Portals and danger, and a girl who can find both in the next book in the Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Wayward Children series from Seanan McGuire.
Antsy is the latest student to pass through the doors at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children.
When the school’s (literally irresistible) mean girl realizes that Antsy's talent for finding absolutely anything may extend to doors, Antsy is forced to flee in the company of a small group of friends, looking for a way back to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go to be sure that Vineta and Hudson are keeping their promise.
Along the way, they will travel from a world which hides painful memories that cut as sharply as its beauty, to a land that time wasn’t yet old enough to forget—and more than one student's life will change forever.
Mislaid in Parts Half-Known is a story that reminds us that getting what you want doesn't always mean finding what you need.
Release date: January 9, 2024
Publisher: Tor Publishing Group
Print pages: 160
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Mislaid in Parts Half-Known
LOST AND FOUND
CHILDREN OF THE DOORS know about being mislaid. They are well-acquainted with stepping through an opening or following a passage that should lead from here to there, and finding themselves someplace entirely else, someplace entirely new. It is possibly their only truly unifying experience, the one thing they have so completely in common that there’s no need to even question it: once upon a time, they took an impossible step, opened an impossible portal, and ended up in a terribly, horribly possible place.
It’s inevitable that some worlds have known more than one traveler, but the majority of the wandering children went to totally different places, to worlds so dissimilar that those who touched them should have had nothing in common, and those places …
Those places were perfect.
The worlds on the other side of their disparate doors were almost always perfect, fitting their young visitors like a bespoke glove fits the hand it was stitched for. “Almost always” is a very different thing from “always.” Lives are lived and lost in “almost.” Some of the children of the doors don’t find perfection in the passage, and so are left exiles in a community of the exiled, unsure why they were chosen for a life-changing experience that failed to change them the same way it seemed to change everyone else it touched.
But even those whose doors had let them down would walk with a hole in their heart for the rest of their days, not quite present and not quite gone, unable to fully rejoin the world they had begun in and then been banished back to. Misplacement was their commonality; exile was their community.
These were the things they all knew, the stories they shared. But for some, there was another lesson buried under the misplacement, an education in instances and errors. Those travelers learned not only what it meant to be mislaid, but what it meant to become so fundamentally and foundationally unanchored from who they had originally been that they could no longer find their way back to that person, even in the rare cases when they had the enviable luxury of a tether. For some, “mislaid” blossomed into “lost” before it swelled to become Lost, which sounded the same, yet was somehow utterly and completely different, a passport to a different country.
Mislaid things would, inevitably, turn up again, returned to their places, whether or not those places still fit them. Things that were merely lost could still be found, could be returned to where they belonged, because they truly belonged somewhere. A lost child might belong where they’d begun, or might belong in the world they’d traveled to, but either way, one of those places would hold and harbor them. One of those places could be home.
A Lost child could wander forever, destined only for the doors, could start and stop and start again a thousand times, and still they would be Lost, from the beginning to the end. Still they would be stumbling, still somehow stranded on that first threshold, in that instant between reaching out and reaching a destination.
The Lost understood the lost ones, for they had also begun among the mislaid. They had that in common. They still shared the similarities carried by all the children of the doors. It was just that they didn’t stop there, but continued onward, becoming something else. Something that was neither worse nor better, but was decidedly different.
Eleanor West had encountered a few of the Lost since opening her school, her Home for Wayward Children, and as they shared so much with their peers—as they had all been taken by the doors, voluntarily or no—if they were among the number she believed that she might be able to help find peace, she still welcomed them. She never once turned anyone away. Unlike the doors they had traveled through, the school’s door was always open for the lost and the Lost alike, offering them a sanctuary for as long as they might need it. Her rules were simple, universal, and unambiguous:
No solicitation. No visitors.
ELEANOR’S SCHOOL WAS ORGANIZED and patterned as only a school owned and at least technically operated by a true child of Nonsense could have been. The divisions between her students were less about age than they were experience, and as it was rare for two pupils to travel to the same world, even when the class rosters were studied over the span of several decades, those experiences were assessed more on conjecture than established fact. This perfectly suited Eleanor’s Nonsensical way of thinking, which had been trained into topsy-turviness and encouraged to remain that way. So she put Nonsense with Nonsense, and Logic with Logic, and assigned those labels based on the stumbling accounts of traumatized children who had just been cast out of their own personal homelands, and called it good.
Was it any wonder that occasionally, she got the labels wrong?
Cora Miller was a temporarily land-bound mermaid who had fallen through a door that couldn’t exist, a door suspended in hope and absence and shadows on the water, to find herself in a Drowned World deep beneath an endless sea. The closest label in Eleanor’s book of worlds was a Lake, but Cora’s Trenches had been so much bigger than any Lake. She had been swept out to sea, and if there was no classification for such a thing on the Compass, maybe it was because the children swept out to sea so very rarely survived the swim back to shore. Cora didn’t talk much about the Trenches outside of therapy, but what she did say painted a land of endless tides, of predictable rhythms, of laws and rituals and deep, powerful customs.
So how was it that Eleanor, in all her experience and wisdom, had looked at the Trenches and marked them as a Nonsense world? And how was it that when Antoinette Ricci had appeared on the school steps of her own volition, with no parents to enroll her and no academic record to guide her placement, Eleanor had listened to her halting description of the Land Where the Lost Things Go and decided that it, too, must be Nonsense?
Antsy could almost see the logic there, if she squinted. The store where she’d traded her childhood for wild adventures had opened Doors onto countless worlds, each with their own laws both natural and artificial. It had been a nonsense place, solely because no form of order could have encompassed everything it was connected to. But if the nature of whatever was on the other side of a door could be said to flavor the character of the room a person stood in, there were no Logical worlds. There couldn’t be. A single drop of Nonsense would be enough to pollute the whole system.
So Cora and Antsy, both of whom were Nonsense-but-not, both of whom had visited worlds with no cousin-cognates currently represented by the rest of the student body, were stuck rooming together, both trying to pretend it didn’t bother them in the slightest, just trying to move from one day to the next without causing any problems.
They had been shoved together the day Antsy showed up at the school, a jangling, unsteady bundle of nerves, stomach heavy with the remains of the cheeseburger she’d bolted down at the bus stop, which had tasted amazing and somehow transformed into lead the second that it hit her stomach.
Not literal lead—this was Earth, after all, where all the magic was specks and spots clinging to children who’d passed through Doors of their own, only to return with parlor tricks in their hands and shadows in their hearts—but something close enough that by the time Eleanor had finished explaining the purpose of the school and the rules under which it operated, Antsy had been increasingly sure that she was going to be sick. She didn’t want to be sick, had long since learned that the best meal was the one you didn’t lose, but sometimes the realities of living in a body didn’t match up well with what she wanted.
Still, she’d willingly gone with Eleanor to sit in her cozy, cluttered office and listen as Eleanor explained what would be expected of her if she was going to enroll in classes. Eleanor fascinated her. She looked old enough to be a grandmother, but she moved quickly, like someone much younger. Nothing about her made Antsy suspect her of trading time for adventure: Eleanor had lived every day she carried, and quite a few more beside.
“You’re not the first who’s come here with a name and an identity, but neither of them things that can be shared without legal difficulties,” she’d said, voice kind and hands folded carefully on the desk. She spoke to Antsy like she was a wild thing that Eleanor wanted very badly not to frighten, keeping her tone low and never letting her pitch rise beyond a certain point. It was impressive, given the clear marks of Nonsense in her eyes and clothing. That, more than anything she was saying, told Antsy she had the experience she claimed. That she could understand.
“Now, to be quite clear, most of those travelers have come to us from worlds beyond this one, children of the doors whose paradise lay in more mundane directions than many of our own, but we’ve had others who were so changed by where they’d gone that they couldn’t return to their old lives, even if they’d wanted to.” The woman had paused then, tilting her head to the side like a magpie, and asked, “Is this the world where you were born?”
“Yes,” Antsy had answered, and the tears, which she had managed to hold back for so impossibly long, had finally come, rising to her eyes and running down her cheeks in fat, heavy lines. “My name is Antoinette Ricci. My father’s name was Joseph Ricci, and my mother’s name is Mia, but I don’t know her last name anymore. I have a little sister. Her name is Abigail, and I haven’t seen her since she was still a baby, and I don’t think I’m ever going to see her again. People call me Antsy.”
“All right, Antsy,” the woman had replied, and pushed a box of tissues across the desk toward Antsy. “You’re allowed to cry here, as much as you need to. My name is Eleanor, and that’s my name on the door, and this is my school. I own the house and the grounds and everything else around here, and you’re not going to get into any trouble with anyone for being here. Now, you said your father’s name was Joseph Ricci. Did something happen, sweetheart?”
“Yes,” Antsy had said, and maybe that was the moment where she’d convinced Eleanor that she’d gone to a Nonsense world, because that one question marked the moment where she had begun to laugh. Her tears hadn’t stopped, hadn’t even really slowed, but oh, how the laughter had chased them out of her body, seeming to swallow her up completely.
Eleanor hadn’t batted an eye, only watched in patient silence until both tears and laughter began to taper off. Then, and only then, she had sighed and said, “I won’t ask until you choose to answer, but is anyone looking for you? Anyone at all?”
“No, ma’am. I don’t think anyone is.”
“That’s a terrible thing for a child to carry, but in this circumstance, it may be for the best. Investigations are disruptive, and bad for the educational environment. Can you tell me how you found us? What brought you here?” She’d paused then, making a space for Antsy to speak. Antsy had never needed anyone to make spaces for her. When she hadn’t been able to find them on her own, she had barged ahead and made them, whether or not people wanted her to. But in that moment, her head had gone empty, and her mouth had gone dry.
Everything she had to say was impossible. Everything she’d gone through was impossible. She was nine years old, with the body of someone on the high side of sixteen and the mind of … She didn’t even know how old her thoughts were, and she didn’t like to think about it. The idea that the Doors might have changed her mind while they were changing her body was too much to take, one more violation piled onto an endless tower that threatened to come crashing down and crush her flatter than anything. So when offered the opportunity to tell her story, she couldn’t decide how she was supposed to begin.
Finally, the silence had become too heavy, and Eleanor had begun to speak again. “When I was a little girl, some of my cousins used to talk about how I’d had an aunt none of us ever had the opportunity to know,” she’d said. “They didn’t know her name, and they didn’t know for sure whether she was an aunt or another cousin, one tied to the generation before ours, but her story was so delicious that they told it anyway. They said she had been willful and disobedient, that she had run away from her parents when she was meant to be doing the mending, run off to play in the woods like a wild thing. And some other wild thing had come and snatched her away, so completely that they never found her, and that was why none of us were allowed to go to the woods alone, no matter how responsible or careful we were.
“Well, I didn’t care for hearing that one little bit, and so the next chance I was given, I snuck away to the woods—they were even nearer the house then than they are now, and they’re near enough to the house now that some of the rooms can be reached from the trees, if you’re the climbing kind. You look like you might be the climbing kind. Are you, Antsy?”
It was the sort of question that wasn’t intended to receive an answer, and so Antsy hadn’t given one, just kept looking at Eleanor in wide-eyed silence. Eleanor had smiled a little, like that was all the answer she could ever have asked for, and said, “I thought so. You’ll be able to be happy here, if you allow it. So off I snuck to the woods, brave and bold as only a seven-year-old on an adventure can be. She was me and I was her, and sometimes I remember her so vividly I expect to see her waiting in my mirror. I suppose we all feel that way, when we’ve gotten old. Into the shadows of the trees I went, with their stained-glass leaves and their branches like reaching hands. I suppose I was trying to prove I was braver than my cousins, who thought they were better than me because they were older. I suppose I was trying to prove I wasn’t afraid, even though anyone who saw me would have known that wasn’t true. And I suppose I was trying to solve a mystery. Where did this cousin I’d never heard of before go? Why had we forgotten her as a family, when we could have been out looking for her in the wild places?
“I had so many questions that day, and what I found answered all of them and none of them and taught me that questions are like coats: you can turn them inside out when you need to hide from the fairies. Nothing sees you when you’re cloaked in a question with its seams showing. I found a little space between the roots of a tree, the sort of space that only calls to children and other small creatures, and it looked like a doorway. It looked like it could be the passage into something wonderful and new, something I had never seen before. So I squirmed myself between the roots, and do you know what I found there?”
This was the sort of question that did ask for an answer, even though an answer should have been too impossible to occur to anyone. “Another door,” Antsy had replied, slow and careful as anything. “Small, but big enough for you.”
“Do you know what was written on the door?”
“Be sure. It asked you to be sure.” Antsy had started to cry again then, even though it had been hard for her to notice after all the crying she’d already done, and she had looked at Eleanor, and wondered if this kind, smiling old woman had seen the Store, if she understood. “And then, one day, you weren’t.”
“Not quite, my darling, but close enough for corkscrews.” Eleanor had stepped back around the desk and offered Antsy her hands. “Every door is a little different, and every world they take us to is very different indeed, but they all ask the same thing of us, and they all break our hearts, in the end.”
“Did you ever find your cousin?” Antsy had asked, taking the offered hands and letting herself be tugged to her feet.
“Yes, and she didn’t thank me for banishing her back to this world after so much time had passed, but that’s neither here nor there, and as I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t do anything wrong. You don’t have to tell anyone about your door if you don’t want to, although you’ll be asked to share in group, if you’re comfortable. We’re part school, part … readjustment center, let’s call it, for people who’ve been to places like the ones we went to, and need a little help remembering what it’s like to live in this world.”
“I thought I was sure,” Antsy had replied. “I thought I was so sure, of everything, and then I was back where I began.”
But not really, not all the way: the Store had put her back where it had found her, restoring what had been taken into its keeping, but the things she’d lost while she was on the other side, those were gone forever. Those were payment due.
“If there’s any doubt at all, the doors throw us back,” Eleanor’d said. “But more than that, sometimes there are … other rules. Some doors are anchored. They allow for a certain amount of going back and forth on the part of the traveler. Other doors only appear for people who fit a list of requirements, and if even one thing changes, it’s possible the door will decide you weren’t who they wanted after all, thrust you out, and leave you. It’s a terrible system. Cruel comfort, I know, but you won’t be alone here. You will be expected to attend classes. It keeps the state from bothering us. Do you have any special skills?”
Antsy somehow knew that Eleanor wasn’t asking about hopping on one foot for an especially long time or tying daisy stems into knots with her eyes closed. She’d opted for honesty. “I get … static … in my head sometimes. Like a radio that’s not quite tuned to the channel it’s supposed to be tuned to. When that happens, it’s because there’s something that wants to be found, and I can find anything. Anything at all.”
“You would have been great help when I lost my keys,” said Eleanor, in a flippant tone. “Come along, then. We’ll get you sorted. Is there anything you do feel comfortable telling me about the world on the other side of your door?”
Antsy had stumbled her way through an explanation of the Store, leaving out all the parts she knew a grownup wouldn’t want to hear, and by the time they’d been halfway up the stairs to the second floor of the grand old home, Eleanor had declared gleefully that “Nonsense! It was all Nonsense, from one shelf to the next, and so you’re a Nonsense girl, and I have just the perfect place for you.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...