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©2020 Alanna Peterson. All rights reserved.

Chapter Thirty-Six

Monday June 22

It began with the dream. Roya must have drifted off while Gretchen drove them to Seattle, though it didn't feel like sleep exactly. The dream was so vivid, like something she could touch. Something sharp, like a knife.


Roya dreamed she sat in darkness. She knew Naveed was with her, even though she couldn't see him. She thought she smelled wood, sawdust maybe. They must be in their backyard workshop, she thought, so she asked him, “Can you make something for me? A crow. I want a little wooden crow.” Then a faint light shone into the room, enough that she could see his tired, sad eyes. He said two words she didn't think she'd ever heard him say before: “I can't.” He held out his arms, illuminating them in the dust-sparkled shaft of light, and she looked where his hands should have been but they were only stumps, not stumps of flesh but actual stumps, like from a tree, and she didn't know what was worse, the absence of his hands or that look in his eyes, that helplessness.


The shock of it startled her awake. After her heavy eyes struggled open, she found herself looking out the window of Gretchen's Subaru, watching the other cars sail past. Then one rumbled slowly by, and she gasped, stunned by what she saw in the back seat: her brother! His face was barely visible under an unfamiliar hooded sweatshirt, but she knew for certain it was Naveed. He leaned against the seat, breathing hard through his open mouth, his nose red as if he'd been crying.


Roya couldn't believe she’d found him. But he obviously wasn't safe—he needed someone to help him, and Gretchen was stuck in traffic, and he was getting away. Roya didn't stop to think about how stupid and dangerous it was to get out of Gretchen's car. In that half-asleep moment, it seemed the only thing to do.


So she ran as fast as she could through the street, but her flute fell from its partially-unraveled case. As she bent to retrieve it, a red car squealed to a stop inches from her hand. Roya picked up her flute and kept going. She sprinted for the sidewalk, her eyes still on the old silver car. The distance between them was growing, and in desperation she raised her flute to her lips to play Naveed's finding song, hoping he would hear, hoping it could bring him back. But the melody that sounded was unrecognizable, the notes as wild and screechy as the police sirens filling the air. Confused, she stopped to inspect it, and saw the crack running its entire length. 


She drew in her breath, which made her cough, and pulled her blanket tighter around her shoulders. The world got blurry, and when she wiped her eyes she couldn't see Naveed's car anymore. She had lost him. Now the tears flowed harder, and she thought about her flute: how much time Naveed had spent creating it for her, and how swiftly it had been destroyed. It had never occurred to her that a wooden flute could be broken. It seemed like that shouldn’t be allowed to happen.


Loud footsteps startled Roya, and she turned to see two big men running up behind her. They were dressed in blue, with shiny badges pinned to their shirts: police officers. They yelled things like, “What were you thinking, running into traffic like that?” “You caused an accident back there, the driver says he almost hit you.” “Are you all right?”


She wasn't all right. Everything was going wrong. 


Cyrus had been very serious while he tied the kerchief around her hair earlier, telling her how important it was that they not be seen, that if they were caught she needed to let him and Andi do the talking because he would be in really, really big trouble and anything she said might make things worse.


So instead of responding, she looked up at the sky. That made her feel a tiny bit better, even though too-tall buildings sprouted around her like deformed trees, and she could see only a little slice of it. Still it was there, spread out above like a comforting blanket, cloudless and unblinkingly blue—except for a stream of crows. 


They fluttered by in a long line, like dark leaves released from a branch. She wondered if Omid was among them. She had looked for him as they pulled away from Gretchen and Frida’s house, but he wasn't there. She’d probably never see him again. 


One of the officers bent down. He was wearing a hat. “What's your name?” 


She knew she wasn't supposed to tell, so she said the first name that popped into her head. “Mary Lennox.”


“Mary?” his voice was friendly, but he didn't seem to believe her. “Where's your mom? Or dad, or whoever... who's looking after you?”


Roya almost glanced back to see if the Subaru was still there. Almost. Instead she shrugged and watched the sky, wondering why no one was coming to help her, thinking about her parents. Tears stung her eyes again. 


She didn't know what to tell them. Cyrus was so sure the police were going to put him—and Naveed—in big trouble if they were caught, but Naveed needed help, and police were supposed to help people, weren’t they? At the same time, she didn't want to risk making things worse. Everything was so confusing. Her head felt airy, as if a window had been left open and all the thoughts had flown out. Best not to say anything. 


“Do you not know where they are? Are you lost?”


The crows flapped overhead. She studied wings for glints of white, but they were too far away.


“What's with the blanket?”


Roya pulled it tighter. She kept drinking in the sky, trying to let its big blueness fill her up.


“Take her back to the car,” the hatless one said. “Maybe someone over there knows what's going on.”


Roya knew better than to run away. They would chase her down quickly. Besides, when she looked down the street, she saw Gretchen talking to the police, and it made her feel a little better to see a familiar face. The Subaru was parked in the left lane, empty. Roya didn't have time to wonder where Cyrus and Andi had gone, because Gretchen was rushing toward her.


“Sofia!” she said, and Roya knew: Gretchen hadn't told them her real name. Roya hugged her in relief.


“She told us her name was Mary Lennox,” said the officer in the hat.


“Oh, it is a name from a story. Perhaps it is the fever, confusing her,” Gretchen said. “I am so sorry, this accident was very unfortunate, but I would appreciate if we could be on our way. She is not well. I need to get her to the doctor.”


“Not yet,” said a scowling man in a business suit. He was rubbing his neck. “This was her fault. You should be liable for the damages.”


The red car, the one that had stopped just in time to avoid hitting her, did look bad. Its backside was a jumble of crushed metal. 


The people kept arguing, and the police tried to calm everyone down. Gretchen kept her hands protectively on Roya's shoulders, but Roya stopped listening. She held her broken flute tighter, rubbing her thumb against the fracture, as if she could somehow massage the wood back together. She felt terrible for causing all this trouble. Especially since it had been for nothing; Naveed had gotten away. 


Then she was thinking of her brother again, remembering the night they'd escaped from SILO. That horrible night by the river, when he was barely able to drink from her hands at first. After she’d brought him enough water that he could talk again, she told him how much he’d scared her when he fell. He’d told her not to worry, that he was feeling much better now. But it was like he had a crack inside of him too, and no matter how hard she tried to fill him up, something kept draining out. Something that he needed, but couldn’t hold onto.


Roya had to find him. Even though she'd lost track of his car, she was determined to figure out a new plan as soon as she had Gretchen back to herself.       


It seemed she'd have to wait forever. The people kept talking about insurance and whose fault it was for what felt like a very long time. Eventually, a different officer, a woman, asked Gretchen to get some papers from her car. Gretchen wanted to take Roya along, but the officer stopped her, saying she wanted to talk to “Sofia” for a second. Reluctantly Gretchen left, promising Roya she'd be right back. As soon as she'd gone, the officer bent to give Roya yet another lecture about street safety. But as she talked, something in her face changed.


She stared at Roya. “Hey, you look just like—”


Roya didn't want to give anything away, but her face felt very hot, and she was shaking now. She wished Gretchen was still here.


The woman waved over the man in the hat, speaking to him in a low voice. Now both of them stared, then the man in the hat crouched down and asked, “Roya? Roya Mirzapour?” She drew back, not wanting him to capture her with his thick arms. Over his shoulder, he called, “You're right. It's her.” Then, turning to Roya, “Don’t worry, you’re safe now. I don't know what your brothers have been telling you, but we’re the good guys.” 


“Where are they?” the woman asked. “If you know, you need to tell us right now.” 


Roya said nothing.

“What you got under that blanket?” The man in the hat sounded worried all of a sudden.


“Nothing,” she answered, but that seemed to worry him more. He tore the blanket away, releasing the warmth she'd spent hours collecting, and revealing the wooden flute she still clutched in her right hand. 


He laughed in relief. “Just a stick,” he said, reaching for it.


“No! Don't take it, you can't take it!” she yelled hoarsely, but he was too strong, and pried it from her fingers, examining it with curiosity.


He peered down the hollow tube. “What is this thing?”  


“It's my flute. Give it back.” She could hardly get the words out through her chattering teeth. She was shaking all over, cold and achy and scared and alone.   


“Sorry, I can't.” The officer opened the door of his patrol car and put it inside a plastic bag before tossing it carelessly into the passenger seat. Roya made up her mind: no matter what he said, he wasn't on her side, and she wasn't going to tell him anything.


He patted her knit flute case to make sure it was empty. The wishing star, still sewn to the front of the case, flashed in the sunlight as he took it from her, too. “We're going to need you to come with us.” He opened the door to the back seat and firmly placed her inside, holding her shoulder, before she had a chance to protest. As he started the engine, he added, “Don't worry, your friend will be coming too.” 


Finally Roya saw Gretchen again, but this time there was nothing reassuring about the scene. Police officers surrounded her, yelling; she raised her hands to the sky, her eyes wild, panicked. Cyrus and Andi were still nowhere in sight. 


Their car sped away, and Gretchen faded from view. The officer spoke urgently into his radio, saying that he was going to stake out Nutrexo and needed backup, that Roya might have been used as a diversion, and the boys could be headed there right now. It all made Roya feel terrible. She hoped Cyrus was nowhere near this place, because he was right. He was in really, really big trouble. And it was her fault.  


A wave of pure exhaustion swept over her. Even crying seemed to take too much energy. She leaned against the bars covering the window, tucking her arms and legs under her shirt, trying to warm up. She wanted to look at the sky again to see if the crows were still streaming along on their endless journey, but the tall buildings blocked everything out.


When they pulled over in front of the library, the officer muttered something to himself and slammed his door. Roya watched him walk up to three men, realizing with a start that she knew one of them: the man who always sold newspapers at the library's entrance. Today, he was not calling out his booming song; he was arguing loudly with the other two men, one with a beard and one missing his front teeth. 


Roya was thinking about the day she'd last seen him, about how horribly wrong everything had gone since then, when she noticed something else. Parked right in front of her was the old silver car she had tried to follow. The one carrying Naveed.   


A quick flare of excitement—she'd found it!—was soon replaced with dread. Roya sat up, looking everywhere, hoping she might spot Naveed before the officer did. But he was nowhere to be seen. 


Desperate to get out, to find him, she banged on the window. The officer didn't turn around, but the newspaper man heard. His eyes widened in recognition when he saw her. She opened her hand against the bars, but he did not wave back, or make any move to help her. He turned away, looking almost frightened. Sleep was trying to overtake her again, and Roya struggled to think of a way to help her brothers.


But she was trapped in this cage, and she couldn't stay awake, and there was nothing. Not a thing she could do.


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