Shooting Monarchs

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About The Book

Macy grew up unwanted, unloved, and alone. By his teens he had quit school and begun stealing. In and out of juvie, Macy is a shoplifter, a car thief, and, by age eighteen, a murderer.

Danny grew up physically disabled, raised by his grandmother, and a loner. Now sixteen, he finds solace in taking photographs, particularly of monarch butterflies, and thinking about Leah, the most beautiful girl in town.

It is Leah who unwittingly causes these two very different boys, who share some startling similarities, to meet in a first and final terrifying encounter.

The outcome of this hard-hitting and spellbinding novel from an exciting new author will rivet readers and leave them thinking about nature, nurture, justice, and the remarkable power of human kindness.

Excerpt

Chapter 1: A Thanksgiving Turkey

He was born during the Thanksgiving Day parade. His mother didn't want to miss seeing the big balloons, so she made the nurse haul a TV into the delivery room. While the boy entered the world, his mother stared at a gigantic inflated Snoopy bobbing across the TV screen.

"It's like a miracle," she exclaimed. The doctor and nurse just shook their heads, seeing she meant the balloon, not the baby.

"What name should we put on the birth certificate?" the nurse asked.

The mother continued looking at the TV and said, "Macys."

The nurse glanced at the TV and asked, "You mean you want to name him after a department store?"

"Is there something wrong with that?" the mother responded belligerently.

"I guess there's no law against it," the nurse said with a shrug, but when she filled out the paperwork, she decided to leave the "s" off.

To his mother, Macy was just another mistake. He was a reminder, like her smoking habit and lack of high school diploma, of bad choices she had made. "I never wanted you in the first place," she frequently told the baby, even before he was old enough to speak. But she never considered giving him away.

By the time Macy was six months old his mother was regularly going out on dates. She turned on the TV and left him in the house alone. When he learned to walk and attempted to follow her, she locked him in his room.

One day when Macy was three his mother and a new boyfriend went swimming in the river. She left Macy home. Since it looked like a nice day, she decided to leave him in the backyard.

The yard was just a square of dirt surrounded by a solid wood fence. In the center was a rusty swing set installed long ago by a previous resident.

"You can play here until I get back," Macy's mother said. "I'll just be gone a few hours." Then, to be sure he didn't follow her or wander off, she took the loose end of an old rope that was wrapped around the swing and tied it tightly to his ankle.

As she bent over him completing the knot Macy gently squeezed her ponytail.

"Don't mess my hair," she told him.

"I love you, Mommy," he said, repeating what he had heard other children say on TV. His mother just walked away.

"I'll be back soon," she called without turning.

For the first hour or so Macy played on the swing. The rhythmic rocking back and forth always calmed him. He liked looking up at the white clouds, imagining they were large animals, mostly rabbits. When he got bored, he twisted the swing as tightly as he could, so tight it felt like it would explode, and then he got dizzy as it swiftly unwound. He might have played on the swing all afternoon, but the seat was cracked and began to irritate his bottom. So he played in the dirt.

The dirt under the swing was hard. It had never been raked or watered or seeded. Macy's mother never spent time in the yard during daylight. Many nights, though, after Macy was asleep, she went out to the swing. Like her son, she found the movement soothing. She smoked and flicked the remains into the darkness. The result was a great circular reef of cigarette butts around the swing.

At the center of the circle Macy scratched the dirt with his fingernails and found that beneath the surface the dirt was a soft powder. He made a small pile of dirt. He pretended the pile was a mountain and sent his pointer finger hopping slowly up one side of the mountain and quickly down the other. When he tired of the mountain, he scooped it up and filtered the powder through his fingers.

Then a drop of rain landed on his hand. Macy stared at the drop and watched as it slowly made a line across his dirty hand and fell to the ground.

The sky above the yard had become dark with clouds. A drop landed in Macy's eye and another hit his cheek. Then the rain became steady. Macy hadn't had anything to drink for hours, so he closed his eyes, turned his face toward the sky, opened his mouth wide, and caught the drops until his thirst was satisfied.

But the rain didn't stop. The holes he had dug to build his mountain filled with muddy water. His clothes were soaked and he was cold. He crawled under the seat of the swing for protection as the rain became a downpour. Then, when night came, he curled up in the mud and shivered. He never cried.

Macy's mother got home late and cursed as she tried to untie the wet rope from Macy's ankle. She had been drinking. When they got into the house, she told Macy to put on some dry clothes and go to bed. Then she dropped onto the stained, cigarette-burned couch and fell asleep. Macy watched his mother lying facedown on the couch, her wet ponytail touching the vinyl floor.

It took Macy a long time to go to sleep, so he lay in the dark and listened to his mother snore in the next room. After that night Macy never told anyone he loved them, and he was forever afraid of the rain.

Macy never did well in school and he didn't make friends. Starting in kindergarten, other kids made fun of him because he was so quiet and shy. The criticism caused him to become more withdrawn. In third grade his teacher organized a Thanksgiving Day play.

"Some of you will dress like Pilgrims and some of you will be Indians," she told the class.

Macy raised his hand for the first time all year.

"Yes, Macy?" the teacher asked.

"I was born on Thanksgiving," he said softly, staring shyly at the top of his desk.

Before the teacher could respond, one of the boys yelled, "That's why you're such a turkey."

Everyone laughed. Except the teacher and Macy. After that the other kids always called him "Turkey."

Macy's teachers were concerned about his poor academic and social skills, but when they called to schedule meetings with his mother, she said she was too busy. All the years Macy was in school, she never met with even one of his teachers. By the end of middle school Macy had stopped going. What should have been Macy's first year in high school was spent in a state juvenile correctional facility, where he had been sent for shoplifting at a liquor store.

Macy enjoyed his first afternoon in juvie. It looked nice, with a television room and a gym. The state's food was better than he was used to at home. And the prison uniform, an orange shirt with matching pants, made Macy feel like he was going to be part of a group. That night in the bathroom he was attacked by one of the bigger boys and his nose was broken. When that boy was locked in solitary, another boy took his place and broke two of Macy's front teeth.

One of the guards, Officer Quinn, was the teacher at juvie. He had been teaching there for over twenty years. Every Friday afternoon he conducted what he called "Quinn's Quiz." He asked the boys questions about their schoolwork.

Quinn's questions were pretty easy. If they had been studying geography he asked questions like, "What's the capital of the United States?" If the topic was science, he might ask, "What happens to water when it freezes?" But when he got to Macy, the questions were never straightforward. Quinn tormented Macy.

"Okay, Macy," he said, with a gleam in his eyes, "if a plane crashes right on the border between the United States and Canada, where would you bury the survivors?"

All the boys snickered while Macy pondered the problem, and they laughed when he suggested burying the perfectly healthy survivors in Canada.

"Why would you bury them there?" Quinn asked.

"Because that's where they were going," Macy responded hesitantly. Everyone laughed at him again.

Quinn always asked each boy three questions, and Macy always answered each of his incorrectly. "What's heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of rocks? How many animals of each kind did the pope put on his ark? Who got buried in Grant's Tomb?"

Macy felt mortified when the boys laughed at him. After the first few weeks he gave up trying to answer. When Quinn asked his questions, Macy just responded, "I don't know."

But even then, Macy was embarrassed as the other boys commented on his mental abilities. "What a dope. He's really stupid," they said.

By the time Macy got out of juvie he had several scars as souvenirs, but the deepest wounds were from the weekly punishment of Quinn's quizzes.

The first place Macy went when he got out was a tattoo shop. He had a picture of the earth inscribed on his right forearm. Under the earth Macy told the tattoo artist to write SATAN RULES. But when people saw it, they wondered if it was a philosophical statement or a fashion one because it actually said SATIN RULES.

After getting the tattoo Macy stole a car and was arrested again. The police officer who drove him back to juvie looked at Macy in the rearview mirror and said, "I've always thought corduroy rules."

The next time Macy got out of juvie, he went to a pawnshop he had heard some of the boys talking about. He bought a gun. The shop owner didn't ask for any identification or paperwork, just cash. On his eighteenth birthday Macy used the gun to steal a Thanksgiving turkey from a small grocery store.

The store clerk, Mohammad Aziz, should have been off that night, but he was filling in for his boss. Mohammad had recently immigrated to the United States with his wife and four children, and he welcomed the opportunity to earn extra money. This one night of work would pay for next week's celebration of his son's tenth birthday. Mohammad had just deposited all the cash register money in a night security box and was preparing to close when Macy walked into the store.

Mohammad was uneasy when he saw Macy. There was nothing extraordinary about Macy's size or clothing, but his face revealed a history of violence. There were several fresh scars, his nose was knocked off center like it had been hit by a truck, and his front teeth were broken. His head was completely shaven to conform to the popular style at juvie. Macy liked the bald look because it was easy to maintain without the help of barbers. The confinement of barber chairs and being touched by people with scissors always made Macy feel uncomfortable.

Mohammad felt fear as Macy approached him holding a frozen turkey. There was something cold and uncaring about Macy's emotionless eyes. If it was true, as Mohammad had heard it said, that the eyes are windows to the soul, then Macy's soul was a barren place. Macy's eyes lacked any hint of feeling.

Macy dropped the turkey on the counter, showing he held a pistol. "I want money," he said.

"Please don't shoot me," Mohammad begged, and abruptly raised his hands as he had seen done on television.

The quick movement startled Macy. Then the same finger that years before had hopped over an imaginary mountain beneath the backyard swing pulled the pistol's trigger, and Mohammad was dead. Macy took the turkey and left the store. He was never convicted of that crime, he never reflected on it, and he never felt remorse. His only feeling was anger because he wanted money and only got a turkey.

A few months later Macy got a job delivering pizzas. Customers were often startled when they opened their doors and saw Macy standing there with his battered face, bald head, and pizza. After he delivered the pizza, customers locked their doors.

One night after work Macy tried to rob a convenience store, but just as he revealed his gun a police car drove up and Macy ran away. He was surprised when the police arrested him a few hours later. But it hadn't been too hard for the police to track him. During the attempted robbery he wore his pizza uniform showing exactly where he worked and a badge that said Hi, My Name's Macy. So he was sentenced to the state correctional facility for adults.

Macy was the youngest prisoner in the overcrowded jail and was frequently mistreated by the older men. But he never complained, and after one year he was paroled to make room for criminals who seemed more dangerous. No one knew Macy had murdered Mohammad Aziz. As Macy prepared to leave the prison, a guard told him, "See you soon." The guard had seen many young parolees returned to jail in need of additional correction.

On the day of his release Macy went straight to the city and stole an old car. It was a massive gray wreck, at least twenty-five years old, with a rusted hood and a wire clothes hanger where the antenna used to be. The car was so worthless, the owner had left the key in the ignition, hoping someone would take it. The owner never bothered to report it missing.

After that Macy went to the pawnshop, bought a gun, and drove away. He had no destination in mind. He just drove.

Then he met Maria Hernandez.

• • •

Macy and Maria were as opposite as two people could be. Maria had been born to a loving family when Macy was three years old. Everyone said her parents were the perfect couple. They shared the same interests, including tennis in the summer and skiing in the winter. Mrs. Hernandez was a principal at one of the city's elementary schools, and her husband taught computer courses at the community college. Most people thought they had everything anyone could want. But they couldn't have a baby no matter how hard they tried.

One day while Mr. Hernandez was waiting in line at the supermarket, a mother in the next line was yelling at her small son for opening a box of chocolate cookies. She seized the boy by his shoulders and shook him so violently that the cookies spilled to the floor.

"Now look what you've done," she snarled.

Mr. Hernandez was always saddened when he saw a child with an abusive parent. It seemed unfair to him that people like that should have children while he and his wife had none. He opened a magazine to divert his attention, and his eyes fell on a large, two-page photograph of garlic. The headline across the top of the page read GARLIC, FOR BATS, BATTERS, AND BABIES.

The article said garlic was used for centuries to ward off vampires that appeared in the form of bats, and baseball players sometimes ate garlic to cure batting problems. The article concluded by saying, "It is also believed that garlic can bring on pregnancy. So be careful how you use it."

Mr. Hernandez tossed the magazine back on the rack, ran to the produce section, and loaded a bag with garlic.

"Have you gone insane?" his wife asked when she saw what he had bought.

"It's worth a try," he responded. "Babe Ruth said garlic helped him out of batting slumps."

"You're crazy," she said.

That night he added garlic to everything they had for dinner. He even put garlic in the vanilla ice cream.

"I'm not going to eat that," his wife complained, and she didn't.

Later that night while they were watching TV, he ate a whole garlic bulb as if it were an apple.

"You stink," his wife said with a laugh. "Don't get near me."

A month later they discovered she was pregnant.

They were delighted. But it wasn't an easy pregnancy. Six months into the pregnancy the doctor told Mrs. Hernandez she would have to leave her job and stay home. Continuing to work would jeopardize the lives of mother and baby. So she stayed home and was bored. The last three months of the pregnancy were the slowest months in her life. She couldn't wait for her labor to start, but when it finally did, it seemed it would never end. Twenty-three hours passed between the time they arrived at the hospital and the arrival of Maria.

"She was worth waiting for," Mr. Hernandez said. His wife agreed.

Maria was cute and smart and everybody liked her. Each year when her parents went to the elementary school, Maria's teachers would smile and ask, "What's the secret to raising such a great kid?"

"Garlic," her father always said, and the teachers gave him strange looks.

In middle school everyone discovered that in addition to Maria's other attributes she was fast. She could run faster than any girl who had attended her school. Her parents loved watching her run. Mr. Hernandez came to every one of her track meets and jumped and hollered every time she won. His enthusiasm was so outrageous that even the parents from opposing teams had to smile. Mrs. Hernandez attended most meets and quietly smiled at the performances of her husband and daughter.

By the time Maria left middle school, her name was atop half the lists of all-time records in girls' track-and-field events.

Maria was a little nervous about attending high school because it was a large school with kids from all over the city. She was sure that athletically and academically she would have stronger competition. She was a little worried about how well her talents would compare. But in high school Maria's body developed and she became even more athletic. She was slightly taller than average, thin, and had very strong legs. Every afternoon she ran several miles to the outskirts of the city and then walked and jogged home for dinner.

One of the reasons she liked running to the edge of the city was because there were still some small farms there among the encroaching housing developments. At one of the farms there was a beautiful brown horse with a white star between its eyes. The horse stood at its fence everyday as if waiting for Maria. When she got there, the horse raced along its side of the fence, and Maria ran as fast as she could on her side, enjoying the feel of her ponytail bouncing along behind her. At the end of the fence Maria always gave the horse a treat, usually an apple or a carrot, then she turned and walked and jogged home.

In her freshman and sophomore years of high school Maria won many athletic awards. Her parents sat proudly in the stands as their daughter received numerous trophies.

In Maria's junior year of high school the state track-and-field tournament was going to be held at her school. Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez felt this would be an opportunity for Maria to receive the statewide recognition they thought she deserved. They wanted everything to be perfect for their daughter, so they volunteered to paint the award platform. One Saturday afternoon a few weeks before the track meet they took cans of white paint and made the platform shine. On their way home they passed Maria on her daily run. Maria waved and her mother blew her a kiss.

Maria took her usual route away from the city. People who saw her that day later said everything looked normal. They didn't remember seeing anyone with her or near her. They didn't remember seeing any unusual vehicles.

Macy saw Maria and liked what he saw. He slowed down as he passed her, and she looked right at him, annoyed, because the fumes from his car's leaky exhaust bothered her breathing. She was relieved when he pulled away and the air finally cleared.

Maria wasn't surprised a little later when she saw the gray car parked ahead by the side of the road. The trunk was open, and she assumed the car had a flat tire or mechanical trouble. She didn't give it much thought at all, but as she tried to pass the car Macy quickly stepped in her path. He had the gun in his hand.

"Get in the trunk," he ordered.

Maria looked around in panic. She saw nobody. She considered screaming but assumed no one would hear her. She wished another car would come by, but the road was empty.

"Get in," Macy repeated coldly.

Maria climbed into the trunk of the car and Macy slammed the lid.

Macy drove away below the speed limit, carefully obeying the road signs, wanting to avoid being stopped for a traffic violation.

In the dark trunk Maria frantically felt for a latch or a tool or anything she could use to get out. As her eyes adjusted to the dark she realized a small amount of light was coming through a chink in the floor of the trunk. She pushed herself toward the hole and when she cleared away some damp magazines, she discovered the hole was large enough that she could fit several of her fingers into it. Maria looked through the hole and saw the pavement passing beneath.

Macy was looking for a place where he could take the girl. He passed the farm and the brown horse standing by its fence. He saw some new houses and decided to drive farther. He needed a place where no one would see him.

Maria began working at the hole. The floor of the trunk was rusted and she found she could use her fingernails to remove flakes of metal. Slowly the hole expanded.

Raindrops began hitting Macy's windshield. A few at first, then more, and he turned on the wipers.

Maria saw the pavement was wet. Then she felt the car slowing and the pavement turned to dirt. They had turned off the main road.

Macy didn't know where the dirt road led and he didn't care. He just knew that unmarked dirt roads usually offered seclusion. He drove a short distance and parked behind some bushes.

Maria was afraid the man would open the trunk. But he didn't. Macy wouldn't open the trunk until the rain stopped and that would not be until morning. He sat in the car looking at the windshield that was quickly fogged by his breath.

It rained all night. Maria could hear the rhythmic squeak of the car seat as Macy nervously rocked himself to sleep. When it finally became quiet, Maria began frantically peeling away bits of rusty metal. The hole grew slowly. She worked all night, and her fingers were bloodied from the work, but by morning she could fit just one arm through the hole. She felt the cool earth beneath the car. With her injured fingers, she slowly and deeply scratched her name in the dirt.

Then Macy opened the trunk.

A week later a family was leaving the city, and their kindergartner needed to go to the bathroom.

"There aren't any rest rooms along this road," the mother said, so they pulled off onto a dirt road.

"Look, Mommy," the child said, "it says something on the ground."

The mother saw the name and knew who it belonged to. Maria's disappearance had been big news the past few days. Behind some nearby bushes, facedown, the mother found Maria Hernandez.

The track meet went on as scheduled two weeks later. During the opening ceremony the school superintendent said they would dedicate the meet to Maria, and at the closing ceremony the principal said they would install a flagpole at the high school track as a permanent memorial to Maria. One of the boys on the track team wrote a song about Maria and sang it over the loudspeaker following the presentation of trophies. He said he wrote it especially for Maria's friends and family, but none of her family was there.

When the meet was over, Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez drove to the empty stadium. Mr. Hernandez carried a metal container. They walked to the center of the stadium and stepped onto the sparkling white award platform. Mr. Hernandez opened the container and slowly poured out the dust. Mrs. Hernandez held out her hand and felt the dust that had been her perfect daughter filter through her fingers.

Copyright © 2003 by John Halliday

Awards and Honors

  • ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List (NY)
  • Volunteer State Book Award Master List (TN)

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