Read Banished Online

Authors: Sophie Littlefield

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Family, #General, #Fantasy & Magic, #Mysteries & Detective Stories

Banished (6 page)

BOOK: Banished
12.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

C
HAPTER
7

I
WAS SLIDING
into my usual seat at an empty lunch table the next day when I saw him. Sawyer was sitting with Milla and a few other Morries, poking at something in a Tupperware container with a plastic fork.

Only, there was something wrong. I could see it from twenty feet away. His eye was swollen and there was a purple bruise shading his cheek.

I suddenly wasn’t hungry. I threw my lunch—a sandwich and apple from home—into the trash and then walked, as casually as I could, past his table.

Up close it was worse. He had a black eye, and the other eye had an ugly red cut along the brow. In addition to the bruise on his cheek, there was something wrong with his nose; it was swollen and tilted to the right. As I passed, I couldn’t help gasping. Everyone looked up except Sawyer, who dropped his chin even lower and stared at the table.

“Whatcha lookin’ at him like that for, Hailey?” Gomez Jones demanded. “You’re whose fault that is.
You
done that to him.”

I couldn’t let him say that, not in front of Sawyer. “I—I—”

Milla slammed her hand down on the table angrily, making the trays and silverware jump. “Why can’t you just leave us alone?”

“Yeah, bitch—stay away,” another girl muttered.

I was getting tired of the way they treated me, especially considering what I had done for Milla. “You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me. Maybe you should try being a little grateful.”

“Oh, right. ’Cause you
saved
me and all, right?” Milla’s face twisted up in fury. “So I’m supposed to kiss your ass?”

“I don’t—I never said—”

“I don’t
need
you, none of us need you. You think you’re above the rest of us, but you’re not. You’re
not
. You and your grandmother, you’re broken. You’re
freaks.
” To my horror, Milla’s eyes filled with furious tears and she bolted from the table. After a second of silence, Sawyer pushed back his chair and went after her, not looking at me.

“Happy now?” the girl said as Gomez and the others started gathering their things. “How many of us do you want to get hurt? None of this would happen if you would just
stay away
.”

I stood frozen to the spot after they’d all left. I didn’t understand. I had never—
never
—heard a Morrie girl stand up to anyone outside their group, not in my whole life. I backed slowly away from the table, her words ringing in my ears. When I bumped into a chair, I turned and walked out of the cafeteria as quickly as I could.

Stay away
. I’d broken some rule when I talked to Sawyer yesterday, and he’d paid for it. I didn’t bother asking myself who had done that to him—it had to be Rattler, though I couldn’t imagine why. I didn’t blame the Morries for being afraid of him—I was plenty afraid of him myself.

When I got home, Chub was curled up on the couch, asleep.

“How long’s he been down?” I asked Gram.

“Not long,” she said, stabbing out a cigarette in the ashtray and reaching for her pack, then crumpling it when she saw that it was empty. “I think. Or maybe a while, I don’t know.”

She had no idea, I could tell. All she cared about, unless she had visitors, was her programs. I reached for the full ashtray, carried it to the trash and wiped it clean before setting it back on the arm of her chair. I went to her room to get a fresh pack of cigarettes from where she kept them on top of her dresser. But when I closed my hand on the pack, I noticed that it was sitting on a plain manila folder.

Curious, I picked the folder up. Something fell out—a white business envelope and, to my amazement, a stack of bills secured with a rubber band.

I flipped quickly through the bills. My heart raced as I realized they were all hundreds—there had to be thousands of dollars in my hand. I set the money on the dresser as though it was on fire, then picked up the white envelope and slid a piece of paper out. After scanning it I realized that it was a plane ticket. Dated two weeks from now, it was for a flight from STL to DUB. Saint Louis to … where?

Before I could examine the ticket more carefully, I heard Gram coughing my name from the living room. I jammed the ticket back in the envelope and slid it and the money into the manila folder.

In the living room I handed the cigarettes to Gram and tried to look like nothing was out of the ordinary. I smoothed an afghan over Chub and kissed his cheek. “I’m going for a walk. Be back in a bit.”

Gram didn’t respond. I didn’t expect her to.

I didn’t bother with the leash. Rascal didn’t need it—he heeled and sat whenever I came to a stop. As we walked along the road, I tried to make sense of what I’d found. Neither of us had ever been on a plane, and I’d never seen that much money in my life. It had to have something to do with the men in the car, but what? Was she planning to make a run from the law? What had she done?

I was so intent on my thoughts that, as we rounded the curve a quarter mile from our house, I almost missed the familiar sound of the Hostess truck. It was a noisy thing with muffler problems that came along every Tuesday and Friday on its way to the Walmart in Casey. Rascal loved to chase it. Usually he wouldn’t leave my side, but there was something about the bright-colored truck that set him hurtling after it, ears flying, tongue hanging out, taking pure joy in the chase.

I didn’t worry about him—he was a smart dog, and fast, and he loved to give the truck a run for its money—but I hadn’t counted on the curve. The driver couldn’t have seen Rascal, who heard the truck’s approach before I did and spun around in the gravel on the shoulder just as it rounded the bend.

I’ve replayed that moment a thousand times in my mind. I don’t want to. I wish I could forget the sound Rascal’s body made when the grill of the truck struck him, when he narrowly missed being dragged under the wheels, when he went flying through the air and slammed into the hard-packed dirt bank.

I ran, but it felt like my arms and legs could only move at half speed, and my scream was stuck in my throat. I know the driver pulled over and got out and called to me, but I don’t remember what he said.

Somehow I made it to Rascal’s side. It was bad. It was worse than bad. I won’t say what I saw, the damage that can be done during a single instant of innocent joy. In the second that it took for me to kneel down beside Rascal and put my cheek to his head, I was covered with blood. Behind us the driver was yelling at me to put him in the truck and we’d drive to the vet, to move fast, there might be a chance—

But I knew there wasn’t any chance. Not if we went in the truck. Not if I didn’t do what needed to be done.

The rushing was already building in my body, the quickening in the blood, just like it had in the gym. But I couldn’t do it here, not in front of the trucker. I stripped off my jacket and laid it flat on the ground and, as gently as I could, dragged Rascal’s body onto the jacket. With tears welling up in my eyes and making it hard to see, I folded the fabric over Rascal’s poor torn body and lifted him. He didn’t protest. He was already slipping away.

I don’t remember what I said to the driver. I don’t know if I said anything at all. The driver was a kind man, and I think he knew that Rascal was nearly dead and he didn’t want to intrude on my last moments with my dog. I know he drove away after placing a heavy hand on my shoulder and telling me he was sorry, but I was already turning back toward home.

I laid Rascal on the porch, still nestled in my jacket. I put my face close to his and waited for his breath against my cheek, but it didn’t come. I put my hands to his torn flesh, the blood cooling and starting to crust under my fingers. I closed my eyes and let the feeling come, roiling rushing unstoppable, and the sounds of the afternoon fell away and the darkness turned to blindness and my fingers became electric as the thing inside me built and crashed and flowed from me to Rascal.

Tá mé mol seo draíocht
Na anam an corp cara ár comhoibrí

Did my lips move? Did I speak out loud? Did the words carry on the chilly spring breeze, across our ruined yard, out to the street, down to Trashtown, where frightened girls hid behind grimy windows, girls who knew more about me than I knew about myself, girls who cursed me? I don’t know, but as the words mixed with the urgent need, I sensed that it was all connected, that what I was doing was not of my own making, that it came from a source that bound us all in some way. And as the rushing slowed and my senses returned with a prickly sharp sensation, I tried to push back the nagging feeling that I was in over my head, that I was invoking powers I couldn’t control.

And then none of that mattered, because Rascal’s body twitched. A small hitch, just a tiny jerk of his paws. I blinked sight back into my eyes and saw that his lips were curled away from his teeth, but under my fingertips I felt his heart beat faintly—a weak and irregular pulse—and I realized that he wasn’t dead.

I hugged him, as gently as I could, and then I sewed him up. Thinking of it now, I can’t believe I found the courage, but I fetched the sewing basket from the back closet, easing past Gram without waking her from her afternoon nap. I washed my hands and squirted Bactine from the bottle I kept in the bathroom. I got a carpet needle and strong waxed thread and I lined up the edges of the tear in Rascal’s body as well as I could.

I apologized before I took the first stitch. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I know this is going to hurt.” But Rascal never twitched or showed the slightest sign of pain. He didn’t look at me, his eyes still unfocused, and I made a neat row of overcast stitches, knotting them off at the place in the soft white fur on his chest where the wound began. I dribbled more Bactine onto the ragged stitches, and when I was finished, I carried him inside to the mound of blankets in the kitchen, where it was warm.

I talked to him some more, and even then I think I knew something was wrong. He didn’t look at me, he just lay there, though his breathing was even and strong. I cleaned up the blood on the porch with rags and Windex, and then I carried the rags and my bloodied jacket to the burn barrel out back and stuffed them into the bottom, into the ashy remains of the last fire.

Back inside, Chub was waking up from his nap. He must have had a nightmare, because he blinked hard and started to wail and pulled at the blanket I’d covered him with. He was getting big, too big for this kind of thing, but I went to him and he wrapped his arms around me and hugged me hard. Slowly, his sobs diminished to whimpers, and he pressed his face into my neck, his tears mixing with Rascal’s blood.

C
HAPTER
8

R
ASCAL SPENT THAT NIGHT
lying on the linoleum floor, close to the front door. In the morning I examined his stitches. The pink line of his scar was so faint that it was practically invisible, punctuated by the bits of thread I’d used to stitch him. Even more amazingly, fur was already growing over the area. How could flesh heal that fast—how could fur grow that fast?

Earlier, in the moments before my alarm went off, it had flashed through my mind that I had dreamed his injury. Now I was really starting to wonder. But the black threads were proof that it had happened.

I went to the front door and called his name. He got up obediently, without any stiffness or pain that I could see, and trotted outside and did his business, then came back in and returned to his blankets. I got Gram’s embroidery snips with tiny pointed blades, and a pair of tweezers. I said, “Rascal, come,” and he followed me to my room, where Chub was just beginning to stir under his mound of blankets, yawning and humming softly.

Rascal sat when I told him to, his pose show-dog perfect, erect and still. When I gently pressed on his shoulders he lay down, exposing his scar. He didn’t complain as I cut the threads and tugged them out with the tweezers. It was almost as though he didn’t feel it. I wondered if somehow the accident had damaged his nerves, had taken away his feeling without hurting the rest of him, and I prayed that he was healing on the inside as well as he was on the outside. I gathered up Gram’s tools and threw the bits of thread in the trash, then shooed Rascal out of the room.

Behind me, Chub coughed and then mumbled sleepily. “Hayee. Mockingbird.”

I turned around, Rascal forgotten in my amazement. Chub had said a word—one he’d never said before, three entire syllables as clear as a bell.

“What did you say, Chub?” I asked slowly, my mouth dry.

“Mockingbird,” he repeated.

“You—you want me to sing? Sing you the mockingbird song?”

He rubbed at his eyes, nodding. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe he hadn’t said “mockingbird” at all but some other word.

But strange things were happening. Milla, Sawyer, Rattler … nearly losing Rascal … the money and plane ticket in Gram’s room … the things I had done without even understanding what I was doing. As I lifted Chub out of his crib and hugged him tight, the words from the pages played in my head, a whispered sound track that seemed almost like it had been running, the sound turned down, all my life.

But Chub wanted me to sing. So I lay down on my bed and held him and rested my chin on his downy hair and sang his favorite lullaby until he had enough and wiggled out of my grasp and ran out of the room to find Rascal. And then I lay there a few minutes longer, wondering what was happening to me, to us.

At school I skipped lunch to go to the library and use the Internet. I’d gotten pretty good at doing research online, trying to figure out what was wrong with Chub. Not that it helped much; there were so many things that could be wrong with him, I felt like the more I read, the less I knew.

I didn’t have much more luck when I tried to research what was wrong with Rascal. I didn’t know exactly what to search for: “fast healing” brought up natural remedies and health-food sites. Searching on Rascal’s symptoms brought up “catatonia,” which involved repetitive movements and ignoring external stimuli, but that didn’t seem to be exactly what was wrong with him.

I gave up and unfolded the piece of paper on which I’d copied a few lines from the pages I found in the closet. I smoothed it out and entered the words in the search engine. Soon it became obvious that the words were Irish, and after poking around in an online Irish-English dictionary for a while I had a pretty good idea of what the lines said:

I commend to this magic
The souls and bodies of our poor countrymen
Heal this withered flesh
These torn and cursed limbs
This tainted blood

I wished I had copied the whole page. I had no idea what kind of magic the author meant, but I felt a strange excitement building inside me.
Healing:
could it really be a coincidence that I’d found the words after the thing that happened to Milla in the gym … and right before Rascal had been hit by the truck?

Before I left the lab, I looked up the airport code from the ticket I’d found in Gram’s room. DUB stood for Dublin … 
Ireland
. How could the words from the pages in the closet be related to what was happening now, to the plans that Gram was making in secret?

I didn’t know who had written those words or hidden the pages in the closet. I didn’t know what Prairie Clover meant, but it still felt like those words held the key. I had to find out more, even if the one person who could help me hated me for reasons I didn’t understand. There had to be a way to make her talk to me.

I waited until school was nearly over. When the last bell rang I bolted out of class and ran down the hall to the lab, because I knew Milla had science last period. When she shuffled out of the classroom, head down, at the end of the stream of kids, I stepped in front of her and blocked her path.

I opened my mouth to ask if we could go somewhere to talk, but her expression changed from wariness to recognition, her eyes widening and her lips parting in surprise.

“Where’d you git that?” she whispered.

“What?”

“The necklace.”

My fingers went to the red stone pendant. I hadn’t taken it off since I found it in the closet. I’d kept it under my shirt at home so Gram wouldn’t see it, but at school I’d let it hang in front.

“I—I found it.”

“Did your grandmother give it to you?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. If I could have thought of a lie that would keep her talking to me, I wouldn’t have hesitated. But I had no idea what she wanted, what would hold her interest. All I could think of was to ask her if she’d go somewhere to talk to me, somewhere private. “Look, could you, could we—”

Milla shook her head, already backing away. “I don’t have anything to say to you.”

“But I have to talk to you. To someone. I’m—I don’t—I’ll give you—I’ll give you money if you want, I don’t have a lot but I can get more.” I could sense that in a second she would turn and run down the hall away from me. “The necklace! I’ll give it to you.”

“Don’t take it off,” she snapped. “I don’t want that thing anywhere near me.”

I wasn’t sure what it was, what it could do, but it clearly had an effect on Milla. I held the stone delicately between my finger and thumb and twisted it in the light coming through the high windows. The sun bounced off the stone and danced across Milla’s face in bloodred streaks. Her expression went from wariness to resignation.

“You won’t let it drop, will you,” she sighed. “So let’s git this over with.”

We went to one of the practice rooms by the band room, a musty space with old acoustic tiles lining the walls, and music stands and a scarred piano. There was only one chair, so we sat on the floor, our knees pulled up, the sound of someone practicing scales on a cello reaching us faintly.

I didn’t tell her everything. I told her about the men in the car, about my fears that the authorities would separate me and Chub. I didn’t tell her about Rascal—I didn’t want her to think I was crazy. I told her about the men who came to the house, the deals Gram did out of the basement.

When I talked about Rattler, Milla dropped her gaze to the floor and went still.

“What is it?” I demanded, frustrated. “What is it with him?”

Milla didn’t answer for a moment, but when she did, her voice was so flat and quiet that I could barely hear it. “Seems
like you
might know.”


Me?
Why? I’ve never done anything to him—”

She jerked her head up and there was anger in her eyes. “It ain’t about what
you
done. Don’t you git that? Ain’t any of us Banished got any say in things. It’s all laid out.”

“Banished? I don’t—”

“That necklace you’re so proud of,” Milla said, jabbing a finger at me. “Might interest you to know that it ain’t the only one. There’s three of them come over and they’re all cursed. How do you think your grandmother got the way she is? Anyone who wears it’s cursed too.”

I touched the stone protectively. I couldn’t say why, but it seemed to me the opposite was true, that the stone was a charm keeping even worse things from happening to me. “I don’t believe you,” I whispered.

“Really? Well, your mom had one of them, and look what happened to her. That one you got’s probably hers. Your grandmother traded hers, is probably the only reason she’s still alive. Only one missing is your aunt’s, and who knows what happened to her?”

“My … what?”

“Your aunt, Hailey. Come on, don’t act stupid.”

“I don’t have an aunt—”

“You
know
you do. And I don’t have to sit here and listen to you sayin’ whatever comes into your head like you think I’m an idiot, like you think I’ll believe whatever you feel like sayin’—”

“I—I know you’re not stupid,” I said quickly, placing a hand on her arm, trying to calm her down, but she jerked away from my touch. “I don’t mean to, you know, make you feel bad or whatever, but I really don’t have an aunt. My mom died in childbirth and I—”


Stop!
” She wrapped her arms tight around herself as though she was cold. “Just stop. Your mom went crazy and killed herself and you know it. Bad enough your grandmother got the taint, and now ain’t no one supposed to so much as say your name. Don’t you get it? It would be better for everyone if you had never been born, Hailey.” Her voice had gone cold and nasty. “You think you’re a Healer, but who knows what you done to me? You probably cursed me.”

“My mother didn’t kill herself,” I whispered. I could have said a dozen different things, but that was what came to my lips. “She … died. Having me.”

Milla stood and pointed a shaking finger at me, her lips twisted in rage.

“I can’t—” she started, and then she backed away from me. “If you really don’t know, ask your grandmother. She’ll
make
you believe it.”

“Wait, wait! Ask her what?”

“Ask your grandmother,” Milla said, and then she flung the door open and ran, and I was alone with only the mournful sounds of the cello for company.

BOOK: Banished
12.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Perfect Skin by Nick Earls
Hide and Seek by Lara Adrian
Entwined by Cheryl S. Ntumy
Torn (Jay Gunner, #1) by Gerald Greene
Beyond Varallan by Viehl, S. L.
Snow Angels by Fern Michaels, Marie Bostwick, Janna McMahan, Rosalind Noonan
Mine Tomorrow by Jackie Braun
Minor Demons by Randall J. Morris