The Never Never Wizard of Apalachicola
by Jason Sanford
1st Place - Best Cover Art - 2010
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
And me, not knowing the answer. Until now.