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The dust of 100 dogs, p.23
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.23

           A. S. King
 
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  Next thing I knew he was falling, head-first, right for me. I leapt out of the way and let him fall into the hole. He landed awkwardly, on one of the crates, and the knife tumbled out of his hand into the dirt. My bag fell in after him, and landed to his left. He was passed out and floppy like he’d broken his neck. Sand sprinkled onto his head from the steep side of the hole, and blood trickled from a deep cut on his balding forehead.

  “Fred, mon! No games, yanno. You dere?”

  I panicked and didn’t know what to do, so I jumped into the hole with him. When I peeked out, I saw the Jamaican creeping slowly toward me, holding the jumpy Doberman by his collar. Who was this guy? History couldn’t really repeat itself, could it?

  “No kidding, Fred,” he said. “I need some cash for de taxi man.”

  The taxi honked. I was paralyzed, so Emer took over. She moved my legs toward Fred and bent my body over him. She made me reach down toward the stuffed bag, and that was when I smelled his breath. It was the same. The same breath from the cave on Tortuga, and from the Bahaman prison, and from right there on that cursed beach, the night Emer died.

  On the dirt, just inches in front of me, was his knife. To my right was the bag, stuffed full of capes. I looked at the knife, then at Fred, and then at the bag. And even though I knew Emer would want me to kill him, I couldn’t. He was too pathetic. It was a different time, now. The bag was calling for me. It was telling me to grab it and get out of there. When I grabbed it, I saw the red knotwork and the embroidered eyeballs, and I remembered the gems. All the tiny gems.

  The Jamaican reached the hole. “Who dat?” he said. The dog jiggled and jumped to get free.

  “He’s not dead,” I said, feeling caught and stupid, my one hand moving toward the knife, just in case.

  He smiled and put his hands up. “You nuh need kill me too, mon.”

  “I don’t?”

  “Nah, mon.” The taxi honked again.

  The dog came down to lick my face. He sniffed Fred’s crotch, and then nudged me until I scratched under his ears.

  “You ’gawan. I take care of Fred, yanno.”

  I picked up the bag and shimmied myself sideways, with one eye on Fred’s limp body the whole time.

  “’Gawan,” he said, walking past me, lowering himself into the hole.

  “But …”

  The taxi man yelled something in patois. The Jamaican rummaged around in Fred’s pocket for his overstuffed wallet. He handed me a wad of cash and patted my wrist warmly.

  “’Gawan, now. Go.”

  The dog walked me to the road. I leaned down and gave him a rough cuddle and stole one more glimpse of Billy’s Bay behind me. The beach was empty, the water was calm, and the Jamaican was pacing the hole, holding my dad’s army shovel and looking down at Fred, singing something to himself under his breath.

  As I plonked myself into the taxi’s back seat, I felt a weight like two ton of shot lift off my back. Emer was gone. Three hundred years’ worth of emotion floated into the atmosphere. Three hundred years’ worth of loneliness and hate and fear and anticipation evaporated, and I was left staring at a complete stranger in the rearview mirror. Me.

  The Montego Bay airport was crowded. The line for the ticket counter was about twenty-five minutes long, and I waited with my eyes closed, the shock and fatigue finally catching up with me. I must have looked like an idiot, slouching there with my eyes clamped shut. But I just couldn’t face the string of facts laid out before me. I was leaving Jamaica without my treasure. I was about to arrive in the Hollow Ford trailer park with nothing more than a few moldy capes and a handful of whatever was sewn into them. I was as pitiful as the rest of my family. A failure.

  I paid a hundred dollars (of Fred’s extra cash) to change my ticket, and then, after passing through security, I walked slowly to the gate area and sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair. I stared out the window at the airport workers moving luggage on the tarmac until I realized that I’d have to bum a ride from the Philadelphia airport with whoever in my house was sober enough to drive. I walked back through the concourse to the airport shop and bought a bottle of water and a phone card, and dialed the pay phone that was next to the flickering departures board.

  The trailer park phone rang and rang. After eighteen rings, someone I didn’t know answered sleepily. I asked for Sadie Adams and the guy said something like, “I don’t know any Sadies.” I asked him to go and knock on the trailer for me, and he told me that #34, our trailer, had been burnt out two nights before.

  “Was anyone killed?”

  “All I know is that it was trippy, man. Flames everywhere.”

  As I stood there, trying to retrieve my sister Patricia’s phone number from my memory, I saw a young man watching me from the outdoor smoking area, beyond the security check. He was smiling so warmly, like he knew me, that I looked behind me to see who he was looking at. But I was the only one there. And when I looked back, he was gone.

  When I got ahold of Patricia two panicked minutes later, she told me that Mom and Dad were fine and staying with some friends in a nearby trailer. Then she told me that Junior started the fire. I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, “That figures.”

  When I hung up, I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something. In the same day that I’d broken free from Emer’s three-hundred-year-old grip, I’d been set free from my wretched family, too. I looked at my boarding pass and realized that I’d just bought a ticket to a place where no home was waiting for me. A ticket to nowhere.

  But before I had a chance to change my mind, they started boarding call and my brain muddied up. I should go home to make sure my parents were okay at least, I figured, and then go from there. Anyway, it was only fair. My parents had raised me, hadn’t they? And where else did I have to go? I waited in line, showed my boarding pass, and walked down through the tunnel into the plane. Rather than stow my small, stuffed backpack overhead, I kicked it under the seat in front of me. Something about the air inside the plane made me instantly sleepy, so I adjusted my papery airline pillow, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes.

  “Excuse me,” someone said. “I think you’re in my seat.”

  A sunburned lady in a Hawaiian shirt held her hand up to apologize for waking me.

  I reached in my back pocket for my boarding pass. “Are you sure?” My seat read 12A. She showed me her pass. 12A. I shrugged.

  We summoned a flight attendant, who spoke to the ticketing desk on a walkie-talkie from the crew area. I gazed out the window at the busy airport workers on the tarmac. I looked past the runway to the skyline, and then back to the airport. Before I looked away from the view, I spotted the young man from earlier—looking at me from another gate’s window.

  I squinted. He had wavy dark hair in need of a trim and wore a red T-shirt. His tanned legs stopped at a pair of worn, rugged hiking boots. His eyes seemed sincere, even at a distance. He was staring at me and smiling, just as he had when I was on the phone. He looked familiar, and I tried to figure out where I might have seen him before.

  A bunch of the landing crew came in then, eager to close the door. The flight attendant approached me, shaking her head, seeming troubled. I looked back at the man in the airport window. He was still smiling. And then he raised two fingers and moved them from side to side, like Seanie had all those years ago.

  I felt something in the core of me tighten. I waved back. He smiled and I smiled. He waved again, and I waved again. Our eyes locked.

  I shivered. Every ounce of me knew what I had to do. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know why. I wanted to question and doubt, but no matter how I tried, my three-hundred-year-old nose would not let me complicate something so simple. Why not believe what was right in front of me—rather than look toward the future all the time? Why trade a chance at real happiness for a misery I already knew?

 
; I pulled my backpack onto my lap and stood up. Before the flight attendant could tell me the bad news, I moved to the aisle and told the lady to take seat 12A.

  “It’s okay,” I said. “I’ll take the next flight.”

  Acknowledgments

  I am indebted to many people. My loving family—my parents and sisters and in-laws. My incredible friends who have offered support without judging or questioning my crazy dream. My co-workers and literacy students and neighbors. All of you who have shared positivity with me know who you are. Each kind word has paved this road.

  I am indebted to my tireless and very hip agent, Gary Heidt, who said yes even though he knew I was weird, and to Andrew Karre at Flux, possibly the coolest editor ever. I owe the entire Flux team an enormous thank you for making this book what it is—especially editor Sandy Sullivan, designer Steffani Sawyer, publicist and now-editor Brian Farrey, and Gavin Duffy, who designed the incredible cover.

  I owe much to my writing friends and my writing groups, past and present. Your limitless encouragement and counsel are no doubt how I finally landed here after fifteen years of writing novels. From the Dublin group to Backspace—you all rock. (This means you.)

  Finally, I owe everything to my husband, Topher. From the day I sat down at that cruddy Swedish typewriter to write the first sentence of my first novel, you have done nothing but cheer me on. You are the embodiment of true love. I am so very grateful.

  About the Author

  A. S. King lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and children. Her fiction has appeared in numerous journals and magazines. This is her first young adult novel. Visit her online at www.as-king.com.

 


 

  A. S. King, The Dust of 100 Dogs

 


 

 
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