Not Even Light, Chapter 8, Part 2 of 2

We all squatted down around the Meek. He was panting shallowly and clutching his side as blood seeped between his fingers. Dyani had done more than just graze him. I haven’t yet seen too many more wretched looking human beings. His dirty bramble-torn face, his bloody, shaking hands, his pain-filled eyes–I almost felt sorry for him, but then I remembered how he’d have happily worked me over to turn me into what he was.

I nudged his shoulder and asked, “Are there more of you ’round here?” He turned his head and looked right through me and way off into the far distance. I gave his shoulder another little shake and asked again.

His eyes rolled around and he looked me square in the face. “You are the dead,” he whispered.

“So I’ve been told,” I said, remembering what Bors had said about us being dead birds.

Just then the wind picked up something fierce and howled through the trees. I don’t put much stock in signs, but if I did, I’d have thought that death had just ridden in on the wind to snuff out his little spark of life because at that moment his eyes closed, his chest gave a heave, and out puffed his last breath.

“Should’ve let me at ‘im,” Marek spat out. “I might’ve got something.”

Dyani looked thoughtfully at Marek, and I reckoned she might have been thinking the same. I know I was. She stood up and gestured at the Meek. “We’ve gotta clean this mess up in case there’s more Meeks nearby who’d come looking for whoever slagged these three. This far north, they were a long way from one of their big gatherings. I think they were a scouting party, so prob’ly there’s no more scouts anywhere real close by, but we can’t be sure.” She turned to Marek and said, “Haul his carcass off into the woods way over there and cover it up with whatever you can find. Dunc, you kick over the blood here and along the path as best you can and then go help Marek.”

“How ’bout we see what he’s got on him first? Might be something useful.” Dunc said. Dyani agreed and Marek and Dunc shucked the Meek out of his clothes and rifled through his pockets and pouches. There wasn’t much on him besides a spoon, a wood whistle, and a couple handfuls of parched corn and dried apple. Dunc stood and gave his cloak a final shake and a roundish something fell to the ground. Marek snatched it up quickly. “This here’s an old timekeeper,” he said. “A pocket watch is what they call it.”

“Let’s have a look at it,” Dunc said. Marek handed it over and Dunc ran his fingers around its edge. “There’s one of these back at Catfish that someone took in trade from a resurrectionist. This is real old. I think maybe it’s silver.” He pulled on a loop on the top of the watch. “It should open up, but it’s kinda stuck shut.” He got a puzzled look on his face. “I thought Meeks hate old tech. Why’d he be carrying this around?”

I knew. “I can tell you why. There was this drifter come through the farm who’d managed to escape from them, and–“

Dunc gave a start and interrupted. “Escape? How’d he do that? I thought you couldn’t.”

“He was a good actor, plus he held up under all the kicking around and mind bending. Bided his time, gained just enough trust, and ran like hell first chance he got. He was heading fast northwards along the back trails when he came across us and spent a coupla days resting up. He didn’t have anything to trade, but what he told about the Meeks, stuff we never heard of, was worth a couple days of provisions. One thing was about clocks.”

“What about clocks?” Dyani asked. “So much useless oldtime junk, no?”

“Not to Meeks. Any old timekeeper is kinda special to them. Take this pocket watch here. There’s nobody anywhere who’s ever gonna get it working again after all these years. But Meeks like that idea. To them a clock like this that’ll never keep time again stands for the times and people that brought on the Long Last Days.”

Dunc said, “Wasn’t tech that crashed the world. Stupidity did. Evil brains did.”

“It was all of it together,” I corrected. “Evil brains, stupidity, and tech. Real fatal combination.”

“Well, now we know why Meeks love dead clocks,” said Dyani, “but we don’t have time for more history lessons right now. Storm’s gonna kick up again, and we need to get busy. Marek and Dunc, when you’re done up here come down to the hut and help Travis and me clean up.”

“Can I keep the watch?” Dunc asked.

Dyani “What the hell for? Piece of junk, innit?”

“Dunno,” he said. “I guess I just like the way it looks. Feels good in my hand, too.”

Dyani rolled her eyes, but gave him a nod. She whistled Stashi over, and the three of us made our way to the hut.

As soon as we got inside, Dyani said, “I don’t like any of this. I don’t like it that we’ve had to kill Meeks. I didn’t think we’d have to. And I don’t like that we’ve crossed paths with that Marek. There’s a bad cloud around him, and he doesn’t have a level head. We can’t trust ‘im. You and Dunc I have to put up with, but we’re gonna have to lose Marek. Things are getting way too complicated.”

“Let me think on that a second, OK?” I found little to disagree with what Dyani had said. And talk about complications. Not too long ago, I’d been making my own way through the Big Woods with nobody pulling me along or dragging behind me–and no one telling me what to do. It’s still a struggle for me sometimes, but I’m better nowadays with the fuzziness around the edges of life, and I’m long resigned to the future’s always being an unturned corner–but I’d prefer it otherwise. Teacher told me that the winds that blow you down one branching path of life instead of another are strong, but it’s always your part of the game to take your chances, make the best of it, and not waste time standing around whining.

Dyani jolted me out of my little reverie. “Well, Travis? You had enough time to think yet? Because I reckon there’s not much to think about here.”

She was completely right. “Agreed, but what d’ya mean about losing Marek? You don’t mean kill him, right?”

“Hope not. I expect he’s gotta have other business than messing with us–whatever he was up to when the Meeks grabbed him–so he prob’ly won’t be interested in sticking around anyway. Don’t know why he would want to give us a hard time, ‘specially since we rescued him, but if he does, then he’s going to wind up under a pile of branches and leaves in the woods, too.”

“Okay, but you’re gonna try talking with him before it comes to that?”

“Yeah, I’ll try. I’ll give him a chance to walk away. Now let’s get at it.” We began checking the Meeks over for anything handy and light enough for us to tote as we ran the paths. There wasn’t much to speak of, but the Meek who’d surprised us had a nicely made dagger that I snaffled, and the one Dunc had shot had a stab vest and a set of iron knuckles. We’d just started to check their packs when Dunc and Marek joined us.

Marek made straight for the packs we’d piled up and grabbed one. Then he picked up a short barreled shotgun from under a bench near the hut door. “Mine,” he said defiantly as though he expected us to try to take his stuff away from him.

Dyani kept cool. “OK. So it’s yours. Now how about you lend a hand here.”

We built up the cooking fire the Meeks’d had going out back of the hut and mopped up blood and brain matter with their cloaks. Then we stripped them and torched their clothes and anything else that would burn down to ashes. While Dunc and Marek dragged the dead Meeks and everything else we hadn’t kept or burned into the woods, Dyani and I checked around for traces that could connect us to what’d happened in the hut. “There might be some little thing we’ve missed here or up top of the path,” she said, wrinkling her brow up, “but it won’t be much. Besides, the storm’ll wash blood away, and I don’t think anyone’ll be looking on purpose to find bodies out there in the woods either.”

Marek and Dunc walked back in as Dyani said that. “Maybe not,” Marek said. “Even if somebody does, we hid the bodies pretty far off, and it won’t take long before nobody’ll be able to tell who the hell they were.”

Dyani started to feel Marek out. “How long you been out in these woods, Marek?”

“I’ve been out scouting the past couple of months. Why d’ya ask?”

“Just curious, that’s all. I’ve been doin’ the same myself. There anything in particular you’re lookin’ for?”

“Something worth my while,” he replied, “and it’s got nothing to do with you.” He started to bristle up, and Dyani glanced over at me and gave her head a slight shake. All right. I’d shut up and let her talk.

“Hey, calm down, Marek. I’m just trying to see how we stand, ‘k? If you’ve got a trail to walk, we’re not going to get in your way.” She shifted her gun ever so slightly in Marek’s general direction. He eyed it and grasped her meaning.

“Right. Likewise. But I don’t think we’re going to be splitting up this minute.” He wasn’t being contrary, just practical. It’d have been stupid for any of us to set out in the coming storm. There was nothing to do but hunker down, wait for it to bloom and rage, and ride it out.

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