He ran at night and hid by day, crawling into dark places that were a little too much like his old lair--but then, it was only the familiar that could make you feel really safe.
He thought he could run until he was dead; there was nothing to hold him back. He'd run until his flesh dropped off and the wind and rain polished his bones. The house was far behind. But how far was far enough?
I am . . . I am . . . He ran chanting, trying to remember his rightful name. Never to be called Boy anymore. He held on to that little frayed string of hope that he could change what had been born into him, put a stop
to the twenty-four-hour picture show going on in his head. But maybe that was like hoping he could stop breathing, smelling, eating. Was it possible to change a taste for blood?
He had been running south, through a landscape of old farms, shanties and trailers, startled by the hulks of rusting cars sitting like giant rats in the moonlight, avoiding the lonely lights in bedroom windows, trembling at the sudden howl of an edgy hound. Keeping to the county roads. He was always lonely at night. Daddy had liked the highways. Get the best girlies hitchhiking on them, he had said. Fresh meat.
Now the sun was coming up and he was tired. A sign at a crossroads said hatton 5 mi. delonga 8 mi. He was getting close to towns. Ahead he could smell a swampy area. Nobody would be walking through there. The place had a mean, bad look; the kind of place that knew him. Old cypress trees stood on their knees in murky water, their branches draped with shawls of moss. He felt his way between the tupelos and black gum trees, his brown, cracked feet trailing slimy duckweed as he waded through inky pools. This was where he belonged, low and deep, down in the rot-stinking mud, down with the snake-headed skinks, with bottom-feeders and cottonmouths.
People were scared of the swamp, worried about snakes, about being gored by wild pigs.
But no harm would come to him here. The swamp creatures recognized him by his smell, saw into the darkness of his heart and knew him for what he was: one of their kind. He would hide here until dark. Then he'd run again.
The little Honda Civic looked like a red ant moving between the SUVs and long-haul trucks on the highway. Gena sat in the backseat, listening to Casey and Maryann talking and laughing up front, feeling like a third wheel. Feeling carsick too. Though maybe it wasn't so much being carsick as thinking about what she was doing. Riding off to some town she'd never heard of instead of sitting on the bus with the rest of the class on their way to Washington, D.C. How did she get herself into this? Not really a hard question--she knew the answer. By telling a lie.
"How're you doing back there?" Casey asked, half turning around, blowing cigarette smoke into the backseat and interrupting Gena's quiet agony.
"I'm fine." Gena's voice sounded small and unsure, but she couldn't get up the energy to be perky right now. Casey and Maryann were the ultimate in perky. Maryann was swigging Coke out of a can; Casey, holding her cigarette out the window, taking her hand off the wheel to punch in a new station on the radio. They were probably sorry they asked her to come. It was beyond her how they didn't feel guilty like she did.
Gena kept envisioning her mother phoning the hotel and finding out she wasn't there. Or the school bus crashing and everyone getting killed. Gena would still be alive and the lie would be more than obvious. It was such a stupid idea, she almost laughed.
Maryann turned around.
"I was just thinking about my mother," Gena mumbled, trying to cover her anxiety.
"Right," Maryann said, giving her a look.
But Gena wasn't about to tell them she felt guilty. They seemed to be immune to guilt. They hadn't even cared when they were all dragged in by the principal and almost suspended. Maryann said that her father didn't care about anything except that she made dinner and cleaned the house, and Casey's parents were always at the country club or some fund-raiser. Gena sort of envied that they had the freedom to do what they wanted. Her mother was always on her case. Ironically, now she was free that it didn't feel so great. The truth was, she had actually wanted to go on the class trip. But everything got so mixed up after the three of them got in trouble.
The worst guilt was about the pizza party. She had felt like crying then, and she still did when she thought of it. Her mother and Matt, ordering pizza, decorating the kitchen, giving her a bon voyage party. And Matt asking her to bring him a souvenir back from D.C. How in the world was she going to manage that? Finding a souvenir of the nation's capital in a cabin in the woods?From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Nightwood by Patricia Windsor. Copyright © 2006 by Patricia Windsor. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.