it is in your spirit or it is nowhere
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When I was in Catholic school, my idol was another girl who ran a banned-book library out of her locker. Nothing super fancy, just her and her pin-covered backpack and all the books she could get that weren’t allowed on campus, and a notebook with a dragon on the front where she wrote down who had which book in code.

She was in eighth grade and I was in sixth and she, with her rock-band buttons and essay collection, was the coolest person in the world to me. When she was about to graduate, she handed the whole collection down to me, the racy romance books and the anarchist essays she’d printed out in the musty school library alike. I swore I’d protect it with my life, and she laughed at me— but I was the librarian, then, and I took my duties as seriously as only an eleven year old girl with a hero complex can.

I always hoped someone would ask for one of the essays, but in fact we were middle school girls and what did numbers was Twilight. Still, if I could get a book in the hands of someone who wanted it and wouldn’t have had it otherwise, I called it a worthy contribution to the cause.

When I was about to graduate, I found a sixth grader who could be trusted with the collection— Marcy P., a stubborn bitch who loved books and hadn’t learned yet which hills not to die on, not that I had learned that either— and handed it down. I don’t know if she handed it down in turn or if she got caught or what, but I like to think that in my old Catholic middle school there’s still some kid like us, with a pile of banned books in one of those squeaky gunmetal grey lockers, handing them out to anyone who’ll take them.

This isn’t why I’m in the Serpent’s Hand now. But it isn’t not why, either.

This is also not why I’m in the Serpent’s Hand now, but it’s closer to it.

My Vee has corrosive blood. Found out when she was a little kid, and skinned her knee at preschool and within a few hours it had eaten through the floor.

If the jail guards of the world had their way, that would have been the end of it right there. Vee would have spent the rest of her life in a standard-issue humanoid containment cell with a number instead of a name. They would have called her it and SCP object in all their documents and told each other she was dangerous and it was the only way, nevermind that she was a three year old kid. But instead, she got a hemophilia diagnosis, and her parents got an explanation and a warning.

And she’s fine. She’s actually just fine. She takes three kinds of hormonal birth control so she doesn’t have a period, and every winter she goes through three sticks of chapstick so her lips don’t crack, and we don’t own anything made of glass. When she cooks, I cut the vegetables up for her.

She could hurt people, but she doesn’t. Instead she bakes bread for everyone we know. She’s helping homeschool our godson, who’s the sweetest little boy you ever saw, with a second mouth on his stomach and an abiding love of robots. I can hear them right now; she’s explaining how things process the food they eat, and how the yeast they’re adding will eat the sugar and help the dough rise and it won’t come out sweet.

It kinda makes you wonder, if you’re the sort of person who’s inclined to wonder, how many of the other people in jail cells don’t need to be.

The reason I’m in the Serpent’s Hand is this: Vee has scars on her hands. Not from cuts. From acid burns.

You basically just can’t raise a kid so safe she never bleeds. Kids trip, or they fall off their bikes, or they poke themselves with things you never imagined it was possible to break skin with.

But what you can do, and might if you have good enough reason, is raise a kid so scared that she’ll press her hands into corrosive acid to cover it up, rather than let it eat through anything else where someone might see.

She’s been in physical therapy as long as I’ve known her. When we met, she was just barely gaining back the ability to hold a pen. I have no idea what they told the doctors and I’ve never asked, but that fear—

If I can make life even a little easier for someone like Vee someday, I can’t just not do it. You get that, right? I don’t have to explain that?

See, the Serpent’s Hand isn’t like the jailers or the bookburners or whichever government agency it is this time. We don’t have ID badges or clearance levels or background checks or superior officers. There’s no database with all our names and pseudonyms and locations.

What we have instead is a community.

Vee didn’t get a hemophilia diagnosis because some men in suits showed up at the local hospital with guns and amnesia drugs. She got it because her preschool teacher knew what she was looking at, and the preschool teacher knew a librarian and the librarian knew a pediatrician who specialized in exactly this sort of thing.

In the Serpent’s Hand, we don’t have chains of command or orders from on high. Instead, we look out for each other. We hand down books and favors and small kindnesses the way I used to hand down clothes to kids I babysat.

And Vee bakes bread for everyone we know, and makes phone calls for adoption agencies to get anomalous kids paired with parents who won’t sell them down the river when the jailers come knocking. I plant tomatoes and help maintain the Wanderers’ Library digital card catalog. A preschool teacher did her a favor once, and a girl handed me a box of books and told me to take care of it, and it’s important to us both to pay it forward.

We do what we can. That’s all it is, that’s all it’s ever been. Just people doing what they can.

They say that you cannot buy the revolution, or make the revolution; that you have to be the revolution. That it is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.

They say that the revolution starts at home, and it does. It starts with a girl’s hemophilia diagnosis, with books passed hurriedly in the hallways, with plastic plates and little jars of handmade lip balm every New Year’s. It starts with preschool teachers who know librarians who know pediatricians, with a coded ledger in the margins of my algebra notes, with my godson at the kitchen table doing grammar worksheets while he talks through both mouths at once. It starts with kindness paid forward in kindness.

It starts with bread dough rising in a plastic bowl on a kitchen counter, kneaded into being by acid-scarred hands.

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