Read Stranger Online

Authors: Sherwood Smith

Stranger (37 page)

BOOK: Stranger
5.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


wouldn't have to stare at the ceiling. Indra had barely been able to walk when Dr. Lee let him go, and Ross could walk perfectly well. So why, after all this time, was he still stuck in the infirmary? He kicked at the covers. At least he'd talked Dr. Lee into bringing down some real clothes so he could get out of that nightshirt.

He wished Mia or Jennie would show up. It had been great to see Jennie the other night, but they'd barely started talking before she'd remembered that she'd forgotten some job and had to rush out. He picked up the newspaper she'd left on the bedside table and once again sounded out the headline: “Las Anclas Repels King Voske's Attack!” in huge letters, and below, in smaller type, “Town Celebrates, Mourns.”

Then came the welcome sound of rustling curtains. “Come in!” Ross called.

Dr. Lee gave Ross a mock frown. “Next time you turn up here, I'm carving your name over the bed. See that I don't have to.”

Ross grinned. “I'll try to stay out.”

“You've got visitors. When they leave, you can too.” When Ross started to leap up, Dr. Lee held out a warning hand. “Be sensible, and take it slow.”

Ross nodded. “Thanks, Dr. Lee.”

As Dr. Lee went out, Mia, Yuki, and Jennie came in. Jennie held a familiar shape wrapped in oilcloth.

Ross swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He'd had it with people standing over him. “You guys can sit down if you want.”

Mia dropped down in an instant, rocking the bed, then scooted closer. Ross slid a half inch over, until their shoulders touched. He felt her let out a long sigh at the same moment that he did.

Jennie sat on his other side, a little farther away, and handed Ross the package.

He hefted it in his hands, then unwrapped it.

There it was, the book that had started everything. Ross touched the worn leather cover. He'd known how valuable it was when he'd first opened it, and had imagined what he might get in trade for it: a rifle and ammunition, new clothes, old maps . . . Things he could load onto Rusty's back and carry with him. Probably he could get all that from Mr. Preston. But it felt as if what he'd really gotten, before he even began negotiations, was a whole new life.

It was hard to let go, but he couldn't hold on to it forever. Ross handed the book to Yuki, who took it with the same reverence Ross felt. “Can you read it?”

Yuki sat down, took a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket, and put them on. He opened the book to the last page, read silently, and then looked at Ross. “Mia said this was a manual.”

“Isn't it?”

“It's a diary. The page I just read was about how the writer had an argument with someone she worked with, and then she went home and found that her daughter had tried to cook something and spilled milk all over the floor.”

“You need to start at the beginning,” Mia said. “That's where the diagrams are.”

“I am at the beginning,” Yuki said. “Japanese reads from right to left—our books open the other way around. Let me see how it ends.”

He leafed through the pages until he came to the diagrams, then kept going until he reached what Ross had thought was the first page. His expression didn't change, but he got up, turned away from them, and stood still for a while.

The others sat in silence. Ross took hold of Mia's hand.

Eventually, Yuki faced them again. When he spoke, his voice was husky. “I'd better read this to you.”

Ross tried not to stare at him. Had he been holding back tears? Why?

Yuki began to slowly translate. “‘My name is Yamaguchi Hina. I'm a professor of medieval Japanese history at the University of Tokyo. I came—'”

“What's the University of Tokyo?” Ross interrupted. “And what's ‘medieval'?”

“She taught ancient history at a big school . . .” Jennie shrugged. “Somewhere in Japan, I guess.”

“Its ancient capital,” said Yuki, then went on. “‘I came to America for a conference on medieval East Asian warfare. There was some kind of catastrophe—war or natural disaster—we don't know. Nothing electronic works anymore, and nearly everything mechanical has some electronic components.

“‘I have only a few blank pages left in my diary, and even in a gathering of historians, I'm the only one who still uses paper and pen. I thought about recording what's happening now, but I'm sure others are doing that, so I decided not to waste this paper duplicating their work. Instead, I drew up the material from my presentation, from memory. It seems trivial, compared to everything else, but I hate to think of it being lost forever. Perhaps it will be useful or informative for someone someday.

“‘Unless I can find a ship with sails, I don't think I'll ever get home. If anyone finds this and can take it back to Japan, please deliver it to my husband. His name is Yamaguchi Tatsuya, professor of modern Japanese literature at the University of Tokyo.'”

Yuki ran his fingers lightly over the words, his head bent.

“Thank you,” Ross said.

“May I borrow it?”

It had been hard for him to even let Yuki see it. But he remembered Yuki's ship, and his lost expression when he'd told Ross his story. “Take it.”

Yuki carefully rewrapped the book and started out. Then he turned back, one hand crushing the curtain. “I was wondering, Ross. Are you still going to prospect, now that you're staying in town?”

“Yeah. I figure I can go on trips, and come back.”

“Would you consider teaching me how to prospect?”

“You want to prospect?” Ross asked.

Mia started laughing.

Jennie shook her head in mock dismay. “Yuki, all this time and you never even told him?”

Yuki gave them both an exasperated look. “I had to think about it.”

“You mean, teach you in exchange for translating the rest of the book?” Ross asked.

Yuki shook his head. “I'll do that regardless. Just . . . would you teach me?”

Ross had never taught anyone anything, and it was unnerving to imagine Yuki's intense gaze while he tried to do so. But Yuki also seemed to feel like a stranger in Las Anclas, and Ross couldn't help sympathizing with that.

“Prospectors have to know how to make deals,” Ross said. “Translate the book, and teach me to ride. Then I'll teach you to prospect. Deal?”

Ross held out his hand, and Yuki touched his palm with his own.

“Deal. And thank you.” Yuki hurried out, clutching the book.

Ross caught Jennie making a furtive gesture to Mia, who replied with a nod.

“What's wrong?” Ross asked, instantly suspicious.

Mia patted his shoulder. “Nothing. Well, except that it's not just Mr. Preston who knows that you're the one who . . . did that thing. With the tree.”

“Apparently Felicité overheard you talking to Mia about it and alerted everyone around,” Jennie added. “And then after the battle she and Henry told the entire town. Sorry.”

“It's okay,” he said glumly. “I figured it must have come out.”

Though he hated the thought of everyone knowing, that was nothing compared to how he hated knowing it himself. His first few days in the infirmary had been one long nightmare, endlessly reliving the last moments of all the soldiers he'd killed. He could still hear their screams rising up above the song of the trees if he didn't keep reinforcing the wall in his mind.

He stood up. “Dr. Lee said I could go. I'd like to see the sky.”

The girls fell in step on either side of him as he walked outside. He stood on the porch in his bare feet, looking across the dark square. People were gardening by the light of hanging lamps. Inside the infirmary, he'd lost all track of time. He hadn't even known if it was night or day. Now he could look up and see the waning moon.

“There's something else,” Mia said.

“Something bad?” he asked quickly.

Jennie grinned. “No.”

On his other side, Mia wore a matching grin. “Would you mind closing your eyes and letting us lead you?”

When he'd first come to Las Anclas, he wouldn't have been able to do that even if he'd wanted to. Now he took a deep breath, then closed his eyes and held out his hands.

Mia's small hand folded around his left, and Jennie's larger one gripped his right. Both were warm and strong. The girls led him back into the surgery. He shuffled along, listening to their breathing. He could tell Mia was trying not to laugh.

“Stairs,” warned Jennie.

He stepped up carefully. The girls stayed at either side, steadying him.

“Cat,” warned Mia.

He gently pushed the furry creature out of his way with his foot. It meowed indignantly. “Sorry,” he told the cat.

When they reached the top, he heard his bedroom door open.

“We hope this was worth keeping you in the infirmary an extra day or so,” Jennie said.

They led him to the bed and sat down on it with him, still holding his hands.

“Open your eyes,” said Mia.

They had taken out the ceiling and replaced it with glass.

“Paco helped us.” Mia sat down beside him. “He's an apprentice glassmaker. We made a deal with him and his master.”

“A lot of people helped,” Jennie added. “It was a big job. Don't worry, we didn't tell them anything personal. We just said we thought you'd like it.”

The stars shone as clear and bright overhead as if there were nothing there but the still night air. Sometimes when he'd stretched out alone on the desert sands, just as he was drifting off to sleep, he'd felt as if the world had turned over and he was falling into the sky. The stars he gazed at now were laid out in the same brilliant patterns across the same vast black sky, but Jennie and Mia sat warm beside him, ready to catch him if he fell.

( is the author of the memoir
All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India

She works as a therapist, specializing in the treat-ment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).


( is the author of many fantasy novels for teenagers and adults, including
Crown Duel
and the Mythopoeic Award Finalist
The Spy Princess


They both live in Southern California.


If you would like to be emailed when their next book comes out, please visit the following link:

BOOK: Stranger
5.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Beneath the Abbey Wall by A. D. Scott
Designer Drama by Sheryl Berk
My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin
Smoke and Mirrors by Margaret McHeyzer
Dawn of Swords by David Dalglish, Robert J. Duperre
Triangular Road: A Memoir by Paule Marshall
Figure 8 by Elle McKenzie