Mapmaker, page 1
Copyright © 2015 Mark Bomback and Galaxy Craze
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Soho Teen an imprint of Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mapmaker / Mark Bomback, Galaxy Craze.
HC ISBN 978-1-61695-347-8
PB ISBN 978-1-61695-633-2
1. Mystery and detective stories. 2. Cartography—Fiction. 3. Maps—Fiction. 4.
Secrets—Fiction. I. Craze, Galaxy. II. Title.
PZ7.1.B66 Map 2015 [Fic]—dc23 2014030130
For Tema, Miles, Caroline, Annie and Phoebe. My true north.
For Anna Mirabai Lytton,
a young writer whose creativity is now light upon the water.
Chapter 1 (Six months later)
That was my first thought when I saw the footprints in the snow, leading to the front door of our house. The tracks were large, a man’s shoe size, and as I looked closer I saw the unmistakable zigzag imprint of his boots. He must have come home early, walking along the bike trail from MapOut. Maybe his office closed early because of the forecast; the blizzard would only get worse.
Our house was white with black shutters and two redbrick chimneys on either side. It reminded me of a guard dog: leaded-glass bedroom windows for eyes; the two chimneys for ears; the black front door, the nose. I’d lived here my whole life. The house was the one constant, the one thing that had remained while so much else had changed. The house was the one place I felt safe. The house was my guard dog.
The excitement of Dad’s being home early was something I hadn’t felt in a long time, like waking up at dawn and knowing it was Christmas morning. I glanced over toward the garage. Beth’s car wasn’t here yet; she wouldn’t be back for an hour or two. I smiled. Dad and I would have some time together without my stepmom. Maybe we could make extra-strong hot chocolate with plain cocoa, maple syrup, and milk. If he was working (I knew he would be), I would just curl up on the couch in his office with the woodstove, and watch the cinders burn.
I followed the footsteps. The snowflakes on my lashes blurred my vision as I ran toward the house. Dad’s home: the words sounded again in my mind like a bell, my backpack heavy with a laptop, books hitting against me. Then I paused.
I did something I hadn’t allowed myself do since I was little. I stepped in one of his tracks in the snow, my boot print covering his.
Staring down at the footsteps, I tried to catch my breath. Something was wrong. I slipped as I scrambled toward the front porch. My knee cracked against the edge of the first wooden step. Pain shot through my body as I pushed myself up; my fingers burned red from the cold. I reached for the handle of the front door—and stopped cold at my reflection in the window.
Of course these weren’t my father’s footprints. My father was dead.
What was wrong with me? How could I have let myself pretend he was alive, even for a second? I took a step back, away from the house. I followed the length of my own footsteps, now trying to calculate how many steps and for how long I’d deluded myself. Twenty seconds at the most? The feeling I’d had was so hopeful, so real.
Turning back to the black shutters, the windows as dark as lake water, I felt a fear I could barely name. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of my own mind. My mother died when I was ten—and never, not once, not even in my dreams, had I ever forgotten. My mother’s death was like a badge I wore, forever pinned to my chest.
I blinked. The reality of my life fell back into focus: the loneliness inside that house, the empty rooms behind the windows, the dark glass reflecting the falling snow, the evergreen branches closing in like a gate. The heat would be set low for the workday, my father’s office deserted and still—no fire in the small woodstove, no one sitting at his desk, no books opened to the previous night’s page. The large upstairs bedroom my mother and father once shared: abandoned. Even my stepmother wouldn’t sleep there alone. After my father’s death, Beth moved into the tiny guest room my mother had painted her favorite shade of pale blue.
There was a zigzag pattern in the snow. That was the print on his soles. Those were his favorite boots. He had bought them in Vermont in grad school and still wore them every winter. But I was too old for this, too smart to let myself ever be fooled by signs or miracles or look-alikes. The boots must have belonged to the mailman, the furnace repairman, a college kid working for Greenpeace. That this person wore the same brand was just a cruel coincidence.
I took a step backward, then another and another, moving away from the house.
Fear was a cold feeling. This was a safe town. We hardly ever locked our house or car. Sometimes police were called for an overly noisy frat party or a lost dog wandering the streets, but that was it. I told myself this as I hurried up the slope to the sidewalk.
The afternoon was growing dim, the white sky turning grey. The lights of the passing cars glowed through the snowflakes.
I stood on the roadside, in what I assumed was the safety of being visible to the slow-moving cars. From the top of the slope, I kept my eyes on the vanishing trail. I saw the route now: he had come from the woods and walked to our front door before returning around the side of our house across the yard to the shed—where the trail ended.
There was an arch-pattern that would have only resulted from the door being opened. Meaning someone was hiding inside the shed. But why?
There was nothing that a thief would want. The shed was full of my father’s old encyclopedias, a large wooden desk made from two-by-fours, and a wooden chair. He used to work there in the spring and summer. The windows looked out to the narrow creek, the maple trees.
My dad never brought his computer into the shed, just his books and a thermos of tea. He scoured rare travel diaries and out-of-print history texts, studied landscape and waterways and topography. He read about nomads, exotic expeditions, import and export shipping. He told me that the best way to learn how people think is through the routes they take. The art of mapmaking was not just in precision and measurements, but in the ways we negotiate the climate and texture of the land around us.
There was only one thing of any value inside: Between the two windows on the wide-plank wooden boards hung a framed lithograph of the Piri Reis map.
Like a favorite painting or poem or song, Dad had a favorite map. The original was drawn in 1513, on gazelle-skin parchment. Its claim to fame over six centuries was its incredible accuracy. Piri Reis, a navigator—a bit of a wild man, according to my father—rendered it long before most cartographers began to account for the curvature of the earth. Yet it matched perfectly with modern satellite imagery from a geosynchronous orbit, 25,000 miles up.
Like Piri Reis, my father passionately believed that in order to map, one had to explore the terrain firsthand. Dad understood the Earth, too, in all its curves and secrets. He never sent assistants with high-tech computers
It was the motto he lived by. The motto he died by.
My mother had found the print in an antique shop in Boston. It was expensive for her at the time; Dad had just started MapOut with his best friend and my godfather, and he had put most of our family’s savings into the business. I remember standing beside her in the shop as she examined it for what seemed like hours. I remember tugging at her hand, impatient to leave a place that smelled of dust and old books. She told the man she would have to think about it, and we left the shop without it. She’d gone back without telling either my dad or me.
I crouched low, moving quickly from my spot behind the maple to get a closer look at the shed. Then I dropped down on my hands and knees in the snow, crawling through the underbrush of hedgerows. I was fifty feet away—fifty-one at most—but the falling snow and the darkening sky blurred the edges of anything visible.
Dusk, my father used to warn, was the most dangerous light.
Never once had I been anxious for Beth to come home. Not until this moment. I pulled my phone from my pocket to call her or the police. But the lit screen wouldn’t respond to my touch. In frustration, I punched my passcode harder, again and again. Nothing. The phone had frozen in the cold. I stared as snowflakes melted on it.
The police station was under a mile away: 1,460 yards from doorstep to doorstep. Running, I could make it there in less than fifteen minutes. But I’d made that calculation on a day without snow. Besides, I knew I would never leave. I would wait. This was my house. If I wanted to feel safe again, to sleep tonight, I needed to know that whoever was in the shed was gone.
I sat on my backpack. I hugged my knees close to my chest, pulling my coat sleeves around my numb fingers, making myself as small as possible.
I’m not sure how long I sat there. The grey afternoon sky turned charcoal. I was so cold I lost feeling in my hands and toes.
Finally a sound came from the shed: wood hitting wood. The door opened, only an inch or two, slowly pushing against the weight of the snow. I squinted. The air was like smoke now, thick and almost impenetrable. The houses and trees had lost all definition; they were silhouettes.
I saw the shape of a man in the doorway, looking from left to right. I couldn’t make out his features. He wore a hat, a heavy coat. I squinted, desperate to determine his height or build, but he was only a dark shadow. I assumed he would head back the way of the bike path but he didn’t. He stopped and placed his hands in his coat pocket, looking up at the windows of our house. He stood there for only a second or two, but I was struck by his confidence. The casual arrogance of the gesture. Then he turned quickly down the slope, leaping across the narrowest part of the creek. Clearly, he knew this property well.
And now he was gone.
I stood, brushing the snow off. I couldn’t go inside the house; I couldn’t be alone. I’d waited all this time only to see a shadow. I reached for my backpack, soaked from the snow, and walked quickly down Lincoln Road toward the center of town.
As I paused for the streetlight to change, I thought about the way the figure had put his hands in his coat pockets, the way he’d turned to our house. There was something so familiar about his attitude, the tilt of his head, his gait. I stared at the blinking streetlight, with a strange, haunted feeling inside.
I was sure I knew him. But at the same time I had no clue who he was.
From the corner of my eye I saw Beth’s shadow cross the floor.
Really? I groaned to myself.
She had promised she would sleep in. School was out for summer; she wouldn’t be back in the kindergarten classroom until after Labor Day. The last thing I wanted this morning was a conversation with Beth. I searched my pockets for my phone. I’d already put it in my backpack. Besides, it was too early to fake-text like I normally did.
Outside the kitchen window everything was green and gold, except for the river, which ran a glittering dark blue. The birds flitted from the porch roof to the small wooden birdhouse. Back and forth, back and forth, again and again. They were so nervous. Maybe they thought that they were stealing Beth’s stash of seeds. Beth’s stash wouldn’t run out if every bird in New England showed up.
The kitchen floor felt cold against my bare feet, and I stared at the teakettle. The flame under it burned blue and red. I placed two Earl Grey tea bags in a tall mug and waited for the water to boil.
“Good morning,” Beth called from the doorway.
How could she move so quietly through this old house? Like a ghost, never creaking. So many times I’d think I was alone, and there she’d appear in a doorway, watching me. And then the questions would come …
“Morning,” I muttered.
She walked into the kitchen, looking as though she had just stepped out of a 1985 L.L. Bean catalogue, a pink oxford shirt tucked into her high-waisted, baggy blue jeans. Her belt had a pattern of whales printed on it. I guess it was the type of clothing toddlers might think was cute. Her thick brown hair was pulled back into a high ponytail. She even had a rope bracelet—a gift from one of her kindergarten students.
I forced a smile, which felt more like a grimace. I knew she only had good intentions. She wanted to be here for me on my first day of “work,” like a mother or father would have been, like mine should have been. After all, “work” was a paid internship at my dad’s company, MapOut, the company he’d devoted the last part of his short life to founding. But it was her summer vacation. Her worry was only irritating.
The kettle whistled. I reached for the handle without thinking, burning the palm of my hand.
“Shit,” I snapped, flinching away.
Before I even had a chance to look up, Beth was beside me with an ice pack wrapped in a cloth.
“It’s okay,” I said, pulling my stinging hand against my chest. I fought back tears of pain and frustration. I glanced up at the clock—7:15—and decided to leave. I’d be an hour and a half early, but that was fine.
“Let me help you,” Beth said, laying a hand on my shoulder.
Reluctantly I took the ice and held it against my palm. I sat down in the kitchen chair and stared down at nothing. Through the window the birds carried on. They were busy, flying back and forth and back and forth from one bird feeder to the next, feeding their young.
The ice numbed the throbbing. Beth made me my tea with milk and a little honey. She buttered my toast, spread blueberry jam she had canned last summer over it, cut it in half, and placed it all on the table in front of me—complete with a folded cloth napkin.
She sat down with her cup of coffee. “Hand any better?”
“Are you nervous?”
With my unburned hand, I took a sip of tea and shrugged. “Not really.”
I’d spent plenty of time at MapOut, so I felt pretty comfortable there. Besides, Harrison Worth, Dad’s best friend and MapOut’s cofounder, would take care of me. He’d arranged the entire thing. It was all an effort on his part to make up for the fact my grades had plummeted in the six months since Dad had died.
While I resented him for it, I also loved him for it.
I knew I could make more money pouring lattes and cappuccinos at Rao’s Coffee. I could have spent the summer with my best friend, Rebs, as a counselor at Camp Norwich. I could have even been a nanny to seven-year-old twin girls in Provincetown and spent the next few months on the beach. But this would look a lot better on my college applications. That was Harrison’s argument, and I couldn’t argue back. Dad could never argue with Harrison, either. The man was shrewd and suave and convincing, everything Dad wasn’t. It’s also why he and my dad made such a great team.
Beth’s smile tightened. “You know, you can borrow my car.”
“Your dad would have given anything to be able to take you to work today,” Beth said, not even looking at me.
Was she trying to make me cry? I held my breath, forcing myself not to say, Don’t talk about him anymore. I knew from experience that one way to stop thinking about someone was to stop talking about them. To push forward, to pretend you didn’t feel anything. How much longing or regret could someone stand? How many mornings or evenings could I say I wish my mom were here? I wish my dad were here? How much sadness could you let yourself feel? It could swallow you like the sea.
“Tanya …” she started to add.
“I better go,” I mumbled. I stood up, leaving the tea almost full and the toast untouched. The burn on my hand was still there, pulsing in my palm like a heartbeat. My voice fell onto the ring-stained and scratched wooden tabletop.
Beth nodded, glued to her coffee. “Have a good day,” she whispered.
My last image of her that day was her hands wrapped around the mug. Frozen alone at the kitchen table, shoulders hunched forward, brown eyes full of loneliness, shadows of the birds outside playing across her face.
How would Beth spend the rest of the day? Alone, gardening, cleaning the house? Would she wonder what it was she had said to me that had gone so wrong? Would she remember all the times our conversations had ended up with me slamming my bedroom door? With me reminding her again and again that she was NOT my mother and NEVER would be? When would she give up trying with me? I guess that’s what I wanted, and that’s what I was trying to make her do: give up on me.
Maybe she would go upstairs and lie on my father’s side of the bed and sob into the covers. She was forty-four, childless, and now a widow. Beth had wanted a child with my father so badly. They’d spent their marriage trying. They’d visited specialists in Boston. I imagined them climbing up a ladder, a baby waiting at the top. Once it had even worked: Beth had gotten pregnant, and those two months were the happiest I’d ever seen her. Then the heartbeat stopped.
by Mark Bomback have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes