What’s Gray and Hurts More than You Can Imagine? (IV/VII)

And Melanie, in the soot-web of the spider, asks her riddle:

Why do people hurt?

Why do we have to suffer, and fear, and die?

And the spider glares at Melanie.

It is angry.

It is angry because it is wounded. It is angry because she stabbed it right in the eye. It is angry because the riddle is very difficult, and arguably invalid, and giving an answer involving spiders would redound unfavorably upon itself.

“It’s your fault,” the spider suggests.

But Melanie, she shakes her head.

Not it!

She shakes her head, and it can feel her shaking her head, through the vibration in its web.

So the spider thinks some more.

“We’re attached to the things that hurt us,” the spider guesses.

This is actually pretty good, particularly under the circumstances, but it’s still not right; or, at least, Melanie is laughing a little, and fervently shaking her head, and the spider feels a moment of peculiarly stung pride.

“We don’t actually have to suffer?” proposes the spider, in a third and final guess, and Melanie is laughing now as gaily as the storm.

“It is because of the elephant,” she says.

And the spider cannot help it, it twitches itself upright, it staggers towards her on its web, it is all over rage. And it feels very strong, and then it feels very weak, as its nervous system misfires. And its face is all-over blood where Melanie had stabbed it, much worse than it had thought. And she is punching it, punching it, punching it and screaming, right where her knife had broken its eye.

Its world goes still.

It is the elephant.

Later she will remember this. Later, she will find it bubbling up inside her, will find Liril sitting there telling her, “I won’t make you that. It’s wrong.”

And she will burst out with, “It is the elephant,” and with laughing, and with desperation, and with discovering, to her regret, that it does not shatter every attachment, does not break down every web, does not bring an end to every difficulty—that it is inadequate as an answer to the difficulties of her life.

“It is the elephant,” the spider, blankly, says.

The patterns of lemma and corollary elude it. The soot ceases to make sense. And everything is clean and crisp and bright, in the world of the soot-spider, and nothing dark to it at all.

There is a hammering like an elephant’s stomp—


—in the chambers of its heart. The spider’s fragile life gives way.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]

1979 CE

And Melanie lays gasping in the corner of a room, and her knife is ringing to the ground;

and the soot-spider slips on a single thread to the land that is after life.

coming up in March:

  • letters columns;
  • my birthday!
  • quite possibly a special edition of Nobilis; and
  • the next part of this story: A Lament for Amiel.

In the meantime, perhaps, you’d like to poke around at the Nobilis products page? If you’re getting really weird characters, enable JavaScript!

5 thoughts on “What’s Gray and Hurts More than You Can Imagine? (IV/VII)

  1. This story was straaange. I’m still mulling it over. So far, i can only conclude that i very much liked the surface parts.
    Meanwhile, nice to see a new nobilis website (counting the days) :)
    And hope you have a very happy birthday

  2. It occurs to me that this is yet another example of an effective answer to a question being one that essentially denies the question’s premises, renders it irrelevant.

    By effective, I mean that the answer does what the person with the question needs it to do: “Huh?” kept Max out of the Place Without Recourse; “Walk in like you own the place” got him out of it; “That’s not important to me” got Martin out of the Underworld. “It is the elephant” killed the soot-spider and got Melanie out of its web.

    It’s interesting, how many of the histories revolve around being stuck, and seemingly how few of the legends do.

    (Also it seems a little odd that all the examples above involve people whose names start with M.)

  3. (Apparently I am so excited by NEW! HITHERBY! CANON! that I am feeling slightly less shy.) Well, Sid’s answer (“Because I’d rather.”) also does what he wants it to do and denies the question’s premises. And Sid’s name totally begins with an “S!”

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