Melanie grows up with awful, breakneck speed.
In 1979 she is seven.
Almost she stops there. Almost she gives up—entangled as she is in the soot-web of a spider—and stops aging forevermore, choosing instead the timelessness of death.
She does not.
She entangles herself in life. She escapes the spider’s web, and lands in Santa Barbara, and walks to Santa Ynez; and there, and vigorously, corollary by corollary and year to year as if in the inevitable progression of a theorem, she grows.
In 1979, she is seven, but one year later she is eight. Another year, and nine. Then, in 1982, she’s ten. If she continues at this rate she will grow from age seven to age twenty-one in less than fifteen years.
Her body weight will triple, more or less, assuming she eats better than she’s done. Her mind will grow orders of magnitude more sophisticated and complex. She will shoot up a foot and a half and more in height—
And all in less than fifteen years!
Everybody around her pretends that this is normal, even inevitable; that it happens to everyone, and just like so.
But that isn’t true.
There’s a girl at the local elementary, for example, for whom it is not thus.
Her name is Liril.
It’s not obvious just from looking at her that Liril does not age. In fact, it’s not even obvious, just yet, on the census. She hasn’t lived long enough to be suspicious in her youth.
But she’s timeless, anyway.
That much you can see.
She’s way too young to have such silver hair, and eyes so old, and to be so broken by her pains.
She’s way too young to have the power to turn humans into gods.
She’s not the kind of slam-dunk evidence against the naturalness of aging that she will later be, you understand, she’s eight or nine years old and she’s barely lived for twelve, but she’s still a bit of a corroboration: if a girl that young is that quiet, that still, then there’s something strange about the world.
It’s probably that aging isn’t normal.
Or that gravity doesn’t exist.
Something like that, anyway. Something reasonable, something sensible, something comprehensible about the world.
[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]
It is 1982. Melanie is ten. Micah does not exist.
One day Micah will exist. When he exists, he will hate that Melanie came while he was away. He will think, “Maybe I could have saved her.”
The pronouns will be ambiguous.
He won’t be sure, even then, whether he means Liril or Melanie. He won’t understand, even then, the way that they hurt one another, and so even with his loyalties going almost entirely to Liril in any given circumstance he won’t be sure which of them he wishes he could have saved.
But he will hate.
He’ll hate himself, then, in those heady moments of existence, hate that the richness of the power of his life is circumscribed by time, hate that there was nothing, from the beginning, that he could do. He will resent, and bitterly, that the worst of it was over by the time he existed to do anything about it, and he will wonder if in some strange fashion that could possibly have been his fault.
The answer to this is that it almost certainly was not.
Not in any conventional sense.
When Melanie sits down in front of Liril, on the grass, Micah isn’t anywhere within a hundred miles of the place, and he doesn’t exist, and he has never existed, and he has never had a single chance to act or speak or do anything efficacious in the world.
He cannot, reasonably, be blamed.
So: “hi,” Melanie says. “Hi. I’m Melanie.”
And Liril doesn’t open up her eyes.
She says, “Nng,” instead.
It’s a lost little sound. It’s full of pain. So Melanie reaches for Liril’s hand.
“Don’t touch me,” Liril says.
And Melanie’s holding Liril’s hand. Melanie’s squeezing it and stroking it. She’s not sure when that happened, exactly. She missed the actual moment when she decided to seize it up. It’s just that she realizes suddenly that it’s already happened, that she’s already taken Liril’s hand, and there isn’t anything else that she can think to do in answer to Liril’s pain.
Liril can’t help laughing at that.
Liril clutches her hand to her chest and Melanie’s comes along.
Liril is sitting with her back against a tree, and her silver hair is spilling down it, and their hands are clutched together against her chest, and Liril is laughing, she cannot stop laughing.
That’s just how much it hurts.
When she finally does stop, Melanie rubs at one of Liril’s tears with a finger, and then licks her finger clean of salt.
Liril is quiet.
Liril is still.
“I’m stuck,” Melanie says.
Liril shakes her head.
“I’m stuck,” Melanie repeats, louder. “I came here, I came to Santa Ynez, and the colors were beautiful and bright, and everything was awesome, except, when I turned around and looked behind me, I saw the colors had made a web. They’d come together in a web.”
Liril’s face twitches. Her eyes come open. She looks at Melanie for the first time in their lives.
“There’s a spider in the sky,” Liril agrees.
It’s the colors of the dawn and the sunset, the piled soft blues of the sky, and the colors of the drifting clouds. It is beautiful and it is translucent, the spider is, and it is very difficult to see.
It has caught the whole of the city in its web.
This, as the monster has instructed it to do.
“I can’t be stuck,” Melanie says.
“But it’s a web.”
“I’m stuck,” Liril says. “You’re not stuck. You’re not the kind of person that a spider’s web can hold. You’re Melanie, cunning Melanie, beloved of the gods.”
This is the first time Melanie has heard this appellation.
“I’m what?” she asks.
Liril is crying.
It’s starting to freak Melanie out.
“Stop that,” she says. “Stop crying.”
And Liril does.
Liril shakes her head a bit, and then she rubs away her tears, and then she cleans her snuffling nose upon her shirt.
She isn’t crying any longer.
She is looking at Melanie, instead, with reddened eyes.
“You got out of the soot-web,” Liril says, “so you should know.”
Melanie takes a deep breath.
She lets it out.
“So you’re really . . . you really are magic,” she says.
That’s what the fairies say, and some few of the kids. Liril’s magic. She can solve a person’s problems. She can answer the riddles of your life.
She can turn you, if you ask her, into a god.
“I can’t fly,” says Liril, “and I can’t grant wishes, not really, and my hands can’t hold the sun. I can’t grow larger than a castle or shrink down smaller than a ladybug. I can’t bend the seasons in their course or make the wind to blow. I can’t even— I can’t— I— I’m not really very magic. But I’m a crucible of gods.”
Melanie doesn’t know the word crucible but she interpolates from context.
“Then make me one,” she says.
It is a raging need in her. It is a hunger. It is a thirst. She can taste it. It is rising in her, what she can become.
“Make me a god,” she says. “Make me the kind of god that can kill spiders, and break free of any web, and never go hungry or go thirsty, and be by all others loved; to tell the lies that everyone believes, and to slip past any security, and to overcome any obstacle, and to perform transformations, and to become the cleverest creature in all the world and save all the hurting people from their pains. Can you make me that?”
And be free, at last, of the web that is the world—
And be more—
And Melanie is already standing up, she can feel it, it is so terribly, terribly close, her bright transcendence, and she is strong; but
that’s it for this week! Gotta stretch this out, you know, don’t want to leave all the people who haven’t noticed that the story’s updating again in the dust! I’ll probably go to twice a week starting in March or April—
But for now, you’ll have to wait one whole week for (I/VII).
Maybe to pass the time you could . . .
- read more about Liril, who can’t grant wishes
- or read the various Hitherby histories and legends about things and people that can
- tell me whether you ever get internal server errors reading this site, or if that’s just because I’m in China?
- read the marvelous gem that is A Girl and Her Fed
- anticipate Nobilis, elegantly, over at the Elegant Anticipation/Discussion Thread!
- play the amazing Shadows on the Mirror; or, for lighter fare and what just might be the secret history of Sebastien,
- Jables’ Adventure!