The girl who fell beneat.., p.14
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       The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, p.14

           Catherynne M. Valente
 
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  “Can you find anything in these books?” September wondered. “Anything at all, so long as it’s to do with Questing?”

  “Nearly! Of course, a library is never complete. That’s the joy of it. We are always seeking one more book to add to our collection.”

  September felt a pang of guilt at having left Ell behind in the courtyard. How he would have loved this place!

  “Can it tell me how to put a person and their shadow back together again?”

  Avogadra peered cannily at her.

  “Well!” September said defensively. “It’s not so odd a question. Halloween is my shadow! Everyone knows that. At least they seem to.”

  “Quite so,” said the Monaciello, and put two of her fingers into her mouth. She whistled loud and sharp. A book flew off a shelf several feet away and shot toward her—a black one, with a cloudy-pale title. Rhymes of Knowing and Not-Knowing. It looked new, only just printed, or written, or however books were made in Fairyland. She flipped it open and licked her thumb as she hunted through the pages.

  “Here! ‘Not thread nor glue, not nails nor screws, will ever self and shadow wed.’ Helpful, those poet-types. Perhaps this one: ‘Seek the grimy queen of dread machines, if you your errant shadow miss.’ Now that’s quite good! As a Prophetic Utterance, Third Class (Vague Hints and Mysterious Signs), you couldn’t ask for better. It’s downright plain-spoken!”

  “It isn’t at all! I don’t know who it means or what. I’m hardly better off than before!” September cried.

  “Well, that’s what you get with Third Class. But no book of ours would ever just tell you a thing. The Quest would spoil, just as if you added the wrong chemical to a medicine. It would turn poisonous and rancid. A Quest is not followed, it is engineered. Now, in you go.”

  Avogadra turned several chapters at once and came to a frightening, hideous page: all black, from margin to margin.

  “In?” September trembled.

  “In. Didn’t you hear? You’re headed for the bottom of Fairyland-Below. This place is made up of layers like a thick, dark cake. You have to go down—you’ll have to sooner or later so might as well get a start. Just hop in—I know it looks dark. It is dark. It’s a mine, as a point of fact. But that’s where you need to go, and I’m opening the door for you.”

  September peered into the utter blackness of the page. “I can’t go without my friends,” she whispered.

  “No time,” the Monaciello said. “A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world. But this one is a real door, too. They float through all the books of the library. At noon, they’re in the Biographies, at tea-time they flit into the Advanced Slaying section. Dally too long, and they’ll go winging off somewhere and it’ll take weeks to find one again.”

  “But I can’t just leave them!”

  “I’m here,” said Aubergine softly, and September started. Without a sound the Night-Dodo had slowly and doggedly climbed the ladders to where they stood peering at their book, hooking her beak over the rungs one by one by one.

  But Saturday and Ell, still sleeping in the cold Tain morning! She couldn’t just let them wake up without her and no note or message to tell them where to find her. Could she? Can’t I? I snuck off without them just fine. Either I trust them or I don’t. A hard, brave, strange voice inside her stood up to have its say. But the voice was not very big yet.

  “Then I shall have to get down some other way,” September said. “Even if this is easier. Anyway, it’s very black down there at the bottom of a book.”

  Inside the bodice of the Watchful Dress, a little satiny door opened. A small, agitated pocket watch flew out, its chain looping up and around to make a pair of tiny wings. It darted off, buzzing so fast September could not see it at all, down the stacks of books and out of a great round window. A moment passed, then two, then three, as Avogadra glanced worriedly at the open book. The black page rippled, impatient to be on the move.

  And then A-Through-L came rising up through the air, his powerful, shadowy wings beating the morning winds. He peered through the window. Saturday sat on his back, rubbing his sleepy eyes and batting at the pocket watch, which jangled alarms in his ear and buzzed all about the poor boy’s blue-black head.

  “I will smash that thing—see if I don’t,” he growled.

  “Oh, Ell!” cried September. “I wasn’t going to leave you, I promise! Hurry, hurry, fly up here!”

  The Wyverary did, squeezing through the window with a groan. He marveled at all the hundreds and thousands of books along the way, books he could not stop to read or alphabetize. But finally, all four of them perched or hovered together, an unruly, motley crowd. September hugged them and Aubergine, too. She hooked her arm into Saturday’s elbow, and her other around Ell’s dark claw.

  “You don’t have to go, Aubergine,” she said, realizing something she ought to have said before. “I know Groof said you had to, but you don’t. You don’t really belong to us at all. You are a free beast, and should do what you please. You can stay and study with the other Physickists and be happy.”

  The Night-Dodo said nothing. Quietly, she moved closer to September, that was all.

  “Everyone ready?” said Avogadra, beaming under her wide black hat. “I suggest jumping right now.”

  “Are we going somewhere?” asked A-Through-L.

  Before she could answer, the Monaciello gave September a shove, and all four of them tripped into the book. They seemed to fall terribly slowly, and the black page got bigger and bigger beneath them until it swallowed them up completely.

  CHAPTER XII

  THE MINES OF MEMORY

  In Which September Gets Lost in a Book, Gets Some Help with Her Memory from a Large Blue Kangaroo, and Works a Shift in a Mine

  September and her friends did not so much fall into the book as crash.

  The black space was not an endless empty hole, but a tunnel full of rustling, of pages ripping and turning, of heavy leather spines thunking hard against feathers and scales and skin. Blind, September tumbled and rolled and stumbled, pointing downward in a general sort of way, tasting strange ink as pages flew at her face. The roaring sound of it all sounded like nothing so much as a great, angry tide surging in, wave upon papery wave breaking over her poor head.

  Slowly, ahead of her in the dark, a clanking, bonging, metallic sound grew. The papers thinned and finally blew aside like gauzy curtains. September followed the sound of metal being struck and scraped until, groping blindly, her hands fell upon a wooden frame and a hard, cold doorknob. The door wedged shut somewhat below her, and the papers crushed in behind, pushing on her shoulders with little wordy kisses. September put her shoulder against it and shoved. It came free far more easily than she expected, and with a little cry, she fell down through the door inside the book and tumbled out onto an earthen floor. Bits of paper still clung to her hair and the ruff of the wine-colored coat, which bristled and shook them off.

  Avogadra had told the truth—the black path through the book ended in a mine. All around her, sharp rocks and dark bluish boulders bulged. A wooden track ran through the great cavern, and on it rickety cars raced by, some empty, some topful of sparkling gems. Now that September’s eyes adjusted to the dimness of the mine, she could see that the light came from the walls. Rich, looping, twisting veins of crystalline stuff shone as though a fire lived inside them, brighter than any jewel September had ever seen—though in truth this was not too many. The harlequin colors mingled and cast a cool reddish purplish greenish bluish goldenish radiance on the bustle of the miners, none of whom noticed that a girl had fallen out of the ceiling.

  September stared at the miners: furry turquoise kangaroos with large, inquisitive eyes and powerful tails. They hopped from one cart to another, with pearly lamps on their heads and beautiful long necklaces around their silky throats. They wore brown leather straps in an X over their chests, the better to hold pickaxes and shovels on their backs. They
carried gold-pans like little shields on their brown belts. But their chief mining tool was clearly their tails, which they whacked against the rock walls with whoops and trills, knocking loose little falls of rubble, which they panned through and picked through and poked through. One hopped over to the wall nearest September and planted his feet to give it a good thrashing.

  “Halloo!” the kangaroo barked, startled by the sudden presence of a girl in a ball gown sprawled in the way of a nice thick vein of peridot. “You came out of the wall.” He looked very flummoxed by this, his gentle face scrunching up with worry. Something was not right, not right at all.

  “Yes.” September did not know what else to say. She realized all at once that she was alone—A-Through-L and Saturday and Aubergine had not made it through with her. Her skin prickled with cold.

  “Are you a ruby? Or a tourmaline?” The kangaroo did not seem hopeful.

  “Certainly not,” September said, and peeled herself up off the floor, brushing pebbles and torn bits of paper from her skirt. She pulled the wine-colored coat close around her, shivering a little. She felt safer with its thick sash tied tight.

  “Well, if it’s work you want, I’m sure we could find you an ax and a shovel and a pan. But this is my seam, see, and you…well, you can’t have it. I don’t mean to be rude. It’s only that I’ve forgotten my mother, and peridot—that’s the pretty green spangly stuff you’re, er, sitting on—is frightfully good for motherly memories.”

  “However could you forget your mother?” September asked.

  The kangaroo adjusted the brown straps of his harness. His gold-pan reflected the pale green-yellow seam flowing fiery around them. “I’m a Järlhopp,” he said proudly. “We’re born without memories. They say all babies are innocent, but no one holds a candle to a wee Järlhopp. If not for my Clutch, I wouldn’t even remember my own name. Which is Gneiss, if you wondered.” Gneiss lifted up the pendant of his long necklace. Dozens of hundred candy-colored stones clung together in a spiky, glittering globe.

  September smiled shyly. “But I know about Järlhoppes!” she said. “Mr. Map told me that they keep their memories on a chain around their necks. One called Leef taught him to make maps when they were in prison together. It seems so long ago now!”

  “I don’t know a Leef, but that’s no shock. I might have known her, and forgotten all about it, if I didn’t have a bit of seam nearby to remember her for me.” Gneiss nodded his azure head toward the wall. “That’s a seam, there. A thick thread of peridot running through the black earth. It’s what keeps the world together, you know. That’s why they’re called seams. Stitches in stone, hemming up the underside of everything. Without them, everything would just fall apart. But down here, in the deep, the jewels are more than the pretty baubles you find near the surface. They’re memories—the memories of the earth, hardened and polished by centuries of brooding and dreaming and worrying. A Järlhopp’s memories are so small next to the memory of all the whole earth! Ours fill up only the tiniest cracks and flaws in the crystal. See, this here’s full of earthy memories of continental drift and megafauna—but the flaw there? That’s the first boomer who broke my heart, Märl.” The Järlhopp pointed to a sharp dark-red shard in his Clutch. It had a creamy pale flaw in its center. “He ran off with a centaur and threw away the girasol stone that meant me and all his family in the mines, our mushroom and sorrowgrass suppers on stone tables, under stone lanterns. So he’d never even think to come back, see. If you said my name to him he wouldn’t even know the G was silent. But I remember how to say his name. If I press his shard to my heart I can live it again as often as I like. But you have to have the right sort of stone. Peridot for mothers, girasol for lovers, sapphire for sadness, and garnet for joy.”

  “But what if someone took your necklace? It’s so fragile!”

  “I don’t mind telling you we have to be careful—our Being-Careful stone is one of the first we get, a nice fat pearl. But mining is hard work, and sometimes the Clutch gets knocked about, like mine did when I forgot my mother. I know I forgot her because I have a topaz for my father and a bloodstone each for my brothers, and they all know I had a mother, so I must have. Now I’m after a good knuckle of peridot so I can recognize her again.”

  “Gneiss, did anyone else come in before me? From the wall, I mean. One would look like a great black dragon, and one like a boy with black skin and blue swirls all over him, and one is a very quiet Dodo.”

  Gneiss smiled, which looked very odd indeed on a kangaroo. “Little ruby, if I didn’t cut out a knob of onyx for Remembering Strangers, I wouldn’t know it to tell you if the Queen herself came parading through. You have to dig new stones for new memories, and that right quick. I try to only do it for the best ones—the times that please me the most or hurt me the most.”

  September had been holding on to all three of them when she tripped into the Monaciello’s book, she was sure of it. Perhaps they were only late. They’d be along, wouldn’t they? She leaned into the rough stone wall, trying to listen for the footsteps of a Wyverary.

  “I do wish that I could hold on to my memories like that,” September sighed into the flaming green seam. “I forget things all the time. But if I had a Clutch and I remembered to be careful, I’d never forget anything! I’d be able to look just once at my lessons and remember everything perfectly. When I’m lonesome, I’d just press it to my heart and live my mother singing me to sleep over again!”

  Gneiss shrugged. “Well, there’s a good shallow vein of sunstone just down the way. I can smell the Topside on you—sunstone would be best for a young thing with not too many years to wedge in. And who knows? Maybe your friends fell out of a different bit of cavern! You never know. Let’s have a look on both accounts.”

  September bit her lip and considered whether it was better to wait and hope they came kicking and hollering out of the wall as she had, or search for them deeper in the mine. The hard strange voice woke up inside her again, urging her to keep going, not to stop. This time she listened to it and ran skipping alongside the Järlhopp through the dark kaleidoscope of the mine, trying to keep up with his powerful hops. Other Järlhoppes waved as they went by, and the seams ran through the earth like fine colorful handwriting, but no Marid leapt out to kiss her, no gentle Dodo appeared next to her as if out of nowhere.

  Finally they came to a gnarled, thick knot of deep orange stone with coppery sparks leaping hot and bright inside it. Gneiss looked down at her, shining his pearly miner’s lantern in her eyes.

  “Halloo!” the blue kangaroo exclaimed. “Who are you? Are you a ruby or a tourmaline?”

  “No, I’m September! You brought me here to find my friends and make me a Clutch!”

  Gneiss looked dubious. “Was it a very long time ago that we set off? Have we had adventures on a wild rocky ocean? Have we fought alabaster octopi together, or crossed axes with the emerald ogre?”

  “No! It was only few moments ago! We’ve not come half a mile!”

  “Ah, my apologies, little ruby. I’ve only a little space after a thing happens to snatch up a gem for it and add it to the Clutch. If I forgot to do it, well, I’ve quite forgotten that I forgot to do it, not to mention forgetting the thing I should have remembered not to forget!”

  September could not help herself. “Is there really an emerald ogre somewhere?”

  “Oh, yes! Her name is Mathilda. She lives up in the north section of the mine and makes a lovely spinach stew. She’s a fierce thing for manners, though! If your please is out of place, she’ll thump you one. I was making you a Clutch? Well, let’s have at it. You’ve got to get your ore yourself, though. No good if I do it.” Gneiss handed over his pickaxe—it was heavy, but not so heavy September could not lift it. Gneiss waggled his huge tail experimentally.

  “Be ready with the ax when I swing!”

  Gneiss swung. His cerulean tail whacked hard into the cavern wall and a shower of dark rock and shimmering gemstone came bursting down on them both. September swung
her axe, breaking up the big pieces into smaller ones, and smaller still, until she’d uncovered a rough fist of sunstone of just the size to wear. Gneiss reached into his pouch and came up with a chain. He bit a hole in the jewel with an enormous sharp tooth and strung it onto the chain and around September’s neck.

  “Now, that’ll hold only everything that’s happened to you till now. I’ll stick on a nice chunk of heliotrope to keep you going for the next few days. But if you want to remember more, you’ll have to get more seam for it, mind me?”

  September nodded, trying to imagine where she’d get jewels back home. They didn’t make ration cards for diamonds. Gneiss licked an oblong scrap of green jewel with golden streaks and shoved it through the center of the sunstone. It pierced the gem as if it were a marshmallow and stuck solidly there.

  “September!” cried a voice further down the mine shaft.

  September turned toward it so quickly she nearly got her legs tangled up in each other. Saturday! She ran down the shaft after the voice, Gneiss thumping along behind her. Following two thin thready veins of amethyst and gold, she darted past carts and rock piles until she found them, all three of her lost friends, sticking half out of the wall of the mine.

  Saturday had his head and arms free and was trying to push himself all the way out, the way you might push yourself out of a wet pair of trousers. A-Through-L and Aubergine had gotten buried in the cavern up to their necks, their snouts jutting out of the wall like hunting trophies. September grabbed Saturday by the arms and hauled. She pulled as hard as she could, and then just a little harder, but he would not budge.

 
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