Read Harvest Moon Online

Authors: Leigh Talbert Moore

Tags: #Love, #Romantic, #Survival, #Small Town, #Paranormal, #Suspense, #Adventure, #action, #female protagonist

Harvest Moon (5 page)

BOOK: Harvest Moon
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Since that wasn’t working, I thought of Braxton and how this imprisonment had messed up his head and caused him to lose faith. I searched the dining hall for him until I found him across the room, staring into his plate like a lost soul. He’d given up on everything that defined his life and was battling depression and hopelessness. I refused to remember how I’d always been troubled by his fanatical beliefs and outrageous behavior, or how I’d always wished he’d tone it down and be more realistic with his faith.

No. I made myself see that even D’Lo was talking about crazy things like aliens being real. He’d lost the nerve to fight, and was willing to sit and be drugged and treated like a slave.

That was the key. I had to see how we were all losing our identities in this place, and the longer we were here, the more this captive mentality became the new normal for us.

Dinner was over, and it was time for me to report for the evening milk shift, but I didn’t want to see Gallatin tonight. I needed a break from him. I went back to the dormitory instead of the barn and waited to see what would happen, whether a note would come or if one of the guards would come and get me.

An hour rolled by and nothing happened. I got up from my cot and went to the screened windows facing the barn. The lights were on, and I could see the moving shadow of someone working. I was being allowed to skip. I knew he was letting me off, and guilt twisted painfully in my chest.

As I slowly walked back to my cot, D’Lo stopped me. The partition wasn’t up yet, and we were being allowed to socialize. It was happening more and more.

“Hey, Pren.” He sat on the bunk across from mine and leaned forward so his head didn’t hit the top frame. “Come sit with me.”

I nodded and sat beside him on the bunk.

“I’ve seen you spending a lot of time with that guy. What’ve you found out?”

“Nothing,” I confessed, clasping my hands together and staring at my feet. “Nothing we can use.”

What would D’Lo say if he knew how I’d really been spending my time, swimming in the creek, laughing, and relaxing in the sun, smiling and getting friendly. It was like I was having a holiday.

“Tell me what you do know. Maybe it’s useful and you don’t realize it.”

“He was in Arizona before they brought him here.” I was embarrassed by what I knew, and I wasn’t about tell him about the celibacy thing or about us napping side by side on a blanket beside a sparkling pond. Then I thought of something—how we got in and out. “There’s a break in the fence down behind the cabins.”

“But you have to get past all of them down there.”

“Right,” I said, nodding.

“So it’s true, that’s not much.” I felt D’Lo’s eyes on me, and I could feel his disapproval without him saying a word. “I’ve seen how he keeps his eye on you all the time. He’s watching you.”

Inwardly I squirmed. I knew what Dee was saying was true, but the way I knew it was true because I was always watching him.

“Since the accident, we’ve gotten to be friends.”

“That guy is not your friend.” His voice was sharp, and he put his hand on my arm to make me face him. “He’s one of them, and they’re not like us. They’re different.”

I sighed. “You know I don’t believe that. I think that guard’s messing with your mind.”

“You haven’t seen what I’ve seen. These guys can do things. Bad things. Without even lifting a finger.”

“Like what?”

“I saw that one guy cut through ropes with nothing. No knife, not even standing close to them.”

I frowned. “What?”

The lights blinked, and the partition started to close. It was time for us to part, but D’Lo leaned toward me. “I know Jackson made mistakes, and he messed up. A lot. But I always had your back when it came to him. Don’t forget what’s real, Pren. Don’t go looking for a replacement in the wrong place.”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” My voice was sharp, and I stood beside my bunk. “I’m not looking for anything. Jackson was good to me. He never made mistakes.”

“Okay. Just remember we’ve got to get out of here. Remember that.”

“I remember.”

Dee walked slowly to their side of the large room, but he’d hammered home everything I’d been scolding myself about at dinner, leaving me ashamed and embarrassed. At the same time, his words about Jackson stirred up old suspicions I didn’t like. Old whisperings I’d always dismissed as jealousy.

What mistakes had Jackson made? Why would D’Lo need to have my back? I thought of Yolanda’s comment about Star getting the best of me. I bit my lip as an image of my old rival filled my head. Star had always been after Jackson, but he’d assured me there was nothing there. They were just neighbors, and her mom just babysat him as a little boy. I trusted him. I still trusted him, and I was getting us out of here.

* * *

T
he next morning, I went to chores with renewed determination. Gallatin would take me to the creek again today, and I’d get answers we could use. I’d be damned if I was going to live like a prisoner anymore, and I was going to keep my promise to get us all out of here. No more distractions.

I found him in the back watching Bully. He seemed surprised to see me, or maybe it was the serious expression on my face that surprised him.

“Good morning,” he said, watching me. “Come to see our baby?”

“No. I wanted to talk to you.” I looked around for Oma or any of the others who might be listening. “I want to go to the creek again.”

Gallatin stepped toward me and spoke quietly. “Okay. But I can’t this afternoon. Cato needs my help with something.”

I pressed my lips together and exhaled, but he smiled as if that amused him. Or pleased him.

“I have another idea,” he said. “Would you be willing to go after dinner? Maybe after evening chores?”

“Oh,” I remembered my no-show last night at chores. “I’m sorry about that. About last night.”

“No.” He lifted his hand and lightly placed it near my mouth as if to stop my words. “Don’t apologize. We needed a break. Yesterday was—”

Over
, I thought. “I’ll help you tonight, and then we can go.” Then he’d give me answers.

“I look forward to it.”

* * *

Y
olanda was at my side at lunch, and D’Lo was across from me, no different than before. But today it felt like they were watching me, wondering if I was still on their side. Flora took the scraps I gave her, and after the meal, I didn’t want to go down to the shed with them. I didn’t care if my hair flew in my eyes or looked stringy. I didn’t want to feel their pressure to act.

This afternoon, I wanted to spend time with Flora and Braxton. They were weak, and I needed to make sure they held on until I returned.

In the grove in the middle of the yard, Braxton sat against a tree staring into nothingness as his habit had become. I eased to a seat beside him and took his hand. Flora followed and sat beside me.

“How you feeling?” I said to my brother.

“Tired. Ready to be done.”

“Well, we’re pretty much finished for the day.”

“I mean here, with all of it. It’s over and I want to be released. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“You mean work on the farm?”

“I mean get up, get dressed, eat food, keep going. It’s all meaningless, and I’m sick to death of it.”

He wasn’t joking, and his tone scared me. “Are you saying you want to die?”

“Maybe. And why shouldn’t I? There’s no reason to keep living.”

“There’s me,” I said. “And what if you found Lisa again, and you two got married?”

“Lisa’s not coming back. She’s probably dead. Like the rest.”

A little squeak from Flora made me put my arm around her and squeeze. “Jesus, Brax. Have a heart.”

“I’m sorry, Flora,” he said. Then he stood and put his hands in his pockets. I watched him walk slowly across the yard toward our dorms.

Flora lay her head down in my lap, and I began to comb my fingers through her hair. She was so fragile, but at least her coloring seemed right now. I felt her tremble, and I wanted to make her feel better.

“If Brax is going to be an atheist now, I wish he’d be one of those fun ones.”

She didn’t answer me at first. Then she sniffed and spoke into my lap. “I’ve never heard of any fun atheists.”

“Me neither. But I bet there are some.” I thought a moment. “Or maybe a Unitarian? Don’t they believe in aliens?”

“Prentiss Puckett, you say the craziest things!” Flora sat up and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “What do you know about aliens. Or Unitarians?”

“Nothing,” I smiled. “How are you feeling these days?”

“Tired. I’m always tired.” Then she laid her head back on my lap. “It seemed like I was getting a little better when you got hurt—when you were gone? But now I’m feeling more and more tired again.”

I leaned down and gave her a squeeze. “I’m sorry. I’m going to do my best to get us out real soon, but you just rest. If anything’s too hard, I’ll do it. Okay?”

She nodded and closed her eyes in my lap. I went back to combing her hair with my fingers as she drifted to sleep. Tonight I’d get us back on track.

Chapter 15

––––––––

T
he remainder of the day went as usual, minus my recent trips to the creek every afternoon. I had to admit, as the heat rose to stifling and the air stopped moving, I longed for a dive into icy water and then a stretch out on a blanket in the sunshine. I missed our afternoon escapes, as he called them. It would probably be too cold to swim after dark, without the sun to rewarm our bodies. I wondered what made natural springs so naturally bone-chilling.

Gallatin was finishing up the milking when I arrived after dinner, and all that was left was the churning.

“You started without me,” I said, looking around the barn.

He smiled. “I didn’t want us to waste our time here when we could be relaxing. You know it’s a full moon tonight?”

“No.” I took a handle and started to pump. “I usually need the calendar for stuff like that.”

“When I was out west, the full moon was so big sometimes... it was gorgeous.”

“I bet.” I focused on the paddle and on my mission. I wouldn’t let his friendliness distract me from my goals this time.

He studied my face and didn’t speak again. The only sound was the soft thump of the paddles against the wooden churns until at last we were done and Oma appeared to take the fruits of our labor to the kitchen.

“I guess that’s it for tonight,” Gallatin said too loudly, making a big show of us saying good-night.

“Right,” I answered in the same tone. “See you tomorrow, then.”

Oma didn’t even look up as she gathered the supplies and went out the side door. The moment it clicked shut, he caught my hand and pulled me through the other side entrance and out into the night.

“Just follow me. I’ve got everything waiting for us.”

He took my hand, and I carefully ran after him in the black night, picking my way through the darkness, trying not to trip over any tree roots or stray branches. We were slipping through the fence and then running up the hill in no time. Once we’d made it over the top, I slowed to a walk and caught my breath. We only had to stroll down now.

“It goes so much faster now that you’re well,” he said, slowing down with me. “How’s the hip anyway?”

I shrugged. “Just a little ache if I sleep on it wrong or step too hard.”

“Good.” He smiled and reached for my hand, but I moved it away.

“Sorry,” he said. “Habit.”

“We don’t need to do that now that I’m better.”

“You’re right,” he said quietly. “Look, there it is.”

The pond’s surface was black in the night, but the full moon cast silver shimmers across every ripple. In the open place where we would lie under the sun, a giant orange moon was rising.

“It’s beautiful,” I whispered, looking up.

The noise of cicadas was loud, and deep in the woods it was almost solid black. But here everything seemed magical—black, white, and silver instead of the usual Technicolor-green. We went over to the fallen tree and sat, looking at the water, and for a little while we were silent, listening to the sounds of the night. I hated to break it. Actually, I hated sitting here next to him as if the last week hadn’t happened and we were strangers again. Or worse. If everything had been different tonight, he’d probably reach over and kiss me. I’d probably let him.

Instead, I started my interrogation. “So what were you doing this afternoon for Cato?” I kept my voice casual, but I was determined to get answers this time.

“Hang on, I brought something for us.”

As usual, he avoided my question by distracting me. Or redirecting the conversation. I watched him go to the backpack, unzip it, and dig around. When he returned, he was holding a short, narrow bottle that looked like a flask.

“I found it in the locker where the pain killers were,” he said, taking a sip. Then he held it out to me. “Rye whiskey. Not bad either.”

“No thanks,” I said.

“What? The girls in Arizona always got excited about stuff like this.”

“My dad’s an alcoholic. It kind of kills the fun for me.”

Even in this light, I could see his brow crease. Then he sat up and for a moment he paused. Then he reached back and pitched the bottle hard. I couldn’t see it as it flew deep into the woods, but moments later I heard the glass shatter.

“It seems I keep saying the wrong thing to you,” he said.

I seized the opportunity. “There’s something you can say to me now.”

“Yes?”

“What were you doing for Cato this afternoon?”

His shoulders dropped and he looked away again. “Why are you asking me this? I don’t want to bring all of that here.”

“I need to know, Gallatin.”

He sighed and looked down at his hand. “I was helping her speak to my grandfather.”

“Your grandfather?” That didn’t sound like anything I could use. “What is he? Some sort of king? A Czar or something?”

“No. He’s what we call a Guard.” He still wasn’t looking at me.

“Why would she need your help to speak to him?”

“He moves around a lot.”

“And?”

“And I help her locate him.”

I thought about this for a moment. “Like on a map? With GPS?”

BOOK: Harvest Moon
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