1. THE CURSE
When I was thirteen, I ran away from home because of a curse.
Mom caught up with me miles out in the country, standing in front of an abandoned grain silo. The sky was full of what looked like baby tornadoes. I had just been examined pretty thoroughly by a three-legged dog. I was sweaty, thirsty, filthy with road dust, and my heart was completely fractured.
Mom turned the car around and headed back to the apartment, yelling the whole way how badly I had frightened her. I turned my head to the window to shut her out. I just wasn't up for it. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like fighting back. I was broken in too many places.
Instead I thought about the curse, how crazy it had been to try to outrun it. How do you run away from something that's inside you?
But I had learned something from walking all that way. I had learned the world was an amazingly big and strange and unknown place. There could be anything out there. Anything at all. Even something evil. I wouldn't have believed that then. I believe it now.
Four years later I was sitting in that same junky old car and we were headed east toward the north Georgia mountains. This time the sky was dotted with innocent-looking spring clouds. Mom was driving and my sister, Manda, was shrieking Disney Channel tunes in the backseat, helping me to get my game face on.
After we crossed the state line, the landscape began to change. We passed through sagging towns that could have been renamed Foreclosureville, then nothing but red clay fields, mossy farms, and small, lonely houses clinging to rocky hillsides.
In the last clear place before the mountains I saw a slash in the forest where brown and white horses were cropping grass. The horses made me ache. I'd always wanted to ride, but my neurologist, Dr. Peters, had convinced my mom it would be too dangerous. Because of the curse.
When we got to the Appalachian foothills, the forest took over and the road began to rise. Mom's old Kia labored and whined. A blue Mustang shot past us, honking, its emergency lights flashing. Three girls were hanging out the windows, laughing and screaming, hair blowing across their faces.
I knew before I looked that Gretchen Roberts was driving. Gretchen had been my best friend in the eighth grade before the curse had changed my life forever. Now she was beautiful and had her own car and all the guys called her G-Girl. We didn't talk a whole lot anymore unless we had to on the soccer field.
Every time we traveled to a tournament, Gretchen played cat and mouse with us, knowing I was the only junior in our entire high school that didn't have a license.
I swore quietly and glanced at my mother. She was hunched over the steering wheel, long brown hair covering what I knew was a look of worried annoyance.
In two more days it would be my hands on that wheel, my foot on the gas. Nothing in front of me but the open road. Forty-eight measly little hours and I would be officially seizure free for six consecutive months. Long enough to satisfy the Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles. For once, I would beat the curse.
Now we were climbing long switchbacks into a shaggy forest. Tall trees hung over the road, and thick clumps of kudzu and poison ivy made the day seem darker.
"I heard they filmed Deliverance around here," Mom said, eyes cutting back and forth nervously. "That old movie where the redneck makes the city guy squeal like a pig?"
I could believe it. I could only see a few yards into the gloom. But the feeling of mystery and danger made me hungry to go exploring. To escape.
"How do you make somebody squeal like a pig?" Manda said. She was five and the main reason I remembered how to smile most days.
"Like this," I said, and reached back, going "Oink! Oink! Oink!" and tickling her stomach until she screamed.
Now it was Mom's turn to swear. "Stop it, Emma! You're going to cause an accident! And put your seat belt back on!"
We passed a historical marker that said South Edge of Dahlonega. That's all I was able to catch. I knew Dahlonega was some kind of mine. Coal? Silver? Gold? I couldn't remember.
It would be useless asking her to stop. Mom didn't even care about her own history, let alone anybody else's. The last time I asked her about my dad, she told me to Google him. I did, and all I could find was a service that wanted $39.95 for a peek at his latest utility bill.
I had already made up my mind: the first thing I was going to do after getting my license was take my mother on a long road trip and pull over at every marker. Read each word lovingly. I knew what she would say.
"You have no sense of time, Emma."
Sure, Mom. As long as you don't count the kind that's measured in centuries. Or driver's licenses. Two more days.
We made a wrong turn looking for the soccer fields, and eventually the pavement dead-ended in a shadowy clearing. In front of us sat an old gray building perched on stacks of flat river stones. Its windows were specked with mud, and an algae-coated stream crept along beside it.
"Nice place for a murder," I said.
"Let's get out!" Manda said, straining against her seat. "I want to see!"
Mom cursed and jerked the wheel around crazily, throwing up gravel and road smoke. After we found the main road again, the forest magically opened up, revealing ten soccer fields smothered in sunshine and dozens of girls romping around in the most bizarre color combinations you ever saw.
"Thank God," Mom said.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Throat by R.A. Nelson. Copyright © 2011 by R.A. Nelson. Excerpted by permission of Ember, 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.