“Of course, dear,” said Grandma quickly. “I’ll be just down the hall if you need anything. Be sure she stays awake, all right, Roger?”
“I wonder why she acted so funny,” said Mavis as soon as the door was closed.
Roger looked at her knowingly. “You haven’t played a board game in months, Mavis. You haven’t felt like it.”
“Yeah, all you’ve done is laid in bed. You’re better since we started going to Otherworld.”
Mavis was quiet, pretending to study the board. But she was really thinking about what Roger had said. If the Gullumgall'ad had been the one to make it “all in her head” then maybe with the right wish he could take it all away. Maybe she could be more than better. Maybe she could be fine.
The train station was mostly deserted, their footsteps echoing on the marble floor. It was eerie, the normally bustling station nearly empty, the long lines at the ticket counters replaced by the bored ticket men themselves, coming out from behind their desks to chat with each other. Roger couldn’t help but wonder what was going on, whether there was some kind of holiday, or maybe an emergency. Maybe it wasn’t safe to travel on the rails that day. But even though they were the only ones waiting at the stop and the only ones in the train car, there were no signs saying not to ride, and no problems in the transport.
The stop for Otherworld was so quiet that the lady at the desk was asleep when they got there. Rather than wake her up, Roger just quietly stamped their ticket himself.
Mavis pulled the folds of her kimono more tightly around herself. Suddenly, she wished that they were anywhere else. What had she been thinking? She was from Reality, and in Reality magic fish cannot take away illnesses.
But Roger was already halfway to the door that led to the Gullumgall'ad’s cave, and Mavis knew that she would never forgive herself if she turned back now. So she squared her shoulders and went on.
The Gullumgall'ad was not at the edge of the pool like he had been the last time, so Roger splashed around the corners of if in his rainboots, calling softly into the water. At last, the swirling fins approached and then they could see the scowling face itself.
“I thought,” said the Gullumgall'ad, “that the last time you were here, I made it very clear that you were not welcome back, any time, don’t drop by.”
“We came to thank you,” said Mavis.
He swirled his fins even more. “Of all the bothers! Whatever on earth are you going to thank me for? I most certainly never did anything for either of you!”
Mavis and Roger looked at each other, dumbfounded.
“But didn’t you grant my wish?” asked Roger. “I wished to come back to Otherworld, and we did.”
“I don’t grant wishes for snotty-nosed children like you,” insisted the Gullumgall'ad.
“But if you didn’t grant Roger’s wish, why were there tickets under our pillows?” cried Mavis. “Why are we here?”
“It must have been that ne’er do well meddling Harnswiggle. Now go away.”
“But!” said Mavis, her heart thumping with terror, “But didn’t you grant my wish?! Didn’t you make it all in my head?”
“Young lady,” said the Gullumgall'ad, “I am beginning to be convinced that there is nothing in your head. Now go away.”
It didn’t matter what Mavis or Roger said after that, the Gullumgall'ad didn’t answer. He just swam away, his fins trailing after him, taunting Mavis.
“Well,” said Roger, trying to be brave.
But Mavis couldn’t say anything. She just sat down on one of the stones and started crying.
“Don’t cry!” said Roger. “Please don’t!”
“I can’t help it! I thought for sure something had happened and that I was getting better but now here I am and what if this funny mark doesn’t go away and I have to live at the research hospital and I become a human guinea pig and I never get to grow up or do anything with my life all I do is go to doctors and take medicine forever?”
Roger sat next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “We’ll think of something.”
“There isn’t anything we can think of! None of the grownups know how to fix it, and neither do the doctors. I’m a freak, and I’ll always be a freak, and I hate that stupid, mean fish!”
The tears were coming so fast now that Mavis couldn’t say anything else. Roger hated it when she cried like that, because it wasn’t a normal girly cry, like at a movie or a good book. It was a hot and angry cry that spoke of sadness and pain deeper than he could express. It was an ugly cry that spoke of despair and frustration, a cry that wanted to turn its back on the future and run away from it all. Sometimes, when Mavis cried like that, he wished that he could, too. Maybe it would feel better to have the tears out on his cheeks, rather than bottled deep in his chest where no one could hear him. But he couldn't cry, not even a little. It was stuck. And so he sat with his arm around Mavis, wondering what he ought to do, and whether anyone in Otherworld would help.