EVEN IN HER NIGHTMARES Aisha had seen nothing like the visitor. From the corner of her brother's room she watched as bony arms reached towards him, the gnarled fingers gesturing as the creature spoke. Aisha was supposed to have left when the visitor arrived but had raised such a fuss that they'd allowed her to stay. The corner of her brother Vintor's room was the one place where she normally felt safe. Now she regretted staying, but the hooded figure in front of her, the one who looked ready to attack, had lost all memory of the small girl watching from the corner.
Two watery eyes gazed out from the shadow of the hood that only partly covered the visitor's head, a skeleton of a head, bald and emaciated like a mummy's, but with lips that moved. As they moved, her translucent skin moved with them, sliding in time across knotted, blue veins. “Should have been dead long ago,” Aisha's father had said. Her mother had nodded silently.
Aisha hadn't heard that conversation. Vintor shouldn't have either, but Vintor's hearing was sharp. It had done more than just survive the childhood disease that people assumed had dulled his other senses. In a world of smarter, quicker people, Vintor had learned to keep his advantages to himself. Vintor had been able to make out the words of the conversation even through the thick walls, but he hadn't been able to get the sense of it. The moment the visitor had entered his room he understood. She ― if it could be called a she ― was coming for him. She had arrived in his room unannounced, had sat down without being asked and had been talking in an uninterrupted flow for almost an hour. Half terrified, but wholly captivated by the white-clad vision in front of him, Vintor had abandoned himself to just staring into the watery eyes.
“So, what's your decision?”
A question. What had she been talking about? He searched in vain for the final words. As had often worked before in such situations, he took the offensive and snapped back with a quick “About what?” but if she'd noticed the tone she didn't show it.
“About the offer I have just presented to you. The one that you've been daydreaming through.”
“Then perhaps,” suggested the visitor, “I'll let you talk it over with your family. I'm sure they've been listening – really listening – at the door. When you've made the only decision that can be made, I'll send for you. In the meantime sharpen your concentration and wipe that stupid expression from your face. I'm not one of the fools you're used to dealing with. You're not dim. If you were I wouldn't be here. Do you understand?”
The skeletal face waited, and an answer had to be given.
The presence rose and slowly walked toward the door, then stopped and stood with her concentration apparently focused in front of her.
“Do you have nightmares, Vintor?”
She hadn't turned to face him, so he didn't answer. He just waited to see what else she would say.
“Never mind. Just understand that you are in mine.” She glanced briefly at the huddled figure of Aisha hiding in the corner, then passed through the door and into the main room. Vintor heard low words passing between the visitor and his parents. He imagined heads nodding in agreement. The decision had been made for him.
What neither he nor Aisha saw were their mother's eyes glancing back towards Vintor's room. How strange to think that he would soon be gone. Gone and far away. As far away as the feeling of motherly love that should have weighed on her. A second glance at his room as she tried to remember a time when it had been different, but those memories were dead. She joined her husband and walked their guest to the entrance, all the while searching for even a tingle of guilt, but that was not the emotion that rose inside her. He would be gone. Gone and far, far away. And she, her husband and Aisha would be free.