They crossed the placid water of the bay between Castle PAC and Cape Lynette in a metal boat powered by what appeared to be a repurposed motor from one of the single-seater planes they’d seen buzzing around the castle. Cookie sat at the back of the boat, controlling the motor with a lever and rudder. When they got to the other side, the girls helped Cookie unload a bunch of empty sacks and crates onto a waiting cart. Cookie handed the boy waiting with the cart something. The boy saluted and scurried off.
“Thank you for your help today, ladies,” Cookie said. “I don’t mind doing it by myself, but it can be a bit lonesome.”
They followed Cookie up from the docks into the city of Cape Lynette proper. It was early still and the streets were fairly empty. Anna noted a siamese cat-headed woman in a conservative beige dress making her way down a cross-street.
“I suppose not all animal-folk are pirates,” Anna said.
“Of course not,” said Cookie. “And not all pirates are animal-folk. That curse the Witch of Money has put on folks is…” He shook his head darkly.
The streets were spacious, well paved with smooth flat stones, even this close to the docks. The buildings were constructed of the same sturdy stone and covered in murals and mosaics, roofed in shiny, colorful tile. They made their way past warehouses and fish markets. Cookie pointed to one in particular, a short old man with wrinkled skin, a bald pate, and thick black eyebrows. The old man gave Cookie a nod.
“Master Tua is the greatest fisherman alive. He’ll be our last stop out. He always saves me something good.”
They climbed a set of stairs to the next terrace, a largely residential district, and then into the next, amongst quiet shops, some of which made ready to open for the day.
“The trick, you see, is to buy direct from the producers if you can: orchardists, farmers, millers, fishermen and the like. You get the best food for the best prices and you cultivate relationships, which is always better in the long run.”
Cookie pulled a packet from his breast pocket including a dainty set of reading glasses. He perched the glasses upon his nose, unfolded the packet, and read what was scrawled there.
“This way, ladies.” Cookie pulled the cart on two long poles behind him as the girls walked alongside.
Anna had her shoulderbag with her, as always, and she frequently touched it, noting the bulge of the Truename Spyglass next to which was the envelope containing their train tickets. They’d decided before setting out that morning not to discuss their escape anywhere near where Cookie could hear. Michaela was convinced Cookie wouldn’t stop them, that he was probably in on their escape, but Anna wanted to be cautious. Besides if Captain Tahoe simultaneously discouraged escape while giving them train tickets, Cookie would likely want the deniability.
The city of Cape Lynette was bustling once things got started. It was a decent place, the streets were clean, the people were polite if brusque, and cobalt-uniformed policemen patrolled regularly.
“Don’t worry about them,” Cookie said. “We’ve a truce with the King of the City.”
They spent the next few hours watching Cookie haggle in a firm if friendly way with merchants, all of whom he knew by name, then helping him load whatever he’d bought into the cart. There were sacks of turnips and potatoes, beats and carrots, several cartons of eggs packed in straw, oranges and bananas, bacon packed in salt and jerked beef.
“All right, ladies, this next merchant can be a bit of a stickler. Not terribly friendly. She doesn’t like new people. It will…” He cleared his throat. “It’ll take a bit and I’ll need you to wait here. With the cart. Do you mind?”
“Not at all,” said Anna.
“It’s been nice,” said Michaela. “You know, to get out of the castle.”
Cookie grinned at them. “All right. Shouldn’t take more than an hour.” He went into the small spice shop. A bell rang above his head. He closed the door firmly behind him and Anna heard a lock click closed. Through the windows the girls looked into the shop to see a tall, older woman emerge from the back and grin broadly at Cookie. She extended her hand and Cookie took it and they walked into the back together.
Michaela looked at Anna. “Unfriendly, huh?”
Anna grinned. “None of our business to go assuming anything.”
Michaela grinned back.
“Besides, if you’re right, and he’s in on it, he’s giving us the perfect opportunity.”
Michaela nodded. “So, we find the train station. You’ve noticed the signs I take it?”
The streets of Cape Lynette were meticulously marked in well-stenciled green and white signs. Occasionally those street signs were accompanied by another sign directing the way to points of interest: Public Library, Sherwood Park, and in bright red and gold: Lynette Train Station.
Anna nodded. “There was one a few blocks back.”
Both girls looked through the window again. There was no sign of Cookie or the woman.
“You’re sure you’ve got the tickets?”
Anna put her hand in her bag and withdrew the envelope. She opened it to reveal two red and gold tickets.
It didn’t take long. Between the clear street signs and the simple layout of the city, ten minutes later, the girls found themselves a block away from a long, low building with gold trim and red-tiled roof. The front door was flanked by a pair of stone lions. Anna smiled. She found she was eager to return to her side of the fog, to sleep in her bed, to see Kenny and Sarah again.
“Wait,” Michaela grabbed her arm.
Anna faced the other girl. “It’s okay, we’ll find each other,” she said, feeling more certain than she thought she would.
“Not that,” said Michaela. “Don’t look, but I just saw Max.”
Anna bit her tongue on a curse and forced herself to keep her eyes on Michaela’s, deep brown and shining. “What do we do?” Anna asked.
“Walk away. We know where the station is, the lettering on the door said the train arrives at eleven, so we’ve got an hour or so anyway.” She took Anna’s arm firmly and they turned their backs on the train station. They walked down the block and turned the corner uphill, moving further from the bay. “Here,” said Michaela, nodding at a bench outside a haberdashery not yet open for the day.
They sat together on the narrow bench, shoulders touching. Denizens of Cape Lynette moved along on their own business, none taking note of a pair of girls sitting on a bench. For several minutes, they watched, still arm in arm, silent. A pale-skinned woman with long dark hair, a fancy hat, and two small children hurried through the crowd ahead of a porter in a humble uniform carrying a long thin box under one arm and a canvas bag on the other hand. A tall, rat-headed man in an ornate purple robe strode purposefully through the crowd, afforded a wide-berth. A man in a drab coat and a floppy hat set up an easel and canvas on the other side of the street, fiddling with tubes of paint and worn brushes.
Nearby, the clock struck ten.
Michaela started and held Anna close.
“Are you still mad at me?” Anna asked hopefully.
“You mean for interfering after I asked you not to?”
Michaela rested her head on Anna’s shoulder. “I still would have preferred you listened to me. But, I can see where you were trying to help. And, I must admit, it felt good to see you standing up for me.”
Anna sighed, relieved. “But… it wasn’t just… I didn’t just do it for you. I… I was sent to stay with my aunt and uncle this summer because… not just because of my asthma. My… Violet doesn’t know, but I’m bullied at school. It triggers my asthma, sometimes.”
Michaela didn’t say anything, only held Anna closer.
“I hate them,” Anna said, blinking away tears. Her jaw clenched and her throat closed and she didn’t think she’d be able to continue. She closed her eyes, letting a few tears slide down her cheeks and took a slow, unsteady breath, letting her jaw relax. “I never stand up to them, Michaela. I’m afraid, and it hurts. And then I lay awake at night, blaming myself, and it’s like…”
“The hole in your chest,” Michaela said.
Anna nodded. “I’m sorry…”
They sat in silence for a time, the babble of the crowd, the movement of the folk, the smell of brunch baking, all faded to the background, like distant wind high in the mountains. Somewhere in town, the clock struck the half-hour. Anna blinked as though waking up. Had they been sitting together on that bench for half an hour? As she prepared to rouse herself from the bench, she noticed the man across the street, the one in the drab coat, kept looking over his canvas at them. And when he noticed her noticing, he stood up straight. It was Ivan Agayabab, and he winked at her.
“What’s wrong?” said Michaela.
Michaela straightened and looked around. When she spotted him, she laughed. “He looks silly in those drab clothes.”
Ivan gave an exaggeratedly pained expression. He tapped the top of the easel and it promptly collapsed, bounced off the cobbled street, and Ivan snagged it out of the air like a juggler. No one passing by seemed to notice. Anna wondered if it was Ivan’s magic or the citizens’ disinterest.
He threaded through the cross traffic of the crowd to them.
“Congratulations, ladies. I’m here to rescue you.”
Anna raised an eyebrow at him.
“That’s kind,” said Michaela. “But…”
“Oy! Anna! Michaela!”
Max’s shout was easily heard over the hubbub of the crowd. Some turned to look, but most paid as much mind to the shouting dog-headed pirate as they had the magical artist’s easel.
“Oh dear, a pirate.” Ivan held out is hand. “Come along, girls. I was here to pay your ransom, but it looks like now we’ve got a prison break with a thrilling chase.”
“It’s all right,” Anna said. “We know him…”
Ivan shook his head and the rude, floppy hat he wore warped and shifted and sprouted a mop of blond hair. A shiver shook his coat and it fluttered into the multi-colored jacket he usually wore. People nearby took note at that, and Ivan smiled around at them.
“Nothing to see here folks, just the rescue of a pair of beautiful, innocent damsels by the Witch of Many Colors himself, Ivan Agayabab!”
There was a smattering of applause, like at a stage show.
“You leave them alone!” Max shouted over the heads of the gathered. “They’re my hostages and my responsibility. They’re under my protection and no witch or magician or whatever you are is going to lay a hand on them.”
Anna looked at Michaela. “Is this how it felt when I stood up to that pig-headed man?”
Michaela nodded. “But this is worse. There was no theatre to what you did.”
A gap opened in the crowd as Ivan and Max approached each other; Ivan all smiles and bright, fluttering coat, Max fierce and growling, hand on the butt of his blunderbuss.
“You hear that folks? This pirate has taken these damsels hostage. If only there were a handsome, dashing hero to come to their rescue.”
“You’re no hero!” Max shouted, punctuating his shout with a bark that had the gathering crowd take a step back, some gasping. “We all know you’re in league with the Witch of Puppets! You’ll turn them into dolls!”
“What the hell?” Anna said.
“That’s new,” Michaela murmured.
“Maybe we should just go to the train station while they’re distracted,” Anna said.
Michaela nodded slowly, but she said, “Or we could tell them what idiots they’re being.”
Anna hunched uncomfortably but had to laugh. “So now you want to confront the situation and I’d rather not.”
Michaela smiled. “If you don’t want to, that’s fine. With all the attention on the boys, I’m sure we could just edge around.”
While the witch and the pirate shouted at each other about who was rescuing who from whom, Anna and Michaela threaded through the crowd. Anna chanced a glance, but she was shorter than the average person in the crowd and only caught a glimpse of the two, now less than a foot apart. Max’s hackles were raised, Ivan’s grin was impudent.
“Stand down, puppy dog,” they heard Ivan say over the murmur of the crowd, and he tapped the end of Max’s nose with one slim finger. Max’s eyes went wide and watery, then he sneezed several times in a row. The crowd laughed while Max growled and backed several steps. Then they gasped as one and both girls turned to see Max draw his blunderbuss and point it at Ivan’s chest. The girls stopped, stunned. Ivan put both hands up slowly.
“Easy,” Ivan said.
“No. They’re under my protection. Everyone here knows the PAC-Men take good care of their hostages.”
Ivan grinned. “Is that so? I’ve heard you eat hostages who can’t pay the ransom.”
Dark murmurs rippled through the crowd.
“What?” Max looked around at the crowd. “No. That’s not true.”
Ivan took advantage of the dog-headed boy’s distraction to tap his gun and in a whompf and a puff it became a bouquet of flowers. The crowd broke into applause. Ivan took a step back from Max and bowed dramatically.
Max dashed the flowers to the street and looked about to grapple with Ivan when Ivan held up a hand. “Perhaps we should ask the damsels themselves?” Without having to look, Ivan gestured at Anna and Michaela where they stood in the crowd. Immediately, the people parted, putting the girls at the center of attention.
Anna winced and looked at Michaela. “I guess we’re doing it your way.”
Michaela nodded. “I’ll handle this.” She took a step forward, standing up straight, her stride confident. “First, stop calling us damsels. Second, do not presume to speak or act on our behalf.”
“You see?” Max demanded. Then he sneezed and shook his head
Michaela sighed. “That was for both of you, Max. We did not ask for your help. We’re fine.”
Ivan’s smile faded. “But you’re prisoners.”
Michaela spread her arms and took another step forward. Her voice deepened, resonated, carried. It was like she was back on stage, guitar in hand, playing for her dinner. “Do I look like a prisoner to you?” She looked around at the crowd and got a few calls of encouragement. “You two were so set on your certainty, so certain two helpless little girls needed rescue, that you didn’t take a moment to understand, to ask, or at the very least talk to us.”
Michaela’s voice carried easily over an audience enthralled. Her auburn curls shone in the sun, framing her stern expression, skin like deep bronze.
“Gentleman, the thought is appreciated, but I assure you if we need help, we’ll ask. Until then, back off.”
Someone in the gathered gave whoop and clapped. The sentiment caught on and blossomed through the audience. But dissent was a thorn.
“I thought we were gonna see a fight!” Someone shouted from the far side of the crowd. Several others shouted their agreement and a chant began to build, drowning out the applause.
Max looked, abashed. Ivan chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck.
“No,” said Michaela, her voice carrying. The chant died down. “No fight today, folks.”
A rumble tickled the soles of Anna’s borrowed shoes. She looked around for something heavy enough to cause it. Her eye was caught by the glint of the train station roof. The faint call of a distant train whistle confirmed her assumption.
“We want a fight! We want a fight!” The chant resumed.
Michaela threw her hands in the air. She walked back to Anna.
“The train’s here,” said Anna.
“Looks like the police are here too,” Michaela said, nodding at a pair in dark blue uniforms coming around the corner: a tall woman with dark skin, broad shoulders and tightly curled hair, and a short, slight man with a blond goatee and ponytail. “Let’s go,” said Michaela. She hooked her arm through Anna’s and steered them toward the train station.
Anna looked over her shoulder at Max and Ivan who seemed to be working together now to assure the crowd there would be no confrontation. “What about them?”
“They’re big boys,” Michaela said. “Besides, they started this mess. They can explain it to the authorities.”
“Fair enough,” said Anna.
A bell above the door rang as they entered the train station. The interior was polished hardwood floors, brass rails, and immaculate windows. A man behind the ticket counter gave them a friendly nod.
“Will you be purchasing a ticket today?”
“No thank you,” said Anna. “We’ve already got tickets.”
He nodded again. “Be sure to present them to the conductor. And don’t exit to the platform until you hear the train whistle give three short calls.”
The rumble of the train increased steadily until it was a continuous drone rattling the building. Soon the great steam engine rumbled past, brakes squealing, billows of steam obscuring the platform. There was much hustle and bustle as folk entered and exited the station. When the three short whistles sounded, Anna and Michaela made their way to the platform amongst the sudden crowd. They walked down the length of the train until they found a short woman in a red uniform with a red-billed hat who looked important.
The woman smiled when she saw them and waved them forward. “Tickets?” Michaela fished the envelope from her shoulderbag and handed the tickets over. The woman gave a quick look of surprise then smoothed it over with a smile. “Where are you headed today?”
“Glenwood,” said Michaela.
“Very good.” The woman withdrew a small, red and gold lacquered punch and marked the tickets with a star-shaped hole. She swapped the punch for a black marker and wrote on the tickets. “You’re in the car behind me, seats 7A and 7B. Have a nice trip.”
The passenger car was tall with space on the bottom half for luggage and a tight staircase leading to the top. The seats were wide and well-cushioned, two on either side of a red-carpeted aisle. They found 7A and 7B. Michaela offered Anna the window seat, for which she was grateful. Anna put her shoulderbag in the space under the seat and they settled in.
Michaela sighed. “These seats are more comfortable than the bed back at the castle. I could fall asleep right here.”
A few minutes later, when the car had half-filled with passengers, the train gave another short three whistles. All the hubbub of the train felt far away to Anna. She looked out the window at the folk hurrying about. Her head buzzed with the thought of going home. They’d spent nearly a week at Castle PAC, a week on this side of the fog. And who knew if they’d be able to get back once they were in Glenwood.
What if they were trapped?
Would that be a bad thing?
A faint snore told her Michaela had, indeed, fallen asleep.
The train shook and lurched and they were on their way. Anna kept her gaze out the window, but her thoughts shifted and slid, a chaotic tumble. She let them. She didn’t try to reign them in, she didn’t try to focus, she let them come and go as they willed, paying them little mind. The countryside passed in a blur and as the train made its way into the mountains, Anna noticed whisps of cloud clinging to their peaks. The clouds became clumps, the clumps became a haze, and in less time than Anna would have expected the haze became overcast. They wound through valleys and canyons, alongside streams and rivers, past ponds and groves.
Michaela leaned her head on Anna’s shoulder. “I’m not sure I want to go back. We’ve been gone for days. What if… what if this time… I’ve been gone? And Baba didn’t know where I was and I just show up. She’ll be…” Anna didn’t know what to say. Michaela took a deep breath “But we couldn’t stay. We have no resources and Captain Tahoe wanted us to leave.” She gave a shaky little sigh and a few tears soaked into the shoulder of Anna’s tshirt. “Besides, it’s like you said,” Michaela continued. “Assuming I’m not a seventy year old ghost and you’re not a dream from the future or a parallel dimension or whatever, we should be able to find each other. After all, how many Michaela Madigans live in a suburb called Glenwood. How many Viviannas… Um. What’s your last name?”
“Lawrence. It’s Violet’s last name. When I went to live with them… She asked… I didn’t want to keep the name of the person who abandoned me, so I took theirs.”
“That’s sweet. You’re lucky. Whatever happens on this side of the fog, look for me on the other.”
Anna put her arm around Michaela’s shoulder and Michaela snuggled in close. She took a deep breath to forestall whatever tears might threaten to show themselves, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes.
“I wish we’d been more useful to the lost prince,” Anna said. “Getting captured by pirates was interesting and all, but I feel like I’m not holding up my end of the bargain.”
The light grew dim as the train slid into a patch of fog.
“Look,” said Michaela. “Spirit lights.”
Anna looked through the window. The landscape beyond was barely discernable through the thick fog, but spirit lights zipped by, making brief streaks of soft yellow light.
“It’s too cold in the mountains for fireflies,” Anna said.
“Uh huh, but not where I live.”
Their conversation lulled. Anna thought Michaela had fallen asleep again when the other girl said “The captain thought we were lovers.”
Anna stiffened and blushed and Michaela giggled.
“I don’t know about you, Vivianna Lawrence, but I think I’d like that. I think I’d like for you to kiss me. Maybe not right now, not if you’re not ready. But, if you feel the way I do… some time soon? I know you’re shy. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’ve begun to think… I think we fill the holes in each other’s chest. And I’d like to keep you if I can.”
Anna bit her tongue, cheeks so hot her throat closed. She tried to nod even though she knew Michaela wasn’t looking at her. Maybe she could feel it.
The train slipped from the fog and into a bright sunny mountain valley of Glenwood. Anna blinked against the sunlight and looked out the window. There were no spirit lights, no trace of fog, and the brakes of the train squealed as they pulled into the station at Glenwood.