Nightfall, страница 1
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
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Copyright © 2015 by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski.
Map illustration © 2015 by Martin Sanders.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Halpern, Jake. Nightfall / Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski. pages cm
Summary: “On a distant island where day and night exist on fourteen-year cycles, and the islanders migrate south each sunset, three children get left behind and must find a way off the island before the Night finds them”—Provided by publisher.
[1. Fantasy. 2. Survival—Fiction.] I. Kujawinski, Peter. II. Title.
PZ7.H16656Ni 2015 [Fic]—dc23 2015014576
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Music From Bliss
For Sebastian and Lucian, you are the lights of my life
For Blaze, Alina, and Sylvie—may you see clearly, and write of what you see with courage
Marin walked into the wind and felt it gently push back. A few more steps and she’d be at the edge of the cliff. Her focus was on the thistle, the prickly green plants that crunched beneath her feet. What would happen to these plants during the years of Night? Would they wither and die, or would they simply lie dormant, waiting for the first rays of sunlight to peek up from the horizon? She had asked those who had been through this before, but they refused to discuss it. No one talked about the Night, even though it was almost upon them.
She stopped near the precipice. The water below was dark, almost black, and it stretched everywhere, like a liquid version of the sky. In the last year, as the sun had begun its final descent, the water had gone from blue-green to iridescent blue, and from there it grew steadily darker. A hint of its fluorescence remained, but now it provoked a shiver instead of a smile.
Marin took a deep breath of the cold sea air. When the sun vanished, it would get even colder. Everything would freeze—at least that’s what people at school said. In any case, by the time that happened, she’d be long gone, along with everyone else in Bliss. Only the buildings would remain, silent and empty, entombed in ice.
The wind flung Marin’s wavy black hair into her face. She was smaller than other girls her age, but she was stronger than most. Her arms and legs were long and well-muscled, the product of years spent climbing, hiking, and sailing. She had honey-colored eyes, long lashes, and bronze skin—a striking combination, which she inherited from her mother. Her clothing, however, was plain and purely functional: waxed canvas pants, a raw denim shirt, and leather boots.
“Has the tide turned yet?”
Marin spun at the unexpected voice. She had been waiting for her friend Line, but instead she saw Palan—a frail man with paper-thin skin and a bald head marked with brown sunspots. Palan had lived through several Mornings and his skin bore the proof. His cobalt-blue robe rippled in the wind, revealing a left arm that ended in a stump just above his wrist.
“I’m not sure about the tide,” Marin replied. “What do you think?”
The old man faced Marin, his watery eyes looking past her, into the distance. “This is my fourth Evening,” he said quietly. He tightened the heavy wool scarf wrapped around his neck. “The sun seems to be moving faster and faster with the years.”
Marin followed his gaze. The sun had almost disappeared below the horizon. Only a sliver remained visible. The entire western sky was ablaze in magnificent shades of orange and red. A few degrees more and the sun would vanish completely, plunging the island into darkness for the next fourteen years. They said this would happen soon, perhaps in a matter of days. It sounded a bit like the end of the world to Marin, and she still found it hard to believe.
The wind blew gently and Palan sighed. “It saddens me that I will never see this place again. When I leave here—I expect I won’t return.”
Marin reached out and touched his arm. The old man turned away from the sea, back toward the island’s interior, and grasped her hand. “I’ve heard movement in the forest,” he whispered.
“What do you mean?” asked Marin, worried that Palan may have become lost in his mind.
Palan gripped her hand tighter but did not reply.
A muffled shout rang in the distance.
They looked up and watched a teenage boy moving toward them. It was Line. If Palan hadn’t been there, she would have run to him, but now she just waved back.
When he arrived, Line appeared slightly confused. Palan studied them both, arched an eyebrow, and smiled.
Line’s dark brown eyes twinkled as he approached Marin. He was handsome in the way that few boys of fourteen are. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with an unkempt shock of reddish-brown hair, high cheekbones, and a cleft chin.
“Elder Palan,” said Line. “Any news of the boats?” A gust of wind pressed his curly hair flat against his head.
He approached the cliff’s edge and pointed downward. Marin and Line followed close behind him and peered over. The face of the cliff was shrouded in shadow, but they could make out several thick white veins coming out of the cliff and running down its side, like a hardened trail of wax from a giant candle.
“It’s ice,” said Palan. It was colder at the edge of the cliff, and his shoulders began to tremble. “My father brought me to this place as a boy. The ice always begins here. It squeezes out of the rock and then, they say, it spreads . . . until it covers everything. The island turns to ice.”
Marin and Line stood close together, near Palan. Line’s fingers grazed Marin’s.
Palan leaned over several inches more. “Somewhere down there is the hag.” His voice turned hoarse. “At times, when the waves break just right, you can see her.”
He took a step back from the cliff and smiled with great contentment, as if recalling a particularly fond memory. Marin and Line looked down at the water. It seemed no different than before. Palan often spoke in riddles, in the manner that those of such age do.
“I’d like to get a better view of that ice,” said Line, taking off the coil of rope slung across his shoulder and pushing up the sleeves of his sweater. His forearms and biceps were tan and muscled from years of rock climbing.
“As you wish,” said Palan. “But be careful. Ice is much slicker than rock.”
Suddenly impatient, Marin and Line said good-bye. As Palan shuffled back to town, Line set up the rope, tying it securely to a small brass ring jutting from the rock. Marin and Line had been climbing the cliffs that formed the island’s perimeter their entire lives, and recently, it had been just the two of them. Going off unchaperoned was frowned upon, but at the moment, the town was too consumed with other matters to pay them any mind.
Just before beginning, they checked to make sure they were each securely fastened to the rope. Marin faced Line. She tucked a lock of hair behind his ear so it didn’t dangle over his eyes. “You were late,” she said, scowling as if she were cross with him.
“Just a minute or two,” he said with a grin. Line shook his head so that his hair fell back over his eyes. “It won’t happen again.”
They descended steadily until the ocean spray began to mist their legs. The rays of the setting sun could not reach this area, and it was darker than they expected. Still, they were able to see the veins of ice glowing in the murky twilight.
Line continued down several feet, until the ocean spray wet his heavy canvas pants and wool sweater. Marin heard him mutter in surprise.
“What is it?” she called.
Line looked up. Marin was standing comfortably on a tiny ledge two body lengths above him. “The tide’s turned,” he said.
She climbed down to get a better look.
“You’re right,” she said. “Look, you can see it.” She pointed to a thin band of white that clung to the cliff wall near their feet.
Line nodded. “That dried salt is the high-water mark.”
They hugged the cliff wall. After all the anticipation, it was happening. During the fourteen years of Day, the waters around their island remained at high tide. Then, just before the sun vanished, the tide reversed itself suddenly and rapidly, rolling out hundreds of miles and leaving exposed seabed where once there had been crashing waves. And the sea stayed away until Sunrise—some fourteen years later—when it returned just as fast. The timing of all of this was crucial for the islanders, who migrated with the tide. Once it turned, they had just a few days to depart.
“Do you think anyone else knows?” she asked.
“I bet the okrana know.” Line adjusted his hold on the rock and shivered. The nearby ice emanated cold with a surprising intensity. “We should go.”
He was beginning to climb back up when Marin saw something brown and green poking out of the frothy water.
“Line!” she called. Her voice was sharp against the muffled thump of the waves.
Line stopped. His foot was jammed into a tiny crevice in the rock, and one of his fingers curled around a slight nub. He leaned out and looked down, using his free arm and leg for balance. To Marin, it looked like his finger and foot were glued to the wall. Marin shook her head and smiled. Show-off.
“What is it?” he asked nonchalantly.
“Just come look,” said Marin. Her eyes were wide and brimming with excitement. “There’s something in the water.”
Line climbed back down to join her on the ledge. He followed her gaze and, over the next few minutes, they watched a human form emerge from the receding tide. It jutted out at a strange angle, but still they could tell that it was a statue of a woman. The head was carved in simple lines, yet her expression was surprisingly intricate. Her mouth was gaping open, as if she were screaming or expressing great terror. The statue was big—three or four times the size of an average person.
“Palan’s hag,” whispered Line.
The water level was dropping steadily, and soon they saw her upper torso. The hag brandished a shield and wore a simple cloak wrapped tightly around a lean, muscular body.
“I see writing!” Marin called. “There—on the shield!”
They waited breathlessly through several waves, until the trough of one large wave revealed the following words in huge block letters: THE HOUSES MUST BE WITHOUT STAIN.
Marin tried to suppress an uneasy feeling. The island was littered with old ruins—crumbling foundations, broken pillars, old stone walls. This statue was just another relic of the island’s past. A vestige of ancient peoples. Still, the phrase seemed strangely relevant. The houses must be without stain. Now that the tide had turned, everyone in town would be cleaning their homes, preparing to leave. It was an ironclad rule—the last task before departure.
“Why is this statue here—in the ocean?” Marin asked.
Line said nothing at first. “It’s curious,” he finally replied. “It looks very old.” He frowned as if an unpleasant thought had crossed his mind, then turned to Marin. “I’m ready to head back. All right?”
“What’s the matter?” Marin asked. The sea had left a fine mist on their exposed skin and hair.
Line smiled, but it was forced. “I’m just cold, that’s all.”
“Let’s go,” she said, nodding. Line was more her brother’s friend than hers, and she still didn’t know him that well. They began ascending the shadowy rock face. Marin was about to urge Line to climb faster when his foot rolled off the rock. It was shocking—he might have fallen backward if he didn’t have a rope to grab onto. Line was one of the best climbers in Bliss. He’d never slipped before.
“What happened?” called Marin.
“Ice,” said Line, almost as a curse. “It’s in the crags.”
Together they climbed as quickly as they could, back toward the sunlight.
Even though much of the island was covered in shadow, there were still places that caught the light. The trail that led back to town was such a place. It was perfectly situated along a hill, facing the nearly disappeared sun. As a result, everything—from the garnet pebbles on the ground to the swaying remnants of wheat and grass—shimmered.
After their cold, dark climb, even this small amount of sun warmed Marin. It made her think of the Desert Lands and of her mother, who was born in that distant place. The ice had appeared so suddenly—and the cold coming from it still seemed to grip her. All of a sudden, following the sun to the Desert Lands didn’t seem like an entirely bad idea.
“It’ll be chaos in town,” said Line as they walked up a hill dotted with clumps of fragrant, blue-tinged bushes. He shook his head a
Marin frowned, trying to imagine their orderly town in a state of chaos. “They send the envelopes out after the tide turns—right?” Of course, she knew this to be true. How many times has my father said as much? But still, now that the moment had arrived, she felt a compulsion to repeat it—just to be sure.
Line nodded. “I bet they’re doing it right now,” he replied. “And after that, everything will shut down—the markets, school, even the fall wheat harvest.”
Marin thought about this. “I figured we’d have at least two more weeks.” She paused for a moment and then added, “I guess that means we’ve just had our last climb together.”
Line sighed, hoping that wasn’t true.
“I knew this was going to happen,” he said, glancing at the sea. “Anyone who sails could see the tide was going to turn sooner rather than later. I don’t know why the mayor uses that stupid lunar calendar.”
They continued on, walking single file along the narrow path. Marin picked up her pace, both to match Line’s longer strides and to warm herself up. Was she cold from the climb, or was the wind turning sharper? Probably both. The path widened again, and Line drew up next to Marin. Although she didn’t look over, she could sense that he was close to her. “What are you going to do now?” she asked softly.
Line massaged his palms to release the tension from climbing. “Well, classes for the children will have ended now that the tide’s turned—so I have Francis to look after. I’d like to forage for some mushrooms, too—maybe even a bit of lekar.”
“You think you’ll be able to find lekar so close to Nightfall?” she asked.
“Maybe,” he replied. “Francis and I could really use the extra money.”
Line lived with his younger brother. Their father died just after Francis’s birth, and two years ago, their mother had suddenly taken ill and died, too. The doctor said it was pneumonia, an illness that often came with Dusk. After that, the two boys lived with their uncle for a while, but it hadn’t worked out—he was foul-tempered and spent most of his time drunk. For over a year now, fourteen-year-old Line and seven-year-old Francis had been on their own. It was unusual, to say the least, but Line managed.