Cory’s feet are firmly planted on the ground—until she befriends her mysterious, fanciful neighbor
Once, underneath the beautiful London sky, there was a little back lane called Quinton Lane. The lane was made of cobblestone, and cherry trees lined the edges. Fog usually hung around. The fog seemed to say, “Ha! I’m not going anywhere. It’s too much fun to make this lane and everyone in it all grumpy!” And it was true. The fog, and the frequent rain, and the dreariness and gloominess of spring just not coming, made the few houses of the lane seem to groan.
Though you could have made the argument that spring was already there, for it was mid-April. And the weather was rather warm. But the nights still grew very cold, making it impossible for a few small patches of snow to melt. Usually, the little children who lived on the lane loved snow! You could build snowmen, and have snowball fights, and catch snowflakes on your tongue! But this snow was not fun snow. It was not fresh snow, because it had not snowed in weeks. This was just dirty, leftover snow. Sometimes, the children would go out for hours trying to stomp away the last few piles. “Let spring come!” they would cry as they stomped. But Quinton Lane remained dreary, wet, and foggy.
One old woman sat peacefully on a small bench by the side of the street, feeding the pigeons. She was glancing up at a window in one of the tall, gray houses. It was the nursery window, and in it you could just see the shape of a perfect little girl making up her bed.
Meet Cory Hanmay: Cory is what people would call a perfect little girl. She’s polite, pretty, graceful, simple, amusing, and helpful. And does it all without getting her dress dirty. Now, she was making up her bed in her own beloved nursery. She was of the age of nine, but never wanted to go out and stomp on that dirty snow with the other children.
“Spring will come when it comes, and I’ll leave it up to the cherry blossoms’ own determined wills to decide when they want to bloom,” she had said once. It was something that her grandmother had said, except not about cherry trees blooming, but about a runaway dog coming home. Cory was always quoting grownups— her grandmother, her mother and father, her aunt, and even the old pigeon woman. Cory was never being “childish and foolish”, as she called it. She was too focused on becoming grown up and mature. She wanted to be the mother of five, when married. And she practiced constantly with her dolls.
When her bed was neatly made up, Cory went out onto her tiny balcony. The balcony had only enough room for one person and had strong metal bars, and was the same as every other house’s nursery balcony on Quinton Lane. It was not quite raining, though it was certainly foggy, and leftover drops plopped down from the roof onto the balcony.
All the houses on the lane were almost identical and very close together. If Cory had a stick, she would have been able to reach out and poke the next house simply by leaning over the railing a little. The next house had a small window across from Cory’s balcony. And Cory could not help but peering inside, for she saw a little girl around her age rummaging about.
She had seen this girl a few times before: on the street, in the park, talking mysteriously to the old pigeon woman, and now, looking into her window. Cory did not mean to spy—she really didn’t. But it was only spying for a little while, for soon the other girl spotted her, and walked over to her window. She opened it and leaned out.
“Hello, Cory Hanmay!” she called.
“How do you know my name?” Cory asked.
“Are ya kidding? We’re neighbors! I’ve seen you ’round,” the girl replied.
“Well, I don’t know your name,” Cory replied.
The other girl thought for a moment. “I’m Princess Carolina of the North,” she said proudly.
Cory examined her. She had long, jet-black hair and pale skin. Her eyes were a deep navy blue, and her eyelashes were the longest Cory had ever seen! And though the girl was rather pretty, Cory did not believe she was a princess.
“What’s your real name?” Cory asked.
“Why, that is my real name! Well, in my Second World it is,” the girl replied.
“Your Second World?” Cory questioned.
“Yes. My Second World. In it, I’m Princess Carolina of the North. And no, I’m not in the least embarrassed to admit that my Second World is . . . in my imagination. But in the imagination is the best place for something to be! Because there, you are always the queen, or king, or princess! Because you created it! So nothing can happen unless you happen it.
Cory then realized that she didn’t know much about imagining things. She was too busy focusing on reality.
“Did you know? I live in a castle made of pink stone. It has thousands of windows and balconies, and very tall towers. And I have a garden of lollipops! There’s a pond of melted chocolate, and the leaves on the many trees are edible! They taste like gummies.”
Cory looked at her in awe, wide-eyed.
“But—but what’s your name in . . . this world?” Cory asked.
“Oh. Well, I suppose you can know that my name is Anita Blakely,” the girl—Anita—answered. “Now, want to go stomp on some snow?”
“Oh, no, thank you. I don’t stomp on snow. I let it melt when it pleases.”
“Aw! It’s awful fun! How old are ya, anyway?” Anita said, pointing with her chin toward Cory.
“I’m nine. What about you?”
“Guess!” Anita demanded.
“Hmm . . . seven? I think you’re seven or eight.” Cory shrugged.
“Humph. No, I’m nine. Same as you. Why should I look any younger?” Anita demanded again.
Cory thought. Anita did not look too much younger. She was only a few inches shorter, and she had mature eyes. But there was something about the way she talked, the way she flicked her thick hair and twitched her pointy nose. And the way she acted spunky, and did not seem at all embarrassed to tell her about a completely made-up “Second World.” This mysterious world actually interested Cory. It sounded delightful! She wanted a world like that. But it was only in Anita’s imagination. Was the imagination really the best place for things to be? How many worlds could you have? Were you really royal in every one of them? Cory then realized that she didn’t know much about imagining things. She was too busy focusing on reality. It would be foolish to imagine such things. They were fake. Cory dismissed the subject.
“I don’t know. You asked me to guess how old you were. I did.”
Anita giggled. Then Cory heard a woman from Anita’s house shout up: “Anita! What’re ya doing? Ya know I got the bath ready! Your body isn’t gonna clean itself!”
Anita rolled her eyes.
“Sorry, that’s my nanny. She has been my nanny for, like, five years. She wears a green emerald brooch pinned up at her neck. It never matches any of her crazy outfits.” Then Anita lowered her voice and whispered: “I’m starting to think she might be more of a ninny than a nanny.” Anita chuckled carelessly.
“ANITA!” the nanny shouted again.
Anita sighed and yelled down: “Coming!” She smiled and waved at Cory, then disappeared inside the window.
Cory stared for a few moments after her, then slipped back into her own room, just in time to see her mother coming in with clean towels.
“Mother, what do you think of Anita Blakely?” Cory asked her absently.
“The Blakelys? Well, that’s a question. They moved here a few months ago. They came from the United States. The father and mother always seem to be out of the house. Going here and there, though never together. The grandmother I’ve never seen. I assume she stays knitting inside. The nanny, well, I can’t tell you much about her. She’s plump, and likes to talk. But that’s just what I’ve heard. Though I know nothing about Anita Blakely! Except I’ve seen her talking with the old pigeon woman. And she’s their only child. They say the Blakelys . . . keep to themselves. And—no, I shouldn’t repeat gossip. Why are you so curious anyway?” her mother asked.
“Oh, no reason,” Cory replied.
That same day, Cory’s uncle, who worked at the nearby bank, called her into the living room where he was reading the paper.
“Yes, Uncle?” Cory asked.
“Jane tells me you were asking her about the Blakelys.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Cory replied. “Could you tell me anything more?”
“Nah, nah, nah. Well . . . maybe.”
“What’s that?” Cory asked.
“I just hear the rumors saying that the grandmother had been accused of witchcraft. There was no official trial, but some still have suspicions. Now run along. I can’t tell you any more.” Her uncle shooed her away and returned to his paper.
Michael, Cory’s little brother, then came bursting in the front door, sulking.
“I ripped my kite! I was doing nothing but flying it high over the trees in the park, then the wind dropped and it just fell! Right into the trees. I tugged it down, but when I got it, it was ripped! Just like dat!”
Cory picked up the kite and examined the one small tear.
“Why, that can be patched up easily! I’ll do it myself.”
When the kite was fixed, Michael insisted on taking it to the park right away for a test flight. So Cory and Michael put on their hats and walked over to the nearby park. Cory thought it shouldn’t really be called a park: it was just a large circle of grass with a small pavilion and two benches. But a park it was called, and a park it would be. Luckily, there was no snow in the park that day. Cory supposed that was thanks to the lots of children, enthusiasts of stomping on snow, who came to the park.
“In my Second World, only the impossible is possible,” Anita whispered.
Then, while Michael’s kite had taken flight, Cory noticed a girl sitting peacefully on a swing that hung from one of the trees surrounding the park. When she walked closer, she saw it was Anita Blakely. Cory began to turn back toward Michael, but Anita had already seen her.
“Cory Hanmay! Come over here!” Anita called, waving. Cory did not want to be rude, so she went over and sat down with Anita. It was not that she disliked Anita, but they were just so different!
“Hello,” Cory said politely.
“Hey! I’m glad I saw you. I was just on a trip to my Second World. Queen Mara of the East was visiting, but our meeting can wait. When the Queen left, I was planning on making the trees dance.”
“Making the trees dance? But that’s impossible!” Cory said.
“In my Second World, only the impossible is possible,” Anita whispered. While Cory was trying to make sense of that, she noticed a small pile of books next to Anita.
“What are you reading?” she asked.
“Oh, those? All sorts of things. Mystery novels mostly. Don’t you just love books? Pages and pages of interesting facts or suspenseful stories on knights in shining armor! Authors fan the flames of our imaginations! Don’t you think so?”
“Fan the flames of our imaginations? Uh . . . yes. I suppose authors can do that.”
* * *
A few days later, Cory was again standing out on her balcony, looking over at the open window on the next house. Again she told herself that she was not spying because she couldn’t see anyone through the window. She just stared for a few minutes.
“Caught ya!” Anita called, leaping into view and making Cory jump and gasp.
“You were spying on me again. Why do you do it? I was in my Second World. Going on a journey. You see, I had to go visit the Island of Answers. I had to take a ship to get there. A great big ship, with many sails and a huge deck! The ship was called Star Guided. It was a long journey, but I liked it on Star Guided—the way the waves rocked you to sleep . . . the salty, fishy smell that hung in the air . . . the feeling of gazing out over the ocean . . . It was magical.”
Anita sighed, and shook herself out of her daze. Then a thick, heavy fog rolled in slowly.
Cory sighed loudly. “I knew that sunny weather would not last. It’s always so foggy here on Quinton Lane. I hate fog.”
“I don’t.” Anita shrugged. “I love fog. How it never really seems foggy right where you are, but all around you there is fog. How you never see it coming till it’s all around you. How it rolls over everything like a warm blanket. I think fog is mysterious.”
“Hmm. I think it’s spooky. Like hundreds of ghosts floating all around you,” Cory said.
“If you look at it that way . . .” Anita smiled. “Well, I like ghosts too. The way they—”
“Please. You don’t have to tell me all the reasons why ghosts might be fine. You won’t change my mind,” Cory said firmly.
“Fine.” Anita laughed.
* * *
The next morning, very early in the morning, Cory was sound asleep, dreaming peacefully, when she felt something or someone violently shaking her. Cory murmured sleepily and rolled over. But the shaking did not stop. Slowly, Cory’s eyes squinted open, and she sat up in bed. Her jaw dropped to see a little girl in a navy nightdress kneeling by her bed.
“Anita?! What are you doing in my room?”
“Shh! We must be very quiet. Now come on, let’s go.”
“What? Where are we going?” Cory asked, not stirring from under her quilt.
Anita looked around quickly to be sure no one was listening, then whispered: “We’re going to my Second World!”
At this, Cory rubbed her eyes and stared wonderingly at Anita. “But I thought it was in your—”
“Hurry!” Anita urged.
This time, Cory did not hesitate. She obeyed and scrambled out of bed. Anita snatched up her hand and started pulling her toward the nursery door. Cory had time to get a quick glance at the clock, and groaned when she saw it was 4:36!
When the girls got to the hallway, Anita let go of Cory’s hand and began tiptoeing down the stairs. Cory bit her lower lip and glanced back wearily at the nursery door. Finally, she took a breath and hurried down the stairs after Anita. They tiptoed past the study, and the kitchen, and the enormous grandfather clock in the hall. Slowly but unhesitatingly, Anita opened the big front door and slipped out into the chill of the fresh morning air. Cory slipped out behind her.
The breeze blew silently through her thin nightdress, and her bare feet felt strange on the cold cobblestone street. Again, Anita took her hand, and started running with her down Quinton Lane. It was a very foggy morning, and Cory could hardly see where Anita was taking her. They both nearly bumped into the large bench where the old pigeon woman usually sat. Once, Cory tripped and fell on a little stone on the street. Anita helped her up and they kept going. Cory’s dirty-blonde hair blew behind her, whipping in the wind. Anita’s hair was pulled tightly into two braids, whipping even more in the wind.
The girls dashed through the fog, Anita determined and Cory terrified. Cory’s feet were nearly numb, and she dearly wished that she had put on her slippers. Finally, Anita stopped on the side of the street, next to a tall stone wall covered in vines.
“This is the place.” Anita began knowingly brushing some vines aside while Cory sat on a large rock trying to warm her feet. She didn’t know where they were, but didn’t bother to ask. It was still dark, and the fog blotted out the stars.
Then Anita pulled Cory to her feet and motioned toward the stone wall where she had been clearing vines. Cory gasped. There in front of her on the wall was a brilliant silver door!
“How did—? But what—? Is that—?” Cory stammered.
“No time to explain. Come on!” Anita went to the door and slowly turned the huge silver handle. The door opened just a crack, and taking Cory’s hand, the girls closed their eyes and held their breath and stepped through the magical door.
Cory opened her eyes and nearly fainted! It was exactly how Anita had described it. Through the door, it was no longer night. The sun peeked from behind the trees. A huge, pink-stone castle stood in the distance. And sure enough, a lollipop garden sat beside the pink-stone castle.
Cory then gasped again when she saw Anita. She was not wearing her navy nightdress anymore! Instead, it was a deep pink and blue dress, with elegant black stockings and shoes! She even had a little silver necklace and headband. Her hair was no longer in two messy braids but wrapped up in a large bun on her head.
“Where are we?” Cory asked, staring up at the pale blue sky full of puffy, golden clouds.
But Cory was even more astonished when she looked down at her own clothes: she was not wearing her thin, white nightdress but a little pink dress with a sash and hoop skirt! She had white stockings and little lavender shoes. Her hair was now neatly combed and in two little pigtails on her shoulders. They were no longer cold, for inside the door it felt like summer.
“Where are we?” Cory asked, staring up at the pale blue sky full of puffy, golden clouds.
“This is my Second World,” Anita said proudly, stretching her arms toward the sky.
Cory did not speak. The view was too much to take in. She stood and stared out over the valley. She looked behind her, back to where they had come in the huge silver door. But the door wasn’t there! Quinton Lane had disappeared, along with the cherry trees, and the park, and the fog, and the wall with all the vines—everything! Land stretched out all around them. They had entered Anita’s Second World.
The girls began running down the valley and within minutes had arrived at the enormous castle. “And this,” said Anita, panting violently but quite proudly, “is my castle!”
Cory, panting as well, looked up at the towering, pink-stone castle. “It’s wonderful.”
Anita stepped forward and pressed a large purple button. Cory heard a “ding-dong” sound inside the castle. A moment later, the large gate opened and a stout little figure appeared. The figure wore a bright cloak that covered his face. But a squeaky little voice sounded from underneath.
“Hello, ladies. Oh! Princess Carolina! You’ve come back! How lovely to see you again. And Miss Cory Hanmay! You look even more beautiful than our dear princess said you did. Please, do come in.” Cory stepped inside and followed Anita and the stout little figure down a long entrance hall with many doors on either side. Then they came to the end and went through the biggest door of all, entering a large sunny room with an enormous throne in the center.
“Welcome to our dear princess’s throne room!” the stout little figure said. Many more little people stood around the room in colorful clothes and cloaks.
“Cory, meet the Loolie Pops!” Anita smiled, motioning to all the little figures around the room.
Cory waved and looked around. The room was mostly empty, except for the large throne. The Loolie Pops came scurrying down to Anita and pulled her gayly up the small steps to the throne. Anita sat down gracefully and smiled down satisfactorily at her Loolie Pops and Cory. Then, the remaining little Loolie Pops rushed up to Cory, plunked her down into a soft chair, and began fanning her with little yellow fans that blew cool, fruity air gently toward her.
A little female Loolie Pop meekly came up to Anita and asked quietly, “Shouldn’t we give dear Miss Cory a tour?”
“Wonderful idea!” Anita cried, throwing up her arms. Then the Loolie Pops began to chant and sing as they danced around the room.
“Oh, welcome to this delightful land! With our delightful princess! We’ll show you the wondrous! Wonders! Of this wonderful land!”
Cory beamed, and Anita rose and came to stand beside her.
“Why are we still here? Let’s go!”
First Anita, and then the three Loolie Pops who chose to come along on the tour, showed her the lollipop garden. Then they went to the little forest with edible leaves on every tree. Then they climbed to the top of the tallest tower in the castle. Cory gazed wonderingly at the exceptional view. You could see far in every direction. Cory looked to her left and saw the forest and the lollipop garden. When she looked to her right, the valley went on for a while before a sparkling ocean began. The ocean went as far as Cory could see. It was so clear and glistening, Cory believed it looked like an ocean of fairies’ sweet tears. And to make the view even more magical, a bright rainbow could just be spotted on the horizon.
“I wish we could chase that rainbow all the way to—wherever it leads,” Cory mused.
“Who says ya can’t?” Anita asked with a sly smile.
They dashed down the tower steps and emerged into the valley. They laughed and ran, spinning and giggling down to the golden shore. They halted on the small, shady beach and gazed at the beautiful sea.
“It looks even bigger standing here.” Cory sighed.
Anita sat down on the sand and began pulling off her shoes and stockings.
“What are you doing?” Cory asked her.
“What does it look like? I’m seeing how the water feels.” Anita pushed her shoes and stockings into a pile, then slowly waded out into the glassy water. Cory looked after her, then began taking off her shoes and stockings too. The water and wet sand felt good beneath her toes. The trim of her dress got a little wet, but Anita didn’t care that hers was nearly soaked.
“We still gonna chase that rainbow?” she asked Cory, turning around to face her.
“How?” Cory asked. Anita took her hand and they both waded to shore.
“Come on. I’ll show you.” Anita and Cory snatched their shoes and stockings and started bounding down the beach. The three Loolie Pops skipped after them. As they turned a corner, a huge ship came into view. It was fairly far out in the ocean, for it would hit the bottom if it came any closer.
“Star Guided,” Cory whispered, remembering Anita’s story of the ship. Again Anita took her hand, and led her out onto a small dock. A little rowboat was tied to the dock, and Anita carelessly hopped in. Cory bit her lip, then looked out at that big rainbow.
“Cast off!” she cried, hopping in next to Anita. Anita untied the lines connecting the rowboat to the dock. Both girls picked up the oars and slowly rowed toward the ship.
When they got closer, they heard a man on the ship call: “Captain! The princess and the little girl are comin’!” Now many sailors ran to the side of the deck, and the rowboat came closer. When they were at the ship, the sailors cast down a rope ladder, and the girls carefully climbed up onto the deck.
“Welcome aboard Star Guided, me girls!”
The sailors took care of the rowboat while Anita told the captain of their journey to the rainbow. The captain nodded and bellowed in a booming voice, “Raise the anchor! Lift the sails!” The sailors did as they were told, and soon they were off, sailing gallantly toward the horizon.
Slowly, the golden sun sank lower in the sky, and the clouds became a pale pink. Anita came to stand with Cory on the deck.
“Sunset over the ocean. Beautiful. So many colors—the purple and blue of the sky, the golden yellow of the sun and its light, and the deep misty blue of the sea.”
“Yes,” Cory mumbled. The sea breeze blew through their hair, and whiffs of that salty, fishy smell hung around.
“It’s exactly how you described,” Cory told Anita. Anita smiled and went below deck. Cory, with a sigh, soon followed her.
* * *
“Oh! Anita, I found more!”
Anita turned and ran through the tall grass to Cory, laughing. They had spent the night on Star Guided and now were on a large island searching for berries. When they awoke, the rainbow had disappeared. But then the girls had spotted the island and insisted on being dropped off.
“Ohh! You found red berries!” Anita exclaimed.
“And you’re sure all the berries on this island are edible?”
The girls heard a rustling sound in the bushes nearby. They glanced at each other, then, mischief seeking, started stalking toward the rustling bush. Tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe . . .
“Boo!” A little girl leaped out of the bush and made Anita and Cory shriek. Cory was especially frightened. She looked at the girl, a little younger than her, perhaps. She had dark-brown hair in two pigtails that stuck out on either side of her head. Her dress was blue and red and all patched up. Her hands were scruffy, and she wore no shoes or stockings at all. Cory took a step back, but Anita leaped toward the girl, shrieking with laughter.
“Oh, Mildred! Didn’t you give us the fright! Haven’t seen ya in ages! About time I get to ask how ya been.”
“Ha! Ya know I’m always doing fine. See ya got yourself some berries and an accomplice! Splendid. Hello, Cory Hanmay! Princess finally got ya to come ’round to her Second World, ey?”
“Yes. Did Anita tell you about me?” Cory asked uncomfortably. But Mildred did not answer. She and Anita had linked their arms around Cory and were skipping her through the grass.
“Yee! Wee! Hahah!” Mildred cried. When they finally stopped skipping, Cory brushed the twigs and grass off her dress indignantly.
“Hey, what do ya say ’bout eating some of them berries of yours?” Mildred asked spunkily. Anita found a big rock, and Mildred took off her apron and spread it over the rock as a tablecloth. Mildred and Anita sat down excitedly on the grass and dumped the berries out on the rock-table.
When Cory opened her eyes again, she was lying in her own bed, in her own nursery room.
“Come over here, Cory!” Mildred called loudly. Cory sighed regretfully but came to sit on the ground around the big rock. The berries were very good, juicy and plump. When Mildred popped the last berry into her mouth, she sprang up and said flatly: “I should be goin’.” Anita made no objections, but stood up and hugged Mildred goodbye. Mildred turned and waved to Cory, then skipped off, humming, into the tall grass. Anita slowly turned to Cory.
“So what did you think?”
“Oh, she’s nice alright. Spunky, too. And—”
“No,” Anita interrupted. “Not about Mildred—about my Second World!”
“Oh.” Cory nodded. “It’s wonderful. But we still have the whole journey back to the silver door!”
“No, we don’t need the silver door. We can get back from here.”
“Y-you mean we’re done?” Cory whispered.
“Oh, there’s lots more to show you, but another time. Come on, do as I do.” Anita took Cory’s hand and placed her feet a little apart. Cory did the same.
“I’ve had a delightful time,” she told Anita as they both closed their eyes.
Anita smiled and squeezed Cory’s hand.
“Don’t open your eyes,” she said.
Cory closed her eyes tightly and . . .
* * *
“Mmm . . . huh? Wha—?” When Cory opened her eyes again, she was lying in her own bed, in her own nursery room. Anita was nowhere to be seen. Cory glanced around. They were not in Anita’s Second World anymore.
W-was it just a . . . dream? Cory thought desperately, climbing out of bed. It was now morning, and Cory pulled on her clothes and went downstairs. Her mother greeted her in the kitchen. She ate her oatmeal for breakfast. Michael asked her to take him to the park. Everything was normal. Nobody else seemed to realize how absent Cory was as she put on her shoes and went to the park with Michael.
“Oh! Look!” Michael exclaimed as they went outside. The cherry trees were blooming! The fog had vanished, and golden sunshine filled its place.
“Spring is here!” Cory cried. She and Michael rushed to the park where, to Cory’s astonished delight, Anita sat quietly swinging on the little tree swing. Michael ran to play with his friends, and Cory rushed to Anita.
“Was it real?” she asked, sitting next to her.
“Was what real?”
“Your Second World! Which you took me to!”
“Cory Hanmay, I don’t know what you’re talking about. You know perfectly well that my Second World is in my imagination!”
“But—the silver door! And—and the dresses! Your castle! W-what about Star Guided? And Mildred!”
“And who on Earth would Mildred be? Cory Hanmay, I tell you that ya finally lost your mind.”
Cory got up meekly. Disappointed, she went back to Michael. It had all felt so real! But was it a good thing it had just been a dream?
Then the old pigeon woman, sitting quietly on her bench spreading seeds for the little birds, motioned for Cory to join her. Cory hesitated, but soon rushed over. She sat down with the old pigeon woman.
“So . . . how was your adventure in Anita’s Second World, ey?”
“How did you—?!”
“I have some friends,” the old pigeon woman replied, smiling slyly at Anita. Cory looked from Anita to the old pigeon woman. That was all the confidence she needed.