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"Stanley North, a high-school sophomore, is seduced by his destructive friend Jared into joining a dangerous game: breaking into houses while the owners are home and stealing one item, 'a token, any random object, as proof' . . . Readers will hold their breath".--The Horn Book.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||8.72(w) x 5.62(h) x 0.61(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
Read an Excerpt
Breaking the Fall
By Michael Cadnum
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Michael Cadnum
All rights reserved.
You have to hold your breath.
After a while you have to breathe, but you can breathe so slowly no one, even someone close enough to touch you, can hear that you are there.
But even then, even with every breath measured and slow, something goes wrong. And all you can think is: I can't do it.
It wasn't what I had expected at all.
The house around me was huge. The ceiling was a flat, white slab. The furniture hulked, and the carpet hissed under my feet. The house was big, and it was alive, every shadow trembling.
I knew I couldn't do it. Leave now, I told myself. Back out the side window where you came in. Go.
But I stayed where I was. Some part of me loved this, and I thought: Jared should see me now. He should see how I steal, invisible, all the way across the floor without making a sound.
See, I would tell him, I can do it after all.
It was my first time. Jared had laughed, but I had told him that I could do it, just as he could, and that I would prove it tonight. He was waiting for me even now, and I could imagine him smoking cigarettes and shaking his head to himself, knowing that I wouldn't be able to play his game.
"Go ahead" — he had smiled, shrugging — "see what it's like."
At the bottom of the stairs I pulled myself to my feet.
I had picked out this house carefully, this big white house with green shutters. That would be my house, I had promised myself. That one, with three chimneys — that's the one I'll steal into. It was the biggest house I knew, and had the greenest, most perfect lawn. It was the kind of house I knew I would never live in.
Jared was right: I did feel alive.
The stairs did not merely creak. They moaned, chirped, boomed out low, big-timbred reports.
My mouth was chalk dust. Maybe they aren't home, I told myself. If they aren't here, it doesn't count. When I tell Jared, he'll laugh. It was one of his rules: if no one's home, it doesn't count.
But if they were gone, then I could leave now, and everything would be all right, until another night. Everything was all right, anyway. There was no question about it. The house was empty.
A wave of relief swept over me, but then I gripped the banister so hard my fingers ached. A voice in me said: you are not going to be so lucky.
When a person makes a sound in their sleep, a word or a sigh, it's as though they aren't human beings anymore, not people at all, but something slow and made of wood, some big beast only half turned into something alive, something stunned and lying there nearly gone.
There was a grunt, half-gasp, half-word. Nothing more than that. A mutter, then, and someone swimming through sleep, working in the bedclothes to another position.
I was not lucky tonight, not at all. They were in there, in the bedroom, and I leaned against the wall just outside the bedroom door with a slamming heart.
With a terrible voice in me, not my inner voice at all, and not Jared's, either. Some worse, fanged voice saying: Go on, Stanley. Don't just huddle there. If you're so smart, go right ahead.
Jared knew how to be invisible, but I was an imposter, a fake, playing someone else's game. I didn't have the touch, the magic.
Jared's just down the street, waiting for you, and he knows, even though he was so kind, so reassuring. He knows that you can't do it.
Because you're afraid.CHAPTER 2
Outside the bedroom I decided I would stay where I was, forever. This was supposed to be the good part: the fear. "You'll love the way it makes you feel," Jared had told me.
I could not hear anything but the thud of my heart and the high, fine shriek of air escaping through my nostrils.
I needed air. I took several shuddering breaths. I inhaled through my nose and exhaled slowly, hiding my breathing like someone in a pile of dead bodies trying to escape the killers, but even so, my panting was far too loud. Anyone could hear it. I might as well jump up and down, shouting.
"How did it go?" Jared would ask. I could invent an adventure and simply lie, but he would see the truth in my eyes. Jared was one of those people who know, without asking.
My body crept on its own, without any will on my part. I could not stop it. I watched myself ease into a room warm with the big, sleeping bodies.
Stop. Go back. This is the worst thing you could do.
But I was inside now. All the way inside the most intimate chamber.
There were two of them, mountains in the bad light. The sounds of sleep, the slow breathing, so low and long it was like they would never wake again.
My palms were wet. My body was cold. I had to breathe again, and yet I knew that if I exhaled now it would hiss out of me. So I crouched as Jared said I should and let my breath out down by the floor, far from where they might hear, and took in another long drag of air down by the crumpled, tossed-off socks and the great black shoes.
I had to take something, but when I straightened just enough to scan the dresser, I couldn't see anything but a white, gently wrinkled cloth, a kind of tablecloth, and a hairbrush. "We aren't thieves," Jared had always said. "We aren't really taking anything important."
The man spoke.
The word was unintelligible, a question of some sort. Maybe a name. Maybe his wife's name, because she sighed a question in return, both of them asleep but knowing each other so well they were talking to each other without waking.
Then the man rolled.
His head was an indistinct shape on the pillow, and he was muttering again. His shoulder was a hulk. He rocked on the edge of sleep, about to slip back away, but something stopped him.
His head lifted.
Jared had told me that if I didn't breathe and I didn't move at all I would be invisible. That was the game: being invisible. Invisible like a ghost, and I stayed where I was and thought, you can't see me. You can't. You try, but your eyes can't take me in — because I'm not here.
The head fell back to the pillow. Then — the slightest sound. Not at all a sound, really. But something beyond hearing, something deeper than thought, an awareness of something happening in the bed, something from the bulk of the head on the pillow.
The eyes. It was impossible. It couldn't be true. Surely I couldn't hear them blinking. Surely I couldn't feel the weight of their gaze on me.
I'm invisible. I'm holding my breath, so I'm invisible and you can't see me.
"Who is it?"
It was a smaller voice than I expected, thin and sleep-strangled. Then, a full-voiced, "Who's there?"
But even then, even with the question reverberating, stirring his bedmate into life, my heart slamming, I remembered how to be invisible, holding my breath. I shrank to nothing.
I could feel his doubt. He saw, but he didn't see. I was there, crouched on the bedroom floor, and yet I was transparent, an illusion.
A woman's voice, sleep-clouded, asked, "What is it?"
The man sat up, and fought the bedclothes, the blanket and the sheet confining him, weighing him down.
I could not stop my arms, my legs. I leaped, my body springing from all-but-invisible to solid, visible, and trapped. But I was too slow. The air was water, and my bones were made of heavy, dark stone, each foot dragging.
It was not even fear that froze the man and woman exactly as they were, tangled in the sheets. It was pure incomprehension. They could not believe what they saw.
I swam, clumsier with each heartbeat, along the wall to the black cave of the bedroom door. That was enough: they believed in me now. I knew he was coming after me. I heard the rip of bedding.
The nightstand drawer rattled behind me, and the hand fumbled, searched, and then, as I half fell down the dim stairs, the hand found what it was looking for.
It was a small sound. It was a tiny, cold click. I had never heard a sound quite like that before, but I knew exactly what it was.
He had a gun.CHAPTER 3
Loose and fleshy, the living room carpet held my feet, and the black electrical cords seemed to writhe, tripping me. The window, the open sash, and the parted curtain far across the room shrank as I stumbled, lunged, gasped my way to the sill.
His steps thundered on the stairs.
My shoulders, my butt, the backs of my thighs had high, keen, tickling wounds where I imagined, and nearly felt, the bullets rip me.
And yet there were no shots, not even when I wormed and hung from the window, the night air on my face. I blinked at the surprising breeze that had risen, shaking the great column of a juniper beside one of the chimneys.
Jared had always said that there was a way to fall so it wouldn't hurt, a way to break the fall and roll away, uninjured. There is never any reason, Jared said, for a person to be hurt.
I sprang to my feet, the lawn squeaking under my soles. I knew that I was free even as I knew that this was all too late, all too clumsy, and way too slow. The man had seen me, and even now he would be on the phone. Even now a black-and-white would squeal around the corner, siren off but lights twirling.
There I would be, bounding, panting across the front lawns, splashing in the gutter, careening into a streetlight, dancing down one alley and up another, taking the long way, because I did not want to lead the cops to Jared.
My body sang inside with the hope that I might make it after all. My bowels were steady now, and I had so much energy, power, pure light in my legs that I knew that if I really wanted to, I could bound over one of these houses.
But that would be a stupid thing to even try. Anyone who saw me would know that I had been up to something very strange. I could imagine the cop voice. "Officer needs assistance. Kid jumping houses on Manzanita Street."
Then I could barely run at all, knowing even as a stitch bit into my side and my lungs burned that to run now was the worst thing I could do. Anyone could tell at a glance.
Slow down. Walk. Catch your breath.
Then you can circle back to Jared. What was I going to say to him? I didn't have to tell him anything. I could keep this to myself. "Hey, Jared, I decided against trying it tonight. It was windy all of a sudden and I figured people would be awake because of the wind...."
As though I could lie. As though I could stare Jared in the face and say something as untrue as that.
The wind tossed a hamburger wrapper across MacArthur. The wind coursed through my hair and fluttered my clothes. The street was composed of islands of light from the streetlights, sodden dark in between. I skirted the patches of light, but when I found myself outside Sky's house, I saw how I had tricked myself.
There was a crack of light under the garage door, but the house was dark, slumbering. It was, after all, well past midnight.
Someone was working in the garage, her dad or her brother. I could hear a radio, music I could not make out, and I could not guess why I stepped to the front porch and put my hand to the rail.
The rail might have been cold, as everything else was cold that night, but to me it felt warm. Sky's house. My lips actually shaped the words.
She was in there. Right in there.
The date palm in the front yard made a long, ragged whisper in the wind, and a palm frond rattled, dropping nearby, a gray, ghostly shape, a giant feather. The lawn was pebbled with old date pits from the tree, and I found myself unable to leave.
Stay here. Stay here where the living people are, sleeping or studying or working on their cars, wrapped in their lives.
Here where people are happy.
But Jared was waiting, and when I trotted up the street where I had left him, I paused by the green NOT FOR DEPOSIT OF MAIL postal box and made a short whistle. It was a terrible little whistle, like the cheep of a sick finch.
The bottle brush plant made the slightest shift to one side, and his cigarette was a chip of fire. He laughed. He was actually laughing in his silent way.
He didn't even have to ask.CHAPTER 4
"It's all right. You did very well. For a beginner."
We were back in Jared's house, in Jared's room, and the wonderful power in my legs was gone. There was a taste in my mouth like ash.
I thought: there'll be a knock at the door downstairs, interrupting the party of sophisticated people, some of them speaking French and Russian.
The faraway laughter was a little too loud. It was very late and the party was getting a little drunk and shabby.
"No, really," Jared consoled me, even though he laughed as he said it. "It wasn't your game, after all. It's mine. You shouldn't have tried to do it all by yourself. I was wrong to encourage you." He gestured at me like a magician: presto, now you're happy. He was thin and dark-haired, and knew how to speak with his eyes, and with his hands.
He laughed silently and shook his head. "I was nervous the first time, too," he said. He smiled at me through the smoke. He waved a hand, in his grand way. "They won't hurt you," said Jared.
"I know it," I said, but I knew that what I meant was: they won't hurt you, but they'll hurt me. And I hated the little rasp in my voice, the dry croak I made.
I was so ashamed — and so shaken — that my lower lip was trembling. I have my moments of minor courage. I played shortstop, and if I couldn't get the ball in my glove, I stopped it with my face. I heard things like, "Way to go with the face, Stan." "Great face, Stanley."
There was a flare of adult laughter downstairs. Jared's parents were sitting around sucking drinks with other smart people, people in tweed and cufflinks, gin drinkers.
I glanced around his bedroom. A carton of Marlboros was open on the dresser, and the room was a tumble of books and clothes, some of them shirts still wrapped in plastic from the department store. On the wall Jared had a map of the night sky at midwinter, a delicate tracing of Orion and Taurus, and several pinups of the sort my parents would never have allowed, tousled women with blossoming labia and hard gazes. There was a dark spill of marijuana on the nightstand. "Nobody cares," Jared had told me once, "what I do."
And he had his trophies, a tangle of them there in his bedroom, on the dresser: a lighter, a gold pen, a box of oversized plastic paper clips — all of the curios, knickknacks he had stolen not for their value, although some of the objects did look expensive. They were proof that he had crept into the innermost room of a house, and snatched a token, any random object, as proof.
It was a secret game Jared had played all by himself, until at last he had begun to hint around about it, saying, "I know a game that most people would be too scared to even contemplate."
Jared used words like contemplate easily. His father was the author of books about astronomy, and was always flying off to Arizona or Hawaii to visit observatories where men and women like him studied the stars. His mother did technical drawings at the university, precise representations of the jaws of extinct rodents and the fangs of long-lost birds, and she, too, was always flying off to conferences in far-off cities.
Jared knew things. He didn't just have facts straight, numbers ready, dates and famous writers. He knew things like that. But what was remarkable was that he made no mistakes. None. If Jared decided to walk along the top of the chain-link fence beside the DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE signs — and he did this often — he would never slip. Never falter. Never hesitate for an instant, unless he wanted to pretend to be about to fall in the way that made me scream inside myself and put my hand out to the fence and draw myself into one tight thought: don't die, Jared.
Once he walked across the 580 Freeway, on the pedestrian walkway over eight lanes of traffic. He goat-footed his way along the top of the suicide cage, the fence that arches over the walkway to keep people from doing just what Jared had decided he would do. It was exactly his style: watch what I can do.
But gradually, very slowly, our new friendship became more than a shared midnight laugh, more than me watching Jared teeter along one fence, more than a matter of watching Jared bound across traffic while cars squealed.
"It's better than any drug," he would say with a smile, and he had tried them all. "It's better than sex," he would say, and he knew all about that, being muscular and bored-looking enough to have a girl on each arm sometimes after school.
Excerpted from Breaking the Fall by Michael Cadnum. Copyright © 1992 Michael Cadnum. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
How would you feel if one of your friends wanted you to do something that was dangerous that could cost you big time. Would you want to be cool and fold under pressure or would you be able to turn it down? Would you play this dangerous game? In this book, Breaking the Fall, the author Michael Cadnum makes you think about those questions and possibilities of peer pressure. As a young teenager, Stanley is faced with the responsibility of doing the right thing and making a smart choice. Stanley is the main character of the story and he easily folds under peer pressure, mostly caused by his risk-taking friend Jared. He always wants to do everything that Jared does. Jared is one of those people that can get you to do almost anything by manipulating you. At school Stanley has a crush on a girl named Sky. He has liked Sky for a long time but is to embarrassed to talk to her. Stanley¿s mom is always gone on business trips working and doesn¿t get to spend a lot of time with Stanley. In this book Jared and Stanley participate in a game of breaking and entering. Stanley doesn¿t know if he is doing the right thing and wants to have a good life were trouble is no were around. But the adrenaline rush is too much for a young teen like Stanley and he doesn¿t want to loose that. The first house that is broken into is an ordinary house on the street with green shutters. The two friends are almost caught in the act and barely make it out, some of the first signs of dislike for Stanley. Jared continues to pressure his friend into doing risky things and almost pushes it to the extreme as you will read in the book. As a young teen living in an ordinary town, Stanley is faced with the fact of peer pressure and keeping his chance-taking friend Jared, but doesn¿t want to risk too much. He wonders if he is doing the right thing or not but the feeling is too good to stop. Should Stanley keep doing what his friend wants him to or take the chance of loosing his friendship with Jared?As the book goes on, the author makes you feel the excitement and thoughts that are going through Stanley¿s head. Every time something happens in the story that is chancy you get the adrenaline rush that the author is describing. This book is wonderful for those who love reading books with excitement and thrill. I strongly suggest that anyone reads this book because it is thrilling, riveting, and excitement filled with drama. It makes a good choice for a teen facing the concepts of peer pressure. You won¿t regret reading it I promise.