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February 2, 2010

How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?


Once upon a time, long long ago, in a land far far away, there was a little girl named Lucinda. She wasn’t a princess, or a plotting maid-in-waiting, or even a jealous sister. She was just a little girl, more plain than pretty, more human than angel. She lived in a land where once reigned five seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter, and fog), where once wildflowers sprang in sprightly bunches and birds sang night and day, and the people worked the land and celebrated harvest, and were merry, and kind, and prayed nightly to the gods, who smiled up from their blessed abode deep, deep in the earth.

Until one day, a day Lucinda can barely remember, but can conjure from the vat of imagination, a darkness fell upon the land. After fog, instead of spring came winter again. And winter stayed. The wildflowers did not return; the seeds of harvest did not get sown. The sun fled, and the stars too. The people grew thin, and thinner, and yet thinner, until some of them vanished clean away. Those who were left fought amongst each other for what little food remained, and knelt on the ground in prayer, and sobbed to their gods, who were still sleeping, who had forgotten to wake, and to wake the land. But all that came in reply was the howl of the wind, the slap of ice from the sky, the flickering half-light of midwinter.

Lucinda held a hand up to her eyes, and saw how it had grown so thin it was translucent; she could trace the languid purple surge of blood through her veins, the pink wash of tissue. She put on her warmest things, from her fur-lined boots to her scarlet woolen cap, and opened the door to the wind and ice, and walked out of her village and into the darkness.

Where are you going, called her neighbor. She was leaning out of her window. All that was left of her were the lines of her limbs topped by a circle of face.

I do not know, said Lucinda.

Why are you leaving us?

Somebody must, said Lucinda. Somebody must go seeking.

Seeking what?

I do not know, said Lucinda.

When will you return?

When I know what it is I seek, called Lucinda, and with that she turned into the wind and resumed walking.

Crazy girl, muttered the neighbor, and pulled her window shut with a bang.

Lucinda walked for days that stretched into weeks that stretched into months. She walked through meadows and over mountains and across vast frozen lakes. Everything looked the same. Everything was covered in white, everywhere seeped the strange darkness. She walked through silent villages and deserted pastures and even the great city, where the castle was shrouded in white and the wide streets were empty and not a single soul peeked out from a single window. Finally Lucinda came to the shore. The ocean stretched to the sky in an unending vat of pale green ice. She did not stop to look, did not stop to consider the first color she had seen in the world in years, or even to reflect upon her very first glimpse of the ocean. She simply kept walking, clambering over the frozen waves, slipping down the other side. One time only she paused, and knelt on the ice, and rubbed a circle through the new snow. Just below was a motionless school of fish, glinting silver in the wan light.

Lucinda spoke for the first time in months. “Oh,” she said. “Oh,” and her scarlet cap bobbed in the dark whiteness as she shook her head in wonder. She noticed that her hand held no more color, that all that remained of it were lines against the ice. She rose and began walking.

Lucinda walked until above and below got closer and closer and she reached the place where the ocean met the sky. They were held together by a silver thread, a delicate embroidered line, and she reached out a finger and plucked at the stitches until she’d made a small hole, and then a bigger hole, and finally a hole large enough for a very thin little girl to fit through. She peered out, but all she could see was blackness. Not the heavy dark smudge of winter, but true, deep night.

Is this what I seek, wondered Lucinda, and she stepped carefully through, and lowered herself into it, and clung to the edges of ocean and sky until she understood to let go.

She floated into the night until the hole where the ocean met the sky was a pinprick in the distance. Her body felt light as a petal and she wondered if she was beginning to vanish. The blackness seemed without end.

Who’s there, came a voice.

It was the first voice she’d heard since she left her village.

It’s me, she called.

Who’s me? The voice was deep and endless as the night itself.

Lucinda said her name, and there was a rolling rumble, like thunder, and then a floss of lightning rent the night, and she gasped. Who are you, she called.

But all that came was a faint echo. You, you, cried the night.

Are you a god, she called.

But again there was no answer, only the faint echo: god, god.

And so Lucinda floated, and after months of walking it felt like heaven. She was not hungry or tired or cold; the shriek of the wind was gone, and the slap of ice too; there was only the rippling breath of night, and a music so soft it was almost silent, a music like the melody of speech when all else is asleep. Lucinda slept, and when she woke, a single tiny light glittered in the distance.

Lucinda fluttered her limbs in the darkness, dove and spiraled through the night. I know what it is I seek, she called, laughing.

Seek, seek, echoed the night, and her own laughter washed over her in cool bubbles.

And so Lucinda grew quiet, except for a giggle now and then. As she floated, perhaps for hours, perhaps for days, the light in the distance grew closer. And as her ears grew accustomed to the near-silence, the music grew stronger.

Leave me be, sang the music, a high, lilting strain.

No. You started, came the refrain, in rumbling bass.

It’s their fault, rang the tenor chorus.

The voices grew louder, and the light brighter, and Lucinda saw that it was a vast ball of fire, maybe the sun, maybe a star. When she was so close that the light was blinding and the music deafening, Lucinda squeezed her eyes closed and jammed her fingers in her ears and opened her mouth wide.

This is not what I was seeking! She shouted, as loudly as she could.

The music died. Even the light waned, as if someone had flicked a switch.

Not this upstart, came a low drone.

Send her back, warbled the soprano.

Instantly, sang the tenor chorus.

And the voices rose together, and the light rolled out in searing waves, and Lucinda grew hot, unbearably hot, and she felt herself shattering into pieces—one arm shooting in one direction, legs in another, heart and lungs and liver and spleen all flying apart in a sparkling rain of embers.

One thin little finger drifted far, far, until it reached Lucinda’s village, Lucinda’s doorstep. It landed upright in the soil and grew rapidly into a tree of hands. In each hand bloomed a golden fruit filled with scarlet seeds. Lucinda’s neighbor glimpsed the gold glint from her window, and crawled out of her door. All that remained of her was a single wavering line. The line collapsed beneath the tree of hands, and a fruit dropped beside it, and cracked open, and scarlet seeds flew over the snow. Everywhere a seed landed it melted the snow, and then the ice below, and suddenly the wind sputtered like a tired old man, and the heavens grew dry, and in a corner of the sky something resembling the sun glowed white. Voices were heard, and wildflowers poked through the cracked ground with their tight-wrapped buds, and a single bird that had somehow survived the years of winter began, with a croak, to sing.

Many leagues away a school of silver fish shivered once, twice, then darted off.

Lucinda’s neighbor ate of the fruit, and slowly swelled into life, and as she lay upon the soil a tear dropped from her eye, a tear that did not freeze but vanished warmly into the earth, into the roots of the hand tree.

You may be wondering: Where is Lucinda now?

Now, now, cries the night.

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