Home > UnStrung (Unwind #1.5)

UnStrung (Unwind #1.5)
Neal Shusterman

1 - Lev

“Do it for him,” a woman says, her voice quiet but steeped in authority.

Mired in a numbing gray fog, Lev feels her cool fingers on his neck, taking his pulse. His throat hurts, his tongue feels like chewed leather, his left wrist aches, and he can’t open his eyes.

“Not yet, Ma.”

Like his eyes, Lev’s lips won’t open. Who is it who just spoke? Maybe one of his brothers. Marcus, perhaps? No, the voice is wrong. And no one in his family is so informal as to call their mother “Ma.”

“All right,” he hears the woman say. “You decide when he’s ready. And don’t forget your guitar.”

The sound of footsteps recedes, and Lev slips back into darkness.

-

When he wakes again, his eyes open, but only a sliver. He’s alone in a large bedroom with blinding-white walls. A red, woven blanket covers him. Beneath him he can feel a smooth and expensive cotton sheet, like the ones he once knew. He’s on a bed that’s low to the ground, and beyond its foot he sees the fur of a mountain lion on the slate floor. He shudders at the sight of it. An oak bureau faces him. It has no mirror, and for the moment he’s glad.

Forcing his eyes wider, he sees unshuttered windows on the far wall, the light beyond them weakening to dusk. Or is it strengthening to dawn? There is a nightstand next to him. A stethoscope is coiled there, and for a brief, devastating moment he thinks that he’s been discovered and taken to a harvest camp. Despair presses him against the cotton sheet, and he sinks into the fog that fills his head, confusing dreams with delirium and making a mockery of time. He drifts through the fog until he hears—

“When he wakes, get his name.” It’s a different voice. Deeper. “The council can’t give him sanctuary without a name.”

Cool fingers touch his wrist again. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He senses the woman leaning over him. He can hear her breathing. She smells of sage and smoky cottonwood. It’s comforting. “Now leave us be.”

He feels a prick in his upper arm, like a tranq dart, but not. The world goes hazy—but not like the fog. This is a different kind of sleep.

Suddenly he’s standing in a yard, near a briefcase covered in mud that lies halfway down a hole. Outside the picket fence, police are sidling toward him. No, it’s not him they’re interested in—it’s the skinny umber kid with him. CyFi’s hands overflow with gold chains and glittering stones of every color. He’s pleading with the sienna-colored man and woman, who clutch each other, staring at the kid in terror.

“Please don’t unwind me.” CyFi’s words are hoarse and choked with sobs. “Please don’t unwind me. . . .”

A cool hand touches Lev’s cheek, and the memory is sucked in like a mental gasp. He left CyFi days ago. He’s somewhere else now.

“You’re safe, child,” the woman’s reassuring voice says. “Open your eyes.”

When he does, he sees her pleasant face smiling at him. Square jaw, black hair tied back, and bronze skin, she’s a—“SlotMonger!” he blurts, and feels his skin flush red. “I’m sorry . . . I didn’t mean . . . It just came out . . .”

She chuckles. “Old words die hard,” she tells him, with infinite understanding. “We were called Indians long after it was obvious we weren’t from India. And ‘Native American’ was always a bit too condescending for my taste.”

“ChanceFolk,” Lev says, hoping his SlotMonger slur will quickly be forgotten.

“Yes,” the woman says. “People of Chance. Of course the casinos are long gone, but I suppose the name had enough resonance to stick.”

He sees the stethoscope around her neck—the one he at first incorrectly thought belonged to a harvest-camp surgeon.

“You’re a doctor?”

“A Woman of Medicine, yes—and as such I can tell you that your cuts and bruises are healing, and the swelling of your wrist is much reduced. Leave the brace on till I give you leave to shed it. You need to gain a few pounds, but once you taste my husband’s cooking, that shouldn’t be a problem.”

Lev watches warily as she sits on the edge of his bed and studies him.

“But your spirit, child, is a vastly different matter.”

He withdraws, and her lips purse ruefully.

“Medicine women know that healing takes time, some more time than others. Tell me one thing, and I’ll leave you to rest.”

He stiffens, reflexively on his guard. “What?”

“What is your name?”

“Lev Calder,” he says, and regrets it immediately. It’s been almost three weeks since he was dragged by Connor from his limo, but the Powers That Be are still looking for him. It was one thing to be traveling with CyFi, but to give a doctor his name—what if she turns him over to the Juvenile Authority? He thinks of his parents, and the destiny he left behind. How could he have wanted to be unwound? How could his parents have made him want it? It fills him with an unrelenting fury at everyone and everything. He’s not a tithe anymore. He’s an AWOL now. He’d better start thinking like one.

“Well, Lev, we’re petitioning the Tribal Council to allow you to stay. You don’t have to tell me all you’ve been through—I’m sure it was horrible.” And then her eyes brighten. “But we People of Chance do believe in people of second chance.”

2 - Wil

He stands in the doorway watching the boy sleep. His guitar hangs down his back, warm from the sun, strings still humming.

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