10 0 1
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

Aindry woke sharply, lay still to try to find what had disturbed her. The familiar musty smell of hay, loose ends of which they'd scraped together to make a bed, and the smells of the cattle below... the animals were stirring, though, and there was a human scent now, faintly.

“Oh, damn. Jaisan, wake up. Wake up!” she whispered.

“Mmm?” Coiled warmly against her, Jaisan opened his eyes. “What?” he asked drowsily.

“We overslept. The farmer's up.”

Immediately, he twisted away from her, sat up and brushed away as much of the hay as he could. “Let's get out of here.”

The barn was an old one, with a ladder down to the lower part, and two huge doors for bringing the hay in. Aindry thumped with the heel of her hand at the solid hook—over her head, and she was five-foot-six, why did they put them so high?—until the rust on it surrendered, and the door swung open. They slipped quickly out, and Jaisan found a rock to brace the door closed with.

There they paused, all senses alert, scanning the area. Aindry touched Jaisan's arm, indicated a cedar-rail fence liberally overgrown with brush and trees; he nodded acknowledgement, and they darted across twenty feet of open space to it. A short distance along it, they stopped and crouched.

“Near miss,” Jaisan whispered. “We should've been awake a long time ago.”

True, but not so hard to explain. Cold, hunger, and general fatigue made a powerful team.

“We'll just have to be more careful,” Aindry murmured back, putting all the reassurance she could into her voice. “Besides, what's the worst that could happen? We get thrown out. No one's going to catch us. We'd just have to move on a little faster than we would have.” She ran a hand over his hair, the long midnight mane forever getting in his eyes, but he refused to cut it short like hers. Given the strong resemblance between them, it wasn't unusual for strangers to get them confused. Even more common was being thought younger than her and Jaisan's twenty-one and seventeen years respectively.

He shifted under her touch, restlessly; she kept stroking, and slowly he relaxed.

“Let's go farther back,” she suggested. “Maybe there'll be a woodlot or something that will have prey we can hunt.”

Silently, he followed her along the fence. It opened into a tree-edged lane.

Some distance back onto the farmer's property, they found a possible hunting ground: large flat glacial rocks with trees growing between them, and places where dirt had piled up to provide footing for various sorts of brushy cover.

They shed their clothes and shifted to wolf-form within a heartbeat of one another. Their clothes and half-empty backpacks they left there, and they went in search of food.

Aindry startled a scrawny rabbit out in front of Jaisan, and he grabbed it neatly; they shared it, as they always did, and kept hunting. Each snatched a few mice, but nothing else offered itself. Still hungry, they gave up, and went back to where they'd left their clothes.

“So much for that,” Jaisan sighed, pulling over his head the oversized, once-blue sweatshirt they'd found in a thrift store.

“We have a few dollars, we can grab some fries in the nearest village, or something,” Aindry said, hoping human-type food might break Jaisan out of his slowly-deepening melancholy. Last time he'd gotten truly depressed, it had taken what felt like forever for him to come out of it. A couple of years of constantly moving, surviving by their wits, was claiming its due price.

Jaisan shrugged. “It might be better to keep it, and maybe we can find a fool begging to be parted from his money. It's not like they're a dying breed.”

“Maybe so, but I want something more to eat.”

“Sure, whatever.”

They backtracked, stealthily covering the ground between the last of their cover and the nearby road. They tossed the bags over the page-wire fence, scrambled over at one of the posts, and started walking along the road.

It didn't matter which direction; every road led somewhere, and one destination was as good as any other.

Some time and a few roads later, they spotted a small restaurant. They paused outside to count available funds.

Two cups of hot chocolate, a plate of fries, and a bacon-and-tomato sandwich, the food shared, did much to improve not only Jaisan's spirits but Aindry's as well.

One day at a time, she reminded herself. Tomorrow might never get here, and yesterday's gone. Think only about right now, and we'll survive somehow.

Jaisan felt so much better that, while they were lingering over the chocolate, he produced from his pockets three walnut shells and a small polished amethyst. Aindry played along, the two of them giggling over the game.

A shadow fell across the table, a man in his mid-twenties or so, smelling of car oil and gasoline.

“Are you any good at that?” he asked Jaisan curiously.

“What, this?” Jaisan looked down shyly. “I practice. Sometimes I can win.”

“Show him,” Aindry said coaxingly. “Come on, you're better than you think.”

“If you want.” He set the amethyst down—not for anything would he play this with anything else, insisting it gave his luck an extra boost—and placed one of the shells over it. He shuffled them around casually, looked at the man, who of course pointed out the right one. The second time, Jaisan put a bit more effort into it, but again the stranger chose the right shell.

“I have an idea,” Aindry suggested, putting all the charm she could into it. “Give him a reason to try harder.” She dug around in her pockets, found the single loonie left from paying for the food, and laid it down.

The stranger placed a second dollar coin beside it.

“Where does this highway go?” Aindry wondered aloud, timing it carefully. The man glanced briefly at her, and Jaisan's hands flickered faster than she could see, switching the shells. Bingo; some could find the stone if they kept watching closely enough, but as soon as someone looked away for even a heartbeat, it was hopeless.

He told her a name that meant nothing to her; meanwhile, Jaisan raised his hands from the shells and gave him an expectant look.

“I think... that one.” He tapped the one on the left.

Jaisan picked it up and showed him—nothing. The amethyst appeared under the centre shell.

Of course, Jaisan made a show of being surprised and delighted at his success; of course, once the man laid another loonie beside Aindry's, he just had to try again...

They won from him the amount they'd spent on the meal, and a few dollars extra, before the owner caught on and threw them out.

That being a fairly typical reaction, they shrugged, wished her a good day, and departed.