Nicky stood up from his resting spot in Nancy’s lap and barked.
Nancy startled, looking up from the word game she was playing on an old piece of paper. It was hard to entertain herself in this place. For a while, she’d passed the time by reading through the plane’s owner’s manual, until the pages had started to come lose and wear away at the corners where she’d turned them. Then, she’d met Mahender, and he’d started bringing her supplies from the town, sometimes books and even a pair of magnifying reading glasses.
She’d read through most of the books he’d brought her that were in English, so she’d devised another way of entertaining herself. She’d find lines of Italian text and try to make as many English words out of the letters as she could. It was a lot more fun than reading the airplane owner’s manual, especially with a warm dog curled up in her lap.
Nicky wasn’t curled up now; he was standing at attention, his ears pricked forward as he looked out the window. He barked again, this time a series of three quick barks–“Arf-arf-arf!”
Nancy craned her neck to look out the window. It was rarely a good sign when Nicky barked.
“What is it, buddy?” said Nancy.
Nancy removed her reading glasses and squinted out the window towards the subject of Nicky’s attention. She could make out something heading toward them, but couldn’t tell who or what it was.
As it got closer, she could see it was a large group of figures. She let herself relax a fraction. Only the creatures Mahender was friends with traveled in large groups like that, and they almost never gave her any trouble.
“It’s okay, Nicky,” she said. “You’re a silly boy. It’s just Mahender’s friends.”
She knew how responsive dogs were to tone of voice, so she tried to keep her tone relaxed and chipper.
“Aroo,” said Nicky, not taking his eyes off the window.
“You’re right,” said Nancy. “You’re not being silly. They give me the creeps too.”
She wasn’t afraid of the Brothers, exactly. She hadn’t felt real fear in a long time, and she knew on a logical level they wouldn’t hurt her. But sometimes, those horrible snaking limbs reminded her of the Sisters, and when they moved a certain way, she couldn’t help but picture them wrapping around her father’s neck.
Her father’s last moments were something she pictured a lot, so often that she was almost used to it. She’d gotten good at filing it neatly away in the back of her mind when it appeared, tucking it back into storage and moving on with her day. She didn’t think she would have been able to function otherwise.
Having Nicky made her objectively safer, and she wouldn’t have traded him for anything, but she’d almost been more on edge since those boys had given him to her. She wasn’t alone anymore, which meant now there was a risk of experiencing that awful loss all over again. Of standing there, powerless to act, screaming and screaming until her throat was raw because screaming was better than doing nothing. In that moment, her head clouded by adrenaline and horror, she’d truly believed that maybe if she was loud enough, she could scream the danger away and her father would be okay.
She filed the thought back into her brain’s storage and looked out the window again.
As the group got closer, Nancy could see the larger shapes were flanking smaller, more human-sized figures. At first, she thought the larger brothers were protecting the smaller ones. Then, she noticed the variation in the smaller figures.
As they got even closer, she started to recognize some of them. Mahender, his strange aunt, and the two boys she’d met earlier were among the group. Four girls she didn’t recognize also walked with them.
“It’s okay, Nicky.” Nancy scratched the dog’s head. “These look like friends. The question is, what are they doing here?”