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Chapter 8: The Hill Of Winds

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The next morning, the air went out of their lives. Agata had no idea what to do.

"Where is he?" Agata asked. Her mother shrugged.

"I don't know, bambina. I honestly don't," said her mother, her eyes filling with tears as Agata crossed the room and took her into her small arms. "I promise we will find him," she said. "Your uncle Ernesto is looking. Don't worry."

"Did he say he knows where Dad is?"

Her mother shook her head and looked down into the swirls of milk in her coffee. She usually drank it black, but now she was drinking decaf with milk. Maybe she didn't want to be awake as much, thought Agata.

Agata moved through the house in a haze, getting her bag ready for school, collecting her papers from her desk. She paused at the stairs to her father's room. Maybe he would suddenly move up there. Maybe she would hear the telltale creak of his chair or his nervous, small cough, a cough that always used to annoy her but now she missed desperately. Maybe she would hear the clicking of a pen between his teeth as he sat thinking or staring out the attic window into the courtyard behind the house. But none of that happened. It was completely quiet.

Her mother gave Agata the map and coin to hold when she went to school. She didn't want them in the house, she explained.

Agata walked to school, and the day went by in a blur. She could not pay attention, and her teachers didn't call on her. Her math teacher, Mrs. Torres, took her aside after class.

"Todo bien?" she asked. "Is everything OK?"

"Everything is fine. My father and mother are having problems," said Agata. She trusted Mrs. Torres, but not enough to talk about what was going on.

"Is there anything I can do? Do you need to talk to the counselor?" "No, gracias. My uncle is helping us. It will be OK."

Mrs. Torres gave her a brief hug. "Se fuerte, Agata."

When class ended and Agata went out to the street, her mother was not there. She waited for ten minutes, twenty. She called, but no one answered. A chill ran through her and she was near tears, shaking. She sucked it back down, and, finally, she walked home.

She took out the long skeleton key that unlocked the main bolt and turned it in the front door. It clicked open and the door swung inward.

"Mama?" she called.

Silence.

"Mama?" Still nothing. The house was empty and quiet. Looking around, she began to notice the mess.

Her mother was gone. Most of the house had been ransacked.

Her mother's purse was ripped open on the floor, her makeup and wallet littering the wood planks. Papers spilled down the stairs from the attic and covered the halls upstairs. Most of the rooms had been searched, the drawers ripped open and flipped, emptied of the contents and further desecrated by boots and knives. Books lay in wild disarray in her room, and her train lamp was broken, the ceramic shattered and the bulb a small pile of broken white glass.

She went from room to room, looking for any sign of who had done this. It was like a nightmare, and for a moment she thought she would pinch herself to try to wake up. Instead, she ran the serrated edge of her father's coin against the soft skin below her throat, but aside from a sharp pain and a red mark, nothing changed. This wasn't a dream, she decided. It was a nightmare.

She called her uncle's number and got his voicemail. She decided to go and find him.

Agata's uncle Ernesto, her father's older and only brother, lived outside Barcelona, so she quickly took her backpack and some clothes and rode the bus out to his large home in the outskirts. He was an art restorer, unmarried, and he spent many Sundays at her home arguing with her father about literature, art, and philosophy. The bus ride passed in a blur. She again tried to call her mother, her father, then Ernesto. Finally her phone died, and she nearly burst into tears. She walked the kilometer to Ernesto's house, and he answered the door. He looked almost like her father—skinnier, maybe, and with a little less hair. But there were her father's warm brown eyes, her father's dark hair. It was all she could do not to scream. He ushered her in, hugging her tightly.

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