Mum and Dad said that our country could only give enough for us really, but they were sharing as much as they could. All the people in the whole country needed food and water, and medicine, and there were thousands of them. Our little bit couldn't look after all of them.
All the same, I sneaked bits to share with my friends in the village. Most of these didn't have parents anymore because they'd been killed in the fighting in other villages. They'd come to our village because it was safe here. Some had an uncle or aunt to stay with. Lots of the women had lost their husbands and some of those women became the children's pretend mums. It probably sounds bad to you, and now I'm older, I understand better, but the fact is that all that seemed normal to me at the time and I didn't think much about it, because that was how I grew up.
Most of the kids played and teased like any kids. Some always stood in doorways with big scared eyes and never spoke. The kids who were playing might ask them to come and join in once, but when they didn't would then ignore them as boring. It was annoying when we needed an extra for some game or other. I asked Mum what was the matter with them, and she said that they'd had a terrible thing happen, or had seen something terrible. It was like a nightmare, and you know when you first wake up from it you can't just go back to sleep? They were stuck in that feeling.
So I tried a bit longer and a bit harder than my friends and one or two of those ones came round and started to play, with time, if we kept on at them. The ones who didn't I called "lost," and I felt a funny feeling like a big black stone in my chest when I looked at them, staring at nothing as we played, or rocking on the floor and growing thinner every day.
More and more of those, and some grown-ups, too, were turning up every day.
We had a ritual every morning, taking the corners of a blanket with a friend on it who couldn't walk at all, maybe with no legs. We'd pull them out to join in with whatever we were up to that day, or take them where they wanted to go. One or two of them were quite bossy, but they were brilliant at thinking up games.
One day, the rain came. At first it was exciting, and I thought everything would be better now. But although Mum and Dad laughed at me dancing in it, and came out and danced with me when I dragged them out by the hands, they still looked worried underneath, if you know what I mean.
The rain was very heavy, so heavy it hit you hard on your head and shoulders, like someone dropping a big bucket of water on you, but over and over again without stopping. You couldn't think or hear or see. Me and my friends grabbed the blankets of the ones who didn't walk and raced them back into their houses again. I sat inside and waited for it to stop. And waited.
That night, as I lay in my little bed on the floor, I heard the drumming and thrumming of the rain on the roof stop, and thought, At last. Now I can go to sleep. And maybe I can go outside and play in the morning.
But then there was a sound of people talking at the door. I could hear Dad getting ready to go out. I got out of bed and asked Mum what was happening.
She said, "The rain has come down so fast and heavily on the dry hard ground that it hasn't soaked in. It's run off and made rivers and has flooded people's homes. Dad's going to try and help rescue some of them."
In the morning Dad was on the big bed, fast asleep on top of some towels, with all his clothes still on and wet through. We let him sleep just a little bit longer, because he looked so tired, but then we had to wake him up and make him get changed and dry properly.
He sat up in bed with a hot drink and explained, "You know that big crack that runs across the top of the hill above the village where we were walking the other day, and I told you not to go near it?"
Excerpted from Fish by L. S. Matthews Copyright© 2004 by L. S. Matthews. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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