We went to get the kid yesterday, and — I’m just gonna start from the beginning.
The boys were nervous. I don’t see them nervous very often. Cautious maybe, sometimes, but usually they’ve got a whole casual-to-the-point-of-chaotic vibe, but yesterday they were nervous. I could tell because they kept changing their clothes.
“I look too stuffy,” Neal said, standing on the bed in the motel room to look at himself in the round mirror over the dresser. “I need something more casual, I’m trying way too hard. I don’t look local.”
“Maybe we’re not,” Julian replied, poking his head out of the bathroom. “How’s this?”
He looked a little bit shabby, in his old button down sweater, and a button-down that was old enough to be not-quite-white. Lived-in. Frugal.
Julian missed a calling in theater.
“What about me?” I said and Neal fussed.
“Shiloh,” he began and I cut him tf off.
“I didn’t argue about coming in yesterday! You promised you’d teach me!” I said a bunch of other stuff too, mostly to the affect of, you cant leave me in the car like a poorly trained dog all the time until finally Neal interrupted me.
“Okay! You’re right I’m being a dick, you can come!” And when I got ready for my victory lap he added, “but you’re going to have to dress the part.” He scrubbed his forehead. “Julian, you’ll be the kid’s caseworker. Shiloh, you’ll be shadowing him. I’ll be a language specialist.”
None of has any idea whether new caseworkers shadow older caseworkers, but we figure they’ve gotta learn somehow, and we’re hoping that this girl’s situation will be strange enough that people will overlook any extra strangeness we bring to the table.
So, just a few hours later, we pulled up in front of this facility. I guess I was expecting more of a… group home situation? Maybe some public school vibes? But where we ended up was significantly more high security than I was initially expecting. Which makes a certain amount of sense, considering the face-stabbing.
I was crammed into a sweater, skirt, clogs situation, which someone else would have made look cute, library-chic, and on me just looked like they’d stuffed a raccoon into an old lady’s clothes.
The woman in reception was in her 40s and conveniently labeled Ellen.
“Are you Jane’s new caseworker?” she asked when we came in.
“Yeah, that’s me,” Julian said. He fumbled a little with his briefcase looking for his ID and I swear to god, I don’t know how he does it. He was a completely different person. He smiled. “This is Paige, she’s gonna be shadowing me today, and this is Nathaniel, he’s a speech specialist.”
“Little Jane brought out a whole crowd,” Ellen said, without even glancing at the various identification we were brandishing at her. Literally, security is such a joke. “I am not surprised, and frankly, I’m just relieved to see you all here. You know she spent all night awake screaming? Absolute gibberish. Her last caseworker was pretty convinced she wasn’t fit to go into a family setting, and look what happened. That poor boy. He’s gonna have scars for the rest of his life.”
All this as we were walking back into the white-tiled fluorescence of the facility. It smelled like a hospital, but I could hear other kids in the hall. A Disney song was playing somewhere.
I would have been up all night screaming, too.
Ellen opened the door to the little girl’s room very cautiously, speaking in low soothing tones, and at first it was just really quiet in there. And then it everything happened really quickly.
I don’t know how Jane was above us. Was she perched on top of the doorframe??? It made no sense, but one minute, everything was quiet and tentative, and the next this kid came hurtling down from on top of us, shrieking like a ghoul and wielding a pencil like a tiny, tiny spear.
Ellen about shit herself and started screaming and scrambling, which was fair enough because the kid was crouching on her back growling at her like an animal. She had reached to grab a handful of Ellen’s hair when Neal stepped in.
I don’t know what he said, but he said it loudly, and in a calm voice.
The girl froze. Neal said something else and she got off Ellen’s back and spun to look at him.
She said something in the same, strange whispery language and he shook his head, and all at once she started to cry. She walked right into his legs and stood there, leaning on him and whimpering piteously.
“How on earth did you do that?” Ellen said.
“Just have to know how to talk to her,” Neal replied. He knelt and pushed her tangled hair off her face. He asked her some questions and she nodded.
“Okay,” Neal said. “Let’s go get some lunch.”
“Is there anything in here she’s really attached to?” Julian asked, which was clearly code for which of this kids worldly possessions does she want to keep.
Neal conferred and the kid spat on the ground. Neal smothered a smile.
“She’s good,” he said.
“Alright, then we just need some signatures,” Ellen said. “How long will you guys be gone do you think?”
Julian went to handle that, and Neal focused back on Jane, speaking to her in that low, whispery language. Now that she wasn’t trying to kill us, she was just a six year old girl with blue crayola washable marker scribbled all over her face. She had sandy ginger hair, and was wearing a baby doll dress that didn’t remotely suit her. Neal helped her put on the little black mary janes by her bed, and when she followed Neal out of the room she put her hand on the back of his elbow in a way that reminded me forcibly of a baby elephant holding onto it’s mother’s tail.
Julian met us at the car.
“We have 4 hours before anyone starts looking for us,” he said.
Meanwhile, the kid was having an absolute fit about getting in the car. She also kept picking up her feet and trying to shake the shoes off them, and tugging on the collar of her little dress.
“She doesn’t like the car,” Neal said. “They’re too fast and they make her sick.”
“Can we bribe her with something?” Julian asked.
Neal asked in her language and she said something very insistently and then burst into tears.
Neal dropped his chin to his chest.“She just wants to go home.” He took a deep breath, knelt, and instead of saying anything made a sign with his fingers, a little wave. She sniffed, but lifted her chin and made the wave back.
“What’s that mean?” I asked.
Neal got to his feet and opened the door again for her.
“Fenecan uses hand signs to express stuff you can’t say aloud,” he said. “You only use them when it really means something. That one translates to… be brave, kind of.” He smiled and showed me the wave again, right in front of my eyes. “Jasper translates it to death blinks first. You know, like in goonies.” And when I looked at him blankly he added, “Goonies never say die?”
That movie is like, almost twice my age. Also, I am literally desperate to know what kind of place Feneca is.
“Does she have a name?” I asked, once we were in the car. Julian drove and I sat up front so Neal could be in the back with the kid.
“Names don’t really work that way in Feneca,” Neal said. “People pretty much just call you what you are. So, at home you might be child, or second child. Then, in the community, you become child of the orchard keepers, until you’ve distinguished yourself somehow, and then that’s what people call you. So when you go to a new place, especially if you go by yourself, you don’t have a name anymore, until you become something.”
Lol if it worked that way here, they’d probably call me Rage Rat Who Sits in the Back of the Car, Crying and/or Panicking.
The kid sat in the back seat, tears streaming, jaw set. Eventually she fell asleep.
That was yesterday. It has been 24 hours since then, and the poor kid hasn’t eaten anything. We haven’t really stopped driving, seeing as we’re even more on the run than usual. We’re on our way to meet Jasper, and then after that? That’s actually a good question, hang on I’ll ask.
Okay so apparently we’re not going to Louie’s, which is sort of what I assumed.
Julian explained. “Fenecan’s are born with the innate ability to do magic. Usually it’s a thing they have to actively learn, but sometimes kids are very powerful and young children with innate magical abilities can be… a handful. Louie hasn’t taken any kids with magic since Jasper.”
Neal scoffed. “Louie doesn’t take kids with magic because of Jasper,” he said, and then added, “We’re taking her to Palefish.”
Palefish, which sounds familiar. I think I’ve heard them mention it before potentially?
When I asked, Julian said, “…it’s sort of like a school.”
Neal scoffed. “Something like that. You’ll see.”
And that’s all I can really get out of them about it. Apparently it’s run by some super famous hunter lady or something, I don’t know. For now we’re just trying to meet Jasper, and in the shorter term, figure out how to get this poor kid to eat something.