Ms. Morning pressed her lips together, thinking. “Yes, not more than five years ago, for sure.”
Mr. Today went on. “There were two pirates inside, but they were already dead’there was nothing any of us could do to save them. They wore the strangest things around their necks. . . .” Mr. Today trailed off, remembering.
“But how did you get it up here in the . . . the Museum of Large?” He liked the name, though he didn’t really know what a museum was, other than this.
Mr. Today snapped back to the present. “What? Oh, just magic,” he said. “The transport spell’do you know it?”
Alex shook his head.
“No component necessary, just envision the item in the place you want it to go. Like this.” He pulled a candy platyprot from his robe, plucked a tiny piece of lint off of it, closed his eyes, and whispered, “Transport.”
The candy disappeared, and a moment later Alex felt something in his hand. He grinned and looked at the bright yellow candy, blew on it, and then popped the tasty treat into his mouth. “Cool,” he said.
The candy in his mouth said a muffled, “Cool. Cool. Cool.”
“It doesn’t work with humans or living creatures, only objects,” Mr. Today added. “Small things transport quite perfectly, but large things can be quite tricky to place properly, so if you’re very particular about where you want something big to end up, you’re better off moving it yourself.”
“Why did you put the ship up here?”
“I was afraid our creatures would get hurt or trapped if I left it on the beach. And it was a tremendous eyesore. It was such a rotted mess, I wasn’t sure it could be saved. But I’ve fixed it up now, good as new. This is where I do a lot of my thinking.”
Ms. Morning nodded. “I remember when this washed up’it was in terrible shape! You’ve done so much with it. Are you planning to take this on your journey? I assumed you’d use the white boat.”
“I’ve thought about it,” Mr. Today said. “With a little magic I could handle this ship on my own. I’d have to change out the pirate flags for something more friendly-looking, of course.”
Alex knew a little about pirates from Mr. Appleblossom, who had singlehandedly performed (in double-time) all the major roles of a pirate musical during Actors’ Studio several weeks before. “I think you would make a great pirate,” Alex said.
“Why, thank you, Alex,” Mr. Today said. And then his eyes opened wide as if he just thought of something. “Have you noticed the whale yet?”
“Where?” Alex looked all around.
“On the other side of the ship.” Mr. Today ushered Alex around the ship to where the skeleton of a whale stood on display, put together perfectly. “This is also not of my own creation. It’s a real whale that landed on the beach and got stuck many, many years ago, when I was alone here. I couldn’t use transport magic to get it back in the water because, like I said, that spell doesn’t work on living creatures.
“Frantic, I tried everything I could think of to no avail,” Mr. Today said with a sigh. “I guess magicians can’t fix everything’at least this one couldn’t, especially back in the early days.” He scratched his head. “I might have been able to do something if it had happened now, though my healing spells still aren’t very strong. Healing has never been one of my gifts.” His voice was sad as he looked over the skeleton. “I stayed with it until the end. It was a hard moment, and it remains a difficult memory. I felt very helpless. I’d like to think the whale didn’t blame me.” He walked around to the mouth of the skeleton. “So very sorry about that,” he said in a soft voice, as if the whale could hear him.
Alex, though sensitive of Mr. Today’s feelings, couldn’t stop his eyes from wandering. He stared hard through the whale skeleton at something strange on the other side. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing. He ran around the other side and saw a giant, jagged piece of lightweight material with some yellow lettering on the side. There was a fanlike object attached to the front of it.
Mr. Today followed. “Oh, this! It came out of the sky one day,” he said, a smile playing at his lips.
Alex stared at Mr. Today. “From the sky? Weird.”
“Yes, it was very strange. It started out much larger, or so I’m told’Jim saw it, as did Simber and a few others. It fell into the water, quite far over the ocean. This piece washed ashore a day or two later.”
Alex looked at Mr. Today, but he had no words to express his wonderment at all the unusual things this room contained. He looked around at everything’the enormous library, the ship, the mastodon statue, the whale skeleton, and the countless other things yet to be explored’and he asked as politely as he knew how, “Mr. Today, why do you keep all of this amazing stuff locked up in here? Don’t you think others would like to see it?”
Mr. Today smiled and thought a moment before answering. “It seems a bit selfish of me, doesn’t it? Indeed, it does. But these things are either too breakable or too big to display elsewhere, or they are my personal treasures. These items make up my existence, Alex. Much of my life was spent alone, and these things are witnesses to it. The library tells my story, the mastodon my mistakes, the ship my discoveries and my abilities to make old things new without magic, and the whale . . . my limitations, I suppose.” He pressed a finger to his lips. “There are many other things in here, but perhaps we’ve seen enough for today.”
Mr. Today motioned toward the door and the three began walking. “I wanted you to see this for a reason. If while I’m away you need to know something about my past, please do check the library here. You’ll find history, magic, and mistakes galore. Do you remember the spell to get in?”
Alex thought back. “Door number one?” he asked.
“That’s correct. And I needn’t remind you to keep that to yourself. These things are precious to me. They are my treasures. I know you’ll protect them and care for them, won’t you?”
Alex nodded vehemently as they exited the room and pulled the door closed. “I’ll protect them with my life,” he said. And he meant it.
ay after day Aaron Stowe packed his book bag full of food early in the morning, snuck out of the Haluki house, and made it to the palace gate by sunrise. Each day after the first, he made friends with a few hungry Wanteds and told them to return the same day the following week. Each afternoon when he was finished with his work near the palace, he went to the Favored Farm to collect more food.
On Monday of his second week, a figure was waiting for him. Once he realized it wasn’t someone out to harm him, Aaron smirked to himself’his plan was working. He approached and recognized the figure as the elderly woman he’d met his first day at the gate.
“Greetings,” Aaron said. “I’m glad to see you back. Have you a need for more food? I’ve brought you some like I promised.”
“Aaron Stowe’isn’t that your name?” the woman asked. She looked at him with an air of suspicion.
Aaron’s eyes flickered. “I can’t deny it. I was the assistant secretary to the High Priest Justine until her assassination. Then I was ousted from the palace despite my abilities to improve Quill, and now I struggle to get by like everyone. May I ask yours?”
The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Gondoleery Rattrapp.” She emphasized the second syllable of her last name quite forcefully, so that it sounded like “ruh-TRAP.” “I’m one of the original founders of Quill,” she said importantly. “And a bitter enemy of Artimé.”
“Well met, Mrs. Rattrapp,” Aaron said, hiding his shock at her boldness of speech, and offering a hand. When Gondoleery held out her hand in return, Aaron took it and bowed over it as if she were the high priest, which left the woman speechless for a moment.
“Gondoleery, please,” she said when her voice returned to her.
Aaron smiled at her and rummaged through his bag. “Gondoleery, and you must call me Aaron. And now that we are friends, perhaps you’d like breakfast. I have some fresh fruit today and some peanuts.”
Gondoleery eagerly accepted the food, and at the sight of it, a handful of passing strangers, including a few more familiar faces, approached. Aaron reached into his bag methodically and doled out food items one at a time to keep the suspense high, but kept his attention focused on Gondoleery.
The old woman ate a few bites and then spoke. “I came to talk to you about what you said last week’about your ideas. I doubt you’ve heard, but that fink Marcus Today informed the six remaining founders of Quill that he stole our early memories from us decades ago. Now he’s supposedly sorry and he gave them back. So . . . I know everything.”
Aaron couldn’t hide his surprise. “What are you talking about?” The crowd around them grew.
Gondoleery continued. “Back when we all made our new society in Quill, we came from other places, all of us. Other islands, other communities.”
Aaron had to hold in his disbelief.
“Justine and Marcus traveled around’they both had long hair back then, and those ridiculous robes, which were actually more like ponchos . . .” She trailed off for a minute, lost in thought. “Anyway, they traveled around letting people know about the dangers of the world that would soon come to pass, and they offered us this wonderful opportunity for a safe and perfect society. I, being not quite twenty, jumped at the chance. What an adventure, I thought.” She scowled at her wrinkled hands. “And after some time here, while we built the protective wall around our society, Marcus Today enacted his insidious plan. He stole our memories and brainwashed us into believing that we were surrounded by enemies.”
Aaron, having lost all sense of decorum, could only stare. “He did that to you? Wait. Are you saying that he brainwashed the High Priest Justine as well?”
“He must have stolen her memory too,” said Gondoleery. “She would never have lied to us’she was a good woman. She was my leader, and Marcus Today has robbed us all.”
A fearful, thrilling sort of feeling pierced through Aaron’s stomach as he worked his mind quickly over this surprising statement. What could it all mean? Ah, but he knew it was ammunition he needed, and quite possibly his ticket to the palace. He needed to organize his thoughts and get his plan right from the first moment in order to build his team of followers.
As pressure built from the whispering group around them, Aaron thought for a moment longer. He composed himself, gazing off into the distance as if this weren’t the most important conversation of his entire life, one that his entire success hinged upon. And then he nodded slowly. “You’re right, of course,” he said. “This is what I have discovered as well. Mr. Today has fooled us all. Look around!” He made eye contact with each person surrounding him. “Look at us! We have been completely duped by Marcus Today since the beginning of Quill, fooled by a deranged man who lives in a mansion and eats all he wants, and never needs or wants for anything. He has handpicked his constituents over time, deceiving his own twin sister into believing she was the supreme ruler. And then he caused her death when she’and I’,” he added, “discovered his lies, so that these secrets would go to the grave with her.”
He took a breath and let it out slowly. “But we are smart, and the truth is clear now: Quill is not the land of the Wanteds, and it never has been. Artimé is the land of the Wanteds, and
Unwanteds, all of us.”
And then he paused dramatically, waiting for complete silence, before he asked the ominous question. “My friends,” he said in a dark and bitter voice, “how does it feel to be Unwanted?”
As the small crowd’s shocked mumblings grew to complaints and anger, Aaron Stowe watched, concealing his delight. If he could keep the momentum going, revenge might be nearer than he’d ever dared to hope.
lex shifted from one foot to the other as he waited near the steps outside of the girls’ hallway in the mansion, staring at the blank wall and watching girl after girl pop out of it. Most ignored him, for it wasn’t uncommon for a boy to be waiting there for one of the girls. But some gave him a quizzical look, curious as to whom he was waiting for.
Most of the students knew who Alex was. After all, he was the one who nearly wrecked everything by bumbling around Artimé during the governors’ visit, and the one the Quillitary general singled out at the onset of the battle. Students knew from gossip and whispers about his evil twin brother, and some mistrusted Alex for it. But Alex didn’t think that was fair at all. Everyone still loved Mr. Today even though they now knew that Justine had been his twin. And half the Unwanteds had other siblings in Quill’why weren’t those Unwanteds suspicious?