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Sunburst Shortlists

By 49thShelf
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The Sunburst Award Society for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic http://www.sunburstaward.org/content/2012-shortlists


A Novel of Terrible Optimism
tagged : horror
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Technicolor Ultra Mall

Technicolor Ultra Mall

tagged : high tech

In the commodified future the consequences of a falling society are brought to bear upon one man's ambition and his attempt to escape his own socio-economic hell.

The world's ecosystems have been destroyed by genetic pollution and cities have evolved into mega malls. Budgie is a knife wielding, brass knuckled young man from the impoverished and brutal red section of Toronto's T-Dot Center. When his best friend is murdered and Budgie falls in love with the woman responsible, he learns that there' …

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Enter, Night

Enter, Night

also available: Audiobook (CD)
tagged : horror
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All Good Children

All Good Children

also available: Paperback eBook

It's the middle of the twenty-first century and the elite children of New Middletown are lined up to receive a treatment that turns them into obedient, well-mannered citizens. Maxwell Connors, a fifteen-year-old prankster, misfit and graffiti artist, observes the changes with growing concern, especially when his younger sister, Ally, is targeted. Max and his best friend, Dallas, escape the treatment, but must pretend to be "zombies" while they watch their freedoms and hopes decay. When Max's fam …

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Living with hope is like rubbing up against a cheese grater. It keeps taking slices off you until there's so little left you just crumble.

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The Summer of Permanent Wants

The Summer of Permanent Wants

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A literary adventure story with a classic feel, The Summer of Permanent Wants will delight and engage middle-grade readers.

Emmeline is an 11-year-old who contends with a special problem: after a long sickness she can no longer speak. Her illness left her unable to give words to her thoughts, and she can only use the occasional snatches of sign language. Closed off from her friends and the world of kids her age, Emmeline is excited to spend a couple of months with her bohemian grandmother and her …

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No sailor would have called Permanent Wants graceful or sea-kindly, but the crickets liked it well enough. They didn’t seem to notice it was a boat. To them, it was just a floating patch of backyard, free of toads and mantises and other enemies, and moated with stars on a fine night. There were two crickets, Cass and Nova. Emmeline had got the idea of bringing them on board after hearing about the legendary Joshua Slocum, author of Sailing Alone Around the World, who had once brought two crickets and a tree crab on board his boat. Several people had warned Emmeline that the chirping of crickets might get very tiresome after a while, but everybody agreed that crickets were a better idea than crabs. So on the night before the sailing of Permanent Wants, she went out into the long grass behind her house and caught two crickets. Into a jar they went, a very large jar—really a transparent world. It had grass and earth in the bottom, air holes in the lid, and sections of egg carton in the corner. The crickets must have felt right at home, for on the first night aboard, they started up their singing at around nine o’clock. Lafcadio, the shipboard cat, pricked up his ears in disbelief when he heard them. He probably wondered what kind of strange, cross-grained, weather-beaten, gone-to-seed, lumpish misfit of a broken-down hobo boat he was sailing on. It would not be the last time he would wonder that.
This old but ardent vessel belonged to Emmeline’s grandmother, Mrs. Teolani McHovec. Mrs. McHovec (“Gran” to eleven-year-old Emmeline; “Teo” to her friends) was sixty-four years old. She had short silver hair and eyes the colour of seawater fl owing over an iceberg. She loved wind. Had she been born during the Middle Ages, she might have been one of those witches who caught wind, tied it up in knots of rope, and then sold the knotted rope to sailors. But she was born much later, and so she just did a lot of sports that used wind. She had fl own glider planes in her youth, and now she sailed keelboats and flew kites. Her friend Picardy Bob, who loved danger as much as the crickets loved night music, had tried to get her to go hang-gliding once, but she said no. “That is a wild and irresponsible suggestion,” she told him, “even for a former forger.”
I should describe Picardy Bob at once, before he is arrested. He is a small, friendly-fierce man, gifted at adventure and bicycle repair. Though he doesn’t look it, he is actually a few years older than Gran. He wears his long grey hair in a ponytail and once won a prize at a local fair for the magnificence of his moustache. At the time of this story, he was a book scout—that is, somebody who hunts down valuable old books for dealers and private buyers. He was very good at picking out genuine rare volumes from fakes, which wasn’t surprising, given his background. Years before, when he was living in England, he had actually forged a rare book himself. He did it out of curiosity and then decided that the experiment wouldn’t be complete unless he actually tried to sell the book, and . . . well, this is how criminal careers are made. He had served time for his crimes, and afterwards, back in Canada, he had decided to get into the book business. He always had piles of old books in the shed behind his little trailer, where he lived with a parrot named Django and a pug dog named Holden Caulfield.
The adventure of Permanent Wants really began with Picardy Bob, and it happened this way.
One day Bob was in his shed, sorting through boxes of books, when Emmeline and her grandmother visited him with some exciting news: Gran had inherited a boat from a distant cousin! And what a homely old boat it was. Gran had taken one look at it and decided that it should really go into some kind of home. It was broad and battered and peeling, with a low cabin and a rounded bow like a tug’s. The engine was an ancient diesel inboard that hadn’t worked in years. As a joke (apparently), somebody had plunked down a mast right in front of the cabin. “A barge with a sail” was Gran’s description of it. What could you possibly do with a boat like that? She put this question to Picardy Bob while he was sifting through his books, and—perhaps because he wasn’t getting much work done that day—he replied shortly: “I’ll tell you what you can do, Teo dear. Take some of my paperbacks here, put ’em on your big, ugly boat, and take a trip down the Rideau Canal Waterway. You’ll be the first floating bookstore in Cottage Country. They’ll love you.”
There was a silence. Even Django was silent. Emmeline gave her grandmother a long, eager blue-water look.
“Don’t be a romantic fool, Bob,” said Gran. “There’s no space on a boat for books.”
Picardy Bob plucked impatiently at his moustache. “I used to know a bookseller in London who hauled around his stock on a bicycle. He had a little trailer full of paperbacks and miniature books, and he did a brisk business at lunch hour. Sure, you could make a boat into a secondhand bookstore. And you’re the one to do it, Teo. Who here is always talking about the Strange Untried, the Unshored?”
 “That would be you, Bob.”
This was true. Picardy Bob often spoke about the Strange Untried, the Unshored, whenever he wanted Gran to go hang-gliding or something like that. (The phrase came from one of his favourite books, Moby Dick.) But deep down, Gran understood his love of adventure. Her late husband, Silas, had believed that everyone should have a half-decent adventure every two years—more often if you lived in Ottawa. And she herself was long overdue. Her last adventure was twelve years before, when she and Silas had sailed halfway around the world in their sloop, the Cygnus.
That winter, without telling anyone, she began work on the boat. She scraped and painted the hull. She polished the metal fixtures, taking special care with the quaint stern lamp. She found a mechanic to fix up the engine. (As a lover of wind, she disliked engines, but she knew she couldn’t do without one.) And gradually she discovered the attractions of this strange, ugly fl at-bottomed vessel. Its ancestors were clearly the old canal boats and sailing barges of England and Holland. It had no keel, but rather two leeboards—large, broad wooden paddles attached to the sides of the boat. They looked something like the blunt, powerful flippers of a right whale. The leeboards could be lowered into the water to keep the vessel steady while under sail. Gran also discovered that the mast itself could be raised and lowered using an anchor winch. This meant that you could easily get the boat under a low bridge if you had to. All these features, along with its fl at bottom, made it the perfect waterway boat.
When Gran found herself thumbing through the IKEA catalogue, looking for stackable bookshelves, she realized that the project had captured her completely. She wondered what kind of permit she would need to moor at public docks and sell books. But her last task was the most difficult—to convince her daughter, Emmeline’s mother, to let the girl go along.
Emmeline’s mother had serious doubts about the voyage. She thought that Permanent Wants was far too big a boat to be handled by a grandmother and an eleven-year-old girl. “And this idea of selling books,” she said one evening, when Emmeline was upstairs practising her violin. “That means a till on board, which means cash, which means an open invitation to every lowlife from here to Joyceville.”
“Dear, you are forgetting that I sailed the South China Sea,” said Gran. “The pirates there were thicker than flying fish.”
“But Dad was with you!” objected her daughter.
“Well, this time Lafcadio the cat is with me.”
Her daughter said something like puh and frowned. She had no time for the Strange Untried.
“Anyway,” added Gran pacifically, “we can always pack a slingshot.”
Emmeline’s father now entered the discussion.
“If the goal of this voyage,” he said, “is to bring culture to the heathen cottagers and civilization to the land of the satellite dish, then I think a slingshot would be incompatible with your intentions. I suggest bear spray.”
“Don’t talk as if this were a good idea,” said his wife. “It is not a good idea. It is a crazy idea.”
“It may be crazy,” declared Gran, “but I can’t do it by myself.”
She was about to add that life on a boat was life intensified, and that a water voyage had the power to transform and heal—something her beloved Silas had always believed. But all she said was, “I think it would be good for Emmeline.”
Upstairs in her room, Emmeline gave an excited smile. It wouldn’t be good for her; it would be fantastic for her. She wanted more than anything to go on this trip, just Gran and her—and Lafcadio and the crickets, of course. And maybe Picardy Bob once in a while. And all right, her parents sometimes, since they would miss her. But mainly just Gran and her. She heard silence below, so she took a step into her room and, putting her violin to her shoulder, played a quick phrase. She didn’t want them to know she was listening.
Emmeline was the sort of person who could almost disappear in a crowd. Her face was narrow and quiet and undramatic. Her hair—a thin, fl at brown—lay thinly and flatly on her head. She had no elvish ears or Cleopatra nose. The only thing striking about her was her eyes, which were as clear as winter twilight in an alpine valley. They were restless, curious eyes: they dreamed a lot, observed people and stars, and studied old houses for signs of being haunted. Once, under the influence of a book called How to Be a Detective, she had cut eyeholes in The Globe and Mail newspaper and sat at a local bus stop, pretending to read while secretly watching passers-by. She was discovered when a woman noticed a pair of intense blue eyes watching her from the middle of an article entitled “Important People Who Have Gone Blond.” But apart from this (her eyes, I mean), she was no different from the thousands of other eleven-year-olds who are good at undercover work—except that if you had looked closely at her left wrist, you would have noticed a medical ID bracelet. Downstairs, Picardy Bob was speaking.
“And it just so happens that I myself aim to take a few trips along the Rideau this summer, for the auctions. I’d be happy to look in on the two sailors and serve as deckhand from time to time. I can’t say I’m much of an old salt, but I did once take an extensive correspondence course in celestial navigation.”
Bob didn’t add that he had done this course while in jail. He didn’t need to. Emmeline’s mother and father knew him quite well. “I appreciate the offer, Bob,” said Emmeline’s mother, who never gave in easily. “But with that big old boat, I think we need something more in the way of qualifications.”
 “Well, he’s read Moby Dick,” said Gran. “The unabridged version, I would guess, just from listening to him.”
“Also Swallows and Amazons,” put in Picardy Bob.
“That seems . . . satisfactory,” said Emmeline’s father, with a glance at his wife.

Which brings me to the books they had on board.

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The Dead Kid Detective Agency

The Dead Kid Detective Agency

also available: eBook

Thirteen-year-old October Schwartz is new in town; short on friends and the child of a clinically depressed science teacher, she spends her free time in the Sticksville Cemetery and it isn’t long before she befriends the ghosts of five dead teenagers, each from a different era of the past. Using October’s smarts and the ghosts’ abilities to walk through walls and roam around undetected, they form the Dead Kid Detective Agency, a group committed to solving Sticksville’s most mysterious my …

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October Schwartz is not dead.


Now, there are plenty of dead folks in this book (you read the Title before starting the book, right?), it’s just that October Schwartz does not happen to be one of them. That said, it was her first day at Sticksville Central High School, and she sort of wished she were dead.

October had moved to Sticksville only a month earlier, and she didn’t know anyone yet, unless you counted her dad and maybe the Korean lady who sold her gum at the convenience store. She’d spent the month of August reading in the cemetery behind their house and working on writing her own book. So her first day of high school was even more nerve–wracking than it was for most of the students at Sticksville Central. The way she figured it, everybody was going to hate her. They certainly had in her old town. Why should this one be any different?

There were plenty of reasons for the average high school student to hate her: she wasn’t chubby, but she wasn’t not chubby, which, to those naturally inclined to be unpleasant people, meant she was fat. Also, she wore more black eyeliner than most — barring only silent film actresses, really. Add to that the natural black hair she’d inherited from her mom and her affinity for black clothing, and she was like a walking teen vampire joke waiting to happen.

Plus, she was a little kid. Due to the advanced state of middle school in her former town, a futuristic utopia of almost 40,000 citizens — most of them employed by the town’s snowmobile factory — she’d been allowed to skip grade eight altogether in Sticksville (only three hours away geographically), straight into the teenage Thunderdome of high school before she even reached her teens. She was twelve and headed into grade nine, where most of her classmates were well on their way to fourteen if they weren’t there already. This part was to remain a secret from everyone, if she had her way. But even if her classmates didn’t know, October was sure they could smell the tween on her — the stench of Sour Keys and Saturday morning cartoons.

As October pulled on a black T–shirt, she began to imagine burgeoning extracurricular clubs founded on the members’ communal hatred of October Schwartz, its members wearing T–shirts emblazoned with hilarious anti–October slogans.

October’s dad — Mr. Schwartz to you — taught grade eleven and grade twelve biology, as well as auto repair at Sticksville Central, so it was sort of his first day, too. But somehow, October doubted her dad was anxious about what people would think of his clothes and hair.

She left for school early that morning, because she was cautious about that sort of thing. About other sorts of things, she wasn’t very cautious at all, as you’ll see. She shouted goodbye to her dad, who was still busy shaving in the washroom. He didn’t respond, but he was kind of concentrating, blaring music by Fleetwood Mac or some other band from the 1970s.

She walked into the backyard and out to Riverside Drive using the cemetery that bordered their backyard as a shortcut. Mr. Schwartz had been uncertain at first about purchasing a house so close to the town’s lowly cemetery. Not that he believed in ghosts, but there was something unseemly about it to him. However, the price was good and he wanted to find a home before the school year started, so he dismissed his uncertainties. October liked it. She smiled crookedly as she passed through the wide expanse of decaying stone and forgotten names on her way to the first day of the rest of her life.

The air was crisp and a bit cold for early September, like a Granny Smith apple left in the freezer by accident. October lived only about twenty minutes from Sticksville Central, so it wasn’t long before she pushed her way through the double doors of the school’s entrance. She opened her bag and unfolded her schedule.

Evidently, October wasn’t the only student concerned with arriving early. A veritable gaggle of other kids could already be seen congregating, conversing, and giggling inside the main corridor of the school.

One of these students — a tall one with auburn hair and a belt the width of a small diving board, who was standing with some friends beside the vending machines outside the cafeteria (spoiler alert: she’s a witch) — caught sight of October Schwartz and pursued her like a fashionable, but very silent homing missile. October, who was attempting to avoid contact with anyone and everyone, hurried past her. But she wasn’t quick enough to avoid the belt enthusiast’s loud slur:

"Zombie Tramp!"

Mortified, October made a sensible, strategic retreat to the girls’ washroom, which was thankfully empty. She gripped a porcelain sink and stared dolefully at herself in the mirror. Two minutes into high school and things were off to a horrible start. But, above all else, October was determined not to cry at high school. Ever. She was still twelve, but she wasn’t a baby.

She tried to fill her mind with thoughts different from her new "Zombie Tramp" status: her birthday, her dad, and her new classes. What did Zombie Tramp even mean? Why Tramp? Why not Zombie Floozy? Yet, because she was staring into a mirror, her mind kept drifting back to her big, stupid face.

Her dad often told her she was "darn cute," because he was related to her, but October never believed him. Her dad was no prize himself; how would he know what cute was? October did a quick self–analysis in the mirror. She might have overdone it with the eyeliner today, and maybe she should have taken more effort with her hair. Around her neck, she wore a gift left behind by her mom, a silver ankh necklace. It was probably the eyeliner and all the black that was encouraging the Zombie Tramp comparison.


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Blood Red Road

Blood Red Road

Dustlands: 1
also available: Hardcover

This fast-paced young adult debut novel has it all: smart, savvy characters making their way through an eerily dystopian society, with all the requisite action, adventure and romance characteristic of the genre vividly and at times, chillingly, portrayed.

In a wild and lawless future, where life is cheap and survival is hard, eighteen-year-old Saba lives with her father, her twin brother Lugh, her young sister Emmi and her pet crow Nero. Theirs is a hard and lonely life. The family resides in a …

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The day’s hot. So hot an so dry that all I can taste in my mouth is dust. The kinda white heat day when you can hear th’earth crack.
We ain’t had a drop of rain fer near six months now. Even the spring that feeds the lake’s startin to run dry. You gotta walk some ways out now to fill a bucket. Pretty soon, there won’t be no point in callin it by its name.
Every day Pa tries another one of his charms or spells. An every day, big bellied rainclouds gather on the horizon. Our hearts beat faster an our hopes rise as they creep our way. But, well before they reach us, they break apart, thin out an disappear. Every time.
Pa never says naught. He jest stares at the sky, the clear cruel sky. Then he gathers up the stones or twigs or whatever he’s set out on the ground this time, an puts ’em away fer tomorrow. Today, he shoves his hat back. Tips his head up an studies the sky fer a long while.
I do believe I’ll try a circle, he says. Yuh, I reckon a circle might be jest the thing.
Lugh’s bin sayin it fer a while now. Pa’s gittin worse. With every dry day that passes, a little bit more of Pa seems to . . . I guess disappear’s the best word fer it.
Once we could count on pullin a fish from the lake an a beast from our traps. Fer everythin else, we planted some, foraged some, an, all in all, we made out okay. But fer the last year, whatever we do, however hard we try, it jest ain’t enough. Not without rain. We bin watchin the land die, bit by bit.
An it’s the same with Pa. Day by day, what’s best in him withers away. Mind you, he ain’t bin right fer a long time. Not since Ma died. But what Lugh says is true. Jest like the land, Pa’s gittin worse an his eyes look more’n more to the sky instead of what’s here in front of him.
I don’t think he even sees us no more. Not really.
Emmi runs wild these days, with filthy hair an a runny nose. If it warn’t fer Lugh, I don’t think she’d ever wash at all. Before Emmi was born, when Ma was still alive an everythin was happy, Pa was different. Ma could always make him laugh. He’d chase me an Lugh around, or throw us up over his head till we shrieked fer him to stop. An he’d warn us about the wickedness of the world beyond Silverlake. Back then, I didn’t think there could be anybody ever lived who was taller or stronger or smarter’n our pa.
I watch him outta the corner of my eye while me an Lugh git on with repairs to the shanty roof. The walls is sturdy enough, bein that they’re made from tires all piled one on top of th’other. But the wicked hotwinds that whip across the lake sneak their way into the smallest chink an lift whole parts of the roof at once. We’re always havin to mend the damn thing.
So, after last night’s hotwind, me an Lugh was down at the landfill at first light scavenging. We dug around a part of it we ain’t never tried before an damn if we didn’t manage to score ourselves some primo Wrecker junk. A nice big sheet of metal, not too rusted, an a cookin pot that’s still got its handle.
Lugh works on the roof while I do what I always do, which is clamber up an down the ladder an hand him what he needs. Nero does what he always does, which is perch on my shoulder an caw real loud, right in my ear, to tell me what he’s thinkin. He’s always got a opinion does Nero, an he’s real smart too. I figger if only we could unnerstand crow talk, we’d find he was tellin us a thing or two about the best way to fix a roof.
He’ll of thought about it, you can bet on that. He’s watched us fix it fer five year now. Ever since I found him fell outta the nest an his ma nowhere to be seen. Pa warn’t too happy to see me bring a crow babby home. He told me some folk consider crows bring death, but I was set on rearin him by hand an once I set my mind on somethin I stick with it. An then there’s Emmi. She’s doin what she always does, which is pester me an Lugh. She dogs my heels as I go from the ladder to the junk pile an back.
I wanna help, she says.
Hold the ladder then, I says.
No! I mean really help! All you ever let me do is hold the ladder!
Well, I says, maybe that’s all yer fit fer. You ever think of that?
She folds her arms across her skinny little chest an scowls at me. Yer mean, she says.
So you keep tellin me, I says.
I start up the ladder, a piece of rusty metal in my hand, but I ain’t gone more’n three rungs before she takes hold an starts shakin it. I grab on to stop myself from fallin. Nero squawks an fl aps off in a flurry of feathers. I glare down at Em. Cut that out! I says. What’re you tryin to do, break my neck?
Lugh’s head pops over the side of the roof. All right, Em, he says, that’s enough. Go help Pa.
Right away, she lets go. Emmi always does what Lugh tells her.
But I wanna help you, she says with her sulky face.
We don’t need yer help, I says. We’re doin jest fine without you.
Yer the meanest sister that ever lived! I hate you, Saba!
Good! Cuz I hate you too!
That’s enough! says Lugh. Both of yuz!
Emmi sticks her tongue out at me an stomps off. I shin up the ladder onto the roof, crawl along an hand him the metal sheet.
I swear I’m gonna kill her one of these days, I says.
She’s only nine, Saba, says Lugh. You might try bein nice to her fer a change.
I grunt an hunker down nearby. Up here on the roof, I can see everythin. Emmi ridin around on her rickety two-wheeler that Lugh found in the landfill. Pa at his spell circle.
It ain’t nuthin more’n a bit of ground that he leveled off by stompin it down with his boots. We ain’t permitted nowhere near it, not without his say so. He’s always fussin around, sweepin clear any twigs or sand that blow onto it. He ain’t set out none of the sticks fer his rain circle on the ground yet. I watch as he lays down the broom. Then he takes three steps to the right an three steps to the left. Then he does it agin. An agin.
You seen what Pa’s up to? I says to Lugh.
He don’t raise his head. Jest starts hammerin away at the sheet to straighten it.
I seen, he says. He did it yesterday too. An the day before. What’s all that about? I says. Goin right, then left, over an over.
How should I know? he says. His lips is pressed together in a tight line. He’s got that look on his face agin. The blank look he gits when Pa says somethin or asks him to do somethin. I see it on him more an more these days.
Lugh! Pa lifts his head, shadin his eyes. I could use yer help here, son!
Foolish old man, Lugh mutters. He gives the metal sheet a extra hard whack with the hammer.
Don’t say that, I says. Pa knows what he’s doin. He’s a star reader.
Lugh looks at me. Shakes his head, like he cain’t believe I jest said what I did.
Ain’t you figgered it out yet? It’s all in his head. Made up. There ain’t nuthin written in the stars. There ain’t no great plan. The world goes on. Our lives jest go on an on in this gawdfersaken place. An that’s it. Till the day we die. I tell you what, Saba, I’ve took about all I can take.
I stare at him.
Lugh! Pa yells.
I’m busy! Lugh yells back.
Right now, son!
Lugh swears unner his breath. He throws the hammer down, pushes past me an pratikally runs down the ladder. He rushes over to Pa. He snatches the sticks from him an throws ’em to the ground. They scatter all over.
There! Lugh shouts. There you go! That should help! That should make the gawdam rain come! He kicks Pa’s new-swept spell circle till the dust flies. He pokes his finger hard into Pa’s chest. Wake up, old man! Yer livin in a dream! The rain ain’t never gonna come! This hellhole is dyin an we’re gonna die too if we stay here. Well, guess what? I ain’t doin it no more!
I’m outta here!
I knew this would come, says Pa. The stars told me you was unhappy, son. He reaches out an puts a hand on Lugh’s arm. Lugh flings it off so fierce it makes Pa stagger backwards. Yer crazy, you know that? Lugh shouts it right in his face. The stars told you! Why don’t you jest try listenin to what I say fer once?
He runs off. I hurry down the ladder. Pa’s starin at the ground, his shoulders slumped.
I don’t unnerstand, he says. I see the rain comin. . . . I read it in the stars but . . . it don’t come. Why don’t it come? It’s okay, Pa, says Emmi. I’ll help you. I’ll put ’em where you want. She scrabbles about on her knees, collectin all the sticks. She looks at him with a anxious smile.
Lugh didn’t mean it Pa, she says. I know he didn’t.
I go right on past ’em.
I know where Lugh’s headed.
I find him at Ma’s rock garden.
He sits on the ground, in the middle of the swirlin patterns, the squares an circles an little paths made from all different stones, each their own shade an size. Every last tiny pebble set out by Ma with her own hands. She wouldn’t allow that anybody should help her.
She carefully laid the last stone in place. Sat back on her heels an smiled at me, rubbin at her big babby-swolled belly. Her long golden hair in a braid over one shoulder.
There! You see, Saba? There can be beauty anywhere. Even here. An if it ain’t there, you can make it yerself.
The day after that, she birthed Emmi. A month too early. Ma bled fer two days, then she died. We built her funeral pyre high an sent her spirit back to the stars. Once we’d scattered her ash to the winds, all we was left with was Em.
A ugly little red scrap with a heartbeat like a whisper. More like a newborn mouse than a person. By rights, she shouldn’t of lasted longer’n a day or two. But somehow she hung on an she’s still here. Small fer her age though, an scrawny.
Fer a long time, I couldn’t stand even lookin at her. When Lugh says I shouldn’t be so hard on her, I says that if it warn’t fer Emmi, Ma ’ud still be alive. He ain’t got no answer to that cuz he knows it’s true, but he always shakes his head an says somethin like, It’s time you got over it, Saba, an that kinda thing.
I put up with Emmi these days, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Now I set myself down on the hard-packed earth so’s my back leans against Lugh’s. I like it when we sit like this. I can feel his voice rumble inside my body when he talks. It must of bin like this when the two of us was inside Ma’s belly together. Esseptin that neether of us could talk then, of course.
We sit there fer a bit, silent. Then, We should of left here a long time ago, he says. There’s gotta be better places’n this. Pa should of took us away.
You ain’t really leavin, I says.
Ain’t I? There ain’t no reason to stay. I cain’t jest sit around
waitin to die.
Where would you go?
It don’t matter. Anywhere, so long as it ain’t Silverlake.
But you cain’t. It’s too dangerous.
We only got Pa’s word fer that. You do know that you an me ain’t ever bin more’n one day’s walk in any direction our whole lives. We never see nobody essept ourselves. That ain’t true, I says. What about that crazy medicine woman on her camel last year? An . . . we see Potbelly Pete. He’s always got a story or two about where he’s bin an who he’s seen.
I ain’t talkin about some shyster pedlar man stoppin by every couple of months, he says. By the way, I’m still sore about them britches he tried to unload on me last time. They was hummin all right, I says. Like a skunk wore ’em last. Hey wait, you fergot Procter.
Our only neighbor’s four leagues north of here. He’s a lone man, name of Procter John. He set up homestead jest around the time Lugh an me got born. He drops by once a month or so. Not that he ever stops proper, mind. He don’t git down offa his horse, Hob, but jest pulls up by the hut. Then he says the same thing, every time.
G’day, Willem. How’s the young ’uns? All right?
They’re fi ne, Procter, says Pa. You?
Well enough to last a bit longer.
Then he tips his hat an goes off an we don’t see him fer another month. Pa don’t like him. He never says so, but you can tell. You’d think he’d be glad of somebody to talk to besides us, but he never invites Procter to stay an take a dram. Lugh says it’s on account of the chaal. We only know that’s what it’s called because one time I asked Pa what it is that Procter’s always chewin an Pa’s face went all tight an it was like he didn’t wanna tell us. But then he said it’s called chaal an it’s poison to the mind an soul, an if anybody ever offers us any we’re to say no. But since we never see nobody, such a offer don’t seem too likely.
Now Lugh shakes his head. You cain’t count Procter John, he says. Nero’s got more conversation than him. I swear, Saba, if I stay here, I’ll eether go crazy or I’ll end up killin Pa. I gotta go.
I scramble around, kneel in front of him.
I’m comin with you, I says.
Of course, he says. An we’ll take Emmi with us.
I don’t think Pa ’ud let us, I says. An she wouldn’t wanna go anyways. She’d rather stay with him.
You mean you’d rather she stayed, he says. We gotta take her with us, Saba. We cain’t leave her behind.
What about . . . maybe if you was to talk to Pa, he might see sense, I says. Then we could all go to a new place together.
He won’t, Lugh says. He cain’t leave Ma.
Whaddya mean? I says. Ma’s dead.
Lugh says, What I mean is . . . him an Ma made this place together an, in his mind, she’s still here. He cain’t leave her memory, that’s what I’m sayin.
But we’re the ones still alive, I says. You an me.
An Emmi, he says. I know that. But you see how he is. It’s like we don’t exist. He don’t give two hoots fer us.
Lugh thinks fer a moment. Then he says, Love makes you weak. Carin fer somebody that much means you cain’t think straight. Look at Pa. Who’d wanna end up like him? I ain’t never gonna love nobody. It’s better that way.
I don’t say naught. Jest trace circles in the dirt with my finger.
My gut twists. Like a mean hand reached right inside me an grabbed it.
Then I says, What about me?
Yer my sister, he says. It ain’t the same.
But what if I died? You’d miss me, wouldn’t you?
Huh, he says. Fat chance of you dyin an leavin me in peace. Always followin me everywhere, drivin me nuts. Since the day we was born.
It ain’t my fault yer the tallest thing around, I says. You make a good sunshade.
Hey! He pushes me onto my back.
I push him with my foot. Hey yerself ! I prop myself up on my elbows. Well, I says, would you?
Miss me.
Don’t be stupid, he says.
I kneel in front of him. He looks at me. Lugh’s got eyes as blue as the summer sky. Blue as the clearest water. Ma used to say his eyes was so blue, it made her want to sail away on ’em. I’d miss you, I says. If you died, I’d miss you so much I’d wanna kill myself.
Don’t talk foolish, Saba.
Promise me you won’t, I says.
Won’t what?
Everybody’s gotta die one day, he says.
I reach out an touch his birthmoon tattoo. High on his right cheekbone, jest like mine, it shows how the moon looked in the sky the night we was born. It was a full moon that midwinter. That’s a rare thing. But twins born unner a full moon at the turnin of the year, that’s even rarer. Pa did the tattoos hisself, to mark us out as special.
We was eighteen year our last birthday. That must be four month ago, near enough.
When we die, I says, d’you think we’ll end up stars together, side by side?
You gotta stop thinkin like that, he says. I told you, that’s jest Pa’s nonsense.
Go on then, if you know so much, tell me what happens when you die.
I dunno. He sighs an flops back on the ground, squintin at the sky. You jest . . . stop. Yer heart don’t beat no more, you don’t breathe an then yer jest . . . gone.
An that’s it, I says.
Well that’s stupid, I says. I mean, we spend our lives doin all this . . . sleepin an eatin an fixin roofs an then it all jest . . . ends. Hardly seems worth the trouble.
Well, that’s the way it is, he says.
You . . . hey Lugh, you wouldn’t ever leave without me, would you?
Of course not, he says. But even if I did, you’d only follow me.
I will follow you . . . everywhere you go! When I say it, I make crazy eyes an a crazy face because it creeps him out when I do that. To the bottom of the lake, I says, . . . to the ends of the earth . . . to the moon . . . to the stars. . . !
Shut up! He leaps to his feet. Bet you don’t follow me to skip rocks, he says an runs off.
Hey! I yell. Wait fer me!

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