BOOK II: The Shining World
AS SHE STOOD near the entrance to Green Echo Park singing at the top of her lungs, it occurred to Mi the Nordling that it might not be a good idea to call too much attention to herself in this unfamiliar world.
But it was so exhilarating to break free of the confines of Notherland, to at last find herself in the world of the Creator! True, Mi had passed through several realms in her quest to find the place known as the Shining World. But here in the realm of Pay-Gee the Creator, she sensed with a mounting excitement that she was drawing nearer and nearer to her destination.
Only a little while earlier, Mi had noticed sounds coming from a building with tall stone spires and stopped to look inside. There was a group of small beings like herself – “children” as they were called here in this world – sitting in a circle. In front of them stood a woman, singing and moving her arms rhythmically, urging them to sing along with her.
All night, all day, Angels watching over me, my Lord
All night, all day, Angels watching over me.
Ever since she’d discovered she could sing many more notes than the one she was created for, Mi had been eager to learn more of these melodious collections of notes that people in this world called “songs”. The music these children were making was so sweet and soaring it made her tiny heart feel like it would burst. She resolved that she would learn this song, right here, right now! She would not leave this window until she knew every word, every note of it.
Now here she was, a short distance away from the building with the tall spires, at the entrance of the large green place known as a “park” in this world. She could see many trees and wondered if one of them could be the Tree of Good and Evil – not that she had any idea how she would be able to tell. Just inside the gate, she noticed a statue of an Angel, with great stone wings draping from its shoulders and running down to its base. What a wonderful thing! Mi thought to herself – to learn a song about Angels and then to immediately encounter an Angel. Almost involuntarily, the notes of the song burst out of her and she felt a deep, transporting joy as she sang.
After a few moments she noticed that a group of children in the park had stopped what they were doing and were looking at her strangely. Reluctantly, she stopped singing and began walking towards the children. They had resumed their game. It looked like fun and she hoped maybe they would invite her to join in.
She stood off to one side, watching shyly for a few moments, till one of them ñ a boy ñ raced over and poked her on the shoulder. Mi shrunk back at first, thinking he intended to hurt her. But then he called out, “Tag!” and she could see from his expression that it was just part of the game and now it was her turn to go find someone else to poke on the shoulder. She ran after the others, laughing. This game wasn’t so different from the game she used to play with the other Nordlings back in Notherland, when they pretended they were being chased by swarms of flesh-eating bugs.
Mi almost caught up with one of the others and was about to poke her on the shoulder when the girl slowed down momentarily and looked over toward the street. A man was standing there watching them. The girl sped up again, but Mi managed to get close enough to touch her.
“Tag!” she shouted triumphantly.
She was worried the girl might be mad at her, but she just shrugged good-naturedly.
“Now I’m it.”
Mi stood facing the girl, whose attention was drawn again toward the street. Now the man was walking towards the park entrance.
“Is that your dad?” Mi asked the girl, proud that she knew the casual word for “father” in this world.
The girl shook her head.
“That’s not my dad,” she said emphatically. “I thought he was yours.”
Mi almost started to explain that she didn’t have a dad, that where she came from there were no fathers, but stopped herself.
“If he’s nobody’s dad, then he’s a Stranger. You should never talk to Strangers.”
“What’s a Stranger?” Mi asked.
“A person you don’t know and your mom and dad don’t know either,” the girl replied.
“Why can’t you . . .?” Mi started to ask, but the girl had resumed running.
Mi looked over at the entrance. Now the Stranger was walking past the statue of the Angel, and was heading right towards her.
“Hello, little girl.” said the Stranger. “Would you like to go for a ride with me?”
Chapter 1: The Petroglyphs
PEGGY FELT THE TIP of her planting shovel hit it with a sharp metallic thunk.
She bent over, rooted around in the damp ground, pulled out a mottled-grey hunk of rock and flung it away in disgust. This whole patch of land was chock-full of stones, not to mention the tangled piles of stumps and slash left behind by the chainsaws. It was all she could do to find decent spots to put in her trees.
She looked down at the handful of saplings left in the bulky planting bags that encircled her waist. Six hours she’d been working this crummy, rock-infested plot and all she had to show for it was five hundred trees. Five hundred trees at nine cents apiece. She was well on her way to netting a grand total of 45 dollars for the whole day.
After all she’d heard about how treeplanters made such good money. After all the trouble and effort she’d gone to get on this crew. After all the money she’d spent – on the bus ticket, the shovel, the bug shirt and all the other equipment. Just to come up here to work her butt off in the middle of nowhere with blackflies swarming around her head.
Forty-five lousy dollars!
At this rate she’d never have enough to move out on her own in the fall. Another school year in the same house with her mother – Peggy didn’t know if she could take it. It seemed like they couldn’t be in the same room for five minutes without getting into a fight. Her mom had hit the roof when she’d left school early to go planting, accusing her of using it as an excuse to drop out altogether, which Peggy thought was totally unfair. She’d been responsible. She’d put in the application and gotten the job. She’d arranged with her teachers to make up her schoolwork work before the end of the summer. All things for which her mother gave her absolutely no credit.
She’d had no choice, really. Her sanity depended on making enough money to move out on her own. It was either this job or go begging to her father. Oh, he would’ve loved that. To have her beholden to him. No way that was going to happen. She’d stay up here and plant trees for the rest of her life before she’d take another penny from him.
She bent down to dig in the last of the saplings in the bag and prepared to load up again. As she stood up she heard a rustling behind her. Simmie again, she wondered? Coming back to stock up from her cache?
She turned around to see a full-grown black bear, reared up on its hind legs, staring at her from no more than 20 feet away.
“Well, hello, there . . .”
Later, when she finally stopped shaking and could think clearly again, Peggy wondered what in the world possessed her to say such a thing at that moment. A quiet, almost casual hello instead of screaming or running – neither of which she’d done, thank God. She stood there, her heavy work boots fixed on the spot, trying to recall all the stuff they learned in orientation about what to do if they met up with a bear: Drop your bags. Bang your shovel on a rock. Talk loudly. Act big, so the bear will think you’re a threat.
And most important: Never, ever try to run away.
She didn’t move, didn’t do a thing except stand there looking at the bear with a strange mixture of awe and disorientation. Things could get ugly, she suddenly remembered, in an encounter with a mother bear and cubs. But as far as Peggy could see, there were no cubs around anywhere. There was nobody, nothing else. For a few moments she had the feeling that all movement in the world had stopped, that time itself had stopped. There was nothing except this moment, the two of them standing stock-still, Peggy looking at the bear, the bear looking at her.
Then another memory came back to her: That night around the fire, Zak telling the new planters about the notorious incident two years ago: a planter working her plot, listening to music on her headphones, carrying a chocolate bar in her pocket. A chocolate bar! How dumb was that? Peggy thought, remembering how the planters had been warned not to carry food that might attract bears.
When the bear attacked her from behind, the girl panicked and ran. The bear gave chase, knocked her down and lit into her. She was lucky a ranger heard her screaming and shot the bear. But by then it had gnawed off half her leg, which had to be amputated.
Remembering the story, Peggy felt her stomach turn over in nausea and fear, as the bear began to move slightly.
Is it going to charge me?
Then, in a smooth, quiet motion that seemed all the more remarkable given its massive bulk, the bear dropped back on all fours, turned away and ambled off towards the thick brush at the edge of the clear-cut. Peggy watched it move away and grow smaller, its black fur making sinuous ripples down its back with every lumbering step. When the bear was finally out of sight, she let out an enormous sigh and realized that her body had been so rigid during the whole encounter that she’d barely taken a breath.
She heard the rumble of a motor off in the distance. She turned around and saw a van heading down the dirt road towards her.
Zak was at the wheel. He stopped and waved her over.
“That’s it for today, Pegs. We’re pulling out early. There’s been a bear sighting in these parts and we don’t want any planters meeting up with it.”
“Too late,” she said. “It’s already been here.”
Zak looked at her quizzically.
“What are you talking about?”
“The bear,” Peggy said as she climbed into the passenger seat. “It was just here.”
“What did you do?”
Simmie, one of the other planters, was riding in the back of the pickup next to Gisele, the assistant supervisor. From the moment Zak had picked them up they’d been riveted by Peggy’s tale of her bear encounter. Now they were plying her with questions.
“Did you remember to bang your shovel on your hard hat?”
“Didn’t you freak?!!”
“Actually, no.” Peggy replied, with a slight hint of boasting. Though she was still shaking inside, Peggy could hear an edge of excitement, even exhilaration in her own voice. She was already, she realized, embellishing the account into a story, one that she knew would be making the rounds of the planting camps for weeks to come: “Did you hear about the new girl over in Zak’s camp? She came face-to-face with a bear right on her plot.” “O my God, what happened? Is she okay?” “Yeah, she’s fine. It just looked at her and walked away!”
“Well, at least that bear got us off that crummy plot of land for the rest of the day,” Gisele was saying. “What say we stop in town for a quick beer?”
“Right,” said Zak, grinning at Peggy. “We can drink to Pegs and her nerves of steel.”
Peggy smiled back. She liked Zak, one of those terminally upbeat people whose good nature was redeemed by a sardonic sense of humor. But she was thinking, here we go again. They’d go to the pub and the others would order beers. Meanwhile, she’d order a soft drink, saying she didn’t feel like a beer, when the truth was she didn’t want to have to show ID and put Zak in the awkward position of finding out that she was only sixteen, that she’d lied and said she was eighteen on her application.
She looked back at Zak, unsure of what to say about the pub stop. But his attention was on something else now. His hands gripped the wheel tightly as he listened to a news item on the radio. Something about a manhunt for a missing child – a little girl who’d been abducted from a park in the city.
“Whenever I hear about one of these perverts, it makes me feel like tying him by the you-know-whats and dragging him over a bed of nails.”
Simmie and Gisele looked at one another.
“Not you, Saint Zak!”
“We thought you lived only to do good deeds!”
“You two are just jealous,” he shot back. “While you’re sitting around drinking lattes planning your pathetic weekends, I’ll be doing something worthwhile with my time.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Peggy piped up.
“Don’t you know?” Gisele said. “After planting season Zak’s leaving for a year in India.”
Simmie poked Zak from the back seat of the van and giggled.
“Yep. He’s gonna save the children from evil slave owners.”`
“Pay no attention to these idiots, Pegs,” said Zak. “I’m going there to volunteer with a group working to help child laborers in the rug factories.”
“That sounds great, Zak,” said Peggy.
“Forgive us, Saint Zak,” Gisele teased. “We’re not worthy to be in your presence.”
Peggy looked ahead as the van sped down the highway. They were approaching the sign at the turnoff for the Lake Keewatin Reserve, the one they’d passed every day this week. Suddenly she had an idea.
“Hey, guys!” she blurted out. “Let’s go see the petroglyphs.”
“Right now?” said Simmie.
Peggy nodded eagerly. It would be a great way, she realized, to avoid stopping at the pub altogether.
“What about our beers?” Gisele chimed in. “We won’t have time to do both, and if we’re not back for dinner the others’ll scarf down all the good stuff and leave us with a pot of cold rice.”
“Come on, it’ll only take a few minutes,” Peggy persisted. “We’ve been talking about it for days and we’ll be leaving this area at the end of the week.”
Zak was already slowing down the van and signalling for the turnoff.
“Pegs is the hero of the hour,” he said cheerily. “If she wants rock carvings, she gets rock carvings.”
The entrance to the reserve was a short distance off the highway. There was a small cabin with a sign that said, “All Visitors Must Check in at Office.” They parked the truck and went in.
Inside was a girl who looked to be not much older than Peggy, sitting at a desk.
“Can we go see the petroglyphs?” she asked.
The girl shook her head. “Too late in the day.”
“Please,” Peggy pleaded. “It’s our only chance. We’ll be quick, I promise.”
The girl looked at her a moment, then turned and shouted out the back door of the cabin. “Gary? Can you take these folks to the site?”
“Now?” the voice shot back testily, followed by what sounded like the whack of an axe on wood. “It’s almost closing.”
“They say they won’t have another chance,” said the girl.
A dark-haired youth poked his head in the doorway.
“But you better make it quick.”
Peggy opened her mouth to reply, but stopped, dumfounded when she saw his face.
Her mind raced back to the events of the previous year – how she’d first encountered the Jack pine tree standing mysteriously alone in the middle of the treeless tundra. How she’d heard a voice from within the tree calling out for help. How her touch had made the tree fall away, and how a young man appeared, who had no idea who he was, but to whom Mi had given the name Jackpine.
She thought back to that cold December day when she’d walked out of Green Echo Park, her mind a confused jumble of emotions. The strange journey to Notherland, the imaginary world of her childhood, had abruptly ended. She felt like she’d lived several lifetimes and yet, when she was cast back into the park it was like hardly any time at all had passed . . .
Only moments before she and Jackpine had been pulling the loon across the ice, finally watching it soar off into the sky. Their hands had touched briefly as the loon took off, but then she’d looked at him. He wasn’t Jackpine in this world, she realized. He was Gary. It was almost as if she was really seeing him for the first time – his grubby clothes, his ashen-grey pallor. Something in her recoiled, wanted to turn away.
So she hurried out of the park. But just as she was passing the Angel statue that stood at the entrance she had a change of heart. She stopped and turned around.
But he was gone. Nowhere to be seen. He’d disappeared into thin air.
She’d let him get away.
Then, as the days and weeks passed, the whole experience receded from her mind, till it seemed like little more than a barely-remembered dream . . .
“What did you call me?”
Peggy looked into the young man’s eyes to see if there was a flicker of recognition. It was him, no question: Gary the homeless kid, the one she’d left behind in the park that day. The one who’d mysteriously turned up in her imaginary world. What had happened to him that day, she wondered. How did he get here? Was this reserve the place he’d originally come from? Whatever he’d been doing for the past year, Peggy thought, it had certainly done him good. He still looked lean but more vigorous, with a healthy glow to his face.
“What was that you called me?” he asked again. The question seemed less a challenge than a genuine query.
“Sorry,” Peggy stammered. “I thought you were somebody else.”
He looked at her oddly for a moment, then seemed to make up his mind.
“Well, if we’re going to do this, let’s get going,” he said, motioning them to follow him out the back door of the cabin. He paused in the doorway and turned to the girl.
“You still be here when I get back?” he asked her.
“Sure,” she nodded.
It seemed to Peggy that the girl gave her a hostile glare as they went out, but it was hard to tell, since she hadn’t been overly friendly from the start.
Outside, Gary stuck his axe into the stump he was using for a chopping block.
“This way,” he said, leading them across the small parking lot to a path that led through a treed area, ending at the tall, smooth face of a large boulder.
“This is it?” Simmie asked.
“Nope,” said Gary. “We have to get past this to get to the lake.”
He pointed to a narrow gap between the boulder and another, smaller rock and began to scramble through it. The others followed, and found themselves snaking around more boulders of varying size and shape. Finally the rocky path opened out to reveal Lake Keewatin. They walked a short distance until they came to a steep cliff that angled out from the shoreline.
There was a narrow ledge lining the cliff partway out over the lake, then nothing but the sheer face of the cliff plunging down into the choppy water below. Gary pointed out toward the cliff face.
“There they are,” he shouted over the pounding waves.
“The rock carvings you came to see.”
Simmie shook her head.
“I don’t see anything.”
From where she was standing Peggy could see some faint markings on the cliff face.
“They’re hard to see from here,” Gary said. “To get a good look you have to go out on the ledge a ways.”
“That thing?” Gisele almost shrieked. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“No way I’m going out there!” Simmie added.
“There must be a rope or something to hold onto.” Peggy said.
Gary shook his head.
“The only way to rig up a rope would be to drill into the rock. That would damage the site.”
“It’s not that bad if you’ve done climbing,” Zak spoke up. “There’re some spots where you can grip the rock.”
Peggy was nearest the ledge. She began to gingerly step out onto it.
“Wait!” Gary said. “I don’t think you better . . .”
“But you just said . . .”
“We allow people to go out at their own risk,” he said. “But only when conditions are right. The lake’s rough right now. Those waves are hitting high up on the rock. It’s too slippery.”
“But I can barely see them from here!” Peggy objected. “I just want to go out a little ways.”
Before Gary could say anything else, Peggy moved several steps farther out onto the ledge, beyond his reach. He watched her with a look of mild irritation, but said nothing as she made her way along the ledge.
“Look! Out there!”
Simmie was pointing out into the lake beyond the far edge of the cliff. Peggy looked over to see a single loon swimming on the surface of the water. They all watched as the bird moved closer to the cliff and released a tremolo call.
A loon, probably one of the hundreds that used this huge lake for a nesting ground, Peggy thought. But she couldn’t help smiling to herself as she thought of the loon she knew as Gavi – a very singular bird, to say the least, who fancied himself a philosopher and sometimes thought so hard about the true nature of things that he gave himself a headache.
She tightened her grip on a jutting section of rock as her right foot slipped off the ledge and dangled limply in the air.
“Watch it!” Gary warned her. “I told you it was slippery!”
Carefully, Peggy lifted her foot back onto the ledge. She resolved to be more careful and not let her attention wander again. She didn’t want to give Gary another opportunity to yell at her and make her feel like a bumbling idiot. Slowly, with measured steps, she moved farther along the ledge to a spot a couple of feet from the first of the rock carvings.
Now, up close, she could see it was the outline of some kind of large animal, perhaps a bear. A little farther along was another carving of a snakelike creature with a tiny head atop a thin squiggly line. There were at least half a dozen more, but from that distance Peggy couldn’t make out what they were. Thinking she’d be able to get a better look by leaning out a bit over the water, she found a crevice in the rock where her left hand could get a solid grip, checked to make sure both her feet were firmly planted on the ledge, then carefully angled her body away from the cliff face.
“Whoa!” Zak and Simmie shouted in unison.
“Don’t worry, I’m okay,” she reassured them. “I just want to see if I can get a better look.”
She looked over her shoulder. Gary was scowling but said nothing. She turned back toward the petroglyphs and craned her neck to see what she could make out ñ a tree, some birds in flight, something that looked like a canoe with two stick-figures in it.
One of the carvings in particular drew her eye – a human figure holding a tube-like object in its mouth.
“That one looks like it’s playing a flute,” she said aloud.
She was surprised to hear Gary’s voice in reply.
“It is. It’s called the Flute Player.”
“Makes sense,” Peggy said wryly.
She was intrigued because she was a flute player herself. But there was also something distinctive about the figure that set it apart from the others.
“There’s a story about that one,” Gary volunteered. “I’ll tell you about it after.”
Then it dawned on Peggy: the Flute Player was the only image that wasn’t already familiar to her. Painted Rock, the portal between the universes in Notherland, the world she had created out of her imagination when she was seven, bore the same images she saw here, with the exception of the Flute Player.
The thought unnerved her. For the past year it had taken all her energy just to cope with everyday reality – the demanding grind of schoolwork, her tense relationship with her mother, the constant drive to earn money so she could break free and live on her own. The last thing she needed now was to be thrown back into the tumultuous emotions her strange sojourn in that long-forgotten world had stirred up in her.
She began to feel lightheaded, slightly dizzy. Better get off this ledge and back on solid ground, she told herself. She hugged the cliff face and slowly began to make her way along the ledge, back to where the others were standing. But the feeling of lightheadedness grew stronger, a sense of spinning inside herself, like vertigo.
The waves were beating against the cliff just beneath her feet.
Don’t look down, Peggy told herself. Just take it slow and steady.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw she was only a few steps away from where the ledge began to widen to meet the path. But just at the edge there was a gap, one she hadn’t noticed earlier, when she’d made her way out to the petroglyphs. Now, in her state of disorientation, the gap looked wide and intimidating.
“I hate to ask this,” she said, “but could one of you give me a hand over this gap? I’m feeling a bit dizzy.”
Gary thrust a hand out towards her.
“Here,” he said. “Grab hold.”
Peggy ran her hand along the cliff face to meet his. As soon as her skin touched his, she had an intense flash of memory: the last time they’d clasped hands like this was when she and Jackpine had entered the fissure in Painted Rock, leaving Notherland behind and re-entering their everyday world.
Suddenly Peggy felt her whole body lurch backward. Gary – Jackpine – instinctively pulled on her arm to try and keep her from falling off the ledge. But his jerking motion threw both of them off balance. The others stood aghast as the two of them tumbled down the cliff face and into the choppy waters, still clutching hands.
No sweat, I’m a good swimmer, Peggy told herself as they both hit the water full force. As long as I don’t crack my skull on a rock, I’m okay. But instead of rising back to the surface, she felt herself being pulled down deeper and deeper. She felt a rising sense of terror and looked frantically at Jackpine. Their faces were nearly pressed against one another in the dark water, and she could see that he was on the edge of panic, too.
The thought struck her with sickening force: If we don’t get back up to the surface soon, we’re going to drown.
But still they continued to be pulled inexorably downward. Peggy thought she noticed a flash of something white shooting through the dark, murky waters just above them. Was it one of the others, diving down after them? Then she saw that it was the white underbelly of a water bird – a loon – probably the one they’d seen earlier.
It began to dive into the surrounding depths like a missile. Then, strangely, terrifyingly, the bird came right up next to Peggy and peered into her face with one red eye. The loon lifted one wing upward through the water and seemed to be extending it toward her, almost as if it were trying to wrap its wing around her . . .
The Stranger was nice and friendly. He offered her something called “candy” that made a sweet, tingly sensation on her tongue. Mi wondered why the girl in the park had warned her not to talk to him.
She followed him out of the park. As they walked past the Angel statue she thought she saw one of its wings move slightly, almost as if it were stretching out to block her way. But she forgot about it when she spied the large metal box atop a set of four wheels. Mi had never seen anything like it. The surface was so shiny she could see her face reflected on it. The Stranger opened the door of the “car” as he called it, let her climb in, then got in himself through a door on the other side. He took out a key, put it in a lock and turned it. The car shook slightly and began to move forward. To Mi, it was like magic.
Chapter 2: The Return of the Creator
AT FIRST, DARKNESS. Complete darkness, along with a feeling of utter blankness, a not-knowing where she was, who she was, what she was. Then glimmers of awareness, the sensation of something soft touching her cheek . . .
I am. I am human. My name is Peggy. I fell in the water.
Am I dead?
When she opened her eyes, she was aware of something black, dotted with flecks of white, moving rhythmically in front of her. Some kind of feathery object stroking her face. It took some seconds for her brain to fully recognize the object, to put a name to it.
It’s a wing. A black-and-white wing. A loon’s wing.
No sooner had she spoken the name than the sound of another voice pierced her ears.
“You both made it!”
Peggy and the loon turned in the direction the voice had come from. They saw a creature about the height of a seven-year-old girl, somewhat stiff-looking and sporting a black patch over one eye.
“I wasn’t sure I could pull it off all by myself!”
Peggy looked to the left of where the small creature stood. There was the smooth rock face dotted with primitive drawings. Things were becoming clear now. The visit to the petroglyphs, the terrifying fall through the water ñ all these things had happened for a reason. Namely, that Molly, her old childhood doll, had called her back. Now, as Peggy stood near Painted Rock, the entrance to Notherland, she could see Molly wasn’t alone. Her other imaginary childhood friend was here, too: Gavi the loon, who had miraculously found a way to cross the threshold into Peggy’s world.
The three of them practically fell on top of one another, shrieking with happiness. Peggy threw her arms around the doll while Gavi’s large wings encircled them both.
“But how did you . . .?”
Peggy only got a few words out before she was interrupted.
“What the . . .?”
They whirled back to see where this new voice was coming from. In the rush of the moment Peggy realized she’d forgotten all about Gary – or rather Jackpine – for now that they were back in Notherland there was absolutely no doubt it was him.
“Jackpine!” Gavi exclaimed. “It is marvellous to see you here, too!”
The young man turned to Gavi with a harsh expression.
“What did you call me?”
“Why, Jackpine, of course. The name you were given by the Nordling Mi.”
“My name’s Gary.”
“You mean you do not remember,” Gavi asked, “that you have been here in Notherland before? That you . . .”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he cut the loon off with disdain.
A chorus of voices like a bubbling brook drifted towards them.
“Gavi! It’s Gavi! Our Gavi is back!”
The voices came in a rolling cascade of different tones – some high, some low, some in-between, but all of them punctuated with giggles. As the loon looked at the mass of fairylike creatures flocking around him, his red eyes brimmed with tears.
“My dear, dear Nordlings,” he said haltingly when he was finally able to speak. “How it fills me with joy to see you all again. And look! See who has come with me!”
He gestured towards Peggy, setting off another burble of delight among the Nordlings.
“Pay-Gee! The Creator! You’ve come back to us!”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” Peggy laughed and shot a quizzical glance at Molly, as if to ask, “What’s up?” But the doll avoided her eyes and Peggy turned her attention back to the Nordlings, who were still crowded around Gavi. It was true she was Pay-Gee, the Creator of Notherland and everything in it. But it was Gavi who had cared for them their whole lives, Gavi they had so deeply missed since he’d left just over a year ago to experience life in the world of flesh-and-blood loons. They were glad to see Peggy, but they were overcome with joy to have Gavi back with them.
Out of the corner of her eye Peggy could see Jackpine glowering. Did he really not remember being trapped inside the lone Jack pine on the barren tundra? Peggy shivered recalling the sensation of her fingers meeting his at the moment of his release, when the woody branches that encased his arms dissipated into the air at her touch.
Did he truly have no memory of being in this place the year before? If so, it was no wonder he was acting the way he was. He must be feeling frightened and angry.
She walked over to him, trying to think of something reassuring to say. But before she could open her mouth he spoke up in a fierce, cutting tone.
“Why did you drag me into this? I should never have tried to save you back there. I should have let you sink!”
“I didn’t do anything!” Peggy retorted. “I haven’t got a clue how we got here either!”
“Well, you better figure out how to get me back!” he said, stomping away.
“I will!” Peggy called after him in a voice edged with sarcasm. “As soon as I possibly can!”
She walked back towards the assembled Nordlings, who were still chatting animatedly with Gavi, and tugged at Molly’s sleeve.
“I’m not even going to ask how you managed to bring all three of us here,” Peggy began. “It’s great being back, but Jackpine’s not too happy about it, so we probably shouldn’t stay long.”
The doll looked away, refusing to meet her gaze.
“What is it, Molly? Oh, no. Please, tell me this is just a visit.”
“Well, not exactly.”
“What do you mean?” Peggy demanded. “Is something going on?” She looked around. “Everything looks fine to me.”
Now Molly visibly stiffened.
“If the great Creator of Notherland would bother to look a bit more closely, maybe she’d notice that everything is not fine!”
“What? I don’t see anything out of the ordinary,” Peggy insisted. “Lake Notherland is fine. The Great Skyway looks just like it did when I left. The Nordlings seem like their old bubbly selves.”
“Oh, do they?” Molly shot back. “All of them?”
Peggy looked over at the group of Nordlings clustered around Gavi. They were peppering the loon with questions about his life in the physical world, and as he responded he addressed each one of the sprites by name: Do, Fa3, his onetime star pupil Re9 . . .
A sudden shiver of dread went through Peggy. Where’s Mi?
She looked back at Molly, knowing she didn’t even have to speak the Nordling’s name out loud.
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know,” the doll replied, looking at the ground.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“Just what I said!” Molly exploded. “Mi’s gone missing and I – Molly, the guardian of the Nordlings – don’t have any idea where she is! Why did you ever leave me in charge? I’m useless. I’m just a stupid doll!”
She threw her stiff body onto the ground. Molly, the brave pirate doll who never cried, wept bitter tears.
“It all started when Mi discovered she could sing all those other notes.”
Re9 was talking, almost shouting to be heard over the frantic chatter of the other Nordlings, all of whom wanted to weigh in with their version of the events surrounding Mi’s disappearance.
Peggy was mystified. After the defeat of the malevolent Nobodaddy, the Nordlings had been restored to their rightful place in the RoryBory. Notherland was a safe place, or so she’d thought a year earlier, when she left her imaginary world under Molly’s guardianship.
“But who could have taken her away?” she asked no one in particular.
The Nordlings all piped up together.
“No one did!”
“She wasn’t taken away!”
“She left by herself!”
“What do you mean?” Peggy asked. “Where would she go? Where could she go?”
Molly, calmer now but still struggling to maintain her composure, spoke up.
“To the Shining World.”
Peggy thought she must not have heard right
“We truly do not know where Mi has gone,” Re9 replied solemnly. “But we are fairly certain that she went off in search of a place she called the Shining World.”
“What Shining World?”
“It was a name we gave to the other realm,” Re9 continued. “The place beyond the RoryBory, where Lord and Lady Franklin went when they left Notherland and ascended the Great Skyway.”
The mention of the old explorer and his wife brought a flood of memories back to Peggy.
“They entered that place with such looks of peace and joy on their faces that we often wondered what it was like,” Re9 went on. “With her love of naming things, Mi took to calling it the Shining World, and began to spin stories about it. She imagined it as a place full of beautiful things – flowers, stars, butterflies – all bathed in a golden light. A place where everyone is happy all the time. After a while Mi could talk of nothing but the Shining World. She became . . . I do not know the word.”
He paused a moment and looked in the direction of his former teacher.
“Obsessed?” Gavi offered. He had been listening quietly, but with growing concern to Re9’s account of Mi’s disappearance.
“Yes, that is the word I was looking for!” the Nordling said with satisfaction. “Mi became obsessed with going to the Shining World and seeing for herself if it was as beautiful as she imagined it. We began to realize that there was something,” Re9 paused a moment before continuing, “something unusual about Mi. Some ability that set her apart from myself and the other Nordlings.”
“What kind of ability?” Peggy asked.
“After you left, Mi was always talking about you and how, as Creator of Notherland, you have the ability to dream things into existence with your imagination. It is possible that Mi has somehow developed the same ability.”
“What makes you think that?”
Now Molly stepped forward.
“Mi can sing.”
Peggy was left more puzzled than ever by Molly’s cryptic statement.
“So? All the Nordlings can sing.”
“Not like Mi,” Molly said firmly. “The other Nordlings have always been content to sing their own singular notes. But not Mi. She wanted to sing notes other than her own. And somehow, she managed to teach herself to do it. At first she kept her new ability a secret. Then one day I heard her.”
“Heard her what?”
“Singing a song.”
Peggy was intrigued, but before she could say anything Gavi burst out with a resounding tremolo call.
“Now I understand!” the loon said triumphantly.
“Hold on, you’re way ahead of us,” said Peggy. “So what if Mi’s learned to sing a few more notes? What’s the big deal?”
“That is just it,” replied Gavi, looking as if he was ready to burst with excitement. “It is a very big deal! Mi’s ability to sing, to learn new and more complicated melodies, has brought about profound changes – in her and in the very makeup of Notherland itself. Mi was created – programmed if you will – by your imagination, Peggy, to carry out a certain limited function within the workings of this world. It is very much like an actor, who carries out a particular role in a play. An actor does not, indeed cannot, play the other roles too.”
Peggy was itching for Gavi to get to the point, but she knew enough to keep quiet and not interrupt his train of thought.
“But Mi has, so to speak, gone beyond her programmed function,” Gavi went on. “She has burst the confines of her definition and thus has – to carry through with the dramatic metaphor – ‘rewritten’ her own part, not to mention the script, so to speak, of Notherland itself. What I believe has happened is that Mi’s greater singing ability has created new pathways in her mind, pathways that give her new powers of imagination that she did not have before.”
“Yes!” Re9 burst out. “That makes perfect sense!”
“Not only that,” the loon continued excitedly, for nothing gave him greater pleasure than solving a philosophical puzzle, “Mi’s enhanced imaginative powers may have opened up new portals into and out of Notherland.”
There was silence while everyone pondered the impact of Gavi’s words.
“Out of?” Peggy said finally. “Into Notherland I can see – that could be why we were able to get here by a different way than last time. But out of’? Even if there was a way Mi could leave Notherland and go somewhere else, how could she? Notherland is the only world in which she exists.”
The loon shook his head.
“That may no longer be true. There must be a new realm, perhaps several, which Mi has become able to enter. A world or worlds created by Mi herself.”
“Created?” Peggy said, dumfounded. “How could Mi create a new world?”
“The same way you do,” Gavi replied. “By dreaming it into existence.”
Night had come. They were all tired. Even the Nordlings had barely enough energy to make their way up the Great Skyway to take their appointed places in the RoryBory, where they would pass the night in a trancelike state, singing their notes.
Peggy’s head ached. It was too much to take in, too much to make sense of in too short a time. She wished she could make it all go away and flee to her normal, everyday life. Here she was, back where she’d found herself the year before, faced with the same choice: stay or go?
Was it really such an emergency that Mi was gone? she wondered. If the Nordling truly had developed these new abilities, maybe she could take care of herself just fine. Maybe she’d come back on her own. But Peggy knew these were all evasions and excuses. Even with her supposed new powers, Mi was still a small child – curious, impulsive, ready to throw herself into new experiences. It was Mi, Peggy reminded herself, who’d gone up into the crow’s nest on the Terror – after she’d been expressly forbidden to do so – and been snatched away by the Nobodaddy. The Nordling had almost brought about the annihilation of Notherland then, and her disappearance might have even worse consequences this time. Somehow, in the vast sea of possible universes, Mi would have to be found. Peggy knew she’d get drawn into helping look for her, no matter how much she might try to avoid it. No, she wouldn’t be going back home anytime soon.
And then there was the small problem of Jackpine. He’d sat off to one side, sullen and remote, throughout the whole discussion of Mi’s disappearance. He pretended to not be listening, but it seemed to Peggy that he was being deeply affected all the same. Perhaps, she thought, he was remembering what Mi had meant to him – the little one he had carried on his back when he was first freed from his tree-prison. She was the one who had bounced around, giggling, as they walked, and had given him the very name that had allowed him to feel human once again.
But when Peggy approached him he just glowered angrily, like before. This time she couldn’t avoid admitting to herself just how hurt she was by his rejection. But the only thing to do was to leave it alone for now. It was all too much for one night.
Molly lay down looking forlorn and sad. Peggy had the impulse to go to her, to reassure her that Mi’s disappearance wasn’t her fault, that she wasn’t a failure as a guardian. But she had the feeling that right now Molly was beyond comforting.
She watched Molly lying quietly, with her one good eye wide open since, being a doll, she didn’t actually sleep. Peggy could swear the doll’s body seemed less rigid than before, as if the intensity of her emotional outburst had somehow softened the material she was made of.
Gavi turned toward the lake, preparing to pass the night sleeping on the water. Peggy softly touched his wing.
“Gavi, what are we going to do?”
The loon shook his head.
“I do not know yet. I must figure it out and unfortunately,” his voice trailed off momentarily. “I am somewhat out of practice in that department. And so I suggest we all sleep on it.”
He mouthed the last phrase with satisfaction, as he always did when he managed to find an opportunity to use a figure of speech in exactly the right way.
“I’ll second that,” Peggy agreed.
She lay down on the soft juniper boughs she had gathered for a bed, pulled her jacket over her, and drifted off to sleep. The hum of the RoryBory pulsated in the night sky above her.
Chapter 3: The Flute Player
At first there had been a long silence, as Peggy, Molly and Gavi sat down together the next day. Finally Peggy spoke up.
“How are we going to find Mi? Where do we begin looking?”
Gavi looked at her with mournful red eyes.
“I do not know.”
Peggy could see that Gavi was still berating himself for not being able to figure out what to do. The whole of Gavi’s life in Notherland had been devoted to understanding this world and the laws that governed its workings. Which was why Peggy had dubbed him the Philosopher-Loon when she was younger.
Now, looking at his and Molly’s drawn faces, Peggy saw that they were both weighed down with discouragement.
“Hey, you two, buck up,” she said. “It’s not like we haven’t come up against the impossible before. Remember how we managed to get Franklin’s ship through the Everlasting Ice? We can do this.”
But their expressions remained unchanged. Peggy realized she wasn’t being very convincing.
I sound like Molly, she thought. But without her conviction.
“Okay,” she said finally. “Let’s think. What kind of world would Mi bring into existence? And how can we find our way into it?”
She was surprised to hear another voice speak up.
“The Flute Player.”
She looked over. Jackpine, whom she hadn’t seen since last night, was standing some distance away. He walked slowly towards them, giving the impression he was joining the conversation with reluctance.
“The way in,” he said, “is through the Flute Player.”
“We’re thrilled you’ve decided to break your lofty silence and help out,” Peggy said drily. “But I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You of all people should know exactly what I’m talking about,” he replied.
“Because you are the Flute Player.”
“I play the flute. So what? How does that help us find Mi?” Peggy said testily.
“Remember when you were looking at the petroglyphs? Right before we got dragged here?”
“You noticed one that looked like a person playing a flute and I said I’d tell you about it later?” he continued. “The images on that rock are all typical of other paintings and carvings made by my ancestors – except for that one. There’s nothing resembling a flute player on any other sacred rocks in the north. According to the old stories, the Flute Player wasn’t drawn by the ancestors. It came from somewhere else.”
“What do you mean?” Gavi asked, intrigued. “Where did this creature come from?”
Jackpine shrugged. “Another tribe, another continent, maybe from another world altogether. The stories all say different things. But there’s one detail they do agree on.”
“The Flute Player sang our whole world into existence.”
Suddenly Molly jumped up.
“The bone flute!” she cried. “Mi was always playing it. That could have had something to do with her ability to create other worlds.”
“The bone flute,” Peggy echoed her. “I gave it back to Mi after we left the Hole at the Pole and then forgot all about it.”
“Mi may have somehow discovered that she could sing new worlds into existence, just like the Flute Player,” Gavi said with mounting excitement. “Does it not make sense that playing those same notes on a flute might allow us to follow her trail?”
“You’re right, Gavi,” Molly cried. “Let’s try it!”
“Fine,” Peggy agreed. “Only one problem: no flute.”
They were momentarily deflated. Then Jackpine spoke up again.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll make one.”
They all looked at him curiously.
“How can we do that?” Gavi finally asked.
“The same way the ancestors did – carve one. All we have to do is find a nice, hollowed-out bone.”
Re9, who had been listening to their discussion, called out excitedly.
“I know where to get one!”
He went over to a cluster of Nordlings nearby. After a hurried conversation, he rushed back holding up a small animal bone.
“The other Nordlings were always asking to play the bone flute, but Mi would never let them. So they all began collecting bones and pretending they had their own flutes.”
Re9 handed the bone to Jackpine, who reached into his pocket and took a small carving knife.
“All it needs is some nice clean gouges for the holes.”
“Yes!” Molly shouted. “Then Peggy can play it and we’ll go look for Mi!”
“You can go look for her,” Jackpine corrected her. “But before that you better figure out how to get me back to where I came from. Because as soon as I’m done carving this thing, I’m out of here.”
“You mean you’re not going along?” Molly said plaintively. “I thought we’d all go together, like before. After we freed you from the tree? You remember, don’t you?”
Jackpine shrugged and turned away. Peggy had the distinct feeling that he did remember, try as he might not to let on. After a moment he looked at Molly again.
“I’ll do what I can to help you find your little friend. But I can’t stay here. I’ve got to go back to my own people. If I stay away too long I’m afraid I’ll just lose my way again.”
His voice trailed off. He walked a short distance away, sat down on a rock and began patiently gouging a hole in a section of the bone.
Things were starting to become clearer to Peggy. Jackpine wasn’t being difficult for no reason. He really didn’t want to be here in someone else’s imaginary world. He felt his place was back in his own world, living on the reserve, taking people to the petroglyph site.
She couldn’t help but wonder, too, how much his desire to go back might have to do with that girl in the band office. She felt a twinge of jealousy recalling how the two of them had look at one another.
Whatever was going on between the girl and Jackpine had nothing to do with her, Peggy decided. He had his own life, she had hers. The feelings that had been growing between them the last time were gone. It was like they were strangers again.
Anyway, he was going back. There was no doubt about that.
While Jackpine worked on carving the bone flute, Peggy asked Gavi about his experiences in the world of flesh-and-blood loons.
“I thought you would never ask!” he responded brightly. “I have had many new experiences and I have been – what is the human expression? – itching to tell about them. Which, of course, I have not been able to do in my other life, since loons in the physical world do not have the power of speech or, for that matter, of thought.”
“Gavi, please get to the point!” Molly pleaded. The bickering between the doll and the loon was all too familiar to Peggy. She turned to Molly with a shrug. They both knew they might as well settle in for a long, detailed narrative, of a kind that only Gavi the Philosopher-Loon was capable of.
“I can still vividly recall my first physical sensations,” he began. “The cold slickness of the icy pond in Green Echo Park, where I first landed after passing through the portal at Painted Rock. Then the touch of human flesh! Yours, dear Peggy, and Jackpine’s as you both propelled me across the ice to enable me to take flight for the first time. And oh, the exhilaration of that flight! I had flown numerous times in Notherland, but the sensation of sheer abandonment, the untrammelled joy of physical flight!”
Gavi’s voice rose to a pitch, then stopped abruptly.
“I simply have no words to describe the feeling,” he finally said.
“That’s a first,” Molly muttered under her breath, but Gavi, completely caught up in his recollections, took no notice.
“Nor can I adequately convey the thrill of making full-bodied loon calls. I discovered the true nature of singing, of sound itself. It is not simply to mark territory or to convey warnings of danger to others of my kind, though that is very important. No, the fundamental purpose of singing is to announce: Here I am. I exist. And now, after what Jackpine has told us about the Flute Player, I have an even deeper understanding of this simple truth which underlies Notherland and indeed all universes: We all sing ourselves into existence. Is this not a momentous thought to contemplate?”
Gavi’s red eyes widened as the words tumbled out of him in an excited rush.
“It sure is, Gavi,” Peggy was quick to agree, hoping to nudge him back to talking about specifics. “Now tell us more about your life in my world. What happened that day when you flew off from Green Echo Pond?”
“Not all my experiences were exhilarating, of course,” he replied. “At first I was overwhelmed by each new sensation. The first time I dove into deep water, for instance, was terrifying. I was enveloped in complete darkness; I could see nothing. Gradually my eyes adjusted and I was able to see what I needed to see and do the things I had to do.”
Gavi fell uncharacteristically silent for a few moments. Peggy saw a look in his eyes she’d never seen before.
“What kind of things, Gavi?” she asked. “You mean, like catching fish?”
He nodded wordlessly and looked away. Peggy realized that what she was seeing in his eyes were feelings of shame and embarrassment. Gavi, like any other living creature, had to eat in order to survive in the physical world. For a loon, that meant killing and consuming fish – other living creatures – a fact that was profoundly disturbing to someone of Gavi’s sensitive nature.
“I discovered that life in the physical world could be very harsh, even brutal at times,” he said, as if picking up Peggy’s thoughts. “But over time I came to understand that one cannot deny one’s true nature. I, too, was a part of this world and I had to accept things the way they were.
“There were other difficulties, too,” he went on. “The other loons I encountered were wary of me. They could sense, of course, that there was something different about me, that despite my appearance and my ability to sing the same calls I was not quite the same as they were. It was very lonely at times. I feared that I had made a terrible mistake, that I had crossed over into an alien world in which I had no place. But over time, as I stopped speaking and even thinking altogether, I became more like them – a creature of flesh and instinct and sensation. My former life became a distant memory. I could barely recall Notherland and the people in it. Until I began to have dreams that brought it all back, dreams in which you, Molly, seemed to be calling me. But at first I was not sure I wanted to come back. I felt torn between my old life and my new life, old friends and new friends. And one friend in particular.”
“Oh? Who’s that?” Peggy asked.
“Yeah, tell us about him,” Molly piped up.
Gavi said nothing, and for a moment it almost looked to Peggy as though the red of his eyes was reflecting onto the glossy black of his face, giving it a flushed quality. A thought occurred to her.
“Or should we say: ‘tell us about her’?”
Peggy realized that the flush on Gavi’s face was no reflection. He was blushing.
“Gavi!” she burst out. “Have you found a mate?”
“I have indeed met another loon whom I would like to be my mate, whom I hope will one day become my mate.”
Both Peggy and Molly hung on his words.
“But . . .?”
“My attempts at mating rituals are so pathetically clumsy, I fear she will never want to have anything to do with me!” he cried.
They insisted he tell them everything – who she was, how they met.
“I had not entertained any hopes or aspirations of finding a mate because, for a long time, as I told you, other loons kept their distance from me. But as I made my way north in the spring, flying over the vast boreal landscape, I found myself curiously drawn to a rather large lake below. I descended for a landing and was quite astonished to find myself facing a smooth rock carved with images much like those on our beloved Painted Rock here in Notherland.”
“That’s where you saw me and Jackpine – where we fell in the water.” Peggy broke in.
“Yes, indeed,” Gavi replied. “No doubt it was those rock carvings that somehow drew us all to the spot. But I did not realize there was something else drawing me to that lake. It was the home territory of my beloved Nor.”
“That is the name I gave her, because she stirred feelings I had not experienced since leaving Notherland – a longing to bond, to take care of someone besides myself, the way Molly and I cared for our beloved Nordlings. Of course, being a physical loon, she knows nothing of human speech and is not even aware that she has a name. But that does not matter. In my eyes, “ his voice trailed off dreamily, “she is perfect.”
“Gavi, you’re in love!” Peggy exclaimed. “You’ve found your mate!”
“Ah! If only that were true!” he sighed.
“What’s the problem?”
“The problem is my rival!”
“Rival? What rival?” Peggy asked.
“Another loon who is much more experienced at courtship than I could ever be.”
Uh-oh, Peggy thought. This doesn’t sound good.
They were interrupted by a shout from Jackpine.
“Here it is!”
Jackpine held up the freshly-carved bone flute for them to see. Peggy was relieved that the dour expression he’d been wearing since they arrived in Notherland was gone, for the time being, at least.
“Looks good, eh?” he said, showing it to her with a grin.
“Very nice,” Peggy nodded. “The distance between the holes looks about right. But the true test is in the playing.”
As she lifted the bone to her lips Jackpine clapped his hand over hers.
“Why not? I want to hear how it sounds.”
He shook his head emphatically.
“You have no idea what’ll happen when you blow into that thing. And I have no intention of ending up in some other crazy universe I didn’t choose to go to.”
Peggy shrugged and handed it back to him. She had to admit he had a point – not that she was about to let him know she thought so. But it was true. They could all be catapulted to some other realm before they’d worked out a plan.
Molly spoke up.
“I don’t know where that flute’s going to take us. But wherever it is, I’m going there to look for Mi.”
“As am I,” Gavi echoed.
They both looked at Peggy expectantly. It dawned on her that up until this moment, being back in Notherland had been an enjoyable lark. Now she had to make a decision: was she really going to join her two friends and head off on a journey into the unknown, searching for a spirit–creature who could be anywhere? Or was she going back to normal life, to the world on the other side of Painted Rock, as Jackpine was clearly determined to do?
There really seemed to be no choice. She had to stay. She was the Creator, after all. She couldn’t just shirk off her responsibility for this world and its creatures. And yet something was holding her back – feelings that she was reluctant to admit to herself.
Why does he have to be so stubborn? Why is he so eager to go back? Is it that girl???
After all this time she’d found him again, and now she was about to let him slip away one more time. Probably, like Gavi’s Nor, into the arms of a rival!!
This is pathetic, she chided herself. Am I going to let my friends down on account of him?
“I’m going, too,” she finally announced.
“Ya-hoo!” Molly cheered.
“It will be like – what is the phrase? – old times!” Gavi added jubilantly.
“What about the Nordlings?” Peggy asked.
“They’ll be all right with the more grown-up ones like Re9 in charge,” Molly replied. “I’ve been training them to be more on their own, towards the day when . . .”
The doll shook her head. “Nothing in particular,” she said. “I just think it’s good for them to learn to be more independent. I’m their guardian, but I can’t look after them every second.”
“Indeed,” Gavi nodded in agreement. “It stands to reason that Notherland is perfectly safe, now that the evil Nobodaddy is no more. And self-sufficiency is always a good thing, even for spirit-creatures.”
Listening to him, Peggy had a thought.
“What about you and your new friend, Gavi?” she asked. “Aren’t you worried that if you go with us, you might lose her to that rival you mentioned?”
“I would be lying if I said I was not,” Gavi replied. “But finding Mi is more important. And if your previous sojourn is any guide, our lives back in the physical world are in suspension, so to speak. When we return, it should be as if hardly any time at all has passed. So perhaps I need not worry about anything happening in my absence.”
“I guess that settles it,” Peggy said, turning toward Jackpine, who wordlessly handed her the bone flute. “I suppose you want us to wait until you’ve gone back through Painted Rock.”
“Not necessarily,” he replied. “I’m curious to see what happens when you blow into that thing.”
“But I thought you were worried about . . .”
“I’ll plug my ears and watch from a distance,” he interrupted. “Don’t worry, I’ll be okay. Now go find that little sprite and bring her back where she belongs.”
He spoke quietly, and his expression softened at the mention of Mi. As he turned and started to walk away from them, Peggy felt an ache, a deep melancholy. They were leaving. He was going back to his other life. There was nothing to be done. She might never lay eyes on him again.
Molly was speaking to Re9.
“Now remember all the things I’ve taught you.”
“I will,” the Nordling replied in a sprightly tone. It was clear he was proud and excited to be charged with such a grown-up responsibility.
“Are we ready?” Peggy asked. She looked over at Jackpine, who was watching them from a distance. As she raised the flute to her lips, he clapped his hands tightly over his ears.
She covered both holes with her fingertips and blew into the bone.
Do . . .
She uncovered one of the holes and blew again.
Re . . .
Taking a deep breath, she uncovered the other hole and blew a long, sustained note.
Mi . . .
She looked at Gavi.
“Try again,” the loon said calmly.
She repeated the sequence: Do, Re, Mi . . .
Night was coming on. The Nordlings stood in a cluster at the base of the Great Skyway. One by one they approached Molly for a goodnight hug before they made their ascent up into the RoryBory for the night.
Molly was doing her best to be her usual upbeat self, but it was difficult. They were all feeling the strain and frustration of trying the bone flute again and again, the discouragement when they finally abandoned the attempt altogether. Now what were they going to do? Where could they even begin to figure out a way to find Mi?
“I must think. I must think,” Gavi kept saying over and over. But Peggy could see that repeating the words like a mantra was having the opposite effect, making him more anxious, less able to concentrate. Even Jackpine, for all his efforts to keep his distance, looked glum and downhearted.
As usual, Peggy thought, I’m the one who has to hold it all together. But she was fighting to keep her own feelings of despair at bay. Jackpine’s story of the Flute Player had seemed to hold out so much promise, and even now she couldn’t let go of the feeling that the bone flute was the key to finding Mi, if only she could figure out how to use it properly.
Her attention was drawn to the Great Skyway. Some kind of commotion was going on. Molly was glaring at two of the smallest Nordlings, Ti and So2, who stood before her with their eyes downcast.
“Why didn’t you tell me all this sooner?” Molly said as the two little ones shuffled their feet wordlessly. Finally So2 spoke up.
“Because we were afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid you would be mad.”
“Well, you’re right! I am mad!” Molly shouted in frustration. “Way madder than I would’ve been if you’d told me sooner!”
“Molly, what’s up?” Peggy asked as she and Gavi approached them.
“According to these two, Mi went up in the RoryBory one night and boasted that she was going somewhere they couldn’t go. And next morning she was gone. We’ve been wasting our time with the bone flute.”
“Maybe not,” Peggy said. “Maybe we’ve just been barking up the wrong tree.”
“What a delightful metaphor,” Gavi exclaimed. “I must find a use for it sometime.”
“What are you getting at, Peggy?” Molly asked.
“Learning all those new notes must have helped Mi expand her imagination. But maybe it took something more for her to actually travel to this other world. I mean, how did I first start coming to Notherland? In my daydreams. Mi just took it one step further. She used the bone flute to help her sing a new world into existence, then dreamed herself right into it.”
“Excellent!” Gavi cried. “I should have thought of it myself.”
“So what do we do?” Molly asked. “Just lie down and go to sleep?”
“Sometimes creatures are able to influence their dreams,” Gavi pointed out. “By forming an intention before they go to sleep. That is what we must do. We must ask for dreams – no, a single dream, shared among us – that will take us to this Shining World Mi was so enthralled by.”
“But what about me?” Molly was near tears of frustration. “You know I don’t sleep. I’m a doll! I’ll get left behind!”
“I do not believe that will happen,” Gavi said calmly. “As Peggy has shown us, dreaming is just another form of imagining, which is an ability you certainly have. If Mi could dream her way to another universe,” he said with finality, “I am convinced you can, too.”
Peggy looked up at the RoryBory, tonight pulsating with a pale green aura, listening to the Nordlings’ haunting song. She, Molly and Gavi were lying in a star-formation, with their heads together, their bodies radiating out in a circle. They’d decided this was the best way to encourage a common dream. Some distance away, Jackpine lay by himself.
As she drifted off to sleep, Peggy wondered why Jackpine was still so determined to see them on their way. After all, he was heading back to his own world. It didn’t matter to him what happened to them.
After a while he stopped the car, opened the door and motioned for her to get out. He asked her if she wanted to go to a beautiful place, a place where there were other children.
“Is there music in this place?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Very beautiful music. You’ll like it.”
He took her firmly by the hand and they started walking. Soon they arrived at the top of a dark street dotted with pockets of light and shadow.