The girl who fell beneat.., p.23
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       The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, p.23

           Catherynne M. Valente
 
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  It was Belinda Cabbage.

  “Blasted thing! Slow down!” the Fairy hollered.

  “What are you doing here?” demanded Halloween, adjusting her crown and wiping her eyes.

  “The Sameness Engine bolted off in the night, horrid beast. It’s caught the scent of a Use and there’s no stopping it. Heel, Engine!” The Sameness Engine whined and bonked into a dark wall. “I don’t suppose you need the marauding old fool for something?”

  The Sameness Engine whirled around and charged toward September. It clacked its claws at her and its moveable types spun. It bounded once, twice, and with a stroke had sliced off a hank of her hair in its teeth. It clicked and crunched and thrummed.

  A moment later, a green, misty shadow spooled out of the face of the Sameness Engine, falling gently at September’s feet. A wisp touched her heel and a tiny warm crackling spark went up inside her, a fire beginning like the one she had never gotten to make in the glass forest. The fire flowed into her, a small ember of wildness and of boldness, of beastliness and magic. The hard, strange voice inside her twisted up together with the dark flowers blooming in her heart, and September at last knew what to do.

  CHAPTER XXI

  ALL AT ONCE

  In Which September Sees the Sun Again,

  Along with a Great Many Other Things

  September climbed into the basket of the Alleyman’s truck. She held the hand of her father’s shadow, who looked unsure and faraway still—and faint, his knees buckling from time to time. The basket rose and rose.

  Halloween flew up beside her. Behind her came shadow upon shadow upon shadow, hundreds and thousands of them, a long black train. They spiraled around the basket, up, up, up. They passed the crystal moon. A bold I glowed darkly there.

  “What if you’re wrong?” said Halloween.

  September smiled, and such wild, giddy hope was in that smile that Halloween smiled, too.

  “What goes down must come up,” she said, and squeezed her shadow tight.

  When the basket reached the ceiling of the world, September put her hand up to the earthen sky. It was warm. She could feel the sunlight on the other side. There was nothing for it—this was no time to worry about making a mess. September clawed at the earth, digging up and out, roots and worms and clay and dust spilling out over her head. She held her breath, stretching for the sun she knew was there. Every so often, she reached down to pull her father’s shadow up behind her, only to find Halloween helping him, pushing him upward and onward.

  The work hurt her. Her fingernails ripped, and her arms ached. But on she dug, on and on. One finger broke up into the light, into a long field of green and waving grass, dotted with puffy nimbleflowers. Then a second. Then one arm, and the other. But September could not pull herself up, quite. She was so tired. She had been in the dark for so long.

  It so happened that two stout crows with unusual names were flying over a bright field just then, on their way back from a most satisfying day by the sea. They saw something flash in the grass and darted toward it, for anything that flashes seems wonderful to a crow. A girl’s arms! With a brooch on one shoulder that sparkled like a star! The two crows clapped hold of her hands with their talons and tugged. They did not know what had gone wrong to get this poor child caught in the earth like that, but they’d get her out—they were strong, after all. Strong enough to leap into another world and feed themselves mightily there.

  “Come on, girl!” Wit cawed.

  “Just a little further now!” cawed Study.

  And September came loose, her legs scrambling out, kicking dirt free, her skin streaked with mud, the Watchful Dress torn. Her hair lost its black and colored stripes as quickly as soap washing out, her curls fading into their own familiar chocolatey brown once more. The crows lifted her up into the air for a moment, but their strength was not quite up to Fairy standards yet. They set her down more or less gently and winged off to pursue their own corvid adventures.

  “Good-bye, girl!” cawed Study.

  “Be more careful next time!” cawed Wit.

  Out of the hole in the earth, a fountain of shadows flowed up and into the sunlit air, where September stood blinking in the blaze of it all. All the shadows of Fairyland, fluttering darkly and singing and laughing, singing so loud that the folk they belonged to could not help but hear. They sang and sang, a song of beckoning, of like calling to like, of family calling their loved ones home.

  At first, only a Gnome or two peeked up from over the hill and ran down to meet their shadows. But then a centaur trotted up, and more, Dryads and Wairwulfs and Goblins and Trolls. As each one found his shadow, they hopped and whirled together and shot fire or snow or light from their fingertips, magic spilling out of them without so much as a spell or a chant. The folk came thick and fast, and the song grew stronger. All of Fairyland moved toward that little dell where its shadows waited.

  One shadow, wearing a very fine hat, rode astride a Panther’s shadow. They shot off from the crowd, soaring northward, to a place where it is always Spring. Before her on the great cat a little boy nestled in, smiling in his mother’s arms.

  “You see?” said September to her own shadow as an Ouphe made lightning cat’s cradles in his shadow’s fingers. “It’s working. It is, it really is.”

  And that would have been enough. September would have been happy, just to see Fairyland coming back together and magic flowing back into the sunlit world. We could leave her here, and she would not be angry with us, for she had done well, and when we have done well, we can be content, even if all is not perfect. But we will not leave her yet—not just yet—for one more surprise awaits.

  Over the hill a blue boy came walking. Beside him, a great red creature with no forepaws lumbered down a long grassy hill on his scarlet three-toed feet. The sun folded them up in gold. Their colors gleamed bright and bold.

  September cried out in joy and ran to them, her own dear Saturday and A-Through-L, who had not pushed her into the sea or stolen a kiss, just her dear Marid and her Wyverary, after all this while. She leapt into their arms—hooting, crowing Wyvern joy shook the clouds. Saturday blushed in her embrace.

  “I missed you so much,” he whispered bashfully. “Where have you been?”

  “You’re Back!” hooted Ell. “All the B’s in the world are not enough for how Back you are!”

  “Oh, Ell! I shall tell you everything, I promise! It will take days and days to say it all, but we shall have time now! Oh, Ell, so much has happened!” The Wyverary haroomed and nuzzled her with his warm red cheek.

  Saturday stood very close to her, his eyes shining.

  “I have missed you so much I could kiss you,” he whispered.

  September’s face fell. “Oh, but Saturday! I’ve had my First Kiss and I didn’t mean to, I didn’t want to, but your shadow is very rude and impulsive, and he took it before I could say two words! And I’ve had my second and third and maybe fifth, too. Come to think of it, this has all involved rather a lot of kissing.”

  Saturday furrowed his brow. “Why should I care about your First Kiss?” he said. “You can kiss anyone you like. But if you sometimes wanted to kiss me, that would be all right, too.” His blush was so deep September could feel the heat of it.

  She leaned in, and kissed her Marid gently, sweetly. She tried to kiss him the way she’d always thought kisses would be. His lips tasted like the sea.

  The evening wore on and the vale filled up with souls. As such magical folk will do when more than three are gathered, someone struck up a drum; someone else a pipe. A great music filled the night, and Fairyland began to dance. Each person danced with their shadow, spinning fast and fleet, magic sparking between them.

  September held out her hand to Halloween; the Hollow Queen took it. The girl and her shadow danced together, slowly, under the real and true moon.

  “It doesn’t have to be one or the other,” September said as they twirled together over the meadow. “Shadows or Topsiders, Queen or farm girl. You
can be everything, all at once. Go and be Queen in Fairyland-Below. Prince Myrrh doesn’t want to, but you do! I’ll visit you sometimes. And once a year or twice—or more if you like—bring the shadows up to meet their brothers and sisters and fill Fairyland with wildness again. Maybe some will want to stay. Maybe some of the others will want to use Miss Cabbage’s Engine to make new shadows for themselves that are only a trick of light and not a real alive girl. But you can come and go, and keep Fairyland whole, and keep on living just as you want. Only keep the worlds together. Keep the roads open. This is the Revel, Halloween, the biggest Revel you could ever imagine.”

  As the moon got high, the dancing grew faster. Saturday and his shadow bowed to each other and waltzed, two beautiful blue wisps of air. The shadow led and the boy followed, turning perfect circles in the grass. Ell and his shadow hooked tails and whirled around one another, whooping and stamping. Aubergine squawked, loud and long, as though she had been holding it in all her life. She danced in a ring with a green flamingo and several very large, very Quiet, and very solemn quails.

  And finally, over the hill, a man in a green smoking jacket, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes came riding down on a roaring Leopard.

  “My darling daisy, my pumpkin-dear, light of my moony-sky!” the Green Wind cried. “Dance with me, my autumnal apple of my springtime eye!” He swept her up into his arms, swinging her into a wild jig that soared up into the air with every turn. September laughed while the air filled up with the scent of green growing things.

  Halloween laughed, too, and offered the Green Wind’s shadow her arm.

  Only their father’s shadow stood alone, leaning on his good leg, watching the dance and unable to take part. September, a blush high in her cheeks, left the Green Wind to the Silver Wind’s attentions. He kept time on a green mandolin he summoned up out of the Leopard’s fur.

  September took her father’s hand.

  “We did it,” she said. “We’re almost home.”

  At that moment, somewhere far off and elsewise, the last trickle of sand fell out of a tall hourglass, and September winked out like a firefly at first light.

  CHAPTER XXII

  YOU CAN NEVER FORGET

  WHAT YOU DO IN A WAR

  In Which September Returns Home

  Morning was coming on bright gold and pink over the prairie. September found herself in the tall wheat, just where she’d gone rushing after the Black Wind and the Silver Wind in their rowboat. She was in her birthday dress again, and fiercely hungry for breakfast. I wonder what did happen to Prince Myrrh, if he found the Marquess—what if he should wake her up? I wonder if I shall ever know where the Fairies have gone? And why Dodo eggs are so special? When I go back, I shall find out, for surely nothing else can go so awfully wrong this time while I am gone! Ell and Saturday and I will have a real adventure, with no sadness or dark places.

  September rubbed her eyes, which ached from so much sunlight after walking in the gloam. Everything was so bright she might almost have thought Fairyland-Below was all a dream—except that in her hand she held a scrap of blackness that might have been a flag caught in the wind, but September knew was not.

  It was her father’s shadow. She still held his hand.

  Across the wheatfield, her familiar house waited, cozy and warm.

  “Is that home?” her father’s shadow said. “Is it really home?”

  “Yes, Papa. It’s home. Mother’s there, and good coffee, and our old dog by the fire. I’ve brought you all the way home.” She did so want him to be proud of her.

  “It was worth it, then. All the things I’ve done.”

  “Don’t think about that, Papa.”

  Her father’s shadow looked sadly down at her. “You can never forget what you do in a war, September my love. No one can. You won’t forget your war either.”

  They began to walk toward the house, though September dragged her feet. She wanted to savor this last moment with her father, for of course this was only a shadow. Her father’s body was still fighting in France, and once they got to the house she’d be fatherless again.

  Finally she stopped, and the shadow stopped with her. September fought her tears. She held up her arms as she’d done when she was just a little thing, to be held, to be safe and warm.

  “I miss you so much,” she whispered. “Sometimes I dream that you’ve died, and I shall never see you again.”

  September’s father turned back. He picked her up and held her as he had done long ago, his black eyes squeezed shut, his big, dark hand on her curly head. She buried her face in his shadowy shoulder and held on. If she let go, he’d just vanish, she knew it.

  A light came on in the house. September saw it—and more, she saw two people moving and talking in the light. Her breath caught.

  Could it be? Could it be true?

  September scrambled down and took off running through the wheat, pulling her father’s shadow behind her. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t.

  By the time she reached the stoop where the milkman had left his bottles, the shadow had dwindled to a scrap of dark hardly bigger than a blanket. September squeezed it to her chest and hoped as hard as she could, Wanted with all her might.

  Her mother stood in the hall near the tall walnut-wood radio. Her face was streaked and puffy with tears as she held September’s father close, her real father, not a shadow but a man, in a soldier’s brown uniform and a hat with golden things on it. He leaned a little on a dark crutch, for his leg had a white cast on it.

  When September’s mother saw her daughter coming in with the milk from the stoop, she smiled like the sun coming up and opened her arms to invite her little girl into their embrace. September’s father looked tired—but he smiled his old crooked smile and said her name. He could not pick her up in his arms as he would have liked to. But he held his daughter tight all the same, and the small, amiable dog leapt and jumped and yipped around the three of them.

  September gently pressed the black cloth to her father’s side as he put his good arm around her. His shadow flowed into place, relieved, exhausted. She did not need a Rivet Gun in this world to keep them together. The shadow longed to be whole again. It would never speak of what happened, except with the shadow of his wife while their bodies slept. But shadows keep secrets better than anyone.

  The three of them held each other for a long time.

  When the tears and hugging and what shall we have for breakfasts were done and the cheerful, impossible, wonderful day was getting on with its business, September’s mother finally saw a strange thing. She did not say anything—who would, when her family was together again and there was so much to think about? But she could be almost certain that her daughter’s shadow had gone a deep, profound shade of green—just the color of the smoking jacket of a man she’d known long ago, when she was just a small girl.

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  Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

 


 

 
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