This can’t be happening, Liril thinks.
Her eyes scan the room frantically. This cannot be happening. This is the monster’s office. Someone is going to stop Melanie. Someone is going to save her.
Then it clicks.
Then the knowledge clicks.
There is Melanie, right there, in the white coat of the monster’s service. There is Melanie, right there, with a nametag on her coat. Blessed by the authority of this place, assigned its power, given righteousness and suzerainty in the monster’s place of business.
No one is going to stop her. No one is going to chase her out. The world itself is broken; gone entirely unreal.
[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]
March 18, 1995
“On October 28,” Melanie says, “1989, Jane escaped our purview.”
Liril is listening.
She can’t help listening. She doesn’t want to listen, but she can’t help it. She maybe even wants, for the first time in a long time, to not listen, but there is nothing in wanting that helps her to not be.
Not being was always Jane’s trick anyway. A dead girl can do that better than a cracked doll ever could.
“She did so in the following fashion,” Melanie says. “She constructed a boy named ‘Bob,’ in the image of her brother, and he set her free.”
Liril had promised herself once that she’d go back, after she finished being angry, or upset, or frightened, and carefully think through all the decisions that she’d made. Then at the time, remembering forward, she’d be able to see what the right decision will have would have been, and know that she was responsible to herself to act on it. Regrettably this promise bore little fruit; she was quite capable of calming herself, asserting control, and clinging to the conclusions that she would later make, but rarely did she actually go back, after times of trauma, and consciously revisit the errors she previously had made.
Maybe if she’d thought about it later, she’d have figured out what Melanie was getting at. In some ways, she sort of did.
In others, she did not.
She put aside her Highlights. She stared at Melanie and her eyes were circles of silver pain.
I will let you hurt me, she thinks, and maybe you will see that you are hurting me and stop.
“In this particular case,” Melanie says, “Bob was a traitor. He did not have what it took to oppose the monster. But ultimately his own nature betrayed him. Quite unwillingly he found himself freeing her from Central, extracting her from our reach, and marooning her in the sky. If I believed she had planned it, I would say it was brilliantly done. Since she did not, I must admire her good fortune.”
There is a pinch of sudden confusion.
Liril does not understand how Melanie can know what was planned and what was not.
“It was the monster’s own eduction,” Melanie clarifies, and Liril’s puzzlement clears away.
“Then,” Liril says.
“It is a cautionary tale,” Melanie says. “Evoke a labyrinthine god and he may imprison you on a world of wood, between the Earth and the moon.”
The wanting moves through Liril in great waves. It causes the room to waver; to spasm, sometimes; to burst into patterns of grey-blue light.
“How lucky she was,” Melanie says. “To have a brother to base a brother on. I feel sorry for only children like yourself.”
Liril tries to focus her eyes on Melanie but she can’t. There are only strange reflections from the lamination on her tag.
The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die
“Well,” Melanie says, and she straightens, and pats Liril gently on the head. “I have to go. Gods to study, forms to fill out, and all. Did you know, there’s some really exciting work being done right now on the fae?”
“Take it back,” Liril says.
Melanie’s smile fades away.
It’s not until it fades that Liril realizes she was still seeing it, gleaming in the dark.
“Oh,” she says. “Oh, no,” she says. “That simply wouldn’t do.”
I don’t want to want things, Liril pleads.
There’s a bit of silence. Melanie squeezes Liril’s hand.
“Do you know,” Melanie says, after a moment, “I’m not that fond of it myself?”