Page 57

“It does, doesn’t it?” A pause. “Where are you?”

Alice hadn’t any idea where they’d landed. She stumbled to her feet and tread carefully, single arm out, feeling for familiarity. Alice and Oliver both breathed sighs of relief when they collided, and he quickly took hold of her only hand, holding tight as they forged forward, sniffing and sensing and listening for a hint of what would come next.

They hit wall after wall of old, musty wood—strange, the wood felt damp—until they finally stumbled upon a door. Alice’s heart did a happy flip in relief, and Oliver laughed a nervous sort of laugh, and then . . . they hesitated.

Alice wanted to turn the knob, but Oliver said they had to knock. “It’s the Furthermore way,” he reminded her. “It’s improper to walk, uninvited, through a door that isn’t your own. You always have to knock.”

“But what if no one answers?” she asked. “What if we knock forever and no one comes?”

“Nonsense,” Oliver said with a wave of his hand. “There’s no door in Furthermore that isn’t aching to be opened.”

Alice took a deep breath. “Very well,” she said. “If you’re certain.”

“Quite certain.”

They were both quiet a moment.

“Are you ready?” said Alice.

“Always,” said Oliver.

And together, his knuckles and hers, they knocked on the door made of damp, musty wood, and tried not to think too hard about what might be waiting for them on the other side.


After only a moment, the door creaked open. Wood straining against wood, the door no longer seemed to fit in its frame. It was so old and warped it was almost as though it’d never been opened until that very moment.

Alice was goose bumps everywhere.

Inch by inch, light poured into the dim room they stood in, until soon the lengths of it were flooded with light, and Alice and Oliver had to squint to see who stood on the other side.

Alice blinked and blinked until a figure finally came into focus, but even then she was confused. It was either an owl or a very old man, she couldn’t be sure. All she did know for certain was that he was very happy to see them. She knew this because the first thing he did was burst into tears.

“Honorable guests of Left,” he said, sobbing, “you are most welcome to our land. Oh honorable guests,” he wept, “bless you for bestowing your good graces on our home. Bless you,” he said, “for choosing Left when you could’ve gone Right. Bless you,” he said, his voice cracking, “for we’ve wanted for visitors for so long. We hoped and danced for the chance to speak to another. Waited and waited for a moment with a new friend. Oh honorable guests!” He was half bent, hands clutching his knees and weeping (Alice could see now that he was indeed an old man, and not an owl), and she was so startled, so moved, so touched, and so tentative, she wasn’t quite sure what to do.

She looked at Oliver.

He shrugged.

“Please,” the old man said (after he’d pulled himself together), “please,” he said, gesturing toward the light. He moved just outside the door to allow them room to pass. “Step into the land of Left. The land of my home. A land,” he said with sudden pride, puffing his birdlike chest into the air, “no longer ignored. No longer neglected. Oh joy, oh joy,” he said. “What a day, what a day!”

Oliver stepped forward cautiously and peeked his head out. She heard him gasp, and then he looked back, eyes wild, and made an effort to smile. “It’s okay,” he whispered.

Alice took Oliver’s outstretched hand and followed him out the door. She didn’t know what she felt more: nervousness or excitement, or a nervous sort of excitement, but, oh, where they were she didn’t know and didn’t mind, because it was beautiful and strange. The little old man was beside himself with joy, and she didn’t think anyone had ever been happier to see her than he was just then.

Friends, they had just stepped out of a tree trunk.

These were trees as tall as giants who were tall for their size. Trees as grand as mountains, tree trunks as wide as treetops, trees chock-full of leaves so green she could barely stand to look at them. They were high, high above the ground, but in the land of Left there was a clear bottom: Many thousands of feet below them was an expanse of green that seemed to go on forever; she could see little yellow flowers dotting the tall, wild grass. But most interesting wasn’t the web of interconnected trees. It wasn’t the many busy people tending to their lives in a brilliantly lit forest. Well, I mean, it was—it was all of that—but it was more: Here, their homes were made from empty eggshells; mostly whole or one-quarter missing, each one painted a different geometric design. They were bright and steady and somehow unbroken, hung from branches with thick, glittering white rope. Inside each one was a little world, a home that held hearts and minds; and it was immediately obvious to Alice—and Oliver—that the people of Left were a happy sort.

But experience had taught her to be suspicious.

The little old man was waiting for them under a canopy of branches. There was just enough shade to protect them from the sun, but occasionally the light would slip through a crack and remind them all how dim they were without it.

Alice and Oliver carefully balanced their way down a branch and followed their new guide. Suddenly he came to an abrupt stop, jumped straight up in surprise, and turned back to face them.

“My goodness,” he said. “I have taken leave of my manners.” He shook his head and bowed slightly. “Please forgive the oversight,” he said. “It’s only that I am so very pleased to see you that I forgot everything but my own excitement.” He lifted his head and looked them in the eye. “I am Paramint,” he said. “And it is my great honor and privilege to meet you both.”

Alice and Oliver introduced themselves, and as they did, Alice noticed that Paramint was wearing an outfit she’d never seen any person wear before: a mustard-colored buttoned-down shirt with a bright-blue vest and a red-on-rust pinstriped jacket paired with olive-green velvet trousers. He wore chocolate-brown boots so shiny Alice swore she heard them glitter, and he carried in his hand a very tall candy cane, presumably for walking.