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کتاب: چروکی در زمان / فصل 8

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8 - The Transparent Column

CHARLES Wallace sat there tucking away turkey and dressing, as though it were the most delicious thing he had ever tasted. He was dressed like Charles Wallace; he looked like Charles Wallace; he had the same sandy brown hair, the same face that had not yet lost its baby roundness. Only the eyes were different, for the black was still swallowed up in blue. But it was far more than this that made Meg feel that Charles Wallace was gone, that the little boy in his place was only a copy of Charles Wallace, only a doll.

She fought down a sob. “Where is he?” she demanded of the man with red eyes. “What have you done with him? Where is Charles Wallace?”

“But my dear child, you are hysterical,” the man thought at her. “He is right there, before you, well and happy. Completely well and happy for the first time in his life. And he is finishing his dinner, which you also would be wise to do.”

“You know it isn’t Charles!” Meg shouted. “You’ve got him somehow.”

“Hush, Meg. There’s no use trying to talk to him,” Calvin said, speaking in a low voice into her ear. “What we have to do is hold Charles Wallace tight. He’s there, somewhere, underneath, and we mustn’t let them take him away from us. Help me hold him, Meg. Don’t lose control of yourself. Not now. You’ve got to help me hold Chariest” He took the little boy firmly by one arm.

Fighting down her hysteria, Meg took Charles’s other arm and held it tightly.

“You’re hurting me, Meg!” Charles said sharply. “Let me go!”

“No,” Meg said grimly.

“We’ve been all wrong.” Charles Wallace’s voice, Meg thought, might have been a recording. There was a canned quality to it. “He isn’t an enemy at all. He’s our friend.”

“Nuts,” Calvin said rudely.

“You don’t understand, Calvin,” Charles Wallace said. “Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which have confused us. They’re the ones who are really our enemies. We never should have trusted them for a minute.” He spoke in his calmest, most reasonable voice, the voice which infuriated the twins. He seemed to be looking directly at Calvin as he spoke, and yet Meg was sure that the bland blue eyes could not see, and that someone, something else was looking at Calvin through Charles.

Now the cold, strange eyes turned to her. “Meg, let go. I will explain it all to you, but you must let go.”

“No.” Meg gritted her teeth. She did not release her grasp, and Charles Wallace began to pull away with a power that was not his own, and her own spindly strength was no match against it. “Calvin!” she gasped as Charles Wallace wrenched his arm from her and stood up.

Calvin the athlete, Calvin the boy who split firewood and brought it in for his mother, whose muscles were strong and controlled, let go Charles Wallace’s wrist and tackled him as though he were a football. Meg, in her panic and rage, darted at the man on the chair, intending to hit him as Charles Wallace had done, but the black smocked men were too quick for her, and one of them held her with her arms pinioned behind her back.

“Calvin, I advise you to let me go,” came Charles Wallace’s voice from under Calvin.

Calvin, his face screwed up with grim determination, did not relax his hold. The man with red eyes nodded and three of the men moved in on Calvin (at least it took three of them), pried him loose, and held him as Meg was being held.

“Mrs. Whatsit!” Meg called despairingly. “Oh, Mrs. Whatsit!”

But Mrs. Whatsit did not come.

“Meg,” Charles Wallace said. “Meg, just listen to me.”

“Okay, I’m listening.”

“We’ve been all wrong, I told you; we haven’t understood. We’ve been fighting our friend, and Father’s friend.”

“If Father tells me he’s our friend maybe I’ll believe it. Maybe. Unless he’s got Father—under—under a spell, or whatever it is, like you.”

“This isn’t a fairy tale. Spells indeed,” Charles Wallace said. “Meg, you’ve got to stop fighting and relax. Relax and be happy. Oh, Meg, if you’d just relax you’d realize that all our troubles are over. You don’t understand what a wonderful place we’ve come to. You see, on this planet everything is in perfect order because everybody has learned to relax, to give in, to submit. All you have to do is look quietly and steadily into the eyes of our good friend here, for he is our friend, dear sister, and he will take you in as he has taken me.

Taken you in is right!” Meg said. “You know you’re not you. You know you’ve never in your life called me dear sister.”

“Shut up a minute, Meg,” Calvin whispered to her. He looked up at the man with red eyes. “Okay, have your henchmen let us go and stop talking to us through Charles. We know it’s you talking, or whatever’s talking through you. Anyhow, we know you have Charles hypnotized.”

“A most primitive way of putting it,” the man with red eyes murmured. He gestured slightly with one finger, and Meg and Calvin were released.

“Thanks,” Calvin said wryly. “Now, if you are our friend, will you tell us who—or what—you are?”

“It is not necessary for you to know who I am. I am the Prime Coordinator, that is all you need to know.”

“But you’re being spoken through, aren’t you, just like Charles Wallace? Are you hypnotized, too?”

“I told you that was too primitive a word, without the correct connotations.”

“Is it you who are going to take us to Mr. Murry?”

“No. It is not necessary, nor is it possible, for me to leave here. Charles Wallace will conduct you.”

    ”Charles Wallace?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Now.” The man with red eyes made the frightening grimace that passed for his smile. “Yes, I think it might as well be now.”

Charles Wallace gave a slight jerk of his head, saying, “Come,” and started to walk in a strange, gliding, mechanical manner. Calvin followed him. Meg hesitated, looking from the man with red eyes to Charles and Calvin. She wanted to reach out and grab Calvin’s hand, but it seemed that ever since they had begun their journeyings she had been looking for a hand to hold, so she stuffed her fists into her pockets and walked along behind the two boys. —I’ve got to be brave, she said to herself.—I will be.

They moved down a long, white, and seemingly endless corridor. Charles Wallace continued the jerky rhythm of his walk and did not once look back to see if they were with him.

Suddenly Meg broke into a run and caught up with Calvin. “Cal,” Meg said. “Listen. Quick. Remember Mrs. Whatsit said your gift was communication and that was what she was giving you. We’ve been trying to fight Charles physically, and that isn’t any good. Can’t you try to communicate with him? Can’t you try to get in to him?”

“Golly day, you’re right.” Calvin’s face lit up with hope, and his eyes, which had been somber, regained their usual sparkle. “I’ve been in such a swivet— It may not do any good, but at least I can try.” They quickened their pace until they were level with Charles Wallace. Calvin reached out for his arm, but Charles flung it off.

“Leave me alone,” he snarled.

“I’m not going to hurt you, old sport,” Calvin said. “I’m just trying to be friendly. Let’s make it up, hunh?”

“You mean you’re coming around?” Charles Wallace asked.

“Sure,” Calvin’s voice was coaxing. “We’re reasonable people, after all. Just look at me for a minute, Charlibus.”

Charles Wallace stopped and turned slowly to look at Calvin with his cold, vacant eyes. Calvin looked back, and Meg could feel the intensity of his concentration. An enormous shudder shook Charles Wallace. For a brief flash his eyes seemed to see. Then his whole body twirled wildly, and went rigid. He started his marionette’s walk again. “I should have known better,” he said. “If you want to see Murry you’d better come with me and not try any more hanky-panky.”

“Is that what you call your father—Murry?” Calvin asked. Meg could see that be was angry and upset at his near success.

“Father? What is a father?” Charles Wallace intoned. “Merely another misconception. If you feel the need of a father, then I would suggest that you turn to IT.”

IT again.

“Who’s this IT?” Meg asked.

“All in good time,” Charles Wallace said. “You’re not ready for IT yet. First of all I will tell you something about this beautiful, enlightened planet of Camazotz.” His voice took on the dry, pedantic tones of Mr. Jenkins. “Perhaps you do not realize that on Camazotz we have conquered all illness, all deformity—”

“We?” Calvin interrupted.

Charles continued as though he had not heard. And of course he hadn’t, Meg thought. “We let no one suffer. It is so much kinder simply to annihilate anyone who is ill. Nobody has weeks and weeks of runny noses and sore throats. Rather than endure such discomfort they are simply put to sleep.”

“You mean they’re put to sleep while they have a cold, or that they’re murdered?” Calvin demanded.

“Murder is a most primitive word,” Charles Wallace said. “There is no such thing as murder on Camazotz. IT takes care of all such things.” He moved jerkily to the wall of the corridor, stood still for a moment, then raised his hand. The wall flickered, quivered, grew transparent. Charles Wallace walked through it, beckoned to Meg and Calvin, and they followed. They were in a small, square room from which radiated a dull, sulphurous light. There was something ominous to Meg in the very compactness of the room, as though the walls, the ceiling, the floor might move together and crush anybody rash enough to enter.

“How did you do that?” Calvin asked Charles.

“Do what?” “Make the wall—open—like that.”

 ”I merely rearranged the atoms,” Charles Wallace said loftily. “You’ve studied atoms in school, haven’t you?”

“Sure, but—”

“Then you know enough to know that matter isn’t solid, don’t you? That you, Calvin, consist mostly of empty space? That if all the matter in you came together you’d be the size of the head of a pin? That’s plain scientific fact, isn’t it?”

“Yes. but—”

“So I simply pushed the atoms aside and we walked through the space between them.”

  Meg’s stomach seemed to drop, and she realized that the square box in which they stood must be an elevator and that they had started to move upward with great speed. The yellow light lit up their faces, and the pale blue of Charles’s eyes absorbed the yellow and turned green. Calvin licked his lips. “Where are we going?”

“Up.” Charles continued his lecture. “On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Differences create problems. You know that, don’t you, dear sister?”

“No,” Meg said.

“Oh, yes, you do. You’ve seen at home how true it is. You know that’s the reason you’re not happy at school. Because you’re different.”

“I’m different, and I’m happy,” Calvin said.

“But you pretend that you aren’t different.”

“I’m different, and I like being different.” Calvin’s voice was unnaturally loud.

“Maybe I don’t like being different,” Meg said. “but I don’t want to be like everybody else, either.”

Charles Wallace raised his hand and the motion of the square box ceased and one of the walls seemed to disappear. Charles stepped out, Meg and Calvin following him, Calvin just barely making it before the wall came into being again, and they could no longer see where the opening had been.

“You wanted Calvin to get left behind, didn’t you?” Meg said.

“I am merely trying to teach you to stay on your toes, I warn you, if I have any more trouble from either of you, I shall have to take you to IT.”

As the word IT fell from Charles’s lips, again Meg felt as though she had been touched by something slimy and horrible. “So what is this IT?” she asked.

“You might call IT the Boss.” Then Charles Wallace giggled, a giggle that was the most sinister sound Meg had ever heard. “IT sometimes calls ITself the Happiest Sadist.”

Meg spoke coldly, to cover her fear. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“That’s s-a-d-i-s-t, not s-a-d-d-e-s-t, you know,” Charles Wallace said, and giggled again. “Lots of people don’t pronounce it correctly.” “Well, I don’t care,” Meg said defiantly. “I don’t ever want to see IT, and that’s that.”

Charles Wallace’s strange, monotonous voice ground against her ears. “Meg, you’re supposed to have some mind. Why do you think we have wars at home? Why do you think people get confused and unhappy? Because they all live their own, separate, individual lives. I’ve been trying to explain to you in the simplest possible way that on Camazotz individuals have been done away with. Camazotz is ONE mind. It’s IT. And that’s why everybody’s so happy and efficient. That’s what old witches like Mrs. Whatsit don’t want to have happen at home.”

“She’s not a witch,” Meg interrupted.

“No?”

“No,” Calvin said. “You know she’s not. You know that’s just their game. Their way, maybe, of laughing in the dark.”

“In the dark is correct,” Charles continued. ‘They want us to go on being confused instead of properly organized.”

Meg shook her head violently. “No!” she shouted. “I know our world isn’t perfect, Charles, but it’s better than this. This isn’t the only alternative! It can’t be!”

“Nobody suffers here,” Charles intoned. “Nobody is ever unhappy.”

“But nobody’s ever happy, either,” Meg said earnestly.

“Maybe it you aren’t unhappy sometimes you don’t know how to be happy. Calvin, I want to go home.”

“We can’t leave Charles,” Calvin told her, “and we can’t go before we’ve found your father. You know that. But you’re right, Meg, and Mrs. Which is right. This is Evil.”

Charles Wallace shook his head, and scorn and disapproval seemed to emanate from him. “Come. We’re wasting time.” He moved rapidly down the corridor, but continued to speak. “How dreadful it is to be low, individual organisms. Tch-tch-tch.” His pace quickened from step to step, his short legs flashing, so that Meg and Calvin almost had to run to keep up with him. “Now see this,” he said. He raised his hand and suddenly they could see through one of the walls into a small room. In the room a little boy was bouncing a ball. He was bouncing it in rhythm, and the walls of his little cell seemed to pulse with the rhythm of the ball. And each time the ball bounced he screamed as though he were in pain.

“That’s the little boy we saw this afternoon,” Calvin said sharply, “the little boy who wasn’t bouncing the ball like the others.”

Charles Wallace giggled again. “Yes. Every once in a while there’s a little trouble with cooperation, but it’s easily taken care of. After today he’ll never desire to deviate again. Ah, here we are.”

He moved rapidly down the corridor and again held up his hand to make the wall transparent. They looked into another small room or cell. In the center of it was a large, round, transparent column, and inside this column was a man.

“FATHER!” Meg screamed.

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