January 2012


The Velasco family had ruled the island of San Cristóbal since the 1920s; Ramon Velasco had made his bones as a fiery opposition spokesman in street protests against the previous regime. The first free and fair elections since independence from Spain had catapulted him to the presidency, and once ensconced he found it suited him. Through a combination of electoral fraud and intimidation, he remained president until his death in 1952, favoring a crash program of industrialization and expansion of the lumber industry and tax base at the expense of the island’s environment and poorest citizens.

Marco Velasco, his son, had followed in his footsteps. But his “presidency” was cut short by cancer, and he died in an American hospital in 1960. His 19-year-old son, Alberto Velasco, was duly installed as president but had not been groomed for the role as his father had. The influential San Cristóbal Army refused to rally behind him, and he was ousted in a coup by General Jorge Garitano. Garitano had been a long-time supporter of the Velasco regime, but once rid of the family he enacted an entirely different type of rule.

A mestizo rather than of pure Spanish ancestry like the Velascos, Garitano had grown up in poverty on the outskirts of Bilbao de San Cristóbal. e was a firm believer in developing the island for tourism, reducing urban sprawl, and preserving what remained of the verdant foliage that had once covered the land. His time in power, 1961-1983, was marked by massive slum clearing, public housing initiatives, and explosive growth of the national parks. Lest anyone accuse him of being a benevolent dictator, Garitano enacted his measures harshly, imprisoning and executing dissidents and often deploying the army to rout slum dwellers before their homes were razed.

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“When you take enough middle-of-the-road, wishy-washy, and hard-to-pin-down positions–not just on the important stuff but in your day-to-day life–you risk creating an ambiguus.”

“I…I don’t understand.”

“What’s not to understand? You’ve made things so easy, so autopilot, that a being which has little self-awareness other than a need for self-preservation and desire to feed on raw banality can take your place and no one will notice.”

“I bet you’re wondering where your apartment building went, Ms. Barrow,” the man said. “And why the street has a different name.”

Annie sniffed. “How do you know my name?”

“Let me introduce myself,” the man said. He held out a business card in an odd, asymmetrical shape. “I’m here to get you home.”

“I thought this was home,” Annie said gesturing at the burnt-out shell behind her.

“Oh no. Not even close, my friend. You see, you’ve slipped through a crack and come out somewhere entirely different. Don’t let the superficial similarities fool you; you’re lost in a wider world than you can ever know, and I’m here to get you back home. That’s what we’re about at the Caidesin Foundation.”

“What’s so hard to believe about a wax artist’s model taking on a life of its own?” asked the Fáidh.

“You’re not really asking me that, are you?” said Jennie. “This may be one of the more mystical places on the planet, but still have an ATM card and a cell phone in my pocket. I refuse to believe in a world that allows those and magical wax at the same time.”

“You’d do well not to think that way. I once met a being, for example, made entirely out of copper pennies tossed by well-meaning children into wishing wells,” the Fáidh said. “It walked the countryside attempting to make whatever small wishes it could come true and sustaining itself on that positive energy.”

“Let me guess: that was in the 1960s, after a party.”

“Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?” said the Fáidh. “Is the fact that I met an ur-dove that could gather leaves about it to form a body any less wonderful because I saw it after hearing Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival?”

“Instruc?”

“Not Instruc. INSTRUC. You need to say it with all capital letters. But yes, they’re watching us. Watching you, watching me, watching everyone.”

“Who is Instruc, and how do you know they’re watching?”

“INSTRUC! It’s INSTRUC! How many times do I have to tell you? They’re smart. They’ve got a copy of every camera feed in the world, spy satellites disguised as weather balloons, and they give everyone subdermal RFID tags disguised as flu shots to shoot passive tracking rays at us!”

“Uh-huh. And why would they do that?”

“They want to make us like them, don’t you see? It’s right there in their title. INSTRUC. They want to watch us so they can INSTRUCt us, make us more and more like their alien overlords until the invasion force is ready to strike.”

“Now don’t take this the wrong way, or think that it’s in any shape or form related to what you’ve just been telling me, but I think we should get you to a psychologist.”

“I always thought it had a rather Japanese sound for a lost city of silver and gold in Maine. Norumbega.”

“You’re confusing it with Nobunaga. But it’s all a fantasy, really. People trying to convince themselves that stout Teutons settled in America before swarthy Mediterraneans back when anybody cared about that distinction.”

“There do seem to be an awful lot of things up in Maine named after it.”

“Cathay Pacific is named after a lost city in China. Does that mean it’s real?”

“Well…”

“Don’t tell me that the Cadillac El Dorado has you convinced of a city of gold in the Andes.”

“Now you’re just being mean.”

The spaghetti spellbinder, or noodlemancer, is an arcane knack that manifests itself primarily among foodservice workers, short-order cooks, and gourmands. Repeated and extensive contact with noodles and noodle-like substances results in the ability to manipulate, levitate, and eventually command filaments of processed starch.

Most noodlemancers use their knack for creating gravity-defying dishes or fine-tuning the consistency of their pasta for the perfect al dente feel. The “dancing rigatoni” from Shaper’s Row in Naples and the “thousand dragon lo mein” found throughout Taipei are perhaps the best-known examples of this.

There are fewer records of noodlemancy being used for offensive or defensive purposes, but such cases do exist. A 15th-century Tuscan noodlemancer once used his knack to strangle patrons and steal their valuables; oral tradition holds that he was defeated by a rival spaghetti spellbinder in an epic duel involving nearly a ton of fresh lasagna. The Despot of Dalmatia, who had risen to power from humble origins, reportedly used noodlemancy to foil coup attempts by surrounding himself with a whirling shield of linguini.

The legendary Antonio Calvini, long revered as a master of nearly every known magical knack, reportedly used noodlemancy as a tool of assassination, causing wealthy targets to choke on their dinners. At his execution in 1899, noodles were among the 1,770 items carefully removed from a one-mile radius to prevent their use in an escape attempt.

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