My diary from the edge o.., p.1
My Diary from the Edge of the World,
Jodi Lynn Anderson
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soon to be born
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
—Hamlet [from the tattered copy on our Winnebago shelf]
I’m on top of the hill, looking down on the town of Cliffden, Maine. It’s an early fall day, and so far no one’s noticed that I’m where I’m not supposed to be. It’s one of those days where the clouds and the sun chase each other. A pretty breeze plays with my hair as I sit here with my back against the crumbled stone pillar that makes my seat. I can almost imagine I’m Joan of Arc surveying the siege of Orleans.
It’s been almost two months since I got this journal (for my twelfth birthday—from Mom), but I haven’t felt the urge to write until now. I’ve seen two bad omens since breakfast: a crow sitting on the fence at the edge of our yard, and a deathwatch beetle on my windowsill. These are both signs that someone is going to die, so I thought I’d better write them down in case someone does die and no one believes me later. I want to be able to prove that I knew it first. Though now that I’m here nestled in my favorite spot, I have to admit it’s hard on such a perfect day to imagine anyone ever dying.
Mom says that to tell a story you have to set the scene, so I’ll try that here, even though this isn’t really a story but just a diary. From here the town is drenched in light and shadows. To my right is Route 1 with all the fast food places: McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s. To my left is downtown, a cluster of old colonial brick buildings. I can see the green cast-iron steeple of Upper Maine Academy, which I attend, and the fairgrounds beyond.
The valley is bustling: People are scurrying along the crisscrossing streets, rushing to finish their errands and get back indoors. It’s not exactly safe to be out: The dragons are on their way south again, from the northern reaches of Wales and Scotland and Ireland, to hibernate in South America. It’s the time when everyone takes cover in their houses, and when we mostly use the tunnels under downtown to get from shop to shop.
The dragons have been especially destructive this year. People are blaming it on the weather: It’s been colder than usual, so the migrations started early. (Dragons hate the cold I guess, and I do too. I wish I had wings to fly to South America every year.) Last week one burned down the T.J.Maxx in Valley Forge (all those bargains literally up in flames).
I’m not allowed to sit out here during dragon season, but today it’s too hard to resist. My mom would say I’m just “looking for trouble,” which I do manage to find surprisingly often. Sam’s scooter is still sitting neglected in the garage from when I crashed it into a boulder over Christmas. Last year I had to get stitches after falling off the lunch table while I was trying to get my classmates to throw Cheerios into my mouth. I’ve broken my collarbone—which is supposed to be the hardest bone in your body to break—twice. Dad calls me the Tasmanian she-devil. Millie calls me Mrs. Bungles, but I never listen to what Millie says. At least I’m not like the guy who was featured last week in the Cliffden Dispatch, who was found putting hundreds of dollars worth of 7-Layer Burritos from Taco Bell in his front yard so that the dragons would come and eat them.
The sky is a cool crystal blue except for one very distant Dark Cloud. It’s the same cloud my dad was looking at through his telescope first thing when I woke up this morning. He’s a meteorologist for a local TV station.
“I don’t like the looks of it,” he said when he came down to breakfast, his forehead all wrinkled. That’s about as much conversation as you’ll ever get out of my dad unless he’s going on and on about scientific theories of some sort. Millie says he’s “not the communicative type” and a “misunderstood genius,” but I know that he embarrasses her just as much as he does me.
I have to admit though, I agree with him about not liking the looks of the Cloud. He and I have both decided that it looks a bit like a misty galaxy with a black hole in the middle (the kind of black hole from Dad’s amateur astronomy lessons that swallows up everything in its path).
Dark Clouds come for people when they die. Usually the person is sick beforehand, and most of the people Clouds come for are old, but sometimes Clouds arrive with no warning at all. They wait outside people’s houses until it’s time, then they scoop up their souls and carry them away. Just last week, a Cloud floated up our block and collected Mrs. Elton, who was ninety-six.
Millie thinks this particular Dark Cloud looks like the face of an evil circus clown—but I think that’s just because she’s never gotten over her fear of the circus from when she was little (she fell in a pile of elephant poo and it scarred her for life). Dark Clouds are like regular clouds in that everyone who looks at them sees something different. I wonder what Mrs. Elton’s Cloud looked like to her.
Millie and I discussed it. “Maybe it looked like an old friend. At ninety-six,” I suggested, “you’re probably only half-alive anyway, so you don’t mind dying as much.”
Millie’s long, perfect eyelashes fluttered in annoyance. “You’re an emotional mutant,” she said, then wiped away a tear, which I can only suppose she squeezed out in order to be dramatic about Mrs. Elton. Though secretly I do feel guilty now about saying Mrs. Elton probably wouldn’t mind death. I guess Millie’s right that no one is going to be happy to see that kind of thing arrive on their doorstep, even if they’re ancient.
* * *
The truth is that, other than the occasional Dark Cloud, nothing terrible or exciting ever happens in Cliffden. Only baseball games and lying on the grass and chasing the ice-cream man in the summer, building igloos in the winter, sometimes collecting earthworms in the puddles after rain or hunting for dragon scales in the fall (Mom puts them in a big glass jar on the coffee table because, she says, “They add a splash of color,”) and trick or treating. (Last year a real ghoul escaped from the Underworld and ran around scaring children and stealing candy on Halloween night, which was pretty exciting. But none of the kids from my neighborhood got to see him, and he was quickly caught and escorted back underground by the local police.) There are science lectures about botany, zoology, the aurora borealis, and all sorts of other discoveries in a lecture hall in the caverns downtown. There’s the occasional parade or party at the firehouse (to thank the firemen for all their work with the dragon fires) or outdoor movies in the spring, and there’s the carnizaar (part carnival, part bazaar) at the fairgrounds for Cliffden Day. But that’s about it.
* * *
I just opened to the inscription Mom made on the inside cover of this book. It says, To Gracie, May this diary be big enough to contain your restless heart. She says I fling my loud personality at everyone and that one day it will poke somebody’s eye out. I don’t completely understand her—she’s a little obscure and poetic. She used to be a professional violinist. She said she gave me this diary because I need something to pour my loudness into. She says it’s better to sit and write my feelings than to spend all day dreaming up ways to irritate Millie. So far I’ve only filled six pages, and I’ve been here thinking for over an hour. I’m actually supposed to be doing my reading for school, but Sasquatches, Sailors, and Uncle Sam: An A
So I’ve just been sitting here chewing my pen and trying to figure out how to write what’s around me, but it’s hard to capture. The sun is sinking and it’s getting chilly out. The air smells like fall—that exciting dry smell that reminds you of all the falls of your life. Behind me our big ambling Victorian is winking at me. I’ve always thought of our house as a lady’s face, with the two highest windows as the eyes—and one of the eyes closed because the curtain’s always drawn in that room. My little brother, Sam—whom we call the Mouse because he’s small for his age, and quiet, especially because he always has a cold—is silhouetted in one of the parlor windows practicing the flute (Mom made us each learn an instrument; we’re all disasters). Millie is probably watching Extreme Witches at top volume as usual, where they put six witches together in a big house and film them arguing with each other. Mom tries to get her to watch more informative stuff, like this segment CNN does once a week on the gods called The Immortals, Where Are They Now? Each week they feature a different god: Last week it was Zeus, sitting on a lawn chair up on top of Mount Olympus, where only authorized camera crews are allowed to go. But Millie couldn’t care less.
With two siblings it’s the quiet that you want, trust me. Especially when you’re not the oldest or the youngest or the beautiful, graceful one but just the one that happened to fall in the middle. I’ll tell you in one sentence what it’s like to be the middle child, in case you don’t know: Everyone on either side of you squeezes you until you almost explode, and all the time that they’re smushing you they’re not really noticing you’re there. So you have to find a place that’s just yours, and that’s how I found this old church stone at the corner of our yard.
Ugh. Mouse just called out the window to say Mom’s looking for me and that it’s time to take a shower. I hate bathing in general. When I was little, Mom used to threaten me into the bath by saying dirty children get sent to the Crow’s Nest, where my grandma lives (speaking of witches), deep in the heart of the Smoky Mountains. Supposedly, in the seventies, Grandma caused three people to disappear forever just by cursing hairs she got from their hairbrushes. She—
Oops, Mom just spotted me—she’s hanging out her bedroom window yelling. Her hair is all wet from the shower and flopping down the sides of her face like curtains. How’s that for descriptive?
I’m back on the hill—I think this will be my favorite spot to write and record my life. Mom’s taken Sam the Mouse to a doctor’s appointment and Dad is home working on a new invention to record something called “entropy” (I can’t imagine a word that sounds more boring) so he won’t notice where I am.
Dad was in the paper today, right between an article on a new mall in Waterville with a giant for a security guard, and a meeting announcement about the lady’s quilting guild. There was a picture of my dad and then a headline underneath it that read METEOROLOGICAL SOCIETY OF UPPER MAINE OUSTS THEODORE LOCKWOOD DUE TO PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES.
I guess that explains what happened at Dairy Queen yesterday: Dad was just about to buy us our Blizzards (Heath bar for me, Oreo for Millie, M&M’s for Sam, and Mom always gets a cherry dip) when a man stepped up to the register and paid for us. My dad was looking at him in confusion, smiling to be polite, when the man said, “You’ll need all the help you can get, since you’ll be out of a job soon.”
My dad just looked down at his wallet and shuffled his feet. He doesn’t like confrontation. My mom, on the other hand, doesn’t mind it at all, and she pushed her cherry dip against the man’s shirt, pretending it was an accident. “Looks like you’re out of a shirt,” she said. Then she turned on her heel and led us out the door, making us leave our Blizzards on the counter. I glanced back at my large Heath Blizzard in agony as we made our way out, but when Rebecca Lockwood, a.k.a. my mom, makes up her mind on something, you follow along. She’s just that kind of person.
* * *
Mom says Dad is a great scientist but an unlucky one. He invented a special sort of barometer only to find out someone else had patented the same exact design eight days before. He was invited to present a paper on the three major types of clouds, titled “Cumulus, Stratus, Cirrus, Seriously,” but got booed offstage by everyone, including the mayor, because he’d made one simple mistake on the math that threw the whole thing off. He actually wanted to go into physics in college instead of meteorology (he loves learning about the stars and planets more than anything else), but he didn’t get good enough grades. This is the second time he’s been kicked out of the Meteorological Society, which he helped to found. Sometimes it’s like my mom’s the only person who believes in him at all.
All the failures make him sad, I think, and sometimes he goes into a “swamp” (that’s what Mom calls them) where he wears his pajamas for days. But it never stops him from being obsessed with science. Even last night after Dairy Queen, he watched the sun set in his usual way: First he stood at the living room window, then he walked upstairs to see how it looked from higher up, then he wandered out into the yard to view it from a few different places on the grass, all the while taking notes in a little notebook he carries everywhere. Meanwhile Sam was calling out for someone to reach the Teddy Grahams on the top shelf, and Millie and I had to stop fighting over the remote control and who would get up to adjust the antennae (the TV is always fuzzy) and help Sam, when we’re not even the parents. Dad doesn’t notice life kinds of things at all. He lives in his brain.
Millie says that when I was being born, Dad brought his notebooks to the hospital and worked on some calculations while he waited. I’d rather not believe that he wasn’t more concerned about my arrival . . . but the sad thing is that I do. Mom calls him “science haunted.” Instead of coming to our ball games or school plays like the other parents do, he climbs the hills around Cliffden with his instruments almost every weekend, long after dark, recording the positions of the stars and changes in temperature. Mom says, “He’s got a great but unorganized mind.”
Still, beyond all his failures, the one thing that makes my dad such a target for jokes in our town, and the thing that’s gotten him kicked out of the Meteorological Society twice, is his stubborn insistence on the existence of the Extraordinary World.
* * *
The Extraordinary World is an old legend—a land rumored to exist at the Southern Edge of the earth. Dad’s one of the few people who believes it’s real. He’s written three letters to the editor about it in the Cliffden Tribune. He belongs to the Club for the Discovery of the Extraordinary World with a bunch of weirdos, including the guy who put the burritos out for the dragons, and a lady who says she’s secretly married to Prince William.
In the Extraordinary World, the legend goes, there are no dragons or krakens or sea serpents or Dark Clouds or bad omens. There are no demons or nymphs hiding in the forests, no vicious mermaids or yetis. “It’s clear,” my dad wrote in his third editorial, “that the unexplored Southern Edge of the earth is the place we have to look for it, and we should pour our money and resources into doing so as soon as possible, for the benefit of mankind.” They also ran his editorial in the Enquirer alongside headlines like I WAS KIDNAPPED BY AN ALIEN AND NOW I’M HAVING HIS CHILD! and THE EASTER BUNNY VISITED ME IN MY SLEEP WITH A MESSAGE FOR THE WORLD.
The Extraordinary World, people like my dad claim, is what our world would have been like too, if it had turned out—once the great explorers did their great exploring in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—that dragons and mermaids and things like that didn’t exist. Without the beasts and monsters and wilderness that populate so much of our planet, they claim, life would be easier, more orderly . . . safe. Also it’s supposedly full of all sorts of amazing technology: things floating around space called satellites, all sorts of flying machines, highways and travel networks all over the world, and cities without number.
My dad’s outspokenness on the subject means we get heckled pretty often. People call him La La
His hero is an astronomer named Prospero, who lives somewhere out west. People are constantly quoting him and citing his studies in their scientific papers. His newest book, An Atlas of the Cosmos, is a bestseller, and sometimes (rarely, because he’s a bit of a hermit) he gets interviewed on 60 Minutes. My dad reads everything he publishes. Apparently they went to college together, and while Prospero soared to the top of their class and became wildly popular, Dad worked diligently and got okay grades and graduated unnoticed by anyone but my mom, who was studying music theory, whatever that is.
Mostly Dad just contents himself with studying the weather and appearing on the local weather station every morning. I don’t think it’s so great to study something that always changes and always disappears, and then to spend your free time studying something that doesn’t exist. It’s like he’s spent his life concentrating on thin air. I wish he worked on something more permanent and interesting. Anything would be better: rocks, bugs, volcanoes . . . anything.
* * *
I’m watching a bird swoop in the distance over Bear Mountain. Then again it may be a dragon and farther away than I think. I just put this journal down and squinted to see, but I still couldn’t tell.
Mom and Sam just got home, but I ducked behind the church stone so they wouldn’t see me. I’m sure Mom’s in the kitchen putting groceries away. Usually she sings at the top of her lungs while she does it, but today it’s quiet in there. I hope everything went okay at Sam’s appointment.
Now the bird across the valley is doing something weird. I’m going to stand at the edge of the lawn to look.
My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes