The penultimate episode, brought to you by Christine Brodersen…
“What is that?,” Ezra asked still clinging to the girl’s shoulders for safety. The sound of crunching leaves and snapping twigs had been replaced by a rumble longer than any cold front produced. They both felt the earth shake underneath them.
“It’s a feral cat.”
“Then they are real.” Ezra regarded the critter with a mix of fascination and horror.
Edana glanced behind her. “It’s all real, but it’s not all true. And if we get caught near this filthy thing we are surely going to be burned.” She leapt over the small beast and started running again. Ezra stumbled and twigs snapped back at him like whips. He was not accustomed to dashing through the woods. Edana leapt and duck effortlessly as if the woods were a well worn path instead of a tangle of branches and thorns. “Your brother is too far gone to save, Ezra. If you wish to go with me you must accept that.”
The words tripped him, slowed him. Abandon his brother? Turn on him? What would Momma and Grammy say? A branch stung his face and he felt warm wetness on his cheek. He saw the flash of blood on his fingertips where he wiped his eye and how it matched the flaming red trailing behind her. Could he trust her and not her brother? Was he being manipulated as the Fifth society claimed was the favored weapon of the reds? Could he be a victim of her magic? He could not otherwise explain the way her touch made him feel.
But Ezra’s feet did not question her motives, they kept pursuing her. Run, his body urged. Run to safety. The image of the Elders standing by with shoulders straight back and heads held high when a babe free of sin screamed until the heat melted its lips and smoke suffocated its useless lungs made him trust this girl he barely knew more than the village that nurtured him with fear and judgment. His heart pounded in his chest. Finally he was close enough to pull her shoulder.
“Stop. Where are we going?”
She bent over hands on her knees sucking in air, “I don’t know.”
They both laughed.
“I feel a lot better now,” Ezra teased.
She put her fingers to her lips to shush him and listened. Cicadas chirped and a crow squawked. Nothing human. She took both his hands in hers. We have to hide. They will get the dogs and if they don’t rip us to pieces then Elder Thomas will. You don’t know what he does to the girls he doesn’t burn.”
“Then let’s walk in that stream. It will disguise our scent.”
“Good thinking Ezra. We just might survive this.”
She smiled at him and it spread joy from his chest outward like a ripple in a lake. But when he digested her words, he got scared. The idea that he wouldn’t survive hadn’t occurred to him until now.
Every bird that darted from the canopy made them crouch. Edana scolded him for making too much noise. Don’t pick your feet out of the water. It makes too much noise. Ezra obeyed and kept his feet in the cold and stream.
“Where should we go?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” Ezra couldn’t hide his disappointment. She didn’t turn around to see his face. She knew the look so well. So many times she visited the mothers after a burning to lay violets on their pillows at night. Their frocks soaked with undrunk milk. Their faces no longer youthful but marred by despair and loathing. Sometimes she thought these helpless wives were her only hope.
Ezra followed mimicking her steps. She was better at determining which rocks were steady and which were not slippery.. After a while he offered,” I think I know where we should go.”
She stopped and faced him.
“I’m not sure how to get there, and I’m not sure how I know this, but she sometimes visits the village her name is Abena.”
Edana dropped to her knees in the stream. Her dress flowed around her and tiny whirlpools formed around her frayed smock. Ezra thought he had never seen anyone so beautiful.
“Ezra it is you. You are the chosen one. The time has come. The Goddess will prevail.”
The sky darkened. A grey cloud of metal like neither of them had ever seen before rumbled Ezra cowered and covered his ears. Edana held her hands to the sky embracing the faceless giant beast that had the skin of an armadillo and the roar of a lion.
A fireball flew past Edana. And snuffed itself out on the damp bank. Ezra forced Edana down. Water splashed as they both scampered to the safety of some reeds.
“Brother, come back , come back!” Asher and Billy barked from the forest. Billy lost his balance and rolled down the embankment. Asher stumbled after him half sliding on his backside.
The relentless chants of the quenchers were not far behind.
Ezra and Edana fled. Only once did Edena turn around to face Ezra, “I know where to find Abena.”
Ezra took one last glance at his brother, muddy and scratched, and what he saw was the stuff that Asher described in his fits. From the grey cloud above creatures with black faces, shiny pupil free eyes, and elephant trunks tucked back unto themselves lowered down on single strands of web.