♠ ♥ ♣ ♦
“There might be a real Land of Youth somewhere.
There might be almost anything.”
The Magician’s Nephew
♥ ♠ ♦ ♣
The attack on the Twin Bowers changed everything.
When Keeper Bigly-Tate had escorted the Yoder family to their freshly-assigned Lockdown housing - and, finally, excused himself from their company - Dog and Bird had a long talk with Will and Mily about what exactly happened on September Eleventh.
As if both Mily and Will were utterly clueless, Dog began by explaining that the Twin Bowers were a set of grand National Monuments in East Atlantia, capitol city of the United Estates of Imerica. The first monument was out at Sea, facing east: she was Lady Liberty, otherwise known as the Right Bower.
The second monument was called Euchred Plinth: this was a massive monolith pedestal made of spacerock, a perfect star-pentagon pointing west toward the City. It was built as the intended setting for One Day When - when the Left Bower’s name became known to all the Pipt, Faced, and Aces of North Imerica.
Then, it was said, both Bowers would stand watch. One in the Sea, and one on the Land. And Erath would be put right again.
But then the Terrorists attacked.
Sense was less while Mily listened. Awareness grew.
It was Bird’s turn to tell the truth: “I remember watching the spaceship launch. It took off right from where they laid the Plinth. My Second Grade class watched it on an old roll-cart TV...”
“Second-grade?” Mily had interjected, distracted because her stomach got hot and uneasy everytime her mom talked.
“When we were in school,” Bird answered with grace, “there were Grade Levels instead of Grading Periods, like you and Will are used to.”
“Oh.” Mily had realized she needed to swallow her grudge. She wanted answers to much bigger questions.
“It was Nineteen-Sixty-Nine,” Dog had then offered as his way of getting them back on track. “July Twentieth, Nineteen-Sixty-Nine, the United Estates first landed on the Moon.”
“That’s your birthday, Mil!” Will’d told her, grinning great-big.
In spite of everything, the corners of Mily’s mouth upturned - She’d had no idea that the day she was born was significant in any way at all.
“Then in Nineteen-Ninety-One, the year Will was born...” Their mom gave her son a special look. “UEI astronauts brought the spacerock back to Benjamintown - that’s where the Declaration of Endependence was signed. It was on display for a few years there, and after that, they moved the Plinth to East Atlantia, where they’ve been building - ”
Bird’s lower lip trembled and then froze; she sat up very straight and shook her head rapidly from side to side, like she needed to break something loose. “The Left tower was being built. The law was that it would be under construction until the Bower’s likeness turned up - So that was the idea, to plan ahead, so it was still being built... until now.”
Bird seemed at a loss - she tossed Dog a look and just shrugged, then grimaced. Dog looked back at Bird with his lips pursed; it was the face he always made when he was trying to find something to say.
Mily snagged at her parents’ pause and asked, “Aren’t YOU the Left Bower, Dad?”
Dog chuckled - Mily glared. This is no laughing matter! The question had been nagging at her ever since she’d heard the CODE RED. She’d been afraid that her dad was dead.
“I am,” Dog began, something about the question seeming to untwist his wits. “But for me, be’n a Bower’s just a title. Since Clubs was ordered up, I’ll work with them for a while.”
“The same-colored Jacks can be both suits,” Will expounded.
“Well, only if their suit-color was ordered trump,” Bird tweaked. A crease fell between her brows: she was thinking heavily.
“But you’re a Spade,” Mily said.
Dog shrugged. “Well, I know I look the same, but tech’neckly, right now I’m a Club.”
“Why?” Mily asked.
“That’s the way it works,” Dog answered. “Some of us of’got to be ready to cross the line and work together sometimes. That keeps things fair, and keeps things work’n right.”
“Oh.” Mily wasn’t sure whether she got it or not.
“Clubs won the election last year, remember, Mil?” Will said. “Remember how we all got our own pretend-ballots at school last year? Remember circling a suit and sealing it in an envelope before you dropped it in the big fishbowl?”
Mily did remember, vividly. “I circled Hearts.” She glanced at her mom, who was suddenly smiling.
“Well, in the real election, Clubs got circled the most,” Will said, sounding concluded.
“So you didn’t switch forever?” Mily asked Dog.
“Nope! Not unless Clubs wins every election from here on out. That’s really unlikely. Eventually, I’ll go back to be’n a Spade.”
“So if you’d picked a different suit to be - ” Mily spat, scalding fury making her voice sound all raspy. “If you were a red one - like Mom - then we wouldn’t of had to leave!”
“Well, it’s not really that simple...” Dog said, scratching his head.
“Your dad has a really important job,” said Bird.
“But so do you! You’re Principal!”
“It’s not a contest, sweetie. It’s about safety. It’s better for us all to stay together.”
“Well I don’t want to be near you!” Mily screamed. She stood. Whirled around. Wanted to run away, but couldn’t remember which way the stupid door was. “ANY of you!” Her breaths were too fast - her head spun. Her eyes found the door, a bolt-heavy slider at the end of their railcar-turned-homestead. Her feet stomped towards it. “I NEVER WANT TO SEE ANY OF YOU EVER AGAIN!”
Mily knew her parents and Will would run after her, but she was by far the fastest of all of them. She shoved door sideways on its track and climbed down narrow iron steps to a brick-and-limestone paved platform. Sped down a double-line of railcar houses and came to a T at the end of the path - turned left - and took off racing into Lockdown, booking it faster than Mily’d ever run in all her life.
A lot like her dad Dog, Mily liked to get lost. There was no better Sense of adventure than when she went wandering off, on, over, into and through, to wherever the wandering led her, to Something at the End.
Lockdown was starting to look like a maze. Mily wondered if she would ever end up wandering to the end of it.
Knees high, arms pumping, Mily bounded on her toes - Her hands were open and relaxed, not balled into fists, which kept her shoulders from tensing up and killing her momentum - She already far away from where she’d started, lamps peripherally whipping past - Each breath entered through her nose and exited out her mouth, in time with each stride. She left the trains behind - Her eyes went ahead of her and saw she was approaching a bend - Lungs burning, she willed herself faster, faster, faster!
Mily had no idea how long she ran. It felt like a long time.
She didn’t want to give her family any chance to turn on the juice and catch up to her, so she steered left for the upteenth time on her next stride -
Mily barrelled around the bend, barely observing it when a cold and sudden darkness overtook the tunnel because of a bright neon-orange sign that said -
Authorized Persons Only
DO NOT ENTER
She stutter-stopped, skidded off-balance, and crashed forward into the chipping particle-board, suspended by a big rusty chain bolted into mortared brick pillars on either side. The orange sign cracked down the middle on-impact: she braced her hands frontways, catching her fall on hard solid ground - just as two ends of a chain fell and clanked! against the cement floor.
Mily’s wrists took the brunt of the trip, jarring her forearms. It hurt. A lot. She grit her teeth and bit tears back, blinking through the throbbing pain. It was dark. With panic-stricken eyes, she searched wildly round till they landed on what was now an in-half warning sign -
Authorized Per / sons Only
DO NOT I / ΞNTER
Picking herself up, Mily looked back the way she’d come. That way, the long limestone shaft looked scary-similar to every one she remembered having sprinted through...
She looked the other way. The path ahead resembled none of the places she’d been in any way, and it was very gradually sloping downward...
Had she known she was running downhill? She couldn’t remember when/if she’d noticed the incline at all.
Mily stepped over the two ends of particle-board and chains and kept walking. She wondered how long she could keep heading deeper in, and decided to find out if that trickle-and-wooshing sound - like the sound of water running - stemmed from somewhere deeper down...
In fact... Huh.
Mily’s everpresently-humming clairs were all hush.
The realization made Mily afraid. Which was strange, because she had never thought about losing the bugs in her brain; she had only just started to get used to them.
She stopped running. It was very dark, but she could still see okay. She must’of sometime left all the lined brick and smoothed limestone behind. When, she hadn’t a clue. The cave Mily stood in now was genuine, untouched, low-ceilinged and muddy, a mishapen, bouldering sweep into a deep and dark somewhere.
Mily had just wanted to get away. She hadn’t meant to get someplace where they might not find her, not really. Suddenly there was too much pressure in her head, and it was building, fueled by questions that she still didn’t have any answers to, but the loudest pounded against her skull and radiated through her chest till she could hardly stand it -
Why am I not a Wood?
Mily shut her mind up and was running again - She forgot all about her aching wrists and the darkness, sprinting onward - Hopping rocks and rubble that appeared in her path, dodging from one point to next on her toes - Never thinking twice about being quiet but quite possibly streaking in silence -
If that were possible, Mily wouldn’of noticed - She sped with the swift-footedness of a doe, wide-eyed, wandering deep as the dusk would take her without worry, without ever looking back once.
Then Mily slipped, and fell in a blackhole.
She went gliding, slipping and sliding, and saw a brightness up ahead - Getting bigger, growing brighter! Whiteness flooded with full-flush force -Woah!
There, at the very end of the blackhole, was Something.
Mildred was frigid - Sweat of her brow condensed on her lashes, became hoarfrost - It was hard to see through pine-needly eyes - She felt off-balance.
Will took Mily’s hand. She couldn’t see, but she knew it was him by the familiar weight of his grasp. It was the grip Will had when he meant to take her somewhere.
Mily gave Will’s hand a firm squeeze. She held on tight. Then leaning into her big brother’s steps, she helped Will lead her across the slippery crest of Devil’s Slide.
Something didn’t sit right; her head bent to block an icy wind sweeping down the slope of the dune. There was plenty of room for the two of them to walk - but the sun must’of been hot in the afternoon because sand and snow had frozen slick.
Still quite unable to see well, Mily watched her feet.
“Prob’ly twenty more steps Mily,” Will called through the wind.
One of Dog’s heavy-knit turquoise winter-hats he got from ERATHEntact was pulled snug around Mily’s ears - But she could hear well-near everything, or close to that. Mily matched her footfalls two-ticks behind Will’s guide-steps, following his rhythm till she fell into the flow his walk.
Something still sat wrong; her shoulders tensed and Mily was almost capsized by a shock of wind. She latched onto Will’s right arm to keep from toppling sideways and almost took them both down.
“Almost there,” Will said, turning their momentum into an assured step forward. “Promise. Just a few more steps.”
Mily’s eyes were on thin ice - Corneas frozen-over completely.
“March blizzard,” he hollared, squeezing and releasing her hand. “Who’d of thought that! Good job, Mil, you did it. Now we just gotta ride down, and we’re homefree!”
Mily blinked but it did little to unskew her worldview. She recognized the scrape of toboggan rungs across the snow and reflexively stuck her hands out to receive the frayed, braided twine reigns. Will said he would sled first and that she should follow after him.
“Just aim for the water, Mil, and you’ll get where you need to.”
Will was gone. Mily overcame her snowblindness and made sure to watch where he went.
The Great Lake was frozen solid - Mily saw straight across it, past the wide mouth where Devil’s Slide spilled out, to the outward-facing wave of a stories-tall shelf ice wall which bordered the whole shore, to the caps of skyscrapers entrapped just above the high-water-mark of the sunken, Windy City.
Mily got seated on her sled, digging her heels deep into the snow to keep from slipping. Her gaze traced and retraced Will’s sledline.
She was good at drawing lines in her mind and thought she spotted a cut-point where the shallow sandhills dipped lower just a few degrees to the right of Will’s trail... She would need to lean - hard - to make such a sharp curve... But Mily thought if she did she’d make it all the was to where Will was, for sure.
It would take a fair bit of luck too though.
Mily gripped the braided reigns and settled into her seat - Ready or not - dug in her heels and toes - here I! - and shoved with all her might -
She was racing, embracing the slicing wind, sleighing straight for the water. It was the fastest Mily had ever felt - But she wasn’t flying - She held her center, entering a new plane - She was almost halfway the end of the path Will’d made, leaning right just slightly - Okay!
She soared over the edge of the dunegrass and banked left with all her might.
Reins wrapped tight in her fist, Mily bent forward till her nose touched her knee; all her weight was steeled in the right-angle of her elbow and ankle, a shifting center aligned with the inner toboggan rung. She fought the urge to brace and got a floating feeling that meant she was about to flip the sled -
Mily made the cut.
She was gliding!
A bullet on the beach, outsprinting the wind, it was blinding!
With that bewildering speed, Mily’s toboggan zipped across what had appeared to be a very broad swath of sand from ontop of the dune - Already, she was almost out of land - Too far! Too fast!
Mily’s sled reached the edge of the beach -
Slid up the shelf of ice and sand -
Topped the frozen wave and -
Barrelled over the ledge -
Where she was thrust into nothing -
Nothing but air and -
Wide Open Water!
Mily tried to brake, but it was too late. She plummeted, reigns twisting in her vicegrips.
Just the instant before she went under the wake, Mily saw it -
There, at the very end of Devil’s Slide, was Something.
* * * * *
/ n o t a r e
“What Happened at the Front Door.” The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis, Barnes & Noble Inc. and HarperCollins Publishers, 2009, p. 54. The Chronicles of Narnia.
© Kailey Ann