Guide A Strong and Sudden Thaw

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This is her first published novel. Combining a realistic story of small-town struggles, prejudices, and affections against a larger tale of endless winter and hungry dragons, R. Day offers readers a heartwarming work of speculative fiction that combines the persecuted love of "Brokeback Mountain" with the charming romance of "Big Eden. An impressive debut novel. Day has created an incredibly detailed and believable world, filled with both sympathetic and loathsome characters. Convert currency.

Add to Basket. Book Description Iris Print, Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory P More information about this seller Contact this seller. Ships with Tracking Number! Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory n. Items related to A Strong and Sudden Thaw. A Strong and Sudden Thaw. Mam is always busy. From the moment she rises up till she goes down at night, her hands are moving; cooking, sewing, knitting, spinning, cleaning. But tonight she was just sitting. And the girls was nowhere to be seen, though it was just past supper and they ought to be at the table doing their lessons.

Sit down. Now you sit yourself down right now. I kept my mouth shut, but her sympathy was making my stomach clench. Nor corrupt, neither! In the eyes of the law, I was still a child, and corruption of a child, that would get the death penalty. That healer that was here a while back. He sent me cocoa. With another man. All he has to do is look down. It goes against the Scripture and the law!

Mostly she was like a squall storm: quick to rise, quick to die down. This time, something I said had dug deep. It was better than the pain of remembering what had happened. The barn was warmer than the outside by a long ways. Jerzy was back in his lean-to, and I was glad of it, not wanting to make talk with him. Not now. I settled against a pile of feed bags and pulled a worn horse blanket around my shoulders.

It took Callan to show me that books could be more than that. He opened up a world to me where educated folk talked about ideas and dreams. And he showed me, through no intention nor fault of his own, some truths about myself as well. I made myself say that in my mind, to name it as a truth. The barn door creaked open and I looked up to see Ruby standing with a big mess of quilts in her arms. Woke Almond and made her cry. Did he kill a man? It was better that she have it from me. I shook my head. Where would they get their babies? Mister Zack and his wife never had none, and they was married for upwards of ten years till she died.

Say goodnight to your brother now. Pa held the door open for her and watched her run back to the cabin. Then he closed the door, set the lamp on a stand, and came over to set on a bench nearby. The sheep made gentle bleating noises as he walked by, greeting him. He was holed up in the ruins of the foundry. I know a thing or two about you. Makes me long for a nip of whiskey. You make me proud most times, son. Even in the dim light, he must have sensed my question.

Pa was waiting for an answer. I know. A lone stool stood a few feet away, and on the table was a book of laws and a Bible. The law is an ass, as a wise man once said. It only remained to be seen if I had it in me to do it. Mayor Casteel greeted everybody like he was hosting a campaign shindig, pumping hands and clapping backs. Healer Findlay spoke up. Elmer, put your hand on the Bible and swear your oath. I snuck a look around the corner into the room.

I cleared my throat. Sitting here like this was too much akin to school recitations to be of comfort. But his eyes were still bright and blue and he looked glad to see me despite it all. Eye glasses was rare and expensive. Most folk who were short-sighted just did without, but not Master Burke, who had money and wanted folks to know it. Callan was looking paler by the minute, and I wished Healer Findlay or someone who cared for him could go to his side. Finally Burke put down the paper and asked me if I understood the charges and I realized they were doing this because I was a child.

I understand. I meant what happened in town. Just the part that relates to the charges. I could feel sweat trickling down my back as though it was July. While we was talking, Taylor Mills come in and wanted something, I assumed he was in need of healing. And I know everybody else up there but you, sir, so would you mind giving me your name? Please continue. He stayed outside while I went in. But I kept my mouth closed tight.

And loyal. Son, we talked about this. You got to say what you saw. Callan was free. Those jail cells are awful cold this time of year. But I had no fear of that. There would be no Circuit Judge nor any trial. Day possibility that I could overhear. They got no evidence. To hear Elmer tell it, he witnessed such acts of unspeakable perversion as to strike him dumb. Nobody trusted Elmer.

I took him blankets and his own coat. In the coat room.

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It was more like a passageway, really, starting in the old school kitchen and running along the side wall to the front of the classroom. It was dank and musty and smelled of sweat left behind by over a hundred years of children, but A Strong and Sudden Thaw 87 it opened out near enough to the front that I should be able to hear anything said by the men at the table. Brock, your boy is clearly covering up for his friend.

I say we vote now. How about a lesser charge, then? Indecent exposure or something. Henslow said in a slow voice. Day They all got quiet then. Really, Mills could hardly have been sodomizing himself. You did as much as any friend could expect. More, really. I saw that Callan and Taylor Mills had already been brought back in, and they were standing side by side in front of the table. I was thinking furiously, four to one? It had been three to two when I left the coat closet. Who had changed their mind so quickly?

I glanced over at Pa, and he looked back at me, and I knew it must have been him, unable to cast his vote from anything other than the obvious truth. And a cash surety of ten dollars gold. The hearing was all a sham, then; a story with the ending already written? I pushed my way through the school desks to Callan. I expect that includes you. Must be a teacher thing. Callan smiled at me, a shadow of his real smile, but more than enough to warm me. I was mighty proud of my Pa. Might just hold spreading lies and vicious rumors about my son against a person.

Even the wind had stopped battering at the windows. Are they, Mister Hennessy? Not without my story. And you as well. You can go on ahead. The evidence seemed pretty damn convincing. Not by you, certainly not by Hennessy. Everybody seemed to treat him like he was something special. A goddamn bureaucrat. The judge will expect you to testify. It took the Circuit Judge just two more days to make the journey from Richmond. That came close to being the longest day of my life.

A Strong and Sudden Thaw 93 School was out of session that day because of the Grand Jury hearing, and the next day Mam kept the young ones home for fear the rain would ripen into snow and strand them in town. So I listened to Delia recite her lessons and did chores and played checkers with Benny C, and did anything I could to keep my mind occupied and away from thoughts of Callan and the trial.

And that was Wednesday.

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But the curtains was drawn and the door remained shut tight, though I stayed till the rain had soaked me down to my long woolen underwear. I did business for Mam while in town, speaking to some of the women who took in her wool for spinning, and visiting Perkin Weaver in his workshop, where I spent a long dry hour listening to him go on about the new patterns he was trying and the lichen dyes he thought he could use to get new colors.

I passed the General, where I saw through the window that Elmer Casteel was selling his milk again, and almost, almost I went through that door, but I knew that would end badly, with more broken bottles and maybe broken bones, and me in the cell opposite Taylor Mills. So I pulled my sodden coat around me, and went to wait at the school till I could walk my siblings home. The judge and his people had come, and the trial was set for nine the next morning.

By noon, it should all be over.

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The Circuit Court of the Town of Moline is now in session. The Honorable Judge Prescott Wilder presiding. All rise for His Honor, the judge! We tended to get the same judges again and again for the summer circuit, but this one was a stranger, a black man with a stern face and gravelly voice that sent chills down my spine when I was introduced to him as witness. Well, we would see. Every chair and bench in the town must have been brung in for the spectacle, with rows packed full of people all wrapped in their warmest, for despite the old stove going at full blast and the crush of the crowd, it was powerful cold and the rain was still falling.

Oh, and he asked me to make sure you were all right, and to give you this. The judge put down his papers and rapped his gavel sharply twice, bringing the hall to order. Callan walked beside him, head held straight ahead, looking neither to the left nor to the right. He seemed thinner, and the hair was the faded wheat of autumn now, not bright summer, though I was grateful to see the bruises on his face had faded. But he, along with Taylor Mills, was shackled. I started out of my seat, blood boiling at the sight of it, only to be pulled down by Healer Findlay.

But perhaps that was deliberate, to be more pleasing to the judge. I will have order in this courtroom, or the room will be cleared. He was empty, resigned. What in the name of warmth was Callan doing? I tried to catch his eye again, shaking my head, doing everything I could to silently communicate that he should sit down and let me do what I had to do.

It was all right. There was two more witnesses: Taylor Mills and Callan. But Taylor Mills had heard it, and his face went to stone. Judge Wilder turned to Taylor Mills. You are excused. The perpetrators constitute a potential threat to the children of Moline by act and example.

Any relation to Roland Findlay? He is without doubt the most gifted healer I have ever seen. His knowledge rivals that of the old time doctors, and he has a touch with patients that cannot be taught. In Richmond we have books which prove that the medical professionals of Before, who had far greater knowledge and wisdom than any small town healer, viewed homosexual behavior as a mental illness.

They must be punished for their crime to the fullest extent of the law so that the people of this community are protected. Day over the crowd. But Pa stepped forward. The Grand Jury voted to indict at his insistence. From thence you will be driven from this town with only the clothes on your back to make your way in the world as best you may. And may God have mercy on your souls. Then Callan stood up and came away from Taylor, looked over to Healer Findlay, and nodded.

She propelled me towards him, not that I needed much encouragement, as it was all I had been able to do to keep from going to him long before. Can you? Consider it a bonus—God knows you deserve one. I had it all worked out. I want you to run and fetch it, and when this is all done and R. Can you understand that? I could understand loving like that, where nothing mattered but the welfare of the one you loved. But this, this sentence! Are you People survive worse than this all the time. I wanted to be worthy of his trust.

I stared at him, not knowing how to say goodbye. He looked back just once, smiling slightly, then disappeared through the door. A Strong and Sudden Thaw Whether by accident or a-purpose, Healer Findlay had left her house unlocked and I found the parcel without trouble. I wandered around the streets of town, knowing that Pa was somewhere, probably looking for me. Most folks were at home, probably having an early lunch so they could come out and view the spectacle.

Only certain men were drawn to that. Like Taylor Mills.

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Or Callan. Or me. It was too cold to loiter in the streets like a summer layabout, so I ended up back at the empty school on one of the benches, taking the book from my pocket. Crime and Punishment. Moline was too small for a proper town hall, so the school served that purpose, and the schoolyard doubled as the place of punishment, save for the rare occasion when there was a hanging to be done. Then it was a tree along the creek that served, for to have a hanging tree in a schoolyard would be a chancy thing.

Among that was two upright metal poles capped with a ring. Grandmam said they was for a game played with a rubber ball on a rope hung from the ring, but in our day, they was used for a darker purpose. I knew what would happen. I hoped not his face. Oh, dear God, not his face. I closed the book. That was what happened in the romance stories—the hero saved the girl from the villain. But I was no hero, R. Day nor Callan anything like those pale helpless heroines. They was just doing their jobs, doing right as they saw it, same as me.

Healer Findlay stuck her head in the schoolhouse door, bringing an icy gust of wind with her. Not unless someone takes him supplies and warm clothes. I searched out the crowd, found Pa standing to the back with the Digger, sharing a pipe. But one of the ways Digger got paid was in the leftover tobacco of those he laid to rest, so he usually had some stowed away. I suppose it was because I was a witness in all this, but people moved out of the way for me, leaving me a place down near the front where I could see real well.

If there was any mercy to be found in this. No scars nor burns nor any of the other marks that befall most of us who grow up in farm country. He was perfect and smooth and beautiful. Healer Findlay went around to face him and she put something in his mouth— probably a leather strap, I thought. It was a stink I would never forget, even if I should live as long as Grandmam.

Healer Findlay was having some sort of row with the Judge. Judge Wilder looked displeased, but he nodded, and it began. It was all changed. Callan bit back a sob. I thought about the sound of his screams and the iron scent of blood on the snow, and I cried, silently, so as not to disturb his rest. Besides, I think we was a little ashamed, sending a man to his death in such a way. And kinder.

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Mills had taken the parcel without hesitation. Kind of makes me wonder whether you two had this planned all along. So fucking noble. Give me a fucking break. It was dark by the time I got back home, but nobody made nothing of it; Mam just set a plate of food down for me without a word, and I slid back into the patterns of my life. School was still in session for another week, though the days was shortened up on account of the weather. I walked Benny C and Ruby and Delia down each day then came straight back up the hill, then Pa fetched them home.

If he breaks parole, the full sentence will be reinstated, and Come the second week in November, a hard rain blew in from down south, and it brought behind it a warm front that melted the icicles and turned the frozen ground to mud. Early morning on the second warm day, I asked Mam if I could go over to the Ridges for the day, just to get shut of the house. Take a satchel and collect some tree-lichen if you happen on it. Perkin has a bee in his bonnet about trying for a better purple on the next batch of wool.

The Ridges are to the southwest of our land; they stand between us and the old Western Highway, the road that Taylor Mills had taken when he was forced out of town. A coughing-like sound, and human for sure. As I peered through the dead branches of a beech tree, I saw a slender man sitting on a rock, wheat-gold head buried in his hands. My heart clenched.

It was Callan. And he was crying. I cleared my throat and stepped into the clearing. He looked up, and for a moment I caught his eyes unguarded, and it was the strangest thing, like words in the air between us. Then the mask came up and he stood so that we was facing each other on opposite ends of the clearing. I should go. What are you doing up here? And gathering lichens for dyes. Day Callan relaxed a bit, sitting back down on the rock, but I kept my distance.

What would have been familiar and a comfort but three weeks ago was now awkward and passing strange. So I held my breath and moved closer, looking past the boots and trouser-clad legs to the body and face. Three weeks of weather and worse, and Callan had loved him. I clambered back out of the ravine. Trust me. Remember him like you seen him last. He thrust his hands, wearing my gloves, I noted, into his pocket of his greatcoat. And I denied it, so he called me a liar and hit me.

It had never happened before, and he was quite sorry. Fighting is normal.

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Callan smiled. Should we hide or something? That would have been better all ways round. If you was to gather some large rocks and chuck them down the ravine, I could pile them over him. Yes, that would work. But let me come down and help. It takes a powerful lot of rocks to cover a man, but in the end, where Taylor Mills had been was a grey mound of granite stones that should allow him to rest in peace.

More peace than Callan had, I thought. Callan stretched his arms out. We ate for a while in comfortable silence, then he picked up his own bag. Thank you for helping with Taylor. We can have today, and just forget about the whole damn mess. I was the stronger, but he was the quicker, diving to the ground to stop my ball from reaching his goal, using his long legs to advantage as we ran, his lithe body slipping easily through the trees. And because I forgot who I was and what I was, I neglected to mark the passing of time and the subtle signs of shifting winds that Pa had drilled into me since I was old enough to be out by myself.

Callan had collapsed on the ground, and he must have felt it as I did, because when he looked up, the boy was gone, and it was the man who was looking up at me. It must have been much like my own home long ago, but where our place had been cared for and repaired and lived in, this one was left to rot after the Ice.

The sun had vanished by the time we came upon the cabin. Just the rest of the cheese. Callan stood up and went to stand near the door, looking out at the night. Then in a quiet, hesitating voice, he continued. Before I could even think what to say, Callan pressed on, as though driven to say what was in him all in a haste or not at all.

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  • I mean, was it all of a sudden, or did it come on you gradual-like? So it was gradual, I guess. I just looked at you that day on the trapline and I knew that I wanted Day to where he lay still on his back, looking stunned as a deer trapped by a lantern, and kissed him, awkwardly, on the lips. As his arms tightened, I wriggled closer, tangling my legs in his.

    His skin was soft and warm and I would have given a year of my life for us to be bare, skin against skin. Now I knew. It felt like heaven. And so was I. The ghost of Taylor Mills hung between us for a moment, then I pushed it away. It was me Callan loved, me he wanted. It was odd and yet wonderful, touching another man, stroking that velvet-hard length as he shuddered out his release saying my name, not as a shout, but soft, a whispered prayer. He seized up, then wriggled a little, dislodging my hands. I collapsed like the granite on the face of the mountain last summer, crumbling into glorious dust, and all the tension of the past weeks dissolved as Callan wrapped himself around me once again and I slept.

    Dawn was breaking, and the weather had let up enough for the sun to be casting just the smallest bit of light through the boarded-up windows. On a day such as this, the whole world should be as full of peace and contentment as me. When he told me he loved me. The words still played over and over in my mind like Almond singing the same line to her nursery song. He loved me. I love you. And probably freeze. I want My hands came up under his shirt, and he iced up again when I touched the scars. I hate them.

    Then we were moving against each other while we kissed, and the tension stretched between us taut as rope. And then I heard my name. Not cried out by Callan in passion or pleading, but raised in the distance by a more familiar and unwelcome voice. My Pa. Boy has a head on his shoulders. The thaw, such as it had been, was over. So the winter come back, and this time it stayed. Grandmam says that Before, folks used to choose to come up here during winter. When the snow comes, so does the wind and the ice, and nobody in sound mind would go out for more than ten or twenty minutes, let alone plummet down a mountain faster than a horse can run.

    So we stay home mostly, tending the sheep and the greenhouses beside the barn, and work on repairing tools and gear and all the sorts of things that keep a farm running during the growing times. And we play games. Trouble was, every time I dealt out a hand of cards or set out the pawns in their row on the board, I imagined myself playing with Callan, wondering if he was any good.

    I looked at the chess board and I saw how I might move, but not what my opponent might do in response and certainly nothing beyond that. So I lost, most times, unless I was playing Ruby. What I hated most about winter, and what caused folks to sicken or even turn violent, was the lack of privacy. I wished sometimes that we was like the Casteels, who had a town house and also a farm, and left their hired folk at the farm during the R. Day winter. Benny C and I worked it out so we each got an hour alone in the bedroom each afternoon.

    I spent mine thinking of Callan. I suspected Benny C was doing the same thing as me, save his mind was likely on Daisy Bailes. We took it in turns, me and Benny C and Ruby, to sit with Grandmam some each day, just being with her so Mam could get some rest or tend to Almond, and it was during one of my spells sitting with her that she started to tell the stories. Oh, she knew other stories, from other lands—Greek myths and Russian stories and stories from the island of Britain about King Arthur and his knights, but it was the Danish tales that she always seemed to come back to.

    And that winter, at least with me, it was almost always the story of Fafnir. And of Siegfried Volsung, the hero who slew the dragon and then went on to glory and death. It was on one of those trips that I saw the package, wrapped in oilcloth, hanging from the tree out of reach of what animals might still be about. Exposed skin in such weather would take frostbite in no time at all, so I made my way back to the barn where I sat among the restless and warm bodies of the sheep and unwrapped the folds of the bag.

    Trees of North America. And in that book was a piece of old paper, almost as valuable as the book itself. Not this, it was creamy and smooth with a pearly tone to it that seemed to blend with the brown ink that had been used to write upon it. Day the weather will turn against you. So I valued it beyond gold and kept it in my pocket, folded, reading it again and again. I hope we get a chance to talk about it sometime. I may not evermore acknowledge thee, Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame, Nor thou with public kindness honour me, Unless thou take that honour from thy name: But do not so, I love thee in such sort, As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

    It was a more like a farewell; and as I read it again and again, lining the fancy words in my mind till I had it by heart, it drove me near to crazy, wondering what sort of frozen hell he was going through in the town. That note, particularly the poem, had me spooked, as it sounded as though he was shutting the door on anything further between us. She looked up at me with narrow eyes.

    You stay away from town till I say, David. Too many The greenhouse kept the perennials alive through the winter, but lots of things had to be started fresh each spring. I knew I was maybe a week away from having all my time taken up by work, so this might be my only chance to get away. But asking a second time did no good with my Mam. All it did was set her more against whatever I wanted, so I held my tongue and paced to the window and back. Like me. Almond saw the apples and lunged for them.

    She had a gift for making days seem a bit warmer, though she could be ornery as cuss. I stuck mine out right back at her. Yes, go on with you, take her. I was so eager to put the cabin behind me that I had Lightning saddled and ready to go in no time, and Almond was prancing around the yard playing horsey, complete with loud neighs and whinnies that made me and Benny C laugh out loud. Grasses had come up some, not enough to tangle in my legs, but more than enough to give the sheep some nourishment, and we had to be pushing on them constantly to keep them from stopping right where they were and feeding.

    So the two hours stretched to almost three, but none of us minded, as the sun had come out in full and was warming us through our jackets. The only thing that could have made that day any better were if Callan was with me, but I had hopes of seeing him soon, so I whistled a bit as we topped the rise to our north pasture. The fences were split logs, and tended to fall in winter. This year was no exception, as he told me when he come back around. There was trouble for sure. Take the sheep! Take the horse! Take me! Still, he was closer than me.

    The steel blade might have been paper for all the good it did. The wings! Though I hoped Benny C had hurt it bad, I spared no further thought nor time for the monster. Benny C was crying, the tears blending with the blood on his face. I cried out silently, wanting more than anything to have him beside me. He could save her. But Almond was lying there bleeding into the ground, and Benny C needed me to be strong.

    Get on Lightning and get down to Moline and fetch the healer. Her face was white, so white, like a sheet or a ghost or snow. Now go on, get! I held her belly against me, trying to put pressure on the wound as I ran, but the blood was seeping out too fast, soaking into my shirt, and every time I breathed in, I could smell the iron-stink of it.

    Day stop—it would mean her death if I did. At least at home, there was Mam, who had some small knowledge of doctoring. And if the worst happened, though I could hardly conceive it, I wanted her in her home with her Mam and Grandmam and brothers and sisters. I forced my mind to think, to work, to focus on anything save the pain in my side and the pounding of my heart and the limp body of my sister in my arms.

    Damn him, damn them all to frozen hell! She come awake then and started in screaming, and there was no soothing her. Grandmam started up, then collapsed back in her chair, clutching at her chest. I sent Benny C for the healer. It was so hard to be a grown-up and bear her up when all I wanted was to fall into her lap and howl at my horrible failure to protect my baby sister. Anderson, I need you to boil some water, and do you have any alcohol? Callan was shaking his head. The claws must be huge. Can you help her?

    Her breathing was shallow, and her skin was going grey, and Callan was cleaning the wounds with the alcohol. Get me some clean cloths—cotton, not wool. Ruby and Delia sat together on the hearth holding hands, too, absolutely still as precious time slipped away.

    So much blood. We was all just waiting. Callan was looking not at Mam, but at Healer Findlay, who closed her eyes so all you could see was wet tears staining her aging cheeks. Leaving Mam to Healer Findlay, I followed. I could still hear Mam crying in the cabin. And I remembered how Pa was, how he showed such calm all the time, never getting riled up, no matter what.

    I guess maybe this was how he did it, by putting his mind elsewhere. Gives me something to do when Like this. I stuck my head in the barn. Benny C was grooming Lightning, not with any serious intent, just bringing the brush up and down automatically. Dried blood crusted his hair and forehead. He ought to be here. And he had. So had I. I watched Benny C walk away, hands in his pocket, head down like he was trudging against a great wind. I pushed him back against the woodpile, and we broke apart, gasping. My sister So I pulled away and nodded, miserable with wanting and grief.

    She is. It took me a long time to realize what I was really feeling was anger at myself. Can you fathom that? Callan was strong. Not like me. I can understand, better than you might think. I turned away from him reluctantly, knowing that with Pa gone, my place was with Mam. Grandmam had Delia on her lap, and Delia, so grown-up, now had her thumb in her mouth like a small child Ruby stood with Healer Findlay, eyes red but calm. Chapter 13 I n the summer, round about the time of the Harvest Fair, the school puts on what Master Burke calls tableaux, where the students act a scene from history or out of a book by just standing in place while he wanders around the scene, telling the story.

    Nobody moved, nobody spoke; it was as Callan had said—the world was ending. She needs me. Her eyes were opened, dull and empty. Or a snakeskin after the snake done moved on. Nor be joyful or laugh or learn to read, nor grow up and fall in love, nor be a Mam her own self or have important work like Healer Findlay. All that she would ever be was right there on that table.

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    • And what if this life was all we got, with hers ended like this? I felt the cabin walls closing in on me, needed to get out and breathe the air, wanted to swing that axe again with every stroke aimed not at the wood, but at the dragon, and at myself. The cabin door creaked open, and Callan come in, bringing Benny C, eyes red, but his crying done.

      Finally Pa looked up. Pa looked at Benny C. You make me proud. Mister Hennessy. Shoot him? We need you here, not stuck in a cell. I think the government has a lot to answer for. Would you, now? He turned back to me. Which it was, I supposed. The cabin was full of people, and yet it had never felt so empty.

      Day We went out into the cooling afternoon. Sometimes I thought he was lucky, being simple like that; there was always someone to tell him what to do and when to do it. They had to come from somewhere. Seems logical that the government would at least know about it. Or maybe it was deliberate. He rode away down the path, and I set my shoulders and turned back to the cabin. Of course, Benny C and I had already done them, but Pa did them again, and nobody said nothing. We all understood. It had been a nightmare afternoon. Once Pa had gone, Mam come out of the back bedroom, face all grim and determined with Healer Findlay at her side, ready to prepare Almond for the bury-hole.

      I had felt no fear for myself when I faced the dragon, but to face what the dragon had left of my baby sister, that was beyond my strength. Day where Almond had been, with the sheep huddled around him. He started to ask after Almond, but my face must have told the story, as he crumbled into noisy tears, then abruptly thrust something into my hands.

      I slipped it into my pocket; the weight of it sagged my jacket down, slapping against my leg as I rode back ahead of Jerzy and the sheep. We buried my baby sister two days later on a day without sun. The whole town turned out, from the mayor down to the claim farmers, none of whom had likely ever even heard the name Almond Anderson. Of all of us, only Mam was a regular churchgoer, and then only in summer, and Pa was positively hostile at times and had refused to let us be sprinkled, reasoning we could make the choice for our own selves when we was grown, but Pastor Daniels was willing to do the ceremony anyway.

      He at least had met Almond. We followed without speaking to the graveyard, which was about as far as you can go and still be in the town. Earth, and only earth, would cover Almond. It was the custom for folk who had known the dead to speak about them, to share a short tale or memory. Pa sort of started forward at that, but Mam grabbed his arm, and he kept his peace through the seemingly unending parade of men and women.

      Healer Findlay spoke good words, comforting words, not to the crowd like the others had, but to Mam and Pa, and I took some comfort in hearing them. Then a familiar wheat-gold head moved through the parted crowd. Callan come forward to take his place near the small box, looking down at her closed eyes, and closing his own while he said his bit. She loved books. Just do it. Day For a while, the only sound was the angry bite of the hammer against the wood of the box; slow, rhythmic, like church bells marking the passing of a soul.

      Pa and Healer Findlay pulled her up, holding her tight. I kept Delia close to me, turning her face into my shoulder. Scared as she was from seeing her sister laid in the ground, the sight of her Mam all undone was more than she could manage. This tragedy should never be repeated. I will leave tonight, and together, we will solve this problem.

      Pastor, if you would? I had my hand shook about half a hundred times and was mighty weary of it, and wanting to go home when I noticed Callan at the end of the line. Nobody could say nothing about him consoling the bereaved. I wanted to kiss him so bad I could taste it. And they did send the posse—remember, Elmer and his heroics? Seems like those dragons might be hunting from other towns than Moline. Thank you. We was all mighty cordial to one another, but there was walls up between us, and we all felt them.

      Pa was gone more than he needed to be and Mam, always busy, now refused to be still at all unless she was asleep. The girls turned to each other, playing quiet games, spending extra time on their schoolwork. But he never spoke of it. He even gave the knife a name, the way the old time folk named swords. I often caught her staring at me like she wanted to tell me something, but she rarely spoke, not even to tell stories, not no more. Mam said that Grandmam wanted to die. I suspect she did. I missed Almond.

      I missed Callan, too. In a way, that was the worse of the two. Or other nights, it was that afternoon in the meadow again, but instead of Almond on the rock, it was Callan, and the dragons came and tore him to pieces while I watched, helpless. Though judging by the words he cried out, he was having nightmares of his own about the dragons. I hoped that when Mister Hennessy brought back help and we got rid of those monsters once and for all, the nightmares would ease up, for him at least. Such talk was like rubbing a cat the wrong way: it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

      The dragons was unnatural monsters for certain, but not from God. I was with Callan on that one; something or somebody had made those beasts A Strong and Sudden Thaw and brung them here. For me, that week was a sort of revelation. And it would have been, but not with Luanna. A small cabin or house I could share with Callan, he doing his healing, me hunting and providing meat for our table and growing the grain that would make our bread.

      But such thoughts were fantasy, as much as Benny C stalking giants and dragons in the barn with his magic sword. I would send a message through Benny C, as I had before. But not in spoken words—words that, as Callan said, fade away like the mist when the sun comes out. Had Almond lived, that might have been a wall that would have stopped me dead, for we had never had paper in the house, but Pa had bought a First Reader for Almond—sent clear to Atlanta, Georgia for it—so that at least one of his children would start school with a book of her own.

      So that morning, with Pa gone on a two day hunt and Mam out feeding the stock, I stole into their room, holding my breath, and tore a piece from that tablet and scrawled a note to Callan. All you got to do is take it to Callan. The smell of the biscuits slid through the chinks in the cabin and turned the whole hilltop warm and welcoming. And waiting there, forcing my breaths to deepen and calm while hoarding the echo of his voice and the memory of his hands, I got an idea.

      I ate hearty, for if my plan worked, I might not get a decent meal for a day or so, then retired out to an old rocker on the porch. Plotting and scheming was, I considered, an awful lot like hunting. Pa came out of the house and leaned against the porch rail. Pa stood up and brushed pine shavings from his trousers. Your mam loves you, David. He handed me the carved snake. I was going to Crawford in the morning, and so was Callan. We would be together again. I played the scene as I imagined it, me coming upon Callan, the look in his eyes when he saw me and knew we was alone, and what would happen after, over and over in my head that night as I tried to sleep, and it kept the dreams away.