Crucible

Closet

Umbra tossed on the mattress. It was late, or early, depending on how one decided to judge the time. The little clock on the night table said it was three o’clock in the morning. And Umbra couldn’t sleep. The mattress was too soft, the sheets too new. The pillow too firm. This was the first night she was trying to sleep in her room at the new base.

Part of her wanted to drift through the ground and find a cave somewhere to hide in. Or the closet. She’d spent weeks alternating between Harry and Willis’ closets, and neither of them asked why. She supposed that was a blessing. Harry probably didn’t even know the words to form the question, and Willis had been through enough trauma of his own to question that there was a reason.

She flipped the pillow over to the other side and felt the cool cloth on the back of her neck. The ceiling above her was still bare metal. With a sigh, Umbra rolled onto her right shoulder and stared at the board she had posted on the wall next to her. There were several pictures that glowed faintly as they ran through a slide show. Pictures from their first day of training, some of her friends from the woods, Professor Jove actually smiling while talking on the phone with Prime Minister Skylar, Professor Carpenter looking awkward and holding a hand in front of his face to block the camera, but grinning despite himself.

Good times.

One picture cycled through the slide show, one that she coveted very much, and had forgotten she even had it until digging through old files on her beat-up, ‘borrowed’ wristcom. A single shot of a young man with sandy brown hair, dirt-covered face, and winning smile holding up a large fish, still flopping as he pulled it from a lake. The jawline was similar to her own, and though his eyes were closed, she remembered that they had the same green eyes. They could have been siblings.

Because they were.

She reached out her left hand and turned the screen off. Her brother’s filthy, but pleased face disappeared. The last picture she wanted to see before she went to sleep. A memory of some of the hardest times in her life. Running for their lives and hiding in the woods, trying to stay forgotten. But times like that, fighting with a large freshwater bass, or hiding out in a bedridden senior citizen’s summer home while he was in a nursing home, or even just making dinner and watching TV. Those times were memories she treasured.

She felt the rising urge to hide herself in the closet the longer she thought about her brother. The dark recess would provide a refuge, keep her sane, give her a safe place to let the tears flow and finally get some rest.

But now that she finally had a place of her own, she thought hard about what Derek would have wanted her to do. The last thing he had told her was to hide in the closet and he’d keep her safe. But now…

“Dummy. Why would you want to do something stupid like that forever? That’s gotta be cramped.” He’d probably say, and she found herself smiling despite her spike of sadness.

Well, yes, the closet was cramped, but it was something she had gotten used to.

“Michelle, that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Go to bed. Pancakes in the morning.”

Yeah, Harry liked pancakes. So did Willis. But Mister Wormwood was a terrible cook. So she sighed, turned back onto her back, and shut her eyes.

And for the first time in months, slept in her bed instead of the closet.

((What is this! Umbra has a name! Why yes, yes she does. Something short and simple and not that good before I go to bed. g’night!))

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