When his parents leave for Detroit, Sammy is left alone with his out-of-touch grandfather in a dull, creaky house. All Sammy wants to do is run away to rejoin his folks. But Grandpa’s world holds a few surprises, including a majestic crane found in the woods with a broken wing. Sammy finds himself seeing his grandfather’s world through new, wild eyes. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Betsy Byars including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
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|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
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The House of Wings
By Betsy Byars
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1972 Betsy Byars
All rights reserved.
SAMMY CROUCHED IN THE metal culvert that ran beneath the highway. His head was bent forward over his dusty knees. His shoulders were hunched, his eyes shut. He was listening.
At first there was only the sound of his own ragged breathing and the hum of cars on the highway above. Then he heard it.
Sammy's head snapped up. He stared at the circle of light at the end of the culvert. He waited. His face was dusty and, beneath the dust, red. Tears had washed the dust away in streaks down the sides of his cheeks. He had cried so hard that he had gotten the hiccups.
"Boy, where are you?" his grandfather called. "Boy!"
Sammy did not answer. He remained bent over in the position of a runner about to start a race. One hand, still wet with tears, was braced on his knee; the other hung at his side. His fingers nervously pinched up the pale sand in the bottom of the culvert and released it.
"Boy, are you in that pipe? You hear me?" His grandfather's voice was louder and Sammy knew he was close, probably climbing up the bank right now. "Do you hear me?"
Sammy ran in a crouch through the pipe. He came out the other side in the grass divide between the highways and waited. He was bent over in a knot. He hiccuped loudly.
Someone threw an empty Fresca can from one of the passing cars, and it rolled down the bank. Sammy raised his head. He saw the cars flashing by and the sky beyond, which was the bright blue of construction paper.
He did not move. After a moment he leaned over and glanced through the pipe. At that exact moment his grandfather looked through the pipe on the other side and they saw each other. It was a strange sensation. It was as if they were the only two people in the world, staring at each other through the center of the earth.
Neither of them spoke. Sammy was silent because the sight of his grandfather made him sick with anger. His grandfather was too winded to speak. His grandfather was holding on to the top of the pipe with one hand and holding his side with the other. His chest and shoulders were rising and falling rapidly.
The silence was broken as Sammy hiccuped. Then his grandfather said through the pipe, "Listen, boy, your mom and dad didn't leave you because they wanted to." Through the culvert, his voice had a deep ringing sound. It was as unreal as what he was saying.
Sammy pulled his lips back in a snarl. "Liar!" he shouted. "Liar!"
His grandfather had his mouth open to speak again, but he closed it when Sammy said this. He looked down at his feet. He was still holding on to the top of the pipe, breathing hard. When the word liar had stopped washing over him, he looked up and said, "They had to get on their way, boy. That was why they didn't wait to tell—"
"I don't want to hear about it," Sammy shouted.
"They wanted me to—"
"I don't want to hear, I don't want to hear, I don't want to hear. Can't you understand English?" He turned and ran across the grass median to the pipe that went under the other half of the highway. In a crouch he ran through the pipe, came out on the run, and kept going.
He did not have any idea where he was now or where he was heading. He had found the pipe by chance, and he would find another hiding place and then another. "And don't you follow me either," he shouted over his shoulder, even though his grandfather was nowhere in sight.
Sammy ran to a small grove of trees and paused to look back. He waited. There was a silence broken only by the faint sound of the leaves overhead being turned by the wind. He hiccuped. He leaned against one of the trees, putting his arm tiredly around it as if it were a friend. His eyes kept watching the dark hole of the culvert.
After a minute he saw his grandfather emerging from the pipe, tumbling out like an unwieldy crab. His grandfather straightened and looked up. He managed to look at the exact spot where Sammy was standing. "Boy!"
"Old man," Sammy called back.
"Wait for me, I'm—"
"Get away," Sammy hollered. "Let me alone!" He turned and started running again. "Dirty liar!" His legs were heavy. His bare feet were sore. He was almost at the end of his strength and he knew it. The fact that the old man had somehow kept up with him enraged him and enabled him to run a little faster for a moment. Beneath his breath he muttered again and again, "Dirty liar."
He stumbled out of the trees and into an old cornfield. There was a wooden shack in the field, doorless and empty, leaning downhill. Sammy looked from the shack over to the thick woods. The woods would be a better hiding place but the shack was closer. He ran behind it, sank to the ground and leaned back against the warm, rough wood. In the distance he could hear his grandfather calling, "Boy, wait for me!" Sammy dropped his chin on his knees and did not answer.
He closed his eyes. For a moment he was dizzy, and he wrapped his fingers in the weeds and clung to keep from toppling over. He did not know what had happened to him. The hot sun and the running and the hard knot of pain in his chest made the whole thing seem like a fever dream.
It seemed to Sammy that his life had been, up until this morning, one long flowing time. For ten years he had been free. He had been part of the world the way a bird is or an animal. He had gone where he wanted and had done the things that pleased him. He had come home when he was ready to eat, and slept, if he liked, curled up on the sofa like a puppy. His parents had allowed him to raise himself because he was the last of eight children and they were worn out.
He had thought life would always be like that, with him just floating along and doing what he pleased. Now without warning, everything had changed. Like a fish, he had been thrown out of that warm current, and the change had been so sudden he could not understand it. He tried to go over the events in his mind.
Two days before, he and his parents had set out from Alabama in the truck. His father was going to get a job in Detroit, and the thought of a big city with new places to explore had pleased and excited Sammy. He had sat in the back of the truck, jammed between the boxes and belongings, shouting at the cars that passed, "We're going to Detroit." He had curled up and slept occasionally, but most of the time he had sat backward, waving at the people, saying to anyone who would look at him, "We're going to Detroit."
For two hot dusty days and one night they had driven, stopping to cool the engine and to let Sammy's father lie by the truck and rest on a faded quilt with his hat over his face. Sammy had spent the rest time climbing people's fences, feeding weeds to strange sheep, wading in streams, running from place to place like a dog freed from his pen until his mom would call, "Sammy, come on now. We're leaving."
Late on the second day they had stopped in northern Ohio to spend the night with Sammy's grandfather. It was dark when they arrived. Sammy's mother had gotten them lost twice before they found the right road, and then the driveway had been so overgrown with weeds that they couldn't drive up to the house. Sammy's father had parked the truck back by the trees.
"You awake, Sammy?" His father had slapped his hand on the side of the truck and Sammy's eyes had opened.
"I'm awake," he said, but it was only partly true. Two days of being jiggled around in the back of the truck, baked by the sun and dried by the wind, had tired him. He climbed out of the truck stupidly. He stumbled in the dark and said, "Is this it?" He couldn't see anything but weeds and in the distance a big house that in the moonlight looked old and empty. "This can't be it."
His mother was not paying any attention to him. She was standing by the truck with her arms wrapped around her as if she were cold. She said, "Everything is so run down."
"Well, your dad's old now," his father said.
"But it used to be a real fine place. Ten years ago when we were here for Mamma's funeral, everything was real fine. Don't you remember?"
Sammy said, "I think this is the wrong house or something."
His father looked at his mother and said, "Well, your ma was the one who kept everything up. She was the—"
"It's like the wilderness," his mother said.
Sammy's grandfather came around the side of the house then. Sammy couldn't see him clearly. There was just the impression of a wild old man, blinded temporarily by the car lights.
"Who's there?" Sammy's grandfather asked. He lifted his arms to block out the lights.
"Papa, it's me," his mother said.
"Is it Judy?" His grandfather was coming slowly, squinting into the light.
"No, Papa, I'm Lucille." She stepped forward so he could see her. "I'm Lucille and this is Harry and this is our boy Sammy. Sammy was just a baby when we were here last, so I guess you don't remember him."
His grandfather looked as if he didn't remember any of them. "Lucille?" he said in a confused voice.
"Yes, Lucille. There was Judy and Mary Louise and then me, Lucille."
His mother paused as if waiting for an invitation to come into the house. Sammy didn't wait. He started walking.
The house had looked dark, but as he got closer Sammy saw that there was a light in the hall. An old forty-watt bulb hung from the ceiling and gave off a faint glow.
Sammy went up the steps and crossed the sagging porch. The door was open and the light inside had drawn a moth. Sammy stopped at the door. There was a goose in the hallway and it did not move, just looked at Sammy with bright black eyes. Sammy stood tiredly, looking back at the goose, blinking with sleep. He yelled, "There's a goose in here, Mom!" No one answered him.
He took one step toward the goose and then he called out, "Where do I sleep?" He thought he would drop down in the hall. "Where do I sleep?" he called again.
"Just go on in the back room," his mom called. "Is that all right, Papa, if he sleeps in the back room?" Sammy couldn't hear his grandfather's reply, but his mom called, "Just go on in the back room, Sammy."
Sammy passed the goose with caution. He was not a polite boy, but he muttered "Excuse me" as he circled the goose and went to the back room. He fell across the bed and closed his eyes.
In the hall his mother was saying, "Papa, what are these geese doing in the house?"
Sammy heard his grandfather's slow answer, "Well, they just come in."
"Papa, if you'd have some screen put in the front door and keep it closed—"
"I don't mind them," his grandfather said. "They're company."
"But, Papa, you can't keep house if you've got geese tramping through." She broke off, then said louder, "Papa! What's happened to Grandma's portrait. It looks like birds have been roosting on it."
"A lady give me a canary," his grandfather mumbled.
"A lady give me a canary," he said louder, "and for the first two months I had it, it wouldn't do nothing but walk across the top of that picture frame."
"Papa, you cannot keep house like this. It's disgraceful. What you have got to do is ..." And in the middle of his mother's housekeeping advice, Sammy fell asleep.
He awoke once before daylight. He lay there for a moment, listening to the sound of the crickets. Then in a room above him he heard his mother. She was saying shrilly, "Harry, there's something flying in this room."
"It's just a bird. Go on back to sleep."
"Just a bird! Well, maybe you can sleep with birds flying all over, but I can't. What's going on in this house anyway?"
"Go to sleep."
"Harry, it's an owl. Listen."
"Go to sleep."
"Harry, it went in the closet. If you get up and close the door before it flies out ..." There was a pause. Sammy could hear his father's feet on the floor. Then his mother snapped angrily, "Now it's loose again and it's going to be bothering us all night. You know how owls are."
Sammy turned over and fell asleep waiting to hear if his father was going to do anything about the owl. When he awoke for the second time it was ten o'clock in the morning. He lay on the bed without moving for a moment. The only thought in his mind was that he was hungry. The afternoon before he had had a Moon Pie and an R C Cola when they stopped at a gas station, and he had not eaten since.
Slowly he got out of bed and stood on the floor. His feet could feel the grit on the bare boards; it was as fine as spilled sugar. In the dusty discolored mirror over the dresser he could see himself. He looked strange, and suddenly that was the way he felt too.
He turned and walked out into the hall. His red hair was standing up like a rooster's comb. He said, "Mom!"
The floor in the hall was so dirty that it appeared to be a continuation of the yard. Mud had been tracked in and had dried, so that there were ridges in the dirt like corduroy. Sammy looked into the parlor. Curtains hung at two of the windows; the others were bare. The furniture was old and faded. One of the legs of the sofa was broken off and had been replaced by a concrete block.
Sammy stood in the hallway without moving. He had been to this house only once, when he was a baby, and he did not remember it. He had heard his older brothers talk about his grandfather's house, though, and a picture had formed in his mind. The picture was of a large white house set in a green meadow.
His brother Tom had told him of croquet games on the front yard and lemonade stands at the end of the driveway. According to Tom, a person could make a living doing nothing but selling lemonade on that road.
Jim had told him about a peacock who strutted up and down the drive and opened up his feathers like a fan whenever Aunt Minnie came out in the yard. The peacock was the only admirer Aunt Minnie ever had.
And Bertie had told him about his grandfather's parrot, who had once belonged to a man with a gas station, and this parrot could say anything that had to do with cars. It was a lot of fun, Bertie said, to take an unsuspecting person into the dining room and ask the parrot, "What's wrong with him?" because the parrot would say instantly, "Out of gas" or "Needs a muffler" or any of a dozen funny things. Sammy had decided that the first thing he would do when he got to his grandfather's was to run into the dining room and listen to the parrot talk about cars. "What's wrong with me?" he would ask.
Sammy walked back down the hall. He found the dining room and looked in, but there was no parrot. There was not even a place for a parrot, Sammy thought, only a dark dusty table, seven empty chairs, and a cabinet without any china left in it. He wondered if there had ever been a parrot, or a peacock on the lawn. His mom had been right. This was the wilderness.
He walked out onto the porch, shielding his eyes from the hot sun. "Mom!" He did not see anybody. He went down the steps, taking them one at a time because the steps sagged on one side. There was a large hole worn into the earth at the bottom of the steps, and a rock had been set to fill it. Sammy stood on the warm rock, curling his toes over the edge. He looked out over the yard. For the first time he began to feel alarmed. He didn't see the truck.
He left the rock and walked quickly through the weeds. Then he started running. He ran to the trees where the truck had been parked.
He stood there a moment, looking at the imprint of the tires in the weeds. He could see where the truck had stopped. He walked slowly forward and paused. He could see where the truck had turned around and then he could see where the truck had left. It was as plain as railroad tracks.
He heard a shuffling noise behind him and he spun around, startled. He saw his grandfather. His grandfather looked wild even in the daylight. He wore an old railroad man's jacket and faded soldier's pants and a cowboy's shirt and miner's boots. Sammy didn't think his grandfather had been any of those things.
Sammy stood where he was in the tracks of his father's truck. He watched his grandfather. There was no sign of greeting in Sammy's face.
His grandfather crossed the yard slowly, shuffling along in the weeds. The miner's boots were too narrow, and he had cut out the sides.
Excerpted from The House of Wings by Betsy Byars. Copyright © 1972 Betsy Byars. 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.
Table of Contents
A Cry in the Forest,
The Long Walk,
The Owl in the Bathroom,
A Biography of Betsy Byars,