Excerpt - Botanicaust
[Levi's cannibal cellmate has been recently euthanized, and he does not yet understand Tula's language.]
The shuffle of feet alerted him to a visitor, and at first he thought perhaps an angel had come to give him comfort. Her yellow robe, the first real clothing he had seen since being taken captive, swished around her ankles as she paused before the sleeping child’s cage.
After a few moments, she turned to approach his cage, and he recognized the woman, Tula. Not an angel. A Blattvolk, even if she had donned clothing. She grasped the bars with both hands and, with a sigh, pressed her green, tear-stained cheeks against the metal. Her whispered words sounded desperate.
Rising on unsteady legs, he pointed to Awnia’s empty cage. “Awnia?” This woman seemed to be an advocate for the young mother.
Without warning, the Blattvolk erupted into a fresh bout of tears.
Uncontrollable empathy washed over Levi. “Don’t cry.” His voice cracked. The words could have been for himself as easily as the Blattvolk. She shuddered with another sob.
He strode forward with more strength than he knew he had and wrapped his hands over hers where she clung to the bars. Her fingers were as cold as the metal. A shiny pink patch of skin on her right arm contrasted sharply with the jade hue of her skin, like a small piece of humanity peeking out at him from beneath her Blattvolk exterior. “Tula, don’t cry,” he whispered, afraid of his own voice.
At the sound of her name, she hiccoughed and met his gaze. This time he was struck by the humanity in her pale blue eyes. “Tula,” she repeated.
She searched his eyes, and he knew what she wanted. It was such a small thing, really. Taking a sharp breath, he said, “Levi.”
“Levi.” A smile rivaling a clear sunrise broke out on her face.
He hoped he hadn’t just let in the devil.
But Tula’s face was not one of temptation or evil or atrocity. Her skin might be green, but her eyes were human, and she needed compassion. Awnia had been taken away, and this woman seemed as upset about it as Levi was.
“Are they going to kill her?”
She seemed to understand the question, because she nodded. Pulling a hand from beneath his, she wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve, then put her palm over his knuckles and beseeched him with her grief-reddened eyes. Her words sounded so much like “must eat,” that when she indicated his untouched canister he understood.
Now that he had talked to her, he’d opened a whole range of action he’d sworn not to take. But eating the food here had not changed Awnia. It had not sealed her damnation. And if he had any hope of convincing this woman to let him go, he had to maintain his strength.
In a moment of divine intuition, he felt God might want him to survive.
At Tula’s urging, he swallowed the tepid fluid in the canister and grimaced. His body recognized it as food, but his mouth protested every drop passing over his tongue. She made a face and nodded as if she agreed about the taste. Then she pulled a closed fist out of her pocket.
“Dessert,” she said, holding out her hand. On her palm was a clear nougat the size of his thumbnail.
The bland drink he’d swallowed churned in his gut. Was this the agent to change him forever? She called it dessert, the finish to a meal. Would it also be the end of him?
He searched her eyes again, and detected no guile there. His insides calmed, and he knew she meant no harm. To get out of here, he was going to have to trust her. And convince her to trust him.
Taking the nougat between thumb and forefinger he sniffed it before touching a tentative tongue to the surface. Sweet. It was indeed dessert. “Thank you.” He put the lozenge into his mouth and allowed the sugars to dissolve. The candy tasted like hope.
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