A magical, provocative tale of forbidden love and one girl's struggle for liberation
Hanna has never been outside her secluded community of Clearhaven. She has never questioned why her father has four wives or why she has fourteen brothers and sisters. And in only one week, on her eighteenth birthday, Hanna will follow tradition and become the fifth wife of a man more than twice her age.
But just days before the wedding, Hanna meets an enigmatic stranger who challenges her to question her fate and to follow her own will. And when her mother reveals a secretone that could grant her the freedom she's known only in her dreamsHanna is forced to decide whether she was really meant for something greater than the claustrophobic world of Clearhaven. But can she abandon her beloved younger sister and the only home she's ever known? Or is there another optionone too fantastical to believe?
With lush, evocative prose, award-winning author Christopher Meades takes readers on an emotional journey into a fascinating, unknown worldand, along the way, brilliantly illuminates complexities of faith, identity and how our origins shape who we are.
|Publisher:||Park Row Books|
|Edition description:||Original ed.|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Christopher Meades is the author of three previous novels, including THE LAST HICCUP, which won the 2013 Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction. In addition, Meades’s work has appeared in several literary journals including The Potomac Review and The Fiddlehead. He lives in British Columbia, Canada, with his family.
Read an Excerpt
THE WOLVES WERE LURKING. HANNA COULD sense them in the brush just beyond her line of sight, and others closer, the most daring of the pack camouflaged by thickets of timber. When her father sent her out into the woods, Hanna didn't argue. It was forbidden to argue and this needed to be done. Hanna was to retrieve the moonshine. She was to bring it home. She was not supposed to be afraid.
With daylight fading, Hanna had expected to be watched. She'd anticipated the wolf pack might hunt her now that winter was ending and food was still scarce. What she didn't expect was the quiet. Out in the woods, over two hundred yards from Jotham's house, there was nothing but silence; no cawing crows or cooing doves. The crickets' chirp had long fallen prey to the cold. Even the trees — at this, the onset of spring — had yet to come alive as they awakened from their seasonal slumber.
Hanna adjusted the cap on the jug. Her father's associate, the man with the white whiskers and the wide scars lining his cheeks, hadn't been able to find a proper lid in the shack where he sold his handcrafted spirits. He'd wedged an ill-fitting piece of cork in its place and told Hanna to carry it carefully. She pressed the cap down firmly now, and then she looked up. In the distance, a set of yellow eyes was watching, sharp and harrowing, like lemons crystallized in the sun. Hanna made out the fur along the bridge of the creature's nose, a toughened patch of skin along its jaw. Then finally a sound, this one from above, a raven swooshing its wings. Hanna looked into the sky, only for a moment. When her gaze returned to the wolf, it was gone.
"It's getting dark. We have to hurry," Hanna said.
Emily stepped forward, a single step where her foot landed on uneven ground. At the last moment, Hanna reached out and caught her, almost spilling the jug in the process. The girls watched it swish and swoosh but never lose a drop.
"Father would be upset," Emily said.
"He would be furious," Hanna said. She took her sister's hand and led her back through the woods.
Emily had insisted on coming with Hanna. Seven years her junior, Emily had been following Hanna around since she could crawl. Emily started life differently than the rest of the children. She'd emerged from the womb with a strong mind and a twisted back. Now eleven years old, Emily struggled to walk. As an infant, she had crawled for three years before the adult women insisted Jotham take her to a doctor in the city. Jotham balked. He stormed around the house in a rage before declaring that no member of his family would ever travel to a place where the minds are base and the souls corrupt. He brought a doctor home instead.
The diagnosis was an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine. Emily's back was shaped like a question mark that leaned too far to the right. Over the years, Hanna had assisted Emily in doing the exercises the doctor recommended. Her efforts had helped to a degree. Still, Emily's spine looked like a tree that — bereft of sunshine — had tried to reach around a boulder to find light. It was Hanna's responsibility to look after Emily. Hanna gave Emily her bath. She walked her to the classroom for their daylong lessons on faith. Hanna locked arms with her sister at church and helped her kneel. She helped Emily stand.
What would happen to Emily in ten days' time, when her big sister no longer lived in Jotham's house, Hanna still didn't know. That was a subject she had yet to broach and there was no time to think about it now. Dusk hung like vapor in the air. Darkness would soon fall.
A stream appeared up ahead, its frigid water tinted blue by the first glimmers of moonlight. Beyond the water, the ground was a foreboding maze of shadows burdened with steep, imperceptible cliffs and rabbit-sized holes that led to nowhere. Hanna took a hard step and her foot lodged in the swampy mire. She pulled her boot out, careful to balance the jug in her hand and Emily against her hip. In the distance, a light beckoned. Jotham's house. Still too far away. Hanna kept moving. In her haste, she pulled Emily along beside her. Emily didn't complain (the girl never complained), but Hanna could tell from her labored breaths, they were moving too fast. She looked into the sky again. The darkness hadn't fully set in. They still had time. There was no reason to panic just yet.
Three weeks ago, this ground was covered in snow. At the peak of winter, it was two yards deep. Now all that remained were occasional piles of slush. Hanna found she missed the snow. There was contentment in knowing everything was silver and white, that the world was asleep and that time had managed, as incredible as it seemed, to slow down. Hanna had spent the entire season willfully ignoring what was coming, pretending her body hadn't changed.
Hanna would turn eighteen in a little over a week's time, the age she'd always feared. She'd seen how others looked at her, how the men at church glared without shame, how their eyes grew wide as they tried to imagine what was underneath her floral dress. Hanna knew what they wanted, what men expected from women. She couldn't lie to herself any longer. Winter was gone and what she'd been afraid of her whole life was rapidly approaching.
"Did you hear that?" Emily said.
How could she not? The wolves were howling. Since the moment she spotted those yellow eyes, a warm worry had fluttered in Hanna's chest. In the minutes since, it became clear they were being followed. Hanna hoped it was just the one wolf. More likely, up to a dozen were tracking them, the leader of the pack sending silent signals to his brethren to surround the girls, to find the perfect moment to strike.
The sun was gone now. Moonlight had taken over the black-blue skies. They'd stayed out too long and now they had to move quickly. Hanna pressed forward with Emily clinging to her arm. The wolves would take Emily first. They would sense her deformity and, like adept hunters, prey upon her weakness. Hanna's mother had persuaded her to take a knife out into the wild. The weapon pressed against the seam of her dress, the metal cold against her skin. But what good would one knife do against an entire pack of wolves?
Back at the stream, Hanna had tried to lead them astray. She'd splashed through three consecutive piles of slush and then turned sharply, thinking that if they altered their course, what they would lose in time, they'd make up for by confusing their trackers. It had turned out to be a remarkably ineffective strategy. There is nothing more futile than evading destiny. Nothing more frightening than knowing you're powerless to stop what is coming.
Hanna heard a wolf panting, another slipping through a nearby patch of bushes. Three times she'd almost dropped the moonshine. She pictured her father's face, that vein above his eye, the one that throbbed and turned purple when Jotham was angry. The batch of whiskey he'd distilled in their woodshed was all but gone. If the children feared him when he was hard at the drink, they feared him doubly so when he was sober. Hanna adjusted the cap again. Despite her efforts, it wouldn't stay. Rather than drop it and spill what was inside, she set the jug down on a patch of solid ground and kept moving. Jotham could return tomorrow, in daylight, with his gun if he so chose.
Hanna leaned into Emily's ear. She whispered hard.
"We have to run."
"Yes. You can."
"No. You're not."
Emily looked up and Hanna caught a glimpse of the girl's eyes in the moonlight, little circles of blue and gray surrounded by startled, shivering white. She grabbed Emily's arm and they ran as fast as they could. Hanna's chest throbbed. Her blood pulsed in her arms, her legs pumping, her feet crashing through the underbrush. The howls disappeared and the swift patter of footsteps took their place. Emily was running on one foot. Hanna hoisted her up and she pressed toward the edge of the forest, afraid that, at any moment, a predator would steal Emily's leg, that the girl would collapse into the darkness and Hanna would be powerless to save her. Still, she stormed into the night.
Suddenly, the girls stopped. Hanna's heart leapt into her throat. The lead wolf was standing in their path, its yellow eyes gleaming in the moonlight. Emily tripped and Hanna grabbed her. Her wrists weakened and Hanna almost lost her grip, but somehow she pulled Emily up before the girl dared touch the ground.
Slowly, the other wolves emerged from the darkness. Seven in total. The creatures led with their noses, baring their teeth, their spindly legs a disguise for their ferocity, lurkers whose time had finally come.
The woodlands' edge was only a few yards away. Jotham's house was fully visible. Hanna could see the window of the bedroom she shared with her brothers and sisters. She pictured herself reaching across the long patch of grass and touching the front door. Only, the house might as well have been an ocean away. Hanna wanted to call out. She wanted to scream for help. But who would hear her? Who would make it there in time?
The lead wolf gritted his teeth. He tilted his snout, arched his back and took a single step forward. Hanna clutched the knife in her hand. She pictured the next ten seconds in her mind. The wolf would lunge. He would leap at Emily, and Hanna would step between them and strike the wolf down. She would strike them all down. In a single moment, Hanna would transform. She would find her true self and be both Emily's heroine and her own. Hanna took a short breath. She waited for the wolf to pounce.
How long in my life have I been waiting for the wolves to pounce?
Just then, a shotgun blast rang out. The booming sound overtook the air, another following seconds later. Hanna looked toward the light. It was her father, Jotham, standing on his front porch, shooting his gun into the air. He stepped forward and shouted. Jotham fired a third blast and the wolves cowered in confusion.
This was Hanna's chance. She dropped the knife and picked Emily up in both arms. Then she ran. With all her strength, she carried the girl straight into the grass field. She felt nothing around her — not the cold air against her face or the ground beneath her feet. There was only her and the girl, the beckoning light, the darkness echoing in her wake. Hanna pumped her legs as fast as they would go. She was almost at Jotham's doorstep when she finally realized the wolves had given up the chase. She set Emily down and together they collapsed to their knees. Hanna let out a long gasp filled with relief and agony and fear all at once. She fought back tears.
Jotham was standing on his porch, his face shrouded in shadows, a lone figure clutching his gun. Home was where the real danger was. Only ten days remained until Hanna's birthday. That was all she had left. Ten days. She had grown into a woman and very soon now, her time would come.CHAPTER 2
THE NEXT MORNING, THE FAMILY ASSEMBLED in the driveway. The young children's feet shuffled along the gravel, the oldest standing perfectly still, the toddlers clinging to their mothers' legs — all waiting for their father to speak. Hanna could see her breath in the brisk air, her footprints in the frosted ground. An hour earlier, when dawn's first light weaved through the stick-thin trees, the skies promised warmth. Only, it was still cold.
Hanna stood next to Emily and watched Jotham without ever meeting his gaze. Last night, when Hanna had arrived without the moonshine, Jotham's anger overtook him. His hands shook. His skin — ashen during the summer months, anemic now at winter's end — turned a bright, boiling red. It was Hanna's mother, Kara, who calmed him, who spoke quietly in his ear, who implored with her eyes. It was Kara who steered Jotham toward the liquor cabinet, who poured the last drops of whiskey into a glass and placed it in Jotham's hand. It was Kara who helped Jotham's anger crawl back down into his belly.
Jotham paced the driveway now. He labored in his steps, dragging one foot behind the other. For as long as Hanna could remember, Jotham's back brace had limited his movements. In the past year, his impairment had progressed. The occasional spells of discomfort had morphed into bouts of unbroken anguish. Hanna could see it in the way her father clenched his jaw when he stood up from a chair, in the slight hesitation before he turned his head, in the darkened circles around his eyes.
Jotham took a long, wheezing breath and surveyed the group. His four wives stood amongst the fourteen children, aged seventeen through four months, all dressed in their best attire; the boys in white shirts and trousers held up by hand-woven suspenders, the girls in almost-matching floral dresses. From five yards away, Hanna's dress looked identical to her mother's. From a yard away, tears in the fabric were obvious. Below her jacket, the seam had frayed. Her dress looked ratty, as though she didn't take care of her things and, by extension, herself. In truth, Hanna owned only two dresses. The others she had outgrown and passed down to her sisters.
The thought was unavoidable, particularly when they attended church services: Jotham's family was poor. It was evident in the holes in the children's shoes. In the stains on their tattered clothes. In that a family of nineteen had eight winter jackets between them, the rest clasping ragged sweaters close to their chests, the youngest children wrapped in blankets. It was evident in how the lot of them looked as though they'd been freshly dredged from a lake.
Jotham ran his hand along his jaw. Hanna waited for him to say something about Emily's tangled hair or the slumped shoulders of one of the toddlers, for a reprimand that never came. Instead, he stepped toward Hanna and examined her closer. This was her day, after all. There would not be an ordinary church service. Today, the minister would conduct a ceremony to formally announce who Hanna's husband was going to be.
"The entire town is coming to see you this morning. Are you prepared?" Jotham said.
"I'm going to need you to say it."
"I'm prepared, Father," Hanna said.
It seemed for a moment that Jotham would speak again. Words formed inside his mouth. Were they instructions for how Hanna should behave? What she should say when she set foot inside the church and all eyes turned toward her? Were words of encouragement — however unexpected — on the tip of his tongue? Hanna would never know. Jotham turned and stepped into the passenger's seat of his old open-back truck. He settled in alongside his first wife, Belinda, who had taken over driving duties as recently as three seasons ago. Emily was allowed to sit in the back. The others had to walk.
Belinda started up the truck. It struggled at first, buzzing and clanking before letting out a long, uncooperative wheeze. The truck's frame convulsed and a dripping sound filled the air. Behind the wheel, Belinda pursed her lips. The skin tightened on her face and she turned the key in the ignition again. This time the truck roared to life. It billowed out a hazy black cloud and then the wheels spun on the gravel driveway.
Hanna watched the vehicle pull away before setting off down the street with the others. She clutched her jacket close, her collar turned up to offset the breeze.
"Carry me?" a little voice said.
Hanna looked down to see three-year-old Ahmre with her arms outstretched. She picked the girl up. "What are you dreaming about today?" Hanna said. "Pixies? Unicorns?"
Ahmre leaned into Hanna's ear. "A squirrel that tricks her brothers and sisters."
Hanna laughed. "Would this squirrel trick me, as well?"
The little girl paused to think. "How could it trick you? You won't be here."
Hanna held Ahmre closer. The child was right. Soon, she wouldn't be around to ask Ahmre about her daydreams, to help navigate the child's intricate network of imaginary friends. Hanna surveyed the family now, walking together, the youngest children holding hands, their mothers steering them away from the woodlands' edge, the twins sharing — or were they fighting over? — a torn blanket. She pictured them a week from now, walking without her. It wouldn't be all that different than if a giant hand reached out of the sky and plucked Hanna away.
"Can I ride on your shoulders?" Ahmre said.
"You're getting too big."
"Just this once?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hanna who Fell from the Sky"
Copyright © 2017 Christopher Meades.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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