The Fallowing – The Fourth, Part VI
by Steppen Sawicki
I don’t think I actually put in an explanation of Atsel’s watch. I was going to, but forgot. I’ll fix it in post.
Novel: Occult Adventure
Claire was pretty shocked to see us again so soon. On her front porch I held Sam’s wet clothes and coat in a store bag. Sam wore new clothes someone had bought from a Berber’s down the street from the bridge with some silver from Sam’s bag, which I noted on opening was still quite adequate even after buying me that watch.
“Sam fell in the river,” I said. “Don’t ask. We were wondering if your uncle could take another look at him.”
Sam had his arms folded, both from cold and from pouting. He hadn’t wanted to go back to the doctor, citing reasons such as he can make the hotel room safe and the children will be put in danger and Atsel will just trail us back and forth across town.
But I insisted on account of, you know, hypothermia after excessive blood loss.
Claire’s mouth worked for a moment, and the strange look on her face made me think she would say no. But then she stepped aside and motioned for us to come in.
I thanked the people who had driven us and gave them each a piece of gold from Sam’s secret stash, and Sam and I went inside.
Doctor Uncle shook his head when I told him Sam fell in the river but didn’t ask. Man of few words. He found a popped stitch over a bullet wound, a nice yellowing bruise on the right arm where Sam had struck the ice, and superficial frostbite on two of Sam’s left toes, frostnip on the rest.
“You don’t have to look so smug,” Sam said to me as the doctor finished his examination. He sounded tired, irritated, numb, everything at once.
“You could have taken care of it, I know. Don’t listen to him, doctor.”
The doctor only grunted and set to bandaging Sam’s foot. “Now this time I’ll insist you stay here tonight. I don’t want you walking on this.”
Sam and I exchanged a look. It said that neither of us could agree to that. Yes we’d be going back into the streets with Atsel waiting, but staying here risked four extra lives. We said nothing of this aloud.
I looked past Sam to Claire, propped up against the wall, holding gauze and ointment in her hands like the doctor had placed them in the hands of a statue. She was staring at the bandaging of Sam’s foot as if hypnotized by it, nothing in her eyes. As I watched her, her eyes turned robotically towards Sam’s face, and then all at once she noticed me looking and twisted her face away with a cough.
“Is everything okay, Claire?” I asked.
She glanced back at me with a forced smile. “Yes, just tired. Eventful day.”
“You’re telling me,” I said, and told her about all the people that helped when Sam came out of the ice. She tried to smile again but mostly failed. Sam was listening though.
“How much of my gold did you give away?” he asked when I had finished and the doctor and sullen Claire were leaving the room.
“You were hoarding it for some occasion,” I answered. “This is as good as any.”
“Maybe I was saving it for doctor bills.”
“Yeah,” I responded absently as I looked at his freshly bandaged chest, his newly bandaged foot, the bruise on his arm.
He looked away, unable to bear the scrutiny. A long minute stretched between us, but it wasn’t empty. My heart was still beating so hard and fast I wondered if Sam could hear it. I imagined falling over the railing of that bridge, expecting to hit solid ice and break an arm and leg and maybe the back but surviving surely, maybe. But instead cracking through the ice and plunging into that cold black water, trying to come up for air but the current already tugging, drifting downstream and the surface is only more ice. Trapped beneath the ice in the dark and the gripping cold slowly wrenching the air from you. You were going to die.
I tore my eyes from Sam and swallowed hard. He was still looking away, staring at the wall.
“Can you really make the hotel safe?” I finally got out.
He didn’t look at me. “The room, a small space, yes. Maybe. If I have enough strength left. Enough bab.”
“You can do it. I’ll help.”
He scoffed, and he turned just enough so that I could see the corner of his mouth twitch upward. “I don’t know if it works that way.”
“Surely it does,” I said, not sure what I was saying. “Surely what’s between us amounts to something.”
He looked at me then, but I didn’t get to hear his response. He looked past me and his eyes grew wide.
A clatter of metal sounded on the floor behind me. I flew out of my chair, my pistol springing to hand, and whipped around.
Claire was there in the doorway, looking down at her hands, and at the knife on the floor.
She looked up at us and tears began streaming from her eyes. She grasped at the doorway for support.
“I can’t do it,” she sobbed. “I can’t…”
She slid to the floor, sobbing, head in her hands.
“Claire,” I breathed, “what did he do?”
“He was in their room,” she choked out. “The kid’s room, sitting on Mary’s bed.”