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کتاب: چروکی در زمان / فصل 9

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9 - IT

MEG rushed at the man imprisoned in the column, but as she reached what seemed to be the open door she was hurled back as though .she had crashed into a brick wall.

Calvin caught her. “It’s just transparent like glass this time,” he told her. “We can’t go through it.”

Meg was so sick and dizzy from the impact that she could not answer. For a moment she was afraid that she would throw up or faint. Charles Wallace laughed again, the laugh that was not his own, and it was this that saved her, for once more anger overcame her pain and fear. Charles Wallace, her own real, dear Charles Wallace, never laughed at her when she hurt herself. Instead, his arms would go quickly around her neck and he would press his soft cheek against hers in loving comfort. But the demon Charles Wallace snickered. She turned away from him and looked again at the man in the column.

“Oh, Father—” she whispered longingly, but the man in the column did not move to look at her. The horn-rimmed glasses, which always seemed so much a part of him, were gone, and the expression of his eyes was turned inward, as though he were deep in thought. He had grown a beard, and the silky brown was shot with gray. His hair, too, had not been cut. It wasn’t just the overlong hair of the man in the snapshot at Cape Canaveral; it was pushed back from his high forehead and fell softly almost to his shoulders, so that he looked like someone in another century, or a shipwrecked sailor. But there was no question, despite the change in him, that he was her father, her own beloved father.

“My, he looks a mess, doesn’t he?” Charles Wallace said, and sniggered.

Meg swung on him with sick rage. “Charles, that’s Father! Father!”

“So what?”

Meg turned away from him and held out her arms to the man in the column.

“He doesn’t see us, Meg,” Calvin said gently.

“Why? Why?”

“I think it’s sort of like those little peepholes they have in apartments, in the front doors,” Calvin explained. “You know. From inside you can look through and see everything. And from outside you can’t see anything at all.

We can see him, but he can’t see us.”

“Charles!” Meg pleaded. “Let me in to Father!”

“Why?” Charles asked placidly.

Meg remembered that when they were in the room with the man with red eyes she had knocked Charles Wallace back into himself when she tackled him and his head cracked the floor; so she hurled herself at him. But before she could reach him his fist shot out and punched her hard in the stomach. She gasped for breath. Sickly, she turned away from her brother, back to the transparent wall. There was the cell, there was the column with her father inside. Although she could see him, although she was almost close enough to touch him, he seemed farther away than he had been when she had pointed him out to Calvin in the picture on the piano. He stood there quietly as though frozen in a column of ice, an expression of suffering and endurance on his face that pierced into her heart like an arrow. “You say you want to help Father?” Charles Wallace’s voice came from behind her, with no emotion whatsoever.

“Yes. Don’t you?” Meg demanded, swinging around and glaring at him.

“But of course. That is why we are here.”

“Then what do we do?” Meg tried to keep the franticness out of her voice, trying to sound as drained of feeling as Charles, but nevertheless ending on a squeak.

“You must do as I have done, and go in to IT,” Charles said.

“No.”

“I can see you don’t really want to save Father.” 

“How will my being a zombie save Father?”

“You will just have to take my word for it, Margaret,” came the cold, fiat voice from Charles Wallace. “IT wants you and IT will get you. Don’t forget that I, too, am part of IT, now. You know I wouldn’t have done IT if IT weren’t the right thing to do.”

“Calvin,” Meg asked in agony, “will it really save Father?” But Calvin was paying no attention to her. He seemed to I be concentrating with all his power on Charles Wallace. He stared into the pale blue that was all that was left of Charles Wallace’s eyes. “And, for thou wast a spirit too delicate/To act her earthy and abhorr’d commands … she did confine thee … into a cloven pine—” he whispered,  and Meg recognized Mrs. Who’s words to him.

For a moment Charles Wallace seemed to listen. Then he shrugged and turned away. Calvin followed him, trying to keep his eyes focused on Charles’s. “If you want a witch, Charles?” he said, “IT’S the witch. Not our ladies. Good thing I had The Tempest at school this year, isn’t it, Charles? It was the witch who put Ariel in the cloven pine, wasn’t it?”

Charles Wallace’s voice seemed to come from a great distance. “Stop staring at me.” Breathing quickly with excitement, Calvin continued to look at Charles Wallace with his stare. “You’re like Ariel in the cloven pine, Charles. And I can let you out. Look at me, Charles. Comeback to us.” Again the shudder went through Charles Wallace.

Calvin’s intense voice hit at him. “Come back, Charles. Come back to us.”

Again Charles shuddered. And then it was as though an invisible hand had smacked against his chest and knocked him to the ground, and the stare with which Calvin had held him was broken. Charles sat there on the floor of the corridor whimpering, not a small boy’s sound, but a fearful, animal noise.

“Calvin.” Meg turned on him, clasping her hands intensely. “Try to get to Father.”

Calvin shook his head. “Charles almost came out. I almost did it. He almost came back to us.”

“Try Father,” Meg said again.

“How?”

“Your cloven pine thing. Isn’t Father imprisoned in a cloven pine even more than Charles? Look at him, in that column there. Get him out, Calvin.”

Calvin spoke in an exhausted way. “Meg. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to get in. Meg, they’re asking too much of us.”

“Mrs. Who’s spectacles!” Meg said suddenly. Mrs. Who had told her to use them only as a last resort, and surely that was now. She reached into her pocket and the spectacles were there, cool and light and comforting. With trembling fingers she pulled them out.

“Give me those spectacles!” Charles Wallace’s voice came in a harsh command, and he scrambled up off the floor and ran at her.

She barely had time to snatch off her own glasses and put on Mrs. Who’s, and, as it was, one earpiece dropped down her cheek and they barely stayed on her nose. As Charles Wallace lunged at her she flung herself against the transparent door and she was through it. She was in the cell with the imprisoning column that held her father. With trembling fingers she straightened Mrs. Who’s glasses and put her own in her pocket.

“Give them to me,” came Charles Wallace’s menacing voice, and he was in the cell with her, with Calvin on the outside pounding frantically to get in.

Meg kicked at Charles Wallace and ran at the column. She felt as though she were going through something dark and cold. But she was through. “Father!” she cried. And she was in his arms.

This was the moment for which she had been waiting, not only since Mrs. Which whisked them off OB their journeys, but during the long months and years before, when the letters had stopped coming, when people made remarks about Charles Wallace, when Mrs. Murry showed a rare flash of loneliness or grief. This was the moment that meant that now and forever everything would be all right.

As she pressed against her father all was forgotten except joy. There was only the peace and comfort of leaning against him, the wonder of the protecting circle of his arms, the feeling of complete reassurance and safety that his presence always gave her.

Her voice broke on a happy sob. “Oh, Father! Oh, Father!”

“Meg!” he cried in glad surprise. “Meg, what are you doing here? Where’s your mother? Where are the boys?”

She looked out of the column, and there “was Charles Wallace in the cell, an alien expression distorting his face. She turned back to her father. There was no more time for greeting, tor joy, for explanations, “We have to go to Charles Wallace,” she said, her words tense. “Quickly.”

Her father’s hands were moving gropingly over her face and as she felt the touch of his strong, gentle fingers, she realized with a flooding of horror that she could see him, that she could see Charles in the cell and Calvin in the corridor, but her father could not see them, could not see her. She looked at him in panic, but his eyes were the same steady blue that she remembered. She moved her hand brusquely across his line of vision, but he did not blink. “Father!” she cried. “Father! Can’t you see me?” His arms went around her again in a comforting, reassuring gesture. “No, Meg.”

“But, Father, I can see you—” Her voice trailed off. Suddenly she shoved Mrs. Who’s glasses down her nose and peered over them, and immediately she was in complete and utter darkness. She snatched them off her face and thrust them at her father. “Here.”

His fingers closed about the spectacles. “Darling,” he said, “I’m afraid your glasses won’t help.”

“But they’re Mrs. Who’s, they aren’t mine,” she explained, not realizing that her words would sound like gibberish to him. “Please try them. Father. Please!” She waited while she felt him rumbling in the dark. “Can you see now?” she asked. “Can you see now. Father?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes. The wall is transparent, now. How extraordinary! I could almost see the atoms rearranging!” His voice had its old, familiar sound of excitement and discovery. It was the way he sounded sometimes when he came home from his laboratory after a good day and began to tell his wife about his work. Then he cried out, “Charles! Charles Wallace!” And then, “Meg, what’s happened to him? What’s wrong? That is Charles, isn’t it?”

“IT has him. Father,” she explained tensely. “He’s gone into IT. Father, we have to help him.”

For a long moment Mr. Murry was silent. The silence was filled with the words he was thinking and would not speak out loud to his daughter. Then he said, “Meg, I’m in prison here. I have been for—”

“Father, these walls. You can go through them. I came through the column to get in to you. It was Mrs. Who’s glasses.”

Mr. Murry did not stop to ask who Mrs. Who was. He slapped his hand against the translucent column. “It seems solid enough.”

“But I got in,” Meg repeated. “I’m here. Maybe the glasses help the atoms rearrange. Try it. Father.”

She waited, breathlessly, and after a moment she realized that she was alone in the column. She put out her hands in the darkness and felt its smooth surface curving about her on all sides. She seemed utterly alone, the silence and darkness unpenetrable forever. She fought down panic until she heard her father’s voice coming to her very faintly.

“I’m coming back in for you, Meg.”

 It was almost a tangible feeling as the atoms of die strange material seemed to part to let him through to her. In their beach house at Cape Canaveral there had been a curtain between dining and living room made of long strands of rice. It looked like a solid curtain, but you could walk right through it. At first Meg had flinched each time she came up to the curtain; but gradually she got used to it and would go running right through, leaving the long strands of rice swinging behind her. Perhaps the atoms of these walls were arranged in somewhat the same fashion.

“Put your arms around my neck, Meg,” Mr. Murry said. “Hold on to me tightly. Close your eyes and don’t be afraid.” He picked her up and she wrapped her long legs around his waist and clung to his neck. With Mrs. Who’s spectacles on she had felt only a faint darkness and coldness as she moved through the column. Without the glasses she felt die same awful clamminess she had felt when they tessered through the outer darkness of Camazotz. Whatever the Black Thing was to which Camazotz had submitted, it was within as well as without the planet. For a moment it seemed that the chill darkness would tear her from her father’s arms. She tried to scream, but within that icy horror no sound was possible. Her father’s arms tightened about her, and she clung to his neck in a strangle hold, but she was no longer lost in panic. She knew that if her father could not get her through the wall he would stay with her rather than leave her; she knew that she was safe as long as she was in his arms.

Then they were outside. The column rose up in the middle of the room, crystal clear and empty.

Meg blinked at the blurred figures of Charles and her father, and wondered why they did not clear. Then she grabbed her own glasses out of her pocket and put them on, and her myopic eyes were able to focus.

Charles Wallace was tapping one foot impatiently against the floor. “IT is not pleased,” he said. “IT is not pleased at all.”

Mr. Murry released Meg and knelt in front of the little boy. “Charles,” his voice was tender. “Charles Wallace.”

“What do you want?”

“I’m your father, Charles. Look at me.”

The pale blue eyes seemed to focus on Mr. Murry’s face. “Hi, Pop,” came an insolent voice.

“That isn’t Charles!” Meg cried. “Ob, Father, Charles isn’t like that. IT has him.”

“Yes.” Mr. Murry sounded tired. “I see.” He held his arms out. “Charles. Come here.”

Father will make it all right. Meg thought. Everything will be all right now.

Charles did not move toward the outstretched arms. He stood a few feet away from his father, and he did not look at him.

“Look at me,” Mr. Murry commanded.

“No.”

Mr. Murry’s voice became harsh. “When you speak to me you will say ‘No, Father,’ or ‘No, sir’! “

“Come off it. Pop,” came the cold voice from Charles Wallace—Charles Wallace who, outside Camazotz, had been strange, had been different, but never rude. “You’re not the boss around here.”

Meg could see Calvin pounding again on the glass wall. “Calvin!” she called.

“He can’t hear you,” Charles said. He made a horrible face at Calvin, and then he thumbed his nose.

“Who’s Calvin?” Mr. Murry asked.

“He’s—” Meg started, but Charles Wallace cut her short.

“You’ll have to defer your explanations. Let’s go.”

“Go where?”

“To IT.”

“No,” Mr. Murry said. “You can’t take Meg there.”

“Oh, can’t I!”

“No, you cannot. You’re my son, Charles, and I’m afraid you will have to do as I say.”

“But he isn’t Charles!” Meg cried in anguish. Why didn’t her father understand? “Charles is nothing like that. Father! You know he’s nothing like that!”

“He was only a baby when I left,” Mr. Murry said heavily.

“Father, it’s IT talking through Charles. IT isn’t Charles. He’s—he’s bewitched.”

“Fairy tales again,” Charles said.

“You know IT, Father?” Meg asked.

“Yes.”

“Have you seen IT?”

“Yes, Meg.” Again his voice sounded exhausted. “Yes. I have.” He turned to Charles. “You know she wouldn’t be able to hold out.”

“Exactly,” Charles said.

“Father, you can’t talk to him as though he were Charles! Ask Calvin! Calvin will tell you.”

“Come along,” Charles Wallace said. “We must go.” He held up his hand carelessly and walked out of the cell, and there was nothing for Meg and Mr. Murry to do but to follow.

As they stepped into the corridor Meg caught at her father’s sleeve. “Calvin, here’s Father!”

Calvin turned anxiously toward them. His freckles and his hair stood out brilliantly against his white face.

“Make your introductions later,” Charles Wallace said. “IT does not like to be kept waiting.” He walked down the corridor, his gait seeming to get more jerky with each step. The others followed, walking rapidly to keep up.

“Does your father know about the Mrs. W’s?” Calvin asked Meg.

“There hasn’t been time for anything. Everything’s awful.” Despair settled like a stone in the pit of Meg’s stomach. She had been so certain that the moment she found her father everything would be all right. Everything would be settled. All the problems would be taken out of her hands. She would no longer be responsible for anything.

And instead of this happy and expected outcome, they seemed to be encountering all kinds of new troubles.

“He doesn’t understand about Charles,” she whispered to Calvin, looking unhappily at her father’s back as he walked behind the little boy.

“Where are we going?” Calvin asked.

“To IT. Calvin, I don’t want to go! I can’t!” She stopped, but Charles continued his jerky pace.

“We can’t leave Charles,” Calvin said. “They wouldn’t like it.”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“Mrs. Whatsit & Co.”

“But they’ve betrayed us! They brought us here to this terrible place and abandoned us!”

Calvin looked at her in surprise. “You sit down and give up if you like,” he said. “I’m sticking with Charles.” He ran to keep up with Charles Wallace and Mr. Murry.

“I didn’t mean—” Meg started, and pounded after them.

Just as she caught up with them Charles Wallace stopped and raised his hand, and there was the elevator again, its yellow light sinister. Meg felt her stomach jerk as the swift descent began. They were silent until the motion stopped, silent as they followed Charles Wallace through long corridors and out into the street. The CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building loomed up, stark and angular, behind them.

—Do something, Meg implored her father silently. —Do something. Help. Save us.

They turned a comer, and at the end of the street was a strange, domelike building. Its walls glowed with a flicker of violet flame. Its silvery roof pulsed with ominous light. The light was neither warm nor cold, but it seemed to reach out and touch them. This, Meg was sure, must be where IT was waiting for them.

They moved down the street, more slowly now, and as they came closer to the domed building the violet flickering seemed to reach out, to envelop them, to suck them in: they were inside.

Meg could feel a rhythmical pulsing. It was a pulsing not only about her, but in her as well, as though the rhythm of her heart and lungs was no longer her own but was being worked by some outside force. The closest she had come to the feeling before was when she had been practicing artificial respiration with Girl Scouts, and the leader, an immensely powerful woman, had been working on Meg, intoning OUT goes the bad air, IN comes the good! while her heavy hands pressed, released, pressed, released.

Meg gasped, trying to breathe at her own normal rate, but the inexorable beat within and without continued. For a moment she could neither move nor look around to see what was happening to the others. She simply had to stand there, trying to balance herself into the artificial rhythm of her heart and lungs. Her eyes seemed to swim in a sea of red.

Then things began to clear, and she could breathe without gasping like a beached fish, and she could look about the great, circular, domed building. It was completely empty except for the pulse, which seemed a tangible tiling, and a round dais exactly in the center. On the dais lay— what? Meg could not tell, and yet she knew that it was from this that the rhythm came. She stepped forward tentatively. She felt that she was beyond fear now. Charles Wallace was no longer Charles Wallace. Her father had been found but he had not made everything all right. Instead everything was worse than ever, and her adored father was bearded and thin and white and not omnipotent after all. No matter what happened next, things could be no more terrible or frightening than they already were.

Oh, couldn’t they?

As she continued to step slowly forward, at last she realized what the Thing on the dais was.

IT was a brain.

A disembodied brain. An oversized brain, just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying. A living brain. A brain that pulsed and quivered, that seized and commanded. No wonder the brain was called IT. IT was the most horrible, the most repellent thing she had ever seen, far more nauseating than anything she had ever imagined with her conscious mind, or that had ever tormented her in her most terrible nightmares.

But as she had felt she was beyond fear, so now she was beyond screaming.

She looked at Charles Wallace, and he stood there, turned towards IT, his jaw hanging slightly loose; and his vacant blue eyes slowly twirled.

Oh, yes, things could always be worse. These twirling eyes within Charles Wallace’s soft round face made Meg icy cold inside and out.

She looked away from Charles Wallace and at her father. Her father stood there with Mrs. Who’s glasses still perched on his nose—did he remember that he had them on?—and he shouted to Calvin. “Don’t give in!” “I won’t! Help Meg!” Calvin yelled back. It was absolutely silent within the dome, and yet Meg realized that the only way to speak was to shout with all the power possible. For everywhere she looked, everywhere she turned, was the rhythm, and as it continued to control the systole and diastole of her heart, the intake and outlet of her breath, the red miasma began to creep before her eyes again, and she was afraid that she was going to lose consciousness, and if she did that she would be completely in the power of IT.

Mrs. Whatsit had said, “Meg, I give you your faults.”

What were her greatest faults? Anger, impatience, stubbornness. Yes, it was to her faults that she turned to save herself now.

 With an immense effort she tried to breathe against the rhythm of IT. But IT’s power was too strong. Each time she managed to take a breath out of rhythm an iron hand seemed to squeeze her heart and lungs.

Then she remembered that when they had been standing before the man with red eyes, and the man with red eyes had been intoning the multiplication table at them, Charles Wallace had fought against his power by shouting out nursery rhymes, and Calvin by the Gettysburg Address.

“Georgia, porgie, pudding and pie,” she yelled. “Kissed the girls and made them cry.”  That was no good. It was too easy for nursery rhymes to fall into the rhythm of IT.

She didn’t know the Gettysburg Address. How did the Declaration of Independence begin? She had memorized it only that winter, not because she was required to at school, but simply because she liked it.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident!” she shouted, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

As she cried out the words she felt a mind moving in on her own, felt IT seizing, squeezing her brain. Then she’ realized that Charles Wallace was speaking, or being spoken through by IT.

“But that’s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.”

For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. “No!” she cried triumphantly. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”

“Good girl, Meg!” her father shouted at her.

But Charles Wallace continued as though there had been no interruption. “In Camazotz all are equal. In Camazotz everybody is the same as everybody else,” but he gave her no argument, provided no answer, and she held on to her moment of revelation.

Like and equal are two entirely different things.

For the moment she had escaped from the power of IT.

But how?

She knew that her own puny little brain was no match for this great, bodiless, pulsing, writhing mass on the round dais. She shuddered as she looked at IT. In the lab at school there was a human brain preserved in formaldehyde, and the seniors preparing for college had to take it out and look at it and study it. Meg had felt that when that day came she would never be able to endure it. But now she thought that if only she had a dissecting knife she would slash at IT, cutting ruthlessly through cerebrum, cerebellum.

Words spoke within her, directly this time, not through Charles. “Don’t you realize that if you destroy me, you also destroy your little brother?”

If that great brain were cut, were crushed, would every mind under IT’s control on Camazotz die, too? Charles Wallace and the man with red eyes and the man who ran the number one spelling machine on the second grade level and all the children playing ball and skipping rope and all the mothers and all the men and women going in and out of the buildings? Was their life completely dependent on IT? Were they beyond all possibility of salvation?

She felt the brain reaching at her again as she let her stubborn control slip. Red fog glazed her eyes.

Faintly she heard her father’s voice, though she knew he was shouting at the top of his lungs. “The periodic table of elements, Meg! Say it!”

A picture flashed into her mind of winter evenings spent sitting before the open fire and studying with her father. “Hydrogen. Helium,” she started obediently. Keep them in their proper atomic order. What next. She knew it. Yes. “Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Fluorine.” She shouted the words at her father, turned away from IT. “Neon. Sodium. Magnesium. Aluminum. Silicon. Phosphorus.”

“Too rhythmical,” her father shouted. “What’s the square root of five?”

For a moment she was able to concentrate. Rack your brains yourself, Meg. Don’t let IT rack them. “The square root of five is 2.236,” she cried triumphantly, “because 2.236 times 2.236 equals 5!”

“What’s the square root of seven?”

“The square root of seven is—” She broke off. She wasn’t holding out. IT was getting at her, and she couldn’t concentrate, not even on math, and soon she, too, would be absorbed in IT, she would be an IT.

“Tesser, sir!” she heard Calvin’s voice through die red darkness. “Tesser!”

She felt her father grab her by the wrist, there was a terrible jerk that seemed to break every bone in her body, then the dark nothing of tessering.

If tessering with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which had been a strange and fearful experience, it was nothing like tessering with her father. After all, Mrs. Which was experienced at it, and Mr. Murry—how did he know anything about it at all? Meg felt that she was being torn apart by a whirlwind. She was lost in an agony of pain that finally dissolved into the darkness of complete unconsciousness.

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