Check out the beautiful trailer above — warning: that song is a gorgeous earworm! — and here are the first two amazing chapters of Girl Who Soared, to help you get up to speed on Fairyland:
C H A P T E R I
THE INVISIBLE CLOAK OF ALL THINGS PAST
In Which a Girl Named September Tells Several Lies, Hoards Money, Turns Fourteen, Wears Trousers, and Goes on a Joy- Ride
Once upon a time, a girl named September told a great number oflies. The trouble with lies is that they love company. Once you tell a single lie, that lie gets terribly excited and calls all its friends to visit. Soon you find yourself making room for them in every corner, turning down beds and lighting lamps to make them comfortable, feeding them and tidying them and mending them when they start to wear thin. This is most especially true if you tell a very large lie, as September did. A good, solid, beefy lie is too heavy to stand on its own. It needs smaller, quicker, more complicated lies to hold it up.
September would be awfully crushed to hear us call her a liar, but it cannot be escaped that she and honesty had not got on well for some time.
There are many sorts oflies. You could fill a shop with them. To be sure, lies are terribly common. Few would pay particularly good money for fibs when they are so busy making their own at home for nothing. But if you peek inside the shop door of the heart, there you will find a full stockroom. Lies to conceal dastardly deeds stack up smartly along the shelves. Over in the refrigerated section hang lies told so long ago and so often that they turned into the truth and get taught in history books. Lies told to make oneself seem grand pile up high on a special four- color display. And in the front windows, laid out so nicely no one could blame you for having them, snuggle up little harmless lies told to spare feelings or save face or keep a friend from trouble.
Of course, nothing is really harmless. Sometimes telling the truth can bang the world about its ears just as much as any lie. But you must always be careful when you visit that little shop where lies are kept. They are always looking for a way out.
The first lie September told was very simple indeed. It was such a tiny lie, in fact, that if you were not looking carefully, as we are, you would surely miss it. She told it on a rainy, blustery, squalling day, which is just the right sort of day to start down a strange and secret path. Long, cindery, smoky- colored clouds rolled and rumbled over the Nebraska prairie. The storm fell in silver streamers, stirring the thirsty earth into a thick soup. September sat in her mother and father’s house, looking out the window at the sloshy drops plunking into mud puddles the size of fishing ponds. Everything glittered with the eerie, swirling light of the heavy sky. Her familiar fields looked quite like another world.
September had a book open on her lap but could not concentrate on it. Her cup of tea had gone altogether cold. The pink and yellow flowers on the handle had worn almost to white. A certain small and amiable dog rolled over next to her, hoping to have his belly scratched. September did not notice, which deeply offended the dog. Her mother read the newspaper by the fire. Her father napped quietly with a checkered blanket thrown over his poor wounded leg, which never could heal quite right, no matter how many long trips into the city they took to visit his doctors. A bubble of thunder burst and spat. September’s mother looked up, leaving off an interesting article about a modern new road that might run very near to their house, and asked her daughter:
“What ever are you thinking about, dear? You seem quite lost in your head.”
And September, very simply, answered, “Oh, nothing really.”
This was wholly, thoroughly, enormously untrue.
September was thinking about Fairyland.
Now, you might say that September had been lying all along, for certainly she never told her parents about the magical country she had visited twice now. That is what grown- up sorts who are very interested in technical terms call a lie of omission. But we will be generous and forgive September for leaving her adventures out of suppertime conversation. How could she ever explain it all? Mama and Papa, you might be interested to know that I flew away to a land of Witches and Wyverns and Spriggans, fought the wicked Marquess who was in charge ofit all, and won— please pass the roast beets? It would never do. Papa and Mama, not only did I do all that, but I went back! My shadow had been making trouble, you see, and I had to go to the underworld to fix it all up again. Shall I do the washing up?
No, it seemed best to leave the matter where it lay. And where it lay was deep inside September where no one could take it from her and ruin it by staring at it too closely. When she felt afraid or alone, when her father was in such awful pain he could not bear to have anyone near him on account of the terrible racket of their breathing and thinking and swallowing, she could take her memories out and slip them on like a shawl of fabulous gems.
Poor September. Everyone has their invisible cloak of all things past. Some shimmer and some float. Some cut all the way down to the bone and farther still.
If you could only hear the little trumpet of that lie, calling all its brothers and sisters to muster!
And muster they did. What was September to do when her teachers asked her to write a composition on how she had spent her summer vacation? Five paragraphs on I brought my father’s shadow back from Fairyland- Below where my own shadow had pulled it over from the war in France and I carried it all the way home to put it back together with his body again? Certainly not. Like all the other students, she wrote a nice essay on the unusually hot August she had spent bringing the harvest in, learning lacework and how to repair the brakes on Mr. Albert’s Model A.
Yes, Mrs. Franke, that was all. Nothing interesting in the slightest.
And when Mrs. Bisek, who taught physical education, remarked on how fast September could run nowadays, could she possibly pipe up and announce: I have had good practice while migrating with a herd of wild bicycles, as well as escaping several alarming creatures? Out of the question. It was all up to helping her father learn to walk properly again, of course. Together they made endless circuits of the acreage so that he could get strong. And worst of all, when Mr. Skriver, the history teacher, asked if anyone knew the story of Persephone, September had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out: I went to Fairyland on a Persephone visa and I ate Fairy food and both of those put together mean I shall go back every year when the seasons change. Instead she let one of the girls whose fathers worked at a bank in Omaha and wore smart little gray hats answer, and get it wrong at that.
All around her, the children September had known since her first days of school were growing up. The girls loped tall through the hallways and talked about their boyfriends in the same thrilled and thrilling tones you and I might use to discuss marvelous flying dragons. They shared the mystic secrets of keeping one’s golden hair perfectly golden and one’s ivory skin perfectly clear. Some of the boys had bits of beard or mustache coming in, of which they were very proud. September was excluded from the mysteries of golden hair and ivory skin, having neither. Nevertheless, she was getting taller, too. She would soon find herself taller than all but three or four girls her age. Her face was turning into the face it would be when she was grown. But she couldn’t see it, for no one can see themselves change until they have already done it, and then suddenly they cannot remember ever having been different at all.
And above all the bustle of thirteen- year- olds becoming fourteenyear- olds floated the great and powerful rumor: The war would be over soon. Everything was going to go back to normal.
Spring melted over the farms outside Omaha like butter in a pan. Sharp, green days full of bold white clouds. September could not help smiling a little smile, all day long and in her sleep, too. Waiting for Fairyland was like waiting for a raspberry bush to fruit. One day you thought the whole thing was dead and hope lost, and the next you were drowning in berries. But the fruit always came. That is what September told herself. Of course, faith and patience are very hard tricks for a heart to learn. It would be easier for our girl to learn how to somersault off a trapeze than to believe that the dastardly, dashing world tends to do things whenever it pleases, on its own persnickety timetable and not that of yearning young people. She watched April rumble through like a bright, wet train and May burst in close behind, warm and noisy and full of wheeling, boisterous birds.
Her fourteenth birthday came.
September’s father felt well enough to help with her present. It was a present so wonderful it came all the way round again to terrible and so terrible it sped through to wonderful with a quickness. September felt so nervous and excited her skin flashed cold and then tingly and then hot as a stove.
September was going to learn to drive.
On the morning of September’s birthday Mr. Albert’s creaking, cranky Model A Ford sat out in front of the house like an old horse ready for the races again. A little orange ribbon fluttered in the wind, tied round the burlap Aroostook Potato Company sack that covered the spare wheel. The Model A could not claim to be young nor fast nor good- looking, but it made fantastic snarling noises. Alongside her mother, September had worked her fingers into almost every part of that engine. Now those fingers twitched with eagerness, remembering valves and pistons. With some coaxing and bargaining, she knew, the aged beast would roll down the road to town, grumbling plenty all the way.
And now it was hers.
At least for the afternoon.
The moment it became her own, September saw the Model A as quite a different animal. It was no longer a chore to be finished by supper, but a glorious monster, a puzzle smelling of gasoline with a lot of parts like teeth. She touched the battered, accordioned vent— the paint had not won its battle with fifteen Nebraska winters. Once it had been pure, dark, wintry green. Now it looked like a pelt, with spots and stripes of naked metal and rust showing through. The black fenders curved up and over piebald front wheels, hoisting the near- flat spare and big froggy headlights. The chrome had not dreamed of shine since Mr. Albert had whacked it up against a beech tree a month after he bought the thing. The cracked windshield sparkled in the hot sun. It had a cloth top you could pull over your head, but the day glowed so warm and still that September knew they wouldn’t bother with it. Not today. She would drive with the wind in her hair and get a marvelous roadster’s sunburn.
“Hullo,” September whispered to the Model A, just as she would to a crabby old horse who didn’t want her apple, thank you very much. “Don’t be afraid, I shall try very hard not to crunch you or whack you in any way. Of course, I cannot promise, but I am usually quite careful when dealing with terrible engines.”
Her father eased himself into the passenger seat, his face a little red and flushed with the effort and the sunshine and the bustle of a birthday. He tightened the straps of Mr. Albert’s driving goggles over September’s head and pulled the extra pair down onto his own big, lovely nose. September could hardly breathe. Her excitement leapt and sputtered in her as though the car were already speeding down the road.
Now, a Model A does not start and stop the way automobiles whose acquaintance you and I have made do. It has a good number of levers and valves and switches, and operating one is something like puppetry, something like lion taming, and something like dancing. September’s mother pointed and explained the peculiar workings of the rusty creature with an engine for a heart.
“Now,” she said brightly, her warm, firm voice full of confidence in her daughter. “There are important rules in driving an automobile, rules from which no one, not even your own mother, is exempt.”
“Tell me the rules,” said September with that secret little smile her mother could not interpret.
“Some are easy: Go on Green, stop on Red. Use your mirrors, they’re there for a reason. Look both ways before turning. Brake into a turn and accelerate out ofit. But most of the rules have to do with not killing the car while trying to get it started. Getting things started is always such a difficulty! But, like so: the brake must be on before you can begin. This seems backward, but it’s important. Turn on the gas valve and push the spark lever— that’s the one on your left, dear— all the way up. It’s fire that makes a car go, my love, fire and fuel. Now pull the throttle lever— on your right, darling— a little ways down. Imagine a clock, where the throttle is the hour hand. Put the hour hand at four o’clock. See how at four o’clock the accelerator pedal goes down all by itself? That’s how you know you’ve got it right. You must turn the carburetor— that shiny knob there— one full turn closed, then one full turn open. Put the gear in neutral— neutral means neither forward nor backward nor fast nor slow, and it is the place from which you must always begin. Closed before open. Brake before beginning. Now, at last, turn the key to ON. But it is not ON yet, no matter what the key says! Pull the carburetor rod back, and press this button on the floor which is the starter. Wait for the engine to turn over— that sound like it is clearing its throat and will soon begin talking up a storm— and let the rod go.”
September thought the rods and buttons would slide smoothly into place with satisfying sounds and clicks. Once you knew what to do, well, doing it would be no trouble! But it was not like that at all. It took all her strength to drag the throttle lever into position. She thought her wrist might snap before the gearshift would agree to grind into neutral. The Model A spat and gargled and shuddered awake, but not all at once. First she gave too much gas; then she was too slow to press the starter after yanking back the carburetor with both hands and her shoulders put into it in earnest. No wonder Mr. Albert thwacked that beech tree.
September’s father put his warm brown hand over hers and let the spark lever down a little. There were more strange words—clutch and choke and shift, like the car was a body and quite alive, if a little sick with bellyache or cough.
Had she been less excited by the phlegmy roar of the Model A, September might have noticed how much she had grown in order to touch the pedals with her feet and see out the windshield while sitting up very straight and proper and not boosted on heavy books. But the car jangled and her heart jangled with it. When she released the brake, there certainly was much clutching and choking. September let out a whoop of joy that was swallowed up in the raggedy protestations of the engine, and off they rattled down the dirt road, bouncing and jostling and knocking and bonging. When it came time to shift gears, the Model A bolted forward ungracefully. When it came time to slow down, it whined and sputtered. September did not care. She leaned into the road, mud spattering her goggles, laughing into the May wind.
It was, after all, so very like riding a Wyvern.
Nothing else happened that day.
The sun set without peculiar happenings and no sooner than she could blink, September once more lived in a world without the Model A, as if none ofit had ever happened. The wonderful, monstrous, noisy car vanished back to Mr. Albert’s garage. No Wind of any color came rushing up behind the exhaust- blast of the car. When she lay in bed that night, she could still feel the vibration of the engine in her bones, like when you have spent the whole day swimming and the sweet rocking of the water lulls you to sleep long after you’re good and dry. I shall not worry just because the Green Wind did not come today, she thought over the echoes of shifting gears shivering her skin. Aunt Margaret says worry only turns down the bed for bad news.
Instead of fretting over a day here or there, she would prepare. The place that fear took up in her heart she would fill with provisions and readiness. She was a seasoned Adventuress now, after all. It would never do to keep turning up in Fairyland like a helpless lamb with nothing but the wool on her back. Grown- ups didn’t just wait around for things to happen to them. They made plans. They anticipated. They saved up and looked out and packed in. September slept very well that night. She dreamed of neatly filled suitcases and lists with every item checked off.
The first and most important of these preparations began with a mason jar under her bed. September had been saving pennies for some time. She was her mother’s daughter and that meant a frugal girl with a weakness for hoarding what she never knew if she might need. But now her efforts had a clear purpose: September was quite fed up with the problem of having needs in Fairyland but no means. It was no better than her own world! Worse, in fact, since she hardly had a notion of what money meant over there at all. But she would have no more First Kisses traded on the open market this time, nor rubies wedged out of a Fairy sceptre that might well have been an oversized log back in Nebraska. She would never be a rich girl, neither here nor there, but she could at least make a go at convincing magical folk that a bit of copper was as good as a kiss.
And so September offered herself up to all her neighbors: no chore too big or too messy, guaranteed no complaining! She fed sheep and chickens and weeded kitchen gardens. She pinned up washing like blowing white sails on seas oflong grass. She wrote letters for Mr. Killory who couldn’t read and wasn’t about to start learning now. She looked after the dusty, crabby Powell work horses, fed and watered and combed them while they snorted in pointed disapproval. Mrs. Powell gave her a half- dollar as pretty as a plate when the big roan turned up pregnant after they’d long given up on the notion. She took over her mother’s errands for Mr. Albert, driving round the county to fetch or deliver or purchase. Dimes and nickels and pennies went into her jar, filling it up like glinting jam.
Being prepared meant standing at the ready at any moment, should Fairyland come for her— and this was how she conceived ofit in her deepest heart: a whole world drifting ever closer in a beautiful chariot of air and light and ocean, a whole world coming to collect her. Thinking everything over and laying her fairy- habits out one by one like butterflies in a tray, September had to admit that shifts and dresses were not the most practical of traveling clothes. She had only one pair of trousers, but they became dear to her— wearing them meant that she would soon be tumbling over stone walls and chasing down blue kangaroos. They meant going and doing and daring.
September also took her father’s temperature every day, though when he offered her a dime for being such a steadfast nurse, she would not, could not take it. She asked after his pain as though it were a visiting relative and recorded the answers in a little book given to them by his doctors. He went to Omaha every three months. Ever so slowly those doctors were straightening his leg. There was nothing to be done about the piece of bullet lost somewhere in his thigh. September watched him go each time from her window, disappearing in the long, sleek Packard sent by the Veterans’ Association. Each time she had the peculiar thought that he was under a spell just like hers, compelled to leave home and return to a strange city over and over again.
While she did her small work from farm to farm, September thought often of the Sibyl who guarded the entrance to Fairyland- Below, where her shadow had made its home. The Sibyl had loved her work, how she had known since she was a child that the work was as much a part of her as her own heart. What is my work? September thought, and not for the first time. What can I do that is useful? What have I done since I was small that comes as natural as guarding to a Sibyl? She did not know. It was probably not planting kitchen vegetables or driving a car. The Killorys’ bleating sheep and half- blind rooster seemed to tell her with their black eyes that she was not so good at looking after them that she should make a life ofit. The pregnant roan did not deign to share an opinion in any fashion. September considered herself quite good at reading and thinking, which was mostly what her father had done in his classroom before the war. She could, it certainly seemed, depose monarchs fairly well. But these did not seem to add up to what one might call a profession. September knew that some girls worked hard at training to be a quality wife and a mother to children that would one day be born. But her mother did all that and also made airplanes fly with just a wrench and her own good brain. September also wanted to do wonderful things with her own good brain. It was no easier to wait for such a profession to become clear than to stop looking for signs of Fairyland around every stone wall and fence post.
September tried to fill up her good brain with these sorts of things, to fill it so full that she simply could not think about anything else. May relaxed into its flowers and songbirds. June took the summer’s baton and sprinted down its dry, golden track. The big hay wheel of the Nebraska moon looked in through September’s window at night. And once, but only once, she held her jar of coins in the moonlight and thought finally the terrible thing she had not allowed to come in, no matter how it knocked on the doors of her heart. Maybe it’s because I am getting old. Maybe Fairyland does not want me because I have been trying so hard to be a grown- up person and behave in a grown- up fashion. Maybe Fairyland is for children. I am fourteen now, which is ever so much more than twelve. I have jobs even if they are not very good ones. I can drive a car and remember to record Father’s temperature at the same time every day. Maybe I am getting too big— no, worse, maybe I am getting too usual to be allowed to go back.
She woke that night with a start, sure she had heard a Wyverary’s deep haroom right next to her.
But there was nothing. In the warm, still dark, September cried.
C H A P T E R I I
EXEUNT, PURSUING PUFFINS
In Which September Fails to Mend a Fence, Runs a Border, Misuses Prepositions, and Meets a Very Nice Dog Named Beatrice
The first day of July got out of bed hot and contrary. September woke early, so early that the sky still had a little pink and yellow in it when she shut the door softly behind her. She headed out to the neat line of trees at the far edge of their property. She was wearing her beloved green work- trousers, which, truth be told, had gotten both threadbare and too short for her, and a faded buttoned shirt with a pleasant red and orange checker on it. She carried a hammer hooked into her belt loops and, in her deep olive pockets, a little case of nails, two pieces of butterscotch candy as well as a paperback book concerning Norse mythology which she’d had to bend nearly in halfin order to fit. Her jam jar of coins rested in the crook of her arm. September aimed to read about mistletoe and eight- legged horses for a while, then mend a space of fence that had blown down in the last rainstorm. The fence in question divided their property from Mr. Albert’s much bigger spread. Her father had mentioned it the night before, absently, sadly, as though there were no point in trying to fix it, what with the world going on the way it was and rains coming anytime they pleased. When September finished with the fence, she was to take the Model A into town and purchase a good number of things on a list her mother had made out. Mr. Albert had a list, too, and Mrs. Albert and Mrs. Powell and Mrs. Whitestone down the way as well. For herself, September had decided to spend some of her precious coins in order to buy a compass and perhaps some other provisions that might prove useful in Fairyland.
With all the lists neatly tucked into her back pocket, September looked out toward the ribbon of leafy birches in the far distance, their white trunks showing starkly like capital letters. Their shade beckoned gorgeously, black and deep and cool. It was a long walk and September could not whistle or anything of the sort. Instead, she took out her book to read as she walked, spying her path out of the corners of her eyes. September could do nearly anything while reading: walk, brush a horse, pull ragweed out of the herb- bed, scrub the teacups and gravy boats which by now had almost no paint on them at all. The writing was very dry, but it hardly mattered when Valkyries and goats with mead in their udders were afoot. A lady named Skadi was going about choosing a husband just by looking at the legs of all the gods when that rich, thick shade fell over the pages. Time to walk along the fence until the ruined bit spilled out its wire and wood all over the place. September took out one of her butterscotches and popped it into her mouth.
All those gods’ legs and butterscotch and hot morning sun might have kept September from ever seeing the rather large person and even larger dog walking along the other side of the fence. To be fair to our girl, the other person walked very quietly. In fact, she did not walk so much as sizzle silently into nothing and reappear again a little ways farther down the fence while her dog trotted to keep up. We can only thank the tangle of storm- battered fence for making its entrance just then and not a moment later. For when she saw the wreckage over the top of her book, September put Skadi and her gods- legs away and looked straight into the crackling, electric, blue eyes of an enormous woman and a tall, bored- looking greyhound.
September could not rightly tell whether the woman herself was enormous or if it was only her armor that made her seem so. But how fearfully strong and sturdy she must have been to bear up under it all! Metal closed up her tall, broad body like the grille of a train, twisted up in snarls of wires and bolts and incandescent knobs. In the center, where her heart should be, a great miner’s lamp shone with blistering electric light, throwing off the palest blue sparks. Her shoes were made of railroad tracks bent and buckled into shape. Huge black half- pipes prickled with rivets hunched over her shoulders. Her hands, half the size of all of September, sported rough gloves cut out of two single cloudy diamonds. Inside the facets, lights flickered on and off, cold- black and searing white. Even the woman’s hair was a tangled mass of electrical wires, bound up in a great knot. A few strands blew in the breeze, sending little sparks hissing down into the dirt. She held a huge, old- fashioned lantern in one hand with a ball of black burning where the flame ought to have been. In the other she brandished a great hook twisted up with intricate, beautiful metals like carvings on an ancient whalebone.
The greyhound, as tall as a lion and twice as lazy, stared with the same fiery blue eyes, but his fur rippled the flies away without armor, soft and gray and white with black speckles. His expression was the mournful, skittish one worn by all his breed.
September stared. The wire- woman stared back, much less alarmed, as September was rather small and not throwing off electricity like confetti.
Then she vanished.
The empty air where the woman stood popped and wriggled for a minute, and then all was still. The greyhound gave September another long, half-interested, houndly look which seemed to say: A dog’s work is never done and is that butterscotch I smell? He got up, arched his back into a quick stretch, and padded off down the fence line.
September bolted after him. She needn’t have; the electric lady crackled back into existence three or four long steps away. She lifted up her hook and seemed to catch an invisible something in the July air, yanking and twisting it against a frightful resistance. Beads of sparkling yellow sweat shot from her brow.
“Good morning!” said September, and felt foolish. Was this woman from Fairyland? She seemed Fairyish. She felt Fairyish. The air around her boiled with an intolerable heat and she smelled like scorched metal— but also, absurdly, like growing things, mushrooms and dandelion greens and pine sap. What else could she be? September had never seen anything like her. For certain she knew how to disappear.
The greyhound grabbed hold of the end of the long hook. He growled and hauled on it, and together with his mistress they worked free what ever had become stuck in the sky. The lady mopped light- sweat from her brow with a very plain checkered handkerchief. The pattern was nearly the same as September’s shirt.
“And a good morning to you, kid, though by my clock it’s midnight and by my mood it’s a nasty one.” She dug her massive diamond hand into her breastplate and tossed a bright bit of red light to her dog, who jumped to catch it and crunched happily away. “Too long before my shift’s done and too much Line left to spool. Isn’t that always the way?” She smiled a weary sort of smile. Her teeth flashed copper.
September simply could not think of anything to say. When that happened the thing she wanted to say but oughtn’t usually jumped out of her mouth and that’s just what it did.
“You’re not a Wind,” she said bluntly, and then felt rude and flushed.
“Got that right,” the lady said darkly, and guttered out again. September gritted her teeth with frustration. She looked around and scrambled back along the fence to where the electric lady was coming once more into focus. The hound gave a little yip and followed.
“What are you, then?” September said, not less bluntly. She took a deep breath and started again. “I do have manners, I promise. It’s only that when manners don’t let me say what I want to, I don’t have anything else. And what I want to say is, well, you are from Fairyland, aren’t you? You just have to be.”
The lady stuck her hook into the sky again, but this time, she hardly had to wriggle it twice before she seemed satisfied. She took out another lump of red light, put it into her own mouth like tobacco, and chewed thoughtfully. “Now, from’s a funny word for it. It’s a preposition and those are a jagged business. Am I from Fairyland? No, no, you couldn’t say it. You’d be wrong as a pen in a socket. Am I among Fairyland? That’s closer, but nope, still a bust. Am I out of Fairyland? Am I next to Fairyland? Am I regarding Fairyland? It’s no good! The trouble with prepositions is they want to stick pins in you. They want to say how you get on with things, where you are exactly in relation to this or that. Prepositions are the guardians of space and time— and ifi use my manners, space and time and I had a row in school and we’re not what you’d call bosom buddies any longer. Prepositions want to put you in your place, the little sticklers. In my line of work— oh gracious, there’s me punning!— in my line of work you can’t let anything hold on to you, not even words. Words are the worst. Everything else runs on words. And there’s hordes of them, just running mad all over your business like ants. If you hold still long enough, they’ll get you good. So I don’t.”
She crackled blue and sizzled out again. The greyhound fixed his incandescent eyes on September.
“We are throughout Fairyland,” he said slowly. His voice was soft as falling ash.
The lady’s staticky voice returned before September could see the blue lamp of her heart blaze up in just the same place she’d left.
“You didn’t go anywhere!” September exclaimed.
“Well, sure I did,” the woman said. “I went a hundred thousand miles. Put a patch on the Line at the Spindle Substation. And now I’m putting a fuse in here at the Pomegranate Junction. Only it’s not here, see. I’m not here at all. S’what I mean about words. I’m on the other side of the rim. But the Line is so backed up here you can see bits of me coming through even though you shouldn’t.” Her blazing blue eyes narrowed and she bent down to September, shaking one gargantuan diamond finger at her. “Maybe you ought to just go to bed right now, young lady, without any supper. Spying on Heisenbergian mechanics through the keyhole. Kids today!” But then the electric lady laughed. “Don’t look so shocked. I’m just having my own little jokes. I don’t mind if you see me. Linemen don’t mind much.”
“What’s a Lineman?” breathed September, glad to have something in all of that to hold on to.
“I’m one. My name’s Boomer. My old boy there’s Beatrice. He’s a Cap. A Capacitor if you’re inviting him somewhere formal. Keeps me grounded, holds on to the Line while I work it.”
“That’s a girl’s name.”
Boomer shrugged. “He likes Beatrice. It’s not my business what a Cap wants to be called. Howdy, you are just bound and determined to make me talk, aren’t you? Use words like a person.” Boomer clattered and fizzed as she settled down onto the dirt beside the fence. “Well, I’ll try but I don’t have to like it. A Lineman works the Line. The line between the worlds. Like when you want to keep cows from wandering out and getting hamburgered by a train or busting ankles on oak roots. If there wasn’t a Line, anyone could just jump around between worlds like hopscotch. Toss their marker over the chalk and bounce right through, calling all her little friends after her in a row. Nothing but a mess and I’ve seen it happen, back when.”
“But people do jump,” said September shyly.
“Oh, they do! Boy, and how they do! That’s why I’ve got a job! The Line’s got weak spots. It’s old and I’ve got my suspicions about the morals of those what strung it in the first place. It has to be fixed nonstop. Just while I’ve been talking to you I’ve knit up fourteen frays, spackled a blown transformer, spooled up twenty slacks, replaced seven dark nodes, and netted a hole the size of Montana.” Boomer squinted one eye. “And I hope you’re smart enough to know those are just words, words you understand because you live in a world that has a Montana and transformers and capacitors. It’s not what they are.”
“Of course,” said September, who had not realized that at all.
“I’m not from Fairyland. Never been there. But I’ve seen it through the shop window, you know? I go between, and I mind the Line. There was a bad break here a while back— a while back by my clock, not yours. And by here I don’t mean your farm or Nebraska, really. Just here. Here summed up by Pluto and inchworms and balloons that rise because of helium. People have been coming and going like they got shot out of a circus cannon. I do not like it, no ma’am. The Line’ll always be weak in these parts. Structural flaw. But it almost wore through completely last year— I think I’ve got that right. Time zones are my bedevilment and no lie. Last year we almost lost it, and now I’ve got to tend to the sag.”
“Last year! I was in Fairyland then! And my shadow was stealing magic! A minotaur told me the borders would have just melted into nothing if she’d had her way.”
“You should always listen to minotaurs. Anybody with four stomachs has to have a firm grip on reality. The Line was all in tatters. It got so bad you could just trip over a wall and end up who knows where? And when the works go that wrong, you get bandits. Worse than mice. If you see one it’s too late. Beatrice does his best to rustle them good, but what can he do? It’s a foundational fact of the universe that everything leaks. What comes out when it springs, that’s the only question.” Boomer spat. A stream of red lightning glittered out of her mouth.
September looked down at her shoes. “Am I a bandit? I’ve been crossing the Line. Twice. Four times if you count the return trip.”
Boomer looked at her meaningfully. September stuck her hands in her pockets. But she looked up again and held the Lineman’s gaze. She wasn’t sorry. She wouldn’t pretend she was sorry. She supposed that made her a bandit for sure.
Beatrice’s eyes flashed like lightbulbs. He began to howl: a long, whistling, hollow note, just exactly like a steam engine.
“Here they come,” snarled Boomer, and heaved up, her metal body unfolding like a puzzle.
The prairie stood quiet and green, except for a loose and fitful wind blowing the long grain and the dark green tips of the birches.
“Weren’t you after a Wind? I hate Winds. Criminals and fugitives and psychopomps the whole stupid gasbagging lot of them. But for the Winds I could have retired with a nice spread out beyond the edge of time by now. Up, Beatrice! Speak!”
The greyhound rose up on his great haunches and barked once, twice, three times. His voice was no longer a steam engine but a terrible tolling bell. September clapped her hands over her ears— and a good thing, too. The wind whipped itself up so fierce and fast all the grain could do was stand straight up, stretched and taut almost to breaking. The air seemed to tip and totter and finally fall over, spilling out a throng of hollering, ululating, laughing, whooping creatures. Puffins.
One by one they rolled up into fluffy cannonballs, flapped their tiny wings once or twice, and thudded back down onto their plump bellies, tumbling over one another like a wave breaking. Their round beaks gleamed bright orange and gold. Some were tiny, no bigger than jacks. Some were much bigger, the size of hunting hounds. Their eyes sparkled black and green and red and purple as they tumbled nearer— and at least some of those were not at all the right colors for birds’ eyes as far as September knew. One by one they heaved up into the air again, paddling their wide webbed feet against the sky like they were scrambling up a mountainside.
And dancing on top of them, leaping from puffin to puffin, twirled a grinning young lady all in blue. She wore indigo trousers with as much silk to them as a skirt, and when they rustled, ghostly pale blue stars peeked out from the folds. She had on turquoise opera gloves and sapphire- colored boots with crisscrossed icicle laces all the way to the knee. A long, beautiful sky- colored coat spun out like a dress from a heavy silver belt at her waist, swirling with aquamarine stitching, trimmed in wild, woolly fur from some impossible, blueberry- colored sheep. Her long, azure hair flew every which way under a cobalt cap rimmed in the same blue shag. The cap had an ice- spike on top ofit, like old pictures of the Kaiser. She smoked a blue churchwarden pipe, blowing great squares and triangles and rhombuses of blue smoke for her puffins to dip and dive through.
A long honk broke up the caterwauling puffin songs. In the center of the flock, half bouncing on the ground and half hoisted, shoved, carried, and jostled by the birds, came Mr. Albert’s Model A Ford. “But that’s my car!” September corrected herself, but she was quite indignant that someone else— even if they were puffins— was driving it. “I mean it’s Mr. Albert’s car! What are they doing with it? They’re going to break it to pieces, that’s what!”
“Horse thieves!” Boomer said with disgust. She brandished her hook like an ax. Beatrice growled. It sounded like the turning of gears deep in the earth.
The woman in blue sighted September. Her grin grew wider; her black eyes glittered. They barreled toward the fence. The air wriggled around the Lineman and her Cap, so hot it turned the back of September’s legs painfully red. She stood her ground.
“Girl, Ho!” the blue bandit yelled, in the manner of sailors sighting land. She saluted smartly.
September saluted back. A smile broke open on her face like a firecracker. Who could this be but the Blue Wind, a little late, but come for her at last? September forgave her immediately for her tardiness. Her heart hammered around inside her like it meant to get free.
“Wind, Ho!” she cried. Suddenly, all that talk of bandits and holding the Line seemed wholly, entirely unimportant. September laughed and waved giddily. She couldn’t help adding: “Have you come to take me to Fairyland?”
The Blue Wind cocked her head to one side and hooted. The puffins hooted back. Now they were nearly on top of her, September could see each little bird dressed in smart, shining armor of the sort you find in books about Spanish explorers. The armor was made ofice and caked in snow. Their own black feathers stuck out of their helms as plumes.
“Hadn’t planned on it,” shrugged the Blue Wind. “Fairyland’s a dreadful place. Why would you want to go there?” She laughed; her laughter rocketed into the forest, echoing and breaking apart against the trees.
Several things happened all on top of each other.
The bandits shot up into the sky: puffins, the Blue Wind, the Model A, and not a few birch trees yanked out of the ground by the fearful, shearing air.
Beatrice vaulted up to meet them, his long silver body arcing like a current, his sharp teeth glowing hot white.
Boomer dropped her hook and undid her hair. It was such a simple gesture September did not know what she was about until the whole mass of it came down and open: a net of wires sizzling with electricity, as wide and strong as the sail of a grand ship.
September cried out and she did not know who she meant to warn: the dog, the birds, Boomer, the Blue Wind? But it did not matter. Beatrice snapped at the underbellies of the birds. They laughed chitteringly at him. He missed once, twice, three times; they could go higher than he. He fell back to the ground, his snout twitching, yelping frustration like a puppy. As soon as her hound had got clear, Boomer threw her net in the bandits’ path. September was certain they’d be cooked to death— but the Blue Wind only giggled. With a wink for September, she spun around like an ice-skater on the back of a particularly large puffin. The stream of birds narrowed and squirmed and shrunk and passed straight through the gaps in the electric net— and so did the Model A, honking tinily as it jumped.
The storm stopped abruptly. All was silent. Boomer stood stockstill, her flashing diamond fist clenched in anger around the wires of her electric hair. Beatrice howled his mournful train- whistle howl once more.
September tried to catch her breath. She looked at the Lineman. She looked at the Cap. She looked after the Blue Wind, vanished completely. A very certain thought came on in her mind. Boomer wouldn’t let her cross over. She knew it. It was her job to say no. To bar the way. Just like it was the Sibyl’s job to say yes and open the way. Just like it was her own job to record her father’s temperature and mind the pregnant Powell horse even when she bit. You do your job and you mind your work. That’s how the grown- up world gets along— and grownup magic, too.
Before the Lineman could stop her, before Beatrice could get up on his haunches again, September clutched her jam jar to her side, darted forward, and leapt with all her might. She dove through the same gap in the net of crackling white- blue wires that had swallowed up the puffins, just wide enough for a girl. She shut her eyes at the last moment, blinded by the showers of glowing sparks and by a sudden sureness— she hadn’t jumped hard enough! The wires would catch her in a flash and turn her into smoke. Too late, too late!
September winked out of the world like a firefly.
Boomer sighed. She kicked the fence post, which shattered in terror before her great foot had a chance to touch it. The Lineman dropped the net of her hair like a curtain and promptly blinked out again. This time, Beatrice sizzled away, too, and the only thing left of any of them was a last, lingering wisp of the hound’s howl.