Dr. Ambrel: That house has been there for generations, hasn’t it?
Deputy Hadley: Yeah. I remember the stories ‘bout when one o’ the sons came home from the Korean War. He’d been a POW over there, got into some odd habits, and there were weird rumors. Charlie Hewitt was his name. He and his sister ‘sposedly run the place now, but they’re said to be not much better than their parents were. The house is in her name, accordin’ to county records; their folks probly changed the will when they didn’t think their son would come home.
Dr. Ambrel: Perhaps she is a reasonable person – why don’t we just drive up there and ring the doorbell, as you put it?
Deputy Hadley: Be my guest, Doc, but if that’s how you wanna play this, I’d rather wait in the car and keep the motor runnin’.
While Momma Hewitt explained things to her, Amarie nodded quietly, paying close attention to the rules as requested.
Some of it went beyond her limited understanding, but she didn’t worry about those things. Uncle Charlie – Sheriff Hoyt – and Tommy provided for the family. If there was almost no one left in the town, and the meat packing plant was closed, she wasn’t sure where they got meat, but she assumed the sheriff drove to another town to buy it. The family had a garden for vegetables and herbs, and she intended to do her best to help with the care of that.
Two old men, one in a wheelchair due to missing his legs right above the knees, the other in a sheriff’s uniform, listened as Momma Hewitt told her about how they lived.
The sheriff paced now and then, his boots loud on the wooden floorboards. He made her nervous, where the crippled Monty did not. He had done nothing, and said nothing, to upset her, but it was in his eyes: that hunger, and the desire to push it on her. Momma Hewitt answered his lusting expression with a gaze like steel and the sheriff looked away. Amarie knew all about the idea of a challenge, and the man had lost this one – yet judging by the frown on his face, she guessed he didn’t lose many.
“When will I meet your son?” she asked, when the explanations were finished.
“Don’t be too eager for that,” the sheriff commented, and chuckled.
Snorting at him, Momma Hewitt smiled. “I done told you my boy is shy. Give him a chance to see you with us and he’ll come ‘round in time. His room is in the basement, but I don’t want you down there botherin’ him. Let him come to you when he’s ready, but you keep outta there.”
“Yes, ma’am, I will.”
“I’ll ask Wilma and Henrietta over tomorrow, Jedidiah’s sick this evenin’. The main thing for you to remember is to stick close to me. I’ll show you your chores tomorrow, too, but for now, let’s get you settled upstairs.”
The bedroom was simple and plain, with a window and small closet. The mattress was stripped, but she’d been told that she’d be shown where bedclothes and towels were kept. It was darker in the house than she was used to, but it was a massive home compared to where she’d come from.
It’s a grand old Texas mansion almost, and these people are gonna be kind to me. The relief that accompanied the thought made her sigh in contentment.
Together, she and her new mother made the bed with fresh linens under a stark and bare bulb hanging over the center of the room. She could just reach the cord that turned it on and off.
Watching her, Momma Hewitt asked, “How old are you, child?”
Clicking her tongue, the old woman shook her head, her gray hair moving gently around her face. “Someone might come lookin’. You’ll wanna hide if you see ‘em, y’hear? If you wanna stay, that is.”
“Please, I do! Those men stole me from my foster parents, though, and they might come after me. There’s a lot o’ ‘em, and they’ll want me back bad.”
Amarie thought a minute. “Ten, now.”
“They’ll want you for sure?”
Miserably afraid at the idea, Amarie nodded.
The smile the old woman gave her was cunning, almost predatory. “Don’t you worry none – you’re safe now and we’ll protect you. Bathroom’s down the hall, two doors away. There’s ‘nother downstairs – best to knock first, for either one. Charlie forgets to lock the door and he might be up to things a baby like you shouldn’t see; Monty could be up to the same, for that matter.”
“Men don’t do much I ain’t seen, ma’am,” she muttered, bile rising in her throat. She shook her head, trying to shake off the memory of her foster father’s hands, and other things, pressing her down, hurting her.
“I feared as much. Well, my boys won’t do that. Hell, Tommy might be more afraid o’ you than you could be o’ him, if not the other two, but no one will hurt you here.”
Stepping forward to hug her, Amarie melted in her arms. The sobs came, but Momma Hewitt just held her, patting her hair and singing to her softly. The tune was Hush Little Baby, about mockingbirds and golden rings, and it soothed her instantly. Sitting on the bed with her, the older woman eventually coaxed her to lie down. Sometime later, she fell asleep and never heard her mother leave the room.
~ ~ ~
Amarie was woken in the night by a distant but strange noise. It was a motor of some sort. It cut across her nightmare of the motorcycles and their brutish riders to rouse her in a cold sweat, but the noise wasn’t outside.
It’s comin’ from beneath the house?
She slipped out of bed and padded across to the door in the white cotton nightgown Momma Hewitt had given her. The night air was warm and now that she was fully awake and more rested, curiosity grew. Opening the door, she listened to the sounds the house made. Wood floors creaked, pipes now and then rattled – but the motor drowned out the rest, even though it was far below her.
Should I go and see? They didn’t say I couldn’t explore… Amarie took one deep breath, and then walked out of her bedroom and down the hall to the steep wooden staircase.
Several of the steps squeaked, no matter where she placed her feet. Hoping the family was asleep, she crept on as quietly as she could. At the base of the stairs, she followed the noise of the motor down the narrow hall to a closed metal door at its end, near the kitchen. It ran in grooves along the floor and ceiling, and so it would slide – but was it locked?
Her fingers had just reached out to touch it when a hand grabbed her wrist. She would have screamed, but her attacker quickly clapped his other hand over her mouth. She knew it was a male – she could feel that through the clothes, as the man’s intentions pressed against her backside. Squirming, she tried to kick and bite, becoming a wild thing in his grip.
“Hush, little filly,” a coarse voice muttered above her ear – the sheriff. “Don’t cow kick me, you fool, I won’t hurt you none. Quiet down, now. You were ‘bout to be disobeyin’ Momma, you know. Cain’t have that, can we?”
She forced herself to go still, and he carefully released her. He had seemed to appear from thin air, but must have come from one of the rooms along the hall.
Her hands rose to cover her mouth and she whispered fearfully through them, “You scared me.”
“Just in time, too. That,” he answered, gesturing at the metal, “is the way down to the basement – which you’re ‘sposed to be avoidin’, ain’t that right?”
“Yes, sir,” she said, her eyes widening. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I was followin’ that noise, it woke me, and –”
“That’s just Tommy workin’ late, nothin’ to be scared of. You go on back to bed now.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Sir. I like that – but if you’re gonna be family, call me Uncle Hoyt.”
“You okay to get back upstairs alone? I could walk you, maybe stay awhile.” He reached up to loosen his uniform collar with an eager gleam in his eye.
Unable to suppress a shiver, she took a step backward as she shook her head. “No, thank you, Uncle Hoyt, I’ll be fine,” she murmured.
“Get on with you, then. Hurry it up.”
No longer concerned with silence, she fled up the stairs and back to her room, closing the door and leaning against it as she tried to calm her breathing and pounding heart.
He wanted … he coulda… Frowning, she thought, He didn’t do nothin’ but keep me outta trouble, really. Momma Hewitt said to trust her that Uncle Hoyt wouldn’t hurt me and he didn’t…
Sleep was elusive with the motor noise going on below, but as she fell into wondering what Thomas was doing, she was able to relax.
That’s some sorta appliance or tool he’s usin’. Maybe Momma will tell me in the mornin’? Uncle Hoyt said he was workin’. I bet he’s huge – bet he could take ‘em all on. If he wanted to, if he liked me; I gotta make him like me…
She got back into bed and began imagining her new brother hurting them for her – all of them, from the unknown parents to the foster parents, and then the bikers.
Whenever my ‘father’ went after other women, his wife would give him hell. Why didn’t she care ‘bout him goin’ after me? She couldn’t not know what he was doin’ with his ‘blanket game’! He said it was ‘sposed to let us pretend we were explorin’ a cave, but every time he dropped that nasty wool blanket over us on the kitchen floor, he didn’t pretend a bit o’ it. She’d be in the room too, fixin’ his breakfast – just movin’ ‘round the blanket if we got in her way. Anytime I tried to make a noise, he’d whack my head on the tiles. Why’d he talk like I liked it? She never seemed to care, or even notice…
Thinking the noise her brother was making might be from a drill or saw, she envisioned him using it to protect her. The saw blade would slice through the blanket and into her father’s back.
Maybe he’d rip the blanket away and make the bitch see – make her watch, before shoving the drill bit into her head. Then he’d take me away, take me here, and I’d be safe.
The noises downstairs slowly blended with both imaginings and nightmares. By the time they ceased, she had fallen into sweeter dreams of home and family, like she’d never known before.
Luda Mae swore as her brother finally returned down the basement stairs. “What took you so long?” When he didn’t answer, she sighed and asked, “What did Monty say?”
“He’ll kiss your ass, won’t he? Do whatever you want, like the rest o’ ‘em. It’s me you gotta convince, not him. Your new pet’s what kept me. She heard Tommy’s toy runnin’ and was ‘bout to step outta bounds. I sent her back to bed.”
Glaring at his leering grin, she crossed her arms over her chest. “Sent her in one piece and without special attention?”
“Aw, I suppose I spooked her a bit, but what’s the harm in that? You told her not to come down here, but forgot to mention which door to avoid.”
Satisfied, Luda Mae turned to watch her son. He was almost finished quartering Amarie’s friends farther back in the long and rambling basement.
It was hard to be heard over the chainsaw racket, but if she ordered him to turn it off he would only sulk and she needed his attention. Periodically, she saw his head lift and hoped that he was following the conversation, though she couldn’t see his eyes at this distance through the latest mask.
“It’s settled then,” she announced to Charlie. “She’s family and none o’ you are gonna lay a hand on her unless she invites you to.”
“Nothin’s settled, Momma. Sure, the news ‘bout the meat delivery is nice, but that’s a handsome piece o’ baby girl you got upstairs, young ‘nuff for outside law to come lookin’ for, too. I can pick ‘em off one by one as long as you like and happy to oblige, but if they all come at us at once, we’ll have ourselves a problem.”
“No we won’t. They’ll be huntin’ those idiots on the motorcycles, not us.”
“Forgettin’ somethin’? What ‘bout her? What if she trips over somethin’ that scares her ‘nuff to run and sick ‘em on us?”
“What would scare her, besides you?”
“Tommy, that’s what. Her kind was never apt to take kindly to him, or did you forget that, too?”
Thomas picked his head up sharply at the sound of his name, saw that they hadn’t called him, and went back to cutting.
An old pain and rage twisted in Luda Mae’s heart at her brother’s words. “No, I ain’t never forgotten what those whores and bastards put my boy through. This girl’s different. She whacked those men as brutally as you woulda, and saved my life doin’ it. She knew ‘nuff to wanna hide ‘em too, and begged me not to call the law, so she won’t be too eager to run to any cop. As for my Thomas, we can work ‘round that.” Changing her mind about his participation, she called to him, “Tommy, cut that off, now, and c’mere to me.”
He turned the chainsaw off reluctantly, his thick, bloodstained fingers stroking it before he stepped around the wooden crate table to approach her.
She knew how the world saw him, she’d heard them screaming it often enough, in both anger and terror. With his unkempt and bloody appearance, the clothes getting ragged, and the leather butcher’s apron soaked red, they only saw the monster they accused him of being. None of them had looked beneath the masks, to find the scarred and traumatized boy who could be gentle, loyal, fiercely protective, and so obedient that any mother would be proud to call him her son.
Luda Mae had found him where the world had put him on August 7, 1939 – in a dumpster behind the Lee Brothers slaughterhouse, bloody and crying. He’d been wrapped in brown butcher paper, the tiny cord still attached to the heaving pale belly. Now, every time the cleaver fell, or the whirring blade cut, he carved a measure of justice in their flesh, whether he saw it that way or not. Sometimes, of course, it was hard to know what he thought about things, as the poor dear never spoke a word.
She gave him a warm smile as he slowly came to stand before her. At six feet and five inches, he towered over his tall family, but his eyes were the kindest of them all, too. The way he hung his head hurt her. This boy she loved had been so badly mistreated.
“Tommy, I need you to understand this; Amarie’s gonna stay with us, like Jedidiah. I want you to keep her safe, protect her, y’hear? More o’ those men’ll be comin’ ‘round and they’ll wanna hurt her and take her away, but she wants to stay with us, she wants to be family.”
“Yeah, I can tell he’s thrilled to get a sister,” Charlie muttered.
“Hush.” Luda Mae lifted her hand to touch her son’s broad chest. “You understand? You don’t gotta be afraid, neither; I’ll talk with her and she’ll understand, too – that she can trust you. Now, won’t that be nice? She’ll help us ‘round the house and it’ll be okay, don’t you worry none.”
Reaching to rub at his crotch with a sneer, Charlie commented, “I know I gotta few things she can help with.”
Ignoring him, Luda Mae took Tommy’s hand and led him away to his rumpled bed in a dingy corner of the basement. The low fire in the furnace flickered a few feet away, casting shifting shadows over an old porcelain tub and the chained hooks hanging above it.
At her direction, he sat heavily with his large hands hanging limply between his knees, bunching up the thick leather apron. Sitting beside him, she gently stroked the new face he had made. It was cobbled together with Jim’s mouth and Rock’s wild, long brown hair over his own, mixed with a few older pieces he never wanted to part with. The lips that opened to show her a tentative smile were pale pink under the stretched opening of the mask.
“That’s a nice one,” she told him, “real nice.” Taking a breath for patience, she continued, “I promise I won’t allow her to be cruel to you, Tommy. You gotta trust me on that. I know you’ll do anythin’ your uncle tells you, but don’t let him get you in trouble.” She heard Charlie coming closer and added for his benefit, “He can get his own toy if he wants to play with somethin’ new. Amarie will be your sister and if we give her a little time, she’ll love us as much as we love her, okay?”
He barely nodded, but it was enough for her. The massive shoulders and powerful arms had begun to tremble, though, and she impulsively embraced him, her fingers stroking the shorter hair at the back of his neck, avoiding the biker’s clotted locks.
“My poor sweet boy,” she murmured at his ear.
Charlie’s boots clomped to a halt in front of the little alcove. “You think he’s agreein’ cuz he likes the idea? He won’t disappoint you, that’s all. Who’s always lookin’ out for him when it counts? You got my word, Tommy – if she screws up and calls you names, all bets are off. Hell, I’ll give you her head, then – I won’t need it.”
Luda Mae scowled up at him as Thomas tried to hide his ravaged face in her chest, his hands covering the new mask as a low, guttural sound escaped his lips. “Go on with you,” she told Charlie crossly, regretting her sharp tone only when Thomas winced. “I’ll handle the girl and you won’t.”
“‘Til she slips up, you mean. They always do.” Chuckling, he left them and headed for the stairs.
“He’s wrong, Tommy, you’ll see. Now why don’t you clean up a bit and get some sleep? It’s late.” She gently made him release her and stood. “I don’t want her down here, y’hear me? She knows not to.”
Her son didn’t answer. Sighing, she went up the stairs to find her brother, stepping over the shallow water at their base that Charlie often waded through in his boots.
Behind her, Thomas didn’t move as she walked away and she knew he might sit there for hours, or perhaps go back to the work table. He understood the new rules where Amarie was concerned, though; she was sure of that, and she knew he’d do as he was told.
Such a good, sweet boy…
Her brother confronted her in the living room and she didn’t try to avoid it. Old Monty watched them from his wheelchair in the corner and it was obvious the two of them had been talking and were in agreement.
“Tell me why,” Charlie demanded. “Give me one good reason, besides the little darlin’ savin’ your neck. Tommy was headin’ your way, he woulda taken care o’ it. So I wanna real answer, and if I don’t get it, I’m gonna go upstairs and stuff that bitch’s slit ‘til I get bored, and then drag her by the hair down to Tommy. I’ll just bet he’d be more than happy to have her, too. You’ve probly got him confused and hurt as hell with this damn stunt already, after I just got him turned into a useful member o’ this family – again.”
Luda Mae’s stony glare would have cowed anyone left in the town, except her brother, but she knew better than to aggravate him. One glance at Monty’s amputated legs was all the reminder she needed that Charlie held the real power in the family.
Thomas never wanted to upset her, but he had obeyed his uncle when directed to remove one of Monty’s legs as a way to treat a bullet wound. The chainsaw had been new to him then, however, the blade less steady, and it had cut into the good leg, too. Her brother had then ordered Thomas to … even him up … to avoid infection, directing his nephew to cut away the other leg as well – for balance. No protest she had made had mattered then, to either of them.
Charlie’s vision had saved the family and his strength continued to drive them to survive. No matter how often she had worried in the beginning that his deeds would bring them all down, his unfailing cleverness won out, time after time. So if she intended to keep Amarie safe, she would have to make the head of the family want to, for reasons he could agree with.
“I want her for Tommy, to care for him.”
“Well, dip me in shit, it’s a beautiful dream! That girl ain’t gonna do a damn thing but scream her shapely ass off first time she claps eyes on him!”
“She won’t. I’ll see to that.” Sighing, she sat down on the couch and looked up at him. “We’re gettin’ old, you fool. Who’s gonna take care o’ Tommy when we cain’t? Henrietta? She’s too sweet and soft to handle him, and he’s never been at ease ‘round her, that much. I don’t want my boy to end up alone.” Staring down at her hands, she whispered, “Just lemme try to teach her. She could be good for him…”
“Aw, shit,” he complained, though she heard the softer note in his tone. He laid a hand on her shoulder, but she didn’t look up. “We can let you try, Momma, but if it won’t work out, she only gets one shot. I ain’t lettin’ some sweet ass bitch put my nephew through hell again. If she does, I swear, I’ll hold her down and let him carve her up. Hellfire, they’re always quieter afterward, and that’d make Monty happy.”
Luda Mae nodded. “Okay.”
“Liked your other suggestion, though – gettin’ myself my own toy. If opportunity knocks, I’ll have to do that. Damn, the last one was a year ago!” He walked away whistling to himself, leaving his sister and uncle in silence.
~ ~ ~
Amarie was getting used to her chores and seemed to enjoy them, too. She was a hard worker, and in only a few days, her industry had begun to impress the others in spite of their reluctance to accept her. She had seemed to enjoy meeting Wilma and Henrietta, as well, though she’d been a bit shy.
Thomas mostly hid himself away, as she’d figured he would, but Luda Mae had also found him in odd corners, keeping out of sight as he watched the girl. After badgering Charlie about it, afraid he’d given orders, she had had to accept his amused response.
“He’s curious, is all. Never saw such a pretty thing off the slab for so long. Shit, maybe he’d like to play with his new sister – ain’t never had the chance at that neither, the poor fuck.”
In the midst of that conversation, it was Luda Mae’s turn to laugh when Amarie ran up, breathless and eager, and asked her uncle to teach her to shoot. The stunned look on his face had set her chuckling instantly.
“Momma said you would, Uncle Hoyt. She said you were the best shot ‘round here! Can we start now? The washin’s all hung up and it’s still light ‘nuff, ain’t it?”
His expression changing slowly to interest, it finally settled on pride. “Yeah, it’s light ‘nuff. Let’s go scare some rabbits.” He spit some of his chewing tobacco between his boots, grinned at the girl, and led her away.
“Get back in at dark, both o’ you. Wilma and Henrietta are bringin’ Jedidiah this evenin’ for supper.”
Charlie waved his response, and before Luda Mae turned away, she smiled at the sight of him handing his sheriff’s revolver to his delighted new niece.
Figured that would work, she thought. Show him the child’s gotta taste for violence, and they’ll be buddies by the time the food’s on the table. If he stops leerin’ at her, she’ll be able to relax ‘round him. God alone knows what’s been done to her already, but I’d fair bet we’re the first to treat her kindly.
Passing the silent hulking shadow of her son, whom Amarie had never noticed, she patted his arm and then gestured for him to follow her back inside.
“C’mon and help me with supper. If you cain’t learn to cut ‘em down smaller, you’ll have to keep haulin’ ‘em up for me.”
~ ~ ~
“He’s doin’ so much better,” Wilma said, smiling. The obese woman reached for another coconut-filled chocolate.
The little black-haired boy on her daughter Henrietta’s lap watched them all with wide eyes. When Charlie scooped him up and carried him to the den, they heard the television snap on, followed by Monty complaining about the noise.
Luda Mae sat and talked with her friends as Amarie cleared the table. Before she finished, they turned the talk to discussing Thomas – who had eaten his food downstairs, carried to him by Henrietta.
“I swear if I didn’t bring Tommy a plate now and then, I’d forget he was down there,” the frail young woman commented, shaking her head sadly.
Henrietta’s short-cropped hair was a change and Luda Mae wondered if Wilma had cut it. Yet the severe style suited her somber gray dress, just as well as her mother’s more colorful floral dress matched her rich brown hair, worn in curls around her head.
The colorful Wilma asked, “Cain’t you get him upstairs a little more, Luda Mae?”
“Amarie makes him shy,” she replied, giving the girl a pat on the hand when she rejoined them.
“Such a pretty thing,” Wilma muttered. “My, my…”
“Yes,” Luda Mae answered, her smile proud. “I never had me a daughter.”
Henrietta looked Amarie over approvingly. “You look settled in, sweetie; it’s good to see. You were so tired and nervous when I first met you.”
“Did he like the food?” Amarie asked. Her fingers toyed with the edge of the white lace tablecloth, her eyes demurely downcast.
“Tommy? I expect so, though I didn’t stay long.”
“Does he talk to you?”
“No, sweetie, he don’t talk, not that I ever heard.”
Luda Mae sipped her water, her fingers holding the Mason jar firmly. “I told her she could ask questions now, if you two didn’t mind. Thought maybe it was time she knew a little more ‘bout her brother.”
“Well,” Wilma began, “it started when he was just a tiny boy.”
Henrietta replied, her voice a sympathetic whisper. “Skin disease, poor thing.”
Luda Mae took over the story and told most of it in order, sparing few details on her blighted son’s deformity, while avoiding the more upsetting truths of the family’s past.
Amarie paled, but her expression was sad and pitying, not disgusted. That hopeful reaction led her to tell more – about the school days filled with torment and ridicule.
Thomas had often skipped school to escape the cruelty of his classmates, only to have the local bullies cut classes to harass him at home. Then she told the worst of it – the horrified rejection of the girls, and the vicious taunting they had begun that continued for years, which only encouraged the boys to more and more debasing behavior.
“That’s what the school taught my son,” she finished, her knuckles white on her glass. “He learned how to fear folks his age and eventually, how to hate ‘em back.”
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry! Is – is that why he won’t come up to meet me?”
Henrietta reached out to stroke her shining blonde hair. “We know you wouldn’t be unkind, sweetie, but he has such a hard time trustin’ strangers. Just try to be patient with him, and he’ll see you don’t mean no harm.”
~ ~ ~
Luda Mae turned out the light and was almost out the door when Amarie spoke from the bed.
“You said he’d be afraid o’ me, said it days ago. How can I help him know I won’t hurt him?”
“You’re so young, child. My boy’s thirty years old now, but in a lot o’ ways he’s younger than you are, closer to little Jedidiah in how he thinks and feels, much o’ the time. He’s known nothin’ but grief from people who look just like you for so long and it’s hard for him to understand.”
“Ain’t there nothin’ I can do?”
“Ask me again in the mornin’, Amarie, it’s late now. I can tell you this, and maybe it’ll calm your mind. You ain’t seen him, but he’s seen you. My Tommy’s been watchin’ you pretty close since you came. We think he’s curious ‘bout you, and that’s a start.”
She closed the door softly and took a deep breath before going down the hall. The girl was sympathetic, eager to please, and curious herself. Luda Mae sighed.
Maybe there’s hope yet. I’d so love to see my boy smile.
Water dripped everywhere. Would it puddle, rise, and flood, as it had at the foot of the stairs? Thomas shook his head. It didn’t matter.
Momma’s keepin’ the girl, keepin’ her alive, keepin’ her…
The younger woman, the thin one they called Henrietta, had come and brought him food. Knowing she wouldn’t leave until he ate, he had begun to pick at it, nibbling a little. When her eyes had left him, he could breathe again.
Now the food lay neglected on the floor near his bed, to be nibbled by insects, and perhaps later by rats. Sinking down onto the bed, he listened to it creak as he pulled his body into a tight curl, scarred and bloody arms around his knees.
The cuts still hurt, yet the urge to retrieve the knife again rose. It was far away, on the work table. Closer, within reach of an outstretched hand, the chainsaw was perched on its rickety table of bone and skin.
Momma would be angry if he used that. When he’d had the last accident, falling, the chain blade slicing into his shoulder, she’d been terribly angry.
Get up. Get the knife.
Utterly mesmerized by the saw, he didn’t move. For hours, he stared at the black outline of the thing that had so changed him, hearing its music in his mind.
Eventually, growing hunger drove him up, but he didn’t leave his bed. Reaching for the cold plate, he laid it beside him. One flick of a finger dislodged the only creature that hadn’t run, and then he lifted the hunk of cooked meat and bit into it, chewing and swallowing mechanically, without enjoyment.
They’re keepin’ her…