May bird warrior princes.., p.1
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       May Bird, Warrior Princess, p.1
 

           Jodi Lynn Anderson
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May Bird, Warrior Princess


  Also by Jodi Lynn Anderson

  May Bird and the Ever After: Book One

  May Bird Among the Stars: Book Two

  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 © 2007 by Jodi Lynn Anderson

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction

  in whole or in part in any form.

  Book design by Debra Sfetsios

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

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  First Edition

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Anderson, Jodi Lynn.

  May Bird and the bridge of souls / Jodi Lynn Anderson.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  “Book Three.”

  Summary: Three years after her return from the Ever After, May Bird, now thirteen, draws

  her scattered friends—Pumpkin, Fabbio, Beatrice, and Lucius—out of hiding to take a final

  stand against Evil Bo Cleevil, as May herself makes ready to live up to the prophecy that

  placed the fate of the Ever After, and her own world, in her hands.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-689-86925-9

  ISBN-10: 0-689-86925-8

  eISBN-13: 978-1-442-42893-5

  [1. Fantasy.] I. Title.

  PZ7.A53675Maxm 2007

  [Fic]—dc22 2007002944

  For my grandmothers, Dorothy and Aena

  CONTENTS

  PROLOGUE

  PART ONE: A MAY-SHAPED HOLE

  Chapter One: May Bird Went to the Land of the Dead and All She Brought Me Was This Lousy T-Shirt

  Chapter Two: A (Bad) Breath from the Past

  Chapter Three: First Snow

  Chapter Four: Widow’s Walk

  PART TWO: BO CLEEVIL IS NUMBER ONE!

  Chapter Five: An Empty Shore

  Chapter Six: Back to Belle Morte

  Chapter Seven: Like a Ghost

  Chapter Eight: The Last of the Knaves

  Chapter Nine: Ghost City

  Chapter Ten: Vampires!

  Chapter Eleven: The Pit of Despair

  Chapter Twelve: The White Knuckle Karaoke Lounge

  Chapter Thirteen: The Lorelei

  Chapter Fourteen: Chasing the Hesperius

  Chapter Fifteen: Choices

  Chapter Sixteen: Portotown

  Chapter Seventeen: The Duchess’s Ball

  Chapter Eighteen: Escape from Portotown

  Chapter Nineteen: A Wild Ride

  Chapter Twenty: A Big Nothing

  Chapter Twenty-one: The Free Spirits Were Here

  Chapter Twenty-two: Meatballs of Fire

  Chapter Twenty-three: Back to North Farm

  Chapter Twenty-four: Galaxy Gulf

  Chapter Twenty-five: A Special Delivery

  Chapter Twenty-six: Pumpkin and May

  Chapter Twenty-seven: The Beginning of the End

  Chapter Twenty-eight: The Hole in the Floor of the World

  Chapter Twenty-nine: A Warrior Queen

  PART THREE: SCARED OF THE DARK

  Chapter Thirty: In the Heart of All Bad Things

  Chapter Thirty-one: In the Castle

  Chapter Thirty-two: The Meaning of Lost

  Chapter Thirty-three: An Ancient Trick

  Chapter Thirty-four: A Bird at Last

  Chapter Thirty-five: The Bridge of Souls

  Chapter Thirty-six: Love, Patience, Grace

  EPILOGUE

  With Fondest Rememberance

  Sarah Burnes—Agent of Divine Inspiration

  Liesa Abrams—Soul Mate

  Jen Weiss—Dearly Departed Editor

  Molly McGuire—Tapping the Walls at Simon & Schuster

  Jon Wayshak—Drawing Fresh Blood

  Bertrand Comet-Barthe—Generous Spirit

  and Purveyor of Fine Chocolates

  Lexy James and Erika Loftmann—Luminous Girls

  Joe Gouldby, Simone Bechstein, and Zulay Cabezas—

  Watchful Presences

  Chris Davidson—Ephemeral Poet

  And Most of All, My Family—Guiding Stars

  Prologue

  The night May Bird came home, the cold, bright stars looked down on Briery Swamp, and Briery Swamp—warm as a fuzzy mitten and full of sultry shadows—looked back. Through the trees, the stars had a view of a tiny clearing and a rambling white farmhouse. And the stars could just make out the shadows and faint shouts of joy that issued from the house on one particular night—the night that May Ellen Bird returned home from the world of ghosts.

  For May those first days were vivid and bright. Her eyes hugged the dear crooked lines of White Moss Manor. She ran her fingers along the spines of crickets and salamanders, sat under shady trees and in secret hollows, peered into stumps made into frog motels, sank her feet into grass that smelled like the color green, caught leaves the color of October, lay on patches of pine needles with her cat. There were the angles and colors of things alive and bright, not shady and incandescent and deceased. And there was May’s mother, Ellen.

  Mrs. Bird’s cheeks seemed to have grown rosier, her hair had gone softer, her smell had grown sweeter, her voice more warm and rumbly, while May and Somber Kitty had been away. For nights she and May slept side by side, and Mrs. Bird would reach out for her in her sleep and hold her so tight that May promised herself she would never leave home again.

  And then, bursting into the quiet bliss of May, her mom, and her cat, were the reporters. They descended on the yard like gypsy moths. May poured out her story to TV cameras, to doctors, to crowds of classmates full of worry and excitement and hope. And—to her great surprise—she was greeted by rolling eyes, snickers into sleeves, and, sometimes, out-and-out laughter.

  May met these reactions with bewildered hurt. But it was her mother who hurt her most of all. Mrs. Bird did not snicker, or laugh, or roll her eyes. She only pursed her lips into a tight, worried, disbelieving frown and asked May why, after all they had been through, she couldn’t tell the truth.

  That was when May stopped talking about the Ever After altogether. It was a long time before her mom, in hopeless frustration, stopped asking.

  Sometimes, after Mrs. Bird fell asleep, May would slide out of bed and creep into her own bedroom, still the same as the day she had first left Briery Swamp: hung with photos of far-off places, clothes hangers twisted into animal shapes and strange inventions, and fantastical drawings—of monsters, rainbows, and faeries; of May’s first pet cat, Legume, who had died when she was small; and of an odd creature with a pumpkin-shaped head and a mop of yellow hair in a tuft.

  Here she would scratch Somber Kitty’s ears absently, her eyes trained on the stars outside her bedroom window. As she blinked in the dark, she pictured the shadows of the Ever After, a dusky sky above it full of swiftly passing stars, the starlit stretch of the Hideous Highlands, the oily blackness of the Dead Sea, the purple glow that had surrounded a place called the Carnival at the Edge of the World. Had they needed her there, like they had said they did? Sitting small and thin upon her bed, May could not believe it was true.

  And still, one afternoon May found herself sneaking into the woods, Kitty at her
side. They made their way beyond the great brier patch, where she knew she would find a lake that made a door between Earth and the world of the dead. But what May found there was not a lake at all. It was only a patch of mud where the lake had been.

  She had looked at Kitty and sunk down, fast, as if she had lost her legs.

  “Meow? Mew? Meay?” Kitty had inquired.

  Any ghost worth its vapor knew that water was the only doorway to the Ever After. And despite the name, it hadn’t rained or snowed in Briery Swamp in over a hundred years. Cloudy skies sometimes hung over town with the promise of precipitation—only to scoot along to luckier, wetter towns like Muddy Creek, or Droop Weed, or Skunky Holler.

  The lake was gone for good.

  May’s door to the other world was closed. And although she waited for a sign—a message from the Lady of the snowy north, proof that she was needed after all—nothing came.

  • • •

  Over time, all grief dulls, and May’s was no exception. There were her mother’s smiles, there were bike rides with Kitty and icy mornings in the winter and bees sitting on watermelons in the summer and great orange harvest moons in the fall.

  And while May’s head remembered something else, something before, something glowing, and vast, and doomed, her heart slowly began to forget.

  Her telescope in the attic, unused, she failed to see the signs. They came in every shape and size, Las Vegas–style neons, green highway style, some in spotlight letters written across the dark sky, and they were all pointed in the direction of Earth. They were covered in different words, but all to the same import:

  WHERE IS SHE?

  Word had traveled across the galaxy like a bad game of telephone. But May, fading away like a star herself, didn’t hear.

  On the windowsill of her bedroom, a cricket said cheep cheep cheep. In downtown Briery Swamp, a spider in the rubble of the old post office felt a strange vibration in the atmosphere. At the edge of the White Moss Manor lawn, the woods gaped, its leaves whispering a question to one another every time their shadows touched. Will she come? Will she come?

  Somewhere far above, the world of ghosts waited.

  The seasons rushed through Briery Swamp in great whirling circles, the moon setting in a different place each night, the stars seeming to migrate in circles around the world.

  But the whole show was lost on her.

  May Ellen Bird had stopped looking up at all.

  Part One

  A May-Shaped Hole

  Chapter One

  May Bird Went To The Land Of The Dead

  and All She Brought Me Was This Lousy T-Shirt

  In an empty closet in the south bedroom, on the second floor of White Moss Manor, the clothes hangers jangled, as if they had been touched by a cool breeze.

  On the bed by the window, swathed in an old quilt, lay two lumps, one girl-sized and one cat-sized. A dark head and a pair of ears poked out from the top of the blanket as the lumps stirred.

  May sat up, wondering what had woken her, and crawled out of bed. Skinny as a stick bug and long as a shoelace, May—at age thirteen—was a tall, lanky sort of girl, with legs like a gazelle’s and long, graceful arms that seemed a little unsure where they should tuck themselves. The hair that tumbled down her back was black and long. It glistened stubbornly in the cool December air, glossy as silk spun by caterpillars under the moon. Her brown eyes were as wide as windows, but unlike her hair, they barely glistened at all.

  Somber Kitty poked his head out from under the covers to gaze at her. Wrinkly and bald, with just the faintest hint of fuzz covering him and batlike ears as big as his pointed head, Somber Kitty was a hairless Rex cat and looked like a cross between melting ice cream and an extraterrestrial. He sneezed before tucking his head back under the covers disgustedly. It was too early. May, gave the closet a curious look, a glimmer of something hopeful in her eye. And then she shook it off, sighed, and began to dress.

  Her room had undergone a vast and miraculous transformation in the past three years. Where fantastical pictures used to hang from the walls in sloppy collages, there were now posters of pop stars and favorite movies. Where there had been inventions strewn across her desk, there was now a basket full of makeup, hairspray, and CDs. Only two drawings remained. One of Legume the dead cat. And one of a creature with a lopsided, pumpkin-shaped head. From its spot tucked away in the corner, it watched May’s comings and goings with a crooked, ghastly smile.

  She pulled on her long johns, then her jeans, and a bright pink sweater. She lifted Kitty out of the bed with one hand, tucked him across her shoulder like a baby, and hopped down the stairs.

  White Moss Manor never glowed with homey warmth and good cheer quite the way it did at Christmas. The downstairs hall was filled with the scent of the great pine tree she and her mom had bought and decorated the day before. May slid her socked feet down the crooked, creaky hallway, breathing in the thick smell of fresh holly and evergreen sprigs. She was on her way to the kitchen when she heard a sound coming from behind her down the hall.

  She switched directions and sock-slid to the end of the hall, and through the open archway into the library. White Moss Manor’s library was dusty and lopsided, with books lining its shelves from floor to ceiling. The tree lights cast their sparkling reflection across the dusty old book spines and across the couch, where Mrs. Bird lay watching TV.

  On the screen, a reporter was sitting in the backyard of White Moss Manor. A ten-year-old May sat beside him, skinny, tiny, and pale, looking so bedraggled she might have just tumbled out of the dryer. The man’s hair was slicked back with shiny gel, his mouth open in a big, fake smile.

  Ellen Bird looked up at her daughter and scooched back to make room for her. “We can change it if you want, honey. They’re doing a Christmas special of their favorite news stories,” she said.

  “That’s okay.” May crawled onto the couch beside her mom, and the two curled up to each other like twin caterpillars, Somber Kitty sniffing the crack in between them for a cozy place to snuggle. Sunday mornings at White Moss Manor usually involved eating popcorn and watching a favorite DVD, often Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which Somber Kitty enjoyed most of all.

  No matter how many times she had seen herself on TV, May always found it a bit eerie. She gazed at the image of her ten-year-old self, wondering if she had ever really been that person at all.

  “We’re here with a girl who needs no introduction. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, you’ve seen her—called by many the eighth wonder of the world, her face appearing across the globe on newspapers, magazines, even these”—he held out an armful of paraphernalia, T-shirts printed with MAY BIRD WENT TO THE LAND OF THE DEAD AND ALL SHE BROUGHT ME WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT and squirt bottles labeled EVERLASTING WATER BOTTLE.

  “I don’t need to tell you that psychiatrists have come thousands of miles to study her. Physicists have examined her hair, her fingernails, even the stuff inside her ears. And still, we’re no closer to understanding the mystery: how May Ellen Bird walked into the woods … and failed to come out again for three months.” The reporter squinted meaningfully.

  A growl came from somewhere off-camera, and both May and the reporter looked offscreen, where Somber Kitty had begun to grow restless. May motioned him to shush as the reporter turned back to her, clearly annoyed. “May,” he said as he laid down the souvenirs, “tell us: Do you still claim that all those months you were on a journey to the land of the dead, which you say is located”—he turned to the camera—“on a star”—he lowered his voice an octave—“called the Ever After?” He turned back to May Bird, raising one eyebrow dramatically.

  May stared at the reporter, then off beyond the camera at Somber Kitty. “Yes.”

  The reporter cleared his throat.

  “And so what you’re saying is, there’s a world of ghosts up there, terrorized by a fearsome spirit named Evil Knievel, and protected by a wise old ‘Lady of North Farm,’ who lives in a gia
nt magnolia tree in a snowy valley at the northern edge of the realm?”

  May hesitated, then corrected him softly. “It’s Evil Bo Cleevil.”

  “Right, and there in the Ever After, you were assisted by”—the reporter studied a notepad he pulled out of his pocket—“a ghost with a big squash-shaped head; a girl named Beatrice who died of typhoid in the early 1900s; a deceased Italian air force pilot named Captain Fabbio, who writes bad poetry; and a mischievous, handsome boy named Lucius, your love interest. Not to mention your hairless cat.” The reporter smirked off-camera, in Kitty’s direction.

  “Well, I don’t have a love interest,” May stammered, blushing and clearly bewildered.

  “And you say you ended up there by falling into a lake that no longer exists”—he nodded over his shoulder—“in the woods behind your house?”

  May nodded uncertainly.

  “Now, May”—the reporter’s smile turned serious—“you have a cult following among people who believe in things like UFOs, yoga, and Bigfoot. Let me run some rumors by you. True or false: Are you carrying the spirit of Bigfoot’s two-headed love child?” May shook her head, her brown eyes open wide. “Is Barbra Streisand really Cleopatra reincarnated?” May bit her lip, then shrugged. “Do you believe the reports that appeared in the Questioner a few weeks ago that, thanks to your story, NASA is planning to launch a space probe to look for the world of ghosts?” May shook her head.

  “May, you claimed that, according to something called The Book of the Dead, you’re supposed to save the Ever After from certain doom.” He looked her up and down intently, as if to indicate the ridiculousness of this claim, given her small stature, her knobby knees, her timid disposition. He leaned forward, and his voice softened dramatically. “If that’s true, why haven’t the ghosts come back for you? Did they forget you exist?

  Onscreen, the ten-year-old May looked over her shoulder toward the woods behind her. The trees shook and swayed in the breeze, turning up their leaves. They seemed to wave at the camera forlornly. A sad, hurt kind of tilt played at the corners of her lips, and her brown eyes grew even wider. “I don’t know,” she said.

 
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