Authors: Stephanie Oakes
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Copyright Â© 2015 by Stephanie Oakes
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Oakes, Stephanie (Young adult author)
The sacred lies of Minnow Bly / by Stephanie Oakes.
Summary: “A handless teen escapes from a cult, only to find herself in juvenile detention and suspected of knowing who murdered her cult leader”â Provided by publisher.
[1. CultsâFiction. 2. Juvenile detention homesâFiction.
3. African AmericansâFiction. 4. AmputeesâFiction.
5. People with disabilitiesâFiction. 6. MurderâFiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.1.O19Sac 2015 [Fic]âdc23 2014033187
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume
any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
who taught me to be powerful.
And to the handless girls
who are teaching themselves.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
am a blood-soaked girl.
Before me, a body. Pulped. My boots drenched with his blood. I search out his eyes, but they're gone, hidden away behind pale lids.
My breath comes hard and white in the freezing air. Inside each breath is the understanding that this is how it feels, controlling someone, bending their body to your will.
I wonder if this is how the Prophet felt the moment he ordered my hands ripped from me.
Above, a car races across the bridge with a metal shudder. Fingernail-sized flakes of snow fall through the yellow haze of streetlights, and a few cold stars blink in a dark sky. I want to hold my hand flat to catch the snowflakes like I used to when I was little. But, I remind myself, my hands are gone, and I'm not five anymore. The girl I used to be could almost be dead.
I hunker beside a snowbank, watching the red on the ground slowly ice over. I feel suddenly cold. Colder than even the outside air. Colder than I've ever been in my life.
hen the police arrive they are blurry white shapes, like ghosts, stuffed inside tight blue uniforms. My eyes can't follow their features. One moment, I grasp an eye, a nose, but it slips away just as quickly and all I sense are their voices, scribbling over the light of the new morning. The ruined mess of the boy's body is shoved inside an ambulance, and it screams down the street.
The cops try handcuffing me around my stumps, but the metal slides off. I bite my lip against the cold steel grating over my newborn pink skin.
“Do we even need to cuff her?” one cop mutters.
“Look at what she did,” the other insists. “You saw the kid, looked like he'd been run over.”
“But, just look at her.”
Look at me. My arms are crossed over my stomach and, at the end of the arms, an absence of hands, of fingers, of fists, of nails. Of any way to fight back. I feel the cops' eyes inch over the homespun trousers and the disgusting rag of a shirt Jude gave me, the fabric blazoned with blood.
In the end, they squeeze the cuffs around my elbows, the pressure nearly popping my shoulders from the sockets, but I don't scream. I don't say anything. I feel like I have said enough for my entire life.
y first view of the city is from a police car. I stare out the thumbprinted window as the sun peels back over buildings locked in by snowfall.
“You better hope he lives,” one of the cops says, and suddenly the boy is all I can see againâthe broken face, teeth chucked in the snow. My veins are still tight from adrenaline.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
At the police station, it's wood walls and stained ceiling tiles. The smell of charred coffee.
They are discussing the best way to fingerprint me.
“It must be done,” they say. “How will we identify her without fingers?” Just like that, they've said something I've felt for months but never said aloud. One of them leafs through a police manual, searching for the proper procedure, while the other pushes each stump into a pad of ink and presses them onto paper. Two warped black ovals in a field of white.
“Looks like we only need a DNA sample,” the first one says, glancing up from the manual. He rummages in a drawer and pulls out a small square of cotton, unwraps it, and holds it before me. “Spit.”
“You want my spit?”
“Just do it.”
I gather up all the moisture I can in my mouth and let it fall to the cotton square. He closes it in a small plastic box with a sliding lid and places it on his desk.
The mug shot they take burns half circles into my vision, worse than any firelight. I clamp my arm to my eyes, and they have to lead me with their hands to a sterile examination room. When I crack my eyes open, I see they've faced me toward a tight-sheeted bed with stirrups, pushed against a tile wall. Beside the bed, a tray with tongs and a flat white depressor. A dark blond woman takes me by the shoulder and walks me toward the bed. I balk.
“It's okay,” she says. “It's procedure in abuse cases.”
She's got her head turned to the side, and I see myself as she must see me, skinny, filthy, and handless, wearing clothes that smell of blood.
“IâI don't need that,” I say, avoiding looking at the bed. “Nothing like that happened.”
“Are you sure?” she asks, and the feeling of her eyes skating over my body makes me itch. I want to get angry, but I just give her a sharp nod.
She needs to take pictures to document my injuries, so she leads me to a plastic bin of clothes the color of dishwater and lets me choose underwear. I lever up a beige pair of underpants and, though I can tell they've been laundered, somehow they hold the shape of other girls still, the ones who came through here before me.
Behind a blue paper curtain, she tugs away my trousers and shirt till there's nothing left but skin, naked feet on tile, my body a sliver of white. I've never seen it like this before, so bare, blotches of blood still stuck to my skin. She doesn't know it, but the blood isn't mine.
They haven't told me yet if the boy from the bridge is dead.
The woman eases the underpants up my legs, fits a bra over my chest. I roll my shoulders beneath the tight elastic as she lifts my trousers from the floor. With a soft clatter, an object falls from the pocket. We stare at it, a skeletal hand held together at the joints with golden wire.
“What's that?” she asks.
I hold up a stump to show her.
Her mouth drops so low, the bags under her eyes go taut. After a tick, she fixes her features back to normal, just the same way I remember people in the Community doing after witnessing some everyday atrocity. We didn't linger on those things. The cows needed milking, and the daylight was wasting, and somewhere there was always a baby wailing for one of its mothers.
The policewoman reaches in my other trouser pocket, lifts out the second hand, and places both on a silver tray.
“Will I get them back?”
Her head tilts to the side again. “That won't be possible.”
“They're human remains. There are laws about things like that.” She clears her throat. “They'll be held as evidence, and when they're no longer needed, they'll be incinerated.”
“Burned?” I choke. Not burned. Anything but burned. “You can't do that. They're
hands,” I shout, trying to shove past her. “Give them back!”
She rolls her fingers into a fist and blocks me with an arm across my chest. “If you force me, I will subdue you.”
The skin around her mouth is bunched with lines deep and thin as needles. When I don't move, she picks up the tray and leaves the room. She returns a minute later, the tray empty.
And it's then that I realize the Prophet's not the only one capable of taking a girl's hands away.
hen I'm marched to the police car, the two cops from earlier are already inside, eyes tight and sleepy. They're eating from bags in the front seat, some food I don't recognize, bright colored and crunchy between their molars. They hold the food in their meaty hands like fragile things they're afraid to break.
When they're done, they shrivel up the bags with a
sound and throw them to the floor. We drive through the snow-clotted streets to a huge white building that they tell me is a hospital.
In an exam room, the doctor waves for me to show my stumps, but I hold them behind my back, and one of the cops has to wrestle my arms into the artificial light.
The doctor's face turns grim. My stumps are smudged black with fingerprinting ink.
They open up my stumps when I'm sleeping, with small knives and needles, and pack them with bright white cotton until they can steal a patch of skin from my leg. Days later, they cut them again, putting me to sleep with chemicals in suspended plastic bags. It's a while before I figure out they're not making me new hands. They can't do that, the doctor says like I'm slow, and I turn away to glare at the wall, eyes burning.
Growing up, I believed in miracles. I guess I don't anymore.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
In the morning, a woman dressed in a mauve suit drops her briefcase on the linoleum in my hospital room and introduces herself as my public defender. She sits heavily on the side of my bed, glancing down at my stumps wrapped in layers of bandages. Beneath the blankets, I shift my feet over a few inches.
“My name's Juanita,” she says. “And you must be the famous Minnow Bly, yes?”
I watch her out of the sides of my eyes.
“I'm here to provide you with defense counsel during your trial. I'll also be making sure you get everything you need until you're transitioned to the next stage.”
“What's the next stage?” I ask. “Jail?” I've heard of jail. The Prophet told us it's full of people so bad, even the Gentiles don't want them. They're angel murderers and God deniers, and some of them can kill with a single touch.
Juanita smiles in a way that isn't cheerful. “We don't need to worry about things like that right now.”
She takes me for a walk around the hospital hallways. I can barely get traction in the lambswool slippers they gave me after they stole my boots, and my chest burns when we go more than ten steps. I wonder what's in my lungs that's making this so hard. Blood? Smoke? Or something heavier?
Juanita asks if I want her to hold my elbow, but I shake my head. I slide my shoulder down the wall, holding the balls of bandages gingerly before me.
We pause beside a big plastic-paned window, my breath heavy and my arms shaking. Outside in the distance, ash hovers in the air like a dirty cloud. It looks like a heaven nobody'd ever want to go to.
“That's all that's left of the Community now,” Juanita says. “They put the fire out, but the air is so stagnant in winter, the smoke is still locked overhead. It burned everything for miles. They say it'll take a month for the smoke to completely clear.”
“Didâdid you hear if anybody died?” I ask.
She turns toward me. “They found two bodies so far, but everything's snowed in. They're still looking.”
“Let's go,” I say. I shuffle away from the window, though my lungs still burn.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
The nurses give me morphine and the days start to bleed together. I glimpse the shadow of a policeman standing guard outside my room. He's almost comforting, the bulk of him, and when pictures of the Prophet enter my head, and the hatchet, and the fists of those men, all I have to do is stare at the blue shoulder of the policeman to calm down.
I know he's meant to keep me in, but I figure he'd also keep anybody else out.
Every other day, a physical therapist visits to teach me about living without hands.
“It will be difficult at first,” she says, and I nod as if the thought hadn't occurred to me. “You may need to rely on others until you can get routines down yourself.”
She places a pair of sweatpants on the floor and teaches me how to slowly inch the waist up my legs with my stumps. My stumps are round with Ace bandages and every movement shoots an ache through the bone, but eventually I pull the waistband over my angled hips.
She tells me once my stumps are healed, the muscle will thin and they will taper to points, smaller than wrists. They will work like large fingers. I will hardly miss my hands at all.