The Land of Imaginary Things is my young-adult fantasy novel. Elanor, twelve, has lost her father, and with him her first and favorite playmate and fellow lover of stories. Her chest is tight and her life is cold. One morning she wakes to find herself in the Land of Imaginary Things, the land where all the things humans imagine—talking animals, cursed forests, immortal librarians—are real and alive. In Chapter Three, Elanor and Spriggledy, a half-panda/half-dragon imaginary creation of her toddler years, pause in their quest for the feather flower long enough to enjoy a night at Twillianne’s Inn—legendary for its remarkable location and fabulous food—and Elanor has her first taste of the “possibility of life” and the true power and beauty of the imagination.
CHAPTER THREE: At Twillianne’s
The cliff on the opposite side of the gorge rose higher than the bluff from which they had just descended, but trees had somehow found a toehold on the sheer surface. A small grove grew out from the cliff face. In the upper reaches, the trees grew almost straight up, but lower down, they had grown out horizontally in search of light, reaching out over the torrent below before turning upward. In the arms of these lower trees sat an old wooden lodge, haphazardly built to fit among the branches. Wings of the building climbed up along sturdy tree trunks. In some places, trees poked out of the roof—the building completely surrounding them. Pavilions and bungalows were scattered everywhere among the higher branches, connected to the main lodge by rickety-looking stairs. Lanterns twinkled on the staircases and light blazed from countless windows in the oddest of places, casting a dim light on the bridge, the gorge, and the rushing water below.
“Ta-da!” said Spriggledy, standing behind her, “Whaddya think? Is it a good surprise? Do you like it?”
Elanor stood still for a moment, shocked into silence while Spriggledy made small excited noises behind her and shifted from one foot to the other.
“It’s absolutely amazing! And a terrific surprise!” She looked back at Spriggledy’s smiling face, “What is it?”
“Twillianne’s Inn,” he said happily, “a way-stop for the weary wanderer, a goal for the garrulous gourmet, and an all-around really neat place to spend the night. I stop here every time I come this way.” He pushed her toward the door at the other end of the bridge, “Go on! Go on!”
Elanor pulled open the heavy wooden door and entered a large, high-ceilinged room, brightly lit by many lamps and a large fireplace built into the cliff face that formed the rear wall. Trees rose through the floor and out the ceiling like living pillars, adorned with haphazardly hung pictures, lamps, notices, potted plants, swings, and—in one case—what appeared to be a rather elaborate back-scratcher. An assortment of mismatched tables and chairs of various sizes and shapes were scattered about the room, sat upon by an equally mismatched assortment of guests.
Stepping in front of her, Spriggledy called out, “Waiter! Table for two!” and a surly-looking toad pointed silently to a small table by an open window in the front corner.
As they sat down, Spriggledy leaned closer to Elanor and whispered, “It’s probably best if we don’t let anyone know you’re an imaginer—it’ll weird them out. Lots of imaginary things look like humans, so no one will notice.”
Indeed, looking around the room Elanor saw many people who looked like people, but there were also animals of all sorts—like the toad waiter—a handful of standard fantasy creatures—a small dragon was sipping soda while floating languidly above its table—and many creatures for which Elanor had no names. A large, fuzzy, pink monster was sitting daintily on a small stool eating kebab. A short, grey, bald creature whose body displayed three-fold symmetry was leaning on a table and talking to a cake-eating cactus (“Be careful not to shake his hands,” Spriggledy warned. “He thinks it’s hilarious.”). At another table, a glowing, iridescent cloud swayed back and forth over a selection of burning incense sticks.
Elanor was too busy looking at the other customers to hear what Spriggledy ordered, but it sounded like a lot of food. That suited her just fine. They’d munched on whatever fruit they found as they walked, but she hadn’t eaten a proper meal since breakfast and she was hungry. When their food arrived Elanor broke off her examination of the clientele to examine their dinner. She recognized about half the dishes: fried noodles, tacos, hummus with pita, and a big salad; the rest were a complete mystery.
“What are those puffy balls in that sauce that looks like curry?” she asked, pointing.
“Curried puff-balls—from the puff-ball plant. You’w wuv’em,” Spriggledy replied, spearing one on a claw and shoving in into his mouth.
“And the glowing purple one with the flowers?”
“Ne’ermore root fried with forget-me-nots. A delicacy, but it has to be made just right or you’ll get temporary amnesia. The chef here is a genius! He can make dishes to please even the pickiest eater. Everything he makes is spectacular!”
Spriggledy—who quickly proved that he was not a picky eater—was right, every dish on their table was delicious. Elanor ate more than she thought her stomach could hold, but never felt bloated. She finished her desert of black sesame ice cream in lychee sauce with a sense of perfect satiety and satisfaction, then leaned back in her chair watching Spriggledy finish the last of his bamboo crumb-cake.
“We should thank the chef,” she sighed.
“Can’t. No one’s allowed in the kitchen, not even the staff. They yell the orders through the door. They say no one’s ever seen the chef. But we can tell the waiter to pass on our compliments.”
This they did, though Elanor rather doubted whether the surly toad could be counted on to carry so pleasant a message.
Spriggledywalked to the back wall where a sign read “Rooms.” Beneath the sign, three rows of hooks were labeled with names like “Rising Damp,” “Sunny Sunset,” and “Rock-a-Bye.” After so filling a meal, Elanor sincerely hoped they wouldn’t end up in the last one.
“Yes! It’s available,” Spriggledy said, excitedly taking a key from a hook labeled “Vertiginous View.” Elanor shrugged; fortunately, she had never been afraid of heights.
Spriggledy led the way down a hall, out a back door, and onto a stairwell that wound its way up thick branches with numerous forks and turn-offs. The stairs proved sturdier than they had appeared from the bridge. They were made of old but sound wood and joined to the handrails with a mesh like a woven basket, only softer. They passed numerous bungalows tucked among the leaves, but kept climbing higher and higher. Finally, on a branch that, in its quest for light, had grown right out of the rest of the grove and hung high and alone above the very center of the stream, they reached an isolated bungalow perched among the branches. The moon had yet to rise, though a glow on the eastern horizon foretold its arrival. Standing on the porch before the door, Elanor could see the slow-swinging stars above her head and the Milky Way arching through them, a celestial stream above her to mirror the earthly stream below her. On the bluff on the opposite bank, now well below her, the gate-lamps shone like bright stars, revealing a patch of green in the blackness. She could only imagine the view that would be unveiled tomorrow morning when the sun pulled back the curtain of the night.
Turning away from that imagined view, she entered the bungalow to find Spriggledy already asleep and snoring on the bed nearest the door. Tiptoeing past him, she found the other bed, screened by a bookshelf that ran all the way to the ceiling. She sat down on it and immediately understood the reason for Spriggledy’s sudden somnolence. The mattress was yielding but supportive, and the light down comforters looked as fluffy as blankets made of cloud. She was certain it would be a pleasure to sleep here, but she wasn’t in the least tired. She was curious. She tiptoed back past Spriggledy, quietly opened the door, and set off to explore the inn.
Finding her way through the maze of stairs back to the main room was somewhat tricky, but it was rather like climbing down a tree, with which she had some experience, so she found her way eventually. Back in the main room, she was once again entranced by the variety of customers. Her head swiveling this way and that, she nearly walked through the iridescent cloud before she was aware of it.
“Oh! Pardon me! I’m terribly sorry!” she wasn’t certain a cloud could understand speech, but it seemed rude to say nothing.
“Not to worry,” replied a flat, uninterested voice seemed to come from no direction in particular. Hearing a voice come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time was rather disconcerting, and Elanor might have doubted the cloud was speaking had it not flashed red in time with the words.
The incense sticks were still burning on the table. Her curiosity peaked, Elanor asked, “Is the incense your supper?”
“I suppose you could call it that,” the toneless voice responded, this time accompanied by blue-grey flashes. “I cannot eat, and I absorb all the sustenance I require from the atmosphere and sunlight. Still, I enjoy the company of biophagous life forms, and so much of their socialization revolves around eating. The chef was kind enough to make me a selection of incenses so that I wouldn’t feel left out. Would you like to try?”
“Oh yes, I’d love to!” Ellen replied approaching the table on which the three incense sticks sent forth thin trails of smoke.
Leaning over the first incense stick, she was taken aback. She had expected the fragrance of flowers or leaves, but instead she smelled onions frying in a pan, bacon, maple syrup, and cinnamon. In her mind she could almost see weekend breakfasts at home with her parents, her father working the griddle and attempting—with little success—to flip pancakes in the air with his spatula. The second stick was more subtle, but equally remarkable: the damp, clean scent of fresh air and newly washed vegetation after a rain in a high meadow. Again her mind cast back to memories, this time of camping trips in the mountains, waking to a clear dawn after rain had drummed on the roof of the tent all night. She eagerly bent over the last stick of incense, wondering what memories it would evoke, but was disconcerted when it failed to evoke any at all. She could not even place the fragrance—perfume? a rose?—she wasn’t certain, but it made her heart race and her palms sweat. She wasn’t certain she liked it.
The cloud seemed to sense her discomfort, “That one is called ‘First Love.’ I have noticed that not all organisms are able to appreciate it.”
As soon as she pulled away from the smoke, Elanor’s sense of disorientation passed, “They’re truly remarkable, aren’t they?” she observed.
“Yes,” the flashes deepened toward grey, “But I suspect that I am still missing something. The pleasure biophagous organisms take in eating does not communicate itself to me.”
Elanor had no idea how to respond to that, so she changed the subject, “I forgot to ask, what’s your name?”
“My people do not normally use sonic forms of communication. Here they call me ‘Misty.’ They seem to find it amusing.”
Was she learning to hear the tone of that toneless voice, or was it something in the way the colors flashed. Elanor wasn’t certain, but either way, she thought she noticed a hint of disapproval in that last statement.
“Well, thank you for sharing, Misty,” she smiled and gave a little bow, “I’m off to explore more of the inn. It’s really the most fascinating place I’ve ever been.”
“I’m sure it is,” replied Misty tonelessly, “though I have yet to understand the joy organisms with feet find in walking about.”
Taking her leave of Misty, Elanor wandered down a hall on the right side of the main room, eventually finding a door leading to the branches on the opposite side of the inn from the bungalow she shared with Spriggledy. The moon had risen and its light filtered through the leaves, casting improbable patterns on the branches and stairs. Spriggledy seemed to be the only one sleeping that night. Everywhere she walked she found guests talking, playing cards, or making music. They came in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some looked timid. Some looked ferocious. Some looked just plain peculiar, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Sometimes Elanor stopped to listen to the music, or one of the groups would shout and wave her over to join in their revelry. She talked little but listened a great deal. She learned that the inn had been there longer than anyone could remember and that it was famed throughout the Land of Imaginary Things for its food and hospitality. They said it was named for its founder, but no one could agree who or what that was. An old owl insisted it was founded by the wisest of his clan, whose nest could still be seen in a hollow tree higher up the cliff. A trout, leaning one fin on the edge of his large aquarium, was equally insistent that the greatest of his kind had founded the inn after leaping up the waterfall that apparently lay just downstream. She also learned that the tranquility of the inn was not left to chance. When he learned it was her first visit, the pink monster she had seen eating kebabs warned Elanor never to cause trouble at Twillianne’s. Several years before, he had attempted to eat a fellow guest who was a goat. He wouldn’t say what happened to him, but it was clear he didn’t care to repeat the experience.
Late that night, among the higher branches near the cliff, she found a set of steps leading up to a walkway carved into the cliff face itself with nothing but a low, wooden rail to keep one from falling. Something about the walkway stirred and woke the love of the road not taken within her. Here, surely, was a path that would lead somewhere interesting! At any rate, she had to find out. She climbed up the wooden steps and onto the stone path. There were no lamps here. The light of the moon was quite bright now, but trees growing above and beside the path shrouded it in a thick sheath of leaves, allowing only scattered patches of white to break into the inky blackness behind them. At its far end, Elanor could see a white glow where the path emerged into the moonlight. Holding the rail to keep from stumbling. She made her way toward the glow. It was farther than it looked, and only after several minutes of walking could see her destination clearly: three steps leading up to a broad landing bathed by the light of the moon.
Elanorclimbed out of the shadow and found herself in a small octagonal pavilion built into the side of the cliff so that three of its sides were carved out of the rock itself while the other five—hewn of a dark, smooth wood that reflected the low-hanging moon—hung out over the gorge. A short, circular stone table occupied the center of the pavilion, next to which stood two high-backed chairs made of the same wood as the pavilion itself. On one of the chairs, regarding Elanor with hazel eyes that twinkled and flashed in the moonlight, rested a tall and elegant gazelle.
The tawny fur of her back looked dark in the moonlight, but the glossy white coat on her belly almost glowed. Her horns swept back close to her head before curving forward in an elongated “S.” She smiled at Elanor, “Welcome to the Pavilion of Pure Possibility.” Her voice was gentle, but deep and resonant. She gestured to the empty chair, “Please, sit and talk with me awhile.”
Elanor sat in the chair, staring at her host, unaware that her mouth was hanging slightly open. She had seen far more unusual creatures that evening, but she had never met anyone who possessed such an air of mingled loftiness and kindness, whose eyes seemed to look at you from unknown depths, but whose voice seemed to reach your very heart.
Still watching Elanor, the gazelle’s smile deepened into a quiet chuckle. She lifted a crystal decanter from the table and poured a perfectly clear, odorless liquid into two small Chinese teacups made of porcelain so thin the moonlight shone through them. “Come, join me in a toast. This is dew-nectar, a delicacy among my people. This batch was gathered under the full moon, and its flavor is best in the moonlight.” She lifted her cup and took a sip.
Elanor finally regained control of her mouth. “Thank you,” she said. “Who are you?”
Setting her cup on the table, the gazelle replied, “I am Twillianne, and this is my inn.”
“You’re the Twillianne?” Elanor’s mouth dropped open again. “But I heard that this inn has been here longer than anyone can remember, you must be …”
“Very, very old,” Twillianne laughed. “Yes. This inn is very old, and I am far older than it. I remember the placing of the first board on the first branch, the first guest, the first meal. Actually, it all began right here, where we are sitting. Would you like to hear my story? Try a sip of your dew-nectar, and I will tell you.”
Elanor nodded, carefully lifted the porcelain cup to her mouth, and took a sip. She was never able to describe the flavor of what she drank. In fact, she swore it had no flavor. It tasted just like water, but it had a feeling. It was quiet and calm, still and thoughtful, like drinking long years of moonlit nights spent in pleasant conversation or silent, solitary reflection. Strange thoughts and moonlit vistas arose in her mind, beautiful and profound in ways she could neither fully grasp at the time nor adequately express afterward. Only gradually did she descend out of them to the sound of Twillianne’s voice.
“… and so, long ago in the world of humans, he became a great king, but he lost his beloved. In me—that is to say, in a gazelle of that world who looked much as I do—he saw the likeness of his beloved, and he set her free—for she was captive for his amusement, and he wished her happiness. Of course, he could not bring back his beloved, but in his imagination, he poured all of his love and longing into me, but with it came also his pain and bereavement. I was beautiful as the dawn, but melancholy as the moonlight. While he lived, I dwelt in the land of my birth, but on his passing my grief—his grief within me—was too great to bear, and I departed.
Her eyes, looking out into the moonlit gorge, seemed to gaze on things far away and long past, but they did not glaze over as most people’s do when they reminisce; they remained clear and shining. “I wandered many years through many lands. In my sorrow, I found sympathy for others’ sorrow, and in my pain, I found determination to ease their pain. But I found not hope, and who can long endure without hope? At last, having climbed down this cliff with untold difficulty, I stopped here—it was a mere shelf of stone then—and lay down and slept, intending never again to do anything more.”
She paused and fixed her eyes again on Elanor, “You arrived in the darkness and have not yet seen, but we sit here above the narrowest part of the gorge. From here it bursts forth in rolling waves and torrents and shoots over a waterfall, falling noisily into the broad lands below. Arise and look as I looked so long ago!”
Elanor stood up and walked to the edge of the pavilion. Standing with her knees on the bench that encircled it, she leaned against the railing and gazed eastward. The full moon shone brightly, changing the waters below into a torrent of snow that poured over a great cataract into silver-lit lands far below.
“I woke in the moonlight,” Twillianne continued. “I stared at the water rushing past me and into lands I had never yet seen. I remembered the words of a human philosopher as he gazed upon a river, ‘That which passes is like this,’ and I understood.”
“Confucius said that!” Elanor interjected, excited to have something to contribute.
“Indeed,” Twillianne beamed at her, “it is good to speak with a scholar again. It is a pleasure I encounter all too seldom.”
“What? Me?” Elanor blushed. “No. I just … I knew someone who liked to read Confucius.” She stared at her feet and then at the view of the lands beyond the falls. A patchwork of bright moonlight and unlit shadow stretched into the distance.
“So too did I!” Twillianne laughed gently—a laugh as clear as the moonlight but as warm as a summer day—then continued her story, “I turned my head and gazed back at the trees and the hills, and I bethought myself how lovely it would be if there were an inn right here, in this gorge. And then I thought that I should build that inn. For why not? I lived, and so long as I lived, anything was possible. The next day, I began building this pavilion, and I named it the Pavilion of Pure Possibility for it was here that I first understood the Possibility of Life.
“But you,” Twillianne gazed at Elanor with frank curiosity, “you are a possibility even I had not considered. That an imaginer could come to the Land of Imaginary Things. I never imagined that such a thing could be.”
Elanor was taken aback. For a moment, she tensed, but then relaxed. She felt certain that Twillianne could be trusted.
“How did you know?” she asked. Twillianne just smiled. Elanor leaned on the railing and continued staring at the scene far below. “I didn’t do it on purpose,” she said quietly, “and I don’t even know how I got here. I never knew a place like this existed—or could exist.”
“Then we are both revelations to one another, and that is good!” Twillianne said with satisfaction. “Come! Let us toast your journey. I hear that you seek the feather-flower. A worthy but difficult quest!” They each raised their cups. “Fair wind and a firm path, and may the possibility of possibility be with you!”
Twillianne turned up her cup and drained it in one gulp. Elanor followed her example, and before she was aware of it, fell into a dream-filled sleep.
Elanorwoke in the first light of dawn feeling as refreshed as if she had slept long and deep.
“That’s odd,” she thought, “wasn’t I up half the night exploring the inn and talking to so many people.” As her mind climbed into wakefulness she remembered moonlight and a pavilion … and Twillianne. “Yes, we talked. It was so late. Or was it all a dream?” She could not remember returning to her room or getting into bed.
Spriggledy stirred in his bed on the other side of the bookcase. “Aawawuhhhh!” he yawned loudly. Elanor heard a thunk as he jumped out of bed. He stuck his head around the bookshelves and saw her sitting up.
“Oh, you’re up already! What a sleep! I always wake refreshed here. I think the sound of the water must lull me into a deep sleep. Where’d you get the nightgown?”
Elanor realized to her own surprise that she was wearing a nightgown made of particularly fine silk. An embroidered Chinese landscape wrapped around it, covering it completely. Mountains soared amidst clouds, waterfalls fell into a river, a fisherman returned home in the twilight. She had no memory of putting it on and no idea where it came from. “I don’t know,” she murmured, but Spriggledy didn’t hear.
“I’ll go order us some breakfast. You get changed and come down when you’re ready,” he bounced out of the room, and she heard the stairs creak one after another as he continued his lively descent.
Elanor changed quickly and walked down the stairs to the main room, admiring the view as she went. The sky was just brightening and the sun could not yet be seen over the mountains in the distant east. A strong, steady breeze blew down the stream, cooler even than the breezes of the night before.
Entering the main room, she found Spriggledy in animated conversation with the waiter, who was still rubbing his eyes. “… and a plate of stir-fried bamboo shoots and pork.”
“You do like your bamboo don’t you?” she yawned, sitting down across from him.
“Of course! And we’ll need lots of energy for today’s leg of the journey.” He began to eat great mouthfuls of dishes that had already been served.
“Is todays journey especially hard?” asked Elanor, whose body felt rested but by no means awake.
“Only the first part, then we’ll be on a boat. But we may not get any lunch, it all depends on whether the fish are biting.”
She was about to ask what that meant but was interrupted by the arrival of piles of dishes. There were greens quick-fried with garlic, tofu in a spicy pork sauce, eggs scrambled with tomato and green onion, and dumplings that released a burst of broth into your mouth when you bit into them—not to mention the bamboo shoots. The smells and flavors reminded her of her family’s time China. In her mind, they conjured up the landscape on the nightgown she woke up in, and she ate her breakfast day-dreaming happily about mist-shrouded mountains and riverside villages.
Given how much food Spriggledy ordered, they finished breakfast surprisingly quickly. His ability to eat half a plate of food in one bite was, no doubt, a contributing factor. Full and content, they rose from the table. As Spriggledy packed their few things in small cloth bundle, the surly Toad waiter placed a bag on the table in front of them, said “Compliments of the chef,” and practically stomped away.
In the bag they found fresh fruit, dried beef, and two full water-skins. Spriggledy added it all to their bundle and tied the whole thing to the end of a stick. Slinging it over his shoulder, he looked inquiringly at Elanor. She nodded, and the two of them headed for the door, calling thank yous over their shoulders as they left. They stepped out of the inn as the sun peeked over the mountains and cast a long ray of orange light down the gorge. The foam rising from the rapids caught the light, and they crossed the bridge enshrouded in a saffron mist.
Climbing back to the bluff, they turned again east on the same path they had followed the day before. The bluff quickly narrowed till the path became a mere ledge some thirty feet above the water. The mist from the waterfall grew so thick that it drenched Elanor’s clothes and made the path treacherously slippery.
She stopped in her tracks, “Spriggledy,” she shouted—the roar of the waterfall made it hard to hear anything—“how will we get down the waterfall?”
“There are stairs,” he shouted back, pointing ahead on the path.
Elanor stared in awe as they approached the cataract. The roar was so deafening it was like walking in silence, and the fury of the water was so great it seemed to move as one piece, like an ornately embroidered strip of cloth pulled over the edge of the cliff. The mist, still orange in the morning light, drifted across the vista of the lands below.
A short distance from the falls, the path veered to the right and passed through a roughly-hewn tunnel. The tunnel was so dark, and the light shining at its end so bright, that Elanor’s eyes were dazzled. She followed the large shadow of Spriggledy in front of her. Stepping out of the tunnel, she blinked as her eyes adjusted to the bright sunrise. Looking around she found herself on a broad shelf of rock gazing across downlands stretched out beneath her like a map. A sharp edge of the hill stuck out between them and the waterfall, keeping the shelf dry and relatively quiet, Elanor could still feel the rumble of the falls, however, and she watched with contentment as its mist drifted out into the morning air.
On the left side of the shelf, a set of stone stairs began the long descent, but on the right, a rude table and stools had been carved from the rock. On one of the stools sat a tall gazelle, bestowing a regal but friendly gaze upon them. Before her on the table sat a crystal decanter and three small cups.
Spriggledy, who was already heading to the top of the stairs, was brought up short in puzzlement, but Elanor ran toward the gazelle with delight, knowing now that the previous night had not been a dream, “Twillianne!”
Spriggledy followed slowly, “Twillianne?” he asked. “TheTwillianne?”
Twillianne said nothing, but Elanor said hastily, “Yes, theTwillianne! We met last night in the Pavilion of Pure Possibility!”
Spriggledy looked as if this raised at least as many questions as it answered, but said nothing. Twillianne smiled, “Yes, we enjoyed a lovely conversation. I have come to see you off on your journey.” She picked up the decanter and filled the three cups with dew-nectar.
Taking her cup from Twillianne, Elanor examined it somewhat doubtfully, remembering—or rather notremembering—the end of the night before. Twillianne laughed, “Do not fear. This is dew-nectar of the dawn. It will not make you sleepy or cast you into dreams. No, it will raise your spirits even as the dawn always does for lovers of the Light! Drink!”
The three of them raised their cups and downed the dew-nectar in one gulp. Once again, Elanor observed that dew-nectar had no flavor, but the feeling this time was wholly unlike the previous evening. Hope and determination rose within her. Her body felt light, awake, and strong, and through her mind strode visions of long-dead heroes who overcame frightful challenges through the radiance of their spirit and the valor of their love.
She looked at Twillianne with great fondness, “Thank you. I’ll never forget you or your inn.”
Twillianne bowed her long neck and looked at Elanor with equal fondness, “You will always be welcome here—you who reminded me that the Possibility of Life includes possibilities I have yet to imagine.”
They stood. Twillianne shook Spriggledy’s paw and embraced Elanor. Reaching down, she handed each of them well-polished walking sticks, tipped with metal, “The descent of the stairs is punishing, these will make it easier. Go now with a fair wind, a firm path, and the possibility of possibility.”
Waving farewell to her, they started down the stairs to the lands below and the next stage of their journey.