IGMS - Issue 20, page 1
Table of Contents - Issue 20 - December 2010
The Never Never Wizard of Apalachicola
by Jason Sanford
Sympathy of a Gun
by Gary Kloster
The Vicksburg Dead
by Jens Rushing
Beneath the Shadow of the Dragon
by Erin Cashier
by Bruce Worden
Miracle on Massachusetts Avenue
by Maureen Power
by Orson Scott Card
InterGalactic Interview With Ellen Datlow
by Darrell Schweitzer
The Never Never Wizard of Apalachicola
by Jason Sanford
Artwork by Julie Dillon
Space slides dark and Earth churns blue. And me, two hundred miles up, rocking through water dreams of marsh and bay and gentle-downer waves. And me, Major Solomon Lawrence, sweat fogging my spacesuit visor. Eyes stinging. Tongue salting. The suit's bottle-crisp air blowing the sting and taste into memories of Apalachicola Bay as a child.
And a raven, a true damn-it-all raven perched before me on the station's new solar array, preening its purple-burn feathers in the vacuum of space.
I pull closer to the raven, my hands shaking at the nonsensical sight. We installed the array two days ago, but a glitch kept its solar panels from fully deploying. Now the raven's leather-cut talons grip the release bolt that I need to turn. I wave my quarter-million-dollar NASA wrench at the creature but it ignores the threat.
"You okay, Sol?" my partner, Aleena Samasut, asks. Her white-suited form floats a dozen feet away. Praying I haven't caused my colleagues or mission control to suspect the craziness I'm experiencing, I ask Aleena if she notices anything strange about the release bolt.
"Looks the same as in practice," Aleena says as the raven silently caws. "Turn it so we can go home."
Through Aleena's visor I see her lovely dark-brown face, which reminds me so of my sister. How could I have forgotten my sister? The raven knows, and shakes its head at my silly, silly amazement.
I float closer to the bolt and the raven. A few twists from my wrench and the array's accordion panels will shoot out like oversized insect wings. After all, there is a method to affairs like this. The array, the station, the shuttle, my space suit -- all are true and proper science. The result of real world engineering. The raven can't pretend to any of that.
Not that the damn bird cares.
And that's when I remember everything. Remember the raven sitting malevolently on Chapél's front porch in the swamps off Apalachicola Bay. Remember me wading there, pistol in hand, to kill that damn wizard for taking my sister. How Chapél laughed in his gravel-magicked voice. How the raven flew at me. How I woke floating in the bay, two husky fishermen pulling me onto their boat, asking if I was okay.
And me, not knowing the answer. Until now.
"You need help there, Sol?" Aleena's radio-static voice asks, concerned at my delay. I mutter "no" and raise the wrench to the bolt. The raven jumps aside and watches me twist the bolt one, two, three times. With a silent rush, the solar panels unfold and extend, instantly pushing their added power into the space station.
"Well done," Aleena says as the raven bows sarcastically. Sweat tickles my face, beading in the weightlessness. Through my visor I see the light blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the browns and greens of Florida. I search the panhandle for Apalachicola Bay, but there are too many clouds.
So this is the how he summons me, I think. Even up here I can't escape him.
The raven grins -- how do birds' grin? -- sunlight angling its razor beak. Random memories blot my mind. I hear an old professor describing the angle of descent needed for the space shuttle to avoid burning up in the earth's atmosphere. I see Mom tucking me into bed as forgotten jazz standards play over her transistor radio. I feel the tired twang of my body as I study in the library, my sister whispering how I can be anything I want.
Anything I set my mind to.
As if tasting my memories, the raven caws silent agreement before slamming its beak though my spacesuit and heart.
I no longer care who knows the craziness of my life, and broadcast a scream for all the world to hear . . .
The bay's sweet water-fish scent after passing storms. The waves rasping against pilings under our tiny house. The taste of our home's salt-run and sun-shrunk boards. The knowledge we were the only thing for miles except for swamps and bay, alligators and fish.
And Chapél. Never forget Chapél.
Our home was simple, built of hand-hewn planks nailed over cut tree-trunk pilings, with my mom's beloved transistor radio the only bit of modernity allowed inside. Every evening we'd sit on our front porch -- Mom and Dad, me and my sister Diane, who was seven years older than me -- and listen to that radio until the batteries ran low. I still remember Mom's rage one night when a newscaster interrupted our evening jazz with news of Dr. King's assassination. Mom began cursing the white bastard who'd killed him, but my father clamped his large hands over her mouth and held her tight. Whispered "It's not worth it, hon, not worth going back to Chapél," until Mom calmed down.
Diane and I sat silently on the porch, shocked by Mom's curse and Dad's words. In a low voice, Diane asked what Dad meant by going back to Chapél. Dad sighed and pointed at the star-like lights of an oyster boat passing in the dark bay, and at the true stars above.
He then told us stories. How he'd grown up one of the Khoikhoi people, tending to his father's cattle herds until a siren's call pulled him to the Cape of Good Hope, where he fought a sea serpent with a magic sword and lived. How our mother, as a child of the Serengeti, hiked for weeks until she reached Mount Kilimanjaro, where she demanded the wizards there help her people survive a drought. How the two of them fell in love while in service for centuries to the world's most powerful -- and dangerous -- wizard.
The stories poured out of him for hours. Of a world Diane and I could barely comprehend. Of magic lapping like the waves in our bay. Of enchanted swords and demons. Of quests for honor and revenge. Diane and I lit up at his stories, and I wished I could be a wizard in this long-ago world.
But eventually Mom cut him off, and whispered of the horrible things they'd also experienced. Of magic slavery. Of unending, cancerous wars. Of children and people killed in a million ignoble ways. Of how powerless she and our father felt growing up in a world where only the magical succeeded. "Magic is rarely a good thing," she said. "There are worlds you don't want existing in your lives."
"So true," Dad said. "Magic lives off the loves and pains of others. It's never the wizards or witches who suffer for their spells."
Diane and I didn't know what to say. After sitting in silence for a while, Mom and Dad carried us to our beds, where Diane and I fell into an exhausted asleep as if attacked by one of those fanciful spells of old.
After that, they never again spoke of magic, despite Diane and I continually pestering them about it.
Our parents worked the oyster factories near town, riding a wooden boat with a rusty outboard to and from work. For most of the year, they dropped us off at school on the way to town, and picked us up after closing. When school was out, Diane watched me while our parents worked.
The summer I turned eight and Diane fifteen, a gale blew up as our parents were boating home. For three days we waited for their return. Finally, a sheriff's patrol craft towing our parents' swamped boat sputtered up to our rickety dock.
Two deputies stepped out, along with a white woman we recognized from school as the county social worker. The deputies -- one white, the other black -- stood back as the social worker kneeled before Diane.
"Honey," the woman drawled condescendingly. "There's been an accident."
The social worker cocked an eye at our house, obviously not impressed. "Do you have any relatives we can take you to?" she asked.
"Our grandmother's inside," Diane said quickly. "We'll get her."
I started to say we didn't have a grandmother, or any other relatives for that matter, but I shut up at a glare from Diane. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the house, the screen door slamming shut after us. Through the cracks in the wood-plank walls, she watched the social worker talk with the deputies.
"They'll take us away," she whispered.
"What do you mean?" I asked, still trying to imagine our parents as dead. I couldn't feel it. That must mean they were alive. Maybe they were floating in the bay, waiting for us to rescue them.
"They won't let us stay here. We won't be a family anymore."
Diane paced back and forth across our kitchen floor, the floorboards creaking under her weight. Through the cracks in the wall, I saw the social worker and deputies grow agitated. They knew we were stalling. Suddenly Diane hugged me tight and told me to keep up. Holding my hand, she grabbed our mom's favorite belonging -- her transistor radio -- and our dad's machete, and led me out the back door. We ran the long plank to the ground and raced toward the swamps.
The deputies yelled to stop, but they only followed us a little ways before giving up. We hid in the swamps as they stalked back to their boat.
"They're leaving," I said, proud of our little victory.
"They'll bring hounds," Diane said, caressing the radio in her hands. "And more people."
I sat among the knees of a swamp cypress, remembering how I always sat between Momma's knees when she cut my hair. I cried. I wanted to go with the social worker and the deputies. I wanted to find my parents and not spend the rest of my life hiding in a swamp.
Diane saw the look on my face and kissed me on the cheek. "Don't worry," shesaid. "We'll hide out tonight. Soon as it's morning, we'll go see Chapél. He'll make everything right."
I am famous. I am history. The first astronaut to suffer a heart attack in space and survive.
I don't remember much of the hours and days after Aleena saved me by pulling me to the airlock. Instead, I see as if by magic. I see the raven floating outside the space station while the crew gives what medical attention they can, which mostly involves keeping me sedated. I see the tear in my suit from the raven's beak, even as my colleagues swear over and over that there's nothing to see. Only me, suffering a heart attack.
My dead Mom and Dad also whisper to me, saying how proud they are. How proud that I've used this math and science and engineering to turn my world into something real. I don't understand what they mean, but I still blush in happiness like a little child.
When I ask about my sister, they stop whispering.
During the shuttle's reentry, orange fire-glow licks the windows and the raven swoops and dives on the burning thermals. Once we land, the raven caws a single time before soaring into the blue, as if to say its work is done.
Which is also what the doctors say months later, when I finally leave the hospital. My fellow astronauts, along with a room stuffed with NASA brass, shepherd me through a press conference as news cameras and reporters pretend they matter.
But I'm already gone. In my mind, that is. Already in Apalachicola.
One of the reporters asks about my plans.
"A wizard. I plan to kill a wizard."
The doctors and astronauts and bigwigs and reporters giggle nervously, mistaking this for a joke they can't comprehend.
Which it is.
Unlike most of Florida, Apalachicola hasn't changed much since I was a child, aside from the fact that I can now order a soda from the pharmacy like any white person. In fact, I'm the biggest person to come out of the town since Dr. John Gorrie invented his ice-freezing machine here before the Civil War.
I untie my rented boat -- a fifteen foot Boston Whaler -- from the dock. I'm hit by the taste of salt and sting, the smell of water and decay. The oyster boats around me creak and groan as wood and rope stretch. The wind is climbing and a light rain splatters, soaking the oystermen who are busy tying down their boats. The skies blow as if a gale is nearing, even though there's nothing in the forecast but clear skies and sun.
As I pull my boat out, several oystermen yell to me that I should ride the gale out on shore. I wave back without answering, imagining my parents working these docks as they hauled oysters back to the warehouses to shuck. I wonder if they saw the same gale-whipped skies when they left this dock that final time.
Far above, a black bird soars lazy circles in the storm's updrafts. I don't bother asking if it's my raven.
The storm quickly builds and the fifteen-footer's too small for waves swelling five, six feet high. I merely pull my raincoat tighter and ride across the bay, daring the wizard to do his worst.
I'm halfway home when the sea serpent strikes.
The raven wasn't at Chapél's shack when Diane and I arrived after hiding all night in the swamps. Instead, Chapél himself sat in a split-wood and leather rocking chair on the shack's porch. His skin -- stretched thin across bones as if by unseen hands -- rippled like an muddy river at flood time. He sweated in the morning's heat and humidity, and held a walking stick, which looked to have been carved from a single fanged tooth longer than his legs. A raven's head bobbled on the stick's grip as if broken or loosed by time itself.
My angry teenage sister demanded the return of our parents. In her hands she held Mom's radio and Dad's machete.
"They wouldn't want to return," Chapél stated.
"You're lying!" Diane screamed, pointing the machete at him. "Fix it or I'll kill you."
I stood in the stubbly grass in front of Chapél's shack. I'd only come here a few times with Mom, always when she was delivering some jar of preserves or a bolt of cheap fabric. "Show respect," she always told me before each visit. "Never give him anything else, but he's entitled to your respect."
As if to prove the right in Mom's words, Chapél's eyes narrowed at my sister's insolence. He gripped his walking stick and tapped it on the porch's grooved planks. "Why did you come here?" he asked.
"Mom said you could do anything. Said if we were in trouble, to come to you."
Chapél groaned as if terribly put upon, but he winked at me, and I knew he was playing, like my parents played at anger when I tracked sand and mud into our house. Chapél glanced us up and down and announced he was a wizard.
"Are there really such things?" Diane asked. "Are those stories Mom and Dad told us really true?"
"If you don't believe, why are you here?" he asked. At that, Diane said nothing.
"You parents served me wonderfully for many centuries. But they wanted to live their own lives, so I released them. I'm sorry they died, but to intervene would have meant giving up what they worked so hard for."
I didn't understand -- only knew my parents weren't coming back. I sat in the stub grass and cried. Diane walked over and picked me up, even though I was too big for her to hold for long.
"They'll send us away," she said. "Please. We're all the family we've got."
Chapél stood slowly, supporting himself with that carved tooth walking stick which shook and bent as much as his skinny body. "I'm not a bad man," he said, stepping toward the dark of his shack's open door. "But I make deals. It's what keeps me going. What can you offer for my help?"
Diane sat me back on the ground and stepped onto the porch. Chapél nodded and walked through his shack's doorway, which swallowed him to the murmur of far distant voices. Voices angry at what the world had become. Voices angry at Chapél.
Diane paused for a moment before follow
The sea serpent is smaller than I'd imagined from my father's stories -- only three times as long as my boat, and slender as a telephone pole. Maybe this is all a wizard can pull together these days.
I don't have a magic sword like my father fought his serpent with, but I do have a pistol. I do have a shotgun. My weapons. My weapons of science.
But I reach for neither. Instead, I'm curious about this storm, which could have been bad enough to sink me. I'm curious about this tiny sea serpent. So I kill the dual outboards, causing the boat to slip broadside to the storm's waves. The boat tips, about to capsize, as the serpent shoots out, wrapping its body around the hull and holding it steady.
"That's what we call an experiment," I yell over the wind. "A way to test a hypothesis. Now we both know you aren't here to kill me."
The serpent's body twines around the boat like its kin must have done to sailing ships hundreds of years ago. It shrieks its fanged maw at me from a yard away, rage and anger and poison splattering my face. But it doesn't strike.
Accepting my hypothesis as correct, the serpent sets my boat once again heading into the waves, and releases me. I gun the engines and ride on.
My family house is gone. Decades of waves and hurricanes have rearranged the shoreline so the mud flats where my parents grew our home are only empty shallows.
The gale has already sucked back into the blue sky from which it was created, so I easily pilot my boat to where our house would have stood. A single rotten piling rises from the tiny waves. The single seagull sitting on top of it eyes me with irritation.
I tie off the boat and wade to shore, the shotgun on my back, the pistol holstered on my hip. Mud sucks my boots six inches down and the waist-high sea grass cuts my hands and arms. Still, nothing to be done.
Soon I reach the swamps leading to Chapél's shack. Ghosts of wizards and witches fly through cypress trees, caressing the trees' upjutting knees and skimming the brackish waters. They cast rainbow spells and magic at each other in hazy displays which pass through the trees and water and me like never-never words. Some of them turn toward me, promising riches and enchanted swords and even my family if only I'll return magic to this world. Others threaten, saying I'll suffer unless I return their world to them.
Other author's books:
- IGMS Issue 49IGMS Issue 20IGMS Issue 23IGMS - Issue 20IGMS Issue 12IGMS Issue 28IGMS Issue 45IGMS Issue 15
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