For part 1 of this story, click here; for part 2, click here, and for part 3, click here. (I apologize for these posts being so long - I have to end at a hook.)
Q is for: The Quislings
(Serial short story, part 4)
Netta had every intention of doing what her momma said and head on over to school. Once her foot hit the middle of the street three blocks from the school, she knew she had to find Nelly. Everything was her fault, and now her mother might get in trouble with the City Council because of her.
“I’m going to find you Nelly.” She felt she was talking directly to Nelly, who was waiting for her to find her wherever she was. “I’m going to find you and make everything alright.”
By then, she was looking at the edge of the Baring Woods. Unlike earlier that day, the branches seemed to be spindly fingers reaching out to her, or maybe drawing her in.
“Dear Jesus, don’t leave me.” Her whispered mantra for whenever she got in trouble naturally slipped from her mouth as she walked around the branches to the overgrown path. Netta passed the hole where they’d found it and went deeper into the thickening forestry. A couple of times, she was sure she’d seen Nelly’s footprints.
Down a ways, she reached a cave at the base of a hill. Vines fell loosely over its opening, except for a small gap near the center. She pushed the vines apart and walked through, calling softly, “Nelly? You in here? It’s Netta. Momma’s worried about you.” Silence. “It’s gonna get dark before long. Come on out so we can go home. You must be hungry. We can come back tomorrow if you want to.”
It got so dark a few steps inside the cave that Netta was almost too scared to go any farther. She slid her feet across the dirt floor, afraid of what they’d land in if she lifted them up to take a step.
Then she heard a scream and froze. It wasn’t Nelly. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say it was her momma. Her pounding heart wanted to jump out of her chest and beat it right out of the cave. Every nerve in her body wanted to follow behind.
With both arms reaching out, she blindly walked toward where she heard the sound. She bumped into the wall of the cave, and felt along it, going deeper in. Just around a bend, she swore she could see light, and figured the cave went through to the other side of the hill. Her feet carried her faster, no longer caring what they stepped into. The light took on a reddish-orange hue, not like the daylight outside. Without a sound, she pressed along the cave's wall, wanting to get to the source of the light without being noticed.
When she got there, she nearly called out, “Momma!” But what she saw stifled her mute. Her momma was with the council members in a lower chamber of the cave. Wavering light came from hundreds of those things Nelly found. The reddish-orange light shifting with the dark patches on them made them really look like bruised cheeks burning with heat.
Lying on the ground, with those things covering her arms and legs, was Nelly. They moved around her, like they were polishing her skin. Her momma tried to run toward Nelly, reaching to grab two hands full of those things off of her, but the council members held her back.
Her momma turned toward them and yelled, “Let me go, you traitors, you Judases! You sold our offspring for what?”
“Look around you, Peyton,” Dara Winstle said. “Can’t you see the potential? Unlimited power and wealth! And they can heal us, every illness we could ever have. They’ve promised us that. They only needed a portion of our wilderness, such a small parcel when you think of all we’re getting.”
“Plus our offspring! You sold our future offspring for power and money!”
The light from the things stopped pulsating and got brighter, until crying voices burst from them. It was a cacophony of sound so sad it invaded Netta’s heart and caused tears to fall.
After wiping them away, she saw Nelly staring straight at her. The wailing stopped, filling the chamber with total silence. Then, one at a time, the council members looked up at Netta.
~ To be continued ~