Raymond slowly stepped out of the water. He extended his large rugged hand and spoke as gently as he could. "You look hungry, son. Give me back my rifle and I’ll fix you something to eat. My name is Raymond. What’s your name, boy?"
"You’re up kinda early, Dorian. You got a home?"
Dorian focused in on Raymond’s outstretched hand, and the wispy red hairs that covered it and the rest of his body. He eyes moved to Raymond’s concerned face and the thick red beard that covered his cheeks and chin, then at the curly red hair on his head that glowed like fire in the morning light.
Raymond tensed. "Hey listen," he said, "you don’t believe in all that stuff about red-haired people, do you? It isn’t true. I’m not a witch; I’m just a guy and I mind my own business. Why do you think I live out here? Now if you put down that rifle, we could be friends—okay?"
"It doesn’t matter where you live." Dorian cocked the rifle. "It’s that you live."
Raymond’s gentle tone rose with panic. "For God’s sake, man!"
"Yes. For God’s sake," Dorian echoed, and pulled the trigger.
While the others slept, Carole made her way down the stairs with a large wicker basket over her shoulder and a tray of food consisting of black tea and bread with jam. Upon reaching Raphael’s door, she knocked and waited.
The doorknob turned and the door slowly opened.
He stood there, staring at her with eyes like black marbles. His face was pale, almost translucent enough to reveal the blood vessels just below the skin. His long hair was neatly combed and so dark it had a blue sheen. His presence was a strong one, ominous, though he wasn’t a large man at all. Yet, in spite of his strangeness, Carole thought he was quite handsome.
"I brought you some breakfast."
He nodded and slowly took the tray from her. His fingers were long, with lengthy nails.
"If you’d like to come upstairs and have dinner with us, you’re always welcome to do so."
Raphael offered no response and quietly closed the door. Carole stood for a moment, neither surprised nor insulted, then walked outside to her garden. Raphael had always been reclusive. Carole had never minded his occupancy in the old building. How could she? He was there first. She knelt down in a dewy patch of greenery beside her garden.
"Stay inside unless you’re with Lyle," Ambrose had warned before he left. Carole decided it was safe, being only just outside the building. She reached into a clump of jarryn flower.
"Ouch!" A jagged pain tore across the back of her hand. She jerked it away. Blood dripped from the wound. With a curse under her breath, she pushed aside the leaves and found a small, dried carcass of a thornworm. Carole knew that thornworm were no longer poisonous once they were dead.
Just a child, she ran outside to the garden. "Rita? Where are you?" She pushed aside the foliage. "Mother?" Rita lay on the ground staring with a glazed eye at the cloudless sky. A thornworm burrowed its way out of her eye and rolled down her cheek. There was a hole in her arm where it had entered.
Carole shuddered and wrapped a handkerchief around her bloody hand and continued working, filling the basket with an assortment of vegetables, herbs, and roots.
Upon reaching Raymond’s house, Ambrose brought the horses to a halt.
"Raymond?" Ambrose called as he climbed out of the wagon and looked around. Raymond would always run out to greet him. "Rachel?" The windows of the cottage were all open, the old curtains fluttered in the wind.
It did not take him long to discover Raymond’s dead gaze below the shallow water.
Ambrose stifled a cry and threw down his rife. He reached into the water and dragged the dead man out onto the ground. Ambrose saw the mortal wound near the heart and his vision blurred with tears. Then another horror popped into his mind. Rachel!
As if to accent this new thought, a blinding pain slammed green stars into his brain. He fell across Raymond and fumbled for his rifle somewhere off to the side, vaguely aware that blood was dripping from his nose.
Dorian wielded Raymond’s rifle as a club, clutching it by the barrel. Again, he struck Ambrose with the butt end of the weapon, this time whacking him on the temple. Ambrose went down hard, striking his head on a slab of slate. The landscape swam before him. His assailant crouched over him, gazing into his face.
"So you are a witch-sympathizer?" I’ll let you live because you’re a fool and don’t know any better. Try to remember this, my friend." He slapped at Ambrose’s face. "The witches are all kin to the daughter of the devil. She is the mother of the city of evil. Pick your friends more wisely."
Ambrose tasted blood in his mouth. He tried to stir but Dorian held him down.
"Relax," Dorian consoled, "or I’ll split your skull if I haven’t already." He moved out of Ambrose’s line of vision. "Thank you for the rifle and horses."
Dorian walked away. Ambrose heard his wagon pulling away before everything went black.
He saw a tiny point of light, a tiny flickering candle. As he drifted closer, the light filled his vision. He was home, outside, in the garden, Carole’s beautiful garden. The flickering flame-like object was Carole kneeling in the garden. He reached out to her and grazed his fingers against her hair. Carole turned, her eyes meeting with his yet not seeing him. She returned to her task and Ambrose watched. He saw golden radiance all around her.
"Oh," he remarked in awe. "You are an angel." He could have watched her for hours but the scene soared away into the blackness like a shooting star.