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The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, Page 25

Catherynne M. Valente

  But down that street there September found nothing but a bridge of shuffling cards, all aces, from a deck so old it had turned the color of a cow’s eyes, without even lovely familiar diamonds and clubs and spades. Instead, the bridge riffled with scythes, nooses, vials—and hearts, for everything changes but hearts. The bridge arched over a river of mulled wine—but it ended halfway across, shuffling into the air, dropping aces onto the burgundy current. The cards drifted downstream like barges to market.

  “Ell?” September called out. “Blunderbuss? I’m here! Saturday?”

  A bolt of saffron-colored silk twisted and sagged between two wooden flutes with lace curtains in each hole. A familiar blue face popped over the side.

  “That’s me! I’m Saturday!” her dear Marid said, and gave her a brilliant smile. “Aren’t you beautiful? What’s your name?”

  September felt all the blood in her prickle and turn cold like a million terrible needles. Tears flooded her eyes. It was only one little bear-bite. How could it take Saturday away from her so completely, as though none of it had ever happened, as though her whole life had been a dream that no one wanted to hear about? How could it take their story from them? But it could. It had.

  “You can’t forget me. You just can’t,” she whispered. “Everything else, but not me. Not us.”

  Oh, Saturday, whispered Halloween from the wall of the flute where the torchlight cast her. Look at us and remember when all you wanted was for her to come back. It’s your turn to come back. But what can we do against invisible bears sent by Time to punish you?

  Saturday leaned forward at the waist and flipped over, winding the long silk behind him as he twirled slowly down to the street. “Why do you have that tattoo? That means you’re married! My loss.” He looked into her eyes, full of interest, without a care in the lines of his face, without the least pain dragging down his brow.

  “I’m not married.” September’s throat got so thick she could hardly talk through it. “It was a trick we played on an octopus…”

  “Octopi are very dangerous.” Saturday whistled. “I’m impressed all over. How did you know my name?”

  September reached out and touched his shoulder. She felt odd. If he didn’t know her now, she’d no right to touch him as though he did.

  “I knew you when you were older,” she said softly. “We went to the Moon. We sailed the sea. My name is September.”

  “Oh! How wonderful, then. I look forward to becoming the Saturday who sails with you. Forgive me, I meet people out of order all the time—but then, you must know that, from our time on the Moon.”

  September clutched her elbows with her hands to keep from coming apart on that wet street in a strange city. “I do know.”

  The Marid clapped his hands. “Well, September-of-my-Moony-Future! We seem to have the place to ourselves, so what shall we do for a first date? First for me, I mean. I can teach you how to do a backflip into a double drop on the green silks back that way. Oh! I did see a mad wyvern with a turnip hanging off him and a very odd sort-of-knitted wombat thing? We should avoid them as best we can. When you meet mad folk on the road, some sort of story always starts up, and you’ve no control over how it goes.”

  September wiped her eyes quickly. “Where? Where did you see them? Can you show me? It’s important. They’re not mad … you will have known them, too, when you meet me.” Verb tenses were always so difficult with Saturday, but now it was worse than ever.

  “Oh … they’re on the other side of the river … it’s a long way round. Wouldn’t you rather walk the tightrope between the Unseelie Unicycle and Big Bacchus? If you don’t fall, you get a lovely pair of black wings.”

  September didn’t want to smile. She didn’t feel like smiling. But she knew this Saturday wouldn’t know what she could do, and he’d be dazzled. She could never resist trying to impress him. She turned to the bridge of cards and moved her hands like she was dealing blackjack. It was a trick Sir Sanguine had taught her in the Redrum Cellar. That redcap could do anything with enough aces. The deathly playing cards shuddered and shuffled out, stretching to the other bank.

  Saturday clapped his hands and to September’s lonely heart it sounded like love. “Oh, September, I can’t wait to meet you!” he cried.

  Saturday took her hand and led her over the bridge of aces, down jackknifing streets, the angles of the alleys so sharp and steep that they tumbled down Mummery as much as they walked through it. And September heard Ell’s gulping pre-flame sounds, and a refrain or two from an ancient fighting song of Wom, and they weren’t phantoms—Saturday heard them, too. They followed the sounds and the cries and the song until they got close enough to hear another voice, a very familiar voice, bouncing off the high towers.

  They burst, hand in hand, into a wide plaza ringed in immense marionette puppets without strings. They lay on their sides, sat cross-legged, stood bent over, their joined arms hanging down, rested shoulder to shoulder. They had doors in the soles of their shoes and lanterns lit in their eyes, shutters closed in their chests and old snow in the creases of their wooden hair. Under the gaze of the collapsed puppets, Ell and Blunderbuss fought for their lives.

  September could hardly understand what she saw. A-Through-L spat his indigo fire at a girl in black. Blunderbuss fired passionfruits and horseshoes from her mouth, singing all the while. But the girl knocked both flame and fruit aside like bumblebees. She screeched back at them and fired arrow after silver arrow from her iceleaf bow. It was not a duel. It was a brawl, and the Marquess had already got an arrow through Blunderbuss’s ear. The little block letters of the troll’s alphabet danced around their feet. They saw September first and rolled toward her in a clattering wooden wave, beaming up at her with their S and Q and E and W and B’s.

  Iago, the Panther of Rough Storms, lay calmly out of harm’s way, behind the broad side of a tiger-striped, flower-wheeled Model A Ford with a burlap sack over its spare tire. For in the lottery of steeds, the Marquess had found herself behind Aroostook’s wheel, and she had driven the length of Fairyland inside September’s automobile.

  “It’s mine,” the Marquess screamed as she nocked another arrow. “You nasty little thieves! You give it back! Give it back!”

  September stared. Her mouth hung open. The Marquess was crying.

  Now, whispered Halloween, the Hollow Queen.

  “She gave it to me!” wailed A-Through-L. “You’ve no right! I hate you! I hate you! Hate begins with H and I’ve never used it once but I’ll use it on you! I hate your lions and I hate your hat and I hate your horrible cold Gaol and I won’t give you anything!”

  “You’re drunk!” Blunderbuss barked. “Go sleep it off!”

  Now, hissed September’s shadow. Do it now, before she sees you!

  “You stole it from me. Just give it back and I’ll let you go. I promise. It’s mine. It’s all I have left!”

  The voice of Ajax Oddson filled the plaza of marionettes. Saturday, who had forgotten ever having heard it before, clapped both hands over his ears.

  “What’s this in my own backyard? Why, it’s two old friends and all their secret scars! You know what that means!”

  As soon as she heard the Dandy’s booming voice, September cried out: “Now, Maud, now!”

  Out of September’s own shadow came a second, a shadow hiding in shadow. The new shadow wore lace petticoats and long gloves and a very fine hat. She peeled off the black outline of Halloween’s body and flew to herself, stretching out her hands with a terrible, eager love. The Marquess’s shadow caught the Marquess up in her arms and whirled her round like a dancer at a ball. The Marquess looked into her own eyes in wonder and shock. Violet and green fireworks shot into the air above them. They began to spell out their words.

  But before they could form into the D of DUEL, September unholstered her Rivet Gun from her back and shot the Marquess in the head.



  In Which Many Secret Longings
See the Light, A-Through-L Loses His Treasure, and the Marquess Gets Her Comeuppance

  A house snatched them all up out of Mummery in one swoop, as though it had been crouching in wait for hours and sprung out just when its cue had sounded. It looked much like a Spanish mosque—if a giant had firmly stepped on it. All the curly broken door frames and crumbling tiled mosaics lay in pieces and parts, each blue-green wall propping up the other. Fragrant stacks of red wood and pools of seeping black mud dotted the halls. Moss covered every shattered pillar. September and her shadow, the Wyverary and his Blunderbuss, Saturday and Aroostook, the Marquess and her shadow, stood before a beautifully carved archway leading into a little courtyard where a shabby fountain gurgled valiantly as though it had never stopped since September last saw it. The arch read, as it always had:


  Lye stood waiting for them, tears of liquid soap streaming down her face. All she could see was the Marquess, her friend, her Good Queen Mallow, Maud, the girl who ruled Fairyland for a little while, and lost everything, and clawed her way back. And now the Marquess was riveted to her shadow once more. September strapped down her smoking Rivet Gun on her back. The conspiracy had done its work. Ajax could not touch them here, or make them duel. He had no power in Lye’s world. That is what happens when a person lives alone for so long—no one else can change their ways.

  “What have you done?” the Marquess whispered.

  Her shadow brushed a strand of magenta hair lovingly out of her face. “I missed you. Lye missed you. You got so lost for so long.”

  The Marquess crouched down like a cornered wolf, looking wildly from shadow to shadow to golem to girl to wombat to Wyverary to Marid to Model A. Iago licked his front paw.

  “She didn’t miss me,” she said when her eyes fell on September.

  “She did it for me,” said Maud, her shadowy face moving against a crumbled wall. “We had such a lovely time together in the underworld. Oh, Mallow, don’t you remember me? All the things we did together? Don’t you remember Father’s farm and the house in Winesap and Mr. Map? Our ducks and our magic and our friends? We defeated Goldmouth. We put a pot of cocoa on every table in Fairyland. We knew Yes Magic and No Magic and a hundred other kinds. We were so good, once upon a time.”

  “I want my book back,” Mallow whispered wretchedly.

  “What are you talking about?” asked Lye, hurt that her Mallow had not run into her clean green arms at once.

  “The wyvern has it. He stole it. It’s mine. Please, please give it back. You can do whatever you want to me, put me in a dungeon or put me back to sleep or drown me till I’m dead. I accept that I’m outnumbered. I won’t struggle. Just give me my book back and you can have me.”

  Ell glared at her through his sea-glass spectacles. He clutched The Mystery of the Blue Train in his claws. September hadn’t seen it in the chaos. It had a silver arrow through the cover. “But it’s not yours! Not everything in the world is yours just because you want it. My great-grandmother gave it to me because she loves me and it’s how I know she loves me.”

  Mallow sunk to her knees. Her shadow sank softly down behind her. “Wyvern, where do you think the library got it? A novel by Agatha Christie? Published in London and New York in 1928? Tell me, is Agatha a spriggan or a pooka? Or a dragon? It’s mine. I had it in my satchel when I stumbled through into Fairyland from my father’s attic. Most people don’t think it’s her best but I loved it. I used to sit up in bed in my little house in Winesap and read it over and over. I read my books of magic, too, and my neighbors’ whole collection of Fairy romances, but I always came back to the jewel thief and the heiress and the wonderful train. I lost it when I moved to the Briary, after I cut down Goldmouth and sewed him up into a ball so he could never hurt anyone again. I searched for years, as Mallow, as the Marquess, but I could never find it. It was the only human thing I loved. It is the only human thing of mine left. If you don’t give it back to me I shall start screaming and never stop.”

  A-Through-L gripped the book so tightly its boards creaked. But he couldn’t bear to see anyone cry, in the end. He put it on the tiled floor and scooted it over to Mallow with his long black claw, unwilling to get very close to her. She picked it up with such care, running her hands over the cover and holding it to her cheek before she opened it like a knight opening a chest of treasure. Good Queen Mallow flipped through the pages, touching the story with her fingertips, the words that described the greatest jewel thief in the world and how he stole a ruby called the Heart of Fire and almost, just almost, got away with it. Her hand hovered over the master thief’s name, a name that, when she was young and afraid, always seemed to her so full of power and mystery and strength that the letters could hardly contain it: The Marquis.

  “It’s how we found her,” Blunderbuss grumbled. “The Marquis always tries to get off the train before the Inspector can figure out his game. We thought she’d try to head everyone off, too, and switch the Heart of Fairyland with a fake … well, assuming someone got it somewhere along the way and all trains end at Mummery … but she didn’t have anything.”

  “Mallow,” Lye said softly. “Mallow?” The Marquess did not look up from her book. “Mallow,” the soap golem begged. “Please hug me. Please hold me. Please, oh, please. I have waited so many years to be hugged by you again and you said you would come back but you didn’t, you didn’t come back and I got older and I waited and waited and I don’t want to wait anymore and I know you wouldn’t stop loving me just because you got really busy with being a villain I know that’s an awful lot of work but I am lonely and awful too so please hold me I have earned it.”

  Mallow looked up at the soap golem she had made when she wasn’t much more than a girl, and everything was yet to happen to her. She held out her arms like a child and Lye fell into them. They sat that way for a long while.

  “I don’t understand,” Mallow said finally, tugging her hat back down. “What’s the purpose of this? Why bring me here? Why not just let us fight it out? I’d have won, Lye, I promise. That one’s just yarn. Besides, September won’t last much longer. She’s almost out of time.”

  “What do you mean?” said Halloween sharply, hopping out of the water in the fountain. September jumped up guiltily and pulled out her Rivet Gun—in all the excitement she had forgotten their bargain. You must let me free when it’s done. No tricks. I won’t be a shackled shadow again. September held it behind her, against the place where she and her shadow joined. She thought of that day on the ferry with Charlie Crunchcrab and the Glashtyn when she lost her shadow the first time. It had hurt, then. September fired. Halloween leapt free, spinning on one toe with the joy of it. Saturday hopped up on a half-fallen wall. He chewed his nails, fascinated by all these strangers and their urgent whispers. It was better than the circus.

  The Marquess tried to smile her old wicked smile, her triumphant smile, her smile of knowing something no one else knows. But it would not come quite right. With her shadow’s hand on her shoulder and Lye’s fingers stroking her cheek, with Iago trotting over to rest his great black head on her knee, she could not find her devilish smile in the cabinets of her heart. Her hair flushed a confused deep purple. She ran her fingers along Iago’s sleek dark spine and drew up September’s hourglass. The bottom bell was nearly full. Only a few grains remained in the top.

  “It started going again when you got out from under the Fairies’ thumbs. They break everything they touch, you know. But I suppose you and I do, too. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m sure you wanted to see how it would all turn out.”

  September gasped. Her hands clutched at each other, as though trying to keep herself where she was. “I’m not ready,” she whispered. She held out one hand to Saturday, but he didn’t take it. He couldn’t understand why she was so upset. What wasn’t she ready for?

  “One never is,” the Marquess answered wryly.

  “No, no, no,” moaned Ell. “This always happens and I always hate it.” Blunderbuss
bit his long neck comfortingly. She didn’t really understand, either. She’d only known Changelings before.

  The Marquess wanted to rub it in, to tell the girl the worst of it: that no one was waiting for her at home. Her house stood empty in the still-chill May wind, among the fields shorn bald. Her parents had gone, even her dog had gone, and there would be no kisses on the forehead and tuckings in this time. Mallow couldn’t see where they’d gone, but she knew they would not come back for their girl. She wanted to gloat. She wanted to say: You’ll find out how it feels to lose everything. You’ll know how I felt. You’ll do just as I did because it’s the only thing anyone could do. In a few years it’ll be the Engineer who is the terror of Fairyland’s folk. But it would not come out. She laced her fingers through Lye’s and the words died in her.

  “You know,” Iago purred, “a real villainess doesn’t do the expected thing. If the rules say she ought to grind her heel into the world and she straps on her best shoes, well, she might as well be a maidservant. So obedient. So mild-mannered. Coloring inside the lines. Doing the drudge work of the tale with no thanks from anyone. Every cat knows how to keep his owner feeding them: You may scratch and bite ninety-nine times, but the hundredth time, you must leap into a lap and press your nose to their nose. Rules are for dogs.”

  “I am not a villain. Or an -ess,” murmured the Marquess. “I was a hero. I am a hero.”

  “So save the maiden,” the Panther of Rough Storms rumbled contentedly.

  Three pomegranate-colored grains of sand remained in the hourglass. Two quivered and tumbled down into the lower bell. The Marquess’s eyes found September’s. Her hair blossomed orange. The emerald-colored smoking jacket held tight to its mistress’s shoulders—it meant to go with her, if she had to go.

  “We are so alike,” the Marquess said. “It would break your heart how alike we are.”