CHAPTER ONE I COULD FLY THAT HIGH?
Firefly flitted through a knothole in the hollow tree, straight out into the clearing and straight back in again. The night air outside the hollow tree was cool, and the air inside was warm. She whooshed back and forth from cool to warm, outside to inside, faster and faster and faster until—yikes—she accidentally sideswiped Elder.
he said. “Watch where you’re going there, Firefly.”
His tone was stern. But when no one else was looking, he blinked their secret code at her: three fast and two long.
“Sorry, Elder,” said Firefly, and she blinked the secret code back.
Most of the other elders viewed Firefly as slightly crazy and a clear threat to the safety and well-being of the youth of the firefly nation, but not Elder. He had been her hero since the night when she, as a one-centimeter-round baby, long before it was time to learn to fly, rolled right out of her spiderweb hammock and flung herself off the edge of her cubby.
“Careful there, little one,” Elder had said, swooping underneath her just in time.
“Yeehaw!” she had yelled. “Higher! Higher!”
And she had waved with one wing to the other baby fireflies, who were gaping from their spiderweb hammocks, as Elder piggybacked her around and around the
inside of the hollow tree. He finally returned her to her cubby and tucked her in, pulling the milkweed blanket up to her chin.
“Will you teach me how to fly by myself, Elder?” she had whispered.
“Soon,” he had said. “When the time is right.”
“But I want to learn now.”
“Soon,” said Elder again, and he smiled.
Before she fell asleep that night, she turned her head so that she could look out the knothole into the dark night sky. There were the moon and the stars, shining high above.
“They’re so beautiful,” she whispered.
“That they are,” agreed Elder. “But don’t let the others hear you say that.”
And he blinked an hypnotic pattern to lull her into sleep.
Elder kept his promise. Eventually she and all the others learned to fly. None of the other little fireflies flew as well as Firefly did, but at least they flew.
Firefly spread her wings now and zipped back outside. She loved the feel of the wind whooshing her up into the air. Imagine if she had to plod along the creature path on her spindly legs. Imagine not being able to fly, when flying was all she had ever wanted to do!
Midair flips, loop-de-loops, figure eights—all these were moves she had made up and practiced, at first in a corner of the clearing with Elder hovering nearby, ready to catch her if she fell, and then right in front of the others. The other little fireflies were too scared to try. Rules had been drummed into them in Air Safety class since they were tiny: Don’t fly beyond the clearing; don’t fly higher than the first big branch of the white pine; don’t fly in the rain.
There was Air Safety class, and there was Basics of Blinking class, in which the baby fireflies learned how to
signal left, right, straight, and right of way. But nothing compared to Fear of Giants class. All small fireflies were required to recite the three Fundamental Rules of Giants at the start and end of every class.
1. Giants are to be feared.
2. Giants are the enemies of the firefly nation.
3. Giants are to be avoided at all costs.
But it was hard to avoid giants entirely, because three of them lived in Firefly Hollow, in a house at the bend of the river: mother giant, father giant, and the miniature giant they called Peter. That was how it was done in their world—miniature ones lived with their parents in houses separate from other giants—unlike young and elder fireflies, who all lived in the same hollow tree, sharing their cubbies and eating their snails together. The mother and father giants were dreadful creatures. When they tromped about, their enormous weight shook the very earth.
TROMP. TROMP. TROMP.
“The giants are out!” the young fireflies would shout to one another when they were playing Death by Giant. “Flee!”
Something else that all the fireflies lived in fear of was the Jar.
The Jar was kept in a special roped-off corner at the Museum of Giant Artifacts, just down the trail from the neighboring School for Young Crickets. The museum held objects that had washed ashore from the giant nation:
A blue knife with a terrifying serrated edge.
A spool of yellow thread, thread that could be used for any number of evil purposes.
A huge red shoe, which, if tromped down on a resting firefly, would mean certain death.
These were just a few of the items in the Museum of Giant Artifacts. There were sections devoted to various other terrors of the giant world, among them games.
Games with names like baseball and basketball and kickball and soccer, games with balls that could roll right over a resting firefly and crush it dead then and there.
But it was the Jar that was especially horrifying to the firefly nation. The Jar! It contained actual firefly corpses! Once viewed, the Jar could never be forgotten.
“This is what will happen if you ever get too close to a giant,” the elders said, pointing with one wing at the dreadful object.
Oh, the poor lost fireflies who had met their end inside that jar. What a hideous fate: caught in midflight by giants, giants with their long legs and their reaching arms and their glass jars with the holes punched in the lids. The Museum of Giant Artifacts filled with screams during this portion of every field trip, screams so loud that they drowned out the constant, robotic chirping from the School for Young Crickets.
Despite the shrieks, the elders hovered grimly. The
young ones had to learn what would happen if they got too close to a giant. Giants are the enemies of the firefly nation. All it took was one visit to the museum, and all the young fireflies accepted the wisdom of the elders: Stay far, far away from the giants.
All but Firefly.
The truth of it was, giants fascinated her. Unbeknownst to anyone but Elder, she sometimes snuck out of the clearing to spy on the miniature giant, the one called Peter. At first she spied on him playing catch with another miniature giant. The other miniature giant was gone now, but Firefly still spied on Peter from afar, as he sat on the sand or perched in the branches of a white birch by the water.
Was he really that terrifying?
Secretly, Firefly thought that there was a lot to admire about giants. They were the ones who had invented spaceships that flew them to outer space—poor wingless creatures that they were—and Firefly loved outer
space. Sometimes, when she was out practicing her aerial maneuvers, she turned on her back and stared up. The vast darkness held the moon and the stars.
When she was tiny, Elder used to sneak her outside after bedtime, so that they could look up at the night sky together.
“Are you sure the stars are really that far away, Elder?”
There were thousands of them, tiny pinpoints of light, shimmering down on the two of them as they hovered on their backs in the clearing. They didn’t look that far away to Firefly.
“Double sure? Triple sure?”
Firefly sighed. She lay on her back for a while, fluttering her wings just enough to stay aloft. She had a question for Elder, a question that she was scared to ask. Gradually, she worked up her courage.
if you were a little firefly, and you, you . . .”
She trailed off.
“You what?” he prompted her.
“You wanted to see what it was like beyond Firefly Hollow.”
There. She had said it. She wanted to know what it was like beyond Firefly Hollow, something that went against every rule of the firefly nation.
“Are you that little firefly?” Elder said.
She looked around to make sure that they were the only ones out, then nodded.
“Well,” said Elder, “I’m going to tell you a secret.”
He floated close so he could whisper in her ear. “Maybe someday you’ll get a chance to see.”
“When it’s time.”
Argh! That was Elder’s answer to everything.
“How about now, Elder? Right now!”
Elder just smiled and shook his head. He blinked their secret code—three fast, two long—a code that could mean
any number of things, such as Are you hungry? Or Do you want to sneak out and practice aerial maneuvers? Or Want to come look at the stars with me? but in this case meant I know you want to go right now, but you have to be patient. Firefly turned over on her stomach and tried to ignore him. Elder kept on blinking, though, and eventually she blinked back.
But when she returned to her spiderweb hammock, Firefly thought about it some more. If someday she was really going to fly beyond Firefly Hollow, then she would need to build up her strength. That was something she could work on right now, wasn’t it? So she practiced her aerial maneuvers over and over, over and over, hoping that one day they would come in handy. And she timed herself for nonstop flying. Her best time so far was three hours, twelve minutes, and seven seconds. Without one single break.
Her friends were gathered by the lowest branch of the white pine that stood in the center of the clearing, waiting for her.
Firefly spread her wings, did one of her famous loop-de-loops, and landed in their midst. Around and around the white pine they flew, sparkling and blinking. The moon hung round and yellow, and the night sky shimmered with light from the stars.
“Imagine flying up that high,” said Firefly, pointing with one wing.
“Are you kidding?” said one.
“No, thank you,” said another.
“I’ll stay right here in the clearing,” said a third.
“The giants flew up there, you know,” said Firefly. “Straight up to the moon.”