May bird among the stars, p.1
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       May Bird Among the Stars, p.1
 

           Jodi Lynn Anderson
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May Bird Among the Stars


  May♦Bird AMONG THE STARS

  ALSO BY JODI LYNN ANDERSON

  May Bird and the Ever After: Book One

  Atheneum Books for Young Readers

  An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, New York 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  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 products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2006 by Jodi Lynn Anderson

  Map on pp. x-xi by Peter Ferguson

  Images on pp. 102 and 137 by Sammy Yuen Jr.

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  Book design by Christopher Grassi

  The text for this book is set in Berkeley Old Style.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Anderson, Jodi Lynn.

  May Bird among the stars: book two ⁄ Jodi Lynn Anderson—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Still trapped in the Ever After, ten-year-old May Bird struggles to decide whether to save the world of her ghostly friends from the evil Bo Cleevil or to return to her West Virginia home.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-689-86924-2

  ISBN-10: 0-689-86924-X

  eISBN: 978-1-439-10701-0

  [1. Future life—Fiction. 2. Self-confidence—Fiction. 3. Ghosts—Fiction. 4. Fantasy]

  1. Title.

  PZ7.A53675 May 2006

  [Fic]—dc22 2005028832

  For a few of my girl heroes: Amanda Clair, Emma McClintic, Emily Jo-An, and Kaiherine Mary

  CONTENTS

  PROLOGUE

  PART ONE: ACROSS THE HIDEOUS HIGHLANDS

  Chapter One: The World’s Largest Demon Toenail and Other Wonders

  Chapter Two: Cleevilville #135

  Chapter Three: Something’s Gone Bad at the Snack Shack

  Chapter Four: The Edge of Paradise

  Chapter Five: Risk Falls

  Chapter Six: An Invitation

  Chapter Seven: The Forgetting Lagoon

  Chapter Eight: The Wild Hunt

  Chapter Nine: The Carnival at the Edge of the World

  Chapter Ten: The Stranger

  PART TWO: INTO THE FAR NORTH

  Chapter Eleven: Two Cats

  Chapter Twelve: The Petrified Pass

  Chapter Thirteen: Petrified, Period

  Chapter Fourteen: Statues

  Chapter Fifteen: The Beekeeper

  Chapter Sixteen: The Lady at the Top of the Tree

  Chapter Seventeen: The Letter in the Leaf

  Chapter Eighteen: Ghouly Gum

  Chapter Nineteen: Walk of the Zombies

  Chapter Twenty: The Colony of the Undead

  Chapter Twenty-one: A Message to Isabella

  Chapter Twenty-two: Who’s Afraid of Hocus Pocus?

  Chapter Twenty-three: A Gambling Town, a Rambling Town

  Chapter Twenty-four: A Long-lost Mother

  Chapter Twenty-five: Going Down

  PART THREE: UNDER THE SEA

  Chapter Twenty-six: The Dark Spirit Capital of the Universe

  Chapter Twenty-seven: A Luminous Boy

  Chapter Twenty-eight: The Rescue of Lucius

  Chapter Twenty-nine: The Dungeons of Abandoned Hope

  Chapter Thirty: A Sack of Dust

  Chapter Thirty-one: The Dastardly Disco

  Chapter Thirty-two: Somber Kitty Dances at Midnight

  Chapter Thirty-three: The Guest of Honor

  Chapter Thirty-four: Dust in the Wind

  Chapter Thirty-five: The Bogey’s Closet

  Chapter Thirty-six: Under the Night

  Acknowledgments

  I would like to acknowledge Rosemary Ellen Guiley and I her book The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits for provid-Ting such extensive information on the folklore of spirits, spooks, and specters. I also wish to acknowledge Professor Verlyn Fleiger for introducing me to North Farm and its mysterious mistress.

  In addition to the usual suspects, I would like to thank Bertrand Comet-Barthe for his many kindnesses. I would also like to thank my niece Amanda Anderson Van DerSluys for being my first young editor. Her encouragement has been much cherished.

  Finally, I want to acknowledge all of my nieces for inspiring any part of May Ellen Bird that is worthy, and special, and true.

  Prologue

  Trees are not supposed to have favorites. But they had always been slightly partial to May Bird.

  Over the ten years since she’d been born, the woods of Briery Swamp, West Virginia, had peered through May’s window night after night. They had watched over her thoughtful brown eyes, the imaginative crook of her head, the strong character of her knobby knees. The trees had laughed at the jokes May told to her cat. Their leaves had whispered over her wild inventions, her colorful stories, her drawings.

  But since May had been missing, the trees had watched over her mom instead.

  Ellen Bird was like and unlike her daughter. They both had the same thoughtful eyes and the same dark hair, the same sweet, quiet ways. But while May had always run wild through the trees in her sparkly black bathing suit, sticking feathers she found behind her ears and tucking flowers into the pockets of her shorts, Ellen had always liked to sit and work. Now, she only sat … and waited.

  The day May and her cat had gone missing, the police had rolled up to the house like an overturned bushel of apples, crisscrossing the rambling white walls of White Moss Manor with red and blue lights. May’s classmates had followed shortly after with cards and cakes and flashlights, whispering phrases of regret to one another:

  Maribeth Stuller: “I teased her for wearing black rubber boots on Mondays.”

  Claire Arneson: “I never traded my fruit squishes for her peanut butter balls.”

  Finny Elway: “I laughed at her for playing badminton with her cat.”

  The truth was, none of them had been very nice to May Bird.

  For weeks the residents of Hog Wallow, Little Yellow Church, and Droop Mountain had combed the woods in the fine-tooth way But when they had called May’s name, only the crickets and the trees had talked back.

  And so, but for a forbidding and vast stretch of briars that simply couldn’t be crossed, they had covered Briery Swamp and turned up nothing but bad cases of poison ivy.

  Ellen Bird had remained on the porch wrapped in an old quilt and a new sorrow.

  And the woods, unable to speak in words she could hear, kept their secrets—about the night May had wandered into the trees in the dark, about the strange glow that had taken her away, and about the lake, where a glowing figure swam night after night, waiting for the next person who might wander her way.

  A person who might come looking beyond the briars. A person, perhaps, like a sad, brown-eyed mother, searching for her girl.

  Part One

  Across The Hideous Highlands

  Chapter One

  The World’s Largest Demon Toenail and Other Wonder

  On a train hurtling past a black sea, on a star far above the earth, a hairless cat lifted his nose to the air, sniffed, and let out a tiny howl. Even Somber Kitty didn’t know why he did it. Instincts were weird that way.

  He stared across train car 178 and let out a frustrated sigh. May, sitting at one of the car’s windows, appeared to be lost in her own thoughts. Somber Kitty let his chin sink down onto his paws again.


  May gently twirled the pendant Pumpkin had given her in the City of Ether—one half of a tiny silver coffin that, when placed with its other half, showed the engraving: NEVER TO BE DEARLY DEPARTED. She hardly blinked as she stared at the sight that had appeared on the horizon a few moments before.

  Far above the vast, dark, oily Dead Sea that, May knew, held even darker things beneath its surface, dark clouds swirled. Strokes of lightning occasionally threaded their way across the sky, seeming to tie it in crooked bows. It looked like the world’s worst thunderstorm was going on somewhere across the sea. Despite the distance, the sight fell over May’s heart like a shadow.

  May shivered and reached for Somber Kitty. Only too happy to oblige, the hairless cat—who was considered very cute by some, very ugly by many others—leaped into her lap, placed a paw on each of her shoulders, and licked her cheek with his sandpapery pink tongue. May scrunched up her face in disgust, but she smiled.

  As she and Kitty peered out the window together, she thought of her mom, and the many strange and mysterious things that had happened to her since she had fallen into the lake in the West Virginia woods and come out on the wrong side of life, into the world of ghosts. The train slowly veered west, pulling away from the dark, glistening seashore, back into the Hideous Highlands, blanketed in dusk. In the Ever After, it was always dusk and the stars zipped through the sky as if they were meteors.

  Decrepit old billboards—like the ones they’d been seeing for the last few days—zoomed past:

  WORLD’S LARGEST DEMON TOENAIL, NEXT EXIT

  PETEY’S PIRANHA SHACK: OUR PRICES CAN’T BE BEATEN, EVEN IF YOU’VE BEEN EATEN

  THE HAIR STILL THERE SALON: DREAD LOCKS, SHRUNKEN HEAD MASSAGES, SCALP REATTACHMENT AVAILABLE

  (DISCOUNT FOR THE FIRST 100 HOMESTEADERS TO MENTION THIS AD!)

  They’d already passed the World’s Largest Tombstone, the World’s Longest String of Ectoplasm, several billboards promising a good time at the Poltergeist Corral, and several more announcing something called “The Carnival at the Edge of the World.”

  Sighing, May stood and moved forward through the opulent but decayed train car. In the first cabin she came to, Captain Fabbio’s long, ghostly frame sprawled across two beds pushed together, neatly tucked under the sheets and snoring under his mustache.

  Beatrice, in the cabin beyond, lay with one dainty, transparent arm splayed over a pile of books, the top of which was Baedekers Most Popular Destinations for Typhoid Victims. May took the books, carefully marked their open pages, and put them on the bedside table, then quietly slid a pillow under her friend. Kitty, dangling rather close to Bea’s face as May did this, touched her spectral cheek gently with his paw, then pulled back gingerly and licked his paw pads to warm them up.

  May took his paw in her hand and blew on it warmly. Bea, like most spirits, was always so cold.

  In the next cabin—the one that May, Somber Kitty, and Pumpkin shared—Pumpkin lay curled up around his blanket, snoring. Kitty did not even attempt to pat Pumpkin’s cheek. He simply leaped from May’s arms onto the top bunk. But every time a snore issued from the sleeping ghosts rather large, pumpkin-shaped head, he gazed down at him, then lifted his nose in the air and looked away.

  At Pumpkin’s request for her to “make it special,” May had decorated the cabin like a royal Persian boudoir, scavenging moldy bolts of silk, shiny bells, star lights, and other decorations from various parts of the great train, deserted but for its skeleton conductor, who neither spoke nor reacted when May and her companions popped up to the front of the train to see him. Once the boudoir had been completed, Pumpkin had insisted on being called “Your Highness” whenever anyone in the room addressed him.

  “Meow?” Somber Kitty whispered.

  “All asleep,” May said, misinterpreting Somber Kitty’s question. What he had really meant was, Are you sure you don’t get the sense that someone we love is in danger?

  At the moment May didn’t sense anything. In fact, she was perfectly content. She had almost forgotten, just then, that she was stranded in the Afterlife, on a star a million miles from home. Friends, she had realized, could make you do that. Forget the things that worried you most. May had only just learned this; before the Ever After, her only friends had been cats.

  It had been seven days since these very friends had helped her escape a fearsome creature called the Bogey at the City of Ether. Since then May had planned twenty-seven escape routes from the train in case it was stopped by their enemies. She had installed booby traps at the caboose of the train, as well as in the dining car—involving string, empty slurpy soda cans, and some ectoplasm she’d found in the bathroom. She had even made scarecrows of herself, Pumpkin, Kitty, and the others to use in case of an emergency, though she didn’t know how they would actually help. For less urgent reasons, she had also invented a mustache curler for Captain Fabbio, who liked to look dashing while he was on the run, and fashioned a clip to hold book pages down for Beatrice as she read.

  For whatever reason, the Bogey was leaving May and her friends alone. He had to know exactly where they were. He had seen them leap onto the train. And it was a nonstop train straight to the north edge of the realm. May wondered if the Bogey had died when he’d been trampled by all those Egyptians outside Ether, but Bea had patiently reminded her that he had been dead in the first place.

  May peered out her window into the distance again, as if she might see the object of these fears climbing up the sides of the train at any moment. Up ahead, the mountains of the Far North were visible, but just barely—tiny points rising from the horizon and shrouded in a haze. The Hideous Highlands stretched endlessly between them—a vast wasteland of ancient roadside curiosities.

  Once, Bea had explained, the northern train route had been wildly popular among spirits all over the realm and had been populated with all manner of frontier towns and attractions. But for the past couple of hundred years it had declined to the point of extinction, until almost every train was empty and most of the attractions had shut down, fallen apart, and begun to disintegrate.

  May sighed, then climbed onto the bunk beside Kitty to make her bed—but she quickly shrank back.

  A large manila envelope floated just an inch above the mattress, addressed:

  May Ellen Bird

  Car 178

  The North Train

  The Ever After

  May looked around, hopped down off her bunk, checked the outside hallway, left and right, then climbed back onto the bed and gazed at Somber Kitty.

  He blinked at her drowsily, his eyes green, lazy slits. If he had seen anyone deliver the strange package, he wasn’t talking.

  May touched the corner of the envelope with her pinky, pulled it toward herself, and turned it over.

  She gasped. The stamp on the back was familiar. With her pinky, she traced the insignia of leaves shrouding a mysterious face. The only distinct feature visible was a pair of eyes, and they stared out at May with a look that was both inviting and sly—enticing and, perhaps, dangerous. It was the same stamp that had been on the letter she’d received back in Briery Swamp, inviting her to the lake. The stamp of the Lady of North Farm.

  After a moment’s consideration May tugged the envelope open. A blinding light flew into her face and made her throw her hands in front of her eyes, shutting them tight. On the back of her eyelids, to her shock, these words were scrawled in bright white letters:

  Dear Miss Bird,

  Congratulations on your narrow escape from the Bogey! The Lady is smiling on you—but then, the Lady’s smile can he very ambiguous.

  We look forward to your arrival. The Lady has something she wants to ask of you. We understand that you have something to ask of her, too. In case you are wondering, she has it in her power to grant whatever you wish.

  May’s heart skipped along a little faster. She thought immediately of home—its shaggy green lawn and the wayward line of White Moss Manor’s roof, the sagging porch, the shady woods. Wou
ldn’t those things be a welcome sight? She pictured herself running up the stairs, through the front door, into the arms of her mom.

  We’re sending you two freshly baked northern cookies and two bottles of grade A North Farm milk. They’ll keep you from getting hungry or thirsty as long as you stay in the Ever After You and your cat will need to consume them quickly. Please do not beat around the bush.

  May blinked her eyes open and looked into the pouch. She pulled out the cookies and milk, examining them in wonder, and laid them on her bed. When she shut her eyes again, more words appeared.

  Please hurry up. The Ever After is unraveling faster than an old sweater. Your enemies are not as close as you think, but they are closer than they should be. Speaking of which, you are about to hit a bump in the road. Good luck with that.

  Never forget that the way back is forward.

  Sincerely,

  H. Kari Threadgoode Secretary

  PS. The Lady wants me to say hello to Somber Kitty. Apparently, they go way back. Of course, being a cat—and a living cat at that—puts him in much danger.

  The letters on the backs of her eyelids flickered out. When May opened her eyes, the envelope, too, was gone. She looked at Kitty, then at the cookies and milk, then back at Kitty. All she could think to say was, “You go way back?”

  “Meow,” Somber Kitty said, sniffing one of the cookies, trying to change the subject. What he would have said, if he could speak English, was that everybody knew the Lady of North Farm, in some way or another—they just didn’t know they knew. The Lady was, in fact, woven into the very fabric of the universe. You couldn’t miss her.

  But then, people were generally very foolish about these things. They didn’t believe in the existence of ghosts, for instance. But then, even ghosts did not know that trees could laugh. So Somber Kitty guessed that the dead and the living were pretty even. Only cats came out ahead.

  “It was a telep-a-gram. They have booths in all the major cities,” Bea explained, running her fingers along her long blond curls to make sure each hair was in place. She folded her hands in her lap. “You think it, and then you send it. I’ve tried to send one to my mother,” she said, frowning, “but you need to have an exact address.”

 
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