Chapter 3: Property of the Alacrán Estate
Celia left in the morning, and Matt spent the entire day waiting for the children. He had given up hope when, just before sunset, he heard voices approaching through the poppy fields.
He planted himself in front of the window and waited.
"There he is! See, María, I told you I wasn't lying," cried Emilia. Her hand rested on the shoulder of a much smaller girl. "He won't talk to us, but you're about his age. Maybe he won't be afraid of you." Emilia pushed the girl ahead of her and fell back to wait with Steven.
María wasn't at all shy about coming up to the window. "Hey, boy!" she yelled, rapping the glass with her fist. "What's your name? Do you want to play?"
With one blow, she stole Matt's carefully prepared speech. He stared at her, unable to think of another opening.
"Well, is it yes or no?" María turned toward the others. "Make him unlock the door."
"That's up to him," said Steven.
Matt wanted to say he didn't have the key, but he was unable to get the words out.
"At least he isn't hiding today," remarked Emilia.
"If you can't unlock the door, open the window," María said.
Matt tried, knowing it wouldn't work. Celia had nailed the window shut. He threw up his hands.
"He understands what we say," said Steven.
"Hey, boy! If you don't do something quick, we're going away," María shouted.
Matt thought desperately. He needed something to interest them. He held up his finger, as Celia did when she wanted him to wait. He nodded his head to show that he agreed with María's demand and was about to do something.
"What does that mean?" said Emilia.
"Beats me. Maybe he's a mute and can't talk," Steven guessed.
Matt raced to his bedroom. He ripped the picture of the man with the bullfrog sandwich from the wall. It made Celia laugh. Maybe it would make these children laugh. He ran back and pressed the newspaper against the window. The three children came close to study it.
"What's it say?" asked María.
"'Ribbit on Rye,'" read Steven. "Do you get it? It's a bullfrog going ribbit, ribbit, ribbit, and it's between two slices of rye bread. That's pretty funny."
Emilia giggled, but María looked uncertain. "People don't eat bullfrogs," she said. "I mean, not when they're alive."
"It's a joke, dum-dum."
"I'm not a dum-dum! It's mean and nasty to eat bullfrogs! I don't think it's funny at all."
"Save me from eejits," said Steven, rolling his eyes.
"I'm not an eejit, either!"
"Oh, lighten up, María," Emilia said.
"You brought me out here to see a boy, and it was miles and miles across the fields, and I'm tired and the boy won't talk. I hate you!"
Matt stared at the scene with consternation. That wasn't the result he wanted at all. María was crying, Emilia looked angry, and Steven had turned his back on both of them. Matt rapped on the window. When María looked up, he waved the picture and then wadded it into a ball. He threw it with all his force across the room.
"See, he agrees with me," cried María through her tears.
"This is getting weirder by the minute," said Steven. "I knew we shouldn't have brought the eejit."
"I thought the boy would talk to a kid his own size," Emilia said. "Come on, María. We have to get back before dark."
"I'm not walking anywhere!" The little girl flopped down on the ground.
"Well, I won't carry you, fatso."
"Just leave her," said Steven. He started walking off, and after a moment Emilia followed him.
Matt was appalled. If the big kids went away, María would be all alone. It was going to be dark soon, and Celia wouldn't return for hours. María would be alone with nothing but the empty poppy fields and the...
The chupacabras, who came out after dark and sucked your juices and left you to dry like an old cantaloupe skin!
Suddenly Matt knew what he had to do. María had walked a few steps away from the window before sitting down again. She was shouting insults at the vanished Steven and Emilia. Matt grabbed the big iron cooking pot Celia used to make menudo and swung it before he could worry much about her reaction. She would be furious! But he was saving María's life. He smashed out the glass in the window. It fell in a tinkling, jangling mass to the ground. María jumped to her feet. Steven and Emilia rose up instantly from the poppy field, where they'd been hiding.
"Holy frijoles!" said Steven. All three stood openmouthed, staring at the empty hole where the window had been.
"My name is Matt. I live here. Do you want to play?" said Matt because he couldn't think of another thing to say.
"He can talk," said Emilia after the first shock had died away.
"Is that how you usually open a window, kid?" Steven said. "Stay back, María. There's glass all over." He stepped carefully to the opening and knocked out the remaining shards with a stick. Then he leaned inside to look around. Matt had to hold on to himself to keep from bolting to the other room. "This is creepy! The window's nailed shut. What are you, some kind of prisoner?"
"I live here," Matt said.
"You told us that already."
"Do you want to play?"
"Maybe he's like a parrot and only knows a few words," suggested Emilia.
"I want to play," said María. Matt looked at her with approval. The girl was struggling in Emilia's arms, obviously trying to get to him. Steven shook his head and moved away. He looked like he was really going to leave this time.
Matt came to a decision. It was frightening, but he'd never had an opportunity like this before and he might never have
it again. He shoved a chair to the opening, scrambled up, and jumped.
"No!" shouted Steven, running forward to catch him. He was too late.
A terrible pain lanced through Matt's feet. He fell forward, and his hands and knees landed on the shards of glass.
"He wasn't wearing shoes! Oh, man! Oh, man! What're we going to do!" Steven pulled Matt up and swung him onto a clear patch of ground.
Matt stared with amazement at the blood dripping from his feet and hands. His knees sprouted rivulets of red.
"Pull out the glass!" cried Emilia in a high, scared voice. "María, stay away!"
"I want to see!" yelled the little girl. Matt heard a slap and María's shriek of outrage. His head was swimming. He wanted to throw up, but before he could, everything went black.
He woke to the sensation of being carried. He was sick to his stomach, but worse than that his body was trembling in a frightening way. He screamed as loud as he could.
"Great!" panted Steven, who supported Matt's shoulders. Emilia had his legs. Her shirt and pants were soaked with blood, his blood. Matt screamed again.
"Be quiet!" Steven shouted. "We're running as fast as we can!"
The poppies, now blue in the long shadows of the hills, stretched away in all directions. Steven and Emilia were jogging along a dirt path. Matt's breath caught with sobs. He could hardly get air.
"Stop!" cried Emilia. "We have to let María catch up." The two children squatted down and let Matt's weight rest on the ground. Presently, Matt heard the patter of smaller feet.
"I want to rest too," demanded María. "It's miles and miles. I'm going to tell Dada you slapped me."
"Be my guest," said Emilia.
"Everyone be quiet," Steven ordered. "You've stopped bleeding, kid, so I guess you're not in too much danger. What's your name again?"
"Matt," María answered for him.
"We aren't far from the house, Matt, and you're in luck. The doctor's spending the night. Do you hurt a lot?"
"I don't know," said Matt.
"Yes, you do. You screamed," María said.
"I don't know what a lot is," Matt explained. "I haven't hurt like this before."
"Well, you've lost blood -- but not too much," Steven added as Matt began to tremble again.
"It sure looks like a lot," said María.
"Shut up, eejit."
The older children rose, carrying Matt between them. María followed, complaining loudly about the distance and at being called an eejit.
A kind of heavy sleepiness fell over Matt as he was swayed along. The pain had died down, and Steven said he hadn't lost too much blood. He was too dazed to worry about what Celia would say when she saw the broken window.
They reached the edge of the poppy fields as the last streaks of sunlight slid behind the hills. The dirt path gave way to a wide lawn. It was a shimmering green, growing deeper with the blue light of evening. Matt had never seen so much green in his life.
It's a meadow, he thought, drowsily. And it smells like rain.
They started up a flight of wide, marble steps that shone softly in the darkening air. On either side were orange trees, and all at once lamps went on among the leaves. Lights outlined the white walls of a vast house above, with pillars and statues and doorways going who knew where. In the center of an arch was the carved outline of a scorpion.
"Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!" came a flurry of women's voices as they swept down the stairs to lift Matt from Steven's and Emilia's arms.
"Who is he?" asked the maids. They were wearing black dresses with white aprons and starched, white caps. One of them, a severe-looking female with deep creases down either side of her mouth, carried Matt as the others went ahead to open doors.
"I found him in a house in the poppy fields," replied Steven.
"That's Celia's place," a maid said. "She's too stuck-up to live with the rest of us."
"If she's hiding a child, I'm not surprised. Who's your father, kid?" said the woman who was carrying Matt. Her apron smelled like sunlight, the way Celia's did when it came straight from the clothesline. Matt stared at a pin fastened to the woman's collar, a silver scorpion with its tail curved up. Beneath the scorpion was a name tag that said ROSA. Matt didn't feel well enough to talk, and what did it matter who his father was, anyhow? He didn't know the answer, either.
"He doesn't talk much," said Emilia.
"Where's the doctor?" Steven said.
"We'll have to wait. He's treating your grandfather. At least we can clean the kid up," said Rosa.
The maids opened a door to reveal the most beautiful room Matt had ever seen. It had carved wooden beams on the ceiling and wallpaper decorated with hundreds of birds. To Matt's reeling eyes, they seemed to be moving. He saw a couch upholstered with flowers that shaded from lavender to rose like the feathers on a dove's wings. It was to this couch that Rosa was carrying him.
"I'm too dirty," Matt murmured. He had been yelled at before for climbing on Celia's bed with muddy feet.
"You can say that again," snapped Rosa. The other women opened a crisp, white sheet and laid it over the wonderful couch before Matt was laid down. He thought he could get into just as much trouble for getting blood on that sheet.
Rosa fetched a pair of tweezers and began pulling out fragments of glass from his hands and feet. "Ay!" she murmured as she dropped the bits into a cup. "You're brave not to cry."
But Matt didn't feel brave at all. He didn't feel anything. His body seemed far away, and he watched Rosa as though she were an image on a TV screen.
"He sure screamed earlier," observed María. She was dancing around, trying to see everything that happened.
"Don't act so superior. You yell your head off if you get an itty-bitty splinter in your finger," Emilia said.
"I hate you!"
"Ask me if I care," said Emilia. Both she and Steven watched in fascination as blood began to well out of Matt's cuts again. "I'm going to be a doctor when I grow up," announced Emilia. "This is very good experience for me."
The other maids had brought a bucket of water and towels, but they didn't attempt to clean Matt up until Rosa gave them permission.
"Be careful. The right foot is badly cut," said Rosa.
The air hummed in Matt's ears. He felt the warm water and suddenly the pain returned. It stabbed from his foot all the way to the top of his head. He opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came out. His throat had closed with shock.
"Oh, God! There must be glass left inside," cried Rosa. She grabbed Matt's shoulders and ordered him not to be afraid. She seemed almost angry.
The fogginess that had surrounded Matt had vanished. His feet, his hands, his knees throbbed with more pain than he had known existed.
"I told you he was crying earlier," said María.
"Be quiet!" said Emilia.
"Look! There's writing on his foot," the little girl cried. She tried to get close, but Emilia thrust her back.
"I'm the one who's going to be a doctor. Rats! I can't read it. There's too much blood." She snatched a washcloth and wiped Matt's foot.
The pain wasn't as bad this time, but he couldn't help moaning.
"You're hurting him, you bully!" shrieked María.
"Wait! I can just make it out...'Property of' -- the writing is so tiny! -- 'Property of the Alacrán Estate.'"
"'Property of the Alacrán Estate'? That's us. It doesn't make any sense," said Steven.
"What's going on?" came a voice Matt hadn't heard before. A large, fierce-looking man burst into the room. Steven immediately straightened up. Emilia and even María looked alarmed.
"We found a kid in the poppy fields, Father," said Steven. "He hurt himself, and I thought the doctor...the doctor -- "
"You idiot! You need a vet for this little beast!" the man roared. "How dare you defile this house?"
"He was bleeding -- " began Steven.
"Yes! All over the sheet! We'll have to burn it. Take the creature outside now."
Rosa hesitated, obviously bewildered.
The man leaned forward and whispered into her ear.
A look of horror crossed Rosa's face. She instantly scooped up Matt and ran. Steven dashed ahead to open the doors. His face had turned white. "How dare he talk to me like that," he hissed.
"He didn't mean it," said Emilia, who was dragging María along behind.
"Oh, yes he did. He hates me," Steven said.
Rosa hurried down the steps and dumped Matt roughly onto the lawn. Without a word, she turned and fled back to the house.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer