

They would sing it sometimes at the end of a great set. Rosh’s haunting melody, slow and penetrating, would go straight to the belly of every member of the audience, fierce and lonely.
She began to sing.

Who can stop the icicles from melting‪?‬
‏Who can hold the wind in her palms‪?‬
The one who cuts off all her five senses
‏She receives sunshine in the darkness.

The song gave her strength. She sang the second verse again.

And sunshine did come. Or, if not exactly sunshine, then at least there was light. Brilliant light, and in the shape of a woman.
“Helen!”

SHE IS –
“Shut up!”

Fatima reached out to the shining body and grabbed hold of it with both arms. She did not know if she could pull Helen out of the light – but she was going to try. It was both hot and cold and hard to hold onto. She had to shut her eyes against the brightness of the light, and it still burned through her eyelids.

“Helen!” she shouted. “If you’re in there, come back. Come back!” She could hear the white noise getting louder, and feel a wind starting to whip around her, flapping her clothes, lifting her hair. Perhaps she had unnerved it. She embraced the Helen-light-creature-thing and held on with all her strength and weight.

“Helen!” she shouted over and over. “Helen, wake up and help me!”

The silvery, blazing light-body began to rise, but Fatima would not let go. She felt herself rising too. She would not let go. Maybe they would fly out of the trap – that at least would be something – but then she felt strong hands pulling her back. She held on tight. She would not let go.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2013 8:12 pm

    Wordcount – 1005
    Prompt – “Sunshine” (DichotomyOf)

    I’m working on the final chapters now – w00t! – but you can still help with prompts, leave one in the comments! 😀
    (Check the sidebar for a link to more info about this interactive project!)

  2. April 29, 2013 8:31 pm

    So near the end – well done 🙂

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