Chapter 5: The Girl who was not Peggy
IT WAS DARK. Not completely dark. She was lying flat on her back and there were shafts of light on either side of her, but Molly found it difficult to turn her head in either direction. Just above her head were wooden slats lying crosswise, which appeared to be supporting a large, thick slab of soft material. The word for it – mattress – came into her head, though she hadn’t laid eyes on one for a very long time, not since she had gone to live in Notherland. Then another word came to her: bed.
I am lying under a bed, she thought. But whose bed? Where am I? How did I get here?
She recalled that right before the strange occurrence, she had been telling the Nordlings about the time when she’d fallen under Peggy’s bed. Mi had interrupted, trying to tell her that something was wrong. The last thing she remembered was noticing a strange look come over Mi’s face as they talked.
What had happened? She had no idea. She worried about the Nordlings. She, Molly, was their guardian, the Resolute Protector of Notherland. So what was she doing here, lying under a bed? Had she, by some bizarre mechanism, been thrust back into her old life as Peggy’s doll?
She resolved to crawl out from under the bed and find Peggy, tell her what had happened. Peggy would know what to do. She tried to move, but found her body wouldn’t respond. She tried to call out Peggy’s name, but no sound came out. Her mouth, her entire body, was strangely immobile. For a moment she was terror-stricken. Then it came to her.
Of course she couldn’t move. She was a doll again, an ordinary doll, who lacked the power to move of her own volition. Back then, before she went to live in Notherland, being unable to move had felt normal because she had never known anything else. But she had lived as a free creature for so long that this immobility was like a terrible imprisonment.
Snap out of it, she told herself. Peggy would soon come and find her here under the bed. Together they would find a way to get her back to Notherland. Everything would be all right.
How much time had passed? She had no idea. She could see out of the corner of her eye that the light in the room was growing dim. Night must be coming on. She didn’t want to be left lying helpless under the bed in the darkness.
She heard the click of a switch. Suddenly the room was filled with light. Peggy must have come into the room. Molly could hardly wait to see her! She waited for Peggy’s voice to playfully call out her name like she used to. But there was no sound. Straining to see at the edge of her field of vision, she could make out a pair of feet clad in white-and-purple sneakers, planted on the floor next to the bed. They didn’t look like the kind of shoes Peggy used to wear, at least not as Molly recalled them.
Abruptly the feet disappeared, and the bed above Molly began to shake. There was a series of short beeping sounds, rising and falling in pitch but too harsh to be musical.
“Hi, it’s me.”
Molly was startled by the sound of the voice. Whose voice was that? It was so brief, she couldn’t be sure.
“I can’t go. I have to clean up my room. Can you believe that?”
Could that be Peggy? It sounded like the voice of a younger girl. Could it be, Molly wondered, that she’d not only been cast out of Notherland, but thrown back in time too? Was that why Peggy sounded so much younger?
“My mom’s making me. She said Adelina complained about all my stuff and I have to deal with the mess before she comes next time. I don’t see why I should have to. I mean, come on. She’s a cleaning lady. It’s her job to clean up other people’s messes.”
No, the voice was definitely not Peggy’s – not Peggy now, nor a younger Peggy. But who was speaking? And who was she talking to? Molly remembered there was a thing called a phone in Peggy’s world, through which a person could talk to someone else who wasn’t there.
“But I have to do it. I’ll just toss it all into a pile in the closet. Call me later, okay? Bye.”
Molly heard another short beep and felt the bed above her shaking again. The girl planted her purple-and-white shoes on the floor and groaned loudly.
“Ohhh, I hate this!”
As she strained to look to one side, Molly could see things scattered all over the floor – pieces of clothing, bags with writing on them, things that looked like books, but larger and full of pictures. She watched the girl’s hands picking them up, then heard a door open and a series of thuds. Molly couldn’t see what was going on, but it sounded as though the girl was throwing everything onto the floor in another part of the room.
Suddenly, a shadow fell over Molly. Something was blocking the light coming in under the bed.
A face, tilted sideways, peered at Molly, and a hand reached over and scooped her up.
“Where did this come from?”
Molly’s legs dangled helplessly in a tight grip, but her head was finally upright, and she could look directly into the face of the girl who, she could now see clearly, was definitely not Peggy. The girl’s face was thinner, more angular than Peggy’s, and her hair was blonde, in ringlets pulled and tied, so that they cascaded down the back of her neck. As the girl moved, Molly had a chance to glance around the room. It looked like Peggy’s room, but the furniture was all new, and the walls were a different color than Molly remembered them.
The girl scrutinized Molly, looking at her as if she were some strange, alien object.
“How did you get under my bed?”
The girl was talking to her! Whoever she was, at least she understood that the doll she was holding was not some lifeless thing, but a being who could think and understand words.
“Adelina! I’ll bet anything she left this old doll here just to bug me!”
In an instant Molly realized that the girl wasn’t really speaking to her at all, but was talking out loud to herself. If only Molly could get through to her. She strained to speak, but her mouth was as unyielding and immobile as before.
A voice suddenly broke in from outside the room.
“Krista! Come to dinner!”
“Be right there.”
The girl looked at Molly again.
“I’ll figure out what to do with you later.”
She lowered her arm, dangling Molly at her side as she walked toward a smaller room with a door on it. Molly recalled that moments ago the girl had spoken about tossing things into a closet. That must be what the small space behind the door was.
No! Don’t leave me in there!
The words screamed inside her head, but there was no way to let them out. Molly felt herself flying through the air, as the girl tossed her onto the heap of stuff in the closet. She shut the door, leaving Molly in complete darkness.
She had no idea how long she had been in the all-encompassing darkness. She only knew that when the door opened and the light burst in, she felt nothing – no excitement or relief. A state of frozen terror had taken root in her very being.
“Here it is.”
Krista, the girl who was not Peggy, scooped Molly off the pile and held her out to another girl.
“You found that under your bed?”
“How did it get there?”
“I don’t know, but I bet it was Adelina.”
“The cleaning lady? Why would she do that?”
“Maybe it belongs to one of her kids. She’s not supposed to bring them here when she’s working. When my mom finds out, I bet she’ll get fired. I mean, doesn’t this look just like the kind of doll a cleaning lady’s kid would have?”
As she said this, Krista and the other girl burst into laughter.
“Why does it have that patch on its eye?”
“I guess it’s supposed to look like some kind of pirate,” said Krista. She lifted Molly’s eye patch, revealing an empty cavity underneath. Both girls shrieked.
Molly was surprised at this reaction, for her once-lost eye had been found and transformed into the Aya, a magical eye with extraordinary powers. Then it occurred to her that this was true only in Notherland. Here in this world, she was just an ordinary doll, missing an eye.
“What are you two carrying on about?”
Someone else entered the room. Molly couldn’t turn her head to see, but she could tell from the voice that it was a woman, someone older than Krista and her friend.
“We’re freaking out over this ugly doll, Mom. Look, it’s missing one of its eyes.”
Krista’s mother peered at Molly with distaste.
“It’s a wreck, if you ask me. Where did it come from?”
Krista paused a moment before answering.
“I found it in my closet. One of my friends probably left it here a long time ago.”
“You might as well throw it out. Just the other day you were telling me you’re getting too old to play with dolls.”
“What about saving it for one of those Christmas toy drives? For kids whose parents can’t afford to buy presents?”
Her mother shook her head.
“No, honey. It’s too beat up. No child would want something like that for Christmas.”
Krista’s mother left the room.
“Why didn’t you tell her?” the other girl asked.
“You said it was the cleaning lady’s kid’s doll. Why didn’t you tell your mom?”
“I changed my mind.”
The girl laughed.
“Krista, you are so weird sometimes.”
Molly knew what it meant to throw something out. It meant being tossed into a far more horrible place than the closet, onto a pile of other things being thrown out, and then being taken away to… She shuddered inwardly and tried to push the terrible thought out of her mind.
After a few minutes the other girl left, and Krista sat Molly up on the bed, looking at her with a peculiar expression, but saying nothing.
Sitting upright, Molly could see out the bedroom window and look down on the street below. Across the road she could make out a large green area surrounded by an iron gate. It reminded her of Green Echo Park, and of all the times she’d sat with Peggy, their faces pressed against the window, looking down on the park, imagining it as Notherland.
Then it dawned on her: It was Green Echo Park!
Things were starting to make sense. The strange occurrence in Notherland must have thrown her back into her life as doll, but in the present, not the past. This was Peggy’s bedroom, but she no longer lived here, in this house. Krista did.
Molly had no time to consider this further, as Krista abruptly picked her up and put her under the bed.
To Molly’s vast relief, Krista did not throw her out. From then on, in fact, her days settled into a pattern. At night Krista would retrieve the doll from under the bed and place her on top of it, nestled in a corner between the wall and the headboard. Then Krista would turn out the light, climb under the covers and, after a period of some restlessness and the occasional sigh in the dark, would fall asleep with Molly sitting inches away from her head.
When she woke up in the morning, Krista would put Molly back under the bed. She wouldn’t be particularly gentle when she did this, but she didn’t throw her as roughly or carelessly as on that first day, when she’d flung Molly into the closet. And as much as Molly disliked lying in the semi-darkness under the bed, the knowledge that she would spend the nighttime hours sitting up, close to the warmth of a human being, made it at least bearable.
Molly wondered if Krista was putting her under the bed to hide her from her mother, who presumably believed that the doll had, indeed, been thrown away. Whatever the reason for Krista’s peculiar behavior, Molly was starting to become accustomed to life in this strangely familiar house, with this girl who was not Peggy.
Peggy. The very name sent a pang of loneliness through Molly’s body. What will become of me? she wondered. What had caused her to be thrust into this bizarre situation? Where was her former owner, the Creator of Notherland? The thought was slowly dawning on Molly that her situation might be permanent, that she might have to accept the prospect of spending her days lying under the bed, her nights sitting next to Krista as she slept.
She was startled one night to hear Krista speak as she placed the doll in her usual spot on the bed.
“Goodnight, sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Molly was stunned. Those were the exact same words Peggy used to say when she tucked Molly into the doll-bed she’d made out of a shoebox. Molly had never understood what the words actually meant, but she knew it was the kind of thing you said to someone you cared about.
Was Krista coming to care for her the way Peggy had? Molly felt a fierce longing to say something back to Krista, to let her know that she was not an inert piece of material, that she understood. Krista only looked at her oddly, and Molly had the sense that, for a brief moment, the girl could almost hear her thoughts, could feel her straining to communicate. But the moment passed and, like every night, she switched off the lamp on the night table next to the bed, then burrowed down under the covers.
After that, Krista occasionally spoke in Molly’s presence, but only in the way of someone speaking to an animal or a baby too young to understand. To Molly’s intense disappointment, she was nothing more to Krista than an ordinary doll. She did not, after all, have any sense that Molly was alive, that she had thoughts and feelings.
Molly did get an earful, though, whenever Krista had a friend over, or spoke on the phone. Then the talk came in a rapid, almost breathless stream, punctuated by occasional signing and shrieks of laughter.
“Omigod, have you heard the new one by Styx? I love that song!”
“Did you see what Tracy wore to school today? Sooo ugly!”
Times like these confused Molly. For when she was alone with Krista, in the quiet of the room at night, it seemed to her that Krista was nine or ten – a bit older than Peggy had been when Molly was her doll. But when Krista was with a friend or talking on the phone, she sounded – or tried to sound – older.
In the evenings there was more noise, which in the early days made Molly hopelessly confused. It seemed like there were many people present in the room, going in and out, doing things they could not possibly do in a girl’s bedroom, like driving a car. Gradually she understood that the sounds were coming from a box that people in this world called a TV. There had never been one of those in Peggy’s room, but Krista clearly had one in hers.
Many evenings, Molly heard Krista’s mother through the bedroom door.
“Krista, turn that thing off and do your homework.”
“Okay, Mom,” Krista would call back, and there would be an emphatic click as the TV went silent. Then, moments later, there would be another click as the TV came back on, much quieter this time, too quiet for Krista’s mother to hear through the door.
Molly came not to mind the times when the TV was on, even when it was loud, because it meant that evening had arrived. She knew that before long, Krista would reach under the bed, pull her out and sit her up in her appointed corner.
It was a curious life for a doll. But Molly was getting used to it.
One evening, Molly heard Krista come into the room. But she didn’t phone one of her friends or turn on the TV. Instead of the usual hum of talk, the room was completely quiet. Molly thought that, for once, Krista must be obeying her mother’s command to turn off the TV while she was doing homework. Perhaps she had a test to study for.
Then Molly began to hear an unusual sound, very low and muffled at first, but persistent. She couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like crying – not full-out crying, but a quiet weeping, barely louder than a whimper.
Was Krista crying? Why? What could possibly be wrong?
Time passed, and the room grew quiet again. Molly wondered if she had misunderstood. Perhaps what she heard was not the sound of crying after all. But then she felt herself being pulled out from under the bed and into the light, and saw that Krista’s eyes were puffy and red.
Krista placed Molly in her usual spot, switched off the light and turned back the covers. But instead of crawling in, she just stood next to the bed. In the darkness Krista’s form was visible, but Molly couldn’t see the expression on her face. Krista continued to stand for some time, completely motionless. Then, suddenly, out of the dark came a loud moan. A hand shot out and grabbed Molly round the waist. She felt herself pulled with great force to Krista’s chest, her face pressed tightly against Krista’s as tears cascaded down the girl’s cheeks. Then Krista fell onto the bed, still clutching Molly, and burrowed far down under the covers, as if she were trying to escape the world itself.
For some time Molly lay buried under the covers, weighed down by Krista’s body, feeling the heaving of her chest as she sobbed. Gradually, her crying subsided. Finally Krista pushed back the bedclothes, uncovering her head and Molly’s. Molly waited to be put back in her corner of the bed. But after a moment, she could tell from the gentle rise and fall of Krista’s breathing that the girl had fallen asleep.
She spent the night tucked in beside Krista,
Molly was glad to have an owner again, even if it was a girl who was not Peggy. It was beginning to feel like they had a real relationship, that Krista was someone she might come to care about.
Things would be better now. Molly was sure of it.
Chapter 6: Once Only Imagined
FOR THE FIFTH TIME that morning, the spindle fell from Mi’s hand. As she watched the whorl roll away, she felt like crying in frustration. Even when she managed to hold onto it and keep the whorl moving, her thread had an uneven twist, bunching up into thick slubs.
How was she ever going to make a Story Cloth when she couldn’t even spin the thread for it? It was just too hard. She’d never get it!
“Learning to spin is difficult. You must have patience and be kind to yourself. It will come.”
The gentle lilt of Nahawa’s voice felt like a calming blanket laid over Mi. Once again the Songweaver had read her thoughts, which couldn’t have been difficult this time, for Mi knew that her discouragement was written all over her face.
“Give me the spindle,” Nahawa said, holding out her hand. “Now watch what I do.”
I’ve watched you do it dozens of times, Mi wanted to shout. It’s no use!
She watched as the Songweaver held the distaff in one hand raised above her head, while the other deftly worked the spindle, moving at a dizzying speed.
“Pay close attention to the motion of my hand as it turns the spindle. You must work to get the tension just right.”
It seemed to come so effortlessly to Nahawa and the other Songweavers. Most of them could even walk and spin at the same time. Mi was entranced by the sheer grace of their movements. Nahawa had an especially dignified bearing, like a queen. She was one of the most beautiful creatures Mi had ever seen. Mi found all of the Songweavers beautiful, with their rich, dark skin, their sculpted cheekbones and full lips. Still, she understood that physical beauty was a notion completely foreign to them.
“Our appearance is an illusion, a form we have taken on for your sake,” Nahawa explained when Mi first came to Eternity. “For although you yourself are a spirit-being, you have spent your whole life around physical creatures, and have no way of relating to beings like the Songweavers, who are pure energy. You ‘see’ us only because we have given ourselves a form that makes sense to your mind, that of the Mothers of Civilization.”
“Who are the Mothers of Civilization?” Mi asked.
“You will learn that, and many other things, during your time here,” she replied. “You say you wish to create your home world anew. Now you must begin the task that will make that possible – the creation of a Story Cloth.”
“I love stories!” Mi exclaimed, thinking of the pirate stories and other adventures Molly loved to tell the Nordlings.
“A Story Cloth does not necessarily tell the kind of story that children enjoy listening to. We use the word story in a different way, to mean ‘an account, a telling’. This is how the Songweavers create worlds. Existence is a story we tell ourselves. It is in the telling of the story that worlds come into being. As will your world, Notherland, once you have completed your own Story Cloth.”
“Show me how! I want to get started on it right away!”
“The making of a Story Cloth has four stages,” the Songweaver told her. “The singing, the spinning, the weaving, and the sewing.”
Singing! Mi was thrilled. She wasn’t sure what those other things were, but the singing part would certainly be easy enough. Music was the whole of her being. Singing was what she had done with the other Nordlings in the RoryBory. She turned her attention back to Nahawa as she described the process in more detail.
“To create a world, you must first draw energy into material form with your voice. You sing the fibers, the very stuff of existence, into being. The vibrations generated by the notes you sing must then be captured and tamed by spinning them into thread. You then weave the thread into cloth on the Great Loom. Once the cloth is finished, the work of stitching the images begins, with the thread you have spun yourself.”
Mi found all this very difficult to understand. It sounded as though Nahawa was saying that the Songweavers literally made something from nothing, spinning sound out of thin air and giving it form. It reminded her of what Jackpine had said about the Flute Player singing the world into existence.
“In singing, we create time, and by spinning and weaving we capture it into space,” Nahawa went on. “What we do here in Eternity is before words, before time and space. We give birth to existence itself. I know this is difficult for you to grasp, but it is as close as I can come to making the process of creation understandable to you.”
Mi felt like her head would explode with the effort of trying to comprehend the vastness of what took place here in the realm of the Songweavers. Nahawa saw the effort she was making and the strain it caused.
“Sometimes it is better not to try too hard to understand,” she told Mi. “Let us get started. The understanding will come through the doing.”
To Mi’s dismay, singing the fibers into existence turned out to be much harder than she expected, for it was not the kind of singing she was used to.
“You must pay close attention and become attuned to the vibrations around you. There are energies out there, waiting for you to capture them in song. Something is trying to be born, and you must allow it to come through you.”
Mi closed her eyes and tried to feel the vibrations. At first she was sure there was nothing there, but then she had a faint sense of something stirring – she wasn’t sure if it was inside or outside of her. But almost involuntary, she opened her mouth, and a sustained note emerged.
“Good,” said Nahawa. “Now try again.”
It quickly became easier for Mi to connect to the vibrations, but she could see from the look on the Songweaver’s face that there was more to be done.
“You have made a good start,” Nahawa told her. “Now you must begin to sing in color.”
Sing in color? Mi was bewildered.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “How do I sing in color?”
“Each musical note has its own color,” Nahawa replied. “You will learn this practice, and before you know it, you will be singing in color all the time.”
Indeed, as Mi listened to Nahawa and tried to sing along with her, she began to get a feel for the colors of the notes, as the Songweaver had assured her she would. Soon she had produced a small pile of fibers. But there was still a problem.
“Your fibers are well-formed, but they are all from the red and yellow ends of the spectrum. The world you seek to create has sky, water, many things that require the color blue.”
Mi looked at the mass of fibers. It was true. There were rich reds, oranges, pinks, golds. But no purples, greens, browns – nothing with a hint of blue.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “Why are there no blue fibers?”
“Because you are not singing any blue notes.”
It was understandable, Nahawa explained, because the songs that Mi had learned up until now did not have any blue notes.
“They are difficult to describe in words,” she said. “At first you may find blue notes very hard to capture, because you are not used to singing them. They must be heard and felt. But once you are familiar with them, you will find them the most joyous, exuberant notes of all.”
No wonder she had found the Songweavers’ songs so free and exhilarating when she first heard them. It was the blue notes that were so unusual to her ears.
“Listen,” Nahawa said, and she began to sing. To Mi’s ears, it was an intriguing melody, but when she tried to imitate it, her own attempt had nothing of the same flavor.
“Listen more closely,” Nahawa urged. “Can you hear the difference? You must bend the notes, let them slide in between the ones you are already familiar with.”
Nothing in Mi’s experience had led her to believe that musical notes could bend and slide. Yet, what Nahawa was saying somehow made sense. She could hear the notes bending and sliding as Nahawa sang them. She tried again to sing the phrase.
“Like that?” she asked eagerly.
“That is more like it.”
Mi found that the more she practised, the easier it was to find blue notes and sing them. Something that had felt strange and unfamiliar became second nature. Soon, Nahawa announced that she had sung enough fibers to begin the next phase of making her Story Cloth. She was ready to learn to spin.
Now Mi listened to Nahawa break into song as they worked side-by-side, and she began to feel the tension drain out of her. Not all of their singing was intended to produce fibers for creation. Many of the Songweavers’ glorious melodic chants were meant only to accompany their tasks and make the work easier.
Immediately other voices rose up to join Nahawa’s, making call-and-response in richly layered harmonies. Instruments were added – drums, a plucked string instrument, and a pipe that Mi recognized as a type of flute. It was not like Pay-Gee’s flute, which was made of hard, shiny metal. It was more like the bone flute she herself carried, though longer and with more holes.
The music made the work seem almost effortless. The women danced as they played their instruments and worked their spindles. Even the weavers on the Great Loom moved their bodies to the infectious rhythms.
Mi lifted her spindle over her head, and soon found her own hands moving without thought or strain. For a few blessed moments, she was able to get the tension just right. The whorl was turning in a smooth, rapid motion. She wasn’t able to sustain it for long, and the thread soon went slack. But it didn’t matter. She was not discouraged.
She was getting it!
Later, as they worked together, she again asked Nahawa to tell her about the Mothers of Civilization.
“They are beings from the world of your Creator, Pay-gee – being who lived many thousands of years ago, when humans were no different from the other animals. They lived first in the land that is now called Africa, and from there they spread out over the earth. Every person who lives or has lived or will live is descended from those humans who journeyed out of Africa eons ago. They survived because of their special abilities that distinguished them from all other creatures.”
“What kind of abilities?” Mi asked.
“The power to imagine, to create new things that did not yet exist.”
“Like the Creator of Notherland!” Mi exclaimed.
“Yes,” said Nahawa. “But it took a long time for humans to learn to create whole worlds. Even now, they are like infants, only beginning to learn how to use these abilities. At first they could only create the things they needed for everyday use. For instance, they noticed the thing called fire and they learned to produce it. But humans did not create fire. It existed before them.
“It was the same with plants for food. For a long time humans gathered berries and other plants. Then they noticed how the seeds from these plants fell and sprouted on the ground. So they began to gather seed and planted it where they wanted it to grow. They noticed that stones, when broken, had sharp edges that could be used to cut things. So they broke stones deliberately, making axes from the chips, which allowed them to be better hunters, and to prepare game for cooking. They also figured out how to make other tools from stone – knives for cutting, spikes for drilling holes.
“But, like fire and plants, the stones existed before them,” Nahawa went on. “A great leap in human consciousness occurred when they discovered they could imagine things they could not see right in front of them, and make likenesses of them, like the pictures of animals they drew on the walls of caves. In these drawings they were depicting an idea of something, which is not the same as the thing itself. Humans also came to realize that things could be created for beauty and enjoyment alone, instead of just for practical purposes. They began to look at objects such as stones and shells in a new way, and used them to fashion beads and jewelry. They continued to make drawings of animals and carvings of figures they called gods, which over time they gave the name of Art. This was a whole new kind of creation, an ability that grew even stronger when humans acquired the power of speech.”
“There was a time when humans did not know how to speak?” Mi asked incredulously.
“Once something has been brought into existence it is difficult to remember or even conceive of a time when it did not exist. But yes,” Nahawa replied. “For a long time humans only made sounds that communicated simple emotions such as fear and joy. These sounds had to take on rhythm and melody before they were able to express anything more complicated.”
“You mean like songs?”
“Yes. It was human mothers who invented language, through the songs they used to sing to their babies, to soothe them so their cries would not attract predators. Over time, these musical sounds became words. Words grew out of songs. Another of women’s achievements was the spinning of thread and the making of cloth, a reflection of what we do here in Eternity. The patterns they wove had meaning, and over time these were shortened into letters and words. We honor the achievements of these women, and that is why we appear to you in the form of the Mothers of Civilization. Humans survived and prospered because of what they did.”
Mi’s head was spinning with everything Nahawa told her. She recalled something that Will Blake was fond of saying: “What is now proved was once only imagined”. She had never understood what he meant. But as she listened to Nahawa’s account of how humans came to be the way they are, creatures who could create things out of nothing, Will’s words finally began to make sense to her.
As she came to understand the huge responsibility of the Songweavers, who carried the burden of whole universes, Mi was a bit less daunted by the enormity of her own task – making a Story Cloth to bring Notherland back into existence.
As much as she missed Notherland, Mi could not deny that she was happy here in this remarkable place, where she could witness the entire span of creation. She had occasional glimpses of other universes, some that looked and acted in radically different ways from the ones with which she was familiar. There was so much she did not understand, and she often thought of Gavi. How the Philosopher-Loon would have loved to see all this and ponder the mysteries of existence!
Back in Notherland, she had come to feel apart from the other Nordlings, as she became more and more aware of her special abilities. Not that the others did anything to make her feel different. Aside from Molly and a few of the more grown-up Nordlings, most of them weren’t aware that there was anything unusual about her. Still, there had been moments when she longed to turn away from what she was becoming. She didn’t want to be different.
But here in Eternity, she didn’t feel different at all. Living among the Songweavers gave her a sense of belonging she had never felt before. Though the better she came to know them, the more she understood just how much she had to learn. And she was learning. Her spinning, while not on a par with Nahawa’s and the others’, continued to improve.
Mi was overjoyed when Nahawa informed her that she had spun enough fibre to begin the weaving of her Story Cloth, and that she would now be spending part of every day working on the Great Loom, under the supervision of the OverSeer. As she spoke, the Songweaver held out a carefully-folded, brightly colored cloth that tumbled open as Mi reached out for it. It was a robe with an intricate pattern, much like Nahawa’s, though considerably smaller.
“This is for me?” she asked.
The Songweaver nodded, smiling.
Mi was almost speechless with amazement.
“But I’m not a Songweaver,” she protested. “I don’t deserve to wear something as beautiful as this.”
“When you work among the weavers on the Great Loom,” Nahawa replied, in a tone that clearly brooked no further discussion, “you must be suitably attired.”
To Mi’s relief, she found weaving a much easier task than spinning, though it was just as time-consuming, especially the work of setting up the warp threads on the Great Loom.
“Don’t rush,” the OverSeer admonished her when she first began. “If you do, your thread will not be even!”
Mi wished she could continue to work under Nahawa’s supervision all the time. She said as much to Nahawa later that day.
“The OverSeer can be severe at times, but in the end you will be grateful for her attention to detail,” Nahawa assured her. “Your Story Cloth must be woven to the highest standard if it is to be powerful enough to summon up your beloved Notherland.”
Finally the warp was ready, and Mi was faced with the question she had been avoiding: How should she go about telling .,;the story of Notherland in cloth? What should the background cloth look like? Which colors should she use? Which images should she choose to sew into the finished cloth, and where should they go?
The OverSeer saw her standing, motionless, before the Great Loom.
“What are you waiting for?” she said to Mi. “Begin!”
“But don’t I have to tell things in the order they happened?”
“Of course not!” came the tart reply. “Past, present, and future mean nothing until the world you are creating actually comes into existence. That is when time, like a great clock, will begin.”
As much as the OverSeer’s abruptness unnerved Mi, she found that it helped to snap her out of her paralysis, for the overall plan for the Story Cloth came to her in rapid bursts of inspiration. Her cloth must have a decorative border, she decided, though it meant more work and some careful planning of the weft threads. She would weave into the border, in repeating patterns, the images on Painted Rock – the bear, the canoe, the snake, the tree, the Flute Player. Inside the border, she would weave wide bands of color representing the various landscapes of Notherland – the deep blue of the Polar Sea, the green of the pine forest, the mossy olives and burnished golds of the lichen growing on the permafrost, the hard blue-grey of the Everlasting Ice.
The central band of the Story Cloth would depict the northern sky, where she would sew in the image that was the pulsing heart of Notherland – the RoryBory, the luminous band of light that spanned the night sky, and the Great Skyway, which led up to it.
As Mi worked, some of the Songweavers clustered around her portion of the Great Loom.
“What a remarkable world you are creating.”
Mi was too shy to acknowledge their compliments, but inside she was beaming with pride. In her mind’s eye she could see more of the images she would sew into the bands of color as she went along: Molly, in her pirate regalia, with her ship the Resolute. Gavi the loon, holding forth on some subject in his usual learned fashion. The Nordlings, some as sheer columns of pale pink and green light, the way they appeared at night, others in their daytime guise, sliding down the Great Skyway, playing games.
The image of the Hole at the Pole flashed through her mind, and a shudder went through her. There were terrible memories associated with that place, memories she didn’t want to bring back to life. She vowed that her Notherland would be free of evil. She would leave the Hole out altogether.
As she worked, she began to feel pangs of homesickness. She longed to see her companions again, and found herself brooding anew over the Creator’s behavior.
She just didn’t understand. How could Pay-Gee have allowed this to happen? How could the Creator have been so heedless of the fate of her own creation? The Eternal had said that creators can sometimes be careless and selfish. This was an idea that was still profoundly disquieting to Mi. She had always believed, as had all the Nordlings, that the Creator was all-good, all-knowing, perfect in every way. To discover otherwise, was shattering.
She must not dwell on these thoughts, Mi told herself. She had a task to complete. The Creator had chosen not to take care of Notherland. Now the responsibility had fallen to her.
She’d been so happy and excited as she threw the shuttle through the warp. This was it! The story cloth was complete. All that remained was to finish off the ends and remove it from the Great Loom, a task that had to be done under the OverSeer’s supervision.
As Mi waited for the OverSeer she felt the motion of wings sweeping overhead. She looked up and saw, to her great joy, the Eternal hovering above her in the guise of an angel. Mi realized that. Nahawa must have summoned her to come and see the great unveiling. She waved, and the Eternal looked down at her, smiling warmly.
Finally the OverSeer arrived. Mi watched with tingles of nervousness and excitement as she inspected the story cloth. She peered at it for a long time, as if she were scanning it for something.
“This is a fine piece of work,” she finally said.
Mi sighed with relief. The OverSeer was pleased. In a matter of moments, Notherland would be restored. She would see her friends again!
The OverSeer spoke again.
“But where is the creation story?”
“Every world has a creation story, an account of how it first came into being.”
“Of course,” the OverSeer said brusquely. “Where is the story of the creation of Notherland on this cloth? I do not see it.”
Mi swallowed hard before speaking.
“It’s not there.”
“No? Why not?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know the creation story.”
Mi was mystified by the OverSeer’s questions. How could she be expected to imagine something that happened before she herself even existed?
“This is the world that gave birth to you, and you do not know its creation story?”
“I know that Notherland came from the imagination of Pay-gee, the Creator.”
“What else? There must be more to it than that.”
“That’s all I know.”
Mi shook her head sheepishly. She could see that the OverSeer was growing impatient.
“In all the known worlds, creation stories are one of the first things children learn. Were you not paying attention when it was told to you?”
“No, that’s not it,” Mi insisted. “No one ever told us how Notherland was created. It was just… there.”
“Well, this is a beautiful Story Cloth. But I am afraid that without a creation story, it has no power.”
“Does that mean that it won’t bring Notherland back?”
The OverSeer’s expression softened as she looked down at the tiny Nordling.
“Yes, that is exactly what it means. I am sorry.”
To Mi the words felt like a knife in her heart. How could this be happening? She had worked so hard. She had poured her whole being into this Story Cloth. The thought that it was all for nothing, that she would never see Molly and the Nordlings again, was more than she could bear.
The familiar voice floated down from above.
“Do not despair. All may not be lost.”
Mi was so despondent she barely heard the Eternal’s words. “You mean my Story Cloth doesn’t need a creation story?”
“No,” said the Eternal. “The creation story is the foundation. Your Story Cloth will not be truly complete until it is there. But the cloth is still on the loom. The ends have not been finished off. It is not too late to add the creation story of Notherland, if you can find out what it is.”
“But how can I do that?” Mi cried. “Everything in my world is gone. There is no one left who could tell me.”
“No one? What about the Creator herself?”
“I don’t know how to find her. And even if I could, what good would it do? She doesn’t care about Notherland anymore. She let it die!”
The Nordling collapsed, overcome with grief. The Eternal swooped down next to Mi and stroked her lightly on the head.
“I know you feel that things are hopeless now, little one. But you must go and seek out the Creator. There is so much we cannot know. Perhaps she had her reasons.”
“But how will I even know what I’m looking for? I’ve never heard a creation story before.”
The Eternal sat down and gestured to Mi to sit on her lap.
“Then it is time you heard the story of the First Song.”
Folding her enormous wings around the Nordling, the Eternal began speaking in a measured, rhythmic cadence.
“Before there was time and space, there was the Void. The Void was utter emptiness. It was everywhere and it was nowhere. It was everything and it was nothing.”
Mi shuddered, remembering her time in the Great Pool of Existence.
“For a long time, the Void lay still and silent until – no one knows how or when – a hum began to rise up from the depths of the Void. At first it was a single note so quiet, so low in pitch, it was no more than the faintest of whispers. But that single note created a ripple in the Void, and now it was empty no longer. It became the Great Pool, the source from which all existence arises and to which all existence returns. Slowly, the hum grew louder, stronger, until – no one knows how or when – the single note shifted almost imperceptibly higher, creating a second note. That note shifted upward again, and again, creating more notes. The notes caused more ripples, so many the Great Pool could no longer contain them. So for the first time, the hum broke free from the source of its existence, and the Great Mind was born.
“At first the Great Mind contained nothing more than a random, erratic jumble of notes. It was not yet a song, for there was no one to sing it, no one to hear it. The ripples, too, began to break free, causing vibrating waves of energy to rise out of the Great Pool. Some of these vibrations twisted into thin, taut strings like those of a violin. Others wound themselves tightly into slender tubes, hollow like a reed. For a long time the Great Mind could only passively observe, as these waves of energy spun and whorled around it. One time, without thinking – for the Great Mind was not yet aware of its own existence – it blew into one of the hollow tubes, and a sound came out.
The Great Mind was delighted by the sound it had created. It noticed another, slightly shorter hollow tube, and blew into it.
Realizing the sound generated by this one was different from the first, the Great Mind was overjoyed. This time the Great Mind actively sought out an even shorter reed and again blew into it.
“That’s my note!” Mi exclaimed. “That’s the same song as the one I play on the bone flute!”
The Eternal smiled at Mi’s outburst, and went on speaking.
“The Great Mind experienced a transcendent joy, for it had created the First Song, and now there was no turning back. The unceasing cycle of creation had been set in motion, giving rise to the Eternals, beings who, as manifestations of the Great Mind itself, are pure energy. Over time, the Eternals discovered that through singing, they could channel the vibrations arising from the Great Pool and spin them into strings that would give birth to universes. These Eternals came to be known as Songweavers. At first their creations were baby universes…”
“I know about baby universes!” Mi exclaimed, for Gavi the Philosopher-Loon had often spoken of them. But this time she saw from the Eternal’s expression that it was best not to interrupt the story of the First Song again.
“Baby universes, as you know, are universes that have just come into being. Their patterns are simple. They have not yet developed the complexity of which they are capable. As the Songweavers became more adept at singing and spinning, they learned to bind and weave the fibers together, and so built the Great Loom to carry out their task of weaving into existence worlds that were ever more intricate and complex.
“This is how the Void came to be the Great Pool of Existence, and how the First Song gave rise to the cycle of endless transformation, with universes coming into and passing out of existence all the time. Existence is much larger than any one mind can comprehend. Only the Great Mind can have more than a glimpse of Eternity. We are but ripples in the Great Pool of Existence.”
Mi was relieved when the Eternal finally stopped speaking. She felt deeply moved as she listened to the story of the First Song, but it had given her an idea, and by the end she was nearly bursting with excitement.
“Eternal, listening to the story of the First Song has given me an idea”
“Good, little one. What is it?”
“My friends and I used to use the bone flute to travel between Notherland and other worlds. Maybe I can use it to travel to Pay-gee’s world and find out for myself how Notherland came to be.”
“I think that is a very good idea,” the Eternal responded. “When will you take this journey?”
“Right now!” said Mi excitedy.
Word spread quickly, and the Songweavers gathered round to wish Mi farewell, singing a song of praise to her courage, to help give her strength for the journey.
“You must only observe what you see in the Creator’s world,” the Eternal warned her. “You must not intervene to change it in any way. You must discover what you need to learn by observing. In that world you are pure energy. The humans will not be aware of your presence. But though you will be unnoticed, and it will be as if you do not exist, your energy is powerful. You cannot become involved or make your presence known, or you could cause an even greater rip in the fabric of the worlds.”
Mi took out the bone flute and looked up at the Eternal.
“What if it doesn’t work?”
“All you can do is try,” came the reply.
Mi lifted the flute to her lips, took a deep breath, and blew.
Chapter 7: Whose Dream is it Anyway?
SHE COULD FEEL something was not right the very next morning. Krista got up as always and began to get ready for school. But there was something about her eyes. They did not have their usual lively, darting quality, nor were they puffy and red like the night before. They looked – Molly searched her mind for a word, but the only one that came to her was empty, as if the flood of tears the night before had drained the life right out of them.
Molly had felt a deep sympathy for Krista in her sorrow the previous night, and now she experienced an even more powerful longing to reach out to the girl, to say or do something that would make her feel better. But as Krista pulled on a sweater over her head, her eyes settled on Molly herself. She began to make an odd noise, a low moan that sounded vaguely like words being chanted over and over. The doll felt a shudder go through her. The moaning grew louder, higher in pitch, until, without warning, Krista grabbed Molly by the arm and flung her across the room.
At first Molly was too stunned to feel anything. But though she was now an ordinary doll who appeared lifeless and inert, moments after her body slammed against the floor, she discovered that she could still feel pain. She was mystified. Why was Krista saying those words? It seemed to Molly as though she was speaking to someone who wasn’t there, or perhaps even to herself. But why would she hurt Molly? What could she have done to make Krista so angry?
Fear rose up in Molly as Krista walked toward her. Was she going to throw her again? Something even worse? But Krista only picked her up and tossed her under the bed, harshly, but not with the angry brutality she’d displayed moments earlier. Unlike most mornings, she didn’t take the time to place Molly neatly on her back.
In fact, Krista didn’t even notice that the doll had landed in a twisted position, one arm flayed backwards, her neck and head curled underneath her chest. It was a very uncomfortable position, made worse by the terrible soreness in Molly’s back where she’d hit the floor. It wouldn’t be so bad, she reassured herself. Only a few hours and then Krista would come and retrieve her, as always.
Night came, and Krista did not bring her out from underneath the bed. Molly listened as the girl came into the room, and waited as she got ready for bed. Finally she heard Krista flick the light switch, and the room went dark. The mattress bounced above her head as Krista crawled under the covers.
Molly spent that whole night under the bed, and the next night, and the nights after that, until she lost track of how long it had been. So uncomfortable was she, lying in that twisted position, so disheartened as she waited helplessly for someone – Krista, the cleaning woman, anyone – to move her, that with each passing day she felt her mind, that part of her that knew and understood and had words, fading into dullness. For she knew that a doll’s spirit cannot sustain itself for long without the care and attention of a human owner. Slowly but surely, Molly was becoming a mindless, inert thing, an ordinary doll, a doll without a soul.
One evening a noise reached her ear, a brief flicker of sound that even in her benumbed state she recognized as familiar. It was the sound of the light switch being turned on. Although in that awkward position she could see nothing but the floor beneath her, she became aware of light around the edges of the bed. She had the vague sense that this was still a nightly occurrence, the girl who was not Peggy coming into the room and turning on the light. Nevertheless Molly felt herself stirring, her mind becoming more alert, with a definite but inexplicable sense of anticipation.
Then it came. A hand, reaching under the bed. Taking her arm, pulling her into the light and out of the crunched-up heap, so that at long last, her head sat upright on her body, and her arms and legs hung down freely. Someone lifted her up and shook her a few times to loosen the specks of dust that adhered to her from the long time languishing under the bed. As Molly shook, her mind finally became fully awake and the girl’s name – Krista! – came back to her consciousness.
Krista placed her sitting in the corner of the bed between the wall and the headboard, then proceeded to turn out the light and crawl under the covers.
Molly had changed, in a way she did not fully understand, and could not find words for. All the adventures she’d shared with Peggy, Gavi, Jackpine, and the Nordlings, all the dangers she’d faced in her travels through Notherland and other universes – nothing she had experienced in her life up until now had left such a mark on her as the terrible time she’d spend under the bed. One thing she knew: Never, ever did she want to go through anything like that again. Because although she’d come through it this time, she did not believe her spirit could survive another period of such profound neglect and aloneness.
She would be lost, forever.
In order to prevent such a thing happening again, she became preoccupied with trying to understand it all. Why had Krista turned on her so savagely? Why had she been crying so inconsolably the night before? Who was this girl who was not Peggy?
She began to observe Krista carefully for clues. She listened as Krista talked with her friends over the phone. But it was hard to follow, since she could hear only one side of the conversation, and the talk was full of the usual references to clothes, things to buy, people Molly didn’t know. Occasionally a friend of Krista’s would come over, but what with music playing or the noise from the TV, Molly had trouble hearing what they were saying. Still, as far as she could tell, there seemed to be nothing amiss. Krista seemed her usual cheerful self.
Krista gave no hint of any feelings one way or another toward Molly. She went back to the familiar routine of putting the doll under the bed during the day, bringing her out at night. It was as if the attack, the crying episode – none of it had ever happened.
But if Krista had forgotten, Molly certainly had not. Flashes of memories kept coming back to her, especially when Krista would put her under the bed each morning. She was gripped by the fear that it would be the start of another long imprisonment. As she lay in the dark, she was often plagued by images of herself wandering through a barren landscape with no sign of any living thing. She had never known a place of such utter aloneness, not even the bleakest place in Notherland, the Hole at the Pole, where the Nobodaddy lived.
At night she sat in her corner of the bed, watching Krista. Did she have dreams, Molly wondered? What were they like? Did the forced happiness of the daytime give way to grim fears and despair at night? There was no way of knowing.
Then one evening, it hit her: Of course there was a way!
How had she, Peggy, Gavi, and Jackpine found their way to the ship of Grania, the Pirate Queen and all the other worlds they had travelled to in their search for Mi the year before? By entering into a dream together, the four of them lying in a star-formation with their heads in the center, just touching each other. How could she have forgotten so completely?
So much of the memory of her old life had receded since she’d been here at Krista’s. But now she recalled that time and her old self, Pirate Molly, brandishing her sword, eager for adventure. She realized how dull-witted and passive she had become.
But no more! She was filled with the spirit of the old Molly, resolute and courageous, brooking no fears or doubts. She refused to accept this small life any longer. She would find a way into Krista’s dreams and out of this wretched existence once and for all. She would make clear to the girl that she, Molly, was not an inert thing. She was alive!
She had to get herself head-to-head with Krista, like she had with Peggy and the others for their dream-travels. But how? She focussed her mind, trying to will herself to move. But it was useless. She didn’t have the power. But Krista was right there beside her. All she had to do was fall over gently, and her head would be touching Krista’s.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on the image of herself falling over. It was difficult at first. But the longer she held on, the more vivid the image became, until she could actually feel the sensation of toppling over and hitting the mattress.
Molly opened her eyes. Instead of the wall, she was now looking up at the ceiling. She felt something at the top of her head. It was Krista’s hair! She could feel her body moving slightly with each breath the girl took.
She’d done it!
In her excitement it was all she could do to remind herself to calm down, to relax. All she had to do now was wait for the dream to come.
She had been on this ship before. But where were the benches with the long oars resting on them? Where was the flag with the black skull-and-crossbones? Where was the crew of barefoot men with bandannas around their heads?
Then she realized why she saw none of those things. This was not the ship of Grania, the Pirate Queen. It was the ship of Sir John Franklin, the great Arctic explorer, the ship they had sailed north, to the Hole at the Pole. The ship known as the Terror.
She’d done it! She was free!
Eagerly, she looked around. They must be nearby – Peggy, Gavi, Jackpine, Sir John, and Lady Jane. She couldn’t wait to see them again. She ran to the other end of the deck, but the ship was curiously empty. Perhaps they were all down below.
She walked over to the stairway that led to the lower deck. As she began to step down, it dawned on her: This was supposed to be Krista’s dream, not hers. But how could Krista know about the Terror and everything that had happened there?
Something didn’t feel right.
As she stood on the stairway, trying to decide whether to go any farther, the ship began to list sharply to one side. She raced back up to the deck to see what was going on.
She heard a low rumble, which seemed to be coming from deep underneath the ship. Then, suddenly, a huge wave rose up and spilled onto the deck. She looked out over the roiling waters. A long-necked creature, some kind of gigantic serpent, was rising out of the sea. She recognized it immediately as the sea monster that had attacked the Terror on their earlier voyage. It had to be stopped, before it destroyed the ship and everyone on it.
But where was everyone?
She looked around. The deck was still completely empty. She could see no muskets, nothing to fend off the sea serpent. A great cascade of water swept over the deck, as the creature dove below the surface. She knew it would only be moments before it came back up again.
All she could think to do was grab her sword, the one Sir John himself had given her. For here, in the dream, she was once again Pirate Molly, with her sword nestled in its sheath on her belt. She reached for it. When the monster came up from the depths this time, she would be ready for it.
As her hand reached for the sword, she heard a voice call out.
She looked to see where the voice was coming from. There was no one. The voice rang out again, louder and more insistent.
This time she thought she recognized it as the voice of Lady Jane Franklin, but she couldn’t be sure. For a moment an eerie silence descended upon the ship. Then, from the depths of the sea, the rumbling resumed. The sea monster was preparing to surface.
Again she reached for the sword.
“I said DIVE!”
This time, the voice thundered at her so loudly she jumped and fell against the side of the ship. She looked over the gunwales into the churning waters. It seemed an impossible, insane command, to plunge down into the monster’s lair. But something compelled her to obey.
She climbed over the gunwale and dove in.
To her surprise, she found that she could stay under without difficulty. She was swimming and breathing like a fish. For a while the underwater world was strangely calm. Then she spied something a short distance away – a black figure diving down into the depths, then another, also black, but slightly smaller. They were birds, with red eyes and white rings around their necks.
She tried to call out but her voice would not carry through the water. She was certain that one of the loons was her dear Gavi, come to her rescue. She began to swim toward the two birds, but suddenly the water around her began to churn violently. She saw the long-necked monster bearing right toward her.
Why had the voice ordered her to dive into the sea? Why had she obeyed? What should she do now? In desperation she looked back to where the loons had been swimming moments before. She saw nothing. They were gone. She was alone.
She turned toward the sea serpent. Now she was nearly face to face with the creature and realized, with a jolt, that the monster had the face of Krista, the angry Krista who had slammed her against the wall. But now, up close, she could see the sadness underneath Krista’s rage, and in an instant, the fear left her. She stayed perfectly still, looking deep into the monster’s eyes – Krista’s eyes. For a moment, it was as if time had stopped.
Suddenly, she found herself back on the deck of the Terror. She looked out on the water and saw the long-necked serpent rising again out of the depths. The monster no longer looked like Krista. Its face – eyeless, expressionless – was even more terrifying than before.
Behind her, a piercing scream rang out. She turned around. There was Krista herself, looking up at the creature in wordless terror. She rushed over and stood directly in front of Krista, shielding her from the serpent, which now loomed directly over them, its jaws open, its teeth bared. She took her sword from its sheath and raised it high over her head.
Suddenly the monster lowered its head and pounced. She thrust the blade into its neck. It drew back, writhing in pain.
Then, in an instant, it was gone.
Molly came back to herself with a jolt.
It was morning. She was lying on the bed. The arms that had brandished the sword and protected Krista in the dream had returned to their lifeless, inert state. She was back to being an ordinary doll.
She could feel Krista stirring beside her. The girl leaned over and picked her up.
“How did you get here, next to me?” she said, poking Molly teasingly. “I put you over in the corner when I went to bed.”
It was the voice Molly recognized from many times before, the one Krista used when speaking-but-not-really-speaking to her. Inside her head she began to shriek at Krista.
Don’t you understand? I’m here! I’m alive!!
Her frustration was so powerful it felt like an electric shock running through her body. Krista must have felt it, too, for she nearly dropped Molly back on the bed. For a moment the girl stared into the doll’s eyes, an odd expression on her face.
“I just remembered! I had this dream, and you were in it. You were all dressed up like a pirate, and you had a sword. We were on some kind of ship and there was this big snake coming out of the water. It was lunging right at us and you took out your sword and killed it. To protect me. Wow, that was weird. I never have dreams like that.”
Something had happened between them. This was not the same voice as before. This time Krista was talking to her.
Her mother’s voice came through the door.
“Krista! Time for school. And don’t forget, Adelina’s coming today.”
She put Molly back on the bed and began to get dressed. As she was ready to leave, she picked up Molly and, to the doll’s surprise, placed her on a shelf behind some books.
“They won’t find you here,” Krista said. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back later.”
As Krista left the room, Molly felt a twinge of hope. A moment of knowing, of real connection, had passed between them. She hadn’t just imagined it.
If this was to be her life from now on, here with this girl who was not Peggy, she was ready to accept it.