Unearthly Page 13

“Hi, I’m Mr. Erikson. Welcome to spring semester of British History,” he says. He grabs a jar off the table and shakes the papers inside. “First I thought we’d start by dividing up into British citizens. In this canister are ten pieces of paper with the word serf on it. If you draw one of those, you’re basically a slave. Deal with it. There are three pieces of paper with the word cleric; if you draw those, you’re part of the church, a nun or a priest, whichever is appropriate.”

He glances toward the back of the room where a stu-dent has just slipped in the door. “Christian, nice of you to join us.”

It takes all of my willpower not to turn around.

“Sorry,” I hear Christian say. “Won’t happen again.”

“If it does you’ll spend five minutes in the stocks.”

“Definitely won’t happen again.”

“Excellent,” says Mr. Erikson. “Now where was I? Oh yes. Five pieces of paper have the words lord/lady. If you draw one of these, congratulations, you own land, maybe even a serf or two. Three say knight—you get the idea. And there is one, and only one, paper with the word king, and if you draw that one, you rule us all.”

He holds the jar out to Angela.

“I’m going to be queen,” she says.

“We shall see,” says Mr. Erikson.

Angela draws a paper from the jar and reads it. Her smile fades. “Lady.”

“I wouldn’t whine about it,” Mr. Erikson tells her. “It’s a good life, relatively speaking.”

“Of course, if I want to be sold off to the richest man who offers to marry me.”

“Touché,” says Mr. Erikson. “Lady Angela, everybody.”

He makes his way around the room. He already knows the students and calls them by name.

“Hmmm, red hair,” he says when he gets to me. “Could be a witch.”

Someone snickers behind me. I steal a quick look over my shoulder to see Wendy’s obnoxious brother, Tucker, sitting in the seat behind mine. He flashes me a devilish grin.

I draw a paper. Cleric.

“Very good, Sister Clara. Now you, Mr. Avery.”

I turn to watch Tucker draw from the jar.

“A knight,” he reads, looking pleased with himself.

“Sir Tucker.”

The role of king goes to a guy I don’t know, Brady, who is, judging by the muscles and the way he accepts his rule like he deserves it instead of drawing it by chance, a football player.

Christian goes last.

“Ah,” he says faux mournfully, reading his paper. “I’m a serf.”

Mr. Erikson follows this up by going around the room with a set of dice and making us roll to see if we survive the Black Plague. The odds of surviving are not good for serfs, or clerics, since they tended the sick, but miraculously I survive. Mr. Erikson rewards me with a laminated badge that reads, I SURVIVED THE BLACK PLAGUE.

Mom will be so proud.

Christian doesn’t make it. He receives a badge decorated with a skull and crossbones, which reads, I PERISHED IN THE BLACK PLAGUE. Mr. Erikson marks his death down in a notebook he has to keep track of our new lives. He assures us that the usual rules of life and death don’t apply as far as this exercise is concerned.

Still, I can’t help but take Christian’s immediate demise as a bad sign.

Mom is waiting for us at the front door when we get home.

“Tell me everything,” she commands as soon as I cross the threshold. “I want to know all the details. Does he go to your school? Did you see him?”

“Oh, she saw him,” Jeffrey says before I can answer. “She saw him and she passed out in the middle of the hallway. The whole school was talking about it.”

Her eyes widen. She turns to me. I shrug.

“I told you she’d pass out,” says Jeffrey.

“You’re a genius.” Mom moves to ruffle his hair but he dodges her and says, “Too fast for you,” before her hand lands. “I put some chips and salsa out for you in the kitchen,” she says.

“What happened?” she asks after Jeffrey goes to stuff his face.

“Pretty much what Jeffrey said. Just keeled over in front of everybody.”

“Oh, honey.” She offers me a sympathetic pout.

“When I woke up, there was this girl who helped me. I think she could be a friend. And then . . .” I swallow. “He came back with the nurse and carried me to the nurse’s office.”

Her mouth drops open. I’ve never seen her look so astonished. “He carried you?”

“Yes, like some lame damsel in distress.”

She laughs. I sigh.

“Did you tell her his name yet?” comes Jeffrey’s voice from the kitchen.

“Shut up,” I call.

“His name is Christian,” he calls back. “Can you believe that? We came all this way so Clara could save a guy named Christian.”

“I’m aware of the irony.”

“But you know his name now,” Mom says softly.

“Yes.” I’m unable to hold back a smile. “I know his name.”

“And it’s all happening. The pieces are coming together.” She looks more serious now. “Are you ready for this, kiddo?”

It’s all I’ve thought about for weeks, and I’ve known for the past two years that my time would come. But still, am I ready?

“I think so?” I say.

I hope.

Chapter 4

Wingspan

I was fourteen when Mom told me about the angels. One morning at breakfast she announced that she was keeping me out of school for the day and we were going on a mother-daughter outing, just she and I. We dropped Jeffrey off at school and drove about thirty miles from our house in Mountain View to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, in the mountains near the ocean. My mom parked in the main lot, slung a backpack over her shoulder, said, “Last one up is a slowpoke,” and headed straight off along a paved trail. I had to practically jog to keep up with her.

“Some mothers take their daughters to get their ears pierced,” I called after her. There was no one else on the trail. Fog shifted through the redwoods. The trees were as much as twenty feet in diameter, and so tall you couldn’t see where they stopped, only the small gaps between the branches, where beams of light slanted onto the forest floor.

“Where are we going?” I asked breathlessly.

“Buzzards Roost,” Mom said over her shoulder. Like that helped.

We hiked past deserted campgrounds, splashed across creeks, ducked under gigantic mossy beams where trees had fallen across the path. Mom was quiet. This wasn’t one of those mother-daughter bonding times like when she took me to Fisherman’s Wharf or the Winchester Mystery House or IKEA. The stillness of the forest was punctuated only by our breathing and the scuff of our feet on the trail, a silence so heavy and suffocating that I wanted to yell something just to shatter it.

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