THERE WAS A PIXIE in the larder, and Lintang was going to be in so much trouble.
“Shoo,” she said, waving her flaming wooden torch at it.
The pixie darted away and poked its tongue out at her.
Lintang waved her torch again. “Go! Mother will feed me to a river monster if you ruin anything.”
The pixie zipped between the dangling panna leaves and a ham. Its white glow made it easy to spot. Lintang jabbed the fire at it and almost ignited the hanging herbs.
She shouldn’t have left the larder door open. She knew better, but she’d come home for lunch and Mother wasn’t here, so she thought she’d peek inside to see how everything was arranged. There were rules for how food had to be stored, and considering she was turning thirteen in less than a year—and would be a true adult—she’d figured it wouldn’t be so bad if she had a closer look.
Except it was bad, because now there was a pixie inside.
The pixie didn’t care that Lintang would get in trouble. It buzzed around pots of grains, dancing out of the way when Lintang tried to singe its petal dress.
This was the cheekiest pixie in the village. Whenever food disappeared, or the gaya paddocks were open, or the fishermen’s nets down at the bay were untied, its little white glow could be seen bobbing cheerfully away from the crime.
The pixie wiggled its butt at Lintang before pressing its palms in a tub of congealed fat, leaving telltale tiny handprints. Mother would definitely know a pixie had been in here now.
Lintang lunged. The fire whooshed. “Shoo!”
The pixie sped past her, out the open larder door. Lintang turned to chase it, only to find that the hanging panna leaves were alight. The wooden torch had caught them. Black smoke puffed to the ceiling and filled her nostrils.
“Uh-oh,” she said.
The herbs caught fire too.
“Uh-oh,” she said again.
She had been trying so hard to be responsible.
A piece of panna leaf fell to the floorboards and curled up, scorched. The thought of their timber house catching fire finally propelled Lintang into action. She ran out of the larder and returned the torch to its bracket. The wooden drum Mother used for scrubbing dishes in hung from the low rafters among the pots and pans, empty. If Lintang wanted water she’d have to go to the river, and that was too far, even if she sprinted as fast as a hurricane.
Ribbons of smoke unfurled from the larder, choking the midafternoon sunlight. Water, water . . . where else could she get water?
Of course—the household shrine. Their offerings to the Three Gods had been freshly laid on the stone altar that morning. She reached between a scattering of juicy burbleberries and thin, smoldering sticks of mollowood to take the earthen jug.
“Sorry, Niti, but this is an emergency.”
Water sloshed over her sarong and onto her bare feet as she carried the jug into the larder. The smoke was now thick plumes that clung to the back of her throat and made her cough.
She tossed the entire contents of the jug over the blaze, but the parts she missed continued to grow. She set down the jug with a groan.
The front door burst open and Mother thundered into the house. She grabbed Lintang’s arm to drag her out. Elder Wulan was waiting on the porch with a basket of washed clothes. Mother snatched a sopping pair of Father’s pants and raced back inside.
Lintang tried to follow, but Elder Wulan snagged her sarong. “Not a chance.”
They listened to the wet slaps as Mother tried to put out the fire. Smoke pulsed from the doorway.
Lintang gulped and turned to face Elder Wulan. Her teacher was the oldest person in Desa—she’d taught Lintang’s grandfather when he was at school—but her age never stopped her from helping other villagers with their chores. She said as long as she kept moving, the Goddess of Death couldn’t catch her.
“I didn’t mean it.”
Elder Wulan put the washing basket down. “Of course you didn’t.”
She didn’t sound as if she believed Lintang, but it was true. Lintang never did these kinds of things on purpose. They just sort of . . . happened.
The slapping from inside stopped. Elder Wulan leaned toward the smoky doorway. “Shall I send Lintang to the village for help, Aanjay?”
“The fire’s out,” Mother said, her voice echoing from the larder. “But all my panna leaves are ruined.”
Oh no. Mother was supposed to make fish wraps for the visitors tonight, but she couldn’t without panna leaves. Mother prided herself on her fish wraps. The recipe had been passed down for generations. She refused to teach Lintang how to make them until Lintang proved herself a good housekeeper, which, by the way things were going, would be never.
Lintang sighed and turned to stare over the lush rainforest, down the hill to the lagoon. The visitors’ ship bobbed beyond the reef. Its black sails were rolled up. A lone bird circled above as clouds clustered on the horizon. The heaviness of the air warned of an impending storm.
She closed her eyes as Mother’s footsteps thumped toward her. “I’m going to get in trouble again, aren’t I?”
“Yes, Lintang,” said Elder Wulan with a long-suffering sigh. “I’m afraid you are.”