The Kingdom of Kevin MaloneSuzy McKee Charnas
by Suzy McKee Charnas
THE KINGDOM OF KEVIN MALONE
Copyright © 1993 by Suzy McKee Charnas. All rights reserved.
Original publication: Harcourt Brace, 1993.
Ebook edition of The Kingdom of Kevin Malone copyright © 2011 ElectricStory.com, Inc.
EPUB ISBN: 978-1-59729-057-9
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This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, events, organizations, and locales are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously to convey a sense of realism.
Cover art by and copyright © 2011 Michaela Eaves.
Ebook conversion by ElectricStory.com, Inc.
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Many thanks to Stephen, as always; and to Vonda, Bethynia, Jo, and especially to Samantha, for valuable input and encouragement. And, of course, to Charles and Joan Gross, at whose apartment I set up a wonderfully trouble-free base camp during a crucial weekend.
This book is dedicated to the Corner Kids, wherever and whoever they are.
One: Into the Fayre Farre
Two: Corner Kid
Three: Ash Wine
Four: Family Feud
Five: A Seelim Ride
Six: In the Brangle
Seven: Bad to Verse
Eight: A Very Clean Moorim
Nine: The Plush Jungle
Ten: Truth and Tomato Juice
Eleven: Passing for Paula
Twelve: The Rose Traveler
Fifteen: The Blockhouse
Sixteen: The Power of the Rose
Seventeen: Prince’s Choice
Eighteen: Troll and Silver
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Into the Fayre Farre
TWO OF MY UNCLES WERE STANDING by the piano with coffee cups in their hands, arguing about whether or not to sue the surgeon. I couldn’t stand it.
I couldn’t stand that Cousin Shelly was dead. You don’t die of a broken hip, not in your forties! People’s grandmothers die after they break their hips. Uncle Saul, the doctor, had said that it had to be because they had forgotten to give Shelly blood-thinning drugs after the surgery, but he was backpedaling, with his big face all glum and worried-looking, now that Uncle Irv was talking about suing.
I ignored the living-roomful of relatives and thought about the surgeon who had met Mom and me in the waiting room on the fourth floor of the hospital. At the time I had thought, what are you looking all blasted about? It’s not your favorite relative that died while you weren’t even there to say goodbye. Now I thought, maybe he had only been scared of getting sued.
I could still hardly believe it was true that my cousin and best grown-up friend Shelly Werthheim had had an operation for a broken hip and died of it.
And now, for seven days after the funeral, family and friends would come around to talk and cry and even laugh about Cousin Shell as they remembered her, forcing my mom to play hostess so she wouldn’t just sit and brood.
It’s called sitting shiva, and even nonreligious Jews like us sometimes do it when a close relative dies. It was happening in our apartment because Shelly had been an only child (like me) and her parents had died in a car crash in Florida years ago. She had no kids of her own, and she had lived with us for a year after her divorce, which was when I had gotten to know her so well. She and my mom had become very close also—“Like sisters,” Mom said over and over, shaking her head and crying. Aunt Jennie was mad because she and Uncle Irv are really religious and thought they should have done the honors. I sort’ve wished they had.
You can have enough of anything, especially when there’s tons of stuff on your mind and everybody around you is upset and irritable and people keep hugging you and burbling at you about the dead person you’re missing so much. That afternoon I’d had enough. It was a bright Saturday in spring, and I was ready for something besides the strain and gloom at home.
I found Mom on the phone with one of Shelly’s friends, crying again, and I asked if I could go out. Mom sort’ve gulped at me, which I took for a yes. And that was how I ended up with my best friend, Rachel, roller skating in the park where my life was changed forever.
* * *
“Wow,” Rachel said when I told her how the shiva was going. “Sounds terrible. Did your dad come home?”
“Not yet,” I said. He’d gone back to Los Angeles again after the funeral to work on a screenplay and look for a house for us. I dreaded that when he did come home he would just whisk us out there with him and not even wait until the end of the school year.
Rachel threw back her hair, which was long and straight and blonde and the envy of my life. “Well, he’s probably not too eager to come home anyway, not if all there is to do is sit and shiver for days and days.”
Rachel’s family changed their name from Beckstein to Breakstone ages ago, and she’s never been a sensitive person. I just said, “Ha ha, Rock-hell,” giving the name the Hebrew pronunciation with the accent on the “hell.” She hated that.
She said, “You’re so morbid, Amy. Let’s not just sit around being morbid.”
Which is how come we went over to Central Park, where I used to play when I lived on the West Side but where I didn’t go much anymore because now we lived way over off Second Avenue, on the East Side.
Rachel led the way to this band of asphalt, running alongside Sheep Meadow, that had once been part of the park road system. Now it’s closed to traffic at both ends and is used as a playing surface: volleyball at one end, roller skating at the other. I’d been promising for a long time to go skating with her. That day she lent me an old beat-up pair of her skates.
So we parked our butts on the curb and geared up.
It was a lively scene, just what I needed to clear the gloomy cobwebs out of my head. On an upside-down trash can in the middle of the pavement sat a huge boom-box, screaming out speed-of-light sales raps between blasts of music. Half of the skaters wore earphones anyway, moving to their own music.
The dress code was what you could call colorful. One guy skated in bright green sweats, somebody else in striped bike tights and a cut-off T-shirt. An older blond guy with a purple stripe in his hair, red shorts, and a red net-vest shuffled around in one small space making big moves with every part of his body but his feet. Everybody else worked around him, doing their best not to look at him.
I began to feel nervous. On skates for the first time in years, I was going to be in a class by myself here, except maybe for the jerk with the purple hair. I saw my future and it stank.
On the other hand, I was hardly thinking at all about Cousin Shelly. She would have approved of my being there. She always s
aid you should try new things.
Like death, which she was trying these days.
“I thought we came here to cheer you up,” Rachel said. “Are you just going to sit there and watch me?”
So I stood and plunged into the mob after her. A slim black kid in army fatigues did a fabulous skip and jump to avoid taking a header over my left foot. At least I wouldn’t be allowed to do any serious damage around here.
I was beginning to work up a sweat when all of a sudden somebody spun by and bopped me on the arm. I stopped short, almost falling on my face when my braking-studs hit the pavement: these people didn’t run into each other.
He was a dark-haired boy in a peaked leather cap and gray sweatpants with a pair of bright running shorts pulled on over them and a baggy sweatshirt, and he was skating away fast from the music and the crowd. I saw the flash of his pale face looking back at me: a familiar face, but from where?
I looked down at my arm. Something bright was stuck to my sleeve: some kind of a pin? I pulled it off and looked at it, and I gasped. I was looking at a little bit of my past.
What I held in my hand was a little brooch shaped like a rose on a climbing vine, made of silver-plated pot-metal and studded with tiny rhinestones. Cousin Shell had given it to me on my ninth birthday, but I had lost it a week later.
No, I hadn’t lost it—the pin had been stolen from me by—oh no—the bully of my old block! Could that skater be him, after all these years?
I craned my neck, staring after him as he veered south on the paved strip, around some volleyball players. I didn’t think I could catch him with the headstart he had. What was I thinking of—why would I want to catch him?
His name came back to me: Kevin Malone. I wanted to catch him, all right, catch him and show him I wasn’t still some helpless little girl he could push around any time he pleased.
“Rachel!” I screamed, across the whirling crowd. “I’ve got to go—see you later!” And I followed Rotten Kevin off the games-pavement and along a pedestrian path through the Mall.
Up ahead, he skated hard across the main promenade and between the statues of famous old writers that sit facing each other along the Mall walkway, staring creatively into space. Then he swooped down into the dip that would carry him under one of the park bridges.
I pumped my skates (well, Rachel’s spare skates) faster. Once through the arch of the bridge, Kevin would be out of sight very quickly. Without very good luck I would have no idea which way he’d gone on the other side—right, into the zoo; left, up toward the model sailboat pond; or straight ahead and out of the park onto Fifth Avenue.
He zipped under the archway and disappeared.
I mean he was there one instant, a speeding silhouette against the light at the other end of the passageway, and the next second he was gone. Vanished.
I skated down to the stone-edged entry to the arch and peered inside.
There was no sound of skates. All I could hear was some little kids shrieking at each other somewhere out of sight.
I wobbled back a few steps. The arch was made of those small, old-fashioned bricks that give “brick red” its name, with a band of grayish sandstone blocks all around the opening. On the wall facing me, a narrow metal pipe ran power inside to the lights on the ceiling.
There is a whole system of these bridges that arch over sunken pathways, so if you’re on foot you can get across the roadways without being swept away by the tide of taxicabs surging through the park. Most of the bridges carry three traffic lanes, plus shoulders, on top. Underneath, where people walk through, they are deep, dark tunnels.
I poked my head inside again, squinting to screen out the bright light at the other end of the passage. The ceiling bulbs were out, but I could see two rows of fat brick pilasters, curving at their tops to make a series of round-topped niches along each side wall.
The niches were high enough and deep enough for a thin person to hide in, sort of. But there was nobody in any of them. Kevin had absolutely disappeared.
I wished Rachel had come with me.
A man came into the tunnel towing a little kid. “Shall we see if we can find echo here?” he said in a British accent. “Echo!” he called. “Echo!”
His accent struck me as so silly and prissy that my nervousness evaporated. I skated in, keeping well to the middle to avoid the slops of mud that early spring rainstorms had washed in at the sides.
“Echo!” sang the Englishman as I passed him.
Suddenly, at about the halfway point in the tunnel, a curtain of cold, blurry air closed around me and a hand grabbed mine and tugged me through the far end of the passage. I stumbled to a stop, dazzled by daylight on a grassy slope, holding hands with Kevin Malone.
“Yuchh!” I pulled free. “Kevin, you creep! What are you doing?”
Ignoring me, he shut his eyes and began singing, turning in place to face each of the four directions. “Welcome, traveler, and fare ye well to all the farthest bounds of the fair far.”*
While I stood there openmouthed, he bent down and began to search around in the grass.
“Kevin?” I said. He didn’t respond, but on the other hand he didn’t protest that he was somebody else, either. “What are you looking for?”
“Your pin,” he said. “You dropped it. Don’t lose it, it’s your passport. You have to have it to move between the worlds.”
“Then you better find it,” I said, “because I am sure not planning to be stuck in any world with you in it.”
Not brilliant, but I was so stunned that I could barely talk at all. My heart was booming around frantically in my chest, scaring me worse. Cousin Shelly had died at about my mom’s age from something that wasn’t supposed to kill you until your eighties or nineties. Could a fourteen-year-old person die of a heart attack brought on by sheer shock?
Luckily, there was lots to distract me from this line of terror.
We stood on top of a green hill among a whole herd of low hills. Ours was long and broad, knee-deep with tall grass, and dotted with trees. The summit where we stood was divided down the center by a wide strip of flat stone like a park pathway. But this surface was decorated with mosaics of snakes and dragons and birds, all worn-looking and drifted over with dirt. Ruins fanned out from the paving, what looked like the broken-down remains of old corridors and rooms. Grass grew everywhere. A damp, tangy wind blew.
I sure was not in Kansas anymore. Or Central Park. Or anywhere I knew!
Kevin handed me my pin without a word. I fastened the rhinestone rose through the underside of my shirt collar. It wasn’t easy. My hands shook like crazy.
“Kevin,” I said, “what is this? Where are we?”
“In the hills of the fair far,” he said. “Take those skates off, they’re no good on this path ’cause there’s too much dirt. Hurry. The time changed while I was away looking for you. We haven’t got much daylight left.”
I noticed that his skates were gone, replaced by Reeboks with green dayglo laces. I didn’t bother to ask how he’d changed shoes so fast. I went for first things first, like any rational person in a totally impossible situation. “What’s this ‘fair far’? ”
He said it again, stretching the vowel sounds. Then he spelled it out: “F-a-y-r-e F-a-r-r-e, the Fayre Farre. It’s my place. I made it up. Hurry!”
Made it up? Whoo. I sat down on a stone, harder than I’d meant to, and got my shivery fingers busy taking my skates off. I am stuck in some kind of hallucination with a lunatic, I thought, and in my stocking feet. But everything felt so bright, so chilly, and so spookily real.
I said, calmly for a terrified person, “So what’s the problem with being out in the dark around here?”
“I started the Fayre Farre when I was real little, okay?” he said. “Little kids are scared of the dark, so the dark I made here has some scary things in it.”
“Things,” I said. “Like what?”
“Don’t worry, I can handle it. Let’s go.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me up on my
Kevin Malone had not put his grubby paws on me in years, and never with friendly intentions. I had always run when I’d seen him, but all that was years ago.
I settled for yanking my arm free. “Just hold it, okay? God, Kevin, I’ve got enough going on in my life as it is. What are you doing here? Why did you pick today to give me back my pin? How did you find me, anyway? And where’s Central Park?”
“I’ve been tracking you for years,” he said. “That old pin of yours kept tabs on you for me, and today you came close enough to reach. And something’s different: your guard was down, somehow. That means something.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But it means something. Everything means something in the Fayre Farre.”
I was not at all delighted with the idea of Kevin spying on me for years. “Well, my guard is back up again, and I’m going home. Where’s the park, Kevin?”
“What’s your hurry?” He took off the dark leather cap he was wearing and shoved the hair out of his eyes with the back of his wrist. “Aren’t you curious at all?”
“About a world you think you made up?” I said. “Even if you did create all this, which is impossible, I do know something about the imaginations of little boys”—I was thinking of Rachel’s two younger brothers, the twins, who were deeply into computer-game violence—“and I do not want to wander around inside anything remotely related to that kind of mind. Least of all your mind, Kevin. You were a horrible little creep when I knew you, in case you’ve forgotten.”