Read The Unnameables Online

Authors: Ellen Booraem

Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Childrens, #Adventure

The Unnameables

The Unnameables
Ellen Booraem

Orlando Austin New York San Diego London

Copyright © 2008 by Ellen Booraem

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the
work should be submitted online at
or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Booraem, Ellen.
The unnameables/Ellen Booraem.
p. cm.
Summary: On an island in whose strict society only useful objects
are named and the unnamed are ignored or forbidden, thirteen-year-old
Medford encounters an unusual and powerful creature, half-man, half-goat,
and together they attempt to bring some changes to the community.
[1. Utopias—Fiction. 2. Satyrs (Greek mythology)—Fiction.
3. Friendship—Fiction. 4. Change—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.B646145Un 2008
[Fic]—dc22 2007048844
ISBN 978-0-15-206368-9

Text set in Adobe Jenson Pro
Map illustrations by Jeffery C. Mathison
Designed by Linda Lockowitz

First edition

Printed in the United States of America

For Rob,
who gave me the Goatman
and the courage to write about him


Prologue xi

1 Cropfodder 1

2 Book Learning 14

3 Essence Is Gone 25

4 Bog Island 36

5 Mistress Learned 47

6 Pinky 59

7 The Goatman's Wind 70

8 Rambles and Tales 80

9 Grass Tunes 92

10 Once a Runyuin 101

11 Prudy's View of the World 113

12 Nutcakes 124

13 Cold Nutcakes 133

14 The Constables 143

15 Jail 156

16 Stinky Returns 168

17 Up to the Archives 181

18 Jeremiah Comstock 191

19 The Map in the Dark 203

20 The Last of Alma 217

21 The Naming 228

22 Morning at Cook's 239

23 The Council 252

24 Twig's Surprise 265

25 Constance Learned 276

26 A Runyuin and a Carver 289

27 Risk and Beauty 297

28 Another Useful Gust 304

29 The Unnameable 310

Acknowledgments 317


. Anyone can see that, even from a distance.

Fields of late hay, oats, and barley wait for harvest, sown arrow-straight and weeded to stay that way.

The houses are squared and repaired, their biggest windows facing south to catch the sun. The roof shingles line up like crow flight, a chimney emerging neatly from every roof. Firewood is perfectly stacked and entirely covered.

But out here over the ocean, between the orderly island and the mainland miles away, the seabirds are in chaos.

They flap. They squawk. Spare feathers whip away in a vortex.

The wind is out of the west.

But then it switches around and comes from the north.

Then south, then east. Then again from the west.

Down on the water, a tiny sailboat rocks amid frothy waves. Despite the keening of the wind even a bird can hear the
of the sail as it wheels around.

A man is clinging to the sides of the boat for dear life. He shouts something, tries to gesture. But the wind grabs his words and swoops off with them. He attaches himself to the gunwales again and closes his eyes.

The man's robe is purple and far from clean, the seabirds notice. Not what they're used to in this part of the world.

His dingy white sash crosses from right shoulder to left hip. The sun glints dully off a pair of droopy horns on his head. The horns have tarnished golden balls attached to their tips.

A black-and-white dog cowers in the bow of the boat, wet and shaking. She lifts her head and howls, the way anyone does when she has taken up with a horned man who can't sail.

Could such a miserable, wind-tormented boat really be heading for that sunny, orderly island?

Not yet.

Not for nearly a year.

Don't worry, though. It'll get there.


A Pumpkyn may remayne Wholesome the Winter through. Gut the Fruit, then cut in Pieces and String it. 'Twill drie lyke Apples.

—A Frugall Compendium of Home Arts and Farme Chores by Capability C. Craft (1680), as Amended and Annotated by the Island Council of Names (1718–1809)

thought about it later, that day in Hunters Moon was a good example of Before.

Before Transition.

Before the Goatman.

Before life changed forever.

Before, before, before.

He and Prudence Carpenter were on the beach, watching the Farmers gather seaweed for winter mulch. Grover Gardener, Councilor for Physick, was there, too, hands red with sea slime. So was anyone whose kitchen garden needed mulching, which was almost everybody. That mornings sky, the departing birds, and Emery Farmer's bones had announced that seaweed gathering soon would be a chore rather than a pleasure.

You'd gather the seaweed anyway, of course, pleasure or no. Seaweed was Useful and that was that. The Book even named specific types: Cropfodder, the kind most people were after today; Windbegone, which Grover gave to patients who had digestive troubles; Bone-mend, which he dried for chewing when you'd broken your leg.

Medford and Prudy were ignoring seaweed. It was still Before, and they were being Useless.
Run, run when young,
the Book said.
Later in the day, settle and stay.
Time enough to be Useful after Transition.

They were knee-deep in sea-foam, bare feet numb, clothes salt-spattered. Waves hissed in over the sand, then sighed back out again. The sun-drenched air was warm but sharp. The winter winds had come early this year, whipping up the waves. Two weeks from now the sea would be stone gray and the monthly Mainland Trade would be over until spring. Boats would hunker down on shore and people would eat salted Common Fish.

Medford stood still and let the retreating water slip over and around his frozen feet. It ate away the sand at his heels until he teetered and almost fell over. Fifty feet out, a Nameless brown bird made a clumsy splash landing in the water while a Nameless gray bird swooped over its head, laughing. Medford flailed his skinny arms to keep his balance, laughing himself, his scraggly brown hair wild in the breeze.

Skinny and lanky and practically Nameless, he had a lot in common with that brown bird.

Seabirds had no names, regardless of color.
No Use, no Name,
the Book said. And names were what mattered here, thirty-five chilly miles east of Mainland. Mainland maps called the place Fools' Haven. But the people who lived on it called it Island.

Island was ten miles long, north to south, and seven miles wide, west to east. Its principal town, on the western shore closest to Mainland, was called Town. The town hall was called Town Hall and said so on a plaque over the door. Town Hall was on the main street, which was called Main Street.

Islanders liked names that said exactly what a thing—or a person—was or did, and nothing less.

Islanders liked things (and people) to do what their names said they would. Nothing more.

Islanders who fished were called Fisher. Others had names like Carpenter, Merchant, Tailor, and Miller. So what would you expect of a thirteen-year-old foundling called Medford Runyuin?

Not much.

In fact, you might want to keep your eye on him. And you'd be right, but so far Medford was the only one who knew that for sure.

Beside him, Prudy plunged her hand into a retreating wave, one blond braid dipping into the water. "Ooo, look," she said, something in her hand. When a new wave hit she swooshed the thing around to get the sand off.

It turned out to be a Baitsnail shell three inches long, glistening white with pale pink stripes, its tail a perfect funnel, not a chip on it.

'"Tis the best yet," Prudy said.

"Let's see it," Medford said, holding out his hand.

The stripes spiraled into a point at the top. The inside of the shell had its own design, fainter and more delicate. If this were a piece of wood, he'd know just the right blade and just the right amount of pressure that would bring out those spirals, make them—

He shuddered and dropped the shell into Prudys hand as if it burned his fingers.

Unnameable thoughts again.

The Book never defined Unnameable. It just figured you knew. Medford did know, but he forgot sometimes. He shook the unwanted thoughts out of his head, breathing deep for calm as the Book suggested.

The calm didn't last. It never did.

"Med-ford Run-you-in," called a hated voice from behind him. But he and Prudy had been the only young ones on the beach when they'd arrived. He'd checked, first thing.

"Run-you-in, let's run you out," the voice said. Other voices snickered, although it could just have been the waves.

Medford decided to ignore them. He didn't turn around. He pretended he didn't know anyone named Arvid Tanner, and he could tell Prudy was doing the same. She was examining her new shell as if it had a Use.

"Been sawing your hair off with your knife again, I see," Arvid's voice said, closer and louder. "Raggedy Runyuin." Those were definitely other voices, laughing.

Yet again, Medford considered growing his hair into a pigtail. Medford's foster father, Boyce Carver, always said a pigtail tickled his neck and the stray hairs got in his eyes when he was working. A pigtail probably would tickle. But it might be better, just for a little while, to look like everyone else.

"Ain't you scared, standing in the water like that?" a second voice churgled. That was Hazel Forester, who found it difficult to talk without giggling. He imagined her chins wobbling. "You might get drownded like your parents."

"Who sails without a chart?" Arvid said. "Nameless Mainlanders, that's who."

"Raggedy don't care about duh wahder." This from Arvid's brother, Fordy, who always sounded as if he had a cold in his nose. "He'd just wash back id od a plank like he did the first tibe."

Someone splashed water onto Medford's back. "Plank Baby, Plank Baby," Fordy chanted. Another splash.

It sounded like just the three of them but that was enough. Arvid had an unfailing sense of what would hurt most, whether it was a finger between the ribs or a tale flung across three rows of desks in Book Learning. Fordy and Hazel either led the admiring laughter or blocked the way so you couldn't run.

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