She heard Mom's footsteps on the
stairs. "Is everyone all right?" Mom came into the living room. Seeing the coffee table, she sighed.
"Sorry about the table, Mrs. Marchen,"
Gillian said. "He can't help it." She was right -- the bear couldn't help dancing whenever he heard
music. He was still under a spell cast on him while he (and everyone else in central Massachusetts)
was trapped inside the Wild. Hopping off the couch, Gillian fitted headphones on the dancing bear and
affixed an MP3 player to his fur before shutting off the stereo.
"Your mom was just on the phone. She
wants you home for lunch, preferably without the bear," Mom said to Gillian. She paused, and Julie saw
her read Gillian's T-shirt. Frowning, Mom said, "I'd rather you didnít wear that here."
Gillian gulped. "Sorry!"
Looking at Julie, Mom raised her
eyebrows. "Julie, did you know that you're holding a mouse?"
"We rescued the Three Blind Mice!"
"I see that," Mom said. As Boots
filled her in on their heroic rescue (involving dumpsters, dogs, and a ride on a motorcycle), Julie
helped guide the bear back to his "cave" in the basement and then walked Gillian to the kitchen door.
"Sorry about the T-shirt," Gillian
whispered. "Do you think she's mad?"
Julie hesitated. Yes, she thought Mom
was mad. The T-shirt reminded Mom that her worst nightmare had come true. Six weeks ago, someone had
made a wish in Grandma's wishing well that had caused the Wild to escape. It had transformed most of
Massachusetts into a fairy-tale kingdom, trapping everyone in its stories, before Julie was able to
reach the magic wishing well and stop the Wild with her own wish. As the guardian of the Wild, Mom
blamed herself for everything that had happened. She didn't need a T-shirt to remind her, especially
when she was working so hard to encourage everyone to forget.
"It doesn't give away any secrets,"
"Just please don't wear it again."
"I wish you'd trust me," Gillian
I wish you'd understand, Julie thought.
Something as awful as fairy tales didn't belong on a T-shirt. Why didn't Gillian get that? Out loud,
she said, "Did you bring the story?"
Sighing, Gillian pulled a folded wad
of paper out of her pocket and handed it to Julie. It was a school assignment -- they'd been instructed
to write a story about what had happened when their town was transformed into a fairy-tale kingdom.
(The school counselor thought it would help the students cope with their memories.) Julie and Gillian
had planned to lie, of course, but Mom wanted to review both Julie and Gillian's stories before they
handed them in. "Um, maybe you can wait until she's done being mad about the shirt and the coffee table
before you show it to her?" Gillian asked.
Julie slid the story into her own back
pocket to deal with later, when she wasn't holding a squirming blind mouse. "I will," she promised.
Mom wanted to make sure there were no clues to what really happened in their stories. She didn't want
anyone to know about Julie's involvement or about the magic of the wishing well. And she certainly
didn't want anyone to know that some of the Massachusetts residents who had been trapped in the Wild
were actually from the Wild. Julie's family and their friends wanted everyone to believe they were
ordinary people. Even without T-shirts or school assignments, it was, Julie thought, kind of an uphill
Without warning, the mouse in her
hands shouted, "Ring around the cities!"
From the living room, another mouse
piped up, "Pocketed by kitties!"
The last mouse cried, "Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down!" As if on cue, the mouse in Julie's hands tossed its head back and threw out its
tiny paws like a fainting heroine in a melodrama.
Gillian grinned. "Call me later?"
"Sure," Julie said, and shut the door
behind Gillian. Carrying the limp mouse back into the living room, she asked, "Um, what's wrong with
"Aside from being blind, tail-less,
and bad poets?" Boots said.
Mom frowned at him. "Poor things never
recovered from their time in the Wild: chased and maimed over and over again." Julie shuddered and
tried to shake the image from her head as Mom added, "The return of the Wild clearly didn't help their
All three mice lifted their heads. "No,
no, no Wild!"
Julie stroked the third mouse between
the ears. "It's okay," she said. "You're safe now. The Wild's gone." Well, sort of. Okay, really, it
was right upstairs, underneath Julie's bed, lurking like a leafy octopus.
And that, Julie thought grimly, is my
fault. When she'd made her wish in the wishing well, she'd had the chance to destroy the Wild
completely, but she had chosen to wish for her "heart's desire." Her heart's desire had been to have
her normal life back. As she'd later discovered, for her, "normal life" meant: a father who was lost
inside the Wild, a mother who was Rapunzel, a brother who was Puss-in-Boots, and the heart of fairy
tales (reduced to a tangle of vines) under her bed. She, Mom, and Boots were back to being the
guardians of the Wild, responsible for ensuring that it didn't grow large enough to trap people in
its fairy tales ever again. And Julie was sleeping on the couch and having nightmares every night.
Oh, and lying to poor, frightened mice.
"You're with friends," Mom told the
mice. "It's me, Rapunzel."
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your
hair!" the mice chorused.
Mom flinched as if she'd been struck.
A second later, as quickly as if she had put on a mask, she was again the unflappable and serene
Rapunzel. But Julie had seen the flash of pain on her face. Julie tried to think of something to say.
Sorry I didn't save Dad. Sorry you had to relive your worst nightmare. Sorry our town is crawling with
doctors and scientists and reporters and police who would love to discover that real fairy-tale
"Rude mousies," Precious purred. "Can
we eat them now?"
The mouse in Julie's hands trembled
from the tips of his pink ears to the pale stump that should have been a tail. One of the other mice
sang, "Rock-a-bye, mousey, in the cat's paws..."
"No, you may not," Mom said to the
cats. To the mice, she said, "We aren't going to eat you. We're going to take you home. Remember home?
Your nice, safe cage in the library with that nice, sweet librarian Linda who feeds you--"
At the name Linda, all three mice
squealed. The third mouse twisted violently in Julie's hands, and Julie felt a sharp pain in her
index finger. "Ow!" She dropped him. "He bit me!"
Bouncing on the carpet, the mouse
scurried across the room. Mom tried to grab him as he ricocheted off her foot and then doubled back
toward Julie. "Catch him," Mom cried, "before he hurts himself!"
Hurts himself? What about her finger?
Julie grabbed for him as he bounced pinball-like off her sneaker. She missed, and he veered toward the
stairs. Yes! They had him! Mice couldn't climb stairs--
The mouse leapt. His front claws dug
into the edge of the step, and his hind legs scrabbled behind him, propelling him up onto the first
step. Okay, so maybe mice could climb stairs. As Julie started forward, Mom said, "Let him go. We're
She's right, Julie thought. He was
terrified. From the base of the stairs, Julie watched as the little rodent climbed: leap and scrabble,
leap and scrabble, leap and scrabble. He hoisted himself up onto the top step and then disappeared
around the corner.
"He'll calm down on his own," Mom said.
"He's safe enough in the hallway."
Right. He could bounce off the walls
up there until he calmed... Oh, no. Julie froze. "I left my bedroom door open."
She always locked it when they left
the house! But on weekends... She'd been hoping that the Wild would decide to leave her bed
voluntarily. Couldn't it live in a different room? Maybe a closet or the garage? Or even the dining
room? So far, they hadn't been able to budge as much as a leaf, and she wanted her room back. "I'm
sorry! But I'm sure he won't--"
"He can't see it." Mom ran past Julie
up the stairs. "Don't move!" she called to the mouse. "Wherever you are, don't move! Just wait!"
Julie pounded up the stairs after
Mom. "Mouse, stop! The Wild is up there!"
Mom halted in the doorway to Julie's
bedroom, and Julie skidded to a stop behind her. "Everyone, stay calm," Mom said.
The mouse was less than a yard from
Julie's bed. Underneath the bed, the green leaves of the Wild rustled as they shifted and writhed.
One vine uncurled, reaching out past the dust ruffle toward the mouse.
"Don't be frightened," Mom said softly
and evenly, "but the Wild is directly behind you." Piles of clothes, books, and papers created a
canyon that led directly to the bed. If he ran... "Come toward my voice."
The mouse quivered. Its fur shuddered
in gray ripples. "No more knives. Please, please, please, no more knives." A leaf crept closer.
"No one here has knives," Mom said.
He inched backward. "Run, run, run, as
fast as you can. You can't catch me!"
Another tendril of green snaked over
"Stop that," Mom said sharply to the
At her tone, the Wild shrank back, and
the mouse skittered closer to the green. "Not you!" Julie said to the mouse. "Do you want to go back
to life in the Wild, back to being controlled like a puppet, back to living the same story over and
over again, back to losing all your memories and everything that makes you who you are?" Julie had
chosen to abandon her father, the father she had missed her whole life, rather than live trapped like
that. "You have a life here outside the Wild, a home--"
"She knows!" the mouse cried. "She
knows we know! She knows we know she knows! She knows we know she knows we know!"
Okay, he was totally insane. Who knows
what? What was he talking about?
"You're agitating him," Mom said in a
singsong voice. "Come toward my voice. You'll be safe if you come to me. I'll take you home to the
nice, safe library--"
Squealing, the mouse tripped over his
hind paws in his efforts to scramble away. The leaves rustled in anticipation. "Or no library!" Julie
said quickly. Why was he afraid of the library? It was the perfect place for the mice -- their friends
could visit easily and discreetly, plus Linda, the children's room librarian, kept the mice safe,
warm, and fed.
"She'll bring it back again!" the
mouse cried. He was now framed on all sides by green. Like a wild animal, the Wild was poised to
pounce. "She won't stop. She wants it back."
"Bring what back?" Julie asked. Did he
mean the Wild? And what did he mean "again"? Was he talking about the person who made the wish? Did he
know who was responsible for bringing the Wild back? No one had confessed yet.
Was it someone in the library? Was
that why he didn't want to return there? Was it... It was a crazy thought, but... Could it have been a
librarian? Three blind mice might not have noticed the presence of a quiet librarian after hours.
They could have sung or talked. A librarian could have overheard something she shouldn't have. "Did
the children's room librarian make the wish that set the Wild free?" Julie asked.
"Linda?" Mom said, startled. "Not
"You know!" the mouse shrieked.
It was Linda! Oh, wow, how was that
possible? Linda? Smiley, friendly, ordinary Linda? She made the wish that set the Wild free? She was
responsible for Julie nearly losing her family, her home, everything? But how--
"She'll know you know!" He stumbled
backward, and his hind paws touched the green. Instantly, the vines snapped around him. Leaves fanned
over his face, and the Wild swept him under Julie's bed. He vanished in a knot of green shadows.
"No!" Julie rushed forward.
Mom grabbed her arm. "Stop! It has a
character! It's going to grow!" She pulled Julie back into the hallway. "Boots! Precious! Get the
pruners!" Mom spun Julie around by the shoulders and aimed her toward the stairs. "Go!"
"Only if you go," Julie said. "You go;
I go. You stay; I stay." She was not -- repeat, not -- going to lose Mom to the Wild again.
Before October, Mom wouldn't have
listened. But now she nodded and released Julie. Side by side, Julie and her mom stood in the bedroom
doorway. Green undulated under the bed, pulsing. Julie swallowed. Her mouth felt papery dry. It could
happen again -- losing her family, losing herself, all of it. She couldn't let it happen again.
Julie heard thump, thump, thump.
Dragging two pairs of pruning shears, Boots and Precious came up the stairs. They dropped them at
Julie and Mom's feet. Eyes on the Wild, Mom reached down, picked up the longer shears, and held them
ready. Julie picked up the smaller clippers and snapped them open and shut.
Precious pranced into the bedroom. "I
see no new growth."
"It ate the third mouse," Julie said.
"Oh. Best be going." Flicking her tail
in the air, the white cat bolted out of the room and down the stairs. A few seconds later, Julie heard
the cat door in the kitchen creak.
Boots hesitated. "Coming?"
Mom hefted the pruners. "We have to
try to cut it back as soon as it grows. Once it grows too much, it will be too strong to stop."
Boots inched backward. "Since there
are only two pruners and only two people with opposable thumbs..."
"You can go," Mom said.
Boots fled, a streak of orange fur.
A minute passed, and then another and
another. Julie's arms began to ache from holding the pruners. Her palms sweated on the handles until
they felt slick.
"What's it doing?" Julie asked.
Mom shook her head. "I don't know.
It's had enough time to force the mouse into a fairy tale. It should be growing by now."
They watched deep green shadows writhe
under Julie's bed in a mass of tentacle-like vines. She heard the shush-shush of leaves rubbing
together. But it didn't grow. Why not? What was it doing? "Let him go!" Julie shouted at the green.
"Give him back!"
The Wild burst out from under the bed.
Julie's heart slammed against her rib cage. Oh, no, oh, no. She gripped the shears as leaves and vines
spilled across the carpet--
And then just as suddenly, the green
retreated. In its wake, it left behind a huddled lump of red and blue velvet.
The velvet moaned. Julie saw hands
reach out of the fabric to press against the rug. The figure pushed upward to kneel in the center of
Julie's carpet. He raised his head.
Beside her, Julie heard her mom suck
in a breath. The pruning shears slipped from Mom's fingers and clattered to the floor.
"Rapunzel," the man said.
"Dad," Julie said.
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