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       Opal, p.1

         Part #4.50 of The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater
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  For Sarah,

  who gallantly took the Seat Perilous


  Title Page


  Opal: A Raven Cycle Story

  About the Author

  Card Page


  These were the rules. Some visitors could see her, if Ronan said it was all right, and some visitors could not see her, if Ronan told her to make herself scarce, and no visitors were allowed to see her hooves.

  She was not to eat anything that was inside the house unless it was given to her, even if it was something that sounded good while she chewed it, like cardboard boxes or plastic serving utensils, and in particular she was not to eat anything of Adam’s or from Aurora’s bedroom and if she did, she would be punished. She was not supposed to call Ronan Kerah because he had a name and she was perfectly capable of forming any word she liked, unlike Chainsaw, who only had a beak. She was allowed to climb on nearly anything except for the cars because hooves were not good for metal and also her hands were always very grubby. She did not have to take a bath or otherwise wash herself unless she wanted to come in the house, and she could not lie about having washed herself if she wanted to be allowed on a couch because God, Opal, your legs smell like wet dog. She was not allowed to steal. Hiding objects from other people counted as stealing, unless the objects were presents, which you hid but then laughed about later. Dead things were not to be eaten on the porch, which was a hard rule, because living things were also not to be eaten on the porch. She was not to run in the road or try to return to the ley line without someone with her, which was a silly rule, because the ley line felt like a dream and under no circumstance would she willingly return to one of those. She was to only tell the truth because Ronan always told the truth, but she felt this was the most unfair rule of all because Ronan could dream himself a new truth if he liked and she had to stick with the one she was currently living. She was to remember that she was a secret.

  Mostly it was all right, though, and Opal could do what she wanted around the Barns. Her only recent punishment had been because of the UPS man. She had been allowed to run out to greet him as long as she remembered to pretend that her name was my little cousin from Syracuse and also to never forget to wear the clumsy, tall boots Ronan had made her. The UPS man had very bright teeth and grew hair right on top of his face nearly over his mouth, hair that was longer than the hair on Ronan’s head and nearly as long as the hair on Opal’s legs. She had asked him once how she might get hair like that to grow on her own face and he had said “just keep trying,” which she thought was very kind and encouraging of him. She still liked him a lot, but she was no longer allowed to greet him ever since she had crept into the cab of his truck to take the box of dog biscuits under the passenger seat and the photo of his wife taped up by his gearshift. She’d eaten the first in its entirety and had bitten the eyes out of the second.

  “Well, that’s fucked,” Ronan had said, discovering the photograph after the UPS man had gone. “It’s not like we can give it back to him. She’s gone completely feral.”

  “She was never tame,” Adam replied. “Only afraid.”

  Adam did not live at the Barns, much to Opal’s disappointment. He was always kind to her and sometimes would show her how things worked and also she would have liked to sit in the dark room and watch him sleep.

  But instead he came and went according to no schedule that she could discern. When he did sleep at the Barns, it was often during the day, when she felt certain she would be caught spying. She had to content herself with stolen glimpses through cracked doors, slender one-inch views of duvet and sheets piled like thunderheads, Adam and sometimes Ronan pillowed among them.

  Since the weather warmed, Adam’s car sat in the driveway. Unlike Ronan’s car, it rested on blocks instead of wheels, and he spent a lot of time underneath it or folded under its hood. Opal came to understand that Adam’s car was supposed to be more like Ronan’s, but there was something wrong with it called shitbox. Ronan kept offering to dream a cure for shitbox, but Adam was intent on fixing it “the right way.” This seemed to be a long process, so Ronan’s car was often missing, as Adam used it in his mysterious comings and goings. Sometimes Ronan left with Adam, and they didn’t tell Opal when they would be back because they didn’t know, they would be back when they were back, they were just going for a drive, don’t touch anything in the long barn and try for God’s sake to not dig any more holes in the front yard.

  The long barn was not the longest barn in the secret rolling fields that stretched out around the old farmhouse, but it was the longest in relation to its width. It was surrounded by scrubby grass as coarse as the hair that covered Opal’s legs, and also by cows that were always lying down but never being dead. (Sometimes she climbed on their wide, warm backs and pretended she was riding into battle, but they were about as much fun as the rocks that broke the fields up closer to the woods.) This was where Ronan kept all of his current work — which was what he called sleeping when no one was allowed to be near him. Ronan was always telling Opal not to interfere with the contents of the long barn, but there was no danger of her doing so. She could hear that the long barn was full of dreamstuff, and she was afraid of it.

  Dreamstuff always sounded like a dream, which sounded like the ley line, which sounded a little bit like the electrical murmur you would hear under large power lines, which sounded like when you walked into a room and the television had been left on but the sound was turned down. It was also a little like the thrum inside her that she could sort of hear-feel when she was lying quietly in the grass not-sleeping. Dreamstuff could be objects, like those left behind by Ronan’s father in the outbuildings, but it could also be living things, like the deer Ronan had dreamt, or like Opal herself.

  Ronan also sounded a little like dreamstuff, but it was not exactly the same as that of the dream creatures. He had an animalness to him, like Adam and the UPS man and the ladies who came and ate bread at the dining room table while pushing tarot cards around in circles and the man who once drove halfway down the driveway while Adam and Ronan were gone but then backed out and went away. Ronan was the only person Opal had ever known who had both animalness and the dreamstuff-fuzzy-noise. At first she thought this was just because she hadn’t met very many people, but later she realized this was part of the reason why Ronan was also a little bit of a secret. Opal would have thought the sound of his dreamstuff would have tipped people off, but no one except for Opal and Adam seemed to be able to hear it. Adam was all animalness, no dreamstuff, but he seemed nonetheless tuned in to it.

  “I can feel the ley line still,” Adam had explained to the ladies with the bread when they had come over one night. Opal was playing a game called hide-her-hooves and she was winning it by standing in an empty flour crock that was positioned by the kitchen doorway. “I didn’t think I’d be able to, now that I’m not tied to the line anymore.”

  “I was never tied to it,” one of the ladies had replied, “and I’ve always felt it.”

  “But you’re a psychic.”


  Adam had laid out his words as carefully as they’d put down their cards on the table. “Am I?”

  “Of course,” one of the other ladies had said. “Did you think you’d lost everything when Cabeswater died?”

  “Yes,” Adam had whispered, and Opal had felt a rush of love for him. She loved him the best when he was very sad or very serious or very happy. Something about his voice breaking filled her with feeling, and something about the vacancy of his expression when he was thinking hard felt like she was looking at a dream with nothing bad in it, and something about when Ronan made him laugh so hard that he couldn’t stop made her love him so hard that she felt sad because one day he would get old
and die because that was what things with animalness did.

  Sometimes Adam would come with her when she was picking through the barns and sheds, and together they would sort through garden rakes and rusted motors and ancient bags of cow feed. Opal was looking for treasures that were good to eat or good to look at, but Adam was looking for dreamstuff. Opal was at once fascinated and terrified of these hunts. She could not stop herself from poking through piles of junk, knowing she might encounter a dreamthing by accident. When she did, she reared back with a delicious thrill of fear motoring her heart. It was not that these things were dangerous, although sometimes they were — she had found a small, ever-smoldering fire underneath an old tractor in one of the barns, and had discovered the hard way that it was hot enough to burn if you squeezed it very tight. It was that that dreamy humming was too right. Too much like herself, somehow, too truthful, too big. It reminded her of both the dreams she had come from and the nightmares that had nearly killed Ronan. It reminded her of being nearly unmade, black unmaking dribbling from her ears.

  But it called for her. The things in the long barn, especially, where Ronan made new dreamstuff. The humming of these projects called to her more persuasively than any of the things that his father had dreamt. She did not care for this double-edged fear-desire. Most of her wanted nothing to do with dreams, and she resented that other, much smaller part of her, the part that remembered where it came from and seemed to want everything to do with dreams.

  Ronan had told her what he was working on in the long barn. He was making a new dreamplace like Cabeswater, like where she had come from, did she remember? Yes, she remembered the trees, the fearful trees, and she remembered the night horrors, and she remembered the black, bleeding ground.

  “Not like it was at the end,” he had said crossly, as if it had been any better before its dying moments. He had always been dying in his dreams, or getting small pieces cut off him, or being pitted against faceless gunmen. Nuclear bombs exploded in his hands and fish broke through windows to ruin sofas and myriad bodies showed up in myriad driveways. Not all of his dreams were terrible, but that made them collectively worse, not better. Opal was never prepared for when things would go wrong. She just had to be afraid all the time.

  Ronan said, “Oh, don’t make that face, runt. I’m not going to make you live there. Anyway, you might like it.”

  She would not like it. She was not going to go there.

  Ronan and Adam spent more time than she liked discussing this new Cabeswater. It was hard to be a dreamer without it, it seemed, because the old Cabeswater had focused Ronan’s dreams and had improved the control and power of the ley line, making sure that he dreamt what he meant to dream instead of something he called pointless nighttime navel-gazing. The ley line was the part that Adam was most interested in, causing him to use words that had edges to them like conduits and efficiency and analogs. Ronan was more interested in making it rain. He was very concerned with the concept of having an area in the new Cabeswater where it would always have that sort of rain that makes you feel happy and sad at the same time and also he was interested in having an area that did not suck. He seemed to regard this as his primary job, to dream of not sucking. Even though Opal thought Ronan was good at dreaming — after all, he had dreamt her, and she was excellent — he complained a lot about this.

  “I can’t hold it all in my head at the same time,” he’d said once. “What I want it to be. I can’t make a new one without the old one to help me focus. What’s the phrase for that?”

  “Self-defeating,” Adam had replied.

  “Fuck you. Catch-22. That’s what I meant.”

  “You dreamt the first Cabeswater without a Cabeswater.”

  “I just need it to not suck.”

  “I feel like there are more useful parameters. Like the amount of dream charge it could focus for you versus the amount of attention it draws.”

  “Good thought, Parrish. We need to dream you a new car, after all.”

  Opal, eavesdropping, had not quite followed the gist of the conversation — she was still better in the old dream language that waking Ronan never spoke — but she could tell that Adam liked it when Ronan talked like this. Sometimes they would stop talking and instead begin kissing, and Opal would eavesdrop on this as well. Her capacity for voyeurism was boundless and incorrigible. They were always coming together in surprising moments, going from easygoing to urgent in the space of a few breaths. She watched them kiss messily in the car in the driveway and she watched them tangle around each other in the laundry room and she watched Adam unbuckle Ronan’s belt and slide his hand against skin. With intellectual curiosity, she watched ribs and hips and arms and legs and spines. She had no lust, because Ronan hadn’t dreamt any for her, but she also had no shame, because Ronan hadn’t dreamt any of that for her, either.

  The only thing that had ever made her blink away was when Adam had once encountered Ronan in the second-floor hallway. Ronan had been standing outside of his parents’ old room, one hand holding a cassette tape and the other clenched into a fist, and he’d been there for quite a few minutes by the time Adam climbed the stairs. Adam had taken the cassette from Ronan’s hand, working Ronan’s fingers loose and putting his own fingers between them. For a moment Opal, hidden, had thought they were going to kiss. But instead, Ronan pressed his face against Adam’s neck and Adam quietly put his head on top of Ronan’s head and they did not move for a long time. Something about this made Opal burn so furiously that she could not stand to look a second longer. She left them there with a clatter so they would know she had been watching. Then she went out to rummage in the woods.

  She had been doing this more and more since she had been taken from dreams. She thought of these roaming days as animal days. Animal days in an animal world. Unlike a dream, the animal world was strict. She liked this. The animal world had narrow rules, and once you learned those rules, it was much less surprising than a dream, which could change itself at any time. In the animal world, people could not suddenly fly. Faces did not move around to the back of skulls without warning. The fields around the Barns never shifted into an unfamiliar prairie or shopping mall before you could get to the driveway. Cars never turned into bicycles. Rainbows never fell out of cereal boxes and lava never poured from water taps. Dead things never became alive. Time marched in a boring and pleasant straight line. These were the rules that kept the animal world small and manageable.

  This should have made the animal world more boring, but instead, it made her feel braver inside it. She ranged farther and farther from the farmhouse each week. She did not always go back when the sun went down. Instead she dug herself holes in fields and lay in them or made herself nests of stolen lawn furniture cushions. In this way she continuously expanded her territory without losing her way, sometimes making it to the far edge of the woods where there was a place that smelled like gasoline. She liked this place a lot. She liked to watch what people did when they did not think they were being watched. Sometimes they hit the 93 premium button and watched the 93 premium count numbers on a screen. Sometimes they wiped down their windshields with a scented liquid that she wanted to drink. Sometimes they sat in their cars and cried softly. She liked this best of all, because it was rare, and she found she liked rare things the most.

  Sometimes late at night when she risked stealing a drink out of the windshield-washing bins, a person would come to the door of the building and shout “What, what is that?” and she would have to scamper away behind the building, creeping and capering around the trash bins. On nights like these, she ran all the way back to the Barns with her heartbeat cluttered inside her because she was supposed to be secret and she was a little less secret than she’d been just a little while before.

  Being spotted in such a way also reminded her that she broke the rules of this animal world. Outside of a dream, there were not girls with furry legs and hooves (although she thought there should have been, since both were very practical in the underbrush)
. Because of this, she was secret, and would forever have to be secret.

  She sulked about this. She tore up a stack of vintage car magazines in the sitting room and sat in the ruins of them and when Ronan came home and demanded what the hell is wrong with you like seriously, she told him that she was bored of being secret.

  He said, “Aren’t we all!” Then he made her clean up all the damp, gummed paper, and then he made her wipe down the floor because some of the printing had transferred to the wood because of her spit, and then he made her take out the trash plus the kitchen trash without even letting her dig through it first. When she finally was done and angry instead of bored, he said, “I know you’re bored. When I dream the new Cabeswater, it’s going to be a way bigger and cooler place for you to play in. It’s not going to be like just sticking around here.”

  Opal’s heart frogged up her throat and escaped to the hallway. She shook her head and then shook it some more and then, because he didn’t say anything, shook it some more.

  “You might change your mind,” Ronan said.

  She shook her head even more.

  “You know, your head’s going to fall right off and it’ll be only your fault.”

  This made Opal’s heart run even farther away before she remembered that in animal world rules, her head could not fall right off.

  “It’s only going to get more boring. We’re not always going to be around, especially by the end of the year,” Ronan added. “Don’t just stare at me. You know what, go outside and dig a hole or something. And stay out of the long barn.”

  She was not going into the long barn. And she was not going to change her mind. And it was not always boring at the Barns.

  In fact, there was one day where it was very not boring.

  Ronan and Adam were both gone in Ronan’s car, and a lady who Opal had not seen before came to the house. She was dark-haired and pale-skinned with furious light blue eyes that Opal at first thought were all white except for the pupil. Ronan was not there to tell Opal it was all right for this visitor to see her, so Opal hid herself and watched the lady stalk through the mist to the back door. The lady tried the doorknob and the doorknob shook its head no, but then she opened her purse and did something else to the doorknob and the door said yes and opened for her.

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