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Kate finished writing the letter, sealed it in an envelope, then walked over and dropped it into the hollow of an old tree.
He’ll come, she told herself.
She’d written to him about her dream, the one that had yanked her out of sleep every night that week. Again and again, she’d lain there in the dark, covered in cold sweat and waiting for her heart to slow, relieved that Emma, lying beside her, hadn’t woken, relieved that it had only been a dream.
Except it wasn’t a dream; she knew that.
He’ll come, Kate repeated. When he reads it, he’ll come.
The day was hot and humid, and Kate wore a lightweight summer dress and a pair of patched leather sandals. Her hair was pulled back and cinched with a rubber band, though a few loose strands stuck to her face and neck. She was fifteen and taller than she’d been a year ago. In other respects, her appearance hadn’t changed. With her dark blond hair and hazel eyes, she still struck all who saw her as a remarkably pretty girl. But a person did not have to look closely to see the furrow of worry that was etched into her brow, or the tension that lived in her arms and shoulders, or the way her fingernails were bitten to the quick.
In that respect, truly, nothing had changed.
Kate had not moved from beside the tree, but stood there, absently fingering the gold locket that hung from her neck.
More than ten years earlier, Kate and her younger brother and sister had been sent away from their parents. They had grown up in a series of orphanages, a few that were nice and clean, run by kind men and women, but most of them not so nice, and the adults who ran them not so kind. The children had not been told why their parents had sent them away, or when they were coming back. But that their parents would eventually return, that they would all once more be a family, the children had never doubted.
It had been Kate’s duty to look after her brother and sister. She had made that promise the night her mother had come into her room that Christmas Eve so long ago. She could picture it still: her mother leaning over her, fastening the golden locket around her small neck, as Kate promised that she would protect Michael and Emma and keep them safe.
And year after year, in orphanage after orphanage, even when they had faced dangers and enemies they could never have imagined, Kate had been true to her word.
But if Dr. Pym didn’t come, how would she protect them now?
But he will come, she told herself. He hasn’t abandoned us.
If that’s so, said a voice in her head, why did he send you here?
And, unable to help herself, Kate turned and looked down the hill. There, visible through the trees, were the crumbling brick walls and turrets of the Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans.
In her defense, it was only when Kate was frustrated or tired that she questioned Dr. Pym’s decision to send her and Michael and Emma back to Baltimore. She knew he hadn’t really abandoned them. But the fact remained: of all the orphanages the children had lived in over the yearsone of which had been next to a sewage treatment plant; another had made groaning noises and seemed to be always catching on firethe Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans was the worst. The rooms were freezing in the winter, boiling in the summer; the water was brown and chunky; the floors squished and oozed; the ceilings leaked; it was home to warring gangs of feral cats. . . .
And as if that weren’t enough, there was Miss Crumley, the lumpy-bodied, Kate-and-her-brother-and-sister-hating orphanage director. Miss Crumley had thought she’d gotten rid of the children for good last Christmas, and she had been less than pleased to have them turn up on her doorstep a week later, bearing a note from Dr. Pym saying that the orphanage at Cambridge Falls had been closed due to “an infestation of turtles,” and would Miss Crumley mind watching the children till the problem was resolved.
Of course Miss Crumley had minded. But when she’d attempted to call Dr. Pym to inform him that under no circumstances could she accept the children and that she was returning them on the next train, she’d found that all the information Dr. Pym had previously given her (phone number for the orphanage, address and directions, testimonials from happy, well-fed children) had disappeared from her files. Nor did the phone company have any record of a number. In fact, no matter how much she dug, Miss Crumley was unable to find any evidence that the town of Cambridge Falls actually existed. In the end, she’d been forced to give in. But she let the children know that they were unwelcome, and she took every opportunity to corner them in the hallways or the cafeteria, firing questions while poking them with her pudgy finger.
“Where exactly is this Cambridge Falls?”poke“Why can’t I find it on any maps?”poke“Who is this Dr. Pym fellow?”poke, poke“Is he even a real doctor?”poke, poke, poke“What happened up there? I know something fishy’s going on! Answer me!”poke, poke, poke, pinch, twist.
Frustrated at having had her hair pulled for the third time in one week, Emma had suggested that they tell Miss Crumley the truth: that Dr. Stanislaus Pym was a wizard, that the reason Miss Crumley couldn’t find Cambridge Falls on a map was that it was part of the magical world and therefore hidden from normal (or in her case, subnormal) humans, that as far as what had happened there, the three of them had discovered an old book bound in green leather that had carried them back through time, that they’d met dwarves and monsters, fought an evil witch, saved an entire town, and that pretty much any way you looked at it, they were heroes. Even Michael.
“Thanks,” Michael had said sarcastically.
“Anyway, we can’t say that. She’ll think we’re crazy.”
“So what?” Emma had replied. “I’d rather be in a loony bin than this place.”
But in the end, Kate had made them stick to their story. Cambridge Falls was an ordinary sort of place, Dr. Pym was an ordinary sort of man, and nothing the least bit out of the ordinary had happened. “We have to trust Dr. Pym.”
After all, Kate thought, what other choice did they have?