It is the morning of October 10, 1995.
Liril is making a diorama. She is making it dispiritedly. She is not putting any effort into the work.
“If you don’t grow and learn how to make dioramas,” her teacher informs her, “how can you ever expect that you’ll turn eight?”
“It is an unreasonable expectation,” Liril admits, at last.
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
The day passes, and the night.
Micah sleeps through the night in the wild. His wound gives him fever, and he thrashes, but the poison in it has faded slowly from the world. He is visited by fairies, but they see no need to hinder or to aid him; he doesn’t wake, just twitches, when they land on his hands or nose.
In the morning he stretches. He shakes himself.
He feels terrible but full of hope.
“I will go to the pie shop,” he announces loudly. “If anyone happens to peer eerily through the veil of time and foresee that I will say this, or have said this, or am saying this — in the latter case, peering, of course, through the veil of space — then they might wish to meet me there. Because that is where I will be, and there will be pie.”
His plan is not entirely a success.
He staggers to the pie shop. He meets Liril. She wanders up sleepily as he draws near. Thus far it works, and no farther. She has forgotten to bring money, and he himself has none.
“I meant to say,” he corrects, “that there will be the scent of pie.”
Liril gives him a poignant look.
“It’s not as if you heard me making my misstatement,” Micah says.
“I have to do a diorama,” Liril says. “It is for school.”
“Teacher said, ‘If you don’t grow and learn how to make dioramas, how can you ever expect to turn eight?’”
Micah tries not to smile. He fails.
“It must be rough,” he says, “doing the same grade all the time.”
“Sometimes the teachers remember,” Liril says. “Then they get all weird. Sometimes it is boring. But meeting new kids every year is fun.”
She unpacks her backpack. She has a box, a large number of popsicle sticks, and paint.
“I was supposed to finish it yesterday,” she says. “But I said, ‘teacher, my brother is an outlaw. May I do this at home?’ Then he let me. I was tricky and did not mention the pie shop.”
Micah looks at the diorama.
“It’s Santa Ynez,” she says.
“What’s that?” he asks, indicating an extension off the side of it.
“That is the bridge.”
He frowns. He blinks at it repeatedly. The popsicle stick bridge does not appear to terminate.
“As above, so below,” Liril explains.
“It’s sympathetic magic,” Liril says. “This diorama is extremely sympathetic.”
She wiggles it in her hand.
“’Oh, Micah,’” she says, in the persona of the diorama, which is in turn in the persona of Santa Ynez, “’I feel deeply for your problems. That’s my sympathy at work!’”
Micah half-expects there to be an earthquake, but there is not.
He looks at the diorama.
“You want me to help you paint it?” he asks.
“You should,” she says.
“OK,” he says.
He helps her paint it.
“This will help me fight the monster?” he asks.
“No,” she says. “It will make it pretty. To fight the monster you should call him a mean name.”
“Goatgigolo,” he tries, in the inimitable fashion of the 90s.
“No,” Liril says.
“It means he gigolos, with goats!”
“No,” Liril says.
He helps her paint the diorama. They go outside. He looks at the morning.
“This is a beautiful morning,” he says.
He can hear something breathing. He stops. He holds his body very still as he looks this way and that.
He can hear heavy footsteps in the distance.
“Something’s coming,” he says.
Liril looks around.
“I will never be a third-grader,” she mourns. She hands Micah the diorama.
She pushes Micah’s arms up.
“What?” Micah repeats.
“Hold it up,” Liril says. “Then say sympathetic things.”
“Like ‘I, Santa Ynez, am dedicated to providing a quality living environment for people who like their cities named after sneeze-Santa Claus hybrids?’”
Micah ponders. “Lo! I am Santa Ynez, city of cities. Look upon my wineries and despair!”
“That isn’t very sympathetic,” Liril says.
“It is if you’re an objectivist!” Micah protests. “Or a drunk!”
Liril looks away.
“’I’m a fun spot if you want to ride horses,’ Micah says. ‘Or admire spiderwebs spun between the clouds! But I love the little children most of all.’”
There is an eddying and an oozing. There’s a stomping and a breathing. There’s a ragged thing. Its claws clutch the diorama away from his hands. He can hear a whispered question cutting at the air. He wants to cover his ears but he can’t do that because the ragged thing’s arms are in the way.
Then the diorama is gone.
Then the diorama is taken, off to the place without recourse.
[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]
October 11, 1995
“What did it ask you?” Liril says.
Micah isn’t answering.
He’s uneasy. There’s something broken. It’s like all of the city is unsettled in space and time.
Then he looks at her.
“You couldn’t hear it?”
She shakes her head. “I’m not very prophetic for questions,” she says.
“’If she can’t grow and learn to make dioramas,’” Micah says, “’How is she ever going to age?’”
Liril bites her lip. She frowns at him. Then she turns away.
“I didn’t know,” she said, “that the city cared.”