Authors: Amy Herrick
Brigit suddenly drew in a breath and stood very still.
“What is it, Bridge?” Danton asked her. “Are you all right?”
She held up her hand, frowning at him. She needed him to be quiet. She was listening to something just beyond her memory. Everyone’s eyes were on her. She could feel it, but she ignored them. It was so close. Maybe if she could hold the Fetch in her hands. She reached out and took it from Feenix, who started to object and then shut her mouth.
Brigit listened, straining to remember. And yes, there it was. She took a deep trembling breath and stepped forward.
“You?” said the fairy woman. She looked Brigit up and down critically.
“I don’t think—” Danton began, but the woman ignored him.
“You carry the song?” she asked Brigit in a stern voice.
The fairy woman continued to examine her closely. “You have the look upon you,” she said at last. “You realize the danger?”
Brigit trembled. Whatever the danger was, it was probably better not to know.
“Everyone back! Back into the trees. She must stand alone,” the fairy commanded. She pushed Danton and Feenix back. Danton tried to argue with her, but she was insistent. “If either of you tries to go to her before she is finished, she will be destroyed, and our chance will be gone. Stay beneath this oak tree. There is some protection here.”
Feenix also tried to protest. “You know I don’t think you realize but she doesn’t—”
“Quiet! There is no time to be lost. If she has the song, let her begin.”
A deep and expectant hush fell over the top of the hill. Everyone, Brigit knew, was watching her, so she held the Fetch out in front of herself. The song was as clear as a bell now in her head, and her voice, she could feel it, was waiting like a little bird right on the end of branch.
She opened her mouth. She took a breath.
And, of course, nothing came.
She thought about how Danton had called her magnificent and brilliant. She took in another big gulp of air. She opened her mouth and tried again and, still, nothing came. She was filled with fury at herself and in the heat of this fury, she pushed back her hood and lifted her face to the cold night. In doing this, she shook awake the gray spider that Aunt Kit had placed inside the folds of her scarf so many hours ago. The spider woke with a start and clambered along the difficult ridges of cloth until it reached the warm place in her neck where it could feel her blood pulse. It gave her a sharp little nip.
Startled, Brigit opened her mouth in a rounded
of surprise. Out tumbled the first notes of the song.
The Calling In
Edward slept a deep, dark sleep. For how long? It might have been hours.
But then, sometimes the space between two ticks of a watch can seem to drag on forever.
At some point, he began to dream. They were shapeless dreams, uneasy, mildly seasick things that he couldn’t have put into words. They bumped up against him and floated away, and then came back in other unpleasant forms. He tried to push them off, but his arms were useless; he kept trying to lift them but they wouldn’t lift. He tried to speak and his mouth was so dry nothing would come out.
I am dreaming,
he assured himself.
I am in my own comfy bed at home and this is all just a dream. Very soon now, my aunt will come into the room and yank the covers off me.
But his aunt didn’t appear. He struggled and struggled, but whatever it was that was pinning him down was too heavy. He could not open his eyelids, let alone move his hands or head.
After he had been in this place for what seemed several lifetimes, he heard a voice singing somewhere nearby, gentle at first, then more insistently. The voice, he knew, wanted him to follow it. But he had grown so heavy. It was the same voice he heard sometimes just as he was drifting off to sleep and his desire to go toward it was very strong. With the greatest of efforts he managed to lift himself up. But it was so dark, and when he felt for the floor with his feet, it wasn’t anywhere to be found. The voice sang reassuringly. He took a step forward and although there didn’t seem to be anything there, he found that he didn’t fall. It made no difference if he opened his eyes wide or squeezed them tight. There was only darkness sliding by. He took another step and then another, and the voice kept moving, always a little ahead of him. After a while the voice began to climb and he followed it, walking on a stairway that wasn’t there, either. Whatever was holding him up held firm, and the voice stayed steady in the darkness.
At last it began to grow lighter and he would have been encouraged by this, but at the same time, the voice was growing fainter.
“Wait!” he called out.
Suddenly to his surprise, the voice was right beside his ear. “Well, Sleepyhead, it is time.” The voice was encouraging and sweet, but sad. “Wake up now. You are needed.” He felt the soft brush of a kiss upon his cheek.
His eyes flew open and he was back in the café, sitting in the velvet armchair. He looked around eagerly for the owner of the voice, but there was no one there. The café was deserted. Outside, he could see the snow whirling and blowing past the lights from the window. The hands on the clock over the coffee machine said it was nearly midnight. Jolted by this surprise, he sat up. With a queasy shudder, he saw that his own reflection was still missing from the mirror.
Was it some sort of trick glass? Everything else in the room was reflected there—tables, chairs, coffee makers, the counter with the temptingly arrayed scones and cookies and muffins. Only he was not.
Who was this guy to go around stealing people’s reflections?
Edward looked again at the hands on the clock. They were moving way too fast. He had to find the others. He stood up and buttoned his coat and pulled on his hat. He strode to the door and threw it open.
He knew he needed to get up the hill, but the wind seemed to know exactly where he wanted to go. It came roaring at him from the right and slashing at him from the left. He couldn’t tell if it was still snowing or if the wind was only blowing the snow around. Sometimes the air would clear for seconds at a time. Then the wind would come whipping at him, blowing the snow up and blinding him. He did his best to walk in a straight line, but he hadn’t gone far when he nearly put his foot into one of those hideous cracks in the time fabric. Although it was dizzyingly without bottom or direction, it hadn’t yet grown very wide. He was able to go around it before the bees noticed him, but when he had left it behind, another great gust of wind came raging at him from out of nowhere, and he was knocked to his knees. He rose quickly, thinking he heard voices and laughter. Could it be Feenix and the others? Or was it something else, something teasing him? He didn’t know whether to go toward the sounds or away from them. So he chose a middle route, always aiming uphill, in the direction of where the park should be.
It was a terrible journey. Between the wind and the rips in the time fabric and the laughing voices, he despaired a hundred times. But whenever he would decide to pack it in and just lie down in the snow, he would hear the guy from the café taunting him—
why bother if it’s all only dancing atoms and empty space?
Whatever unraveling doom the greasy dude had in mind for the world, Edward was not with the program. He needed to catch up with the others. He pushed and struggled and kept on going.
When he reached the Third Street entrance at last, he was so pleased and surprised by himself, he didn’t even notice the missing panthers. He went right on through, and with renewed energy passed the snowbound playground and the old stone toll-keeper’s booth.
When he reached the silent river of emptiness, the wide unmoving ribbon of nothing, he stopped in despair and knew himself for a fool.
There was no getting across this dark river. It all came down to the same old thing. Soon there would be nothing left to stand upon. Not an atom, not a quark, not a past, not a future. What difference if he dissolved now or a hundred years from now? It had all been empty space to begin with, and he was the same old bumblehead he had always been.
All he had left to do was wait.
He stood at the edge of the river and closed his eyes. He hoped it wasn’t going to hurt very much. The wind had died down and it grew very quiet. He could smell the fresh cold smell of snow and the clean scent of pine trees somewhere nearby. He imagined it would have been a beautiful morning if it had ever come. He was surprised he didn’t feel more tired.
Very gently, right next to his ear, the voice he knew and did not know, said,
“In your pocket.”
He felt again the brush of the kiss.
He opened his eyes and looked around wildly. But there was no one there.
The snow had stopped. The moon had risen. The black timeless river threw back no light, but a little farther downstream, he thought he saw a swarm of time bees working hungrily away. Edward frowned and put his hand in his pocket. Something round and silky met his palm. He drew the object out and stared at it curiously in the moonlight.
He didn’t recognize it at first and then he did. It was one of those little balls of spider thread. The ones his aunt kept on the windowsill. How had that gotten in there? Then he remembered how she had stuck her hand in his pocket, supposedly to find his gloves. The silky thread was slightly sticky to the touch and seemed to give off a faint light of its own. As he stared at it uncomprehendingly he noticed a stranger thing yet. Shooting right out from the side of the ball, stretched tautly, was a thread of silk. He could see it shimmering in the air in front of him and then vanishing into the darkness along the bank beside the river. He tugged on it lightly and it tugged back. He tugged on it again and it tugged a little harder. There was no mistaking what it wanted from him. Slowly at first, he began to follow where it led, rolling the thread up around the ball as he went. After a while he went a little faster, and then faster yet. The impossible thought came into his head that here, where he walked, there
minutes, but beside him in the river of nothingness there were none. He wasn’t sure how long he went along like this, but then abruptly the thread changed direction.
If he followed it now, it was going to take him right out over the oily bottomless nothing.
“Why am I not surprised?” he said to whoever was listening.
Was it some kind of trap? Somehow he felt sure that the voice that had awoken him would not purposely lead him astray. He peered into the darkness and saw that were no bees foraging here. He could see a swarm of them farther ahead, but for the moment, they had left this area behind. Still, what could possibly stop him from falling if he did what was being asked of him? He peered anxiously into the darkness and then he found what might be the answer to the riddle. There was something showing through the surface of the river. Something glowing faintly. A stepping-stone-sized, snow-covered island that the bees had missed.
He hesitated, but felt the thread tugging beneath his fingers. He took a breath. What was there to lose? It was all going to end the same way sooner or later, anyway. He put his foot out and stepped over the yawning dark and when his foot came down, to his great astonishment, it came down on something solid. He let out a gasp of relief. He couldn’t see what he was standing on, but it felt like a rock—a slippery yet solid four-dimensional rock. Carefully, he brought his other foot along to join the first and he stood there and felt along the string. It gave another tug and he peered into the darkness. Was that another foot-sized island just ahead? Yes. He was sure of it. The string tugged beneath his finger. But this one was farther away. For this one he would have to jump. He hesitated. He bent his knees. He measured the distance. He hesitated once more and as he stood considering his own klutziness, the string tugged again and the silky ball slipped from his grasp.
“No!” he cried. Now, without thinking it over, he leaped from the rock, stretching, stretching his arm toward the falling thread. It met his fingertips and he snatched it out of the air. He closed his eyes as he continued to fall forward into the darkness.
Danton wanted, more than he had ever wanted anything, to go and stand beside her. Somehow, he understood that if he did, all would be lost. He made himself stay where he was, and it seemed to him that Brigit’s voice was like a river dammed up in a narrow place until it had, at last, built up enough pressure to burst through. It came out stuttering and muddy at first, but as the leaves and twigs and stones got pushed out of the way, it came pouring into the air. If the song had words, it was in a language he didn’t know, but his heart swelled with pride as he listened. Her voice was magnificent, bell-like, liquid, and strong. The melody was simple, but the song was commanding. He could tell that she was calling to someone.
The foragers began to arrive.
They moved more slowly now, almost drunkenly, like bees who have been feasting for a long, long summer afternoon. They came from all directions at once and, maybe because they were swollen and full, Danton was now able to get a better look at them. They looked like the tiniest of seed pearls and each one trailed a bright green comet’s tail of light. Brigit held the Fetch out in front of her and the foragers approached it in lazy maneuverings until they were nearly home. At the last moment, each one woke up and shot forward, vanishing instantaneously through what might have been a tiny hole in the Fetch’s side.
Danton watched closely, but the foragers seemed to ignore Brigit and only be interested in entering the stone. When the notes of her song had climbed so high they were nearly out of hearing, the song fell and began again. The melody returned almost to the beginning, although not quite. And now, from out of nowhere, Danton heard another voice join hers. An expression of surprise came over her face, but she hesitated for only the briefest of moments and then went on. He looked around anxiously, but he could not see the singer. The new voice didn’t seem to be male or female or exactly human, either. Brigit kept the melody while the second voice held the harmony. They wound around and around each other, playful and quick. Now the foragers came pouring in. Once again, the song went up until it could rise no more and then dropped and began again.
On this third round there were more than two voices, but it was hard to tell how many. These were high and silvery and childlike, and in and around them there was the sound of laughter. The foragers were coming in fast and furious now. The air was full of them. They seemed to jostle each other merrily until they reached the Fetch and vanished inside. It frightened Danton to see how pale Brigit had grown. Her arms, holding the Fetch out, seemed to tremble as the throng of foragers grew. But so far as he could tell, she hadn’t gotten any older and her voice remained steady. On the fourth round, the foragers were so thick, they clotted the air and had to wait for their turn to enter the Fetch. They seemed to grow angry and impatient with each other and the music darkened with their mood. A sound of pipes and drums joined the voices. The laughter faded and an undertone of urgency crept into the music.
Danton couldn’t hold himself still. “I can hardly see her anymore,” he whispered anxiously to Feenix. “Can you? Can you tell if she’s all right?”
“She’s all right,” Feenix hissed. “You can tell from her voice. Be quiet!”
Danton fell back into silence. There was a sound of distant swords clashing, metal on metal, and the drumbeat pounded louder and louder, more like a battle call than a symphony. The music grew more discordant and confused but kept on. Finally, Danton could hear nothing of Brigit’s voice in the noise.
“I’ve got to go in there!” he said at last. “She’ll be trampled or killed.” But Feenix grabbed his arm.
“No! You can’t! Her only chance is not to move. You heard what the silver woman said. You have to let her finish it.”
Danton shook his head angrily but stayed where he was.
At last a high whistle screamed through the air, and a moment later there was a tremendous bang.
Danton shuddered and felt Feenix reach out and give his hand a quick squeeze.
The singing voices could be heard again from within the still-thick cloud. No longer high and silvery, they filled the air with a solemn richness. There was triumph in the voices, and sorrow. Some were as deep as echoes in caverns and some were rich and golden as trumpets.
And through them all, steady and sweet, Danton was sure he heard Brigit.
“That’s her!” Feenix said. “Can you see her?”
But he couldn’t, not yet. The mob of foragers was thinning. They continued to vanish inside the Fetch. One by one the voices that accompanied Brigit’s reached the sky and continued on up and did not return.