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Igms issue 20, p.10

IGMS Issue 20, page 10


IGMS Issue 20

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  "You have to clear the table first. Eleanor, you help your sister."

  Eleanor squinches her face up because she wants to finish her second piece. I see her wrap it in a napkin and sneak it into her pocket. I bet she pulls it out when we go to bed. Hope she doesn't get crumbs in the sheets. We just got rid of the bed bugs and they'd sure like a feast like birthday cake crumbs. Oh well, I'm not gonna worry about that. All I can think about now is flying down the sidewalk in my new skates.

  Finally! Dishes are put in the sink and I'm pulling on my red coat and hat. Mammie helps me get my mittens on. They're attached by yarn that goes up my sleeves so I won't lose them - but I don't think I'll need them cuz of the thaw. Daddy says he ain't seen such a December thaw in all his years, but Mammie has - probably because she has so many more years on her.

  I run out the door, escaping from Ma who's trying to get all the buttons done. She warns me not to scuff up my shoes and I'll be sure to get a smack if I do. They're the only ones I got for school.

  Then for some reason, I turn around and look back into the house. It looks all glowing like a hundred birthday candles are lit up and I see Mammie's little face, her white hair kinda puffy all around her head and the tinsel shiny like real icicles. She smiles big and says, "The Banshee will be coming soon. Don't fear, little one." I hear the words, but her lips ain't moving - like she's whispering to me and nobody else can hear. It kind of gives me the goose bumps, what with all the tales she likes to tell about the Death Coach and the three knocks and scariest of all - the Banshee.

  Where she comes from, Ireland, there seem to be a lot of them around. I didn't think they were here in Cambridge, but maybe they followed her across the high seas to Massachusetts when she came over in the big ship with Aunt Bid. I sure ain't seen them and I sure don't want to see them. Mammie says they come on a great wind to take you to heaven and you can hear them crying just before they come. I guess it's because they're so sad that you died.

  So I put it out of my head and run down the front steps, sitting on the bottom one so I can strap my skates to my shoes. I turn the key as tight as it will go because I'm going to be going as fast as the wind.

  I skate in little baby steps at first, being careful not to run into the little piles of snow that people have shoveled to the side. After only two times up and down William Street I start to go a little smoother and a big smile breaks out on my face cuz I'm free. I could probably escape from any Banshee or bad guy or rotten, barking dog now. Just let 'em try. I make believe King, the black dog at the end of the street, is chasing me, and I feel like I'm flying on the sidewalk.

  Lindy from number 18 comes out just as I'm going by and starts making fun of me.

  "Who said you could skate? Look at ya, you're goin' over," he says as he tries to trip me. I get a little mad at him but he's my best boy friend - not 'boyfriend' - and we always tease each other.

  "Come in and show Mother. We've got some supper left, if you like."

  "Gee, thanks," I say. Our supper was water crackers and milk with sugar on top so we could afford the cake.

  Mrs. O'Mara is an awful good cook and I jump at the chance for a second supper. After I take my skates off, I walk into their big kitchen and sniff the air. Mrs. O'Mara is all over me, telling me how pretty I look and what beautiful skates I have. She sits me down next to Lindy who's already gulping down his shepherd's pie and I dig in, too. Then we get some grapenut pudding for desert and my stomach is in heaven. This has got to be the best birthday ever.

  Lindy wipes his mouth on his sleeve and tells me to hurry up and finish so we can play with the Ouija Board again. We did it all last week, nearly every day and it was right spooky, but I loved it. I eat as fast as I can and say thank you to Mrs. O'Mara and we head into the parlor. There's a huge tree that looks like it's going to go through the ceiling and it's covered with all kinds of colored lights. It looks as good as the one in the window of Grover Cronin's up the Avenue but not as good as the giant tree in Harvard Square. Daddy took us to see it the night they turned it on and it was like heaven on earth.

  We pull the board out from under the couch and put it on the floor between us.

  "You better not move it this time or I'll crown you," says Lindy. I just give him a look and he shuts up. The last time we used it, it finally moved, but I know it wasn't me doin' it.

  We put our fingers on the little heart shaped thing and I freeze. There's a sound outside like the wind picking up. Then the wind starts to sing. Lindy's eyes get big and he takes his fingers off the mover.

  "Do you hear that?" he says.

  We both don't move a muscle and we listen as it gets closer. It sounds like it's coming down the street right for us. It gets louder and higher, almost screechy and I think it must be a cyclone like in that new movie, The Wizard of Oz. We turn our heads to look out the parlor windows and I see a beautiful lady, all flimsy and floating by. Her hair and her dress look like smoke.

  She looks right into my eyes but I ain't scared. Then she bows her head to me like I'm some queen or something. I bow my head back.

  I look at Lindy to say something, but he has his eyes closed so tight they look like they'll never open up again.

  Pretty soon the sound gets smaller and smaller and turns into what King sounds like when he wants something real bad. Me and Lindy let our breath out and we put our fingers back on the mover. It starts up right away and slides real quick to the word "Goodbye."

  "What a wind," Mrs. O'Mara says, as she brings in a tray with a plate of gingersnaps and two glasses of milk.

  "Looks like this thaw is officially over. There's a front coming in and we'll be going back to the cold weather by tomorrow. You kids would like more snow, wouldn't you?"

  "Yes, Ma'am," I say as she leans down with the tray. Lindy already has two cookies in his mouth before she puts it on the floor next to us. She puts on the radio and we listen to The Lone Ranger. I imagine myself being him, yelling out "Hi-Yo Silver, away!" and riding a horse and shooting the bad guys. I could do it, too, I bet. Just because I'm a girl, don't make no difference.

  After the show, I say, "I gotta get going," and Lindy gets our coats. He goes out with me and helps me put my skates on, then walks beside me, and then starts to run when I get my sea legs. Those are the legs you need to keep your balance. Mammie said she used them on the boat from Ireland.

  He pulls my coat and I laugh and stick my tongue out at him. He laughs back, but not in a big way like he usually does.

  "If you go any faster, they'll think you're a comet with that red coat on." Then he grabs my hands and spins me around so I can go back down the street to my house.

  "Happy birthday, Patty. I've got to go in. It's getting late. See ya." He waves to me and I say, "See ya" back. He's a good egg. That's what Daddy called guys he liked.

  I'm skating pretty good now, and getting near my house when Danny O'Brien's big black car goes by and stops in front. It's the one he uses for his job and I wonder why he's not driving his green Buick. A couple of men I don't know get out and bring something up the stairs into the house. It's getting a little dark so it's hard to see what it is.

  I finally get to my house and sit on the steps to take my skates off, but before I can turn my skate key, the door opens and the men come out carrying a big brown basket with laundry in it.

  "Look out, little girl," one of them says

  "What's in the basket, Mister?"

  I look in and it's all white sheets. They put it down on the sidewalk on top of some sort of black rug and one of them opens the two doors on the back of the car. I wonder why they're being so careful with a bunch of old sheets. As they pick it back up, part of a sheet falls away and there's Mammie's little white head peeking out. She looks like she's asleep and so cozy, like an angel lying in the clouds. But I know she ain't asleep and I know who the lady in the wind was. She was the Banshee come to take Mammie home.

  I feel like the world is going to end. My heart is breaking and a tear starts t
o roll down my face. My eyes sting and my throat is so sore it feels like I swallowed a big rock. I see Ma and Daddy in the doorway and he's crying, too, holding up one of Mammie's handkerchiefs. His face looks red and sort of smashed in, like someone's beat him up. Ma don't look sad. She looks like she always does. Then she yells over to me.

  "Patsy, you get in here."

  I turn and take off real fast away from there. I skate as hard as I can. I don't even know where I'm going. King comes flying out from an alley and tries to nip me but I'm going so fast, he can't catch me.

  It's getting darker now and I almost trip when I go off the sidewalk, onto the street, then up to the next sidewalk. I'm crying hard, but I'm going like the wind and it's drying my tears before they can drip down my face.

  I see a lot of glowing lights up ahead and now I know I'm almost up the avenue near Harvard Square. I just want to see the big Christmas tree they put up last week. I know it will make me feel better. Daddy took us to see it the night it got lit up and I ain't seen nothing so pretty in all my life.

  Everything looks jumbled up because of my tears and I squint to try and see better. The lights of all the stores are so bright that the people who pass by me seem like they're glowing.

  Then the wind gets stronger and a big chill goes down my back because I hear it again - the song of the Banshee. I stop and turn around to see her behind me all smoky and beautiful coming nearer and nearer. She's smiling at me like she did before, but this time I'm so scared, I start to cross Massachusetts Avenue. The cars are whizzing by and I get turned around and around. I cry harder than I've ever cried.

  Someone yells at me to get out of the road and cars start honking their horns. There's so much noise. I put my hands over my ears and shut my eyes, but I can still hear the Banshee getting closer.

  "Mammie, where are you?" I scream her name over and over, but I can hardly hear my own voice because of the Banshee's wail being so close.

  Then I hear Mammie's voice inside my head.

  "This way, little one," she says. I open my eyes and Mammie is standing on the sidewalk with her arms out to me and I know if I can skate fast enough, I can escape the Banshee. I go so fast my feet feel like they ain't even on the ground and I make a beeline to Mammie.

  When I get to the sidewalk, she's gone and standing there is Officer Kelly.

  He picks me up in his big arms. "Patricia Davis, what on earth are you doing out on the night before Christmas? Do you realize you almost got killed out there? You should be home in bed waiting for Santa Claus, not causing a near five car pile-up with you in the middle of it." He pushes the hair out of my face and wipes my tears with his mittens.

  "My Mammie went to heaven with the Banshee, and the Banshee tried to get me too, but Mammie saved . . ."

  "Darlin', Darlin', it's alright. I'm going to take you home, now and don't you worry about a thing. Tomorrow's Christmas and all the troubles in the world will be washed away. There, now."

  I bury my face against his blue wool coat and he blows his whistle to stop the traffic. He carried me the whole three blocks to my house, then walks me up the stairs and rings the doorbell. Ma answers. She just looks at me with that nothing face of hers for a minute while Officer Kelly tells her what happened.

  Ma tells him thank you and closes the front door, saying, "Patsy, you get upstairs and don't expect Santa Claus to be coming tonight."

  "Where's Daddy?" I say.

  "He's making arrangements at the funeral home, so he won't be here to save you this time. Now scat!"

  I run up the stairs and put my nightgown on and jump into bed next to my sister. Most of the time, it's so cold up here, sometimes I sneak my coat upstairs and use it for a blanket, but tonight, I feel nice and warm and cozy. Mammie ain't gone after all, and as long as I got my skates, no bad guy or rotten barking dog will ever catch me. I can skate faster than even the Banshee's wind.

  Wise Men

  by Orson Scott Card

  Artwork by Nick Greenwood

  * * *

  I got control of Lytrotis, a half-Greek adviser to King Herod of Judea, in the year 734 of the Roman Republic. It was the 27th year of the Peace of Augustus. It was the last year of Herod's life.

  My control over Lytrotis was complete. He had thought I was a god, and that I would make him great -- never guessing that the only power I had was the power to take control of his body, shunting him aside.

  He discovered how I had lied to him within moments of my taking possession, but it was too late for him then. I was too strong for him, too experienced. He screamed with all his might, he wrestled with me day and night, and to me his screams were the bleating of a lamb, and his writhing was the fluttering of a moth.

  Eloi, my enemy, had given poor Lytrotis what he had denied to me: a featherless biped body to dwell in, with all its pleasures and pains, with those clever little hands, with eyes that saw so clearly and yet saw nothing at all, and with a mouth to speak . . . so that lies could be told.

  Lies! Ah, how sweet to tell lies again. During my time between bodies I felt like a prisoner, able to communicate only as we evyonim do in our bodiless state, showing memories to each other, utter truth, so that we stand exposed before each other, all our memories and motives known.

  As I stood exposed before Eloi on that terrible day six thousand years before, when he cast us down into the Earth. The featherless bipeds had already spread themselves throughout the world, had already acquired the rudiments of language and the making of tools. They were ripe to be possessed by us, the evyonim, the massless wanderers through the darkness of spacetime, but Eloi had a plan to make these bipeds immortal, the bonds between beast and evyon permanent.

  "They are not to be exploited," he said, "they are to be elevated. Your bodiless aeons are over. It is time for you to become like me, if you can -- tied to the physical world again, yet masters of all things. If you can."

  His plan was a foolish one. Full of chances for failure. The bodies were too delicious. Once we had tasted them, we would not want to let them go. Yet most of us would lose them. I had seen it before, hadn't I? On the world of the cherubim, the world of the seraphim, the world of the nagidim, the world of the yaminim -- only a tiny fraction of the evyonim were able to keep the beast they rode, and all the rest were given a stunted, crippled, broken version . . . because that's all that Eloi thought that they deserved.

  "This time," I said, "we will do it my way. I will not discard them the way you do. I will save them all."

  How they rejoiced! But Eloi only looked at his beloved, his darling of darlings, his chosen one, his Beyn, he whose real name I am incapable of saying and whose face I am forbidden to see.

  "I will live and die for them," he said. "I will save all who master the beasts and then live to serve the good of all."

  "The weak, you mean," I said. "The ones who cower. When I have mastered my beast, I will not cower." I was so brave, and all who saw my courage were rapt with admiration.

  In that moment the evyonim chose, and because we cannot lie, Eloi could sort us all at once. One-third of them were mine, two-thirds his. But even if nine-tenths had chosen me, he would have done the same, for the evyonim are nothing to him unless they grovel to him. He cast me down, and my one-third with me, and kept the rest as his darlings, and then he gave them beasts to ride, one by one as they were born.

  But they were weak and I was strong. I took whatever beast I wanted. I could not expel the darlings whose beast I usurped -- they remained there, watching me with terror and admiration as I rode the beast the way it was meant to be ridden. And when I was done with it, I discarded it -- they could have the ruins of it for whatever days or weeks or years it might have left. They had seen what greatness could do with a featherless biped; their own life was pitiful by comparison.

  Yet every beast I used, I knew I could not keep. The day would come when all his darlings had their beasts, and then he would bind them, the ones he chose: evyon to biped, inseparable, immortal, filled
with irresistible power, and yet still the pitiful, cowering, subservient, rule-bound darling without a spark of self-will in it.

  And I would have nothing.

  One chance I had, and it was now. For I saw the preparations -- they could not be hidden from me. The bodiless darlings who sang to the shepherds, unable to hide their joy. The baby that plunged into the world. I knew who it was inside the little beast. He was here to do what he had promised -- live and die for them, and then rise with the power to make the beasts immortal and bind them to the evyon, so it was no more hungry, but filled now; not evyon but immortal and inseparable ish, beynim like the Beyn.

  The despicable darlings.

  But if he failed, then all of them were broken, all of them were lost.

  When he cast me down everyone thought that I was finished. But he hasn't the power to destroy us. He can deprive us, cut us off, leave us hungering forever, but he cannot make us cease to exist, just as he can't create a single one of us. We can only be found and named, located and led, linked to beasts and thus empowered. We don't belong to him! We are not his property!

  I was cast out, but I knew that when they all saw the failure of his plan -- not just the evyonim, but all the ones he had made immortal, who carried out his orders -- they would see that he was wrong.

  It is the thing they will not bear, you see. They will not follow him then, if his plan fails. It all falls apart. Chaos is reborn out of his miserable, pinched-off order when they cease to trust in him.

  And so I watched and waited all those centuries, until the time came at last. I watched the starships dart between the worlds, the convergence of the beynim. I saw how it all led to now, to here, to Judea, to the people he had fooled into thinking they were chosen but had really enslaved to his niggling laws and then abandoned.

  I stood afar off, unable to look directly at the entry of the Beyn into this world. But I knew the nature of the beast.

  A baby. Weak. Killable.

  Now that Eloi was committed, there was no second chance. This was the only body that his beloved Beyn could ever bind with. If I killed it early, before it came into its power, then his darlings could never be bound. Their beasts would stay in their graves. None would rise. They would be lost forever.

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