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The Bootlace Magician Kindle Edition
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Idea was born in darkness.
It flashed to life deep, deep in the sea, in a place so far below the waves that the warmth of the sun was only a rumor. There, beneath the cold weight of the ocean, the Idea shone dazzling and new. The drifters and skitterers that lived in that black abyss fled from its light. And it was alone.
It had been born, as Ideas often are, much too soon. But it had been born, too, with a certainty, right at the center of itself, that it would not be alone forever.
One day, Someone would understand the Idea. They would meet at the perfect Moment, and together, they would do great things. But their meeting would not come soon, and it could not be here, in this dark place.
The Idea would have to go up, into the world, to wait.
It set out—a brilliant spark spiraling up and up toward the surface, toward its Someone, toward their destiny.
And also toward a hungry fish, which gulped it down in a single bite.
Fortunately, Ideas are not digestible.
The tuna endured a few queasy hours, then it spat the spark of light back up and swam off to find a less troublesome lunch.
The Idea was delighted by this experience. In the whole of its short life, nothing so interesting had ever happened to it. A fish, it decided, was a wonderful creature to be.
So, it grew fins. It figured out scales and gills. It gave
itself a lovely silver tail, and with a few experimental twitches, it was off—a tiny, gleaming dart of a fish heading for the waves above.
The Idea-that-was-now-a-fish breached the surface with barely a ripple. It looked around.
How bright it is up here! it thought, though the day was gloomy.
It spied the rocky line of the nearby shore. Aha! it said to itself. I am supposed to go in that direction.
And so it did.
Standing on the pebbly beach, quite unaware of the fish heading toward him, was a boy. His name was Ephraim Tuttle, and he had come to the beach, as he often did, to write letters to his father, who was a soldier in the war overseas.
Ephraim was used to the beach’s chilly breeze and its dark water and the steady clack of pebbles as the waves lapped onto shore. But he was not at all used to the strange thing that was happening around him now.
Only moments ago, a great wind had swept up out of nowhere, blowing so fiercely that Ephraim had to lean into it to keep himself standing upright. But instead of whipping the waves into a froth, as it should have, the wind was pressing the whole ocean flat.
Flat enough, Ephraim thought, to walk on. Flat enough, he hoped, that a determined son might be able to cross all the way to Europe to fetch his father back home.
He headed toward the water.
Now, the fish didn’t understand any of this. It couldn’t feel the wind underwater, and it couldn’t yet tell the difference between a boy and a barnacle. What it did know was that the creature it had seen on the beach would take it where it needed to go.
It felt the truth of this like a tug deep inside its fishy belly. That way to safety. That way to the future.
And so it swam toward shore, and it was pleased when Ephraim waded confidently into the ocean, wearing all his clothes and a pair of boots with leather laces tied into neat bows.
Hello, the fish said when it reached the boots. Here I am! Pick me up.
The boots didn’t answer.
I am on a mission. The fish nudged one of the bootlaces with its nose. You are supposed to help me.
But Ephraim’s feet didn’t speak the language of Ideas, and the boy himself had no way of knowing what was
going on beneath the water’s surface. He felt wet and silly and disappointed, and—what was that sound?
Ephraim tilted his head, listening.
A song drifted on the wind, one filled with pipes and drums. To Ephraim, the music sounded like an invitation; he decided to accept it.
He turned his body, and his boots, back toward dry land.
Unwilling to be left behind, the fish took matters into its own fins. It flicked its tail and wriggled itself inside Ephraim Tuttle’s left boot, which was just loose enough around the ankle for a very small sea creature’s comfort.
The tug in the fish’s belly was satisfied.
The two of them were headed out of the ocean and in the right direction, and beyond that, the fish did not worry. As it sloshed along in the boot, it went back to imagining its Someone.
They would meet at exactly the right Moment, in exactly the right way, and together, they would change everything. The fish believed in this the way people believe in the sunrise.
Of course, of course, of course, it thought. There is no other way for the world to be.
Seventy-five years later
Circus Mirandus did not sleep, but in the wee hours before sunrise, its music faded to a hush. The sound of the pipes became a breath. The drums thrummed low as a heartbeat. The crowds thinned, and many of the performers sought their beds.
Yet every night, a few determined children remained, and they found wonders aplenty.
Some explored the foggy twists and turns of the mist maze, while others sat by glowing pools in the circus’s nocturnal garden, sipping mugs of hot cocoa. And on the darkest nights, when the moon was hidden, almost everyone could be found lying in the grass on the midway, watching the magician Firesleight send her power aloft.
Just such a moonless night arrived one August, while the circus was in the middle of its South American tour. They had settled in Brazil a few days before, the dense vegetation of the Amazon rain forest parting to make room for the grassy meadow that surrounded the circus no matter where in the world it traveled. Now the noises of the jungle—whistle, shriek, and hoot—echoed across the grounds, mingling with applause as Firesleight lifted her arms skyward and flames blossomed in the air.
At the magician’s command, deep orange fire skated along the peaked roofs, casting strange shadows against the brightly colored tent fabric. It swirled around and around before condensing into white-hot motes that twirled and danced with the fluttering pennants.
And that was only the beginning. The fire show was a spectacle no child would dream of missing. Except . . .
One boy at Circus Mirandus wasn’t paying any attention to the performance at all.
Inside Mr. Head’s Menagerie, Micah Tuttle sat with his legs crossed on top of a tall wooden barrel, his back resting against the glass wall of an aquarium that encircled the tent’s huge center pole. His hands were busy, fingers tugging and tweaking an elaborate knot he had tied into a strip of aged leather. When he bent his head low over the project, his brown bangs fell into his eyes so that he had to shake them out of the way to see properly.
“Almost done,” he said, though no human being was nearby to hear him.
Around Micah, the air was warm with the smell of scales and fur, sawdust and hay. The menagerie’s nocturnal animals bustled, carrying on as usual despite the fact that their admirers had all abandoned them in favor of Firesleight’s performance.
The pangolins rolled themselves into balls for their nightly bowling tournament. The funny fox laughed at its own jokes. And a trio of bioluminescent bush babies were trying to steal one of the treat buckets that Mirandus Head, the circus’s manager, kept secured on pegs around the walls of the tent.
But as flames raced through the air a few feet above the menagerie’s open skylights, the animals paused. Eyes all over the tent blinked shut at the sudden brightness. Heads tilted up, and large ears swiveled to catch the distant sound of cheering from the midway.
Micah didn’t look away from his work.
As the first round of applause faded, he put the finishing touches on the leather strip. He ran his hands over every turn and twist in the knot, then he made a small adjustment, picking at a particular loop with his fingernails until it was arranged to his liking.
Finally, he smiled and maneuvered himself around to face the aquarium. Light filtered through the water, greenish and wavering, and when the enormous silver fish in the tank swam past, it cast a shadow over Micah’s face.
“I’m trying something new,” he said, pressing the knot to the glass. “I hope you like it. It’s my first time tying memories for an animal.”
The fish didn’t answer him.
An engraved bronze plaque was embedded into the aquarium, just above Micah’s barrel. Like all the circus’s signs, the engraving changed to match the local language. But even though Micah couldn’t read Portuguese, he knew the words by heart.
Fish: A rare specimen
courtesy of Ephraim Tuttle
He slid his fingers over the plaque, tracing the letters of his grandfather’s name.
Micah had grown up hearing stories about Circus Mirandus, but he’d never dreamed they were true. The mysterious Lightbender, the beautiful Bird Woman, the little fish that had traveled to the circus in a boot—they had seemed like characters in a wonderful fairy tale.
Then Grandpa Ephraim had found out he was dying. And Micah had found out that the fairy tale was real.
“Neither of us would be here without him,” he said to Fish, gesturing with the knotted leather strip. “I’ve explained it all in this knot. When you touch it, you’ll understand. You’ll see why we should be friends.”
In the three months he’d been living at Circus Mirandus, Micah had had a lot of conversations with Fish. Whenever nightmares about Grandpa Ephraim’s death drove him out of bed, he headed for the menagerie. It had seemed like the perfect solution. Micah didn’t want to bother his new guardian every time he had a bad dream, and he’d assumed that Fish, who wasn’t very popular with the crowds, could use the company.
Micah had thought that the two of them might have a special connection because of Grandpa Ephraim, but unfortunately, the relationship was beginning to seem a little one-sided.
Fish swam past again.
“You remember my grandpa’s boot, don’t you?” Micah said. “You remember how he followed the music to the circus, and he gave you to the ticket taker? To Geoffrey?”
Fish didn’t pay attention to him. Or the knot. And he didn’t show any hint of recognition for Geoffrey the ticket taker, even though they’d been living at the same circus for seventy-five years.
Micah was disappointed but not surprised. No matter how long he talked or what stories he shared, Fish never responded with more than an occasional flick of his tail.
For a while, Micah had assumed that Fish, being a fish, just wasn’t great at expressing himself. But as time passed, he was forced to admit that Fish seemed to enjoy his company about as much as the company of the barrel he was sitting on.
He hoped the knot he’d tied would change that.
He had picked the strip of leather because it matched Grandpa Ephraim’s old bootlace, which he wore as a bracelet around his own wrist. He’d spent hours and hours trying to put everything about himself and his grandfather into the knot in a way that a fishy brain might understand.
He could feel the buzz of magic in the leather right now. If he focused, he could even hear Grandpa Ephraim’s voice saying, I gave them a fish for a ticket! Can you believe it? Oh, Micah, I hope one day you get to see the circus. I hope one day you’ll find a magic of your own.
He shifted his grip on the knot, and another memory sparked against his fingers.
The Bird Woman. Victoria. She—
Micah shook his head and told the knot to be quiet. It had seemed important to include the whole story for Fish, but that didn’t mean he wanted to think about his evil, long-lost grandmother right now.
A sudden rush of heat caught his attention, and he looked up to see flames washing over the menagerie’s skylights again.
Micah had decided to give Fish the knot during Firesleight’s show for a couple of reasons. For one thing, he didn’t want to tell anyone why he had made something so personal for a fish, and for another, if the magic just didn’t work, he would rather not have an audience. He was doing his best to prove that he could fit in here at the circus, but that was tough when he had only just turned eleven and most of the other magicians had been mastering their power for centuries.
The menagerie was usually empty during the fire show, and right now, nobody was around except for the creatures. Even the manager was gone. Micah glanced across the tent toward the secret seam in the scarlet fabric that served as the door to Mr. Head’s office.
It was closed. There would never be a more private moment.
Micah climbed off the barrel, gripping the leather strip tightly in his fist. Then, he took a deep breath, drew his arm back, and tossed the knot up and over the rim of the aquarium.
It plopped into the tank and sank slowly through the clear, greenish water.
Micah had timed the throw well. Fish was about to pass by on another circumnavigation, and the knot would brush across one of his fins.
That will be enough. It has to be.
Suddenly, Fish stopped swimming.
“Fish!” Micah protested, pressing his face to the glass. “What are you doing?”
Fish eyed the knot.
“Touch it!” Micah said encouragingly. “Just with your fin. Don’t let it sink to the bottom.”
He flapped one of his arms like a fin, hoping that would give Fish the right idea, but Fish didn’t budge.
“Come on,” Micah begged as the knot drifted down. “Please, please touch it.”
As if he’d heard, Fish swished his tail until the knot was right in front of his nose. But he didn’t brush his fin against it. Instead, he did something Micah had never seen him do before. He opened his mouth wide as a shark’s.
“Wait a second,” said Micah.
Fish did not wait a second. He swallowed the knot before Micah could even blink.
Micah stared into one of his big silvery eyes. “Why would you do that?” he said slowly.
Fish didn’t eat; it was the weirdest thing about him. But now, he was floating in place, apparently considering the flavor of Micah’s offering.
“You shouldn’t have eaten it,” Micah said. “It wasn’t food.”
He had no clue what a magic-imbued piece of leather might do to Fish. He had tied dozens of knots and bracelets, filled with hundreds of memories, but he’d never once wondered what might happen if somebody swallowed them.
Some of Micah’s knots were permanent. He didn’t want the important ones to snap without his permission, so they didn’t. He’d figured out the trick of making them thoroughly indestructible.
So the knot Fish had just eaten wouldn’t dissolve in his stomach.
He’s so big, Micah thought, worry growing in him. And it’s only a little knot. Why is he so still?
“Don’t you want to swim in circles some more?” he asked hopefully.
Fish was frozen in place, his eyes wide and staring.--This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B07QXG592H
- Publisher : Dial Books (October 1, 2019)
- Publication date : October 1, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 14530 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 416 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0525552634
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,028,748 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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By Debra Dickerson on October 2, 2019