“But I want to go. I insist.” She slammed her fists down on the heavy wooden table, but it didn’t make the booming, authoritative sound she hoped it would make.

“You can’t go into the caves, no matter how much you bang about,” the old explorer said. “It ain’t no place fit for a child. The monsters that live down there are like devils. They’re quick and they’re cunning. And they’ll rip a man in half so fast he’d never know he’s dead until he was looking down at himself torn in two.”

“I ain’t afraid of no monsters,” she said, puffing herself up a bit. “I ain’t afraid of nothing.”

“Then you’re as foolish a child as they come,” the old explorer said. “Only the weak pretend they don’t got things they’re afraid of.”

She suddenly felt her age again, felt the sharp difference between the adult world and the small world she’d experienced as a girl of ten.

“I ain’t afraid to face them, is all I mean.” She was softer now, humbler. “I’m afraid of lots, Mr. Gray. Just they’re different things than before.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, before I was afraid of the headmaster’s dog or running into Mrs. Clackert in the halls when I shouldn’t be there,” she said. “But then the storm happened, and The White Lady showed up, and I got snatched up by you all, and we fought the Ghouls and solved all them puzzles. We done so much, now I’m only afraid of things that feel bigger. Like not being able to go home. Like maybe finding out Sylvia is dead. Like the world not getting back to right again.”

“You’re not alone there, Blue,” the old explorer said. He considered her closely with his one good eye. “The caves is still no place for a girl.”

But ain’t just a girl,” she said. “I’m Blue.”

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