Authors: Aaron Starmer
ALSO BY AARON STARMER
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2011 by Aaron Starmer
Jacket art copyright © 2011 by Lisa Ericson
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The only ones / Aaron Starmer. — 1st ed.
Summary: After setting off from the island where he has been leading a solitary existence, thirteen-year-old Martin discovers a village with other children who have been living similarly without any adults, after the grown-ups have all been spirited away.
[1. Supernatural—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ.S7972On 2011 [Fic]—dc22 2010040383
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For William and Randi
“The yeas have it. The Council has made its decision. He lives.”
“But he knows too much, Crawford.”
“That’s precisely why he should live.”
“What about the other one? The little weakling? We could get the information from him too.”
“They lost track of him, somewhere west of the mountains. Few people know what he looks like, anyway. He never let anyone inside with him.”
“How long will it take the apprentices to learn?”
“Hard to say. Why don’t we call in the expert and ask?”
“He’ll bring his security.”
“So? Let him. The decision’s made. Nobody lays a finger on him or any of his people, at least not for now. You do realize we’re still talking about a child, don’t you?”
“This is different. It’s Martin Maple.”
lived on an island, in a gray-shingled cabin perched on a scrub-choked cliff that plunged down into the ocean. He lived there with his father and a machine. His father was a gentle man who never yelled but also never hugged his boy. The machine was an elaborate bundle of knobs, levers, gears, motors, and propellers, and when it was turned on, it sang out with a comforting whir, but it didn’t do much else, because it wasn’t finished.
Next to the cabin was a ladder that led down the cliff to mussel-encrusted rocks and a crooked but sturdy dock, where Martin and his father kept a skiff for fishing. They had a small garden that gave them root vegetables and greens, and at the end of a small path was a bigger field for grains and corn. The soil was rocky, but Martin’s father understood how to tame it. There were deer on the island, and Martin and his father set traps for them and ate them. From the sea, they
pulled mackerel and cod and lobster, though they were careful not to steal from lobster pots.
“They might shoot you without a thought,” Martin’s father would say as he pointed to the raincoat-clad men piloting the trawlers that bobbed along the frosty horizon. Not stealing from lobster pots was one of Martin’s father’s rules. He had many rules.
The air on the island smelled of salt and seaweed and firs, but as far as Martin was concerned, that was how the air smelled everywhere. He had never left the island. His father had never allowed it. When he asked his father what lay beyond the island, the answer was always the same: “Not what we’re looking for.”
In the cabin they had one book, a dog-eared paperback that Martin’s father had passed along after he had witnessed his son puzzling over the markings that decorated the sterns of boats. The cover was missing, so Martin didn’t know its title, but it was a collection of stories about men traveling to other planets, meeting aliens and doing fantastically strange things. Martin’s father had used this book to teach Martin how to read. When Martin asked if this was what it was like beyond the island, his father said, “No, someone just had an active imagination.”
The book was about men, but there was one story that featured the line
They piled aboard the vessel, fathers and mothers, and all of the children
. Martin knew what women were, but he had never heard of mothers.
“What are mothers?” he asked his father.
So his father sat him down and had that talk fathers have about men and women and falling in love and playing soft music and turning off the lights.
“Who is my mother?” Martin asked.
His father smiled at this and took a moment to himself. When he finally responded, he said, “Your mother doesn’t exist.”
“She’s dead?” Martin asked.
His father shook his head and said, “Have you ever seen a bubble taken up by the air from the foam of the sea?”
“You know how it seems perfect? How it floats? You know how all the colors of the world seem to be dancing on its skin?”
“That was your mother. But like a bubble …” He flicked his fingers out as if to pantomime something bursting into nothingness. He left it at that.
The summer people arrived every year when the days were at their longest. They stayed in tall houses on the other side of the island and came and went on shiny boats with steering wheels and hulking motors or blindingly white sails that reminded Martin of heron wings.
When the summer people were on the island, there was a special set of rules. You never spoke to them. You didn’t trap the deer. You stayed close to home. And you never let the summer people see the machine. You would tuck it in the cramped back room of the cabin and you would pull the blinds. You wouldn’t touch it at all for months.
They seemed like reasonable rules, and Martin followed them as much as a boy could. When he wasn’t fishing or tending the garden with his father, he would hide among the pines and rocks and he would watch the people from a
distance, though he was much too scared to approach them. The island had no shops or restaurants, or even roads. The summer people brought their supplies by boat and kept to the trails and rocky shores near their houses. There was never any reason for paths to cross, and Martin’s life went on without incident. That is, until the inevitable showed its face.
The inevitable was named George.
Martin was nine years old when he met George. George was nine too, but Martin didn’t know that then. He only knew that George was a summer person and he had long blond bangs and a few large freckles on his face and he stayed in a maroon house with a rowboat in the backyard and a flagpole in the front that rattled when the wind blew.
“You live here year-round, don’tcha?” George asked Martin when he snuck up on him in a thick patch of blueberry bushes.
“I’m not supposed to talk to people like you,” Martin whispered.
“And I’m not supposed to talk to people like you,” George said.
“What sort of person am I like?” Martin asked.
“Stranger,” George said.
“Stranger than what?”
“Than anyone I’ve ever met.” George laughed.
It was easy to like George. He was kind and curious and loved dirt and nonsense. It wasn’t easy to see him, though. Martin couldn’t tell his father about this new friendship. It had to be a secret, and the guilt such secrets carried was nearly unbearable. The thrill, however, was unbearable too. And the thrill inevitably won out.
Late at night, Martin would sneak from his room and
make his way across the island until he found himself at his friend’s flagpole. If George had raised a flag that he called the Jolly Roger, it was okay to knock on his window and rouse him from his sleep. Then the two would take off into the woods together.
Martin introduced George to all the mysterious ways of the island. He showed him the hollow tree where he hid things. He brought him to the rock outcropping where he would climb up and look at stars and watch boats come and go. He taught him how to trap animals.
In return, George told Martin stories. Martin desperately wanted to know what life was like off the island, and George always satisfied with tales of chaotic schoolrooms and bicycle stunts and older kids who did scandalous things, like smoking cigarettes and kissing with open mouths. There were a million questions Martin could have asked, but staying up late was exhausting, and their time together lasted only an hour or two each night. So he simply let George talk about the things that were happening in his world, and that was more than enough for Martin.