ONLY GOOD SIME
BY KERRY LINDEMANN-SCHAEFER
As it turned out, Frevven had to settle for V'lissia as his Escort. By Sunday, Kurt had come down with a cold, coughing and sneezing miserably.
V'lis was barely able to suppress her annoyance at being dragged into something she considered a harebrained scheme at best.
"You sure you want to do this?" she asked softly in Simelan as they rounded the corner and headed for the church.
Frevven nodded, tight-lipped. Her skepticism was getting to him. He was beginning to wonder why he'd ever come up with this idea. Maybe they should just keep walking, pass by the church as if they were bound for someplace else? The bell in the steeple tolled noisily, calling the faithful to worship.
"Calling the faithful to worship?" That was the sort of thing his sister used to say.
V'lis shrank closer against him as they went through the open gate and towards the broad steps leading into the building. Their approach caused a bit of a commotion amongst the Gens standing at the top of the stairs, just inside the church doors. A man stepped forward, blocking the way.
"Where do you think you're going?" he demanded brusquely.
"Into the church. Your services are open to the public, aren't they?"
"Not to Simes, they ain't."
Lem Cabrell pushed his way through the gathering crowd. His eyes bugged with surprise when he saw Frevven, but he recovered quickly. "Let them in, Jody."
"We don't want his kind here."
"No," a woman agreed, with a scathing glance at V'lissia, "Nor the kind of woman who consorts with them, neither."
The ambient was growing uglier by the minute. If V'lis had been able to zlin some of the feelings awakened in the minds of the men by that woman's remark, she would doubtless have blushed. What was the matter with these people, anyway? Donors were Donors, not whores.
Lem put a placating hand on the other man's shoulder. "Now, Jody, they don't mean no harm."
Then the ambient slewed and skidded into a new configuration as Clarendon Richt appeared in the doorway. "What's going on here?" he demanded. His eyes narrowed as he caught sight of Frevven. "Oh, it's you, is it?"
The jarring dissonance in Richt's field set Frevven's teeth on edge. It was simply too high to be easily ignored, swamping the other Gens crowded around them. His nager outweighed V'lissia's, and she was a professional Donor, even if she was low field at present. Frevven calculated that Richt might almost have been a Second Order Donor.
Might have been a Second Order Donor? Where did I get that idea? he asked himself in surprise. The field strength was right, but it was still a ridiculous notion. Richt was a Church of the Purity clergyman. Such people never donated. It was against their beliefs.
He realized he'd been staring stupidly at Richt for the last couple of seconds. This wasn't getting him into the church.
"This is a public building. I'm wearing retainers. I'm not breaking any laws. Is there some reason why I shouldn't come inside?"
A smile spread slowly over Richt's face, but the man was ill at ease despite his pretense. "No, of course not. Everyone is welcome here." He gestured to the crowd to return to their seats. "Why should we mind if the servants of the devil wish to listen to the Word of God?" he said to his flock. "It will do them no good, in any case."
Amidst general muttering and grumbling, everyone went into the building. Lem stayed next to the channel, guiding him and V'lis to a pew near the back, where Janni sat clutching a prayerbook in her hands, white-faced. He sat down by his daughter, with a slight gesture of invitation at the empty places next to them.
Taking a seat, Frevven glanced surreptitiously around the church. Except for one small difference, he could almost imagine himself back in Chilton Lake. Over the altar, where he would have expected to see the familiar symbol of the Church of the Purity, there was a huge full-color replica of the symbol Janni had drawn so carefully for him not long ago.
Even though he had fully expected this to be the case, the reality still caused him a shock. Somehow, the symbol seemed to carry much more menace when it hung in full view, the focus of over a hundred pairs of eyes, and souls.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.
As the organ began playing the introduction to the opening hymn, Frevven automatically took a hymnal from the rack on the back of the pew in front of him, flipping through the pages as he stood up along with the rest of the congregation. Before he had located the proper page, he realized his lips were already forming the words to the familiar song. He stopped singing, staring at the printed music in his hand but seeing something else.
He and his sister, Jozanna, stepping forward from the rest of the choir to sing this very same hymn as a duet. The long skirt of his choir robe swishing against his ankles, making him feel set apart and dignified, dressed differently than the rest of the congregation. The altar steps vibrating under his feet as the organ played. His voice blending with Jozanna's in perfect harmony. For just a moment, he had seen a rare smile of peace and pride on his father's face, watching them from the first row.
The printed music blurred slightly before Frevven's eyes. He blinked quickly, wanting to dismiss the unwelcome memory. Jozanna had been so happy that day, so proud. The choir swept into the final verse and Frevven had to resist the impulse to sing along with them, just for old time's sake.
He shouldn't have come. This was too familiar. He didn't want to remember this. It was spooky, almost like visiting one's own grave.
"You okay?" V'lis leaned close, her whisper barely audible above the rustle of clothing as everyone sat down.
He nodded shortly. V'lis wouldn't understand. To her, all this would be gobbledygook, pious mouthings of unfamiliar words. What could she know of how it felt to actually believe what you were singing about?
Frevven forced his mind into a clinical detachment as the service continued, observing but no longer feeling. He noted similarities to the worship services he recalled from his childhood, along with some differences. Clarendon Richt's sonorous voice lent vibrate meaning to the responsive prayers, firing an enthusiasm amongst the worshippers that rather startled Frevven. The man had presence. During the silent meditation that followed the prayers, the ambient fairly crackled with expectation.
Richt's eyes scanned his congregation, hesitating for a moment on Frevven before they swept past. "The honor of reading this week's portion belongs to Farika Snow," he announced.
Mrs. Snow rose from her place in the front row and climbed the few steps to the reader's lectern. Such an honor often went to the parents of a child who had recently established as a Gen. Why was she being called? What had she done to deserve it?
She studied the open book on the lectern, finding her place with a decisive finger. "The Lord giveth me strength in battle," she read, her voice loud and clear. "My enemies He hath delivered unto me; the accursed ones He shall destroy. They cry for help-but no one saves them; to the Lord-but He answereth them not. I will crush them fine as the dust before the wind; like mud in the streets will I trample them down. For my heart is pure and the Lord is my salvation. Of whom shall I be afraid?"
As she continued to read, Frevven could almost see God striding across the earth, His face set in implacable fury as He destroyed every Sime He encountered. For who else were the accursed ones, if not the Simes? Every church member knew that, whether or not it was stated explicitly in the Holy Book.
Frevven shivered at the image of this vengeful God, almost able to believe it himself. It was so vivid that he seemed to see it above the altar, superimposed on the Salvation Church symbol, shimmering in the concentrated hatred of the ambient nager of the worshippers. God was angry, ready to wipe abomination from the face of the earth, ready to restore the world to His chosen ones, the Gens who remained faithful to Him.
God leered viciously as Sime bodies twisted in agony, trampled beneath His feet. And those Simes had the faces of terrified children, dying in First Need. God watched their death struggles. And He smiled in satisfaction.
No! Frevven shrieked to himself, closing his eyes in an attempt to blot out this awful image. No! This is not true! You have made of God an abomination!
"Believe! Believe, and ye shall be saved!" Richt was speaking now, and Frevven realized the entire image had been built up of nothing more substantial than the preacher's words, continuing the theme of Mrs. Snow's reading, and the belief of his congregation. "Believe, and your children shall be saved! They shall not go down into the pit; they shall not perish!"
Weeping and wailing and shouts of "Amen" punctuated Richt's words. Frevven sat still, frozen in place. The hatred had shifted, become a delirious sort of joy and frenzy.
Lem Cabrell shifted uncomfortably in his seat alongside Frevven. He didn't seem able to mesh with the rest of the ambient. He kept stealing surreptitious glances at the channel, as if wondering what Frevven thought of the entire show.
Janni rose to her feet along with a number of others, tears running down her face. "Yes, yes! Save us! Save us!" she shouted.
Frevven bowed his head. Forgive them, he wanted to pray. Forgive them. They don't understand. But to whom could he pray? To a God in which he no longer believed? To that God Who trampled Simes beneath His feet, laughing while He did so? To a God Who would condemn His children simply because they were Simes?
No, there was no one to whom Frevven could offer his prayers, no God that wouldn't reject his very being and existence. No God that didn't thunder damnation and despair.
Unable to endure it any longer, Frevven grabbed V'lis' wrist and ran from the building.
Once outside, he leaned against the gate post and tried to calm the beating of his heart.
"Frevven, what on earth is the matter with you? I thought you wanted to watch that service," V'lis said, one eye on the church door as if she feared someone would come after them.
"Didn't you see it? Couldn't you feel what was going on?" he said, drawing a shaky breath between his trembling lips.
"See what? A bunch of people acting like fools?"
Frevven just shook his head.
As he straightened up, he realized he still held the hymnal clutched tightly in one hand. Now what was he going to do with the book? Ah! Leave it by the gate. Someone would find it there, certainly.
As he bent to place the book on the ground, a pamphlet fluttered out from amongst its well-worn pages. Frevven picked it up automatically, meaning to replace it in the hymnal.
"DON'T TURN YOUR CHILDREN OVER TO THE DEMONS!" it thundered in bold, black type. Fascinated, Frevven kept reading. "If you think your child may be in changeover, bring him to the Watchkeepers, not the Sime Center. Don't risk your lives and your eternal souls. We can help you. Don't turn to the demons when the trial is upon you. Come to us."
He crushed the paper in his hand and was about to throw it to the ground. Instead, he stuck it in his pocket.
He had the horrible feeling that he now knew for sure where the missing children had gone. Indeed, he, of all people, should have known all along.
Frevven threw his cape over his shoulders and walked out on the Center's pier, seeking a quiet spot to sit and ponder the latest developments. He could zlin someone belowdecks on the Morning Star, maybe Anieva, but she seemed intent on some task, so she wouldn't bother him.
The wind whipped down from the north, clean and dry and knife-edged with cold. He welcomed the cold; perhaps it would clear some of the cobwebs from his brain.
Resting his elbows on a piling, Frevven watched as the sun sank slowly towards the sea. Somewhere beyond that shimmering horizon was the mainland. With all his heart, he wished he were there, on his way in-Territory.
The sunset was singularly depressing, all pinks and grays, with a few puffs of cloud looking rather like dirty pieces of cotton dipped in red ink, blown to ragged tatters in the stiff breeze.
Try as he might, he couldn't seem to keep his mind on the problem at hand. Each time he thought of Clarendon Richt, his thoughts slewed sideways, as if he were being exposed to the man's annoying nager. Ever since he'd attended that service yesterday, Frevven had been racking his brain for some solution. He was sure the Watchkeepers, whoever they were, were murdering any child who was turned over to them in changeover, but he couldn't prove it. And even if he had been able to prove it, he wouldn't be able to go to the local authorities for help. Out-Territory, it wasn't illegal to murder a child in changeover. Such a child was no longer a person, so his death wasn't considered murder.
Still, Richt had made an effort to keep the true state of affairs from the Simes, so he couldn't be too sure of himself as yet. That could indicate the community wasn't entirely in agreement with his "solution" to changeover. The Salvation Church wasn't all that powerful yet. Perhaps they hoped to use Innsfrey as a test case. Forcing the Tecton to close the Center would be quite an achievement. It could lead to similar "achievements" elsewhere.
How could he deal with Richt? How might he counter the man's persuasive preaching, how undermine his teachings?
How, indeed, when some part of your own mind half-believes in them also?
As the clouds faded into blue and black, the channel straightened up with a defeated sigh. About time to return to the Center. He had paperwork to do.
Just then, Anieva trotted briskly across the gangway from the sailboat, carrying a heavy coil of rope. Her smile disappeared as she caught a brief shadow of the hopelessness and depression Frevven had been feeling. He pulled his field into better order, but it was too late.
"What is it? What's the matter?" she said quietly, coming up alongside him.
Frevven glanced over the ocean. His hand flickered briefly toward the faraway land, invisible beyond the glowing horizon.
"What are we doing out here anyway, among these strangers who can't even conceive of a Sime as a human being?"
Anieva shifted the rope so it hung over her shoulder, studying him intently. "Come on back to the Center and have a bite to eat with me," she invited.
Frevven almost protested that he wasn't hungry, but he changed his mind. Hungry or not, he should eat. Together, the two Simes started back to the building. Here and there in the windows, lights were beginning to blink on.
"I've been here for two and a half years, Hajene," Anieva said, looking straight ahead, "and every Sime asks that same question after they've been on Innsfrey for a couple of weeks. I could point out the obvious answers, but I think you know them already."
He did. Without the Center, there would be no chance at all for any child who went into changeover.
"Don't forget," Anieva said softly, "most of the people on the Out-Islands never see a Sime in person in their lives, except for berserkers, intent on a Kill. How could they consider us human, if that's all they know of us?"
"Well, they could come and donate, they could come to classes, they could come-"
He stopped abruptly, struck by a horrible thought.
Or you could go.
Frevven shook his head. Distance, isolation, lack of personal contact. He couldn't overcome that. It was bad enough on Innsfrey itself, but it was worse on the other Out-Islands, where there was no Center. Why, there was no place on any of those other islands where he could even be without retainers.
He shivered. Except in the basement cells where the police locked changeovers.
Frevven didn't particularly like the idea that occurred to him then. He wished he'd never thought of it. It couldn't possibly work.
He realized he was still standing there, lost in thought, with Anieva staring at him in concern.
"Let's go eat," he mumbled, trying to push the unwelcome idea out of his head. It wouldn't budge.
Two days later, he began the first "Have Your Child Zlinned" program ever held on the islands outside the Center. The necessary permissions had been difficult to come by, but Lem Cabrell and a few others had spoken up in his favor, pointing out the advantages of being able to find out for sure when your child had become Gen.
Frevven ran his first impromptu clinic on Beach Plum Island, planning to visit each of the other islands in turn on a regular schedule. As he sat on the lumpy bunk, his back against the rough stone wall, he watched his breath form a brief haze in the damp cold of the underground cell.
The windows were nothing but narrow, barred slits, letting in a draft of chill air but little light. Unlike the cell on Arendell Island, this one seemed less like a cellar and more like a standard jail cell, fronted by iron bars. The gate stood open now, but the upstairs door would remain locked from the outside, unless someone asked to be let in.
In two hours, no one had asked.
V'lis held out her mittened hands to the sparse heat of the single oil lamp standing on a rickety table near the entrance of the cell. "It's freezing in here," she complained. "Can't we go back now? I don't think anyone's coming."
"I advertised noon until three o'clock. Perhaps you could go upstairs for a while? They might let you sit by the stove," he suggested. The hood of her coat was pulled tight around her face, and her red plaid scarf was the only touch of color in the dismal cell.
V'lis hugged herself and shivered, making a wry face. "No, thanks. I'd rather be cold. Those people all look at me as if I'm some kind of prostitute or something."
"As far as they're concerned, you are. Any Gen who makes a living supplying Simes with selyn might as well be a whore."
"Yeah, well, some of them don't look as if they're thinking about my selyn."
Frevven knew exactly what she meant. He had zlinned it quite clearly when they'd been let into the police station. "Some of them aren't. You're an attractive young woman, and they're wondering what else you supply to us loathsome Simes." He tried to inject a note of wry irony into his voice, lessening the possibility of insult.
The door at the head of the stairs grated open before she could say anything more.
Frevven rose to his feet, edging over towards V'lis. The Gen coming down the stairway simmered with nervous determination, but V'lissia's nager held the ambient steady.
A man in patched trousers and faded coat stepped up to the open cell door, his eyes darting fearfully around the dismal room before they came to rest on Frevven. Once they did, he seemed unable to look away from the channel's bare forearms.
"I-uh- I want you to-uh-zlin-my family," he said slowly, as if uncertain that the channel would understand what he was saying. A boy and a girl stood just behind him.
"Of course," Frevven offered politely. V'lis had sat down at the table, valiantly suppressing her shivering to favor the man with a bright smile. "If you'll just give your names to Ms. Chalmers here," he went on, "I'd be glad to examine the youngsters."
As the man complied, Frevven studied the two children. Slight and dark-haired, the girl refused to meet his eyes, staring steadfastly at the floor instead. Her brother whispered something to her, so softly Frevven couldn't make out the words. She shook her head.
The boy, obviously the older of the two, eyed Frevven belligerently. He had the sort of solid build every out-Territory youngster envied because it looked more like an adult Gen, rather than the lanky slenderness characteristic of Simes.
Frevven glanced down at V'lissia's neat Simelan script on the form she had filled out. The father had given his name as John Anthony Veara.
"Have you a relative on Innsfrey, Mr. Veara? A young girl by the name of Flora?" he asked, hoping to put the man at ease.
Veara looked up in surprise. "Yes, I do. One of my nieces. Ever since my wife died, she's been coming over and staying with Lisha, whenever Garvin and I are out fishing."
"Flora's in my changeover class. She's a good student."
John Anthony made no response to that, so Frevven went on, "If one of the children would step over here with me, this will only take a moment." They both hung back. "I'm not going to hurt you. I won't even touch you," Frevven reassured them. "I just have to be able to zlin you by yourself, away from other people. How about it, Garvin?" He was virtually certain of the boy already, but there was no sense in being careless about it.
The youngster nodded gravely, crossing the threshold of the cell.
Frevven left V'lis at the table, between him and the others. Garvin followed him over to the back wall, barely flickering nervousness.
He had nothing to be nervous about. As soon as he was away from V'lis, Frevven could easily zlin the steady pulse of selyn production, the complex and bright field of a newly adult Gen.
"Congratulations. You've established already, a couple of weeks ago at least."
The boy gave a short nod. "That's what I thought, but my dad wouldn't take my word for it." He grinned at his sister. "Come on, Lisha. It didn't hurt at all and I'm fine. Now let's prove you're Gen too."
With a confident stride, he crossed the bare cell and urged his sister forward.
Shuffling along in shoes too big for her, Lisha diffidently approached Frevven. Her eyes finally met his, pleading for him to say the words that would bring peace to her tortured soul.
But there was no sign of selyn production. Only the hazy, diffuse nager of a child, awash with terror and guilt.
She looked like a classic pre-Sime, painfully skinny wrists protruding from the too-short sleeves of her coat, pinched cheeks accentuating her slenderness. Still, appearances could be deceiving. Not every skinny child became Sime. Some just turned out to be thin Gens. Frevven would have liked to make full lateral contact with her, to check for signs of incipient changeover, but he was afraid to frighten her further. Besides, it was doubtful he'd find anything anyway. Changeover was extremely difficult to zlin, until its actual onset.
But he wished he could get a better reading anyway.
Matter of factly and with a reassuring smile on his face, he asked V'lis in Simelan if she knew how to cut herself off from him more, so he'd have a clearer perception of the girl, while still shielding him from the other Gens across the room. Not all Second Order Donors had the ability to do that, but perhaps she might.
Abruptly, Frevven found himself alone with Lisha, floating in an empty bubble of clarity. One side of the bubble sagged and threatened to collapse, but it held long enough for Frevven to get a sharp reading on the youngster.
We'll have to keep an eye on this one.
"You're still a child, Lisha," he told her gently. "But I'll be back here next month and I want to see you again."
She didn't do anything to indicate she had heard.
Before they left, Frevven was able to fill their hands with pamphlets about changeover and the functions of a Sime Center, urging them once more to bring Lisha to see him next time he held a clinic, trying to give the impression that he might have better news for them then.
As the door slammed closed, V'lis met his eyes in silent understanding and shook her head.
"That one will be in this cell again before the year's out," she whispered, her voice heavy. "And I don't mean for your clinic."
"If she isn't murdered first," Frevven said bitterly.
He saw five more children that day, and each one went away carrying pamphlets, even those who had already established. He decided it might be possible to get a changeover class started on each of the Out-Islands, with most of the classes taught by Gens from the Center.
In less than a week, Frevven had visited each of the four Out-Islands. Response to his clinics improved immensely, with a good dozen families coming to the one on Arendell. By the time he reached Westerly Island, there were people waiting for him.
On Montello, he was greeted by a picket line of gray-robed people wearing hoods, chanting anti-Sime slogans and singing hymns. The Church had finally taken notice of his activities.
A few people came anyway.
Frevven congratulated himself on having made a breakthrough. If he could keep running the clinics, he would get to know a large proportion of the families who had teen-aged children. He already had the beginnings of a file of individual names that would bear watching. If anything suspicious happened to any of those children, he would be able to find out about it.
Satisfied that he'd done something right for a change, Frevven ordered a new supply of pamphlets and changeover information leaflets from in-Territory. Almost everything at the Center had found its way into the hands of local youngsters, as a result of the clinics. Several of the parents he'd met came to the Center to donate. It was only a drop in the bucket compared to the full population of the islands, but it was a promising start.
His optimism almost carried him through his turnover day. If he hadn't glanced at the calendar and noted that it was also the anniversary of his sister's death, he might have been feeling pretty good, despite the instability and depression normally caused by reaching the midpoint of one's need cycle.
He stared numbly at the date. Ten years ago, Jozanna had died. Ten years, and it seemed like only yesterday. The first snow of the season had been swirling down outside the windows of their house, just beginning to stick on the ground. Their father had gone away overnight on business, as he sometimes did.
Frevven rose abruptly to his feet, going to the fireplace and laying a fresh log on the hearth, hoping by action to dissolve the unwelcome memories. Before he went back to his desk, he glanced briefly out his window at the Center's fenced-in grounds.
A flurry of fat snowflakes drifted down from a slate-gray sky. Already, there were patches of white on the ground and along the top of the wall.
Frevven jerked the curtains closed and went back to his desk. He didn't like snow.
Shortly before noon, Kurt came abruptly into Frevven's office, his nager muddled with grim annoyance. He dropped a copy of Innsfrey's weekly newspaper on the channel's desk with barely suppressed anger. "I think you ought to see this."
"ISLAND SIME CENTER RUN BY KILLER!" the headline screamed in bold type.
Frevven stared at it for several seconds before he could force himself to read further.
"Reverend Richt today revealed that Frevven Aylmeer, the new head of our Sime Center, killed his own sister.
"`I recognized his name,' Richt told this reporter, `so I did some investigating. The Tecton has sent us what they call a disjunct channel, one who has killed. They ask us to believe he will never kill again. You take your life into your hands by having anything to do with such a creature.'"
The article went on in the same vein, expressing indignation over Frevven's assignment to Innsfrey. The editorial on the second page demanded that he be replaced by someone else, someone more trustworthy.
It wasn't until he'd read the entire thing a second time that it sank in. Frevven had never kept his past a secret; in the Tecton, a channel had no secrets. However, no one from the Center had been quick to mention his status to the community. Why should they? Now, thanks to Richt's expose, it would appear as if they'd been deliberately hiding it all along.
Frevven buried his face in his hands, trying to think. What would this article do to the slender bridge of trust he'd been able to establish with some of the local Gens? Every time he looked at one of them now, he'd see accusation in their eyes, zlin uncertainty and suspicion. He'd never be able to face them again.
"Can I help?" Kurt was sitting on the edge of the desk, all concern and caring.
But Gen concern and caring burned Frevven's nerves like salt on an open wound. It was too familiar. And too painful.
The channel shook his head, pushing his glasses back against his nose with a tentacle. "Just leave me alone for a bit, will you, Kurt?"
"Are you sure you don't want me to call V'lissia?"
Kurt left off his protest when he saw the expression on Frevven's face. He got up without a word and walked out of the room.
Slowly, methodically, Frevven crumpled the newspaper, taking a handful of the coarse paper in each hand and crushing it between fingers and tentacles until he had nothing but two balls of strangled newsprint. He rose and walked over to the fireplace. With a vicious oath, he thrust the paper in amongst the glowing embers, pulling his hands back barely in time to keep from being burned. The paper smoldered for a minute, then burst into flame.
Frevven stood staring into the brief spurt of fire.
Damn Richt and all others like him! May they burn forever in their own despicable hell! If I hadn't believed, if Jozanna hadn't believed-
He sagged down in a chair, shaking. The memory he'd been pushing aside since he'd looked at the calendar rose to claim him.
He felt sick, deathly sick, and his arms hurt terribly. He forced his eyes open and in absolute horror looked into the pale and frightened face of his sister. He tried to turn away, but Jozanna held his hands tightly clenched in hers, her eyes turned heavenwards and her lips forming the prayers they had recited together so often.
Through spasms of pain, he gasped out to her that she must run, get away, leave him alone. But she didn't, wouldn't, hear his words. He cursed her then, cursed her as a fool and an idiot. You can't help me like that. Stop it! Stop it! Don't you know what I am? Don't you know what's going to happen? Can't you see?
Then another spasm of pain burned through his arms, and he screamed. He looked down at his hands and they weren't his anymore, but bloody, dripping horrors, no longer under his control. And his sister wasn't praying anymore, she was screaming and fighting, her fear at last overreaching even her love for her little brother.
Sick at heart, he realized that it had indeed been love, love and faith, that had kept her with him so long when she could have run for help. And neither was diminished but only displaced by her rising panic. And it was too late, too late, too late. The blazing terror in her body and soul fed the terrible emptiness in his, driving him desperately further and further, clawing for what it seemed he must find or die.
Almost, she rose to meet him. Almost, she managed to feed that desperate craving. Almost, her love could conquer her fear. Almost. But not quite.
Waves of pain seared through him, her pain thrown back to him. And he enjoyed it, gloried in it, for the brief time it lasted.
Satisfied, exultant, riding on the peak of the most overwhelming physical pleasure he had ever known in his life, Frevven gradually became aware of Jozanna's limp body as a dead weight in his arms. When he released her, she slipped to the floor without a sound, her face frozen into a mask of terror and agony.
Jozanna, mother, sister, whose love and care made tolerable my lonely childhood. Jozanna, who shared my anguish and my joy, could you not have shared this joy also? Why did you have to die?
He collapsed next to his sister's body, burying his face against the rough wool of her sweater and sobbing.
Frevven pushed the memory away. The flames from the newspaper had died. Shards of crisped black ashes trembled in the hot air above glowing coals.
He drew a shaky breath and listened to the wind furiously shaking the casement of the window, as he had once shaken Jozanna's yielding body in a vain effort to bring her back to life.
For just a moment, Frevven had the insane urge to thrust his hands into the burning coals on the hearth. But that would solve nothing. Burning away flesh would not burn away memories.
Life is not so simple as that.
Proceed to chapter seven