Read an Excerpt
By Steve Cash
Random House Steve Cash
All right reserved. ISBN: 0345470931
(Day After Tomorrow)
Where are you looking? Through a window, from a bridge, down a well, over the rainbow, out of a mouse hole, into the light? Where are you looking? Or, rather, what are you looking for? Out there, somewhere, at some time, do you see a wish fulfilled, a dream come true, a simple affirmation and clarity of that which we cannot speak? Look closely. Can you see the day after tomorrow? Do you recognize it? Will you ever? It is approaching.
The date was March 9, 1919, and it was snowing. We were taking the train down from Chicago to St. Louis and as we crossed the bridge spanning the Mississippi, the sun's light was fading fast. The water below us looked dark, darker than I ever remembered, and deep under the low light and falling snow. I was in the aisle seat in the back row of our compartment. Opari was sitting next to me. She sat in silence with her head turned away, facing the window. Suddenly she made a trilling sound with her teeth and tongue, then whispered an ancient word in slow repetition. "Amatxurlarru," she said. "Amatxurlarru." The word was haunting. Her careful pronunciation was hypnotic and sounded somewhere between song and prayer. I had never heard the word before, but I knew it was Meq.
"What does it mean?" I asked. I was looking past her, through the glass, speaking toher reflection.
"It is from the Time of Ice," she said. "Great rivers, like this one, were givers of all life and death. The phrase is only spoken when one crosses a river that is a Mother to many others." She paused a moment and I assumed she was returning to events, stories, people and places, adventures and wisdom, passed down to her from a time so distant I could only imagine it. She went on, "The word, both in dreams and in real life, means 'the Mother bleeds.' "
A few more seconds passed. I watched the snow while the train tracks rattled underneath us. Finally, I managed to say, "Really." It was neither question nor statement, and I was trying once again not to show my relative youth and ignorance. I know now that time and the passing of it, the difference in ages and the awareness of it, should not be a problem when you are in love, but these things have taken me a lifetime to learn, let alone accept without wonder.
Ahead, just past the western end of the bridge, the lights of downtown St. Louis were coming into view. Opari said, "This is your birth city, is it not, my love?"
"Yes," I answered. "It is that . . . and many other things." I continued staring out the window, but not at the falling snow, or St. Louis, or even the great Mississippi River. Instead, I gazed into the reflection of two beautiful black eyes, understanding then and there that I will always desire to do just that, as long as I am on this Earth. I felt the presence of her inside me the same way I had seen, for a timeless second, my own mama and papa look to and through each other, also on a train crossing a river, in 1881.
To my right, directly across the aisle, sat my oldest friend and confidante, Carolina Covington Flowers. She was almost fifty years old now, although a stranger would never guess it. She was smiling and staring through the window. Her long hair was pulled back and a few strands of silver and gold hung loose, framing her face. She wore a long black skirt and a simple white blouse buttoned to the neck. A green woolen shawl draped around her shoulders. Her only grandchild, the baby Caine, slept peacefully in her lap. As I watched, she silently wiped a single tear from her cheek. I started to ask if anything was wrong, then decided against it. There was nothing wrong and there was nothing I could do. Sad, happy, maybe both, maybe neither, it was more likely she was only experiencing the same thing I had been thinking about all day, ever since we left Chicago--return. And not just return to anywhere, but return to St. Louis.
The train began a slow, noisy turn to the left, preparing for our approach to Union Station. I glanced ahead at the others and a thought occurred to me that I'd been putting aside and ignoring for weeks. It concerned a situation at least four of us had always been warned to avoid, especially by Sailor. Opari, Geaxi, Nova, and I each had a Stone in our possession and we were all traveling together. The Stones carried by Geaxi and me had been stripped of their priceless gems long ago in Vancouver, but the Stones worn by Opari and Nova were still intact. Like four points on a compass, their Stones held a tiny blue diamond on the top, a star sapphire on the bottom, and lapis lazuli and pearl on each side. The Stones themselves were black and egg-shaped. Sailor had made it clear that the Gogorati, the Remembering, was much too close at hand, less than a hundred years, for anything awkward to happen. Accidents or errors of any sort by any one of us were unacceptable. Period. Although Sailor himself was currently unavailable and following a fear or vision only he could see, I knew he was right, and the reasoning behind his warning was still sound and significant. I made a silent promise, in deference to Sailor, to quit inviting "anything awkward."
And yet, except for the few traveling with us and a few more spread throughout the world, everyone else--all the others, the Giza--saw us only as they always had: as a troupe of twelve-year-olds, probably related. So be it. We were inside the great station already and St. Louis had never been so loud and alive, urban and big--a true city.
Within minutes we came to an abrupt and final stop. Everyone in our compartment stood at once, reaching for great coats, fedoras, mufflers, and scarves, bracing for the weather outside and filling the aisle completely, front to back. I glanced at Carolina and she silently mouthed the words "Let's wait." I nodded in agreement and looked up, trying to catch the eye of Willie Croft, who was sitting with Geaxi. Ahead of them, Nova and Star sat together, as they had for most of the trip since leaving England. But all were out of sight, impossible to see through the shuffling crowd.
Then Carolina shouted, "What about Nicholas and Eder?" Caine was awake and staring at her with wide-open brown eyes, startled by the sudden volume in her voice. She was concerned about her late husband, Nicholas Flowers, and Nova's mother, Eder Gaztelu. Both Nicholas and Eder were in coffins stowed away in another compartment. St. Louis would be the final stop on their final journey. I yelled back that Willie had taken care of it, but I assured her that we would check on it before we did anything else.
"Good," she said, smiling down at Caine. "Oh," she added, craning her neck so I could see her better, "then I'll tell Owen Bramley to only worry with the luggage. He and Jack will be looking for us."
Opari tugged on my arm gently and whispered in my ear, "Jack is Carolina's son, no?"
"Yes, but I've never met him."
"How many years is he?"
I thought about it for a moment, then laughed to myself. So much had happened in the last few months, I nearly forgot Opari was still learning about Carolina and her family, not to mention the entire Western world. We were both learning, especially about each other. However, there was one thing we had not yet discussed--the Wait. I always felt that once we'd arrived in St. Louis and were settled in Carolina's home, we would have to discuss it. I looked forward to it. Opari was over three thousand years old and still perfectly comfortable in a twelve-year-old body. On my next twelfth birthday, I would be fifty. Even now, I have trouble trying to articulate the intense, paradoxical, and unique power of the Itxaron, the Wait, the very essence of the Meq.
"Is the answer a laughing one?" she asked.
"Probably only to me," I said, then gave her the answer. "He's twelve, but he gets to turn thirteen in April."
After the crowd thinned out, I could finally see ahead to the front of our compartment. Geaxi, Willie Croft, Star, and Nova had also remained in their seats. Geaxi turned and caught my eye, then rose out of her seat, putting on her black beret and walking swiftly back toward me, easily avoiding everyone going the other way. Somewhere on the trip west from New York, she had begun wearing the same clothing that she had worn when I first met her in 1882--black leather leggings and a black vest held together with strips of leather attached to bone. It was unique attire for anyone, but especially so in 1919 on the body of a twelve-year-old girl. Her dark eyes shone bright and she seemed to be almost smiling.
"It is a fine feeling to be back in your city, young Zezen," she said.
"It's not my city, Geaxi."
"Oh, but you are mistaken, even more than you know."
"How is that?"
"Because this is a truly American city," she said, "and you, young Zezen, are truly American, agree with it or not, as you prefer. You will come to love this city, though I suspect you have this feeling within you now." She paused and smiled, then added, "Even more than you know."
I thought about what she was saying and wondered why she was saying it. Then I remembered Geaxi's birthplace. "When was the last time you visited Malta?" I asked, not knowing whether Geaxi would take offense or not.
"That is different," she replied. "My home as a real child was a simple farm with an olive grove and a few buildings, all long gone and erased from the landscape by change and circumstance."
"But don't you want to go back, even if nothing's there?"
"Yes, I do, and I will . . . someday." She winked once, then laughed, leaning down and whispering, "When I have the time."
I glanced out the window at the bundled, busy, loud throng of people coming and going within the immense space of Union Station, and all at once everything seemed more than familiar. I laughed and said, "Then let's get off this train and go home!"
"Right you are," Carolina said. "Let's go home."
Owen Bramley, much to my surprise, was on time and already there to meet us. In fact, we almost collided with him as we stepped off the train. He had been running from car to car along the platform, looking frantically inside every window for a sign of us. Star, carrying Caine inside the old leather jacket that Willie had given her, was the most excited among us and stepped down first, leaping out with a small scream and a big smile. Owen Bramley nearly trampled her, coming hard from the other direction, but he caught himself and grabbed the handrail of the train door at the last possible moment. Star had cut her hair short on our trip west, mimicking the style of Nova, and she looked even younger than her true age of nineteen.
"My God," Owen Bramley said, astonished by what he saw in front of him. He took in a breath, then shook his head, staring into the living eyes of the daughter of Carolina. "Remarkable," he said, "simply remarkable."
Inside Star's jacket, Caine turned his head to stare at this new face and voice. "You are Owen Bramley," Star said. "I know it, I know you are. You have to be."
She stepped to the side of the stairs leading down to the platform. The rest of us fanned out behind and around her.
"Yes, I am, young lady, and I am just as sure that you are Star. I can barely believe it, but there you stand." He watched each of us gather around Star. When his eyes fell on Carolina, he said, "My God, it is so good to see all of you." It was obvious in his eyes that he meant what he said, and clear to me that he was more than relieved to see her returning.
He wore a long trench coat with several buckles and belts, and he was hatless. Fresh snow covered his head and shoulders. His hair was still red, with only a few more streaks of gray than in New Orleans, the last time I'd seen him. His face seemed about the same, except older, of course, and he was even more freckled across his forehead, cheeks, and nose.
"Hello, Owen," I said. "You look well."
For the first time since I had known him, Owen Bramley was speechless. He had been expecting us, but the reality of seeing us in person overwhelmed him. He simply stood still, staring at all of us and shaking his head. Behind his wire-rimmed glasses, his blue eyes were bright with understanding. After a few moments, he stammered, "I . . . I don't know what to say, Z."
"Hello would be a good start, Owen." It was Carolina. She gave him a big hug and kissed him on both cheeks, then asked, "Where's Jack?"
"Why, I thought he was right here," he said, turning suddenly and looking behind him.
"Well, he's not here now."
"It's all right, Carolina," Owen said, giving her a knowing wink. "He's not alone."
"Ah . . . I see," she said with a smile. "Good."
Then Owen Bramley caught sight of Opari for the first time. She was wearing one of her ancient shawls across her shoulders and a burgundy scarf around her neck. He seemed startled, almost spellbound by her presence and natural beauty. "I don't believe I know you," he said. "I'm certain we've never met before."
"My name is Opari," she said, looking up at him. "Your name I know from Z and Carolina." She smiled and Owen Bramley instantly became her friend and constant admirer.
"Owen," I broke in, "why don't you help the porter with the luggage while Willie and I take care of something else."
"Right, right," he said. "Let's get going then."
Willie and I left the others in order to make arrangements for the off-loading of the coffins. I played the part of the silent kid and let Willie do the talking.
Excerpted from Time Dancers by Steve Cash Excerpted by permission.
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.