The door to his bedroom slammed. Frerin curled up. He heard his father dragging a chair away from the table, heard it creak as he sat.

Everything hurt, and he felt too empty to cry.

He had screamed at the beginning. He couldn't help it; the fear had simply poured out of him. But like every other time, it did no good. No one came. No one helped. No one cared.

The homes on either side of the Shadetrees' were a good forty, fifty feet away. That was probably why.

A roar of laughter erupted from Jani's house. Frerin flinched and curled up tightly.

It was cold on the floor, but he didn't want to move.

He wanted everything to stop.

A silverfish scurried out of a crack in the wall and flowed across the floor. It passed Frerin's face.

It didn't know. It didn't care.

No one cared.

Frerin's hand shot out, slapped down on the silverfish. He lifted it away and felt the cool night air on its guts on his palm.

His stomach twisted and he clenched his eyes shut.

I'm sorry.

It was too late. Nothing he did or said mattered. The silverfish was dead.

Nothing he did or said ever mattered. Nothing ever changed.

Wicked boy.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

He heard a knock on the door, heard the scrape of the latch.

"Yes?" came the slightly muffled voice of his mother. "Who is it?"

"It's Keral," came an unknown voice. Male, that was all Frerin could tell. "I'm new to Red Larch. I've taken up residence out near the old shrine. How do you do?"

Perro's chair scraped on the floor again. Frerin curled up tighter as it clattered loudly.

His father's heavy tread — receding, thankfully.

"What can we do for you at this hour?" Perro's tone was friendly, but Frerin could hear the banked rage.

"Ah, forgive me, but I thought I heard someone screaming from this area. I wanted to check and see if everything was alright."

"You heard from the shrine?" Frerin's mother sounded surprised and a little wary.

"I do have excellent hearing." Keral's tone was still polite.

"'Fraid it wasn't us. We heard it too." Perro's voice was smooth around the lie. "We're just glad someone took it upon themselves to check. Scared my boy half to death, it did."

Shut up shut up shut up

"Your boy?"

"Yes, he's just gone to bed. Put up quite a fuss, he did, he was on me to go out and look for the noise—"

Hate you hate you HATE YOU

"—but I told him that we'd be safe enough behind these four walls. Still, can't hurt to be careful, eh?"

"Quite." Keral's voice was cordial. "Well, I'll keep asking. I'll let you know what I find out, shall I?"

"That would be wonderful." The edge in Perro's voice was growing sharper. "It's just wonderful that someone has moved to town who takes an interest in other people's welfare. Well, good night. Good to meet you."

Keral's response was cut off by the snip of the closing door. It was silent in the main room for a few moments.

"Nosy bastard," Perro snarled under his breath. Then, "Let's go to bed."

Frerin longed for his mother to say no, longed for her to come see him, with her soothing words and warm, dry hands for his tears and soft lips for his forehead. But Speedwell said nothing, and Frerin heard his parents' bedroom door close.

He opened his eyes. The moon, half-full, shone through the window, painting a flat white stripe over the floor and his bed. The night was quiet now but for the chirr of the crickets and the sigh of the wind in the leaves.

Frerin was cold. He levered himself up with his hands to his knees, to his feet, and shambled painfully over to his bed. He paused near the window, looked out at the darkness.

Something out there?

You idiot. The screaming was you.

No one knew. Or if they did know, they didn't care. No one cared.

Frerin contemplated the outdoors. Just for a moment, just the cold air in his nostrils and the breeze in his hair. The dew on his feet to distract him from the pain, the moon in his eyes to quiet his soul with her beauty.

But Papa would kill him. Frerin was sure of that. A beating like that he didn't think he would survive.

The moon shone down indiscriminately on the grass, on the trees, on the roofs of Red Larch. It was a cold beauty, the moon's, and a silent one.

The world was too quiet.

Frerin went to bed. His throat was swollen with tears, but he breathed them down and closed his eyes.