Opal, p.3
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       Opal, p.3

         Part #4.50 of The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater
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  She was filled with so much bad feeling that she didn’t know what to do with herself. She wanted to make Ronan and Adam feel as badly as she did. She wanted to break rules. She wanted to break anything.

  The long barn came into view before her, dark and hulking in the evening. As she made to skirt it, she was, as always both attracted and repelled by what it contained. Every evening before this one, the repulsion had won out. Tonight, though, she thought about the rule of not entering the long barn and she thought about how it was a very large, old rule, and it would be very noisy and satisfying to break.

  She had half a thought that she might smash everything she found inside, too.

  The long barn’s door would not say yes to her, but a small window that wouldn’t have fit a human did, so she slid inside.

  She had expected it to be dark in here, and humming with dream energy, but it dazzled with small surprises of light tucked into corners and hovering near the ceiling, and any hum of dream energy was drowned out by the bellows of her anxious lungs and the hoofbeats of her anxious heart.

  The floor was dirt. Tables were crowded with papers and glasses and musical instruments. A piece of art that she didn’t like leaned against the wall. A door in the middle of the floor opened to reveal another door. A trap door hung open in midair, and on the other side of it was blue sky. Half a laptop was stacked on a phone the size of a cinder block. Opal touched nothing. Now that her heartbeat was a little quieter, the humming of the dreamthings rose to take its place. Fear wobbled inside her as she crept around and looked, her hands behind her back, her hooves scuffing dirt. This was too much like being in Ronan’s head again. Raw and formless and without rules. Walking through these dreamthings was like walking through a memory, remembering the troubled country where she had grown up.

  She could tell that Ronan had not been dreaming for a long time. All of these objects were weeks and weeks old. Nothing had the persistent, loud humming of the newly dreamed. There was mostly just the dull silence of an old barn, and in the background, a watery pattering. It called her more than everything else, and so she silently wound her way through the things until she found its source.

  It was a large plastic bin. She could tell that the bin itself was not dreamstuff. Its contents were. Even from the outside, the contents felt happy and sad, enormous and small, full and empty. It was like the feeling of happiness from the cloud lady on the bench, but multiplied many times over, and she knew that the feelings themselves were dreamthings. Opal had forgotten the intensity of dreamstuff. She had remembered they didn’t care about animal rules. But she had forgotten just how much.

  She wasn’t sure why she lifted the lid. She would have thought she was too afraid. Afterward, she thought that she had maybe done it because she was too afraid. Sometimes bad ideas were so bad they looped right around until they became good ideas.

  Her fingers trembled as she set the lid aside.

  Inside the bin, it was raining.

  The rustling she’d heard was the sound of the rain misting the interior over and over, collecting into big drops on the plastic sides of the bin. Occasionally thunder rumbled, low and far away. The happiness and sadness Ronan had dreamt into the rain rolled over her, and she began to cry despite herself. This was the rain for new Cabeswater, and it had been here long enough for the lid to have dust on it. He had possessed it all along and it was never the thing stopping him from dreaming his new Cabeswater. Something else must have been stopping him. This knowledge made her even happier and sadder. The feelings grew and grew in her, the sadness slowly ebbing to leave only happiness.

  It was maybe this, along with the humming of the dream things, that made her whisper, “Ori! Si ori!”

  She had not spoken the dream language and expected an answer for a very long time.

  But the dream in the box responded. The thunder muttered and the rain hissed, and the entire rain shower lifted from the box. It rained into the box from one foot above it, then two, then four. Then Opal lifted her hands and didn’t say anything more in the dream language, just seized the rain and balled it up because she thought it would work.

  It did; the rain wadded up like it was sticky, collecting into a dark clump that looked like a thunderhead.

  She laughed and tossed it up in the air and caught it. When the clump bounced against the ceiling, it belched a burst of lightning that never left the cloud. She caught it with a little bump of happiness and sadness, and then she dropped it back into the bin. After a pause, she ripped off a tiny bit of the feathery wad and tucked it away in her sweater. It was okay to steal a little, she thought, because most of it was still left, and no one would know because she was not going to tell anyone she had broken the rule of coming in here. She was not going to smash the things in here. She was going to leave it like she found it.

  “Be rain, okay?” she whispered to it. The cloud dissolved back into Ronan’s happy and sad rain, and she slapped the lid back on it. It had been so long since she had toyed with any dreamthings.

  Opal clapped her hands and spun around, hooves scuffing in the dirt, and then she called out to the other dreamthings in the long barn.

  Paper flapped to her like birds and she pinched their wings until they caught fire and then she pinched the fire until it became paper again. She smashed lightbulbs onto the ground and swept the shards into loaves of bread and then she tore the loaves open and pulled unbroken lightbulbs out of the middle. She floated on books and sang until dreamthings sang back to her. She played and she played with all of these dreamthings, knowing how to make them all do strange things, because she was an excellent dreamthing herself, and she had forgotten how wonderful a dream with nothing bad in it was.

  Later Adam found her sitting at the edge of the forest. Above them the sun had slipped down behind trees and left behind knife-pink clouds. He sat beside her and together they looked out over the Barns. The fields were dotted with Ronan’s father’s sleeping cattle and Ronan’s wakeful ones. The metal roofs sparkled with newness, all of them replaced by Ronan’s new industry.

  “Do you think you’re ready to tell me where all the dishes are now?” he asked.

  She had handfuls of grass in each palm, but no matter what she did to them, they stayed grass. This was what it meant to be in the animal world. Rules were rules. She felt pretty wobbly, like all of the fear that she hadn’t felt in the long barn while she was playing had caught up to her.

  “I’m coming back,” he said.

  She tore up some more grass, but she felt a little less wobbly having heard him say it.

  “I don’t want to go, but I do — does that make sense?” he asked her. It did, especially if she thought about how some of her dreamthing’s happy-sadness might have rubbed off on him because they were sitting so close. “It’s just that it’s finally starting. You know. Life.”

  She leaned against him and he leaned against her, and he said, “God, what a year.” He said it with such human feeling that Opal’s love for him overwhelmed her, and so she finally gave in and took him to where she’d buried all the dishes.

  “This is a big hole,” he said, as they gazed into it. It was. It was big enough to bury a trespasser or a dinnerware set for twelve. “You know, I used to think you were going to get bigger. But I think you’re full grown, aren’t you? This is the way you are.”

  “Yes,” Opal said, in English.

  “Sometimes the way you are is a real pain,” he added, but she could tell he said it fondly.

  It felt like it was going to be okay.

  But it was not okay.

  The first thing that went wrong was the cloud lady.

  Opal had not been to the bench in several days because Adam and Ronan had both been home and she didn’t want to waste any minutes when they were home. But then Adam went to I can’t believe he can’t just do the job himself fine I’ll be back and Ronan started working on the computer in a boring way so Opal went roaming.

  It was the wrong time of day for the
cloud lady, far too late, but Opal went there anyway, because she missed watching her. By the time she thrashed through the trees to the bench, the air was dim and the creek was all-black, no-white, and it sounded louder than it did during the day. The grass all looked gray and black and the moss also looked gray and black and the bench also looked gray and black. The only thing that was not gray and black was beside the bench on the ground. It was white and cloudy.

  When Opal realized that it was the cloud lady, she cried out in the dream language before she could help herself. It was just that the image in front of her was so wrong that it felt like a nightmare.

  But it was not a nightmare, it was the animal world.

  Opal hesitated on the other side of the bank for several long minutes, waiting to see if the cloud lady would stop being a white blob beside the bench, reminding herself that she was a secret and had to remain a secret.

  But the cloud lady remained a white blob. Opal stomped her hooves and then growled a little and finally leapt over the creek. She crept slowly to the cloud lady but she knew right away that she did not have to worry about being quiet. There was no animalness to the cloud lady anymore. There was only a little bit of a bad smell and a box of crackers collapsed beside her. Opal checked it for crackers, but they had all been eaten, though she didn’t know if the cloud lady had eaten them or squirrels had.

  She touched the cloud lady’s hair, which she had always wanted to do, and then she touched the tubes going into her nose, and then she touched her cloud body. It was not as soft as it had looked from a distance. It was pretty solid. Pretty real.

  Opal began to wail. She rocked back and forth beside the cloud lady’s body, and she clutched her own cap and pulled it down over her ears and eyes, and she let out the piercing, raucous shrieks Ronan had told her not to do now that she was outside of a dream. Adam had once said they were so loud that they could wake the dead, but they didn’t, not when put to the test. This was the animal world, and dead things couldn’t be living again here. It wasn’t like when Ronan was killed again and again in his dreams. The cloud lady wasn’t going to be reset and reappear on the bench again the next time Opal came.

  Opal hated this small animal world and all its small, limiting rules.

  She wailed and wailed until she heard noises in the woods, voices rising, other humans, still full of animalness. She retreated across the creek to her hiding place. She wanted to wait to see what would happen to the cloud lady’s body, but she knew it would be harder to slip away once the others were close. And it wasn’t like there were many options for what would follow. They might eat the cloud lady or they might take her away but they would not do the thing Opal wanted, which was to make the cloud lady an animal again.

  So she slid back through the trees, crying and wailing in her own head, until she was back at the Barns. Fireflies winked by her as she waded through the grass, but she didn’t have the heart to catch any. Instead she stumbled right up to the back porch, and to her surprise, she found Ronan already there.

  He hadn’t turned on the back porch light and so he was just another pillar holding up the roof until she got up close to him. The dreamstuff in him was unpleasantly fuzzing the same static it had been doing for weeks, and his face was cast in gray evening light and she didn’t like how he did not look exactly like himself, but she didn’t care enough to not walk right up to him and hug his leg.

  Ronan let her cling to him for a minute, his hand on her head, and then he said in a low voice, “Opal, could you get Adam? He’s working on his car.”

  When she didn’t move because Adam’s car was only just around the front of the house and so Ronan could just go there himself, he repeated himself in Latin. This was strangeness because he sounded like an old sort of himself, the sort of him that she would have spoken to in a dream, where there were things that might kill them both. But this was not a dream; it was the real chipped-paint back porch of the real farmhouse.

  Adam was fetched. As he rounded the corner of the yard, he called out to Ronan, “Opal’s got a bee in her bonnet, or however you say it. She wouldn’t let it go. Did you actually send her?”

  “Parrish,” Ronan said. “There’s—” He lifted his fingers to reveal that they were smeary with black, like black paint. No, not like black paint. Like the opposite of white paint.

  “What—” said Adam.

  Opal caught the noise of the stuff a second after she saw it. It was a sound that was not-a-sound, a sound that sucked in the precise sound of the ley line and canceled it out. It was nothingness and unmaking, and she remembered it from the nightmare of the fall before. It was the thing that had almost destroyed her and Ronan, a monster with no real name. Fear began to rocket up from her hooves to her cheeks, all of her going cold and shivery.

  Adam asked, “Did you dream it?”

  Ronan shook his head, and as he did, a thin dribble of that same black escaped from one of his nostrils.

  It was coming out of him. The last time this had happened, it had come out of him and out of him and out of him while he twitched in a car, and it had come out of Opal while she huddled in the same car. It had been killing him, impossibly and terribly, like in a dream, only he had been awake. The unsound of it combined in Opal’s mind with the smell of the cloud lady’s body. This was too much, and it shut down every reasonable thought inside her.

  Opal began to scream, high and squalling. Chainsaw flapped her wings and began to scream as well. Their voices mingled, inseparable and identical, and truth wailed out as well, that they were both dreamstuff no matter how animally they felt, they were both Ronan’s dreamstuff, and most of what made them different was only details, and most of what made them the same would die if Ronan died. This was horrifying and too big to think about as it had always been, and so she could not stop screaming.

  Her scream and her fear were so loud that she could not seem to see at the same time, and so it was with confusion that she found herself outside alone. It was only after she retroactively considered the memory that she remembered Adam brusquely taking Ronan by the arm and shutting the door between her and them.

  Chainsaw had been exiled as well, and she was still mewling and flapping pitifully. Opal aimed a kick at her (Chainsaw hissed back) and then tried the doorknob.

  She had not been locked out, but she didn’t know if she wanted to go in. She did not know if she was more afraid for him or of him.

  After an argument with herself, she crept-crawled into the house. She did it the way she had when the lady invaded, on her hands and knees, making no sound, skulking down the hall. If she were in a dream, she would have made herself sort of invisible. She could do that sometimes. There was no reason why the blackness coming out of Ronan would care if she was visible or not, but it felt safer to be as secret as possible. Chainsaw scuttled after Opal, not fond, but preferring her to solitude and uncertainty. Opal listened for their voices until she found that they were in the kitchen, and then she and Chainsaw crouched just outside the door, her fingers hooked into knots in the old wooden floor. She could clearly hear the static in Ronan’s dreamsound.

  “I’m not going if it doesn’t stop,” Adam said, and Opal’s heart exploded with gladness. She imagined an autumn where Adam’s car stayed on blocks and nothing ever changed.

  “Fuck that,” Ronan replied. “You’re going.”

  “You must really think I’m a monster.”

  “Don’t even start. Shit. Could you—”


  “God won’t get me a towel.”

  Adam thumped by Opal and Chainsaw without seeming to even notice the two of them huddled by the door, and then he thumped back down the exact same way. Ronan’s dreamnoise hitched. Chainsaw rapidly tapped her beak open and shut and Opal aimed a fist at her to quiet her.

  “Why is this happening?” Adam asked.

  “I was hoping you’d tell me.” Ronan’s dreamnoise fuzzed and burned in Opal.

  “How would I know?”

; “You know everything.”

  “I don’t — maybe I should call Fox Way.” But Adam sounded dubious.

  “Because that worked so well last time.”

  Happiness and sadness were rising up in Opal, both at once. Now that she was not screaming, she knew what was causing the reappearance of the dark unmaking. Because even though she now would have preferred to be properly animally, she was still made of dreamstuff. Moreover, she was not just dreamstuff, she was excellent dreamstruff, a psychopomp, designed to save Ronan again and again, ever since he was a little boy. She knew what she sounded like as a dreamthing, and she knew what the ley line sounded like as a dreamsource, and she knew what Ronan was supposed to sound like as a dreamer. She knew it in the way that she knew all the time that she was a piece of him, a manifestation of a part of him. It was this terrible trueness that had drawn her to other things like her at the same time that it drove her away.

  So she could save him now.

  But if she stopped the black-oozing present, she would have an Adamless future. He had just said it: if it didn’t stop, he wouldn’t go away.

  Ronan abruptly strode past her and Chainsaw, filled with such brisk purpose that both she and the bird reared back. But he didn’t pause; just opened the front door and went outside. Adam, Opal, and Chainsaw all hurried to follow him.

  The three of them stood in the dull, friendly light of the porch and watched Ronan. He was not on the porch. He was next to his car, which was on its wheels next to Adam’s car, which was on its blocks, and he had all the doors open. The little interior light looked like the single shining eye of some kind of creature, and it winked sometimes as Ronan moved back and forth in front of it. He was harvesting trash from his car, which he did very rarely — more often Opal would have to do it as a punishment — and placing the papers and wrappers into a bag. Opal did not understand why he was doing such a thing with such furious import. He never ate the trash harvest. Surely he couldn’t really believe the trash harvest would help him with the unmaking. But he continued to rip great handfuls of paperwork from its roots before stuffing it into a Food Lion bag.

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