And one day in 1988 they are talking and Liril tells her about the monster.
It’s like they’ve been avoiding this conversation for most of seven years.
“I screamed,” Liril says, factually. “It was really awful. I started thinking that I was going to forget who I was and I wrote LIRIL on the wall. But then I looked at it and it didn’t even make sense to me, like it was just some palindrome.”
“Oh,” says Melanie.
Seven years, of course, is exactly how old Liril is right then, though she’d been rather more like eight or nine when the two had met, and Melanie’s turned sixteen.
“He made gods from me,” Liril says.
Liril nods. “They were born because I hurt. And he took them. Like—“
She makes vague motions with her hand. She has no real idea what this is like. There’s nothing to compare it to. Pulling birds out of your brain and then using them as firewood might be a good analogy if it were something that ever happened. Stealing your hope for freedom and forging it to a chain.
“Like an awful thing,” she says.
Melanie stares at her.
“You’re so calm,” she says.
Liril’s mouth twitches. It’s like a smile. “You told me to stop crying. Anyway, he kept me caged, and this kind of thing went on and on, and—“
Melanie interrupts her.
It might have been different, what happened later, if Melanie had heard the rest—if she’d learned back then what had happened at Elm Hill.
But she doesn’t.
She’s desperate to say anything to escape the implications of You told me to stop crying.
“I’ll stop him,” she says.
And Liril laughs, great peals like sobs. “You won’t.”
“I will,” Melanie says.
She’s begging, suddenly, with those words: let me help with this. But this Liril cannot do.
Melanie is running. She has been running.
Melanie doesn’t know when it started. She missed the part where she stumbled to her feet and ran, and knocked open Liril’s door. Did she knock down Liril? . . . no.
She doesn’t think so.
She thinks Liril was to the left.
She’s missed the first block and a half from there, so she can’t be sure; but even so she doesn’t stop.
If she could be a hero—
If she could be a hero, be an angel, be an anything, an anything that could help—
Anything but a fallible, mortal girl, or the most terrible of gods—
[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]
There is a web around Santa Ynez, in those days. It is meant to keep things in.
Melanie does not care.
She reaches it, and she can’t pass through, so she just starts tearing at the web.
And if she were a human, then this would have been ignored; and if she were a god, then the matter would be clear: the spider must attack.
She is not a human and she is not a god.
The spider does not know what to do with her; it descends, uneasy, from the sky, on a single strand of web.
She tastes of the monster—of Amiel’s twisted, empty get, save younger and not so sure.
It looks at her.
She glares at it. It flinches from her eyes.
“What are you?” it whispers.
She has ripped free strands of its subtle web. She has knotted them together to make a cord. She has stretched them between her hands.
And because it is between Melanie and freedom, and because it’s the monster’s slave, and because it’s everything wrong in young Melanie’s world, she says a terrible thing.
“I am the fate which rules you.”
Its eight eyes glint.
Then the cord is a bit ‘neath the spider’s jaw, and she’s leapt onto its back.
[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]
It is bloody and tired when it gives in at last.
It is lolling on the sky.
And she climbs down from its back on a silken thread and she tells it, “You are mine.”
This it concedes.
“You will seal this place no more forever.”
She has strung it between the will of the monster, and her own; and finally it snaps.
“As you like.”
And from that day forth it is in the heights that it spins its delicate web.