The Refuge Song - Francesca Haig
I woke from flames, a scream bursting from me into the darkening air. When I reached out for Kip, I found only the blanket, chalky with ash. Each day that I tried to adjust to his absence, I’d wake to find my forgetful body rolling toward his warmth.
I lay back in the echo of my own scream. I dreamed of the blast more often now. It came to me in sleep, and sometimes when I was awake. I understood more than ever why so many seers went mad. Being a seer was like walking on a frozen lake: each vision was a crack in the ice underfoot. There were many days when I felt sure I would plunge through the brittle surface of my own sanity.
“You’re sweating,” said Piper.
My breath was fast and loud and refused to be slowed.
“It’s not hot. Do you feel feverish?”
“She can’t talk yet,” said Zoe from the other side of the fire. “She’ll stop carrying on in a minute.”
“She’s running a fever,” Piper said, his hand on my forehead. He reacted like this whenever I had a vision. At my side quickly, crowding me with his questions before the visions had even had a chance to dissipate.
“I’m not sick.” I sat up, brushing his hand away, and wiped my face. “It’s just the blast again.”
No matter how many times I’d endured the vision, there was no preparing for it, and no lessening its impact. It made my senses bleed into one another. The sound of it was absolute blackness; the color a white that shrieked in my ears. The heat went beyond pain: it was total. The size of the flames was beyond any measure: the horizon was consumed, the world snatched away in an instant of flame that lasted forever.
Zoe stood and stepped over the crumbs of the fire to pass me the water flask.
“It’s happening more often, isn’t it,” Piper said.
I took the flask from Zoe. “Have you been counting?” I said to Piper. He didn’t reply but kept watching me as I drank.
Until that night, I knew I hadn’t screamed for weeks. I’d worked so hard at it. Avoiding sleep; taming my convulsive breath when a vision came; clenching my jaw until my teeth felt as though they would grind one another down to dust. But Piper had noticed anyway.
“You’ve been watching me?” I said.
“Yes,” he said, not flinching from my stare. “I do what I have to do, for the resistance. It’s your job to endure the visions. And it’s mine to decide how we can use them.”
It was me who broke the gaze, rolling away from him.
For weeks our world had been made of ash. Even after we’d left the deadlands, the wind still blew from the east, loading the sky with a burden of black dust. When I rode behind Piper or Zoe, I saw how it settled even in the elaborate contours of their ears.
If I’d cried, my tears would have run black. But I had no time for tears. And who would I cry for? Kip? The dead of the island? All who were trapped in New Hobart? Those still suspended, out of time, in the tanks? There were too many, and my tears were no good to them.
I learned that the past is barbed. Memories snagged at my skin, relentless as the thorn bushes that grew by the deadlands’ black river. Even when I tried to recall a happy time—sitting with Kip on the windowsill on the island, or laughing with Elsa and Nina in the kitchen at New Hobart—my mind would end up at the same point: the silo floor. Those final minutes: the Confessor, and what she had revealed about Kip’s past. Kip’s jump, and his body on the concrete below me.
I found myself envying Kip’s amnesia. So I taught myself not to remember. I clung to the present, the horse beneath me, its solidity and warmth. Leaning with Piper over a map sketched in the dust to calculate our next destination. The indecipherable messages left in the ash by the lizards that dragged their bellies across the ruined earth.
When I was thirteen and freshly branded, I’d stared at the healing wound in the mirror and said to myself: This is what I am. Now I did the same with this new life. I tried to learn to occupy it, as I’d learned to inhabit my branded body. This is my life, I said to myself, each morning, when Zoe shook my