Exclusive Excerpt: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

You guys, Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap is magical and wonderful. We knew we were going to love it when we saw its great cover month ago, but its intriguing premise, and the way Ruby’s take of magical realism shines (harder to do than you might think), well, it all adds up to an RT Top Pick! To celebrate the book’s recent release, we’re sharing an exclusive excerpt so you can rave along with us. Read on!

Petey was wearing only a thin T-shirt and the kind of cutoffs that melted his brain, but she pulled on some boots and climbed out of the window as if she’d been doing this sort of thing for years, and maybe she had. He’d heard about the things that Petey did. And maybe, if he was honest with himself, it was one of the reasons he was here. But it wasn’t the most important one. He was too happy to see her. Too interested in what she might say, no matter how much it stung.

She scrunched up her face, her fingers idly stroking the horse’s nose. Then her face relaxed.

“Okay,” she said, looking up at him. “Where to?”

“I thought maybe we’d go for a ride,” Finn said, something else he hadn’t known he was going to say.

“Does the horse know where the cat is?”

“She seems to know a lot of other things.”

Petey gathered her hair and tied it into a knot at the nape of her neck. “You still don’t have a saddle. How am I supposed to get up there?”

He glanced around the yard, spied a large rock at the corner of the house. He pointed to it. She nodded and took a few quick strides and a leap to land on top of it, smooth and graceful. He walked the horse alongside the rock, holding the reins in one hand. Petey looked at the space behind Finn and the space in front of him. Then she turned her face away, focusing on some star in the distance, as if looking at him directly was a little too hard.

She blew out her breath just like the mare. “Listen. I’m sorry about the other day. Sometimes I’m … I should … ”

The words tumbled out. “You should wear those shorts more often?”

Startled, she glanced down at herself. At first he thought it had been the wrong thing to say, the kind of thing one of the Rude boys would have said right before they told her she had a rockin’ body but a butterface, but then Petey looked up and smiled with half her mouth.

She smiled with both sides when he said, “Here’s a college essay idea: Describe the shorts that changed your life in the form of a poem.”

“I like it.” She put her hands on her hips. “So?”

“So, what?”

“Where’s my poem?”

“Maybe someday I’ll write you one.”

She grabbed a hold of the horse’s mane and swung one leg over the horse’s neck, faltering only for a moment till Finn steadied her with a hand on her hip. She settled against him, her back to his chest. She didn’t say anything more as he put one arm on each side of her and urged the horse forward.

The mare walked quietly from the yard, as if she was trying very hard to be sneaky, and began a gentle trot as they passed the Corderos’ farmhouse. Each step of the mare brought Petey closer, until she was fitted to Finn like a puzzle piece, her head under his chin. He hadn’t realized how much of her height was in her legs, smooth bare legs that glowed gold in the moonlight.

The mare splashed through the stream, peppering her riders with droplets of cool water, then headed for the cemetery, which was clouded over with a strange silvery mist. Older than Bone Gap itself, the cemetery had a couple of stones dating back to the early 1800s. Once, Miguel had surveyed the rows and rows of stones and said, “Everyone looks the same when they’re dead.” But Finn didn’t think that was true. Each stone was different. Some of the older ones canted crazily, like crooked teeth, the names and dates eroded from decades of sun, wind and snow. The more recent stones were polished granite in various colors. Dark gray, black and, in the case of Mrs. Philander “Muffin” Gould (1903–1982), Pepto-Bismol pink.

But now the silvery mist muted all the colors of the grave markers, the uneven ground dancing with strange shadows. The mare stopped, letting them survey the stones, the willow tree dangling its fingers over the rooftops of the two small mausoleums, the dusky grove of poplars beyond.

“Spooky,” murmured Petey.

“Hmmm,” said Finn, who had discovered that if he turned his face a little bit, his lips would brush her hair.

“Look!” breathed Petey, and he glanced up and saw one of the shadows flickering, gathering scraps of moonlight and cloud to assemble itself into a vague shape that drifted over the tops of the stones.

“Are you seeing this?” Petey said.

“Yes.”

They watched the shape glide through the still air, passing so closely that Petey shivered. The shape slipped out of the cemetery and into the darkness beyond.

“Was that a ghost?” said Petey.

“A cloud, probably. Fog,” said Finn.

“I think it was a ghost.”

“Maybe it’s going to Miguel’s house. Maybe it’s hungry.”

And maybe it was a ghost, maybe it was hungry, but if it was, the mare wasn’t troubled. She ambled past the cemetery to the unclaimed land beyond. The field should have had rich green grass springing up around the horse’s knees, it should have been wild with bluebells and violets and larkspur, bayberry and lily and clover, but the field burned gold in the thin light of the moon, and Finn wondered why the grass and the flowers seemed to be dying. Surely that was a trick of the eye or the mind or the fact that Petey Willis was warm against him and smelled like a million things you’d want to eat and this was jumbling his thoughts, confusing him, making it hard to pay attention to anything but her.

The mare trotted across the golden field and into a deep still forest, a forest that Finn didn’t remember. Crickets whirred and owls hooted and the ground crunched under the horse’s feet. They seemed to be at the mouth of a very long path through the dark wood, a path through a wood that he had never seen before.

“What is this place?” Petey said.

“I don’t know.”

And he didn’t. But the mare seemed to know, as she seemed to know so, so many things, too many things for a horse to know, and she moved from a walk to a trot, a trot to a gallop. Finn drew his forearms in tighter so that they brushed against Petey’s waist. If she thought he was getting too close, she didn’t say. She didn’t say anything about his lips in her hair, or the fact that his breathing had gone ever so slightly ragged.

And then the trees blurred as the mare ran faster and faster. At first Finn tried to keep an eye on the path in front of him, but it was too dark and the horse was running too fast. He tried to keep his eyes on the moon, but it blazed too hot and too whitely bright, and it etched its image across his vision. He looked around, but what he saw made no sense — trees bleeding into clouds, and the clouds parting for winged lions carved from stone, and the stone lions charging down a staircase made of glass, and the glass shattering into fire.

The mare ran all the way through the forest and out the other side, and suddenly the sounds of the forest were replaced by the crashing of horseshoes on rock. The mare thundered across a flat gray plain that Finn saw too late, too late, was the edge of a mountain, and then the mare was leaping into the air, and they were falling over the cliff, until they felt the wind catch them, carry them in its soft, dark hand as if the horse and two riders were nothing but a feather that wended its way down the mountainside.

And since none of this could be real, Finn closed his eyes and held on to Petey and wondered if she could feel his heart beating against her back, if she noticed his arms wrapped around her waist, if the moon had etched itself upon her otherworldly eyes, if the moon could ever be full enough to fill them.

Hours later, days or weeks or months later, the mare’s hooves again found the ground, and they were no longer falling off a mountain or flying through the forest, they were trotting back across the golden field, through the now pitch-black cemetery, past the Corderos’ dozing stone house, and into the beeyard, the only sounds the sounds of Finn’s breathing, Petey’s breathing, the mare breathing.

When they reached Petey’s window, Finn released the reins and slid from the horse’s back, knees loose and watery, hands trembling. Petey put her own hands on Finn’s shoulders as he helped her down. They stood there in the hushed dark of the yard, struggling for words.

Finally, Petey said, “I’m sorry we didn’t find your cat.”

Finn decided not to press his luck, not to do anything but say Thank you, say Good night, say Maybe tomorrow, say Did you see the fire? say Did that just happen? but when her fingertips traced down his arms to his wrists, when she turned her face up to his, lips parted, breath sweet, there didn’t seem to be anything to say, anything to do, but kiss her.

And so he did.

Dying to read more? Then be sure to rush out to your nearest bookstore today, Bone Gap is out now! And check out our Everything YA page for more enticing excerpts, books and authors!

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