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A Green and Ancient Light

About The Book

A gorgeous fantasy in the spirit of Pan’s Labyrinth “that will appeal to those who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things” (Library Journal, starred review).

Set in a world similar to our own, during a war that parallels World War II, A Green and Ancient Light is the stunning story of a boy who is sent to stay with his grandmother for the summer in a serene fishing village. Their tranquility is shattered by the crash of a bullet-riddled enemy plane, the arrival of grandmother’s friend Mr. Girandole—a man who knows the true story of Cinderella’­s slipper—and the discovery of a riddle in the sacred grove of ruins behind grandmother’s house. In a sumptuous idyllic setting and overshadowed by the threat of war, four unlikely allies learn the values of courage and sacrifice.


A Green and Ancient Light

I remember the plane hurtling above the village. It left a trail of thick gray smoke, and its engine roared and coughed. Grandmother and I were working in the garden, digging potatoes. We could see the plane was an enemy fighter, part of the squadron we’d heard earlier as it growled north, heading up the coast. Now alone, skimming the mountain slopes, the plane dove toward us like a sorrowful, stricken angel. I was on my feet by the time it careened right over our heads. Its shadow made the sun above me blink.

Grandmother uttered a reproachful sound, her digging-fork across her knees as she tipped back her hard brown face, shielding her eyes from the glare. She didn’t spring to her feet as I did. Nothing about the war ever made Grandmother dash to the window or pace the floor or otherwise put herself out. She didn’t watch caravans, and she pretended not to listen to bulletins on the radio; she clucked her tongue when they interrupted the orchestra broadcasts, though she never actually switched them off. But neither did she stop snapping beans or darning socks. And I never saw anyone draw her into speculation on how things were going for the troops.

We could see the enemy insignia on the wings, and a row of bullet holes ran the length of the fuselage. There was an explosion; black smoke billowed. The engine sputtered out entirely, and flames rolled back over the cockpit. I dashed to the corner of the house to continue watching. With an eerie silence, the plane cleared the orchards and the front street; it missed the fishing boats in the green harbor, and it missed the rocks. Out where the sea deepened to blue, it smashed into the waves, throwing up a tower of spray.

I turned to look at Grandmother. My eyes must have been wide, and I think my mouth was open. My feet were tugging me into the side yard. Grandmother began scratching in the soil again, with a little grunt that meant, “Well, that’s that.”

But seeing that my knees wouldn’t bend, my feet wouldn’t be still, she said, “Go on, then. Run down and see.” There was no disapproval in her tone. She was talking to a nine-year-old boy for whom a great many things were intriguing: moths on the screen, moss, the squirming life beneath rotted logs, and planes that fell from the sky.

Quite a crowd had gathered on the front street: people on bicycles, fishermen knee-deep in piles of nets, three sisters from the abbey clutching their rosaries and looking paler than usual—and of course children from near and far, wriggling over fences, pounding along the dusty lanes—everyone pointing and talking at once.

“It exploded,” someone said. Indeed, a last, thick plume of black smoke hovered over the waves, at the end of the gray swath across the sky. “I thought it was coming right down on the street!”

“Rattled the cans on the shelves,” said Mr. B ——, the grocer. He had white hair and black sideburns, which seemed to me the opposite of how most men’s hair turned white.

“Woke me up from a nap,” said someone else. “I was sure they were dive-bombing the cannery!”

“Don’t like it this close. Don’t like it at all.”

“Nothing left of that plane. Went straight to the bottom, I guess.”

“He’s a goner. That’s no way to die, theirs or ours.”

A woman in a green print dress kept smoothing her hair, as if the wind from the warbird’s passing had left her in hopeless disarray. Two boys jabbered about how they’d thought the plane would hit the boats. They glanced at me but were more interested in the plane for now; children in the village generally seemed curious about me, but we rarely crossed paths—boys my age kept busy helping their elders on the docks or in the vegetable gardens, and I wasn’t out of the cottage in the evenings when they might have been free. I wasn’t opposed to making friends here, but mostly I missed my two closest friends back home.

The wind picked up, scattering the smoke. A little yellow dog ran through the crowd, barking and wagging its curly tail.

Climbing over the low stone wall, I stepped out of my battered shoes and padded across the wet sand, right to the water’s edge between piers. At this end of the village, the land sloped down gently to the shore, and there were no cliffs. The sea-smell washed over me, huge and fishy and humid, with that dank hint of all that it hid, ancient wrecks and monsters that made whales look like minnows. Gulls screeched, riding the wind currents. Beside me, a tiny crab scuttled across a rock, and a raisin box bobbed, its sides puckered and bleached nearly white. Sand oozed between my toes; a wave rolled in, and soon my pant legs were drenched to the knees.

I could look right out through the harbor mouth to where the plane had gone down. There was not a sign of it now. Only the waves rose and fell, their edges dazzling in the light.

* * * *

I won’t tell you my name or that of the village where I spent that spring and summer when I was nine. I won’t because you should realize there were towns just like it and boys just like me all around the sea—and in other countries beyond the mountains, and all over the world. We awoke in our nights to the growl of trucks, the barking of loudspeakers. (I was one of the fortunate, for whom the guns were a rumble in the distance.) The men in our families were soldiers now, regardless of what they’d been before; many were already dead. The women worked in factories, in hospitals, or stayed at home to care for the very young.

And then there were those like me: too old to be carried about, too young to work or fight. We were sent off to the countryside where no one thought bombs would fall. We came to know our relatives, old people who had known our parents in another time. In my case, it was only for the late spring and summer, while my mother was getting used to a new job and my baby sister was a newborn. (Schooling in those years was haphazard. Sirens interrupted classes. High-school boys went to war, and classrooms became factories where girls sewed. A season later, my elementary school closed entirely for two years.) I might have been of consider­able help to my mother; I was old enough for that. But my father felt strongly that it was time I got to know my grandmother.

It is a strange thing to spend your days with a person connected to you only by the link of someone you both hold dear, but the young one they knew is not quite the same as the older one you know. It’s like talking to someone through a hedge. Now and then, you see an outline, the edge of a face between leaves. You can only walk along in search of a gate.

On the table beside my bed at Grandmother’s cottage, I kept a framed photo of the four of us: my papa in his Army captain’s uniform, his eyes alight with kindness, one arm around my mama and one hand on my shoulder; my mama, cradling my newborn sister, holding her so that her little face showed, Mama’s face inclined as if she’d only just managed to turn her gaze toward the camera as the shutter opened. And there I was, looking uncomfortable in my school coat and tie, my hair sticking up though my mama had just combed it down. I looked at the picture so much that spring and summer that I knew every shadow in it, every wrinkle of clothing; I could see our faces when I wasn’t looking at it. In the picture, both my parents were smiling as if there were no cares in the world.

I loved the letters Mama sent me here, warm and full of the hugs and kisses that embarrassed me in public but that I was glad for in writing. She would give me reports on the castle—Papa and I had built a castle out of wood, complete with turrets and a drawbridge, and I had painted it all; it sat on a table in my room but was too big and delicate to bring here. So, my mother would write to me about the weather over the castle, about the feasts they were having in the great hall. She tried to tell me about the knights and their quests, but she didn’t understand that part very well. It was all right. I was always happy to hear that the King and Queen were well, that no enemies had invaded. I wrote back to her and to my father, though I knew it took longer for mail to reach him. Grandmother didn’t read the letters I wrote or the ones I received. “That’s your business,” she said, which was a new arrangement for me, that I might have “business” apart from that of the grown-ups around me. She taught me once what to say at the post office, showed me the jar where I could find coins for posting letters, and after that, I was on my own.

I missed my parents, but I had stopped crying for them in the dark hours. After a few weeks in the village, our city began to feel like a distant dream. I knew it was real, that if I rode the train again, it would be there, and its bricks would become the reality once more, and this village would be the dream. One person, I’d come to understand, was actually many people—people of different ages, people who lived in different surroundings; these people all had the same name and knew something of each other, but they lived entirely separate lives.

* * * *

It was a wondrous village Grandmother lived in. I was used to straight, level streets, advertising signs and honking cars, puddles and dodging bicycles and people who hurried along with blank faces. There was more sun in Grandmother’s village, and ordinary life seemed half like a festival. People stopped to talk when they met, setting down their shopping baskets. There were benches everywhere that seemed placed for this purpose, often roofed by trellises of flowering vines. Many shops had open fronts all day, the wares spilling out and piled in the street.

I’d never seen streets like these! They wandered as if a great wave had washed up through the village, its water coursing among the buildings, finding a thousand ways eventually back to the sea; and these runnels had left magical sand that had hardened into cobbles, flint paths, and lanes of hard-packed earth. At its end farthest from Grandmother’s house, half of the village climbed a cliff, so the streets there would turn without warning into steep stairways. There were no posted names, no numbers on doors or lanes. People would emerge from gates beneath ceilings of vines, from doors set right into the rock, and I always wanted to crane my neck and peer past them, sure I might glimpse stairs winding down to kingdoms under the ground where the light came from jewels in the walls.

Down at the cliff ’s foot, the sea had carved out high-rimmed basins and caves where the waves rushed in through narrow mouths, flooding the rocks with surges of foam. Grandmother had led me there in the first week, and we’d watched the scurrying crabs, our faces wet with spray, our ears half-deafened by the sea’s roaring. “People have drowned here,” Grandmother yelled beside me, her grip fierce on my arm. “Do not ever come back here alone. Do you understand?” I nodded, sensing how important it was to her. She’d wanted to show me these merciless sea-basins before I discovered them on my own.

* * * *

A day or two after the trip to the cliff ’s foot, I learned Grand­mother’s other sacred commandment, but this one she didn’t warn me about. It happened like this.

I’d made my first trip alone to the post office, mailed letters to both my parents, and was feeling quite happy with myself as I returned toward her cottage down the main street, which at our end of the village was wide and mostly straight. I kicked a series of pebbles, overtaking one and kicking it ahead of me until it bounced too far aside, then choosing another. As I admired the dense, round tops of some orchard trees, I came alongside Mrs. D ——, whom I knew to be Grandmother’s friend. Mrs. D —— had a round face like a china plate and small, sparkly eyes. She laughed pleasantly and often, and she had a way of asking one question after another, so that you could get only about half an answer in for each question and you wondered whether she was even listening. As I got near Mrs. D ——, I saw that she was carry­ing her wicker basket from the shops and a parcel besides, and remembering my manners, I offered to carry them for her. She lived not far from Grandmother’s, and on the way.

“What a gentleman you are!” she exclaimed, gladly handing them over. They were both quite heavy. “Just like your father. Oh, he was a fine boy, and he is a fine man, and it’s no accident, because you come from fine stock!”

“Thank you,” I said. I’d only ever heard “stock” in reference to cows, and I wondered how it was that our family had come from cows, or what exactly Mrs. D —— meant.

“Are you settling in? It must be so different for you here, so quiet, and none of your friends about, just us old folks, and our funny ways, our speaking—it’s the sea-speech. We sound like the gulls, I suppose, like the waves all rolling, one into another. Mumbling like the ocean. The city-folk say they can’t make pails or pitchers out of what we say. Can you understand the people?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, supposing that a “Yes” answered more of her questions than it didn’t.

“And as smart as white gloves!” she cried proudly, patting my shoulder as if I’d won the races. “But of course you would be a smart one, your father’s son, and M ——’s grandson. Sharp as shears, the whole family! I must tell you, I’m honored to call your grandmother a friend! And a wonderful friend she’s always been.”

I nodded and smiled, readjusting the parcel.

“But how about you; I want to know more about you! What do you like about our village? Aren’t the flowers pretty? We take great care with our flowers! ‘You can grow them beautiful only if the heart has good soil’—that’s what we say!”

She paused expectantly, but I wasn’t sure how to answer. I wasn’t entirely convinced the question had much to do with me at all.

“The flowers are very pretty,” I said. “And I love the trees. The mountains—it’s all so green. It’s like the woods go on forever.”

Mrs. D —— looked taken aback, which surprised me. “H’m. Well, yes. The woods go on, but they’re no place to be. There are wild animals, and worse things.”

“Worse things?” I was suddenly much more interested.

Her sparkly eyes looked away from me, up toward the endless ranks of the treetops on the mountainsides. “I’m sure your grandmother doesn’t want you going up there, and she’d be a fair sight better than me at telling you. But it’s best not even to think very loud about the forest. Where the sun doesn’t go and the salt breeze can’t blow away the cobwebs, no good can happen, and that’s a fact. Witch-weasels and sickle-winds, and old Mr. Clubfoot with his hollow back—lots of no good in the woods.” She shook herself like I’d seen a friend of my mother’s do when eating a pickle. “Enough of that! You’re safe down here. ‘Mountains for woods, and houses for people.’”

I nodded, thoroughly intrigued. It was clear to me that Mrs. D —— thought the woods were every bit as deadly as Grandmother told me the sea-basins were. Grandmother’s caution made perfect sense to me, but I believed the best of trees. I wondered at how anyone could be afraid of any gathering of peaceful giants that grew from nuts over decades or centuries with such patience, such purpose. Granted, I had never been into a deep wood. But this one above the village called to me.

Mrs. D —— dove back into her comfortable nest of topics. “Did you have a garden in the city? Nearly everyone has a garden here! ‘A house without a garden is a rock in the sand.’ I’m sure you help M —— with her garden, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I was learning to answer quickly, in the instant that Mrs. D —— took a breath.

“Hers is one of the loveliest in the village, and she uses every inch of it so well, the moss and the shade and the sunny stretches! A greener thumb I’ve not seen. And always a marvel, always some changes every year. We old folks are set in our ways, but your grandmother has a young heart, a young heart, I’ve always said, like the princess in the old story that sees the world new each morning—do you know that one?”

“No, ma’am,” I said. I’d thought I knew all the fairy tales, but I didn’t know that one. Maybe the village folk had different ones.

“‘Looking-glass, candle, moon on the sea’!” said Mrs. D ——, and I supposed she was telling me a part of the fairy tale. But she raced on, as she always did. “We look forward each year, I can tell you, to what she’ll plant where, what will sprout out of this corner or that! She must be planting now—are you helping her plant these days?”

I nodded, thinking of the hours Grandmother and I had already spent digging and filling hanging pots, filling window-boxes, transplanting shoots from indoors to outdoors, opening envelopes of last year’s seeds that Grandmother had carefully labeled.

“And what are you putting into those long boxes under the front windows, where the sun shines so nice?”

Without a thought, I answered. I’d learned the name from Grandmother, and I’d repeated it to myself over and over because it sounded like a long-ago kingdom: “Setcreasea.”

“Setcreasea!” cried Mrs. D ——, clapping her hands. “Utterly lovely! The long, purple stems and leaves, like the most beautiful twilight has gathered right beneath your windows and stays all day! And then the pink flowers, the crowning glory! Yes, setcreasea love the cramping for their roots. Don’t water the boxes too much! But your grandmother knows that; she’s been at it longer than most and knows what they all need, every last bloom. I think they tell her, the flowers. Do you think?” She batted my arm again, jovially. “Here we are! Thank you so much, you dear, gallant gentleman!”

I was grateful that we’d arrived at her gate. I was feeling worn out, and not from the shopping burdens.

“And what’s it to be at the back?” asked Mrs. D ——, taking the basket and package from me. “There in the shade, where the trees lean in? She always has the best ideas for what to put there!”

I thought for a moment. “I think she said fuchsia,” I said. “For the butterflies.” By habit, I said “I think” so as not to sound too forceful, but I knew that’s what Grandmother had planted there.

“Fuchsia! Of course! Like lanterns in the dark—a brilliant choice. Fuchsia will outshine her trumpet vines of last year, and we all thought those were divinely inspired! Such a sharp, clever young man you are, to keep all these names straight—not that I’m surprised, considering the source. ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’—that has a good meaning, too, you know. Well, now, thank you again, dear sir. I suppose you’d best hurry on back to her. Good work to do!”

I thought nothing at all of the conversation then, only that I was glad to be out of it. I hardly thought of it when I told Grandmother I’d helped Mrs. D —— with her groceries, and Grandmother had asked me to repeat the conversation word for word.

“What did she say then?” Grandmother asked. “And what did you say? What did she say next? What did you say?” Unlike Mrs. D ——, Grandmother waited for each of my answers with her full attention. Even then, I didn’t understand her interest.

When Grandmother didn’t say a word to me for the rest of the day and all through supper, I began to think back through what had happened, what Grandmother had asked me to repeat. As we finished washing the dishes in utter silence, Grandmother’s movements brisk and icy, I felt a growing, hollow ache in my chest. My eyes filled with tears.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

Grandmother looked up at me from drying her hands. “What are you sorry for?”

I hung my head, unable to endure her gaze. My stomach hurt, and my face burned. Somehow, I had transgressed; I had let Grand­mother down, and I hated that I’d done so. I still didn’t understand it exactly, but it had to do with telling Mrs. D —— too much.

“Your business is yours,” said Grandmother, and I thought at once of my letters, my trip to the post office. “My business is mine. We don’t talk about the garden. It reveals itself in its own time.”

“I’m sorry,” I repeated, really crying now, my nose streaming.

“You didn’t know. Now you do.” Grandmother rinsed a cloth, wrung it out, and handed it to me. “Wipe your face.”

* * * *

Spring became summer, and Mrs. D —— learned that it was no use asking me anything else about the garden, though it did nothing to dampen her good cheer. I was greatly relieved when the garden finally revealed itself, for I felt a stab of guilt each time a villager said to Grandmother, “I hear it’s to be setcreasea this year, and fuchsia in the shade!”

More than once, when Grandmother seemed to be in the best moods, I asked if we could go up into the forest. She nodded and said we would soon, but in the moment, there was always something to do in the garden or something to buy or mend or clean. Once I’d taken note of the fact that Grandmother didn’t seem to share Mrs. D ——’s dread of the woods, I asked her why Mrs. D —— was afraid.

Grandmother shrugged. “She can’t see into the woods, so she assumes all the bad she can’t see is there. She thinks the sea is friendlier, but if she were out in a little boat, or swimming in it, it would occur to her that she can’t see under the water, either.”

* * * *

I liked the postmaster, who at first pretended I was his boss. The joke began because I was always bringing him work to do, my ­letters to weigh and stamp. He would snap to attention when I’d come in and tell me that he’d just swept the floor or organized the closet. Once, he said, “I washed the window, Boss. Does it pass inspection?”

“It looks good,” I said.

“Too clean, though. Now V —— can see me when he goes by, and he comes in and talks both my ears off. Man should be in poli­tics. I can only get rid of him by saying you’ll fire me if you catch me standing around.”

“I won’t fire you,” I told him.

“You’re a good boss. Got more letters for me today? I won’t let you down, Boss.”

After a few weeks, when we both got tired of the game, he would ask me about myself, leaning on his elbows, peering at me over the tops of the eyeglasses that clung to the last half-inch of his nose but never fell off. He had thick black hair, a lean, droopy face, and huge eyes that rarely blinked. It impressed me how he could be kind without ever laughing or smiling. Although he was curious about what I found to do in the village, what I was reading, what I wanted to be, or what I thought, he never asked about the garden or Grandmother beyond whether she were well. I’d learned from the Mrs. D —— incident to be careful of what I said. Still, the postmaster was the one grown-up that I usually saw on my own, without Grandmother, so he felt like my friend.

“Your father,” he asked me, “he’s an officer in the Army, isn’t he?”

“Yes. A captain.”

“That’s very fine! You should be proud of him. Are you proud of him?”

I nodded.

“Good man,” he said, and I wasn’t sure whether he meant my father or me. “I remember him here. Smart! Always first in the school, always doing things—involved, you know, and famous. Famous as one can be here!” He laughed softly. “He used his head, didn’t he, before they got him into the Army? In the city, he was some kind of a . . .”

“Locomotive engineer,” I said. “He designed a diesel engine.”

“Smart,” said the postmaster with admiration. “You got his smarts?”

I shrugged and looked at my shoes.

“Sure you do. You got them.”

One day, the customer in line ahead of me, an old man in a brown hat, told the postmaster about some wild vegetables he’d gathered in the forest. Of course, I paid close attention when the man muttered about how dark it was up there, even in the morning.

The postmaster looked hard over his glasses. “Not up here!” The gesture he made with his head seemed to indicate the mountain slope above our end of the village.

“No, no, of course not!” said the man. “Above the old harbor, past the point.”

The postmaster nodded, and the man added, “Hard telling what grows up there!”

When he’d left, the postmaster and I were alone.

The postmaster greeted me by name, not with “Boss” anymore. “Been writing again, huh? How much paper you got up there, anyway? Do they bring it to you in trucks?”

As I handed over my letters—one each to my parents, and one each to my friends—I asked, “Are the woods above my grandmother’s house really haunted?”

He froze, staring at me with his wide, dark eyes. Then he looked at my letters for a long time, as if the addresses were new to him. Finally, he glanced back at me and opened the stamps drawer. “Yes. They’re haunted.”

“By ghosts?”

“I don’t know what ghosts are,” he said. “But there are places that belong in the past and need to be forgotten.” He paused then, and for the first time I’d ever seen, he pushed his glasses higher on his nose and resettled them. “You don’t want to go up there, G ——. You shouldn’t ask about the woods, either.”

I was too respectful to ask him why not, but the question was burning in me like a coal.

He could see it. “They teach curiosity in school, don’t they? It’s not always a good thing.” He leaned on his elbows and gave me a long, sober look. “The world’s getting worse. Until it gets a lot better, it’s best not to ask too many questions.”

I supposed he was thinking of the war. But he was afraid of the woods, afraid like Mrs. D ——. I didn’t see how the war could relate to the forest, or how the forest could relate to a past that needed to be forgotten.

* * * *

And so the spring passed, gardens all through the village sprouted into blazes of fragrant loveliness, and we came to the day of the shot-down airplane, when it crashed into the waves and sank into the unseeable depths, down to the gardens of the mer-people. I imagined them all in a wide circle among the coral, holding their tridents, their hair floating, their silvery tails slowly fanning to keep them upright, as the wrecked plane floated down to rest in their midst.

That very night—quite late in the night—Grandmother and I were awakened by a rapping at the door. I was jolted to full consciousness at once and sat up in my squeaky bed, my heart pounding. Of course I imagined soldiers, come to tell us to evacuate. In the faint light of the lowering moon, I located my suitcase, always packed with the things I considered most important, always ready to be snatched up in a dash out the door. But in another moment, I realized that the urgent tapping came from the back door, where a single mossy step led down into the garden—hardly the entrance soldiers would approach. Nor was the sound very loud; nor was it accompanied by any shouting.

I swung my feet to the floor, the boards cool and smooth. In the next room, Grandmother rustled about—pulling a housecoat on over her nightgown, I supposed. After turning the cast-iron doorknob, I peered out into the darkness of the main room as Grandmother emerged from her bedroom.

Her expression was serious but not afraid, which I found reassuring. The knocking had stopped, and a silence descended that was more nerve-wracking than the knocking itself. With hardly a glance at me, Grandmother crossed to the back door, picked up the walking-stick from the umbrella stand, and demanded, “Who’s there?”

I heard the murmur of a reply but could make out none of the words. Grandmother, from her position, heard enough to satisfy her; she put down the stick, lifted the latch, and drew open the door.

Though the garden farther out was bright with slanting moonlight, the back step beneath the trees lay in deep shadow. The silhouette there belonged to a thin person in a rumpled felt hat and a long coat. When the door opened, this person began to bow and speak in a soft torrent of words—a man’s baritone—sonorous, like that of a singer or radio announcer.

“My dear M ——, forgive the intrusion.” (He called my grandmother by her first name.) “I am so sorry to disturb you at this hour, but a matter has come up . . . or down, rather . . . and it would seem swift action is called for. It is—well, you know better about these things.”

Grandmother had been listening with a fist on her hip, her other arm gripping the hat rack to steady her. Now she smoothed her tangled hair and pulled her housecoat closer about herself. “Come into the garden,” she said to the man. “You always think more clearly in the moonlight.” With a stern look at me, she added, “You stay there.”

I nodded readily.

The man in the felt hat seemed to notice me for the first time, and his frame stiffened.

“It’s my grandson,” said Grandmother, pushing the man ahead of her. “I told you he was here. Have you forgotten, or were you not listening again?” Her glance repeated her orders to me, and then the door closed.

I stood in the doorway of my room, bewildered. Even after three months, I knew so little about my grandmother. Apparently, this man was no stranger to her, and their conversations frequently took place by the light of the moon. Grandmother, who never went into the street by day without her headscarf and her collars buttoned, thought nothing of being outdoors in her nightclothes with this gentleman. My parents had mentioned no other relatives in the village.

The main-room windows looking out on the garden were shuttered at night. I considered opening the door just a crack—but I didn’t want to disappoint Grandmother again. I hovered on my threshold for a long time, then sat on my bed. For reassurance, I glanced at our family photo, but it was too dark to see us. Still, I knew we were all there, inside the frame, and my parents were smiling, my sister newly born.

The night was warm; summer had fully arrived, and it came with an airiness much more pleasant than the muggy nights in the city, where the heat took on garbage smells and lay heavy and still among the buildings. Grandmother’s front and back gardens were overrun with blossoms and aromatic trees. She was trying to teach me the names of them, but most flowers were as new and strange to me as the village. I suspected, moreover, that the names by which Grandmother knew them were not always their names as listed in books. I left my room’s shutters open at night, because I didn’t like pitch blackness. My window peered out over one of the fuchsia boxes. I could look at it without guilt now. One afternoon, out of the blue, as if reading my thoughts, Grandmother had said, “I was mostly angry at H —— that day.” (She meant Mrs. D ——; that was her first name.) “Using you like that—bah! She knew what she was doing.”

I sometimes crouched among the fuchsia, in the shaded gallery of the side yard, where the white and magenta blooms draped down from the box like a primeval jungle. Turning my head now, I could see the moon touching the treetops—only a few nights past full, and still mostly round.

After what seemed a long while, the back door opened again, and I returned to my open doorway.

“Get dressed,” Grandmother said, marching past me. “It will be light soon. We may as well start today early.”

“What’s happening?” I asked. “Who was—”

“Get the big shears and the brush knife,” she ordered. She paused in the door of her bedroom. “There’s a place you should see, anyway. I’ve been meaning to show you, and time is getting on. Today’s the day. Yes, you should come: I may need your help.”

“My help?”

“Get dressed.”

“But—” I was speaking now to her closed door. I could hear her bustling about on the other side. “But where are we going?”

Her words were hard to catch as she opened drawers and lifted squeaky lids. “You like your stories of the long-ago, don’t you? Curious and strange things—monstrous creatures?”

I held my breath and hurried closer to her room, my heart racing again. She’d closed the back door; our visitor was either gone or waiting outside.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, we’re going to the grove of monsters.”

* * * *

With the moon down, the night was very dark as we left by the kitchen door, let ourselves out by the back gate, and climbed through the steep field of arbors and the open meadow. From every side came the scent of living, growing things, so different from the city’s smells of dust, rust, and engine exhaust. Grandmother carried an old-fashioned lantern that she’d lifted down from a shelf and lit with a match. It smelled of heat and the oil it burned, and it threw a circle of golden light around us.

There was no sign of the man who’d come to our door. “That was Mr. Girandole,” Grandmother explained when I asked her again. “He’s a very old friend. He’s gone ahead of us.”

I was overawed by this sudden turn of events—we were really going up into the forest, the place I’d wondered about for so long. It crossed my mind that I might be dreaming, but everything was too detailed and continuous to be a dream. I could feel the tag of my shirt scratching against the back of my neck; occasional birds called. I didn’t want Grandmother to change her mind, so I kept all questions to myself. Somehow, talking would seem intrusive in the night. Besides, I was burdened with a bucket, a metal pan inside it, and the garden tools Grandmother had asked for. She’d tied them in a canvas bundle and put other things from the kitchen into a large carpet bag while I dressed. The bag hung from her shoulder; in her free hand, she gripped her briar walking-stick. I marveled that we were doing this, all before Grandmother had had so much as a cup of tea.

The grasses glistened with dew that soaked my pant cuffs in no time and dampened my ankles, though my old leather shoes kept my feet dry. Mist flowed along the ground under the grape trellises. Insects sang all around us. The sky was a deep blue, ­sparkling with stars. I’d never seen so many stars in the city. By the time we reached the forest, I’d already seen two shooting stars flash and vanish.

I suppose it would have made sense to feel some kind of dread. But Grandmother was not afraid.

We didn’t follow a path. The lantern’s glow fell in warm swaths on the moss and leaves, sending shadows lurching among the trunks. We switched back and forth in the steeper places, sometimes coming to outcroppings of bare stone where Grandmother would perch for a while to rest. In one narrow ravine, tree roots formed a natural staircase. The mist floated thick in places, its frosty whiteness broken by glistening black trees.

Beneath the hem of her dress, Grandmother wore thick woolen stockings, and her feet were snugged in sturdy leather high-topped shoes that I suspected had once been my grandfather’s, though he had been dead for many years. Like most villagers, she was accustomed to walking. Had Grandmother lived in the city, I doubt she’d have considered taxis worth the fare.

As we progressed up the mountain, the stillness deepened. The voices of insects and night birds faded away, and even the wind ceased to stir leaves or creak the high boughs. I wondered if this solemnity always filled the last hour before sunrise, or whether it was because of the place. Were monsters watching us now, lurking beyond the lantern’s shine?

Grandmother poked her stick at a moss-bearded boulder on our left, then at a dead tree on the right with two limbs like the dangling arms of a person. She was figuring out the way to go.

The brush rustled, and something ghostly and pale moved slowly between the trees, just beyond the point at which we could see any details. I kept still, watching it, and didn’t dare to speak. I thought it was a four-footed animal, probably a deer, though it might have been anything.

When it had passed, Grandmother led us onward again. Even in the wildest stretches, the footing was never too difficult. We crossed carpets of leaves, stepped over logs crusted with fungus like fairy dishes and cups; we traversed aprons of moss so plush that I felt guilty to set my feet there, as if I were blundering over someone’s bed. Though Grandmother never issued a specific warning, I carefully avoided treading on any mushrooms or stepping into the rings or half-rings they formed.

We came up onto a level shelf where the trees grew ancient and immense, soaring like cathedral pillars. As we rounded a shoulder of rock, I looked ahead and nearly shrieked. Dropping everything, I covered my mouth, feeling that the breath had been sucked out of me.

Grandmother raised the lantern toward a terrifying sight.

A human figure—a man—dangled limp, hanging among the branches. All around and above him was a web of countless strands, a silky whiteness draping the limbs, billowing gently with the wood’s breath. I thought of the spiders in Grandmother’s garden, of the webs they spun in the darkness, and of the tiny winged things caught there when the sun rose. But the spider that had spun this web must be the size of a horse.

My scalp felt pierced with cold needles. I turned in a circle, searching the gloom above and behind us.

“What’s wrong with you?” Grandmother shot me a scathing look, apparently unafraid to use her voice here.

“Where’s the spider?” I blurted.

She narrowed her eyes. Then her expression softened, though she didn’t smile. “You silly boy. That’s not a spider web. It’s a parachute.”

At once, my face flushed with heat. I knew I should have understood what the cords and the pleated silky cloth were. But it was a dark place, and I’d been looking for monsters.

Grandmother moved forward again, prodding her way through some bushes to circle the man and eventually to stand directly beneath him. His boots swung with the smallest rocking motion about two body lengths over her head. She poked with her stick in the leaves around her shoes.

“He’s lost some blood,” she said. Then she raised her voice and called up at the man, “Hey! Can you hear me?”

There was no answer, no movement. I could see that the right leg of his canvas trousers was soaked with blood. I crept closer. At first, I’d thought his head was bald and blackened, perhaps as an effect of the giant spider’s venom; now I saw that he wore a close-fitting leather pilot’s hat.

He hung completely limp in his harness, supported by two broad straps above his shoulders. When a draft of air bellied the chute and stirred the bundles of cord, he twirled ever so slightly.

Trudging a few steps away, Grandmother stooped and picked up something . . . a heavy twig. She clamped her stick in her lantern-­hand, took aim, and flung the twig up at the man. It missed him by a wide margin. So did her second try, with another twig . . . her third bounced off his hip.

Grandmother breathed something that might have been a curse word, set the stick and lantern down, and ordered me to help her.

It wasn’t as easy as it looked. A chunk of bark I threw almost hit the man’s arm.

Then, with a loud whop, a rock of Grandmother’s struck him squarely in the stomach.

Immediately, the leather-capped head flew up, and the man shouted and flailed his arms and legs, looking like a marionette . . . an angry, blood-soaked marionette. His eyes were hidden behind big goggles. The language he was shouting in was not ours.

It was then that I finally made the connection. The plane that had fallen from the sky to crash into the sea . . . Clear and bright in my memory, I saw again the emblems on the wings and fuselage. This man above us had parachuted out of it. He was an enemy fighter pilot.

I cried out as I saw him pull a handgun from a holster beneath his arm.

Spinning right and left with the frenzy of his struggles, the man yelled a stream of harsh-sounding words, trying to aim the gun at Grandmother. His arm swayed and bobbed, the gun bouncing up and down.

Grandmother said nothing. She stood as straight as her curving back would allow and watched the man. I have no doubt she came within a hair’s breadth of being shot, but she didn’t shout back or try to run. She only stood and breathed and studied the pilot trying to get her in his gun sight.

But I hollered enough for both of us. I ran toward her, screaming at the man not to shoot. The goggled eyes turned toward me, and the gun wavered uncertainly, swinging in my direction, then back at Grandmother.

The man looked up into the nest of straps and lines that held him. He clawed at the buckles on his chest, but his panicked shouts had now taken on the tones of complaint. He gesticulated with the gun, now waving it in the air, now pounding it against his side. At one point, he seemed to be weeping.

“That’s enough!” Grandmother had picked up her walking-stick, and something in her voice got the man’s attention. She pointed the stick at him and shook it. “Enough,” she repeated. “Drop that gun right now and be still if you want any help from us.”

“Shut up!” yelled the man. He spoke at least a little of our language. “Shut up! No drop gun, no drop gun!”

“Shoot it, then!” Grandmother called back. “Shoot it, and everyone in the village will hear you. Soldiers will come. Do you want their help or ours?”

It was hard to argue with her logic. After a few more epithets, he stuck the gun back into his holster.

“Not there,” said Grandmother, pointing with her stick. “The ground.”

This seemed too much for him, too tall an order, but then he lost consciousness again. He’d missed the holster, only shoving the barrel beneath his arm—and when his limbs went slack, the gun tumbled onto the carpet of leaves.

I stared and thought about how close to death we’d come. After a pause, Grandmother bent close, regarded the pistol as if it were dog manure on her front walk, and picked it up by its middle. Holding it at arm’s length, she moved off behind the pilot’s back and hid it among a pile of rocks.

“He’s alive, then,” said a voice at my back, and I jumped.

It was Mr. Girandole, peering around the bole of a tree and wringing his hands, like someone in a play.

“Too alive for his own good,” said Grandmother.

Gray light was brightening the thickets. Beyond the wood, the sun was about to rise. The leaves and trunks were no longer entirely black, though the mist still floated in curtains. The air was damp and cool in a fresh, pleasant way. Birds chattered again, near and far.

I had my first good look at Mr. Girandole. He came forward with what seemed reluctance, as if he would have preferred to watch from the shadows but had no choice. His thinness made him seem taller than he was; as he drew near, I saw that he was scarcely taller than Grandmother. His face was mostly large eyes and a prominent, sharp nose, his mouth and inconsequential chin half-hidden by a short, groomed mustache and beard. I could not imagine his age: perhaps thirty, perhaps fifty.

His skin was dark, only a shade lighter than his brown whiskers. He wore a knee-length coat, the belt cinched tight, and had the hat pulled low, so that the rumpled brim covered his ears. There was an oddity to his walk, which I guessed must be a limp.

Smiling awkwardly, he offered a hand. From his manner, I couldn’t help thinking of a child who has been ordered to shake the hand of a dubious stranger. His fingers were surprisingly long, and the back of his hand was hairy. I wondered if he were a foreigner, perhaps from behind the mountains—though he had no noticeable accent.

I was none too eager to shake his hand either, but as he was a friend of Grandmother’s, I did so.

“Well, it’s a fine mess,” he said, trudging past me and returning his hands to his coat pockets. His gaze took in the dangling pilot and all the entangled folds of parachute, the skeins of cord.

Grandmother stood studying the problem too, her palms on her waist. “He’ll die if he keeps hanging there,” she said. “May die anyway.”

Mr. Girandole nodded. “Which is why I thought it best to . . . As you can see . . .”

Grandmother paced slowly, examining the trees and limbs.

I was a passionate climber of trees now that I had a whole garden full of them to choose from. Grandmother had learned early that I was easily entertained by sitting in a fork among the boughs, reading one of the books I’d brought. Now I guessed what she’d had in mind when she’d said she might need my help.

But there was no way to climb these gigantic trees. The first limbs began high in the air, and no branch came anywhere near the ground. It would be impossible to get above the pilot in order to cut him loose.

“Let’s gather leaves and dirt,” Grandmother said at last. “Pile them right here.” She pointed with her stick at the bloodstained forest carpet straight below the hanging man. “Should have brought the rake and spade.”

“Ah!” said Mr. Girandole, as if he grasped her plan. She handed him the bucket I’d carried, and he hurried off in one direction; Grandmother untied the canvas bundle and led me in another. Finding a patch of soil where few plants grew, she sliced into the earth with the brush knife. Onto the square of canvas we piled handfuls of crumbly dead leaves and dirt. Beetles and gray rollup bugs scurried between our fingers. Grandmother hummed to herself, exactly as she did when working in the garden.

When we had a load, we dragged it back to the pilot. A drop of his blood spattered the canvas as we shook the soil loose. He groaned but did not raise his head.

Mr. Girandole worked quickly, bringing his third or fourth bucketful. He glanced up at the man and pursed his lips. “I fear this may be in vain.”

“H’mm,” Grandmother agreed. We headed back for another load. I looked with interest at a deep bed of plush moss, but Grand­mother shook her head. “We’re not tearing up the grove for him,” she said, and I remembered the monsters. This was their home.

At first, we labored within the circle of the lantern’s glow, placing it on the ground near the growing earth pile, but when the forest lightened, Grandmother had me blow the flame out. Birds warbled, flitting from branch to branch. From the direction of the village, far away, a late rooster crowed.

Even by daylight, this section of the wood reminded me of parlors I’d seen—dusky rooms with high ceilings and forbidding furniture, reserved for times of greater importance than the present. And yet in other ways, this place was like nothing in any human dwelling. There were age and stillness here. The furnishings were alive.

Twice as we worked, the man over our heads woke up and grumbled. I supposed he was feverish.

“Perhaps we look sinister to him,” said Mr. Girandole, meeting us as we emptied our loads of earth together. “Perhaps he thinks we’re digging his grave.”

“Perhaps we are,” said Grandmother.

Here, where none but the rarest sunbeam reached the wood’s floor, it was still a summer day. My shirt was sticking to my back, wringing wet, and Grandmother had long since shed her scarf. Mr. Girandole, in his unseasonable coat, looked about to expire.

He dabbed with his sleeve cuff at his forehead beneath the hat’s brim and glanced furtively at me, not for the first time.

Grandmother announced that it was time for us all to rest. She perched on a rock, and I gratefully flopped down on the ground nearby. “Really, Girandole,” she said. “How long are you going to keep this up? Whose eyes are you afraid of here?”

Mr. Girandole’s mouth twitched. His gaze flicked toward me, then up at the man in the tree, who hung limp again. Two crows hopped along the limbs, clearly talking to each other as they assessed the pilot—speculating.

Mr. Girandole sighed. “I suppose you’re right, M ——.” He scrunched his brows, took a breath, and played with the cuff of one sleeve. Several times, he seemed about to speak but didn’t—and always his eyes darted back to me.

Grandmother propped her arms on her walking-stick, laid her head on her wrists, and closed her eyes, lazily tapping one foot.

“Well,” said Mr. Girandole. “You see . . . That is, er . . .” Seeming to find his focus then, he crouched beside me and held up a spindly finger. I couldn’t help looking him up and down, trying to decide what was so unsettling about the way he crouched.

Yet it was also hard to look away from his luminous brown eyes. “Young sir,” he began with determination, “you have heard, I take it, the tale of Cinderella?”

Grandmother snorted with amusement—why, I wasn’t precisely sure—and continued her impression of nap-taking.

I nodded.

Mr. Girandole examined his never-still fingers, as if finding his words there. His nails had soil caked beneath them now, as mine did; his hands were smudged with drying muck.

“A lost slipper,” he said. “A slipper of glass—or of fur, as the tale used to be told. The details change. The truth . . . the truth behind the story . . . is that no foot would fit the shoe but hers—the foot of that one girl. Why do you suppose that was?”

I blinked, thinking of the story. “She . . . had small, dainty feet.”

“Do you really think so?” Mr. Girandole leaned forward earnestly, and I flinched, unsettled.

“The prince searched the length and breadth of the land!” he said. “Maidens from far and wide tried to force their feet into that slipper. Are we truly to believe that Cinderella had the smallest feet in the kingdom? The tale always assures us, no matter who tells it, that she was beautiful . . . that the prince had to find her again, at any cost.” Mr. Girandole spread his hands decisively, as if I could not fail now to see his point. “Tall people and small people can be very beautiful, of course. But could she have towered over him, or stood no taller than a child? Surely she must have been of a fairly ordinary size. If the prince had been looking for someone of extreme stature, why let all the typical maidens try on the slipper? Do you see?”

I had no answer. He did make an excellent point.

Above us, the pilot moaned and murmured something under his breath.

Mr. Girandole looked down at his own worn boots. “Cinderella’s foot wasn’t larger or smaller than that of most women. It was of a different shape altogether.”

Grandmother raised her head and said matter-of-factly, “That’s true. As I first heard it, the stepsisters mutilated their own feet trying to make them the right shape. One cut off her toes. The other cut off her heel.”

“And both attempts failed!” said Mr. Girandole. “If the shoe fit Cinderella’s foot, what does that tell us about her?”

I tried to imagine her foot, and the picture in my head wasn’t pretty.

“Why, she must have had neither,” said Grandmother brightly. “Neither toes nor a heel.”

“And what does that leave?” Mr. Girandole finished. “And who gave her the slipper? Who changed her fate?”

“F-fairy,” I managed. “Fairy godmother.” The sweat on my face and in my shirt had grown chill.

“And you don’t just get one of those.” Leaning still closer, he lowered his voice. “For reasons beneficent or nefarious, the tale handed down to us has been altered to obscure Cinderella’s origins. The fact is that she was ill-treated by her step-family because she was different.” He glanced sideways, conspiratorially, then straight back at me. “Cinderella was not a daughter of the Second Folk or humans. Her people were older.”

Before his words had quite sunk in, Mr. Girandole plucked loose the laces of his right boot, grasped it in both hands, and pulled it off. There, in the somnolent light of morning, I saw protruding from his trouser cuff a bony ankle covered in coarse brown hair—and instead of a foot, the sharp, split hoof of a goat.

I sprang to my feet, barely containing a yelp. “Old Mr. Clubfoot,” Mrs. D —— had said. “Witch-weasels and sickle-winds.” I backed away, heart pounding.

“Sit down,” Grandmother told me gently but firmly. “Don’t be rude.”

“I suspect it was a fur slipper,” Mr. Girandole said. “A hoof would shatter a shoe of glass.” He looked up at me with a sad, lop-sided smile.

My mind was so numbed that my body was left to make the decisions, and it decided on flight. I turned and bolted into the forest, too deeply shaken to obey Grandmother’s order that I stop. The ground descended in a slope, and the undergrowth became denser. Bushes clutched at my knees; branches lashed at my face. I skidded, landed on my arms, and got up again, dodging right and left between the trunks. As I careened down into a wide ravine, my pulse pounded in my ears.

It wasn’t long before I came back to my senses. Clearly, Mr. Girandole meant me no harm. I didn’t run far. But I ran just far enough, crashing through briars and low branches, to carry me headlong into the grove of monsters.

Looming above the bushes straight before me was the huge, dark head of a beast.

I stopped so abruptly, my feet shot out from beneath me, and I landed sitting, paralyzed with fear. The creature, too, seemed frozen in rapt attention, its round eyes fixed on me, its jaws gaping wide. Neither horse nor lion, it had round ears high on its head and tufts of streaming hair between them and its mouth. Overlapping plates of leathery hide armored its muzzle and neck. From its back, in the grove’s half-light, rose two shadowy wings.

I was certain this was my last moment of life—that the beast would spring upon me, snapping tree limbs with its lunge, and devour my upper half at one bite. I flung up my arms to cover my head.

But after a long space, when I opened my eyes again, I saw that the beast had not moved. Still its bulging eyes watched me, and still its jaws gaped; yet I heard no rumbling breath, no ponderous movements. Birds twittered, and a breeze stirred the branches.

Eventually, it occurred to me that the monster’s grayish hue was not elephantine skin but the gray of weathered stone, that the darker patches on its sides were fans of lichen, and that fallen leaves clung to its back. The beast was a statue—a craftsman’s sculpture.

I sat there breathing, clutching my shirt-front, the sweat drying on my neck. As I rose to a crouch and looked around, I saw that fantastic shapes loomed everywhere, half-buried in the undergrowth. Bearded stone faces peered between vines; a muscular giant towered among the trees; a sea serpent reared above green waves of bushes; a stately king or god occupied his throne. In the distance, a tall tower was just visible past three interposing trees. As I studied it, tilting my head to one side and the other, I saw that this building leaned at an odd angle, as if stuck in the act of toppling over.

So, these were the monsters, and this was the haunted woods, the sacred woods, a garden long overgrown and abandoned, hidden in blue shadows, in shafts of early sun. How truly strange it was! It sang to my heart in a silent voice. Every vine-obscured shape intrigued me—every secret space drew me forward. I wanted to discover every figure the garden would reveal. Yet I remembered how I’d left Grandmother and Mr. Girandole. With a last, longing glance, I hurried back toward them.

Mr. Girandole seemed to have been more worried about me than Grandmother was. He breathed a sigh when I reappeared, and he kept glancing at me as if seeking some kind of reassurance. His boots were both in place again, and I felt bad for reacting with such shock to his hoofed feet. He was Grandmother’s friend.

Grandmother watched me with a serious expression, waiting.

Mr. Girandole had taken off his coat and held it folded over an arm. Beneath, he wore a gray shirt with old-fashioned, pointed collars. When he laid the coat neatly on a rock, I saw the reason for his odd gait. His legs, clothed in trousers the color of dust, bent differently from those of other people. His knees were apparently backward, sticking out behind him. Despite myself, I felt another rush of fear, but I resolved not to stare. I showed him a sheepish grin, which seemed to relieve him further.

Grandmother said, “Have you been to the grove?”

I nodded and fell in beside her as she took up the brush knife and started back to work.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she asked.

Again, I could only nod. The grove seemed too significant for me to wrap words around.

Grandmother scooped decaying leaves. “I first found my way there when I was younger than you. That was a long time ago. Obviously.”

I noticed that Mr. Girandole’s hands paused in his own labor across the clearing. Just for a moment, he was motionless, gazing at the ground—listening or remembering something.

I asked Grandmother, “Which monster did you see first?”

“The mermaid. I came upon her from behind, and I knew at once she was a mermaid, though she has two tails instead of one. I wondered why she wouldn’t turn and look at me. I supposed she was angry at me, like my mother. That’s how I found the place, you see: I was running away from a scolding at home.”

I laughed. This was the most Grandmother had ever told me about herself at one time, and I was enjoying it.

“What had you done to get in trouble?”

She shooed a beetle off our canvas. “I don’t even remember now.”

Mr. Girandole spoke as he emptied his bucket. “You’d gone out to play in your new shoes and lost one under the hedge, and you tore your dress on the fence.” He looked away suddenly. “At least, so you told me once, I think.”

Grandmother chuckled. “If you say it was so, it was so.” To me she added, “Girandole remembers everything.”

We worked then in silence. My mind was busy, thinking of Mr. Girandole’s goat-like legs, of his Cinderella story . . . and of the monsters in the grove’s half-light. At last, I said to Grandmother, “That’s all the people are afraid of—those statues?”

“That’s all I know of that could have started their foolishness,” she said. “Old stone shapes in a forest.”

Every now and then, Mr. Girandole would bound toward the pilot and wave his arms to drive off the crows, who were hopping nearer and nearer in the branches.

“His eyes should be safe enough behind those goggles,” remarked Grandmother.

“All the same,” said Mr. Girandole.

After a moment, Grandmother looked at me and said, “There’s a riddle to it, though—that garden of monsters. The longer you look at it, the more questions it raises. It’s a big mystery, a puzzle that wants a solution, though I can’t guarantee it has one.”

I waited for her to say more, but typically, she didn’t.

There was so much I wanted to know, but it seemed rude to ask. Did Mr. Girandole have those feet because he was born with a deformity, like a boy at my school whose right arm was withered and small? Or was he really a different sort of person entirely, like Cinderella?

* * * *

“All right, then,” said Grandmother, when we’d emptied a last canvas-­load of earth into a pile that was over knee-high. “See if you can wake him up. If not, we’re back to where we started.”

Dusting her hands on her skirt, she looked at Mr. Girandole and me until we went hunting for sticks and pebbles and started aiming them once more at the man hanging above us.

“Hey!” Grandmother yelled at him. “You! Wake up!”

A few of our tosses clopped, not too hard, against his jacket. At first, I thought we’d taken too long, that he was dead; but after a minute or two of being pelted, he lifted his head again. He seemed to have trouble focusing, and he’d grown paler. At some point, he had pushed the goggles up to his forehead. His eyes, clearly visible for the first time, made him look gentler than the enemy faces on posters. He was younger than I’d thought, too.

Grandmother had been digging inside her carpet bag, and now she held a ball of twine that I remembered seeing in the kitchen—string she saved from grocery parcels, all tied together into one much-spliced strand of unknown length. Keeping the string’s loose end in her hand, she gave the ball to Mr. Girandole to throw.

“Catch this,” she ordered the pilot.

Mr. Girandole’s first throw was perfect, the ball hitting the man square in the chest, but the pilot seemed not even to have seen it coming. He didn’t so much as raise his arms, and the ball dropped back to the ground, string unwinding.

I retrieved it, hurrying to gather up the loose coils and rewind the ball, which had become tiny. Next, I took a turn, sending the ball up to a zenith near the man’s arm. He took a feeble swipe at it, but again the ball came down uncaught.

Having an inspiration, Grandmother instructed Mr. Girandole to throw the ball over the man’s head, between the two straps of his parachute.

Mr. Girandole managed it nicely, and now the twine, completely unwound, ran from Grandmother’s hand, over the pilot’s shoulder, and halfway to the ground again, the free end floating on a draft.

Grandmother told the pilot to take a firm hold of the string, and he did so. When Grandmother tied her end to the brush knife, I finally saw her plan.

“Pull this up,” she commanded him. “Cut the straps.”

The pilot understood, seeming to find new strength. Mouth set in concentration, he hoisted the scythe-like instrument up to himself. Grandmother had tied it just below the crescent blade so that it hung handle-down, jiggling and swinging as it rose.

“Don’t drop it,” Grandmother said.

He grasped the handle and tipped back his head to examine the parachute straps.

Grandmother called, “As soon as you start to fall, throw the knife that way.” She pointed across the glade, away from us. “Don’t land on it.”

“Not stupid, Grandma,” the pilot said, beginning to saw at one strap.

“How am I to know that?” Grandmother said, folding her arms and watching critically.

The two crows cawed and flew away.

I didn’t know if the man would have the strength to free himself, but Grandmother kept the brush knife sharp. Soon, the first strap parted. The pilot paused to grin at us. His face glistened with sweat as he set to work on the second.

With a ripping and a snap, the last strap separated, and the man finally completed his fall from the sky. He didn’t throw the brush knife far, but far enough. He flopped into the dirt pile, sending dust and leaves flying.

Because of his injured leg, I supposed, he screamed through clenched teeth and passed out again, lying spread-eagled on his back.

“Well done, M ——!” said Mr. Girandole with enthusiasm, patting Grandmother’s shoulder.

She carried the carpet bag over to the man’s side and rolled up her sleeves. “Now we see if he’s savable. We’ll need a fire.”

“I laid the wood already.” Mr. Girandole pointed toward the trees through which he’d arrived earlier. “It only needs lighting.”

“See to it. Wash out that bucket in the stream and get some water boiling in the pan. We’ll need all the water you can bring us, so fill the bucket again, too.” Grandmother handed him two potholders. “When it’s ready, bring it here.”

With a nod, he hurried off at a trot, the bucket swinging from his arm. I allowed myself to stare at his retreating shape, intrigued by how nimbly his strange legs carried him over the roots.

Grandmother had me take one edge of the canvas, and we shook it hard, beating it as clean as we could. Then we spread it beside the pilot for a work-space. She took her shears and cut the pilot’s pant leg open from ankle to hip.

“This will be an awful sight,” she warned me, and it was. As she peeled back the soaked cloth, we could see sticky blood still welling from at least two jagged wounds in his upper leg. I thought I’d been ready for anything, but I had to look away, and for a moment I thought I would be sick.

“Sometimes, it’s best not to eat breakfast,” Grandmother said quietly, thumping my back.

“Did another plane’s guns do that?” I asked when I could speak.

“I don’t think so,” she said, “because his leg’s still here. Some­thing exploded—maybe flak. He may have metal or glass in there. We can’t see much till it’s clean.”

She snipped through the ties of a protective vest and unzipped his leather jacket beneath, pulling it open and passing her sun-browned hands over his shirt, along his sides, up to his armpits. She told me to undo his chinstrap and pull off the leather hat, which I did without much trouble. The man was no more than thirty. He was going prematurely bald, with a point of hair on his forehead and a much scarcer patch behind that.

Grandmother’s fingers found blood oozing from three more places; in all, the pilot had injuries to his right leg, right side and shoulder, and his neck below the left ear, though that last one seemed little more than a graze.

Lifting his head, Grandmother poured something into his mouth from a dark brown bottle which bore no label. The smell of its contents made my eyes water. The pilot coughed.

“Can you hear me?” Grandmother said, in the tone she used when talking to Mrs. O ——, who was hard of hearing. “What is your name?”

“R ——,” he said, breathing heavily, blinking up into the leaves, where his parachute hung in an undulating white ceiling, the ­bundles of cord swaying. The pilot smiled faintly and raised one finger to point upward. “Circus. Circus tent.”

“Yes, well, R ——,” Grandmother said, “you must make a decision. Do you want our village doctor? He will come here if we ask him. But he is an important man with a position—he will report you to the Army.”

“No!” The pilot shook his head. “No doctor.”

I looked anxiously at Grandmother.

“The other choice is that I can try to stitch you up. I’ve delivered babies, and I sewed up my cousin once, on a farm. But I’m no doctor. We can’t take you to the village. You may die.”

R —— seemed to be searching for Grandmother’s hand. She didn’t help him find it. “Fix up me,” he said. “Please. You, please. No doctor. No Army.”

Grandmother sighed and pushed the bottle’s neck against his lips. “Then you’d better drink a lot of this.”

We waited for Mr. Girandole. The sun had climbed much higher; it was mid-morning. An engine droned in the distance. We’d heard and seen so many planes that we recognized it by the sound as a cargo plane.

What was happening scared me. If the Army or the police found out that Grandmother had helped an enemy pilot—or even failed to report him—she would be arrested. I had no doubt that any one of our neighbors in our position would have gone immediately to the police office and turned the matter over.

I saw Grandmother watching me. “Do you think this is wrong?”

Wordlessly, I shook my head no.

“I’m not fighting a war,” she said. “Nor is this man now. These woods are not a battlefield.”

I nodded agreement.

“Where is Girandole?” she muttered. “I hope he’s not sitting there staring at the pan. They never boil when you do that.”

“Why didn’t he lay the fire closer?” I asked.

“I expect he was afraid this man might wake up and see him.”

I gnawed my lip, and at last I came out with the question I really wanted to ask: “What is Mr. Girandole?” But at that moment, he came trudging into the glade, holding the steaming pan between the potholders, the full bucket dangling from his arm.

“Good.” Grandmother leaned close to her patient. “R ——? Are you good and drunk?” He moaned as she pried the bottle from his fingers, checked the amount of liquid inside, and re-capped it. “He ought to be,” she said.

R ——’s eyes were closed, and his breathing seemed more regular.

“Oh, my!” said Mr. Girandole when he saw the pilot’s mangled leg. He backed a few steps away.

Grandmother drew out a metal soap box and we washed our hands as thoroughly as we could with the cold water, each taking our turns pouring dollops from the bucket over the other’s hands. For good measure, we splashed and rubbed our hands with the alcohol, too, then used more soap.

Next, she produced a clean rag. I marveled at all she’d thought to bring in the carpet bag. I’d seen her make rags by cutting up threadbare clothes that were beyond repair, saving the buttons from shirts in an ornamental lidded tin. Satisfied with the pan water’s temperature, she soaked the rag and wrung it out over the pilot’s leg wounds, rinsing them clean. I winced at the sight.

Mr. Girandole retreated to a rock and sat down, facing toward the trees.

The injuries were bad. They looked deep, and it seemed to me that some of the flesh was missing. There was an awful whitish layer of something exposed—muscle or fat or deep tissue—that should never be seeing the light of day.

“Maybe this is too much education for you,” Grandmother said, giving me the rag to hold and telling me to keep it off the ground. It was so hot, I nearly shrieked; I couldn’t imagine how she’d swished it through the pan and wrung it out. I tossed it from hand to hand until it had cooled a little.

She fished in the carpet bag, came up with a pair of tongs like those I’d seen my mother use for handling canning jars, and steeped them in the hot water. “Do you want to sit over there with Girandole?” she asked.

“I’m all right,” I said.

“Then put the rag in the pan and take off his jacket. We’ve got to do that shoulder before the water gets cold.” She’d produced a needle and a spool of thread. As I wrestled the flak vest, gun holster, and jacket off R ——, she threaded the needle and dropped it, thread and all, into the water, leaving the thread’s end hanging out over the side as a way to retrieve it.

R —— didn’t come fully awake, but he groaned as I shoved him around, his head lolling. Blood dripped from his neck wound, and his shirt’s right sleeve was drenched. By the time I had the jacket off, my hands were sticky with blood. I looked at them in dazed revulsion.

Grandmother tossed me a dry rag. “Wipe them on this, and then spread it under his shoulder so he’s not lying in dirt. And cut his sleeve off.”

Mutely, I nodded and set to work.

“If you can spare me,” said Mr. Girandole, “I’d best put out my fire.”

Grandmother was too busy to answer him. After a moment, he stood up—but he had gone no more than two steps before Grand­mother called him back. “There’s too much bleeding here for me to stop with a needle and thread,” she said. “Take the brush knife with you. Get the blade red hot, and bring it back here quick.”

“Oh, dear,” said Mr. Girandole, looking queasy. He picked up the long-handled knife and hurried off.

I couldn’t watch as Grandmother probed with the tongs, searching for shards of anything that might be in the pilot’s wounds. But even with my head turned, the wet sounds drew icy sweat from my pores.

“Wring that rag over this,” Grandmother ordered. “I can’t see what I’m doing.”

I tried to rinse the wounds without looking as she went in with her fingers, pulling out jagged pieces of black metal.

“If we don’t bleed him to death, it’ll be a miracle,” she muttered. “The blood can’t congeal with all this water.” Finished with the leg, we worked on the shoulder, where Grandmother found more shrapnel. By the time she’d finished, she had quite a collection of metal shards.

The wound in the pilot’s side wasn’t deep; something sharp had gouged him as it passed. Grandmother examined the gash in his neck, and then there was nothing to do but wait. She squeezed shut the worse of the two leg wounds and held it until Mr. Girandole came charging back, the knife’s curved blade glowing, its tip bright red. I saw that he’d taken off his boots, presumably so he could run faster and be less likely to trip. Sure enough, his left foot matched his right, a sharp, cloven hoof beneath a goatish ankle.

I couldn’t watch the next part, either. Grandmother took the rag in one hand and the knife in the other. With my arms crossed over my stomach, I got up and moved away. Behind me, I heard the trickle of water and a sound like when my mother ironed clothes. The pilot mumbled something, and twice he emitted a scream. When a terrible, hot odor reached me, I dropped to my knees and retched. Mr. Girandole sat on the rock and watched me with a look of sympathy.

By the time Grandmother had finished her awful surgery, she had scorched R —— in some places and sewn him up in others. He was horribly pale, but his blood was no longer trickling into the earth. For the moment, at least, he was still breathing. Grandmother cut clean, dry rags into bandages with the shears and used the string to bind them around R ——’s leg, shoulder, side, and neck. We cleaned our hands again. Mr. Girandole went to extinguish his fire and to wash the other rags and canvas in the stream.

As we collected our gear and waited for him to get back, I repeated my question about Mr. Girandole.

“He’s a faun,” Grandmother said. “And he’s very old—much older than me.”

I stared at her. “But he looks—”

“He’s looked the same since I met him, when I was seven.”

“You met him here, didn’t you—in the sacred woods?”

She nodded. “He’s the last of his kind. Or at least, the last around here.”

“If they don’t get old, how can that be?”

“The other fauns went away, as I understand it. Girandole fell in love with a human woman. He left the forest to live with her. But she grew old and died. When he came back to the grove, his people had gone.”

I watched the pilot breathing, his chest rising and falling. More planes droned past—a patrol of ours, I thought, though they were far away. “So, Mr. Girandole lives alone here in the woods?”

“Yes. His home is high on the mountain, in the steep places where no one ever goes, in a cave. He’s always stayed around here, because he has no place to go in the world of humankind. I think he’s always hoping his people will come back, or that he can find a way to rejoin them. He’s from Faery, the other world. He misses it.”

The story was very sad. I got the impression Grandmother was telling me these things partly to take my mind off all the stitching and cauterizing. But now I was thinking of the statues in the grove—of dragons and giants, of the mer-people under the sea. I’d always wanted these things to exist outside of fairy tales. A part of me had always believed that they must, somewhere, even if it were in a world humans couldn’t reach. But if fauns could live—here in our own country . . . “Are the others real?” I asked, so full of hope that it hurt my chest. “All the creatures from stories?”

Grandmother gazed at me, looking tired, resting her chin on the head of her walking-stick. “You’ve seen all the ones I’ve seen. Maybe they all were here once. The stories had to come from somewhere. I think Girandole is the last.”

Sadness settled on me like a weight. “They’ve gone back to Faery? Why?”

She shrugged. “Too many of us, I expect. The world is too noisy for them now.”

I hoped she was wrong. I wanted desperately for there to be others.

“Don’t be so gloomy,” Grandmother said. “Think of it: yesterday, you never thought you’d meet a faun.”

“Where there’s one,” I said, “there might be more!”

“That’s an expression about snakes,” she said.

Mr. Girandole returned. I watched him come, swinging along with what seemed a cheerful aspect, the boots now back on his feet. I supposed the boots must be padded with wads of cloth in the toes and heels—for if ordinary feet would not fit Cinderella’s slipper, the reverse situation must also be true.

“I spread the wet things out in the sun to dry,” he reported. “I’ll bring them and these tools back to you after dark tonight.”

I saw his reasoning: it would be best if no one saw Grandmother and me coming out of the woods with an armload of strange gear. I knew how the villagers loved to gossip. Only a narrow meadow and the belt of arbors separated Grandmother’s back garden from the forest’s edge.

Grandmother took his hand. “Thank you for all your help, Girandole. You are always so kind.”

He bowed his head in a courtly way. There was worry in his lean face. “You should go now. Tread very carefully, M ——. If anyone finds this man, alive or otherwise, it will be clear he didn’t stitch himself up.”

“We’ll be careful,” Grandmother said. She frowned into the treetops. “Can nothing be done about that parachute?”

Mr. Girandole took off his hat for the first time and ran his long, dark fingers through his hair. I felt my eyes widen at the sight of two small nubs of horn on his forehead, nearly hidden by his matted locks. “A rock tied to a rope, I suppose,” he said. “If I could snag some of the cords, I could pull one way and another until it all came down.”

Grandmother nodded. “I have some clothesline rope that ought to be long enough. I’ll give it to you tonight. There’s nothing more we can do for . . . R —— here . . . until he decides whether he’s going to live another day.”

Mr. Girandole agreed. “I’ll bring a blanket and cover him. I don’t smell any rain coming.”

Leaning on her stick, Grandmother turned to go, but Mr. Girandole cleared his throat. “There’s . . . also the matter of his weapon.”

I looked toward the gun, hidden in the pile of rocks.

“Out of sight, out of mind!” said Grandmother, laughing at herself for forgetting it. She narrowed her eyes, thinking. “It doesn’t belong here. We’ll take it out of the forest.”

“I could take it to my cave,” Mr. Girandole offered. “Or bury it somewhere high on the mountain.”

“No. If R —— dies, he won’t be needing it. If he lives, he’ll want it back, and you’ll never hear the end of it. We’ll carry it beyond any retrieving. I know a good way.” So, Grandmother put the heavy black gun into her carpet bag, and we took our leave.

Glancing back, I saw Mr. Girandole, his coat folded over his arm, pacing slowly around our patient.

* * * *

We arrived home just as the noon whistle sounded from the fish cannery. If you listened carefully as it ended, you could hear its echo from the cliffs. First, we pumped up water from the well in the summer kitchen and washed our hands and faces thoroughly. Then Grandmother fixed us a lunch of bread and honey, sardines, cheese, fruit, and tea. I watched her strong hands peeling a pear, and I remembered with a shudder the sight of those hands sewing skin. When we’d washed the dishes, she went to her room for a nap.

I saw that the pan under the ice box was nearly full from the melting ice block, so I carried it out and dumped it according to the rotation pattern. Today, it was the third pear tree’s turn for a drink. Flowers and vegetables shouldn’t be watered in the heat of the day. When I’d replaced the pan, I sat on a bench in the sun and watched butterflies flit in the germander. I felt wrung out, like one of the rags.

Until three months before, Grandmother had been only a name, a photo in a round frame on the mantel. She was my father’s mother, and I don’t think she and my mother liked each other much; at least, we never visited her as a family. In my childhood, I knew Grandmother wrote letters to my papa sometimes, and he wrote back. He’d asked me now and then for some of my drawings to send her. Papa used to tell me stories of growing up in the village, where time hardly seemed to pass at all, and every arbor, every garden gate, might be the doorway to a magical world. Seeing the place for myself, I thought so too. Grandfather had been alive then, when my father lived here.

I yearned for a better look at the sacred woods. For now, my eyes were heavy, too; exhaustion swept over me. Curling up on the bench, I was soon fast asleep.

* * * *

I awoke to the growl of a plane.

Springing upright, I blinked into the thick, hot light of late afternoon. Golden sun slanted through the garden, and the ­shadows under trees and bushes were dark. My head had the sluggish feeling that comes when consciousness has been far away for a long time. My face was sore from the bench on one side and sunburned on the other.

There was not one plane but two. They were sleek, angular fighters of our side, from the airfield to the north. Very low, they roared over the village in repeated loops and buzzed up the mountain, making pass after pass.

Grandmother came out of the cottage, her hair in disarray. “They’ve seen the parachute,” she said.

A chill passed through me. “I can run fast,” I said. “I’ll go and warn Mr. Girandole.”

“No.” She watched the planes, the sun gleaming on their wings and canopies. “They’ve warned him themselves, with their noise. If you go up there, you’ll run into a lot of soldiers. It’s the hardest thing, but what we have to do is wait and see what happens.”

I couldn’t stand it. “But they’ll catch R ——! Mr. Girandole will be too scared. He won’t know what to do.”

Grandmother gave a short laugh. “Don’t go counting on that. He’s only timid when there’s someone nearby to be brave for him. Left to his own devices, he does just fine.”

My heart was pounding. “We’ve got to do something.”

“Let’s see if there are any ripe tomatoes,” Grandmother said.

* * * *

That was the longest evening I had spent in my life. I could focus on nothing but the sounds of planes, of cars and trucks in the street, and the snatches of voices that passed. We heard two large trucks roll by, but they were gone before either of us reached a window.

About an hour before sundown, an Army truck drove slowly through the streets. Soldiers with rifles on their shoulders sat in the open bed, and their commanding officer clung to the rear of the cab, using a megaphone to repeat an announcement over and over:


I looked bleakly at Grandmother, but the announcement seemed to have cheered her up. “You see?” she said. “They’ve been to the forest already and found the parachute but not the man. They’re up against a faun in his own woods.”

Still, it worried me when supper was over, sunset came and went, and the moon rose, but still Mr. Girandole made no appearance. I pictured him wringing his hands in the dark. R —— was probably dead, and Mr. Girandole didn’t know how to break the news to us. Or might the soldiers have caught Mr. Girandole? Might they have shot him? But we’d heard no gunshots; I supposed a gunshot could be heard a long way off in the quiet woods.

After nightfall, there were no more planes, and the only traffic was a truck passing every hour or so. Grandmother worked on stitching a quilt. “He may not come tonight,” she said. “The soldiers are likely watching the open field, and the moon is bright.”

So, I pulled my feet up onto a high-backed chair near the same lamp and tried to read Arabian Nights, but I couldn’t concentrate. I kept reading and re-reading the same line.

“When your mind’s too restless to think,” Grandmother said, “move your hands.”

Getting out my sketchbook, pencil, and eraser, I drew a picture of the grove of the monsters as I remembered it, with the winged beast snarling over the bushes, and faces peering through the vines near and far.

“You’d better not draw or write anything about Girandole or R ——,” Grandmother said. “Not in your book there, and not in your letters.”

I nodded. “I’m only drawing the monsters.”

But I found myself unable to remember the details. My lines on paper did no better than words at framing the secrets of the ­shadowy wood. A silence passed in which I drew and erased, brushing away the eraser’s gray crumbs, my fingers smudged with pencil lead.

Suddenly, as if we were still in the midst of our morning’s conver­sation, Grandmother began to speak. The things she told me were personal, and I marveled that she was trusting me with so much and talking to me in the same tone she used with adults. As I look back on it, I think she’d been testing me that day—or perhaps for many days—and I’d finally passed.

“Girandole’s my best friend.” She put down her quilting and sighed. “You ought to know this, because someday you’ll wonder about it, and I won’t be around to tell you. First, he was like an uncle or a father to me. As I got older, he was like a brother, but even more than that . . . When I grew up, he insisted I find a man to marry—one of my own kind, who could grow old with me. He didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past, you see. So, all the while I was with your grandfather, I didn’t go to the woods, and Girandole didn’t come out. I didn’t see him for more than thirty years, but I knew he was watching me sometimes, hidden among the hedges near the garden. He wanted me to have a normal life, but at the same time it broke his heart—he loved me, you know, even though he tried not to. The heart is uncontrollable.”

I had no idea what to say. At last I managed, “Did you love him, too?”

She smiled faintly and seemed to fix her gaze far beyond the cottage walls. “Yes. I did, and I do.” Her eyes found me again. “But I’m an old woman, and he’s a faun. What that means for us is friendship. And the knowledge that there’s more to the larger story of things . . . much more, beyond the borders of this world—beyond the walls of time.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant. But since she seemed to be in an answer-giving mood, I asked, “Did the fauns carve the statues?”

“No. The monsters in the grove were commissioned by a nobleman—a duke—nearly four hundred years ago. It took many years as the garden grew, piece by piece—his life-long project. He employed the finest sculptors in the land, the ones whose work is still to be seen in the cathedrals.”

“Why did he make them?”

The kettle boiled, and Grandmother laid aside her quilting to brew a pot of tea. “No one knows for sure, though there is more than one version of the story. Some say the garden was a tribute to the duke’s beloved wife, a woman named G ——. But some say she took one look at it and fell down dead with fright. Not very long after she died, the duke simply vanished. No one knows what became of him. The garden was left abandoned, and in time, it was overgrown by the woods. Even the duke’s castle up on the mountain is gone now; not so much as a foundation remains. I read what I could about it all years ago in the national library, on a trip to the capital. You won’t hear many facts around here.”

I wasn’t happy with my drawing: the winged creature’s mouth wasn’t right. Erasing it, I tried yet again.

“People talk as if the monsters were real,” I said. “Do they know they’re only statues?”

“A few of the brave ones have been up there to see them—enough to keep people reminded that there are monsters. There’s always been superstition about the place—the duke wasn’t around to defend himself after he vanished, and there were all the ugly rumors of what might have gone on in the garden.” Grandmother sighed and listened as a truck motored past.

“And now this—” She tipped her head vaguely toward the truck sound. “These times, and the world all upside down. The current regime forbids any celebration of our glorious past in art or music or books. We’re not supposed to have spirits; we’re supposed to be good children and obey. For most people, it’s easier to be afraid of monsters that are safely off in the woods.” She smirked. “The haunted woods.”

“They call it haunted; you call it sacred.”

Grandmother chuckled, placing a cup of tea on a saucer beside me. “When your father took you to the Great Cathedral, how did you feel? Frightened, or full of holy awe?”

I thought of the gargoyles, the soaring stained glass and colored light . . . the vast space and dim heights . . . the joyous and fiendish and suffering faces, carved in high places and in low, in brightness and shadow. “Both,” I answered.

“There you are, then. Haunted and sacred. Maybe they want to mean the same thing, but neither word is big enough.”

I darkened my monster’s eyes and began adding the teeth. “Did Papa go to the grove?”

“Of course he did, though he learned not to speak of it in front of your grandfather. The forest was forbidden, even then. Funny . . . I always felt as if the place were calling me.”

I nodded, tapping my pencil against my lips, planning how I would ask my father about his time in the garden—what he thought of it, and what he did there. Setting aside my sketchbook, I got out letter paper, but Grandmother frowned.

“You should wait a few days, until things settle down,” she said. “Unless you want your letter opened and read by the Army right there in the post office.”

I didn’t want that, so I put the paper back in its box.

When the hour grew late, Grandmother announced that she intended to sleep on the couch, in case Mr. Girandole rapped on the door too lightly to be heard from the bedroom. I joined her in the vigil, dragging my mattress and bedding out of my room and arranging them on the floor before the wood stove.

“Don’t worry,” Grandmother told me when she blew out the oil lamp. “We’ve done what we can for now.” She seemed to take her own advice; in minutes, she was softly snoring.

I lay awake for a long time in the glow of the embers behind the stove’s grill, listening to the frogs and crickets, and to the rustle of leaves when the wind picked up.

At last I slept, but my dreams were a repeat of the day: rags soaked in blood, planes flying low, trucks full of soldiers . . . and the grove of monsters. In my dream, the monsters blinked and shifted when I wasn’t looking directly at them, and I could hear them whispering together in the far parts of the garden, the parts I couldn’t see behind the leaves.


About The Author

Frederic S. Durbin is a writer and novelist of fantasy and horror. His first novel, Dragonfly, was published by Arkham House in 1999. It was nominated for an International Horror Guild Award for Best First Novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: S&S/Saga Press (June 13, 2017)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481442237

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Raves and Reviews

* "This gentle, engaging, and very personal coming-of-age story is mythic in its universality."

– Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

"A Green and Ancient Light combines beautiful writing, romance, war, mystery, and faery fantasy into one compelling, delightful story suitable for grownup or not so grownup readers alike."

– Champaign News-Gazette

* "Durbin gives his story an old-fashioned fairy-tale feel...and imbues his settings with a languorous sense of being outside of time. This is a magical book that will appeal to those who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things."

– Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

"Durbin’s gorgeously atmospheric novel solidly shares the fantasy-and historical-fiction genres...a delicate dance between reality and fantasy, ominous soldiers and late-night fairy music. Fans of John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things will enjoy this bittersweet fantasy with a mystery at its core."

– Booklist

"This is a lush and wonderful tale of discovery, relationships and mystery that is perfect for young adults or any grown-up who remembers what it was like to learn that not everything is always as it seems....If you like being pulled into a story, enjoy characters that spring off the page and revel in a tale that makes you ache for more, A Green and Ancient Light will certainly shine for you. On a scale of five stars, give this a five, brightly."

– The Perry News

"Not unlike reading your first beloved book as a child...Durbin’s tale of childhood, family, truth, and bravery certainly captured a piece of [my heart]."

– Chicago Review of Books

"The same magic flows in its veins as does in those of the classic The Last Unicorn or, more recently, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane...I left a piece of my heart with A Green and Ancient Light."

– B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog

Awards and Honors

  • Salt Lake County Library System Reader's Choice Award Nominee

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