Widows in the World
By Gavin J. Grant
7 February 2011
Part 1 of 2
The Granny wasn't talking to any of them. The husband was collecting rocks, the other wives had stayed with the house, her mother was stretching at the other end of the beach, and the kids were running wild in the waves. The baby, still in utero, had only recently begun talking to her and already knew when to keep quiet.
The Granny was fed up with these endless tiny Aberdonian Islands. She wanted to go north where the husband would go outside without complaining endlessly about the heat. She could see him picking through his rocks. This beach was only fifty or sixty years old, from after the seas rose, and she wondered what he could find of interest. But she wasn't talking to him, either. He sent the Granny a message, "I'm going to look for the original beach," and walked into the surf.
She was worried, but the house would look after him. When had he last gone swimming? Could he even swim?
Her mother was walking along the water's edge and something was swimming along parallel to her. Was it the husband? It didn't move like him. It swam in closer and her mother stopped, pulled something out of her pocket, and fed it. It was a selkie. It lay in the surf, not changing. It was bigger than her mother but the Granny could tell it was at her mother's beck and call. How unsurprising. Her mother drove the Granny out of her mind.
The Granny stamped away from her family, keeping her head down, watching her feet. The hill mosses were fighting the reeds. Something flashed in front of her feet and she slowed her perception to see a tiny grass snake trying to get away. She picked it up behind its neck. It wriggled in her hands and she was fascinated. She hadn't seen one since she'd married into the house. Her mother was calling from the beach and then the house was breaking in with a call, too. The Granny dropped the snake in her pocket but she wasn't thinking about it anymore. She was running toward the water and she couldn't think of anything.
The Granny put the gun down. She picked up her embroidery, told the house, "Let's move." She kickstarted her rocking chair as she felt the baby kicking inside. The carpet was soaking up the mess her mother's body was making. The rest of the family wives muttered as the house trembled, withdrew its roots from England's northernmost tip, checked for clearance, and slowly took off. It was the Granny's turn at embodiment, at being the children's mother; so, horrified and disconcerted as they were, the wives didn't complain.
"Don't wake the husband," she told the house.
The house said, "You left instructions to wake him when the latest bother was over. . . ."
One of the wives murmured, "That's probably now."
"You know the husband hates change," said the Granny. "Besides, he wasn't talking about my be-damned mother, he was talking about the Hague."
Which reminded her: part of her was still at work. Her embroidery hardly needed more than a look now and then, so she put in a call for lenience at the trial of the latest Georgian Dictator in the Republique Hague.
The Granny's mother whispered, "Sarah, you misplaced that stitch."
The Granny hefted her gun and shot her mother again. The Granny's heads-up display pinpointed her mother's body's moment of physical death and red-flagged the fractal pattern of her mother's consciousness-uploads jolting into action. The Granny activated a confinement shell around the still-leaking body. When her mother's dead-woman switch engaged, the explosion spattered the remains all over the inside of a molybdenum box.
The Granny sniffed and the wives fell silent. She told the house to move her mother's coffin into the basement. She should have gotten rid of her mother last month when the old hag insisted on going ashore to help a stranded selkie back into the sea. The Granny had been distracted: first by the husband, out rock collecting; then she'd caught a grass snake. She hadn't seen a live one in twenty years. She'd taken it in and nursed it back to health. There was something else, the Granny thought, but she couldn't think what it was.
Two minutes ago her mother had breezed in and thanked the Granny for at least keeping a tiny bit of fresh meat in the house even though "reptile was rarely anyone's first choice. Or even their third, really."
The wives were disturbed. Disembodied, they flowed through everything in the room: rattling the coffee table, spinning the old paper embroidery patterns, knocking the Granny's walking stick against the back of her high-backed wooden rocker. She could hear them whispering to one another. "Where did she get a gun?" "Will we all go to prison?" "I'm glad she did it." "What are we going to do?"
"You should sleep," one said to the Granny. "This is taking it out of you."
"Your mother released spores when . . . It's in your lungs," said another. "She gave you a flu."
The Granny ignored them. She was annoyed she hadn't cloned the snake but on the other hand she didn't want to open the molybdenum coffin to pick through her mother's remains to find some snake DNA. She could bet her mother's nanos were working away at reassembling the body. If the Granny opened the shell, one of her mother's uploads might access her mother's body and she would be back and even more annoying than ever.
"I should be OK. I haven't been outside," the Granny said. "But, you never can tell. Replace my blood. And organs," she told the house. "And maybe it's time to take out the baby."
The baby spoke underneath only to the Granny: "Not until we're both ready, thank you."
The house used her chair to attach tubes to the Granny's arms and legs. Some nasty things began to happen below her waist but she applied a professional level of distraction and ignored them. The itch in her belly could be scratched after the house had put her fully back together.
She was embroidering a cape for her baby.
At the Hague, the next case was up. The Great Year Caucus had found the recent Dictator of the Righteous and Godly Democracy of the Southern American States guilty by popular consensus and was auctioning tickets for the lynch mob to carry out his sentence. The Granny filed her objection and applied her day's funds to finance court security for herself for the next two hours.
She turned the cape in her hands. It was conch shell pink. Girls ran in the family—but they did everywhere now.
The house had leveled off at five thousand meters and asked for a destination. The Granny thought there was one person with the gumption to help out with a problem the size and shape of her mother's dead body.
"House," she said. "Let's go to Bute."
The Island of Bute used to lie off the west coast of Scotland. During the Stupidity an ancient and corrupt gliderbomb (looking for the long-defunct U.S. Navy base miles away in Dunoon) had taken out the largest town, Rothesay. But the rest of the island had been quietly dyked up before the Greenland melt floods so that, although it was now below sea level, most of it survived.
The Granny directed the house to the northeast end of the island near an old submerged ferry ramp where it landed softly on the wet bracken, sending its stabilizers deep into the earth.
The house told the Granny her mother's nanos had re-assembled her corpse and it was monitoring the corpse for personality re-uploads. The Granny certainly wasn't going to bring her mother back. If her mother found a way back, the Granny would deal with her. She would argue she hadn't technically killed her mother. She'd just removed her mother from her body and removed the opportunity for her mother to regain access to her body. Crossing the water to Western Scotland was a problem, but staying back in the Federated Northern English Islands—where the current authorities might not agree with the Granny's liberal interpretation of her own behavior—could only have been worse.
"Don't wake the husband yet," she told the house. "But let's do something he likes. Maybe California bungalow, but glass-in the porch."
It was August, hot and steamy; outside, the rain beat down and the house air filters couldn't completely remove the smell of sheep shit. Despite the heat it was still below the husband's recommended temperature range. Anyway, she thought, we won't be here long.
The wives sussurated, chorused quotes from Verdi's Macbeth.
"Don't get your hopes up," the Granny said. "I'll take no tips from dead Italians. Or les rosbifs."
The house said, "The Free Island of Bute is requesting poll tax registration. We have forty-three minutes until the free hour expires."
The Granny swore. "Send out hunters and farmers. I don't care what they find, we need inventory. And pay the tax at fifty-nine minutes."
The house knew better than to reply.
The hunters and farmers, somewhat malleable robots with a small degree of autonomy, scattered out from the cellar door, farmers moving slowly; hunters quickly disappearing from sight.
Blood replaced, the Granny put her embroidery down. She levered herself out of her rocker. She kicked her mother's coffin on her way to the door. "I'm going to visit the children," she said.
The children's playroom, all soft sea green walls and bouncy rock-painted floor, was empty. It was the Granny's fault. And her mother's, of course, for distracting her. The poor children couldn't be blamed: their mother had died long ago and none of the other wives could be said to be particularly motherly. Especially the heavily pregnant Granny. Granny only to her own children lost long before she ever came to this house.
The Granny scolded the house anyway.
The house showed her the children's escape: Ariadne, the eldest, had tied up Perce, the youngest, and the only boy, then melted his eye with a button-laser. Perce's nannynanos couldn't rebuild the eye fast enough so the house had brought in a mechanonurse. Ariadne had claimed to be in shock. It took less than a minute from the untying of Perce's restraints to the three children's scrambling of the house's tracking system and their subsequent disappearance. The house showed her its latest satellite pic of the three children. Perce was riding the 'nurse; the three of them had stopped to change into camo suits. They'd be nearly untrackable soon.
The Granny asked the house for an outdoor suit. She stopped in the hall on her way out to touch up her hair, clean off the wives' target acquisition software, kick the cat.
"Tell me if Malik contacts you or if the husband wakes himself," she told the house. The house indicated that it had an emergency message for the Granny but she ignored it. She was going out. Whatever it was could wait.
The flus had killed off more men than women and for certain the remaining men had become a little full of themselves. She did love living with one in a family. His angularity of body, the pure reek of him. She didn't count Perce, yet. It would be decades before he could even vaguely be considered an adult.
The house flapped the letterbox at her. She aimed a kick at it, too. Missed on purpose. She loved the house more than she should. "Otherwise I don't want to hear from you unless the little shits come back before me."
But when she went outside she realized she couldn't walk across the island.
"I need some wheels," she told the house. A cellar door sprang open and a hovercar appeared. She whipped out her gun and shot at it, but it dodged back into the house.
"Wheels," said the house, as the door opened again. The Granny refused to acknowledge that the house might know her needs better than she did.
She sat on the eight-wheeled buggy and it encapsulated around her. Perhaps she was too old for this kind of direct action. Maybe she and the husband should be pottering in the orchid room together and the house could send something out to round up the children.
The buggy told her Bute was overrun with wild dogs. The dogs survived off rabbits, sheep, a number of species of tiny burrowing mammals (moles? the Granny wondered), and even birds if the dogs couldn't catch anything else. The house's farmers scorned the birds—their economics knew that with the ever-mutating pandemics still going round only the most desperate would eat avians. And the house couldn't make money feeding the desperate. Instead they were blast-freezing the pheromone-drawn rabbits and dogs.
The Granny was pleased. Gamey protein stretched a long way.
She tapped into a farmer's skillset and used it to pick out an ugly, snappish dog that, despite being tempted and crazed by the scents, had so far avoided the farmers' advances. She was tired already. Her old bones wanted to be sitting on her couch with the Sunday papers spread around her and a brandy-enhanced samovar steaming within arm's reach.
The baby kept up her barrage of ridiculousness. "I'd like some brandy, too. Where's my father? Why can't I read? What's a dog?" The Granny ignored her.
The buggy started out after her targeted dog—something with the head of a hyena and the body of a Dalmatian. The Granny suspected it would be a right little bastard. She tried not to give in to its charms immediately.
The Granny took off her helmet. She felt heavy. This was the last time she'd carry a baby to term. Next time the house could incubate one itself. The baby's due date was a week today and the Granny had already caught her planning trouble with the children. She hadn't known how to discipline it without hurting herself. She explained to the baby the other children were just family children whereas she, the baby, was a direct child and she should listen to the Granny. The baby swore she was on the Granny's side.
The buggy caught and immobilized the dog. The Granny inserted a mental link, told it to find the children. The dog barked at the door of the buggy and the Granny wanted to drop it where it danced.
"The other children," she said. "The already born." The dog was getting some of her anger, some of her depression (which had been encroaching since she'd married into this house). It alternated between mad barking and rolling on the ground. She shut down her side of the link, sent the dog out. The children would undoubtedly eat the poor thing before she could catch up with them. Damn her mother's death for distracting her.
The Granny had spent a long, wet, adolescent year on this island, Bute. She would have preferred Bad Marienbad but her mother had found her a room and a waitressing job in a cheap waterfront hotel in Rothesay and given her a ticket back to San Diego postdated a year and a day. Her mother was occasionally poetic.
The Granny remembered feeling at home in Rothesay although she wasn't sure how trustworthy those memories were. She had been comforted by the old brick houses that sat behind the storm wall and had survived the freak tornadoes and pre-War near-catastrophic floods.
Her mother, whether knowingly or not, had given the Granny a place that suited her interior feelings. She was as alien in Rothesay as she had always felt at home. Her old friends' pix and journals were strange missives from a lost home. The language, clothes, and stances here were foreign but slowly those from home became the same. She had come to know herself as an outsider, settled into the role, and been able to carry it on and with her ever after. She had never told her mother, but she had always been grateful for what she had learned that year.
Rothesay was gone and the handful of survivors had been repatriated into Western Scottish mainland. Malik's family ruled what was left of the "Free Island."
As the buggy chugged on, the Granny looked across the short draft of water to the old mainland coast. There was meant to be a village half-submerged there but the house had detected neither life nor noise, light nor masking procedures. There were still sheep, but the farmers calculated that the poisons and the traps—never mind the wolves, the buzzards, and the haggises—made the harvest too risky.
The Granny wants to retire but her mother won't let her go. The Granny doesn't understand the family children and she would like a break from the husband and the wives. When she was young, she loved political movements that practiced direct manipulation, alliteration, cohesion/discrepancy variants. She glasses her memories every ten years so that she can go back and check if she is remembering events the way she originally remembered them. The children love to compare the differences between her decades.
The children were both the hard and the easy part. They were all growing up shorter than the Granny. She had grown up in the Totally Free State—aka the Totalitarian Fascist Syndicate—where surplus economies, soygenerators, and liquid sun battery packs had killed the profit motive. Then 2.25 billion people died during the flus, the fuel and famine wars: the Great Stupidity. The husband used to hark back to the pre-War years but even discounting nostalgia, the Granny never expected life to be the same again.
The Granny was 197cm tall and, at her prime, a good forty years ago, had weighed in at just under a hundred kilos. She never pretended to be still in her prime. The surplus hadn't lasted. The Granny had been a postdoc studying the history of Skinner Box Behaviorism at the University of Chicago-Metro when the unknowable black box of her mother descended back into her life and whisked her away to the Faeroe Islands.
The Granny's mother had frozen all her eggs at sixteen and stopped her menses soon after. She'd used surrogates to birth and raise her children. For years she had seduced birth fathers in best Roald Dahl-approved style.
The Granny's mother had been one of those expecting trouble. She hadn't been standing on street corners shooting information-sound bombs into passersbys' heads, but she had good instincts backed up by fantastic systems analysis. Once she picked up the early signs of famine hitting the developed world, she moved into catastrophe mode. At first, in the Faeroes, the Granny hadn't noticed any difference in her mother's blast-frozen expression. But then she had seen a tic, a tenth of a second blankness in her mother's continuous environmental scan. The Granny thought that something had come undone inside her mother, something that couldn't be fixed. Neither of them ever brought it up.
The husband had once told the Granny "You were born filled with regret" and she agreed that at some point she had regretted every choice she had ever made, but she regretted those years in the Faeroes least of all. The Granny, grateful for a moment, considered letting her mother get back to her body. But that would open her up to a different level of regret. She'd wait a little yet.
The Granny had grown up hoping to meet someone and feel the direct interior shock of recognition. Love. The spark that would blow everything else aside. As the years passed, she'd kept a weather eye out for it. She didn't think of herself as fussy, but it hadn't happened.
The husband had once told her she was the love of his life. She'd warmed to him slowly. The Granny had married because she'd recognized a good deal—and a power vacuum in his house. She'd also married Maria, Lenkya, Sophia, ChloeSimone, K-K, and a few other loves of his life. They were resigned to the situation. The Granny was the least content, the most volatile.
These days none of the wives saw much of their husband; he was rarely awake. He liked to fix things. Anything the Granny broke, she threw in the recycler. He'd been a geneticist. Once, when another wave of soy viruses was exploding out of the "safe" Mid-American cowfeed states, she'd thrown one of his favorite coffee mugs (the one that said Can I look into your genes?) at him—full of coffee.
"Darling . . . ," he said when the coffee cup smashed against the wall. She knew his word contained paragraphs full of deeply-felt emotional concepts he found difficult to solidify into words. He'd told her so, many times.
"Why didn't you know what was going to happen? Why couldn't you do something?"
He stared at her and she was too fed up to parse his glare. She slammed the door on the way out. The next time she queried the house, she found he had gone to sleep.
It was six years before they talked again. She had been excoriating the Hague on their rebirthing of the Common Agricultural Policy and then she'd realized the husband was in the same room as her and was clapping appreciatively. Later, for better or for worse, they'd made the baby. The baby kicked.
For better. Definitely for better.
The Granny's mother had the Granny force-augmented and fast grown—anything to cut short her progeny's early years. The Granny could remember her mother (not her birth mother, her mother) taking her to the hospital when the Granny was six months old. Her mother had brought her house to Cleveland which had, she was convinced, the best plasticiens. The plastic surgeons smoothed out her mother's navel in an afternoon. Her mother had asked the Granny if she'd like hers removed, too, but the Granny had signed her refusal. How could she explain the depths of her infantile sorrow to see the link between the generations removed, denied?
The Granny was lying to the house. She knew it. She knew the house knew it. There was a gap she refused to recognize, a familiar space, unfilled. A time on the Aberdonian Islands where everything had gone wrong. She remembered the negotiations before landing. Later she and the husband had walked to the water's edge and he had dived for rocks on the old beach. Her mother had tagged along until she was distracted by the selkie. But then there was a space, something she didn't want to know and it was there that the house and the wives had stopped talking to her.
Until she shot her mother. That had shocked them into speech, if not action. But the Granny wouldn't look back, wouldn't listen. She had to look forward, look after the baby, their baby.
The house was talking to her but she was enjoying following the dog, and zeroed the volume. Eventually the house bruteforced through her control of the car and sent her the message in large text she couldn't ignore. Two farmers had disappeared.
Her mother. The children. Now the farmers.
Again, there was only the one answer.
In the early twenty-first century the Somali gangs had established a foothold in Argyll. They'd turfed the Scands out of the salmon and oyster farms and the Bosnians out of the drugs. They'd provided the Triads with handsome retirement packages and a generous revenue percentage which dropped slowly over the years. It was a gamble on both sides, but there comes a time when playing bridge or Mahjong in a smoky bar is better than tracking down crooked sailors in the Kyle of Lochalsh. When the Gulf Stream broke and the weather shockshifted cold then hot the Somalis were well positioned and already turning their couple of hundred thousand acres into a mass market garden. When the food collapse came, they were diversified. They survived, flourished.
The Somalis liked the sheep for their sour milk and wool. They pastured the hot, sweating creatures higher than ever before but this was still Scotland, the mountains weren't high enough to really escape the heat.
The Somalis were no crueler than any other gang but getting a wool hat had taken over from an Arctic vacation as the au courant slang for being disappeared.
Thirty and more years ago, the Granny had spent a lot of time officially and unofficially dealing with the Somalis. Her summer in Rothesay had given her a connection, Malik, one of the boys who had fallen in love with her. He'd made an informal offer to her to join his house but although she had said she'd think about it, she'd never gone back.
No man, she thought, carried a torch for six or seven decades. A grudge for marrying into a different house, certainly; but not a torch.
She set the dog to find and sent it after the farmers.
She had an itch in the back of her head that she knew meant something bad would happen. Maybe had happened. So when, after the baby was born, it did: she wasn't all that surprised.
She turned the buggy back home and put in a call to Malik.
The dog set off and she felt her world telescope into only the part of her that was watching him run. The smooth flow of tension and release, his body so low to the ground. She slowed her perception and still couldn't pinpoint the exact moment his paws hit the ground. She couldn't keep her foreconsciousness at that speed for long; she was too tied to her body's slowness. She backburnered the dog's perceptions. She already loved the dog as much as anything she had ever loved. She had to look away, search the sun-scorched bracken, the deep hot greens of the rhody bushes to settle herself, get back to her body's time and continue the conversation she'd already begun with Malik's cool, remote voice and the decades-old icon (a misty hill wearing a woolen hat) the house had popped-up onto the buggy's screen.
"I see you paid the tax. No more revolution?" Malik said, foregoing pleasantries.
"The revolution is stabilized on the principles on which it began."
She wondered then if it were actually him talking behind the icon, if he were even still alive. Would he still be handsome?
"Damn Red Clydesiders," he said, "with their smooth-talking activists and the Tory backbench in their pocket. What do they know about us islanders? Might as well put the Tories upfront. Perhaps the polis would reconsider."
"Red always suited you, though," she said, unable to resist flirting.
There was silence on his side. His icon didn't move and the Granny thought, He's dead and I've insulted some youngster.
The house popped two messages into her heads-up and told her that both the children and the missing farmers had signaled they were coming home. But the link to the dog had gone dead.
"That's a nice dog," Malik said. "Thank you."
She caught up with the children as they trailed back to the house. They'd gotten tired. They hadn't seen her dog. Perce had forgotten Ariadne's attack and now as the three of them trudged along he held onto Ariadne's hand, made her drag him along. As usual everyone ignored the middle girl. Granny managed to be as polite to them as they were to her. The baby was talking to them but she neither offered them a lift nor asked them any questions. Everyone was equally unsatisfied.
The children ran to the cellar door and she let the car follow them in. The house led her into the sitting room where the wives were laid out as a collection of Royal Wedding (Victoria and Albert to Arthur and Uther) China in a display cabinet. They weren't behind glass. Temptation surged through her. But she was thinking of her beautiful dog.
She pulled up an ottoman, sat down and sighed as she put her feet up. She girded herself and acknowledged the expected note from ChloeSimone.
"House," she said. "Tea for two."
The house opened the door again and the husband came in.
She explained about his mother-in-law and he was sanguine. She talked about the farmers and he buttered scones. He flinched when she mentioned Malik. By the time she'd gotten to the children's latest escapade he was palpably upset. He began buffing his fingerprints from the teapot. She didn't tell him about her missing dog.
"Perhaps," he said, "you should wake your mother?"
The wives clattered, sussurated. She shushed them and kept her peace.
"You know I've always admired her efficiency with local officialdom."
She knew he meant this as a reflection of her uselessness here as well as her job performance. He was so good at being banally evil, she thought. She queried the Hague and clocked in. She could handle the Court and the husband.
The husband was balding, had dark rings around his eyes. He slurped his tea. Why couldn't he wait one minute until it was cool? She'd picked the wide-mouthed tea cups just so that the tea would cool quickly. Hers was already cold. She concentrated but she couldn't heat it up. She'd never been telekinetic, but you never knew unless you tried.
The wives had slipped out while she wasn't looking. Maybe they were afraid that she'd throw something. If she broke one of the plates, would that be the end of them? It was a metaphysical question of some interest.
When she first came to Rothesay she'd been sixteen. Her hair was long, straight, hung past her shoulders. She changed the color daily. Yet changing her hair didn't change anything else: she could never be anything but what she was. She had had admirers from the moment she stepped off the ferry. She'd always had them, but that year, apart from the occasional tourist, she found herself in a closed social system. She came to know many more of her admirers than she'd ever wanted to.
Holding her cold tea, she felt the ghost of that year, memories insistent, rise within her chest, a heaving that, as she recognized it, became firmer, stronger, became something that would break down all her recent decisions. Delusions? Where did that thought come from?
She wanted so much, she had so much she could be doing. Yet she sat here. She could see a minute crumb among the few tiny bristles the husband had missed shaving at the spot above his lip he always missed when he first woke. Her chest wanted to explode. She wanted to scream. But she wasn't sixteen. She was supposed to be able to compromise, rationalize, work out the way forward.
The cat wandered in. As usual it ignored her and headed for the husband who leant toward it, put his hand down. But the cat stopped, arched its back. It turned, stared at the Granny, ran out the room.
Malik. Her mother. The children. Her job at the Hague. The dog. She studied her embroidery. Asked the house to warm her tea and to add something for her back. She smiled over at the husband, making an effort. He was eating his buttered scones, ignoring her Dundee marmalade. If he could, he only ate white foods—rice, bread, coconut. The buttermilk pale yellow scones were a compromise and she imagined that in his internal tables he was scoring points by eating them.
"Since we're here, why don't I show you the island tomorrow?" she offered. "And later we can work out what to do about my mother."
The Granny knew more than she'd ever wanted to about the husband's soft old bones and so she acquiesced to the house's suggestion to take a hovercar.
She was stuck in an if/then loop: If she could deal with Malik and have him take her mother's body, then she wouldn't have to deal with her mother; if she couldn't deal with Malik, then she had to deal with her mother's body and her mother. She siphoned today's nest egg dividend straight off the top to Lawyers Without Frontiers and hoped they'd remember if there came a time that she needed them.
She drove the husband on the road toward the remains of Rothesay. The baby was asleep: huffy that the Granny had gone out with the husband. The water, the Kyles of Bute, was slate blue, choppy. Seals barked at the car and she sent a query to the house to see if the farmers could use them.
They were nearing the village of Port Bannatyne when they met the Somalis.
She was happy to be driving. Before they left, the Granny had patted the husband down, removed a couple of weapons and a pocket wife. He was a fool and would have been a dead one if she'd let him keep the weapons. He had no conception of military history, no view of strategy or knowledge of Support by Fire. It was foreground or nothing with him.
She signed a greeting, popped the doors, stepped with exaggerated slowness out of the car and round to the front. The husband followed. The Somali leader, a blank-faced girl of twelve, or more likely a post-famine twenty-five, motioned and they were searched. Another motion and another girl brought over a haggis on a leash. The chimera mewed at the Granny and the husband, desperate to find a reason to attack. A tiny girl trotted over, took the husband's reading glasses, put them on. They clashed with her shorts. The glasses were an affectation at the best of times and an embarrassment now. The husband enjoyed the level of psychological removal they gave him. The other women signed amusement with tiny shifts in their stance. They didn't really care, though, and the leader motioned and they all disappeared into the high ferns. The girl in glasses led the Granny and the husband to an ancient wheeled, scrap-worthy biodiesel Ford Transit van. The Granny stepped in, pulled out her corner of embroidery, and sent the car back to the house. They headed into the hills.