عمه هیولا

کتاب: چروکی در زمان / فصل 11

عمه هیولا

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11 - Aunt Beast

“No!” Mr. Murry said sharply. “Please put her down.”

A sense of amusement seemed to emanate from the beasts. The tallest, who seemed to be the spokesman, said, “We frighten you?”

“What are you going to do with us?” Mr. Murry asked.

The beast said, “I’m sorry, we communicate better with the other one.” He turned toward Calvin. “Who are you?”

“I’m Calvin O’Keefe.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m a boy. A—a young man.”

“You, too, are afraid?”

“I’m—not sure.”

“Tell me,” the beast said. “What do you suppose you’d do if three of us suddenly arrived on your home planet?”

“Shoot you, I guess,” Calvin admitted.

“Then isn’t that what we should do with you?”

Calvin’s freckles seemed to deepen, but he answered quietly. “I’d really rather you didn’t. I mean, the earth’s my home, and I’d rather be there than anywhere in the world—I mean, the universe—and I can’t wait to get back, but we make some awful bloopers there.”

The smallest beast, the one holding Meg, said, “And perhaps they aren’t used to visitors from other planets.”

“Used to it!” Calvin exclaimed. “We’ve never had any, as far as I know.”

“Why?”  “I don’t know.”

The middle beast, a tremor of trepidation in his words, said, “You aren’t from a dark planet, are you?”

“No.” Calvin shook his head firmly, though the beast couldn’t see him. “We’re—we’re shadowed. But we’re fighting die shadow.”

The beast holding Meg questioned, “You three are fighting?”

“Yes,” Calvin answered. “Now that we know about it.”

The tall one turned back to Mr. Murry, speaking sternly. “Your The oldest. Man. From where have you come? Now.”

Mr. Murry answered steadily. “From a planet called Camazotz.” There was a mutter from the three beasts. “We do not belong there,” Mr. Murry said, slowly and distinctly. “We were strangers there as we are here. I was a prisoner there, and these children rescued me. My youngest son, my baby, is still there, trapped in the dark mind of IT.”

Meg tried to twist around in the beast’s arms to glare at her father and Calvin. Why were they being so frank? Weren’t they aware of the danger? But again her anger dissolved as the gentle warmth from the tentacles flowed through her. She realized that she could move her fingers and toes with comparative freedom, and the pain was no longer so acute.

“We must take this child back with us,” the beast holding her said.

Meg shouted at her father. “Don’t leave me the way you left Charles!” With this burst of terror a spasm of pain wracked her body and she gasped.

“Stop fighting,” the beast told her. “You make it worse. Relax.”

“That’s what IT said.” Meg cried. “Father! Calvin! Help!”

The beast turned toward Calvin and Mr. Murry. “This child is in danger. You must trust us.”

“We have no alternative,” Mr. Murry said. “Can you save her?”

“I think so.”

“May I stay with her?”

“No. But you will not be far away. We feel that you are hungry, tired, that you would like to bathe and rest. And this little—what is the word?” the beast cocked its tentacles at Calvin.

“Girl,” Calvin said.

“This little girl needs prompt and special care. The coldness of the—what is it you call it?”

“The Black Thing?”

“The Black Thing. Yes. The Black Thing burns unless it is counteracted properly.” The three beasts stood around Meg, and it seemed that they were feeling into her with their softly waving tentacles. The movement of the tentacles was as rhythmic and flowing as the dance of an undersea plant, and lying there, cradled in the four strange arms, Meg, despite herself, felt a sense of security that was deeper than anything she had known since the days when she lay in her mother’s arms in the old rocking chair and was sung to sleep. With her father’s help she had been able to resist IT. Now she could hold out no longer. She leaned her head against the beast’s chest, and realized that the gray body was covered with the softest, most delicate fur imaginable, and the fur had the same beautiful odor as the air.

I hope I don’t smell awful to it, she thought. But then she knew with a deep sense of comfort that even if she did smell awful the beasts would forgive her. As the tall figure cradled her she could feel the frigid stiffness of her body relaxing against it. This bliss could not come to her from a tiling like IT. IT could only give pain, never relieve it. The beasts must be good. They had to be good. She sighed deeply, like a very small child, and suddenly she was asleep.

When she came to herself again there was in the back of her mind a memory of pain, of agonizing pain. But the pain was over now and her body was lapped in comfort. She was lying on something wonderfully soft in an enclosed chamber. It was dark. All she could see were occasional tall moving shadows which she realized were beasts walking about. She had been stripped of her clothes, and something warm and pungent was gently being rubbed into her body. She sighed and stretched and discovered that she could stretch. She could move again, she was no longer paralyzed, and her body was bathed in waves of warmth. Her father had not saved her; the beasts had.

“So you are awake, little one?” The words came gently to her ears. “What a funny little tadpole you are! Is the pain gone now?”

“All gone.”

“Are you warm and alive again?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” She struggled to sit up.

“No, lie still, small one. You must not exert yourself as yet. We will have a fur garment for you in a moment, and then we will feed you. You must not even try to feed yourself. You must be as an Infant again. The Black Thing does not relinquish its victims willingly.”

“Where are Father and Calvin? Have they gone back for Charles Wallace?”

“They are eating and resting,” the beast said, “and we are trying to learn about each other and see what is best to help you. We feel now that you are not dangerous, and that we will be allowed to help you.”

“Why is it so dark in here?” Meg asked. She tried to look around, but all she could see was shadows. Nevertheless there was a sense of openness, a feel of a gentle breeze moving lightly about, that kept the darkness from being oppressive.

Perplexity came to her from the beast. “What is this dark? What is this light? We do not understand. Your father and the boy, Calvin, have asked this, too. They say that it is night now on our planet, and that they cannot see. They have told us that our atmosphere is what they call opaque, so that the stars are not visible, and then they were surprised that we know stars, that we know their music and the movements of their dance far better than beings like you who spend hours studying them through what you call telescopes. We do not understand what this means, to see.”

“Well, it’s what things look like,” Meg said helplessly.

“We do not know what things look like, as you say,” the beast said. “We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing.”

“Oh, no!” Meg cried. “It’s—it’s the most wonderful thing in the world!”

“What a very strange world yours must be!” the beast said, “that such a peculiar-seeming thing should be of such importance. Try to tell me, what is this thing called light that you are able to do so little without?”

“Well, we can’t see without it,” Meg said, realizing that she was completely unable to explain vision and light and dark. How can you explain sight on a world where no one has ever seen and where there is no need of eyes? “Well, on this planet,” she fumbled, “you have a sun, don’t you?”

“A most wonderful sun, from which comes our warmth, and the rays which give us our flowers, our food, our music, and all the things which make life and growth.”

“Well,” Meg said, “when we are turned toward the sun— our earth, our planet, I mean, toward our sun—we receive its light. And when we’re turned away from it, it is night. And if we want to see we have to use artificial lights.”

“Artificial lights,” the beast sighed. “How very complicated life on your planet must be. Later on you must try to explain some more to me.”

“All right,” Meg promised, and yet she knew that to try to explain anything that could be seen with the eyes would be impossible, because the beasts in some way saw, knew, understood, far more completely than she, or her parents, or Calvin, or even Charles Wallace.

“Charles Wallace!” she cried. “What are they doing about Charles Wallace? We don’t know what IT’S doing to him or making him do. Please, oh, please, help us!”

“Yes, yes, little one, of course we will help you. A meeting is in session right now to study what is best to do. We have never before been able to talk to anyone who has managed to escape from a dark planet, so although your father is blaming himself for everything that has happened, we feel that he must be quite an extraordinary person to get out of Camazotz with you at all. But the little boy, and I understand that he is a very special, a very important little boy—ah, my child, you must accept that this will not be easy. To go back through the Black Thing, back to Camazotz—I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“But Father left him!” Meg said. “He’s got to bring him back! He can’t just abandon Charles Wallace!”

The beast’s communication suddenly became crisp. “Nobody said anything about abandoning anybody. That is not our way. But we know that just because we want something does not mean that we will get what we want, and we still do not know what to do. And we cannot allow you, in your present state, to do anything that would jeopardize us all. I can see that you wish your father to go rushing back to Camazotz, and you could probably make him do this, and then where would we be? No. No. You must wait until you are more calm. Now, my darling, here is a robe for you to keep you warm and comfortable.” Meg felt herself being lifted again, and a soft, light garment was slipped about her. “Don’t worry about your little brother.” The tentacles’ musical words were soft against her. “We would never leave him behind the shadow. But for now you must relax, you must be happy, you must get well.”

The gentle words, the feeling that this beast would be able to love her no matter what she said or did, lapped Meg in warmth and peace. She felt a delicate touch of tentacle to her cheek, as tender as her mother’s kiss.

“It is so long since my own small ones were grown and gone,” the beast said. “You are so tiny and vulnerable. Now I will feed you. You must eat slowly and quietly. I know that you are half starved, that you have been without food far too long, but you must not rush things or you will not get well.”

Something completely and indescribably and incredibly delicious was put to Meg’s lips, and she swallowed gratefully. With each swallow she felt strength returning to her body, and she realized that she had had nothing to eat since the horrible fake turkey dinner on Camazotz which she had barely tasted. How long ago was her mother’s stew? Time no longer had any meaning.

“How long does night last here?” she murmured sleepily. “It will be day again, won’t it?”

    ”Hush,” the beast said. “Eat, small one. During the coolness, which is now, we sleep. And, when you waken, there will be warmth again and many things to do. You must eat now, and sleep, and I will stay with you.”

“What should I call you, please?” Meg asked.

“Well, now. First, try not to say any words for just a moment. Think within your own mind. Think of all die things you call people, different kinds of people.”

While Meg thought, the beast murmured to her gently. “No, mother is a special, a one-name; and a father you have here. Not just friend, nor teacher, nor brother, nor sister. What is acquaintance? What a funny, hard word. Aunt. Maybe. Yes, perhaps that will do. And you think of such odd words about me. Thing, and monster! Monster, what a horrid sort of word. I really do not think I am a monster. Beast. That will do. Aunt Beast.”

“Aunt Beast,” Meg murmured sleepily, and laughed.

“Have I said something funny?” Aunt Beast asked in surprise. “Isn’t Aunt Beast all right?”

“Aunt Beast is lovely,” Meg said. “Please sing to me, Aunt Beast.”

It was impossible to describe sight to Aunt Beast, it would be even more impossible to describe the singing of Aunt Beast to a human being. It was a music even more glorious than the music of the singing creatures on Uriel. It was a music more tangible than form or sight. It had essence and structure. It supported Meg more firmly than the arms of Aunt Beast It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning. and only this melody was real.

Meg did not know when she fell asleep within the body of the music. When she wakened Aunt Beast was asleep, too, the softness of her furry, faceless head drooping. Night had gone and a dull gray light filled the room. But she realized now that here on this planet there was no need for color, that the grays and browns merging into each other were not what the beasts knew, and that what she, herself, saw was only the smallest fraction of what the planet was really like. It was she who was limited by her senses, not the blind beasts, for they must have senses of which she could not even dream.

She stirred slightly, and Aunt Beast bent over her immediately, “What a lovely sleep, my darling. Do you feel all right?”

“I feel wonderful,” Meg said. “Aunt Beast, what is this planet called?”

“Oh, dear,” Aunt Beast sighed. “I find it not easy at all to put things the way your mind shapes them. You call where you came from Camazotz?”

“Well, it’s where we came from, but it’s not our planet.”

“You can call us Ixchel. I guess,” Aunt Beast told her. “We share the same sun as lost Camazotz, but that, give thanks, is all we share.”

“Are you fighting the Black Thing?” Meg asked.

“Oh, yes,” Aunt Beast replied. “In doing that we can never relax. We are the called according to His purpose, and whom He calls, them He also justifies. Of course we have help, and without help it would be much more difficult.”

“Who helps you?” Meg asked.

“Oh, dear, it is so difficult to explain things to you, small one. And I know now that it is not just because you are a child. The other two are as hard to reach into as you are. What can I tell you that will mean anything to you? Good helps us, the stars helps us, perhaps what you would call light helps us, love helps us. Oh, my child, I cannot explain! This is something you just have to know or not know.”

But—

“We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal.”

“Aunt Beast, do you know Mrs. Whatsit?” Meg asked with a sudden flooding of hope.

“Mrs. Whatsit?” Aunt Beast was puzzled. “Oh, child, your language is so utterly simple and limited that it has the effect of extreme complication.” Her four arms, tentacles waving, were outflung in a gesture of helplessness. “Would you like me to take you to your father and your Calvin?”

“Oh, yes, please!”

“Let us go, then. They are waiting for you to make plans. And we thought you would enjoy eating—what is it you call it? oh, yes, breakfast—together. You will be too warm in that heavy fur, now. I will dress you in something lighter, and then we will go.”

As though Meg were a baby, Aunt Beast bathed and dressed her, and this new garment, though it was made of a pale fur, was lighter than the lightest summer clothes on earth. Aunt Beast put one tentacled arm about Meg’s waist and led her through long, dim corridors in which she could see only shadows, and shadows of shadows, until they reached a large, columned chamber. Shafts of light came in from an open skylight and converged about a huge, round, stone table. Here were seated several of the great beasts, and Calvin and Mr. Murry, on a stone bench that circled the table. Because the beasts were so tall, even Mr. Murry’s feet did not touch die ground, and lanky Calvin’s long legs dangled as though he were Charles Wallace. The hall was partially enclosed by vaulted arches leading to long, paved walks. There were no empty walls, no covering roofs, so that although the light was dull in comparison to earth’s sunlight, Meg had no feeling of dark or of chill. As Aunt Beast led Meg in, Mr. Murry slid down from the bench and hurried to her, putting his arms about her tenderly.

“They promised us you were all right,” he said.

While she had been in Aunt Beast’s arms Meg had felt safe and secure. Now her worries about Charles Wallace and her disappointment in her father’s human fallibility rose like gorge in her throat.

“I’m fine,” she muttered, looking not at Calvin or her father, but at the beasts, for it was to them she turned now for help. It seemed to her that neither her father nor Calvin were properly concerned about Charles Wallace.

“Meg!” Calvin said gaily. “You’ve never tasted such food in your life! Come and eat!”

Aunt Beast lifted Meg up onto the bench and sat down beside her, then heaped a plate with food, strange fruits and breads that tasted unlike anything Meg had ever eaten. Everything was dull and colorless and unappetizing to look at, and at first, even remembering the meal Aunt Beast had fed her the night before, Meg hesitated to taste, but once she had managed the first bite she ate eagerly; it seemed that she would never have her fill again.

The others waited until she slowed down. Then Mr. Murry said gravely, “We were trying to work out a plan to rescue Charles Wallace. Since I made such a mistake in tessering away from IT, we feel that it would not be wise for me to try to get back to Camazotz, even alone. If I missed the mark again I could easily get lost and wander forever from galaxy to galaxy, and that would be small help to anyone, least of all to Charles Wallace.”

Such a wave of despondency came over Meg that she was no longer able to eat.

“Our friends here.” he continued, “feel that it was only the fact that I still wore the glasses your Mrs. Who gave you that kept me within this solar system. Here are the glasses, Meg. But I am afraid that the virtue has gone from them and now they are only glass. Perhaps they were meant to help only once and only on Camazotz. Perhaps it was going through the Black Thing that did it.” He pushed the glasses across the table at her.

“These people know about tessering,” Calvin gestured at the circle of great beasts, “but they can’t do it onto a dark planet.”

“Have you tried to call Mrs. Whatsit?” Meg asked.

“Not yet,” her father answered.

“But if you haven’t thought of anything else, it’s the only thing to do! Father, don’t you care about Charles at all!”

At that Aunt Beast stood up. saying, “Child,” in a reproving way. Mr. Murry said nothing, and Meg could see that she had wounded him deeply. She reacted as she would have reacted to Mr. Jenkms. She scowled down at the table, saying, “We’ve got to ask them for help now. You’re just stupid if you think we don’t.”

Aunt Beast spoke to the others. “The child is distraught. Don’t judge her harshly. She was almost taken by the Black Thing. Sometimes we can’t know what spiritual damage it leaves even when physical recovery is complete.”

Meg looked angrily around the table. The beasts sat there, silent, motionless. She felt that she was being measured and found wanting.

Calvin swung away from her and hunched himself up. ‘“Hasn’t it occurred to you that we’ve been trying to tell them about our ladies? What do you think we’ve been up to all this time? Just stuffing our faces? Okay, you have a shot at it.”

“Yes. Try, child.” Aunt Beast seated herself again, and pulled Meg up beside her. “But I do not understand this feeling of anger I sense in you. What is it about? There is blame going on, and guilt. Why?”

“Aunt Beast, don’t you know?”

“No,” Aunt Beast said. “But this is not telling me about —whoever they are you want us to know. Try.”

Meg tried. Blunderingly. Fumblingly. At first she described Mrs. Whatsit and her man’s coat and multicolored shawls and scarves. Mrs. Who and her white robes and shimmering spectacles, Mrs. Which in her peaked cap and black gown quivering in and out of body. Then she realized that this was absurd. She was describing them only to herself. This wasn’t Mrs. Whatsit or Mrs. Who or Mrs. Which. She might as well have described Mrs. Whatsit as she was when she took on the form of a flying creature of Uriel.

“Don’t try to use words,” Aunt Beast said soothingly. “You’re just fighting yourself and me. Think about what they are. This look doesn’t help us at all.”

Meg tried again, but she could not get a visual concept out of her mind. She tried to think of Mrs. Whatsit explaining tessering. She tried to think of them in terms of mathematics. Every once in a while she thought she felt a flicker of understanding from Aunt Beast or one of the others, but most of the time all that emanated from them was gentle puzzlement.

“Angels!” Calvin shouted suddenly from across the table. “Guardian angels’” There was a moment’s silence, and he shouted again, his face tense with concentration, “Messengers! Messengers of God!”

“I thought for a moment—” Aunt Beast started, then subsided, sighing. “No. It’s not clear enough.”

“How strange it is that they can’t tell us what they them- selves seem to know,” a tall, thin beast murmured.

One of Aunt Beast’s tentacled arms went around Meg’s waist again. “They are very young. And on their earth, as they call it, they never communicate with other planets. They revolve about all alone in space.”

“Oh,” the thin beast said. “Aren’t they lonely?”

Suddenly a thundering voice reverberated throughout the great hall:

“WWEEE ARRE HHERRE!”

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