چیز مشکی

کتاب: چروکی در زمان / فصل 4

چیز مشکی

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4 - The Black Thing

THE trees were lashed into a violent frenzy. Meg screamed and clutched at Calvin, and Mrs. Which’s authoritative voice called out, “Qquiett, chilidd!”

Did a shadow fall across the moon or did the moon simply go out, extinguished as abruptly and completely as a candle? There was still the sound of leaves, a terrified, terrifying rushing. All light was gone. Darkness was complete. Suddenly the wind was gone, and all sound. Meg felt that Calvin was being torn from her. When she reached for him her fingers touched nothing.

She screamed out, “Charles!” and whether it was to help him or for him to help her, she did not know. The word was flung back down her throat and she choked on it.

She was completely alone.

She had lost the protection of Calvin’s hand. Charles was nowhere, either to save or to turn to. She was alone in a fragment of nothingness. No light, no sound, no feeling. Where was her body? She tried to move in her panic, but there was nothing to move. Just as light and sound had vanished, she was gone, too. The corporeal Meg simply was not.

Then she felt her limbs again. Her legs and arms were tingling faintly, as though they had been asleep. She blinked her eyes rapidly, but though she herself was somehow back, nothing else was. It was not as simple as dark- ness, or absence of light. Darkness has a tangible quality; it can be moved through and felt; in darkness you can bark your shins; the world of things still exists around you. She was lost in a horrifying void.

It was the same way with the silence. This was more than silence. A deaf person can feel vibrations. Here there was nothing to feel.

Suddenly she was aware of her heart beating rapidly within the cage of her ribs. Had it stopped before? What had made it start again? The tingling in her arms and legs grew stronger, and suddenly she felt movement. This movement, she felt, must be the turning of the earth, rotating on’ its axis, traveling its elliptic course about the sun. And this feeling of moving with the earth was somewhat like the feeling of being in the ocean, out in the ocean beyond this rising and falling of the breakers, lying on the moving water, pulsing gently with the swells, and feeling the gentle, inexorable tug of the moon.

I am asleep; I am dreaming, she thought. I’m having a nightmare. I want to wake up. Let me wake up.

“Well!” Charles Wallace’s voice said. “That was quite a trip! I do think you might have warned us.”

Light began to pulse and quiver. Meg blinked and shoved shakily at her glasses and there was Charles Wallace standing indignantly in front of her, his hands on his hips. “Meg!” he shouted. “Calvin! Where are you?”

She saw Charles, she heard him, but she could not go to him. She could not shove through the strange, trembling light to meet him.

Calvin’s voice came as though it were pushing through a cloud. “Well, just give me time, will you? I’m older than you are.”

Meg gasped. It wasn’t that Calvin wasn’t there and then that he was. It wasn’t that part of him came first and then the rest of him followed, like a hand and then an arm, an eye and then a nose. It was a sort of shimmering, a looking at Calvin through water, through smoke, through fire, and then there he was, solid and reassuring.

“Meg!” Charles Wallace’s voice came. “Meg! Calvin, where’s Meg?”

“I’m right here,” she tried to say, but her voice seemed to be caught at its source.

“Meg!” Calvin cried, and he turned around, looking about wildly.

“Mrs. Which, you haven’t left Meg behind, have you?” Charles Wallace shouted.

“If you’ve hurt Meg, any of you—” Calvin started, but suddenly Meg felt a violent push and a shattering as though she had been thrust through a wall of glass.

“Oh, there you are!” Charles Wallace said, and rushed over to her and hugged her.

“But where am I?” Meg asked breathlessly, relieved to hear that her voice was now coming out of her in more or less a normal way.

She looked around rather wildly. They were standing in a sunlit field, and the air about them was moving with the delicious fragrance that comes only on the rarest of spring days when the sun’s touch is gentle and the apple blossoms are just beginning to unfold. She pushed her glasses up on her nose to reassure herself that what she was seeing was real.

They had left the silver glint of a biting autumn evening; and now around them everything was golden with light. The grasses of the field were a tender new green, and scattered about were tiny, multicolored flowers. Meg turned slowly to face a mountain reaching so high into the sky that its peak was lost in a crown of puffy white clouds. From the trees at the base of the mountain came a sudden singing of birds. There was an air of such ineffable peace and joy all around her that her heart’s wild thumping slowed.

“When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain,” came Mrs. Who’s voice. Suddenly the three of them were there, Mrs. Whatsit with her pink stole askew; Mrs. Who with her spectacles gleaming; and Mrs. Which still little more than a shimmer. Delicate, multicolored butterflies were fluttering about them, as though in greeting.

Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who began to giggle, and they giggled until it seemed that, whatever their private joke was, they would fall down with the wild fun of it. The shimmer seemed to be laughing, too. It became vaguely darker and more solid; and then there appeared a figure in a black robe and a black peaked hat, beady eyes, a beaked nose, and long gray hair; one bony claw clutched a broomstick.

 ”Wwell, jusstt ttoo kkeepp yyou girrlls happpy,” the strange voice said. and Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who fell into each other’s arms in gales of laughter.

“If you ladies have had your fun I think you should tell Calvin and Meg a little more about all this,” Charles Wallace said coldly. “You scared Meg half out of her wits, whisking her off this way without any warning.”

“Finxerunt animi, faro et perpauca loquentis,” Mrs. Who intoned. “Horace. To action little, less to words inclined.”

“Mrs. Who, I wish you’d stop quoting!” Charles Wallace sounded very annoyed.

Mrs. Whatsit adjusted her stole. “But she finds it so difficult to verbalize, Charles dear. It helps her if she can quote instead of working out words of her own.”

“Anndd wee mussttn’tt looose our sensses of hummorr,” Mrs. Which said. “Thee onnlly wway ttoo ccope withh ssometthingg ddeadly sseriouss iss ttoo ttry ttoo trreatt itt allittllelligghtly.”

“But that’s going to be hard for Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “It’s going to be hard for her to realize that we are serious.”

“What about me?” Calvin asked.

“The life of your father isn’t at stake,” Mrs. Whatsit told him.

    ”What about Charles Wallace, then?”

 

Mrs. Whatsit’s unoiled-door-hinge voice was warm with affection and pride. “Charles Wallace knows. Charles Wallace knows that it’s far more than just the life of his father. Charles Wallace knows what’s at stake.”

    ”But remember,” Mrs. Who said, “Aeiproft ovSev, iravra cfJvlciv wcwT. Euripides. Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything.”

“Where are we now, and how did we get here?” Calvin asked.

“Uriel, the third planet of the star Malak in the spiral nebula Messier 101.”

“This I’m supposed to believe?” Calvin asked indignantly.

“Aas yyou llike,” Mrs. Which said coldly.

For some reason Meg felt that Mrs. Which, despite her looks and ephemeral broomstick, was someone in whom one could put complete trust.

“It doesn’t seem any more peculiar than anything else that’s happened.”

“Well, then, someone just tell me how we got here!” Calvin’s voice was still angry and his freckles seemed to stand out on his face. “Even traveling at the speed of light it would take us years and years to get here.”

“Oh, we don’t travel at the speed of anything,” Mrs. Whatsit explained earnestly. “We tesser. Or you might say, we wrinkle.”

“Clear as mud,” Calvin said.

Tesser, Meg thought. Could that have anything to do with Mother’s tesseract?

She was about to ask when Mrs. Which started to speak, and one did not interrupt when Mrs. Which was speaking. “Mrs. Whatsit iss yyoungg andd nnaive,”

“She keeps thinking she can explain things in words,” Mrs. Who said. “Qui plus salt, plus se tait. French, you know. The more a man knows, the less he talks.”

“But she has to use words for Meg and Calvin,” Charles reminded Mrs. Who. “If you brought them along, they have a right to know what’s going on.”

Meg went up to Mrs. Which. In the intensity of her question she had forgotten all about the tesseract. “Is my father here?”

Mrs. Which shook her head. “Nnott heeere, Megg. Llett Mrs, Whatsitt expllainn. Shee isss yyoungg annd thee llanguage of worrds iss eeasierr fforr hherr thann itt iss fforr Mrs. Whoo andd mee.”

“We stopped here,” Mrs. Whatsit explained, “more or less to catch our breaths. And to give you a chance to know what you’re up against.”

“But what about Father?” Meg asked. “Is he all right?”

“For the moment, love, yes. He’s one of the reasons we’re here. But you see, he’s only one.”

“Well, where is he? Please take me to him!”

“We can’t, not yet,” Charles said. “You have to be patient, Meg.”

“But I’m not patient!” Meg cried passionately. “I’ve never been patient!”

Mrs. Who’s glasses shone at her gently. “If you want to help your father then you must learn patience. Vitam impendere vero. To stake one’s life for the truth. That is what we must do.”

    ”That is what your father is doing.” Mrs. Whatsit nodded, her voice, like Mrs. Who’s, very serious, very solemn. Then she smiled her radiant smile. “Now! Why don’t you three children wander around and Charles can explain things a little. You’re perfectly safe on Uriel. That’s why we stopped here to rest.”

“But aren’t you coming with us?” Meg asked fearfully.

There was silence for a moment. Then Mrs. Which raised her authoritative hand. “Sshoww themm,” she said to Mrs. Whatsit, and at something in her voice Meg felt prickles of apprehension.

“Now?” Mrs. Whatsit asked, her creaky voice rising to a squeak. Whatever it was Mrs. Which wanted them to see, it was something that made Mrs. Whatsit uncomfortable, too.

“Nnoww,” Mrs. Which said. “Tthey mmay aas welll knoww.”

“Should—should I change?” Mrs. Whatsit asked.

“Bbetter.”

“I hope it won’t upset the children too much,” Mrs. Whatsit murmured, as though to herself.

“Should I change, too?” Mrs. Who asked. “Oh, but I’ve had fun in these clotlies. But I’ll have to admit Mrs. Whatsit is the best at it. DOS Work lobt den Meister. German. The work proves the craftsman. Shall I transform now, too?”

Mrs. Which shook her head. “Nnott yett. Nnott heere. Yyou mmay wwaitt.”

“Now, don’t be frightened, loves,” Mrs. Whatsit said. Her plump little body began to shimmer, to quiver, to shift. The wild colors of her clothes became muted, whitened. The pudding-bag shape stretched, lengthened, merged. And suddenly before the children was a creature more beautiful than any Meg had even imagined, and the beauty lay in far more than the outward description. Outwardly Mrs. Whatsit was surely no longer a Mrs. Whatsit. She was a marble white body with powerful flanks, something like a horse but at the same time completely unlike a horse, for from the magnificently modeled back sprang a nobly formed torso, arms, and a head resembling a man’s, but a man with a perfection of dignity and virtue, an exaltation of joy such as Meg had never before seen. No, she thought, it’s not like a Greek centaur. Not in the least.

From the shoulders slowly a pair of wings unfolded, wings made of rainbows, of light upon water, of poetry.

Calvin fell to his knees.

“No,” Mrs. Whatsit said, though her voice was not Mrs. Whatsit’s voice. “Not to me, Calvin. Never to me. Stand up.”

“Ccarrry themm,” Mrs. Which commanded.

With a gesture both delicate and strong Mrs. Whatsit knelt in front of the children, stretching her wings wide and holding them steady, but quivering. “Onto my back, now,” the new voice said.

The children took hesitant steps toward the beautiful creature.

“But what do we call you now?” Calvin asked.

“Oh, my dears,” came the new voice, a rich voice with the warmth of a woodwind, the clarity of a trumpet, the mystery of an English horn. “You can’t go on changing my name each time I metamorphose. And I’ve had such pleasure being Mrs. Whatsit I think you’d better keep to that.” She? he? it? smiled at them, and the radiance of the smile was as tangible as a soft breeze, as directly warming as the rays of the sun.

“Come.” Charles Wallace clambered up.

Meg and Calvin followed him, Meg sitting between the two boys. A tremor went through the great wings and then Mrs. Whatsit lifted and they were moving through the air.

Meg soon found that there was no need to cling to Charles Wallace or Calvin. The great creature’s flight was serenely smooth. The boys were eagerly looking around the landscape.

“Look.” Charles Wallace pointed. “The mountains are so tall that you can’t see where they end.”

Meg looked upwards and indeed the mountains seemed to be reaching into infinity.

They left the fertile fields and flew across a great plateau of granite-like rock shaped into enormous monoliths. These had a definite, rhythmic form, but they were not statues; they were like nothing Meg had ever seen before, and she wondered if they had been made by wind and weather, by the formation of this earth, or if they were a creation of beings like the one on which she rode.

They left the great granite plain and flew over a garden even more beautiful than anything in a dream. In it were gathered many of the creatures like the one Mrs. Whatsit had become, some lying among the flowers, some swimming in a broad, crystal river that flowed through the garden, some flying in what Meg was sure must be a kind of dance, moving in and out above the trees. They were making music, music that came not only from their throats but from the movement of their great wings as well.

“What are they singing?” Meg asked excitedly.

Mrs. Whatsit shook her beautiful head. “It won’t go into your words. I can’t possibly transfer it to your words. Are you getting any of it, Charles?”

Charles Wallace sat very still on the broad back, on his face an intently listening look, the look he had when he delved into Meg or his mother. “A little. Just a very little. But I think I could get more in time.”

“Yes. You could learn it, Charles. But there isn’t time. We can only stay here long enough to rest up and make a few preparations.”

Meg hardly listened to her. “I want to know what they’re saying! I want to know what it means.”

“Try, Charles,” Mrs. Whatsit urged. “Try to translate. You can let yourself go, now. You don’t have to hold back.”

“But I can’t!” Charles Wallace cried in an anguished voice. “I don’t know enough! Not yet!”

“Then try to work with me and I’ll see if I can’t verbalize it a little for them.”

Charles Wallace got his look of probing, of listening.

I know that look! Meg thought suddenly. Now I think I know what it means! Because I’ve had it myself, sometimes, doing math with Father, when a problem is just about to come clear— Mrs. Whatsit seemed to be listening to Charles’s thoughts. “Well, yes, that’s an idea. I can try. Too bad you don’t really know it so you can give it to me direct, Charles. It’s so much more work this way.”

“Don’t be lazy,” Charles said.

Mrs. Whatsit did not take offense. She explained, “Oh, it’s my favorite kind of work, Charles. That’s why they chose me to go along, even though I’m so much younger. It’s my one real talent. But it takes a tremendous amount of energy, and we’re going to need every ounce of energy for what’s ahead of us. But I’ll try. For Calvin and Meg I’ll try.” She was silent; the great wings almost stopped moving; only a delicate stirring seemed to keep them aloft. “Listen, then,” Mrs. Whatsit said. The resonant voice rose and the words seemed to be all around them so that Meg felt that she could almost reach out and touch them: “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord!”

Throughout her entire body Meg felt a pulse of joy such as she had never known before. Calvin’s hand reached out; he did not clasp her hand in his; he moved his fingers so that they were barely touching hers, but joy flowed through them, back and forth between them, around them and about them and inside them.

When Mrs. Whatsit sighed it seemed completely incomprehensible that through this bliss could come the faintest whisper of doubt.

“We must go now, children.” Mrs. Whatsit’s voice was deep with sadness, and Meg could not understand. Raising her head, Mrs. Whatsit gave a call that seemed to be a command, and one of the creatures flying above the trees nearest them raised its head to listen, and then flew off and picked three flowers from a tree growing near the river and brought them over. “Each of you take one,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “I’ll tell you how to use them later.”

As Meg took her flower she realized that it was not a single blossom, but hundreds of tiny flowerets forming a kind of hollow bell.

“Where are we going?” Calvin asked.

“Up.”

The wings moved steadily, swiftly. The garden was left behind, the stretch of granite, the mighty shapes, and then Mrs. Whatsit was flying upward, climbing steadily up, up, Below them the trees of the mountain dwindled, became sparse, were replaced by bushes and then small, dry grasses, and then vegetation ceased entirely and there were only rocks, points and peaks of rock, sharp and dangerous. “Hold on tight,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “Don’t slip.”

Meg felt Calvin’s arm circle her waist in a secure hold.

Still they moved upward.

Now they were in clouds. They could see nothing but drifting whiteness, and the moisture clung to them and condensed in icy droplets. As Meg shivered, Calvin’s grip tightened. In front of her Charles Wallace sat quietly. Once he turned just long enough to give her a swift glance of tenderness and concern. But Meg felt as each moment passed that he was growing farther and farther away, that he was becoming less and less her adored baby brother and more and more one with whatever kind of being Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which in actuality were.

Abruptly they burst out of the clouds into a shaft of light. Below them there were still rocks; above them the rocks continued to reach up into the sky, but now, though it seemed miles upward, Meg could see where the mountain at last came to an end.

Mrs. Whatsit continued to climb, her wings straining a little. Meg felt her heart racing; cold sweat began to gather on her face and her lips felt as though they were turning blue. She began to gasp.

“All right, children, use your flowers now,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “The atmosphere will continue to get thinner from now on. Hold the flowers up to your face and breathe through them and they will give you enough oxygen. It won’t be as much as you’re used to, but it will be enough.”

Meg had almost forgotten the flowers, and was grateful to realize that she was still clasping them, that she hadn’t let them fall from her fingers. She pressed her face into the blossoms and breathed deeply.

Calvin still held her with one arm, but he, too, held die flowers to his face.

Charles Wallace moved the hand with the flowers slowly, almost as though he were in a dream.

Mrs. Whatsit’s wings strained against the thinness of the atmosphere. The summit was only a little way above them, and then they were there. Mrs. Whatsit came to rest on a small plateau of smooth silvery rock. There ahead of them was a great white disk.

“One of Uriel’s moons,” Mrs. Whatsit told them, her mighty voice faintly breathless.

“Oh, it’s beautiful!” Meg cried. “It’s beautiful!’

The silver light from the enormous moon poured over them, blending with the golden quality of the day, flowing over the children, over Mrs. Whatsit, over the mountain peak.

“Now we will turn around,” Mrs. Whatsit said, and at the quality of her voice, Meg was afraid again.

But when they turned she saw nothing. Ahead of them was the thin clear blue of sky; below them the rocks thrusting out of the shifting sea of white clouds.

“Now we will wait,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “for sunset and moonset.”

Almost as she spoke the light began to deepen, to darken.

“I want to watch the moon set,” Charles Wallace said.

“No, child. Do not turn around, any of you. Face out towards the dark. What I have to show you will be more visible then. Look ahead, straight ahead, as far as you can possibly look.”

Meg’s eyes ached from the strain of looking and seeing nothing. Then, above the clouds which encircled the mountain, she seemed to see a shadow, a faint thing of darkness so far off that she was scarcely sure she was really seeing it Charles Wallace said, “What’s that?”

“That sort of shadow out there,” Calvin gestured. “What is it? I don’t like it.”

“Watch,” Mrs. Whatsit commanded.

It was a shadow, nothing but a shadow. It was not even as tangible as a cloud. Was it cast by something? Or was it a Thing in itself?

The sky darkened. The gold left the light and they were surrounded by blue, blue deepening until where there had been nothing but the evening sky there was now a faint pulse of star, and then another and another and another. There were more stars than Meg had ever seen before.

“The atmosphere is so thin here,” Mrs. Whatsit said as though in answer to her unasked question, “that it does not obscure your vision as it would at home. Now look. Look straight ahead.”

Meg looked. The dark shadow was still there. It had not lessened or dispersed with the coming of night. And where the shadow was the stars were not visible.

What could there be about a shadow that was so terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming. beyond the possibility of comfort?

Meg’s hand holding the blossoms slowly dropped and it seemed as though a knife gashed through her lungs. She gasped, but there was no air for her to breathe. Darkness glazed her eyes and mind, but as she started to fall into unconsciousness her head dropped down into the flowers which she was still clutching; and as she inhaled the fragrance of their purity her mind and body revived, and she sat up again.

The shadow was still there, dark and dreadful. Calvin held her hand strongly in his, but she felt neither strength nor reassurance in his touch. Beside her a tremor went through Charles Wallace, but he sat very still He shouldn’t be seeing this. Meg thought. This is too much for so little a boy, no matter how different and extraordinary a little boy.

Calvin turned, rejecting the dark Thing that blotted out the light of the stars. “Make it go away, Mrs. Whatsit,” he whispered. “Make it go away. It’s evil.”

Slowly the great creature turned around so that the shadow was behind them, so that they saw only the stars unobscured, the soft throb of starlight on the mountain, the descending circle of the great moon swiftly slipping over the horizon. Then, without a word from Mrs. Whatsit, they were traveling downward, down, down. When they reached the corona of clouds Mrs. Whatsit said, “You can breathe without the flowers now, my children.”

Silence again. Not a word. It was as though the shadow had somehow reached out with its dark power and touched them so that they were incapable of speech. When they got back to the flowery field, bathed now in starlight, and moonlight from another, smaller, yellower, rising moon, a little of the tenseness went out of their bodies, and they realized that the body of the beautiful creature on which they rode had been as rigid as theirs.

With a graceful gesture it dropped to the ground and folded its great wings. Charles Wallace was the first to slide off. “Mrs. Who! Mrs. Which!” he called, and there was an immediate quivering in the air. Mrs. Who’s familiar glasses gleamed at them. Mrs. Which appeared, too; but, as she had told the children, it was difficult for her to materialize completely, and though there was the robe and peaked hat, Meg could look through them to mountain and stars. She slid off Mrs. Whatsit’s back and walked, rather unsteadily after the long ride, over to Mrs. Which.

“That dark Thing we saw,” she said. “Is that what my father is fighting?”

“YES,” Mrs. Which said. “Hhee iss beehindd thee ddarrkness, sso thatt eevenn wee cannott seee hhimm.”

Meg began to cry, to sob aloud. Through her tears she could see Charles Wallace standing there, very small, very white. Calvin put his arms around her, but she shuddered and broke away, sobbing wildly. Then she was enfolded in the great wings of Mrs. Whatsit and she felt comfort and strength pouring through her. Mrs. Whatsit was not speaking aloud, and yet through the wings Meg understood words.

“My child, do not despair. Do you think we would have brought you here if there were no hope? We are asking you to do a difficult thing, but we are confident that you can do it. Your father needs help, he needs courage, and for his children he may be able to do what he cannot do for himself.”

“Nnow,” Mrs. Which said. “Arre wee rreaddy?”

“Where are we going?” Calvin asked.

Again Meg felt an actual physical tingling of fear as Mrs. Which spoke.

“Wwee musstt ggo bbehindd thee sshaddow.”

“But we will not do it all at once,” Mrs. Whatsit comforted them. “We will do it in short stages.” She looked at Meg. “Now we will tesser, we will wrinkle again. Do you understand?”

“No,” Meg said flatly.

Mrs. Whatsit sighed. “Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words. Calvin talked about traveling at the speed of light. You understand that, little Meg?”

“Yes,” Meg nodded.

“That, of course, is the impractical, long way around. We have learned to take short cuts wherever possible.”

“Sort of like in math?” Meg asked.

“Like in math.” Mrs. Whatsit looked over at Mrs. Who. “Take your skirt and show them.”

“La experiencia es la madre de la ciencia. Spanish, my dears. Cervantes. Experience is the mother of knowledge.” Mrs. Who took a portion of her white robe in her hands and held it tight.

“You see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “if a very small insect were to move from the section of skirt in Mrs. Who’s right hand to that in her left, it would be quite a long walk for him if he had to walk straight across.”

Swiftly Mrs. Who brought her hands, still holding the skirt, together.

“Now, you see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “he would be there, without that long trip. That is how we travel.”

   

 Charles Wallace accepted the explanation serenely. Even Calvin did not seem perturbed. “Oh, dear,” Meg sighed. “I guess I am a moron. I just don’t get it.”

“That is because you think of space only in three dimensions,” Mrs. Whatsit told her. “We travel in the fifth dimension. This is something you can understand, Meg. Don’t be afraid to try. Was your mother able to explain a tesseract to you?”

“Well, she never did,” Meg said. “She got so upset about it Why, Mrs. Whatsit? She said it had something to do with her and Father.”

“It was a concept they were playing with,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “going beyond die fourth dimension to the fifth. Did your mother explain it to you, Charles?”

“Well, yes.” Charles looked a little embarrassed. “Please don’t be hurt, Meg. I just kept at her while you were at school till I got it out of her.”

Meg sighed. “Just explain it to me.”

“Okay,” Charles said. “What is the first dimension?”

“Well—a line: —————————————”

“Okay. And the second dimension?”

“Well, you’d square the line. A flat square would be in the second dimension.”

“And the third?”

“Well, you’d square the second dimension. Then the square wouldn’t be flat any more. It would have a bottom, and sides, and a top.”

“And the fourth?”

“Well, I guess if you want to put it into mathematical terms you’d square the square. But you can’t take a pencil and draw it the way you can the first three. I know it’s got something to do with Einstein and time. I guess maybe you could call the fourth dimension Time.”

“That’s right,” Charles said. “Good girl. Okay, then, for the fifth dimension you’d square the fourth, wouldn’t you?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, the fifth dimension’s a tesseract. You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around. In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”

For a brief, illuminating second Meg’s face had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles’s. “I see!” she cried. “I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!” She turned excitedly to Calvin. “Did you get it?”

He nodded. “Enough. I don’t understand it the way Charles Wallace does, but enough to get the idea.”

“Sso nnow wee ggo,” Mrs. Which said. “Tthere iss nott all thee ttime inn ttlie worrlld.”

“Could we hold hands?” Meg asked.

Calvin took her hand and held it tightly in his.

“You can try,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “though I’m not sure how it will work. You see, though we travel together, we travel alone. We will go first and take you afterward in the backwash. That may be easier for you.” As she spoke the great white body began to waver, the wings to dissolve into mist. Mrs. Who seemed to evaporate until there was nothing but the glasses, and then the glasses, too, disappeared. It reminded Meg of the Cheshire Cat.

—I’ve often seen a face without glasses, she thought; — but glasses without a face! I wonder if I go that way, too. First me and then my glasses?

She looked over at Mrs. Which. Mrs. Which was there and then she wasn’t.

There was a gust of wind and a great thrust and a sharp shattering as she was shoved through—what? Then darkness; silence; nothingness. If Calvin was still holding her hand she could not feel it. But this time she was prepared for the sudden and complete dissolution other body. When she felt the tingling coming back to her fingertips she knew that this journey was almost over and she could feel again the pressure of Calvin’s hand about hers.

Without warning, coming as a complete and unexpected shock, she felt a pressure she had never imagined, as though she were being completely flattened out by an enormous steam roller. This was far worse than the nothingness had been; while she was nothing there was no need to breathe, but now her lungs were squeezed together so that although she was dying for want of air there was no way for her lungs to expand and contract, to take in the air that she must have to stay alive. This was completely different from the thinning of atmosphere when they flew up the mountain and she had had to put the flowers to her face to breathe. She tried to gasp, but a paper doll can’t gasp. She thought she was trying to think, but her flattened-out mind was as unable to function as her lungs; her thoughts were squashed along with the rest of her. Her heart tried to beat; it gave a knifelike, sidewise movement, but it could not expand.

But then she seemed to hear a voice, or if not a voice, at least words, words flattened out like printed words on paper, “Oh, no! We can’t stop here! This is a two-dimensional planet and the children can’t manage here!”

She was whizzed into nothingness again, and nothingness was wonderful. She did not mind that she could not feel Calvin’s hand, that she could not see or feel or be. The relief from the intolerable pressure was all she needed.

Then the tingling began to come back to her fingers, her toes; she could feel Calvin holding her tightly. Her heart beat regularly; blood coursed through her veins. Whatever had happened, whatever mistake had been made, it was over now. She thought she heard Charles Wallace saying, his words round and full as spoken words ought to be, “Really, Mrs. Which, you might have killed us!

This time she was pushed out of the frightening fifth dimension with a sudden, immediate jerk. There she was, herself again, standing with Calvin beside her, holding onto her hand for dear life, and Charles Wallace in front of her, looking indignant. Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which were not visible, but she knew that they were there; the fact of their presence was strong about her.

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