Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Estella Saves the Village

I have lived in the village all my life.

Miss Havisham has told me the story over and over again: how, as an infant, I was found in a basket on the front steps of the church, and how Reverend Rivers asked the villagers gathered for service on Sunday morning which of them would be willing to raise a foundling. And how Miss Havisham immediately said, “I will.”

So I’ve grown up in her small house on the high street, close enough to the baker’s that in the mornings I can smell the bread in his oven, and every morning before school Miss Havisham gives me a penny for a bun with raisins in it. I always share it with Pip while he walks beside me, carrying my school bag. I tell him I can carry it perfectly well myself, but he insists, so I let him. It’s useful, but sometimes tedious, that he’s been in love with me since we were both children.

If we stop for a moment and look back as Pip and I walk to school, you can see Miss Havisham’s house, with its green shutters and window-boxes filled with geraniums. Above it, you can see the downs among which our village is nestled, with sheep grazing on them. Sometimes you can see the herds moving like clouds, driven by a black and white streak of sheep dog. Over them runs the high road, to places I’ve never been—through fields and forests, joining with other roads. Eventually it reaches London, with its grand houses and shops and Buckingham Palace itself. Sometimes I think about taking that road, traveling to the greatest city in the world. But then the school bell rings, and I turn and run after Pip.

I have started my story this way—by telling you about Miss Havisham and Pip and the bakery and the geraniums in the window-boxes, so you will understand what our village was like before the specks appeared.

• • • •

I first noticed them on a Sunday morning. All the respectable inhabitants of the village were in church. The less respectable were in the tavern, already worshiping John Barleycorn, as Mr. Henchard calls it. Miss Havisham and I were seated in our pew. In the box at the front, I could see mad Lady D’Urberville, who lives in the Hall. She always arrives in a brougham with her estate agent, Mr. Clare. He was sitting beside her, leaning toward her as though whispering a secret. I envied her red brocade and the red hat with egret feathers, however inappropriate it might be for Sunday service. She is the only woman in the village whose dresses do not come from Miss Tulliver’s shop, but from a modiste in London. Miss Tulliver was there too, with her brother the miller and his large family. The Ushers slid into the pew in front of us, and Mr. Usher turned around to bow stiffly to Miss Havisham. I believe he eats only vegetables and wears some sort of patent undergarment. He always looks ghastly, as though he were recovering from an illness. Dr. Lydgate paused for a moment on the way to his own pew to take Miss Usher’s hand. He put the fingers of his other hand on her wrist, above the edge of her glove—measuring her pulse, I suppose. She is said to be consumptive, although she looks healthier than her brother. Pip waved to me as though frantic for my attention, until Joe Gargery cuffed him on the head and he had to stop.

Then the organ started, and I had to stop looking around, which I have to admit is always the most interesting part of the service. What was the relationship between Lady D’Urberville and Mr. Clare? Would Miss Tulliver ever find herself a husband? Was Dr. Lydgate secretly in love with Miss Usher? These were the sorts of pious thoughts that kept me occupied, although Miss Havisham gave me a reproachful glance over her prayer book. I tried to pay attention, but Reverend Rivers was talking about our dark-skinned brothers in darkest Africa, who sounded as though they were doing quite well for themselves, with plenty of missionaries to eat. To keep myself from looking around, I studied the back of Miss Usher’s thin, pale neck, where it showed beneath her bonnet and a few wisps of straggling hair. It was covered with black specks.

What could they be? They did not look like dirt, and anyway I could not imagine Madeline Usher having a dirty neck. Yet there they were. A symptom of consumption, perhaps?

Absorbed in this mystery, I said the Lord’s Prayer, sang the same hymns I’d been singing since I was a child, and walked to the communion rail, all without thinking a single religious thought. As I held out my hands for the Host, I noticed a pair of hands beside mine—large, masculine, with black specks on the palms. I glanced up surreptitiously to see who it was, and saw Dr. Lydgate.

After that, Reverend Rivers could have announced the arrival of Armageddon and I would not have noticed. Once we had all filed out of the church, I looked around and saw Dr. Lydgate walking among the gravestones.

“Estella! Do you want to go fishing today?” said Pip.

“No,” I said rudely. “I’m detecting.” I have always fancied myself a detective, like the most famous inhabitant of our village, Mr. Holmes.

“What are you detecting?”

“Never mind right now. Just come with me and stay quiet.”

I walked to the graveyard and stood beside a marble angel on a pedestal. “What are you thinking about so intently, Dr. Lydgate?” I asked. His hands were bare—he never wears gloves unless the weather demands it. I could not see the palms, but there were specks on the backs of his hands as well.

He smiled. “Nothing that would interest a young lady, I’m afraid, Miss Havisham. I was thinking about a new vaccine that would save lives like the one buried here. It was the measles that took him, and only six years old. Such a pity. And what are you doing in the graveyard on a fine morning?”

“Meditating on mortality,” I said.

“A commendable, although unusual, activity for a healthy young lady like yourself.”

“It’s an assignment for school. Dr. Lydgate, you seem to have gotten some dirt on your hands.”

He held up his hands and looked at them. “Have I? I confess, they seem clean to me, but young ladies have a higher standard of cleanliness than old bachelors like myself. I’ll wash them as soon as I get home.” He smiled again, indulgently. I could tell he hadn’t seen them.

“What was all that about dirt on his hands?” asked Pip while he was walking me home from church.

“You didn’t see it either?”

“See what?”

I sighed. “Did you see Mr. Holmes during the service? I tried to find him afterward, but he wasn’t there.”

“He was sitting behind Joe and left right after the processional. He said something about his bees needing him more than the Lord this morning.”

It was a mystery, my very own mystery. I had half a mind to keep it to myself. But I was also worried—Pip had seen nothing. What if I was simply imagining the specks? It made sense to consult a real detective and make sure.

But first, I would go around the village and see if I could find any more of the black specks. After dinner, of course—my stomach was starting to grumble.

“See you tomorrow,” I said to Pip when we had reached the front door. He opened his mouth, and I knew he wanted to ask if he could come detecting with me. But this was my adventure, and I wanted to go on it alone. When I closed the door, he was still standing on the step with his mouth open. I almost felt guilty—but after all, it was only Pip.

• • • •

Sunday dinner consisted of an Irish stew and soda bread that Fanny had prepared. Miss Havisham always allows her to serve a stew so she can cook it beforehand and go to the service. Then she can just heat it up on the stove. I don’t think anyone is as generous to their servants as Miss Havisham. Who else would allow Fanny to keep her child in the house? But Miss Havisham says that every child is a gift, whatever its origin.

“Estella,” said Miss Havisham after we had finished, “you’ve been happy here, haven’t you?”

“Of course I’ve been happy. You’ve been like a mother to me, and I’ve had everything I could have wanted—except the red brocade dress Lady D’Urberville was wearing today, and can you imagine the scandal I’d cause, wearing that?”

Miss Havisham laughed. “I’m glad. I’ve always hoped that with a proper home, and the right sorts of things—books, and friends like Pip—you would grow up to be . . .”

“What?”

“The sort of young woman you’re turning out to be. Intelligent and compassionate.”

I went over to her side of the table, gave her a hug from behind, and kissed her on the cheek. She always smelled nice, like lavender water. It’s a comforting smell that reminds me of hurt feelings soothed, scraped knees bandaged, tears wiped away. I don’t think my mother, whoever she was, could have taken better care of me than Miss Havisham.

“Thank you, my dear. Now, I’m going to do some knitting. Tell me what sort of adventure you and Pip have planned for this afternoon.”

As she stood up from the table, I noticed that she moved more slowly than she used to, and she put a hand on the back of the chair to brace herself. Was Miss Havisham getting old? As long as I remembered, she’d looked the same: white hair under her lace cap and blue eyes that seemed to pierce right through you (she always knew when I had stolen from the jam jar), surrounded by lines that laughter had formed over the years. I have never known anyone kinder or more forgiving.

“Would you give me your arm into the parlor? I seem to be feeling my age today.”

At the thought of Miss Havisham growing older, a chill settled about my heart. Somehow, I have never imagined such a thing could happen.

“Pip and I aren’t doing anything this afternoon,” I said. “Do you want me to read while you knit?” I could put off detecting for one day. Anyway, maybe I had just imagined the specks.

She looked startled, but said, “That would be lovely.” So for several hours, I read from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which I found tedious but Miss Havisham found fascinating. “Thank you, my dear,” she said afterward. “That was the loveliest afternoon I’ve had in a long time.”

That night, as I lay in bed under a quilt she had sewn for me and that had kept me warm since I was a child, I realized that the world I’d lived in all my life might change. I stared into the darkness, not knowing how to react to that thought.

• • • •

The next morning, there was a scattering of black specks over Pip’s cheek and down his collar. I didn’t mention it to him, although he probably wondered why I kept looking at him so intently.

When we reached the schoolhouse, I went over to the girl’s side and sat next to Flora. There were spots on her pinafore, and her notebook looked as though she had spattered ink over it. I took out my school books. There was a black hole in my School History of England. It went through every page, as though a large worm had chewed right through it. The date of the Norman Conquest was missing, as were parts of the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo and an engraving of Queen Victoria’s coronation.

“Estella,” said Miss Murray, “is everything all right?”

No, I wanted to tell her. There are splotches of nothing on the map of the world hanging by the chalkboard. But I just nodded.

“All right, students,” she said. “I want the older girls to help the younger ones with their spelling. Estella, Pearl, Flora, and Nell, can you form them into a line and take them into the school yard? The weather is fine, and I want you to do your lessons out there while I test the boys on yesterday’s Latin.” There was a general groan from the boys’ side of the room.

The rest of the school day was as busy as usual. But everywhere I looked, I noticed black specks, spots, holes. They seemed to be spreading.

After the bell rang to signal the end of the school day, I started detecting. Pip wanted to come, of course, but he had to work in the blacksmith’s shop, which was for the best. I wasn’t ready to explain what I was doing, or why.

I started at the far end of the village, at the cottage of the foreign ladies, Mrs. Rochester and her companion Miss Rappaccini. They had come to the village several years before. Mrs. Rochester is from the colonies and speaks English, but Miss Rappaccini is Italian. She answered the door, and I had to explain myself twice before she could understand what I wanted.

At every house, I would knock, and when the door was opened I would say, “I’m doing an assignment for school on ‘How We Live in the Nineteenth Century.’ Can I come in and look around?”

It’s astonishing what people will believe when you look at them steadily and speak with conviction.

“Come right in, Estella,” they would usually say, although Mr. Henchard grumbled about public education, which was nothing like in his time (thank goodness, or we might all end up as ignorant as he is), and Mr. Fawley apologized for the state of his parlor, which had piles of books covering the floor and on every armchair.

Our village isn’t large, but I was offered tea several times and felt as though I had to accept. Being polite is a nuisance. By the time I was done, it was too late to visit Mr. Holmes, as I had intended. I would have to see him the next day.

I admit, it was beginning to scare me: All around the village, there were splotches of nothing, and they seemed to be growing. As I walked home, I could see them on the trees, like black lichen. On the flanks of horses in the pastures. I almost stumbled into one on the road.

How would you feel if your world were disappearing? Well, that’s how I felt.

When I got home, it was a relief to notice no spots at all, not a single speck. There, at least, the nothingness had not yet invaded.

• • • •

The next morning, I did not go to school. Instead, I asked Pip to tell Miss Murray that I was sick. He looked at me quizzically. The spots on his cheek were now larger, the size of pencil-ends. “I promise I’ll tell you soon, all right?” I said.

“All right, Estella. But I wish you would trust me.” He turned reluctantly and headed toward the school.

I headed toward Mr. Holmes’ house. The garden was a riot of flowers. Mrs. Holmes was cutting roses and putting them into a basket on the ground. “Hello, Estella,” she said. “Are you here to see me or Sherlock?” She did not ask me why I wasn’t in school.

“I’m here to see Mr. Holmes.”

“You’ll find him in the study. Can you tell him that I’ve left plenty for the bees? He always objects to my cutting flowers. But you can’t have a dining-room table without fresh flowers on it, can you?”

“I suppose not.” No one else in the village would have put cut flowers on a table, although Miss Havisham has wax flowers under a glass dome. But before her marriage, Mrs. Holmes was an actress in London. She wears her hair down, dresses in what Miss Tulliver calls the aesthetic style, and rides a bicycle through the village. Miss Havisham says she’s unconventional. I think I’d like to be unconventional when I grow up.

I had been in the study once before, several years ago, when Mr. Holmes had been sick and Miss Havisham had brought over some beef tea. He’d been lying on the sofa under a blanket. She had talked to him, and I’d been able to wander around, looking at all the books, the scientific instruments on the tables, the weapons on the walls.

“Hello, Estella,” he said as I entered. “Come look at this.” He indicated the microscope he’d been looking through.

I went and looked. “What is it?” I asked.

“The hind leg of a bee. You can see the three segments. Can you see that the third segment is shaped like a basket? That’s called the corbicula, where the bee carries pollen. I’m writing a monograph on the Apidae, on their anatomy and habits. Perhaps later I can show you my bees. They are fascinating creatures. If only men could work together as harmoniously! But I’m sure you haven’t come here to talk about bees. Has Miss Havisham sent you?”

“No. I need to consult you myself. I’ve been seeing specks, black specks. Only some of them are spots, or holes. Some of them are quite large. On Sunday, I saw them on Miss Usher in church. Since then, I’ve been seeing them everywhere. You can actually put your finger, or even your hand, into them. They feel cold, like nothingness. Yesterday, I went around the village and wrote down where they were, and their sizes and depths. It’s all in this notebook.”

I handed him my school notebook. I had written all my findings down and then recopied them the night before. “But only I can see them,” I added. “So you see, I may be going mad.” I tried to sound logical, like a detective, but my voice trembled.

He gave me a sharp glance, then leafed through the notebook, methodically.

“Let’s sit down, shall we?” I sat beside him on the sofa. “It seems to me that there are two possibilities. Either you are having hallucinations, in which case you need to see Dr. Lydgate. Or you actually are seeing black holes that no one else is seeing. Do you see any in this room?”

“Yes. There’s one on the sofa, right beside your shoulder.” It was the size of my finger. I put my finger right into it, up to the knuckle. I didn’t want to tell him that there were specks on his chin, like the stubble of a beard, and down the front of his Norfolk jacket as though he had spilled ink on it.

“Fascinating,” said Mr. Holmes. “I don’t think you’ll need to consult Dr. Lydgate.”

“Why?”

“Because although I can’t see a hole in the sofa, I just saw your finger disappear into the upholstery. I’m going to ask Irene for a glass of sherry. I think you need it.”

He went to the door and called Mrs. Holmes. In a few minutes, he brought me a glass of liquor the color of garnets. It burned going down, and I coughed.

He sat back down on the sofa, putting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his clasped hands. “Have you noticed any patterns? Are there places where the spots are larger or smaller? I’m interested in whether they’re spreading from a particular location.”

I leafed through my notes. I should have thought of arranging the sightings by size. “They seem larger on the other side of the village. The largest one I saw was on the wall around Mrs. Rochester’s garden. It was the size of a cabbage. And she told me that her terrier has disappeared. She asked me if I had seen him, and I didn’t know what to say. Mr. Holmes, I’m afraid the world’s disappearing. I only started to noticed the specks on Sunday, but those larger spots—they’ve probably been growing for some time.”

He thought for a moment, then asked, “Is there any place the spots don’t appear?”

“Only at home. I haven’t seen any there.”

Why? Why hadn’t I seen any spots at home, when I had seen them everywhere else? I’d been so relieved by their absence that I hadn’t even bothered to ask. And there had been enough to worry about, with the revelation of Miss Havisham’s frailty.

“Mr. Homes, I have to go. I have to talk to Miss Havisham.”

He nodded, looking concerned. “Yes, that seems indicated.” Then he smiled, as though he could not help it. “So the game is afoot, Estella.”

“Something like that,” I said, handing him the glass of sherry.

Halfway home, I started to run.

• • • •

“Miss Havisham,” I said. “Can I talk to you?”

She was sitting on the parlor sofa, knitting what I suddenly realized would eventually be a sweater for me. Her fingers were as nimble as they had always been. The parlor looked just as it always had, with light filtering through the lace curtains, falling on the gleaming wood of the furniture and the rich colors of the Persian carpet. Not a single speck.

“Of course,” she said. “Is it the dinner break already? I must have lost track of time. I seem to be doing that more and more, these days.”

“No. I didn’t go to school today.”

She stopped knitting and looked up at me. She must have seen something in my face or heard something in the tone of my voice, because instead of scolding me, she sat perfectly still. As though waiting.

I sat in one of the armchairs and put the notebook on my knees. “Yesterday, I went around the village and—here. Look at this.” I held out the notebook.

She put the knitting needles down on the sofa beside her, took the notebook, and leafed through the pages. Then, she turned back to the beginning and read each page again. Finally, she said, “I see. When did you first notice this?”

“On Sunday. But it must have been spreading for some time.”

“Yes, I’m sure it has. Although I didn’t think anyone here would notice.”

Now it was my turn to sit, waiting. I was afraid of what she was going to say. I had no idea what it was, but she knew about the spots—that itself frightened me.

“Estella. I’m going to tell you a story.” She leaned against the back of the sofa and looked down at her hands, as though suddenly not sure what to do with them. “I’m not used to telling stories, so I may ramble a bit. You’ll be patient with me, won’t you?”

“Of course. Just tell me.” I sounded impatient, almost angry—but it was from fear. She didn’t seem to notice.

“Once, there was a girl about your age who wanted to be a writer. Her parents didn’t want her to be a writer—they wanted her to be a doctor or lawyer, something practical.”

“Girls can’t become doctors or lawyers.”

“They can in this story,” said Miss Havisham. She sounded different, somehow. Not like the Miss Havisham I knew, but like Miss Murray when she gives us a lecture on the suffrage movement. Was this the kindly old woman who had brought me up, taught me how to make jam and mend stockings? Who had brushed my hair at night?

“So instead of becoming a writer, she decided to become a college professor—and yes,” she said, looking at me, “in this story girls can do that as well. She studied what other people had written—literature, that is, from medieval poems to modern critical theory. What she particularly loved was Victorian literature—Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, even American writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne. Anything written during that era.”

What in the world was Miss Havisham talking about? I worried that she was going mad. She was making no sense, but I didn’t dare interrupt.

“Their novels sometimes made her sad, because so many of them ended badly. She started imagining alternative endings, just before she fell asleep at night. She would imagine her favorite characters living together in a village, happily ever after—or as happily as possible. She would imagine all the details of that village—the church where St. John Rivers could preach on Sundays, the main street with a blacksmith’s shop for Joe Gargery and Pip, a shop where Maggie Tulliver could set up as a seamstress. And she imagined herself living in one of the houses—with a daughter.” I was startled to see a tear run down her cheek. She wiped it away with her hand. “In her own life, she never married, never had any children of her own. Except the hundreds of students who took her classes, because eventually she became a professor of literature at a college in Vermont. Every night she would imagine the village—it became an important part of her life. It seemed so real to her.”

“And then what happened?” I was beginning to understand. It was impossible—and frightening. But my book of aphorisms says you should believe six impossible things before breakfast.

“She began forgetting things. The date of the Indian Mutiny, her students’ names. She had to go into a hospital, where the doctors looked inside her head. They can do that, in this story.” She gave me a small, wry smile. How strange it was, listening to this new Miss Havisham. So direct, so unlike the Miss Havisham I knew.

“What did they see?” I asked.

“Black specks,” she answered. “There’s a medical term for it, of course. But that’s essentially what they saw—black spaces where there was nothing, where the brain had died.”

I sat staring at her, not sure what to say. Both believing and incredulous. “So what’s going to happen to the village? And why am I the only one who can see what’s happening?”

She looked down again, as though defeated, and that frightened me more than anything else. “I don’t know. I’m sorry, Estella. I’ve tried every medication the doctors prescribed, and nothing has helped. The specks—the black spaces are growing. I don’t know why you’re the only one who can see them—perhaps it’s because you’ve grown up with me. You’re closer to me than anyone in the village. But there’s no way to stop the memory loss.”

“Then that’s it?” I was almost shouting at her, but I couldn’t help it. “So what’s going to happen to all of us? And me—am I just someone in a book?”

She leaned forward and took my hands. “Oh, my dear. You’re my Estella. The girl who grew up in the village, playing with Pip and Flora and Pearl, learning history and arithmetics from Miss Murray. You’re smart and sometimes selfish and obstinate, but a good friend. And you’re my daughter. That’s who you are, Estella. Hold on to that.”

“How can I hold on to that?” Now I really was shouting. I’d never shouted at Miss Havisham in my life. “I don’t even know who you are!”

I pulled my hands away, jumped up, and ran out of the room, then out the front door and down the high street, past the blacksmith’s shop, running and running until I had left the village behind. I looked around—fields. I set out across one of the fields, toward the downs.

I walked and walked, grasses tickling me through my stockings, above my boots. I didn’t stop until I was so tired that I could barely continue. Where was I?

By a copse of trees and a small stream. In the distance was the Hall. Had I really come that far? And then I saw something I had never expected, although I suppose I should have. Just above the chimneys of the Hall, on the blue of the sky, there was a scattering of black spots, like small moons.

“Hello, Estella.”

I turned around, startled. There was mad Lady D’Urburville, in her red brocade gown. Had she been here all along? I had been so preoccupied, so frightened by what I had seen in the sky, that I hadn’t noticed.

“Have you come here to dance? I often dance here myself. It’s the fairies’ dancing ground.”

She picked up her skirts, curtsied gracefully, then started dancing to some music only she could hear. When she turned, her skirts spread around her, revealing black gaps around the hems that made them look ragged.

“Aren’t you going to dance too, Estella?” she asked, holding out her hand.

“I don’t feel like dancing,” I said. For a moment I watched her as she turned and spun, then asked, “What would you do if you found out that the world you lived in was—some sort of dream?”

She stopped and stood, considering.

Suddenly I heard a shout: “Tess, where are you?” I looked around. Her foreman, Mr. Clare, was walking toward us from the direction of the Hall.

“I’m coming, my angel!” she called back. Then, leaning toward me as though she did not want anyone else to hear, although no one was close enough, she said, “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. Remember that, Estella.” She blew me a kiss and danced away over the field to where Mr. Clare was waiting.

I looked around me, at the fields and the downs beyond them, at the Hall in the distance. At the damaged sky. I looked back toward the village. I could just see the church spire. Miss Havisham had dreamed the village. All that we see and seem. Was that other life of hers a dream as well? Was someone dreaming her—the professor in that world where girls could go to college and study literature? If so, who was the dreamer?

I imagined an infinite number of dreamers, all dreaming each other. It made my head hurt.

“Estella, are you all right?” It was Pip. Black spots were now scattered down the front of his smock.

“Where did you come from?”

“I saw you run by the blacksmith’s shop. I had to run in and tell Biddy where I was going, but since then I’ve been trying to find you. Don’t get mad at me—I know you don’t like me following you around like a sick dog, as you once said. But I was worried about you. You’ve been acting so strange for the last couple of days, barely talking to me. And why weren’t you in school?”

Poor Pip. Miss Havisham was wrong—I hadn’t been a very good friend.

“I want to try something. Will you stay quiet while I lie down on the ground? You can lie next to me if you want.” I tried to sound calm, although I was scared. Would I have to watch the world disappear around me? For a moment I wished I were anyone else, so I wouldn’t know what was happening.

He looked puzzled, but nodded.

I sat down on the ground and then lay back. Stalks of grass tickled my neck.

Pip sat beside me. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to dream.”

“Don’t you need to fall asleep first?”

“It’s not that kind of dreaming. Now hush.”

I closed my eyes and imagined Mrs. Rochester’s terrier, with its sandy hair and sharp, loud bark. I tried to remember everything about him. Then I imagined Mr. Holmes’ sofa, and my school book with the engraving of Queen Victorian’s coronation, and the back of Miss Usher’s neck—all the places where I’d seen the nothingness spreading. I imagined every part of the village where I’d seen specks, spots, holes, or gaps. In my mind, I repaired them all. I repaired the sky itself. Finally, I imagined Pip’s face, which I’d seen every day of my life, with no spots on it. I imagined as hard as I could. All that we see or seem, I said to myself, repeatedly until it became an incantation. Until I saw the village, every detail of it, as though it existed in my mind. I was its mender, its preserver, its creator.

I opened my eyes.

Pip was leaning on his elbow, looking down at me. He cheek was smooth and brown and unspotted. Behind him, the sky was blue—completely blue, except where white clouds floated across it like sheep.

I shouted with pleasure and pulled him toward me. I had meant to hug him, but instead he put his lips on mine and kissed me. It was awkward and wet, but satisfying. My first kiss. Although I had never imagined that Pip would be the first to kiss me, I was glad.

“Estella, I love you. Will you marry me?”

“Don’t be silly. I’m only fifteen, and anyway when I finish school, I’m going to London to be a writer.”

If I could dream the village, then perhaps I could dream London? Or even the world? And perhaps I could dream it differently—perhaps it could be a world in which girls could go to college, as Miss Havisham had described. I would have to dream every day, I would have to repeat my incantation, my spell. Tomorrow I would go around the village and make certain all of the gaps were indeed gone. But I felt confident that if there were any left, I could fill them. I could save the village I loved. Could I save Miss Havisham? Perhaps the one who lived in the village, the one who had raised me. That other woman she had described—another dreamer would have to take care of her.

The thought of it made me sad. But the only world I could save was my own, the one I lived in, the one that was waiting. Maybe someday I would marry Pip—but certainly not yet. I had all sorts of adventures ahead of me.

“Come on,” I said. “You look like a dog that’s lost its bone. You’ve had one kiss, and if you can catch me, I’ll give you another!”

Then I jumped up, laughing, and ran back toward the village, across the fields, under a blue sky with flying clouds.

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Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss’s publications include the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; and the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014).  Her work has been translated into ten languages, including French, Japanese, and Turkish. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Locus, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, and on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her short story “Singing of Mount Abora” (2007) won the World Fantasy Award. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program.