Part One, of Chapter One: The Opening Lines
Sometimes Frederick could feel the earth move beneath his feet.
It wasn’t like the times when Frederick sprinted across the schoolyard in a race with his friends. That was different because he was the one moving.
And it wasn’t like the time he’d felt an earthquake, either. That was different because he’d moved with the ground, and so had everything else. He even saw a picture fall from the wall, and had watched as a glass of orange juice scooted an entire inch before he reached out to steady it.
What Frederick usually felt was different. The earth would move, like some giant rolling over in its sleep. Sometimes it would stretch and stretch and strain, and other times it would groan and stir. But Frederick himself wouldn’t be moving, and neither would anything else. The pictures stayed on the walls and Frederick stayed where he was.
It was like the time his father had come home from work with a tired, sorrowful expression on his face. He’d given Frederick a long tight hug.
“Tommy’s dead,” said his father at length, looking straight into his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Tommy was the boy down the street, three houses down from the end of the road where the Grays lived next to the empty lot and the field of hay. Tommy was older than Frederick and the same age as James.
James took it harder than he did, of course, since Tommy was closer to James than to Frederick. Still, Frederick grieved at the loss. He’d played with Tommy almost as much as his brother. Then, because his parents’ bedroom door was open just a crack, Frederick heard a detail that made his neighbor’s death worse.
“Tommy shot himself, Emmeline,” said his father.
The words were a shock, and Frederick had such a hard time believing it that he didn’t even hear his mother’s reply. But then, his father would know, wouldn’t he? His father had probably even seen Tommy’s body. That’s what detectives dealt with, didn’t they? He would know the truth, and so Frederick believed him.
And that’s when Frederick realized the earth was groaning beneath his feet. It was different than the other times he’d felt the earth move, because this time he knew why. It was stirring because Tommy had killed himself, and that was unnatural.
Eventually the earth seemed to stop its groaning. But for the first time, Frederick wondered if the world just kept straining below him without him knowing it. He thought that maybe it did.
That conversation had been the worst Frederick had ever overheard. Until he overheard a conversation that made it the second worst. Except this time his father had been the subject instead of the speaker.
He could still hear the words replaying in his ears…