The sun went dark for no reason. Thom’s heart thudded against his ribs, skipping beats as he dropped what he was doing. His instincts said this was bad. The hairs stirring on the back of his neck told him it was worse.
Someone was shouting near the southern edge of the walls, down near the ravine. He wasn’t sure who it was; he was still too far away from the voice.
He ducked outside, into the bright, white cold of winter. The sky was clear, but the sun was dark. That could only mean one thing.
Pain blossomed in his arm in a line, blood welling from a slash that seemed to come out of nowhere. He bit back a curse.
He could hear someone—Carolyn?—shouting that they were inside.
They. The shadows without form, the things that he used to be able to see in all of their ugly glory. He couldn’t anymore, now they were just formless shadows—when he could perceive them at all. Sometimes he couldn’t, and it’d been getting steadily worse all winter. He and Marin didn’t talk about it.
Marin. Where was she?
He grabbed the first person rushing past him. Leah, her eyes haunted as she ran not toward the walls, but from them. “Where’s Marin?”
“At the ward lines,” Leah answered, then tugged free and disappeared between shelters. Thom suppressed a curse and turned to run.
Something hit him square between the shoulderblades, pitching him forward. All the air rushed out of his lungs and he hit the ground.
He could’ve sworn he heard something laughing above him.
He snapped back to himself at the sound of J.T.’s voice, looking blearily up at his friend. “…where were you?”
“We were walking,” J.T. said. “Didn’t mean to miss food. That oatmeal? This late in the day?”
“For Matt,” Thom said, forcing a smile at Carolyn as she sat down next to him and put the hot water kettle on the fire. He looked up toward J.T. again. “You might want to have a look at him. The radio kind of exploded while he was using it.”
Carolyn winced. “That must’ve been the sound we heard.”
J.T. nodded, grimacing. “Yeah…how bad was it, Thom? Could they…did they handle it okay?”
Thom swallowed a wry smile, nodding. “Jac and Leah did fine, but you may want to have a look. Matt’s going to have I-75 on his hand for the rest of his life, I think.” Thom saw J.T. wince and shook his head a little. “Really, Jay. They did a good job. Jac’s got him resting now and Marin’s with him. I said I’d watch the fire until someone relieved me.”
Carolyn glanced at Thom as she got ready to brew up a pot of tea. “How’d it happen?”
Thom shook his head. “I’m not really sure. A lot of static, then the radio went and Matt’s stumbling away from it, screaming.” He rubbed his chest lightly at the memory, wincing. The pills he’d swallowed had taken the edge off his discomfort, but they still hurt from catching Matt full-on in the chest. “I’d heard the static and was on my way to check what the hell was going on.” He glanced down at his hands. Dried blood was still caught in the deeper cracks in his palms, under his nails. He grimaced. “…y’think you two could watch the fire for me? I need to finish cleaning up.”
Carolyn stared at him, then looked at his hands. Her eyes widened. “Oh. Oh Thom.”
He shook his head quickly. “Right place, right time. I helped control the bleeding until Jac got there, then I helped control Marin after Jac got there.” He set aside the stick he used to tend the fire and started to get his feet under him. “Just didn’t get as cleaned up as I’d have liked.”
J.T. studied his friend, then nodded slightly. “You okay?”
Thom shrugged with one shoulder as he started to hobble away from the fire. “Will be. Ribs hurt, but that’s because I caught Matt on the way to the ground. I’m sure it’ll get better later. Pills took the edges off.”
“So you finally took them?”
He winced. Everyone must’ve known I wasn’t. Damn. “Yeah. Jac made me feel like an ass because I hadn’t been.”
J.T. grinned broadly. “Good.”
“Et tu, Jay?”
His friend waved a dismissive hand as Carolyn handed him a mug of tea. “If she didn’t make you take them soon, I was just going to start force-feeding them to you. Go on, get out of here. We’ve got this.”
Thom grunted and started limping away. Their voices came to him as he headed for the laundry buckets, where he could use some of the spent water to scrub his hands.
“He didn’t hear what happened out there? We were, like, thirty feet away.”
J.T.’s voice was grim. “He was a thousand miles away when we got over here, Care. Marin doesn’t hear anything when she gets that look, why should he?”
Thom winced, unable to smother it, and started moving faster. He didn’t want to hear any more.
His skin prickled, then the feeling vanished. He shivered, looking around slowly. Nothing. No one near, except for J.T. and Carolyn behind him by the fire. Quiet, empty.
He took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, bowing his head for a moment and leaning heavily against his crutch. How was he going to do this?
How can I believe in what she—and the rest of them—can see or do without accepting it myself? He swallowed the bile rising in his throat. I don’t know. But I don’t have a choice. I’m not losing her. I can’t.
He kept walking.