Silly Lera is a mentally retarded girl who lives in a magic oasis thirty thousand years in the future. All people around her have their souls regularly purged from weird or dark desires, which allegedly, makes the oasis the best place in the world to live. The whole life in the oasis is controlled by Maxwell's daemon who lets anyone out but lets only good people in. When the daemon decides that Lera's father can't return, she embarks on a dangerous quest to challenge the daemon's decision and save her dad's life. The only problem is the daemon has never been wrong before, so no one is going to believe a silly girl.
After people asked Gods to purge their souls and prayed, they usually spent a night in the central hall of the temple. It helped. I knew that for sure, because my soul had been purged a lot of times before, and after spending a night in the temple, I’d always felt as fresh and pure as a newborn baby. Each temple in the Oasis was colored differently. Ours, the yellow one, wasn’t frequently visited.
I had to clean it twice a week.
The yellow temple was too big to clean it in an ordinary way, especially for a clumsy girl like me, so the keeper of it, Allardicus Blide, had taught me the necessary spell to do it by magic. He was an old blind man who limped, but in the temple, he moved with precision and confidence that came from long years of practice.
So I said the cleaning spell, and hundreds of spirits thrummed in on their moth-wings, as a rippling cloud, ready to dust the whorls of delicate marble carvings, sweep the floors, and remove rubbish. I scolded some cleaning spirits that were less diligent or played hide-and seek instead of working. They buzzed angrily at me and flickered, swarming around.
The temple was big, so cleaning it was a difficult task and took a long time. It could be a little difficult, even with the spirit’s help. But the place where people come to purge their souls shouldn’t be dirty.
When the work was over, I noticed that the sun was already down, and felt sad. Not depressed, but nicely sad, if you know what I mean. I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand, smiled to the sun and imagined it was smiling back to me.
“I can feel you’re sad about something, Silly Lera,” Allardicus Blide said. He wasn’t entirely blind: I sometimes saw a boy inside him, and that boy still had eyes.
Everyone called me silly. I was okay with that. I’d become Silly Lera when I was ten. A silver-white snake had bitten my foot then. All colored snakes are magical, and their bites are mostly lethal. I’d survived, but since then, I hadn’t been growing up at all. Now, four years later, I was still a girl of ten, and retarded. I could sometimes be whacky, and clear thinking wasn’t easy for me. I saw ghosts, and the spirit of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother came to me so often I was sometimes heartily tired of her. And I could see people inside people, like the boy in Allardicus Blide, for example.
So I peered at Allardicus and saw that his inner boy was looking at me. I winked at him.
“The sunset is beautiful today,” I said and added, so that he could have a bit of sunset in his heart too, “The sun is orange over the pines.”
“I used to like sunsets when I was young.”
“So you were not always blind,” I said.
“You’re right, girl.”
“How did you lose your eyes?”
He stroked his scanty beard. For a few heartbeats, his eyeless face kind of stared through me into space. The last cleaning ghosts still buzzed among the marble columns. “The former keeper of the temple gouged them out,” he said. “Actually, you don’t need your eyes to work in a temple.”
I tried to picture that in my mind, but failed. I’m not too bright. Some grown-up things are far too terrible or overwhelming for my brain to comprehend.
“And why do you limp?” I asked.
“I broke my leg, trying to escape from him. He locked the door, and I had the not-so-clever idea to jump from the window.”
He got up from the bench he was sitting on and was going to leave me, but I came to him, touched his sleeve, and asked him to wait.
“I don’t want to go home tonight,” I said.
“I hate being at home when Dad is not there, but he won’t return until tomorrow. May I stay in the temple tonight?”
“What is your brother going to say?”
“Nothing. Delvin doesn’t care one bit where I am or what I’m doing. He has a new passion now, and he doesn’t care about anyone else.”
“What about your Granny?”
“Oh, she’s not real! She’s just a ghost.”
“Very well. You can stay in the temple if you promise to help. I need a pair of
extra hands here. I think I’ll show you a very special thing tonight.”
“Wait and see.”
That night the temple had four guests. Allardicus Blide spoke to them in the central hall, while I was lighting up candles everywhere, and later, when they went to sleep, he waved to me to follow him.
Panting, he hobbled up the long stairs to the attic. I followed him, carrying a candle and wondering to myself what that special thing he wanted to show me could be.
When we reached the attic, he unlocked a door with a big key. The rusted hinges gave a rasping squeak, and we came in. I gasped: the attic room was enormous. And it had its own trembling light coming from nowhere. I blew out my candle.
“On the inside, this room is a thousand times as big as on the outside,” Allardicus explained.
“Is it magic?”
“Of course. What else can it be?”
“I like it!”
“But we are not here to stand around. We are here to work. See those four trees?”
I looked at him with suspicion. “How in the world can you see them? You’re blind.”
“They are spirit trees,” he explained. “Spirit things are better seen without eyes.”
I checked it up, closing my eyes. Naturally, I saw nothing at all.
“Open your heart,” Allardicus said, “and repeat the Prijdi spell.”
Prijdi meant “come to me.” I opened my heart as wide as I could and said, “Prijdi, prijdi, prijdi…”
But I saw nothing.
“Try again,” he said. “You have the necessary gift, I know.”
“Prijdi, prijdi,” I said.
I saw the trees at last. They kind of glowed on the dark padding of my eyelids. They looked like small willows.
Allardicus took heavy bronze shears from a shelf.
“Those four trees represent the souls of the four guests sleeping below,” he said. “Our guests have come here to pray to Gods and to get their souls purged. But I’ll tell you the secret, girl. Gods are too busy to purge people’s souls. They never do that. I do that. Practice the Prijdi spell, Lera. With time, you’ll learn to see anyone’s soul tree immediately, in any situation. No one will be able to deceive you then.”
And he started trimming the trees.
“Hmm… How do you know which branches to prune?” I asked him.
“Oh, I cut those that are too long, crooked, or that look weird. Some of them are too dark in color, like this one. Every time I cut a branch, a crooked, weird or dark desire dies in the sleeping person’s soul. When our guests get up tomorrow, they’ll feel purged from their sins, sinful thoughts, and rebellious wishes. They’ll be perfect citizens, happy and calm. Everyone in the Oasis is purged from time to time, that’s why it’s the best place in the world to live.”
“The best place? Are you sure?” I pictured in my mind our Oasis standing alone in the middle of a dark desert of human sins and vices, surrounded by a high wall. It was so cozy to be inside.
“I kid you not,” he said.
I thought that the world was probably big and had millions of places, good and bad, so I was incredibly lucky to live in the very best one. The wall around the Oasis had only one Gate, and that Gate was watched by the powerful daemon called Sentinel, day and night. So I had nothing to fear.
I touched a long slender branch. “I think every branch here is a bit overgrown,” I said.
“It’s because everyone believes they are a planet the world spins around, and life is about them. But I’ll cut the branches short, and it will teach our guests humility, subjection, and deference to authority.”
“Deference to authority. That’s pretty cool. Delvin is always saying I need this, but he is a fool. He was born dumb,” I said. “Can I try to cut something off?”
He smiled. “It’s just the attic. You haven’t seen our cellar yet!”
“Please, please, please!” I added some whining to my voice. I knew it had always helped.
“Well, why not?” he said and gave me the shears. “But be careful. Don’t cut too short.”
We took turns trimming and pruning the trees, while chatting about this and that. The work was long, and the shears were heavy, so I only returned home at dawn.