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About the Author

Magee Gilks has been writing about places of the past and future for over ten years. Her fiction, poetry and articles have appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters and on the Internet and she's won several prizes (most recently, second prize in the Best of Soft SF Contest, 1999). She works as a freelance editor, writerís mentor and writer through Scripta Word Services. Feedback is appreciated: margilks@worldchat.com.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Outside In: Review by A.L. Sirois

The Dragon Pearl

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(continued)

The fire died under a deluge of water and the stench of burnt turnip, but I didnít care. The stewpot I upended over the floor, and I dropped to my knees to grope for the innocuous grey stone that could produce such plenty. If it could multiply waterdrops and bits of vegetable, what else could it generate?

While Yeshi slept, I tested the bounty of the dragon pearl. The last dusting of flour erupted into a white shifting mound; the hole in the garden from whence the turnip came blossomed with new growth, then in a wink burgeoned with tubers. I laughed delight, ran here and there, conjuring plenty where only want had been.

Finally I sat in a chaos of kitchen staples with the stone cupped in my hands. Could the dragon pearl make . . . ? I didnít dare form thought further, but my hand touched my belly, and an old yearning stirred there. Not a child of my womb, perhaps, but a babe nonetheless . . . someone to love and care for; a son to win Yeshi from the whores and the bottle.

Tomorrow Iíd visit the cooperís wife, whoíd just given birth to a fine son. Clasp the dragon pearl in his tiny babeís fingers, and slip away with his twin. Iíd concoct a story of hidden pregnancy and a solitary birth. Yeshi wouldnít know. Heíd lain with me only twice since my last came dead, and hardly noticed me since.

I only hoped that Yeshi would forget the dragon pearl, come morning.

As though the thought touched him while he slept, I heard the bed in the loft creak as Yeshi stirred. My eyes flew around the kitchen, lighting on the betraying provender. I would have to hide this before morning!

Then the top rung of the ladder squeaked protest at bearing weight, and I knew with a great aching lurch of my heart that it was too late; Yeshi was awake, and he would see the wealth in his kitchen, and know how it came to be there.

"Gotta piss," Yeshi said, stumbling into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes and his privates. Then he stopped and opened his eyes full and looked around. "What the devilís this?"

I watched him hopelessly from the floor of the kitchen, with the dragon pearl clutched tight against my breast.

Watched his eyes widen and slide free of sleep and alcohol. "The dragon pearl!" he exclaimed. He grinned like an idiot. "The dragon pearl did this!" Then the smile paled and he advanced upon me, saying, "Give it to me."

I couldnít. I could only stare at his hand, until it swung back out of my vision and then cracked against my cheek a moment later. My head snapped back, and I gasped and cupped a hand over the hot red sting. The dragon pearl tumbled to the floor.

Yeshi scooped it into his hand and held it up. "What have you done? Look--itís smaller! Youíve frittered it away on flour and turnips!"

It was smaller, the size of a henís egg. With each demand on its power, layers sloughed off, like a pearl in reverse. Its magic was finite; soon the dragon pearl would be gone.

Yeshi regarded the stone, then smiled and said several things to himself under his breath. Then he turned and walked out the door. I knew where he was going.

He didnít return for a fortnight. The surplus Iíd made became sustenance. When Yeshi did come home, he reeled with drink and he had a painted girl from Ouinchytt Hill tucked under each arm. They giggled as they passed me, and talked like I wasnít there.

"Is that your wife?" one asked.

"Donít mind her," Yeshi said. "Iíve plans to turn her out and find me one better. Please me, and I could choose you. Iím a man of means now, you know."

The painted girls cooed and laughed and he led them up the ladder to the loft.

I withdrew to the kitchen garden, retreated from the laughter and the creak of the bedsprings and wrapped myself into a ball of rags and misery upon the damp dark earth of the garden. I tried my best not to think, not to feel, not to be, but Yeshiís words still found me. Turn me out? I had nothing. Where would I go? What would I do?

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