Her son’s harrowing story had left everyone convinced that the Lewis house would be targeted next, but when three, four, five quiet nights passed without incident and Paige and Wilma continued to improve Daphne no longer knew what to expect. It was easier to live in terror than to wake up every morning wondering if the soldiers would come back today.
Sometimes when Felix and Wilma were fighting over a toy or Paige interrupted Daphne’s train of thought to once again tell her how to properly boil a pot of tea or brush the dirt out of Lemon’s hair Daphne fantasized about walking away from it all for an afternoon. She wouldn’t come home again until just before Ephraim and Isaac expected dinner. The pain in her knee was receding, and while it was still quite stiff she was slowly learning her new limitations. Walking short distances wasn’t too painful, but the long, peaceful hikes she’d grown accustomed to as a single woman living alone were quickly becoming a distant memory.
Before the storm Daphne and Lemon had regularly gone a week or two without seeing anyone other than Nevaeh. Now her small, brown adobe was littered with sleeping mats, and her once-tidy front yard was strewn with travelling tents, racks filled with vegetables in various stages of the drying process and the rocks Felix insisted were the foundation of an impenetrable fort. It was easier to let him run out into the desert and gather them up than to force him to sit quietly while his sister napped and the adults worked.
“You’re not cutting the carrots uniformly,” Paige said as she set down her own knife and walked over to Daphne’s side of the outdoor kitchen. “They won’t dry properly if they’re not all the same size.”
Daphne paused for a minute, raised her eyebrow at the older woman, and then looked down at the thin slices of carrot on her cutting board.
“I’m cutting them the same way I have for thirty years.”
“Well, it’s not the right way. Let me show you how it’s really done.” Daphne bristled as Paige reached over, took her knife and began cutting the carrots into thin slices.
“They look identical to me.”
“Well, they’re not. If you – ” Paige’s latest monologue was cut off by the sight of Felix bolting back into the yard. When he’d caught enough breath to respond to their questions he told them what he had seen. While looking for material to add to his fort Felix had noticed a boulder shimmering in the sun. As he stepped closer to it part of the rock disappeared and was replaced with the surprised face of a young woman lying on her stomach. No sooner had he seen her than she disappeared and the surface of the large rock reappeared.
No matter how many times the women questioned him Felix’s answers remained the same. No, this wasn’t a game and he hadn’t been feeling ill. Yes, he had been drinking enough water and he was sure of what he had seen. Paige’s response to his story was to hurry back to into the house and pray. She’d been horrified to discover that Daphne didn’t have a personal altar and had quickly assembled a simple one for the family. In the 15 years since Bonnie passed away Paige had only missed a handful of daily blessings for her final and favourite wife.
Daphne bit her bottom lip and continued slicing carrots as she talked to Felix. Paige’s tendency to do and say things before she thought about how they affected other people had irritated Daphne for years, but she had a tough time saying no to a neighbour who had already lost so much. Was there a way to ask Paige to dismantle the altar without hurting her feelings? Daphne hoped she could figure it out soon.
Lemon started barking as soon as the soldiers began creeping into Daphne’s yard. Paige and the children had gone to bed early, and at first Daphne tried to shush him so he wouldn’t wake them up. When she heard boots crunching through the pebbles in front of her door an old memory flooded Daphne’s mind.
“Stay here,” the brown, wrinkled, old man said the last time she saw him alive. The shouts in the yard grew louder as he shut her into the pantry and hurried to the front door. At any other time of year there would have been too much food stored in there for a near-adult to hide, but the last harvest had been poor and their supplies were dwindling.
“We know she’s in there,” a man shouted. “Give us to her and you won’t be harmed.” Her harvest had been mediocre as well, and when you combined that with the rash of disease and other misfortunes it was easy to deduce that something – or someone – had angered the gods. While it was true that Daphne didn’t exhibit any physical signs of troubled past lives or multiple souls peering out of her troubled brown eyes, orphans and outsiders were easy suspects at times like this. Carl’s granddaughter was both.
“Calm down, Bonnie,” her grandfather said. “I’m unlatching the door now and coming outside. We’ll talk about this like adults.” Daphne heard him unlatch the door and step outside. Her heart pounded as brusque words flew between them at a frequency too low for her to make out.
A knock at the door. Isaac leapt up to answer it while Daphne wrapped her arms around Lemon to subdue his nervous energy and Ephraim stood guard. At first no one knew how to react when the door swung open and a tall, thin soldier with a black eye asked if she and her men could come in and talk.