A Widow's Door
Five burly brigands circle a trim fellow on a hilltop. “Dance for your life elf kin!”
Spear tips inspire a spontaneous performance as Ishkur’s reverie is shattered by ambush. Wearing ragged uniforms of black and gray, the five have a rank smell and threads hanging from shoulders missing any insignia.
“I deserve dessert.” Ishkur dodges a thrust. “Not deserters.”
A man with few teeth kicks a pile of gear. “We retired,” he says and tosses obvious weapons well out of the half-elf’s reach.
Their smell had warned him just before the rustle of tall grass, but this was wasted waking to reality. “You cowards! An unarmed man trying to rest and commune—”
Layers of linen absorb much of the gut strike, but he still folds over the shaft and drops to a knee. “Up up, dance or die!” says one with nose hairs like eyelashes.
Noon-warmed spearheads poke his back, and he rolls forward with a gasp. They keep on him, taking turns with laughs and jabs. He sidesteps a playful thrust and then barely parries a serious strike with his hand, skin slapping the shaft with bruising force.
Shaking it off he weaves around and tries to summon mystic aid with a finger poke and pinch. The man with few teeth twitches and Ishkur charges.
Rolling along the length of the spear, the half-elf spins out of their ring as the shaft of another slaps his back. He stumbles down slick grass and trips over a rock, falling within a familiar circle of stones.
Runes are carved into them, and his heart slows. The bandits squint and look around, despite being close enough to share their rancid breath. The nose-hair-man swings a spear that bends around Ishkur, stretching like a reflection on a soap bubble. The half-elf expects the distortion, but still flinches.
The five speak a torrent of words and grunts that Ishkur understands once he processes it’s pidgin drawn from English and Orc. He catches that their raid was happenstance rather than a hunt. He had polished his armor too much, and it had caught the sun’s glare as they passed on the road. The form-fitting set still sits on a log at the hilltop, airing out alongside the rest of his gear.
Nose-hair-man sniffs and says, “I can smell his sweet sweat.” His foot distorts around a stone. “Close enough to piss on.”
The spray of urine warps around Ishkur in artful symmetry, causing him to gag. The offending bandit cocks an ear and slips to the other side with a step.
“I heard something.” The man wipes his hand on trousers and buttons up. “Like that pointy eared freak was right in front of me.”
The half-elf flicks his hand palm up with fingers curled as if a tree uprooted and thrusts as a man missing an ear says, “Careful, might be a caster.”
Unaware of the elven gesture insulting him, nose-hair-man picks up his spear and points uphill. “Not with that prissy armor.”
It is very functional armor of the highest quality, with each piece heavily enchanted. It does shine like polished silver and every bit is engraved with something from a nature theme.
“A good magician can disappear like that,” says the only one with gray hair, “but this would have to be their place of power to stay cloaked.”
Ishkur’s mouth twitches. It’s not a caster’s stronghold but a sacred circle for holy warriors, one of many for the chosen few. To all others the stones and everything inside are invisible and untouchable.
“Or we missed a mystic treasure,” says nose-hair-man. “Imagine the jollies of being unseen. Oh the things I’d do to poor and helpless ladies is—”
“Quiet.” The elder man frowns in Ishkur’s general direction. “We played around and it cost us. Take what’s worth taking and let’s be gone.”
The half-elf bites his lip. The safespot isn’t sound or smell proof. With no amenities beyond space for bedrolls, he doesn’t want to find they’re willing to besiege with patience.
One-ear hops up the hill. “Hurry hurry; don’t want her to catch up.”
“What?” Nose-hair-man laughs. “Afraid that orc bitch will eat the other one?”
The half-elf’s abandoned helm is picked up by nose-hair-man. He can’t close it around his head, but he does pull it down enough to see out of crystal-covered eye slits. A crown of traced leaves is split as the helm expands to ill-fit the man. After pounding it with meaty fists, he head-butts the log and then mimes a desperate scramble to the laughter of his peers.
The most youthful of the five, picks up a polearm that has been Ishkur’s favorite for years. An epic item he named Endraker after it cost the soul of a monster and a fortune for the reforging ritual preformed by another holy warrior. The babyfaced bandit can’t know the target he’ll become by keeping it. Ishkur pinches his fingers together until the tips numb and his white-knuckled hands shake. Potentially irreplaceable, it is more valuable than even his armor.
Nose-hair-man takes off the head piece and says in falsetto, “Hit me!”
Babyface swings and Ishkur cringes at the screech his helm makes at being treated like a buckler. The two laugh and ignore chidings from their elder.
As they pack away their loot, the half-elf says in a whisper, “Road’s behind me. One last heroic opportunity.” He jabs down and pinches. “Please Icarus.”
No mystic tingle disrupts the rooting of his feet as they pass by. He’s a statue with a sneer as unseen as his cowardice, and then his shoulders slump like a snowman revealed to summer.
The bandit with more gums than teeth farts and discards a ration wrapper. It floats close. Crumbs slide across metallic lining.
Ishkur smacks his lips and then freezes when babyface swings around with his polearm. Breathing open-mouthed shallow breaths, the half-elf shakes his fist until the young one follows his fellow humans and hikes out of sight.
A beautiful spring day in the domain of Mythica, the log had a better view than the safe patch of dirt. Taking off armor and staring at the clouds brought clarity to a persistent dream, a mirror reflecting him without eyes and a silver surface sticking to fingers touching the impossible face.
A blinded spirit is preventing his mystic possession. Ishkur was trying to lift its veil when the deserters interrupted.
Stomach rumbling he reaches out and snags the metallic wrapper. A few honey soaked crumbs of a hardy desert tumble down his throat. Eyes closed the subtle treasure is savored as something he may never have the means to enjoy again.
Ishkur’s sharp eyes follow evidence of the humans’ path through grass. Brazen and weighted with gear, tracking them should be easy, but without Endraker in hand or the spirit Icarus possessing his mind he is outmatched by their numbers, skill, and spears.
It was fair that they robbed him. He wasn’t paying attention and didn’t manage a proper defense, but they didn’t have to be so crass. When the rematch happens, he will shame them with an honorable example.
Breath held, he steps out of the holy place. The tall grass stays still. Easing his hand from a dagger’s hilt, he sifts through the scattered remnants of his belongings. They took his pack, so he fills the pouches of his travel belt and starts following.
Fresh boot prints on the road head back towards a quiet cluster of small farms he skirted last night. Hunger and losing their trail balances against fear of a second ambush. He quickens his pace as his shadow lengthens.
Evidence of a scuffle stops him at a bend before the farms. A little blood is splattered on rocks and weeds. Boot tracks circle and then veer off into the countryside. Stomped grass and kicked stones show a melee that stayed upright. He covers up some exposed critter homes and turns back to the road.
Night is near and their trail is easy to follow again. Just around the curve should be the warmth and hospitality of simple folk. He clears his throat, straightens his posture, and starts walking.
“Greetings fair maiden. I am Ishkur Inshushinak Ishtaran, formerly of Lute. Have you heard of us? We achieved some fame in the north, or notoriety depending. I should say separately maybe more notoriety, but when together our band was awe inspiring.” He brushes the layered linen padding his shoulders. “Now I’m just a lonely banjo with no strings, but also an optimist and offer my labor for food and maybe lodging if I prove myself.”
The girl stops munching on a pickle and offers the remainder. As he takes it a cane handle appears and yanks her to the side. A hunched woman with loose skin and white hair replaces her and snags the pickle back. With a twitchy glare she slowly closes their door with a shoulder, while he stands with an open mouth.
“Why did I let her do that?”
Ishkur steps away from the house with a rumbling stomach and heads past reasonably tended fields to a second farm. “Hello sir. I am Ishkur Inshush—” The middle-aged man holds a crossbow steady. “I offer labor for food.” One headshake and a slight lifting of the line of fire. “May Gardener bless your crops.”
The next farmstead’s only sign of life is an old mule in a muddy corral. Overgrown fields and a rusty plow pair with the state of the house. Broken windows are boarded up, paint is peeling, and the steps to the porch are half broken. The wood creaks despite his light feet. He clinks the door knocker a few times and after an extended silence moves on.
The hamlet’s public house stands like a wedge where the road forks. A buxom woman is red faced pulling its thick door shut, while some bow-legged men slip out and hurry away. They all ignore his hand raised in greeting, and the door picks up speed. It thuds closed with a finality that doesn’t invite a knock.
Ishkur wipes parched lips and strolls towards a young girl filling a bucket at the public well. A cough and smile sends her running. With a sigh he settles and drinks from the abandoned container as the few people still out keep glancing at the setting sun.
A man approaches with a sharp looking shovel and the young girl trailing behind. Ishkur hops up and steps to the side. The presumed father picks up the bucket with a white-knuckled grip and curled lip.
“I just needed a drink.” The man backs away and Ishkur says, “I’ll work for food.”
“Beware stranger or tonight you’ll be food.”
Ishkur fingers the hilt of the only proper weapon left to him. “I’ll work to be under a roof tonight.” The man hurries the girl along. “Don’t worry! I’ll figure something out!” He thrusts at them with curled fingers and says, “Enjoy your dinner... oh bumpkins of this boring dump.”
Twilight arrives. All doors are closed and windows shuttered. The air cools into the memory of winter, and the clear sky is primed for stars. He wants to wait for their glimmer, but the local attitude argues against tarrying.
Estimating time to jog back to the safespot is interrupted by a light flickering through the boards of the house with the mule. He hops onto the porch with a called greeting and clinks the knocker.
“Sorry to intrude. I’m looking to trade work for a little food or maybe just a roof for the night.”
The woman cracking open the door has a pretty smile hinting at the beauty she was as a maiden. “You will work.”
She opens the door fully and Ishkur hurries in. After closing and latching, she offers him a seat at a dusty dining table.
She stares at his ears, and he says as he sits, “My father was an elf.”
“I’ve never had a half-elf for dinner.”
“I can eat meat if I have to, but vegetables would be preferred, the leafier the better.”
“Stay here and I’ll get some.”
Ishkur tries to get comfortable in a wobbling chair. She drifts out the back door, chased by a sickly sweet odor.
Where’s a bundle of dusting feathers? He brushes his spot clean and sneezes, nearly rocking over.
Sniffling he cuts some leather from a patch kit and drops to the floor. As he slips the bit of tanned hide under the short leg his sensitive ears pick up breathing through a crack in the floorboards.
“Hello?” A light scratching answers. “Are you a person or an animal?” The scratching becomes frantic and then stops with a stomp. “That was quick.”
The returning woman holds a kale plant, roots still gripping dirt. She stomps again and then slips into the adjoining kitchen. Her eyes never leave the fidgeting half-elf while she rips off and rinses the leaves.
“Can I have some wine?”
She shakes and drops the leaves in a bowl. “I only have red.”
“Nothing too tannic; I prefer smooth in the early evening.”
Glass clinks and she picks up a dark bottle. “This was my favorite.” She empties it in with the kale and stirs.
“Is this all for me?” She serves it with no spoon and the smell of vinegar wrinkles his face. “It’s turned.”
He sips. “By Gardener’s grace this is delicious, thank you. Will you at least sit with me if you won’t eat?”
She dabs some red rolling down his chin. “You’re a sweet boy.”
Ishkur taps a pointed ear. “Probably a lot older than you actually, but I’m told I don’t have the wisdom to show for it.” He points down and then pinches some fingers together. “Not at the moment.”
Her half-lidded eyes don’t blink until he finishes the vinegar kale soup. “I will prepare your bed.”
“That’s okay. I have a dream I want to sort out.” He rubs his face. “No sleep tonight.” She frowns while taking his bowl. “Don’t worry. My elf half will have me alert enough for a good day’s work, especially if it’s sunny. Just one quick chore in the morning and I’ll earn my keep. I may take you up tomorrow night depending, and if you want me for a second day.”
“Work hard; sleep well, a farmer’s motto.” She caresses his bicep and says, “A man’s mind needs to rest to answer questions he cannot see.”
“My elven reverie should as well, but if it doesn’t I’ll toil enough to crash the human way.”
“Yes, work hard. Till my fields and sleep like a human.”
“I won’t work half-assed. Even though I’m half an elf and a mule is half an ass.” He taps his ear again. “Only need four hours every few days with a little mental decompression.”
She leaves him sitting until nearly dawn. Scratching underfoot throughout the night interrupts meditative thoughts picking at the veil locking away Icarus. No mystic power is tapped. The dream about his spirit’s blindness is a key that doesn’t fit.
As soon as she returns he says, “Who’s under your floor? Every time I really got into my trance I’d hear scraping like nails on wood. The eyeless reflection is my holy spirit, but I need more context and it takes some serious concentration to make sense of what’s in my head.”
“I said hello, knocked, sung a bit, and even scratched back, but nothing more than maybe heavy breathing.”
She hisses and stomps her foot twice. “Rats.”
“Really? Do you need help with that? I’ve handled rodents before. Best to deal with them before they develop their nest.” He trills. “That’s a call I learned from a brownie for—”
“No! Work outside. Work hard and return tired.”
The woman gives instructions for plowing and planting, and then as sunlight slips through cracks she drifts into the master bedroom. He starts to follow with some clarifiers, but is shut out. A lock clicks and he leaves with a shrug.
A quick stretch and he starts running. The buxom tavern wench carrying two pails per hand wobbles out of the way as he leaps by. He salutes her and sprints on without missing a step.
The bandits’ trail is easy to pick up again at their scuffle spot. Dagger hilt gripped he moves with the grace and quiet of a native son of nature.
He still startles a rabbit out of a shrub and pauses to slow his heart. Something reflects the dawn. He picks up the ration wrapper and sighs as the dew damped crumbs the rabbit was interested in slide out.
Just past a patch of young fir trees he eases down on his belly and starts crawling. A black spot of ash and a scattering of stones mark the remains of a fire circle. A bush has been smashed down and the ground all around turned up like there was a spring dance or a bigger scuffle than at the road.
He slowly stands and finds a splatter of blood across the squished shrub. Smaller shoe prints mix with the five sets from bandits. He follows drag lines to a person’s length of disturbed dirt, like a shallow grave but with the body missing.
More lines lead off in a different direction from a jumble of boots. He tracks the jumble enough to confirm only four sets of prints when something head-sized reflects the morning light.
His closed helm is perfect on the outside. The crown of engraved leaves is whole, with no blemish from the babyfaced bandit’s strike with Endraker. Without speaking the proper elvish the polearm didn’t have epic cutting power.
The inside has an unwashed human stink, not unlike sour milk and cat urine. He stuffs it under his shirt with a wrinkled nose.
The tracks split. They ran off in all directions but the hamlet, which is about where the drag lines were heading.
He backtracks and ill-uses his dagger to stab soil for easy scooping. A fellow member of Lute taught him that the most important piece of armor is the helm, but for scouting his father whispered through bark to never cover his head. Under a small shrub and away from the trails of game or man, he buries the recovered helm.
The smaller shoes are mixed with the lines. He follows and steps out of shrubbery into fields that need plowing.
Ignorance and poor maintenance waste the rest of the morning before he’s set up, and then the mule ignores his pokes and commands. He points down and pinches fingers together with mystic intent, miming planting a seed to try and commune with his holy spirit. Power teases, but the veil holds. No more help comes than when the bandits surprised him.
He whispers the chimes and bells of his father’s tongue, and the hybrid equine is charmed by the elvish. He has grown too reliant on the mystic and embraces the reliably mundane.
The dry crust parts revealing dark earth underneath. Passersby stare; he waves and the plow falls to some laughs. He recovers, and a few children and maidens wave back. Sunlight penetrates deeply as he works, and his cheeks glow green with elvish contentment.
He lost the trail in this field, first the drag lines and then the small shoe prints. By early afternoon he finds no clue and takes a break.
Mopping sweat with sleeves he approaches the back door and staggers. There’s a print, a clear and perfect match pressed deep into a spot of soft grass. The ground dips here, and he sticks a finger into earth that had supported a puddle.
His host hasn’t stirred so he tidies up in the kitchen. Taking the sink’s bin outside he pauses to check a set of shoes, right size but wrong shape.
Suffering stares he refills the bin at the well. There’s steady traffic at the public house, but he grips a pouch without money.
A bandmate had prescribed wrapping coins in spare clothes to muffle any jingles during clandestine travel, and so his wealth was secured in a pack now stolen. He shivers with desire for unspoiled wine and will secret money about his person when coin comes his way again.
After some more elvish for the mule’s ear, Ishkur returns to working the iron plow. It’s only been a few days since he was flush with magnificent gear and awesome companions. Now in the midst of the monotony he struggles with labor’s rhythm in tilling dirt.
An afternoon of sun and deep thoughts passes with one field completed and another well started, and then the mule rejects further effort. It trots into a three-sided shed as soon as Ishkur takes off its harness.
With a grimace he pushes old hay and manure out of the corral, and then grabs grass from across the road. The sun sets as he tops off the water trough, and he finally steps inside as dusk deepens into the dark of night.
“I couldn’t find fresh hay.”
The woman has a leafy meal ready. “Eat.”
He consumes it with relish and yawns a thanks. She smiles and leads him into a small bedroom with a shelf of wooden soldiers and a ceiling covered with carved star shapes. The bunk is lumpy, but perfect for his size.
He lays a while but sleep evades. His host looks in and he waves.
Her fingers tie themselves into knots, so he says, “Don’t worry; hospitality doesn’t bother me.”
Real stars peek through the boards of the room’s window, and he sits up. Western facing, it won’t bless him with sunlight for breakfast, something that would be both nourishing and refreshing because of his father’s heritage.
Never saying a word, she keeps checking on him. He waves her off each time, but is primed for conversation. Even his soft feet will cause the floor to creak, but she avoids that like a cat. He’s drowsy, but had spent so much time in the sun he’s too powered up to drift off.
Perhaps an exchange of secrets? She has a dusty house and mysterious prints leading to her back door. He has a currently inaccessible holy spirit and half a dozen years with a colorful band of adventurers. As morning light filters in from the hall curiosity compels.
He puts off plowing and goes around the home building a picture of the family that used to be. Clothing and other small things suggest a father, many children, and maybe a few elders. He finds no sign of what happened to them, just that by the dust most have been gone for months. Only a bedroom with flower painted walls, the kitchen, and a closet of stacked chests has seen much recent use. With the state of the dining table she must take meals in her bedroom.
The floor boards are thick and pressed tightly together. It is well made but old and creaky except for a quiet patch by the back door, which has a set of nail sized holes in the center of a small discolored square. If this is a cellar door the spot would be perfect for a handle or metal ring. His nails fail to find a grip and he surrenders his curiosity.
The mid-morning sun is welcome. Song birds mix with the echoes of neighbors yelling at animals and each other. A crow caws and he turns from the forest hiding the bandits’ trails to a farm’s labor.
He might dare one former soldier, but he was the scout not the assassin of Lute. The deserters don’t have the honor to accept even odds. If they reconvene, it wouldn’t be a proper challenge and would all stand against him. Without mystic power or a proper warrior’s skill he can’t win or protect the treasures if he did, not alone.
He finishes the second field and then seeds them both. The split of Lute wasn’t a panic in the woods. They parted from a holy safespot in solemn order without mockery or tears. His bandmate of Black could have managed a communion to sooth emotions, or perhaps simple shock strangled a last cry against necessity.
Ishkur, with his elf-extended adolescence, had usually been the jester among them. In that last moment before backs were turned he failed to entertain. Puns, charm, and poetry fled, and still no proper words have come, nothing that would have mattered. With each aligned differently and their gods at war, they fled friendship to attempt redemption and a return of holy possession.
Inside well before sunset, he knocks at the master bedroom. Distant scratching, like a claw on wood, turns him around. He hurries to the back door, but it stops. No one’s outside.
“Hello?” He closes that door and stomps his foot on the likely cellar entrance. “Hello rats!”
A different lighter sound, like a cloth on a washboard, draws him to the closet full of chests.
“I’m Ishkur.” He grips his dagger. “Poetry isn’t cautious.”
He yanks it open and jabs at silence. With a growl he spins around and slashes. Silence still dominates.
“Okay, I know what to do with teasing.” A tapping comes from under his foot. “Rat or not, what are you if I deny you?” He checks the lock of the top container in the closet. “I hear nothing.” His blade pops it with a ping. “Focus on the loot.”
A moldy smell drives his face to the side as he cracks the top, and then he pulls the chest down and flings it open. After a cough he picks through a stack of men’s coats, but there’s nothing in the pockets. His friend of Black would shred strangers’ clothes for the chance of secreted wealth. He picks at some seams and then puts the blade away with a grimace.
The stack of containers almost tips as he tidies up. A soiled uniform pokes out from behind, black and gray with no insignia on the shoulder and a collar damp with blood.
He wipes his hand and stuffs it back. The rats stay quiet and he waits for his host with elbows on a dusty table.
“What happened to your family?”
She squats and sniffs his hands. “My boys, they took them.” She tugs and rubs lips across his palm. “I tried to stop. They hurt me and my husband tried to stop. He fought like a beast and they stabbed him as one, with spears enough to hold him up until he was limp and still. My girls were hidden, but got found in tears. All my children they took, leaving me only with parents by law that were no better than babes, which death soon consumed.”
“Who took your seedlings, your children?”
She stands with a sharp intake of breath. “An army of orcs and men under the black flag of Merridian.” She drifts into the kitchen. “On their way to besiege dwarves.”
“How long ago was this? I have a friend that headed towards the dwarven strongholds a week ago. Do you think she’ll be safe?”
The widow works and says nothing. He repeats, but his host doesn’t answer until dinner is ready.
“They came with the frost at the end of last autumn.” Setting down his soup, she traces an “A” into the table with a fingernail. “A thousand and more, wearing more metal than I’ve ever seen. Travel bends around them, but farms don’t have wheels.”
He eats and describes the uniform of the bandits that robbed him, and she hisses affirmation. “I may have the body and muscle memory of a mighty warrior, but when my holy spirit is absent my skills are rather mundane.” He slurps his bowl empty and says, “Mostly I’ve only drawn shafts as a boy to hunt game, and only sparred with bandmates out of boredom while waiting in the safety of… a sacred place.”
She leans close and brushes her nose against his fine auburn hair. “You’re a special boy.”
“I sure thought so six years ago when Icarus claimed me. Life in the domain of Cloden had gotten a bit dull since my father stopped talking. Don’t think I blame him. It’s not like he asked to be a father, and he struggled to keep a mouth. I came to understand that he managed well past what is expected of an elf transitioning into a tree. I’m also not unaware of what was like for my mother. An accidental pregnancy and decades raising a child. The spirit Icarus, he filled the void left by the loss of my parents. We became a Ranger of Green and the Lord of Path.” Ishkur pats her hand. “Maybe we could find this army for you, and try to bring your children back.”
“Filled with a spirit, you are a treat.” She stomps a foot. “It’s faded but this floor had a tree painted to honor your god. He failed me twice but maybe you’ll be the savory savior that I want to... enjoy as an extended guest.”
“Understand; if Icarus answers he’ll possess me fully. I’m only passively aware of his actions, but as an avatar of Gardener he should help you.” He settles on the ground with crossed legs. “Also, there’s this… veil that’s been locking away or blinding my spirit. It’s what’s made me a lonely pauper. I’ve failed at riddling it through, but that was when trying selfishly. Noble and worthy, helping a mother against an opposing alignment. This could redeem my faith and restore Icarus. You could be the star of my prose for centuries.”
“You won’t write about me.”
“Now hold your leaves.” He clunks fingertips on the table. “I make it a promise on the roots of my father. Now if my holy spirit comes, expect a storm of skill and righteousness that can’t be turned from set intent, which should be a quest of justice and the rescue of lost children.” He swivels around in his chair. “Can I have a mirror?”
“I have no wish to see myself. Such vanities are buried with my husband.”
“Some water will do. I’m trying to anchor on my dream.”
She takes his bowl and returns with it filled half up, enough for a full-faced reflection. The lamplight sits in the background like the dim sun of another realm. Eyes wide and breathing in through his nose and out his mouth, he ripples the mirror with a stabbing finger and pinches.
His spirit doesn’t answer wholly, but there is a trickle of something. “Icarus is tickling my aura with just a thimble of energy, a moment of potential but absent his control. I can tap it without possession, but I have a friend of White that declared doing so very taboo.” He yawns. “I’m so sorry. Let me sleep and see what my dreams can do.”
She smiles and encourages him to stay as long as needed. He chimes in elvish and pats her shoulder, and then settles into the room that belonged to one of her sons. He counts the ceiling’s carved stars and his eyelids grow heavy.
War is changing the realms. Old rules and taboos may not still apply if spirits ignore their hosts. Sampling power directly may even be his god’s will.
Whispers and stillness, a hole is being worn into his mind. His soul is dripping out and drifting away with the line back fraying. It is wrong.
Sunlight peeks between boards on the window and wakes a groggy mind. Neck and wrists tingle and itch. Struggling to sit up wakes Ishkur to a raging thirst.
Tangled in musty sheets he falls out of bed and crawls into the living room. A strip of light crosses his face and motivates a shaky stand. He uses both hands to unlatch the door and stumbles outside.
Is the sun going down?