Authors: Amy Herrick
Then, at last only Brigit’s voice was left and it rang out bell-like and true.
“There she is!” Feenix cried, but Danton didn’t need to be told this. He had already shaken himself free and was running toward her.
Brigit stood as they had last seen her. She was very pale, but still standing with arms out, the Fetch in her hands. The last foragers disappeared inside and the final note of the Calling In song died away.
Danton pulled up short in front of her. He wanted to touch her, but he didn’t dare. She looked so still and far away. “Are you all right?”
She looked at him startled, as if she had forgotten all about him, all about everything that had come before. She studied his face carefully as if she were trying to remember not just who he was, but
he was. Then, at last, she smiled.
“Danton,” she said. “It’s you.”
He’d been waiting for this voice for so long. It was an ordinary voice, a little shy, but with a ripple of gladness in it. He didn’t think he’d ever heard anything nicer. He found he couldn’t say a word.
“Yes, I’m all right,” she assured him. “Are they all in?”
He looked around. The air was quiet and there was no sign of the bees. Danton also realized that the silver lady and the three-headed dog and the tree people and the witches and all the rest had vanished. Where could they have gone? He wondered if they had been frightened back into hiding. All that seemed to be left were the girls and him, the oak tree, and the very top of the hill where they stood, which seemed to give out a strange, faint light of its own.
“There’s nothing else out there,” Feenix said. “Everything’s gone. But it’s weird. Don’t you feel like we’re on a stage? Like there’s something out there watching us?”
“Yes,” said Danton. “Something’s going to happen. I can feel it. Can’t you? Something’s listening to us.”
“Do you think it’s this Keeper dude?” she asked nervously.
“I don’t know,” Danton replied. “All we can do is wait.”
So they waited. It was impossible to tell how much time, if any, passed as they stood there on the top of the hill. It was getting colder and they all drew closer together. When they were almost touching, shoulder to shoulder, they heard a noise. It was the sound of something moving toward them, a panting breath growing nearer and nearer.
“Where in this butt-faced blankety-blankety blizzard have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you guys!”
Feenix almost didn’t recognize him now that he was however much older than he used to be, but she certainly wasn’t going to show him she was impressed or anything. “That’s what I love about you,” she said. “The way you always manage to show up after everybody else has done all the work.”
“What do you mean? Which work are you talking about? What happened?” Eddie asked.
“Nothing much,” Feenix said. “We managed to fight off two panthers, cross a mile-wide bottomless crack in the time fabric, climb the equivalent of Mount Kilimanjaro, make small talk with the ornaments from your aunt’s Christmas tree, and call all the foragers back into the Fetch.”
“You were talking to the ornaments on my aunt’s tree?” He looked around sharply.
Danton jumped in. “You should have seen them—there was a minotaur and Feenix’s witches again and then a silver fairy lady. The Old Ones, I guess. I think they’ve camouflauged themselves again. They’re really good at it. Something must have scared them off.”
Feenix thought he was probably right. There was a lot to be scared of. So why was Edsel smiling?
“Let me see the stone,” he said.
Brigit, Feenix noticed, hadn’t moved since Eddie had arrived. She was staring at him weirdly. Now she brought the Fetch toward her chest protectively and stared at him.
“She was the one who called them in. She got her voice back,” Danton said.
“That’s great,” Eddie said. He smiled at Brigit. “The stone must be very full. Could I see it?”
Now that Feenix was looking at Eddie more closely, she decided there was something else that wasn’t right with him. It was more than the fact that he was a few years older. What could it be? “How did you get over that big rip at the bottom of the hill?” she asked him suspiciously.
“That’s a crazy story. I’ll tell you later. I think I’ve got an idea. Give me the stone.”
“You look different,” Feenix said. “What happened to you?”
“We all look different. It’s been some night. C’mon,” he coaxed. He held his hand out and took a step toward Brigit.
She took a step backward, her eyes fixed on his hand.
Now Feenix saw it, too. “What happened to your thumb?”
He pulled his thumb inside his fisted fingers and made a face of impatience. “It’s fine. I twisted it when I was climbing up here. Stop fussing. We don’t have time for this. Let me see the Fetch.”
“You’re not Eddie. Who are you?”
Danton had been looking back and forth at the three of them, seeming puzzled. “What do you mean he’s not Eddie? Who else would he be?”
“Look at him. Don’t you see? He’s all—I don’t know—backward.”
“He’s all backward? What are you—?” Danton peered at Eddie more closely and now he, too, must have seen something, because he fell silent.
“Whatever happens, Brigit, don’t give him the Fetch,” Feenix said.
Brigit nodded and took another step backward.
“Where’s Eddie?” Feenix demanded. “What did you do to him?”
There was a short silence while Eddie-who-was-not-Eddie must have been considering his next move. “Not a thing,” he said at last. “What was done, he did to himself. By now, he will be—gone.”
There was silence while everyone took this in. Then Feenix said through clenched teeth, “You’re that Unraveler guy, aren’t you?”
Eddie-who-was-not-Eddie gave a small bow.
“Did you let those time bees eat him?” Feenix cried.
“The foragers are hardly under my control. Though I must say, I couldn’t have done better work myself. By now, your friend will certainly have been gathered into the Sameness. Just as you soon will be. You will be returned to where there is neither time nor space nor light and you will rest, at last. It is what your wise teachers know we all seek.”
“What?” Feenix shouted. “What do you know about what our teachers teach us?”
Not-Eddie gave a little laugh. “Think back. Did I not hear one of your teachers talking just the other day about the true and final state?”
“You’re just blabbering,” Feenix snapped. “Who would let you into our school?”
Now Danton spoke up unhappily. “Mr. Ross. He’s talking about Mr. Ross. He got off on a tangent the other day about entropy, about how things always move toward losing heat energy and getting all disorganized.”
Not-Eddie gave him a nod of approval. “Exactly. The wise among you spend their lives searching for the homeward path. The wise know that nothing is really solid. Things take on form and shape for the briefest of times and then return to dust. Everything carries within itself the means to its own return. I am only here to help things along. Why struggle so pointlessly? Aren’t you tired?”
It was true, Feenix realized. She was very tired. The guy’s voice was so soothing and hypnotic. Mr. Ross and everything else of their past lives seemed very far away. She made an effort to remember what it was she had left behind down there in Brooklyn, what it was that had seemed so important. But even as she struggled she found her memories were all dissolving. She started to turn toward the other two, hoping they could help her, but her arms and legs didn’t seem to be following along.
“Now if you will hand me the Fetch, I will gladly dispose of it for all our sakes. We wouldn’t want anyone getting hold of that honey and making more mischief, would we?” He held out his hand to Brigit.
Feenix was able at last to turn to face Brigit, but now she seemed to be looking at her from far, far away. It reminded Feenix of getting gas at the dentist while she had a cavity filled.
Yes, maybe it would be better if she just handed it to him.
Brigit, however, made no move to hand the Fetch over. Feenix could see how she was staring at the Unraveler’s backward thumb and how hard she was struggling not to give in to his voice. She managed to actually take another step away from him and then she shook her head.
The man’s voice grew impatient. “You meek ones. I don’t know why you’re always the worst.”
Brigit took another step backward.
Yes! Good for her,
Feenix thought admiringly. She shook herself and suddenly another of Mr. Ross’s schticks came into her head, the one about how wonderfully improbable everything was. How the odds were totally against their ever having come into being. Yet here they were. How they all ought to make the most of it and not waste their time. Would Mr. Ross want them all to just lie down and be dissolved back into the sameness again? No bleeping way.
Feenix came wide awake with a start and saw that the Unraveler was advancing upon Brigit in a smooth, rapid glide over the snow.
From the corner of her eye, she noticed that Danton had woken up, too. It was Brigit, she knew, who had broken the spell. Danton was moving quickly, running backward, his hands up in the air. “To me, Brigit!” he shouted. “Throw it to me!”
“Don’t look in his eyes!” Feenix yelled. “He’s hypnotizing you! Throw it to Danton.”
Brigit took a shuddering breath and tore her gaze away from the man coming toward her. She threw the Fetch to Danton.
Danton caught it easily and moved off as far as he could.
“Now, children, you are wasting valuable time. And what’s the point? Where can you possibly go?” said the Unraveler.
He looked around at the three of them, calculating something. Then he threw back his head and opened his mouth. It seemed to be hingeless, like a snake’s mouth. The inside of it was very dark and much bigger than the inside of anybody’s mouth ought to be.
Out of this mouth rose a spinning funnel of wind and dust. As the funnel twisted itself out of the open throat and thrust upward into the air, it began to pull the false Eddie inside out like a glove. Several seconds passed while the twister disposed of the Unraveler’s body in this manner, but no sooner was the job done than the funnel began spinning over the ground toward Danton. The sound that came with it was a roar of white noise. The funnel grew rapidly wider and taller, sucking at him as it drew nearer.
Feenix watched in fascinated horror, then threw up her hands and yelled, “To me! Throw it to me.”
The twister nearly upon him, Danton turned. He threw the Fetch up as high and far as he was able. Over it went, barely clearing the sucking vortex and then it dropped down, down into Feenix’s waiting hands.
“I’ve got it!” she yelled.
With a roar of fury, the wind funnel began to turn itself around, looking for its opponent. It was clumsy and slow in this form, but all of them felt how its pull was growing stronger, like a monstrous industrial-strength vacuum cleaner.
“I’m open!” yelled Danton, but the funnel shifted its bulk to block him and Feenix threw the stone back to Brigit.
Back and forth they went, back and forth, but the twister kept growing in strength and seemed tireless. Feenix knew that she, Danton, and Brigit were not. Just as she was wondering how much longer they could go on like this, she saw that the funnel had slowed itself to one spot. It was turning like a top, levitating just off the ground, and its sound had diminished to a low, unpleasant grinding noise. The Fetch was in Danton’s hand. He stood near the edge of the cliff, bouncing alertly on his feet, waiting for the funnel to approach him. But this time it didn’t. Instead it turned sharply toward Brigit.
“What’s it doing?” Danton yelled in alarm. “Watch out, Brigit! Get out of its way.”
But where could she go?
In the next instant, the thing swelled itself out again and with a giant snort of glee, sucked Brigit right into its interior. For a moment Feenix could see Brigit’s pale, terrified face going around and around. Then she was sucked farther into the churning snow and dust. She disappeared from sight.
“No!” screamed Danton. “Let go of her!” He was already running toward the twister.
“Don’t!” warned Feenix. “It’s a trick. That’s exactly what he’s hoping you’ll do, don’t you see?”
Danton stopped and turned toward Feenix. “I have to go in after her. You take the Fetch and just keep moving. I’ve got to get her out.”
Before Feenix had time to object, Danton had tossed the Fetch in the air. Feenix caught it in her hands and Danton dashed forward and leaped right into the heart of the funnel.
The whirlwind paused for a moment, listing a little to the side, as if Danton’s weight had sent it off-balance. Then it righted itself and began slowly to turn again, making an uneven grating and grinding noise.
Was it digesting Danton? It teetered slowly from side to side like a top again, then began to pick up some speed.
It now turned its attention back to Feenix.
She moved slowly backward, clutching the Fetch. She felt how it had lost a lot of its hardness. It had a fuzzy ripeness to it, like a peach with a little give to the touch. It was warm, too, and smelled sweeter than ever. She glanced down and saw that it was giving off a faintly rosy glow.
Anxiously, Feenix turned to see what was behind her. She was approaching the edge of the cliff. She looked back at the funnel and saw only spinning wisps of dust and snow, but the thing was making its grinding noise, stuttering and stopping. She wouldn’t want to have Danton for dinner either. Was this demon sucker intending to devour her? Or just push her off into the Nothing? Feenix took another step backward. Probably either way would work just as well for it. She remembered the smooth and bottomless Nothing with a wave of nausea. No. She’d rather be eaten. At least she’d have a chance to fight. One more step and she’d be over the edge, but for now she could still feel the solid cliff beneath her feet. She dug in and stood her ground.
The wind rumbled gleefully as if tickled by her defiance. She felt herself being dragged inexorably into it.
“Eat my socks!” she yelled and held on tight to the Fetch as if its weight could keep her anchored.
Then she heard someone calling her name. The voice came to her only faintly through the screeching and rushing of the wind. Was it Danton? Or Brigit? The voice was saying something to her, but the wind picked up speed as if it were trying to drown out the words.
But now she heard it again, even louder. Someone was calling her name and whoever it was yelled, “Throw it to me! TO ME!”
Feenix stood frozen trying to understand where the voice was coming from, and then she saw a movement over to the right by the oak tree. She leaned forward peering through the dust and wind and blowing snow. She could just make out a figure waving at her, arms up in the air.
Was it possible? It looked like Dweebo—the non-backward semi-grown-up Dweebo.
“Throw me the Fetch. I see what we have to do!”
What did he mean? Was he trying to trick her? What if it was another fake?
“Look! Over here!”
He was pointing up in the direction of the oak tree, at what she had no clue. Its branches were bare except for a raggedy bird’s nest with its bottom half fallen out.
“You see? It’s got to be the doorway. My thread goes right there.”
If it was him, he must have lost his mind.
But the funnel for just a moment seemed to hesitate and grow quieter as if it were listening.
“Are you working on your suntan?” the new Eddie yelled. “You are slower than cement! Throw it!”
was slower than cement? How dare he? Now the funnel seemed to come awake again. As it moved toward her, its black mouth yawned open. For a second, Feenix thought she caught a glimpse of something or someone tumbling around inside, but she had no time to look closer. She lifted her arm back and blindly pitched the stone as high and hard as she could.
Up the Fetch flew. The funnel gave a roar of fury and jumped back, twisting to watch its prey flying into the air overhead. To Feenix’s surprise, the Fetch cleared the top of the twister—just barely—and then came tumbling down the other side. She could hardly believe it when Eddie caught it neatly in his open hands. She thought again of Mr. Ross and his story about improbable odds.
Only now did the funnel seem to realize what had happened. It gave an ear-splitting scream of frustration and gathered itself together again, shrinking, but growing denser and tighter. Then it began to skim rapidly over the ground in Eddie’s direction.