On a sunny, warm day in the second month of summer, I was selling clams and oysters to hungry passersby in the central marketplace, when my little sister came running up to me. Her eyes blazed and her hair was wildly disheveled. Cora was seven going on forty, always trying to boss me even though I was six years older and a foot taller. We had the same dark brown hair and brown eyes, even the same turned up nose, sprinkled with freckles.
Cora tugged at my hand. “This way!”
“Where are we going? I still have shellfish to sell.” I pointed to what was left on the table at the front of my stall.
“Come on, Bekka.” The urgency in her voice was compelling.
I followed her down an alley, redolent with the odor of rotting vegetables and spoiled fish. The alleyway appeared to end in a high wall, but before we reached it, she turned left into an even narrower passage between two-story brick buildings I’d never been down before. About half-way to a dead end, she stopped abruptly and studied the side of the building on the left, then touched three chipped bricks.
A section of wall slid sideways, leaving a gap just wide enough for me to slip through, tearing my gray tunic in the process. Cora didn't have any difficulty following me. Once the section closed we were left in pitch black. I conjured up a light and held it out in both hands. It couldn't illuminate the darkest corners of the small room, but it was enough to see the dirt floor, a single chair with broken slats in the seat, and an old wooden table. The latter had once been painted green, but only flakes of paint remained. The skittering of rodents was the only indication of something alive in the room. At least the stench wasn't as bad as in the alley.
“We'll be safe here,” Cora said.
“Safe from what?”
“Safe from the dragons that burned everything on the south side of Lorando. A lot of the harbor is gone.”
“Cora, how did you know about this hidey-hole and the way in?”
“Derry told me about it last winter. Didn't he tell you?”
Derry was our neighbor, a year older than me, and always getting into trouble. No matter how many times our mother warned us to stay away from him, neither Cora nor I could.
I didn't answer. Instead, I inspected our surroundings. “How did you know about the dragons? And how long do we have to stay here?” I walked over to where my sister sat on the cold, hard ground.
“I saw some people running from the harbor, and asked one. She didn't stop but she shouted at me, telling me to take shelter. I...I couldn't find Mother, but you were just where I thought you'd be.”
I sat beside her. “How will we know when to leave?” Besides the fact that it was dark except for my light, we didn't have any water and, to eat, only the small sack of raw clams I'd grabbed.
“Give me your hands.” My little sister held hers out, palms up.
I placed my larger ones on them.
“Now close your eyes and what do you see?”
I gasped. In my mind was a vision of the south part of town, the harbor smoking but no longer aflame, and three huge dragons flying out to sea.
“It's safe to leave here now.” Cora let go of my hands and stood. She found the secret spot to push to open the way from the room and we stepped outside again.
It was as if the dragon attack had never happened. Almost. Smoke from the harbor had reached this central section of town. The smell of burnt wood and flesh was faint, but added to the putrid alley smells, it made my stomach queasy.