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Celesdon Awaits You
By Gauzly Shimmer
The author’s recent works include: WHEN TO BOW, WHEN TO BOO, A Guide to Ghostly Manners, and HIGH SOCIETY ON HIGH
If you can manage it, the best time to arrive in the Afterlife is late fall. That’s when the city of Celesdon is most magnificent. The sun’s low angle, sparkling through the jeweled domes and the water-rises of our capital city, is especially uplifting because, here in the next world, water flows up rather than falling down. It’s a sight that can take your breath away, even if you have no breath in you.
As you disembark at the Hall of Reception, you will be granted a supply of golden wishes, the currency of the Afterlife. (If you’re a skeleton, then unlucky you. Golden wishes are provided only to ghosts.)
You get only one “first time” in Celesdon, so make the most of it. My absolute favorite resting place is the Sapphire Plaza Hotel, located in the city’s central ring. Service is heavenly.
Before checking in, I recommend shopping in the Glamoursmith district. That’s where celebrated designers will fit you with shimmery fashions sure to suit the palest complexion. But be careful not to spend too many wishes. I speak from experience. I went through my allotment like a tyke in a toy shop! So take care, unless you want to spend an eternity earning a living by writing travelogues.
After you’re properly outfitted, nothing is more memorable than flying up to the Sapphire in a royal carriage pulled by wind stallions.
As you alight, note the deep blue curved staircase—the one that seems to go on forever. You’ll find golden wishes valuable here, too, because you can simply wish your way to the top. They’re quite useful for getting around in general because the Afterlife is so impossibly big.
Once you’re settled in, it’s time to explore. I recommend the museums and even a visit to Government Hall. You need only crane your neck skyward to see this long structure. It spans the entire length of the Afterlife. One end houses Light Side officials, and the other end, the Dark. With that much building you might expect loads of government, and you wouldn’t be wrong!
A word to the wise: all that governing produces a sea of regulation. And those who run afoul of the law are sent to a place much worse than the Dark Side.
Typically we only whisper its name (it’s called Nevermore), and its location is shrouded in mystery. But no matter how murky the address, let me be clear: avoid it at all cost!
I won’t gas on about that ghastly place, not with Light Side splendors to think of, like our floating boulevards, crystal courtyards, and cloud-packed parks. And I really shouldn’t go on about those either, because they’re for your later enjoyment. Much later.
So I shall leave you here with my greatest wish: Savor each day of a long, full life before you even think of a visit. These wonders will still be here long after you’ve done everything there is to do on Earth.
Upon a path, both straight and true
A bright heart, he has kept
It seems no matter where he treads
Gloom’s shadow marks his step
The ship creaked softly in a berth at Barmouth Harbor. Its bowsprit pointed out to sea like a finger, gauging wind and possibilities. Save for the shipwrights, the town was quiet. The proprietor of the cheese shop wiped his hands on his apron as he stood next to the fishmonger. For months they’d watched the birth of the ship. In two weeks, she would be fitted with canvas and brass. The shop owners smiled, proud that ship-making skills hadn’t died in these parts. Steel and steam ruled shipyards now, but nothing pleased the eye like a wind-powered vessel.
A chunky ten-year-old clomped up the gangway. The sound of his boots blended with the snarl of saw blades and the cluck of mallets. A girl skipped behind him, shouting something lost to the wind.
Perhaps the shop owners would have looked less at the ship and more at the boy if they’d known of his other worldly past.
Billy leaned against the ship’s bulwarks with a thump. “What’s the use, Millicent? Everything a pirate could want is right here, but we’re going to miss out.”
Billy Bones Biglum and Millicent Hues were resting on the railings of the Spurious II. Billy’s mother, Dame Biglum, was having it built to help promote her famous chocolates. The ship was soon heading out on a worldwide tour, and Dame Biglum had already engaged a real-life crew.
The children had begged to go along. They dearly wanted to see the world—every port, pack mule, and pyramid. But the old woman was adamant. “Lessons come first,” she’d said. “Your education has been neglected far too long.”
Millicent had never formally gone to school, although her parents had taught her the classics as well as music and art. During the twenty-five years Billy had lived in the secrets-closet, he hadn’t aged a bit. He had, however, learned all sorts of things about the Afterlife, with the help of his skeleton parents. But Dame Biglum felt this kind of information wasn’t terribly useful.
So she had hired a tutor.
Professor Digby Dabbleton was an older gentleman with a frosty beard and owlish eyes. He was an inventor whose workshop was jammed with curious things like submersible dinghies, rocket-powered dirigibles, and life-size clockwork men. The children were quite fond of their instructor and his fascinating devices.
A shadow darted across the deck. Billy looked up to see a gull pass overhead, bound on its own secret journey. He sighed.
“A little patience,” Millicent said. “I have a plan.”
“You do?” Billy’s brows lifted like curious cater-pillars.
“Why don’t we ask Mum Biglum if we can sail for just the summer?” Millicent beamed. “We’ll be on holiday anyway.”
The wind caught Billy’s laugh and skipped it around the bay. “That’s brilliant! There’s nothing to do at home except get in her way. It’s worth a shot.”
“Oh Billy. It would be so grand!” Millicent swung herself up and sat on the rail. “Think how many places we’d explore.”
“Where do you suppose we should go first?”
“Wherever the biggest mysteries are, of course. Egypt, maybe, or China.” Millicent rubbed her forehead. This was her habit when cooking up plans. “But we’ll promise her that we’ll keep our noses buried in our summer reading. And you can’t go blurting out the truth everywhere we go!”
It was the job of Billy’s adoptive skeleton parents Lars and Decette Bones to collect and sort lies, secrets, and fibs. The Boneses were famous for their secret-keeping abilities. Billy, on the other hand, could rarely keep a tittle-tattle to himself.
“You know I’m working on that.” Billy gave her a gentle nudge.
“Shush, Billy.” Millicent dropped to the deck. “Here comes Mum Biglum.”
Dame Biglum thumped over to join them at the rail. Her feet seemed bound on two different bearings, but with the aid of her silver-capped cane, she banged along with a determined stride. She wore a gray coat and a wide hat with pheasant feathers trawling off the back.
The old woman was both Billy’s mother—in this life, anyway—and Millicent’s grandmother. But to cut down on confusion, both children called her “Mum Biglum.”
“Isn’t she wonderful?” Mum Biglum proclaimed, tapping her cane on the ship’s rail. “One of the shipwrights said he’s never pinned a timber to a finer craft. The crew was most enthusiastic, too.”
“I’d be more excited if we were going along,” Billy sighed.
Millicent grabbed her grandmother’s hands. “Could we could go, just for summer holiday? Maybe Professor Dabbleton could come along, too.”
“We’d study every minute… . Professor Dabbleton would surely assign us loads of reading,” Billy added. “Just think of all the time we could spend in lessons, and —”
“And out of my sight, and getting into trouble,” Mum Biglum finished for him. “It’s out of the question, my dears.”
Both children slumped.
“Besides,” she continued, “Professor Dabbleton wants to spend his holiday studying in Egypt.”
“Egypt!” they cried in unison.
“Alone. The poor man needs some time to himself,” said Mum Biglum with a thump of her cane. “As for today’s business, our ever-prudent shipbuilder, Mr. Turnbuckle, told me the Spurious II will require several test runs before she’s ready for open sea.”
Billy plopped his forearm onto the railing and then his chin. Millicent frowned.
Mum Biglum’s eyes twinkled. “Soooo … Mr. Turnbuckle has invited you on the first outing. You’ll both have a two-day cruise.”
Billy perked up. “Well, that is something!”
“Just the thing to get you two out of your soggy moods.” Mum Biglum slipped an arm around each child.
Billy ran his hand over the hardwood railing. How he loved visiting the Spurious II! He remembered discovering the dusty plans for her predecessor, the Spurious. The ship’s ancient blueprints had been tucked into a false bottom of the old sea chest he’d slept in so soundly the whole time he’d lived with his skeleton parents in the secrets-closet. It originally belonged to his great-many-greats grandfather Glass-Eyed Pete. The earlier Spurious was the first vessel he had pirated on, and even on parchment she looked formidable.
Now, several months later, Billy and Millicent were just weeks away from the Spurious II’s maiden sail.
Martha Cleansington chuffed up the gangplank like a steam-powered engine, carrying a loaded picnic basket. For years Martha had been one of the maids at High Manners Manor, but she was now the children’s nanny. She had met Millicent only six months before, when the girl first arrived at the mansion—the poor orphaned granddaughter of Dame Biglum. Since then, Millicent had grown to a girl of twelve-and-three-quarters. Yet her pixie face and independent curls still carried the gentle brushstrokes of childhood.
Billy’s history, on the other hand, was fuzzy to her. The boy had shown up, seemingly out of nowhere. It was odder than a bell without bongs because, according to the rumors circulating around the manor, he had gone missing twenty-five years earlier. And the boy hadn’t aged a day. He still looked like a ten-year-old. Martha loved him dearly, so she didn’t obsess on the strangeness. But still, it was most irregular.
Martha continued on at full power. “Pardon, madam, but Mr. Turnbuckle wishes to have a word about the extra accommodations he’s working into the plans.”
Dame Biglum nodded. “Well then, Martha, take care these two don’t fall overboard.”
“Don’t worry, madam, I’ll keep my eyes on ’em, tight as a glue pot’s lid.” Martha gathered her pewter-colored skirts and glanced at the upper deck. “They’re like my own family.”
“And so they are,” Dame Biglum said, patting Martha on the shoulder. “Just as you’re part of ours.”
Dame Biglum set off for Mr. Turnbuckle’s dockside office. Martha bravely grasped the railing and clambered up to the next deck. Her padded bustle swayed like it disagreed with every step. “Billy! Have a care!” she called out. “You’ll split your melon if you take a tumble.”
Billy was standing on an iron drum wrapped in anchor chain. “Oh Martha,” Billy huffed. “How will I become the saltiest pirate on seven seas if I can’t even have a good climb?” Then he danced a stout little jig until one foot skidded out from under him and he landed with a bum-rattling CLANG.
Martha pursed her lips. Billy abandoned the drum while Millicent stifled a laugh.
“Off we go, my ducks,” Martha coaxed, gently turning Billy and Millicent toward shore. But the children insisted on “an explore,” as they liked to say. All sorts of interesting discoveries beckoned from below deck, and the children were much too polite to refuse a good look. There, they found several new cabins—each just large enough to hold a bed, a sea trunk, and a small writing table.
“Goodness, children.” Martha stationed her hands on her hips. “You could only sleep one eye at a time in a bed so tiny as that!”
The children didn’t hear. They were poking their noses into every crack and corner. And, of course, they had to try out a bed. Billy and Millicent looked like cheery packed herring as they lay shoulder-to-shoulder and smiled.
“Let’s be off for our lunch.” Martha chuckled.
A few minutes later, the children were shoulder-to-shoulder again, this time, on a picnic blanket spread out on the town’s pebbly beach. Billy and Millicent tore into sausage sandwiches and apple pie.
“It’s nice to see such healthy appetites,” Martha clucked. Then her eyes misted.
Billy and Millicent knew what was wrong at once. Just that morning Martha had learned her uncle was very sick. The children overheard her talking about it with Mr. Colter, the Biglums’ new coachman. They nestled closer to Martha as they polished off the rest of their lunch.
Afterward, they strolled cobblestone streets until it was time to collect Dame Biglum.
“Mr. Turnbuckle needs to hire a captain,” the old woman said, taking a hard look at the Spurious II. “He’ll give me a list of candidates the next time we meet. I do hope we find someone who’s steady. We don’t want mutiny the first week.”
As the children trailed the adults to the carriage, Billy whispered to Millicent, “What about Gramps Pete?”
“What about him?”
“He’s a captain.”
Millicent’s eyes banged open. “Brilliant, Billy!”
“And if he’s in charge, maybe he’d convince Mum Biglum to let us go.”
At the carriage, Billy struggled to hide his excitement as he stowed the picnic basket under the driver’s bench. Mr. Colter helped Dame Biglum into her seat as the children gathered behind the carriage for a whispered conference.
“How are we going to get word to Gramps Pete?” Millicent asked. “He hasn’t been around much lately.”
Glass-Eyed Pete had been spending a lot more time in the Afterlife. This was no surprise, considering his long ordeal on Earth. The poor ghost had been trapped there the whole time Billy had been a skeleton. (A lengthy stretch for a spirit to be separated from the Afterlife.)
“But, you’d think he’d be back by now,” Billy added, “and your parents, too.”
“I know! I haven’t seen them in weeks.” Millicent frowned.
“What do you think is holding them up?”
“I’m not sure, but they’re always complaining about the long lines.”
“My mom and dad say there are plenty of those in the Afterlife,” Billy agreed.
Millicent brightened. “Maybe your parents can help us post a note to Gramps Pete.”
“Good idea. I’m sure Mr. Benders will deliver it.” Billy smiled at the thought of the old skeleton messenger. He’d taught Billy many things about the Afterlife, whenever he popped by the secrets-closet.
“Let’s sneak off to the secrets-closet tonight.” Millicent smiled.
“What are you two plotting back there?”
The children spun round. Martha stood with hands on hips, but her frown was mostly smile. Martha wasn’t gifted at seeing what ought not be there, like ghosts, so Billy, Millicent, and Dame Biglum never talked to her about such things.
“Nothing important,” Millicent said quickly, before Billy could blurt the truth.
“Hmmm …” She scratched her nose. “Dame Biglum would like to head out.” Martha shooed the children toward their seats. As she closed the shallow door the carriage lurched forward and clomped up the cobblestone streets, harnesses jingling like a banker’s pockets.
A pleasant ride brought them back to High Manners Manor. It stood, waiting for them on the cliffs above the village of Houndstooth-on-Codswattle. The leaves on its ivy exterior rustled together as if they were tiny palms, impatient to see what new adventure was blowing their way.
Excerpted from Billy Bones: The Road to Nevermore by Lincoln, Christopher Copyright © 2009 by Lincoln, Christopher. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 13, 2012
No text was provided for this review.