Chapter 22 – Workshop

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“May I have your attention, please?” Lucille cast her voice over the audience, and the murmurs and shuffles subsided. “Is everybody here?” she scanned the cave to make sure all the girls had made it inside, safe and unnoticed. When she was reassured that they were all there, she continued.

“Before class starts, I don’t think I need to reiterate the importance of keeping this knowledge to ourselves, at least for the time being, I’m sure the reasons why don’t require explaining.” A soft wave of discomfort weaved through the gathering and quickly subsided, as they recalled the unfolding of events in the Council Hall. “Back to more interesting subjects, if memory serves, Blanche was going to present her study on gene splicing and the effects of introducing snapdragon DNA into tomato breeds. So, without further ado,” she waved her hand, inviting Blanche to the podium, to present her slides to the class.

“Are you going to stay for the presentation, aunt Lucille?” Mary asked her aunt as she left the podium to join the audience.

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Lucille winked at the girl and sat down in the chair behind hers. “Could you scoot over to the left a little bit? I can’t see the smart screen.”

“You’re not calling it a mirror anymore?” Mary teased.

“Of course not, dear! Don’t you know? Mirrors are banned,” Lucille explained, poised.

Blanche’s presentation was followed by a dissertation on computational geometry, an open debate about forms of government, a poetry reading, and a video lecture on coronal mass ejections and the plasma dynamics of G-type main sequence stars.

From the other side of the mirror, the teachers were watching too, interjecting observations or making slight corrections to the content, and answering questions from the audience. When the school night was over, everybody returned to the village, in the same weird single file configuration, and since they were blessed with a bright and cloudless night the return trip turned out to provide a great object lesson in astronomy. Despite Lucille’s repeated requests to keep quiet, the shushing and giggling followed them all the way home.

The next day Blanche and Lisa fell asleep in workshop again, face down in the basket of spools. Their makeshift wool pillows were soft, cuddly and extremely comfortable, so much so that Mrs. Gentry had to splash cold water on the girls’ faces to wake them up.

“We have to get to the bottom of this, Lucille! This is absolutely unacceptable, we can’t have these girls sleepwalking through day after day, we need to know what are they doing that gets them so tired. I fear evildoing, the poor children don’t know any better, if we don’t protect them, who knows what they’ll get themselves into,” she boomed towards Lucille in her unusually loud tone of voice, so loud that it instantly snapped the latter back to attention together with a few girls who were dozing off in the back. Lucille too was tired, and she let her mind wander a little bit every now and then, when it got too quiet.
“I’m sorry, dear, what?” she mumbled, a little puzzled, as if she had just entered the room.

“I don’t know what to say, Lucille, can’t you pay a little more attention? I know that since Mary…ahhm…ran away and all…” she didn’t know how to continue, but since the subject had been brought up, she burst out the question she was itching to ask ever since she had left Lucille and Mary alone in the cave. She looked around to make sure nobody was listening, and then whispered as softly as she could into Lucille’s ear. “Have you heard from her, dear?”

Mrs. Gentry’s whispering was almost as loud as her voice, and the few girls who were not half asleep raised their eyebrows, startled. Lucille grabbed the lady by her arm and led her outside.

“Mrs. Gentry, you don’t want the girls to get preoccupied with this, do you? I don’t know anything about poor Mary, dear. She ran, as you said, and I couldn’t catch her. I trust that she didn’t run into misfortune, though,” she felt she needed to reassure Mrs. Gentry, who obviously felt responsible for the girl’s fate, “you know Mary, she can be quite resourceful if need be.”

“I fear that whatever it was that she got herself into when she touched that mirror didn’t stop with her,” Mrs. Gentry returned to her current worry. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the girls, but whatever it is, it started recently, just after Mary escaped. Do you think she might be involved in all of this? Casting enchantments with the mirror?”

“I can’t see how,” Lucille tried to divert her attention. “Do you find the girls’ work lacking?” she quickly found a subject she was sure will capture all of Mrs. Gentry’s attention.

“Not entirely,” the latter grabbed on to the subject eagerly. She was a strong advocate of keeping the girls always busy, thus yielding benefits for both them and the community. “Their work is acceptable, they’re not all going to be master spinsters, you know, not everybody is born with skilled hands, and it takes years of practice to produce exceptional quality, but, all things considered, not too bad. How they can spin wool in their sleep is beyond me, but they seem to get their job done.” She stopped to gaze upon the workshop group and exploded with indignation. “Look at that! She fell asleep again! This is so revolting!” She got up, outraged, to get another pitcher of water. Lucille looked at Blanche. The girl had returned to her peaceful slumber, face down in her basket of wool and with a slight smile on her lips.

“Mrs. Gentry,” she called out to the stentorian lady, who turned around, still irate. “Why don’t you ask one of the girls to wake Blanche, we’re late for the Council meeting.” Since the lady looked a bit confused, Lucille brought up more details. “Remember? We were going to meet with the village elders and learn more ways to remove Mary’s curse?”

“Oh, yeah,” Mrs. Gentry replied. “Wasn’t that supposed to be tomorrow?” she asked.

“No, dear, it’s today. It seems you must be tired too,” Lucille smiled.

“No wonder, with this darned story following us around!” Mrs. Gentry boomed again. “I’m telling you, Lucille, it is the curse, and we were fools not to believe the Book of Prophecy, and now, it’s already started! Oh! What will become of us!” she took on her favorite dramatic pose, that of the tragic Electra.
“Well,” Lucille tried to stifle a yawn, “I’m sure some of the elders must be in possession of unwritten wisdom, passed on from generation to generation. Otherwise we wouldn’t have come upon the knowledge about Mary’s gaze, can you imagine what would have happened if some unsuspecting person stared into her eyes at dawn?”

Mrs. Gentry felt awkward because she didn’t believe Mary could turn her into a snake with her stare more than she believed that the sky was green, but she played along, for effect.

“I know, dear. I know.” She paused a little, to allow the weight of the argument to sink in. “Well, let’s make haste, then, we don’t want to keep them waiting.” She looked back at the work group as she proceeded towards the door, and shook her head in disgust at the laziness of the young generation. “If I ever fell asleep in shop, my mother would have never been able to get out of the house for shame! What is this world coming to, Lucille! We’re responsible, you know!” she struggled with her conscience for a bit, but at the end of the struggle the elders took precedence and she left the young to help the young.
The meeting, presided by Rosemary, produced a wealth of information regarding the lifting of the curse, all ready to be put into practice. Unfortunately, all actions hinged on capturing Mary, and since the girl was nowhere to be found, that presented a challenge.

“I said, and it bears repeating, that the best and fairest way to rid the girl of the curse is to tie her up in front of a mirror and make her gaze into her own eyes at dawn,” somebody in the audience declared, very sure of himself.

“And have her turn herself into a winged fire breathing snake? What good could come of it?” somebody else replied.

“Winged snakes can’t enchant mirrors!”

“What makes you think that!?”

“Well, then, you come up with a solution!” the first speaker retorted, a bit offended.

“I say that we should burn her dwelling to the ground, so the evil essence that she left behind can be released back into the air,” another elder proposed.

“You’re not burning down my house!” Lucille jumped into the conversation, really disturbed. “Besides, how would releasing evil back into the air make our lives better?” she pointed out the flaw in the argument.

The elders talked among themselves for a while and came to an agreement that, indeed, under the circumstances, this solution was not optimal.

“How about this?” a wise voice from the audience came up with a successful method. “We bring the girls out into the desert and ask them to remove evil from their midst.”

“Remove evil how?” Mrs. Gentry asked, concerned about the unproductive use of the girls’ time.
“By having them soak into the warmth of the sun until all darkness is gone,” the person replied.
“It’s too hot out there in the middle of the day,” Lucille protested.

“We’ll go early, use the morning sun,” the person replied.

“But not too close to dawn, we don’t want to run into Mary by accident, can you imagine the horror?” somebody protested. A roar of dread permeated the crowd.

“And make sure the girls are well rested,” Mrs. Gentry added, “I don’t want them dozing off and stumbling over their own feet!”

The discussion then veered into what garments the girls should be wearing to best ward off evil, and whether the group should take the risk of bringing any water at all for the trip.

In the meantime, back at the workshop, Blanche, Lisa, and a few of the other girls, took the unexpected opportunity that Mrs. Gentry’s absence presented them with to take a much needed undisturbed nap.