After it happened, Susan felt like she was drowning without being able to die.
She got the call as she came home, late and laughing, from a party at Barbara's. The voice on the line was hesitant and stammering, warping distantly with the distortion on the line. Susan caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as the news registered: lips red as blood, skin white as paper, like someone else she'd known a long time ago.
"Not all of them," she said.
The voice bent and fractured, the room shimmering hazily around her.
"How could all of them --"
Then blackness descended.
She woke up eventually, but the darkness wouldn’t lift. The air was too heavy, giving her the feel of wet cement in her lungs. Grief sat like a lion on her chest, weighing her down, so that she got less air with every breath she took. Mother -- breath -- Father -- breath -- Peter -- half-breath -- Edmund -- half-breath -- Lucy -- it was about here that she began to gasp, the air hitching in her chest on the realization like a stone projection: I'm alone. They're all gone. All of them. I am alone.
It was made worse by the fact that things hadn't been good between her and her family for a long time before they died. She'd stayed close enough with her parents -- they were proud of her beauty and charm, accepting of her social-butterfly life -- but there had been a wall between her and her siblings, something that had started with lack of understanding and grown into solid disdain. They were always talking about Narnia, and the fact was that Susan couldn't remember Narnia very well anymore. Years ago, when she was fifteen and had had her first serious boyfriend, she had tried to tell him something about it and his eyes had widened, his skin paling, and she realized that he was becoming afraid of her. That he thought there was something not-right about her. The grip of his hand in hers had slackened and he had looked down, and so she had chased the too-bare, too-real words with a light laugh: "At least, we used to pretend that. It wasn't real, of course. Oh, children have wonderful imaginations, don't they?" And he had glanced up, relieved, and laughed with her, and the grip of his hand became firm on hers again and he leaned in for a kiss. That association stayed with her, the feel of his lips on hers and the denial of Narnia, and with it came the realization that if she wanted to be a normal, ordinary girl, if she wanted a normal, ordinary life, she wouldn’t be able to keep Narnia. And what could Narnia mean anymore, anyway? She would never be allowed to go back again. For as long as she lived, she would be shut out. Once a queen in Narnia, now an exile in the workaday world, and if she tried to cling to the memories she'd achieve nothing but to lose the only life that she could now see for herself.
So her sisters and brothers would talk about Narnia, and she'd brush them off. The world she lived in was bright and vibrant and at once ever-changing and always the same: always new colors of frocks and of lipstick, new boys to flirt with and new friends to gossip and giggle with, but with something solid at the center. She was discovering who Susan Pevensie was in the real world, the not-Narnia world. She liked makeup and dresses and invitations. She liked being an ordinary girl, an ordinary beauty. Her hair was bobbed chin-length now and bounced when she tossed her head. She thought the feeling of it bouncing like that, the lightness of it compared to the hair that fell almost to her feet in the Narnia days, was the feeling of freedom. And her siblings had regarded her with disgust and disdain, and she had regarded them as silly and quaint, and now they were dead -- now everyone was dead, her siblings and her parents and even Eustace and Jill and Polly and the Professor, all the friends of Narnia gone -- and she knew they had died detesting her, thinking her shallow and vain and a traitor. And she couldn't breathe, feeling their disgust, feeling it strip away all her defenses. She was shallow and vain and a traitor, and because she was they had left her behind.
She couldn't escape the feeling that they were in Narnia now, all together, all happy, all hating or else dismissing her. All of them dying at once, that couldn't be a coincidence. She had too much experience of magic not to know that this was magic at work. Aslan had gathered them all home, and she was left here, in the world she had sought to make a home of, the world for which she had traded away her right to queendom and family and love and true home. Aslan had gathered them, but had he had to take her parents too? The cruelty of that was staggering. Perhaps Narnia had needed her brothers and sisters, Eustace and Jill and Miss Plummer and the Professor too, but her parents had no claim on Narnia and it had no claim on them. Her parents would have missed their children, the children would have missed their parents -- but what then of Susan? Did Aslan think that because she had left Narnia behind, she had lost the capacity to love, to grieve? Did he think it wouldn't matter to her, that every single member of her family was gone? She stumbled through her days in a daze, dizzy with bewilderment and the force of the blow. They had all been taken together so that none of them would have cause to mourn, and she had been left behind, like a doll whose owner had grown up.
Weeks went by and she couldn't seem to get a grip on herself, mired in a sludge of grief and anger and terrible loneliness. The man who had stood by her as she watched five coffins being lowered into five graves became uncomfortable around her, first helpless and then frustrated in the face of her long silences and dazed look, staring fixedly off into space as though the answer to why this was happening would print itself across the air if she looked hard enough. He thought she should get out of her apartment more, the apartment where by now blizzards of dust seemed to rise when she shuffled across the carpet, that a shock of reality would bring her to her senses. He tried to get her to leave, to go shopping as she once had, to spend time with friends. But her friends had no more luck drawing her out than he had, and when he dragged her to stores the dazed look never left her eyes, her gaze passing unseeing over skirts and shoes and makeup compacts, until his patience began to fray. One day, in a busy department store, as he tried to interest her in a thick woolen coat, he pressed its fabric into her hand and the fabric dropped from her fingers as she stared off into the distance, eyes fixed on, apparently, nothing. "I can't do this anymore," he snapped, and shoved the coat hanger away so fiercely it knocked several other coats off the rack, hangers clattering to the floor, a wave of fabric washing up close to Susan's toes. "You have to try a bit sometime, Susan. You have to shake yourself out of this. I can't do it for you." He strode away, heels clicking on the linoleum. Her gaze remained trained on precisely the same spot, her eyes suddenly sharper, her brow furrowed a bit. Barely registering that the man was gone, she took a step in the opposite direction, the direction her gaze had been fixed in.
It was a shelf of games, gaily packaged, Ludo and Clue and Tiddly-Winks knocked helter-skelter by children's hands and beaming brightly at her. In their midst was a game of a rather different sort. The box was yellow, but a more subdued hue than the Ludo box sitting next to it, and emblazoned across it in red was an image of a man with a pointed chin and horns, like the horns of the Fauns in Narnia so long ago, brandishing a magic wand. THE SENSATIONAL GAME, an arc of large letters over the wand proclaimed, and there, beneath it, was the image of a board featuring the words YES and NO and then the alphabet. The title of the game was rendered in smaller, more discreet letters across the board: OUIJA, it said, and then, in elegant cursive beneath it, the word Queen. Susan stepped closer to it, as if entranced, her fingers reaching out to touch the board. Queen. The words on the box seemed to call out to Queen Susan of Narnia within her, showing her the path through her pain and loneliness, lighting the way to her family and Narnia once more. She could speak with them, beg their forgiveness, make her peace with them. She could find her family. The gaping hollow inside her writhed at the possibility of being filled once more as she thought of it, of being able to say How are you, of being able to say I'm sorry.
She bought the game and brought it home.
Alone in her living room, dust motes drifting through the light of the single lamp in the corner, she placed her fingers on the planchette and tried to think. The planchette was lightweight, made of wood, and tiny droplets of sweat beaded on its surface as she closed her eyes to concentrate. The set was meant to work better with more people, but there was no one left to join her, not in this world. She closed her eyes, concentrating hard, trying to find the right words, feeling her pulse thrumming under her skin, in her fingertips against the wood. Are you there? she thought. Can you hear me? Mother, Father, Peter, Edmund, Lucy --
The planchette sat against the board, dumbly inert and lifeless.
"Can --" She cleared her throat. "Can you hear me? Mother, Father --" She cleared her throat again; the words seemed to stick in her throat, as though they were rebelling against her. "Peter, Edmund, Lucy --"
"Asl--" Again, the word caught in her throat. She couldn't choke that one out at all. Desperate, she worked around it: "Anyone? Anyone from Narnia at all --"
A sudden, snapping electricity in the air. She felt the hairs on her arms stand on end.
"People and creatures of Narnia --" The words came unbidden to her lips now, an echo of Queen Susan of the Golden Age of Narnia resonating in her voice. "Come to me. Be with me. Show me the way. I'm lost --" She stumbled a bit, the Queen flickering out of her voice momentarily, leaving a frightened young woman. "Show me the way back."
Under her fingers, the planchette began to move.
Jadis, Her Imperial Majesty, Queen of Queens and the Terror of Charn, had been in the gray town where twilight never turned to dark for eternities of unpassing time. Her palace rivaled the most extravagant ever constructed in the farthest reaches of Hell, turret upon turret and tower upon tower leaping into the misty void in a majestic profusion of spikes and spires, but the rain still fell cold on her hair and the vapors of her resplendent robes as she sat in the Great Hall before a blazing, heatless fire. Several streets away -- perhaps ten minutes' walk, so close in the context of Hell's endlessly outbranching streets as to be practically next door -- her sister lurked in an equally towering, equally substance-less castle. Furrowing her brow, Jadis imagined a new tower into being, its appearance that of heavy stonework, light flashing out its high windows from an elaborate cut-crystal chandelier, and bretèches armed and ready to pour boiling oil over the heads of any who dared approach. Jadis thought it unlikely that Emyrine would attack tonight, after the routing Jadis had given her in their last battle, but it was best to be vigilant. The small army Jadis had amassed -- a mixture of the sadistic seeking new outlets for their cruelty, the weak seeking protection, and those whose loneliness led them to worship her as their leader, all of them, in the end, seeking a purpose to shape the endless twilight -- stood down for now. Sentries stood at the entrances to the castle, but for the moment Jadis was alone in the Great Hall, feeling the rain seep slowly into her hair and skin, staring into a bright illusion of flame and brooding over the past -- the days when pain and death had been real, when torture had drawn thick red blood and screams of real physical agony. When she held the power of life and death in her hands, when people feared her because she held dominion over their bodies, not just their worthless intangible souls. Here in Hell nothing hurt people unless they believed it hurt. Jadis had become adept at convincing others they felt the pain she wished them to feel, but it only worked on a fraction of the souls around her, only on those willing to hurt, and to be hurt by her. So many people here seemed beyond her grasp, entirely uninterested in her battles with her sister, in their blood feud and their pursuit of empire. They laughed at her. They ignored her. She might have sought vengeance for the laughter, but what could she do when they ignored her entirely?
She yearned for the time when none could ignore her. It had been so simple to seize power when the soul had been at the mercy of the body, when torture and murder provided an ultimate answer. Here in Hell living went on and on, and without the threat of death to shape it there was no point. Jadis had spent hundreds of mortal years seeking eternal life, had bartered away peace and happiness in the hope of finding immortality, and now, with eternity in her grasp, the absence of death felt like the phantom of an amputated limb -- itching, taunting, forever lost.
In moments like these she fell into reverie thinking of her mortal days, times when she had had, if not happiness, at least satisfaction. She dwelled hungrily on the memories of her battles with her sister: how Jadis had first risen to power with the willing aid of Emyrine, the two of them conspiring to slay their father, Charn's King of Kings, and install Jadis as their Queen -- the first reigning Queen in the history of Charn, where men had always held the crown. Emyrine, the older of the two, had nevertheless always had less beauty, less magic, less ability to twist others' will to her own, and had she been content with her lot, had she conceded the crown to Jadis and accepted her role as chief councilor and second in line to the throne, Charn could have seen peace for the rest of its days. But she had nursed her envy in secret, fomenting discontent among Jadis' subjects and finally spearheading active rebellion. The false fire in front of Jadis snapped and stretched, burning higher and brighter, as Jadis greedily raked over the memory of those times -- the streets of Charn running red with blood, corpses strewn across the pavement, the public torture and execution of her sister's adherents. Emyrine's lover, who would have shared the throne with her had she found victory, had taken three days to die, torn to pieces bit by bit, on display in the town square. After that Emyrine had broken her promise not to use magic, and in so doing had ensured her own doom. Had she thought Jadis too weak, too soft, to use the Deplorable Word? If so, she had died undeceived. Jadis clung to the memory of that death now, savoring the look in Emyrine's eyes as she understood the annihilation she had brought upon herself, choosing not to remember that Emyrine's death had been no more permanent than Jadis' own.
And then the years in Narnia. Somehow Jadis found those less pleasant to remember, although she had had many years as Queen there as well, years when she had reigned supreme, years of winter and stone. But before that for centuries she had been forced to bide her time, exiled in the far North, learning for the first time the meaning of loneliness. She had become ever more skilled in dark magic, learning to bend the nature of this new world to her will; she had even borne a daughter, magical progeny of Jadis herself and a snake of the Northern wilderness. She had thought the child might provide companionship without challenge, might be trained to worship her as a goddess, never questioning the right to rule of the Queen who had given birth to her. But she too had rebelled, and Jadis had cast her out, turning her wand against her, putting such spells on her that she should be frozen in stone until Jadis herself had died -- an eventuality which she had hoped would never come to pass, and yet she had trusted that should she in fact die one day, her daughter, consumed by grief and recognizing her superiority at last, would avenge her.
But Jadis had died, and gone unavenged, and she had never seen the girl since. She must be here, in this endlessly malleable underworld, and perhaps if Jadis could find her she could enlist her as an ally against Emyrine. With her help, perhaps Jadis could defeat Emyrine once and for all, could begin her reign in Hell with a properly dutiful, obedient servant-daughter once more. But she was nowhere to be found -- millions of miles away perhaps, in her own castle that could never keep out the rain. Of all those who had failed Jadis in her life, who had proven themselves unworthy, the girl was perhaps the biggest disappointment. Jadis had created her as a subject, as a weapon to be used, and the knife had turned in her hand. (And if she had created her to be more -- to be company, to relieve the aloneness that seemed to cut Jadis to the bone all too often in her exile -- more fool she, and that was all there was to say.) She had not spoken nor thought the girl's name in centuries. She never would again.
So she sat in her ghost of a castle with its lie of a fire before her, drenched to the skin, alone and resentful and far more miserable than she would ever allow herself to admit. If only she could find her way to a real world again, a place where she could find real power, the threat of whose destruction she could wield like a whip, driving it on before her until she had found what she'd sought all her life. Domination, subjugation, destruction -- and in the end victory, a throne where she could, at last, rest, settled in the knowledge that she had conquered once and for all. There would be calm then, gazing over a world of kneeling subjects, the ground around them littered with the skulls of those who had defied her. There, at the end of all war, she would find peace, the raging in her soul stilled. Once she was Queen of the world, once and for all, she could be content. If only she had one more grasp at mortal life. Just one more chance.
And then the call came, searing through the poor remnants of her flesh, and she put up her head, nostrils flaring as if at a sudden scent. Narnia -- the word flashed through her, a sort of hearing without sound. Fragments of a call whipped through her mind: anyone -- be with me -- lost -- show me. She rose to her feet, stretching out her arms to either side of her as if she were about to fly, transported by this abrupt connection, knowing without knowing how she knew that this was it, her final chance. Then her eyes snapped shut, her consciousness lifting out of what remained of her body, going somewhere else. To the place to which she had been called.
The planchette zigzagged under Susan's fingers, describing random patterns against the board. She gasped, a feeling like electricity snapping through her, her whole being suddenly suffused with energy that felt for a moment like violation. She convulsed, ready to pull her fingers off the planchette, but for a second they wouldn't move at all, frozen to the wood, beyond her control. Then the feeling slackened, and she knew she could have taken her fingers back again, could have ended this right where she sat. But now the planchette was moving swiftly, gliding from letter to letter:
W H O H A S C A L L E D M E
"Who?" Susan asked stupidly; surely it was her right to ask such questions? "I'm Susan. Of course. Who -- who are you?"
The planchette paused, then began to slide.
J A D I S
"Jadis?" Susan thought she had known that name, once upon a time, but she couldn't place it. Someone from Narnian history, she thought, but who? "Are you -- are you from Narnia?"
A pause. Then -
"Were you a -- a Queen?" Susan asked, desperately raking through her memories of Narnian history, which had faded so badly in recent years. The planchette moved in immediate response:
YES -- a slight pause -- J A D I S Q U E E N O F Q U E E N S
"Queen of Queens" -- something about the phrase fell awkwardly on Susan's ears; it did not seem like a usual Narnian phrase. But caution fell away as she thought of why she had summoned this Jadis in the first place, as what she had sought seemed within her grasp at last. She shut her eyes tight, marshaling her wits. "I am Susan -- Queen Susan the Gentle, of the Golden Age of Narnia," she said.
The planchette thrummed violently under her fingers for a second, then stilled.
"I am -- I want to --" She struggled to find the right words, the elegance and dignity of her long-abandoned royal self. "I wish to speak with my family. Peter -- the High King, Peter the Magnificent. Edmund -- King Edmund the Just. Lucy -- Queen Lucy the Valiant."
The planchette began to move, more slowly than before. T H E Y A R E K N O W N T O M E, it spelled out at last.
"Are they there?" Susan asked eagerly. "Can you let me speak to them?"
One sudden motion from the planchette. NO
"They're not there at all? But -- but they have to be -- where are you?" Susan asked desperately. "They're dead, they're all dead, and you -- you must be dead too. Aren't you? Let me speak to them!"
T H E Y A R E N O T H E R E, the planchette spelled.
Susan crumpled, tears starting to her eyes.
The planchette began to move again, gently, almost slyly. I C A N H E L P Y O U
"What? How?" Susan asked, tears running unheeded down her face.
I F Y O U B R I N G M E B A C K
I C A N H E L P Y O U
"Bring you back? Back where?" Susan asked, bewildered.
B R I N G M E T O Y O U
"But that's not -- I don't know how -- and how does that help me to find them? My family? That's all I want, is -- I think they're in Narnia. I have to speak with them. And where are you?"
A long space of stillness. Then, A F T E R
B E Y O N D
"Do you mean -- the afterlife? What are you --"
The planchette moved quickly, decisively. I C A N B R I N G Y O U T O N A R N I A I C A N B R I N G Y O U T O Y O U R F A M I L Y
"Can you? How? Aslan said I would never return --"
I T I S I N M Y P O W E R I C A N B R I N G Y O U
B R I N G M E
S U M M O N M E
P R E P A R E T H E B L U E F I R E
S U M M O N M E B Y N A M E
"Oh," Susan gasped, sudden understanding ripping through her. "Blue fire -- oh -- I remember that, I remember the stories, I know who you are --"
The planchette moved so suddenly Susan nearly lost her grip on it. Y O U W I L L N O T F I N D T H E M W I T H O U T M E
O N L Y I C A N H E L P Y O U
B R I N G M E
S U M M O N M E
A N D I W I L L B R I N G Y O U T O T H E M
Susan tore her fingers from the planchette. It flew across the room, hit the wall and fell to the floor.
She stared, appalled, at the board. What have I done? Jadis, the White Witch -- what have I done?
Susan lay awake that night, staring into the darkness, strange new thoughts coursing through her mind.
The White Witch had been an enemy of Narnia, of course. Always winter and never Christmas. Statues of stone scattered through her house, dungeons and prison cells choked with them.
But she had had magic.
Powerful magic. Magic that had held Narnia in thrall for years.
And if Susan could make use of that magic --
To make use of the Witch surely wasn't the same as allying with her. Susan turned the phrase over, liking the hard edges of it. There was power there, and surely the meaning of power was in how you used it. What if she could strike a deal with the Witch? Promise to bring her back if she used her magic to bring Susan to her family, to Narnia -- and then renege? She could surely never be faulted for breaking a promise to such a creature. And what harm could there be in finding her family, at last? In speaking to them one more time, begging their forgiveness, asking them to show her the way back?
Of course she knew what Aslan would say. Knew that in his eyes, to have dealings with evil was to turn herself into a mere echo of that evil.
But she also knew what Aslan had done. He had stolen her family from her. Her whole family! Five of them! He had taken them and left her behind. Abandoned her to this world, this horrible empty world, to grief and fear and endless loss. Susan found herself abruptly devoured by anger. In the end, whatever the Witch had done, she hadn't done that. Surely Susan was justified in her resentment, burning inside her now like a live coal, setting her soul aflame. Aslan meant her to suffer, to live on in this world with no one to love, hollowed out and yet still breathing. He had used his power to call the rest of them home, and he had cast her aside. If she reached out for the power to find them again, if she refused to be cast aside, who could blame her?
If she could speak with them just once more. To say goodbye. To bring the end about on her terms. If she could tell them how much she missed them, how she longed to join them, to find her way back --
Her longing for Narnia and her resentment for Narnia burned within her, battling one another. She loved Narnia. She hated Narnia. Narnia was her family and Narnia was Aslan. She wanted to embrace her family, she wanted to spit at Aslan. Reject him utterly. And she knew her family was with Aslan, was of Aslan, she knew that as long as she rejected him she could never be reunited with them, but wasn't that what the Witch was promising? The Witch could bring her to her family, and a fig for what Aslan willed. The night wore on and Susan's thoughts became more and more fevered, her anger rising to the pitch of a shriek within her. If she could take control once, just once --
She stumbled through the next day, her fury burning within her, finding mastery over her. The man who had left her in the store the day before called her repeatedly, and she ignored the ringing of the telephone, barely hearing it at all. She paced her apartment, not seeing her surroundings at all. Only -- each time she made the circuit of her living room her eyes were drawn to the board still lying askew on the floor, the planchette resting several feet away, a small innocent triangle of white wood resting in a stripe of golden sunlight. And Susan knew what she meant to do now, and she knew that before she did it, the sunlight must vanish, its warm, kind luxury no part of her plans. She would wait for night.
Evening fell, the purple haze of twilight seeping through the blinds in Susan's apartment. She waited for it to fade, waited for the stars to prick through the black of the sky, waited for full night. Then she crossed the room, picked up the planchette, and settled it on the board.
"Jadis," she said, voice steady. "I will find my family. I, first. Help me. Do that, bring me to them, and then -- I will do what you ask."
The planchette vibrated under her fingers.
"Tell me what you need."
It began to move.
The spell the Witch required would be done in the dark of the moon. Thirteen days away.
Susan believed that this spell would reunite her with her family, would bring her back to Narnia. She had told the Witch she would bring her back to mortal life after she had done this. The Witch agreed, but told Susan that in order for the spell to work at all, in order for Susan to be transported to Narnia, the Witch needed to be present. She would be brought to half-life, her spirit trapped in the circle Susan would create. From there, she would perform the magic that would send Susan to Narnia. And when Susan had returned, she would set the Witch free.
Susan tried to stave off the unwelcome thought that she only had the Witch's word for it that this was how the spell would work. She knew nothing of the workings of magic -- not this sort of magic. She had no intention of really bringing the Witch back to life; she intended, once she had what she wanted, to dispel the circle and send the Witch back to wherever she'd come from. She tried to believe she could do that, take back control, find her family, and then banish the Witch. She tried to forget that she had no idea what she was doing.
She was consumed with the thought of finding them even as she was overwhelmed with confusion as she tried to picture it. One moment she longed bitterly not just for them, but for Narnia: its cool dewy slopes and the sunlight falling in scattered coins through the green forests, the love of the Talking Animals and the laughter of woodland creatures, the Fauns and Satyrs dancing under the light of the moon with the Leopard and the Ship sparkling above. She imagined throwing her arms around all her family, the babble and joy of reunion, imagined resting in green grass head-to-head with them all, sleepy and at peace, or dancing hand-in-hand along the shore, facing out across the water into the East, Cair Paravel gleaming bright and beautiful behind them. And then the memory turned and the sky had gone ashy, the stars winking out, a cold breeze blowing through the darkness. The forests were full of dumb beasts with sharp teeth and low growls, and the five people she loved best walked out to meet her tall and grim, their faces in shadow, casting long patches of gloom behind them. And one moment she threw herself to her knees before them, begging their forgiveness, and a moment later the image shifted and they fell on their knees before her, begging her forgiveness for leaving her behind. She couldn't keep track of it all, didn’t know what she wanted. She knew only that this aloneness was unbearable. And then her anger would rise up to claim her, and that was all that mattered.
In this strange inner world defined by the confusion and resentment burning inside her, she began to neglect the physical world around her. She stopped bathing, frequently forgot to eat, the lightheaded feeling she got from hunger subsumed in the dizzy strangeness of mind and heart that consumed her now. She ventured out of her apartment one day, seeking what the Witch had told her to find -- branches of yew, elder and apple to burn, wormwood and mugwort and myrrh to cast over the flames. People drew away from her in the streets, taking in her unkempt appearance and the mad gleam in her eye, and she never noticed. She would draw the circle, she would prepare the blue fire. She would perform the magic that would bring her to her family, that would bring her home. After that -- who knew? But things would change. She would take control, would shape her world to her will. No longer at the mercy of Aslan, Aslan and his cruelty, Aslan and his theft. No longer the Gentle, but the Powerful, the Inexorable -- she, Susan, would be master of her life.
Then one day, something different, an interruption in the strange fevered isolation that had become her world. The man who had left her in the store, the man around whom she had shaped her life before they had all died and she had decided to shape it around herself, had kept calling, and she had unplugged the phone. He came knocking and she ignored him, pacing the apartment ceaselessly. Then, three days before the spell was to be performed, she heard a key in the lock. She froze, realizing what must have happened: he had gone to her landlady, had convinced her that Susan might be injured or worse, and had convinced her to let him in. The Ouija board was still in the center of the room, ringed by scattered branches and containers of odd unkitchenly oils and herbs. She began to move toward the door, hoping to ward him off, to keep him from entering, but her limbs felt heavy and disobedient, as if she were wading through quicksand. The door swung open and she saw his face, saw his brow contract as he caught sight of her, pale, disheveled, very nearly lunatic. She tried to smile, to raise her hand in a light wave, to -- above all -- keep him from coming in.
Instead, she fainted.
She awoke in the hospital, white sheets pulled demurely to her chest, a tube snaking out from beneath them, attached to a glass bottle full of clear liquid. He was sitting in a chair nearby; when she tried, reflexively, to reach out to him, she felt something pull in her arm. "Careful -- it's your IV --"
"They call it 'IV' -- intravenous therapy. They're giving you fluids. Water, saline. They said you're dehydrated. Malnourished. They said --" Then he paused, shook his head. "Susan, what have you been doing to yourself?"
"Nothing." She cut her eyes down to the sheet. "Just -- I don't know. I'm -- I -- haven't been… feeling myself."
"Have you been eating?"
"Sometimes. What does it matter?"
"What does it matter? Susan!"
"Well, why? What's the point?"
"Susan, you're not well. You're -- the doctor spoke of melancholia --"
"Melancholia? Of course I'm melancholy! My whole family is dead!"
"Yes. It's dreadful. And a shock like that -- what it's done to you --"
"There's nothing wrong with me. If you would just leave me alone --"
"I won't leave you alone! I can't! Susan, it's not just you, it's not --"
"Of course it's just me! They're all dead!"
"Not now, Susan. Not now that --"
He told her.
She felt the bottom fall out of her world.
"Pregnant?" The word dropped from her lips like a foreign object. "Pregnant. I can't be."
"You know that we --"
"But --" She laughed; it was so absurd. "But I'm not -- we’re not -- tell me you're joking."
"It's not a joke. Do I look like I'm laughing? It's no joke."
"But it's --" Her head spun; she sagged back against the pillow. "But it can't," she said again, as if the words meant something.
"Susan." His voice was low now, intense. "I'll marry you."
She stared at him unbelievingly.
"I'll go out tomorrow and get a ring, a license. As soon as you're well, we can be married in the register office. You can move in with me, or we'll find a new flat, a bigger one. You know I can support you. We can have a good life, a family --"
"A family." She struggled upright, anger searing through her. "Now I know it's a joke. A family! My family is dead --"
"No, Susan. It's alive inside you right now."
"It's not! It's a lie! It can never -- you could never -- how dare you --" The words were coming out all garbled, fury scrambling her thoughts. She scrabbled after a pillow, hurled it at him, falling back half against the wall. He leapt up, ran to the door, screamed for a nurse. The nurse came rushing in, saw Susan struggling to rise from the bed, fighting to free herself from the IV line, her face contorted with rage. She called something into the hallway and in a moment another nurse was beside her, holding a syringe filled with liquid. The two of them managed to pin her to the bed, and as the needle sank into the crook of her arm she felt a spreading coldness, blackness creeping into the edges of her vision. The last thing she saw before she succumbed to the dark was the white, strained face of the man across from her.
When she came to she was calm, apathetic. Nothing mattered. Nothing mattered except that they let her out before the new moon. She would eat what they gave her, drink as much water and juice as they pleased. She could spend days in the stark white of the ugly hospital room, fattening up like a prize calf if that's what they wanted. Then she would get out and draw the circle and light the fire and --
"I need to see them," she murmured. "I need them."
That's the old life. You have a new life now.
"No. It's not the same --"
Of course it's not the same. It's something new. You're being given a chance.
"It's nothing. It doesn’t matter."
You lie. You know how much it matters.
"I can make it end," she said suddenly, out loud. "There are ways. He'd find someone. He'd pay."
The voice went silent inside her. She wondered if she'd shocked it. But the silence didn't feel like shock. More like -- appraisal.
Waiting to see what she would pick.
She drank her juice and ate her meals. The world became solid around her once more, ordinary. They let her out the evening of the dark moon.
She told the man she would see him the next day, that she wanted to go back to her apartment, clean up a bit, pack some things and sleep in her own bed one last night. He let her go willingly enough, believing her. She let herself into her apartment and wrinkled her nose; the air was thick with dust and the stench of rotten food. She had an impulse to take out the garbage, drag out the vacuum, set the place in order, as though this was an ordinary night in an ordinary life. She pushed down the impulse; none of that mattered now, nothing mattered but the high sacred purpose of --
Sacred? the voice gibed.
Never mind. Shutting her mind to the dirt and the smell, she went into the living room. The Ouija board sat on the floor, planchette poised in its center. Mechanically, she went to the fireplace and dragged out the grate, bringing it to the middle of the room. She collected the branches, arranged them in a pyre on the grate, interspersing it with newspaper for kindling. The herbs and oil were ready around her. She sat briefly in front of the Ouija board, fingers on the planchette. "I'm here," she said aloud.
The planchette vibrated and began to slide, swiftly, eagerly. D R A W T H E C I R C L E
As if sleepwalking, Susan picked up a canister of salt from beside her, walked once around the pyre and the board, outlining a white circle against the carpet. She knelt down again, placed her fingers again on the planchette.
L I G H T T H E F I R E
The match scraped roughly against the edge of the box, then burst into flame, a small blue knob of radiance. Susan touched it to a piece of newspaper, eyes dilated. The fire crept down the paper, then began to crawl along the wood. She blew on it once, and a pillar of flame burst into being. She reached out for the herbs, scattering them on the flame, then pouring a thin trail of oil into its center. The fire turned blue.
Once more to the board.
S U M M O N M E B Y N A M E
Susan cleared her throat. "Ja--" she started.
The flame snapped and crackled, blue as the heart of a sapphire, blue as a strangled corpse.
Something inside the fire seemed to seethe. White sparks began to shoot out from its edges, angry, barely restrained.
"I call on --"
"I call --"
Something welled up in Susan, a thick longing, a sudden rush of grief, swooping low in her belly. The fire grew, reaching out for her, ready to consume her --
An explosion within her. She leapt to her feet, wrenching the Ouija board off the ground, the planchette falling to the carpet. She whipped the board into the flame; then seized the planchette and hurled that in too. The fire blazed up shockingly high, bright red now, almost touching the ceiling. Susan darted across the room, her feet scattering the circle of salt, her fingers finding a pitcher of water resting abandoned on a tea tray. A second later and the fire was nothing but black, choking smoke. She had doused it. An echo of a scream, the shriek of a furious agonized thwarted being, and then silence. Nothing. It was over.
Susan fainted again.
She came back to life slowly, over the following months. Narnia was closed to her. Her family was gone. They were gone, and she had to make a life for herself. No more could she let her anger consume her, no longer could she hold out hope that she could turn back the clock or fix the world to suit her fancy. The man wanted to marry her, but she didn't want to marry yet. She wanted to see what she could build on her own first. To her surprise, he stayed around anyway. Her stomach swelled and grew, her face and ankles bloating, and she felt she had never been less beautiful, less appealing, but he stayed. She began to see him in a new light. But then, the light of the whole world seemed to her to change now. Not the warmth and beauty of full bright sunlight, but a slow, almost imperceptible shifting, like the first rays stealing over the hill at dawn.
He was there when she gave birth, hours of tearing pain and blood and strain, and yet none of it mattered the moment he laid the baby in her arms. "A girl," he said, tears cascading down his face, illumined by joy.
"Lana," she whispered. "Her name is Lana."
"Lana," he echoed, resting one finger on her head, against a damp reddish curl of hair.
Susan gazed at the tiny face, drinking it in. A thin cry filled the room, the small features wrinkled and scrunched, the little hands already balled into fists and waving about. "Ss-ss-shhh," Susan whispered, and pressed a kiss on the top of the head. "Ssh, baby, love," she crooned, and the baby's face nuzzled into her neck. She opened the buttons at the front of her gown, guided the head, with its halo of fuzz, to her breast. The baby found the nipple and latched immediately, sucking greedily. The eyes opened for the first time. They were green.
Susan examined the child's features hungrily, one by one. The little turned-up nose, surely that was like Edmund's as a child. The ears, sticking out funnily from the head, those were Peter's. The green eyes could be no one's but Lucy's. Her family, brought back to her here, in this minuscule scrap of humanity, this creature who would grow and thrive, completely Susan's and yet not belonging to her in the least really -- her own person, vibrant and real. Susan let her gaze rest on the tawny curls, reddish in some lights, gold in others. In her mind she saw a rippling mane of living gold. Yes, he was here too. They were all here, here for her, here in this child.
She would tell the child stories of Narnia, of the Golden Age when she had reigned as Queen Susan the Gentle. She would tell her of Dryads and Naiads, Fauns and Satyrs and Talking Beasts. She would tell her of her family, Kings and Queens, and yet ordinary brothers and sisters. One day, perhaps the child would find her way into Narnia. Perhaps not. But Susan knew now, in this moment, that she herself would return one day. She would keep Narnia alive for the child, and one day, years in the future, when she herself died, she would be reunited with the others. Until then, she had a purpose. She had love. She had, once more, a family.
She would probably marry him, this man who stood with tears tracking down his face, staring at Lana as though he couldn't get enough of the sight. And he wouldn't understand when he saw the birth certificate, when he saw the slight alteration to the name, the As- before the name he knew. He'd think it odd. He might protest. It wouldn’t matter.
She had made her peace now, with Narnia, with her family, with Aslan. From here, she knew the way.