Crossed, p.21
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       Crossed, p.21

         Part #2 of Matched series by Ally Condie
 
Page 22

 

  “Eli!” I call out.

  “I’m right here!”

  “Where’s Vick?”

  “He wanted to get in a couple of hours of fishing before we left,” Eli says. “He told me to stay behind and to let you sleep. ”

  “No, no, no,” I say, and then neither of us says anything more, because the sound of the machines overhead is too loud. The firing sounds different, too. Heavy and ponderous. Precise. Not the scatter of rain we are used to. This sounds like hailstones as big as boulders pounding from the sky.

  When it stops, I don’t wait even though I should. “Stay here,” I tell Eli, and I run out to the plain, start crawling through the grass, heading for that damn stream, that damn marsh.

  But Eli follows me, and I let him. I crawl to that place on the bank and then I don’t look.

  I believe what I see. So if I don’t see Vick dead it won’t be true.

  Instead I look at the stream where something has exploded. Brown and green marsh grasses are partly hidden beneath the dirt like the long tangled hair of bodies pulled under.

  The force of the explosion has thrown earth into the stream and dammed it. Turned it into pools. Little pieces of river with nowhere to run.

  I walk a few strides downstream, far enough to see that they’ve done it again and again and again all along the length of the river.

  I hear the sound of Eli sobbing.

  Then I turn and look at Vick.

  “Ky,” Eli says. “Can you help him?”

  “No,” I say.

  Whatever fell hit with such impact that it looks like it sent Vick flying; his neck was broken. He must have died instantly. I know I should be glad for that. But I’m not. I look at those empty eyes that reflect back the blue of the sky because there is nothing left of Vick himself.

  What drew him out here? Why didn’t he fish under the cover of the trees instead of in this open place?

  I see the reason in the pool near him, trapped in the newly stilled water. I know instantly what kind of fish it is though I’ve never seen one before.

  A rainbow. Its colors flash in the light as it struggles.

  Did Vick see it? Is that why he came out into the open?

  The pool grows darker. Something, a large round sphere, sits at the bottom of the water. As I look closer, I see that the sphere lets off a slow release of toxin.

  They didn’t mean to kill Vick. They do mean to kill this stream.

  As I watch the rainbow turns over, its white belly up. It rises to the surface.

  Dead like Vick.

  I want to laugh and scream at the same time.

  “He had something in his hand,” Eli says. I look at him. He has the piece of wood carved with Laney’s name. “It fell when he did. ” Eli reaches for Vick’s hand and holds it for a moment. Then he crosses Vick’s arms across his chest. “Do something,” Eli tells me with tears streaming down his face.

  I turn away and tear off my coat.

  “What are you doing?” Eli asks in horror. “You can’t leave him like this. ”

  I don’t have time to answer. I throw my coat to the ground and plunge my hands into the nearest pool of water—the one with the dead rainbow. The cold hurts. Moving water rarely freezes, but this water isn’t moving anymore. Using both hands, I hoist the sphere out while it keeps spewing poison. It’s heavy, but I run it over to the side, put it near a rock, and start looking for the next one. I can’t clear all the dirt that has exploded, blocking the river in many places, but I can take the poison out of some of the pools. I know this is as futile as everything I’ve done. Like trying to get back to Cassia in a Society that wants me dead.

  But I can’t stop.

  Eli comes over and reaches into the water too.

  “It’s too dangerous,” I tell him. “Get back in the trees. ”

  He doesn’t answer but instead helps me lift out the next sphere. I remember Vick helping me with the bodies and I let Eli stay.

  All day long, Vick talks to me. I know it means I’m crazy but I can’t help hearing him.

  He talks to me while Eli and I pull spheres from the stream. Over and over Vick tells me his story about Laney. I picture it in my mind—him falling in love with an Anomaly. Telling Laney how he felt. Watching the rainbow and going to speak with her parents. Standing up to celebrate a Contract. Smiling as he reached for her hand to claim happiness in spite of the Society. Coming back to find her gone.

  “Stop it,” I say to Vick. I ignore Eli’s look of surprise. I’m turning into my father. He always heard voices in his head, telling him to talk to the people, to try to change the world.

  When we’ve cleared as many spheres as we can, Eli and I dig Vick’s grave together. It’s hard going, even with the loose ground, and my muscles scream in exhaustion and the grave isn’t as deep as I would like. Eli works doggedly next to me, his small hands scooping out earth.

  When we finish, we put Vick inside.

  He’d emptied out one of his packs at our camp and brought it with him to carry his catch. I find one silver-scaled fish dead inside and I put it in the grave too. We leave Vick’s coat on him. The hole over his heart where the silver disk once was looks like a small wound. If the Society digs him up, they won’t know anything about him. Even the notches in his boots mean something that they won’t understand.

  Vick keeps talking to me while I carve a piece of sandstone into a fish to leave on his shallow grave. The fish’s scales are dull and orange. A rainbow without all the colors. Not real like the one Vick saw. But the best I can do. I want it to mark not only that he died but that he loved someone and she loved him back.

  “They didn’t kill me,” Vick says to me.

  “No?” I say, but I say it quiet so that Eli can’t hear me.

  “No,” he says with a grin. “Not as long as the fish are still around, still swimming, spawning, laying eggs. ”

  “Can’t you see this place?” I ask Vick. “We tried. But they’re going to die, too. ”

  And then he stops talking to me and I know that he’s really gone and I wish for a voice in my head again. I finally understand that as long as my father had that, he never had to be alone.

  Chapter 20

  CASSIA

  My breathing sounds wrong. Like little waves of a stream lapping up against rock and making small tired sounds, hoping to wear away at the stone.

  “Talk to me,” I say to Indie. I notice she carries two packs, two canteens. How did that happen? Are they mine? I’m too tired to care.

  “What do you want me to say?” she asks.

  “Anything. ” I need to hear something besides my own breath, my own tired heart.

  Somewhere, before Indie’s words turn into nothing sounds in my ears, I realize that she’s telling me things, many things; that she can’t stop herself from talking now that she thinks I’m too far gone to really listen. I wish that I could pay better attention to the words, that I could remember this. I only catch a few phrasesAlways at night before I slept

  and

  I thought everything would be different after

  and

  I don’t know how much longer I can believe

  It almost sounds like poetry, and I wonder again if I will ever be able to finish that poem for Ky. If I will know the right words to say when I finally see him. If he and I will ever have time for more than beginnings.

  I want to ask Indie for another blue tablet from my pack, but before I can say anything I remember once again how Grandfather told me that I was strong enough not to take the tablets.

  But, Grandfather, I think, I didn’t understand you as well as I thought I did. The poems. I thought I knew what you intended. But which one did you want me to believe?

  I remember the words Grandfather said when I took the paper from him that last time. “Cassia,” he whispered, “I am giving you something you won’t understand, yet. But I think you will someday. You, more than the rest
. ”

  A thought flitters into my mind like one of the mourning cloaks, the butterflies that string their cocoons along the twigs both here and back in Oria. It’s a thought I’ve almost had before but I haven’t let myself finish it until now.

  Grandfather, were you once the Pilot?

  And then another thought comes, one light and fast and that I don’t grasp completely, leaving me with another impression of gently moving wings.

  “I don’t need them anymore,” I say to myself. The tablets, the Society. I don’t know if it’s true. But it seems that it should be.

  And then I see it. A compass, made of stone, sitting on a ledge exactly at eye level.

  I pick it up, although I’ve dropped everything else.

  I hold it in my hand as we walk even though it weighs more than many of the things I have let fall to the ground. I think, This is good, even though it’s heavy. I think, This is good, because it will hold me to the earth.

  Chapter 21

  KY

  Say the words,” Eli tells me.

  My hands shake with exhaustion from the hours of work. The sky grows dark beyond us. “I can’t, Eli. They don’t mean anything. ”

  “Say them,” Eli commands, tears coming again. “Do it. ”

  “I can’t,” I tell him, and I put the sandstone fish down on top of Vick’s grave.

  “You have to say them,” Eli says. “You have to do this for Vick. ”

  “I already did what I could for Vick,” I say. “We both did. We tried to save the stream. Now it’s time to go. He would do the same. ”

  “We can’t cross the plain now,” Eli says.

  “We’ll stay by the trees,” I say. “It’s not night yet. Let’s get as far as we can. ”

  We go back and gather our things at the camp near the mouth of the canyon. As we wrap up the smoked fish, they leave silver scales on our hands and clothes. Eli and I divide up the food from Vick’s pack. “Do you want any of these?” I ask Eli when I find the pamphlets Vick brought.

  “No,” he says. “I like what I chose better. ”

  I slide one into my pack and leave the rest. It’s not worth carrying them all.

  Eli and I start across the plain walking side by side in the dusk.

  Then Eli stops and looks back. A mistake.

  “We have to keep going, Eli. ”

  “Wait,” he says. “Stop. ”

  “I’m not going to stop,” I tell him.

  “Ky,” he says. “Look back. ”

  I turn and in the last of the evening light I see her.

  Cassia.

  Even far away, I know it’s her by the way her dark hair tangles with the wind and how she stands on the red rocks of the Carving. She’s more beautiful than snow.

  Is this real?

  She points to the sky.

  Chapter 22

  CASSIA

  We’re almost to the top; we can almost look out over the plain.

  “Cassia, stop,” Indie says as I start to climb an outcropping of rocks.

  “We’re almost there,” I say. “I have to see. ” Over the last few hours I’ve felt strong again, clearheaded. I want to stand on the highest point so I can try to see Ky. The wind is cold and clean. It feels good rushing over me.

  I climb on top of the highest rock.

 
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