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White as Snow

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Polly O'Keefe sat in the bay window of her room, the soft hum of her computer providing counterpoint to the hush of the snow past the glass. It was late morning, December, and as the house was a historic site, the windows were still single pane and slightly drafty until the college decided to get up the funds to change that fact. Therefore, she wasn't sitting as closely as she would have liked, almost pressed up against the panes, but she could distinguish flakes and the few cars that made their way up and down Green Street.

The last day of exams had dawned with grey, the snow starting fairly early. Polly's roommate Jaya had left a few days before, dodging the forecast to get home to Philadelphia, having done her exams early. Polly hadn't let hers go until the last moment, but she had spread them out so that she wouldn't panic. By age 21, one became somewhat aware of the painfulness that was panicking, and she didn't care to feel it just for some papers and tests. And now it was Friday, the day of freedom, and the bishop's pickup was nowhere in sight.

Bishop Colubra wasn't picking her up, having claimed that the snow would be too much for him or for her grandparents, who had almost audibly rolled their eyes over the phone but agreed. And though he was around their age, Canon Tallis had stepped up to the challenge anyhow. "Fear," he said to Polly that morning during the call, "is necessary to the spirit, but leave it go too long, and it paralyzes you. Like fire, it serves both as a tool and a weapon."

Secretly, Polly agreed, as she watched the snow fall in vaguely opaque white sheets, thicker than before. She was grateful that Canon Tallis was going to meet her, that he had had a speaking duty in Providence and decided to join them for the holiday. It was the first time they had been together at Christmas since Gaea, and that had been nine years on, now, but there were more reasons than the canon's presence and inherent light that made Polly pleased that he would be there, and that they would be able to speak alone.

Both the bishop and Uncle Sandy would have listened, would not have laughed at her or thought her crazy, but Polly was certain either man would have encouraged her to get her grandfather's opinion on the matter. It was impossible to shake the memory of her seventeenth year, though, and it was clear to her that any discussion with Alex Murry would make her grandparents afraid and turn the holiday into a disaster. The star in the East, Polly thought, was not supposed to be a dis astre (a word construction she had always loved).

But if Bishop Colubra was passive, Canon Tallis was his counterpart of movements and secrets and action, though both were of the same mint when it came to decisions and both were good men. If there was help, he would find it. Of that she was fairly certain, but the fear continued to flicker in her chest.

The blue pickup finally pulled up on the street, and Polly watched though the panels of falling snow as Canon Tallis walked, a little more slowly than he had the last time, but confident, up the sloping walk past the lawn. As he disappeared under the porch roof below her window, Polly sprang up, not bothering to wait for him to ring up to her. Slipping on her shoes, she headed down to meet him. Between the weather and the end of the semester, the house was almost terribly hushed, and her feet made a pounding noise on the stairs, which broke the silence.

It turned out that the canon had not bothered to call her, just stood waiting, a light dusting of snow from the short walk covering his coat and the hat that covered his bald head. Dressed in civilian attire save for his collar, he smiled at her and motioned to the door.

"Merry Christmas, godchild," he said, keeping her request to not call her Polyhymnia but also reminding her of it. "And a pleasant end of term, I hope? This weather is a delightful mess, I haven't been out in that sort of thing for months."

Polly grinned and motioned him into the foyer, beginning to brush off his shoulders and hat with the cuff of her sweater. "Merry Christmas, Uncle Father. And of course not. You wouldn't get much snow in...was it Samoa?"

"Fiji," Canon Tallis corrected gently. "The Navy was doing experiments there regarding neutralizing jellyfish stings. Your father asked me to look into it. Fascinating work." The way he said it implied that there was more to the story, but it was clear that Polly wouldn't get anything more in public, if at all. She didn't even bother to try.

"I take it the quiet life of the city didn't suit? I thought you'd decided not to go running around," she said as they walked upstairs to fetch her things. "Too old, you said." If there was a chiding tone in her voice, it was that he was past seventy, and even in good health rarely reversed a decision.

He shrugged and gave her a slightly tense smile. "I was asked to go," he said simply, opening the door to her room and taking a bag. Polly knew then that the request was higher than her father. "Adam and Vicky are waiting for you back at the house, so you can talk to people more your own age than us geezerly types. Their tans rival mine for sure, I was mostly indoors. We should," he added, looking out the windows before Polly drew each shade for the break, "fortify ourselves for the journey, as it'll take longer than usual. Let's pack you up and get lunch."

"Parking will be horrible in town. Should probably walk." She mused on the idea for a moment. By now, she knew Northampton well enough to not even bother finding a space. "It's only half a mile or so, then we'll be able to eat more anyhow." And then, she added mentally, we'll have time to talk.

The spark in the canon's eyes indicated that he hadn't missed the change in her expression, slight as it was. "About time for some American-style grease, I've been living on seafood lately," he noted. "That pub's still there off the main street, isn't it?"

Polly acceded and they were shortly on their way. The snow was now coming down even harder, and it was best that they made the entire trip in daylight, so the meal would be quick. But the topic on Polly's mind wouldn't leave her.

"You have dreamer's eyes, Polly O'Keefe, and you're usually closer to earth," Canon Tallis said with a slight chuckle in his voice, but also concern, as they went up the slight incline of the street before heading down the steep hill into town.

Walking beside him for a moment, Polly said nothing, then sighed. "I think I've been stuck in dreams too long. Having visions." And she told him about how sometimes the world seemed to split like an egg when she was alone, a gold crack of lightning through which she saw the same streets when they were cowpaths, the trees where the college would be, wagons and animals and old styled dress on the same girl. The pale girl with two dark braids, who sometimes looked up and saw her past the fissure in time, a startled smile on her face.

"I know Grand should help me," she said quickly, as Canon Tallis was about to say something. "But he'd probably tell me that no matter what I feel about it, I'm tearing apart space-time here in town, and that I should leave school next semester so that nothing worse happens. But..." She sounded slightly bitter. "I've done enough reading, and I know my instincts. It's not like that, and it wasn't like that either when I was back in high school, that I'm a walking temporal paradox. It's controllable, I only see it when I'm alone and feeling a strong emotion, and if I concentrate, I can make it go away."

The canon sighed and walked alongside her still, perhaps a little more slowly. "Your grandfather is a learned man, Polly, and I know he would only want to help. But there are forces in the universe that we can only touch on understanding. Think of it like a sphere. If you could only see in two dimensions, all you would see of the sphere is a slice, an oval. We can understand the oval in itself, even guess that there is more, but we aren't informed enough about how the sphere works or what's around it to make a complete picture that we can comprehend. And you...since before you were born you've been touching space-time, more than the rest of us."

Pausing, he added, looking at her, "You may be dangerous to yourself, but if you've been all right so far, I daresay there isn't a problem. However, if others knew of your movements and ability, they might exploit it. Do not speak of it to anyone, not until we figure out something to do first."

Polly knew all too well of the games people played for control of the government and money and power, and of the fatal--and worse than fatal--consequences they wrought. She nodded firmly as they made it into the pub and settled into a booth. "Not a word. Did I tell you I was planning to change my minor to physics?" she asked, though her mind was still stuck on the problem. She'd be lucky if it didn't affect her final grades, as she was certain she'd daydreamed through part of her statistics exam.

"I read it in your latest email, yes." Canon Tallis looked at her, his forehead wrinkling where furrowed brows would be on someone else. "Is that from recent events, or have certain people pressured you into it?" Polly's mother had never finished her Ph.D. in the same subject, and though she continually said she was going to go once Rosy was grown, Meg's parents had never quite been certain of it.

Polly blushed faintly as their order of fries arrived. "Would you believe both and neither?" she asked.

"You'd be surprised what I can find myself believing."

"I..." Polly frowned and tried to explain. "I used to want to work with animals, but then I realized I liked anthropology more. The physics is so I can study time and space, and how people understand them. Grandfather and Grandmother, and Dad, their work deals with the mechanics of things; I want to know what people believe and how that affects their perceptions, instead. The permutations are so much more interesting..."

She trailed off to find Canon Tallis smiling at her, with a look in his eyes that she couldn't read. "You're like your uncle," he said, but didn't say which or why.

About to ask what he meant, she opened her mouth, just as their food arrived. He said a brief grace under the sound of the loudspeaker playing 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', and then changed the subject to Adam's work in the Bahamas, but Polly saw that the look never really went away. The fact that it both puzzled and pleased her was unnerving, but she couldn't find the right moment to ask.

Heading back out of the pub, Polly and Canon Tallis found a not quite solid fall of snow coming down from the skies, nearly obstructing their sight entirely. Canon Tallis looked up into the clouds and squinted. "We'll be fine," he said. "This too shall pass, and soon, and then we can be on our way."

So they padded back up the hill, wet bunches of snow caking their boots. It was treacherous going, to the point where Polly tripped and fell softly in a drift, her cry of surprise muffled by the storm. Staggering to her feet, she called after Canon Tallis, but couldn't make out more than his shape a few yards ahead, when her world cracked in two with a flash of light coloured gold.

Turning, Polly saw the streets of mud and drifts of snow back the way they had come, and a figure trudging through the storm, back up the path. It was far too small to be the canon, and she stilled in place as the dark-haired girl came up in front of her with an old-style wooden bucket in each hand. Her gaze was appraising but a little shocked, her eyes were green, and she seemed to speak over the wind, or at least that was how Polly made it out.

"I've seen ye before, and I know not what to make of it, but..." She pondered for a second, then continued, "Yer dress is queer, and ye're like to freeze if y'stay out here for too long. If'n ye care to, ye can come out of the storm in our barn."

Polly didn't know what to say for a long moment, for the girl had never talked to her before, only met her eyes. As she was about to speak, a hand fell on her shoulder, and Canon Tallis stood behind her, a sturdy presence against the wind.

The girl looked upwards at him, and despite how odd he must have looked to her, Polly saw no fear in her face, only a slight flush against her pale cheeks. "And I've seen ye, but only the once, in a dream," she said, with a nod. "Y'were a good man, then, and I still see it in ye. Will ye both come, then?"

"Not today," Canon Tallis said. "But soon, at the turning of the new year. Right now we are expected at home."

With a brief note of assent, the girl moved past the two of them, Polly still stricken a little by the encounter and chilled by the snowflakes cutting into her cheeks. Breaking free of Canon Tallis' hand, she turned and called after her. "Wait--what's your name?"

The girl looked confused as she paused and looked back at Polly. "Eirwen. Maddox. My people live off West Street, in the house with the red door."

"I'll look for you, Eirwen Maddox," Polly found herself saying, though she wasn't certain why, and nearly clapped her hand over her mouth after saying it.

Breaking into a smile that was remarkably lovely, the girl nodded and went back on her way, disappearing under the snow. Polly watched her go, the world seeming to shift beneath her feet until she could feel cement once more underneath the drifts. She could almost sense Canon Tallis coming back up behind her.

"What was that?" she asked. "And what did I promise?" And, she wondered, how Eirwen Maddox know of the canon from her dreams?

He offered her his hand. They were almost back to Green Street, brick buildings appearing through the lightening blizzard. "I'm not certain," he said, and though he was solemn, there was almost a smile in his tone of voice. "What does your soul tell you?"

Polly looked up at him, thinking and trying to feel it for a moment. "That I'd like to go and see the house with the red door, someday," she said, and then concurred with herself. "Would you come with me, Uncle Father, even if it's just a dream?"

Canon Tallis nodded, and they began to walk once more towards the old blue pickup. "Yes," he said. "We'll go. Together."

And for Polly, that was answer enough for now.