He arrived on the heels of an earthquake. A minor hiccup as disasters go, the murmur rippling
undersea, causing dories in the bay to bob and spider crabs to flood the beach like a ghostly
pink tide. It was the sort of earthquake that hushes everything for an instant before nesting birds
and sleeping butterflies burst out of trees. It makes your heart jump for joy because you realize
the earth is flying through space at one thousand miles per hour and you have been spared the
dreadful experience of the whole world falling apart and having to put it back together. It was the
sort of earthquake that the nuns of San Miguel de las Gaviotas would call a mystical grumble.
Really, there was nothing about it to suggest the terrible wonders looming on the horizon.
At a quarter past seven, the candelabras in the chapel stopped swaying. The nuns crossed
themselves, went outside and found a wooden fishing bucket on the porch. Expecting the catch
of the day, they were nothing short of horrified to see a baby boy bundled in fur and tucked
inside it. He had bright black eyes, enormous ears, and his hair was the texture of caterpillar
“He’s a Hostile, if I ever saw one,” said Mother Teagardin.
The word Moojie had been smudged across his forehead. And that was what they called him—a
peculiar name for a peculiar boy, who wasn’t particularly welcome. Against her better judgment,
Mother Teagardin, who always said the natives were ill-suited for local society, hadn’t the heart
to surrender him to the local Bureau of Questionable Peoples. She appealed to the local
families to adopt him. But the villagers were a superstitious lot. They believed the mysterious
child to be, well, too mysterious.
It didn’t help that before he cut his first teeth, Moojie amused himself by magically snuffing out
candles with the blink of an eye, and by sending objects into flight with the power of his mind.
When he didn’t get his way, he caused the wind to rip off the nuns’ veils and flash their knickers.
Like Odysseus, he was quick to act and slow to regret. Meanwhile, the sisters clicked their
clickers, and swatted his bottom, and continued looking for a family for him.
Except for one early chapter of his childhood, Moojie was a virtuosic flop when it came to the
only thing he cared about: finding and keeping a family.
This golden parenthesis began just before he was one year old, when Henry and Kate
Littleman, a childless couple who had moved from the East Coast to San Miguel—along with
hundreds of recent immigrants from Europe and the Far East, since America had opened her
doors to the world—took him home to raise as their own. Mamma immediately left her post as a
science and French teacher at the Charles Darwin Free School to look after him. Mornings, she
tucked him into a knapsack
suspended from a tripod, and went about her housekeeping. He grinned and giggled as she
baked bread, smoked little cigars, knitted hats and booties, and arranged his wet flannel diapers
on a drying rack near the fireplace. She wheeled him to the beach in a wicker pram, where they
collected spider crabs and napped in the salty sand; she rocked him before a glowing wood
stove; she bathed and coddled him. He watched Papa, a mapmaker, spin his curta and level his
transit, slurp scalding tea,
and leap out the door every morning in a pocketed vest. Sometimes, in the afternoon, Papa
played piano for him or showed off his soccer moves in the backyard.
In those days, Moojie was a model child, the ambassador of lovability.
He delighted at being the center of attention, always looking intently into people’s eyes, always
smiling, as if he were in on some cosmic joke. In those days—before San Miguel de las
Gaviotas had gone the way of Atlantis, that is to say, before it fell out of favor with the gods—
Moojie was passed around at church like a peace pipe. Warmed by his charm, suspicious
villagers now lined up after the service to take turns holding him. Once Mrs. Littleman contrived
a plot to put the smiling Moojie into
the arms of a miserable scrooge, and everyone sighed with awe as the long-suffering soul wept
and sang praises to God in heaven.
“Have you noticed, my cupcake?” Mamma said to Papa as she pushed the pram home from
church. “This is no ordinary child.”
“He’ll make a fine field hand, lovey,” Papa said.
At the time, San Miguel de las Gaviotas was a nick on the Pacific Coast of America, a clammy,
cluttery mishmash of thatched rooftops, crumbling walls, and crooked towers surrounded by
rugged mountains that rose out of fog like ancient pyramids. Moojie’s new home, Number 11
Wimbley Wood, a mildewy cottage with a drip line and assorted mushrooms growing in the
basement, appealed to otherworldly visitors.
Only Moojie could see the celestial bodies spinning and whirling all about him. And he
sometimes heard voices beyond the range of normal hearing —gifts, of course, that he did not
yet understand. In the witching hours, lights floated down through the ceiling over his crib. He
giggled and tried to grasp them as they bobbed playfully into and out of his hands. Mamma
came in and held him in the rocker, while moths and flower flies haunted the spirit lamp—like all
that is born, seeking to return to light.
Having landed in the nucleus of love, charming, handsome Moojie surpassed his parents’ every
expectation, blessing them with unmitigated joy.
But all of that was soon to change.