Read Gifted Online

Authors: Michelle Sagara

Tags: #contemporary, #wishes, #genies

Gifted

 

 

Gifted

 

by Michelle
Sagara

 

 

 

Rosdan Press, 2011

Toronto, Ontario

Canada

 

SMASHWORDS EDITION:
978-1-927094-16-7

Copyright 2011 by Michelle Sagara

All rights reserved

Cover design by Anneli West,
Four
Corners Communication

Lace: photoshop brush by
http://nadinepau.deviantart.com

 

 

Gifted, Copyright 1992 by Michelle
Sagara. First appeared in
Aladdin, Master of the Lamp
ed.
Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg.

Introduction Copyright 2003 by Michelle
Sagara. First appeared in
Speaking With Angels
.

 

 

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Novels by Michelle Sagara

 

The Book of the Sundered

Into the Dark Lands

Children of the Blood

Lady of Mercy

Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light

 

Chronicles of Elantra

Cast in Shadow

Cast in Courtlight

Cast in Secret

Cast in Fury

Cast in Silence

Cast in Chaos

Cast in Ruin

Cast in Peril

 

The Dead

Silence*

Touch**

Grave**

 

*Forthcoming in 2012

**Forthcoming

 

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

Gifted

Other Stories by the Author

 

Introduction

 

This was the first short story that Mike
Resnick ever bought from me. It was pretty much the first short
story that I ever attempted, although between its beginning and its
completion, I wrote another which was published first
(
Birthnight.)

There is something utterly appropriate about
the subject matter; I was writing about a Genie, and I was spending
much of my free time on the then on-line GEnie service. (
This
was at a time when being on-line at all cost serious money, but the
SFRT chat rooms were free for members of SFWA, which was one of the
biggest advantages to being in SFWA, at the time
.) It was on
GEnie that I met Mike Resnick, and Mike Resnick was to teach me
much of what I know about the publishing business. (
Much of
this has now changed in the past almost two decades, but it was
invaluable at the time, if only to avoid the occasional unexpected
surprise.)
He was funny when I needed humour, and serious in
that older statesman way (he’d deny this loudly if asked). It was
also Mike Resnick who made me call Sheila Gilbert at DAW when I had
a novel I wanted to submit to her, and he even gave me her phone
number when I did the electronic version of stammer. He really
wasn’t keen on excuses. (
In his defense, I had spoken to Sheila
Gilbert several times by that point, at Worldcons and on the phone
when she called the bookstore to speak to Tanya Huff. Had I not
already known her in person I would
never
have scraped up
the courage to cold-call her
.)

I was incredibly nervous, writing this for
him. (
The good news: you become less nervous with time. You
flail less, or tear out your hair less, or doubt yourself less.
Unless you’re writing novels, in which case, in my experience, it’s
worse. I live in a short story while I’m writing it, but it’s only
for a few days. I live in a novel for a lot longer, and have a
clearer idea, now, of what can go wrong
.
)

I started it several times, and finally
finished the story that’s included here. I can see a lot of things
that I would do differently now. But this was the best I could do
then, and in some ways, it reflects the writer I was. (
Oddly
enough, I like it more now than I did eight years ago, possibly
because I’m far enough removed from it now that I have no memory at
all of actually writing it
.
)

When I was on the verge of telling him I
wasn’t certain I could write a story he’d like, I showed it to
Teresa Edgerton, and she offered me encouragement enough that I
sent it.

 

Toronto, 2003

Toronto, 2011

 

 

Gifted

He was the last of the Genies.

The others had served their purpose in a
brilliant flash of three sharp bursts, and had been dust or less
for many centuries.

When he was born, if indeed a Genie can be
said to know birth, he was taught. He could not remember the
teacher at all, but the teacher’s words were as sharp and clear now
as they had been at the beginning of his awareness.

“You are part of the magic of the world,” the
teacher had said. “All things that live must have purpose, and that
is yours. You will not be strong, as camels are, and you will not
be cunning or wily in the manner of men; you will not be mortal,
but you cannot live forever.”

“What will we be?” One of the Genies had
asked.

“What you are: Wishgivers. And when you have
found the one, you will make your choice—and three times, you will
know the power of the Maker. You might be as Gods, if you choose
your dreamer wisely.”

“What happens when the wishes are given?”

The teacher did not answer.

Time did. Time, and the first of the Genie’s
brothers. He was an impatient wisp of air and color, with no
thought to the future and only the desire of power to guide him. He
found a poor man—who better than the poorest of the poor to make a
great wish?—and gave his gift first to gold and jewels, second to
beautiful flesh, and last to a kingdom that spanned the deserts.
The wishgiver, the first of the wishbringers, knew the glory of
power and the song of fulfilment, just as he had desired.

But the gold and jewels were scattered now,
melted and changed over the passage of time. The beautiful women
were dust and less than dust, and the kingdom was lost scant years
after its founding. The first of the wishgivers had not lingered to
see this: The last of his power, and the whole of his life, broke
and burst in the instant the kingdom had been created. He was gone
to wind and sand and the burning sun above.

The Genies had no time to bid their brother
farewell. Sobered, they hid in the shadows and the little, secret
places that magic makes. They made vows of abstinence, and swore to
each other that they would not squander their lives or their gift
on insubstantial longing.

But the teacher had been right. What lives
must have purpose. One by one, over the passage of millennia, the
Genies succumbed to the silent call of their magical vocation. Yes,
they grew crafty, and yes, they struggled to make their wishes
immortal and fixed in the stream of time. Some created works of
genius, and some bestowed genius upon the merely mortal; some
created immortals, too soon lost to violent death when time would
not take them. Some created war, and some won them; some let their
seekers touch and know magic’s glory.

But the price was always the same: The Genies
grew beautiful in their work—incandescent to the eyes of their
brothers, sublimely terrible—and when that work was done, they were
gone.

The last of the Genies had once been
privileged to watch one of his brother’s giftings: The third and
last. And he remembered, no matter how hard he had tried to forget,
the pained look of surprise and loss, the sudden struggle and
scramble for life, that had loomed for an instant upon a visage
that was already disintegrating.

He had been afraid, then.

He made his vow and made it strong by seeing,
always, the face of his long dead brother. When the last of his kin
finally succumbed to a call and temptation that had grown too ripe,
he said a prayer to the maker, to no avail. He was the last of his
kind, and he had lived without purpose for a very long time.

* * *

As time passed, he learned how to avoid the
call of human longing. He adorned himself in the guise of humanity,
rather than the guise of the magical, and wandered human streets,
watching time change them with distant fascination. He travelled
the ocean, and listened to the whales mourn the coming of the
great, noisy ships that cut them off, forever, from the voices of
brothers they would never see.

He came to the new world—it was called a new
world for reasons that he did not understand—because the people who
came were few, and their dreams were linked to reality and their
own actions. The young, he did not trust; it was always the young
that had drawn his kin in and ground them up in the saying of three
simple sentences in any of a number of languages. Not even all of
the languages had survived their wishers.

He hid in the wild, listening to the hungry
dreams of winter wolves and sleeping rabbits. But the towns and the
cities always called him back; he could hear the dreams and the
fervently uttered prayers that he had been born to answer. There
was no sweeter sound, and none more terrible; he could not live
with it, but the emptiness of its absence hurt in a different
way.

He learned that the easiest way to avoid
people was to stand beneath their gazes. He made the street his
home, and conjured the clothing—with its peculiar smell—of the curb
dwellers. He held out his hand, and murmured a sing-song little
plea for coin, and men and women, with their dreams buried deep in
darkened hearts, would scurry past in all their finery, never
dreaming of what they might take from him, if they could see beyond
his illusion. They would not even meet his eyes or raise their
heads while they sped past, and that was for the best.

* * *

It was winter in the city—which meant that
snow and cold had driven the people from their places in the street
by the turning of the night. Even the curb-dwellers were gone,
huddled over steaming vents or sleeping in the vestibules of
instant-money-machines when they could sneak past people who were
not willing to gainsay their entrance.

The Genie was not troubled by weather, and in
fact welcomed the ice and the frost—it cleared the air of its
summer haze, and made the streets more properly quiet. He leaned
against the dirty bricks of an old storefront on the Queen’s street
and tried to catch a glimpse of starlight through the spotty cloud
cover.

He felt them before he saw them, and watched
with remote curiosity as they walked past. They wore black leather
with silvered bits around their wrists and collars; they had hair
of various hues and shapes, and one carried a music-maker over his
shoulder, although at the moment it was thankfully silent. They
wore heavy boots, heavy coats, and grim expressions that were
meant, he thought, to be smiles; it was hard to tell.

They were the angry youth, with stunted
dreams of power that drove them to pettiness instead of greatness.
Every life must have a purpose—so the teacher had said—but these
man-boys were allowed none, and had grown wild in their
frustration. In a bygone age, they would have been the best of
soldiers, the best of followers. Here, in the now that the people
of this world had chosen, they were wasted.

He did not fear them, and they did not fear
him; but they, like their older counterparts, passed him by
quickly, although he did not ask them for coin. He smelled their
desires in the air; they hung like a cloud in a deadened sky. But
they asked nothing of him, and as they drifted past, the shadows of
their mutual companionship drawn tight about them, they were
forgotten. Minutes drifted; snow, too cold to be pretty, fell
wayward on the breeze.

A lone figure struggled along the icy cement,
heavily coated and somewhat bent. He watched her as she walked, and
knew her age by her awkward gait. He held out his hand in
supplication; she met his eyes, and the lines of her face drew into
a tight mask. She walked on, stopped and fumbled with her purse,
and walked back. It was obvious, from the state of her worn grey
coat and the rubber boots that she wore over swollen calves, that
she was not among the city’s wealthy, but she gave him the money
that he’d asked for before turning west again without a word.

He looked at the coins in his palm; one was
brass colored, three copper and two silver. They jangled as he put
them in his pockets, and vanished to the keeping place that only
the Genies know. He settled back against the red-brick and waited,
feeling the cold only because it was a curious thing.

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