Lem ran back to his father’s lifeless body. The blood was cauterized around the gaping wound from the energy pellets of Styg’s shot-blaster. Lem turned the body over, mustering all the strength of his small frame, and saw the frozen look of confused horror on the face that was not Thort anymore. He picked up the bags of food and necessities they had brought from Kivo’s place.
Lem returned to the boulder where he had left his mother. Evanor was slumped against the rock in shock. Although she was facing him, Lem could not tell whether his mother was able to see him or not. He tried to soothe her raw emotions with his child’s voice rather than shout harshly into his mother’s mind. “Please Mama,” he said, “please try to get up onto your own legs… I’m not strong enough to carry you and we have to get away from here as fast as we can. I’m not sure how long I can control Styg…”
Evanor seemed to rally to the sounds of her little son’s voice. She twisted halfway around and put her palm flat against the ground to push herself up and get her legs under her. Her knees buckled and she fell, but Lem caught her just in time. He tried to support her weight as best he could until she could stand on her own.
There were still a few more hours of darkness before first dawn. They had to get as far from Styg’s farm as possible. A threshold had been crossed and there was no going back to what was. Hatred spread through the sector like a virus. You could see it in their eyes. Maybe they’d have to leave the sector. Lem decided they could walk along the road until first dawn light but then they’d have to hide until nightfall.
Lem heard the purdybirds caw in the fields to either side of them. He knew that animals sensed the coming dawn before people could. He started scanning the dark horizon for caves, dense orchards, or hills – anywhere they could hide from prying human eyes.
Lem took his mother’s hand and guided her through the orchard to the western low-lying hills. Evanor slipped twice on the gravel and tree roots but Lem caught and steadied her each time. By the time they made the boulder ledge, the sky had turned from black to grey. Lem saw a shallow depression in the hillside behind one of the boulders. He cleared the area of rocks and spread a blanket on the ground. He laid one of the bags on the blanket and told his mother to lie down on the blanket and use the bag as a pillow. They would sleep for awhile and eat something when they’d wake up.
Evanor closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep. Lem lay down beside his mother and closed his eyes too, but his sleep was light. He sensed the volume of the sunlight grow against his eyelids. He heard the birds cawing in the fields below. He heard the silence enveloping the path above and below the ledge where they hid. If a twig had snapped, if a pebble had been dislodged, Lem would have heard it.
Lem sensed his mother stir on the blanket beside him. “Thort!” she cried out and sat up straight.
“Please Mama,” he pleaded. “Father is dead. Please wake up!”
She looked at Lem, recognizing him and not recognizing him all at the same time. “What are we going to do?” she said to herself out loud.
Lem explained to Evanor, “We have to get away from here, as far as we can… I endanger you, Mama. You can’t put them off my scent or sidetrack them like Father could… So we can only move at night… We must return to Kivo and Thana and Yani to warn them and tell them what happened. Then we must go away, find a place to live as far as we can from other people.”
“Why did Styg do this?” Evanor asked. “What did we do to them to make him kill Thort?” She thought of the extra flour she had stolen to make their bread.
Lem answered her, “Who knows why? Maybe the neighbors pressured Styg or infected him with their hatred… Maybe the hatred was there all along, but as long as he needed Father he let us live with him. Perhaps Styg will think about what he did when he buries Father. Perhaps he will be afraid of what I did to him just long enough for us to escape this hateful place.”
“What did you do to Styg?” Evanor asked her son, wondering what kind of stranger occupied his small body.
“I entered his body like I entered yours,” Lem said softly, “only I entered his to stop his evil from injuring us.”
“You entered my body?” Evanor stuttered.
“I only wanted you to run faster so you would survive Mama,” Lem said. “I’m sorry, Mama. I was so afraid. I wouldn’t have done it if I weren’t afraid for you.” He hugged her and buried his head in her stomach.
Evanor wrapped her arms around his frail body and soothed him, “It’s alright, my brave heart, I just never felt anything like that before and – I’m not sure I know you anymore.”
“You know me Mama,” he begged her, “you still know me!”
She continued to wrap her arms around him. “I’ll just have to get used to you I guess,” she murmured.
After Evanor relaxed her hold on him, Lem reached for one of the bags and pulled out a third of a loaf of bread, which he divided in half, giving one to his mother and keeping one for himself. They ate some fruit and drank down some water from the bag.
There was nothing to do now but to wait for nightfall.
They moved only at night, and then slowly and carefully. They walked around the villages, 435, 436, and 437, and never through them. Lem could see the faint glitter of streams under the star light, so they were able to refill the water bag whenever they needed.
Just before dawn on the third night, Lem and his mother knocked on the door of Kivo’s cabin. After a few moments Thana opened the door. “Oh, I’m so glad you finally …” she stopped in mid-sentence. Then, “Where’s Thort? What’s happened? Come in you poor dears!”
Yani had just come down the stairs holding a stuffed doll. Thana told her to go out to the field to fetch Papa. “Tell him Evanor and Lem are here.”
Evanor broke down in a gush of tears and anguished moaning. Thana held Evanor in her arms, shushing and soothing her.
Kivo rushed in through the front door and stopped short. Yani came in behind her father and stood beside him with her doll gripped tightly too her. “What happened, Evanor?” Kivo asked gently.
Evanor spoke softly, emptied of emotion. “Thort’s dead… The farmer we had been staying with, Styg, went berserk and … and … and shot him in the back! He would have shot us too if it hadn’t been for my brave little boy here.” Lem squeezed his mother’s hand.
Yani stared at Lem. How did you overcome him? I don’t know. I just had to and it happened like it had to. Why didn’t you stop that bad man before he killed your father? I don’t know Yani. I don’t know. I didn’t know before it happened and then it was too late to stop it, but I saw him coming to kill us in time and I went inside him and stopped him in time. What’s happening to me, Yani? Has anything like this ever happened to you? No, the last time you were here you seemed so retarded, but now you do things I can’t do yet. Yani, I must take my mother away from here, as far away as possible. They will hunt us down and kill us if they can. You must get your parents to leave too. It’s not safe for them here.
“You can stay with us as long as you need,” Kivo said, looking over at Thana and Yani for tacit approval.
Evanor looked at Lem and told Kivo, “Thank you for your kindness … but we don’t think it’s safe here either. They called us Rat lovers, Thort and me. You could see the hate in their eyes.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Kivo protested. “People are basically good. I’ll go to the authorities and report Thort’s murder. They’ll find Styg and punish him. You’ll see!”
“No!” Evanor screamed. “They will come up here and hang us from the nearest tree … and they’ll hang you too for helping us or … because of your daughter.”
There was a tense silence among them.
Kivo looked, full of concern, at Yani and then at Thana. “Please, Evanor,” he pleaded, “you’re frightening my wife and daughter. I just can’t believe –“
“I’m so sorry, Kivo,” Evanor said, “but we must leave tonight. We don’t know where we will go, but my Lem will guide me and protect me… Please don’t say anything to the authorities about Thort or Styg, for your own sakes and for ours… When you decide that it is time to leave this place, trust your daughter to guide you.”
Thana and Evanor silently cooked food and baked bread for their flight. Kivo stood at the front window looking out. Yani and Lem sat together in Kivo’s chair in front of the fireplace holding hands.
When night had fallen, Evanor and Lem said their goodbyes to Kivo, Thana, and Yani. “You be careful,” Kivo bade Evanor.
“You be careful too,” Evanor answered.
Outside the cabin, Lem took his mother’s hand and they disappeared into the night.
That night Kivo didn’t sleep.