Table of Contents
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York,
New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2,
Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell,
Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany,
Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright 2006 Â© Melanie Gideon
eISBN : 978-1-440-67850-9
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
FOR BENJAMIN H. REWIS
ET ME SAY THIS RIGHT up front: this is not a story about kissing, or wrinkles, or things that are sour. It's a story about redemption. I suppose all stories are, and if they're not, well, then they should be. For what else do we have in the endâbut hope?
I walk into my mother's room and try not to breathe. The air smells stale and musty, like cardboard boxes. She hates it when I assume she needs assistance, so I stand there like some sort of teenage butler with a tray in my hands. Lately she's been complaining that all her joints ache like somebody reassembled her bones while she slept. I inch forward and she holds up her palm, warding me away. Chronic pain, like undressing or going to the bathroom, is a private matter. Finally she manages to prop herself up. She pats the blanket, signaling that she's ready for her breakfast, and I slide the tray across her lap.
I know what she's thinking: eggs
. It's hard to come up with new ideas when I've been preparing my mother breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day since I turned eleven.
“There was another crank call last night,” she says. She carefully separates the white of the egg from the yolk. “They asked for Pucker.”
I shrug. The name isn't news to me.
“Why do you let them call you that?”
She's not inquiring; she's accusing me, as if I have some say in what my classmates have nicknamed me.
“Because it's true,” I say.
I'm a burn victim. My scars are primarily on my face. My skin is either unnaturally smooth or, yes, puckered. It's the best the plastic surgeons can do, this face that I have finally arrived at.
“Do you want to know the etymology of
?” I ask. This is a rhetorical question; I'm sure she doesn't, but I feel a need to dig at her.
Well, first let's get the obvious out of the wayâyes, I know what it rhymes with. It comes from the Old English
. Alternately described as a fairy, a goblin, a brownie, or an elf. I don't attach myself to any of these. Too effeminate, except for the goblin. What I take from the definition is that I'm a shape-shifter. And it's true: I shift shapes all the time. Look, here's me being a parent. And here's me hiding underneath my Shoei helmet, pretending to be a strapping young man, and here's me in the mirror, a seventeen-year-old with the face of a wizened geriatric.
Suddenly I realize my mother's gotten dressed. She's wearing a red sweater instead of her usual quilted housecoat. She's also made a crude attempt at fixing herself up, but a sizable chunk of hair juts out from her head like a corkscrew. Her pathetic effort worries me. I flip the light switch so I can see her better.
“No,” she barks, shielding her eyes. I quickly turn it off, but not before I've gotten a look at her face. She's wearing makeup.
“Are you going somewhere?” My mother hasn't left the house in over seven years.
“No, but I'm hoping you are,” she says.
She picks at her breakfast in silence and I don't force the conversation. This isn't unusual. In some homes silence can be a killing thing, a murderous and bloody weapon. In our house silence is a lodger, a permanent guest: well behaved, never eating more than his share, but always lurking nearby.
“I'll be dead in less than a month,” she says a few minutes later. “If I'm to live, you've got to go back to Isaura and find my skin.”
O BACK TO ISAURAâSHE might as well have told me to walk to the North Pole and find Santa Claus.
Isaura. It sounds familiar, doesn't it? A tiny country nestled between Armenia and Turkey? An island in the Caspian Sea? I'm afraid it's a bit more complicated than that. Isaura is not a country: it's another world. Well, more like a pocket of a world.
Think of Earth as an old dog. Despite its age, the dog is vibrant and healthy. Yet on its flanks and belly there are all sorts of lumps and growths that come from being billions of years old. The lumps are benign and cause the dog no pain. In fact, the dog is unaware of their presence, much in the same way it would be unaware if a tick were embedded in the soft flesh behind its ear. But these lumps and growths are much more than fatty deposits. They are, in fact, parallel realities. Isaura, where my mother and I come from, is one of these growths.
A few hundred years ago you might not have been able to tell the two realities apart. Both were on the same trajectory, advancing at similar rates. Back then there were portals between Isaura and Earthâactually, between Isaura and various points on the North American continentâbut the traveling was strictly one-way. Isaurians came and went as they pleased. North Americans had no clue that Earth had a doppelganger; a sister world clinging to theirs like a parasite.
Isaurian scholars learned many things from their travels to Earth, the main lesson being that there was little difference between the inhabitants of the two worlds except for one thing: some Isaurians could see into the future.
Before the Great War, this ability to see into the future was nothing special; in fact, it was seen as a disability. Only a small percentage of Isaurians were Seers, and most of them tried never to use their powers because it made them outsiders, privy to things they had no right to know. Unfortunately for them, there was no hiding their identities, because when they were teenagers, all Seers grew second skins, golden-tinged, translucent ones.
It was only a matter of time before somebody realized that there was a profit to be made off the Seers. Soon the wealthiest of Isaurians put the Seers to work and with their help increased the size of their fortunes. Within fifty years' time a wide chasm had grown between those who could afford the services of the Seers and those who could not, and one night a mob of angry farmers massacred a group of Seers while they were sleeping in their beds. It was the beginning of the Great War.
Casting about for someone to blame for this horrific act, Isaurians pointed the finger at Earth, particularly America. It was easy to believe our host had poisoned us. American society focused solely on the future and measured success by the attainment of material possessions. It was America's ambition and hunger that swept through the portals and infected us all.
The portals were immediately shut. But even then, the barbarity went on, and, really, we had nobody to blame but ourselves after that. Soon, instead of killing the Seers, a far more sadistic form of torture was concocted. The Seers were flayed of their second skins and the skins were cut up and sold. It was said that whoever got a piece of a stolen Seer skin would be able to see the future. The wretched Seers who were stripped of their skins lost their sight foreverâand their lives, too, more often than not.
In response, the Ministry was formed, an agency that dedicated itself to protecting the surviving Seers and distributing knowledge of the future equally to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. Now everything would be predicted and nothing would be left to chance. From weather to crops, from marriages to friendships, illnesses, even talentsâit would all be forecast. Crops would never fail, children wouldn't get caught in the rain, nobody would ever enter into a relationship that wouldn't stand the test of time, and it was in this way that peace once again came to Isaura.
It was this way for 152 years. Until the day the horror started all over again . . .
BARKER'S JUVENILE PRIMER NO. 3
Containing pertinent moral and historical lessons
for the edification and improvement
of all Isaurian children