Whoops. A few weeks back, I wrote “Torn” (654 words) for legal theft. This week (or last) that story demanded that I continue it. I don’t often ignore the demands of stories. This is a sequel piece, but I think it works all right without having read the first.
He was sick, but it was a good sick, the kind after which he felt better, the kind with which he was all too familiar. It sat in the corner of the carriage, its stink making him sicker, but he didn’t mind. He knew he’d have to be sick and sick again to feel well.
Slick complained. He complained because he said that they’d have to clean it up now. He should have been sick out the side, through the bars.
On Slick, he added to himself. And that last thought brought a quirk to the corners of his foul-tasting lips.
He had tried to wipe away the sick on his hand, but it hadn’t made it all go away.
The carriage trundled him along a road that was utterly unfamiliar, past tangles of bushes and trees more wild than anything in the gardens that he’d glimpsed over walls and through barred gates, wilder even than the tangles that grew at the edges of the farmer’s fields. They’d definitely carried him far away from the city that had been home.
Slick kept up a running babble, telling him about the caravan, about the people who traveled with him, about what they did.
They were entertainers. They made people laugh. They played instruments, sang, put on plays. The master was a fire-breather. Cheshire juggled. Hatter swallowed swords. Ace was a good chemist and had quick, cunning hands. He made people think that he was a Vatrin.
They kept a few animals too. His wasn’t the only cage. They had a white lion. Slim said that they had a cow with six legs. There were brightly colored birds, two of which could talk. They had a monkey that Blimp had trained to dance and pick pockets.
It was the unicorn’s cage that he rode in now. The unicorn had been saddled, and Gif was riding her.
He tried to catch a glimpse of the unicorn but Gif was near the back and out of sight. Slim laughed and said that he’d see her soon enough.
When the light began to fade, a call echoed down the line in several voices that made the carriages stop. Slim waved goodbye and left to help set up the camp.
It was nearly night and they had the meat skewered and over the fires before anyone came near him again, and then they came all at once. A man with a black coat was in the front, with Slim just behind him. Blimp was there was the monkey on his shoulder, a strange beast with a fluffy orange coat, a strangely human face, and little hands.
The boy kept to the back of the cage by the wooden wall and not the bars. They couldn’t reach him without coming into the cage if he stayed there.
The man with the black coat came up to the bars and peered in at him.
“Come here, runt.”
“Come here or you won’t eat for a week.”
A week was a long time to go without food. He inched toward the bars, but was sure to stay back by an arms’ length.
“Can you make your hands glow again?”
The boy hesitated.
“Come on, now,” the man in the coat groaned, “you ain’t going to make me threaten you every five minutes, are you? That’ll get awfully tiresome awfully fast. Might find I’m not nice when I’m tired.”
“Do it, boy,” Slim urged him.
So he raised his hand. He thought about wanting light. He thought about needing light. It began to glow.
When he’d been caught in their camp and he’d done this, they’d all taken a step back, but no one stepped back now, and the man with the coat leaned forward.
“How?” he asked.
“I just can,” the boy said, putting his hand down and letting the light go.
One of the men—he wore a robe with a hood that now hung down his back to expose black hair—came forward, twisting the lid off of a jar. He dipped his fingers into the jar. When he rubbed them together, the ends of his fingers started to glow a sickly green. He looked from his fingers to the boy and back again. “It’s the wrong color, Kohl.”
“Not the powder then.” Kohl was the man with the black coat. “Any other way?”
“Only the one that I know of—and one way to check.”
“Runt, let me see your hand,” Kohl barked, sticking out his own for the boy’s. “And no grizzling about it.”
The boy didn’t know what grizzling meant, but the man made it clear that he didn’t want the boy to refuse. He remembered the threat about a week of hunger pains so bad that he couldn’t move for them. He held out his hand and wasn’t quick enough to pull it back when the man’s shot forward. Kohl grabbed his wrist and twisted. The boy shouted. Then squirmed and fought when the robed man drew a knife. The man in the coat yanked the boy forward. His head smashed into the bars as his hand was jerked through a gap between them. The knife kissed his wrist, but then they let him go.
He groaned and didn’t get up, dazed from the collision.
“Light it now,” the man in the coat commanded.
The boy groaned again and drew his hand back, curled.
“Make your hand glow, runt!”
He tried. He told himself that he needed the light, that he wanted the light. He thought and wished. They shouted at him. He tried so hard that he began to sweat. For a moment the light fizzled around his palm, but then it went dark.
“What—what did you do to me?”
The man in the coat smiled. “Get him cleaned up. Get him bandaged up. Slim, you look after him. Get him well. I want him able to glow two nights from now when we pull up outside of Riverford.”
Time to beef up my security. Everyone stole from me this week. Below are the links to four more stories that use this same first line. Go see what my wonderful thieves did: