Title: Gregor the Overlander
Author: Suzanne Collins
Read In: 2023
Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
Things were always better when he played music; the notes seemed to carry him to a different world altogether.
His dad was crazy about science, and it seemed as if he wanted to pour everything in his brain right into Gregor’s head. It was a little dangerous, because even a simple question could bring on a half-hour explanation. His grandma had always said, “Ask your daddy the time, and he tells you how to make a clock.”
Gregor gently disengaged himself from Boots and stood up. He fumbled in the dark and found the sling Dulcet had given him. Trying to position Boots inside it proved tricky. Finally he just squeezed his eyes shut and let his other senses work. That was easier. He slid her in and slung the pack on his back.
Still, his grandma always said, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”
Gregor felt sheepish. He had sort of thought of the Underlanders as backward. They still used swords and wore funny clothes. But they weren’t stupid. His dad said even the cavemen had geniuses among them. Somebody had thought up the wheel.
That was one great thing about her. Once she’d melted down and napped, she transformed back into her own sweet self again.
“The hardest lesson for a soldier to learn is to obey orders he believes are wrong,” said the rat philosophically.
Vikus took Gregor’s mood in stride Maybe he had expected it. They walked about twenty yards away from the group. “So, how long have you had this plan with the rat?” asked Gregor.
Vikus thought a moment. “I am not sure exactly. Perhaps two or so years. Of course, it was all dependent upon your arrival.”
“How come you didn’t tell me about it before?” demanded Gregor.
“I do not believe in giving people more information than they can handle,” said Vikus.
Gregor felt his anger ebbing and fear filling the empty spaces it left.
He didn’t have room inside him for any more unspoken words.
They could take whatever precautions they wanted to, but Gregor felt sure Ripred could kill all eight of them in a flash. “He’ll take out Henry and Luxa first, since they’re the only two with weapons, and then just pick off the rest of us one by one,” thought Gregor. Maybe Ares or Aurora could escape, but the rest of them were sitting ducks. That was the truth, he might as well accept it.
Oddly enough, once he did accept it, Gregor felt more relaxed. He didn’t have any choice but to trust Ripred. If he could trust Ripred, then he could go to sleep. So he let himself drift off. . .
He was tired of everybody being snooty to the roaches. They never complained and they pulled their weight and they looked after Boots. All in all, the bugs were the easiest traveling companions.
“You see, I tired of constant fear, so I made a decision. Every day when I wake I tell myself that it will be my last. If you are not trying to hold on to time, you are not so afraid of losing it.”
Gregor thought this was the single saddest thing anyone had ever said to him. He couldn’t answer.
“And then, if you make it to bedtime, you feel the joy of cheating death out of one more day,” she said. “Do you see?”
“I think so,” said Gregor numbly. An awful thought struck him. Wasn’t Luxa’s strategy just an extreme form of his own rule? True, he didn’t think about dying every day, but he denied himself the luxury of thinking about the future with or without his dad. If he hadn’t fallen through the grate in his laundry room and discovered his dad was still alive, if his dad had never come home, how long would he have gone on refusing to be happy? His whole life? “Maybe,” he thought. “Maybe my whole life.”
“I have not wept since the death of my parents.” said Luxa quietly. “But I am thought to be unnatural in this respect.”
Gregor felt more tears slipping down his cheeks when he thought of how badly you had to be hurt to lose the ability to cry. He forgave Luxa everything at that moment. He even forgot why he needed to forgive her.
“Just want to sleep,” said his father vaguely. This was the scariest part of all. Gregor had thought he would get a parent back when he found his dad. Then he could stop having to make hard decisions. He could just be a kid. But the man before him was even needier than Boots was.
“You must, Luxa, you have no choice. You must join with us or die,” said Henry coldly, but there was a tremor in his voice.
“This is as good a day as any,” said Luxa. “Perhaps better.” She sounded a thousand years old and a thousand miles away, but she did not sound scared.
Dulcet showed up eventually and insisted Boots and his dad needed rest, so Gregor wandered off into the palace feeling happier than he had in two years, seven months, and he no longer cared how many days. He was done with the rule now. For good. Even if times got bad, he would never again deny himself the possibility that the future might be happy even if the present was painful. He would allow himself dreams.