Jack stepped onto the crosswalk, his feet feeling ahead of him as his nose stayed pointed like a weather vane into his book.To be killed, to perish, he murmured, weighing the possibilities. Just as he registered the grammar and settled on the word perish, exonerating the snake from any intentional wrongdoing, he heard Tanya shout,Jack! But he lifted the book closer to his face, pretending not to hear.The next thing he knew, there was loud, heavy metal music, and he was knocked off his feet and into the air.
Jack barely had time to register what had happened.
He caught a glimpse of the car that hit him, heard panicked shouts, and closed his eyes as his body hit the ground. A loud rushing sound filled his ears. Then he blacked out.
When Jack came to, he could hear voices talking over him, at first high-pitched like insects and then slow and demon-like.A wave of nausea passed over him, and he felt too tired to open his eyes. His ears began to adjust themselves to the voices.Hes a very lucky boy, said one.He has a few bruises on his chest and legs, but no internal injuries. He should be waking up. . . .
Are you sure hes okay?
Jacks eyelids flickered.This voice was his fathers. The medics . . . when they found him . . .
Jack could hear a loud sniffle. Even in his semiconscious state, he wondered if his father was going to cry the way he did late at night after Jack went to bed. The one time Jack had mentioned it, his father had stiffened and told him that he had been dreaming.
Well keep him here overnight for observation just to be sure. But I can assure you, Professor Perdu.We did CAT scans, X-rays . . . a dozen different tests. It was a shock to his system, but hes a strong, healthy boy.
Thank you, his father said softly.
There was the sliding noise of a curtain being closed as the doctor departed.
With great effort, Jack opened his eyes. He was lying on a cot surrounded by a white curtain. He looked at his father, who was blinking back tears.
His father gripped Jacks hand in his own, something he hadnt done in years. He had a full, gray beard, and was much older than the fathers of Jacks classmates. He cleared his throat.How do you feel?
Jack carefully stretched his arms and legs. Nothing hurt, but he felt stiff, like hed just run a marathon. He propped himself up on his elbows.Not too bad for being hit by a car.
His father chuckled.The tears in his eyes, Jack noticed, had dried. Tough kid, he said, letting go of his hand. You scared that girl, though, half to death. Jack suddenly remembered Tanya and lay back on the cot. He imagined her telling the other kids at school about the accident. He pictured them laughing as Tanya explained, I was shouting at him, but he wouldnt even look up from his book.
His father leaned over him.Are you okay?
Jack nodded, unable to explain.
His father frowned.Whats your last name? Perdu.
His father looked unimpressed.
Perdu, Jack repeated, propping himself back up on his elbows.It means lost in French, from the Latin perdo. To destroy, to do away with, to lose.
His father nodded.How old are you?
Fourteen. Im fine, Dad, really.
His father continued to stare at him. Whats your mothers name?
Jack paused. His father hardly ever talked about his mother. And Jack never mentioned her, even though he had hundreds of questions. He wished there were someone he could ask about her, but there was no one else in New Haven who had known her. Neither of his parents had siblings, and his grandparents had died long ago. Anastasia, Jack answered.
Copyright © 2007 by Katherine Marsh. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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