Read Chasing Redbird Online

Authors: Sharon Creech

Chasing Redbird (10 page)

Bonnie kept insisting that Bingo was probably sniffing his way home that very minute, and every morning and evening, she'd stand out in the yard and call him.

One Saturday, I was up on the trail, clearing the part where it entered the first section of woods, marked on one of the maps as Maiden's Walk. Ahead of me was a tunnel of beech trees. Overhead hung a roof of branches and leaves, and below, the smooth gray-blue trunks looked like a double row of columns stretching into the forest. It was a silent, eerie, cool place, dark as a wolf's mouth.

When I had first seen the words
Maiden's Walk
on the map, I'd imagined a young woman, dressed in white, gliding down a sunny lane. Now, seeing what was ahead of me, I pictured a disheveled maiden, in torn clothing, being pulled toward a horrid sacrifice. I saw her struggling and screaming, and glimpsed the drooling jaws of a black beast at the far end of the tunnel.

I was down on my hands and knees, scraping away, trying to rid my mind of this picture.
“And now the company jumps,”
I sang, to the beat of the boogie-woogie.
“A-toot a-toot—”

I thought I heard a whistle. No. It was quiet.
“A-tootle-ee-ah-dah—”
I heard the muffled whistle again and froze, still as a stone.

The whistler was approaching. I inched behind a beech tree and scrunched myself into a ball at its trunk. Soon the whistling stopped, but it was followed by another sound—a
tap-tap-tap
ping against the ground, as if someone were swinging a stick.

It was probably Uncle Nate, I thought, looking for Aunt Jessie. Or maybe he was meeting someone. Maybe he really did have a sweetheart up here in the hills. I hated that thought. He'd better
not
have a sweetheart.

As I started toward the sound of the stick, a tall figure appeared at the entrance to the woods. With the sun behind him, all I could see was a dark form and a long crooked stick. It wasn't Uncle Nate. I turned and ran, tall-stepping over uncleared brambles, scrabbling and tearing at branches.

“Zinny, Zinny! Wait!”

I kept running. I knew the voice and I didn't want to see its owner.

“Zinny—” He lurched up behind me and snagged my arm.

“Let go of me, Jake Boone, or I'll—”

“Punch my brains in?” He looked as solemn as a drowned man.

I pulled my arm free. “What are you doing up here? How'd you know where I was?”

“Heck, Zinny, there's a dad-burn trail leading right to you—”

“But it's
my
trail. You get off it.”

He looked down at his feet. We were standing in a patch of dead leaves and weeds, a good distance from the cleared section of the trail. “This?” he said. “This doesn't look like a trail to me—”

“You know what I mean. Get out of here. This is mine—”

“You own all this? You, Zinny Taylor—?”

“Go away.”

He blushed and swung his stick and jabbed his foot at the leaves. “Zinny, I'm sorry about the dog—”

“You oughta be. Stealing an old lady's innocent puppy—”

“I didn't actually steal it. It followed me—the first time, anyway. After I'd made a delivery up there. It chased my truck, so I stopped and picked it up, and—I don't know—I just wanted you to have it.”

I stood there, trying to keep the steam from coming out of my ears. “And the second time?”

He stared at the ground. “I saw your sign and I went back and snuck him into my truck. I couldn't help it.”

“Of course you could help it,” I said. “Did someone hold a knife to your throat and say, ‘Take this dog or else?'” I started walking back the way I'd come.

“You're enough to make the parson swear, Zinny, and I mean it.” He took ahold of my arm again. “Didn't anyone ever like you before?”

“Let go—of course people have liked me—they like me all the time—lots and lots of—” I was stunned. What did he mean, “before”?

“Name one—”

“Are you crazy? I have friends—”

“Not like that. I mean has anyone ever been sweet on you?”

Oh sure
, I wanted to say.
Tommy Salami and Jerry Abbott and Mickey Torke—all those lying, phony boys.
I don't know what came over me. With my free hand I punched him in the chest and called him
a stupid worm
. Not exactly the height of sophistication, I suppose.

I guess I caught him off guard. He reached in his pocket, pulled out a little box, forced it into my hand, and stomped off. I threw the box after him. “I don't want it. Take it back—”

He marched through the woods until he came to the clearing, where he turned down the trail toward our farm.

I swore every cuss word in the book and some new ones I made up. Then I went looking for the box. It seemed a shame not to at least see what was in it.

CHAPTER 18

P
ROOF

I
'd no sooner walked in the house than Uncle Nate stumbled in behind me. His hair was all mussed up, and briars stuck to his shirt and pants. In one hand was his stick, and in the other hand he waved his camera. “I've got it, I've got it!” he shouted.

“Got what?” I asked.

“The proof!” He gently set the camera on the table. “Right in there,” he said, tapping the camera. “Can't get away.”

By this time, everyone else had crowded around. “What's in there?” Ben asked. “What sort of proof?”

“Is it a picture, you mean?” Bonnie said.

“Of course it's a picture,” May said. “You don't think he's gone and stuck a sack of potatoes in there, do you?”

Ben placed his hand on Uncle Nate's shoulder. “Why is it proof, Uncle Nate? What's it a picture of?”

Uncle Nate glanced at each of us before whispering, “My Redbird.”

Ben's eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Aunt Jessie? You've taken a picture of her?”

Uncle Nate tapped the camera again. “I've seen her. I've got proof.”

CHAPTER 19

A
CCUSED

I
had searched a long time for the box I'd thrown at Jake and finally discovered it tangled in a raspberry bush. It was a small silk-covered black box, with a rounded top and a tiny gold hinge at the back. I held the box out in front of me and opened it a wee bit, ready to snap it shut in case something ghastly was lurking inside. First I saw a glimpse of white silk. Nothing moving yet. I opened it wider.

Nestled in a slim groove in the center of the white silk was a ring. A round red gem sat between two sparkling clear ones on a thin gold band. It fit me.

Quickly, I slipped the ring back in the box. No one had ever given me anything like that before. In fact, no one had ever given me any jewelry whatsoever, except for the plastic ring from Tommy Salami. What was Jake Boone up to? I think this was the first time I thought I might have had Jake all wrong.
Was
it possible that Jake was not like Tommy Salami and all those others? I really wanted to believe that this ring was meant for me, and Jake had given it to me because he liked me. I really, really wanted to believe that. But if he did like me,
why
did he like me? Why didn't he prefer May?

And then my mind got all mixed up. What was I supposed to do? And how did I feel about Jake? I hated being confused. I liked to know what was what.

I went on down the trail until I came to the place where I'd found the leather pouch buried under a stone. I slid the stone aside and dropped the ring in its box into the hole. When I was scooping dirt over it, I had that awful, chilling feeling again. There was something about this place. What
was
it?

I needed time to think, but what I started thinking about was Aunt Jessie.

The day after Aunt Jessie was buried, I remembered the leather pouch with the
TNWM
medallion, and went searching for it in the barn, but I couldn't find it. Had she scooped it back up again, or had someone else picked it up?

At dinner the day after the funeral, I had asked if anyone had seen an old pouch with a “sort of medal-thingy” inside. I tried to make light of it, so that whoever had it might be more willing to confess. No one admitted finding it, though. Dad said, “Ask Nate, maybe he's seen it.”

“Where
is
he anyway?” Ben had asked.

“Off on one of his treks,” Dad said. He and my mother exchanged a glance—troubled and annoyed.

“He's too old to be up there,” my mother said.

Dad grunted. “You try and stop him.”

I had a feeling they knew something that I didn't.

While Uncle Nate was off on his trek, I snuck into his and Aunt Jessie's house, figuring I'd just have a quick look.

It was awful being there without Aunt Jessie. Some of her things were gone: Her coat no longer hung on the back of the door; her slippers weren't curled beside the sofa; and her knitting basket wasn't by her chair. That big dresser drawer was back in its place, though, and I wanted desperately to open it, having the sudden feeling that maybe she was hiding in it, but I couldn't do it.

I checked the bathroom last. This was Aunt Jessie's pride and joy, her new bathroom, finished a few months earlier. She'd always wanted a pink bathroom, and finally she got one, and it certainly was pink: pink tub, pink sink, pink carpet, pink towels, pink toilet paper. Uncle Nate started slipping into our house to use the bathroom. “Pink makes me kind of queasy,” he said.

Beneath the sink were three drawers, and one of them, by Aunt Jessie's request, had a lock on it. I couldn't imagine what she'd want to keep locked up in the bathroom, but she had made Uncle Nate go to a lot of trouble to fit a locked drawer in that cabinet. I tried the drawer. Definitely locked. I thought about searching for a key, but was instantly ashamed, and instead I wiped off the sink and polished the taps, just as she had liked them.

Somebody
had that medallion and sooner or later I was going to find out who.
Zinnia Taylor: detective.

A week after Jake gave me the ring, Uncle Nate's film arrived. We all crowded around as he opened the packet, eager to see his “proof.” One by one, he turned over the pictures: our cows, the barn, the ash tree, the cardinals.

“Where is it?” Ben asked. “Hurry up.”

Slowly, Uncle Nate went through the pictures. “That ain't it,” he said. “That ain't it, either.” On he went: the porch, the field of tomatoes, Poke at the creek. As he turned over the picture of Poke, he shouted, “There! There it is!” He looked up at us, excited, eager, proud and expectant.

“There's what?” Ben asked.

“The proof, dag-blast it, the proof!” The photo was blurry, as if taken during an early-morning mist.

“Nate—” Mom said gently. “It's a picture of
you
—”

“Where's the proof?” Ben asked.

“Right there before your eyes,” Uncle Nate said.

“But it's
you
—” Mom repeated.

“I know
that
. I ain't a complete noodle.”

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