Chapter 1: Jack

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-Jack

I just sat there, staring at my shaking hands. I couldn't face it. Any of it.

Flowers filled the barn, placed there by many careful hands. As if their beauty could cover up all of life. Rhododendrons and hydrangeas filled the loft like a dying bouquet, already wilting. Every passing second, another rose or tulip would fall from its perch on our haystacks, until they littered the floor, making it impossible to take a step without grinding another underfoot. I inhaled, the stench of them all making me nauseous.

Madame P. Noire cleared her throat again, awaiting my response. A quick glance into her clearly-not-mourning eyes. That was all I gave her before studying my callouses for the thousandth time.

"Jack Peterson." Her words brought my head up with the force and sting of a whip. "I understand you have just experienced a loss, but show some respect for your betters! I don't normally allow children of your station into Madame P. Noire's Stately Orphanage House. It is only because you are my brother's son that I even considered such an offense to my reputation. But I will tell you one thing, little boy. No one will take you in without manners."

My jaw was clenched, my insides fuming. Little boy? I'd be fifteen in two weeks, only one year away from coming of age, and if my entire family hadn't just-

"I told your father not to abandon his station. All the fool left. For farming! The idiot never knew what was good for him. Why he did it, I just don't. . ."

"He felt trapped in the City." My voice was quiet. Controlled. If not a little hoarse.

Laughter spilled in through the partly open barn doors. Young children playing outside, where light still shone and the world wasn't all shadow.

The city lady's lips turned up, but her eyes darkened. She breathed a little laugh, in sharp contrast to the children's laughter. I sensed the bitterness inside her and so held my breath, watching to see what she would do.

She shook her head and her eyes grew harder. "You have one hour to mourn and pack your things. After that, you are coming with me."

.             .              .              .            .          .            .

"Don't go!" cried Little Braden Jamie when I explained why I had pulled out my family's single duffel bag- once dark and pristine, now faded and patched.

"I have to, Braden." My hands were still shaking as I unzipped the main compartment. He stuck out his tongue.

"C'mon Braden. Leave it alone. Jack's obviously too scared of that city lady to refuse," replied Knox, my best friend, and Braden's older brother.

I gave him a look. "You know it's not like that."

"What is it like?" asked Alvin, another friend who was a couple years younger and rather short.

My eyes stayed trained on the painting in my hand. I studied the light brushstrokes that were blades of wheat rather than answer. Mum had painted it not four days before. . . the accident.

"Jack?" Knox snapped his fingers under my nose. "Hello?"

I snapped out of my reverie and snatched a nearby quilt, sending up clouds of dust. Timmy sneezed as I wrapped the quilt (a family heirloom) around Mum's field painting.

"Look guys," I said, throat closing up. "I don't want to go, but I don't have a choice."

Knox snorted. "Don't have a choice? That ain't the Jack I know. That ain't the Jack that tricked our school-teacher last year into making eating strawberries a punishment."

I watched the particles of dust spin in the thin shaft of light near the ground. No, I wanted to say. This isn't that Jack. Maybe that Jack's gone.

Instead I muttered, "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh, don't I?"

"No. You don't."

There was silence as I collected the last of my things. Then I sighed, not releasing any of the pain and pressure pounding behind my eyes. My dad felt trapped in his old life. He couldn't have felt more trapped than me in that moment.

"Guys, I don't know what exactly I'm going to do, okay? I just can't stay here." That one truth had flooded my whole being almost since the accident. It had been the first thought I was aware of after my mind had shut down and refused to function. I couldn't stay here, where the accent, the people, the seasonal festivals, the ashes- (I swallowed) would remind me incessantly of them.

"So you can go to that stupid orphanage? Why don't you stay back at the house with me and Braden, huh? Our parents would take you in in a shovel load. You know that don't you?"

"Sure I do, guys, but," I watched the zipper zip along the line as I closed the black case. "-it wouldn't be the same. Don't you see? It wouldn't be home anymore."

"But-"

"I'll miss you. Tease Edward for me." And with that, I hauled the duffel bag over my shoulder and strode out the door of the little farmhouse that used to be my home.

I briefly wondered what would happen to it, now that we were gone. Maybe it would join the dozens of other abandoned farms lining the path from here to Juxtaposition. I couldn't see any of our neighbors taking advantage of our absence. Unless they split the land and animals equally among themselves, thinking that it would be what we wanted. I didn't know what I wanted, and I told myself I didn't care.

As Madame P. Noire came into view, leaning against what I could only assume was a fabled Car, I shrunk back. No, I couldn't stay here, but I also doubted I could live in the City. Knox was right. I'd have to find a way to escape. But if I did, where would I go? What would I do?

My mind was muddled; nothing was clear. I thought of my family. What would they have expected of me in this situation? My parents, Young Ana, innocent Little Finley? No! This line of thought was much too painful.

"Good. You're here. Almost on time, too."

The driver opened the sleek black door for me, and as I sat, I caught sight of a majestic hawk in flight, soaring over the even more majestic Eastern Mountains. Its shrill cry was the last I heard before the door was slammed and the outside world was muffled. Still, I watched its progress until it disappeared into a cloud. Then I swallowed. My life was now a nightmare, and unlike the hawk, I had no escape.


A/N: Thanks for checking out Steel Flight! I hope you liked the first chapter! Comments are welcome, as are all kinds of feedback!

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