Novel - The Universe Quilt - Chapter Two

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The goose gave a great honk and alighted on a grassy knoll. The miller’s daughter slid off its enormous, feathery back and walked to the little table that was laid out neatly before her. A pretty, sharp needle and spools of gossamer thread waited as if expecting her, arranged beside a towering pile of diaphanous, almost invisible fabric. The giant goose flapped its wings to set off on another journey in that magical land with sweeping whooshes and a call like a carved horn. She reached for the needle, but it dissipated in her grasp—

She blinked rapidly as her eyes fluttered open. It had been a dream, which of course it had, since all the nice things she saw lately were dreams. Yet she heard something outside, very near now, that made her stop and hold her breath.

She could hear the honk and flap of the goose.

Acting on excited impulse, the miller’s daughter scrambled into a comfortable dress and climbed through the window. She thanked the springtime for making the ground soft and her steps padded. No telling what the miller would do if he caught her now. There was still a slight nighttime chill in the air, but she forgot it in her eagerness to find the goose. As quietly as a girl of thirteen summers can be, she stole around trees and bushes. The goose-sounds seemed close.

Her heartbeat quickened and the brilliance of the moment heightened. She knew she would come upon it now, just a little farther—

She stumbled into a clearing that she had never found before in all the hours she had spent wandering the woods. She swore that the last time she had checked, there had been an impenetrable mass of brambles here, but there was no time to wonder. A wall of metal rose up to above her head. Strange rectangular chinks with rounded corners appeared at intervals throughout its length. It was a dull gray, a lackluster color. The miller’s daughter swallowed her disappointment and turned to trudge home. Just as she did, one of the rectangles was pulled back to reveal a well-lit opening. An inviting aura emanated from it and she was drawn to it despite herself. Caution vanished and in its place was an anticipation that was entirely new.

The structure started to hum and the miller’s daughter felt distinctly that it was about to leave without her on its way to some wondrous dreamland. Suddenly she knew that she belonged on the other side of that wall, inside that room. With a renewed urgency she half-ran to it and found herself inside. The rounded rectangle closed behind her like it had been waiting for her to board the metal box.

Smoothly, it shifted into movement, a sleek, well-tuned machine. Everything inside the moving room seemed oddly angular and it felt natural to sit on a box attached to the wall. The seat seemed to shape to her body so that the hard material was comfortable. Handles hung from the ceiling next to poles that connected to the floor. It was almost completely white, the atmosphere sterile. The miller’s daughter craned her neck around to look out the wide window behind her and gasped. The metal snake had risen into the sky and she could see the beginnings of a springtime sunrise beyond mountains that were coming closer with unbelievable speed.

After a few minutes she became bored of admiring the view outside the window and wished for someone to talk to. John would have loved this mysterious, thrilling ride and she wondered, with a little pang, how she would get home. She would never miss the miller’s cottage but John, what about John?

The metal box seemed to have been reading her mind, and a tall, slim girl walked into the room wearing a confused expression. She was really quite lovely in a faded sort of way. Her face was pale, but it was offset by striking, lively green eyes. Wispy, ash-blonde hair cascaded down to her hip. She looked around, rather like a bewildered doe the miller’s daughter had seen on one of her water-fetching trips. Then her eyes settled on the miller’s daughter and lit up.

“Oh, good, someone to talk to,” she said brightly. She hovered uncertainly for a bit before sitting down on the white box. Evidently she had wanted for conversation for an unbearably long time—in the space of five minutes, the miller’s daughter had learned the girl’s name, where she had come from, and about a dozen things that she had been thinking about on this unfeasible nighttime ride. Somehow the miller’s daughter found her sweet rather than exasperating.

Finally finished, Lorabeth sighed deeply and turned to her. Something like nostalgia clouded her face. She looked, the miller’s daughter thought suddenly, like the vulnerable sixteen-summer girl she was, far away from home with her whole life ahead of her. She had had a home that she had loved, and in this aspect the miller’s daughter found it difficult to sympathize.

Lorabeth jerked back to reality, seeing the miller’s daughter, a girl younger than herself, reining in her feelings with what seemed like uncharacteristic grace. She could not know that there were no feelings to rein in. Somewhat sheepishly, Lorabeth summoned up her burgeoning maternal instincts to care for the miller’s daughter as time became meaningless and the gray metal strip of rooms rose higher up into the sky.

The minutes bled into hours, the hours bled into some sort of interminable fluid-time. Every so often Lorabeth and the miller’s daughter would turn and spend short moments in the fluid-time feasting their eyes of the magnificence outside the window. They became used to their pleasant, if monotonous, new life inside what they came to call “the white room”.   

The only thing the miller’s daughter found mildly disheartening were the vague, shadowy attacks of memory about her other life, in the village. They pointed accusatory fingers and whispered twisted words into her mind about lack of loyalty, about John, about the wives in town who needed mending done, as she and Lorabeth slept during what they thought was night. It was impossible to tell now that the train forged onward on its inexorable path in a deep forever-darkness, dotted with the tentative twinkle of what appeared to be stars.

The miller’s daughter had long since given up on counting the days when Lorabeth breathed in sharply, feeling the floor with her foot and pacing skittishly.

“Do you feel that?” she asked quietly. “We’ve stopped.”

It was true, she realized, and the two girls explored the newly stationary qualities of the cabin. They verified and re-verified that they had arrived at last at the destination that those lost souls had wanted for so long.

They clambered to the window but were disappointed to see a thick mist on all sides. The place they had visualized was many things, but it was not misty. Lorabeth and the miller’s daughter sat down heavily, chiding themselves for getting their hopes up.

For the first time since they had boarded, a voice crackled from a grate that materialized in the ceiling. “We have arrived and will be disembarking shortly.”

In disbelief, the two girls stared at each other and started to laugh. It was a real laugh, one that filled their stomachs and their hearts and let all the confused joy and relief knotted up inside them tumble out.

The rounded rectangle doors that had let them into the white room began to open with an almost theatrical slowness and a pfffff sound like the wind blowing long and hard. A shaft of golden light found its way inside and both girls, with a spontaneous naïveté, reached out to try and touch it. Their fingers met with nothing and they giggled.

Then the opening became large enough to step through, and Lorabeth and the miller’s daughter, exhilarated, prepared to confront this brave new world before them.
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