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Authors: Roderick Townley

A Bitter Magic (19 page)

BOOK: A Bitter Magic
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Chapter Forty-Two

Two weeks make such a difference. Getting to sleep is still not easy, and when I do drift off, I lurch awake with the echo of Mother's scream in my ears. I shudder at the bitterness in that cry as she's sucked into the astral world. After that, sleep isn't likely, and I end up under the stars, listening to the sea.

But Father is a great encourager. Work helps, too. We're building a new wing on his cottage. A room of my own!

“What do you think?” he says, looking down from his perch on the ladder. “Is it beginning to look like something?”

It's beginning to look like a child's playhouse—built by a child—but I don't say that. I hand up the bucket of nails, and Father takes two, holding one between his
teeth, pounding the other into the ledger board. Neither of us knows much about carpentry, but with Cole's help, we've made a start.

“Why don't you have some more tea?” Father says.

I make a face.

“It'll build up your strength.”

It's true; whatever Anna's mother put in it, the
has helped. I'm pretty much recovered from the poisonous rose. Not at all recovered from what happened.

Father catches my expression. “What's wrong?”

“I'm fine!” My voice is a little too bright. He climbs down.

I glance aside a moment before meeting his eyes. “Couldn't I have saved more of them?”

I can see he's looking for something positive to say. “You saved that Gypsy boy. And Strunk.”

“That's true.”

“And now Strunk wants to help.”

I nod. “I need someone like him. What do I know about—anything?”

“You'll learn. You're the heir to the Thummel fortune now.”

“What's left of it.”

“Well, there's the glass factory.”

“About which I know nothing.”

“Strunk's good at details. He's working on hiring back the Gypsies your uncle fired. I think he'd do anything you ask.”

We lapse into silence, the silence of those who have
lost everything. There's been no sign of Mother since that day, no way for her to come back after the rose was destroyed and the book of instructions lost.

I examine the lines in Father's face. They're deeper than they were a few weeks ago. “This has been hard on you,” I say.

He gives my shoulder a squeeze. “I've learned something, being around you. Don't look at me that way. I have.”

I have to smile. “What have you learned?”

“That some people are givers and some people are takers.”

“I'm nothing.”

He shakes his head. “You can't believe that.” He glances out at the firth. “Marina? She could do wonderful things, dazzling things. But I wonder…”

I look at him.

“I wonder if she could have done what you did.”

I want to say yes, of course. The truth is, I've never seen her do anything but magic tricks and practical jokes. At a party once, she proposed a toast, and then raised her glass without actually touching it. Another time, her brother was reading a book and she made the pages go blank. Did she ever use her power to help anyone?

“I guess I don't know,” I say finally.

Father watches me closely. “Looking at you,” he says, “I don't see her kind of ability. I don't think you do magic, Cisley.”

“You don't?”

“No.” He pauses. “You do miracles.”

The breath catches in my chest. No one has ever said such a thing or thought such a thing.

“You don't have to believe it,” he says, “but I see it.”

I turn away. I can't look at Father right now. He's wrong, of course. I lift the mug and take a swallow of the terrible tea.

“I think I'll take a little walk,” I say, “if you don't need me.”

I clamber down the bluff to the beach, then continue on, grateful for the wind ruffling my hair, and the slap and suck of the tide. Without thinking, I head toward the castle. Or where it was. I haven't been there since the disaster, but I need to go back. I pass the docks and follow the shore till the cliff rises before me. So strange to look up and see nothing! Like running your tongue over the place where a tooth used to be.

Miss Porlock turned the Crystal Castle into a sand castle. Did she intend to? She must have had more magic than anyone thought, and she wasn't good at controlling it. I remember that afternoon at the tea shop when her cup broke and hot tea spilled over her dress. Now that I think of it, she kept no mirrors, no glass of any kind—only wood—in her rooms. I guess she didn't trust herself.

I always thought there was something false about the castle, with all those trick mirrors, but I'll miss walking along the seawall, looking out at the town and shore.
There's the boulder Cole hid behind when I first met him. It's buried in sand now. And there's where I used to sit with Elwyn.

Listlessly, I wade in the shallows, letting wavelets sweep around my ankles. Cold water, hot summer sun, endless blue sky. Reaching a rocky jag in the shoreline, I peer into the tidal pools, with their waving anemones and seaweed.

In one of them, just now, a stray sunbeam picks out a glint of gold.


I look closer. My heart jumps. There's a lobster down there. A lobster with a golden collar!

“Elwyn!” I plunge my hand in the water to grab the creature and pull him out dripping, his many legs flailing. “You're back!”

I place him on a large rock and gaze at him lovingly. I don't notice any particular love in his tiny eyes, but then, I startled him.

“What have you been doing? You must have had great adventures!”

He starts crawling down the side of the rock, heading for the water. I pick him up and set him back on the stone.

“Elwyn! It's me, Cisley. Remember me?”

He starts off down the side of the rock. I set him back on top.

“No, you don't! Not till you talk to me!” I hold him there. I remember now what Mother told me. She said
she'd been speaking to me through Elwyn. Some of the time anyway.

My voice falters. “Mother?”

No response.

“Mother, are you there?”

The lobster struggles to get free.

“Say something!”

No spark of recognition. The Elwyn I knew is not there.

Mother is not there.

Lobsters can't talk.

That fact has been obvious to everyone but me. Elwyn is a lobster. Lobsters can't talk.

This is too hard.

“All right,” I say, taking my hand away, “go if you want to.”

The lobster stays where he is for some seconds, then slowly moves down the side of the rock.

I don't believe you came back and then won't speak to me!

The creature steps into the water. His golden collar glimmers dimly in the shadows.

As I watch, it grows brighter. He climbs onto a submerged rock, and his head pokes through the surface. For several seconds, we stare at each other. Slowly, he waves a feeler. He looks at me some more. The feeler waves again. Then he backs down off his rock and disappears.

“Wait! Were you waving at
? Or were you just doing some lobster thing?”

I watch the water for minutes. No sign.

Sighing, I splash through the foamy wavelets. I don't know if I'm glad I've seen him or not. If Elwyn can't talk, is Mother dead?

Dead or alive, she's gone. More absent than ever. I feel like an orphan.

Then I remember I'm not.

In the distance, a seagull is soaring. But there's something odd; it's not flying the way a bird flies, but—yes!—the way a kite flies. I can just make out, far up the beach, a small figure running. Gwennie!

And now I hear a faint tapping sound. Up ahead on the bluff stands the little cabin, with two tiny figures climbing about on the roof. One is Father, hammering. The other, just starting down the ladder, Cole.

Father takes off his hat and wiggles it at me. Then Cole turns and sees me.

I wave. Something's different inside me. Something that makes me walk a little faster.

I follow the curve of the shore into my new life.


A special thanks to my Braintrust, an elite group of readers I turn to for advice; and to the Heartland Writers, who tunneled through each chapter as it was written.

I'm grateful to Grace Townley and Spencer Lott for being a sounding board; to composer Bruce Wolosoff for turning an early story into brilliant music; to my agent, Jodi Reamer, for excellent representation; to Nancy Siscoe for wise and sharp-eyed editing; and, finally, to Wyatt Townley for invaluable brainstorming and constant encouragement. I am the lobster on her golden leash.

About the Author

Roderick Townley taught in Chile on a Fulbright Fellowship, worked in New York as an editor, and now spins fantasies from his home in Kansas. Critics have called his work “beloved from the first page” (
Kirkus Reviews
, Starred), “sure to become a classic” (
), and “brilliantly conceived, superbly written” (
). His novels include
The Door in the Forest, The Blue Shoe, The Red Thread, Sky
, and the trilogy of the Sylvie Cycle:
The Great Good Thing, Into the Labyrinth
, and
The Constellation of Sylvie

He lives at the edge of the woods with his wife, the poet laureate of Kansas, Wyatt Townley. You can read more about Roderick Townley and his magical books at

BOOK: A Bitter Magic
4.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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