From: (Matthew Skala)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: Whiteshade simple (Cross Product ch. 11)
Date: 1 Dec 2000 21:11:11 -0800
Organization: Ansuz
Lines: 218
Message-ID: <>
X-Trace: casper.UVic.CA 975735621 6204 (2 Dec 2000 05:40:21 GMT)
X-Complaints-To: abuse@UVic.CA
NNTP-Posting-Date: 2 Dec 2000 05:40:21 GMT

[Chapter 11 of a larger work.  Chapters 1-7 at ,
others being posted concurrently.]

Whiteshade simple

Rick winced in pain as he eased into a kitchen chair, and Mella was
immediately all over him.  She tore the bandage from his leg and gazed
alertly at his cut.  Looking up at him, wide-eyed, from where she knelt on
the floor, she said, "You're hurt!  Let me heal you." "Well, I -" he began,
clearly uncomfortable, but the witch wasn't listening.  "I will make for you
a poultice of wolf dock," she said with odd formality, "and covet my
neighbour.  Don't move." She stood, and dashed into the hall; before I could
follow, she was back with a thick worn paperback book in one hand and a root
in the other.

I took a close look at the root as Mella walked past me to the counter.  The
root was long and supple, with a blackish skin divided into successive
segments.  It had a slightly wrinkled skin, probably from drying out in
storage.  I was reminded of a vegetable my father once tried to grow in his
garden, called scorzonera.  It grew fine, but getting me or anyone else in
the family to eat it was another matter.  I don't remember the scorzonera
very well, so Mella's root might not really have looked anything like it,
but that was what I thought of at the time.

Mella set the book down on the kitchen counter next to a grungy plastic
cutting board, and flipped it open.  Then she gave the root a perfunctory
shot of water under the tap, shook the drips off, and started peeling it
with a sharp knife.  I watched, over her shoulder, as she dug a grater out
of one of the drawers below the counter, and started grating the root.  It
made a pile of stringy shavings and a faint resinous smell.

Looking in the book, I could see a picture of a plant with similar roots,
splayed out like a sample in an herbarium.  The leaves were fan-shaped with a
notch in them, sort of like gingko leaves.  Coiling among the roots were
creatures that could be worms or snakes, long thin and legless with snouts
at one end and a row of dark dots along their backs.  There was text written
all around the picture, in a cursive script that I didn't recognize and
couldn't read.  I thought of Hebrew, but the letters were all connected and
from the justification it seemed to have been written left-to-right.

Mella had grated the root down to a little nub, which she tucked into a
garbage pail secreted below the sink.  She broke some dried leaves from a
bundle hanging from a wire stretched across the ceiling, found a bowl, and
mixed the herbal material, water, and a little salt.  She put a bit of the
resulting slop on a gauze pad.  The bowl containing the rest ended up in the

She knelt at Rick's feet again and before he could react, slapped the gauze
onto his shin.  It stuck as if glued.  "Now, is that good?" she asked.  Rick
got up and took a few steps.  "Well, yes, it is!" he said, and laughed.
"That's very good.  Thanks."  Mella smiled at him.  "It's what I'm here for."
She addressed the rest of us.  "I'm not sure what to tell you to do for the
moment.  You and I need to talk," she said, pointing at me, "but you others,
we don't need you yet.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you're here.  Why don't
you take a walk outside?  You'll do okay as long as you don't let them
intimidate you."

Taylor smiled and said that would be perfect.  She elbowed Jeff and he
jumped and gave her a funny, wondering look, but when she walked out the
sliding glass doors onto the deck and started making her way down the stairs
into the back yard, he followed.  They turned the corner to the front of the
house and passed out of my view.  Rick seemed to want to say something, but
he held his tongue.  Mella offered him some tea, and he said thanks, and she
poured him a mug from a pot that was sitting ready on the counter.

She poured some for herself and for me, too, without asking whether I wanted
any.  "Come on," she said, "time's a-wasting."  Then she led me down into the
basement, into the dark room, leaving Rick alone in the kitchen.  As I
followed her swaying form down the steps I heard him sliding the door open,
walking outside, and closing it behind.

Mella and I sat at a little square table where she told me about her
religion, or something.  She had a wooden paddle with a row of stick figures
drawn on it.  She showed it to me for a few moments, but pulled it back
before I got a good look at it, and swung it around absently while she
talked, only once in a while pausing to show it again and point at some
specific symbol to illustrate what she was saying.

"I don't really know where to begin but I'll try to begin at the beginning
and hope you can fill in the blanks.  There are different kinds of people,
you know.  You can tell them apart by the shape of their heads, but I mean
the shape on the inside.  You can't tell just by looking unless you clear
your eyes first with whiteshade simple, or if you're very powerful.  It all
comes down to how many points of thought someone has in her head.  In the
old days people only had a few, but over the years we've gotten more.  It's
like a growing.  You might call it evolution, but I wouldn't, not around

"All living things and a lot of non-living things, like weapons and musical
instruments for instance, have at least one point.  The first real humans,
tens of thousands of years ago, had two points in their heads, which meant
they could interpolate.  That means think in straight lines."  It doesn't,
but I didn't want to interrupt her.  "They invented happiness and war.  But
people with one or two points can't really survive very well anymore, the
world has become too complicated for those people.  Nowadays you only see
them in positions of authority or menial labour, where the world is simple."
She pointed at a stick figure with a triangular head.  "I think you must be
a triangle person.  Triangle people invented words and computers.  Most
humans are triangle people, especially the smarter ones."

"Are you a triangle person?"  "No," she said, "this is me here.  Five points
of thought."  She pointed at a figure with a pentagram for a head.  "Witches
use pentagrams because we're all five-point people, to a woman, although we
don't all have the same five points in our heads.  You've known four of my
points of thought; I could show you the last one but it might kill you.
It's a fearful responsibility.  But we've skipped over the cross people, and
they don't like being skipped over.  They build walls all around the place,
and they invented jails and wisdom.  Right now is the time in history when
the cross people are taking over the world."

"That sounds bad."  Mella shrugged.  "The people of the cross invented good
and bad about six thousand years ago.  If you think of them in those
terms, then you're inviting them into your world.  So I try not to think of
them at all.  I'd rather keep myself open to the star people, who have six
points in their minds.  The cross people keep star people confined to this
Mountain, and the star people are the reason I'm here."  "So, is Godstown
where the cross people live?"  She shook her head.  "It's not that simple,
and I can't really explain it to you.  Let's not talk about Godstown right
now, okay?  It's not the time for it."

This whole "most people have three but some have more" idea reminded me of
what Rick had told me about the tetrachromat women and I asked "Mella, do
you have any unusual color vision?"  "What?"  "I mean, like, do you sometimes
see differences between colors that other people say are the same?"  "No, not
really.  Where did that question come from?"  I tried to tell her about the
different kinds of cone cells and color pigments and so on, but I could see
her eyes starting to glaze over as she lost interest in my words.

"No, you misunderstood, when I was talking about points in people's heads I
didn't mean anything actually physical like cone cells, it's not like a
genetic thing or anything.  It's not, I guess you'd call it hard, it's not a
hard difference, it's software.  But I do like that color thing just as a
metaphor, especially the bit about these women not having any words to
describe the extra colors.  Because that really is what it's like, if you
try to talk to someone whose mind is on a different level, you might be
speaking the same language but you'll misunderstand.  Communion is only
possible between equals."

"You have to understand that every civilization has its own conflicts among
the different kinds of people, whatever level it's at.  Tens of thousands of
years ago the triangle people would keep slaves with only one point on their
heads, because from their point of view, those really were no better than
animals.  Now the crosses are spinning their web through your three-point
civilization, with a few like myself sitting in out-of-the-way corners like
here.  But the same kind of thing happens everywhere.  In a different world
there are spider people with eight points in their heads, and you bet
they're fighting a terrible war with the star people who have only six
points, just because they're different.  Whoever's on the fringe always
loses, and the wheel grinds on."

Mella coughed harshly, and said, "I can't go on right now.  Why don't you go
talk to your friends?"  I walked out through the kitchen sliding doors and
onto the deck, a wood-surfaced square with a railing around it and steps
leading down into the back yard.  The back yards of Mella's and the
neighbouring houses all merged into one strip of yellowish green, where dead
new grass poked up from the clayey Sooke topsoil.  The lawns hadn't been
planted long enough for the grass to really colonize the ground yet.

The clay runoff had made streaks down into the ditch that separated this
cul-de-sac's back yards from those of the next one over.  There ought to
have been grubby children in those back yards, half-buried forgotten Tonka
trucks, and maybe a disreputable long-haired family dog or two.  The sun
was low in the sky but sharp and clean above the dirt.

Rick was sitting on the steps down to the back yard, huddled over his cup of
tea, rocking slowly back and forth.  He mumbled something as I sat down next
to him.  I said, "Pardon?" and he raised his head to face me.  Staring with
no comprehension, he recited distinctly,

  "It is dark, my Queen
   Grey clouds race across the Moon
   Won't you come to bed?"

"Um, okay, fine," I said pacifically.  Rick started, blinked, and the life
seemed to flow back into his face.  "Sorry," he said, "and thanks.  I was
just thinking about some things and I forgot where I was.  Coming out here
this weekend was sort of escapism for me; I've left some unfinished business
at home that I'm gonna have to deal with soon."  "Want to tell me about it?"
I asked, and made to sit down next to him, but he jumped up, fast, and said,
"No.  Thanks.  I wonder if the others are back yet."

As if on cue, Taylor appeared around the corner of the house and started
climbing the steps.  She was glowing with suppressed energy of some sort.
When she reached the top, she announced, "That was good advice she gave us
about not being intimidated."  Jeff was following listlessly behind her; he
called, "Um, yes.  Heh," and joined us.  Mella came out and said, "Oh,
you're all back.  Good.  I was wondering, where were you planning to sleep
tonight?  I -"  Taylor interrupted her.  "We were going to camp out.  I
think you saw the tents.  We really like camping.  Assuming it's allowed, of

I realised that Mella had been about to offer to let us sleep in her house,
and Taylor was trying to nix that.  Why should she care?  And wouldn't the
witch's house be the best place to see whatever strange stuff we had hoped
to see anyway?  Thinking on Taylor's behaviour in the last hour or so I had
the distinct feeling that she had worked out some special agenda of her own,
and I resolved to ask her at the next chance I got.

Looking at Mella, I could see her face twitch through several unreadable
expressions in rapid succession.  I thought she must have been thinking
something very much like what I was thinking.  After all, if a humble
computer geek like me could notice what Taylor was doing, surely a full
witch must have even clearer vision.  But she didn't say a word about it.
Maybe she agreed with, or at least didn't object to, whatever she saw in
Taylor's mind.

"Fine, then.  Someone told me you wanted to camp at the top, but gave up
because you didn't seem to have time to walk there.  I'm sorry to hear that
and I hope you'll pack up and see how far up you can get while there's still
some daylight left.  I think you'll find it easier now," she said.  "The sun
will go down soon, and when the stars are about to become visible it's
harder to get you lost."

Matthew Skala                   :CVECAT DELENDA EST