throwing stones — chapter three

Terry smiled at Ron. "Is that better?"

Ron nodded, her eyes wide. "Yeah." She flexed the muscles of her leg. No pain. It felt kind of weird, but it didn't hurt.

Terry left the room, and Ron wondered if this was a dream.

A few minutes later, Marshall came in. He saw that Ron was awake and he came over to her, sitting in the chair Terry had been using.

"How are you feeling?" he asked her.

"I'm okay." He obviously thought she was just saying this to be brave, so she continued, "It hurt a bit, but Terry made it stop hurting." She made a face. That had sounded like something a child would say.

"How did she do that?" he asked, leaning forward.

"She just touched me. Here." She pointed at her cheek.

She was about to ask a question when the door opened and Terry came back in, carrying a tray. "I hope it's alright if we share. I couldn't fit– Oh, hello, Marshall."

"Hello, Terry. When did you get here?"

He stood so she could sit again. The tray held a large plate of spaghetti with some sauce on it, plus two forks and a large glass of water.

"A few minutes ago. The car died as we were going over the bridge and we had to walk. We got lost once or twice. Sam's knowledge of local geography is not, I'm afraid, quite as good as he thought it was."

"And the local landscape has changed somewhat in the last twenty-four hours. We had just about the same experience at the other bridge. The car didn't die, but the bridge had holes in it, so we had to walk across."

Marshall helped Ron sit up (she winced in expectation of pain from her leg, but there wasn't any). He took a pillow from the other end of the sofa and slipped it behind her back to prop her up. She smiled as he handed her the glass of water. She drank it all down quickly.

"Do you have any idea what's happened?" Terry asked Marshall. "Has there been anything more on the radio?"

"Nothing. Just static. And now the batteries for the radios are all dead anyway."

"Did they attack us?" Ron asked.

Terry frowned. "'They'? Define your terms."

Ron shook her head. "Never mind." She'd forgotten for a moment that Terry was a teacher.

The door opened again and Pat stuck her head in. "More wounded coming in, Marshall. We need you."

He nodded. "I'll be back." He squeezed Ron's shoulder. She would have been furious if he'd hugged or kissed her in front of a stranger, even a stranger who she thought was probably a member of her family.

"Well," Terry said, "if anybody attacked 'us,' meaning you – meaning, I presume, U-town – then 'they,' whoever 'they' might be, attacked the city as well, since we just drove through it, and it looks pretty much as it does here. You can draw your own conclusions from that."

Ron was in the rather unusual position, for her, of really wanting to curse somebody out and being unable to say the words. And it wasn't just because Terry was a teacher. Ron had cursed at teachers quite often. Maybe it was because she had brought food. Which she was holding in her lap, too far away for Ron to reach it.

Terry smiled. "Do you go to the school here? The U-town school?"

Ron nodded. "Yeah. My parents made me go." She shrugged. "It's okay. The other kids, they're okay. I only go in the afternoon anyway."

"Only in the afternoon? Why is that?"

"I deliver the mail in the morning. I pick it up at the bridge and then I bring it here, for Vicki and Mom and Dad and the others. The important mail."

"You deliver the mail? Isn't there a post office or something? Why do they make you do it?"

Definitely a teacher. She didn't understand anything.

"Nobody makes me do it. It's what I do."

"And what do you study in school? I've read about the U-town school, and it sounds quite innovative, if you're a fan of unstructured learning environments."

"Well, they change the classes around all the time. I was taking History. We were learning about slavery. Then they changed the schedule, so now I'm taking Civics instead. History is in the morning now. Civics is like history, but it's the history of U-town.

"I only went to one class so far for Civics. One kid said that my dad wasn't as important as the others, as Vicki and Ray and them. So I busted her in the nose and she had to go to the nurse." Terry frowned disapprovingly. Ron wondered if that sort of thing happened in her classes. "She only said it to bother me, to see what I'd say. Well, she found out. Miss Nelson?"


"The food is probably getting cold."

Terry smiled. "Oh, I am sorry," she said, getting up. "You were far more patient than I would have been." She nudged the chair over so it was closer to Ron, then she sat down again and put the tray back on her lap. "As I said, I couldn't fit two plates on the tray, so we'll have to share. I hope you don't mind."

Ron had already grabbed one of the forks and was chewing on a wad of cold spaghetti. She shook her head, indicating that sharing was fine with her. One strand of spaghetti was dangling down her chin, and it left a trail of sauce as she slurped it into her mouth. Terry frowned, but she didn't comment.

"In my defense," she said, after she had eaten a couple of bites herself, "I realize it isn't warm, but it was pretty much cold when I got it."

Ron shrugged and ate some more.

Ron felt a lot better after eating.

"I would go look for coffee," Terry said, "but I'm sure there isn't any." She took off her glasses and started to wipe them. "Do you want to know something funny?"

"Okay," Ron said hesitantly.

"I don't mean funny-amusing, of course," she explained, which Ron had already figured out. "I mean funny-ironic. Do you think that everything has a good side and a bad side?"

"You mean people?"

"No, I mean things that happen."

"I don't know." She frowned. "No, some things are just bad."

Terry nodded. "I really don't know." She gestured at Ron's leg. "I imagine that must be pretty bad. There's nothing good about a broken leg, is there?"

"No." She had intended to say, "Fuck no," but somehow only one word had come out. Ron had been waiting for Terry to ask how she had got hurt, but Terry had something else on her mind.

"For me, it is not entirely a bad thing. Oh, I don't mean your injury. There's nothing good about that. But, even with all the death and destruction today, there is one good thing about all this."

"There is?"

"Let me ask you another question. What if somebody was to write a book about you, about your family and all the things that have happened to you in your life, and that book was going to be published and a lot of people were going to read it. How would you feel about that?"

"I'd hate it," Ron said.

"Well, I was in that situation. Someone wrote a book about me, about private things, and even some things that might get me in trouble, and it was going to be published soon. Now, I don't know if it will be published. So, I'm glad about that, even if I am sorry about all the rest."

The door opened and Marshall came in. Terry stood up. "Marshall," she said, "I have to ask you a very important question. Is there coffee?"

He smiled. "I don't think so, but there is tea. Somebody's started a small fire to heat water."

"That will have to do. Please excuse me, Ron." She left, carrying the tray.

"Fuck," Ron said quietly. Marshall sat down again as she said "Fuck" again a few times, with increasing volume and enthusiasm, pounding the sofa cushion with her good hand, culminating with, "Motherfucking Cocksucking Shit! Bitch! Fuck! Bitch! CUNT!"

She sighed and lay back.

Marshall smiled. "What brought that on?"

"It was weird, when Terry was here. It was like I couldn't swear. I kept trying, but it wouldn't come out."

"Well, she is a teacher. She probably thinks girls your age shouldn't curse."

Ron frowned. "You mean she was stopping me?"

"If she could make your pain go away by touching you, why not?" He leaned forward. "Don't be mad at her. I don't think it's something she does consciously."

"She's... she's Alex, isn't she? My grandmother?" He nodded. "She was saying how glad she was that now the book probably won't come out, how it would be embarrassing and stuff. But it's her book, Alex wrote it. Right?"

He nodded again. "Yes."

"That's weird."

He laughed. "I guess it is. How did you know she was your grandmother?"

"She looks like Mom."

He shook his head. "You are good with faces."

"What do you mean?" she demanded.

"You spotted that your mother and Vicki are related, which nobody ever sees. You figured out that Terry is your grandmother." He smiled. "And you are, as far as I know, the only person who can tell the Golden apart."

She shrugged. "Mr. Bostwick can."

"Okay, you're the only person who can tell the Golden apart other than Mr. Bostwick, and he lives with them. That's pretty impressive. The Golden all look the same to me, and even your mother sometimes has trouble. She can sometimes tell Sharon from her brothers, but I know she can't tell Will from Craig."

Ron was trying not to look pleased.

Jan came in and limped over to them, leaning over to hug Ron. "Oh, stop squirming," she said. "I hurried in here so I'd be able to do this before the others get here, but I am so glad you're alive that I intend to hug you quite often. Whether you like it or not."

Ron hugged her mother with her one good arm, then she quickly broke the embrace when the door opened again. Vicki came in and said, "I think we've got Ray about as sober as we can get him, so we need to meet."

Several people came in after Vicki. Terry was one of them, with a stocky Black man with short hair and a small beard. Pat was there, and Ray, who was wearing a bathrobe for some reason.

Vicki hopped up to sit on top of the meeting table, as usual. She was so short that if she'd sat in a chair she'd have been nearly invisible. The others took seats around the table and Ron noticed that Terry wasn't carrying anything. Apparently she hadn't been able to get tea after all.

Suddenly the door slammed open and four men came in. They were dressed like soldiers and they were carrying rifles. "Okay," one of them said, "you're all coming into custody. This whole 'experiment' is over. This situation shows...."

"This is outrageous behavior!" said a voice Ron didn't recognize. A tall, well-dressed woman in a bright yellow suit was limping toward the soldiers, who were lowering their weapons. She had long, reddish hair. Ron looked around the room, and she saw that Terry was missing.

Ron hadn't thought that having multiple personalities meant you could change your clothes and hair whenever you wanted to.

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About Anthony Lee Collins

I write.
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