Chapter 4

            There was no sign of Mom and Dad in the yard. Matt grabbed the post and yanked himself to a halt at the edge of the porch. Sarah blasted by him and down the steps.
            “What are you doing?” she hollered back at him, spinning herself around and scattering chickens.
            “Hush!” he snapped and craned his head from side to side. He didn’t see anyone in the fields. When the wind tugged him toward the yard, he frowned but listened. At first, there was nothing except excited screeches and flutters, but then he thought he heard some sort of muted clatter of metal or wood coming from the barn. As soon as he caught the noise from the huge old structure, he took off. Ignoring the squawk of chickens (and sister), Matt darted through them and raced across the yard. He only slowed when he reached the partly open door, skidding to a halt for an instant before he stepped through the shadowy opening.
            As his eyes adjusted to the dim light that leaked through the narrow windows and the gaps between the slate roofing tiles, Matt walked steadily through the scattered straw and dirt until he could see the threatening shadows of old equipment. Mom didn’t like them to go back there (she was sure they’d fall on something and kill themselves). But that was where the noise was coming from.
            In the flickering light of a bare bulb, the wicked-looking blades seemed to move on their own, and it was hard to tell the real edges from the shadows. It made for slow going. Picking his way through carefully, Matt relaxed slightly when he saw his parents on the far side. He began to move more purposefully although he was still cautious of the masses of protruding metal.
            “Here it is.”
            Matt was nearly through the snarl of equipment when the words stopped him. Looking up quickly, he saw his dad reach up and lift something off the wall. Another confusing tangle, the straight wooden pieces ended in curving blades of dark metal. As Dad swung it down, the blades reached for Mom like greedy claws. With a strangled gasp, Matt lurched forward.
            Before he’d gone more than an inch, the blades stopped, but that was too late for Matt. Unable to stop his lunge, he stumbled straight into a strange contraption of poles and spikes. A heavy gear punched him in the ribs with bruising force, knocking the breath out of him and throwing him even more off balance. The whole left side of the machine spun and moved with him, clanging discordantly against the rest as Matt staggered to his knees.
            “Matt!” Only his mom could sound shocked and scolding at the same time. “What are you doing back here?” Even as she said it, she darted over and ran her hands over him. “Are you hurt?”
            Matt jerked away but stopped when his back ran into something pointy.
            “What’s that?” he blurted, staring at the frightening weapon in his dad’s hands. Even as he rubbed his side, he never took his eyes off of it. The only reason for something to have that many blades was to hurt someone, so why did his dad have one?
            Mom sat back on her heels with a surprised expression.
            “It’s a scythe,” his dad said. Matt stared at it in disbelief.
            “But all the blades!” he protested, pointing at them.
            “That’s the cradle,” Dad said in a baffled tone. Matt’s face screwed up skeptically at the name, and Dad hesitated before going on. “It… directs the grain and makes it easier to pick up later.” He trailed off, turning to his wife for guidance. She waved him aside and took Matt firmly by the shoulders.
            “Are you all right?”
            “That thing-” Matt tried to reconcile his dad’s explanation to the clawed weapon in front of him.
            “You’ll get your turn with the scythe soon enough,” she said in a firm tone that warned him not to argue. “Now, answer me. Are you hurt?”
            Soundlessly, Matt shook his head. She titled her chin down and frowned, considering him.
            “I’m fine!” he said and struggled to get up. “Just bruised!” Although she didn’t quite look like she believed him, she helped pull him out of the tangle of tools.
            Back on his feet, Matt was turned and checked and dusted until he couldn’t stand it. He pulled away with a shrugging twist of his shoulders. She inspected him with an eagle eye and folded arms. Guiltily, he remembered he wasn’t supposed to be there.
            “Where is your sister?”
            “I was looking for you!” he blurted at the same time. “You weren’t in the fields, and I…” He trailed off. She was staring at him like he’d grown another head. Matt’s shoulder’s hunched. It wasn’t his fault. She’d told them to come out to work. He thought of the wind and winced.
            “Matt?” the small, hesitant call echoed through the field of equipment and broke the tableau.
            “Stay out there, Sarah,” Mom called. “Meet us outside – behind the barn in the back field.” She grabbed Matt’s arm and turned him side ways. “Follow your dad.”
            As his dad led them toward the back wall, Matt kept a skeptical eye on the so-called scythe. The combine didn’t have blades like that – it looked like a big metal box with a scoop in front, not a big knife.
            At the back wall, both Dad and his creepy claw-thing turned and disappeared behind a hulking metal shadow. Matt blinked and rushed to catch up. Were they going through the tools? When he reached the wall, he found a neat path between the equipment and the barn doors. Thinking of his own treacherous route, Matt flushed and then scowled. If they’d told him about the path instead of treating him like a baby, he wouldn’t’ve had to go through them at all.
            “Matt, help me with this door.” Dad set down the scythe and pushed one of the big sliding doors open.
            Sunlight burst into the dark barn, and Sarah burst in right behind it. Matt shielded his eyes and glared at both resentfully.
            “Where were you?” she demanded. Then, she saw the scythe and ran up to it, her face alight with curiosity. “What’s that?” Her obvious fascination sparked his already fouling temper.
            “It’s a scythe, moron!” he snapped. Her face immediately folded into mutinous lines.
            “It is not! I know what scythes look like!” She stuck out her tongue. “Fat-head!”
            “That’s enough of that.” Mom stepped between them and gave them both a scalding look. “Sarah, I told you to wait in the field.”
            “But-”
            “Since you couldn’t do that, go get the twine and the old scissors.” She cut off Sarah’s next protest with a raised finger. “Now.” Sarah drooped but dashed out the door. “And don’t run back!”
            Matt rolled his eyes and headed out behind her.
            “Matt, don’t forget the door,” his dad called out.
            Matt made a face at the open door and kept walking.
            “Matt, your dad asked you to help with the door.”
            “He already opened one. He doesn’t need help.”
            “Help him anyway.” Her voice held a warning note.
            So they wouldn’t tell him anything, but they’d boss him around and make him do pointless stuff? Seething inside, Matt stomped over to the door and shoved it so hard that it slammed into the stop and bounced back a couple inches, rocking on its track.
            “Matthew!”
            “What?” he snapped. “I did it.”
            With that, he stalked out to the field. It’s not like they needed him for anything. They had magic. They could do whatever they wanted and not even tell him about it. But he wasn’t allowed to do magic. He couldn’t even talk to the wind. What a jip!
            He kept walking even when he heard the sound of the cart behind him. A small voice in his head warned him that he was being a jerk. That only made him madder. Mom and Dad would be sure to point it out, and everything would get blamed on him even though it was their fault.
            Stewing, he folded his arms and deliberately kept his back to the wagon as he heard it rattle to a halt. Any moment Mom and Dad would bust his chops for not helping and walking away. Tension crept up his back and knotted in his shoulders as the silence dragged on. There were some rustling sounds and the clunks and clanks that meant they were fiddling with the wagon. But no one said anything.
            The longer the silence went on, the tenser he became. Guilt pooled in his stomach like acid, making him more and more angry. Why were they dragging it out? If they expected an apology, they could forget it. His teeth clenched. It wasn’t his fault – if they’d told him the truth he wouldn’t have gotten mad in the first place!
            The guilt and anger mixed and swirled together, boiling up until he was ready to burst. His hands clamped into fists, and he decided to tell them exactly what he felt. He leaned forward onto the balls of his feet, about to spin around and let them have it. Even as his weight shifted, the wind blew over him, holding him in place.
            In an instant, fear replaced the anger. He couldn’t move at all. No matter how he strained, the wind constantly moving over his skin held him as easily as a parent held a child. He fought wilder, panting with effort and panic. It was so cold.
            His hands were already turning numb, and even in that firm hold, his body began to shiver. His struggles became uncoordinated jerks as he lost control of his trembling muscles. As the cold seeped into his skull, his brain numbed, too, and he stopped fighting. The anger, guilt – even the fear slipped away into a sort of gray fog. Distantly, he observed that although the wind was swirling around his body, imprisoning him, the wheat in front of him wasn’t moving.
            That’s when the wind began to speak. It wasn’t words or speaking the way people think of it (it never was) but a sort of soothing whisper of sound and meaning. Closing his eyes, he stopped feeling and listened as he’d been taught.
            It spoke to him of the his parents’ worries – worries he had already seen himself – and without saying a word, showed him clearly how irrational and wrong his behavior had been. With the anger gone, he felt only shame and guilt. They rose up like a flood, overwhelming the numbness, and choked him. The more it told him, the worse he felt. How could he have acted like that? Panic exploded, and he began to struggle again without thinking. How could he face them after doing that? The wind shook him, shocking him to stillness.
            Apologize. They will understand.
            Even without words, the meaning came through. Into his mind and straight to his heart. He still felt the sick twist of guilt in his stomach, but the surge of panic ebbed and then fell away completely in the face of that gentle confidence. Deep down, he knew that the wind was right. As his heart rate calmed, he tried to nod but couldn’t against the force constraining him. It was a strange feeling, but with that soothing message still being sent through him, it was no longer frightening. And that same message told him what to do. Closing his eyes tighter, he tried to communicate back to the wind in that same speechless way – All right.
            He hung there for an interminable moment, bound and frozen in invisible bonds as he tried to project all the meaning behind those two words. Slowly, the wind warmed and gentled. The pressure holding his arms and legs eased, and as his weight returned gradually to his legs, he realized for the first time that the wind had also been holding him upright. Even now as his weight shifted back to his feet, he would have stumbled if not for the wind’s quick movement to stop him. Again, he felt that soundless communion.
            I would not let you fall.

Continue to the next chapter…


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