Winter – Chapter 21 – 01

            The wind started howling out of the north an hour before dusk.  The sound of it set J.T.’s teeth on edge and made every muscle tighten.  Tight muscles sent new fire lancing through his shoulder.  Even the bottle of brandy he’d obtained from their stores of supplies at Rory’s suggestion didn’t take the edge off.  Sleep had come slowly, fitfully, but it had eventually claimed him.
            The coming storm hit with all its fury just after full dark descended.  One second, it was only the howling wind, the next the sleet and snow began, like tiny knives from the sky.  J.T. had come awake at Carolyn’s prodding, schlepping over to the fire to have some dinner as the storm raged.  They ate in shifts, and after the last, some of the others headed to batten down the hatches while others headed to bed or various other nocturnal tasks, leaving J.T. seated next to the fire with Phelan, Jacqueline, and a pot of tea.
            Jacqueline glanced between the two men and unfolded from her seat on the ground near the fire.  “I’m going to go check on Thom and Marin and make sure everything’s okay with them.”
            “They should be in their shed,” J.T. said, trying to smother a yawn.  “I told Marin it’d be okay to help him there after he woke up.”
            “They’re already there,” Jacqueline said.  “I heard him swearing every step of the way, the big baby.  He acted like they shot him in the leg, not the side.”
            J.T. chuckled weakly.  “Probably muscles.  Remember, everything’s all connected.”
            Jacqueline snorted. “I still say he’s acting like a big baby.”  She stooped to pour two cups of tea before she headed off, away from the fire and the tent where it backed up against one edge of the shed-city and down one of the ‘corridors’ between the sheds.
            Phelan shook his head as J.T. stretched and leaned back against a bin of clean dishes.  “She shouldn’t go so hard on him when he’s actually admitting to being hurt,” Phelan said as he reached for the kettle.  “If she keeps ragging on him, he’s never going to admit to being hurt and eventually, it’ll get him killed.”
            “Why, because he’ll quietly bleed to death?”  J.T. asked, lifting his head from where it drooped against his chest.
            “Because his wife will kill him,” Phelan said, setting one mug of the steaming brew near the fire before he poured a second.  One hand dipped into a pouch hanging from his belt and he crushed a pair of dried leaves into one of the mugs before handing it to J.T.  “Drink that.  Maybe it’ll do the trick where the brandy didn’t.”
            J.T. sniffed the mug, but all he could smell was the heavily spiced black tea.  “I don’t want to know what this is yet, do I?”
            “Probably not.  It’s scribbled in the back of Jac’s herbiary.  I’ve used it before and it seems to do the trick.  Has in the past, anyway.”  Phelan settled down nearby, the fire making his hair glow against the darkness.  “You’re unnerved.”
            “I’m always unnerved when the ghosts come,” J.T. said.  He sipped his tea and tried to ignore the howling of the wind, noise that sounded too much like the shrieking of the ghosts that had saved he, Carolyn, and Drew from the camazotzi months before.  “Regardless of why.”
            “You don’t need to fear them,” Phelan said quietly.  “They’re here to help you.  If they weren’t, I’d tell you.  The ones that have stayed, the ones that decided to linger, they made a choice, Jameson.  They decided not to cross this time.  I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you that you’ve got nothing to fear from them.”
            “I try not to,” he said quietly, eyes focusing on the flames.  “But that doesn’t mean that I’m not terrified half the time.”
            “Everyone’s terrified,” Phelan said, shaking his head briefly.  “Every last one of you, and I don’t blame any of you for it, either.”
            J.T. glanced at him.  “Everyone?”
            “Everyone,” Phelan said.  “Including me.”

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