Emily Feather and the Enchanted Door

 

 

 

 

Emily leaned over her mum's shoulder, hugging her carefully so as not to dribble the open tin of golden syrup that Emily was about to put in her flapjack mixture. “I like that one,” she said thoughtfully, pointing at the fabric sample her mum was holding out, a soft strip of blue scattered with flowers and tiny birds.

“Not the red?” Her mum wafted it at her enticingly, so that the fierce bright-orange butterflies fluttered over the fabric. The red silk glittered, only a shade brighter than her mum's hair.

Emily blinked. For a second it had looked like one of the butterflies had lifted out of the fabric and floated idly across the kitchen to the window. She wrinkled her nose and squeezed her eyelids shut for a second. It was the bright sunshine getting in her eyes. “No, I really like the blue one. It's prettier. Is it for a dress? Is this a new collection for the shop?”

“Yes, we're thinking about next summer's clothes already. I think it's going to be a skirt, this one,” her mum said thoughtfully. “A maxi-skirt, with jewels scattered through the flowers. They'll have to be hand-sewn; it'll be expensive.” She padded out of the kitchen, trailing wings of soft, sheer fabric behind her, so that she looked like a butterfly too.

Emily giggled. When her mum was designing clothes, she sometimes forgot about everything else. Even meals. But then, she did make the most beautiful things, and not just for the shop; she made them for Emily and her sisters too. So it made up for having to make their own lunch, and dinner, a lot of the time.

For Emily's last birthday, her mum had made her a hat that looked like a cupcake, with pink icing and little sugar flowers on it. The kind of cake that Emily really loved making. The hat was one of her favourite things, and she wore it loads. It was much too hot for hats now, though. Emily leaned out of the window to breathe a bit. It was roasting in the kitchen, with the oven on. Still, it would be worth it. Flapjacks were one of her best recipes. She loved the way you just had to melt the buttery gooey mess together and stir a bit, and then it magically turned into cakey stuff when you cooked it.

“Emily!” Lark was yelling at her from down the garden. “Ems! Are you coming out? You'll melt if you stay inside all day!”

“I'm coming in a minute,” Emily called back. “I just want to put these flapjacks in.”

“It's too hot for cooking! You're mad! Honestly, Ems, I worry about you sometimes!” Lory joined in. “Come and sunbathe.”

“I'm nearly done,” Emily shouted out of the window. “And it won't stop you eating them, anyway, will it?”

She scooped the mixture into the tin, and then made a face at the washing up. She'd pile it into the sink and leave it till later. No one would mind. Her mum looked like she was going to be shut up in her studio for hours anyway, and her dad was in the tiny room under the stairs where he wrote his books. He wrote scary fantasy novels, and he was quite famous. He used his full name for the books, though – Ashcroft Feather, instead of just Ash, which was what most people called him. He hadn't even bothered coming out for lunch. He was stuck, he'd told everybody grumpily at breakfast, and he'd made Emily suggest ideas for really scary monsters while she was trying to eat her toast. It had slightly put her off her jam.

Emily peered out of the window at the blazing sun and decided to tie her hair back. It was too hot hanging round her neck. She wandered over to the wooden dresser that took up one wall of the kitchen. There was a mug full of hairbands and bits of ribbon on there somewhere, she was sure. It was while she was picking out a band that she found the photo, tucked under one of Lark and Lory's magazines. Emily pulled it out and stood it up on a shelf. She loved this photo. It was a rare one of all the children, sitting on the big old sofa in the living room. It had been taken when Robin was little – just turning from a baby into a boy, and losing his round, chubby face and the wispy, fair baby curls. His hair was darkening to red, and that pointed chin was starting to show. It was an odd photo, not much like other people's family portraits. Lark and Lory looked serious, and Robin was staring wide-eyed at the camera. Only Emily was smiling, in the middle of Lark and Lory, a dark-eyed, dark-haired, golden-tanned five-year-old, with Robin clutched on her lap.

The photo was in a little seashell frame, and it always lived on the dresser. But most of the time it was hard to see, because there was so much other stuff on there too. Fabric samples, and a scattering of beads. Homework. The dog's comb. Sheets of manuscript from their dad's latest novel, covered in scribble, and possibly torn into pieces. Vases of drooping flowers that Lark and Lory had brought in from the garden. But just occasionally, when it was tidy – which was usually only when her mum was lost for inspiration, and drifting around looking for something to do – the picture could be seen.

“Why does Robin look like Lark and Lory, and not like me?” Emily had asked her mum once, picking up the frame and running her fingers over the dusty shells.

Her mother had stopped on her way through to her studio, and stared at Emily for a second, her grey-blue eyes wide, before she smiled. “It just happens that way sometimes, Emily, flower. You got your looks passed on from another relative, I should think. It's just like Lory's yellow hair,” she added. “No one else in the family has hair like that. We're all different.”

Except that, actually, they weren't. Lory had yellow hair, it was true, but her features were just like their dad's. Her mum and dad actually looked quite alike too, Emily realized, sweeping a golden syrup drip off the side of the tin with her finger and sucking it as she went out into the garden. It was only her. She wished she knew whichever relative it was that she looked like.

Emily's house had a strange garden – it was the same size as all the other gardens on the street, but it seemed bigger somehow, and more private, because it was surrounded by trees. It was a useless sort of garden for football, or anything that needed a lawn, because there wasn't one – but it was full of tunnels, and holes, and twisted old trees, and it was perfect for playing hide-and-seek. Lark and Lory were out there somewhere, but as Emily let herself out by the back door and stood hesitating on the step, she couldn't see them at all. She could hear them, though: sharp, sweet giggling, and then a muttered comment and a riffle of pages, and another burst of laughter.

“Lark! Lory!” She set off down one of the little brick paths, calling for them. The sun was blinding, and she held her arm up across her eyes, pulling her hot hair back into the band and making for the shade under a clump of thorn trees at the edge of the garden. Where were Lark and Lory hiding?

Suddenly, Lark and Lory's voices came to her, as clear as little ringing bells, or the sharp twittering of the birds gathered above her in the thorn tree.

Emily stumbled on up the path. The sun was so bright that she was half-blinded, and she blinked as the light flickered, filtering down through the trees above her in dark bars of shadow and sunlight.

“Emily, what are you doing?” one of her sisters giggled. A thin-fingered hand caught hers and pulled her down on to a rug laid over the mossy grass. Gruff, their huge black dog, opened one eye to see who'd turned up, grunted, and went back to sleep again.

“You looked like you were about to fall over,” Lark said, wrapping an arm round her shoulders and staring worriedly into her eyes. “Are you OK? You look wobbly.”

“I'm fine.” Emily stretched out on the rug next to her and peered at their magazine. “I guess you were right; I was melting indoors. It's much nicer out here.”

“You could have brought us a drink, Ems,” Lory complained.

Emily rolled her eyes but didn't say anything. Lory was so bossy sometimes. Lark was a bit more easy-going, but now that her sisters had turned thirteen, they seemed an awful lot older than they had only a few weeks ago. Too old to hang around with their little ten-year-old sister, a lot of the time.

Arguing with Lory and Lark was pointless. They always worked as a double act, and it was impossible to get the better of them. They were both staring at her now, and smiling, their heads together. The same smile, even though they weren't identical twins, and didn't, at first glance, look that much alike. Lark's streaky brown hair was nothing like Lory's golden blonde, and their eyes were different too; Lark's were much darker. But now they couldn't be anything but sisters.

Emily twirled a strand of her own dark curly hair around one finger and peered down at the magazine. The girl in the photo had dark hair like hers, with a pretty scarf tied round it. She'd like something like that.

“Are you going shopping in town later?” she asked Lark hopefully. “Can I come too?”

Lark and Lory looked at each other thoughtfully, and then Lark said, “Maybe…”

“She means no,” someone called from above their heads, and all three girls yelped in surprise. Lory threw the magazine at the red-haired boy leaning out of the tree above them.

“Were you spying on us?”

“Only a little bit,” Robin said, laughing. He flipped round so that he was hanging off the branch by his knees, and Emily shuddered.

“Don't do that! You'll fall!”

“No, I won't…” Robin pushed against the tree trunk, so he was swinging. “I
never
fall,” he added smugly. “Unless I want to.” He swung his hands back up again, to grab one of the thinner branches, and then dangled himself down, kicking at Lory's magazine, which was stuck halfway up the trunk. “There! Got it!” It fluttered to the ground, and Robin dropped after it, landing sprawled across Lark and Lory's knees, and giggling as though it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen.

Emily stared down at him. She didn't look a bit like Robin either. He had blazing red hair like Eva, their mother, and light blue-grey eyes, and the same sharp chin and pale colouring as Lark and Lory. As he lay there giggling and wriggling away from Lark, who was tickling him, Emily could see his perfect white teeth.

She curled her knees up, wrapping her arms around them, half-watching her sisters teasing him. Then something landed in her hair, and she squealed, and Robin rolled away, hooting with laughter. “Serves you right for daydreaming!” he spluttered.

“What is it? What is it?” Emily shook her ponytail frantically, batting at it with her hands. “Did you drop a spider on me? I'm going to strangle you, Robin Feather!”

“It's only a caterpillar…” Lark said soothingly, picking something out of Emily's curls. She knew how much Emily hated spiders.

“No, it isn't.” Robin rolled his eyes. “She's so scared of crawly things, I wouldn't even drop a caterpillar on her. It's just a catkin.”

“So it is,” Lark agreed. “See, Emily? Nothing to be scared of.”

Emily growled, still running her fingers through her hair, just in case. But she felt better, a bit now that Robin had teased her. It was such a little brother thing to do. She was just being silly.

Of course she belonged.

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