Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 24
Stories
Under the Shield
by Stephen Kotowych
Old Flat Foot
by Ross Willard
Whiteface Part I
by Jared Oliver Adams
Tales for the Young and Unafraid
The Floating Statue
by David Lubar
Orson Scott Card - Sneak Preview
Shadows in Flight - Chapter 1
by Orson Scott Card
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Second Chances Made of Glass and Wood
    by Michael T. Banker

2nd Place - Best Interior Art - 2011

Second Chances Made of Glass and Wood
Artwork by Eugene Carter

I stick my head through the door and spot the new doll, jerking and tripping over herself in the corner, making a racket with all of her clacking wooden parts. Of course Faerci's there too, that giant of a man, hunched over the pitiful thing. My own carved parts snick away as I run into the room and collapse onto the rug next to him, landing with my head propped against my hand. I always insist on seeing the new dolls when they wake up.

Ooh, and her eyes are still closed -- have I got timing or what? Probably only just came to.

I jump at the solid thud the doll's head makes when it hits the wall behind her. She's flailing her arms and kicking her legs -- good thing she doesn't have enough control to stay up on them or else she'd be running circles around the room. This one's excited; poor thing looks terrified.

Then I hear the familiar click and her left eye opens, revealing an empty glass orb in its socket. She freezes, looking right at me, and slowly tilts her head up to take in all of Faerci towering above her. Then she flops to the ground like a rag doll and throws her limbs around in another noisy, wordless tantrum.

I look up at Faerci. "Well, she can see, anyway -- your face scared the spirit out of her! But really, what's with the right eye? You glue it shut or something? Sloppy, sloppy."

"Did you say 'her'? Nattly, it's a boy! A boy! Can't you tell? Look in a mirror and see how I carve a girl."

I break down laughing as Faerci growls this at me. "Tell? No, I can't tell! Oh Faerci, you are dangerous. You like carving girls too much."

"Bah! It's the hair, that's all, and it's his own that I used for the wig, so you can hardly blame me for that. And that eye . . . probably, his eyelashes are sticking. Happens sometimes. Nothing to do about it 'til he calms down, if it doesn't fix itself in the first place."

"Sloppy, sloppy," I repeat. That gets a satisfying grunt out of him.

But when I look again, he's smiling. I caught him. Everyone knows Faerci has a soft spot for all of his creations, even if he looks gruff on the outside.

It's . . . quiet, I realize.

The doll is staring right at me, head lolling against its shoulder. Then there's another click and the second eye pops open.

"Why, hello there!" I address him for the first time. "As you can see, your new body will take some getting used to. But please, in the meantime . . . try not to break it!"

I'm surprised to hear a small chuckle out of Faerci for that comment. The boy-doll is trembling very slightly.

"All right, calm down. No one's going to hurt you. You know what, you can't even feel pain anymore, isn't that nice? Now, I'm sure you more or less realize what's happened, but it usually helps to hear it out loud. So. Before you died of . . . typhoid, was it? . . . you were brought to us by --"

I stop because I hear a small hiccup come from his direction. Oh no, he already figured out his --

"Ahh! Ah -- ahh! Ahh!"

. . . voice box.

I notice Faerci plug two fat fingers into his ears and he starts to yell something to me, but I can't make it out over the screaming. It doesn't matter, though. I know what to do.

I clench and unclench my wooden hand -- fifteen independent joints sliding snugly back and forth. "All right, guy. If you're going to act like a baby . . . then to the nursery you go!"

I jump over and snatch his wrist out of the air. Then I drag him, kicking and screaming, one tug at a time down the hall.

"Papa?" I shove my back into the door to Papa's room, pushing it open the rest of the way. Inside is the typical scene: Papa sitting in his rocking chair, staring vacantly into space, oblivious to everything. Probably training his spirit for his stupid necromancy somehow or other. No, actually . . . probably just staring into space.

"Papa." I walk over and tug on his pant leg, push my forehead into his knee. "Papa."

"Oh. Nattly," he says, but I don't stop tugging -- he sounds distracted. "What do you want?"

"Papa." I look up at him, and his gaze slides away from my carved wooden face, even quicker than usual. "Papa, please."

"What, Nattly? What do you want?" He still sounds distracted. He always does. I hate it.

I begin to swing lazily from side to side, hanging onto his pant leg. "I think the new doll is better than me. I even caught Faerci smiling at it. It's his best." I stop swinging. "Replant me?"

"Don't be foolish. That's what you're bothering me for?"

I start tugging again. "But I need to bother you, Papa. You should stop. You should have stopped a year ago. Papa, for me?"

Replanting me into a new doll isn't such a big deal, it just means moving the glass ball with my spirit in it into a new doll. Faerci does most of the work, even. But actually transferring a person's spirit into a glass ball in the first place . . . that's costing Papa too much, and he should stop.

Papa's gaze lingers on my face a moment longer this time. His hair is falling out, his jowls are drooping, his eyes are dark and sunken in his face.

"Nattly, I can't stop."

Stupid Papa, I think. You're scaring me.

"Consider all of those dying who depend on me."

That's not what you meant. "Papa, let Faerci replant me! I want bigger veins in my hands so that I can get a better grip and push around the new dolls. Please!"

"Nattly, no!" There's more of him in that voice.

"I bet all of my spirit will stay in the glass ball."

"No. I said no!"

"And so what if some gets left behind? I won't miss it."

"Nattly! Your spirit's constantly in flux, there's no predicting what would be lost. Your memory. Your . . . your personality. I would miss it!"

"Maybe you'd like me better."

"Get out!"

He tries to get up from his chair but collapses back into it. His knees are hurting him again. He puts his head back; already, the energy I managed to coax out of him is fading. That's why he needs to listen to me. Because of what he's doing, his spirit's gradually crumbling away to nothing.

Papa, hypocrite. He's so protective of my spirit, but look what he's done to his own.

He is lost again, to his other world of necromancy and spirits. I slink out of the room, and then stand on my tiptoes to reach the doorknob and tug it closed.

Instead of leaving, I push my back against the door. I stick out a left-hand finger and, with my right hand, pretend that I'm carving it. I always watch Faerci carve the dolls. I make a sprinkling motion over it, pretending that I'm inserting the crushed-glass veins for the spirit to flow through and work the joints. Then I hold it up and flex it: finished.

"It's the best doll hand in the world," I announce. "And yet . . ."

I still won't be able to beat Cook at arm wrestling, I think glumly. Even Papa's body is better than mine. Not fair.

Stupid Papa, I'm thinking, walking down the hall. I get a fluttery feeling in the back of my head. It's bad enough that I have to stop and steady myself against the wall. After giving it a moment, I shake it off.

Stupid Papa.

"Nattly."

I look up. "Oh, Grace and Alic," I greet the two dolls in front of me. I must be out of my mind; look where I've ended up. "What brings you to the nursery?" I do tend to wander here when I'm frustrated, though. All Papa's fault.

Alic looks at me with those beady glass eyes. He tilts his hat up, and then hooks a finger into his suspenders. "I forgot that you call this the nursery. I suppose it is one, at that."

Grace, clinging to his other arm, rests her head on his shoulder. "We heard that the doll was a little . . . lively waking up this morning. We're sorry we missed it. He's calmed down a bit now, we just met him." Her voice is deep and melodious. I want her voice box. Oh, how I want it.

"Yeah?" I say. "Never saw a doll find his voice box so quick. Where is . . . ooh, I see him!" What I actually see are two legs sticking out from behind a big, squishy pillow. I assume they belong to him. The nursery is littered with pillows of all sizes. My idea.

"His name is Havrim," comments Alic. "I remember because it sounds like Hevlah, and I had an Aunt Hevlah. Looks a bit like her, too, in an odd sort of way."

"I thought so, too!" I blurt out. "Well, I don't know about your Aunt Hevlah, but the girl part . . ."

Grace picks her head up from Alic's arm. "We should really go, dear," she says. "I want to see how my lilies are doing before it gets dark."

"Oh, you and your lilies," he chides.

"Yes. You know I get grumpy if I miss seeing my lilies."

"Well, I certainly wouldn't want that."

"No, dear, I'm sure that you wouldn't. Goodbye, Nattly."

"Bye," I say. That couple. I watch them walk away, arm in arm, their life probably little different now than when they were human. It gives me a bubbly feeling that maybe Papa is actually doing some good.

As Grace and Alic leave the room, I realize that I'm suddenly in a better mood; but they're good at that. I bounce over to the new doll.

"Havrim!" I cry. "And how are we progressing? I heard that your name is Havrim. I'm Nattly, by the way."

"Ah. Uh," he answers.

At least he's sitting up. No one's bothered to dress him yet, so I can see all of the clever joints that turn his middle into an accordion. Faerci's so good. He really is, I can't even imagine.

"Yeah," I say, "that voice box is tricky until you get used to it. Try to forget the way your old body worked -- completely different. You were just born! Think of it like that."

I decide that he needs clothes. Boy clothes. That might do the trick. I keep walking past him and poke my head into the closet. No dolls go naked in this house.

"So, besides your name, which I heard from Alic, I also heard that you were an apprentice tailor. And that it was actually your master who brought you in when you were sick and paid your fee. True story?"

"Uh . . . huh."

"Uh-huh? Wow." I riffle through the clothing on the closet floor. "I'm Faerci's apprentice. Well, sort of. I like to watch him, and some day I'm going to convince him to teach me for real. Were you and your master close?"

I turn around with a wad of shirts in time to catch him nodding.

"Uh-uh, you've gotta use your voice. Practice. Articulate. You can do it."

". . . mm."

I kneel down next to him. "I'm sorry, I forget that you're so new to all this. I bet you miss your master." I pick up his arm and push it through a sleeve. "Anyway, don't worry, you'll see him again as soon as you get used to your new body. I don't know if he can use a doll in his store, but that still wouldn't mean there isn't a place for you. It's not bad here, you can stay as long as you like. I mean, it's not like you have to eat or anything. And then, when you're ready, there are places where dolls can do meaningful work. Okay? Sound okay?"

"Ah. M-mm."

"Good. Can you hold yourself up for a moment?" I have his pants around his ankles, but I need his butt off the ground. With some fumbling, we manage to get everything on properly and more or less straight, and I give him a satisfied nod. His shirt's baggy enough that he could probably fold his knees in there with him, but what can I do? So I'll tell Faerci our supply's inexcusable and he'll grunt in response and the next doll will have to wear his shirt like a dress.

Well, I think, now Havrim just looks like a feminine boy. Progress, I'd say, progress.

As I turn to leave, I hear behind me, "Buh . . . Nna."

Bye, Nattly? I'll take it.

That night, after dark, I can't resist: I sneak back into the nursery.

"Havrim, are you awake?" I whisper as quietly as my voice box will go without cracking. "No, don't get up. Don't talk -- I won't even make you talk."

Grace and Alic are passed out across the room and I don't want to wake them, so I'm curled up right next to Havrim with my forehead pressed against his cheek and his hair in my eyes.

"I just wanted someone to talk to who won't talk back. You can even go to sleep. I've always been a doll, so I don't know how to sleep right. And it's usually pretty lonely at night. But . . .

"What was it like being a human? No, don't talk, I'm just thinking out loud. I always wonder, if I were magically turned human one day, would I miss being a doll? I think humans have all the advantages. But I mentioned that to Cook once, and you know what he said? He offered to trade his left hand with mine. He said mine won't hurt or bleed when he cuts it."

The room is so quiet. Just the lazy creaking of this old house, and those pillows jutting up out of the darkness.

"I'm sorry, I keep saying the wrong things around you. Being a doll's not so bad. You're alive, and that's what counts, right? I mean, you will get used to it."

I nestle deeper into the rug and hug my arms around myself.

"I promise."

I stay like that for a while and try to fall asleep, see if I can anymore. I hear Grace or Alic shift, and I turn a couple of times, but Havrim might as well be a rock he's so still. Eventually I get up and walk back to my room, but as I'm feeling for the door in the dark, I'm suddenly hit by another dizzy spell and I clatter to the floor. I hear Grace or Alic getting up, and I crawl out of the room before they see me.

On the other side of the door, I slowly pick myself up.

I must be defective, I think casually, nervously. If I am defective, then Papa has no choice but to replant me, right? He'll have no choice!

I take three steps and then stop.

But what if my glass ball's defective . . .?

"Faerci and Cook," I exclaim. "In a room, together? Do I need to get my eyes fixed?"

"Hello, Miss Nattly." Cook speaks into the air; I know he hasn't figured out where I am yet. It's so unfair being short.

"Watcha makin'?" I ask. "Oh, Faerci, wait -- don't go. Give me a new voice box? Please! Like Grace's."

"Bah." He waves me away, mouth full of bread.

Cook says, "But we've grown accustomed to Miss Nattly's voice as it is."

"I know, isn't it disgusting? I've had this stupid voice box since I was born." Literally! They say I couldn't even cry when I came out of Mom, and then poof! -- Papa transferred me. This voice box. "I really wanted a whole new body, but Papa . . ."

"Hmmph," grunts Faerci, and he trundles off. Probably to his workshop with all of the severed wooden limbs hanging on the wall, where he hunches over his worktable and carves the delicate pieces. It's what he lives for.

"Sorry," I say. I seem to have a knack for saying the wrong things these days.

"Master Faerci's proud of your doll, Miss," says Cook. "He's always comparing the new ones to it."

"Really? Hmm . . . Well, not anymore. He went and made a better one. So, anyway, Cook's actually doin' some cooking. What're you making?"

He grunts as he stirs some thick batter in a giant bowl. "It is my job, Miss. Among others, of course. Honey rolls, for the woman who brought the ill man. I finally got her to admit that she likes them."

"Papa's doing another one! Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"Well, they only just came in, and we don't like to worry your pretty little carrot top about it, Miss, until we have to."

"Don't call me that!" I complain, and Cook frowns at me. He knows I can't see color.

"Well, what's wrong with reminding you that you've a pretty carrot top? Sorry if I offended, Miss."

It's Mom's hair, anyway. I bet mine would have been dark, like Papa's. Oh, what does it matter!

"Cook," I say.

"Yes, Miss?"

"Do you think you could convince Papa to stop?"

"Come again?"

"You know, stop his . . . necromancy."

"Well," he responds carefully, "I'm sure I'm in no place to suggest such a thing."

"No, I doubt it would work, either. He needs to stop, though. He comes back with less of himself each time."

I heave myself up onto one of the chairs and listen to the slow churning of batter and Cook's periodic grunts of effort.

"Any news from outside?" I venture.

Cook frowns at me again. "No. Nothing to call news, Miss Nattly. Nothing as such."

You think you're protecting me, but I can see it in your face. You just leave me to wonder: how bad is it?

I sit there for a while longer, thinking, tapping my fingers against the seat of the chair. Then we both hear the bell chime, echoing through the household, and Cook drops his bowl, grabs me, and races upstairs with me to Papa's room.

Everything is crazy upstairs. The man is lying on his side on Papa's bed, coughing intermittently. The woman is protesting that he still looks fine (never mind that she brought him here because he's dying), and Cook is beginning to sooth her, telling her that the Master can sense when a spirit is separating from the body. Then he uses his kind words and courtesy to cajole her out of the room, proving once again why he is irreplaceable to this household's operations.

Now Papa is looking at the dying man with hunger in his eyes -- I can see it. In order to perform the transfer, he has to let his own spirit free. From what I understand, he sort of escorts the man's spirit into the glass ball before returning to his own body. If he manages to return, that is. So far he has . . .

I huddle at the very edge of the bed, by the dying man's feet. Supposedly, I'm there to sever the connection if things go bad, but we both know that anything I do would be too late.

Papa walks over to the bed with a fresh glass ball, looking at the man's face, maybe looking at his spirit itself -- I don't know the details and I don't ask. He forgets not to slouch, forgets about me and the woman outside; only that awful, eager look is in his eyes. I want to jump up and shatter the glass, but wouldn't that be like murdering this man? And I'm not sure that Papa wouldn't throw me and maybe even break me if I did.

He sets the ball on the bed and presses it against the man's forehead. Then he slowly works his joints to lie down next to him and puts his own forehead to the glass. Now I have two pairs of feet in my face. Papa closes his eyes and the man grows still, as if already dead. All I hear is some choked sobbing through the door from his wife. He's started.

I feel alone in the room. I wonder if this is the time Papa won't come back. The way the light passes through the glass ball, it looks like the ceiling is down and the bed is in the air.

Pretty soon, I find myself trying to remember what Papa was like even three years ago. I wonder if this time I might notice exactly what he's missing when he comes back. I'm pretty sure he never comes back as whole as before.

A couple of minutes pass, and I begin to think that, just maybe, Papa wants to lose himself . . . because he regrets the decision he made when I was born. He only had time to transfer me or Mom when I came out of the womb and neither of us moved or made a sound. He might have chosen Mom.

Then Papa's eyes shoot open, and I am grateful that he was quicker than usual and saved me some worry. But I also prepare myself for the most horrible part.

He jerks upright and wraps his arms around himself, shaking. He looks this way and that, silently opening and closing his mouth.

I hate this. Having to wait as he slowly remembers where he is and what he's doing. Watching him tremble and sweat. It's like he's afraid of what he just saw. I hate thinking about what he sees when our spirits leave our bodies.

Finally -- finally! -- Papa looks at me and tells me to open the door. I say that he has to stand up first and he actually listens, although it takes him three tries to get his legs under him. I make a little jump for the doorknob, and the next thing I know I'm on the ground, knocked over by the woman rushing in.

As I push myself up, I hear her saying, "Is Roy . . . is he . . . in there?" Then I look over to see her hands hovering over the glass ball like she's afraid she might damage his spirit by getting her fingerprints on it.

"Yes, Ma'am," assures Cook. "He is, and in due time he will be put into a beautiful, hand-crafted doll, just like this young Miss here."

"That's right," she replies, eyeing me in a way that I'm not sure I like. "Of course."

"Miss Nattly," Cook chimes, "I regret that the honey rolls aren't ready, but if you would be kind enough to fetch us some butter cookies, and perhaps put up some tea. I suspect that would be just the thing for all of us."

Yes, I think. To remind Papa he's still alive. Eating always brings him back, a bit.

As I leave I feel a little faint, and this time I swear it's because of that woman's eyes on the back of my neck.

I tiptoe quietly into the nursery, but Grace and Alic aren't sleeping here tonight. I locate Havrim's dark form on the ground and settle down next to him, careful to keep a good hand's width apart. Maybe he doesn't like me being too close? I've heard humans can be like that, and he's still fresh in his doll.

"Hey. I, uh . . ." I start. I don't really have much to say. No, there's plenty, actually: I managed to overhear Faerci grumbling earlier about stuff that's going on in the outside world. People are killing dolls again -- or still, probably. Nobody tells me anything. "Religious extremists" Faerci called them. But I don't want to talk to Havrim about that.

"I guess you, uh . . . had a very different life. Before." Could Havrim be religious? Would he tell me more about it? I wonder, though . . . If he is religious, maybe he didn't actually want to get put into a doll. Maybe he thinks it's wrong. I doubt his master had a chance to ask him about it.

"You're doing really well, you know? Faerci made you better than any of us."

I give up. I don't want to talk about it.

I close my eyes, wallowing in half-formed thoughts, and find myself nestling further into the thick rug. I get my shoulder in there good and deep, feeling really comfortable, like I haven't in a while. Like I'm drifting . . . drifting . . .

I'm in Havrim's clothing shop, and he is measuring my waist, my height, the length of my arms. He touches his hand -- his human hand -- to my cheek and says, Has anyone ever told you that you have the prettiest blue eyes? I object -- I have glass eyes. And I don't know blue. Is it pretty? Blue? But you're human, he insists. Can't you feel me touching you? Not really, I answer. No, I can't. I can't feel you. Why can't I feel you?

Havrim frowns as he dissolves along with his shop, and suddenly my head is reeling. Something outside is pushing me, trying to get in, pulsing against the back of my neck. Slowly, heavily, I shove it away. Then I jerk up and look frantically around.

Oh. The nursery. And there's Havrim, sleeping. Still a doll. I touch a hand to my cheek. Not only did I fall asleep, but I dreamt, too. And then that thing happened again, but stronger than ever. I think my spirit had a weird reaction with my glass ball. I think I tried to . . . slip out of my body. Like Papa does with his necromancy.

That thought makes me shiver.

I'm never letting myself fall asleep again. Never. No.

Still shaky, I pick myself up and stumble out of the room.

"Tank . . . Natt-ee."

"Okay, Havrim. Can you keep walking if I let go?"

He makes a heroic attempt, but all he manages is to dash forward a few paces before tumbling to the rug.

"Right. Can you get up?"

"Natt . . . Natt-ree . . . Nattly."

"Yes?"

"Ank . . . tank you."

"Why do you keep saying that? I've hardly done a thing."

"Tank . . . ah -- fa . . . ther."

"I will," I say seriously.

I oil and brush my hair in the middle of the night, and wonder what it feels like to die.

No -- I'm no good in the dark. I pull my brush faster through my hair.

But lots of people know where to find us; otherwise, we couldn't do business. Bad people could find us. They could find us. People with knives and bats and . . . and fire and . . . tattoos and scars on their faces . . .

Apparently it's not considered murder if you were supposed to be dead in the first place. Not that anyone in this house will give me straight answers, but I'll get a snippet from Cook and a hint from Grace, and if I listen closely whenever Faerci blows up . . . I put it all together and think: the world outside is falling apart.

I stop to drip a couple more drops of oil onto my brush. I know what religion is but . . . really, what is it?

I asked Cook about it, once. He went on about believing in some all-powerful being who makes humans like Faerci crafts dolls, but when I tried to get deeper into it, he just gave me "the frown" and sent me on my way. So I asked Faerci, What does religion have against necromancy? His exact words: "Spineless bastards think they know what God wants."

I find it hard to believe that so many people could be wrong, though. I mean, I've never met anyone who isn't, deep down, afraid of dying. So, why would they ruin their chance to keep living if they didn't have a really good reason? Right?

Still, I know that I could never be religious. Not after watching Papa come back sweaty and trembling from a transfer. Whatever's on the other side . . .

. . . well, I'm pretty sure it's not God.

Sitting in my highchair, I push my forehead into the corner of the table. Over the years, I've managed to pick away a little notch in my head. It's a bad habit I have when I'm nervous or angry. Or bored. Now, I line that notch up with the corner of the table.

I fit.

"Stop that."

I'm swatted back, and look up to see Faerci frowning down at me with a mouthful of stew.

I don't even know why I was invited here. I've barely seen a human face for a full week -- Papa pretty much locked himself in his room and both Faerci and Cook were gone somewhere -- and now that they're all back, they decide to have dinner together for a change. My joining them is Cook's wonderful idea. Part of the family, I guess.

I rest my chin on the table and watch. They shovel lumps of slimy mush into their mouths without even bothering to look at each other, let alone make conversation.

Now that I'm watching, though, I'm mesmerized. It's so weird. I wonder what it feels like. Broth dribbles down Papa's chin. Faerci burps into the back of his hand. When I talk to the other dolls about what it's like to be transferred, they usually make a point about feeling numb, like they're floating or something, and that they'll never get used to it. But the next thing they always say is that they miss eating. I just don't get it. Probably never will.

I try to imagine myself eating. Opening my mouth and putting something in it. Chewing . . . swallowing. Smiling. Laughing. I've seen nothing but dolls for a week. I'm a little uncomfortable as I listen to the slurping, squishing sounds, and Faerci's heavy breathing, and Papa clearing his throat . . .

Suddenly all of the messy activity jumps away from me, and then everything goes black. I hear wood clatter somewhere. I am, for a moment, empty. Weightless, free. I am swelling up, stretching, expanding.

"Miss Nattly." Cook's distant voice nudges at me.

And then I'm back, dizzy, looking into Faerci's face as he pokes and prods around my head and neck.

"Except for that blasted chip in her forehead, she's fine." Faerci lifts me limply out of my seat and onto the table. "Ah, she's back with us. Where'd you go?"

He pulls up my dress to examine my middle. Where did I go? What happened? Both Cook and Papa are looking at me. My head feels woozy.

Faerci lets me go and I react by jumping off the table. I pick myself up, find my legs, and run away. Cook's calls of "Miss Nattly" follow me out of the room.

"No, arctic-late."

Aw, Havrim. Now he's teaching the newest doll how to speak. Arctic-late?

"Huh -- har . . . duh," protests the doll. "Har -- d."

"I know. You get use . . . used to it."

I sink my elbows deeper into the thick carpet. It's been a few months since Havrim was "reborn." Now it's that man named Roy's turn to learn his voice box. Grace is here without her other half -- Alic's somewhere else, which is a shock. And Havrim has Roy's head in his lap.

Me, I'm tired, bored. Feeling lazy. I still can't get over Havrim teaching.

"Hey, Havrim," I interrupt. "You remember screaming and throwing a fit when you were reborn?"

I expect him to complain, but instead he looks over my shoulder at something, distracted. It's only a moment later that I hear the footsteps that Havrim must have noticed first.

Oh, Faerci did make him better than me!

I glance over and am surprised to find Cook. "Hi, Cook," I call.

"Ah, Miss Nattly. Of course you'd be here. Your father sent me to find you."

Oh? I stand up and walk over, and Cook actually reaches down and grabs my hand, just like when I was a baby.

"Alright, Cook. Lead on, I guess." I glance back over my shoulder and am met with three empty glass stares.

Cook stays with me all the way to Papa's door, still holding my hand with his thumb and two fingers. Then he looks down at me and says, "There you go, Miss. Properly escorted. I have work to attend to, but I wish you good luck."

I nod, slowly. Cook is strange today.

Pushing the door open, the first thing I see is a pile of three empty dolls, naked and still bald. Okay . . .

Then I look up to find Faerci in the rocking chair instead of Papa. His weight makes the chair groan where it usually just chirps. Only then do I notice Papa sitting on his bed, staring at the floor.

"Finally found her," Faerci grumbles. "Pick your doll, Nattly, that's what I'm here for. Your father wants to transfer you today, so you've got a choice of these three right now."

Papa changed his mind? Does this have anything to do with me blacking out again in front of Cook? I notice then that one of the dolls doesn't even have a face -- just a big hole where the glass ball will fit.

"Lucky you're a girl," Faerci continues in that deep voice that I have trouble hearing. "There's only one complete boy left. Then I really will have to plant the next one into a girl. Hmmph."

I look over at Papa. "Are you sure? Papa, you'll really let Faerci replant me?"

"Transfer," Faerci interrupts. "I said transfer, not replant. The whole works, a new glass ball. One of those dolls is better than the others, by the way, but it's your body, so you go ahead and choose."

I look over and find the separated face of that one doll propped against a table leg. I pick it up and run a finger over its carved wooden lips, its plump cheeks. She's pretty, I guess, if young-looking. I flip it over and trace out the hollow where the glass goes.

"My spirit's coming loose . . . isn't it?" As soon as I say it, my head starts to flutter and I look down to see my hands shivering. I drop the doll-face and cross my arms, grabbing my elbows.

"Careful with that!" Faerci yells, leaning down to pick up the face that I dropped. "I never expected your transfer to stick from the start. On a newborn? But you're a stubborn thing, aren't you? You didn't just hang on, you grew up half normal, too."

Faerci leans forward in his chair then, grabs me by the shoulder, and rubs his thumb over the chink in my forehead. "Ah, look at that. How am I going to smooth this over for the next one?"

Getting jerked around doesn't help the feeling in my head -- I pull away. Faerci grunts and heaves himself out of the chair.

"Fine, then," he says. "I've got work. Choose your doll, and I'll send Cook up later with a fresh ball." He pauses at the door, though, and looks back over his shoulder. "Ah, right. The one with the almond eyes has got a nice voice box in it. You'll like it. Trust me."

Faerci's gone, I think. I'm feeling light-headed and it's hard to focus. Faerci left, and I'm going to black out. Why haven't I yet, actually? It never creeps up like this. Usually just . . . swoops down.

I remember that Papa is here and I turn around to face him, but my eyes have trouble keeping up with where I'm looking and I lose my balance in the confusion. "Papa," I call, pushing myself up off the ground. He jerks his head up at his name. "Papa, is it really okay to transfer me? Are you sure it's okay? A . . . a double-transfer?"

"Nattly, don't be ridiculous," he answers, staring at the space above my head. "You're still on that? You might end up . . . hmmph, like me. Forget it. If you're dying, perhaps then, but not before."

Papa? Didn't he just hear Faerci explain it all to me? Did he forget that he agreed to it? Papa's been slipping, lately. Really bad, I think.

Then he looks at me -- actually looks at me, at my face -- and it's like he just then realizes that I'm there. He shifts forward on the bed and then suddenly he's jerking all the way down to the floor, wincing the whole way.

"Now I'm at your level," he says, smiling distantly.

"Papa, don't transfer me! Don't transfer anyone, anymore. Stop already!"

Instead of answering, he just waves his arms at me. I don't know what he wants me to do.

"Come," he beckons, and I stumble over, having a tough time concentrating on where I'm putting my feet. I get there, and he leans forward and wraps his arms around me. I can't remember Papa ever hugging me before. I'm pinned, I can hardly move. But, surprisingly, I'm okay with that. I feel . . . safe.

"Papa, I don't think I can hold on any longer." I'm all floaty and can't feel my fingers. There's a stretching inside me, a pulling away. "I need to be transferred. Right now, probably." The sense of urgency won't come, though. I feel like I'm fading. Dripping away. Anyway, didn't I just tell him not to do any more transfers? That's right, he should stop.

I vaguely notice Papa looking at me, the rough skin on his forehead squishing together into lines of concentration. He actually sees me, now; sees my spirit, even. Sees me coming apart. Then I feel myself unhook, and the last thing I see is the horrified look on Papa's face.

I am floating. Suddenly, I can feel Papa's arms around me. I'm swimming in them. I'm in a dark place, crumbling apart, but he's holding me together. And that's it, that's all there is, that feeling. Being held together by Papa. I remember this feeling, fuzzily, as though from another life.

Then it's gone and I hear Papa splutter. I am on the ground, and everything feels completely wrong. I want to go back to where I just was: Papa holding me and holding me. He grunts louder. No -- I'm the one who's grunting.

I open my eyes and see . . .

I don't know. My first thought is that my eyes are broken. It's all swirly and bright and . . . and . . .

Colors, I think, carefully, feeling something warm flush through my chest. I'm staring at the fancy rug in Papa's room, but it's different somehow. More. Could this be colors? Papa! I think I see colors!

I try to move, but I can't. I think that maybe Papa's still holding me and that's why I'm stuck, but slowly other things begin to register. I feel uncomfortable, like I never have before. My chest feels incredibly weird -- tight. And all down my side, I . . .

I hurt. I'm . . . I'm in pain. This must be what Papa always complains about.

Did Papa . . . No! He couldn't have made me . . . human? No!

My whole body shifts, though I don't know how it happened, and suddenly I'm looking into the face of one of the dolls.

Oh no. Her eyes are closed. I'm sure that I recognize her, though. She's pretty, with slightly tinted cheeks and bright-colored hair. And a little chink . . . notched out of her forehead? I close my eyes and remember what Cook likes to call me: carrot top. And then I realize what Papa has done.

I open Papa's eyes again. I have a good guess at the names of some of the colors that I'm seeing: Red hair and a wooden -- brown? -- face. Delicate, silver veins thread through the eyelids, the mechanism for the spirit to open and close them. But my spirit isn't in there anymore.

I find Papa's tongue and work it through his mouth -- my mouth -- tasting its sharp and slick insides. I can actually feel my heart pounding in my chest and it affects me like nothing I've ever known before. Oh, and I'm breathing! Now that I know this, I'm able to stop breathing, and it feels like time stands still as a tremendous urgency blossoms from my middle and crawls up my throat. I let go of my breath, and the feeling of release sends my heart skipping.

All the while, I keep toying with my other parts. Now I know how Havrim feels -- except that, in a bizarre way, this is all entirely natural. This is right, and normal. I sit up once, only to slip down again, and my empty doll slides off my lap. I manage a few more grunts.

I hear footsteps downstairs -- probably Faerci. I thrill at how my ear actually tingles at the sound. He or Cook will find me soon, and then everything will get crazy. How do I tell them that my spirit just jumped into Papa's surprised hands, and that Papa had nowhere to put me except inside his own body?

Slowly, incredibly, I realize just how much my senses are being bombarded. I toss my left arm across my chest and manage to grab my right shoulder with it. I stop rooting my mouth with my tongue and try sticking it out instead. Then, experimentally, I lean forward with my head lolling until I feel my tongue touch my wrist -- and my whole body jumps with the strength of the sensation! I can feel the muscles of my face contorting.

I wonder if I am smiling.

Already, I can feel my spirit slipping from this unfamiliar body, and I realize that I don't have long. My cheeks are cold and wet -- I'm crying. But that seems strange, because I'm so happy. Papa tried to save me, but failed. Instead, what he's given me is a chance to experience what it's like to be human. And now that I tried it, I'll go to that cozy dark place and join him.

The fringes of my vision fade. Everything that I managed to stiffen relaxes. Gradually, very gradually, I become numb -- just like being a doll, except now I know the tragedy of it.

I'm floating again in nothingness, falling apart, but this time Papa isn't there to hold me together. Suddenly I'm scared. This isn't like before at all. What am I doing? Without Papa beside me, I'm crumbling, evaporating. I try to scrunch in on myself, but I can't. And there's something there -- big, pulsating, all around me.

Papa!

A memory of colors swirls in my vision, but there's nothing to see. It's like I'm at the highest point and falling in every direction. Into that big, hungry presence that surrounds me.

Is this what Papa feels every time he does a transfer? Coming back to his body, shivering, too shocked to move. Is this what the extremists call God? What they mean by sending us to God?

I'm getting lighter and lighter. I can't focus anymore. Resisting is hard, but giving in is oh, so easy.

That force washes over and through me, dragging pieces of me away.

Papa? It felt like Papa tugging at my sleeve.

This is what I've been feeling. That pulse-pulse in the back of my head. This is what I've been resisting my entire life, as long as I can remember, only recently getting so much worse.

And now . . . finally. Finally. I could just . . . give in.

Papa is here. I can feel him, I'm sure of it now. And lots of other people, too. So many. All swirling together, into some giant stream. It's warm, and it's alive. It's pulling me.

I let go.


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