Authors: Lois Lowry
Matty didn't want the conversation to end here. He wanted to tell the blind man about himself, about his secret.
“So you don't have a special gift, like Leader, but other people do?”
“My daughter does. She told me of it that night, the night you took me to her.”
“Kira? She has a special gift?”
“Yes, your old friend Kira. The one who taught you manners.”
Matty ignored that. “She must be all grown up now. I saw her last time I was there, but it's been almost two years. But, Seer, what do you mean .Â .Â .”
The blind man stopped unexpectedly on the steps leading to the door.
he said with sudden urgency.
“I've just realized. The border will be closing in three weeks.”
Seer sat down on the steps. He put his head in his hands. Sometimes he did that when he was thinking. Matty sat beside him and waited. He could hear Frolic inside, throwing himself against the door in frustration.
Finally the blind man spoke. “I want you to go to your old village, Matty. Leader will be sending you anyway, with the message.
“He'll no doubt send you to several places. But, Matty, I want you to go to your old village first. Leader will understand.”
“But I don't.”
“My daughter. She said some day she would come here to live, when the time was right. You know her, Matty. You know she had things to accomplish there first.”
“Yes. And she has, Seer. I could tell when I was last there. Things have changed. People take good care of their children now. And .Â .Â .”
He hesitated, unable to speak for a moment, because the memory of his own abuse had returned. Then he added simply, “Kira made things change. Things are better now.”
“There are only three weeks left, Matty. After the border closes it will be too late. She won't be allowed to come. You must bring her here before that happens.
“If you don't, Matty, I will never see her again.”
“It always seems strange to me when you say âsee.'”
The blind man smiled. “I see in my heart, Matty.”
Matty nodded. “I know you do. I'll bring her to you. I'll leave here tomorrow.”
Together they rose. Evening was coming. Matty opened the door and Frolic leaped into his arms.
"Tuck it inside your shirt, Matty, so it won't get rumpled. You have a long journey ahead.”
Matty took the packet of folded messages in the thick envelope, and placed it where Leader indicated, inside his shirt next to his chest. He didn't say so to Leader, but he thought that later, when he gathered his traveling things, he would probably find a different place for the envelope. He would put it with his food supplies and blanket. It was true that here, inside his shirt, was the safest and cleanest place. But he had planned to carry Frolic there, against his chest.
There was not time, in three weeks, to make journeys to all the other places and communities. Some of them were many days away, and a few places could be reached only by riverboat. Matty was not qualified to go by river; the man called Boater was always the one who took messages and trading goods by that route.
But it had been decided that the message would be posted on every path throughout Forest, so that any new ones coming would see it and turn back. Matty was the only one who knew all the paths, who was not afraid to enter Forest and travel in that dangerous place. He would post the messages there. And he would go on to his own old place as well. There had been ongoing communication between that place and Village for years; now they must be told of the new ruling.
Leader was standing now at the window, as he so often did, looking down at Village and the people below. Matty waited. He was in a hurry to be off, to begin his long journey, but he had a feeling there was something that Leader wanted to tell him, something still unsaid.
Finally Leader turned to Matty, standing beside him. “He's told you that I see beyond, hasn't he?”
“Yes. He says you have a special gift. His daughter does, too.”
“His daughter. That would be the girl called Kira, the one who helped you leave your old place. He never talks about her.”
“It makes him too sad. But he thinks about her all the time.”
“And you say she has a gift, too?”
“Yes. But hers is different. Each gift is different, Seer said.”
Do you know about mine?
Matty thought. But he did not need to ask.
As if he had read Matty's mind, Leader told him, “I know of yours.”
Matty shuddered. The gift still frightened him so. “I kept it secret,” he said apologetically. “I haven't even told Seer. I didn't want to be secretive. But I'm still trying to understand it. I try to put it out of my mind. I try to forget that it's there inside me. But then it just appears. I can feel it coming. I don't know how to stop it.”
“Don't try. If it comes without your summoning it, it is because of need. Because someone needs your gift.”
It was a frog first!”
“It was to show you. It always starts with a small thing. For me? The very first time I saw beyond? It was an apple.”
Despite the solemnity of the conversation, Matty chuckled. A frog and an apple.
And a puppy,
“Wait for the true need, Matty. Don't spend the gift.”
“But how will I know?”
Leader smiled. He rubbed Matty's shoulder affectionately. “You'll know,” he said.
Matty looked around for Frolic and saw that he was curled in the corner, asleep. “I should go. I haven't packed my things yet. And I want to stop by and tell Jean I'm going, so she won't wonder where I am.”
Leader kept him there within the comfortable curve of his arm. “Matty, wait,” he said. “I want to .Â .Â .” Then he gazed through the window again. Matty stood there, wondering what he was to wait for. Then he felt something. The weight of the young man's arm took on a quality of something beyond human flesh. It came alive with power. Matty felt it from the arm, but he knew, as well, that it was pervading all of Leader's being. He understood that it was Leader's gift at work.
Finally, after what seemed an unendurable few moments, Leader lifted his arm away from Matty. He exhaled. His body sagged slightly. Matty helped him to a chair and he sat there, exhausted, breathing hard.
“Forest is thickening,” Leader said when he could speak.
Matty didn't know what he meant. It sounded ominous. But when he looked through the window, to the row of underbrush and pines that was the border of Forest, it looked no different to him.
“I don't understand it exactly,” Leader said. “But I can see a thickening to Forest, like a .Â .Â .” He hesitated.
“I was going to say like a clotting of blood. Things turning sluggish and sick.”
Matty looked through the window again. “The trees are just the same, Leader. There's a storm coming, though. You can hear the wind. And look. The sky is turning dark. Maybe that's what you saw.”
Leader shook his head skeptically. “No. It was Forest I saw. I'm sure. It's hard to describe, Matty, but I was trying to look
Forest in order to get a feeling for Seer's daughter. And it was very, very hard to push through. It wasâwell,
“I think you had better not go, Matty, I'm sorry. I know you love making your journeys, and that you take pride in being the only one who can. But I think there may be danger in Forest this time.”
Matty's heart sank. He had hoped to be given his true name, Messenger, because of this trip. At the same time, something told him that Leader might be right.
Then he remembered. “Leader, I
“No. We can post the messages at the entrance to Village. It will mean new ones will have to turn back after terribly long journeys, and that's tragic. Butâ”
“No, it's not the messages! It's Seer's daughter! I promised him I would go and bring Kira home. It will be her last chance to come. His last chance to be with her.”
“And she will want to come?”
“I'm sure she will. She always intended to someday. And she has no family there. She's old enough to marry, but no one would want her. Her leg is crooked. She walks with a stick.”
Leader took several deep breaths. “Matty,” he said, “I'm going to try again to see beyond Forest. I'm going to try to see Seer's daughter and her needs. You may stay with me now, because whether you make this journey will depend on what I learn. But be aware that it is very hard for me to do this twice in a row. Don't be distressed as you watch.”
He stood again and went to the window. Matty, knowing he could be of no help, went to the corner where Frolic was asleep and sat down beside his puppy. From there he watched Leader's body tense, as if he were in pain. He heard Leader gasp and then moan slightly.
The young man's blue eyes remained open but no longer seemed to be looking at the ordinary things in the room or through the window. He had gone, eyes and whole being, far into a place that Matty could not perceive and where no one could follow him.
He seemed to shimmer.
Finally he slumped into the chair, shaking, and tried to catch his breath.
Matty went to him, stood beside him, and waited while Leader rested. He remembered how he felt after he had healed the puppy and its mother. He remembered the desperate need to sleep.
“I reached where she is,” Leader said when he could speak again.
“Did she know you were there? Could she feel you there?”
Leader shook his head. “No. To make her aware of me would have taken more energy than I had. It's so very far, and Forest is so thick now, to go through.”
Matty had a sudden thought. “Leader? Do you think two gifts could
Leader, still breathing hard, stared at him. “What do you mean?”
“I'm not sure. But what if you could go halfwayâand she could, too? So you could meet in the middle with your gifts? It wouldn't be so hard if you only went halfway. If you
Leader's eyes were closed, now. “I don't know, Matty,” he said.
Matty waited but Leader said nothing more, and after a while Matty feared he was asleep. “Frolic?” he called, and the puppy woke, stirred, and came to him.
“Leader,” Matty said, leaning close to him, “I'm going to go. I'm going to get the blind man's daughter.”
“Be very careful,” Leader murmured. His eyes were closed. “It is dangerous now.”
“I will. I always am.”
“Don't waste your gift. Don't spend it.”
“I won't,” Matty replied, though he was not certain what the words meant.
“Yes?” He was at the top of the stairs now, holding Frolic, who still couldn't manage the staircase on his own.
“She's quite lovely, isn't she?”
Matty shrugged. He understood that Leader was referring to Kira but the blind man's daughter was older than he. She had been like a big sister to him. No one in the old place had thought her lovely. They had been contemptuous of her weakness.
“She has a crooked leg,” Matty reminded Leader. “She leans on a stick to walk.”
“Yes,” Leader said. “She's very lovely.” But his voice was hard to hear now, and in a second he was asleep. Matty, holding Frolic, hurried down the stairs.
It was late in the day by the time Matty was ready to go. It had rained heavily, and though the rain had stopped, wind still blew, and the leaves of the trees fluttered and revealed their pale undersides. The sky was dark, from the storm and from the approach of evening.
He placed the packet of messages inside his rolled blanket. By the sink, the blind man was putting food into Matty's backpack. He could not carry enough for the entire journey; it was too long. But Matty was accustomed to living on the food that Forest provided. He would feed himself along the way when what Seer packed was gone.
“While you're away, I'll be fixing the spare room for her. Tell her that, Matty. She'll have a comfortable place to live. And she can have a garden. I know that's important to her. She's never been without a garden.”
“I won't need to convince her. She's always said she'd come when the time was right. Now it is. Leader could tell. So she'll know, too. You said she has a gift.” Matty, folding a sweater, tried to reassure the blind man.
“It's hard to leave the only place you've known.”
“You did it,” Matty reminded him.
“I had no choice. I was brought here when they found me in Forest with my eyes gone.”
“Well, I did it. Many have.”
“Yes. That's true. But I hope it won't be hard for her.”
Matty glanced over. “Don't put those beets in. I hate beets.”
“They're good for you.”
“Not if they're thrown on the ground. And that's what they'll be if you put them in.”
The blind man chuckled and dropped the beets into the sink. “Well,” he said, “they're heavy anyway. They'd weigh you down. But I'm putting carrots in.”
“Anything but beets.”
There was a knock on the door, and it was Jean, her hair curlier than usual from the dampness that remained after the rain. “Are you still going, Matty, in this weather?”
Matty laughed at her concern. “I've gone through Forest in snow,” he boasted. “This weather is nothing. Yes, I'm about to leave. I'm just packing food.”
“I've brought you some bread,” she said, and took the wrapped loaf from the basket she carried. He noticed that she had decorated it with a leafy sprig and a yellow chrysanthemum blossom.
Matty took the loaf and thanked her, though secretly he wondered how he would ever fit it in. Finally the blind man found a way to tuck it inside the rolled blanket.