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A Sixth Toe

Wesley Chambers hatched out of paralysis against the cage floor. Mugginess had collected in his lungs as syrupy phlegm. He sat up and coughed, shrugging a shoulder back into one of his suspenders. He was soaked. The white shirt clung to his back like shreds of wet lettuce and his tongue was a dry sponge against the roof of his mouth. In the pale bands of skin where shackles usually were, a little kitten’s tooth of a blue thorn splintered into the underside of his wrist.

“Does anyone have water?”

He looked into the cabin when no-one responded. It was empty. Dark blue light burned through the tarp and shined on the silverware and jars of pickled onions on the shelves. The Foster girl’s gypsy sleeves were forgotten on the floor.

Wesley wiped his brow, streaking his entire sleeve in sweat. He stood, admiring the black silhouette of perspiration imprinted on the floor—small flecks of blue sparkled in his sweat imprint. He undid the top three buttons in his shirt. A blue glaze of sweat radiated off his chest. The heat made him sweat the thorn’s poison out of his system like a fever. Had it not been for this humidity, the next time he woke may have been in the stocks of the Kingdom’s guillotine.

There was a strong scent of lavender; that could only mean one thing. He reached through the bars and drew the curtains aside, greeting the sheening blue forest like a morning sun. On both sides of the trail, copses of myrrh gleaned like blue crystal. Turquoise ivy wove itself up the trees as if spun from some starry loom. Tiny silver spores floated in the air from the two lines of crushed dandelions behind the caravan’s wheels. They were deep in the Vesper now, where dull grass was rare among the brilliance. He checked the map pinned on the cabin wall. The streak of coal chronicling their progress was more than three-quarters through the trail. They were a day’s ride from his death sentence.

The boot slipped off his foot. A wet sock hung off his foot with glowing blue sweat—it stunk peculiarly of oats. He flipped the boot and shook it. Nothing fell out. He stuffed a hand inside. The letter opener had been there so long that the boot rubber had broken in around it like a sixth toe.

“You’re not supposed to be awake,” the Foster girl said. She sat outside in the blue and black shadows, up on the carriage’s headboard. Each of her arms draped lazily over a mule. Her choppy patches of hair had been tidied and black stubble grew evenly around her scalp.

“Where’s the Sheriff?”

She leaned forward to her feet, and as her face came better into the light, he could see a dark bruise underneath her eye.

“The Sheriff?” she asked as if it was a joke. She stepped through the curtains and unfolded herself against a rucksack on the bench, so that all he could see was stubble on the back of her head and one leg hanging off the side, swinging her boot back and forth just a hair above the floorboards. “He’s either washing up—for the first time in his life—at the stream, like he told me he was, or he just said that so I wouldn’t bother him while he drinks.”

“How long was I out?”

“I’d spit to guess almost two days,” she said. “Your nose bled quite a bit.”

The blood had dried brown down the front of his shirt. He picked at crust above his lip.

“May I please have some water,” he asked.

“I didn’t know sleeping was such thirsty work.”

“I can’t remember the last time I drank anything.”

“I’m not supposed to give the prisoner water,” she said, unscrewing the canteen above her head. Her leg reached out under the other bench. She dropped a heel into a tin bowl and dragged it across the floor. She tipped the canteen and poured water into a bowl. “I’m also not supposed to give the Sheriff attitude, or dress with dignity, or try to enlist in the Blackguard. Hell, I was told I shouldn’t be on this escort.” She lifted the canteen higher as she poured, lengthening the sterling drizzle. “But I’m beginning to think I should do the things I shouldn’t.”

Embers of frustration were in her voice—she must have been arguing with the Sheriff. If her methods of spiting the Sheriff meant giving him water, then that was just swell. He kept picking at the crumbs of blood under his nose.

“So there is a stroke of humanity in you after all.”

“I need the deathless boy alive for his execution but I still pride myself on iced cold compliance to the law,” she said, for some reason, with pride. “Now, before I let you drink like the dog you are, I need to know who you are.”

“Nobody I’m proud of.”

She got to her feet and grabbed the bars with such force that the whole cage shook against the wall.

“What have you done?” she asked in a quick whisper. She had a freckle right on the bow of her lip that he’d never noticed before; it was slightly off-centered. Veins bulged from the back of her fists. She turned to look cautiously out the front gap of the caravan. “Tell me now before the Sheriff gets back. Why does Gallows think you’re so valuable? Who. Are. You?”

“I don’t have the answer to either question,” he said.

“If you’re not going to cooperate you can go thirsty.”

“I honestly don’t know.”

Her eyes narrowed to smoky lines.

“You don’t know who you are?”

“I don’t know why Gallows wants me.”

“At least tell me of the crime you’ve committed. Tell me why the Kingdom has set a treasure’s bounty on your head.”

“You’ll never know if I die from dehydration.”

She slid the bowl across the wood with her toe. He lifted the bowl through the bars as if it were a sacred chalice. The grubby silt water tasted like the sweetest nectar down his throat. In three swigs, he was staring at the bottom of an empty bowl once more.

“Will you tell me about the blunderbuss in the townhouse?” he asked. The event had been bothering his thoughts. “Was it loaded? Should I have ran or was I tricked by false authority?”

“Tell me what you did,” she said, reaching through the bars and grabbing his suspenders. There was an instant pause where her hands remained flat on his chest. The bruise under her left eye was puffy and made her eye a crier’s shade of red. He looked down into the gray tangle of lines in her iris, knowing there would be no better opportunity than this to snap her neck.

“I’m sorry,” was all he said. He turned his head away, occupying his eyes with the blue intensity behind him. Twin scars from the wagon wheels had trampled through the flowerbeds and tapered to a single point in the darkness behind him.

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