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       May Bird and the Ever After, p.1

           Jodi Lynn Anderson
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May Bird and the Ever After

  Standing up straight again, May looked at the sky. There was the sun, up behind the filmy clouds that were darting away, She looked down at the water, then up again. Sut the sun’s reflection was in a whole other place entirely. This light almost looked like it was in the water. May leaned a little bit farther, Squinting. The light moved, quick, like a fish.

  May sucked in her breath. She knew she’d lost her balance the moment it happened. She swung her arms out at her sides to right herself, but it was too late. She toppled forward and hit the water with a splash.

  —from May Bird and the Ever After

  Most people aren’t very comfortable in the woods, but the woods of Briery Swamp fit May Bird like a fuzzy mitten. There, she is safe from school and the taunts and teases of kids who don’t understand her. Hidden in the trees. May is a warrior princess, and her cat, Somber Kitty, is her brave guardian.

  Then May falls into the lake.

  When she crawls out. May finds her-self in a world that most certainly does not feel like a fuzzy mitten. In fact, it is a place few living people have ever seen. Here towns glow blue beneath dipping stars and the people—people?—walk, through walls. Here the Book of the Dead holds the answers to everything in the universe. And here. If May is discovered, the horrifyingly evil Bo Cleevil will turn her into nothing.

  May Bird must get out.


  Within these pages, Jodi Iynn Anderson shares with us the beginning of May Bird’s daring journey into the Ever After, a haunting place where true friends—and one Jumble foe—await May around every corner.

  Jodi Lynn Anderson grew up in New Jersey, where she spent a lot of time walking in the woods, pretending she was a queen. Today she lives in the haunted town of Roswell, Georgia, where she spends her time writing, and wishing she had a hairless cat.

  Jacket design by Debra Sfetsios Jacket illustration copyright © 2005 by Leonid Gore

  Visit us on the World Wide Web

  Atheneum Books for Young Readers Simon & Schuster New York

  Atheneum Books for Young Readers

  An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, New York 10020

  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real

  locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the

  products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or

  locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2005 by Jodi Lynn Anderson

  Illustrations copyright © 2005 by Leonid Gore

  Map on pp. x-xi by Peter Ferguson

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction

  in whole or in part in any form.

  First Edition

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

  eISBN: 978-1-4391-0754-6

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Anderson, Jodi Lynn.

  May Bird and the Ever After / by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Lonely and shy, ten-year-old May Ellen Bird has no idea what awaits

  her when she falls into the lake and enters the Ever After, home of ghosts

  and the Bogeyman.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-689-86923-5

  ISBN-10: 0-689-86923-1

  [1. Fantasy.] 1. Title.

  PZ7.A53675Mayb 2005

  [Fic]—dc22 2004017829


  Mom and Dad




  Chapter One: A Sack of Beans

  Chapter Two: A Letter From Before

  Chapter Three: Beyond the Endless Briers

  Chapter Four: A Stranger Arrives

  Chapter Five: What Lives in the Lake?

  Chapter Six: The Hauntings

  Chapter Seven: Light Underwater

  Chapter Eight: The Beginning


  Chapter Nine: A Faraway Shore

  Chapter Ten: “Make the Most of Your Eternity!”

  Chapter Eleven: Beehive House

  Chapter Twelve: Belle Morte

  Chapter Thirteen: The Undertaker

  Chapter Fourteen: The Bogey Arrives

  Chapter Fifteen: By the Sea

  Chapter Sixteen: Dark, Spirits Afoot

  Chapter Seventeen: Into the Catacombs

  Chapter Eighteen: A Deadly Mistake

  Chapter Nineteen: The Cave Dwellers

  Chapter Twenty: Nine Knaves Grotto

  Chapter Twenty-one: John the Jibber

  Chapter Twenty-two: Into the Outskirts

  Chapter Twenty-three: The City of Ether

  Chapter Twenty-four: May, Alone

  Chapter Twenty-five: Beatrice and Fabbio

  Chapter Twenty-six: The Eternal Edifice

  Chapter Twenty-seven: The Book of the Dead

  Chapter Twenty-eight: Nothingness

  Chapter Twenty-nine: The Station

  Chapter Thirty: The Black Shucks

  Chapter Thirty-one: A Figure in the Distance

  Chapter Thirty-two: The Train Headed North

  A Thank-you to the Dearly Beloved

  Herein lies Jen Weiss, an editor who was nice; and

  Herein sleeps Sarah Burnes, who helped me to earn.

  Zhenya Fomin was my boyfriend; may he now rest in peace.

  Erika Loftman lent brilliance, so off her plot, please.

  Liesa Abrams gave heart, but then it gave out.

  Ginee Seo pitched in, but soon came down with gout.

  Lexy James rose to aid me, but fell out of a tree.

  He went down with a fight, but I must thank Chong Lee.

  Jeannie Ng’s graceful pen sadly held poison ink.

  Leonid Gore was de-limbed, I think.

  Ben Cawood flew off, but his insights were shared.

  Winter took Pony Boy, who never had hair.

  And here for your view is a family of six,

  Plus nieces, one nephew, and others I’ve missed.

  My family trees are what gave me the woods,

  And the woods helped me write this.

  They knew that I could.


  May Ellen Bird was born on a Saturday, in the east wing of the third floor of White Moss Manor. Tiny and squishy and curious, she balled her little fists and noticed many things: the spider snoozing in its nest in the window, the thick smell of the woods crouching outside the house, and the shadowy figure that hovered over her crib when no one else was around.

  Just a simple baby, she didn’t know she had any reason to be afraid. She didn’t know that Briery Swamp, West Virginia, had lost seventeen people to mysterious causes.

  In 1897 one Bertha “Bad Breath” Brettwaller, age 83, hobbled into the woods to forage for wild garlic. She didn’t come back. When the townspeople searched her house for clues about where she’d gone off to, they found nothing curious, except that she did not own a toothbrush.

  Three nuns moved into a cottage on Droopy View Hill in 1902 to live a quiet, holy life and teach a small group of Appalachian children to spell “Appalachia” and other words. One April morning the three, up to shenanigans on their day off, skipped into the woods for freeze tag and a cool dip. They were never heard from again.

  At a lake deep in the shelter of the trees, a mother duck was sunbathing blissfully when her seven ducklings waddled off for a swim. They floated out onto the water, happily quacking the latest duckling gossip to one another, when there was a splash. The
y vanished completely. Their mother waddled forlornly along the water’s edge for three days before quacking her sad way south. Being just a simple duck, she could not report the incident.

  The biggest and most shocking tragedy to hit Briery Swamp came in 1927. That was when twelve fur trappers, meeting for a trappers’ convention at that same lake in the hills, went in to bathe under three feet of water and didn’t come up again. Nobody in town knew of anything amiss for three days. They didn’t know the trappers or even that they were in the area. Nobody ever would have known if it hadn’t been for Elmo Peterson.

  Elmo was the thirteenth trapper. He straggled onto Main Street that third day, tired, hungry, and smellier than any skunk Briery Swamp had seen since Tickles, the stuffed skunk that hung on the wall of the old post office. Jada Lincoln Tully, a reporter for The Briery Inquirer, never did get the story, because Elmo Peterson had gone stark raving mad. He took to wearing footy pajamas and jogging circles around the town at midnight. The bodies of his friends were never found.

  After that, people started to move away

  Judge Fineas McCreely said that he’d developed allergies to the West Virginia jasmine that bloomed nightly, and moved his family to Montana. A whole slew of lawyers and their families left with him.

  Alligator Jasper, who was named for the teeth scars he’d obtained as a toddler on a visit to Louisiana, got his seventeen cousins, who made up half the town, to go on safari with him in Africa. They were trampled by a rhinoceros.

  Aida Peterson, the town beauty who married crazy Elmo Peterson, because of his fame as sole survivor of the tragedy, claimed they were moving to be near her ailing aunt in Tampa. But everybody knew Aida Peterson didn’t have any kin still living.

  The truth was, everyone was afraid. After a while the only residents left in Briery Swamp were the postmaster and Tickles, the stuffed skunk.

  Soon a drought came to the town, and the swamps dried up—all but for one lake in the mountains, back behind skunkweed and sinkholes and brambleberry bushes, where no one bothered to go.

  Eventually the postmaster died. The post office saw its last letter come in 1951, nearly a year later. The mailman who delivered it wandered off his route into the woods that same afternoon and disappeared.

  The letter sat in the post office for many years after that, unread. Fifty years later a young woman, with the last name of Bird, moved into the old Brettwaller place, and had a child. Briery Swamp slept. And May Ellen Bird, only a baby after all, who did not know the strange history of her town or even the name of it yet, was blissfully unaware that it slept with one eye open.


  Into the Woods


  A Sack, of Beans

  May Ellen Bird, age ten, occasionally glanced at the brochure her mom taped tom her door that after noon, and scowled. SAINT AGATHA’S BOARDING SCHOOL FOR GIRLS WITH HIGH SOCKS. A few minutes ago May had taken her black marker and written the word “socks” over what had originally been the last word of the headline. Judging by the photos of girls in stiff plaid uniforms plastering the brochure, girls with “high prospects” was not nearly as accurate.

  The woods watched silently through the farthest east window of White Moss Manor as May tried to concentrate on her work. And sometimes, looking up from the curious project strewn across her desk, chewing on a pencil, May watched them back.

  Skinny and straight, with short black bobbed hair and big brown eyes, May ran her fingers over the objects before her—a clump of black fur, a lightbulb, a jar, a book titled Secrets of the Egyptian Mummies, and some wire. Occasionally May swiveled to gaze at Somber Kitty, who laid across her bed like a discarded piece of laundry. His belly faced the ceiling and he eyed her lazily.

  Neither May nor Somber Kitty knew it, but passing squirrels and chipmunks thought the cat was decidedly ugly. He had huge pointy ears and a skinny tail, and he was mostly bald, with just a little bit of fuzz covering his soft skin. His mouth was turned down in a thoughtful frown—an expression he had been wearing ever since May had gotten him three years before, on her seventh birthday.

  May had disliked him immediately.

  “He’s bald,” she’d said.

  “He’s a hairless Rex,” her mom had replied. “He’s interesting.”

  “He looks depressed.”

  “He’s somber.”

  May’s mom had then explained that “somber” meant “sad,” which also meant “melancholy.” So that was the one thing they both agreed on. The cat was most definitely sad. It was almost as if, from the moment he had set his tilty green eyes on May, he had sensed her disappointment in him, and sympathized.

  May had not wanted him, of course. Her first cat, Legume, had died when May was six, and she had resigned herself to a life of grief. She knew there could never be another Legume, which, by the way, is another word for peanut. She’d insisted on wearing black ever since.

  But her mom had insisted on another pet. “You spend too much time alone,” she had said with big, brown, worried eyes, even bigger and browner than May’s. Mrs. Bird had long ago given up trying to get May to bring home friends from school.

  “Why don’t you invite Maribeth over?”

  “She has the chicken pox.”


  “She’s only allowed out on President’s Day.”


  “Leprosy It’s so sad.”

  Finally one afternoon May had stood in her mom’s doorway crossed her arms, and announced that she would accept a cat as long as it was a black tiger.

  She got stuck with Somber Kitty.

  Noticing her watching him now, Somber Kitty opened his mouth and asked, “Mew? Meow? Meay?”

  “That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” May replied.

  Knock knock knock.

  May’s mom poked her head into the room.

  “So what do you think?” she asked hopefully, smiling. “It looks like a great school, doesn’t it?”

  May crossed her arms over her waist and looked toward her bed. “Maybe if you’re a nun,” she offered thoughtfully.

  The smile on Mrs. Bird’s face dropped, and May felt her heart drop too.

  “Maybe it’s okay,” May added. She looked at Somber Kitty who looked at her. Their traded glance said Somber Kitty understood, even if Mrs. Bird didn’t: May could never be happy at a school like Saint Agatha’s, wearing high socks and stuck in New York City without the woods.

  “Well, it’s something to think about,” Mrs. Bird said hopefully, biting her lip. “I think the structure would be good for you. I’d live right nearby. And we could tour the city on the weekends.”

  Mrs. Bird ducked into the room, stooped down, and made her way to May’s desk. From the ceiling hung a number of objects: a dragonfly wind chime, a clothes hanger strung with old sumac leaves, old dry strands of ivy. At the window sat a pair of binoculars to watch for insects and critters, and a telescope aimed at the sky for looking at the stars.

  The walls were so covered in pictures that you couldn’t see the old calico wallpaper. They were drawings of Legume, of Mrs. Bird, of the woods, and of imaginary places and friends and creatures: some with wings and purple hair, black capes and horns, and one particularly spooky one with a lopsided head. There were none of Somber Kitty, who often followed Mrs. Bird’s eyes to the wall with hurt curiosity, searching for a likeness of himself.

  Studying the spookier, darker pictures, Mrs. Bird’s eyes sometimes got big and worried again. “You don’t want people to think you’re eccentric,” she’d say, looking more somber than a certain cat.

  “You ready for the picnic?” Mrs. Bird asked, walking up behind May and hugging her tight.

  May nodded, tugging at the tassels of the sari she’d wrapped around her body like a dress. Because Briery Swamp was too small and empty to have a Day, May and Mrs. Bird always attended the annual Hog Wallow Day Extravaganza and Picnic. It was two towns away, but it involved a parade and games and seeing
all the kids from school. “Yep,” she replied, trying to sound bright.

  Mrs. Bird kissed the top of May’s head, her jasmine perfume sinking into May’s sari.

  “Your classmates will be happy to see you.”

  May blushed. She doubted it.

  May didn’t mention that since school let out, she had made improvements—in secret—getting ready for this exact day. She had gained two pounds, eating sesame-and-peanut-butter balls two at a time, so she wasn’t quite so skinny. Her knees didn’t look as knobby as they had. And she had worked on her smile in the mirror. Usually May’s smile looked like a grimace. But she’d gotten it to look halfway normal, she thought. Girls with nice smiles made friends. Mrs. Bird liked to remind May of this when she came to volunteer on hot-dog days and saw how May sat at the end of the fifth-grade table, curled over her carrots.

  “I don’t know how to make friends,” May would say, embarrassed.

  “Well, actually, you don’t really make friends,” Mrs. Bird always replied. “You just have to let them happen.”

  May didn’t think that was very helpful.

  “What are you making now?” Mrs. Bird asked.

  May surveyed the pieces in front of her. “A materializer. It makes things you imagine real. Like if you imagine a pair of emerald earrings, it makes the earrings appear.”

  Mrs. Bird crouched, moved back toward the door, then turned a thoughtful gaze on May. “Maybe you should be a lawyer someday—then you can make enough money to get me those earrings for real.” May glanced at the materializer. It was supposed to be for real.

  “You’d better get a quick bath. I’ll run the water.”

  May lounged on her bed, picturing what it would be like if she went to the picnic today, and her classmates couldn’t recognize her with the extra two pounds and the big, real-looking smile pasted on her face.

  Who’s that girl? one of the boys, Finny Elway, would say. She reminds me of May.

  “They’d see the best me,” May said aloud to Somber Kitty.

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