The Seventh Hour(4)By: Tracey Ward
It’s a no-win situation, but life is like that. Maybe it didn’t used to be, but it is now. Now we have nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. You have to weather the storm, come hell or high water.
Karina is coming up over the eastern edge of the ridge, the evening sky behind her. Her dark hair disappears like ink on black paper, her white skin startling in contrast. She looks almost ghostly, her walk too lithe to be real. Her face too perfect to believe.
I feel my stomach clench hard at the sight of her, a weird mixture of joy and annoyance coursing through my veins. I grip tightly to the handful of rocks I’ve been rolling in my palm.
“Hey, Rina,” I call back.
“Are you up here to watch the Poshers on parade?”
“And to say goodbye to the sky.”
“Blech,” she groans in disgust. “Don’t remind me. I’m nearly crying watching it go. I can’t believe we have to go on lockdown in a week.”
“Two if you bundle up.”
“I do not. Thank you.”
I grin at her curt tone. Her undying hatred for the cold. “Then you’ve got a week.”
She reaches the end of the trail where I’m standing, her face flushed pink with exertion. She smiles softly. “Well then I better make the most of it, shouldn’t I?”
“I’d start now. We might not get as much daylight as we should.” I jut my chin toward the sea. “There’s a storm circling the Eventide ships. Looks like it’s going to roll inland.”
“Really?” She squints into the horizon. “It doesn’t look too bad.”
“It’s been building. We’re all going to get wet for sure.”
“They’ll hate that.”
I smirk. “They better get used to it ‘cause it’s happening.”
“They’re late this year.”
I nod in agreement. It’s the same thing every Gaian has been saying for the last week. Our entire village has been buzzing about the lateness of the Eventide since the Seventh hour began and there’d been no sign of them. “After Porton and Ambrios they’ve still gotta sail south down around the peninsula. That’ll take ‘em at least two weeks.”
“It’ll be totally dark.”
“If they don’t make up the time, yeah.”
I toss one of the rocks out toward the ocean, aiming at the ships. Of course it lands well short of the mark but I imagine it hitting the hull of one of their honey colored ships, pinging noisily off the side. Maybe startling some Posher out of their sleep.
Karina pushes her long hair out of her eyes. She pauses for just a second, but I know what she’s thinking. I know what she’s going to ask before she opens her mouth.
“Is your brother back yet?”
There’s the clench in my gut again. The annoyance. “No. Easton isn’t back yet. None of them are. They were supposed to be back three days ago.”
“They better hurry. The frost is coming.”
I nod my head, my eyes fixed on the ships. “Everyone is running late this year.”
My older brother left for the city with a group of twenty men and women two weeks ago. They go twice a year to join in a souk that lines the streets of Porton with booths and shops selling goods that the surrounding villages have harvested or made during the six months of sunlight. We go to sell but we also go to stock up on what we don’t have here in the mountains. There are medicines that need to be bought, both for the animals and for us. Fertilizers and seeds. Cloth, machine parts, oil, tools. Most of the medicine we rely on the Eventide to bring in from other ports around the world. They ride into town before the start of the festival, charge merchants in the city sky high prices, the merchants then shoot the prices even higher for us, and the Poshers disappear before having to look us in the eyes.
We hold festivals in our villages as well. Parties that run for weeks to celebrate being out of the caves. Outside in the fresh air, under the sky. We have to keep our homes completely blocked off from the elements when the sun sets or while it sits high and constant in the sky, but we have electricity. We have lights that simulate daylight to keep us and the animals from going insane. Nothing can compete with the real thing, though. With clouds and a breeze and the smell of the ocean.