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Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3)
Author:Seanan McGuire

Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3)

Seanan McGuire



FOR MIDORI,

WHOSE DOORWAY IS WAITING





Sugar, flour, and cinnamon won’t make a house a home,

So bake your walls of gingerbread and sweeten them with bone.


Eggs and milk and whipping cream, butter in the churn,

Bake our queen a castle in the hopes that she’ll return.

—CHILDREN’S CLAPPING RHYME, CONFECTION





PART I

THE EMPTY SPACES





HOME AGAIN

CHILDREN HAVE ALWAYS tumbled down rabbit holes, fallen through mirrors, been swept away by unseasonal floods or carried off by tornadoes. Children have always traveled, and because they are young and bright and full of contradictions, they haven’t always restricted their travel to the possible. Adulthood brings limitations like gravity and linear space and the idea that bedtime is a real thing, and not an artificially imposed curfew. Adults can still tumble down rabbit holes and into enchanted wardrobes, but it happens less and less with every year they live. Maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a world where being careful is a necessary survival trait, where logic wears away the potential for something bigger and better than the obvious. Childhood melts, and flights of fancy are replaced by rules. Tornados kill people: they don’t carry them off to magical worlds. Talking foxes are a sign of fever, not guides sent to start some grand adventure.

But children, ah, children. Children follow the foxes, and open the wardrobes, and peek beneath the bridge. Children climb the walls and fall down the wells and run the razor’s edge of possibility until sometimes, just sometimes, the possible surrenders and shows them the way to go home.

Becoming the savior of a world of wonder and magic before you turn fourteen does not exactly teach caution, in most cases, and many of the children who fall through the cracks in the world where they were born will one day find themselves opening the wrong door, peering through the wrong keyhole, and standing right back where they started. For some, this is a blessing. For some, it is easy to put the adventures and the impossibilities of the past behind them, choosing sanity and predictability and the world that they were born to be a part of. For others …

For others, the lure of a world where they fit is too great to escape, and they will spend the rest of their lives rattling at windows and peering at locks, trying to find the way home. Trying to find the one perfect door that can take them there, despite everything, despite the unlikeliness of it all.

They can be hard for their families to understand, those returned, used-up miracle children. They sound like liars to people who have never had a doorway of their own. They sound like dreamers. They sound … unwell, to the charitable, and simply sick to the cruel. Something must be done.

Something like admission to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a school for those who have gone, and come back, and hope to go again, when the wind is right, when the stars are bright, when the world remembers what it is to have mercy on the longing and the lost. There, they can be among their peers, if they can truly be said to have peers: they can be with people who understand what it is to have the door locked between themselves and home. The rules of the school are simple. Heal. Hope. And if you can, find your way back where you belong.

No solicitation. No visitors.

No quests.





1

ONE DOOR OPENS, ANOTHER IS BLOWN OFF ITS HINGES

AUTUMN HAD COME TO Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children in the usual way, with changing leaves and browning grass and the constant smell of impending rain hanging heavy in the air, a seasonal promise yet to be fulfilled. The blackberry briars at the back of the field grew rich with fruit, and several students spent their afternoons with buckets in their hands, turning their fingers purple and soothing their own furious hearts.

Kade checked the seals on the windows one by one, running putty along the places where the moisture seemed likely to find a way inside, one eye on the library and the other on the sky.

Angela watched the sky too, waiting for a rainbow, ordinary shoes on her feet and enchanted shoes slung over her shoulder, laces tied in a careful, complicated knot. If the light and the water came together just so, if the rainbow touched down where she could reach it, she would be gone, off and running, running, running all the way home.

Christopher, whose door would open—if it ever opened for him again; if he ever got to find his way back home—on the Day of the Dead, sat in the grove of trees behind the house, playing ever more elaborate songs on his bone flute, trying to prepare for the moment of disappointment when the door failed to appear or of overwhelming elation when the Skeleton Girl called him back where he belonged.

So it was all across the school, each of the students preparing for the change of seasons in whatever way seemed the most appropriate, the most comforting, the most likely to get them through the winter. Girls who had gone to worlds defined by summer locked themselves in their rooms and wept, staring at the specter of another six months trapped in this homeland that had somehow, between one moment and the next, become a prison; others, whose worlds were places of eternal snow, of warm furs and hot fires and sweet mulled wine, rejoiced, seeing their own opportunity to find the way back opening like a flower in front of them.

Eleanor West herself, a spry ninety-seven-year-old who could pass for someone in her late sixties, and often did when she had to interact with people from outside the school, walked the halls with a carpenter’s eye, watching the walls for signs of sagging, watching the ceilings for signs of rot. It was necessary to have contractors in every few years to keep things solid. She hated the disruption. The children disliked pretending to be ordinary delinquents, sent away by their parents for starting fires or breaking windows, when really they had been sent away for slaying dragons and refusing to say that they hadn’t. The lies seemed petty and small, and she couldn’t blame them for feeling that way, although she rather thought they would change their tune if she deferred the maintenance and someone got drywall dropped on their head.