Serializations of the Hitherby Dragons novels

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– 4 –

– 4 –

Origami frustrates Cheryl. From the beginning to the second year of practice, it is only a joy to her; but then, when she has mastered the basic techniques and some of the art of it, she becomes frustrated. Her fingers are too clumsy, but more importantly, her mind is incomplete.

There is something that she sees that she cannot fold. Blind spots in her cognition interfere when she goes to make her work. The beautiful beginning and the perfect ending are clear to her but they do not connect; at one, two, three, and sometimes even four places in the middle, four nodes, four interstices — they do not work.

She constructs plans but they are not practical.

She folds but she cannot make.

Sometimes she tries to bridge the gap with trissors. This produces a nameless yearning in her and a nameless fear; she stares at the third blade of the trissors as if it is alien to her. She is too young to remember proper scissors. She does not know what it is that her world has lost.

She thumps her head down on the table after one false attempt.

She sobs, twice, before she masters herself.

“This is silly, Cheryl,” she says.

She does not know that she will one day be as God. She does not know that she will one day make that final fold, and take command of the destinies of the world; nor that this shall be the death of her to do.

“It’s just paper,” Cheryl says, in self-reproach, and she goes out.

She goes down to the sea. She is eleven years old and her mind is dancing with patterns, folds, shapes, twists, and shadows. She sits on a rock. She sees how she could fold the rock, then the place where she would fail to fold the rock — in part, she observes, because the rock is stone and not just brown paper, but also because there is an inconsistency in her design.

She tastes the salt air of the sea.

She sees the serpent.

The sight rises her. It is not her rising: rather it is as if the sight of the snake has possessed her. It has absented her from herself, it has turned off her governance over herself, it has folded it around a corner of her mind and into an inaccessible corner of herself, it is not Cheryl who is the subject of Cheryl walking to the snake but the sight of it; not her endpoint that is the object of that action, but Cheryl herself.

Perhaps we could say it like this:

Circumstances walk Cheryl to the sea.

She stands beneath the great swaying head of the serpent. She looks up. She stares into its eyes.

It is vast and it is paper.

She knows it. She recognizes it. It is folded in her and through her, within her and without her. It is a part of her. It is a thing she has been trying, so foolishly, and without knowledge of it, to fold for this past year.

It is paper folded into a chain of snakes, and then that chain folded in itself and through itself, into a geodesic pseudo-sphere; and the links of paper do not end at the vertices of it but connect that sphere to others instead — to billions of others, uncountable others, all held together by their characteristic bonds and into a greater shape.

And where did such a thing come from? In what manner did it arise?

You could say: circumstances folded it into a snake, or the snake folded itself into being, but neither is quite correct. Say rather that it is a snake-wroth, a paper-wroth, a folding-wroth. This can happen. Sometimes an irrational snake-like pattern falls into the sea. There it invades the ocean’s currents, its coral reefs, its crabs, its fish. There it possesses the silt of the bottom, the salt and the waters, sometimes even the sea air.

The snake-wroth winds through the ocean: it is in it and within it, through it and about it. It twines these things together. It uses the sea as the medium for its fruition.

It exceeds human work, though it resembles it.

It is origami —

But not such origami as humans know. Not in ten years, not in ten hundred years, not in ten thousand could the gathered nations of the world have folded such a beast. The techniques might exist — though, then again, they very well might not — but there would simply not be time.

And yet, as she looks at it, Cheryl recognizes that she has been trying to fold it.

That she herself, she Cheryl, has been infected by the wroth; by:

Let such a snake be born!

It has a stomach, folded out of paper, that serves no other purpose than to turn its meals into paper — it is a pulping stomach, not a digesting one; a folding stomach, complete with heaving paper cilia that make origami of their own.

It is waxed.

How is it waxed? There is some other part of its inner engine, doubtlessly, for this: to devour and convert the creatures of the sea in all their bulk and poison into wax, or perhaps into some subtler laminate, lest the snake become soggy, fall apart, lose the subtleties of its knots and folds, and turn into the white caps of the sea.

It moves.

It sways above her. It extends to the horizon, and as it moves it seems to breathe, all through its structure. The cells of it fold around the holes that honeycomb it. They compress. They expand. It is a living thing.

She stares.

Now Hans had not been absent in the construction of the snake. He had not let such an awful beast grow on his world and be unmarred. Surely had he done that, had he let it be, it would have wrapped itself tight around the world by now, squeezed it, broken it, shattered it half and half and then broken up the pieces, claimed its destinies, pounded the stone and life of it into paper for its de-planeting, broken the moon, seized up Mars and Venus and all the rest of them, and finally torn up the sun — eventually to chain through all the cosmos, if the vast space-ness of it did not confound it, as one great waxed and woven thing.

This thing it did not do.

Instead Hans infiltrated himself into its construction. He twisted it. He folded up the folded snake; added his cruel design to its subtle folds. He has looped the snake-wroth like a Möbius strip, like a Klein bottle — it’s hard for me to know for sure just how complicated the geometry here gets — so its inside is its outside and its head its tail. The strands that make up one end run diagonally through the gaps that make up the other, so that in the moments between each breath, Cheryl can see the head draw taut — be drawn taut, perhaps — and become the tail, its eyes smoothing out and its jaw clamping shut, before it is released and flows out to become the head again. She can see the serpent trying to look at her, its Cheryl-wards end trying to hold on and stay a head for longer than its structure would naturally allow; the strain of that causes knots of disruption to run down the length of it like the knobbed pull-chain of a lamp.

It is always chewing itself, tasting itself, biting down on its own tail-meat in the moments of its transition. It is always blinding itself and un-blinding itself. Its stomach is always writhing, reconfiguring, and becoming lungs: each breath it chokes for a moment on its recent meals. Its lungs are always writhing, reconfiguring, and becoming its stomach: each breath, for a moment, it is digesting air.

It is horrible that someone would ever do a thing like that to a gigantic paper snake.

If it were not so very large an unexpected sympathy would seize up Cheryl’s heart in an instant. Instead she is simply lost: how can this be? How can something like this be?

She holds up her hand. She reaches to it.

She caresses it with the flat of her hand.

It occurs to her as she touches it — as she sees its brain dissolve for a moment, a knot pulled through it, and become a long flat muscle, then revive itself with a shudder of paper folding; as she feels the paper rise and fall under her touch — that it wants to die.

It pulls itself down around her. It wraps around her like a thousand circling paper-chains. It lifts her up, so gently, with its breathing form, and there is paper all around her and in every direction; it is circling, it is marvelous, it feels as if the world has let her go, but she thinks that perhaps it has eaten her. What with the nature of the thing, with its inside being its outside, it is very difficult to tell.

She grasps for a handful of the snake, but it is oddly elusive for something that is holding her: for a moment she touches it, then there is a folding, and her hand closes on the air.

It is like riding in a cloud: the soft white waxed expanse of it supports her, but when she grasps at it there is only mist.

The heartbeat of the snake is doubled: it goes this way and that, she hears it, she feels it.

The gaps in the snake are eyes: they surround her: she hears its vast and cavernous thoughts:

You are born to be my enemy, it says. So I have come to you.

I hurt, says the snake. I hurt.

Help me to die.

She is an eleven-year-old girl. She is not yet as God. She does not even know what she is supposed to do. She tries to hug the snake but she cannot hug the snake and even when she gets sort of close to successfully hugging the snake, it does not die.

She punches the snake. She makes a fist and she punches the snake, but paper just wraps muckily around her fist.

If people still played rock-paper-scissors — which they don’t, of course, not after that

She might have tried to split her fingers into knives, and cut it.

I don’t know if that would have worked any better, but at least she would have tried.

As it is, she finally says, quietly, “I don’t know if I’m your proper enemy, Mr. Snake. Maybe you need to find somebody else.”

So the snake puts her down, gently, on a rock. She’s next to a crab now. It clacks its pincers. It is disturbed by her.

The serpent eddies out to sea.

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