Monday, April 12, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Eight


The old man's voice, so unused to the foul, salted air, is little more than a husk. There's been no need to speak since being swallowed by Monstro.

“Father, it’s me!” Pinocchio sloshes across the briny water, and at first Gepetto raises his stave warily, so accustomed is he to the dangers of this new world. But then he realizes if his son can speak, he must be alive. The undead only growl.

“Pinocchio, my son!” Gepetto drops the stave to his feet and lifts Pinocchio high. Tightly, ignoring the splinters and the rumble of rushing waters, they embrace.

“Oh, Father, I’ve missed you so much!”

"As have I. But you look so different now! You're... different."

Not that it's possible for a little puppet made of pine to actually grow, but Pinocchio has changed since those long-ago days in the shop. His skin is no longer smooth and sanded. He is cracked in several places, and a tiny musket ball is lodged into his chest, but he is alive.

How lucky he is, thinks Gepetto, to be immune to all that has happened.

"You look different, too, Father. You're so skinny!"

Gepetto chuckles. "That I am. But look, my clever boy has found me!” He refuses to let go of Pinocchio's hand. If this is a dream, it's one he will not give up easily.

“I thought I was doomed to spend the rest of my days alone, but now you’re here.”

Pinocchio smiles modestly, and would undoubtedly blush if he were able. “Well, I had help."

“There are more of you?” says Gepetto. He peers across the cavern, but their world is silent save for the eternal rush of water and the inner gurglings of Monstro.

“No, Father, it’s just me. It was too dangerous for my friends to come here.”

“Of course, of course. I understand.”

The woodcarver barely remembers the destruction that led him here. It was a storm, perhaps stirred up by the beast’s tail. There was rain, a heavy crash, louder than the thunder and the waves, louder than anything he ever heard. And then there was the horrible crack of wood – the ship’s mast, perhaps – something struck him in the head, and he woke up within the belly of the beast.

He never encountered any of the other crewmen. What were the odds that any could survive such a journey? And who would walk through the mouth of death for the sake of escorting a puppet to his father?

“But now that we’re together,” Pinocchio says over his father’s thoughts, “we can leave here and fix everything and find the Lion and turn the Beast back into a prince and help everyone!”

“Leave here?” asks Gepetto. He smiles as kindly as he can. “My son, how can we leave? I’m not like you, I’m made of flesh and blood. If we go near Monstro’s mouth, surely he'll chew me up.”

“Father,” Pinocchio says patiently, “you wished for me to come to life. Just wish us out!”

He sits in his father's arms, smiling such a trusting smile, no doubt or despair clouding his painted eyes, that it breaks Gepetto’s heart.

“Father? Why are you crying?”

“Am I?” says Gepetto. “It must be the salt air... it stings a little.” His nose does not grow.

“I can't... I mean, I don’t know if it’ll work, Pinocchio,” says Gepetto. “I, I… There is no wishing star here.” He looks forlornly at the wet walls that make up his world’s sky.

To his surprise, Pinocchio laughs. He reaches within his shirt and pulls out a silver mirror.

With eyes tightly closed, he says, “Show us the wishing star,” and the Enchanted Mirror dazzles with a dark blue light.

“The sky!” gasps Gepetto. He can see stars, twinkling as they always have and always will, indifferent to the suffering of the world, giving light to the living and the dead alike.

One star is greater than the others, yet its light is more subdued. It pulses faintly, as if to sigh and mourn over that which has been lost, and it is to this star that - after an encouraging nod from Pinocchio - Gepetto addresses these words:

“Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.”

He takes a deep breath, looks at his son, so peaceful and at ease, and gives his wish. “Please,” he says. “Please, take us home.”

Head bowed, he keeps his eyes closed, and he wonders what he'll say to Pinocchio when the wish doesn't come true.