Lem took his mother’s hand and guided her up the path they’d taken to Kivo’s picnic site and Yani’s secret hiding place, only now it was pitch black and Evanor could not see her feet, let alone the ground beneath them. Eventually she fell into the pace of her son’s sure stride.
“I never realized you could see so well in the dark Lem,” Evanor said breathless from the upward slope of the hill path.
“I can’t see any better than you Mama when there’s no light to see by,” Lem said. “I just look ahead to see where I’m going to be in another few moments and then that’s where I go.”
Evanor tried to digest her little boy’s words. She could understand them and yet she couldn’t understand them. At least she wasn’t afraid of him anymore like she had been the morning after her Thort had been killed. She knew deep in her breast that Lem would protect her and would never hurt her.
They reached the rock picnic table. “Do you want to rest a bit Mama?” Lem asked Evanor.
“Yes,” she said, “just for a moment until I catch my breath… Do you know where to go?”
“Not really,” Lem answered. “We’ll walk along the ridge and continue eastward until we get out of this sector. We’ll only move at night. If we see a farm or a village, we’ll walk around it.”
“What will we do about water and food?” Evanor asked.
“We’ll walk parallel to a stream so we can get to one when we need to drink or refill our water bags,” Lem said, “and we’ll get whatever fruit and vegetables we need from the orchards and fields at night…”
“… But that’s stealing!” Evanor protested, shocked to hear her son talk like that. Thort and Evanor had raised Lem better than that.
“It can’t be helped Mama,” Lem explained looking down at the ground. “Otherwise we’d die … We’ll be honest again, as soon as we can afford to be … Come Mama, let’s go. We have to keep moving.”
They walked around the bend and kept on walking. Lem did not show his mother Yani’s secret hiding place. It wasn’t that he wanted to keep a secret from his mother. It was just that she was having a hard enough time getting used to her little son she thought she knew so well but didn’t and Lem did not want to make it any harder on her.
When the night began to grey into dawn Lem could see the dark meandering line of the creek below them running parallel to the ridge on the far side of the fields to their left. He moved Evanor away from the path edge so they would not be visible to any farmers in the fields. His mother must have been exhausted by now and he looked for a suitable place to eat and rest for the day. If only he could teach his mother to see sideways, they would not have been so exposed to prying eyes. Lem found a shallow cave hidden behind two skag trees and suggested to Evanor that they make themselves at home in the cave for the day. Evanor took out the rations for the day and spread them on the blanket for them to eat. She could scarcely eat her sandwich, she was so tired. She said to Lem that she would just rest for a little while but soon she was fast asleep. Lem picked up Evanor’s half-eaten sandwich and returned it to the bag. He lay down beside his mother and slept like he hadn’t slept since he could remember.
They made fairly good time. Within one week they reached the border between Sector 87 and Sector 95. The land was hilly with large tracts of virgin forest. There wasn’t much farm land and the villages were few. The roads weren’t well-maintained; mostly packed dirt. The gorm seemed to run wild. You could see drac tracks on the road and off it, but Lem and Evanor never actually saw any dracs.
Before first dawn they crossed over one hill and descended into a gully clogged with bramble and skagwood. Up on the hill to the left of them, Lem caught a glint of light from the sun below the hill. He squinted his eyes to see better and discerned a glass window in a cabin. He told his mother to stop a moment so he could listen to the sounds of the forest. Lem heard the quiet, the quiet of held breath the animals of the forest made when they were watching and listening for Lem’s and Evanor’s every move, the quiet when no farmer or farmer’s wife is up and about in the fields kicking around cans or driving the animals this place or that.
“Mama,” Lem said, “let’s go up and look around that cabin up there on the hill. We’re getting low on food and it’s been awhile since we had a good bowl of stew. I’ll stay out of sight.
“Can you see us inside that cabin up there, Lem?” Evanor asked suddenly.
Lem looked at his mother intently. Maybe she was starting to get used to him and his ways. “Yes Mama,” he answered. “I see us both sitting at the table in the kitchen eating our second helpings of thick soup … all by ourselves. There’s nobody else in the cabin but us.”
“Are you sure Lem?” she asked.
“Yes Mama,” Lem said matter-of-factly.
Evanor asked her small son hesitantly, “What happened to the people who own that cabin?”
“I don’t know Mama,” Lem lied for the first time in his life because he didn’t want to frighten his mother.
Against her better judgment, Evanor climbed up the hill behind Lem towards the cabin at the top of the middle of nowhere.
When they reached the narrow plateau where the cabin nestled, Evanor was tired and her skirts were torn from the bramble clinging to the hillside. She would have to sew and patch her skirts that evening. As agreed, Lem hid just below the ledge of the plateau while Evanor ascended the porch steps and knocked lightly on the door.
There was no response. She called out, “Hello there! Is anybody home?” in her most pleasant but loudest voice. There was still no response. She looked through the window, blocking the sunlight from her eyes with her hands in order to see through the darkness inside. “Hello there!” she called again. Still no response. Evanor walked back over to the door and tried the door handle. It gave way. She opened the door and leaned through the doorway, her heart racing under her blouse. “Hello there!” she called tentatively. She looked back in the direction of the ledge where Lem was hiding and then slipped inside.
While Evanor was inside the cabin Lem ran around to the back of the cabin to the skag tree at the edge of the clearing where two bodies, black with death, hung upside-down from the lower limb. He shimmied up the tree and cut the ropes so the bodies fell to the ground. He rolled them behind the brush and dug shallow graves for the man and woman and covered them with the soft moist dirt he’d dug out.
Lem ran stooping low around the cabin back to the ledge where he had been hiding. A moment later, Evanor leaned out of the cabin doorway and called to him, “Lem, you can come in. There’s nobody here in the cabin, just like you said!”
Evanor saw Lem’s head pop up from behind the ledge. He walked up the steps of the porch and they explored the cabin together. There was a fireplace with a stack of logs. Upstairs there was a real bed with blankets and sheets. The pantry in the kitchen was full of good food.
That evening Evanor and Lem sat at a table in the kitchen and ate their thick soup.
It was their second helping.