Lake Toluca looked silent. Bella Luna would have thrust up from the shoreline, a shouting, boisterously red and white building in sharp contrast to the subtler sandy blues and greens, asserting itself before the low landscape had a chance, on any other day. But on this day, the eve of Humboldt’s swan song, the bed and breakfast was not present. It was simply someplace else.
For as much a stir as this caused the establishment’s neighbors, who found it hard not to notice the absence of the scenery spoiling structure that stared them down each morning blocking the sun’s eastern glow for just a moment longer in defiance of the dawn itself, the residents and customers of the Bella Luna were even more aghast at their sudden predicament. The manor was not gone from time and space entirely, but displaced. It currently floated, a continued insubordination of the natural world, in vast, seemingly endless waters of an undefined elsewhere. Those that happened to be in the Bella Luna during the occurrence called this body of water Lake Toluca, though the brine that sloshed the sides of the building and stung the eyes argued to the contrary. But the residents of the bed and breakfast agreed upon and imposed an entirely unspoken ignorance to where their actual location may be, which kept their heads a little bit clearer and made falling asleep at night a little bit smoother.
There were quite a few alarming topics that remained unspoken aboard the newly buoyant Bella Luna, much to Soar’s puzzlement. She would observe those patrons smiling as they ambled down the stairway for breakfast. Maybe they were a bit quieter than they had been before their building became a ship of sorts, but they smiled, nonetheless. They would joke and taunt over billiards or smoke at the bar or read in the lounge and no one so much at glanced outside. No one except for Soar.
Soar had trouble reaching the kitchen countertops. The place where the most desirable delicacies, croissants and Danish rolls and other sweetened pastries, were kept, which put her a few inches beneath where she ought to be, in her mind. The regrettably small Soar treated her life much like her beloved novels. She would spy (one of a few acts her shortened stature did not detract from) upon the maids and the cooks and the bellhop who quarreled and screamed and kissed with an invested interest that, when it came to her own life, she very much lacked. And so when she first had lost her voice and gotten past the initial frustrations that go along with a lessened agency, Soar’s daily routine hadn’t seemed all that different.
A fever had stricken something fierce. Soar was immediately confined to the bedroom she shared with Madame Heely, Bella Luna’s proprietor, head chef, and the woman who had first discovered Soar collapsed in the pantry. The Madame attended to Soar whenever she was not off on some errand, and over two blurry, unconscious days the young girl’s throat became so raw and bloodied that she was unable to speak at all. Excepting the pain, Soar did not mind her affliction much, as Madame Heely’s daily serving of homemade vanilla and pecan ice cream, made especially for Soar, had been more than a fair tradeoff. But the bell she had affixed around the girl’s wrist (which had to be resized twice as Madame had very much so underestimated exactly how small the child’s wrist could be) Soar could have done without. She had removed it once for a day. That evening when she returned was the only time the Madame had raised a hand to her, screaming that she would not be responsible for the loss of someone’s child in such trying times, and Soar promised with vigorous head shaking that she would never again remove the piercingly intrusive thing.
If Soar could trade that noisemaker and the bloodied coughing fits but keep the ice cream and the loving attention, she would be just fine without a voice. And, had she the choice, she might never want to speak again, anyway. Were she to talk of what she had seen the night before she grew ill, Soar feared she would be exiled off of what should not be, but was now, in fact, an island. That maybe that thing would return. That it would find her and consume whatever fragile sanity she had retained, and that she would simply wash away, like a small building amongst the infinite oceans.
That awful night, the one before she had gotten sick, Soar was doing what she had perfected in the nights before. The Bella Luna had been a treasure trove, and Soar its stowaway, before it went off to sea. She would scrounge in the kitchens and scour open rooms, pillaging pastries and cheeses and nuts, not the meats though. The meats were always slathered in a grease that churned her stomach. The urchin would eat her fill and carry any remaining spoils back to her spot beneath the patio overlooking the lake. Fall was fast approaching and she would need to find a warmer spot inside soon, though for the moment it did the trick.
But something had spoken within her that night as she laid to rest. Something had called out. Or rather, and she recalled this clearly, the echo boomed from within her mind, a thought that was meant for no one, but she had heard it, just the same. It had been overheard. And the sensation in her head pointed her not back to the kitchens, or the pantry, but instead down. Down, down, down into the depths of the dark that was the cellar. And she, entranced, followed. And then that feeling, voice, compass, pull said the boiler room. And she followed. And then it said to look down in that crack beyond the- that space that should not be there at all, but it was. And she followed. And she opened that not a door and entered that not a room and-
Boundless blanketing energy folding in on itself. Infinity coiling, an inward swirl of light and dust. The center of it all and, when she would blink, dark emptiness. A powerful surge of idea and thought and life that sprung up from nowhere and everywhere around her in a place that did not exist. The convulsive display offered knowledge she shouldn’t know. Things she didn’t want to know. For the first time in her short life, the young girl now knew exactly who she was. What she was. It was a fate she would not have wished on anyone.
And then it smiled.
And when Soar had awoken, she was in bed with fever, much like she found herself now, a week or so later, slowly returning to consciousness in the makeshift bed in Madame Heely’s cramped room. Her head felt fuzzy and warm. Her eyes were on fire. The moon shone through the window accompanied by the faint sound of waves crashing against wood. Her throat was usually the reason she awoke from her sickness slumber, and this time was no different. She felt as though she hadn’t had a drink in days. She had to unstick the back of her throat and could have sworn it audibly cracked as she did. An attempted to groan failed to produce any sound.
Without looking Soar reached over onto the nightstand beside the bed for her glass of water. Water was, thankfully, one of the few things that wasn’t becoming a scarce resource on the Bella Luna, and just as well, as it was all Soar seemed to be able to stomach. Soar smelled her sickness mixed up in the dry and lingering sour air. It disgusted her, but she usually didn’t have time to think on it long before the aches in her head and joints forced her to stop moving and fall back into sleep. And the cycle would repeat.
Soar gripped the glass and lifted. Weight told her the glass was empty. She turned over and searched the floor beside the bed for the large pot of water that Madame Heely would refill from time to time. It was gone. Soar sat up and glanced over. Madame Heely was gone as well. That was odd, but not unprecedented. Madame never stopped moving throughout the day in an earnest attempt to cheer and service all of her customers, and sometimes that carried her into the night, especially now. Lately she no longer talked about her duties and her errands and had begun talking about raising morale and creating distraction. And that she did. People would smile as she entered the room, knowing her positive energy would at the very least bring them momentary respite from the bleak unknown.
Soar held her hand up to her throat. Her stomach tensed as if she were about to scream. Air forced out, but it was no louder than a heavy breath. Soar threw her cup across the room. It clanged against the wall and rolled back, shifting across the floor with the slight sway of the sea. The bell on her wrist jingled. Soar gripped onto it, white knuckled, before relaxing again.
Soar slowly planted her feet on the floor and hoisted herself up. She crossed the room, stopping at the edge of the bed to retrieve her cup, and she entered the bathroom. Soar thrust her cup under the sink faucet and drank, not stopping until it was empty. She used the time it took to refill to catch her breath and then Soar downed the second glass of water just as fast. The sink might have tasted badly of rust and minerals, but the taste of blood prevented her from knowing. And then Soar sat on the floor of the bathroom, her hand against the toilet. She took deep, ragged breaths, satisfied at the few noises she could still make with her mouth, happy to be out of breath in trade for a wet throat and stomach.
Madame Heely still had not returned. Soar glanced toward her bed. It looked alluring, but, more and more, the sheets and the pillows, cotton and down, the way they rolled and tucked and folded, seemed exactly the same as the larger, watery prison that currently contained her. Maybe it was the momentary energy provided by the sink water, or it might just have been a strong sense of curiosity overpowering her body’s aches and pains, but for the first time since that awful night Soar refused to think any further about, the Bella Luna stowaway struck out into the dark.
Madame Heely’s quarters were at the very back of the third floor residents’ wing, sharing the space of a normal guest bedroom with a maintenance and broom closet. The other workers also resided here now that they were unable to leave. Otherwise, most of the third floor rooms remained empty. Madame Heely had always preferred to keep it that way except for those festivals and holidays where the place would fill up, and with the workers now permanent residents as well, the Bella Luna was about that.
Soar stepped into the hallway on quivering feet. Each plodding step sent shivers and aches throughout her body. She carefully held the bell’s clapper with her right hand to prevent it from colliding against the brass wall each time she moved. The orange, wispy carpeting of the hallway felt nice against her feet, at least, compared to the cold, hardwood of Madame’s room.
A sharp cry erupted from somewhere down the hall. A shrill yelp. Soar froze in place, waiting. And then it came again. A man’s voice.
Room three twelve stood ajar, a dull yellow glow spilling into the hallway. Whoever it was in there spoke very coarsely with an occasional high pitched growl. As Soar inched closer she could make out a woman’s voice as well. Very calm, consoling. Warm. Definitely not Madame. But it couldn’t hurt to take a peek.
The door to room three twelve opened inwardly and, luckily enough, toward the rest of the room, so Soar had no difficulty making out much of what was occurring on the bed from her place in the hall. A man sat at the foot of the king sized bed, stripped to the waist. His left arm was stretched around his torso in an effort to hold something in place against his right shoulder. Toyle. One of Madame’s favorite workers. She would tell Soar that Toyle was a man who could drink, heavily, with her once they were closed up for the night, but always sobered when morning came and went right back to work. She said not many men his age would do that without bringing their vices along with them, and she respected him for it. Soar had not had much time to get to know Toyle, but when she had he was shouting at children running through the halls or peering into a corner, stroking his white moustaches. He was good at giving off signals that could easily be picked up from across the room that he did not want you approaching him.
A woman, one of the maids, and still on duty from the look of her dress, crossed in front of the crack in the door. Soar tensed up, but made no sound. And, not for the first time, she was glad at her inability to make so much as a peep. Soar had never seen the woman before, but she hadn’t gotten much of a chance to meet the people of the Bella Luna with her current ailment. The woman was tall. Very tall. Dark red curls that matched her lipstick escaped from either side a black bonnet. She looked down at Toyle with a cold expression that did not match her soothing voice.
"Only woman in m’life I ever felt skittish around. She ain’t right." Toyle’s thin moustaches twitched as he breathed in sharply. He rubbed his shoulder.
The woman held a dripping sponge to his back and tapped Toyle’s side, signaling him to let go. He did, dropping his left arm with a thud against his lap. He continued. “I knew the moment I saw ‘er, gal’s a menace. And no one’ll believe me.”
She removed the sponge, now a bright red color, and retrieved a bandage from the bed, wrapping him up. “You been drinkin’, hon. Just lie down and go to sleep. We can figure this out tomorrow. How the hell did you do this to yourself?”
"See? An’ you ain’t believin’ me either. That’s her whole trick! She plays the pretty little princess, but then there’s something else underneath that skin. It ain’t a heart or a soul, I’ll tell ya that. Sometimes I- I get the feelin’ she’s here to hunt me. Hunt me like a dog.”
"If you really think that way tomorrow morning, we’ll go sit down with her and have a talk."
"I’m tellin’ yah, Marie, that girl’ll eat me alive if I go back there. I won’t do it! I won’t! An’ you know as well as me I can’t prove it to no one. How’ll I explain this?”
Something flicked and fluttered behind Toyle’s left shoulder for a moment. Soar squinted, trying to get a better look at the thing that might not have been there at all, but in doing so she bumped up against the door, causing it to shift forward slightly. And she quickly got up to continue on down the hall, not bothering to check behind her whether they had noticed.
Soar reached the third floor lobby, where the different residential wings met up, and peered down each hall in turn. She was entirely alone. The moonlight streaming in through the large, glass double doors to the third floor balcony illuminated the grandfather clock, a piece Madame would proudly exclaim was Lloyd’s work to anyone who listened. The clock itself was normal enough, but it was entirely slanted, as if it were halfway melted, and people often tilted their heads to one side to read it. Soar did just that and the hands read four thirty-five. While the nightly forays into different corners of the Bella Luna had given her a rather thorough understanding of the building’s layout, Soar had no idea where to start when it came to finding Madame. She decided she would check the second floor lobby and wings, and then venture to the first floor offices. If she did not locate her, perhaps she would at least find something else as entertaining as her peek into Toyle’s bedroom had been.
And find she did. But not Madame Heely. As Soar descended the steps to the second floor lobby, she heard a deep thrusting sound, like steam being shot out of a pipe, except much lower in pitch. And then a similar sound followed, slightly higher in pitch. Soar thought of giant bellows. It came from the eastern wing of second floor patrons’ quarters. Room two oh three. As she got closer the sound grew. It was accompanied by something else. A low rumble that she could feel in her feet. And for a moment Soar recognized the noise for what it was, though she dismissed the notion soon after. She waited by room two oh three until the loud exhale began again and she slowly turned the door handle and cracked the door ever so slightly.
For a moment Soar could not understand why this room was so much smaller than the ones surrounding it. It seemed as though the wall cut off the room at about where the bed should be. And it was just as well the bed was missing, as there was no room for it to still allow space for anyone to move around. But then the wall moved. And then Soar realized that it was no wall at all.
Cascading mounds of flesh drooped down from the ceiling, folding outward from themselves with no discernible beginning or ending. The various flaps and piles of loose skin would shift and expand with the Gift Mother as she rolled and breathed in her sleep. Soar had only ever seen the woman once before, on the first night she had broken into the Bella Luna after dark. The enormous woman was being carted away from the kitchens by a crew of men and a small girl not much older than Soar. That was the only night that Soar had been unable to find so much as a scrap of food in those kitchens. But her surprise and disbelief at first seeing the gigantic woman was outdone by the enormous wall of flesh before her now. The Gift Mother had appeared to more than double in size since she had seen her. Not only that, but Soar had trouble identifying she was even a living being at all. The fat, loose flesh that hung and draped down around the room all but covered the rest of what should have been a body. Soar spotted her head in the bottom right corner of the room. A small structure seemed to have been built there solely to prevent the mounds of skin that expanded out from her body from suffocating her. The female wall jiggled with her deep snores.
"May I help you?"
A small young girl with dark hair and eyes peeked out at Soar from around the corner, startling her. Soar tried to say, “I’m sorry for bothering you”, but her lips moved before she remembered that she wasn’t able to.
The young girl narrowed her eyes at Soar for a moment before nodding. Those eyes looked old. Like Madame Heely’s or the tall red headed maid upstairs. Too old for a child.
"She’s not feeling well. She’s been very sick lately." The young girl turned to look back at Gift Mother. Soar noticed the large gold necklace adorned with a bright ruby in the young girl’s hands. "The doctors said that she might get sick from this eventually. That her body should not be doing the things it is doing and that they were worried what would happen. But it was so sudden. She had never been sick before."
The girl stopped talking and they watched the shifting barrier breathe. She turned back to Soar, noticing that her eyes were still on the necklace. Soar quickly looked back up. The girl smiled sadly, her eyes not losing that unnatural age, and she held the necklace up to Soar.
"Would you like it? She never addressed who this one was meant to belong to. That happens sometimes. It came out of a little boil on her back, but don’t worry, I washed it off." She continued holding it in front of Soar’s face. While Soar was deeply disgusted by what the girl had just said, she had heard of Gift Mother before and knew of the importance of the trinkets and relics she produced for Humboldt’s residents, and so she decided she should not pass up the opportunity. The ruby shone brightly in the dim light. Soar could recognize its dazzling brilliance even then. She accepted the gift, and the young girl helped fasten it around Soar’s neck. It wasn’t until too late that Soar realized what it truly was. The ruby was the back of the necklace to cover up the clasp. The front was a large, golden bell, the outward curve embellished in flecks of diamond and ruby. It was beautiful. But it was another bell. Soar did her best to hide her disappointment for the incredibly lavish gift.
The young girl smiled. “That looks very pretty on you. I feel as though, were she awake right now, she would have said it was meant for you.” And then the girl picked up a diamond encrusted silver bucket of water and a large, gold scrubbing brush and went to work. She hoisted up folds with all her might, shoving the brush as deep into those dark, fleshy crevices as she could, scrubbing away. Soar felt embarrassed for the girl and decided it was time to leave. She again tried to speak, a “thank you”, but of course it did not come. Instead, she gripped the small handle above the bell around her neck and gave it a little jingle. It let out a soft, dainty ping that sounded much less piercing and much more expensive than the one she had around her wrist. The little girl turned around again. Those eyes. She smiled in understanding and waved. Soar waved back before shutting the door.
And as she turned around, Soar spotted movement at the other end of the hall. She crouched instinctively. There had never been a feeling of danger in the bed and breakfast, but the last time she had snuck through these halls had been to steal. She had been up to no good long enough that hiding and running were habitual. And as the figure in shadow grew closer, Soar was glad she had crouched. The woman that made her way to the second floor lobby was Lady, the only person Soar had met since her coming to the Bella Luna that she did not trust. There was something about the way she looked at others. It was as if she was sizing them up. But for what reason, Soar did not know. She felt as though she had learned something about Lady recently, and the Gift Mother for that matter, from somewhere. But wondering too much about what it was that she had learned caused her mind to go to places she did not wish it to. Soar shook her head violently, physically demanding her brain think on a different subject.
The woman who called herself Lady had told everyone she was originally from Pinkton, a suburb south of Humboldt. She had gone to nursing school, and that was about all anyone knew of her. The more pressing question, the one that made Soar wish she still had her voice, was how exactly Lady had found the bed and breakfast to take up residence in the first place. She was the only one here that had arrived after the Bella Luna had suddenly found itself no longer on the coast of Lake Toluca. People seemed unconcerned with how or why she had come, and Lady herself seemed ignorant of where exactly the building was currently. She had offered to pay for each night of her stay, though everyone else onboard had been given free residency by Madame until they could sort out how to get back to shore. Lady kept to herself, and people seemed to have forgotten about her. The only time she ever left her room was on Fridays and Sundays to go down to the first floor lobby to phone her mom, which she had requested remain open for her during those times, and she paid Madame extra for it. The woman was a mystery, and Soar did not trust her in the slightest. The adults around her seemed oblivious.
And now Soar had even more reason to be wary of the woman. Lady moved quickly and quietly in the dark. She was tiptoeing. And not in the polite way people do at night out of respect to others. Soar knew this sort of movement well. She was sneaking. And what’s more, she held something close to her chest with both her arms. Something that must have been very precious to her. Quickly deciding this was enough to be suspicious, Soar followed at as great a distance as the hallways would allow.
Lady crossed the lobby and made her way down to the first floor. As soon as the woman was out of sight, Soar ran after, trying her best not to lose track while holding tight what was now two bells she wore. As Soar reached the steps, she moved more hesitantly. Carefully descending the stairs, avoiding known creaks. And then Lady was gone. The first floor lobby was empty. Both the northern and eastern hallways led to customer quarters, which were her more likely destinations, though the woman could have gone toward the offices as well, had she a reason. They were all empty as far as Soar could see.
A door clicked from somewhere down the north hallway. Soar moved quickly, gambling that it had been Lady’s door that had clicked and that she would not still be out in the hall somewhere, waiting for her. As she rounded the hallway the same door clicked open and shut again, and Lady left a room, walking further down the hall. Her hands were empty now and she moved upright with no attempt to stay hidden. Where she was going, Soar wasn’t sure, but as soon as she was out of sight, the young girl ran down the length to Lady’s door.
Luckily, it was unlocked. Soar figured she was short on time, and so she burst in, not thinking about what might lay beyond. Soar’s first step in the room was onto something brittle, and it snapped underfoot. Her feet slightly stuck to the slimy substance on the floor. Another step met the same result. It felt as though she were walking on potato chips. The thing Lady had been carrying, whatever it was, lie on the bed. A long, thin object wrapped in a white sheet, about the length and size of Soar’s arm. She took another step forward.
Crunch. Her feet were slicked in the halfway dried stuff. And as Soar stepped further in the odor wafted up to her as well. The place smelled stale. Sickly. And then footsteps signaled someone was at the door behind her. A woman gasped outside.
Soar froze. She had forgotten to close the door. She quickly scrambled into the bathroom on her right. The room was laid out much like Madame Heely’s room on the third floor, but larger. The cold tile of the bathroom was slicked and covered in the same stuff and made a loud crunch when Soar crouched down. She decided not to move anymore though she wasn’t entirely hidden around the wall of the bathroom out of fear of making more noise. Lady entered and closed the door behind her.
She took soft, apprehensive steps into the room. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Soar couldn’t see into the bedroom, but it sounded as though Lady had stopped right on the other side of the bathroom door. She inhaled deeply. Noisily. And then- crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She was walking away. She plopped down on the bed and Soar heard the rustling of sheets.
And it was then that Soar noticed the feeling of the thing underneath her hand on the tile of the bathroom floor. It was twitching. Soar looked down. The white tile was littered with dozens of small, black things. Most of them lie still. But some were twitching. From the other room another crunching sound began. Crunch. This one was different, though. The crisp sound of an apple splitting apart. What were those things on the ground? They were everywhere. They were on the sink and the toilet. From what Soar could make out from the other room they were strewn across the carpeting in there as well. Soar leaned down to get a better look at them. The beautiful, gold and ruby bell around her neck jingled.
Soar froze. The crunching noises from the other room stopped. She held her breath; her heart was pounding in her head. The feverish aches throughout her body intensified. Her skin was burning. Throbbing. The crunching noise resumed and Soar could breathe again. And then she saw what it was on the floor in front of her.
Each of those black spots were the wings, or the body, or sometimes a bit of both, of a moth or butterfly or other winged insect. It took every ounce of Soar’s resolve to prevent herself from reeling back in horror and jingling that damn bell again. The floor was slicked with brown, sticky muck. The smell was- Soar wanted to vomit. Luckily she hadn’t eaten in over a day. And that noise from the other room…
Crunch. Lady was insane. This confirmed it. She was more awful than Soar had ever imagined. The people of the Bella Luna were stranded at sea with a lunatic. There was no way of reporting her to the police. No way of escaping. Soar had to get out of there. She had to. Maybe Lady was facing away from the bathroom? Perhaps she was lying down, or watching out the window. Ever so slowly, Soar leaned forward in steady, minute movements, careful not to sound the alarms around her wrist and neck.
Soar’s heart leapt into her throat as she locked eyes with Lady. The woman had been staring at the exact point where Soar was before she had been there. And Lady was smiling. She sat on the edge of her bed, holding a dark black, dripping thing, the thing that had been wrapped in that sheet, up to her face. And without blinking or looking away, Lady took another bite of the thing in her hands. Crunch. She chewed slowly as she watched Soar, that twisted smile that curled the ends of her lips never faltering. And Soar ran.
She would have screamed. But she could not. Lady did not react as Soar threw open the door and rocketed into the hall, crashing against the wall opposite the room with a jingling thud. And she did not stop running until she was all the way down the southern hall of the first floor. She crawled underneath a table that sat against the wall and tears streamed down her cheeks. She did her best not to move, though her body convulsed in waves of sheer terror that roughly went in time with the rhythmic sway of the bed and breakfast.
And what scared Soar more than the floor of dead insects and that Lady had seen her was that somehow Soar had known what she was going to find in Lady’s room. How could she possibly have known that she would find Lady munching on that giant thing she had carried away in wrappings? But she did. It was almost as though the image had been in her mind, and leaning around that bathroom wall had allowed her to sync up what was happening with what she had expected. And her mind was going back to that place again. She shook herself out of it.
Madame Heely’s thick, deep voice arose from somewhere. “… any sense. I am not understanding. You are coming here and you are telling me these things and they’re meaning is nothing without the context.”
Soar’s head snapped to the right. She was beside the office Madame used for weekly meetings with her workers. She had found her. She was safe. She could write down what she had seen and get Lady kicked off of this ship or this building or whatever this was and maybe everything would start going back to normal.
Soar stood up and placed her hand on the door handle before stopping. Another voice responded. It was a woman’s as well. Scratchy and gravelly. The voice was grating, almost painful, to listen to. And in between each long pause she continued the gross, deep vibration of her voice. It never stopped. Almost as if she never needed to take a breath.
"You… will protect… her…and…the new arrival… more… arrivals…before the end…duty…to…"
Madame Heely was almost to the point of shouting. “I am not understanding! You are coming here and harassing me each night and I am wanting to go home. My home is not in the middle of the water!”
"She … too important… not as great a cost… many need her…"
"And what of this? What of this? These things that sprout out of my scalp! I am coming unhinged! Am I to die like this? I am hurting! More and more, I-"
Slowly, ever so slowly, Soar turned the knob of the door and pushed it open to spy yet again that night. She was unsure who this strange woman was and did not want to give away her position until she understood what it was they were talking about. Maybe they knew something about what has been going on lately. Maybe Madame knew more than she had ever let on.
The woman speaking to Madame Heely was another young girl. Soar recognized her, as she had visited often during the day before the Bella Luna had become separated from the shore. It was that Selby girl. But Soar had never seen her up close before. Her eyes were closed. Her head lolled off to one side. Her eyelids fluttered rapidly as she spoke and her mouth opened and closed as she made those awful vibration noises. Sometimes when it opened it would form words and those were the ones that came out.
And then Soar saw Madame Heely. She had always worn a hair wrapping when Soar had seen her. Even when she went to bed. They came in many different colors; red or orange or purple or black to match her outfit. Soar never knew where Madame had been from originally, and the wrapping added to her mystique in a way that seemed fitting. This was the first time Soar had seen her without that wrapping.
Atop her dark black curly hair was something that should not be there. Translucent black slimy things. Little sacks with dark blobs swirling around inside them. They pulsed and squirmed. They reminded her of little eggs. And Soar realized the smaller black dots in between the larger ones were the same, but smaller. Thousands of them atop Madame’s head. And then Soar recognized again that this was something she had known before. And she thought about how it was that she had.
Very slowly, as Soar processed the impossible sight in front of her, her eyes traveled up and back into her head. The little sick girl who had had one too many frights that night crumpled in a heap on the floor.
And Soar did not awake that next day. Or the day after. Or the day after that. And Madame Heely began to worry about if she would ever wake again. But that Selby girl had said as much. Said it would happen. And, again, as the girl predicted, Lady stepped forward to offer her nursing expertise to care for Soar. And though Madame Heely did not much trust the woman, she had known her to be the only one aboard who could care for any injured. And she did a good enough job as long and Madame and her crew continued paying her in the bottled insects that they had accrued over the year before this all had happened, as per the Selby girl’s advice.
And so the Bella Luna and her crew, with Madame at the helm, floated in the middle of a nameless sea in what may or may not be any place in particular, biding their time, as the Selby girl had instructed. They waited for the day that Soar would wake up again, and what would come next.