Jan tried to steady the child’s arm. “Marie,” said Jan. “I will be away for a time.”
“But why?” said Marie. The other children echoed the question: Yes, why? Why, Aunt Jan?
“Because I tried to save us all and failed, child. Three times. Three prayers to the Thrice Great and still the Monster lives. And now He knows. And now they come for me.”
The little girl cried. Jan handed her off to the Matron, who ushered the children, one by one, through the open panel in the wall, into the stone passageway beyond. A heavy fist pounded the front door again. A man spoke.
“Open the door please, Ms. Rethlek. We’re all working men, you know. Blue collar, like yourself, like the rest around here. And we’re all very tired this evening.” Other men mumbled assent beyond the door. Jan gathered her skirts and moved within the circle of salt on the floor.
The man continued. “Dick Scurie gave us a damned hard time about his arrest earlier tonight. Dick pumped Tom here one good in the nose. That was a mess, wasn’t it Tom?”
Jan kneeled in the circle. She knit her fingers and mumbled a prayer. The door latch slid aside. “It’s open,” she said.
The peacekeepers burst into the room, leveling long black rifles at Jan’s head. She remained still. The man stepped between two officers and held a piece of paper to the light. He was a full head shorter than the rest, thin and mustached. He squinted through gold-rimmed glasses.
“That’s her alright,” he said. “Call it a night. Ms. Rethlek, thank you for cooperating. I’ll make a note of that for you.”
An officer whispered something in the man’s ear.
“Ah, right. Yes, you’re charged with Maladministered Oblation, Attempted Murder and, of course, Treason. Your rights as a citizen are forfeit, as stated in MOFC, Section 1557b of, ah, well, you get the idea. Tom, go ahead and take her.”
Tom grabbed Jan by the arm. A gasp was cut short in his throat. Her body fell away and then his, crumbling into millions of white granules that fell in two heaps. Stray crystals skittered about the room and each bit of stuff that each touched, whether flesh and bone or wood and stone, dissolved just the same, until, in the place where the East Side Orphanage once stood, a passel of salt settled instead.