Chapter 10: The Hole at the Pole
SIR JOHN STOOD ON THE DECK of the Terror, looking at the great gaping Hole as it spewed what looked like smoke into the air.
“There it is,” he said quietly, “the destination that I have spent a lifetime striving to reach. I thought I would feel triumphant when this moment finally arrived. But without my Jane at my side, I …”
The other three looked at one another in silent sympathy. Peggy, weighed down by the crushing disappointment of finding the rowboat but no sign of Jackpine, understood how the captain was feeling. Finally, she spoke up.
“Someone has to be first to set foot at the Pole. Would you like to do the honors, Sir John?”
Gavi surveyed the expanse of smooth coal-black terrain that surrounded the rim, where the ship had run aground.
“I cannot tell what the surface is made of,” he said dubiously. “Perhaps someone smaller than Sir John should test it out first.”
“Me!” Molly piped up. “I’m the lightest.”
“That’s exactly why you shouldn’t go first,” Peggy said firmly. “Just because it holds you doesn’t mean it will hold us.”
“A brilliant piece of reasoning,” Gavi said. “I should have thought of it myself.”
Before anyone could say another word, Peggy hoisted herself over the side of the deck and down the rope. The others all sucked in their breath, fearful that it would break, that she would go crashing into the frigid waters of the Polar Sea or whatever else lay beneath the forbidding shelf.
There was an audible sigh of relief as she landed with a thud.
“It’s solid, all right.” She slammed one foot hard on the surface. “Solid as a rock. It’s ice.”
“Of course!” Gavi blurted out. “Ice so black that none of us recognized it as such. Black ice is the hardest, most unforgiving kind. It makes sense that we would find it here
at the Pole. But right next to open water? How can that be?”
“Another of the Pole’s mysterious reversals, no doubt;” offered Sir John. “Hopeless to try to explain such things.”
“But it does suggest an explanation for this mysterious vapor,” Gavi went on, as one by one they hoisted themselves onto the black ice. “That smoke we are seeing is not from fire but from ice. The Hole must consist, at least in part, of what is called ‘dry ice’ in your world,” he said, nodding in Peggy’s direction. “So there is no inferno in there. Just more cold. Dark, unutterable cold.”
Peggy strode purposefully across the ice towards the rim of the Hole, followed by the other three. As they approached it, great swells of vapor grew thicker and thicker around them, like a fog. At times they could barely see one another. But they groped their way to the very edge of the Hole and peered down into it.
Sir John spoke first.
“It looks like a bottomless pit.”
“Every hole has a bottom,” Gavi pointed out. “A bottomless pit is a physical impossibility, even in Notherland. Now, of course, there might be other universes where such a thing …”
“It’s just an expression, Gavi,” Peggy stopped him.
“Yes, of course. I knew that,” Gavi said sheepishly.
“But where is everybody?” Molly interrupted. “Where are all the Souls Jackpine talked about?”
And where is Jackpine? Peggy added silently to herself. Is he down there? How will we find him?
“I’ll bet he’s got them all stirred up!” Molly answered her own question. “I’ll bet right now they’re all way down there, crushing the Nobodaddy!”
”Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Peggy said, as she began to lift one leg over the rim. “Who’s going with me?”
“Me!” Molly declared firmly.
“And me,” Gavi added, with somewhat less conviction.
“This is my great adventure!” Molly cried. “I can’t wait!”
Peggy looked at the old captain. “What about you, Sir John?”
He shook his head.
“It appears I am the only member of this crew who is of truly sound mind, because I have no desire whatsoever to descend into that forbidding pit. My life’s goal has been to reach the Pole, and now I have achieved it.”
Peggy grinned at him. “That’s good, because someone ought to stay with the ship. If we do manage to get out of here with the Nordlings and Jackpine and all those other trapped Souls, you’d better have the Terror ready to sail out of here like a bat out of hell.”
“A most colorful, if slightly blasphemous, simile,” Sir John observed. “I assure you I will be thoroughly at the ready. When the time comes, the Terror will show that she can fly more swiftly than any bat.”
Molly looked up at Sir John with concern. “Are you sure you don’t mind being left alone?”
“My child,” he said, addressing her with that term of endearment for the first time, “being alone is a thing with which I am very familiar. Do not worry about me. When you return, I will be here to welcome you.”
Peggy looked at Molly and Gavi. “Well?”
Molly peered into the Hole.
“It’s pretty dark. But I’m not afraid!” she added quickly.
In the dim light Peggy was able to make out a narrow ledge along one craggy wall, which seemed to be a pathway down into the Hole. She took a deep breath.
As the three of them prepared to scramble over the rim of the Hole and onto the upper reach of the ledge, they bade Sir John farewell. Gavi and Peggy shook the old man’s hand, and Molly flung herself onto Sir John’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her, and they embraced one another tightly for a moment. Watching them, Peggy suddenly recalled reading in Our Wondrous North that when he’d embarked on his last, fateful Arctic expedition, Lord Franklin had left behind not only his wife, but a daughter as well.
Their descent, initially at least, was uneventful. The air was bitingly cold, but not unbearable. Once their eyes adjusted to the darkness of the Hole, they found they could see well enough to make their way – especially Gavi, whose red eyes were adapted for seeing through dark waters at night. Not that there was much to look at. As far as they could make out, the Hole was little more than a dark, craggy, funnel-shaped cavity that extended deep into the earth.
The three of them walked mostly in silence. After a while Peggy began to wonder if things were going a little too smoothly. Where was the Nobodaddy? Did he know they were there? Why was he letting them go on unimpeded?
Gavi’s voice broke in on her thoughts. “What was that?”
“I thought I heard something,” Gavi replied.
“There!” Molly volunteered. “I hear it, too. It sounds like voices farther down. Do you think they’re Souls?”
“It seems likely.” Gavi turned to Peggy. “What do you think we should do?”
She shrugged. “Let’s go see. It’s about time we came across some signs of life down here.”
As they made their way farther down the ledge, the voices grew louder, shouting angrily, in barely coherent outbursts.
“– all your fault!”
“If you hadn’t been so stupid – !”
“I hate you!”
After a few moments, Peggy began to call out.
She could barely hear herself over the noise. She tried again.
“Hello? Hello down there!”
A volley of shrieks echoed off the walls of the Hole.
“Did you hear something?”
“No, you idiot.”
“I heard it!”
“Oh, great. Another one!”
Peggy shouted, “Could you all shut up a second and listen?”
“We’ve come to help you!” Molly added.
“There’s more than one of them!” one of the voices shouted to the others.
Peggy began to yell over the voices, trying to explain who they were and why they had come to the Hole. But it was difficult. After every few words, a volley of shouts would go up – arguing, accusing, insulting.
“Just hear me out!” Peggy tried again. “I’m trying to tell you that we’ve come to rescue you. All of you.”
At that, a roar of bitter laughter rose up from the darkness of the cavern.
“Rescue? Ha! That’s a good one!”
“That’s what the last one said and look what happened!”
“What last one?” Peggy feared they might be referring to Jackpine. “Who are you talking about?”
“The one who came through earlier.”
“He was the stupidest of all!” said one bitingly. “He escaped the Hole once, and he came back.”
“Where is he?” Peggy demanded. “What happened to him?”
“Who knows?” shouted one.
“Who cares?” yelled another.
Listening to their harangues, Molly grew more and more angry. She began shouting at them at the top of her lungs.
“You’re all idiots! We come here to help, and all you can do is blame us, or one another. You’re either completely crazy or completely stupid!”
Gavi was becoming more and more disheartened by what he was hearing. He winced at the volley of shouts, as if they were slaps in the face. Such meaningless, self-destructive behavior shocked and distressed him. He turned to Peggy.
“What is the matter with them? Why are they acting this way? Do they not want to be rescued?”
Peggy shook her head.
“Maybe not. It must be like Jackpine said – they’ve gotten so used to being miserable they can’t imagine anything else.”
“But that makes no sense!” Gavi cried. “Heaping scorn on people when they try to help you makes no sense at all. And listen to them – they are cruel to one another when they should be kind, and help one another, and make the best of their situation. They only make it worse. I do ‘not understand this behavior at all!”
Peggy was troubled by Gavi’s extreme distress. She’d never seen him in a state like this. She decided they’d better move on before these raging Souls threw him into an even darker mood.
“But we must try to talk some sense into them!” Gavi said with an air of desperation, as if his own mental well-being depended on getting them to listen to reason.
“Gavi, there’s nothing we can do for them. You can see for yourself. They just won’t listen.”
“Yeah!” Molly agreed. “They’re not interested. So long, idiots!”
The three of them continued down the path, the angry shouts growing fainter and fainter in their ears. When they were finally out of earshot, Peggy breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully, now, Gavi would calm down and regain his sense of perspective.
Peggy turned to look at him. There was an odd look in the loon’s eyes, and his beak appeared to be stuck in a half-open position. He seemed to be trying to speak, but nothing was coming out.
“Gavi? What’s wrong?”
He looked at her with a panicked expression. She could see that he was indeed having difficulty speaking, and the prospect was terrifying him.
He continued to strain, trying to form some words and get them out. Then suddenly a great rush of sounds came out of his beak. At first, it sounded like nothing but gibberish.
Little by little, Peggy was able recognize words in the babble.
“… no, no … terrible … makes no sense … cannot …”
“You can’t what, Gavi?”
“Cannot … go … on!”
Peggy was stunned.
“What are you saying?”
“No sense … If I go on … lose my mind!”
He looked to be in the grip of a nameless terror, and it was clear to Peggy that he was in no condition to continue their journey.
“It’s all right, Gavi. You don’t have to go any farther.”
Molly looked at her, aghast, but before the doll had a chance to object, Gavi collapsed into loud wailing.
“Soooorrryyy! Let you doooowwnn!”
Molly tugged at Peggy, trying to make herself heard over Gavi’s cries.
“We can’t just leave him here, Peggy! What’ll we do?”
For an instant, Peggy felt like she was going to explode. She was the one they turned to every time! She was the one who supposedly had all the answers. She didn’t know how long she could stand it!
But she knew she couldn’t afford to give in to her frustration. She had to somehow get Gavi calmed down. They had to keep going. What should she do?
A thought came to her. She went over and softly touched his feathers.
“Gavi? You know Molly and I have to go on. Do you think you can make it back to where the Mad Souls are?”
“Are you crazy?” Molly exclaimed. “He can’t go back there!”
“He’ll be worse off staying here, all alone,” Peggy replied. “He’d lose his mind for sure. Gavi?” She moved closer to him. “I think you should go back and try to talk to the Mads. I think they might listen to you.”
Gavi looked at her long and hard.
“But you said yourself that they are not interested in anything we have to say.”
Peggy didn’t believe for a minute that the Mads would change their behavior. But she figured it would be better for Gavi to have a task, something to focus his mental energies on.
“I was wrong. I think they would be interested, if somebody got to know them and took the time to explain things to them. You’re just the person to do it, Gavi. If anybody can talk sense into those Mads, it’s you.”
The loon’s red eyes began to grow a bit brighter.
“Yes, I think I see what you are getting at. It makes sense.”
Peggy and Molly both nodded vigorously.
Gavi insisted that he could find his way on his own, that his red eyes could see well enough in the dark. But the other two wouldn’t hear of it, and they backtracked with him up the path. When they got within earshot of the Mads, Gavi indicated that he wanted to go the rest of the way by himself.
“I believe that I can startle them into attention with my tremolo call. And I think they will be more open to my presence if they sense I am alone.”
Peggy immediately agreed. She recalled how Molly had only egged them on with her taunts, and she saw that Gavi didn’t want to risk setting them off again.
For a moment, Molly stood stubbornly, unwilling to part from Gavi.
“Go on,” he said to her. “Go with Peggy. You wanted to live out your adventure to the very end, remember? We will see one another soon.”
It was wrenching for Molly to say goodbye to the loon, and watching his black-and-white body lumber up the path and disappear into the darkness was almost unbearably painful. She and Peggy resumed their descent in silence.
“Do you think he’s all right?” Molly asked anxiously after a short time.
“He’s okay, Molly. You know Gavi. Once he gets going, they won’t be able to shut him up. He can debate his way out of anything.”
Though Peggy felt keenly the loss of Gavi’s company, she realized that, with his sensitive nature, he was better off staying behind. Whatever awaited them down below would probably upset him even more than the Mads had. But Molly was different. Her faith never flagged. Peggy knew she could count on the doll.
Molly spoke up again. “Did you hear something?”
“No,” Peggy replied. “What was it?”
“I’m not sure …”
They both listened as a faint crescendo, like some drawn-out wail, rose up from the great cavern.
“Strange,” said Peggy. “If I didn’t know better I’d say it sounded like Gavi.”
“But Gavi’s back with the Mads.”
They moved farther down the path, then stopped in their tracks as a new volley of wails and anguished cries began to rise up, reverberating from deeper in the Hole.
“That’s for sure not Gavi,” Molly said with some relief.
As they descended farther it became clear that they were approaching another colony of Souls. Peggy felt her hopes rise again, wondering, Is Jackpine with them?
These voices contained no hint of anger or accusation. Instead, they filled the atmosphere of the Hole with unrelenting echoes of anguish, pain and sorrow.
“They’re sure not Mads,” the doll’s voice broke in. “Sads is more like it.”
They moved closer to the voices, and as she had with the Mads, Peggy called out to explain who they were and why they had come. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, a mournful cry rose up.
“Not another one!”
This time, Peggy knew who they were talking about.
“Who? What happened to him?”
“He left to find the Nobodaddy.”
“But it was no use!”
“He got our hopes up for nothing.”
“Now things are worse than ever!”
“We’re doomed to languish here.”
“No love, no hope, no love, no hope.”
Peggy had never heard such utter despair. She looked at Molly, who was now trying to call out over the Sad Souls’ din.
“Don’t give up hope! If you just give up you won’t be able to get yourselves out of here when the time comes!”
“Go back where you came from!”
“While you still can.”
“You can do nothing for us.”
“No one can.”
Their cries managed to completely drown her out.
Peggy put her hand on Molly’s stiff shouder. She could feel the doll fighting back angry tears.
“What’s the matter with them?” Molly cried out. “Can’t they see that giving up is the worst thing they can do? I never give up hope. I never stop trying.”
Peggy saw that the Sads’ despair was having a powerful effect on Molly. The Mads had brought out her natural feistiness: they had dished out abuse, and she’d dished it back. But the unrelenting anguish of the Sads was something Molly had never witnessed before. Such extreme suffering frightened her. She shut her eyes tightly and covered her ears, trying to block out their cries. She looked so upset that Peggy figured they had better get out of earshot of the Sads quickly, before Molly broke down completely.
With difficulty, she pulled the doll along the path. Molly steadfastly held her hands over her ears. When they had gone far enough that Peggy could barely hear the Sads, they stopped, and she gently uncovered Molly’s ears.
“There. Isn’t that better?”
She was shocked when the doll shook her head. Molly’s eyes brimmed with tears.
“I can still hear them!”
“You couldn’t, Molly. They’re way behind us.”
“You don’t understand. That’s not it.”
“I can’t get the sound out of my head. It’s like they’re crying inside me!”
“Maybe it’s an echo,” Peggy offered anxiously. “Give it time to die down.”
The doll shook her head more vigorously.
“It’s not an echo. I told you, it’s inside me.”
“Then the best thing is to put more distance between them and us,” Peggy said, and she started walking again. But Molly pulled on her arm.
Peggy looked quizzically at her.
“What is it?”
“I can’t,” Molly said.
“You can’t what?”
“I can’t go any farther,” responded the doll, tearfully.
“But Molly, we have to keep going.”
“You go on without me,” she said solemnly. “I’ll go back to the Sads.”
“What?” Peggy burst out. “Are you crazy?”
“It’s just like you said to Gavi. I’ll talk to them. If they get to know me and hear me out, maybe I can help them find some hope again.”
“But, Molly …”
“I have to,” she said insistently. “It’s the only way I can think of to stop this awful crying in my head! Because if I don’t do something soon, I’m afraid I’m going to become … just like them!”
Peggy was devastated. She couldn’t imagine having to go on alone. She counted on Molly to have courage enough for both of them. It felt to Peggy as though half of her very self was being ripped away.
But she could see there was no arguing with Molly about this. The doll had seized on this idea to calm her inner turmoil, and her mind was made up.
“Okay, if that’s what you have to do,” she finally said.
“Will you be all right?” Molly asked.
“Sure.” Peggy affected a breezy tone. As horrible as she felt, she was determined not to let on to Molly. “Don’t worry about me. Go on. I’ll be fine.”
Molly threw her arms around Peggy’s neck and hugged her tightly, something she hadn’t done since Peggy was little. Then she pulled away quickly and disappeared into the darkness on the path.
Peggy found herself singing some of the sea shanties Sir John had taught them back on the Terror. It helped take her mind off the biting cold as she made her way down the spiralling path. She told herself it was easier having only herself to worry about. But she kept finding herself turning to make a comment to Molly or Gavi, momentarily forgetting they were gone.
The sense of crushing aloneness grew more intense as she descended deeper into the cavern. She felt tears burning in her throat as the images of Mi, Gavi, Molly and Jackpine floated through her mind, and then, more dimly, of her mother, her brothers, her room at home – scenes from her other life, which now felt unbearably distant.
How long had she been walking? How far had she gone? She had no idea. She was only aware that the spiral path seemed to be growing smaller, and that the walls of the great Hole felt closer together. But where did it end? How far was the bottom of the funnel?
She became aware of a feeling of overwhelming dread, which seemed oddly familiar, as though it had been lurking inside her all along, underneath her other emotions.
Then she saw them.
It had been so long since she’d been able to see anything clearly in this godforsaken Hole – other than jagged walls and the narrow path – that she didn’t trust what she was seeing. But it certainly did look like a pair of glowing eyes peering at her out of the pitch-blackness.
They were eyes, but they weren’t looking at her. They didn’t even seem to see her, or anything else. They were blank, hollow-looking.
She called out. “Who’s there?”
No response. Not so much as a flicker of awareness of her presence.
She tried calling out again, introducing herself and explaining what she was doing there. Still no sound. She realized to her astonishment that there were many other pairs of eyes scattered all through this zone of the Hole. But all, without exception, exhibited the same blank stare. As she was able to make out more of the faces, she could see that all their mouths were frozen in an open position, but no sound came out.
She tried calling out again, but her voice caught in her throat.
These poor Souls were beyond ranting or crying out in pain. It was as though they were frozen in a state of terror. Now Peggy was gripped by a nameless dread for her own soul. She felt a desperate longing to flee the Hole, to go back to her old life, to wipe Notherland and everything that had happened there from her memory.
It was all over. Their grand effort to save Notherland had come to nothing. Now she, Gavi and Molly were all in the Hole at the Pole. The Nobodaddy had them exactly where he wanted them. They’d walked right into his trap, just like Jackpine before them.
She fell on the path and cried out.
“Let me out of here! I want to go back to my life! I want to go home!”
Exhausted, she collapsed against the walls of the cavern. They felt oddly yielding, as if they were made not of ice but of soft earth. She noticed that the terrain underneath her had the same earthy, yielding quality.
Then something strange happened. Deep in the Hole at the Pole, in the completely soundless zone of the Frozen Souls, she heard a voice, an ordinary-sounding human voice.
Peggy opened her eyes. She wasn’t in the Hole anymore. She wasn’t even in Notherland. She was sitting on a small grassy hill surrounded by trees. The sun was shining on a nearby pond, and a short distance away from her there were people walking, talking, feeding the ducks …
She was standing in the middle of Green Echo Park.
Chapter 11: Reluctant Hero
AT FIRST SHE THOUGHT she must be hallucinating. She was sure any second now the park, and everything in it, was going to disappear. But the trees stayed firmly rooted to the ground and the gentle breeze made ripples on the surface of the pond.
Is it possible? Have I come back? Just like that?
She was overcome with joy. But that quickly turned to unease. Something was not quite right …
It’s … warm!
She was in Green Echo Park all right. But there was water on the pond, not ice. The trees were in full leafy bloom. It had been a winter day when she’d left, and now it was summer. What was happening? Could she have been gone that long?
What is going on here?
She tried to calm her growing sense of anxiety. Everything would get back to normal soon, she told herself. She just had to find out what day it was, what time of year, to somehow place herself in reality, this reality.
Don’t freak out. Don’t attract attention. Just act normal.
She noticed a man standing nearby. She decided to ask him the time, then go and see if she could find a newspaper with the date. She went towards him, trying to act casual.
“Excuse me …”
He ignored her and threw a stick high in the air. His dog raced to fetch it, barking excitedly.
“Excuse me, I was wondering if you could tell me the time.”
The man still took no notice of her.
Weird, she thought. Maybe he was deaf. She tried placing herself right in his line of vision, but he seemed to look right through her, as if she weren’t there.
Finally the man turned and whistled to the dog, who bounded over to his side. They both brushed right past Peggy.
“Hello?” she said.
Now she was annoyed. He seemed to be pointedly ignoring her. She called after him even more insistently.
She ran over to the dog and bent down, looking right into the animal’s eyes.
“Hey there! Hey!”
Nothing. Not a flicker. A shudder went through her. The dog does not see me.
Something was horribly wrong. This world in which she found herself now looked like her world, but it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. Could it?
She thought of her flute. Was it still there on the mound? She felt desperate to find something the way she’d left it. If she found the flute still there, maybe things would start making sense again.
She raced towards the ring of trees. But as she approached it she stopped dead in her tracks.
A little girl was sitting on the ground. Peggy didn’t want to frighten her, so she held back, straining to see if there was anything that looked like her black flute case on the ground nearby. Then an eerie feeling crept over her again.
There was something familiar about this child.
What is she doing?
The girl was holding what looked like a doll in her lap. She appeared to be fidgeting with something on its head.
Oh my God ...
Now the little girl stood up, clutching the doll. Just as she was stepping out of the ring of trees, something fell to the ground. The girl didn’t notice it and ran off.
“Wait!” Peggy couldn’t help calling after her. “You dropped something!”
But the little girl didn’t seem to hear her. She kept on running, heading out of the park towards the houses on the other side of the street.
Peggy went over to the mound to see what the girl had dropped. Near the trunk of one of the trees was a tiny ball, like a marble. She picked it up and held it to the light.
It was a doll’s eye.
She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. It was like in a dream.
I’ve got to get out of this park. It’s making me crazy!
She raced towards the park gate. As she passed under the stone arch at the gate she thought she heard her name called.
She whirled around.
There was no one nearby. The park was nearly empty.
“Who said that? Who’s calling me?”
“You still don’t know?” the voice replied.
Peggy saw no one.
“Where are you?”
“Right in front of you.”
Just before her was the statue of the angel. She realized with a start that she recognized the angel’s face. Now she recognized the voice as well.
“Lady Jane? Is that you? You’ve got to help me! All these weird things are happening. What’s going on? Why can’t people see me?”
“They cannot see you,” the voice said quietly, “because you are not here.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are nowhere. You are suspended between universes.”
“But it is true.”
“You are not quite ready to leave Notherland, nor are you ready to return fully to your own world. You are here, but not here.”
“But none of that was real! There is no such place as Notherland. It’s just some place I made up when I was a kid! This is where I belong.”
“Little fool!” the voice now took on the hard-edged quality that Peggy remembered from earlier encounters with Lady Jane. “Have you learned nothing yet? Stop carrying on like a baby! Accept your responsibility for Notherland. What happens there affects countless other worlds and other lives, not just yours.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“When you created Notherland, you tapped into a well much deeper than you could possibly know. Gavi is right – there are many universes. Notherland is only a small part of a vast realm beyond time and space.”
“So? What does all that have to do with me?”
“You are the Creator.”
“I am so sick of hearing that!”
Now the voice softened a bit. “Yes, I know you are. But you can defeat the Nobodaddy, and you must.”
“That’s fine for you to say! Who are you, anyway? I can hear that your voice is like Lady Jane’s, but you’re not really her. You’re Sedna, the sea monster, aren’t you? You broke up the Everlasting Ice.”
“It is true that I assume many guises, but in all of them I am a Resolute Protector of Souls.”
Peggy felt her voice grow suddenly small.
“What did you call yourself?”
“I am an Eternal. I have always been and always will be. Did you not know that? Could you not feel my presence?”
Peggy shook her head.
“Well, here I am.”
“Fine, if you’re a protector, then why don’t you protect me? Why are you trying to make me go back to that place?”
“You still do not see, do you, what I have tried in so many different ways to show you. You have created a great and wonderful story! And the hero of that story is you.”
“What if I don’t want to be a hero!” Peggy cried.
“But you cannot give up now! You have just found the very thing you need to defeat the Nobodaddy.”
“I have?” said Peggy. “Where?”
“There, in your hand.”
She was still clutching the doll’s eye.
“What, this? It’s just an old doll’s eye. It was Molly’s. She lost it years ago. I just found it … over there.”
“Once a lost thing has been found,” the voice said, “it is transformed. It has new properties it did not have before. Molly’s eye has become an Aya, an all-seeing eye. Used properly, it can disable the Nobodaddy. Light that is swallowed up in his Hole cannot escape, but an Aya is different. It will retain its illuminating powers even in the darkness of the Hole. And the one thing the Nobodaddy cannot tolerate is being seen as he really is. If you shine the Aya on him, he will be overcome with terror. That should be enough to release the inward pull of the Hole long enough to let the Nordlings and the other Souls escape.”
“Oh, great. I go down into his Hole, where he’s all powerful, and this is all I’ve got to fight him with?”
Peggy’s sarcasm was lost on the Eternal, who continued speaking with utter seriousness.
“Yes. If you beam the Aya at him long enough, you might even be able to burn through his heart of ice, the true source of his power.”
“Look, you can give me all the good-luck charms you want. It’s not going to make any difference. I’ll never be able to stand up to him. I don’t have it in me.”
“No one is truly powerless in the face of evil. Not if we choose to fight it. The important thing is to be ruthless in the service of good.”
“Even if I could, what if I don’t want to? What if I just want to go back to the way things were before?”
“Then you are free to do so.”
“You mean that?”
“If that is your choice, you may return to your life as you knew it.”
“I’m sorry to let you down. But yes, I want to go home.”
Suddenly Peggy felt a sharp swish, like a paper fan whipping through air. Until now the statue had stood utterly immobile, but she watched in amazement as one of its wings, then the other, lifted up in a grand swooping movement. The two huge, magnificent wings slowly came back down and enveloped her within their folds.
For a moment she was too astonished to speak, or even move. Then she realized that the wings felt soft, and she began to lean forward, burrowing into them. The sensation of being cradled in the wings gave her a deep feeling of safety that seemed to reach right to her very core. She wished she could stay there forever, in that place she had so longed to be.
After a few moments, the wings began to move away from her, lifting upward and sweeping down again to the angel’s sides. Peggy looked up. The face was impassive again, a statue’s. She reached over and touched one of the wings. It was stone hard.
Suddenly she felt a rush of cold air. In front of her face she could see her own breath in swirls. There were shouts, laughter and a familiar swoosh.
She looked out on the pond. It was frozen solid.
Was she back? Was it possible? Was the nightmare really over?
Peggy burst out laughing with joy. Some people lacing up their skates by the pond looked over at her.
They can hear me!
Now she laughed even louder. She didn’t care if they thought she was crazy. And she remembered something.
Was it still there? She ran to the mound. There, lying on the ground at the base of one of the trees, was the black flute case. She picked it up and started waving it jubilantly in the air.
She felt as though she’d been snatched from the jaws of hell! Her life had been given back to her. Now she could pick up where she’d left off. And for starters, she was going to head straight back to Around Again with the flute!
She headed out of the park. It was growing dark. Though it had been mild during the day, the temperature was rapidly dropping. Just outside the gate she passed someone huddled in a sleeping bag on top of a sidewalk grate.
Peggy looked down. It looked like the Native guy she’d seen earlier, the one the kids had called Scary Gary. In her state of heightened joy and relief, she felt a deep pity for him. She reached into her pocket to fish for some change to throw into the cap he’d set out on the sidewalk in front of him.
She felt something smooth and round among the coins. It was the doll’s eye. Strange. How could she still have it, if everything had been put back to the way it was before? Peggy willed herself not to think about it.
Everything’s fine now. Everything’s back to the way it was.
The young man looked up at her as she dropped a couple of quarters into the cap. His skin had turned an ashen grey in the cold, and his lips were swollen and bluish. He mumbled a faint thank-you. For a moment Peggy met his gaze.
It was the face of Jackpine.
He began to curl back into the sleeping bag. On one of his hands Peggy could see a whitish area, the beginning of frostbite.
He might not make it through the night.
She knelt down next to him. “Do you know me?”
He looked away listlessly, as if he hadn’t heard. She reached out and took his face in her hands.
“Do you know me?” she asked again, looking right into his eyes. “Gary? Jackpine?”
For a moment she thought she saw a flicker of recognition cross his face. Then the light seemed to go out of his eyes altogether. Nobody home. Peggy knew instantly where she’d seen eyes with that terrifying emptiness: deep in the Hole, in the zone of the Frozen Souls.
She began to shake him by the shoulders.
“Talk to me! Say something!”
When she let go, his body slumped back into a heap. A cold fury surged through her.
“Don’t give up!” she shouted. “Don’t you dare give up on me!”
She left him and raced back through the darkened park, to the ring of trees. She stepped onto the mound and began shrieking at the top of her lungs.
“I changed my mind! I’m going back! Do you hear me? I changed my mind! I want to go back!”
Nothing happened. What to do? On impulse, she put the flute case down on the ground, in the same spot she’d found it a few minutes earlier. Maybe if she left things exactly as they were before, she’d be able to go back. The flute had been sitting there waiting for her just now. She’d just have to trust that it would still be waiting when she got back next time.
With a jolt she felt the earth give way beneath her. She closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, she was kneeling on the spiral ledge, in the very spot she had left a short time ago.
The air around her was bitingly cold. She knew she’d have to move fast and keep moving, just to stay alive.
She began to race down the path. After only a few steps it came to an abrupt halt. That was it. No more ledge. Now what was she supposed to do? There was no way to go any farther into the Hole.
No way, except …
Peggy took a deep breath, stepped off the ledge and plunged into the blackness below.
Chapter 12: The Bottom Below
“WHERE IS SHE?”
“Why doesn’t she come?”
“What good can she do anyway?”
“Pay-gee is the Creator!” Mi fought to make herself heard over the chorus of grumbles. “She is the one who can defeat the Nobodaddy! And she will come! I know she will! But in the meantime we have to keep singing.”
“What difference does it make whether we sing or not?”
“Because our voices are all we have left!” Mi countered firmly. “Wouldn’t you rather fight back than just give up? Sing!” she commanded. “Sing and don’t stop!”
Slowly a chorus of notes began to echo through the dark. The Nordlings’ voices were weak and dispirited, but at least she’d managed to get them singing again.
Mi was exhausted. She was beginning to wonder how much longer she could keep them going. Even as she put on a brave face for the rest of the Nordlings, inside she felt embattled. She was on the edge of being swamped by dark feelings, the same overwhelming sense of despair that had washed over her as she was wrenched away from the mast of the Terror.
But she had to fight those feelings. She couldn’t let the others see that she was plagued by the same doubts and questions they were: Where was Pay-gee? Why hadn’t she come yet?
Would she ever come?
Peggy felt herself falling, falling. There seemed to be no end to it. She was beginning to wonder if maybe there really was such a thing as a bottomless pit.
As she tumbled downward she began to hear faraway sounds, voices. She wondered if they were the cries of still more Souls trapped deep in the Hole. But as the voices grew louder and louder, she realized that they weren’t crying, they were singing.
She landed with a thud on a solid surface. She stood up quickly and was relieved to find she wasn’t hurt at all But the singing had ceased. What happened? Had she just imagined it?
A collective gasp seemed to come right out of the walls of the Hole.
“Light!” She heard voices whispering all around her.
Peggy looked down. The doll’s eye, the Aya, was emitting a beam of light in between the fingers of her clutched hand. The Eternal had been right about that much, at least.
Gradually, her eyes adjusted and she began to make out the tiny spirits. They were Nordlings. Some she could see, many more she could only hear, but they were numerous. They had been in complete darkness for so long they could only gaze at Peggy and the light of the Aya in utter amazement.
Excited cries went up.
“Mi was right!”
“We are saved!”
“Mi said she’d come!”
“Pay-gee, the Creator, has brought Light!”
Then they all gathered round her and started speaking at once.
“Hey, hey! One at a time, please!” Peggy asked.
“Let Re9 speak,” a voice called out. “He understands more than any of us.”
“Yes, Re9!” several others agreed as one of them stepped forward.
“We are overjoyed,” Re9 told Peggy. “When Mi came with the news that Pay-gee the Creator was on her way to rescue us, we were afraid to get our hopes up. But she promised us that you would come, and now here you are.”
“Mi! Where is she?”
A tiny voice spoke up eagerly. “Here I am.”
Mi bounded out of a cluster of Nordlings and rushed over to Peggy, throwing her arms around her.
“We were so worried about you!” cried Peggy, hugging her tightly.
“I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have gone up in the crow’s-nest by myself.” Mi pulled away and looked around. “Where are Gavi and Molly?” she asked anxiously. “Aren’t they with you?”
Peggy reassured her they were farther up in the Hole, that they were all right and she’d be seeing them soon.
Re9 broke in. “What is that, in your hand? How does it emit light down here?”
“No time to tell you now,” Peggy replied briskly. “But if I can just get close enough to shine it on the Nobodaddy, I think it might weaken him long enough to get you all out of here.”
“Yes!” said Re9 excitedly. “That would work. Now we just need to figure out a way to get it down into the Bottom Below.”
“Isn’t this the bottom?” Peggy asked.
“Oh, yes,” Re9 replied. “This is the bottom, but there is a Bottom Below the bottom.”
“Well, that makes about as much sense as anything else in this place,” Peggy said. She was starting to feel re-energized. She’d made it this far. She’d found Mi and the rest of the Nordlings. She was ready for anything the Nobodaddy could throw at her.
“How do I get down there?” she asked.
Re9 gasped. “You are not thinking of going down there yourself!”
“Sure. How else am I going to shine this thing on him?”
“But the Bottom Below is the source of the Hole’s inner pull, the seat of the Nobodaddy’s power. To go down there is to risk total obliteration. No one has ever dared enter the Bottom Below.”
“Well, guess it’s time somebody did,” Peggy replied. “Unless you’ve got some other bright idea for how I can get close to him.”
Re9 shook his head slowly. “I am afraid I do not …”
Suddenly they heard a kind of swishing noise, accompanied by waves of bitterly cold air.
“Shhh!” Re9 hissed. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “We must be very quiet so he does not suspect anything. There is an opening …”
“Where?” Peggy whispered back. “How do I find it in the dark?”
“Just follow the trail of the cold.”
As he spoke, another blast of cold air began to circulate through the cavern. It seemed to go deep into Peggy’s bones.
“There is one thing that worries me …” Re9 said hesitantly.
“If you are successful and the pull of the Hole starts to lessen, the Hole itself may start to contract. The opening at the top might begin to seal off.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have had a long time to study the physics of the Hole,” replied Re9. “According to my theories …”
“That’s okay, I’ll take your word for it.” Peggy smiled to herself. No wonder Gavi called Re9 his star pupil. “I’ll just have to work really fast. As soon as you feel the pull start to let up, even a little bit, you’ve got to go scrambling up the Hole as fast as you can. All of you. And tell the others farther up!”
“We will,” he said firmly. “But what about you?”
“Wish me luck,” she said as she slipped off into the darkness.
The thrill of finding the Nordlings had encouraged her for a time. But now, as she set off alone, Peggy felt a terror in the pit of her stomach.
She tried to make out where the opening was. She knew she didn’t dare use the Aya to find it. As she moved through the cavern it became clear to her what Re9 meant by the “trail of the cold.” She crept stealthily in what she hoped was the right direction, while the great swirls of frigid air around her grew more and more biting. Finally she reached down and her nearly numb fingers curled around the edge of some kind of crevice in the cavern floor.
She’d found the opening.
She had to move quickly. The crevice seemed so narrow she wondered how she could get through. She leaned forward a bit more and found herself being pulled downward as she tumbled through the opening head first.
The surface she landed on was oddly soft and yielding, with a rippled texture that seemed to quiver and vibrate, almost like living tissue. It made a strange, unsettling contrast with the stone-cold hardness of the rest of the Hole. The quality of the cold was different here, too – a clammy dampness that threatened to send her into uncontrollable shivers.
So this was the core of the Hole at the Pole, the source of its implacable inner pull. No creature, other than the Nobodaddy himself, had ever come down this far before. She held her breath a moment. Had he sensed her presence yet? she wondered. What would he do? How would he react?
Work fast, she reminded herself. She reached into her pocket and felt around for the Aya. Odd. She’d put it right there. She rummaged around, jamming her fingers into every corner.
Please God, make it be in here somewhere!
All she could find was the little bone flute.
The Aya was gone! It must have fallen out when she tumbled down into the Bottom Below.
What’s the matter with you? she berated herself. How could you be so stupid? Can’t you do anything right?
She began to look for it on the ground. She figured that she ought to be able to make out at least a tiny beam of its light. She prayed the Nobodaddy wouldn’t notice it first.
Desperately she scanned the darkness, until finally she thought she could make out a faint pinpoint of light a short distance away. Oddly, it wasn’t low down, but more near her own eye-level. Maybe the Aya had fallen onto some kind of ledge that she couldn’t make out in the darkness.
She moved towards the source of the light and reached out, and she felt a surge of relief when her hand made contact with something hard. But as she ran a finger along the surface of the object, she realized that it was larger, rougher than the Aya.
Suddenly a harsh, rasping laugh rose up in the cavern and echoed inside her head.
Peggy quickly pulled back her hand. It wasn’t the Aya she had touched, it was ice – the ice of the Nobodaddy’s frozen heart.
Now she’d given herself away. The advantage of surprise – the only one she’d had – was gone. The echoing laughter rose up again, accompanied by a cascade of harsh, spiteful words that sounded as though they were right inside her head.
“Some Creator! You’re pathetic! You’re nothing! You’re worse than nothing!”
She remembered what Jackpine had said about the Nobodaddy – that being in his presence was like being invaded, that you heard his voice as if it were your own. Was
this was what he was talking about? Were those her thoughts or the Nobodaddy’s?
“You’re nothing! Nothing! NOTHING!”
Now the words were all garbled together, a terrifying roar inside her. For a moment the only thing she could think of was getting away, out of range of the horrible voice. She wanted to race back and find the opening, to claw her way out of the Bottom Below. But she couldn’t give up. She’d fight the voice by sheer force of will. She had to find the Aya!
Don’t listen! she told herself.
She thought she could make out a tiny glint of light, just below where she had reached out. It could be his icy heart catching the reflection of the Aya, she reasoned. Maybe the Aya was hidden somewhere in the soft, rippled ground near where she was standing.
Her eyes scanned the darkness. It had to be just below her somewhere! But she still couldn’t see it. She decided she’d have to go down on her hands and knees and grope around until she found it.
She knelt down on the soft, yielding surface of the Bottom Below and stretched out her hands as far as she could reach. A swirl of cold air hovered over her for a moment, then began to envelop her like a cold, clammy mouth. The sensation was repulsive.
She forced herself to keep looking for the Aya. But she began to feel a profound exhaustion wash over her. She tried to shrug it off but it grew stronger. It felt as though her spirit, the very thing that gave her the will to keep going, was slipping away.
The Nobodaddy was sucking the life right out of her.
She felt herself growing weak and listless as her hands scrambled frantically. She was desperate to find the Aya before all energy was drained out of her.
Then the harsh laugh began again, along with the volley of words, now so loud they felt like a continual pounding inside her head.
“YOU ARE NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING …”
It was too much. Why had she come here? Why had she been foolish enough to believe that she could stand up to something so powerful?
“Give up. It’s useless to keep fighting. Just give up.”
Maybe this is what dying is like, she thought. Or something even worse than dying. Death-in-life. She collapsed to the ground.
Something momentarily jolted her – a sensation of something small and hard, right under her left hip. Was it the Aya? A pebble? A chunk of ice? She had no idea. By an enormous effort of will she shoved her hand underneath her hip and grasped the object. Then, using all the strength she had left, she flipped onto her back and held it out above her.
The Nobodaddy screeched in agony as a blast of light hit him full in the face.
He sprang backwards, out of the range of the Aya’s beam, shrieking with rage.
She sought out his position in the darkness, shining the Aya in the direction of the roaring voice. But every time the light caught him, he managed to jump out of its range.
He began to recover his forces and laughed his cruel, taunting laugh again.
Peggy realized with a growing sense of panic that there was no way she could hold the light on him long enough to get a clear picture of what he looked like. All she could make out were snatches – an arm, a tuft of hair, a flash of eye. And if she couldn’t keep him in the Aya’s beam long enough, what good was it? Without a steady, strong source of light, how was she supposed to weaken him?
The laughter roared around her, ricocheting off the walls of the cavern. Then a terrible thought occurred to her.
How long would the light of the Aya last?
What was she supposed to do now? Things were at a standoff. The Eternal had promised her the Aya would do the job. Why hadn’t she warned Peggy about this?
She decided she had to do something else to try and keep him off balance. But what? The only other thing she had with her was the bone flute.
She remembered what Gavi had said when they had first set out on their journey: “He does not hear it as music at all, the way we do, but as a horrible, grating noise.”
She’d dismissed it as more of his empty theorizing. But what if he was right? Could this primitive little flute be a weapon she could use against the Nobodaddy?
At this point, anything was worth a try. She reached into her pocket and pulled it out. She lifted it to her mouth with one hand, still aiming the Aya with the other. She covered the holes with her fingers and blew, holding the note long and steady.
She uncovered one of the holes and blew again.
Then she lifted her finger from the other hole and blew.
As the notes resounded through the Bottom Below, a terrible screeching rose up. At first Peggy had no idea what it was. She kept on playing, worried that the flute’s notes might not cut through the volley of sounds.
Do … Re ... Mi …
The more she blew, the more intense the screeching became. Finally, she realized it was the Nobodaddy himself making the sound. He was wailing and groaning, like someone crying out in intolerable pain.
It was so terrible listening to his agonizing moans that for a moment she was tempted to stop playing. But she recalled Jackpine’s words: “You can’t hesitate … You have to go after him ... Maybe hatred is something you could use a bit more of ...”
She blew into the bone flute with renewed intensity. The screeching turned almost plaintive, like a child’s piercing wail. Was it working? Was the Nobodaddy growing weaker the longer she played? She didn’t dare stop, even for a second. How long could she keep it up? Would the Aya hold out? If only she had more light!
She thought she could hear another faint, faraway sound – not the bone flute, not the Nobodaddy’s screeching, but something else. Whatever it was, it was growing louder, and now she could tell it was coming from above her.
A sudden blast of light hit her in the face. She looked up to see the Nordlings flooding into the Bottom Below, one after another. Peggy shone the Aya on each one as it entered the cavern, which seemed to have the effect of intensifying their light, making each one even brighter.
Soon the Bottom Below was flooded with light. Peggy could scarcely believe what she was seeing. Then more words of Gavi’s popped into her head: “Light increases light. That is one of the basic laws of Notherland.”
She swore she’d never doubt him again!
Still singing, the Nordlings boldly formed a circle around the Nobodaddy. As Peggy flashed the Aya around the cavern, it began to produce an almost kaleidoscopic effect. As each one of the Nordlings grew brighter, it was as if the RoryBory itself had been brought right into the bowels of the Hole at the Pole.
For the first time, Peggy managed to get a glimpse of the Nobodaddy’s face: it bore an expression of pure terror. The Nobodaddy was paralyzed, overwhelmed by the light.
She aimed the Aya right into the centre of his heart of ice, and the intense beam began to burn a hole right through it. He let out a piercing howl, and for a moment she turned the beam away. Her momentary hesitation allowed him to snap him out of his paralysis. He began taunting her again.
Now she recalled the Eternal’s words: “The important thing is to be ruthless in the service of good.”
She lunged forward and stabbed the Nobodaddy in the heart with the jagged end of the bone flute. And the heart began to shatter, tossing shards of ice everywhere as a hissing sound rose up from it. She lunged at him again and again with a seething fury that grew more frenzied with each thrust of the jagged bone. So this was what hatred felt like – a coldness, a hardness gripping her own heart, almost as though it were turning to ice, like the Nobodaddy’s.
Finally she felt a hand on her arm. It was Mi.
“Look!” some of the other Nordlings shouted.
They all stood and watched in amazement. The Nobodaddy was finally fully visible. It was a strange sight, and Peggy finally understood why she hadn’t been able to make out any of his features with the Aya. For he seemed to have no single form. His shape was constantly changing. Sometimes he had an ugly, even monstrous, aspect; then he would take on the appearance of an ordinary human – sometimes male, sometimes female. Peggy realized that as they looked on, the Nobodaddy was taking on the form of every loved one he had assumed in his lifetime as a soul-stealer.
It was then that Peggy realized that the hissing sounds were no longer coming just from the disintegration of his icy heart. Before their eyes, the Nobodaddy was shrinking, losing form, collapsing into himself. The hissing was the release of all the energy that had been trapped inside him. Peggy and the Nordlings watched, aghast, as the once-powerful entity grew smaller and smaller, compressing into a ball, until it was no more than a tiny, nearly invisible, speck of matter.
The Nobodaddy was returning to his original essential form: Nobody.
Just at the point where his features began to dissipate into utter formlessness, the Nobodaddy released one final, horrifying, vengeful roar that shot up from the Bottom Below and echoed through the great cavern of the Hole at the Pole.
Gavi had managed to get the Mads to stop yelling at one another long enough to hear the great roar.
“What was that?” they asked each other. They all turned to Gavi.
“I am not sure …” he said slowly. “If it is what I hope it is …”
Lower down in the Hole, the Sads, at Molly’s insistence, were all huddled together, both for warmth and to help bolster their spirits. Some were whimpering softly. A few had stopped crying altogether when the great roar resounded.
They were frightened but curious, and they showered Molly with questions.
“What was that noise?”
“Why did it stop?”
“Is it a bad sign?”
Molly’s voice came back firm and confident in the darkness.
“Of course not, it’s a good sign! It means we’ll be getting out of here any minute now!”
Even farther down, none of the Frozen Souls reacted to the great roar, except for one, a young man. At first, as the fierce noise resounded through the Hole, his eyes, like the others, registered nothing. But something, perhaps snippets of images that felt like memories – a tree, a young woman, a bird, a ship – stirred his consciousness. As he began to blink his eyes, the sound finally registered in his brain.
His tears began to flow, and for the first time ever, a cry rose up in that part of the Hole, so searing and heartfelt that it even managed to rouse the other Frozen Souls out of their barely alive state.
The reverberations of the great roar finally died away. For a moment there was an eerie stillness in the Bottom Below. Then, like an elastic band pulled taut until it finally snaps, the walls of the Hole began to vibrate and shoot inward.
The Nordlings screamed, terrified that they would all be crushed to death. But just before the walls around them collapsed, Peggy and the sprites, suddenly released from the Hole’s downward pull, felt as though they were being propelled upwards. They were pulled through the opening of the Bottom Below and up into the main part of the Hole. As they careened through each zone, they were joined by the other prisoners – the Frozen Souls, the Sads and the Mads – till they were all shooting upwards in a great mass. Behind them, the walls of the Hole continued to collapse and snap together, pulling the Hole into itself, making it narrower, shallower.
Peggy kept looking up anxiously. Could the opening of the Hole have already sealed shut? If so, they would all be crushed when they reached the top. She thought she could make out the opening above her, with a spot of blue sky showing through. But she could see that, as the crowd of Souls drew nearer the top, the opening was growing smaller and smaller.
The top of the Hole was closing, just as Re9 had speculated it would. She could only pray they would all get out in time.
First out of the opening were the Nordlings, the lightest and fastest, even though they’d had the farthest to go. They shot through the rim in a cluster, and as they landed on the perimeter of the Hole, they began to dance and shout with wild abandon. The rest of the Souls came spilling out in a great mass, whooping Mads mixed in with laughing Sads, trailed by the still-stunned but awake and aware Frozen Souls.
The last out were Molly, Gavi and, finally, Peggy. The three of them fell upon one another, laughing and hugging. Molly and Gavi started to ask Peggy how she’d managed to overpower the Nobodaddy, but she pulled away, her eyes frantically scanning the crowd.
“Where’s Jackpine? Do you see him anywhere?”
Molly looked. “He must be around here somewhere.”
“Then why can’t I see him?” Where is he? Maybe I was too late!”
“Too late for what?”
Peggy didn’t answer but called out into the crowd.
“Jackpine? Anyone know him or where he is? Jackpine!”
Most of the Frozen Souls had been huddling off to one side. After being trapped so long in the Hole, they were frightened by the expanse of open space around them, and their eyes weren’t used to the brightness of the sun. Out of their midst a young man emerged. He looked weak and walked slowly, but he had a mischievous grin on his face.
““Who’s looking for him?”
Peggy let out a gasp. “There you are!”
They ran towards one another, and Peggy impulsively threw her arms around him.
“I’m so glad you’re okay!”
He lifted her up and swung her around joyfully for a moment. Their faces touched and their lips nearly brushed against each other’s. As he put her back on her feet they both looked down, slightly embarrassed, and out of breath.
“We did it,” Peggy said.
“You did it,” he corrected her. “I gave him a pretty hard time, but you’re the one who got us all out of there.”
She looked into his grinning eyes, relieved to see that the light had come back into them. A shudder ran through her as she thought back to the sight of Gary – his stricken expression, his ashen-grey face, his frostbitten fingers. Jackpine had no idea just how close to death he’d come in the world on the other side of Painted Rock.
He looked at her and seemed to be on the verge of saying something more. But they were distracted by a loud rumbling behind them. Everyone turned and watched as the uppermost walls of the Hole at the Pole finally collapsed in on one another. It vanished, leaving no trace except a kind of circular scar on the hard black ice where the rim had been.
There was an eerie silence as the Souls took in the enormity of what had just taken place. Then a huge, prolonged cheer rose up.
The nightmare was over. The Hole was gone.
Chapter 13: The Shining World
AS SIR JOHN HAD PROMISED, the ship was “at the ready.” Now the old captain watched with growing excitement as the great mass of Souls, led by Peggy, made their way across the ice shelf to the Terror.
“Well done!” Sir John effused, as they streamed onto the ship. As Peggy, Jackpine, Molly and Gavi boarded, he beamed and saluted each of them in turn.
“This was among the most dangerous missions I have ever commanded. If we were heading back to England – which we are not, a fact with which I am now fully at peace – I have no doubt that Her Majesty would be decorating you all with medals of the highest order! Very well done!”
When the last of the Souls had finally boarded, Sir John gave Molly the order to pull up anchor. The Terror began to inch forward out into the open water, its sails billowing in the wind.
“Excellent,” he said to his newly augmented crew. “The winds are favorable. Let us be on our way.”
But the Souls just stood in clusters, staring back at him.
“Well? What is it?”
“Where are we going, sir?” ventured one.
“We want to go back to the lives we had before,” said another. “Will this ship take us there?”
Sir John was flustered.
“I … I’m not entirely sure …”
Peggy bounded up onto the foredeck.
“We’re heading south to a spot called Painted Rock. There’s a very thin border there between Notherland and the other world. That’s how you’re all going to get home.”
“Are you sure?” someone called out. “Has anyone ever crossed that barrier?”
“I have!” she replied with conviction. But she could see some of them were skeptical. Before they could ask any more questions, she heard Molly’s voice.
Huge, jagged columns and boulders of ice were slowly moving through the Great Polar Sea, right in their direction.
The icebergs. Of course. They should have been ready for them!
“Molly! Take the helm!” Sir John called out, gearing up for another round of frantic maneuvering. But when Peggy looked out over the Terror’s bow, she was astonished to see that none of the huge ice-forms was in the ship’s path. They had completely moved out of the way, forming a long line on either side of the ship.
The icebergs, it appeared, were letting the Terror sail through unharmed, as if offering a kind of silent homage.
The ship continued on, flanked by the icebergs, until it was evening. Awaiting them at the end of the formation was an even more wonderful sight – the Great Skyway.
All the Nordlings burst into joyous song at the sight, which none of them, save Mi, had laid eyes on for a long time. One by one they eagerly bounded up the slide and sought out their familiar places on the RoryBory. When they were all in place, the RoryBory became a spectacle of light, the intensity of which had rarely been seen before.
“It looks like a stairway to a shining world,” said one of the awestruck Souls watching from the deck of the Terror.
All through the next day, the Terror made its way through the Great Polar Sea, laboring mightily under the weight of its human cargo. Gavi, Peggy and Molly were concerned about Sir John’s reaction to this unaccustomed activity, but he patrolled the ship beaming with pleasure.
“It does my heart enormous good,” he told them, “to see the Terror once again put to good service.”
As they sailed, Gavi eagerly delivered explanations for the events they’d witnessed and expounded on other matters of philosophy. Most of the Souls didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but they listened with rapt attention. How brilliant he was! Molly and Peggy smiled at each other; Gavi had found a fresh audience for his theories.
There was a great deal of merrymaking above and below deck – singing and dancing to tunes played on homemade instruments, which seemed to appear out of nowhere. At times things got a bit rowdy, especially among the Mads. Some of them fell back into their old combative ways, and it took stern words from Gavi and the captain to bring them into line. Even worse were a few of the Sads, who began to wonder out loud if they would ever get back home.
“Have we been freed only to wander aimlessly on this enormous sea?” they asked.
Molly gave them a stirring pep talk.
“Listen to yourselves! You sound as if you were still down in the Hole!”
Secretly, Peggy worried – what if the Sads were right? Could she get them all back to the other world? She’d failed once before. What would be different now?
And there were other, more immediate problems to deal with – namely, what to do about the Frozen Souls? Most of them were very young children, and their adjustment to life outside the Hole was proving more difficult than anyone had anticipated. They tended to huddle in small groups in the darkest areas of the ship’s hold, afraid to believe their ordeal was really over. Molly and the others tried to coax them to come up on deck, to dance and sing, or just listen and be part of things. But they held back.
“What are we going to do?” Peggy asked the others. “It’s like they won’t let anyone get near them.”
“They’ve got their reasons,” Jackpine volunteered. “Leave them alone. They’ll come out when they’re ready.”
Later that evening, the Nordlings were playing and scurrying around the deck, trying to avoid their bedtime ride into the night sky. The Great Skyway hung suspended, reaching right down to the deck of the Terror. Some of the bigger Nordlings would pretend to start up the Skyway, only to slide back down again, giggling. Because of all they’d been through, Gavi and Molly just smiled at their hijinks. Soon all the Nordlings had joined in the silliness, starting up the Skyway and sliding down again, most of them laughing uproariously.
Finally, Molly put her foot down.
“That’s it. Playtime’s over.”
“Awwwww,” they chorused, but they were soon distracted by Mi, pointing in the direction of the stairway to the hold. A few of the rescued Frozen Souls had poked their heads through the opening, and were watching the goings-on intently.
“Would you like to play with us?” Mi asked.
Molly began to object, but Peggy stepped forward and gestured to Molly to leave them be.
The little Souls looked at one another silently for what seemed like a long few moments, until at last one of them nodded.
“Come on,” said Mi, holding out her hand.
They crept out from the stairway and walked over to the Great Skyway, eyeing it warily. Then they clambered on and started upward, imitating the Nordlings. One of them, a tiny, wide-eyed boy, finally stopped, turned around and slid down the Skyway, laughing all the way. The others followed his lead, and giggled softly as they tumbled downward.
Drawn by the sound of their laughter, the other Frozen Souls began to stream up from below deck. They, too, began to scamper up the great slide and tumble down, whooping and laughing. The Nordlings, perched at various points on the Skyway, watched the whole drama with keen interest. Then they all joined the throng of little Souls sliding down the Skyway.
Molly groaned. “How are we ever going to get them to go back up?”
The next morning they reached the Everlasting Ice. Sir John and Molly steered up and down along the edge of the ice shelf several times, hoping to find some pathway through it. But there was no trace left of the Warm Line, nor any other broken-up patches. As far as they could see, there was nothing but a vast expanse of solid, unbroken ice.
“I believe it will be necessary to moor the Terror here and continue on foot,” observed Sir John briskly. But Peggy could see they’d come to a point in the journey that Sir John had privately been dreading. The prospect of leaving behind his ship – his long-time home, his last link with his beloved Jane – filled the old seaman with an overwhelming sadness.
Peggy watched Sir John with unease. Even if they did manage to get back to the other world, what would become of him once they were gone? Gavi, Molly and the Nordlings would all stay behind, too, of course. But Sir John needed a focus, a sense of purpose. Where would it come from now that their mission was complete?
“Look!” one of the Nordlings suddenly called out, pointing out on the ice. “What’s that out there?”
Everyone on deck turned to see an astonishing sight.
Out on the Everlasting Ice sat Lady Jane Franklin. She was seated on a chair, beside which was a small table and another chair. The table was set with a full tea service, and Lady Jane was serenely pouring tea from a fine china pot.
No one uttered a word as Sir John walked slowly over to the edge of the deck and looked out over the ice. After a moment, Peggy and Jackpine went over and gently helped the old man climb down. They watched as Sir John walked slowly and gingerly, so as not to trip on the slippery surface.
When he reached the table, Lady Jane looked up at him and smiled warmly. She nodded to her husband to sit down, and leaned across the table to pour tea into his waiting cup. For a long time, the two of them sat drinking tea and conversing, their voices carrying in a low murmur across the expanse of ice to the ship.
Night began to fall. When the Great Skyway made its appearance and touched down to the edge of the deck, the Franklins stood up. Sir John leaned over to pick up a small object from the table, then took his wife’s hand as they slowly walked back to the Terror.
The Nordlings were uncharacteristically quiet and solemn as they gathered at the base of the Skyway, readying themselves at last for the trip upward. As the old couple approached the ship, Lady Jane raised her hand, gesturing to them to hold off their departure. The two of them stood near the Skyway, and Sir John turned to Lady Jane with a look of rapturous happiness. Then, unexpectedly, he broke the silence, calling out Molly’s name.
The doll bounded quickly over the side of the ship and went hurriedly to the old man. He smiled and saluted her.
“Ensign Molly,” said Sir John, “in the name of Her Royal Majesty, I hereby promote you to the rank of captain. You shall now take command of this vessel.”
Speechless, Molly could only salute back. The old captain leaned forward and gave her a great bear-hug. Then he held out the object he had picked up off the table and handed it to her.
“So that you will remember me. So that the world will remember Franklin.”
He turned to Peggy, Jackpine, Gavi and the great gathered mass of Souls on the ship and raised his arm in a long, heartfelt salute.
Lady Franklin gestured graciously to the Nordlings to start up the Great Skyway. She took Sir John’s hand, and the two of them also began to ascend, surrounded by the shining beams of the Nordlings’ light. Even before they had assumed their places in the RoryBory, a great chorus swelled to fill the night sky.
Peggy watched the old couple grow smaller and smaller as they made their way upward. She knew that in the morning the Nordlings would, as usual, make their way back down to earth, but that this was the last they would see of Lord and Lady Franklin.
They had gone up to the Shining World.
“Look.” Molly was holding out the object Sir John had given her.
Peggy stared at it, amazed. It was a silver teaspoon – the same one she’d found in the park, the one from the picture in Our Wondrous North.
“I found that spoon in the park!” she told Molly. “But that was before I came here. So how come you …?” But her voice trailed off as the memory of the Eternal’s words came back to her: “You tapped into a well much deeper than you could possibly know. There are many universes.”
What to do about the Terror?
Peggy slept fitfully during that night, wrestling with the question. In the morning she felt no closer to a solution. But it soon became clear that Molly had been doing some thinking of her own.
“The Terror is my responsibility now,” she informed Peggy. “What kind of captain would I be if I abandoned her?”
Peggy looked at her quizzically.
“What are you saying? That you’re not going on with us? That you’re staying behind?”
“No,” Molly was quick to reply. She wanted to finish the journey with the others. But once they arrived at Painted Rock and passed through into the other world, she would return to the Terror with her crew and take up her new mission – to patrol the Great Polar Sea and.safeguard Notherland from evil entities.
“Wait a minute.” Peggy stopped her. “Crew? What crew?”
Molly, it turned out, had spent much of the night seeking out recruits from the ranks of the Souls. There were quite a few who, on reflection, decided they didn’t want to even attempt to return to the other world, who felt their lives and futures were here in Notherland. Captain Molly had given them a sense of purpose, a reason to remain, and so they’d readily agreed to serve under her on the crew of the Terror.
“I’ll whip them all into shape in no time,” she said firmly. “There won’t be any lollygagging on my ship!”
Once she’d had a chance to get used to the idea, Peggy had to admit that it made some sense. But she had one big concern.
“What about Gavi? What does he say about all this?”
“I haven’t told him yet,” Molly admitted.
“It’s a little hard to picture Gavi living out his days on a ship,” Peggy said. She could see that the same thing weighed on Molly’s mind, too. “Let’s not say anything to him just yet.”
“Okay,” Molly agreed. “But won’t he figure something’s up when …?”
Molly swallowed hard.
“When we … rename the ship.”
Now Peggy was really taken aback.
“Rename the ship? Why would you want to do that?”
“I know you don’t just go changing a name for no good reason,” Molly replied hastily. “And I wouldn’t dream of insulting Sir John’s memory. But he made it clear that I was to take command. It’s my ship now. And I think … the name Terror is too much of a reminder of what this ship has been through, what we have all been through. I want to start fresh.”
Peggy listened to Molly’s passionate argument. Clearly the doll was abrim with energy and fresh resolve. And it was true that the name Terror didn’t seem terribly appropriate anymore. Now that Sir John had himself passed on into Eternity, maybe it was time to let go of the past. Maybe it would help them all step back into life.
“Okay. But what will you call it?” Peggy asked.
“Naming things is your job,” Molly replied. “You’re the Creator, remember?”
As they prepared to leave the ship, Molly called everyone together. One of the Souls retrieved an old bottle made of thick, heavy glass from the galley below. Peggy filled it with water from the Great Polar Sea and held it out to Molly. But the doll shook her head.
“Have you chosen a name?”
“Then you do the honors,” said Molly.
They all stood facing the great ship.
“I hereby rechristen this vessel Her Majesty’s ship … Resolute.”
She smashed the bottle against the side, and it shattered into tiny glistening shards, which showered onto the ice below.
Now they had to make their way across the Everlasting Ice on foot. But as soon as they began to work up a brisk pace, they found themselves slip-sliding on the slippery surface. Molly called to Peggy and Jackpine.
“Come on. Let’s show them how to do it!”
She grabbed each of them by the hand, and the three of them broke into a sprint, which sent them into a long skid across the ice. Others followed suit, and soon the air was filled with laughter as more and more Souls began racing across the ice in long, sliding strides.
Soon Molly broke away to join some of them in a game of crack-the-whip. Peggy extended her arm and felt ripples of excitement when Jackpine took her hand in his. They moved side by side in silence.
Some Souls picked up the gliding movement easily, but Peggy looked back and noticed that a few were having difficulty. She reluctantly dropped Jackpine’s hand to see if they needed help. They were grumbling that it was too hard to cross the ice, that Peggy was making them do it. Peggy was taken aback. It drove home to her the uncomfortable fact that, though she was surrounded by all these Souls, she was really alone. The Eternal had told her that being the hero would be hard; what she hadn’t told Peggy was that it would, at times, be crushingly lonely as well.
She was seized with an intense longing to just be herself again. She was weary of all this responsibility, of carrying all the weight on her shoulders. She didn’t care about being the Creator. She was tired of being a hero. She wanted her life back – she wanted to see her mom, her friends at school, even her annoying brothers. She ached to go home.
She remembered how she’d felt that night before her journey into the Hole, and how she’d cried out her sadness on the bone flute. She felt for it in her pocket; it was still there. And for the first time since that strange, brief trip back to Green Echo Park, she thought of her other flute, the one she’d been so eager to get rid of. Was it still where she’d left it, waiting for her?
When Molly spied the shimmering waters of Lake Notherland in the distance, she let out a whoop of joy and dashed ahead. Gavi, however, was distant, subdued. He lumbered to the shore, slid his black-and-white body onto the surface of the water and swam out into the middle of the lake, seemingly lost in thought.
For Peggy, the sight of Painted Rock as they rounded the shore of the lake stirred up a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. This was the moment of truth. She’d saved them all. Now, would she be able to get them all back home?
As they approached the rock, Peggy looked back at the Souls following behind her. They were all waiting for her to say or do something. She hoisted herself up onto a nearby rock and began, awkwardly, to speak, gazing at her friends.
“I guess this is goodbye. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of coming to Notherland in the beginning. But now I’m glad. Because I might not have gotten to know any of you.” She was afraid to look in J ackpine’s direction as she said this. “We’re about to go our separate ways now. But I hope none of you forget who you are and what we’ve been through together. You’ve been down to the bottom of the Hole at the Pole and come back out again. I hope that, if any of us manage to meet up in the other world, we’ll somehow just know one another. Now – let’s all go home.”
She jumped down, stood squarely in front of Painted Rock and concentrated. In her mind’s eye she tried to picture the surface of the rock growing transparent, so that she could make out the landscape of the park on the other side. But when she opened her eyes nothing had happened. She closed her eyes and tried again.
Panic rose as she opened her eyes and realized there had still been no change. After all she’d done, all they’d been through, was this how it was going to end?
Make it work this time, please!
She tried again.
Peggy turned to them all, defeated.
“I’m sorry. It’s not working. I don’t know what else to do.”
There were angry shouts from some of the Mads.
“I knew it! I knew we’d never get out of here!”
“We should never have trusted her!”
Then another voice pierced through the angry shouting.
Peggy turned. It was Jackpine.
“Good thing she didn’t rely on the likes of you, or you’d all still be down in the Hole!” he chided them. “Now shut up and give it a chance.”
Jackpine walked over and stood up close to Painted Rock.
“What are these?” he asked, pointing to the red markings on the rock.
“I don’t know,” Peggy replied. “They’ve always been there.”
He stood pensively, running his fingers over the markings.
“What is it, Jackpine?” Peggy asked.
“I can’t explain it, but these markings look familiar somehow. Like I’ve seen them before.”
He traced one dark red line with his index finger.
“Right, of course. See? This is a drawing of a tree. And over here. That looks like a canoe with two people in it. This one is strange. It looks almost like an eye.”
“An eye?” Peggy said.
Jackpine was right. Though some of the outline of the drawing had faded with time, it clearly depicted a single disembodied eye. The dark-red markings on Painted Rock had always looked to Peggy like smudges, discolorations in the rock. But as Jackpine carefully traced their outlines, she saw for the first time that they were patterns, pictures …
Now Mi piped up.
“That one looks just like Gavi,” she said in her tiny voice.
“This one?” said Jackpine. “You’re right. It looks just like a loon.”
Peggy was struck by a thought.
“Wait a minute! One of them looks like a loon and one looks like an eye? Maybe …”
Jackpine seemed to know immediately what she was thinking. “Maybe they all mean something? Like the tree! Don’t you see? That’s me!”
“And the loon is Gavi,” cried Peggy, “and look! These two people – one is taller than the other. That could be me and Molly. And the two people in the canoe? That’s Sir John and Lady Jane! Yes! See? It’s all of us! I can’t believe I didn’t see it before!”
“But that was not possible!” Gavi broke in excitedly. “Do you not see? Our whole adventure was foretold right here on Painted Rock, before it ever began! But you could not understand the story until you had lived it!”
“These here look like tiny birds,” Jackpine pointed out. “They could be the Nordlings. And this looks like a snake. That’s got to be the Nobodaddy!”
“Or it could be the sea monster that attacked the ship!” Molly added.
It could even be the Resolute Protector of Notherland, Peggy thought to herself.
They were all startled by the sound of a great crack! They watched in amazement as a deep fissure appeared in Painted Rock. It widened until it had almost the appearance of a pathway, beckoning to them.
Peggy turned to Gavi.
“What’s going on?”
“My best guess,” he replied, “is that this is no longer just a pathway into your park. There are so many Souls preparing to cross over, heading for so many far-flung places throughout your world, that something more is needed.”
“Do you think it’s safe for them to start passing through?”
“We have come this far, I cannot believe we will be thwarted in our mission now.”
Peggy sighed with relief. In letting the drawings speak to him, Jackpine had found the way to their freedom. The responsibility for Notherland was no longer solely hers; it wasn’t all up to her anymore.
She signaled to the Souls nearest the rock to begin their journey. A small group started through the huge fissure until, at what seemed like a point deep inside the rock, they simply vanished. The rest followed in twos and threes.
Peggy turned to Molly, but the doll was talking to Gavi. She was telling him breathlessly of her plans for the Resolute and her fears about his reaction.
Gavi stopped her. He seemed not in the least perturbed, or even surprised.
“Of course you will want to stay with your ship. I would not have expected anything else. But I have something to tell you, too.”
The loon looked intently at her, then at Peggy.
“Well? What is it?”
“I am not going to stay on the Resolute with you.”
“Oh? Where will you go?”
“That is … I am not going to stay in Notherland.”
“What are you talking about?” Molly demanded.
“I am going to try and pass through into the other world.
“Gavi, no!” Peggy said. “You’ve never tried to cross over. You have no idea what will happen to you!”
“But now that so many appear to be crossing over without difficulty, there is no reason why I should not attempt it, too,” Gavi replied calmly.
“But …!” Molly sputtered. “You’re not from that world! You belong in Notherland!”
“I know, I know. Everything you are saying I have told myself. I have thought it all through. The truth is, I am tired of thinking. I am tired of having to figure everything out. I want to experience life as a flesh-and-blood loon does! I want to bond with a mate. I want to father a loon chick. I want to fly north in the summer and south in the winter. I don’t want to just think about life. I want to live it.”
“But Gavi!” Molly cried. “What about the Nordlings? We’ve always looked after them together.”
“With you and the new crew of the Resolute to look after them, I know they will be in good hands, as will Notherland itself. But I cannot live on a ship. There will be nothing for me to do.”
Peggy gave him a penetrating look.
“Gavi, it’ll be very different for you in my world. Things are in constant change there. Everyone grows older. Here in Notherland, you’re protected from all that. You’re immortal. If you cross over with us …”
The loon nodded.
“I will die one day, like any ordinary loon. Yes, I have considered that, too. But if death is the price of fully experiencing life, it is a price I am prepared to pay. After seeing Sir John and Lady Jane pass over into Eternity, I have no fear. I am ready to dive headlong into the great pool of existence.”
Molly tried to stifle a sob.
“But … you might never be able to come back,” she finally said. “We might never see one another again.”
Peggy’s eyes, too, were starting to burn with tears. With all that had been on her mind the past few days, she’d managed to block out all thought of saying goodbye to these two, but now the reality of it was finally coming home to her.
“I do not wish to leave you, any more than you wish to leave me,” Gavi said gently, tears filling his eyes. “We are being called to different paths, in different worlds. But we will always carry one another in our hearts.”
At that moment, Peggy looked out over Lake Notherland and saw a column of silvery-blue light. It grew brighter and brighter as it settled right over the Nordlings, bathing them in its glow. Then it spiralled out and formed an enormous ring encircling them.
“I have always been and always will be. Could you not feel my presence?”
“Peggy remembered the Eternal’s words, and now knew for certain that Notherland still had its Resolute Protector.
Molly’s voice broke in on her thoughts. “It’s time!”
Peggy turned back towards Painted Rock. Jackpine was standing alone at the entry to the passageway; all the other Souls had passed through.
Gavi reached the opening first. As he started to move his cumbersome body into the passageway, he looked back at them.
“Do not be surprised to find a loon swimming on your pond when you arrive on the other side,” he said to Peggy.
Swimming? Peggy abruptly stopped “him. “Gavi, wait! It’s winter back in my world. There’ll be ice on the pond.”
“Then you must help me take off, so I can migrate south.”
“But you’ve never migrated anywhere! How will you find your way?”
“I will follow my …. my instinct!” the loon said with pride.
Then he turned to Molly.
“Take good care of our beloved Nordlings, Molly. Goodbye.”
Biting her lip, the doll walked hesitantly forward and held out one stiff arm. Her hand grasped one of Gavi’s wings and squeezed it hard. She was determined not to let herself start crying again.
Silently, she mouthed one word to Gavi: Goodbye.
Then he disappeared into the passageway, releasing one last tremolo as he went.
“Till we meet agaaaaiiiiinnn …”
Once he was gone, they heard a low rumbling in the earth around them.
“What’s that?” asked Jackpine.
“My best guess, as Gavi would say,” said Peggy, “is that the opening between the worlds is starting to become unstable.”
“We better get going before it gets any worse!”
As they turned to say goodbye to Molly, Peggy suddenly thought of something. She reached into her pocket. Nestled in a corner next to the bone flute was the Aya. She took it out and quickly pressed it into Molly’s hand. The doll looked at it in amazement.
“What … But this is … How did you find it?”
Peggy grinned at Molly.
“It’s a long story,” she replied.
Peggy wanted to say more, but the rumbling was growing louder. There was barely time for Peggy to give the doll one last hug as Molly pushed them both towards the opening.
“You two get out of here!” yelled Molly. “Now!”
Jackpine grasped Peggy’s hand. In the narrow passageway their bodies were pressed close together, their faces so close they could feel the warmth of one another’s breath. What would happen when they crossed over? Would he even remember her? Would she remember him?
This might be my last chance! she thought.
She leaned over and pressed her lips to his for one long moment.
As they both went tumbling through the passageway, she could swear she heard Jackpine’s voice, saying her name.
“Peggy, I …”
Then everything went dark.
Chapter 14: Lift-off
ALL THROUGH THE DAY Souls had passed through the portal. The fissure in Painted Rock had narrowed but not yet closed up completely. Now, with night falling, Mi discovered that, from her spot on the RoryBory, she could watch everything that was happening on the other side. She suddenly thought again of Sir John talking about the parting of the Red Sea. She realized, with regret, that she’d never gotten around to asking him how a sea could be red.
She had to fight to stay awake. But seeing into another universe was so exciting!
There was a crowd of people gathered in what Pay-gee had called a “park.” They were talking animatedly and pointing towards a body of water much smaller than Lake Notherland, but with a smooth surface of ice.
“Can you beat that?” Mi heard one of them say.
“Yeah, it’s something, isn’t it?” said another. “A loon, here, in December.”
A bird was slapping its wings on the surface of the ice with a restless, fevered motion.
“Maybe it was too stupid to fly south for the winter,” said another, and laughter rippled through the crowd.
“Now what’s that girl up to, do you suppose?”
A young woman was striding purposefully out onto the ice. She looked a lot like Pay-gee herself, but with a difference that Mi couldn’t quite put her finger on. She walked right over to the bird, put one arm around it and started to gently pull it along the ice. The bird made no effort to resist or escape her; it seemed to grow oddly calm at her touch.
“Is she crazy?” someone in the crowd exclaimed. “She’s liable to scare that bird half to death.”
“Maybe not,” said another. “Looks like she’s trying to pull it to the far end of the pond, so it can have more room to take off. That’s why the poor thing’s flailing around like that. It can’t take off. Loons are like big planes – they need a long runway to get up enough speed.”
There was a minor commotion in the crowd as the girl was joined by someone else, a young man who reminded Mi of Jackpine. But she thought she might be mistaken when one of the people on shore pointed at him.
“Hey, there’s Gary, that Native kid who hangs around here.”
“Now y’know they’re both crazy,” chuckled someone else.
It wasn’t clear to Mi whether the girl who looked like Pay-gee and the boy who looked like Jackpine knew one another or not. But together they tried pulling the bird backwards, then vigorously pushing it forwards, away from them. The loon’s wings began to flap furiously. The bird managed to propel itself partway across the pond, then its momentum slowed. The two young people ran over to the bird and repeated the same action, pulling it backwards with a running motion, then thrusting it forwards even more vigorously.
This time the loon skittered across the entire length of the pond, picking up more and more speed as it went along. Just as it approached the opposite bank, its black-and-white body finally began to lift off the surface of the ice.
The crowd watched the loon pass over the edge of the pond and begin to gain altitude, until it was soaring in the sky over their heads with long, steady wing strokes. Spectators broke into spontaneous applause as the loon soared higher and higher, until it was little more than a tiny black speck on the horizon.
Mi watched the boy and girl walk off the ice together. At the edge of the ice, the girl picked up an oblong black box. She opened it, took out a long silvery object and began blowing into it. The crowd stood listening, enraptured by the sound, as Mi was, too. She had never heard anything quite like it: music, but not like that which Mi and her companions sang in the RoryBory. Beautiful music, full of energy and delight. The music of another universe.
Finally the fissure in Painted Rock closed up completely and Mi couldn’t see anymore. But she could still hear the music from the strange silvery instrument as it trailed off into a faraway echo.
From her place in the blazing RoryBory, Mi looked down from the sky over the vast sweep of Notherland. In the distance, off to the north, she thought she could make out the Resolute moored at the edge of the Everlasting Ice.
Maybe tonight, she thought as she drifted off to sleep, I will dream a new universe into existence.
End of Book I