After the Storm: Part Forty-Three

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“No, she didn’t ask that,” Wilma said with a shrug.

Daphne sighed. There were times when the girl’s unusually concrete frame of mind made speaking with her difficult. Subtle nuances in the meanings of words or gestures that other kids picked up early weren’t easy for Wilma. Last summer she’d dragged two yowling cats to hide out in the barn after hearing Isaac casually referring to the fact that there was more than one way to skin a cat. It took more time than Daphne cared to remember to convince her that it was an idiom and the pets were safe.

But today Daphne was thrilled that Wilma needed extra prodding in unfamiliar conversations. Rey might know they have moved, but she didn’t know where they’d ended up. Yet.

The stone was still sending and receiving messages when she shooed the girl off to finish her chores before dinner. Wilma’s conversation was exactly how she had described it. There were no surprises, save for the fact that the girl’s spelling was even more atrocious than Daphne remembered. She was a little surprised Rey was able to make out some of the words.

What surprised her even more was how much the face of the stone had changed since it was last activated. The little buttons on it were larger and brighter. A few options had disappeared entirely, and of the ones that were left not all of them seemed to work any longer. The writing tablet section was still functional. The supply and personnel lists were not. Most curiously of all, the button that once included a series of stories about what was happening in the capital hadn’t been updated at all since the last time the stone stopped working.

After spending a long day surrounded by other people it was actually kind of nice to sit quietly and play around with this puzzle. It was like a book whose pages never stayed the same, except that books never needed to be left in the sun to give them energy. An old word flitted around in the back of Daphne’s mind.

Newspaper.

They had been a kind of book she read about once, but she didn’t remember their characters moving around as much as this one did.

“Does Lemon still like cheese?” The message startled Daphne. “I’ll bring some for him if he does.”

She stared at the screen for a minute. The three-letter answer would be so easy to type out, but what little Daphne knew about the soldiers made her hesitant to give them any information. Lemon had unintentionally intimidated them before, and as soon as he recognized their scents she had no doubt he’d try to lick them to death again.

“Wilma?” The screen blinked. Had a real person been standing in front of her it would have been terribly rude to ignore them. Words weren’t people, though, and Daphne’s conscience only stung her a little as she wrapped the stone in a clean cloth and took it inside without a word.

***

Waiting was the hardest part of this chapter in her life. Daphne had routinely gone days – if not weeks – without speaking to anyone in years past. She’d enjoyed the long, quiet days of rest during the worst heat and the short, busy ones when it was time to plant or harvest. Back then there had been few things to anticipate. When she felt restless she went on long walks at dawn or dusk. On the rare occasions she was lonely she’d go on a short visiting tour, only stopping to see those who’d been kindest to her.

It still felt odd sometimes to wait for the world to come to her. Had the sheriff visited Henry yet to see how serious his threats were? How quickly would Rey and her soldiers track down their new home? Or would she assume they’d died off like so many others? Was there any recent news about the resistance that Avery had told the Reeds since the last time she’d seen them?

Would the baby ever grow into her name? Daphne knew her opinion didn’t count, but she thought it was silly to give such a long one to someone so small. Better to start out with something simple and change it once the kid was old enough to warrant so many syllables. Of course, what else would she expect from a woman who decided that Rosamund was a good name for a burro?

One of these days she would have to start using it, though. The baby was beginning to recognize it as something that belonged to her and her only.

Isaac went back onto the road soon after Wilma’s conversation with Rey. He was never happy in the same location longer than a few weeks. There were only so many places to visit in the valley, though, so Daphne knew she’d see him again soon. The baby grew. Paige shrank even further into herself. It felt like winter would never end.

And then one day the sheriff came walking up the path to Mariposa’s house. He carried a grim smile on his face and a worn satchel over his left shoulder.

 

 

 

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