From the Book:
NAME: CAPRICORN ANDERSON
I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close. He was arresting me for driving without a license. At the time, I didn't even know what a license was. I wasn't too clear on what being arrested meant either.
But by then they were loading Rain onto a stretcher to rush her in for x-rays. So I barely noticed the handcuffs the officer slapped on my wrists.
“Who's the owner of this pickup?”
“It belongs to the community,” I told him.
He made a note on a ring-bound pad. “What community? Golf club? Condo deal?”
He frowned. “Never heard of that one.”
Rain would have been pleased. That was the whole point of the community – to allow us to escape the money-hungry rat race of modern society. If people didn't know us, they couldn't find us, and we could live our lives in peace.
“It's an alternative farm commune,” I explained.
The officer goggled at me. “Alternative – you mean like hippies?”
“Rain used to be one, back in the sixties. There were fourteen families at Garland then. Now it's just Rain and me.” I tried to edge my way toward the nursing station. “I have to make sure she's okay.”
He was unmoving. “Who is this Rain? According to her Social Security card, the patient's name is Rachel Esther Rosenblatt.”
“Her name is Rain, and she's my grandmother,” I said stiffly. “She fell out of a tree.”
He stared at his notes. “What was a sixty-seven-year-old woman doing up a tree?”
“Picking plums,” I replied defensively. “She slipped.”
“So you drove her here. At thirteen.”
“I drive all the time,” I informed him. “Rain taught me when I was eight.”
Sweat appeared on his upper lip. “And you never thought of just dialing nine-one-one?”
I regarded him blankly. “What's nine-one-one?”
“The emergency number! On the telephone!”
I told him the truth. “I've talked on a telephone a couple of times. In town. But we don't have one.”
He looked at me for what seemed like forever. “What's your name, son?”
“Cap. It's short for Capricorn.”
He unlocked my handcuffs. I was un-arrested.
How could an able-bodied teenager allow his grandmother to scale a plum tree? Simple. She wasn't my grandmother at the time. She was my teacher.
I was home-schooled. That was the law. Even on a tiny farm like ours, you had to get an education. No school bus could ever make it up the rutted, snaking dirt road that led to Garland . But transportation wasn't the only problem. If we'd been serviced by an eight-lane highway, Rain still would have handled my schooling personally. We wanted to avoid the low standards and cultural poison of a world that had lost its way.
So that's what I was doing when Rain fell – working on a vocabulary lesson. Most of the list came from the state eighth-grade curriculum: barometer, decagon, perpendicular …
I could always spot the extra words Rain threw in: non-violence, Zen Buddhism, psychedelic …
Microprocessor? I frowned at the paper on the unpainted wooden table. Was that Rain or the state? I'd never heard that term before.
I stepped out of the house, careful not to disturb my science project – the Foucault Pendulum suspended from the porch roof. The tester from the education department thought it was good enough to enter in the county science fair. Too bad we didn't believe in competition – all that emphasis on trophies and medals, the shiny symbols of an empty soul. Anyway, Rain said the whole thing was a trick to get me to go to regular school.
“If your project is excellent, it only proves that you're getting a superior education right here with me,” had been her reasoning.
I spotted her up in the tree, reaching across a limb to pick a plum. “Rain,” I called, “there's a word I don't under –”
And it happened. One minute she was on the branch; the next she was on the ground. I don't even recall seeing her fall. Just the faint cry followed by the dull clunk. “Aaah!” Whump.
She was lying on her side amid the scattered plums when I pounded onto the scene. Her face was very pale. She wasn't moving.
My terror was total. Rain was everything to me – my teacher, my family, my whole universe. Garland was a community, but we were the community – the two of us!
I knelt beside her. “Rain – are you okay? Please be okay!”
Her eyes fluttered open and focused on me. She tried to smile, but the pain contorted her expression into a grimace. “Cap –” she began faintly.
I leaped back to my feet. “I'll get Doc Cafferty!”
Doc Cafferty lived a few miles away. He was technically a veterinarian. But he was used to working on humans, since he had six kids. He'd given me stitches once when I was eight.
She reached up a tremulous hand and gripped my arm. “We need a real doctor this time. A people doctor.”
I stared at her like she was speaking a foreign language. Doc Cafferty had filled all of Garland 's medical needs as long as I could remember.
She spelled it out. “You're going to have to take me to the hospital.”
Rain always said that anger upsets the balance inside a person. So when you yell at somebody, you're attacking yourself more than whoever it is you're yelling at.
Falling out of the tree must have made her forget this. Because when the nurses finally let me in to see her, she was screaming at the doctor at top volume. “ I can't do eight weeks of rehab! I can't do eight days!”
“You've got no choice,” the doctor said matter-of-factly. “You have a broken hip. It has to be pinned. After that you'll need extensive physical therapy. It's a long process, and you can't ignore it just because it doesn't fit in with your plans.”
“You're not listening!” Rain shrilled. “I'm the caregiver to my grandson! The only caregiver!”
“What about the parents?” the doctor asked. “Where are they?”
She shook her head. “Long dead. Malaria. They were with the Peace Corps in Namibia . They died doing what they believed in.”
That sounds worse than it is. But I never knew my parents except from old pictures. They left when I was little. Besides, the rule at Garland back then was that we all belonged to each other, and it didn't matter who was related by blood. I have a few vague recollections of other people in the community when I was really young. But whether they were my parents or not, I can't tell. Anyway, it's impossible to miss what you never had.
I rushed to my grandmother's bedside. “Are you okay? Is your leg all fixed up?”
She looked grave. “We've got a problem, Cap. And you know what we do with problems.”
“We talk it out, think it out, work it out,” I said readily. It had been that way since the very beginning of Garland in 1967, long before I was born. Now that there were only two of us, Rain still gave me a full vote. She never treated me like I was just a kid.
The doctor was growing impatient. “How about cousins? Or maybe a close friend from school?”
“I'm home-schooled,” I supplied.
The doctor sighed. “Mrs. Rosenblatt –”
“That name hasn't applied to me for decades. You can call me Rain.”
“All right. Rain. I'm admitting you now. We'll operate in the morning. And I'll call Social Services to see what arrangements can be made for your grandson.”
That was when I started to worry about what was going to happen to me.
NAME: MRS. DONNELLY
The instant I saw him standing there with all that hair and all those beads, I just knew.
Garland Farm. It had to be. Nobody else looked like that. Nobody had looked like that since 1970. Except at Garland.
He seemed terrified, and with good reason. No one knew what lay ahead for him better than I did.
I held out my hand. “I'm Mrs. Donnelly.”
He made no move to take it. “Capricorn.”
Capricorn. Wasn't that just classic? My own name, Flora, was short for Floramundi – a world of flowers.
I'd been out of that place more than thirty years, but one sight of this kid, and it all came roaring back in a tsunami of Day-Glo ponchos and organic lentils.
I was five when my family joined the community – too young to remember any life before that. For six long years, that place was my universe. I ran around barefoot, wearing peasant dresses, shared my parents with the other kids, protested the Vietnam War, did farm chores, and listened to a whole lot of sitar music.
So help me, I didn't know how weird it all was until my parents decided they were too old to be hippies anymore, and we rejoined the real world. That part I remember like it was yesterday – this little flower child, who barely knew how a doorknob worked, suddenly dropped in the middle of a society several centuries ahead of the one she'd just left.
I looked at Capricorn Anderson, and that's what I saw – not a case, but a time traveler, about to step into a world that had forgotten the sixties except for J.F.K. and the first moon landing.
In my right hand was a piece of paper with the address of the foster home the Department of Child Services had assigned for this boy. I crumpled it up and tossed it into the nearest trashcan.
“Well, Capricorn, it looks like you're going to be staying at my house for a few weeks.”
“Absolutely not!” he exclaimed. “I have to get back to the community. The plums aren't in yet. And after that the apples. Everything has to be ready for when Rain comes home.”
I remembered Rain. She was one of the founders of Garland , the queen bee of the place when I lived there. I was always afraid of her. I thought she was a witch.
“Wait a minute –” I put two and two together. “Rachel Esther Rosenblatt is Rain? Your grandmother?”
He brightened. “You know her?”
That's when I figured out the key to Capricorn's heart so I could do what needed to be done for his own good.
“I used to. Way back before you were born, my family lived at Garland . Rain would want you to be with someone who understands.”
I had a reluctant houseguest.
NAME: ZACH POWERS
I high-fived my way off the school bus, slapping hands on both sides of the aisle.
“How's it going, man?”
I jumped down to the tarmac of the school's driveway. It was a beautiful September day. This was my time – eighth grade, captain of the football and soccer teams, Big Man On Campus. After two years of looking up to other people, I'd finally made it to the point where there was nobody to look up to but me.
I was top of the heap, apex of the triangle. Everything was perfect.
I frowned. Well, not quite perfect. I noticed that the sign on the front lawn read:
WELCOME TO CLAVERAGE MIDDLE SCHOOL
They'd fixed it again. Unacceptable.
I did a quick scan to confirm there were no teachers looking on. Mr. Sorenson's eyes were on the buses, so his back was turned. I reached up and snatched off the L in Claverage. The sign now read:
WELCOME TO C AVERAGE MIDDLE SCHOOL
Much better. I stuffed the L behind the bushes and walked on, enjoying the admiration of some seventh grade girls. It was a dangerous job, but somebody had to do it. At C Average Middle School, the buck stopped with me.
Not that I was nobody last year. I was still probably the most happening seventh grader in the place. But it isn't really your school until you're a senior. I wasn't going to drop the ball on any of it.
For example, the election for eighth-grade president was coming up. Not that I was running myself. God forbid. The tradition at C Average was to nominate the biggest loser in the building. No one runs against him, of course, and he wins automatically. Then, for the rest of the year, you get the pleasure of watching President Bonehead giving speeches, running assemblies, and making a complete idiot out of himself.
It's top-notch entertainment – if you nail exactly the right guy.
I was pretty sure I had the front-runner all picked out. Ever since kindergarten, the primo nerd, bar none, had been Hugh Winkleman. Over the years, the doofus had been on the receiving end of so many wedgies that he had elastic waistband material fused to the top of his head – pardon the exaggeration. You get the picture.
In a million years, there could not have been anyone more perfect for this job than Hugh. Or so I thought.
I was on my way to homeroom when Mr. Kasigi, the assistant principal, flagged me down. Standing beside him was the strangest looking kid I'd ever seen. He was tall, and skinny as a rake. I swear he'd never been anywhere near a barbershop in his life. His long blond flyaway hair stretched all the way down to the middle of his back. His clothes looked like pajamas – homemade pajamas. And his shoes were something out of a social studies project on pioneer days. They were sandals woven out of cornhusks, and rustled when he moved.
Kasigi introduced us. “Zachary Powers, meet Capricorn Anderson. Cap just transferred here.”
Yeah, from the planet Krypton.
“Show him to locker seven-forty-three and make sure he gets to homeroom.” He rushed off in the direction of the office.
The weirdest thing about Capricorn Anderson was this: He was looking at me like I was the freak. Like he'd never seen another kid before!
“Come on, Cap. Follow me.”
We walked down the hall, picking up more than our fair share of attention.
“New kid,” I said aloud, just in case anybody was dumb enough to think he was actually with me. “Kasigi asked me to show him around.”
Locker 743. “Here it is,” I told him. “You've got the combo, right?”
He just stared at me blankly.
“The combination,” I prompted. “There – printed on top of your orientation form.”
“But what does it mean?”
I would have sworn he was putting me on, except he looked so bewildered.
“Here – I'll show you. Seventeen … thirty-three … five.” There was a click, and the door swung wide.
He peered in as if he expected to find a mountain lion lying in wait. “It's empty.”
He was beginning to rile me. “Of course it's empty. It's your locker. It won't have anything until you put something in it.”
“What do I have to put in there?” he demanded.
“How should I know? It's your stuff.”
“When we lock things away,” he said with conviction, “we're really imprisoning ourselves.”
Now that was definitely something you didn't hear every day. “What school did you go to before this?”
“I'm home-schooled,” he informed me. “I'm only here because Rain broke her hip, and they won't let me live alone at the community.”
Hugh Winkleman, you're a lucky man. With the arrival of this new kid, all the losers in school were bumped down one space. Never before had anyone screamed for the job of eighth-grade president like Capricorn Anderson.
This was my year!
Copyright 2007 by Gordon Korman, used by permission