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The Sistren is a collection of stories about seventy-two singular sisters. Every week a new sister’s story is told, accompanied by an original illustration. 

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THE ARCHIVIST

THE ARCHIVIST

On a street corner she eyes a color she has never seen before. In the deep ocean, she is transfixed with a tiny invertebrate. In the desolation of the demolished factory, she seems to inhale a man’s regret. After their throws of passion, she waits in the closet for the wafting of a new emotion.

She bottles all of it. Early on in the world’s tenure it was obvious things: flora and fauna, species collected whole and separated anatomically, rock and ash. She worked methodically, always taking careful note that the seashell or sauropod was the first she’d collected, careful never to repeat an item. What she looked like then is anyone’s guess, but her archives do date back to the beginning. The collection starts on day one.

For as long as anyone living has known her, she has collected ephemera. It isn’t a process for the impatient. She once spent the better part of a year hunting the spectrum of emotions around winning a modest prize. It took her a decade of focused work to archive the mess of feelings around a stillbirth. There are still concrete things, mostly at the cellular level or around the infinitesimal variation within a genus, but mostly she is after the transient moments that have eluded her this many billions of years.

Follow her home from one of her collectings, and she will lose you. Attract her to you by manufacturing a new machine, creature or emotion, and you will never see her. Ponder her collection for too long and she will destroy you. But there are stories of her collection, and the stories all speak of the same place, give the same directions to find it. The first direction is lost, but once you reach the pond, you must sink to its floor. When you float back up it will be to a new surface. Follow the path until the cave, which sinks into the bottom of the world. In the final room find the snail. The entrance to her collection is on the infinite plain of its shell.

The organization is complex. It would take a lifetime to learn the taxonomy alone. Here creatures alive and dead lie beside a scent, or a collection of tones, or a specific flavor of fear. The rooms are nearly endless and even they aren’t laid out linearly – time is one axis and category another, but there is a third axis, and perhaps even a fourth. The collection defies any logic a human could fathom, as it’s a geometry learned over millennia. And to see even part of the collection would tip us to lunacy.

She needs no purpose, but she seems to have one. Two, perhaps. From time to time she is known to disappear into her collection for months, emerging with an artifact that she shows a single person for a few moments. It is enough to sway history, to tip us back onto a better path. But this isn’t her final purpose. She is building her collection for an audience. The displays, the dramatic pieces in the centers of rooms, the indefinable art of a master curator – her collection is less of an archive and more of a museum.

Who her final audience is cannot be known. Perhaps they are as fathomless as the collection itself.

XANTHA

XANTHA

CALPURNIA

CALPURNIA