By the time she came out of her room, the house was empty. It was the first Friday after the end of school. If her best friend hadn’t gone to visit her grandma in Louisiana, she would likely be hanging out with her all day. But something better came up, so it was just as well she didn’t have to worry about Jill.
She hadn’t figured out how to let Jill in on her secret, either. She had meant to tell her everything. But how do you explain something like that to somebody who’s been your best friend since fourth grade? By the way, Jill, it turns out I’m a mythological being. Cool, huh? No, she had to find a better way. Ease into it somehow. Maybe she could think of what to say over the Memorial Day weekend.
She grabbed a granola bar and a glass of orange juice. She watched a little TV. Then she pulled back her long, straight hair in a ponytail, donned the floppy sunhat she bought at the beach last summer, and headed out the door. She checked the time on her phone. It was a little past eight.
Taylor locked up the house and got on her bike. Twenty minutes later, she had reached her destination. The gate at the Ocmulgee National Monument was already open. She wheeled down the park road past the Welcome Center and kept on going. The shadow of the trees kept the heat from feeling unbearable. Birds sang. She had the park pretty much to herself.
The Ocmulgee Indian Mounds had been inhabited since prehistoric times. Now, it was a national park in the middle of Macon, Georgia. The park hosted an annual Indian powwow every fall, and a lot of school groups took field trips to the place. Taylor hadn’t been there in a couple of years, but it wasn’t hard for her to get her bearings.
In another ten minutes of cycling, she arrived at a small parking lot at the foot of an immense artificial mound, taller than a five-story building. The sign by the side of the road iden- tified it as the Great Temple Mound. A footpath led to stairs creeping up one side. A family with two young children stood at the very top, enjoying the view.
She chained her bike to the sign and continued on foot.
“Any mound should do,” Ayoka had told her. “Just pick one near the river.” She gazed up at the top of the mound and sighed. It was a long way to the top. She decided to veer off the footpath and head to the Lesser Temple Mound, which was both closer and smaller. She tried to take her time; it didn’t take much for her to get out of breath. Even though she hadn’t had an asthma attack in over a month, she wasn’t ready to take any chances.
The family on the Greater Mound above her was no longer in sight. It wouldn’t be long until they reappeared on the path, however. It was time.
She took a deep breath and imagined a magical mist surrounding her like a blanket. Danny Underhill had taught her that. Confident she was effectively invisible, she hiked up the wooden stairs to the top of the Lesser Mound.
She paused to take in the view. Not only could she see several of the other mounds in the park, if she looked off to the west, across the Ocmulgee River, she saw the buildings of downtown Macon.
She checked the time again on her phone. If she left by 4:15 or so, she should have plenty of time to get home before her parents, and they would never have to know she had left the house.
But first, she had to get to where she was going. She pulled down the brim of her hat against the glare of the sun. She bit her lip and gazed at the top of the mound, looking for the telltale shimmer in the air.
There it was, right at the edge, where the mound ended abruptly as it looked over the parking area. She took a deep breath and took a couple of tentative steps toward the spot. What had Ayoka told her on the seeing stone? “It’s something like putting on a veil of magical mist, except you imagine the magic seeping up out of the ground. Use your hands if you have to. Oh, and singing sometimes helps.”
Here goes, she thought. She took another breath as she closed her eyes and imagined a billowing cloud of mist rising from the ground. Without even thinking about it, she gestured with her hand, like a conductor leading a choir to sing louder.
She felt ridiculous.
And then it happened. A swirling wall of gold and silver lights erupted from the mound, a shimmering circle ten feet across. Taylor suppressed a giggle and plunged straight in.
Immediately, she was in a different world. She was still atop the Lesser Temple Mound, but the mound itself was huge— maybe three times larger than it was before. To the west, the downtown buildings were missing completely. To the north, the two deep railroad cuts—one still in use by the railroad and the other turned into the very park road she had taken to get there—were also missing. Instead, a vast, broad plaza stretched out from where she stood all the way to the Earth Lodge a quarter of a mile away.
The plaza was dotted with dozens of houses, some ancient and traditional, others more modern. And hundreds of people filled the entire complex! These were the Fair Folk: the people to which Taylor’s birth parents belonged. Most were nunnehi, Native American fae like Ayoka. Some were in traditional dress and others in regular street clothes. Some were white or African American. Some had pointed ears. Others had tails or snake- like eye slits. Some were little folk: dusky-skinned and only three feet tall.
Taylor had slipped into the Wonder.
None of this existed Topside, of course, and nobody Topside had any inkling that a whole other world existed right under their noses (although Native Americans told stories of “spirit warriors” who sang and danced at the mounds). In this version of the Ocmulgee Mounds, in the town of Ichisi, there was no city just beyond the trees. Everything was wild, untamed. Free.
She looked up into the sky. As expected, the hue was more turquoise than the blue it had been Topside. The air was filled with the smells of exotic foods and the hubbub of conversation. In the distance, fans cheered some kind of sporting event. That, she knew, was her destination.
Taylor came down off the mound and made her way through the crowd toward the sound of cheering.
From inside the open doors, she saw women cooking untold delicacies in huge copper cauldrons. Young children ran willy- nilly through the streets, laughing and playing. A couple of men were haggling over some sort of magical implement. Oth- ers, both men and women, had stopped at the corner for an impromptu a cappella jam session.
Further down the street, a teenage fae dazzled a crowd of younger kids by creating rings of colored smoke out of thin air and sending them skyward.
A man and a woman—Native Americans both at least ten feet tall—stooped to converse with another fae with an open suitcase filled with a multitude of jars, cases, and vials of multicolored liquid.