Beelo scrambled to the entryway. His legs felt heavy and he stumbled as he rounded the couch and nearly bumped into a side table. He took the step from from the living space to the entryway with some effort and grunted with the exertion as he raised his left hand above his head to disengage the upper latch. He stooped with his right hand on his knee, and pulled the lower latch free as well. He stood up, straightened his aching back, and pulled the door.
The door opened a crack and the winter wind whistled through the gap. Flecks of snow bounced off of Beelo’s forearms. He pulled again and the door opened further. He looked through the open space, into the blinding white light, and saw a hooded figure standing and waiting on the doorstep. Beelo realized he had not looked through the window and had violated one of the laws of their doma. Nobody was supposed to open the door without looking through the window, even if they heard the coded knock.
The hooded figure put a hand on the edge of the door, since there was no handle on the outside, and helped Beelo open the door a little further. The figure then stepped in and pulled the door shut against the blowing cold. The room went quiet just in time to hear the latches slide into place with a click and a soft pneumatic hiss. The figure lifted two gloved hands to its head and pulled the hood down to reveal long hair the color of dark honey.
Beelo’s heart pounded, thumping hard enough in his chest to make his vision pulse in time with each beat. He was simultaneously relieved and exasperated when he recognized his wife.
Kintu reached up and took off the mask. Her eyes blinked a few times and then settled on Beelo’s face.
“I forgot how uncomfortable these are,” she said as she held up the mask.
Beelo stepped up to Kintu and held her in his arms. The hide of the coat was cold on his bare arms and the snow stuck to it melted, making his clothes damp. He did not care.
“Beelo, please,” Kinto said. “I’d like to take this coat off. It smells in here and I could really use a bath.”
Beelo released his wife and helped her undo the fasteners on the front of the coat. Kintu shrugged off the heavy coat. Beelo took it and hung the coat on the peg next to the door. Next to the empty peg. He turned back to the living room to see Kintu standing in front of the fireplace, holding her hands out to the warmth.
“Where did you go,” Beelo asked.
Kintu looked at him and smiled.
“While you lay on my lap, you talked in your sleep. I haven’t heard you do that in years.”
Kintu glanced at Tara and then turned to Beelo.
“You kept talking about a lapina and how it was too heavy. I tried to ask you about it, but you would just repeat yourself.”
Beelo was overwhelmed by memories of the previous day. He remembered how followed game trails and ranged too far from home. He remembered the long trek back to the doma. He also remembered the sound he heard on the wind when he stopped at the rocky crest. The terrifying cry floated though his head and he got a chill.
“I waited for daylight,” Kintu went on, “and went outside to see what you were talking about. I found where you stashed the carcass. What an excellent–“
“Is that,” Beelo interrupted, “all that I said in my sleep?”
“No,” Kinto said. Her eyebrow drifted closer together with concern.
Beelo carefully made his way towards the fire place. His knees were wobbly and he sat on the couch. He reached up and took one of Kintu’s hands. He placed it on his cheek.
“No, you also said something about Terramort. You said, ‘Coming from Terramort.’”
Beelo swallowed. A sour taste had risen from his stomach at the mention of the dead lands.
Kintu squatted in front of Beelo and looked him in the eye. She didn’t like what she saw. It was not fear. Her husband was never scared. Even if he was afraid, it would be natural. Fear was a rational response to something dangerous. Beelo’s eyes did not look afraid. They looked haunted. Kintu knew from that look that something was wrong and Beelo felt he must do something about it.
Beelo smiled, but only the lower half of his face moved. He leaned forward and kissed Kintu on the lips.
“I was exhausted,” Beelo said dismissively. “Who knows what I was talking about?”
Kintu kissed him back. They both turned when they heard sounds coming from the back of the living room. Kintu stood and as their two children crept out of the passageway that led to the bedrooms.
Batu smiled and ran for her parents. Keelo took a few steps and fell. He then closed the rest of the distance on his hands and knees. Kintu sat next to Beelo on the couch and the two of them took turns to hug and kiss the children as they giggled.
Batu stopped laughing and put on a serious face. She looked at her father and pointed a finger at his chest.
“I didn’t get a good night kiss from you last night,” she scolded Beelo playfully.
“You’re right, little bug,” Beelo said and wrapped her in his arms. “I’ll just have to give you extra kisses today.”
Beelo began kissing her cheeks noisily. The little girl squirmed and tried halfheartedly to get away. Keelo squealed with laughter to see his sister tortured and clapped his hands together.
“Your father is still pretty tired,” Kintu said as she stood with Keelo on her hip. “And I know we’re all hungry. Let’s go make some breakfast.”
Kintu rolled out of Beelo’s grip, landed on the floor, and followed her mom to the kitchen. Keelo waved his hands at Beelo and Beelo waved back.
Beelo sat back into the couch. He glanced at Tara, who had ignored every one like she normally did. She looked at the fire and rocked her chair ever so slightly. Beelo followed her gaze to the flame that glowed and twisted behind the glass. A tiny wisp of smoke lifted from the tip of the orange tongue and disappeared quickly into the flue.
The smoke reminded Beelo of the night when his brother was taken and he wondered if that is why Tara stared at the flame. Did she watch the flame dance think about her husband? The slink? The burning leaves? Beelo’s memories of that autumn night mingled with the memory of the howl from last night’s trek. He closed his eyes and the thoughts swirled around his mind until he could smell smoke. The smoke brought forth another, older memory. Beelo felt himself sink into that memory. It enveloped him like tendrils of smoke.