A Whisper of Time
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by Paula Downing King
Category: Science Fiction
Description: She was found alone, lost in the stately ruins of an alien city. And when they hunted for the child's people, and found no clue that would lead them to the truth, they adopted her as humanity's first alien. Medoret grows up with the archaeologist who discovered her in her alien city, but dreams of her early years plague her, and as her curiosity grows, she begins to study the glyphs that were once carved into the stones of the alien ruins. Many mysteries of the alien land were waiting to be solved, and Medoret was determined to unravel every last one.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 1994
eBookwise Release Date: December 2001
34 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [403 KB]
Reading time: 256-359 min.
Medoret leaned her arm on the ledge of her open apartment window and looked out over the city and the glittering expanse of dark ice beyond the city dome. She sniffed at the warm overcirculated air that sighed gently against her face. The humans had built their small domed city on a wide shelf of volcanic rock overlooking the great southern ice plain of Epsilon Eridani III, a planet they had named Ariadan after a Sumerian word meaning "river" -- though Ariadan had no flowing rivers, only ice. But the old name had pleased the chief archaeologists, as all their naming of things pleased them -- as if naming captured a thing and made it human-owned. Humans liked owning things. She felt especially owned today; it was not a feeling that pleased her.
The air brought a murmur of traffic from the street ten stories below and an array of alien scents that had become long familiar -- a clinging dust, the acidic smell of human flesh, a pleasant touch of roses and columbine from the gardens several blocks away, the faint metallic burning odor from the humans' mobile machines and the deep-buried ventilators that had sustained the city's enclosed environment. During her ten years among the humans, she had lived on Ariadan in the care of her keepers, safe in the control of the Targethi Project, far away from the crowded cities of Earth and the possible terrorists who might seek political or religious catharsis by killing Earth's only alien child.
There are worse forms of captivity, she told herself, knowing she had limited options even if the humans allowed her to choose, which they had not.
Her sensitive pupils expanded as she looked away from the brightness of the street below. Beyond the roofs of the other residential buildings, Ariadan's dark ice plains glittered under a blue-black sky, faintly obscured by the fabric of the dome. The ice plain reminded her of something she could not quite remember, a problem that she knew from recent experience would not resolve with hard thought. The memory teased at her mind, refusing to move beyond a vague knowing. She had been too young when the humans had taken her, and had lost something that was important.
Lost what? she wondered. I don't even know what the right questions are. How can I find the answers?
She sighed and looked at her pale hand resting on the windowsill, its nails more slender talons than fingernails, its fingers more jointed and slender than human fingers, mobile and graceful with a language of their own she no longer remembered. A human male might find her face beautiful, and overlook the differences in digits and length of her limbs, the odd fineness of her feathery hair, even overlook her lack of breasts -- though other applicable literature implied that could be a potential problem. What lay beneath her pale skin, organs and structures and fluids, differed even more markedly from the human norm, a difference that extended deep into the biochemistry of her cells.
Recently Dr. Sieyes, her psychiatrist, had traded pointed articles with an Earth academic about Medoret's obvious failure to achieve puberty, reacting scornfully to his rival's theories of an undiagnosed dietary insufficiency, tri-sex drones as a sexual alien variant, even psychological repression. She looked down at her flat chest and scowled. Tri-sex drone? she thought irritably. Where had that come from?
Label: female. Am I? In the beginning, the Project had decided she was female from their anatomical studies, with explicit pictures of her sexual physical structures in early articles she had read once and now avoided. She had an apparent womb, genitals that vaguely resembled human female genitals in structure and apparent function, apparent nipples displaced several inches downward from human positioning, which had caused frowns but. . . a girl, they decided. And likely she was female: she had dreamed of her mother and felt a definite link of gender, but how gender arranged itself among her people, how children were engendered and born -- she had been a child, uninterested in adult things.
She could name the two proteins that Earth biochemistry did not share with her body, could even sketch a reliable diagram of their structure. During those first few weeks, as the Earth survey ship raced frantically back to Ariadan and its sophisticated labs, she had nearly died of starvation and fever, then had attempted a deliberate death as her young mind retreated into months of catatonia. The humans had overcome that death, too, wanting both mind and body of the child, not one without the other.
She could recite the formula of the enzyme that had cured the cyclic fevers that later had recurred and nearly killed her twice, though not even the clever biochemists were quite sure why their miracle drug had worked. The humans were clever with their chemicals, clever with many things. Now her dietary supplements ruled her life, a fact she tried to not remember. If the humans withdrew the supplements, she would die. Sometimes she wondered if she cared.
Stop this, she told herself.
She had nearly escaped, in the early months, fleeing from her terror into her own dream world, safe from terror and lostness and pain she pushed away, but they had cajoled and pressured, touched and wheedled, punished, rewarded, medicated, caressed, embraced, stripping her of the safe blackness and its comforting images, imposing their version of reality. A cause for gratitude, she supposed: as much as she rued it, her survival had depended on accepting their world eventually -- though a child could not understand such things. Her psychological growth since that time was fully documented in the literature, the ups and downs, the rebellions, the depressions, the appearance of joy, the increasing social behavior -- all matched against human children, the only analogue they knew. She supposed she should be grateful.
But they still watched for the madness, while so oblivious to their own kinds of insanity, the mind chemists as vigilant to heal as the biochemists who had worked feverishly in those first few weeks to save her.
And what if I don't wish to be healed? she asked irritably. What if I don't want their reality?
She turned from the window and let her eyes roam over the familiar sights of her bedroom: a narrow bed with its bright covering, the study desk with its viewer, the wall decorations patterned after Targethi glyphs. As a child raised among scientists preoccupied by the Targethi ruins at 70 Ophiuchi and Cebalrai, she had adopted their fascination with the long-dead Ophiuchi aliens, hunting for some sense of connection in the survey material sent back to Ariadan for study. Project scholars had speculated in weighty academic papers about her connection to the Targethi, but she had decided there was none. Her people had come from Outside, from the other edge of Targethi space: her recent dreams hinted at that and she believed it, but she had not told the humans what she knew. She hid many things the humans did not suspect; it was the only form of rebellion left to her.
The computer screen on her desk blinked steadily for attention, prompting her to return to the study of Targethi glyphs she had started yesterday, but the thought bored her. Beside the monitor lay the Project's weekly report form that required her to document her daily physical functions in intrusive detail -- a rating scale of her moods, her self-affirmatory thoughts, her day-to-day well-being, all dressed up in Dr. Sieyes's psychojargon and behaviorist measures. She was a marvel: a test animal who could write her own data reports. She hadn't bothered with the form last week; this week's form remained as empty. Let them write a report about that, she thought. She turned back to the window.
To a few of the humans, the fact that Medoret could do anything sentient was a wonder, much like the marvel of a chimpanzee manipulating sign buttons to his handler's pleased satisfaction. Sometimes she felt exactly like a jackanapes performing in a circus; sometimes she despaired of ever finding a true connection with anything. She suspected that Dr. Sieyes encouraged that feeling; it increased his control, and thus the security of his Project prestige. Conrad Sieyes had built a lustrous career from Medoret's existence, and he guarded its perks assiduously. She looked longingly at the dark ice plain, glittering beneath the stars, the old memory teasing at her mind.
Where? From where do I know you?
Recently she had begun to dream more often, after years of frequent oblivion in the night. Dreaming of a dark plain like this one beneath brilliant stars, of an entrancing garden of pallid flowers that changed to sudden and paralyzing terror, of long adventures with the Vision Serpent and the other Maya friends she had created for her daytime fantasy; and of other faces and forms and potent images that were not human -- she felt sure of that, and fumbled as best she could in the understanding.
In her dreams, a white-skinned goddess, naked and pale and unbreasted like herself, knelt gracefully by a pool and poured a stream of stars into the Void, her arms graceful and strong, her body perfect. A cloud of drifting dark hair encircled her pale face and shoulders, merging into the dark sky behind her; her half-closed eyes watched a cascade of stars tumbling from her jar, the dark feathered lashes shading a luminous darkness. She smiled slightly, lips curving with such grace that Medoret ached for the luminous eyes to lift, to see the child who watched from a distance.
The image haunted her, somehow replacing emptiness and loss in a dark room of her mind with warmth and peace, a knowing of profound significance that eluded her waking mind. The Goddess was important, but why? Once during a dream, greatly daring, she had asked the Vision Serpent about the Star Goddess, but the Serpent had grown angry and refused to answer, finally withdrawing completely for nights on end. When she returned, the Serpent played at word games, pretending mystery and flipping her fronds irritably as Medoret persisted, then ending the questions with a savage chase through forest and glade that had terrified Medoret into better prudence. Sadly, though the thought seemed incomprehensible, Medoret suspected the Serpent did not know, either.
Strange that her dream friends should be Maya, she thought, but then perhaps not strange at all. It was the Maya gods who had enticed her from the void she had created for herself, her foster father's lucky choosing. During her first year with Ian Douglas in this human outpost dominated by archaeologists, she had been surrounded by his tapes and drawings of Mayan and Targethi iconography, so oddly similar, and had felt drawn to the images that both ancient peoples, one human, one alien, had carved in stone. Pleased, Ian had encouraged her interest, happily relieved that he had found something concrete he could give her after so many months of her listless attention. He had sought out illustrated book-tapes, bought her prints of the Maya glyphs for her nursery walls, and sat with her often in those early months, telling her stories about the pictures she loved.
In his telling, the Jaguar Sun seemed vividly alive, a crafty king caught in the Otherworld drama of the Heroic Twins, those demigods of the Maya who had stolen the visible world from the Underworld and had given it to Maya kings to rule. Lady Rainbow, the Moon Goddess, danced with her followers up a long stone stair beneath the spreading branches of the World Tree, laughing at the Celestial Bird who scolded her from the Tree's highest branches. In the temple plaza beneath them, Maya king-priests slashed themselves with obsidian knives in horrible ceremony, evoking the Vision Serpent and her ecstasy, then warred fiercely on other Maya cities, celebrating their victories in intricately carved panels that boasted of captives and sacrifice and the kingship of the Morning Star, brother to the Jaguar Sun.
The Maya had lived on the doorstep to Xibalba, the Otherworld, Ian told her solemnly in his pedantic way; perhaps the Targethi had, too, and so he had made up stories about the Targethi gods, too, telling of the Cricket God and his beetlelike devotees that chanted solemnly as they stalked through jungle trails, celebrating the Hunt. He had showed her holograms of the six great Targethi gods that stood in the Great Plaza of Tikal, the Targethi city at Cebalrai where the humans had found her, naming them one by one and asking her to recite their names afterward, then coining unlikely stories of their great exploits borrowed freely from half a dozen human cultures: Sumer's heroic Gilgamesh, Maelduin of the Celtic seas, Valkyrie and Odin's Doom, the Dream myths of ancient Australia.
She realized later that he must have spent hours reading about myths, copying them out carefully and stolidly practicing in secret for that night's story, when he sat by her bed and waved his arms dramatically, his hoarse voice rising and falling, invoking the magic of Xibalba and worlds beyond as she lay wide-eyed, watching him. He had tried so hard, fumbling to find some way to bring her out of the lethargy that still gripped her in her deep depression. And he had succeeded, to the Project's dubious amazement. Later, when she was older, Ian had abruptly given up the nightly stories, making vague excuses and encouraging her to more sober studies. She suspected that Dr. Sieyes, then newly arrived on Ariadan, had intervened: the psychiatrist did not approve of fantasy.
And so she had found her comfort afterward in her own solitary play, re-creating Ian's heroic play-creatures to escape the intrusive attention of the humans who studied her, denying the fact of her captivity and her aloneness in endless imagined adventures, where the Jaguar Sun became a fierce and protective lover, growling and crafty, where the Nine Lords were implacable enemies to challenge and outwit, where the Vision Serpent and the Cricket God, the Star Goddess and Lady Rainbow, all joined in the high drama, while the Mayan kings 18-Rabbit, Ah-Cacaw, and Shield-Jaguar shook their lances and warred on each other in jungle clearings. She knew them all, as intimately as she knew the real humans in Ariadan's real world -- and usually preferred them more, despite their fierceness.
Fantasy -- but perhaps fantasy that had saved her sanity in those early years without defenses. And fantasy that comforted still. She smiled.
I am the Vision Serpent, she thought, coiling her hands over her head gracefully and fluttering her fingers. I am the Cricket God, she thought next, turning her palms inward into insectoid prayer. She got up from her seat and paced in a circle, crouched low in menace. I am the Jaguar Sun, God of Destiny, the Heroic Twin who saves the World. Beware, Nine Lords of Xibalba! I am coming to make your doom. She paced once more in her short circle, gnashing her teeth ferociously as the dread Gods of the Underworld trembled and shook in terror, as was fitting, and then sat calmly down, Medoret again, pale and thin and strange among humans, who hadn't got her breasts yet and maybe couldn't. Who owns reality? The Maya had given her many labels that pleased her better. She fluttered her fingers again, invoking the Vision Serpent.
Beware, she warned Dr. Sieyes. When I am loosed into your world, you'll be first for the dining.
She started guiltily as she heard the hiss of the outer door in the room beyond, then relaxed as she recognized the muffled footsteps. Bootheels rang twice on the tile of the hallway, paused as Ian sorted through the fax-mail in the bin, then resumed their measured clatter toward her room. His scent preceded him: the familiar tang of his cologne, the smell of his flesh, the mints he liked to chew, a whiff of coffee mist in his hair and eyebrows. His smells, though others owned them, too, but still his. She turned from the window to face the door, her lips turned upward in welcome.
Ian filled the doorframe, his eyes bent on the mail in his square hands, a middle-aged human with too many pounds of extra flesh and growing wrinkles in his face. His dark hair had begun to gray in recent years, but his gestures had remained firm, his confidence unalloyed -- except in questions about his alien foster-daughter. A respected scientist in his own archaeological specialty, linguistic analysis, Ian Douglas deferred too much to Dr. Sieyes on that constant other issue, quietly convinced he lacked an essential as a father just as he blamed himself for an early failed marriage he rarely discussed. Though she sometimes felt a lack of connection with Ian, as she always felt in all situations in this human place, she sometimes wished she could persuade him of a few things. He finished riffling through the mail, then looked up, his blue eyes lighting. "I never catch you looking out that window," he pretended to grumble. "You always know I'm here."
He padded forward into the room. "You've noticed I stopped my experiments of trying to sneak in."
"Right," he agreed absently, dismissing the topic, and handed her one of the messages. "Dr. McGill wants us to come to her ship party."
Medoret wrinkled her nose. "I'd rather not."
He snorted in exasperation. "My dear girl, how can you finish your adolescent socialization if you don't go to social affairs?"
"Is that the goal? Socialized?" she asked, more sharply than she intended. "Or has Dr. Sieyes started worrying about my social index again?" She turned her shoulder to him and looked back out the window.
"I thought you liked Ruth McGill," he said, sounding confused. "You can talk glyphs with her. She's interested in your ideas." Medoret said nothing, not looking at him, and Ian shuffled his feet. "And Dr. Sieyes means well, Medoret." He paused, then cleared his throat. "I think you should go."
She hunched her shoulders, knowing he would not give it up easily. Ian loved her in his own way, but sometimes it seemed an absentminded love, like a reflexive habit: he cared equally -- or more -- about other things, and his choice to be her parental figure had been made by Medoret and others, not sought by himself. For ten years Ian had postponed his own ship assignments on Ophiuchus survey, contenting himself with the videos and artifacts brought back by others, consulting frequently with Dr. Sieyes about how to parent an alien child. He took his duty seriously.
"You should go."
"Ian. . . ."
She had never called him "Father," for all Dr. Sieyes's oily encouragement, stubborn in that also. Ian had not seemed to mind, had not even inquired why.
He leaned over her and took the flimsy from her hand. "I'll send our acceptance," he said with a note of finality, and turned to leave.
"I like Dr. Ruth," she declared, not looking at him. "I don't like Dr. Sieyes."
Ian sighed feelingly and left the room. Medoret thumped her fist on the windowsill, then stared at the dark plain beyond the dome, hoping the fixed attention might bring it into her dreams. Ian's scents lingered in the room for several minutes, distracting her, then blew to vague fragments on the city breeze. She stared at the plain until her vision sparkled with jagged spots, then blinked tiredly. She buried her face in her arms.
When she was younger, she could pretend she belonged in this place. Confused, she could pretend Ian was her real father, others a kind uncle or cousin, all the adults the warmth of welcoming arms she remembered from the before-time. But maturity now brought insistent dreams that denied that reality, that disjointed her and filled her with an aching loss. Her people could not tolerate outsiders well, she believed, and tried to ignore Dr. Sieyes's insistence that her recent obstinacy was a failing, a reproof, an ingratitude. She chose to be obstinate. She had tried denial, acceptance, cooperation, endurance. But nothing had filled the void inside her for long. Wasn't flexibility a sign of intelligence? Why not obstinacy?
He had such clever words, did Dr. Sieyes, and Ian trusted him. If she confided in Dr. Sieyes, she knew from experience, the psychologist would only cluck his disapproval and offer a dozen other reasons to confuse her, then mark his charts and pull at his chin in ostentatious thought, unaware that she knew how much he detested her alienness, a primal fear of the Other he probably denied even in his secret thoughts. The Vision Serpent had told her that about Dr. Sieyes; she believed it. Yet he did not wish her to be human, for all his cajoling; he had too much of a vested stake in her difference, Earth's one alien child, a foundation for an alienist's career, much better than mysterious crumbling stone and centuries-dead civilization. A living trophy could perform, could be truly owned.
Stop this, she told herself. Stop thinking about it.
The warm air riffled her hair, tickling her cheek, and surrounded her with the scents of Ariadan, teasing at her. From the distance she heard a metallic chiming she could not identify; it reminded her of the frostflowers, the last memory untainted by the humans. Her dreams sometimes began in that garden at Cebalrai, surrounded by carved stone and a silent city: she focused on the memory, allowing it to calm her.
I wish I could sleep, she thought. I wish I could sleep forever in that garden, waiting for the Black Ship. And my mother would walk toward me through the blooms, her face alight, all sternness and despair erased in her joy, and she would gather me close to her, glad in the welcoming. The others would crowd around us, happy with her, and together we would go to the Black Ship, our home. I so wish. . .
It was a familiar wish. She raised her head and stared for several more moments at the dark plain beyond the dome, then got up to dress for Dr. McGill's party.
"Good evening, Medoret," Dr. Ruth McGill said as she took Medoret's hand, squeezing it warmly. A tiny dark-haired woman in her early forties, Ruth McGill had a high social index that Medoret envied, one that easily included aliens at any party. She sniffed at Dr. Ruth's flowery perfume, a bit overwhelmed by the heady scent, and caught fainter undersmells of bath powder and scotch. Dr. Ruth's scents, she thought, her answering smile unforced. In another five years, Ian had told her, he expected Dr. McGill would leave her post as head of Glyphs at Cebalrai and become the Ophiuchi Project's overall director. Medoret hoped so.
"That's a pretty outfit," Dr. Ruth said. "Red becomes you."
"Hello, Ian. You look your usual self. Smart of you to let Medoret outshine you."
"What?" Ian asked absently, and then looked sharply at Dr. Ruth down his long nose.
Dr. McGill laughed and pressed Ian's hand, then led them into the apartment foyer. A babble of voices issued from the room beyond as glasses clinked and Dr. McGill's guests talked a combination of gossip and shop. On Ariadan, with a population of scientists obsessed with the mystery of the Targethi ruins, one could go anywhere and overhear voices in affable argument about glyphs, technic structure, and xenobiology. Medoret recognized representatives of all the major Cebalrai teams in the room: Metals, Urban Map, BioSurvey, and Glyphs. She had met a few of Dr. Ruth's guests now and then, seen fax-photos of several others in article bios.
For fifteen years, first at the smaller Targethi mining outpost at 70 Ophiuchi, the first ruins discovered by the Ariadan probes, and then at the larger ruins at Cebalrai, the scientists of Earth had plunged into the exploration of an alien culture, the first and only alien culture -- save Medoret herself, of course, in all her different mysteries. Though the Earth legislature debated the expense every year, sometimes in rancorous dispute with the other colony governments who had their own agendas, every year the Project got what it asked for in ships and support and money, with a suitable smaller largesse for an archaeological subproject named Medoret Douglas. She and Ian lived well, as did Dr. Sieyes. She glimpsed Dr. Sieyes's portly figure in the far corner of the next room. He was laughing jovially with a group of admiring friends, gesturing with the drink in his hand as he told his story. She winced and looked back longingly at the door.
"Come along, Medoret," Ian said.
I hate parties, she thought rebelliously.
In the large inner room, several groups of people gathered in different parts of the room talking, several voices already too loud from alcohol. To Medoret's sensitive hearing, the noise rose to a painful level, but she tried to ignore the clamor as she reluctantly followed in Ian's and Dr. McGill's wake. As always, Medoret's presence attracted immediate covert glances: though she looked nearly human, her overly pale complexion and different bone structure, the odd greenish shade of her eyes, the sheen of her feather-fine hair, even the way she moved, Ian had told her once, were enough to catch attention. Many of the adults in the room had known her for several years and the others from video and a wide academic literature, but they still looked, usually askance and then quickly away. She tried to ignore that, too, practicing the vague social smile that made her look dim-witted. Sometimes when she looked stupid enough, nearly everyone left her alone; she wished to be left alone tonight.
I don't want to be socialized, she thought, gritting her teeth. Maybe I could tell that to Dr. Sieyes and give him grist for another paper. Alien child alienated! Right. Learned doctor makes new discovery, he announced today. . . .
Dr. Sieyes noticed her and turned to smile unpleasantly, then said something to his group with a vague wave in her direction. Two in the group swiveled to look at her; she ignored them and him.
Dr. McGill took her elbow and guided her to a couch by the wall, but her choice of social companion for Medoret showed too many years away at Cebalrai. The redheaded boy on the couch looked up warily.
"Here's Jimmy Sieyes, Medoret," Dr. McGill said pleasantly. "Why don't you two get some punch from the table and have a good time?" She patted Medoret on the shoulder and then turned as the door chime sounded faintly, announcing another guest. "Ian, there's Dr. Mueller waving at you, wanting to argue. Why don't you oblige him?"
As Dr. Ruth and Ian moved off in different directions, Jimmy stared up at Medoret for a long moment, then put on his familiar mocking half smile. Slowly relishing the moment, he mouthed his favorite taunt.
Freak. His grin widened.
"Mushbrain," Medoret retorted, glaring back at him. "Why don't you stuff your head in an air compressor? It might improve your intelligence."
"Tut, tut," Jimmy said, tipping his head to the side, one of his father's common gestures. "Is that a nice thing for an alien freak to say?"
"You should know, being one. Is your father here?"
"Naturally. You are. Wherever you are, he is."
"If you've got jealousy problems," she said brutally, "solve them yourself. Don't expect me to help."
"Oh, tut at that," Jimmy cried. "I'll tell Father about that comment. He's sure to drop your social index way down." Jimmy stood up and moved closer to her, stopping only when his face was inches away. "Tut."
She felt herself flush despite herself. Jimmy Sieyes had led the group of children who chose to taunt her in school, ignoring every lecture from the teachers in his systematic campaign to make her life a torment. Finally Ian had taken her out of school for private tutoring, and even Dr. Sieyes had admitted defeat in getting the colony children to accept her. But somehow that, too, had become more Medoret's failing than the children's.
Jimmy fluttered his eyelashes, mocking her, then opened his eyes wide to stare ostentatiously at her alien face. Jimmy knew all about her dislike for stares, had known it from the beginning with a bully's infallible instincts. She studied his thin freckled face, her anger rising within her like a cold flame.
"Bug off, Jimmy." She looked away.
She turned back to face him and narrowed her eyes angrily. At this distance, Jimmy's scent filled her nostrils, an acrid pool of odor in the odor-laden warm air of the room. The noise of the party rose around them, assaulting her ears and starting the slow dull throb of a headache.
"Freak," Jimmy whispered, drawing out the word in a long hiss, taunting her.
Medoret smiled and hit Jimmy squarely in the face, putting strength into her fist. The blow caught Jimmy totally off guard and lifted him clean off his feet, then bounced him neatly on and off the couch. Jimmy yelped as he landed hard on the floor, sprawling, and every conversation in the room stopped as all eyes swiveled in their direction. Medoret stood still, smiling down at Jimmy, as Ian and Dr. Sieyes arrowed in from different directions.
"She hit me!" Jimmy declared to his father, his outrage maybe half real. He fingered his nose gingerly and winced, then looked up at Medoret in genuine astonishment. Medoret's smile widened with intense satisfaction.
"Is this true, Medoret?" Dr. Sieyes rumbled.
"Is this true, Medoret?" Ian said at almost the same time. She turned to Ian and smiled up at him, batting her eyelashes.
"Can I go home now?" she asked brightly.
Copyright © 1994 by Paula E. Downing