A thousand pleas of forgiveness could not soothe what Luna felt. Guilt and anger were in an endless collide, her emotions a raw tug-of-war as she bandaged up the feral. She cursed through gritted teeth, through the pain in her stomach, and Dragon kept cowering in the corner. The little girl was half-lifeless, listlessly whimpering as tears rolled down her face.
She had lost so much blood in the struggle. The feral had fought with tooth and nail, biting and scratching as best she could. Large, ugly bruises were forming on parts of Luna's hands and arms; she was lucky the filthy teeth hadn't broken through. Dragon had gone to town on the child, a significant gouge in her side that would probably need stitches. Only, Luna couldn't find any stitches in her inventory; had she dropped them? Used them up? Had them stolen? So much time had passed, most of it in a haze of pain from her stomach. It was only through sheer force of will that her ward was given first aid.
Tightening her jacket around the feral's wounded side, Luna shivered, crawling back towards Dragon. In the cramped cleft she'd found in a wall, they had stayed for hours as Luna worked furiously. With the little girl's breathing growing more shallow, Luna prayed she'd make the night. Wild child or not, Jim's words rang not in her mind; she'd take care of the little one, no matter what people said. Probably like her, the girl had no parents, forced to raise herself as a wild animal might to survive. It wasn't her fault she wasn't educated, or that such a savage lifestyle was the only thing she could afford.
Luna closed her eyes, breathing shakily, deeply. Now that her focus and adrenaline had worn off, the pains in her belly grew worse and worse. Face squeezing up in pain, the teenager clutched at her self, curling into a ball as she lay against Dragon. Was it just her, or did he seem thinner than usual? She could feel his ribs, multiple and firm against her cheek. The dog whined, licking at his mistress's face; Luna reached over and patted him on the head.
Her mind tried to drift elsewhere, but her hurt, and her equally sore thoughts, kept her awake. It was only until sheer exhaustion and strained pain tolerance took over did she black out.
In the black, there was white.
In the white, there was form.
In the form, there was familiarity.
She was standin' in the colds, standin' where her cave did be, all a little littl'un and sniffin' like 'un. She was all teary-teary and sadfaced, and she didn't wanna go back into that scary cave, 'cause that was where Momma was. Momma and the beastie, there was, and the monster had burst outta Momma and Momma had cried 'til no more. All lone, lone by herself, and she was gettin' rumblies in the belly and stuff. Momma wouldn't come out, 'cause the beastie had gots her, and now the little littl'un had to take care of lone self now. Her sides was hurty, hurty from all the cryin', and it was so cold.
But she waited for Momma, just in case Momma was all right. Just in case it was a bad dream, and Momma was gonna be okay. Momma didn't come, though, so she stops waitin' and she goes, and walks off like that, 'cause Momma wasn't comin' out. Momma was gonna sleep now, and sleep forever, 'cause Mommas sometimes had to do that.
All she had to her name was a sharp stick and her wits. She was the untamed and unbound, who scurried between rocks and over rubble to find her next meal. Whatever still existed in the snows of endless winter was hers to hunt, to scavenge, to find. All else would be death, whether at her hands or the hands of others.
We hunt and eats and you givvit what's ourses. Your hunting sticks ours, and your foods ours, and everythin' else givvit and ours. Yous gots nothin' to hideaway, because we finds all, we finds lot, and you givvit.
Now here's where I be standing, because it be safe, and it bes mine. I have my stick, all sharp and nice-like, and theys gots nothin'. I been here a while, after lotsa walkin', because I didn't wanna stay around Momma. Momma is gone, 'cause the beastie gots her, and I don't want the beastie to gets me.
"What's the beastie?"
Luna jerked awake. She flinched at a twinge in her stomach, hissing in pain as she slowly rose to a sitting position. Her eyes darted left, then right; feral was still there, Dragon was still there, they weren't outside... Had she been shorter? No, just a dream. Just a dream. Go back to sleep. Go back to sleep.
So that's what she did, turning over on her side and closing her eyes.
A mother lay dying, her hand clapsed in her daughter's. Amber eyes dewy and wide, Luna leaned over the gasping woman's, whose sky-blue eyes glazed with fading. The poison from outside was eating away at her, slowly but surely, and these were her last days. Patchy bruises covered her, and there was blood trickling from the edge of her mouth. Jim stood in the corner, blue eyes stony, dark fringe obscuring his eyes like a curtain; Stella II curled in upon herself by Luna. All were unable to do more.
That big, nasty, mean biggun. Biggun bitch, she was, with her bitch-doggy who was a bitch as well. Girl was a biggun too, no, an older'un; bigguns mean and nasty, evil evil evil... Enid try think-hard, but think-hard was hard. So sore and ouchie, from the bitch-doggy's bites... Had to get out, Enid had to get out! Get out, find new hunting stick, make it sharp and hurt her! Hurt the biggun, who Enid thought was a older'un, but not! Killy her dead, she would, Just you wait!
Enid writhed, trying to pull herself to her feet as Dragon stared —
The winter had been cold for the both them, and they had wandered around until they were near-frozen. Luna remained alone, at least until Dragon; Enid had found other ferals. Children. Wild people. They were unkempt and sniffling, angry and hungry, suspicious and greedy; Enid hadn't been one of them. Not until she assimilated for survival's sake.
"Hush, little sunshine..."
She turned towards the biggun. The evil, nasty biggun who was wakin' up. The biggun who was scarin' Enid, and who was gonna hurt her, she knew it!
"You are my...sunshine...my only sunshine..."
Enid froze. Sunshine?
"Happy...when skies are grey..."
Where'd she know the song? Who taught her the song?
"My only sunshine...my only sunshine..."
She was awake, but she wasn't. Was she? Yes...she was awake! The biggun was awake! Awake, but not awake before...how did she know? How did she know the Sunshine Song?
It was a stupid, little childhood song, but Luna knew it. It was special to the feral, like The Mockingbird Song had been to Alma and Kerry-Ann — especially Kerry-Ann. And then there was a song, about an old king named Cole, and it had been special to Luna. Had she heard it before with her father? A distant relative? One of her father's friends?
"Old King Cole was a merry old soul / and a merry old soul...was he, uh huh. He called...called for his bowl...and for his pipe..."
Her mother's hand was in hers again, milky-white and covered in bruises. The skin felt scarred but smooth, not a single hair left on it, and still bearing a wedding ring. Luna placed another of her hands over it, slowly firming her grip. Her mother's fingers felt so weak, it was like they would melt out of Luna's grasp altogether. The woman was too far gone to acknowledge her own children, murmuring almost-silently at the ceiling above.
All Stella Hamilton I wanted was her husband. All she could speak was his name.
The next time Luna woke, it was after a long, dark stretch. The confusing perspectives were no more, but Luna had to look around again to make sure she was back. Back in her own body, in her own mind, in what was left of her...sanity, she'd call it? No, that was too melodramatic. Recognition. The pain was making things hard to understand, that was all, and maybe she had a fever. It would certainly explain the dreams, Luna mused; the girl put a hand to her forehead. Was that warmth she felt?
Once she was able to focus, the teen slowly stood. On shaking legs she staggered, one foot at a time, towards her feral ward. The child appeared to sleep, but she could have always been playing possum. Falling to her knees, Luna began to look the girl over, blinking back an oncoming wave of dizziness.
The blood had stopped flowing, but Enid's body was pale and her breathing shallow. (How do I know her name?) A few experimental prods did not make her stir, not even when the tender bite wound was poked. Enid's pulse was still firm, but had slowed considerably while Luna was asleep. The teen kicked herself mentally; why hadn't she stayed awake? Didn't first response call for attending to the victim at all times? And it wasn't like Dragon was going to help any, being a dog and all...
Slowly, carefully, Luna scooped up her ward. The two couldn't stay in the shelter without Enid dying, Luna was sure. The snow had stopped falling, and it couldn't have been too deep, right? Everything kept getting packed down beneath, forming a firmer and firmer surface. Once the world thawed, flooding might be an issue — perhaps to the point of having to swim everywhere. Swimming in flooded streets? Ha! More like an ice rink...I think. I don't know. What's an ice rink again?
Lifting the child was harder than expected. As soon as Luna hefted, her stomach silently howled, and she almost dropped the feral. Dragon was staring at her, having not moved from where he lay. Part of him wanted to go over and support Luna, lick at her face and make sure she was okay; the other part, the dominant part, felt wary. The kick she had delivered was brutal, and by her fussing over the child, Dragon knew he'd done wrong. Would his mistress accept his help, or see it as another threat to the pup she now had?
But Luna persisted. Taking a weak breath, she slowly pulled Enid's body upwards, cradling it like a newborn babe. The girl was small, and light as a feather — young and underfed, most likely. Most ferals were, from what Jim told her, and why wouldn't they be? "Yous gots nothin' to hideaway, because we finds all, we finds lot, and you givvit."
Luna shook her head, only to nearly tip over and crumple against the small cavern's side. Catching herself, trying to keep her legs firm, she stiffly struggled towards the entrance. The air outside was like a blast to her sweating face, chilling her instantly and waking her up; Luna was grateful for that. Dragon padded after her, keeping a small distance; he still wasn't welcome.
They all call her a little'un. She ain't a little'un, in her mind; she was an older'un. An older'un scary as a biggun. A biggun! And they still bugged her, and they still were mean, and she kicked 'em and bit 'em and chases 'em away. She was strong, and Momma be proud of her. Enid was sure...
Wakey-time was odd. She was rockin', rockin' like Momma used t'rock, and off ground. She was all limp-like like a dead rabbit, and the biggun not know Enid wake up. Enid still hurty bad, but maybe she could get the jump on the biggun. Biggun sounded sick, and she walked odd; Enid could take her!
Biggun was slowin' down. Biggun was huffin' and puffin', like the big bad beastie from a somethin'-story. Enid was all tight-like, tight like rope, and she wait. She wait a good time, a long-good time, and made a fist. Biggun start to stumble up bad now, almost on knees.
Enid swung, yellin' loud. Biggun yelled too, droppin' Enid; it hurt. Hurt real bad, like bad beastie-doggy bit again. Enid roll an' kick, roll an' kick, drag self away, huff an' puff too. Both hurtin', hurtin' as snow fallin', Enid saw. Biggun held her belly, like she had a baby and was hurtin' for it, an' snow was fallin' faster and faster. She froze, eyes on the biggun, who was now on her back.
Blood on the floor. Beastie comin' out, hurtin' her and Enid runnin', runnin' outside as she hear the cryin'.
"What's going on over there?!"
Enid blinky at yell. She jus' see her Momma for a sec?
End Chapter Eleven: Dream
TO BE CONTINUED
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