Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1)(11)


by Seanan McGuire

“Because ‘boys will be boys’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Lundy. “They’re too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It’s not innate. It’s learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”

“Oh,” said Nancy. It made sense, in its terrible way. Most of the boys she’d known were noisy creatures, encouraged to be so by their parents and friends. Even when they were naturally quiet, they forced themselves to be loud, to avoid censure and mockery. How many of them could have slipped through an old wardrobe or into a rabbit’s den and simply disappeared without sending up a thousand alarms? They would have been found and dragged back home before they reached the first enchanted mirror or climbed the first forbidden tower.

“We’ve always been open to male students; we just don’t get many.”

“Everyone here … everyone seems to want to go back.” Nancy paused, struggling with the question that was trying to form. Finally, she asked, “How is it that everyone wants to go back? I thought people who went through this sort of thing mostly just wanted to go back to their old lives and forget that they’d ever known anything else.”

“This isn’t the only school, of course,” said Lundy. She smiled at Nancy’s surprise. “What, you thought Miss West could sweep up every child who’d ever stumbled into a painting and discovered a magical world on the other side? It happens all over the world, you know. The language barriers alone would make it impossible, as would the expense. There are two schools in North America, this campus and our sister school in Maine. That’s where the students who hated their travels go, to learn how to move on. How to forget.”

“So we’re here to do … what?” asked Nancy. “Learn how to dwell? Eleanor dresses like she’s still living on the other side of the mirror. Sumi is…” She didn’t have the words for what Sumi was. She stopped speaking.

“Sumi is a classic example of someone who embraced life in a high Nonsense world,” said Lundy. “She can’t be blamed for what it made of her, any more than you can be blamed for the way you seem to stop breathing when no one’s looking at you. She’s going to need a lot of work before she’s ready to face the world outside again, and she has to want to do it. That’s what determines which school is better for you: the wanting. You want to go back, and so you hold on to the habits you learned while you were traveling, because it’s better than admitting the journey’s over. We don’t teach you how to dwell. We also don’t teach you how to forget. We teach you how to move on.”

There was one more question that needed to be asked, a question bigger and more painful than all the questions before it. Nancy closed her eyes for a moment, allowing herself to sink into stillness. Then she opened them and asked, “How many of us have gone back?”

Lundy sighed. “Every student I’ve given this orientation to has asked that question. The answer is, we don’t know. Some people, like Eleanor—like me—go back over and over again before we wind up staying in one world or the other for good. Others only take one trip in their lives. If your parents choose to withdraw you, or if you choose to withdraw yourself, we’ll have no way of knowing what becomes of you. I know of three students who have returned to the worlds they left behind. Two were high Logic, both Fairylands. The third was high Nonsense. An Underworld, like the one you visited—although not the same, I’m afraid. That one was accessed by walking through a special mirror, under the full moon. The girl we lost to that world was home for the holidays when the door opened for her a second time. Her mother broke the glass after she went through. We learned later that the mother had also been there—it was a generational portal—and had wanted to spare her daughter the pain of returning.”

“Oh,” said Nancy, in a very small voice.

“The chances are, Miss Whitman, that you’ll live out your days in this world. You may tell people of your adventures, when they’re more distant, and when speaking of them hurts somewhat less. Many of our graduates have found that sort of sharing to be both cathartic and lucrative. People do so love a good fantasy.” Lundy’s expression was sorrowful but kind, like that of a doctor delivering a terminal diagnosis. “I won’t stand here and say the door is closed forever, because there’s no way of being sure. But I will tell you the odds were against you going in the first place, and that those same odds are against you now. They say lightning never strikes twice. Well, you’re far more likely to be struck repeatedly by lightning than you are to find a second door.”

“Oh,” said Nancy again.

“I’m sorry.” Then Lundy smiled, ridiculously bright. “Welcome to school, Miss Whitman. We hope that we can make you better.”

PART II

WITH YOUR LOOKING-GLASS EYES

4

LIGHTNING TO KISS THE SKY

THE BUILDING WAS BIGGER than its population, filled with empty rooms and silent spaces. But all of them felt like they harbored the ghosts of the students who had tried—and failed—to find their way back to the worlds that had rejected them, and so Nancy fled to the outside. She hated to rush, but the sun burnt so badly that she actually ran for the deepest copse of trees she could find, shielding her eyes with her arm. She flung herself into the welcome shade of the grove, blinking back tears brought on as much by the light as by her dismay. Setting her back to an ancient oak, she sank to the ground, buried her face against her knees, and settled into perfect stillness as she wept.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” The voice belonged to Jill, soft and wistful and filled with painful understanding. Nancy raised her head. The gossamer blonde was perched on a tree root, her pale lavender gown arranged to drape just so around her slender frame, a parasol resting against her left shoulder and blocking the sun that filtered down through the branches. Her choker today was deep purple, the color of elderberry wine.

“I’m sorry,” said Nancy, wiping away her tears with slow swipes of her hand. “I didn’t know there was anyone here.”