Table of Contents
Books by NINA KIRIKI HOFFMAN
Child of an Ancient City
(with Tad Williams)
The Thread That Binds the Bones
The Silent Strength of Stones
A Red Heart of Memories
Past the Size of Dreaming
A Fistful of Sky
A Stir of Bones
Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors (
Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact
Spirits That Walk in Shadow
Fall of Light
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the U.S.A. by Viking, a member of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2010
Copyright © Nina Kiriki Hoffman, 2010
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA IS AVAILABLE
eISBN : 978-1-101-44238-8
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To Liberty HS and Marga G—thanks for talking to me about your middle school experiences. To Amanda D and Aerin L—thanks for being inspirational twelve-year-olds (yeah, I know you’re not twelve anymore). To Ashton M, wizard, ghoul, and archaeologist: always an inspiration. To Emily M and Flora W and their writing dreams: See you in print! ☺
It was Maya’s
second week in the new house. She woke a couple of hours after she had gone to sleep, wondering what had alerted her. A sound? A movement?
A rush of wings?
She stared up at the new ceiling, with its splash of orange light from the streetlamp outside. A light breeze shifted the curtains in the open window, changing the shape of the light: a tyrannosaurus head, an island, an angel.
Dad planned to get screens for the upstairs windows, but with all the furniture shuffling, box unpacking, and registering three kids in new schools, screens hadn’t happened yet.
Had something come into her room?
Her new window faced the huge apartment house next door, with its mix of architectural styles. It was about four stories tall, as near as she could tell; there were lots of roof bits sticking up that might contain another story’s worth of assorted attics.
A porch wrapped around the ground floor, and balconies interrupted different levels of the upstairs. A variety of doors opened onto the porch; some parts of the porch hosted wicker furniture; some, bench swings; some, jungly assortments of plants.
Lawn covered the ground between the Janus House Apartments and Maya’s house, with no fence or hedge to interrupt it.
The new neighbors fascinated Maya. Their clothes didn’t come from any catalog or store she knew about. Some of them looked like they had stepped out of the past, some as though they came from an unimagined future, and some as though they came from some European country where people cobbled outfits together from things found in attics.
Sometimes people came out of the building and sat on the porch or the lawn. Older kids played games that involved nets and feathered things and rackets, or balls and mallets. Sometimes they and the younger children played hide-and-seek. From her upstairs room, in the shadow of her curtain, Maya watched, seeing where the hidden were, and how the searchers searched.
One night, a bunch of the people brought out chairs and musical instruments and played a concert, with some singing, though the words were lost over the short distance between the houses. She could tell they were excellent harmonizers. The music was unlike anything Maya had heard on the radio or online or in her living room on Saturday night Music Night, though she could tell some of the instruments were stringed, some wind, some percussion. She sat at her desk, looked out the window, and sketched people and their instruments, none of which seemed entirely normal. One of the melodies stuck in her brain for days.
Maya was going to start the first day of seventh grade in a new school in the morning, and she wondered if any of the neighbor kids would be in her class. Her whole family was starting over: her older sister, Candra, was heading to high school, along with their father, who taught history; her little brother, Peter, and their mother would go to the elementary school, where their mother taught fourth grade.
The Andersens had moved from a small town in Idaho to Spores Ferry, Oregon, so everybody could get a new start, especially Maya. Maya’s best friend, Stephanie, had died in the spring.
Everybody had loved freckled, ginger-haired Stephanie, who had been stocky and strong, ready for adventure, and always anticipating wonders. The illness that ate her up made them all mad. Where was the superhero with the antidote, the genie with the wish, the good fairy with the magic ointment to make it go away? None of them had showed up, though Stephanie had been telling Maya stories about them all since she learned to talk.
The doctors put Stephanie through radiation and chemotherapy, and that still hadn’t killed the cancer before it killed her.
Everything about the Andersens’ house in Idaho had reminded Maya of Stephanie; they had hidden together in that closet, slid down that banister and fallen in a laughing heap at the bottom, sung Christmas carols around that piano with the rest of Maya’s family. They had known each other all their lives.
Stephanie had always been sure something surprising and wonderful would arrive soon, and even though it seldom did, Maya loved the anticipation Stephanie was so good at drumming up. Stephanie had hoped for a miracle almost up until the end, so Maya had hoped, too.
That was one of the things that made Maya maddest, after Steph died.
Maya missed Stephanie’s stories. Stephanie found fairies in the fields, dragons in the ditches, ghosts in clouds and closets and attics, witches in the hedges. Stephanie had spun stories as she walked through the world, and Maya had illustrated them.
After Stephanie died, Maya had spent a melancholy spring and summer. Some days she couldn’t even get out of bed. Her parents sent her to a counselor, and that had helped, but sadness still overwhelmed her now and then. Anything could trigger a memory.
She searched for Stephanie’s ghost in all their old haunts—at the swimming pool and the mall and even at the elementary school, where they had gone to shoot baskets after school was out, and penciled charms and curses in secret code on the backs of some of the rocks at the edge of the playground. Stephanie was everywhere and nowhere.
Without Stephanie, nothing was bright. Nothing was funny. Nothing mattered.
Budget cuts at the Idaho high school where Maya’s father taught meant he’d have to take a big pay cut to stay there, so he had begun job hunting even before Stephanie died. He and Mom both found good jobs in Spores Ferry that summer, provided they could move right away. Mom said the family was ready for a change after spending seventeen years in the same place, but Candra was sure angry about the move—she had a lot of friends she was leaving behind.
Maya hadn’t wanted to leave Catspaw, either. At the same time, she didn’t want to stay there. Everything and everywhere in Catspaw reminded her of Stephanie, and sometimes she liked that, but mostly it meant she was sad all the time.
Maya stared up at the orange blotch of shifting light on her new ceiling, wondering about wings. Again she heard a faint flutter and a faraway jingle.
After Stephanie died, Maya had drawn through sketchbook after sketchbook, mostly pictures of Stephanie. The curve of Stephanie’s freckled cheek, her kinky hair like a perpetual explosion around her head, her uneven smile, her lowered lashes as she looked down at something in her hands, a baby bird or a rabbit or a lizard, her long fingers gently cupped around something alive. The dome of Stephanie’s bald head after chemo made her hair fall out—how much brighter her eyes had been then, even on the days when she was so sick . . . Maya crosshatched and charcoaled and penciled, making Stephanie shapes rise from the page by darkening the space around them.
Since the move, Dad had challenged Maya to draw other things. He took her out sketching. They sat at outdoor tables at coffee shops, Dad with his sketchpad, Maya with hers. They drew passersby and people sitting at other tables. They went to museums and art galleries to look at other people’s art. He took her to parks and hiking trails, along with her brother and sister, who went on ahead while Dad and Maya stopped to sketch, though Maya was more interested in drawing people than places.
To draw the worlds Stephanie had made up, Maya had needed trees and plants—sometimes flowers and leaves, sometimes a ragged line of forest across a meadow. She still drew things that would have come in handy if Stephanie were with her, inventing.
Sometimes the sketch trips worked. Sometimes Maya tuned in to the nearby world and forgot the past. Sometimes when she was in the middle of capturing the world around her, she thought about how useful this was going to be when she and Stephanie got together to make up another world. Then she remembered Stephanie was gone, and she felt guilty for not remembering it all the time.