Dead Gulch lived up to its name. A two-bit hick town that was little more than a dirt track flanked by a couple dozen wood shacks. My beast growled low and mean as I started through and then reared up in yet another fool attempt to unseat me. I had to dig those rusty spurs in long and hard, twisting the boot heel like I was squishing a scorpion. My Halfie let out that familiar nerve-gnashing howl and settled down real quick.
It’s my habit, of an evening, to walk along the canal, a grey and sleepy little waterway that runs through our village in the low-lying Eastmarch. I follow the canal into the countryside for two miles, to the door of the Fighting Temeraire. This old stone inn by the water is a place where one can drink an excellent rum punch, and share the evening with country people.
“You must wait here,” the Highest of the High Priests told her. “We will return and bring you back to the Land of Nibiru once we have found the circlet to place upon your head.” The very mention of the circlet made the High Priest tremble with joy. Though the journey through the portal had been brief, the Land of Nibiru was many universes away from where Corrina now stood—in her own small kitchen, in her own small house.
Tanner named the motel Star Motel because calling the place North Star Motel would’ve been asking for it. Colored folks recognized that “star” and the little lights Jessie insisted they burn in the windows. Most of their customers were hungry, travel-weary young men who did not believe the VACANCY sign as they approached the motel and did not believe that Tanner, round as a dishpan, wide as the door, was its owner.
As much as the other kids in my neighborhood like to tell me I’m a know-it-all, I realize just how short the list of things I actually know is one cold winter morning in 1987. I know my vocabulary words, everything that can be known about the Bermuda Triangle, and how well-liked a kid is by who they walk to school with.
It was said that when he was a small child, asleep in his bed one end-of-summer night, a spider crawled into his ear, traversed a maze of canals, eating slowly through membrane and organ, to discover the cavern of the skull. Then that spider burrowed in a spiral pattern through the electric gray cake of the brain to the very center of it all, where it hollowed out a large nest for itself.
When I was a child, my mother would tell me stories of the sea. When I couldn’t sleep, when I was restless, when I burned with some childhood fever, she would sit by my side, and conjure something wonderful and strange, something half-magic, from the ocean for me. “Mara,” she would say, smoothing the hair from my forehead as she tucked the covers around me, “did you know that to summon a selkie, you must shed seven tears into the ocean?”
Paul Bunyan has died. Paul Bunyan has died and Johnny Appleseed is heading north. Not for vengeance, like Paul would have wanted. Not to beat the hills red or divert a river over those responsible for killing the legend, but because it finally seems time to revisit old scars, old pains. “We were the fire in the night,” Johnny remembers Paul saying one night, so long ago.
Daya opens her eyes to the colors of dusk, though she smells and hears midday. Soft light picks out yellow and turquoise stones and the bright fire of Gul-Mohar flowers; but the heat is Surya at his fiercest, making all else pale before his glory. She turns over, dazed and sluggish, listening to the distant clash of copper pots, breathing in spices cooked in coconut oil.
There are things you know and things you don’t know. You find it helpful to make lists. For example: THINGS YOU KNOW: — A Wrinkle in Time is bullshit. You don’t care if it’s Riley Chu’s favorite childhood book, because she also identifies with Holden Caulfield, and thinks spiders are adorable. Riley’s opinions are not to be trusted.