THE NOTHERLAND JOURNEYS, BOOK I: The Nordlings
by Kathleen McDonnell
“ANOTHER ONE GONE!” he said, after they had searched everywhere for the tiny creature. “Are you satisfied now?”
Mi had never seen the two of them fight. Bicker, yes. All the time. But not this kind of cold fury, with Gavi’s black-and-white feathers bristling and the hard glint in Molly’s good eye. The creeping, day-to-day terror of life in Notherland was bad enough. But now the sight of the two most important people in her world so angry at one another frightened Mi.
“It was you who kept me from going after the Nobodaddy right at the start!”
“Shhh! Not in front of her!” the loon said harshly, gesturing towards Mi. But it was too late. The long, strange name was out, a name with more sounds than Mi had ever heard.
“Stop being foolish!” Gavi commanded. “We cannot do it alone. We have to try to bring her back. There is no other way.”
“Just what makes you think she’d even care?” Molly shot back. “The great Pay-gee acts like she doesn’t even know we exist anymore!”
Mi was shocked. How dare Molly say the name of the great Creator of Notherland in such a disdainful tone of voice! But Gavi’s reply was even more startling.
“If we do nothing, we will cease to exist. Our whole world will be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Is that what you want?”
Gavi’s words rang in her head, and Mi felt a shudder course through her tiny body.
Chapter 1: Around Again
“YOU’RE DOING WHAT?”
Peggy had stuffed the flute case way down in her knapsack, hoping her mom wouldn’t notice, so she could get out of the house without a big scene. But no such luck.
“Have you completely lost your mind?”
How does she always know? Peggy wondered. It’s like she can smell when something’s up.
“Oh please, don’t freak out …”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“For money, why else? I’m tired of being broke all the time!”
“But you can’t go selling a thing like that!”
“Why not? It’s mine. I can do what I want with it.”
“Oh, really? And what would your father say about that?”
Now Peggy exploded. “What should I care what he thinks? He doesn’t have anything to do with my life anymore!”
She stormed out of the apartment.
“Fine, go ahead, sell it!” her mother yelled down the hall after her. “I’m tired of arguing with you. Sell your soul for all I care!”
‘Sell your soul’? Peggy thought. Give me a break.
She couldn’t wait to finally turn sixteen. Then that bitch wouldn’t be able to tell her what to do!
Peggy was amazed that the idea hadn’t occurred to her before.
She’d walked by that pawnshop a couple of weeks ago. In the window, wedged in between a full-length mirror and an old upright vacuum cleaner, she’d seen a flute sitting in a velvet-lined case, the same make as hers. She’d glanced at the price tag: $800.
Then, a few days later, she was watching a commercial on TV and it all came together in her head.
“Bring your used goods to Around Again – and walk out with cold, hard cash!”
The ad showed a steady stream of people walking through a revolving door, carrying cameras and other things, and then coming out clutching handfuls of money. It was an ad she’d seen dozens of times, but this time she noticed something: one of the men went in carrying a saxophone. A musical instrument …
Her mind flashed back instantly to the flute in the window.
Eight hundred dollars …
She was flabbergasted to think she actually owned something that was worth that kind of money. Okay, maybe she couldn’t expect to get that much, but the flute in the pawnshop was the exact same make as hers. If she took hers in, they’d have to offer her at least something close …
Eight hundred bucks!
Why not? She hardly ever played it anymore. She’d skipped almost every orchestra rehearsal since the beginning of school. What was she holding on to it for?
What would your father say?
So what? He was gone, he was out of her life. Sure, she’d spent all those years playing, practising, and she’d even kept it up for a long time after he left. But now the thought took a clear and simple shape in her mind: I don’t have to play anymore. I can do what I want!
She could go places, get stuff, buy clothes. With that kind of money, she could even start saving up to move out on her own. By this time next year, she’d be sixteen. She’d have her own life. And finally get out from under her mom’s thumb!
Eight hundred bucks!
The flute was her ticket to freedom!
The store was ringed by a long counter divided into sections, with the items for sale grouped on shelves behind it. Peggy looked around until she saw some instruments – several guitars, a couple of accordions, some brass horns.
Was that a bad sign? Maybe flutes didn’t sell. Then again, maybe they sold quickly …
She placed her black flute case on the counter. The salesman looked expectantly in her direction.
“I was wondering how much I could get for this … “ she said hesitantly. She snapped up the clasps, opened the case and turned it towards him.
“Depends on the make,” he said, walking over to look at it, “and the condition it’s in.”
“Oh, it’s in great condition … “ Peggy began.
The salesman picked up two sections of the flute and now looked quizzically inside the case.
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“What do you mean?”
“The mouthpiece,” he said. “It’s not here.”
He whirled the case around towards her. It was empty! Where was the mouthpiece?
“It was in there!”
The salesman just looked at her and shrugged. Could she have left it behind, in the rush to pack up and get past her mom?
“I must’ve left it at home. Look, I can go right back and get it. Could you just tell me how much you’ll give me for it?”
“Not until I see the whole thing.”
“Please, just give me some idea?”
The man shook his head. “Look, honey, how do you expect me to do a proper appraisal without the mouthpiece?”
Peggy sighed. “All right, fine. I’ll be back in half an hour.” She turned to go.
“Wait,” the man called after her. “You’re not going to just leave this here, are you?” He held up the flute case. “That wouldn’t be very smart, now would it? I might just decide to hold on to it. Then you wouldn’t get a penny.”
He chuckled as she walked back towards the revolving door, the flute case under her arm.
I am such an idiot!
She couldn’t believe it. She’d carried the case all the way back to the subway, boarded a train, flopped down onto a seat and gone half a dozen stops before she’d opened her knapsack to put the case back in. And there was the mouthpiece, sitting smack at the bottom of the knapsack, almost as though it was mocking her.
Why didn’t I look in here before I left the store?
Okay, fine. All she had to do was get off the train, change platforms and head back in the other direction to Around Again. The train was just pulling into a station. She bounded off the car and headed towards the escalator. Then she saw the large block letters on the concrete wall in front of her: GREEN ECHO PARK. Her mouth dropped open.
Green Echo Park was way out in the west end. She’d taken the wrong train!
What is with me today? I can’t do anything right! And of all the stations, it would have to be this one. It’s just too funny.
She went up the escalator and paused at the top. A sign on the wall ahead said EXIT TO PARK ROAD, with an arrow pointing to the left.
It had been more than four years since she’d set foot on that street.
Peggy shivered in her blue fleece jacket as she emerged from the subway. It had been fairly mild through the first couple of weeks of December, but in the past few days the temperature had dropped. She started walking up Park Road, and gratefully enjoyed the warmth of the sunlight. On one side of the street was Green Echo Park, with a line of benches bordering the sidewalk. On the other side, front doors facing the park, was a row of houses.
As soon as she spied the familiar red brick, she felt a ripple of surprise. Of course it was still there. What had she expected? She’d managed to push that whole time right out of her mind, but that didn’t mean the house had stopped existing. Someone else was living there now. Some other family.
She looked at the window into the music room, where, from the time she was seven, she had practised every day, without exception. At first just piano, but when she’d turned ten, and her father decided that her fingers were long enough, he’d started her on the flute. From the beginning she had to practise piano for an hour at a time. When she took up the flute, he added another hour. Her mother tried to object that Peggy was too young, but he insisted – that was the minimum she needed to make progress. And her mom caved in to him, as usual.
“Peggy doesn’t mind, do you sweetheart?” he said. “What’s the point of learning an instrument if you’re not going to be any good? Right?”
Peggy would nod her head eagerly. Often he’d come into the music room while she was practising, close the door and just sit listening, a smile on his face.
“The boys and your mother, they’re not like you and me,” he’d tell her confidentially. “They have no ear for music.”
She loved it when he said things like that. It made her light up inside. But there were the other times, too. Like when he’d overhear a mistake and come tearing into the room, yelling, “What’s the matter with you? You’ve played that piece a hundred times. Can’t you do anything right?”
What would your father say?
Her mom was right about one thing, at least: he would never have let her out of the house with the flute. He would’ve ripped into her but good. He would’ve gone totally berserk. He would’ve physically stopped her from leaving.
But why should she worry now? He lived five hundred miles away. She hadn’t even talked to him in more than two years. Why was her stomach getting all tied up in a knot?
What are you hanging around here for? Get your butt back to Around Again!
As Peggy turned to head back to the subway, her eye was drawn to the park entrance, just across the street. An old-fashioned wrought-iron gate, always open, was set back a bit from the street, and just inside it a pathway wound around the base of a large stone statue.
That angel …
She went over to take a closer look.
The statue had a pair of enormous stone wings folded in front of it in a near-semicircle. Enfolded in its wings, so that from certain angles they were almost completely hidden from view, were the likenesses of two tiny children, a boy and a girl, their faces turned upward towards the angel’s. The statue was a memorial to a woman by the name of Wilma Blake, who had once operated an orphanage on the same site, over a century ago. At the base of the statue was a plaque, with the inscription: “As befits the noble name of Wilma, she was for the children of this city a Resolute Protector.” Peggy recalled how, when she was in third or fourth grade, she had looked up the word “resolute” in her Junior Dictionary. It meant “determined, bold, firm of purpose.”
As she stood gazing up at the statue she heard a sharp swoosh! Inside the park, she could just make out the upper bodies of several figures gliding in smooth, circular motions.
Peggy was amazed that it was cold enough for ice. But she remembered that the pond in Green Echo Park was shallow and used to freeze over early in the season. She hadn’t put on her skates once since they’d moved away from here, but now the sensation came back to her in a sudden rush – the glorious sense of gliding effortlessly along on that perfectly smooth ice. She remembered hearing someone say that skating was the closest thing to flying without leaving the earth, and thinking, Yes! That’s exactly what it feels like! Flying!
“There she is … “
“So close … “
“She’s not moving! She’s just standing there, looking! If she doesn’t make a move soon I swear I’ll reach out and pull her through that gate!”
Gavi drew one of his wings over Molly’s head, causing her rigid body to tumble over backwards.
“What’d’ya do that for?”
“To keep you from doing something stupid.” Gavi pulled his wing back, allowing the indignant doll to jump back to her feet. “Do you want to ruin everything?”
The two of them were standing at the edge of Painted Rock, a smooth rock face that stretched along the shore of Lake Notherland. From a distance, it looked like ordinary stone with a few reddish-brown figures etched into it. But up close, its surface looked almost transparent, and shadowy objects could .be seen moving on the other side.
Gavi and Molly had always taken great pains to keep the Nordlings away from Painted Rock. It was the place where the boundary between Notherland and the other realm – the world of the Creator – was nearly paper-thin. Chaos might result if someone accidentally tumbled through. Just on the other side of Painted Rock was a small hill ringed by trees. This was where Notherland had first come into being, the passageway to the world of the Creator.
“What if she just stands there?” Molly demanded. “What if she turns around and never even sets foot on that mound? Then we’ve gone through all this for nothing!”
“You have no idea what might happen if you go barrelling through that rock,” Gavi replied sternly. “You cannot take the chance. We must be patient.”
“I hate being patient!” Molly exploded. “I want to do something!”
Peggy’s thoughts were interrupted by nearby voices. A couple of boys were approaching the park gate, each with a pair of skates dangling from his shoulders. They seemed to be calling over to a third person Peggy couldn’t see.
“Well, if it isn’t Scary Gary!”
“Hey, Gary! How ya doin’ today?”
They both laughed, and a low grunt came from behind the statue.
Curious, Peggy walked past the wrought-iron gate to see who it was they were talking to.
Someone was sitting at the base of the statue. His back was to Peggy and he was slumped over so she couldn’t see his face. Despite the weather, he wasn’t wearing a jacket, just some worn jeans, a sweatshirt and badly scuffed boots with the soles coming away. The only thing that didn’t look like it had come from the dollar-a-pound bin at the Salvation Army was a mustard-colored leather vest. The leather was dirty and scuffed, but on the back of the vest was a beautiful, intricately designed tree done in beadwork.
Now he lifted his head a bit, and she could see that he was fairly young, close to her own age. He looked like one of those kids from the Native reserves up north. She sometimes saw them panhandling downtown, but she was surprised to find one of them here, in this part of town, in Green Echo Park.
In one hand he was clutching a brown paper bag. Peggy watched as he lowered his head and pressed his face into it. The sides of the bag flapped in and out with each breath, like a stiff balloon.
One of the boys laughed again.
“Hey, Gary. Can we have a sniff?”
He just grunted again, more irascibly this time.
“Aw, c’mon, Gary. Just a little-one … “
Peggy was a bit startled to hear her own voice, in a snappish tone.
“Why don’t you leave him alone?” she said to the boys. “He’s not bothering you.”
They looked at her in surprise.
“We’re just kidding around,” one of them said.
“Yeah,” the other added, with a slight smirk on his face. “He doesn’t mind. Do you, Gary?”
This time Gary made no response, and the two boys laughed as they brushed past Peggy on their way out the park gate. Peggy looked into the young man’s face, but though he stared right at her, his eyes had an utterly empty expression, as though he had no awareness of her or anything else around him.
Nobody home in there, Peggy thought uneasily. She felt a wave of pity for him as he again slumped over, leaning against the statue. She remembered how, when she was little, she used to stand there at the base of the statue and feel such a longing to be enfolded in the angel’s wings, to hear the angel say in a gentle whisper, “Don’t be afraid. You are safe here.”
I’d better get out of here, she thought, with a shiver. This place is starting to get to me.
“Oh, no!” Gavi cried.
“What is it?”
“It looks like she is heading the other way again. I thought we were in like Flynn!”
“Huh? Who’s Flynn?” Molly asked.
“It is a human expression,” Gavi said impatiently. “It means – oh, never mind!”
“What do we do now?”
“I do not know,” Gavi said, with desperation in his voice. “I must think!”
“Well, you think all you want. I’m not going to sit here and watch all our effort go to waste!”
Molly hadn’t told Gavi of her plan. She knew how nervous he got at the very idea of breaching the boundary between the two universes. But now she decided the time had come to play her trump card.
The loon watched in stupefaction as, clutching an object in her fist, she raised her arm.
“What are you doing? No, Molly! No!”
Before he could do a thing to stop her, she’d lobbed the object right in the direction of Painted Rock, into which it appeared to be swallowed up completely.
It was the oddest thing.
As she was turning back towards the park entrance, Peggy caught sight of a ring of poplar trees farther inside the park, out of which an object appeared to flip right up into the air and fall back down again.
Did someone throw something? She looked around. Other than Gary, still slumped down on the other side of the statue, there was no one around. Even the pond was empty of skaters. She walked towards the ring of trees, which surrounded a small mound of earth. She scrambled up onto it and looked around. At first she saw nothing, but then, at the base of one of the trees, she spied a silvery object. It was a small silver spoon – very old, quite tarnished, decorated with intricate metalwork tendrils. She picked it up.
Where have I seen this spoon before?
Suddenly an image of startling clarity popped into her head: a full-color portrait of Sir John Franklin, the great Arctic explorer. She could even read the caption underneath: “Franklin went missing in 1847 and was never heard from again.” Then another illustration: “Franklin’s devoted wife, Lady Jane Franklin, who commissioned many rescue missions in an ultimately fruitless search for her husband.” Beneath that caption was a grainy reproduction of an old photograph of an antique silver spoon and chipped tea cup: “Objects found on the arctic tundra, believed to be relics of the long-lost Franklin expedition.”
That book! She used to spend hours paging through it, looking at the pictures, reading parts of it over and over again.
What was it called? Something about the North …
“Are you ready?”
“One … Two … Three …”
Their voices joined in unison.
Suddenly Peggy felt disoriented. The earth underneath her started to feel soft, spongy, as if it were about to give way. She struggled to regain her footing, but the ground shifted violently, and then caved in completely.
She had a strong sensation of being pulled down, and of a hand gripping her arm. For a moment she even thought she saw a face pressing up against hers, a smooth face with a black patch over one eye. She wanted to scream in terror, but when she opened her mouth no sound came out, like in a dream.
Then everything went dark …
Chapter 2: The Creator
“IN THE SUMMER MONTHS, the sun never sets in the far North. And throughout the year the sky is lit up by a steady glow from luminous bands of light that seem to shoot up towards the heavens. These are the famous Northern Lights, a phenomenon also known
by its Greek name Aurora Borealis. In the folklore of Northern peoples, the lights of the ‘RoryBory’ are sometimes regarded as the souls of departed loved ones, or as fairies or sprites. Some Arctic dwellers even say they can hear the Northern Lights ‘singing. ‘“
Seven-year-old Peggy spent hours poring over Our Wondrous North. It had quite a few big words, but she was a good reader and could sound them out, or figure out the meaning from the pictures. And it was the pictures she loved most – of tall pine forests, of loons swimming on sparkling, clear lakes, of the blazing RoryBory itself
Imagine, she thought to herself: a land where there is no darkness. Bad feelings come with the night, but if the night never comes… It was comforting to think there might be such a place. Lying in bed hugging her doll Molly, Peggy tried to picture it in her mind: the land of the RoryBory, where darkness never came. But it was difficult. She needed more than pictures to go on.
She sat up in bed, leaned over and pressed her face – and Molly’s – to the window looking out over the park. Suppose the pond was stretched out so it was the size of a big Northern lake. Suppose instead of ducks there were loons swimming around on the lake. Suppose the stumpy trees that ringed the little hill were tall pine trees. And suppose near the edge of that pond that was really a lake, by that ring of trees that was really a pine forest, there was a big smooth rock …
Peggy landed with a thud, almost as if she’d jerked awake after nodding off to sleep. She sat upright and blinked. The blackness lifted like a veil. She could see again.
What happened? Did I pass out?
She gently shook her head to clear it. As she struggled to her feet, she noticed that her knapsack felt much lighter than before. She swung the pack off her pack and saw that the top flap had somehow come open. She reached inside and rifled around.
Empty. Her flute case was gone! Frantic, she looked around to see where it might have fallen out and saw …
What the …?
She was no longer surrounded by the same ring of trees. They seemed to have straightened out into a row of tall pines, stretching fall into the distance. The pond seemed to have grown much larger, too – so large she couldn’t see across to the far shore. She was startled to see ripples on the water.
Water? There was ice there a minute ago!
She heard a fluttering noise and turned in the direction it came from. A black-and-white bird was flapping its wings along the surface of the water. It wasn’t one of the Green Echo Park ducks, though. It was larger, more the size of a goose.
Am I dreaming?
It looked to Peggy as though the bird was trying to get airborne, but instead of taking off, it scurried towards the shore. Then, to Peggy’s utter astonishment, the bird walked right out of the water.
“It worked! I knew you would come.”
Peggy looked all around, but she could see no one. She’d heard the voice as plain as day. Where had it come from?
“Welcome back, Peggy. We missed you.”
At the sound of her name Peggy whirled around again, but this time there was no mistaking where the voice was coming from.
“A talking bird,” she said out loud. “Oh, I’m in dreamland, all right.”
“You never used to think there was anything unusual about my talking,” the bird replied in a slightly wounded tone of voice. “And I must say, I am a bit insulted. How could you confuse our beautiful Notherland, the most superior of all universes, with a mundane place like ‘dreamland’?”
Peggy looked at the bird in stupefaction, as if it were babbling gibberish instead of speaking perfectly comprehensible English.
He shook his head. “You really do not remember, do you?”
Peggy was startled by the sound of another voice coming from behind her.
“See? What’d I tell you?”
She turned to see a smallish creature with the size and appearance of a seven- or eight-year-old child, but with arms and legs that were strangely rigid and a black patch covering one eye.
“We might as well never have existed, as far as she’s concerned!” the odd-looking child continued. “To think how she used to go on and on about how much she loved me.”
“You!” Peggy interrupted her. “That … “she sputtered, pointing to the patch. But she couldn’t put two words together.
“Do you remember now?” the strange child asked sternly, walking over to Peggy and looking her square in the face. “Do you remember me?”
Peggy stared hard into the face of the child – and realized with a start that this was, in fact, a doll she was speaking to. Her doll. Molly.
“This,” she said slowly, “cannot be happening … “
Gavi came over and touched her hand with a gentle flutter of one wing.
“Oh,” he said softly, “but it is.”
“On smooth rock faces on many Northern lakes are found pictographs, paintings of animals such as deer, bear, caribou and other creatures. These drawings were made long ago by Native people, who believed that the spirits of these creatures lived within the rocks. Like the raths or fairy mounds in European folk tales, pictograph rocks could serve as passageways into other, unseen worlds.”
Little Peggy closed Our Wondrous North and lay back in her bed. Daydreaming about the Other Land where darkness never came, telling Molly about it – it just didn’t seem like enough anymore. She wanted to go there, to see it for herself. She sat up and looked out her window. Suppose the little hill in the park across the street was really one of those fairy mounds. Suppose that smooth rock in the Other Land was one of those Painted Rocks, like the ones in Our Wondrous North. And suppose you could use it to go back and forth between this world and the Other Land …
“She does look a bit different now, but still like herself.”
“Of course she looks different. She is older now, more grown-up.”
They were talking about her.
“You two are exactly as I remember you!” Peggy blurted out.
It was true: Gavi had the same sleekly feathered body and lumbering movements. She’d found his name when she looked up “loon” in a field guide in the school library: “Gavia Immer” it said underneath the picture.
Peggy had decided it wouldn’t be practical for Gavi not to be able to walk on land, like real loons. But she did make him clumsy and slow-moving, as well as a bit larger than a normal-sized loon, so he’d be more like a friend than a pet. As for his stiff, formal way of speaking, she couldn’t remember how it came to be that way. He’d just spoken that way the first time he opened his mouth, and that was that.
Molly, too, was exactly the same. The lifelike plastic doll with movable arms and legs and a head that turned side to side, had been transformed, once in Notherland, into a playmate for seven-year-old Peggy – though still with some of the same doll-like stiffness in her movements. And, of course, the patch over her missing left eye.
Where had it gone?
She had looked everywhere for Molly’s missing eye. After she’d got that crack in her head, her eye kept coming loose, and Peggy had to keep putting it back in place. Now it had disappeared completely. Peggy had looked everywhere she could think of. What a bad doll-mother she was. How could she have let this happen to Molly? She tried to make a kind of patch out of some torn doll clothes, to cover up the cavity and the crack beside it.
Her brothers snickered.
“Why don’t you get rid of that old doll? It’s a hunk of junk. “
Peggy clutched Molly tightly to her chest.
“She’s not junk! She’s a pirate!”
The boys laughed even harder.
“Yeah! Right! Who ever heard of a doll being a pirate!”
She’d show them. She’d take Molly with her to the place she’d named Notherland. Here she was just a doll, but there she could be a walking, talking pirate doll. No one would laugh at her. No one would make fun of her missing eye. Anything was possible in the Notherland.
“Then how come we aren’t any different?” Molly was asking.
“Because, unlike Peggy, we do not grow older,” the loon replied. “Nothing does, here in Notherland. Everything is always the same…”
“Hold on just a second,” Peggy interrupted the loon. “You mean to tell me that … we’re in Notherland? Right now?”
They both nodded.
“But that’s not possible.”
“Of course not! Notherland’s just a place I made up when I was a little kid! How can it still be here? How can you still be here?”
Gavi began to clear his throat.
“He’s been waiting for you to ask that question,” Molly said, rolling her eyes.
“Yes, there is no doubt that you are the Creator. That is the First Great Truth of Notherland. But …”
Molly couldn’t help interrupting. “Here we go!”
“Just because some of us have no interest in matters of philosophy does not mean …”
“Did you say ‘natters’?” Molly broke in again. She turned to Peggy. “Because when he gets going, that’s all he does: natter, natter, natter.”
“Excuse me!” Gavi said, with considerably more sharpness than Peggy could recall him showing in the old days. “I was speaking! Peggy here has asked a question of great import, and I am attempting to answer it.”
“Oh, fine!” Molly went off in a huff. She picked up some tiny stones and flung them, one by one, into the lake.
“As I was saying,” Gavi resumed, “you are the one who created Notherland, who called it into existence, so to speak. But since then Notherland has changed.”
“Changed?” asked Peggy, trying her best to take in what the loon was saying.
“In the early days of its existence, when it was what I like to call a ‘baby universe,’ Notherland was totally dependent on you and your imagination. But just as a baby, having been given life and sustenance by its mother, gradually moves out on its own, so does a baby universe grow to eventually take on a life that is independent of its Creator’s. So Notherland has outgrown its old boundaries. It is no longer exclusively yours. It has a life of its own.”
“You’re running on too long, as usual!” Molly broke in. “It’ll be dark soon.”
“Dark?” Peggy was finally able to get a word in edgewise. “It doesn’t get dark in Notherland!”
“Shows how much you know!” the doll said indignantly. She turned back to Gavi. “We have to go get her.”
“Get who?” Peggy asked irritably. “Who else is there?”
Gavi and Molly looked at one another.
“Wait a minute – I know. I had a feeling something was missing. The Nordlings! Where are they?”
“I’m afraid … you cannot see them right now,” said Gavi carefully.
“Because they are not here.”
“It’s no fun anymore!”
Peggy sighed. Molly was getting in one of her moods again. The doll was certainly harder to deal with in Notherland than she was back in the other world. In Peggy’s room she just sat quietly on the bed. But here, Molly was more like anotber kid – fun, but sometimes annoying, too.
“What’s no fun?” Peggy asked her.
“We can only play games for three. It’s no fun anymore. “
Peggy was all set to try and explain to Molly, in her calmest, most adult voice, why they would have to make do with games for three when Gavi suddenly piped up.
“1 have an idea.”
Uh-oh. Another one of Gavi’s ideas. He was having them more and more lately. Always thinking of ways to make Notherland better. Some of them didn’t work out – like making up a whole flock of loons for the lake. They were just too noisy, wailing and flapping around on the water all the time. She made them disappear, once Gavi had decided that, since loons were territorial birds, he should be the only loon in Notherland.
But Gavi had also come up with the idea for the Great Skyway up to the RoryBory, and that had turned out to be a lot of fun.
“What’s your idea?” Peggy asked.
“Playmates,” Gavi said with a twinkle in his red eye. “Remember what your book said about fairies and sprites?”
Peggy saw immediately what Gavi was after. Yes, of course. It was perfect.
“What a great idea!”
Even Molly got caught up in the excitement.
Peggy closed her eyes. The others could think up the ideas, but they couldn’t make them happen. That was Peggy’s job.
“I can sort of see them,” she told the two of them after a few moments. “They’re like rays of light but shaped like children, and smaller than we are.”
“What else?” Gavi asked.
“I think I hear something … Yeah! They’re singing!”
“What?” Molly asked excitedly.
“It’s not exactly a song …” Peggy struggled to explain. “It’s more like each one has a note to sing, and they put them together in different ways. It’s beautiful! But it’s not like any music I’ve heard before.”
Musical notes began to swirl around in her head, up and down the scales, just as they did when she’d practised the piano: Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do-Ti-La-Sol-Fa-Mi-Re-Do …
“What do you mean, ‘they’re not here’?”
The loon lowered his head.
“They are … gone.”
“So many have gone missing we have lost count …”
“What are you talking about?” Peggy said impatiently. “There are only eight of them.”
Molly threw up her hands in exasperation. “See? She knows nothing about us anymore!”
Gavi turned to Peggy, “There are many, many more Nordlings than when you were here. At least, there were, until the disappearances. You see, Molly wanted more company, and I began to feel that a proper universe should have more than eight notes in its musical scale – high and low notes, sharps, flats, blue notes …”
“Hold on. Are you trying to tell me …” Peggy did her best to speak calmly, “that you created more Nordlings?”
“How? I thought I was the only one who could do that.”
“You weren’t here!” Molly said scornfully. “We didn’t know if you were ever coming back! What were we supposed to do?”
“Okay, fine. Just tell me this: how many Nordlings did you conjure up?”
The loon just shook his head.
“Don’t you know?” Peggy insisted.
“Theoretically, there are an unlimited number of musical notes,” Gavi replied. “Music is boundless, infinite; it is the underlying key to all universes.”
“You’re saying you have no idea how many? How did you keep track of them all?”
“He wouldn’t let me give them names!” Molly burst out. “Oh, no. He decided we should number them. Can you believe that? Who ever heard of naming someone ‘Re9’?”
“My star pupil!” Gavi wailed. “Please do not remind me. It is too painful!”
It was all Peggy could do to keep the two of them on track.
“All right, all right. You numbered them. But what do you mean they’ve disappeared? Where have they gone?”
“We cannot be certain,” Gavi began. “But we suspect that …”
“We know where they are!” Molly interrupted him. “They’re in the Hole at the Pole!”
Peggy burst out laughing. “The Hole at the Pole?”
“It’s true! The Nobodaddy stole them!”
“The Nobodaddy!” exclaimed Peggy. “You’re kidding, right? I mean, the Nobodaddy doesn’t exist! We made him up as a joke!”
“This is getting boring!” Molly complained.
They were playing their favorite game with the Nordlings, in which they pretended they were being chased by a swarm of invisible flesh-eating bugs called “NoSeeUms,” like the ones Peggy had read about in Our Wondrous North.
Molly said she had a better idea.
“Let’s pretend there’s a really big monster chasing us! That’ll make it more exciting!”
The Nordlings were thrilled by the idea, but Gavi was dubious.
“You have to be careful with pretending here in Notherland,” he said.
“Why?” one of the littlest, Mi, piped up.
“Because everything here is pretend. Which means anything you pretend could become real.”
“’Real’?” said Mi. “What does ‘real’ mean?”
“Oh!” the loon said, exasperated. “I do not know how to explain it to you!”
“Don’t worry, Gavi,” Molly reassured him. “We’ll say it lives at the Pole! That’s so far north, no monster could ever come all the way down here!”
“In a Hole at the Pole!” Peggy picked up on Molly’s idea. “Because a hole is empty, there’s nothing in it. See? It couldn’t become real!” She thought a moment. “I know.’ We’ll call the monster ‘Nobodaddy’.”’ She tripped over the word and quickly corrected herself.
“I mean ‘Nobody’.”’
But everyone was delighted with her mistake, especially the Nordlings. They loved saying the word over and over, giggling. And over time, the name stuck.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, Peggy thought as she walked through the woods behind the other two. She felt herself driven by some curious fascination as, one by one, each of her questions led to more questions.
If this is all a dream, I’ll wake up soon, she thought. I’ll snap out of it and come to my senses. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ve gone completely crazy.
Whichever it was, there seemed to be nothing else for her to do but stumble blindly ahead and see what happened next.
They found themselves standing by a large, fallen tree, and Molly pointed to its hollowed-out trunk. There, curled up in a ball, was a tiny creature, which Peggy recognized immediately as a Nordling.
She knelt down and gently touched the child’s head.
“Which one are you?”
“This is Mi, the last remaining Nordling,” Gavi said gravely. “We think the Nobodaddy does not realize he is missing one. At least we hope so. And we must keep him from discovering it.”
The Nordling looked up at Peggy with wide, awe-struck eyes.
“Is it true?” she whispered.
“What?” Peggy asked.
“Are you really the Creator?”
Peggy looked at Gavi and Molly.
“I guess I am.”
To Peggy’s astonishment Mi fell upon her, clutching her around the waist.
“The others said they didn’t believe in you, but not me! I knew you were real. I knew you’d come back one day!” She pulled away from Peggy and looked up at her pleadingly. “You’ll bring back all the others, won’t you? You’ll make the RoryBory bright again. Won’t you?”
The Great Skyway came unfolding out of the sky, as it did every night, to transport the tired Nordlings up to their places along the great band of the RoryBory. There, each one was transformed into a column of pure, dancing light, sometimes white, other times tinged with pale green or pink or blue. They would spend the night in a sleeplike trance, immersed in a great swirling pool of light and sound, singing their musical notes and sending a glorious hum across the vast Northern sky.
Some nights the RoryBory was surrounded by darkness. Other times, like tonight, the whole sky was lit up, almost like day. A land where there is no darkness …
Peggy was lying on her back looking up at the night sky. This was why she had created Notherland. No matter what happened back in her other life, here she felt safe.
“Does it seem to you that some nights the RoryBory is brighter than others?” she asked Molly.
Molly, tired out from playing, only murmured. But Gavi heard her and called over from where he was resting on the calm waters of the lake.
“Of course it is!”
“It is perfectly simple. Elementary physics.”
Molly began to let out a low groan, as if to say “There he goes again.”
“Yeah?” said Peggy, silencing the doll with a light jab of her elbow.
“The RoryBory not only looks brighter,” Gavi went on, “it is brighter. That is the nature of light. What it appears to be, it is. And light always becomes stronger in the presence of other light. ‘Light increases light.’ That is one of the basic laws of Notherland.”
Peggy stifled a giggle. She knew Gavi was just making it all up. But she liked the sound of it: The Laws of Notherland.
“Gavi,” she said, ”you’re a real philosopher.”
“What’s a philosopher?” Molly piped up, suddenly interested.
”A philosopher,” Peggy replied, “is a person who thinks about things.”
It had grown dark, just as they’d said it would.
Peggy’s mind was a jumble of images and sensations. She had just watched Mi make her way up the long sweep of the Great Skyway all by herself. Now, as Peggy lay down on some juniper boughs, she found it almost unbearably poignant to see that tiny point of light burning with such fierce intensity. It was as though the Nordling was determined to make up for her lost companions and light up the horizon by herself.
The enormity of what was happening finally began to sink in. She was really here, in Notherland, with her long-forgotten childhood companions. But how could that be? Why were these terrible things happening here? What would happen if the Nobodaddy ever caught Mi? Peggy knew that none of them wanted to speak their worst fear out loud: with no Nordlings left to light the night sky, would the whole world around them cease to exist?
But what could she do about it? Why had they summoned her here? If Notherland now existed on its own, as Gavi had said, then what happened here didn’t have anything to do with her anymore. Did it?
She raised her head off the soft boughs and looked over at Molly. The doll’s arms and legs jutted stiffly out from her body, and though she was lying down her eyes were wide open. Dolls aren’t like humans, Peggy reminded herself. They don’t sleep. She thought of how she used to tuck Molly under the covers with her, cradling the doll in her arms as she drifted off.
“Goodnight, Molly,” she called softly.
What am I doing? she chided herself. I’m saying goodnight to a doll! This has got to be some kind of weird dream!
Tomorrow morning, she told herself as she finally began to drift off, she’d wake up in her own bed. Or maybe she’d somehow passed out in Green Echo Park, in which case she’d come to any minute now. She’d pick herself up, get her flute case – which was certainly still lying there on the mound in the trees – and head back to that store … the one with all the instruments … what was it called?
Chapter 3: Above the Tree Line
PEGGY AWOKE THE NEXT MORNING to bright sun streaming through the branches of tall trees overhead.
I knew it, she thought. I was here in the park all along!
She squinted into the sunlight. The trees were awfully tall. Pines, they looked like.
My eyes are playing tricks on me.
She began to shake her head vigorously.
Maybe I fell and hit my head. Maybe that’s how I passed out …
The sound of a child’s high-pitched laughter rang through the morning air. Peggy looked up. There was the Great Skyway, with Mi poised at the top.
Okay, fine, she thought. If I’m not going to snap out of this, then I’ll just have to figure out how to get myself home.
There had to be a way. She resolved to talk with Gavi right away. Molly was stubborn, but Gavi would listen to reason. Peggy was sure she could make him understand why she had to leave. They’d managed to bring her here. Surely they’d know how to get her back.
The two of them were already up and about, waiting at the bottom of the Skyway for Mi to come down. Peggy watched the child as she glided effortlessly down the huge
slide, giggling and squealing, and she remembered how all the Nordlings used to be so joyous and lighthearted. She marvelled that, in the midst of all the trouble, Mi could still be so apparently carefree.
Gavi noticed Peggy first.
“Good morning! How are you today?”
“Oh, I’m …” At first, her voice trailed off uncertainly, then she decided she had to speak with firm resolve. “Gavi, I don’t understand what’s happening or how you brought me here, but I have to get back home. There are things I have to do. What’s my mom going to think if I don’t come home?”
“Oh, you need not worry about that,” Gavi replied. “While you are here in Notherland, time in your other life is in suspension, so to speak. Your family and friends will not even know you are gone.”
“So you’re saying that for me, time has … stopped?”
The loon nodded.
“Are you sure about that?”
“I cannot say with absolute certainty …” he hesitated. “But it is my best guess!” he concluded brightly.
“And if your best guess is wrong?”
The loon looked at her thoughtfully.
“Yes, I see the problem. I must admit that when we brought you here, we did not consider the consequences for your life. We had only one thing in mind: how to save Notherland and the Nordlings. And we were hoping …” he paused a moment before continuing, “that you would know.”
“How to save Notherland.”
“Me?” said Peggy.
“You are the Creator.”
“You said yourself that Notherland isn’t under my control anymore.”
“I said it appeared to have grown beyond your control. For all we know, that is because you have been away so long. You have forgotten what you used to know. There was a time when everything in Notherland flowed from you. You might still have some powers here. Maybe now that you have remembered us, now that you are actually back in Notherland …”
“Gavi … “For a moment Peggy was at a loss for words. “I’d like to help you. I really would. But I don’t belong here. I’m not a little kid anymore.”
“See?” Molly shouted. “What’d I tell you? She’s stopped caring about us. Either that, or she’s a coward!”
“Stop it, Molly,” Gavi scolded her. “We brought Peggy back here. If she is to stay and help us, it has to be her own free choice.”
As the four of them made their way back to Painted Rock, Peggy trailed behind, relieved that she didn’t have to look at their faces. Mi, especially, was having a hard time, fighting back tears the whole way. It made Peggy feel rotten, as though she was abandoning them. And it didn’t help all that much that Gavi was being so understanding about everything.
In truth, Peggy found Molly’s anger easier to deal with.
They arrived back at Lake Notherland and walked along the shore to the smooth rock face. Peggy stared at it for a moment.
“You’re sure this is the one?” she said to Gavi.
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “This is Painted Rock.”
He must be right, she figured. The face of the rock was covered here and there with reddish-brown markings of various shapes and sizes. But other than that, it was indistinguishable from the other large rocks that lined that part of Lake Notherland’s shoreline.
“Okay. Just how did I used to do this?” she asked.
“You just …” Gavi searched for the word, “did it. That is, I never really understood how you did it. You just stood in front of the rock and somehow, it happened. You would pass through to the other side.”
“Okay,” she said, taking a deep breath. “Let’s see what happens.”
Now there was no avoiding it. She had to face them. It was time to say goodbye.
Molly kept her eyes down. Her expression was hard and unyielding. But Gavi looked warmly into Peggy’s eyes.
“Goodbye, Peggy. It has meant so much to see you again. Please do not feel bad about your decision. We understand why you must go back.”
Peggy choked back a tear.
“Thanks, Gavi. It’s meant a lot to me, too.”
She turned to say goodbye to Mi. But the little Nordling turned away with a wrenching sob and buried her face in Gavi’s feathers.
I feel like a total rat, Peggy thought.
She stood in front of Painted Rock and closed her eyes, trying to remember what it used to be like when she was little. She had a vague memory of the surface of the rock growing transparent, as though she could look right through it and see Green Echo Park on the other side. But after a few moments, when she opened her eyes, Painted Rock looked as solid and impenetrable as it had a moment before.
She turned away and closed her eyes again. But now, all she could see in her mind’s eye was Mi’s face, contorted in agony.
Great, she thought ruefully. That sure makes it easier.
She tried to concentrate on the rock. But no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t push Mi’s face out of her mind.
“I can’t do this!” she burst out.
“You mean it is not working?” Gavi asked.
“I keep thinking I remember how to do it, but it slips away from me.” She turned to them. “What am I going to do?”
“It is possible that you are trying too hard,” Gavi suggested in a helpful tone. “Perhaps in a little while your powers, and your memory of how to use them, will come back to you.”
Hearing Gavi’s words, Peggy felt a momentary panic: What if they don’t come back? But she firmly pushed the thought aside. It was ridiculous to think she might be trapped here. Things would set themselves right soon. Somehow.
“Okay, maybe it’ll come back to me later, but when?” she finally said aloud. “And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
“Well, you can sit and whine about it,” Molly said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Or you can make yourself useful and try to help us.”
They all looked at Peggy. No one spoke for a few moments.
“Fine,” she sighed. “But I’ll only stay till I figure out how to get myself back home. Understand?”
Molly looked at Peggy with a look of wary surprise, and Mi bounded over and threw her arms around her.
“O thank you! Thank you, Pay-gee!” she said earnestly. “This morning was the first time I did not wake up frightened. I was so happy, because our Creator had come back to us.”
“Whoa, sweetie, it’s only for a little while,” Peggy said, hugging Mi back. But she knew the little Nordling was barely listening now.
As she stroked the child’s head fondly, she thought of her flute case. Was it still there in the park? Someone had surely found it sitting there on the ground by now. Maybe they were walking into Around Again that very minute, exchanging it for the money that should have been hers.
Great, she thought. What have I gotten myself into now?
“You’re going where?”
“You heard me,” Molly replied. “If the Nobodaddy’s keeping the Nordlings as prisoners at the Hole at the Pole, we have to go there.”
“But … “Peggy sputtered, “you’ve never been to the Hole at the Pole. You don’t even know how to find it.”
Molly rolled her single eye in disgust.
“My best guess,” said Gavi softly, “would be to go North. What do you think?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s fairly obvious,” Peggy admitted sheepishly. “But say you do find the Pole. What are you going to do when you get there?”
“Free the Nordlings, silly!” Molly cried.
“I know, but how?” Peggy shot back.
Gavi gave her a penetrating look and sighed.
“To be quite honest … we have no idea.”
Peggy looked at the three of them. Here they were, preparing to set off into uncharted territory to fight an unknown enemy, armed with nothing but Molly’s bravado, Gavi’s theories and Mi’s loving, implicit trust in them both. What a crew.
She stood up slowly.
“Okay, let’s get started.”
“What?” Molly gasped. “You’re coming with us?”
“Hurray!” Mi cheered. “You are the one who can bring the Nordlings back and make the RoryBory bright again. I know you are!”
“But I thought you planned to stay here, close to Painted Rock, so you could try again to return to your world,” Gavi said.
Peggy shrugged. “What am I going to do? Sit around twiddling my thumbs while you go off to fight the Nobodaddy? Anyway, if you don’t mind my saying so, I think you folks could use a bit of help.”
“That,” Molly said impatiently, “is exactly what we’ve been trying to tell you since you got here!”
Peggy smiled grimly, and they set about making their plans for the long journey. None of them had ever explored the farthest reaches of Notherland, and they weren’t at all sure how long they might have to travel. One of the first things they realized was that someone would have to carry Mi, who couldn’t walk fast enough to keep up.
“I could easily carry Mi on my back on water,” said Gavi, “but I am too awkward to help her on land.”
“I think I’ve got just the solution,” Peggy said, and she set about tearing a couple of small leg-holes in the bottom of her knapsack, adapting it into a carrier. She lifted Mi into it and swung it up onto her back.
“Whee!” cried the child.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Peggy said as they set off. “How is it that Mi has escaped the Nobodaddy all this time?”
“He doesn’t know!” Molly laughed. “He thinks he’s got them all.” Gavi explained, “There is only one way he could tell for sure that he does not have all the Nordlings, and that would be if he noticed that one of the notes in the musical scale was missing.”
“But he won’t!” Molly piped up.
“Why?” Peggy demanded.
“Because the Nobodaddy is such a coarse, primitive being,” replied Gavi, “I believe he has no ‘ear for music,’ as you humans put it. In fact, he does not hear it as music at all, the way we do, but as a horrible, grating noise. Therefore the musical scale means nothing to him. He cannot tell one tone from another.”
“So as long as Mi doesn’t sing, there’s no way he can tell she’s missing!” Molly concluded.
Peggy shook her head. These two never lacked explanations for things they knew nothing about. “You’re just making all this up as you go along!” she said in exasperation.
“As you did with Notherland itself.” Gavi replied pointedly. “I know what you must think about all this, but I assure you I have given these matters a great deal of careful thought. In fact, thinking is what I do almost all of the time, and I have concluded that the Nobodaddy’s interest in the Nordlings has nothing to do with their musicality. He steals them for their light only.”
“Light?” The drift of Gavi’s theories was starting to make a bit more sense. “Why would he want their light?”
“Because the Hole at the Pole is similar to what some in your world call a Black Hole. A place of endless darkness from which light, once swallowed up, cannot escape. At the Pole, a reversal of the magnetic field occurs, and strange things happen that defy normal laws – not only of your world, but those of Notherland, too. It makes sense that the Nobodaddy would live in such a place, because he is a creature who represents the opposite of everything Notherland was created for. It is a world of light, yet he lives in darkness. It is a world of safety, yet he brings danger.”
“That still doesn’t explain why he’d steal the Nordlings,” Peggy said.
“Who knows?” Gavi replied with a sigh, because at times even he got tired of thinking so much. “Perhaps the endless darkness he lives in is intolerable to him. Perhaps stealing the Nordlings is his misguided attempt to bring light into the Hole at the Pole. In any case, we will find out soon enough if things are as I say.”
With all this talk, it suddenly dawned on Peggy that her stomach was rumbling.
“Can we stop for a minute? I’m starving.”
“Starving? Oh, my good heavens!” Gavi exclaimed.
“Whoa, Gavi, don’t take me so literally. It’s just a way of saying I’m hungry.”
“Hmm.” Gavi stopped to ponder. “Another problem I failed to anticipate. Eating is something the three of us do not have to think about.”
“Maybe you can stop and catch her a fish at the next lake,” Molly suggested.
“Mmm, fish. That sounds good!” Peggy perked up, but Gavi shook his head.
“I have never gotten very good at things like fishing. Since I am not a flesh-and-blood loon, I have no need to eat, and do not bother to catch fish for myself.”
“Come on, there must be something in Notherland I can eat.” Peggy looked around. “Something easy, like blueberries.”
Gavi and Molly look at one another quizzically.
“What are those?”
“You mean,” said Peggy, “all that time I spent here when I was little and we never came across any blueberry bushes?”
The two of them shook their heads.
“Ohhh,” she groaned. “Thinking about it is driving me crazy. What I wouldn’t give for a handful of plump, juicy, ripe blueberries right now.”
“You mean like those?” Molly pointed to some low bushes. A few yards away from where they stood, dark-blue berries were hanging in clusters so heavy they dragged the branches right down to the ground.
“Yeah!” Peggy cried, and she immediately set to picking them. The others watched, fascinated, as she gorged on great handfuls of berries like a ravenous bear cub.
Between mouthfuls, she tried to speak.
“What?” Molly said.
“They were right here! I must’ve seen them out of the corner of my eye! That’s what made me think of blueberries.”
“We did not see them,” Gavi pointed out.
“Of course you didn’t! You didn’t even know what blueberries were until a minute ago!”
“Then again,” Gavi went on thoughtfully, “maybe you made them appear.”
Peggy looked at the loon. “What do you mean?”
“It is possible that by thinking so hard about blueberries, you conjured them up.”
“Like I did when I was little? You really think so?”
“Did she dream the berries to life?” Mi asked excitedly.
“Possibly,” Gavi said. “If so, it might be a sign that your imagination still exerts power in Notherland.”
The loon looked at her, and Peggy knew he was thinking the same thing she was. If she made the berries appear, did that mean she could make Painted Rock open up?
Could she go home now? Should she go back and try?
Then again, what if Gavi was wrong? Maybe the blueberries were there all along, and she just hadn’t noticed them. Maybe she’d go back to Painted Rock and nothing would happen. Then she’d be stuck there by herself while the other three went on to the Pole without her. Maybe it was better to wait and find out for sure if her imaginative powers were coming back. And if they were …
Finally Gavi spoke up.
“If you wish to go back to Painted Rock, we will understand.”
Peggy just shook her head and started walking.
They had been walking through dense woods, but now they abruptly found themselves standing at the edge of a vast stretch of treeless tundra.
“What happened?” Peggy asked.
“Have you forgotten everything?” said Molly impatiently. “It’s the Tree Line, silly!”
The Tree Line. Peggy remembered seeing the term in Our Wondrous North. The book had never explained exactly what it meant, and she assumed that somewhere in the North was an actual “line” of trees. Now, of course, she understood that the Tree Line was actually a zone between the Northern woods and the tundra where the trees gradually become stunted and sparse, and finally disappear altogether. But here, Peggy saw what she had long ago pictured in her mind’s eye: a final row of magnificently tall pines stretching each way as far as the eye could see.
It was getting late in the day. Peggy and Molly sat down by a stream as Gavi took a swim to refresh himself. Mi went along the bank, picking up stones. Everywhere they stopped, the Nordling would scavenge for what she proudly called “treasure.” Just like any little kid, Peggy thought to herself.
Mi ran over to show off her latest find.
It was a stubby hollow tube with a couple of holes in it. Peggy looked it over.
“What do you think it is?”
“Not sure,” Peggy shrugged. “Maybe a bone.”
“What kind? From an animal?”
“Probably,” Peggy smiled.
“I’m going to keep it!” Mi clutched it as she scampered back over to the stream. As they sat watching her, Peggy turned to Molly.
“How can you be so brave, Molly? Aren’t you even a little bit scared?”
Molly shook her head. “The Nobodaddy doesn’t scare me. I’m not made of light, like the Nordlings. I don’t have anything he’d be interested in stealing.”
“But he’s destroying your world. What if we can’t figure out how to stop him?”
“I don’t think about those things!” Molly said defiantly. “Anyway, at least this is an adventure. Which is more than I ever had with you.”
“What do you mean?” Peggy was taken aback by the accusing tone in Molly’s voice.
“You used to leave me for days at a time, lying in a heap of toys on your bed!”
Peggy was flabbergasted. “But Molly … that’s what kids do with dolls.”
“That’s the trouble!” Molly snapped. “I was happy enough just being a doll, until you gave me this stupid eyepatch. You went on and on about how it made me look just like a pirate, about how pirates were brave and had adventures. You put all these ideas into my head. But you didn’t give me any of the things a pirate needs to be a pirate. Like a ship! And a sea to sail it on! And a sword!”
“Molly, I’m sorry. I never knew you felt that way … I was only trying to make you feel better. After you …” her voice trailed off awkwardly.
“After I lost my eye? Sure, I knew that’s what you were trying to do. And it worked. It did make me feel better. I started to think of myself as this daring, adventurous pirate roaming the high seas. But then you left us. All of a sudden, you just stopped coming here. So now I have to settle for riding around on Gavi’s back on Lake Notherland, the puniest excuse for an ocean there ever was! And for a sword, I have to use a fallen tree branch! That’s why I’m not scared of the Nobodaddy, or anything else. Don’t tell Gavi I said this, but secretly I’m glad that all this has happened. I’ve been waiting my whole life to make this journey! My destiny awaits me at the Hole at the Pole! I just know it!”
Molly abruptly fell silent. She wasn’t accustomed to talking for such long stretches. For a few moments the two of them just sat quietly.
Peggy was lost in thought, wishing she felt as courageous and ready for adventure as Molly.
Suddenly she looked around. “What’s that?”
Molly listened, puzzled.
“I hear something,” Peggy said. “Some kind of low drone.”
“What’s a drone?”
“Like a buzz or a hum,” Peggy continued. “It’s getting louder. Almost like a swarm of bugs.”
“Bugs?” There was alarm in Molly’s voice.
“Don’t you hear it now?”
Suddenly Gavi shouted over to them.
Peggy turned to see Gavi lunge toward Mi and attempt to shield her with his large black wing.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s the nozeems!”
Peggy couldn’t make out what he was saying. She turned to Molly, who started screaming too.
“Run, Peggy! Nozeems!”
Peggy turned back and watched in horror as Gavi began to writhe and bat the air around him, even as he kept Mi covered with one wing. Had they both gone completely crazy?
The buzzing sound grew louder and louder, till it seemed to be hovering right above her head. Then she remembered: the game she used to play with the Nordlings, pretending that they were being attacked by swarms of tiny, flesh-eating bugs.
So that was what Molly and Gavi were saying!
At first they just seemed to buzz around her. But soon she began to feel tiny sharp pinpricks all over her skin. She looked over at Gavi. The swarm was encircling him, and it would be only a matter of moments before they managed to get in underneath his wing and start feasting on Mi.
For a few moments Peggy batted uselessly at the air, shouting furiously, “Go on! Get away!” Then a thought seized her: why not try imagining them away?
Maybe all those powers that came so easily to her as a little girl really were coming back! Notherland was her place, the product of her imagination. She was the Creator! It was time to start acting like it!
As swarms of NoSeeUms buzzed around her, she focussed her mind, trying to imagine them dispersing, flying away, just as vividly as she had relished the thought of eating blueberries earlier.
Imagine, she told herself. Believe!
She felt an unbearable tickling as some of the NoSeeUms burrowed into her ears and hair.
Now they were making their way up into her nose!
“What’s the matter with you?”
She opened her eyes to see Molly, thrusting Mi at her, yelling, “Snap out of it! Take her and follow me!”
“Anywhere! Now get moving! Run!”
And Peggy did exactly as she was told.