XXI. Epilog in Maine: Pit of the What?
In early July, the four kids who were not so lucky as to be from Maine took magical trains to visit Tom Hexane and his parents, in a truly cool house on a lake no one else can see.
Angelica hopped on the train in the Quad Cities. She missed Arnulf, who had been on the same train the day before; he had met up with Daphne and Cloudius at Union Station. They’d grabbed a pizza in the public, normal part of Giordano’s, and then gone on to Albany, where they met up with Daphne. Then they waited a whole day for Ange, sleeping on the special enchanted train and eating enchanted meals and wandering the weird buildings of Albany. The train ride across New England set off at 4 pm, but the entire trip was under starry night skies. It was full of wizards—and other things, like the shadow figures and tentacle-faced businessmen and a couple of small dragons playing poker in the observation car, on and on and on, smoking cigars and drinking what appeared to be gasoline.
The Hexane House was a fully lived-in dwelling of people who were openly wizards at home, and also scholars of wizardry. It stretched on and on, arches leading into courtyards opening onto vast kitchens with starry ceilings and dining rooms for all sixteen seasons and a library that inspired lust in all the non-Hexanes and a suite of bedrooms, spelled into existence where Tom’s bedroom had stood alone, looking as if they’d been well lived-in and just recently cleaned up.
The house was inhabited by K. C. and P. J. Hexane, teachers of science and math at Littleton State, teachers of magic (pentonics and transfiguration) at the Littleton Academy. P. J. looked very plain but always had a little smile on his face; K. C. seemed brooding and dark, and was rumored (a) to have once been a nude dancer, and (b) to have once killed a man with that look. “She nearly killed me with it,” said Tom, as they sat around in (of course) his room, Eva in the window looking very real. “Any number of times. But I don’t believe the dance story.”
“She’d kill too many men,” said Angelica.
“Yeah,” said Cloudius. “But my mom just said, they’re awfully nice and brilliant and are so generous to, um, how’d she put it, actually let four unrelated teenagers into their house through the front door.”
“That is pretty amazing,” said Daphne. “But we’re amazing, right?”
“Besides,” said Cloudius, lying back on Tom’s bed, “we have two weeks of relaxation, right? It’s not like we’re gonna go look for hell doggies under the Field Museum.”
“Why don’t you just say it, and get it over with,” said Arnulf. “We’re going to stay out of trouble. Say it.”
“We’re going to stay out of trouble.”
“Thanks. Because now I know. Something’s going to come up.”
“Feel free to explore the new wing,” P. J. had said, with a twinkle in his eye. When Arnulf did, he found that they had built it just to house the magic items they had bought or made that they weren’t currently using. Three rooms seemed to be full of broken things that needed fixing. Arnulf picked up a gadget that was broken into two unequal parts with a wire between them. He couldn’t figure out how it went together, much less what it did. He put it down: he could hear arguing. In ancient Egyptian.
He rushed out and found that Tom himself had run afoul of two life-size dolls, an Aztec priest and a Pilgrim woman, who had guard duty in the new wing. “Hey, I belong here, I really do,” Tom was saying to the Pilgrim in English. The priest cursed him in Nahuatl, and then all three started arguing in Egyptian.
“Hey, hey, hey,” said Arnulf. They all stopped. “This happens to be the son of your master and mistress, the honorable KC and PJ. Got that?”
The priest asked something of the pilgrim, who answered in Egyptian. “So he’s their son,” she said to Arnulf. He nodded. “So he lives here,” she said. He nodded. “Yes, I do remember someone like that. I don’t recall he was especially nice to me.”
“You’ve got all your stuffing, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry,” said Tom, “I really am. I’m so sorry.”
After a little more debate with the priest, the pilgrim informed them that they had the run of the place. “Thank you,” said Tom as they moved onwards.
They got back to their combined room, and there was Angelica in bed reading.
“Novel?” asked Arnulf.
“No,” said Angelica. “It’s a secret biography of Mme Lacante, actually. It’s fascinating.”
“Learned anything juicy?” asked Tom.
“No, she wouldn’t have anything juicy,” said Angelica, “though she’s had a lot of lovers, did you know she slept with Perez Zerak? Later she had him whacked. Or he had himself whacked to cast a curse on her. Or something.” She wrinkled her forehead. “So leave me alone, I want to finish this tonight.”
Tom and Arnulf shrugged and went outside. “Girls,” said Tom, “studying during summer vacation.” Arnulf appeared to have missed Tom’s remark. He was talking romantically to a circle drawn in red lipstick on a piece of parchment.
Daphne burst into the middle of the next day’s Tom’s Room conference to announce, “Amazons used to live here!”
“My mom’s family’s kinda rural,” said Tom, “but I don’t think many of them are Amazons, other than Aunt Nady and Aunt Nancine.”
“No, no, older than that. Behind that waterfall. Just up the lake? There’s a cave and it’s full of Amazon painting.”
“Wow,” said Tom, “I didn’t even know about that. But—!”
“We were talking about a pond ourselves, as a matter of fact,” said Cloudius with an evil grin.
“Yes, we were,” said Arnulf. “Cloudius is trying to talk us into diving into a pond with a tunnel underwater that goes straight down to the abyss.”
“It doesn’t go to the abyss,” said Cloudius. “It just goes down. Wonder where to?”
“I’ve seen ghost things come and go from that pond,” said Tom. “I’ve seen things I can’t even tell you about. Indescribable things—horribly unformed things, half-seen things that if seen would leave one howling in gibbering terror, things that should exist in no known universe. Let’s do it.”
“That’s very convincing,” said Angelica with a yawn.
“There’s treasure!” giggled Cloudius.
“There’s supposed to some Indian stash under there,” said Tom. “I made the mistake of mentioning it to Cloudius, and look how he got.”
“What?” said Cloudius, grinning. He picked up his uncle’s sword from the floor and started polishing it with a rag.
“Well,” said Daphne, “I hate to disappoint you guys, but I’m with Cloud on this one. Let’s go out tomorrow and have a look.”
The next morning after breakfast, the Hexanes had to go into town to do some academic business. “I doubt we’ll be back till afternoon,” KC said. “Tom will know what’s available for lunch.”
“Sure,” said all five teenagers. They smiled and waved until the little red Escort (with a magical engine that gave it the performance of a Porsche) went out of the drive and around a bend in the highway. They all looked at each other. “What do we need to take?” asked Angelica.
“Nothing much this time,” said Daphne. “We’re just looking for now.”
“Right,” said Cloudius, “we’re saving the actual mission for this afternoon. Your mom and dad will just think we’ve gone for a hike.”
“And it’s true,” said Tom. “Just a hike underwater.”
“I’m still not agreeing to do anything more than look,” said Arnulf. “Me either,” said Angelica.
“More treasure for us, eh Dapher?” said Cloudius.
Tom led them out the back door of the garden wing, and down through the vegetable and flower gardens, and around the fish pond, and back into the woods. The fish pond flowed out in a little stream into a little lake in the woods, at the upper end of which another stream, a small river almost, entered by a ten-foot waterfall.
“Preeettty,” said Angelica. All the others said something like gosh.
“You mean there’s something behind that waterfall?” asked Tom. “I didn’t know that!” Eva, very vague in the forest shadow, looked at him like he was crazy.
“Yeah, in fact,” said Daphne. “I was jogging up here yesterday and I saw this waterfall and I sort of smelled Amazons.” She grinned at Arnulf.
“Follow me and you’ll smell them too, maybe.” Daphne led them single file along the cliff bottoms and then up over some wet rocks to where the out-thrust plank of rock ten feet above poured out the waterfall. Behind it, they could see now, there was a narrow but tall crack in the rock.
Daphne went through first, stepping across the jagged edge of rock below and managing not to bump her head on the diagonal edge of a rock propped up above her. Tom went through carefully, shining his light around, and it was Arnulf who banged his head, hard.
“Oh, you big clutz,” said Angelica.
“You’re in good company, Arnulf,” said Daphne, checking the cut on his head. “You can see where Amazons of centuries past banged their heads on that.”
Arnulf looked back at the rock and grimaced. He pushed his hair over the wound and said, “I’m okay to go. Where are we?”
“Cool place,” said Cloudius. They walked up a little hall and into a long room, carved out of rocks that were not all that stable. It was richly painted; a forest of pretty pillars with Amazon battles and feasts, dances and great debates, oh, and some more battles, and some heroic duels, and some more of those, and more fights, covered the walls; the ceilings were painted in stars, or tree boughs, or storm clouds. At the far end, there was a sort of minhir set up, two huge flat rocks with another huge rock across it, but the crossing rock was polished flat and shiny on top. “What did they do on the altar?”
“How old is this?” asked Angelica.
“My people,” said Daphne, “came over from Norway and Ireland. We came when Leif Erikson came. The Vikings left Newfoundland, but we stayed. When the white people came from Europe, we were in the forest, and we met them as equals.”
“And that’s why you’re in charge of the country,” said Arnulf.
“Give us time.”
“Not gonna argue with you, Dapher.”
They wandered around the cave going Wow! but it was soon clear to all, as Daphne had already known, that there was no treasure here. “Okay,” said Daphne, “ready?”
“Ready,” they all said. “Troops out,” said Arnulf. “Cloud, you lead,” said Daphne.
Cloudius pulled out his sword and set off at a jaunty pace. He took them uphill on a faint trail, along a piny ridge top, and then down into a fold, and following a stream they came to a pond in the gap between three hills.
Walking along the edge of the pond, they crossed the stream, then crossed another stream, and then found a series of boulders out into the lake, perhaps two dozen of them, close enough to one another for easy jumps. So they started jumping, Cloudius in front, sword in hand. He slid off the third rock, crawled back onto it and made it out to the big one maybe thirty feet out into the lake. The others joined him: Angelica had one wet foot and Arnulf’s boots were muddy up to an inch below the tops.
“Okay, look there,” said Cloudius. They all gathered on the deep side of the rock, which was just wide enough for all five of them. Shaded by a few opportune clouds, they could see, almost below them, the floor of the lake—and a square opening downward, a dark square in the darkness of the deep. “See it?!”
“You want us to go there??” said Angelica.
She looked at Tom. “Didn’t you say something about ghosts?”
“And cultists,” said Tom. “Some nights cultists come here. So we go during the day.”
She looked at Arnulf, who looked impassive. He was waiting to see what she wanted to do. He wasn’t unwise in dealing with her kind. Angelica looked down into the hole. “You’d think,” she said softly, “there would have to be money down there.” She looked at Cloudius. “You’re an item guy. You could cook up something to make a breather for each of us?”
Cloudius laughed and coughed. “Oh, yeah, sure,” he said. “Is that all?”