“Like two pages of an opened book, they are bound together. Like two sides of a coin, they are separated. They can never be seen, or understood, or touched both at once,” said a whisper out of the dark. “The day cannot ever be as dark as night, and the night cannot ever be as bright as day,” it chanted on, growing faster and stronger as it went. “And those that walk in only the light of day and fear darkness and uncertainty despise it; as those who walk in only the dark of night wither and burn from the brightness and clarity of the day. Burn—burn—burn,” it spat violently. After a moment of utter silence, it seemed to recover itself. “Of one world, chaos runs freely as wildfire if not guarded; the other is forever afflicted with hesitation and doubt and uncertainty… One simply cannot venture into one without forgetting the other.”
The stars flickered in the dark sky above. Soft cool grass was beneath her bare feet. Strange low whistlings and unearthly moanings of the night wind, as it raced through the branches of the evergreen trees came from below. Further still was the sound of the crashing and echoing of the waves, as they hurled themselves against the side of the mountain.
Waiting for the storm to come before the dawn, a forlorn figure stood straightly against the wind—defying it—its formless dark robes billowing. Something must happen that night. Something must change. The song must end at last.
The song was always the same, and it was always there. Its melody was as maddening and soft as an endless lullaby.
When she thought about other things, it would always be there in the background, making itself known. It lulled those other thoughts so that Gwendolen forgot what she was thinking about as she thought it. The more that she tried to hum it, or to remember the words, the more it seemed to escape her. Around and around and around it went, with its fragile lilt that could not be defined or stipulated.
The stars began to disappear when the darkness of the night faded with a hard grey dawn light. The figure slowly turned away. Something had gone with the wind, and the brewing about-to-happen feeling with it. The figure trudged over the uneven ground to a large black door in the dim light, in the wall of a tower which reached high into the sky with the clouds. The figure took the door’s handle and pulled back on it with all of its weight.
Gwendolen pulled the heavy door closed behind herself, and leant back against it. Her shoulders dropped. Nothing had happened. Nothing ever would. As if she had been holding her breath all night, air escaped her in one long quiet sigh. She slid to the floor with her back against the door, and stared at nothing in the darkness. “I am alone,” she whispered. Although this fact might bring self-pitying tears to an ordinary person’s eyes, she told herself that she felt nothing at all.
Self-pity was useless as she knew her fate: she would stay here until the end of her days. The Great Cat Sua of Babylon had chosen her, to bless her with one-hundred and ninety-nine years of life, and to guard this place. ‘You have an invaluable gift,’ they had told her. When she breathed her last breath, in this high-up elevated solitary place, she would die alone.
She wondered what she would look like by the age of one-hundred and ninety-nine. This made her laugh so bitterly that it almost sounded as if she were crying. She stopped abruptly and thought in the silence, ‘no, I mustn’t ever do that.’
A few minutes passed as she stared dismally out into the small dark room. The song, knowing that she was thinking other thoughts, was making itself very loud indeed. It felt rather like a large headache, but in the background: it was very lurid and pulsing.
The only window was the width of a hand-span: it was over her bed in one corner. A thread-bare dark blue quilt was laid over it, stitched with little silver stars to resemble the night sky. They had given her this covering when she first came to this place as a child, to wrap around herself from the chills of winter which flew in through her little window. What she could see of the rest of this room were only dark looming shapes and shadows. She stared at those shadows, feeling nothing—daring them to move. She was not afraid of anything. But she was not brave: she had no fear to overthrow from herself. She simply felt nothing.
Gwendolen gradually stood with her hand against the door to support herself. She went over to her bed and threw herself onto it. She did not move anymore. Outside of her small window the light grew as the day went on.
After feeling that she was falling through nothing, she stood quite suddenly in a place where the sunlight was bright. It was bright, but cool. She looked about herself. She was in the meadow. The whole world was shifting and changing. Everything was alive, and she was a part of it. Every little flower, the blue sky, the wind—she was a part of. The wind picked up and blew her hair to one side, so that black strands flew over her eyes. She caught her summer hat as it flew off of her head with the wind. She looked at the great blue sky.
She swept her hair out of her face with her free hand and stared. Something was wrong. Something was trying to panic inside of her.
“Help me!” she shouted to the world, or perhaps it was to herself because whatever it was had overwhelmed her. Her voice was caught and taken away in the wind. She could say no more, as a hopelessness seemed to prevail over her. ‘There is nothing you can do,’ it said sharply and firmly inside of her head.
These were her last moments as a part of the world. But she took the voice’s advice and told herself that she felt no sorrow, no fear, no regret—nothing, at all.
Once she walked back along the lane lined with hedges, she knew—once she reached the end, they would be there, waiting. And then she would be gone.
Gwendolen blinked as she came out of this memory-dream. She stretched out of her curled up position to get the crick out of her neck, and rolled onto her back.
They were wise, they had said; they had told her that she was needed for their task. But she did not understand why. Gwendolen silently sighed and twisted into an uncomfortable position in her small bed.
‘I was not a part of the world even then,’ she thought with vague bitterness. Her mind had been changed with the awakening of her gift to think deeper thoughts—thoughts that nobody ever thought. She had lost everything that she knew because they had taken it from her. They had taken her and changed her with the fate that they had forced upon her and bound her to.