So I am ALMOST done writing this story, and I figured I would let you all see it here first, but if you want a chance to critique individual parts I also have it up on BetaBooks. Link to story
Maggie Noyr stood with Rafael and his buddy Luis at the docks on the north side of la ciudád. The sun was at 10 AM position and the day would have been steamy, if they had been standing in an alley sheltered from the breeze. The docks were filled with sailboats.
“So you’re finally here,” said Rafael. “After being gone so long.”
“Gone?” said Maggie. “I was never here to begin with, except as a memory, constructed backward like the priest tells us God did with the dinosaurs.”
“Don’t give me that shit,” said Luis. “I remember the very moment you disappeared.”
“Luis,” said Rafael, “some things are hard to explain. Let’s just say, Maggie’s finally here. How you been, anyway? Seen lots of crazy things in the wide world?”
“There’s no fair comparison to this city,” said Maggie. “With its Tía de Ojos winds. Seems like the censors are in the very air itself! Why, if I were to say the word se – ”
Rafel clasped his hands over her mouth. Maggie’s eyes grew wide in anger, and gleamed gold. Rafael quickly withdrew his hands. “Sorry,” he said, “sorry about that, but the last time you said that word is the last time I lost you. Maggie, you can’t keep pissing off las Tias de Ojos like that, or they’ll keep erasing you.”
“You don’t even remember?”
“Nobody knows where anything goes when it’s hit by el Viento de las Tías de Ojos,” said Rafael. “You must have gone where anything goes. Where did you go? How did you come back?”
Maggie stared at Rafael with the sort of look that comes after being told to believe an outlandish tale after having told someone else to believe an outlandish tale for the last few hours. “There’s nothing in my head to indicate where I went,” said Maggie. “That memory was not constructed for me. I have every reason to believe that I was born this morning, for everything beforehand, every image, every word, looks in my head like it’s a movie reel. But, we speak of the past. Let us speak of the present.” Maggie turned towards the boats. “You tell me you are employed in the tourism industry?”
“Maggie – ”
“Please,” said Maggie. “let us talk of the present and the future, and leave speculation of the past to the side for the moment. You tell me you are glad to see me once more. What have you been up to? How is the work treating you?”
“It depends on the tour group,” said Rafael, “and whether their kids are dumb enough to touch the ropes. Kind of a bi – a stitch and a half to sail all alone out there while keeping an eye on disrespectful tourists, but hey, the company can hardly afford to pay two sailors per boat, or that’s what they tell me. So I bring Luis here – ”
Maggie turned back towards Luis. Luis had a fishing pole in one hand and a metal box in the other.
“ – and he fishes with me while we sail the tourists around. Makes us some dinner and some extra money, and it’s enough to keep us together in a better apartment than we’d get by following the rules.”
Maggie frowned. “You mean you catch enough fish every time you go out? How is that possible? I thought these waters were fairly well depleted of fish.”
Rafael looked confused for a second, as if his thoughts were re-ordering themselves within his head. Then he scowled and said, “I declare that these waters have plenty of fish, and that Luis does not have to be lucky to catch them.”
Maggie looked confused for a second, as if her thoughts were re-ordering themselves within her head, and scowled and said, “Stop messing with my head.”
“Stop messing with my head, then.”
“I declare that I am lucky,” said Luis, “Because I landed Rafael, who knows how to sail and therefore I can fish without having to own a boat and sleep without having to own a bed.” He cast his line out into the water and got a bite immediately. “Well, Rafael, looks like I don’t need to fish out at sea for a while. Why don’t you go and cool your head in the ocean and avoid saying something you’ll regret?”
Rafael continued to scowl as he stalked off to one of the waiting sailboats.
Maggie’s eyes grew wide. “Did I do it again?” she said. “Did I immediately alter the very life of someone besides myself, without their say-so?”
“Trujilo used to do it all the time,” said Luis, as he reeled in a big fish. “By force, of course. Oh, he was a dictator. Then again, so are you.” He winked.
“I don’t want to be,” said Maggie. “I just want to be able to control my own life! To choose my destiny!”
Luis lay the fish splat on the ground, unhooked it, and, taking out his knife, gave it a quick mercy-stab. “Perhaps so,” he said. “Yet, the means by which we shift for ourselves frequently bring us into conflict with others, no? We have competing interests. Most of us have to struggle the hard way to win, or we have to compromise and decide that we can’t get everything we want. But you? You sound as though you could erase ME with a whim. Hm. I don’t know if I can even trust you. Well, let us walk to the fish market, and we can speak of what I think is reality.”
The journey to the fish market was about a mile along the south shore, past the point where touristy sailboats gave way to serious electric watercraft, and beach-bathers gave way to the sort of folks who are told to work hard until 11 AM by a man who works for a man who gladly sits in a cool office complaining about the work ethic of his laborers.
“I take it the fellow running the tour-boat business lives in a very fancy house,” said Maggie.
“He lives in a two-story abode,” said Luis, “and that is fancy compared to my digs. Then again, I’ve never seen him leave the office, so if he has a nightlife enough to actually find someone to settle down with I don’t know about it. Meanwhile I have Rafael, and though I would not say we get along perfectly, I’d say we get along like a married couple.”
“I see,” said Maggie. “And do you sleep with the windows closed?”
“Every night,” said Luis.
Maggie considered Luis. The arms that held his big dolphinfish were wiry, presumably from fishing, and he had not a hair on his chin. He had the sort of upper-body build you would expect of someone who has devoted their life to fishing, something a bit less generalized than that of a sailor who has to run all over a ship and haul lines in bad weather. And a blithe smile, such as Maggie herself had worn just this morning, before she had lost sight of Alejandra.
One might call him a perfect match for Rafael’s tastes, though Maggie herself had once been.
In the meantime, here was the fish market, and a largish blonde-bearded man in a white suit with a see-gar fish in hand. He was inspecting it in the midst of all the customers bustling around him, and though they were clearly displeased at his occupying the space in front of the Dolphinfish none challenged him, not even the cashier.
“That’s him,” said Luis. “That’s Diego San Obispo of San Obispo Tour Boats. What’s he doing here in mid-day? What’s he doing here at all? Don’t answer that, I don’t want you to be responsible for the answer.”
Diego San Obispo turned his mighty frame to face Maggie and Luis. He took a cigar out of his pocket, lit it with the see-gar fish, and stuck it in his mouth. Then he waited, stony-faced.
“What’s he doing?” said Maggie.
“Waiting for us to approach him freely,” said Luis. “If he has to ask you to come to him he doesn’t like it at all. Come on, let’s see what he wants before he blows his stack.”
The blonde-bearded figure tapped his foot impatiently as Maggie and Luis slowly approached. When the two were before him, he took his cigar out of his mouth and regarded his supplicants with a look that implied he was tired of having to do this.
“So, Luis Alvarez,” said Diego San Obispo. “Word comes to be from my more obedient employees that you like to go out with one of my employees – ”
“Is there some manner of romantic conflict of interest you’re worried about?” said Maggie.
“I was speaking to this twerp,” said Diego San Obispo. “When I want to hear the opinion of an hija del sol I’ll ask for it. Anyway, little mister Alvarez. Word has it that that you like to go out with one of my employees and fish during the times that this employee is supposed to be attending tourists. I hear that you make a pretty penny from all the fish you catch.”
Luis leaned over to Maggie and said, “It looks as though Rafael’s version of the story won out this time. There’s plenty of fish for me.”
“Ahem!” said Diego San Obispo. “I would like to remind you, little mister Alvarez, that as you are working on MY craft, the fish you catch belong to ME.”
“Says this labor contract that Mister Nuñez signed,” said Diego San Obispo, producing a sheet of paper.
Maggie snatched it out of Diego San Obispo’s hand and peered at it. The typing was fairly small and hard to parse, but at the bottom it said in plain text that all fish caught on the San Obispo tour boats were the property of the company.
Maggie thought for a moment, then said, “Ah, but this document must be falsified. Rafael doesn’t know how to read or write.”
Diego San Obispo suddenly had the confused look of someone whose thoughts were being re-arranged by someone else.
“Maggie!” said Luis. “Don’t say that, Rafael’s also the one who signed the lease for our apartment!”
“Oh, right,” said Maggie. “My mistake. Rafael knows how to read and write.”
Diego San Obispo looked even more confused now. He shook his head. “Never mind! Never mind, the document is final and my word is final. If you do not wish to give up your catch, little Mister Alvarez, I’m sure I can convince you.” He raised his gaze above his two supplicants and whistled.
Maggie turned around. A pair of Goons had appeared behind her and Luis, blocking their speedy exit.
“We can take both of you on,” said Maggie Noyr.
Luis did not wait for anyone else to speak, but smacked one goon in the face with his big Dolphinfish, then sprinted away. Maggie grabbed the other and rolled him over her shoulder in a Judo throw, tossing him right at Diego San Obispo. There was a tremendous crash as Diego San Obispo caught his Goon, stumbled backwards with the energy of catching all that momentum, and fell upon the display tray of fish. Maggie did not wait for Diego San Obispo to rise so she could gloat, but sprinted for the exit.
Maggie Noyr sat under a light in the otherwise darkness of a dank room. One of her eyes still gleamed. The other was swollen shut. She was tied to a chair.
A tall, broad-shouldered man in a green uniform stood before her.
“Witnesses describe a relatively young man with you,” said the man in the green uniform. “They say he slapped a man with a fish and ran. Señor San Obispo says the young man is named Luis Alvarez. We believe you are connected to him. We have already arrested your friend, Señorito Nuñez, and interrogated him as to the probable location of Alvarez.”
“All this for a market dustup?” said Maggie.
“Señor San Obispo is pressing charges for assault and battery against you, and fraud against Nuñez and Alvarez. Not that we would need him to, of course. There’s a reason this city has been at peace for a hundred years. Now, why don’t you tell me where Alvarez is?”
“You are mistaken,” said Maggie Noyr. “There is no Luis Alvarez.”
The man in the green uniform was tall enough that his eyes were out of the light, and Maggie could not see his face. Still, she imagined his eyes full of confusion as certain memories were stolen from him.
“Wait,” said Maggie. “Luis Alvarez does exist.”
“Oh no,” said Maggie Noyr. “Oh no no no no no no. God dammit. I’m not a day old and my life is already a nightmare. That does it. This city does not exist.”
In that instant, where there had been a dank room, there was nothing, nothing, nothing at all.
Nothing to look around at. No frame of reference. No way for Maggie to tell where she was going or how far.
She took a few steps, and with a thud that made her jump, the dank room came back, with the man in the green uniform precisely in the place where he had been. A slightly different stance, though, more appropriate for someone who had seen his prisoner disappear right out of their ropes. He gathered himself and lunged at her.
“This city does not exist!”
Once again la ciudád disappeared to be replaced by nothing.
She took a few steps backward and the world re-asserted itself with a thud once more, with a thud that shook her very bones. She was in a different room, now, an office with a barf-orange wall-to-wall carpet and a desk that looked like it was out of an office supply catalog, a couple flickering fluorescent bulbs and a couple green-uniformed men at a couple desks, one of whom had fallen backward in his chair, the other of whom was currently leaping over his desk.
“This city does not exist!”
For an instant Maggie was in a vast nothingness. Then the collective scream of ten thousand souls rang in Maggie’s ears, and the world re-asserted itself once more. Maggie was still in the room with the barf orange carpet, and the green-uniformed man was just a bound away from her.
“The far wall does not exist,” said Maggie, and in an instant it disappeared, revealing a room where stood a short woman in a white floral-print dress, a lady substantial and fair of face, whose mascara ran down her eyes, whose hair was a right mess, who had probably been sitting under the gaze of a man in a green uniform, but the stool was knocked over and so was the man, a perfect tableau of equal and opposite reactions.
Maggie ducked under the arms of the man reaching for her and dashed for the wall, which re-asserted itself just in time for her to smack into it. She reeled, dizzy in pain, into strong arms that bound her tightly.
“Your arms are slippery,” said Maggie, and suddenly the man’s arms were slick with sweat, and Maggie slid out from them. “This wall does not exist,” said Maggie, and the wall disappeared once more, giving Maggie just enough time to jump through it, before it re-appeared with a snap.
The scene now laid out before Maggie was of Alejandra in a fighting stance as she waited for a man on the far side of the door to unlock it. “There is a concrete wall blocking the door,” said Maggie, and in an instant the room was totally sealed.
Time enough, perhaps, to breathe.
“Maggie Noyr,” said Alejandra. “These aren’t exactly the circumstances in which I would wish to see you.”
“I am fairly certain,” said Maggie, “that the circumstances in which you would wish to see me would involve making sure the windows are closed.”
“That’s very well taken care of down here,” said Alejandra, “though I am not so crass as to fixate entirely upon your physical form. Perhaps you were born this morning, my dear, and yet already you display a personality that forced me to confront a thorny question. That’s worth knowing someone for. And you had a certain blithe charm. Have the Tia de Ojos police beat it out of you yet?”
“I think I beat it out of me,” said Maggie. “I think I have made numerous mistakes since I was placed in this dank dungeon. Did you make a mistake that led you here?”
“To this room, I suppose. I heard of your arrest and I came to offer bail money. Next thing I knew I was being interrogated in here and threatened with prison.”
“You DID put your life on the line for someone!”
“I put my money on the line. I guess that wasn’t enough.” She sighed, and sank to the floor, as if she were a deflating air-chair. “It’s been a long day.” She checked her wrist. “The time is they took my watch, so who knows.”
“12 PM by my guess,” said Maggie.
“Who knows,” said Alejandra. “We’re kind of stuck in here unless you can vanish a wall.”
“I can…” said Maggie. “Only, it’s fairly clear that the walls do not want to be vanished. Come to think of it, were you feeling a little non-existent a few minutes ago?”
“I’m sure I wouldn’t have noticed.”
“Something to explore later then. In the meantime, I think destroying things for good is beyond my capacity. I wonder, though…one moment. Ahem. ‘I can dig through walls.’
A pair of gloves appeared on Maggie’s hands, whose fingers ended in sharp claws.
In the same moment she heard the sound of a jackhammer on the far side of the wall she had created. So much for breathing time. “Let’s test these out,” she said, and took a swipe at the wall opposite the former door. The concrete came away like she was digging through soil. The jackhammer grew louder. Maggie dug furiously at the wall, inching her way forward. The jackhammer grew louder still. She turned, and said, “There’s a tall slab of granite in front of the door.”
From the other side of the former door she heard a distant thud, and the jackhammer sounded no more.
For the next thirty seconds, it was just Maggie digging a tunnel forward, forward, forward, with Alejandra gingerly stepping over the chunks of concrete that Maggie had left behind. The concrete itself was amazingly thick, as if to stop the depredations of the nastiest acid-spitting worms and metal-clawed moles, not that Maggie knew if either of those things existed. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to say it out loud.
Maggie hit living stone, against which her claws bounced off. “Oh for crying out loud – ”
There was a mighty boom. Maggie whipped her head around. Far down the tunnel she could see a cloud of dust where the room had been.
“There’s a granite block in front of the tunnel entrance,” said Maggie, and the light in the tunnel vanished with a thud.
“Thanks a bunch,” said Alejandra. “Unless you can dig through stone we’re stuck here until THEY can dig through stone.”
“Tell you what,” said Maggie. “I’m fairly well tired. YOU can dig through stone while I relax with this…Piña Colada.” She felt a cool wet glass appear in her hand.
Alejandra scoffed with the kind of scoff that occurs when one has been made to work after not expecting it at all. “I have to do your dirty work while you kick back with a silly tourist-trap drink?”
“Think of it as being a dock worker,” said Maggie. “Once we hit dirt we’ll switch and you can be the manager.”
The house of the D’Ubervilles is one among many of its kind in the Proscenium district. Gleaming white in the afternoon sun, with marble steps leading up to a rotunda portico, its roof is topped by a row of elegantly-carved marble statues who are all, by sheer coincidence, holding spears that point up in a way to deter pigeons and roof-climbing thieves.
The proscenium district shines bright enough that, by mid-morning, it is difficult for the uninitiated to enter, although tourists wearing sunglasses would look quite the part if not for their floral-print shirts. The standard outfit of the district is white cloth gleaming like the houses, dark sunglasses, and bleached hair. And fair faces. Hard for an individual to control that part, but easy for a community to look askance at someone who doesn’t fit the part, and make a subtle nod to a passing Tía de Ojos Officer.
What a stroke of luck, then, for Maggie and Alejandra to come up in the middle of Alejandra’s basement.
Then again, the Tia De Ojos Police headquarters is located right next to Proscenium, so it isn’t a far dig in the first place.
Then again, coming up in the basement when the maid was there meant that the poor young Indio woman saw a metal-clawed hand burst out of the floor. She ran screaming up the stairs, and had Alejandra been slower to dig her way out fully then she might have been in a position for her mother to whack at her arm. As it was, she was standing there in her mother’s basement, caked with dirt and slumped in exhaustion, just in time to greet her mother coming down the basement stairs.
“A metal hand out of the floor,” said her mother, “Really, mademoiselle Le Chifre, do you expect me to believe such wild tales – ” She turned her gaze to her daughter, then to her daughter’s hands, still gloved in metal claws, then to the large hole in the floor. “Goodness, child. Did you attempt to rob a bank and miss? You’re supposed to use maps and measure your distances out ahead of time.”
“Speak to me not of your youth, dear mother. You were never as efficient as Father when it came to robbing banks, for he understood that the best way to rob them was to work behind the counter. No, we were simply escaping la Tía De Ojos police. Possibly leading them here. We may need to leave quickly.”
Maggie Noyr crawled out of the hole.
“Oh!” said Madame D’Uberville. “An – oh, what does Diego call them, Hija Del Sol. How delightful indeed, I don’t tend to see your type around here, especially not crawling out of a hole in my basement, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.”
“That phrase,” said Maggie. “Twice I have been described as such today but I have no idea what it means. Though I find it somewhat unsettling, coming twice from wealthy Criollos. Perhaps it is meant as a compliment? No matter. I declare that it means – ”
“Why don’t we all have tea after I freshen up,” said Alejandra, “and we can speak of the matter.”
The maid, mademoiselle Le Chifre, poured tea into Maggie’s cup.
“My apologies for ruining your basement floor,” said Maggie, “and I am gratified that you are willing to serve us after we did you such an unkindness.”
Mademoiselle Le Chifre looked at Maggie like she was cracked in the head, but said nothing.
“Is there any way we can atone?” continued Maggie. “Perhaps treat you to dinner sometime, I know a place that’s wonderful, the Café Maximilian on Rue d’Saints.”
Mademoiselle Le Chifre bustled out of the room without offering Maggie any cream or sugar.
“Goodness,” said Maggie. “Perhaps we startled her more than I realized.”
Alejandra sipped her tea but said nothing.
“That reminds me,” said Maggie, “I never thought to ask her for her first name. perhaps I ought to do that sometime.”
Madame D’Uberville had an amazing technique of sipping tea through pursed lips.
“ANYWAY,” said Alejandra, “The phrase ‘Hija del sol.’ I do not know if you are familiar with the legends of faraway lands, my dear, and don’t answer that, please. The phrase in question arises from a particular tale, in which a young fool asks to drive the chariots of the sun, and the sun god, more fool he, obliges. The horses careen wildly out of control and when they dip low to the earth the people there are burned dark by the sun forevermore and – well, the people telling the legend were trying to explain how on earth the folks to their south were so swarthy, and who knows if those people ever heard the tale or objected to it or laughed and agreed with it. The point is that the phrase currently is a way for people like Diego San Obispo and his class to describe people of your skin color as ‘not one of us’ in an oblique yet obvious manner.” Alejandra glanced at her mother.
“I see,” said Maggie. “Oh dear. I tell you truly, I was unaware that such sentiments existed in this city.”
Madame D’Uberville continued to sip her tea through pursed lips.
“But you sounded familiar with this city a second ago,” said Alejandra.
“My dear Alejandra,” said Maggie. “Having just accidentally erased someone, erased this city twice, erased a wall, and accidentally called an entire restaurant into being…I suppose I could attempt to deliberately call memories of this city into my mind, as I may well have done this morning. Yet perhaps it is dangerous now for me to say what is and what isn’t.”
“I’m terribly sorry,” said Madame D’Uberville, “are you having some kind of joke at my expense?”
“Perhaps,” said Maggie. “My apologies, Madame D’Uberville, it is possible that my very words become true as soon as I say them, and I think perhaps that it would not be wise to speak very much.”
“But, my dear girl, think of the power you could wield. Why, you could rob banks at a stroke. Vanish anyone if they displease you. Cause a tree to grow and decay in an instant. Were you not clearly frightened by this power you could work miracles, you could be beautiful and terrible as the dawn.”
“She’s beautiful as the dawn,” said Alejandra, “That much is true. But, Mother, before you make the offer for her to stick with you so that she goes places, there are some questions I have. First of all, Maggie, please describe what you are certain is already true about your abilities.”
“I should note,” said Alejandra, “that if it involves erasing things, your effect on various walls was hardly permanent.”
“Very well,” said Maggie. “This is what I know: if I try to erase things, they come back. It is possible that they do not want to be erased, as if their existence has enough weight to bring them back when I try to get rid of them. I attempted to erase the entire city and it came back three times. It is highly probable that the people of la ciudád would not simply let themselves be vanished so easily.”
“They certainly used to,” said Madame D’Uberville.
“Be that as it may,” said Maggie, “The reason I am uncertain about this is because I accidentally erased Luis Alvarez, the friend and confidant of Rafael Nuñez, and when I attempted to bring him back it doesn’t seem to have worked. Watch. Luis Alvarez will now appear before me.”
“See what I mean?” Maggie slumped in her chair. “He’s gone forever.”
“I know a Luis Alvarez,” said Madame D’Uberville.
Maggie straightened up immediately.
“Yes,” said Madame D’Uberville, “He’s an old fellow who sells empenadas out of a cart on Via De La Mar del Norte.”
Maggie slumped in her chair again.
“What about the Luis Alvarez,” said Alejandra, “who teaches at the public school?”
Madame D’Uberville reached over from her armrest and pulled a cord. Within a few seconds, the Butler appeared in the doorway. “Madame?”
“Ah, Monsieur Petain,” said Madame D’Uberville. “Mademoiselle Le Chifre should have appeared. Surely your duties are too senior to attend to tea?”
“Mademoiselle is currently indisposed,” said Monsieur Petain.
“Surely that is no excuse,” said Madame D’Uberville.
“I suppose I could roust her by force,” said Monsieur Petain, “If you desire a specific servant to attend to your needs.”
“No, no,” said Madame D’Uberville, waving her hand. “I simply desire for someone to fetch me the phone book. If you would be so kind.”
The butler bowed deeply and departed.
Maggie sipped her tea. “I believe I am beginning to see the problem. There are multiple Luis Alvarezes in this city?”
“Oh, I’m sure there are multiple Luis Alvarezes in every city,” said Madame D’Uberville, “But there are SO many around here. Ah, Monsieur Petain.” She took the phone book from the silver tray on which it had been proffered, and flipped it open to an interior page without looking. Every entry read “Luis Alvarez”. She flipped a few more pages. It was Luis Alvarezes all the way down. She flipped to a final page. Still Luis Alvarez.
Maggie grabbed the phone book and shut it, peering at the publication information on the front page. All it said was “Ring Ring Bananaphone corporation, copyright 1976.”
“How often do you call anyone in this city?” said Madame D’Uberville.
“I can say with absolute fact that I have never used a phone nor perused a phone book. While I have no frame of reference to other phone books, I can say for certain that this is insane. Why is everyone listed under Luis Alvarez? Does everyone that I don’t know call themselves Luis Alvarez?”
“Oh,” said Madame D’Uberville. “Silly. No. It is simply that the town registerer went a little –” She twirled her finger around her ear. “Back when everyone’s name was being registered in town for the first time, a couple years ago, the town registerer wrote everyone down as “Luis Alvarez”, officially, in the town register. And there’s no changes in the town register, so. You’re Luis Alvarez, I’m Luis Alvarez. And everyone goes by their unofficial name because who gives a damn about the town register? The people printing the phone book, I suppose. So, if you ask for “Luis Alvarez”…
“I’m not asking the damn town register,” said Maggie, “I don’t know who I’m asking! Maybe God almighty!”
“Nonetheless,” said Madame d’Uberville, “You will have to be more specific if you want your friend back.”