It’s Sunday, the 18th of April, 2004.
Micah comes home. The sun swelters overhead. All the lights in the house are on. The front door isn’t locked. He goes to the room he shares with Liril, but she’s not there. So he knocks on the door of his mother’s room; and she opens it; and her eyes are haunted.
“Liril?” he asks.
“In the basement,” she says. “Locked in. With what’s left of John.”
He takes a step back. The toes of his left foot wiggle in his shoe. He wants to run to his sister. But he hasn’t a key.
“She put out his eyes,” Micah’s mother says. “She changed him into something inhuman. Some sort of ghoul.”
“And you locked her in with him?”
Micah’s voice rises at the end of the sentence. He’s trembling.
“What was I supposed to do?” Her tone drops soft. “I can’t punish her. I can’t call the police. I can’t call him. But I can’t let her leave. Not either of them. Not now.”
Micah’s tongue works in his mouth for a moment. He can’t find words. Then he says, softly, “It’s all right. We’re going to go. It’s not your problem any more.”
She bites her lip. She’s thinking. Then she gestures him out towards the living room. She pours two glasses of water and waves him towards the couch. He’s not happy, but he sits.
“She’s okay,” his mother says. “I saw him. He’s tame.” She passes him one of the glasses of water. She drains half of her own. “Micah,” she says quietly, “it’s exactly my problem.”
“I don’t know if you know the price that I paid so that I could have you,” she says. “And I guess it doesn’t matter much if you do. But I’m responsible. You have to stay here. You have to grow up as normal children. Both of you. And you have to be broken.”
Micah looks at his glass. “Liril hasn’t really explained much,” he admits.
“If I let you go,” she says, “the monster will know. He’ll know that I still have something in me that resists him. He’ll know that I let her go. That I didn’t hurt her and I didn’t stop her and I just let her go. Then I’ll lose the last bit of me and he’ll find you both anyway.”
He looks up at her. He takes a long moment. Then he sighs. “I need her,” he says. “She’s the one who knows what to do.”
Her smile is thin and sallow. “I don’t want you to know what to do,” she says. “If you did, you’d leave me with nothing but dust.”
“I know that she made you to fight things for her,” she says. “And right now I’m the enemy.”
Micah looks down. “True,” he admits.
“I’m going to sacrifice you to the monster,” she says. “It’s the only thing that works. If I give you to him, then I can let Liril go, and he’ll make you answer for her freedom. He won’t hurt you. Not the same way he’d hurt her or me. You’re not a person.”
“You want me to cooperate,” Micah says.
“Yes.” She shrugs a little. “I would have drugged the water or something, but I don’t have any drugs. So I have to ask, instead.”
“I can’t,” he says.
Her eyes narrow.
“I have to save you,” he explains, hesitantly. “Because it’s what Liril would do.”
She stands. Her face is cold. “You are nothing to me,” she says. “I loved you. I tried. But you are expendable, Micah.”
“You have to come with me to the basement,” he says. “You have to let her out.”
“Listen,” Micah says. “You know what he did to her.”
Her eyes flicker. “Yes.”
“And you,” he says.
“And your mother, or maybe your father, or both.”
“Back all the generations, of your line and his.”
“We are a people of salt,” she says.
“Salt,” he says. He’s confused. He wasn’t expecting those words.
“There were dozens,” she says. “Hundreds. Of us. And they all died, save two. And so Lot’s wife looked back; and seeing it, cried; and her tears did not stop; and in the end, there was nothing left of her but salt drying in the sun. And since that time, we have been hunted, and we have been a people of salt.”
“You can’t cry yourself to death,” Micah says.
“You couldn’t,” his mother says. “I don’t think. But I could. I could answer two hundred generations with my tears.”
“I can’t pity you,” he says. “You’re selling out your children.”
“That’s not the point,” she says. “In all that time, it never got better. Do you understand? I’ll hang on to a little. I’ll teach her a little. That’s all I can do. I can’t save you. I can’t really save her. You have to be pragmatic. You have to live in the world you’ve got.”
“I’ll go,” he says.
“I’ll go to him.”
“And what will you say?”
“I will say, ‘Should you know not justice?'”
She looks at him oddly.
Micah shrugs. “Micah 3,” he says. “‘Should you know not justice? You who hate good and love evil; who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones; who eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones in pieces; who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot?’ It always makes me think of him.”
He looks a little embarrassed. “If there was a Bible chapter with your name, you’d have learnt it too.”
“That’s true.” She looks at him quietly, then stands. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m going to call him now, though.”
He rises. He steps forward. There’s a flash of fear on her face, but he only hugs her fiercely.
“I’ll be okay,” he says.
She’s starting to cry.
The sun is high, and the birds are singing, and the town is quiet under the heat. The horses are stabled, and the cars in their garages, and the lurkunder is waiting in silence and peace. The spider of the sky weaves its delicate web. The river god flirts with the woman of the reeds. There’s a phone ringing, far and distant away; and in Micah’s house, the basement is empty, for there is no mortal lock nor shackle that can still hold Tainted John.