20 juin 2015

Chapter 19

My entire body freezes in one awkward, guilty position, and my brain starts screaming, What…!!! It took her no more than 5 seconds!!! I feel my heart pound one very heavy time, then abruptly race beyond anything my breathing and poker face can control. I bet she can hear it from where she’s standing.

 “What? No, why would you think that?” Peter inquires, as coolly as Elvenly possible.

My brain continues with the seriously unhelpful panic and reeling. What did you DO? How exactly were you human in the last few minutes?! Was it my stance? Or the fearful look in my eyes?

Her answer, however surprising and soothing to my own conscience, turns out to be an even bigger cause for panic. 

YOU made me think that, Peter!... Look at you. I’ve often seen you in your Herald clothing, but what’s with the accessories? Those things on your eyes? And that overall human disposition?... The posture, the feigned casualness, or even the toned down assertiveness… Tell me, why would you keep up the Garden act if it weren’t to reassure her?”

Peter swallows and very subtly straightens up. His silence is nothing less than proof of how spot on Sam’s theory is. 

“So you’ve finally done it; you’ve taken your obsession to the next level. Are you completely out of your mind?... Danielle hasn’t sent us the usual birth Lume, and you know her Tells are never wrong. Do you honestly believe she will fall for your story?!” 

She scolds Peter, but somehow, I hear more concern than judgment in her tone. There’s also an obvious familiarity between them which makes me wonder how close they really are. This must be the worst ever timing for jealousy, especially when I should be focusing on whatever it is she’s saying. Danielle has “Tells” for whoever’s born around here? And she could see I wasn’t?

“She sent Lily a personal one, and addressed her as an adult,” Peter certifies. His translation of the Queen’s words creeps back to the surface: I am Danielle. Whoever you are, and whoever your maker, you are both expected very shortly. I look forward to knowing you’. 

“Her Tells obviously reveal more than we think,” Vlad finally interferes. “She must have seen this was not a birth, and yet still knew there was an addition to the realm…Her invitation could be out of eagerness to see what has generated such contradicting signs.”

“This doesn’t change anything,” Peter huffs. “My story still makes sense. It explains how Lily was added to the party without really being born, and why she is not a child.”

Sam knows she’s fighting a losing battle so, for the first time, she glances at Vlad and Nirav for help but neither of the two reacts. They’re all apparently too familiar with Peter’s incomparable stubbornness. Her face falls, and for a very creepy second, the light orbs floating around her seem to be backing off and giving her some space. My mouth pops open at the thought of a universe so organic it reacts to its creator’s every mood. 

“Why have you come here?” she asks in an obvious tone of reproach. “Why make me an accomplice of one of the most serious offenses in our people’s history?”

… Gulp.

“First, we were hoping you wouldn’t figure it out; at least not so quickly…” Peter whispers, running out of valid excuses. “But now that you know…”

“…You’re hoping I would just accept it, and even work on making her more believable, is that it?” she scolds, with an undercurrent of evident self-assurance, as if confirming she’s perfectly capable of doing just that. But… what is it that she does exactly?

“Not more believable, just less...”

“Human,” I interrupt.

The mistress of the Space suddenly twirls, and her eyes bore into mine again, as if remembering I was there, and also slightly surprised by my voice. I suppose she still expects me to be as intelligent a life-form as one which has just stemmed from a drawing, despite knowing my true nature by now. That says a lot about what she thinks of Humans.

“Yes, speaking of which, what is that horrible thing you’re wearing?! Did someone mean to torture you by means of bad taste?” she asks on a wholly different note, seeming genuinely insulted by my hospital attire. I’m surprised by my own laugh. So she can also be funny. That’s unexpected!  

Her playful mood disappears just as quickly though, and the light spheres push even further away, making her the darkest spot in the room. Her hesitation is painfully palpable, and she gazes into Peter’s eyes as she struggles to make a decision. A few seconds later, she straightens up and all the light in the rooms seems to be drawn back to her. “Alright children, out you go!” she addresses us regally.

 Um… what? That’s it? It’s a No then?

I look at Peter for the next move, and he nods, as if reassuring me, before turning to leave. I follow, confused, before Sam’s voice booms across the hall. “No no, not you, young human!”

I could swear I hear Peter chuckle lightly as he and his two companions disappear into the origami, and leave me alone with the weird and frankly intimidating landlady.
I slowly turn towards her, with one foot barely touching the ground. My body’s decided on keeping to a ready-to-run position. What is it she’s meant to do to me?

“I apologize for that. I’m often forced to be those boys’ conscience, it’s exhausting!” she complains in the most dramatic yet jokey way. “Seriously though, whoever has dressed you in that… thing, deserves a good burning! Not to mention the stench! What is that smell?!” 

Disinfectant. Hospital stink. Old blood. Under-the-cast skin

“I really need to get cleaned up… Erm… how do you do that here?” I ask, feeling stupid.

She stares at me, blankly, then in an abrupt movement, drops her head backwards and raises her palms towards me, in a very spectacular fashion. “Like this!!” she states, through deep, melodramatic concentration.

I hesitate, expecting something bizarre to come out of her hands and clean me up in an instant. But the next thing I know, she drops her hands, aligns her eyebrows, and says, in an intentionally anticlimactic way, “We use water and soap, dear. What did you think?”

I look so bewildered and unable to laugh that she does it for me. Her giggle fills the hall as she gracefully gestures at one of the massive thread layers, which slowly shifts to reveal a kind of silver-coloured, giant-leaf-shaped vessel, next to a very slim, ornate vase. 

I gawk at the silk of her dress billowing behind her like a wave of blue air, as she glides forward and effortlessly lifts the vase which looks almost as tall as she is, pouring a milky, lilac liquid into the silver leaf. She then smiles and gently gestures for me to go in. 

Of all the thoughts that could go through my mind, one barges in and takes root: What’s this civilization’s view on nudity? Because I can’t think of a way to ask her to give me some privacy.

“Call on me when you wish, alright?” she enquires, reading my mind. I nod, and she very swiftly disappears behind the threads. I take advantage of her polite absence to look around and touch everything: the yarn, the ground, the light orbs – hot and vibrating, unsurprisingly – the unexpectedly soft silver tub, and finally, that deliciously warm soapy water in it. I even duck and smell it – Hmm! Melted chocolate mixed with some delicious flowers from my childhood?...

I smile as I realize I’m comfortable enough to go into the water. I undress, unceremoniously dropping the hospital gown to the floor, and slowly let myself glide into…oooh my God, this is awesome!

The soap feels like it’s hugging, massaging, and unloading the burden off my shoulders. Before I leave, I should definitely get me some of that for home!

Finally, I’m alone again… I inspect my old wounds, my skin, my hair; everything seems to be the same since my so-called transformation. That thought suddenly brings a worrying fact to my attention: if Sam knows I’m human, does she also know I’ve morphed into something else along the way? Can’t she see it? Argh… so many scenarios to avoid here, how will I ever keep up without getting us all in trouble?

I breathe hard and close my eyes to control the ever-so-present panic. This is the worst way to go about this; I should be taking advantage of the situation instead of dreading it. Sam might be the first and hopefully the last Elf, outside the trio of course, who knows I’m human. And unlike the others, she may be willing to give me some answers.

“Sam?” I hear myself saying.

In a second, the elegant Elf soundlessly walks in from behind the layer, smiles again, and with a flick of her fingers, a tiny red sofa glides into the room, with a design straight out of a Dali painting. She positions it next to the leaf, and in a flower-in-the-wind fashion, she lets her dress flutter up ever so lightly as she sits opposite me, curious   and eager-eyed.

“So, Peter drew you, didn’t he?” she asks, looking too happy about having me all to herself.

“Um… he told you he drew me and I materialized, but you didn’t believe him,” I feign dumbness.

“Of course I didn’t believe him; it’s clear you are a Human, but Peter’s not an idiot. He must have drawn you a mask, to make you look as Elf-like as you do now.” I do?! “Well… did he?” 

“Yes… he did.” Oh God, please let this not be something I’ll regret saying later!

“I knew it! He’s so good at this, isn’t he? You look eerily…real!” she gushes.

“I am real!” I tease, and suddenly realize I’ve affected her more than I’d imagined. She frowns guiltily and launches into endless apology.

“Forgive me, I really didn’t mean to offend you, how clumsy of me! I never intended to imply that Human isn’t real, please forgive me if this is the impression my words gave you!!”

I realize that she’s apologizing for the equivalent of an unintended racist comment, and swallow an endeared smile.

“It’s okay,” I pretentiously forgive her, “to be honest I’m not too sure what’s real and what isn’t anymore.”

“That’s easy. Real is what you can see. We try not to be too philosophical about it. For instance…” she pauses, lifting her fingers and looking up. Out of thin air, a horizontal bunch of threads appear, and quickly begin to twirl and twist and weave into each other at shockingly unnatural speed, forming what looks like a thick, silky cloth. “A second ago, this wasn’t real. It was just a thought, an intention. But now I’ve made it real, and there’s no need to overthink it. Just use it for what it was made for.”

I stare at the floating towel, and reach out for it. It feels and looks real alright. I hold it up and wrap it around myself as I step out of the vessel. 

“Thank you,” I say honestly, feeling appeased. “So, is this what you do? You make cloth?”

“Oh I make so much more than that! I make everyone here look the way they look, and it’s no easy task. I make them reflect their birth colours, and trust me, not many of them successfully manage that without me. The horrors I’ve seen… What’s yours?”

“Mine?... Oh, you mean my birth colour?... I’m not sure that exists where I’m from.”

“Nonsense. Close your eyes and think. If you could meet the Elders today, what light would you like to have? What aura?” 

“Wow. Er… maybe blue?” I say randomly. Or a sweet, sweet green.

“Not the least bit convincing,” she scolds. “You’re a green. With an array of brown and shades of dark gold… That’s lovely, it reminds me of…”


“Peter’s Space. But it’s normal, since you’ve been there.” She seems to believe that part of the story, and I let her; partly because I’m happy with the comparison. Maybe I do know Peter better than he thinks. 

Sam raises a hand towards me, and I nervously stand still, expecting the worst. But the first thing I feel is a ring of textile forming around the middle of my left calf, then my right. I look down and realize than she’s molding an actual pair of Capris around me. It goes all the way up to my waist, looking as thick as golden brown, Indian silk, and yet so light that I could barely feel it against my skin. I lift the towel above my waist and let her inspect her work. She bends her head sideways, looking slightly dissatisfied. She then points a finger at me, and in one quick flick, the trousers tighten up around my legs. I make a funny choking face and she winks at me. “It’s better this way. It shows your figure. Now turn around and if you don’t mind, please drop the towel so that I can see the shape of your back.”

I stare at her for a moment, feeling even my new Elven skin turn crimson, but I do what she says. 

In a whisper, thousands of similarly coloured threads start their happy dance around me, drawing my silhouette and forming a thigh-long, tight-waist tunic, with a hard Mao collar and an asymmetric fasten. And all the way across the edges, front and collar, a wide, gold and forest green brocade makes my eyes pop out. It looks like an Elvish calligraphy print of some sorts. This is…breathtaking!

I expect the tunic to pull at my arms or just be too dressy or uncomfortable for the journey, but in what I’m sure is a magic trick, Sam has made this into the most malleable, light and adaptable garment ever. Sam sees the awed look on my face and seems to find all the satisfaction she needs in it.

I only feel I have to put my foot down when it comes to the shoes. If this is really a makeover, I should at least have a say in that. I give her very specific instructions, down to the colour, texture, shape, soles and a full explanation of what shoelaces are for, and why they are cool. When she’s done, she once more basks in my stupidly happy expression. Little does she know that it’s less in admiration of her work, and more for owning the only pair of dark gold, taylor-made, Elven Vans in History. 

“Now the hair. You’ve got a very unusual shade. Do we keep it?”

“Yes please!” This might be the only place where ginger qualifies as original.

“Alright. Let’s see what we could add to it…” 

I watch Sam at work. She looks so concentrated and serious that it’s easy to trust her for the result. “Here,” she says after a few long minutes and a lot of pulling and twirling and Ows. “Have a look,” she offers, while waving at one of the walls. Suddenly, all the threads there acquire an astoundingly pure reflexivity, and I find myself standing in front of an enormous mirror. 

My jaw drops, as I barely recognize the girl in the reflection. My hair has acquired volume and flowing curls which no one could pull off with human tools. Sam’s added a few ornaments to it, like an emerald clasp and a few tiny and delicate golden flowers here and there, for the girly touch. The deep red locks flow over the embroidered collar, and almost distract me from that greatly altered face staring back at me. Oh… this isn’t the girl I’ve lived with for the past twenty years. This is a character from those fantasy tales they used to make us read in school. What have I become?

This is deeply disturbing. My features aren’t human, they’re… Photoshopped. Flawless bone structure, lips pouting out without effort, unnaturally perfect almond-shaped eyes – Geez, they’re HUGE!! – and a supernatural glow over my now entirely freckleless skin. But it’s not me. How will I live with this?...

“I can see you!” Sam says out of the blue. 

Er… Huh? This is a castle-wall-sized mirror; of course she can see me. But she shakes her head. “Not you,” she whispers. “Chloë, dear, I can see you there! Come out!”

We’re not alone?! I twist around in panic and see, in a hidden corner of the bright hall, a tiny tuft of dark, messy, pixie hair, and under it a pair of curious, brown eyes. A child, no more than seven to eight years old, and a shy smile that could melt the poles. 

“Have you been eavesdropping again, you little devil?” Sam reprimands her in anything but a serious tone of voice. 

I stare at the tiny thing, and my throat suddenly goes dry. It’s her!!!  There was no kneeling woman in the ravaged areas, and it was no illusion. It was this crafty little child! And from everyone’s reaction when I saw her, it’s clear no one knows she’s been there. Or that she actually could, without being scorched alive. Only me.  

She can see how confused I am, which makes her smile even wider. She hurries over to us and glances at me with one eye, as she hides behind Sam’s skirt layers. 
“Is she… yours?” I venture.

“What do you mean?” Sam asks, which makes me raise an eyebrow. What’s not clear about my question?

“Is she your daughter?”

My second question seems to confuse her even more. “Did you give birth to her?” I try one last time.

“Oh! No, no! I didn’t, and I’m not quite sure who did, but that’s not important, is it?”

“Um… it isn’t?!” 

“… I don’t know what it’s like in your Garden, but here, we don’t ‘own’ anyone, especially not the Newborns!” Sam explains in such a neutral manner that it baffles me even more. 

“You mean no one here considers themselves the parents of these children?”

“What are ‘parents’?” she asks. 

I open my mouth, and nothing comes out. I’m the last person qualified to define that to her. And if I did, I’d also have to explain why mine don’t quite fit the profile. I decide on a different direction. “But when two people love each other here, don’t some of them start a family… at some point… if they want?”

“We love everyone here. But I don’t see why you would limit a family to only two.”

I gape at her, not really understanding. This could go two very, very different ways: Woodstock, or Little House in the Prairie. “How many members should a family have then?”

“We lead very lonely existences, don’t we? Each one of us in his or her own Space… And it’s good for us. It’s how it’s always been. But make no mistake, as the common saying here goes, we ‘Know every Ælfric in the Aether”.  And we love them all. But births are different. We are very sexual beings,” – so it’s Woodstock then – “It is a natural part of who we are, and a means to reproduce. But when Newborns see the Gold, they are loved, taught, sheltered and taken care of by everyone.  They belong to no one; they only roam the Spaces until they can create their own.”

Ælfric? See the Gold?” 

“Or what is it you call us? Elf-kind? And the Gold is what lies above us, where the Elders go after they’ve moved on.” 

Couldn’t she just say ‘sky’?

“Peter spoke to me of his brother… and his mother…”

“Did he?” she sounds deeply surprised. “He would never talk of Corbin. Not to anyone. Not since the Fires… But yes, he’s been using Human terms, just so you would understand. They were birthed by the same Elf. They however never formed a bond that’s stronger than the ones they had with other children. And their “mother” has never owned them. If Peter thinks the way you do, about “parents” and their family, he’s surely picked this up in the Garden.”  

I try to swallow every implication of what she’s said, but keep getting stuck on a very bitter pill: If notions of love, parenthood and family are a collective matter here, it means Love, in the Human, exclusive, romantic sense doesn’t even exist for them. No two Elves have “fallen in love” here, and decided to be one another’s “Other”. No “relationship”, no “couple”, no “The One”. No jealousy, no monogamy, or polygamy for that matter. Just love in the general sense, sex, and Children of Elf.

But Peter loves me. He’s said it… or did he mean it in the global sense? Does he love me like he loves Sam, or Danielle?  

It’s then that it finally hits me: This is why he can’t touch me, hold me, or kiss me in front of them. They just wouldn’t understand! He loves me, in a very Human way; a way he has only acquired on Earth. A way which doesn’t even exist here.

I close my eyes. Mine is the most Human of Ælfrics. 

And as long as we’re here, he and I can never be. 


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