“You’re better,” said Mavis softly into Grandpa’s nightshirt. “How are you better?”
“Esperanza and Agatha,” said Grandpa proudly. “They found a recipe for a cure in a musty old book of potions and decided it was worth a try.”
“But what? How?” asked Linda. But then she started again. “It’s so awesome that you’re better, Grandpa, but what about reality? And Roger? And Otherworld?”
“Ah, yes,” said Grandpa, with a sigh. He turned to look at Roger. “Roger, tell them what you wrote in The Book.”
Roger gulped. He was staring at Mavis, at how bright her eyes were, at the way she was bouncing up and down on her toes with nervous energy. “Please don’t make me,” he begged.
“We’re going to find out sometime,” said Linda. “You might as well spill.”
“Roger,” Grandpa insisted gently.
“I—I changed The Book twice,” said Roger, wanting to get it over with as soon as possible.
“What else did you change?” whispered Mavis.
“Well, it did say that everything was all in your head. But, above that,” Roger’s voice stopped working for a second. “It said ‘Mavis is dying.’”
It was as if all of the air had been sucked out of the room, and Mavis couldn’t get a breath. She just stood there, staring at Roger, her arms still around Grandpa.
“Oh, no,” said Linda. “You didn’t…”
“I crossed out Mavis,” said Roger, miserable and yet in awe of his own bravery. “And I wrote Roger instead.”
Mavis started to cry, completely and utterly overwhelmed.
“Roger,” said Linda matter-of-factly, stunned.
“I don’t regret it,” added Roger stubbornly.
“Is this why Otherworld is on the fritz?” asked Brent, still from the doorway.
“It would seem—” started Grandpa in his methodical way.
Suddenly, Esperanza shook. “I don’t think we have time for a lengthy explanation,” she gasped.
“Right,” said Grandpa. “We can talk on the way.”
Grandpa led them all out of the house, across the yard, and straight to the shed. Without hesitation, he swung the door open.
They all stood frozen in place, even more shocked than when they had found Otherworld in the first place.
Central Station was in uproar, people running from one side to the other, lights flashing on and off, the air cracking with the intensity of panic only barely supressed. In the distance there was an air raid siren, which Mavis and Roger recognized from documentaries. But it was more piercing in real life, more like a scream. It made Mavis want to cry.
“I--I did all of...this?” whispered Roger.
Grandpa put his hand on Roger’s shoulder. “It will be all right.”
Mavis looked worriedly at the guard that was standing there, afraid that he would try to keep them from going through. When he saw Grandpa, though, he tipped his hat and didn’t say a word. As they crossed the main floor of the Station, people seemed to get out of their way, all of them nodding and smiling as much as they were able. It began dawning on her that Grandpa--he was somebody in Otherworld.
The platforms were crowded, and they had to thread their way through to the right area. Mavis noticed the lance dudes were there, talking worriedly to each other, waving their hands around. The lady with the goat was there, too, looking decidedly more rumpled and holding the goat close to her side so it wouldn’t panic. Every once in a while it would bleat questioningly, wondering if all of the humans had lost their minds.
“Where are we going?” asked Brent, ducking into the train car.
“We are going to the one other person who lives both in this world and ours,” said Grandpa.
“Who?” asked Linda.
“Lady Agatha,” guessed Mavis. She was trying to keep talking, so she wouldn’t worry. About Otherworld. About what was happening to her. About Roger. Mostly Roger.
Because Roger looked really bad. Mavis couldn’t tell if it was because he was scared...or because he was in pain. I don’t think Roger really knew which it was, either.
The train seemed to go in slow motion past all of the green fields and the little houses and the swaying forests. No one here seemed to be in any panic, or have any idea that something was wrong. In a lot of ways, it reassured Roger. Maybe he hadn’t ruined everything, forever. Things would still turn out all right. Right?
Mavis was watching him watch the countryside go by, and she kept wanting to say something to him. But she couldn’t seem to get her mouth to open. And what could she possibly say? What would you say, if you found out your little brother chose to die in your place?
The station door opened onto the Moon Lobby with the same cheerful ding as it had before, but the room it opened onto looked far different. All of the orchids had been stashed away, and the paintings had all been taken off of the walls and piled in heaps in the corners. No one seemed to be there.
The lobby began to shake, and a high-pitched voice filled the air. “Moonquake! Mooooooonquuaaake!” It was Horace, hiding behind the front desk.
“Don’t worry, Horace,” said Grandpa, striding by. “Just keep your wits about you.”
“Yes, sir, of course, sir!” squeaked Horace. “I wish I could take you in the elevator, sir—” The room shook again.
“This way, everyone!” called Grandpa, leading them through a small doorway and into a hallway. Another turn and they were climbing a set of narrow stairs.
They climbed for a while, and as they climbed, Roger’s head began to hurt worse and worse. His temples pounded and the very top burned like it was on fire. Never, never in his life had he hurt that badly before. Desperately, he tried to keep up with the others, and tried to pretend like everything was all right. He felt Mavis slide her arm around him. “It’s going to be ok,” she whispered. “I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.”
“That’s what I always say to you,” whispered Roger.
“Well, now it’s my turn to say it.”
Grandpa knocked on Lady Agatha’s door and then pushed it open without waiting for a response. “Agatha?” he called. “You here?”
“George?!” she called from some adjoining room. “Hello, everyone! Come in, come in!” She looked a little disheveled, her hair coming down and her overdress falling off one shoulder. “Please tell me that you know what has gone wrong.”
“Roger does,” said Grandpa.
A look passed between Esperanza and Lady Agatha. “Here, why don’t we sit down?” asked Lady Agatha.
“I think we’re in a hurry,” said Roger, trying not to look anyone in the eye and also sound convincing all at the same time.
“Of course we are,” agreed Lady Agatha, “but I need to know the cause before I can know the cure.”
They all sat on the long sofa that had been embroidered with moon scenes, Mavis on the sail of a fishing junk and Roger on the head of a dragon.
“What has happened?” asked Lady Agatha, to open the conversation.
“Why don’t you explain it, Roger,” said Grandpa, in that way that adults have of making a question a command.
Roger explained it the best way that he could, about Mavis being sick and the careless wish, trying not to panic any more than he already was. When he got to the part about what he wrote in The Book of Things that Are, his eyes welled up and his throat dried out and he just sat there for a moment. “It said,” he whispered, “it said ‘Mavis is dying.’ So I crossed out Mavis,” explained Roger. “And I wrote Roger instead.”
Mavis began to cry again, noiselessly this time. The only person who seemed to notice was Brent, who pulled a bandana out of his back pocket and slipped it to her. Gratefully, she blew her nose.
“I didn’t mean to mess anything up,” whispered Roger. The reality of what was happening was beginning to sick in, and he was beginning to wonder if Otherworld would ever be the same. “I didn’t add anything, or erase anything. I tried to do what you said. But I couldn’t—I mean, I couldn’t just let Mavis—”
Grandpa put his arm around Roger’s shoulder.
Lady Agatha leaned forward and took both of his hands in hers. “I think that I understand what has happened. You were afraid, afraid that Mavis’ sickness is uncurbable. Weren’t you?”
“And so when you saw what was written in The Book, you tried to save your sister?”
He nodded again.
“That was a very brave and self-sacrificing thing to do, Roger, and nothing can take away from that. You loved completely, by trying to choose what was best for Mavis, at great cost to yourself.”
Mavis squirmed, and Lady Agatha looked at her out of those deep black eyes. “Yes?”
“It’s nice what you’re saying to Roger, it’s true. It’s just,” she paused, “I’m waiting for you to say the But.”
“There isn’t any But,” said Lady Agatha, and any other day, Roger would have snickered at her. “There is an And. Because Roger loved you immensely and wanted to help you--and that has set some things in motion that he had no idea of.”
“I know what you are going to say,” whispered Roger with his head down. “That is was stupid of me to think I could do anything, that it wasn’t my responsibility.”
Lady Agatha shook her head. “That is not what I was saying at all. You chose to take her death sentence, as you saw it, and it is something to be proud of. We bear the pain of those we love every day. Only we must bear it with them, and not for them.”
“You did the only thing you knew to do,” added Esperanza.
“But what you didn’t know,” said Grandpa, “is that The Book only says Things that Are, not Things that Might Be.”
“That is a totally different Book entirely,” said Lady Agatha, “and, between us, a much better read.”
“The truth of the matter is,” continued Grandpa, “that if you had scanned through The Book cover to cover, you would have found ‘George is dying’ and ‘Linda is dying’ and--” he stopped and looked at Brent blankly.
“Brent is dying,” filled in Brent.
“Yes, right. The point is, everyone alive is dying.”
Roger felt his cheeks flush.
He felt his eyes burn.
He felt like a complete and utter fool.
“When you changed The Book of Things that Are,” began Lady Agatha gently, “you made it say in two places that ‘Roger is dying’ but it does not say that Mavis is.”
“Which is not how Things Are,” explained Grandpa. “Especially in our world. Which means the magic that binds our world with Otherworld is tearing apart at the seams.”