Crossed, Page 23Ally Condie
“But the stream’s all broken up,” Eli says.
“It won’t be anymore,” I tell him. “A rain like this will have run it back together.”
“So who’s going in the boat?” Indie asks.
“We don’t know yet,” I say. I don’t look over at Cassia. I haven’t been able to meet her eyes since she found me burning the map.
Eli hands me a pack. “I brought this for you,” he says. “Food, some things from the cave.”
“Thanks, Eli,” I say.
“There’s something else,” he whispers to me. “Can I show you?”
I nod. “Hurry.”
Eli makes sure that the others can’t see and then he holds out—
A tube from the blue-lit Cavern.
“Eli,” I say in surprise. I take the tube from him and turn it over. Inside the liquid rolls and shifts. When I read the name engraved on the outside I draw in my breath sharply. “You shouldn’t have taken this.”
“I couldn’t help it,” Eli says.
I should break the tube against the ground or let it go in the river. Instead I put it in my pocket.
The rain has loosened rocks and turned the ground to mud. It won’t take much to trigger a landslide and render the path to the caves impassable, but we also have to seal off the doors of the cave without destroying what’s inside.
Hunter shows me the plan; a neatly organized diagram of where and how and what to wire. It’s impressive. “Did you make this?” I ask.
“No,” he says. “Our leader did before she left. Anna.”
Anna, I think. Did my father know her, too?
I don’t ask. I follow her diagram and Hunter’s adjustments. The rain pounds down above us and we do our best to keep the explosives dry.
“Go down and tell the others that I’m going to set the fuse,” Hunter says.
“I’ll do it,” I say.
Hunter looks at me. “This was my assignment,” he says. “Anna trusted me to get it right.”
“You know this land better than I do,” I say. “You know the farmers. If something goes wrong with the fuse, you’re the one who can get everyone else out of here.”
“This isn’t some kind of self-punishment, is it?” Hunter asks me. “Because you were going to burn the map?”
“No,” I say. “It’s just the truth.”
Hunter looks at me and then nods his head.
I set the timer on the fuse and run. It’s instinct—I should have plenty of time. My feet hit the ground near the stream and I sprint toward the others. I haven’t quite reached them when I hear the explosion go off.
I can’t help myself—I turn and look.
The few small trees clinging to the cliff seem to come away first; their roots tear away rocks and dirt with them. For a moment I see the dark distinct tangles of each life and then I realize the whole cliff beneath them slides too. The path severs into fragments and is turned under by water, mud, rock.
And the slide keeps going.
Too far, I realize, it’s coming too far and too close. It’s going to reach the township.
One of the houses groans and breaks and gives way to the mud.
The earth pushes through the township, splintering boards, shattering glass, snapping trees.
And then it goes into the river and stops.
The slide has cut a clean, slick, red-mud-and-rock swath through the township, and it’s dammed part of the stream. The water will rise and the canyon might flood. Even as I think this, I see the others spilling out of the house and hurrying toward the path.
I run to help Hunter with the boat. It’s for her. If what she wants is the Rising, I will help her reach it.
The walk out is slow-going and miserable; we all slip and fall and get up again, over and over. We’re painted in mud by the time we find a cave large enough for all of us to crowd inside. The boat won’t fit. We have to leave it outside on the path and I hear the rain drumming on the boat’s plastic hide. We haven’t made it to the cave with the dancing girls; this cave is tiny and littered with rocks and refuse.
For a moment, no one can overcome exhaustion enough to speak. Our packs lie next to us. As we carried them and the weight became heavier and heavier with each muddy step, I imagined throwing out food, water, even papers. I glance over at Indie. The first time we climbed out to the plain, I was sick. She carried my pack most of the way.
“Thank you,” I say to her now.
“For what?” She sounds surprised, wary.
“For carrying my things for me when we came through here the first time,” I say.
Ky raises his head and looks at me. It’s the first time he’s really done so since the confrontation in the township. It feels good to see his eyes again. In the gloom of the cave, they are black.
“We should talk,” Hunter says. He’s right. What we all know, but have not said, is that everyone cannot fit in the boat. “What is everyone going to do?”
“I’m going to find the Rising,” Indie says immediately.
Eli shakes his head. He doesn’t know yet and I understand exactly how he feels. We both want the Rising, but Ky doesn’t trust it. And, in spite of everything that happened with the map I know we both still trust Ky.
“I still intend to find the other farmers,” Hunter says.
“You could go on without us,” Indie says to Hunter. “But you’re helping us. Why?”
“I’m the one who broke the tubes,” Hunter says. “The Society might not have come for you so quickly if I hadn’t done that.” Though he’s only a few years older than we are, he seems much wiser. Perhaps it is having a child; perhaps living in such a hard place; or maybe he would have been this way in the Society, too, in an easy comfortable life. “Besides,” Hunter says, “while we carry the boat, you help with our packs. It is in our best interest to help each other out of the Carving. Then we can go our separate ways.”
Ky doesn’t say anything.
The rain comes down outside and I think of the piece of his story that he gave me back in the Borough that said, When it rains, I remember. I vowed to remember, too. And I recall how Ky told me to trade the poems. He didn’t warn me away from the Tennyson one, even though he knew I had it too, and even though he knew it might help me discover the Rising. He left those choices—of what to trade and what to do with what I found—up to me.
“What is it you hate about the Rising, Ky?” I ask him softly. I don’t want to do this in front of everyone else; but what other option do I have? “I need to decide where to go. So does Eli. It would help us if you explained why you hate it so much.”
Ky looks down at his hands and I remember the picture he gave me back in the Society, the one that showed him holding the words mother and father. “They never came to help us,” he says. “With the Rising, rebellion ends in death for you and the people you love. Anyone who survives is left behind to turn into someone else.”
“But the Enemy killed your family,” Indie says. “Not the Rising.”
“I don’t trust them,” Ky says. “My father did. I don’t.”
“Do you?” Indie asks Hunter.
“I’m not certain,” Hunter says. “The last time the Rising came into our canyon was years ago.” We all, even Ky, lean forward to listen. “They told us they’d managed to infiltrate everywhere, even Central, and they tried again to convince us to join them.” Hunter smiles a little. “Anna proved too stubborn. We lived for generations on our own and she thought that we should keep doing it.”
“They’re the ones who sent in those pamphlets,” Ky says.
Hunter nods. “They sent the map we’re using, too. They hoped we’d change our minds and come to find them.”
“How did they know you could read the code on the map?” Indie asks.
“It’s our own code,” Hunter says. “We used it in the township sometimes when we didn’t want an outsider to know what we were saying.”
He reaches into his pack and pulls out one of the headlamps. Night has fully fallen outside the cave.
“They knew the code from some of our youth who left to join up with them.” Hunter switches on the light and sets it on the ground for us to see each other by. “The farmers as a whole never joined, but now and then a few of our younger people did. I left to find the Rising myself, once.”
“You did?” I ask in surprise.
“I never made it,” Hunter says. “I got as far as the stream on the plain before I came back.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Catherine.” Hunter’s voice is hoarse. “Sarah’s mother. She wasn’t Sarah’s mother then, of course. But Catherine could never have left the township and I decided I couldn’t leave her.”
“Why couldn’t she leave?”
“She was going to be the next leader,” he says. “She was Anna’s daughter, and she was exactly like Anna. When Anna died, there would have been a vote to accept or reject her oldest child as the leader, and we all would have accepted Catherine. Everyone loved her. But she died giving birth to Sarah.”
The light inside the cave illuminates our muddy boots while our faces disappear into the darkness. I hear him taking something out of his pack.
“Anna left you,” I say, stunned. “She left you, and she left her granddaughter—”
“She had to do it,” Hunter says. “She had other children and grandchildren and a township to lead.” He pauses. “You see why we’re reluctant to judge the Rising too harshly. They want the greater good for their group. We cannot fault them when we do the same.”
“It’s different,” Ky says. “You’ve been here since the beginning of the Society. Rebellions come and go.”
“How did you escape all those years ago?” Indie asks eagerly.
“We didn’t,” Hunter says. “They let us leave.” While he tells the story, he draws the lines of blue back on his arms with a piece of chalk he’s taken from his bag.
“You have to remember that the people back then chose the Society and its controls as a way to prevent a future Warming event and as a way to help eliminate illness. We did not, so we left. We would not participate in the Society; so we would not receive its benefits or protection. We would farm and eat and keep to ourselves and they would leave us alone. For a long time, they did. And if any came, we cut them down.”
Hunter continues. “Before all the original villagers in the Outer Provinces died, they used to come into our canyon for help. They told stories of being sent away for loving the wrong person or wanting a different occupation. Some came to join with us, and others came to trade with us. After the time of the Hundreds, our papers and books had become incredibly valuable.” He sighs. “There have always been people like the Archivists. I’m sure there still are. But we were cut off when the villages died.”
“What did you trade for?” Eli asks. “You had everything in the canyons.”
“No,” Hunter says, “we didn’t. The Society’s medicine was always better, and there were other things we needed.”
“But if all your papers are so valuable,” Eli asks, “how could you leave so many of them behind?”
“There’s too much,” Hunter says. “We couldn’t carry it all across the plain. Many of the people tore out pages or brought books that they wanted. But it was impossible to bring everything. That’s why I had to seal off the cave and hide the rest. We didn’t want the Society to be able to destroy or take everything if they found it.”
He finishes marking one of his arms with the lines and reaches to put the blue chalk back into his pack.
“What do those markings mean?” I ask, and he stops.
“What do they look like to you?”
“Rivers,” I say. “Veins.”
He nods, interested. “They look like both. You can think of them that way.”
“But what are they to you?” I asked.
“Webs,” he says.
I shake my head, confused.
“Anything that connects,” he says. “When we draw them, we usually draw them together, like this.” He puts his hand out so that our fingers touch. I almost jump back in surprise, but I hold myself still. He traces the chalk along his fingers and then crosses over onto mine and runs the line of blue gently up my arm.
He sits back. We look at each other. “Then you would continue the lines yourself,” he says. “Along you, and then you would touch someone else and begin a line for them. And so on.”
But what if the connection was broken? I want to ask. Like when your daughter died?
“If there is no one else for the lines,” he says, “you do this.” He stands up and pushes his hands against the sandstone wall of the overhang. I imagine a series of tiny cracks spreading from the point of pressure. “You connect to something.”
“But the Carving doesn’t care,” I tell him. “The canyons don’t care.”
“No,” Hunter agrees. “But we’re still connected.”
“I brought this,” I say to Hunter, reaching into my pack and feeling shy. “I thought you might want it.”
It’s the poem with the line he used for Sarah’s grave. The one about across the June a wind with fingers goes. I took it from the book.
Hunter takes it and reads it aloud:
“They dropped like Flakes -
They dropped like Stars -
Like Petals from a Rose -
When suddenly across the June
A wind with fingers - goes -”
“It sounds like what happened to us out in the villages,” Eli says. “People died like that. They dropped like stars.”
Ky puts his head in his hands.
Hunter reads on.
“They perished in the Seamless Grass -
No eye could find the place -
But God can summon every face
On his Repealless - List.”
“Some of us believed in another life someday,” he says. “Catherine did, and Sarah did, too.”
“But you don’t,” Indie says.
“I didn’t,” Hunter says. “But I never told Sarah that. How could I take that away from her? She was everything to me.” He swallows. “I held her while she fell asleep every night, all those years of her life.” Tears slip down his cheeks the way they did earlier in the library cave. He ignores them, as he did then.
“I had to move away little by little,” Hunter says. “Lift my arm. Pull my face away from where I tucked it into her neck; draw back so that my breath no longer ruffled her hair. I did this gradually so that when I left she didn’t know I was gone. I saw her into the night.
“In the Cavern, I thought I’d break all the tubes and then die in the dark,” Hunter says. “But I couldn’t do it.”
He looks down at the page again and reads the line he carved for her. “Suddenly across the June a wind with fingers goes,” he says, almost sings, his voice sad and soft. He stands up and shoves the paper in his pack. “I will check the rain,” he says, and goes to stand outside.
By the time Hunter comes back in, everyone has fallen asleep except for Ky and me. I can hear Ky breathing, on the other side of Eli. It’s crowded in here, and it would be easy to reach out and touch Ky but I hold back. It is so strange to take this journey together when there is such distance between us. I can’t forget what he did. I can’t forget what I did, either. Why did I sort him?
I hear Hunter settle near the entrance of the cave and I wish I hadn’t given him that poem. I didn’t mean to bring him pain.
If I died here, and someone were to carve my epitaph on the stone of this cave, I don’t know what I would want them to write.
What would Grandfather have chosen for his epitaph?
Do not go gentle
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
Grandfather, who knew me better than anyone else did, has become a mystery.
So has Ky.
I think suddenly of that time at
the showing, when he had all that pain that none of us knew and we laughed while he cried.
I close my eyes. I love Ky. But I don’t understand him. He won’t let me reach him. I have made mistakes, too, I know it, but I am tired of chasing him through canyons and out onto plains and stretching out my hand only to have him take it some times and not others. Perhaps that’s the real reason he’s an Aberration. Perhaps even the Society couldn’t predict what he would do.
Who put Ky into the Matching Pool in the first place? My Official pretended that she knew, but she didn’t. I decided it didn’t matter anymore—I’d chosen to love him, I’d chosen to find him—but the question comes to mind again.
Who could it have been? I’ve thought of Patrick. Aida.
And then I have another thought, the most striking, unlikely, believable one of all: Could it have been Ky?
I don’t know how he could have done it, but I also don’t know how Xander could have managed to get the papers inside the tablet compartments. Love changes what is probable and makes unlikely things possible. I try to remember what Ky said back in the Borough when we talked about the Matching Pool and the mistake. Didn’t he say that it didn’t matter who put the name in, as long as I loved him?
I’ve never known his whole story.
Maybe only parts of our stories can keep us safe. The whole can feel like too much to bear, whether it’s the story of Society or a rebellion or a single person.
Is this what Ky feels? That no one wants the whole? That his truth is too heavy to carry?
Everyone else sleeps.
If I wanted to run, now would be the time.
Cassia told me once that she wanted to write a poem for me. Did she ever get past the beginning? What words did she use for the end?
She cried before she slept. I reached out to touch the ends of her hair. She didn’t notice. I didn’t know what to do. Listening to her made me ache. I felt tears stream down my face too. And when I accidentally brushed Eli with my arm his face was wet where his tears ran down.