A Merlin’s Tale
I was ten when mi madre y padre were killed.
We lived real close to the Border between Potrero and Embarcadero — just north of the Mission Dolores, I found out later on. Lord E’s daddy was especially expansive that summer so the strip right along the Border wasn’t the safest place to be. I don’t think mi madre y padre knew this, or that it wasn’t the best place to go treasure hunting. But there they were, poking through the empty buildings when the Alcaldé’s knighties put in an appearance.
Mi madre had wanted some little bit of furniture to festive up the room we ate in and stayed warm in when the temp dropped — that’s why they were there. A stick of furniture seems like such an oddball thing to die for.
I still don’t know how it happened really. Just that I was playing in the alley with Fredo and Pigeon when all of a sudden Mrs. Lopez-Alvero, whose husband called her Acorn, was standing in front of me with all her big self trembling and her eyes wetting her rust-colored cheeks. She put her arms around me, too, I remember. And I remember thinking, that here I was, two years short of my Coming of Age Rite, and now there would be no one to do it with me.
There was more than that inside me, but I couldn’t let it out just then — only later on Mrs. Lopez-Alvero’s big, soft shoulder.
I think that was the first time I heard the Whispers — while I was grieving all over Mrs. Lopez-Alvero. I thought it was Mrs. Lopez-Alvero at first, saying Ave Marias in my ear. But it wasn’t her; her mouth had closed up shop and gone all grim and sad.
The Whispers didn’t mean anything to me ’cause I didn’t understand what they were saying, but I heard them as if they were air being sucked through the Lopez-Alvero’s actually working window fan. But the window fan wasn’t on that day ’cause of the fog and fog doesn’t whisper. I thought it might be rain and that the sky was crying for mi madre y padre — but there wasn’t any rain, either. Just fog — a wu pesado so thick and still no sound could move in it.
So, I lay in Mrs. Lopez-Alvero’s overly padded lap and listened to Whispers I didn’t understand or even really hear all that well. I decided to believe it was mi madre y padre whispering to me from the Abhá Kingdom, and that somehow made me feel a little put back together.
Well, there was someone to do my Coming of Age rite with me, after all; there was Mrs. Lopez-Alvero, who sat with me at the table when I had turned twelve, and gave me my first coffee in a hand-thrown cup, and spoke to me about the Grown Up Things — choosing mates and raising families and finding Something To Do in the world.
I had my coffee with cream and no sugar. And then I packed my stuff and moved north, away from the neighborhood and away from anyplace where I could look up and perhaps see the sad old building where mi madre y padre had died for a stick of furniture.
I stayed for the Day of the Dead that year — my twelfth year — and I painted my face like a skull and I carried a torch and I prayed for the Departed Ones. I sat up late and listened to Whisperers say nothing to me. Then I moved on up into the Hollow.
Now, let me tell you that I was a sorry citizen at that time. I had officially Come of Age, which meant two Big Things. One: I was now responsible for furthering my education because Two: In three years I’d be looked at to choose my Calling and I didn’t have the veriest glimmer of one.
Maybe this doesn’t seem like such a problem. I s’pose wherever you’re from it might not be. But here, where there are so many jobs that need to get done just to keep Decay from taking over the kingdom, its the Most Important Thing you do before you’re grown up. It’s what you’re growing up for. I knew this as well as anybody. But here I was, heading toward the big ONE-FIVE with no Calling in sight. At least none that I figured I could pull off. I was no kind of cook, so following in mi padre’s footsteps was out of the question, and I couldn’t grow a thing to save my sorry life. So there it was.
At twelve, in the Hollow, I was a lonely solo with nobody but the street kids to rub up against.
Oh, and I had this cat . . . well, I can’t exactly say I had the cat, but we shared my cozy. He was a cat of many colors and bad attitudes and smells. We were not what I would call friends, but we got along okay. I called him Bunuelo ’cause he looked like one of those fat little buns that come out of bakery ovens around Christmastime. He sure as hell ate better than I did, mostly ’cause I always brought dinner. He hardly ever returned the favor.
I could talk to Bunuelo about the Whisperers. I still couldn’t hear them clear enough to make out one word of what they were saying, but they were there on and off, kinda like a bowu mist. Sometimes I thought I saw them, too, the way you think you see Something out of the tail of your eye, and the Something jerks your head around, but there’s nothing there.
One thing about cats I can surely appreciate. This is that they are good listeners. You can learn much about the art of listening from a cat.
Bunuelo never laughed at me when I spoke of the Whisperers.
Maya’s addicted to speculative fiction. For this, she blames her dad and Ray Bradbury. She’s authored a dozen novels of speculative fiction, and short fiction that’s appeared in Analog, Amazing Stories, Interzone, and others. She has been a finalist for the Campbell, Nebula, Sidewise, and British SF awards. Her most recent novel is Devil’s Daughter: Lucinda’s Pawnshop, Book 1—co-authored with Hope Schenk-de Michele and Paul Marquez.
Maya is half of the musical duo Maya & Jeff. You can hear Maya’s music at CD Baby, Band Camp and iTunes.