He’d been dreaming of hands. Of his own hands. The right one with the four slashes across its back, still livid, purple, barely scabbed over. His left, the very tip of the forefinger gone, sliced off. Sacrificed. Both of them stretched out before him, reaching, reaching . . .
For what? Mist obscured it, terrifying him as he continued to push into the gray, into whatever was within.
His fingertips slipped into softness. It felt like . . . fur. Then something growled.
A hand grabbed him. Sound came, but not from an animal. A man was shouting, unintelligible things.
Sky woke gasping, his hands instinctively grappling with the one that held him. His eyes shot open, and at first he thought he did see fur, a thick pelt of it right above him. Then he focused, realized that the fur was a beard, that the hand he clutched belonged to a man, and that both stank of cigarettes.
The bus driver jerked his hand free. “Descendez! Descendez! Nous sommes arrivés!”
“Oui. Oui. Sartène. ’Ow you say? ‘Zee end of zee line.’ ” The driver grunted this last in English, then jerked his thumb. “Allez-y!”
Sky’s backpack was already on the ground beside the bus. The driver followed him out, began slamming the luggage holds shut.
“Uh, monsieur, s’il vous plait? Ou est le . . . ’ostel?” Sky’s French, which he’d been trying to improve all summer with language tapes at the library, seemed to fail him at two-thirty a.m. But he’d found that as long as you dropped the “h” and looked like you were sulking when you spoke, you could get by.
“Pour l’auberge? Là-bas! Mais a cette heure, c’est fermé, je crois.” He pointed with his nicotine-stained beard and then was gone. The bus, sputtering into life, lurched off.
Yeah, I bet it’s closed now, thought Sky. And whose fault is that? A breakdown on the road, a lot of shrugging and pointing into the engine. Finally, three hours later, a replacement bus arrived, dropping him in a strange town in the middle of the night. Sky looked around him, at the narrow stone houses of the square. No lights showed in the grayness, their windows shuttered like closed eyes.
WITHAIN, he thought, shivering. It was a shorthand he’d come up with at various points on the journey from England. WITHAIN, or Where-in-the-hell-am-I-now? He’d thought it often in the small hotel in Toulon where he’d had to hole up for over a week with a raging flu before he could catch the ferry. He thought it now. He knew the name of the town—Sartène. He knew that town was in southern Corsica. But at two-thirty in the morning, having slept for maybe two hours in two days, he struggled to remember why he was there.
“Sleep,” he grunted. But where? There was a bench beside the bus stop, and he nearly collapsed onto it. But it looked hard and likely offered only a couple of hours of sleep, followed by some policeman moving him on. . . .
He shook his head. He’d try to wake someone at the hostel. They’d be pissed off. But he didn’t really care as long as he got a bunk for the night—and all the next day. Shouldering his pack, he began to stagger in the direction the bus driver had indicated.
The streets were steep, as the town was built on hills, and the night air was still warm. Within a few hundred yards he was sweating. He paused to catch his breath, look around. There was not a soul about, no one to ask for better directions.
Then, glancing up, he saw it—a metal arrow mounted just below the first-story window. It pointed to the right, and written on it was L’Auberge de Jeunesse. Two stick figures with backpacks leaned into a slope. Great, Sky thought, hoisting his own pack again. He took a few steps, stopped. There weren’t many lights in the town, but the street he was being directed down—more an alley, really—seemed to have none. Then suddenly he saw the faintest glimmer. It came and went, as if someone had opened a shutter, closed it again. This sign of life was, strangely, the opposite of comforting. He glanced back down the hill to the square where he’d arrived. There was the bench, beneath a lamppost. It was starting to look more comfortable.
Bollocks, he thought. After all the things he’d seen and done in England, in Norway, in the past as well as the present, how scary could a dark alley be?
He stepped into that dark—and instantly it felt like he’d crossed some threshold. It wasn’t just the lack of light; it was colder and he shivered for the first time since he’d got to Corsica. There was noise too—a scraping? Or was that a whisper behind him?
“Hullo?” He turned back. To nothing.
With a grunt, he pushed on. The alley curved and he passed from the little light to none at all. Then, slowing almost to a stop, he noticed a glow slipping from what had to be doorways, throwing faint patches out onto the cobbles. He moved from one to the next, pausing briefly, moving on. This stuttering progress took him to another bend, round it . . .
And then there was light. Just a single bulb above a doorway but it seemed like the midday sun to Sky. He squinted, stepped forward eagerly. There was a brass plate to the side of the door, but the lightbulb wasn’t bright enough to let him read what was written on it. Reaching back into the side pocket of his pack, he pulled out his lighter. He needed to know if the brass plate said Youth Hostel so he could begin hammering upon the wooden door.
But the words disappointed. “ ‘Lucien Bellagi,’ ” he read. “ ‘Avocat.’ ”
Well, I don’t need a lawyer. I need a bed, he thought. He looked down into the burning yellow, its blue core, savoring even such a little light. Then he flicked the lighter’s arm down, took another step forward.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Vendetta by Chris Humphreys. Copyright © 2007 by Chris Humphreys. Excerpted by permission of Knopf 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.