IGMS Issue 42, page 1
Issue 42 - November 2014
Copyright © 2014 Hatrack River Enterprises
Table of Contents - Issue 42 - November 2014
* * *
Wine for Witches, Milk for Saints
by Rachael K. Jones
Eli Whitney and the Cotton Djinn
by Zach Shephard
A Dragon's Doula
by M.K. Hutchins
Fire Born, Water Made
by Adria Laycraft
On the Winds of Rub' Al-Khali, Part One
by Stephen Gaskell
The Burden of Triumph
by Samuel Marzioli
Visitors, Chapter 1
by Orson Scott Card
Vintage Fiction - Small Offerings
by Paolo Bacigalupi
InterGalactic Interview With Paolo Bacigalupi
by Darrell Schweitzer
Letter From The Editor
by Eric James Stone
Wine for Witches, Milk for Saints
by Rachael K. Jones
Artwork by Anna Repp
* * *
My grandmother would have disapproved of a Tinker in a Father Christmas suit, my customary dress in the children's hospital each December. She believed no good could come of frivolity in our profession, when a routine procedure could end in tragedy. I saw her point when I found myself delivering bad news in costume to a seven-year-old and her sick friend on Christmas Eve.
Maria wasn't supposed to be in Lia's hospital room to begin with. She should have been in the Puppet Ward with her little brother Enzo, who was infected with puppetism. Instead, the two young girls curled up cross-legged on the hospital bed, divvying up sweets I knew Lia shouldn't eat in her condition. Congenital heart failure didn't require abstention from sugar, but with her transfer imminent, the Coromancers advised against heavy food, as it could interfere with medical magic.
I didn't know how she'd smuggled in the contraband, but that was Maria. It wasn't easy for siblings of sick children, stuck in a hospital for days on end. Maria coped by slipping into all sorts of places she shouldn't go. But on Christmas Eve, we all tended to look the other way.
"Maria," said Dr. Vanessa Silva, "would you please step out? We need a little privacy with the Giordanos right now."
"Mamma, can't she stay?" Lia asked.
"Of course. I'm sure it's all right," said Mrs. Giordano. She shut her book and gave Dr. Silva her full attention. "What's the trouble, dottore?"
Dr. Silva stole another glance at Maria, breathed deep. "I'm afraid there's been a delay on Lia's transfer today."
"What do you mean 'a delay'?" Mrs. Giordano asked in a careful, strained voice.
Dr. Silva rubbed her temple. She had volunteered to work the Christmas shift so the other Coromancers could be with their families tonight. But I knew she had no one to go home to except the absence of her elderly cat, who had died earlier this month. She cleared her throat. "The cogs Enzo needs were shipped from a Tinker in Canada last week. The package should have been here two days ago, but I'm afraid it's been lost. Without the cogs, we can't transfer Enzo's puppetism to Lia today as planned."
It was actually a good deal worse than that. Originally, we'd ordered the cogs from a Tinker in Belgium, but before they were produced, authorities discovered the Tinker had been selling precious human organ cogs on the black market for use in machinery. The Tinkers' Code forbade the use of human parts, even broken, discarded ones, to repair a machine, and they jailed him for it. A Canadian Tinker filled the order at the last minute, but now the package had gone missing en route to Vittorio Veneto. Without the cogs, I couldn't repair Enzo, and Dr. Silva couldn't perform the magic disease transfer that would cure Enzo's puppetism by infecting Lia.
"But Lia can't wait that long!" Maria flushed deep red. "She's really sick!" She was right. In truth, Lia Giordano was dying of her heart condition. She wouldn't see New Year's Day if shedidn't get treatment soon. But if Dr. Silva could transfer Enzo's puppetism to the little girl, she would transform into a living doll. For a skilled Tinker, what is impossible to cure in flesh is easy to repair in wood. But until I could first repair Enzo, until his own replacement heart cogs arrived, the whole operation was stalled.
Lia shrank against her pillows, sniffling back tears. Mrs. Giordano stroked her hand. "It's going to be okay, bambina." Then, to Dr. Silva, "What can we do about it?"
Dr. Silva nodded toward me. "Nico Cinque phoned the Canadian Tinker, and she's starting on replacement cogs immediately. I'm afraid all we can do is wait."
Maria took in my costume -- the wooly white beard and hair, the red hand-knit sweater and half-moon glasses, the stocking cap and suspenders -- and I suddenly felt more ashamed than I ever had in my whole life. "Do something, Father Christmas! I know you can! It's Christmas Eve!"
"I can't, child. That's not how it works." It sounded unsatisfying even to me. My cheeks burned. Mrs. Giordano tried to say something, but Maria cut her off.
"You lied. You promised Lia and my brother the cogs would be here before Christmas, and you lied."
It was true. I'd made that promise to them when the children were first admitted, during a consultation in my Tinker's Workshop. "I didn't know," I said.
"I'm going to tell my brother." Maria stalked out without so much as a backwards glance.
My grandmother, the brilliant Nicola Quattro, thought Italian children should hold to the old custom of la Befana, the good witch who brought toys on Epiphany, not the foreign intruder Father Christmas. When my siblings and I began leaving out milk and cookies alongside Befana's traditional glass of red wine, she proclaimed no good would come of it. I was starting to agree with her.
Once out of earshot of the Giordanos, Dr. Silva reeled on me, her eyebrows drawn into a dark V. "Nico Cinque, you ass! That child has every right to be angry with you. How dare you make promises we cannot possibly keep? You promised her the cogs would be here for Christmas? Fah!" Her hands curled into fists.
"I meant no harm," I said. "I only wanted to give hope. They're children. It's Christmas."
"Hope," Dr. Silva said, "is a bitter, dangerous thing. Look around you. We work with sick children. But you go parading around in that getup -- " she waved at my outfit -- "and you wink and insinuate, and the children really believe you're Father Christmas, that you can perform miracles. And you have the gall to be surprised when they call you on your bullshit."
I brindled at the profanity. "I'm not telling lies. It cheers them up."
"It's wrong to make false promises," she said. "Life is not a Christmas movie, Nico. The universe does not check the calendar when a child dies. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to break bad news to other families."
After all these years, I had grown comfortable with my approach to the children. My grandmother pioneered many brilliant Tinkering techniques, but she was never a warm individual. As her apprentice I'd dreaded disappointing her, and resolved to be a more jovial Tinker when my time came.
But Maria's accusation needled me. I doffed my stocking cap and tucked it into my back pocket.
A hallway divided the Puppet Ward into halves: West, where the doll-children stayed, and East, where we kept sick kids who were compatible matches pre-transfer. All the children shared a glassed-in playroom at the ward's entrance.
Even in my terrible mood, my spirits lifted watching children in various stages of the disease play together. Some, fully transformed, bobbled on thin wooden limbs in doll clothes that fit their frames all wrong. Others looked almost normal, except their skin had taken on a striped grain.
Each had been admitted in grave condition: third degree burns, congenital organ defects, incurable cancer, or traumatic injuries. Dr. Silva or another Coromancer would
From a distance, you couldn't always tell what diseases had brought them here, though you could guess. The oaken girl with the bowed wooden legs had come to us with osteogenesis imperfecta. Another boy had been in the final stages of leukemia. Tiny pinprick holes like termite bores riddled his pine body. He would take some time to repair. Each limb must be examined and replaced piece by piece.
The tricky bit was finding compatible replacements. Tinkers crafted the parts by hand, but like blood types, I could only make replacements for children that matched my own magical signature. So I traded. I would mail parts for other Tinkers worldwide, and in return, they made replacements for my patients.
Puppetism only transferred between two patients whose signatures matched, and only children could catch the disease at all. Most of the time, our program ran like clockwork, but every once in a while, something went wrong.
Enzo and Maria huddled in the play room's corner, whispering. The little boy was in high spirits, despite the strangeness of his appearance: limbs thinned into slender oak dowels, face rounded and wood-grained, coffee-dark eyes gone glassy, thick brown hair clumped like yarn. He wore a little green elf costume, probably cannibalized from the teddy bear Maria had commandeered as a stool. Maria had a near-fanatical devotion to the little boy. Nearby, Mrs. Cattaneo had fallen asleep in an overstuffed easy chair, eyelids puffed from weeping or sleep deprivation or both.
Without a transfer, I thought, none of them will ever grow up.
That was the disease's life-saving miracle and crippling curse: losing the capacity to grow or change, flesh hardening into wood. Marionettes don't die -- they just break. Replace the bad bits, and they're as good as new, but then they're puppets forever. They never grow up. Puppetism is incurable unless a Coromancer moves it from one child's body to another.
I lingered too long at the window, because Maria noticed me. She shielded Enzo with her body and glared. That contemptuous look again. The glass blocked the sound, so I didn't catch what she said, but all the other children stopped their play and stared at me, too. None were smiling.
My cheeks burned. I turned away, forcing myself to stroll back to the workshop.
It was my tradition to go all out for Christmas in the Tinker's Workshop. Sawdust and paint commingled with pine and cinnamon. Garlands stringed the walls, interwoven with twinkling lights. I formed the centerpiece, beard and costume lifted from a Christmas book, pockets bursting with candy canes: Nico Cinque the Tinker.
Nicola Sei, my granddaughter and apprentice, had put the place to order, sweeping up sawdust and oiling the antique workbenches. Despite their age, the workbenches had not been in our family that long. My grandmother had preferred steel surgical tables to antiques, and anatomical charts to garlands. Metal is more resistant to enchantment spillover that sometimes accompanies medical magic. In her time, the Tinker's Workshop might have passed for an operating room.
"Need anything else, Nonno?" asked Nicola, gathering up her coat and hat.
I waved toward the door. "Go on ahead. I'll be along shortly." We'd taken our scooters to the hospital today. After she left, I dialed the post office again, but got no answer. Maria's hatred weighed on my heart like unconfessed sin. How could I go home and enjoy Christmas Eve with my children and grandchildren, passing out gift after gift while a sick child waited for a delivery that would never come?
Where were the cogs? If only they would arrive, I could swallow down the pressure in my throat.
Hope is a bitter, dangerous thing, Dr. Silva had said. Slowly, wearily, I buttoned up my coat. I reached for my stocking hat, but feeling again that pressure, I left it in my pocket.
An unobtrusive door in the workshop's rear led to a service hallway. In my red coat, red as my shame, I couldn't bear passing the children on my way through the hospital.
The service corridor would have pleased my grandmother, with its ultrawhite walls and antiseptic smell, devoid of clutter or decor. I trudged toward the elevators, head down, savoring the solitude. The staff had gone home for Christmas already.
Something rumbled behind me. I turned up the volume on my hearing aid until I could make out two -- no, three -- giggling, whispering voices. I nudged the volume a little higher.
A high shriek nearly deafened me as a motorized wheelchair whipped around the corner and careened toward my shins at top speed. Maria perched high on the wheelchair's back, black hair flying loose. Enzo sat on her shoulder, wooden arms wrapped around her neck, his shout swallowed up by his sister's.
But what astonished me most was the pale-faced little girl sitting in the chair, almost buried beneath the blankets: none other than Lia Giordano, who was definitely not following her doctor's orders anymore.
I flattened myself against the wall too late. A leg rest banged hard into my shins. My vision swam white with pain. The wheelchair slowed. Maria's head swiveled, tracking me.
"You!" She jabbed at Lia's shoulder. "Go, go, go! Hurry!"
"Wait!" I fumbled with my hearing aid. My head rang. The escapees whizzed off again at top speed. I charged after them, boots thudding, bruised shins aching.
"Wait! Stop!" They mustn't leave the hospital. In Lia's condition, it would be the death of her. Dr. Silva would murder me. The parents would -- oh, I didn't want to contemplate it. And on Christmas Eve! My cheap costume boots slapped the tiles. The sterile fluorescent lights nauseated me. My ribs burned.
"Children, wait!" I stumbled into the elevator lobby just in time to see the doors closing, Enzo's wooden fingers waving arrivederci as they shot downward to the basement.
The numbers dropped, three-two-Ground, then to my surprise continued to B1, the morgue. I jabbed the down arrow and prayed the elevator would arrive, pronto.
The doors opened on a floor I hadn't seen since last Christmas, thank God. My eyes stung from the strong chemical embalming vapors. You could smell it in your hair for days, long after thefamily had claimed the body. An image came unbidden into my mind: a fleshy white hand connected to a long wooden dowel, joining to a little body that had become a chimera, a patchwork of wood and flesh vying for dominance. Transfer rejection. Rare but deadly.
The children were nowhere in sight. I turned up my hearing aid. Further off, wheels rumbled.
I sprinted in the sound's direction, ignoring the stitch in my side and protests from my shins. I spotted them down a long hallway. The wheelchair had halted while Maria moved a gurney blocking the way. At the hall's end, an exit sign pulsed red over a fire escape.
"Wait!" I shouted.
"Uh oh. The false Father Christmas -- he's coming!" said Enzo, jabbing a finger over the wheelchair's back.
Maria shoved the gurney into the exit door's crash bar. "Come on!" she shouted. Snow blew in as the wheelchair careened into a world of white.
I charged outside. At 4 p.m., the sun hovered just above the red terracotta roofs. The Italian Alps ranged along the horizon, their white peaks tinged golden in the early winter sunset. The wheelchair had vanished down the road. Vittorio Veneto's winding medieval streets would provide a perfect labyrinth for three children who didn't want to be found.
I trotted after them, gasping in the frigid air. They'd cut a distinct trail through the snow. I realized I should have stopped for my scooter, or sounded the alarm at the hospital, or even remembered my cell phone. Too late now.
The chair wouldn't run forever. I shivered and pulled my coat tighter. I trudged forward, praying I wouldn't have far to go.
I reached the town center, a box formed by city hall at one end and St. Nicolo's Cathedral on the
I worked my way toward the cathedral. Market-goers clustered around little tables, sipping wine and enjoying live music. None of the vendors had seen my missing patients in the crowd.
I reached the steps of St. Nicolo's. I didn't often go to Mass, unlike my grandmother, who considered herself a religious woman in her own eccentric way. She kept a journal of prayers to her patron saint Nicolas, my namesake and grandfather nine generations removed, hoping to settle with data the question of God's existence. Before his time, children with puppetism would fade away, their strength attenuating year by year until they became ghastly wooden mummies. Nico Primo discovered the disease could be transferred, and for this, they sainted him.
On the cathedral steps, an old woman distributed little wrapped gifts to half a dozen children. She wore a ragged patchwork dress, a pointed hat, and carried a crooked broomstick strapped to her back. She winked at me.
"Father Christmas," she said in a loud, theatrical storyteller's voice, winking toward the children, "what are you doing here? You should be too busy tonight to attend the mercatino di Natale!"
"I could say the same to you, Befana," I replied. "It's twelve days to Epiphany."
"Then I don't have much time left to find the Magi, do I?" Legend had it the Three Magi invited the old woman to accompany them in payment for her hospitality, but Befana demurred. Later, overcome with regret, she packed up some toys belonging to her own dead child and flew out the door on her broomstick to catch them. But she never managed to find them.
I lowered my voice. "I'm looking for some children myself. Two patients from the hospital -- one with puppetism, and one in a wheelchair. And an older girl."
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