I listen harder. Nothin'. Maybe it's just tourists after all. I run my fingers through my hair, then rub the greasy feelin' off on the legs of my jeans.
The few times I seen myself in the fancy store mirrors, I didn't recognize myself. Who's that scruffy, skinny girl with the grasshopper knees? The only mirror we own is a small shard of glass I found in the leaves. In it, I can see one Cyclops eye at a time, or half the button of my nose. The v sittin' pretty in the middle of my top lip, or the peach fuzz on the tip of my earlobe.
"Seven years bad luck," Mama said after she'd seen the shard. And I ain't even the one who busted it. Luck ain't free. Seven years might as well be ten or twenty or forever, with luck bein' rare as butter, for Mama, my sister, and me.
Where's Nessa? I sink into a squat, my eyes sweepin' the ground for a broken branch to use as a club, just in case I can't get to the shotgun in time. After last night's storm, there are a few choice limbs to choose from. The crunchin' starts again, and I track the sound in the direction of the camper, prayin' Nessa don't come back early from her fairy hunt. Better for strangers to move on without seein' either one of us.
My breath breaks free in marshmeller puffs, and my heart beats heart-attack fast. It's a man, obviously, one whose voice I don't recognize, but how does he know our names? Is he a friend of Mama's?
Joelle is Mama, only she's not here to answer back. In fact, we haven't seen her in over a month, maybe two at this point. It's been a worry, the last few days. While we have enough beans to last a week or so, this is the first time Mama has been gone so long without word. Even Jenessa has started to worry, her face an open book, even if her mouth refuses to voice the words.
More than once, I've caught her lips countin' canned goods and propane tanks, and she don't need to say what she's thinkin', because I lug around the same worry: that we'll run out of necessities before Mama comes backif she comes backwhich is a dark-enough thought to tumble me into my own pit of silence.
My sister don't talk much. When she does, it's only to me, in moth-winged whispers, and only when we're alone. By the time Ness turned six, Mama had grown worried enough to disguise her youngest daughter as "Robin" for the day and whisk her off to the speech therapist in town, a smart-lookin' woman who diagnosed Jenessa with a condition called "selective mutism." Nothin' Mama said, threatened, or did could break Ness's resolve.
I clap my hands over my ears and use my thinkin' to drown out the calls.
It's strange, hearin' a man's voice, when it's mostly been us females. I used to wish I had a father, like the girls in my books, but wishin' don't make things so. I don't remember anythin' about my own father, except for one thing, and Mama laughed when I brought it up. As embarrassed as I was, I guess it is funny, how my one memory of my father is underarms. She said the scent of pine and oak moss I remember came from a brand of deodorant called Brut. And then she'd gotten annoyed because I didn't know what deodorant was, said I asked far too many questions, and her jug of moonshine was empty.
"It's okay, girls! Come on out!"
Why won't he just go away? What the heck is Mama thinkin'? I don't care how much money he promised herI'm not gonna do those things no more. And I'll kill 'im, I swear, if he lays one finger on Jenessa.
All I have to do is stay hidin', and wait for him to leave. That's the plan, the only plan, until I catch a skip of pink dancin' through the brown and greenery, and the butter yellow head of a little girl lost in a fairy world.
Excerpted from If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch. Copyright © 2013 by Emily Murdoch. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin. All rights reserved. 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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