New Eden

Scene 6

Amber sat, listening to rain tap endlessly on the jungle leaves all around, careful not to move too quickly. If she broke another chair, Ted was sure to have a fit. Her bare toes dug into the dirt floor of the porch as she stared off across her seedling garden. She liked it when it rained, really. That meant she didn't have to lug water for her garden, and the rain kept the pigs mostly huddled under their shelter, behaving themselves.

It had been rough, right at first, sent away from everyone, stuck out here with just the pigs and that old grouch Ted. Rough, and lonely. But, after a few days, it became kind of peaceful. Ted slept most of the day. He was in his half of the shack right now, sawing logs loud enough to shake the wicker walls.

She had all the days to herself. She'd gathered up seedlings in the jungle and made herself a garden. Mostly food, but some flowers, too. It would look pretty, when it all grew in. She actually had a lot less work to do, here, than she did in Landing. And with a lot fewer people yelling at her about it. The pigs were kind of cute, too; especially the little striped babies. Although it was sad when they had to kill them; but Ted did that.

She liked it when it rained, really. Although it did give her a little too much time to sit and think. Time to remember. With the pitter patter of rain above her head, and the sweet smell of wet, ripe earth around her, she remembered before. Above all the questions in her mind, she wondered most if they'd found the money.

Although she'd had few qualms in taking the money--Andrew could always make more, and Randy and Connor weren't even in school yet, they didn't even know about money--she didn't like to think of someone else getting it. It didn't come with her, however she'd gotten here, and wouldn't have done her any good, anyway. And $14K was a lot of money to be just sitting, lost, in a car at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin.

The rain continued to patter-patter all around her. Every now and then one of the pigs let out a snicker. And, of course, the baritone buzz of Ted's snore from the shack behind her. Her body settled into the roughly cobbled chair. It creaked in protest, but her eyes began to droop. She blinked. The rain kept patter-pattering. She blinked again. And again. On one of her blinks, she saw a woman coming toward their home, from the jungle trail. The only thing that kept Amber from screaming was the thought of Ted roaring angry out of the shack.

Dark hair in thick snakes around her head, and skin so pale it seemed blue, dressed in drapes of cloth that barely covered her body, the hot and humid jungle hardly allowed for modesty; she stalked up the path toward the pig farm. She walked like one of the sports girls from high school, the ones who used to laugh and make oinking sounds when Amber walked by. They used to terrify her. They still did; these tough women who just moved through the jungle like they owned it. Nothing seemed to scare them.

Close enough now that Amber could see the woman's blue tattoos on her chin and lower lip, she tried to remember the lady's name. Frustration built in her chest, and tears bubbled in her eyes.

"Hey, Amber," the woman called softly. "It's me, Echo. May I join you?" She sounded nice enough, her dark eyes soft. But Amber knew they were judging her, finding her too chubby, too soft, too scared to be here.

Amber stood from the chair, carefully listening to the warning creeks. "Ted's still asleep."

"That's okay," Echo spoke, her voice calm and her movements slow. Like how Amber interacted with the pigs. That thought made Amber's bottom lip quiver. "I came to talk with you, actually." The woman stopped at the edge of the shelter, in just enough that the rain didn't get her, squatted down and pulled a bag around her shoulder. "I've brought you a few things. From the council."

Amber tangled her fingers in front of her, curious and cautious. Why would someone from the council want to send her stuff? "I can go wake Ted up," she said hesitantly. But she noticed that, like Echo, she kept her voice low, quiet enough that it shouldn't wake Ted.

"Oh, I doubt he'll be interested in this." Echo laughed, pulling some bundles of rough cloth out of her pack. "Do you believe it? Marny finally got the big loom figured out. We've got some pretty big stretches of cloth, now. Blankets, instead of just towel-sized." She gave Amber a toothy smile, handing over three dull brown folds.

"Wow." Amber took the cloth, and sat back down, since the other woman was still squatting. The fabric had a good weight to it, pulling down on Amber's arm. She thought of all the fabric she'd had back home; cupboards full of towels and sheets and blankets, tablecloths and napkins, some for good and some for every day. It almost seemed sinful to have so much, even just in her memories. "Thank you."

Echo nodded. "We'll talk to Scott, see about getting him to make you a loom here. Marny can spare a day to show you how to do it. In the mean time, this is the share for you and Ted. For clothes, or blankets, or whatever you need." Echo gave a shrug, still with that soft smile on her face, like she was afraid Amber would go running off into the house if she spoke too loud or moved too quickly. "You have needle and thread?"

"Oh, yes." Amber nodded, smiling hesitantly. "And I still have my spindle, and some wool from the pigs. Although it's not very long strands, it kind of works for a thick thread. Like a yarn, sort of."

Echo nodded, flashes behind her eyes as she thought. "Do you have any of this yarn to spare? I'd like to take some to Marny. See what she thinks of it." Amber nodded and stood to go fetch some. "And you just spin it like you do the reed floss?"

Amber nodded, another hesitant smile.

Echo motioned her back to her seat. "We can get it in a minute. No hurry." She eased back, settling her bottom on the packed-earth floor and stretching her legs out in front of her. "Let's chat for a minute." She gave a wry chuckle. "I could use a moment's rest. If you don't mind?"

Amber sat back down slowly, clutching the heavy fabric to her, wadding it into her lap. "Okay."

"So, how are things going, here?" Echo asked, looking over the garden. "I see you've been busy!"

"Yeah. I thought a garden would help feed us, and the pigs." Amber gave a self-conscious shrug. "It's a little extra work, and I don't know if it will turn out. But I figured it was worth a try."

"So, you're doing okay?" She gave a questioning tilt to her head, which made the marks on her chin stand out more.

Amber gave a little shiver, wondering how those marks had felt. Had she been able to choose the designs, or were they picked by her family? Had it been her choice to do it, or was she made to? Amber couldn't imagine coming up with the nerve to do something like that on her own. But she said nothing, not even having the nerve to ask about them.

"You haven't been to a meeting, you know, since you came out here. And, well, we just wondered if you were doing okay?" Echo didn't look directly at her as she asked her questions.

Amber frowned, getting suspicious. "Everything's fine. I didn't know I was supposed to go to council."

Echo gave a nervous chuckle. "It's not that you have to go. You get to go. You know, see your friends. Visit. Catch up on how everyone is getting on with their projects." She pushed back up to a crouch. "Just, you know, community."

"Ted says someone has to stay here to watch the pigs." Amber stood, too, walking to the back of the porch, listening to Ted's angry snores. "There are dangerous predators out there. We could lose the whole herd." Her voice rose in a panic, tears bubbling in her eyes again. He would hear her, wake up, and come chase this woman away. He would be cranky, bellowing and blowing for a while. But maybe that was better than this woman bearing unasked for gifts. Amber set the fabric down in the chair, she didn't want to be touching it when Ted came out.

"Well, sure. That's why we asked someone to come out and help Ted. But, maybe you could take turns." The snoring inside the shack snorted to an abrupt stop. A bellowing yawn shook the walls. Echo stood, quickly balanced on her feet. The pigs, even, stirred about in their scant square of covered pen.

"I supposed, if I had anything to say, that I would go." Amber crossed her arms over her chest, looking anxiously at the sort-of tanned hide that covered the shack's doorway. "Ted takes care of the council for us."

"Who's here?" came the angry bellow from in the shed. "Why is someone here?" A bit of clatter sounded in the shack. Amber frowned. Probably Ted tripped over the wicker room barrier that she'd made. And she'd have to fix it again, or have no privacy.

"It's just one of the council girls," Amber called through, looking at Echo over her shoulder. She had that tingling feeling she used to get when telling the principal on those same oinking-sports-girls.

Ted burst through onto the porch, bare-chested and belching, wiping sleep out of his eyes. "Oh, one of Doc's wild girls." He turned his head to belch again, and scratched the few hairs on his pale, white-boy chest.

"I think we agreed on the term 'scout.'" Echo adjusted the bag over her shoulder, and the belt carrying her knives across her hips. "Well, I brought Amber some cloth. Just checking in to see if you all needed anything."

"She wanted to know why I wasn't going to council." Amber sang out.

Ted draped a heavy arm over Amber's shoulders. The arm was heavy enough that Amber winced at its weight. It was an arm that owned. "I go to council for both of us."

Echo's face froze. Something cold glazed over her eyes. She didn't like Ted, that much was obvious. Those eyes didn't warm as she glanced at Amber. "That's fine. As long as Amber is okay with it. As long as she doesn't feel like she can't come to council."

"Someone has got to stay with the pigs." He stuck a finger in his ear and wiggled it about, his arm still heavy on Amber's shoulders. She started to get a slightly trapped feeling, fought the urge to wriggle out from under that arm.

"If it's a matter of manpower, we can send someone in during the weekly meetings, to cover watching the pigs for you." Echo took a step back, into the rain, separating herself from this whole situation.

"Ain't no room here, for nobody else." Ted called after her. "Pigs are particular about who minds them. You tell the council that, girl." He swatted Amber on the behind, hard. "Go fix me some breakfast, woman."

"Oh, I'll let them know, Ted." Echo gave a horrid mockery of a smile and turned to run off, fleet of foot, practically dodging between the fat, slow rain drops.

Amber had the sinking feeling that she'd just shut herself up in another trap. Wisconsin wasn't so different from this new world, for her. In this brave new world, she was still a coward.

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