Page 7

 Neal Shusterman

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He counts the money Pivane has given him, and it will carry him far indeed, but not far enough, because there is nowhere far enough away from all the things he’s experienced since the day he was sent off to be tithed.
Wil healed him with music, taught him the way of his people, and saved him from the pirates by sacrificing his own life.
All he was able to give Wil was applause.
The bus schedule shows the next departure is in thirty minutes. He doesn’t bother checking the destination. Lev knows that wherever it leads, his path ahead is dark. He has nothing left to lose. A burning fills his emptiness. Revenge drives him now.
As he looks at his hands, he begins to see a purpose for his applause. It’s a powerful purpose that will make his anger known . . . and tear the world to shreds.
10 - Wil
Like a crow Wil has flown over the rez wall, but not as he imagined. Deep down, he still expects the Tribal Council—or maybe even the Alliance of Tribal Nations—to somehow rescue him. But no one comes.
The pirates drive him not to a chop shop but to a private hospital. In this upscale, designer clinic of glass walls, soft lights, and wall-size murals of cascading color, he sees no patients. He is treated like a rock star by an extensive staff, and is provided any food he’d like, but he’s not hungry. He’s offered any music, the latest movies, games, books, or television, but nothing distracts him. He only watches the door.
On his third day, a neurologist, a surgeon, and a severe-looking blond woman come in and graciously ask him to play his guitar. Despite heartache, Wil plays flawlessly, and they are duly impressed. He still expects that somehow his playing will open their hearts and set him free. He still expects someone from the tribe to come to his door with good news. But no one comes.
On the fourth day, at dawn, he’s put in restraints. A nurse gives him a shot, and he feels woozy. They roll him into an operating room: bright lights, white walls, monitors bleeping, sterile, cold. Nothing like the surgical lodge at home.
He feels numb despair. He is being unwound. And he comes to his end alone.
Then he sees a face in the operating room he recognizes. Although her hair is hidden by surgical scrubs, she doesn’t wear a mask like the others. It’s as if his seeing her face is more important that the sterile environment. He’s not surprised to see her again. He played his guitar for this woman. She never told him her name, although he heard the others call her Roberta.
“Do you remember me, Chowilawu?” she asks, with the hint of a British accent almost Americanized. “We met yesterday.” She pronounces his name flawlessly. It pleases him, yet troubles him at the same time.
“Why are you doing this?” he asks. “Why me?”
“We have been searching for the right Person of Chance for a very long time. You will be part of a spectacular experiment. One that will change the future.”
“Will you tell my parents what happened to me? Please?”
“I’m sorry, Wil. No one can know.”
This shakes him worse than death. His parents, Pivane, Una, the whole tribe grieving his absence, never knowing his fate.
She takes his hand in hers. “I want you to know that your talent will not be lost. These hands and the neuron bundles that hold every bit of your musical memory will be kept together. Intact. Because I, too, treasure that which means the most to you.”
It’s not anything close to what Wil truly wants, but he tries to cling to the knowledge that his gift of music will somehow survive his unwinding.
“My guitar,” he manages through chattering teeth, ignoring the fact that he can no longer feel his toes.
“It’s safe,” Roberta says quickly. “I have it.”
“Send it home.”
She hesitates, and then nods.
Wil’s unwinding proceeds at an alarming rate. All too soon a wave of darkness crashes over him. He can no longer hear Roberta. He can no longer see her.
Then, in the void, he senses someone lean close to him. Someone familiar.
“Grandfather?” he hazards to say. He cannot hear himself speak.
“Yes, Chowilawu.”
“Are we are going to the Lower World?”
“We will see, Chowilawu,” his grandfather says. “We will see.”
But whatever happens now, it doesn’t matter to Wil. Because someone finally came.
11 - Una
Not through smoke signals.
Not through the intricate legal investigations of the Council.
Not through the tribal nations’ security task force, put in place after the parts pirates took him.
In the end, the rez finds out Wil is no more when his guitar is delivered with no note and no return address.
Una cradles the guitar in her arms and remembers: Wil building mountains for her in a sandbox when they were five. The quiet delight in his eyes when she asked him to marry her, when they were six. His grief as Tocho died, while she and Lev sat watching on the hospital floor. The touch of Wil’s hand on her arm when he said good-bye.
In every memory is his music, and she hears it again every day, playing in the wind through the trees to tease and torment her. Or maybe to comfort her and remind her that nothing and no one is ever truly lost.
Una tries to hold on to that as she lays Wil’s guitar on the workshop table. There is no body; there is only the guitar. So she gently, lovingly, unstrings it and prepares it for the funeral pyre in the morning.
And she tells no one of the strange hope she cradles in her heart, that somehow she will hear Wil’s music again, loud and pure, calling forth her soul.