from The Trap
Calah went back to making pancakes, and Jacky finally got some. They were excellent, when doused in Calah’s own tree syrup. The rain still pounded down outside. After lunch, Calah advised them to get some more rest, and vanished into her own inner rooms.
Sezan played with odd, innocent kitchen tools: a mechanical egg beater, a hand mixer, a waffle iron made to go in the wood stove. Waren read a little in a book of stories from Calah’s shelf, and napped in his chair, and then got up, went back to the guest rooms and napped there. Jacky looked at the cookbooks.
Presently Calah came out. She motioned to Jacky. “I have some clothes for you,” she said.
Jacky followed Calah into what seemed to be her office. Beyond it was her bedroom. All Jacky could see of that, in the grey rainy light, was a huge greyish cat splashed across the bedspread. The office had a big desk piled with books and papers, a huge window with potted plants pushing each other aside for space in the sun, and a couple of chairs on which items of clothing were laid out.
“I’m not going to get you to change your style any,” said Calah, “and you’re probably not going to want that underwear back. Back before the last war, I stocked up, and I’m giving you a couple of sets just in case, is that all right?”
The underwear was not especially interesting. It looked like it would fit. The locals did have the secret of elastic. The socks were Calah’s own make, and the two pairs looked very warm.
“Thanks,” said Jacky. “I’ll think of you whenever I do laundry.” She looked at the cat on the bed again, and this time she noticed something on the floor of the bedroom. “Calah,” she said, “are those cards? What are those cards on the floor? May I ask?”
“Oh, those,” said Calah, “those are kiali cards.”
“May I look? I’m sorry, I’ll understand if you say no. You may see it as a serious imposition, so in case any offense is made, none is intended.”
“Oh, it’s no imposition,” said Calah, obviously just then changing her mind, just as she had changed her mind about Jacky. She smiled, and didn’t even have to force it much. She turned and went into the door to her bedroom, then half turned. “I’ll show you mine,” she said, “if you show me yours. But you have to stay out here. Have a seat, on the floor.”
Jacky smiled. “I’ll have to grab my bag,” she said. She stepped out into the little dark living room by the big bright kitchen, and leaning against the corner between them was her old bag, still open after disgorging its spare clothes. She grabbed out her little wooden box and went back into the office.
Calah was just moving into place a lovely polished wood side table. Standing at the table, she began laying out cards from her deck: many showed symbols, a torch, three cups, five swords. One showed a champion in a chariot, pulled by a black horse and a white horse. One showed a priestess with the moon on her hat, sitting between two pillars, black and white. One showed a skeleton lord on a skeleton horse.
Calah cut her deck, and put down the top card face up: the one with three stones. Jacky cut her deck and pulled out the Three of Coins. Calah took from the top of her deck the card of the Emperor. Jacky drew the Emperor too, scowling on his iron throne. Calah put down the Queen of Torches. Jacky put down the Queen of Staves. Calah smiled, then watched Jacky’s eyes as she drew the next card. Jacky drew hers too. They looked down.
Calah held the Queen of Stones. Jacky held the Star, pouring its light upon the Earth.
“Weird,” said Jacky.
“Well,” said Calah, “I think we’ve established that we speak a common language, in any case. I wondered. You seem so typical of a certain type, but you’re actually somewhat like me. That is what I read in these cards.”
“Like you? We drew the exact same cards three times in a row. Coins are Stones, of course. Staves are Torches, which would emphasize the fire aspect. But then that last one. I mean, they’re both very nice cards, but they’re not alike.”
“They are,” said Calah. “The Queen of Stones is supposed to be me. That’s my card, that is.”
“Oh,” said Jacky, at a loss.
“So,” said Calah, “is the Star yours? I have a Star in here somewhere.” She shuffled through her deck, and pulled out a card that showed a woman in a white robe walking in a black night, a bright star on her brow. “I can see how it might be your card.”
“It is, yes,” said Jacky.
“It is? Get out! Really?”
“Really,” said Jacky. She looked at her card for a long moment, then met Calah’s brown eyes. They watched each other for some seconds. Jacky pushed her cards together into a deck and shuffled them idly. Then she put them down and reached into the box. “Calah,” she said, “when you saw these, did you know what they were?”
She let the five onyx blocks tumble onto the table. Calah reached out and took one. She tossed it back to Jacky, who caught it. Calah turned and got a little sack from her desk drawer. She dumped out five one-inch cubes of dark wood. Jacky picked one up and looked at it.
“Wood,” she said.
“Yes,” said Calah. “From right here on the property.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Jacky. “You happen to be a practitioner of certain kinds of skill. Other kinds of skill are entirely absent here, but you have something. I know because those guys are out there, probably ripping up my underwear at this very moment. And I have used these onyx blocks here in your world, and they worked. You can do things like that.”
“Yeah,” said Calah, “and no, there’s not many who can use these ways. Most didn’t believe in them. They laughed, isn’t that the saying? They all laughed. They had their technology and their varhar and who knows what. Well, need I say more? Heh, heh.” She plunked herself down on the floor. “So show me,” she said.
“What? All right,” said Jacky. And a few minutes later, after some discussion and trial and error, their wards alternated around the vertices of a decagon around them as they sat cross-legged, Jacky in her dark shirt and jeans, Calah in her formless long dress, facing each other’s left shoulder, each with a candle in front of her. They were humming randomly, trying to find a common pitch. Presently they found it.
Some hours later, Jacky and Calah came out of the office into the kitchen. It was empty: the other two were in bed. “I don’t know about you,” said Calah, “but I’m wide awake.”
“How long was that? A couple hours? Is that what the clock says?”
“Yeah, that’s about right. So, shall we go look at them?”
“What? You jest.”
“No, no,” said Calah. “Let’s go check your underwear. Or do you want a drink first?”
“No, but I’ll need one after. Okay, show me.”
It was somewhere around midnight. The rain was still coming down steadily. “Is this weather your doing?” asked Jacky.
“Why ever would you think that?” replied Calah. She plunged on up the trail, whistling. Jacky had to hurry in the black night to keep up with her: they carried no light, though Calah hadn’t indicated any special need for stealth. Jacky caught up with Calah as she slowed down in front of the two tall stones of the Gate.
Through it, Jacky could see them standing in the light wood. She couldn’t see them clearly, but she could see them. She could also see torn shreds of her underwear caught on branches of the young trees. The three beings stood, swaying slightly as if breathing, watching the Gate as if they actually had eyes, faces or even heads.
“They can’t see us,” said Jacky very quietly.
“Not really, no,” said Calah. “But they know you went this way. They can’t go through, so they’ll do the logical thing and wait for you to come out.”
Abruptly, she turned and headed back to the house. They came in, dumped off their jackets and boots, and had a couple of glasses of Calah’s brandy. Halfway through the first, Jacky said, “However did you know what they would do? Have you met these things before?”
“No, I’ve never seen anything quite like them,” said Calah. “But it occurred to me while we were in,” and she used a word Jacky thought might mean trance. “I don’t usually think during” [that word], “it’s kind of not the point. But I thought, what would I do if I had no brain whatsoever? I would stop where the way was blocked and just wait. And that’s what they’re doing.”
“Good thinking,” said Jacky. “We’ll test it out tomorrow. How’s the weather going to be?”
“Should clear up,” said Calah.
“No, no. Pressure’s going up. A high pressure zone is taking over. It’ll be hot and dry and windy for a few days, if not a few years. We had a few years like that.”
“Calah,” said Jacky, “how bad is it? Are you going to make it?”
“Going to try. I ask you the same thing.”
“I don’t know. Am I doomed? You said you’d tell me later. It’s later.”
Calah leaned forward, staring into Jacky’s eyes. “I’ve changed my mind,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you.”
“What? You can’t change your mind.”
“I certainly can. So can your doom. You have something to do. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but I guess I want you to do it. Will you be able to do it?”
“Oh,” said Jacky, “all I have to do is get to the Great Cauldron and figure out from there.”
“You still have to wait till tomorrow,” said Calah, swilling her brandy. “Might as well drink up.”
“You know, you’re right,” said Jacky. “Hey, mind if I fill my flask?”
In Spring 2012, right, basically, after I found out I was going to be divorced, I rewrote The Trap, mainly by adding in about seven chapters, making it into a full-length novel of 81,000 words. This chapter, about the druid (?) Calah, who is skeptical and antagonistic at first but is won over by Jacky, is one of the additions. I’m happy with the longer novel, but I am especially happy that I met Calah.
Want to read the whole thing? You can, for free, by emailing me at
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