Mircea must have heard us come in, but he continued what he was doing. He stood with his back to us, the candlelight on his bare skin causing his muscles to fall into sharp relief. He'd washed the river gunk out of his hair and now he threw it back, the water droplets shimmering in the light. The scene looked for all the world like a really good romance novel cover.
Do you ever think about the ocean?" Nick asked me. "What about it?" I said. "Like what could live down there? Like how there's as much life down there as up here? Maybe more?" "God Lives Underwater, " said someone. "That's the name of a band. They're awesome." "But seriously, " Nick said, "it's like an alternate universe. Right here on our own planet." "Right here, a hundred feet from us, " said Sheila. "Right here in my hair, " said one of the girls who had swum, pulling some sea gunk out of her wet hair. Everyone laughed quietly at that. Nick drank his beer. The wood crackled as it burned. We all stared at the black ocean.
But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you're half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it's so grunged up with living. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the works going or else you'll never be brave again. Unfortunately, there are not so many facilities in the world that proveide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of spit and polish to make them paladins once more, bold knights and true.
Catherynne M. Valente
A weathered black and silver Dodge pickup towing a small motorboat pulled up behind us, and Alex circled back to greet the driver. I couldn't see who sat behind the crusted and dirty windshield, but Alex stood at the driver's window and pointed down the block where the boulevard disappeared into floodwater. The truck pulled ahead, maneuvered a deft U-turn, and backed toward the water. Alex motioned for me to follow. By the time I lurched my way to the truck, he and the pickup driver were sliding the boat down the trailer ramp. Sweat trickled down my neck, and if I hadn't been afraid of being poisoned by toxic sludge, I'd have made like a pig and wallowed in the mud to cool off. I kicked at a fire hydrant, trying to jolt some of the heaviest sludge off my boots, and heard a soft laugh behind me. With a final kick that sent a spray of brown gunk flying, I turned to see what was so funny. I needed a laugh. A man leaned against the side of the pickup with his arms crossed. He was a few inches shorter than Alex, maybe just shy of six feet, with sun-streaked blond hair that reached his collar and a sleeveless blue T-shirt and khaki shorts. His tanned legs between the bottom of the shorts and the top of sturdy black shrimp boots were scored with scars, bad ones, as if whatever made them meant to do serious damage. He'd been grinning when I turned around, flashing a heart-stopping set of dimples, but when he saw my eyes linger on his legs, the grin eased into something more wary.
This tub is for washing your courage... When you are born your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you're half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it's so grunged up with living. So every once in awhile, you have to scrub it up and get the works going or else you'll never be brave again. Unfortunately, there are not many facilities in your world that provide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of a spit and polish to make them paladins once more, bold knights and true... This tub is for washing your wishes... For the wishes of one's old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes when the world changes. And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is, not everyone can tell when they ought to launder their wishes. Even when one finds oneself in Fairyland and not at home at all, it is not always so easy to catch the world in its changing and change with it... Lastly, we must wash your luck. When souls queue up to be born, they all leap up at just the last moment, touching the lintel of the world for luck. Some jump high and can seize a great measure of luck; some jump only a bit and snatch a few loose strands. Everyone manages to catch some. If one did not have at least a little luck, one would never survive childhood. But luck can be spent, like money, and lost, like a memory; and wasted, like a life. If you know how to look, you can examine the kneecaps of a human and tell how much luck they have left. No bath can replenish luck that has been spent on avoiding an early death by automobile accident or winning too many raffles in a row. No bath can restore luck lost through absentmindedness and overconfidence. But luck withered by conservative, tired, riskless living can be pumped up again-after all, it is only a bit thirsty for something to do.
Catherynne M. Valente