But there wasn’t any light, and there wasn’t any turn. There was just a dead end of earthy wall.
“Pull the root, pull the root,” sang Harnswiggle, clinging to Roger’s thumb.
Mavis pulled the largest and most impressive looking root that was sticking out of the wall, and the whole thing pulled inward, like a door on a hinge. It was, in fact, a cleverly disguised door, made by none other than Harnswiggle’s greatest great grandpa.
“Oh,” breathed Mavis and Roger, as soon as their eyes were able to handle the sudden light.
They were looking at a house exactly like their grandma and grandpa’s, except there were no neighbors in sight, just forest. And the house had a fresh coat of yellow paint, and there were soft rose curtains in the upstairs windows, like the ones that had been in Grandma’s room when Mavis was a little girl. And sitting on the porch was the most prodigious tabby cat, all orange and gold and prideful indolence.
“Who lives here?” asked Roger.
“You do!” cried Harnswiggle.
“No, we live on a different world,” said Mavis. “Outside of...well, wherever we are now.”
“Silly youngsterperson,” laughed Harnswiggle, but she didn’t explain anything else. She just told Roger to walk around behind the house.
The cat came down the stairs and followed them, twitching his tail and looking like he didn’t want to be touched. But he did sniff the side of Mavis’ shoe, as if he were attempting to be polite.
In the backyard there was the most enormous, beautiful live oak that Mavis had ever seen. The whole thing was draped in Spanish moss that was drifting gently in the wind, and just the sight of it made Mavis feel suddenly at home, as if she had at last found the place that she had been looking for her whole life without knowing it.
Hanging from one of the low, sturdy branches, was a tire swing. Of course Mavis and Roger went straight to it. How could they not?
“Get on, get on!” sang Harnswiggle.
“You go first,” said Roger to Mavis.
“No, no! Both on!”
“But Harnswiggle,” said Mavis, “we can’t both swing at the same time.”
“Both,” Harnswiggle insisted.
Mavis put her legs through the tire’s mouth and sat down, and Roger put his feet on either side of her and clung precariously to the rope. Harnswiggle clung even more precariously to his thumb. “Up, up, up, UP!” she chanted.
And sure enough, the tire swing began to go up, just as if someone was standing on the branch above and was pulling them hand over hand. Which was, in fact, the case.
Mavis looked down at the receding lawn and felt a dizzy sort of confusion come over her. Somehow it seemed like the yard was much, much too far away. She reached over and wrapped her hand around Roger’s ankle, just to be sure that he was the same size. And he was. She couldn’t possibly be shrinking, she told herself.
Suddenly there was a foot standing on the top of the tire, right at her eye level. It was wearing a soft brown leather shoe. A very dirty leather shoe.
“Welcome!” said whoever it was up on the branch, that Mavis still couldn’t see. A pair of strong hands grasped her shoulders and pulled her the rest of the way, up and out of the tire swing so that she could stand on the branch and see what there was to see.
Harnswiggle was standing next to her, only now the happily smiling imp was taller than Mavis.
Mavis and Roger both gasped.
“Welcome to my homeplace,” said Harnswiggle.
“Thank you,” said Mavis.
“We’re tiny!” cried Roger.
There was another imp standing next to Harnswiggle, wearing an acorn hat and a very shaggy coat. He raised his eyebrows at Roger. “Is this a problem to you?”
“No, this is awesome! This is so The Borrowers! I’m totally going to drink water out of a thimble, and sword fight a mouse with a pin, and then I’m gonn--”
“Focus,” said Mavis.
“We’re here to see Esperanza about a problem,” explained Harnswiggle.
The man frowned. “Esperanza is very busy today.”
“It is of most importance,” said Harnswiggle.
“It is, oh!” cried Mavis, struck by how awful it would be if the only person that Harnswiggle knew of to help them wouldn’t even see them. “Please, please let us talk to her!”
He seemed surprised by her passion, but he did not seem offended. “Very well, we will let her make the decision. Right this way.”
“Check it out,” called Roger. He had walked farther up the branch and was looking out at the rest of the tree.
Up there in the canopy it was a friendly sort of twilight, neither too dark nor too light. And all throughout the branches there were lights, hundreds and hundreds of lights, each one a perfect circle of glowing warm yellow. There were also great strands of twine hung with triangle papers in butter yellow and spring green and robin’s egg blue and sea shell pink. Mavis thought that they were decorations, like great bunting, but then she saw little figures walking on them in the distance and realized that they were rope bridges.
“Come, coming!” sang Harnswiggle, and skipped off. Mavis and Roger tried to keep up, but they were not so comfortable running and skipping and scrambling that high above the ground, and so Harnswiggle would have to stop and wait for them. At last she led them over one final bridge and, pushing her broad brimmed hat back, pointed up a set of shelf mushrooms leading like a staircase higher up into the Fairy Tree.
“Esperanza is up there.”
“Aren’t you coming?” asked Roger.
“No, not coming. You have to go to her all by yourselves.”
Roger and Mavis looked at each other. Mavis only saw the slight look of worry in Roger’s eyes, but Roger saw that the black mark on Mavis’ face was creeping farther down her neck. He turned and led the way up.
“I feel like a freak.”
“Feeling like a freak doesn't make you one, either.” He stopped and looked at her tired eyes and the mark, that had grown again, on her face. “But I understand what you mean.”
They were quiet for a while, the only sound a distant drip of water plop plop plopping down into the pool. Just when Mavis thought that she would scream if one more drop of water plopped anywhere, the door to the cave opened.
But there wasn’t any shadow blocking the light from the outer cave. There didn’t seem to be anyone there.
The door shut.
“Hello?” said Roger.
“Hello!” said First Voice.
Mavis’ heart skipped. Was she at last going to meet the person who had been granting her wishes?! The person who had been, somehow, changing the course of her life?! Harnswiggle--just the name seemed exotic and magical! Maybe there was hope for fixing this whole mess, after all!
“Harnswiggle?!” called Mavis. “We need you!”
“Hold on for a smidgen,” sang First Voice. There was an awkward pause, and then a tawny brown spot could be seen making its way across the mossy rocks.
Roger looked at Mavis, and Mavis looked at Roger, and they tried not to laugh. Or cry. Because it looked like a walking mushroom.
“What can I do for you?”
Mavis knelt down so her face was close to the stone Harnswiggle was standing on. Harnswiggle really was a fascinating little creature, all covered in moss with dusty brown skin and deep deep green eyes. Her hat was flopped precariously to one side and it looked like something had taken a bite out of it.
“Hello,” said Mavis, more than a little disappointed. “I’m Mavis.”
“I know,” said First Voice.
“You are Harnswiggle, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” said Harnswiggle.
“Have you been granting my wishes?” asked Mavis.
Harnswiggle looked horrified. “Me?! Grant wishes?! No, not me. Never me.”
“But somebody has been granting them!” said Roger.
“It was the Gullumgall'ad. He’s awfully fantastic about granting wishes.”
“But he said he didn’t!” Mavis was feeling more than a little exasperated and more than a little panicked, and she wasn’t sure which feeling was going to win out.
“Oh,” said Harnswiggle, squishing up her face. “He is always saying that he doesn’t grant wishes, but he is always doing it just the same. That is why I brought the tickets to your sleeperslabs. I knew that he would grant them.”
“So what about Mavis’ wish? What about it being all in her head?”
“Oh, he was going to grant that wish. He is very powerful, and I knew it was a wish that he would grant, so I put it into The Book of Things that Are.”
Roger raised his eyebrows.
“What?” asked Mavis.
“The Book of Things that Are,” repeated Harnswiggle. “Anything that is, is in The Book, and things that are in The Book, are.”
“So if you take it out of The Book?” asked Roger.
“You have to change it,” said Harnswiggle.
“Do you have it with you? Can you erase it?!” Mavis almost lept up in her excitement.
“I don’t, well, I don’t have it.”
“But you just did,” said Roger. “You must still have it.”
She shook her head.
“Where did you put it last?” asked Mavis.
“I..I don’t know,” said Harnswiggle.
“So you have no idea where it is now?” asked Roger.
Sorrowfully, Harnswiggle shook her head yes.
Mavis felt a little sick to her stomach. This felt like a rollercoaster and all she wanted to do was get off.
“Listen, Harnswiggle, I know you only meant to help,” said Roger. “But you’ve got to realize that this is very important. Mavis is very sick, and the doctors want to send her away to a research hospital.”
“Hospital?” asked Harnswiggle, her eyes getting wide. “Oh no! The Chronicler, he will never like that!”
“She doesn’t want to have to go,” explained Roger, wondering who The Chronicler was. “You’ve got to think--is there any way that we can find The Book and get whatever it is out of Mavis’ head?”
Harnswiggle scrunched her face up and stood on one foot. “Oh!” but then she shook her head and switched to the other foot.
“I can’t think of anything to answer,” she said at last. “But…”
“But?” asked Mavis.
“Esper-wha?” asked Mavis.
“Esperanza. She may not know the answer, but she will make sure that you don’t quit looking for one. She is very wise and good.”
“Can you take us to see her?!” asked Roger.
“Yepp! Yeppie yepp!” Harnswiggle was jumping up and down in her excitement. “Come on!”
She started running across the rock, but of course it was only one step for Roger and Mavis to be on the other side of her. Roger put his hand down and let her climb on. “Just tell me where to go, ok?”
“And don’t fall off,” said Mavis.
“Out the door-y-way!” sang Harnswiggle. “This way to Esperanza!”
“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.
Mavis knew what he was looking at. It was what doctors had been looking at, poking, scanning, testing, for hours on end. It was the giant, funny shaped bruise that was all down the side of her face and almost onto her neck. The bruise that had seemingly appeared without cause or explanation, the bruise that finally proved that something was wrong. That she was not making things up. That she, Mavis, was sick and that nobody knew why.
And nobody knew what to do about it, either. Some of the doctors said that she should be rushed to the nearest research hospital for more extensive testing. Others said that she must have fallen and simply forgotten that she had. Was it a concussion? Grandma wanted to know. It wasn’t. It was just...there.
Grandma was driving them all home, steering their silent car through what seemed to Mavis an unfriendly stretch of countryside. Because she knew this wasn’t the end. She would be tested and analyzed and badgered until some explanation was found. And all she could think, over and over and over, was that it was all in her head.
Grandma’s old school ring tone went off, much too loud, and Roger had to help her flip the ancient phone open so she could answer.
“Hello, Ruby, yes we’re going home. No, they didn’t give her anything…”
Mavis closed her eyes and tried not to listen to Grandma talking to her mom. She tried not to think about anything.
“Is Nathan there?” asked Grandpa, suddenly.
“What, dear?” asked Grandma weakly.
“Nathan.” He gestured to the phone. “I want to talk to Nathan.”
“George wants to talk to Nathan,” said Grandma into the phone.
They could hear Ruby’s voice on the other side, excited and demanding. And then there was the warm, calm “Hello, Dad?”
“Hey, Nathan,” said Grandpa. “Mavis isn’t feeling well.”
“That’s what Ruby was telling me. But, hey, what about you? You sound amazing!”
“Mavis isn’t feeling well,” Grandpa repeated. “I don’t want you to send her to the research hospital.”
There was silence in the car and silence on the other side.
“They can’t find anything, anyway,” said Grandpa. “Let her stay with me.”
Mavis could hear her mother’s voice rising to a crescendo in the distance, punctuated here and there with her father’s low comments. Then he came back onto the phone. “Dad?”
“Yeah, Nathan?” said Grandpa.
“I’m going to trust your call on this. Mavis is going to stay with you for now. But if anything changes, I want Mom to call me right away. Okay?”
“And Dad?” Nathan’s voice sounded funny.
“I love you.”
Grandpa smiled into the phone. “I love you, too, Nathan. It’s going to be all right. Take care.”
And then Grandpa sort of sunk back down in his seat, his eyes wandering out of the window. Grandma took the phone away from him gently. She wasn’t making any sound, but everyone in the back seat knew that she was crying.
Roger looked over at Mavis, and this time he met her eyes. They just both shrugged at each other, unsure what to say.
When they got back to the house, Linda bolted from the car, slamming the door behind her. Grandma looked in the rearview mirror and sighed. “All right, Mavis, let’s get you inside.”
“It’s ok, Grandma, you can take Grandpa. I’m not dizzy.”
Grandma looked unconvinced.
“I’ll walk with her,” said Roger.
“Maybe you should stay downstairs, dear,” said Grandma. “Since the doctors say that you have to stay awake. You could watch cartoons, or a VHS.”
“I just want to be quiet for a while,” said Mavis. “My head hurts.”
“I’ll make sure she stays awake,” added Roger. “I’m going to camp out with her all night.”
Grandma smiled at him. “Thank you, Roger. You’re such a big help.”
Mavis and Roger went in, leaving Grandma to coax Grandpa out of the car. They needed to be alone. They needed to talk.
But they weren’t alone when they got inside. Linda was standing in the living room, waiting for them, and she followed them up the stairs. She awkwardly stood watching while Roger made a pallet on the floor and Mavis moved her blankets around to make a nest.
Finally, Roger sighed and looked up at her. “What is it, Linda?”
Her face curled up into a kind of scowl that they had never seen before, but she still didn’t say anything.
“Are you ok?” asked Mavis wearily.
“Am I ok?!” snapped Linda. “You’re the one freaking everyone out! Now tell me this, and tell me the truth. Does that weird mark on your face have something to do with what you did outside last night? Because if it does, and you didn’t tell anyone about it, I’m going to…”
“I don’t know,” said Mavis. “That’s the honest truth.”
Linda looked at Roger.
He shrugged. “She didn’t get hit. She didn’t fall down.”
Linda put her hands on her hips. “You’re hiding something. I know it. And I’m going to find out what, just you wait.”
As soon as she was gone, Roger hopped up and shut the door. “Why don’t we just tell her the truth? There’s no way that she’d ever believe us.”
“Because she might follow us to make fun,” said Mavis. “I can’t deal with her in this world and Otherworld.”
Roger perched on the edge of the bed, wrapping his hand up in the corner of Mavis’ fuzzy blanket. “Do you think that your face has something to do with Otherworld?”
“Well...maybe. I made a wish, the other day. When Linda was being mean and said something about it being all in my head. I wished that it was. I think that somehow the Gullumgall'ad must have heard me and granted it.”
“So we should be able to get him to un-grant it. Or maybe grant a wish that counteracts it.”
Mavis nodded. “And we have our tickets, to go back to his cave.”
It was Roger’s turn to nod, but Mavis could tell that he wasn’t satisfied yet.
“What is it?”
“Grandpa hasn’t spoken a full sentence since last Christmas. And all of the sudden, he was talking to Dad on the phone, telling him what to do.”
“Grandma said that he has good days and bad days.”
“Yeah, but that wasn’t a good day. That was five minutes of being normal again.”
“I miss him,” said Roger softly.
“He’d know what to do, you know. He’d just look at you and know what to do.”
“Maybe he still does,” said Mavis, sliding her arm around Roger’s shoulder. “He made sure that we would stay here. I couldn’t talk to the Gullumgall'ad if I was on my way to the research hospital.”
“You’re right.” Roger hugged her back. “I’m really glad that you’re staying here.”
He didn’t say the “for now” part because neither of them wanted to hear it.
“Anyway,” said Mavis, “we’ve got to think of something to do for a few hours, until Grandma comes to check on us. Then we take our tickets and run for it.”
“Look who the cat drug in,” said Linda. She was standing in her doorway, her hands on her hips. “I thought that the Wraith couldn’t even stand up.”
“Leave her alone, Linda,” said Roger. “It’s none of your business if she wants to sleep in her own bed.”
“In her rain boots?” asked Linda.
“Just ignore her,” said Mavis to Roger, not wanting to fight.
Linda blocked their path. “I saw you out in the yard. I don’t know where you went or what you did. But when I find out, I’m telling Grandma so fast your heads’ll spin.”
“Just as long as no heads roll,” said Mavis.
“Downwiththebloodybighead,” said Roger, under his breath.
“I heard that, scumbag,” snapped Linda.
Mavis just went into her room and closed the door. Reality wasn’t nearly as fun as Otherworld.
The next morning at breakfast, Grandma kept glancing worriedly at Mavis.
“Is there something wrong, Grandma?” asked Roger.
“No. I mean...are you sure that you’re alright, Mavis?”
“I’m as good as I ever am,” said Mavis. She raised her eyebrows at Roger but he just shrugged.
“Why do you ask?” asked Roger.
“I don’t know. Linda said that she heard something, and that she thought that you were hurting or...”
“Noooo…” said Mavis. “I just went upstairs and--”
“Whatever,” said Linda. “Sorry for pretending to care.”
Mavis put her head in her hand and used her fork to move the eggs around. She didn’t know that anyone was still looking at her.
“Poor Mavis,” said Grandpa softly.
“Poor Mavis. Hurt--hurting Mavis.”
“Don’t worry, dear,” said Grandma. “Mavis is going to be fine. Don’t you worry about anything.”
But Grandpa didn’t seem to hear. He just reached out and gently touched the side of Mavis’ face. “I see the mark, the hurting mark,” he leaned forward until their faces almost touched. “All in your head, isn’t it?”
Grandma was getting wide eyed, and Mavis was just starring. So Roger jumped up. “I’ll wash today. You want to dry, Linda?” And to her credit, Linda just stood up and started stacking dishes.
“Grandpa?” whispered Mavis. “What do you mean?”
But Grandpa had already gone back to tracing the flowers on the plate with a finger, his eyes watery and distant. “I’ll help you up to bed, dear,” said Grandma, still looking worriedly at Grandpa.
“Couldn’t I lay on the porch for awhile?”
Grandma looked surprised, but she nodded and helped her out.
Mavis curled up on the porch swing and closed her eyes. She wished that she could close out her thoughts. “All in your head, isn’t it? All in your head. Everything is all in your head. In your head…”
There was a thud, thud, thud, as Brent and Roger came out onto the pavement and started their drills. It was a comforting sound, in a way. A steady sound that her brain could latch onto and predict. It lulled her into a slight doze, warm and safe on the porch.
“Is Linda really your cousin?” Brent asked, and there was a swish of net.
Roger’s feet pattered as he went to get the ball before he replied “Yeah, she is.”
“Ok. She just doesn’t...”
“Look like us,” Roger finished. “It’s ok. She doesn’t. Her dad is Hispanic.”
“Oh,” said Brent, and there was a bonk from a rebound. “That’s cool.”
“It would be cooler if her dad wasn’t such a jerk.”
“Ugh. That must stink.”
“It does,” said Roger. “I think that’s why she’s so cranky. That’s why people are cranky in movies, you know, ‘cause of their rotten parents or luck or whatever.”
“Yeah,” said Brent.
“What’s cool is her Abuela. She’s amazing. She cooks like no one’s business and she tells the best stories.”
“That’s cool,” Brent agreed again. “One on one?”
“Sure thing,” said Roger.
Mavis listened to their game, enjoying being close enough to feel like a small part of what was going on. It was nice not to be up in her room.
The ball soared over the railing and hit into the wall of the house.
“Got it,” said Brent, heading toward the porch.
But Roger gasped. “Mavis is up there!”
She could hear the fear in their sudden silence, the sudden feeling of the air being sucked out of the yard. But she hadn’t been startled. She hadn’t been hit. She was just fine. So she sat up to tell them so.
But the looks on their faces rendered her speechless. Something was horribly wrong.
Instead of going back to the elevator, she led them around to a little entryway and opened the door. They found themselves standing in a little yard, right on a street full of people. People were everywhere! There were grownups and children and dogs and birds and even some pigs (they had bows tied around their necks and were very adorable).
“What is the festival for?” asked Roger.
“It is to celebrate all of the birthdays this month.”
“So you have a birthday festival every month?” asked Mavis.
“Even cooler!” said Roger.
They walked down the road together, listening to the bright tinkling music and the sound of everyone talking and laughing. They looked at the cheery grey streamers that hung from the cane poles and the lanterns with black polka dots. And the kites! Everyone seemed to be flying a kite. There were butterflies and and dragonflies and giant manta rays and eagles and even a geiko, all swooping on the wind and casting friendly shadows on the ground. Some of the kites were very small, no bigger than dinner plates. But some of them were so big that several grownups were holding on to several strings, laughing and joking about being carried off to Earth.
“Are you hungry?” asked Agatha.
“Yes!” they cried.
So they stopped at a little cart and Agatha ordered something that sounded weird and looked even weirder. Neither of them had ever eaten grey food before, and for a moment they both considered politely changing their minds and telling Agatha that they weren’t hungry, after all. But then they realized that what they were holding was giving off the most amazing of smells. Then they had to take a great, big bite. “This is amazing!” said Mavis. “It’s sort of like a cinnamon roll!”
“It’s a special pastry, made just for the birthday festival.”
“Hello, Lady Agatha!” called a group of children as they ran past.
“Hello!” she laughed.
They wandered through the streets for a while, Agatha leading the way. After a few blocks they came out of the city proper and found themselves standing in view of the sea. It looked nothing like our sea, with its grey waters and black undercurrents. It looked icy and a little frightening. But there were also plumes of white foam that seemed to be enjoying themselves, patting at the shore and then skittering back out across the face of the ocean.
“Look at the boats,” said Roger. There were dozens and dozens of them, all scampering about in the bay, their sails going up and down and little people running back and forth on their deck.
“Do you like boats?” asked Agatha.
“YES!” said Mavis and Roger together.
“Then let’s go down to the pier,” said Agatha.
Of course neither of them objected, so they went down the steps cut into the shore, and out on the pier. It was truly dizzying trying to turn about and see all of the boats; boats with square sails and dragons on their prows, long lean boats that were fronted by maidens with flowing hair, boats with decks so high up they looked like skyscrapers. Some of their hulls were painted in swirls and scales and scallops, and some of them were draped in flags. Agatha led them straight to a little boat--not a tiny boat, but one that was much smaller than the other ocean liners--and called down to the captain. “Hello, Honora!”
The captain waved at them, a smile lighting up her face. “Hello, Lady Agatha! Are you seeking a vessel?!”
“Could you take us out so we can see the show?”
“It would be my pleasure!”
And so they climbed down into Honora’s boat and settled onto the padded benches. Roger was fascinated, because he could not hear a motor, and the sails were all furled, and yet their vessel taxied slowly away from the pier and toward the open water. “Watch as it gets dark,” said Agatha, and so they did, their smiles stretching from one ear to the other and the wind blowing their hair back.
There was a sound in the distance, like the first kernel of popcorn bursting in the bag. And suddenly the sky was full of light, full of glorious buttery yellow fireworks. They popped and hissed and the biggest sent sparks raining into the sea. They were roses and orchids and butterflies, dogs and horses and dragons, suns and moons and stars. Mavis and Roger sat with their mouths open, the lights reflected in their rapturous eyes.
The business man looked up from his notebook, clearly surprised. He looked from Roger to Mavis and then back to Roger. “You are in the right place, young sir. But where are your parents?”
“They’re in Atlanta,” said Roger, before he thought about it.
“Yes, sir, at a conference.”
“Do they know that you are traveling the rails by yourself?”
Roger was beginning to wish that he had let well enough alone. What if this man insisted on them going home? What if he came with them? What if he told Grandma?! “No, sir,” he whispered.
“We got a ticket,” broke in Mavis. “So we…” They what? Suddenly it seemed very immature and foolish to say that they had come because they got a ticket. It certainly didn’t seem like a good enough reason to be out of bed in a strange place in the middle of the night in one's pajamas. She wanted to kick herself for not being more responsible. What if this had been a trap? What if…
The man smiled, each of his perfect white teeth glittering in the lamplight. “Oh, I see. You got a ticket. Well, just get on this train when it comes, and stay on it. Pass one station, get off at the next. Understand?”
Roger and Mavis nodded.
“You might want to let your parents know where you are going,” he added. “What if you were to miss your train out of Otherworld and they didn’t know where to collect you? Lost and Found can be jolly fun, but it gets tiresome after too long.”
“We’ll be careful,” Mavis assured him. She and Roger breathed a sigh of relief when they turned away. They were beginning to really like how things were done in this place.
The train’s horn sounded merrily, and then the train itself arrived, as glossy and magnificent as before. They squished in with the others, wiggling to the back so they could look out the window. They had seen it all before, but that didn’t matter. When things are pretty enough, they are worth looking at again.
When the train stopped at the Gullumgall'ad station almost everyone got off. Infact, there was only one other lady in the car with them. Seeing as they were still passing through a cave and she was facing the other way, Mavis couldn’t help staring at her. “She looked like Audrey Hepburn,” Mavis would say later. “All slim and elegant.” She was wearing all black--black blouse, black pencil skirt, black pumps--but on her it did not seem cliche. It seemed as natural and elegant as they way she swayed with the movement of the train. There was a row of jet buttons down the back of her blouse, and Mavis suddenly felt wildly desirous to touch each and every one of them.
The train tooted into the next station and the doors slid open with a whoosh. Once the lady stepped out, Mavis and Roger stood frozen, looking at the station with delight. Was it really a station? It looked more like the main lobby of a great hotel, with a sea of marble flooring, islands of plush white couches, and phalaenopsis orchids fluttering like sails. The lady turned her head towards them slightly. “Are you coming?”
Mavis and Roger shut their mouths and stepped off of the train, their rubber boots making thudding sounds on the floor. Mavis suddenly wished that she had stuck with her slippers. She probably looked very silly in her bathrobe and rain boots, especially because the few other people in the lobby were immaculately dressed.
“They look like they are going to the opera with Pops,” whispered Roger.
“They look like they own the opera,” Mavis whispered back.
The lady was walking briskly, and for some reason they were following her, trotting to keep up. She walked right up to the elevator and smiled at the operator. “Home, thank you, Horace.”
He saluted with a smile and pushed a button, and the doors opened with a polite ding. “Mind the step,” said Horace to Roger.
“Where are we going?” Roger asked as soon as the doors were closed.
“Up,” said Horace, which was spectacularly unhelpful.
“Up to where?”
The lady smiled. “We are going to my apartment. I am very glad you decided to come tonight.”
“I’m Roger,” said Roger. “And this is my sister Mavis.”
“I know,” said the lady. “I was hoping I would get to meet you. You are staying with your grandparents for the summer.”
“Not the whole summer,” Roger corrected quickly. “Our parents promised we could go with them on their trip to London next month.”
Mavis and Roger looked at her, not sure how to ask the questions they both wanted answered. “How--how do you know us?” asked Mavis.
“I am friends with the Chronicler,” she said, as if that explained everything. “And Harnswiggle told me that she had given you a ticket to my stop.”
Mavis raised her eyebrows at Roger. Harnswiggle again!
The Lady smiled. “I suppose that you are wondering who I am. I am Agatha, and this--” the door dinged open-- “is my apartment. Make yourselves at home.”
“Mind the step,” said Horace to Roger.
The apartment was almost as big as the lobby, with huge windows and curtains everywhere. Somehow the broad open spaces made Mavis feel very small.
Roger was looking at the objects. The low glass tables, the books, the busts, even the paintings. “Why is everything black and white?” he asked, turning to Agatha. He realized then that she was black and white, just like everything else.
“It’s just the light,” explained Agatha. “How we see things here, reflecting back the light of the sun.”
“Are we on the moon?” asked Roger.
Agatha laughed. “Is there a the moon? Anyway, you are here, and that’s what matters. We don’t want to miss the parade.”
“Parade?” they echoed as they followed her into another room.
“For the festival,” continued Agatha. “I’m going to slip into something more comfortable. Perhaps you would like to borrow some clothes?” She opened a closet full of black and white and grey garments.
“I don’t think…” began Roger.
“Oh, these are not my clothes,” said Agatha. “They are for guests. Something in there should fit. I will be back in a moment.”
“Let’s change,” said Mavis, as soon as the door was shut behind their host. “I feel like we look stupid.”
Roger was looking down at himself, holding one arm out and then the other. “I bet we look garish. Do you think that we are the only colored people here?”
Mavis laughed. “And to think that back on earth we are the white people!”
The clothes in the closet looked all the same at first, but after they had dug through them for a few minutes they began to see the subtleties to them. Different shades of grey, different sheens on the fabric. Some of them had elaborate embroidery on the sleeves and some had beautiful ribbon borders. When they finally picked what they wanted, Roger shut himself up in the closet so they could change. “I like Agatha,” he said through the door. “She seems really nice.”
“This is definitely more fun then talking to the Gullumgall'ad,” agreed Mavis. “Though I suppose that we should thank him for granting your wish.”
Roger opened the door and they laughed at each other. “I don’t think you have that on right,” they said at the same time.
When Agatha came back in they both gasped.
Mavis turned her head ever so slightly so that her ear was out of the pillow. Was it Linda again, thinking that no one would hear her trying to call her dad for the three hundredth and forty ninth time? No, Linda always sounded like she was crying and this voice sounded happy. Happy! It was probably Grandpa, catching Roger having a slice of the chocolate cake that Grandma had made that afternoon. Mavis hadn’t eaten any of it, but she had smelled it, and if she had been Roger, she would have wanted another piece. But she had heard when Roger had gone up the stairs to bed and she hadn’t heard him come back down.
“Mavis,” said the voice, as clear as day. Her heart skipped a beat. It was First Voice.
“Mavis...wish...better,” said First Voice, obviously doing something that made her voice come in and out.
A deeper voice responded, a voice Mavis didn’t recognize but instantly liked.
“I know it is dangerous,” said First Voice. “But think about what might happen if I don’t?”
Mavis realized that she was sitting up, straining to hear. But she still couldn’t make out what the other voice was saying.
“Of course you could forbid it,” said First Voice. “Do you think…”
There was a crash above, like someone had run into a wall, and then there was an excited thud on the stairs. Roger came tumbling into the living room, trying to take the last four stairs in one go, missing them all, and failing to stick his landing. He wasn’t down long enough for Mavis to even blink. “You’ll never--”
“Shush!!” hissed Mavis. “The kitchen.”
Roger’s reaction was immediate. Like the curious dear he was, he snuck to the corner and furtively looked around it. He came back with a confused look on his face. “There’s no one there, Maves.”
“But I heard them!” cried Mavis.
“An old voice and a new voice. They were in there, I know it! I could hear them. They were talking about me!”
Roger’s eyes grew. “Awesome.”
Mavis cocked her head at him. “Why did you even come down here?”
Roger slapped himself lightly in the forehead. “I haven’t shown you! Look! It was under my pillow!”
It was a ticket printed on beautiful parchment, the letters in gold ink.
“No way,” breathed Mavis.
“Way,” said Roger. “Here’s yours. It was under your pillow.”
Mavis looked at hers and felt her hands tremble. This was amazing. This was epic. This was huge. This was...bad? “They’re not for the same place,” she said.
“What?!” Roger flopped down beside her and looked over her shoulder.
“This one is for the same station we went to before, see? And this one is for the next station down the line.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” moaned Roger. “Now I know how it feels to be a E Nesbitt character.”
“Don’t grump,” said Mavis. “We got our tickets.”
“Yeah, but I want us to go on the same adventure!”
Mavis tapped her lip with her finger. Think. Think. Think. “We only had one ticket last night,” said Mavis. “Remember?”
“So maybe one ticket will work for us again. Maybe we can use one tonight…”
“And one tomorrow!” Roger hopped up and did a happy dance. “That’s AWESOME!”
“We should go,” said Mavis, looking at the time stamp. “We don’t want to miss the train.”
She looked at his bare feet. “No you’re not. We should at least put on our rain boots. I don’t intend to just go to a cave, have a chat, and then wake up. Do you?”
Roger got a positively evil grin. “Not a chance. We’re going to have a real adventure tonight.”
Roger got the rain boots from upstairs. His were red (the only proper color for rainboots, as he had told Mother). Mavis’ were periwinkle blue with white raindrops on them (raindrops made them alright--but still not as good as red).
Mavis tied her bathrobe sash and set her jaw. “Let’s go.”
Sure enough, when they went into the shed, there was a golden streak of light across the floor. Before they even turned the doorknob they could hear the bustle below. Once again they just stood, enjoying the spectacle, letting it all wash over them. “There are the lance dudes,” said Roger.
He was right, there were the group of men in suits with lances. Mavis didn’t see the goat lady or anyone else she had particularly noticed the night before. But she did notice a man with a model ship under one arm. He was wearing an impeccable prince of wales checked suit, but he had a gold hoop in one ear.
“C’mon,” said Roger, starting down the stairs.
They knew their way to the tunnel this time, but Mavis couldn’t resist pausing in front of the destination board. “Look at them all,” she breathed.
The names and times were turning constantly, one letter after another. Seattle. Vulmeeria. Bismarck. Ruskin. Yolandia. Germantown.
“I wonder if there are people in all of those places who have a station in their shed,” said Mavis. “I wonder how many people know about this place.”
“I don’t think this is in the shed. I think it’s a portal, sort of an in-between-two-real-places sort of place. You know?”
They walked under the sign and stood on the landing platform, their hands in the their pockets just as if they did this all of the time.
“Which ticket are we using tonight?” asked Roger.
Mavis wiggled her eyebrows at him and he knew. They were going to see what was at the farther stop.
Roger had a strange look on his face. “Don't you remember?”
“Last night in the Gullumgall'ad’s cave. You got your bathrobe in the water.”
Mavis felt the world tipping sharply and wondered if her head was going as sideways as she felt. But this time she didn’t focus on it. This time she was busy trying to muster enough energy to be shocked. In the end, all she could manage was a “What does that mean?”
“If you didn’t tell me about your dream,” said Roger, “and there is no other place you could have gotten your hem wet, then it means that you and I really did go to the Gullumgall'ad’s last night.”
“But that’s crazy,” said Mavis. “There can’t possibly be another world in the garden shed.”
“That’s what Susan said about the wardrobe.”
“Which was in a book. By a middle aged college professor.”
Roger wasn’t listening. “Oh my goodness! What if C S Lewis was the basis for Professor Kirk? What is Narnia was based on a true story?!”
“Reality paging Roger,” said Mavis. “If I was in possession of the ability to transport to a world as awesome as Narnia, I wouldn’t want anyone else to know about it. Because they would go there and spoil it.”
“Great insight,” said Roger. “I agree. We shouldn’t tell anyone else about the Gullumgall'ad. Lucky that Grandma and Linda didn’t believe it was real.”
“I don’t believe it was real!”
Roger’s entire face crumpled. “You don’t? You really, really don’t?”
Mavis opened her mouth. She formed the words. And then she couldn’t say them. “Com’on, let’s go see.”
“It won’t be there,” said Roger, helping her into her bathrobe. “If it’s anything like Narnia, you can’t find it when you’re looking. It has to call you.”
It wasn’t there. There was just the rusty old reel mower, a stack of terracotta pots, and a few rakes leaning against the wall. No special door, nothing that looked even remotely magical.
Mavis felt like an idiot for dragging herself all of the way out there when she had known all along that Roger was right. And that it wouldn’t prove anything.
“Do you think that the Gullumgall'ad will grant my wish?” asked Roger.
“I dunno,” said Mavis, leaning against the wall. “He said he wouldn’t.”
“But he might, just to spite us. I hope he does. Hey!” he looked at her more closely. “What’s up? You look green!”
For an answer, Mavis fell suddenly to the floor.
“Hey!” shouted Roger out the door. “Somebody help!”
“Don’t panic,” said Mavis softly. “I’m always dizzy.”
But Roger was too busy panicking to hear. “Help! Help!”
There was the sound of tennis shoes on the gravel driveway and then a teenage guy came sprinting around the corner of the house. Mavis had never seen Brent before, and in that moment she was seeing two of him, so she didn’t feel like introducing herself.
“What’s wrong?” asked Brent.
“Mavis is awful dizzy,” said Roger, trying to sound calm. “Could you--maybe, I mean?”
Brent scooped Mavis up and set off for the house. “Mrs Westbury!” he called.
Grandma came to the kitchen door and her face went white as a sheet. “Oh dear, oh my!”
Mavis tried to tell her that she was ok, but even though Brent was being gentle it was hard not to bump her, and when she was being bumped she was too dizzy to speak.
“Where should I put her, Mrs Westbury?” asked Brent.
“On the couch. Oh dear, Roger, whatever happened?”
“We just walked out to the shed,” said Roger. “And she went down.”
“If it isn’t Saruman the White,” said Linda, coming in from the porch.
“Walk off of a pier, Linda!” shouted Roger. His face was all splotchy.
“Roger!” cried Grandma.
Mavis wanted to tell him that she didn’t mind, that Linda didn’t bother her. It wasn’t the truth, exactly, but it was what he needed to hear, and what she would have said, if only she could have spoken.
As soon as Brent laid Mavis on the couch, Grandma smothered her with blankets and kisses. Poor Mavis just lay there and wished they would all go away and let her sleep. Sleeping was better than being awake. She wasn’t dizzy in her dreams. At least, not most of the time.
“What?” asked Grandpa through the screen door, his eyes panicky. “What?!”
“Mavis had one of her daily fainting fits,” said Linda. “So, nothing important.”
Grandpa gave her a quietly reproachful look and came in to lean over Mavis. “Dizzy?” he asked in his gentle way. Mavis nodded ever so slightly.
“What, whatever should we do?” asked Grandma, fluttering her apron excitedly. “I should call your parents!”
“There’s no reason to do that,” said Mavis. “I just need to even out. If I can get to sleep I’ll be fine.”
“Oh, oh dear, ok, if you say so, dear. Come along, everyone. Let’s give her some space. George?”
Grandpa followed her meekly.
Linda went back out onto the porch, flipping her hair.
Brent just looked at Roger, and Roger nodded. In less than a minute they were over on Brent’s hardtop, doing drills. “It’s in the wrist,” said Brent, watching Roger’s form.
“Yeah.” Brent sank a few shots before he asked “That was your sister?”
“She going to be ok?”
Roger missed a shot, but he was glad for the time it took him to run after the ball. By the time he had to face Brent again, he was calm. “Sure,” he lied. “She just gets dizzy spells.”
“Got inner ear problems?”
“Doctors haven’t said yet.”
“The doctors have said plenty,” said Linda from the edge of the porch. “Every test comes back negative. She’s just a drama queen.”
Roger felt the red go right up his face and into his hair. “Just because everything they test isn’t the right thing doesn’t mean that she’s making it up!”
“Come on, Roger,” scoffed Linda. “If it was anything serious, would Aunt Ruby really have left her here all summer. Really?”
Roger felt trapped, like when someone suddenly says “checkmate” in chess and you hadn’t seen their strategy at all.
“Admit it,” continued Linda. “It’s all in her head.”
Roger slammed the basketball down so hard it bounced nearly as high as the hoop.
“Whoa!” said Brent. “That’s some power! Ready for one on one?”
Roger nodded and turned his back on the porch.
Linda just laughed and curled back up on the swing. “It’s all in her head,” she repeated to herself.
She didn’t know that Mavis was listening on the other side of the window, crying silently and with her eyes closed, like she always did.
“I wish you were right,” Mavis whispered. “I wish it was all in my head.”
Just like Linda hadn’t known that Mavis was listening, Mavis didn’t know that there was someone in the living room with her. But there was a stirring in the curtains, and Old Sebastian, the blind tom cat, raised his head. He didn’t try to give chase though. He knew who it was, and he liked her. So he just rolled over on his back and let his belly have it’s share of the sun.
“The fact that the only fandom references you make are in order to be demeaning and derogatory is an offence to nerds everywhere,” snapped Roger.
“Isn’t it dangerous to use every word you know in a sentence?” snapped Linda.
“You plagiarized that from a Disney movie, so it doesn’t count.”
Linda gave Roger another killer look but he just looked down at Grandpa. He was sitting in his chair like he usually did, smiling quietly. Grandpa never really said much until after breakfast, and Roger had gotten used to that sweet smile that didn’t really mean anything. But he wished that Grandpa was more like his old self, the self that the summer before that had taken them on rides to the dump and swims in the river and hunts for splelunks. The Grandpa from last summer would have made Linda nicer. The Grandpa from last summer would have known what to do to make Mavis well.
“How did you sleep?” asked Grandma to no one in particular.
“Amazing,” said Roger and Mavis at the same time.
“Horribly,” said Linda. “This house is a creaky mess.”
“On the bright side,” said Roger, “Mavis had a great dream last night.”
“You did, dear?”
“It was a really weird dream,” said Mavis. “There was this train station in your shed, and a talking fish.”
“It was the Gullumgall'ad,” said Roger. “Pass the butter, will you? Thanks. Anyway, the Gullumgall'ad grants wishes. At least he says that he does. I said that I didn’t believe he could, so he said he would to prove it.”
“So what did you wish for?” asked Grandma.
“I would have wished for a gag that couldn’t be removed by anyone but me,” said Linda, still glaring at Roger. “And then I would have put it on you and never touched it again.”
Both Grandma and Mavis gave Linda a look that she pretended to ignore.
“I wished that Mavis and would get tickets today so that we can go back.”
“Why would you want to go back?” asked Linda.
Roger looked over at Mavis and the dark circles under her eyes. Her shoulders were sagging. “It was a fun dream,” said Roger, telling the first layer of truth. “I was enjoying it.”
“Well, it sounds like it was a good night,” said Grandma.
“It sounds like you were doing some good drugs,” said Linda.
“Next time we’ll be sure to invite you,” said Roger.
“That’s enough,” said Grandma.
“I’m going to go lay down,” said Mavis.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m just tired.”
“Want help up the stairs?” asked Roger.
“Why would she need help up the stairs?” asked Grandma.
“I’m fine,” said Mavis, getting up.
But Roger followed her and stayed one step behind to make sure she would make it up. Mavis crawled up into her bed and prepared to try and ignore her headache, but Roger was still in the room. “You ok?” she asked with her eyes still closed.
“Yeah,” said Roger. “You?”
“I’m the same as always.”
She didn't see it, but Roger’s face fell and he stuck his hands in his pockets. “It was a cool dream though, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. It was.”
“Wish it was real.”
“Me too,” Mavis whispered.
She didn’t wake up until Grandma came up with her lunch tray.
“Why is your bathrobe in the corner?” asked Grandma, fussing around. “You should hang it up, dear.”
Mavis was too busy trying to make herself want to eat to say anything.
“And why is the corner wet?”
Grandma held up the robe. “Why is the hem wet?”
“I--I dont know.”
“Well, that is odd. It isn’t like you’ve been anywhere in your bathrobe.” She smoothed it out and laid it over the back of a chair. “I’m glad that you had that dream. I haven’t seen Roger that excited about anything since you got here. You must have enjoyed telling it to him.”
“Mmm-hhhmm,” said Mavis. How could she have gotten her hem wet? She puzzled about it off and on for almost all afternoon, in a sleepy and not very focused way.