Now all of these oddities were fine. They were strange, of course, and made Fern feel a little off-kilter, as you can imagine, but none of them scared her until the cloud appeared the day after Ferns eleventh birthday that spring. It was a persistent ominous dark cloud, about the height of a tall man, that sometimes followed Fern. The cloud looked like a plume of exhaust, but it seemed to hover just above the ground, disappearing around corners when anyone else was around. Once she got close enough to feel its windy presence, and the cloud began to draw her in, pulling on her dress, whipping her hairlike the strong undercurrent of a draft you feel when you stand on the edge of the curb as a fast bus passes by. Fern was certain something terrible would happen if she got any closer. She ran away.
Now, keeping this kind of thing to yourself isnt easy to do. But Fern had to. The Drudgers had made it clear to Fern that any of the unusual things shes seencrickets popping out of picture books and snow noteswere a result of her "overactive dysfunction," meaning her imagination. No, Fern, those crickets didnt pop out of the book! We had an infestation! We called an exterminator! Mrs. Drudger had told her time and again. And dont start with that business of getting torn-up notes from snow! Mr. Drudger would add, No, no, no! We wont hear of such AWFUL fibbing! In fact, theyd convinced Fern that shed misremembered everything. No one else had seen the crickets, or the snow notes or the nun, or the awful dark cloud for that matter. So Fern stopped telling the Drudgers and started keeping a diary instead. She wrote about the nun, and about Mrs. Lilliopole chasing the bat with the swimming pool net. She kept notes on things that seemed a bit off to her about people who didnt seem to be who they claimed to be: a robin that watched her intently from a branch outside her bedroom window, the pizza delivery man and the guy who worked the Good Humor truck, even her swimming instructor, Mrs. Lilliopoleafter that incident with the bat, the woman had kept trying to get Ferns attention with suspiciously stupid discussions about her scissor kick. It all seemed to be leading somewhere, but she wasnt sure where.
Heres one entry:
Im keeping the nuns umbrella propped up in my bedroom closet. Its some sort of evidence. Evidence of what, I dont know, but I like it. Im pretty sure that Im on the edge of something, something like the whole world turning inside out. I will keep you posted.
But this book doesnt really start with a diary or confused nuns turning themselves into lampposts or bats becoming marbles or evil-seeming, low-flying dark clouds. No, no. Thats nowhere to begin. (Ill get to all of that soon enough!) One should begin at the beginning. Thats what a writing teacher once told me. Begin at the beginning. And endyes, thats rightat the end. He was a very good writing instructor, the best in these United States of America, many awards and such. So Ill follow his advice.
When Mr. and Mrs. Drudger were still newly married and young (although I doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Drudger were ever REALLY youngin their hearts. Even in their baby pictures, they look like miniature accountants, pale, serious, and joyless), they decided to have a baby. Theyd decided it would be a fine idea, a right and worthy idea. Not because they liked children. Neither of them had liked children even when they were children! Mainly they decided to have a child because this is what other people did. And so they did, with passionless accuracy.
This would, in fact, have been fine.
This would have been altogether unremarkable, if not for a flustered nurse: Mary Curtain.
From The Anybodies by N.E. Bode. Copyright © 2004 by Julianna Baggott. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of HarperCollins Publishers
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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