The girl who fell beneat.., p.12
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, p.12

           Catherynne M. Valente
 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

  “Oh, I want to try!” cried Saturday.

  “I’ve turned her into a Wyvern already,” said A-Through-L’s shadow, not without pride.

  “I should have known,” said the Marid, his eyes large and sad. “You have always had the better part of the fun without me, even before. You met her first; you let her ride you—I came along too late to play, and everything went dark and awful so fast!”

  “Not I,” said the Wyverary gently. “Never I myself, Saturday. I would never cut the line in front of you. And you came right quick anyhow! Don’t forget the velocipedes!” He nudged the shadowy Marid with his great head. “Go on, now! It’s a Revel! Anything is allowed!”

  “Wait!” cried September. “Stop talking about me like I’m a toy you’ve got to share! I have work to do, I don’t want to be—”

  But it was too late. Saturday was grinning like he knew a secret, and he had grabbed up both her hands. He kissed them—once, twice, three times. And there’s four kisses I’ve got in a day, thought September, who was not at all sure what to make of kissing and at that moment would be granted no time to consider it. Quite without warning, she felt something open up inside her like a balloon suddenly swelling up shiny and bright. She found herself floating lightly above her chair, her wine-colored coat and Goblin’s dress gone. September wore instead a delicate gown of grasshopper wings and the smallest spiderwebs, hazelnut shells, and lacy mushrooms, oak leaves and crow feathers and cornsilk, beaded with fireflies and raindrops. Her feet hung bare above her plush seat, and she felt two long, satiny wings beat slowly at her back, as natural as lifting her arms.

  September was a Fairy.

  September laughed at the same moment that tears came to her eyes—everyone was staring at her, their jaws slack, their gaze uncertain, as though they, too, did not know whether to laugh or cry. How long since any of them down here had seen a Fairy? But tears did not come—instead, she wept black pearls that shivered into luna moths as they fell, their long wings brushing the heads of every Reveling shadow and leaving licorice blossoms in their hair. September’s laughter rippled and echoed, spooling out into a bolt of sunshine-colored silk that flapped its seams like wings and spun around twice before winking out in a little swirl of light.

  “It was so nice of you to dress up for my party, September,” came a sweet, throaty voice behind her, and suddenly the crowd did know what to do. They burst into hollering and ululating, into a long, loud cheer, thumping the table and toasting all over again. September tilted her wings and brought herself around, trying as best she could to neither blush nor look foolish, though she feared she could not avoid the latter. She did her best. Flared her wings wide and shook free her midnight hair. The fireflies on her dress helpfully blazed. Bluebells twined through her bare toes.

  Halloween, the Hollow Queen, stared up at her. September stared back. Neither moved first as the Revelers went wild around them.

  The shadow was September. A shadow-September still wearing the shadow of her old orange dress and worse—the shadow of her beloved green smoking jacket. She wore the shadow of one sweet little mary jane. The Queen’s face was just the same as her own, though shaded with azure and lavender and perhaps a little more canny, a little more used to getting her way. When September had watched her shadow go into the water with the Glashtyn, it had been flat and dark and featureless, but now it had weight, shape, dimension. Halloween was a person. Her gaze sparkled with mischief and a secretive glee. On her familiar head rested a wispy crown of autumn mist, and within that misty ring rode a small autumn moon like a crown jewel.

  September did not feel shy or cowed. She could not—that was her wearing that crown, her own self, left behind and gone quite fey, but her self all the same. It was not like looking at the Marquess in her finery. She felt quite able to speak, and even a little impatient with herself. Had she really been so frightened? This was her own face in a mirror! Herself from a year past, still with only one shoe. No, she was not afraid. But she was not confident either. If only Saturday hadn’t turned her into a Fairy! She felt ridiculous. The other Saturday would never have done it, not without her permission.

  “Hullo, shadow,” said September, and she tried a tiny, hesitant smile.

  “Hullo, girl,” said Halloween, and smiled identically.

  There was nothing for it but to try. September extended her hand, covered with faintly glowing Fairy tattoos. “Come home with me. Don’t you want to go home?”

  The Hollow Queen laughed. She laughed so long and high and loud that her laughter began to echo around the towers of Tain and come back to her doubled and tripled. The scaly-girl’s elephant head shrunk back down, and the shadows all got very quiet. As Halloween laughed, everyone’s glasses filled up again, even those drained dry.

  “Why would I ever want to go home?” September’s shadow sneered in her own voice. “Haven’t you noticed that home is terrible and boring and nothing ever happens there? Come on, September! Tell me you didn’t spend all year just waiting to come back to Fairyland, pining away and reading up on centaurs and looking out your window for our Green friend?” Halloween spread her shadowy hands. “Tell me you spent your days just basking in the wonderfulness of Nebraska and appreciating its simple joys, having just as many lovely adventures as you would have had here, happy as a clam not to be in a place where magic is real and everyone knows your name! Look me in the eye and tell me it’s true, and I’ll come back with you right now. I’ll tag along like a good little doggy!”

  September’s heart flooded with shame, and Saturday’s magic chose just then to shrivel up. Her wings wrinkled away. Her heavy wine-colored coat and the hidden dress beneath came rushing back around her with an indignant snap, the rough leather brushing her ankles. She landed on her chair and stepped down from it hurriedly. She and Halloween were, naturally, the same height precisely. The shadow of the green smoking jacket reached out a curious sash to the red coat and stroked its sleeve hopefully. The wine-colored coat allowed its own sash to flow out, just a little, to meet it, and the two girls watched their clothes greet each other.

  “I can’t say that,” September admitted.

  “Of course you can’t! Come home with you? Never in a hundred thousand evers! I don’t want to have to go to school and lie there on the floor while you learn long division! I don’t want to wash shadow-teacups while your fingers get all wrinkly from the dishwater! When I can be Queen and have parties whenever I like and eat pumpkin tarts every single day and dance on mushroom caps while the Glashtyn sing and drum the night down? No, thank you! If you thought about it for half a second, you’d agree with me. It’s no kind of life being your shadow! Or anyone’s shadow! My name is not September, it is Halloween! We are not your tails to wag! We are our own hounds, and we will not be bossed about any longer!”

  The Reveling shadows roared approval.

  “I might agree,” said September, “I might. Magic is powerful fun, and I did want to come back to Fairyland, more than anything. Except what will you leave me to come back to? Or anyone? Don’t you know they’re rationing magic in Fairyland-Above? It’s bleeding away, because you’re taking their shadows! Soon there will be nothing magic left up there. All the wildness and fabulous happenings and strangeness will be down here in the dark!”

  Halloween smiled, and this time it was not September’s smile, but something altogether narrower and more sly. “So? I like the dark.”

  “You can’t just take things without asking,” September said, feeling somehow that she was not winning this argument as handily as she had thought she would.

  “Since when are you such a rules-minder? You ate Fairy food! You went into the Worsted Wood! You took a sceptre and a sword and all sorts of things without asking! It’s all right for a real girl, but not a shadow, is that it?” A hot, shrill pain lanced through the Queen’s voice, pain and fear and a heap of words that had been waiting so long to be said. September remembered suddenly that a whole handful of years had passed in Fairyland.
Halloween was not new at ruling, and in fact, though she looked no different than September, she must be much older now, perhaps fifteen or even sixteen! Almost a grown-up. And she must have been stewing over this, chewing over her fear in the dark, the fear that she was not real. That she was only a reflection of September, a poor, ignored little sister. September felt suddenly sorry for her. But she remembered Taiga and Hreinn and the Sibyl and the magic rations in her pocket, and her anger came rushing back as bright as before.

  “I took things I needed, not for fun, but to do what wanted doing! And I didn’t keep any of it. You can’t just hoard everything for yourself! You’ve got enough! Stop it! If Mother were here, she’d scold you silly.”

  A terrible gray blush flared in Halloween’s cheeks. September had struck home. The shadow-girl drew close to her and screeched furiously, sounding more and more like a child.

  “I can so hoard everything! Everything! I can have it all here, with me, and no one will ever leave me for some stupid war or hurt me, because we’ll all be together in my city, in my palace, in my Fairyland! I don’t care one bit for Fairyland-Above! Or Mother, either—did she even notice I was gone? I doubt it! What did Fairyland ever do for me? You threw me away as soon as you got there, you miserable little brat! I hate you, and I hate them, and I will have what I want. I always have what I want.”

  Halloween calmed herself. She smoothed her shadow-skirt with her shadow-palms. When she spoke again the child’s tantrum had gone from her voice, replaced by something hard and old and strong.

  “I am a good Queen, September. I am not the Marquess. You will not find a whole nation of folk happy to see me go. I am the shadows’ mistress, and I am loved. I am everything you aren’t brave enough to be. I am what you cannot even admit that you want to be—Queen of Fairyland, which is how all the best heroines end up. And this is Fairyland. I will make it the only Fairyland. Not Above, not Below. Let the rest hang—my country will outshine all.” She smiled again and reached out quickly, taking September’s hands.

  September gasped—she felt the space between their skin shiver and crackle. The weight of her shadow’s fingers felt cool and soft.

  “But we don’t have to bicker like a pair of quarrelsome sisters. You could stay; you could stay here with me, and with Ell and Saturday and whoever your Dodo friend is. You could be Queen with me. You could be Queen for the Undersiders, the others who aren’t shadows at all. It would be an elegant arrangement, one Queen for each. The Hollow Queen and the Princess of Wild Beasts—you’d have to be Princess to start, of course. I’ve been at this longer. But I would teach you, every day like composition class, and it would be ever so much more fun than long division. You could be Queen after you graduate. I wouldn’t be selfish and hoard all the Queening to myself. You’d be my sister. We’d share everything. Why bother growing up and having a job or a baby or a house or any of the things you’re supposed to have? We’d have a Coronation, the greatest Revel anyone ever saw! And if you wanted, if you missed her very much, you could bring our mother here. The Wimble could do it, I’m almost sure. If we found the right spot. At least it could get hold of her shadow. Mother would build us an airplane of cobwebs and moonlight. We’d fly together. Aces.”

  Oh, how she made it sound! To never have to worry about what she’d be when she was grown, or composition class, to always be wrapped up in magic, to never have to leave or choose which part of herself to lose—to never have to lose anything, because everything was gathered together and happy and no one hurt. And perhaps, if Halloween had not mentioned the Wimble, September would have forgotten all about the Alleyman and been tempted just enough, just barely enough, to give in.

  “But it is the Woeful Wimble, Halloween,” she said softly. “People are frightened of it, and if they are not frightened of you, they are of him, and he belongs to you.”

  Halloween cocked her head to one side. Secrets sparkled in her eyes. “You know, he’s really kind, and gentle, when you get to know him. You’d never believe how gentle.”

  “To you, perhaps.”

  “But that’s what matters.”

  Their hands were still joined. September had held out a dim, dismal hope that if they touched, they would simply join together again. She hadn’t thought it likely, mind you, but she had hoped. Nothing could be quite that easy in Fairyland. It could be a Rule: Nothing is easy here. All traffic travels in the direction of most difficulty. Still, she held on tight.

  “You’re not like me at all,” September whispered. “If you were good and true, the Green Wind would be down here with you, dancing at your party. And he isn’t. You can’t yell that away.”

  “Oh?” said Halloween archly. “I thought he was on the side of the ill-tempered and the irascible. Good and true is Fairy gold. It looks lovely, but it turns to junk when you aren’t looking.” But Halloween’s voice shook a little, and she did not deny that the Green Wind was not here, had not set his banner beside hers. The Queen let go of her hands. For a moment, a wild hope leapt up in September’s breast, that they would not pull apart, that it really would have happened simply by their touching. She tried to want that as hard as she could, the way Saturday had wanted to turn her into a Fairy or Ell wanted to turn her into a Wyvern. She held her breath, she wanted it so much.

  Their skin stuck together for a moment, like two magnets held terribly close to each other, and for the briefest second, September thought it would work. But finally, they slid apart.

  “I will not go with you, and you can’t make me,” the Hollow Queen said. “And don’t you try that Wanting Magic on me. You’re not a magician of any kind, and I am. It’s completely hopeless. I Want things more than anyone. You can’t possibly Want harder than I do. You might as well stay, because your beloved Upsider Fairyland is going to be an awfully dull place to have your holidays. It’s over before it began. But please, enjoy my food and my friends and my hospitality—naturally, my house is your house.”

  Halloween whistled, high and piercing, and a shadow fell over the tower-tips of Tain. Down swooped a huge creature, graceful and noble and ridiculous and beautiful: an orange parrot the size of a house, its round beak black and shining, its feathers soft and fiery. The very parrot September had seen in the pet store, oh, a hundred years ago now, it seemed. The one she had wanted so badly to take home and love and name Halloween. Oh. Oh. September’s throat got thick and hard. She did get everything she wanted. Everything they both wanted. The parrot had a saddle of dark wood and furs, spangled with golden tinsel and nuggets of some raw green gem. He cawed lovingly at September’s shadow, who climbed up onto his back and lifted her shadowy arms in the air.

  “Let the Revel begin!” the Hollow Queen cried.

  Behind her, fireworks exploded, pinwheels of orange and red and blue and purple, green rockets and golden pastilles, starry fountains raining light down on them all. The Queen rose up on her parrot and wheeled around the Revelers as they began their great parade. The wild folk of the underworld danced madly, singing a thousand songs that somehow became one, harmonizing and tying their melodies together, turning somersaults and bouncing high into the air, snapping their fingers until spells and sparks flew from them like rice at a wedding. An Ouphe juggled Pixies; Mermen spat streams of colored water in arcs over the heads of Dryads who drank it hungrily with their rough brown hands. Many folk kissed passionately, which made September try to look away politely, only to see others, an Ifrit embracing a shadow-Lamia, a Goblin courting a young Strega. Bells rang; drums thundered; fiddles sizzled through a million notes and more. September was lost in the crowd, looking up at her shadow disappearing into the night toward the crystal moon. The Revelers buffeted her; some tried to pull her into dancing or simply touch her, their bodies crackling with magic. Their masks swirled; their songs grew louder and louder until the bright cobblestones of the street shook.

  And when September could no longer bear the crush of it all, she saw the wildest and most abandoned dancers stamping their feet toget
her up on a steep rooftop: Ell and Saturday, their shadows burning with magic and an untamed, uncaring joy.

  CHAPTER XI

  QUESTING PHYSICKS

  In Which September Hatches a Plan of Her Own, Sees a Girl About a Prince, Hears a Lecture Concerning a Most Unusual Science, and Learns What Everyone Knows

  The crystal moon beamed a ghostly VII down onto the sleeping ramparts of Tain. Shadows slept in fountains and draped over statues of namelessly ancient Kings and Queens of the Fairyland-Below. In the Floatstone Pavilion stood a serene-looking man of green marble, holding a pair of scales in one hand, with a feather resting on one copper plate and the shadows of several hobgoblins and peris in the other. A centaur maid, her four legs tucked up underneath her, snoozed beneath the imploring alabaster gesture of a grieving young man with a lyre on his back. Balloons still floated ghostly through the streets, chasing their own exploits. The air smelled of spent fireworks, and bits of the marvelous feast dripped or slowly slid off the tables, pushed by the cool wind blowing from the twinned rivers.

  September herself lay snugly in a marble basket held up by a statue of dark stone—a sly-eyed, canny lady with huge pomegranates tumbling through her thick hair. Saturday slept curled next to her; Aubergine roosted at the statue’s bare feet. A-Through-L had wrapped his body and tail about the whole business.

  September woke before anyone. The whole city snored. She lay awake, looking up at the dim stars and the teetering tops of towers. Nothing had quite gone to plan. Perhaps if she hadn’t felt so sorry for her shadow, the Wanting Magic would have worked. But now…now she would have to do something else. Something slantways and sideways and upside down, like the Duke had said. September looked at Saturday as he slept, and at the great bulk of shadowy A-Through-L. Were they her friends, or Halloween’s? Her Saturday would stand between her and the world, but the shadows were strangers, really. New people with the same shapes and names. Her Saturday would never have stolen her first kiss without so much as a thank-you. Would never have turned her into a Fairy when she’d told him not to. But did she know that for certain? Some part of this Saturday must live in the other one, just as she saw flashes of her kind, gentle friend in the trickster child sleeping next to her.

 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23