Chapter 6: Going among the Children
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
We had gotten ourselves into an impasse. I was mad at Bonnie, but didn’t want to stay mad at her, and I was betting she was feeling the same way. Even so, neither one of us seemed to know what to do about it.
So the Children solved it for us. Bonnie glanced to my right, out the window behind me, and announced in a voice tinged with relief, “Looks like your ride is here.”
I was grateful for the diversion, too. “My ride?”
Bonnie nodded. “The Children told me they’d be sending someone to pick you up and take you to the place they’ve set up for you on their grounds.” Bonnie stood up, still looking out the window behind me, and frowned. “That’s odd. Looks like they’ve sent Sonia Hoopes from Milltown. Sonia’s Milltown’s treasurer. Can’t imagine why they picked her.” She sat down and gave me a grin, as if to say that we were friends again.
Sonia Hoopes came in. She was dressed like you’d expect a treasurer to be: conservatively cut business suit in gray, skirt falling below the knees, black heels. She was tall, even taller with her heels, with attractive curves to go with her height. Above the neck she looked a lot like me: the same unruly brown hair and the pentagonal face that I had kept trying to imagine was an elegant oval when I was in my teens. The moment she saw me, she smiled and strode over to take my hand, saying, “Hello, you must be Emily Fisher. I’m Sonia Hoopes, and I’m supposed to assist you in your investigation.”
We shook hands. Sonia must have practiced shaking hands with guys who tried to prove they were tougher than her, because she almost crushed my hand without giving it a thought. Only when she was finished and had let go did she deign to notice the other person in the room. She nodded to Bonnie. “Hello, Chief Knowles.”
Bonnie acknowledged the greeting with a question phrased as a statement. “I would have thought a member of the High Council would have been picking Emily up, seeing they hired her.”
For a moment, Sonia looked displeased, and then she put on a smile again. She turned back to me and said, “The High Council wanted you to feel free to work without distractions, so they decided to refurbish a cottage in Milltown for your residence while you are among us. I was in charge of the project, so they felt I should have the honor of bringing you amongst us.”
Bonnie wasn’t going to let Sonia shut her out of the conversation. “Which cottage?”
Sonia managed to keep her smile on this time as she turned to Bonnie. “It’s the Burns cottage. I don’t suppose you know where that is, Chief Knowles.”
Bonnie theatrically scratched her head. “Might be the cottage on the north side of Milltown in which Erasmus Burns died, but if it isn’t, I wouldn’t know.”
Sonia nodded to that, turned to me. “Now that Chief Knowles is satisfied, why don’t we go?”
I had no objections, especially since Bonnie now knew where I’d be and wasn’t objecting, so we set off immediately. Sonia insisted in carrying my bags out to the car. Truth be told, she hardly seemed to notice their weight. Bonnie gave me a wink once Sonia had stepped out. “Show ’em, Emily.”
Sonia didn’t drive us all the way into Milltown. The Children don’t allow cars on their lands at all. It’s not that they’re against technology, they just don’t want outsiders wandering around on their lands without permission, and keeping motor vehicles out makes it easier. There’s a parking lot at the end of Over Mountain Road, the only road paved all the way to the Children’s lands, and that’s where visitors park and where the Children park the cars they use when they go out into the world.
Sonia Hoopes spent the short drive to the Children’s lands extolling the virtues of the cottage I’d be living in. Among other things, the cottage was fully wired, so I could get high-speed Internet access and cable TV. I resisted asking if I got any porn channels, though I was tempted by how much Sonia was beginning to annoy me. She was trying to be as charming as a real estate agent, but it was very forced and unnatural. I could literally see her putting her smile back on every time she turned to say something to me.
From the parking lot, we had to walk in to Center Village, and then south to Milltown. Sonia allowed me to carry one of my bags, but she insisted on carrying the rest. The main path to Center Village cuts through a stretch of woods that runs along the entire eastern side of the Children’s land, their barrier against the outside world. Sonia fell silent once we entered the woods, apparently lost in her own thoughts.
That left me to my own thoughts. Bonnie had seemed happy with my housing arrangements. Me, I wasn’t so sure. I was going to be alone among hundreds of religious fanatics that wanted to reclaim me. Having a place of my own might not be an effective barrier. Sonia hadn’t said anything about locks on the doors, and most buildings among the Children don’t have them. I debated whether it was politic to ask.
The Children rarely go out into the world, and this wasn’t one of the days they allowed visitors, so the path into Center Village was deserted. It wasn’t until we came out into the fields that we started running into people. To my surprise, the Children we passed all stared at me, and then gave us a wide berth. They would literally step off the path into the fields, or, once we got into the village, they’d vacate the streets, shutting doors behind them.
If I was surprised, Sonia was mortified, then enraged. She kept looking straight forward, as if nothing was happening, but she’d gone pale, and I swear I could hear her teeth gnashing.
We were just about to leave Center Village on the path to Milltown, when a man who looked to be about sixty stepped into the street just ahead of us, turned to face us, and pointedly spat on my shoes.
Sonia boiled over. “Jacob Lawrence,” she yelled, “I’ll have you up before the High Council for this.”
Jacob didn’t seem too intimidated. He turned slightly and spat on Sonia’s shoes.
Sonia lost it. She dropped my bags, picked Jacob up by his shirt with both hands and threw him so he fell down in the street. He crumpled in the dirt and lay still. Sonia aimed a kick at him. But she didn’t carry through. Instead, she spat on him, picked up my bags, and walked on past him.
I could see Jacob was breathing, and he didn’t seem to be much hurt, so I hurried to catch up to Sonia. She kept walking at a steady pace, her face working with anger. Finally, she mastered herself enough to turn to me and say, “I’m sorry about that. They don’t see many outsiders, and not all of them are happy you’ve come to investigate Councilor Nash’s death.”
Well, that was an understatement. I recalled my fear that the Children were set on trying to reclaim me from being one of the Fallen. It appeared I was mistaken. Sonia hadn’t said anything more, so I decided to probe a bit. “How do you feel about my being here investigating Nash’s death, Sonia?”
She stopped and turned to stare at me, seemingly quite startled by the question. “Why, of course I’m happy to have you here.” She paused, as if to say more, looked as though she was having second thoughts, then continued, “Why, have I done something wrong?”
I shook my head.
That seemed to satisfy her at first, and we started walking along again, but then she came to a halt and said, “If there’s something I’ve done wrong, Ms. Fisher, I do wish you’d tell me.”
I looked over at her, surprised by the very worried tone in her voice. I noticed I’d also gone from being “Emily” to being “Ms. Fisher.” For all her fake charm, Sonia Hoopes was afraid of offending me. Pity I didn’t know why.
With nothing to go on, I just shrugged my shoulders and replied, “If you do something wrong, Ms. Hoopes, I will let you know.” And with that I started walking along the path again. Sonia Hoopes scurried to catch up to me.
Just as we reached the outskirts of Milltown, Sonia turned into the front yard of a small cottage that looked like it had just had a major spruce-up, new paint job and all. She turned to me and pointed to the building, saying, “This is the Burns Cottage. You’ll be living here.” At that moment, a tall, athletic-looking fair-haired girl of maybe twenty years of age opened the door and came out. Sonia beckoned her over and continued, “This is Tanya Thompson, Emily. Tanya, this is Ms. Fisher. Tanya will be your servant while you live here. She’ll do you cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and any other tasks you may devise for her.”
My own personal slave. Lucky me! Or was she going to be the Children’s spy? Naturally, the answer had to be “yes” to both. I gave Tanya a closer look. Her height and build had misled me at first glance; she couldn’t be more than seventeen to draw an assignment like this, but she certainly couldn’t be much younger. I greeted her. “Hi, Tanya. Will you also be living with me?”
Tanya started to say something, but Sonia jumped in. “We’ve instructed Tanya to make up a room for herself here, but if you want she can live in the nearby hall.”
If I can think of one thing worse than being a slave, it would be being a teenage slave having to live in one of the Children’s residence halls. I said to Sonia, “Oh, if she can put up with my hours, I imagine she can stay here.” I think it was only because Sonia was looking at me that Tanya allowed a relieved look to spread across her face. I smiled back at her. “Can you handle a late sleeper and night owl, Tanya?”
“I like to stay up late, myself, Ms. Fisher,” Tanya answered.
Sonia decided she had to retake control. “Good, good. Tanya, why don’t you run along for about half an hour? Ms. Fisher and I have a few things to discuss.”
Tanya took off, Sonia took me into the house, and we toured the place. It wasn’t very big. The ground floor had a kitchen and dining alcove, a living room, a study which Sonia told me had been specifically set up for me, and a bedroom for Tanya. The second floor had the bathroom, including a shower and tub, and my bedroom. There were king-sized beds in both rooms, even. Apparently Tanya and I would not have to lead the monastic life. I couldn’t help but notice that there was no way for me to enter or leave the house without going past Tanya’s bedroom door, but that her bedroom had its own door to the outside. It would be easy for Tanya to monitor my movements, but difficult for me to track hers. I was given keys for the house, study, and my bedroom. Of course, I figured the Children would have duplicates.
While we were touring, Sonia was explaining that she’d be my liaison to both the Milltown council and the High Council, and that if there was anything I needed that Tanya couldn’t get for me, I should call on her at any time of day. All of which was fine and wonderful, but did have me wondering why she sent Tanya off while she showed me the house.
That I found out when we came back to the living room. Sonia directed me to sit down, then pulled up a chair so she was facing me. She looked at me intently for about half a minute, as if making up her mind what to say. I was about to ask her what was on her mind, when she suddenly reached out and took my hands in hers.
“I’m so happy to have you here, Emily. It’s wonderful to finally meet a sister who’s been lost to us. I suppose I should say a half-sister, but I’ve always thought of you as a sister.” While she said this, tears formed in her eyes.
End of chapter six