I. your lif3 may b3 d3rail3d or r3routEd
"I made you a new hat," said Moontoone, beaming at Sunshine when he came in for the evening.
"I love it already, my sweet," said Sunshine, settling happily at his feet and reaching out for it.
"It's a sort of bollocks hat but with tassles and fringe," said Moontoone. "I suppose it's a bit Christmas-like, if we still had Christmas."
"I think it's maltin!" said Sunshine. "I'll wear it whenever I go into town," said Sunshine. "Thank you, my Moontoone."
"Oh!" said Moontoone. "I do feel quite fizzy with happiness. Suppose I were to drown of it?"
"Lovelyheaded Moontoone," said Sunshine. "This is what drowning feels like, didn't you know?"
"Oh," said Moontoone. "Does it feel like you are huddled somewhere warm while someone pours a cauldron of feathers on you?"
"Yes," said Sunshine, leaning up for a kiss. "It's exactly like that."
Although he knew it was silly, Moontoone worried about what could happen. He worried that he would get caught on a delivery run by fearsome beasts who lurked in the Humming Tower, beasts who would hurt him, or worse, take him away from Sunshine. He worried that Sunshine would fall one night climbing up or down to the Cloudline, even though Sunshine was eternally surefooted. He worried that Sunshine would meander down harm's way one night on his trips through the city. He worried that Sunshine, being Sunshine, wouldn't realize that he'd taken harm's way until he dead-ended into it, because Sunshine was the kind of person who liked short cuts and exploring, and he wasn't the kind of person who used a map to get from place to place. It was not, Moontoone thought, a healthy combination.
He knew Sunshine knew he worried, and he knew Sunshine worried about him worrying, and also that Sunshine worried about him for all the same reasons. But he didn't know what there was much to be done about it, so equally content they were to be worrying about each other. So he tried not to fret openly, and instead he knit hats for Sunshine when he was nervous or anxious or antsy.
Once SofSof had asked him if he was jealous about Sunshine's job at the Cloudline, which was an odd thing to ask because SofSof didn't get jealous of anyone. Maybe he thought that pairing into couples was what gave one jealousy.
But no; Moontoone liked the Cloudline, with its cosy cushions and its posh polished tables and its amber clouds of hookah smoke folding over one another in the bronze lamplight. The dim midnight lanterns always gave Sunshine's hooded eyes a special shimmer as he danced, and his hair gleamed in the moments when he flung himself too near the edge of the stage and caught the toelights. He liked the patrons, too—they were all very gentlemanly, and a few of them were very ladylike; they tipped their hats and held the door for Moontoone when he came. He didn't come too often because he knew that Sunshine's employers frowned upon partners coming to the club. But sometimes when the deliveries had been especially grueling, or perhaps someone had been rude when signing for a package, or an obnoxious small child had reached out and given his nose a tug, Moontoone would brave the heights and cautiously seat himself in the back of the club to watch Sunshine dance, and he was always happy he did.
And afterwards, Sunshine would kiss him on the nose and hold Moontoone's hand tight as they went back down the steep narrow steps of the Cloudline tower, slowly descending into the cubbieports and baseboards of the Dead City, below the cirrusphere where the grey lakes smogged in the distance; and Sunshine would always hold him extra tight as they wended their way around and around the Treachery Pike, where, if you squinted, you could just fancy that far away the moonlight was bouncing off the uppermost crimson lancets of the blood spires of the Death Brūlé.
It was on such nights that the full moon made the city look positively veriloquent, a crossword of teetering tin walls and brittle clay roofs and glinting metallurgic latticework gleaming across the feltway. On these nights, Sunshine was especially silent, content to nuzzle his cheek after every particularly death-defying turn around the Vertiginous Stairrail, letting the moon speak for both of them. And Moontoone found in such moments that he liked this city, for all it worried him—even as he was worrying just then—that he would fall, that Sunshine would fall, that some other mawing Thing would happen—perhaps a gaping frumious Change. Moontoone did not like Change. It was in such moments that he missed the present as much as he missed the nebulous past. It was a terrible fluttering thing, flickering away from him second by second, and he could no more hold on to it than he could stop the wind from howling, or Sunshine from getting graceful and older and further and further away from him.
But even though the present did flee, and the wind did howl, and the blood spires of the Death Brūlé probably weren't really visible from the city line at night, he always felt Sunshine's fingers clutching his belt and tugging him close, especially when the wind whipped around the corners of the Stairrail, curling Sunshine's hair and causing Moontoone to tug his woolearflaps more firmly over his ears for courage.
"When we get home," he would say on such nights, shivering a little, "can we tell one another stories of long-ago lovers crossing great heights and perilous distances to be together?"
"Yes, my Moontoone," Sunshine would reply softly, shifting his balance over the flappable gravelite as they crossed the Teeterstopple Bridge. "And you can sit in your sewing chair and I'll make you a slo-pot of tea."
And Moontoone would hum and squeeze Sunshine's hand and bolster himself with thoughts of the new hat pattern he would make when they were finally safely home: a cloché, perhaps, or a fez.
3. from Alphabet to Impossible
It was Sunshine who collected the magazines and cut out the pictures at the beginning, and Sunshine who had made up the stories, but Moontoone had been eager to help. Initially this was what had brought them together—they would tell each other stories well into the night while the others slept, whispering to one another until the flickering candles in their soupcones sputtered and slid into waxy memories. The day Sunshine invited him to help him look through the clippings and magazines he had gathered was the happiest in his life.
Moontoone had begun to be concerned that Sunshine was running out of room in his locket for their tales of lovers eternally united; and sure enough, one day Sunshine went to collect the latest—a passionate, beautiful romance between an escaped convict and a Victorian woodsprite that they had pieced together from an old newspaper and a home and garden magazine—but it would not close.
He tried blowing on it; he tried spitting on the springs; he tried thumping the back to make it go; he tried turning it off and then back on again. It would not do: the locket remained stuffed with all the clippings of love stories of the past, and it had reached its final anecdote.
Moontoone tried very hard not to panic. He had particularly wanted Sunshine to carry this story with him, near his heart, so that Moontoone could think about it on his delivery rounds that day. They had already decided that the escaped convict was named Pilichett, and that he was secretly a cherub whose wings appeared when he was very eager, and that the woodsprite was named Ruby and had an evil godparent who would unsuccessfully try to lure him into betraying Ruby, only it would not work because Pilichett and Ruby were in love.
It was not true that Moontoone didn't enjoy his deliveries, precisely. But when he enjoyed them most, it was because he could think about the stories in Sunshine's locket. Tonight he had thought it was to be the games the convict and the woodsprite would play in the forest, and by the lake, and the thrilling adventure they would have while trying to cross the twilling spray in the Doll Drums as the centaur stamped her hooves angrily on the timpany shore. But none of that would suit if the locket would not shut.
Sunshine frowned. Moontoone knew he was frowning because he knew Moontoone was panicking and he worried about Moontoone. He gave the locket a quick press with his thumb, hoping to push the woodsprite in once and for all. Instead he caught the sheaf of papers already wedged inside and unlodged them, and the locket itself snapped in two.
The clippings fluttered to the bedspread, instantly all a-shambled and out of order, and Moontoone gasped. "Oh, no! Oh, dear."
Sunshine looked up and smiled at him, his best smile, one Moontoone knew he saved just for him. It was a smile that told Moontoone he should never worry or be afraid of anything, and it was terrifying.
"Don't fret, my Moontoone," he said. "We have more than enough time to fix it. The locket is easy to glue back together."
"But what shall we do with all the stories?" Moontoone said before he could help himself. He knew that he sounded a little feeble, and that his voice was wobbly, but this was a serious affair, and Sunshine's smile said that he knew that, too. "What if I need a Take Heart story? Or a Be Bold, But Wary story?"
"Well," said Sunshine, considering, "You'll still have all of the old stories. I have kept them next to me for so long they are still there. Which means you still have them, too."
Moontoone tried to take a deep breath, but he did not do it very well, so he took another. "Where will you keep them?" he asked.
Sunshine considered. "No better place than in the arc aid box," he said at last, drawing it out and emptying it of the spare change he kept there. It was a small wooden thing inlaid with copper filigrann, and when he lifted the lid and scooped up all of the clippings, they fit ever so nicely inside it with plenty of room to spare. Moontoone's cloud of uncertainty lifted briefly—but only for an instant.
"But," he said, "You haven't had time to get to know Pilichett and Ruby. What if you forget about them and they don't make it across the Doll Drums?"
Sunshine said encouragingly, "Then they will build a fort to keep away the evil centaur, and after we fix the locket tonight, they will try again tomorrow."
"Will that really work?"
"Yes, I think so."
Moontoone tried to think of a tough story, but his worries flurried around him. "What if I have to deliver to the Tower and they haven't made it across?"
Sunshine's smile didn't fade, not for a moment. "It's all right, my Moontoone," he said. "I don't think you'll have to deliver to the Tower tonight."
"Delivery to the Tower!" barked Salton, the quimmy frier at Wallinton's Kitchen, dropping a giant order number into Moontoone's lap.
"Oh!" said Moontoone. "Are you sure you double-checked the address?"
"Yep," said Salton. "Humming Tower, Wing A, Unit 2731."
"Are you sure it's in our delivery area?"
"Was last week," said Salton.
"Perhaps it's moved," said Moontoone.
"Moontoone!" said the head chef. "Don't waste time, must be off, snop-snip!"
"Yes, m'am," said Moontoone, loading his cart with smoke salmon, quimmy chowder, wine, howels, and the extra creamy dollop of bacon curry that comprised the Tower's order.
"Hold on!" said Salton. "Got a note here." He conferred with his scrotch-a-notch. "Says you're to wait for..." he squinted.
Moontoone drew in a breath.
"Wait for tip," Salton read. He shrugged and tossed the notch onto the smoke salmon, which puffed indignantly.
"Wait for tip?" said Moontoone.
"Don't wait for long!" said the head chef. "You're needed back here slip-slape!"
"Yes, ma'm," said Moontoone, slipping the notch into his jacket.
He set off west through the city, past the philosophical gurneys and the zymurgy baths, the drilleries and bowder rooms. He nodded to the flame-johnnys as he passed through the open square on the west side of the main strip, and tried not to look scared as he entered the shadow of the Humming Tower and buzzed the large scorpion door.
The sun was beginning to set, but he swallowed and reminded himself that it wasn't night he was afraid of. He tried to recall a Tremendous Love story to wrap around him, but his brain had gone blank and caterpillars were filling it, each one of them humming faintly. Take Heart, he thought to himself. Be Bold, But Wary.
After a few more moments in which he shifted uneasily and tried not to make contact with the stage-johnnys across the way, the scorpion door opened with a creak and Moontoone drove his cart inside. As usual, the Tower appeared to be completely empty, but he shivered as he moved through the cavernous hallways, feeling as he always did that he was being watched.
The Tower was built in concentric circles, with lancet-like windows stretching from floor to ceiling all around the outer hall. He found Wing A, Unit 2731, which from the outside was a nondescript apartment with no distinctive features of any kind, just like all the other apartments in the Tower. He put the delivery outside the door. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he knocked very quietly. He had never done that before, but his orders to wait were firm in his mind.
Up in these higher floors, the Humming was louder and more persistent, scratching the back of his neck and thrumming against his skin. It seemed to be coming from all around him in the round chamber, but it never sounded as though any particular one or thing was making the sound.
He dug his hands in his pockets and tried not to wince. He thought of Pilichett and Ruby in love. He thought of Pilichett getting frightened while crossing the twilling spray, and Ruby giving him a True Love Conquers kiss as she pulled him out of the quagmire and rescued him.
He clutched his hands and thought of Sunshine's gloves, and then of Sunshine, dancing away at the Cloudline. Unit 2731 was near the end of the hallway, and through the tall windows beyond he could just catch a glimpse of the Cloudline tower, and the long, treacherous path up to it.
It dawned on Moontoone that he did not think he had ever before been this high. In spite of the pounding in his chest, he left his cart and inched slowly down the hall to the outer chamber where the circle of windows were. Sunlight was pouring in from outside, filling the hall. He looked out upon the city.
The Tower had been built just opposite a break in the cityscape where the toll road passed through the square. Looking off to his left towards the SouthLAndZ, Moontoone could see the gleaming white caps of the Overbering Sea. Beyond them lay Mirror-Claw Mt. and the Mirror-Claw Mile, the Village of the Mouth and the Red City.
He peered into the sharpening sunlight as it sank into the red-grey of evening and thought about going to each of those places one day, with Sunshine. Maybe they would go even further, to the Impossible City, and beyond that, the Whaling Wall.
Moontoone thought he would quite like to see the Whaling Wall.
He was so fascinated by the way everything looked in the phosphorescent sunbath that Moontoone quite forgot where he was for a moment; and then he heard the clank of a door opening and shutting very fast.
Moontoone turned with a jolt. He'd forgotten all about his cart, still hovering in front of Unit 2731. It hadn't moved, but now there was an object on top of the empty platter where the quimmy chowder had been. Cautiously, he tiptoed over.
To his astonishment he saw that it was a whole quince-piece, enough to keep Sunshine in new hats for months. Beneath it was a piece of old parchment. It read:
Moontoone looked about but saw no one. After another moment he deposited the quince-piece deep in his inner coat pocket, then rolled up the parchment into a scroll, which he tucked carefully inside the coat lining.
It wasn't until he was safely outside and facing the waning sunlight again—much fainter and dimmer now that he was on the ground—that Moontoone realized:
He hadn't really needed any Brave Stories at all.
Moontoone's deliveries ran very late, so when he finally arrived home, Sunshine was not only home ahead of him, but had already finished taking off his gloves and his makeup and his Coming Home From Work hat. He was sitting on the settee by the window, and pulled Moontoone into his arms.
"What do you think it means?" said Moontoone, after he had explained his evening trip to the Tower and carefully unfolded the note to show Sunshine.
"It means adventure, of course," Sunshine said.
"Why, yes," said Sunshine. "Adventure of a highly maltin variety for you and me."
"But what is a royal boiler?" asked Moontoone. "How will we know if we should run into one?"
"It will be singing train songs, probably," said Sunshine.
"I don't know any train songs," Moontoone said. He felt doubtful, but he was beginning to feel excited all the same.
"Then we'll learn some together," Sunshine said. He slid onto the floor and reached for the arc aid box, which no longer sat on the bed but lay open on the nightstand. He took out the locket and placed it in Moontoone's palm.
"Look," he said. "I solved our dilemma."
"Oh, I'm ever so glad!" said Moontoone. "How did you do it?"
"Well," said Sunshine. "I decided to think outside of the arc aid box."
Sunshine gingerly sprung the locket open. He hadn't returned any of their old stories of eternal lovers to their former home; they must have all still been residing in the box.
Instead, he had replaced the old stories with two new pictures:
Moontoone's jaw dropped. "But this is—this is only you and me, my dear!"
Sunshine looked at him expectantly. "Do you see?" he said. "We fit in all of the stories. We're triumphant partners going on epic quests. We're eternal soulmates facing all odds together. We're star-crossed lovers tragically separated by our jobs until we find our way back to one another every night at all costs. We are our own Tough Love and Tender Heart and Boldly Going and Sallying Forth Undaunted. We can keep all of the other lovers with us where they belong, and then make our own Tales instead."
"Oh," said Moontoone a bit breathlessly. "We can?"
"Yes," said Sunshine, leaning down to give him a kiss. "And we will."