Moments later Ernesto was holding the door open for Turtle at the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Theatre station in Brooklyn.
"We'll see you soon, Turtle. We're going to need your help," he said. "Thank you. We couldn't have done this without you."
"What about Mr. Kincaid?"
"We'll go and get him when we're ready. Ernesto and I need to make plans," said Agata's mother.
"Please don't hurt him," said Turtle, thinking of Nick and Nate.
"We know," said Ernesto. "He was confused. It is the problem with the Mytro. It makes men blind to their foolishness. The Mytratti are massing again, but there is a group now that will oppose them."
Turtle nodded. The Mytro bells chimed above him, and the doors began to hiss shut. "Turtle!" said Agata. He reached out to put his hand on the door, the mechanism clunking somewhere near the top of the door, the hydraulics pushing gently against his hand.
"Thank you, Turtle," said Agata.
"I'll see you again," he said, certain he would. He had his own map, and Barcelona was only a moment away.
"Definitely," she said.
The Mytro doors hushed shut behind him, and he turned to watch Agata and her mother waving from their seats. Ernesto and Mr. Partridge smiled at him as they rode into the darkness. The train rattled away, disappearing as if it had never been here, taking them back to Barcelona.
Turtle walked to the exit door and pushed. It gave for a second and then opened, popping him out behind the old Alpine movie theatre. His sudden appearance startled a small black cat nosing through a bag of garbage. It was late and the full moon was bright against the sky, casting long shadows over the trash cans and wooden pallets stacked in the alley. The familiar smell of Brooklyn came back to him in a rush: someone cooking fish somewhere nearby, the exhaust, the tree buds popping in the night air. Under it all was the smell of the ocean, not far off. It reminded him a little of Barcelona and that delicious paella.
He looked at his watch. It was midnight. He had been gone for six hours, and in that time he had seen and done so much that he could hardly believe it. It was a strange feeling to have travelled so far yet spent so little time getting there. His grandmother would be upset, he was sure.
The moon rose like a gift over Brooklyn. He was home. He walked down the alley into the street and then up the sidewalk to home. He clutched the map in his pocket, the complete index, and began planning his route to school. He imagined the lines of the Mytro like veins of bright silver in the dark world, rivers of thought and space and time that would, soon enough, carry him wherever he wanted to go.
As he rounded the corner, his heart sank. Two patrol cars, their lights flashing, were parked outside. A police officer sat in one of them, talking on the radio. When Turtle approached the house, he rolled down the window.
"Paul Fulton?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," he replied.
"Your grandmother's been worried. Get inside, son."
His grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table with a police
officer. She looked so small. Her white, curly hair framed her lined face, her smudged glasses, her blue eyes—his mother's eyes— blinking back at him. When Turtle walked in, she stood up and grabbed him, hugging him close. She was rarely stern with him, but this time her face hardened.
"You scared me, Paul. I don't like that," she said. "Where were you?"
The discussion was quick and painless. He explained that he
had fallen asleep on the train and ended up in Queens. Then with outages, reroutings, and the rest of it, he had ridden for hours trying to get back to Brooklyn. Finally, he said, he had walked from Park Slope, a good hour's hike.
"Where's your cell phone?" asked the officer.
His grandmother looked down at the table. "I didn't buy him one yet. I guess he's been my boy for so long, I never thought I could lose him," she said.
"I'm sorry, Grandma," said Turtle. His face felt hot, and he was near tears. He was most disappointed that he couldn't share what he discovered, that he couldn't bring her down to the alley and take her anywhere in the world.
Ten minutes later, the police left, advising him to keep his grandma apprised of his travels around town and that they didn't want to have to come back again for the same complaint.
"Buy that boy a cell phone, ma'am," said one of the officers before they drove away. His grandmother waved them good-bye.
"Paul, please, never again," she said, hugging him once more. It was good to be home with her. She was his family.
"Don't worry," said Turtle. "It's the first and last time."
In bed, Turtle thought about Agata. They had been around the world and back, yet there was no evidence of his leaving. It was impossible, he thought, but it had happened. The world had changed for him, but the space he took up in it was the same. He closed his eyes and dozed off.
When he woke, he couldn't tell if it was morning or night. A voice from the kitchen brought the topsy-turvy world back into focus, and he turned his head to look at the cable box next to the TV. It was 6:46—presumably in the morning—he had been asleep for hours.
His grandmother was downstairs in the kitchen, probably talking to one of her chef friends on the phone. He heard her laugh and the tinkle of dishes in the sink. The water ran for a moment and then she shut it off. He imagined her standing over the sink, cleaning the dishes he had used earlier (he regretted not cleaning up before leaving the house the previous afternoon) and talking to a pastry cook she knew from Naples.
As the will to sleep was sapped from him, he sat up in bed and placed both feet on the wooden parquet floor.
Everything was back where it should be.
For a moment, Turtle wondered if he actually just slept through
the day, and as strange as it sounded, he could have been dreaming. Panic rose in his chest as he looked around the room for his backpack. It was hanging on the doorknob.
He thought of the Nayzuns and their ceaseless work. He thought of Mr. Kincaid's madness and anger and what he would have to tell Nick and Nate when he saw them at school.
He sat up. He had a way to find out if this was all real. Turtle unzipped the backpack and stuck in a hand. He rummaged around, his heart sinking, until his fingers closed around a cold metal rod. He instantly knew what it was. The Key. It was safe, and he was in charge of it. Next to it were the maps he would study until he heard from Agata again. Relieved, he squeezed the second Conductor's Key tight in his left hand and let it go.
"Paul? Are you up?" said his grandmother from the kitchen. "Sure, Grandma," he called.
"You sure you don't want to sleep a bit more? It's Saturday." "No, Grandma. I'm fine."
"Yes, please, Grandma," he said and walked through the house and down into the kitchen. As he ate, he thought of Barcelona.
"Grandma, do you know how to make paella?" he asked. "Sure. Why do you ask?"
"I had some with a friend. I really liked it. I'd like to have it again." "Sure thing, kiddo. Sure thing," she said. "We'll cook it up today." The sun rose over the city, bright and pure. He was home.
YOU ARE READING
Imagine if, right now, clattering underneath your feet was a secret train system that could take you anywhere in minutes. Imagine a trip full of mystery and excitement from New York to Barcelona to the wind-swept coast of Italy to the edge of space...