Crossed, p.15
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       Crossed, p.15

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 16

 

  Vick and I follow him around a corner and into another recess of rock. As we shine our flashlights around, we see that it is clean. Well-organized. Full of boxes. I walk across the room and lift the lid to one of them. It’s packed with books and papers.

  I try not to think This must be the spot where he learned. He could have sat right on that bench.

  “They left so much,” Eli whispers.

  “They couldn’t carry it all,” I say. “They probably took the best of it with them. ”

  “Maybe they had a datapod,” Vick suggests. “They could have entered the information from the books into that. ”

  “Might be,” I say. Still, I wonder how hard it was to leave all of the real copies behind. The information in this cave is priceless, especially in its original form. And, their ancestors had brought it all in originally. It must have been hard to walk out without it.

  In the center of the room stands a table made of small pieces of wood that had to have been carried through the entrance of the cave and pieced together. The whole room, like the township, has that sense of being assembled carefully. Every item seems filled with meaning. The Society didn’t drop it into your lap. You worked for it. Found it. Made it yourself.

  I shine my light across the table and onto a hollowed-out wooden bowl filled with charcoal pencils.

  I reach inside and pick one up. It leaves a small black mark on my hand. The pencils remind me of the tools I made for writing back in the Borough. I gathered pieces of wood a few at a time on the hill or when a maple tree in the Borough lost a branch. I’d tie them together and lower them into the incinerator to char the ends for writing and drawing. Once, when I needed red, I stole a few petals from one of the blood-colored petunias in a flower bed and used them to color the Officials’ hands and my hands and the sun.

  “Look,” Vick says behind me. He’s found a box with maps inside. He pulls some of them out. The warm light of the flashlight changes the papers, making them seem even older than they really are. We sift through them until we find one that I recognize as the Carving.

  “This one,” I say, spreading it out on the table. We all gather around it. “Here’s our canyon. ” I point to it but my eyes are drawn to the canyon next to ours on the map. A spot there has been inked with thick black ink Xs, like a row of stitches. I wonder what they mean. I wish I could rewrite this map. It would be much easier to mark how I want the world to be, instead of trying to figure out how it really is.

  “I wish I knew how to write,” Eli says, and I’m sorry I don’t have the time to teach him. Maybe someday. Right now we have to keep moving.

  “It’s beautiful,” Eli says, touching the map gently. “It’s different from the way we paint on the screens back in the Society. ”

  “I know,” I say. Whoever made the map was something of an artist. The colors and scale of the whole thing fit together perfectly.

  “Do you know how to paint?” Eli asks.

  “A little,” I say.

  “How?”

  “My mother taught herself, and then she taught me,” I say. “My father used to come here and trade with the farmers. Once, he brought a paintbrush back for her. A real one. But he couldn’t afford any paint. He always meant to get her some but he never did. ”

  “Then she couldn’t paint,” Eli says, sounding disappointed.

  “No,” I say. “She could. She used water on rock. ” I think back to the ancient carvings in a small crevice near our house. I wonder now if that was where she got the idea for writing on stone. But she used water and her touch was always gentle. “Her paintings always vanished in the air,” I tell Eli.

  “Then how did you know what they looked like?” Eli asks.

  “I saw them before they dried,” I say. “They were beautiful. ”

  Eli and Vick fall silent and I can tell they might not believe me. They might think I’m making this up and remembering pictures that I wish I’d seen. But I tell the truth. It was almost like her paintings lived—the way they shone and vanished and then new things appeared under her hands. The pictures were beautiful both because of the way they looked while they existed and because they could never last.

  “Anyway,” I say. “There’s a way out. ” I show them how this canyon continues through to a plain on the other side from where we entered. Judging by the map, there’s more vegetation out there and also another stream, bigger than the one in this canyon. The mountains on the opposite side of the plain have a small dark house marked on them, which I take to be a settlement or safe place, since it’s the same marking the farmers used to denote their own township on the map. And past that, to the north of the mountains, is a place marked SOCIETY. One of the Border Provinces. “I think it will take two or three days to reach the plain. And another few days to cross it and get to the mountains. ”

  “There’s a stream on that plain,” Vick says, his eyes brightening as he inspects the map. “Too bad we can’t use one of the farmers’ boats and go down it. ”

  “We could try,” I say, “but I think the mountains are a better option. There’s a settlement there. We don’t know where that stream leads. ” The mountains are on the top edge of the map; the stream runs down and disappears at the bottom of the paper.

  “You’re right,” Vick says. “But we might be able to stop and fish. Smoked fish last for a long time. ”

  I slide the map toward Eli. “What do you think?” I ask him.

  “Let’s do it,” he says. He puts his finger on the dark house in the mountains. “I hope the farmers are there. I want to meet them. ”

  “What else should we bring?” Vick asks, looking through some of the books.

  “We can find something in the morning,” I say. For some reason the neatly ordered and abandoned books make me feel sad. Tired. I wish Cassia were here with me. She’d turn each page and read every word. I can picture her in the dim light of the cave with her bright eyes and her smile and I close my eyes. That shadowy memory might be as close as I come to seeing her again. We have the map, but the distance we still have to cross looks almost insurmountable.

  “We should sleep now,” I say, pushing away the doubt. There’s no good in it. “We need to start as soon as it’s light. ” I turn to Eli. “What do you think? You want to go back down and sleep in the houses? They’ve got those beds. ”

  “No,” Eli says, curling up on the floor. “Let’s stay here. ”

  I understand why. Late at night the empty township feels exposed—to the river, to the loneliness that settled in when the farmers left—and to the ghostly eyes and hands of the paintings they made. Here in the cave where they kept things safe seems like the place where we might be safe too.

  In my dreams, bats fly in and out of the cave all night long. Some fly fat and heavy and I know they’re full of the blood of other living things. Others fly a little higher and I know they’re light with hunger. But they all have noisy, beating wings.

  At the end of the night, near dawn, I wake up. Vick and Eli still sleep and I wonder what it was that disturbed me. A sound in the township?

  I walk to the outermost door of the caves and look out.

  A light flickers in the window of one of the houses below us.

  Chapter 14

  CASSIA

  I wait for the dawn, folded inside my coat. Down here in the Carving, I walk and sleep deep in the earth and the Society doesn’t see me. I’m starting to believe they truly don’t know where I am. I’ve escaped.

  It feels strange.

  All my life I’ve been watched. The Society saw me go to school and learn to swim and walk up the steps to attend my Match Banquet; they sorted my dreams; when they found my data interesting, as my Official did, they altered things and recorded my reaction.

  And though it was a different kind of watching, my family watched me, too.

  At the end of his life, Grandfather used to sit at a window as the sun went down. I wondered, then
, if he stayed awake all night and saw the sun come back up again. During one of those long, wakeful nights, did he decide that he would give me the poems?

  I pretend that Grandfather hasn’t vanished but instead floats above it all, and that of all the things in the world to see from up high he chooses to see one small girl curled up in a canyon. He wonders if I will wake and rise when it becomes clear that dawn is on its way after all.

  Did Grandfather mean for me to end up here?

  “Are you awake?” Indie asks.

  “I never slept,” I say, but even as I say it, I can’t be sure it’s true. For what if my imagining Grandfather was really a dream?

  “We can start in a few minutes,” Indie says. In the seconds since we first spoke to each other, the light has changed. I can already see her better.

  Indie chooses a good spot; even I can tell that. The walls are not nearly as high and sheer as they’ve been in other places and an old rockfall left piles of boulders part of the way up.

  Still, the walls of the canyon are daunting, and I haven’t had much practice—just the little time we had last night before we went to sleep.

  Indie holds out her hand in a peremptory gesture. “Give me your pack. ”

  “What?”

  “You’re not used to climbing,” Indie says evenly. “I’ll put your things in mine and you can carry yours empty. It’ll be easier that way. I don’t want the weight to make you fall. ”

  “Are you sure?” Suddenly I feel that if Indie has the pack she has too much. I don’t want to let the tablets go.

  Indie looks impatient. “I know what I’m doing. Like you did with the plants. ” She frowns. “Come on. You trusted me on the air ship. ”

  She’s right, and that reminds me of something. “Indie,” I ask, “what did you bring with you? What was it you had me hide on the ship?”

  “Nothing,” she says.

  “Nothing?” I echo, surprised.

  “I didn’t think you’d trust me unless you thought I had something to lose, too,” she says, grinning.

  “But in the village, you pretended to take something back from me,” I say.

  “I know,” she says, not a trace of apology in her voice. I shake my head and in spite of myself I start to laugh as I slide off my pack and hand it to her.

  She opens it up and dumps the contents—flashlight, plant leaves, empty canteen, blue tablets—into her own pack.

  I suddenly feel guilty. I could have taken off with all the tablets and she still trusted me. “You should keep some of the tablets after this,” I say. “For yourself. ”

  Indie’s expression changes. “Oh,” she says, her voice wary. “All right. ”

  She hands me back my empty pack and I slide it over my shoulders. We climb wearing our coats, which makes us bulkier, but Indie thinks it easier than carrying them. She slides her own pack onto her back, over her long braid that burns almost as bright as these cliffs when the sun comes up. “Ready?” she asks.

 
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ALLY CONDIE SERIES:

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