When words are no longer words, all things are possible when you find...
Shadows Between the Pages
by Meghan Elizabeth Brunner"Dad? Can I get you anything?”
Wilec stroked his daughter’s hair as she knelt by the couch. “Get you some sleep, bluebird.”
“I meant like dinner.”
He sighed. “You know I’m not going to give up.”
“And you know you’re still too sick to argue with me and expect to win,” Trieanne returned with a fond smile.
“I’m the father. Of course I expect to win.”
“Nice try. Soup and saltines?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Too much more of that and I’m going to think you can’t cook anything else!”
“Is that a challenge?” she asked, eyes flashing merrily.
“If it means I can have some real food... yes.”
“Okay... I’ll see if I can find the cheese and marshmallows,” she said, rising, and smartly dodged the pillow Wilec tossed at her. She flashed him a grin as she disappeared into the kitchen.
He shook his head in wonderment as he retrieved the pillow. I can't believe she'll be sixteen in a couple of weeks. Not that long ago I could hold her in one arm I sure hope she likes her birthday present. He paused a moment, smiling, to listen to the clang of pots, the soft voice raised in song.
All things considered, I must’ve done fairly well by her... he mused. Cheerful lass, grown enough to act the responsible young woman, child enough to see the wonder in the world. Took after you in that, Sarah. Trieanne Namid. Peace of the Star-Dancer. I thought it was too fancy at first, but you liked it so much, dove... I never could deny you anything. Trie, either... It suits her, though. She never lets loss take her heart for long. Still, those sky-blue eyes were shadowed by dark circles from nights spent up caring for him. I’m not nearly as sick as she’s convinced herself I am... I wish she’d get some sleep.
He smiled at the pet name. “You okay?”
She poked her head around the corner, one cheek soot-smudged, and gave her father a winning smile. “No problem. I should have everything under control.” And ducked back around the corner.
Wilec chuckled... “No problem” and “should” in the same sentence... Maybe I should go and... Nah. If she needs help, she’ll ask for it. She’d used the same phrases when she was six; Monty had always ducked when she used either, expecting another malfunction. Wish Monty would come by; at least he was some outside contact, and Gadget misses him. Aw, Limburg, Wilec, admit it. You miss him too. He was a good adventuring partner. The last words he’d spoken to his buddy rang through his head, uttered in anger and fear for his daughter. He’d calmed since, tried to make it up as best he could. Wonder if he found the notes I propped on the table of our old pad...?
Just then the young lady-mouse strode back into the room carrying a plate that thankfully did not contain marshmallows or cheese.
“Trie, will you do something for me?”
“If anything ever happens to me, and Monty stops by... give him the Screaming Eagle, okay?”
The inventor paled, nearly dropped the plate before hurriedly setting it down and running to his side. “Lie down, rest, I’ll get you some soup...”
Orville and Wilbur. Botched that one, didn’t I? “Gadget, I -”
“Don’t worry; I’ll make you better! I won’t sleep at all until -”
She jumped back, stunned; he hardly ever raised his voice with her. He could see tears shimmering in her eyes and cursed himself. He gently took her hands, pulled her close. She climbed up on his lap, buried her face in his soft green flannel jammies.
“Bluebird, it isn’t necessary. I want you to sleep.”
“Sweetheart, listen to me, okay? I’m not dying.”
She looked up tearfully. “Then why...?”
“Gadg, things happen sometimes. Like with your mom... it never occurred to us that she might not make it through that adventue... it was an easy rescue mission.” He flashed back to a tearful toddler clinging to Sarah’s leg, proclaiming she wouldn’t come back and wondered again at her odd premonition. And shook the thought away. “You never know, day to day. I only asked you because... well, it’s like ejection seats on a plane. You hope you never have to use them, but you put them in anyway... just in case.”
Trie seemed to accept this, rubbed at her eyes with the back of one hand. “But you aren’t going to die? Promise?”
“Trie... bluebird, I can’t promise you that. I mean, everyone dies eventually. But I promise it isn’t a little case of the flu that’ll do me in.”
She nodded, eyes beginning to drift shut.
Wilec smiled fondly, stroked her hair as he hummed a cradle-song Sarah had used when Trie was a child. How much you’ve changed me, bluebird. I never used to be one for singing... or books, either, unless they were adventures... but I knew your mother would want you to experience literature, and when you were small nothing would put you to sleep so fast as a song... Ah, dove, if only you could see our little girl now... Softly he kissed the top of her head, rested his cheek on golden tresses. Dream well, Gadget. You need the sleep.
Duty called the inventor through folds of unconsciousness and she answered, regretfully prying her eyes open and leaving the comfort of her father’s embrace to retrieve the plate. “Spaghetti... it was the best I could do....”
“It’s wonderful, Trie, thank you.”
“Would you like me to get the Shakespeare book or the poetry or something, to read to you?”
“Come have dinner with your dear ol’ dad, then we can read if you wish.”
Trieanne smiled brightly, dashing from the room to get a plate of spaghetti for herself; she stopped near the bookshelf on her way back and selected a few volumes. When the meal was finished, she happily snuggled on the couch next to Wilec.
“What shall we start with, bluebird?”
“Romeo and Juliet,” she answered promptly.
He laughed. “You always pick that one.”
“‘... And moving through a mirror clear that hangs before her all the year, shadows of the world appear...’”
“Tennyson. ‘Lady of Shalott.’ But, why, Gadg?”
“Do you think Mom has a mirror like that, somewhere? That she can see us, somehow?”
“Maybe. I’m sure they can do all sorts of things where she is.”
“But it’s a two-way mirror, because we can’t see her, right?”
“But it’s not, exactly. Mom loved these books. Reading them is like bringing her with us, like our mirror to her. Like being a family all together again. It’s like her memory is one of the shadows trapped between the pages somewhere. Besides, it’s how you two met.”
Wilec gazed unreadably at his daughter for the span of heartbeats. “Yes,” he said softly. “I feel her here too, sometimes.” Gently he opened the book between them and cleared his throat. “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life....”
* * *
Trieanne quietly opened the door a crack and peeked in. He’s asleep, her mind sighed in relief. She ghosted to her father’s bedside and knelt to guard his dreams, arms folded on the mattress. He had insisted on tucking her in -- mostly to be sure she went to bed, Trie strongly suspected. She was nearly nauseous from fatigue but could not -- would not -- sleep. First Mom, then Monterey Jack... you can’t leave me too, Dad. I need you. You’re the only one I have left... I love you... Tears trickled down her cheeks... she buried her face in her arms and wept, quietly; his adventures had made him a light sleeper. Before the tears had a chance to dry, she was aslumber.
* * *
“Sarah? Dove, is that you?”
She did not look up. Her silver-belted dress -- whiter than a unicorn’s mane -- fluttered in a non-existant breeze.
Wilec pulled himself onto the stage, strode hesitantly to stand opposite her. Softly, “If I touch you, will you disappear like Avalon in the mists?”
She looked up, then, smiling tremulously, sang words his mind could not quite grasp. Low, soft, faerie, elfin... Wilec shivered at the familiar sound, at the acoustics... her voice seemed to echo off eternity itself.
“Faerie, faerie... dove, thou’rt not mortal.”
“Then we are a pair...” Tears shone in her eyes; her voice broke. “I’ve missed you so much...”
He pulled her close; it felt so good to have her in his arms again... “I’ve missed you every instant, Beeahni...” When at last he held her at arm’s length, his expression changed from joy and contentment to concern. “What’s wrong, dove? There’s no need to cry now; I’m here...” He gently rubbed away her tears; it seemed they should turn to ice or snowflakes....
“But our daughter,” she whispered, eyes overflowing with helpless pain.
Wilec’s heart, if it had still beat, would have stumbled at the reality he saw in her eyes... with a flash of terror and agony he understood. “No! Gadget!”
* * *
Trieanne snapped awake, frowning. She could’ve sworn she heard her father cry out for her... After a moment she dismissed her pounding heart as the after-effect of a nightmare. She scolded herself roundly for falling asleep at her post and glanced up guiltily to her father. Good. He’s still asleep... something halted her train of thought; the room was preternaturally still. Blind terror siezed her by the throat. “Dad?” she whispered tennatively, taking his hand. And yelped in surprise, pulling away from cold, stiff fingers.
Something clicked very quietly inside the inventor. I’m in shock, she thought, but the thought was as distant as reality, as distant as the shaking hands that looked like hers but must belong to someone else. Her mind began a hasty list of tasks to accomplish as she stumbled from the room, closed the door behind herself.
* * *
The silver paper fell away from the gift; she opened the box’s lid with the eagerness of a child on Solstice morn. The star shone merrily from the tree’s summit.
“Oh, Dad! A flight scarf just like yours! Does this mean I can be a pilot someday, too?”
He chuckled. “Of course it does! You’re a Hackwrench; we’re all of us flyers, just like your mother’s people are all actors. Maybe someday you’ll get on stage, but for now why don’t we go break in your new scarf?”
She launched a hug at him, looked up adoringly into his gentle, coal-black eyes. “I love you, Dad.” She kissed him on the nose.
“I love you too, bluebird.” He mussed her hair.
Wilec Hackwrench. Our lives will never be the same without him.
Clad in lavender pajammas, she strained to see what was on the counter; it was just at eye-level. Trieanne frowned for a moment, cast about for something to alleviate the situation. Her face lit with the sollution; she dragged a chair over and laboriously clambered up to see what Monterey Jack and her father were doing. Maps littered the table. Her teddy bear gazed as eagerly as she. “Where’re you going?”
“Zanzibar, luv,” Monty smiled.
“Can I come too?”
Wilec chuckled softly as he picked her up. “Maybe when you’re a little older, bluebird. Right now I have a special task for you.”
“What is it?” It sounded suspiciously like a bribe not to be upset.
“I’m leaving you in charge of the house while I’m gone because you’re a big girl and I know you can handle it.”
“But what about Tem? Why'd he come if I'm in charge?” she asked, clutching her bear.
“Well, luv, he’s there to reach the tall stuff ye can’t get at," Monty explained.
“Oh.” It made sense. “Okay.”
“That’s the spirit,” Monty grinned as her father gently placed her in bed and the robust Australian pulled the blankets over her.
“Dream well,” the pilot whispered, kissing her brow.
Wilec Hackwrench. Our lives will never be the same without him.
“Look what I made! Look what I made!” a young mouse-child pattered into the room waving an odd assortment of parts triumphantly.
Wilec laughed and pulled her onto his lap, turning from a discussion with Monty -- no doubt of past exploits. “Whatcha got there, bluebird?”
“I don’t know, exactly,” she admitted, “but it’s supposed to fly, just like the Screaming Eagle !"
He toussled her hair. “Ah, my little Gadget, always coming up with something clever.”
She pondered the new pet name a moment, decided she liked it, and grinned. She reached up to toussle his hair. “Thanks, Geegaw.”
Monterey laughed the great, rolling laugh that always made her smile.
Geegaw huged his Gadget close; the smell of outdoors and machine oil and leather warmly enfolding her...
She abandoned the hammer, took the chisel in her right hand and began attacking the stone thus. I’ll never be Trie again; I’ll always be his little Gadget, just like he’ll always be my -
She gasped, looked down at her left hand; the chisel had slipped and slashed a warm red line diagonally across it beginning below her first finger. She watched detachedly as the ink-red liquid seeped forth. It had been so easy, and hadn’t really hurt that much... she looked speculatively to the chisel again. A few drops landed on the freshly-disturbed earth; she watched dispassionately. It’s not like anyone would miss me, and I bet Mom and Dad would like me to visit... We could be a family again, all of us.... A slow smile spread on her face. She pressed the sharp point to her wrist, closed her eyes, braced herself...
And nearly jumped out of her clothes as a solid thump! broke her concentration. She looked down, thunderstruck; the headstone had toppled face-down to the earth. Gadget looked at the chisel, at her outstretched wrist, at the stone, and back at the chisel... clutched in a shaking hand as she realized what she had almost done. With a yell she hurled the hated thing as far as she could throw, ran blindly home clutching a hand that still bled.
Once there she was a flurry of activity... every knife, scisors, blade, and anything sharp or potentially dangerous she threw in a large iron safe and slammed the door shut. Panting, she leaned against the wall and looked around her denuded home; it was amazing how many things could be potentially life-threatening with the aid of a little imagination. Her hand stung; with a start Gadget realized she’d not yet bandaged it. She found some clean linnen strips in the medicine cabnet and wound them ‘round the injured paw.
The doorbell rang.
Gadget wandered, dazed, to the front door and opened it.
A briefcase-toting gerbil wearing a gaudy suit and an artificially wide smile tipped his hat to her. “And a good day to you, young lady. Is your mother or father at home?”
“They’re outside...” she answered distantly.
“Oh, well, then would you mind calling them in for me? I have something extra special to show them; I’m sure they’d be delighted to-”
“I don’t think they’d come.”
He gaped in disbelief. “Surely, for their daughter’s request -”
“They’re dead!” she shouted. “My mother when I was three, and my father just this morning! I just came back from burying him; you have nothing of any use to him now! Are you satisfied?!”
The girbil removed his hat with a sorrowful expression. “I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am, most sorry. They were fine people, I’m sure, and certainly will be missed...”
Gadget slumped a little at the sympathy, on the verge of tears. He couldn’t have known... “They already are.”
He patted her arm consolingly. “There there, now, Miss...”
“Gadget. Gadget Hackwrench.”
“Gadget. What a... unique... name. Hackwrench? Daughter to Wilec..?”
She nodded, brightening slightly. “You knew him?”
“Just of him. Greatest pilot in aviation history. And a brave soul, if I’ve ever heard right... he wouldn’t want his daughter crying. Why, you’re the lady of the house now! You have responsibilities!”
“I suppose,” she said woodenly.
“And what better thing to do first than try my fine knives, garanteed never to go dull no matter what you cut with them! Now, if you’ll allow me in, I’ll give you a demonstration that’ll take your breath away!”
Gadget’s head snapped up, fire blazing in her eyes. “Out! Get out! Leave me alone! Can’t you see I’ve got enough to deal with?!”
“Gadget, calm yourself...”
“No one can call me that, no one but Dad! Now leave!”
He never could explain to himself precicely why... surely a young lass couldn’t do him any harm.... but there was something in her eyes that made him run far and fast.
Gadget, meanwhile, had finally torn completely free of shock to the comfort of anger. She worked like a woman possessed. An axe, a lightbulb, a broken radio, all manner of other things scrounged from the airport’s refuse bin and carted home... these she set up in the corridor leading to the front door, all elaborately wired to trap switches in the floor and covered with a long yellow and orange carpet. Even the safe (cargo removed; she realized she’d scared herself too badly to ever actually use it) she suspended, ready to crash down.
Wiping sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, the inventor surveyed her handiwork. “Rough,” she admitted to no one in particular, “but I’ll have lots of time to perfect it later. It’ll do well enough for now to scare off any door-to-door salesmen.”
Anger and adrenaline beat through her like drums on Samhain; Gadget went to her workbench -- it had been Sarah’s, once -- and grabbed the three nearest parts and set about finding a way to combine them to do something useful. And then the next two, and the one after that, until she had something that could do... well, she wasn’t sure what, but she’d soon find out. She flipped the switch.
It fell to pieces.
She sighed. “Dumb thing,” she reprimanded soflty, flicking a couple parts on the floor. “Never would’ve broke if you’d done it, Mom.” There, that was a safe subject. She was used to not having a mother. With a sigh she wandered listlessly to the couch, picked up a book of poetry there, deftly avoiding memories from the night before.
Come to me in my dreams, and then
By day I shall be well again!
For so the night will more than pay
The hopeless longing of the day.
Come, as thou cam’st a thousand times,
A messanger from radiant climes,
And smile on thy new world, and be
As kind to others as to me!
Or, as thou never cam’st in sooth,
Come now, and let me dream it truth;
And part my hair, and kiss my brow,
And say: My love! why suffrest thou...?
“Matthew Arnold,” Gadget whispered, tears filling her eyes for the first time. Finally succumbing, she burried her face in her hands and wept. “Oh, Dad, I’m so sorry....”
* * *
Wilec paced. “She’s going to do it again. She did it when you died, Sarah, and again when Monterey and I parted ways. And now I- aaargh! You saw what she tried at the Tree!” He doffed his flight cap, cast it into a corner in frustration, and ran a hand through toussled honey-brown hair.
Sarah, sitting forlornly on a wooden sea-chest, sighed. “I know, sky. She’s young, and alone, and scared. She wasn’t thinking right. I don’t think she’ll try it again; it’s a good thing you got her attention.”
“Fat lot of good it does me. I have no idea how I managed what I did.”
“You’ll get the hang of it,” she promised. “Rules are a little different here.” As if to prove it, the flight cap floated from the corner and wandered over to Sarah. She dusted it off, then sent it on its way. It plopped tidily on the pilot’s head.
“How did you -?!”
“Practice.” She smiled ruefully. “I’ve been here almost thirteen years; I’d better have at least a few tricks to show for it.”
The look in her eyes caught his heart; he knelt at her feet, taking her hands. “Ah, dove, it’s been very hard for you, hasn’t it? I’d never thought...”
She kissed him gently, but her eyes were unnaturally bright with tears. “Shhh, love, it’s all right. The living never do. Half my sorrow was for your pain... yours and Trie’s....”
“At least we’re together now. At least we can’t lose each other again,” he smiled, kissing her hand. “And together we’ll think of something.”
Sarah Haley nodded, affecting a bravery she only half-felt. “Together. Together we’ll do something for our bluebird...”
“Bluebird...” Wilec’s eyes flooded; he pressed his face to the cool white samite of his wife’s lap.
Helplessly she removed his flight cap and stroked his unruly hair. “It lessens some, after a while, or perchance you just get used to it. I’m told it eventually... eventually leaves altogether...” A tear -- not Wilec’s -- stained the snowy purity of her gown. “At least we can see her; it’s some small consolation, and oft times more curse than anything else, but we won’t miss watching her grow up, and when she’s in trouble we can help after a fashion, and we can visit on Samhain, if she believes enough.... oh, I wish I could get her over to Aletna and that Ouiji board....”
* * *
Gadget woke, screaming, from nightmares. When she was forced to draw breath, it turned to a choked sob. She stumbled from the couch to her room, threw herself on the bed and curled wretchedly around her teddybear, and tried brokenly to recite some Tennyson in hopes of comfort: “On either side of the river lie long fields of barley and of rye, that clothe the world and met the sky; an thro’ the field the road run by to many-towered Camelot; up and down the people go, gazing where the lillies blow round an island there below, the Island of Shalott...”
Spurred by the sound of her own voice, she rose to get a broom. Cleaning wouldn’t help, but it would at least keep her busy. Dad would want me to keep going, she told herself, but his soft, firm voice in her head brought a new onslaught of tears.
She paid them no heed, gripped the broom savagely and began to ruthlessly sweep, as if in doing so she could obliterate the pain that tore her heart like a predator’s talons. “...And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue the knights come riding two and two. She hath no loyal knight and true, the Lady of Shalott....” one of the knights lifted his visor; Geegaw winked at her with a crooked smile. Gadget cried out, panicked, grabbed the next snatch that caught her mind, recited it like a mantra. “But in her web she still delights to weave the mirror’s magick sights, for often thro’ the silent nights a funeral, with plumes and lights and music, went to Camelot...” her mind’s eye focused on the ornate sarcophagus; it transformed to the simple pine box she’d constructed only the day before... she screamed and dropped the broom, covering her eyes and reciting the periodic table until the visions went away. “Half sick of shadows,” she muttered.
She proceeded through square and cubed roots as she made herself an odd sandwich and persuaded her stomach to retain it. Prime numbers got the broom put away and saw her well into her first invention. Her second was timed to three repititions of the states and their capitals. The disassembly of both in favor of a third chimed with several complicated theorems and equations. She wandered to the bookcase and chose three of the most imposing college-type texts in residence there. With the aid of a hefty pad of paper she began into the thickest: Your Friend, Logic.
* * *
“Your Friend, Logic?!”
Sarah shrugged. “She’s actually doing quite admirably, from what I can tell. Especially without a teacher... but then, she was always a quick study.”
“I liked it better when she was reciting poetry. That at least has some ring of humanity to it.” Wilec ran a hand through his hair.
The actress gently put a hand on his arm. “Sky, humanity might be the last thing she needs. She can’t handle the loss right now, so she’s hiding in something completely apart from emotion. It’s perfectly natural, when you think about it.”
He nodded.. “You’ve got a point there, dove, but... well, you know how she gets when she focuses on something. You know how many mornings I got up and she hadn’t been to bed yet; if someone’s not there to watch her, she’ll work herself right into the ground.”
“That’s one thing you learn fast on this side of the mirror... worry gets you nowhere. They can’t hear you on the other side, and it only makes you miserable. She’ll survive. You think I didn’t worry about you sometimes? But you made it through okay.”
“Yeah. Guess I’m just not used to sitting around twiddling my thumbs yet...”
“Then don’t twiddle them. Come on, Wilec, there’s more here than you realize. Sitting around watching Trie do logic isn’t your idea of a good time, I’m sure.”
“Sky!” Sarah cried in exasperation. “She’s a big girl! She can take care of herself when push comes to shove; you’ve taught her well. If she’s in trouble, you’ll know it. Now come on, she’s not going to do anything exciting for a few hours at least. You’re going to be here a long time; you may as well let me give you the tour....”
“Well, okay....” Hesitantly at first, then with mounting curiosity he followed. After all, he was an adventurer... first, last, and in between.
* * *
Gadget looked up, rubbed weary eyes. Her stomach grumbled dispondantly. She ignored it. Red-orange-gold-pink light slanted in the window; she blinked. It can’t be that early already! Well, maybe; some of these proofs are harder than I’d expected... Her handwriting scrawled across several sheets, logic trees that wouldn’t close but should. Maybe I didn’t get the original translation right...
She flipped back to the first page of that section in the book; the rustling paper echoed in her ears as she realized how absolutely, utterly, devistatingly quiet her home had become. Usually her father was up by this time, if for no other reason than to put the coffee on and stumble blearily back to bed. She flipped another page in her book. And another, just to hear the paper snap. Suddenly she was a flurry of activity, crunching paper and slamming books, anything just to make noise. Finally, everything in complete chaos, she stood still. The silence descended like a sentient force. She stiffled a sob, forced herself to take a shaking deep breath as she gethered her things.
Maybe if I used an exestential quantifier instead of a universal....
The inventor bent to her work again, oblivious to the world.
* * *
Sarah laughed, placed a coronet of violets on her husband’s head. They flopped crookedly over one eye; he quirked the other eyebrow in an expression that sent her rolloing on the springy grass.
“Glad to see I can still make you laugh.” He smiled, leaning over to kiss her nose. But he left the wildflowers in place. He sat back after a moment, gazing bemusedly about. “I never thought there’d be woods here. I don’t know what I expected, really, but- hey!”
The forest shifted, changed to a castle. Sarah giggled. “It is whatever you make it, or wish it. It’s something that took me a long time to grab control of... I kept ending up with forests with stage flooring and red curtains hanging from the trees, or canopy beds supported by giraffes... not that you really need sleep here, of course.”
Wilec gazed at his love... she’d changed some... there was something about her, haunted, that had seen deeper sorrows than life can offer... walked in darkness and battled and returned, though not unscathed. Somehow it made her more beautiful, even as it saddened him that she had tread such paths alone. He grasped threads of reality with his mind and twisted... Sarah wore a gown of deep green velvet embroidered with silver around the neck, hem, and cuffs. He wore a doublet of the same over a white poet’s shirt with a gallant earth-brown cloak and a sword belted at his right side.
She gasped softly. “You’re a quick study.”
He swooped her up into his arms. “So let’s find out if anything here is the same as it was there, shall we?”
She snuggled against him with a low chuckle. “You don’t waste any time, do you?”
“Milady! Didst not give thee a beautiful gown?”
“Only so you could take it off.”
He laughed outright. “Ah, Beeahni, you have me there.” He carried her to a canopy bed with posts carved to look like giraffes.
“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?” she asked with a fond smile as he set her gently on the feather mattress. “Even if you can’t quite get it yourself. Planning on a flight anytime soon?”
He blushed slightly, doffed his flight cap and cast it to the thrones across the room. He touched the silver dove pendant at her throat. “Fly free, dove...”
“With you? I could soar....”
* * *
Gadget stumbled to her feet; she knew if she didn’t move now she’d never manage to get up again. She made it as far as the Screaming Eagle. And stopped, mind a curious blank, and stared at it for a long while. Trance-like she went to her bedroom and fished a box from under her bed. She removed something from it, walked back to the plane, and crawled into the cockpit. She nuzzled her face into the treasure: a long-outgrown flight-scarf. Voices echoed in her mind.
“Hey, Gadget, where shall we go for your birthday this year?”
“Oh, I dunno, Dad. Where haven’t we been yet?”
A pause. “I think we’ve been nearly everywhere, when you get down to it.”
“I don’t care then, really... just as long as we’re together..... Say, Dad? Can I fly part of the way?”
His fond chuckle. “Sure, don’t see why not... you’re a big girl now, Sweet Sixteen this year. Orville and Wilbur, how the time flies! You’re almost as old as I was when I took up with Monterey Jack!”
“Does that mean I can come on your next adventure with you?”
“Wouldn't dream of asking anyone else.”
She could hear that crooked grin in his voice. The knowledge that she'd never see it again left a big hollow place where her heart should've been. She looked through the skylight; overhead, dark clouds gathered and lightning cracked between them like an electric jump-rope. It made her tremble; she had never quite outgrown her fear of thunderstorms. Tonight, though... tonight, it was different. The very air was alive; Gadget could feel it around her, waiting. There was something wild and free about the winds, wild and free and terrifyingly, excitingly fierce. They seemed to shout a challenge for the world to contain them. The clouds sang a bass rumble as the first fat raindrops landed like a beckoning on the glass far above. Splat. Splat. Splat. One by one they connected, peered at her a moment, and rolled away seeking other playgrounds.
“Once upon a midnight dreary, whilest I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint an curious volume of forgotten lore...” The world seemed to dance to some odd, unholy drum, something not of this world at all... “...While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. This it is and nothing more.” Her fingers toyed with the skylight switch on the left side of the console -- easy access for her southpaw dad. “Ah, distinctly I remember: it was in the bleak December, and each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor...” With a start she realized what she was doing, realized how much of a mess it would make, and crawled from the plane, wandered to the storage room. Poe. How apt.
She didn’t know what she was doing, really, or if she was looking for something in particular, but a sheet-shrouded box in the far corner caught her attention. With equal parts curiosity and trepadition she pulled the sheet away. It was a large, cherrywood chest with a note on top:
Happy Sweet Sixteen, Gadget. I wish I could say something beautiful and poetic and full of everything in my heart for you, but words were always your mother’s talent, not mine. You’re a young woman now, and old enough to be trusted with the care of your mother’s hopechest. I know you will treasure it and everything within. Just remember, no matter how old you are, you’ll always be my little girl. And no matter how tall you get, I’ll still lift you up to put the star on the tree. I’m so very proud of everything you are, Trieanne, my bluebird of happiness. Love always and forever, your Geegaw Dad.
Reverently she lifted the chest’s lid and gasped softly at what she found. There were a few pieces of jewelry, which delighted her though she wasn’t one much for ornamentation. A wedding dress, the marriage ribbon carefully folded on top. Some momentoes of plays long past; Gadget didn’t understand them but placed them reverentially aside anyhow, respectful of the memories they held. The greatest treasure was thick scrapbooks stacked in abundance, filled with all manner of things. Journal entries that made her weep with the pain they held, or at the joy. Specifications for several odd-looking contraptions she thought she might try to assemble one day. Wonderous poetry that crawled into her heart and lived, sketches and assorted artwork... Gadget noted distantly that Sarah hadn’t been nearly as good with pictures as she was with words. Photos and news clippings.... Mom sure was beautiful. All of it precicely arranged and neatly labeled in a tiny, elegant, precice script.... her mother’s life of infinately-dimensional memories captured and pressed between the pages like the flowers there, thin as tissue and still carrying a ghostly fragrance. An entire world of sunlight and leafshadow distilled and left behind for her to pull bits and pieces of the mother she’d never known into a shadow of comfort.
A page not far into one of the books had the outlines of three hands... two nearly the same size, the third a child’s. She placed her hand against the page... it was the same size as the one she guessed belonged to her mother. There was a half-finished poem beneath it. Huh. Odd; Mom never left poems unfinished before.... she turned the page... and another.... and another. All blank. The book’s cover banged down, released from nerveless fingers.
She ran heedlessly into the storm, the wild, fierce storm that frolicked around her, invited her to join its dance. The orphan didn’t notice it as her feet sped her to one destination, stumbling from fatigue and lack of food. She searched the grass until she found the chisel, set to work through vision blurred by tears.
* * *
“Check and mate.”
“Aw, Limburg!” He chuckled fondly. “Well, it appears that dying hasn’t improved my chess skills any.”
“Aw, that’s all right, dove. It’s nice to lose to you again.” With a simple twist the chessboard disappeared. The pilot grinned. “I suppose it works with dust, too?”
“Love, there’s no dust where we are. What point to an afterlife if you’ve got to spend it cleaning?”
He scratched his head. “Somehow, that seems a little backwards. I mean, we’ve got pleanty of time to do it here. It’s on the other side that time’s so limited that you shouldn’t have to waste it cleaning.”
Sarah shrugged. “No accounting for some things.” She kissed his nose. “Make a wish!”
Wilec blinked; a slow smile spread across his face. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed that... okay, I... Gadget! We should go check on her!”
The actress nodded, twisted to produce a small silver handmirror which she passed to him...
* * *
Gadget was soaked to the bone and completely exhausted by the time she rose to leave; the sun was well on its way to the zenith, and she’d finished her task hours ago. She just hadn’t been able to bring herself to depart. She wasn’t sure why she did now; she was beyond most rational thought. Blindly she trudged home, had to rest several times before she made it. And nearly passed out in the door.
“Must be more tired than I thought,” she muttered thickly, grabbed the Shakespeare anthology along with a pen and notebook, and slogged to bed. She opened the notebook to the first page, as blank as those last few in her mother’s scrapbook. With a deep breath she began to write.
Dear Dad, I don’t know what time it is, or even what day, so I can’t put it down like Mom always did, but... I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean it, really! I didn’t mean for you to die....
She reread the words, then hurrled the tablet across the room; the pen followed shortly. Gadget curled, shivering, around her bear without so much as taking her clothes off or pulling the covers down. But could not sleep.
* * *
Wilec nearly tore his hair in frustration. “Trieanne, how long since you ate?! Didn’t I teach you better than that, girl?”
“She’s so pale,” Sarah murmured. “Oh, bluebird, what did you manage to catch this time, sitting out all night in the cold and the wet?” She cut off; there had been a sort of tug at her being. She smiled with grim satisfaction. “Feel that, Wilec? If she doesn’t get reasonable fast, we’ll be able to go talk some sense into her after all....”
* * *
Gadget shot abrouptly from bed, wild-eyed and panting. I must be delusional from fever or something... she thought with hushed wonder, gazing at the mirror above her dresser. She had to check twice before she convinced herself it wasn’t a photo... her parents were staring at her from the other side, looking so sad....
The world blurred and shifted and erupted in corrusating blue-white light; her knees gave way and she sat down hard on the bed. When her vision cleared, she could scarcely credit her eyes. Her parents stood before her decked out in finery from the middle ages. Surely no hallucination could be this bizarre! Her father was still wearing his flight cap; her mother yet had a pencil tucked behind her ear. The orphan’s face lit.
“Have you come to take me with you?”
“Not if we have anything to say about it, young lady,” the pilot said firmly, arms crossed. “Didn’t I teach you better sense than this, that as soon as you’re on your own you go trying to get yourself killed?”
Gadget flared with what little energy she had remaining. “You left me! Both of you!” Even if it is my fault.... “Now I have no one in the world that cares if I live or die; why shouldn’t I join you? At least there I’d be happy!”
“Ah, bluebird...” Sarah knelt before her. “Honey, you have so much yet... I know it seems bad now, but things will work out!”
A book floated into the room, landed on the dresser. Wilec read softly. “‘...You must not be frightened, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall...’ Ranier Maria Rilke wrote that, bluebird. It’s part of something called ‘Letters to a Young Poet.’ She was right. I’ve walked dark places, too, but things are okay in the end, even if it’s so dark in the middle that you can’t imagine there is an end to it....”
Silent tears coursed down Gadget’s cheeks. “But it’s so lonely here, and I’m scared...”
“You’re strong, Gadg. You’ve always been strong,” her father said softly. “I’ve done the best I can by you, now you have to do the rest. You’re a strong, capable young woman, and we’re very proud of you.”
“Never ever forget how much we love you, bluebird,” Sarah whispered. “But it’s not your time to come with us yet. Go into the kitchen, get something to eat. Sleep. Care well for yourself, care well for someone we love dearly....”
“Wait! Don’t go! Don’t leave yet, please...!”
Wilec smiled softly. “No, not yet. When you return, we’ll be here.”
Gadget shambled away as fast as her depleated energy supplies would allow; she returned with a spaghetti sandwich, which made Sarah laugh.
“How many of those did I eat while I was pregnant?”
“I know.” Wilec rolled his eyes. “I always chuckled inside when bluebird got a craving for one. And wondered.”
“Do the balcony scene for me, please?” Gadget requested in a small voice as she crawled in bed with her sandwich and the plate and a napkin. “Like when I was little?”
The other blonde smiled fondly, shared a tender glance with her husband. He helped her step atop the dresser. “Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo...?”
* * *
It was Gadget’s first coherent thought in a long time. She gazed drowsily at the seven-colored lights dancing across the room. Tatters of.... dreams?.... flitted through her head, about as substantial as the lightshow on her walls. She seemed to recall her parents... it kept skipping away from her, melting through her fingers like trying to catch a reflection on a lake. Assorted bowls and plates littered her room; she’d been too ill and tired to clean up after them. She seemed to remember a spaghetti sandwich... Odd thing to remember. Must be fever-dreams and hallucinations, all of it. It made her a little wistful... it would’ve been nice to think her parents had come to visit, but reality was fact and fact was existance. I’ll just keep on as if he was still here. It’s what he’d want, I think.
A bit unsteadily she swung herself out of bed and trundled to her father’s room, peeked in hesitantly. A book was on the bed; she frowned slightly. I don’t remember putting that there. She ghosted in for a closer look. Ranier Maria Rilke. “Letters to a Young Poet.” Huh.
...You must not be frightened, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall...
She pondered a moment... it seemed somehow significant but she just couldn’t bring it into focus. Another dream, probably. Oh, well, back on the shelf you go.
And back it went... though at night sometimes, in abundant moonlight, and when it thought it wasn’t watched, the silver lettering on the spine seemed to glint and glow a bit more than the others, as if it contained more than words -- perhaps even shadows -- between its pages.