She held her breath and stood very still, waiting.
It was coming nearer.
At any moment it might happen.
It was like those days when you heard a thunderstorm coming and there was the waiting silence and then the faintest pressure of the atmosphere as the climate blew over the land in shifts and shadows and vapors. And the change pressed at your ears and you were suspended in the waiting time of the coming storm. You began to tremble. The sky was stained and coloured; the clouds were thickened; the mountains took on an iron taint. The caged flowers blew with faint sighs of warning. You felt your hair stir softly. Somewhere in the house the voice-clock sang, “Time, time, time, time … ” ever so gently, no more than water tapping on velvet.
And then the storm. The electric illumination, the engulfments of dark wash and sounding black fell down, shutting in, forever.
That’s how it was. A storm gathered, yet the sky was clear. Lightning was expected, yet there was no cloud.
Ylla moved through the breathless summer house. Lightning would strike from the sky any instant; there would be a thunderclap, a boil of smoke, a silence, footsteps on the path, a rap on the crystalline door, and her running to answer …
Crazy Ylla! she scoffed. Why think these wild things with your idle mind?
And then it happened.
There was a warmth as of a great fire passing in the air. A whirling, rushing sound. A gleam in the sky, of metal.
Ylla cried out.
Running through the pillars, she flung wide a door. She faced the hills. But by this time there was nothing.
She was about to race down the hill when she stopped herself. She was supposed to stay here, go nowhere. The doctor was coming to visit, and her husband would be angry if she ran off.
She waited in the door, breathing rapidly, her hand out.
She strained to see over toward Green Valley, but saw nothing.
Silly woman. She went inside. You and your imagination, she thought. That was nothing but a bird, a leaf, the wind, or a fish in the canal. Sit down. Rest.
She sat down.
A shot sounded.
Very clearly, sharply, the sound of the evil insect weapon.
Her body jerked with it.
It came from a long way off. One shot. The swift humming distant bees. One shot. And then a second shot, precise and cold, and far away.
Her body winced again and for some reason she started up, screaming, and screaming, and never wanting to stop screaming. She ran violently through the house and once more threw wide the door.
The echoes were dying away, away.
She waited in the yard, her face pale, for five minutes.
Finally, with slow steps, her head down, she wandered about the pillared rooms, laying her hand to things, her lips quivering, until finally she sat alone in the darkening wine room, waiting. She began to wipe an amber glass with the hem of her scarf.
And then, from far off, the sound of footsteps crunching on the thin, small rocks.
She rose up to stand in the center of the quiet room. The glass fell from her fingers, smashing to bits.
The footsteps hesitated outside the door.
Should she speak? Should she cry out, “Come in, oh, come in”?
She went forward a few paces.
The footsteps walked up the ramp. A hand twisted the door latch.
She smiled at the door.
The door opened. She stopped smiling.
It was her husband. His silver mask glowed dully.
He entered the room and looked at her for only a moment. Then he snapped the weapon bellows open, cracked out two dead bees, heard them spat on the floor as they fell, stepped on them, and placed the empty bellows gun in the corner of the room as Ylla bent down and tried, over and over, with no success, to pick up the pieces of the shattered glass. “What were you doing?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said with his back turned. He removed the mask.
“But the gun—I heard you fire it. Twice.”
“Just hunting. Once in a while you like to hunt. Did Dr. Nile arrive?”