The sound of shrill crying woke Ralph with a start, and he sat up in the darkness of the shelter, rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palm. He wasn’t alarmed as he might have been a few nights ago; he knew now that there was no real danger, that it was only the littluns having nightmares again.
He waited for a moment, listening. The crying had died down, and Ralph decided he couldn’t be bothered with checking that everything was all right. He was tired, and, besides, the empty space on his left indicated that Simon must have already gone out to take care of the situation; Piggy was still sleeping soundly to his right, and the other boys in their shelter had not stirred.
And, anyway, it wasn’t as if he wanted to coddle the littluns; if Simon wanted to, then he could, but Ralph certainly wasn’t going to. He had enough on his hands without trying to assume a parental role, too.
Presently, Simon was crawling back into the shelter, and Ralph asked, mostly out of courtesy, “Everything all right?”
“Yes,” Simon said in a hushed voice. “Nightmares.”
“Of course,” Ralph said, a little more irritably than he should have. He glanced at Simon, meaning to apologize. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about the littluns, but his patience had reached its limit, and he longed for a night of undisturbed sleep.
Simon’s eyes, just visible in the gloom, were forgiving. “They’re just kids, poor things,” he said. “They’re scared.”
Ralph said nothing, but he sighed a little. He might have laughed had he not been so tired, because they were all just kids. And it had seemed so great to discover that on the first day, that they were alone on the island, that there were no more grown-ups around to tell them what to do. How quickly that had changed. Now Ralph was the grown-up, much too young, trying to keep everyone in line.
“Sometimes, even I wonder,” Simon ventured. “About the beast.”
“Don’t be silly,” Ralph dismissed immediately. “We would’ve seen it by now.”
“Maybe it’s not something you can see.”
Ralph looked at him. “You really are batty, you know,” he informed him, not for the first time.
But Simon just smiled at him. “Maybe.”
“There is no beast,” Ralph said, lying back down on his side. “This is a good island. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Yes,” said Simon. “I’m sure…”
He trailed off, and Ralph rolled onto his back. “Hey, how come you don’t stay with Jack and the rest of the choir in their shelter?” he asked, glancing at him out of the corner of his eye.
Simon shrugged. “I’d rather stay here,” he said softly, and Ralph reached out and said, “Come here.”
Simon curled up beside him, Ralph pillowing him with his arm and pulling him in closer. The younger boy exhaled deeply, his breathing evening out as he tucked his head beneath Ralph’s chin.
Ralph’s arm was wrapped around Simon’s thin frame, and he marveled at the little body, aware that Simon was only a few years younger than himself. He was so small. And yet, he always seemed considerably calmer than the rest of them.
Did he ever worry? Yes, Ralph was sure he must, too, sometimes.
“Do you think we’ll ever…?” he started, hesitating, partly because he thought Simon might already be asleep, mostly because he was afraid to ask.
Simon stirred a little. “You’ll be fine,” he murmured.
Ralph felt himself relax, reassured despite the fact that the promise should have been blatantly empty, and he slept.