Chapter 7

Skilled in cartography, Harr knew how to read any map. Plenty of hikers had left maps on the trails, some accidentally, some just discarding them as litter. These maps he had collected and added to the storage box in his cabin. Although he didn’t venture out into the city much, if it could even be called a city, he was aware of it. With a vague sense of where the house might be, and a hooded sackcloth frock to hide his appearance, he set out for the house.

Harr walked along the side of road, about 50 feet into the adjacent brush. The forest trees lined the road’s edge for miles. Eventually he came across a farmer’s empty dirty field, and he lay down, flat on his back, and remained still for hours. Slowly his green skin began to change hues. From a dark green to a brown, its hue slowly altered itself. After several hours, Harr looked at his arms and felt it was good enough — it would pass. People would assume he was from another country, and might not be able to place him, but any shade of brown was better than a shade of green.

It took Harr about a day of walking before he arrived at the city’s edge, and another few hours to navigate the roads before he had an idea of where he was. Samantha lived on Maple Street, on the far north end. He walked down the street for another couple of hours before reaching an address that matched the letter in his pocket. He walked up and down the street several times, trying to appear inconspicuous as he attempted to determine whether someone was in the house. No one appeared. Not seeing anyone on the street either, Harr slipped around the backyard and found the back door open. He let himself in and crouched down as he peered around. No one seemed to be there. Harr explored the house, looking for bedrooms. He slinked up the stairs on his hands and knees, not making a sound. He liked to think of himself as an observer, on a mission, quiet and invisible on the landscape before an animal unaware of his presence.

Now at the top of the stairs, he tiptoed slowly down the hallway. He entered the first door — it was a bathroom. Then he opened the second door. It was a child’s bedroom, which he could tell immediately by the pink bedspread, the little desk in the corner, and the horse posters. He stepped into the bedroom and looked around. A bookshelf in the corner had a few dozen books, with worn and ragged covers. He immediately rummaged through the books but did not find it. He shuffled through the objects on the desk, looking for some note or indication of where it might be.

He looked under the bed. He laid out his entire body onto the floor, and reached out with his hands, searching. After some pawing around, his hand landed on one scrap of paper — it was a page from the map, the only one that remained. Samantha’s mother had thrown the rest of the shreds of paper away, as well as the leather cover. Harr held this last remaining scrap of paper in his hand — he could actually remember the day he had drawn it, the evening he had made the lines with his pen. Only a fragment of the page remained. He got back down on his hands and knees and looked under the bed again. He crawled under the bed, scooting around on his belly, looking for some more scraps. He reached and felt everywhere, thinking that perhaps he would find a trap door where the book was hidden. Realizing that there was no trap door, and no book, he started breathing a little more rapidly.

He started to slink out from under the bed when he hit his head on the bed’s cross slats. And then he heard the front doorknob turn. Someone was coming in. He heard the sound of keys being placed on a table, and then a bag being placed to the floor. It was Samantha’s mom. She moved to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. She poured something into a glass, and then it was silent again. After a few minutes, Harr could again hear her moving about in the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards and drawers.

He needed to get out of there. He didn’t have any weapons, and even if he did, he wouldn’t use them. He tried to slowly inch his body out from under the bed. In his haste to find the book, he realized he’d left the bedroom door wide open. He inched a bit more, and then he heard the movement downstairs suddenly stop, as if someone was listening for something. After a minute, she started moving again. Harr had now snaked his entire body out from under the bed, and he uprighted himself in a small crouching position. He started to move slowly toward the window above the desk, until he heard Samantha’s mother coming up the stairs. She would seem him if she passed the bedroom door, because Harr was in plain sight. He tiptoed faster toward the window and opened the latch. He was out of time, so he looked for the first place to hide — the closet. He quickly jumped in and closed the door as far as he could.

Samantha’s mother walked into Samantha’s bedroom and paused. She looked at the bed, and the desk. The books were scattered onto the floor, which she thought puzzling. But she figured Samantha had packed in such a hurry, she probably didn’t bother about leaving a mess. Her mother sat down on the bed and put her hand on her forehead. She looked at the ground and then grew silent. She sat there for a long time. Then she stood up, straightened the books back on Samantha’s shelf, closed a few dresser drawers, organized the pencils, erasers, and notepads on her desk, and then left the room. As she left, she closed the door entirely, paused a second outside the door, and then headed back down the stairs and out the front door. Harr didn’t move until he heard a car start and drive off.

Harr knew something was wrong. Had something happened to the girl? Where did she go, and what happened to the book? He was sure that the girl was no longer in the house, but now he had no clue as to her whereabouts, and he might as well give up on the book.

Harr slipped out of the backdoor as quietly as he had entered. His journey to retrieve the book resulted in a dead end. He thought of what the others would say when he returned, empty-handed. Was it even worth returning? What would they do to him? He walked a slow pace along the side of the road all the way back to the forest. When he saw a bench, he sat down and thought for a while, and then slowly got back on his feet and started walking again. He wanted to come up with some way to recover the book, to find some plan to fix things. As equally as he dreaded the conversation that would take place when he returned, he was worried for the girl. What happened to her? Did it have something to do with the book? He couldn’t figure it out, and he felt as much confusion as concern.

At last he reached the forest’s edge, and he turned up the familiar trail toward the clan’s gathering place. A few times he paused to consider going in another direction, perhaps running away, but he when he reflected on it more, he told himself the punishment would be temporary. He only needed to be humble and contrite, accept their sentence, and then all would return to normal. That’s what Harr thought, at least, until he heard a faint screaming in the distance. It was the scream of a girl. The screams intensified as Harr changed his slow walk to a jog and then, fearing it might be the girl with the book, a full out run.

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