Home > All the Crooked Saints(3)

All the Crooked Saints(3)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

“Here. I’ll check the range now,” Beatriz said. “Hand me the radio.”

“Hand it yourself,” Joaquin replied. But Beatriz merely sat quietly until he passed it to her. There was no point trying to wait out Beatriz.

“I’ll come with you,” Daniel said quickly.

Back in Bicho Raro, there was a pair of twin goats named Fea and Moco who had been born under notable circumstances. It is common for goats to have twins and sometimes even triplets, so it was not notable that Fea and Moco were twins. What was unusual was that Moco was born first and then Fea’s mother decided that she did not have the energy or interest in giving birth a second time in the same night. So although Fea would have been just as happy being born minutes after her twin, she remained in her mother’s womb for months while her mother worked up the motivation to birth again. Finally, Fea was born. Her additional time in the womb, away from the sun, had turned her coat jet-black. Although to the outside eye, Fea and Moco appeared to be merely siblings or even unrelated, the two of them remained as close as twins, always attentive and fond of each other’s presence.

This was the way it was with Beatriz and Daniel. As close as Joaquin and Beatriz and Daniel were, Beatriz and Daniel were closer still. They were both quiet on the inside and outside, and they both had a hungry curiosity for what made the world work. But there was also the closeness created by the miracles. All of the Sorias were gifted with the ability to perform miracles, but into every generation, there were born a few who were more suited to the task than others: They were stranger or holier than other people, depending upon whom you asked. Daniel and Beatriz were the most saintly at the moment, and as Beatriz wanted desperately to not be the Saint, and Daniel wanted little else, balance was achieved.

Outside the truck, the cold desert sky pushed up and out and away, a story without ending. Beatriz shivered; her mother, Antonia, said she had the heart of a lizard—and it was true that she had a reptile’s preference for the claustrophobia of heat. Although Beatriz had a flashlight tied up in the hem of her skirt, she didn’t retrieve it. She was not remotely worried about the FCC, but she nonetheless did not want to call attention to their location. She had a strong feeling, in the way a Soria does sometimes, that there were miracles afoot, and she had been told, in the way all Sorias are told, that there were consequences for interfering with miracles.

So they walked in the near-dark. The light of the partial moon was quite sufficient to pick out the silhouettes of spiky bayonet and spindly manzanita and raggedy creosote bushes. Juniper released a damp, warm smell and Russian thistle tugged at Beatriz’s skirt. Far-off light from Alamosa browned the horizon, looking natural from this far away, like a premature sunrise. From the radio, Diablo Diablo said look, said wait, said listen, here’s a single you’re not going to believe, a hot little number that hasn’t gotten enough play from the big guys.

Inside Beatriz Soria’s mind, thoughts turned busily, as they always did. As she and Daniel moved through the dark, she thought about the casual ingenuity of the portable radio they carried, and also about a time when people had imagined the night air was full of nothing, and also about the expression dead air. And now she thought instead about how really she was pushing through a crowded atomic city of invisible chemicals, microorganisms, and waves, the last of them detectable only because she held this magic box capable of receiving them and spitting them back out for her mortal ears. She leaned into these invisible radio signals as she would a heavy wind, and with one hand she snatched at the air as if she might feel them. This was an impulse that she often had, to touch the invisible. She had learned after years of childhood correction to reserve it for moments when no one else was watching. (Daniel did not count as someone else in this regard.)

But she felt only the slow creep of an approaching miracle. The radio’s signal had begun to fray; another station was gulping a syllable here and there.

“Beatriz?” asked Daniel. His voice sounded a little hollow, a cup with no water in it, a sky without stars. “Do you think consequences are meaningful if we haven’t seen them for ourselves?”

Sometimes, when a question is about a secret, people will ask a different but related question, hoping to get an answer that will work for both questions. Beatriz realized at once that this was what Daniel was doing now. She did not know what to do about the fact of his having secrets, but she answered as best as she could. “I think an untested consequence is a hypothesis.”

“Do you think I’ve been a good saint?”

This was still not really the question in his mind, and in any case, no one who had spent even a minute in Bicho Raro would have possibly spoken against Daniel Lupe Soria’s devotion. “You are a better one than I would be.”

“You could be a fine saint.”

“The evidence doesn’t agree with you.”

“Where is your science?” Daniel asked. “One piece of evidence is not science.” His tone was lighter now, but Beatriz was not comforted. He was not ordinarily troubled, and she could not forget the sound of it in his voice.

Beatriz turned the radio slightly to reduce the crackling. “Some experiments only require one result for proof. Or at least to prove it’s not responsible to perform them a second time.”

Loudening static hung between the two cousins, and eventually, Daniel said, “Did you ever think that maybe we’re doing it wrong? All of us?”

This, finally, was a real question instead of a hidden one, although it was not the real question. But it was too big a puzzle to be answered in only one night.

Further conversation was interrupted by a shudder in the shrub before them. It twitched and shivered again, and then a shadow roared out of it.

Neither Beatriz nor Daniel flinched. This was because they were Sorias. In their family, if you were going to leap at every shadow that suddenly appeared, you needed to plan on some fine calf muscles.

The roar resolved into a great, hushing thud of wings, and the shadow resolved into an enormous bird in flight. It flapped close enough that Beatriz’s hair moved against her cheek: an owl.

Beatriz knew many things about owls. Owls have enormous and powerful eyes, but these remarkable eyeballs are fixed in place by bony protuberances called sclerotic rings. This is why owls must move their heads in all directions in lieu of flicking their eyes from side to side. Several owl species have asymmetrical ears, which allows them to accurately pinpoint the origin of a sound. Many people do not realize that, in addition to possessing powerful vision and hearing, owls are very attracted to miracles, though the mechanism that draws the birds to them is poorly understood.

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