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Xenolith, Page 66

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 57: Leaving Idala

  Mosquitoes flitted up the stuccoed wall, hauling their turgid, ruby abdomens towards the open window above Frank’s head. The sun, when it came, flared through the opening, casting beams and shadows against a wall, blank but for two pegs suspending a whisk broom and a tarnished sword.

  Frank lay on a dense mattress, awash in the scent of hay and hide accented with hints of spice and perfume. The stillness of the room amplified its smallest sounds: the gentle cluck and scratch of a hen, a rhythmic hiss and whistle emanating from somewhere over his shoulder. The chill breeze wafting against his patchwork blanket overruled the pressure building in his bladder. He found no reason to budge from this island of warmth.

  Head muddled, Frank had only the vaguest sense of his location, but he didn’t force the issue. He just waited for more synapses to crackle to life and burn through the confusion.

  He remembered drinking that vile brew of reconstituted toad. Then, palpitations cranking up like popcorn popping in his chest. Clearly, the tea was spiked with a potent stimulant – the last thing his rhythm-challenged heart needed. It had been months since he’d even had a cup of coffee, never mind a drink containing the equivalent of a mega-dose of crystal meth.

  But now his circulation purred like a twelve-cylinder engine. Something had settled him down, even before the drug had time to wear off, and it wasn’t any bolovo. Idala had somehow equilibrated his heartbeat, even as it throttled out of control under the thrall of a mystery stimulant.

  He remembered being distressed by the sight of Idala unrolling her leather-bound collection of dowels. But these were not meant for impaling. Tezhay had taken offense when he saw Frank cower; scolding him for even thinking that anyone but the Venep’o would practice such cruel medicine.

  Idala had held them in her fingers like tripled chopsticks, and as he lay on his stomach she straddled him and pried their blunt points between the vertebrae of his neck and upper back, six points at a time, spreading them in varying arrangements, working between the interstices of his muscles, until somehow, impossibly, his galumphing heart found its lost rhythm and a sleep deferred for too many days found him.

  He remembered snatches of his dream: Liz walking just out of arm’s reach on the river road, drifting further ahead as a mud patch sucked at his shoes. The mud caked and weighed him down, and she drifted still further until she had faded away to a dot, silhouetted on a high hilltop against the sky.

  Frank heard a soft snuffle behind him. He rolled over to find Idala beside him, eyes closed, lips parted in a snaggly smile. He bolted up, and saw that she was not the only person in bed with him. A small toddler lay on the other side of her and yet another somewhat older boy nestled across the foot of the bed.

  Tezhay stepped into the room.

  “Tezhay! Tell her … I didn’t mean to fall asleep in her bed,” said Frank. “I just dozed off. You all should have woken me.”

  “What … you think everyone has bed for himself?” said Tezhay, shrugging. “She does not mind sharing her bed. Is normal. You lucky. I sleep with two old men and their dogs. Someone, maybe all them, had fleas.”

  Frank climbed up off the bed and onto a stool, and noticed he was naked from the waist down.

  “Tezhay, where are my pants?”

  “Idala took them. They too filthy,” said Tezhay. “She send them to wash.”

  “I would appreciate it if you could help me find my pants,” Frank said, teeth clenched. He crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap to cover himself.

  Tezhay grabbed a cloth wrap from a neatly folded pile on a table and tossed it over to Frank. “Wear this for now,” he said.

  Frank tucked the cloth around his waist like a towel after a shower.

  “Today we start travel to Raacevo,” said Tezhay. “Teo say there is some exile there. So we go, find you some of you people, you be happy, yes?”

  “I suppose,” said Frank. “But then what? What about you?”

  “Me? I return Ubabaor. I need to tell some people what Eghazi has done.”

  “But without me?”

  “Of course. Last time was special case,” said Tezhay. “Now, too many eyes see, if you go back. Make trouble.” Tezhay shook his head. “I don’t know why you not go home when I let you. Gi is crazy place now. Dangerous.”

  “I don’t recall you mentioning that part,” grumbled Frank.

  “What you mean? You know we have war,” said Tezhay.

  Frank stewed on his predicament, struggling to find an aspect that would make him feel better about his choice.

  “This Raacevo place,” he said. “Is it anything like Piliar?”

  “Nothing is like Piliar,” said Tezhay. “I would forget about Piliar, if I was you. You will never see it. Is too far. Too dangerous for travel.”