The Grey City VII

Wednesday June 16, 2004 @ 04:01 PM (UTC)

The Grey City I
The Grey City II
The Grey City III
The Grey City IV
The Grey City V
The Grey City VI

Carys was as tired as her sister when at last their flight rolled to a stop, and they dropped their burdens to lean against each other panting and almost sobbing.

“Carys,” mumbled Eirian, “I want to sleep. I want to sleep somewhere. Maybe a lilac bush, but I want to sleep…”

“You’re right dear, hush. You’re right. We’ll go to sleep, and in the morning we’ll find Hardock Street and our aunt and uncle.” Eirian, unaware of the menaces of Runners and being Moved On that haunted her sister, and evidently too tired to imagine other dangers, promptly sat down on a dry patch of roadside and laid her head on the carpet-bag. “No, darling, we must find somewhere out of the way,” murmured Carys, and pulled the stubborn Eirian up with aching arms. Dragging the little grumbling burden, who trailed the carpet-bag, by the right hand, and latching the left one to the handle of the suitcase-trunk, Carys transported the entire party through main force to a ramshackle garden gate. It leaned against its fence, which leaned against a weathered shed, which leaned against a brown-grey house, much in the manner of the carpetbag against Eirian against Carys. Carys eyed the gate, wondering what greater comforts might be afforded by a homely garden than this waste of side-yard, filled with discards from the house, but at last set down her luggage and her sister in the open shed. She lay down, warmed by Eirian’s head on her knee and by mother’s best cloak from the trunk, still smelling faintly of love and lavender.

Above the children’s heads, the old shingles of the shed creaked in the wind, and the fog cleared to show a paltry handful of stars in a deep sky. The light of the city faded as even the privileged sought their beds, and only the befouled wind roamed abroad, trying to outrun its own smell.

That wind ran cold and rough through the branches of trees and the bristling fur of animals, and, near where the girls slept, a pair of curs, like the sisters curled for warmth, woke with the shiver of it on their cold noses. The city’s smells were known to them, but there was something else on the night wind, and they uncoiled with curiosity and malice. So it was that Carys woke from a dream that swayed and whistled like the ship to a nightmare of sound, the half-seen gleams of teeth and wide eyes, and the tense strain of dark-furred muscles against the feeble garden gate.

Eirian was awake, too, though from her clouded stare and courageous composure Carys was certain she must think herself dreaming. The dogs could be through the gate at any moment, and the child was picking up a stick! Whether to defend herself or enveigle the attackers into a game Carys did not consider or care, and at once grabbed the entire household — Eirian, carpetbag, suit-trunk, and stick — and entrained it in her flight, as a gust of wind does drops of rain.

Gasping, but far from the continuing clamor of the dogs and the clatter of waking people, Carys stopped pulling her sister along, and Eirian turned on her with a disgusted look. “They were only dogs,” the little one said, “and they were behind a gate.”

“Never mind that now,” Carys said with a slightly exasperated sigh, “Let us find another place to sleep.” She was weary beyond words, and beyond argument. She looked around, and was surprised to see a familiar violet-grey house. “Come, Eirian. We’ll sleep under the mad lady’s lilac bush.” She trudged toward the side of the house, where a white picket gate stood, and hoped that Ferdie did not sleep in the backyard, as if she started and ran at a tiny terrier, Eirian would never forget it.

It seemed a long way across the damp grass to the gate, and Carys, recalling faintly the bent old woman’s terror, cautioned Eirian to silence. They crept forward, and Carys began to hear a sound. A series of cascading plops succeeded a dull ‘thunk’, again and again, and louder as the picket gate grew nearer. The sound was quite close as Carys put one hand against the painted wood and brought her eye close to the gap between the planks.

The garden beyond was a shadowy thing, painted in the weak light of stars and a waning moon. Movement, she saw first, and then a flurry of tiny shapes against the sky; someone was digging, and throwing the dirt over her shoulder. The moonlight crept down to the figure, as if urged by Carys’s thoughts beyond its own inclinations, and showed a straight, strong old woman, digging briskly in a hole already up to her waist. Carys closed her eyes. She knew not why she did so, and not until she had softly, silently drawn away her puzzled sister, did she remember, or let herself see, the large, still shape next to the hole, wrapped in a shabby greatcoat.

The Grey City VIII


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