There are doorways between the worlds. Children find them most often, because children are curious enough to look and young enough to believe what they find. They only find a door if they are a fit for the world beyond it, like a key for its keyhole. If they do, they will stumble through wardrobes or gateways or magic pools, and they will feel at home for the first time in their lives.
Most of them will not get to stay. They will fulfill whatever purpose drew them there, and then the world will cast them back out to an Earth where they no longer belong and no one can understand. Authors don’t bother to think about what happens to the hero after the final word. What does it matter where they go now?
Jane Crocker (one day to be Egbert) kicked cookie crumbs off her sensible shoes and vowed that if no one else cared, she would. It would take her decades more to pull everything together, but she would build a place for those wayward children to call – if not home – a way station that would serve as well. Confection had tried to shape her into a queen. With equal parts relief and regret, she settled instead into being a hostess. She took in children who wanted nothing more than to go back to the world they’d lost and children who wouldn’t go back for anything. The only wanderers she didn’t harbor were the ones who wanted to forget. She dried tears, listened to stories, and soothed anxious parents with language borrowed from psychology textbooks. When her guests asked her “Will I ever get home again?” she told them, “I don't know, but for now let's make one together.”
“It’s not the same,” sniffled more than one child homesick for a world they hadn’t been born in.
“No,” Jane said, thinking of gingerbread spires and a scepter of peppermint tempered diamond hard. “But I did it anyway. That’s what I took from Nonsense. You can do the impossible if you try hard enough, even here.”
This is a story about stories, and about what happens to the characters caught between the pages when their story ends. There are a lot of places it could start. It could start with four children tumbling into worlds that aren’t their own. It could start with those four children finding their way back home and learning to pick up the pieces. It could start with an old woman with a bit of Nonsense left in her step restoring a large house in the country and painting elegant letters onto a sign. Or, it could start with a frightened girl running away and ending up in the place where all stories start.
But for this telling, the story begins on a blustery April day, when Rose Lalonde dodged out of the way as three figures plummeted out of the sky and landed in a heap on the lawn of Jane Egbert’s Home for Wayward Children.
“Alright,” said the figure on the bottom. “Where the fuck are we this time?”