Everyone in town said a flock of blackbirds from the east brought bad dreams to everyone and misfortune to someone specially chosen.
Hannah loved to watch the blackbirds though. Breaking her parents’ rules, she’d climb a tree as high as she could and look for swooping dark cloud of birds. Weeks could pass before she’d see them, sometimes in the distance and sometimes surprisingly close but always heading toward the Asylum.
If she were caught up in the tree, her mother would rage. “Why do like to invite trouble?” her mother would shout. “Do we not have enough problems?”
One night at dinner, when Hannah was fourteen, she asked her mother, “Which is worse: looking for blackbirds or climbing trees?”
Her mother slammed down her fork. “They both cause bad luck. That’s what matters.”
“But how can birds cause bad luck?” Hannah asked. “And since when are you superstitious?”
Her father focused on his food. His pasta seemed quite interesting to him.
“Hannah Clare,” her mother replied. “Why must you ruin dinner with your questions?”
Her mother pointed at her father. “His side of the family I blame. Curiosity pollutes the entire bloodline.” She dropped her hand to the table and turned to stare out the dining room window. “You don’t have to feed your curiosity about every little thing. You don’t.”
Hannah knew she should keep quiet, but the same impulse that drove her to the treetops threw words out of her mouth. “I’d rather feed it than starve it like you.”
The slap Hannah got ended the conversation. It did nothing to end Hannah’s fascination about the birds, the Asylum, and a hundred other things her parents refused to explain.
* * *
Hannah’s father couldn’t sleep. He wandered through the house in dark unsure what to do. He wasn’t used to sleeplessness.
Television didn’t interest him at that hour. The book he’d been reading failed to hold his attention. He walked in circles around the living room. A school photo of his daughter caught his eye. She worried him every day.
Children always looked sweet and innocent in their sleep. He stared down the hallway. He’d like to see Hannah. Maybe if he peeked in on her, he’d remember how she was before becoming headstrong and insistent.
He shook his head. No. He was being silly. He’d get fresh air. That’s what he needed.
Clem’s inability to make a decision grew the closer into town he drove. The delivery truck was awkward to drive, but he thought little of it. The road was clear and most of the way straight. He was confused and aching and not at all thinking about his driving skills.
Going home seemed a bad idea. His parents might call the cops. They disliked Hannah, and this would confirm their suspicions that she was wholly unsuitable. “She doesn’t even like you,” they said. But they just didn’t understand Hannah Robinson.
Clem took turn after turn driving to where he hadn’t consciously decided to go, Hannah’s house. He took the turn into the driveway wide and almost hit the mailbox. The sight of Hannah’s dad standing in the driveway took him by surprise and he brought the truck to a sudden, jerky stop.
Clem rolled down the window. “Mr. Robinson,” he called.
Gerald Robinson titled his head to the side. “Clem?” He shuffled over to the truck. “Why are you driving this truck thing?”
“I think Hannah’s in trouble.”
“What?” Mr. Robinson leaned forward. “How can she be in trouble? She’s asleep.”
Clem always found Hannah’s dad frustrating, but he was brought up to be polite to anyone older no matter what. “Sir. If you get in the truck, I’ll take you where Hannah is and explain on the way.”
I thought you drove that Chevy pick-up. Are you a truck driver now? Aren’t you too young for that? Shouldn’t you be focusing on school?”
“Yes, sir. I borrowed this. All right?” He nodded at the passenger side.
“Alright, Clem. Let’s get this cleared up.” Mr. Robinson walked around the front of the truck through the glare of the headlights to the passenger side door. He pulled himself into the truck. “You look like you’ve got blood on your face, young man.”
“Yes, sir,” Clem replied. He put the truck into gear and it jerked backward. “I got myself into something of a scuffle.”
Mr. Robinson grabbed the door handle. “Clem. What’re you doing? I don’t want to go anywhere.”
“Sorry, sir.” The mailbox escaped destruction once again by a hair. “I gotta take you to Hannah.”
“I’m in my pajamas.”
Clem pressed on the gas too hard, sending them both sharply back. “It don’t matter none about what you’re wearing. You’re her dad.” The bathrobe was monogrammed. Her father didn’t look half bad. “Hannah…” Clem trailed off. He didn’t want to get Hannah into more trouble, but he saw no way around it. “Hannah went to the Asylum. I don’t think she’s come back out yet.”
Mr. Robinson’s head snapped up. “What’s she done? Say that again?”
“She’s gone into the Asylum, sir.”
“Why in blue blazes has she done that?”
Clem saw no reason why the whole truth would be helpful. “Just curiosity. You know how she is, sir. She’s always wanting to know things.”
Mr. Robinson opened his mouth the say something but ended up saying nothing. He stared out the windshield. “I’ve warned her. I’ve warned her a hundred times not to go the Asylum. Why does she never listen to me?”
Clem considered Mr. Robinson, and he weighed his words carefully. “All due respect, sir, and I really ain’t meaning to offend you in any way. But have you ever told Hannah anything useful?”
Mr. Robinson’s eyes widened. “Clem Adams. I’m her father.”
Clem kept his eyes on the road. There was no traffic, and most of the town’s lights flashed yellow. He was making good time and his stomach was in knots. “I know that, sir. I do. And you’re darn good dad. You put food on the table and you never raise a finger to your family. Why, I think you’re the nicest dad I know. But your daughter is smarter than the two of us combined, and when you don’t answer her questions, she figures out how to find out for herself. No disrespect meant, sir.”
“She’s gone to find out about my mother, hasn’t she?”
“I reckon she has, sir. It burns in her, wanting to know. I don’t claim to understand it, but she isn’t going to have no peace until she knows.”
Mr. Robinson nodded. “I tell you what, Clem. If we find my Hannah safe and sound, I promise you that I’ll tell her everything she wants to know. All right?”
Clem nodded. Silently he prayed that they weren’t too late.
To continue reading, go to the 15th installment.