Regardless of the questionable truth of these stories, it became clear to Prue that most of her classmates had had similar conversations with their parents as she had had with her father. The subject of the Wilderness filtered into their play surreptitiously: What once was a lake of poisonous lava around the four-square court was now the Impassable Wilderness, and woe betide anyone who missed a bounce and was forced to scurry after the red rubber ball into those wilds. In games of tag, you were no longer tagged It, but rather designated the Wild Coyote of the I.W., and it was your job to scamper around after your fleeing classmates, barking and growling.
It was the specter of these coyotes that made Prue ask her parents a second time about the Impassable Wilderness. She had been awakened one night in a fright by the unmistakable sound of baying dogs. Sitting up in bed, she could hear that Mac, then four months old, had awoken as well and was being quietly shushed by their parents as he wailed and whimpered in the next room. The dogs baying was a distant echo, but it was bone-shivering nonetheless. It was a tuneless melody of violence and chaos and as it grew, more dogs in the neighborhood took up the cry. Prue noticed then that the distant barking was different from the barking of the neighborhood dogs; it was more shrill, more disordered and angry. She threw her blanket aside and walked into her parents room. The scene was eerie: Mac had quieted a little at this point, and he was being rocked in his mothers arms while their parents stood at the window, staring unblinking out over the town at the distant western horizon, their faces pale and frightened.
Whats that sound? asked Prue, walking to the side of her parents. The lights of St. Johns spread out before them, an array of flickering stars that stopped at the river and dissolved into blackness.
Her parents started when she spoke, and her father said, Just some old dogs howling.
But farther away? asked Prue. That doesnt sound like dogs.
Prue saw her parents share a glance, and her mother said, In the woods, darling, there are some pretty wild animals. Thats probably a pack of coyotes, wishing they could tear into someones garbage somewhere. Best not to worry about it. She smiled.
The baying eventually stopped and the neighborhood dogs calmed, and Prues parents walked her back into her room and tucked her into bed. That had been the last time the Impassable Wilderness had come up, but it hadnt put Prues curiosity to rest. She couldnt help feeling a little troubled; her parents, normally two founts of strength and confidence, seemed strangely shaken by the noises. They seemed as leery of the place as Prue was.
And so one can imagine Prues horror when she witnessed the black plume of crows disappear, her baby brother in tow, into the darkness of this Impassable Wilderness.
The afternoon had faded nearly completely, the sun dipping down low behind the hills of the Wilderness, and Prue stood transfixed, slackjawed, on the edge of the bluff. A train engine trundled by below her and rolled across the Railroad Bridge, passing low over the brick and metal buildings of the Industrial Wastes. A breeze had picked up, and Prue shivered beneath her peacoat. She was staring at the little break in the tree line where the crows had disappeared.
It started to rain.
Prue felt like someone had bored a hole in her stomach the size of a basketball. Her brother was gone, literally captured by birds and carried to a remote, untouchable wilderness, and who knew what they would do to him there. And it was all her fault. The light changed from deep blue to dark gray, and the streetlights slowly, one by one, began to click on. Night had fallen. Prue knew her vigil was hopeless. Mac would not be returning. Prue slowly turned her bike around and began walking it back up the street. How would she tell her parents? They would be devastated beyond belief. Prue would be punished. Shed been grounded before for staying out late on school nights, riding her bike around the neighborhood, but this punishment was certain to be like nothing shed ever experienced. Shed lost Mac, her parents only son. Her brother. If a week of no television was the standard punishment for missing a couple curfews, she couldnt imagine what it was for losing baby brothers. She walked for several blocks, in a trance. She found that she was choking back tears as, in her minds eye, she witnessed anew the crows disappearance into the woods.
Copyright © 2011 by Unadoptable Books LLC. HarperCollins Publishers, all rights reserved.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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