Table of Contents
BOOKS BY CAROL EMSHWILLER
Leaping Man Hill
Joy in Our Cause
Verging on the Pertinent
The Start of the End of It All
Report to the Men's Club and Other Stories
I Live with You and You Don't Know It
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Group (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
First published in 2005 by Viking, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
Copyright Â© Carol Emshwiller, 2005
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Mister Boots : a fantasy novel / Carol Emshwiller.
Summary: The life of ten-year-old Bobby Lassiter changes drastically
when she meets Mister Boots, a man who is also a horse.
eISBN : 978-1-440-69595-7
[1. HorsesâFiction. 2. MetamorphosisâFiction.
3. MagicâFiction. 4. FathersâFiction.] I. Title.
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To Eve, Susan, and Stoney
and to David
I was born (which is a lucky thing in itself, and I'm lucky that I'm me and no one other). But also I'm lucky I was born right here, because I have the whole place to myself and nobody bothers me. Twenty-five acres of nothingâdesert nothingâsurrounded by other people's even bigger nothing. And I have the best mother because she doesn't care. I mean she loves me, but she doesn't care what I do. I can go out the window in the middle of the night. I can sleep under the stars. . . . And I'm lucky in having my big sister. She does all the things I'd have to do if she wasn't here. She likes to do everything I hate the most. And I'm lucky to have Mister Boots. Nobody knows about him but me.
My mother and my sister have too many of their own things to think about to worry about me. Like money. Like the next meal. Like new shoes. (I don't wear shoes, which is another lucky thing, but they do.)
Their minds are on their knitting. Their needles go wobbling back and forth all day. They make sweaters and caps and socks and lots of things for babies. They can't afford to make anything for themselves (or me). My old sweater barely comes down to my elbows. Mother keeps saying she should knit me another and what color do I want? I keep telling her sky blue, but does a sky blue sweater ever come along in my size?
Mother calls me Dear and Sweetie and Honey. My sister calls me Bobby and Booby. I wonder if anybody around here remembers my name? I've been called “cute” things all my life, and I never did like “cute,” but I don't care, I have names I call myself to myself, like Scar.
And I do have scars crisscrossing my legs, but I don't remember how I got them. Maybe I was too little to keep away from a Spanish dagger plant. (Mister Boots has the exact same kinds of scars, and other bigger ones, too, where a whole chunk of skin came off.) I have a crooked elbow that won't go straight, but it doesn't bother me. My bad arm can do anything my good arm can do. I remember flying through the air once, but I don't know if I got thrown or dropped. Maybe I fell out of a tree. Or maybe I thought I could fly (I do remember thinking that now and then), and found out I couldn't.
They say my mother is past looking out for me or anybody and that's why I have these scars and such. (A baby needs somebody to pay attention.) They say our little graveyard just got too full up for her before I came . . . all her little boys died at birth. Bad for her, but lucky for me because I don't want any looking after. Besides, what could happen that wouldn't have already happened? Except Mister Boots happened. That's one new thing.
My sister is beautiful, but she's so shy. Boys from the nearest ranch hang around sometimes but not for long. She doesn't have time for them anyway; she has to help Mother with the knitting and everything else, and she's the one who has to take the knit things to the townsâto all the little stores. Mother won't go. I wouldn't mind going, but I won't help with the knitting. They know better than to ask me.
My sister has golden hair exactly the right length to hide behind. She shakes her head so her hair hangs down in front of her face and she peers out from behind it. She thinks she's safer back there. I suppose she is when she cries or when she blushes, which she always does. She says she hates herself when she cries. I never cry. I'd hate myself, too, if I did.
She has to go to all the little towns by hitchhiking. She hates that more than anything, but she has to do it. She always has a big suitcase full of knit things, and the circle she has to make is too far for walking. Even the closest village is four miles away. The whole loop she makes is almost too far even for the wagons she hitches rides with. I wouldn't mind hitchhiking, but they think I'm too young. I don't know why it's any safer for a beautiful girl to be doing it than me.
Once she even got a ride in a car. That really made me jealous. There are hardly any cars around, though they say pretty soon there'll be lots. (I can just imagine,
all over the place.) They're mostly owned by people not from here. Nobody's that rich even in our biggest town. That's eight miles from here. I've never even been there.
I'm the midnight moonlight starbright rider. We don't have any horsesâwe can't afford themâbut the neighbors do. Their horses come to me all by themselves, no grain, no carrot, no apple. They follow me to the fence where I can get on, or I put them in an irrigation ditch and I get on from the bank.
Mister Boots says he'll never ever, ever ride a horse. Never! Even if his legs don't get well, he'll not ride, and that's that.
I almost made a big mistake. I told Mother that once a whirl-wind picked me up and put me down someplace else. I said, “I remember it,” but Mother said, “Little and light as you are, that just couldn't happen.” I told her Mister Boots said it could. I'm not even supposed to go to the next ranch over and talk to the wranglers, let alone to somebody like Boots.
“Mister Boots,” she said. “What Mister Boots?”
And then I remembered she doesn't know about him and isn't supposed to.
“Nothing,” I said. “Nobody and nothing.”
She said, “Honey . . .” (How can you ever learn your real name if you're always called Honey or Sweetie Pie?) “I guess you haven't been homeschooled enough about reality and science. It's nice to make things up sometimes, but you have to stop believing whatever comes to mind. Mister Boots, for heaven's sake! What will you be thinking of next?”
So then I felt safe because she wouldn't believe in him anyway. But Boots isn't a name that's just out hanging on a treeâunless it's for a cat. Or, of course, a horse with four black feet.
How I found Mister Boots is, I was out in the middle of the night riding like I do, and I came to this naked man curled up under our one and only big tree, which is half dead because there hasn't been enough water lately. I always take bucketsful out there. Just then I had two canvas buckets, one on each side of the horse's withers, and I rode up and slid off, not knowing if I should give some to the man or all to the tree. I figured the man was as thirsty as the tree, and the tree as thirsty as the man, but the man was asleep, and besides, the tree is my friend.
But right then he woke up and started looking thirsty. So I gave him a drink. He said, “Thank you kindly,” three times. “I'm grateful.” After he'd had a drink, he patted the tree trunk as if he was as much friends with it as I am, and said, “It's thirsty, too,” so I knew he was like me.
Then he looked down at himself as if he just realized he was naked. “You wouldn't happen to have clothes that might fit me a little bit?”
We did have some men's clothes packed away at home, so I said yes, and that I'd get them right now because it was a cool night.
Then he said, “Can you keep a secret?”
“Course I can.”
“Can you keep me a secret?”
“Course.” (It isn't as if I haven't kept almost everything a secret anyway. My whole life is a secret.) “Why? Are you a bank robber or what? Or maybe you escaped from someplace where they put crazies.”
“I'm not. I didn't.”
“Why should I believe you? Looks kind of funny, you out here naked and limping.”
“Would a bank robber be naked?” He asked it as if he really wondered.
“Maybe your clothes were for prisoners. And maybe you hurt your legs jumping out a jail window.”
“I don't have a weapon, not even a knife.”
He couldn't be too bad, because he did know the tree was thirsty. “I do believe you.”
I asked him how he lost his clothes, and he said, “I didn't have any,” and I said, “If you didn't have clothes before, why do you need some now?” and he said, “It's your way, not mine,” and I said, “Why?” Then he laughed, and said, “You don't know much more than I do,” and I said, “I know just enough for right here and right now,” and he laughed some more, and then I went and got him pants, and a nice warm shirt, and shoes and socks. . . . “The whole caboodle,” he said, and then, “Isn't that a nice word?”
I guess I'd have to say I stole those clothes, but nobody was using them. I was hoping to get big enough to wear them myself pretty soon, but it takes a long, long time to grow even a little bit.
I never did dare ask Mother about the clothes. Why were they just hanging there for years and years in the spare room that never gets used for anything? Why didn't she give them to somebody? Or sell some? There's two silky shirts. I'll bet they're worth something. There's a dressy jacket with tails in back with pockets sewn inside them. There's even a purple turban with a jewel pinned on it.