“Matt!” The high-pitched squeal made his knotted muscles relax, but he didn’t open his tired eyes until a loud thud next to him startled them open. Sarah was kneeling next to him. She was horribly pale, and her eyes were huge in her face. He looked her over blearily. She seemed ok. Better.
“He’s all right, Sarah,” Mom said. With great effort, Matt rolled his head to the right and found her kneeling on that side. She was looking at Dad. Matt blinked as his dad laid a hand on her head, and she leaned against his side. Their faces were paler – and older – than he’d ever seen them.
There was something about that that should bother him, but it was too hard to keep his eyes open.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s just tired,” Dad’s deep voice was low and reassuring. “Now, back up a bit, sweetie. I need to get to your brother.”
Not really listening to the words, Matt felt the rest of his worry ease automatically at the sound of that deep rumble. By the time the shuffling around him was done, Matt’s world was the half-fog of approaching sleep. He barely felt the hands pressed lightly against his chest, and their warmth only made the fog deepen. Then, it was as if a blast of wind rushed through him, entering his chest and flowing through his entire body.
Matt sat up with a gasp, completely awake as terror spiked. His head twisted from side to side, trying to find evidence of the wind. How had it gotten in? What would it do? No matter where he looked, he saw nothing. The drapes didn’t move; the papers didn’t rustle. But he couldn’t feel that awful stillness either.
“Shhhh, it’s ok Matt,” his mom reached out and touched his shoulder. The touch made him jerk back, and he stared at her hand.
“It was you!” he gasped. His dad moved, and Matt flinched away from them both, instinctively scooting as far away as he could and running hard into the door. “It was both of you!”
“Matt-” his dad started.
“Stay back!” Matt yelled, hunching against the door. Panic seeped through everything. “You’re part of it! You’re-”
“That’s enough of that, Matthew Aaron!” His mom lunged forward and grabbed his ear, tugging down on it hard. The sharp pain broke through the hysteria, and he yelped. Struggling hurt, and he immediately stopped trying. She was acting like he’d broken her favorite vase, and the normality of it poked holes in the fear so that the panic had no choice but to leak away.
“Linda, he doesn’t understand.”
“Then he shouldn’t have been playing with it,” she snapped. Releasing his ear, she grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “Think, Matthew! Why did you think our house was safe? Why are you and your sister the only children who understand it?”
As his head bounced back and forth like a baby rattle, Matt could only gape at his parents. It was like someone had taken the facts of his life and poured them out on the floor where they scattered like marbles.
“Is… is it our fault?” Sarah whispered. Matt had forgotten she was there. “The other houses – the people. Is it our fault?”
Her eyes were huge in her pale face, and Dad immediately pulled her down on his lap, wrapping his arms around her.
“No, honey, it’s not your fault. It’s none of our faults.” His reassuring words were strengthened by the soothing tone of his voice. More magic? Matt’s brow furrowed, and he shuddered. How would he know if it wasn’t? How could he be sure?
“We’ll explain.” Mom promised suddenly as if sensing his thoughts. “We were going to wait until you were both a little older, but,” she sighed, and her hand trembled on his shoulder, “it’s too late for that now.”
They helped him up and guided him to the couch. Matt followed their directions numbly. His body was still shaking, and his mind was whirling like a children’s toy. The image of the pinwheel popped into his head, and he flinched. The sudden shudder was too much for his tired knees, and he fell onto the couch with a dull thud. Sarah curled up next to him. Her thin shoulder pressed against his side, but he didn’t protest.
Their parents stood uncertainly in the center of the room. Dad ran his hands through his hair and then rubbed them against his legs, as if he couldn’t quite make them still. He started to put them through his hair again, but Mom reached out and caught one, linking their fingers together. She leaned her face against his shoulder and sighed. When his dad stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head, Matt’s insides began to feel tense and shaky. Even when the house shook from the wind, Mom and Dad hadn’t looked like that. They weren’t supposed to look like that.
“They’re too young. They shouldn’t have to deal with this.”
The murmur was so soft that Matt wasn’t sure he’d really heard it until his dad whispered, “We don’t have any choice.”
The shoulder pressed against him trembled, making Matt turn. Sarah gazed up at him with eyes so big he thought they would swallow her face.
“Is the wind bad?” she whispered, clutching his sleeve.
He stared down at her, not knowing how to answer. A sigh turned them back to their parents. They were stepping away from each other. Matt thought they would pull the armchairs up to the couch and could only gape when his mom sat facing them on the coffee table. His dad followed suit.
“We’re not supposed to sit on the coffee table!” He and Sarah blurted together. Their parents blinked and then smiled a little. Some of the tension left Matt’s insides.
“Just this once,” his mom said, and her smile faded. Dad laid his hand over hers. She looked down at their joined hand as if not sure where to start. Matt couldn’t wait any more.
“How come no one else can talk to the wind?” he blurted.
They frowned, and his dad stared up at the ceiling like the answer was up there somehow.
“That’s not exactly true,” his dad said finally. “Everyone used to be able to talk to it and understand it. All of our people did, anyway.”
“Our people…?” Matt gaped.
“Humans, Matthew,” his mother sighed with exasperation. “We’re still human.”
“So are the kids at school!” Matt protested.
“Yes, but they forgot how,” Mom said simply. “Or their parents forgot how. Or their grandparents. For some of them, it’s been generations – hundreds of years – since anyone even thought of the wind as alive.”
“What else could it be?”
His parents shook their heads.
“Can you talk to water?” Mom asked. “Can you talk to fire?”
“No!” Matt exclaimed in unison with Sarah and then frowned at her.
“They’re not like wind,” she went on obliviously. “They’re not…” She stumbled on the word, and Matt stopped frowning and leaned back as he recognized the trap.
“Alive?” their mom asked gently.
Matt’s brows bent across his forehead in a deep v.
“Are you saying that water and fire are…” he swallowed and changed words, “like the wind, too?”
His mom’s eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open as her face paled. But Dad was already talking.
“No, no!” he said hurriedly. “She meant that’s how other people think of wind!” Mom nodded emphatically.
“They think it’s a seasonal thing. Or a side effect of other weather.” Her mocking tone was a little weak, but Matt was focused on the words. “When the tornado’s come, they blame it on fate or bad luck when it was their actions that caused it.”
The last bit was said with such frustration and anger that Matt instinctively huddled back into the couch. He could feel Sarah curl closer against his side.
“They don’t remember,” Dad said quickly and soothingly, as if he’d said it a hundred times before. Mom closed her eyes. For a long moment, there was silence.
“What did they do?” Matt whispered, cleared his throat, and tried again. “How did they cause it?”
Mom surged to her feet in a quick, spasm-like movement and strode to face the table in the dining room. Her shoulders stood like sharply defined peaks in the still air. Dad watched her go and briefly pressed a hand to his face. When he lowered it, his eyes were full of answers to questions Matt couldn’t begin to guess.
“We don’t know,” he admitted.
The smack of their mother hitting her hand against the wall between the rooms echoed painfully in the hush. They all turned to see her gripping the wall as she leaned on it, her knuckles white.
“There are too many options.” Anger, tears, frustration, fear – her voice was a hoarse Molotov cocktail of emotions. “We’ve managed to eliminate a few, but…” A harsh breath followed the words, and Dad started to get up. Before he made it even an inch above the coffee table, Sarah had already flown off the couch and across the room, flinging her arms around Mom from behind. Her body jerked, then froze for an instant before she turned and convulsively wrapped herself around her daughter.
Watching his mom hold Sarah and rock, Matt drew in a sharp breath and held it, his whole body drawing up tightly. He’d tasted fear earlier that day, but now for the first time, he began to understand that he’d only glimpsed the very edge of the problem. And Mom and Dad had been dealing with it… Matt tried to remember when they started looking at maps.
The couch cushions tilted, and he knew Dad had moved next to him. Matt stared at his hands. He felt like he had when he’d been sick a week and had to take a math test his first day back at school. He didn’t know what to do, and his mind chased itself in panicked circles. But it always came up with the same question. He opened his mouth, made a strangled sound, cleared his throat, and tried again.
“What do we do?”
He hadn’t expected the answer to be to eat dinner and go to bed. He’d wanted to start learning or searching or whatever right then, but his parents said that was enough for one day. Seeing Mom that upset, he’d swallowed the objection and done as they’d said. That left all the unasked questions still buzzing in his head.
Matt lay in his bed and stared at the dark window. Every so often, he could hear the tree branches move or the panes rattle and knew that the wind was outside. He didn’t know what kept it out of the house – was there something that kept it out of the house? What would happen if the wind decided it wanted in? The questions made the inside of his chest feel like it was wired with electricity. As he stared and thought, the edgy feeling grew until he knew there was no way he could sleep.
Pushing back the light blanket, he sat up and swung his feet over the edge of the bed. Peering in the darkness, he tried to find the board that always squeaked and slowly put his feet down well to the side of it. As he carefully lowered each foot, the muscles of his leg reminded him of the day’s abuse with sharp pains that made his legs twitch and tense. The first time it happened, he stumbled, caught himself with a heavy step, and then froze, listening to see if anyone else got up to check. The only sound was the ticking of the old grandfather clock, booming away in the darkness.
Swallowing to wet his dry mouth, Matt started walking again. When he didn’t try to lower his feet so slowly, his legs didn’t seem to mind as much, and he made his way to the kitchen without further incident.
In the darkened kitchen, he stood for a moment, staring at the cold stove and the dark shelves. He rubbed his gritty eyes and leaned on the table. He wasn’t really sure why he’d come in here. He wasn’t hungry at all. He’d barely managed swallow a few bites at dinner, and with the knots in his stomach, he couldn’t imagine eating anything now. He stood for another moment before sighing and taking down their old scarred kettle. Mom and Dad always made tea when someone was upset or needed to calm down. But that was for little worries. Matt frowned at the worn metal and finally shrugged. If it didn’t help, at least it would give him something to do.
He pumped the water as quietly as he could, but his hand jerked, knocking the kettle into the sink side as he realized why Mom had insisted on putting in an indoor pump and sink. His breath caught and his shoulders tensed. The kettle hit the sink again. The metal clang rang out in the still darkness. He froze, but the only sound he heard was the trickling water.
Blowing out a deep breath, Matt carefully set the kettle on the burner. Pulling out the matches, he removed one and then reached for the gas. His hand paused an inch from the knob, and he frowned at it for a minute before finally switching it on. The quiet hiss sent a shiver down his spine. Swallowing, he struck the match and poked the tiny flame under the burner. It caught with a whoosh, the blue light stinging his eyes in the darkened kitchen.
Matt backed away instantly. His eyebrows lowered, and he kept his gaze fixed on the flickering light. When it did nothing but glow and heat under the circle of the burner, he hesitantly moved by it for a mug and the tea tin. Every few seconds his eyes darted back to the fire.
He set the supplies on the table and turned back to the stove. The low sound the fire made was almost more a pressure in his ears than a noise. He closed his eyes and listened to it as best he could, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t pick out any meaning. Finally, he opened his eyes. Scratching his head, he shrugged uncomfortably.
“Thank you for heating the water,” he whispered in a carefully respectful tone. The light of the fire flared white for an instant, and Matt’s breath caught.
“What are you doing?”
The hiss from behind him had Matt spinning so fast that he nearly knocked over the chair next to him. Sarah stood in the doorway in her pale nightgown, looking like an annoying little ghost. He sank down into the chair in relief.
“I’m making tea,” he said just as quietly. “Go back to bed.”
“I can’t sleep.” She sat across from him. “I keep hearing the wind. At the windows.”
She shivered, and Matt swallowed hard. For a moment, they sat in silence. Matt knew she was scared, and he knew it was his fault. If he hadn’t disobeyed Mom and Dad and played frisbee, today wouldn’t have happened. His fingers traced restless patterns on the table in the growing silence. Finally, they hesitated.
“Mom made it stop,” he realized out loud. Excitement flowed through him with a rush of giddy relief. He reached out and pressed his hand flat on the table in front of Sarah, leaning in over it. “She knew how to make it stop without making it mad!”
“She… Mom did?” Sarah stuttered, gaping at him with shock and disbelief.
“She brought it a pinwheel to play with!” Matt waved his hands in the air in front of him as he tried to verbalize the sudden storm of thoughts. “She didn’t have time to go to the store – she must’ve had it here. She must’ve bought one before. In case it got mad!”
“A pinwheel?” Sarah was goggling at him. “She wanted a pinwheel?”
“No, the wind did,” Matt brushed her comment aside, but even brotherly annoyance couldn’t compete with the sudden surge of euphoria. “But Mom knew it would. Don’t you see?” He tapped his hands excitedly on the table. “Mom and Dad know stuff about it! Once they teach us, we’ll know, too. We’ll know how to keep from making it mad. We’ll know what to do if it picks us up again. We’ll be able to stop it!”
With each word, the pale nervousness faded from Sarah’s face until she was glowing with excited relief.
“Do you really think-” she cut off abruptly, the new color draining a little from her cheeks. “But what about the other people?” she gasped. “Mom said they made the wind act like that! If they keep-”
“We’ll fix it,” Matt interrupted. He could see it now. He could see how it would work. “Like Mom and Dad have been. Only there’ll be more of us doing it, so we’ll do better. And if we teach them about it, they’ll stop upsetting it!”
Sarah bit her lip and stared at the dark window.
“We’ll be safe,” she whispered, almost too quiet to be heard.
The shrill whistle of the kettle quickly covered her voice. Matt leapt up and turned off the burner with new confidence. He set the kettle on the back to cool without bothering to pour any water for tea. He didn’t need it now. Now, he knew what to do.