Originally posted on Patreon in Nov 2019 and part of the Great Patreon Crossposting to WordPress.
The point, as far as Sheetal had been aware, was to get away from everything and everyone.
The point had been to be out in the mountains where she couldn’t be reached, where she could reasonably say “sorry, no signal” and where nobody would bother her even if anyone could find her.
She’d hiked up a mountain to get to this cabin. She’d reserved it a year in advance. She’d brought enough food for three weeks and enough whisky for four and – it had been one hell of a hike – she’d brought a small solar panel for her typewriter.She was going to sit here and she was going to be alone with her thoughts and she was going to, for the first time in – in far too long – she was going to have some peace.
Up here, the world was thin – the Strands came in three flavors and none too common – the ones that she had brought herself, dragging them up the mountain like the whisky and with more effort; the ones that other people to use this cabin had brought up, the tenuous strands of remembered connections and those people’s connections to the cabin and the land itself staying like old cobwebs; and the ways the land itself and the cabin itself connected to themselves and to each other. They were calm and quiet Strands that didn’t grab at her, the way that the ones connected to other people did.
In short, it was ideal. Sheetal had never signed up for listening to everyone’s drama every minute of every day, and yet there she was, sitting in the middle of a city, the Strands of everyone’s personal connections wrapping around her until it was all she could do to get up and do her job every day, come home and take care of Mom every night, repeat it again the next day. And there was nobody, nobody she could talk to about it. You couldn’t just say the Strands are too loud to most people – even the rare person who knew about Strand-magic, about the connections that held together the world, usually didn’t hear them. The rest of the world would try (had tried) to put her in a loony bin or medicate her.
Failing the wherewithal to become a hermit forever, Sheetal had decided on a vacation as literally “away from it all” as she could get.
Her sister Nori would be taking care of Mom for a week. Danica and Yuki were covering her shifts at work. And Sheetal – Sheetal was writing a memoir on even days and this project she’d been thinking of since the day before the Strands started singing to her on odd days, and on the nights she couldn’t sleep, she was writing about the Strands she could find up here on the Mountain and how they compared to city Strands.
She’d been up there for four days when the rain started to fall. Not just fall but attack, coming down in torrents, sleeting away part of the mountainside and blocking almost all of the light.
She kept writing as long as the little word-processor had power, then turned to her notepad and pen, lighting all the candles and lamps in the cabin and lighting the fire, too; even though it was well into summer, the rain seemed to leech heat from the world.
She probably, considering the way her life had been going, should have expected the knock on the door. After all, she’d lit up the place like a beacon. After all, the world didn’t seem to like her being alone. After all, she’d gotten nearly five days of quiet.
She felt the Strands before she heard the knock, read them before she opened the door. Loose connections, fleeting ones, a few tight ones he held closely to. He, yes. She could smell it.
She opened the door ruefully as the lightning cracked outside. “Come on in.” With her luck, he’d be an Angel of the Strands or something, come to test her, and if she left him outside, the Strands would find a way to get even more annoying. “It’s raining cats and dogs out there. What are you even doing up the middle of this mountain?” She’d turned to find a towel before he even got the door shut behind him, was handing it back to him while he was looking for a place to take his soaked jacket, and took the jacket from him while he toweled himself off.
“Thanks for letting me in.” He shook his hair a little and smiled. “I was looking for a quiet place, someplace to be alone with my thoughts. But then it started raining…”
He had a day pack with him, enough for a short hike. The story wasn’t completely unbelievable.
And what was more, while he had a reasonable number of Strands, they were quiet. They didn’t reach out to Sheetal and try to entangle her. They didn’t seem to be constantly writhing.
She pulled out the good bottle of whisky. “Well. As long as you’re here, and the rain is out there, and I’m here as well–” She poured whisky into two of the three glasses that had come with the cabin. “Let’s sit and enjoy the fire. And maybe if you feel like talking later, you can tell me how you came to be so calm and quiet in your…” You couldn’t just say “strands”. “In your mien.”
His smile made her hope he knew what she’d actually meant as well as what she’d said. His raised eyebrow made her worry he’d thought she meant something else. And then he took the glass and tipped it her way. “To the quiet places, then?”
“To the quiet places.” Sheetal breathed out slowly. Outside, the rain continued to pour. and the wind continued to howl. “And those people that understand them.”