And Sometimes You Just Slip (III/III)

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.

“He did?”

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.

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]


1988

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]


1988

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.

Haunted (IIb/III)

They aren’t friends.

Melanie tells herself this each time she thinks of visiting Liril. They are not friends.

Not really.

They can’t be.

There’s just something inside Melanie, she tells herself, that has trouble letting Liril go.

The nephilite haunts Melanie’s thoughts, and she keeps finding reasons to go and talk to her, and pretending that she doesn’t love her and she doesn’t hate her and she doesn’t want to own her or be owned.

And also, they’re not friends.

It’s really . . . Liril and Melanie, that is . . . it’s not really a big deal at all.

Liril hasn’t cried. She isn’t sad. She hasn’t cried since that first day.

And Melanie, mostly, she’s OK too.

You will drown in him forever.

You will never die.

It’s a little hard, sometimes, because she really wants to have the upper hand over Liril’s mother, she finds herself craving it sometimes, like a spider might crave blood, and she can’t, she can’t even really look at the woman any more without seeing those billowing clouds of violet, that indigo, that green, that sick sensation of the words like wind beating from every direction against her soul.

But she’s OK.

She never cries, not where Liril can see.

She reminds herself that she’s cunning, and she’s strong.

This is a thing that comes to pass.

There’s nothing I can do.

“She hasn’t aged,” Melanie says, one day in 1988, to her first and fairy lover.

This person who is not my friend.

“She’s maybe even lost a year.”

Not that it matters, or anything.

“Isn’t that really kind of strange?”

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—

CHK-FUU

—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!

Free (V/VII)

Now after the incident with the spider the stress does not relent, but rather piles up like massing clouds in Melanie’s body and her mind. She is not well when she emerges from the web; she is, rather, broken, and it comes to a terrible peak in her when she is found by the steamer’s crew, so that the entire world around her strains through a seething mesh of fear before impacting on her mind.

She can’t grasp that they will not hurt her. She can’t grasp that they won’t do horrible and monstrous things to her, and for ever.

But they don’t.

She’s babbled to them already about the soot-spider. She isn’t sure when that happened. She missed the part where she actually told them. Her first real consciousness of the matter comes when she’s already explained.

The wonder of it is that most of the crew believes.

Did used to see soot spiders, sometimes,” one of the older stokers confirms. “Bloody pests, they were. Kill a cabin boy as soon as wink.”

“No way,” protests a younger seaman. “Aren’t they isn’ts?”

But the stoker only laughs.

“Not out at sea!”

And they might have argued for another round, except, right then, the bo’sun speaks.

“She’s lucky,” the bo’sun rules.

She’s lucky! She survived!

And that’s the end of the matter, because they can make her work, if she’s lucky, but they can’t exactly harass her, or lock her up, or throw her to the sea.

You don’t do that kind of thing to people who are good luck.

It wouldn’t be good practice, on a ship.

So she survives, and nobody hurts her, and you’d think that maybe that would lighten the suffering that fills her thoughts, but it doesn’t, because as it turns out, making an answer to suffering is a difficult thing to do.

She’s tired, right tired, all the way through, and she’s burdened down with fear.

It gets heavier with each passing day.

Then they reach Santa Barbara’s docks.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1979 CE

They berth at night and she helps unload and then in her corner she goes to sleep.

And there’s something epochal in reaching land, and as she sleeps, the weight that fills her body, mind, and soul cuts free.

It lingers near her at first, but the night has tides, and in the end it drifts away.

She wakes up to realize that the world is sweet and her body aches and the water that drums against the side of the ship is good.

And the rough wood of the docks has a clean simplicity.

And the sky over Santa Barbara—

The sky is right.

It’s like she’s come at last to a fairyland, to berth in this sunny world.

She stretches. She laughs. She walks. She runs. She jumps down to the wooden dock.

It sways—

She sways?—

It doesn’t sway, rather, and so she nearly falls, she nearly goes head over heels, she nearly topples over, like she’d done once or twice in the previous night.

The land doesn’t sway here, and that’s a crazy, unnatural thing.

How can a person stand up in some strange world where the ground doesn’t move and your heart is light and there is no soot, no soot anywhere, to make you fear the endless dark?

She takes a step.

Hm.

She takes another step.

Somehow—

Somehow it’s good. Somehow the terrible alien solidity of the land is good.

She looks around. There isn’t any soot. There isn’t any impending danger that the soot, which isn’t there, will organize itself into theorems and abstract her into a dark, foreboding world.

She sways.

Somehow that’s good too, that she doesn’t have to fear that she’ll stumble at any second into the web of another soot-spider.

Somehow, and this is weird, somehow that’s better than good.

It’s bubbling up in her like joy, it’s giggling out of her unexpectedly, it’s giggling out her nose and wiggling in her throat, it’s crowing and burbling through her, and then it’s a rising force, how good it is, a rising force in her

“You’re Amiel’s get.”

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1979 CE

Back up. That isn’t how this history goes.

She isn’t there yet. That hasn’t happened to her yet. She isn’t hearing those terrible words. Not yet.

She is stumbling down, no, she’s jumped down onto the docks.

And they aren’t swaying.

They’re not like a ship. They’re still. And somehow that’s . . . good.

Somehow the terrible alien solidity of the land is, like we were saying, good.

She looks around. There isn’t any soot. There isn’t any impending danger that the soot, which isn’t there, will organize itself into theorems and abstract her into a dark, foreboding world.

She sways.

Somehow that’s good too, that she doesn’t have to fear that she’ll stumble at any second into the web of another soot-spider.

Somehow, and this is weird, somehow that’s better than good.

It’s bubbling up in her like joy, it’s giggling out of her unexpectedly, it’s giggling out her nose and wiggling in her throat, it’s crowing and burbling through her, and then it’s a rising force, how good it is, a rising force in her lungs and chest and heart, and she’s shouted out before she’s thought about it any a great shout of love for all the world.

How embarrassing.

Embarrassment loses against the joy. It can burn her cheeks and make her look away but it can’t stop her from laughing, and saluting the seamen on their ship, and jauntily walking towards the day.

She’s seven and she’s lucky and she’s killed a soot-spider and finally she’s gotten free.

Billy and his gang won’t be a trouble to her any more.

Nothing will be a trouble to her any more.

She’s the master of the world.

And her story could have gone many different ways from there, but the way it went is this. She walked from the docks straight to Santa Ynez; straight into the monster’s web.

but there is one more part of this tale to tell, and you shall have to wait a week to hear it. In the meantime, perhaps, you could

* review the Legend of Ink Catherly, or
* everything about her so far;
* enjoy the awesome Visual Glossary of Symbols;
* browse the even more awesome work of Anthony Damiani or Siya on Deviant Art;
* design incredible games using Ren’Py; or
* read about the upcoming third edition of Nobilis at RPG.net!

A Study in Entanglement (VII/VII)

“I can’t,” Liril says. “I can’t, Melanie, not you, never you, not you.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

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 you’re, and she is strong; but

“I can’t,” Liril says. “I can’t, Melanie, not you, never you, not you.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

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, what she must 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 and 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 not you 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 never that is the world—

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

It is a raging need in her. It is a hunger. It is a thirst. She can taste it. It is a 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 to be by all others loved; to tell you’re Amiel’s get lies that everyone believes, and to slip past any security, and to overcome any obstacle, and to perform never you transformations, and to become the cleverest creature in all the world and save all the hurting people from their pains. Can you’re get 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, you’re, it is so terribly, terribly close, her bright transcendence, and she is strong; but

“I can’t,” Liril says. “I can’t, Melanie, not you, never you, not you.

The words say themselves through Melanie’s throat, like knives: “You must.

“I can’t,” Liril says, and then she looks away. She says, quietly, “I can’t, Melanie. Not you. There’s only one kind of god that you can ever be.”

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

They are poisoned words.

Listening to those words for Melanie is like pouring a jug of drain cleaner right down the gullet of her mind.

The words hurt her, somehow. She is aching deep inside from them, like a child who has just found out Santa’s real, but that he’ll never come for her.

Like a girl, who learns the ERA never passed.

Like an athlete who hurts their leg, and finds out that it will never heal.

She doesn’t even understand yet how it can possibly hurt so much, because she doesn’t have the least idea what Liril means. She can’t understand how it can make her suffer because she obviously—to herself—does not possess whatever knowledge it would be that makes her suffer in reaction to those words. It is as if, rather, she embodies that awful knowledge; as if the implications of Liril’s statements are bypassing her mind entirely and ringing horrid echoes down her soul.

You don’t get to express your dharma, child. never you Not you.

You don’t get to be who you are.

“You’re Amiel’s get,” says Liril.

She isn’t even trying to be cruel.

“You’re the cherub kind. You can’t be any sort of god, ever, except a bondsman of my line.”

It is worse than drain cleaner. It’s turned to lightning now. It’s turned to lightning and it’s writhing in her heart and soul and mind, all the bits of her that knew not lightning’s sting, and it hurts.

For a very long moment, Melanie thinks that Liril is going to change her.

She can’t fight it. She is strong. Melanie is absurdly strong. She is ten and she is stronger than most adults. But Liril’s words have broken her. She is resigned to it, somehow, somewhere in her, to the knowledge that she’ll soon be owned. She will transform. She will become a bondsman of Liril’s line. She will become a possession and a guardian and a follower of this strange and gray-haired girl.

She doesn’t want to be.

She doesn’t want to be, but she doesn’t have any defense against it. She isn’t sure how to fight it, or even if she should.

Her ancestress Amiel is inside her, wound through her, so long ago and so very far away and yet burning in her blood:

I will guard your line, Amiel is promising, as she has always been promising. I will guard your line, and our families be entwined forever.

It is impossible for Melanie to resist.

She thinks it must be easy to transcend, to arise, to become the god of that ancient promise. She can feel it rising inside her as a consuming lightness that will free her from mortality and carry her human self away.

She manages to get out: “I—“

She doesn’t know what to say after that. She can’t find the thing to say or think or do that will make it actually happen, inside her, and she can’t find the thing to say or do that will make it stop.

She notices that she’s scrambled back, away from Liril, but it’s nothing like far enough.

“I won’t make you that,” Liril says. “It’s wrong.”

Melanie’s lost the sense of who Melanie is that she’d had when she sat down. It is a momentary, dizzy emptiness. She is angry and sad and desperately, pathetically grateful, and she hates and loves Liril in that moment with an overpowering, vicious force.

She’s going to say something.

She can feel it.

She’s going to say something, and maybe then she’ll be Melanie again. It’s building up inside her. There are going to be words. There’s something. She doesn’t even know what she’s going to say, but it’s going to be something.

How can a person know what they’re going to say at a time like that?

The words just come.

The Elephant in the Room:

Stay tuned!

What’s Purple and Incarnated in Human Form to Save Us All From Suffering? (III/VII)

Now Melanie is in the soot-web of the spider, and she is laughing.

She is laughing because she has posed a riddle and its answer—

Q: What is gray and wrinkly and fights fires?
A: A really old fireman.

—and, mostly, because she’s seven.

She may be about to die. She is terrified and she is hurting and she doesn’t understand why or what she did to deserve it or how it came to be—but she’s still seven.

The joke is funny.

If you’re seven, you’re probably incapacitated with hilarity right now. You’re falling over and may be too lost in your amusement to make sensible observations about this story.

If the spider were seven, it would have mixed feelings—it is, after all, wounded—but probably it too would laugh.

It is not.

In absolute time, it is somewhat younger than seven. In soot-years, it is much older. There are spiders that can live out the long aeons of the world, ageless as the sky. There are spiders that can sleep upon an acorn and wake up upon an oak.

Soot-spiders are not that sort.

For a soot-spider, waiting out a single child’s dehydration so it can eat them is a substantial portion of its life; the window to amuse a soot-spider with jokes like these is hours wide, at most, and long since past.

“I should not talk to you,” says the spider.

It says this in the voice of someone realizing something they would never have imagined could be true. Children are tasty, but dangerously insane.

“I should not get close to you and I should not talk to you. Not until you die.”

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1979 CE

“But it’s your turn,” Melanie says.

“I hate you,” says the spider. She’d stabbed it earlier, right in the eye. “I do not want to take a turn.”

Melanie goes silent.

She isn’t criticizing its choice and she isn’t praising it. She’s just letting the spider get more stressed, in the dark, in the awkward silence, with its wound.

Her own breath is ragged and full of pain.

There’s a bit of time where it thinks that possibly she is crying. Possibly she is not.

“Fine,” it says.

If she had just said something, instead of crying, it might have gone back to singing its song. Or rushed her, in hopes of killing her before she could use the knife. It seems unlikely to the spider that she has found the knife again, in any case, so this would probably be safe.

But she isn’t talking, and she isn’t moving, and it can’t help thinking about riddles, now, and when one occurs to it at last the pressure to say the just-thought-of riddle merges with the mad and painful pounding in its wounded head.

“The night is weeping,” says the spider. “The sun is rising. Look! The last tears of the night have yet to fall.”

Melanie doesn’t even realize at first that it’s a riddle.

She thinks the spider is making some kind of stupid poetic comment on the fact that one or both of them will die. It disgusts her. It irritates her. She clings stubbornly to her silence in hopes of forcing a riddle out.

When she finally realizes that the spider’s words are a riddle, it is beyond her.

She cannot grasp it.

The spider, uncomfortable in the silence, makes a tentative movement on the web. Melanie’s heart nearly bursts with the panic of it. It is only then, as she sits up suddenly and hugs her chest to hold in the pounding of her heart, that she thinks of the spider’s first riddle and its answer and she understands.

Q: What stands on eight legs in the morning; and one leg in the evening; and on something that isn’t a leg at all, in day?
A: A spider.

If you were a spider, you would probably think this riddle very deep and very insightful, but you would also have a fuzzy, eight-eyed face.

“It’s dew,” Melanie says.

Or, yes, a fuzzy, seven-eyed face, if one eye’d been stabbed out.

“The tears are dew. The tears of the night are dew, caught on a web.”

It surprises the seven-eyed spider how much this answer warms it.

It doesn’t care about stumping her. Not really. And it’ll hate her whether she can answer its riddles or she can’t. So the answer she’s given just bursts into a little bubble of happiness and pride inside the spider, because it’s not about her and it—it’s just a confirmation that the spider had asked a good and meaningful riddle after all.

“Yes,” it says.

Yes, it is dew.

“Now you.”

It knows it will regret asking. It knows it should stop there—but to give her a turn when it has taken one is fair, and besides, it is used to Melanie now.

How bad can it be?

And Melanie is cunning.

Oh, Melanie is terribly, terribly cunning, for a seven-year-old girl.

“Why do people hurt?” she asks. “Why do people have to suffer, and fear, and die?”

The spider’s mind goes totally and entirely blank.

This is a harder riddle than it expected. It is, in fact, one of the hardest riddles in the world.

An egg? the spider thinks.

It is numb down its right side.

An egg? A dinosaur? A grape?

A grape is a purple fruit that is not particularly responsible for the pervasive universal characteristic of suffering. Anybody attempting to blame this characteristic on the grapes has not completely thought through their theodicy.

That its thoughts are slow is not the spider’s fault.

Its head is not very clear. The knife, it thinks, in the pressing dark, might conceivably have reached its brain; and it realizes, after a moment, that it is thinking about answers to a different color of riddle entirely.

Next week: A Study in Entanglement (VII/VII). I could tell you why you have to wait, but then the soot-spider would kill Melanie and the later parts of this story wouldn’t make any sense!

In the meantime, perhaps you’d enjoy

Why is Six Afraid of Seven? (VI/VII)

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.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s crazy.

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]


1982 CE

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.

“You’re not.”

“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.

Liril knows.

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 . . .

The Soot-Web (II/VII)

Now this is the manner of a soot-web’s construction.

First one sees soot gusting through the air. Then the patterns of it become oddly persistent. They cling together through a logic of their own, lemma to lemma, corollary to corollary, each a piece of a puzzle whose logic is fundamentally different from the logic of the world.

The patterns thicken.

Soon there is nothing but darkness. Soon the mind is absorbed entirely in the web and cannot perceive the ordinary nature of the world. Soon experience is held together not by perception, maya, by the appearance of material existence, but rather by soot and a distant, bleak, and horrid song.

This is the song of the spider.

To stumble into a soot-web is to find that, no matter in which direction one turns oneself, one pulls oneself further and further away from world and sound. The very strength of reason and perception that you would normally use to drag yourself away only entangles you further, drowning your senses and your hypotheses in fear and the terrible dark.

Accept it and it deepens; reject it and it grows stronger.

The pressure of your awareness against the soot-web gives it strength, no matter which you choose.

It is 1979 and Melanie is 7 and she has stowed away upon a tramp steamship to get away from Billy and his gang. This seemed a fine idea at first, romantic, even; and then a painfully bad idea as the realities of it grew starker; and finally the most terrible of follies when she stumbled into the soot-web of the spider.

Her world grew dark.

Her world grew very dark, in the soot-web of the spider, and she found no walls as she walked through the deepening shadows; no walls, no portholes, no boilers, and no stairs, but only a slurry of soot and darkness that became more painful with every breath.

And now the spider sings.

The spider sings as she stumbles in the dark. It sings of joy. It sings of stowaways and children-food—and in its song, the last two concepts reveal themselves the same. Its song is distant, tinny, horrible, and fierce, but not entirely regrettable; for it has within it echoes and reifications of the great song that is the world.

Melanie cannot criticize. She only can object.

“I’m not a child!” she says. “I’m seven.

To this the spider laughs.

And Melanie howls, and she strikes fiercely at the dark, but to no end; and finally, defeated, she shrinks in on herself upon the web, and waits she there to die.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1979 CE

Time passes. Melanie does not move. The spider sidles close along the web.

Silently, softly, it touches her foot with one great reaching leg.

She screams.

She slashes out at it. It vents a cry. It discovers that Melanie has had a knife gripped in her hand.

It skitters back.

The flesh of the spider is serrated and awful. She has cut it, and it bleeds, but she herself is bleeding from its touch.

“Oh, vile,” says the spider. “Oh so very vile, to pretend to death to lure me in.”

Melanie’s eyes are sunken.

She is barely sane.

“Come back and fight,” she says.

But the spider simply sits, far away upon the web, and sings.

The darkness is great and poisonous and thick.

Melanie’s mind flails as her hand had flailed. The patterns of her thoughts become oddly persistent. They cling together through a logic of their own, lemma to lemma, corollary to corollary, each new thought suggesting another thought as truth. Something moves inside her spirit. Suddenly she needs to speak.

She interrupts the spider’s song.

“What’s gray,” Melanie says, “and wrinkly, and lives at the top of a tree.”

The song fades.

It doesn’t come out as a question. Her throat is too clotted up with fear. The words hurt too much when she tries to say them and she can’t manage the rising inflection on the final sounds that turns English sentences to questions.

The spider stops and thinks about the riddle anyway.

“I would say,” it finally says, “ ‘A dying bird, wrapped in the web of a treetop spider.’ ”

“No,” says Melanie.

“No?”

“It is an elephant.”

She can see the glints of spider-eyes within the soot.

“That is inaccurate,” says the spider.

“It is an elephant,” says Melanie, “that has chosen to live at the top of a tree. Now you go.”

The spider is nonplussed.

“I do not do riddles,” says the spider.

Melanie is feral and intense.

Her eyes, her face, her entire body has become a vehicle for her insistence: now you go. It burns as fierce as any light.

“But I suppose I would ask,” the spider says, “ ‘what stands on eight legs in the morning; and one leg in the evening; and on something that isn’t a leg at all, in day?’ ”

The pressure of Melanie’s will abates.

She frowns.

She is baffled by the last two parts, but the first part gives the game away. She says, “A spider.”

The soot-spider hisses in its breath. A spider! Born to walk on eight legs, and descending into the afterlife on a single silken thread, and standing on a soot-web in between—

It had not seriously expected that Melanie would guess.

“Yes?” Melanie asks.

“Yes,” the spider concedes.

“What’s gray and wrinkly and fights fires?” Melanie asks.

The spider is suddenly quite near. It is staring into her eyes. It is angry.

“Elephants do not fight fires,” says the spider. “Your theory is not correct.”

Her knife is out. She has stabbed its eye. It is screaming. It is staggering back. She has seized its fang, she is trying to snap it off, she is trying to snap the fang away and drive it back into the flesh of the soot-spider.

She is too weak. She is too slow.

The spider has evaded her. It is screaming, it is furious, it has struck her with one leg, it has knocked the knife away from her to fall somewhere in the dark, it has skittered off, and the spider has skittered off, and the fang that Melanie tugged at would not break off in her hand.

She lays there hopelessly in the dark, and bleeds.

“It is not correct,” protests the spider.

“I didn’t say it was an elephant,” Melanie decides.

The spider sulks. It has rarely been so wounded in its life. If there were a reputable doctor on the tramp ship that was willing to treat soot-spiders it would probably abandon the entire encounter and go to see them; but there is not.

The patterns thicken.

Melanie laughs. She cannot stop laughing.

“It’s a really old fireman,” Melanie says.

And it is beautiful, it is perfect, it delights her; and it is like lightning coursing through her, as the spider shifts its weight, the sudden realization that even when she’s laughing she can die.

Next Week: part 6, and someone you’ve probably been waiting for a good long while in hopes you’d see!

In the meantime, consider . . .

Regarding Hope

In the city on the edge of the void the Nose makes her living tracking down Froot Loops for creatures forsaken of the Lord.

Solomon walks through the city. His feet go ‘tik tik tik’ on the metal of it.

He’s surrounded by scrap and stinking filth. That’s all the city is. It’s the bits that the Lord has thrown away, infested and ripened with the unlife of the void.

He can’t imagine how the Nose can bear to live here. The smell of it, he thinks, must be terrible.

He doesn’t actually know, though, because Solomon cannot smell at all.

His nose is like the nose of a swordfish, a long metal spike that resonates and modulates the power of Heaven.

It is incapable of olfaction.

The Nose lives in a bad part of town. Solomon can tell because he’s being followed and the thing that’s following him—like a great metal spider, with gleaming living eyes—has a predatory air. And that’s not the only thing: there are great cat-bats circling in the sky, drooling and twitching with the hunt, and he suspects that the grime that is rising ever-higher on his boots is an amoeba of evil intent.

“It’s always the way in a place like this,” he says.

The spider clitters and clatters closer.

“Before anyone can accept you, you must present your credentials.”

And he whips his head up to look the spider in the eyes and the nose of him catches the music of the spheres and modulates it into a rising crescendo; and it twitches and its heart catches on fire and it thinks how beautiful Solomon is.

And he turns towards the cat-bats and one falls from the sky and the others flee screaming.

And the amoeba at his feet withdraws just a bit, and says, “Pardon, gov’ner. Just doin’ a shine.”

And Solomon’s boots glow like the righteousness of Heaven.

So Solomon laughs and says, “Then show me where the Nose is.”

“You, gov’ner? You want Froot Loops?”

The amoeba’s voice is skeptical, as if to imply that Solomon doesn’t look like the kind of man to eat a delicious Froot Loops breakfast with milk, juice, and toast.

“She was better than that,” says Solomon, “once. She knew where the traitors were. She could smell the distinction between that which would bring the world towards righteousness and glory and that which would lead it down the paths towards Hell. A very discriminating woman, the Nose.”

“Wouldn’t know about that,” says the amoeba, but it oozes northwards and Solomon follows it towards the Nose.

The Nose works out of the Clifton Building, one of many buildings judged unworthy by the Lord. She’s a tall lean woman in a black plastic jacket and her eyes are blue.

She’s leaning back in her desk chair when Solomon knocks, opens the door, and enters.

Slowly, she straightens.

Slowly, one eyebrow lifts.

She says, softly, “Face.”

“Danielle,” Solomon says.

“I hadn’t thought,” says the Nose, “that I’d ever see you again. You— You—”

And she rises from her chair and she is holding Solomon close like one holds a love thought lost forever. Tears are leaking down her face, and she says, “Not you. Not you. You do not deserve this place.”

“It’s all right, Danielle.”

“If you are here,” says the Nose, “then there is no hope in all the world for the rest.”

She bites her lip.

“I had thought,” she adds, “that there was something sweeter than life here. But I told myself that it could not be so.”

“Well,” says Solomon.

“Well?”

“What is, is. And it will not be for very much longer.”

The Nose draws back. She looks him seriously in the eyes—though distracted, as any person might be, by the spear of metal jutting from his face.

“No?”

“I was not cast out,” says the Face. “I fled.”

The Nose turns to the window. She opens it. She leans out the window and she takes a long sniff of the ordure of the city, and she grows pale and green all at once.

“Then it has happened,” she says.

“It has happened.”

“The Red Right Hand has declared that it shall be the all of the Lord.”

“I had trusted it,” Solomon says.

“Naturally.”

“I had thought: what can it do on its own? It cannot see. It cannot smell. It cannot hear. It cannot breathe. It has every reason for loyalty. When it cut you from me and cast you out I said only, ‘Ah, that must be what Danielle had wanted. No doubt it is for the best. Because why should the Hand betray me?'”

“That is the way of it,” says Danielle. “Processes freeing one from the discriminating power rarely cultivate a doubt about themselves. Instead they clear the mind, fill it with relish, and offer a sense as if one has been released from a great weight or exposed to a clean pure breeze. This is, I think, the greatest problem with the cosmos, but as yet I have not found a solution to it.”

“There isn’t one,” says Solomon.

“No?”

“No.”

“Ah, well,” Danielle says.

Solomon nods.

“It’s hunting us, you know. I can smell it. It’s walking on the webs between the skyscrapers, running on the ground of the city streets. It can feel us talking and understand our words. In all the cosmos it is only the Hands that can feel such microscopic vibrations.”

Solomon frowns.

“But what can it do?” he says. “We are already outside the grace of the Lord.”

“Anything it wants,” says the Nose.

She takes another deep breath, this time through her mouth. She exhales.

“Come on,” she says. “We’ll go find breakfast.”

“Huh?”

“Follow the Nose,” Danielle says, firmly, and she takes his hand and she leads him out. “I’ll give you a freebie.”

They walk through the city streets under the leaning towers of garbage and twisted corpses. Behind them, Danielle thinks, the Red Right Hand is running on the five limbs of it. Lacking a heart it knows no limitations of endurance. Lacking a nose it has no discrimination of right and wrong. It is a peerless and unforgiving hunter. But even the Hand is bound by the limitations of time and for this reason she does not worry yet.

“I don’t understand,” Solomon admits, “how there can be Froot Loops here.”

“They grow,” Danielle says.

“They grow?”

“The dark reaches of the places forsaken of the Lord are like compost for them,” she says.

She points out at the surface of the void. This is possible because it stretches around the city like a balloon, its surface to the north, south, east, west, below, and in the sky.

“Do you see those moving things?” she says.

“I had assumed that an optical illusion,” he says.

“No. They’re boats.”

The Face squints. His metal nose hums with the subtle harmonics of the universe. Then he frowns.

“Hey,” says Solomon. “They’re made of Froot Loops.”

“Look down,” says Danielle. “And 29.2 degrees to the left.”

So Solomon does. He stares through the layers of trash and metal. He exercises the ultimate faculty of observation that ignores all obstacles. And he gasps.

“Was I right?”

Buried in the city, growing in the muck, he sees the gleaming sugary towers of the Froot Loops that grow there like formations of crystal.

“They’re glowing,” he says.

“They have an ‘inner light’,” Danielle says, a subtle intonation revealing the scare quotes.

“But what—”

Danielle sniffs. She pulls him around a corner. She leads him down a rickety metal staircase, past a thing of snot and brains, past a timeworn clockwork devil begging on a landing, past a hook monster and a cutting muck.

She tosses a coin in the clockwork devil’s hat as she does.

“Until you got here,” she says, “the Froot Loops were the best smell in this whole damn place.”

And they stumble into a great cavern of Froot Loops and all around them are the colors of it and she says, “They are like unto the Lord, and thus stay crunchy even in the void. That’s why they’re so important here—they’re not just part of this delicious breakfast, they’re also the only material that remains stable on the surface of the endingness.”

“Wow,” Solomon says.

She grins.

“They love me here,” Danielle says. “I’m the best damn prospector this whole place has.”

Solomon rubs his hand along the sticky hardness of the Froot Loops.

“Good Heavens,” he says.

He breaks off a few and crunches them between his teeth. He says, “Even in this emptiness—that there should be such things—”

“Eat,” says Danielle.

“No milk?”

“No time,” Danielle says.

And Solomon looks back and the power of his gaze strikes through the layers of the world and finds the Red Right Hand and he says, “It is so close.”

“There’s nothing we can do,” Danielle says. “It is blind and cannot see the beauty of your eyes. It is deaf and cannot hear the music of the spheres. It has no tongue to taste the riches of this place and if I were to think of a plan it would feel the vibrations of my thoughts and adapt its plans to mine.”

So Solomon and Danielle eat.

“We’ll fight,” Solomon says.

“Of course,” Danielle says.

“But we’ll lose?”

Danielle eats a chartreuse Froot Loop, the color and flavor of a fruit that never was.

“It is the Red Right Hand,” she says.

It is too big to enter the cavern so when it does it is like an explosion: it shatters the towers of crystallized Froot Loops, it bursts down the door, it is followed by the cracking twisting metal of the collapsing metal stair and the clockwork devil and the creature of snot and brains are tumbling after it in the vortex of its movements.

It is not human-shaped like they.

It is a hand larger than buildings. It is red with the blood of the Nose and of every other thing that has suffered in the world. Its fingers do its terrible walking and it has no eyes.

They had resolved to fight, but they do not fight: faced with the terror of the Red Right Hand, Solomon and Danielle run.

“There,” says Danielle, pointing. This is the vibration of her thoughts: The floor there—too weak to support its weight.

And she pulls Solomon across and her hair is streaming back and their faces both are white as porcelain and they jump for one of the towers of cereal and the Hand leaps after.

The whole of the cavern creaks and tilts sideways.

“Eh?” says Solomon.

He glances down. The cavern is on top of a rickety collection of buildings that have slumped inwards to hold one another upright; they stand on a mire of blood and dead trees, and below that a labyrinth of blindly moving worms and the great balloons that suspend the whole above the void.

“Problem,” he says.

And as the Hand comes after them the buildings shudder and the fourth floor of the cast-out Mariman House explodes inwards and the dead trees crack and the worms writhe and the balloons pop and suddenly they are looking down—in a direction that was ‘forward’ just a moment ago—towards the endless infinity of the void.

“I have always loved you,” Solomon says.

And the Red Right Hand shows no mercy but plunges into them and crushes Danielle’s arm and the left side of Solomon’s face and drives them down towards the void.

Solomon twists and jerks his head. His proboscis stings into the beast. He channels the music of the spheres and attempts thereby to tear the membrane of the Hand apart; but though it recoils back and gives a snapping howl it is not in the character of Solomon to destroy.

They fall.

It is the Froot Loops that cushion them, of course. They land like bumblebees falling into cereal, splashing the surface of the void, crushing and shattering the walls of cereal that would otherwise rebound and hover crunchily on the surface of the void—but even the splintered remnants of the pillars are enough to hold them up.

Like men and women after a shipwreck, the Face and the Nose cling to Froot Loop driftwood to hold their heads above the void.

Over their heads there is an immense strut of the city, leaning sideways but remaining whole; and on that strut, quivering with fury and with fear, there is the Hand.

“Close your eyes,” hisses Danielle.

And Solomon does; and he can see dimly with that remnant of sight that he is unable to entirely extinguish that Danielle has freed her working hand, draping her body across driftloops, so that she may pinch shut her nose.

“Why?” he says.

“It cannot feel vibrations in the void,” Danielle says. “It can only tell where the void lies by the substance of our thoughts.”

“Oh,” Solomon says.

The Hand skitters back and forth.

“It is afraid,” Danielle says. “And furious because I know that it is afraid. But with all the senses of us crippled, how can it know for sure where among the floating Froot Loops on the void it will be safe to leap down and pursue us?”

The surface of the void is like a flickering fire to the tactile sense of the Hand. Things come and go. They manifest vibration erratically. And down there there is the Nose that it cut off to spite the Face, the Face that it must kill to seize control, and the Froot Loops that because it cannot taste them should not be allowed to be.

Fear, it trembles.

Rage.

Danielle’s eyes widen.

It picks up her thought: Oh, God. I’m going to sneeze.

The Hand cultivates its plan.

“Don’t,” pleads Solomon.

Danielle is sniffling.

“Oh, Danielle, Danielle, no.”

And Danielle sneezes, and that sneeze sends the Froot Loops skirling across the surface of the void, and in the irrational reflex that follows it she inhales and her thoughts become rich with the scent-details of the world:

And the Hand leaps.

It is bounding across the surface of the void, its fingers never landing on a chunk of Froot Loops long enough to push it below the surface, it is coming for them—

And Danielle says, softly, “You have chosen poorly, Hand, to fight the Nose in its area of omniscience.”

And as the Hand comes down for her she taps her nose gently against the log on which she rests.

A crack spreads through it.

The Hand lands upon her. It drives her down into the substance of the void. The log of Froot Loops on which it hoped, momentarily, to rest, explodes.

It flounders, there, on nothingness. Its fingers catch hold of individual Froot-flavored rings. They crumble under it.

Then it is gone.

“Danielle,” Solomon says.

There is silence.

“Oh, Danielle.”

And the Face looks upon the substance of the void and his metal nose resonates with beauty and with sorrow.

There are some who say that the Nose that knows Froot Loops may know them even beyond the boundaries of life and death. That the smell of those Froot flavors crawls beyond nothingness and the grave to serve as a beacon for whatever lies beyond. There are those, thus, who imagine that this story has a happy ending, and also that the biggest problem with keeping Froot Loops in one’s house is the zombies and the restless dead.

That in that empty place beyond substance and mind the Nose still strains to know in which direction Froot Loops lie.

If she can find them—

If she can just find them!—

She will have won.

The Callous Onslaught of Those Words

It is Arachne’s curse that she may not innovate. She may only repeat herself and indulge in cliche.

Thus she is performing the same routine that she has performed with every passing day when the starship falls into Ma and Pa Kent’s sty.

She weaves.

She catches bugs.

She drains them of their substance.

“Why do you do this?” asks a Grubbler, from the shadows.

“Hm?” Arachne asks.

“You lecture us on respect,” the Grubbler says. “You lecture us on honor. Yet you are a bone killer, a poisoner, a monster of the web.”

Arachne feels no sting from the Grubbler’s scorn. The Grubblers, for all her attempts to redeem them, respect nothing but that which popular opinion demands.

She cannot expect them to understand.

“Do you tell me,” she asks, “that you can judge good or bad based on whether one sucks the insides out of an insect?”

The Grubbler hulks softly against the wall. It whispers, “Yes.”

“That then is your error,” Arachne says, complacently. “The act itself is inconclusive, capable of possessing either of two natures. To suck the insides from a bug with the killer-mind— that is the essence of flawed virtue. But to suck the insides from a bug in the spirit of universal compassion— that is worthy even of Arachne!”

The Grubbler is unable to penetrate to the substance of these words.

It grunts. It clicks, softly, under its breath. Then it heaves itself up, shifts its weight, and scuttles its body away.

It brushes past the great ram as it moves. The ram does not see it, the ram does not feel it, but still the ram shudders once, all over, in chilling fear.

The Grubbler is gone.

The spaceship is cooling. It lays there in the earth of the farmyard cooling. And then it opens and there comes from it a pig.

The sunlight falls upon him.

Nurtured by it, he grows strong.

Arachne watches. Arachne weaves.

“Hell of a thing,” says Pa Kent.

He’s staring at the spaceship in their field.

“Hell of a thing,” Ma Kent agrees.

“I suppose,” Pa Kent says, “that someone in space wanted to give us a pig.”

“It’s probably in exchange for all that probing,” Ma Kent sighs.

“Now, Ma,” says Pa.

“What?”

“There wasn’t any probing,” Pa Kent asserts.

They stare at the pig. He is small and flush with sunlight and adorable.

“I won’t eat space bacon, Pa,” Ma says.

“Well, who would?”

They stare at the pig some more.

“Hell of a thing,” Ma Kent says, and shakes her head.

The pig learns with uncanny speed. In less than four weeks, he is an expert at rooting and grubbing. He learns to count to five, tapping it out with his hooves on the mud. When Ma Kent takes him truffling, he finds truffles like no pig ever did.

And he learns to talk.

“Hello,” he says.

He is in the barn. There is no one there but the pig, the ram, and Arachne.

“Hello,” says the pig.

“Hello,” says Arachne.

“I am pig,” the pig says.

“Ridiculous,” murmurs Arachne. “Pigs don’t talk.”

There is an awkward break in the conversation, because even the pig must admit that this is true.

“I am like pig,” the pig says. He squints up at Arachne. His eyes are preternaturally aware. “Why you always do same?”

“It is my curse,” Arachne says.

“That bad curse,” says the pig. “It is necessary to life that it grow.”

She laughs.

She hangs there, still, in the web, and she laughs, and she says, “You are a marvel.”

The pig stretches. He walks around. He oinks.

And the Grubblers come.

They crowd around the barn, and the creatures of that place sense them. There is a riotous noise raised up to Heaven.

But there is no one there who can see them, save Arachne.

One by one, the beasts calm down.

And the Grubblers move in.

How can one describe a Grubbler? They are tall and broad and the tusks on them are thick. They drool as they go, and they go where they please. They live in the shadows. Creatures of ordinary nature cannot see them; and even the pig, that is not a pig, is aware of them only dimly, as troublesome shadows upon his mind.

“What is it?” he says. “What comes?”

And the Grubblers squelch closer, peering at him sideways through their disc-like eyes, to see this pig that dares to speak.

“A darkness,” says Arachne.

The Grubblers reach out. Their hands touch the skin of the pig. The pig’s short fine hairs stand up on end.

“A darkness that was old when the world was made.”

“Gah!” says the pig.

The pig skitters back. He concentrates. He shoots red beams of fire from his eyes, and a Grubbler is singed.

“Don’t anger them!” Arachne says.

But the pig is fighting now. The Grubblers close in on him; their shadowy substance occludes his; and then with a heaving he casts them all back. He is flailing, oinking, terrified and terrible, and then suddenly his feet lift from the ground, all four of them, and he is bobbing, ever so slightly, and he says,

“I think that I can fly.”

“You can’t,” says Arachne. Her voice is ancient and deep with knowing.

“No, look,” says the pig. “I can fly. I can get away. I can—”

“No,” says Arachne. “You will drive the humans mad. They will no longer believe that anything is impossible, if a pig should fly.”

And the pig goes still.

He considers this, as the Grubblers close in.

“It’s so,” he says. “I remember now; that I have heard them say this. When Hell freezes over. When pigs fly. When a Grubbler is kind.”

And we must wonder whether the world ever knew what a gift it had in him— in this strange visitor from another world who paused briefly on his path to transcendence here; who staring at the choice between his ascension and our madness, sighed, and lowered his head, and said, “Well, then, best the Grubblers take me, then.”

And the Grubblers lurch on in.

He had grown so much in just those minutes in the barn: still a mind like a child’s, still a body like a pig’s, but growing; and the Grubblers lurch on in.

And if we may turn to the funny pages for our references, then let it be said that compassion was his Kryptonite; that in the face of it he became helpless, weak, and doomed to pain; and the maws of the Grubblers were wide and toothed and their touch is agony and fear even to such a creature; and the Grubblers lurch on in.

And then they stop.

“It is a cliche,” Arachne sighs.

And so it is.

But it is also a hint at public opinion, at the tide of discourse, at the preaching from on high that alone among all things the Grubblers respect;

For she has woven, “Some pig.”

“You are a torment to us, Arachne,” say the Grubblers, and driven by the callous onslaught of those words,

“Some pig,”

They abandon the nascent savior to his barn.

A legend about Easter.