Authors: Åke Edwardson
I had walked in a circle through the forest with Kerstin, and we had come back to the camp. We hadn’t been gone
very long. I would have liked it to have taken a little longer.
“Now you have to go back to your troop,” she said. “And some day, maybe you’ll have the courage to take me to the castle.”
“I’ll go back when I feel like it,” I said.
“To show them that you’re in charge?”
She smiled again. I nearly smiled back.
We were standing just inside the gate. One of the counselors came out of the main building and walked straight up to us.
“Matron wants to speak to you, Tommy.”
“Again?” asked Kerstin.
The counselor didn’t answer. She just peered down at Kerstin.
“You come with me,” she said. She tried to take my hand, but I pulled it away and put it on my sword.
We walked across the playground. The little kids were shouting on the swings and the merry-go-round. One of them had gotten hurt and the cries floated up toward the blue sky. There were no clouds up there today either. I hadn’t heard any weather report for some time. You didn’t need to this summer. It was like some country far away where the sun was always shining.
The counselor shut the door behind her when she left. Matron had pulled down the roller blinds in her office. It
was dark but I could see well enough. I could see her sitting there behind her desk. She was framed by the roller blinds behind her. Like a painting.
“So, do we have a deal, Tommy?” she asked.
“Kenny,” I answered. “My name’s Kenny.”
“Did it taste good? The food last night?” she asked and stood up.
“I hope you’re grateful, Tom—Kenny,” she said as she walked around the desk. “We could have sent you away.”
I nodded again. I’d heard that before.
“If you’re good to me, then I can be good to you,” she said standing in front of me. “We shouldn’t have to fight each other, you and I, Kenny.”
She stood just inches from me. It seemed like the room had turned pitch black. I suddenly felt very afraid—more afraid than ever before. It felt like anything at all could happen here inside Matron’s office.
“We know each other, after all,” she said, and she put her hand on my shoulder. “You’re a big boy now, Kenny. You could help me out here at the camp.”
“H-how?” I asked.
“You could set a good example. Show the other kids. Show them how to behave.”
That’s exactly what I’m doing
, I thought to myself.
I tried to think away the fear. To swallow it. I tried to make myself feel tough.
Matron came even closer.
“We have to cooperate,” she continued. “Otherwise it’ll be chaos out there.” She kept her hand on my shoulder. It felt like a sledgehammer. “And we don’t want that do we? Chaos?”
, I thought.
That’s just what we want.
She took her hand away quickly and stood straight up again.
“By the way, I’ve got something that I think belongs to you.”
She turned around and took out a brown paper bag from the desk, opened it, and pulled out my bag of Twist.
he bag of Twist lay on the table between me and Matron. It was see-through and looked unopened, but there was no way of knowing for sure. I could see the small, colorfully wrapped chocolates inside. My mouth watered, but I didn’t want to let her see that. I hoped it wouldn’t show if I spoke. But I wasn’t so stupid as to not realize that it could have been a different bag of Twist altogether. Matron could have bought it especially for this interrogation.
“It was a mistake,” she said, nodding at the bag. “It somehow ended up in a drawer we thought was empty.”
Empty. Whoever put the bag of Twist in the drawer must have seen that it wasn’t empty anymore since the bag of Twist ended up there.
Matron held out her hand and poked at the bag as if I hadn’t yet noticed it was there.
“So you were right, Kenny.”
Really. So what did she want me to do now? Tell her that I forgave her and the counselors and the cook and the whole camp? That I forgave Weine? That I forgave my mom and my dad, and the whole country and the whole world?
“You can take it,” she said.
I heard what she said, but I guess I must have looked like I hadn’t. My jaw was probably still hanging open in surprise.
“You can take your bag of Twist,” she repeated. “You can take it with you.”
My god! Nothing like this had ever happened before. It ought to be big international news. A guy at a summer prison camp with a whole bag of Twist! A whole bag!
But I knew that the bag was just bait. Or a bribe. Matron wanted to make a pact with me. This wasn’t for free. It had to be paid for twice over, or three times, or more.
“So we’re friends then?”
I nodded. That was the smartest thing I could do at this point.
“We’ll help each other out?”
I nodded again. I didn’t know how she could help me or how I could help her, but it didn’t matter right now.
“Take your candy now,” she said. She smiled like she had just done the most charitable deed and the greatest coup of the summer all at the same time.
The warriors had continued building the inner stone wall while I had been gone. It needed a lot of stone. The three walls around Himeji Castle, which was built in 1609, for example, covered an area of one hundred thousand square yards.
Our walls wouldn’t be that big, but they’d be big enough. We were building without any mortar just like in Japan. It was much better that way because then each stone could move a little without causing cracks in the entire structure.
Fluttering above the wall was the standard with our coat of arms. It was a black circle against a white background. Two black lines that were the same thickness as the circle passed through it. We were going to make a few smaller banners—long thin ones. The smaller ones were called
and were meant to be carried when the big battle came. A large samurai army had several dozen standard bearers. It was dangerous to be a standard bearer since they always had to stay close to the commanders, and that’s where the battle was the fiercest. Your banner was always worn on your back. We were going to sew a banner holder on the back of our armor. Once we’d finished making our armor. Once we’d gotten the breastplates, side plates, and back plates mounted. We were trying to get hold of some cardboard to make the plates or preferably some plywood. A good suit of armor could save a samurai’s life.
I hid the bag of Twist underneath one of the cornerstones of the inner stone wall. No one had seen the bag. I had hidden it underneath my shirt and sword strap. I had to think about it more before I told the others about my meeting with Matron. I didn’t know what to do with the bag. As I walked through the forest I regretted that I had accepted it. But at the same time I didn’t have any choice.
“You were gone a long time,” said Micke.
“You’ve made good progress on the wall,” I answered.
“What were you doing?”
“Nothing? For almost two hours?”
Sausage and Janne entered the glade carrying a couple of big rocks. They dropped them next to the wall, which was a yard high in some places.
“We weren’t supposed to have any secrets,” said Micke.
“What secrets are you talking about?” asked Sausage, who’d come over to us.
“You looked strange when you came back,” said Micke.
Sausage, Janne, and Micke all looked at me. Did I look strange? I felt strange. I had a secret that I didn’t know what to do with. I didn’t want to carry it around with me.
“Matron called me into her office.”
“Are they going to send you away?” Now it was Sausage
who looked strange—almost like he might start crying. “They can’t do that.”
“The opposite. She wanted to make a pact.”
“Between us and her?” asked Micke.
“Well… between me and her.”
“I don’t understand,” said Janne.
So I told them.
“It’s gotta be some kind of trick,” said Micke.
“She said nothing about the castle?” asked Janne.
“I’m not sure she knows about it.”
“Of course she does,” said Micke. “She knows everything.”
“She’s a witch.” Sausage looked at me. “But what are we going to do with the bag of Twist?”
“What does anyone do with a bag of Twist?” said Micke, grinning.
“It feels like we’re playing right into her hands if we open it,” I said.
“You’ve already accepted it,” said Micke.
“It was yours from the beginning,” said Sausage.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” said Janne.
“They’re the ones who’ve done wrong,” said Sausage. “You could have reported them to the police for stealing.”
We ought to report them to the police for worse than that, but it wouldn’t do any good. The police had come over
to my house a few times when things had gotten rough at home after Papa had drunk too much, but having the police come hadn’t helped Mama for more than a short time. Then it got even worse.
“When we’re finished with the wall, we’ll eat the whole bag,” I said. “Then we’ll celebrate.”
Really, we ought to wait to celebrate until the whole castle was finished. But I had a feeling that the chocolate would be all dried up by then.
Janne and I found a wall that was already built in a glade when we went looking for small rocks. The glade was about half a mile from the castle.
This one was more than a yard high all around. It was the foundation of a cabin that didn’t exist anymore. When you saw the foundation you could imagine the rest of it. Strange that we hadn’t seen that glade before—like it hadn’t been there. But you had to make your way through thick forest to get there. It was like a dry jungle. There were no paths. Whoever lived there must have made paths walking back and forth, but it was all overgrown now.
“We could have built our castle here instead,” said Janne.
“It’s too far away.”
Janne looked off toward the forest. It was thinner on the other side; you could see a field between a few pine trees. Then we heard a train whistle.
“This is closer to town,” he said. “Closer to town than the camp.”
“Want to go?” I asked. “Into town?”
“You mean… now? Or this summer?”
I didn’t know what I meant. It was just something that popped into my head. Maybe it was because Janne would soon be leaving this community and province altogether and be sent to a farm somewhere far away.
“I don’t know,” he said, and turned to me. “Do you?”
“Why not?” I asked.
I didn’t know why I said that last bit either. Sneaking off into town was a definite one-way ticket out of here. It had never been done. Maybe I’d also end up on some farm, at least until Mama got back from that rest home. She was back at that place again. They called it a rest home, but I knew what it was, of course. I knew what an asylum was. Maybe it was going to be her home now. Maybe I had nowhere to go anymore, unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the nut house.
“Maybe we can wait,” he said.
“Another time,” I said.
“But it’s a good idea.”
“We can leave in the morning and be back in time for supper,” I said.
In the afternoon the troop was forced to play burnball again. Not that I complained, but we had other things to do.
This time Kerstin had ended up on the other team. When she ran past me the first time, on the way to third base, she threw up a hand and laughed as if she thought something was funny or that she and I had an amusing secret.
I was glad when she rushed past me and did that. I felt warmer for some reason even though the sun was already shining.
Then we switched. When it was my turn at bat, I saw that she stood farther back than all the others. If I were smart I would just bunt the ball off to the side so no one would be able to catch it before it hit the ground, or else I’d really belt it out over the lake even though that wouldn’t count. But at the same time, I wanted Kerstin to catch my ball in midair. I wanted to hit it higher and farther than ever, but I also wanted her to catch it in the air.
I connected. I could feel it throughout my body when I hit it right. The impact sort of throbbed through the bat and my
arm and shoulders and head. The ball went super high and then super far, and I had to put my hand over my eyes to see when it started to come down in the harsh light.
I saw Kerstin standing completely still like a statue with her hands cupped toward the sky like she was praying or something. She didn’t have to move an inch. The ball was on its way straight toward her.
I knew that I had gotten a perfect hit—a lot more perfect than anyone here realized since the ball followed the exact trajectory I had planned. I kept my hand over my eyes to protect them against the sun. I saw Kerstin stay where she was while the ball descended lower and lower until finally she caught it before it reached the ground. I wanted to shout out and cheer, even though we weren’t on the same team.
“Aren’t you going to run, Kenny?”
It was Sausage. He was next up at bat.