The chronicles of harris.., p.4
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       The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, p.4

           Chris Van Allsburg
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  Then she spoke a few words in Italian and the map drifted over to them. Kneeling, she set upon it a gingerbread pastry she'd brought from the cabin. It wasn't a gingerbread house or a gingerbread man, but the shape of a single human hand with its forefinger slightly crooked up, beckoning. Come. Come. A gingerbread hand.

  "The rest is your job, because it's your fault he has my ring," said the Queen of Gingerbread to Linus. "Use your imagination, if you've got one. Pull into view whatever it is you most want to see."

  He'd read The Monkey's Paw; he wouldn't wish to see his father again. He already held his father and his mother in his heart. Anyway, it wasn't a monkey's paw but a gingerbread paw! Ha double ha. Nervous stupid joke. When, really? Right now? What he wanted most right now was for something to work out, even though he couldn't think what that might be. Anything. Anything, after all the sorrowing.

  "It's a bit of a way from the Bacino Stazione Marittima, the departure point for seagoing vessels. It's on the other end of Venice," admitted the old woman. "This'll take some doing. Keep concentrating." As if she didn't have a care in the world, she ambled over to Candy Lately and asked her what she'd thought of Venice—the Lido, the Titians and Tintorettos, the Murano glass, the gondoliers singing songs from Phantom of the Opera? Had she enjoyed her holiday? Candy answered with a singsong enthusiasm as if she'd contracted gingerbread amnesia.

  Linus peered through the eye of the double-span formed by the bridge and its reflection. He tried not to become distracted by the sound of commotion, of demolition and screaming. A tidal wave in Venice? The ghost of Hurricane Katrina vacationing abroad? But concentrate she had said, so concentrate he did. Pull into view whatever it is you want to see.

  Candy seemed not to hear the thundery menace. Her voice bounced thinly, like that of a stoned parakeet. "He took advantage of my misery! My lostness. I was looking forward to jewels to cheer me up. Candy Lately, back in business. Society columns. Hollywood blogs! Twitter-fests! 'Candy's back, and she's sweeter than ever!' Drake stole all that from me!"

  Don't think about her. Just watch.

  Around the corner of the canal beyond the bridge, a cruise liner like a great black iron football, ten stories tall, appeared. A coal-dark steel tsunami, crushing buildings to the left and right. Screaming, screaming, though the neighborhood seemed oddly empty of locals. No, the screaming wasn't human—it was the sound of motors at full throttle. To no avail. Even with her mighty engines in reverse, the ocean liner was pulled further and further into the canal. Linus saw to that. He saw to it through the flattened ring of the bridge and its reflection. He saw to it without blinking. He didn't blink, and neither did the bridge.

  "Excuse me a moment, dear," said the old woman to Candy. She handed the large brown molasses jar to Linus. "You're doing fine, you. Native talent. You must have a big giant lobe for aspiration. Use this to scoop it up. Think of it as a glass kennel."

  He guessed what she meant. He knelt down and floated the empty bottle in the water behind the gingerbread hand. He watched the boat shrinking in the darkly mirrored water. By the time it reached the near bridge, it was small enough to pass underneath without scraping. The buildings behind were straightening out, like wobbled reflections returning to order after a passing speedboat had jigsawed them up. The ocean liner now looked about the size of a gondola. A ship perfectly sized for scorpions on holiday.

  It floated up past the gingerbread hand. One of the smokestacks was capped with a silver circle.

  "There you go," said Linus. "Steady on now. There you are. That's my girl."

  Shrinking faster, the ocean liner drifted neatly into the wide mouth of the molasses jar, all except the silvery tip of the highest smokestack, which snapped off. Linus caught it in the air and handed it to the old woman. When he went to retrieve the jar, he saw that the laminated map of Venice had sunk out of sight. The gingerbread hand was missing.

  "You have very good eyesight," said the old woman approvingly. "Some call it second sight. Others call it double vision. I call it rare."

  "What shall I do with the ship in the molasses bottle? Okay if I see if Candy wants it?"

  "Ask her, if she's not too busy biting the hand that feeds her."

  Linus turned. Improbably draped in the recovered jewels, Candy stood, blankly appreciative as if expecting no less, munching on a gingerbread thumb. The drama of the ambush of a villain and the miniaturization of an ocean liner seemed to have gone entirely unnoticed. Neither meanly nor sadly, Linus thought: She never did pay much attention to me, either. Wish I could have meant something to her, but that's not my fault.

  He held out the bottle. "A souvenir of Venice?"

  "I got the jewels," she said. "They'll have to see me through my other losses. Boo double hoo."

  "I see," said Linus, and he did.

  "I've got my ring," said the old woman, "but I'll take the ship too. You never know when an ocean liner will come in handy. We could feed it to a giant squid if we ever met up with one." The mouselike shrieking of a single voice was threading from the bottle, but the old woman fished a tin lid from an apron pocket and screwed it over the aperture.

  "What about everyone else on that ocean liner?" whispered Linus.

  "Munching gingerbread at the stazione, waiting for their vessel," she told him. "Don't worry about them. Ships are lost at sea all the time. So are boys. Shall I take you on board as an apprentice baker?"

  "I ... I..." He turned to Candy. But she seemed to have everything she needed.

  "You owe me," the woman told Linus. "You stole my ring. I should demand seven years' indentured service. But I'll cut you a bargain. Three and a half."

  "I don't know," said Candy, possibly not to him but to the Italian emeralds and rubies pooling in her hands. "You're very valuable to me."

  "Think of it as sending him to school abroad," said the old woman. "Think of the sights he'll see!"

  "Or you could just say I went missing in Venice," added Linus.

  Candy seemed to have made up her mind. She was busy stuffing the jewels in her pockets. "Maybe Royal Ascot this year," she was saying. "The Cannes film festival. Opening the races with the Whitneys and Vanderbilts at Saratoga! And Mardi Gras in Buenos Aires. It'll be much better for you, kid, to have a stable school environment." She went teetering off. At the top of the bridge, Linus could see her reflection below. She didn't look monstrous in her reflection. She looked happy. Sad and happy.

  "Well," said the old woman. She was squinting through her ring. "It doesn't seem to be damaged. You can't imagine what I was going to do to you if it got damaged. You haven't got that big an imagination."

  "No, I don't," he admitted.

  "But we'll make it bigger," she promised. "Travel is so broadening. Let's go. There's a girl on the Dalmatian coast that needs some coaxing off a cliff edge."

  The mist had risen. She sat in the stern of the gingerbread gondola and smiled, neither fiercely nor warmly. In the reflection, she looked for a moment like Nona Mercurio. Daylight glinted on the water like diamonds at her neck, brilliants on her crown. But that moment passed double quick. They floated beside the slanting posts, striped like candy canes or barbershop poles. Past the great stone sugarloafs of museums, the basilicas like baked honey filigree.

  Out into the lagoon, out toward the open sea, where, Linus practiced imagining, a giant squid was smiling to itself underwater, trying to open the lid of a molasses jar with its tentacles.

  Another Place, Another Time

  If there was an answer, he'd find it there.



  Gilbert hated time. What a tyrant it was! The hours that crawled by when his father was at sea, the seconds that whipped past when he was playing a brilliant game in the garden with the Limburgher children. The eternity it took for summer to arrive at the beach at the bottom of the cliffs, the flashing instant before the winter stole over them again and Father took to the sea once more.

  "You can'
t hate time," Emmy said. The oldest of the three Limburghers and the only girl, she was used to talking younger boys out of their foolishness. it's just time.

  Gilbert stopped pacing the tree house floor and pointed a finger at her. "That's where you're wrong!" He thumped the book he'd taken out of his father's bookcase, a book fetched home from London, heavy and well made and swollen with the damp air of the sea-crossing home to America. He hadn't read the book, but his tutor, sour Señor Uriarte, had explained it to him the day before while he was penned up inside, watching summer whiz past the study's windows. "Time isn't just time! Time is also space! it's also a dimension." Gilbert thumped the book again for emphasis, then opened it to the page he'd marked with a wide blade of sawgrass.

  "See this? This is a point. That's one dimension. It doesn't have length or depth. It's just a dot. When you add another dimension, you get lines" He pointed at the next diagram with a chewed and dirty fingernail. "You can go back and you can go forward, you can move around on the surface, as though the world were a page. But you can't go up and down, not until you add another dimension." He pointed to the diagram of the cube, stabbing at it so hard, his finger dented the page. "That's three dimensions, up and down, side to side, and in and out."

  Emmy rolled her eyes with the eloquence of a thirteen-year-old girl whose tutor had already explained all this to her. Gilbert smiled. Em would always be a year older than he was, but that didn't mean he would always be dumber than she was.

  "And Mr. Einstein, who is the smartest man in the whole history of the world, he has proved—absolutely proved—that time is just another dimension, just like space. Time is what happens when you can go up and down, side to side, in and out, and before and after."

  Em opened her mouth and closed it. Her twin brothers, Erwin and Neils, snickered at the sight of their sister struck dumb. She glared at them, then at Gilbert. "That's stupid," she said.

  "You're calling Einstein stupid?"

  "Of course not. But you must not understand him properly. Space is space. Time is time. Everyone knows that."

  Gilbert pretended he hadn't heard her. "But here's the part no one knows: why can we move through space in any direction—"

  "You can't go up!" Em said, quickly.

  "You got up into my tree house," he said, putting a small emphasis on my. "And you could go back down, too."

  Emmy, who was a better fighter than any of them, put her fists on her hips and mimed Make me. He pretended he didn't see it.

  "Why can we move through space in almost any direction, but time only goes in one direction, at one speed? Why can't we go faster? Slower? Backwards?"

  "Sideways?" Neils said. He didn't speak often, but when he did, what he said was usually surprising.

  "What's sideways in time?" his twin asked.

  Neils shrugged. "Sideways is sideways."

  "This is dumb," Emmy declared, but Gilbert could see that she was getting into the spirit of the thing—starting to understand how it had made him all so angry.


  Outside Gilbert's house the summer roared past like a three-masted schooner before a gale, with all sails bellied out. Inside the study, the hours crawled by. And then, in between, there were the breakfasts and dinners with Gilbert's father, who was home for the summer, whose kind eyes were set into an ever-growing net of wrinkles and bags, who returned from his winter voyages each year a little thinner, a little more frail.

  "And what did you learn today, my boy?" he said, as he tucked in to the mountain of lentils and beans made by the housekeeper, Mrs. Curie (who was so old that she had actually once served as Father's nanny and changed his diapers, which always made Gilbert giggle when he thought of it). Father was a strict vegetarian and swore by his diet's life-enhancing properties, though that didn't seem to stop him from growing older and older and older.

  Gilbert stopped fussing with his lentils, which he didn't like very much. "Geography," he said, looking at his plate. "We're doing the lowlands." He looked out at the sunset, the sun racing for the other side of the planet, dragging them all back toward the winter. "Belgium. Belgium, Belgium, Belgium."

  His father laughed and smacked his hands on his thighs. "Belgium! Poor lad. I've been marooned there once or twice. Land of bankers and cheese-makers. Like hitting your head, Belgium, because it feels so good when you stop. What else?"

  "I want to do more physics, but Señor says I don't have the math for it."

  His father nodded judiciously. "He would know. Why physics?"

  "Time," he said, simply. They'd talked of time all summer, in those few hours when Gilbert wasn't with his tutor and when Father wasn't sitting at his desk working at his accounts, or riding into town to huddle over the telephone, casting his will over place and time, trying to keep his ships and their cargos in proper and correct motion.

  "Why time, Gil? You're eleven, son! You've got lots of time! You can worry about time when you're an old man."

  Gilbert pretended he hadn't heard. "I was thinking of more ways that time is like space. If I was at sea, standing on the deck of a ship, I could see a certain ways before me, and if I turned around, I could see a small ways behind me. But the horizon cuts off the view in both directions. Time is like that. I can think back a certain ways, and the further back I try to remember, the fuzzier it gets, until I can't see at all. And I can see forward—we'll have cobbler soon, go to bed, wake tomorrow. But no further."

  His father raised his furry eyebrows and smiled a genuine and delighted smile. "Ah, but things separated by time affect each other the way that events separated by space can't. A star dying on the other side of the universe, so far away that its light hasn't yet had time enough to crawl all the way to us, can't have any effect on us. But things that happened hundreds of years ago, like the planting of the seed that grew the oak that made this table..." He rattled his saucer on it, making his coffee sway like a rough chop. He waggled his eyebrows again.

  "Yikes," Gilbert said. That hadn't occurred to him. "What if time moved in every direction and at every speed—could you have a space where events at the far end of the galaxy affected us?" He answered his own question. "Of course. Because the events could travel backwards in time—or, uh..." He fumbled, remembered Neils. "Sideways." He swallowed.

  "What's sideways in time?"

  He shrugged. "Sideways is sideways," he said.

  His father laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks, and Gilbert didn't have the heart to tell him that the phrase had been Neils's, because making his father laugh like that was like Christmas and his birthday and a day at the beach all rolled into one.

  And then his father took him down to the ocean, down the rough goat trail cut into the cliff, as surefooted as a goat himself. They watched the sun disappear behind the waves, and then they moved among the tidepools, swirling their hands in the warm, salty water to make the bioluminescent speck-size organisms light up like fireworks. They sat out and watched the moon and the stars, lying on their backs in the sand, Gilbert's head in the crook of his father's arm, and he closed his eyes and let his father tell him stories about the sea and the places he went in the long, lonely winters, while the waves went shhh, shhh, like the whisper of the mother who'd died giving birth to him.

  Then they picked their way back up the cliff by moonlight that was so bright, it might have been day, a blue-white noon in shades of gray, and his father tucked him up into bed as if he were three years old, smoothing the covers and kissing him on the forehead with a whiskery kiss.

  As he lay along a moment that stretched sleepily out like warm taffy, suspended on the edge of sleep, the thought occurred to him: What if space moved in only one direction, in two dimensions, like time?


  The year passed. For so long as Gilbert could remember, summer's first messenger had been the postmaster, Mr. Ossinger, who rode his bicycle along the sea road to the house to deliver his father's telegram advising of his expected arrival in port and the preparations to be made f
or him. Mrs. Curie usually signed for the letter, then knocked on the study door to deliver it into Gilbert's eager hands.

  But this year, while the wind and rain howled outside the window, and Señor Uriarte plodded through the formation of igneous rock, Mrs. Curie did not come and deliver the letter, rescuing him from geography. She didn't come to the door, though Señor had finished rocks and moved on to algebra and then to Shakespeare. Finally, the school day ended. Gilbert left Señor stirring through the coals of the study fire, adding logs against the unseasonal winds outside.

  Gilbert floated downstairs to the kitchen as though trapped in a dream that compelled him to seek out the housekeeper, even though some premonition told him to hide away in his room for as long as possible.

  From behind, she seemed normal, her thin shoulders working as she beat at the batter for the night's cake, cranking the mixer's handle with slow, practiced turns. But when the door clicked shut behind him, she stopped working the beater, though her shoulders kept working, shuddering, rising, falling. She turned her face to him and he let out a cry and took a step back toward the door. It was as though she had been caught by an onrush of time, one that had aged her, turning her from an old woman to an animated corpse. Every wrinkle seemed to have sunk deeper, her fine floss hair hung limp across her forehead, her eyes were red and leaked steady rills of tears.

  She took a step toward him, and he wanted to turn and run, but now he was frozen. So he stood, rooted to the spot, while she came and took him up in her frail arms and clutched at him, sobbing dry, raspy sobs. "He's not coming home," she whispered into his ear, the whiskers on her chin tickling at him. "He's not coming home, Gilbert. Oh, oh, oh." He held her and patted her and the time around him seemed to crawl by, slow enough that he could visualize every sweet moment he'd had with his father, time enough to visualize every storm his father had ever narrated to him. Had all that time and more before Señor Uriarte came downstairs for his tea and found them in the kitchen. He gathered up frozen Gilbert and carried him to his bedroom, removed his shoes, and sat with him for hours until he finally slept.

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