The chronicles of harris.., p.10
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       The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, p.10

           Chris Van Allsburg
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  Your sister,

  Pearlie George Lamott

  P.S. You should know that I am very sick. This happened when I set out to try to find you. I was outside for one full night and it was very rainy and I slept in the crook of a tree and I caught a cold. (Mrs. Bullwhyte said that it is a superstition, an old wives'tale, that you can catch cold from merely being cold. I am sorry to disappoint her, but that is what happened to me.) I didn't believe when I set out to find you that I would actually find you. But I felt duty-bound to look. I want to be clear. (Mrs. Bullwhyte said that we should always strive for clarity of language, as it is a gift to our reader.) So here I am, being clear, Martin: I wasn't running away. I was running toward. P.P.S. I wonder if those wallpaper birds feel as trapped as I do. It's hard for me to breathe in here.

  March 30, 1944

  Dear Martin,

  Today the doctor came. Don't ask me his name. I can't remember it; but I think it begins with an F. All I can tell you for certain is that he is a nose whistler. Various and assorted tunes came out of his nose as he examined me. At one point, he got through most of "Begin the Beguine" although I'm not sure he intended any tune at all. He does not, by nature, seem like the kind of man who likes a song. Dour is the Bullwhyte vocabulary word that could be properly used to describe him. He listened for a long time to my lungs, but I don't know how he could have heard anything at all over the whistling of his own nose. In any case, I believe that he is looking in the wrong place, as whatever is wrong with me has nothing at all to do with my lungs. The only good that came of his visit is that he said I must have fresh air, and so the window in my room has been opened. Mrs. Bullwhyte once read us a story that started with the words "It all began when someone left the window open " I can't remember a thing that happened in that story. But I've been singing those words to myself now like a song, "It all began, it all began, it all began when someone left the window open." I have never smelled air so sweet, Martin. If I could, I would fly away. Not toward. Away.

  Your sister,


  P.S. Instead of a summation, I'm offering this interesting piece of information. I guess it is best that you hear it from me (as opposed to hearing it from "Aunt" Hazel). I bit the doctor. It surprised everyone. It surprised even me. He provoked me. He accused me of being feral. "Has she been raised by wolves?" he said when I refused to answer his questions. She (the fat-ankled "Aunt" Hazel) tried to defend me. She said that I was, for all intents and purposes, an orphan. The doctor said that that was absolutely no excuse, and that at twelve years of age I was almost grown and should act like an adult and speak when spoken to.

  In any case, that is neither here nor there (as Mrs. Bullwhyte said to me often enough when I rambled on attempting to explain something that turned out not to be explainable at all). What matters is that I thought I would live up to the doctor's expectations of me and act as if I were raised by wolves, and so I bit him. It was only a small bite, not really wolflike at all. I didn't even break the skin. Or, I do not think I did. P.P.S. Here are my good wishes for you: You can, if you want, describe what it is like to be in the army. I will listen to you. I have always listened to you.

  The end of March, 1944

  Dear Martin,

  Today a big crow came and sat on the windowsill and looked right directly at me. He stared at me so long that I believe he was working to memorize my face. I would like to think that he then flew out of here, over the mountains and over the sea and right directly to you, holding the whole time this picture of me in his dark head and that when he landed beside you, you looked into his eyes and saw me; and that you could see how angry I am and how sick I am and how positively full and brimming-to-burst with words I am. This is what Mrs. Bullwhyte would call one of my "extended flights of fancy" She said that I am terribly prone to them and often told me that I should rein myself in or the world was bound to disappoint me. And guess what, Martin? She was right. The world has disappointed me. You let yourself get drafted; you have gone off to war. I am alone in the world. In summation: The mountains outside my window look purple sometimes, and sometimes they look blue. The mountains are always offered up in poetry and the Bible as something solid and true, but my thought on that is this: how could anyone trust in something so changeable, blue one minute and purple the next? My wishes for you: Last night, the moon was very low in the sky. It gave off a strange light that made the wallpaper birds seem to flap their wings. Take that and turn it into a wish for yourself, Martin.

  Your sister,


  P.S. When you walked away from me at the train station, I watched you for as long as I was able, as long as was humanly possible, and you did not look back, not once. That is when my heart broke. What's wrong with me has nothing to do with my lungs. That nose-whistling, F-named doctor doesn't know what he's doing. It's my heart, my heart. My heart.

  I'm Not Sure When It Is


  I have pneumonia and a high fever and it is hard for me to write these words. Everything shimmers; nothing holds still. I hope you appreciate my effort to communicate, Martin. It is our duty and our joy to communicate our hearts to each other. Words assist us in this task. That is what was written at the top of every one of Mrs. Bullwhyte's vocabulary lists. Aunt Hazel sits with me and cries a lot and communicates with me that way. I have taken pity on her and allowed her to move her chair close to my bed. She is right beside me. In between crying, she talks and tells me astonishing things. For one: our mother was always flighty, even when she was a child (I guess this isn't that astonishing). And that if she (Aunt Hazel) had known that we had been left all alone (she never even knew that Pa had died), she would not have allowed it. She would have come for us. I can't imagine someone coming for us. I'd like to think about it more, but I can't. I can't think about anything right now. I'm so hot. The air coming in the window smells like mountains and the black wings of crows. If I could say something to Aunt Hazel, if I could manage to make myself speak, I would say that I'm not mad anymore, only afraid, and I don't want to leave the world.


  April 8, 1944

  Dear Martin,

  Aunt Hazel and I were together in the third-floor bedroom for an eternity. This, of course, is hyperbole. But hyperbole is sometimes necessary to get at the truth (It seems odd, doesn't it, that we have to lie to tell the truth better?). But that is neither here nor there. What I mean to say is that I was feverish for a long time and that Aunt Hazel stayed with me for the whole of it. That is a fact. It is also a fact that Aunt Hazel begged me to speak. Begged me, Martin. I have never before in my life had anyone beg for me to speak. It was deeply satisfying, particularly because for most of my life, I have been encouraged (vehemently) to keep quiet.

  In any case, what happened was that I was in the grips of the fever, and I had a movie running in my head and what I kept seeing were not old, sad images, the kind you would expect your brain to pull up when you are sick and maybe dying; images such as Pa's funeral, how black everything (the coffin and the trees and his hair, all slicked back) was and the way you sat on a chair in the dining room afterward and put your head in your hands like an old man; or an image of the house the way it looked (curtains blowing and the light forlorn) the morning I woke up and knew that Ma was well and truly gone; or the sight of you, walking away at the train station, never once turning back. I saw none of that. What I saw instead the whole time the fever raged was a moving list of Mrs. Bullwhyte's vocabulary words. Every word looked as if it were etched in fire, necessary and demanding. I couldn't help but think that Mrs. Bullwhyte would be pleased about this. At some point, I started to say the words out loud. Aunt Hazel listened to me with her mouth hanging open, as if I were speaking words she had been waiting all her life to hear. I have never been listened to that way. It's an absolute shame that what I said didn't make any sense. I just said the words, read them from the list, and when I finally stopped, I felt freer, lighter, as if I might float away. Aunt H
azel, seeing this, took hold of my hand.

  And then, as I was looking straight ahead, staring at nothing but the wall, an amazing thing happened. One of the birds broke free. It unpeeled itself from the wallpaper and flew around the room, bright as light, and then it went out the open window. Another bird lifted its wing off the wall and Aunt Hazel squeezed my hand so hard that it hurt, and after a minute, the bird sighed and sank back into the wall and stayed.

  You will say that this was fever and Mrs. Bullwhyte would say that it was an extended flight of fancy, but I can only tell you that it is true: what was nothing but paper transformed itself into something living right before my eyes. I fell asleep then, and when I woke up it was dark in the room and Aunt Hazel was still there by my bed, sleeping, holding on to my hand. Can you imagine that? I've come to believe that her thick ankles are a clue to her character. Stalwart. That is the Bullwhyte vocabulary word for Aunt Hazel. The door to my room was unlocked. I took my hand out of Aunt Hazel's and got out of bed and went to the door and opened it all the way and stepped down the hallway and down the stairs and into the kitchen and made myself a sandwich of cheese and bread. The bread was stale, but I have never in my life tasted such a good piece of cheese. I thought about Aunt Hazel, upstairs, asleep in her chair. She has very large hands, Martin, and she had held on to me so tight. And then I remembered the wallpaper bird, breaking free and flying out the window. My legs got shaky and I had to sit down. I sat there in the kitchen and held my sandwich; and I believed suddenly, fiercely, that I was going to live and so were you. I could feel the promise of this, of our surviving, deep in the enamel of my highly sensitive teeth. I finished the sandwich and went back upstairs and Aunt Hazel was still there, sleeping by my bed, and I said her name again and again until she finally woke up.

  Your sister,


  P.S. In summation: I am almost entirely well. Aunt Hazel is stalwart. It is April now, at last.

  P.P.S. My wishes for you: that when you come home, you will go upstairs with me, to the third-floor bedroom, and let me show you the break in the pattern of the wallpaper, the place where a bird was and should be and is not. This is proof of something, I am sure, although I cannot say exactly what. When you turn away from the wallpaper, I will direct your gaze to the mountains, which are waiting, still, outside my window. As I write these words to you, they are changing again. They are turning themselves green.

  Just Desert

  She lowered the Knife and

  it grew even brighter.



  Alex Lee was born on Halloween, and so Halloween was always his favorite day of the year. Other kids groaned every year at the end of August, when the first fall breezes stirred the leaves, when the syrupy heat of summer no longer simmered on the streets. They complained that school was about to begin. When those cool breezes arrived, though, Alex Lee was only excited. It meant autumn was coming, with its chill and its mystery. It meant it was time for changes—a whole new year—and time for disguises and, of course, time for his party and pie. This was until the fall when he turned ten, when everything changed and he lost his appetite for pie completely.

  Perhaps what happened was Alex's fault. Perhaps he got his just deserts.

  A few days before Halloween, before his birthday, Alex was riding his bike around the neighborhood. He was thinking hard about his costume (alien pirate). In fact, he was thinking so hard about what he'd wear (mutant hands from last year, a bandanna, a goggly-eyed, fanged mask from the Haunt Shack down on Route 7, and a black patch to go over one of his mask's three eyes) that he didn't realize he had gone too far and rolled right out of his neighborhood and that he was lost.

  His parents had told him never to go past Lunt Street. He'd forgotten. He stopped and looked around. He was on a wide avenue where the trees turned gold. He was way past Lunt. He was in forbidden territory.

  He was just turning around, a little embarrassed, when something occurred to him: This far past Lunt, he was probably pretty near Route 7. Sure, he wasn't supposed to be here, and his parents were pretty strict, but he figured he could ride around and find the highway. Then four or five blocks from there, he'd be at the Haunt Shack. He could get his eye patch, his blaster pistol, and his monstrous head.

  In a way, he thought to himself, his parents would be grateful. He'd be saving them trouble. They wouldn't have to take him to the store themselves. He'd arrive home in an hour with his bag of stuff and they wouldn't even have to think about driving down to the Haunt Shack, sitting at all those stoplights and parking at the strip mall.

  He looked around from side to side as if someone were spying on him. Of course, no one was. So he turned and kept on going, pedaling away from safe Lunt and away from his house on Maple Street.

  It seemed like a good idea at first, because it felt like an adventure. The sky was blue and the leaves were blazing red and gold. Alex loved that just when everything was about to die, it got beautiful. As if in celebration of his birthday, he thought with a smile.

  On Halloween, in two days, he'd be ten, and he would have his party. All his friends would come over in their costumes. His mother would bake him his birthday pie: pumpkin, of course, with ten candles. He and his friends and his older brother, Doug, would make a haunted house for the little kids in the neighborhood. It was going to be a blast.

  But soon he looked around and saw that he was completely lost. He had no idea where he was.

  There were houses still, and trees, but the lawns looked empty somehow, and there were no cars on the road.

  He did not like this neighborhood. No one was around. It was as if the world had died, but quietly.

  He was worried now. Time was passing. His parents would notice how late he was. There was no good excuse. And his dad had a bad temper. Alex bit his lip. He kept riding along the empty streets. He saw nothing that he knew.

  He turned right abruptly, and that was when it happened.

  There was nothing but a bright light. Alex tottered and skidded. He came to a stop.

  There was no road in front of him. There was only a straight line across the horizon, and brilliant, burning white.

  He couldn't tell if the line was close or far away.

  He held out his hand toward it. It was like the world had disappeared.

  A truck honked and swerved. Alex fell off his bike. He screamed. The truck was almost on top of him.

  It slammed on its brakes.

  Alex looked up. He was lying on the ground, half on the road, half off. His head was on grass. He blinked.

  A UPS truck idled right next to him. The driver stood by his side, dressed in brown shorts. "Are you okay? You okay, kid?"

  Alex flexed his hands. Then he leaped to his feet. He ran around the other side of the truck.

  There were streets all around him. No dazzling light. He was on the corner of streets called Vain and Blair.

  "What's going on?" the UPS guy asked. "Are you okay?"

  "Did you see a burst of light? Like, a flash, and it looked like there was nothing left here anymore?" Alex asked.

  The UPS man shrugged. "No," he said. "I saw a stupid kid stop in the middle of the street and stare."

  "There was..." Alex didn't know how to describe it. Whatever it was, he had seen it.

  "Do you need help or something, kid?" the UPS man asked.

  "Can you tell me how to get back to Maple Street?"

  "Maple Street. Sure. You're a ways from home."

  The man put Alex's bike in the truck and took him back across Lunt, over to Maple. He dropped Alex in front of his house. "Stay out of the road, kid," the man in brown said, driving off. "If you don't know where you're going, stop racing to get there." The truck pulled around the corner and was gone.

  That night, Alex thought about what he'd seen. He couldn't explain it. Maybe it was a brain problem. It had looked like everything had fallen away and all that was left was light and flat.

  He wa
s determined to figure out what had happened. He decided he would go back. He had to see those streets again.

  The next day, when his mom said, "Do you want to go down to the Haunt Shack and get the parts for your costume?" Alex said sure, that would be great, and could they go by way of Vain and Blair?

  His mother looked at him oddly. "No," she said. "That's an awful way to go. It's completely out of the way."

  "I just ... Can't we drive past there?"

  "Honey," said his mother, "I have to pick up Doug from football and I don't have time to drive around crazily."

  They went to the Haunt Shack in the car. They stayed on streets Alex knew. He bought his mask, his patch, his piratical belt, and his blaster pistol. He wasn't excited about it now, though. He wanted to know what had happened and where the light had come from. He wanted to know if there was something weird in his brain—or if there was something weird on Blair and Vain.

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