A tangle of gold, p.11
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       A Tangle of Gold, p.11

           Jaclyn Moriarty
 

  They were going to hear every word.

  Well, this was surreal but she’d just have to go ahead. She shuffled her thoughts.

  ‘First, I want to say how sorry I am about Elliot,’ she began. ‘He was a friend. I cared about him. I’m so sorry.’

  Elliot’s mother blinked.

  ‘Thank you,’ she said, after a moment.

  ‘But I came here to tell you something I told Elliot the day that he died. I think you deserve to know it too. It’s about Elliot’s dad.’

  ‘Elliot’s dad?’ Petra’s voice was like a pounce. From behind the door someone whispered, ‘What did she say?’ and someone else responded, ‘She wants to talk about Abel,’ and then, ‘I know, but what did Petra say?’ and ‘She didn’t say anything, she just kind of exclaimed.’

  ‘This is difficult to talk about,’ Keira said, with a meaningful glance at the sliding doors, but Petra remained where she was, and the chorus next door started up again: ‘She said it’s difficult to talk about’, ‘Well, why’s she talking about it then?’, ‘Shut up, I can’t hear what Petra said’, ‘I don’t think she’s answered yet’, and so on.

  ‘What do you know about Abel?’ Petra said.

  ‘I know he’s been missing for a long time,’ Keira said.

  The room next door was utterly silent.

  ‘I know his brother was killed the night he disappeared.’

  More silence.

  ‘And I know . . . I’m sorry, but I know that Abel was also killed that night.’

  Petra’s voice was as careful as bare feet negotiating broken glass. ‘How do you know this, Keira?’

  Nothing was funny now.

  ‘My mother is a Hostile. She’s the person who killed them.’

  The silence through the door drew itself in like a mighty breath and burst forth in a muffled outcry.

  Petra stayed quiet.

  The sliding doors were thrown open. Faces pressed in on them.

  ‘You should tell her.’ The tattooed girl was speaking. She narrowed her eyes at Keira.

  ‘Cut it out, Shelby,’ several voices said in several different ways.

  ‘No.’ Shelby shook her head hard. She threw a sneer at Keira. ‘I want her to know. She’s on the run anyway, so who’s she going to tell? Aside from other fugitives or whatever, and then who are they going to tell?’

  Other voices spoke in a clamour. ‘You make no sense.’

  ‘Would you quit talking, Shelby?’

  ‘She’s a Hostile.’

  ‘No, I’m not.’ Keira half-stood. ‘My mother’s a Hostile, but I’m me. She’s in prison now.’ She turned back to Petra. ‘I’m so sorry. I’ll get out of here now.’

  She took a step away, but Petra reached up, touching her wrist.

  ‘Wait a moment,’ she said in a voice that was sad, but that also held another, unexpected note. Was she amused? ‘I think that we should tell you.’

  ‘Ha!’ shouted the tattooed girl, and again she was ordered to hush.

  5

  They made a festival of ‘telling her’.

  Keira was unbelievably tired. Now that she’d done her own telling, all she wanted to do was get out of the Kingdom. Or lie down. It was midday too, which was the time each day when her adjustment to day-dwelling faltered.

  But they were all wanting promises of silence from her (sure, why not?), and explanations for what she planned to do next (none of their business?), and people kept bringing out more food from the kitchen and eating it, as if ‘telling her’ was hungry work.

  At last, Petra spoke. Her voice was low and even.

  ‘Elliot’s alive,’ she said. ‘So is his dad.’

  Keira studied her. She gazed around the room, pausing on every face.

  Oh, come on. She bit her lower lip hard, to stop herself from sighing. Now she had to deal with this? She got it, sure. Neither Elliot nor Abel’s bodies had ever been recovered, so denial was their go-to coping mechanism. But all of them? Couldn’t some of them have turned to drugs or sex? Or obsessive viewing of old home-movies of Elliot and Abel? Just to mix things up a little?

  ‘They’re in the World,’ Petra added.

  Well, that was an inspired twist, anyway.

  Now the others joined in, talking at once, telling Keira a story about how, when Elliot fell into the ravine, he actually fell through a crack into the World, and how Abel had fallen through the exact same crack way back, and now they were happy and safe in the World.

  Ingenious.

  ‘And you know this how?’ Keira asked carefully, once they’d stopped talking and had settled down to eating again.

  ‘A letter. You know there’s a crack in the high school grounds here?’

  Keira nodded.

  ‘A letter came through it.’

  ‘But the W.S.U. would have sealed up that crack when they came for Elliot,’ Keira explained gently. She should probably take care not to shatter their delusions too fast.

  ‘Someone show her the letter,’ the blonde girl said. ‘It got through just in time,’ she told Keira. ‘A day later the W.S.U. came through with detectors and sealed the crack.’

  A folded paper was handed to Keira.

  The Sheriff spoke. ‘As a matter of fact, we’re all here today figuring how to get our boys home. The crack being sealed and all, we’ll need a detector, so as to find it, and then we’ll have to figure how to open it. Might seem impossible but we’re not the quitting types.’

  ‘Not impossible.’ Keira unfolded the letter. ‘I can see cracks. I can unseal them.’

  Here was the silence again, but Keira was reading. The letter was straightforward. It said all the things they’d just told her. She frowned.

  ‘This was written by Elliot’s dad?’ she said to Petra. ‘I mean, you recognise the handwriting?’

  ‘You bet,’ Petra said. ‘But did you just say you can see cracks and unseal them? You’re surely kidding us?’

  Keira didn’t answer. She was rereading the letter. Something weird was happening. Warmth in her shoulderblades. Her heartbeat so loud it felt visible. She grasped her left wrist with her right, then dug in her fingernails.

  You don’t cure people’s delusions by buying into them.

  But she was searing with hope. Elliot could be alive? Elliot’s father, too?

  The others were arguing about whether it was possible to see cracks or not. Keira looked up.

  ‘For most people it’s not,’ she said. ‘But night-dwellers have great vision, right? So, mine was in the top percentile, then Princess Ko had me doing exercises to refine it. They worked. That’s how we found the cracks and unsealed them to start getting the Royals back.’

  There was an outburst from Petra. ‘But if you can do that, we can get through to Abel and Elliot! We can bring them home!’

  Keira tried to lift her voice above the turmoil. ‘I can open the schoolyard crack for you,’ she agreed, ‘but you can only use it to send letters, not get them back across. It’s too small for people. Still . . .’ She was trying to think. ‘Still, we could get a message to them, to come to one of the people-moving cracks. If we could deal with the guards somehow, and figure out how to keep Elliot safe . . .’

  The noise level in the room was almost Jagged-Edgian.

  This was insane. It couldn’t be true.

  But she’d got herself deep inside the labyrinth now and no way she was switching off the power. She had to play along: What if it were true?

  That tall boy was moving close to her. He’s like a thin tree without leaves, she decided. A Mauve attack would bend him to the ground. He’d need to be propped up with a stake.

  She was finding herself funny again.

  The tall boy was speaking. ‘You’re a motocross champion,’ he said.

  ‘I read that somewhere.’ He pointed to the window and Keira’s motorbike outside. ‘That’s why the bike.’

  They both looked out at her bike, and tree-boy spoke again. ‘I’m thinking this news is cause for celebration.
His voice was slow and reasonable. ‘And what I’m thinking is, the best way to do that celebrating, is let me take a spin on that there bike.’

  Keira laughed. ‘Not a chance,’ she said. A Farms boy on her bike. Now that was funny.

  6

  Much later, after hours of talking and planning, they settled on the message they would send. It was straightforward: This is a message for Madeleine Tully. Are Abel and Elliot Baranski there with you? If so, we want to bring them back to Cello. Meet us here Monday, midnight, to discuss. Keira.

  The Sheriff drove Keira to Bonfire High School. It was past midnight, and the air was warm and still. It took her a few minutes to find the crack, then another quarter hour to unravel it—it had been tightly knotted by the W.S.U. She posted the message.

  The Sheriff remained silent beside her the whole time, only yawning now and then, and adjusting the angle of the flashlight when she asked him. Now he stared at the air where the notepaper had just disappeared. ‘Done?’ he said. She nodded. Abruptly, he spun around and headed for his car. She walked behind him. Must be annoyed with her for taking so long, she guessed. Well, it was a high-risk thing, communicating with the World, especially for a Sheriff. He got into the driver’s seat, waited while she pulled her passenger door shut, then he broke into a low stream of curse words. So she was right. The cursing went on a while. She waited. Then he swung a giant smile her way and, ‘Holy heck,’ he said. ‘You could see that crack? You unravelled that crack? You sent a message to the World! To Abel and Elliot? You’re better than a maple-candy chocolate cheesecake with a cherry-walnut strudel for dessert!’ He turned the key in the ignition. ‘Apologies for the language just now,’ he added, ‘but you being from Jagged Edge, I reckon you’ve heard plenty worse.’

  Keira thought about it. ‘True,’ she said.

  A couple of days later, she went back to the schoolyard with the Sheriff, and had a conversation with Madeleine. The girl was infuriating. But they set up the transfer and two days later, she helped to bring Abel and Elliot back home from the World.

  7

  Keira took a deep breath of the night. It wound itself around her like a slinking cat.

  It was past midnight and the others were still partying in there. Someone had said mint should be added to a particular cocktail, and someone else had said, well, just scoot on out and get some, which Keira had found weird. Downtown was a twenty-minute drive from the farmhouse, not exactly a scoot, and what, the grocery store would still be open at this hour? In this province?

  Turned out that mint could grow in gardens. Who knew. Well, she must have known. In some part of her mind, she’d probably known, only she’d never had reason to visit that part.

  She herself had offered to pick the mint. As soon as she’d stepped onto the porch she’d remembered she had no clue how you ‘picked’. Well, other than in the sense of choosing. She was fine with that. But what did mint look like in person? She’d only ever had it as a flavour, which was more like correspondence with mint. Ha ha. So would it grow on a tree or bush or vine or what? Then, if she did find it, how much did she take, like, all of it or what? Would she damage the entire farm somehow if she ‘picked’ the mint in the wrong way? And so on with the questions.

  She was thwarted.

  So she stood on the porch and breathed in the night. Heck, that feels good, she thought, speaking Farms because sure as hokey-pokey, did it ever. Feel good. The rich black curve of night, the wicked glow of moon and stars. The menace. She closed her eyes and heard darting rattles, distant snaps, a low buzz. It wasn’t home, there was no music (no proper music anyway), no stadiums or dance arcades or traffic but, in its soul, this was the night.

  *

  She’d been in Bonfire a week now, hiding out in the Baranski farmhouse. So she’d sorted out the people. That group she’d encountered her first day. They’d been getting together to ‘plan’ all week, and tonight they were here to celebrate.

  Five adults, four teenagers.

  She ran through the adults.

  The Sheriff. He did a lot of talking.

  The Deputy. A younger guy, named Jimmy. He hardly spoke at all.

  Two men in suits. They were a surprise. Central Intelligence agents named Tovey and Kim. They’d sort of slipped out of their official posts: gone renegade, they liked to say. It made them chuckle. They were from Jagged Edge, so she felt drawn to them, and they often smiled her way as if they felt it too. A sort of Edgian secret connection. Agent Kim was always sketching in a notebook.

  And finally, Elliot’s mother. Petra. She seemed to spend her time at the greenhouse or ‘heading out’ in a truck, going who-knows-where. Something to do with ‘farming’, no doubt. When Petra was at home, she was friendly with Keira, although mostly her friendliness took the form of asking Keira to help her ‘string beans’.

  Then there were the teenagers. They were trickier.

  The girl with the braid and tattoos was Shelby. As far as Keira could tell, Shelby was all about muscle. And she had this unnerving habit of staring hard at Keira, suddenly throwing her a sneer like a high-speed dodgeball, then reverting to the long, blank stare.

  The blonde was Nikki. She was strong too, but her features were finer. Her skin was perfect and, as far as Keira could tell, that was real. Like, no makeup. Unless she excelled at application.

  Nikki didn’t stare or sneer. She ignored Keira absolutely, as if she’d forgotten her existence.

  The tall boy was Gabe. When you squinted way up into the distance, you could see his face, and then you noticed that his ears stuck out and his nose was too long. So you looked back down.

  The short boy with the mad curls was Cody. Turned out she’d been wrong about his facial disease. He was an ‘artist’, apparently, and liked to work with various media. Plaster, gel and glue were always stuck in clumps to his hair and skin. When he remembered to wash, his face was fine.

  The two boys didn’t take much notice of Keira, although they were polite. They offered her drinks and passed her cakes and pastries. It was more a theoretical polite.

  That was it. Those were her ‘buddies’ in Bonfire.

  Except that now there was an extra.

  *

  Keira rested her elbows on the porch railings, opened her eyes then closed them again, letting in more of the night.

  The extra was Abel Baranski.

  Elliot was in hiding with a Hostile branch, but Abel was here, in this very house. He was smaller and more bedraggled than she’d expected, but alive, and that felt so good she kept reaching for it, like reaching for a glass of liqueur. Elliot’s father is alive. My mother never killed him. It rushed through her, intoxicating.

  The glass would empty soon, she knew that. She’d grow indifferent to the fact. She’d remember that her mother had killed plenty of other people. Including Abel’s own brother, actually. She’d remember that her mother was in prison, and that she herself was ‘wanted’, friendless, no place to go.

  But for now, those were some sweet sips of relief.

  The front door opened. A figure moved right by her. She opened her eyes. It was the tall one. Gabe. He ran down the steps. She watched him bend, pluck at something, then stand again, his hands filled with green leaves. Unsettling. Tall boy gathers leaves. He paused in the darkness down there. ‘Abel wants everyone to come inside so we can talk about what to do next,’ he said.

  He was looking right at her, glint of eyes.

  ‘Okay.’

  Now he ran up the stairs—or stepped, it was just his leg span that made it seem like a run—and into the house. The door swung closed. A scent spilled from behind him.

  Ah, so that was mint.

  8

  Three days later, 9 am, Keira walked through the gates of Bonfire High School.

  She was dressed in Farms jeans and plaid shirt.

  She had enrolled in the school for a term. Her name was Sophy Epstein. She was a cousin of the tall boy, Gabe. She was staying on his farm.

  So al
l of that was unexpected.

  *

  The plan had been made at the party, after she came in from the porch. The gang would hide Keira in plain sight; in return, she’d make sure that Elliot stayed safe with her Hostile friends. There was talk about why she couldn’t just hide with the Hostiles herself, but she said, ‘If I did, they’d expect me to do Hostile work for them.’

  Meantime, Abel and the other adults would figure out how both Keira and Elliot could live freely. The adults were hazy about this, but also wildly optimistic—which might have been the cocktails they were drinking. Or the mint. Hallucinogenic properties, Keira guessed, when used direct from the soil like that. It surely wasn’t healthy.

  Gabe had been chosen as Keira’s ‘cousin’ because his parents were away, and because everyone knew that, a generation back, a branch of his family had moved to Jagged Edge.

  ‘People like to say they went to seed out there,’ Shelby had informed Keira. ‘So you’ll confirm it for them. They’ll like that. People like to be proved right.’

  Well, in Keira’s view, the entire plan was flimsy as a hologram, and she still couldn’t figure out how they’d persuaded her that this was better than finding herself a new Kingdom—but she wasn’t keen on being proved right.

  Now she walked beside Gabe into the school and felt small. That was his fault. Being so tall. She tried to straighten her back and walk on the tips of her toes. She knew he was just strolling, but those long legs of his, she had to run a few steps now and then to keep up.

  She’d never been to a school in her life—they used home-based education modules and virtual classrooms in J.E.—but she’d seen schools in films. It was surreal how accurate those films had been. She’d always thought there must be an element of parody but, no, here were the kids, swarming through the gates, calling to each other, laughing and shoving at each other, some hunched alone, some hoisting musical instruments, a couple making out, a teacher snapping fingers at the couple so they drew apart and giggled. And so on.

 
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