|"Think of it, Susan! The Professor was there when it all began..."|
They were coming for her. Their faces were ugly, sneering. She didn't have to hear Them to know what They were saying. It was the only thing anyone ever said when They looked at her. "Cursed! Cursed! You are a curse upon us!" This time, They said something different, and They moved toward her. Covering Their mouths with scarves and their hands with gloves, They grabbed her. Some of Them jabbed at her with sticks. She tried to break free, to wrench her wrists from Their grasp, but They held on. Something big and dark swung at her head, and the world turned black.
Melanie awoke in a strange place. She was on a bed in a room, and she was frightened. Who brought her here? More importantly, where was here? Someone she did not know came into the room. The girls looked at each other without saying anything. Melanie tried to warn the newcomer, to keep her back, but she kept coming. Foolish girl! Didn't she know?
The other—Susan—reached out to touch Melanie's wrists, and she slapped her hand away. Susan smiled, but Melanie knew better. She was The Curse; people never smiled at her unless they were going to do something particularly nasty. That didn't mean she did not deserve it, being accursed, but it still hurt her not to be able to trust anyone. Susan was confused, but she still smiled. She placed a cloth on the little table next to the bed and left the room. Trying not to touch anything else, Melanie craned her neck to look into the mirror next to the bed. She saw a dirty face, wild hair, and wide, sunken eyes.
I look like a curse, the girl thought. Susan came back into the room with her mother. The mother began saying things, but Melanie couldn't understand, couldn't hear her. She held a glass of water and a small white pill. Through signs, the mother finally communicated that Melanie was supposed to use the water to swallow the white thing. The girl, understanding at last, promptly took up the rag and used it to pick up the glass. Rags were easier to burn than glasses. It was a nice rag; pity they would have to burn it, but that's the price they had to be willing to pay, taking her in like this. Melanie tried to sign, to ask them something, but she was having trouble making herself understood. Suddenly the room went all funny, like looking at a pot of boiling water, only it was the room that was moving. The girl's eyes became heavy, like iron, and she fell asleep. It was not a pleasant sleep, though, for as she slept, she dreamed They came to her, and burned the room with her in it. That's the price others pay...
Peter was waiting in front of the house when Susan's cab pulled up. To his surprise, instead of his sister, he received an armful of blanket-wrapped girl, who looked to be about Lucy's size.
"Bring her inside, Peter," Susan said, moving around the automobile to pay the cabbie and receive her bags.
Peter grunted, "Nice to see you back, Susan."
With the girl in his arms, he had to stretch to reach the knocker. A stout, elderly woman in a checked dress and frilly cap answered the door.
"Mrs. Mandrow?" Peter inquired.
The woman looked up, bewildered. "Yes, what do you want?"
"I'm Peter Pevensie, the student wanting to rent the house."
Mrs. Mandrow's frown disappeared. "Oh! Come in, it's all ready for you." She gestured to Susan, just approaching with her bags, "Is that your sister?"
Peter nodded, "Yes, that is Susan; Susan, this is Mrs. Mandrow; she's leasing the house to us."
The kindly lady pointed to the girl in Peter's arms, "And who is this?"
Peter looked at Susan.
"A friend," was all Susan said.
Peter cocked an eyebrow and looked up to see the same expression on Mrs. Mandrow's face.
"Well, you can put her in here on the settee in the sitting room until she wakes."
Mrs. Mandrow walked into the house, motioning Peter and Susan to follow her as she did so.
"We don't really live here much, you know," she said.
"You don't?" Peter asked as he took the suitcases from Susan, his arms finally free of the girl.
Mrs. Mandrow shook her head. "No, we just bought another place over in Chelsea. Of course, we still own this house, but you are welcome to stay as long as you like. I was just making sure everything was in order for you."
"Thank you, Mrs. Mandrow; this is a wonderful house," Susan said graciously.
"Humph!" the old woman snorted, "I suppose you know we bought this place from Digory Kirke, your professor friend? He grew up here with his parents and his mother's brother and sister, the Ketterleys."
Peter followed Mrs. Mandrow up to the bedrooms. "I knew he grew up here, but he never mentioned anything about an uncle."
"No, he probably didn't; I never met them, but—" Mrs. Mandrow leaned forward conspiratorially—"I hear his uncle was a magician, dabbling in wizardry. They say he brought a witch-Queen from a different world."
Peter's eyes grew wide at the words "witch-Queen." Mrs. Mandrow took that as disbelief. She relished the chance to impart a bit of gossip.
"Yes, and she created such a hullabaloo as was never seen before or since, and then disappeared! Mr. Ketterley went crazy after that—if it was possible to be any crazier than he was before—but I hear he never did a lick of magic after that witch-Queen disappeared. Well," she continued, moving out of the room and down the stairs, "you're all moved in, then. Here's the keys to the house, and I'll be leaving you to get yourselves settled."
"Thank you, Mrs. Mandrow," Peter called. The woman waved, and turned to hail a cab.
Peter entered the sitting room, where Susan was tending the mysterious girl. "'Witch-Queen from a different world,' did you hear her say that? I'll bet he found a way into Narnia." He snapped his fingers at the idea. "Maybe that's how he knew so much about it! Think of it Susan: the Professor was there when it all began!"
Susan looked up at her brother and rolled her eyes. She went back to tending the mysterious girl.
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