Chapter 19 – Spider Silk World

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“Aah, Lucille!” Rosemary pinned her under an icy stare. “How nice of you to finally join us, dear! We were starting to worry that you might have gotten lost on the way here,” she commented, her sarcastic comment well padded by a sweetness that almost made Lucille gag. Since Lucille lived two blocks down from the Council Hall, the insinuation that she might not be all there didn’t escape anyone in the Circle.

“Don’t you worry about me, darling,” Lucille retorted, in an even colder tone of voice. “If I need advice on how tie my shoes, I’ll be sure to ask you. You’re the best resource, all things considered,” she smiled at Rosemary. The latter turned beet red and threw a bitter stare in her direction, sharp as a dagger. Everybody remembered the incident from decades ago, when a young and enthusiastic Rosemary, who was in the running to become the Maiden of the Harvest and lead the produce parade through the main streets of the village, stumbled on her shoelaces, that had come undone, and fell off the wagon, face first in the dirt. Nobody, not even her best friends, managed to banish this incident to oblivion, as they were all reminded of it annually.

‘Well,’ Lucille thought, ‘if I didn’t have an enemy before, I sure made one now!’ She sighed and then remembered her recent interactions with Rosemary, and her mind burst with revolt. ‘What in places am I even talking about! The woman wants me in jail! I just managed to get Mary out of her clutches by the skin of my teeth!’ She settled comfortably in her chair, her mind at peace.

“Now that we’re all here,” Rosemary regained her bearings, “did Mrs. Gentry learn anything about that unfortunate girl? I shudder to think of the ways she may be trying to do us harm right now, using that wicked book of spells and those evil eyes she was born with! It was such a mistake to keep her around for so many years, and I told everybody, didn’t I?” she turned to Mrs. Eberhart for approval. The latter didn’t say anything, her attention seemed to be absorbed by a completely different subject. “Anyway,” Rosemary continued, irritated by the lack of civility, “tomorrow at dawn we seal the cave,” she said, in an authoritative tone that didn’t leave room for disagreement.

“What of the book itself?” one of the ladies in the Circle asked.

“I was thinking of having it destroyed,” Rosemary said.

“How, dear?” the lady inquired.

“Well, burn it, of course!” Rosemary replied.

“What are we going to say it is?” the lady reminded Rosemary that details about the Que’d had not been meant for fresh and innocent minds, and therefore, most of the young people in the village had no earthly idea it even existed.

“You are right, that would draw too much attention,” Rosemary agreed, irked that she couldn’t have the good old fashioned book burning that she had her heart set on. “Bury it?” she suggested.

“Somebody is bound to find it, be sure of that!” another lady in the Circle protested.

“We should put it somewhere under lock and key, keep it away from prying eyes,” someone else proposed.

“Because it worked so well the first time? We locked it up, and here it is, centuries later, making fools of us all!” an angry voice in the back replied.

“What to do then?” Mrs. Gentry asked.

“Why don’t we seal it inside the cave?” an innocent suggestion emerged from the back of the room.

“It’s settled, then,” Rosemary agreed. “We’ll have the cave with that book of doom sealed inside. We should also institute a harsh punishment on anybody who disseminates any knowledge of the Que’d.” The issue was put to a vote and it passed.

“Now, about Mary,” Rosemary turned to Lucille. “Are you absolutely sure that you have no knowledge of the girl’s whereabouts, dear?” the former probed Lucille with a gaze that was supposed to sweep every corner of her brain for any and all knowledge. “You know, human weakness aside, we’re not going to look the other way on aiding and abetting, Lucille, the girl is a criminal,” she smiled, pleased.

“I know nothing of her present situation,” Lucille replied.

“I find that very difficult to believe,” Rosemary insisted.

“Are you doubting a Council member’s assertion, Rosemary?” Mrs. Eberhart intervened, more stern than usual, annoyed that the meeting looked like it was going to turn into one of those endless debates where no agreement was ever reached. Rosemary realized that she overstepped her bounds and returned to planning the destruction of the cave and the Que’d.

“We should fill the cave with rocks. Goodness knows it would be close to impossible to remove that diabolical machinery from it, it’s way too big. I don’t want to contemplate how it arrived there,” she got more agitated by the minute, and Lucille suddenly realized that, at least for the time being, Rosemary wasn’t angry or vindictive, but scared out of her mind. She almost felt sorry for her, if only for a minute, before the latter regained her composure, complete with the shrill voice and the unpleasant remarks.

“That is, of course, if the Circle agrees, I know not all of us are united in the effort to remove this evil from our midst.”

“Good grace, woman, do you have any idea how much rock it would take to fill up that cave? The place is huge!” Mrs. Gentry exclaimed, before she had the time to censor herself.

“What do you suggest, then?” Rosemary replied, peeved.

“Just seal the entrance and leave it be! Nobody should be wandering in that area anyway, not if we pay attention to what the youngsters are doing!” Mrs. Gentry replied.

“What if somebody climbs the hill and sees the demonic machinery through that top opening?” Rosemary asked, really concerned. Lucille so wished she could tell her the console was already gone and there were no signs of the activity that had happened in the cave, other than the carvings on the walls, of course, but in light of her own suspicious status she decided to keep this piece of information to herself.

“I think you’re blowing this completely out of proportion, Rosemary! It’s not like it’s going to chase us down or anything,” Mrs. Gentry tried to appease her.

“Blowing it out of proportion?!!” Rosemary fumed. “How can you even say that after you saw that…that…THING!” she continued escalating. “Quite frankly, Mrs. Gentry, I am of half a mind to indict you and Lucille too for being involved in this at all!”

“Rosemary, desist now!” Mrs. Eberhart raised her voice. She very rarely did that, in fact the council members had to go back decades to come up with another instance, and for that reason, those three words effectively ended the subject. The council jotted down the minutes and another meeting was scheduled for the following morning, to look into ways to lift Mary’s curse, should they happen to find her eventually.

Lucille hurried home, where she put together a small basket of food, not forgetting Mary’s favorite cookies, then waited until it was dark and made her way through the desert towards the cave. She mumbled under her breath, upset, for the moon was full and huge, and it reflected off the sand, lighting up the desert almost like daylight. There was no place to hide in that barren landscape, no trees, no shrubs, no rocks, if anybody happened to be wandering around, they could see her from a mile away. She picked up the pace and only started to relax once inside the cave, where she assessed that the return trip was going to be much later, and therefore, hold lower risk.

Mary was seated at the console, engaged in a lively conversation with the one in the mirror, and for a second Lucille’s temper bubbled up to the surface, intent to give the girl a piece of her mind for having what it seemed to be a very pleasant time while she was risking her own skin to ensure her comfort. She then remembered that Mary couldn’t get out of the cave or return to the village to see her friends, or her home, and her irritation diminished.

“I’m so glad you came, aunt! Caleb was teaching me how to spell the mirror,” Mary said, smiling from ear to ear.

“I see!” Lucille stared with disapproval. “You are on first name basis now,” she continued. “Need I remind you that being in the unfortunate situation that you happened to find yourself in,” she lifted her hand to stop Mary’s emerging protest, “for more reasons than one, of course, doesn’t absolve you from observing the proper rules of society?”

Mary looked down, embarrassed.

“Does this gentleman have a surname?” Lucille inquired.

“Coulter,” the one in the mirror replied. “It’s Coulter.”

“Of course it is!” Lucille’s irritation returned. “That’s going to be a constant distraction,” she noted. “Now every time I need to address you, sir, I will feel like I’m not showing enough respect either to your illustrious ancestor or to our customs. That name had not been uttered in our village for over two hundred years, it is forbidden,” she explained.

“It figures,” the man in the mirror said.

“So, what did Mr. Coulter teach you, Mary?” she turned to her niece, trying to put out of her mind the fact that the girl had mentioned the words spell and mirror in the span of a very short sentence, smiling and addressing a male stranger by his first name in the process.

“Look, look at the mirror,” Mary happily obliged. The mirror was black, the one inside it had decided to remove himself for the purposes of the exercise. Mary touched a few symbols on the table in front of the mirror, symbols that looked like they were painted on buttons and reminded Lucille of rune stones, only they seemed to be woven together in a dark fabric that allowed them to move up and down. She was too mesmerized by the movement of the painted buttons underneath Mary’s fingers to notice that the screen had turned bright yellow, and when she finally did she jolted backwards involuntarily.

“I’m sorry I asked,” she uttered in a raspy voice after she regained her wits. “I’m not so sure about this, Mary, between the blood and changing the color of things around you, this can’t be good, can it?” she asked her niece, hoping she will contradict her.

“Actually, she can only change the background of the screen,” the one in the mirror explained.

“You mean the color of the reflective surface itself,” Lucille clarified.

“Yes,” the one in the mirror replied.

“What about the mirror’s frame? Can you change the color of the mirror’s frame?” Lucille asked.

“Not from the software, no,” the one in the mirror replied.

“But you can change it,” she said.

“We can print another case, yes.”

“Print, how?” Lucille’s eyes widened.

“We can bring in a 3d printer, that’s how we made most of the components of this console,” the one in the mirror tried to explain, and upon seeing the perplexed look in Lucille’s eyes, he came up with another idea. “Wait!” he said, then disappeared again and allowed another mirror to open up in his place. Inside it Lucille watched in disbelief how a strange looking mechanical contraption seemed to conjure up solid objects out of thin air.

“Is it summoning matter out of nothing?” Lucille asked, panicked.

“No,” the one in the mirror reassured her. “It weaves a plastic polymer, almost in the same way spiders build their webs. See? If you look closely you can almost see the thread.

“What’s a…”

“Plastic polymer? It is a synthetic substance we make in a lab, here is what its formula looks like, he opened another mirror, and in it appeared an animated strand, endlessly long and spinning around a cloud of C’s and O’s and H’s, like fresh spun yarn on a spool.

Lucille spent some time quietly, staring at the continuously unraveling thread of letters, wondering how much deeper the knowledge of the mirror went, completely removed from Rosemary’s never ending power struggles and the fact that it was getting very late, just watching the light that shone in Mary’s eyes. She’d never seen the girl so happy, or so interested in anything, her niece looked almost unrecognizable when she tried to concentrate on those tiny painted buttons like they were the meaning of life itself.

“It’s getting late,” she said eventually. “Mary and I will have dinner, and then I have to go,” she excused herself to the one in the mirror, as she and her niece retreated to the kitchen area.

“Maybe you shouldn’t leave, aunt,” Mary said. “It’s so late, it’s not safe out there, maybe you should sleep here and leave in the morning, when there is light out.”

“Trust me, girl,” Lucille frowned, suddenly remembering the brouhaha in the Council. “I’ll be a lot less safe in the morning.”

When they finished eating she kissed Mary good bye and left. All the way back she was so deep in thought about what she’d seen, and Mary’s reaction to all of that wondrous knowledge that had been forbidden them for generations, that she could have run straight into Rosemary and not notice. Most of all she thought it had been unfair, for her, for her mother, for her grandmother, for all the people in the village, to make do with the most basic of means when such things were possible. It seemed so easy, everything seemed so easy for those people in the mirror! She thought about Mary, and what her fate would be now, not much worse than what destiny had in store for her before, a life that had repeated the same old patterns for over seven generations. They might as well have lived two hundred years ago, nothing had changed, not in the customs, not in the knowledge, not in the course of daily life. And then she realized that Mary was no more deprived than any of her raven haired friends, those whose future didn’t falter on an undesirable heritage, those who were to marry, and raise families, and do chores, and watch their own daughters and grand-daughters do the same, in an endless loop of the only life they knew.

She remembered Rosemary’s reaction, that instinctive dread of anything she couldn’t recognize, of the reality without a precedent, or worse, the reality whose precedent had been fear and banishment, and without second guessing herself, she made a decision: she didn’t know how, or how long it was going to take, but she vowed to find a way for Mary, her friends, herself, and anybody in the village who was willing, to learn those things, those almost magical things that the mirror had shown her were possible, so that they too would be able to spin things out of spider silk and change the color on mirrors.