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Crossed, Page 16

Ally Condie


  “It’s not abandoned,” Eli says. “Ky saw a light there. Someone didn’t leave.”

  I shiver, remembering that feeling of being followed. “What did you take?” I ask Ky.

  “This map,” he says. “And these.” He reaches inside his pack again and hands me something else—books.

  “Oh,” I say, breathing in their smell, running my fingers along their edges. “Do they have more?”

  “They have everything,” Ky says. “Stories, histories, anything you can imagine. They’ve saved them for years inside a cave in the canyon wall.”

  “Then let’s go back,” Indie says decisively. “It’s not safe on the plain yet. And Cassia and I need something to trade.”

  “We could get more food, too,” Eli says. Then he frowns. “But that light—”

  “We’ll be careful,” Indie says. “It has to be better than trying to cross to the mountains right now.”

  “What do you think?” Ky asks me.

  I remember that day back in Oria at the Restoration site, and how the workers gutted the books and the pages fell out. And I imagine the papers lifting, flying, winging their way for miles until they settled somewhere safe and hidden. Another thought darts into my mind: there might even be information about the Rising among the things the farmers saved. “I want to see all the words,” I tell Ky, and he nods.

  At night, Ky and Eli show us a place to camp that Indie and I did not notice on our way out of the Carving. It’s a cave, spacious and large once you’re inside; and when Ky shines his flashlight around it I catch my breath. It’s painted.

  I’ve never seen pictures like this—they’re real, not on a port or printed out on a scrap of paper. So much color. So much scale—the paintings cover the walls, wash up on the ceiling. I turn to Ky. “How?” I ask him.

  “The farmers must have done it,” he says. “They knew how to make their own supplies with plants and minerals.”

  “Are there more?” I ask.

  “Many of the houses back in the township are painted,” he says.

  “What about these?” Indie asks. She points to another set of art farther along the cave wall—carved pictures showing wild, primitive figures in motion.

  “Those are older,” Ky says. “But the theme is the same.”

  He’s right. The farmers’ work is less crude, more refined: a whole wall of girls in beautiful dresses and men with colorful shirts and bare feet. But the motions of the people seem to echo those of the earlier etchings.

  “Oh,” I whisper. “Do you think they painted a Match Banquet?” As soon as I’ve said it, I feel stupid. They don’t have Match Banquets here.

  But Indie doesn’t laugh at me. Her expression as she runs her fingers over the walls and along the pictures is a complex one, longing and anger and hope all together in her eyes.

  “What are they doing?” I ask Ky. “Both of the sets of figures are . . . moving.” One of the girls has her hands lifted over her head. I put mine up, too, trying to figure out what she is doing.

  Ky watches me with that look in his eyes, the one sad and full of love at the same time, the one he gives me when he knows something I don’t, something he thinks has been stolen from me.

  “They’re dancing,” he says.

  “What?” I ask.

  “I’ll show you sometime,” he says, and his voice, tender and deep, sends a shiver through me.

  CHAPTER 25

  KY

  My mother could dance and sing and she went out to watch the sunset every night. “They didn’t have sunsets like these in the main Provinces,” she’d say. She always found the one good part of everything and then turned her face toward it every chance she had.

  She believed in my father and went to his meetings. He walked out with her in the desert after the storms and kept her company while she found hollows filled with rain and painted with water. He wanted to make things—changes—that would last. She always understood that what she did would fade away.

  When I see Cassia dancing without knowing she’s doing it—turning and turning in delight as she looks at the paintings and carvings in the cave—I understand why my parents both believed as they did.

  It’s beautiful and it’s real, but our time together could be as fleeting as snow on the plateau. We can either try to change everything or just make the most of whatever time we have.

  CHAPTER 26

  CASSIA

  Ky leaves one flashlight on so that we can see each other while we talk. When Eli and Indie fall asleep, and Ky and I are the only two left, he switches off the light to save it. The girls on the cave walls dance back into darkness and we are truly alone.

  The air in the cave feels heavy between us.

  “One night,” Ky says. In his voice, I hear the Hill. I hear the wind on the Hill, and the brush of branches against our sleeves, and the way he sounded when he first told me he loved me. We have stolen time from the Society before. We can do it again. It will not be as much as we want.

  I close my eyes and wait.

  But he doesn’t go on. “Come with me outside,” he says, and I feel his hand on mine. “We won’t go far.” I can’t see him; but I hear a complicated mix of emotion in his voice and feel it in the way he touches me. Love, concern, and something unusual, something bittersweet.

  Outside, Ky and I walk down the path a little way. I lean back against the rock and he stands before me, reaching up to put his hand along my neck, under my hair and the collar of my coat. His hand feels rough, cut from carving and climbing, but his touch is gentle and warm. The night wind sings through the canyon and Ky’s body shields me from the cold.

  “One night . . .” I prompt him again. “What’s the rest of the story?”

  “It wasn’t a story,” Ky says softly. “I was about to ask you something.”

  “What?” The two of us draw together under the sky, our breath white and our voices hushed.

  “One night,” Ky says, “doesn’t seem like too much to ask.”

  I don’t speak. He moves closer and I feel his cheek against mine and breathe in the scent of sage and pine, of old dust and fresh water and of him.

  “For one night, can we just think of each other? Not the Society or the Rising or even our families?”

  “No,” I say.

  “No what?” He tangles one of his hands in my hair, the other draws me closer still.

  “No, I don’t think we can,” I say. “And no, it isn’t too much to ask.”

  CHAPTER 27

  KY

  I never named anything I’ve written before

  no reason to

  since

  it would all have the same title anyway

  —for you—

  but I would call this one

  one night

  that night

  when we let the world be only you

  and only me

  we stood on it while it spun

  green and blue and red

  the music ended

  but we

  were still

  singing

  CHAPTER 28

  CASSIA

  When the sun comes into the Carving, we are already on the move again. The path is so narrow that we usually have to walk single file, but Ky stays near me, his hand on the small of my back, our fingers brushing and clinging every chance we get.

  We have never had such a thing before—a whole night to talk, to kiss and hold on—and the thought and we never will again keeps coming back to me, will not stay buried where it should, even in the beautiful light of the Carving morning.

  When the others woke, Ky told us what he thought our plan should be: get back to the township by evenfall and try to slip into one of the houses farthest from where he saw the light. Then we’ll keep watch. If there’s still only one light, we can try to approach in the morning. There are four of us and, Ky thinks, only one or two of them.

  Of course, Eli is so young.

  I glance back at him. He doesn’t notice. He wa
lks on with his head down. Though I’ve seen him smile, I know the loss of Vick weighs heavily on both of them. “Eli wanted me to say the Tennyson poem over Vick,” Ky told me. “I couldn’t do it.”

  In the lead, Indie shifts her pack and looks back at us to make sure we still follow. I wonder what would have happened to her if I had died. Would she have cried for me, or would she have gone through my things, taken what she needed, and moved on?

  We steal into the township at dusk, Ky in the lead.

  I didn’t look closely when we came through before, and now the homes intrigue me as we move quickly down the street. People must have built their own, each house different in some way from the one next to it. And they could walk into each other’s residences, cross each other’s thresholds whenever they wanted. The dirt paths speak of this; unlike the ones in the Borough, the paths here do not go straight from front door to sidewalk. They wind, they web, they interconnect. The people have not been gone long enough for their comings and goings to have been completely erased. I see them there in the dirt. I almost hear their echo in the canyon, the callings-out: hello, good-bye. How are you?

  The four of us crowd inside a tiny weathered house with a watermarked door. “I don’t think anyone saw us,” Ky says.

  I barely hear him. I’m staring at the pictures painted on the walls. The figures were painted with a different hand than the ones in the cave, but again they are beautiful. They have no wings on their backs. They do not look surprised at flight. Their eyes are not turned up to the sky, but instead look down toward the ground, as though they will keep that sight of earth as a memory for higher days.

  But still I think I recognize them.

  “Angels,” I say.

  “Yes,” Ky says. “Some of the farmers still believed in them. In my father’s time, anyway.”

  The dark falls a little deeper and the angels turn into shadows behind us. Then Ky sees it, in the small house across the way. He points out the light to us. “It’s in the same house as the night before.”

  “I wonder what’s happening inside,” Eli says. “Who do you think is in there? A thief? Do you think they’re robbing the homes?”

  “No,” Ky says. He glances over at me in the shadowy night. “I think they are home.”

  Ky and I are both at the window at first light, watching, so we are the ones who see the man first.

  He comes out of the house, alone, carrying something, and walks through the dust, along the path closer to us, down to a little stand of trees that I noticed when we first came in. Ky motions to all of us to be quiet. Indie and Eli go to the other window in the front of the house and look out, too. We all watch carefully over the edge of the windowsills.

  The man stands tall and strong; he’s dark and tanned. He reminds me of Ky in some ways: his coloring, that quiet movement. But there’s a tiredness in him and he seems unaware of anything except what he carries, and in that moment I realize it’s a child.

  Her dark hair streams over his arms and her dress is white. An Official color, but of course she’s no Official. The dress is lovely, as though she’s going to a Banquet, but she’s much too young.

  And much too still.

  I put my hand to my mouth.

  Ky glances over at me and nods. His eyes are sad and weary and kind.

  She’s dead.

  I glance over at Eli. Is he all right? Then I remember that he’s seen much more death than this. Maybe he’s even seen a child dead before.

  But I never have. Tears fill my eyes. Someone so young, so tiny. How?

  The man puts her gently on the ground, in the dead grass under the trees. Something, a sound carried on the canyon wind, reaches our ears. Singing.

  It takes a long time to bury someone.

  While the man digs the hole, slowly and steadily, it begins to rain again. It’s not a heavy rain, but a sustained spatter of water against dirt and mud, and I wonder why he brought her out with him. Maybe he wanted her to have rain on her face, one last time.

  Maybe he just didn’t want to be alone.

  I can’t stand it anymore. “We have to go help him,” I whisper to Ky, but Ky shakes his head.

  “No,” he says. “Not yet.”

  The man climbs back out of the hole and walks over to the girl. But he doesn’t put her in the grave; he brings her near it and puts her body down.

  And then I notice the blue lines all over his arms.

  He reaches down and lifts up the girl’s arm.

  He pulls out something. Blue. He marks it on her skin. The rain keeps washing it off and yet he keeps drawing, over and over and over. I can’t tell if he still sings. Finally the rain stops and the blue stays.

  Eli’s not watching anymore. He sits with his back to the wall underneath his window and I crawl over across the floor to sit next to him, not wanting my movement to catch the eye of the man outside. I put my arm around Eli and he slides closer.

  Indie and Ky keep watching.

  So young, I keep thinking. I hear a thump, thump sound and for a moment I can’t tell if it is the beating of my heart or the sound of the dirt as it falls on the little girl in her grave.

  “I’m going now,” Ky whispers finally. “The rest of you, wait here.”

  I turn and look at him, surprised. I raise my head so I can see out the window again. The man has finished burying. He lifts a flat gray stone and puts it over the spot now filled in with dirt. I don’t hear singing. “No,” I whisper.

  Ky looks at me, raises his eyebrows.

  “You can’t,” I say. “Let’s wait until tomorrow. Look at what he’s had to do.”

  Ky’s voice is gentle but firm. “We gave him all the time we could. We have to find out more now.”

  “And he’s alone,” Indie says. “Vulnerable.”

  I look at Ky, shocked, but he doesn’t discount what Indie says. “It’s the right time,” he says.

  Before I can say more, he opens the door and leaves.

  CHAPTER 29

  KY

  Do what you want,” the man calls out when I reach the edge of the graveyard. “It doesn’t matter. I am the last.”

  If I hadn’t already known he was a farmer, his accent and the formality of his speech would have given him away. My father sometimes had a hint of their inflection in his voice when he came back from the canyons.

  I told the others to stay behind but of course Indie didn’t listen. I hear her coming up behind me and hope that Cassia and Eli had the sense to stay in the house.

  “Who are you?” the man asks.

  Indie answers behind me. I don’t turn around. “Aberrations,” she says. “People the Society wants dead.”

  “We came into the canyons to find the farmers because we thought you might help us,” I say.

  “We’re done with that,” the man says. “Finished.”

  Footsteps. Behind us. I want to turn around and call to Cassia and Eli to return to the house but I can’t turn my back on the man.

  “So there are four of you,” he says. “Any more?”

  I shake my head.

  “I’m Eli,” Eli says behind me.

  For a minute, the man doesn’t answer. Then he says, “My name is Hunter.” He looks at us closely. I do the same. He’s not much older than we are, I realize, but wind and weather have marked his face.

  “Did any of you live in the Society?” he asks.

  “We all did,” I say. “At one time or another.”

  “Good,” Hunter says. “I might need something from you.”

  “In exchange for what?” I ask.

  “If you can help me,” Hunter says, “you can have access to whatever you want. We have food. Papers.” He waves his hand wearily in the direction of the storage caves. Then he looks at me. “Though it appears you might have already helped yourselves.”

  “We thought this place was empty,” Eli says. “We’ll give it all back.”

  Hunter makes an impatient gesture. “It doesn’t matter. What is it you want?
Things for trade?”

  “Yes,” I say.

  Out of the corner of my eye I see Cassia and Indie exchange glances. Hunter notices it too. “What else?” he asks.

  Indie speaks up. “We’d like to know more about the Rising,” she says. “If it’s somewhere near here, how we can find it.”

  “And who the Pilot might be,” Cassia says eagerly. Of course she wants to know about the rebellion, since it seems to be mentioned in a poem from her grandfather. I wish I’d told her everything back on the Hill. She might have understood then. But now, after she’s begun to hope—I don’t know what to do.

  “I might have some answers for you,” Hunter says. “You help me and then I’ll tell you what I know.”

  “Let’s get started,” Indie says. “What do you want us to do?”

  “It’s not that easy,” Hunter says. “We have to go somewhere, and it’s getting too dark. Come back here tomorrow when it’s light.” He reaches for the shovel he used for the grave and I motion for the others to step back.

  “How do we know we can trust you?” I ask.

  He laughs again, that same humorless laugh. A faint echo of it bounces back from the walls of the canyon and among the empty houses. “Tell me,” Hunter says. “In the Society, do people really live to be eighty?”

  “Yes,” Cassia says. “But that’s only for Citizens.”

  “Eighty,” Hunter says. “We almost never reach eighty in the Carving. Do you think it’s worth it?” he asks us. “To have no choice, but to live so long?”

  “Some people think it is,” Cassia says quietly.

  Hunter passes his blue-marked hand across his face and what he said earlier is suddenly true. He’s done. Finished. “Tomorrow,” he says. He turns around and walks away.