Chapter 3

            When Matt was about 7 years old, the circus came to town. As soon as they heard about the lion and the elephants, Matt and Sarah had begged to go. After a few days of incessant pleading, Mom and Dad took them, and there were clowns, trapeze artists, and people who rode horses standing up.
            Sarah was enthralled by the man who juggled clubs and fire. She spent weeks in the orchard, throwing apples in the air and then dodging them with a scream when she couldn’t catch them. Matt had laughed and asked when she was going to try fire. (Mom caught them before they’d done more than light the match, and, of course, Matt got in trouble.)
            But even after all that, the one Matt remembered best was the magician.
            He’d stood on a platform in a fancy suit, and whenever he gestured, something appeared or disappeared. He made a live dove materialize under a cloth, called a bouquet of flowers to his hand, and made his assistant disappear from the box onstage. Everything he did made something dramatic happen that Matt could see immediately.
            Maybe, that’s why he hadn’t expected their training to be so boring.
            “Matthew, are you listening?” his mother said sharply.
            Matt jerked upright.
            “Yes.”
            “Uh-huh,” She regarded him with folded arms and narrowed eyes. “What did I just say?”
            “That the-” Sarah started faithfully but stopped abruptly when their mother held up a hand. Matt swallowed.
            “You were talking about how farmers used to make offerings to the wind to get good crops,” he said uncertainly.
            “A minute ago, yes,” she said, giving him a stern look. “Matt, you need to listen-”
            “But I thought we were going to learn what to do, not what people used to do!” he protested.
            “Matt,” she put her hands on her hips, and Matt’s shoulders scrunched together from the edge in her voice.
            He ducked his head and waited for the scolding. Instead, he heard a long sigh. When he dared to raise his head, she was looking up with her arms folded and her lips pursed. Finally, she lowered her eyes to his. He couldn’t see any anger.
            “I know that it’s hard to understand, Matt. It seems like a lot of old stories that have nothing to do with today.” She blew out a breath. “But you need to know them to make any of the flashy stuff work. Trying to work with the wind without knowing is like… playing frisbee without having a pinwheel.”
            Matt flinched. Across the table, Sarah seemed to shrink, curling in on herself.
            “I didn’t mean… I thought…” he stuttered.
            “Matt,” her tone gentled, and she put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “I know you didn’t. But you need to understand that the boring stuff is important, too.”
            Matt nodded convulsively. When she started talking again, he listened – even when it was about what types of plants people used to burn as offerings a hundred years ago. As she listed plant after plant, all the names started to blur together in Matt’s head. He raised his hand.
            She gave him a surprised look, then smiled.
            “Yes?”
            “Can we stop for a minute?” he asked. She raised an eyebrow at him, and his brows furrowed. “Er,… May we stop for a minute, please?” She smiled.
            “All right. We can take a short break.”
            As soon as she said “All right,” he was up like a jackrabbit and running to his room. He dug in his school bag for a minute and then trotted back to the table. He set the paper and pencil on the smooth oak. Immediately, he started writing down all the plants that he could remember.
            “What are you doing?” Sarah whispered, glancing toward the kitchen where Mom had gone. She looked like she didn’t know whether she should tattle or not. Typical.
            “What does it look like?” Matt sneered impatiently. “I’m taking notes.” He’d already reached the limit of plants he remembered, so he went back further, writing down everything their mother had told them that morning. The more he tried to write, the more he got a sinking feeling that he didn’t remember enough. He felt a presence next to him and hunched down as Sarah tried to peer around him.
            “The feathers were in Europe.”
            “Wha?” he glanced back at her. She pointed to the spot where he’d been writing.
            “The group who used feathers to make it happy. They were in Europe,” she insisted.
            Matt frowned at the paper. He didn’t remember that. But he hadn’t been sure about the other either. He admitted that Sarah had probably been paying better attention. Giving in, he reached for the eraser and fixed it like she’d said.
            Then it was like he’d primed the pump, and she was spouting more and more bits of information and pointing at the paper. How did she remember all that? Matt wrote as fast as he could, and in a few minutes, he was on his third page. He blew out a breath when she paused for air. The only sound was the frantic scrape of lead.
            “What’s this?”
            It made both of them jump. Recognizing the voice, Matt didn’t turn. Instead, he focused on finishing the note he was writing.
            “Matt’s taking notes,” Sarah answered for him, like he knew she would.
            Something in the air warned him that someone was leaning over him again, and the scent of sweet perfume told him it was his mom. He wrote the last word and set his pencil down. A warm hand came to rest on his shoulder.
            “Notes, huh?” she said. “Let me see.”
            Dutifully, he handed her the pages, and she read as she walked to a chair. Seeing the cup of steaming tea in her hand, Matt glanced uneasily at the stove. The fire was out now, and it was probably a silly superstition. He shifted in his chair and glanced at his mom again. She was occupied with reading. Sarah was watching Mom. Matt turned his head back to the stove and mouthed, “Thank you for heating the water.”
            Of course nothing happened. Matt chided himself for being silly. After all, if he thanked the fire, shouldn’t he thank the water? What about the ground? Suddenly, his skin was crawling again.
            “This is wrong.”
            Matt jumped and spun back around. Mom was reaching for his eraser and going to work on one of the pages. Then, she grabbed the pencil. He couldn’t see what detail she was erasing, but he hoped it was one that Sarah had told him. Judging by Sarah’s nervous glances, it was.
            “All right,” Mom set the pencil down and raised her eyebrows at him. “What made you think of taking notes?” Matt sat up straighter, shifted uncomfortably, and finally shrugged.
            “I couldn’t remember it all?” His voice raised uncertainly as he finished. “It’s what we do at school.” He had a sudden horrible certainty that she was going to tell him that he needed to memorize it all, not write it down.
            “Good idea.” She turned to Sarah. “You better get yours, too.”
            Sarah took off instantly, twin braids flying out behind her as she clattered around the corner. Mom pulled out her chair and had barely sat down when the rumble of an engine reached the house. The sound grew, and the crackle of gravel warned that someone was driving up the driveway.
            Matt leapt out of his chair and dashed to the window. He didn’t really need to pull back the lace curtains to see, but he did anyway. The midmorning light was so bright that he blinked for a moment before he recognized the car.
            “It’s Dad!” he yelled, spinning around. “I thought he was helping the Brants today.”
            “He’s supposed to be,” his mom said softly as he ran by her to the back door.
            “Mom! Dad’s home!” Sarah appeared from the other room, yelling at the top of her lungs.
            “We know!” Matt rolled his eyes more from reflex than anything else. “Mom, should we change? Does he need us to help him?” Anything was better than studying.
            “I don’t know, Matt.” She answered almost absent-mindedly, her focus outside the door. “You and Sarah stay here. I’ll be right back.”
            “But Mom-” Matt and Sarah chorused. She only gave them a stern look.
            “Study.” With that she was gone, shutting the door firmly behind her.
            They gaped for a moment. Then, with an exchange of wide-eyed glances, they rushed the door. Peeking through, they saw no sign of the car. But Mom was crossing the farmyard – she was moving so fast that chickens jumped and flapped to get out of her way.
            “She’s headed for the shed!” Matt exclaimed and abandoned the door to rush to the kitchen window. Sarah lagged behind.
            “But Mom said to study,” she whined uncertainly.
            “We will!” Matt argued. “But I want to see first.”
            The big wooden windows had the same kind of lace curtains as the ones in the dining room. This time, Matt didn’t touch them. No, he crouched down low near the sill and squinted through. Dad had already pulled the car into the shed and gotten out. When Mom got to him, he shoved both hands through his hair in a quick, rough gesture and then dropped them. Matt couldn’t hear what Mom said back, but whatever it was made Dad shake his head. Then, Mom’s hands flung out to the side, and Matt’s stomach dropped. He knew that gesture. He used to see it right before he got paddled.
            “What’re they saying?” Sarah whispered, and Matt jumped. She was crouched behind him so close that she was practically breathing down his neck.
            “I don’t know,” he snapped, shrugging his shoulders uncomfortably at her closeness. The jerky motion sent her skittering backwards. Satisfied with the action, he dismissed her and pressed his face to the glass. “I wish we could hear.”
            Even as he strained to hear above the chickens, the windowpane rattled from the breeze.
            “They’re scared.”
            Matt jumped hard enough to hit his head on the window. At the same time, he tried to spin around and see who was speaking, but he ended up throwing himself off balance and falling back against the wall. Sarah’s reaction had been nearly identical, leaving them both sitting on the floor and staring into the empty room.
            “What about tomorrow?”
            “There’s no way they’re coming. We’re on our own.”
            Matt and Sarah flinched. This time, Matt recognized the voices. But how were they so close?
            “All that with the four of us? We would’ve had to start last week!”
            “We’ll have to save what we can.”
            “But-“
            “Linda,… what else can we do?”
            The sound was coming from above their heads. As if Mom and Dad were standing right outside the window. With a deep gulping breath, Matt braced himself and then dared to peek through. He couldn’t even see them by the shed anymore.
            The breeze caressed the window, and Matt froze.
            “I’ll get the kids. Lessons will have to wait.”
            An instant later, Mom appeared next to the shed. She was heading for the house. Matt ducked down instinctively and looked worriedly at the window. There was no movement, but he could feel the wind there, waiting.
            “Thanks,” he choked and swallowed. “I don’t need to hear anymore.”
            The window rattled as the wind blew stronger and then faded. Matt drew a deep shuddering breath and collapsed against the wall. How had he done that? Could you do magic without knowing? The idea made his skin crawl.
            “Matt…” Sarah’s hoarse whisper made him turn his head. She looked as wild-eyed as he felt. “How did… What did you do?”
            Matt stared at her and felt ice trickle down his spine. He’d been half hoping it was something Mom told them about, but then, Sarah would’ve known. He shook his head helplessly. Halfway through, he froze, staring at the window.
            “I wished.”
            Footsteps rang out hollowly from the porch. Matt and Sarah jumped as one. In a mad rush, they lunged up and scrambled for the table. Their panic made them clumsy, and they ran into each other trying to get out of the kitchen. The collision sent Sarah into the wall. Matt tried to catch himself but only managed to knock over the spice rack on his way to the floor. Jumping up, he was frantically trying to right the bottles when the doorknob turned.
            “Go!” he hissed at his sister as he replaced the last one and raced after her. He slid into the room as the door opened. It was too late to sit, so he grabbed the papers and held them up, trying not to pant.
            He tried to focus on the footsteps coming toward him, but he could barely hear over the pounding of his heart. He felt wired with energy and split four different ways as he tried to calm his breathing, keep the paper from shaking, listen to her approach, and pretend he hadn’t even heard her come in. He tried to look like he was reading, but he just knew that Mom would take one look at him and know exactly what he’d done – whatever it was.
            Even though Matt wasn’t entirely sure what he’d done, he was sure that it was something he wasn’t supposed to do.
            “All right, you two, go change into your work clothes.” His mom’s brisk order interrupted his thoughts.
            “Are we studying outside?” Matt spun around, everything forgotten in his excitement for actually getting to do something.
            “Not today. And I don’t want either of you saying one word to the wind while we’re working, is that clear?”
            Matt shrank into himself and fought not to squirm. He hadn’t meant to talk to it!
            “Hurry now. We need to get out in the fields.”
            “But we’re supposed to do that tomorrow,” Sarah piped up, “with the Granges and-”
            “Not anymore,” Mom interrupted. “We need to get started yesterday, so hurry and change.”
            Her voice was brisk and had that edge she got when she was about to yell at them. Suddenly, the conversation they’d heard clicked in Matt’s mind, and all the excitement drained out of him. He swallowed and headed out of the dining room, grabbing Sarah’s arm before she could ask anything else. She started to anyway.
            “Yes, Mom,” he said loudly over her and quickly propelled Sarah back to their rooms.
            “But Matt-” Sarah objected, and Matt shushed her.
            “Get changed,” he hissed and darted into his room to do the same. He rushed over to his dresser and swiftly dug out his old work clothes. He changed in under a minute, and leaving everything else where it had fallen, he hurried back out, grabbing his boots on the way. Mom was already back outside, but Matt still put his boots on as fast as he could. If they weren’t out there in a minute, she’d definitely come looking for them.
            “I don’t understand,” Sarah whined. Matt glanced up as he tied the last lace. At least she’d changed. “Why aren’t we waiting for everyone to help?”
            “Weren’t you listening?” Matt snapped, standing. “They’re not coming!”
            When she goggled at him, he hissed with impatience and shoved her towards the chair.
            “Put your shoes on and stop talking about it. Mom and Dad are already upset.”
            He guessed she finally understood because she put her shoes on quickly and didn’t say another word as they ran outside.

Continue to the next chapter…


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