Elinor is lucky, so lucky. At least that's what the other members of True Cause think. They are all blessed to be part of True Cause, safe from Outsiders, living only to work and pray for Endtime. They have been chosen for a better life.
But for a long time now, fifteen-year-old Elinor hasn't felt so lucky. Sometimes she doesn't want to kneel for hours in the cold, listening to True Cause's founder, Howard, pray. Sometimes she just wants to throw all the copies of The Book that she is meant to be selling into the gutter. Sometimes she doesn't want to be one of Howard's brides when she turns sixteen. And especially sometimes, she wants to know more about the green-eyed Outsider boy who seems to be following her.
Because there's something oddly familiar about him. Something that is making Elinor remember that there used to be more to her life than just True Cause....
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By Judy Waite
AtheneumCopyright © 2006 Judy Waite
All right reserved.
I am getting Bad Thoughts.
I must push them away and try to concentrate. Concentrate.
Fog has thickened the air and turned us ghosted and grey. Isabel presses close to me as we gather in the Hill Park grounds with the other Followers. It is not easy to see Meryl through the haze.
Two Watchers lead her out from the back of the van and over to one of the trees. The tree has been lopped back to make stubbed shapes, like all the others inside the grounds. Meryl stumbles between the Watchers and they hold her as she tries to walk, her bare feet dragging a ragged line across the frosted grass. They have shaved her hair and it shocks me. Meryl's hair was spun gold and spilled like a waterfall down her back. We have to keep our hair long and loose, because Howard likes it like that. Or at least he likes it on us. His Chosen. The ordinary Followers do not matter. Without her hair Meryl looks lost, and I wish I could turn back time and make everything all right. I was her Shadow on the streets. She taught me things. Kept me safe. But these are Bad Thoughts again and I have to stop remembering. What is happening is necessary.
The word saws into me, splintering off the Bad Thoughts and leaving only the truth. Necessary. Necessary.
They reach the tree and one of the Watchers turns Meryl so her back is to us. She is wearing a thin beige dress that blends with her skin, and the whole look of her now seems to belong in the strange blurred morning.
I wonder if she is cold.
The Watchers work fast, strapping her wrists onto heavy metal rings that are banded on to the trunk.
"Elinor?" Isabel touches my hand. "Will Meryl be all right?"
"She has to Receive Punishment. There is no choice." I put my arm round Isabel's shoulder and am startled by how thin she is. I hope she is not ill. Getting ill is a Bad Thing. There is no time for getting ill.
I start to chant, my lips shaping soundlessly, "True Cause is the true cause. True Cause is the true cause." Or at least I think it is soundless, but now others are joining in and Followers are linking arms, pressing closer together, and we are all feeling the warmth and comfort flow into each other. I sway slightly, giddy with the rush of love, and in the giddiness there floats the sudden question of what it is like to Betray. Betray. A twisted black damage word. A word to describe what Meryl has done.
"True Cause is the true cause. True Cause is the true cause."
The chant seems to muffle up inside the fog and hang there so that I am not sure if we are all still speaking or if the words have got trapped somehow and are just echoing back.
I am drifting.
Suddenly two lights pour cold beams down the drive from the mansion, and I make my eyes focus on them as they glide towards us. It is Howard's white limousine, the fog curling like breath in its headlamps.
Rael, Howard's Chief Watcher, opens the passenger door and Howard gets out. Silver blond. Wire limbed. His amazing eyes deep-set and black as coals. He faces us and everything about him seems to buzz and crackle as if he is lit from the inside. Our mood ignites like a spark on tired ashes. I become elated, just looking at him. I can never watch him enough. Never be near him enough. He walks across to where Meryl is tied, then stops, pressing his fingers against the W that scars his forehead. I think he must be sending her a message with his mind. Some words of warmth. Even when he is angry, Howard can always find room to love.
We are lucky. So lucky.
Howard raises both hands and our chant fades, although some of us are still swaying very slightly. I can feel my face smiling and I am filled with a sweet calm.
Everything will be all right.
Everything will be all right.
He does not speak to Meryl. I had thought he might -- maybe touch her or talk to her or something. In another month, on her sixteenth birthday, she would have been Bonded to him. But perhaps he cannot bear it that she has wandered from the Path. I am not able to make out the detail of his face but I am sure that grief will be burnt across it. Howard feels everything. When he stands still he can feel the grass grow.
What is happening to Meryl is necessary. Necessary. True Cause is the true cause. Howard holds a rope in his hand. I think he must be going to be the one to use it, but Rael strides over and takes it. He fixes Meryl with his milk-pale stare and swishes the rope, grazing the air.
Meryl's shoulders flinch and I think of a deer we startled in the woods last week. Meryl and me out collecting leaves and cones to dry for the potpourri baskets. The deer flinched like that before it ran. Only Meryl's hands are tied and the rope is raised and she cannot run.
Rael raises his hand.
I tighten my arm around Isabel.
True Cause is the true cause. Necessary. Necessary.
I do not want to look. Instead I stare down at where the ground has seeped a damp stain over the toes of my leather boots. Meryl must know that this is for her own good. For the good of all of us.
True Cause is the true cause. Necessary. Necessary.
A gasp from the Followers stirs me, and I look up. Howard has moved between Rael and Meryl.
Howard our Master.
Howard who Saves.
Rael twists sideways and the rope misses Meryl and whips the tree. Splinters of bark spit and fall. A curved weal gashes a scar down the trunk.
Now Howard is facing us again, his head up and thrown back slightly. I feel the burn of his stare. I feel the moment when his look singes mine. I feel the fire of everything he knows.
We stand, all of us trembling and sorry, as if it was us and not Meryl who gave herself to an Outsider.
Isabel is crying.
Howard looks at her, and then at me with my arm around her.
My knees weaken under the weight of his gaze. Tie me up. Punish me. I am sorry. So sorry.
I know -- have always known -- that there is something different in the way Howard looks at me. He whispered once that my eyes and my hair drew me to him. I was puzzled at the time, but Meryl thought it was probably because I have a look like his. Black, slant-shaped eyes and silvery blonde hair. I do not think of this often, because of course vanity is a Bad Thing. The outer form is nothing and nowhere. We learn to love the soul within. But still sometimes I am glad that I have a look that pleases him.
Howard brings me back to the moment. He lifts his arms and I have the idea he is about to shout. Even roar. But instead he stares beyond us, as if he is scanning the bushes and trees. "There are Outsiders who want to destroy our Cause. They are dangerous, and devious. Trust leads to tragedy. We must be watchful. We must be wary." Then, bringing his gaze back on to us, "This day is your warning. Learn from it."
Nobody moves. Nobody breathes.
The cold threat ices up our bones, and we are locked where we stand.
And then Howard smiles.
The fear melts. I smile back at him. Everybody does.
Howard takes Rael's hand, and nods at the other two Watchers, who have been waiting by the van. Stepping forward as if they are all just acting out one of our Role Play Programmes, they untie Meryl and turn her round. "I know this has seemed rough," Howard gathers her to him, and his voice is a soft caress, "but sometimes I have to make hard choices -- I need to find ways to hammer these messages home. If we can't stay in line with each other now, how will we handle Endtime together? You do understand?"
I expect her to hold on to him. To thank him even. Howard is right -- there are terrible things coming. He is only trying to save us. But Meryl is not looking thankful. Her eyes are dead and empty, and she looks as though she does not care. I know then that it is not just the hair. Something deep in the centre of Meryl has been cut away. How can that have happened? She grew up with me. With all of us. We are Howard's Chosen. When Endtime comes we will be the New Beginning.
I keep watching her. She changed slowly, I suppose. Struggling to think back, I pull out fuzzed memories of times when she slipped away from me. Questions she asked that seemed edged with Bad Thoughts. I never tried to fit these things together. I never understood that I needed to. Did I let her down?
Isabel starts to swing my arm as if she wants to dance. She hugs me and now everyone is hugging and saying they knew he would not do it. But he had to warn us. True Cause is the true cause. Necessary. Necessary.
I hug everyone back.
"I love you," they say.
"I love you too," I reply. But a part of me is not with them.
I feel queasy. Uneasy. Outsiders can be dangerous and devious. Trust leads to tragedy. So surely Meryl has been abused? Might we not all have helped her more through love, not fear? I feel suddenly as if I am a deer that has stupidly strayed from the safety of the herd, and although it has lived in the same woods all its life, it is suddenly not certain of exactly where it is standing.
Copyright ©2004 by Judy Waite
Excerpted from Forbidden by Judy Waite Copyright © 2006 by Judy Waite. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
True Cause is the true cause. Lucky, so lucky. I love you. These are the phrases that fifteen-year-old Elinor has grown up with on the farm where she and her fellow Followers, led by the amazing Howard, live. It is a simple, material-less lifestyle, but Elinor is one of the Chosen, a special group of young girls who will go on to a very important role in her community, as one of Howard¿s many brides. Importance is focused on the soul and not the outer body, and Elinor should be happy, so happy.However, she is not. As Elinor sees more and more of the odd things that happen on the farm¿such as when Meryl, a fellow Chosen, was tied to a tree to be whipped and then disappeared from them forever without notice, or when Howard pretends to drown a woman¿s baby as a warning¿she struggles against everything she¿s grown up with.This conflict between her community¿s teachings and her inner voice grows stronger when she meets Jamie, a familiar-looking outsider boy who makes her stomach do flips in ways she just knows is dangerous. She cannot stay away from him, however, even though the only one who can ultimately save herself from the increasingly dangerous world she lives in is herself.FORBIDDEN takes an interesting concept and spins it into a thrilling story. It¿s sort of a psychological thriller in an eerie alternate world, dashed through with a bit of romance. A good read for dull moments.