The storm swept in within ten minutes of the first peal of thunder, rain falling in impenetrable sheets as lightning flashed and thunder rolled, shaking everything from the tent’s roof to the ground beneath our feet. Our meeting broke up after my unfortunate bout with a visionary’s gift rearing its fair head and Thom and I retreated together back into our cubby. One of J.T.’s kittens followed us, ensconcing herself in my lap and playing with the corner of my blanket. Near the fire, Matt was sorting out how to make toast without the proper camping tools for doing so, some of the others still with him. Most, though, had followed our lead and retreated back to their beds to try to get a little more rest as long as we weren’t trying to keep anything from blowing away—yet. The wind tugged at the tent’s walls, whistled up and under the eaves in the few spots were we hadn’t clipped the walls to the top, to keep fresh air flowing in and the smoke from the fires flowing out.
The sooner we have houses with fireplaces or stoves and chimneys, I decided, the better.
“You’re sure you’re okay?” Thom murmured in my ear after a long period of silence.
I nodded, ruffling the kitten’s ears. She was purring, butting her head against my palm. “Yeah,” I said softly. “I just…mostly it was just seeing what I saw a couple days ago, just faster, more in bits and snatches.”
I nodded again. “I don’t know when it’s coming or if it’s coming. Maybe it’s just my subconscious making shit up.” I don’t think it is, but at this point, I’m not sure. Lying to him hurt. I wanted to tell him the rest, what I’d seen about the walls, about the houses and everything he must have built—that he would build—but I held it back. “Hard to tell the difference anymore.”
“If it made you black out like that…Mar, you never black out like that. You look like you’re a thousand miles away sometimes, but you’ve never blacked out.” There it was, that undercurrent of worry in his voice. I suppose I couldn’t blame him for it. “I don’t like it, Marin.”
It scares me, too, Thom. I nodded a little. “I know.” I turned my face toward his neck and he exhaled quietly. Rain lashed against the roof of the tent, heavy, sounding more like pellets of ice than rain. I peeked toward the opening in the tent, though it wars hard to tell whether it was rain or hail through the smoke.
Greg Doyle eclipsed my view a moment later, easing into the dim light cast by the single lantern Thom and I had lit. He smiled weakly at us and gestured to the ground nearby. “Mind if I join you two?”
“No, of course not. Have a seat.” I curled my legs underneath me to give him a little more room to sit down. The kitten in my lap mewed at me, upset to have her perch move, then crawled around until she found a new position and curled back up again. I shook my head a little. Greg chuckled as he sat down.
“I think she likes you.”
“Well, we’ll know for sure when she starts bringing me dead rodents in the middle of the night.” I glanced toward the fire, where Greg had been sitting with my brother up until a few minutes ago. “Get tired of him swearing over burning his fingers?”
“Eh, I was underfoot and I can’t help with the toast when I’ve only got one arm to use.” He glanced toward Thom, then at me. “What happened before,” he said slowly, voice low, “that was what you talked about those couple times you talked about precognition and clairvoyance at the meetings, wasn’t it?”
I wasn’t sure he would remember. Those meetings were a long time ago. “Yes and no. It’s never happened quite like that before.” I glanced at Thom. He shook his head slightly, then shrugged.
I guess he’s okay with the discussion, then.
Greg just nodded slightly, settling down cross-legged, scratching the back of his neck with his good hand as he glanced around, making sure no one else was listening. “And a couple days ago? When you’d gone down in the ravine?”
I shivered, trying not to think about it. I’d rather just forget that happened, thanks. Wasn’t one of my finer moments. I exhaled through my teeth. “What about it?” I didn’t look at Thom, even though he shifted a little uncomfortably. He knew as well as I did whose fault that situation had been.
“No one else is talking, but you didn’t slip and get bruised up down there, did you?”
“No,” I said flatly. Does he know? Has he figured something out?
“Everything’s out of true,” he said quietly, shaking his head. His expression was maybe a little sad as he glanced away from Thom and I, toward the weeping sky. “The balance is broken and isn’t going to come back.”
My stomach flopped, crawling back on itself, trying to gnaw a hole out my spine. “How do you know?”
He just shook his head. “Everything that I spent ten, fifteen years looking for, the sense of the planet, of nature, of all of it…it finally came, except it came too late.” Greg gave me a wry smile. “I was walking my path without being able to feel, but you knew that when you met me—you and Kellin both.”
I just nodded a little. When Kellin and I had met Dr. Gregory Doyle, Ph.D at one of the early meetings of the campus earth-based religions organization—what a mouthful that had been, one I’d railed against, since it was an alternative religions group, but it was a fight I’d lost—we’d both mistaken him for a student like Drew, who’d come late to school after spending time working and doing other things before education became top priority. After talking to him for a little while, we’d learned that he taught biology and had been struggling with his own religious beliefs and identity since his late teens. Despite being completely blind to the metaphysical ebb and flow of nature, he’d found himself studying a more shamanistic path after graduate school. He’d been an exercise in contradiction—someone dedicated to a religion that believed everything had a spirit, but unable to feel the presence of those spirits. Kellin and I had known that pretty quickly after a walk around campus one night after a meeting.
“Something got you down there,” he said.
I didn’t deny it, just leaned into Thom, who tensed slightly. I felt him swallow.
“What was it?”
I shook my head. “Something that we thought was pretty benign but apparently turned angry when we started getting rained on by rocks.” I grimaced, rubbing my arm. The cold patch was still there and still achy, even if the coloration had mostly returned to normal. “Drew had more experience with them before everything.”
“Do you think there was a reason they hit you specifically?”
I shook my head even as my stomach flopped over. Had they targeted me specifically? “No,” I said, swallowing my doubt. “I was just a target of opportunity, I think. I was there, and so were they. I was alone and vulnerable. So they struck.”
Thom’s arms tightened around my waist. I tried to relax.
Greg nodded slowly. “That’s why Kellin put her foot down.”
“About people going down into the ravine alone? Yes. We’d always had the rule, it’s just…we didn’t always follow it.”
“Well, now we’ve got an object lesson as to why.” Greg hesitated for a moment, then said, “Not everyone quite understands why, though.”
I shrugged. “They don’t have to understand.” Not yet. “They just have to listen.”
“And when they start asking why?”
I really don’t have to have to be the one explaining that. I sighed. “I don’t know, Professor. I really don’t.” I paused a moment, thinking about what he’d said. “You can see things now, too?”
He shook his head. “No. But I can feel and sense now in the ways I’d always hoped to. In hindsight, maybe I’d have been happier blind.” He gave me another weak smile, then looked at Thom, then back at me.
I started to get up. “You two need to talk about the plans for the greenhouse. I’ll go give Matt a hand.”
“You don’t have to—”
I smiled at Thom and kissed his jaw gently. “You, sir, need to focus. I’ll bring back breakfast.”
After a moment’s hesitation, he nodded. “Don’t set anything on fire.”
I laughed and left them, trying not to think about what Greg Doyle had said and how quickly things would unravel the moment we had to explain the things that most of our thirty-some companions couldn’t see and exactly how much of an impact that had on our odds of survival.
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