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Spindles

I

The first thing that went missing was the smell of onions cooking in butter. It took her a good long time to realize that this was gone, for she had never realized that onions were the cause of the smell. Onions remained, of course. Raw onions still smelled as they always did. They still made you cry when you cut them. But when you fried them: nothing. There was no smell. It was gone.

The second thing to go was also culinary in nature. It was the word “waffle.” It took twelve days for her to miss it. She noticed on the day her mother told her they’d be having pancakes for breakfast and then made waffles instead.

“Pass the pancakes,” her father had said, and when she said there were none, he ruffled her hair and replied, “You’re a strange girl Evelyn Jane. They’re right there in front of your face.”

II

The fifth thing that Evelyn missed was her dinosaur drawing. She had drawn it at the age of five with a broken green crayon and a brown marker. It looked nothing like a dinosaur. Evelyn’s father frequently referred to it as the “best drawing of a three-toed sloth” he’d ever seen.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” her parents both said in answer to her inquiries concerning the drawing’s whereabouts.

It was the first time she suspected that something had gone seriously wrong.

III

The twenty-seventh thing that went missing was the taste of money. On Christmas Eve, she discovered a penny near the car on their way back from church. It was a muddy brown, and the year had been rubbed off. She put it in her mouth while watching the moon follow the car to their driveway. It had been years since she’d tasted currency, and she knew it was a childish thing to do. It tasted like nothing, and she swallowed it for being so inoffensive.

IV

The twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth things that went missing were her parents. They were gone on Christmas morning. What puzzled her about this was that her presents were still there.

V

But it was not to be: The next things that went missing were her Christmas presents.

Evelyn tried calling extended family members to see if they still remembered her parents. Nobody picked up the phone. It wasn’t until she ventured out into the world to purchase food that she realized that everyone was gone. It made shopping easier but walking home harder.

VI

The first match snapped in half. The second one burned, but she wasn’t ready for its speed. She dropped it to the ground and blew it out there. The third one worked just fine.

She set it on her bedspread.

The flame died away.

She tried to leave three more lit matches on the bed. All three went out before they did any damage.

Gasoline, she realized, might be necessary. She didn’t know how to remove it from the car.

She examined a cleaning agent beneath the sink. “Highly Flammable.” Her entire mattress and bedframe were soon doused in an assortment of “Highly Flammables.”

She covered her eyes when she tossed the match on the bed.

But it didn’t matter. The match sat on her bed, burning away. Nothing ignited.

This was disappointing but reassuring. It at least confirmed what she suspected: The bed was the problem.

NULLA

“The fact was, however, that she was always dreaming and thinking odd things and could not herself remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a long, long time.”

Evelyn’s father closed the book.

“You just started,” Evelyn said. She had recently turned twelve.

His nightly read aloud was the one thing she could not abandon.

She tried to sit up in her new bed, but the position was too right, and she knew—instinctually knew—that if she untied the knot her body had happened upon, she’d not be able to retie it intentionally. This was the way to fall asleep tonight. A voice said: Maybe every night, maybe you’ll find it every night—this curl, this level of warmth, this feeling of cleanliness, this neck-to-pillow angle. The voice didn’t use those words, but she heard it. Another voice said: What if you never find this again? You’ll have to give it up soon enough. Chances are you’ll twist involuntarily in little more than an hour and lose it forever.

She did not sit up.

“What’s that?” her father asked. His hand was on the doorknob. Her mother was already downstairs. “Your voice was suffocated by that pillow.”

“Too soon,” she said slowly and loudly. “More.”

He slapped the light switch and walked to the side of the bed to give her a goodnight kiss.

“It’s late. Setting up the bed took time. Only a few paragraphs tonight. Tomorrow, all of Chapter One.”

She was asleep before he said “Chapter One.”

VII

She’d never used an axe before. She gripped the handle with her knees and cupped her hands just below the blade. It fell forward, smacking into the center of the bedframe.

The axe and Evelyn were both suddenly on the floor. Evelyn held up her hands and looked at them. She’d felt a small but powerful shock the moment the blade had hit the bedframe.

A faint hum emanated from the wood.

The hum was the only sign. No mark. No scratch. Nothing.

Something about the perfection of that spot bothered her. She clenched her jaw, grabbed the axe and swung again, harder. Like a designated hitter. A ball player. A man, she imagined.

A bright blue spark blew up from the point of impact. It erupted out of the wood like cannonball water.

The impact catapulted her into the wall; lightning-blue light left her squinting. She did not try again.

NULLA

“You’re sure you want this one?”

She nodded her head and laid back. She felt guilty with her shoes on, but her mother told her she had to try it out if they were to buy it.

“I like the little bed you have now,” her mother said. “The Toy Story comforter won’t fit this one, you know.”

“Oh well,” Evelyn said, inflecting as much annoyance into two words as she could.

Whereas her father’s nostalgia for her childhood endeared him to her, her mother’s overprotectiveness irked her. Somewhere, deep down, she knew that her mother longed to keep her in pigtails and Easter bonnets for eternity.

Two weeks later the mattress and the frame were delivered. It wasn’t some hand-me-down frame from a great-grandmother carved from the last tree in an evil forest. It was a Sears original. The mattress came from Sleepy’s, the mattress professionals.

Her mother and father had her room completely redone while she was at a friend’s for the weekend. Re-painted. The carpet removed. New dressers. Evelyn expected they would do this, so terrible were they at surprises.

She’d wanted a deep red for the walls, an adult color. Evelyn was thrilled when she first looked it over. In the dim light: a stylish, primordial cave. A woman’s primordial cave. Her mother didn’t tell Evelyn that the swatch termed the paint she selected “Midnight Bubblegum,” which was really just a dark pink.

II.IV

“See how much I go through to feed you, Professor?” she called out.

This was usually when she heard the familiar sound of dog nails clicking against the white kitchen linoleum, as Professor (or “The” Professor, as her father called him) ran in for breakfast. Before Evelyn registered that The Professor had not run in, she saw that the cans of dog food were all gone.

“Mom, where’s the Alpo?”

“Why would there be dog food in the house?” Mom called from the laundry room. She walked in, holding one of Evelyn’s favorite—but now stained—red shirts, “You’re not trying to give me a hint are you? You know that your father doesn’t want dogs in the house.”

She looked over to the refrigerator at the bare spot where the dinosaur drawing had been.

“But we had a dog,” she managed to say.

“We never had a dog,” Mom said, and then she walked over and grabbed Evelyn gently by the chin. She put her lips to Evelyn’s forehead.

“Are you all right? Your forehead’s not warm but you look pale. Extremely pale.” She grabbed her hands. “And you’re all clammy.”

Evelyn pulled her hands back. “I’m fine,” she said and ran upstairs. It wasn’t until she arrived in her room and fell onto the bed that she realized she was still holding the can opener. No matter how many times her mother cleaned it, the shiny metal pincers always reeked of dog food. But when she held it under her nose now, it smelled clean.

The Professor, of course, was the eleventh thing that went missing.

Her tears were not absorbed by the fabric of her pillowcase. But she did not notice. Instead, a realization entered her head for the first time:

This bed is eating my life, one memorable morsel at a time.

She didn’t think that; more accurately, she felt it. The can opener helped her make the connection: the bed and food and eating and destruction and whatnot. It was a scholarly deduction, to be sure.

If she really believed it at that point, she’d have avoided sleeping in the bed. She didn’t. With her tears rolling off the pillow as if it was covered in plastic, she fell asleep.

VIII

She stopped sleeping in her bed after it threw her into the Midnight Bubblegum wall opposite the door. Things no longer went missing after that, but she wasn’t sure if it was because she stopped sleeping in the bed or if it was because she stopped sleeping.

VI.V

A Purple Heart in a blue rectangular box used to sit on her father’s dresser. But between lighting the first match and pulling the axe out of the shed, the dresser went missing. Evelyn believed that its contents had disappeared along with their distressed oak container, but some of the clothes sat piled up on the floor when it had gone. She wanted to bunch them up and bury her face in them, but the smell on the clothes—her father’s shaving cream and soap—had already gone missing well before that.

Two days after the dresser went missing, she found the Purple Heart in the drawer of her father’s nightstand. She’d begun taking inventory of everything she had left and had already decided that this was gone. Had he a backup heart in the nightstand as well? No. Impossible. This was the one from the dresser. It had broken the rules, avoiding distinction by moving to a new spot.

She turned it over in her hand and gauged the sharpness of the pin against the tip of her finger.

Two minutes later she was gleefully stabbing the pin into her pillowcase and watching the tiny acrylic tufts that puffed out. George Washington witnessed her first successful attack on the villainous old Queen with stoic detachment, his eyes fixed on the pillow to his right. When Evelyn noticed his gaze she removed the heart and affixed it to the other pillow. It too was vulnerable to the small needle.

This inspired her to locate the axe. The axe is for the man of the house, her father said, when she watched him attempt to clear some of the bushes from the backyard. He gave up on the axe soon after his attempts to take out a thick stump failed.

She was the man of the house now, she decided.

The first thing she noticed upon lugging the axe to her room was the absence of the Purple Heart.

The evil Queen had eaten the heart. The forty-seventh thing to go.

She decided at that moment that the bed must have been her mother, who she realized she hadn’t missed at all. Her mother’s possessions all remained, especially the doll that Evelyn hated, which her mother kept on her parents’ bed. Its hair had become matted and its clothes looked like the kind of cutesy good-girlish nonsense that she knew her mother would want her to wear when she started high school in two years.

Now she knew—or she thought she knew—that the bed was her mother. And her mother remained in existence while her father was being eaten away, one piece at a time. Her father would destroy the bed, if only she knew how to help him.

NULLA

The splinter had gone deep. He told her that the pin would only prick, it wouldn’t harm. But it had gone too deep, and a bubble of blood slurmed out. She drew her hand away and said I told you.

She sucked in air and forgot to free it. The sight of blood had never paralyzed her. It did now.

“Don’t be afraid of blood,” her father said. He knew to go to great lengths whenever she entered this level of upset. He needed to play the jester.

“We eat it, you know, all the time.” He pretended to munch on her wrist. “And, sometimes, we make beautiful art with it.” He swiped the bubble off her knuckle and smeared it across his sweaty forehead.

Evelyn smiled.

Her mother came in and shook her head at the silliness.

“You only need to fear it when it burns. Sometimes, it burns,” he said. Taking her mother’s hand and bringing it to his reddened forehead, he mocked a sizzling psssssst.

The first two lines amused her. The burning did not.

He shook her mother’s hand as if to put out the imaginary fire that had consumed it.

“Does it burn?” he asked her mother, pulling her into his lap for a kiss. Evelyn ignored this, staring instead at the crimson bead that welled up once more on her knuckle.

“It does,” her mother replied, standing up again. But she used the burned hand to straighten Evelyn’s hair, and did so without wincing in pain.

“Do you want me to do this?” she asked.

Her father furrowed his war-painted brow and shook his head from behind her mother.

III.IX

“This is a noose, you know,” her father said. “It works slowly but it will eventually do me in.”

He removed the tie from around his neck and held it upside down, swinging it slowly. She sat on their bed, her knees to the side, the church penny in her belly. Her mother was changing in the bathroom, the door shut.

“That’s clever,” Evelyn said. He’d explained the concept to her before. “But it’s not your idea. Someone else said it. Besides, you wore that to church; it’s not a noose unless you wear it to work.”

“You’ll never have to hang,” he said, approaching her, ignoring her reasoning. “Girls don’t wear these.”

“Some do. You’d rather I wore one to school than what I want to wear.”

He hung the tie up in his closet, speaking from within.

“The alternative to dressing up the way you want—or, rather, the way some of those other girls make you think you want—is not dressing like a boy. That’s silly.”

“What becomes a noose for women, then?” Evelyn asked. “If we can’t wear ties?”

He emerged from the closet in his Christmas pajamas, the ones she’d seen nearly every morning for her previous eleven December the twenty-fifths—but would not see on her twelfth. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he rolled his white socks nearly up to his knees. Abruptly, he pulled her close to him. The movement jerked her neck, making it vibrate with that more-annoying-than-painful temporary paralysis.

“Fathers wear the nooses for you. That’s the point.”

“Tell me the truth.”

He kissed her forehead.

“It used to be a spindle, long ago. But that was not a noose; it was a knife that slowly tore into you. Such things don’t exist anymore.”

His voice became deeper now, guttural.

“You can thank me for that.”

Evelyn did not hear this last statement, nor the change in his voice, for she was deep in thought. Had “spindles” gone missing? They couldn’t have because when things ceased to exist for her, she still remembered them. How could her father remember something that she had no idea about?

The word sounded familiar, like something from a dream or a memory.

“Say goodnight to your mother,” her father said. “You look tired, and tomorrow’s Christmas. I’ll walk you to your room.”

IX

Delirious from the insomnia, she took a sturdy needle from her mother’s pincushion and drew a thin red line across her forehead.

When she tasted the drop that dripped just above her lip, she knew.

Her hand smeared with the midnight bubblegum flowing slowly from the needle-cut, she returned to her bedroom and painted a red streak up and down her bedspread. She left one blood print on the face of each pillow.

The match caught fire with such intensity that she clenched her entire body together in sleep-deprived zeal, and then quivered.

The moment that the entirety of the bed became engulfed in flames everything went missing. All of existence save her and the dying Queen.

Nothingness was not black, as she anticipated.

Nor was it the white she’d have expected, perhaps inspired by Daffy Duck’s famous woes with nonexistence.

Rather, it was the dull teal of a horrifying bridesmaid’s dress that, Evelyn realized, her father would have been happy to see her wear long before she donned the pure white that he dreaded.

X

The fire consumed the bed and left a ribbon of ashes in the limitless teal surroundings. Evelyn nestled herself amidst those smoking cinders. They were, after all, the only things left, save for her, that were differentiated from the teal. The smoke smelled of winter and cinnamon. She closed her eyes wanting nothing more than to sleep forever.

The second her consciousness drifted away, her eyes bolted open.

XI

The fact was, however, that she was always dreaming and thinking odd things and could not herself remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a long, long time.”

Evelyn’s father closed the book.

She realized with horror that she was back.

In more ways than one.

She was back in the bed. Yes. It was back. She was back to the beginning, where it all began, true.

But she was back. She remembered. She always remembered everything just after the book closed and before the goodnight kiss.

39,856,164 times now.

She clenched her eyes shut. She had lost. She knew, as she always did, that she would not have the strength to leave the bed. That was all that was required to break the cycle. To escape. She needed to come back at the beginning with the courage to get out of bed before the kiss. But this time was like all the others: Nothing could make her leave this warmth now.

Nothing.

This past cycle had been nearly identical to the ones before it.

Only six little glitches had ever changed the pattern. Once, she realized the onion smell was gone on the very first day. Another time, her mother barked and The Professor spoke like a grown woman. Once, she was a boy. Twice, she killed herself. Once, she masturbated.

And then there had been the times when she brought something back with her: the essentials. The things she knew she needed to focus her mind on just before the kiss so that when she forgot herself the next morning, and it all started again, she’d at least be able to speed up the process of returning.

She’d learned on one revolution that she needed to bring the can opener to her room after losing The Professor. Another time she’d learned about checking the nightstand for the Purple Heart. Another time she’d discovered the shortcut to finding the secret to destroying the bed: the splinter memory.

But this last revolution was supposed to be far different than the others. Entirely different. The last one. The escape.

The storyteller was there with her.

There was no one to narrate those 39,856,163 times. That meant that this one would be different. She knew it. The same way that she knew that Wendy was different from all the other children that Peter had lured to Neverland—because the storyteller chose to tell us the story through her and not those other children. You read the story knowing Wendy would have to be special because why else would we hear her story? Wendy returned home. On her first try she broke the cycle. Because the storyteller was with her.

This was supposed to be the one where Evelyn would break out of it. But this one hadn’t been different at all. It was mostly the same.

But—hold on—the storyteller was still there. Wasn’t he? Isn’t he? She?

If he was—or if she is—then maybe it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the event that would change everything was still on its way. Evelyn hoped this as she found her mouth involuntarily moving and her voice being forced from her throat.

XII

“You just started,” Evelyn said.

She tried to sit up in her new bed but the position was too right, and she knew, instinctually knew, that if she untied the knot her body had happened upon, she’d not be able to retie it intentionally. This was the way to fall asleep tonight . . .

She did not sit up.

This was the second event. The third event would end in the kiss and lead to the beginning of a new cycle.

She had only moments to discover whether or not the storyteller had something more planned for her. Something new.

The book had closed. The kiss was coming. Book then kiss. Book kiss. Book.

That was what was new.

The realization she just had.

The onion smell was always the first thing to be missing, she thought. But was it really first?

Her tormentors. Or her tormentor—whoever was responsible for her condition—had tricked her.

The book was the first thing that went missing.

There were no stories. That was always missing before the onion smell.

And suddenly she remembered spindles. The Fairy Tale. That’s what her father had been talking about. But she hadn’t been able to remember it at the time—not the movie, not the storybook, not even her Disney beach towel. Yet her father knew.

That made her queasy.

The rules that she thought ordered these cycles weren’t rules at all. Or at least not the natural rules she’d assumed they were, like leaves falling in autumn and gravity. They were created by someone. Enemies. And whoever her enemies were didn’t want her to remember stories because, she realized, that’s what will save me.

NULLA

“I want Dad!” she screamed through tears as the doctors sewed through her forehead.

Her mother hovered and promised it would be all right, that he was on his way from work.

Evelyn had been playing tag with her friends. Their front porch was home base and she’d run so furiously to get there that she tripped and cracked her head against the brick edge.

She threw up when she put her hand to her forehead and felt the blood course down her arm. Her mother sent the girls home and rushed her to the emergency room.

Stitches, they said, without fully explaining it.

Dad, Evelyn said, she wanted him.

And then when he finally came—

***

No! Evelyn cried from her bed.

Not with her mouth but with her mind.

What was this prank? This interlude? Why had her consciousness shot into that emergency room? Why did she need to force the camera way back here to her room and her bedthoughts?

Her enemies—her enemy—must be afraid.

They wanted to force her from her realization.

She thought, distantly, that perhaps the storyteller had betrayed her. She didn’t know for sure. She returned her mind to the task at hand.

She knew that just before the kiss she’d have to concentrate on those things that she needed to get through the next revolution: the can opener, the Purple Heart, the splinter. And now she needed to add a new thought: the book thought. The realization that would end it all. But what was it?

You have to write a story. She heard the words in her mind, in surround sound.

“Thank you,” she said, silently.

XIII

“What’s that?” her father asked. His hand was on the doorknob. Her mother was already downstairs. “Your voice was suffocated by that pillow.”

“Too soon,” she said slowly and loudly. “More.”

That was it: the third event. The kiss was coming.

Evelyn knew instantly what story she had to write. It came to her messily, like soda that bubbles out of a bottle, but she knew it. She knew the last thing to take with her in addition to the can opener, the Purple Heart, and the splinter memory.

She had to create the story with the spindle—but changed a bit. It will make her see. It would make her father see. Or it would defeat him. That was it. It would defeat him—not kill him, but defeat him. She needed to defeat him. The kisser. The kisser whose kiss puts her to sleep rather than wakes her to life. No. They were the same. My God, she needed to defeat him, and she never knew until just then.

Could he be defeated?

Perhaps she had to give birth to the book in the bed. Wait, that made no sense. Yes it did. Sleep sense. The sleep was coming. “She was only a little girl.” Birth the book, give it birthlife, afterbirth life.

She shook herself beneath the sheets, forcing one last minute of consciousness.

The evil fairy in the story makes the spindle death. The good fairy makes it sleep. The good fairy can’t overcome the evil one’s spell entirely, you see. She can only weaken it. It must remain something intolerable to the king. Then the good fairy must make the prick of the spindle not a sentence to slumber nor instantaneous death but the spider-bite or the gamma ray of the superhero, that will make me the Wild Woman, The Hedonist, the Spindle Snapper—the One my father fears, the spindle spell that’s worse to him than the spell of death or eternal sleep.

She thought this with the mind of one who had gone through 39,856,164 revolutions.

That will still satisfy the rules of the story: The good fairy will alter the magic of the evil fairy but not end it. She will still be cursed to live a life that is not of the king’s desire, that is entirely against the king’s desire. And it will show that the evil fairy, the good fairy, the king: They are all in cahoots. They were working together, all along. That is what they don’t tell the children. I will expose it in my story, and make it new. Make him listen, in his bed, the night before Christmas. And then I will escape. The bed needn’t burn then. That night, I will sleep and wake up, finally free.

But maybe that was what she always thought right then, just before the kiss.

Maybe she always thought she knew how to escape, and just forgot. That could be part of his game.

Was that possible?

She didn’t know. And she didn’t know if the storyteller was making her think she didn’t know. Because, she realized, he—and now she both knew it was a he and realized she regretted hating her mother so—he wanted to leave her with ambiguity because ambiguity was tastier to this storyteller than clarity. Pain was tasty to him—her pain, because he thought it was the same thing as truth. And so she realized what she had started to suspect even when he helped her: that he was also her enemy. Not the same as the evil-fairy-good-fairy-king. He was the tricksy kind that could help even as he hurts. But an enemy nonetheless, and a dangerous one too.

She forced herself to believe that this new plan was a new plan. The first time she had planned it. The last plan she needed.

And so she readied herself for the next revolution.

***

Her father slapped the light switch, and approached the bed while the door remained open and the hall light crept in.

The kiss was now imminent.

The third-to-last thought she thought before falling asleep was fueled by sheer determination: Can Opener. Purple Heart. Splinter Memory. And now she added: Books. Books. Stories. Stories will be missing when you wake up. Don’t forget stories. Don’t forget books. You need to write the story that’s missing. The spindle story. It must be written anew and read before Christmas. That will end it. Then you will win.

The second-to-last thought was once again of the terror of ambiguity.

The last thought lacked language. It was a thought of warmth and absolute contentment.

Her father kissed her forehead and spoke:

“It’s late. Setting up the bed took time. Only a few paragraphs tonight. Tomorrow, all of Chapter One.”

She was asleep before he said “Chapter One.”

© 2012 L.B. Gale

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L.B. Gale

L.B. GaleL.B. Gale received her Master’s degree from the University of Chicago, where she studied literary theory, fantasy and mythology. She currently lives in New York. A good deal of her time is spent blogging about speculative fiction and the fantasy writing process. You can access her blog at lbgale.com and find her on Twitter @lbgale.

Stories by L.B. Gale

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