Murder of Crows Page 32

On his way home, James stopped at friends’ houses, and they spread word throughout the Simple Life community that the Elementals weren’t done yet with Great Island, the river, or Talulah Falls.

When Roger Czerneda did his patrol around the island and checked in with the farmers, James told him too.

As the storm around Talulah Falls faded on Moonsday evening, a handful of police stations in the Falls found sealed tubs on the sidewalk. The tub left outside the mayor’s office contained the head and wallet, identifying the man as the owner of the house where the Sanguinati and four humans were butchered.

On Sunsday morning, a sobbing man on a citizens-band radio contacted the police station at Ferryman’s Landing and pleaded to have someone, anyone, deliver a message: the survivors in Talulah Falls wanted to negotiate with the terra indigene.

CHAPTER 19

On Windsday morning, Steve Ferryman and Jerry Sledgeman stood at the ferry’s rail. They had clear skies and smooth water, and plenty of Great Island residents had been at the dock this morning to take packages to the mainland half of the village and pick up anticipated deliveries.

Lois Greene, editor of the Great Island Reporter, had run a special edition yesterday with Steve’s list of emergency measures on the front page, guaranteeing it would command the attention of every adult in Ferryman’s Landing. So he wasn’t surprised to see the pile of backpacks and overnight cases at the dock, ready for the ferry’s return trip to the island.

The updated prophecy Simon Wolfgard had e-mailed to him had made his skin crawl. And being told that one of the Elementals’ steeds, in its chubby pony form, was staying at the Gardner farm because it was “waiting” was reason enough to figure that whatever was coming wasn’t going to pass them by.

“You okay with making this delivery?” Steve asked as they walked off the ferry with three plastic containers.

“Sure,” Jerry replied. “Just wish I had more cargo to justify the gasoline usage.”

“If things go the way I hope they do, this will be the last light delivery you’ll make to Lakeside. And at least some of the teenagers who are looking for work this summer will have jobs because the village businesses will need extra hands.”

They stored the containers in the van that was parked in the delivery area of the dock.

“We’ll see what we see.” Jerry closed the van’s back doors and went around to the driver’s door. “I’ll give you a shout when I return.”

Steve watched Jerry drive away. Then he turned back to the ferry, figuring he’d give his brother, Will, a hand storing all that baggage before running up to the bookstore to pick up a copy of the Lakeside News to read on the return trip to the island. But the skin between his shoulder blades suddenly started twitching and twingeing.

He looked at the sky and the water. Still clear, still smooth.

Something’s coming, he thought, seeing the way Will suddenly straightened up and looked at the sky and water.

Before he reached his brother, his mobile phone started ringing.

“So Ruthie is going to be an instructor at the Courtyard, teaching the Others how to get along in the human world,” Kowalski said as they drove out of the Chestnut Street station’s lot. “Like what we saw a while back in A Little Bite but more formal. It doesn’t pay as much in human money as her teaching job did, but with the credits for the Market Square stores, we’ll do all right.”

Hearing something different under the upbeat words, Monty studied his partner. “Do you have a problem with her working in the Courtyard?”

“Me? No. But we had dinner with my folks last night, and my father said he’s been hearing mutters at work about how people who help the Others are traitors to their own kind. My brother is attending the tech college, and he’s heard the same thing.” Kowalski hesitated. “I still think working with the terra indigene will pay off in the end, but …”

“But you’re worried about Ruthie’s safety?”

“Yes. More so after what happened to Merri Lee. And some of Ruthie’s friends—girls she’s known since grade school—don’t want to be friends anymore because she spends time in the Courtyard and helps the Others. And now with everything going on in Talulah Falls … All the TV talk shows are going on and on about what right the terra indigene have to dictate who runs the government in a human town.”

“They can dictate the terms because their alternative is destroying the town,” Monty replied quietly. “And as I understand it, Talulah Falls is no longer a human-controlled town. The government, such as it may be, will be there to keep public services running and act as a liaison between the town’s human population and the Others now in charge of the Courtyard.”

“I don’t think that has sunk in yet,” Kowalski said. “That the Falls is now a human settlement in the Others’ territory and they’re the ones making all the rules—and dishing out the punishment if any of their rules are broken.”

The radio stations barely played two songs in a row this morning without repeating the special news story: as part of the negotiations with the terra indigene, all the top government officials in Talulah Falls were required to resign and leave the area.

The Others weren’t just taking away the status and power those people had; they were driving out anyone they considered adversaries. And all the terra indigene who had run that Courtyard had also left in favor of new leadership that wasn’t already soured by extended contact with humans. A clean slate. A new start. A last chance for Talulah Falls to remain a place where humans could live, even if it was no longer a place where humans could do as they pleased.

The news stories didn’t mention that part, just as the news stories were suddenly vague when it came to acknowledging the people who were dead or missing in the Falls.

If we’re not careful, there will be a lot more humans among the dead and missing, Monty thought. “Tell me something, Karl. How many terra indigene living on this continent have any contact with humans? Guess at an estimate, figuring in every city, town, village, hamlet, and human settlement located deep in the wild country.”

Kowalski said nothing for a full minute. “Five percent? Could be less than that.”

“There have to be millions of earth natives living in Thaisia, hundreds of millions, maybe even billions, living throughout Namid. Only a small percentage of them have ever seen a human, and an even smaller percentage have any interest in seeing us as anything but meat.” Monty smiled grimly. “Our ancestors showed the Others how to weave, how to build a cabin, how to farm, how to build a boat and catch fish, how to build a fire. They learned everything they really needed from us centuries ago. All our technology, all our gizmos. How much interest do the terra indigene living beyond easy range of human habitation really have for such things?”

“Not much interest at all when you put it that way,” Kowalski said.

“I keep thinking about the Humans First and Last movement. I keep wondering if any of them have paid any attention to the history of our world and the history of Thaisia in particular.”

“What about it?”

“For the most part, the Others leave humans alone—until our actions force them to become aware of us.”

Not much mail, Meg thought. Not many deliveries. Not much of anything but waiting.

She pulled a copy of Nature! from the stack of magazines she’d picked up at Howling Good Reads. There wasn’t anyone else supplying her with images that would help her identify what she saw in a prophecy. She didn’t have access to the thick binders of pictures anymore. But she could start creating her own set of image binders. Then whoever listened to the prophecy could have a reference for what she had seen.

Besides, the color photographs taken of creatures from all over the world fascinated her. She just had to remember to limit the number of new images she absorbed each day from the magazines. She didn’t have those disturbing blank spots—information overload, Merri Lee had called them—when she looked at a few new images and then switched to a magazine she had already seen. That was restful, especially since she absorbed so many new images just by going through her daily routine.

The Courtyard kept changing, dazzling her with the flowers that bloomed between one day and the next, with the bare branches of trees that were swollen with the buds of new leaves and then fuzzed with green. Every day, she drove a familiar road through a new place. It delighted her, excited her, but she had to admit that the relief of being in her own unchanging apartment was almost painful some nights.

A cassandra sangue could absorb only so much that was new and strange before her mind shut down. Had that always been true, or was that, like the need to cut, something that had been bred into them to keep them dependent?

Either way, she probably should mention this recent understanding about herself to Simon … or Henry, since the Grizzly would, most likely, simply accept the information and not make a fuss about it.

She didn’t know how long she’d been staring at a picture of tiny, bright-colored frogs when she heard Nathan snarl and a man calling, “Hello?”

Opening the Private door, she stepped up to the counter in the front room. A big man stood just inside the door. He held three rectangular plastic containers and a manila envelope.

“Are you Meg Corbyn?” he asked.

Nathan snarled louder at the mention of her name. She couldn’t see the Wolf, which meant he was right in front of the counter and ready to attack.

“Yes, I’m Meg.” She didn’t recognize the man or the van, and she hadn’t placed any orders in the past few days. She didn’t think anyone in the Courtyard had. Their bus had made the plaza run a couple of times, but only a handful of terra indigene had gone out to shop, and Henry, Vlad, or Nyx had been among the Others who made the trip—a reminder of why the humans needed to behave.

“I’m Jerry Sledgeman, of Sledgeman’s Freight. Got a delivery for you, compliments of Steve Ferryman on Great Island. Okay if I put these on the counter so I can show you the paperwork?”

“Oh. Yes. Of course.” When Jerry didn’t move, she added, “It’s all right, Nathan. I was expecting this delivery.”

Nathan backed away just enough to give Jerry room at the far end of the counter.

Jerry set the containers on the counter in a stack. Giving Meg a measuring look, he shifted the two top containers to sit on the counter so she could see the printed information taped to the lids.

“Eamer’s Bakery?” Meg asked.

“Two sisters, Mary and Claire, run it and do most of the baking,” Jerry said. “Have another good bakery in Ferryman’s Landing, but that one prefers doing breads and rolls and things like that. Good bread, but when Steve talked to some folks about making some special cookies for Wolves, Mary and Claire were the ones who wanted to give it a try. They—”

Meg slapped a hand on a container as Nathan made a lunge for it.

“Nathan!” she scolded. “If you make another grab for these cookies, you won’t get so much as a crumb!”

Nathan leaped away, stared at her for a moment—and howled.

“Oh, for pity’s sake,” Meg said. “Don’t be such a puppy.”

Howl!

Another Wolf answered Nathan. And another. And another.

Watching the color drain out of Jerry’s face, Meg pulled the lid off one container and grabbed a cookie. “Here. Here-here-here, have a— Oh. It’s shaped like a cow. How cute.” She took a moment to absorb the image.

Nathan slapped his front paws on the counter. Despite his speed, Meg noticed how carefully he took the cookie from her.

“The cow-shaped cookies are probably beef flavored,” Jerry said. “Claire did say they tried different flavors. It’s explained in the paperwork.”

She watched Nathan prance over to the Wolf bed set up on one side of the office. She also noticed how, despite acting preoccupied with his treat, his attention stayed on Jerry Sledgeman.

Before she could open the envelope, the back door slammed and Simon shouted, “Meg!” He charged into the front room, almost knocking her into the counter as he focused on the human male.

“Everything is fine,” Meg said at the same time Simon said, “Sledgeman?”

“Mr. Wolfgard,” Jerry said, brushing a finger against his cap. “Brought a delivery.”

Meg noticed the slight tremble in Jerry’s hand and the shine of sweat on his face. And she noticed three Wolves crowded in front of the office door. She’d never seen him in Wolf form, but she’d bet Blair was the one staring at the unfamiliar human. The other two seemed younger, and a fourth Wolf, who had his paws on the window and was watching Nathan eat the cookie, was definitely a juvenile.

“Arroooo!” The single vocalization from the youngster at the window quickly became a chorus.

Grabbing a handful of cow-shaped cookies, Meg pushed past Simon and opened the go-through that gave her access to the rest of the front room. The Wolves outside backed up enough to let her push the front door open partway.

“Here,” she said. “Have a cookie and stop making a fuss.”

The juvenile Wolves took the cookies and trotted off. Blair stared at her a long moment before taking the last cookie and walking away.

As she returned to the counter, Meg narrowed her eyes at Nathan.

Crunch, crunch. There was a smug satisfaction to the sound.

Simon opened the envelope and the rest of the containers. He held up a cookie.

“Human-flavored cookies?” He sounded pleased.

Nathan pricked his ears and said, “Arroooo?”

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