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The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

Catherynne M. Valente


  An Imprint of Macmillan


  Text copyright © 2013 by Catherynne M. Valente. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Ana Juan. All rights reserved. For information, address Feiwel and Friends, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available

  ISBN: 978-1-250-02350-6 (hardcover)

  ISBN: 978-1-4668-4853-5 (ebook)

  Feiwel and Friends logo designed by Filomena Tuosto

  First Edition: 2013

  eISBN 9781466848535



  Dramatis Personae

  Chapter I The Invisible Cloak of All Things Past

  Chapter II Exeunt, Pursuing Puffins

  Chapter III Visitors of Low Reputation

  Chapter IV A Professional Revolutionary

  Chapter V A Pitchfork Said No

  Chapter VI Everything You Have

  Chapter VII The Road to the Moon

  Interlude I The Black Cosmic Dog

  Chapter VIII Where There’s a Whelk There’s a Way

  Chapter IX The Curse

  Chapter X The Yeti’s Paw

  Chapter XI Aeroposte

  Chapter XII Next Saturday

  Chapter XIII Only the Dead Don’t Argue

  Chapter XIV No

  Interlude The Black Cosmic Dog

  Chapter XV The Tyguerrotype

  Chapter XVI The Country of Photography

  Chapter XVII Last September

  Chapter XVIII The Heart of the Moon Is a Month

  Chapter XIX Time Is the Only Magic

  Chapter XX Ever So Much More Trouble

  Chapter XXI The Girl Who Was Gone

  For all those who take the hand of a brightly colored stranger

  and journey back to Fairyland once a year

  and everyone

  whoever thought

  they were too young

  or too old.

  Dramatis Personae


  Her Parents

  AROOSTOOK, a 1925 Model A Ford

  BOOMER, a Lineman

  BEATRICE, a Gentleman Greyhound

  The Blue Wind


  THE CALCATRIX, a Strange Crocodile

  Several Untrustworthy Winds

  BALLAST DOWNBOUND, a Klaubautermann

  The Moon

  The Black Cosmic Dog

  RUSHE, a Black Jackal

  WAITE, a White Jackal


  SPOKE, a Taxicrab

  ALMANACK, a Very Large Whelk

  ABECEDARIA, a Periwig

  A-THROUGH-L, a Wyverary


  SATURDAY, a Marid



  MARIGOLD, a Lamia

  TAMARIND, a Lamia

  A Certain Leopard

  TURING, a Tyger

  TEM, a Child

  Her Parents

  ERRATA, a Wyvern

  THE PEARL, a Thaumaturge

  A Fairy



  In Which a Girl Named September Tells Several Lies, Hoards Money, Turns Fourteen, Wears Trousers, and Goes on a Joy-Ride

  Once upon a time, a girl named September told a great number of lies.

  The trouble with lies is that they love company. Once you tell a single lie, that lie gets terribly excited and calls all its friends to visit. Soon you find yourself making room for them in every corner, turning down beds and lighting lamps to make them comfortable, feeding them and tidying them and mending them when they start to wear thin. This is most especially true if you tell a very large lie, as September did. A good, solid, beefy lie is too heavy to stand on its own. It needs smaller, quicker, more complicated lies to hold it up.

  September would be awfully crushed to hear us call her a liar, but it cannot be escaped that she and honesty had not got on well for some time.

  There are many sorts of lies. You could fill a shop with them. To be sure, lies are terribly common. Few would pay particularly good money for fibs when they are so busy making their own at home for nothing. But if you peek inside the shop door of the heart, there you will find a full stockroom. Lies to conceal dastardly deeds stack up smartly along the shelves. Over in the refrigerated section hang lies told so long ago and so often that they turned into the truth and get taught in history books. Lies told to make oneself seem grand pile up high on a special four-color display. And in the front windows, laid out so nicely no one could blame you for having them, snuggle up little harmless lies told to spare feelings or save face or keep a friend from trouble.

  Of course, nothing is really harmless. Sometimes telling the truth can bang the world about its ears just as much as any lie. But you must always be careful when you visit that little shop where lies are kept. They are always looking for a way out.

  The first lie September told was very simple indeed. It was such a tiny lie, in fact, that if you were not looking carefully, as we are, you would surely miss it. She told it on a rainy, blustery, squalling day, which is just the right sort of day to start down a strange and secret path. Long, cindery, smoky-colored clouds rolled and rumbled over the Nebraska prairie. The storm fell in silver streamers, stirring the thirsty earth into a thick soup. September sat in her mother and father’s house, looking out the window at the sloshy drops plunking into mud puddles the size of fishing ponds. Everything glittered with the eerie, swirling light of the heavy sky. Her familiar fields looked quite like another world.

  September had a book open on her lap but could not concentrate on it. Her cup of tea had gone altogether cold. The pink and yellow flowers on the handle had worn almost to white. A certain small and amiable dog rolled over next to her, hoping to have his belly scratched. September did not notice, which deeply offended the dog. Her mother read the newspaper by the fire. Her father napped quietly with a checkered blanket thrown over his poor wounded leg, which never could heal quite right, no matter how many long trips into the city they took to visit his doctors. A bubble of thunder burst and spat. September’s mother looked up, leaving off an interesting article about a modern new road that might run very near to their house, and asked her daughter:

  “Whatever are you thinking about, dear? You seem quite lost in your head.”

  And September, very simply, answered, “Oh, nothing really.”

  This was wholly, thoroughly, enormously untrue.

  September was thinking about Fairyland.

  Now, you might say that September had been lying all along, for certainly she never told her parents about the magical country she had visited twice now. That is what grown-up sorts who are very interested in technical terms call a lie of omission. But we will be generous and forgive September for leaving her adventures out of suppertime conversation. How could she ever explain it all? Mama and Papa, you might be interested to know that I flew away to a land of Witches and Wyverns and Spriggans, fought the wicked Marquess who was in charge of it all, and won—please pass the roast beets? It would never do. Papa and Mama, not only did I do all that, but I went back! My shadow had been making trouble, you see, and I had to go to the underworld to fix it all up again. Shall I do the washing up?

  No, it seemed best to leave the matter where it lay. And where it lay was deep inside September where n
o one could take it from her and ruin it by staring at it too closely. When she felt afraid or alone, when her father was in such awful pain he could not bear to have anyone near him on account of the terrible racket of their breathing and thinking and swallowing, she could take her memories out and slip them on like a shawl of fabulous gems.

  Poor September. Everyone has their invisible cloak of all things past. Some shimmer and some float. Some cut all the way down to the bone and farther still.

  If you could only hear the little trumpet of that lie, calling all its brothers and sisters to muster!

  And muster they did. What was September to do when her teachers asked her to write a composition on how she had spent her summer vacation? Five paragraphs on I brought my father’s shadow back from Fairyland-Below where my own shadow had pulled it over from the war in France and I carried it all the way home to put it back together with his body again? Certainly not. Like all the other students, she wrote a nice essay on the unusually hot August she had spent bringing the harvest in, learning lacework and how to repair the brakes on Mr. Albert’s Model A.

  Yes, Mrs. Franke, that was all. Nothing interesting in the slightest.

  And when Mrs. Bisek, who taught physical education, remarked on how fast September could run nowadays, could she possibly pipe up and announce: I have had good practice while migrating with a herd of wild bicycles, as well as escaping several alarming creatures? Out of the question. It was all up to helping her father learn to walk properly again, of course. Together they made endless circuits of the acreage so that he could get strong. And worst of all, when Mr. Skriver, the history teacher, asked if anyone knew the story of Persephone, September had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out: I went to Fairyland on a Persephone visa and I ate Fairy food and both of those put together mean I shall go back every year when the seasons change. Instead she let one of the girls whose fathers worked at a bank in Omaha and wore smart little gray hats answer, and get it wrong at that.

  All around her, the children September had known since her first days of school were growing up. The girls loped tall through the hallways and talked about their boyfriends in the same thrilled and thrilling tones you and I might use to discuss marvelous flying dragons. They shared the mystic secrets of keeping one’s golden hair perfectly golden and one’s ivory skin perfectly clear. Some of the boys had bits of beard or mustache coming in, of which they were very proud. September was excluded from the mysteries of golden hair and ivory skin, having neither. Nevertheless, she was getting taller, too. She would soon find herself taller than all but three or four girls her age. Her face was turning into the face it would be when she was grown. But she couldn’t see it, for no one can see themselves change until they have already done it, and then suddenly they cannot remember ever having been different at all.

  And above all the bustle of thirteen-year-olds becoming fourteen-year-olds floated the great and powerful rumor: The war would be over soon. Everything was going to go back to normal.

  Spring melted over the farms outside Omaha like butter in a pan. Sharp, green days full of bold white clouds. September could not help smiling a little smile, all day long and in her sleep, too. Waiting for Fairyland was like waiting for a raspberry bush to fruit. One day you thought the whole thing was dead and hope lost, and the next you were drowning in berries. But the fruit always came. That is what September told herself. Of course, faith and patience are very hard tricks for a heart to learn. It would be easier for our girl to learn how to somersault off a trapeze than to believe that the dastardly, dashing world tends to do things whenever it pleases, on its own persnickety timetable and not that of yearning young people. She watched April rumble through like a bright, wet train and May burst in close behind, warm and noisy and full of wheeling, boisterous birds.

  Her fourteenth birthday came.

  September’s father felt well enough to help with her present. It was a present so wonderful it came all the way round again to terrible and so terrible it sped through to wonderful with a quickness. September felt so nervous and excited her skin flashed cold and then tingly and then hot as a stove.

  September was going to learn to drive.

  On the morning of September’s birthday Mr. Albert’s creaking, cranky Model A Ford sat out in front of the house like an old horse ready for the races again. A little orange ribbon fluttered in the wind, tied round the burlap Aroostook Potato Company sack that covered the spare wheel. The Model A could not claim to be young nor fast nor good-looking, but it made fantastic snarling noises. Alongside her mother, September had worked her fingers into almost every part of that engine. Now those fingers twitched with eagerness, remembering valves and pistons. With some coaxing and bargaining, she knew, the aged beast would roll down the road to town, grumbling plenty all the way.

  And now it was hers.

  At least for the afternoon.

  The moment it became her own, September saw the Model A as quite a different animal. It was no longer a chore to be finished by supper, but a glorious monster, a puzzle smelling of gasoline with a lot of parts like teeth. She touched the battered, accordioned vent—the paint had not won its battle with fifteen Nebraska winters. Once it had been pure, dark, wintry green. Now it looked like a pelt, with spots and stripes of naked metal and rust showing through. The black fenders curved up and over piebald front wheels, hoisting the near-flat spare and big froggy headlights. The chrome had not dreamed of shine since Mr. Albert had whacked it up against a beech tree a month after he bought the thing. The cracked windshield sparkled in the hot sun. It had a cloth top you could pull over your head, but the day glowed so warm and still that September knew they wouldn’t bother with it. Not today. She would drive with the wind in her hair and get a marvelous roadster’s sunburn.

  “Hullo,” September whispered to the Model A, just as she would to a crabby old horse who didn’t want her apple, thank you very much. “Don’t be afraid, I shall try very hard not to crunch you or whack you in any way. Of course, I cannot promise, but I am usually quite careful when dealing with terrible engines.”

  Her father eased himself into the passenger seat, his face a little red and flushed with the effort and the sunshine and the bustle of a birthday. He tightened the straps of Mr. Albert’s driving goggles over September’s head and pulled the extra pair down onto his own big, lovely nose. September could hardly breathe. Her excitement leapt and sputtered in her as though the car were already speeding down the road.

  Now, a Model A does not start and stop the way automobiles whose acquaintance you and I have made do. It has a good number of levers and valves and switches, and operating one is something like puppetry, something like lion taming, and something like dancing. September’s mother pointed and explained the peculiar workings of the rusty creature with an engine for a heart.

  “Now,” she said brightly, her warm, firm voice full of confidence in her daughter. “There are important rules in driving an automobile, rules from which no one, not even your own mother, is exempt.”

  “Tell me the rules,” said September with that secret little smile her mother could not interpret.

  “Some are easy: Go on Green, stop on Red. Use your mirrors, they’re there for a reason. Look both ways before turning. Brake into a turn and accelerate out of it. But most of the rules have to do with not killing the car while trying to get it started. Getting things started is always such a difficulty! But, like so: the brake must be on before you can begin. This seems backward, but it’s important. Turn on the gas valve and push the spark lever—that’s the one on your left, dear—all the way up. It’s fire that makes a car go, my love, fire and fuel. Now pull the throttle lever—on your right, darling—a little ways down. Imagine a clock, where the throttle is the hour hand. Put the hour hand at four o’clock. See how at four o’clock the accelerator pedal goes down all by itself? That’s how you know you’ve got it right. You must turn the carburetor—that shiny knob there—one full turn closed, then one
full turn open. Put the gear in neutral—neutral means neither forward nor backward nor fast nor slow, and it is the place from which you must always begin. Closed before open. Brake before beginning. Now, at last, turn the key to ON. But it is not ON yet, no matter what the key says! Pull the carburetor rod back, and press this button on the floor which is the starter. Wait for the engine to turn over—that sound like it is clearing its throat and will soon begin talking up a storm—and let the rod go.”

  September thought the rods and buttons would slide smoothly into place with satisfying sounds and clicks. Once you knew what to do, well, doing it would be no trouble! But it was not like that at all. It took all her strength to drag the throttle lever into position. She thought her wrist might snap before the gearshift would agree to grind into neutral. The Model A spat and gargled and shuddered awake, but not all at once. First she gave too much gas; then she was too slow to press the starter after yanking back the carburetor with both hands and her shoulders put into it in earnest. No wonder Mr. Albert thwacked that beech tree.

  September’s father put his warm brown hand over hers and let the spark lever down a little. There were more strange words—clutch and choke and shift, like the car was a body and quite alive, if a little sick with bellyache or cough.

  Had she been less excited by the phlegmy roar of the Model A, September might have noticed how much she had grown in order to touch the pedals with her feet and see out the windshield while sitting up very straight and proper and not boosted on heavy books. But the car jangled and her heart jangled with it. When she released the brake, there certainly was much clutching and choking. September let out a whoop of joy that was swallowed up in the raggedy protestations of the engine, and off they rattled down the dirt road, bouncing and jostling and knocking and bonging. When it came time to shift gears, the Model A bolted forward ungracefully. When it came time to slow down, it whined and sputtered. September did not care. She leaned into the road, mud spattering her goggles, laughing into the May wind.

  It was, after all, so very like riding a Wyvern.