The air is cold, damp. Musty, too. I suppose, after all this time, I should expect that.
I flip on the light, but the fluorescent at the bottom of the stairs doesn’t seem to like the cold, either. It flickers dully, with a faint buzz, and provides almost no help against the dark. I debate my choice for a moment, but, I still don’t have any good options, and I don’t want to just sit here at the top of the stairs all night. At least down there, I can find a nice, quiet place to curl up. And nobody’s likely to come down to look for me, either.
I pull the thin cloak tighter around me and start down the stairs. Slowly. The first stair creaks loudly under my weight, and I cringe at the noise—the walls aren’t that thick, and Sheridan isn’t deaf—but it holds, and I hear nothing from the hallway. I continue down, avoiding the middle of the steps, where the creak will be worst. The noise softens.
It doesn’t always seem like it upstairs, but down here . . . this house is old. Very old. It’s there, in the stone foundations—the work of generations of this family, altering, extending, rebuilding. Sometimes, it feels like this place has been here forever. And we’ve been here, too, all along. In a way, this place is us, and we are this place.
I guess that’s what I’ve always loved about it—it’s the solidity, the permanence. The continuity. This house has a weird way of making all of my problems seem somehow temporary. As if it is quietly telling me with its very presence that everything will work out, because it always has before. And I need that continuity, that permanence. The need is so deep, so basic, so deeply ingrained within me—within all of us—that there just can’t be anything else.
But days like today . . . fuck. It seems like such a simple solution—just take Keaira and run away some place new, some place we can start again, some place we can be free, together.
But leaving this place, leaving Tara, and Conlan, and Elish and . . . and yes, even Faolan and Cormac . . . . Being alone, just the two of us, adrift in the world, with no family, with no place, with no history . . . the idea terrifies me in a way nothing else can. It feels like death.
No, it has to be this way. There’s just no other alternative.
My feet touch bare earth at last: packed sand—hard, and a bit damp. Cool to the touch, too, but right. And now I know why I came down here. It’s the dark, the coolness, the smell of damp earth and stones. A den. Away from lights, away from everything that can hurt me.
And tonight, I won’t find it anywhere else. I’ll deal with them all tomorrow. It’ll be easier, tomorrow.
I reach up and twist the flickering bulb a quarter turn out of it’s socket. It winks out and stays that way. I drop the cloak and change. Light returns with my better eyes, but now it’s comfortable, real light, not something generated from electricity.
I set out amongst the old boxes and furniture to find a place to rest.