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“What is it?” Oliver whipped around in search of danger. He was trying not to worry, but Alice had a bad habit of worrying him. “What’s the matter?”

“Why?” she said.

“Why what?”

“Why do I need a ruler?”

“Because,” he said. “Despite the many inconsistencies, following rules is very important in Furthermore.”


“Now, Alice,” Oliver said, frowning, “please don’t fight me on this. We might be able to compromise on the shoes, but the ruler is very important. A visitor in Furthermore must have a ruler at all times.”

“But why?”

“Well,” Oliver said, “because it measures our time spent here.” He reached into his bag and procured a simple wooden ruler that looked an awful lot like something Alice had seen before.

She took it from him, inspecting it, and was swiftly reminded of Father’s ruler: It was the one thing he’d taken with him when he left home. Alice had not forgotten. How could she? Father always took great care of that ruler. He’d kept it wrapped in a thin rectangle of red velvet, tucked away in the top drawer of his dresser, and checked every night to make sure it was still there. The one time Alice had taken it, hoping to engage it in a bit of play, Father had told her very firmly that it wasn’t a toy.

He’d said it was special.

Alice had always wondered how a ruler could be special, but now, holding Oliver’s ruler in her hand, she was finally beginning to understand. As she remembered it, Father’s ruler was much the same as Oliver’s: dark and thin and marked along the edges the way a ruler might be. But the greatest difference between the two was also the strangest: Oliver’s ruler was much, much heavier than Father’s.

“Mmm,” said Oliver, nodding. “Yes, it’s quite heavy when it’s full.”

“Full of what?”

“Time, of course. Time is the only thing in this land that’s actually regulated,” Oliver explained. “Furthermore is very, very persnickety about time. It’s mandatory to fill and measure the length of any visit because Furthermore likes to keep a close eye on all who pass through.”

“Time,” Alice said softly, eyes still locked on the ruler in her hand. “How odd.”

“Yes. They don’t like to waste time here. For years Furthermore let visitors take as much time as they wanted, but so much of it was spent on thinking and wondering and deciding that it’s now very strictly regulated.” And then, seeing the look on Alice’s face, he added, “Studies have shown that thinking and wondering lead to thoughtful decision-making. It’s an epidemic.”

Alice’s mouth popped open in surprise. “You mean to say that Furthermore doesn’t want visitors to make thoughtful decisions?”

“Of course they don’t,” Oliver said, tugging the ruler out of her hands. “Stupid people are much easier to eat.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“If you force visitors to make hasty, hurried decisions, they’re bound to make poor choices more quickly, which will more efficiently lead to their demise. But going slowly won’t do, either. They’ll make a nice stew out of you for wasting time. It’s a simple trap,” he said. “You lose either way. So we’ll have to settle for being quick and clever.”

Alice relinquished the ruler, but reluctantly. Distractedly. She was done being shocked by Oliver’s explanations, but she was now lost in her own thoughts. “Did you know,” said Alice quietly, “that Father left Ferenwood with nothing but a ruler?”

“I did.”

“So he knew,” Alice said, confirming her own suspicions. “Before he left. Father knew where he was going.”

“He must’ve known,” said Oliver. “He’d been here plenty of times before—he knew how it all worked. In fact, it was because of his notes and knowledge of Furthermore that I’d known what to do when I got here. I owe him a great debt.”

This was too much for Alice to process.

Why would Father come back to Furthermore after all these years? What did he want here?

Alice had long suspected that Father was different from everyone else in Ferenwood—his thoughts were richer, his mind was fuller, his eyes were brighter—but Alice never thought of Father as a man with secrets, and now she was beginning to wonder if she’d really known Father at all.

She bit her lip and bundled her thoughts, setting aside her feelings of unease. Loving Father meant loving all of him—his open windows as well as his dusty corners—and she refused to love him less for secrets unknown. Alice had secrets, too, didn’t she? And she was beginning to realize that part of growing up meant growing tender, and that secrets were sometimes wrapped around tender things to keep them safe.

“So,” Oliver said as he straightened the hem of his tunic. “Shall we see about getting you that pair of shoes?”

Alice looked down at her feet.

Horrifying, I know, but Alice had never much cared for shoes. She’d only ever worn shoes in the winter, and when she had, they were linen boots lined with cotton flowers; soft and springy and comfortable. But it wasn’t winter, and she couldn’t imagine wearing them now. “Do I have to?” she asked Oliver.

“There’s a tremendous hike ahead of us,” he said, making an effort to look sympathetic. “I do highly recommend it.”

“Well,” said Alice, biting her lip. “Alright. If wearing shoes will make it easier to find Father, then I suppose it’s—oh!” Alice hesitated, remembering something important.

“What is it?” Oliver said.

“I haven’t any finks,” she said. Then, more quietly, “Do they even accept finks here? How do we buy things in Furthermore?”