#VisDare – Unanswered

Prompt: http://anonymouslegacy.blogspot.com/2013/04/visdare-15-unanswered.html

“They come tonight.” The old woman’s teeth had fallen out long ago, leaving her mouth sunken and misshapen, and I had to lean in close to understand. “Do you know them? Know why they come?”

I nodded. Everyone did.

“No you don’t. None of you do. You’re too young. You don’t remember what it was like. Before. Be…” She raised a palsied hand, twisted and spotted, clutching a frayed and stained handkerchief to her mouth and spat. Clearing her throat, she sounded more like a young man than a woman of a century and a half, but she was weak, and wouldn’t see more than one or two more nightfalls. This might even be her last.

“Before. They don’t come, the children, to remind us, or even to haunt us. They come to punish us. For not caring. For not helping. For letting them get slaughtered, day after day, in city after city. We knew. We said we cared. But we did not. And we were all guilty. Do you see?”

I shook my head. No. I’d read the books, and I knew our crimes. Or I’d thought I did.

“You will. Stay with me tonight. They will come, and I will go. And so might you – they do that sometimes. But probably not, not one as young as you.”

As she talked, the sun fell below the horizon, and the moon rose, waxing and gibbous, but not full, and hidden by clouds. We didn’t have to wait long for the silver glow to appear through the blinds, and then the try at the door.

“It’s not locked – you can come in.” Her voice was barely a croak, but they heard her, and started filing in as soon as the door swung open. I was astonished to see how many there were – enough to fill the room, and to gather outside, peering in. They did not speak, but stood patiently, biding their time.

“We were wrong. We could have helped, but we didn’t. And you paid for our sins.” She turned back to me. “Help me stand. I owe them that respect, at least.”

She weighed nothing, and I lifted her easily. They moved forward then, taking her from me, and began escorting her out the door. As they carried her down the lane, the clouds parted, and I saw them clearly for the first time. This one missing a leg. This one an arm. This one dripping silver ichor from a hole in its stomach. All were damaged, brutally, horribly. The old woman turned back to me once, the question again in her eyes. I nodded, and she nodded back. I knew now why they Returned. And I knew that I’d go with them when it was my time. For the price was high, and we all had to pay.

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