Read Green Boy Online

Authors: Susan Cooper

Green Boy

for
Chris and Jenny Kettel
Basil and Jane Minns
true islanders

This we know:
The earth does not belong to us
We belong to the earth.

—Chief Seattle, 1854
in the film
Home
by Ted Perry

ONE

I
t was a little fluttering sound in the roof, moving. The living room of Grand's house reaches up high, with beams across it, and one side open to the porch. Along the top beam the little sound ran, very soft, you could scarce hear it. Then at the wall it turned, and came fluttering down a side beam. You could begin to see a shape now. So small: was it a moth? A spider?

Lou was watching. He moved toward it.

“Careful,” I said. “Don't touch. Might be poisonous.”

The little fluttering thing slid down to the floor and rested there. I saw a tiny foot. It was a bird.

Lou crouched down beside it and put out his hand. Somehow he knew how to rest his finger behind the bird's feet so it stepped onto his hand. Then you could see clear: it was a tiny hummingbird, and it was all wound around with sticky spider-silk, so that it couldn't fly, nor hardly walk. It must have blundered into a powerful big spider's web. Now it was all trussed up, terrified, there on the palm of Lou's hand.

Lou made a little comforting sound at the back of his throat. Slowly and very carefully, with his other hand, he pulled the fine sticky strands away from the bird's legs and wings. His fingers were so small and gentle; after all, he's only seven years old. The bird didn't move.

There it stood on his palm, bright green, an emerald hummingbird. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Its throat was red, and its feathers all different shades of green, gleaming. The spider-silk was all gone now, but still the bird didn't move. It must have been totally exhausted.

Lou gazed and gazed at the bird, and the bird looked back at Lou.

“Take it outside,” I whispered. We moved out of the room, across the porch, to the hibiscus hedge, all starred with yellow-centered red flowers like trumpets. Hummingbirds love hibiscus. But the tiny bird still rested there on Lou's hand, not moving; as though it was giving Lou a present, staying so that he could look.

It was so beautiful, I can't tell you.

At last it flew, and hovered beside a flower, and darted away.

“Oh man,” I said. I couldn't think of anything else to say, it was so amazing.

Lou smiled at me, and made his happy sound, that's as close as he can get to a laugh.

My brother Lou doesn't talk, and he has a few other
problems too. He's different. But I'm used to it. My name is Trey, and I'm a writer. I look after him. I'm twelve years old. This is my book, the story of what happened to Lou and me.

TWO

I
t was the next day, and we were out in our boat, heading for Long Pond Cay. There was a small breeze, but the water was way calm, and the tide coming in. The boat is a battered nine-foot dinghy that Grand let me have when I came ten years old, though it wasn't the birthday that did it, it was my growing enough so that my head touched the five-foot mark on the wall. That mark had been there through all my uncles growing up, and my mother and my aunts. Grand said you had to be that tall to have the strength and size to row a boat.

The boat's pretty old. It was the runabout for one of the American sailboats that come here for the winter. The American's wife had given him a new dinghy for a Christmas present, so he asked Grand to get rid of the old one. Get rid of it? No way! Grand and I re-fiberglassed it. You'd have trouble sinking that boat now even if you tried.

When I came eleven and I rowed well enough to get across to Long Pond Cay and back, Grand let me have a little fifteen-horse outboard motor. He taught me to take
it apart and put it together again before he'd let me use it, and though it's even older than the boat, I can fix it when it goes wrong.

So sometimes they let me take Lou out in the boat, for the whole day if there's no school. Grand and Grammie have been raising us for as long as I remember, because our father went away long ago, and our mother has to work in Nassau. They're old, Grand and Grammie, but they're busy too; she works in the bank in town, and he runs his bonefishing school, teaching tourists how to catch the quick glittery silver bonefish that feed on the flats all along our side of the island, or sending them out fishing with guides. He's got eight boats, flat quiet boats with little motors not much bigger than mine, and six guides. He has a little farm too, where we grow bananas and papayas, tomatoes and squash and onions. He's busy. So he trusts me to keep Lou busy, when there's no school.

There was no school this day. It was July. We puttered along the broad channel between our island and Long Pond Cay, with the sky clear blue overhead, and the water that chalky light turquoise-green that comes from the sunlight bouncing up off the white sand under the sea. There's shallow water there always, not deep even at high tide, and the banks of sand under the water shift all the time, never the same from one year to the next. But I know where they are, always, Grand and me, and the bonefish guides.

Lou stood up in the bow, looking out for his favorite birds. He gave a little pat on the gunwale, to catch my attention, and pointed up—and there was the osprey, the big fish hawk, high up, coasting, the light from the water sending up a greenish tint to the underside of his broad white wings. He called down:
peeeu, peeeu,
a little high-pitched sound that always sounds undignified coming from such a great grand bird.

I knew he was calling to his mate, but it sounded for all the world as if he were calling to Lou.

I swung wide round a sandbank still mounded white out of the water; the tide was coming in, but it wasn't halfway yet. Nobody comes down this channel but Lou and me; the guides go a different way to get to the bonefish flats, and the water is too shallow for the tourists' sailboats—they're afraid of going aground. This is our place.

“I'm going ashore by the tree,” I said to Lou. “Throw out the anchor when I say.”

He got down and made sure the bow anchor wasn't tangled in its line, and I saw him look to make sure the other end of the line was tied fast to the boat. He's a good little crew. Then I headed for the beach in front of the biggest casuarina tree at this end of the island; we use it as a landmark because it's so tall. You could hear the wind whining through the needles on its feathery branches. Grand doesn't like casuarina pines, he says they're invaders from Australia and they drive out the
native trees. But I like the way those feathery branches reach up in all directions, and the spooky way they make the wind sing.

“Now!” I called to Lou, and he tossed the bow anchor out. When the line had run out after it, I killed the motor and Lou came hopping back past me for the other anchor in the stern. That's Grand's rule: off a sandy shore, the boat must be moored at both ends. I tilted up the motor to keep the propeller out of the sand, and Lou jumped out and splashed ashore carrying the stern anchor. It's a light anchor but that's hard work for him, he's not very big. He loves doing it.

He marched up the sand as far as the line would let him go, and dug the anchor in.

“Good!” I called. Now the boat would stay there, held between the two lines, while the water rose with the tide.

I splashed out after him with my backpack, and we walked where we always walk at first, along the broad white beach that curves for a mile or more around a great peaceful bay, where the sea is always shallow and quiet except in a storm. We were both keeping an eye out for sunrise tellins, Grammie's favorite shells, double ovals tinged with yellow and pink, but there weren't any today. I could see three rows of footprints, made by large adult sneakers. Some early walkers had been there before us.

Lou ran ahead of me. Partway down the beach, he
turned away from the sea, into the grass and scrubby bushes that went up from the sand, scattered with casuarina trees trying to find a place where they could grow tall. They were out of luck here; on this part of the beach, a few years back, the waves from a huge storm had eaten away the sand to expose the rock. It wasn't really hard rock, but a kind of whitish sandstone, made of layers of sand squished together for hundreds of years by their own weight.

The rock was cut away like a little cliff, and you could see the thin, thin layer of soil on top, and the skinny black roots of the casuarina trees dangling, reaching out from trees twenty feet away. When the soil's that thin, I guess the trees have to send their roots a long way out to find a place to live.

Lou disappeared. He'd found the gap in the rock that we called our cave, though it wasn't much more than an opening, and only kids could have got inside it.

“Hoo, hoo!” I heard his monkey sound, that's just like the sound I remember from a movie on television about chimpanzees.

“Hoo! Hoo!” He was out on the sand again, jumping about, agitated, beckoning me.

“What's up, Lou?”

I went up to the cave. It's only about ten feet deep. We have a little space up at the back, where we keep special shells and bits of rock, wedged in with a flat chunk of sandstone so the high-tide sea won't wash them away. But
Lou hadn't gone into the back yet; he was running to and fro at the front of the cave, pointing. There was one line of sneaker prints here too.

I looked at the prints. The person who made them had stopped and peered into the cave, but it didn't look as though he'd gone inside. He was probably too big.

Lou was hooting and gasping; he was really upset. I was afraid he was on the way to one of his seizures. He gets them sometimes if he goes really over the top. Grand says they're a bit like asthma, a bit like epilepsy, though they aren't either one. Nobody knows what they are.

“Lou—stop it, buddy—it's all right!” I went into the cave. I was getting too big for it myself now; I had to go on hands and knees at the back. The wet sand soaked seawater into my jeans.

“Nothing's gone!” I called back to Lou. I could see the chunk of sandstone still in place. I pulled it out, and there safe and sound was the little pile of tritons and whelks, shells you didn't find too often on Long Pond Cay. “Come on in, Lou—come see!”

I knew he'd want to check on his favorite treasure, so I held it up. It was a star shell, about three inches across, the shape of a chunky starfish with ten arms—but it was made of stone. It was a fossil. Lou had found it somewhere or other on the bonefish flats. We'd shown Grand, and he said the shell and the creature inside it had probably been buried for fifty thousand years.

Lou looked into the cave. And then the weirdest
thing happened. As I held up the shell and looked back at him, I heard a long sound that was like the wind in the casuarina trees, but much deeper, longer, far away, as if it came out of the rock. It hummed through the cave, filling the space, louder, louder. And the air around Lou's body seemed to shiver, flickering, the way the air flickers over an outdoor fire as the heat goes up.

Lou stood very still, his head up. I knew he could sense something too. He made a sort of questioning, whimpering sound.

“What is it?” I said. I may be older than him, but he's far better than me at picking things up: at hearing birdcalls or spotting fish, at seeming to know what animals want or say. I put down the star shell and reached out to him.

The sound that was like the wind in the trees echoed through the rock all around us. The air flickered, shaking the edges of solid things. It was scary.

Then it was gone.

Lou took hold of my forearm with both his hands. He was shaking.

“It's okay. Everything's okay.” I gave him a hug. Then I showed him the shells, and how they were safe. He put one finger on the fossil shell.

“You want to take it home?” I said.

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