While asleep in a warm soft bed in the palace, Jeanette had a dream:

She was back in one of the identical offices in Hell, looking at a thin, haggard man writing at the desk. He seemed to be Asian, but his face was somehow hard to see. He wasn’t using a pen or pencil, but a long ink-brush. There was an ink-stone by his hand.

“What is this? This is my life. I’m writing down every bad judgment, every tiny cruelty, every time I ignored my wife and my child, or lied to make my life easier. I like this office because it presents few distractions. There are so many, so many, and I must not omit the slightest detail. From the tantrums of my childhood, through the slights I made to homely girls because I wanted to be thought well of, to the falsities I committed at work, all must be written down.”
“Why? Because I know that, once this record is written down in its entirety, when there is nothing omitted, I will finally cease to be.”
“And now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

She sat bolt upright in the bed, breathing as if she had run a long distance. She knew she had cried out, but maybe that was just in the dream.
Could that be it? Could that be the answer to all those empty offices locked from the inside? It seemed to awful for her to make up--too awful and complete, even though she had been turning the mystery of that horrible place over in her mind. What did that say about her, that she could make something like that up?

She got out of bed: it was very dark for a girl who was used to sodium streetlights. But she moved through the cool night to the door and then to the open porch. She wanted to see the lake at night and the stars (if any) and not the man crouched at his desk.
The moon was a thin crescent, and it made a rippling thread on the lake. She still couldn’t stop pacing. If she told her father, he’d worry about her worse than she worried about her self. Given the magic she had seen, the idea that this was a transmission somehow from someone who no longer existed wasn’t ridiculous--but was that better or worse? But being alone with this was worst of all.

Of course she ended up at the graves. Maybe the remnant of the being who didn’t burn the pictures of his (or her--worse again) family completely was known to the princess who also no longer existed. Or something. Did he or she come here? Was that the dream?

She reached for the opera gloves on the rose grave. Lightning leaped between them and her gloves, but she pushed forward and grabbed them, held on.

She was thrown it must have been ten feet. She skidded on the dewy grass.

She had seen something--but that something had given her something worse to think about.

She had reached out to a princess--and found a cartoon. A bad cartoon. Just a split second of it, but she recognized it.

It was just like those pink birthday cake fluffy gown girly cartoons she had watched incessantly when she was very very little and then stopped cold. Everything was cute, everything was perfect and frilly, and there were happy bunnies and birds and there were no shadows anywhere. At first--yes, it was just after she had realized the Mama wasn’t coming back--she held it all to her face, but it soon felt like eating frosting out of the can. Sticky and bloaty.

But that was what had been running around her brain since the capybara had made his assertion: was that what they were, really? Did all this beauty and sadness and nobility she felt was here--did it come from a tacky world like that?

And did she?

Maybe if Ken had died for Barbie’s love, and she drank poison to be with him, she would feel better--but compared to this, an ordinary ghost writing himself into nothing was pretty simple stuff.

And maybe she was scared to wish for home because home might be a flat chirpy world with no shadows. A cartoon.

Was that worse than dying?

She was really scared to fall asleep, but she finally did, at the foot of the princess’s grave.

She awoke to her dad lifting her up off the grass. “Now what’s the matter, Jeanette? Bed too soft?”

“I had a dream,” she half-lied. “It was about Hell.”

“Understandable,” Terence said. “But unless you dragged them out with you, it looks like the Prince and Princess covered you up.”

“I guess they must have,” Jeanette said, looking at the gleaming coverlets on the grass.
She made a point of folding up the covers properly and carrying them with her to the terrace.

The carousel table went a long way to lifting her spirits. Although name-brand cereals were not to be hoped for, there was perfect scrambled eggs and bacon, and thin filled pastries that made Pop-Tarts seem like flooring tiles. Senhor Capoeira, knowing how it worked, dumped the entire bowl of hash browns on his plate, but when the bowl came around to her, it was full again.

At the table, it was the capybara who spoke. “Beautiful though this place is--and I think we all agree that we could spend a very long time here--It seems clear to me what happened. Two very powerful toons landed here after the exile, and were wounded fatally--or close to it. The power of their love is what makes this world what it is. But that very generosity makes it all the more important that we find out what did this to them. In short, we should go.”

Both the capybara and her father were evidently waiting for her to object, and were surprised when she nodded, her face a mask. Maybe as a test, Terence said, “I agree. And I think it should be soon, before we get too seduced by all this beauty.”  Jeanette said nothing.

So they bundled up to go. Dada had come with only his clothes, but he found a pack at the foot of his bed packed with blankets, which he hoisted with a thank you. They took the path to the graves, and Jeanette moved just a bit faster to get there ahead of the other two. She stood there, hands in front in best school-assembly fashion, and thought please be wise, and powerful, and dark and magnificent. Please wrap yourself in shadow and be scary in your beauty. And please let the world be like that, too.

They saw a side-path that probably hadn’t been there before, and followed it down to a gingerbread-y little building right at the edge of the water. Jeanette had never been to a train station of any sort, and had not watched Thomas the Tank Engine for a very long time, so she went in not knowing what to expect. There was a high desk, and beautiful designy posters, and polished wood was everywhere. (Was BAMFF an actual word?)

There was also a wire spinner rack with postcards, She pulled one out, and there was a beautiful landscape photograph, with text in flowing script that said




She put that one back.
She pulled a thicker one that turned out to be a long accordion-fold set of pictures, that folded up to say A SOUVENIR OF YOUR VISIT--to where, it didn’t say, and she would have liked to have a name. She did notice that one of the pictures was that of a hydroelectric dam.

She opened her backpack and stuffed the booklet in.

Then the three of them turned to a pair of elegant doors with frosted glass panes and clearer filigrees. Over it was a sign in a curved frame of dark wood, which said in thin gold letters, TO TRAINS.

They opened the doors to steep dark stairs. Sounds echoed from above.
They began to climb.


next chapter