The grass grew taller than the house itself, surrounding it on all sides. It stuffed the keyholes and scraped against the roof. It shook the walls and made paintings shiver.
Seven years ago, the Ballastian sisters’ parents left them in the magical Straygarden Place, a house surrounded by tall silver grass and floating trees. They left behind a warning saying never to leave the house or go into the grass. “Wait for us,” the note read. “Sleep darkly.” Ever since then, the house itself has taken care of Winnow, Mayhap, and Pavonine—feeding them, clothing them, even keeping them company—while the girls have waited and grown up and played a guessing game: Think of an animal, think of a place. Think of a person, think of a face. Until one day, when the eldest, fourteen-year-old Winnow, does the unthinkable and goes outside into the grass, and everything twelve-year-old Mayhap thought she knew about her home, her family, and even herself starts to unravel. With luscious, vivid prose, poet and author Hayley Chewins transports readers to a house where beloved little dogs crawl into their owners’ minds to sleep, sick girls turn silver, and anything can be stolen—even laughter and silence.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
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The house dressed Mayhap Ballastian in blue on the day her sister disappeared.
Blue for sorrow.
Blue for a bruise.
Blue for cold.
Mayhap stood in the vaulted entrance hall of Straygarden Place, peering through tiny frond-shaped windows at the silver grass that swamped them.
The grass grew taller than the house itself, surrounding it on all sides. It stuffed the keyholes and scraped against the roof. It shook the walls and made paintings shiver. It took on the color of the sky as it changed, and right now was tinted with the mysterious sort of purple that arrived every day as the afternoon faded, making the house feel more like a sunken ship than a sprawling mansion.
Mayhap tapped the heel of her shoe on the white marble floor anxiously. She straightened the cuffs of her indigo coat and adjusted her kidskin gloves.
Her droomhund sat at her ankle, whining, blinking his black, black eyes.
“Shhh, Seekatrix,” she whispered, gathering him into her arms. She stroked his head. His fur was wispy as whispers and inky as a nighttime sky without stars.
“I know you’re upset,” she told him. “But we don’t have a choice.”
Mayhap and her sisters hadn’t unlocked the front door since their parents had left them.
Pavonine had been only three when Cygnet and Bellwether Ballastian had gone. Mayhap had been five and could still remember her father saying goodbye — his cold hands in hers, his eyes puffy, always glancing away. Her mother had stood beside him, an elegant blur in a wide-brimmed hat. Mayhap could not remember a kiss from her, a single touch.
Hours after their departure, Winnow had discovered a letter in the lap of a porcelain doll and had read its precise instructions aloud in her best eldest-sister voice:
Do not leave the house.
Do not go into the grass.
Wait for us.
Mayhap had asked the house to frame the letter — a single hand-scrawled page — and to hang it up above their bed as a reminder.
The rules were simple and easy to follow. Mayhap didn’t like the thought of disobeying.
But now she had to.
Because she had to save Winnow.
Winnow had been missing all day. Mayhap had searched for her everywhere. And then she had seen her older sister in the silver grass. Her coat’s burgundy shoulders and her dark, windswept hair. Her droomhund, Evenflee, close at her heels.
Winnow was out there.
The grass parted like curtains, allowing Mayhap to see patches of sky through the mosaic of glittering windows. Floating trees drifted through the air — a whole orchard of them — their roots as white as marzipan and as frizzy as brushed ringlets, their boughs black against the bright vermilion of their petals. Her mother had christened them wanderroot, and there were more in the conservatory, which Cygnet had pulled into the house with rope, blistering her hands.
Mayhap took a breath, tucked Seekatrix under one arm, and turned the key in the lock.
The heavy door opened easily, as though its hinge had been greased with butter. The silver strands, clinging together again, appeared as solid as a serving plate. And then a long, looping blade of grass — thick as piano wire and shiny as a sugar spoon — slithered around Mayhap’s arm.
Mayhap shuddered. All she wanted to do was shut the door. But the door had been opened. The grass had found its way in. Dread soaked her, as though she’d climbed into a bath of icy water with all her clothes on.
“Please,” she said. “I only want to find my sister —”
“You are so kind to ask us to stay,” hissed the grass, drawing itself into the room.
“You c-can’t,” Mayhap stuttered. She pushed against the grass’s tendrils.
“You’ve opened the door, Mayhap Ballastian. An open door is an invitation. And it is not polite to retract an invitation.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be impolite —”
“If we cannot be permitted to come in,” said the grass, as though it were speaking with a hundred and three tongues at once, “are you going to come outside?”
Before Mayhap had a chance to answer, the grass yanked her out of the house with one swift swipe. It pummeled her, dragging her through flashing and flickering light, stinging at her cheeks, Seekatrix still in her grasp.
And then it set her down abruptly.
Mayhap’s ankles rattled with the hard landing, her bones clicking like the stiff cogs of clocks. She fought to catch her breath. Coughing, she said, “I’m only looking for my sister. Winnow. I mean — have you seen her, by any chance?” Seekatrix was wriggling. She let him go, and he trotted around her dizzily.
A laugh hiccuped through the grass, and it parted its strands, then slid about her elbows and shins like snakes in paintings of gardens. “And Pavonine?” it asked. “Have you lost her, too?”
“No,” said Mayhap crossly, struggling against it, “of course I haven’t.”
“Not yet,” sneered the grass. It laughed again, and Mayhap could see up into the mauve sky, the clouds laced with the dark-orange blossoms of meandering trees. A white bat, small as a mouse, flung itself through the air, diving into dusk as though into a still pond.
“Pavonine’s in the library,” said Mayhap. “With Tutto. He’s telling her stories. She doesn’t know Winnow’s gone. I saw her — I saw Winnow — through the window. She was walking. With her droomhund. I’d searched all the rooms, and I went back to our bedroom just in case. And I saw — you swallowed her.”
“Ah, our little liar,” said the grass, tittering affectionately. It slackened its hold on Mayhap’s arms and legs to brush against her cheeks.
One more laugh, she thought, and then I’ll be free. “Why did you call me that?” she asked. “Why did you call me your little liar?”
The grass snickered, loosening around her arms and legs even more, like hair falling from a plait. “Because,” it said. “Because you are ours, aren’t you?”
There, thought Mayhap — there was a gap. She slipped one foot out of the silver, then the other, whipping her arms from the grass’s tangle. She turned and she ran, stumbling, whistling for Seekatrix to follow.
The grass bristled, but it didn’t reach for her, and Mayhap did not pause to ask why.
She ran up the wide front steps and dived into the entrance hall, Seekatrix at her heels. She threw her body against the door, turning the key in the lock as quickly as her shaking fingers would allow.
“We’ll wait,” said the grass. “We’ll wait for you,
Mayhap Ballastian. We have been patient for a long time, and we will be patient still.”
Mayhap slid to the floor. Seekatrix crept into her arms like a jittery shadow, and she let him lick away her tears. “Winnow,” she sobbed into his fur. “What have you done?”