Thirteen-year-old Karma is desperate to become a certified falconer. At her dad's bird education center, she helps give demonstrations to guests and can fly the birds. But when her favorite rescued falcon, Stark, hurts Karma, her parents insist that they return the bird to its previous ownerin Canada. On the way to bring Stark back, a car accident in the middle of nowhere leaves Karma's dad trapped, and it's up to Karma to find a way to rescue him and her younger brother. When Karma loses her way trying to get help, she crosses paths with Cooper, a troubled teenaged boy. Lost for three days, the two figure out how to survive, and Karma teaches Stark to hunt like an actual bird of prey. Karma may be closer than she thinks to becoming a real falconer and having a real friend.
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|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 13 Years|
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By Terry Lynn Johnson
Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Terry Lynn Johnson
All rights reserved.
Stark senses my fear and pulls at the jesses around her feet. I stroke her breast feathers to calm us both. Trainers should never show nerves to a bird of prey.
I try to slow my breathing as I listen to Dad introduce lure training — my part of the demo. It's my specialty. His falcon, Gremlin, isn't even hooded and sits patiently on his fist, making me regret my insistence on showing Stark. She's not as seasoned as Gremlin. This is her first school demonstration with me. Surveying the crowd, I can't remember why I thought this would be a good idea.
My favorite lure is hidden in my satchel. It's a weighted, stuffed bit of leather in the shape of a duck at the end of a long string. I've already attached a tidbit of meat with the ties in the center. The lure is ready, and Stark is ready. But for the first time since I started helping with demos, I'm not sure I am ready.
"Is it heavy?" asks a girl on the bench behind where I'm standing. She's probably my age, since we're doing this demo for an eighth-grade biology class. Her straight, blond hair falls in a glossy sheet over her shoulders, nothing like my frizzy, auburn hair.
She points to Stark, and the two girls sitting next to her giggle. I realize I'm still staring at her and rush to answer.
"Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in North America. And females are bigger than males, so she can get heavy. Almost the same weight as a bowling ball," I say. "I mean, the small kinds of balls. You know the kind you bowl with when they have all the neon lights going, like it's a party? It actually was my party. We went on my birthday."
From the look on her face, I know I need to stop rambling. But I hear myself reaching to keep her attention. "My neighbor Michelle came bowling with us. She lives a few houses down. We've been friends for ages even though she's three years older than me. She goes to school." Stop talking. Stop it. "Maybe you know her, Michelle Miller?"
Before the girl can answer, I feel a shift in the audience as all eyes turn to me. My attention snaps back to Dad.
"My daughter, Karma, is one of the best bird handlers in Montana. She'll show you how fast falcons can fly by swinging a lure for Stark to chase," he says. "Stark is a gyrfalcon, the same family as Gremlin, my peregrine here. Are you ready to meet her?"
I give the girl an apologetic smile, then stand taller and walk to the center of the pit. One of the teachers starts a round of polite clapping. The October sky hangs blue and clear. A brisk northerly picks up speed coming off the mountain range to the west and sweeps across the sagebrush. A perfect day for a flight. I turn on my headset microphone and launch quickly into my speech.
"Here at the education center, we have hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls. We call them all raptors, which is a term for birds of prey. Falcons, like Stark here, have long, thin toes." I point to her gorgeous, yellow feet.
"Their beaks are short, with a notch that acts like a tooth. It fits between the neck vertebrae of their prey. Falcons kill prey by breaking their necks. Hawks, however, have strong feet and talons for gripping and puncturing vital organs. That's how they kill prey."
As I recite my speech, I walk the perimeter so everyone can see Stark up close. Later they'll have a chance to hold one of the kestrels, our smallest falcons.
"Some raptors' talons can apply four hundred pounds of pressure. Humans can maybe squeeze twenty pounds." I pause for effect before the punch line. "Depends how much you work out."
Scattered laughter makes me smile as I make eye contact with everyone. All the best performers make eye contact. The blond girl doesn't smile back. She talks to her friends behind her hand. My stomach tightens as I wonder if they're talking about me.
I keep my left arm angled to comfortably hold the three-pound falcon and not tire myself. Normally, all of my attention is on the bird on my fist, but I can't help sneaking glances at the three girls. Are they impressed with Stark's white plumage? Maybe they wish they owned a falcon. I should have said more about falcons instead of bowling. Why do I always do that? If I'd been more interesting, maybe they would've wanted to visit, which could've led to a friendship — and then to sleepovers with pizza and sharing secrets and braiding each other's hair. All the regular things friends do.
Stark holds her beak partially open as she shuffles on my gloved hand, and I automatically pinch the jesses between my fingers to keep her from flying off.
"Falconers like to stick with tradition and use the old words for things," I say. "For example, we call this glove I'm wearing to protect me from the talons a gauntlet."
I point to the other pieces of equipment. "The leather bracelets on Stark's legs are called anklets, and the thinner leather straps that hang down from the anklets are jesses. The legs are the strongest part of the bird."
I reach for Stark's hood, but my attention strays to the girls. The moment the hood is off, Stark's sharp beak sinks into my bare arm just above the glove. I yelp in pain and surprise.
Fighting the same panic that surely courses through Stark's own body, I force myself to calmly gather the jesses between my fingers and go still. The worst thing to do is what I want to do — scream and shake my arm.
I am calm. I am not afraid. I am safety.
Guilt sticks in my throat as she releases her bite and bates, trying to fly away from me. The jesses prevent her from leaving my fist. She hangs upside down, flapping. I wait until she pauses, and then I swing her upright, my jaw clenched. I should've noticed she was unsure of the crowds. I should've paid attention.
The blood is thick and red as it trickles into my gauntlet and down my wrist.
Her wings deliver blows across my face. To avoid them, I straighten my arm and accidentally loosen my fingers, releasing her jesses — something I haven't done since I was seven. Stark rises into the sky with her jesses still attached. If she flies to a tree and they tangle in the branches, I will never forgive myself. I'm supposed to keep her safe, but I've let her down.
Students shriek and point in the air, shoving each other. Dad secures Gremlin to a block and then swings a lure. He whistles to my bird in the sky.
Shamefaced and shocked, I stare at the skin of my forearm, already purpling around the punctures. Now that I don't need to pretend composure for Stark, my hands begin to shake. My knees won't work properly. I gape at the chaos of kids pointing and laughing, teachers shouting orders, and the three girls now covering their heads and screaming. Dad's voice comes through the speakers, telling everyone to stay calm. I stand there watching it all happen in slow motion.
Stark goes for the lure, making everyone yell again and duck for cover. When Dad picks her up, he allows her the tidbit she earned from the lure. We can never forget that the birds come first. Only when Stark is secured to a block does he dart over to me.
"I don't understand what just happened. Are you okay?" He quickly inspects the bite, but then looks back to the crowd of people still sitting in our ring.
This is very bad. It's the opposite of what we're trying to do with a school group. We want to show them how well mannered and amazing the birds are. I've never been bitten without food involved. It's not something raptors usually do. And now it's happened here, in front of everyone.
"Get into the house, Karma. Go call your mom," Dad orders.
I race to the house and yell for Gavin. He's supposed to be practicing his times tables, but I bet he's reading.
"Get Mom on the phone, Gav!" I shout. "Stark nailed me!"
He bursts out of his room, eyes round, holding a SpiderMan and the X-Men comic book.
"Mom. Phone. Nailed." I whip off my gauntlet and flex my fingers. How could I have let this happen? Especially after Stark footed me already this month. I still have the marks where she grabbed me with her talons. I knew she might not work as an education bird, but I thought I could fix bad imprinting.
Feeling as if I'm going to be sick, I slump into a chair, rest my head on the kitchen table, and prop my arm carefully across the top.
Gavin hands me the phone. "Let me see. Oh, there's blood!"
I forget sometimes he's only nine. My vision blurs as I try to dial Mom's shop.
"Red Rock Flower Power," a cheerful voice says.
"Debbie? Can you get my mom?" My voice trembles.
Debbie's tone softens. "She's with a customer, sweetheart; hold a sec."
"It's getting on the floor." Gavin points to a drop of bright blood on the cream linoleum.
"Karma?" Mom says. "What's wrong?"
For some reason the sound of her voice causes my throat to close up, and I can't talk. I let out a squeak.
"Mom!" Gavin yells. "Karma's bleeding all over the floor!"
"Where's your father?"
"Out with a class." I'm ashamed of how my voice shakes. "Stark's a good bird. It was my fault."
"It'll take me fifteen minutes to get home. Call Aunt Amy. Lie down. Get Gavin to apply ice. You can ..."
I don't hear the rest. The phone slips from my fingers, and I slump to the ground.CHAPTER 2
In my tree house, I curl up on my red-tailed-hawk bedspread. At least I think it's supposed to be a redtail, but the colors on the terminal band are all wrong, even for a hawk that's molting. I try not to let the obvious error bother me. Grandma Barritt bought it for me, and she doesn't know much about birds.
Mom, Dad, and Aunt Amy are having a "conference" in the house, which I'm sure has something to do with my doctor visit yesterday. I can practically hear my apprenticeship gasping a dying breath. My only goal in life, besides having a normal sleepover with an entire roomful of real friends, has been to get my apprentice license as soon as I turn fourteen. Aunt Amy is a falconer, and I am going to be her apprentice.
Though I'm pretty sure falconers don't get bitten in front of a crowd of people because they weren't paying attention.
A knock on the door. Dad climbs up through the trapdoor in my floor. When he stands, he has to stoop under the low ceiling. He sighs, flicks his dark braid off his shoulder, and runs his hand along one of the studs of my walls.
"You're really going to stay out here for a whole year? Montana winters aren't anything to sneeze at."
We built the tree house this summer in the sturdy branches of a cottonwood for one of our Outdoor Classroom homeschooling projects, complete with wiring and heating. After it was finished, I convinced Dad to let me live in the tree house as a social experiment. I promised to write an essay on my findings. But I think we both know the real reason I wanted to live here is so I can sleep in a tree like a wild raptor. I've heard him tell people that I like to understand outdoor things. That I'm better with birds than with people.
I roll over to face him. "I guess I'll find out soon if we did a good enough job insulating," I say, patting the wall beside me.
Dad sits on my cot. "Falconers don't mope."
"I am not! And I'm not a falconer." Yet. Only nine months until I get to begin the apprenticeship.
He smiles but looks away, and something about his uncertain expression makes my chest tighten. "Family meeting in the kitchen," he says.
"Come on down, hon."
When I go through the kitchen door, Gavin jumps out at me and pokes my bandaged arm. "Does that hurt?"
"Not at all," I say. "Come closer so I can demonstrate how much it doesn't hurt."
Mom is already sitting at the table in her usual spot directly across from the door. She's wearing her purple sweat suit that she tends to put on right after shedding her work clothes. Under the same frizzy, auburn hair that I've inherited, her sharp eyes have the focused look of a hawk.
She reaches for me, but I wave her off.
"It's fine," I say, not wanting to draw attention to my wound.
"Doctors sent her home with antibiotics, Kate. Nothing to it," Aunt Amy says.
I throw her a look of thanks, and she winks at me. I might have Mom's hair, but I've got Aunt Amy's dislike of being fussed over.
Dad sits at the end of the table, where he's sat for just about every indoor homeschool lesson he's ever given us. Mom's and his shared look makes me want to run outside again. I don't want to hear that I won't be allowed to help with demos anymore. Won't be allowed to fly Stark anymore.
I slide into my chair and scan the photos covering the fridge. They're mostly of our kid-friendly short-winged birds being held by various customers. I always smile at Tank, Aunt Amy's crazy goshawk. The newest picture is of Aunt Amy's apprentice Mike. He's holding his redtail, Chaos, a week after they trapped her.
And then I find it, my favorite photo: Stark and me after her first successful free flight. She holds her head with the exact same tilt as mine, almost as if we planned our pose.
I found her on the side of a road early this summer and brought her to Aunt Amy, who sometimes rehabilitates injured birds. Stark was so emaciated that I had to feed her every few hours with an eyedropper until she was strong enough to eat on her own. I'd never handled a gyr before. We posted her leg-band information online, but no one came forward to claim their missing falcon.
A screech behind me lets me know that Pickles the owl is in the house again. She's usually the star of the demos, but yesterday I think Stark was. I turn to see her on a perch, shredding a dog toy. Like any other imprinted bird in the world, she craves attention.
"Can you say a word, Pickles?"
"Hoo. Hoooo. Hoo," the bird coos.
"That's three, smarty-pants. Where'd you learn to count?" I laugh at her, then spin around again when I hear Dad.
"Well, we have something to discuss."
The smile slips from my face.
"I'm sorry, Karma," Dad says, "but Stark's owner contacted Aunt Amy this afternoon. He saw our posting from months ago and wants her back."
I feel as though I've been footed in the chest. As if a giant golden eagle has stabbed its talons into the center of me. I actually sink back into the chair.
For a few moments the only sound in the room is the hum of the fridge. Then Dad adds gently, "She's from a breeder just across the Canadian border. I've offered to take her back to him."
No, no, no.
"But ... that's not fair. I saved her life! And how long does it take to notice your bird lost her transmitter? We've had her for months. How could he abandon her like that? And what about how bad this person must be at training falcons? Stark has some ... issues."
"Clearly," Dad says.
A desperate idea hits me. "What if we bought her? Did you offer to buy —?"
Dad glances at my arm as I wave it around. His look sets a fire in me.
"No!" I cry. "You're letting her go because I got bit? This was my fault, not hers."
"Karma, settle down. That's not the reason." Dad leans back and scratches his beard. "First of all, you know we can't afford to buy a gyr for you. And you know she doesn't like our hot Montana summers. She's built for camouflage in snow. It's better for her to go home."
"You understood this might happen," Aunt Amy reminds me. "I know it seemed she'd make a great demo bird with the lure training. But soon you'll trap your own redtail, and you won't have time for her once you start your apprenticeship."
Sneaky, clever Aunt Amy. The assurance that I'm still allowed to be her apprentice makes me feel slightly better.
"You'll also be starting at an actual school next year," Mom reminds me. "You won't have the same flexibility that you have now, at home."
They all make good points, but they aren't the ones who made a promise.
"I know you want the best for Stark," Dad says, glancing at Mom. "And to see the place where she's from. That's why I thought you'd like to come."
"You want me to go with you when we ditch her?" The walls of the kitchen are closing in around me. "I promised her I'd never leave her. I promised." The word catches in my throat. This can't be happening.
"We're all going to go. Well, your mom has to work, and Aunt Amy has to care for the birds. But you, me, and your brother will go. We'll still do our lessons on the road; don't want to miss those." Dad grins sheepishly, his eyes full of conflicting emotions. When he searches my expression, he switches tactics and focuses on my brother instead. "What do you say, Gav? Ready for a road trip?"
"Woo-hoo!" Gavin yells.
Excerpted from Falcon Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson. Copyright © 2017 Terry Lynn Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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