Everyone hears Hunger die on the radio, and no one can do anything about it. His mayday is admirably calm for someone who is burning. He’s breathing heavily, but he doesn’t betray any fear. It’s a textbook radio transmission, the kind the other firefighters hope they could make if they were trapped and blind in […]
. . . and then the second tone enters, high and fierce, the waves rising, a sudden spasm of hail scattering across the deck like a shower of pearls . . . a tone like a moan that vibrates through the ship, down through the cabins lined in red like satin jewelry boxes, those elegant little coffins, and down again through the vessel’s bowels and down through the vast imponderable weight of water its icy knifelike blackness just on the edge of freezing . . .
When they ordered me down off my pedestal, I had nowhere else to go. Life as a statue is easy. They make you ascend the pedestal, turn you to stone, remove your ability to move, and leave you to watch the turn of the seasons in a world you cannot touch or care about, anymore. You can only stand in the public garden where all the convicted are placed, and you watch with dull and distant interest at the visitors who stroll past.
Besides the vedma who lived behind the stove in steam room three, the banya in Grand Lake Plaza was the same as any other budget day spa on Chicago’s West Side. It had deep-tissue massages and signature facials, plus day passes for the communal baths and steam rooms. There was a cucumber water dispenser in the lobby, and a little sign on the front desk that invited guests to “nama-stay a while.” The robes and slippers were cheap, scratchy polyester.
Horses were the most unreliable, most unfortunate creatures ever to walk the Earth. And yet, Ricardo was immensely sad that his was gone. He and his pretty tamed Mustang mare, Bandita, had been back and forth across the west for six years, and now she’d taken a bad step—a hole, a sharp rock, he hadn’t been able to figure out which—fallen down a hillside, and broken not one but two legs. Traveling on horseback through the Rockies at night, accidents happened.
Dabir and I shrouded the Syrian in his saddle blanket and spent a few hours digging a hole for him in that lonely land. He had been the last of our companions. Bandits and desertion and, finally, illness, had whittled our numbers down from the score of warriors and porters with whom we had begun our journey so that only we two were left. We finished the burial and our prayers and stood to contemplate the high scrubby brown hills that stretched before and behind us.
Merrinvale was a town that needed witches. Most places do—witches, after all, are the ones who make sure the small and large magics work. Things like the rising of bread and the turning of the seasons and safe passage through birth and death, all the work of witches. Some places accept this, and so they welcome their witches the same as they welcome any others and life moves in harmony. Merrinvale was not one such place.
It didn’t take them long to find a name for us; almost as soon as they knew it was women inside the rickety biplanes they couldn’t catch, the Germans called us witches. It was because of the sounds our idling planes made from the ground, the story went, as if the German soldiers had spent a lot of time with brooms and knew what they sounded like, engineless and gliding fifty feet above them in the dark. (The wires holding the wings in place made the whistle.)
When Parsh returned home and found that his father’s calf had been stolen, and stolen by none other than the King of the very Stonak kingdom who had been slaughtering priests for decades, he did not hesitate. He took up his axe and set out on the road that led to Stonak City. He did not stop to think of the consequences of what he was about to do, nor of the odds against him. For while a priest caste’s disciplined meditation and learning compel him to consider carefully before embarking upon any venture, a Stonak’s very nature is predicated on swift reflexes and instinct.
The great sage Jamarg was absorbed in his meditation when the calm of his hermitage was disturbed by the thunder of a thousand hooves. Frowning at being disturbed from his meditation, he rose and went to see why mounted men had come to this remote place. His wife Rukunyi was hurrying back from the river, bearing a heavy earthen pot filled with fresh water. Her face glowed with excitement. “It must be my father,” she said to Jamarg.